• Wild Grass

    Wild Grass

    ★★★★

    "Everyone makes mistakes. It's part of our lot to get ideas."

    When this film played at Cannes in 2009, Alain Resnais was given a lifetime achievement award by the festival, but the director had two features left in him before his death in 2014. Wild Grass would have made for a suitably off-center final act, though, with its story of a retiree who finds a wallet in a parking garage and overcomplicates every aspect of its return. Whether it's due…

  • Around a Small Mountain

    Around a Small Mountain

    ★★★½

    "This small ring is the most dangerous place in the world. But also where everything is possible. Where eyes are opened."

    Jacques Rivette's swan song, made not long after the auteur had turned 80 and was ready to wind down his career, is set on the melacholic last tour of a traveling circus that tightrope walker Kate (Jane Birkin) has returned to after 15 years. Her reasons for leaving are kept obscure for a good long while, as are the…

  • Death Valley

    Death Valley

    ★½

    "It won't be long before they follow us in here."
    "I'm more worried about what's already inside."

    A creature feature where the best thing about it is -- surprise, surprise -- the design and performance of the creature. The design is by Steven Kostanski, writer/director of one of my recent faves, Psycho Goreman. The performance is by writer/director Matthew Ninaber, who played Psycho Goreman. Ninaber's script, however, is pretty hacky, with some of the most egregious info dumps in recent…

  • The World Beyond

    The World Beyond

    ★★★½

    "What is it?"
    "Looks like mud."

    Of a piece with the folk horror stuff I've been mucking about with lately, this is the second failed TV pilot (after 1977's The World of Darkness) centered on the character of supernaturally sensitive sportswriter Paul Taylor (Granville Van Dusen), who was clinically dead on an operating table for two minutes and 37 seconds and ever since has been at the beck and call of ghosts who contact him at all hours of the…

  • Such Good Friends

    Such Good Friends

    ★★½

    "I've never seen anyone dying before. It's such hard work, all that effort just to live one minute more, just to catch one more breath."

    I'm hard-pressed to think of a classic Hollywood director who had a rougher time of it during the transition to the New Hollywood era than Otto Preminger. Having pushed boundaries with The Man with the Golden Arm, Anatomy of a Murderer, Advise & Consent and others, he stumbled with the counterculture anti-comedy Skidoo and continued to…

  • Skidoo

    Skidoo

    ★★

    "I don't like films on TV. They always cut them to pieces."

    It's hard to imagine just what Otto Preminger was thinking when he embarked on Skidoo in 1968. Perhaps appearing on Batman as Mr. Freeze led him to believe he had a knack for campy comedy. This leaden disaster must have disabused him of that notion in a hurry, though. Written by Doran William Cannon, who later penned Brewster McCloud for Robert Altman, the film stars Jackie Gleason as…

  • The Blood on Satan's Claw

    The Blood on Satan's Claw

    ★★★★

    "Witchcraft is dead and discredited. Are you bent on reviving forgotten horrors?"
    "How do we know, sir, what is dead?"

    An atmosphere of dread and foreboding infuses every frame of The Blood on Satan's Claw, a period horror film set in a 17th-century English village beset by an evil force after a ploughman unearths a "fiendish" skull. This triggers a series of inexplicable events, including a young man's fiancée being driven mad the night before their wedding, his aunt disappearing…

  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

    The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

    "And to this day, it is a favorite story often told about the neighborhood."

    Considering how much Ichabod Crane gorges himself on their food, I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that it was the womenfolk of Sleepy Hollow who put Brom up to dressing as the Headless Horseman to scare the gluttonous schoolteacher out of town. I'll wager they even sewed his costume.

  • Eyes of Fire

    Eyes of Fire

    ★★★★

    "This valley shouldn't be lived in, but it is. And by some very strange ones at that."

    My march through Severin's "All the Haunts Be Ours" folk horror boxed set begins in earnest with this low-budget feature many have already compared with Robert Eggers's The Witch, so I see no reason to buck that trend. This one just so happens to feature more explosions, along with a synth score courtesy of Brad Fiedel one year before he worked on The…

  • The Day After

    The Day After

    ★★★½

    "What if it does happen? What do we do?"

    I didn't see this when it originally aired because I was ten and my parents were adept at shielding their children from things that would be pure nightmare fuel. Today, the most unnerving thing about it is the caption at the end that essentially says, "Hey, folks. You know how bad things got in this? Well, if this sort of thing happened for real we'd be totally fucked."

  • Freak Orlando

    Freak Orlando

    ★★★½

    "The most sensational sideshow of all time!"

    Well, I've been to Freak City, to see for myself
    Yes, I've been to Freak City, to see for myself
    Been Freak City, been Freak City
    Just got to give me some Dobermen
    Leather boys
    were dancing like there's no tomorrow
    Freak City

    Unlike its comparatively straightforward predecessor, there are long stretches of Freak Orlando that verge on filmed performance art. There's a lot of dancing -- interpretive and otherwise -- and groups of people cavorting in outrageous costumes. If you can get on its wavelength, terrific. If not, it's going to be two-plus hours of rough sledding.

  • Ticket of No Return

    Ticket of No Return

    ★★★

    "The fact that it simply takes care of itself is the beauty of drinking."

    The Criterion Channel has been streaming a pair of Ulrike Ottinger films for a few months now, so I decided to knock them out this afternoon while I'm housebound. Both were endurance tests of a sort, this one because it's about an unnamed foreigner (Tabea Blumenschein) who travels to Berlin for the express purpose of getting drunk and staying drunk as long as possible. Accordingly, Ticket…