Blade Runner 2049 / *****

blade-runner-2049-posterIt’s been almost a year since I last saw the original Blade Runner (well, the “Final Cut” of the movie, anyway); as a result, I don’t know that I need to spend an inordinate amount of time describing my feelings on the film when you can just read them for yourself. Here’s the simple version: I think the original Blade Runner is an incredible accomplishment; it’s a film that created a world unlike anything else in cinema, and while I have some issues with the film’s plotting (or lack thereof), there’s little denying the way its world lingers with the viewer long after you’ve finished. It’s also a film that I’ve never felt earned its philosophical conversations at times; while the film deals with interesting ideas, it’s never as engaged with them as I wish it was.

All of which brings me to Blade Runner 2049, helmed by Denis Villeneuve (and shot by Roger Deakins), starring Ryan Gosling, set thirty years after the original, and following up on the original story in ways both direct and indirect. Once again, we follow a “Blade Runner” (the film’s term for an LAPD officer tasked with “retiring” rogue androids that are attempting to blend in with “normal” humans), this time an officer named K., as he’s tracking down some remaining Nexus units. Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t follow in the plotting footsteps of the original for long, though; not long into the film, K. makes a discovery that sets him on the path for a far stranger, more complicated mystery, one that gets right to the heart of the philosophical questions so often raised by the original film.

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That’s about all of the plot that should be known about Blade Runner 2049 for a new viewer; suffice to say, the film’s plotting is more interesting and more complex than the original film, with more to discuss. And yet, for all of that, Blade Runner 2049 in no way compromises on the moodiness, pacing, and stillness of the original film, using every minute of its lengthy running time to immerse viewers in this saturated, gleaming future. There’s little chance that longtime fans are going to argue that Villeneuve has “betrayed” the original film here; 2049 is of a piece with its predecessor, spending just as much time luxuriating in its scenery and the silence of its lead, and mainstream success be damned.

What’s incredible, then, is that in some ways, Blade Runner 2049 might be even better than the original film, fixing my issues with it and somehow improving on the one thing that seemed unbeatable about the original: the visuals. As helmed by Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049 isn’t just the best-looking film of the year; it’s got to be high in the ranking for most beautiful, astonishing films in recent memory, delivering shot after shot that left my jaw hanging open and nearly in tears. From brilliant framing to incredible shadows to stunning use of colors, Deakins turns in the best work he’s ever done – and when you look at his credits, that’s no small feat. Words genuinely can’t do justice to the look and feel of Blade Runner 2049; suffice to say, if you’re interested in seeing it, and don’t see it on the biggest screen you possibly can, you will be kicking yourself for years to come. (Myself, I paid for an IMAX ticket, and was immediately glad I did within two shots; it only got better from there.) Mixing film-noir shadows with neon-drenched skyscapes with desolate waste lands, Deakins turns every frame of Blade Runner 2049 into a work of art that somehow equals the original.

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So, the visuals measure up – welcome news indeed. But what about the film itself? How does the content stack up to a film whose simplicity invited any number of readings? How can Villeneuve grapple with some of the biggest questions of the original – such as whether Deckard is a replicant or not – without ruining the mystery? And can the film manage to not simply retread the plot of its predecessor?

Miraculously, 2049 manages to succeed on every one of those fronts and then some. The thirty years (both in-story and in the real world) since the previous film has only led to deeper, more unsettling questions about the gap between what’s “real” and what’s synthetic, and 2049 deals with these questions more head-on than Scott’s original film, with a plot that drags the film’s subtext into the light, forcing us to grapple with it whether we like it or not. It’s aided by Gosling’s outstanding performance; without getting into too much information, Gosling has a difficult role to pull off, but he does it superbly, letting K. convey so much of his internal monologue with a bare minimum of movement or expression. But he engages deeply with the material, grappling with the philosophical debates of the film in a way that Harrison Ford’s no-nonsense Deckard rarely did.

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Which brings us, of course, to Ford, who appears in the film as Deckard, older and still alive. Where he’s been – and why he’s in 2049 – I leave for the viewer to discover. What’s worth discussing is how strong he is in the role, giving us a looser, more vulnerable Deckard who’s not the man he once was. That makes sense, given the nature of the story, but it’s a joy to see Ford reminding you once again that he can be fantastic in films when he’s interested and committed to a role, as opposed to the coasting he’s done in so many recent years. More than that, he makes a superb counterpart to Gosling, as we see what this job can do to those who deal in death for a living.

But as rich as the plot is, as good as the performances are, and as incredible as it looks, none of it would matter if Blade Runner 2049 wasn’t as engaging and rich as it is. In many ways, it’s more loyal to the spirit of author Philip K. Dick than the original was; it’s more thoughtful and complex in its storytelling, yes, but it’s also more interested in dealing with questions of consciousness, of reality, of what it means to truly be “alive” – and how we react when those limits are questioned and overturned. That’s heady stuff, and it’s to the film’s credit that it does all of that while still giving us a gripping – if thoughtful and dreamlike – story. In short, it’s everything a sequel to a beloved cult film should be – faithful to the spirit of the original, while standing on its own and expanding on the ideas of its predecessor in interesting, unexpected ways. It’s brilliant hard science-fiction, astonishing filmmaking, and all in all, an incredible achievement – one of the year’s best films.

IMDb
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mother! / *****

mother-posterNo matter what you think of mother!, Darren Aronofsky’s surreal, go-for-broke horror / black comedy / allegory / surrealist exercise / cinematic experience, you certainly can’t say that Aronofsky is phoning anything in. A director who’s almost always plunged into excess and operatic style touches with glee and abandon (the sparse, stripped-down The Wrestler aside), mother! is pure Aronofsky: stylish, mind-bending, impeccably executed, and utterly, 100% unique.

None of which is to say that you’ll necessarily like this movie, to be fair. Really, mother!’s mixed reception is completely understandable, even without taking into account the film’s completely misleading and inaccurate marketing campaign. This is a film that defies easy categorization, and one that starts off as grounded, strange drama before escalating to madness and operatic allegory without ever looking back. It’s a film that’s best appreciated as an experience, taking it all in as one would a poem, and trying to interpret it all, rather than embracing it on anything close to a literal level. And that’s not something that a lot of people are comfortable with – and that goes double if you’re expecting a conventional horror film here.

But for those who are open to what Aronofsky is doing, mother! is gloriously insane and  gleefully anarchic – a reminder of what cinema and film can do that no other medium can do. Even in the early going, Aronofsky’s control of staging and mood is impeccable, but as the film hits its astonishing, chaotic final act, it becomes something wholly else: wild, careening, ambitious, surreal, terrifying, exciting, and overwhelming. And, most importantly, in Aronofsky’s hands, it becomes something captivating and unforgettable – a surreal nightmare turned real, an escalating portrait of madness, mania, and selfishness.

Much has been made out of the question of what mother! “means,” which is simultaneously a compelling question and a fully inadequate way to describe what makes the film great. Yes, there’s no denying that in many ways, the film is a religious allegory, one concerned with how our relationship with the divine is still eternally selfish and driven by our own needs; that the film deals with climate change and the way we abuse the gifts of nature is all a part of that. And yet, at the same time, couldn’t it all be a scathing look at the life of celebrities and public figures, and the difficulty in drawing a line between private and public? Or couldn’t it be a portrait of codependent relationships and what happens when you invest everything in someone else and have nothing left of your own? To which I’d say: yes, and yes! Or maybe no! So much of the joy of the film comes from the way its meaning, like so much art, is in the eye of the beholder. mother! won’t hold your hand, it won’t give you a guide; it’s up to you to decide what it means to you, and really, I’ve yet to hear a take that didn’t resonate with me.

But even though mother! all but demands you spin time unpacking and understanding it, doing so doesn’t get me any closer to unpacking the experience of watching this movie, and conveying the astonishing impact it has on a viewer. It doesn’t capture Jennifer Lawrence’s incredible performance as she reacts with confusion, bewilderment, unease, and horror at the unfolding insanity around her, nor does it capture the way Javier Bardem can embody both wrath and beneficence perfectly. It doesn’t come close to giving you a sense of the film’s gloriously dark sense of humor, as scenes constantly go in unexpected directions. (The brilliant crew at The Next Picture Show podcast did an amazing episode about the way the film evokes the work of Luis Buñuel, focusing on The Exterminating Angel; I can’t recommend it enough.) It doesn’t give you a sense of the unease as people reveal their darkest sides, as brotherly squabbles turn bloody, or movements of love become all out battles to the death. And most of all, nothing I can write can explain the excitement, uncertainty, and sheer wildness of the film’s final act, which is one of the boldest, gutsiest, and most astonishing sequences I’ve seen in years.

mother! isn’t for all tastes, pure and simple; as my friend Adam said, I bet a lot of CinemaScore people would have gone lower than F if allowed. But I’m so glad it exists; at a point where it feels like almost every movie is a reboot, a sequel, or a franchise, mother! is defiantly unique – a middle finger to easily quantifiable films and a love letter to what cinema can accomplish. No, it’s not for everyone, and that’s what makes it great. Because if it’s for you, trust me, you’re in for an experience you will never forget, and a film that helps remind you of why you fell in love with film in the first place.

IMDb

Suspiria / **** ½

suspiria-previous-design-2It’s taken me a long time to come around on Suspiria. The first time I saw it, probably 15+ years ago, I saw it knowing only that it was hailed as an essential and classic horror movie. What I got was bewildering to me; stylish and colorful, sure, but also nonsensical, unclear, and just sort of a mess. Then, a few years ago, I decided to give it another shot, seeing it on the big screen, to see if maybe I just had a bad first experience…but this time, a butchered and neutered print left me even colder to it, not really understanding any of the appeal of the film. To me, Suspiria’s popularity was bewildering; the script was a mess, the sequences often incomprehensible, the acting off-kilter…I just couldn’t get it.

But over the past couple of years, I’ve finally started to understand Italian horror – the style, the emphasis of mood and mise-en-scene over story, the focus on surreal and nightmarish imagery more than script or acting. It started for me with Lucio Fulci films, but there have been others along the way, including some more exposure to Argento. And so, I decided it was time to revisit Suspiria one more time, if I could find the right chance. So when the Belcourt theater in Nashville announced that they’d be screening the new 4k, uncut restoration of the film on the big screen, it seemed like the perfect chance.

And, man, am I ever glad I went.

There’s no denying that being more attuned to the rhythms of Italian horror had a huge impact on my viewing this time, as did realizing exactly how much – and how little – story I was going to get with Suspiria. Because, make no mistake, this is a thin, thin movie, in which a ballerina attends a school run by witches, and creepy things happen. That’s about all there is to Suspiria in terms of plotting, and yet, seeing the film in its full, uncut, restored glory, it’s hard not to get swept up in the nightmarish, intense setpieces. From a haunting pursuit that ends with creative use of a stained glass window to a blind man being attacked by his own guide dog, Suspiria shows off Argento’s knack for staging a sequence, and if it doesn’t always stand on the logic of the film or entirely make sense of its own accord, well, you’re certainly not thinking about that while you’re watching it.

But more than that, the colors – my god, the colors. Seeing Suspiria not just in a pristine  restoration, but in a restoration that made every single super-saturated color nearly pop out of the screen…well, it was a jaw-dropping way to see the film, one that frequently left me speechless at the imagery on display. It’s the ideal way to see – and to appreciate – Suspiria, a film that almost entirely relies on its ability to sweep you up in its saturated, hypnotic, strange world. (Mind you, the iconic score by Goblin does no small amount of work here, creating a strange, off-kilter mood that’s impossible to shake. It’s a bizarre, atypical score for a bizarre, atypical movie, but man, do they ever work well together.)

There are always going to be things about Suspiria that just don’t work for me. Even knowing how loose and shaggy the story is, there are big chunks of the movie that just feel silly and nonsensical, stretching the already tolerant boundaries of Italian horror to their breaking points. That’s probably most true in the film’s climax, a truly jumbled set of moments that feel like nothing so much as the film running out of time and hurriedly wrapping itself up so it could beat traffic. And even with the unbelievable style on display, part of me prefers the sleazy, go-for-broke horror of Fulci to Argento’s controlled, beautiful death.

But for the first time, this screening helped me understand what everyone loves about Suspiria.  It left me in awe of the iconic death sequences, unsettled by some of the intense mood setting, and absolutely floored by the beauty of the compositions. And more than that, it finally helped the film fall into focus not just as a niche art thing, but as a unique and fascinating piece of horror unlike most anything else. It’s beautifully, intricately composed, worried entirely about its visuals over its story (and even its scares), and absolutely, carefully controlled in its craft. And as someone who so often loves horror but finds the craft lacking, that’s no small thing.

IMDb

Mario Bava Double Feature

Even with my recent embrace of Italian horror, one of the big holes in my film knowledge has been the works of Mario Bava, who’s held up as one of the Big Three directors of the genre (the others being Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci). So when the Belcourt offered up a double feature of Bava films, it seemed like a no-brainer for me to knock out two of his films with one shot.

511qbkdvwelThat being said, despite its fame, Black Sunday may not have been the one to start with. Make no mistake: Black Sunday is beautifully shot, embracing the gothic nature of its story (which involves the resurrection of a medieval witch who wants vengeance on the family that killed her originally) and then some, using its black and white cinematography to incredible effect, and giving out some beautiful framing that I was in awe of. Yes, Black Sunday undeniably showed me the style that Bava brought to bear, and gave me a sense of what he would do once he threw color into his palette of tools. But as a horror film, Black Sunday moves at a snail’s pace, feeling far longer than its 87-minute running time might suggest. There are some incredible moments, and a (somewhat) surprising amount of gore, all done with style to spare and a gloriously gothic mood that you know I’m up for (I am, historically, very pro Gothic films). But from a story point of view, it’s a drag, stretching out every reveal to a point of tedium, and overexplaining every moment (at least in the English dub that I saw; perhaps the original Italian version is stronger there). Still, if you can get past that, there’s little denying the beauty of the film on display, nor the obvious talent behind the camera. It’s just the pacing that drags it down. Rating: ***

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Luckily, though, the next film was all I hoped for and then some. Often held to be the origin of the giallo genre, Bava’s Blood and Black Lace is a blast from its opening moments (a gloriously stylish set of posed opening credits that finds every actor striking a pulp noir cover pose next to their name), and that holds true through to the end. The film is pure giallo, with its gloved, behatted figure murdering (mostly) beautiful woman in stylish ways, for reasons that only sort of make sense by the film’s end. Not that that really matters; for all of its soap opera plotting, Blood and Black Lace is an exercise in style – and what style it is. Adding color into his toolbox, Bava delivers an incredible experience, with the standout being a thrilling sequence set against the backdrop of blinking green lights that give us only glimpses of the killer stalking his prey. Yes, Blood and Black Lace spends a bit more time on its labyrinthine story than the typical giallo film (complete with some gloriously soapy confrontations), and that definitely results in a few draggy sections along the way; that being said, the horror elements are so good – tense, sure, but also executed with such style and visual craft – that you’ll find yourself forgiving the film for any shortcomings.  Rating: ****

IMDb: Black Sunday | Blood and Black Lace

Possession / **** ½

possession_800The last time I saw Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession was back in 2012, at a midnight screening of what turned out to be the American cut of the film (something I didn’t know at the time). Watching it, I talked about how so much about the film shouldn’t work, but at the same time, it had a way of sticking with you, of haunting you with its insanity and surreal visions. And once I found out that what I saw was an attempt by American studios to turn the film into something more “conventional” (an insane idea, as you’ll understand if you’ve seen the film), I was even more intrigued by the idea of seeing the original film, to see if the flaws were in the film itself or a result of the re-edited cut.

So let me put this simply: if all you’ve seen of Possession is the American release, you haven’t really seen the film, any more than, say, if all you’ve ever seen of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil was the “Love Conquers All” version. Because what was a haphazard collection of moments and scenes surrounding a nasty divorce becomes far more cohesive and emotionally coherent when presented in order, and while the film would never in a million years be viewed as “conventional”, it’s far more understandable and emotionally constructed than my first experience.

Mind you, Possession is still a surreal, bizarre experience. Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani both start the film on an acting level of basically 9.5, and then go way beyond the pale as the film continues. So all the theatrical overacting that sort of overwhelmed me on the first time is still there…but when presented in a more coherent order, it all works better, giving a through line to the emotional development that makes it all work, with each scene building off of the last (more or less).

But even that emotional intensity doesn’t quite prepare you for how purely weird Possession can be, putting all but the most Lynchian of Lynch films to shame. This is a film that’s about a nasty, bitter divorce, yes, but it’s also got espionage, murder – oh, and tentacle monsters, deployed in some most unusual ways. It’s undoubtedly an art film’s approach to divorce – it’s using its theatrics and excesses to explore the hurt and the anger and the betrayal that comes with such an end of a relationship, and it uses its horrors as a stand-in for all of it, turning the emotional pain of abandonment and the need to control one’s spouse into something more operatic and nightmarish. It’s a film in the vein of Buñuel and Polanski (especially Repulsion), but also one that clearly paved the way not only for Lynch, but people like the Coens (whose cuckolding lover in A Serious Man feels heavily inspired by a similar character here).

The result is a film that’s incredibly hard to explain, and also hard to easily “recommend” in any conventional way. It’s an incredible experience, make no doubt about it, and the emotional heft that it conveys through its surrealism is far more effective than any more conventional method would ever be. But it’s also a film that’s cranked so far over the top, and can be so aggressively strange, that it won’t work for everyone. Indeed, even as someone who loved the film a lot, there are undeniably points that I just threw my hands up and gave up on following things, or felt like the film was so unrestrained as to be a bit grueling. So, no, it’s not for all tastes.

Here’s the thing, though –  it’s telling that for those who can attune themselves to its rhythms and moods, it’s incredibly beloved, giving an emotional punch that few films can match. To me, it’s maybe one of the all-time great films about divorce, for all the pain and introspection that brings with it. But none of that makes for an easy watch – which may be part of why the film’s honesty and punch is so effective. And it says something that for all of my confusion, for all of my frustration, the film is packed with moments from the film that haunt me and I can still remember in pristine detail – a nightmarish mental and physical meltdown in a subway tunnel, the chilling reaction of a child to a crumbling marriage, a disturbing union between a woman and a monster, a brutal exchange of hatred between Neill and Adjani in the kitchen – the film bypasses all logic, all reason, and strikes right at the emotional centers of your brain. It’s the joy of art in that Lynchian sense, where you don’t need words or logic – just images, mood, and emotional heft. And that’s what Possession gives you in spades. Taken all in all, you won’t see much else like it…but you won’t be able to forget it either.

IMDb

Don’t Torture a Duckling / *** ½

220px-don27ttortureaducklingAfter a few stumbles with the works of Dario Argento, I began to wonder if Italian horror just wasn’t for me. But it wasn’t long after that that I was introduced to the work of Lucio Fulci, whose tendencies towards excess, gore, and an admittedly high level of grime all somehow made Italian horror click for me in a way that Argento never has.

Now comes my exposure to the film that put Fulci on the map outside of Italy, as well as the one which found him exploring gore and horror for the first major time in his career: the giallo crime film Don’t Torture a Duckling, about a series of brutal child murders in a small Italian town and the resulting hysteria that arises. All the usual Fulci staples are on display; bad dubbing, excessive gore, a fixation on eyes, and some (gratuitous) seediness. What’s not quite there is the sheer excess of his horrors; the grounded nature of the film, which is more of a traditional horror fil½m than the unchained horrors of The Beyond or Zombie, keeps it from hitting those splattered peaks that Fulci would attain later.

The result isn’t bad, especially if you’re a Fulci fan; while it’s nowhere near the magnificent mood and tension of his best works, Don’t Torture a Duckling compensates by having some of the more interesting ideas of the Fulci films I’ve seen. This is a movie that anchors itself in small town paranoia and judgment, using that to deliver a nightmarish sequence where the town citizens decide to dole out justice on their own terms. There’s also the film’s choice to grapple with religious fervor and mania – a choice that caused no small issue on the film’s release, but also gives it a punch that simple giallo didn’t usually manage.

For all that, though, it also feels like a director dipping his foot into a genre and realizing that it’s too narrow for his ambitions and ideas. Don’t Torture a Duckling feels like Fulci is trying on the giallo film for size, but pushes back against the restrictions and ideas of what it’s doing, and starts figuring out his own interests along the way. It’s not a bad film at all, but it’s more interesting as a stepping stone to better films than it is on its own, despite a few great moments and some intriguing choices along the way.

IMDb

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