Quick-Thoughts: Thrilling Bloody Sword (1981)

Screened at The Alamo Drafthouse New Mission

Four things…

1) This is pretty blissfully kooky in regards to its so-bad-it’s-good fantasy logic which is applied towards almost everything such as a plot that’ll move on any immediate whisk-up of a far-out solution, and it admirably tries so hard to be within the confines of limited resources, but maybe not to the extent its been made out as. This underplays Grimm’s renowned story — there probably just to sell — in spite of dedicating then way too much time to its preliminary beats, and feels as, if anything, its holding the film back from reaching a zanier potential that could rather overplay all parts to really reinterpret this tale and endorse a strong gonzo tone than to only green-light every plausible world-building lore idea for some cult-worthy spectacle, but perhaps I’m too overstimulated by Gen-Z mashup culture to be that impressed from its hybridizing. *this coming out the same year as the nuttier The Evil Dead (1981) is a hell of a coincidence*

2) I didn’t necessarily laugh a whole lot, but the bear costume, speedo rubber swimming fins, and that entire magic mountain action sequence in general had me flabbergasted to the point where I definitely knew I was getting my money’s worth. 

3) Why is everybody so sexy in this? Like, most of the main cast are up to the goofiest shenanigans ever and all I can think about is how hot they look doing it. Taiwanese cinema. 

4) The Princess (our main character *at first*) is completely wasted in this despite being set up with a truly bats**t crazy origin story that you would think exists to imply something and not just to be there as the opening incident. A boring (in a non-boring universe) damsel in distress she shall be!

Verdict: C+

“Thrilling Bloody Sword” is currently not available to stream on VOD.

Quick-Thoughts: Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell (2009)

Kind of impossible not to view Drag Me to Hell as anything short of f**king adorable when its basically an Evil Dead movie trapped in an early 2000s romcom about yuppie lifestyle. It doesn’t exactly pan out to be a remotely good combo, but I’m just joyous something as ridiculous as this actually exists — a certified Sam Raimi moment lol. Nothing quite comes close to topping the first act’s kinetic parking garage sequence, but I was never bored onward as Raimi continued to do everything in his power to make you side with our lead — apart from a socially despicable sacrifice. Other than that, beyond a few exemplars of build-up and the presentation / design of The Devil itself, which is just sublime and used conservatively for better, the horror camp visuals are mostly inferior to what we’ve seen from Raimi before. The romantic subplot is somewhat too twee, furthermore incorporating itself into much of the script’s cheap and illogical plot — the $10,000 payment and oops the wrong envelope! — but the reasonable counterargument here is that the film isn’t trying to be anything but a leisured escalation of simple-minded drama. Moreover, it’s admittedly satisfying to see Raimi return back to his supernatural roots, even if the strategy to rejuvenate them is just barely in arms reach of succeeding. 

Verdict: C+

Sam Raimi Ranked

“Drag Me to Hell” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan (1998)

A little disappointed by how Sam Raimi’s entry into channeling his longtime pals’ (The Coen Brothers’) wavelength of moral crime thriller storytelling lacks about any of that arresting quirk and diverse nuance that the duo has, or maybe even just some prominent evolution in Raimi’s own style given the opportunity to work with a new genre. A Simple Plan genuinely appears as if it could’ve been directed by any studio stand-in with its restrained seriousness for objectivity, and a familiar gist where the conflict grows progressively worse and worse despite nobody trying to put a stop to it, making its point simply through the spiral of the commoner’s relentlessness for the American dream, but you know, you can’t knock a fella for trying something new in regards to what’s typically up his alleyway, especially when the attempt is still pretty decent overall thanks to its compelling character-writing. 

Nonetheless, you have to admit, especially since this arrived two years after Fargo (1996), it’s hard to help yourself from thinking of its famous “there’s more to life than a little money, ya know?” quote next to every added situation Scott B. Smith piles. Yet, this kind of fable formula reconstruction from a sense of comparable realism that can constantly remind you it’s feeding a message like, in this case, something against perseverance for a better life while in the outskirts of defying law and interpersonal morality will still probably strike a core with most audiences as did Fargo.

Paxton and Thornton’s characters and relationship are just excellently communicated and unrolled. The whole dichotomy of the intellectual and stable brother who, because of so, can effortlessly lean into his sociopathic and egotistical tendencies when needed, to the less bright and successful brother that, because of so, can effortlessly lean into his empathetic tendencies for others through guilt and reflection, ultimately carries this movie. The whole thing is a smidge too Of Mice and Men (1937) inspired for anyone to not be regularly collating it to that, but for what it’s worth, it does a good job repositioning the classic tale into a modern-day lower / middle class small town community which we can, under those circumstances, relate to at a slightly deeper level. There’s quite a vile manipulation cycle happening as well, mainly between both Hank and Sarah (mutually) + Hank and Jacob (disproportionately) that intensifies your outlook on them. You really are stepping into dangerous waters learning to be like somebody that mostly everybody else doesn’t have the opportunity to be, no matter what that “innocently” starts out as. 

Verdict: B-

Sam Raimi Ranked

“A Simple Plan” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Sam Raimi’s Darkman (1990)

Peyton literally invented in-person catfishing.

Coming in the midst between the releases of his final two Evil Dead pictures, Darkman is Sam Raimi’s initiation into the blockbuster action scene that, alongside Tim Burton’s Batmans, is hard not to look back at today as nothing short of a precursor to the melodramatic storytelling of early 2000s comic-book movies. There’s a blender of an origin story to it as well that sort of heightens my claim: it feels less so guided by your justice-determined “anti-hero” venture and more so by a rather temperamental romantic “anti-monster” venture; the discombobulated choice makes sense all too well knowing Raimi’s demeanor for unhinged campy horror execution, which is performed here to rightfully convey this character’s evolving state of mind through the director’s usual visually creative intensity that, however, comes off as quite self-serious this time around, introducing us to the kind of narratives he’d put together later on. With no nervous system attached to this physically compromised lover — our main character —, the distraction of revenge and hope is something that guides this metaphorical emotional bomb into feeling like he used to while furthermore numbing to terms with the functionality of his new complexion and the state of reality that it has to offer. 

Yet, it’s sort of a shame to see a genre pairing and therefore inventive film use dated black-and-white extremes to distinguish realized heroes with mindlessly villainy (but at least enjoyably quirky) villains, where essentially Darkman, like a lightened-down version of Norman Osborn / Otto Octavius becoming Green Goblin / Doc Ock, is able to stand morally higher next to corporate power which is of course the bigger evil — a dominant cliché of the 80s action blockbuster now idly carried into its subsequent decade. This may all be in the name of cheese, but it isn’t particularly memorable next to the weightier scheme of what the Darkman character himself has to offer despite them both giving into familiarities; one at least delectably mixes them in the spirit of a mad-scientist’s rage. In hindsight of the future of Raimi’s filmography though, it is nice to see the inceptions for what he would later carry on or even improve upon in the future: the doppelgänging seems like preparation for enlivening Evil Ash from Army of Darkness (1992). Also, boyishly toying around with villains, saving a damsel in distress who’s falling down a fifty-story building, not to mention swinging from a helicopter on a rope around a city crashing into buildings and dodging cars has “Spider-Man (2002) audition tape” written all over it.

Verdict: B-

Sam Raimi Ranked

“Darkman” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on The Grudge 1 and 2 (2002-2003)

Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)

If this third entry proves anything, it’s that Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on material clearly works best with an extremely low-budget and cryptic atmosphere, not with a slightly more commercial appearance and a louder clarification of what’s going on, given that the scares sort of primarily function best at their most irrational. 

Ju-on: The Grudge is no Ju-on: The Curse (2000), but it is *faintly* better than their middle partner Ju-on: The Curse 2 (2000). The longer sequences harken back to the original Curse’s tense formula, but at times, harken too much to a point of self-plagiarism like the film’s finale which is essentially a nod back to the teacher story from The Curse. This ending also subsequently spells-out even further the context at hand in an uninspired flashback montage, as if the opening of the movie’s flashback didn’t “spoil” us with enough clarification already. Conclusively, The Grudge is literally just an easier to comprehend version of The Curse, but that counteractively removes some of the tempting mystery for which made that movie captivating to begin with. This third entry is, to my surprise, not even remotely as unhinged or graphic as the first one too. 

Nonetheless, I do think The Grudge has a couple excellent scares, some almost up to par with the best of The Curse. The use of television static works, especially in its last implication where the screen goes entirely black and we get that jolting reveal. The artificial look of the new shadow figures for the corpses make the environments all the more unearthly and therefore uncomfortable for us as well — welcome to Hell! The entire apartment building sequence with Misaki Ito is definitely a top-tier progression in the franchise. But then again, a lot of scares here are just using pre-established creepy traits that we already know of like the grumbling or the pale faces, deteriorating their effect movie by movie. Also, I get that the cat sounds in this franchise can sometimes be off-putting, sure, but the entire presence of cats? Never. Quite frankly the opposite.

Verdict: C

Ju-on: The Grudge 2 (2003)

Yo, ghouls always be eventually learning how to foreshadow and therefore up the quality of their scares; that’s beautiful.

Without a doubt, this the most straightforward Ju-on entry until for some reason the final twenty minutes just decide to go full “let’s give the audience a sudden Enter the Void (2009) mild brain-f**k” mode and earn itself as the most interesting segment from it all. Nonetheless, for a majority of The Grudge 2, its focus is basically on a single streamline, making it the slowest paced of the films so far, especially since it’s still only working off of the already established curse narrative being introduced to new victims, and making the hallmark use of character chapters seem pointless this time around.

Although, it does appear to be that this fourth Ju-on is Takashi Shimizu’s New Nightmare (1994) attempt given the almost meta settings of horror movie productions, and perhaps also his Rosemary’s Baby (1968) attempt given the birth elements for which he delegates as central to the narrative, so in a way, part of me appreciates how this sequel administers already known cinematic horror concepts yet unknown concepts to the franchise into this film more so than the previous two sequels did — though I guess it reveals Shimizu’s desperation to keep things fresh also. Howbeit, the scares which were the prime selling points of those other sequels are clearly lacking here.

The whole “something’s there and then it’s not” scare tactic has clearly begun to wear off on me, and it’s particularly over-utilized in this movie. I must admit though, the imagery of the hair-wall with Kayako’s face on it is absurdly haunting, but I can’t think of anything else that latched onto my memory that well in terms of keeping me up at night, which blows cause The Curse (2000) had like at least ten of those. 

Lastly, why does Shimizu introducing ectoplasm to the rules of the franchise low-key feel like him warming up for his American remake? So goofy.

Verdict: C-

“Ju-on: The Grudge” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime and “Ju-on: The Grudge 2” is now available to stream on Tubi.

Quick-Thoughts: Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on The Curse 1 and 2 (2000)

Ju-on: The Curse

Really need to stop watching these types of movies after midnight. 

The main saving grace of Ju-on: The Curse — a straight-to-video J-horror that started a franchise crave better known by the title of “The Grudge” — lies within its charming yet moreover tantalizing and subsequently unnerving structure of vignettes. The warped chronology of six interrelated events is a resourceful reparation for the low-budget and simplistic construction of each sequence that renders them, and it secondarily italicizes the terror that each victim had to undergo while making the audience more and more hopelessly aware, as the time-irrelevant vignettes continue to stack, of this sheerly doomed nature that comes with anyone who runs into the curse. 

Though, not to completely disregard the individual sequences’ modesty, a decent quota of their choices had me strung for those very reasons: the straightforward grumbling noises, two “where’d the lights go?”s, the tape-audio lagging, a not-so-cutesy diary find, the telephone booth of deranged mutilation, a talk with spirit mommy, a jaw-dropping face reveal on the series’ iconic stairway, and perhaps one of the best “just lurking in the corner” shots I’ve ever seen. 

And WOAH; Chiaki Kuriyama???

Verdict: B-

Ju-on: The Curse 2

The concept of The Grudge is so petrifying just by its own rules: the idea that you’re screwed so long as you see someone with it, removing your entire chance of survival no matter what you do. It warranted the futile and therefore nightmarish sensibilities of the first movie. Ju-on: The Curse 2 is clearly trying to reapply that magic, but unfortunately not to a T. 

For one, it wipes the warped chronology that made the original so mysterious. There are still some creepy moments though regardless, from a gnarly shot that contrasts a black-and-white space against a colored one to when the mother character has a complete personality 180 — repeated actions also make me squirm; for the love of God please stop laughing and bowing! Yet, there are also some moments here that are clearly trying too hard to regurgitate the impactful send-off that the first Curse gave us, like its zombie-inspired climax. 

The ending of the original is already fitting enough because it implied to the audience that The Grudge will only continue, so the existence of this second Curse — to show such even further by bouncing right off of the ending’s event — is pretty much arbitrary, but you know, gotta have a sequel! Plus, this was apparently shot back-to-back with the original, so you also gotta use that mere forty-six minutes of extra footage to somehow make another feature-length for bank! 

Lastly, is the final scene intentionally supposed to be comedic? Perhaps even quirky? Cute.

Verdict: C

“Ju-on: The Curse” and “Ju-on: The Curse 2” are currently not available to stream on VOD.

Quick-Thoughts: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour (2015)

“I heard I was born because of you.”

If his Academy-award winner couldn’t prove it, then one of his previous feature-lengths — of the Goliath size for a portion of three — most certainly will: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi makes it uniquely easy to get deeply invested into the conversations that he writes for the screen, ones that appear so authentic though given how mannered the performance communication is yet, at the same time, how prone they are to counterbalance conduct with the sharp ends of frequent bluntness depicting a sort of cultural elegance — or negligence? There is a relevancy that I seem to get out of watching these biased-ass snippets of wisdom coming from the mouths of contrasting fictional personalities, while also seeing their true colors reveal in a much slower motion than I’m used to in cinema, offering a likelier unforgettable experience, as is Happy Hours.

Friendship is about learning how to understand one another further, right? Despite that this understanding is just one to give you a deeper face-slap understanding that understanding somebody is an understanding that can never become remotely close to completed — or understood, haha — and if anything the more you work on getting there, sometimes the farther it’ll just take you back, but that’s the bargain of wanting intimacy to begin with. In Happy Hours, we periodically, yet with controlled intention and structure, see how much the distance between the characters’ understanding of each other agitates the stability of their relationships. 

From the new and innocent to the ruptured mature couples held on by routine and mindless perseverance, Hamaguchi uses the climate of institutionalized marriage as an example from mainstream culture that does not compute swimmingly with the path that often self-guided humans tend to take. Evidently, Happy Hours is an emotional pain to watch, but an almost endlessly illuminating one at that worth every minute of your time, especially for its early-on breathtaking interconnected sequence between a seminar and a dinner gathering which immaculately sets forth the inciting incident. The climax is just a real sucker-punch too. Clubbing…

“A living hell awaits, but I’m fine with that because I know what makes me happy.” 

People moment. A part of life is about living to accept being not the best person you could be. Happiness first. Scary?

Verdict: A-

“Happy Hour” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981)

I am not surprised in the slightest to find out after watching Scanners that it had a rushed production because it absolutely shows. The first twenty and final twenty minutes — coincidentally the most we see of Michael Ironside? — are riveting, showcasing some of David Cronenberg’s most imposing body horror to date, but largely everything in between is a chore to get through. Notably the kickstarter to Cronenberg’s 80s era of making cyberpunk sci-fi / action / horror / espionage thrillers that aesthetically matched classics of the time period such as Blade Runner (1982) or The Terminator (1984), this sort of test-run especially though feels like it’s just following textbook with its formulaic “prophecy” literary devices that play the hero’s journey narrative safe. For some, it can be overlooked as playful cheese, but to me, it’s tormenting to see perhaps Cronenberg’s most lifeless characterizations yet attempt to carry an entire movie: Stephen Lack is already terrible enough as the lead hero, but even supporting protagonist played by Jennifer O’Neill feels more like she’s there so that the writers can check-off the sidekick essential than it does towards giving the character an actual productive presence. In fact, the whole picture just appears like a hasty assemblage of one-note convention check-offs, aside from the moments where we see Cronenberg’s take on telepathy in motion, which are what keep the performances somewhat engaging, but could the line delivery from them be any more god-awfully stiff?

Maybe Scanners will have a Shivers (1975) or Rabid (1977) effect on me — I raised both of those films two letter grades up around a year later, and I even did that for Videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986) too, howbeit, incongruously I thought those two movies were great to begin with. And like all of Cronenberg’s efforts so far, what keeps Scanners from dipping below mediocrity is that it has compelling intention in its narrative, yearning to depict a world in which artificial enhancement to the human form is asking for a war against those who are not medically supported for that or even to those who are but nonconsensually before they could consent, which parallels thoughtfully to elements of our own reality run by parental and corporate advisements. Evidently, scientific or technological advancement has that potential to segregate us into classes from each other even more so — but hey, did Cronenberg ever read X-Men before coming up with these ideas, hmm? Nonetheless, my shameless dealbreaker lies here: it frequently bored me despite such aims, and I wasn’t familiar with that when it came to exploring Cronenberg’s filmography until now. 

Verdict: C+

David Cronenberg Ranked

“Scanners” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002)

As a usual Gore Verbinski apologist, this hurt to not like. It’s shot and edited well, maybe not as well as the original, but well regardless — though that still kind of defeats the validity of this existing in the first place. I appreciate how it’s a slim less expositional too, but the dialogue in it is riddled with Hollywood-ized quirk that disengages us from a believable reality, so this new term of a shortcoming pretty much just counterbalances that merit. If anything, what this remake will sometimes exposition out instead is its themes, which is not really shocking… considering… you know… America.

Not to entirely downplay this remake, however, Verbinski does admittedly broaden some nice cinematic technique unfamiliar to the original: the overall grander scale, sped-up dolly-shot montage kills, foreshadowing from the fly, new static look/logic of Sadako/Samara which is absolutely gnarly, etc. But then, it’ll either overplay the intense progression of scenes from the original like when the lead character’s kid watches the tape or re-lore-ify awkward new ones like with the horse death sequence that just feels low-key like Verbinski’s audition tape to showcase his potential for putting together an action sequence — it even takes place on a ship… Then there’s that well-fall scare which genuinely made me laugh, and for something that otherwise copies a handful from its maker, it doesn’t even replicate at least a significant amount of the best moments from it like something as rousing as its incredibly twisted closing scene! And, AND, who decided to assuage the warped-face photo reveal, which was one of the best scares in the original? Yet, what’s really worst of all about this remake is that the ticking time bomb element which made the original so tensely paced is almost completely butchered in this remake by plummeting through all five of the seven days before we even make it to the halfway mark just so it can get to the answers quicker at the sacrifice of developing a carefully lived-in atmosphere. 

Here’s a juxtaposition: the opening scene of The Ring is the scariest part of the movie, and the climax scene of Ringu (1998) is the scariest part of that movie. Therefore, which one probably has the creepiest evolution in its narrative? The biggest “conundrum” with Verbinski’s remake is how unwarranted its existence is in the first place besides that it gives into Americans not wanting to cross the barrier of subtitles. In view of how neck and neck their plots are, there really is scant reason for me to have experienced this remake when I could’ve just watched the superior ‘98 version again. It seems a little ironic that a director, who would soon be considered a modern master of high-budget scale, sourced a foreign horror movie, considered to be a masterclass of low-budget confinement, to parade to Hollywood the apparent strength in his blockbuster capabilities. Eh, worth it! Pirates for life! 

Also, in terms of the infamous cursed video on its own this time around, I can imagine it being scary if they used like half (maybe even less) of its collaged imagery instead of hyper-cutting the ones that worked in between some try-hard grotesque ones. The distant, alienated, and confusing atmosphere was what sold the original tape, not the bed-bugs, body dismemberments, or supernatural physics for which we’re all so familiar with in the horror genre. 

Verdict: C-

“The Ring” is now available to stream on Netflix and Paramount+.

Quick-Thoughts: Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998)

Screened at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema New Mission

This really be the only way you can force mofos to pay attention to video composition. 

Can’t sugar-code it, but I haven’t seen a movie this obnoxiously expositional to a point of constant disengagement in some time. Might as well have featured those d-cut Donnie Darko (2001) chapter card paragraphs before every scene to help delegate the mystery’s tell-the-audience / characters (or via Stephen King’s “the shine” superpower?) unravels. Furthermore, it recedes the needed effect of the drama it’s included in because, for something that often feels so patiently lived-in, its imbalanced reliance on compressed informational protagonist performances to develop a bulk of the stories introduces a real disjointed tonal contradiction throughout.

A significant flaw aside though, I do think Ringu has a ton of greatness in it. Particularly, it creates a phenomenal atmosphere with not only how resourceful and elaborate the confined space settings and shots are, not to mention its methodical progression of time and multiple aesthetics between past / videotape and present, but how the uneasy minimization of scares (all which independently land the mark in their own uniquenesses) contrasts eerily against the mostly gentle nature for which the majority of the film’s scenes embrace, and that SUPERB full-show climax especially sold this unconventional slow-burn execution. Some of the two leads’ “on-the-spot” and ultimately pointless attempts, that were desperately thought to combat this supernatural phenomena by sympathizing with it like a plead for mercy, also embellished the film in an inkling of realism even more. I mean, they don’t exactly teach you hex-solving in school as far as I can remember; better pray and hope for the best!

The infamous cursed video on its own though… yeah… a thing of nightmares

Verdict: B

“Ringu” is now available to stream on Shudder and Tubi TV.