Film / TV

Sandy’s 2016 Film Year in Review

Anyone who knows me well could tell you that I don't see a lot of new films. As a matter of fact, of the 143 films that I saw in 2016, only four were new, and 139 were old. Thus, my annual Top 10 Best and Worst lists are necessarily different than most. With me, any film that I saw for the first time in 2016 was eligible for either list. If the film made me laugh, or think, or tear up, or sit suspensefully on the edge of my seat, or amazed me with something that I had not seen before, it had a good shot at being considered. On the other hand, for me, boredom is the worst thing that any film can be guilty of; I don't care if a film is cheaply made, but please do not torture me with tedium. Anyway, with no further ado, my Top 10 Best and Worst Lists of 2016. The films are listed in the order that I saw them...


1) Our Relations (1936): One of Laurel & Hardy's most hilarious films, in which the boys meet their long-los... Read More

Night Train Murders: Stunning horror, and the darkest Christmas movie ever made

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Night Train Murders directed by Aldo Lado

Since watching Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left (1972) more than 30 years ago, I have abided by my promise to never see this film again, it being truly one of the most repugnant that I've ever sat through. And yet, I didn't as much mind Aldo Lado's homage/remake/pastiche of three years later, Night Train Murders. As in the original, the film deals with the brutal rape and murder (inadvertent, in the Italian picture) of a pair of college girls by a trio of brutish thugs (in the latter film, one of the trio is an upper-class woman with sexually depraved tendencies) and the retribution taken on them by the father of one of the girls.

Lado's film starts out with a lighthearted, almost comical tone, which shades gradually into one of unease and finally sickening horror. His pictu... Read More

Deep Red: Gulp down some deep-red Chianti and prepare to be stunned

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Deep Red directed by Dario Argento

Following his so-called Animal Trilogy — 1970’s The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and 1971's The Cat O'Nine Tails and Four Flies on Gray Velvet — and immediately before creating what turned out to be his most popular picture as of this date, 1977's Suspiria, Italian director Dario Argento released, in March 1975, one of his most critically acclaimed films, Deep Red (or, as it is more sonorously known in Italian, Profondo Rosso). All these decades later, the picture is still considered, by fans and critics alike, to not only be one of the most impressive in Argento's still-growing oeuvre, but one of the finest gialli ever made; the excellent reference book DVD Delirium even goes so far as to call it "one of the highlights of Italian cinema as a whole." And now that I have finally caught up with the fil... Read More

Horrors of Malformed Men: Butoh on the Noto

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Horrors of Malformed Men directed by Teruo Ishii

Based on the 1926 novel The Strange Tale of Panorama Island by Edogawa Rampo — the so-called Edgar Allan Poe of Japan — as well as at least two Rampo short stories, "The Human Chair" (1925) and "The Walker in the Attic" (also 1925), and also conflating Rampo's most famous detective character, Kogoro Akechi, the 1969 film Horrors of Malformed Men obviously has a lot of ground to cover. The picture was co-written by its director, genre favorite Teruo Ishii, an old fan of Rampo's work in boys' detective magazines in the 1920s, and so shocked and scandalized viewers upon its initial release that it has been a sort of taboo product ever since; indeed, the film has never been made available for home viewing in Japan! I suppose that given its central theme of willful and calculated human mutations, coming a scant 25 years after the atomic ... Read More

The Skin I Live In: Holy Toledo!

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The Skin I Live In directed by Pedro Almodovar

I am probably not the best person to comment on a film by the hugely popular Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. Of the man's 20 or so films to date, I had only seen precisely one — his seventh, 1988's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and that many years ago. But that film had struck me as being wildly funny and entertaining, I recall, so it was with great enthusiasm that I popped Almodovar's 18th offering, The Skin I Live In, into my DVD player the other night. Originally presented in competition at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2011 under its Spanish appellation La Piel Que Habito, the picture, as it turns out, is just remarkable; one of those films that makes you want to start checking out/checking off all the other items in its creator's oeuvre. Very much a modern-day horror classic, the film takes a healthy dose of Alfred... Read More

Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism: Dor jam

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Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism directed by Harald Reinl

I have written elsewhere about my longtime love for redheaded Italian actress Lucianna Paluzzi, who captivated this viewer back in 1965 by dint of her portrayal of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. agent Fiona Volpe in the James Bond outing Thunderball. Two years later, another redheaded S.P.E.C.T.R.E. agent also caught my fancy: Helga Brandt, Agent No. 11, in the Bond blowout You Only Live Twice. Brought to indelible life by German actress Karin Dor, she remains, 45 years later, one of the sexiest of the Bond "bad girls," and her death in archvillain Blofeld's piranha pool is a 007 classic. Well, despite admiring Dor's performance in this film dozens of times over the years, I have been hard pressed to see her in anything else, other than Alfred Hitchcock's 1969 film Topaz, in which she plays Juanita de Cordoba, the widow of a Cuban revolutionary ... and a ... Read More

Blood Is the Color of Night: Filipino Sumisipsip Sa Leeg

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The Blood Drinkers (Blood Is the Color of Night) directed by Gerardo de Leon

Though he had started his career as a medical doctor, Gerardo de Leon went on to become not only a movie director, but the most awarded director in the history of the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (seven awards, in all). He helmed film projects in many different genres, but this viewer had, until recently, only been familiar with three of his pictures, all in the horror category. His 1959 effort Terror Is a Man, generally cited as being the first Filipino horror film, was an excellently done reworking of H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, while the two films he directed with Eddie Romero in 1968, Read More

Zinda Laash (The Living Corpse): Lahore horror

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Zinda Laash  (aka The Living Corpse aka Dracula in Pakistan) directed by Khwaja Sarfraz

For proof positive that the fearsome vampire scourge continues into modern times and is truly international in scope, one need look no further than the 1967 Pakistani film Zinda Laash, otherwise known as The Living Corpse (and, less imaginatively, Dracula in Pakistan). Infamous for having received the first "X" rating for a Lollywood film (and no, that is NOT a typo; apparently, that is the accepted name for the Lahore film industry), as well as for giving one poor woman a heart attack (!) during an early screening, the film is nevertheless little known today, a state of affairs that this great-looking DVD from Mondo Macabro will hopefully correct. Though based on Bram Stoker's Dracula, ... Read More

Beyond the Darkness: Sado-Massaccesim

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Beyond the Darkness directed by Aristide Massaccesi (Joe D'Amato)

Hooo, boy, is this a sick one! Jaded fans of Euro horror, lovers of the outrageous, and gorehounds in general might find their mouths opening in awe and their eyes widening in shock as they get deeper into the Italian cult item Beyond the Darkness (1979). Conflating as it does elements of voodoo, necrophilia and deep, deep psychosis, and mixing in some truly stomach-churning blood-and-guts scenes along with multiple bizarre sequences, the film is one guaranteed to impress the viewer — one way or the other. The even better news here is that the film has been very well put together by a group of genuine pros. Despite the repugnant visuals and decidedly outré subject matter, this IS a quality film, and hardly the shlock experience you might be expecting. I generally try not to include spoilers in these mini-reviews, but feel I must do so here, as... Read More

Frankenstein 1970: “Torch, scorch, unforch…”

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Frankenstein 1970 directed by Howard W. Koch

Horror icon Boris Karloff, during the mid-1950s, significantly slowed down his prodigious output of the '30s and '40s. After 1953, fans would have to wait a full four years before his next horror picture, Voodoo Island, was released, and that one is generally acknowledged as one of Boris' few stinkers. The British actor seemed to rebound a bit in 1958, however, with the releases of Frankenstein 1970 — a shlocky yet entertaining picture — and the very-well-done British film Grip of the Strangler. Frankenstein 1970 was the fifth Frankenstein film that Karloff had participated in, following the classic original in 1931, the eternal glory that is 1935's Bride of Frankenstein, 1939's excellent Son of Frankenstein and 1944's House of Frankenstein, but — no surprise — the film in question is any... Read More

Crypt of the Vampire: It’s no Blood-Spattered Bride, but still good enough

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Crypt of the Vampire directed by Camillo Mastrocinque

Everyone knows how wonderful the late great Christopher Lee could be at playing the monstous heavy — not for nothing is he known to his fans as Mr. Tall, Dark and Gruesome! — but many forget that he could be equally adept at portraying "the good guy." Thus, fans are often pleasantly taken aback when they see the 1968 Hammer film The Devil Rides Out for the first time, in which Lee plays the Duc de Richleau, a combater of Satanists in 1920s England (though this film is weak tea compared to Dennis Wheatley's 1934 source novel). For further proof of Lee's ability to portray a defender of right and light, viewers may be interested to seek out Camillo Mastrocinque's Italian Gothic horror film Crypt of the Vampire (1964), which can also be seen under the title Terror in t... Read More

I Spit On Your Grave: NOT the abomination you might be expecting

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I Spit On Your Grave directed by Meir Zarchi

One of the most notorious and controversial pictures ever released, and sporting a reputation of the very worst kind, I Spit On Your Grave is a film that I had long put off watching. Originally released in 1978 under the tamer title Day of the Woman and rereleased in 1980 with its more infamous, expectorated appellation, the film has since angered critics, incensed feminists, appalled viewers and been banned in at least a half dozen countries. But I suppose that morbid curiosity, an interest in cinema history, and an admiration for the picture's lead actress, Camille Keaton (grandniece of Buster, and whose previous performances in a pair of earlier Italian horror films, What Have You Done to Solange? and Tragic Ceremony, had greatly impressed me), all got the best of me, with the result that I found myself plopping the current Anchor Bay DV... Read More

Tormented: My Vi on the hi-fi

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Tormented directed by Bert I. Gordon

As most fans know, producer/director Bert I. Gordon didn't receive the pet nickname "Mr. Big" based on his acronym alone. From 1955 to '77, Gordon came out with a series of beloved films dealing with overgrown insects, reptiles, humans and other assorted nasties: King Dinosaur ('55); Beginning of the End, The Cyclops and The Amazing Colossal Man ('57); Attack of the Puppet People (in which Mr. Big reversed directions and went small), War of the Colossal Beast and Earth vs. the Spider ('58); Village of the Giants ('65); Food of the Gods ('76); and Joan Collins' least favorite film of all those that she appeared in, Empire of the Ants ('77). In 1960, however, Gordon took a break from his outsized monstrosities and presented his fans with a decidedly different type of tale: a supernatural ... Read More

What Lies Beneath: Claire and present danger

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What Lies Beneath directed by Robert Zemeckis

Robert Zemeckis, by dint of such phenomenally popular films as Romancing the Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the Back to the Future trilogy, Death Becomes Her, Forrest Gump and Contact, was already a highly successful Hollywood director when, along with producers Steve Starkey and Jack Rapke, he formed the ImageMovers production company in 1998. As the company's first project, Zemeckis chose screenwriter Clark Gregg's What Lies Beneath, a modern-day ghost story that, the director told his crew, he wished to bring to the screen as Alfred Hitchcock might have done, IF the Master of Suspense had had access to modern FX technology and computer graphics. (Never mind that none of Hitchcock's 54 films dealt with ghosts or the supernatural per se.) Filmed largely in the Lake Champlain region of Vermont... Read More

The Machine Girl: Mon ami

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The Machine Girl directed by Noboru Iguchi

I am very pleased to report that Japanese special FX master (and occasional director) Yoshihiro Nishimura is now a very solid 3 for 3 with me. In 2001's Suicide Club, Nishimura's splattering gore FX gave this ultimately bewildering story just the visceral shocks needed to put it over. In 2008's Tokyo Gore Police, which saw Nishimura also taking the reins of director, his gore FX entered the realm of high art, with many characters transformed into gushing, human blood geysers and sanguinary fountains. (These gushing blood FX, perhaps inspired by Akira Kurosawa's shocking finale of 1962's Sanjuro, could conceivably be deserving of some sort of Japanese patent or copyright!) And now ... 2008's The Machine Girl, which, if not quite as bloody as Tokyo Gore Police (but what film IS?!?!), incorporates the FX more cleverly, and into a more e... Read More

976-EVIL: Sorry, wrong number

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976-EVIL directed by Robert Englund

When the 1988 horror film 976-EVIL was first released in December of that year, its promotional poster bore the legend "Revenge Is On The Line." However, I believe the picture might have improved on its $3 million U.S. gross at the box office if, instead, that poster had rightfully proclaimed "The Film So Shocking, It Could Only Have Been Directed By Freddy Krueger!" And indeed, 1988 WAS a big year for Freddy portrayer Robert Englund. Besides appearing as Krueger for the fourth time, in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (and Englund would go on to portray his most famous screen persona four more times afterward!), the beloved actor, after dozens of film and TV appearances, directed his first film. And, as it turns out, 976-EVIL does have much in common with the lesser Freddy films: It features some nice-looking FX, violent set pieces and a barely... Read More

Who Can Kill a Child?: Night of the living moppets

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Who Can Kill a Child? Directed by Narciso Ibanez Serrador

In the 10/27/66 episode of Star Trek, the one entitled "Miri," Capt. Kirk & Co. beam down to a planet on which all the adults have long since expired, and only feral children reign. Well, although taken from a wholly different source, a similar setup can be found in the surprisingly excellent Spanish horror film Who Can Kill a Child? (1976). But while a planet-wide virus was to blame for the extinction of the adults in the classic Star Trek story, Who Can Kill a Child? gives us an even more sinister explanation. In that film, we meet a young English couple, Tom and Evelyn (Lewis Flander, filling in when Anthony Hopkins' services could not be obtained, and Prunella Ransome), on holiday in the Spanish coastal town of Benavis. Tom is a biologist, while his wife — a beautiful blonde who almost resembles the early '70s Joni Mi... Read More

Vampyros Lesbos: The Sunbathing Vampiress

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Vampyros Lesbos directed by Jess Franco

When 17-year-old Spanish actress Soledad Miranda appeared in the 1960 Jess Franco musical Queen of the Tarabin in an uncredited role, little could she suspect that a decade later, while suffering discouragement at her stagnating career (she had appeared in some 30 Continental films in those 10 years and was still far from being a household name), she would be selected by Franco again to appear in the first of a string of star-making, outer pictures. In a director/actress collaboration similar to the one that enabled Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich to create seven wonderful entertainments from 1930 - '35, Franco and his new muse created seven mind-bewildering entertainments ... in one year! In a blaze of filmmaking that even Roger Corman might have envied, the pair brought forth, in 1970 alone, Count Dracula, Nightmares Come at Night, Sex Cha... Read More

The Legend of Hell House: “You do not fight this house!”

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The Legend of Hell House directed by John Hough

Although a certain Wiki site lists the existence of 135 haunted-house films — and I'm sure there must be more, with a new one being released, it seems, every few months — the Big 3, for this viewer, have long been 1958's The House on Haunted Hill, 1963's The Haunting and 1973's The Legend of Hell House. The first, a William Castle-directed picture that has long been a baby-boomer favorite, is undeniably scary, although much of the picture's ghoulish occurrences, as it turns out, are man-made machinations in the furtherance of a sinister scheme. Robert Wise's 1963 film is considered by many (including myself) the single most frightening film ever made, although nothing blatantly horrible is ever shown, and the film's uber-creepy happenings just might all be the product of Eleanor Vance's (Julie Harris') deranged mind.

And then t... Read More

The House at the End of the Street: I fought J-Law and J-Law won

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The House at the End of the Street directed by Mark Tonderai

Although actress Jennifer Lawrence had appeared in several television programs and seven theatrical films prior to 2012, few could have foreseen the magnitude of her breakthrough that year. While it is true that critics had praised her work in 2010's Winter's Bone, her career was most assuredly catapulted into the stratosphere by a pair of films that bracketed 2012. Bringing to life the Katniss Everdeen character in The Hunger Games, she helped propel that March release to an almost $700 million worldwide gross; the No. 3 film of that year, after The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. In November, her portrayal of Tiffany Maxwell in Silver Linings Playbook earned her a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar ... the second-youngest winner of that august award (at age 22) in history, after Marlee Matlin. Less remembered fo... Read More

Opera: Caws and Effect

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Opera directed by Dario Argento

Numerous friends have tried to get me to appreciate opera over the years; all these many attempts have failed. Call me a philistine if you like, but for me, opera has always meant a fat lady in a Viking helmet yodeling at full blast, or a bearded guy or off-putting prima donna shrilling away in a language that I don't understand. Thus, it was with a feeling of decided trepidation that I approached Italian director Dario Argento's 1987 offering, Opera. On the one hand, for this aspiring Argento completist, the film was a must-see; on the other hand, the film not only takes place in an opera house, but features, on its soundtrack, extensive samplings of Verdi's opera Macbeth, performed by Maria Callas and other noted sopranos. Yikes! Well, as it turns out, I needn't have worried. Not only didn't I mind the opera music in this film, but I actually (and I cannot believe I'm ... Read More

An Angel for Satan: A winning end to an historic streak

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An Angel for Satan directed by Camillo Mastrocinque

Although cult actress Barbara Steele appeared in 14 frightening films during the course of her career, the nine Italian Gothic-style pictures that she starred in during the early to mid-'60s are the ones primarily responsible for her current title: the Queen of Horror. Starting with the Mario Bava wonder Black Sunday in 1960, and then on to The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, its sequel The Ghost, Castle of Blood, The Long Hair of Death, Terror Creatures From the Grave, Nightmare Castle, She Beast and finally An Angel for Satan in 1966, Steele's streak of grisly horror films is one that no actress had enjoyed before ... or has surpassed since. The last of those nine, An Angel for Satan, is apparently the true rarity of the bunch, never having been released in any form for... Read More

Magic: Atta boy, Shmucko!

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Magic directed by Richard Attenborough

A good 13 years before scaring the bejeebers out of audiences by portraying a certain fava-bean-and-human-flesh-eating cannibal, Welsh actor Anthony Hopkins was playing a demented wackadoodle really almost as frightening, in the 1978 film Magic. As far as I can tell, Magic was the sixth film to deal with a ventriloquist and his relationship with an alter-ego dummy (not counting the 1954 Danny Kaye COMEDY Knock on Wood). Lon Chaney had starred in The Unholy Three in 1925 and in its remake of 1930; I would love to see both of these supposedly marvelous features one day. I CAN report that the Erich von Stroheim film The Great Gabbo (1929), an early talkie, is simply dreadful; surely one of the top 10 worst that I have seen at the NYC repertory house Film Forum, out of almost 1,400 movies that I've caught there over the years. The Michael Re... Read More

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave directed by Emilio Miraglia

Italian director Emilio Miraglia's second film, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972), had previously impressed me as one of the most perfect giallo pictures that I had ever seen, when I first saw it six years ago, so I had a feeling that I was going to enjoy seeing his first. But because of that earlier film's title — The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave — I was somehow expecting something more on the order of a supernatural/ghost story. To my delighted surprise, however, Evelyn turns out to be both: a modern-day Gothic melodrama that combines insanity and S&M elements and that ultimately segues quite unambiguously into grisly giallo terrain. Released in 1971, the film succeeds dazzlingly well on both fronts, and reveals itself to be a remarkably self-assured outing for the first-time director.

In The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave Read More

Monsters: Some competition for Dagora

Monsters directed by Gareth Edwards

Fortunately enough for me, I first saw Gareth Edwards' 2010 sci-fi debut, Monsters, as a middle-aged adult, rather than when I was a kid. Decades back, any monster movie that didn't deliver the titular creature within the first 1/2 hour would invariably leave me very restless; even the great '50s shocker The Giant Behemoth was pooh-poohed by me back then for withholding its initial glimpse of the film's radioactive brontosaurus for "too long." (Hmmm ... maybe this partially explains why I STILL consider The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms — in which we see the monster in the film's first 10 minutes and regularly thereafter — the greatest such film ever created.) So what would I have made of a film like Monsters, in which, despite that title, we don't get a good, solid glimpse of the alien creatures until the picture's FINAL 10 minutes, and never get to see them in open daylight? Not much, I'm ... Read More