Movies Till Dawn: The Saturday Morning Strange Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things

Smile” (2022, Paramount Home Video) Burnt-out therapist Sosie (daughter of Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin) Bacon discovers that she is the latest target of a monstrous entity with a diabolical M.O.: it plagues its victims with terrifying hallucinations that drive them to commit public suicide, which then transfers the spirit on to those who witness the death. Writer/director Parker Finn borrows liberally from other recent curse-fueled horror titles, such as “Ringu” and “It Follows,” for his feature-length expansion of his short “Laura Hasn’t Slept”; he is less successful at building a cohesive mythology for his monster than those films, and frontloads the picture with some hamfisted dialogue and effects, but there’s also no denying that he knows how to craft very creepy atmosphere and setpieces (Bacon’s house is enough of a creepshow unto itself). The film’s underlying metaphor – that trauma and mental illness can take on insidious and virus-like properties, affecting everyone around the sufferer – is also delivered in particularly cogent and affecting terms (and almost warrants Finn tackling the subject outside of a horror context). He’s well assisted by Bacon, whose mental dissolve is palpably unnerving, as well the always-excellent Robin Weigert as her supercilious ex-therapist and Caitlin Stasey as the entity’s first victim, whose display of its trademark – a horrible wide grin – is arguably the film’s most alarming visual. Paramount’s Blu-ray includes the “Laura” short along with commentary by Finn, making-of docs on the production and Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s astonishing, nerve-rattling score, and deleted scenes.

The Blood Beast Terror” (1968, Kino Lorber) Scotland Yard detective Peter Cushing’s investigation into the deaths of several young men, each drained of blood, leads him to entomologist Robert Flemyng, whose daughter (Benedict Cumberbatch’s mom, Wanda Ventham) periodically transforms into a human-sized, bloodthirsty moth. Silly UK chiller penned by former Hammer cameraman turned writer Peter Bryan aims for his previous employer’s mix of Gothic atmosphere and grisly effects but remains unable to either explain or depict a monster moth without inciting giggles from viewers; however, Cushing’s still-energetic presence and a handful of appropriately morbid setpieces (a visit to Ventham’s lair) should retain interest when the film itself falters. Kino’s remastered Blu-ray is a vast improvement over previous home video releases, and features commentary by Kim Newman and writer Stephen Jones, as well as trailers for several other Cushing titles in Kino’s library.

The Leech” (2022, Arrow Video) Whether motivated by the Christmas season, guilt and self-loathing, or his predilection for being trampled by others, small-town pastor Graham Skipper brings walking disaster Jeremy Gardner into his home, where he’s soon joined by his equally toxic girlfriend (Taylor Zaudtke); the pair spend the night crossing boundarie and pushing buttons, only to discover that one person’s breaking point is another’s descent into ugliness. Had indie writer-director Eric Pennycoff simply focused on the final third of his film, he might have produced a better-than-average Christmas horror movie; his interests, however, seem to lie more with character than a collection of unsettling setpieces (though there are plenty of those as well), and that focus results in observations about human behavior (especially our need to rack up good deeds to balance out the bad) that ring uncomfortably true. The cast – essentially a three-hander joined by Rigo Garay as Skipper’s former charity case – are all uniformly excellent, with Gardner almost unbearable as a lout fueled by boundless aggrieved entitlement; Arrow’s Special Edition Blu-ray features commentary by Pennycoff, who’s also featured in several interviews and festival Q&As (along with a live commentary track) with members of the cast. There’s also a making-of doc, a visual essay on Pennycoff’s body of film work, and three of his early short films

Attack of the 50-Foot Woman” (1958, Warner Archives Collection) Brassy Allison Hayes finds an unexpected solution to her husband’s philandering when a chance encounter with a giant, bald alien transforms her into a vengeful behemoth. The love-hate triangle between Hayes, husband William Archer, and his girlfriend (Yvette Vickers) adds a note of noirish romance-gone-wrong to this remarkably silly but enjoyable ’50s sci-fi favorite, which generates a potent central image of a postwar woman raging without restraint but undoes it with overheated dialogue and singularly atrocious visual effects. The latter are most likely the reason for the film’s enduring cult status, which Warner Archives Collection’s Blu-ray celebrates with a new 2K transfer and and an informative commentary track with Tom Weaver (recorded in 2007) and the late Vickers.

Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things” (1972, VCI Entertainment) World-class creep Alan (co-writer Alan Ormsby) strong-arms the members of his theater group into visiting a remote island, where a bit of black magic tomfoolery accidentally brings its sizable population of corpses back to life. A drawn-out first half (in which the zombies do not appear for over an hour) doesn’t detract from the fact that this independent feature, directed by Bob Clark (“A Christmas Story”) is the rare horror-comedy that is actually both amusing and quite frightening, especially in its final third, where it gleefully upends many of the living dead tropes set in place a few years earlier by “Night of the Living Dead.” VCI’s 50th Anniversary releases (a two-disc Blu-ray and three-disc 4K set) offer modestly improved visuals and a wealth of extras, including commentary by Ormsby and other cast members and a feature-length retrospective on the late Clark; Orsmby is also featured in a Zoom Q&A, and also turns up in footage from a 2007 screening at the New Beverly Cinema (which I may have attended). Production stills, radio spots and trailers, and a brace of fan tributes and music videos fill out both releases.

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.
This entry was posted in Movies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply