If you’re lucky enough to have dodged the recent spate of mysterious streaming throttling happening in previously stream-happy homes across America, there’s some good shit on out there in streamtopia.
Devin O’Leary called The Returned (Les Revenants) "the best horror on TV in 2013" and he’s dying for season two. All eight episodes appeared in the streamoverse a couple of weeks ago, quietly and without fanfare, much like Camille’s return from the dead in episode one. In French with subtitles, but don’t worry, there are lots of pregnant pauses.
Hawk-faced Anton Diffring (Fahrenheit 451, The Blue Max) excels as the cruel, oddly sympathetic and totally bonkers Dr. Schüler (or is it Rossiter?), mad doctor turned circus master, in this outrageous, non-supernatural, vibrantly technicolor horror film (from the producers of Michael Powell’s notorious Peeping Tom). The ridiculousness of the scenario (Schüler collects scarred criminals—mostly women—heals them and binds them to perpetual service in his circus) is made compelling by its twisted character studies, particularly the doctor’s toady-like accomplices (Kenneth Griffith and Jane Hylton) who seethe with mixed worship and revulsion for their master. Hurried exposition (especially at the beginning) and laughable animal costumery detract only slightly from psychodrama, blood and intrigue. Great actual circus performances and a genuine pop hit (“Look for a Star”) round out the lurid entertainment.
My previous VHS viewing of this film did not include the pleasure of beholding the awesome wide-angle, widescreen frame composition employed throughout (and especially during the opening sequences). Creepy exterior shots of the fogbound house with datestamps presage each supernatural incident, creating both quickie verisimilitude and a rhythm of suspense. The general aura of competency and class—plus Delia Derbyshire/Brian Hodgson’s extra-delicious electronic score—makes Hell House an excellent Halloween A/V treat. (Well, aside from the overwrought ending.) I watched it twice.
Director Bob Clark (himself now one of the undead) made a handful of notable indie horror films in the ’70s (not to mention an all-star Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper flick) before hitting box office paydirt with Porky’s and A Christmas Story. Much of the credit for Deathdream’s effectiveness must go to screenwriter (and monster-makeup artist) Alan Ormsby for creating a queasy sense of doom, Richard Backus who rocks it as the deadpan, unwillingly-revived son, as well as actors John Marley and Lynn Carlin for convincingly transplanting their troubled-married-couple routine from John Cassavetes’ 1968 film Faces into this weird little horror movie. How long can a family stay together under these conditions? Answer: not long. The downer ending manages to be both sad and horrifying, the lesson of the Monkey’s Paw learned the hard way.
The glorious, desolate backdrop of an off-season resort is almost a character in itself, swallowing up the machinations and psychodramas of the tiny cast of good-looking vampires and victims. Extra points also awarded for smashing ’70s fashions, slick editing, inspired location shooting (done entirely after dark or at dusk), letting the foreign actors dub their own lines, and a sinister-yet-groovy score from French soundtrack composer François de Roubaix. Unlike other lesbian vampire films from the same time period (cough Jess Franco cough), Daughters of Darkness is an intelligent, warped pleasure, equal parts art and exploitation film. The HD version on Netflix is terrific, the very definition of eye candy.
Lovely, Still follows the life of eighty-something grocery store employee Robert (Martin Landau) as he strives to get through another Christmas by himself. Luckily, he meets Mary (Ellen Burstyn), a white-haired woman of the same age, and as they embark on a bumpy relationship, Robert learns—or rather, remembers—secrets about his past.
The film has a genuinely touching vibe, and Landau and Burstyn produce performances that are both tear-jerking an believable. The script has a few moments of awkward misdirection, but the simplistic dialogue also adds a nice sentimental touch and transcends the thin line between drama and reality on which the film sits. Not to mention the must-see ending. Overall, a one-of-a-kind cinematic treat.
A less flabby Tom Hanks stars in this lighthearted comedy about Josh Baskin, an unappreciative teenager turned into a 30-year-old man by a devilish Zoltar machine in a carnival one night, and the misadventures that befall him in his newfound maturity. With no one believing his transformation and with nowhere else to go, Josh seeks help from his best friend Billy (Jared Rushton) to find the machine again and reclaim his body. Yet, it's not going to be easy. In his journey, Josh has to learn how to live alone, to find a job, to act like an adult and to fall in love. Overall, Big is a pure and sincere tale with a heartwarming feel, hilarious antics and, hard as it can be found in modern-day flicks, moral lessons. And as always, Hanks does a marvelous job of portraying his bizarre role, making this film a must-see for audiences, young and old alike.
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Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson directs this bold tale about two girls' obsessive friendship. When introvert schoolgirl Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) meets the beautiful and self-confident Juliet (Kate Winslet, in her big-screen debut), the two form a deep emotional relationship— so deep, their parents plot a plan to separate them. Juliet's father will send her to South Africa "for the good of her health," and Pauline's folks won't let her come. Pauline needs to counteract, and soon, she knows just what to do: kill her mother. Set in the 1950s, the film exudes a creepy yet classy feel that makes the story seem so unbelievably real. The homosexual implications add a gripping touch, and may have possibly gotten it nominated for an Oscar in 1995.
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From My Neighbor Totoro to Princess Mononoke to Spirited Away to Howl's Moving Castle, the release of a new animated masterpiece from Hayao Miyazaki is cause for major celebration. This cartoon fantasy centers on the adventures of a 5-year-old boy who befriends a goldfish princess name Ponyo who dreams of becoming human. This adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid is clearly aimed at younger audiences, but the visuals are a trippy treat for all ages.
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Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai takes another crack at his mostly misunderstood new wave martial arts film from 1994. Jacky Cheung, Leslie Cheung and Maggie Cheung (no relation) star in this ultra-stylized story of a brokenhearted hit man who lives in a desert and uses skilled swordsmen to carry out his contract killings. Wong's editorial tinkering (five or so minutes worth of cuts) attempts to alter what was already a radical condensation of Louis Cha's classic wuxia novel The Eagle-Shooting Heroes. But it's still a gorgeous film and deserves a second look. HD Available.
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This acclaimed Thai film is based on the life of Luang Paradit Pairoh, Thailand's most revered traditional musician. The elegant and sensitive narrative shifts back and forth in time, presenting our musical genius' life story and—by extension—the history of Thailand. The tale stretches from the Golden Era of King Rama V through to the ’30s when classical music was banned by the country's "modern" government. In Thai with English subtitles.
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