Film Review: The Incubus (1982)

Release Date: August 27th, 1982
Directed by: John Hough
Written by: George Franklin
Based on: The Incubus by Ray Russell
Music by: Stanley Myers
Cast: John Cassavetes, John Ireland

Multicom Entertainment Group Inc., Artists Releasing Corporation, 93 Minutes

Review:

The Incubus is a film I found out about while reading one of Joe Bob Brigg’s Drive-In books. Strangely, this film alluded me in my childhood, as I pillaged the aisles of every video store within the boundaries of the continental United States.

It stars John Cassavetes who has been in much better things than this sort of movie. However, he adds a real sense of legitimacy to this film, even if it doesn’t have much going for it.

The story sees a bunch of women getting raped and murdered and while this is happening a teenage boy has horrible nightmares tied to the crimes. There is a lot more to the boy’s relation to these crimes than just simply dreaming, however. Cassavetes takes it upon himself to solve the mystery but his teenage daughter is put in danger’s way. Ultimately, the monster here is a demonic incubus but how it all comes together is fairly interesting and well executed.

This is a decently frightening picture, due to its subject matter and its visuals. The film feels a bit surreal at times but that is partly due to some of the great shots from the director. There is a really cool tracking shot where the camera is under a wheelchair moving through a house in a first person point-of-view. When the wheelchair arrives at a door, the girl in the chair can’t see the horror on the other side but the audience, peering under the crack of the door, can see what the girl in the wheelchair can’t.

The Incubus is a good film for what it is. The special effects are sub par but the film creates real suspense and dread and it builds a strong and effective atmosphere. The tone of The Incubus is perfect.

The movie also benefits from the fact that it isn’t as predictable as films like this tend to be.

The Incubus is a film that is better than it was probably intended to be. And somehow, it stayed under the radar. But this was the early 80s when horror films were a dime a dozen.

Film Review: It Follows (2014)

Release Date: May 17th, 2014 (Cannes)
Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Written by: David Robert Mitchell
Music by: Disasterpeace
Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe

Northern Lights Films, Animal Kingdom, Two Films, RADiUS-TWC, Dimension Films, 100 Minutes

Review:

I kind of regret not seeing It Follows when it came out a few years ago. A part of me wanted to give it a chance but it came out in the middle of summer and I had a lot going on then, as well as having lost my faith in horror over the last decade or so.

Well, there have been a few horror films in recent years that have been pretty exceptional in a genre that is now predominantly PG-13 and full of cheap-o CGI ghost stories. It Follows is one of the few that stands out and proves that horror isn’t a dead genre and that there are still some new things to explore.

The film isn’t terrifying because what is anymore, really? But it is quite effective and a sort of dark and enchanting picture that is made even better by its great young cast, the direction and writing of David Robert Mitchell, the cinematography of Mike Gioulakis and the stupendous score by Disasterpeace.

The premise was interesting and while nothing really unpredictable happened and this film stays on the traditional rails, it did a good job of building suspense until the end. It didn’t focus on jump scares or any other cheap tricks, it just gave you characters you mostly like and it built a sense of dread around them. You want them to survive, which in a horror movie these days, is pretty exceptional, as I usually cheer the monster because everyone else is a moron or just horrible in some way.

Maika Monroe was better than fantastic. Her friends were also all believable characters but maybe needed a bit more story.

The music by Disasterpeace is great. He created one of the best scores I’ve heard in years and I hope this opens a lot of doors for other film projects.

Mike Gioulakis is becoming one of my favorite cinematographers between this film, as well as his work on Split and being involved in the visuals of John Dies at the End.

It Follows is a film that gives me hope. Hope that horror will not die a slow and painful death and that it will rise from the ashes like a phoenix to burn all the horrible shit the genre has been putting out for far too long now.

Film Review: The American Friend (1977)

Also known as: Der amerikanische Freund (Germany)
Release Date: May 26th, 1977 (Cannes)
Directed by: Wim Wenders
Written by: Wim Wenders
Based on: Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith
Music by: Jürgen Knieper
Cast: Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz

Axiom Films, 127 Minutes

Review:

I didn’t know much about this movie going into it. I came across it on FilmStruck as a part of the Criterion Channel. Also, it wasn’t until I was halfway through it that it dawned on me that Dennis Hopper was playing the same Tom Ripley that Matt Damon played in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

I’m glad that I discovered this film however, as it was fantastic and a really refreshing experience, as I’ve been in a bit of movie limbo lately.

From a directorial and cinematic standpoint, this is one of the best films I have ever seen. The framing of every shot is damn near perfection. The visual composition feels alive and the world truly feels authentic and lived in. There is a vivid flare to the picture that is similar to the Italian giallo style. The European cityscapes and late 70s New York City give the movie a genuine grittiness that perfectly emphasizes the tone of the film. The American Friend is one of the best looking and mesmerizing motion pictures I have ever seen and I don’t say that lightly.

Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper are both stellar in this picture. Their relationship changes and evolves throughout the story and you never really know what each man thinks of the other. Add in the criminal elements of the plot and all the twists and turns and this is very true to the film noir style albeit modernized with incredible visual style.

Director Wim Wenders would go on to have a great career but here, he gives a real nod to those who influenced his work. In the roles of the gangster characters, Wenders cast Gérard Blain, Nicholas Ray, and Samuel Fuller – all three being directors that Wenders had a deep admiration for. He essentially gave props to his influences and mentors in the same way Quentin Tarantino would do decades later.

This film primarily takes place in Europe and is a German and French production but most of the movie is in English. There are some subtitled bits but surprisingly not as many as you would think.

I don’t want to get into the plot too much, as I went into this blindly and fell in love with it. I’d prefer for others to have the same experience, especially in a day and age where movies are spoiled by their trailers alone.

It is hard comparing the film to anything, as I can’t think of anything else like it. It is an amalgamation of a lot of cool things that can be taken away from more famous films but the overall composition is truly original. And frankly, this film deserves more recognition than it has.

Film Review: The Love Witch (2016)

Release Date: November 11th, 2016
Directed by: Anna Biller
Written by: Anna Biller
Music by: Anna Biller
Cast: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley, Jennifer Ingrum

Oscilloscope Laboratories, 120 Minutes

Review:

The Love Witch definitely flew under the radar when it came out back in November of 2016. Granted, I doubt anywhere near me had it in the theater anyway. I did see a trailer recently though and it captivated me from a stylistic standpoint. Also, I saw that this was pretty well regarded by critics, as it holds a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So when it dropped on Amazon Video, I had to check it out.

I haven’t seen Anna Biller’s other film Viva but after seeing The Love Witch, I am pretty stoked to check that one out too.

In a nutshell, the story follows a witch named Elaine. We learn that she went through a lot of emotional turmoil after her husband left her well before the start of the film. Since that time, she turned towards witchcraft and found herself, in a sense. She uses her power to attract men through magical means but her love spells come with unforeseen and tragic consequences. This doesn’t deter her, however, as she is hellbent on finding a man that will love her.

Elaine is played by virtual unknown Samantha Robinson. Robinson is absolutely stellar in her role and I hope that this opens doors for her because this film is destined to grow into a cult classic and develop a loyal following. She is alluring in the right way and even though she has selfish motivations and seems to be mostly indifferent to the negative effects of her magic, you still feel deeply for her and want her to find find love, at least in the beginning. As she gets deeper into her schemes and her cycle of wreckage continues, she goes on from being a sad and tragic character to an out of control despicable narcissist. Realistically, she was this all along but as the film progresses, you come to understand that she will not stop until she is satisfied and by this point, you know that she will never be satisfied.

When I read about the production of this film, I was pretty astounded by the level of detail and design that went into it. Not only is it directed, written and musically scored by Anna Biller but she also did the paintings that populate the film and made the costumes, as well. Everything is visually enchanting and the attention to detail really makes the film take on a life of its own, existing in a surreal and magical world but still feeling grounded in reality, in some way.

The Love Witch looks like a picture from the 60s or 70s. It has vibrant giallo-like tones, which serve the film more than just being window dressing. The tea room scenes are exceptionally beautiful. On top of that, everything is well shot; the cinematography is perfect through its lighting and in the way that it captures the vivid and lively visual tones. It is a fantastical film but it feels lived in and real, which isn’t an easy feat with something so stylized.

This is a highly entertaining film. The only thing I can really be nitpicky about is the running time. It comes in at exactly two hours and it moves along nicely but the second act felt like it could have moved along a wee bit quicker.

The Love Witch is enchanting, mostly due to its visual style and the execution and allure of its star. Also, it benefits from the use of its presentational acting style. It feels more like a stage performance where we, the audience, are sitting front row and drawn deeply into the production. Additionally, the dialogue in just about every scene is perfect. I loved the banter in this movie and it was incredibly well-written and presented on screen.

I was surprised by how much I liked the film and I appreciate how much effort went into it. While I wouldn’t consider this a picture for everyone, it is certainly one that will find its audience and develop a much deserved level of respect and admiration.

Film Review: Tango & Cash (1989)

Release Date: December 22nd, 1989
Directed by: Andrei Konchalovsky, Peter MacDonald (uncredited), Albert Magnoli (uncredited), Stuart Baird (uncredited)
Written by: Randy Feldman, Jeffrey Boam (rewrites)
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Jack Palance, Teri Hatcher, Brion James, Geoffrey Lewis, Eddie Bunker, James Hong, Marc Alaimo, Michael J. Pollard, Robert Z’Dar, Lewis Arquette, Roy Brocksmith, Clint Howard

The Guber-Peters Company, Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

I used to really like Tango & Cash when I was in fifth and sixth grade. I hadn’t really seen it since then. Having seen it now, though, I can state that this movie did not age well. It probably wasn’t very good, even for 1989 standards, but it is incredibly cheesy and hokey but not in any way that is endearing.

Sure, I love Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell but the two of them deserved a better vehicle for a team-up movie. The plot was weak and a big chunk of the movie was spent in prison, where Stallone just escaped from in his previous film, also from 1989, Lock Up. However, Stallone was also entering a bad period for his career, as this film was followed up by Rocky V (most people hate it, I don’t), Oliver and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.

At least we got to see these two in the same film again in 2017 with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, even though they didn’t share any scenes together. But I did find it strange that Russell was not in any Expendables picture.

The film also gives us the legendary Jack Palance, Brion James (a fantastic 80s villain player), James Hong (most beloved as Lo Pan from Big Trouble In Little China, another Kurt Russell film), Marc Alaimo (another great villain character actor and Gul Dukat from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Robert Z’Dar (the Maniac Cop himself), as well as a young Teri Hatcher, the always weird Clint Howard and Michael J. Pollard, a guy I’ve always enjoyed in his small roles.

However, even with all the great people in this film, it is still a total dud. Maybe that has something to do with script rewrites. Maybe it is because this film went through four directors. Yes… four!

Whatever the reasons, Tango & Cash is a film that is much less than the some of its pretty great parts. It is really disappointing, actually. It could have worked, it should have worked but it was a total bust in every way.

Yes, there are some fun moments in the film but nowhere near enough to make this thing worth anyone’s time. It isn’t necessarily horrible but it shows how bad the “buddy cop” formula can be, if everything in the movie misses its mark.

Does it deserve to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? I’d say that it does but just barely. So what we have here is a Type 1 stool, which is defined as “Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Film Review: Cyborg (1989)

Release Date: April 7th, 1989
Directed by: Albert Pyun
Written by: Kitty Chalmers, Daniel Hubbard-Smith
Music by: Lalo Schifrin, Kevin Bassinson
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Deborah Richter, Vincent Klyn, Dayle Haddon

Cannon Film Distributors, 82 Minutes

Review:

In the late 1980s, I was a big Jean-Claude Van Damme fan like every red blooded American boy. However, I really hated Cyborg when I saw it and I was endlessly reminded of my dislike for it once it started appearing on cable almost weekly for a span of several years. Out of Van Damme’s early stuff, it just completely missed the mark, even if it did have several cool things that could have made it good.

However, seeing it now, a few decades later, I no longer hate it. In fact, I found most of it to be fairly enjoyable, even if it is incredibly cheesy, full of atrocious acting and looks very dated.

To start, it was put out by Cannon Films, who were responsible for dozens of exciting balls-to-the-wall 80s action flicks. It also starred their new up and coming star, Jean-Claude Van Damme. It had a sci-fi setting and was like an American East Coast Mad Max minus the cool vehicles. This would have been much better with cool vehicles. However, this was a good mixture of good elements to make something great. The film lacks in most regards though and it obviously didn’t have cool cars because it was made for the same cost as a case of discount domestic beer, a couple Koozies and a bag of Ruffles.

Most of the fight choreography is pretty good for what this is. Van Damme has the uncanny ability to throw kicks that don’t just look elegant but seem to look powerful as well. He’s always had a grace with his movements that most likely comes from his dancing background but because of this, he just always looks fantastic when he has to pull off that big roundhouse kick to the face.

Cyborg doesn’t have great cinematography. However, there are a few shots that do look amazing and hold up well today. Most notably, the scene where a thug walks into a dark sewer corridor, looks up, and there is Van Damme, above his head, doing the splits while holding a nasty looking dagger. The lighting, the panning and the overall shot was just beautifully done and certainly stands out among the rather drab cinematography.

One thing that significantly hurts this picture is the music. The score sounds like some toddler slamming away on a small Casio keyboard with his sippy cup. The score is so bad that you never get used to it and it sticks out like a sore thumb through every major action sequence.

Cyborg could have been a much better movie, it had some things that worked, but ultimately it was like it was out to sabotage itself. For some reason, there are two sequels to this, neither of which star Jean-Claude Van Damme. Maybe I will watch them someday if I really want to torture myself.

Film Review: It Comes At Night (2017)

Release Date: April 29th, 2017 (Timberline Lodge premiere)
Directed by: Trey Edward Shults
Written by: Trey Edwards Shults
Music by: Brian McOmber
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough

Animal Kingdom, A24, 91 Minutes

Review:

I went into this movie really knowing nothing about it. I never saw a trailer for it and it came out and got lost in the shuffle of the summer blockbusters. However, I did notice its pretty high rating on Rotten Tomatoes and thought it was a horror film worth checking out.

While considered horror, it really isn’t. It is more of a dark thriller with some mystery. There aren’t really any monsters or creatures to worry about and the title and marketing of the film are pretty misleading, in my opinion. Yes, there is a lot of nighttime darkness in the film but there is no clear indication of what “It” is. And really, “It” doesn’t exist. The real threat is what happens when people with good intentions can’t trust one another and are overcome by paranoia. If that is the “It” from the title, it’s a massive disappointment.

The film, like its title, is full of red herrings. So many red herrings in fact that it becomes tedious keeping up with them and ultimately, none of them matter. The story opens up a lot of avenues and mysteries to explore but then never goes down those paths. While the film does a great job of reeling you in and building suspense for the first 90 percent, the last 10 percent is an anticlimactic clusterfuck that makes most of that previous 90 percent inconsequential and pointless.

The idea behind this film also isn’t anything new. These ideas and these aspects of human nature have been explored in just about every episode of The Walking Dead, and much more effectively. Hell, we’ve seen this story play out in countless zombies movies and really anything that is set in a post-apocalyptic world.

The positives of the film aren’t enough to save it.

The acting is pretty good but most of that is due to Joel Edgerton, who impresses me more and more with each picture, taking on the bulk of the acting duties. His son, played by Kelvin Harrison Jr., does a good job being the eyes and emotion of the audience but he doesn’t really get to evolve or explore his character other than emotionally reacting to his world and his loved ones crumbling around him.

The cinematography is also a strong positive. While it isn’t anything groundbreaking, the tone of the film is probably the most effective thing about it. The house is welcoming during the day but a dark and dreadful place at night. The long dark corridor to the back door is really a character all its own.

I can’t say that I was disappointed with the film, as I went into it blindly and without expectations. However, as it rolled on, my expectations rose only to have them slapped back down when the climax arrived.