Shock Waves (1977)

Long before Dead Snow thawed out its Nazi undead, this low-budget creeper, written and directed by Ken Wiederhorn (Eyes of a Stranger, Meatballs II), spent a few decades bouncing around the Late Night Spook Show circuit.

Shock Waves stars horror vets Peter Cushing and John Carradine, as well as Luke Halpin from Flipper, all grown up into a blonde, mustachioed male lead, who must rally a crew of castaways marooned on an island awash in goggled zombies in SS uniforms.

Cushing brings a convincing accent, dandy scar makeup, and complete authority to his role as an exiled Nazi commander forced to live in an abandoned luxury resort on a nameless island somewhere in the ocean.

Guess he couldn’t make it all the way to Brazil.

Cushing patiently awaits the arrival of the soldiers formerly under his command, who should be returning from Davey Jones’ Locker any day now.

Editor’s Note: Cushing plays Admiral Tarkin in Star Wars—the very same year!

John Carradine doesn’t get to do much as Ben, the cranky charter boat captain, but we do get to see him in a bathing suit. (Rrrrowr!)

Comely Brooke Adams stands out as Rose, a tourist who also looks smashing in swimwear.

The underwater photography, particularly when the Nazi zombies snap into formation and smartly march toward the surface, is eerie and strangely captivating, jarringly punctuated by Richard Einhorn’s dissonant electronic score.

No, they don’t eat flesh, but these genetically altered stormtroopers are consumed by a desire to kill, and they have thoroughly adapted to the life aquatic.

So what if they look like a techno band? Good stuff!

Speak No Evil (2022)

Trauma warning: Speak No Evil is very dark and will probably leave a mark.

Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch) and Bjorn (Morten Burian) are an attractive Danish couple on holiday, with their young daughter Agnes (Liva Forsberg). They happen to meet Patrick (Feja van Huet) and Karin (Karina Smulders), who are from Holland, traveling with their quiet son Abel (Marius Damslev), who is about Agnes’s age.

The two families have dinner together and promise to keep in touch.

Meanwhile, Sune Kolster’s musical score is erupting with sinister and ominous trumpet flourishes all over the place, as if Max Cady had just been released from prison and wandered over from Cape Fear.

What is happening here?

Director and writer Christian Tafdrup is actually tipping his hand. My first assumption was that the overblown soundtrack was parody and meant to mislead or exaggerate a threat.

This is not the case. The brass barrage is meant to be a warning of impending danger to the characters, and probably the viewer as well.

Speak No Evil is an excruciating slow death of a thousand cuts. What at first unrolls like a comedy of manners—urban, Danish sophisticates spend an uncomfortably rustic weekend as guests of less civilized Dutch acquaintances— gradually reveals itself to be mounting torments of the damned.

“It’s perhaps a bit too long to spend with some people we barely know,” Louise offers sensibly.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” Bjorn asks a short time later.

This moment in time is played for (uneasy) laughs, but the answer to Bjorn’s question is a bottomless pit of micro-aggressions and red flags that culminate in a finale that is blistering, not only in the brutality it depicts, but in the utter hopelessness on the parts of Louise and Bjorn, who face a fate as grim as any I’ve witnessed at the movies.

Like Godard and Buñuel before him, Dutch director Christian Tafdrup has no sympathy for the bourgeoise.

Speak No Evil is not a cheaply made shocker. Tafdrup trains a razor-sharp eye on Bjorn’s smug boredom with middle-class domesticity as more than reason enough to seal their doom.

And what a dark little doom it is!

My advice? Never ever wonder out loud about how bad something can get, unless you want to find out. Or maybe you enjoy being punched in the stomach really hard.

Horror in the High Desert (2021)

Social influencers are horror movie gold!

I alluded to this situation in my review of The Deep House, as the answer to the burning question, “Why would otherwise intelligent people put on scuba gear to explore a haunted house at the bottom of a lake?”

The protagonists are compelled to take on insanely dangerous missions in order to attract (and maintain) followers! Building that brand is indeed hazardous to your health.

Horror in the High Desert is an 82-minute found-footage shocker about Gary Hinge (Eric Mencis), a popular outdoor adventure blogger who disappears under (you guessed it!) “mysterious circumstances,” while exploring a remote area of Nevada’s high desert.

Possibly based on the real-life case of Kenny Veach (Google that shit), writer-director Dutch Marich dutifully assembles realistic interviews with family, friends, and investigators, all of whom are trying to figure out what happened to someone who was, by all accounts, an expert at wilderness survival.

Spoiler alert: It ain’t good, and eventually the talking heads give way to Gary Hinge’s final creepy posts, from a location he clearly didn’t want to revisit.

The fearless blogger admits to increasing anxiety, and with good reason. All his instincts warn Hinge away from the nasty little shack in the middle of Nowhere, Nevada.

But his core followers have demanded video evidence, so he has no choice but to return to a cursed location. Film, or it didn’t happen.

As a blogger myself, I can only hope my dozen or so regular readers don’t start clamoring for personal peril on my part—unless you’d enjoy footage of me collecting dog poop in the backyard.

The ending leaves open the possibility of a sequel (or three), as it’s reported during the credits that no less than 17 teams of danger bloggers went out to find Hinge.

Horror in the High Desert is a more than ample warning to the foolhardy. Don’t let obnoxious fans push you over the brink and into the arms of … someone you do not ever want to meet.

Wer (2013)

I’m reasonably sure that this movie would have more of a following if it wasn’t saddled with such a clunker of a title.

Wer? Really, that’s the best we can do?

It’s a shame because Wer is top-shelf lycanthrope mayhem all day, every day.

Co-writer and director William Brent Bell wisely saved his nickels and dimes by filming in Romania and calling it France, where American lawyer Kate Moore (A.J. Cook from Criminal Minds) is defending a hulking peasant (Brian Scott O’Connor) accused of tearing up a family of tourists. Limb from limb.

And taking huge bites out of them.

The makeup and prosthetic work by Almost Human Inc. is worth the price of the ticket. The scene when Kate examines the shredded remains of the victims is startlingly savage. Seldom has bodily harm been rendered in such vicious detail.

A shaking hand-held camera gives Wer the appearance of a found footage police procedural, with lengthy talking sequences that flare into bloody chaos without warning.

Now that’s what I’m talking about. Modest movies that turn out to be way better than I expect are the coin of my realm. They’re my jam.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to make some toast.

Editor’s Note: Come and have a hang at our new Facebook site!

Day Shift (2022)

“This is like the third movie we’ve seen where vampires are also realtors,” Kaja observes.

“It’s an easy metaphor,” I admit.

Day Shift is set in sunny Los Angeles, as hard-working vampire hunter Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx) tries to earn a living snuffing out the undead and selling their teeth to oily pawnshop owner Troy (Peter Stormare).

There is a vampire hunter union, and Bud could make more money if he was a member. Alas, he’s been kicked out for not following the rules.

And wouldn’t you know it? He’s got a week to put together $10,000 for his daughter’s school tuition and braces, and his soon-to-be ex-wife wants to sell their house.

This situation provides the comic fulcrum and prompts Bud’s return to the union, where he is assigned a by-the-book partner named Seth, played by Dave Franco as a Rick Moranis-style retro nerd.

The villain in Day Shift is Audrey San Fernando (Karla Souza), an ambitious land baron who’s trying to buy up the valley she’s named after. She’s got a score to settle with Bud, who recently beheaded Audrey’s daughter during a house call.

Heck, let’s throw in Snoop Dogg dressed in full-on cowboy gear as Big John Elliott, a legendary slayer with a Clint Eastwood vibe.

Day Shift, directed by J.J. Perry and written by Tyler Tice and Shane Hatten, provides zippy spectacle with state-of-the-art vampire slaying methods (garlic grenades, silver beheading wire, wooden bullets), and the action is tightly choreographed and brutally executed.

The scene in which Bud teams up with the Nazarian Brothers, a pair of Eastern European tough boys, to clean out a nest of vampires is a real adrenaline popper. Martial arts, flying body parts, and tech toys make for successful stimulation.

Unfortunately, when the rumbles subside, we’re not left with much to occupy our attention.

It’s a minor complaint, but Bud’s family is about as one-dimensional as it gets. The sassy daughter (Zion Broadnax) and endlessly complaining wife (Meagan Goode) are standard plug and play characters.

There are loose ends left dangling all over the place, including a sunscreen that allows vampires to run around in the daylight for a short time. A significant discovery in Nosferatu society, but here it barely rates a mention.

And what’s up with Jamie Foxx’s name? When was the last time you met an African-American dude named Bud Jablonski?

If you’re inclined to forgive a few half-assed details, Day Shift delivers decent bang for the buck, but you’re not missing anything special.

Prey (2022)

About 20 minutes into Prey, I made an offhand comment to my wife.

“This seems more like a Disney movie than a horror movie.”

A few momnets later, Barb replied, “Good call. It’s from 20th Century Studios, owned by Disney.”

Therein lies the rub.

Co-writer and director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) has assembled a violent, R-rated action movie that nonetheless features a headstrong and resourceful heroine who isn’t satisfied with her gender-defined role in life.

Prey also provides new management for the Predator series, which has been floundering since Schwarzenegger flew the coop. Here, an interstellar big-game hunter makes a landing in early 18th century America, amongst a tribe of sturdy Comanches.

Naru (Amber Midthunder), is a bad-ass hunter and tracker who wants to be a warrior. Unfortunately, she lives in the shadow of her older brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), the tribe Alpha Male.

In a refreshing turn, Taabe is actually supportive of his sister, speaking highly of her skills to his fellow hunters.

His encouragement pays off, as Naru is the only one with the smarts to figure out that whatever is killing nearby wildlife is not a bear or a mountain lion.

Eventually, Naru gets her most fervent wish: to hunt something that is simultaneously hunting her.

Prey is visually stimulating and full of arboreal wonder as the tale and the landscape itself unfold without the presence of Western man—except for some dastardly French trappers who get in the way of the Predator’s safari.

As for the main monster itself, we don’t get any major developments other than their hunting technology is more rudimentary than that one time with Arnold.

Overall, it seems a less formidable opponent, which takes some of the steam out of the narrative.

Equally bothersome, there’s CGI work involving some of the animal fight scenes (Predator versus Bear, Naru versus Mountain Lion) that seems crudely rendered and rather clunky. It makes you think, for a second or two, that the whole picture must be a bloody animated feature, rather than live action.

Yet the Disney thematic parachute is unmistakably present in Prey, and the result is an uneasy alliance between dueling Market Powers (Action Fans versus Disney Moral Authority).

My wife liked it more than I did.

Note: Naru has a brave dog sidekick that doesn’t get killed.

Stonehearst Asylum (2014)

An able cast saves the day!

Loosely based on Poe’s The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, and directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Session 9, Transsiberian), Stonehearst Asylum is a Victorian madhouse shocker in which the inmates literally take over the asylum.

Doctor Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess), an idealistic, Oxford-trained physician lands a job at a remote English asylum for wealthy lunatics, where he is taken under the wing by its director Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley).

Lamb chooses to leave the patients unmedicated and in some cases, even encourages them to pursue their delusions, as with the aristocrat who fancies himself a dog.

Newgate is drawn to Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a posh patient suffering from hysteria, and almost immediately begins devising escape methods on her behalf, even as she warns him to get his own ass outta town.

Stonehearst Asylum takes its sweet time about getting anywhere, but when you’ve got a cast that includes Kingsley, Michael Caine, Brendan Gleeson, and David Thewlis as Lamb’s psychotic bully boy, Mickey Finn, it’s probably best to let these guys ham it up a bit.

Same goes for the ever-enchanting Kate Beckinsale, the ideal template for the role of the beautiful, mysterious madwoman in peril, with whom Newgate has no choice but to fall in love and try to rescue.

Who is she? Who is Newgate? Who is Lamb? Who is anybody in this picture?

Joseph Gangemi’s script wanders like a hippie on an OG Kush bender, but Anderson somehow guides his players to a blazing finale when murderous Mickey Finn bursts into flame and sets the whole place on fire.

I would characterize Stonehearst Asylum not only as a goth-styled thriller, but existing in the same cinematic universe as Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations, and some of Hammer Films’ more outrageous period pieces, that likewise usually conclude with the house burning down.

I almost added Ken Russell to that group. Stonehearst Asylum stops short of achieving anything as stylistically unhinged as Russell’s maddest work, which is a tall order to be sure.

On the other hand, if you enjoy kooky costume drama with a first-rate cast attached, this is an Everything Bagel.

Umma (2022)

I swore I’d never be like my mother!”

It’s easy enough to say, and you can substitute “father” if you want. Mostly they’re just words, and they don’t help.

The central point of terror in Umma (Korean word for “Mama”) is the idea of inherited sin, and how kids are rotten fruit from a poison tree.

As conceived by Iris K. Shim, Umma is a ghost story about being haunted by your own family. Unlike the trend toward pitch-black horizons these days, Shim’s feature maintains its grace despite grim subject matter, and even offers a glimmer of hope.

Amanda (Sandra Oh), an agoraphobic beekeeper, raises her daughter Chris (Fivel Stewart) on a lovely, spacious farm, where electricity (phones, TVs, you name it) is forbidden.

Like all the other threads in the movie, it traces back to Amanda’s tortured childhood and the abuse she suffered at the hand of a mean, unstable mother (MeeWha Alana Lee).

Their idyllic existence gets upended by the arrival of a suitcase containing her mother’s remains, which coincides with the manifestation of her angry ghost, who proceeds to torment Amanda from the grave.

As if life weren’t stressful enough, she also discovers that Chris wants to leave the analog farm and go to college! The pressure to maintain her equilibrium overpowers Amanda, and that’s how the ghost gets in.

Filmmaker Shim isn’t afraid to tackle touchy subjects, and Amanda’s plight is pretty much universal, trying to shelter her own daughter from the worst family traits—even as she gains insight by subletting her soul to a mother’s rage.

In Umma, it isn’t curses or cannibalism that’s passed on, but fear and resentment. You know, real shit.

Pro Tip: Acceptance is your best option when confronted with an angry ghost.

Hellbender (2021)

If you recall the lavish amount of praise I heaped upon The Deeper You Dig, then you might have a clue of how stoked I was for Hellbender, the follow-up effort from the shockingly talented filmmaking Adams Family.

In a possible star-making turn, Zelda Adams absolutely smashes glass as Izzy, a mysterious teen who leads an isolated existence with her mother (Toby Poser) in the woods.

Izzy is not unhappy. Life with Mom rocks, in a modest way. The two create raw punk music together in a drums-bass duo called Hellbender. Mom is wise in the ways of the forest and teaches her daughter all about the forces of nature.

However, contact with the outside world is verboten. Mom tells Izzy she’s too sick to be around other people. Can this be true, or is there a more compelling reason for homeschooling such a bright pupil?

Written and directed by Adams, Poser, and John Adams, Hellbender is a bold, original movie told with fearless artistic flair. After a lightning strike moment, Izzy must adjust to severe growing pains when she accidentally meets a distant neighbor (Lulu Adams) who awakens all kinds of new, dangerous feelings.

It’s such a confident blend of folk horror and coming-of-age drama/trauma, that when Izzy begins to change, we truly see the world through her eyes, and it’s an unsettling trip. Her caterpillar stage has ended, and something more powerful is emerging, heralded by Izzy’s switch from a vegetarian diet to fresh, bloody meat.

It’s also quite a change for Mom, who recognizes that a new administration will soon be taking charge, and that it’s just the start of a new season.

Highly recommended. The collective vision, brains, and arboreal soul displayed by the Adams Clan in Hellbender is never less than spellbinding, and watching their unique ascension in the horror film landscape leaves me giddy with anticipation of future treasures.

I only hope they can maintain some measure of artistic control as the budgets get bigger and they ponder leaving the creepy bucolic comforts of their upstate New York headquarters. The energy this team brings to each project is somewhat feral, and perhaps shouldn’t be tamed by Big Business.

In any case, I’ll be there in the dark with eyes wide open.

Lantern’s Lane (2021)

True Confession. Role Playing Games once represented a huge part of my social life. Many’s the night we cast our dice to the wind playing Dungeons & Dragons, rolling up characters for some catastrophic quest or other, fortified by cheap beer and weak weed (and vice versa).

On the not-too-rare occasions when nobody really had their shit together enough to have an original adventure prepared, we relied on modules, or ready-made dungeons, that any half-bright game master could purchase at the local Nerd Boutique.

Lantern’s Lane, written and directed by Southern California filmmaker Justin LaReau, is a horror movie module. It’s a bare-bones slasher that hovers around the minimum requirement level in every department.

Nutshell: Homecoming Queen and all-around It Girl, Layla (Brooke Butler), returns to her hick hometown after graduating from college. She drops by the seedy saloon and reconnects with high-school chums Missy (Ashley Doris), a hottie waitress, Shana (Sydney Carvill), a former fat girl, and Jason (Andy Cohen, think Xander from Buffy The Vampire Slayer), the eunuch comic relief.

After a few shots of White Lightning, the onetime classmates drive out to Lantern’s Lane, a local hotspot for Urban Legends and paranormal activity, hoping to get a glimpse of the Old Lady with the Lantern, a tragic spook eternally searching for her dead hubby.

Instead, Layla and her mates end up stranded in an unfinished house, penned in by a knife-wielding psycho wearing a bug-eyed sack.

How basic can you get?

Sadly, most of the running time is devoted to devising escape plans that don’t work, and discussing how Layla is a bad friend for leaving their Podunk town and making a life for herself in the Big City.

By the time the maniac shows up, the characters have rehashed their petty grievances to the point that we’re hoping they get carved up like Christmas hams. No such luck, the body count is dismal and we get only trace amounts of viscera.

On top of all that, LaReau can’t write dialogue to save his life, seldom rising above “Let’s get out of here,” “I can’t do it,” and other throwaway panic phrases that come with the game setup.

The recurring problem with Lantern’s Lane is its lack of any distinctive characteristics. It isn’t scary, funny, bloody, sexy, or even atmospheric.

More like Lantern’s Lame, if you ask me.

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