A new horror anthology, with a bunch of directors and actors I like. For those of us who still miss Masters of Horror and won’t watch American Horror Story.


Lot 36 (Guillermo Navarro)

Aaaand it’s not starting out too great. Series producer Guillermo Del Toro wrote this for his longtime cinematographer to direct. Tim Blake Nelson is a bitter, racist veteran, in debt to some dangerous dudes, buying abandoned storage units in hopes of turning a profit off the junk inside. He finds some rare German books in a dead nazi’s unit, and cult expert Sebastian Roché offers to buy them for 10k, or 300k if Tim can find the missing book. They return to the unit together, find the hidden passage behind the false wall, and CG Cthulhu eats Sebastian Roché.

Tim finding the book in less than mint condition:


Graveyard Rats (Vincenzo Natali)

Hmmm, another gross guy in debt trying to make quick cash off the dead… two episodes, and the series is already in a rut. Much more silly dialogue in this one, as David Hewlett (of Natali’s Cube and Splice) robs graves (and other grave robbers). Afraid of rats and confined spaces, of course he becomes buried alive in a rat tunnel, and wouldn’t you know it, he finds another Cthulhu down there. He smooshes the giant blind mama rat, evades a zombie chanting “mine mine mine” like a Nemo seagull or a Jon Spencer song, does not make it out, and gets the Creepshow roach ending.


The Autopsy (David Prior)

More dead bodies, another tentacle creature, and going from a rat cave to a mine. This one is much more complex and original, with elegant camerawork tying the night sky to underground rock to a spiderweb. Sheriff Glynn Turman investigates a bombing that killed some miners, and the stolen identity of late miner Luke Roberts (Batman’s dad in the latest reboot) while Dr. F. Murray Abraham digs through the bodies. One body comes alive, knocks out Dr. Abraham and self-autopsies while meticulously explaining his evil plan (“we have inhabited men for millennia” – it’s a Hidden situation). Given the extra time to plan, and seeing as how he’s dying from cancer anyway, Abraham sabotages his own body to trap the alien when it takes over.


The Outside (Ana Lily Amirpour)

Stacey works at a bank where she doesn’t fit in, shoots and taxidermies ducks in her spare time, is married to cop Martin Starr (blinded in Infinity Baby). She gets addicted to a pricey lotion (with TV spokesman Dan Stevens) that turns everyone else beautiful but only gives her a bad rash, so she uses more and more of it, until she meets her The Stuff doppelganger and they re-enact the end of Annihilation, then she kills her husband and goes to work. Excellent performance by Kate Micucci (Garfunkel and Oates) trapped in a grueling, overlong episode.

Cool opening as everyone in town passes out, and all the women wake up pregnant. But – oh no, it’s British – so we cannot say the word “pregnant,” it wouldn’t be proper. The men are understandably upset since nobody in Britain has had sex in years, but life must go on, all the babies are born heavy with strange eyes, growing fast and blonde, and the grown-ups make the best of it.

Alan (Michael Gwynn, a priest in Scars of Dracula) visits town to see what’s up, checks in with his friends George Sanders (All About Eve narrator, Voyage to Italy husband) and Barbara Shelley (Quatermass and the Pit) and their new alien son David. The kids are psychic, resistant to authority, and tend to make adults who threaten them commit suicide. As an unexpected tie-in to our Hellraiser-themed month, their intelligence is tested using a complex puzzle box. The angry drunks at the bar think mob violence is the solution, but it’s not – it’s sending George Sanders to the schoolhouse with a bomb, trying to guard his thoughts from psychic intrusion until it goes off. In the Defining Movies book, Chris Fujiwara praises the ending, the crumbling wall superimposed over Sanders’ eyes “shows the process of thought – the gradual erosion of the man’s concentration.”

The author’s Day of the Triffids was filmed the year before with Howard Keel, and more recently with Eddie Izzard, while this was remade a few times, the latest coming out just a few months ago (and now I need to check out the John Carpenter version). Rilla is mainly known for this – looks like he made some naughty indies in the 1970’s.

Sanders, matching the curtains:

Very satisfying twist surrounded by a bunch of strangeness I’m still figuring out. Daniel Kaluuya underplaying as the stoic cowboy, while sister Keke Palmer and everyone else around him is so animated. Keith David (The Thing) is their dad who dies from a quarter in the brain. Brandon Perea is the Fry’s Guy who’s somehow allowed to keep coming over. Steven Yuen the neighboring child-star monkey-survivor who accidentally turns his amusement park into a suicide cult. Michael Wincott (talkative bounty hunter in Dead Man) the cinematographer they hire to document the alien. Nobody knows who played the TMZ Guy, or why he’s in the movie at all. The main hope is this starts a trend of movie characters wearing vintage 1990’s alt-rock t-shirts.

Favorite article: Walter Chaw in Film Freak Central, locating each Jordan Peele movie along “the Shyamalan self-delusion timeline.”

Sound That (2014)

The Cleveland water department searches for underground pipes by putting their ears to a long rod stuck into holes drilled in the ground. Payoff at the end when they settle on a location and the caterpillar rips up the street so they can access it.


Brown Thrasher (2020)

I was hoping this would center on a brown thrasher, but of course it’s people, it’s always people with Everson. Red-shirted birdwatchers with binoculars, being watched themselves by a jittery, vibrating camera.


IFO (2017)

The soundtrack is the thing in this one – spoken reports of UFO sightings, first in a taxi, then a military helicopter, then the same taxi again. The visual montage of people outdoors looking to the sky and air-traffic graphics seem secondary, though the people get some breathing room to themselves after the long helicopter story, and I love the extreme film grain on the grey sky.


Traveling Shoes (2019)

A great one, interviewing members of The Brown Singers and playing the title song, their record, with some obvious visuals (the record spinning on a turntable) and some less obvious (a girl holding the record in a dramatic pose, way out of focus).

A young hot blank dude (Nightmare Detective Ryuhei Matsuda) is found wandering with amnesia and returned to his wife Narumi (Masami Nagasawa of Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister). Blank teen boy Amano (also the name of my favorite sandwich place) recruits dickhead reporter Sakurai (Sion Sono’s Fuck Bomber) to help him locate a blank girl (Yuri Tsunematsu, also in Wife of a Spy) at the center of a recent crime.

Blank Nightmare Detective backed by choir:

But the blank trio are really aliens, learning about human concepts on their way to build a device from scavenged parts that will invite global destruction. The boy and girl finally meet, ruining a cop’s sense of self over wacky comedy-suspense music. The reporter is surveilled by Ministry of Health officers in an unmarked van. Gunfights and CG explosions ensue, and none of it’s very good, ruining my plans to follow this with the miniseries spinoff Foreboding.

Reporter, blank girl, and blank boy with machine gun:

In the back of my mind I figured I’ve seen this years ago and just forgotten most of it, but nope, I couldn’t have forgotten this – a jaw-dropping sci-fi story (with funky music). Humans are pests and pets, the planet controlled by blue gill-eared giants. A highly-placed alien child calls his pet human Terr, which grows up and starts playing pranks and spying, eventually defecting to lead the tiny human revolution. Truce is called after the humans build miniature rockets, travel to the Wild Planet and laser down the alien sex statues.

Michael Brooke for Criterion:

Over four decades after its May 1973 premiere, it remains more or less unique. Its peculiar universe, designed by Roland Topor and realized by a team of Czechoslovak animators in Prague, is instantly recognizable from virtually any freeze-frame, and the film as a whole is so rich, strange, and sui generis that nothing has emerged since to retrospectively blunt its impact … [Topor] cofounded the Panic Movement with Fernando Arrabal and Alejandro Jodorowsky, named after the god Pan and intended to make surrealism as shocking as it had been in the 1920s, before its imagery and ideas were co-opted and diluted by the mainstream … he wrote the 1964 source novel for Roman Polanski’s disquietingly paranoid The Tenant (1976), appeared in Dušan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie (1974) and Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979, as the lunatic Renfield).


Les Temps Morts (1965)

I’ve seen Laloux’s earlier Monkey Teeth short, but this is when he teamed up with Topor. A grim little anthropological study of man’s propensity for murder. I think their sensibility worked better when applied to a fictional scenario – and the animation is in very rough form here, illustrations cross-faded in sequence, drawings shuffling Gilliam-style, but mostly the camera panning around stills. Some sharp stills, though – if you cut the live-action atrocity footage it’d make a good picture-book of horrors.


Les Escargots (1966)

A different kind of apocalyptic movie, this one really takes a turn. Farmer realizes his crops will only grow if he cries on them, so he walks around the field holding cut onions, reading sad books, and wearing an ass-kicking machine. The giant plants attract snails, which also grow giant, slide over to the nearest major city and utterly destroy it. Little Shop of Horrors may have been an influence.

Totally Sci-Fi Adventures of the Moonrise Kingdom Kids. Refreshingly different little movie – okay, the showy long takes aren’t so different anymore, but twenty minutes in I was thinking “this isn’t how an indie film is supposed to be made,” and it ends up stealing as much from Pontypool as Super 8.

Everett is obsessed with a pulsing sound that interrupts his broadcast, investigates with help of Faye on the phones. They interview some locals, build up a Soviet conspiracy, finally put the pieces together in time to get abducted by aliens.

Having the film title appear in a 1950’s TV is cute, but using the same TV effect for scene transitions is maybe too cute – although the lead guy is a radio broadcaster, the lead girl has a shift as a phone operator, so it fits with the communication media theme. Really good string music. Star Sierra McCormick was in last year’s VFW, and Jake Horowitz in Julie Taymor’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (and they’re remaking Castle Freak?).

I hadn’t seen this since opening weekend, almost thirty years ago. I don’t recall it being good, and it has a poor reputation, but now I’m a seasoned auteurist cinephile with the keen ability to recognize David Fincher’s brilliant work within this studio disaster… oh ha, no I’m not, if anything the flaws were more apparent than ever.

Great opening, showing brief flashes of alien chaos aboard the ship full of sleeping soldiers, intercut with the quiet opening titles. The escape ship from part 2 crash lands on a prison mining planet, where Ripley washes up onshore burned and maggoty while the other cast is killed off via text on a computer screen. I try not to knock myself out keeping track of characters and personalities in these movies until half of them have died off – it was pretty doable in the last movie, gonna be harder here with this bunch of shaved-head barcoded space monkeys. Let’s start with Roc, the only actor I recognize (besides Pete Postlethwaite in a minor role), a sort of unionist preacher who doesn’t want women on his planet.

Ripley and Roc:

In this case I got what I deserved by watching the extended cut – it’s baggy and talky. So much of the movie is people floridly trying to avoid telling each other important things. Charles Dance (of Space Truckers, appropriately) is the soft-voiced medical officer. One of the other officials and also the scar-eyed psycho who teams up with the aliens against humanity are played by Withnail & I actors – lots of British accents in space jail. I forgot the scene where Ripley med-scans herself, proof that there were no new ideas in the prequels.

Spoiler alert:

It’s almost a really well-made movie, full of no-name actors who turned out to be really good at their roles, but it’s got some fundamental problems that good acting couldn’t overcome. It opens by squandering the goodwill of the second movie by killing off Newt and the others… it’s no fun for long stretches, and the last half hour is all aliens running full-tilt down long corridors, which is a visual effect they couldn’t manage. They followed up a great James Cameron movie with a film whose climax involves liquid metal… and the studio couldn’t pull off the effects… the year after Cameron’s Terminator 2 came out. They must have been so embarrassed.

Hundreds of years in the future, video cameras will look like this again:

In these uncertain times, sometimes I wanna watch some action movies I remember from cable TV. Rewatched the first movie (and Prometheus) five years ago, so it’s time to move this nostalgia trip along. It’s fine that the theatrical version still exists, for historical reference, but the auto-guns are neato, and more Aliens is a good thing, so I’m sticking with the extended cut.

da whole crew:

After drifting in cryo for fifty-some years, Ripley has outlived her daughter, as well as all the colonist families on the planet where she landed last movie. The company thinks she’s lying about the aliens, fires her, then wants to send her back as an advisor, along with droid Lance Henriksen (she doesn’t trust those things anymore, after last time) and a short-haired lieutenant who says he can guarantee her safety (didn’t catch his name, I think he died immediately).

Lots of science-nonsense and military-nonsense in the dialogue for the first hour, but the 80’s movie version of future-tech (which is supposed to be fifty-some years more advanced than the 70’s movie’s version of future-tech) feels so convincing that you have to keep reminding yourself that none of this stuff exists. They discover lone survivor Newt, lose some guys, bossman Paul Reiser starts to undermine their mission, calling the aliens “an important species” and saying “there’s a dollar amount attached.” By now, Lincoln NE’s own Michael Biehn (also of Terminator and Abyss) has taken charge of the soldiers, and seems competent. But it’s Weaver who takes the movie to new levels of badassery – I forgot the scene at the end where she duct tapes a machine gun to a flamethrower.