Frankenstein (1931)

Directed by James Whale [Other horror films: The Old Dark House (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935)]

Perhaps one of the most beloved of the Universal classics, Frankenstein is undoubtedly a great film, and while it may not necessarily impress viewers of more modern-day movies, it really is a treat to see once again.

I can’t really fathom exactly how long it’s been since I’ve seen this one – I know it’s at least been seven years, but likely closer to ten. Regardless, this is one of the films that my parents owned on VHS when I was a kid, and as such, this probably went a long way into getting me into the genre to begin with (along with Dracula and The Wolf Man). I don’t doubt I have some strong nostalgia tied to this one, but if the overwhelming positive reaction to Frankenstein is to be believed, my kind opinions are not at all odd.

Of course, the story does deal a bit with a pet peeve of mine, being the same basic idea that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde presupposed – that man shouldn’t attempt to unlock the secrets of God. Science should, of course, be done carefully and with consideration of proper protocol, but the idea that certain ideas are too dangerous to be delved into just strikes me as ludicrous. As Dr. Frankenstein, Colin Clive probably took it a bit far, but even so, under the proper conditions, his experiment might have had better consequences.

And on Clive, what a performance. He died young in 1937, having also been in Bride of Frankenstein and Mad Love, and this is clearly a strong performance. Just his emotion and dialogue alone during the famous “It’s alive!” scene are off-the-charts fun. “In the name of God, now I know what it feels like to be God!” Quality line – I use it twice a week at least.

Elsewise, everyone else puts in a great performance also. John Boles does sort of get lost in the crowd, but Edward Van Sloan (Van Helsing from Dracula, a fact I honestly didn’t know until today) was fantastic, and even after disavowing Frankenstein’s experiments, I deeply respected how he hung around and tried to help Frankenstein out. Frederick Kerr (just two years before his death in 1933) was great as Frankenstein’s father, and was a lot of fun whenever he was on-screen.

Lionel Belmore (The Vampire Bat) only had one scene of note, and Kerr sort of stole it, but regardless, he was still enjoyable. Mae Clarke was sort of trapped in the stereotypical role that women had in these movies, but with what little agency she had, I thought she was compelling. Dwight Frye (of both Dracula and The Vampire Bat) was great as Fritz, though we never do learn much about his character. As the Monster, Karloff is just amazing – he’s as much the victim as the antagonist (and actually, much more the victim), and his story here is just sad, especially as he never really had a chance to grow whatsoever.

The atmosphere of this one is quality, from the opening during the funeral service to the finale at the windmill – there’s just a lot here to look forward to. The famous “it’s alive!” scene is great, and so are many of the sequences here, such as Fritz breaking into the university to steal a brain, or the Creature’s tortuous shouts as it’s chained in Frankenstein’s cellar, or the Creature’s fateful meeting with Maria. Even the manhunt sequences at the end hold appeal, especially the mountain portions, as I couldn’t personally imagine trying to locate a murderer in such rocky and dangerous conditions.

As to the violence, honestly, for the time period, it’s not that bad. Just the idea of a body being made of bits and pieces of others, all stitched up, is gruesome enough, but you also have the tragic death of a young girl (and even better, the scene where her grief-stricken father is carrying her corpse through the village’s celebrations in silent shock) and a rather painful scene of a man hitting on of those windmill wind-thingys (predating the famous Titanic propeller blade scene by over 50 years).

I also love the beginning, which is warning from the movie-makers, telling us that it may thrill, shock, and horrify us, and indeed, subtly suggesting if someone can’t take the horrors in store, they may wish to leave the theater. It’s a wholly charming beginning, and I totes enjoy it brahs.

I grew up on this film, and that VHS tape that I mentioned earlier, I still have it. It’s a great movie, and while not my favorite of the time period, Frankenstein is definitely up there.

8.5/10

Torture Garden (1967)

Directed by Freddie Francis [Other horror films: The Brain (1962), The Day of the Triffids (1963), Paranoiac (1963), Nightmare (1964), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), Hysteria (1965), The Skull (1965), The Psychopath (1966), The Deadly Bees (1966), They Came from Beyond Space (1967), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1970), Trog (1970), Gebissen wird nur nachts – das Happening der Vampire (1971), Tales from the Crypt (1972), The Creeping Flesh (1973), Son of Dracula (1973), Tales That Witness Madness (1973), Craze (1974), Legend of the Werewolf (1975), The Ghoul (1975), The Doctor and the Devils (1985), Dark Tower (1989)]

Amicus’ second anthology horror film (following 1965’s Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors), Torture Garden is a film I’ve seen once before, but didn’t particularly care for. Seeing it again does confirm, to me, at least, that it’s one of the weakest of Amicus’ anthologies that I’ve seen.

I find the framing story as fun as any other, and the route it takes, while predictable, is still fun, but none of the four stories throughout the film really interest me. No doubt that two of them (‘Terror Over Hollywood’ and ‘The Man Who Collected Poe’) had potential, but I don’t feel either one was necessarily executed that well. Of the four, I guess I’d say that ‘The Man Who Collected Poe’ was the best, but really, all four of these felt somewhat underwhelming, especially compared to Amicus’ later entities, such as Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror.

The first and third stories (‘Enoch’ and ‘Mr. Steinway,’ respectively) had their own issues – for ‘Enoch,’ it just felt sort of been-there done-that, and ‘Mr. Steinway’ felt undercooked (and that ridiculous ending, while almost fun, just felt, well, ridiculous), and while some performances stood out in each (Michael Bryant, who later starred in The Stone Tape, for ‘Enoch,’ and John Standing, later in Nightflyers, for ‘Mr. Steinway’), these stories felt weak in ways that reminded me of another weak Amicus outing, being their final anthology, From Beyond the Grave.

Good performances are common throughout the film, of course. Jack Palance (Man in the Attic, Alone in the Dark, and Without Warning) was somewhat enjoyable, though his character’s personality threw me off. Of course, Peter Cushing is always a joy to see, no matter how flawed the particular story was. Others that are worth a mention include Robert Hutton (The Slime People), John Phillips (The Mummy’s Shroud), Michael Ripper (who was in The Mummy along with quite a few other Hammer outings), and of course the enjoyably hammy Burgess Meredith (who I primarily know from the Batman series, but was also in Burnt Offerings and Magic).

Of course, worth-while performances can only go so far if their stories don’t do them justice, and I don’t think any of these really did, aside from maybe Meredith’s role in the framing story (though even that edit cut toward the end just felt poorly done). Little in any of the stories aside from wasted potential stuck me as memorable (especially ‘Terror Over Hollywood,’ which I really think could have been interesting in a Michael Crichton way), but aside from the framing story, which threw in a surprise or two, nothing here is going to stick with me.

Naturally, being a big fan of some of Amicus’ later work, this doesn’t give me pleasure to admit, but I found this even weaker than the aforementioned From Beyond the Grave, if only because one of those stories was actually about average. As of this writing, the only Amicus anthology I’ve not seen is Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, but as that’s the first of this kind, I’m definitely hoping for a little more out of that one. As for Torture Garden, despite some quality performances (Meredith, Cushing, and Palance alone had quality star power), I just don’t think it did that much right.

5/10

Nothing But the Night (1973)

Directed by Peter Sasdy [Other horror films: Journey Into Darkness (1968, segment ‘The New People’), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Countess Dracula (1971), Hands of the Ripper (1971), Doomwatch (1972), The Stone Tape (1972), I Don’t Want to Be Born (1975), Witchcraft (1992)]

Based on the 1968 novel of the same name by John Blackburn, this British film can be quite engaging at times, but I think that some elements hold it back, such as the conclusion and the eventual answer to some of the questions the ongoings in the movie put forward.

Certainly anytime that Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing share a scene, it’s a good time (previous to this film, they appeared together in movies such as The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Mummy, The Gorgon, Night of the Big Heat, I, Monster, Dracula A.D. 1972, and Horror Express), and that’s no different here. I’ve always personally preferred Cushing, but both of these actors put in great performances here, story issues aside.

Save those two, it’s hard to really point to anyone else that stands out. Georgia Brown (who later appeared in a segment of Tales That Witness Madness) was decent, but I didn’t think the finale really gave her character a lot to do. I didn’t love Diana Dors (Craze and Berserk) character, but she also did okay. Despite his short time on-screen, Keith Barron was reasonably solid, and of mild interest, though he’s difficult to pick out, Michael Gambon appears in a few scenes also.

If the movie could survive from solid performances alone, we might be talking about an early 70’s classic, but unfortunately some story elements suffer here. I definitely enjoyed the mystery that they had going on, and I did enjoy some things about the finale (which almost felt like The Wicker Man, though nowhere near as epic or memorable), but the solution to the mystery just didn’t interest me that much, and there’s also a bit of over-explanation toward the end by an antagonist, and it just felt off. One of the final scenes is great, but it’s not a flawless ride getting there.

Of course, being the sheltered American lad that I am, I enjoyed the British and Scottish accents and countryside, and though I didn’t care that much for the film overall (which is, on a side-note, about the same reaction I had to this one the first time I saw it some years ago), it still has that British charm to it, which may not amount to much when it comes to rating, but it was something that I appreciated.

Generally, I think that Nothing But the Night is okay. Below average, no doubt, but still worth seeking out if, at the very least, you’re a fan of Cushing or Lee (or the pair of them together). For me, I didn’t dig where the story went, and I think to an extent, things fell apart a little toward the end, but it’s not a movie that I’d never give another chance to, if only for the names involved.

6/10

The Raven (1963)

Directed by Roger Corman [Other horror films: The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), Day the World Ended (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), Not of This Earth (1957), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Undead (1957), War of the Satellites (1958), The Wasp Woman (1959), A Bucket of Blood (1959), House of Usher (1960), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), Tower of London (1962), The Terror (1963), X (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990)]

For many, this is a classic film, an enjoyable blend of horror and comedy, but I have to admit that, despite the fantastic cast, this movie really didn’t do a thing for me.

Which is a damn shame, as you can imagine. I mean, check out the cast – Vincent Price (House on Haunted Hill, The Haunted Palace, and Theatre of Blood), Boris Karloff (Frankenstein, The Black Cat, The Ghoul, and The Walking Dead), and Peter Lorre (Mad Love, The Beast with Five Fingers, and You’ll Find Out) are the central actors, and what a great mix it is. A young Jack Nicholson (The Shining and The Terror) appears throughout, and we also get some Hazel Court (The Premature Burial, Ghost Ship, The Masque of the Red Death, and The Curse of Frankenstein). All of these performances (and throw in Olive Sturgess for good measure) were solid.

I just don’t care for the story, though, which is very heavily entwined with comedy and fantasy. It started out strong, with some stanzas from Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem being read by Price, but as soon as the raven (Lorre’s character who was transformed during a failed magical duel with Karloff’s sinister warlock character) flew in, I was just taken aback. Don’t get me wrong, I knew the film was partly comedy, but I didn’t quite realize it’d play so heavily a part, and some of the intended comedy just didn’t do much for me (such as Nicholson’s scene on the carriage).

And of course, this isn’t to take away from the performances, which were fantastic throughout, and they even managed a few pretty good scenes (I personally think the best one was Nicholson’s character traversing a ledge outside Karloff’s castle in order to get to another room, which held quality tension), but then there was a lengthy magical duel at the end between Price and Karloff which went on for at least six minutes with zero dialogue, and I can’t express how drowsy that made me.

Vincent Price is one of my personal favorite actors of the horror genre, being in multiple movies I absolutely love (such as the aforementioned House on Haunted Hill and Theatre of Blood), so it gives me no pleasure to admit that I didn’t care for this, especially because I also have a huge respect for Lorre and Karloff. The story just wasn’t my cup of tea, though, and I just did not derive much in the way of enjoyment from this whatsoever.

Most people enjoy this one, though, so if you’re into classic movies, by all means, give it a shot. Just know what you’re going into.

5/10

Chopping Mall (1986)

Directed by Jim Wynorski [Other horror films: Not of This Earth (1988), The Return of Swamp Thing (1989), Transylvania Twist (1989), The Haunting of Morella (1990), Sorority House Massacre II (1990), Hard to Die (1990), Scream Queen Hot Tub Party (1991), 976-Evil II (1991), Ghoulies IV (1994), Sorceress (1995), The Wasp Woman (1995), Vampirella (1996), Storm Trooper (1998), The Bare Wench Project (2000), Raptor (2001), The Bare Wench Project 2: Scared Topless (2001), Project Viper (2002), Wolfhound (2002), The Bare Wench Project 3: Nymphs of Mystery Mountain (2002), Cheerleader Massacre (2003), Bare Wench Project: Uncensored (2003), The Thing Below (2004), The Curse of the Komodo (2004), Gargoyle (2004), Komodo vs. Cobra (2005), The Witches of Breastwick (2005), The Witches of Breastwick 2 (2005), Bare Wench: The Final Chapter (2005), Cry of the Winged Serpent (2007), House on Hooter Hill (2007), Bone Eater (2007), Vampire in Vegas (2009), Cleavagefield (2009), The Hills Have Thighs (2010), Dinocroc vs. Supergator (2010), Camel Spiders (2011), Piranhaconda (2012), Gila! (2012), Scared Topless (2015), Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre (2015), Legend of the Naked Ghost (2017), CobraGator (2018)]

In many ways, Chopping Mall is a pretty simple movie, taking common elements and meshing them together decently well. It’s not special, and it’s not even particularly memorable, but it’s digestible fun, which counts in it’s favor.

Apparently far more based on Gog (1954) than it was Short Circuit (which came out a year before), the film follows security robots going awry and chasing down eight teens who stay after hours and party in a furniture store (a spiritual prequel to Hide and Go Shriek, some might say). The variety of the kills isn’t really that high, but you do get the ever-classic head being blown off by a laser, which was actually repeated during the beginning of the credits. The electrocutions were sort of cheesy, but still fun. Oh, and there was a slit throat, so there’s some “chopping” for you.

Kelli Maroney (Night of the Comet) was solid as a more-reserved teen who quickly became one of the best fighters this group of kids had. She was fun, occasionally adorable, and easy to root for. Few of the other seven teens stand out, though. Tony O’Dell was okay, Suzee Slater had quality breasts (and a fantastic death scene), and even Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond, and most famously, Beyond the Gates) was just eh. No one else stood out aside from Dick Miller, who had just a single scene, but as always with Miller, it was a lot of fun.

As one would hope, the soundtrack is pretty fun (albeit somewhat generic) 80’s synth, but even more fun were the multiple references to other movies. Obviously the posters of The Slumber Party Massacre, Galaxy of Terror, and Forbidden World were visible toward the beginning, but you have Miller’s character being named Walter Paisley (the same name of a character he played in A Bucket of Blood), and then there’s Roger’s Little Shop of Pets (of course referencing The Little Shop of Horrors). Some characters were watching Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) early on before the fun with the robots began. They even threw in some characters from Eating Raoul (a movie I didn’t particularly like, but hey, whateves), so overall, this was fun and playful.

What wasn’t fun or playful was that scene in the pet shop, though – tarantulas probably have very good souls, but they terrify me (just as they did in Deadly Blessing), and that scene in which they’re crawling on Maroney’s arm just freaks me out. That was legit the hardest scene to watch in the film.

With plenty of fun lines, such as Maroney’s final one-liner, and a good, quick pace, Chopping Mall is a movie that got it’s job done and done well. Sure, there’s only one really memorable death scene, and few other scenes really stand out (though I do love the silhouette of the killbot snapping it’s pincers), but even knowing that, Chopping Mall is fun, and it has been since I first saw it years back.

Thank you. Have a nice day.

7.5/10

Scream for Help (1984)

Directed by Michael Winner [Other horror films: The Nightcomers (1971), The Sentinel (1977)]

Scream for Help is a movie that I’ve only seen once before, and honestly, a movie that I remembered very little of. Pretty much when it came to mind, I just thought of it as the spiritual prequel to The Stepfather (not unlike how I think of 1985’s Blackout). In truth, this really can stand up on its own, because while it’s not an amazing movie, I definitely think a lot was done well.

Problematically, much of the first half deals with a lot of melodrama, what with a step-father’s affair being found out by his step-daughter, and while I can get the emotional upheaval this would cause the family, it’s not always the most engrossing stuff.

Again, though, there’s still decent scenes here, such as the somewhat surprising and intense hit and run that happens quite early into the film. No doubt too there’s tension at different portions of the opening, and while things don’t really pick up until the final thirty minutes, there’s plenty of things going on that are likely to keep your interest.

What sort of interested me was how the story also largely dealt with a teen girl’s coming-of-age, in a way. Over the course of the film, she experiences her first love and experiences her first love-making, and of course love saves them all in the end. Of course, it also led to most of their problems in the first place, but like most teenagers, it’s a confusing time for us all.

Rachel Kelly was pretty convincing as a teenager naive in the ways of lust. I mean, no doubt was her character occasionally ridiculously melodramatic, but she was pretty fun, and she possessed quality strength. Her mother, played by Marie Masters, didn’t interest me as much, but she still did decent enough. Forgettable also was Corey Parker, but I loved how his character, the very day after his girlfriend dies, gets with the girlfriend’s best friend, so a quality example of man.

Speaking of which, while his girlfriend, played by Sandra Clark, didn’t last that long, she was still pretty decent, which was a bit of a surprise given that this was her sole role in anything. David Allen Brooks (who pops up much later in Jack Frost 2) was pretty good here, and Rocco Sisto was even better, but Lolita Lesheim (who provided a bit of nudity) was just okay. Still, decent performances from most of the central cast, especially Rachel Kelly.

While traditional horror scenes were a bit light at times (and the finale felt far more thriller than it did horror), there were a few here and there, and like I said, plenty of tension throughout the whole of the film. Also, there was a kick-ass explosion at the end, which was pretty cool, and while the electrocution wasn’t up to par, it was still fun given the character in question who was electrocuted deserved it.

A lot could be said for the idea that this movie feels far more like a coming-of-age thriller than it does the pure horror movie that you might hope it’d be, and I can certainly see it, to an extent, but no matter what Scream for Help is classified as, I think it’s a movie that has a decent amount going for it, and if you’ve not yet seen it, it may be worth it, even if it’s not amazing.

7/10

The Evil Dead (1981)

Directed by Sam Raimi [Other horror films: It’s Murder! (1977), Crimewave (1985), Evil Dead II (1987), Army of Darkness (1992), The Gift (2000), Drag Me to Hell (2009)]

Probably one of horror fandom’s more beloved movies, The Evil Dead succeeds in possessing a strong atmosphere and special effects that go beyond, far beyond, expectations. So of course, in typical Jiggy fashion, it’s never been a movie I’ve ever been overly fond of.

Which isn’t to say that it’s not okay. I could sort of see myself watching this one every couple of years (though at what point in my life I’ll be revisiting a movie that often, I really couldn’t say), and it definitely has enough going for it to be a movie that horror fans should at least give a shot once, but from the first time I saw it, it’s never been my particular cup of tea.

Part of this (and an admittedly small part) might be because, while I find Ash’s character development sort of interesting, he’s not a character that really stands out to me. Sure, he seems the everyman that you’d expect, sometimes too scared in tense situations to jump into action (I certainly can’t blame him there), but even when he really starts fighting back (about an hour or so into the movie), I just don’t feel much in the way of interest for him.

Another thing is that while this movie is primarily a dark story of demonic forces possessing and thus torturing the last remaining character, there are some occasional lighter elements thrown in (the demonic mocking, over-the-top violence at times). Now, this is upped to 11 in the second film, but the amusing thing is that it felt more consistent in the second movie, and I personally find myself gravitating more toward that one than I ever did this.

But like I said, none of this is to say the movie is by any means bad. It’s obviously a film that has a place in the heart of a lot of people, and I certainly respect what Raimi and Campbell were able to due with a limited budget (those gore scenes themselves, from the pencil stabbing to the epic finale, were well-worth watching the movie for), and again, the atmosphere is great.

As for the cast, the only name that really need be mentioned is Bruce Campbell, who starts off as a pretty unassuming character but, of course, over the course of the film becomes more willing to stand up and fight. Campbell was in a variety of films after this point (such as Maniac Cop, Moontrap, and Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat), and you can see why. If there was anyone else who might deserve a mention, it’d be Ellen Sandweiss, who was my personal favorite character, and it’s a shame she went the way she did (especially after that tree rape).

And speaking of that tree rape, what a disturbing scene. It’s not even all that explicit (though it does provide one of the two scenes of nudity in the film), but it is a scene that stands out and probably remains one of the more unforgettable sequences of the film.

I do admit to finding the ending a bit of a cop-out, but I won’t deny that it has an element of charm to it. Which can really be said for the whole of the film – though it’s not and never has been a movie I really cared for, it’s still charming, and it does enough right to merit it’s status. It’s just that The Evil Dead doesn’t do near as much for me as it does so many others.

6.5/10

The Stand (1994)

Directed by Mick Garris [Other horror films: Critters 2 (1988), Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990), Sleepwalkers (1992), The Nightmare Begins Again (1993), Quicksilver Highway (1997), The Shining (1997), Riding the Bullet (2004), Desperation (2006), Bag of Bones (2011), Nightmare Cinema (2018, segments ‘The Projectionist’ & ‘Dead’)]

This rather lengthy mini-series (four episodes, clocking in at a total of just over six hours) based on Stephen King’s longest novel is definitely something that you need to invest in, but I find it generally an awarding experience.

It’s also a mini-series that I’ve seen quite often as a child. While this didn’t leave near as much an impression as 1990’s It (also, of course, based on a Stephen King novel), I saw this plenty of times as a kid, and I remember my father requesting this one when we rented the VHS (which came with four tapes, of course) from Blockbuster, so it certainly holds good memories.

That said, until this recent rewatch, it’s been at least ten years since I’ve seen it, so I was curious as to whether it would hold up. What made the question more interesting was that this would be the first time since I’ve seen the mini-series since finally reading the novel, and I was also curious as to how close this adaptation was.

And you know what? For a television production (which is pretty noticeable at times, especially in regards to the special effects), not only does it follow the novel decently well (and certainly better than many, if not most, other King adaptations), it’s also pretty solid, and while I wouldn’t call it great, The Stand is a pretty good time.

Just now, I took a deep breath, and that’s because we need to talk about actors and actresses. And believe it or not, given the mini-series is about six hours long, there’s a lot of them. And what makes it even better, most of the central performances were damn good.

Let’s start with Gary Sinise (who I really don’t know outside of this mini-series, though he did have a long-running role on CSI: NY), who played Stu fantastically. He really felt like that generic all-American man, and Sinise pulled off the role as well as anyone could hope to. With a little more of a complex character, Adam Storke did well as Larry, and by the end, you likely couldn’t help but hope for the best.

Ray Walston (Galaxy of Terror) was one of the top-tier performances as Glen Bateman, though his somewhat more critical look at society (as a sociologist, who could blame him?) from the novel was toned down. Peter Van Norden as Ralph was good too, though like the novel, we’re not given too much insight into his character.

Others that definitely need to be mentioned include Molly Ringwald (Office Killer) as Frannie, who wasn’t great but wasn’t quite as bad as some others make her out to be, Ossie Davis (Bubba Ho-Tep) as the Judge was very solid, and one of the best smaller characters. There’s also Miguel Ferrer (The Night Flier) as Lloyd, who took a little to get there, but ended up a fine character. Corin Nemac as Harold also took time to grow, but his decently complex character turned out decent, I thought.

As the Trashcan Man, Matt Frewer was a sight to behold, especially toward the end with the special effects they had. Being mentally unstable, Frewer didn’t have that much to go on, but again, I definitely thought he did the character justice. Truth be told, Kellie Overby as Dayna is memorable for just a single sequence (her getting caught and brought to Flagg), but she was so badass that I had to at least mention her. Shawnee Smith’s (The Blob, Saw) character was memorably crazy, so there’s that.

Finally, let’s talk some of the most memorable performances.

Rob Lowe (The West Wing and 2004’s Salem’s Lot) did amazingly as Nick, a deaf-mute. Fantastic character and performance, Lowe really made Nick someone worth remembering. Jamey Sheridan as Randall Flagg was a sight to behold, fantastically hammy and always fun. Laura San Giacomo (Pretty Woman) as Nadine was an interesting performance, and I thought she definitely strutted her stuff come the finale of her character.

A lot also has to be said about Bill Fagerbakke’s Tom Cullen. Until this day (3/09/2021 should history ever be concerned), I had no idea that the guy who played Tom was the same guy who voiced Patrick on Spongebob Squarepants, and while I never watched a lot of Spongebob, as a 90’s kid who consumed both that cartoon and this movie, I feel it should have clicked before. Here, he has an amazingly solid performance, and as corny as some of his lines are (“M-O-O-N, that spells deaf and dumb”), he’s definitely a character with feeling.

The best performance overall has got to be, though, Ruby Dee as Mother Abagail. She’s quotable (“mayhap she is, mayhap she ain’t) and wholesome in every way. Now, as an atheist, I can do without her religious mumbo-jumbo (and it’s worse in the book), but even so, she’s just great in pretty much every scene she’s in.

Given that very little was changed, and almost none of it was dreadfully important, it’s hard to criticize this adaptation for leaving things out. Sure, I think the way Flagg was more interacting with some of the characters before his time (such as trolling Lloyd on the telephone pole) was a bit off, but like I said, it doesn’t really negatively impact the story, so I didn’t mind that much (though I do think the overly-dramatic scene about Mother Abagial’s departure – entirely unlike the novel’s approach – was somewhat laughable).

What is probably the biggest hurdle for modern-day audiences are the special effects, which become noticeably aged in the last two episodes (those face shifts of Randall Flagg a good case in point), and as even a fan of the mini-series, those instances of iffy effects do hurt, but I don’t think it’s an overly damning quality.

A few other things that can definitely be appreciated include the mini-series’ approach to horror and the soundtrack. Toward the end of the first episode, there’s a dream sequence in a cornfield with a quality scare. What made that really stand out to me was that there was no rising music to indicate tension – there was just a guy walking through a cornfield, and BOOM, his shoulder is grabbed by a demonic figure. It’s that low-key style that really stuck out to me.

The soundtrack too is good. Sure, it’s nice hearing “Eve of Destruction” and of course, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Öyster Cult made for a fantastically memorable opening, but the rest of the score too really brings back memories, such as the music when Mother Abagail is walking away from the Free Zone. The music isn’t as good as, say, Storm of the Century’s score, but then again, little could be.

For being a television production, and definitely feeling tame in some aspects, I was pretty impressed revisiting this mini-series after reading the book, as they really did keep quite a bit of it as it was in the novel. The performances were pretty great overall (even if you consider Ringwald a weak spot, you have Ferrer, Fagerbakke, and Dee to make up for that), and while it’s not a short watch, I do find the experience worth it (corny Hand of God thing at the end notwithstanding).

8/10

May (2002)

Directed by Lucky McKee [Other horror films: All Cheerleaders Die (2001), The Woods (2006), The Woman (2011), All Cheerleaders Die (2013), Tales of Halloween (2015, segment ‘Ding Dong’), Kindred Spirits (2019), Deathcember (2019, segment ‘They Once Had Horses’)]

I don’t have a lot to say about May, because my feelings for this film, both the first time I saw it and just now, can be boiled down to the simple fact that I find the movie uncomfortable and don’t at all enjoy it.

Which isn’t to say the performances are bad – I think that Angela Bettis (who played Carrie in my favorite adaptation, the 2002 television movie) gave a great performance, and really sold May’s awkward tendencies. Jeremy Sisto (Wrong Turn, Hideaway, and Population 436) didn’t wow me, but Anna Faris (Scary Movie) was fun in her own way.

What’s not fun in it’s own way is the story, though, which I just find awkward. It’s uncomfortable and awkward for much of the running time, and when things that I’m more interested in finally get going (let’s say the final thirty minutes), it’s really already too late, because though the ending was much better than the first two-thirds, it wasn’t even all that great.

Certainly there are some scenes here that stick out a bit more, the sequence which most comes to my mind is the classroom scene with the blind children (I think what really elevates that sequence is the choral music in the background). Aside from that, everything else is awkward, uncomfortable, and I’m really not interested in seeing it. I already live an awkward and uncomfortable life – I don’t need to see it in a movie for pleasure.

And that doesn’t even need to be the case. Love Object (2003) had it’s own share of awkward moments, but was also a film that (while it took a few viewings) I legitimately enjoyed. Here, I’m just watching May’s uncomfortable life unfolding uncomfortably and wanting it to be over, deriving little to no pleasure from much of it.

May is a movie that has found a decent fanbase, and I have some friends in the horror community who quite enjoy this film. After seeing it again, though, I’ll just admit that it’s not for me, rate it lowly, and move on.

4/10

The Food of the Gods (1976)

Directed by Bert I. Gordon [Other horror films: Beginning of the End (1957), The Cyclops (1957), Attack of the Puppet People (1958), Earth vs the Spider (1958), War of the Colossal Beast (1958), Tormented (1960), Picture Mommy Dead (1966), Necromancy (1972), Empire of the Ants (1977), Burned at the Stake (1982), Satan’s Princess (1989), Secrets of a Psychopath (2015)]

For the longest time, this has been one of those films I’ve been aware of and have wanted to see. I didn’t have any delusions that, upon my finally watching it, I’d have discovered a forgotten classic, but I was always hoping for at least an enjoyable film, and I have to admit that I didn’t really get that.

I think this film highlights some of the biggest potential problems with movies from the 1970’s, specifically, in this case, just how dry some of them can be. Certainly other 70’s movies suffer the same problem (one that immediately comes to mind is It’s Alive!), but this is one of the worst cases I’ve seen.

With a plot about some mysterious natural growth serum causing insects and rats to enlarge, you might hope for a little bit of hokey fun, and while I won’t dispute that some of the action may well fall under the category of ‘hokey,’ I don’t think this film has a whole lot of fun ingrained within. Even similar films like Night of the Lepus (which also took itself too seriously) feel a little more enjoyable, and you’d sort of hope that any “nature gets revenge on humankind” movie would have more going for it.

Of course, that may just be my view, but this felt almost entirely dry from beginning to end. You maybe got a little fun out of Ida Lupino’s character, and maybe a pinch of laughs from Ralph Meeker’s insensitive actions, but that’s really all there is, and it’s definitely not enough to keep my interest.

In fact, I actually nodded off not once, but twice, and one of those times was during a giant rat attack (which, by the conclusion, felt far more repetitive as opposed to horrifying, not that they ever once felt horrifying). Perhaps admitting this says more about me and my consistent lack of sleep, but there you go.

I don’t think I really cared much for Marjoe Gortner (of Mausoleum fame) or Jon Cypher here. Neither one really had much feeling to them. It’s the same with Tom Stovall and Belinda Balaski (The Howling) – just more dull characters. Ida Lupino was only remarkable due to having such goofy, old-fashioned beliefs, and Ralph Meeker played a selfish dick, so he was sometimes a hoot. Perhaps best of the cast was Pamela Franklin (The Innocents and The Legend of Hell House), who’s character’s love interest in Gortner’s was just ridiculous but at least Franklin was almost sometimes okay.

Certainly the cast felt uninspired, but I think that has more to do with the film itself. Give these actors and actresses a good story, and I suspect most of them will give decent performances, that’s my motto. And that didn’t happen here, alas, which is more the shame, as this is based (loosely) on a 1904 novel by H. G. Lewis.

The special effects were laughable, but that’s okay, because anything to give this movie a little extra boost is always appreciated, even if it didn’t work. And I have to say, this movie really needed something, but The Food of the Gods never got it. I just didn’t have fun at all – it felt tedious and dry from beginning to end, and I just can’t see myself wanting to give this one another shot anytime soon.

4/10