Horrorfest 2022 Presents/Let’s Get Criterion: Häxan (1922, Benjamin Christensen)

Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan is one of those silent cinema era movies that helped influence and define the genre when it was still in it’s early years. It also reflects on the fact that man is the biggest monster of all, although this movie shows the Devil a lot. This movie’s version of the Devil inspires the witches that the movie covers and discusses, and he looks pretty much like you would expect, or at least the heavy metal version, anyways. Witchcraft has a long history and usually involves people accusing others of being witches, thus resulting in the local religious authorities torturing and murdering people. Often people were completely innocent, swept up in the mass hysteria of the time and condemned to awful and inhumane fates. The movie treats all of this as a quasi-documentary, and is framed as a long standing history lesson, which is fascinating and sometimes enlightening to those who were unaware of such things. Most of the time people who had mental disorders were thought to be witches, which makes things even worse.

There are several gorgeously shot and marvelous appearing set pieces, the one where the witches have a mass coven meeting after flying through the night being very remarkable. The movie has some great practical effects, many of which still hold up a century later. I viewed this classic on Halloween eve, which may have been the most opportune viewing time. It’s also notable that with few exceptions the victims of witch hunts were usually women, and thus sexism and misogynistic views reigned heavily during the periods where witch hunts were at their highest.

Christensen even ties this into the modern era with the final act, noting how the witch hunt never really died, it just changed it’s shape and purpose. For a silent cinema era movie to note this is outstanding, and I may view this movie again at a later date just to see how it holds up still in my eyes. Which will be easy to do since I own it on Criterion, and the Criterion Blu-ray is a gorgeous transfer. If people watch this on YouTube or via TCM that’s fine too, if you get the chance you should totally check this one out.

Horrorfest 2022 Presents: Watcher (2022, Chloe Okuno)

Although Watcher is a slow burn, the movie pays off pretty well in the last half and it is a very claustrophobic and intense horror thriller that lets the viewer into the mindset of a woman in a foreign city. Lucky for her she is with her boyfriend, however she is left alone to her own devices while he is working and she wanders Bucharest, all while a serial killer runs amok. Maika Monroe is excellent in role of Julia, who attracts unwanted attention when she looks across at another building’s window from hers. Sure this is very Rear Window to a degree, yet Watcher operates differently from that one. Chloe Okuno does a fine job of showing the viewer what possibly justifiable paranoia feels like, and how women often experience this whenever they go. It’s quite different for a man, and I often think about how I’m fine walking alone in many places, where as women wouldn’t feel this way. That’s too bad, yet that’s often the case.

I’m a little mixed about the finale, and I kind of wondered if maybe things could have played out a bit differently. Maybe the movie couldn’t have had it’s cake and eaten it too, yet that final shot is rather haunting and very effective. I probably should have tried to see this movie in theaters, and I loved those late night scenes that linger in my mind a little. Cities look so beautiful and peaceful at night, yet behind closed doors may lurk unknown horrors or evil that we don’t know about. Horror movies do a great job of bringing that to the forefront, although some times it can make one very fearful and well, paranoid. Shudder has this one, check it out.

Horrorfest 2022 Presents: Blades (1989, Thomas R. Rondinella)

Created as fairly obvious Jaws parody, Blades actually manages to be a goofy, fun, killer lawnmower horror comedy. It’s not really scary, there are some decent moments of gore, and oddly it’s a solid golf movie too. The leads are likable, the golf course owner a scumbag desperately ignoring deaths to make money, and the groundskeepers and caddys definitely underpaid. There’s even an old weird former groundskeeper/mechanic for the Quint role.

Does a person get run over and you witness their legs being chopped up? Absolutely. Is the audience shown a kid dying horribly just like in Jaws? Yep! Can one accuse this movie of being in bad taste while still admiring it’s willingness to show golf scenes? Sure! This is the type of oddball movie that only could have been made in the 1980s. Viewed thanks to Peacock but Blades is also on Tubi.

Horrorfest 2022 Presents: Blood Hook (1986, Jim Mallon)

Blood Hook tries to be a funny 1980s slasher movie, but it just reminds me of a bad joke I’ve heard told by different people over the years. It wasn’t funny the first time, and it won’t be funny years from now. I’ll give the movie some points for a few good kills, an amusing enough fisherman fight and for trying something new. That’s about it, though, cause the rest of this movie stinks.

It stinks worse than fish guts, really, and this is the first Troma movie that I didn’t like or care for at all. Too bad, and I think they should remake this one. Up the gore, lean into how people take fishing way too seriously, find some better actors and maybe offer a sly commentary on resort towns. It could work, maybe. Then again, maybe not.

Horrorfest 2022 Presents: Storm of the Century (1999, Craig R. Baxley)

Lately I’ve been thinking about the quote of “The banality of evil,” which is typical of this world. Yet in some cases very obvious and atypical evil arises. André Linoge is that very clear evil, however his arrival in the very Stephen King island town of Little Tall wisks away the veneer of respectability the people of the island wish to present to others. Colm Feore is fantastic here, switching from creepy uncle to pure demonic entity, often in the same scene at a moment’s notice.

Tim Daly’s Mike (in what might be his best performance ever) offers up a sharp contrast and is the mini-series’ main character. He is as good and wholesome as Linoge is evil, although Linoge asserts that usually what he encounters is the worst of humanity. Mike challenges him however lacks the ability to understand what his nemesis understands: people can easily turn on one another, and do so very quickly. It’s a bleak take on human nature yet every so often people band together only to fall apart when cracks begin to form. The center cannot hold was a theme in The Stand, and it’s revisited here as well.

Ah those cold East Coast winters. Brrrr.

I cannot say more about the final episode, only that it offers a very depressing notion about one’s fellow neighbors. I liked the second episode the best out of the three, particularly since it had some good creepy moments. Debrah Farentino is also great as Mike’s wife, Molly, and King adaptation regular Jeffrey DeMunn shows up as well, playing the town manager who’s exactly the kind of sniveling authority figure you would expect in a show like this.

Despite some obviously dated and low budget special effects (this is a TV mini series after all), I really liked this one. It’s probably one of the best of the TV King mini-series, which is ironic since it’s and original work from King and not an adaptation. Maybe that’s why it’s so effective, containing most of King’s strengths and little of his work’s weaknesses. I wouldn’t mind a modern day take on it though, although I’d make it probably only two episodes honestly. Viewed finally thanks to Hulu.

Horrorfest 2022 Presents: Uncle Sam (1996, William Lustig)

William Lustig and Larry Cohen got together in the 1990s to give us all a slice of 1980s style cheese known as Uncle Sam. This movie has some cool kills, yet too many of them were hampered by the budget and more likely the MPAA. I loathe those censoring bastards. Anyways this movie probably should have been longer and more fleshed out, and Joe Bob Briggs does have a point that some elements are randomly left unexplained when they probably warranted some exposition.

However Darcy the Mail Girl is correct in that this is a fun horror flick, and plus it’s a rare one set around the Fourth of July. I’m a sucker for holiday related movies in general and honestly one of our most celebrated holidays should have more flicks based around it. Plus I’m down with a movie that gleefully takes aim at how much war is glorified by people in this country, and how Hollywood is partly to blame in that regard.

That smarts!

Christopher Ogden is quite good as young Jody, who slowly learns the awful truth about his Uncle Sam, who he worships at first. Isaac Hayes has a great monologue in this movie where he tells Jordy not to join the military, where as Timothy Bottoms and Robert Forster show up to be major character actor victims. P.J. Soles even makes an appearance although I barely recognized her. There is a scene where one man is killed by fireworks and then this leads to another man being impaled on the American flag in what is probably one of the most impressive displays of cheesy slasher movie violence I have ever witnessed.

Honestly you could probably remake this movie now, yet it wouldn’t be quite the same although perhaps the gore would be more present. Add in an even more pointed takedown of military propaganda and you would have yourself a great movie instead of a merely decent one. Still check out Uncle Sam for a slice of 1990s comedy violence that fits well with Small Soldiers for a nice double bill.

Horrorfest 2022 Presents: Without Warning (1980, Greydon Clark)

Alright hear me out: an alien comes to earth to hunt people and faces off against a group of people in the woods. Sound familiar? Well this isn’t Predator, it’s Without Warning, a cheesy early 1980s movie that definitely inspired Predator. Even though it is not as good as Predator (not really in the same ballpark, actually) I still enjoyed this cheesy and quite violent sci-fi horror movie. The cast is largely made up of young people you’ve never heard of, save for a pre stardom David Caruso, yet the flick does have some heavy hitters to assist with the kind of flimsy plot.

You have Jack Palance as a gas station owner who in typical horror movie cliche fashion warns the young people to go home. They ignore him of course. Martin Landau plays a crazy veteran who ends up being just as dangerous as the alien-I feel his character wasn’t necessary and could have been cut from the movie. Ralph Meeker, Cameron Mitchell and Neville Brand appear as movie veterans who aren’t a big part of the movie yet offer it some character actor gravitas.

Funny enough Kevin Peter Hall also played the alien in Predator and he does so here as well, and I liked that the movie only bothers to show the alien later for mass effect. Despite lagging a bit in the middle, this is still a solid and entertaining killer alien movie. The alien sucker things the alien throws at it’s victims are creepy to me, and the movie wisely does its job and concludes. This was part one of a triple alien feature I decided to do via Shudder a month ago.

Horrorfest 2022 Presents: Mosquito (1994, Gary Jones)

Perhaps if Mosquito had been made in a different decade I would have actually found it to be a good movie, yet I don’t think that really matters. Parts of this movie are effective and entertaining, other aspects are too dumb and goofy to be worthy of recommendation, and the rest is a mixed bag of B-movie horror and creature feature. The characters aren’t half bad, yet they would be paper thin even for a slasher movie. The creature effects are pretty solid and it was nice to see practical effects, something that has since gone the way of the dinosaur in Hollywood outside of some low budget movies. Even those employ CGI and I’m not going to be that old cranky guy ranting about too much CGI yet it was nice when the monsters weren’t so obviously fake looking. The movie also seems to be swerving from scene to scene as if it was a drunk man attempting to drive home when he clearly should have taken a cab. The movie crashes in similar fashion, and yet it’s a gloriously funny mess where no one gets hurt, I guess. In real life anyways, plenty of people die in horrible bug devouring ways. Those mosquito’s were really thirsty for blood.

Gunnar Hansen headlines a cast of other people that I have never heard of before, playing a bank robber who at some point gets to use a chainsaw in which is clearly a nod to his most famous horror movie role. Some of the cast didn’t really stick out in my mind too much, although Steve Dixon was pretty good honestly and Ron Asheton from The Stooges plays a park ranger who is the worst character in the movie. This flick was supposed to be called Blood Fever and that title is much better than Mosquito, really. I was amused that the movie doesn’t bother to have much setup-the mosquitos quickly show up, devour people and hunt down our heroes. I will admit the RV scenes are the movie’s highlight, and as noted I wanted to really enjoy this movie but it’s just too dumb even for me to give a fresh rating too. Skip this and view a better monster movie instead.

Horrorfest 2022 Presents: Eat, Brains, Love (2019, Rodman Flender)

The movie Eat, Brains, Love reminds me that I never bothered to watch Eat, Pray, Love. I’m not a big Julia Roberts fan, sorry not sorry folks. However Eat Brains Love is a pretty decent zombie rom-com that has a good amount of gore and bloodshed, so this movie is not for those who don’t want to view zombie violence that is typical of such movies. The cast is young and likable so that’s a plus, and they help out with some of the thinner material. Plus the flick does start a bit slow and the ending is a tad abrupt-perhaps a sequel is on the horizon? I would view a sequel if Rodman Flender does make one, even if sequels usually offer diminishing returns.

Jake and Amanda are two people who are polar opposites that become infected with a zombie virus passed on by sex which leaves the person hungry a lot. Those who catch it only become zombies at certain points due to feeling extreme emotions, although the movie doesn’t really explain that very well in my opinion. They are pursued by a creepy government agency which employs a psychic named Cass, who ends up falling for Jake and starting this weird love triangle between the three people. Jake Cannavale is funny and likable as the male lead, and Angelique Rivera is actually pretty funny as Amanda. Sarah Yarkin is good as Cass and is very relatable, however there are times when I felt that she was acting in a different, more quirky movie than this one.

Apparently this was adapted from a book that I have not read, and I wonder if the filmmakers made any changes or not. The zombie vigilante bits are darkly humorous to me, and I’m surprised that no one to my knowledge thought of that before. While not as good as I was hoping it would be, I still can recommend Eat, Brains, Love, although I will admit I’m a huge fan of the zombie genre and thus was prone to enjoying this type of film, anyways. I’m also amused at those who insist horror comedies can’t be good or a thing in movies when there are so many great and good ones.

Horrorfest 2022 Presents: The Giant Claw (1957, Fred F. Sears)

Based on the few movies I’ve seen from Fred Sears I’m starting to enjoy him as a director. His take on 1950s monster movies, The Giant Claw, is a fun one made on an obviously low budget that does the job well and gets out before becoming too routine. You can only show so many “Monster destroys stuff” scenes before people get a little numb to the whole thing. Also this one has a good cast and some well rounded moments as the actors pretend to be attacked by a giant fake creature flying up in the sky.

The Giant Claw is one ugly looking bird, too, and swoops down upon it’s prey with reckless abandon. The bird is always hungry, is thought to be from outer space and will destroy everything in it’s wake. Sears take on the monster genre perhaps lacks the more complex politics of the original Godzilla film and even the style and grace of the original King Kong, however I found it to be better than many of the other 1950s monster movies that came before and after.

The Giant Claw and Q The Winged Serpent would make for a quality double bill, that’s for sure. Cinema in the 1950s sure was tricky for horror movies in that they had to pretend to be only sci-fi so the public would go see them. We are blessed to live in an era where that is not the case although unfortunately we don’t get the opportunity to see a film such as The Giant Claw in a drive in on a late Friday night. Oh well.

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