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Tag: horror movies

Healthy Fears Episode 17 – The Electric Chair and Three Shocking Years

The electric chair was once the go-to method of execution in the United States, and “the chair” still holds a unique position in America’s history of capital punishment. In aftermath of more than a decade of debates about how “cruel and unusual” execution may or not be, four horror movies emerged over the course three years in the 1980’s. Prison, Destroyer, The Horror Show (aka House III), and Shocker are all films about criminals who die in the chair, only to come back to life newly empowered to kill. One of those movies, however, stands apart from the others in an important way… READ MORE

Healthy Fears Episode 13: Dead and Unburied

Generally speaking, societies across the world agree that our beloved dead ideally belong in a certain, final resting place, and that place is out of sight. The idea of people who are dead–or who should be dead–remaining among us is a consistent source of horror. In this episode I talk about our fear of dead bodies that aren’t at rest, either because they never were buried or, in the case of Timothy Baterman, from Pet Sematary, because they returned to us.

For more episodes, visit, search for Healthy Fears on your preferred podcasting platform, or click here for a list of popular options. READ MORE

Movie Review: SPELL

Mark Tonderai’s Spell is missing something, and I don’t mean something intangible, I mean actual parts of the film must be missing. I’m convinced of this, and not just based on certain moments from the trailer not making it to the finished product. Plenty of movies have “missing trailer scenes.” Not many movies feel like they’re missing significant chunks of their own story, however. It’s unfortunate, too, because up until the movie’s missing pieces become too apparent to ignore, Spell was working some fine dark magic.

This is a simple, Misery-inspired story infused with the supernatural. A wealthy, successful man suffers a vehicle crash in a remote area (a plane crash in this case) and wakes up in a strange woman’s bed, wounded in a way that inhibits his mobility. Very soon he finds out that the woman doesn’t want him to leave, and that he’s going to die in her care if he doesn’t find a way to escape.

The man here is Marqis, played by Omari Hardwick. The woman is Miss Eloise, played delightfully by Loretta Devine. They make up the primary players of a strong cast that also includes John Beasely. The acting ranges from fine to very good. Hardwick is solidly entertaining, even if some of his dialogue probably weakens how good he could be. Devine is very clearly having a blast and is the best thing about the film, aside from one thing I’ll get to in the next paragraph. Suffice to say that the performances aren’t an issue here.

The direction, as well is good overall. Tonderai does good work with a couple of attempted escape scenes, ratcheting up the tension when Eloise and her crew get suspicious of Marqis possibly being on the move and go to check on him. He also knows how to get the absolute most out of a moment. A scene involving a foot injury made me wince and groan and laugh, and want to avert my eyes even though I couldn’t look away. It was so damn good. It is the signature moment of the film and should be one of the best moments of the year in any horror film, but it probably won’t get as much love as it should because of the film’s critical flaw.

Again, this movie is missing parts of its story. I don’t know if some executive producers got involved and hacked it to pieces, I don’t know if a test screening or focus group is to blame, I don’t know if the culprit is last minute rewrites, I don’t know if we’ll ever see any of the deleted scenes that would make this movie whole, but it is a film with vital pieces ripped right out of it. This becomes all but insurmountable entering the third act, and then continues from there. Some character movements and motivations become nonsensical in a way that can only be explained by parts of the film being absent. This may not bother some people all that much, but by the end I just couldn’t get past it. The movie ends up feeling worse than rushed. It feels incomplete.

Final Verdict: About two-thirds of an entertaining horror film, but it’s clearly had significant parts removed, and can’t survive that butchery.

Movie Review: HIS HOUSE

His House is the best horror film I’ve seen this year. It might be the best horror film–or film period–I’ve seen in two or three years, or five. It is what happens when “prestige horror” meets relentless, capital-H Horror. It contains stellar dramatic acting and characters you want the best for and feel afraid for. It has slick, clever scares as well as more aggressive, terrifying imagery. It has shadows you might miss if you blink and full-on assaults from the decaying dead. It has manmade terrors and supernatural ones. It contains secrets and mysteries both ordinary and extraordinary. It tells a story that could be told without supernatural elements; it contains supernatural elements that enhance an already compelling story.

I don’t even know what to do besides gush. I’m trying to remember the last time I felt quite this way about any movie and I think the last time was City of God. I’ve loved a lot of movies but this joins a select few on a beyond-loved level. Writing this minutes after it has concluded, I feel like I’ve been struck by lightning.

I barely even want to get into what His House is about. See it with fresh eyes. It’s a haunted house story that stays true to haunted house fiction, but is much, much more as well. It’s a story about the refugee experience that respects that experience while still fully embracing horror fiction. That is not a balancing act you’re supposed to be able to perform, but this movie does it so deftly I’m in awe.

Its leads are perfect. Wunmi Mosaku (Rial) and Sope Dirisu (Bol) are stunningly believable. Remi Weekes’s direction is superb. The ambition of its story is inspiring in that it doesn’t think it must sacrifice scares for drama, or drama for scares. It believes it can have all of both, and it is absolutely correct. I can’t even wrap my head around how much I got out of this movie. I can’t wait to watch it again.

Final Verdict: Thus far, easily the best horror movie of 2020, one of the best movies period of 2020, and already a personal favorite.


Tales From the Hood 3 is a solid return-to-form for the horror franchise. Not great, but strong enough to make me hopeful for a Tales From the Hood 4, one that can hopefully clean-up this film’s lone, glaring weakness and build on its strengths.

The previous entry was a major misfire, much too silly and corny to be effective as either horror or comedy, while the first film has gradually become valued for being a very good horror anthology in the mold of Golden Age horror comics and horror radio stories. The same types of stories that directly influenced Creepshow and the many Amicus “portmanteau” movies that preceded the first Tales from the Hood.

I’m always appreciative of a well-told “karmic comeuppance” horror story; I’m a man currently re-reading some classic horror comics and I’m a regular listener of an “old-time radio” podcast called The Horror! I feel such stories are appropriate to the Halloween season. They can have messages and explore important, heavy topics, but always feel comparatively “non-threatening” to me, because even if innocents suffer, the worst person in the story usually gets theirs, and often gets the worst of it.

I was in my early teens when the first film was released, and my friends and I talked about it in a way reminiscent of the Key & Peele sketch where they’re in blatant denial about how much a movie scared them. Although we could all admit that that ending had an impact. Years later, as the series has returned to that ending as a trademark final punchline, it has lost some impact, although this time around it had a chance to come closer to that original dark magic. This is thanks to one of this film’s most obvious positives, its performances.

The headliners this go ’round are Tony Todd and Lynn Whitfield, both legends. They don’t share any screen time but are respectively great and incredible in their segments. Seriously, Tony Todd can do no wrong and if I don’t see Lynn Whitfield as a slightly sinister and suspicious yet still seductive older woman again in the very near future I might slap myself. Dear horror film producers, find a prominent place for her in your movie.

But Todd and Whitfield aren’t the only ones turning in good performances. Every segment is well-acted, which is vital since the stories are largely predictable (which is not necessarily a bad thing for horror “comfort food,” which this is, just a point of reality). Savannah Basley is interesting as a believably self-destructive and selfish aspiring singer who is the paid companion of Whitfield’s more tragic version of Norma Desmond. When she has to turn her emotions up in a couple of moments, however, Savannah’s believability elevates the performance to outstanding. In the final segment, Patrick Abellard manages to be loathsome, funny and convincingly terrified as needed. Even little Sage Arrindell is a pleasure as the storyteller in the wraparound story. And in a segment I expected to be the weakest but turned out to hold its own, Cooper Huckabee is surprisingly watchable as a mentally crumbling mega-bigot isolated from the rest of the world in an unexpected way. 1

The film is also bolstered by its mood and atmosphere. Rusty Cundieff indicated that they were able to find good locations for shooting this sequel, and that shows up onscreen, although there are times when it feels a little more could have been done regarding the set dressing. A burned apartment, for instance, looks barely singed compared to what you see if you do an image surge for “burned apartment.” Are those search results worst-case scenarios? Perhaps, but the burning in this film leads to a horrific family tragedy; I think the worst-case scenario imagery would have been more appropriate.

Unless, of course, they were going for a ghostly, crossover visual–showing the apartment partly in its burned state and partly in its previous condition to screw with and terrorize the man responsible. That would work too, presuming that was the goal, if the visual was better. Unfortunately it’s not, and that’s the one significant drawback of Tales 3, especially when it comes to special effects. While its practical effects and ideas are solid overall, its CGI, for the most part, is painfully bad. A ghostly bouncing basketball, for instance. A solid idea in context, reminiscent of the bouncing ball in The Changeling, but executed poorly. The ending–which actually has some of the creepiest visual imagery–likewise suffers from a laughable depiction of a disembodied head and some PS2-cutscene digital fire. The artistic concept of the angels in one segment is interesting–they have wings that are like tree limbs full of bright, beautiful leaves that might wither in the presence of evil–but what appears onscreen lets the concept down.

I’ve never made a film, so I don’t know what all goes into working on the effects, but when you see better special effects in short films presumably made on a budget of the filmmaker’s savings and some donations, it’s hard to be forgiving of a professional project that has some unacceptably, glaringly bad visuals. I have to believe that nobody associated with Tales was happy with that CGI basketball, for instance, but they went with it anyway, and I have to presume time or some other constraints played a factor. It’s just a shame, especially because I don’t think the effects team was wholly incapable of better work; a moment with a pair of flaming, running CGI ghosts is actually pretty effective, for instance. Unfortunately, those ghosts are the exception for Tales 3.

The good news is that the film isn’t heavily reliant on special effects, so these moments are typically fleeting and therefore didn’t drag the picture down too much for me. If you’re someone who can’t get past that sort of thing, however, they’re potentially bad enough to kill your enjoyment of the picture. Which is unfortunate, because everything else about it has restored my faith in the viability of a legitimate Tales franchise.

Final Verdict: Effects aside, a good anthology horror film. Sign me up for Tales From the Hood 4.

“It’s a Robot” – An Underrated Twist

Alien is a masterfully constructed horror film about unknown and escalating threats. Escalation of danger is one of my favorite things to see in a story, whether it takes place in a single scene (Spielberg executes this wonderfully in the opening of Raiders and in the first T-Rex attack in Jurassic Park), or over the course of the entire work. Alien is an exceptional example of the nature of the threat becoming steadily worse over the course of the film.

In many other stories–many of which I love–the animal, monster, demon, killer, etc. is completely or largely known from the beginning of the story, or even before that. Even if you hadn’t read the novel beforehand, the poster and previews for Jaws would let you know that the threat is a massive great white shark. Despite not seeing the shark for much of the movie, the only true and slight unknown is just how big the shark is, which we effectively learn when we hear of its “bite radius,” even before we get our first glimpse of it.

In A Nightmare on Elm Street we learn early on that there is a killer who can get to you through your dreams. That’s presented in the film’s trailers and early in the film. Later we learn the killer’s name and history, but none of those details change what he is and what he can do, which we found out before the film was ten minutes old.

Alien was different. I say was because by now we all know what the alien looks like, how intelligent it is, how it reproduces, the different ways it can kill you and so on. In 1979 these things were still mysteries to moviegoers. The trailer famously gives no true glimpse of the creature. The poster doesn’t reveal anything other than that it comes out of an egg, but even the look of the egg is different and much more mundane compared to what’s featured in the film.

Imagine being in the audience back then, knowing you were going to see a scary movie titled Alien–a probable creature feature–but not having any clue of what this monster will look like and how it will behave. Then the first alien you see is the corpse of the “space jockey.” Is that indicative of the type of creatures the crew of the Nostromo will face?

Then there’s the facehugger jumping out of the egg. Okay, so that’s the alien. Looks creepy, spidery and slimy, and it bleeds acid, so that’s no good, and it’s really not letting go of Kane’s face, which is also pretty bad, but at least it’s still relatively small and–oh wait, it’s already dead.

Well, it must have done something to Kane then. Did it possess or infect him in some manner? Plant parasites in him that will control him? Well, yes and no. It put something in him, but not to control him, but incubate and be born through him rather violently. And it is, of course, the memorable, signature scene of the film, but for audiences then, still, it would seem that this is finally the alien threat as we will know it through the film. A quick, dangerous creature that they’ll have a tough time finding through the ship, but is still small enough for their tracking equipment to mistake the cat for the alien…

That is until it descends upon Brett, and finally…finally the full physical nature of the alien is revealed. Still to come is the revelation of its cunning, on display when it successfully hunts Dallas, but at least now the audiences can let out a sigh at knowing what the villain of this piece really is.

Except there’s at least one more thing they don’t yet know, that is barely, absolutely minimally–if at all–hinted at before it is revealed.

As the story progresses we grow increasingly suspicious of Ash, just as Ripley does. He goes from being a bit disagreeable to being a foil and then to being untrustworthy and off-putting. And then we find out that he is a last minute replacement on this ship for the previous Science Officer, and that he knows things nobody else aboard seems to know. We find out that he’s even dangerous. But why does he have a trickle of milky…sweat? Is that sweat coming down his head in this time of stress or… what the hell is going with this guy?

Why is he so strong? Why is he going into this strange seizure after being struck to get him away from Ripley? Why is he projectile spewing more of that milk?

It is said that when Parker knocked Ash’s head off, an usher at one screening fainted. All the tension that had been built up previously had been at least tolerable to that man. This was the last straw. The thing previously thought to be human having its head knocked mostly clear of its body put that usher’s lights out, and I have no trouble believing it to be true, and that he wasn’t the only person this might’ve happened to.

The reveal that Ash is an android–that androids even exist at all in this universe–comes from just about nowhere. It’s not akin to the one in The Sixth Sense where you can go back and see the clues on a rewatch and it all lines up. It’s not like the end of Psycho which relies largely on something known to exist (or “understood” to exist at the time) in the real world: a “split personality.”

There is no indicator throughout Alien that humanoid robots exist in this universe. No, the fact that it’s a science-fiction film isn’t, by itself, enough to make it acceptable to presume the possibility of “robots that look and mostly act exactly like people.” You can’t just throw a time travel twist into a Star Wars film, for instance, just because, “Well it’s set in a futuristic science-fiction environment, so sure, why not time travel?” These things have to be established. Or at least they’re supposed to be.

Before the reveal, the closest we have to the personification of an artificial intelligence is the “Mother” computer interface. And the best hint we get before that Ash might have more in common with Mother than with the rest of the crew is when he says that he and Mother are still “collating” data in the face of the danger they’re in. That certainly comes off as something a robot would say…after you’ve seen the movie and know that androids are a thing in this world. Beforehand, it just sounds like something a stiff, shady, emotionless Science Officer type in a science fiction story would say.

And I think it’s brilliant. It’s a bit of a cheat, to be sure, but who cares? It’s amazing, and there are times when something amazing completely overrides the fact that it might also be technically flawed.

It helps tremendously that Ash being a robot isn’t really the most critical revelation of the scene, even though it’s the most memorable one. The corporation’s real mission–capturing the alien–and the expendability of the crew is the most important revelation in the scene. This might be the most brilliant aspect of the moment: it takes a potentially anticipated “twist” and enhances it by adding something almost impossible to guess, so that what you might have already sussed out feels less important than the part you didn’t know, even though the part you didn’t know is actually less important than the part you guessed.

You could predict that something was fishy about the crew’s early awakening from cryo-sleep, and you could predict that Ash was untrustworthy based on what’s laid out earlier in the film. His override of safety protocols, his protectiveness of the Alien, his testiness with Ripley, the fact that he’s a last-minute addition to the crew. These are all clues that he’s up to something, but are also cleverly presented as defensible. He overrode safety protocols, but he wasn’t the only one demanding that Kane be let inside, and you could say he was just following the orders of the Captain. He seems fascinated by the facehugger, but he’s the Science Officer, of course he’s fascinated. He desperately tells Parker not to try to kill the Alien when it first pops out of Kane’s chest, but we’ve seen by then that it bleeds acid that could eat through the ship and get them all killed, and Parker’s looking to go after it with a knife. As for him being a late addition to the crew that the others have never worked with before, well, that’s not necessarily his fault.

Nonetheless it’s not all that surprising when he turns out to be the “human” villain of the piece, so the filmmakers added the surprise that he’s not human after all. But then, just to add to the horror and strangeness of it all, Ash is unlike almost any other android / robot anyone had ever seen in a film (at least in recent history). He is not metal and gears under human skin like Yul Brenner’s gunman in 1973’s Westworld. His wires and circuitry look more like strange veins and organs. He’s a callback to the original use of the word “robot” from the science-fiction play R.U.R. about synthetic-organic, artificial humanoids.

All of this makes the moment he is revealed to be a robot memorable. Yet, purely as a twist, it remains underrated, possibly even somewhat forgotten. Most lists of “Greatest movie twists ever!!” make no mention of it. Several subsequent movies have established that androids exist in the Alien universe, so if you see any of the series sequels or prequels before the original film, it’s no surprise at all what Ash is, particularly if you’ve seen Aliens. You might also have heard of the band named “Ash is a robot,” or read this article or one like it, which reveals a former secret that is now about as open as “Norman Bates is the killer,” or “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the same person.” There’s also the fact that Ash is not the primary villain or hero of the film, so of course when most people discuss it, he’s not the first thing that comes to mind. People think of face-hugging and chest-bursting and large obsidian monsters with acid for blood and second-mouths for tongues, and of Ellen Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo.

Still, for its time Ash being a robot was a moment powerful enough to make at least one man pass out upon seeing it. It deserves to be brought up more often among the great movie twists of all time.


As someone who’s fascinated by how popular horror was in the 70’s, I’ve long wanted to take a deep dive into the television horror movies of the era. It’s one thing for horror to have been a hit at the cinemas and bookstores, but TV is the ostensibly “safer” and more “family friendly” entertainment guest you invite into your home1 It brought you the programming you watched in your living room with the spouse and kiddos. Shows often intended to make you laugh, sometimes intended to make you think, and other times, especially in the extended wake of the success of Rosemary’s Baby, meant to frighten you.

Before I could ever do a “deep dive” into the halcyon days of TV-horror flicks, I would have to start with some of the most well known movies of that era, bobbing on the surface. And one of these stand-outs–at least in the memories of those who saw it when they were younger–is Trilogy of Terror. Similar to how some folks closer to my generation have such fond / scarring memories of the original It mini-series that they shut down any criticism of it that they come across+*1+*

Movie Review: IMPETIGORE

I’ve only seen two Indonesian horror flicks, so I can’t fairly comment on the overall health and quality of the region’s horror industry. Especially considering how much I truly enjoyed both films. It would be like watching Halloween and Alien as your first two American horror movies and immediately declaring, “This country never makes a bad horror movie! They can’t miss.”

So I have to rein in my praise for Impetigore slightly. Only slightly. This movie is a bit of a banger. It has some of everything. To open, it features a tense slasher / thriller sequence involving a violent man and a woman–our protagonist, Maya–and a toll booth. Later the movie will feature ghosts, a decidedly decrepit and spooky house with its very own and entirely too-populated graveyard, secret-keeping murderous villagers, curses and sacrifices and rituals and more. It’s packed with so much, yet doesn’t feel crammed with all of this content. Somehow there’s sufficient room for it all. It’s quite an achievement.

Maya’s attack is preceded by her attacker somehow knowing her father’s name and suggesting her real name is actually Rahayu and that he knows what village she is originally from. This prompts her to return to that village, especially to seek her inheritance of a large and abandoned house that once belonged to her father. Given her current dire financial straits, this is sensible, even though, of course, there’s a risk involved considering the man who just tried to machete-murder her is also presumably from that village. This is pointed out by May’s friend, Dini, who insists on joining her on the trip to the village. Dini’s one of the film’s many small highlights. She’s funny and reasonably smart and you just know you’re going to be rooting for her to make as soon as she inevitably comes into some trouble.

On top of the village having a scary, unkempt and abandoned mansion effectively haunting it, it also has an abundance of little infant graves and an utter dearth of living children. There’s a reason for this, and secrets on top of secrets get revealed as the movie progresses to bring us back to the origin of a rather grim and gruesome curse afflicting the locals. It’s bad enough to make their murderous intentions understandable, if still unforgivable.

One of my favorite things about Impetigore, aside from the routinely strong performances, is the clever way it earns a couple of somewhat unnecessary but fun things that a lot of horror flicks just throw in seemingly because it feels like an obligation to have them. The first is a sequel hook–a couple of them actually. One, about an adult survivor of the curse, never comes back into play. It gets a mention to explain some of the actions taken by the villagers, and is tantalizing enough to make you think it has to feature in some way later, but it doesn’t. On one hand I admire this restraint. On the other hand, if this movie gets a follow-up, I’d like to see that explored.

The second concerns the obligatory, “The horror isn’t over” type of ending that is beyond cliche in scary movies by now. But here’s the thing, it’s actually properly set up and earned here, again serving a dual role both as foreshadowing of what’s to come and as an explanation for a certain character’s behavior. Specifically, it is the stated belief that killing someone to remove a curse only begets a different type of curse. It’s a simple and great touch that makes the final moments of the film much more enjoyable.

I can’t think of significant drawbacks to the film 1 The acting is good all around. Terra Basro is great as the lead, Marissa Anita is likable as her friend, veteran actress Christine Akim is compelling as the town eldress, Asmara Abigail makes a great late push as someone who may or may not be trustworthy, and Ario Bayu has a great presence as thee co-villain and town shadow-puppeteer. If anything, my only disappointment with the film is that the shadow puppetry didn’t really bring anything directly frightful to the table in and of itself. I feel like there was an opportunity missed there, but I’m also coming at this from an ignorant Westerner’s perspective, so I don’t know if there’s a particular taboo against using that sort of thing for cheap thrills. If not, I’ll stand by my assessment that more could have been done with that, but that’s a nitpick. Likewise, the flashback sequence that shows us everything that happened years ago to lead to all of this horror is a little much, but still feels essential.

There are, otherwise, some well executed scares and shock moments. From seeing exactly what’s being hung up to dry on a clothesline to an abrupt throat-slitting that reveals who the biggest danger in town is, to a jump-scare involving a little girl’s ghost making a gorily convincing plea for help, the film is not short on frights and intensity and even emotion. Soon after this I’ll be looking at the remake of Satan’s Slaves, helmed by Impetigore’s director Joko Anwar. If it’s as good as Impetigore and my previous look at Indonesian horror, May the Devil Take You, I’m going to feel a lot more comfortable praising their entire industry’s horror efforts as a whole.

Final Verdict: Another banger from Indonesia. Between this and May the Devil Take You (which I liked even more on second watch) I’m starting to fall in love with what this country’s output has to offer.


Nobody can title a horror movie like a 70’s Italian, except maybe a 70’s Spaniard. Twitch of the Death Nerve, Seven Notes in Black, The Bird With Crystal Plummage, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, The House of the Laughing Windows, on and on. While much lower on the notability list, Red Cats in a Glass Maze is pretty high on the rankings of “best ‘unusual’ horror movie titles,” particularly when compared to its alternate, American title, Eyeball.

That simpler, decidedly less metaphorical and less interesting title does reference the goings-on in the film, at least. A killer in a red rain coat is stabbing out an eyeball here and there while killing young American women during a bus tour of Spain. I imagine you’re already thinking, “Wait, during a bus tour? Do all of these killings take place over a short period of time on the bus somehow? Because as absurd as that would be, it would still be less ridiculous than if they were to continue the city-to-city tour after the first murder, much less after the second, third, and fourth.” Well, if you’re up for watching this movie, I hope you’re prepared to turn your brain and its reserve power off, because they do indeed continue the tour.

Even by giallo and slasher standards, the stupid decisions and contrivances needed to keep the characters in peril are inexcusable. Not only does the tour keep city-hopping despite everyone knowing within ten minutes that a killer is on the loose, but characters repeatedly isolate themselves or leave vulnerable party members alone. I’m not talking about oversimplified horror-victim-blaming, here. These aren’t, “Why don’t you just get out of the haunted house?” or “Why do they always fall when being chased?” scenarios. These are deliberate, casually reckless decisions that could only be excused if the characters were constantly saying, “Oh shit, that’s right, there’s a murderer following us. I keep forgetting that.”

Late in the movie, for instance, a father doesn’t think twice about letting his teenage daughter walk back to her hotel at night alone. For her part, the daughter detours from her walk to the hotel to stop for a swim, allowing the killer to stalk her with even greater ease. This isn’t even done for the sake of showing gratuitous skin–she’s wearing a two-piece that, compared to earlier nudity in the film, isn’t remotely scintillating. Instead it’s done for the same reason most other things are done in this movie: the filmmaking team didn’t want to think of anything more creative.

For some (count me among the “some”) all of this has potential to elevate the material into, “so silly it’s captivating” status. Make no mistake, it’s still not a good film. I generally don’t believe in a movie being “so bad it’s good,” but I do think something can be so baffling or ludicrous that it becomes increasingly watchable as you go along.

The film’s value is also bolstered by being exactly the sort of “whodunit” you’ll expect it to be if you’ve if you’ve seen your share of giallo flicks. Even if you haven’t, you’d still be able to tell fairly early on that this film is building to a wildly implausible, indefensible twist when it comes time to reveal the killer. Part of the fun is guessing how much of a cheat the revelation will be. Will it be someone who was barely in the film at all? Someone with a motive out of the leftmost part of the field? Will the killer need to have damn near been in two places at once during some earlier point in the movie, with no explanation as to how they pulled this off? How are they going to make the killer’s identity as unlikely as possible?

In this regard Red Cats in a Glass Maze does not disappoint. The killer manages to be one of the characters you’ve probably narrowed it down to by the end, while simultaneously being someone you couldn’t have guessed did it based on any actual clues provided.

All of that said, the film isn’t entirely flawed. Umberto Lenzi is a solid director, so the film is competently executed, even if it feels unmotivated. And it manages to subvert expectations regarding two characters, at least. The police detective who’s one week away from retirement not only survives, he never even comes close to being in danger. And the lone black woman not only doesn’t die, she survives multiple encounters with the killer and is there at the end when the killer gets put down. Did I mention she’s also a lesbian? All of that is important to remember: next time some Cro-Magnon whines about “PC” or “woke” elements in a modern horror flick, tell them that the decidedly non-“SJW” Italian director of Cannibal Ferox also made a 70’s proto-slasher with a black lesbian “final girl.”

Final Verdict: One to see if you’re a giallo fan, mostly for chuckles, while most other people can skip it.

Movie Review: ST. AGATHA

Darren Lynn Bousman directed the last of the even slightly defensible Saw films. He directed Repo! The Genetic Opera, among the last competently made, critically dismissed but sincerely defended cult films to be released. 1. He directed Abbatoir, a film that is almost impossibly disappointing considering its premise.2 He is the director of the eventually forthcoming Spiral, the Saw revival that unexpectedly stars and is spearheaded by Chris Rock. He’s worked steadily for fifteen years, and depending on how you feel about Repo!, has made at most one really good film in that time3.

He hasn’t made anything truly awful, either. Just a slew of movies that manage to underwhelm, miss the mark, or don’t strive for much (beyond the aforementioned Repo! which is a wildly violent horror rock opera). St. Agatha almost rises above this almost entirely due to his strengths as a director. The premise isn’t a selling point. “Sort of like Flowers in the Attic but with evil nuns housing pregnant women” isn’t the greatest pitch. The acting is okay, aside from the lead evil nun, played by Carolyn Hennessy, who is going for it and getting there in every scene she’s in. Overall, though, while the rest of the acting isn’t bad, it’s nothing to stay for. The writing, unfortunately, veers closer to bad on occasion.

The characterization is nonsensical. The lead, Mary / Agatha consistently makes indefensible decisions even before the film starts. Like running a grift with her boyfriend in a small town on one of the locals, and then still being seen with her partner in town, where the mark they conned could very easily spot them. Oops? Likewise, the rest of the girls in the convent take indefensible actions (or engage in inaction) just to keep the story in stasis until we reach the climax. The motivation of the nuns to be as evil as they are isn’t clear. They’re baby farming in the 1950’s…and needlessly employing sadism and arcane brainwashing tactics that would regularly risk the health of the babies that are their bread-and-butter? Risk the girls that are their gold-egg-laying geese? When we find out later that they’re running low on cash? “Well, because they’re fanatics” doesn’t really cut it. Not when the sadism directly jeopardizes their entire corrupt business model.

So what is there to stay for in this film? Bousman is great when things need to get visceral, when you need to be made to squirm, to really feel that something is painful, that a situation is dire and seemingly hopeless. He has a feel for that sort of thing, and injects it into the film at regular enough intervals to make you want to keep watching, wondering what will happen next, wondering if those inflicting the pain will eventually get theirs or if this is careening toward an unhappy ending. And when he restrains himself, he can stage a solidly tense moment or two.

Unfortunately, his strengths as a director don’t outweigh the film’s weaknesses. It indulges in rapidly cut shots that are meant to be shorthand for “this moment is insane” or “this person is going insane” or both. The cuts just cheapen the moment. The musical choices are, to say the least, questionable, often not befitting the moment. The film’s overall tone comes off as inconsistent. Is this a more serious horror drama with a message? Or is it the kind of movie where a weakened and wounded woman who just gave birth still has the strength to choke another woman out with an umbilical cord? An absolute master director could do a better job of having it both ways, but Bousman–capable as he has proven himself to be–is no master. Not yet, at least. It feels like in an alternate universe he could have been, or at least one with a devoted following. But in the one we inhabit, he’s made far fewer Repo‘s than movies like St. Agatha, which…

Final Verdict: …I cannot recommend.