It’s well documented that William Castle had aspirations to be Hitchcock, or in many ways rise to his level of filmmaking prowess. Speaking as someone who loves Castle as much as Hitchcock, I’d say they’re about neck and neck, but with different ideas of what constitutes a horror movie. Castle’s talent is theatrics, and with “Strait-Jacket” he takes what is essentially his own version of “Psycho” and stages it as a twisty, occasionally campy, and very cerebral murder mystery. Castle also goes a step forward, turning his killer on their victims with an axe that they use to lop their heads off.
There are two kinds of survival thrillers I place in separate categories. There’s the “They’re completely fucked” films like “Open Water” and “Alive” where their situation is hopeless. Then there’s the “Calm Down and You Might Survive” category with titles like “Frozen” and “47 Meters Down” where if people just relaxed and displayed some kind of common sense, they could make it. “ATM” is in the latter category where if these three moronic characters would just stop and think for a moment, they could have actually made it through the poor man’s Jigsaw without many battle wounds.
It makes sense that Shout Factory would package “Tales from the Crypt” with “Vault of Horror” since both horror films are essentially a part of the same universe, and are adapted from the genius EC Comics brand. In “Vault of Horror” you can even see one of the characters sit beside a stack of EC Comics while turning to continue reading a “Tales from the Crypt” novel. It’s a good thing too since both films are stellar horror anthologies, practicing the tradition of EC Comics’ storytelling formula that involves revenge, irony, plot twists, and turning the tables on characters at every turn. If you can spare the time, these films deserve to be viewed as a double bill, because it’s a master class of storytelling and creeps.
Ruben Fleischer’s cinematic treatment of the Marvel super villain “Venom” feels a lot like it someone was making this movie in 1997, and it remained in the vault for twenty years. Then Fleischer and Sony dusted it off and finished it. “Venom” feels so out of date and ridiculously nineties you can almost expect the home video release to come with a hologram. That might be due to the character of Venom who looks less like an amorphous sentient Alien organism that creates kind of symbiosis with its host, and more like alien Jello that covers its host and causes trouble. The titular Venom is so random and bafflingly stupid, especially in its basic behavior that varies between mischievous, to downright evil. How do we root for a being who tells the film’s hero “Do what I say or I’ll eat your head”?
With a Jeremy Saulnier movie there’s always the feeling of hopelessness and existential dread. Saulnier is a man who doesn’t let his characters or his audience off easily, opting for narratives that explore the bleakness of life, and how remorseless human beings can be. With “Blue Ruin” and “Green Room,” Saulnier kept the audience in a choke hold and didn’t relent until the end credits, and he continues that tradition with “Hold The Dark” a flawed but stellar thriller about the darkness in the human soul and how it easily connects with the darkness of the wild. “Hold the Dark” is about the darkest and bleakest film Saulnier has yet to deliver to fans, because his new cinematic offering relies on slow mounting terror and inherent menace.
It’s saying a lot when you finish with a movie and the best thing you can say is “Well, at least it was a short movie.” At seventy six minutes in length, “Ride” is never quite sure what it wants to be. It tries to be this thriller about a villain kind of bringing two people out of their shells with violence, and then other times it feels like some goofy drama with a thriller bent injected in for the sake of broader appeal. Really it just feels like writer and director Jeremy Ungar loves that segment from “Fight Club” with the convenience store worker and decided to extend it in to a feature film.
As criminal psychologist Kate helps with a murder investigation that the police seems to consider an open and shut case, she discovers that other forces may be at play, putting herself in harm’s way as she investigates.
Based on a story by Jonathan Frank and Clive Tonge, Mara is written by Jonathan Frank and directed by Clive Tonge. Together they create a story that feels familiar with a few fresh elements added to it all interesting. The story does make fairly good use of the unknown factor, but it doesn’t build on the tension and suspense enough, rendering a potentially scary story only entertaining. The titular character is interesting and is given a fully fleshed out background as the film advances but something feels like it’s missing which will lead some to feel like what is missing is a sense of the unknown, leaving the film with very little dread or fear from this unknown or Mara. The story may be scary to casual horror fans, but will most likely not be all that scary to genre fans who have seen a lot of this story’s type.
Over the years, Hollywood has been trying to increase the demand for more female oriented movies by re-conditioning franchises that have been gestating or thought long dead. After the disastrous “Ghostbusters” retread I was very worried about a female oriented version of “Ocean’s Eleven.” After barely finishing “Ocean’s Twelve,” and skipping “Ocean’s Thirteen” altogether, I had no confidence in “Ocean’s 8,” no matter how many fine actresses were assembled. Thankfully “Ocean’s 8” is proof that these series can be altered to fit the female dynamic and reach a brand new section of movie goers without feeling like pointless pandering, a la (sigh) 2016’s“Ghostbusters.”