M.D.C. – Maschera di cera (1997)

Directed by Sergio Stivaletti [Other horror films: I tre volti del terrore (2004), Rabbia furiosa (2018), The Profane Exhibit (2018, segment ‘Tophet Quorom’)]

This late 1990’s Italian movie, commonly known as Wax Mask, was a movie I’ve been looking forward to watching ever since I first heard about it. Part of it was because a giallo from that time period would be interesting to begin with, but a bigger draw was simply the fact that I’ve seen very few Italian horror movies from the 1990’s, and virtually none from the late 1990’s (though let’s be honest, aside from Argeto’s 1998 Phantom of the Opera, are there any Italian horror films from the late 1990’s?), and so I was intrigued.

After seeing it, though, more than anything, I thought it was failed potential and a little bit of a mess.

Certainly there were some behind-the-scenes factors that led to such a product. Lucio Fulci was intended to direct this, but he died shortly before filming, so it was given over to Sergio Stivaletti (who had done a lot of special effects works for Italian horror, but hadn’t directed up to that point). Even before then, I’ve heard it said that Argento (who pitched the idea to Fulci to begin with) and Fulci had different visions of the movie, so even if Fulci had directed it, it may not have been much better (especially given that great plots aren’t really Fulci’s strong point).

No matter what happened leading up to the movie, though, the final product is what we have to judge, and though it’s gotten decent reception, and I personally wanted to enjoy it far more than I did, I found it quite underwhelming.

Without a doubt, there were some really strong points here – heck, even re-imaging Mystery of the Wax Museum/House of Wax in an Italian giallo setting was laudable. The gore and special effects throughout are fantastic (and the idea that the figures are still alive behind the wax somewhat terrifying). Well, mostly fantastic – when the museum is on fire at the end, it looks pretty damn amateur. The opening was pretty strong. There were even some fine character-driven moments, and elements of the ending were welcome, at least in the context of the story.

Even at an hour and 40 minutes, though, I felt Wax Mask was missing something, that spark that makes it a fully enjoyable watch. Not that it wasn’t competent enough to get something out of, but the ending, for instance, left something to be desired, along with the whole backstory behind the killer. Also, and it may not come as a big surprise that I took issue with this, the whole metal skeleton thing just felt too fantastic and almost gaudy, especially from a movie I was thinking would be in the purely realistic realm.

Performances here are a mixed bag. I do sort of like both Robert Hossein and Umberto Balli. Aldo Massasso I definitely enjoyed, as his character was one of the few characters that actually seemed like an all-around solid guy. Romina Mondello I’m more torn on – at times, she felt like a throwback to the period of horror where women were portrayed more weakly, and I don’t know if I really felt satisfied with her. Riccardo Serventi Longhi was never great either, though I wonder if the horrible dubbing job has more to do with my perception of his performance than his actual performance. Either way, that was hideous dubbing.

Wax Mask was an okay movie, but something just didn’t fully jibe with me, and while I never had a horrible time with it, it never got to the point where I was really engaged and into the film. Having seen it only once, it’s possible that I’ll grow to appreciate this more with future viewings, but for the time, I found it below average, though clearly possessing the potential to do more.

6/10

La chute de la maison Usher (1928)

Directed by Jean Epstein [Other horror films: L’auberge rouge (1923)]

This is one of the few remaining silent horror films that I needed to see, and the reason why I hadn’t seen it up until this point was that this French movie (known as The Fall of the House of Usher, based off an Edgar Allan Poe story) is easy to find in it’s native language, but not so much in English.

After finally seeing it – well, let me get something really important out of the way first.

I am delighted that I got to see a version which I could actually read the inter-titles to, but this print was beyond rough. It wasn’t tinted, which wasn’t a big deal (I didn’t even notice until halfway through the movie), but it was extraordinarily blurry, and the English translations weren’t captioned at the bottom, as usual, but superimposed over the existing French inter-titles, which, while functional, was not aesthetically pleasing whatsoever. In fact, it may be one of the roughest silent prints I’ve seen, and you’re reading a guy who sat through Malombra.

Adding to that, the plot here isn’t always clear-cut, and the dubious nature of the print makes quite a bit of this even more difficult to fully grasp. Luckily, while I’ve not read the story in some time, I have seen the 1960 Corman version of the Poe classic, and thus got a bit more out of this than I would have gotten had I gone in not knowing how the story went.

Certainly there are some captivating uses of cinematography here, perhaps the one that comes to mind quickest the seemingly first-person view from the ground to indicate – – – something, I suppose. I didn’t exactly follow that part, but that’s the nature of some 80 year old films.

Even had the print been better, a decent amount of this film felt off. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was experimental, but I do think they didn’t want to go a more traditional route as far as story structure was concerned. As such, no one performance really stuck out to me (Jean Debucourt would be the only one to come close, and he didn’t come that close), and overall, while I would definitely like to give this movie another go with a cleaner print, I had to say that this silent film didn’t really impress me.

Kudos to it being the oldest French horror film I’ve seen, though, so that’s cool. Otherwise, though, even as a fan of silent horror, this didn’t do that much for me at all.

5/10

Les yeux sans visage (1960)

Directed by Georges Franju [Other horror films: N/A]

This French film, commonly known as Eyes without a Face (Les yeux sans visage for my French friends), is one of those classics that I don’t care for. More than anything, once you move past it’s okay story and compelling characters, I find the film somewhat ponderous.

Maybe that’s just how French cinema was at the time. I’ve not seen many from that time period, but both Diabolique (Les diaboliques) and Rififi (Du rififi chez les hommes) came out in 1955, and I had similar feelings about them. The story here is done in such a generally-safe manner (the only scene, throughout the whole film, that really stands out is the face-removal sequence) that it just feels as though it’s dragging.

Pierre Brasseur does decent as a doctor who is trying to save his daughter, but I’m not able to really feel for him, especially as it’s clear his daughter would rather die than keep living as she is. Playing his daughter is Edith Scob, who doesn’t have much in the way of character or meaningful dialogue, but she wears a mask like no other. Alida Valli’s character has a chance to be interesting at times, but never actually becomes interesting, and as much as you’d think that François Guérin’s character would become relevant to the plot, he never really does.

That face-removal scene is pretty solid. It’s not too hard to sit through by any means (maybe partially because the film’s in black-and-white), and it’s done pretty tastefully (which could be said for the whole of the film), so though it’s gory (and the only gory scene in the movie, aside from maybe the ending if you stretch the definition of ‘gory’), it’s not enough to really boost the movie up.

I first saw this when I was much younger, and I got bored with it. I was a kid, though, and I don’t think most kids who were born in the early 1990’s could have sat through this movie without becoming restless. I’m 26 now, though, and guess what? I still became quite bored quite quickly. A few okay things happened, but this film took it’s time and I just don’t see it as worth it.

Obviously I’m in the minority, as the film is of course considered a French classic. Diabolique is a lot better, though, and I think the suspense there outdoes the somewhat tiring drama of this movie, face-removal scene or no.

5/10

Silent House (2011)

Directed by Chris Kentis [Other horror films: Open Water (2003)] & Laura Lau [Other horror films: N/A]

I will admit to being impressed by Silent House. I can understand the frustration that some people felt come the conclusion; I understand completely, but from a technical standout, Silent House was an impressive film even if elements of the ending weren’t.

What makes this impressive? It seems to be done all in a single continuous shot. I’m not a film-maker – I have no idea if it was actually done in a single shot. All I can say is that, from someone with no experience in film-making, it looks impressive, and I didn’t see any obvious cuts, so take that as you will.

Certainly such a technique can lead to some complications – with a camera-man following a character around the whole movie, doors are kept open longer than they really need to be (so the camera-man can walk through), and there are little things throughout, but I still found it really inspired how they did that, the ending notwithstanding.

For most of the film, we’re not really told much of what’s going on. It seems to be a generic ghost story, and small pieces of the story come together during the controversial conclusion. Why is the conclusion controversial and somewhat frustrating? For a similar reason (it’s not the exact same situation, but it’s not far off) that the ending of High Tension bothered some people, some potentially misleading narrative, and I get that.

As for me, when I figured out the story, I was pretty impressed, especially with the little clues we get throughout the film that come together to make sense at the end. And during the final scenes, once I saw where it was going, I wasn’t necessarily disappointed, but I was taken aback, because it seemed almost an unfair move, and this is probably partially what leads this decently innovative, small-budget movie to having only a 5.2/10 on IMDb at the time of this writing.

Elizabeth Olsen is a beautiful actress, which is a compliment that the movie-makers must have known, given that she wore a cute tank-top throughout the film and the audience got a lot, and I do mean a lot, of cleavage shots. No complaints from my end, I assure you. Her performance was good too, but those breasts – stereotypical chef kiss. Also, I just now realized she was the woman from a romantic comedy/drama called Liberal Arts, so that’s added fun.

Adam Trese and Eric Sheffer Stevens were both fine, though with the limitations of the movie, we never really got a whole lot of character from either one. It’s cool though, as I’d also take more cleavage shots over character development.

Overall, like I said at the beginning, this movie impressed me, and it impressed me more than it annoyed me, so it had that going for it. I didn’t hate the conclusion like some people did, but I understand why it’d bother some people. It’s not a matter of style over substance, either – though the story itself isn’t that great until the final 30 minutes or so, I think it makes for a fine haunted house film, if not a wee bit repetitive with a nervous woman being followed around trying to escape from a house.

On a side-note, this is a remake from a 2010 Uruguayan movie of the same name (well, the name is technically La casa muda, but in English, it’s Silent House), and I have seen that. I don’t remember too much about it, to be honest, and what little I do remember wasn’t exactly positive, so it’s possible that I find this a better film than the original, which can only be said about so many remakes. Whatever the case, I’ll revisit the thought once I see the 2010 movie again.

Silent House isn’t going to be for everyone. If someone’s not into found footage style of movie-making, this isn’t going to do wonders for them (this isn’t found footage, of course, but functionally, it doesn’t look too different), but I enjoyed the mystery of what was going on, and I enjoyed aspects of the conclusion, so kudos to this.

7.5/10

Bruiser (2000)

Directed by George A. Romero [Other horror films: Night of the Living Dead (1968), Hungry Wives (1972), The Crazies (1973), The Amusement Park (1975), Martin (1976), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Creepshow (1982), Day of the Dead (1985), Monkey Shines (1988), Due occhi diabolici (1990, segment ‘The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar’), The Dark Half (1993), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007), Survival of the Dead (2009)]

This movie is a hodge-podge of different ideas, and I think that’s partially why it came across, at least to me, as a mess. It’s part thriller, part romance, part comedy (I guess?), part slasher, and for the lulz, it throws in some music at the end.

Listen, the fact that Romeo directed this doesn’t bother me. I enjoy Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead (I’ve yet to see any sequels past that), but he’s not someone who I’d rate up there in the best horror directors, and if he wanted to change things up with this one, so be it. It’s just that Bruiser is such a mess that it defies almost any enjoyment.

Hell, it’s an hour and 45 minutes, and I watched every second. I still have exactly no idea what “brusier” even means, and that’s a problem, but just one of many.

Primarily, it could be said that the fact Brusier isn’t strictly horror is my biggest personal issue. Don’t get me wrong, even if it focused more on horror and less on the thriller/romance/fantasy stuff, I’d probably still rather dislike it, but it just seemed all over the place, as if it had no idea what it was going for (some scenes were openly comedic, but that never seemed the main idea either).

The whole premise bothers me, to be honest. This living carpet of a man wakes up one morning and his face is all white, probably because he has no identity (well, an overtly aggressive identity, anyway). Why this is is never explained, or how. Or what. It just happens, and it didn’t interest or intrigue me at all, especially once I found out we probably weren’t getting any answers on that anyway.

Jason Flemyng was decent in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but he doesn’t suit the role here. To be fair, no matter who took on the role, I’d have hated it, but even so, Flemyng doesn’t seem right here. Peter Stormare (Fargo) was unbearable in his over-the-top role, and I hated him. Tom Atkins (The Fog, Night of the Creeps, Halloween III) is here, but it also doesn’t do anything at all for me, given how poor the film is.

Listen, I don’t even want to harp on this anymore – for some people, Bruiser apparently worked fine. It’s straddling the 5/10 rating on IMDb, so enough people found it competent, at least. I didn’t. I legitimately didn’t have a good time at all. I felt it was going for some deep message about identity, but it never really makes it clear, and without a focus, it felt like a mess. Oh, and that last scene? Just shows me that the whole thing is a joke that no one bothered to explain.

I’ll throw it a few points for Flemyng’s recital of a poem, though, and for that scene where he shoots his backstabbing friend. Otherwise, this has little to nothing going for it, at least not in my opinion.

4/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss Brusier.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Directed by Zack Snyder [Other horror films: Army of the Dead (2021)]

Perhaps one of the best zombie movies of the 2000’s, this remake does a lot right. I happened to see this before I caught the original, and while I do like the original more, this version is no slouch, and it’s a solid ride throughout.

I think a large part of this is how some of the characters here develop, such as Michael Kelly’s CJ, who started off as an utter jackass, but then becomes quite a valuable team member. It’s accurate, actually, to say that most focal performances here are solid, from the lead actress, Sarah Polley, to the sarcastic rich asshole, Ty Burrell (who cracked me up throughout).

With such a large cast, I want to at least give kudos to most of these performances. R.D. Reid, Boyd Banks, Jayne Eastwood, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Kevin Zegers, and Michael Barry (who I randomly know from the Goosebumps two-parter The Werewolf of Fever Swamp) were all solid in their roles. I didn’t care much for Lindy Booth (though her actions may play a role in that) or Inna Korobkina, but it was nice seeing Ken Foree and Tom Savini here.

Being a big budget film, the special effects and cinematography were pretty top-notch. I don’t think I have a favorite scene of gore, but some of the shots early on in the film, showing the destruction of Sarah Polley’s suburban life, are shot beautifully. The chaos there is fantastic, and you have to love it. Also, throwing on what may be one of Johnny Cash’s best songs (“The Man Comes Around”) during the title sequence was a solid choice.

There are some scenes throughout the film that personally never did that much for me, such as the baby sequence, and, in relation, the degradation of Mekhi Phifer’s character, who was somewhat interesting at the beginning. It makes sense in context, but I still don’t care much for it. Lindy Booth (who, if she looks familiar, you may remember from Wrong Turn) plays a character who suffers multiple losses, but still ends up making a rather stupid mistake late into the film. Still, the parking garage scene in fun, and their escape attempt, with their decked out buses, was quality too.

Dawn of the Dead is a somewhat longer film (the version I went with was an hour and 50 minutes or so), but it doesn’t really drag at any point, even when some characters are thrown in who never really get screen-time (such as those played by Jayne Eastwood, R.D. Reid, and Kim Poirier). We get some time lapses of their life in the mall, which are equal parts amusing and realistic. And when the action comes around, it sure do come around, brahs.

This is a fun movie throughout, and there’s a reason why so many fans of the genre give it such props. Like I said, I don’t think it’s as good as the original Dawn of the Dead, but this is still a well-done zombie movie well worth the respect it’s gathered.

8.5/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. If you want to hear Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss Dawn of the Dead, just look below.

Silent Hill (2006)

Directed by Christophe Gans [Other horror films: Necronomicon (1993, segment ‘#1: The Drawned’), Le pacte des loups (2001)]

Silent Hill is one of those films that I saw many years back, and haven’t seen since. It’s not one that crosses my mind too often, and I pretty much only recall confusion. To be fair, I’ve never played any of the Silent Hill games, nor watched any game-play, nor read any plot synopsis. The only thing I can really claim insofar as prior knowledge about the story is the Spanish film Broken Notes, which I didn’t even care for.

As it was, I was interested in seeing this one again with fresh eyes, but, and this wasn’t that much a surprise, I found that little changed. Aspects of the story were certainly decent, but boy, do I think the plot definitely needed some clarification somewhere along the way.

Lead Radha Mitchell was passable; I never felt strongly about her character one way or the other. The same can be said for Sean Bean’s character. Honestly, Sean Bean was pretty much a waste of time from beginning to end, because he never really added anything of any use whatsoever to the story. I sort of liked Laurie Holden (who appeared a year later in The Mist) here, but she also didn’t leave that huge an impression. And again, the same can be said for Jodelle Ferland, who I only mention because she later appears in a few movies I enjoy (The Unspoken and Neverknock).

I don’t think the problem is the cast, though, as uninspiring as I found them. It’s the God-awful story. And maybe the story’s not awful – maybe it was a clever look into multi-dimensional space using quantum physics and religious mania to showcase the dangers of rituals and doppelgängers or something. Don’t get me wrong – the Hellraiser-inspired chain massacre at the end was cool, but otherwise, I had a deep difficulty following along with this story. I won’t say that it wasn’t there for those who looked deep enough, but I didn’t see it.

If you came into this movie with some previous experience with the games, maybe a lot of this is easier to grasp. I certainly won’t discount that, and I know that this film, while still receiving somewhat mixed views, is generally, to an extent, liked. However, I definitely feel that aspects of the story could have been touched on more, and instead of feeling like things were muddled, what with doppelgängers and cults and multiple different dimensions (for some reason), maybe things would have felt more connected. Also, Pyramidhead looked cool, but was never explained, so that was fun.

Silent Hill isn’t a movie without potential. The atmosphere here was occasionally pretty solid, especially during the first half of the film. The problem is, Broken Notes did the atmosphere better. Like I said, I didn’t much care for that film (and for much the same reason as this one – the story befuddled me), but I got a much more genuine feel from that low-budget flick than I did this Hollywood production.

I may well be in the minority here, but I’ll find a way to live with that. Silent Hill was a poor movie that did a terrible job at actually giving the audience any reason whatsoever to care about the characters or the story. Just make things a little more clear-cut, and you might have a winner here. As it is, Silent Hill is definitely below average, and I can’t imagine a situation in which I’d want to sit through this two-hour long movie again.

5/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as we discuss the film.

The Purge (2013)

Directed by James DeMonaco [Other horror films: The Purge: Anarchy (2014), The Purge: Election Year (2016)]

I wasn’t that big a fan of this the first time I saw it, and in many ways, it’s not that far removed from a generic home invasion flick, but I still found myself enjoying it more than some years back when I first saw it. I’d never call The Purge great, but I think it’s decent.

The cast here is surprisingly solid. Ethan Hawke (Sinister) was thrown into a pretty interesting role of a father trying to protect his family. Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) actually got some sympathy from me, which was nice. Adelaide Kane was quite attractive, which was a nice plus. Though maybe a little over-the-top, Rhys Wakefield was pretty fun (and psychopathic) in his role too.

What is most interesting about The Purge is the Purge itself, an annual event in the U.S.A. in which all crime is legalized in order to ‘purge’ the hatred and violence in the citizens, giving them an outlet for their desires. Otherwise, crime is low, and society is generally happy, including Hawke’s family, who are quite wealthy due to his business in selling security systems. Because they’re wealthy and have little chance of being impacted, Hawke’s character fully supports the Purge, despite not participating himself.

It’s a very barbaric idea wrapped up in psychology and good policy. The rich going around and killing the poor (physically, as opposed to how they do it in our actual society) is certainly somewhat a political statement, and this movie was interesting for that aspect alone. The dialogue of Wakefield made it quite clear that he thought the homeless were only there to be purged, which is an unique point-of-view, not to mention arrogantly self-centered (but we’re talking about the wealthy here, so I’m repeating myself).

Obviously, I think The Strangers had a lot of influence on this one, from the whole home invasion thing to the creepy masks the multitude of killers wear. Now, I actually like this a bit more than The Strangers, because the whole Purge element, while pretty ludicrous, is still something that’s on the unique side of things (and also, given it’s government-sanctioned, adds an extra element to it). I wasn’t a big fan of The Strangers anyway, so while this isn’t necessarily a whole lot better in terms of home invasion (though it is, to the extent that we have a family here while in The Strangers was a soon-to-be-broken up couple), I do find The Purge better.

There’s some violence here, but none of it is really over the top, and while we do see some knives and machetes, much of the violence is via firearms, giving a much more action feel to this film than a horror one. Make no mistake, the movie’s still horror, but don’t be surprised if you feel like you tuned into Die Hard at times.

The Purge isn’t a great movie, but I do think it’s decent, and reasonably entertaining with a strong cast and interesting moral issues that aren’t generally present in other home invasion flicks, which alone gives it a slight edge.

7/10

Dead End (2003)

Directed by Jean-Baptiste Andrea [Other horror films: N/A] & Fabrice Canepa [Other horror films: N/A]

I’m sure this comparison has been made before, but Dead End really feels like an elongated episode of the Twilight Zone. There’s a deep feeling of unease here, and while the final product is far from perfect, I think seeing this again has solidly thrown it into one of the better movies of the early 2000’s.

Personally, I don’t know if I care much for the black humor aspects (it was never really overblown, but it was definitely noticeable, especially in Lin Shaye’s character), but the story overall was interesting, though admittedly going down an expected route. I always loved the overhead shots of the car driving down the road, which was entirely void of lights and surrounded on all sides by a thick, impenetrable forest.

Performances are a mixed bag. You have your annoying adolescence in Mick Cain, and though he’s sometimes amusing, boy, does he get on my nerves. Lin Shaye (A Nightmare on Elm Street and Insidious being what I recognize her most from) was decent in a starring role, though past a certain point, she felt more dark comedic relief than anything (though to be sure, she did provide us with a few pretty tense moments). I’d say between Ray Wise (Jeepers Creepers 2) and Alexandra Holden (I’ve seen her in both Wishcraft and A Dead Calling), Holden had the better performance, but Wise did a good job too. Much like Shaye, though, he sort of went off the deep end by the finale, while Holden’s character was generally more stable.

Not that they didn’t have a good reason to lose it, which is where the Twilight Zone feel comes from. Seemingly in an inescapable situation, no matter how long you drive (and the only upcoming town sign being a name that’s not even on the map), Dead End really did have good tension. At around 80 minutes, I personally feel it went on a bit longer than it had to, and the ending itself was more a mixed bag (some elements were welcomed, others not so much), but still, the plot made for a good movie.

I enjoyed Dead End when I first saw it some years back, and it mostly holds up. I wish a slightly different direction was taken, but hey, the road obviously had no turnoffs, so what can they do?

7.5/10

Hannibal Rising (2007)

Directed by Peter Webber [Other horror films: N/A]

While this isn’t really a horror movie, it’s in a series I generally consider horror, so I’ll just throw this one in, which is unfortunate, as I had to watch this pile of trash.

I’m not exactly sure what my biggest problem with this was. Partially, I suspect, my disdain is due to the fact that an origin story was entirely unnecessary. What doesn’t help is the fact that I couldn’t even once see this character as Hannibal Lecter. So he accidentally eats his sister, and then decides to be a cannibal? Oh, and a samurai? Love it.

To be fair, this movie had a decent kill every now and again. One was even actually good, and potentially memorable. It’s a shame that the same can’t be said for any of the characters (be it the generic serial killer lead or the pointless detective on his trail) or the movie as a whole.

Gaspard Ulliel didn’t once remind me of Lecter, but I guess he was fine. Dominic West (The Wire) was pointless. I didn’t like Li Gong’s character whatsoever. And no one else was particularly memorable or good either.

A few good kills doesn’t make a movie good, especially when the movie is otherwise entirely generic and unnecessary. Truthfully, this was a struggle to get through, and I’d easily take Red Dragon or Hannibal twenty times over as opposed to ever having to watch this piece of trash again. I legitimately didn’t enjoy this. I did not have a good time. I was displeased.

3/10