11.30.2020

I Come In Peace [a.k.a. Dark Angel] (1990)

DIRECTED BY
Craig R. Baxley


STARRING

Dolph Lundgren - Detective Jack Caine

Brian Benben - Special Agent Arwood “Larry” Smith

Betsy Brantley - Diane Pallone

Matthias Hues - Tales

Jay Bilas - Azeck

Sherman Howard - Victor Manning

Sam Anderson - Warren

David Ackroyd - Inspector Switzer


Genre - Action/Horror/Science Fiction/Crime/Aliens


Running Time - 91 Minutes



PLOT

Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren) is a Houston vice cop who’s forgotten the rule book. His self-appointed mission is to stop the drugs trade and the number one supplier Victor Manning (Sherman Howard). Whilst involved in an undercover operation to entrap Victor Manning, his partner gets killed, and a sinister newcomer (Matthias Hues) enters the scene…



REVIEW


DARK ANGEL
- or as I’ll call it for the rest of the review since it’s the better title, I COME IN PEACE - is a film I first watched during the early 1990s when video stores were still all the rage, getting my mom to rent it because I was a Dolph Lundgren fan and thought the cover was cool. I honestly only remembered certain elements of the film, but I do remember having enjoyed it for what it was. The film never crossed my mind again until several years ago when a blu-ray was finally released for the cult film, giving me the urge to check it out again through adult eyes. Even though it’s not technically a true horror film, it’s a cult favorite with an alien killer - so obviously I wanted to review it.


The issue is that I was saving the post-Thanksgiving portion of 2020 for Christmas horror flicks since I haven’t really focused on these type of films since the Midnight Confessions Podcast ended 3 years ago. Ironically, I COME IN PEACE takes place during Christmas, technically making this film perfect for what I had planned. And I’m glad it sort of fits too, since I COME IN PEACE is a lot of fun and deserves more attention for those who have been meaning to rewatch it or have yet to seen it.


I COME IN PEACE straddles a lot of genre lines, making it accessible to almost every audience member. Foremost, it’s a late-80s/early-90s action film that follows the tropes perfectly to satisfy action fans. The film is also sci-fi/horror with the appearance of two aliens killing humans or trying to hurt each other. There’s also a crime element involving mobsters who are also drug traffickers. And then we have the buddy-cop element between the rough-around-the-edges and anti-authorial Jack Caine and his new FBI partner Arwood “Larry” Smith, who is a stickler for the rules. This dynamic creates a comedic element as well. I COME IN PEACE should fall apart due to all this genre-bending, but the film manages to balance it all pretty well, never failing to maintain its entertainment value for 90 minutes.


While the screenplay [written by Jonathan Tydor but rewritten by an uncredited David Koepp] won’t win any Academy Awards or anything, it provides enough B-movie elements for the unique premise to work better than it ought to. I mean, how many films can you name are based around a space alien who stocks up on human endorphins by injecting them with narcotics with a spear, hoping to use the endorphins as a weapon to conquer worlds? And the fact that the alien’s true mission remains a mystery for much of the film, rather than just giving it right away, is some good writing because it makes us invested in what this stranger is really doing to these humans. It also creates some tense moments and good action sequences as the alien hunts people down to achieve his goal.


And while the film isn’t heavy on character development - which is totally fine for a film like this - the two main characters bring a lot of personality out of each other even on paper. Jack Caine  and Agent Smith [I see you, MATRIX creators] are archetypes to the nth degree, never steering away from what you would expect. Caine is the cool cop, only playing by his own roles and solving cases outside the law. He gets all the girls. He can kick everyone’s ass. And his street edge helps him see things for what they are. This is the complete opposite for Smith, who carries an FBI Handbook at all times to make sure he’s always following the right procedure during his investigations. Instead of following his instincts, he would rather please his superiors hoping it’ll help him climb the proverbial ladder and get noticed for being a good soldier. It’s a buddy-cop trope that has been done to death before and since, which is fine because it’s a dynamic that’s hard to screw up. I actually like it being used in I COME IN PEACE because it grounds a film otherwise known for one alien using drugs to kill people for their endorphins, while another alien is a bounty hunter trying to kill and capture the other alien. It leads to predictable results, sure, but it’s a fun ride getting there because the characters are actually written well and portrayed even better by the actors playing them.



Speaking of the aliens, the evil Tales is menacing and almost Terminator-like, not stopping until he’s completed his mission and destroying anyone or anything in his way. Sure, he looks like a Christopher Lambert stand-in for 1995’s MORTAL KOMBAT, but there seems to be a lot about him that’s either subtly revealed or kept a mystery for a sequel that never happened. He’s a formidable villain. The good alien, Azeck, doesn’t do a whole lot unfortunately but shoot at Tales and explain to the main characters what the real deal is in the form of long exposition. But he makes for a nice distraction and builds on the fact that Tales is so dangerous that he needs to be taken out.


If there’s anything that’s lacking in the script, it has to do with a few of the characters. Diane, pretty much the lone female in the film and Caine’s love interest, is nothing more than an archetype that doesn’t get a whole lot to do. Diane comes across as a knowledgable coroner who seems independent at first. But she’s written as a woman who gives in to Caine so easily, that you wonder if she even had a spine to begin with. She comes across as clingy and gullible,  as the romantic subplot isn’t all that strong to begin with.


The other issue is the inclusion of the “White Boys”, which is the name of the drug trafficking gang that Caine and Smith also have to deal with. Not only is their name a problem for politically correct 2020, but they feel like third-rate villains that are only around as a plot device to give the main characters a purpose. It also doesn’t help that they’re written like cartoon characters, which takes away any sort of tension or danger these goons should be having. Honestly, they could have gone away after the set up for the aliens and the film wouldn’t have been all that different.


I also wish the film played more with the Christmastime atmosphere. The holiday is sort of in the background but it’s never really brought up or used much at all for the story. In fact, I COME IN PEACE could have taken place during any other time of the year and nothing would be different. Usually when a film has its story take place during the holidays, it’s at least given a bit of a spotlight to set up a mood or atmosphere. But it never happens here and it’s a shame since it could have added another element to the narrative.


I COME IN PEACE is directed by Craig R Baxley - the man behind 1988’s ACTION JACKSON and 1991’s STONE COLD - two action cult classics still beloved today. Baxley, a former stunt coordinator, obviously knows how action should be handled and how it should look on film. And even though this film isn’t the biggest budgeted action extravaganza ever made, Baxley takes what he’s given and creates as much mayhem as possible to satisfy his audience. This film is never boring because so much is happening visually, despite its standard 80s action presentation. You want explosions? You’ll get a bunch of them. Gunfire? A whole lot of it. People getting speared? Car chases? A compact disc flying around like a frisbee slashing people’s throats? It’s all here. Hell, we even get Dolph Lundgren performing some sweet kicks in the final act. I COME IN PEACE isn’t a flashy movie but it’ll get your action adrenaline pumping.



The acting is also pretty damn good, considering what kind of film this is. The acting could have been amateurish and I think audiences still would have had fun with I COME WITH PEACE. But we have some fine actors in this film that elevate the material. Dolph Lundgren is pretty much still at his peak here, capturing the swag and cool factor as he portrays the breaking-all-the-rules cop Jack Caine. Lundgren also gets some great one-liners that he had fun reciting, no doubt. Brian Benben, best known for starring on HBO’s Dream On, did well matching up against Lundgren as Agent Arwood “Larry” Smith. While Lundgren played it cool and suave, Benben played the opposite as the uptight FBI agent who follows all the rules and clashed with Caine. Lundgren and Benben had a nice yin-and-yang chemistry that worked well throughout the film. Betsy Brantley didn’t have much of a juicy role that she probably deserved.  But considering what she was given to do, Brantley handled it well and had cute chemistry with Lundgren. Matthias Hues almost steals the film at times as Tales, the evil alien. He has a presence about him, especially with his white hair look, and even made the words “I come in peace” menacing. We also get Sherman Howard, DAY OF THE DEAD’s Bub the Zombie, as the leader of the White Boys, although I wish he was given more to do. But it was nice seeing him!


And I really enjoyed Jan Hammer’s [Mr. Miami Vice himself] score. It’s dated as hell, but it captured the mood of the film so well and boosted action scenes. As for the hair metal songs, I really liked those as well. I’m a hair metal guy, so the music in the film is right up my alley.


THE FINAL HOWL


I COME IN PEACE
/DARK ANGEL is a fun cult sci-fi/action movie that still holds up pretty well after 30 years. Thanks to some script revisions by David Keopp, we get an entertaining buddy-cop flick that’s more focused on alien drug dealers and human goons causing trouble for the heroes rather than any sort of major character development - which is perfectly fine for a B-movie like this. Despite some important characters not getting much to do, as well as the film not really exploring the Christmas holiday it takes place in, the pretty typical presentation is highlighted by cool action sequences and cool explosions thankfully done with practical effects. Craig R Baxley uses his stunt coordination knowledge to visualize a fast moving and well choreographed movie that remains timeless. The actors - mainly Dolph Lundgren, Brian Benben, and Matthias Hues - seem to be enjoying themselves and create a fun dynamic that gets better as the film goes. And with a cool Jan Hammer score and cheesy hair metal on the soundtrack, I COME IN PEACE/DARK ANGEL is definitely worth getting your endorphins stolen over.



SCORE

3 Howls Outta 4



11.07.2020

The Babysitter (2017) & The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020)


DIRECTED BY
McG

STARRING

Samara Weaving - Bee

Bella Thorne - Allison

Andrew Bachelor - John

Judah Lewis - Cole

Robbie Amell - Max

Hana Mae Lee - Sonya

Emily Alyn Lind - Michelle

Leslie Bibb - Mom

Ken Marino - Dad

Chris Wylde - Juan


Genre - Horror/Comedy/Slasher/Satanic


Running Time - 85 Minutes



PLOT

When Cole stays up past his bedtime, he discovers that his hot babysitter is part of a Satanic cult that will stop at nothing to keep him quiet.


REVIEW


I had 2017’s THE BABYSITTER sitting in my Netflix queue for three years without watching it, or even thinking of its existence until the film’s sequel was released a few weeks ago. Considering how hot Samara Weaving has become in the genre scene within the last few years, you’d think I would have watched this sooner. But I figured Halloween time was the perfect opportunity to check it out to get some use of that Netflix subscription. And while I was expecting another film using 1980’s nostalgia to please fans of that era rather than a good story and good scares to give it some substance, I was pleasantly surprised by how fun THE BABYSITTER was. Sure, it has an 80s aesthetic, but it doesn’t focus too much on it and tries to be a genuine horror-comedy that mostly works.


I won’t get too much into any plot details since it’s a film that deserves to be seen without knowing all the twists and turns that pop up. But THE BABYSITTER is more focused on entertaining its audience with a fun ride rather than scaring its viewers. This trend has been very popular within the last few years with films like HAPPY DEATH DAY, WARM BODIES and THIS IS THE END. The horror elements are all in place, but these films are more comedic than anything else. This makes THE BABYSITTER a harder film to review since comedy is really subjective. I don’t think all the jokes and gags work in this film, but it did make me laugh more than I was expecting. In fact, THE BABYSITTER doesn’t hide its 80s coming-of-age teen comedy inspirations with teenage crushes, bullies, bro jocks who don’t mind giving life lessons and kids just want to be understood within an adult world. The comedic portions have been done to death since the 1980s, but they remain to have a certain charm and appeal due to the actors and the characters they seem to be having fun playing.


Since THE BABYSITTER wants to be a modern John Hughes or Chris Columbus type of film, the horror aspect becomes as bit of a sacrifice as the victims of this Satanic cult. While the death scenes are visual highlights, the whole idea of the Satanic theme isn’t as developed as one would hope. Certain characters explain why they’re willing to sell their soul to the Devil, but none of it is really fleshed out for it to feel substantial. But this subplot allows tension and suspense to build within the last half of the film, as well as amuse the audience with how the consequences of the antagonists’ actions play out. For those expecting any sort of demonic activity or some Hellish fun will be severely disappointed.



The strength of the story derives from the characters - all archetypes of this type of genre, but still really well-written ones for the most part. Cole is your typical nerdy character who gets bullied, feels smothered by his parents and is growing smart on things in life. He begins the film as insecure with low self-esteem, but gains inner strength when he has to deal with this cult alone. He also shares a strong connection with his babysitter, Bee, who while physically gorgeous, is just as much of a savant on geek culture as Cole is. In other words, Bee is charismatic, smart, and just all around perfect - which in a film like this means that it may be too good to be true. The other characters aren’t as strong, but they’re still pretty fun. Sonya is a goth chick who enjoys the macabre. Max is a total jock that would fit in perfectly in a fraternity. Allison is a cheerleader who is conceited and ditzy in everything but what she sees on social media. And John is the wisecracking friend who things he may be in a bit over his head when it comes to worshipping Satan. There’s also Melanie, who is Cole’s best friend and neighbor that has a crush on him. But the real strength is the bond between Cole and Bee, which becomes strained when Bee is revealed as the leader of the cult and that she’s been pretty much been using him to get further ahead with sacrifices without his knowledge. Since their relationship pretty much takes over the film’s first act, it helps create emotional beats throughout the rest of the film until the very end, exploring the change in their relationship as Cole quickly grows up before our eyes. It’s nice to have a horror-comedy where you can care for some of the characters and tolerate the others due to how genuinely funny or weird they are.


THE BABYSITTER is directed by McG, a very popular music video director during the last half of the 1990s who would later direct the original CHARLIE’S ANGELS film series [as well as the not-so-good TERMINATOR: SALVATION]. McG is a very visual filmmaker who loves style over substance, which is probably why he gets a lot of dislike from cinephiles that I’ve encountered on the internet. But McG is working with a decent script here, allowing to reign himself in to create a really nice looking film that is quick paced and never leaves you feeling bored or lacking for some action. It definitely has an 80s look without it going full retro, keeping the story in modern times. There are also random title cards that pop up, giving this sort of grind house feel that I kind of dug. I think the best stuff visually is obviously the death sequences. None of them are innovative or anything, but they’re really well shot and well built, creating a bit of “ooh” and “ahh” when they pop up. You get daggers through the skulls, a fiery explosion, a hanging, people getting shot, heads exploding and even a car running someone down. And these moments are usually done in an upbeat manner in almost a black comedic way. I actually like McG’s music video work and I don’t mind his work on CHARLIE’S ANGELS, so his direction worked for me here. It had a lot of energy and created a fun atmosphere that I appreciated. Sorry, Christian Bale.



The acting is also a lot of fun. Judah Lewis is fine as Cole, the young protagonist who grows up quickly as he tries to survive this cult. He manages to hit a lot of emotional beats depending on which actor he plays off of, having his best moments with Samara Weaving, creating a believable relationship between the two. Speaking of Weaving, she’s definitely the star of THE BABYSITTER and is the main reason to watch. She has no issue going from cool and sweet to evil and dangerous at the snap of a finger, playing both roles perfectly and being extremely entertaining doing so. Weaving is super talented and it’s great to see her star rise the last few years, as she definitely has a presence and the acting chops to be a major star sooner than later. If I know she’s in a film, I’m definitely watching it because she’s that good.


The rest of the supporting cast do their part as well. It’s nice to see Leslie Bibb and Ken Marino as Cole’s parents, even though they’re not in the film all that much. Emily Alan Lind is also very sweet as Melanie, Cole’s neighbor and friend. As for the cult members, two of the actors really stand out. Bella Thorne is very funny as Allison, an extremely vain and ditzy teenager. Her dialogue is really amusing and Thorne recites it perfectly. She seems to be having a lot of fun playing a stereotypical mean girl cheerleader. And Robbie Amell is great as jock-bro Max. Out of all the characters, he plays the character who enjoys hurting and torturing people the most. Amell plays the role with so much glee and excitement that you can’t help but like his douchey character. He’s also shirtless for much of his screen time, so fans of that will enjoy the eye candy for sure.


And as usual for films going for nostalgia, the soundtrack kicks butt. We have Queen’s “We Are the Champions”, Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy”, Dusty Springfield’s “Spooky” and more. A nice selection of songs to boost those nostalgic vibes.


THE FINAL HOWL


THE BABYSITTER is a fun, trashy popcorn horror-comedy that would rather entertain its audience than scare them with its Satanic slasher theme. While the humor doesn’t always work, the John Hughes & Chris Columbus 80s coming-of-age comedy aesthetic is charming and endearing due to how well written most of the characters are. It unfortunately sacrifices the horror aspect and makes the violence more comedic than scary or disturbing, but the nostalgia is its selling point and it works better than it ought to. McG is a director that divides people, but he does some great work here in terms of pacing and bringing energy to the film. The death sequences are fun, with some being pretty grisly. And the acting is pretty solid, especially by Samara Weaving who pretty much owns this film and elevates it with her captivating and strong performance. I don’t care if she wants my innocent blood or wants to sacrifice me for a bigger goal - Samara Weaving can be my babysitter anytime. Bella Thorne and Robbie Amell are also quite fun in their over-the-top archetypical roles, while Judas Lewis grounds the film as the young teen who grows up very fast during a night of terror. This is one of Netflix’s best horror films because it’s just well made and a lot of fun to watch. A horror-comedy done mostly right.



SCORE

3 Howls Outta 4






DIRECTED BY 

McG


STARRING

Judah Lewis - Cole

Jenna Ortega - Phoebe

Emily Alyn Lind - Michelle

Robbie Amell - Max

Andrew Bachelor - John

Bella Thorne - Allison

Hana Mae Lee - Sonya

Ken Marino - Dad

Leslie Bibb - Mom

Chris Wylde - Juan

Samara Weaving - Bee


Genre - Horror/Comedy/Satanic


Running Time - 101 Minutes



PLOT

Two years after defeating a satanic cult led by his babysitter Bee, Cole’s trying to forget his past and focus on surviving high school. But when old enemies unexpectedly return, Cole will once again have to outsmart the forces of evil.


REVIEW


After enjoying 2017’s THE BABYSITTER, I felt it was a pretty easy decision to check out this year’s sequel. With the original cast and director back, I figured the continuation to Cole’s story would be fulfilling and justified considering the quality of the first film. Unfortunately like Cole at the end of the first film, I realized that I didn’t need another BABYSITTER film if this is the best they could do after 3 years. What a let down!



The biggest culprit is that the screenwriters tried way too hard to capture the magic of the first film. The 2017 film’s strength was due to director McG being reined in by a single screenwriter who captured a lightning in the bottle at the right time. KILLER QUEEN suffers from having too many cooks in the kitchen, with four different screenwriters trying to be “funny” and “edgy” and letting McG do whatever the hell he wants visually. It’s kind of sad since the film starts off pretty well as we follow an older Cole still struggle with being a teenager in high school due to the town disbelieving him about the events of the first film. It plays out like your typical high school comedy until it reveals a really interesting twist that I didn’t see coming at all. That’s when it hits the fan because the film decides that more is more, ruining any potential and logical momentum this sequel previous had.


It doesn’t help that a lot of the characters are pretty paper-thin, even those from the previous film. Cole seemed a lot smarter and tougher in the first film, as he’s now grown up into this naive individual who seems lost by what’s going on. You’d think there would have been a character arc where the character grows into a man - having no problem facing the demons from his past and making sure the people around him are protected. But it feels backwards, as he’s clueless for the most part and it doesn’t make sense as of why. Even the villains that return seem old hat by this point. Max is still shirtless and still has his moments, but we’ve already seen this in the first film. Allison is still a ditz and gets shot in the boob again, so I guess that’s funny? John gets more to do and has some funny dialogue, but he seems like a background player nonetheless. And Sonya is just there, to be honest. Even the return of Bee during flashbacks is unfortunate because she’s one of the big reasons the first one worked so well. And she’s just really a cameo in this film. And the new characters replacing the previous cult members are pretty annoying and are shadows of the originals.



I will say that the character of Michelle is an inspired change in terms of her personality. Unlike Cole, she actually shows growth and is given new things to do that make her the most interesting character in the film. Not sure why or when the change occurred in between films, but the fresher dynamic between her and Cole is pretty great. Phoebe, the new girl, is a nice addition. She has spunk, attitude and sarcasm that makes her attractive to the viewer [and to Cole as well]. Too bad she becomes a bit of a damsel-in-distress in the final act, but I didn’t mind this addition to the story at all. And while it’s good that the parents got a bit more screen time, adding some comedic moments that are genuinely funny, I think their pot-smoking and video game interactions got old really quickly. Especially with Michelle’s dad, whose mid-life crisis act got less funny as the film went on. 


It’s really disappointing because the first film, while not perfect, had a deeper story than expected and felt like a cohesive film tonally. The sequel suffers from trying to top what it had already done before. But with so many cooks in the kitchen, the jokes fall flat and the script feels like it’s trying to justify why this movie even exists. I think a really good sequel to THE BABYSITTER is definitely possible. But when everything is played for gags, and not even successful gags, it just leaves you feeling “meh”.



The direction by McG tries to keep with the over-the-top screenplay, feeling almost forced at times and not as fun as the first film. The film is about ten to fifteen minutes too long, with some odd pacing at times trying to keep up with all the plot points. While McG's visual presentation was more subtle in the previous film, he just throws anything he can visually to make the audience laugh - almost to the point that you need Adderall to keep up with it all. We get a ton of flashbacks, slow motion shots, splatter moments and explosions, and anything else that will compensate for a weak story. I’m not saying the gore and death sequences aren’t fun. In fact, some of them are pretty cool and are well done. But unlike the last film where you cared about the characters and you had tension and suspense built when it came to how the kills would happen, the kills in the sequel happen for the sake of laughs without any sense of real build or care to who will die because the characters aren’t as interesting the second time around. And the CGI looks a lot cheaper this time around for some reason, which is unfortunate. It’s a nice looking film and it definitely has energy, but McG didn’t work his magic the second time around sadly.


The acting is also a mixed bag. Judah Lewis is still fine as an older Cole, but I feel like he doesn’t have enough to really play with emotionally like he did in the first film. He feels like your typical “Final Boy” who has come back to an unnecessary sequel because he was contractually obligated to. Lewis does what he can and tries to bring maturity to a regressed character.  Jenna Ortega and Emily Alan Lind do well with their roles, bringing a lot of sass and spunk to their roles. Ortega has some nice emotional beats as Phoebe, while Lind gets a lot more fun things to say and do in her new character arc, coming out of the film as a major highlight. The returning villains from the last film [Robbie Amell, Andrew Bachelor, Bella Thorne and Hana Mae Lee] give the same good performances as last film, just with less to do. Thorne in still a lot of fun, as is Amell who has the frat-bro schtick down pat. Lee, unfortunately, gets the short end of the stick as she’s just there really. And Bachelor gets more to say and do this time around, but gets sort of grating along the way with his pop culture references. Ken Marino, Leslie Bibb and Chris Wylde also get more screen time, but the writing for them tries too hard to be funny. This is especially in Wylde’s case, who hams it up every chance he gets. And the best part of the first film, Samara Weaving, returns in what’s really a glorified cameo. And in my opinion, she seriously looks like she would rather be anywhere else but in this film. I haven’t seen an actress this disinterested in a sequel since Jennifer Lawrence in DARK PHOENIX. I’m glad that Netflix check was good because I don’t see why else she would have bothered appearing here. It’s a shame because seemed to be having a ton of fun in the last film, but seems really bored here.


And the music here is good again, with songs like Das EFX’s “They Want EFX”, Young MC’s “Bust a Move” and Dead Kennedys’ “Police Truck” playing. Nostalgia shouldn’t be a selling point for your movie, but it as welcomed here because there wasn’t much else to latch on to.


THE FINAL HOWL


I enjoyed 2017’s THE BABYSITTER quite a bit, expecting myself to enjoy 2020’s THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN on the same level or at least close to it. Unfortunately, I ended up feeling disappointed by a sequel that tried too hard to be funny, shocking when it came to its death sequences, and forcing upon its audience why it even exists to begin with. The characters have either regressed since the first one or are written so paper-thin that you have no interest in caring about them. However, there are a couple of characters with interesting character arcs that are well done, but they’re the minority. McG’s direction wants to compensate for a weaker script by being super flashy and stylish to the point it becomes overwhelming and loses it visual luster super quickly because there’s no subtlety to it all. And the acting is a mixed bag, as a lot of the returning characters are pretty much glorified cameos and don’t get a whole lot to do. And Samara Weaving, the first film’s highlight, looks like she wishes she was anywhere but in this film. Cash that check, girl! KILLER QUEEN is just okay and only worth checking out if you enjoyed the first film and care enough to see how it continues. But in my opinion, THE BABYSITTER should have been a one-and-done because this sequel isn’t worth selling your soul for.



SCORE

2 Howls Outta 4



10.18.2020

Lunar Cycle - 70s Cult Horror


Since I don’t have as much time to write longer reviews than I used to, I figured I would just post shorter reviews for horror/cult films that I feel deserve your attention.



VAMPYROS LESBOS (1971) - *** out of ****


Directed By: Jesus “Jess” Franco


Starring: Soledad Miranda, Eva Stromberg, Dennis Price, Paul Muller, Heidrun Kussin, Andres Morales, Jess Franco


Genre: Horror/Vampires


Running Time: 89 Minutes



PLOT

An erotic horror tale about a vixen vampiress seducing and killing women to appease her insatiable thirst for female blood.



REVIEW

Jess Franco is a director that has caused many a debate within horror circles. There are some who love his Euro-Trash cinematic art, while others believe Franco is nothing but a hack who disguised pornographic fantasies as horror films. And honestly while I don’t think Franco is a hack director, most of his films aren’t exactly top notch quality. But 1971’s VAMPYROS LESBOS is probably his well known work for a reason - it’s erotic in a tasteful way, well structured, well acted, and just presented in a very accessible way that both sides of the Franco debate can come together and most likely enjoy it.


VAMPYROS LESBOS doesn’t have much substance when it concerns its plot, so there’s not really much I can really comment on it. But the film does follow Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel pretty closely, gender changing certain characters but keeping much of the story intact and easy to follow if you’re knowledgable of the lore. The film does take questionable steps though, like making this sort of a direct sequel to the novel, while having vampires not being affected by sunlight all that much [going against a common trope]. But otherwise, the beats are pretty similar and fun to watch from a different perspective.


Franco’s main focus is obviously using the Dracula story to showcase some eroticism, especially between the two lead female characters. Some may claim this film to be a softcore pornographic movie attempting to be horror, but I think Franco displays the same-sex version of a familiar story in a pretty tasteful and classy way. The scenes where the Countess is dancing seductively in front of what appears to many as a mannequin [but it’s actually a flesh-and-blood human being] may be a bit overdone, but they add to the charisma and appeal of the Countess. Watching the beautiful lawyer, Linda, struggle with her attraction to the Countess while trying to still be faithful to her boyfriend [who Linda’s psychiatrist pretty much believes is a terrible lover for her to want a woman instead] is something I’m sure many people have struggled with in terms of their sexuality - regardless of vampires existing or not. The connection between the two characters is shown mainly through similar dreams involving scorpions and dripping blood, as well as the Countess calling for Linda that leaves Linda in some sort of trance. Yes, the Countess is stalking and probably sexually harassing and manipulating Linda into sex with her, but Linda seems to struggle with her genuine feelings towards the Countess until she realizes what the real deal is. Even though the Countess is technically the more powerful one in terms of her abilities, it’s really Linda who has the real hold on the Countess.


The other characters don’t have as much depth as the two lead characters, but they’re not terribly written either. Dr. Seward is a man who treats the Countess’ patients, not really to cure them but to learn from them how to achieve the power of immortality he clearly covets. Omar, Linda’s poor boyfriend, is pretty much a nothing character who is just there to be a foil for the Countess when it comes to Linda’s affections. Agra is a former victim of the Countess, portraying the female equivalent of the Renfield character. She senses when the Countess is coming near, making her the ideal patient for Seward. She also enjoys writhing on the floor to satisfy her sexual appetite in scenes not meant for children. All these familiar characters are all given characteristics that heighten their sexuality, which will please anyone looking for an erotic horror film like this one.


Jess Franco’s direction is pretty surreal and edited in ways that will make the audience think they’re watching a dream rather than something grounded in reality. The use of close ups in every scene will probably distract non-Franco fans at first, but it becomes easy to adjust to by the film’s end. Linda’s dreams are shot in a haze of sorts, with scorpions, moths, and blood signifying her connection to the Countess. And even those psychedelic jazz dance scenes with the Countess are shot in strange ways, with flashes that alternate between a mannequin and a real-life human being, murmuring voices in the background, and the Countess moving seductively in front of a mirror as Linda and Omar watch on - with great back-and-forth editing between the two parties. There’s something oddly freeing and primal about Franco’s work on this film. While the film is definitely beautiful to look at with bright colors and nice sets and locations that add mood and atmosphere, Franco’s message about sexual repression is pretty evident. Franco never really worked with great scripts, but he definitely had an eye for cinema and creates great shots that explain and explore a character more than words can say, especially in VAMPYROS LESBOS. It won’t please every one, but it does more right than wrong when it counts.


The acting is fine, especially when Soledad Miranda is onscreen as The Countess. Not only is she strikingly beautiful, but she portrays the Countess as almost a victim than a villain - cursed by her immortality and desperate to share it with someone, even if she has to force that attraction. Miranda doesn’t say a whole lot with dialogue, but carries her performance through her facial expressions and body language. Eva Stromberg is also very good as Linda, portraying the constant haze she’s in pretty perfectly. At times, you’re never really sure if the character is lucid, or still in a trance, adding to the surrealism of it all. Dennis Price also does well as Seward, giving the character some layers. There’s a layer of mystery and something sinister in Price’s performance. And of course, Jess Franco plays Agra’s husband - a man who will do anything to make sure no one gets to The Countess’ island, giving us a look at a disgustingly sad figure who has been just as affected by the vampires even though he was never a target.


Overall, VAMPYROS LESBOS is probably the best entry point for anyone interested in Jess Franco’s filmography. While there isn’t really a beefy story to bite into, the elements of surrealism and mystery manage to keep your attention regardless. The themes of sexual repression, obsession, and realizing that living forever isn’t as good as it sounds hit the viewer pretty well, making one think about the Dracula story from a different perspective. The dreamlike imagery may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Franco’s massive use of close ups and jarring editing add a layer of arthouse exoticism that was befitting of Euro-horror at the time. The acting is also good, especially by Soledad Miranda as the vampire Countess who comes across both a villain, and a victim of her immortality and desperation for love. You won’t get much vampire horror out of VAMPYROS LESBOS. But if you enjoy something from the art house mixed with a 70s vibe, a bit of horror and softcore porn, then this film may be worth sinking your teeth into.





BABA YAGA (1973) - **1/2 out of ****


Directed By: Corrado Farina


Starring: Carroll Baker, George Eastman, Isabelle De Funes, Ely Galleani, Daniela Balzaretti, Mario Mattia, Giorgetti, Sergio Masieri, Angela Novello


Genre: Horror/Thriller/Mystery/Witchcraft


Running Time: 91 Minutes



PLOT

Carroll Baker stars in this psychedelic shocker about a mysterious witch who casts a spell over attractive, youthful fashion photographer Valentina Rosselli. Thrust into a world of sadism, Valentina must figure out whether the torture being inflicted on her is because of one woman’s twisted agenda… or a curse known as Baba Yaga.



REVIEW

Even though comic book adaptations have been all the rage, especially during the last couple of decades, the act of adapting a comic book or strip has been practiced much longer than that. For example, 1973’s witch flick BABA YAGA was actually inspired by an Italian comic strip of the same name, adapting Guido Crepex’s work and transforming it into a live-action surreal and sexy movie centered around a fashion photographer named Valentina. BABA YAGA is a film I hadn’t seen prior to watching for this review, although knowing of it through word of mouth and sensual photographs that fit its Euro-trash look and feel. Unfortunately, BABA YAGA has a lot to be desired when it comes to telling an interesting story that would have made this film more popular than it is. But it does have some cool things going for it, making it one to look out for if you ever come across it.


Like I have already stated, what drags BABA YAGA down is the lack of a real juicy narrative that the film definitely tries to aspire to. The set up is your basic “main character is cursed” angle, where witch Baba Yaga is infatuated with Valentina and keeps forcing herself into the photographer’s life - stealing objects to maintain some sort of life essence, jinxing a camera by turning it into a murder weapon, and even offering her an S&M doll that comes to life as Valentina’s personal assassin without Valentina knowing it. These elements feel fresh and fun, as I’ve never seen a horror film like this where just taking a photo of someone automatically murders them, which unfortunately not enough is done with. And the doll coming to life is definitely cool, but I wish it wasn’t just a subplot for the film’s final few minutes as the idea of an assassin doll possibly framing or causing trouble for Valentina would have been a neat narrative to build some drama for the characters. But BABA YAGA is an arthouse type of film adapting a sophisticated comic strip in the best way possible, so I respect the filmmakers for keeping these elements intact and giving the film a different feel from other witch films of the era.


But like I’ve written, BABA YAGA doesn’t do enough with the fresh elements to make them matter all that much in the end. The characters don’t have a ton of depth besides the token roles they’re playing, which is a shame since I think both Valentina and Baba Yaga could have really been fleshed out and made stronger in terms of their relationship. Valentina’s boyfriend and the random models that pop up are there to either save the day or to add to the film’s body count. And with so much stuff thrown at the wall to see what sticks, it’s a shame that none of these elements are given enough time to really add much. I mean, you have a killer camera murdering people! It was tossed away pretty quickly once the characters figured out what was going on. You also have random lesbian scenes that seem to be building towards something, but the film never capitalizes on it. And what was up with all the Nazi dream sequences? Again, an element to the narrative that was actually captivating but didn’t really make a whole lick of sense by the film’s end. I know all this was taken from the comic strip, but maybe 90 minutes isn’t enough time to adapt this kind of film? I hear that 30 minutes was actually edited out of the film for whatever reason, including key scenes that would have deepened the connection between the Valentina and Baba Yaga characters. I don’t understand these studios sometimes. Don’t they realize that people actually care about characterization and depth, especially in a film like this? The narrative does what it can and I was never bored with what I was watching. But I definitely had a feeling of “what could have been”.


What BABA YAGA really excels at is the visual presentation by Corrado Farina. The film is well paced and well edited, never dragging or boring the audience. The film also looks pretty nice, with the locations giving a lot of character visually to the respective characters [mainly Valentina and Baba Yaga]. I think my favorite part of the direction is the insertion of photographs depicting important scenes every now and then. For example, Valentina and her boyfriend make love and instead of watching the scene play out as one normally would, you see the act happening through a series of photographs meant to look like panels from a comic book. Like the comic strip itself, these moments are shot in black-and-white, giving BABA YAGA a classy feel that could have looked sleazy in the hands of another director. And considering Valentina is a photographer, it was a really nice touch to make important moments look like photographs.


The acting is fine. Carroll Baker gets top billing as Baba Yaga, but she doesn’t really stand out as much as one would believe she should. She doesn’t really exude the confident, the sexuality, the sensuality, or the manipulative nature the character should possess. But she’s adequate in the role and makes the most of it. Apparently she was the director’s second choice, as Anne Heywood was hired for the role but pulled out at the last minute to star in 1973’s remake of TRADER JOHN. I wonder how Heywood would have done in the role, but I guess we’ll never know. However, the real star of the film and the reason to watch is Isabelle De Funes. As Valentina, her ability to convey a whole lot just through her facial expressions [those wide eyes] and body language, as well as being a team player when it comes to disrobing and portraying the lesbian angle in a serious way, makes the character she plays extremely watchable and worth investing in - even when you wish the character was written with just a bit more depth. I really liked her performance, as she performed every beat convincingly. And I never knew George Eastman could play someone not creepy, but he does here as Valentina's caring boyfriend. It was actually strange seeing him not only play it straight, but also playing a hero instead of a villain. He did a good job in the role, but I think his personality shines through more in his classic villainous roles.


And special mention to the film’s score by Piero Umilani, bringing a nice jazzy soundtrack to this strange flick. The vibe added much needed atmosphere to BABA YAGA.


Overall, BABA YAGA is a pretty trippy and bold adaptation of Guido Crepex’s comic strip of the same name, almost collapsing on its own ambition to tackle every story element within a short time frame. There’s not much of a story really besides a witch ruining the woman’s life that she’s obsessed with. This narrative flaw doesn’t really allow much of actors or characters they play to really do a whole lot besides act like props for the strange elements the film presents - like S & M dolls coming to life and cameras that murder people. Then again, you have S & M DOLLS THAT COME TO LIFE and CAMERAS THAT KILL. How can one deny a movie experience like that, even if neither element really achieves its full potential? While the story is easy to follow, all these interesting subplots get the shaft because there’s not enough time to focus on them beyond the surface. What saves the film is nice direction by Corrado Farina, as the film moves with a quick pace and even adds elements of the comic strips during important moments in a nice touch and acknowledgment of its source material. The jazzy soundtrack by Piero Umilani, and the good acting [especially by Isabelle De Funes as Valentina] elevate the film, making it one to watch despite a not-so-strong screenplay. Not the best witch film I have ever seen, but it’s a decent piece of Euro-Trash that’s worth a look if you dig some surrealism and mild eroticism in your horror films.






PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974) - ***1/2 out of ****


Directed By: Brian De Palma


Starring: William Finley, Paul Williams, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, George Memmoli, Archie Hahn, Jeffrey Comanor, Peter Elbling


Genre: Horror/Comedy/Thriller/Fantasy/Musical


Running Time: 92 Minutes



PLOT

In this rock opera hybrid of Phantom of the Opera and Faust, fledgling singer-songwriter Winslow Leach finds himself double-crossed by the nefarious music producer Swan, who steals both his music and the girl Leach wants to sing it, Phoenix, for the grand opening of his rock palace. After Swan sends Leach to prison for trespassing, Leach endures a freak accident which leaves him disfigured and plans his revenge on both Swan and The Paradise, becoming the Phantom of the Paradise.



REVIEW

A year before THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW began to capture the hearts of midnight movie fans, Brian De Palma released PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE - a a horror-musical he developed in 1969, four years before the director hit it big with the horror-thriller SISTERS. While the songs and the performances aren’t as iconic as ROCKY HORROR, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE has gained quite a cult following within the last decade or so, becoming sort of a Halloween time flick and considered one of De Palma’s best films.


Just from the name, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is obviously a play on THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, taking the basic story and turning it on its head. In a way, De Palma seems to be spoofing THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with the look of Winslow Leach in a glam version of the costume as he haunts “The Paradise” concert hall by scaring and killing anyone in the way of his goal. For a 90 minute film, the writing really fleshes out the characters and the arcs they’re going through with more depth than one would expect in that time frame, considering you have musical performances and other strange elements at play to fill in time. De Palma, using THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA story beats, seems to be criticizing the entertainment industry, especially the music industry and how it uses people and tosses them away when the goal has been met and their services are no longer required. A lot of the time, the songwriter seems to get the least of the credit compared to who sings and/or produces the song. Here, Swan [the evil and greedy producer] is a huge celebrity, taking Winston Leach’s song and creating popular acts by stealing the lyrics and passing them off as if he had anything to do with the songwriting process. Even when Swan dupes Leach [now as the Phantom] in order to stop Leach from ruining his grand opening of “The Paradise” by promising him that he’ll get credit for the songs he’ll write and even using the singer [Phoenix] Leach wants singing them - which doesn’t happen until he has no choice - De Palma seems to be implying that songwriters are nothing but puppets in the music industry, almost having to prostitute themselves in order to get some professional credit. I guess the film and television industry is pretty similar in those tactics at times, which is an interesting theme to express in the mid-1970s considering it probably wasn’t as much of a big deal back then like it has become in the last few years.


The theme wouldn’t work if the characters weren’t written well enough to express it properly. But PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE has memorable characters that continue to hold a massive cult popularity even today. Winston Leach is your usual songwriter who wants to share his music with the world and feels Swan is the producer to make that happen, considering Swan is a media sensation. But when Swan steals his music and doesn’t give Leach credit, Leach goes through a desperate phase that leads him to prison, where he suffers a terrible facial accident before escaping. Because of his disfigurement, he becomes The Phantom of the Paradise, haunting “The Paradise” and killing anyone who is trying to become successful with his songs. While Leach could have been portrayed as a stereotypical monster, he’s treated as a victim who you root for when it comes to getting his vengeance on Swan. He also has feelings for a young singer named Phoenix, who seems to be the only one who sings his music in the way he has envisioned it. Compare that to Swan, who is this 5’2” producer who uses people to have sex with girls, do drugs, and become richer than he probably deserves. He attempts to manipulate and torture Leach every chance he can get, corrupted with a power that Leach soon learns isn’t totally natural. I mean, the man hasn’t aged in 20 years for a reason. We also Phoenix, who is Leach’s muse and one-sided love interest, who is willing to do anything to become a star. She’ll get laid on the casting couch. She promises she’ll do anything to and for Swan to become successful. And when she gets that success, she becomes your stereotypical rock star by snorting coke and doing publicity stunts to maintain that fame. She’s pretty much a VH1’s Behind the Music waiting to happen. And we can’t forget Beef, a wannabe glam rocker who probably wouldn’t pass an American Idol audition even if he tried. Flamboyant and vain, Beef manages to be a highlight whenever he appears. There is a lot of fun depth with the characters, making the narrative an enjoyable one.


Brian De Palma directs a fun film here, and probably a film that’s unlike many of his familiar works. It’s very experimental and more focused on being a comedic rockudrama rather than a straight up horror film. De Palma has never been a director who hides his influences and PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE proudly shows it. While it’s mainly a funny take on THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, it also uses elements of FAUST [even naming an album after the play and film], THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY [a character never growing old due to a deal with the devil], and TOUCH OF EVIL [the bomb inside of a trunk]. There’s also a silly homage to the shower scene from PSYCHO, which isn’t surprising since De Palma is a huge Alfred Hitchcock fan. You also get the trademarked split screen effect, which I think he would later perfect in his next film CARRIE. And the camera work is just really well done, with everything on the frame meaning something important to the story. I thought the musical sequences, with a lot of 360-degree movements and solid use of color and editing, work really well here. I’m sure many would claim a lot of the camera tricks could be distracting due to the many narrative beats this film takes. And I’ll agree that it’s not his strongest or most confident work as a director. But I enjoy watching it as this musical spectacle that took me away to another place for 90 minutes.


Speaking of the music, the soundtrack is pretty incredible. I believe all the songs were written by Paul Williams, who played Swan in the film. While they won’t stay in your brain like “Time Warp”, the compositions are very solid. “The Hell of It” is a great song I play every October. And I love other songs like “Somebody Super Like You” and “Old Souls”. Jessica Harper, in particular, has a really nice voice and I would rather hear her sing in this than in 1981’s SHOCK TREATMENT. But that’s just me. But I like the mix of glam rock and power pop songs that move the film along. So did the Academy, as it was nominated for both the Golden Globes and Oscars that year.


The acting is solid. William Finley is wonderful as Winston “The Phantom” Leach, really capturing the frustration, hatred and loneliness of a man who just wants to be recognized for his songwriting but never getting his due until it’s too late. It’s a great performance when you can be super tall next to the actor playing your foil and still manage to gain sympathy for being treated as a victim. Finley makes you root for him every step of the way, and he makes what could be a silly costume work really well. Paul Williams is also fantastic as Swan, Leach’s foil. He captures the greedy and conceited music producer type perfectly, bringing a large presence to the role despite his small frame. You want this guy to get what’s coming to him, thanks to Williams scuzzy performance. Jessica Harper is always a delight, and it’s no different as Phoenix. She doesn’t really get a whole lot to do until the final act really, but watching her change from desperate star seeker to corrupted superstar is pretty believable. And I can’t end this review without mentioning scene stealing Gerrit Graham as Beef - obviously a take on the flamboyant and gender bending glam rockers of the time like David Bowie and possibly Gary Glitter. He’s pretty hilarious in how serious he’s willing to ham it up for our entertainment.


Overall, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE isn’t as memorable as THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, which would be released a year later, but it’s still high-quality fun and catchy with Brian De Palma’s virtuoso direction and a solid soundtrack by Paul Williams. I feel the film was a bit ahead of its time, especially with its criticism on the music industry and how it treats the players who create the soundtrack to many of our lives. The influences De Palma uses to fill his narrative [THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, FAUST, PSYCHO and TOUCH OF EVIL] are used really well and the characters are all memorable to keep you engaged from beginning to end. The performances - especially by Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper and scene stealing Gerrit Graham as “Beef” - really bring a lot of charm. PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, while not De Palma’s best film, has to be respected for its ambition. It deserves its cult status and “The Hell With It” if anyone thinks differently. 





BAD RONALD (1974) - *** out of ****


Directed By: Buzz Kulik


Starring: Scott Jacoby, Pippa Scott, John Larch, Dabney Coleman, Kim Hunter, John Fiedler, Linda Watkins, Cindy Fisher


Genre: Horror/Thriller/Drama


Running Time: 74 Minutes



PLOT

Ronald Wilby is a maladjusted teen who accidentally kills a young girl whose sister spurned his romantic advances. Ronald’s doting mother decides to protect her son by creating a concealed room in their home in which he will live. When the mother dies suddenly, Ronald stays hidden in the room, even after a new family moves into the home. Ronald uses his secret spaces to spy on the family, eventually taking one of the young girls hostage, with the hope of making her part of his secret world.



REVIEW

Back in the 1970s, the major networks were killing it in the ratings with their TV Movies of the Week. While not every TV movie was a horror movie, the studio did create a few of them that have lasted the test of time. Films like 1975’s TRILOGY OF TERROR, 1979’s SALEM’S LOT, 1973’S DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK and 1978’s DEVIL DOG: THE HOUND OF HELL are just a few examples that genre fans still talk about to this day, thankfully due to home media. 1974’s BAD RONALD is another example of a classic TV Movie of the Week that was very popular back in the day - and it’s easy to see why with its creepy premise and interesting title character.


BAD RONALD is a film that I would have definitely been attracted to if I had been alive during the 1970s. Just the premise of someone living within the walls of your home without you knowing the danger gives me the creeps and probably happens more than we actually think in real life. I mean sure, how does one sell a home that wasn’t properly inspected or measured correctly for the family moving in to acknowledge that hidden space within their house? I’m sure that’s illegal or lawsuit worthy somewhere. But for the purposes of the story, which was adapted from a John Vance novel, the concept behind the terror definitely works and makes you want to check every single crevice in your home to make sure there are no strangers living inside with you. The idea alone adds a ton of tension and suspense to the film. What does Ronald have planned for this new family that’s moved into his home after his mom died? How does no one here notice all the peepholes in that one particular section of the house? Is Ronald as bad as they say or just misunderstood? When is he found out, what will Ronald do? The best horror stories stem from very simple concepts, which helps BAD RONALD more than it ought to.


Speaking of Ronald, the film’s title may be a bit dramatic. I’m not completely sure Ronald is a bad teenager, but more that Ronald has been put into pretty bad situations he has no idea how to get out of. He’s coddled and sheltered by his very overprotective mother, who happens to be suffering from sort of health issue with her gallbladder. The neighborhood kids bully him for being a bit strange and geeky. All this pent up frustration leads him to murdering a young girl after she makes fun of him, leading to his mother hiding himself behind the kitchen in a secret compartment so the police wouldn’t be able to find him. But his mom passes away from surgery while he’s hidden, still living in his house as a new family arrives. Due to his isolation, Ronald begins to fantasize about a utopian world where he’s king, the youngest daughter in the family Babs is his queen, and the brother of the girl he accidentally killed [and his biggest detractor] is the evil duke would needs to be eliminated. So it’s an interesting take on what should be a creepy villain living inside the walls of a house because Ronald is sort of a victim, even if he did commit manslaughter. And kidnapping. And scaring someone to death.


You know, maybe Ronald is kind of bad…


Thankfully we have a complex main character in Ronald because the other characters are just bland archetypes for this type of story. Besides Ronald’s kooky mom and his damn nosy neighbor, there’s nothing really special about the family that moves in. The parents aren’t much of a presence. The oldest sister has Final Girl vibes, so she’s pretty cool. It also helps that her boyfriend is Ronald’s nemesis, making her close to the situation. The youngest, Babs, is Ronald’s sassy and rebellious obsession, giving Ronald a feisty character to play off of. And the middle sister is just there, probably yelling “Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!” in a corner to herself somewhere. And the police… well you know how they behave in a horror movie. Not quite geniuses, are they?


The direction by Buzz Kulik isn’t the greatest thing ever, but it does what it needs to do for the most part. I mean, BAD RONALD is a TV Movie of the Week, so it’s already at a disadvantage compared to big screen films. There’s not much of a budget. The presentation plays out like a TV sitcom or drama, meaning it was probably filmed on a soundstage on some studio lot. You get the fade to blacks anytime a commercial was needed. It’s not going to wow any film snob looking for awesome direction. But what Kulik does well is do more with what he’s given, building tension and suspense at times as Ronald peeps at his “new family” and creeps around the house unknowingly while others are inside. And when Ronald needs to chase and stalk after people, Kulik builds a nice mood for those scenes to make them feel sort of unnerving. So I thought Kulik did as best as he could considering his limitations, making a pretty memorable TV movie.


The acting isn’t the greatest, but some actors have their moments. Obviously Scott Jacoby is pretty good as Ronald, really embodying a troubled teenager who has put himself in a terrible situation and is trying to get out of a bigger one with his survival and freedom intact. Jacoby never plays Ronald as evil, but just confused and misguided in terms of his actions and feelings towards others. The character is an odd duck and Jacoby plays it pretty well. Kim Hunter plays Ronald’s overbearing mom, playing the role on the fence of doting mother and crazy parent doing whatever it takes to protect her only child. Cindy Fisher is pretty feisty and a bit whiny as the youngest sister, Babs. Lisa Eilbacher is very likable as the oldest sister, Ellen. I wish she was in the film more because I was living for her Final Girl vibes. And hey - Dabney

Coleman is also in this as the father of the family that moves into Ronald’s home. Too bad he doesn’t get much to do.


Overall, BAD RONALD is fun TV Movie of the Week type that was popular in the 1970s. Despite the creepy premise of an orphaned teenager living within the walls of his home as a new family moves in, not knowing he’s there, the film really isn’t all that scary and plays out exactly how one would think it would. But due to a title character that’s both troublesome, yet sympathetic at the same time, it stands above a lot of the other TV movies that were released from this time period. Scott Jacoby does a good job embodying an awkward and misguided teenager who is a victim of circumstance, becoming more and more unhinged as the film rolls on. The TV movie limitations [budget, location, some of the actors] could have really hindered this movie, but director Buzz Kulik makes the most of it, adapting the John Vance novel and infusing some creepy atmosphere at times - especially in the film’s final act. There are better horror movies of the TV Movie variety, but BAD RONALD is an interesting flick that has something to offer if you need a quick entertainment fix.




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