‘Blade II’ is Chock Full of Action and Gore (review)

 

Blade (Wesley Snipes), the half-vampire half-human vampire hunter, returns. This time, he’s accepting a truce from the Vampire Nation. It seems there’s an anomaly causing vampires to mutate into drooling Venus-flytrap-faced lunatics that are deadly to other vampires. He reluctantly joins up with a crack team of vampires, along with his human associates Scud (Norman Reedus) and Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), who magically returns from the dead.

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Look, it’s Norman Reedus!

I never read the comic books, so I have no idea how closely the movie follows them, and for me, that’s usually for the best with comic book adaptations, because I get mad when they change stuff. Comic book legend Stan Lee is an executive producer, but that doesn’t guarantee fidelity to the source material. I first saw Blade II in the theatre as a teenager only because my boyfriend at the time dragged me. I remember I found it boring at the time. On my most recent viewing, I enjoyed it more—though of course I am biased now, being a fan of director Guillermo del Toro. I also enjoy Ron Perlman. While it’s not movie of the year material, there are some good things. It’s not entirely predictable. It’s pretty original, like Scud’s method of vampire surveillance: an alarm system that measures body temperature and thus alive-ness.

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“Bleh bleh-bleh!”

 

My biggest complaint is Snipes’s performance—he tends to overdo the cool guy act. I do wonder why Blade is the only human/vampire hybrid. Also, the CGI is laughably bad, even for 2002. It reminds me of the death reenactments on 1000 Ways to Die. However, the stunt-work is impressive, and the fight scenes are well-choreographed (though they get tedious at times when they’re dragged out).

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Totally out of context here, but I couldn’t NOT include this adorable publicity still

 

Although Blade has a potential love interest in Nyssa (Leonor Varela) the sexy vampire, I can’t help but feel there are homoerotic undertones throughout the film. For example the relationship between Blade and Whistler, with Blade promising to get him “whatever you need,” and Whistler replying, “I need you!”

I like this movie a little better every time I watch it. Check it out if you’re in the mood for vampires and lots of blood.

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Like, just ALL the blood, folks

 

‘Bitter Feast’ is Sharp and Darkly Funny (review)

 

Peter (James LeGros, The Last Winter) is the host of his own cooking show, and also the chef at a chic gourmet restaurant. He focuses on organic, sustainable ways of eating, for example cooking a deer he killed and butchered himself. Unfortunately his technique doesn’t garner enough ratings, and Peter loses the show and his upcoming line of cookware. Add to this recipe a bad review of his restaurant by infamous mean food critic J.T. Franks (Joshua Leonard, The Blair Witch Project) and Peter, who had been pretty unstable since childhood, goes off the deep end. He kidnaps Franks and chains him up. Planning a “rehabilitation,” his goal is to turn the tables on the critic. Peter shows Franks how hard it is to be a chef by allowing him to eat only what he cooks perfectly. When this fails to break him (though he does go a little crazy), Peter kidnaps Franks’s wife Katherine (Amy Seimetz, You’re Next, The Sacrament), whom he has a nasty gustatory surprise for.

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So that’s what the Blair Witch did with him!

I think one of the most striking things about Bitter Feast is the lack of likable characters. Peter is a loony, arrogant sadist. (However, I do have a grudging admiration for his hardcore devotion to being green–the man doesn’t even use plastic grocery bags.) Franks is a failed writer who takes out his bitterness on everyone around him, particularly Katherine. Other characters include Coley (genre icon Larry Fessenden), a sleazy private investigator who breaks into Peter’s house and eats out of his fridge, and Peter’s annoying costar Peg. Katherine, though she gets more interesting towards the end of the movie, is pretty devoid of personality.

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Just look at this pretentious asshole!

 

The film can be quite gory at times. There is a lot of blood and more than one shot of dead animal pieces (and a skinned rabbit). But there are some wonderfully subtle touches as well, like a scene before the kidnapping when Peter is standing at his kitchen counter labeling a series of locks. We don’t know what they’re for yet, but it can’t be nice.

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“Now my review. J.T. Franks is a worthless cunt who doesn’t deserve to life. The end!”–actual quote

I almost always hate horror movie dialogue that attempts to be funny, but with this film I enjoy the occasional, tasteful one-liners. Also amusing to me is a cameo by T.V. chef Mario Batali, who lets fly a string of f-bombs he’d never be able to get away with on Food Network. The film crosses the line from horror to dark humor well, a process that most horror movies botch. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something intense but amusing.

1972’s ‘Ben’ is Surprisingly Heartwarming (review)

 

Danny (Lee Montgomery, Burnt Offerings) is a lonely young boy with heart problems. He makes friends with a rat he calls Ben. His mother and older sister are disturbed by his choice of companion, especially when Ben and his fellow rats attack a boy who bullied Danny. Eventually Ben and his gang do so much damage to the town that the police get involved, but Danny won’t give up his friend.

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I first saw Ben when I was about Danny’s age. It has a bit of nostalgia factor for me, especially since Ben looks like my own childhood pet rat Blacky. Some of Ben’s colleagues also resemble rats I once had. That said, I’m not sure how I sat through it as a kid, because as an adult I found it pretty boring. I wish it would focus more on Danny and his family than cops and random people being startled by a mob of rats. It’s not inappropriate for children, as there is little in the way of swearing or gore. It’s actually PG. It tends to feel like a children’s movie at times, with goofy scenes like Danny putting on a puppet show and singing. My husband Andrew, who was on the computer adjacent to me, asked me if it was a comedy. It’s fairly easy to follow; I spent a good portion of the movie texting my friend Harold and watching Mortal Kombat babalities.

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I guess that’s how I missed when Michael Jackson was king of the rats

There are some plot points that are thought-provoking, like the fact that there are more rats than people in the world. Also, Ben is somewhat of a sympathetic character—he defends Danny and makes him happy. Too bad he’s such a pest. If you’re in the mood for cute rats and accurate squeaky noises (and exaggerated sniffing noises) check this one out.

‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ is Funny and Entertaining–to the Max! (review)

Not to be confused with the T.V. show of the same name; this is the 1992 film that the show sprang from. Buffy (Kristy Swanson) is a vapid cheerleader whose biggest responsibility is choosing a theme for the upcoming school dance. Then she meets Merrick (Donald Sutherland), who informs her that she’s the latest incarnation in a long line of vampire slayers. Before long she’s having a training montage, doing flips, and staking vampires like nobody’s business. Meanwhile, she’s falling for Pike (Luke Perry), whose best friend Benny (David Arquette) has just been converted to a creature of the night. Together Buffy and Pike go up against vampire Lothos (Rutger Hauer) and his boyfriend (er, first in command) Amilyn (Paul Reubens), before they drain the whole town.

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This movie invokes waves of nostalgia for me. I watched it regularly as a child with my mother and my sister Leslie. I’m still mildly tickled when Pike outwits a vampire by shouting, “Look! Air!” then punches him. (My new favorite quote is spoken by Amilyn: “You ruined my new jacket. Kill him a lot!”) I still find the film funny overall; the extreme datedness only adds to the humor.

Something I appreciate as a more mature viewer is Buffy and Pike’s relationship—they’re equals. Buffy saves Pike’s life (e.g. his butt), then he helps her—there’s an “exchange of butts,” as Pike puts it. Their equality is further illustrated when they’re at the dance. Pike says, “I suppose you want to lead.” “No,” Buffy replies. “Me neither.” But Buffy is also very much a badass, for example when she flips a classmate for groping her. Interestingly the movie poster shows Buffy kneeling with a stake in her hand, and Pike hiding behind her, peeking over her shoulder. I also find it amusing that once she hits Merrick in self-defense she finds she has a taste for violence. And look, Hilary Swank and Ben Affleck!

I actually don’t have any gripes, besides that the Valley Girl cliché gets old after a while.

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Chuh! As if!

However, Joss Whedon seems to be making a statement about the state of affairs in our society, calling the setting “California: The Lite Ages.” Buffy’s classmates are clueless about the simplest aspects of environmentalism: “What do you think about the ozone layer?” “Yeah, we gotta get rid of that.” Buffy’s parents are also lax and inattentive, leaving her alone (and getting into trouble with her boyfriend) consistently throughout the film.

It’s pretty original for a vampire movie. Check it out if you’re in the mood for old school rather than emo vampires.

‘B.T.K.’ is a Fascinating Look at a Real-life Killer (review)

Dennis Rader (Kane Hodder) is a seemingly mild-mannered government worker who gets urges to kill people, so he promptly does. Based on a real serial killer, the film shows his spiral of compulsion, murder, and finally his capture.

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In the roughly bazillion movies about real life serial killers, this one stands out to me. Not just because for once Hodder is playing a mortal killer with a voice and a face (he’s actually a good little actor), but because instead of just focusing on a lone wolf and his murders, a goodish chunk of the movie shows the effect Rader’s actions have on his wife and two teenage daughters. What strikes me the most is the continuous irony about Rader’s life. He’s a compliance officer, meaning he gets paid to make sure people follow the law. He’s a Boy Scout leader, a bible studies teacher, and the president of his church.

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“Being nice is a lot easier than being mean”–actual quote

While the film is far from a sensitive piece about a troubled man (there’s oodles of blood and guts), it’s far from a gorefest of cowering women. One isn’t supposed to understand or feel sorry for him (he’s a crappy dad and husband as well as a monumental hypocrite), but there are glimpses of him as a normal person. It’s serious, thoughtful, and honestly a bit depressing. Check it out if you’re a fan of the genre or of Hodder.

Five Things I Have to Grudgingly Concede About the 1997 Remake of ‘The Shining’

Of course it’s blasphemy to say that the remake of The Shining is superior to Stanley Kubrick’s original, but there are still some things to like about it. I’m working on a writing project about horror movies and parenting, and I’m writing a sub-section about psychotic parents. I tried to use the original, but Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance evokes no modicum of sympathy on my part; I’m trying to discuss how good parents can go bad, but Nicholson’s Jack is a terrible man with a terrified wife and a deeply traumatized son. I found the remake much easier to work with.

Plus there are these features:

1. Courtland Mead is a hell of an actor. I grew up watching him on some sitcom, I think it had Kirk Cameron, and I used to think of him as “that kid who can’t close his mouth.” But Danny Torrance is a demanding role, and Mead kills it. He’s likable and skillfully gets across the angst and disappointment and fear Danny feels.

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2. Cynthia Garris can be creepy when she wants to. I bear a grudge against directors who cast the same actors over and over, especially when said actor is a spouse. Mick Garris almost always puts his wife in his movies, which irks me. However, Cynthia is actually pretty scary as the lady in Room 217.

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3. The character development is handled much more gracefully than in the original. As I said, and many others have said, Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance starts out crazy and horrible and just gets more so. Steven Weber’s Jack is a bit more sympathetic, and Weber conveys much better a flawed but overall decent man who suffered abuse and can’t get past it.

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4. Wendy is much more compelling than in the original. Rebecca DeMornay’s Wendy is a fighter, a woman who always puts her son first. Shelley Duvall’s Wendy is a broken woman who has barely anything going on in the personality department.

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5. The cameos are a little over the top, but still pretty cool. There’s Stephen King himself, Sam Raimi, Shawnee Smith, Frank Darabont, Richard Christian Matheson, and David J. Schow.

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The ending, though…the ending makes me wanna slap somebody.

Five Songs That Make Me Shake My Head at the Narrators

This is a piece I wrote a while back and finally got around to doing my final polish.

Many songs involve an unreliable or unlikable narrator whom the listener isn’t supposed to trust or like. For example Dave Matthews Band’s “Don’t Drink the Water,” which describes the horrors of colonialism through the eyes of someone who thinks the land is his to take. Some songs, however, feature narrators who believe they’re right, and the song is meant to elicit sympathy or corroboration on the part of the listener—and they shouldn’t.

1. Magic!—“Rude.”
The song: “Rude” concerns a young man confronting his beloved’s father, who straight up hates him. The narrator asks the man for his daughter’s hand in marriage, and he is cruelly rebuffed: “You say I’ll never get your blessings ‘till the day I die/Tough luck my friend, but the answer is no.”
I empathize: The narrator makes a good case for himself: “Why you gotta be so rude/Don’t you know I’m human, too.” On that basis, it’s easy to feel sorry for the guy. He tried to take the polite route, and was mocked for his trouble. Also, the music video implies that Dad’s distaste is based on class or race (or likely both), given that the narrator is neither wealthy nor white.
However: As a teenager I would have eaten this song up, seeing it as romantic and sweet. Yet as a mother (of a daughter, no less), I am affronted by the narrator’s opening gambit: “Can I have your daughter for the rest of my life/Say yes, say yes, ‘cause I need to know.” Not only is he asking to take and keep the man’s daughter, he’s damn bossy, too. After Dad’s “no” he threatens to “marry her anyway.” Then comes his next sally, which is decidedly more hostile: “I hate to do this/You leave me no choice […] We will run away/To another galaxy you know/You know she’s in love with me/She will go anywhere I go.” Not only is he manipulating her love for him, he’s saying if Dad doesn’t play ball, they’ll just disappear and he’ll never see her again. With a threat like that, he might even be able to get Dad to pay for the wedding.

2. “Love’s the Only House”—Martina McBride
The song: The narrator discusses the many problems in the world today and how love can fix said problems.
I empathize: I’m a Buddhist, and I heartily endorse the sentiment that “Love’s the only house big enough for all the pain in the world.”
However: There are so many places where the narrator comes across as smug, condescending, and even racist: “Senorita can’t quit crying, baby’s due now any day/Don Juan left, got sick of tryin’, no one there to show him the way.” As if this weren’t enough, the “senorita” goes to the store to beg for milk, and who should buy the milk but our humble narrator. One can only hope she goes home with the lass to teach her how to act right. Or maybe she’ll go home secure in her knowledge that her wonderful gesture helped save the world.

3. “How Do You Like Me Now?!”—Toby Keith
The song: This song describes an up-and-coming singer so excited about his success that he wants to contact a high school acquaintance he had an unrequited crush on and point out how well he’s doing.
I empathize: Everyone loves a good revenge story. And apparently she was snobby and vain: “You overlooked me somehow/Besides you had too many boyfriends to mention/And I played my guitar too loud.”
However: Again, as a teenager (and outcast) I would have loved the idea of the spoiled girl getting her comeuppance. But as an adult who has left her teenage years far behind, I don’t blame people for how they acted when they were young and stupid. Not to mention that he sounds like he was a jerk to her: “You were always the perfect one and the valedictorian so/Under your number I wrote, ‘Call for a good time.’” True, he heard a rumor that she made fun of him for pursuing his dream of being a performer, but the narrator takes his butt-hurt a little too far when he gloats about the mean guy she ended up marrying: “He took your dreams and tore them apart/He never comes home and you’re always alone/And your kids hear you cryin’ down the hall” (this last is followed by an upbeat musical break). The narrator sounds a little like he’s not all there in the mental health department; it’s probably a good thing she stayed away from him.

4. “Breakin’ Dishes”—Rihanna
The song: “Breakin’ Dishes” is a catchy little tune about a spurned woman getting revenge by making a mess.
I empathize: Being cheated on is a devastating betrayal. Who doesn’t enjoy the scene in Waiting to Exhale when Angela Bassett’s character torches her philandering husband’s car?
However: The narrator sounds pretty unhinged. “I’m breaking dishes up in here, all night/I ain’t gon’ stop until I see police lights/I’ma fight a man tonight.” She also amuses herself by burning his clothes. Infidelity is nothing to trivialize, and since he’s “been coming home lately at 3:30” he probably is cheating, but the narrator doesn’t actually have concrete evidence: “Is he cheating/Man, I don’t know.” Yet that doesn’t stop her from “looking ‘round for something else to throw.” So instead of confronting her boyfriend, she’s instigating a fight, and based on what we know about her he’s probably going to get the crap beaten out of him. And possibly set on fire.

5. “The Saga of Jesse Jane”—Alice Cooper
The song: Jesse is a man who enjoys wearing women’s clothing, in this instance a wedding dress. He is currently serving time for killing a man who accosted him in a McDonald’s.
I empathize: I’ve listened to the song many times, and I was always on Jesse’s side. Again, teenager, outcast, etc. I’m no fan of homophobia or attacking people who look different. I hate bullying.
However: Here’s Jesse’s description of the event: “His face was red, his fist was clenched/He threw his Coke and he got me drenched.” That is the entirety of the altercation. Jesse retaliates: “I killed him dead, I killed ‘em all.” Not only does Jesse murder a man for throwing a soda at him, he wastes everyone in the restaurant for looking at him funny. Hate crimes are no joke, but shooting people is not the answer.

When my writin’ friends who helped me edit this piece asked me how I found these songs, I had to admit I own all these albums (except Magic!). Despite the songs irking me, I still enjoy the majority of their body of work (except Magic!).

1977’s ‘Audrey Rose’ is Thought-Provoking and Groovy (review)

Janice and Bill Templeton have a simple and happy life with their young daughter Ivy. Suddenly a stranger (Anthony Hopkins) begins following them around, particularly Ivy. When they confront him, he reveals that his name is Elliot and he believes Ivy is the reincarnation of his daughter, Audrey Rose, who burned to death in a car accident. Janice takes him seriously after Ivy has an episode of terrible nightmares—which occur every year around her birthday—that cause her to leap out of bed and pound the windows, all the while screaming for her daddy. Janice allows Elliot to comfort her as Audrey Rose’s father, and the dreams become manageable in his presence. Bill continues to scoff, wanting Elliot out of their lives, which prompts Elliot, who believes she’s in danger, to take them to court for custody of Ivy.

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You guys don’t wanna test me; a census taker tried to test me once…

I first watched this with my sister Leslie; when we were teenagers, we decided to review every horror movie at the now-defunct Hollywood video, in alphabetical order (alas, we started and ended with A).

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Those were the days

So there’s a pretty heavy nostalgia factor for me. But aside from that, there’s still a lot to like. I enjoy the courtroom scenes, when an exotic troupe of people come forth to testify for the existence of reincarnation. The performances are great, with special kudos to Susan Swift as Ivy. The characters are fairly likable; Bill gets on my nerves after a while for his stubbornness, but I’d be up in arms too if a creepy stranger were hounding my family and calling to say: “I didn’t see Ivy at school this morning. Is she all right?”

 

My only gripe is that I hate the aesthetics of the ‘70s; I like brown, but not mixed with orange and plaid. The Templetons’ apartment, with its wacky color scheme, epitomizes the decade (the only thing missing is a fondue pot), and is the most disturbing aspect of the film for me—though it may be evocative for others.

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Not to mention giant ascots and porno ‘staches

Despite the somber subject matter, the film has a message of hope: death is not the end, and that with death, “The soul is free.” Elliot has made a kind of peace with his loss. Boogie on down and give it a look if you’re in a philosophical mood (or want to see a young and tasty Anthony Hopkins).

‘The Astronaut’s Wife’ is a Creepy Thriller (review)

Jillian (Charlize Theron) is, as the title suggests, married to an astronaut, Spencer (Johnny Depp). While on a trip to space, he and his coworker Alex (Tom Noonan) are repairing their shuttle and there’s an explosion, causing them to lose contact with NASA. Upon returning home, Alex soon dies. While Spencer is physically fine, he seems changed by his experience. He is offered a corporate job and jumps at the chance to stay out of space. Shortly after, Jillian discovers she’s pregnant with twins. Her suspicions about Spencer are compounded by NASA employee Reese (Joe Morton), who tells her Spencer is now an alien that basically erased her husband like a cassette (or some other technical device invented after 1999). Jillian is left to wonder who the father of the babies is.

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Depp’s face when someone told him blonde wasn’t his color

Something interesting in the film is the settings and minor characters, which symbolize the deterioration of Spencer and Jillian’s relationship. When Jillian and Spencer live in Florida, their house is big but homey, with lots of natural lighting. The co-workers at their going-away party seem friendly and likable. Jillian, a second grade teacher, works in an informal setting, sitting among her students. In contrast, the new house is overly big, sterile, and when it’s not dark, it’s lit with an ominous bluish light. (Actually, all of the settings are dark after Spencer comes home, even the going-away party.) The welcoming party she and Spencer attend is full of phony, snobby people; even the kindly woman Jillian befriends is spoiled, pointing out the bracelet her husband bought her when she had a miscarriage. Jillian’s new teaching atmosphere is now a formal private school, where the children wear uniforms and sit in neat rows.

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Jillian sports a haircut very similar to that of Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby, which is surely done on purpose since the films are similar in their themes of paranoia, supernatural babies, and untrustworthy husbands. aw1 Though the movie is a bit science fiction-y, I’d say it’s more classifiable as a horror movie. There are a few creepy moments, like when Alex starts displaying signs something is amiss—the viewer has no idea what will happen next. It reminds me of the Black Oil episodes of The X-Files, which are profoundly disturbing. Or Reese confronting Jillian about Spencer: “Can you swear to me that he’s still your husband?” The filmmakers do a marvelous job of building tension, and it’s unpredictable. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for a serious tale of alien activity.

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Or maybe the haircut is just a family tradition

‘The Abominable Dr. Phibes’ is an Utter Classic (review)

Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) is a man so rocked by the death of his wife on the operating table (his being horribly disfigured in a car wreck doesn’t help matters) he decides to kill the eight doctors and one nurse who couldn’t save her, with nine of the ten Biblical plagues: boils, bats, frogs, blood, hail, rats, beasts, locusts, and death of the first-born. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard’s Inspector Trout is on his heels. The race is on to stop Phibes before all nine plagues are reenacted.

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Goofiest corpse ever

This film is just a delight. It’s terribly corny and riddled with plot holes (most of which spring from trying to create deaths from plagues that are more bothersome than deadly), but it’s darn entertaining and funny, too. One of my favorite scenes is when Dr. Longstreet (Terry-Thomas) is watching what appears to be an ancient porno. His maid comes in and scolds him—for missing his dinner. I was also amused by the unlikeliness of the scene when Nurse Allen meets her doom. While she sleeps, Phibes covers her face completely with a viscous green goo (which she sleeps through), then releases locusts in her room.

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Nurse Allen was tired…dead tired

When the detectives find her, sans face, she’s lying in the exact same position we saw her in last, which leaves us to assume that she also slept while the bugs ate her—I guess she pulled a double shift that day.

It has creepy moments on occasion, for example the scene when a doctor is sleeping soundly while Phibes lowers a mysterious cage into his room. But then the cage is revealed to be full of fruit bats. Fruit bats? Really? What are they going to do, lick him to death? Never mind the technical aspects, fruit bats are the cutest breed of bats—they look like little foxes.

A long-haired rousette (Rousettus lanosus) at the Lincoln Children's Zoo.
They said I did whaaaat?

Vampire bats at least have sparse fur, puggy upturned noses, and visible fangs, making them suitable as horror movie villains. Thus, even the eerie moments are upstaged by cheese.

 

There are some heartstrings-tugging moments, like when Phibes holds up a necklace to his wife’s portrait; in silhouette, it looks like she’s wearing it, emphasizing his inability to be with her. Those few seconds are more effective than his multiple speeches to her promising revenge, that all seem to start with, “My love, my queen…”

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Price gives his usual hammy but stellar performance. My brother Jeremy, who watched this with me, said, “There was only one Vincent Price.” Indeed, and I miss him. Check it out if you’re in the mood for something lighthearted but gory.