Film Review: Angel Heart (1987)

Release Date: March 6th, 1987
Directed by: Alan Parker
Written by: Alan Parker
Based on: Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg
Music by: Trevor Jones
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, Lisa Bonet, Charlotte Rampling

Union, Winkast Film Productions, Carolco Pictures, 113 Minutes

Review:

“They say there’s enough religion in the world to make men hate each other, but not enough to make them love.” – Louis Cyphre

I wanted to kickoff my Halloween movie season with something that many consider iconic but that I hadn’t seen, at least in its entirety. I chose Angel Heart, as it isn’t just horror but it’s also neo-noir and stars two elite talents in Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro.

While I’ve seen segments of this motion picture, over the years, it’s rarely ever been on television and out of the thousands of movies I’ve come to own, this wasn’t one of them.

I really dug this movie tonally and aesthetically. It’s also tremendously well acted from the two leads, as well as Lisa Bonet and Charlotte Rampling, both of whom carry themselves fantastically alongside two real heavyweights.

This movie is just so dark and brooding that you feel it in your gut. It’s hard to describe but it reminds me of the feelings I get whenever I revisit The Serpent and the Rainbow. Well done voodoo movies just hit me on a guttural level, I guess. Maybe that’s because I live in southern Florida and have grown up around many Caribbean people, who have effected me over the years.

My only real issue is that sometimes it feels slow or uneventful. I think that the payoff, albeit predictable, is still satisfying and it helps bring everything together.

I actually don’t want to spoil too much about the plot but a private investigator is hired by a mysterious man in New York City. This man is looking for a lost pop singer named Johnny Favorite. The investigation leads the P.I. to New Orleans and the surrounding bayou a.k.a. voodoo country.

While there, and as the story progresses, things get increasingly more fucked up and weird. Eventually, this guy is in really deep and he starts to lose his mind, as bodies start piling up.

The art direction and cinematography in this film are incredible. While I think that was made easier by using the timeless architecture and locations in New Orleans, that doesn’t discount how well that city was captured on film and maximized to its fullest effect.

With that, this movie feels kind of timeless. Sure, it happens in a specific location and era but something about this film feels like it exists in its own special place and time. When you get to the ending, it may actually get you theorizing on why exactly this is.

Angel Heart is an incredibly unique experience and unlike just about anything I can think of. While I can’t call it great, it’s worth checking out at least once, because of that uniqueness. This picture won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but there’s really only one way for a person to find out.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: When A Stranger Calls (1979)

Release Date: August 24th, 1979 (Indianapolis premiere)
Directed by: Fred Walton
Written by: Steve Feke, Fred Walton
Music by: Dana Kaproff
Cast: Charles Durning, Carol Kane, Colleen Dewhurst, Tony Beckley, Rutanya Alda, William Boyett, Ron O’Neal

Melvin Simon Productions, Columbia Pictures, Embassy Pictures (re-release), 97 Minutes

Review:

“[thinking it’s Curt again] Leave me alone!” – Jill Johnson, “Jill, this is Sergeant Sacker. Listen to me. We’ve traced the call… it’s coming from inside the house. Now a squad car’s coming over there right now, just get out of that house!” – Sgt. Sacker

This movie would be a bonafide classic, if it was just the first twenty minutes and the last twenty. It’s bogged down by the stuff in-between but I still love the hell out of this picture and when I was a kid, it was this movie and Scrooged that made me really appreciate Carol Kane, her range and how damn good she is in everything she does.

It also made me appreciate Charles Durning, who has done a slew of great things but he’s always this sort of gruff, cop-type character. Here, he really turns that up though, as he searches for the killer who has murdered children, as well as others.

The opening twenty minutes of this movie is one of the greatest horror segments ever filmed. It’s a version of the classic babysitter horror story about a killer being upstairs. We’ve all heard or read a version of the story, especially those from my generation who loved the Scary Stories books by Alvin Schwartz.

While this takes a famous tale from American folklore, it gives it to us in the best live-action version that has ever existed. It’s stood the test of time and even with a sequel and remake of this specific movie, it’s never been replicated at this level. Sure, the original Black Christmas is a better movie, overall, and predates this but it’s more about the caller/killer being in the house and not specifically about a babysitter, alone with sleeping children.

After the incredible opening, the film switches gears and almost goes from a slasher film to a serial killer crime thriller with some noir vibes. By the final act, though, it goes into high gear and comes full circle back to a slasher-y horror flick. Granted, there isn’t enough onscreen slashing to actually categorize this as a traditional slasher. The psycho in this will just use whatever tools are at his disposal and he seems more focused on fucking with people’s minds than outright murdering them.

This is a really well acted film and it is also made better by its atmosphere and the general creepiness of the killer. However, the pacing is a mess after the first act and it is tough to get through that middle hour or so. Had that portion of the film been more fine tuned or leaned a bit more into either the slasher bits or become neo-noir (or both), I feel like this really would’ve been one of the best horror movies of its day.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

Also known as: Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave (original Italian title), Irene, Excite Me, Eye of the Black Cat, Gently Before She Dies (alternative titles)
Release Date: August 18th, 1972
Directed by: Sergio Martino
Written by: Ernesto Gastaldi, Adriano Bolzoni, Sauro Scavolini, Luciano Martino
Based on: The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg, Luigi Pistilli, Ivan Rassimov, Franco Nebbia, Riccardo Salvino

Lea Film, Titanus, 97 Minutes

Review:

Sergio Martino did this film a year before his most famous one, Torso.

While he’s not my favorite giallo director, he has done some really memorable work that probably deserves its place alongside the giallo masters like Mario Bava and Dario Argento.

Many giallo aficionados seem to like this one too and while I do enjoy the first act of the movie, it drags on and falls kind of flat for me. Although, I do like the ending, as it homages Edgar Allan Poe quite nicely and in the most Italian way possible.

I enjoyed the three main actors in this and seeing Luigi Pistilli was kind of cool in that his character is truly the antithesis of what I think is his most famous role as the priest brother of Tuco in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The other two leads are Edwige Fenech and Anita Strindberg, who both put in believable performances even when the story calls for some over the top antics.

My main issue with this film is the pacing. It’s only 97 minutes but those 97 minutes felt like two hours. There are some minor side characters and side plots that simply existed to give the killer more kills. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in a slasher-esque giallo but most of this just felt like soulless filler in a movie that could’ve been more fine-tuned in dealing with the core actors and their dynamic.

I do like the look of the movie, even if it isn’t as opulent and vivid as the work of the better giallo filmmakers.

Ultimately, this was okay but it’s not Martino’s best work and with that, it’s not anywhere near the upper echelon of ’70s giallo.

Rating: 5.75/10

Film Review: Odd Man Out (1947)

Release Date: January 30th, 1947 (London premiere)
Directed by: Carol Reed
Written by: R. C. Sherriff
Based on: Odd Man Out by F. L. Green
Music by: William Alwyn
Cast: James Mason, Robert Newton, Cyril Cusack, Kathleen Ryan, F. J. McCormick, William Hartnell, Fay Compton, Denis O’Dea, W. G. Fay, Dan O’Herlihy, Paul Farrell

Two Cities Films, Rank Organisation, 116 Minutes

Review:

“I remember. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I understood as a child. But when I became a man, I put way childish things. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not charity, I am become a sounding brass or a inkling cymbal. Though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and though I have all faiths so that I could remove mountains and have not charity… I am nothing.” – Johnny McQueen

For my 2500th film review, I wanted to do something special. Something that I had never seen but that I’ve wanted to watch for quite some time. So I chose a Carol Reed classic, which came out just two years before his magnum opus, The Third Man.

Like The Third Man, this movie has a strong classic film-noir flavor, narratively and aesthetically, and it primarily follows a man traversing the shadowy alleys and corridors of an old European city.

The story is about an escaped convict, played by James Mason, who has been hiding in his girlfriend’s home for six months. On this night, however, he decides to commit a robbery with his old gang. A security guard is killed and the convict ends up getting shot in the shoulder, which leads to him falling out of the escape car during the getaway.

The man hides in a warehouse, as his gang tries to go back and find him. Most of the gang is killed when they are double-crossed by a dame. The convict then tries to make his way back to his girlfriend’s house and meets different people along the way, as he continues to bleed out and desperately needs medical attention.

The film ends rather violently for the time and I guess some of the shots were edited out, as it rubbed the ethics and decency fascists the wrong way. But ultimately, like all things noir at the time, the bad people meet a bad end because balance must be restored to universe.

Like The Third Man, this movie features incredible cinematography, especially in regards to the use of light, shadow and contrast. The film has visual texture and many of the shots are so layered, that they provided the sort of visual depth that wasn’t very common. For an example of this, there is the scene where the tramp comes home, walks up the dilapidated stairs where an opening in the ceiling is dripping water through the center of the composition. Once in his apartment, the shadow from the bird cage spreads over the dark back wall and gives the film that layered depth and feels almost otherworldly.

There are other notable sequences that really show off how talented cinematographer, Robert Krasker, was – the hallucination sequence for instance. This is probably why he was Reed’s choice for The Third Man. Krasker was noted for being influenced by the German Expressionist style, as well as the other visually stunning film-noir pictures of his day.

I can’t put this on the same level as The Third Man but it’s a perfect companion piece to it and if you’re a fan of that movie, you’ll definitely enjoy this one and it will also show you an earlier stage of Carol Reed’s development as a cinematic artist. Everything he employed here, he would employ in his later work.

Rating: 9/10

TV Review: What If…? (2021- )

Original Run: August 11th, 2021 – current
Created by: A.C. Bradley
Directed by: Bryan Andrews
Written by: A.C. Bradley, Matthew Chauncey
Based on: Marvel Comics
Music by: Laura Karpman
Cast: Jeffrey Wright, various

Marvel Studios, Disney+, 6 Episodes (so far), 31-37 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Marvel’s What If…? is like all things MCU since Avengers: Endgame, a mixed bag of good and stupid.

So let me start by saying that I did enjoy some episodes of this show, while others were absolute shit like the one that sees Black Panther become Star Lord, which doesn’t make a lick of sense and also had a side plot about Thanos not committing universal genocide because T’Challa simply talked him out of it. That episode made me facepalm, repeatedly, so hard that I broke my nose about seven times.

Anyway, it’s clear that Disney is using this show to push certain social narratives without really caring about what that does to the continuity of the second greatest franchise they’ve ever had. But just like the once greatest franchise, Star Wars, Disney is out to wreck this one too.

So for the positives, I mostly liked the Peggy Carter episode, as well as the Doctor Strange one. While the T’Challa one was, hands down the worst, the others weren’t too bad, they just didn’t do much for me.

I was most excited to see that they would do with the Marvel Zombies concept, as some of those comics were fun as hell. Well, I’m glad that they tried something original with it, story-wise. However, it just didn’t hold my attention and was really underwhelming.

Also, I’m not big on the animation style. I really didn’t like it at first but my brain did adjust to it fairly quickly. The main problem with it, is that it looks almost too generic and in the Marvel Zombies episodes, for instance, I had a hard time telling some characters apart because they looked too similar.

When Disney first announced all the Marvel shows that would be coming to Disney+, this is one of the ones I was most excited for. I have loved the What If? comics since I started reading comics. Out of all of the issues that exist with great premises and alterations to continuity, I found it really disappointing that these were the stories they went with to kick off this series. But I guess I just shouldn’t expect much from Disney, at this point.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: The Gladiator (1986)

Release Date: February 3rd, 1986
Directed by: Abel Ferrara
Written by: William Bleich
Music by: David Frank
Cast: Ken Wahl, Nancy Allen, Brian Robbins, Robert Culp, Stan Shaw, Rick Dees, Rosemary Forsyth

Walker Brothers Productions, New World Television, ABC, 98 Minutes

Review:

“There’s order to the chaos of the universe – as above, so below. I mean, even here, there’s a natural order posed by me, because here: I am God.” – Joe Barker

I really like Ken Wahl and Nancy Allen, so I thought a movie where Wahl turns vigilante and makes his truck a weaponized killing machine would be pretty badass! Well, I was let down.

Wahl’s truck is actually just reinforced with some heavy add-ons and a harpoon gun that basically immobilizes vehicles. He’s not really doing Mad Max shit but he is still trying to clean up the streets while hunting for the killer driver that murdered his brother and several other people.

I thought that Wahl was pretty good in this but the movie was slow as hell. It has some good, action-packed moments but it just leaves you wanting more and never really delivers in the way that you’d hope.

I felt like Nancy Allen was barely in it, as well.

But this was a movie that was made for television and there is only so much that you could get away with on network TV in the ’80s.

This is just one of those films that sits in limbo: it’s not necessarily a waste of time but it also isn’t worth going out of your way to watch.

Rating: 5/10

Film Review: Halloween Kills (2021)

Release Date: September 8th, 2021 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Written by: Scott Teems, Danny McBride, David Gordon Green
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, Daniel Davies
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Thomas Mann, Anthony Michael Hall, Nick Castle, Kyle Richards, Nancy Stephens, Charles Cyphers, Scott MacArthur, Michael McDonald

Blumhouse Productions, Miramax, Universal Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“I’m coming for you, Michael.” – Laurie Strode

So this is the second part of the Halloween trilogy by David Gordon Green and Danny McBride. I mostly liked the first one and I also mostly liked this one.

Oddly, there are some things about this one that are worse and also some things that are better. So with that, it kind of just evens itself out and, overall, is on the same level as its predecessor.

Looking at the positives first, I thought that this one committed to the violence of the deaths better. The previous film showed some seriously fucked up kills but then it’s like it met its quota and then some gruesome kills saw the camera shy away from them. Here, it threw everything at you and didn’t pull any of its punches.

This one also brought back some classic characters and some minor characters from the original 1978 film. I don’t like how some of these characters were utilized and ultimately what their fates were but I did like the idea of a group of Michael Myers survivors being fully aware that one day they’d have to come face-to-face with the monster once more.

As for the negatives, I don’t like how reckless and stupid Tommy Doyle was, as well as his dipshit small town mob. They pushed an innocent man to suicide, they got overzealous and then sloppy when they had the advantage over Michael and by the end, you kind of want these morons to get what you know is coming to them.

Additionally, the film did some time jumping early on, which I felt was a bit messy and made the first act of the story somewhat chaotic and disjointed. It also doesn’t really recover from having a bad flow, as it starts introducing new sets of characters that just seem to be on their own side quest from the get go and it pulls time away from the main story and the main characters of this film series.

Also, I get that Laurie Strode was severely injured but I hated that she was in a hospital bed the entire movie, except when she tried to leave, hurt herself, and then ended up right back in bed next to the cop from the first movie, who also stayed in bed the whole time.

I also didn’t like the appearance of Loomis in this. It felt kind of cheap and weird like when Disney used a CGI Peter Cushing in Rogue One. I couldn’t tell if they used CGI on an actor’s face here or if they just got an actor that looks an awful lot like Donald Pleasence.

Other than that, the story was okay and the kills were solid and creative. At the very least, this feels like a good extension of what was established in the original 1978 Halloween and these are much better movies than that white trash Rob Zombie crap from a decade and a half ago. These are also better than the other attempt at a sequel reboot that we got with H20 and Halloween: Resurrection.

Rating: 6.75/10

Film Review: While the City Sleeps (1956)

Also known as: New Is Made at Night (working title)
Release Date: April 19th, 1956 (London premiere)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Casey Robinson
Based on: The Bloody Spur by Charles Einstein
Music by: Herschel Burke Gilbert
Cast: Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Vincent Price, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Sally Forrest, John Drew Barrymore, Ida Lupino, James Craig, Robert Warwick, Mae Marsh, Leonard Carey

Bert E. Friedlob Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“What a beautiful nightgown; and it’s a shortie!” – Ed Mobely

I love Fritz Lang’s work, especially in regards to the noir narrative and visual style. And while noir films were waning in popularity by 1956, Lang still managed to make a pretty good one with this picture.

The film is about a serial killer that is terrorizing the city. All the while, a media tycoon dies and leaves the business to a son he despises. The son, played by Vincent Price, doesn’t know much about running a news company, so he creates a new “second-in-command” position. He holds a contest between the company’s best investigative journalists to catch the killer. The one who does will be given the new position and some lucrative perks.

The movie has a weird but interesting premise and all the core actors in this do a good job with the material.

One thing Lang does exceptionally well in his films is how he builds up tension and suspense. He does a fantastic job in this one, as well.

I think the serial killer stuff is also a bit darker and more gruesome feeling than other serial killer movies before this. But going all the way back to 1931’s M, Fritz Lang showed that he didn’t shy away from the darkness and was able to really push the envelope in spite of the limitations of what was deemed acceptable at the time.

This movie is full of characters that are entertaining and fun to watch. However, there is still this haunting presence looming over everything.

Ultimately, this isn’t Fritz Lang’s best noir picture but it also solidifies the fact that the guy never made a bad or even mediocre one.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Jigsaw (2017)

Also known as: Saw 8, Saw VIII, Saw: Legacy (working titles)
Release Date: October 25th, 2017 (Moscow premiere)
Directed by: The Spierig Brothers
Written by: Josh Stolberg, Peter Goldfinger
Music by: Charlie Clouser
Cast: Tobin Bell, Matt Passmore, Callum Keith Rennie, Clé Bennett, Hannah Emily Anderson, Laura Vandervoort, Mandela Van Peebles

Serendipity Productions, Burg Koules Hoffman Productions, Twisted Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“The truth will set you free.” – Jigsaw

Well, after the terrible weekend where I forced myself through all of the original Saw sequels, I really didn’t want to have to jump into the more modern sequels at all… but there’s only two of them, so I figured I’d just power through them each in sperate sessions. Luckily, this film at least provided me with something that was a wee bit of a step up from those last several.

Granted, I say “wee bit” because this isn’t a particularly good movie but it stood out when compared to all the sequels after the third Saw.

As I’ve stated before, I like Tobin Bell as Jigsaw and I was glad that they found a way to actually have him in this, alive and as well as he could be, as the cancer hadn’t beat him yet.

With his presence, though, it left you wondering if him surviving cancer was some sort of clever Jigsaw trick all along. The big reveal in this chapter, as there’s always a big reveal in Saw movies, is that half of the plot takes place before the first Saw while the other half of the story is a sequel. So my worry of there being some type of stupid supernatural element thrown in was eased once the reveal happens.

There was also a pretty solid red herring in the movie, when you had to start guessing who might be pulling some of the strings, as you assume there is some sort of copycat Jigsaw or another unknown apprentice.

However, this, like it’s several predecessors, is nowhere near as clever as the original film. Additionally, the dual storylines that take place at different times is kind of confusing and a bit of a bloated clusterfuck.

One big positive, is that the people playing Jigsaw’s game in this are a lot less annoying than the groups in previous films. I thought Laura Vandervoort was pretty good and likable in this. Well, until her dark secret comes out.

As Saw sequels go, however, I felt like I wasted my time with a movie that’s just unpleasant, often times shrill and has very few redeeming qualities other than enjoying the pivotal scenes with Jigsaw in them.

Rating: 5/10

Film Review: Witchboard (1986)

Release Date: December 31st, 1986 (limited)
Directed by: Kevin Tenney
Written by: Kevin Tenney
Music by: Dennis Michael Tenney
Cast: Todd Allen, Tawny Kitaen, Stephen Nichols, Kathleen Wilhoite, Burke Byrnes, Rose Marie

Paragon Arts International, Blue Rider Pictures, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Hang loose, stay cool, and don’t forget your psychic humor.” – Zarabeth

I had never seen Witchboard and I never had much interest in it. Ouija Board movies have never been my thing, for whatever reason. I don’t know, even as a lover of horror, I always found the concept of them to be too one-dimensional and uneventful.

Seeing this, my assessment isn’t proven wrong and in fact, this movie is also pretty boring. It has a few neat moments but not enough to salvage it or make it something I’d ever feel like I wanted to watch again. And I only really watched it this time because I know some people that are somewhat nostalgic about this film.

Also, this has Tawny Kitaen in it and I remember how much my older cousins and uncles were fawning over her back in the day after she did that Whitesnake video. Yeah, I saw it. Even as a little kid, I thought she was hot. But I was really a Phoebe Cates kinda guy.

Anyway, this is about a group of college aged kids that fuck around with a Ouija Board. One of them (Kitaen) develops an unhealthy obsession, as she starts to talk to the ghost of a child. However, we later find out that this child ghost was an evil wizard all along and he’s possessed her. Crazy supernatural shit happens and the boyfriend has to fight his demon possessed girlfriend in an effort to save her from the wizard’s spirit.

Witchboard has a few amusing characters in it, such as the bizarre psychic girl, and it shows two best friends, fighting over the same girl, have to come back together in an effort to save her. I always love bro movies where the bros gotta put aside their differences and save the day.

This is mostly slow, poorly acted and it doesn’t have anything special or unique to make it stand out in a sea of great ’80s horror. But still, it is ’80s horror and with that, it’s still a decent film to check out if ’80s horror is your cup of tea.

I didn’t hate this, by any means, but I was far from loving it, as well.

Rating: 5.25/10