The Blood-Spattered Bride, Don’t Torture a Duckling, and Nomads

NOMADS (1986) An interesting, if not fully successful, tale of a French anthropology professor (Pierce Brosnan) who passes his life force (I think) to a medical doctor (Lesley-Anne Down) right before he dies in an L.A. hospital. Soon after, the pretty doc begins re-experiencing the last days of the professor—who was following and documenting a group of murderous street punks he believed were actually a race of otherworldly beings, roaming the earth in human form. Written and directed by John McTiernan (Predator, Die Hard), Nomads is unconventional in that it tells its story from two different timelines. The Brosnan timeline is the more engaging of the two—and gets the most screen time—but, unfortunately, it drags to the point where nothing obviously supernatural happens until the last 20 minutes or so. Brosnan gets credit for doing something so non-commercial during his Remington Steele years, as well as having a surprising full frontal nude scene. C+

DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972) How can you go wrong with a title like that? When the body of a murdered boy is found in a small Italian village, it ignites a media frenzy—especially after the local pervert is arrested for the crime. Soon after, two more boys are abducted and killed, causing hysteria and panic within the superstitious town. Fingers point towards an out-of-town heiress (Barbara Bouchet) who likes her men on the young side, and a peasant (Florinda Bolkan) branded a witch by the townsfolk because of her homemade voodoo dolls. One of goremeister Lucio Fulci’s earliest and more restrained horror films, this is a sophisticated and well-plotted murder mystery soaking in atmosphere and beautiful-but-desolate Southern Italian locations. Fulci keeps the tension moving at a good pace, culminating in a brutal scene where a suspect is beaten to death by an angry mob. A well-directed and well-acted giallo that should lend credit to Fulci as a legitimate filmmaker. B+

THE BLOOD-SPATTERED BRIDE (1972) Newlywed Susan (Maribel Martin) becomes increasingly tired of her brutish husband’s (Simón Andreu) lustful appetite while on their honeymoon at his family’s country estate. That is until Susan is seduced by a mysterious woman (Alexandra Bastedo) who apparently murdered her husband on her wedding night centuries earlier—and wishes for Susan to do the same. A film very much of its time, this is filled with New Age feminism and political subtext—a dream in which Susan cuts out her husband’s heart isn’t exactly subtle—although much of it is muddled in the flimsy screenplay, which is loosely based on the vampire tale Carmilla. Susan isn’t exactly sympathetic, and none of the other characters are worth caring for, including Susan’s husband who flip-flops between asshole and hero. Not nearly as exploitative as its title would suggest. A shame. C

Cocaine Bear, Dead Silence, and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

COCAINE BEAR (2023) Cocaine Bear is superbly silly hokum that works surprisingly well. In 1985, after a massive grizzly bear sticks its snout into a bag of raw cocaine (which fell out of an airplane during a failed drug swap), it goes on a drug-fueled, killing rampage within the woods. This is bad news for single mom, Sari (Keri Russell), who’s searching for her missing daughter, along with a couple of knuckle-headed drug dealers (Alden Ehrenreich and O’Shea Jackson Jr.) who’re looking for the lost coke. It’s flawed and almost aggressively stupid, yet Cocaine Bear delivers the goods thanks to a brisk pace, a sardonic sense of humor, and a couple of terrifically gory kills, but mostly because it never takes itself seriously—something the recent M3GAN failed at. Margo Martindale steals her scenes as a dimwitted forest ranger who has some of the worst luck in horror movie history. B

DEAD SILENCE (2007) Before James Wan created Annabelle he made this modest ghost tale – that feels like a warm-up to Insidious – about strange happenings surrounding a ventriloquist’s doll. When his wife is savagely murdered, a man (Ryan Kwanten) returns to his hometown to bury her, only to get tangled in a bizarre mystery involving his family and a murderous ventriloquist (Judith Roberts) who has come back from the dead to act revenge against those who killed her. Wan should get credit for doing something different at a time when most horror was influenced by torture porn – a subgenre Wan created with Saw – and for delivering an atmosphere-heavy supernatural story that supplies a few good creep-out moments. Kwanten is likable as the protagonist, but Donnie Wahlberg is miscast as a disbelieving detective convinced Kwanten killed his wife. B

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010) A sort of “reimagining” of the classic Wes Craven movie with a new group of Elm Street teens being stalked in their dreams by old razor-fingers, Freddy (Jackie Earl Haley). The story is essentially a repeat of the ’84 film with a few new characters and situations. Not as bad as its reputation suggests, this lacks the creative juices (and scares) of the original and many of its sequels, and the mythology surrounding Freddy that flowed so organically in the Craven world here feels forced—but the cast is good, especially Haley in a creepy updating of the famous Robert Englund make-up. This lacks brains and is plagued with a rushed, unsatisfying ending. But, it could have been so much worse. C+

Edge of Sanity, Martin, and Pet Sematary Two

EDGE OF SANITY (1989) Before Anthony Hopkins was Hannibal Lector, Anthony Perkins was the modern face of evil thanks to his unforgettable turn as Norman Bates, and here he’s well-cast as a serial slasher in this colorful but garish variation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Experimenting with cocaine in his sleek, ’80s aesthetic-chic lab, the respected Dr. Henry Jekyll (Perkins) accidentally discovers a solution that transforms him into the libidinous psychopath, Jack Hyde, whose sexual mayhem within the local brothels grants him the nickname Jack the Ripper. Perkins manages to rise above the ostentatious material, and there’s an interesting suggestion that Jekyll/Hyde is bisexual, indicated in a scene where Hyde masturbates while watching a man getting seduces by a prostitute. Unfortunately director, and former pornographer, Gérard Kikoïne focuses so much on the sex and nudity aspect, it creates too much of a sleazy atmosphere. But, maybe that was the point? A robust score by Frédéric Talgorn and a brutal, mean-spirited ending help to keep the flick slightly above mediocrity. C+

MARTIN (1977) Loner teen Martin (John Amplas) goes to live in the decaying town of Braddock, a suburb of Pittsburgh, with his superstitious cousin, Cuda (Lincoln Maazel), who believes the young man to be a vampire. Martin may not be your garden variety vampire, but a sociopathic killer he is—Martin spends his days preying on vulnerable women before eventually drugging and raping them, and afterward feeding on their blood. Martin assumes Braddock will help him to put his blood lust at bay, but instead finds the place a hotbed of helpless, lost souls, and spiritually defenseless—even the Church has up and left the dying town. A unique and undeniably cerebral film, Martin is a solemn, character-driven horror drama that casts a spell on its viewer. With its claustrophobic, guerrilla-style camera work by longtime Romero collaborator Michael Gornick, haunting score by Donald Rubinstein, and ironic, downbeat ending, Martin is in a class by itself and perhaps Romero’s most mature film. Amplas is excellent and Christine Forrest is sympathetic as Cuda’s granddaughter. A

PET SEMATARY TWO (1992) Unfairly criticized sequel to the 1989 original is not as bad as its reputation suggests. After his movie star mom (Darlanne Fluegel) dies in an on-set accident, young Jeff (Edward Furlong) moves with his dad, Chase (Anthony Edwards), back to dad’s hometown of Ludlow, Maine, where the events of the earlier movie took place. When Jeff’s new friend, Drew’s (Jason McGuire), dog dies and they bury the animal you-know-where, the dog comes back a beast from hell and kills Drew’s stepfather (Clancy Brown). Guess what happens next? More of a black comedy than straight up horror, Pet Sematary Two has a few scares, but the intensity of the first film is replaced with a more goofy vibe, especially when Brown’s zombified remains start playing house with his wife and kid. Furlong and McGuire are likable, but Brown steals it in a good performance that may have been inspiration for future zom-coms like Shaun of the Dead and Warm Bodies. B

Dead Ringer, Hostel III, and The Witches of Eastwick

DEAD RINGER (1964) Bette Davis fans will get a kick out of watching her play twins in this post-Baby Jane chiller, but everyone else will most likely be bored. Penniless spinster, Edith (Davis), finds out her lost love of 20 years – who married her twin sister, Margaret (Davis) – has died of a heart attack and confronts her rich, cold-hearted sister at the funeral. Edith eventually murders her sister and takes over Margaret’s lavish life, but complications arise when Edith discovers shocking secrets about Margaret that puts her in danger. The story is often hysterically melodramatic, and loses momentum rather quickly, something a shorter run time and tighter pacing might have helped with. Actor Paul Henreid (Now, Voyager, Casablanca) directs the film with confidence up until its old fashioned, “the murderer must be punished” ending. Davis is excellent, though. C

HOSTEL PART III (2011) A trip to Las Vegas for three friends turns into a bloody nightmare when they’re abducted by the Elite Hunting Club and subjected to grueling torture and death. This direct-to-video threequel lacks Eli Roth’s eye for detailed, visceral action, but director Scott Spiegel (Intruder) does a decent job at delivering what audiences expect from these films. The gore is surprisingly played down (most likely due to budget restraints) and none of the characters are particularly likable, eliminating any suspense of their impending doom. Yet the whole thing is oddly entertaining, and at just 88 minutes it’s a quick way to be distracted. B

THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987) Lively horror-comedy with Jack Nicholson giving one of his best and funniest performances as the devious Daryl Van Horne. The self-named “horny little devil” arrives in the charming hamlet of Eastwick, Rhode Island, and puts his devilish moves on the town’s three alluring, and husbandless, women (Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer), all of whom hold supernatural powers. It isn’t long until Daryl exploits their witchy abilities to his advantage and turns the seaside village on its head. Hilariously adapted by Michael Cristofer, the movie thrives on George (Mad Max) Miller’s energetic direction and the chemistry between the four stars. Add to the mix a maniacal Veronica Cartwright as the town’s soothsaying bible bouncer, and a crackerjack, FX-fueled climax and you’ve got a near-perfect example of classic ’80s cinema. A