Saturday, March 24, 2012

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hatchet (2006)

Hatchet jokingly promotes itself as "Not a sequel", "Not a remake", and "Not based on a Japanese one." This makes it sound like it might be a campy new take on an already campy genre, yet the whole thing feels like a lazy amalgamation of all three. Another more accurate tagline might read, "Not anything new."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Blood Freak (1971)

Blood Freak is another film whose elements conceal the fishing hook. You'll be tantalized by the idea of it, but seeing it is like getting a hook through the cheek. There is a freak, and he does drink blood. That much is true. What the title doesn't reveal is that the freak is a mumbling doofus with the head of a turkey. Here's the skinny: Doped-up day laborer gets hired at a turkey ranch where they feed him chemically laced turkey. This turkey mixes up with the dope he smoked earlier and creates a nasty cocktail. He is transformed into a mutant turkey! Well, he looks like himself wearing the San Diego Chicken head. Rampage ensues. Now turkey-man is addicted to the blood of crack whores. Crack whores are plentiful in this film, luckily. Turkey-man needs rehab now. "Hello, my name is Blood Freak, and I have a problem." Surprise ending also ensues. Vincent Price look-a-like narrator yacks up a lung from his grotto, and dialogue volume floats just under the buzzing of the camera. There's an obvious tryptophan joke in here somewhere. It's sorta like if Hunter Thompson wrote an Ed Wood film. The whole film is a diatribe against the careless use of narcotics. Doing drugs results in a turkey head. Gotta side with narcotics on this one though. I'm jonesin' for a fix now. How else can I cope with what I saw? Watching it is like a big turkey dinner. Sure, you'll get some nourishment, but in the end, you'll need to undo your belt and go lie down.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Evil Dead (1981)

Director: Sam Raimi

Before they were evil, they were merely dead. Scores of meandering living-impaired spent their days and nights wandering vacant streets and hollowed out shopping malls to little effect. This time around, they received a ‘roided-out upgrade with a slightly more “evil” demeanor, and a penchant for limb gnawing. Five friends enter a cabin, only one will exit. It’s the zombified cage-match of the century!! Before the sun rises, only one will be left standing… that is, if the sun rises.
Director/writer, Sam Raimi and his fledgling film crew ventured into the woods to film a story about five friends who spend one blood soaked evening in an isolated cabin in rural Tennessee. There they discover the Necronomicon, or “Book of the Dead”, which invokes evil spirits who inhabit the unsuspecting friends one by one. That is, of course, until it’s discovered that the only way to stop these “evil dead” is TOTAL BODY DISMEMBERMENT!! Although, I would argue that simply chopping off a zombie’s legs (or partial body dismemberment, if you will) would render them pretty innocuous, but I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry when dealing with flesh-eaters.
Is it possible to merely appreciate a work of art on its cultural significance and innovation alone, all the while ignoring its content? Of course it is. I’m not accusing Evil Dead of being nothing more than an exercise in shock values, I’m not even sure director Sam Raimi would take umbrage with that, but I do think people tend to tangle the film itself up with the raucous joy of discovering it on home video like a knotted ball of last year’s Christmas lights in their minds. It’s shockingly beyond gory, and ignominiously cheap. But more importantly, most of it works quite well. Bruce Campbell stars as Ashley (known as Ash). Ash is an ineffectual and nominal character until, by process of elimination he’s forced to fight back against his now-possessed chums. The initial discovery and exposition leads to the most eerie moments. As a car packed to the brim with evil spirit fodder approaches the cabin, a tinge of Texas Chain Saw Massacre can be felt when the soundtrack is muted, and the long tracking shot follows the slow-moving vehicle at a safe distance. In the basement of the cabin, the friends discover an old tape recorder, along with the Book of the Dead, which then fills us in on the back story and impetus for the plot. The recorded incantation sends out an RSVP to its demonic guest list, and chaos ensues… and ensues and ensues. During this process, Ash even beheads his own demonic girlfriend, whose neck then pulls an Old Faithful by dousing him with gallons of blood. Of course, a scantily clad female member of the clan heads out into the woods barefoot and alone. There she’s “violated” by the woods itself – let’s just say it gives a whole new meaning to the term “tree hugger.” The effects are top notch for a crew whose main tools were a jar of syrup and Balsa wood. The dead spew Technicolor fluids across the screen in an over-the-top exercise in pushing the limit. Now, the film itself is well-crafted. Raimi’s camera work goes where no camera has gone before, both in what it’s filming and its physical location. The camera is almost a living being here, whether it’s sinking through the floorboards, zooming through the woods, or dangling above the actors. The ambition at times overshoots the capabilities, though. You can see what they were aiming for, but it just doesn’t translate. The stop-motion animation and utter continuity mishaps are examples of this. Ash will get drenched in blood, and in the next scene be nearly dry as a bone. These are minor quibbles, given the big picture. It's gore galore, and never pretends to be anything more.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Halloween (2007)

Director: Rob Zombie

Just imagine goading the original, 1978 Halloween out of its serene pasture and into Rob Zombie’s family owned and operated slaughterhouse, allowing the film to slues through various conveyors and grinders before ultimately splattering onto the silver screen. Sounds catastrophic, right? Believe it or not, most of it sticks. Horror films and comedies are probably the two movie genres least capable of gathering a group consensus among the viewing public. And even further divided are the professional critics. You sort of have to agree to disagree most of the time. Given that, I at least hope people will check this film out before writing it off as “another unnecessary remake,” despite polarized reviews. I can’t defend it too much, but it at least contains some really interesting and effective ideas that show Zombie’s unique, if at times grating sensibilities.

Scout Taylor-Compton is heir to the “Scream Queen” throne and does a descent enough job given her allotted screen time. Scout plays Laurie in the role Jamie Lee Curtis cemented in horror history nearly 30 years ago. This time Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) exploits Michael with a “tell-all” book. Unfortunately, Loomis has even less to do in this film than he did in the original. But the real character here is the new and improved Michael Myers, both young (Daeg Faerch) and old (Tyler Mane). He’s sort of like the Incredible Hulk in this film. His motives also received an upgrade when we find out that he’s come back for the baby sister he spared in his killing spree as a child. The deluge of revamped exposition ultimately leaves you with more questions, though. Michael never really resolves his issues. This is a relief, sparing the audience from some sort of big reveal at the end. The backstory with Michael’s beyond dysfunctional family seems like it would undermine everything the original stood for by defying horror’s golden rule: Less history, more mystery. It fits into the mythos perfectly, but unfortunately, it throws the pacing way off. Still, there are some great moments amid the chaos. One effective scene involves the young Michael munching candy corn in utter silence in his kitchen. It’s sort of the calm before the storm. And my favorite moment features the young Michael sporting the classic mask. Something about seeing that oversized, stoic mask on the little kid’s body as he snuck up on his sister really disturbed me.

Zombie’s affinity for depravity can wear out its welcome at times. It does seem as though every other character is a greasy trucker with the mouth of a sailor who’s just been kneed in the groin. Zombie’s also a big fan of close-ups. This ends up doing a disservice in the absurdly murky and dark visuals in the climax. The geography becomes a little disorienting. At times, I was unclear as to where everybody was, since the houses all look similar, and the rooms within the houses look similar. The compaction of the original’s material leads to some melding of characters and loss of tension. All the actors are hyper-animated. They all hang off each other and launch into voices. It’s like they all just saw Robin Williams on “Inside the Actors Studio” and thought, “Now that’s acting!” Even the parents have a zany answering machine message. I wish they would have toned all that down a few notches. I also couldn’t even remember the names of any other characters, or where or how each one died. I know there was some stabbing and roughhousing, but that’s about all I remember. I didn’t really mind that as much, since Michael Myers is uber-intimidating here. He rams through walls, and shows up on doorsteps in what sound like cheap shock effects, but their simplicity ends up working quite well. Michael is truly a force to be reckoned with in the version. There are times when he bursts through walls, and relentlessly pummels his victims, i.e. the man Michael pounds in the men’s room – ok, that didn’t come out right. Also, keep an eye out for the Texas Chain Saw Massacre shot, which subtly pays homage to this film’s most obvious influence. And is it possible that Zombie actually came up with a more effective and chilling ending than the original? I’ll leave it up to the audience to ultimately decide, but I really loved the very last sequence, which involves a twist on the famous high-dive from the second floor of the Myers’ residence, and a memorable last shot.

Is it perfect? No. Is it a GREAT horror film? Probably not. But revamping a classic horror film is not an easy task, and the road to victory is fraught with pitfalls. If someone is able to retain the elements that work in a film and also able to add to it without bastardizing it, then I would say they have succeeded. Zombie knows how to create those disturbing moments when the soundtrack goes fuzzy, evoking a sense of ringing ears, and let the images speak for themselves. You may feel like squirming in you seat a little at these moments (that’s kind of the point), but unlike the popular “torture porn” films, we’re left to decide how we want to feel as opposed to parading the deaths in front of us to relish in. I still think Zombie’s best work is yet to come, but I think he pulled this film off in a way no one else could have. And I was prepared to hate a re-imagined, backstory-laden, modern day horror flick. Sorry, Rob. Can you blame me? I mean, did you see Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning??!!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Halloween (1978)

Director: John Carpenter

Who would have guessed that a bloody knife and a worrisome babysitter would transform the multiplexes into amusement parks? John Carpenter for one. His low-budget, genre-defining, eardrum-shattering masterpiece gave futile hope to hack filmmakers who went to the theaters and slyly jotted down in their notepads things like “knife”, "blood", "teen", “girls”, “breasts”, “sex”, “unstoppable killer”, “screaming”, and “Donald Pleasence” without realizing a true mouthwatering horror treat depends more on its chef than on its ingredients.

Jamie Lee Curtis is known as the “Scream Queen” among fright fans, probably not for the amount of screams, but for the sheer volume of them. Curtis plays Laurie Strode. Laurie’s a naive, goodie-good teen who’s being stalked by a masked figure. That figure is, of course, Michael Myers. Michael is an escaped mental patient who heads home to continue his mass murdering tradition he began so many years ago. The appeal and fun of Halloween is its simplicity(even its title is simple and to the point). Even as a kid, when I would see it on TV, I knew exactly what point in the story it was at. If Laurie was happy, it was the beginning. If Laurie gave worrying glances, it was the middle. If the teens were having sex, the killing was imminent. And if that bald guy was talking, it’s time to go get a snack. Even if you haven’t seen the film, you could probably guess what it’s about. A killer stalks a babysitter. So then, if it sounds so average, why is it so damn good? First off, it was the first of its kind. So, on a historically significant level, it’s revolutionary. But I want to focus more on the film itself. I enjoy Halloween every time I see it, and not in a comically cheesy sort of way either (at least not ENTIRELY on that level). It’s just fun, plain and simple. Laurie’s so naive, you’ll expect her to walk up to Michael and politely ask him to please stop trying to murder her. The claustrophobic and atmospheric canvas adds a great deal. It’s Halloween time in the film and it evokes that season perfectly with its hollow and crisp starkness as well as evoking that classic "urban legend" feeling that taps into your subconscious just when you thought you were too old to have a subconscious. Every neighborhood had that house everyone was afraid to go near. The story of a very young boy walled up in an insane asylum after slaying his babysitting older sister is not entirely ridiculous, but just unsettling enough to be genuinely effective and familiar. You’re not really scared, but you desperately want to see what will happen next. Even though, as I pointed out earlier, the formula is so simple that it shouldn’t raise this much interest on its own.

Another thing that helps the film greatly is the killer himself. Michael Myers is a ridiculously simple but effective menace – a masked man who wants to stab anyone in his immediate vicinity. He’ll at times stand outside Laurie’s house in the middle of the day like he forgot his keys and got locked out. Michael never says a word in the film. He exists only to kill. His omnipresence stretches the bounds of relative believability, but never leads the film down a disappointing path. In the end, that’s what makes Michael so intimidating. You can’t reason with him. You can’t find his weakness. You can only try to get out of his way. Halloween needs no explanation. Take it for what it is and it’s a hell of a ride.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

Director: Renny Harlin

Following the standard “good, bad, good, bad” sequence of films in this series, we now find ourselves deep within the chasm of the “bad” section of this particular frequency. I should have known that this film wouldn’t work. Even putting aside that Renny(Deep Blue Sea) Harlin is at the helm, on paper it amounts to nothing more than a losing lotto ticket. The remaining “Elm Street Kids” return, one of whom is played by a different actress, and the rest of the kids have nothing to do in the story. Joey and Kincaid from the first film are quickly dispatched as though they were merely a nuisance to the screenwriter. They appear in the film so that there can be a quick handoff to another set of dopey teens. It would have been better to just start fresh. The success of the previous film, however, anchored this film with a set of unnecessary plot "requirements".

Kristen (Tuesday Knight, yes that’s her real name) and her friends notice that nightmares are quickly becoming the latest trend among teens at their high school. Here, Kristen is friends with a daydreaming chick named Alice (Lisa Wilcox). There’s a Karate Kid reject named Rick (Andras Jones), who also happens to be Alice’s brother. There’s also a chick named Debbie (Brooke Theiss) who’s straight out of the 80's with her huge, hair sprayed chrome-dome hairdo, and purple workout leotard. And let’s not forget the token-iest nerd this side of Urkel, named Sheila (Toy Newkirk). Let’s see, Sheila has huge glasses, overalls, a love for technology, an inhaler… I know I’m forgetting something. Let’s just say she would have a better life expectancy as a drummer for Spinal Tap. First, Freddy needs to be awaken from his slumber to get this ball rolling. In Kincaid's nightmare he finds himself in the junkyard from the previous film. Freddy returns from the dead when Kincaid's dog pees a stream of fire onto his grave. I can't believe I just typed that. Anyway, Kincaid is the first to die. Next, Joey meets his demise when his fantasy about a pin-up girl on his wall turns deadly. The girl appears swimming in his now translucent waterbed, and Freddy pops up out of the water in homage to the young Jason in the first Friday the 13th film. Two down, one to go... or so it seems.

Kristen is now the only Elm Street Kid left, and her boozed up mother drugs her secretly to help her get some sleep. In the resulting dream, Kristen calls out to her friend Alice in a last ditch effort. Alice had previously told Kristen about the "Dream Master." Apparently, you can control your dreams if you recite a certain rhyme. Pulling Alice into the dream is of course a dumb idea, and now Alice is added to the deadly mix -- guilt by association, I guess. Kristen is tossed into the boiler furnace and killed, but not before she magically, and literally passes her powers to Alice. The powers pass through Freddy, and he now has a new employer. Alice wakes up, and now she’s the new “last girl.” That was a long way to go in order to set this story up. It's like they would rather sail around South America, than use the Panama Canal. Alice mistakenly pulls HER friends into her dreams and they become Freddy’s newest buffet of victims. He wants to keep Alice alive, however, in hopes of using her to pull many more victims into her dreams for Freddy to devour. Of course, Alice wants no part of this. It at least makes the story a little more interesting, and solves the question of why Freddy never kills the main girl, despite numerous opportunities. Unfortunately, it also excludes Alice from the drama, and uses the “loved one in peril” device to create a less than thrilling climax. First, Debbie, the 80’s chick, gets squashed in a roach motel after turning into a bug herself. Rick goes a few rounds with Freddy in a dojo, before losing the bout… and his life. The dweeby Sheila sucks face with Freddy, and is literally deflated. Here’s an interesting twist: Alice is endowed with powers from her friends after they die. She gets techno-smarts from Sheila, karate abilities from Rick, and I guess she just got Debbie’s fashion sense. Alice also teams up with the dreamy jock, named Dan (Danny Hassel). Dan had been eyeing her through most of the movie, and was apparently just waiting his turn to step into the action. Now, Freddy cranks it to eleven and goes after Dan. Dan is injured in a car wreck and is taken to the hospital, where he insists on not being put under in fears of entering dreamland. While all this is going on, Alice gears up in one of the most ridiculous scenes in all of Freddydom. In her room, she suits up with a leather jacket, chains, and spikes, and whatnot, various weapons (including nunchucks) and gadgets, and gives a few sly looks into the mirror. I thought I was in a nightmare at that point. Freddy and Alice wage a lame and forgettable war in a church. The thing that ultimately subdues Freddy is when Alice recites the entire “Dream Master” rhyme that she tried to teach Kristen oh so many scenes ago. Freddy is ripped apart from the inside by all of his victims. Alice wakes up and Dan recovers. The two walk by a fountain and Alice tosses a coin in to make a wish. Freddy’s reflection can be seen briefly as the water ripples. The two then walk off, and the shrill 80's soundtrack pounds through the speakers.

Yeah, it’s THAT bad. The arbitrary ties to the previous film make the story seem like one of those kids in high school who thought he would be cool if he just hung in the vicinity of the cool kids. They should have just gone off and done their own thing. The deaths are imaginative, but opt more for the gross-out factor than using a psychological, nightmarish touch. Freddy’s personality is growing, as he tosses verbal barbs with much aplomb at his victims. The franchise seems to be out of steam, though. Is it a bad sign when the characters in the film get stuck in a time loop, and I didn’t even notice that the scenes were actually repeating themselves at first? I would say, “Yes.” At that point in the story I think I had just given up. The characters are brainless and would better be described as “fashion victims” than “Freddy’s victims.” Lisa Wilcox is hot in the role of Alice, however. She makes a better “last girl” than the replacement Kristen. The whole film is a half-hearted attempt, and ultimately drowns in its own tepidity. The atmosphere drove right past terror and went straight to over-the-top, goofy camp. Whereas the first film made people afraid to go to sleep, this film will make them afraid to go to the video store.

Best Death: Totally 80's chick gets turned into a bug and squashed in a Roach Motel.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Director: Chuck Russell

“Director” Jack Sholder had simultaneously been chatting on his cell phone, reading the newspaper, reprogramming the radio, and scarfing down a Big Mac moments before just falling asleep entirely while behind the wheel of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 when Wes Craven decided enough was enough, shoved Sholder out of the moving vehicle, and vowed he would from that moment on always keep the keys to his precious franchise in a safe and secure location. A dazed and disoriented Jack Sholder would later be quoted as mumbling, “Wuh hoppun?” when he eventually regained consciousness weeks later in a ditch on a lonely stretch of highway. Unlike Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street wasn’t ready to succumb to the temptations of the obvious 3rd film in 3-D gimmick. No, they had enough will power to hold out until the 7th film in the series. Hey, they tried. However, they did use the popular “let’s all pretend that the previous film never happened” vow of silence when penning this particular script. At any rate, a re-enlivened, back-to-basics approach to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors makes this edition to the franchise almost tolerable. Umm... Hooray!?

Kristen (Patricia Arquette) will be Freddy’s new adversary. She’s a tossing and turning, gifted teen who encounters Freddy in her feverish nightmare. When she awakes she finds that she’s sporting a pair of slit wrists, which her boozy mother attributes to a suicidal cry for help. Kids today with their “iPods” and “hoodies”, and “suicide attempts”… don’t get me started. Once in the hospital/asylum, Kristen encounters a fellow band of sleep-wary teens. There’s a “rebel without a clue” chick named Taryn (Jennifer Rubin), a fat black kid named Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), a mute Dawson’s Creek reject named Joey (Rodney Eastman), and a standard-issued, bespectacled and be-wheelchaired, token D&D dweeb named Will (Ira Heiden).Tossed in for good measure are a young Lawrence Fishburne as a hip orderly, and a few other ancillary dopes that are merely fish in Freddy’s barrel. Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) returns as a grad student who’s familiar with the childrens' mysterious symptoms. God bless Heather for being a good sport, but in this role she looks more like a young girl wearing her mommy’s business suit as she “studies” the patients. The patients are the children of those who burned Freddy alive in what feels like 20 movies ago. Together, they are the last surviving “Elm Street Kids,” or, for purposes of this film, “The Dream Warriors.” With the help of Nancy and one of those “skeptical, but eventually enlightened” characters in the form of the psychiatrist/Nancy’s vague love interest, Neil (Craig Wasson), the team of kids uses group hypnosis to defeat Freddy as a team by using their “dream powers." Kristen’s powers include being a super-tough gymnast/fighter, and having the ability to enter and exit the nightmares at will. In dream land, Will is the magical “Wizard Master” (a deviously clever name used to prevent litigious corporations from finding similarities between it and the copyrighted “Dungeon Master”). He also looks a little like Harry Potter if you squint. The other dreamland alter-egos are as follows: Kincaid is super strong, and Taryn is a switch-blade swinging, punk-rocker chick with a “Savage Dragon” inspired Mohawk. Joey just has a super loud voice… I guess.

Meanwhile, Freddy has been dispatching the b-list characters. A girl who wanted to be “on T.V.” gets her head smashed into an actual TV that grew arms and a neat Freddy head. Joey wanders into Freddy’s path when he’s lured by a sexy nurse who felt that topless was the best clothing choice. Joey gets tied to the bed with the nurse’s tongue. Get it? He was “tongue tied.” Freddy now has a witty remark to go with every death. He’s growing into the classic killer that he eventually settles into. Joey actually survives this initial encounter and is held captive until the climactic rescue. Freddy turns a kid into a human marionette before snipping the strings and sending him plummeting off the asylum roof. After all that, we get the most inspired exposition these films have ever offered. Neil encounters a ghost-like nun wandering about the asylum. She gives the ghastly details of Freddy’s conception. Freddy’s mother was an employee who got accidentally locked in the asylum for several days. Within those few days she saw more action than Paris Hilton on a bender. She was tossed around from psycho to psycho; each one having his way with her. Freddy’s conception was the result of this perverse game of Russian Roulette. Here’s where the best line of all Nightmare on Elm Street films is uttered by the somber nun. She sums up Freddy thusly: “He was the bastard son of a hundred maniacs.” Beat that, Jason!

The last act has Nancy’s father re-entering the series to divulge the location of Freddy’s remains. The nun told Neil that Freddy needs a proper burial. Neil and Nancy’s father head off to the dump, where many years ago Nancy’s father and the other angered parents of Elm Street hid Freddy’s remains. Simultaneously, Kristen is sedated, and the team of dream warriors heads into dreamland to rescue her. Taryn and "wheelchair boy" are dispatched first. Will gets run over by his own wheelchair, and Taryn get two handfuls of hypodermic needles to the arms. In the dump, Nancy’s dad and Neil battle a Jason and the Argonauts-style Freddy skeleton that the parents had locked in the trunk of a Cadillac for some reason. Remarkably, after all these years, the Cadillac AND Freddy's skeleton are still there. And on top of all that, Nancy’s dad still remembers the exact location of the car in this supposedly gigantic junkyard. Eventually, Neil gets Freddy's lively skeleton into a grave that they dug, and douses it with holy water. Once that’s done, Freddy fades out of the dreamland, and Joey, Kincaid and Kristen all survive the ordeal. But not before Nancy takes the BIG sleep. Freddy offs Nancy, but by this point it doesn’t really make an impact. At Nancy’s funeral, the nun makes another appearance. Before Neil can catch up to her, she vanishes behind a headstone. And what name do you suppose is on that headstone? Yes, it was that of Freddy’s mother, Amanda Krueger.
This film was meant to be the cap on the Nightmare on Elm Street series. Wes Craven came back to write an unusually interesting backstory, and a refreshingly new take on battling Freddy to end it all. Needless to say, it wasn’t that last film of the series. Interestingly, this is the first film in the series to use the fictional nightmare suppressant "Hypnocil", which will pop up later in Freddy vs. Jason as a major plot element. Despite its problems, I still enjoyed this film. It has everything you need for an enjoyable horror flick. It’s not as good as the original, which comes as no surprise, but it’s also much better than the second film, Freddy’s Revenge, which also comes as no surprise. If you’ve heard tales of these films and want a good introductory course, make sure you see this film and the first one. Each one uses the seamless blending of nightmare and reality in different but equally effective ways. This film definitely gets proportionally goofier as its ambition constantly outweighs its capabilities, but at least it's a descent effort. Freddy now has something to say, and the death toll rises gradually. I’ve said before that Freddy’s killing technique involves quality not quantity. So, the pattern is set. The films will go: good, bad, good, bad. That is, until Wes Craven stops leaving this franchise unlocked on the street for homeless people to sleep in.

Best Death: Girl gets her head smashed through a TV/Freddy hybrid.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Director: Dario Argento

Dario Argento bursts onto the filmmaking scene with this suspenseful crime thriller that ultimately delivers what it promises. Tony Musante plays Sam, an American writer trapped in Italy after witnessing a brutal and bloody attack on a young woman. The assailant turns out to be a serial killer whom the police are frantically trying to apprehend, and Sam attempts to recall events or details that will aid in the killer’s capture. Sam and his girlfriend are subsequently stalked by the killer for knowing too much. Sam also engages in some detective work of his own, and heads down several dead end paths. At least they appear as dead ends at first. The killer looks like a Spy vs. Spy character, garbed in a stereotypical black hat and black trench coat. The killer also has a spooky, whispery voice, and brandishes a large knife that leads to gallons of spilled blood, which Argento fans will lovingly embrace.

The whole story is an effective thriller, which actually fills in areas of its plot that seem at first to be plot holes. The whole film looks beautiful (another Argento hallmark) and its story never drags. The red herrings aren't cheap attempts at yanking the audience around, and actually serve a purpose. The endings are always the hardest to do in a murder mystery, obviously because that's what the whole thing's about. Any reveal isn't nearly as fun as trying to figure it out on your own. This reveal actually makes sense (in that movie murder mystery type of way) and will please fans rather than frustrate them. And yes, there is a bird with crystal plumage that actually figures into the plot. Sam ultimately remembers a crucial detail about the killer when the plot calls for him to simply remember so that they can wind up the story. But it's acceptable, since Sam's recollection coincides enough with the actual reveal so as not to be a crucial or pivotal moment on its own. Flashbacks ensue and we see what Sam saw. And like Sam, we probably missed the detail that they did actually show in the earlier scene. All these elements sound simple, and yet they add up to a far more entertaining ride than the overblown rip-offs it would inspire. Each scene advances the plot and leads to the next twist. Several interesting characters, whose motives are never what they seem, help the film from growing old after about a half hour. This more straightforward murder mystery story proves that Argento not only was adept at utilizing supernatural elements, but could create genuine tension within a standard thriller premise that would make Hitchcock proud.