Movies Till Dawn: The Saturday Morning Strange Has Risen from the Grave

Southland Tales” (2006, Arrow Video) The fate of a post-apocalyptic United States – or its ultimate demise, as narrator Justin Timberlake occasionally and obliquely infers – rests in the hands of amnesic action star Dwayne Johnson, who has penned a screenplay that predicts the end of the world (I think). Adult film stars, flying trucks, and the nuclear destruction of El Paso, Texas also figure into Richard (“Donnie Darko”) Kelly‘s much-discussed epic; I won’t pretend that it’s a secret masterpiece, nor will I say it’s the total disaster that many have labeled it to be. There are some inspired moments, mostly involving Seann William Scott’s hapless cop (and his twin) and megalomaniacal Wallace Shawn, and you have to admire the audacity of making such an impenetrable film, and then doubling down with a director’s cut that obfuscates things further. I’ll say it’s unique, and requires heavy lifting on your part, and you may enjoy the exercise or not; the Arrow Blu-ray offers both the 145-minute theatrical cut and the 160-minute (!) Cannes cut, as well as commentary by Kelly and two making-of featurettes.

Smiley Face Killers” (2020, Artisan Entertainment/Lionsgate Home Entertainment) Queasy psycho-thriller based on a long-standing conspiracy theory around real murders, and penned by Bret Easton Ellis, who loads the script loaded with his pretty vacant characters – here, it’s college kid Ronen Rubinstein, whose “super-depressed” behavior worries his friends (though not enough for them to do much about it). But it’s not Ellis’s trademark anomie that’s troubling Rubenstein; rather, it’s the realization that someone may be stalking him, leaving cryptic messages on his phone and maps to locations where other young men like him have been murdered. Director Tim Hunter (“River’s Edge”) favors atmosphere and suspense over big shocks (though the film dives into that territory for its final gruesome third); that approach paves over the sillier spots in Ellis’s script. With a nearly unrecognizable but still unnerving Crispin Glover; the Artisan/Lionsgate Blu-ray includes a behind-the-scenes featurette with cast interviews.

A Ghost Waits” (2020, Arrow Video) One house wanted by two entities: Jack (co-scripter MacLeod Andrews) is the handyman charged to clean it, and Muriel (Natalie Walker) is the dutiful ghost required to haunt it. Mutual understanding and appreciation for their roles leads to connection and something more. Microbudgeted indie by Adam Stovall benefits greatly from the chemistry between the two leads and an amusing riff on “Beetlejuice’s” afterlife-as-business trope, both of which help carry the film over some unwieldy plot mechanics. Available now on Arrow’s streaming service.

Ingagi” (1930, Kino Lorber) Alleged documentary footage of an African safari, focused largely on the indiscriminate slaughter of wildlife before we glimpse the picture’s raison d’etre: the sacrifice of native women to a gorilla which, it’s implied, has untoward designs on his victims. It’s all an ugly ruse, combining stolen footage of a real safari with new and doltishly delivered scenes shot in Los Angeles using Black extras (and extras in blackface) who are belittled by a rabid narrator; the Motion Picture Association eventually stepped in, but not before the producers netted a colossal sum, which reportedly spurred RKO Pictures to back another ape-meets-lady picture: “King Kong.” A crucial piece in both the history of exploitation movies and the promotion of racist ideas about Black men and white women, “Ingagi” was long considered lost and never saw a home video release until this 4K restoration, part of the Forbidden Fruit series of historic exploitation and culled from a Library of Congress print from Kino and Something Weird Video; historians/fillmmakers Bret Wood and Kelly Robinson provide a wealth of information on the film’s production, problems, and noxious legacy in their respective commentaries.

Giant from the Unknown” (1958, The Film Detective) A bolt of lightning revives the evil, king-sized conquistador Vargas (6’6″ Buddy Baer, former boxer and uncle of Jethro Bodine), who proceeds to trouble the residents of Pine Ridge, CA (actually Fawnskin and Big Bear). The (mostly) steady hand of director Richard Cunha, a former newsreel director whose ability to turn in satisfactory fare for under $65,000 made him a go-to for cheap horror and sci-fi, keeps this creature feature on track and even manages to squeeze in a few low wattage scares during Vargas’ budget-conscious rampage. Film Detective’s Blu-ray –a 4K restoration taken from the original negative – offers commentary tracks by historian Tom Weaver and the film’s co-star, Gary Crutcher; historian/author C. Courtney Joyner weighs in on former movie cowboy Bob Steele, who plays Pine Ridge’s sheriff, and liner notes by Weaver, with plenty of stills, round out this fun disc.

Theater Bizarre” (2011, Severin Films) Six stories, presented as Grand Guignol production by a puppet Udo Kier, and directed by (among others) Richard Stanley, Tom Savini, Buddy Giovinazzo, and Karim Hussain. The emphasis is on the grisly and grotesque, and includes nods to Lovecraft (Stanley’s “Mother of Toads”), carnivorous vagina dentata (Savini’s “Wet Dreams”), needles in eyeballs (Hussain’s “Vision Stains”), compulsive food eating (Severin chief David Gregory‘s “Sweets”), cannibalism, and many, many toads. As is often the case with horror anthology films, some stories (“Toads,” Douglas Buck‘s melancholy “The Acicident”) work better than others (Giovinazzo’s “I Love You”), but there’s a sufficient amount of ambition and shock in all of the shorts to carry you to the end credits. Severin’s Blu-ray is loaded with extras, including new and vintage commentary by the filmmakers, multiple making-of featurettes, individual interview featurettes with several of the directors, an extended cut of “Toads,” and an interview with composer Simon Boswell, who’s collaborated with Argento and Jodorowsky (and is a swell guy, to boot).

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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