Author Archives: Alex Good

Predestination (2014)

*. Sometimes you just need to leave well enough alone. Robert Heinlein’s “All You Zombies” is a classic story, considered by many to be one of the finest imaginings of time-travel ever. Throw in a couple of great performances from Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook (the latter being a revelation to me) and this movie should have been set.
*. To some extent they were set, as Predestination is a very good movie if not a classic. But the add-ons don’t add anything. In fact, I think they’re more a distraction. The character of the Fizzle Bomber is wholly made up and, not surprisingly, it’s the one element that doesn’t fit. It just seems to have been thrown in to pad out the story and give the plot a motive force along the lines of 12 Monkeys.

*. This is too bad, as the premise is wonderfully realized and just needed a bit more moodiness from directors Michael and Peter Spierig to give it more depth. I was on board with the infinitely looping paradox idea and the two leads are, as I’ve said, perfect. Ethan Hawke’s persona of the confused intellectual finally seems at home and Snook is entirely believable as Leonardo DiCaprio not in drag. But it’s all presented in a way that’s perhaps too subtle for its own good. The meet creepy, for example, between the Unmarried Woman and Jane is underplayed to the point of my nearly missing it.
*. I understand wanting to do it this way. The nature of the story is meant to suggest if not a narrative trap then at least a certain amount of inevitability. Hence the title. But it’s hard to tell when the main character becomes aware of this cycle. How does s/he feel about all this? Angry? Resigned to living a kind of Groundhog Day existence? Can we even say that s/he grows or develops? I think that’s actually a fascinating question, but I don’t see where the Spierigs tried to follow up on it. They seem more interested in things like the retro décor of the space academy.
*. In short, it’s a movie I both really liked and felt frustrated by. What I wanted to see was a deeper exploration of the main idea. Things got a little too Hollywood though. Not enough for great box office, but enough to put a wrinkle in the timeline I couldn’t get straight.

The Cat and the Canary (1978)

*. There’s always a question when producing a new version of an old classic as to whether you want to bring it fully up-to-date or keep it in its original setting, with or without a dose of irony.
*. The Cat and the Canary started out as a play by John Willard in 1922. Since then it’s been filmed several times, beginning with Paul Leni’s 1927 silent version. This 1978 version is set in 1934, and the date helps give it more the air of an Agatha Christie mystery then I think the source originally had. This isn’t a surprise, since the success of recent Christie adaptations, like Death on the Nile, was apparently part of the film’s inspiration. This sort of thing was experiencing a bit of a renaissance, as evidenced not only with the Christie adaptations but such other Old Dark House mystery-comedies as Murder by Death, Clue, and House of the Long Shadows.
*. This was actually the fourth or fifth direct film adaptation of Willard’s play, but it hadn’t been done in forty years (the last version being the 1939 Bob Hope and Paulette Godard vehicle). I’m not sure what the aim was. It doesn’t try that hard for either laughs or thrills. The director, Radley Metzger, is a hard to pin down figure, known for adult-oriented/softcore erotic films while at the same time maintaining an art-house reputation. But there’s nothing sexy about this movie, despite all of the potential.
*. An interesting cast with nowhere to go. Still, it’s charming in its way, I think mainly because of the familiarity of the story. Plus it’s nice seeing some of the old faces. Edward Fox really takes the opportunity to ham it up. Wilfrid Hyde-White’s default setting was hammy, and he’s obviously enjoying himself. Olivia Hussey is funny as Honor Blackman’s wide-eyed gal pal.
*. Only a week after watching it, sitting down to write out the notes I’d made, I found I’d forgotten it almost completely. It’s that kind of movie. A bit like one of Christie’s less strenuous “entertainments,” and not really of its own time, or any other.

Scanners (1981)

*. There can’t be many directors whose work divides fans and critics so radically as that of David Cronenberg. I don’t mean over the question of whether he’s any good or not, but over the question of what constitutes the good Cronenberg and what’s not worth bothering with.
*. In putting my own cards on the table I’ll repeat a point I’ve made many times before, both in my book on Canadian fiction and several other places. Most artists have a period of about ten years where they do most of their major work. I find this is the same for film directors as it is for poets and novelists. It usually comes in the front part of their career. With that in mind, I would put Cronenberg’s most creative years, or big decade, as running from 1979’s The Brood to 1988’s Dead Ringers. In other words, I like the early Cronenberg. Some of his later work is interesting, but I never want to see Crash or Maps to the Stars again.
*. That said, these early films do have their drawbacks. They are cheap and show it. At times they approach “so bad they’re good territory.” But they really are good. In Scanners I get the sense that Cronenberg was actually trying to jam too many ideas into the frame, but I still find it fascinating even forty years later.
*. The so-bad-they’re-funny parts can be quickly addressed. Stephen Lack’s performance as Cameron Vale has been universally panned, and with cause. Lack is actually an interesting artist in what is his day job, but he’s terrible here. I couldn’t even buy him as an oddity.
*. Then there are the improbabilities in the plot. I could (just) get on board with the homeless derelict Vale being transformed into a corporate spy extraordinaire, but the business about his being able to mentally hack computers from a phone booth because the network is just like a human nervous system was a bridge too far. Not to mention the way his mental powers not only make the computers blow up but also down power lines and turn gas stations into fireballs. You have to laugh at all of that. But then, this was a time when people using computers wore lab coats.
*. All of this, however, somewhat constitutes the Cronenberg aesthetic. In his review of Scanners Roger Ebert says something that I find very perceptive in this regard: “We forgive low-budget films their limitations, assuming that their directors would reach farther with more money. But Scanners seems to indicate that what Cronenberg wants is enough money to make a better low-budget movie.”
*. Setting the production bar where he does, Cronenberg can be counted on to deliver entertaining fare that, while it may draw on various sources (Kim Newman cites the run of ’70s paranoid thrillers like The Parallax View and the psychic mumbo-jumbo of The Fury), always ends up feeling distinctive and unique.
*. Part of it has to do with his use of locations, or more precisely his way of turning everyday locations into uncanny spaces. Like a lecture hall, or even a food court at the mall. He has moments that make him seem like a discount Antonioni here, delivered with a garish genre inflection.

*. From the look of the film alone you could probably identify its auteur, but there are other fingerprints as well, including the familiar theme of medical science and technology run amok. All these scientists whose cures are worse than the disease. Or whose cures are the disease. The ephemerol kids are thalidomide babies, or LSD burn outs, so if you want there are those extra kinds of readings available. Political? Well, apparently Michael Ironside (Darryl Revok!) thought he was playing Che Guevara.
*. Apparently Cronenberg was writing a lot of the script on the fly, but because it was working out themes he was so thoroughly invested in this was something he could get away with.
*. It’s also to his credit here how he makes something out of what could very easily have been unintentionally hilarious: scenes of people making faces (grimacing, twitching, jerking their heads and having their eyes bulge) while supposedly engaged in psychic combat. There are really only the two big effects scenes where we actually see the kind of damage the scanners can do to a human body. The rest of it has to be mostly implied.
*. If Stephen Lack is a disappointment, Michael Ironside takes this movie over and makes it his own, even against Cronenberg’s visuals, Dick Smith’s special effects, and Howard Shore’s score. Just as he almost did, playing against Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone, in Total Recall. How did this guy not become an even bigger star? He doesn’t have to over-emote to just chew a script to pieces.
*. Hands up if you identified Dr. Paul Ruth as Patrick McGoohan. I don’t think I would have caught him without a credit in a hundred viewings. I’m sure it’s mostly the beard, but still.
*. I know people who think the world of this movie, and (probably more) who think it’s just terrible. It’s not my personal favourite, that might be The Brood, but it has a place among the other works of what I like to think of as Cronenberg’s major phase. Major in the sense of most imaginative and creative — ironically or not, the years where he was just starting out and had the least to work with.
*. There’s been a lot of talk about a remake and one can understand why. It seems so obvious that a better movie could be made out of such a premise. But at the same time any improvement, and maybe that should be in quotation marks, would mean making it into something else entirely. You can’t spend more money and make a better low-budget movie than this.

Color Out of Space (2019)

*. It’s an old story. H. P. Lovecraft’s 1927 story “The Colour Out of Space” is a classic that’s been filmed many times over the years. I’ve made notes on most of them: Die, Monster, Die! (1965), The Curse (1987), Colour from the Dark (2008), Die Farbe (2010), and Feed the Light (2014). And these, I should add, are only the more direct page-to-screen translations. Any story where a farmer finds a glowing meteorite out in his field that turns out to be something pretty awful derives from the same source. So add The Blob, and the Stephen King episode from Creepshow to the list.
*. Given that it’s an old story, told many times before, did we need this new version? Did we need Lovecraft, in director Richard Stanley’s words, to be dragged into the twenty-first century? Well, I think I needed it. Specifically, I needed to see some all-out practical gore and monster effects done in the manner of Carpenter’s The Thing just to remind me of what they looked like. I needed mutant alpacas. I also needed Nicolas Cage totally losing his shit, because let’s face it, there are few things as enjoyable in movies today as watching Nicolas Cage have a meltdown. It’s the whole reason to watch a movie like Mandy. I guess I also needed to see Tommy Chong again, just to know he’s still with us. And finally, if I can find one, I think I need a Miskatonic University t-shirt. Even though I never got accepted.
*. I didn’t know I needed all these things, and I’m thankful to Color Out of Space for them (though I don’t know if I’ll ever get that t-shirt). This movie was sort of like a horror enema I had to take after so many lousy new fright flicks.
*. Did I also miss Richard Stanley? To be honest, I’m not sure why such a cult has grown up around this guy. Was Hardware that auspicious a debut? Was Dust Devil that good? Was he treated that unfairly in getting canned from The Island of Dr. Moreau? I’m not denying he has talent, but I have to think that a lot of his legendary status is due to the fact that he hasn’t done much. Before this he hadn’t made a feature in over twenty years. That’s quite a while to be out of work.
*. Is this the best film version of Lovecraft’s story? I’d rate Die Farbe higher, but this is still a respectable effort. The visual texture, with all its lurid magenta light and transformed flora and fauna recalls Annihilation, as does the link between the alien force and cancer. Coincidence? I note in passing that in his review of Color Out of Space Robbie Collin says that Lovecraft’s story was “already semi-adapted by Alex Garland in Annihilation.” I don’t know if he was aware of the book by Jeff VanderMeer.
*. This film and The Grudge (2020). Two horror movies released within months of each other, both featuring a scene with a woman at a cutting board in the kitchen slicing her fingers off. Another coincidence?
*. I wasn’t as blown away by the effects as some reviewers. The light show didn’t seem all that special and I thought that after nearly forty years they should have been able to do monster effects at least as good as in The Thing. But I guess that movie really did set a standard that’s never since been equaled.
*. What I did like was the appearance of the house at night. Its lights make it look like a spaceship, which must have been intentional. I think it makes for a fitting incongruity. A bit of backwoods alien-ness before the alien(s) even arrive.
*. The script could have been tighter. Why bother with all the stuff about Lavinia being a witch? Tell me you didn’t roll your eyes when Benny decides he just has to go down the well to look for the dog, or when Ward and the cop have to go looking for Ezra in his cabin. These are moves straight out of the most idiotic of idiot plots.
*. On the plus side, however, I thought the destruction of the family was very well handled, particularly with the surprisingly bleak fate of the mother and her youngest son. A suitably sickly atmosphere is evoked in eldritch Portugal (where the film was shot). The last act drags a bit (they should have kept Cage’s character around), but overall it seemed well paced.
*. A critical success but a total bomb at the box office. Apparently Stanley had plans for doing a Lovecraft trilogy but I’m not sure he’ll be getting the chance. Which, in turn, will likely only make his reputation grow.
*. Still, I liked it. Cage’s performance actually outshines all of the effects, and if he’s basically doing a sort of parody of himself now that’s fine with me. Samuel L. Jackson has been doing the same thing for years and it works for him too. So maybe not the Lovecraft we deserve, but the one we need. I hope we get more.

ABCs of Death 2.5 (2016)

*. OK, the idea here is that instead of taking us through the alphabet from A to Z the producers sent out a cattle call for people to send in short (3-minute) films riffing on the letter M. They got over 500 entries and these are the top 26. So it’s not really ABCs of Death 3, but in most ways it is since the alphabet was only the loosest of structures, frivolously adhered to, in the first place.
*. On the other hand, the .5 gives you some indication that this is a collection of shorts that weren’t quite ready for prime time. These are the B-sides, the ones that didn’t make the final cut. At least that’s the way it was widely received, and I think on the evidence fairly.
*. Here’s the line-up.
*. Magnetic Tape: an ’80s flashback, with a video store clerk turning into a VHS Toxic Avenger who pulls a bunch of Mortal Kombat moves on some bad guys who want to take over his store. Loopy gore, and it gets things off to a decent start.
*. Maieusiophobia: bet that’s a word you didn’t know. It means fear of childbirth. Claymation body horror, but doesn’t have much to say, even with the twist ending.
*. Mailbox: just a gag, with the significance of the title only being revealed in the final shot. I know some people don’t like the way this ABCs leads off with the title of the piece, instead of using it at the end as a kind of punchline (as is done in The ABCs of Death and ABCs of Death 2). I see where this is coming from, but the story here plays the other way. You spend most of it wondering what the hell it has to do with a mailbox until the reveal at the end.
*. Make Believe: a couple of little girls discover a dying man in the forest and their fairy dust does nothing to improve his condition.
*. Malnutrition: ironic zombie vignette. At least it looks professionally done.
*. Manure: decent little sketch with a downtrodden farm boy building a shit golem. Actually one of the better entries.
*. Marauder: Mad Max on tricycles. But not as much fun as that may sound.
*. Mariachi: a death metal band lives up to its name when a Mexican trio crashes their show. Robert Rodriguez made a lot more out of just as little. This one’s not even interesting.
*. Marriage: some counselling employing Dr. Ragland’s psychoplasmics therapy comes to a messy end. Might have been interesting but it’s just too short to amount to much.
*. Martyr: I thought this one might actually have had a point to it, but I’m not sure what it was. There’s an obvious connection to various folk-horror motifs in the man being serially sacrificed so that the villagers may “live forever,” but we’re left hanging.
*. Matador: crude and predictable.
*. Meat: another take on the horror trope of “are you eating it, or is it eating you?” An interesting look, with bonus points for throwing in Beethoven’s Seventh (a piece of music that gets around). As with a lot of these vignettes though it seems incomplete.
*. Mermaid: just seemed like a dumb joke. Or fish story. And one that’s not well delivered.
*. Merry Christmas: Krampus is feeling depressed. Terrible.
*. Mess: a man who shits through his navel finally finds a lover who appreciates him for his special qualities, so he kills himself. Hm. Not well done.
*. Messiah: a human sacrifice goes awry. Another worthless one. About this time I was feeling ready to give up.
*. Mind Meld: a guy being controlled by another guy in the next room is forced to mutilate and kill himself. Just an excuse to show a collection of gore effects, which are nothing special.
*. Miracle: at last a good one. I guess the Miracle Box contains both dreams and nightmares. Creepy and effective.
*. Mobile: another simple gag playing on the disjunction between childhood innocence and evil (the theme of several episodes). Hardly worth bothering with.
*. Mom: another good-looking zombie short. Not all that engaging though, as it’s pretty clear where things are going.
*. Moonstruck: animation by way of paper cut-outs. Crude, but it looks interesting and works surprisingly well. One of the better entries.
*. Mormon Missionaries: a gag. The gag shorts are among the weakest here. Three minutes seems too long to wait for a lame punchline.
*. Mother: some decent CGI of a giant spider. But . . . is that all there is?
*. Muff: yet another gag, but this time I thought it worked. Well done and grimly obscene in a way that’s more typical of the shorts in the other ABCs movies.
*. Munging: according to the Urban Dictionary, which is one’s only recourse in such situations, “munging” refers to going down on a corpse while one’s (living) partner pushes on the corpse’s abdomen, expelling embalming fluid (among other things) into the necrophiliac’s mouth and face. The film here is a very literal depiction of this. Gross-out humour. Or if not humour, just gross.
*. Mutant: might as well end with another take on the apocalypse, this one brought about by bat-like alien creatures that burst out of people’s faces. Silly and chaotic.
*. In sum, it’s not as good as the first two, at least as far as I remember them, and that wasn’t a high bar to clear. A few decent entries (my favourites would be Manure, Miracle, and Moonstruck) with the rest displaying very little in the way of thought, or art. At best a diversion.

The Land Unknown (1957)

*. Apparently there really had been reports of a warm body of water found in Antarctica, which gives this film its jumping-off point. A group of researchers, and one lady journalist for the Oceanic Press (OP), head south to investigate. Their helicopter is hit by a Pterosaur and they descend into a volcanic cavern where dinosaurs still roam.
*. If it sounds like The Lost World, or even King Kong, don’t think that’s a coincidence. This is a genre with a history, one which runs up to the present day.
*. As with most such creature features the plot is just an excuse for Clifford Stine to do his thing and show us a bunch of monsters. Real lizards are enlarged by way of process shots with tiny people in the foreground. There is also a model water beast (or Elasmosaurus) and a guy walking around in a rubber suit playing a Tyrannosaurus. Yes, I looked up the names of all these beasts. Best of all, however, is a giant carnivorous plant that is always just about to grab Shirley Patterson.
*. Jack Arnold was originally slated to direct and it was going to be in colour with a decent budget. But there was a change of plans and it became a B-picture, or sub-B even, with Virgil W. Vogel at the helm.
*. There’s nothing much to say. I don’t think it even has any historical or cultural interest or significance. It’s the kind of thing I enjoyed when I was 8 years old, along with the Godzilla movies and other stuff the local networks ran on weekend afternoons.

Trollhunter (2010)

*. The Internet has played havoc with orthography, most notably with its habit for jamming words into compounds. A result, originally, of web addresses being “all one word.” This has led to knock-on effects in other media. So, for example, is the title of this movie Trollhunter, TrollHunter, Troll Hunter, or The Troll Hunter? I believe it was released in English-language markets under all four.
*. That’s an aside. As for the movie itself, it’s a basic shaky-cam horror/mockumentary that has a trio of Norwegian students following Hans (the Troll Hunter) around as he does his thing. Along the way Hans lets us in on lots of troll mythology, or natural science since trolls are real.
*. On the continuum from horror to comedy the needle here is pointing to the funny side. It’s hard to take the trolls that seriously, what with their giant noses and general sense of being shaggy toys that have wandered off the set of Sesame Street. There’s nothing really scary about them either. Even when trapped in a troll cave the greatest risk the crew run is being farted to death. Apparently trolls really stink even at the best of times.
*. In the one scene where someone is killed it hardly even registers. What was the cameraman’s name? In any event, he’s soon replaced, like one of the drummers for Spinal Tap. If anything I felt a bit sorry for the trolls by the end. Do you want to be on the side of a guy who hunts an endangered species for a living, as part of a super-secretive government agency (the TSS, or Troll Security Service)?
*. I’m not just being facetious here. As I say, this is mostly meant as a mockumentary and the bottom line is that it just isn’t funny enough. Maybe something was being lost in translation, but I didn’t think any of the jokes were working. The trolls farting in the cave? Not really. And why did Hans rig his vehicle out as a Deathmobile when the armour and spikes never have any role to play?
*. So without any scares and very few laughs I spent most of my time just gazing at the beautiful scenery. Which is also what I did while watching The Wave. As I said in my notes on that film, I really should visit Norway some day.
*. Still, I guess it’s a decent little movie. There was talk of a Hollywood remake but I don’t think there was enough here for them to bother. Writer-director André Øvredal would go on to do The Autopsy of Jane Doe, which was also pretty good but not a breakout. It feels like there’s something there though.

You Were Never Really Here (2017)

*. I’d read the Jonathan Ames novella You Were Never Really Here and so was looking forward to this one, especially given its critical reception. However, perhaps it’s because I had read the source material that I came away disappointed.
*. I liked the book, and director Lynne Ramsay starts off being faithful to its spare story of a depressed special operative. Ex-marine, ex-FBI, “Joe” is a violence machine whose specialty is retrieving girls who have been kidnapped and forced into prostitution. While I’m sure this sometimes happens, that there would be enough such work for Joe to support himself doing these kinds of jobs I took to be a bit of fantasy. I didn’t get the sense that Ames meant us to take it all too seriously, what with the stale business about the senator’s daughter and the infiltration of the big house at the end playing like a modern-day Chandler scenario.
*. What Ramsay does is make the story even sillier or more fantasy-like while at the same time taking it more seriously. Though I have to qualify that final judgment a bit. When Joe holds hands with the dying gangster and sings along with him on the floor (something not in the book) I’m sure it’s a joke. But the rest of it?
*. To take the most obvious difference, and one that relates to this question of how to read the movie, let’s look at the end. At the end of the book Votto is revealed to have sold his own daughter (named Lisa) out to the sadistic mob boss Novelli. Joe kills Votto, and is off to hunt down Novelli and Lisa at the end.
*. The movie throws this all to the wind in order to give us an absurd happy ending. Nina (the Lisa character) is now empowered, and kills her abductor herself by slitting his throat. Her father, meanwhile, is less culpable and kills himself. Joe arrives at the big house (the governor’s mansion now), but he no longer has anything to do so he just tears his shirt off and cries a bit before leaving with Nina.

*. You’ll recognize the resemblance to Taxi Driver, with the damaged anti-hero rescuing a waif from the clutches of prostitution. As announced in a pull quote stuck on the DVD box cover, this is “the Taxi Driver for a new century.” I wonder what century that would be. In Taxi Driver there’s no suggestion even for a minute that Travis and Iris are going to ride off together into the sunset. Does the dialogue and music at the end of this film indicate an ironic reading? Sure. But the fact remains that Joe rescues the girl (child model Ekaterina Samsonov) and they’re a couple now, an ending that forty years earlier would have been laughed at as ridiculous. Maybe you can get away with a thinly-disguised pedo-fantasy plot like this in France (think Léon: The Professional, and the standing ovation that this movie got at Cannes), or in a generic movie like The Equalizer (where I made the same observation with regard to the Taxi Driver resemblance), but not here.
*. And yet despite this sentimental transformation of an old story, You Were Never Really Here was praised for its gritty realism and toughness. I’m lost as to where this is coming from. I’ve nothing against Ramsay’s sense of style, but the choppy editing and discordant music (courtesy of the overrated Johnny Greenwood) don’t contribute to a vision of New York City that’s any grittier than that of Scorsese or Cassavetes. Indeed, it’s much less so. And the action sequences are presented as self-conscious set pieces, like the assault on the brothel done through security camera footage (which isn’t as clever as I think it wants us to think it is). You just feel scenes like this are meant to be admired without feeling their physicality.

*. Meanwhile, the border between reality and fantasy is always threatening to dissolve, as when Joe dumps his mother’s body in the lake. It’s very lyrically rendered, and when he goes underwater with her it isn’t at all realistic. Nor is it meant to be. We’ve gone over into fantasyland (where can that single column of light be coming from?). In the book, by the way, he chucks her body off the Palisades into the Hudson (“It was the most beautiful funeral he could think to give her.”).
*. That difference between book and movie — the latter being a sanitized version of the former — is an old one. Mad Magazine parodied it back in the 1970s (a source I’ve had occasion to mention before). More recently, however, the gap has been closing. That it is made wider in this movie is something I have a hard time explaining.
*. Perhaps Ramsay was just a little too much in love with her movie precedents for this story. She saw Taxi Driver in it, so she made it more like Taxi Driver. She introduces a bunch of stuff between Joe and his mother that invokes Psycho (“Mother! Look at what you did to the bathroom!”) but for no good reason that I can see. Such joking seems out of character for Joe.
*. Years ago the critic Leslie Halliwell complained of the arrogance of Stanley Kubrick in leaving any explanation of where the title of A Clockwork Orange came from out of his adaptation of the novel. Ramsay is guilty on the same count here. In the book the words “You were never really here” are spoken by an inner voice, or it might be Death, and addressed to Joe, mocking the emptiness of his existence. He could kill himself but so what? He’s hardly alive as it is anyway.
*. Admittedly, it would have been hard to work an explanation of this into the script. But not impossible. Perhaps it might have been something his mother would say to Joe, or that he would imagine her saying to him. As it is, Joaquin Phoenix is good here (though looking terrible as a fat guy), but his personal demons are so generic (childhood abuse, workplace trauma) that it’s hard to feel all that connected to him. Add in the generic nature of the plot and you have a story that basically only exists as an exercise in style. This it has, but not enough to make me think it was anything special.

Death Laid an Egg (1968)

*. I like it. But is it giallo?
*. That’s the first label that critics have reached for, and it’s an obvious enough fit. From someone — is it a killer? — putting on some black gloves in the opening montage, to the strange style notes of zooms and fast cuts, the convoluted plot involving perverse psychological hang-ups, and even the weirdness of the title itself. We’re breathing the heady atmosphere of yellow trash here, all of it pushed to the limit.
*. But pushed too far? Take the title (in Italian: La morte ha fatto l’uovo). That’s not just weird on the order of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Don’t Torture a Duckling, The Black Belly of the Tarantula, or Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye, but laughable. Surely it indicates that what’s to come is meant as a joke. Then there’s the score by Bruno Maderna. How to describe it? Psychedelic? And I already mentioned the camera tricks, which are so overworked they become ridiculous.
*. After that opening montage we’re whisked away to what looks to be a fashion shoot with the three leads. Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is taking pictures of his beautiful wife Anna (Gina Lollabrigida) and Anna’s cousin Gabri (Ewa Aulin). But while it seems like a fashion shoot, it’s taking place inside a high-tech chicken farm. Anna even holds up a plucked chicken at one point. What the hell is going on? Is it part of an advertising campaign? For chickens? Eggs? Clothing?
*. It’s tempting to call it a giallo parody, though in 1968 that would be pretty early. But I’m sure some kind of satire is what was intended. “Satire” is a word that has etymological roots relating to a stew, and that’s the overall sense I had of Death Laid an Egg. It just skips along, tossing little bits and pieces of everything into the pot. It’s sexy, with girls in lingerie and bikinis (bras and panties, Gabri explains to Anna, are just as important as what’s underneath). It jumps from place to place without any apparent logic (where does that corn field come from?). There are strange story elements that don’t seem to have any function, like the breeding of the Frankenchickens or the displaced workers.
*. What it’s not, however, is gory or suspenseful. Which is why I hesitated at calling it giallo. In fact, the mystery here turns out to be quite pedestrian, neither interesting nor unexpected and with a crudely introduced visual clue. What director Giulio Questi seems more interested in is some kind of social commentary, whether with regard to the impact of technology on farming or about the loose morals in the upper-class party with its strange romance room. This latter makes us feel like we’re entering Buñuel territory, the Italian bourgeoisie being puppets to their perversities. Though Marco’s fetish, once it gets explained, seems kind of humdrum.
*. Well, like I said, I enjoyed it most of the way through. The ending has a cute little twist but overall the final act is a letdown. It’s a spirited good time for fans of the bizarre that avoids, just, slipping into total chaos.

Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (1990)

*. I don’t imagine there are a lot of people who miss, or for that matter even remember, the low-budget, free-wheeling horror comedies that played alongside all the slasher, dead-teenager flicks in the 1980s and ’90s. Though I suppose titles like Saturday the 14th (1981) and The Silence of the Hams (1994) were about as lasting in their own day as the Scary Movie franchise entries. And, like the Scary Movie movies, they mainly worked by sending up what had become horror clichés. But parody has a short shelf life, entangled as it is with the notoriety of whatever inspired it.
*. Which brings us to Prom Night III: The Last Kiss, another movie I think few people miss or remember or even were aware of at the time. It’s a bit different than the usual horror parody though in having its own story to tell, which does follow, loosely if more-or-less directly, from the end of Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II. It’s both part of the Prom Night franchise and a parody of the same.
*. I had very mixed feelings watching this one. This may in part be because I watched half of it before giving up, then went back and watched the rest of it months later. I started out not thinking much of it at all — aside from the terrific opening, which has Mary Lou Maloney (Courtney Taylor) doing some lingerie line-dancing in hell before cutting through her ankle shackles with a nail file — but when I finished watching it I wound up liking it, just a bit. Maybe I was in a better mood. Or at least a different mood. You really have to be in the right mood to enjoy a movie like this.
*. Taking a step back and trying to be fair minded, it’s an enjoyably creative romp. With little in the way of resources they have to make do with imagination. After Mary Lou slips her chains in hell she returns to Hamilton High and hooks up with a Ferris Bueller type named Alex (Tim Conlon), for whom she can do certain favours. Alex already has a girlfriend, Sarah (Cynthia Preston), and basically the movie comes down to these two having to fight it out over who’s going to get their man. As Mary Lou says, it’s not who you take to the prom, it’s who you go home with.
*. The kills aren’t particularly well done, but at least they’re different. A janitor is electrocuted by a jukebox. Canadian boxing legend (this was a Canadian production) George Chuvalo is stabbed to death with ice cream cones. A guidance counselor is dissolved in battery acid. A jock is speared by a football that turns into a drill. It’s all good. And the final vision of a demonic Hamilton High when Alex and Sarah go down the rabbit hole is actually pretty neat.
*. I’ve often thought that a real sign of a director’s ability is how easy they can make something difficult look, so that a display of real skill may not even be noticed. (This is something, by the way, that holds true across the arts in general.) With that said, here’s a bit from director Ron Oliver as quoted in Caelum Vatnsdal’s They Came from Within, when asked about a shot that takes us across an auditorium to a close-up of the principal cutting his own finger off: “All in one shot . . . It was my Dario Argento homage because I wanted the audience to be shocked by it — no cutaways, nothing. It just happens. But nobody ever mentioned it! Kinda makes a director feel like a putz for even bothering!”
*. I’ll confess I didn’t catch the homage to Argento either. So a belated hats off. Oliver didn’t need to make the effort of doing that in one shot, but he did anyway.
*. I began by talking about how few, if any, of these horror comedies from the period have lasted. Prom Night III has disappeared into near oblivion along with most of its peers, but I think judged alongside them it’s a bit above average. With more money it might even have been ahead of its time. I’d certainly rather watch it again than the awful 2008 franchise reset.