From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Directed by Robert Rodriguez [Other horror films: The Faculty (1998), Grindhouse (2007, segment ‘Planet Terror’), Planet Terror (2007), Red 11 (2019)]

I’ve seen this a handful of times before, and it’s never been a favorite. I enjoy the first half, with a crime/action feel to it, enough, but I can’t say I much care at all once they hit the Titty Twister.

The cast is pretty superb throughout. George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel (Two Evil Eyes), Juliette Lewis (Kalifornia), a younger Danny Trejo than I’m used to, Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, Ceech Marin, and, for a few seconds, John Saxon. It’s a Robert Rodriguez/Tarantino movie, so the cast is about as good as you’d expect.

As great as the cast can be (and they certainly are in some aspects, looking at Clooney and Keitel’s characters), though, I don’t love the shift into vampire terrority, at least not the way it was done here. It became an all-out rumble with the undead, and that’s not really what I look for when it comes to vampire flicks.

On a slight positive note, the final shot in the film was pretty damn cool. It’d make a quality poster.

As far as special effects go, they were decent. Personally, I didn’t much care for the design of the vampires, but they stood out. There were a lot of solid sequences during the multiple fights, from plenty of gunplay to a decapitation, and the fact that a few of the characters left are ones you felt for helped, but still, the whole action-orientation of those scenes doesn’t endear me.

From Dusk Till Dawn feels special only in that you can tell Tarantino was involved in the script. At times near the beginning, it doesn’t feel dissimilar to Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs, which certainly makes aspects of the first half memorable, but once vampires start coming into the picture, I admit, it loses me.

There are better vampire films from the 1990’s (The Night Flier and Carpenter’s Vampires, for two), and there are certainly better action films, so watching a subpar mix of both doesn’t blow me away. From Dusk Till Dawn is decently popular, and there’s certainly a reason for that, but I’ve never loved this one, nor particularly liked it, and this most recent viewing hasn’t changed that.

6/10

Mama (2013)

Directed by Andy Muschietti [Other horror films: It (2017), It Chapter Two (2019)]

This isn’t a film I had much interest in seeing, but given it’s directed by Andy Muschietti (who later went on to do It Chapters 1 and 2), I was holding out hope that it could transcend the typical Hollywood ghost story. As it turns out, while there were a few things in Mama to enjoy, it wasn’t really able to do that.

Off the bat, the first thing I noticed was Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was one of the stars. Now, I know him only from Game of Thrones, but I still thought it was sort of cool seeing him here. Jessica Chastain I know only from the aforementioned It Chapter 2, and she was pretty good here also. I really liked her punk look, and the fact that she was thrown into the role of a mother was pretty heart-wrenching. I really liked Coster-Waldau and Chastain together – they made a cute couple here, only to be ruined by the children, though Megan Charpentier, who played the older kid, was pretty decent.

The only other character that really made an impact (aside from Mama, of course) was Dr. Dreyfuss (played by Daniel Kash). It’s through him that we, the audience, discover the story behind Edith, the woman who becomes the ghostly Mama. Her story isn’t without interest or tragedy, but to be blunt, I didn’t find myself caring that much.

There is a really solid scene about thirty minutes into the film, where the camera shows both the hallway and the kid’s room, and something happens there that I thought was pretty cool. It was expected, no doubt, but I still liked the execution. I bring that up because otherwise, I didn’t think there were that many noteworthy things in the film. There was an okay dream sequence, and the emotional ending was solid, but otherwise, it was just generic ghost movie #1523.

Mama had potential, and I wish the final product was better. The design for Mama wasn’t great, in my opinion, but what helped the film avoid a worse rating was the feeling the film occasionally possessed. Seeing Charpentier slowly warm up to Chastain’s character was nice, and the ending, like I said, packed a decently emotional punch. Mama isn’t a great movie, and I do think it’s below average, but I could probably see myself giving it another go in the future, and perhaps if I’m in a better mood, the movie will come out slightly more enjoyable.

6.5/10

The Black Scorpion (1957)

Directed by Edward Ludwig [Other horror films: N/A]

The last time I saw The Black Scorpion, I thought it was a bit below average, so seeing it again with fresh eyes, I have to admit that I had no idea what I was thinking. It’s not that this film is utterly amazing, and I don’t care that much for the final 15 minutes or so, but for much of the movie, I thought it was a very effective and occasionally suspenseful creature feature.

Richard Denning, Carlos Rivas, and Mara Corday all did well, but I don’t really think any of them were spectacular, especially trapped within the generic 50’s character roles. I did like Rivas’ character quite a bit, but of course the female protagonist fell for the white guy instead.

Special effects in The Black Scorpion were mostly well done. The scorpions looked mostly fantastic (until there was a close-up on it’s face, in which case they looked goofy), and the cave sequence was very solid (which included the best scene in the film, being a tense rope sequence), so there weren’t many issues there.

I think that The Black Scorpion is mostly solid with some decent sequences, such as the aforementioned rope scene, along with the the train derailment. I won’t say that it’s amazing, but I had a lot more fun with this and the initial mystery of the deaths than I did when I first saw it.

7.5/10

El orfanato (2007)

Directed by J.A. Bayona [Other horror films: N/A]

This Spanish flick (better known as The Orphanage) might be a lot better for fans of more emotional ghost stories as opposed to more horror-tinged tales, but it’s still quite well done with some fantastic mystery, an enjoyable back-story, and a memorable (if not potentially anticlimactic) conclusion.

El orfanato’s setting is great, taking place at an old orphanage on the seaside, overlooked by an old, defunct lighthouse. With the ocean constantly rustling and rainstorms no stranger to the area, it sets things up as rather dismal, which helps sustain the tone as the movie goes on.

So, onto a lot of Spanish names that I definitely don’t know.

As the lead, Belen Rueda did well and played a very sympathetic character, and despite the fact that she’s not really been in that many things before this (though she was in a TV series that ran for around five years called Periodistas, so she’s not a no one), she shined pretty much throughout the film. Fernando Cayo was good also, but I wish he was a bit more prevalent to the story than he ended up being. Others that I enjoyed include Geraldine Chapin, Edgar Vivar, Andres Gertudix, and Montserrat Carulla.

What really helped this movie along, because honestly, it’s not really my type of thing, is the mystery behind the disappearance of one of the characters. I like how that’s resolved, and though it took supernatural means for Rueda’s character to come to find out what happened, I was okay with it, as we discover some interesting (and somewhat morbid) things out along the way.

As decent as El orfanato is, it’s not the type of film I really go out of my way for. The conclusion didn’t quite pack the punch I was hoping for, though it was a tad more emotional than one might expect. Still, it’s definitely a well-made movie with an engaging plot, and certainly worth a watch, but if Spanish ghost movies aren’t your cup of tea, you may find this film a bit more average than others.

7.5/10

This was covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, so if you want to hear Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one, go ahead.

The Wicker Man (2006)

Directed by Neil LaBute [Other horror films: N/A]

Even to this day, I don’t think the original Wicker Man gets the respect it so totally deserves. It’s a classic that really has a lot going for it. This remake isn’t altogether dissimilar, but for entirely different reasons.

I have to get this off my chest first, though: I just cannot take Nicholas Cage seriously. I just can’t. I love his character in National Treasure, but as an actor, Cage is a hard person for me to see in serious light – I think Next (2009) was the only time I remember his character coming across as a bit more normal, for lack of a better word.

Because of his presence, what really is an interesting and almost mostly-well written story (even with it being a remake of a far better film) just comes across as silly much of the time. It’s not just some of Cage’s more questionable lines, either, be it ‘What’s in the bag, a shark or something,’ or his yelling at the end about ‘goddamn honey.’ His actions are just as ridiculous, such as that scene where he punches out one of the women without comment, or kicks another one (while wearing a bear costume) into a wall.

If they had gone for someone a bit more generic, but brought less unintentional camp into the film, it’s possible The Wicker Man wouldn’t be as memorable, but I also think it wouldn’t be nearly as panned as it has been.

I have little complaints about others in the film. While few of them really stood out, Kate Beahan was moderately decent in her role. While by no means a big actress, Leelee Sobieski was nice to see, as I know her from starring in the 2006 British film In a Dark Place. Even James Franco has a small (and unexpected, as when I first saw this, I had no idea who Franco was) appearance at the end. Otherwise, no one really did much for me, aside from Cage, who I’ve already spoken extensively about.

The Wicker Man is a hard movie to talk about because of the fact that Cage’s performance overshadows so much of the actual story, which, like I said, is decently enjoyable. I rather loved the conclusion (though, as always, I thought the original did a better job), and generally, I think the story’s both somewhat interesting and fun.

Truth be told, this is a difficult one to rate. It feels really ridiculous at times, but I cannot pretend that I wasn’t amused or engrossed with the story playing out on-screen. On one hand, I think it could have been shortened by at least ten minutes, but on the other, that’d mean ten minutes less of Cage’s antics.

Love him or hate him, ultimately, this is the Nicholas Cage show, and while I really didn’t care for what his presence did to an otherwise pretty interesting plot, this is one that I’d watch again just due to the sheer amusement it brings forth.

6/10

Veneno para las hadas (1986)

Poison

Directed by Carlos Enrique Taboada [Other horror films: Hasta el viento tiene miedo (1968), Vagabundo en la lluvia (1968), El libro de piedra (1969), Más negro que la noche (1975)]

This Mexican film, originally Veneno para las hadas generally known as Poison for the Fairies in the USA, is a lot like a film I saw earlier in the same month, a French movie called Don’t Deliver Us from Evil, albeit in a more family-friendly direction.

Which isn’t to say that the ending isn’t good – it is. Is it worth the build up, though? That’s hard to say. Much like the 1971 French film, two youths are becoming corrupted by their friendship, slowly leading up to a less-than-happy ending. Unlike that film, though, given these girls are just around ten, there’s nothing in the film dealing with their sexuality (which was a big part of Don’t Deliver Us from Evil). Instead, one of the girls is playing a game on the other that grows out of control.

It’s a very insular movie – aside from the two girls, played by Ana Patricia Rojo and Elsa Maria Gutierrez, no other character really matters, and for that matter, while their guardians appear (parents and grandparents), we almost never actually see their faces. Luckily, the story is engaging enough to allow the singular focus on these two girls, though I would have to imagine some would say the film drags deeply because of it.

Throughout the movie, there’s a growing ominous feeling, and it’s held pretty well. If you’re not asking yourself, “Where is this leading,” multiple times, then something wasn’t done right. All this said, though, with any slow-burn horror film, did the ending make up for the somewhat sluggish pace? It wasn’t perfect, but I liked how they concluded this. I didn’t love the film, but I do think it’s a lot more digestible than Don’t Deliver Us from Evil was, and I’d probably recommend this to anyone interested in checking something out with a bit more foreign flair.

7.5/10