Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Giant Gila Monster (and Killer Shrews) hits home video in a loaded Blu Ray DVD release 9/26

I don’t buy or get physical media much anymore. Don’t get me wrong I have thousands of titles in my collection but the fact that I am getting so much sent to me to review that I don’t go back and watch things until they’ve been on cable/streaming rotation for months or years.  That said I still pick up the odd special edition disc because I love the film and want a special edition.

When I was recently informed that -Film Master's was releasing a two disc special edition of THE GIANT GILA MONSTER that included a special edition of THE KILLER SHREWS I jumped at the chance to get my hands on the set and I wasn’t disappointed.

I have had the pairing of these two films in my head for decades. Ever since Sinister Cinema began turning out Drive in Double feature VHS tapes, the first of which was a pairing of the films. In the 40 or so years since they did that I invariably end up watching the two films together in one way or another, short of a single film airing on Svengoolie.  Such was the case  when I watched these two film I watched them together.

If you’ve never seen the films before  I should probably give you a quick over view of each.

THE GIANT GILA MONSTER is the story of a giant Gila monster that wanders across a small town causing all sorts of havoc. It all comes to head when some smart ass kids come up with a means of taking the beast out.  The monster is an actual lizard roaming around miniature sets. It’s not the best giant monster film ever made, there really isn’t any effort to integrate the beast with actual people so the effects sequences seem from a different movie. That said the film is still a lot of fun. If it wasn’t I wouldn’t have watched it the two or three hundred times I’ve seen it.

THE KILLER SHREWS is one of my favorite films of the drive-in era. It’s the story of a group of people where people go to a remote island where scientists have lost control of the giant shrews (collies in fright masks)  they have bred.  The shrews are destroying everything and killing anything alive with their poisonous bite.  Trapped in a compound the group has to figure out how to get to the boat and off the island before the shrews break in and eat them. It’s a blast and a half that is both funny for all the wrong reasons (the masks) and scary (the masks).

First thing I need  say is that Film Master‘s release presents both films in both 1:85 (theatrical) and 1:33(TV). Both films have been restored and  are look frighteningly good. Watching the film with my brother we both were shocked that these  two warhorse films were given more love than most recent films. They look great.

Having seen the films way too many times I skipped watching the films straight and instead simply focused on the extras, which meant that I watched the films with the commentary tracks. GILA has a track featuring by Larry Strothe, James Gonis, Shawn Sheridan and Matt Weinhold from The Monster Party podcast and SHREWS has Jason A. Ney​. I liked both of the commentary tracks. I’m a sucker for a good commentary track because I love to learn more about the films I love.  Having been reading on these films for years I didn’t think there were any tidbits left to learn, but the truth is there were a few mixed in with some of the stories about how the films came together and made it to the drive-in screens across America. More importantly the tracks here were just fun to listen to. I love to listen to people with a passion for film talks about smaller films and these two films have that. Listening to the commentary tracks here is like listening to a friend talk over lunch.

The other extras include a short doc called Ray Kellogg: An Unsung Master; an archival interview with star, Don Sullivan, conducted by author Bryan Senn in 2009, radio commercials and book with excellent essays on the films

This collection is an absolute delight and if you like old school drive in films this double disc set (in both Blu Ray and DVD ) is for you

The Wait (2023) Fantastic Fest

Director F. Javier Gutierrez's THE WAIT is a genre bending film  that never quite nails down what it wants to be. 

The film is the story of a man who is hired to take care of a vast hunting estate. He is suppose to keep the property divided into a certain number of sections so that the various hunting parties don't end up shooting each other. Bribed to increase the number of runs, tragedy strikes in rapid order as his son is killed and his wife commits suicide. Left to his own devices weird things begin to happen.

An odd mix of genres, western, horror, drama, THE WAIT never fully finds it's footing. Is it a look at grief? Is it a balls to the wall horror film? It doesn't seem to know. More damaging is that the film has an uneven pace. The early section setting everything up is incredibly slow and if you don't click the film can be hard to warm to. Worse our protagonist is a man of few words and limited expressions and we really don't know what is going on inside him.

Mind you the film isn't bad, it has some great horror sequences, but you can't help but wonder if this could have been better.

despite my reservation fans of Euro-horror should give it a shot.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Spooktacular (2023) Fantastic Fest

SPOOKTACULAR is a look at the legendary horror theme park Spooky World which in its heyday operated  the entire month of October in Merlin Massachusetts and drew millions of people from across the  globe to a place where they could relive their favorite horror films. The park was inspired by haunted hay rides in New Jersey in the 1990's  but was taken to the next level and included appearances by horror stars. 

Good overview of the park and what it inspired, this is going to be a shot of nostalgia for anyone who ever went to experience its haunted goodies. Full of (too) loving remembrances by fans and stars the film is going to make many wish that there would be a return of the park- despite the fact that it inspired other places across the country.

For me the film was just okay. Much too in love with it's subject the film suffers from the affliction most films like this have which is that despite being full of clips and stories, the film never fully gives us a sense of what this place was really like. Yes we have the stories, but after a while you get the feeling this would have meant more if we had gone. I never went and my interest waned. This would have been better for me as a more focused 40 minute film.

The film is also so in love with it's subject that it is full of crazy hyperbole and fudging of the facts.  Beginning with a writer's bold statement that "golden age of horror" started with Halloween and Friday the 13th because it ushered in the Michael Myers, Jason, Freddy and other over hyped creations (all of which played a part in Spooky World), the film kind of fudges the history of horror attractions by saying there was nothing really before Spooky World. While there may not have been anything on the scale of the park, there were attractions that ran across the country for decades before it opened.

While SPOOKTACULAR is never really bad, it comes off as as the cinematic equivalent of an insistent friend who says you are going to love this thing  way too much that you end up not liking it much.

Jackdaw (2023) Fantastic Fest

Jamie Childs' JACKDAW is one of my favorite films of 2023. A BIG screen movie that looks awesome on a small one it is a thriller  that goes from frame one and doesn’t stop until the end.

The plot of the film has an recently returned vet doing a quick pick up in the North Sea. He is to make a pick up and bring it back for some quick cash he needs to take care of his brother who has Down’s Syndrome. However things go instantly wrong and before you know it he’s not only trying to get away from the bad guys but trying to find his brother who has gone missing.

This film does everything right. From the look to the music, to the acting to the script, this film is top of the line. It’s a film that looks deceptively simple, but it’s a perfectly constructed film so as to have better characters  and more suspense than pretty much any other thriller that I’ve seen this year. All hail director Childs who has made a film that is going to become a favorite of many people.

Watching the film after watching another thriller playing at Fantastic Fest that was a balls to the wall thriller that impressed with its technical virtuosity I truly understood how great JACKDAW is. Stripped down to the basics JACKDAW builds suspense via some carefully chosen shots, a moving camera, sound design and beautifully realized characters. With seemingly minimal amount of effort we are brought into the story, given people we want to fight for and put on the edge of our seats.  

And about those characters JACKDAW shows how easy it is to create ones that grab us. A line or two in context of an interaction of the characters is all we need. It doesn’t take much just the right line and great actors and suddenly we have been told volumes with out actually being told as much in so many words.

Most importantly this is just a great film that I can’t wait to revisit.

JACKDAW is a must at Fantastic fest or where ever you can see it.

Strange Darling (2023) Fantastic Fest 2023


There are very few things that are a certainty, death, taxes and JT Mollner‘s STRANGE DARLING is going to be a film with a huge following. The story of a serial killer chasing after his latest victim who is trying fleeing is murderous intentions. It is told with enough style that Mollner is going to be dining out on it for decades to come.

Shot on 35mm this film is a technical marvel. A flash back to the driving films of the late 70’s and early 80’s, this is a film that recalls the technical virtuosity of films like VANISHING POINT, the first two MAD MAX films, RACE WITH THE DEVIL and drive in horror. MOLLNER knows his film history and he mines it for ore to use here. What he’s doing is not lifting bits or sequences, but instead using the past a template for his work. His film was built on those earlier films but not a copy of them. He is using film history the way it should be used – raising up the art form by standing on the past, not making an exact copy.

As a physical film this is one of the best films of the year and probably of the last five years. The skill with which this film has been assembled is absolutely beyond compare. If Mollner can make more films with this sort “oh wow” factor he will be hailed as one of the greatest ever.

However as much as I absolutely love the craft of the film I’m not really a fan of the storytelling. Told in six out of order chapters the story doesn’t really work. It’s a standard issue bad guy stalks a woman tale with a few twists.  The characters are not really real people, but are constructs that exist because the cast is so good. Additionally if the story wasn’t told out of order there wouldn’t be suspense. While allegedly based on a true story some late in the game turns feel added on just to keep the story going. Mollner may be a wizard in making the film, his scripting could use a little help.

But the script is not what you are going to remember when you come out of the film. What you are going to remember is the driving nature of this thrill ride of the film. It’s such a cinematic blast that you are going to want to go again not long after you get to the end credits- I know I did.



With UYRA THE RISING FOREST playing  on PBS's POV on the 25th here is a brief  repost of the review I ran when it played Human Rights Watch San Diego Film Festival

Portrait of indigenous trans artist Uyra as she travels through the amazon.

This is a one of a kind film, one part travelogue, one part bio and one part work of art, about a one of a kind person. Highlighting the state of LGBT individuals in Brazil the film also amplifies the experiences of the indigenous population.

Dreamy trippy film, this film worked best for me visually. I loved the strange images the Uyra conjured up for the camera. 

Last Stop In Yuma County (2023) Fantastic Fest

Knife salesman on the road pulls into a gas station to fill up and find the tanks are dry. They are expecting a delivery at any moment. If he wants to wait at the adjoining diner he can get out of the heat.  As he and the other stranded folk  wait thing take a dark and violent turn as bank robbers show up.

Solid thriller will keep you watching as you wait to see how the story plays out. Yes, we've been here before but there is enough panache here to keep us interested. It also helps that we have some great characters and a few unexpected turns to keep things moving. 

Forgive me if I don't say too much but the truth is the set up of the film is one that's been used for decades so there is nothing new there.  You can and will probably guess how much of this is going to go, however there are a few turns, of the sort that will have you talking to the screen, that I don't want to spoil anything.  I say that as warning to myself who wants to talk about them in detail because they are what make the film something that you will want to see.

In all seriousness don't take anything I'm saying as a reason not to see LAST STOP, rather take it in the way it was intended, namely to state that writer-director Francis Gallupp has take a well known plot line and gussied it up so that it shines in the sunlight and purrs like a fine tuned race car.  This film is a blast and the reason that we go to the movies.

Get some popcorn and go see this.

Friday, September 22, 2023

26.2 to Life (2022) opens today

This is my review of the film from when it premeired at DOC NYC 

A look at the San Quentin 1000 Mile runners club. The club trains inmates to run in a marathon. The race is held in the yard of the prison and involves over a hundred circles. Through the discipline required to run  the men find there lives have been changed as they realize that ultimately they can do anything they set their minds to.

I know this film film hits all of the expected marks, but at the same time the film is deeply moving. Say what you will I got misty at the end. I fell in with the men in the film and I was cheering them by the end. Actually I was enjoying the film so much I was seriously considering  going to the public DOC NYC screening just so I could meet them in person.

What a wonderful story of hope.


Thursday, September 21, 2023

it lives inside (2023) opens friday

 IT LIVES INSIDE is a scary film.

The story of a young woman who ends up with a jar with a demon inside it will scare the crap out of you. It’s one of the few recent horror films where I enjoyed the hell out of it, but seriously had to question if I really wanted to go back to that dark place again. (That’s a rave)

The film follows Samidha  a teen aged girl who is trying to survive high school. Growing up in a traditional Indian home her parents have certain expectations which make her trying to make time with a cute guy difficult.  One day she meets her  friend Tamira who seems off. She is carrying a sealed jar. Inside the jar is demon and it keeps talking to Tamira, telling her it wants to feed on blood. Of course the demon gets loose and you can guess what happens.

This is a waking nightmare of a film. Its film that hooks us with great characters and then slowly begins to ratchet up the suspense and terror  as the demon makes its presence felt early and often.  Blame director Boshal Dutta for creating one hell of  a thrill ride. While the fact that the story is rooted in Indian mythology, something most of us haven’t had any experience with, the truth is the power is Dutta’s filmmaking.  Creating images and sonic  spaces filled with oppression we are disoriented. He moves objects and people in ways that both look natural and horrifying impossible. People are not supposed to bend like that. What we see on screen is the work of a cinematic master who understands how to get under your skin. If this is his first time out of the gate what are we going to experience down the line?

The images haunted my dreams the night after I saw the film.

This film is going to disturb the hell out of you.

IT LIVES INSIDE is Dutal’s feature debut and a notice to the horror community that a new dark lord is scratching at the door.

Shaky Shivers (2023)

Playing at this years NYAFF in a side screening at the Look Cinemas on 57th Street SHAKY SHIVERS is a horror tinged comedy. Actually it's a straight comedy with werewolves, zombies, bigfoot, a deadly cult and other horror tropes, but no scares.

The plot of the film has two friends going to an abandoned camp to find out out if one of them is going to turn into a werewolf, she she was bitten by a "dog" and cursed by weird woman who wanted food from their ice cream shop. While at camp weird things begin to happen.

How you react to this film will be determined by how you react to the sense of humor and the tone of the film. The film has knowing attitude, but the actors play it very straight with the result you have a film that seems to be an odd straight forward horror film with jokes...except that it isn't supposed to be scary.  If you go in thinking there are going to be scares you will be disappointed.

On the other hand if you are a horror fan who loves comedy you will enjoy the hell out of this film. It's a knowing send up of films made with love. Its full of horror references that will tickle fans. The more horror films you've seen the more that will tickle you.  What I love is that the references are just there, they aren't pushy, they just flow, the result is a film that will delight you in the best possible way.

What a joy.



I am very annoyed that I did not see THE STORMS OF JEREMY THOMAS on a big screen. A huge fan of many of the films he produced (LAST EMPEROR, THE HIT, MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE, BAD TIMNG, SEXY BEAST - all of which are playing at the Quad Cinema in NYC as part of a retrospective) I wanted to get a chance to revisit all of the great films he made bigger than life.  As it is, it was nice get to know the  man who has helped bring so many classics to the big screen.

This is a loving, and lovely, portrait of a man who helped give us the best of today's cinema. Told via interviews with the man and the people he’s worked with, STORMS is the story of man who quietly altered what we see.  I say quietly because odds are unless you are a crazy film fan odds are you probably never heard his name.  While I had a vague familiarity with his name I didn’t realize everything he was connected to. Honestly it blew my mind (and made me curse the fact that I was missing the Quad’s killer retrospective-details here)

I loved this film. I loved it’s mad passion for it’s subject and the films he made. It’s a crazy infectious film that will make you want to revisit everything.

I can’t recommend this enough.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Saturn Bowling (2023) opens Friday 9/22

A police detective and his estranged homeless half brother collide in the wake of their father’s death. Wanting to give his brother a place to stay and a job the detective lets his brother take over the titled bowling alley. However things become complicated when bodies begin to appear.

Bleak, black crime thriller is not for the faint of heart. A neon soaked trip to hell this is the sort of neon noir film that French filmmakers have been making their own over the last few years.  It’s a violent film that had me gasping at the brutality of the scenes.

While the film doesn’t do anything new, the film is still going to have you sitting bolt up right in your chair and not looking away as bad things happen.

What a kick.

An absolute must see.


This film ends with several minutes of how various rich, famous and powerful people and organizations didn’t return the filmmakers requests for comments or interviews. Considering the subject of the film,  Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low, is currently on the run after stealing at least $4.5 billion and bankrupting  all sorts of people, institutions and countries in what became known as the 1MDB Scandal, it isn't surprising.

This is a crazy story but even as it shocks us, it really isn’t that surprising since we are seeing time and time again people taking money and diverting it for their own use and using it to finance bigger and bigger scams. Jho Low took the money from the coffers of Malaysia lived large, made people think he was rich and parlayed that into personal piggy bank. It’s a tale that I can’t explain simply it’s too complicated and even more WTF for that. It’s a story that had Leonardo DiCaprio, who was paid a fortune by Low to show up at his parties, pondering if the money he was getting was clean or dirty. Sadly it was very very dirty.

I know there are a lot of stories of high level greed but this is absolutely insane. After about fifteen minutes I stopped taking notes and just stared at the screen, shaking my head and muttering, “it’s nice to have money”. This is just crazy as things built and built until they cracked and collapsed. I kept wondering why no one seemed to mind.

This film is a blast. It’s a totally crazy tale that we don’t find surprising in some ways and in others completely blindsides us with some crazy turns. I was captivated from start to finish so much that when it was over I considered watching it a second time.

This one is worth your time.

Nightsiren(2022) hits theaters September 22

A woman returns home after many years after the death of her mother. The towns folk don’t know what to make of her and are wary of her after she takes up residence in the abandoned home of the local witch.

Nominally this is supposed to be a film about witches and things that go bump in the night. The reality is that this is less horror film than a look at superstition and how our pasts affect us and the choices we made.  This is more a drama with a supernatural tinge and we are so much better for it.

NIGHTSIRENS is one of the great surprises of the 2022 film year. It’s a “genre” film that really isn’t, even if it hits all the marks. It’s a wonderful character study of a young woman haunted by her past. It is also a killer thriller from literally the first minute when something happens that makes you sit up and go “hello”. It was at that moment I had to see where the film was going because it was clear that nothing was off the table.

I love this film.

What I love about this film is that it has a great deal going on. Its film that has a great deal on its mind. It’s a look at life in a backwoods town, a look at a the male female dynamic, a look at motherhood (and the loss of it), at superstition, and how we view all of that.  Several weeks on and numerous discussions I’m still turning the film over in my mind and still trying to sell the film to anyone who is willing to  listen to me talk about its wonders.

This film is a must.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023


Director Klaus Härö's MY SAILOR MY LOVE is an emotional powerhouse. This is a film where the most perfect cast you can imagine takes a good script and turns it into a film that will leave you spent and weeping at the end. 

The film concerns Grace. A nurse with a strained relationship with her father, she is unhappy with the way he is letting things go. Figuring he could use a woman's touch to clean things up, Grace hires a widow named Annie to come in to cook and clean. Despite initial friction Annie and her charge hit it off. They hit it off probably much to well for Grace's liking, with Annie and Grace's dad falling in love.

I am not going to lie and say that this is perfect film. It's not. Honestly the plotting is very soapy at times. I mean the twists and turns are often predictable.  On the other hand the road maybe familiar however the film lifts itself up by having a cast that makes every scene seem real and emotionally charged.

All hail James Cosmo, Bríd Brennan, and Catherine Walker. Giving three of the best performances you'll see all year they make you wish that Oscar gave awards for Best Ensemble. I love this trio with all my heart. The manage to take every scene, every word, every gesture and give them weight the vast majority of films never can muster. Words hurt. Gestures reveal pain. Truths are exposed.  While I have had some of the discussions here and could relate, so much more I had no experience with, but as each scene played out I found myself delighting in the feeling that the leads were revealing some great hidden secret.

My mind was blown...and by the end my heart was broken and I was fighting to keep the tears from overwhelming me.

You really need to see this, if for no other reason that you will witness three performances for the ages.


Neither Confirm Nor Deny hits Amazon and Apple TV 9/22

This is the story of the CIA plot to lift a sunken Soviet submarine from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. 

This may not have been one of the great films at DOC NYCin 2020 but it was one of my favorites. This is one crazy story. The story begins when the US government stumbles over the wreckage of a sunken submarine.  The Soviets had no idea where it was or how to raise it. The CIA has no idea how  either but they have people who might and the money to try. From there the story spirals out to include Howard Hughes, Watergate and some other things you'll just have to see to believe.

While the film could have been just the story of something totally crazy it blooms in the second half into something more, a very timely examination of  censorship and the government. The discussion comes out of the fact that the head of CIA took steps to kill the story. Its warning of what can happen when the press kisses the ass of the government too much.

This is a great story, expertly told. Get some popcorn and curl up with this film.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Carlos (2023) has special screenings September 23,24 & 27 and opens on the 29th

I’ve been chasing CARLOS since it played at Tribeca earlier this year. I had hoped to get into the screening and concert but I couldn’t score a ticket.  There was no press screening and I couldn’t make the encore screening since it was too late on a work night. However because I have friends with long memories I got an email asking if I still wanted to see the film since it was coming out in September. I of course jumped at the chance.

Filled film wall to wall music the film is the life and career of Carlos Santana in his own (and occasionally his family) words. It’s the arc of his life as the son of a mariachi musician all the way up to superstardom. It’s the story of a really nice guy who weirdly lucked into his career by being really good at what he does and meeting the right people (Bill Graham) at the right time.

The trouble is that as Santana tells it there really wasn’t a lot of drama in anything that happened. He simply drifted from one thing to the next with his talent and drive pushing him forward.  That’s not a bad thing if you are living it, but half way into the film I kind of was hoping something dramatic would happen. A flat tire? A paper cut? Maybe he locked his keys in the car? Something anything. 

Don’t get me wrong it’s absolutely a lovely film that I will rewatch every time I run across it because of the music, but as a dramatic story this is a bit lacking

Reservation aside this is a great film and is recommended.

Origin of Evil (2022)opens Friday

A woman decides to leave the factory where she is working and make amends with her billionaire father, not realizing she will have to contend with the family he has put together since she left.

Genre bending film is one part family drama, one part social commentary, one part thriller and one part black comedy. It's a film with a great deal on its mind. There are some knowing laughs mixed in with the poison which makes for a frequently fun ride.

If you haven't guessed, everyone in the family has an angle and what is going on and who is who seems to be changable depending upon the latest revelation. This fact makes it hard to really discuss what is going on lest bits be revealed too soon.

I liked the film a great deal, though to be honest seeing the film in the middle of all of the excellent thrillers playing Lincoln Center's Rendezvous With French Cinema has me scheduling a revist down the road where I can see it for itself.


Sunday, September 17, 2023

Fantastic Fest 2023 Curtain Raiser

The legendary Fantastic Fest starts this week and we will be wading in with coverage.

One of the big genre festivals in the world the festival has been the launching pad for  some of the biggest horror scifi and action films every year (Most recently BLACK PHONE started here).

Our coverage this year will be limited by being remote. I am not being able to travel to Austin to take part because I’ve got plans to be in Pittsburgh. So basically I’m going to be watching films in the hotel room around everything until I get home. Not that I mind.

There are a lot of things I am really looking forward to because based on what I’ve seen already it should be a killer fest.

What have we covered before? I’m glad you asked. The list of things we’ve seen is as follows:













For more information go here:

Untold: Swamp Kings (2023)

This is a four part look at the tenure of Urban Meyer as head coach of the Florida Gators during their meteoric rise to national prominence under his leadership.

I'm trying to get my head around why this four part film is part of the Untold series of films at Netflix. I  ask this because the series always looks at some sport story in such away that it raises questions about some aspect of it's subject, say game fixing, obnoxious QBs, and so on. This time out we get a more or less straight telling that white washes anything bad in a victory lap tale about the glories of Meyer at Florida. Its a three plus hour hagiography for the team during those years that could easily be cut in half.

While not bad, it doesn't really say anything. Nothing new is revealed, anything bad is down played. If the film was supposed to be critical of Meyer I don't see it except for a couple of quick lines at the very end about Meyers more recent exploits and which are way more interesting than this film.

Honestly I should have tuned out after part one because the pacing was so slack but I thought it would all turn interesting once they one the championship in part 2 but the truth is we just watch their slide into mediocrity. We didn't need four hours for this.

I suppose its great if you're a Gators fan, but if not its a long haul