Tales from the Hood (1995)

Directed by Rusty Cundieff [Other horror films: Tales from the Hood 2 (2018), Mr. Malevolent (2018), Tales from the Hood 3 (2020)]

This is one that I’ve seen once before, and I recall enjoying it, but seeing it again shines an even brighter light on the film, because I now think it’s one of the best anthology horror films of the 1990’s.

Honestly, competition isn’t that high, as most anthology films usually falter in one or two of the stories, but Tales from the Hood boasts not only four pretty decent stories, but a solidly amusing framing sequence right out of Tales from the Crypt, with a very classic Amicus feel.

Of all the stories, the only one that I didn’t absolutely love is the final story, titled ‘Hard-core Convert’, but I’ll be honest: as a white guy who barely knew any black people until college, I don’t even know if I really have a right to say much on this one.

The comparison between the violence committed on blacks by racist whites to the violence committed on blacks by other blacks (gang violence, primarily) struck me as somewhat troubling in it’s nature, but then again, as I’m not at all black, and have little experience with the experiences they deal with on a daily basis, especially in areas overrun by gangs, I admit that this is something I don’t think I know enough about to comment on. I’ll simply say that while the story was certainly one that made me think, the implications (seemingly ignoring the poverty and lack of upward mobility that leads many into the gang life in the first place) bothered me.

I think the best story is difficult to choose, but I’d likely go with ‘Boys Do Get Bruised.’ It’s certainly the most moving of the stories, and I definitely thought that it really stood out in a genre that sometimes comes across as callous and cold. I especially enjoyed both Rusty Cundieff’s and David Alan Grier’s performances, and while the ending wasn’t necessarily amazing, I think the story had a lot going for it.

‘KKK Comeuppance’ and ‘Rogue Cop Revelation’ were both pretty good, and also topical to today’s rather racist climate, unfortunately. I’d probably give the edge to ‘Rogue Cop Revelation’, almost for the pure joy of seeing racist cops killed for their atrocious actions of killing a black community leader. Cops like that, and those who defend said cops (which seems to be a vast majority of the corrupt police force), are utterly without virtue, and seeing, even in a fictional movie, the revenge so rightly deserved taking place brought me a lot of joy. There’s joy in seeing a racist politician taken down too, no doubt, but the police seem more solidly protected from the consequences of their racist actions than do politicians (just look at all the police officers who get off on murder charges when they’re clearly guilty).

On a related note, I suspect that while many of the stories in the film are well-crafted, including the framing story (though the conclusion is both expected and ultimately a little on the corny side), if one’s a conservative, or a racist, they may take issue with the film. That’s not to say that some conservatives couldn’t enjoy the film for what it is, but given the issues that the film tackles, I think it’s safe to say that some would definitely be turned off, claiming the film carries with it a ‘political agenda.’

As it is, I’m nowhere near conservative, so I had no such problems enjoying the film. Really, looking through the 1990’s anthology films, I struggle to find one that get’s anywhere close to matching how much I enjoyed this one. Tales from the Darkside: The Movie had one pretty great story, but was otherwise forgettable. Two Evil Eyes ultimately didn’t do anything for me. I’ve not seen either movie titled Campfire Tales (from 1991 and 1997), nor Quicksilver Highway (1997), and I really didn’t care for Body Bags (1993). Looking at the competition, there’s not really any choice, and even without comparing Tales from the Hood with underwhelming movies, I think it stands on it’s own merits. Well worth the watch, and definitely one that I’d go back to.

8.5/10

Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo (1995)

Directed by Tom Chaney [Other horror films: The Wind Walker (2019)]

This is a pretty horrible movie, and seems like a combination of a more competently-made Things (1989) and The Evil Dead, but damn it, I do think it has a bit of charm, which is probably what’s expected from a Troma movie.

There’s an okay story here, which is somewhat goofy at times, but what makes it work a bit better than expected is the stop motion used on the titular wendigo, which looks more to me like a centaur. Even so, I appreciated the attempt, and seeing him rip through a cabin’s roof and grab someone was a pleasure.

As far as performances go, it was a mixed bag. Lori Baker, Patrick Butler, and Devlin Burton were all accessibly decent, but Ron Asheton’s performance was so awful, it almost wipes out the positive aspects of everyone else. His hamminess was off the charts, but luckily, he doesn’t have the chance to quite ruin every scene, which I guess is something.

Speaking of Asheton, who was a member of Iggy Pop/The Stooges, it was probably his idea to throw such an awful and discordant soundtrack into the mix. The music itself is bad and often out of place, but what’s worse is that the audio was mixed poorly, and it’s not uncommon for the lyrics of songs to be on the same audio level as characters in the movie, which was distracting as hell.

Another thing I really could have done without were the two news flash sequences, which literally added nothing to the story. There wasn’t anything in them particularly funny or note-worthy, and at least six, seven minutes of time is just wasted.

Hey, at least we got some okay decapitations, including one done by a pterodactyl demon-type thing, which was a solid sequence, so kudos there.

Frostbiter isn’t a movie that comes highly recommended, and I do find the movie below average, but in it’s mediocrity, I do think the movie has a bit of charm, and I actually could see myself giving this one another watch in the future.

6/10

Lord of Illusions (1995)

Lord of Illusions

Directed by Clive Barker [Other horror films: Hellraiser (1987), Nightbreed (1990), Clive Barker’s Salomé & The Forbidden (1998)]

After wanting to see this for some time, I have to admit I’m a bit underwhelmed. The story was decent, but I felt this sort of missed the mark, and ultimately wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

Portions were certainly enjoyable, though, particularly the detective work in trying to solve the mysteries Harry (Scott Bakula) was facing. I think it was during these sequences where I was most engaged, and I feel the movie did far better with showing us the mystery as opposed to the overly supernatural, more ridiculous parts of the story.

Bakula made for a pretty good main character. I’m not that familiar with him, but I definitely liked him here. Famke Janssen (who I know best as Jean Grey from the X-Men movies) was decent, but I didn’t care that much for her character. Barry Del Sherman shined here, and was perhaps the stand-out performance of the film, as his character seemed almost inhuman every time he was on-screen. I also enjoyed both Joel Swetow and Lorin Stewart. Daniel von Bargen didn’t do it for me, though, and his over-the-top character was pretty meh. Related, Kevin J. O’Connor didn’t wow me either.

Honestly, Lord of Illusions reminded me a lot of Wishmaster, albeit with far worse special effects (seriously, the special effects here, even for the 1990’s, are mostly awful). I had a lot more fun with Wishmaster than I did this one, though, and I can’t put my tongue on exactly why I kept thinking of that flick while watching this.

It’s true that the film ran a bit long (it’s about an hour and 50 minutes), but even if it was cut down a bit, I get the sense it wouldn’t do that much to boost my entertainment. The gore, when it popped up, was decently solid, and again, I thought the story itself was interesting (and the middle portion of the film pretty great), but overall, while I’d probably watch this one again, it wouldn’t be high on the list.

I’ll say this for it, though: Lord of Illusions had some strong ambitions, and it definitely had potential (that spinning sword trick and the resulting suspense was top notch). It just wasn’t what I was hoping for. It may still be worth a watch, though, if you’ve passed it up in the past.

6/10

Se7en (1995)

Se7en

Directed by David Fincher [Other horror films: Alien³ (1992)]

In many ways similar to Silence of the Lambs, Se7en is one of those products of the 90’s that skims the waters of the horror genre. Personally, if it’s not been clear, I have a somewhat liberal view of what should be counted in the genre, and Se7en fits for me. Even if you don’t think it belongs, though, this movie is still a dark and often depressing masterpiece.

Rather moody and atmospheric (and perhaps too dark – the city, which always seemed to be enshrouded in gloom, was a bit much), Se7en has a lot of feeling to it. Once the killer comes forward and gives his reasoning for his actions, I suspect many out there would be sympathetic. The story’s tried and true also, with some solid twists.

An older, more-experienced cop (Morgan Freeman) partnering up with an often abrasive hot-head (Brad Pitt) always leads to some good scenes, and especially given the quality of the two actors in question, and it’s no different here. Freeman’s character is rather interesting, and has a depth to him, and while the same can be said for Pitt’s, Freeman was overall who I found myself consistently more interested in.

The story itself is overly solid also, and never really lets up. Plenty of potentially boring procedural sequences end up captivating due to, as aforementioned, the performances involved. The conclusion is a little shaky for a reason I’ll talk about in a bit, but overall, I don’t have any real complaints about the story here, other than that the city really did seem too grim (I mean, it’s not like this is Gotham).

Freeman and Pitt, who had mostly great performances, aside, there are plenty of others who stand out in this film. Kevin Spacey, who is perhaps one of my favorite modern day actors, does amazing here, with a fantastic calm, collected style and just steals the few scenes he’s in. Gwyneth Paltrow (who I know only from the MCU films) is an enjoyable presence also, though I sort of wish a bit more was done with her. Though small performances, both R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket and Mississippi Burning) and Richard Schiff (The West Wing) were nice to see also.

As alluded to earlier, I don’t think the movie’s perfect. Again, while I know the movie was going for a gloomy and depressing feel (that ending quote always stuck with me), the city just felt unrealistically bleak, at least in my opinion. Also, while I mostly liked Pitt’s character, the famous sequence at the end doesn’t feel like his best work. The way he screams, ‘What’s in the box?’ just felt almost silly and too over-the-top. It’s a great sequence overall, but his acting on those lines sort of dampens the otherwise dark feel.

On a side-note, I didn’t notice until I began writing this review that I’d seen most of director David Fincher’s movies, favorites of mine including 1997’s The Game, The Social Network, and Gone Girl. Though it’s not particularly relevant here, I do appreciate the versatility of his work.

Se7en is a great crime flick which, while not overly violent, does have enough material in it to maintain the interest of most horror fans. It’s a captivating movie with a great cast and some classic scenes. Kudos to both Kevin Spacey and Morgan Freeman for being the two best performances in the film.

9/10

Mute Witness (1995)

Mute Witness

Directed by Anthony Waller [Other horror films: An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), Nine Miles Down (2009)]

This is a pretty mixed ride, and much of that due to the fact the film sort of switches up genres toward the end, going from a tense slasher-esque flick to an almost black comedy/crime movie.

That’s not entirely fair, though – the comedy, most of it black, wasn’t terrible, but given the first two-thirds of the film, I thought it was going a bit far. It’s going from horror to crime that bothered me, and although it made sense story-wise, I didn’t care for the shift.

Most of the movie is quite suspenseful. A long chase scene as a mute woman attempts to outwit two people who she saw murder someone. That sequence, especially the ending, was well-done, and the follow-up scene was too an elongated, albeit more peaceful, sequence, wrought with both confusion and frustration.

There wasn’t a bunch of gore here, but what there was ended up being fine. The biggest selling point, by far, is the suspense anyway, which the film does really well. But the last third of the film felt a lot like a crime movie, and the triumphant ending doesn’t erase the distaste I rather had of that portion.

Russian actress Marina Zudina (who is somewhat well-known in her home country) does really well here, playing a mute character in a rather dangerous situation. Fay Ripley and Evan Richards, though, contributed most of the black comedy, and like I said, I could have done without that addition. Really, Zudina should get the most props, by far – her performance here is excellent.

I like a lot of things about this movie. Like I said, the slasher-portion of the film is tense as hell, and until the movie shifts to a crime-feel, the movie was on it’s way to a way above average score. As it is, the final thirty minutes really didn’t do much for me, so while I still recommend the film, especially for 90’s horror, I wouldn’t call Mute Witness amazing.

7.5/10

Embrace of the Vampire (1995)

Embrace of the Vampire

Directed by Anne Goursaud [Other horror films: N/A]

Some years ago, I saw a film called Embrace the Darkness, from 1999. It was a slow-moving, softcore erotic vampire seduction flick. If I had to guess, I would say that it ripped off this movie, which has most of the same elements, to my lamentation.

A vampire must seduce an innocent and virginal girl in three days or his long lifespan will finally be at an end. Personally, I can’t imagine this plot being done in an engaging way. The nudity throughout the film, from a party orgy to a lesbian seduction scene (complete with some 90’s R&B tunes), doesn’t make up for the fact that the movie is so damn sluggish. The few kills we do get aren’t overly impressive, and really, aside from the nudity, I can’t imagine why anyone would go out of their way to see this.

Admittedly, it does has Jennifer Tilly, who is appropriately attractive here. And while I don’t know either of them, the main character, played by Alyssa Milano, and Charlotte Lewis, were both pretty cute, and their nude scenes didn’t go amiss. But long-winded sensual seduction sequences don’t make for that enthralling a film, so the performance of Martin Kemp doesn’t do much for me (especially his over-dramatic dialogue).

The one plus this has over Embrace the Darkness is the fact that this is just about an hour and a half, instead of an hour and forty-five minutes. But it still drags, and while the story might be competently done, and the nudity itself was welcomed, I just couldn’t get into it at all, and wouldn’t much recommend it.

5/10

Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995)

Candyman

Directed by Bill Condon [Other horror films: N/A]

Generally speaking, this movie is okay. It’s certainly nothing special, and doesn’t really add much that the first Candyman didn’t bring forth, but you could do much worse than this.

Moving away from Cabrini-Green to New Orleans was a perfectly acceptable choice, though again, it doesn’t really do that much aside from give a new setting to the story. Otherwise, this movie is pretty similar to the first one, only dealing with Candyman on a slightly more personal level.

While there are some worthwhile sequences (I enjoyed the full flashback of Candyman’s origin, especially with the hand being sawed off), there lacks much of the almost-dreamy feel of the first film. Luckily, it does keep that catchy musical theme, but that’s not enough to make up for what feels to be an uninspired sequel.

Kelly Rowan did fine as the main character, though didn’t possess the same strength I got out of Madsen. It was nice to see Michael Culkin come back, and at least connecting the first two movies, though he didn’t really have a chance to do much. William O’Leary was probably the weakest performance here – he just didn’t jibe well with me. Voicing the Kingfish, Russell Buchanan was pretty fun throughout, and of course, Tony Todd had a strong presence here, and pretty much blows everyone else out of the water, though he was more threatening in the first film.

There were some pretty questionable special effects near the end, but overall, this movie does a decent job at avoiding too many special effects failures. It doesn’t do much to make the movie better, but at the very least, it’s a point in the positives for the film.

Personally, I think the first Candyman is a classic of 90’s horror, which is one of the weakest decades for the genre since the 1940’s. This sequel, while not atrocious by any means, seems wholly unnecessary. I’ve seen it perhaps three times now, and I’ve thought the same thing each time I finished it. Not bad, but not that good, and it’s nothing compared to the first film.

6/10

The Mangler (1995)

The Mangler

Directed by Tobe Hooper [Other horror films: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Eaten Alive (1976), The Dark (1979), Salem’s Lot (1979), The Funhouse (1981), Poltergeist (1982), Lifeforce (1985), Invaders from Mars (1986), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), Spontaneous Combustion (1990), I’m Dangerous Tonight (1990), Night Terrors (1993), Body Bags (1993, segment ‘Eye’), The Apartment Complex (1999), Crocodile (2000), Shadow Realm (2002), Toolbox Murders (2004), Mortuary (2005), Djinn (2013)]

This is a poor movie, and the fact it runs for an hour and 45 minutes does little to help it out.

Based on a short story by Stephen King that’s no longer than ten pages, The Mangler brings to us the story of an evil laundry folding machine. If the movie took itself a bit less seriously, it may have turned out okay too. But no. Director Tobe Hooper kept this movie serious, and while goofy acting by Robert Englund may make one question that conclusion, throughout the film, little humor is present.

The main characters are fine enough, but not overly enthralling. And some of the gore is good also, which is only a plus. But things don’t work together – the plot twist at the end seemed to be thrown in there, and just doesn’t strike me as overly realistic. The movie’s quite simply not good, and while I’ve not seen it in years before this rewatch, I recall not caring for it much then either. For good reason.

5/10