Film Review: Troll 2 (1990)

Also known as: Goblins, Trolls (working titles), Troll II (video box title), Monster Valley (Spain, Chile alternate title), The Return of Troll (Netherlands)
Release Date: October 3rd, 1990 (Germany)
Directed by: Claudio Fragasso
Written by: Claudio Fragasso, Rossella Drudi
Music by: Carlo Maria Cordio
Cast: Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey, Connie McFarland, Deborah Reed, Jason Wright, Darren Ewing, Jason Steadman

Filmirage, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Nilbog! It’s goblin spelled backwards! This is their kingdom!” – Joshua

It’s no secret that Troll 2 is a bad movie. With that, it has a pretty large cult following. Many people, however, don’t seem to understand that this is also intended to be a comedy and it seems like it is pretty self-aware. I think a lot of people hate it without understanding it and the intent of its creators.

Personally, I think that Troll 2 accomplishes what it set out to do and exceeds what its intent was. I also think that it wouldn’t have grown into a weird phenomena if audiences didn’t initially misinterpret that intent and thought that this was a serious attempt at low budget horror.

What’s funny about the film, is that the script was written by a husband and wife team and it started out as the wife expressing her anger over all of her friends becoming vegetarians. I think she definitely found a very creative outlet with a lot of good tongue and cheek humor to exorcise that frustration. As a devout carnivore, I understand and empathize with her pain.

Everything about this movie is bad in the text book sense.

The special effects, all of which are mostly practical, physical effects, are bottom of the barrel schlock. But that stuff works within the context of this movie.

Also, the acting is literally laughably bad and I’m not misusing “literally” when I say that. I think some of the poor line delivery was definitely intentional. I’m not saying that their is hidden genius at work but I think that some of the scenes and specific moments give away that this was meant to play out the way it did. But honestly, I don’t know how the actors weren’t ruining takes by laughing out loud. But maybe they were.

The plot is weird, nuts and so far out there that there is no point in trying to take it seriously. You’ve got a crazy witch lady with a troll army that transforms into town folk, who feed you green goo that transforms you into a plant and then another type of green goo so that the trolls can devour your remains. Also, this film has supernatural popcorn and moles in the shape of cloverleafs.

Troll 2 is a much better experience than I thought it would be. I actually put off watching it for years but once I finally did, for the first time a while back, I was pleasantly surprised by it.

Yes, it is still a bad movie regardless of it intending to be and I can’t give it a great rating. However, it is an entertaining watch for those of us who love being entertained by bad movies. In a lot of ways this is to fantasy horror what Tommy Wiseau’s The Room was to romantic drama.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: ’80s little critter films like CrittersMunchies and Ghoulies.

Film Review: Suspiria (2018)

Also known as: Suspíria: A Dança do Medo (Brazil)
Release Date: September 1st, 2018 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Luca Guadangnino
Written by: David Kajganich
Based on: Suspiria by Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi
Music by: Thom Yorke
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina, Sylvie Testud, Renée Soutendijk, Christine LeBoutte, Fabrizia Sacchi, Małgosia Bela, Jessica Harper, Chloë Grace Moretz

K Period Media, Frenesy Film Company, Videa, Mythology Entertainment, First Sun, Memo Films, Amazon Studios, 152 Minutes

Review:

“Movement is never mute. It is a language. It’s a series of energetic shapes written in the air like words forming sentences. Like poems. Like prayers.” – Madame Blanc

There had been rumors of a Suspiria remake for years. I never thought it would actually happen, as it was in developmental hell and it isn’t a film that needs to be remade. The original was unique, haunting, effective and super stylish. In fact, it’s one of my favorite films of all-time.

So I was definitely against the idea of a remake. In fact, in my original Suspiria review, I referred to the upcoming remake as “cinematic sacrilege”. But something changed when I saw the trailer for this film.

This was a motion picture that was drastically different and certainly appeared to be its own thing only vaguely inspired by its source material. I was intrigued and once I realized that it was directed by the very talented Luca Guadangnino, who most recently did the Oscar nominated Call Me by Your Name, I was even more intrigued.

Unfortunately, this didn’t get a theatrical release near me but knowing that it was distributed by Amazon Studios, I figured I could just wait until it was available for free with my Prime membership. Once it was, I wasted no time in checking the film out.

I ended up being pleasantly surprised by this movie and even though it isn’t on the level of the original, it exceeds it in some factors.

Primarily, the acting in this picture is utterly superb and it is only enhanced by Guadangnino’s direction. He was able to capture very intimate moments, without the support of dialogue, in a way that added a mystique to the haunted proceedings.

Guadangnino also didn’t take his style cues from Argento’s original, which is actually a very, very good thing. This version of Suspiria was incredibly visual and stylized but in a new and unique way. Instead of employing the intense vivid and contrasting colors of Argento’s patented giallo visual flair, the color palate here is more subdued, full of dark earth tones and a grittiness. However, Guadangnino does sprinkle in some giallo-esque highlights. I think it is clearly an homage to Argento but it is done so subtly that someone unfamiliar with the original picture will miss it.

I thought that both Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton really owned their roles in this film, especially Swinton who had to play triple duty where two of her characters presented real performance challenges. Also, I was really impressed with Mia Goth and her ability to truly wear dread on her face and in her body language.

While the score by Goblin is absent, like the lack of giallo visuals, it is a good thing here. This film’s score by Thom Yorke has real character and it works quite well with the narrative and visual tones. While it is very hard to top that Goblin score, what we get with this film fits pretty flawlessly. Trying to mimic the sounds that Goblin did in 1977 would most likely have been a distraction.

This film also benefits from using the old school method for building suspense. While the picture may feel slow at parts, there really isn’t a wasted moment and everything serves the purpose of adding layers towards the story’s big climax.

As far as the climax goes, it has a pretty shocking twist that almost adds a feeling of disorientation to a sequence that almost comes across as sensory overload. It’s a lot to bear in a film that crawls by at a relaxed pace but it’s is quite incredible when you get to this point in the film.

That being said, I thought that some of the stuff in the finale was a bit over the top and a bit cheesy. I don’t want to spoil anything by pointing out the details but the whole thing hits you in the face like a hammer and by this point, you are mentally spent and the grotesque and hokier bits are buried under the weight of the whole sequence.

And despite my reservations about a few things with that finale, it is that moment that really made this film work for me. It truly showcased that Guadangnino might have started with Argento’s premise but in the end, he crafted his own creation that was much more complex but emotionally and intellectually deeper than the original. That alone allows this motion picture to justify its existence.

I look at remakes like I look at cover songs: if an artist can improve on the source material in some way or present it differently but still well, then it serves a purpose.

In the end, this is a motion picture that shocked and surprised me. While I still prefer the original, this remake is one of the absolute best horror films of the last decade.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the original Suspiria and it’s first sequel Inferno.

Film Review: Machine Gun McCain (1969)

Also known as: Gli intoccabili (original title), Killer MacCain (Denmark), The Untouchables (European English title), For A Price (English alternate title), At Any Price (US working title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1969 (Italy)
Directed by: Giuliano Montaldo
Written by: Mino Roli, Giuliano Montaldo
Based on: Candyleg by Ovid Demaris
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: John Cassavetes, Britt Ekland, Peter Falk, Gabriele Ferzetti, Florinda Bolkan, Tony Kendall, Salvo Randone, Gena Rowlands, Luigi Pistilli

Euroatlantica, Euro International Film, 116 Minutes

Review:

“What do you do? Sell women? Sell marijuana? – what d’you do? Where’d you get the twenty-five thousand? I wouldn’t give you twenty-five cents. What d’you do? – you go out and you hustle yourself all over the street. Small time – no dignity! You don’t beg.” – Hank McCain, “That’s why, Hank – I need this chance. I got tired of being small change.” – Jack McCain, “You’re gonna be small change all your life.” – Hank McCain

If you like Italian gangster films, you should actually check one out from Italy, as opposed to American films about Italian-American criminals doing mafioso shit for the umpteenth time. The Italians weren’t just known for spaghetti westerns and sword and sandal movies back in the ’60s, they also made solid horror and badass crime pictures.

Gli Intoccabili, also known as Machine Gun McCain in the United States, is a high octane, gritty Italian crime thriller that stars a badass American, John Cassavetes. This also has a young Peter Falk in it. But the real treat is the lovely Britt Ekland, who I crushed on hard when I was a kid and saw her in The Man With the Golden Gun.

I like this movie but if I’m being honest, it is completely elevated by Cassavetes, Falk and Ekland. Without them, it would have just been a fairly mundane gangster movie.

There isn’t a lot of stylistic flourish to this film, which is surprising being that it came from Italy in a time when that country was experimenting with very colorful and vivid cinematography. I’m not saying that this needed giallo flair but it does look quite pedestrian when compared to what else was coming out of Italy in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

I really enjoyed Cassavetes’ McCain and I totally bought into his chemistry with Ekland. Falk was an absolute scene stealer though and for fans of his most famous role on Colombo, his part here is a real departure from the norm. It’s also worth noting that one of Sergio Leone’s favorites, Luigi Pistilli, has a small part in this. You may remember him as the priest brother of Tuco in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly as well as a member of Indio’s gang in For A Few Dollars More.

I should also point out that movie music maestro Ennio Morricone did the score for this. While it’s not as memorable as his work with Sergio Leone, it is still a nice score that enhances the film and gives it more life than it would have had with a less accomplished composer.

Machine Gun McCain is a film that probably sounds cooler than it is but if I’m being honest, it’s really damn hard to say something’s “uncool” if it’s got John Cassavetes in it.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The Burglars, The Italian Connection, Robbery and Grand Slam.

Film Review: The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)

Also known as: Sax Rohmer’s The Castle of Fu Manchu (full title), Assignment Istanbul, Fu Manchu’s Castle, The Torture Chamber of Fu Manchu (alternate titles), Le château de Fu Manchu (France)
Release Date: May 30th, 1969 (Germany)
Directed by: Jess Franco
Written by: Manfred Barthel
Based on: characters by Sax Rohmer
Music by: Carlos Camilleri, Malcomb Shelby
Cast: Christopher Lee, Richard Greene, Howard Marion-Crawford, Gunther Stoll, Rosalba Neri, Maria Perschy, Jose Manuel Martin

Balcázar Producciones Cinematográficas, Terra-Filmkunst, Italian International Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“The formula. With this I can control all things – and all men.” – Fu Manchu

I love Christopher Lee but I have never liked his Fu Manchu movies. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen all five of them and this is the only one I’ve seen more than once and that’s simply because it is featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This is the fifth and final film and it is said to be the worst one. From my experience with some of the others, none of them are good. But this one, in particular, is dreadfully boring and pretty hard to follow.

Full disclosure, I’m not sure if it’s hard to follow due to it being a clusterfuck of bad, nonsensical writing or because it was a real challenge to pay attention and not doze off to sleep or find myself daydreaming for spans of twenty minutes. I’d say that it’s all of the above.

Christopher Lee can usually carry movies, even bad ones. While he is the brightest spot, by far, in this picture, it’s not enough to draw you in or make you care. I think that even Lee was bored with these movies by this point. I don’t want to say that he dialed it in but this was probably just a paycheck and a way to work for a few weeks between Hammer or Amicus productions.

I’ve never been a big fan of the Fu Manchu character anyway, so I don’t have the same sort of enthusiasm for these movies as I do the DraculaFrankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Mummy and other classic horror and literary characters he’s made movies about.

This film is a complete waste of time unless you are an MST3K completist and haven’t yet seen the episode with this mind numbing dud.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: the other Fu Manchu movies with Christopher Lee but none of them are very good.

Film Review: Ator, the Fighting Eagle (1982)

Also known as: Ator l’invincibile (original title), Ator the Invincible (informal English title)
Release Date: October 7th, 1982 (Italy)
Directed by: Joe D’Amato
Written by: Joe D’Amato, Michele Soavi
Music by: Carlo Maria Cordio
Cast: Miles O’Keefe, Sabrina Siani, Ritza Brown, Edmund Purdom

Filmarage, Metaxa Corporation, 98 Minutes

Review:

“I love you.” – Ator
“And I love you.” – Sunya
“Why can’t we marry?” – Ator
“Ator, we are brother and sister.” – Sunya
“I’ll talk with our father.” – Ator

I’ve only seen one other Ator movie, the second one, as it was featured on an old episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. That was released in the States as Cave Dwellers.

This one is the first picture in the film series and it was also featured on MST3K. In fact, it’s the sixth and final episode of the most recent season.

This is a bit better than Cave Dwellers but it is still a steaming pile of shit. It almost plays as parody but I don’t know if that’s intentional. I’d assume that it’s not and that it’s just a really horrible Italian ripoff movie, as the Italians have mastered horrible ripoff movies and unofficial sequels of just about everything. They have weird copyright laws over there.

Anyway, there isn’t a single thing in this film that really redeems it on any level. We’ve got a full checklist of terrible shit from the acting, the sets, the costumes, the direction, the cinematography, the lighting, the score, you name it.

The story isn’t very coherent and the script is friggin’ bizarre. That could be due to things being lost in translation during the English dubbing process but it probably still falls on the quality of the script.

This was tough to get through, damn boring and it just made me want to watch Conan the Barbarian or The Beastmaster.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other Ator movies and other Conan ripoffs.

Film Review: Killer Fish (1979)

Also known as: Naked Sun (Philippines), Deadly Treasure of the Piranha (Yugoslavia)
Release Date: June 30th, 1979 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Antonio Margheriti
Written by: Michael Rogers
Music by: Guido De Angelis, Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Lee Majors, Karen Black, Margaux Hemingway, Marisa Berenson, James Franciscus

Fawcett-Majors Productions, Victoria Productions, Filmar do Brasil, Paris Filmes, ITC Entertainment, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Are you sure there’s no German blood in you?” – Hans, “Hm-hm. I win my wars.” – Kate Neville

I have watched so many Jaws and Piranha ripoffs over the years that I’m surprised that I had never seen this one or heard of it. Also, the fact that this stars Lee Majors, Karen Black and one of the Hemingway sisters, makes my lack of knowledge about this film even stranger. But it was featured on the latest season of Mystery Science theater 3000, so I had to give it a watch. Plus, I love killer animal movies regardless of them taking place on the water, on land or in the air.

As is the case with most films like this, it’s a real stinker. It also lacks anything to redeem it. Even with a few people I like in the cast, they didn’t do much to help the picture and looked as if they were just collecting a paycheck and trying to rush through this.

It was produced by Lee Majors production company with his wife at the time, Farrah Fawcett. That being said, it’s surprising that he didn’t seem to care much about the quality of his own product.

While this does deal with killer piranhas, they never feel as threatening as the killer fish from Joe Dante’s Piranha, a year earlier. Additionally, the footage and effects of the piranha attacks are pretty shitty.

The one thing that makes this not a direct ripoff of Dante’s classic, is that this is also a heist film. Well, sort of. There isn’t much about the actual heist here, it is just used as a plot device to get the characters to try and turn on each other while trapped on a broken boat surrounded by man eating fishies.

This is far from great and barely entertaining. It’s the kind of bad that is really boring and not actually enjoyable for being terrible. It’s just a total dud. But it also isn’t so bad that I can completely trash it. It’s just well below mediocre, unexciting, uneventful and given no real life by the talent of its top stars.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: other Jaws and Piranha ripoffs of the era.

Film Review: Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Also known as: Les yeux sans visage (original title), House of Dr. Rasanoff (alternate title), The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus (US dubbed version)
Release Date: January 11th, 1960 (France)
Directed by: Georges Franju
Written by: Georges Franju, Jean Redon, Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Claude Sautet
Based on: Les yeux sans visage by Jean Redon
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Pierre Brasseur, Édith Scob, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel

Champs-Élysées Productions, Lux Film, Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France, 84 Minutes

Review:

“My face frightens me. My mask frightens me even more.” – Christiane Génessier

Eyes Without a Face isn’t what I would call a scary horror film, as much as I’d call it a chilling one.

It’s sad, it’s tragic, it has great atmosphere, solid cinematography and incredible performances and all that is really just the tip of the iceberg.

There is something deep and introspective in this motion picture. It’s unsettling but it’s somehow sweet in a very twisted way. Yet that sweetness comes naturally and while you should hate the antagonists of this film, you understand that the horrible things they do is out of love. That doesn’t excuse their horrible acts but for a horror film released in 1960, it makes you sympathize with evil, which wasn’t too common back then.

That being said, it’s still great to see the bad guys get their comeuppance in the end, especially since it comes at the hands of the one they loved most.

The story revolves around a surgeon and his daughter, who has had her face completely destroyed. In an effort to restore his daughter’s beauty, he has his female assistant lure in young girls only to abduct them and steal their face. A lot of the scenes are terrifying, as all the girls seem sweet and innocent, as you know that they are being pulled into something horrible.

What makes things more difficult, is that the disfigured daughter, Christiane, is also a sweet girl who exists within very tragic circumstances. She becomes aware of what’s happening and it’s a sad realization and hard to watch unfold on the screen. But Christiane’s face is obscured by an almost faceless mask for most of the film. Édith Scob was able to convey Christiane’s emotions quite well though, considering that all she had to work with were her eyes and body language.

The surgeon’s assistant is played by Alida Valli, who you will recognize from the original Suspiria, as well as the near perfect film-noir The Third Man. Valli gives a stupendous performance here as she uses her charm to trap the young girls and deliver them to the mad surgeon.

The film also has an incredibly effective and very unique score done by Maurice Jarre. It has a real contrast to the tone we see on screen, as the music is lighthearted and almost comical in certain moments. I think that it was used to make things purposely disjointed and more unsettling in specific scenes. It may seem out of place and strange at first glance but by the end of the film, it works amazingly well.

There are also a lot of really stellar shots in the film. The scene where we get a bit of the face reveal of Christiane, when she comes face to face with one of her father’s victims is incredibly powerful and creepy. Also, the scene of Christiane walking outside, after releasing the savage German Shepherds and caged doves is beautiful.

Eyes Without a Face is more of an experience than a movie. It probably won’t resonate with modern audiences as well as it did with people in 1960 but if you love a film with an interesting atmosphere and something with real emotional depth to it, then you’ll probably dig this picture.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: it’s pretty unique but I like watching this with 1962’s Carnival of Souls.