Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018)

Starring Thomas Lennon, Jenny Pellicer, Nelson Franklin, Charlyne Yi, Michael Paré, Barbara Crampton, Udo Kier, Alex Beh, Matthias Hues, Skeeta Jenkins, Anne Beyer, Victoria Hande, Betsy Holt

Puppet Cast: Blade, Pinhead, Tunneler, Torch (as Kaiser), Amphibian, Mechaniker, Grasshüpfer, Mr. Pumper, Junior Fuhrer, Autogyro, Money Lender

Directed by Sonny Laguna & Tommy Wiklund

Expectations: Low, but it’s getting some good reviews.


The idea of a Puppet Master movie without the input of Charles Band was probably great news to many fans. Band’s films have always been low-budget, but Full Moon’s recent output is noticeably more threadbare and trashy than anything from their ’90s heyday. Their last Puppet Master film, 2017’s Puppet Master: Axis Termination, was a great step in the right direction, but I can’t argue that anyone other than die-hard fans will get much out of it. That being said, a Puppet Master film without Band seems weird to me, as Band’s wacko sense of lighthearted macabre is an integral part of the foundation to nearly every Full Moon film. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich has its own style and tone, which introduces its own problems and shortcomings, and as such it is likely to split both fans and newcomers alike.

Edgar (Thomas Lennon) is a 40-something comic book creator returning to live at his parents’ home after his recent divorce. Nearby a puppet auction is set to happen at the Toulon Mansion, once home to the Nazi puppet maker who died in a stand-off with the police. Edgar still has a Blade puppet found by his brother when they were kids, so he decides to go sell it at the auction. There’s a bit more to it, but that’s all that matters for my purposes here. It’s a ridiculously simple set-up, and not a very elegant one. The film is truly not concerned with telling a story, though; it’s nothing more than an excuse to bring a bunch of people to one location so the puppets can wreak havoc on them. If that’s all you want out of a Puppet Master movie, then this one definitely delivers. That has never been the focus of Band’s Puppet Master movies, but this is a parallel series so that’s not entirely surprising.

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End of Days (1999)

endofdays_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney, Kevin Pollak, CCH Pounder, Derrick O’Connor, Miriam Margolyes, Udo Kier, Victor Varnado, Rod Steiger

Directed by Peter Hyams

Expectations: Arnold vs. the Devil has to be good, right?

twohalfstar


End of Days is one of what I presume is a handful of 1999 films to use the Y2K scare as a basis for their plot. Thanks to finally seeing the film 16 years after its release, where it’s known that nothing happened when we entered the new millennium, this plotline nostalgically reminded me of the days when the American public was controlled by simple fears instead of terrorism. But it also can be seen as a “fictional historical record” of what might have actually saved our collective butts from financial and technological doom. I already believe that Arnold can accomplish anything in movie land, from defeating an alien predator to carrying a baby to term, so I might as well think that he actually saved the world from destruction.

End of Days opens with a baby being born — no, not Arnold’s — and soon after a satanic nurse whisks her away to confirm her demonic birthmark and feed her some snake blood. Y’know, the usual. For all I know, this is what happens every time an infant is born, but for the sake of this movie, I’ll assume that this baby is special. And imagine that, it turns out she is! When she has grown to maturity, this child will be the wife of Satan, but she must remain a virgin until their coupling (which will somehow seal the Earth’s fate). The Catholic church has their own sect of elite priests devoted to stopping them —  they kick ass for the Lord — but it is private security officer Jericho Cane (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who ends up being the deciding factor in this holy war.

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Quick Takes: Mark of the Devil, Day of Anger, Blind Woman’s Curse

mark_of_devil_poster_01Mark of the Devil [Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält] (1970)
AKA Hexen

threestar

Starring Herbert Lom, Udo Kier, Olivera Katarina, Reggie Nalder, Herbert Fux, Johannes Buzalski, Michael Maien, Gaby Fuchs
Directed by Michael Armstrong

Set in Austria during the 1700s, Mark of the Devil is a witch hunter film that is surprisingly brutal and graphic for 1970. Although, I guess it probably wasn’t released uncut most places back then. Anyway, Mark of the Devil is one of the ancestors of the torture porn genre, but unlike the Saw films and those that followed, I actually enjoyed Mark of the Devil! A lot of that rides on the shoulders of Reggie Nalder, who is exceptional in the role of the town’s crazed witch hunter. It’s ultimately a hard one to recommend, though, as it’s not much more than a torture-rific exploitation movie. What I can recommend is the newly released Arrow Blu-ray/DVD, which is excellent. I love when Blu-rays manage to retain the general look of watching a film projection (DAT GRAIN). Looks like a million witches burning at the stake.

day_of_angerDay of Anger [I giorni dell’ira] (1967)
AKA Blood and Grit, Gunlaw, Days of Wrath

threehalfstar

Starring Lee Van Cleef, Giuliano Gemma, Walter Rilla, Christa Linder, Yvonne Sanson, Lukas Ammann, Andrea Bosic, Ennio Balbo, José Calvo
Directed by Tonino Valerii

As if you needed any more evidence that Lee Van Cleef is a total badass, Day of Anger presents him in one of his finest roles. He plays the mysterious and ruthless Frank Talby, who rides into the strange town of Clifton and endears himself to a persecuted street cleaner named Scott (Giuliano Gemma). In their first encounter, Talby teaches Scott that he doesn’t necessarily have to accept the lot that life has given him; he can instead create the life he would like to have. This progression of Scott’s character, and his relationship with Talby, are satisfying enough on their own, but Day of Anger also has some incredible scenes that rank among the best the western genre has to offer. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Talby has a duel mid-film that’s just fantastic. Director Tonino Valerii was Sergio Leone’s assistant director before moving on to his own films, and he clearly picked up some tricks. After watching a number of mediocre Spaghetti Westerns over the last few years, Day of Anger is not only one of the best Spaghettis I’ve seen in a while, it’s also one of the best westerns I’ve seen in a while. Genre fans should definitely check it out! The new Arrow Blu-ray/DVD looks absolutely fantastic, too!

Blind Woman’s Curse [怪談昇り竜] (1970)
AKA Black Cat’s Revenge, The Tattooed Swordswoman, Strange Tales of Dragon Tattoo

threehalfstar

Starring Meiko Kaji, Hoki Tokuda, Makoto Satō, Hideo Sunazuka, Shirō Otsuji, Toru Abe, Tatsumi Hijikata, Yoshi Kato, Yoko Takagi
Directed by Teruo Ishii

If you were to look at Blind Woman’s Curse critically, you could find many faults with the plot. It is a film that mixes multiple genres and styles together, and it’s not necessarily concerned with doing them all justice. But honestly, I only noticed this after the film had long been over, because while I was watching I was just having a blast. It’s one of those rare films that satisfies my love for both B-Movies and classically well-made cinema. All the the trashiness you’d expect from a multi-genre B-Movie is present, but Blind Woman’s Curse is made with much more grace and skill than these B-elements would normally suggest. There are some seriously great shots and camera work here, and they make me very excited to see some more of Ishii’s work. The film also reminded me a lot of the work of Takashi Miike, and I have a strong feeling Ishii was an influence on him. I don’t know if Blind Woman’s Curse has a cult following, but it definitely deserves one and the elements to attract one are surely all here. The availability of the recent Arrow Blu-ray/DVD should help it find more fans, too.

Melancholia (2011)

Starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård, Cameron Spurr, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Jesper Christensen, Stellan Skarsgård, Brady Corbet, Udo Kier

Directed by Lars Von Trier

Expectations: High. I love most of the Von Trier films I’ve seen.


Ah geez, why can’t I watch the easy to review movies? While watching Melancholia I wasn’t sure if it was any good, or if I liked it, and now a few hours later I still feel the same way. A bit of my history with Lars Von Trier: I was taking my first college course (Film History) and the teacher was a big film snob dude who loved him some arthouse cinema. He offered extra credit to anyone that went down to Hollywood and watched Lar Von Trier’s latest film, Dancer in the Dark starring Bjork. I didn’t have anything better going, so off I went. At that particular time I was at the height of my own film snob phase, actively shunning nearly every modern film and focusing on watching all the classics (hence taking Film History). So when I sat down to Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, it was with a scowl and a “Let’s see what this pompous fucker can do” attitude. By the end of the film, I was blown away. It had single-handedly renewed my faith in what contemporary cinema could be and made me instantly curious to see more of his work. I ended up watching The Idiots next, which I absolutely hated, but later films have proven to me that when he was on it, he was fucking on it.

I’ve been slacking in keeping up with his latest releases (I haven’t seen anything after Manderlay), but all the good buzz for Melancholia reawakened those feelings of love and I felt compelled to check it out. I knew next to nothing going in, other than it seemed to follow the general Von Trier story where a tortured woman copes with some fucked up situations. That woman is Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia, and cope with fucked up situations (on the grandest of scales) she does. There isn’t a lot of traditional plot so I won’t say too much, but the film opens with Kirsten Dunst’s wedding and kind of spirals off from there.

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Cigarette Burns (2005)

Starring Norman Reedus, Udo Kier, Gary Hetherington, Chris Britton, Zara Taylor, Chris Gauthier, Douglas Arthurs, Colin Foo, Gwynyth Walsh, Christopher Redman, Julius Chapple

Directed by John Carpenter

Expectations: Moderate. I’ll admit it, I am excited to see this. John Carpenter and me go way back.


John Carpenter is a special director to me. During my film snob period, John Carpenter was one of the few genre filmmakers able to cut through my bullshit. His confidence and grasp on storytelling was powerful enough to impress despite the issues a teenage film snob might have. Films like Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, They Live, Big Trouble in Little China. Christ, the man knows how to get the job done and make it fun as hell. So going into this episode of Masters of Horror, I hoped that Carpenter would coming out firing on all cylinders.

Cigarette Burns is a film about films, one of the hardest types of films to pull off successfully. This is because as a self-aware film, it brings itself into our world and out of the realm of fantasy. Our touchstones are their touchstones. Carpenter is quick to establish that this is still fantasy though, when he reveals a pale-skinned, inhuman freak chained to a wall in the house of a billionaire. The rich man wants our hero (Norman Reedus) to hunt down a print of a rare film only ever shown once. When screened for the festival audience, the people went into a murderous frenzy, creating a cinematic myth for the ages. The man chained to the wall isn’t as key as you might think, but the early revelation about him changes the experience of watching Cigarette Burns and, at least for me, separates the film from our world. A parallel universe, perhaps.

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Suspiria (1977)

Suspiria (1977)

Starring Jessica Harper, Udo Kier, Joan Bennett, Alida Valli, Stefania Casini, Miguel Bosé, Flavio Bucci, Barbara Magnolfi

Directed by Dario Argento

Expectations: High. It’s Suspiria, even normal people have heard of it, so I’m assuming it’s good.


 

Well I guess there’s a reason why this is so popular! Suspiria is the Italian horror film to see if you don’t care for Italian horror films, as it has enough creepiness, fear and mystery to make it one hell of an interesting movie. Argento’s previous films tend to need a bit of coaxing and mental adjusting to experience properly. I don’t mean this necessarily in a bad way, it is a natural process I go through when I venture down a new path of foreign films. I find that I need to see a few before I can understand the rhythms and the flow they move at. I don’t watch foreign movies for more of the same, and in order to properly absorb them, some leeway must be given to allow for them to grow on me. If nothing takes root after a few films, then I leave that path behind and try something new. Coming into Suspiria I was a bit unsure if I’d continue down the Giallo path, but I find myself constantly thinking back to the Argento films I’ve watched over this past month and while I might have been less than completely impressed initially, I am haunted by the inventive shots and horrific scenes contained within them. Suspiria solidifies my interest in the Italian horror genre and is probably the most immediately likable of the Argento films I have seen so far.

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