Film Review: Dolls (1987)

Also known as: Ghost… Dolls! (Thailand), Bonecos Assassinos (Portugal), Bonecas Macabras (Brazil)
Release Date: March, 1987 (Los Angeles International Film Festival)
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Ed Naha
Music by: Fuzzbee Morse, Victor Spiegel
Cast: Stephen Lee, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason, Ian Patrick Williams, Carolyn Purdy Gordon, Cassie Stuart, Bunty Bailey, Carrie Lorraine

Taryn Productions Inc., Empire Pictures, 77 Minutes

Review:

“And they remember you, Ralph. Toys are very loyal, and that is a fact.” – Gabriel

I originally saw this years ago and then a few more times on VHS when I was a teenager. It’s been a really long time, though, and it’s one of those movies that I enjoyed but hardly remember. I also didn’t realize, until more recently, that it was directed by Stuart Gordon and produced by Brian Yuzna, the guys behind Re-Animator and a slew of other mindfuck horror pictures.

What stood out the most to me, seeing this with pretty fresh eyes, is how damn good the special effects were. Considering this was made for very little money by a production company I’ve never even heard of (and I’m a massive ’80s film buff), the practical special effects were absolutely impressive.

However, I guess the level of craftsmanship in regards to the effects should be somewhat expected, as these guys did so much with so little in Re-Animator and From Beyond. The effects here are very different, though, as they had to create tiny dolls and have them interact with full-sized humans.

I’m assuming that they relied on stop-motion animation, some animatronic and puppetry work, as well as having some actors in costume or partial costumes to create the doll effects.

Beyond that, the story is pretty hokey and the acting isn’t anything to write home about but the film is still very enjoyable because the spectacle of it is really entertaining and as I’ve already said, technically impressive.

While I can’t consider this a classic or even near the top of Gordon or Yuzna’s best, it’s still a hell of an accomplishment that worked out satisfactorily. It’s just a goofy, fun flick with a lot of creativity put to good use and executed well.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other doll-centric horror films of the ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Also known as: Heyday (fake working title), M:i:III (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: April 24th, 2006 (Rome premiere)
Directed by: J. J. Abrams
Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, J. J. Abrams
Based on: Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, Simon Pegg, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Keri Russell, Maggie Q, Laurence Fishburne, Eddie Marsan, Greg Grunberg, Aaron Paul

MI 3 Film, Cruise/Wagner Productions, Paramount Pictures, 126 Minutes, 124 Minutes (cut)

Review:

“You can look at me with those judgmental eyes all you want, but I bullshit you not, I will bleed on the American flag to make sure those stripes stay red.” – Brassel

Mission: Impossible II was such a disappointment when I saw it in the theaters, that I never saw another Mission: Impossible film after it. However, I’ve heard great things about the more recent sequels and I’ve been motivated to go back and give the franchise another shot.

Having already revisited the first two films for review purposes, I have now reached the third one, which is the first one I’ve never seen. Granted, I knew about the gist of the story as a former roommate used to talk about the movie a lot. He was also a J. J. Abrams mark until 2009’s Star Trek kicked his hard-on into the sun.

Speaking of which, this is directed by J. J. Abrams. I actually have to say that this is one of the best films he’s directed, if not the best from the ones I’ve seen.

This actually doesn’t get wrecked by relying on too many of the tropes that have made some of Abrams’ other films and television shows, predictable and tiresome. Sure, there’s the whole MacGuffin thing and the big swerve and he also borrows heavily and obviously from other films, even ones in this picture’s own franchise, but the final product was entertaining and palatable.

The film is also helped by the performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Cruise and most of the other key players. Hoffman really stands out in this and I might even say that his talent far exceeded what was needed for this movie.

The action sequences were good, even if some of them felt familiar. The bridge battle, for instance, was very True Lies. However, at least sequences like that didn’t just outright copy their influences and tried to do something unique. Now had we had Cruise reaching for his wife to save her from her car going into the ocean, I probably would’ve called shenanigans much louder.

One thing I did like about this film is that it seemed more serious than the two before it. With that, it kind of reinvents the series and wipes away the gigantic misstep that was the second film. Because of that, this is the best film out of the first three.

In the end, this was a solid, fun movie with good action, good characters and a few performances that were much better than they had to be. Although, the twist ending about the bad guys having someone on the inside was just a rehash of the ending from the first movie and it was kind of lame. But I guess Abrams couldn’t help himself.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Mission: Impossible films.

Film Review: The New York Ripper (1982)

Also known as: Psycho Ripper, The Ripper (alternative titles)
Release Date: March 4th, 1982 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Gianfranco Clerici, Lucio Fulci, Vincenzo Mannino, Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Francesco De Masi
Cast: Jack Hedley, Paolo Malco, Almanta Suska, Alexandra Delli Colli

Silent Warrior Productions, Fulvia Film, 91 Minutes, 93 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 80 Minutes (VHS cut)

Review:

“But you won’t understand me, you’ll never understand me! You’re too stupid! Quack! Quack! Quack!” – The Ripper

Not all Lucio Fulci movies are created equal. Some are very good and some are not so good. This one falls somewhere in the middle but actually gets some extra credit points for its ending, as I thought it was a good double twist that I didn’t see coming.

Anyway, this is pretty much a perfect marriage between giallo and slasher but it’s much grittier than a standard, vividly colored giallo. Maybe that has to do with it taking place in New York City and Fulci was trying for a Martin Scorsese aesthetic. But honestly, his giallos have never been as colorful as Argento’s or either Bava’s.

This is a really violent film that mixes gore and sexploitation in a way that only an Italian director can properly do. It has some seriously gruesome moments akin to that infamous eye scene from Fulci’s Zombi 2. One in particular sees the mysterious killer cut and torture a naked woman while laughing at the police over the phone, as they fell for his ruse and failed to stop him.

The killer is also interesting in how his serial killer personality talks like Donald Duck. He boisterously quacks between his threats like a sadistic, evil cartoon character and while that may sound kind of hokey, it’s actually effective and pretty unsettling.

Overall, this is pretty straightforward for a giallo or an urban slasher flick. It adds in a lot more sex stuff than average but I wouldn’t call any of that shocking. The only thing really shocking and pretty unnerving is the gruesomeness of some of the kills.

For whatever reason, this film is pretty highly regarded by die hard Fulci fans. I don’t think it’s a classic of the genre like many do but it’s certainly worthwhile for fans of similar films.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Lucio Fulci horror movies, as well as Maniac and The Last Horror Film.

Film Review: Tenebrae (1982)

Also known as: Unsane (US alternative title)
Release Date: October 27th, 1982 (Tortona, Italy premiere)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento
Music by: Goblin (credited as Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli, Massimo Morante)
Cast: Anthony Franciosa, John Saxon, Daria Nicolodi, Giuliano Gemma

Sigma Cinematografica Roma, 101 Minutes, 91 Minutes (edited)

Review:

“Let me ask you something? If someone is killed with a Smith & Wesson revolver… Do you go and interview the president of Smith & Wesson?” – Peter Neal

Tenebrae or Unsane, as its also been called, is one of the Dario Argento movies that I’ve seen the least. In fact, it’s probably been twenty years since I last watched it. I kind of regret not revisiting it sooner, though, as my experience with it this time was pretty incredible.

While it’s not the best of Argento’s stories, it is one of his best directed films and it has some of the best visuals he’s ever done outside of Suspiria and Inferno.

This isn’t as stylish as his earliest giallo pictures but it feels more fine tuned and refined. It feels like the giallo style actually adapting and moving into a new decade. Now while the style was starting to disappear into the ’80s, this kept it alive for a bit longer and I think that’s because it feels like a more mature film. It certainly shows that Argento had really found his stride and in some regard, it almost plays like an Italian version of an early ’80s Brian De Palma neo-noir picture.

It’s almost uncanny that this was able to look so clean yet be so gritty and raw at the same time.

I think that some people may see this and think of it as watered down when compared to Argento’s earlier work but I think he really just tried to make a more palatable movie for a wider audience. Granted, Argento also doesn’t betray himself, as the finale gets incredibly bloody. However, the more reserved tone actually sets the climax up perfectly, as seeing an immense amount of vibrant red blood spray across a plain, white wall is pretty fucking jarring in an awesome way.

Additionally, this film features amazing camera work. There is a long tracking shot done by crane that is breathtaking to see and it has held up tremendously well. Also, some of the shots during the murder sequences are fantastic. The moment where you see cloth tear to reveal a woman filled with terror just as blood splashes across her face is, hands down, one of the best shots Argento ever captured.

Lastly, the score by three of the four members of regular Argento collaborators, Goblin, is one of their best. The film’s main theme would even be sampled by the French band Justice for two songs on their 2007 album Cross.

While this isn’t my favorite film of Argento’s from a story or even visual standpoint, it’s still a breathtaking experience that hit all the right notes and made me appreciate the director even more. 

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Dario Argento’s other giallo pictures.

Film Review: Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966)

Release Date: July 29th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Castellano & Pipolo (Italian version), Louis M. Heyward & Robert Kaufman (US version)
Music by: Les Baxter (US version), Lallo Gori (Italian version)
Cast: Vincent Price, Fabian, Franco Franchi, Ciccio Ingrassia, Laura Antonelli, Mario Bava (cameo – uncredited)

Italian International Film, American International Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“That’s not Rosanna. That’s a jigsaw puzzle.” – Bill Dexter

I haven’t seen this film in a long time and the two Dr. Goldfoot movies blended together in my memory. I was a bit intrigued to check this one out, though, as I noticed that it was directed by giallo and horror maestro, Mario Bava. He’s a director that has a fantastic style.

Sadly, this was a bit of a let down. That’s not to say that the first movie was great by any stretch of the imagination but it was entertaining and full of charming whimsy. This picture is a big step down.

I think that this may just be a problem with the American version of the film, however, as the jokes and gags don’t seem to land. This could be due to this being an Italian production, unlike its predecessor, and some of the humor got lost in poor translation.

The film does seem more concerned with showcasing gags than any sort of interesting, coherent story though.

I still enjoyed Vincent Price in this but his performance is weaker, overall, because he didn’t have his assistant from the first movie, who was a good goof for Price to play off of. They had good banter and decent chemistry but in this film, the new henchman barely speaks and just sort of follows orders.

The film’s humor is also goofier, as it relies pretty heavily on slapstick and people falling all over the place like a Benny Hill sketch.

Still, this isn’t a complete waste of time if you like ’60s era spy parodies and Vincent Price. He’s surrounded by a weaker cast but at least he’s still fun to watch when he gets to ham it up.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as the Dean Martin starring Matt Helms films.

Film Review: Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

Release Date: September 4th, 1971 (Turin premiere)
Directed by: Paolo Cavara
Written by: Marcello Danon, Lucile Laks
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Giancarlo Giannini, Claudine Auger, Barbara Bouchet, Rossella Falk, Silvano Tranquilli, Barbara Bach

Da Ma Produzione, Produzioni Atlas Consorziate (P.A.C.), 89 Minutes, 98 Minutes (uncut)

Review:

Paolo Cavara was better known for making mondo films. However, he also made two giallo pictures, this being one of them.

Since I had never seen this but heard good things, I figured I’d check it out. It also stars a young Giancarlo Giannini, as well as the immensely beautiful ladies, Barbara Bouchet and Barbara Bach.

Like many giallo pictures, this one plays like a proto-slasher movie. And while it is very artistic and vivid, as giallos go, it doesn’t look as overly stylized as the works of Argento or the two Bavas. Still, it is a beautiful looking picture, a product of its unique time and country of origin, but it feels a bit more grounded in a gritty reality.

The method of the killer in this movie is unique and kind of cool, as he kills his victims in the way that a spider wasp kills a tarantula: paralyzing them with the sting of a needle and then slicing open their stomachs as they are conscious and can feel the agonizing pain without the ability to fight back or scream.

Giannini plays the detective trying to stop the killer but in doing so, finds himself and his girlfriend as targets of the deranged, mysterious killer.

While I can’t put this on the same level as the best giallos to come out of Italy, it is still memorable because of its killer’s methods, as well as the superb cast.

This also came out just as the genre was finding its style and getting its stride. So it might not feel as refined, beautiful and as opulent as later films in the genre but it did help pave the way for them.

Overall, this was pretty enthralling from the perspective of one who generally likes these sort of films. I can’t necessarily call Cavara a giallo maestro just based off of this one film but it did make me want to check out his other giallo picture: Plot of Fear a.k.a. Bloody Peanuts.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other early ’70s Italian giallo pictures.

Film Review: Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)

Also known as: Bill & Ted 3 (informal title)
Release Date: August 27th, 2020 (Malaysia)
Directed by: Dean Parisot
Written by: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Kristen Schaal, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Anthony Carrigan, Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays, Holland Taylor, Kid Cudi, William Sadler, Jillian Bell, Hal Landon Jr., Beck Bennett, Amy Stoch, George Carlin (posthumous cameo), Kelly Carlin, Dave Grohl (cameo), “Weird Al” Yankovic (cameo), Guillermo Rodriguez (cameo)

Dugan Entertainment, Dial 9, Hammerstone Studios, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Seriously, Uncle Ted. When did you get so excellent on Theremin? Your playing rivaled, and I’m not kidding, Clara Rockmore!” – Thea

Man, I really wanted to like this movie. I even went as far as to try and convince myself it was good and was going to pan out okay in the end. It didn’t. In fact, it pretty much killed that part of me that wants another one of these vanity, nostalgia projects to succeed.

Well, I guess Cobra Kai is just a once in a lifetime miracle. But maybe that’s because it wasn’t about vanity and it was just about bringing to life a good, fresh idea without trying to replicate what came before it.

As far as Bill & Ted stories go, this is just more of the same but it feels like a really weak attempt at taking the framework that came before it and just trying to paint-by-numbers while changing a few details.

In the case of this movie, we’re rounding up musical legends from history, while also seeing Bill & Ted travel back to hell as well as alternate futures where they confront different versions of their older selves. So there’s two adventures but it essentially takes the two adventures from the two previous movies and mashes them together in a way.

The journey to round up musicians is undertaken by Bill & Ted’s daughters, who are named after them and act too much like them that they just come across as gender swapped caricatures. Now I can’t trash their performances, as both girls were charismatic and likable but it just felt like the writers would rather lean on familiarity than trying to create characters that were more unique and didn’t just worship and emulate their dads on every level.

In regards to the first two movies, they always felt like a perfect story with a great, definitive ending. This film undoes that by retconning the ending and pretty much ignoring it and the newspaper headlines that appeared in the credits. Granted, the writers claim that they didn’t write those headlines and they were made as jokes by the people who did the credits. Still, fans, for decades, have kind of taken them as canon and why shouldn’t they?

In this film, we learn that Bill & Ted are old losers and that they’re incapable of fulfilling their destiny. What we also learn, is that it actually isn’t their destiny and, as is the trend with many modern sequels and reboots, the men are dumb idiots and its the female characters that have to come in and save the day. It’s not that I have a problem with female heroes, I just have a problem with downgrading already established heroes and brushing them aside because Hollywood feels guilty about shitting on women for years. Even though we’ve had women heroes and badasses for decades. But I digress.

This film was underwhelming and a disappointment. I wouldn’t call it intentionally “woke” but I do think it’s a product of its time and that it was influenced by the shitty, mundane art of the modern era. These characters and the fans deserved better.

At the same time, I don’t hate this film. It exists, it’s okay, not great and I don’t have to watch it again. Honestly, as a long-time fan of the film series, I’m just always going to see the first two movies as the complete story. It always was before this and that shouldn’t change just because ’80s nostalgia is in and the entertainment industry has to milk its teats until they bleed.

And of course, Rotten Tomatoes likes this.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: its two predecessors, as well as the animated series and really awful live-action show.

Film Review: The White, The Yellow, and The Black (1975)

Also known as: Il bianco il giallo il nero (original Italian title), Samurai (Canada), Ring Around the Horse’s Tail (US dubbed version), Shoot First… Ask Questions Later (US alternative title)
Release Date: January 17th, 1975 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Written by: Amendola & Corbucci, Santiago Moncada, Renee Asseo, Antonio Troisio, Marcello Coscia, Sergio Spina
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Giuliano Gemma, Tomas Milian, Eli Wallach

Filmel, Mundial Film, Tritone Cinematografica, 112 Minutes

Review:

“[about to be hanged by a gang] I’ll never die without my boots on, and a star on my chest.” – Sheriff Edward Gideon

I’ve seen and reviewed about a half dozen Sergio Corbucci spaghetti westerns in recent years. I didn’t know about this one, however, until I stumbled across it while looking for something else. But I’m glad I did, even if it’s one of Corbucci’s weaker westerns.

Still, it’s a well cast film with three cool characters that had nice chemistry and provided solid performances that required dramatic and comedic acting with a little pinch of badassness sprinkled in.

People today would probably find the fact that Italian actor Tomas Milian plays a samurai in the Old West to be “problematic” and while the character is written mostly for laughs by tapping into cultural stereotypes, Milian still gives his character a certain panache and coolness when push comes to shove.

Spaghetti western legends Eli Wallach and Giuliano Gemma also add some fun to the proceedings, with Wallach playing a Sheriff and Gemma playing a typical western cowboy.

The plot sees this unlikely trio come together to track down a stolen Japanese horse that was intended to be a gift for the US government. The three men end up embroiled in a rivalry with a band of desperadoes that are made up of former Confederate soldiers.

Side note: this film was actually made as a loose parody of the Charles Bronson starring Red Sun. Milian’s samurai character would also reappear in the film Crime at the Chinese Restaurant in 1981, directed by Sergio’s younger brother, Bruno Corbucci.

Out of the Corbucci westerns I’ve seen, this one is, unfortunately, the weakest. But I can’t fault the director for trying to do something different for his last picture in the genre. While the characters are amusing and work fairly well together, the movie does kind of miss its mark and pales in comparison to Django, The Great Silence, Compañeros and The Mercenary. I’d also rank it behind Navajo Joe, which wasn’t anywhere near as goofy and borderline slapstick-y despite having more humorous bits than Corbucci’s other spaghetti westerns.

This also lacks the gravitas of those earlier films. Not that that’s a bad thing, per se, but Corbucci sort of had a particular style with his westerns and this plays more like a generic western comedy than the great action flicks one could expect from Corbucci.

Overall, I like the casting and I enjoyed their characters but apart from that, this is almost forgettable and probably only stayed afloat in a sea of spaghetti flicks due to who made it.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Sergio Corbucci spaghetti westerns.

Film Review: Crypt of the Vampire (1964)

Also known as: La cripta e l’incubo (original Italian title), Crypt of Horror (UK), Terror In the Crypt (US alternative title)
Release Date: May 27th, 1964 (Italy)
Directed by: Camillo Mastrocinque
Written by: Tonino Valerii, Ernesto Gastaldi
Based on: Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Music by: Carlo Savina
Cast: Christopher Lee, Adriana Ambesi, Pier Anna Quaglia, Freidrich Klauss

E.I. Associates Producers, Hispamer Films, Alta Vista, 82 Minutes

Review:

“It’s so beautiful here. Perhaps nature has purposely set the stage and is waiting for the actors to enter. But who knows if the play is farce … or tragedy. This is a spot where one could come for pleasure … or for death.” – Lyuba

Being that Christopher Lee is one of my favorite actors of all-time, it’s always cool checking out one of his films for the first time. While I’ve seen all the fairly well-known ones and most of his Hammer work, there are those odd ones that have slipped through the cracks over the years. But the guy has close to 300 acting credits to his name, so there are still several of his movies that I haven’t seen.

This one was a low budget production by Italian and Spanish studios that came out during the height of his career, just before he’d make The Devil-Ship Pirates and The Gorgon for Hammer that same year.

Also, this film is an adaptation of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, which Hammer would also use as source material for their Karnstein trilogy of films, as well as Captain Kronos.

While Lee was no stranger to vampire films, this one provides him with a very different role. It doesn’t push him into another version of a Dracula character and instead, he plays a human count that is concerned that his daughter may be possessed by an evil spirit that brought his lineage trouble in the past.

This film is kind of slow and pretty drab for the most part. However, what it lacks in energy and poor pacing, it makes up for in atmosphere. This is a dark, haunting picture. The surviving prints of this film that have made it online and in spite of being digital, are of pretty mediocre quality. But this actually seems to work for the film, as it appears darker and in a higher contrast than what was probably originally released.

Overall, this picture looks superb, even with the physical elements working against the physical film that they eventually digitized. It’s not an exciting picture, though, but at least Lee gives a solid, convincing performance and the film convincingly manufactures a thick sense of dread and claustrophobia.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other horror films that Christopher Lee starred in apart from Hammer.