Blu-ray Review - The Killer is One of 13


1973's "The Killer is One of 13" has more in common with Agatha Christie than a true Euro ripper about a gloved killer. It's an extraordinarily patient production, with the screenplay locked in exposition and confrontation mode for a whopping 63 minutes of screen time before the first murder occurs. The wait for mayhem is actually the most shocking element of the picture, which provides more of a theatrical-style viewing experience, watching capable actors devour the motivations they've been assigned, offering hearty performances for a feature that promises horror, but doesn't make immediate plans to showcase genre highlights. "The Killer is One of 13" is not a movie for viewers who require their genre offerings to be relentless. Director Javier Aguirre takes the long way to bloodshed in this sluggish endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - The War with Grandpa


For “The War with Grandpa” to work as a movie, one has to have some comfort with the outrageous behavior exhibited by a troubled 12-year-old boy, who wants nothing more than to seek revenge on his ailing grandfather, who’s taken over his room after moving in due to mobility issues. There needs to be something friendly about the child to help enjoy his increasingly hostile pranks, giving viewers an understanding that the main character isn’t actually trying to murder his peepaw. Such insight into the juvenile mind isn’t presented by screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, who tend to focus on the allegedly lighthearted antics of the material, which originated in a 1984 Robert Kimmel Smith book. Unfortunately, “The War with Grandpa” isn’t amusing either, working through dismal high jinks with seemingly capable actors who push extra hard to make the film resemble the good time it desperately wants to be. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vampires vs. the Bronx


A veteran of comedy television and the digital shorts of “Saturday Night Live,” Oz Rodriguez jumped to film direction with 2016’s highly amusing “Brother Nature,” sharing credit with creative partner Matt Villines, who passed away that same year. Rodriguez returns to screens with “Vampires vs. the Bronx,” keeping up his interest in comedic mischief with the Halloween release, which pits the residents of a forgotten New York City block against the arrival of monsters who do their worst through the business of gentrification. There’s a body count and some bared fangs, but the screenplay by Blaise Hemingway (“Playmobil: The Movie”) tries to keep things light and East Coast with the endeavor, which offers a sharp sense of location while enjoying some big laughs and a fair amount of excitement. Rodriguez maintains his sense of humor, keeping matters quite playful, going for a genre ride instead of a bleak overview of horror happenings, with “Vampires vs. the Bronx” coming through as a wildly entertaining romp. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hubie Halloween


There was a brief, beautiful moment late last year, when the release of “Uncut Gems” delivered the best Adam Sandler performance of his career. It was a risk for the Happy Madison honcho too, working with indie filmmakers asking him to play a morally corrupt character. Sandler was fantastic in a masterful picture, but such a career victory wasn’t meant to last for very long. Less than a year later, Sandler returns with “Hubie Halloween,” heading right back to the warmth and softness of his professional wooby of bodily function jokes, friends and family employment, and a near absence of screenwriting. It’s an awful feature from start to finish, made all the worse by the distant memory of “Uncut Gems” and its magnificent use of Sandler’s unique screen presence. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Wolf of Snow Hollow


Writer/director Jim Cummings won critical raves and cult viewership with his last endeavor, 2018’s “Thunder Road,” and he’s back two years later with “The Wolf of Snow Hollow.” Continuing his interest in the wilds of mental illness, parenthood, and law enforcement, Cummings tries on a genre film for size, examining the pressures felt by a man on the edge who’s dealing with family failures, police mishaps, and the possible existence of a wolfman on the loose. The helmer brings a darkly comic edge to the effort, which introduces a wonderfully strong sense of danger with monstrous happenings, only to gradually drift away from such a compelling source of danger and grisly mystery. Cummings is after something a bit more nuanced and dramatically probing with “The Wolf of Snow Hollow,” which might disappoint horror hounds, but the reward is a feature that’s unexpected and unpredictable. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Trial of the Chicago 7


There have been many documentary deconstructions and dramatic interpretations of the Chicago Seven, with all sorts of filmmakers digging into the madness of the judicial and political system experienced by seven (originally eight) men on trial for their part in the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots in Illinois. It seems 2020 is an ideal time to revisit elements of the trial and its idiosyncratic defendants, with the case examining abuses of power at a law enforcement and Presidential level, capturing the restlessness of a country inching toward chaos. The event is also catnip to writer/director Aaron Sorkin, with the collection of personalities and confrontations gifting him a chance to present a loquacious reexamination of the facts through fiction, generating a high-energy overview of courtroom maneuvering and injustice, also dissecting the behind-the-scenes legal chess game. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” may be a bit too familiar and user friendly at times, but if there was ever a moment to take it all in again, it would be now. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Doorman


There have be a great number of films that’ve chased the cinematic high 1988’s “Die Hard” provided viewers. The knockoffs have been varied in premise and tone, and it’s wild they’re still being churned out to this day. “The Doorman” is the next offering of one-person-army action in a single setting, only instead of paying tribute to the John McTiernan masterpiece, screenwriters Lior Chefetz and Joe Swanson basically remake the feature with their vision of multi-floor antagonism inside an apartment building. The similarities are alarming (let’s hope the lawyers aren’t watching), but try as they might, the writers can’t capture that singular viewing experience with this low-budget effort, which pits diminutive Ruby Rose against an army of thieves, using every John McClane trick the production can repurpose to provide some cheap thrills to viewers who, hopefully, haven’t seen “Die Hard.” Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lie


“Welcome to the Blumhouse” makes another attempt to turn Blumhouse Productions into a household name for horror. Partnering with Amazon Studios, Blumhouse delivers four films for streaming distribution, looking to clear out a few older titles from the company closet. The second offering of the series is “The Lie,” which is a remake of a 2015 German production, with writer/director Veena Sub transferring austere European storytelling to snowbound Canada, hoping to get a little more atmospheric mileage out of the premise. “The Lie” asks some compelling questions about the evil nature of children and the reverberating destruction caused by a parental breakup, but Sub only has ridiculous answers to offer viewers with her remake. Instead of challenging her audience, the helmer manages to trigger major eye-rolls with the writing, destroying a picture with a provocative introduction. Read the rest at

Film Review - Black Box


“Welcome to the Blumhouse” makes another attempt to turn Blumhouse Productions into a household name for horror. Partnering with Amazon Studios, Blumhouse delivers four films for streaming distribution, looking to clear out a few older titles from the company closet. First up is “Black Box,” a television movie that takes viewers into the depths of an unsettled mind as it attempts to understand the trauma it suffered and the memory loss that sustains. There are no particulars scares to be found in the endeavor, with co-writer/director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr. looking to make a more psychological impact with the picture, which tries to get something going with a talented cast and an initially intriguing exploration of a broken brain that perhaps shouldn’t be repaired. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Planters


The story behind the making of “The Planters” is perhaps more interesting than the film itself. In 2016, friends Hannah Leder and Alexandra Kotcheff decided they wanted to make a movie, only they weren’t interested in outside interference. Gathering equipment and a few additional actors, the partners became the crew, taking on camera and sound duties while providing lead performances. It’s a sort of DIY production, a rare one that isn’t a documentary, and “The Planters” emerges with a level of creative freedom that’s only born out of complete independence. The feature isn’t quite as bold as expected, with Leder and Kotcheff clearly enamored with Wes Anderson and his cinematic world of deadpan humor and decorated frames, working extremely hard to replicate the vibe for their own offering of strange things happening to stranger people. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Princess Caraboo


While a forgettable offering from 1994, "Princess Caraboo" is best known as the final major film role for actress Phoebe Cates before she entered retirement (popping up in a small role for 2001's "The Anniversary Party," doing a favor for pal Jennifer Jason Leigh). Making a splash in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Gremlins," Cates struggled to find success as the 1990s began, ending up in "Drop Dead Fred," which is either one of the worst movies of 1991 or a grossly misunderstood cult classic. You make the call. Cates made one more play at starring power with "Princess Caraboo," giving her an interesting challenge of non-verbal communication, portraying a foreign woman in 19th century England who arrives with her own secret language. Cates does well in the role, even without much dialogue to work with, supported by a cast of talents who really give the material (which is based on a true story) some thespian muscle. It's the overall direction of the plot that's problematic, with co-writer/director Michael Austin weirdly watering down the farcical potential of the project, aiming to create a soggy romance instead. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Hills Run Red


Dark Castle Entertainment was initially a welcome idea to bring mid-range horror to theaters, using industry flexing from Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis, and Gilbert Adler to make it happen. However, the experiment to generate genre entertainment was quickly contaminated by content, with the company unable to secure quality projects as they fumbled with box office disappointments. Trying to limit financial exposure with a direct-to-DVD offering, "The Hills Run Red" aimed to give Dark Castle something macabre to offer horror fans without the burden of mounting a theatrical campaign. The end result is a semi-nasty offering from screenwriter David J. Schow and director Dave Parker, who try to celebrate the world of horror with "The Hills Run Red," delivering a self-aware chiller with a killer hook but extreme limitation in execution. It's a neat idea suffocated by mediocrity, finding a place for itself on the list of inexplicable Dark Castle whiffs. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Jungle Captive


Biochemist Stendhal (Otto Kruger) maintains a respectful position of science during the day, working on an experiment to bring the dead back to life. Showing signs of success, Stendhal's dark vision aims to collect the deceased Ape Woman (Vicky Lane), using hulking enforcer Moloch (Rondo Hatton) to bring back the body. On the case is Inspector Harrigan (Jerome Cowan), who looks to Stendhal's assistant, Don (Phil Brown), as a possible suspect. Stendhal is actually interested in Ann (Amelita Brown), another assistant and Don's girlfriend, hoping to use her blood to help revive the Ape Woman and crack the mystery of the beastly female. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Jungle Woman


After experiencing the rampage of gorilla woman Cheela/Paula (Acquanetta), an investigation into the incident is organized, with Dr. Fletcher (J. Carrol Naish) at the center of questioning. Working through the details of the case, Dr. Fletcher recounts his time bringing Paula back from the brink of death, giving her a home as he continues research into her bizarre animalistic origin. When Dr. Fletcher's daughter, Joan (Lois Collier), arrives for a visit, she brings along her fiancé, Bob (Richard Davis), and his presence stirs up something uncontrollable within Paula. As Dr. Fletcher follows science, Paula is a slave to her instinct, trying to claim Bob for herself. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Captive Wild Woman


Animal trailer Fred (Milburn Stone) has returned from safari with a collection of exotic animals to use in his circus, with one, a gorilla named Cheela, showing remarkable communication abilities. Fred's girlfriend is Beth (Evelyn Ankers), who's concerned about the declining health of her sister, Dorothy (Martha MacVicar). Bringing Dorothy to Dr. Walters (John Carradine), Beth hopes for a miracle, but what the medical professional has in mind is fiendish experimentation. Toying with glandular development, Dr. Walters manages to use Dorothy's essence to help transform Cheela into a human, named Paula (Acquanetta). Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Monster and the Girl


Scot Webster (Phillip Terry) is a regular man put in a difficult position when he's framed for the murder of a gangster. Willing to accept his fate to protect his sister, Susan (Ellen Drew), who's caught up in underworld business against her will, Scot follows justice to his death, soon offered a shot at revenge when he's selected for experimental surgery, with his brain transferred into a gorilla's body. Read the rest at

Film Review - On the Rocks


Sofia Coppola doesn’t strike me as a filmmaker who wants to repeat herself, but in the years since her grand success with 2003’s “Lost in Translation,” she’s struggled to find heart and soul that came so effortlessly with that picture. Recently, she’s pushed her abilities with the gothic chiller “The Beguiled,” and toyed with the unpleasant world of rich kids in “The Bling Ring,” but her latest, “On the Rocks,” seems like an attempt to get back to the aura of “Lost in Translation,” reteaming Coppola with Bill Murray for another melancholy look at relationships. It should come as no surprise to read that “On the Rocks” is the helmer’s best feature in some time, with Coppola finding a game cast and using the atmosphere of New York City to support a charming but pointed look at familial influence, marriage, and parenthood, finding new ways to examine traditional matters of the heart. Read the rest at

Film Review - Possessor


Brandon Cronenberg is the son of celebrated director David Cronenberg, and he seems intent on maintaining the family business of creating bizarre features with incredible imagery. In 2012, Cronenberg made his debut with “Antiviral,” a sinister tale of obsession and extreme fandom that put him on the map in terms of macabre visions. He’s taken his time, but Cronenberg returns with “Possessor,” which builds on the educational experience of “Antiviral,” presenting a new story of characters altering their minds and bodies, only here there’s slightly more emotionality to the viewing experience. However, the helmer hasn’t gone soft, overseeing a sexually graphic and ultraviolent descent into sci-fi madness, kept fascinating through committed performances and Cronenberg’s wonderfully perverse vision for psychological and corporeal corruption. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spontaneous


Spontaneous human explosion isn’t a common subject for cinematic exploration, dealing with the horrible concept of life in full being snuffed out in the blink of an eye. Of course, there are offerings such as “This is Spinal Tap” that’ve used the event to add unusual comedic potential to projects, but “Spontaneous” isn’t interested in being silly. Writer/director Brian Duffield (“Underwater,” “The Babysitter”) hunts for a more human way to deal with heavy emotions pertaining to grief and new love, using a borderline sci-fi story to bring it all to life. “Spontaneous” is a strange feature, but one that successfully maintains a difficult tonal balance as it covers troubling areas of confusion. There are busting bodies everywhere in the movie, soaking the characters in blood, but Duffield maintains control of intimacy, which is exactly what this weird tale needs. Read the rest at

Film Review - Welcome to Sudden Death


2020 has introduced some extreme weirdness into our lives, coming through with constant surprises. I doubt few could’ve predicted the film year would involve the release of a comedic remake of “Sudden Death,” a 1995 “Die Hard” riff starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Losing the original star, the producers bring in a different tough guy, Michael Jai White, to topline another tale concerning the terrorist takeover of a sporting event, forcing one security guard to protect an arena of spectators and his children. Van Damme’s thriller involved hockey playoffs, but “Welcome to Sudden Death” is about a basketball game – a sport that doesn’t even have a sudden death tiebreaker scenario. Careful attention to detail is missing from the do-over, which isn’t too concerned with polish, instead trying to give the VOD audience and their already lowered expectations a cheap-looking ride of fights and one-liners. Read the rest at