The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

Directed by Peter Cornwell [Other horror films: Mercy (2014)]

When I first saw The Haunting in Connecticut, I got the sense I enjoyed it. I didn’t think it was great or anything, but I remember having a pretty okay time with it, and that surprised me, as I usually don’t enjoy Hollywood ghost movies. Well, now I wish I could go back to those more innocent times, as I really didn’t care for this at all the second time around.

First off, and if you know me, this may not come as a surprise, I have to mention how this movie claims to be “based on a true story.” It’s not. Throughout the whole history of the entire world, not a single ghost or supernatural event has ever been scientifically proven. To our current understanding, there are no ghosts, no demons, no supernatural occurrences (for if they occurred in nature, they’d be natural occurrences), and no God or gods.

Even more so, this particular story seems to have been entirely debunked. So for trying to pass this off as a true story to increase fear, this movie automatically lost three points. It pisses me off when movies do this (found footage are the worst offenders, as you can imagine), and this was no different.

Prove the existence of ghosts first, and then you can say these stories are based on true events. Until then, shove it.

What this movie has going for it is really quick flashes of Hollywood scares and a disjointed origin story that’s told in music-video style flashes. I think the origin is sort of interesting, at least as far as the necromancy aspect goes, but if that’s all a movie has going for it, and it’s not even told in a particularly enjoyable way, that may not mean much.

To be sure, Kyle Gallner (of the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street) did decently, and Virginia Madsen (Candyman) worked well with him to make plenty of emotional scenes. Elias Koteas was okay, though his character was too religious to much care for. Amanda Crew (Final Destination 3) never really got that much time to make any impact, but her one research scene was fine, and she was cute, so whateves.

Of course, the estimated budget of this movie is $10 million dollars, so the fact that some of the performances are decent shouldn’t come as a surprise, and more to the point, it doesn’t really elevate the movie much.

I liked aspects of the origin story, but aside from this, this felt like complete Hollywood clichéd drivel. I’m not sure where I derived my enjoyment from the first time I saw this, but after watching it with fresh eyes, it’s just a waste with very little going for it. I imagine some people out there would enjoy this one, but it’s just not my idea of a good time.

4.5/10

Die Hinrichtung (1976)

Directed by Denis Héroux [Other horror films: The Uncanny (1977)] & Géza von Radványi [Other horror films: N/A]

Known under such titles as Naked Massacre and Born for Hell (probably the best title for this one, if it were up to me), Die Hinrichtung is a gritty, raw experience. It’s not altogether exciting, but I do find the premise somewhat fascinating, and though the movie isn’t great, I do think there’s a little here to be interested in.

I first saw this film around ten years ago from a cheap print on the Mill Creek Entertainment’s Chilling Classics 50-movie pack. Honestly, while the print has issues, the audio quality is decent, and the movie is still certainly watchable (which is not something that can be said for all the movies in the same collection). I didn’t remember too much in way of specifics about the movie, which partially made this one a movie I was more interested in revisiting.

Following a disillusioned American who fought in Vietnam, and taking place during The Troubles in Belfast, there’s a lot of commentary on violence here. This American (played by Mathieu Carrière) has had a troubled life – a hard upbringing, a wife who left him, and some mental issues – and left one warzone for another. He doesn’t snap in a PTSD type of way – this isn’t Forced Entry (thank God). But he desperately wants to get home, and doesn’t have the money to do so. And what better way to get money than by trapping a house of nurses and torturing them?

Based partially off the Richard Speck murders, this movie has that gritty exploitation feel without really going out of the way to show too much explicit violence. The sexual violence, while definitely present, is toned down, and there’s not that much in the way of gore (and in fact, the bloodiest scene is a self-inflicted cut toward the finale of the film). It does have that gritty atmosphere, and of course a little nudity thrown in, but this movie isn’t really near as grueling as others from around the same time, such as I Spit on Your Grave, The Last House on the Left, or the aforementioned Forced Entry.

I don’t know Mathieu Carrière, but I thought he did a pretty fine job with his character. He’s occasionally charming, always desperate, and his performance is solid. None of the nurses stand out particularly well, but some, such as Carole Laure, Leonora Fani, and Christine Boisson all add a little oomph with their characters and traumatic predicaments.

The movie isn’t exactly quick-paced, but personally, I don’t think I ever really got bored. That said, I can certainly understand the somewhat lukewarm reception this has received (at the time of this writing, the movie possesses a 5.1/10 on IMDb with 696 votes). It’s probably worth seeing if you’re a fan of gritty 70’s exploitations, even if this is a bit tame, but for a casual horror fan, there may not be a lot here to really interest you. It’s worth mentioning that the version I saw was the same Mill Creek copy, though, so the uncut version likely has more to it.

As for me, I can say that I found the setting (Belfast) and the killer’s history interesting. I don’t think that made this a great movie, but I do think it felt substantially different from a more, shall we say, base exploitation flick, and though I do find the film below average (with the conclusion being perhaps one of my favorite portions), I definitely think I’d find it in me to watch again.

6.5/10

Carrie (2002)

Directed by David Carson [Other horror films: N/A]

Among my more well-known eccentricities is that I’m not a giant fan of the classic Carrie. It wouldn’t make my top 25 horror films from the 1970’s, let alone my top ten, which is a hot take, believe it or not. An even hotter take is that I enjoy this television production more than the 1970’s classic, and while I am sure some might be aghast, I can’t say I feel much shame.

The cast here is spectacular. Angela Bettis (May and Toolbox Murders) was the perfect choice, as she really pulls off Carrie’s character and personality. Patricia Clarkson (who was in both Delirium and Easy A – completely similar movies) was a good fit for Carrie’s mother, and her back-and-forth with Carrie was always fun to watch. Kandyse McClure (of the 2009 version of Children of the Corn fame) was decent as Sue, and a bit snappier here (for good story reasons) than she elsewise generally is.

Emilie de Ravin (who I think I recognize best from Santa’s Slay, but have also seen in The Hills Have Eyes remake and the mystery Brick) gave a good performance as the ultra-bitchy Chris, and related, Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps, Freddy vs. Jason, and 13 Eerie) was great as her ultra-bitchy friend. Tobias Mehler stuck me as somewhat uninspired, but Rena Sofer and David Keith (Firestarter) were very good.

Though he only got one really stand-out scene, I also loved Laurie Murdoch, who played the principal, and though her character isn’t really relevant, I also wanted to mention Meghan Black, if only because I know her as the voice of Rogue in the cartoon X-Men: Evolution, which I watched the hell out of when I was a kid. Lastly, playing Carrie during a flashback, we have a young Jodelle Ferland (the kid in Silent Hill and later in movies such as The Unspoken and Neverknock).

So despite being a television movie, the cast did rather impress me. It’s true that there were obvious limitations in terms of special effects (which can likely most clearly be seen during the prom carnage and later the scene in which Carrie’s slowly walking and bringing the town down with her), but generally, I didn’t think this really harmed the story too much (I think the worst bit may have been the scene right before Carrie snaps – I just think it ran on a bit long).

The story itself takes some daring alterations in the finale, which I didn’t remember from my first-time viewing of this. While it’s true that how they ended this version isn’t novel accurate, I was never a giant fan of the novel, and the fact that this has a less down-beat ending actually sort of made me enjoy it a bit more.

Speaking of the novel, while neither the original 1976 version or the 2013 version did this, the novel has a lot of newspaper articles, journal entries, letters, and various things from Carrie’s life following the tragic event, split in between the telling of the central story. They don’t quite do that here, but the movie is framed during an interview by the police following the prom disaster, which I liked quite a bit, largely perhaps due to it giving David Keith time to have fun with his character.

With all of this said, what issues I have with the other adaptations are still true here – I just don’t love the story. However, because this version has a less depressing conclusion, I can dig it more. Sue me.

Much like how I enjoy the 1997 The Shining mini-series more than the 1980’s film, I enjoy this television production more than both the 1976 and 2013 versions. I’m an odd duck, but I can only say what I feel, and I truly enjoyed this one more. Good stuff, especially with the limitations they had.

7.5/10

Martyrs (2008)

Directed by Pascal Laugier [Other horror films: Bonne Nuit (1999), Saint Ange (2004), The Tall Man (2012), Ghostland (2018)]

I’m not one of those who believes that a movie has to be enjoyable to be good, but I do maintain that if a movie is not a particularly enjoyable viewing experience, then those who dislike it have every right to do so. That’s clearly relevant to me here, because while Martyrs is a well-done movie in plenty of aspects, it’s a movie that I have a hard time with, and definitely don’t find that enjoyable.

Whereas other French horror films from the same time period share the same bleak feel this film possesses (such as Frontière(s) and Haute tension), they still have a bit more of a, shall we say, cinematic background, and by that, I mean that while they can be dark, I still find myself entertained, and that’s not something I can truthfully say about Martyrs.

No doubt the film is well-acted, though. Mylène Jampanoï and Morjana Alaoui make for a believable pair of friends, and Alaoui especially does well toward the second half of the film. Though a character of miserable intent, Catherine Bégin does a pretty good job, which might be helped by the fact she really only appears a handful of times.

There’s also no doubt that the special effects are amazing. Honestly, the movie isn’t quite a gory as people might think, but there are plenty of brutal scenes, and especially in the second half of the film, some hard-to-stomach sequences, so though it’s not a gorefest by any means (aside from perhaps the shotgun slaughter toward the beginning), there are some things here that probably won’t easily be forgotten.

Like I said, though, despite some positive and well-done elements, I just don’t enjoy the movie. It’s entirely possible that I liked this a little bit more than when I first saw it years back, but even then, it’s just a smidge. Part of it is the grueling scenes of torture that a character endears (and seems to last at least 15 solid minutes), and part of it is the story and the pseudo-philosophical ideas about the afterlife and forced martyrdom.

I did find myself enjoying the end (though I do quite want to know what was whispered in Bégin’s ear – not enough to go out, capture young women, and torture them into ectasy, of course – but I am definitely curious), but I don’t think it was entirely satisfying, which may well be the point, given the bleak feel that this movie has. The fact the finale is somewhat inconclusive makes the film darker still.

Martyrs is often rated quite highly, and I don’t want to take that perception away from people. I can only say that I personally didn’t love it, and though I can admit that there are elements that I could conceivably enjoy, it’s not a movie that I think I’ll go back to near as often as I would films like Haute tension. Take that how you will.

5.5/10

Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (1990)

Directed by Ron Oliver [Other horror films: Thralls (2005), Black Rain (2009), Mostly Ghostly: One Night in Doom House (2016)] & Peter R. Simpson [Other horror films: N/A]

Following the second movie’s Mary Lou Maloney, Prom Night III: The Last Kiss was an adequate sequel. It was nowhere near as enjoyable as the second film, and in fact, I think it ultimately feels the weakest of the first three Prom Night’s, but if you’re into more comedy-influenced horror, and in the right mood, this might be an okay viewing.

It’s not like Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II didn’t have comedy, but this film is a lot more in-your-face about it, almost to a silly extent (and as soon as something straddles the ‘silly’ line, I’m outtie). There are certainly some rather amusing lines (two which come to mind, both happening in the same scene, are “I don’t want a fucking pie!” and “Alex, it wasn’t a person, it was a guidance counselor”), but sometimes it goes a bit far, especially in regards to some of the kills and those 50’s jingles in the background.

Where I think this movie fails the most is the final twenty minutes, though, which takes place in a Hell-like dimension. I mean, it makes sense as far as the story goes, but I have to say that I didn’t much care for it, especially making some of the victims of Mary Lou more monster than human (such as David Stratton’s character, who was a pretty decent guy overall). The final scene itself was okay, but a lot of the finale didn’t work for me.

Tim Conlon made for a fine lead, if not perhaps sometimes unspectacular. He was pretty well-suited for the style of comedy the movie had, though, so I’d give him props for that. Cynthia Preston (who didn’t get angry, just baked) was solid as Conlon’s girlfriend, and is probably one of the more recognizable faces in the film (as she was also in The Brain and Pin).

Replacing Lisa Schrage as Mary Lou, Courtney Taylor did good, or at least played her part well, given the corny nature of most of her dialogue. Lesley Kelly was funny in her few scenes, and lastly, while not note-worthy in almost any way, Robert Collins appeared somewhere here, and he played the beast Lord High Executioner in the classic Goosebumps two-parter A Night in Terror Tower. Loved that character (and hence, actor) ever since I was knee high to a tadpole, so wanted to give a shout-out.

It’s here I should mention that one of the directors, Ron Oliver, also directed quite a few episodes of Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, The Nightmare Room, and other such kid-oriented entries to horror, which I thought tied in nice with Robert Collins’ appearance. Amusingly, though, while Oliver directed Goosebumps’ episodes such as ‘Werewolf Skin’ and ‘How to Kill a Monster,’ he didn’t directed ‘A Night in Terror Tower.’

Problematically, given the more comedic nature of the film, none of the kills are particularly good. Actually, I think one of the best scenes in the more gory department would be when a character early on accidentally cuts his finger off. Elsewise, you have a guy stabbed with ice cream cones or a woman doused in battery acid. These aren’t terrible, mind, but they don’t really stand out.

Otherwise, though the movie isn’t good, I think most of Prom Night III is largely inoffensive. If you dug the style and vibe of the second movie, it’s probable that, to a certain extent, you’ll enjoy this one also. I didn’t particularly like this movie much, even with some of the choicer pieces of dialogue, but it was an okay watch. I don’t think it’s much more than that, though.

6/10

The House That Cried Murder (1973)

Directed by Jean-Marie Pélissié [Other horror films: N/A]

Known under alternative titles such as The Bride and The Last House on Massacre Street, The House That Cried Murder was a film that I didn’t really know much about going into. I may have vaguely heard the title before (or at least one of them), but I didn’t know anything about it, and though the movie wasn’t really good in most conventional senses, I did think there was occasional charm to be had here.

Some of this, perhaps even a lot of it, has to do with the final twenty minutes, in which the film subverted expectations I held from the very beginning of the movie, which both surprised and impressed me. I really wasn’t expecting to be surprised by some low-budget 70’s movie with less than 300 votes on IMDb at the time of this writing, but here I am, so credit where credit’s due.

Really, the route this story took was sort of different. It possessed those quality 70’s sensibilities, and even the fact that the print I viewed was quite far away from stellar probably helped the vibe of The House That Cried Murder. Also moderately working in it’s favor is the fact the film is pretty short, lasting a mere 75 minutes (which at times still feels long, but more on that shortly). None of this is to say the movie is great, or even good, but like I said, it can be charming.

The unfortunate thing is, though, save the final twenty minutes (and if we’re being generous, final thirty minutes), there’s not really that much here to applaud. The rest of the film is rather dry (a fate that’s not entirely uncommon of movies from this time period), and while not painfully dull, there certainly wasn’t much to really help keep your attention. It picks up nicely, no doubt, but like Demented, getting there might be more of a hassle than you’d hope.

Arthur Roberts did okay as a rather unlikable character. I mean, he didn’t do great, but I don’t think most central performances here were that striking, so I wouldn’t take offense to that. And related to that sentiment, Iva Jean Saraceni’s short screen-time didn’t do that much to endear me to her character. Robin Strasser (the Bride in the film) was shaky too, but given what we learn about her character, I don’t really mind that. Out of everyone, I think John Beal (who played Strasser’s father, and starred in 1957’s The Vampire and 1939’s The Cat and the Canary) did the best, and was actually a character you could sympathize with.

There were some okay scares toward the latter half of the film, such as a nice surprise left in someone’s refrigerator and a tense walk up the stairs, but the movie never really gives us too much in that department. What’s more memorable, really, are the final five minutes or so, which seemed almost ahead of it’s time. I don’t personally know if I loved that ending, but it was at least unique, so again, credit where credit’s due.

As okay as the finale was, though, I don’t think credit is due that often. I certainly found The House That Cried Murder watchable enough, and occasionally enjoyable enough, but it’s sluggish pace during the first half is pretty damaging, and I just don’t know if the conclusion really saves it. It may well be worth at least one watch, but I don’t see this becoming a favorite of too many people.

5.5/10

Storm of the Century (1999)

Directed by Craig R. Baxley [Other horror films: Dark Angel (1990), A Family Torn Apart (1993), Rose Red (2002), The Glow (2002), The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer (2003)]

This mini-series, written by Stephen King (and mercifully not based on a novel) is perhaps, aside from his book It, one of the finest things he’s ever done, and it stands as my all-time favorite mini-series, and in fact, one of my favorite pieces of television that I’ve ever witnessed.

I can’t say when I first saw this – I doubt it was when it originally aired over three nights, but I do know I was pretty young, and given I would have been around six years old when this came out (I was born 1993), it’s not out of the question I saw pieces of this when my parents watched it. What I do know is that I did see a lot of this when I was quite young, and that only enhances my pleasure of it now.

With a mini-series like this, it’s hard to know where to start. Storm of the Century possesses three episodes and totals 4 hours and 17 minutes. Out of these four hours and 17 minutes, there’s only one thing I don’t care much for. Otherwise, this is outright perfection in a way that no mini-series has ever come close to matching.

There’s virtually nothing I don’t like about this – the story is fantastic. The setting is fantastic. The performances – almost every single one (and this is a big cast) – fantastic. The moral quandary the characters find themselves in, the mystery, the suspense, the music (oh, the music), the opening and closing narratives, the imagery, the atmosphere, the emotional gut-punches – all fantastic.

A mysterious man comes onto an island off the coast of Maine right before a storm (the titular storm of the century) hits hard, and this man, one André Linoge (Colm Feore), kills a woman and starts off a chain of events I daren’t reveal, because if this is a mini-series you haven’t seen yet, it would be a disservice to dig too deep into the story.

What I can say is that the story is fantastic (and given that I’ve already said such, that may be self-apparent), the mystery behind what Linoge wants (for, as he repeats, if he’s given what he wants, he’ll go away) is fantastic, and the atmosphere, which is already great due to the storm and isolated island setting, is quality dread.

I’ve never seen an island setting put to such great use. The whole theme of how island folk look after their own, and more so, known how to keep a secret, is embedded in the viewers from the beginning, and it only solidifies the longer each episode goes on. It’s a great look at island life (or what I imagine island life is like, given I’ve never set foot on an island in my life), and I love it.

There are a lot of great performances here, central among them Colm Feore and Tim Daly. I could watch Colm Feore walk through a crowd of people and pontificate on their dirty deeds all day, and his performance here is just masterful. Same with Daly – his utterly straight-laced attitude works well given he’s the town constable, and more so, he works great as a moral center and the central character, especially toward the somewhat depressing conclusion. Daly was also in both Spellbinder and The Skeptic.

Who else stands out? Well, who doesn’t? There’s Jeffrey DeMunn (The Blob, The Mist, The Green Mile) as the town manager that few people like. There’s Becky Ann Baker (Freaks and Geeks) with her quality accent, and Torri Higginson with an even better one. I absolutely adore Julianne Nicholson as Kat (“She’s your wife, Mike. How would I know where she’s hot?”), and though she got only two scenes of note, Myra Carter as the elderly Cora stole each of them.

An affable counterpart to Daly was Casey Siemaszko as Hatch, and playing Daly’s wife was Debrah Farentino, who did great despite the maddening choices she made toward the end (but really, it’s pretty hard to blame these people given the dire circumstances they were in). Ron Perkins was great as Peter, same with Steve Rankin as Jack. Denis Forest popped up here and then, and he was always a nice face to see (and his secret was one of the most tragic).

Who couldn’t feel bad for Nada Despotovich as she discusses leaving DeMunn’s Robbie or Adam LeFevre running and screaming in fear after finding a dear friend dead. Kathleen Chalfant was great (especially with her back-and-forth with Myra Carter’s irascible character) and most of the child actors and actresses were acceptable.

Once we figure out exactly what Linoge is after, the characters are thrown into quite a fun moral quandary (and of course, I mean fun for us, the audience, and not fun for them), made all-the-better by the fact that while I fully, 100% agreed with Daly’s vote more, given what the townspeople had been to up to that point, I don’t think it’s out of the question for the vast majority to take the opposite choice (and some try to play both sides, such as Daly’s wife).

They never really needed that many special effects aside from the constant storm raging on. The silver wolf cane did look a little janky at times, but I thought the sequence with the kids in flight looked reasonably decent, and even a better example, the dream in which the townspeople walked off a pier into the ocean really came across well.

I mentioned there’s one thing I didn’t care for, though, and now seems a good time to point it out. Every now and again, Linoge growls at the camera, baring vampire-like teeth. He doesn’t do this to anybody in the mini-series – just us, the audience. Now, something like that happens in the final scene of the mini-series, witnessed by an actual character, which was fine, but otherwise, this technique just struck me as somewhat out of place. I get it, they need to cut to commercial, but they can do that without a toothy growl.

Aside from that, though, like I said – perfection.

And speaking of perfection, that score. This video is a little piece of the score. Throughout the mini-series, it really packs a punch, and there’s plenty of atmosphere and emotion resonating from just the score alone, which is impressive, and, on a personal note, it’s not that common that a score is as consistently moving as this one is.

Storm of the Century may seem like quite an undertaking, given it’s over four hours long, but it’s a journey well-worth it, and if you’re one that’s skeptical of King-related mini-series, I can’t say I blame you, but I’d ask you at least give this one a chance, as this most definitely stands out as a solid work.

Born in sin? Come on it, as my pappy always said.

10/10

Humongous (1982)

Directed by Paul Lynch [Other horror films: Prom Night (1980), Mania (1986, segments ‘Have a Nice Day’ & ‘The Good Samaritan’)]

I think that in some ways, Humongous is an almost-decent movie, though there was most definitely room for improvements. Still, it does possess an okay atmosphere, and while far from great (and a step or two away from good), it may be worth checking out at least once.

Though unlikely to amaze anyone, I did find myself enjoying the setting (a secluded mansion on a secluded island) here, and for what little this movie did get down pat, I’d say the location was one of them. The story isn’t anything that hasn’t been seen before, but it was competent enough to be engrossing (though at times, I do think things are running a bit sluggish).

As far as performances go, I think that Janet Julian was pretty good. I don’t think she was amazing, but like much of what the movie does, she was competent, and that thin shirt she wore was A+ material. And speaking of A+ material, Joy Boushel looked quite cute in that pair of short shorts. Boushel’s (Terror Train, Cursed) character was a bit iffy in the beginning, but she got topless a couple of times, so I don’t have any real complaints. Both Layne Coleman and David Wysocki (Mortuary) struck me as forgettable. John Wildman was sort of interesting (in quite a dickish way), but we don’t really learn enough about him to fully get his character.

Most underutilized, though, was Janit Baldwin. When she first disappeared and popped up, that was fine and well, but she never really adds that much to the story, which I really felt was a shame, because though Julian was obviously more action-oriented, Baldwin struck me as a more interesting character. Just one of the potential issues with the film, albeit a small one compared to the largest issues.

And that first issue is the title, which I find horrendous. I mean, you expect someone to jump from movies like The Burning, Happy Birthday to Me, and Iced to a movie called Humongous? I just find the name hideous, but whateves. What was also lacking was lighting – so many of the scenes throughout the film are a bit too dark, and because of that, I felt the finale was lacking a real punch in regards to the reveal of the titular hulking monster.

There’s also a dearth of quality kills. I mean, a couple toward the end were okay (one individual gets their head squeezed, and another gets a snapped back from a too-eager bear hug), but neither were great, and more importantly, the ones beforehand were almost laughably bare-bones (though I do admit that it lead to a somewhat amusing gag cut).

Lastly, the way that the final girl attempted to head off the antagonist’s threat was to dress up as his mother and scold him. And if that sounds familiar, well, there’s a reason for that. Now, that’s not the end of things, as there’s a decent finale in a boat-house, and in fact, the scene itself in which she’s pretending to be his mother was moderately tense, but even so, it felt sort of funny given that this came out just a year later.

Humongous isn’t a bad movie, or at least it’s not a movie that’s without charm. I definitely think a couple of things could have been done better, such as lighting or character motivation (I still don’t entirely get Wildman’s character, which is a shame, as he’s basically the reason why these characters were in this situation to begin with), not to mention the somewhat disappointing kills, but it’s still a movie that has a little going for it (such as the opening in which a rapist is torn apart by dogs, which I can wholly support). Check it out if you’re a fan of 80’s horror – worst case scenario, I led you astray and made you hate your life a little.

6/10

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

If a Tree Falls (2010)

Directed by Gabriel Carrer [Other horror films: Desperate Souls (2005), Kill (2011), The Demolisher (2015), Death on Scenic Drive (2017), For the Sake of Vicious (2020)]

This is one of the films I watched during an October challenge, and I think it was the year I watched 275 movies in a single month, mainly because I didn’t remember any of this, and I do mean any of it. It felt like a completely new movie, but I have seen it before, so I was hoping for a more memorable occasion this time around.

And I think it will be more memorable, but not in any good way.

Ponderously and pathetically bare-bones, If a Tree Falls is almost entirely void of anything worth seeing. The plot is simple, the only mildly interesting thing about it being characters that were brother and sister, and most of the film deals with people running from other people.

The killers (there were something like six of them for some goddamn reason) were like ultra-cheap rip-offs from The Strangers. Their reasoning, though, is even worse, as a character explains “We find the ones who will never be found.” That’s why they killed three of the four characters and kept the other one alive – because killing is finding and ones that are not found are alive people or something.

Yeah, it makes zero sense, I know.

Aside from the fact that this film was painfully repetitive, it also suffered from somewhat lousy audio, with the music going above the voices multiple times. It didn’t matter, really, as no one in the film was capable of having a conversation worth hearing, but mix that with some shoddy camera-work, and you have what the kids call “shit.”

This may be worth mentioning. When I saw this film years ago, I watched a version that was around 77 minutes, but this time around, I watched what IMDb labels as “the 10th anniversary edition” which runs 89 minutes. I have no idea what was added or changed, and I sort of wonder if I’d have liked the shorter version more, but there you go.

Ry Barrett, Breanne TeBoekhorst, Jennifer De Lucia, and Daniel Zuccala are generally not great. I don’t blame any of them, though, as even if they were the most stellar performances in the history of cinema, the movie would still be God-awful.

And it was indeed God-awful. I did like the exploitation vibe that If a Tree Falls occasionally attempted to give off, but that doesn’t excuse the utter lack of story or meaningful antagonists or the atrociously terrible conclusion. I mean, there were sometimes okay special effects, but when the final product has this much wrong with it, it really doesn’t matter.

I don’t know what happens if a tree falls, and this movie didn’t let me in on the secret (I’m guessing it’s one of those pseudo-intellectual titles that might have some relevance to the movie in a roundabout way). It also wasn’t entertaining, and I hated it. I’ll give it points for being filmed in Canada and having some attractive women in it. Elsewise, there’s virtually nothing going for this.

3/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below to the disappointment of Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I as we discuss If a Tree Falls.