April 29: Drop A Bomb — Please share your favorite critical and financial flop with us!

Blackhat made $19.7 million at the box office against a budget of $70 million, which makes it a bomb, but does how many people came to see a movie on initial release mean it’s a bad movie? Nope.

When a nuclear plant in Hong Kong goes into meltdown and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange gets hacked, it turns out that Captain Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) of the People’s Liberation Army cyberwarfare unit designed the code behind both systems. He asks that his college roommate, Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), be let out of prison to stop the hacker before they further destabilize several companies and governments. This includes a plan to sabotage a large dam and destroy several major tin mines in Malaysia, with the hacker buying into different futures that will profit from these attacks.

What emerges is a mix between art film and Hollywood action; what’s strange is that no person who spends hours typing on a computer — trust me, I know — looks as good as Hemsworth. But you know, only Michael Mann could direct a scene about hacking a PDF into obtaining a password and making it look that sexy and vibrant. That takes an artistic skill that so few directors lack.

Viola Davis, who plays FBI Special Agent Carol Barrett, and Holt McCallany, who is Deputy United States Marshal Jessup, are both really good in this, but they’re both always the best parts of any film they appear in.

I kind of like how by the end of this movie, it’s basically Hathaway and Dawai’s sister Chen Lien (Tang Wei) against the hackers and the world, having only each other to depend on.

The Arrow Video 4K UHD release of Blackhat has both the US and international versions of the film, well as new audio commentary by critics Bryan Reesman and Max Evry, interviews with cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh and production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas, behind the scenes features, an image gallery, a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Doug John Miller and an illustrated collector’€™s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Andrew Graves. You can get it from MVD. There’s also a blu ray version.

10TH OLD SCHOOL KUNG FU FEST: The Assassin (2015)

Loosely based on Nie Yinniang by Pei Xing, The Assassin is the story of Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi), a killing machine who recieves missions to terminate corrupt politicans from the nun and master who has raised her since she was a child. Yet when she starts to show mercy, she’s given a mission to test her: she must kill military governor Tian Ji’an (Chang Chen), who is not only her cousin, but the man that she was married to as a child, before all this killing. Yet she soon learns that if she kills Tian Ji’an before his sons are old enough to lead his village of Weibo, she will plunge the world into even more darkness than proving herself to someone who only cares who she murders.

This film was recognized outside of its home country, as Hou Hsiao-hsien won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. It was shot in higher mountainous regions of China, places that the director felt were untouched. “We looked for higher-altitude places where modern society hasn’t come in,” he explained to the New York Times. It was also Taiwan’s entry to the Oscars.

It’s more acting and scenery-driven than fighting, unlike so many wuxia, but man, this is a gorgeous film.

Want to see it for yourself?

The Assassin will play Saturday, April 29 at 7 PM in Theater 1 and Sunday, April 30 at 9:15 PM in Theater 1 at Metrograph and Subway Cinema in New York City. It’s part of the 10th Old School Kung Fu Fest: Sword Fighting Heroes Edition from April 21-30, 2023!

Tickets are on sale right here!

Saint Frankenstein (2015)

Director and writer Scooter McCrae made this short in 2015 and it’s been the last film he’s put out. It makes you hungry for something else because it’s just so effective in this short form and McCrae needs to keep on making his incredibly vital and unique films.

W.A.V.E. starlet — and maker of the incredible Limbo — Tina Krause is Carla, a sex worker who has been invited into the room of Shelley, played by Melanie Gaydos, the Dark Angel from Insidious: The Last Key and Jug in Vesper; Gaydos was born with ectodermal dysplasia, a series of rare genetic disorders that affects the development of skin, hair and nails. Additionally, she is partially blind. Beyond acting, she has modeled and is in two videos for the band Rammstein. Her voice in this is by Archana Rajan.

As the two engage in wordplay that goes from foreplay to near combat, Shelley relates her origins and how she has come to be who and what she is, all while both women appear in states of undress. Her body is covered in scars no one should survive, like an autopsy slice through her chest and a head that’s barely stapled together. Yet as these two dance with words, it all builds to a dark conclusion.

As Russ Meyer once said, “While violence cloaks itself in a plethora of disguises, its favorite mantle still remains…sex.” McCrae’s films depict dead worlds on the very precipice of destruction, overstimulated characters dealing with too much death, too much pain and way too much desire. This is no different yet so much more assured.

Also: A Fabio Frizzi score!

This was originally intended to be in the film Betamax but it was turned into a short all on its lonesome. It’s near perfect, a staggering work that I can’t wait to see more of.

DISMEMBERCEMBER: A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally on the site on December 22, 2017.

We love portmanteau movies. Tales from the CryptAsylumTales that Witness Madness, really anything that Amicus ever did? Yep. However, modern versions tend to be seriously lacking, substituting gore and shock for storytelling and proper use of the form.

LIke A Christmas Horror Story. It skirts the very thing that makes the anthology film tick — it has a framing device, but instead of using it to start the story, every single installment seems like it’s happening at the same time. The better way to do this is for each story to have its moment in the sun, as narratively this film feels like cut jump city.

The main thread of the film is Dangerous Dan (William Shatner, The Devil’s Rain!), who is doing his annual holiday marathon radio show. Meanwhile, all holiday hell is breaking loose:

STORY ONE: Three high school kids break into their school — which was once a convent — to investigate the murders that happened in the basement last year. One of their friends was supposed to go, but she had to go out of town with her parents. We’ll get back to her later. Anyhow, everyone ends up locked in the basement, one of them gets possessed and tries to have sex with everyone. Turns out that the ghost is a pregnant teenager who had a virgin conception that nuns killed when they tried to take it out of her body. The ghost just wants her child to be born, so it gets the girl knocked up, kills the boy and lets her go.

STORY TWO: A police officer illegally chops down a Christmas tree for his family, but his son disappears for a while. When they find him, he’s never the same again. The owner of the woods calls the wife and tells her that he is a changeling and that they need to return him. Of course, the kid kills the dad and decorates him like a tree before the mom brings it back, kills the master of the woods and gets her child back.

STORY THREE: Remember that girl who didn’t get to go along with her friends? Well, she’s heading to visit aunt Etta, who scares everyone with her tales of Krampus. On the way home from the disastrous family holiday, they crash their car and are chased by Krampus. Turns out that this is the worst family ever, filled with sins. Luckily, the oldest daughter is able to kill Krampus before transforming into the beast and killing her aunt.

STORY FOUR: Santa Claus has issues — everyone in his life has become a zombie. He fights a horde of his loved ones to the death before battling Krampus, but it turns out that he is really Dangerous Dan’s weatherman and he’s had a nervous breakdown. He’s really been killing people in the mall and the police arrive and gun him down.

This film all takes place in the town of Bailey Downs, where both Ginger Snaps and Orphan Black originate. That’s because they share the same directorial team — Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, and Brett Sullivan.

I will say that the special effects are really nice for the budget. But sadly, the film feels rote. There are few moments of surprise or wonder that things happen the way that they do. Some of it feels made for the Hot Topic hipsters of the world, those that scoff at Christmas while celebrating Krampus because it makes them feel cool and edgy to do so. And yet there are a few cool moments and it’s not like I wasn’t entertained. But I wanted more. I wanted a narrative thread I could follow, I wanted a reason for these things to be happening versus them just happening.

Maybe I expect too much. Maybe Amicus spoiled me. But I felt like I had just eaten several handfuls of Christmas cookies and was left with a stomach ache.

If you want to watch it, it’s on Netflix and Shudder.

Vacation (2015)

Directed and written by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Horrible BossesGame Night), Vacation has Ed Helms as the grown-up Rusty Griswold and married to Debbie (Christina Applegate), with whom he has two kids — James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins).

To recapture the fun of his childhood vacations, he rents a Tartan Prancer and puts his family in the car for a trip to Wally World. Unlike his father’s trip, it’s his son James who keeps running into his dream girl, Adena (Catherine Missa). Well, there is a scene where Rusty does flirt with another mystery woman (Hannah Davis Jeter) but she quickly wrecks into a truck.

They also meet up with Rusty’s sister Audrey (Leslie Mann), who is now married to anchorman Stone Crandall (Chris Hemsworth) and his parents, which is a nice use of Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo.  Actually, the guest roles are way better than the cast, as Charlie Day is great as a suicidal river guide, Norman Reedus is a trucker chasing the Griswolds and when Rusty and Debbie try to make love where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet, they are almost busted by Tim Heidecker, Nick Kroll, Kaitlin Olson and Michael Peña.

It’s a movie with a few funny scenes but come on. This is a Vacation movie. It needs to be more and there was no way it could be as good as the past, just like your childhood vacation.

PITTSBURGH MADE: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

Writer Jesse Andrews was born in Pittsburgh and his family home in Point Breeze was used as lead character Greg’s (Thomas Mann) house in the film, while Rachel’s (Olivia Cooke) house is in Squirrel Hill and Earl’s (RJ Cyler) house is in Braddock. This film actually gives a pretty good tour of the city, as the old Schenley High School, The Warhol, Copacetic Comics and Oakland all show up.

I first watched this because it was directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who did such a phenomenal job on the reimagined The Town That Dreaded Sundown.

Greg’s parents — Nick Offerman and Connie Britton — force him to spend time with Rachel, who is suffering from leukemia and not attending school. As she grows sicker and loses her hair, Greg assures us that she does not die in the end. To keep her spirits up, he shares the film parodies that he creates with his co-worker — he is afraid to say friend about anyone — Earl.

Greg begins to neglect school — and even a popular girl named Madison (Katherine C. Hughes) as he struggles to stay positive as Rachel gets worse. He even loses his friendship with his collaborator as they finish making a movie to try and help her spirits.

I can’t think about this movie without tearing up  Gomez-Rejon made it in the attempt to create a more personal movie and deal with the loss of his father. It really says something about growing up and the people we gain and lose as we stumble through life. I recommend it highly.

WILD EYE BLU RAY RELEASE: Smoke And Mirrors: The Story Of Tom Savini (2015)

I’m blessed, seriously, to live in Pittsburgh, a place where Tom Savini will just show up next to you at the drive-in. To the rest of horror movie fans, he’s this exhaulted gore god. And he still is here, but I have so many memories of just seeing him jogging or riding in the elevator with him when he taught at the Art Institute. He’s someone who made it from our town and as such, while the rest of the world may or may not know him, he’s royalty here, even if we basically leave our royalty alone and just wave or be polite.

Jason Baker’s Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini tells his story, starting in Bloomfield — where he still lives — and showing how his art of splatter led to a series of films that are still celebrated. It also has appearances from Robert Rodriquez, Tom Atkins, Tony Todd, Greg Nicotero and so many more, as well as clips of Savini’s best work and appearances in films.

I was in sheer bliss watching this. Sure, if you’re a fan you know so much of it. But I really liked the place that it found Savini in, at peace with what he’s done and where life has taken him. It really gets into how much of a devoted family man he is, which I enjoyed very much.

If you’re a fan of horror at all — and why are you on our site if you’re not? — you need this.

The Wild Eye release of this movie has four hours of extras, including an audio commentary with Tom Savini and director Jason Baker; Savini’s personal behind the scenes video archives with footage from Day of the Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, From Dusk Til Dawn, Creepshow, Friday the 13th Part IV and more; Savini’s personal video behind the scenes footage from directing Night of the Living Dead; Savini’s home movies; footage of his stage version of Dracula; a folded poster and an illustrated slipcase. You can get this from MVD.

2022 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 24: Crimson Peak (2015)

24. HOLEY SHEET!: Ddddid I just ssssee a ghost?

Director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro said that this was “a very set-oriented, classical but at the same time modern take on the ghost story. I think people are getting used to horror subjects done as found footage or B-value budgets. I wanted this to feel like a throwback.”

He succeeded as this feels so close to the gothic Italian films I love, as well as parts of Hammer along the way, as heiress and author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) continually is visited by spirits who carry warnings of Crimson Peak, even in her childhood.

As she becomes an adult, she falls in love with English baronet Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an inventor who is trying to revive the fortunes of his family’s clay mine. Her father thinks something is wrong with Thomas and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), so he pays them to leave the country, but not before Mr. Cushing is murdered. Sharpe takes her to England and his home, located above the clay mines, a place where the red dirt and snow combine to make a bloody canvas for a foreboding home. Meanwhile, Edith leaves behind Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), who follows her to England to save her from the Sharpes.

Working with writers Matthew Robbins and an uncredited Lucinda Coxon, del Toro aims for a big movie here and succeeds. I watch this at least twice a year and am always so pleased with its scope and substance. The story of doomed romance and a deranged family is one that I return to for comfort, marveling at the colors and tones of this, wishing that more filmmakers would find inspiration in films like The Haunting. Nothing compares to seeing this on a real movie screen, just sitting in the dark savoring each moment yet I try to recapture that feeling with each watch.


19. A Musical Horror Film (That’s Not Rocky HorrorLittle Shop of Horrors or Nightmare Before Christmas).

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Mermaids make their way up from the abyss to the seabed. Then they use it for leverage and swim to the surface. I give you: The Lure.”

In Poland, this movie was called Córki dancingu (Daughters of Dancing) and it’s a musical reworking of The Little Mermaid but filtered through director Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s experiences growing up in her mother’s nightclub, a place where she experienced her “first shot of vodka, first cigarette, first sexual disappointment and first important feeling for a boy.” She said that she used mermaids to hide the personal parts of the story and create a way to hide all of the emotions that came from her real life.  Yet she took those mermaids and made them, in part, monstrous. Writer Robert Bolesto was inspired to also tell the story of two of his friends that were part of the 80s nightclub scene.

Golden (Michalina Olszańska) and Silver (Marta Mazurek) rise from the water and watch a band called Figs n’ Dates playing music. They follow them back to a nightclub where they become dancers with the band, finally becoming The Lure, the main attraction while the band plays behind them.

All the while, Silver falls in love with the bassist Mietek — who sees her as an animal and not a woman — while her sister only views humans as food.

They’re not the only undersea creatures that are in Poland’s music industry. Triton (Marcin Kowalczyk) is a singer for a metal band and knows how the world works between the magic world and the mundane world. If Silver gives her heart to Mietek and he marries someone else, she will become sea foam. She gives up her tail and her voice for love, yet even her new body — covered with surgical scars and blood — disgusts Mietek, who marries a woman he has only known for a day.

Of course, this must all end in tragedy. Silver must devour Mietek before daybreak, but she can’t bring herself to do so. You can imagine the pain and horror that comes next. The ocean beckons, after all.

We live in a world where people become enraged when someone with a different skin color is a mermaid. All of those people so upset should watch this. Then, mermaids should devour them.

This is a film that I’ll ponder over probably for the rest of my life. It’s not as upsetting as Mermaid In a Manhole — what is? — but it gets close in all the very best of ways. Plus, the songs have a way of getting wrapped around your ear.

Arnold Week: Maggie (2015)

The Necroambulist virus has changed the world and now, it’s changed the life of the Vogel family, as Maggie (Abigail Breslin) has been bitten and urges her father Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger) not to find her. He still seeks her out and brings her home, knowing that in a few days or perhaps even a week she will have to take a painful drug cocktail or be killed by him.

This is a mournful, meditative film in which Maggie and her father try to connect before she dies, along with her wondering if she should contact her friends and slowly becoming one of the walking dead, her body filled with black blood and maggots, her senses smelling food when it’s really her stepmother Caroline (Joely Richardson).

Directed by Henry Hobson and written by John Scott 3, Arnold loved the script for this movie so much that he took no money for it. He shows his dramatic range in this film and even in the scenes where zombies are being killed, he’s upset by his violence because he once knew these creatures when they were actual people. This is also a much darker zombie film than the last time Breslin went up against the undead in Zombieland.