Witchouse (1999)

Witchouse (1999) movie poster

director David DeCoteau
viewed: 04/17/2018

“Well I believe in all kinds of kooky shit.”

If you like your sleaze sleazy or your gore gory, David DeCocteau may not be your guy. I guess I’m still trying to find that sweet spot for which DeCocteau holds with some folks. Witchouse may be the closest I’ve come yet to understanding.

And I’m still not quite sure why.

Witchouse adheres to a formula not terribly unlike Totem (also 1999), which I also recently watched. A bunch of young folks meet up in a location (here it’s a mansion of sorts, in Totem it was a cabin in the woods). They are quickly sketched types, not even really caricatures, and then horror stuff starts happening. In Totem it was evil creatures. Here, it’s a vengeful witch.

But in Witchouse, it’s all a bit better. I don’t exactly know why, but it is.

I continue to explore.

The Wonderful Land of Oz (1969)

The Wonderful Land of Oz (1969) movie poster

director Barry Mahon
viewed: 04/14/2018

“My, what a peculiar looking creature you are.”

Barry Mahon’s first foray into low-budget kiddie flicks, following a robust career in Exploitation movies of various stripes, The Wonderful Land of Oz is a fabulously bizarre creation. It stars his son, Chan at Tip in a relatively faithful interpretation of L. Frank Baum’s first sequel to the legendary The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (oddly enough, the only one of those books I’ve personally read.) 

What makes this pretty largely demented is the production itself, cheaper and wackier than the lowest of community theater productions. It starts with a terrifying purple cow before introducing s Mombi,  General Jinjur, Jack Pumpkinhead,  H. M. Woggle-bug T. E., the Scarecrow,  the Tin Woodman,  Ozma, Glinda, and the Gump.

The quality of the musical numbers are oddly slightly above all else. Though, Ack, Chan Mahon’s  singing.

Surely Oz has been done better, but this wonky, low budget fantasia is a marvel of chintz and accidental darkness.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters (1962)

Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters (1962) movie poster

director Roberto Rodríguez
viewed: 11/14/2018

“All the people that live in the witch’s house are really weird.”

And awesome!

Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters was apparently a sequel to a couple of other Mexican children fantasy films, and so, it starts out running wild. The “Queen of Badness” as she is dubbed in American has a bevy of henchpeople from robots to Frankenstein and a vampire and even a pinhead. And she is ready to punish the wolf and the ogre for having helped Little Red Riding Hood (María Gracia) and the dickish Tom Thumb (Cesáreo Quezadas) in previous times. So those two heroes must come to her creepy forest and rescue the captives, with the help of Stinky, the skunk.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters is demented and sublime with is mixed bag of knock-off villains and aesthetics and its nonchalant heightened danger. The evil witch prays to Satan. One of the generic villains is a kidnapper with a huge net.  And on the more ribald side, the skunk farts in the kidnapper’s face.

Oh my goodness, I loved this.

 

Beyond the Darkness (1979)

Beyond the Darkness (1979) movie poster

director Joe D’Amato
viewed: 04/13/2018

The things we do for love…

Joe D’Amato’s Beyond the Darkness takes several elements of Hitchcock’s Psycho to their logical(?) extremes. With a few twists and turns. And a dead baboon.

Unlike fellow taxidermist Norman Bates, Frank Wyler (Kieran Canter) had a real life love. But she is killed via voodoo by Iris (Franca Stoppi), his housekeeper-cum-wet nurse. Frank and Iris’s relationship is far more wrought and perverse than Norman and his mother’s. Iris understands when she finds that Frank has uninterred his dead wife, pulled out her guts, has eaten her heart, and taxidermied her. She’s also cool with the killing and dissolving of other women Frank brings home.

At heart, Beyond the Darkness is a love story, or a twist of two love stories, mixed with hatred, jealousies, retributions, and an inevitable dance toward mutual death.

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Atomic Blonde (2017) movie poster

director David Leitch
viewed: 04/11/2018

Atomic Blonde fetishizes neon more successfully than it fetishizes the Eighties. Though the soundtrack is heavily retro, the aesthetic is much more a 21st century one.

Charlize Theron kicks a lot of ass and looks great doing it, which is really what this movie is about more than anything.

The end of the Cold War Berlin setting is an interesting choice for a throwback spy flick. But the story doesn’t have much intrigue. I mean, how could the turncoat be anyone other than James McAvoy? He’s not just the only other actor of note but the only character given any development. It’s also kind of funny how Theron towers over him in bare feet or heels.

The highlight is the drawn out stairwell fight scene.

I dug the music and all but by the only tracks truly from the period setting of 1989 were Public Enemy and Ministry. Is that just me being nitpicky?

The Strangler (1964)

The Strangler (1964) movie poster

director  Burt Topper
viewed: 04/09/2018

The Strangler is low-rent Hitchcock with Victor Buono as a serial killer. Director Burt Topper ekes out some nicely shot sequences, and the editing is sharp.

Buono, would’ve made a good John Wayne Gacy, is here a man seething with barely repressed rage at his mouthy and harsh invalid mother (Ellen Corby). He obsesses over dolls, nurses, and young girls at an amusement park. One of which, Diane Sayer, is great as the sassy ring toss girl.

It’s a passable B-picture, relying on some more by the book police procedural and paperback psychology.

 

Messiah of Evil (1973)

Messiah of Evil (1973) movie poster

directors Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz
viewed: 04/08/2018

Beautifully shot, full-on surrealism, Messiah of Evil is David Lynch before David Lynch, through a Night Gallery prism. Cosmic horror on the California coast.

Marianna Hill is Arletty, a young woman who has come to the small burg of Point Dune to seek out her artist father. She finds his house empty, the interior covered from floor to ceiling in modernist murals, the likes of which Dario Argento might envy. And something dark and looming is afoot here at the edge of the world.

Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz’s semi-obscure cult film is a gorgeous nightmare infused with social commentary. The world is dead, and the people that roam the streets of Point Dune are as empty as the town itself. I noted an odd anti-consumerist message?

Elisha Cook Jr delivers a great scene in a hotel room, to the last living inhabitants of the world.

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye indeed.

I need to see this film again.

The Book of Henry (2017)

The Book of Henry (2017) movie poster

director Colin Trevorrow
viewed: 04/07/2018

How did anybody think this was a good idea for a movie?

The Book of Henry features an 11 year old boy (Jaeden Lieberher) who has more intellect, acuity and emotional intelligence than anyone else in the movie.

He knows more than his mom (Naomi Watts), a nice but shallow single mom waitress who crushes on video games and wine. Henry does all the family paperwork and trades on the stock market having built a serious next egg…but she still works in a diner because…?

He also knows that his cute neighbor, Christina (Maddie Ziegler), is getting molested by her step-dad (Dean Norris), and while his calls to child protective services aren’t going anywhere, he’s devised up a plan that can be executed from beyond the grave, to set things right.

Henry is the envy of his younger brother, who has none of Henry’s mad skills at making Rube Goldberg-style contraptions.

Henry spends the whole movie boysplaining to everyone.

The Book of Henry is a deeply, profoundly bad movie. Not any fly by night bad movie no flash in the pan this is a bad movie for the ages. I’m not calling Colin Trevorrow a great director but he’s not the problem . It’s funny that they thought anyone could direct this crap. It’s the script, stupid.

But of course it’s also unintentionally hilarious. The absurdity levels on this movie are impressive, as Henry (from beyond the grave) directs his mother to murder. Boysplaining it FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE!

Because on top of all this maudlin and soppy familial love and goodness, Henry gets brain cancer and dies. And what does he say, “I should have thought of that.” The one thing he didn’t foresee.

I may have to add this to the Wikipedia page of “films considered the worst” because, I think it belongs there.

The Fly II (1989)

The Fly II (1989) movie poster

director Chris Walas
viewed: 04/07/2018

“I’m a human fly
and I don’t know why”
– Interior/Rorschach

Graduating from special effects and creature design to director, Chris Walas birthed The Fly II three years after David Cronenberg’s well-noted re-make. And yeah, it’s no Cronenberg. And Eric Stoltz and Daphne Zuniga are no Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. But it’s still a pretty entertaining sequel.

Martin Brundle (Stoltz) is already part fly (on his father’s side), so he grows up super fast and super smart and when he hits sexual maturity, he starts metastasizing into human fly.

Of course, where the film excels is in the gruesome effects.  There is a reason that Google tries to complete your web search “fly 2 dog”. I’m sure Martin wasn’t the only one scarred by that. I actually found it kind of funny.

But there is a lot more: a head squish for the ages, an acid bath full head and torso melt (also for the ages), and then the surprising happy ending, in which the villain gets Cronenberged and left as a thing like a mutant zoo creature.

Isle of Dogs (2018)

Isle of Dogs (2018) movie poster

director Wes Anderson
viewed: 04/07/2018 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

Even as a fairly inveterate Wes Anderson film aficionado, it’s pretty easy to see the problematics of Isle of Dogs and its version of Japan and the Japanese. Even while trying to be overtly respectful (the film is meant in part as an homage to Akira Kurosawa), you can still wind up with something that is culturally tone deaf and resultingly offensive.  The fall-out from responses to Kubo might have been a signal if caught early enough in production.

In part, I think Anderson’s approach here works. The whole film is taken as translations. The dogs barking is translated into English. The Japanese is paraphrased in translation, whenever actually translated.

The film is totally gorgeous. And if you’re apt to like Wes Anderson films, it’s certainly that with snappy dialogue, amusing characters, deadpan humor. Though Anderson himself is not an animator, this stop-motion design and animation team is so perfect for his aesthetics, which I’ve compared before to cinematic dioramas or shadowboxes.

What’s most interesting to me about this movie is that its Wes Anderson doing speculative fiction. The story is set 20 years in the future and the world is totally garbage and destroyed (or at least Garbage Island is, where we spend most of the film). It starts from a pessimistic point, in which “man’s best friend” and a metaphor perhaps for what is good in humanity is removed from human society due to a variety of diseases. To further the dystopia being shoved down society’s throat, the replacement dogs are robots, capable of viciousness only.

Ultimately, the film resolves itself too easily. The villainous Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) has a change of heart for no apparent good reason. The stakes in a Wes Anderson film are typically not so high, and viewers can usually guess that things will work out in the end more or less.

I enjoyed the film, as did my teenage daughter. But I tend to like Wes Anderson constructions. It really is beautifully rendered.