Film Review: The Sender (1982)

Release Date: October 22nd, 1982
Directed by: Roger Christian
Written by: Thomas Baum
Music by: Trevor Jones
Cast: Kathryn Harrold, Željko Ivanek, Shirley Knight, Paul Freeman

Kingsmere Productions Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

Every now and again, I find an ’80s horror movie that somehow slipped through the cracks, even though I used to spend countless hours perusing the aisles of mom and pop video stores in the ’80s. Maybe I saw this at some point and the VHS box art just didn’t grab me. Whatever the reason, it was awesome to discover this now because The Sender is an exceptionally good sci-fi/horror flick that is grossly underappreciated and I guess, kind of lost to time.

The film stars Kathryn Harrold, who is really damn good and probably should’ve been in more than just a handful of movies I’ve seen in much smaller roles. Also, she has a kind of classic old Hollywood beauty to her.

This also stars a pretty young Željko Ivanek, whose work I’m familiar with is all much more recent. Fans of True Blood may recognize him as The Magistrate. He was also more recently in Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri. It was really cool seeing him in this, so young, as he’s a character actor I’ve grown to enjoy over the last decade or so.

Rounding out the cast is Paul Freeman, most recognized for his role as René Belloq, the primary villain in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Frankly, I love Freeman in everything and he doesn’t disappoint here. And just when you think he’s playing an annoying character trope, he surprises you in this.

The story is about a young man who is institutionalized after trying to drown himself in front of dozens of people at a lake. As the story rolls on, we discover that this young man has exceptional psychic power that he can’t control. He effects everyone around him but the good therapist at the hospital tries her damnedest to save him. As the film progresses things get more and more crazy and the movie really gives us some cool shit.

In fact, the film is damn impressive considering the things they achieved with the special effects. This came out in the heyday of practical effects in horror movies and this really just stands well above what was the standard quality of the time.

Additionally, this is surprisingly really well acted. At least, more so than you’d expect from a forgotten horror flick from 1982.

I don’t want to spoil too much because I’d rather people check this out. It deserves a hell of a lot more love and recognition than it’s gotten over the years.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The Hidden, Carrie, The Fury and Scanners.

Film Review: Gamera vs. Viras (1968)

Also known as: Gamera tai uchu kaijû Bairasu (original Japanese title), Gamera vs. Bairus (alternative spelling), Destroy All Planets, Gamera vs. Outer Space Monster Viras (US alternative titles)
Release Date: March 20th, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Niisan Takahashi
Music by: Kenjiro Hirose
Cast: Kojiro Hongo, Toru Takatsuka, Carl Craig

Daiei Studios, 90 Minutes (TV cut), 81 Minutes (theatrical cut)

Review:

“Attention all spaceship crew members. Attention all spaceship crew members. Gamera has been located. He’s at the bottom of the ocean. Prepare to attack at once. Activate the super catch ray.” – Doctor A

This Gamera film is really a mixed bag but due to the behind the scenes troubles that Toei was dealing with at the time, their shortcuts in this film are somewhat excusable and the new stuff is pretty enjoyable for a Gamera picture.

What I’m referring to is that the studio was in financial trouble and they needed to make some money to stay afloat. The biggest money maker for them was the Gamera film series but since money was tight, this picture reuses footage from previous ones.

So on one hand, this plays like a Gamera’s Greatest Battles compilation while also providing a new, cool alien threat and an awesome kaiju creature for Gamera to fight in the final act.

From my youth, this was the Gamera movie that always stuck out in my memories, as the set design of the alien ship was just f’n cool. It’s pretty simplistic and just uses triangular screens and flashing light panels but it’s surrealness just burned into my brain. Plus, the outside design of the alien ship is cool and I always wanted a toy of it.

I also liked the monster Viras, who was essentially just a space squid with a sharp, pointed head and the ability to fly.

The plot is wonky as shit and the overall production is cheap and noticeable, even for a Gamera picture.

Still, this isn’t a bad way to waste some time, especially if you’re a kaiju fan and haven’t seen this one.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other classic era Gamera films.

Film Review: I, Monster (1971)

Release Date: November 1st, 1971 (Sweden)
Directed by: Stephen Weeks
Written by: Milton Subotsky
Based on: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Music by: Carl Davis
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Mike Raven, Richard Hurndall, George Merritt, Kenneth J. Warren, Susan Jameson

Amicus Productions, British Lion Film Corporation, 75 Minutes, 81 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“The face of evil is ugly to look upon. And as the pleasures increase, the face becomes uglier.” – Dr. Charles Marlowe

Being that I like Jekyll & Hyde stories, Amicus Productions, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, I definitely thought I’d love the hell out of this film. Sadly, it was a bit underwhelming and kind of slow for only being a seventy-five minute movie.

Still, I do like the performances of horror icons Lee and Cushing and they really committed to the roles, as they always do.

Something about this production just seemed off and like it was all sloppily slapped together with the studio and director assuming it’d all just work because it had two great stars and utilized beloved source material.

This isn’t terrible but it’s a heck of a lost worse than it should have been.

I guess, on paper, I can see why they seemed to just dial it in from a production standpoint but the great Hammer films with Lee and Cushing still had to be solid from top-to-bottom at every level of the production.

Sure, these movies tend to look and feel cheap but even then, you still get so wrapped up in the magic that you don’t care and you believe what you see on the screen. This picture just lacked that magic.

I’m not sure why but it’s devoid of energy outside of a few good moments where Lee is experimenting on himself or raging as the movie’s monster.

I wouldn’t call this a waste of time, though. It’s still got moments to enjoy if you’re a fan of the two leads but they’ve been a part of much better productions and there are certainly better Jekyll & Hyde adaptations out there.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde film adaptations, as well as other movies starring both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

Film Review: Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)

Also known as: Gamera tai Daimaju Jaiga (original Japanese title), Gamera vs. Monster X (US TV title), Monsters Invade Expo ’70, War of the Monsters, Gamera vs. Giger (alternate worldwide English titles)
Release Date: March 21st, 1970 (Japan)
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Nisan Takahashi
Music by: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Cast: Tsutomu Takakuwa, Kelly Varis, Katherine Murphy

Daiei Motion Picture Company, 82 Minutes

Review:

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a Gamera movie but I do have a few left from the original run of films that I haven’t yet reviewed. I already did all the movies that were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 but there are still three left that never made it on that show.

This one is mostly more of the same but it does have an interesting bit where Gamera, after a defeat, is essentially dead with a pale head. His body is left half submerged in the bay near the World Expo ’70 site, a world’s fair type of festival that takes centerstage in this movie.

With Gamera out of commission, two kids use a small submarine to enter his mouth and try to resuscitate him. While in there, they have to survive the heroic mission while outwitting killer parasites in the giant creature’s body. It’s weird, it’s neat and it’s pretty cool if you’re a fan of this sort of awesome cheese.

Other than that, there’s not much more to say. Everything is on par with the other sequels but this at least stays afloat and has an edge over some of the other chapters because of the sequence with the kids inside of Gamera’s body.

All in all, a decent flick for Gamera fans but if you’re not a diehard kaiju or tokusatsu viewer, you’ll probably be scratching your head for eighty-two minutes.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other classic era Gamera films.

Book Review: ‘The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Book 1)’ by Robert E. Howard

This is the first of three collected editions of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian tales. I’m reading these as they’re numerically numbered and I assume there’s at least a loose chronology to the placement of the stories over the three volumes.

This one features several of the famous Conan short stories that I’ve also read but about 40 percent of it was new to me.

Covering nearly 500 pages, this is packed full of a dozen or so stories, as well as alternate draft versions of many. The main part of the book has The Frost-Giant’s Daughter, The Tower of the Elephant, The Phoenix and the Sword and Queen of the Black Coast just to name a few.

Overall, this was a hell of a lot of fun to both revisit and discover stories I hadn’t yet read. Some of these were also stories I knew from the comics but hadn’t actually experienced the source material for myself.

All in all, a great, beefy book packed full of sword and sorcery adventure, heroism and monsters. What the hell isn’t there to love?

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Robert E. Howard collections.

Film Review: American Psycho (2000)

Release Date: January 21st, 2000 (Sundance)
Directed by: Mary Harron
Written by: Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner
Based on: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Music by: John Cale
Cast: Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Josh Lucas, Samantha Mathis, Matt Ross, Bill Sage, Chloe Sevigny, Cara Seymour, Justin Theroux, Guinevere Turner, Reg E. Cathey, Reese Witherspoon, Krista Sutton

Am Psycho Productions, Edward R. Pressman Film, Lions Gate Films, 101 Minutes

Review:

“I like to dissect girls. Did you know I’m utterly insane?” – Patrick Bateman

I used to dig the hell out of this movie back when it was still fairly new. But I was also in my early twenties and just coming out of the edgy boi ’90s. Also, I hadn’t read the book before I saw the film.

Having now read the book, this motion picture adaptation is a real disappointment. I guess the book was so edgy and gruesome that a lot of it had to be left out but honestly, why make the movie at all then?

Now I am a fan of the acting in this, which is really solid from top-to-bottom, and this helped solidify Christian Bale as one of my favorite actors of the ’00s. I especially liked Willem Dafoe in this, as he worked well being only one of two characters grounded in any sort of reality.

While this movie is bizarre and I imagine still entertaining on a first viewing, for me, it doesn’t hold up tremendously well. It kind of reminds me of David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune, in that it’s a collection of scenes from bigger, richer source material. Source material that needs to be read and understood to actually get the full effect of the story.

However, I guess, if one hasn’t read the book, they don’t really know what they’re missing, as was the case with myself back in 2000. And at least this is less complex than Dune.

The overall narrative of the film seems like it’s spotty and full of holes, though. You never really get to know anyone in the film but since they’re all superficial and inauthentic, seen through the eyes of an unreliable narrator, I guess it doesn’t break the picture. This really just feels like random scenes strung together and since it’s not clear what’s reality and what’s not, it works in its own weird way. The problem I have with it, though, is that it could’ve worked much better, as it did in the original novel.

It’s been years since I’ve seen this and it sucks that it didn’t live up to my memories of it but the bits I really like are still great when you cut them out of the larger body of work and just see them as scenes.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other movies based on Bret Easton Ellis novels: The Rules of Attraction and Less Than Zero.

Film Review: The Bat (1959)

Release Date: August 9th, 1959
Directed by: Crane Wilbur
Written by: Crane Wilbur
Based on: The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart, The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart, Avery Hopwood
Music by: Louis Forbes
Cast: Vincent Price, Agnes Moorehead, Darla Hood

Liberty Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“This is the Oaks, a house in the country which I’ve rented for the summer. As an author I write tales of mystery and murder, but the things that have happened in this house are far more fantastic than any book I’ve ever had published.” – Cornelia van Gorder

In a way, this movie almost plays like a proto-slasher film, even though it predates the genre’s peak by over twenty years. But it does feature a killer in the house, trying to get to two women holed up in the master bedroom.

Now there’s more to the story than just that but I kind of like how this hits those beats and does them fairly well, even though it’s hard to imagine that a person that wants to do these ladies harm would have much trouble getting to them, even with a bedroom door in the way. Also, the mysterious stranger has many opportunities that aren’t exploited.

The murderer in this film is actually really cool. It’s said to be a faceless man that murders women at night by using his steel claws to rip out their throats. The concept is gruesome for 1959 and it really sets a brooding tone. The visual look of the killer lives up to expectations, as he is shrouded completely in black, except for his claws.

Of course, the film wants you to suspect that the doctor character, played by horror icon Vincent Price, is The Bat. It’s a red herring, though, as the killer is revealed to be someone else.

I think that the best thing about this film is the acting. Agnes Moorehead proves she’s still got the chops and Price is as superb as always. Darla Hood is decent but she’s overshadowed by the mere presence of Moorehead. This would be Hood’s last movie and she was most known for playing Darla in the classic Our Gang short films.

All in all, this isn’t a great horror film but it boasted solid performances, a cool killer and it’s certainly entertaining.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Vincent Price horror films of the late ’50s.

Film Review: Bloody Hell (2020)

Release Date: September 9th, 2020 (Germany – Fantasy Filmfest)
Directed by: Alister Grierson
Written by: Robert Benjamin
Music by: Brian Cachia
Cast: Ben O’Toole, Caroline Craig, Matthew Sunderland, Travis Jeffery, Jack Finsterer, Meg Fraser

Heart Sleeve Productions, Entertainment Squad, Eclectik Vision, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, you know, what would be funny is if you tore this little asshole’s leg off, and then stuck it to yourself, and then walked upstairs as if nothing was wrong.” – Rex

I kind of just watched this on a whim, not knowing a thing about it, other than it was suggested after I watched Psycho Goreman.

The film is a mixed bag but it’s actually really amusing, fairly unpredictable and the lead actor is charismatic and damn good.

While I’ve seen dozens of psycho family movies and you probably have to, this one is at least fresh and unique. It adds some new ideas to the tired formula that make it a worthwhile experience.

For one, the main character has an imaginary friend that is really just himself. Also, this starts off with his action packed, heroic backstory, which takes up the entire first act but sets the stage for something very different than just being some rando that ended up in some crazy person’s house.

You never really know what all this is leading too, who you can fully trust or what surprises are going to pop up, as there are a few good ones.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot and the details within it because I went into this with no knowledge of the movie and I feel like having too much insight might have diminished the overall experience.

Now this isn’t great and I’m not sure how memorable it will be over time but it’s a solid time waster and better than what modern horror films tend to offer their audience.

This definitely isn’t PG-13 shit. It’s got good, gratuitous violence and with that, some entertaining, balls out sequences.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other psycho family horror movies.

Film Review: PG: Psycho Goreman (2020)

Also known as: Psycho Goreman (original title)
Release Date: September 10th, 2020 (Stiges Film Festival)
Directed by: Steven Kostanski
Written by: Steven Kostanski
Music by: Blitz//Berlin
Cast: Nita-Josee Hanna, Owen Myre, Steven Vlahos, Adam Brooks, Alexis Hancey, Matthew Ninaber, Reece Presley

Dystopia Films, Raven Banner Entertainment, RLJE Films, Shudder, 95 Minutes

Review:

“The horrors you have just witnessed cannot be unseen. Your young minds will carry this until it consumes you in a miserable death.” – Psycho Goreman, “Cool.” – Mimi

With retro-styled horror and sci-fi films being all the rage lately and for having a pretty great trailer, I had to rent this as soon as I was made aware of it.

Although, it is distributed by Shudder and therefore, will probably stream on their service very soon. I wanted to give the people behind the movie my money though, as they earned it just through the trailer alone.

Anyway, I’m glad that I rented this, as it hit the right notes and was a fuck ton of fun with a good amount of ridiculous gore, slapstick-y humor and kid actors that were much better than most and carried this film.

The movie also homages a lot of great things in very subtle ways that the ’80s horror or sci-fi aficionado should pick up on while the basic normie will have no idea. Granted, this might be too much for the basic normie to handle, which kind of makes it more enjoyable.

The plot is about two siblings that awaken an alien badass in their backyard. The young girl controls the deadly alien by possessing his magic gem. With that, she prevents him from destroying the universe but also uses him as her pet and new BFF.

As the story rolls on, other aliens arrive to destroy the alien badass but eventually, he regains full power and unleashes hell. However, having discovered love through the young girl and her dysfunctional family, the alien spares them of harm. This also ends in a way where a sequel is possible, which I definitely wouldn’t mind.

I thought that the special effects were great for what they were. While there are some CGI flourishes throughout the film, the costumes and monsters are all done with practical effects and look superb. All the weird characters kind of give this movie the look of a Power Rangers episode that was produced in Hell and I certainly mean that very complimentary.

I also like that this movie breaks some of the modern tropes with showing families in entertainment. Sure, they go down the typical trope road but then subvert expectations in a good way and ultimately, the family comes together in the end, strengthening their bond and even turning the loser dad into a hero in his own way.

While this isn’t my favorite film in this style, it is one of the better ones and it’s something I would probably re-watch with some regularity.

Plus, Psycho Goreman is just an awesome character. I’m down to watch him fuck stuff up, again and again.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other films that Steven Kostanski was involved in.

TV Review: Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974–1975)

Original Run: September 13th, 1974 – March 28th, 1975
Created by: Jeff Rice
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Kolchak Papers by Jeffrey Grant Rice
Music by: various
Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Jack Grinnage, Ruth McDevitt 

Francy Productions Inc., Universal Television, ABC, 20 Episodes, 50-51 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’ve wanted to work my way through all the classic Kolchak material for quite some time. After reviewing the two television movies, I knew it was time to watch the television series, which only ran for a single season of twenty episodes.

Overall, I prefer the two films but the show is where the character and his world really come to life and start to develop its own mythos.

The show is a mixed bag of some great and some mediocre episodes. None of them are bad but some are a bit slow and felt like they were interesting concepts or ideas that didn’t live up to the level of the franchise at its best.

The episodes I dug most I truly loved, though.

Darren McGavin was born to play the role of Carl Kolchak and it’s hard to envision anyone else in the part, even though it was rebooted thirty or so years later with Stuart Townsend. I’ve never seen that version but I may track it down in order to review it. That show failed pretty quickly though and has less episodes than the original.

I think that the quality of the episodes being a bit shaky didn’t have so much to do with the monsters featured but had more to do with the creative teams that worked on them. Some stories felt rushed, some felt slow and the craftsmanship was sometimes lacking. For instance, in one episode the cinematography could look superb for 1970s television while in the following episode, it could look really pedestrian and half assed.

That’s not to say that the show didn’t have a consistent look and feel, it did. It’s just to say that it really stood out when a director would go the extra mile or when a writer took time crafting a solid, more fleshed out script. You could gauge which episodes were made with actual passion and love for the material.

Faults aside, I dig the hell out of this show and the two main characters within it. I love McGavin and Simon Oakland brought an extra level of gravitas. Plus, the two men have incredible chemistry.

While this is a franchise that seems almost forgotten in the early part of the 2020s, it is still historically significant. Without it, we probably wouldn’t have gotten other great, similar shows like The X-Files.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the Kolchak movies before the show, as well as the reboot and The X-Files.