Blu-ray Review - C.H.O.M.P.S.


There was something about the 1970s and movies interested in exploring the canine experience. Dogs were involved in robbing banks, saving families, and, apparently, becoming high-tech robots meant to dominate the home security industry. 1979's "C.H.O.M.P.S." endeavors to take the cute and cuddly ways of a pet and turn it into a slapstick comedy with some action beats. It's one of the few ventures into live-action filmmaking from animation titans Hanna-Barbera (coming off their work on "Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park"), who retain their cartoon instincts for the feature, which is directly aimed at 5-year-olds in need of aggressive music cues and broad antics to understand the entertainment value of the picture. "C.H.O.M.P.S." isn't made for adults, but it's not exactly a shining example of family entertainment, as the simplistic screenplay and unrelenting goofiness of the supporting cast wears thin in a hurry, even for the target demographic. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Beware! Children at Play


1989's "Beware! Children at Play" isn't a well-known film, but those aware of it tend to have mixed feelings about the endeavor. Writer Fred Scharkey and director Mik Cribben attempt to create their own "Children of the Corn" experience with the feature, wading into Stephen King waters with their take on cult horrors involving ruined kids and the adults trying to make sense of madness. Viewers aren't treated to a polished understanding of taboo villainy, with Cribben acquiring a small budget for the effort, trying to win over genre fans with moments of body-blasting gore and a finale that's all about violence toward children. Naturally, this all ties into "Beowulf," right? Well, according to Scharkey, it does, working to give "Beware! Children at Play" some distinction beyond its vision for slaughtering little ones. This is a supremely weird picture, and one that visibly struggles to fill its run time. However, for some, the journey to its splatter conclusion might be worth enduring extreme dramatic flatness to get there. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Alligator II: The Mutation


1980's "Alligator" was a minor hit in theaters, but it managed to attract significant viewership when it made its television debut, bringing the strange ways of a "Jaws" riff to a home audience. "Alligator" was no major dramatic or technical achievement, but it was decent, which is no small feat, offering competent actors, smart writing, and careful editing to conjure a horror story that managed to do something interesting with the ridiculousness of a monster alligator on the loose in the big city. Producer Brandon Chase, perhaps not aware of the whole "strike while the iron is hot" theory, waits an astonishing 11 years to resurrect the brand name, hoping to tap into a similar sense of low-budget thrills with 1991's "Alligator II: The Mutation." Unfortunately, the creative team from the original film are long gone, replaced with less interesting moviemakers who try to craft what's essentially a remake, moving the action to Los Angeles without any noticeable upgrades in thespian talent or alligator puppetry. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Drop Dead Fred


I saw "Drop Dead Fred" in 1991, and I didn't care for it. I revisited the feature in 2011 for an anniversary piece, and I didn't care for it. However, over the last decade, the film has evolved from a forgettable, incorrectly marketed comedy into something that means quite a bit to certain viewers. "Drop Dead Fred" has become a cult favorite, though not for its sense of humor, instead managing to reach people who view the endeavor as a subversive study of psychology, using wacky jokes and manic spirit to provide a thin layer of merriment over a profoundly dark tale of mental illness. It's definitely one way to read the picture, as bits and pieces of such analysis are present in the final cut. It's the rest of the effort that's remains abrasive and unfunny, with the production betting big on co-star Rik Mayall's big screen appeal, which is mostly missing from the endeavor. Third time should be the charm, but I still don't care for it. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Bilitis


David Hamilton was a famous British photographer who loved to take pictures of young girls in various stages of undress. He was a controversial figure, inspiring intense debates about the definition of pornography. Eventually, he made his way into the director's chair, bringing his love of underage pursuits to the big screen in 1977's "Bilitis," which offers a coming-of-age story about an adolescent girl trying to understand her sexuality. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hamilton isn't a decent storyteller (working with a script co-written by fellow provocateur, Catherine Breillat), using the moment to…well, photograph young girls in various states of undress. He certainly has his fetish, and crafts a movie that makes one feel as though they're on some type of watch list when it's over. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Tragedy Girls


There's going to be a generational divide when it comes to the audience for "Tragedy Girls." There will be those who understand, possibly even relate to the modern depiction of teenagedom, which is showcased here as a marathon of social media anxiety, bullying, and insincerity. Older audiences will likely spend the viewing experience being grateful they are no longer adolescents, forced to compete in a ferociously connected world. Thankfully, "Tragedy Girls" isn't a documentary, but a horror comedy, offering satiric touches and exaggerated performances to help viewers ease into the challenges of juvenile life, which, for this endeavor, include murder. Co-writer/director Tyler MacIntyre pulls off a bit of a miracle here, finding ways to connect to unpleasant characters, while the rest of the movie speeds ahead with macabre twists and turns, and shares a love for bloody mischief. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Dracula Sucks


I'm sure if author Bram Stoker was made aware of what the future held for his 1897 novel, "Dracula," he would be delighted. There have been movies, T.V. shows, comic books, video games, and entire state fair midway rides devoted to his creation, keeping the brand name going for over a century of horror escapism. Perhaps less appealing to Stoker would be the creation of 1979's "Dracula Sucks," the adult film industry's take on the novel, which transports the gothic, nightmarish tale from Transylvania to the dry, sunny surroundings of rural California, adding bits of comedy and blindfolded editing to summon another take on Stoker's vision of terror and seduction. Read the rest at

Film Review - Firestarter (2022)


Stephen King’s “Firestarter” was originally published in 1980, quickly inspiring a film adaptation in 1984, where Drew Barrymore, fresh off her turn in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” played the eponymous pyrokinetic. The feature attempted to be faithful to King’s material, and it resulted in a somewhat sluggish attempt to merge fantasy horror elements with various relationship dramas. It didn’t quite work, but it certainly had a clear idea of what it wanted to be. The 2022 remake doesn’t possess such confidence, barely paying attention to King’s plotting as writer Scott Teems (“Halloween Kills”) makes up his own tale of mental warfare, working to condense the original book in ways that basically eliminates characterization and suspense. The new “Firestarter” is a real head-scratcher at times, fumbling with ideas and conflicts, well aware that most viewers sitting down to watch it probably have no idea the 1984 effort (or the book) even exists. Read the rest at

Film Review - Senior Year


2019 was a busy year for comedian Rebel Wilson, who appeared in four movies intended to send her career soaring. It didn’t quite work out that way (one of the offerings was “Cats,” which didn’t make magic for anyone involved in the production), and Wilson soon disappeared, taking the next three years off from filmmaking. She’s back with “Senior Year,” which is built to play to her sellable strengths of improvisation, dancing, and goofball antics, remaining in line with pretty much every picture she’s made during her career. Unsurprisingly, “Senior Year” is sincerely lacking a developed sense of humor, with the screenplay trafficking in millennium nostalgia and R-rated raunchiness, occasionally stopping the effort to deal with tender feelings. It all feels very programmed and unimaginative, and it keeps Wilson front and center, with producers once again asking her to carry a feature without thinking things through, and she barely puts in an effort to do anything different here. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Innocents


Writer/director Eskil Vogt (who previously collaborated on efforts such as “The Worst Person in the World” and “Thelma”) looks to update the “Bad Seed” formula with “The Innocents.” It’s a story about four children who each deal with certain mental powers, giving them the thrill of discovery and the challenge of self-control. There’s a certain graphic novel atmosphere to the endeavor, which largely remains a silent study of behavior and choices, occasionally dipping into some pitch-black events involving sudden violence. Vogt remains in observational mode with “The Innocents,” which gives it tremendous cinematic power, forcing viewers to process the strange magic and antagonism that emerges from these young characters, which provides some of the finest suspense sequences of the film year. Read the rest at

Film Review - Operation Mincemeat


“Operation Mincemeat” is based on a book by Ben Macintyre, who explored the story of a secret World War II mission to provide a “deception plan” used to help the Allies invade Sicily in 1943. It’s an extraordinary tale of teamwork and talent, and there’s a special addition to this slice of wartime history, with author Ian Fleming part of the planning, using his military knowledge to help inform the eventual creation of his most famous character, James Bond. The saga of Operation Mincemeat has been explored in previous productions (including 1956’s “The Man Who Never Was”), but screenwriter Michelle Ashford (“The Pacific”) brings a more immediate sense of suspense to the endeavor, working with the strange details of the mission and the inner lives of the players in the game, while director John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”) brings a tight pace to most of the effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pleasure


Co-writer/director Ninja Thyberg originally shot “Pleasure” as a short film in 2013, helping to attract attention to her burgeoning career with a look at the technical ways and psychological damage of the adult film industry. Returning to the material, Thyberg looks to expand the experience for the lead character, depicted here as a young Swedish woman hoping to break into the business doing whatever she can to score gigs. Thyberg increases the run time and ups the graphic content, but there’s little dramatic expansion for “Pleasure,” which plays with a certain bluntness, but any emotionality is difficult to find. The troubling details of life in X-rated entertainment is what holds attention here, as Thyberg doesn’t have much in the way of characterization, presenting a simplistic take on the deadening arc of a pornography participant. Read the rest at

Film Review - Monstrous


Director Chris Sivertson is best known as the helmer of 2007’s “I Know Who Killed Me.” It was a financial and critical disaster, but established Sivertson’s love of genre entertainment that deals with the violence of psychological pain and unresolved personal issues. He returns to the realm of brain-bleeders with “Monstrous,” which is being sold as a creature feature detailing one woman’s struggle against a mysterious monster from a nearby pond. The screenplay by Carol Chrest uses horror as a way to grab audience interest, but the film explores different areas of mental health and domestic unrest, helping to create an unsteady tonality where the first half of the picture wants to frighten viewers, while the rest of the endeavor hopes to make them cry. “Monstrous” isn’t a mess, just ill-conceived, and Sivertson (joined by a whopping 38 producers) isn’t a strong enough storyteller to generate a compelling understanding of a prolonged emotional breakdown. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy


Canadian sketch comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall found their way to producer Lorne Michaels in the late 1980s, with the "Saturday Night Live" honcho helping to bring the sharp talents of Scott Thompson, Mark McKinney, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, and Dave Foley to a different kind of late-night program. The Kids in the Hall offered a strange sense of humor that toyed with the surreal and the silly, making funny business that always felt like it was presented solely to entertain the performers, with audience response a happy accident. The troupe managed to bang out 102 episodes of their original show, attracting a passionate fanbase for their specialized appreciation of oddball topics and performance capabilities. The series ended in 1995, paving the way to a film production, with Michaels and Paramount Pictures hoping to bring The Kids in the Hall to the masses with 1996's "Brain Candy." While the creation of the endeavor didn't go swimmingly, leaving the final cut scattered at times, "Brain Candy" remains quite entertaining, keeping The Kids in the Hall busy with multiple characters and ideas as they work to find some shape to their take on the burgeoning world of pharmaceutical corporation domination. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - The Howling


After experiencing a breakthrough success with 1978's "Piranha," director Joe Dante remain committed to genre entertainment, determined to resurrect werewolf cinema with 1981's "The Howling," which joined "Wolfen" and "An American Werewolf in London" during a particularly busy year for wolf-based entertainment. Dante plays to his strengths in the feature, which gathers a colorful cast of B-movie regulars to articulate the dangers of a monstrous threat, but the picture isn't explosive, with the screenplay by Dante and John Sayles aiming for a more deliberate tone of character and threat exploration, looking to milk the mystery of it all instead of simply pounding on viewers with violence. "The Howling" is superbly atmospheric at times, and it's hard to beat such a bizarre collection of actors, but this isn't Dante's most energized offering, finding the story lacking in dramatic power, which doesn't help the sluggish pace. Ghoulish highlights are present, but horror is limited as the production tries to figure out what kind of tale it wants to tell. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - 200 Cigarettes


The ensemble picture is one way for any filmmaker to help guarantee audience interest, especially when the thespians collected are young and hungry for work, accepting roles to help their careers and limit their professional obligation, playing a small part in a larger puzzle of personalities. For 1999's "200 Cigarettes," the professional mission was to support the directorial debut of Rise Bramon Garcia, who made her mark on the industry as a casting director, filling movies such as "True Romance," "Uncle Buck," and "Born on the Fourth of July" with noted talent and future stars, making her popular with actors. "200 Cigarettes" provides ample opportunity for the talent to display some charm, with screenwriter Shana Larsen (this being her one and only credit) providing a tale of mismatched lovers, accidents, and smoking with the endeavor, which imagines the tangled ways of neurotics as they make their way to a New Year's Eve party, ringing in 1982 while stomping around New York City. Garcia wallpapers the feature with soundtrack selections and tries to summon a period feel for the comedy, which maintains a flow of mental health issues, but laughs and heart at a little harder to find. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Curfew


Gary Winick (who passed away in 2011) was never a consistent filmmaker, but he found his way into the Hollywood machine, delivering entertainment offerings such as "Charlotte's Web," "Letters to Juliet," "Bride Wars," and his best endeavor, "13 Going on 30." He was a vanilla helmer working with simplistic screenplays, but it wasn't always that way for Winick. He started his career in exploitation, following the career path of many by focusing on the sellable power of horror. 1989's "Curfew" is Winick's directorial debut, and he takes on the basics in awful business with this "Funny Games" and "Cape Fear"-style exercise in revenge and torture, pitting a family held hostage against captors who have a little more on their mind than standard criminal activity. "Curfew" is crudely constructed and performed, but that seems to be what Winick is going for, sustaining the aesthetic of drive-in cinema to the late 1980s, though he's not seasoned enough to deliver enough shocks and suspense, making the viewing experience more wearisome than worrisome. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Killing Spree


Writer/director Tim Ritter has a promising idea for bottom shelf entertainment with 1987's "Killing Spree," exploring one man's vicious way with jealousy when he decides to murder those he believes have made a move on his wife, getting his evidence from her diary. It's a Penthouse Letter mixed with splatter interests, with Ritter trying to use such unbridled dumb guy rage to inspire a shot-on-video slasher endeavor that often takes its sweet time to get to the ugly stuff. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Arabella Black Angel


Cuckolding takes a dark turn in 1989's "Arabella Black Angel," which turns the secret desires of a married couple experiencing renewed vigor in their relationship into a grisly murder mystery. However, the spooky ways of a killer out to collect fresh victims is largely of secondary importance to director Stelvio Massi, who's mostly here to create a softcore erotic thriller, keeping his main character mostly unclothed as the story attempts to find some clarity as it unfolds. "Arabella Black Angel" is sleazy stuff, but that's the primary appeal of the endeavor, which isn't too concerned with creating as puzzle for viewers to solve. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Killer is Still Among Us


The rituals of Lover's Lane activity are forever ruined by a merciless murderer in 1986's "The Killer is Still Among Us." The material is reportedly based on a true crime case, but co-writer/director Camillo Teti isn't that motivated to make a gritty understanding of investigative procedure, going the giallo route instead, with a gloved madman taking advantage of specific vulnerabilities involving sexual interactions in the middle of the woods. "The Killer is Still Among Us" hopes to be a bit more psychological than the competition, but Teti is as vicious as can be at times, visualizing the extremity of punishment facing victims, even after their death. Read the rest at