Movie Review ~ Spirited

The Facts:

Synopsis: Each Christmas Eve, the Ghost of Christmas Present selects one dark soul to be reformed by a visit from three spirits. But this season, he picked the wrong Scrooge.
Stars: Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer, Sunita Mani, Patrick Page, Tracy Morgan, Joe Tippett, Andrea Anders, Jen Tullock
Director: Sean Anders
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 127 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review:  Before we journey through this Spirited review, I feel I must be transparent about a few things off the bat. That will help better frame how I came to this new musical re-telling of A Christmas Carol, one of the multitudes of versions of the Charles Dickens perennial classic. I love A Christmas Carol. I will watch a performance (or versions) of it every year and be struck by something new about the piece each time I see it. There’s a lesson to be learned from Dickens’s story of redemption, and my opinion is that the darker, the better. Let the story start from a deep, despairing place because the renewal of salvation Scrooge experiences at the end means much more; the takeaway is more impactful.

The next thing I’ll say is that I’m not generally a fan of either star of the film, Will Ferrell or Ryan Reynolds. Both actors trade in schtick, and while it has made them a boatload of money, it’s a schtick that’s beaten to death and quoted by those less talented on the delivery forever after. (“No really, I don’t need to hear that Anchorman bit again Kevin. Thank you.”) Each has occasionally struck out with work that has shown their acting chops, but to say they are comfortable with coasting along is putting it mildly. I also am not the biggest fan of Dear Evan Hansen, the multiple award-winning musical Spirited songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul composed for Broadway and helped adapt for the bomb-tastic 2021 musical. It even took me a second viewing to appreciate their Oscar-winning songwriting for 2017’s The Greatest Showman.

There was the dilemma I faced when Spirited was staring me down the other night. Dickens=good.  Ferrell/Reynolds=iffy.  Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water) being third billed tipped the scale in the right direction, and I committed to at least starting the movie but not finishing it at that late hour. It’s rare in our house not to pause for a bathroom break or other distraction, but after the two hours was up and Spirited’s charming closing credit sequence was complete, my only regret wasn’t staying up past my bedtime but that I wasn’t able to see this joyous holiday entertainment on the biggest screen possible. (It’s in limited release now but widely available on AppleTV+ on November 18.)

Written by John Morris and director Sean Anders (Daddy’s Home), Spirited takes the story we’re all familiar with (A Christmas Carol) and gives it a modern twist. Scrooge gets redeemed on his Christmas Eve night, but what about the next Christmas? And the one after that? And the one after that? The “haunt “business is a well-oiled machine and by the time we join the crew, Marley (Patrick Page, In the Heights) is running a tight ship. The Ghosts of Christmas Past (Sunita Mani, Evil Eye), Present (Ferrell, Holmes & Watson), and Yet-To-Come (voiced by Tracy Morgan, The Boxtrolls, and physicalized by Loren Woods) get in, do their job, and pass their torch to the next on the schedule.

They’ve just completed their latest mission (a Karen-esque suburbanite played by a recognizable star), and are planning their next when Present suddenly turns his focus to Clint Briggs (Reynolds, Deadpool), a smarmy public relations exec that can spin any story (illustrated by Reynolds in a go-for-broke 11 o’clock musical number that comes around the 9:00 am mark). The only problem is Clint is classified as ‘Unredeemable’ and automatically excluded from the yearly haunt – but Present sees a challenge and, facing retirement, pushes Marley to take on Clint despite the warnings that their efforts will fail. Of course, they can’t know that Clint truly is as nasty as he looks and isn’t as easily rattled as the centuries of souls that came before him.

The screenplay (and songs) takes some unexpected turns, sometimes following the Dickens text but diverging enough, so you’re never sure where you’ll find yourself at given beats. That’s nice to find, especially for the experienced fans of A Christmas Carol, but also for those willing to let Ferrell and Reynolds try on a new side of themselves. Both are nicely musical and dance well, culminating in several smashing full-out dance numbers set to Pasek/Paul’s lively tunes and performed with dazzling choreography by Chloe Arnold. Sure, they start to sound the same after a while, and you won’t be turning the TV off humming them, but they’re clever and fun while you’re in it, and the old time pub song ‘Good Afternoon’ is a showstopping riot.

If the film drags its feet a little, it’s when we go down the rabbit hole of Clint’s past. That’s where we find good actors like Joe Tippett (Mr. Harrigan’s Phone), Andrea Anders (The Stepford Wives), & Jen Tullock (TV’s Severance) struggling with some saccharine dialogue (or, in Anders’s case, several bizarrely ugly wigs). So much effort is spent on the production numbers looking great, I wish more time were spent on the dramatic scenes being as tight. At least Spencer’s scenes are razor-sharp, and if you had seeing Spencer in a musical on your Christmas wish list, you could check that off now because she’s lovely in her few moments of musicality. Spencer is the epitome of the heart that Spirited is going for, so anytime she’s on screen, she has a way of centering everyone in the film.

There’s so little to offend here; I’d encourage you to block out the early negative buzz from some ‘unredeemable’ Scrooge-y critics who can’t see what the film is going for and ultimately achieves. It shows us a new way of approaching a story while at the same time illustrating the flaws we all examine in ourselves. The flaws can define us and make us embittered against the world, or we can take ownership of them and use them toward doing good. The message is clear, and sometimes, in the case of Spirited, it’s sung. This will be added to the holiday rotation in my home, no question.

Movie Review ~ Christmas with You

The Facts:

Synopsis: Feeling career burnout, pop star Angelina escapes to grant a young fan’s wish in small-town New York, where she not only finds the inspiration to revitalize her career but also a shot at true love.
Stars: Freddie Prinze Jr., Aimee Garcia, Deja Monique Cruz, Zenzi Williams, Lawrence J. Hughes
Director:  Gabriela Tagliavini
Rated: NR
Running Length: 89 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review:  Watching Christmas with You is a bit like opening your refrigerator after having the family over for a big dinner the night before and perusing the leftovers of the homemade meal sealed tight in Tupperware. The food has retained its flavor and warms up fine, but it doesn’t taste as good as it did in the first round. Ultimately you start to pick at it before soldiering through to clean your plate and not create waste. You wouldn’t go back for a second helping, but the meal served its purpose, and the indigestion isn’t too terrible. 

A week after Netflix released the Lindsay Lohan-led Falling for Christmas, the streaming service delivers Christmas with You, starring another celeb two decades removed from being the headliner of feature films. Freddie Prinze Jr. was never what you would call a ‘bankable’ star but was a unique kind of heartthrob that boasted bad boy looks but a cheerily non-threatening disposition. Married for over twenty years to fellow former teen star Sarah Michelle Gellar (who recently popped up in Do Revenge), Prinze has always excelled at playing a nice guy, and moving into ‘dad’ mode was an inevitable transition he would be a natural at.

In Christmas with You, Prinze is a widowed high school music teacher with a daughter (Deja Monique Cruz) preparing for her quinceañera during the busy holiday season. He’s also occasionally been plunking away at a Christmas song, an old habit from playing piano with a band. An active social media user, his daughter Cristina is a massive fan of pop star Angelina (Aimee Garcia, RoboCop) and posts a message to Instagram singing one of her idol’s songs and adding a personal note about wanting to meet her.

Luckily, Angelina, feeling the creep of time and newer talent nipping at her heels, is scrolling through at the right moment and is touched by this message. Especially hitting home is both Cristina and Angelina lost their mothers at a young age. When Angelina is asked to record a Christmas song for an upcoming gala instead of singing her old hits, she panics and hightails it out of town with her assistant Monique (Zenzi Williams, Black Panther) in tow. Remembering Cristina’s video and that she lives a few hours away, she impulsively directs Monique to drive them to the tiny town where she’ll make Cristina’s wish come true, find her song, and discover love when she least expected it.

If you’ve seen Marry Me, the Jennifer Lopez/Owen Wilson romance from earlier in 2022 (and, honestly, what are you waiting for?), you already know the central romantic entanglement that follows and even some of its resolution. While that film was a not-so-subtle riff on 1999’s Notting Hill, Christmas with You has some striking similarities with the Lopez vehicle, down to supporting players that get in the way of our leads making their love connection. Not that there is an extreme electric current between Garcia and Prinze; in all honesty, when they start making goo-goo eyes at one another, it feels like they are simply going with the script and not from emotion. If anything, both actors work better, displaying their emotions in scenes with Cruz. 

Anytime you have a plot centered around a “mega-talent,” you want that actor/actress to shine, and Garcia struggles with convincing us that she’s been an international star since she was a pre-teen. Acting-wise, she’s charismatic, but anytime music or dancing is involved, you can see the nervous energy sideline her. In several scenes, Prinze (I Know What You Did Last Summer) also looks a little uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because he towers over Garcia and has to turn his head almost at a 90-degree angle to talk to her when they sit next to one another. There’s also a strange scene where director Gabriela Tagliavini has her two leads adjourn from the warmth of indoors to have a serious conversation sitting outside…while it’s snowing.

As flimsy as it is, I find it tough to want to dismantle Christmas with You too much. The representation showcasing Latino talent in front of and behind the camera is essential and should be encouraged more than anything. You’ve seen worse Christmas movies on other networks, but one does wish this had slightly more going for it. It will do to have on as you decorate your tree or bake your first batch of cookies.    

Movie Review ~ Falling for Christmas

The Facts:

Synopsis: A newly engaged, spoiled hotel heiress gets into a skiing accident, suffers from total amnesia, and finds herself in the care of a handsome, blue-collar lodge owner and his precocious daughter in the days leading up to Christmas.
Stars: Lindsay Lohan, Chord Overstreet, George Young, Jack Wagner, Olivia Perez, Alejandra Flores, Chase Ramsey, Sean Dillingham, Antonio D. Charity
Director: Janeen Damian
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 93 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review:  Up in my neck of the woods, the weather hasn’t quite gotten frightful, but the holiday movies are arriving, and so far, I am happy to report that they are indeed delightful. Our first present under the Christmas tree is this much-anticipated Netflix film I’ve been waiting for almost since last December. I may even say that I’ve been waiting for it for longer than that because Falling for Christmas isn’t your run-of-the-mill factory-produced offering but a welcoming back of sorts for a star we haven’t seen for some time, Glee’s Chord Overstreet. Nah, I’m kidding. While Overstreet is the male lead of this well-produced treat, you’re here to read about the return of LiLo herself: Lindsay Lohan.

Getting her start in the soap opera Another World before the age of 10, Lohan made a name for herself in the solid 1998 remake of the Disney classic, The Parent Trap. Her real superstardom would be locked in when Mean Girls was released six years later, but just as quickly, the pressures of having to deliver would push her in dangerous directions. With parents more interested in being stars themselves, Lohan essentially had to go it alone. The missteps we all made growing up were, for her, the subject of gossip magazines and the Hollywood rumor mill. Everything we experienced in private she went through on movie sets. By 2013, she had earned the reputation of an unreliable commodity, valued more for her crash-and-burn potential than anything else. What has everyone always said about her through it all? Her talent was undeniable.

Lohan has spent the past few years slowly building up her brand again, including signing a deal with Netflix for several feature films. The first picture in that package is Falling for Christmas, and right out of the gate, Lohan has a winner on her hands, a movie tailored to her talents and contoured to the charm that made her loyal fans fall for her all those years ago and stick by her side. Even better? While Falling for Christmas could undeniably be lumped into those annual Hallmark-y/Lifetime-ish holiday films that feature key elements (a red dress, cups of hot cocoa, carols, one big kiss at the end), Jeff Bonnett and Ron Oliver’s script has loftier ambitions.

Beauregard Belmont (soap star Jack Wagner) has made the ski resort experience a luxury destination for those who want to hit the slopes in style. All the comforts of home are elevated, and his Instagram-ready accommodations are growing in popularity with each passing season. That’s great news for him, but it spells tough times for Jake Russell’s North Star Lodge in Summit Springs. A family-owned business gifted to him by his late wife’s father the North Star Lodge is seeing their reservations for Christmas dwindle, losing customers to Belmont’s fancier digs. Jake (Overstreet) is doing his best to make ends meet but he’s starting to come up short.

As the film opens, Jake meets with Belmont to find a compromise so that both businesses may thrive. Still, Belmont has other things to worry about, namely finding a job for his daughter Sierra (Lohan), who is about to be engaged to vain influencer Tad (George Young, Malignant). Tad has no sooner put a ring on it at the peak of a snowy mountain than Sierra is falling down the side of said mountain, bumping her head and forgetting who she is. Luckily, she’s rescued by Jake and winds up waiting for her memory to return at his lodge, helping and getting to know his young daughter (Olivia Perez, In the Heights) and mother-in-law (Alejandra Flores). One guess what happens the more time the widower and amnesiac heiress spend together at a cozy inn at the most festive time of year?

Poking holes in a block of Swiss cheese like Falling for Christmas is pointless. Lohan’s character is a Paris Hilton type, and if she went missing, I doubt she’d be left unaccounted for as long as Lohan is (then again…). It’s always hysterical how easily movies think amnesia can come and go, with memories jumping in and out at will. Lohan keeps the film bright and bubbly, with that soft, husky voice back into its higher register (not down in the deep smoker’s well it had dropped to) and her eyes sparkling and ready to have fun. There’s a twinkle in Lohan’s smile and spirit we haven’t seen in some time, and that vibrancy goes a long way in making Falling for Christmas sit right. 

Credit also must go to director Janeen Damian for surrounding her star with a strong cast and production. It feels like the “good” Netflix money has gone into it, with the Utah-filmed movie giving off an authentic vibe. It helps that it was filmed last November when it was visibly cold and not in the Spring like most are when they are forced to rely on foam snow to cover the trees. Overstreet has a winsome hangdog look, but he’s incredibly winning as the right guy for Lohan’s character. I must also give significant kudos to Perez for landing on the tolerable scale of child actors – so many kids in similar-themed movies can torment you with their cutesiness. 

We’re only in the second week of November, but it’s never too early to welcome a little holiday cheer into your heart, which is why Falling for Christmas is such a pleasure. I had my fingers crossed this would be as warm and pleasing as it was; that it turned out to be high-quality was the curled bow on top of it all. Lohan could have an entirely new career as the Queen of Christmas if she wanted, and ooo, would I love that! But if this is the only holiday outing we get with her, it’s a jolly one!

Movie Review ~ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The people of Wakanda fight to protect their home from intervening world powers as they mourn the death of King T’Challa.
Stars: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Florence Kasumba, Michaela Coel, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett
Director: Ryan Coogler
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 161 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review:  By all accounts, 2018’s Black Panther was far more than just another Marvel movie. Director Ryan Coogler’s film arrived after the success of Thor: Ragnarok and before the beginning of the bend rounding that was Avengers: Infinity War, yet it stood out. Instead of feeling like it was serving as another puzzle piece that told a larger story, it flipped the power dynamic to invite the Marvel fans into its orbit instead of the other way around. That formula paid off incredibly well, not just in audience satisfaction but in the movie becoming the first Marvel Studios property to be a major awards contender, nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and in six other categories. Ultimately winning three (rightfully so), Black Panther set a high bar that no other similar genre film has met as of this writing.

A sequel was inevitable even if the awards hadn’t come and there were always plans to bring back Black Panther down the line. No one could have predicted how difficult that would be, though. Getting Coogler and the cast to come back was a matter of signing on the dotted line, but when original star Chadwick Boseman tragically died of colon cancer in 2020, questions were raised on how the film and franchise would deal with this loss. Considering Boseman’s legacy and his too-short career’s tremendous impact on the world, Coogler and Marvel have made wise decisions regarding their follow-up. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever allows a time for mourning befitting Boseman’s immense contributions.

The opening of Coogler’s sequel is this passage of time as heroic efforts by princess Shuri (Letitia Wright, The Silent Twins) cannot save her brother King T’Challa from a mysterious illness that claims his life. As her mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett, Olympus Has Fallen), and the Wakandans mourn, Shuri cannot forgive herself or let go of her brother’s memory. With T’Challa’s passing and the throne reverting to Ramonda, the Black Panther, a symbol of protection for Wakanda, has also been laid to rest. A year later, Wakanda’s protection of vibranium, their powerful natural resource, is called under question by the United Nations, which feels the country should be more willing to share it with the world, even though it has proven dangerous when it falls into the wrong hands.

It appears that vibranium may not be as exclusive to Wakanda as everyone thought. A deep sea rig has discovered a possible new source within a subocean cave but couldn’t have predicted that another nation of underwater people is ready to protect it as fiercely as the Wakandans.  Led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía, The Forever Purge), a super-powerful leader with wings on his ankles and “ears that point toward the sky,” they speak ancient Mayan and fight with an extreme severity that makes them nearly invincible either underwater or on land. 

When Namor asks Shuri and Ramonda for help in locating a ‘scientist’ Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne, If Beale Street Could Talk), really an MIT college student, who has unknowingly created the only device that can detect vibranium so that he may eliminate her, the two nations become divided over how to handle the threat of outsiders. Namor would instead wipe all danger out immediately, whereas Shuri and Ramonda know that taking down one enemy often creates numerous others in their place. As Namor’s armies demonstrate their power over the Wakandan people, striking with deadly force and creating more tragic situations for all to deal with, Shuri must decide whether to continue living in an unresolved shroud of guilt or emerge from self-imposed darkness into the light as a leader her people deserve.

The first half of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is about exciting as any film you’ve seen in recent memory. After that opening which may have you dabbing your eyes, Coogler’s film wastes little time kicking into high gear with impressive action sequences and story-building that again manages to keep his movie centrally located as opposed to other Marvel endeavors, which can fly all over the world. This doesn’t need to jump locations to keep us engaged; the set-up and characters make us inch forward in our seats. Brief trips outside of Wakanda, like Shuri and head of special forces Okoye (Danai Gurira, Avengers: Endgame) taking a trip to capture Riri before Namor gets to her, are opportunities for Coogler and cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw to have fun with action sequences and the results are spectacular.

It’s the last hour of the sequel that gets dicey. Maybe it’s the special effects that aren’t as polished as the first (an alarming trend in many Marvel movies), or perhaps it’s just because something is missing in Wright’s performance that doesn’t align as nicely as Boseman’s did with the hero track. Wright is a fine actress with good instincts, but an action star? I’m not so sure about that. Her dramatic scenes carry a nice heft, but when she’s asked to take center stage, it feels a little like asking the solid second-chair violinist to lead the entire orchestra suddenly. They get the job done, but there’s more effort than necessary in the work. Luckily, Wright often has the towering Bassett and the excellent Gurira (where is the spin-off show for this character?) by her side for support.

Filling out the rest of the cast, Mejía makes for a surprising villain of sorts, though even classifying him as such can be tricky, seeing that his goals are often in lockstep with Shuri and Ramonda’s. He’s just going about it in a slightly more forceful way. It’s not the cruel world dominator we’ve seen in other Marvel movies of the past. Funny enough, it’s the stars of Jordan Peele’s creepy Us don’t share many (if any) scenes, but Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) and Winston Duke (Nine Days) have several excellent moments in the spotlight throughout. Don’t you dare, don’t you even dare, leave before the mid-credits scene (the only one) for an emotional wallop game-changer.

The biggest nitpick I had with the film is that for a movie that focuses so much on tradition and ceremony to honor the dead (multiple funerals happen in the movie), there is often little acknowledgment of the loss of life of those that serve the leaders of these nations. Though they are fictional, many people give their lives to protect their homes, but both leaders fail to mention their sacrifice. At the same time, Coogler focuses a great deal of effort on funeral services for others. In a movie about uniting and not dividing, I think having even one sentence of acknowledgment would have helped.

Successfully continuing the Black Panther franchise was a monumental undertaking, not just in terms of a regular sequel but with the added cloud of loss hanging above the filmmakers. Instead of it being a time of sorrow, you can almost feel Boseman’s presence around the endeavor at times. I wouldn’t dream of saying something as gauche as “he would have approved,” but I’m happy that these were the filmmakers responsible for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever because they had worked with him and respected and mourned him. You can tell they took this seriously, which shows in the quality sequel that rose from such a tragedy.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Uninvited (1944)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A pair of siblings from London purchase a surprisingly affordable, lonely cliff-top house in Cornwall, only to discover that it carries a ghostly price—and soon they’re caught up in a bizarre romantic triangle from beyond the grave.
Stars: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Gail Russell, Dorothy Stickney, Barbara Everest, Alan Napier
Director: Lewis Allen
Rated: NR
Running Length: 99 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review:  The true test of motion pictures in any genre is how well they stand the test of time.  Can a movie made in 2022 hold up as well as one made in 1922?  Time and technology aren’t the only things that separate motion pictures.  The tastes of audiences are fluid, and cultural shifts occur.  Until a crystal ball is invented that can tell Hollywood producers what will still hold appeal years in the future; it’s anyone’s guess what films made now will still have a foothold fifty years on.  When you find a movie that does hold up and, in fact, outdoes its contemporaries, that’s when you know you have a winner.

Such a film is 1944’s The Uninvited, a haunted house thriller that I only saw for the first time a couple of years ago but shot right to the top of my favorite horror movies.  While you won’t find any gore or masked killers sauntering around this black-and-white feature released by Paramount Pictures in February 1944, there’s enough tension created by its enveloping plot and carefully constructed images to keep a chill consistently running up your spine.  Even better, it has a creative story with pieces to re-position throughout, making the experience a tip-to-tail joy. 

Londoner Rick Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) are away from the city on vacation in a coastal town when they happen to come across a beautiful house for sale.  With both siblings looking for a second home away from the clamor of city life, their interest is piqued when they find out they could get Windward House for a song.  Figuring it was simply a matter of the owner Commander Beech (Donald Crisp), wanting to unload it to the right people, they buy it with little fanfare or second thought.  While exploring the grounds, Beech’s granddaughter Stella (Gail Russell) catches Rick’s eye, further proof it seems that the home is a good investment.

Yet the house starts to show signs of issues once the brother and sister are ready to move in.  It’s the small things at first.  Domestic animals either recoil at or refuse to enter parts of the house, a terrible draft runs through the place, and they find out Stella’s mother fell (or was pushed) from the cliff directly outside their home when Stella was still a baby.  A locked room opened seems to unleash more trouble, with a spiritual presence desperate to make itself known by any means necessary, even possession.  A séance leads to one of the silver screen’s first images of a ghost…but is this specter offering a message of protection or a warning of danger to come?

First-time director Lewis Allen moves all the pieces nicely, with a beautiful interior set and outdoor views of the imposing cliffside.  Adapted from Irish author Dorothy Macardle’s 1941 novel ‘Uneasy Freehold’ (later published as ‘The Uninvited’) by Dodie Smith (who wrote the novel on which 101 Dalmatians was based) and Frank Partos, the script for the film offers a wealth of fun scenes for the actors to play.  Though it was rumored she was challenging to work with, Russell is delightful as the young ingenue whom the leading man develops feelings but might want to watch his back if he considers anything further.  I also liked Hussey as Milland’s sister, a rare female written to be as strong as her male counterpart. The Uninvited is a film that also benefits from a strong supporting cast, many of whom have secrets that need to be unlocked at critical junctures.

If you’re searching for shocks-a-minute, this isn’t the film for you.  Those on the lookout for the sophisticated scare this Halloween should welcome The Uninvited into their homes because it’s a dandy feature that quickly turns up the heat the deeper we delve into the house’s history.  I was surprised by how tense things get, and stay, during the movie and appreciated that my expectations were upended.  Now, The Uninvited is one of my ‘secret weapon’ recommendations for those I meet whom I feel will appreciate the classy engagement it offers.  And now I pass that on to you, dear readers! 

With that, the 2022 #31DaystoScare comes to a close! 

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

31 Days to Scare ~ Fright Night (1985)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A teenager discovers that the newcomer in his neighborhood is a vampire, so he turns to an actor in a television horror show for help dealing with the undead.
Stars: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall, Amanda Bearse, Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding, Stephen Geoffreys, Art Evans
Director: Tom Holland
Rated: R
Running Length: 106 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review:  Growing up, I think it’s safe to say that any kid with a taste for horror films visiting a video store who passed by the VHS for Fright Night stopped dead in their tracks.  That fantastic poster art alone sold a significant number of tickets when the movie was released in August of 1985, and I’m sure it did the same for the home video release later down the road.  I recall being fascinated by that fanged image hovering above a tiny home and counting the days until I was old enough to check out what terrors Fright Night held in store.

Before the release of Fright Night, its writer/director Tom Holland had established himself as a reputable screenwriter in Hollywood.  Crafting well-received genre titles such as The Beast Within and Class of 1984, both released in 1982, he followed that up the next year with the successful continuation of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho.  I’m a big fan of what Holland did with Psycho II, and it’s a sequel that plays like a Jaws 2, meaning that it couldn’t possibly hope to rise to the same bar as its predecessor but, taken on its own merits, is quite entertaining.  The year before Fright Night, Holland was credited with the cult favorite Cloak & Dagger and the sleazy Scream for Help, but his mix of horror and comedy in this 1985 fanged feature firmly put him on the map.

High schooler Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale, Mannequin: On the Move) is your average all-American kid in small-town U.S.A.   He has a virginal girlfriend, Amy (Amanda Bearse, Bros), and a wacky best friend (Stephen Geoffreys, 976-EVIL) dubbed “Evil Ed” by those that know him best.  Living with his single mother, he often falls asleep watching his favorite program, Fright Night, a late-night horror show hosted by washed-up actor Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall, Dead of Winter), the star of many of the B-movie titles shown in the program.   The relative peace of Charley’s life and quiet in the neighborhood is upended when Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon, The Sentinel), his new next-door neighbor, moves in.

Staying up late one night, Charley watches Jerry and his live-in friend Billy (Jonathan Stark, Career Opportunities) move some alarming items in, including what appears to be a coffin.  When several local girls start to turn up missing, one that Charley swears he saw going into Jerry’s house days before, he begins to suspect that there is more to his new neighbor than a tendency for only coming out in the evening. Screams in the night coming from next door and glowing eyes staring back at him from dark windows convince him Jerry might be…a vampire.  Enlisting the help of his favorite vampire hunter/television host (who’s just been canned and needs cash), Charley and his friends start to poke around Jerry’s house, arousing his attention in the worst way possible.  Now, with a vampire on his trail and no one believing him, Charley will face a real fright night as he faces an evil that threatens everyone he loves.   

Holland has a good ear for dialogue, and while more than a little of Fright Night stayed planted firmly in 1985, the comedy has stayed fang-sharp, and the horror still has bite.  It’s a treat to revisit every few years and pairs nicely with 1988’s Fright Night Part II which is hard to find but worth the hunt.  I liked the 2011 remake starring Colin Farrell because it had generous nods to this original endeavor, but nothing is going to top what felt (and still more or less feels) fresh about Fright Night.  It’s well made and targeted at a critical audience that ate it up at the time and then passed it down through two generations. 

31 Days to Scare ~ A Double Shot of Crawford

Two films starring Joan Crawford that I had never seen had been calling to me for a while, and I was having trouble deciding which ones to watch for 31 Days to Scare. Ultimately, both were so short and interesting that I decided to bundle them for A Double Shot of Crawford. If Crawford is the true star of Berserk, she was more of a cameo in I Saw What You Did, but both show off her tremendous screen presence. 

Berserk (1969)
The Facts:

Synopsis: A scheming circus owner finds her authority challenged when a vicious killer targets the show.
Stars: Joan Crawford, Ty Hardin, Diana Dors, Michael Gough, Judy Geeson, Robert Hardy
Director: Jim O’Connolly
Rated: Approved
Running Length: 96 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review:  After a long and celebrated career of almost 45 years and nearly 80 films, Joan Crawford’s work in the movies was struggling in the late ‘60s.  She would find the occasional job here and there, but rumors of her being difficult to work with had proceeded her, often proven true by the actress’s noted drinking problems late in life.  Her work with William Castle on 1964’s Strait-Jacket and 1965’s I Saw What You Did bolstered her into the B-movie horror genre after starring in the A-List suspense thriller What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? in 1962.  By the time 1969’s Berserk pulled up, Crawford was done with the American film business and was looking to the European market.

A British film production, Berserk is almost a double-bill film in and of itself.  It serves as a fine suspense thriller with Crawford well cast (and well-lit), and it also features several circus acts, bringing horror and spectacle together into one package.  Your thoughts on the circus and its use of animals aside, it is fascinating to see the traveling entertainment all these years later to view some of its inner workings and oddities.  While the fully performed circus routines tend to pad the feature (full disclosure, I fast-forwarded through many of them after a few minutes), I can see how their presence would add a selling point to those wanting an extended peek into the tent.

At its heart, Berserk is a murder-mystery whodunit and not a bad one at that.  Someone starts to trim the roster of performers and staff of Crawford’s traveling circus, and it’s up to the dwindling members to find out who could be behind it all.  A shocking opening finds a tightrope walker strangled by his rope, which also cleverly (or would it be cheekily?) reveals the title as shocked spectators look on.  Unbothered by this terrible death, ringmistress Monica Rivers (Crawford) asks her business partner Albert Dorando (Michael Gough, Venom) to locate a new act immediately.  Lucky for them, Frank Hawkins (Ty Hardin), another tightrope walker with an added element of danger, has shown up looking for a job.  He fits the bill, is ruggedly handsome, and instantly has eyes for single-mother Monica, so he’s hired.  Their affair begins quickly, and soon, he wants to be taken on as part of the business.

When more people start to die, usually any that stand in the way of Monica or Frank getting what they want, the performers team up and begin to put the pieces together that perhaps it’s Monica behind the killings.  This scene was a fun turning point of the movie, when the “freaks” get back at their master and, led into battle by the voluptuous Diana Dors; it’s when the film loosens its collar a bit and settles into having some fun with its cattiness.  Dors and Crawford have some nice run-ins, and as the bodies pile up, more people arrive on the scene that may be helping or hindering the process.  One of these is Detective Superintendent Brooks (Robert Hardy, Dark Places), sent to help the circus pinpoint its killer in disguise, and Angela Rivers (Judy Geeson, Lords of Salem), Monica’s estranged daughter stops by after getting kicked out of boarding school.

If there’s one place where the movie falters, it’s in a finale that’s a bit ludicrous even by the standard of these trashy-but-fun films.  There’s a sense of not knowing how to wrap things up, so writers Herman Cohen and Aben Kandel chose the ending that shocks the most, even if it creates a multi-verse of plot holes.  Up until that point, apart from the slightly slow circus acts, the genre pieces of Berserk had been quite fun to get a front-row seat for.  For nothing else, it’s lovely to see Crawford looking glamorous and in complete control of the movie.  As mentioned before, she’s rarely seen without a particular key light across her face, and it almost becomes comical by the end to have that same light on her no matter where she is or what time of day the scene takes place. 

I Saw What You Did (1965)
The Facts:

Synopsis: Teenagers Libby and Kit innocently spend an evening making random prank calls that lead to murderous consequences.
Stars: Joan Crawford, Andi Garrett, Sarah Lane, Sharyl Locke, John Ireland, Leif Erickson, Patricia Breslin, Joyce Meadows
Director: William Castle
Rated: Approved
Running Length: 82 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review:  In the horror genre, the name William Castle often goes hand in hand with a particular type of schlock B-movie cinema. While he initially began as a standard director of lower-grade films that studios could use to fill out double bills, he eventually turned his talent at marketing a movie with gimmicks and ploys from advanced advertising into a small cottage industry. Often the advanced buzz on a film was more interesting than the film itself. This is the guy that had a “fright break” in his 1961 film Homicidal that allowed guests to run out of the theater if they were too scared to stay for the end. I’ve watched that film, and while it isn’t particularly frightening, the 60-second countdown in the “fright-break” as a woman slowly walks toward a door to open creates a nerve frenzy that’s had to ignore.

By the time I Saw What You Did came about in 1965, Castle had also released 1959’s The Tingler, with vibrating devices installed in seats to give audiences a buzz whenever the titular creature had shown up. His idea around I Saw What You Did was to have seat belts installed in seats to prevent the viewer from leaping out due to fright. Maybe not on par with his previous stunts, but it still comes across as if you might want to proceed with caution if you consider buying a ticket. I find all these quite fun, but you can also understand why these campaigns went by the wayside. Not only were they hard to maintain as movie theaters across the country grew, but it also indicated the film needed a trick to entice audiences when the movie itself should be the draw.

At least with Castle, most of his films were easy to recommend. I’m always surprised at how nicely put together his movies are, and I Saw What You Did is no exception. Opening with such a spring in its step that you may wonder if you’ve started into a teeny-bopper comedy, we get introduced to Libby Mannering (Andi Garrett) and Kit Austin (Sara Lane). They plan a night in at Libby’s house while her parents are away overnight. They’ll be a babysitter because Libby’s younger sister Tess (Sharyl Locke) has been ill, so Kit’s dad agrees that she can hang out at Libby’s isolated home on the outskirts of town.

When Kit arrives, and her dad has gone, the babysitter cancels, leaving Libby’s parents to make a last-minute decision to allow their teen daughter to have some adult responsibility. Libby can be in charge if they stay in the house and don’t go out. No sooner have they left than the teens, bored after Libby shows Kit around their expansive home and outdoor barn, start playing a fun telephone game. They flip through a phone book, pick a random name, and call the number, pranking whoever answers with silly questions or their favorite line: “I saw what you did, and I know who you are.” A call to Steve Marak (John Ireland) will turn their crank calling into a nightmare.

They first get Marak’s wife on the phone, and with the girls posing as a sultry woman, she confronts her husband, who is already in an aggravated state. Things get dicey from there, with Marak killing his wife and burying her body, only to receive another call from the giggly girls saying: “I saw what you did, and I know who you are.” Convinced there is a witness to his crime through a series of coincidences that involve Marak’s lusty neighbor (Joan Crawford), Marak identifies the address where the girls are calling from and makes a late-night beeline to them.

I went into I Saw What You Did, thinking it would be much different than it turned out. Maintaining a natural feeling of pep and capturing that teen spirit in the first half, the transition makes sense when it turns dark in the second, and we start to fear for the girl’s safety. There’s a lot of teen slang that makes for fun laughs, and Crawford is a campy treat as the nosy neighbor who can’t see she’s making eyes at a dangerous killer.

The film’s finale is quite scary, with Castle adding ample amounts of fog to his studio set and creating a sense of dread by doing very little. Films of this era often drew suspense from the editing, and Edwin H. Bryant cuts I Saw What You Did with efficient skill. It’s a full 82-minutes that rarely sags because of the performances (the two teens are terrific, as is the youngster playing the ill sister) and Castle’s eye for crafting visuals that give you the shivers is on target. That’s the kind of filmmaking that needs no trickery to promote.

31 Days to Scare ~ Cursed

The Facts:

Synopsis: A werewolf loose in Los Angeles changes the lives of three young adults who, after being mauled by the beast, learn to kill it to avoid becoming werewolves themselves.
Stars: Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, Joshua Jackson, Milo Ventimiglia, Judy Greer, Mýa, Shannon Elizabeth, Portia de Rossi, Kristina Anapau, Solar, Derek Mears, Nick Offerman
Director: Wes Craven
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 97 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review:  Perhaps I’m getting more nostalgic in my old age, but I’ve developed a fondness for revisiting several films from my high school and college years that proved formative.  Steering clear of the true childhood classics from the ‘80s, I’ve focused instead on those late ‘90s to mid-‘00s features that launched (or sunk) numerous Hollywood careers.  What has surprised me most about these trips down movie theater memory lane is not the films that have held up nicely but the titles that improved through the years.  Some have gone from good to excellent, while others have moved in my mind from “bad” to “what took me so long to rewatch this?” 

Today’s example is Cursed, a werewolf movie with a Scream-vibe released in 2005.  Cursed isn’t a great movie; it’s been altered and chopped up too much from its original version, damaging the intended vision of director Wes Craven (Summer of Fear) and his production team.  It is, however, so much better than I had remembered it and absolutely not the dumpster fire it was classified as when it was initially released.  Based on an original screenplay by Kevin Williamson (The Faculty), the script went through numerous rewrites by various other screenwriters. Hence, it’s hard to figure out to whom the final product should be attributed.  Some might argue Miramax/Dimension Films producer Harvey Weinstein shaped the version released in theaters because he ordered so many changes during the over two years of production the crew endured.

Yes, that’s right.  Over two years were spent once filming began before the troubled production finally made it to theaters.  In that time, cast members were changed, storylines were cut/modified, and the special effects team was let go.  What audiences saw in theaters reflected that mess, and my recollections were of a film that wanted to get to the kills faster and faster.  It made little sense, with characters appearing and disappearing without much explanation.  We’ll likely never see that originally filmed version that tested either poorly or well (depending on who you talk to), but instead, we have a director’s cut which aims to restore some narrative order to the film.  In this reassembled package, something more in line with a movie Craven and Williamson would have collaborated on finally emerges. While it isn’t a showstopper on their resume, it has some excellent sequences.

Becky and Jenny (Shannon Elizabeth and singer Mýa) are at a carnival in Los Angeles and are warned by a psychic (Portia de Rossi) that one of them is in danger and to beware of a beast they know.  Shortly after, Ellie, a young professional (Christina Ricci, Mermaids), and her younger brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg, American Ultra) get into a car wreck with Becky on a deserted stretch of road in the Hollywood hills.  As the siblings try to help Becky, they watch as she is attacked by an unseen creature that they are both scratched by.  The next day, brother and sister exhibit strange behavior, such as an advanced sense of smell and lightning-fast reflexes. 

Doing some old-fashioned detective work at the library, it becomes clear to Jimmy that the creature they encountered was a werewolf, and now he and his sister are becoming similar beasts.  As the werewolf continues to attack friends of Ellie and Jimmy, there is an urgency to find out who the monster is and their plan in choosing their victims.  The list of potential suspects is long, and who in their circle of friends they can trust is shrinking rapidly.

You can see why Dimension Films were so key in making Cursed a variation of their popular Scream franchise, which had petered out right around the time Williamson turned in his original script for this werewolf whodunit.  Substituting out a flesh and blood serial killer for a hairy werewolf taking a bite out of a group of young adults in Hollywood was a good way for the studio to keep a proven business formula going without continually tapping the same well of characters.  Early test screenings provoked discussions that led to suggested changes that major players disagreed with, and that’s when the tinkering started to set the movie on its eventual collision course with post-production hell. 

While Cursed is undeniably silly at times (the reshot scenes are unfortunate, look at poor Eisenberg’s hideous wig in the newer footage) and major cringe at others (a subplot about Jimmy’s rumored gay leanings and how it plays out is beyond dated), it offers more than a few classic Craven passages that get the blood pumping.  That original car wreck is well-staged, ending with a horrific image only available in the director’s cut.  The centerpiece is Mýa’s lengthy chase scene through a parking garage where the creature pursues her.  This scene is edited masterfully and a real nail-biter.

Cursed is a case of ‘your mileage may vary’ on how well another viewer might receive it.  I found a rewatch of it seventeen years after it was released to poor reviews and lackluster box office, an eye-opener to how decent a film it is.  Maybe it’s because I know how much worse it could have been or know that a truly poor edit of Craven’s film is out there, but the Director’s Cut is the only way to see this film.  When searching for it, you’ll see the sanitized version if you see a PG-13 rating.  Hold out for the unrated version (or buy it here from Scream Factory), and you’ll be pleasantly surprised…and a little scared!

31 Days to Scare ~ Run Sweetheart Run

The Facts:

Synopsis: Initially apprehensive when her boss insists she meets with one of his most important clients, s single mother is relieved and excited when the influential businessman defies expectations and sweeps her off her feet. But at the end of the night, when the two are alone together, he reveals his true, violent nature. Battered and terrified, she flees for her life, beginning a relentless cat-and-mouse game with a bloodthirsty assailant hell-bent on her utter destruction.
Stars: Ella Balinska, Pilou Asbæk, Clark Gregg, Dayo Okeniyi, Betsy Brandt, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Ava Grey
Director: Shana Feste
Rated: R
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review:  Tracking the new film Run Sweetheart Run over the past two years reminded me of what it was like to follow a movie before the internet became this unruly beast. Back 20-25 years ago, there were a few sites online where you could find information about upcoming movies that updated more frequently than your weekly/monthly subscription magazines. Through these sites, often maintained by zealous fans and consisting of gossip tidbits, you could catch wind of a movie that sounded up your alley and then track it through production, marketing, and, finally, release. I can recall following along for the releases The Relic (charting the many delays to its 1997 arrival in theaters) and, the biggest one of all, the modern shark classic Deep Blue Sea in 1999.

Run Sweetheart Run had barely time to make it onto my radar after its debut at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival before its distribution into theaters was canceled when the lockdown closed movie houses and turned Hollywood into a ghost town. While many similar genre titles eventually found their way into viewers’ homes via streaming or minor theatrical releases once theaters began opening up, Run Sweetheart Run had seemingly vanished from existence. Though it had been sold off to Amazon quickly in May 2020, the streaming service and original producer Blumhouse sat on the film for over two years, a strange stretch to let such an innocuous title languish on a next-to-empty shelf. 

Movies that gather dust on a shelf start to gain a reputation, not a good one. I never quite understood why Blumhouse and Amazon would let the horror title, directed by Shana Feste (Country Strong) and written by Feste along with Keith Josef Adkins and Kellee Terrell, remain unreleased when they put out other titles that might have benefitted from later rollouts. I’d keep checking the IMDb page and news sources for information on the film (mind you, all I had to go on was the synopsis, the cast list, and a few random press photos, the original buzzed-about trailer was never even released online) but came up with nothing. Then…October 2022 rolled around, and it was time for Run Sweetheart Run to get its due.

I’ve followed many films that turned out to be duds, but I was so happy to find that Feste’s film was tremendous fun, the kind of bolt-for-your-life horror that moves so fast you don’t have time to clock how out of joint the logic is at times. The film feeds off the energy put forth by its appealing leads, Ella Balinska and Pilou Asbæk, and a pulsating-synth music score that turns Los Angeles into a neon-tinged town of menace for one woman desperate to survive a night of horrors and the man that is the cause of it all.

Single mother Cherie (Balinska, 2019’s Charlie’s Angels) is studying to get her law degree and working at a high-profile law firm with a boss (Clark Gregg, Moxie) that benefits from her hard work. She double-booked him tonight for an anniversary date with his wife and dinner with a client in town for the evening. Practically guilting her into going, a reluctant Cherie agrees to go out with the client, but when she meets Ethan (Asbæk, Overlord), she’s grateful for her supposed error. A handsome, successful man, Ethan seems interested in Cherie too and has said enough right things by the end of the night that he convinced her to cancel her ride home and come inside with him. As they enter the house, Ethan turns back and stares into the camera, stopping it from following the two of them indoors. What is about to happen is…private.

We don’t see what happens inside, but we hear it, one of several acts of violence toward women that Feste does not show. That may seem like it gives the audience a break from another movie depicting violence against women. Still, there’s something sinister in how characters break the fourth wall and physically move the camera so the audience can’t see what’s about to happen. Cherie is different, though, and is unwilling to go down gently. So begins a night where Cherie is pursued by an evil that won’t stop no matter who is standing in his way. Involving family and friends won’t help Cherie either because Ethan has more than worldly powers at his disposal.

There’s more than a nugget of good ideas and a ton of metaphor, but, almost blessedly, Feste doesn’t lean into this too much. Instead, Feste lets you take the analogy to heart and come up with your interpretation of who Ethan is and what he ultimately has been tasked to do. Feste imbues the story early on with some cheeky fun, but that melts away the further into the night the story gets. That’s also when Balinksa entirely takes control of the movie, and while she may share the lead responsibilities with Asbæk, she’s unquestionably the show’s star.

You can poke holes all around the story and screenplay, but it defeats the bloody-ied fun of the experience. It’s a shame the film got lost in the shuffle because it’s well done and comes across as a confident change of gears for many involved. I could have done with a little more time in the second act with a new character introduced in the final 1/3, but that would add additional time that I don’t think the simple set-up could have supported. Available on streaming, you won’t have to sprint to Run Sweetheart Run, but do walk quickly to add it to your list for a perfect weekend option leading up to Halloween.

31 Days to Scare ~ Venom (1981)

The Facts:

Synopsis: Terrorists in the process of kidnapping a child get trapped in a house with an extremely deadly snake.
Stars: Klaus Kinski, Oliver Reed, Nicol Williamson, Sarah Miles, Sterling Hayden, Lance Holcomb, Susan George, Cornelia Sharpe, Michael Gough
Director: Piers Haggard
Rated: R
Running Length: 92 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review:  I could imagine a viewer in 1981 standing in front of the poster for Venom seen above and scratching their head in confusion. Referring to The Birds, Psycho, The Omen, and Jaws call to mind four classic but drastically different horror experiences. Even if you lifted the elements from all four films the poster indicated, it couldn’t quite describe the odd appeal of Venom or its continued life on the periphery of the genre. I have had this one on my ‘to-do’ list for some time but kept delaying, thinking it was one of those half-hearted productions that lured stars in need of cash. Surprisingly, a good deal of money seems to have been invested in it, though it’s debatable how well it was all spent.

Not expressly a creature feature but not without its share of jump-out-of-your-seat moments thanks to a reptile on the loose, Venom had a troubled production that resulted in an uneven film. Original director Tobe Hooper (Poltergeist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) was replaced after the first week, and new director Piers Haggard arrived to find a cast and crew at odds with one another. Haggard went on record later saying the snake was the nicest member of the cast to work with if that indicates the atmosphere on the set. With strong personalities like the infamously eccentric Klaus Kinski and combative Oliver Reed, not to mention stalwart Sterling Hayden, you can understand how the film starts to cater more toward its human stars than its central antagonist. That’s especially disappointing because the first 40 minutes of the film are gripping.

A wealthy American family living in London is targeted by a kidnapping plot meticulously plotted from within their household. Mother Ruth Hopkins (Cornelia Sharpe) is hesitant to leave her asthmatic son Philip (Lance Holcomb) for a few days in the care of her father Howard (Hayden), who is recovering in their home after an illness. Still, the family’s British maid Louise (Susan George, Fright) and chauffeur Dave (Reed, The Brood) know Philip’s routine, and it’s a school holiday, so there’s little to be worried over. That is until Louise’s secret lover Jacques Müller (Kinski, Nosferatu) arrives to help the house staff carry out plans to kidnap Philip and hold him for ransom.

Never underestimate the plans of a naughty boy and his irascible grandpa, though. While Ruth thinks her son and father are going to lay low (the script is so freewheeling with exposition that Sharpe has the line, ‘You need to be careful of your asthma since we’re in London, but at least you’re with your grandfather while I’m away for the weekend. Well, at least there’s no school for a few days. Just don’t go out.”) they’ve planned for the boy to travel alone to an exotic animal store and pick up a new harmless house snake to add to his home zoo. A mix-up at the store has sent his purchase to Dr. Marion Stowe (Sarah Miles) at the Institute of Toxicology though; he unknowingly goes home with a deadly black mamba.

It doesn’t take long for the snake to pop out and cause massive problems for the kidnappers and potential victims, adding an extra layer of danger for all. To put even more pressure on the situation, the police are tipped off about the kidnapping and surround the tiny flat, forcing Jacques to take more desperate measures to escape capture. With a slithering predator moving silently around the house, a nest of criminal vipers crafting their next move, and London’s finest rallying outside, the race is on to see who will strike first.

If you have any fear of snakes, Venom will surely crank up that blood pressure at the outset. Waiting for the snake to appear makes for more than a few deliriously fun sequences, and even watching the camera (standing in for the snake) slowly gliding through the air ducts is enough to make your hairs stand on end. I don’t have the greatest affinity for these reptiles and admit that when the mamba makes its first appearance, it comes as a significant shock. If only the rest of the elements in the film lived up to that initial thrill.

The further the movie gets away from being about the snake and more about the trio of criminals (and the police outside), the less interesting it becomes. These are all fine actors, but we bought a ticket to Venom, not Kidnapper Talks to Police. When the film should be surging into its final act, it’s still fooling around with Kinski and Reed’s shameless mugging for the camera. Hayden sometimes gets a bit into the action but largely rises above those shenanigans. I liked Miles as the knowing doctor, and George was fun as a femme fatale that should be more careful about what dark places she peers into. George has one of the trickiest acting exercises in the film, one that Kinski must recreate later, but the younger actress comes off far better than Kinski’s comically overbaked take.

It can’t hold a candle to the movies it name drops on its poster, but, like its marketing, Venom manages to get the job done and serve its purpose at the time. I’m surprised no one has attempted to remake it over the years because the story, while containing far-fetched elements, is a more believable set-up than you’d think. Movies like Crawl can make us believe someone can be stuck in a house with a crocodile; why not re-do Venom with a more restrained cast and tighter directing?