Thief's Monthly Movie Loot - 2024 Edition

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MIKEY AND NICKY
(1976, May)
A film directed by a woman





Friendship is an interesting concept. As humans, we crave for that connection with someone, anyone. But friendship doesn't always account for how people change through time. I can count with one hand, the people that were childhood friends that I'm still in contact with, and most of the time, it's just little jokes and stories that reminds us of the past. That's why we're such good friends. Because of what we remember and what we went through, not necessarily because of how we are now.

That angle is part of what's simmering in Elaine May's drama Mikey and Nicky. The film follows the titular characters (Peter Falk and John Cassavetes), two childhood friends and small-time mobsters that have to reconcile who they were with who they are now. When Nicky has a contract put on him for stealing money, he asks Mikey for help, which puts to the test how much of a friend are they and how much was in their heads.

This is a film that was recommended by a good friend a couple of years ago, and that I've constantly seen come up in discussions and social media recently, and deservedly so. Mikey and Nicky is both an interesting and complex character study about these two individuals, but also a tension-filled drama about what it means to be loyal and ultimately, a friend.

First, Falk and Cassavetes are excellent in the lead roles. Sure, there are some secondary characters, most notably Kinney (Ned Beatty), the hitman sent to kill Nicky, and Nellie (Carol Grace), the nurse that happens to be Nicky's lover; but it all comes back to the two leads. It is their interactions with Nell the ones that stuck with me most, particularly for the way that Nicky treats her. But it is that interaction which sparks one of the best scenes from the film, which is a 10-minute argument/fight between the two lead characters.

Because, again, the burden of the film is on the lead's shoulders as they're on screen 95% of the time, and they carry it marvelously. The way that Falk and Cassavetes build this chemistry that makes you believe they're childhood friends, while also imbuing this tension about the true motivations of each of them is stellar. Mikey is a bit pitiful and pathetic, but is he a true friend or is he looking for some payback? Nicky is erratic and ultimately an a$$hole, but at the end of the day, is his paranoia unfounded?

Both characters seem to be hanging on to the threads of a friendship that might still be there, but might as well be in their heads. May's direction is loose, but effective, giving the two actors enough space to build on these two characters. I do think there were moments where things could've been reined in a bit, help the focus of the film, but I still think it was an excellent illustration of what a friendship is, and how sometimes we hold on to those memories of the past, even if they're only in our heads.

Grade:
I also really dug that one. If you haven't yet seen it, you should check out May's The Heartbreak Kid. A bunch of us watched it on Corrie a while back and it received great feedback across the board.



I also really dug that one. If you haven't yet seen it, you should check out May's The Heartbreak Kid. A bunch of us watched it on Corrie a while back and it received great feedback across the board.
Yeah, I haven't seen anything else from her, but considering she only made a handful of films, it wouldn't be too much of a hassle to tackle her filmography.
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CHILD'S PLAY
(1988, Holland)



"Hi, I'm Chucky, and I'm your friend till the end. Hidey-ho!"

That's the promise with which Good Guy doll Chucky greets his new owner, Andy (Alex Vincent). What Andy doesn't know is that Chucky is possessed by the soul of serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), who is actually trying to transfer his soul to be in Andy's body "till the end". That's the basic premise of this surprise slasher hit that has somehow turned into an iconic franchise.

Child's Play is a film that I've seen several times. This first entry follows the attempts of Chucky to get back into a human body, which turns out has to be Andy. But in the process, bodies start piling up, bringing Det. Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) to investigate and try to figure out who is actually behind the killings.

I just learned that the original idea of creator Don Mancini was to keep the audience guessing as to who is the murderer: Andy or Chucky; an idea that was scrapped later. Child's Play doesn't really lean into the whodunit angle for that long. The audience knows who's the murderer from the beginning, Andy's mom finds out about it pretty soon, and Det. Norris not long after.

What Child's Play does offer is a pretty effective atmosphere, a lean pace, some nice kills, and a great villain. Much like Freddy, Chucky would turn into a bit of a joke in future sequels, but despite the seemingly silly premise of a killer doll, here he is genuinely scary in moments. Dourif does a great voice work, but kudos also to Vincent for a pretty solid performance, especially for a 6-year old kid.

Another thing that helps the film is how "small" it feels, in terms of length, scope, and settings. The film stays focused on a small core group of characters and moves at a pretty straightforward pace. Sure, there is the need of some suspension of disbelief as we see a 2-ish feet doll murdering people left and right, but the special effects and puppetry do a great job of selling it. After almost 40 years and 7 films, if this film has proved something is that Chucky will indeed be our friend till the end. Hidey-ho!

Grade:



I forgot the opening line.
I agree with your rating for Child's Play. I had one of my greatest theatrical experiences seeing it when it came out, because it had only just opened, and the session was booked out - every seat taken. Now, I don't remember what the make-up of the audience was, but whenever something scary happened the whole place screamed it's head off. That turns a horror movie into a truly scary experience - something you don't get when you watch the movie alone or with a couple of friends who have seen it before. It's why I love seeing good comedies in cinemas with a lot of people in - that laughter really adds to your perception of what's funny. No subsequent viewing of Child's Play could come close to that first experience, and I haven't seen much of the sequels. But it was great in that rollicking atmosphere. That first time the doll talks, the roof was lifted!
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Latest Review : Aftersun (2022)



I agree with your rating for Child's Play. I had one of my greatest theatrical experiences seeing it when it came out, because it had only just opened, and the session was booked out - every seat taken. Now, I don't remember what the make-up of the audience was, but whenever something scary happened the whole place screamed it's head off. That turns a horror movie into a truly scary experience - something you don't get when you watch the movie alone or with a couple of friends who have seen it before. It's why I love seeing good comedies in cinemas with a lot of people in - that laughter really adds to your perception of what's funny. No subsequent viewing of Child's Play could come close to that first experience, and I haven't seen much of the sequels. But it was great in that rollicking atmosphere. That first time the doll talks, the roof was lifted!
That certainly seems like a great experience. The audience surely adds a lot to the viewing experience in lots of cases. It's a shame that the ratio of good audiences vs. awful audiences seems to be getting more even than before.

Re: the sequels, stay tuned for a lot of reviews cause I watched them all last month for a podcast



KONGO
(1932, Cowen)



"That's why I've lived here. That's why I've lived in this slime, rubbing noses with these filthy natives, make their religion mine, become part of them! All so I can leave her on his very doorstep... without him being able to see me!"

Kongo follows the bitter "Deadlegs" Flint (Walter Huston), a paraplegic living in the "slime" of the African Congo, surrounded by "filthy" natives that he keeps in line by tricking them with cheap magic tricks. The above is part of his drunken revenge rant against the man who made him a paraplegic 18 years ago; a plan that involves using Ann, the innocent daughter of the man, in a most despicable way.

Released in 1932, Kongo is part of the Pre-Code films that came after the adoption of the Hays Code in 1930, but before its strict enforcement in 1934. Films that would often capitalize in harsh depictions of sexuality, violence, drug use, alcoholism, and racism; and Kongo has plenty of all of that.

Flint is assisted by his scantily dressed girlfriend, Tula (Lupe Vélez) and two dumb thugs, while he also abuses of a drug-addicted doctor (Conrad Nagel) who may or may not help with his condition, and who happens to fall in love with Ann. And although these two characters are very likable and their relationship might be the closest the audience might get to a proxy, this is easily Huston's show from start to finish, and his scenery chewing is a treat to watch.

But besides all that, Flint is an interesting and somewhat complex character, and the film takes him through some interesting twists towards the last act, so some of the enjoyment might depend on whether you buy into the shifts in character in that stretch. I think the writing could've been more polished there, but Huston does a pretty good job selling both ends of the spectrum of his character.

Other than that, the film does present some interesting traits of the films of the era. Films that, in many ways were considered as "slime" or "filthy", and were more or less brushed under the rug. But amidst all the racist stereotypes, the drugs, and the objectification of some female characters, Kongo still offers a pretty neat snapshot of early 1930s Hollywood, and a wicked fun performance from Huston.

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CHILD'S PLAY 2
(1990, Lafia)



"I told you. We were gonna be friends to the end. And now, it's time to play... I've got a new game, sport: It's called Hide the Soul. And guess what? You're it!"

Child's Play 2 follows Chucky's rampage as the doll is reassembled and brought back to life at the Good Guy doll factory, not knowing that it is still possessed by the soul of killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif). After making his way out of the factory, Chucky once again sets his sight on poor, little Andy (Alex Vincent).

This is a film I've seen several times since I rented it back in the early 90s, and probably enjoyed. However, according to Letterboxd, in my last rewatch in 2014, I called the film "pretty silly" and rated it 2 stars. Oh, but how much can things change in 10 years The truth is that this time I might have been more on the film's wavelength, cause I had tons of fun with it.

Is it "silly"? Yes, but that doesn't make it inherently bad. I think the film is the right amount of silly with the right amount of creepy. Director John Lafia does a great job in making you feel the dread and threat of a little doll running through the room to get you. However, I think the main success of the film is in putting likable characters like Andy and his new foster sister, Kyle (Christine Elise) in the front. Both performances are pretty solid and easy to root for.

Finally, the film offers a pretty fun last act, set at the Good Guy factory, which serves as a neat bookend to the opening act. Having our good guys chased by the bad "Good Guy" doll in the Good Guy factory, as they run through conveyor belts, doll boxes, and vats of plastic does have echoes of Terminator, but it also stands on its own as a really creative setpiece and closing to a really creative and weirdly fun franchise.

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THREE ON A MATCH
(1932, LeRoy)



"Look forward and not back, look out and not in, look up and not down, and lend a hand."

The above is a famous quote from author Edward Everett Hale, and is featured twice in the first act of this film, as our three leads recite it in school. The quote has become an iconic motto for people to always look to what lies ahead and be of help to others, which is a key element in this notable Pre-Code film.

Three on a Match follows three girl friends from elementary school into adulthood. There's Mary (Joan Blondell), the "popular" girl that became a showgirl; Ruth (Bette Davis), the class valedictorian working as a stenographer; and Vivian (Ann Dvorak), the "class beauty" now married to a successful lawyer.

But things aren't as they seem. Despite some rough times in a reform school, Mary is looking forward, settling down while Vivian, who seems to be the best off of the three, seems to be looking back as she has grown disillusioned with her life. This leads her to abandon her husband as she runs away with a gambler and her young son in tow. As Mary and Ruth try to lend a hand, Vivian keeps sinking deeper.

This is yet another iconic example of what Pre-Code brought to the table. The depictions here of alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, and child neglect are quite powerful for the time. Dvorak does a great job of showing all the layers in Vivian's character, as she goes from "class beauty" and rich girl to drunken party girl and drug addicted hostage. The film also features an early role of Humphrey Bogart as a gangster thug and he's so good in it.

I do think the relationship between Mary and Ann's former husband feels forced and is ultimately unnecessary, and the character of Ruth is a bit pushed aside in the second half, but the film is still quite powerful and thrilling, and the ending has a neat, shocking twist. An example of how, despite whatever limitations the Hays Code wanted to establish, filmmakers wanted to look forward and not back.

Grade:



AINBO
SPIRIT OF THE AMAZON

(2021, Claus & Zelada)



"If I tell you everything and show you everything then what will you learn for yourself?"
"I'll learn how to save the village?"
"But it is you who has to save the village, not them"

Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon follows the titular character, a 13-year old girl, as she sets out to save her village in the Amazon from an evil, cursed presence called Yacuruna. However, she must also deal with her own confidence as well as the ghosts of her past after the apparent death of her parents. Ainbo is joined by her two spirit guides, Vaca and Dillo, and her best friend Zumi, who is set to become the new leader of the village.

This is an international animated production that popped up on streaming last month, so my wife decided to put it for the kids and I joined. I'll start by saying that, despite whatever flaws the film might have, I think it had some things on its favor. First, the animation was pretty clean and well done. I also don't think the film was ever boring. The kids had fun and the film was mostly inoffensive and engaging.

However, the flaws are there. Despite its exotic setting, the film still feels like its ripping off of countless other animated films. The two spirit guides are similar to Timon and Poomba and the overall theme of being exiled felt like The Lion King, the sister-like relationship between Ainbo and Zumi reminded me of Frozen, the eco-friendly message is pretty similar to Ferngully, Ainbo's character also has echoes of Moana, and so on and so forth.

The story is also very quest-like; Ainbo has to fulfill certain tasks in order to save the village, and some of those tasks feel like the writers padding the runtime. Finally, the resolution in the end feels a bit muddled and it doesn't make a lot of sense. Despite all these flaws, it might still work as something to pass the time for your kids. It worked for mine.

Grade:



CHILD'S PLAY 3
(1991, Bender)



"You know what they say. You just can't keep a Good Guy down."

That's how Chucky (Brad Dourif) announces his return to his "old friend" Andy (Justin Whalin) in Child's Play 3. Studio surely didn't want to keep this Good Guy down with this installment being released just 9 months after the second one. This one follows a now teenage Andy, as he is enrolled in a military school as Chucky comes back to haunt him again.

This is a film I remember seeing in theaters back in the day, thinking it was OK but never seeing it again. Rewatching it now, I understand why, and it's not necessarily because the film is bad. The film does feel like its trying to be more serious and "mature" (perhaps as a nod to Andy maturing himself?), but it results in it being probably the dullest of the franchise, with a mostly flat execution.

Most of the story features Chucky getting himself in drawers, cabinets, and trash cans, sometimes for no reason other than filler. Chucky ends up in drawer, Character A finds him, Chucky kills Character A, rinse and repeat. This flat and repetitive story is probably why I never cared to revisit this installment, while I had seen the original, Child's Play 2, and Bride of Chucky, at least twice each.

Despite those flaws, the military school setting does lend itself to some interesting setpieces, even if they're not executed to perfection. Whalin also does a decent job as the teenage Andy, and the rest of the supporting cast is serviceable. There is also an opening scene during a board meeting with the CEO of the Good Guy company which I found to be quite funny and hammy.

The film was poorly received by critics and didn't do that well in the box office. Creator Don Mancini has said this was his least favorite entry in the series, which led most people to think the franchise was dead after this installment. It would take seven years and a total shift in genre to bring Chucky back. But you know what they say. You just can't keep a Good Guy down.

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BRIDE OF CHUCKY
(1998, Yu)



Tiffany: "Have you got a rubber?"
Chucky: "Have I got a rubber? Tiff, look at me. I'm ALL rubber."

Bride of Chucky was released 7 years after Child's Play 3, at a time when horror films were becoming more comedic, self-aware, and parodic. The above quote should give you an idea of what to expect, but the film basically follows Chucky (Brad Dourif), who is brought back to life by his former lover and accomplice Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly). One thing led to another, and Tiffany also ends up with her soul transferred into a doll.

I think the most important thing in order to enjoy this film is not to expect the "horror" of the previous three films, but rather to get on its humorous wavelength. The notion of two murderous plastic dolls falling in love and having sex is inherently silly, but if you're willing to accept that, the film has some fun and laughs to offer. Most of that comes from the interactions between Chucky and Tiffany. Tilly certainly adds a special energy and spice to the film that's mostly unrivaled.

Thank God for that energy, because the two actual leads: Jade and Jesse (Katherine Heigl and Nick Stabile), are bland as hell. The two actors lack chemistry and they're mostly uninteresting which causes some voids whenever the dolls are not on screen. The film does have John Ritter as Jade's father, who is great, but he's not on the film long enough. In addition, the film has some plot contrivances that come from nowhere, like Chucky needing a specific amulet to perform the "soul transfer" ritual; something that he hadn't mentioned in any of the three previous films.

But again, that's not to say there's no fun in watching it. As long as you understand what you're getting into, I suppose there's some silly fun to be had with it. The truth is that I enjoyed slightly more than the last time I watched it. I just wished it would've been accompanied by a more clever script, a coherent storyline, and competent leads.

Grade:



SEED OF CHUCKY
(2004, Mancini)



"Look around you, Tiff! This is nuts! And I have a very high tolerance for nuts."

That is Chucky's scream of desperation as things keep going awry in this insane sequel in the Chucky franchise. But it might very well be the audience or me screaming at the screen as creator, director, and writer Don Mancini kept pulling things out of his hat, cause this film is nuts indeed.

Seed of Chucky picks up some time after the events of Bride, as Glen (Billy Boyd) discovers he is the son of Chucky and Tiffany (Brad Dourif and Jennifer Tilly), and resurrects them sparking more chaos and mayhem. That is the gist of it, without getting much into how nuts it is, which means I'm leaving out pretty much 75% of the film.

How nuts it is, you say? The film opens with "doll sperm" traveling through a "doll uterus" (cue first reference, Look Who's Talking), Jennifer Tilly playing a fictionalized version of herself, who is willing to sleep her way into the lead role of the Virgin Mary in a film directed by Redman (yes, that Redman). Plus, you get a supporting role from John Waters as a peeping tom reporter, a gender-fluid doll, and countless more references to films that go from Psycho and The Shining to Rebel without a Cause and even Naked Gun.

This all lends itself to some hilarious moments, but it also ends up feeling like too nuts. And I have a very high tolerance for nuts, but it does feel like the whole meta, self-referential thing goes overboard a few times here. There are things that you know are there just because Mancini wants them to be in there, regardless of how organically or sensibly they tie into the film or the overall franchise, which makes it all very much hit or miss.

In my previous review on Bride of Chucky, I wrote about how one had to try to get on the film's wavelength for a better enjoyment. Considering how bonkers this film is, I wonder if a second viewing, or even a group viewing, would make this improve. As it is, Seed of Chucky is a mostly off-the-wall, absurd, sometimes funny and sometimes non-sensical sequel. It's nuts, so I guess it all depends on how high is your tolerance for nuts.

Grade:



RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
(2011, Wyatt)



"Some things aren't meant to be changed. You need to accept that."

Set in current times, Rise of the Planet of the Apes follows Caesar (Andy Serkis), a highly intelligent chimpanzee that starts an ape rebellion against humans. The source of his intelligence was a series of experiments performed by Will Rodman (James Franco), who was trying to find a cure for Alzheimer by experimenting on animals. When one of the experiments went awry, he ended up raising Caesar, along with his ill father (John Lithgow).

This film served to spark a new series of films that work as prequels to the original franchise that started in 1968. Instead of trying to change the main paradigm of the series, something that might've led to the failure of Tim Burton's 2001 remake, this new series doesn't try to change things, but rather build on it as we see the events that might have led to a planet being controlled by apes.

This is probably the fourth time I've seen this film and, although I wasn't that crazy about it at first, I've grown to appreciate it more every time I see it again. I do think the execution feels a bit flat and there are some things that don't work as well, but there is a good core story there in the relationship between Will and Caesar, but also Will and his father. On the other hand, I don't care a lot about the romantic relationship with Caroline (Freida Pinto) nor do I think it's necessary.

The other thing that works great is the humanity they manage to imbue Caesar with. It's amazing how much they can do with a CGI character, in terms of facial expressions and body language, while also building a believable relationship with Will; one that maybe even works better than Will's relationship with other human actors. This also goes to Serkis' commitment to this performance. Caesar's dislike for humans and eventual rise to leadership is also well portrayed, even if it lacks some "oomph" at times.

I'm probably one of the few people in the planet who is OK-ish with Burton's film, but I understand why it didn't work for most people. His attempt to change things, maybe even just for the sake of change, didn't seem that well thought. I think that's why this new take had more grasp. It works as a standalone film while also respecting the original and paying homage to it, adding a backstory that makes sense. At the end of the day, some things aren't meant to be changed. We need to accept that.

Grade:



CURSE OF CHUCKY
(2013, Mancini)



"Look, I know that this sounds nuts, but that doll- I think that there's something in it!"

Curse of Chucky follows Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif), a young woman whose family starts being haunted by Chucky (Brad Dourif). Released 9 years after the batshit craziness of Seed of Chucky, the film brings the franchise back into the horror basics of the original with a mostly dark and somber tone. As much as I enjoyed the silly shenanigans of Bride and Seed, this is a change I really appreciated.

Aside from the tone, the film has a very patient pace. Mancini really takes his time to build up suspense and create a sense of dread. It even makes you wonder if this is a Child's Play film at all, cause Chucky doesn't really reveal himself until almost the halfway mark. Although that might seem like a bad thing, I really enjoyed the tension and fear that oozes through that first half of the film.

Another thing I thought worked great was to keep the setting in one place. By keeping all the characters inside one house, it adds a sense of claustrophobia that works great for the premise. In addition, Mancini makes some great use of lights and shadows, and how he shoots Chucky that added a lot to the film. All of this, mixed with the inner conflicts within Nica's family made for a very edge-of-your-seat experience.

But special kudos have to go to Fiona Dourif, Brad's daughter who's picking up the mantle from him in a way. Somebody once told me how Jennifer Tilly was "the best thing that has happened to this franchise", but I would say Fiona is a close second. She is great in the lead role, providing a nice mixture of strength and vulnerability, making it easy to root for her. I know a lot of people had issues with a certain twist that is brought up in the last act, but I thought it was a nice reveal.

After five films in 25 years, with shifts in tone and lead characters, it's surprising that a franchise about a possessed killer doll could reinvent itself once again, and keep going. This entry in particular is one that I enjoyed a lot, and is probably my second favorite of the franchise. I know it sounds nuts, but that doll- I think there's something in it.

Grade:



HOST
(2020, Savage)
A film with a budget of less than $500,000 • A film with a title that starts with the letters G or H



"So because we're doing this over Zoom, what it does mean is that we're slightly less protected than we might've been, so it's very important that you respect the spirits, and you respect each other."

2020 was a wild year. With the pandemic hitting early in the year, most people had no choice but to stay in their homes to protect themselves and others. But things can still go wrong within our own homes and through the confines of the Internet, which is sort of what this "found footage" movie, filmed during the pandemic, explores.

Host follows a group of friends that, for some reason, decide to perform an online séance. However, most of them are taking things lightly, not "respecting the spirits", until things start to go awry and weird stuff starts happening around them. Since each of them is in separate locations, it makes it harder both to know what's happening on the other side, but also harder to help.

This is a film that was recommended by the co-creator of The Blair Witch Project Eduardo Sánchez, during an interview we had last year. What makes the film more unique is that it is entirely set within a Zoom video call window. The film starts when the call starts and ends as the 1-hour time limit expires. This makes for some really interesting directorial choices and gimmicks.

Those gimmicks might lend themselves for some cheap execution, but here it works. There were a couple of times where I literally jumped off my seat, which is what we want from a horror film. Host has a lot of things on its favor. The premise is uniquely executed, the performances are solid, the sense of dread is genuine, the jump scares feel earned and organic, but most importantly, with a runtime of just an hour, it doesn't overstay its welcome.

Grade:



WEST OF ZANZIBAR
(1928, Browning)
A film with Lon Chaney



"You're a puzzle, Dead-Legs. One minute you're a fiend and the next... you're almost human."

Early in the month, I had the chance to watch a 1932 Pre-Code film called Kongo. Well, West of Zanzibar is an earlier silent adaptation of the same material. Starring Lon Chaney as Phroso, the film follows his journey to the depths of the African jungle in his attempt to seek revenge against the man that left him paralyzed.

West of Zanzibar is actually very similar to Kongo. Obviously, they're based on the same story, but the whole script, look and feel of the film is very much the same. So having seen Kongo first, I have to admit there was a sense of "been there, done that" to it. This film follows pretty much the same beats so there were no surprises in it, and I think the more raw, "Pre-Code" approach from the other film benefitted the story.

I did appreciate how director Tod Browning adds more to the backstory of Phroso, as we see the events that left him how he is and led him to the Congo. I also enjoyed the bigger focus on Phroso's magician schtick; something that I felt the other film doesn't dwell much in. However, as much as I love Chaney, I thought his performance was very subdued, which might be me subconsciously it to Walter Huston's great scenery-chewing in Kongo.

Again, having seen both films within the span of three weeks, it's impossible for me not to compare them. I think both films are pretty good, but I think I would primarily recommend the later version. Regardless of that, West of Zanzibar still worked for me as a curiosity, but also as another glimpse of Chaney's masterful acting, and how one minute he's a fiend, and the next, he's almost human.

Grade:



THE MONSTER
(1925, West)
A film with Lon Chaney



"You must be mad!"
"Don't you dare call ME mad!"

That's the offended response from Dr, Ziska (Lon Chaney) after being called "mad". But then again, that's what you get when you perform mad experiments on unsuspecting people. He is "the monster" in the title. The film, however, focuses primarily on Johnny Goodlittle (Johnny Arthur), a meek but determined amateur detective, who sets out to investigate the numerous kidnappings happening in the countryside.

Johnny's investigation takes him right into the abandoned sanitorium where Ziska performs his experiments. Considered as one of the first films within the "old dark house" sub-genre, the film does make good use of the setting with our hero trapped in the house, along with his love interest Betty (Gertrude Olmstead) and his rival (Amos Rugg). There are some pretty cool setpieces and well shot sequences, especially in the last act, that I'm sure were probably really scary back in the day.

The director also does a solid job balancing the different tones of humor, mystery, and thrills. The film starts with a bang, but then it does loses some momentum in the first half as we see Johnny's attempts to woo Betty. There is a bit of a goofy but earnest approach to it, so it will depend on how much you like that. However, once they all end up in the house, it does pick up, as Chaney is formally introduced and we see his "madness" in action.

Regardless of what you're expecting from it, The Monster has a lot of things going on to make it worth your while. Whether it's as an example of an early and effective horror film, as one of the first instances of the "old dark house" type of films, or as a testament to Lon Chaney's excellent work.

Grade:



A PANICKY PICNIC
(1909, De Chomón & De Morlhon)



"The dream you’d have if you gorged yourself on lukewarm sushi."

That is how an online film critic describes the experience of watching A Panicky Picnic; and although I've never gorged myself on lukewarm sushi, I'm mostly inclined to agree. Made in 1909, it follows a family's attempt to have a picnic in the countryside, only to be disturbed by numerous weird and bizarre occurrences. Co-directed by Segundo de Chomón, along with Camille de Morlhon, the film is yet another showcase of De Chomon's skills and talents during the early years of cinema.

I've only seen a couple of De Chomon's shorts, but they've all been a treat from a technical standpoint. From typical swap shots of stuff that appears and disappears, it all peaks with a really impressive dream sequence done with animation, silhouettes, and shadows. It then culminates with a spectacular sequence in the yard of the cottage using a couple of massive props and some great special effects. To think that all this was made more than 100 years ago is quite impressive.

I discovered De Chomon's work a couple of years ago when I was about to record an episode on silent films. However, I'm surprised that I've really haven't sought out more of his short films. Still, what little I've seen, I totally recommend just as much as I recommend Méliès, and certainly more than I would recommend lukewarm sushi.

Grade:



DEATH WHISPERER
(2023, Wantha)
A film from Thailand



"This spirit is a master manipulator. An untrained mind will be easily swayed. Even a strong mind will turn violent."

Set in 1972 Thailand, Death Whisperer follows a rural family that is suddenly threatened by an evil presence that is haunting one of the daughters. This forces the entire family to mend their differences to stick together and try to overcome this presence. It is the older son, Yak (Nadech Kugimiya), who has just returned from military service who takes the lead against the threat.

I saw this film being recommended by someone on Twitter and it looked interesting, so I decided to give it a try. I thought it was very nicely shot and directed film, with some pretty good blocking. I also thought the whole atmosphere of dread was effectively conveyed, and the many ways that this evil presence manifests itself really worked, with some icky moments without necessarily resorting to full gore.

Aside from the technical aspects, most of the performances were pretty good. The two girls that play the two main sisters were pretty good, especially Rattanawadee Wongtong, who plays Yam. I also liked the way they develop the family dynamics and the different strains and affections within the siblings and parents. Some of those could've been fleshed out more, especially Yak and the younger brother, but they still worked to some level.

The film does rely on many jumpscares, some of them work and some don't, but the solid technical aspects more than make up for those crutches. The film is also very openly setting up for a sequel, which might leave some disappointed; but I think that where they left it still made for a satisfactory and closed story.

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