Four Quick Movie Reviews

392px-animalhouse_posterI can’t help but feel like I would love Animal House so much more had I seen it in the context of its times. I don’t know this for sure, but watching Animal House today makes me feel like, when it came out, it probably felt wild and original, something wholly unlike other comedies and movies. But I can’t view it through that perspective entirely; all I can do is see it through the eyes of someone who’s seen the generations of films it’s inspired, and in that light, it’s hard not to feel like Animal House is more notable for what it inspired than for the film itself. The slobs vs. snobs plotline, the veering between the “real” world and cartoonish silliness and exaggeration, the gleeful anarchy that runs through the film – there’s so many elements here that you know and love, but also have seen done better in years to come. It doesn’t help that Animal House feels SO sloppy throughout – barely a film at all at times, and more a series of interconnected bits. The one big exception to all of this, though, is John Belushi, whose energy and glorious absurd manner is a joy in every second of his screen time, much in the way that someone like Will Ferrell at his peak could infuse scenes with pure comedic gold. But in general, Animal House casts a long shadow, but it’s one of those films that’s less interesting on its own terms than for the films that followed in its footsteps. Rating: ** ½


5lhu4gi8ltkyplti9x2dvftwbrnThe last time I saw An American Werewolf in London, I ended up commenting that it all felt jumbled and sloppy – a weird mishmash of tones that didn’t work always, but when it did, was hard to beat. Maybe it was because I knew the destination and the outcome this time; maybe it was just giving it a fresh viewing. But for whatever reason, just about every aspect of Werewolf worked for me this time, down to the bitter, nihilistic ending. Werewolf feels a lot like an adaptation of a short story than anything else; it feels like it’s basically a single-act story stretched out with some filler along the way (most notably those dream sequences in the beginning, although the scene with the doctor returning the bar also drags), but in general, that focused plot works for the film’s benefit, making it feel like some weird, lean 70’s horror story. And the film’s sheer darkness is surprising but undeniably effective; Griffin Dunne’s role as a literal (and horrific) incarnation of conscience is darkly funny, but keeps plunging the film into darker and grimmer territory. Yes, it sometimes feels like Landis doesn’t quite want to commit to that darkness – he has a tendency to keep conversations light and jokey, and not quite want to look straight at the darkness implied in them – and yet, by the time the film ends, that darkness has taken over, ending the film with a nasty gut punch. And really, that darkness is a fitting element for a genre so fixated around humans giving way to their most bestial and animalistic instincts. As for that dark humor – well, it gives the film a “whistling past the graveyard” feel that works for it. There are some overlong threads, and a little too much padding to flesh out that “short story” feel. But by and large, it worked way better than I remembered, and has a way of feeling like something different from most other horror films. Rating: ****


burnt-offerings-movie-poster-1976-1020243280There’s little denying that Burnt Offerings feels like some weird B-movie inspired by The Shining, despite the fact that it’s actually the other way around (the novel was apparently much beloved by Stephen King, who openly acknowledges it as an influence on his haunted hotel novel). That’s because, at its core, this is a silly B-movie, one with a fairly amazing and overqualified cast (Burgess Meredith, Oliver Reed, Karen Black, and Bette Davis) all hamming it up and having a fun time in this schlocky story of a family that gets a magnificent deal on a once vibrant, amazing house – as long as they don’t mind leaving food out for the old matriarch who lives behind closed doors upstairs. Oh, and the weird dreams. And the dark urges that crop up. And…well, you get the idea. Burnt Offerings is all about what you expect, down to the “shocking” revelation that’s about what you expect it to be near the end. And yet, everyone in it is a seasoned pro, the pacing is solid, the scenes well staged, and the mood really nicely managed – there’s a scene involving Reed playing in the pool with his son, and the way the scene slowly curdles on us in front of our eyes is actually pretty great and effective. Even better is the way the movie never over-explains itself – the way the flowers bloom every time someone bleeds, for instance, or the unexplained nature of so much that happens upstairs. It’s all schlock, but it’s schlock done by a bunch of pros, hamming it up in a fun way and directing with an eye for pacing and oddness. It’s a lot of fun – well worth checking out for any fan of B-horror. Rating: ****


46578-the-entity-posterTurns out, for a movie I’d never really heard of, The Entity doesn’t have a bad reputation. Not every movie gets the acclaim of Martin Scorsese, of all people, much less finding it on a list of his all-time scary films. And for the first couple of acts, it’s easy to understand that reputation, even if the film isn’t perfect. The story of a young single mother (played very well by Barbara Hershey) who finds herself under constant (often sexual) assault by an invisible entity in her house, the film wastes little time in jumping into the horror, and stages each attack with an intensity that works. Add to that the film’s subtext (well, it’s barely subtext at a certain point), which finds Hershey dealing with her abusive childhood and string of flawed boyfriends, all of which might make the supernatural entity some sort of manifestation of her own issues, and there’s a lot of rich material here to go through. Oh, don’t get me wrong; this isn’t a great movie – the assaults don’t always stay on the right line of prurience, and the score is ludicrously bad (basically it’s guitar stings repeated, in rhythm, ad nauseum). But it’s an interesting one, with more depth than I expected…for two acts. And then, in truly spectacular, jaw-dropping fashion, The Entity absolutely explodes into a craptastic, ludicrous, overproduced third act that had me in tears of laughter and undoes every single good thing the movie’s done until then. It’s hard to convey just how bad this final act is on its own terms, but when compared with the solid, interesting film before it, it’s even worse, resulting in one of the biggest jumps in quality I’ve ever seen in a movie like this. (How bad is it? Well, replace all of the interesting psychological concepts of the early going with a giant model house, liquid helium cannons, evil glaciers, and action sequences. In other words, imagine if The Exorcist became a 90’s comic book movie in the final act, maybe?) There’s an interesting movie in here somewhere, but it’s best to turn it off before that final stretch, which torpedoes everything good about the rest of the movie and then some. Rating: **

IMDb: Animal House | An American Werewolf in London | Burnt Offerings | The Entity
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