and a few more films

Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1964)
Streaming free at Daily Motion

The title is a lie: There is no house. This is set on a train (which is way better than a house anyway), where several strangers share two benches facing each other.

One of the men is Peter Cushing, playing a very mystical tarot card reader. He gives a reading to each of the other passengers, so the film is actually five short films, plus the train stuff.

The best segment has Christopher Lee as an art critic who suffers modern art not at all, and poo-poos the whole idea of tarot cards and the supernatural. Lee, usually the scary guy all through his career, has a grand time playing the guy who's scared.

#257  [archive]
MAR. 10, 2024

Almost as strong is the final segment, with pre-stardom Donald Sutherland as a doctor figuring out that his wife has become a vampire.

The worst is the middle segment, some overlong rubbish about calypso singers and voodoo. For the most part, though, everything else in the flick is jolly good British horror. 

Also present: Roy Castle, Michael Gough, Bernard Lee, a werewolf, a crawling hand, and some murderous vines that'll getcha if you're not careful.

Directed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis, and it shows. Everything looks terrific, wide-screen and vivid colors. It's an utterly commercial film, with really nothing to say except "Gotcha!", but it definitely got me.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Drag Me to Hell (2009)

Christine (Alison Lohman) wants a promotion at the bank, but to move up the ladder she needs to be quicker to sign repossession papers. Gosh she wants to be nice, but it's a job and it's a bank, so she evicts a creepy old woman from her home, and the woman retaliates by tossing a curse at her. 

Directed by Sam Raimi, and written by Raimi with his son, this is pleasant nonsense through the first half. It's set in our reality, with supernatural elements added, and heapin' healpings of the kind of horror where you gotta laugh at the craziness.

The second half, though, is overstuffed with CGI and other ordinary horror movie tricks and tropes and grotesqueries. It takes itself more seriously, so it gets boring.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Dragged Across Concrete (2018)

Most of the first act is filmed in shadows and unlit spaces so dark it's hard to tell which characters are which. It's so relentlessly black and dark gray and shadowy that the only face I could see clearly enough to remember later was the actor Mel Gibson, playing a cretinous, racist, cruel cop. His partner is in the shadows, just as unjustifiably mean, but in a story you're lost if you don't know who's who.

After about 20 minutes of wondering what was happening, these bad cops go to breakfast in a diner that's still darker than anyplace I'd eat, but there's at least enough light to see the face of Gibson's partner, and it's Vince Vaughn. The next scene is in a high-rise office, curtains drawn, sunny day, white walls, white people, but still the faces are so dark it's sometimes hard to know who's talking. 

Was I watching a defective copy of this flick? Nope, I've checked the office scene against the same movie on streaming sites, and on a different device, and it's just as impenetrably dark. Writer-director S Craig Zahler is going for noir, but going overboard for noir.

On the plus side, though — everything else. Eventually Zahler turns on a few lights, or my eyes adjusted to the darkness, and the film unfolds as a coldblooded and hardboiled study of these two shitty cops. Suspended for brutality, they decide they deserve a raise, so they're going to rob some gold robbers. 

Meanwhile, back in the film's early, pitch black scenes, we met Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) as he returned home from prison. Jobs are hard to come by for ex-cons, especially black ex-cons, but an old buddy offers him 'work' on the crew for some bad guys plotting a gold heist. They're the robbers Gibson & Vaughn are planning to rob.

But first there's a mystery to be solved, a long stakeout sequence with amusing banter between the cops, sudden violence, foreboding of not-so-sudden violence to come, and six Mickey Spillanes of tough-guy talk. Zahler's script repeatedly gives voice to racism from the cops played by Gibson & Vaughn, but cops are racist and I like realism in movies, and it's all frickin' riveting.

Any other director would yell 'Cut!', but Zahler's scenes last noticeably longer, often with dialogue or little moments that bring you deeper into the time and place and characters, even if they don't further the plot. Zahler is a right-winger, someone I'd doubtless hate if we met, but we don't travel in the same social circles and he makes cool movies. 

Something else is special here. When random background characters die in the movies, it's usually just for effect — there's no sense of the person whose life has been snuffed. This flick finds a way around that, which I shall not detail, but it's effective.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Dreamers (2003)

It's the 1960s, and Matthew is an American college student in Paris. But his real education, he says, comes from frequently attending the famous Cinémathèque Française, an adventurous repertory cinema where films from all countries and eras are screened. 

Matthew's a movie geek, and is soon befriended by two other movie geeks, Isabelle and Theo, who are siblings and possibly twins, if Theo can be believed.

The brother and sister are very friendly, with Matthew and with each other, far friendlier than sisters and brothers in a G-rated picture. This one is NC-17.

There's talk about movies, and occasionally about politics, while some of the era's protests are happening outside the window and tear gas comes wafting in.

The alleged twins invite Matthew to move in, while their parents are out of town. This leads to sex in all the possible permutations, and it's lovely seeing pubic hair on a woman, and even lovelier hearing Matthew say no, he's not going to shave his pubes because he's not a little kid and doesn't want to look like one. 

The Dreamers is no porno, though. It just has some mainstream movie fake-sex reminiscent of the 1970s.

Mostly it's about the relationships between these three young adults, with politics in the distant background, but toward the end the street protests and riots move to the forefront. The change is so quick it's not quite believable. 

I loved the clips from and conversations about old movies. Wasn't much taken with the sex and relationship stuff, although Eva Green (playing Isabelle) is certainly beautiful and five or ten minutes watching her naked was the best thing about the movie. The political stuff wasn't delivered with enough depth to understand the issues and choose a side.

I'm a hippie at heart, and I'd like to see more movies set in the turbulent and chaotic 1960s and '70s. This one's from Bernardo Bertolucci, and it's OK, but he's done better, much better.

Verdict: MAYBE. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Drive (2011)

Neon opening credits set the mood. This a very atmospheric flick about a man who drives getaway cars, but only under his very specific conditions. The guy is mysterious to the max, and even the credits list him only as 'Driver: Ryan Gosling'. 

You're expecting lots of screeching tires, but there's surprisingly little of that. Always there's the potential that an action movie might break out, but that would be too ordinary, and we're going for something different here. And then an action movie does break out, but only for a few minutes at a time. Mostly, the genre this belongs to is film noir, and it belongs near the top. 

Driver is a stoic loner, quiet, calm, even gentle, who almost wordlessly falls for the pretty woman (Carey Mulligan) who lives down the hall in his apartment building. Albert Brooks is excellent as a mean loan shark who wishes he wasn't, but certainly is. It also has Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Isaac, Ron Perlman, and Russ Tamblyn.

Everybody's great, but it's Gosling's film. He's basically Bogart, in a movie that Bogey would've been proud of. He has enough cool to be cool, but not so much that he's cocky, and there's little doubt he has a heart of gold. But even when Driver isn't in a car, his foot is philosophically hovered over the gas pedal, ready to floor it.

The director, Nicolas Winding Refn, is Danish, which is of no importance except that coming to Hollywood should've been disorienting for him, and apparently wasn't. We are along for the ride with Refn and Gosling from 'lights, camera, action' until the end of the road.

Verdict: BIG YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

Drive-In (1976)
Drugstore Cowboy
Easy Rider 2
Easy Street

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. That scene with Driver / Gosling holding the bullet and the hammer is haunting. The whole movie is worth watching for it, though not only for it.

    1. For me, it's the elevator scene, mostly for Carey Mulligan. Oh, this is who he is...

    2. I think Drive stinks! All style, and derivative at that. I'd rather watch - wait for it - The Driver, by the great Walter Hill, or Le Samourai by Melville.

      And how can you like Gosling but not Dillon? Sheesh! Talk about an unconvincing blank... The only time Duck Boy was good was in The Believer, or maybe his years at the Mickey Mouse Club.

      As for Nicolas Winding Refn, the only one by him I like is Bronson, primarily for Tom Hardy's cosmically outrageous performance - otherwise even it is littered with lifts from other flicks (boooooooring!)

    3. 'Derivative' is a criticism I usually don't understand. It's not the first movie about a stoic criminal with a heart of gold, and probably all the other ingredients are recycled too, but it adds up to a good time. Your mileage may vary, of course. Sold by the weight not volume, so some settling of contents may have occurred during transport.

      Like 'manipulative' — another complaint that I often ungrok. Spielberg is manipulative, but that's often the point. I pays my three bucks to have my emotions manipulated, and all I ask is do a good job of it.

      Added Le Samourai to my list, of course. It's around 1,400 movies now. Bronson was already on the list — I always scan the IMDB of anyone who does something interesting.

      I also liked Ryan Gosling in The Nice Guys, though I don't remember anything about it and I might've been stoned.


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