The Car (1977) Review

Director: Elliot Silverstein

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 96 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Smash together the two Steven Spielberg-directed classics Duel (1971) and Jaws (1975) and you end up with something resembling 1977’s The Car. This is one of those cozy, drive-in-movie-style horror pictures that’s become a bit of a cult classic over the years. The story’s about a mysterious car that keeps killing people in a remote Western American town. Pretty soon, residents are coming up with supernatural explanations for the series of murders.

The Car works, in my opinion, because of its mixture of kitschy silliness and earnest charm. It’s about a roaming, killer automobile, but – golly gee-whiz – the cast and crew put enough effort and sincerity into the production to make it fun. It can get pretty cheesy, but you root for the movie’s success nonetheless. It’s one of those horror flicks that you can watch with just about anybody who’s old enough to handle that genre.

This flick contains some satisfactory kills and scares. Some are better than others, but the body count is just the right size. It’s not so low that you feel cheated, but it’s not so high that the production becomes mean-spiritedly apocalyptic. The special effects are about what you’d expect from a work of this film’s stature, but there is a four-for-one killing that will bowl you over. I’m not sure if it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen or the dumbest. You get that vibe a lot during The Car.

Okay, this isn’t the film you’re looking for if you just want a cheap horror film to laugh at and mock (check out Plan 9 from Outer Space [1959] or Halloween: Resurrection [2002] if an itch of that nature needs to be scratched). It’s competent enough to not be a laugh riot, but it’s still too preposterous to take completely seriously. Many movies would wilt if they found themselves in such a predicament, yet The Car still manages to entertain an audience. Apparently, a sequel – The Car: Road to Revenge (2019) – was made a few decades after the original.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922) Review

Director: F.W. Murnau

Genre(s): Fantasy, Horror

Runtime: 94 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

One of the greatest of all German Expressionist films, the silent vampire movie Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (also known by its original German tile: Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens) still has the power to induce nightmares. It may not be scary in a close-your-eyes-from-the-unrelenting-terror sort of way, but this timeless Gothic classic is creepy in ways that most productions can only dream of. An unauthorized adaptation of the 1897 Bram Stoker novel Dracula, this chiller tells the tale of vampire Count Orlok (Max Schreck) deciding to purchase a house next to real estate agent Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) and his wife Ellen (Greta Schröder).

Of course, the big highlight of the flick is the vampire himself, masterfully played by Max Schreck. He looks like nothing from this world. He doesn’t look like a guy in make-up, but like an actual monster. This movie is chockful of iconic imagery, but the most famous shot is that of Orlok’s shadow ascending the wall near a staircase during the finale. It’s one of the most breathtaking moments in cinema history. Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror may have a couple of slow-moving passages, but it can also fire on all cylinders when it needs to.

Sometimes feeling like a fairy tale from Hell, this film has an eerie, sinister, silent energy. It’s pretty oneiric, sometimes having a wonderful sense of dream logic (I guess vampires can teleport through closed doors now). The morbid, unnerving atmosphere is amplified by the decision to use decrepit and crumbling locations to film on. It gives the work a “lived in” feeling. The special effects are primitive, but this only works in the motion picture’s favor.

This movie was remade as Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), but this silent version is vastly superior. A lot of Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror rides on its villain, and it excels here. He looks like a walking, talking incarnation of Death. While not my favorite silent film (that would be Metropolis [1927]), this one also makes a good introduction to the world of silent cinema for those unaccustomed to that style. This is mandatory viewing for film buffs.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Halloween Kills (2021) Review

Director: David Gordon Green

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 105 minutes (theatrical cut), 109 minutes (extended cut)

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Fear not, gore-hounds, for Halloween Kills is a horror movie that lives up to its title. This sequel to Halloween (2018) goes all-out in the violence department, making the 2018 film look restrained in the process. Following the events in that flick, it turns out that mass-killer Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) is still alive (surprise!) and about to continue his murderous rampage, as a vigilante mob forms to stop him. If you don’t know the routine by now, then I don’t know what to tell you.

This splatterfest doesn’t do much to advance the story of the respected Halloween franchise. The plot basically comes to a standstill to allow good, ol’ Michael Myers to slaughter a shit-ton of people. He’s essentially a horror movie John Rambo at this point, tearing through waves of people with what looks like relative ease. If you just want to watch people die in gruesome ways, you’ll get your money’s worth. The relentless blood and guts almost makes Halloween Kills feel like the long-lost sibling to the Rob Zombie Halloween atrocities.

This slasher picture introduces us to a great deal of characters, which can only mean one thing: a lot of expendable folks are going to end up pushing up daisies. That’s just the way these productions work, I guess. Halloween Kills attempts to make a statement on the nature of vigilante justice, as the inhabitants of the terror-stricken town give in to their baser instincts and try to ensure that “Evil dies tonight!” It’s a questionable move to add depth to the proceedings, but I can forgive it.

Unfortunately, the character of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) spends most of her screentime cooped up in the hospital (what is this, Halloween II [1981]?). Still, this film passes the was-I-not-bored? test. It may not have advanced the story much (if at all), but it nonetheless manages to be reasonably frightening. Halloween Kills is not one of the better entries into the series. It can’t approach the classiness of Halloween (1978), the suspense of Halloween II (1981), the unintentional hilarity of Halloween: Resurrection (2002), or the nostalgic-but-not-too-nostalgic appeal of Halloween (2018), but I’d probably watch it again.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Lost Highway (1997) Review

Director: David Lynch

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 134 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Is “Lost Highway” a great title for a surreal psychological horror-thriller movie or what? The plot here is about saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) and his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) receiving VHS tapes in the mail of what appears to be somebody stalking them at their home. This is a David Lynch film, so that is the normal part of the picture. Things are going to get much stranger from there.

This flick is driven by a wonderful sense of dream logic. People act and talk as if they’re trapped in somebody’s dream…or nightmare. Everything’s mysterious, and the pale-faced Mystery Man (Robert Blake) makes the biggest impression. It’s one, big mood piece, and that mood is unease. Violent and depraved, this thriller’s primary concern is making the audience feel like they’re having a fever dream. Gary Busey (as Bill Dayton) and Richard Pryor (as Arnie) show up in relatively small roles.

There’s a lot to like about Lost Highway, but the film does feel its length (about two-and-a-quarter hours). Like an actual dream, it does seem a little lightweight, with details that are easy to forget. This work of cinematic surrealism is mighty cryptic, feeling a little too opaque at times. It’s actually possible to decipher the events that take place during the runtime (the rest of the Internet can fill you in), but I shouldn’t have to visit a website to get a movie’s full experience.

This striking thriller is one of the more oneiric films that I’ve seen. If you’re looking for a coherent, easily digestible piece of cinema, this may not be it. It’s too dark, dream-like, and demented for that. However, it’s a must for David Lynch fans and those desiring something off the beaten path. I’d recommend it, but brace yourself for something odd.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Monster (1925) Review

Director: Roland West

Genre(s): Comedy, Horror

Runtime: 86 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Despite getting top billing, Lon Chaney doesn’t appear in The Monster until about half-of-an-hour into the runtime. The plot here is about mad scientist Dr. Ziska (Lon Chaney) luring victims into a remote sanitarium, until one night where three guests – amateur detective Johnny Goodlittle (Johnny Arthur), town dandy Amos Rugg (Hallam Cooley), and damsel-in-distress Betty Watson (Gertrude Olmstead) – threaten his party. This silent movie proves that they were making horror-comedies all the way back in the 1920s.

The Monster has some interesting ideas (it was possibly the first mad scientist film to depict the doctor having various deranged henchmen, for example), but it’s just too slowly paced for its own good. Some early scenes, showing small-town life, seem to move at a lethargic speed, but the sequences in the haunted asylum don’t fare any better. It may be a very early “dark, old house” flick, but the pacing here is slow by the standards of any cinematic time period.

Perhaps the nicest thing that can be said about this feature is that the horror and comedy elements don’t overshadow each other. While there are some cheap “scares” (an unexplained skeleton in a closet?) and cheap “laughs” (a teetotaler getting drunk off his ass?), this picture knows to not let the scary and humorous stuff negate one another. The finale is at least sort of chilling, with Lon Chaney’s character threatening to conduct a bizarre experiment.

One of the first words that springs to mind to describe The Monster is “slow.” Ouch. The characters aren’t too memorable and Chaney should’ve been in it more. It does hold a somewhat interesting place in the history of horror movies, but is that enough to recommend it? I’m going to say “no,” but you certainly could do a lot worse.

My rating is 5 outta 10.

The War of the Worlds (1953) Review

Director: Byron Haskin

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Horror, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 85 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

Decades before director Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds (2005), there was a similarly-titled sci-fi picture that covered the same ground. Martians have invaded Earth, and humanity finds itself waging a seemingly losing battle against the extraterrestrial invaders. Largely set in the 1950s United States, this one feels like a bunch of aliens crashed into a Norman Rockwell painting.

Elements of this science-fiction-horror feature may seem hokey by today’s standards, but I think that it’s got it where it counts. The lead character, Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry), may not be the kind of hero you’d expect from a 1950s film, but it totally works in the context of the movie. There’s a fair amount of action once things get rolling, and the flick is bleaker and darker than one might anticipate from an American production of this time period (although it’s certainly not as moody as it could’ve been).

The most notable hit-or-miss aspects of The War of the Worlds are the special effects. They won an Oscar, with some of the destruction looking quite impressive for a 1953 movie. However, not every effect is flawless, and some of the visuals have definitely dated…if they ever looked good at all (during the scene where human artillery is firing at the Martian war machines, it looks like someone tossing fire-crackers at miniatures). The aliens themselves also present a problem, since they look more cute than terrifying.

This sci-fi-thriller, which may reflect the Cold War paranoia of the time, runs a brisk eighty-five minutes, so time is rarely wasted. Modern audiences will find some parts of the 1953 version of The War of the Worlds to be cheesy or quaint, but I think that the picture’s desperate tone and focus on physical mayhem save it from being a useless 1950s relic. To be honest, I prefer the 2005 film directed by Spielberg, but this one is still worth watching.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) Review

Director: Rob Cohen

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Horror

Runtime: 112 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The third film in The Mummy franchise, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, generally received negative reviews from critics, but I think it holds up a notch better than the first sequel, The Mummy Returns (2001), as this one doesn’t recycle the Ancient Egyptian motif. It’s not a great movie, but it’s watchable fare. The plot, set in the 1940s, concerns the globetrotting O’Connell family fighting to prevent the reanimated corpse of an Ancient Chinese emperor (Jet Li) from taking over the world. I think that you know the drill.

This is an action-adventure picture, obviously, so there’s lots and lots of danger, fighting, heroics, and physical mayhem. I admit that it’s a pretty juvenile work (you won’t believe the surprise in store for the audience during the action scene at the Himalayan monastery!), but it has a certain appeal. The action sequences are generally competently pulled off, although the camera is occasionally too close to the goings-on.

It’s important to note that Rachel Weisz, who played Evelyn in the previous two flicks in the series, does not return here, and is instead replaced by Maria Bello. Brendan Fraser does, however, come back as Rick O’Connell, continuing to be a surprisingly charismatic action star. The movie also benefits from the inclusion of the Chinese actors Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh (who plays Zi Yuan). Liam Cunningham makes a positive impression as “Mad Dog” Maguire, a reckless pilot.

Okay, this isn’t exactly a prestigious motion picture (although Roger Ebert did give it three out of four stars), but it’s pretty cool in an I’m-thirteen-and-this-is-badass sort of way. I wasn’t actually a teenager when I first saw it, unfortunately, but it does a satisfactory job of bringing out the inner kid in the viewer. Its blend of action, humor, horror, and characters we’ve come to enjoy seeing on the big screen make it passable entertainment.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Mummy Returns (2001) Review

Director: Stephen Sommers

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Horror

Runtime: 130 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The Mummy Returns is a sequel to The Mummy (1999) that continues on in the pulpy, over-the-top, Indiana Jones-ish style. To be frank, it’s really just a whole lot more of the same. Set mostly in the 1930s, a mummy brought to London comes to life and threatens to bring on an apocalypse with its curses and all that spooky stuff.

“Overkill” is the word of the day here. This film takes what made the first one good and amplifies it. More action, more curses, more special effects, more artifacts, more villains, more locations and lost cities, more humor, more combatants in the battle scenes, and more mummies are the name of the game. More! More! More! Sometimes this approach works for sequels, but I felt that it came close to being tiring in the case of The Mummy Returns.

The movie in question feels like a product of its time. It’s a good-natured action-adventure blockbuster with some special effects that have aged poorly (if they ever looked good at all). The action scenes are of a reasonably high quality, but there is the CGI (computer-generated imagery) overkill factor. Personally, there was also a bit too much fantasy mumbo-jumbo for my tastes. It gets a bit on the complicated side.

I’m usually a big fan of this sort of motion picture. You know, unpretentious, pulpy, action-packed, and fun. However, despite its likeable heroes, a cool musical score from Alan Silvestri, and entertaining action sequences, The Mummy Returns may throw a bit too much at the audience. This feature certainly has its fans, and that’s okay, but I think that I’ll largely stick with the Indiana Jones and Star Wars franchises for my action-adventure thrills.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Eraserhead (1977) Review

Director: David Lynch

Genre(s): Horror, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 89 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Eraserhead‘s tagline is “A dream of dark and troubling things.” Yep, that sounds about right. In director David Lynch’s debut feature film, wimpy Henry Spencer’s (Jack Nance) girlfriend, Mary X (Charlotte Stewart), gives birth to a mutant, alien-looking baby (that sort of resembles one of the Mon Calamari from the Star Wars franchise). Set against the backdrop of an industrial, dystopian Hellhole, this black-and-white surrealist horror classic has been mesmerizing audiences since 1977.

Several years in the making, this anxiety-ridden and deeply neurotic movie feels like a twisted nightmare set to film. In this regard, it could be considered the United States’ answer to Un Chien Andalou (1929). With its bizarre dream logic, it’s more about making you feel things, rather than provoking coherent thoughts. Well, it does appear to be about the fears of parenthood (being borderline antinatalistic) and spousal abandonment, but it often lets the surrealism do the talking.

No review of Eraserhead would be complete without mentioning its demented, droning sound design. The hum of Henry Spencer’s industrialized world is pervasive and unnerving. The special effects are equally astounding, and the picture’s oneiric feel has rarely been matched. Like dreams an actual human being might have, Eraserhead is mostly terrifying, but it also has occasional moments of offbeat humor.

Yes, this feature is undeniably a bit on the “artsy-fartsy” side, but it still manages to be insanely effective at what it does. It’s a strange, for-adults-only sci-fi-horror package that will surely leave no one feeling cold or indifferent. It’s a movie that demands a strong reaction of some sort. If you know what you’re getting into, you might fall under its spell.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Mummy (1999) Review

Director: Stephen Sommers

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Horror

Runtime: 124 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The 1999 film The Mummy feels like an attempt to recapture the magic of the original Indiana Jones trilogy. The movie is about a group of adventurers who unleash an ancient Egyptian curse while searching for a lost city. On IMDb’s “Connections” page for this picture, it is considered a version of the The Mummy (1932), but this flick is far more action-adventure-oriented than that oldie.

I can’t say that this feature completely succeeds in its aping of the Indiana Jones series, but it’s still a worthy piece of cinema. There are some lively, rousing action scenes (especially in the first half), and the interwar setting is pulpy and exciting. While he’s no Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser (as Rick O’Connell) is a surprisingly able action hero. Jerry Goldsmith’s musical score makes its presence known (in a good sort of way).

Perhaps the biggest downside to The Mummy is that it goes a bit too heavy on the fantasy elements early on. The aforementioned Indiana Jones films generally slowly built up to supernatural happenings, while this movie frequently tosses that sort of stuff at the audience throughout the runtime. This means that there’s notably less mystery and awe in the picture.

The first half of The Mummy is probably superior to the back half, but I’d still recommend this flick to people looking for a pulp fiction fix. The action-adventure content is the star of the show here, but there’s also a sizeable quantity of light horror to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. I’m not as enchanted with it as some viewers are, but I still enjoy the ride.

My rating is 7 outta 10.