Film Review: A Blade in the Dark (1983)

Also known as: House of the Dark Stairway (alternative English title)
Release Date: 1983 (Italy – Mystfest)
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Written by: Elisa Briganti, Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Andrea Occhipinti, Anny Papa, Fabiola Toledo, Michele Soavi, Valeria Cavalli, Giovanni Frezza, Lamberto Bava (cameo)

National Cinematografica, Nuova Dania Cinematografica, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Tennis balls?” – Bruno

This was an early film for director, Lamberto Bava. While it’s a giallo picture, it has a real grittiness to it and isn’t as stylized as other pictures of that distinctly Italian horror subgenre. In fact, it looks more like an American slasher flick than something with a strong Italian flavor.

Having his father, Mario Bava, and giallo maestro, Dario Argento, as mentors, the younger Bava was savvy enough to put together a better than decent picture, even early in his career. Sure, he had some missteps like the Jaws wannabe, Monster Shark, but he usually proved he was a capable horror director.

A Blade In the Dark is a fairly strange film that deals with a transvestite serial killer, slashing beautiful women to ribbons. By 1983, this wasn’t anything new and I think that Bava may have been directly influenced by Brian De Palma’s neo-noir serial killer thriller, Dressed to Kill. However, Bava went the hardcore horror route and turned up the gore quite a bit.

The earliest encounters with the killer had him using an old fashioned box cutter, which I thought was visually cool, as those things just have a gnarly look to them. Those old school blades break really easily though, so it was probably a poor choice for a murder instrument but the killer does graduate to more practical and bigger tools, as the film progresses.

The kills are generally pretty good and Bava did a stellar job in building suspense in these scenes. The bathroom murder around the midpoint of the movie was exceptionally well-crafted and executed.

For the most part, the characters in this are all pretty likable. Even the ones that pop in just to get killed fairly quickly.

Now I can’t say that the twist ending was unpredictable or shocking, as I figured it out almost immediately with the movie’s opening scene. Maybe it was a surprise for viewers in 1983 but frankly, it’s nothing new, even by 1983. Still, it doesn’t in anyway wreck the story or the film, overall.

This is a pretty decent film for its type and while it’s not Lamberto Bava’s best, it really displayed his talent and prowess pretty early into his directorial career.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Italian giallo and slasher pictures, as well as other films by Lamberto Bava.

Film Review: Hannibal (2001)

Also known as: The Silence of the Lambs 2 (working title)
Release Date: February 9th, 2001
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: David Mamet, Steven Zaillian
Based on: Hannibal by Thomas Harris
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Ray Liotta, Frankie R. Faison, Giancarlo Giannini, Francesca Neri, Gary Oldman, Željko Ivanek, Mark Margolis, Ajay Naidu

Dino De Laurentiis Company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Universal Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“People don’t always tell you what they are thinking. They just see to it that you don’t advance in life.” – Hannibal Lecter

As much as I just came off of loving Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs in their reviews, a part of me was dreading having to sit through Hannibal again, as my original assessment of it was pretty poor. Granted, that assessment came in 2001, the last time I saw the film, which was on the big screen, opening night.

I have never had much urge to go back and revisit this and honestly, it kind of soured me on the franchise, including the masterpiece that is this movie’s direct predecessor, The Silence of the Lambs.

Watching this, almost exactly twenty years later, didn’t help the film.

Sometimes, I don’t like a movie but when I give it another shot, years later, I find things in it worth appreciating. This especially happens nowadays when modern movies are mostly just corporate, unartistic shit. Hannibal still failed and the only real positive is the performances from the core cast members.

Julianne Moore was fine but it’s still odd watching this and seeing someone else as Clarice when Anthony Hopkins is still playing Hannibal Lecter. Frankie Faison even returns in his smaller role but Jodie Foster wanted nothing to do with this. I know that she hated how this story ended but they changed the ending in the script and the final film to appease her. Still, she couldn’t be lured back. If she actually read the script, I can understand why.

Reason being, the script is terrible but then, so is the story. Granted, I haven’t read the book, so I’m not sure if that was bad too or if the script was just a really poor adaptation of it. Either way, this was predictable as hell for the most part and it was also incredibly dull.

I just didn’t care about the story, the people in it and the big changes to the ending felt off. Honestly, though, I know how the novel ends and I’ve always thought of its ending as really uncharacteristic of the Clarice character. But then who am I to argue with the author that created the characters in the first place.

Anyway, this also had some intense gross out moments. There’s one where a character uses a piece of a broken mirror to skin his own face. There’s another scene where Hannibal is cutting morsels out of the exposed brain of a human man and then feeding it to him.

The thing is, these moments were pretty gratuitous for cheap shock value. While The Silence of the Lambs was dark as fuck and had some gross out parts, it wasn’t done for shock and it wasn’t over the top schlock like it was in this film. The brains scene actually wrecks this movie more than it already was by that point. I don’t know why a well-versed director like Ridley Scott thought to go that route, creatively, but it felt cheap and made me roll my eyes so hard I pulled a muscle in my face.

Sure, the scene could’ve been in the film and worked but the problem was with how it was shot. Sometimes it’s better to imply something horrific without showing it in frame. This would’ve worked much better if they let the viewer’s mind fill-in the blanks.

The cinematography was good and I thought the music in the film worked. But other than that and the actors making the absolute best out of a shit script, this is just a really, really meh movie.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films.

Film Review: The Visitor (1979)

Also known as: Stridulum (original Italian title) 
Release Date: March 22nd, 1979 (Italy)
Directed by: Giulio Paradisi (as Michael J. Paradise)
Written by: Giulio Paradisi, Ovidio G. Assonitis, Luciano Comici, Robert Mundi
Music by: Franco Micalizzi
Cast: Joanne Nail, Paige Conner, John Huston, Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, Shelley Winters, Sam Peckinpah, Neal Boortz, Steve Somers, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (cameo, uncredited), Franco Nero (uncredited)

Brouwersgracht Investments, Film Ventures International, Swan American Film, 108 Minutes, 90 Minutes (edited version)

Review:

“Now listen to me Katy isn’t there something you want to tell me?” – Det. Jake Durham, “Yeah. Go fuck yourself!” – Katy Collins

I came across the trailer for this movie randomly on YouTube while looking for another film. The trailer grabbed me, however, and I was intrigued by it, even if the concept felt derivative. It was just so strange looking with insane visuals and it was an Italian horror picture that was shot and takes place in Atlanta, which is somewhat bizarre.

Also, this has one hell of a cast!

While some reviews I read said that this great cast was wasted in a shit picture, I couldn’t disagree with that more. But I guess, Italian horror movies only work for a special breed of American film aficionados, myself being one of them.

This doesn’t really have that ’70s giallo-styled color palate but it is still a vivid and vibrant looking picture in its own way. It looks and feels more American than a typical Italian horror production but that genuine Italian touch still exists in nearly every frame. It’s kind of hard to explain but giallo fans will know what I mean if they watch this.

For an Italian picture, the production is also really impressive, as this has a higher quality standard than what’s typical of similar films. The special effects are sometimes a bit hokey but it all works remarkably well and the film also doesn’t try to overdo it and keeps things fairly grounded, which doesn’t expose the production’s limitations.

Sure, some of the rooftop alien scenes are weird and total ’70s Euro horror cheese but then nearly everything else comes off looking like a low budget but well-produced American horror flick.

I thought that every actor in this brought their A-game and took this movie seriously enough to give it some actual gravitas and authenticity. Even the little girl, who had a lot on her shoulders in this film, did a fantastic job at being a sadistic, evil superchild.

This is just a damn cool movie that should definitely be on more people’s radar. Those who already love Italian horror of this era, should most likely love the hell out of this.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s horror movies about creepy kids with crazy powers.

Film Review: Serpico (1973)

Release Date: December 5th, 1973 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Waldo Salt, Norman Wexler
Based on: Serpico by Peter Maas
Music by: Mikis Theodorakis
Cast: Al Pacino, John Randolph, Jack Kehoe, Biff McGuire, Barabara Eda-Young, Cornelia Sharpe, Edward Grover, Tony Roberts, Allan Rich, Albert Henderson, Joseph Bova, Woodie King Jr., James Tolkan, Bernard Barrow, Nathan George, M. Emmet Walsh, Ted Beniades, F. Murray Abraham (uncredited), Judd Hirsch (uncredited)

Artists Entertainment Complex, Produzioni De Laurentiis International Manufacturing Company, 130 Minutes

Review:

“The reality is that we do not wash our own laundry – it just gets dirtier.” – Frank Serpico

The early ’70s were a hell of a great time for the still young Al Pacino’s career. Not only did he star in two near perfect Godfather movies but he also starred in two great films by legendary director Sidney Lumet: Dog Day Afternoon and this, Serpico.

Out of the four films, this may be my least favorite but man, it’s still incredible, holds up exceptionally well and boasts one of Pacino’s greatest performances, as he plays former detective Frank Serpico, who was instrumental in shedding light on the corrupt activities of the New York Police Department of his time.

Pacino carries this film from scene-to-scene but honestly, I don’t think that was a difficult thing for him to do, even in the early ’70s. The rest of the cast isn’t full of well-known actors like his other films from the era, so he really steps his game up here. That’s not to say that the actors in this aren’t talented, they certainly are, you just can’t compare them to the large cast in the Godfather films or the other great character actors that were weaved into Dog Day Afternoon.

The greatness of this motion picture has just as much to do with the direction of Lumet, as it does the acting of Pacino, though. The two men were one hell of a team when they were together on the same project.

Lumet proves, once again, that he is a master craftsman behind the camera. This gritty, too real film has stupendous cinematography from the lighting, shot framing and overall visual tone. This is generally a dark movie but it has a lot of texture to it and life within every frame. It’s brooding and haunting yet it has energy and passion. It’s almost like a cinematic yin and yang, executed to perfection.

Additionally, Lumet just knows how to pull the best performances out of his actors. I’m not sure how involved he was in casting the whole film but I’d have to guess that he was either very involved or used someone that he trusted with his life. Everyone in this is perfect for their role, regardless of its size.

Ultimately, this is a damn good movie in just about every regard. While I found the pacing a little slow in a few parts, everything still felt necessary to the story and the end result is impressive.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other crime films of the 1970s, especially those starring Al Pacino.

Film Review: The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Also known as: I Am Legend, The Naked Terror (working titles), The Damned Walk at Midnight (alternative title)
Release Date: May 6th, 1964
Directed by: Sidney Salkow, Ubaldo B. Ragona
Written by: Logan Swanson, William F. Leicester, Furio M. Monetti, Ubaldo B. Ragona
Based on: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Music by: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Cast: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi Stuart

Associated Producers (API), Produzioni La Regina, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Another day to live through. Better get started.” – Robert Morgan

When I was a kid, this was a movie that bored me to tears. I didn’t revisit it again for decades because I thought it was so drab and slow. However, I wanted to give it a fair shot and this time around, I liked it a lot. 

I guess my memories of it weren’t all that accurate either, as I just remembered the scenes of Vincent Price driving around with bodies everywhere and then spending all his time reinforcing his house and lying around on the couch as zombie vampires called his name from outside. All these things do happen, however there is much more to the picture.

We do get flashbacks to the time before the virus completely wrecked the planet. We see Price as a scientist who has a hard time believing what’s happening because it’s… well, so unbelievable. After spending so much time with Price alone, these flashback scenes are a welcome sight, as we get to see him interact with human beings again. All the slow, monotonous stuff served a real purpose with the narrative and tone of the film. Like Price, you yearn for more humans and when you get them, you feel that emotional effect.

Apparently, this film was supposed to be produced and shot by Hammer Films. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen and production moved to an Italian company. They were able to lock down Vincent Price and frankly, despite my poor taste as a kid, the end result is something incredibly worthwhile.

This film also features one of Price’s best performances, which is very reserved and somber. Price acts very much in contrast to what most people remember him for, which was his flamboyant and energetic characters. Seeing Price play his role this way, also adds to the emotional effect of the picture. I’ve seen enough of Price to understand his range and this wasn’t the first or last time he played a softer, more subdued character, but this story might make it his best version of that.

The Last Man On Earth is a film that most horror historians look at really fondly. I had a bad take on it for years and I’m glad that I decided to give it a chance. After seeing it now, I feel like maybe I never finished it, as a kid, as all I remembered from it was the stuff that happened in the first act.

I certainly didn’t remember the ending, which is quite impactful.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: early zombie films, as well as other films based off of this story like The Omega Man and I Am Legend.

Documentary Review: Easy to Learn, Hard to Master: The Fate of Atari (2017)

Release Date: February, 2017 (Italy)
Directed by: Tomaso Walliser
Written by: Tomaso Walliser
Cast: Bill Herd, Nolan Bushnell, Manny Gerard, Ray Kassar, Al Alcorn, Ralph H. Baer, Joe Decuir, David Crane, Howard Scott Warshaw, Dannis Koble, Ed Rotberg, David Rolfe, Steve Russel, Chuck Peddle, Steve Wozniak, Eugene Jarvis, Steven Kent, Chris Kohler, Walter Day, Minoru Arakawa

Junk Food Films, 110 Minutes

Review:

I watched this a few years back but for some reason didn’t review it. I’m often times suffering from whiskey-induced Swiss cheese brain.

Anyway, I recently revisited the documentary The Commodore Story: Changing the World 8-Bits at a Time and it got me thinking about this similar documentary about Atari, so I figured I’d revisit it.

For fans of retrogaming, this is definitely worth a watch as Atari’s story is really interesting and full of colorful characters who were actually involved in this documentary.

Like most good documentaries about pop culture things, this one is loaded full of talking head interviews with the people who were there and lived the story.

This goes back into how Atari came to be, what initially inspired it and how they went to the moon and eventually came crashing back down to Earth.

Overall, this is a fun, engaging film about a company everyone should love. Granted, not everyone has a love of old school gaming but there are also people who pay to be pissed on.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other historical documentaries about the video game industry.

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.