The Insidious Sequels – 6WH

Insidious is that other James Wan franchise featuring demons, a ghost hunter team, psychics, and Patrick Wilson. It hasn’t spawned a cinematic universe like The Conjuring (er, yet), but there are now five entries in the series, and I haven’t seen any of the sequels. I don’t tend to be enthusiastic for sequels, so watching them all in the past few days might seem like a bad idea, but I really like the original (even if it gets confused with all the other one word franchises that started around the same time – Sinister, Ouija, the aforementioned Conjuring movies, etc…) and as it turns out, the sequels are perfectly cromulent. There’s some diminishing returns, for sure, but I enjoyed myself well enough… Before we get to far, minor Spoilers for the original Insidious (which is recommended! If you haven’t seen that, go watch it before reading this…)

The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 4 – The Insidious Sequels

Insidious: Chapter 2 – Picks up where the original Insidious left off. Young Daulton has been rescued from his coma by his Remote Viewing father, but he may have brought something back with him from the other side (er, sorry, the “Further”), and the family is still plagued by spooky happenings.

Insidious: Chapter 2

James Wan returned for this sequel (the same year he released The Conjuring), and by this point, he’s got his box of tricks well established. It’s all stuff you’ve seen before, so it can’t help but be a little less effective this time around. There’s only so much atmosphere that that fog machines and dry ice can provide before the Further begins to seem a little passé. However, they do this thing where they recontextualize a bunch of stuff that happened in the first movie, and it all fits pretty well. Not sure if it was something that was originally planned (thus, perhaps, justifying the “Chapter 2” subtitle) or if it’s just a retcon, but it works pretty well either way. It’s not quite as good as the first movie, but it’s a worthy followup that’s worth watching. **1/2

Insidious: Chapter 3 – The end of Chapter 2 didn’t leave a ton of room for sequels, so here we end up with something of a prequel that focuses on a different family dealing with incursions from the Further. It basically tells the story of how the psychic Elise met her sidekicks (a few years before the events of the first movie).

Insidious: Chapter 3

At this point, the series shifts into a sorta psychic procedural with the ghost hunting team of Elise, Specs, and Tucker. Lin Shaye had already anchored the franchise thus far, and as it turns out, she’s got the gravitas to survive the shift to a completely different narrative. It helps that Stefanie Scott and Dermot Mulroney are able to sell the family in trouble well enough to keep things moving. Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson are along for the ride. Their ghost hunter sidekick characters are so funny because they serve basically no purpose in any of these movies and never really help, but, for some unknown reason, they remain endearing and fun to watch.

After having collaborated with James Wan on several Saw movies and having written and starred in the first two Insidious movies, Leigh Whannell steps into the directors chair for the first time. His later efforts would be more successful, but this is a perfectly cromulent debut. It’s not going to light the world on fire, but it gets the job done, and while there’s an overreliance on jump scares and stingers, Whannell is at least good at crafting them, so he lands a few before they start to wear you down. Certainly not a perfect movie, and the series has gotten pretty silly by this point, but it’s still pretty entertaining and well crafted. **

Insidious: The Last Key – This time it’s personal! Elise the psychic and her sidekicks take on a job in the New Mexico house where she grew up. Snore.

This is the sort of thing that any and every procedural TV show eventually resorts to: after years of fighting baddies, they finally confront the serial killer/international conspiracy/demon that explains something mysterious from their past (i.e. my mother wasn’t killed by a mugging, it was an international conspiracy with ties to the White House! Her killing was the whole reason I became a cop in the first place, and this time it’s personal! Snooore!) It’s usually saved for a season finale and perhaps even involves a cliffhanger. Fortunately, we’re spared the cliffhanger bit, but this is a narrative device that tends to annoy me, and this is no different.

Insidious: The Last Key

There’s a moment, about halfway through the movie, where I thought they may have taken an actual chance in moving the franchise (or at least, this movie) in a different direction – one that’s less about the Further and more about human monsters (another narrative device that doesn’t always work for me, but it was genuinely surprising here, and I was willing to go with it). Alas, that lasts about five minutes before they break out the lanterns, dry ice, and fog machines again, and Elise confronts the demon who killed her mother, snooooore.

Sorry that I keep falling asleep while writing this and snoring. I should get one of those CPAP machines or something. Anyway, I didn’t totally hate this (it’s a testament to the ghost hunting team’s acting that I’m not entirely annoyed by their general uselessness and awkward jokes), but it’s definitely the low point in the series, and fortunately, it’s almost completely disconnected from the rest of the series, so you can skip it. *1/2

Insidious: The Red Door – The family from the first two films returns for one last battle with the demons that live beyond the red door. Patrick Wilson returns to the franchise, this time behind the camera as well, with his directorial debut.

Insidious: The Red Door

And after the missteps of The Last Key, this represents something of a return to form (that form being: solid horror programmer that’s entertaining enough). It takes place nine years after the second film; the kid is all growned up and has terrible long hair, and Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne have divorced (which made me chuckle, they weren’t exactly the greatest couple, though in fairness, he was possessed by a monster and/or hypnotized to the point of recklessness most of the time). The hypnosis put on both Wilson and his character’s kid is starting to break down, and as the kid goes to college, he starts to see strange things and draws strange pictures of red doors in art class.

It’s all more of the same and sure, there’s diminishing returns here, but the new settings, characters, and the introduction of daddy issues actually work for the series, even if it’s all a bit clichéd. Look, if you’ve gotten this far in the series, you’ll probably enjoy this one (at least better than The Last Key). The only real drawback is the relative lack of Elise and her sidekicks (they show up in YouTube videos that the college kids watch). It’s a fitting ending for the series, even if I’m sure there’ll be more movies and/or spinoffs in the future (this was pretty successful at the box office). Can you imagine the Conjuring/Insidious crossover that’s almost certainly going to happen in a few years? Anyway, this is fine, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, even if the franchise has gotten pretty creaky and strained by this point. **1/2

I enjoyed this series more than the ratings might indicate, even though the original Insidious is still clearly the best… They don’t have a lot of thematic heft and they’re somewhat repetitive, but they’re solid programmers that entertain well enough.

Hard to believe we’re more than halfway through the Six Weeks of Halloween… stay tuned, we’ve got some Giallo movies and Nunsploitation coming soon.

Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities – 6WH

Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities is a 2022 horror anthology series that was released on Netflix during the week leading up to Halloween. Certainly appropriate timing, but I never managed to fit it into last year’s marathon. I figured I’d just save it for this year, and have been working my way through the 8 episodes since the start of the 6 Weeks of Halloween. As with all Anthologies, it is a bit uneven, but I’d say it coheres better than, say, Masters of Horror (which this series, with its focus on auteurs, bears some resemblance to). There are a couple of rough entries here, but MoH had some real stinkers. Each episode starts with Guillermo del Toro providing an introduction whilst manipulating a literal Cabinet of Curiosities, which was a nice touch and provides a little structure and consistency to the series (that’s been lacking in a lot of other anthology series since Tales from the Crypt). Certainly worth a look if you’re into this sort of thing.

The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 3.5 – Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities

S1:E1 “Lot 36” – A crotchety army vet buys old storage units hoping to sell off their contents to settle debts that he owes to some unsavory folk. His latest purchase shows some mysterious potential, and once he consults a spooky antiques appraiser about a strange spiritualist object, things take a more dangerous turn. Rock solid, straight down the middle anthology stuff here, reminiscent of a Tales from the Crypt episode (or any of the anthologies that take inspiration from the old EC comics run) where a bad man gets in over his head and earns an ironic comeuppance, with a hint of Lovecraftian terror for good measure. Tim Blake Nelson plays the army vet with his usual flare, and Sebastian Roché oozes sinister tension (but Nelson isn’t very observant). Director Guillermo Navarro is mostly known as a cinematographer, but he’s clearly learned some things from del Toro, as this episode comports itself rather well. It’s not the most original or groundbreaking episode, and it’s all stuff you’ve seen before, but as an intro to an anthology, it works well. **1/2

S1:E2 “Graveyard Rats” – A grave robber must contend with a mysterious labyrinth populated with ravenous rats in his latest attempt to secure treasures. Sort of a Victorian-era reflection of Lot 36, actually, these make a good pairing. This one is directed by Vincenzo Natali (probably still most famous for Cube), a director I’m always excited to see, and this episode is a pretty good indication of why. He’s got a good eye for visuals, and he knows how to keep the pace snappy, even for a relatively straightforward story like this one.

Cabinet of Curiosities: Graveyard Rats

It helps that David Hewlett is giving the lead performance (also a frequent Natali collaborator), as he can carry the rather simple narrative by himself. Along the way we’re treated to more spooky Lovecraftian horrors and, naturally, rodents of unusual size. Certainly in the running for my favorite of the episodes. ***

S1:E3 “The Autopsy” – A seasoned medical examiner is called in to examine a mysterious body discovered in the woods. As he pieces the story together, he begins to suspect something more sinister at play. Director David Prior’s The Empty Man was dumped during the pandemic (also in part due to the Disney/Fox merger), and I was worried that he wouldn’t get more opportunities because that movie shows a lot of promise. Fortunately, this episode marks another success on his ledger.

Cabinet of Curiosities: The Autopsy

Led by F. Murray Abraham’s performance as the medical examiner, this episode is reminiscent of The Autopsy of Jane Doe, only this has more of a narrative drive and an actual ending. Another favorite of this series, and I go back and forth between this one and Graveyard Rats as my favorite episode from Cabinet of Curiosities. ***

S1:E4 “The Outside” – A mousey bank teller wants to fit in at work, so she starts using a beauty regimen that seems to cause an allergic reaction, but which is actually auguring a disquieting transformation. Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, this one is filled with psychological subtext (er, perhaps just straight text, actually) on beauty and the desire to fit in. Kate Micucci is perfectly cast as the awkward protagonist, and Martin Starr puts in a great supporting turn as her (rightly!) concerned husband. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really get on its wavelength. It feels weird to say that the 64 minute runtime felt too long, but after the first three episodes, this felt a bit more repetitive and sloggy. The mild body horror was reasonably well done, but never really took hold, and I felt like I knew where it was headed the whole time. Ultimately, I find this to be more of an interesting failure that’s still well made and worthy of respect, which isn’t the worst thing in the world. **

S1:E5 “Pickman’s Model” – An art student meets an older artist whose art has an uncanny quality that he can’t shake. Based on one of my favorite Lovecraft short stories, rife with his usual baroque style and a nice stinger of a twist ending, this adaptation was a true disappointment. In fairness, there’s not a lot of meat on the bone of the original story (it’s a short one, after all), but in their attempt to flesh things out, they’ve well and truly removed any mystery or surprise at what is actually going on here. Ben Barnes is a little flat as the art student, but does fine, and Crispin Glover is his usual wacky self, but none of it really fits (and I don’t even know what they were thinking when it came to whatever those accents were supposed to be). There’s an element of goofy so-bad-its-good energy that Glover brings, but it’s at odds with the rest of the story. *

S1:E6 “Dreams in the Witch House” – Determined to rescue his dead twin from the afterlife, a man discovers a drug that seemingly allows him to travel to the other side. The only problem? An infamous witch sees an opportunity to trick him into freeing her. Another adaptation of a Lovecraft story, and… another disappointment. This one stings a bit because Stuart Gordon already did an adaptation for Masters of Horror a while back, and that was one of the better episodes of that series (I would recommend seeking that one out, rather than watching this one). Directed by Catherine Hardwicke (of Twilight fame), this has the annoying tendency to rely heavily on blunt exposition that explains the most obvious parts of what’s going on, while simultaneously leaving the weirdest stuff unaddressed in any way (there’s a rat with a man’s face? Sure, why not, no need to figure that one out). There’s the bones of a good story here. Going to rescue someone from the afterlife only to attract the attention of a notorious witch? A good premise! The witch design is actually quite nice! But man, they really fumble this one. It doesn’t even look very good, and is the episode most festooned by the flat, overly dark cinematography that has sadly become more common over the past few years. I’m not super familiar with the original story, but I get the impression that this takes some major liberties. Probably my least favorite episode from Cabinet of Curiosities? Combined with the previous episode, this represents a brutal one-two punch (the original release strategy was two episodes a day for the week leading up to Halloween, so these two Lovecraft adaptations were meant to be a double feature, yikes). *

S1:E7 “The Viewing” – A wealthy recluse invites four accomplished guests to his estate for a mysterious viewing. Of what? No one knows, but I think you can guess that said viewing does not go as expected. Another anticipated entry from an interesting director, it’s fascinating how idiosyncratic Panos Cosmatos’ style seems after having watched six episodes of more conventional approaches that mostly take inspiration from Lovecraft, Poe, or Victorian spooks. The relatively short runtime reigns in some of Cosmatos’ more extreme slow-burn tendencies, making this probably his most accessible work yet. Of course, he still takes his time getting to the real horror, which doesn’t really start until the third act hits. That said, he crafts a good hang out atmosphere of the first two thirds of the episode, replete with catchy visuals and his usual synth-pop soundtrack. The cast helps here too, with Peter Weller nailing the uncanny rich dude vibe, accompanied by a solid ensemble consisting of Charlyne Yi, Eric Andre, Sofia Boutella, Steve Agee, and more. Once things start to get weird and, um, gloopy, I was fully onboard. Great creature effects here. Even if the ending is a bit too open ended for my tastes, I still found it to be one of the better entries in the Cabinet of Curiosities, and well worth checking out. ***

S1:E8 “The Murmuring” – Married ornithologists move into an eerie house with a tragic history that reminds them of their own grief. Jennifer Kent’s long anticipated return to the horror genre (after 2014’s The Babadook), I have to admit that this is another one that didn’t really connect with me at all. A big part of this is that it leans heavily into the grief/trauma themes that have been dominant in the horror genre since, well, around the time that The Babadook came out. This is the sort of episode that fans of “elevated horror” might love, since there’s very little actual horror here. It’s much more concerned with the drama and grief of a couple who has lost a child. As these things go, it’s well done, but I when I see something like this, I can’t shake the notion that the filmmaker really just wanted to make an intense drama about losing a child, but couldn’t get any funding for it unless they included some horror elements. I dunno, this is another interesting failure that is well made and worthy of respect, but I bounced off of it (though I will note that I appreciated the ending, which was somewhat unexpected). **

So by my count, I’ve got three really great episodes, one solid entry, two interesting failures that are nonetheless thought provoking and well made, and two mild stinkers. As these things go, not a terrible batting average, and I really appreciated most of the talent they went after for the series (on both sides of the camera). Would definitely like to see another season of Cabinet of Curiosities!

Possession & Exorcism – 6WH

The power of Christ compelled me… to watch a bunch of exorcism movies this weekend. This is one of the more popular sub-genres since The Exorcist came out 50 years ago – there was an immediate glut of imitators after the release of that movie, but it’s remained a stalwart fallback over the decades. Today we’ll cover one of the first imitators, an exorcism-adjacent flick, and a more modern take. For the record, I also watched the new 50th anniversary 4K of The Exorcist (it looks fantastic!), which turned out to be a bad idea since it’s kinda the greatest, and everything else pales in comparison. Nevertheless, there was plenty of interesting stuff here and a few interesting (if wasted) ideas. Let’s get to it:

The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 3 – Possession & Exorcism

The Pope’s Exorcist – The Pope’s Chief Exorcist takes on the case of a young boy’s possession only to discover a deeper secret that the Vatican has been trying to cover up for centuries. Hijinks ensue.

The Pope's Exorcist and his tiny scooter

I’m a man of simple pleasures, and the only thing I really wanted out of this was Russel Crowe doing a silly accent and riding a tiny scooter, both of which are amply covered here. But they went the extra mile: we get Franco Nero as the pope, which is a plus, and once the movie started to retcon one of the more tragic eras of Catholic history, I was fully onboard.

It’s a reasonably well made movie, with a minimum of CGI nonsense (though what’s there is probably unnecessary) and solid set design. The cinematography flirts with the overly dark approach a lot of modern digital stuff engages in, but doesn’t go overboard with it. (I need to start counting how often I sigh during these modern exercises in muddy cinematography so that I can develop a good measure of this stuff – I think I only sighed once during The Pope’s Exorcist, which is pretty good).

Look, this isn’t a great movie or anything and plenty of components are sub-optimal, but I had a surprising amount of fun with it. For instance, Russel Crowe teams up with another priest throughout the movie, and I guess they’re sorta going for a Catholic buddy-cop dynamic, but they don’t have that oil-and-water tension that crackles in the best examples of this approach. Still, it works out fine. Similarly, the demon in charge of the possession seems to be more powerful and clever than most, and has clearly had success in earlier eras. How will they be able to defeat this formidable foe? I dunno, the same way they defeat other demons I guess. But it’s, you know, fine.

Another funny thing that would normally bother me is the implication that they’ve set up a franchise with the space for 199 sequels, but that just made me chuckle in appreciation. Even with my normal aversion to sequels, I would sign up to watch big ol’ Russel Crowe ride his tiny scooter to combat more exorcisms. Your mileage may vary, but I enjoyed this way more than I thought, and scooters get great gas mileage. ***

Audrey Rose – A strange man has stalked a family for a few weeks before finally revealing that he believes their daughter is the reincarnation of his own daughter, Audrey Rose. Naturally, they’re not very receptive to this idea, but their daughter suffers from terrible night terrors and the strange man is played by Anthony Hopkins, so he’s able to calm the daughter down with ease.

Audrey Rose

There’s a nugget of a great idea here. Certainly a lot to chew on, and the dynamic that’s set up here leads to plenty of dramatic tension. That being said, I feel like the execution is way, way off.

Reincarnation isn’t exactly the same thing as possession, but this movie does seem to take a lot of inspiration from The Exorcist. The biggest problem is that they never really manage to convince the audience that reincarnation might be real and relevant to this situation; they just sorta take it as an obvious given. The Exorcist does many things really well, but two things are especially relevant here: First, they comprehensively exhaust the more mundane medical explanations for what’s going on, and even the psychological ones. Everyone is incredibly skeptical that young Reagan is possessed, including the priests who end up performing the exorcism. Second, Reagan’s symptoms escalate almost to the point of absurdity, such that accepting that she’s possessed by a demon feels reasonable and pragmatic.

Audrey Rose gestures towards this approach, but everything feels rushed and incomplete. They go to the doctor and do one invasive test, and they mention consulting with a psychologist, but never really follow through on that. And the young girl’s night terrors don’t really escalate in any meaningful way. She just sleepwalks and asks for her daddy over and over again (she does get mesmerized by a fire at one point and nearly burns herself, but it’s not enough to be convincing). There’s some neat stuff about timing and other coincidental circumstances that warrant further investigation, but said investigation never really happens. And this isn’t the sort of thing that ends with ambiguity. You’re clearly supposed to think the young girl is obviously the reincarnation of Audrey Rose.

There’s a lot to like here, but by the time the movie ended, I was furious. At what was happening on screen (Why would the mother act this way!? Is that really the ending?!) and at the wasted potential of the story. It’s a great premise and there’s opportunities galore for an interesting exploration of the idea, but they stop short. The only thing that keeps this even minimally watchable is Anthony Hopkins’ performance, which isn’t his best or anything, but at least makes you think you should look into this whole reincarnation thing. There’s a whole courtroom drama aspect of the movie that could be mildly interesting, but which ends up being laughably implausible. I dunno, I’m actually glad I watched it, but I don’t particularly like it. **

Beyond the Door – A woman becomes pregnant with her third child and immediately begins to display signs of demonic possession. When the pregnancy (and associated possession) develops with surprising speed, a mysterious man approaches with… answers?

Beyond the Door

One of the first Exorcist knockoffs to be produced, it also sorta recalls the other seismic horror movie based on a popular novel that was released a few years earleir, Rosemary’s Baby. Those two novels and associated adaptations kicked off the horror boom of the 70s and 80s. Beyond the Door has a reputation as being one of the better ripoffs out there, and there’s certainly a lot going on here.

The film opens with a black screen and a voiceover from the devil himself, informing us that he plays an important role in the story, but that we won’t actually see him, because that’s gone out of fashion in our modern age. It’s the sort of thing a parody might do, but it’s played completely straight and walks the line perfectly. I was immediately onboard with the movie. After this, his voice shows up a couple more times throughout the movie, but never quite recaptures the magic of that first sequence, which is probably a good summary of the movie: it starts off bugnuts crazy and fun, but that novelty wears out quickly and subsequent attempts to up the crazy quotient have diminishing returns. It’s never quite dull, but it does wear you down and the ending, while also quite batshit, just sorta falls flat.

There’s plenty of funny elements here, many stolen shamelessly from The Exorcist. For instance, lots of pea soup. One of the kids is literally drinking out of a can of Campbell’s pea soup with a straw throughout the movie. The other carries around several copies of the same book which she reads over and over again. She swears like a sailor, but isn’t the one who gets possessed. Speaking of which, plenty of exorcist tropes: spinning heads, levitating cakes, gross goo, and of course, a funky jazz score that’s completely inappropriate to the setting. It’s an Italian production from the early seventies, so it’s got some great visual compositions, but it’s also dubbed, even though everyone is speaking English (I have an affinity for this sort of thing due to loving Giallos that do that, but it can be off-putting to some).

I guess there’s some thematic heft here, associating pregnancy with possession isn’t particularly subtle and I’m not sure it’s appropriate, but I guess it makes a certain sorta twisted sense. This is not strictly a good movie, but if you like psychedelic Italian genre sensibilities, you might get a kick out of it. **

These six weeks are just flying by, aren’t they? I’m undecided on next week’s theme, but it will probably be either Nunsploitation or Insidious sequels, tune in next week to find out…

50 from 50 – 6WH Edition

Worlds are colliding! Or rather, interests are being arranged in parallel. Earlier this year, I made a resolution to watch 50 movies from 50 different countries by the end of December (lots of caveats and rules for what qualifies, as enumerated in that introductory post.) I’m currently at 40 movies/countries and have covered 33 of them in previous posts. Naturally, since we are in the midst of the Six Weeks of Halloween, it makes sense that I would seek out a few movies that qualify for both subjects, hence this post. We’ll most likely cover a few more later in the 6WH (the horror genre seems to be popular choice for distribution to other countries, so there is certainly a lot of foreign horror to choose from), but here are three horror movies from three different countries. More 50 From 50: [Intro | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII]

The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 2.5 – 50 from 50

Thailand Shutter – A young photographer and his girlfriend start to notice mysterious shadows in his photographs. When it seems his friends are also being similarly haunted, the girlfriend begins to suspect there’s more going on than her beau is telling her.


This is a Thai film, but it’s clearly influenced by the J-horror boom of the late 90s and early aughts. Ringu seems particularly influential, with some similar visual motifs and concepts reappearing here. Shutter does seem a bit less refined, but it manages to instill an effective amount of dread throughout the film. There is a bit of an overreliance on jump scares and stingers. There are several well done examples throughout the movie, but the effect can’t help but diminish the more the technique is used. The cycle of tension and release is also a little hampered by some revelations as the film progresses. When you start learning distressing things about certain characters, it’s hard to feel as much tension (or, at least, the same type of tension) even if presented with a nominally well crafted buildup.

The revelations themselves aren’t that much of a surprise either, though it’s not exactly treated as a shocking twist so much as a confirmation of what you probably expected. Nevertheless, the subject matter provides lots of opportunity for spooky photographs and urban legends, and they put the premise through its paces well enough. Lots of great ghostly photos are shown, ranging from obvious fakes, to photographs that look creepy but have reasonable explanations, to things that are more mysterious and harder to pin down. The movie is at its best when it embraces the premise, and it makes very effective use of a polaroid camera (on multiple occasions). The ending is surprisingly fitting, if a little wonky (but I was willing to go with it for sure). Definitely worth seeking out if you enjoy J-horror and have exhausted the usual suspects. ***

VenezuelaThe House at the End of Time – A woman goes to prison for murdering her husband under mysterious circumstances (while her child remains missing). Jump forward a few decades, and the woman has been released to live in her old home under supervised custody. As old memories begin to flood her mind, she works with the local priest to unravel the mystery of what really happened that fateful night so long ago.

The House at the End of Time

While clearly aping the structure of a ghost story, this turns out to be much more of a drama with some unexpected emotional resonance than I initially thought. At first, it felt like this was one of those horror movies that was almost embarrassed by its genre trappings, but the third act holds some surprises. It’s still a little light on the scares, but it veers into science fiction territory (though not particularly rigorous, it does fit), and I ended up coming away from it surprisingly satisfied. There are parts of the first two acts that are a bit of a slog, but it comports itself well in the end. **1/2

GreeceEntwined – A city doctor moves to a rural town to provide for the underserved community. The people are not especially welcome, but the doctor does encounter a woman that lives in the woods and suffers from a strange skin condition. He decides a house call is in order, only to discover that she may also be suffering from an abusive relationship. And yet, all is not what it seems.


An interesting little arthouse flick with some folk horror flare that perhaps touches on Greek myth or some other cultural touchstones that I’m not very familiar with (this sort of thing has come up fairly often in this 50 from 50 project, always interesting, if sometimes impenetrable). Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of meat on the bone here. Visually well captured, with lots of appealing shots and compositions (and also some rather effective sound design) that emphasize the isolation and emotion of the situation. It’s the sort of thing that you might love if you’re the type who loves movies that rely heavily on “vibes”, but unfortunately, that can be hit or miss for me, and it’s more miss here than I’d like. I like a nice composition of trees in a forest as much as the next guy, and they’re really well done here, but there’s an awful lot of that sort of thing here…

There’s certainly some interesting stuff going on, if you’re so inclined to go down the rabbit hole, I just didn’t really find my way down there. **

Next up on the 6WH front: Exorcisms (and exorcism adjacent movies, I guess). If you’re still in the mood for reviews of spooky flicks, Zack has been posting up a storm over at Film Thoughts (as per usual, he’s got new reviews nearly every day!)

Werewolfery – 6WH

You might be tempted to think that I made up the word “Werewolfery” as a way to avoid the rather boring, normal title of “Werewolves” or somesuch, but then you’d be wrong, because one of the movies I watched this week used the term Werewolfery multiple times. Alright, fine, it’s maybe a two birds, one stone situation, but it at least has a basis in what I watched. Of course, the last time this theme showed up during the Six Weeks of Halloween (way back in 2008!), I referred to it as the Lycanthropic Edition, so there is that. Anywho, I caught up with three werewolf movies I hadn’t seen before this week. Werewolfery abound:

The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 2 – Werewolfery

Werewolf of London – A botanist seeking a rare flower in Tibet (or maybe just in Vasquez Rocks) is attacked by a strange animal. Upon the next full moon, he finds himself transforming into a bloodthirsty beast, but the rare flower may hold the transformation at bay…

Werewolf of London

This 1935 monster jam was Universal Studios first attempt at a Werewolf franchise, though it obviously didn’t stick. 1941’s The Wolf Man would be Universal’s much more successful film, which leads to some contrarian takes that the first attempt is better, though I think I come down squarely on team The Wolf Man. There’s certainly lots to like about Werewolf of London. The makeup is pretty neat, and the first transformation sequence, obscured by passing trees, is a clever bit of trick photography. Oh, and this is the origin of the term “Werewolfery” I mentioned above – they use it multiple times, and I couldn’t help but chuckle. The character of Dr. Yogami shows some promise, though it doesn’t really play out that way. A lot of the elements that make a good Universal monster jam are all there, but they’re just slightly… off.

Unfortunately, the protagonist of the film isn’t particularly likeable and is the film’s biggest detriment. To be sure, Henry Hull puts in a fine performance, but the character as conceived and written is a bit of a dullard. It’s particularly deficient when compared to Lon Chaney Jr.’s soulful and empathetic performance in The Wolf Man. Hull isn’t able to pull any sympathy whatsoever, and the picture suffers for it. The sympathetic monster is a key element of why Universal’s monsters work so well, but this movie barely even makes the attempt.

It’s a fascinating movie for those who enjoy tracing the evolution of Universal’s brand of monster movie. Alas, it doesn’t quite work and we don’t even get any perfectly coiffed werewolves drinkin’ a piña colada at Trader Vic’s, as you might expect from the song. Anyway, it’s interesting, but if you’re in the mood for a Universal monster movie about werewolves, The Wolf Man is your best bet. **1/2

The Beast Must Die – A wealthy big game hunter has invited eight guests for a weekend getaway at his lush country estate. Little do they know that their host suspects one of them is a werewolf, and he’s decked out the grounds in cameras and sensors so that he can hunt the biggest game of them all.

This late period Amicus picture is essentially a mashup of Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and the Werewolf party game. Indeed, the movie informs us early on that we’re going to be asked to guess which character is the werewolf towards the end of the film, and they even put a little clock on screen when the time comes, flashing suspicious shots of each character before the reveals start coming.

The Beast Must Die

It’s a neat little premise, though there are some things that fall down on execution. Most of the film seems to be on autopilot, just going through the motions in the leadup to a guessing game where the audience hasn’t really been provided much in the way of clues. At 93 minutes, it’s not a long movie, but it does feel padded at times (there’s an interminable car chase towards the beginning of the film that goes on far, far too long, for no real reason). Also, and this is a me thing, but our wealthy big game hunter is, perhaps, the worst hunter ever portrayed on screen. The man is just completely incompetent (the “eat the rich” crowd might get a kick out of this sort of thing, but I just find it boring), and that never really works for me.

Still, there are a few surprises here and there that keep things interesting, including the ending, which has a reveal that makes no sense at first, but for which there is an explanation before the ultimate reveal. Along the way, we do get a nice smattering of British character actors ranging from the always entertaining Peter Cushing, to a very young Michael Gambon, to Calvin Lockart, who I know best as King WIllie in that cinematic masterpiece Predator 2.

It’s a great premise, but it doesn’t really deliver much on its potential. It strikes me as the sort of thing that would actually be interesting to see updated and remade (there’s apparently a TV series of the same name, but it doesn’t appear to be a remake or even about werewolves). **

Silver Bullet – The small town of Tarker’s Mill is suffers a series of grisly murders each month during the full moon. A young boy in a wheelchair begins to suspect the murders are the doing of a werewolf, enlisting his sister and insane uncle in the hunt.

Silver Bullet

This is one of those bizarre 80s horror movies that suddenly makes more sense when you realize that it’s based on a Stephen King story. So many things that work well on the page come off as unintentionally hilarious on screen. Or, at least, baffling. Take our main character, a wheelchair bound young boy played by Corey Haim in the movie. His crazy uncle, played by an unhinged Gary Busey, designs a motorcycle powered wheelchair for the kid, and it’s exactly the sort of thing that could play in text, but not visually. It just seems kinda silly on screen. There’s a dozen things like this in the movie. At one point, the werewolf beats someone to death with a baseball bat, instead of, like, doing the usual werewolf shit. Just perplexing stuff.

All that said, the film does at least manage to capture some of King’s narrative drive, and the story progresses naturally with small revelations and events that pull you along (unlike the previous two films in this post). There’s also a decent cast with folks like Terry O’Quinn, Everett McGill, and Lawrence Tierney putting in solid supporting performances. There’s something undeniably corny about the movie, and it’s not strictly good, but there’s some charm to be had here. **1/2

Two weeks down, four to go. Stay tuned for some 50 from 50 action, and next weekend: Exorcism! Plus, much, much more…

Dark Castle – 6WH

Dark Castle Entertainment was formed in 1998 at the hands of Hollywood heavy hitters like super-producer Joel Silver, and (at the time) red-hot director Robert Zemeckis. The name is an obvious reference to B-movie maestro and theatrical gimmick expert William Castle, and indeed, the original goal of the studio was to remake Castle’s films. This strategy lasted a whole two films (which, believe it or not, is pretty good for a specialty studio like this) before the started branching out to other horror properties, and eventually, non-horror projects. I don’t usually think of that late 90s, early aughts time period as having a distinct aesthetic, but you know what: it does, and the two movies I watched recently are a pretty good encapsulation of the time period.

The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 1.5 – Dark Castle

Thir13en Ghosts – A man inherits his uncle Cyrus’s estate and, having fallen on hard times, decides to move his family into the peculiar glass house with mysterious Latin texts scrawled all over the surface. Surely there’s nothing evil about this house, right? Along for the ride are the man’s children, a lawyer, a ghost hunter and former employee of Cyrus, and a “ghost rights activist.” What could go wrong?

The only thing this movie really has going for it is the winning cast. F. Murray Abraham does his best to channel a villainous Vincent Price, to good effect. Tony Shalhoub also does decent work as the straight laced father and nephew of the nefarious Cyrus. Even Matthew Lillard and Shannon Elizabeth manage to elevate the movie a bit, as their roles play to their strengths (narrow as they may be).

Thir13en Ghosts

Unfortunately, the narrative is lazy and nearly nonsensical, and the filmmaking chops are abysmal. Lots of quick cuts and awkward flashes are annoying (that music video aesthetic common to the era, not inherently bad, yet deployed quite annoyingly here), but sometimes manage to hide shots that don’t match. The creature designs are all amped up to the twisted-xtreme™ – some of that works, but some of it just comes off as silly. The set design has some plusses, but the geography of the place is not very well established, and the glass walls aren’t very well deployed. There is one A+ gore gag that’s worth mentioning (the lawyer gets it), and funnily enough, it’s a gag that Ghost Ship will improve upon with its opening (see below).

It’s a bit of a shame, because the original 13 Ghosts is old fashioned and hokey enough to justify a remake, a sentiment I’m not used to expressing. In fact, enough time has probably passed that there’s probably some decent potential to do another remake right now, if you get the right filmmakers involved (and hey, apparently Dark Castle is still a going concern, pretty sure they’ll be able to get the rights). There are lots of common elements here (the ghost hunting uncle leaves his house to his nephew, the ghost glasses, the 12 ghosts with a mysterious 13th ghost to come, etc…) but almost nothing was improved in the remake. I suppose there’s a twist or two that pan out, but it’s not really worth it. *

Ghost Ship – A salvage crew discovers a cruise ship missing since 1962 and decides to lay a claim and tow it to port. Mysterious accidents plague the endeavor, trapping the crew aboard the cruise ship, which appears to be haunted by nefarious ghosts. Because of course it’s haunted.

The first Dark Castle picture to stray from the remake William Castle strategy, there are certainly plenty of “Ghost Ship” movies to pull tropes from here, and this does have the feel of something you’ve seen a million times before. It’s a pretty basic plot, to be sure, but it fares somewhat better than Thir13en Ghosts in that respect, even if it is still a bit lazy. It also has a winning cast, which helps. Gabriel Byrne is probably the biggest name, but you’ve also got Julianna Margulies and even Karl Urban pitching in along with a bevy of character actors you’ll recognize (mostly from TV, but still) and put in sturdy performances.

Ghost Ship

Not particularly well received by critics or audiences at the time, there does seem to be something of an effort to revive its reputation these days. This isn’t a particularly successful effort, as the movie isn’t very good, but the one thing that almost everyone can acknowledge is that the opening few minutes packs an astounding wallop. I won’t spoil it, but it’s the sort of thing you’ve seen before, only it’s done here on a much larger scale. I don’t think there’s anything quite like it, and it’s almost certainly worth watching those first few minutes for that alone. The rest of the movie doesn’t really live up to that sequence, but I had a little more fun with it than I expected.

I dunno, it would make a good double feature with Deep Rising (though that movie is significantly better). While not a Castle remake, it does have the feel of an updated 60s B-movie to it. It sags a little, especially in the second act, but it’s got a nice climactic twist, even if it could probably could have been pulled off better with another pass of the screenplay and a more cinematic director. Not great or anything, but I had a better time with it than Thir13en Ghosts and honestly, that opening sequence is something to behold. **

I’m actually surprised that I never did a full on William Castle theme week before, though he’s shown up (in, for example, a Vincent Price themed week). Might be worth noting for a future 6WH theme. Anywho, its been a pretty good mix for the first full week of the 6WH, stay tuned for some Werewolf movies coming this Sunday…

Six Weeks of Halloween 2023: Mexican Gothic

In Robert Aickman’s short story “Ringing the Changes,” a surreal crowd of townfolk parade through the streets chanting:

The living and the dead dance together.
Now’s the time. Now’s the place. Now’s the weather.

Page 76, Dark Entries by Robert Aikman

When I read that during last year’s Six Weeks of Halloween, something about it just struck me as wonderfully macabre, and a fitting slogan for the Six Weeks of Halloween as a concept. The seasons are changing, a chill is in the air, trees are shedding their leaves to crunch underfoot; soon folks will start breaking out the afghans and sweaters and adorning their household with all manner of mutilated gourds, decorative corpses, plastic spiders, styrofoam gravestones with cute, ironic captions, and of course, the (pumpkin) spice must flow. These and other nominally ghastly traditions can mean only one thing: It’s Halloween Season!

Around these parts, we celebrate that Hallowed E’en by watching a veritable plethora of horror movies (and we read some spooky books while we’re at it) for the six weeks leading up to the big day. Why six weeks? Well, it used to be two weeks better than the standard October marathons that a lot of folks do, but these days, it seems there’s been a bit of seasonal creep (literally!), so we’re just sorta conventional now.

It’s traditional to start the marathon off with something that’s at least somewhat more respectable than usual. Which is not to say that it won’t be schlocky fun, just that there will be some element to the theme that might hint towards something a little more classy than expected. Things like silent moviesforeign filmsarthouse flicksclassic anthologies, celebrated studios (and other celebrated studios), and the like. This year, with the help of the physical media peddlers at Vinegar Syndrome, we’ve lined up a trio of Mexican Gothic films from the Duke of Mexican Horror Cinema, Carlos Enrique Taboada.

In the English-speaking world, Taboada does not have much recognition, but he’s apparently quite popular in Mexico, and since the advent of DVD, some of his movies began garnering a following up here in the U.S. Part of his reputation stems from the fact that he didn’t focus on the absurdity of the horror stories that were popular at the time. There are no luchadores or monsters here, just the grand tradition of gothic horror. Here we have three of his better known efforts, and of course Vinegar Syndrome did an excellent job restoring them.

Week 1: Mexican Gothic – The Films of Carlos Enrique Taboada

Poison for the Fairies – Young Veronica is an orphan with a penchant for all things witchcraft. She befriends Flavia, a new student at school who is wealthy but lonely. Veronica manages to convince Flavia that she’s a real witch and begins to manipulate her new friend for her own ends. Hijinks ensue!

A cult favorite and probably Taboada’s best known film, it’s easy to see why as the film unfolds. It’s a bit of a slow burn, as Taboada takes his time establishing the two girls and how their doomed relationship slowly develops and becomes more and more coercive. A story that requires heavy use of child actors can sometimes be a bit of a double edged blade, and if the young actresses aren’t up to the challenge, the result can be excruciating, but that’s not the case here. The two young girls give a naturalistic and convincing performance, even as events start to escalate towards the end of the film. Stylistically, Taboada frames nearly every shot in a way that obscures the faces of adults. It’s not quite Peanuts’ style (you can hear them speak clearly), but the effect is the same: you’re thrust entirely into the young girls’ perspective and isolated from any potential steadying influence that adults might provide.

Poison for the Fairies

There’s some basic witchcraft window dressing on display, but it’s clear that Veronica is conning Flavia for the entire runtime. While there might not be anything supernatural going on, young Flavia believes there is, and Taboada treats us to some visual representations of such that are quite effective. Indeed, it’s probably the best looking film of the three I watched this weekend, with lots of great compositions and some stylistically adventurous shots.

I don’t want to spoil or oversell the ending, but what felt like a slow, grounded character piece takes some rather serious turns by the end, with tragic consequences. It really sold me on the film in a way that Taboada couldn’t quite replicate with the other two films I watched this weekend. ***

Blacker Than the Night – A woman inherits her aunt’s spooky house and moves in with her friends. The only condition of the inheritance: they must take care of the dead aunt’s beloved black cat, Bequer. Spoiler alert: they don’t care for Bequer very well and yes, hijinks ensue.

Another slow burn, this one really takes its time to get its engine revving, and that’s a flaw that might be hard to overcome. There’s some goofy stuff in the first hour that are almost laughable too. For instance, when we learn that they will only inherit the house on condition that they care for the black cat, and the women are packing and one of them has a pet canary, I literally laughed out loud. Obviously Bequer does what cats do to birdies like that, and three of the women take a bit of revenge on him, after which the spooky bumps in the night start to become more substantial, and (eventually) people start dying.

Blacker Than the Night

To its credit, this is a film that eschews shock tactics, gore, or stingers, instead relying on atmosphere and “what you don’t see” for its thrills, and Taboata employs some visually effective shots to bring it home. There’s a flashback sequence that’s shown in a vivid, exaggerated red color scheme that’s quite evocative. Unfortunately, it takes far, far too long for all this stuff to develop into something meaningful, and even then, I didn’t really care enough about the characters to be impacted as much as I should. I suppose there is something here about generational conflict between the two sets of women here. Made in 1975, the younger women were demonstrating a certain independence (ranging from fashions to careers to divorce, all featured prominently amongst the younger women) that the ghostly aunt (not to mention the creepy old housekeeper) never managed. In any case, the first death (not counting Bequer or the canary) happens more than an hour into the movie, and the ghostly revenge progresses rather conventionally from that point. I kept expecting some sort of twist or surprise, but the only real twist here was that Bequer’s death wasn’t the accident it was initially portrayed as (which, like, we already knew and could see coming from the opening minutes of the film).

Your mileage may vary. It’s tempting to fault movies for what you want them to be, rather than what they actually are, and I may be engaging in a bit of that here. There is a lot to like about this film, but I just fell off the bandwagon early on and when things heat up in the last 25 minutes, I never really got fully back on board. Great final shots though. **

Rapiña – Two impoverished lumberjacks discover the wreckage of a plane that has crashed at the top of the mountains and decide to steal the belongings for themselves, with predictable hijinks ensuing. Not exactly a “horror” movie, but an excellent take on the Gold Fever trope; a story as old as time. Or, at least, dating back to Greek myth and present through every period of human storytelling. Cinematically, this reminded me of movies like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Shallow Grave, and especially A Simple Plan.


Despite the common tropes and other prominent examples, this manages to carve out an identity of its own. It’s partly just the rural setting in Mexico, which provides ample desire for escape for our Gold-fever infected protagonist, who just wants to provide a better childhood for his expectant child. As with the previous two films in this post, this is also a slow burn, but it’s very well calibrated and there are natural stairsteps as our protagonist’s attempts to retain the treasure corrupt his soul and grow increasingly desperate and frenzied.

So it’s a common story and it progresses like you’d expect, but something about this just works much better than, say, the conventional parts of Blacker Than the Night. The ending isn’t exactly uplifting, but man, Taboada really knows how to end his films with great shots. ***

A great way to kick off the Six Weeks of Halloween for 2023, stay tuned for more: we’ve got some Dark Castle movies, a few werewolf pictures, the Insidious sequels, and a 6WH themed recap of 50 from 50 movies… Also, just a note when it comes to the physical media release here. Two of the above films are currently streaming on Shudder, but not really anywhere else, and the smaller physical media boutiques like Vinegar Syndrome tend to do limited runs. This is something that will come up again during this year’s marathon, but it bears repeating: if you see something from one of these places that interests you, you should buy it then. This goes double for special editions with fancy packaging like the VS set I’m referencing here has – they often show up on ebay at double the price, if not more.

50 From 50 – Part VII

Continuing my way through a resolution to watch 50 movies from 50 different countries this year (lots of caveats and rules for what qualifies, as enumerated in that introductory post.) I’m currently at 37 movies, which exactly on track, but I’ve only covered 28 on the blog. The gap will continue to narrow with this post and one of the remainder will be covered during the 6 Weeks of Halloween (which will, naturally, have at least 6 of its own entries). Alrighty, let’s get to it! More 50 From 50: [Intro | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI]

Iceland Arctic – Mads Mikkelsen plays a man stranded in the arctic wilderness. Resourceful and clever, he has settled into a routine of survival. Things change when a potential rescue is spoiled and time becomes a factor. This nearly dialogue-free film is basically an acting showcase for Mikkelsen and fortunately, he’s up to the challenge. He carries this movie on his back, and most of what’s communicated to the audience happens wordlessly. Just a few flickers of emotion in Mikkelsen’s face are enough to sell whatever’s happening.

Mads Mikkelsen in Arctic

Early on, inured by his routine, there’s not much to see but a calm demeanor and competent actions. But there’s a moment when it looks like he might be rescued by a helicopter… which then succumbs to the windy arctic weather and crashes. The sequence of emotions rolling across Mikkelsen’s face are a sight to behold. Shock, surprise, dashed hopes, and something that could be indecision but could just as easily be a calm, level-headed recognition of what he’ll need to do next.

This is writer/director Joe Penna’s debut film, and he shows a steady hand. It’s clear he knows how to use Mikkelsen, and he does an excellent job depicting the desolation of the arctic landscape. It’s a gorgeous film with well composed images and movements. Of course, the strengths of the film also point to the one potential weakness: we don’t really know anything about the characters. Penna relies on the universally relatable premise of being stranded in the wilderness, amongst other dangers, to make you care for the characters. This was certainly enough for me, and Mikkelsen’s performance adds enough heft, but your mileage may vary. (Note: I swear when I looked at this initially, the country was listed solely as Iceland – but now it also shows USA. I guess this is a bit of a cheat, but it was clearly made in Iceland, so I’m going to keep it on the list. Who knows, I might hit 51 films to make up for this, but I figured it was an interesting enough movie to recap.) Available on Netflix. ***

Malaysia Wira – After a stint in the Army, a man returns to his hometown and vows to take on the local gangster in order to protect his family. Naturally, the gangster runs an underground MMA tournament, and our hero is uniquely suited to compete. Basically a bog standard plot that’s a thinly veiled excuse to cram a bunch of action sequences into the runtime.

As these things go, this is rock solid stuff. The fight choreography recalls films like The Raid or The Night Comes for Us, but without the blood, guts, and gore. Depending on what you’re looking for, this could be a good thing, but I’d also say those two films are better than Wira. Still, the action is perfectly cromulent, the pacing is solid, and the villain works well enough. Hairul Azreen plays the lead and has the martial arts chops to sell it, and Yayan Ruhian (best known as Mad Dog from The Raid movies, but also has a prominent role in John Wick 3) is a great villainous henchman.

It’s not breaking new ground and there are better examples of this sort of thing, but it’s a reasonably well executed version of the story that’s well worth watching if this is your type of thing. **1/2

Turkey Lionman (aka The Sword and the Claw) – When a king is betrayed and murdered, his infant son is hidden in a forest whereupon he is discovered and raised by a pride of lions, thus imbuing him with beastly lion-based powers. As an adult, he learns of his heritage and vows to take on the new king. A potent blend of exploitation tropes ranging from baffling music cues to chaotic, trampoline-based action to the requisite awful dubbing.

The action choreography doesn’t exactly compare with traditional martial arts stuff, and it does have a truly off-kilter feel to it, but it also doesn’t exactly make any sense. The plot has a flavor of old folklore that I’m not familiar with at all (so who knows), but which seems to provide enough of a backbone to story and keep the pace moving quickly and efficiently through several familiar tropes. There are obvious creative and budgetary limitations on display here, but that just makes it more endearing. The homemade low-fi aesthetic is perfectly matched to the silly story played completely straight.


It’s certainly an odd movie from the start, but it doesn’t really get bonkers until the finale, when our hero gets his trademark metal lion claw glove thingies and takes on an army. Pure schlock, almost accidentally charming; certainly not for everyone, but I found it quite entertaining. Available on Tubi. **1/2

Ukraine Once Upon a Time in Ukraine – A chaotic imitation of Tarantino imitating a Samurai/Western mashup. The plot is kinda beside the point, but it involves a plot to sell Ukrainian slaves to the Japanese. A Ukranian/Japanese samurai seeks revenge, and runs across a Ukrainian peasant whose wife was enslaved. Along the way, we’ve got samurai swordfights, six-shooters, and some light anti-semitism.

Once Upon a Time in Ukraine

Again there’s some cultural references that are probably lost on me. For instance, the Ukrainian peasant is named Taras Shevchenko, a reference to a famous poet, writer, artist, and political figure of the same name. Pretty sure the historical figure didn’t fight with samurai swords though. Treating the serious topics as a popcorn flick is a bit of a stretch, and there’s some questionable stuff thrown out there, but it’s a tight 90 minutes and pretty well paced.

Despite budgetary constraints, it’s visually energetic and the effects actually look pretty good. As a surface-level imitation of Tarantino, it’s not bad visually. But the writing certainly falls far short of Tarantino. Plus, I feel like Tarantino has always been more patient than this is. That being said, it’s an interesting, entertaining little film that I’m glad I watched. Available on Amazon Prime. **1/2

Chile Mandrill – A drug lord murders a child’s parents, but the child escapes. He grows up to become an assassin hellbent on revenge. But when he finally finds the killer, he falls in love with the killer’s daughter and starts to have conflicting emotions. Or something. It’s a silly, melodramatic plot that isn’t anywhere near as cool as it wants to be. Some of the “witty” dialogue comes off as laughable at best, and the hammy references to a Bond like action hero (named here “John Colt”) are almost embarrassingly bad.

That being said, the protagonist is played by Marko Zaror, a Chilean martial artist who seemingly specializes in aerial spin kicks of some sort that are actually quite impressive. The action choreography is quick and fluid and I appreciate the clarity, though it does come off as perhaps a bit rehearsed (or contrived to allow for Zaror’s acrobatics). Zaror has actually shown up in John Wick: Chapter 4; it’s like the Wick folks are just scouring the glob for martial artists to pit against Wick. Anyway, this isn’t a particularly good film because of the plot and dialogue (and there’s far, far too much of that stuff), but the action redeems it a bit and makes it watchable (and you get some unintentional comedy with the plot, for what that’s worth).

Director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza has had several collaborations with Zaror that seem to have better reputations than this one and I probably should have sought them out rather than jumping on the first one I found. This would only be worth it for obsessives or completists, but I don’t hate that I watched it. The Amazon Prime version is badly distorted (something wrong with the aspect ratio), but it’s also available on Tubi, Pluto TV, and Plex. **

So I’ve now covered 33 films. A few of the remaining will have to wait until after the 6 Weeks of Halloween (which starts next week!) and I’m probably on track to finish off the 50 films in early December…

Weird Movie of the Week: Narco Shark

Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we got stuck in a porta potty. This time, we’ve got the greatest action movie never made: Narco Shark

Narco Shark Poster

In 1989, mexican direct to video superstar Ricky Valente was in line to write and direct NARCO SHARK, a wild and ambitious film about a Detective/Saxophonist who battles the Mexican Yakuza and a cocaine fueled Killer Shark while trying to save his marriage from falling apart and helping his awkwardly shy but sexually depraved brother in law learn some breakdancing moves.

Sadly, the film was never made… until now.

Of course, this is all just made up. The effort is the brainchild of Gerardo Preciado, a musician who made a name for himself by making music soundtracks to imaginary movies (notable examples include Terrore! and My Little Slasher). This is the first time his little hobby has expanded to include actually making the film in question. Inspired by the likes of low-budget 80s/90s trash like Miami Connection and Samurai Cop, Narco Shark is shaping up to be a rather odd little Sharksploitation/Mexploitation flick. In an interview with Fangoria, he speaks more about his inspirations:

As I do with the soundtracks, I become what the film asks me to become. I’m not trying to be a great director (there will be time for that in the next project), I have to become a director that needs things fast and cheap! Turns out that if you want to make your film look like the filmmakers had no budget and no time, the best way to get that is to make your film with no money and no time!

Even though it’s a “sharksploitation” film, there are a lot of other influences and inspirations, from ’90s Spanish cinema (Alex de La Iglesia’s Accion Mutante, Santiago Segura’s Torrente) to art-house cinema (I want to make the Twin Peaks of sharksploitation films!) and even some Italian dream logic (à la Fulci).

The latest update indicates that production is nearing completion, but who knows when it will really see the light of day. The trailer looks pretty silly (even as these things go) and I’m usually skeptical of people self-consciously aping bad filmmaking aesthetics, but I’ll probably watch this thing.

50 From 50 – Part VI

Continuing my way through a resolution to watch 50 movies from 50 different countries this year (lots of caveats and rules for what qualifies, as enumerated in that introductory post.) I’m currently at 33 movies, which exactly on track, but I’ve only covered 23 on the blog. We’ve been narrowing that gap and should be in good shape going into the 6 Weeks of Halloween (which will, no doubt, see at least 6 movies from previously unseen countries). Alrighty, let’s get to it! More 50 From 50: [Intro | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V]

NorwayNokas – This movie tells the story of “the greatest bank robbery in Norwegian history” and only that story. There are people in this movie, but the only real character is the bank robbery. From the outside, the way this movie is described makes it sound like the bank robbery scene from Heat stretched out to 90 minutes, but of course, that’s not what’s happening here. This is not a documentary, but the filmmakers employ cinéma vérité to an extreme level, almost like the world’s greatest reenactment. This makes for fascinating viewing, though the ultra-realism is nowhere near as bombastic or exciting as you might expect from descriptions (or general genre tropes).


The robbers had a decent plan and the pieces start to fall into place as events unfold onscreen (rather than through awkward exposition) in an almost real-time fashion. Not everything goes to plan, including, amusingly, the point of ingress at a stubbornly tough window. But other aspects of the plan are clever and effective. The realistic approach also takes advantage of a sorta fog-of-war effect, as viewers and characters alike don’t necessarily know what’s going on in all locations (or even the general layout of some areas). Indeed, there’s an air of mordant humor towards the end of the movie as oblivious pedestrians casually walk through the climactic gunfight as if nothing is happening.

Again, the vérité approach is effective and interesting, but there’s nothing thrilling or exciting about any of this (which is the point). I suppose there is a sort of tension created by the realism though, and it’s effective in a very specific way. A fascinating movie, but it’s not hard to see why it’s difficult to track down a copy (I had to source this through… methods.) If you’re of a certain mindset, this is worth the effort to track down a copy. ***

SwitzerlandMad Heidi – A strange updating of the famous Swiss novel Heidi, with the titular character being a little older and kicking way more ass. Billed as the first “Swissploitation” movie ever created, this has all the hallmarks of a self-conscious effort to be wacky and irreverent, to middling success. Taking a famous Swiss children’s story like Heidi and pitting her against fascists bent on world domination through cheese is a premise that has its charms, and if you are the type of person who can still enjoy cheese puns even after hearing 90 minutes of them, this is the movie for you.

This sort of crass production rides a few lines reasonably well, and if you’re a fan of (literal) cheesy puns, gory violence, and over-the-top performances, you’ll get a kick out of it, but it’s not exactly a new classic, and the self-conscious way in which this is all employed is noticeable and sometimes awkward. In any case, I actually managed to catch this one in the theater (in what turned out to be a Fathom events showing) and the pure luck involved in stumbling onto this meant I had to make the time to get to the one showing. I’m guessing this will be the only foreign film I’ll have the opportunity to see in the theater for this 50 from 50 resolution, and it was a fun time at the theater. (Available to rent in lots of places) **1/2

Bulgaria & KazakhstanBullets of Justice – This is probably the most batshit insane movie I will watch for 50 from 50, which is saying something after having just covered Mad Heidi. During World War III, Americans created hybrid humans/pigs in a project called “Army Bacon.” 25 years later, and these hybrid “Muzzles” have taken over the world and enslaved humanity. Naturally, our hero is part of the resistance, attempting to tear down the Muzzle empire. Or something. It’s all just an excuse of tasteless jokes, full frontal on both men and women, over-the-top gore, gross makeup, and lots of other nonsense. Again, this might be catnip for a very specific audience, and I had some fun with it, but it can’t quite keep momentum even during the blessedly short 76 minute runtime, and it ends with a bit of a copout (though it’s about as good as you could expect from a movie that’s aiming to be this trashy). Not without its charms, but its appeal is limited. Available on Tubi. **

NigeriaJuju Stories – An anthology film with three segments, all surrounding the nebulous concept of Juju magic. In Love Potion, a young woman uses the eponymous love potion to make a man fall in love with her, with no so great results. A concept we’ve all seen before and it’s a fine telling of the story, but it never really goes for the jugular and it doesn’t quite lean into the sense of irony the best love potion stories can invoke.

The second segment, titled Yam, is certainly the oddest and as a result, most memorable segment. It has something to do with young street urchins picking up money off the roadside… and turning into yams. Having discovered that someone turned into a yam, another person decides to cook and eat the yam, which is the obvious course of action. Naturally, he goes insane. Again, memorable, but probably quite divisive.

The third segment is called Suffer the Witch, and tells the story of a witch and her obsession with friendship and love and their cousin, jealousy. Again, nothing especially new here, but a reasonably well done telling of something you’ve probably seen before.

It’s clear the filmmakers love cinema, and make several cinematic references to filmmakers like Kubrick and Wong Kar Wai, but the script is heavy on exposition and could perhaps use another pass, and the budget is clearly too low to accomplish some of what they’re trying. With the exception of Yam’s unpredictable nature, the stories are pretty standard tellings of well trodden territory, but I enjoyed it well enough. Available on Amazon Prime. **

IranThis Is Not a Film – Jafar Panahi is one of the famous Iranian directors that film nerds praise to high heaven, and for whatever reason, I have never seen one of his films. This one always appealed to me though, as the story behind the film is the film. Panahi received a 6-year prison sentence and a 20-year ban from filmmaking and conducting interviews with foreign press due to his open support for the opposition party in Iran’s 2009 election. This non-film documents Panahi’s daily routine under house-arrest as he appeals his sentence. It was shot in secret by Panahi’s friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and smuggled into France on a USB stick concealed inside a cake for a last-minute submission to the Cannes film festival (and eventually made its way to other festivals and releases).

We often talk about artists bravely exploring taboo subjects or controversial topics, but the sort of staggering defiance on display in this non-film (a self-described effort) is quite rare. The presence of Panahi’s friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb cleverly exonerates Panahi from the Iranian government’s strictures, even if it’s clear that this film would not be made without Panahi’s direction.

The events of the film range from the mundane and presumably spontaneous (thrill to the sight of Panahi… eating breakfast! Talking on the phone! Watching DVDs!) to the more formal attempts to circumvent the rules, as when Panahi talks us through his most recent rejected screenplay, utilizing masking tape to establish the setting, and reading from the script to describe what’s going on. It’s a doomed effort from the start, but in trying to bring it to life, you get a real feel for Panahi’s restless frustration.

This is not a film

If the film sometimes bogs down into something superficially slow or boring, that’s actually not a problem because there’s so much to think about here, and the film puts you in the shoes of a stifled artist. This sort of suppression and censorship should be a clear warning to those who don’t appreciate our own country’s freedoms, but then, I suspect the people who most need to see this have not and/or will not. If you care about movies, indeed, if you care about artistic expression of any kind, you should watch This is Not a Film. Available on Kanopy. ***1/2

Only five films behind at this point, and I should be able to catch up in the next few weeks. Of course, by then, I will have watched a few more films, but it’ll all work out in the end. Stay tuned, we’ve got a lot of trashy genre fare coming in the next few recaps (which will take us through the 6 Weeks of Halloween)…