Kyle’s Top Ten Films of 2022

We’re finally getting back to normal, aren’t we? After a wild theater-less 2020 and a confusing 2021, 2022 was a return to cinemas, event films, and a significant number of great films, both big and small. So many great films that my Top Ten of the year had, at one point, 44 films on it. It was tough to whittle that list down to the Ten we have today, but I did it.

It’s the dawn of the new year, and now is the time to look back at the great movies of 2022. I caught over 100 movies released in 2022, and here we just have the best of the best.

Before we begin, a few repeat caveats that are worth noting once again:

-I did not see every single film released in 2022. There are several films that escaped my grasp due to altered release strategies, weather issues, and a number of life events that may have halted films, for the moment, from being seen. I still haven’t seen some of the notable films like The Whale or Empire of Light. If you know of a film that you think deserves to be on the list and it isnt…well, I may have not seen it yet. It happens.

-On that note, this is my personal list of Best Films of 2022. It’s not a list of your favorite films, and it’s not an objective list of the best films, just the ones that connected with me enough to make the list. There may be films that were “better made” that didn’t make my list, or films that may not have earned the coveted Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and some that will miss the Academy’s selection of Best Picture, and that’s okay. So don’t be mad if something you loved last year didn’t make the cut. That’s the amazing thing about movies and art: we don’t have to love the same things to make them worthy.

-Along with all that, I should note that I crave discussion, dissection, and (respectful) disagreements. So comment below and let me know your personal Top Ten of the year (or just a list of favorites, especially if they aren’t on my list). I’d love to see what you loved last year.

Now, let’s get on with this…

  1. Elvis

-I never would’ve guessed that a Baz Luhrmann films would end up on this list. Nothing against the director, but I’ve never felt a connection with his work. While I mildly enjoyed his Great Gatsby adaptation, I wasn’t all that excited for his Elvis movie, although the casting of Austin Butler (who wowed me in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and Tom Hanks (because, I mean, c’mon, it’s Tom Hanks) had at least intrigued me.

Elvis was a hyperactive piece of cotton candy that is held together by an incredible lead performance by Butler. His acting alone would have elevated this film to my Top Ten, but Luhrmann’s frenetic and psychotic direction ensures that his film is jammed with 6 hours worth of material even with a run time of 160 minutes. The film is, at times, overwhelming, but it’s never boring, and the directorial decisions to focus on the legendary status of Presley’s gyrations sending young women into pubertal fits of hysterics is only second to the choice to give credence to the largely-black influences on his music as well as using some of today’s artists to add to his legacy with interpretations of his works peppered into the narrative.

It’s a fascinating and emotional film that took this filmgoer from being a casual fan of Elvis to a diehard, like how Edgar Wright’s documentary on The Sparks Brothers accomplished a similar task in 2021.

  1. Top Gun: Maverick

-Another 2022 surprise! I watched the original Top Gun for the first time during the 2020 shutdown, and I thought it was…okay. I didn’t have a lot of strong reaction to the Tony Scott original, so the only element that had me excited for the long-gestating follow-up was Joseph Kosinski in the director’s chair. I loved Tron: Legacy and Only the Brave, especially the former’s ability to expand and further the narrative of the original. My love for Tron: Legacy pushed my excitement for what Kosinski could potentially accomplish with Maverick.

While I had faith in Kosinski as a director and Cruise as an action powerhouse, I didn’t expect the emotional reaction I had in the theater watching Maverick with a packed audience. Kosinski’s sequel captures the magic of being at the movies as a shared experience. The OOOHs and AHHHs being uttered in the theater helped elevate the situation for me. Sure, the main story is simple: Maverick is called in to train a set of the best fighter pilots in the world to destroy a dangerous set of weapons controlled by a potentially antagonistic government. It’s Top Gun by way of the Trench Run from Star Wars, I get it.

What’s masterful about Kosinski is that he’s able to take what works from the original and expand upon it, and also take what doesn’t work and alter it. The aerial action of the original and the emotional punch of Maverick and Goose’s tragedy is expanded here to the next generation. We get emotional closure to the Maverick/Iceman story, something I didn’t care all that much about. We also get something unique to this stage of Cruise’s career: his reckoning with mortality. Up until recently, it seemed that Cruise was unwilling to confront characters that weren’t young, clever, and immortal. Going in to his collaborations with Christopher McQuarrie (who contributed to Maverick’s screenplay), Cruise began to portray Mission: Impossible’s Ethan Hunt as an imperfect man, American Made’s Barry Seal as an idiot, and Maverick’s confronting his mortality and age as he and his profession are slowly being phased out.

  1. The Inspection

-I’ve spoken a lot about SHOE movies, where I’m able to step into the shoes of a character who is nothing like me so I can walk a mile in their life. While I will never know what it’s like to be a gay black man joining the Marines, for 90-some minutes, I can walk in their shoes. Director Elegance Bratton’s intimate story of Ellis French (played masterfully by Jeremy Pope, someone I’ve been unfamiliar with), who goes as far as to join the Marines in order to have a place to sleep and a meal to eat and perhaps a little purpose and direction, absolutely floored me.

French is a man who has been kicked out of his home by a bigoted mother, living on the street, and sees his last opportunity for survival by entering a world that will hate him for being gay, and he takes all the little moments to embrace his truth while hiding it from the general population. Bokeem Woodbine is excellent, as always (why is he not in absolutely everything?) as the leader of the training camp. Bratton’s direction is deft, always elevating the material when it has the potential to dip into melodrama. There are a number of scenes that, when described, could be played as sensational or unrealistic, but Bratton’s able to find the connection and the realism within the moment.

There’s another excellent element of The Inspection that I really appreciated: its run time and pacing. The Inspection runs a tight 95 minutes, which is the perfect run time for this film. It’s clean, it isn’t overindulging in unnecessary filler, and it moves at a breakneck pace for a movie that is mostly character interactions. Far too often, these late-year movies seen as “Oscar Bait” tend to overstay their welcome, but The Inspection is swift and never loses the intensity of the drama.

  1. Till

-I saw Till at the Twin Cities Film Festival with members of Emmett Till’s extended family, and it was so affecting, without relying on the gruesome details of the lynching, that my wife and I drove home in silence. It saddens me that this story wasn’t a bigger part of our country’s history. I was never taught anything about the story of Emmett Till in my schooling, and didn’t know about the story until the short film, My Nephew Emmett, earned an Oscar nomination.

Led by Danielle Deadwyler in perhaps the best performance by any actor this year, Till is an affecting story of grief and perseverance, but more than that, it’s about overcoming that grief and anger and using it to affect real change in the world. Deadwyler is able to channel Mamie Till-Mobley’s undeniable pain and yet I understood some of her extreme choices and the internal character arc of her struggle with joining a movement and risking turning her son’s death into political theater until she realizes that the love she shared with Emmett is the driving force to both affect real change and show the nation that her son was a real person who existed and mattered.

Credit should also be given to Jalyn Hall as Emmett Till, a performance of limited screen time and maximum impact. He plays Emmett with a heightened sensibility so that when he is killed, that absence is felt for the rest of the film. I was also impressed with Frankie Faison as Mamie’s father, Whoopi Goldberg as he mother, and Sean Patrick Thomas as Mamie’s husband. The film is full of great performances all being overshadowed by the heartbreaking work of Deadwyler in a career-making role. I can’t imagine a world in which she doesn’t walk away with the Oscar this year.

  1. Women Talking

-While Women Talking doesn’t have a great title, it certainly is true. This is a movie that features predominantly women talking. I was unimpressed with the poster and marketing (I’ve only seen a trailer playing once this entire year), this one is a word-of-mouth movie, and one of the most compelling films of the year.

Sarah Polley’s film establishes all the rules and mythology very quickly and then sits back to allow the performances to pick up the narrative and carry it all the way through. Women Talking is set at a religious colony where the women have discovered that some of the men have been sexually assaulting them for years and blaming it on “demons” and now have to decide if they will stay in the colony and forgive them, leave the colony and face eternal damnation, or stay and fight them.

This year’s Oscar ballet of Lead and Supporting Actress could just be actresses from Women Talking in all ten slots. There isn’t a faulty performance in the entire film, and I want to include Ben Whishaw in the conversation of great portrayals as well. If I had to pick the ones that really stood out, it comes down to Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley, but it’s because they both seem to have the MOST to do. That being said, I feel like every member of the principal cast gets a moment to shine. Polley uses each actress in several positions and stances as they discuss the potential options at play, and any time where the narrative could lose impact, Foy or Buckley inject the narrative with an outburst of energy that shakes the table up again.

As a person of faith, I also want to highlight something that isn’t being discussed as much here. These women are discussing the option of leaving the colony and BEING DAMNED TO HELL. To confront one’s own faith and be willing to sacrifice your position in the afterlife for your stance is utterly terrifying, and it makes their conversation all the more intense.

  1. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

-I honestly can’t tell you how I ended up seeing Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. I’m sure one of the other critics I follow mentioned enjoying the film, but I ended up at a screening and I loved it. This is inherently not the type of movie that sings to me. I have shit for fashion sense, and I base most of my outfits on whatever the hell the mannequin is wearing at the store. I’ve never wanted to own a fancy dress. All that being said, so many films lean on intensity, depressing elements, and heavy drama. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is a feel-good movie with so much heart and joy spread across the narrative.

Lesley Manville impressively crafts a character that never becomes schmaltzy and unbelievable within a potentially ludicrous framework. This is a film that features a number of performers who understood the assignment and make the most of it. Jason Isaacs shines in a limited role as the drunkard friend of Mrs. Harris. Isabelle Huppert plays the “villain” of the tale, the Dior director who does not see Harris as worthy of the dress she so desperately desires and seeks to find any way to keep them separate. Lambert Wilson capably plays a potential suitor who treats Harris to the sights and sounds of Paris. Alba Baptiste also shines as Natasha, a Dior model with hopes to do a whole lot more with her life. This is a terrific cast and a delightful film that surprised the heck out of me and is sure to entertain anyone who gives it a try.

  1. X

-Alright, let’s go in the exact opposite direction with X, from director Ti West. I’ll be honest, I’ve not been the biggest Ti West fan. I’ve felt positive enough on a number of his projects but none of them have connected with me in the way I had hoped, outside of The Sacrament. All that aside, I felt like the trailer for X promised the exact movie he dropped. I love the horror films of the 70s and 80s, I’m a slasher fan, and the way in which West interweaves the adult film genre with the horror genre and seemingly celebrates all the ways in which they both compare and contrast with one another, especially during the time frame of the movie, is really something exciting. West is playing with the genres while also honoring them and the people who used them for a jumping off point, and the cast is a wildly eclectic group led by the incredible turn from Mia Goth in a dual-role performance that finally puts her in the conversation as an actress.

As these adult film actors are picked off one-by-one by the jealous killers of our narrative, the film allows a certain amount of pity for the villains while also being a cautionary tale about living your life as much as you can while you are young enough to do so. The way in which West showcases the violence of the film also adds a level of artistic understanding which makes each death scene a visual treat, particularly when one character is hacked apart in front of his vehicles headlights, covering the brights in a coat of red which shines upon the killers (chef’s kiss). Sure, X keeps its themes and metaphors relatively surface-level, but for what it’s trying to be, X absolutely succeeds (and Pearl is pretty solid as well).

  1. The Northman

-I’ve been a fan of Robert Eggers since The VVitch came out (though I was a little late to the party catching that one) and the more I watch The Lighthouse, the more I love it, so when I heard that Eggers was getting a sizable budget upgrade for his next film, a Viking epic based on the legend of Amleth, I couldn’t be more excited to see it and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

The casting was near-prefection, from the burly-Alexander Skarsgard as the vengeful prince of a slain king to Claes Bang as the betrayor, and just about everyone in between, including Eggers regulars Anya Taylor-Joy (is there any role she can’t do?) as the enslaved sorceress and Willem Dafoe as the scenery-chewing and flatulence-flinging fool, but where the film rises above the simple tale is in how Eggers tells it. Using striking visual storytelling and unique presentation alongside finely-detailed sets, costumes, and customs, Eggers is able to imbue his legend with fantastical elements while still retaining a historical backdrop that feels altogether timeless. I’ve watched The Northman at least 4 times since it came out and I keep going back, and if you missed it, now is the time to rectify that problem.

  1. The Black Phone

-I’ll admit I’m breaking a rule here. I tend to only allow films in my Top Ten if they premiered in the calendar year, while The Black Phone began a festival run in 2021. I realized very late that this was the case, but I love this movie so much that I’m willing to break my rule for it.

Based on the story by Joe Hill, directed by Scott Derrickson, and scripted by C. Robert Cargill, there’s a lot of strength behind the camera which combines to make the best adaptation of a Hill story while also being the best film in both Derrickson’s and Cargill’s filmography, not an easy feat. The Black Phone is universal themes executed well, with two of the best lead performances from younger actors in recent memory with Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw as siblings Finney and Gwen, respectively.

Ethan Hawke also elevates the material immensely while delivering a truly iconic horror performance that will be talked about for decades. His take on the Grabber, a reinterpretation of the kidnapper and slasher from Hill’s initial story, created in part with Derrickson, Cargill, and a wonderful selection of prop masks created by Tom Savini.

  1. Everything Everywhere All at Once

-I saw EEAAO almost a year ago, and I’m shocked that it stayed at #1 all 2022 long. That’s not for lack of trying, though. 2022 has been an excellent year in film, and the fact that this little wonder just stayed in my mind for months and multiple viewings has only made me appreciate it more. It’s a movie that has gotten better with each viewing, allowing me to enjoy all the little nuances and moments in the character arcs. EEAAO has an excellent film logic built into its multiverse of madness, one that didn’t make 100% sense to me until the second time I’d watched.

Great action scenes, comedic and absurdist visual gags, and an everything bagel might make for entertainment, but what elevates EEAAO is how all of it comes down to characters and story. Well-written, complex characters with real human flaws portrayed excellently by all involved, and a story that uses over-the-top fantastical elements to convey real human issues. It’s a powerful tale of love and family within the context of the conflict between nihilism and true purpose and it’s my favorite film of 2022.

There you have it. My Top Ten Favorite Films of 2022. I’ve said my piece, now it’s time to say yours. Leave your Top Ten of the year in the comments section below. I’d love to hear what you loved last year.

-Kyle A. Goethe

My Policeman (2022)

Director: Michael Grandage
Cast: Harry Styles, Emma Corrin, Gina McKee, Linus Roache, David Dawson, Rupert Everett
Screenplay: Ron Nyswaner
113 mins. Rated R for sexual content.

As we close out 2022, I’ve been trying to catch all the movies that passed me by throughout the year, especially the ones that ended up on streaming, as my focus tends to shift toward the theatrical (for I am, myself, rather theatrical). I recently caught half of the Harry Styles (Dunkirk) output with Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling, so I figured it was time to take on the other half with My Policeman over on Amazon Prime.

Marion (Gina McKee, Phantom Thread, Atonement) and her husband Tom (Linus Roache, Batman Begins, Mandy) have taken in their ailing friend Patrick (Rupert Everett, Shrek 2, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) following a stroke. Marion finds that Patrick seems to want no help from her with his feeding and care, and he frequently asks to see Tom, who has been absent from Patrick’s side since he arrived. As time goes on, she remembers back to her courtship with Tom, the beginnings of their friendship with Patrick, and the dangerous secret that destroyed all three of them: the hidden romance between Tom and Patrick as young men.

My Policeman is a film set in two alternating time periods. There is the more current time of older Tom, Marion, and Patrick, and the flashbacks with the younger actors: Styles, Emma Corrin (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Misbehaviour) and David Dawson (All the Old Knives). The portion of the film featuring the older actors is the stronger of the two, where an actor like Linus Roache makes the absolute most of a smaller amount of screen time as Older Tom. His is a man of significant regrets, riddled with a lifetime of indecision and understandable pain. The sequences where he reckons with his past are the most engaging, if few and far between, and the mystery of what drove these three lives apart becomes a driving force in the narrative. All three Older character performances are quite good (although underutilized).

The screenplay, from Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia, The Painted Veil), does not reinvent storytelling, but it’s a tight narrative that touches on familiar topics with elegance. Director Michael Grandage (Genius, Red) took it and developed that screenplay into a workable albeit pedestrian final product. Again, there’s no reinvention to the film, nothing stylistic to set it apart from any number of other similar films, but MOST of the performances make the film worth checking out.

But we simply must discuss Harry Styles here. I honestly feel like I’m piling on the Harry Styles hate train, but I’m not one to slam artists and performers without constructive criticism. I liked Styles in Dunkirk (it was a small role, but he was fine with what was requested of him) and I can’t really call out such a small cameo in Eternals when it had so many other issues with its post-credit scenes, but his work in both Don’t Worry Darling and My Policeman show an utter lack of experience as an actor. He seems to work in only two functions: completely lackadaisical and shouting emotional wreck. That’s not me saying he can’t improve. I used to have real struggles with Channing Tatum, but he took the time to learn the craft and choose the right roles for his skill set, and now I look forward to seeing him in films. The idea that Harry Styles should co-lead two films without more than a handful of film credits to his name just because he (reportedly) memorized the film script for My Policeman is frustrating. I think he has the ability to act and improve the skill, but he needs to put forth an effort before he returns to leading narrative features or popping back into the MCU. His work is perhaps all the more weak here because he shares a character with an actor who can do so much more with so much less screen time.

My Policeman has one leading performance dragging down a well-acted narrative that is perhaps a little too simplistic for some viewers, but I found enough here to recommend it. It’s still the better of the Harry-Styles-plays-a-bad-husband cinematic universe from this year. Thankfully, there are some great performances from Linus Roache, Emma Corrin, and David Dawson that elevate the material. Check the film out on Amazon Prime.

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror: Resurrection] Day 31 – Halloween (2007)

Director: Rob Zombie
Cast: Scout Taylor-Compton, Malcolm McDowell, Tyler Mane, Sheri Moon Zombie, Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, William Forsythe
Screenplay: Rob Zombie
109 mins. Rated R for strong brutal bloody violence and terror throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity and language.

We’ve reached the conclusion of another year of 31 Days of Horror, and I’m sad to see it end, but horror’s never far from this site, so you’ll see more. Today, as is traditional, we’ve reached the final day, and on Halloween, we talk Halloween. Looks like this year is a double-dip for Halloween installments and Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects, The Lords of Salem) films, so let’s talk the much-maligned and baffling remake to John Carpenter’s original horror classic.

15 years after Michael Myers (Tyler Mane, X-Men, Troy) murdered three people, including his sister Judith, he breaks out of Smith’s Grove Sanitarium to return home and find his sister, now named Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton, An American Crime, The Runaways) and continue his roaring rampage of slaying. For the first time, we also see the events that led to that horrific first killing and Michael’s time at Smith’s Grove with Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange, Bombshell).

After Halloween: Resurrection underperformed, there were a number of potential projects thrown about, including (but not limited to) a Michael vs. Pinhead crossover (following up on the precedent set by Freddy vs. Jason) and a prequel called Halloween: The Missing Years, about a young Michael Myers. The studio decided to take a traditional route in the era of excessive remakes with a more interesting director at the helm in Rob Zombie. Zombie had two films in mind, a prequel about the events leading up to the 1978 killings, and a more traditional remake, but these two ideas ended up merging into the finished film we ended up with. When Zombie asked Carpenter for his permission to remake the film, it has been reported that he was told to make the remake his own instead of something shot-for-shot.

Now, I’ve always been more of a fan of reboots and sequels over remakes. I happen to find that horror films get their most creative when they have to continue the story, but the Halloween chronology and mythology had gotten very confusing, so I understand the ask of a remake, and Zombie is a very unique choice as director. In recent years, though, I’ve become more open to starting over, having seen the James Bond franchise tackle this task as well as the Godzilla and Universal Horror characters get jump-started again and again for the next iteration. One thing I prefer in remakes is at least getting a unique voice in the director’s chair and pick the greatest hits of what works and what doesn’t in the previous series to streamline and reinvigorate the franchise for what comes next. That’s where Zombie wins here. He takes elements from the first two films that he likes and incorporates them into an interesting story, and he wins when he’s tackling new elements over when he’s hitting the familiar beats.

There are a lot of interesting directions taken in this remake, things that never could’ve been attempted in the previous iteration, and that keeps the film fresh. Looking at relationships like the one between Michael and Loomis, or the one between Ismael (Danny Trejo), which sees the brutality of Mane’s Michael in this new take. Zombie fought hard to keep Trejo’s death in the film, and I think it adds a lot of intensity to the narrative.

Where Zombie struggles is when his dialogue and characters feel plucked out of House of 1000 Corpses instead of a Halloween movie. That’s not to say this writing could’ve worked, but his execution behind the camera makes moments like Laurie sticking her finger into a bagel sexually or William Forsythe (Dick Tracy, Raising Arizona) threatening to skull-fuck someone incapable of landing as intended. It’s that chicken-fried grease that just never felt natural to the proceedings. It almost makes me pine for Zombie’s take on a Friday the 13th film instead, and his Michael seems more influenced by Jason Voorhees at times.

Halloween does have some standout performances, though, primarily with the inspired casting of Malcolm McDowell as Sam Loomis, Brad Dourif (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) as Sheriff Brackett, and Tyler Mane’s take on Michael. All three performances become something new, interesting, and alternative to what’s come before, and each one earns an iconic status within the franchise.

I’ve never understand the complete hate of Rob Zombie’s Halloween. It’s a flawed film, and some aging to the finished product has been less kind, but I still really appreciate Zombie swinging for the fences and trying to evolve the mythos in order to keep it alive. More than anything, I’m surprised that the finished film works at all, hearing all the behind-the-scenes difficulties of working with the Weinsteins and the Akkads to deliver this with Zombie’s vision. It’s one of the longest Halloween films (the director’s cut is the longest Halloween movie of all) which may weigh on some, but I’m still a fan.

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, click here.
For my review of Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem, click here.

[31 Days of Horror: Resurrection] Day 30 – Mr. Sardonicus (1961)

Director: William Castle
Cast: Oscar Homolka, Ronald Lewis, Audrey Dalton, Guy Rolfe, Vladimir Sokoloff, Erika Peters, Lorna Hanson
Screenplay: Ray Russell
89 mins. Approved.

Sing it with me! SARDONICUS 6-5000!

(Seriously, it fits with the song so well I can’t stop singing it)

I can’t believe we’ve never covered William Castle (House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler) on 31 Days of Halloween before! Sure, we’ve done a few remakes of his work, but nothing official. What’s wrong with me?

London physician Sir Robert Cargrave (Ronald Lewis, Taste of Fear, Billy Budd) has arrived in Gorslava at the request of his former flame, Maude (Audrey Dalton, Separate Tables, Titanic), who has now married to Baron Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe, Dolls, Odd Man Out). The locals of Gorslava fear the baron, and Robert becomes concerned when he meets the disturbing assistant Krull (Oscar Homolka, The Seven Year Itch, Sabotage), who carries out the Baron’s every wishes. When Robert finally discovers the horrific reason for his arrival in Gorslava, it will leave you smiling, whether you want or not.

Based on a story by screenwriter Ray Russell (X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, The Premature Burial), published in Playboy magazine, Sardonicus is classic William Castle. It’s full of low-budget thrills, unusual plot points, showing little but working well enough, and even a gimmick (we’ll get to it, don’t worry).

The biggest strength of Mr. Sardonicus is the two lead villain performances. Guy Rolfe, who would later become iconic in the Puppet Master series, is Sardonicus, and he has to do a lot with his voice. For most of the film, he has a face mask, which is creepy, but restricts a lot of facial acting. When the mask isn’t on (Rolfe could only work with the makeup for an hour at a time due to the extensive prosthetics), he has to work with makeup effects that also restrict some of his facial performance, and yet, he comes off as genuinely chilling. Homolka’s Krull is equally unnerving, though he has more to work with. He’s able to work as an extension of Sardonicus and elevate both performances.

I’m also a sucker for a good William Castle gimmick. I recently discussed Popcorn on Kyle & Nick on Film, a love letter for the Castle gimmick, and it’s one of the main strengths of that film. Mr. Sardonicus features an ending where Castle himself comes onscreen to ask the audience what ending the film deserves. He offers up two options to the audience and asks them to hold up a corresponding thumbs up card for one option, or hold it upside-down as a thumbs down for the other ending. Now, be aware that there’s only one actual ending (though a rumor has persisted for decades that another ending was scripted and shot but that’s never been made official), and I only saw one, but Castle plays up that the audience always votes for the one ending, and some theaters even had staff come in and vote that way to convince that it was not set up to only be one. Either way, it’s a fun little idea that allows the audience to breathe and have fun, and we even printed off the corresponding cards for our own home screening. Even though it’s not a real choice, I love this idea and it works really well to get me back invested in where the ending goes (this is how you do it, not like Blood Dolls).

Mr. Sardonicus is a goofy, silly time, and I had a lot of fun with its admittedly low-budget nature. It’s more fun than actually scary, and if you don’t care for Castle and his gimmicks, this one won’t sway you, but I quite enjoyed it. Give it a watch, and bring your voting cards.

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror: Resurrection] Day 29 – House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

Director: Rob Zombie
Cast: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, Karen Black
Screenplay: Rob Zombie
89 mins. Rated R for strong, sadistic violence/gore, sexuality and language.

Rob Zombie (Halloween, The Lords of Salem) had a good thing going with his music career when he was offered the chance to help design a haunted attraction for Universal Studios. This work helped to get Universal Horror Nights back up and going after a long hiatus for the theme park’s October attractions, and it also inspired Zombie to attempt a first feature film. That’s at least how the legend goes. Well, no matter what you think of Zombie and his directing career, you have to give him credit for helping bring Universal Horror Nights back.

It’s Halloween Eve 1977, and a group of cross-country youths, in search of unique roadside attractions, come across a gas station/horror museum/fried chicken joint run by Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig, Kill Bill vol. 2, Jackie Brown). Upon hearing the legend of Dr. Satan, a sadistic psycho who was hanged nearby, they plan a route to find the hanging tree, but they are stopped by a flat tire. They end up following a hitchhiker back to her home where her family is taking part in unusual Halloween traditions. As the night progresses, it becomes clear that this family has no intention of letting the youths go free.

I had trepidations about seeing this film for the second time. I initially hated the film, and I was only convinced to watch the follow-up, The Devil’s Rejects (a movie I really enjoyed), because I was told how different it was from the original. While, on second viewing, the film does not become perfect, I was surprised by how much more I liked it. Zombie has often been seen as an imitator of Tobe Hooper, and he was definitely influenced by the acclaimed Texas horror maestro, but I see him as an extension (for better and worse) much like how Brian De Palma took elements of Alfred Hitchcock to their logical next step. That’s not to say that Zombie improves on Hooper, but like any artist, there’s a through-line that allows Zombie to put his voice into those influences. If Tobe Hooper was the chicken-fried horror master, then Zombie’s is more chicken grease. His is smuttier, angrier, meaner, and sloppier, and that will work for some and fail to resonate with others (Hooper himself praised the finished film). I’ve always leaned toward the former.

I was really taken with the tension and confusion elements of the narrative, as events cycled out of control for our heroes. Perhaps it’s the fact that, last time I saw the movie, The Office was not on television yet and we had not yet been blessed by Rainn Wilson as Dwight, but I really rooted for 3/4 of the youths (less love for the annoying character played by Chris Hardwicke), and I wanted to see the triumph, though internally I knew that it was not in the cards for this movie.

Zombie made a good call on his first feature, understand the hell that the MPAA puts on filmmakers, so he shot two versions of all violent sequences, one with more blood and gore, one with less. This helped him to push the film as far as he possibly could while still satisfying the studio. That keeps the gristle on this greasy film, and it was especially helpful as Zombie took his work-in-progress studio-hopping, as new regimes at some studios changed their minds on his grizzly film and others didn’t like Zombie’s vision.

The biggest problem with House of 1000 Corpses is the truly-annoying and nauseating cutaways, based on the Manson recordings. None of these cutaway video interview moments add anything of value to the narrative, and there’s a lot of the film’s worst moments (and Zombie’s worse tendencies) at play in these cutaways. I think the movie would better (and faster, more frenetic) without them.

House of 1000 Corpses is an acquired taste. I can understand anyone who loves it, and I totally get why someone would hate it. The movie’s aged much better than expected, though it still leaves a bit to be desired. It shows an early director swinging for the fences, and I can appreciate that above all else.

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem, click here.

[31 Days of Horror: Resurrection] Day 28 – Blood Dolls (1999)

Director: Charles Band
Cast: Jack Maturin, Debra Mayer, Nicholas Worth
Screenplay: Charles Band
84 mins. Rated R for horror violence and gore, language and some sexuality.

We don’t talk much about Full Moon Features, and this year, I want to change that. I could go the route of talking through all the various Puppet Master movies, but I wanted something I hadn’t seen before, so I perused my video collection, and I came across Blood Dolls, another of the killer toy subgenre, directed by Charles Band (Trancers, The Gingerdead Man). Hey, the poster looks cool, so it can’t all be bad…

Virgil Travis (Jack Maturin) is a wealthy and secluded psycho who has spent his youth being tortured with unusual body modification, resulting in a tiny head. He’s been wronged by a great many people in his life, and now he has plans in place to get his vengeance. Virgil’s created a few living dolls from the bodies of his victims, and these toys will exact his toll upon the others.

Sometimes, I wonder if people even believe the plots for these movies are real. How do I justify the time I just spent explaining this insanity? I don’t know, folks, but I watch a lot of crap for you all. Blood Dolls is part of that crap. I understand that a lot of Full Moon films exist in that campy silliness that is so endearing to so many people, and I have quite a few that I love within that realm. Puppet Master…The Gingerdead Man…but c’mon, people, Blood Dolls? Really? This was one of the longest 84 minute movies I’ve ever subjected myself to.

I can’t think of a single strength here. Virgil Travis is a terrible villain. He’s not intimidating, nor is he interesting, the tiny head thing is weird, and he honestly looks better in the creepy mask and should’ve kept that on the whole movie. That still doesn’t excuse the nasally voice throughout the movie. None of the victims, or cannon fodder, are developed enough to be memorable past the run time.

We have to talk about the ending, or lack thereof. We get to the abysmal finale, including a wedding that really came out of nowhere without any purpose. I don’t even understand how that’s an ending on its own…but then it isn’t. Mr. Mascaro, a random henchman character with supposed ties to Demonic Toys, comes onscreen to tell you that there is an alternate ending, but the way this new ending fits into the narrative doesn’t even make story sense. It’s just another scene with slight alterations to the story but it repeats elements that wouldn’t have happened twice, and it became all the more frustrating.

Blood Dolls isn’t even a complete film, and the wasted time is infuriating. It’s not just one of the worst movies I’ve seen this month; it’s one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror: Resurrection] Day 27 – ATM (2012)

Director: David Brooks
Cast: Brian Geraghty, Josh Peck, Alice Eve
Screenplay: Chris Sparling
90 mins. Rated R for violence and terror.

I’m a bit of a sucker for bottle movies, films set in a singular location for a bulk of the run time. The most popular of this subgenre in the realm of horror tend to be siege films like Night of the Living Dead, but there’s also the “slowly going insane” of 1408, and the “how do I get out of here?” of Buried. Today’s film is a bit of a siege tale mixed with “how do I get out of here?” and it’s all set in an ATM vestibule.

Following the company holiday party, David (Brian Geraghty, The Hurt Locker, Flight) has a perfect opportunity to spend time with his crush, Emily (Alice Eve, Star Trek Into Darkness, Bombshell), until his buddy Corey (Josh Peck, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Spun) joins along, drunk and annoying. The three stop off at an ATM to get cash, but as soon as they are inside, they spot a man in a parka standing outside, watching them. It quickly becomes clear that he’s waiting for them to exit in order to kill them. Now, with the power cut in the vestibule, and the night slowly freezing them, they need a plan…and quick.

I’ve seen a lot of discussion around this film’s characters being so stupid, and I guess, as a horror fan, I’ve always expected stupid decisions in horror because people make bad calls when they’re in danger. People don’t think straight, and I saw most of these decisions being less about stupidity and more about lack of risk. None of these characters make significant risks when I, sitting on my couch, would have bolted for the car several times.

Perhaps I was also taken by the great chemistry between Geraghty and Eve. I’ve been A big fan of Alice Eve for some time now, and I personally feel like she should have a bigger presence in Hollywood after a solid run in the late 2000s and early 2010s. There’s a certain believable awkwardness between David and Emily at the beginning of the film that carries through to the emotional final moments.

ATM is not the NEXT BIG THING. It came and went in 2012 for a reason, but I found more to like than not in the finished product. If you’re a fan of single-location horror, this one is still working looking back on.

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror: Resurrection] Day 26 – Black Roses (1988)

Director: John Fasano
Cast: John Martin, Ken Swofford, Julie Adams, Carla Ferrigno, Sal Viviano, Carmine Appice
Screenplay: Cindy Cirile
90 mins. Rated R.

There were a string of rock-n-roll horror films in the 80s to combat all the Satanic Panic of the era, though none of them reached the heights of the horror greats. Some of them, like Trick or Treat, are really difficult to hunt down. Others, like Black Roses, exist under the surface, passed around the horror community like a hidden secret.

Mill Basin has become the destination for the first concert appearance of the new heavy metal band Black Roses, and the local teenage demographic has turned out. The adults are not fans of the band but are quickly won over, and the show is so popular, the Black Roses play for several more nights. What the town’s adults are not aware of is that the band actually IS evil, corrupting the souls of the Mill Basin’s youth population. The only adult with an inkling that something isn’t right is high school teacher Matthew Moorhouse (John Martin, The Underneath, Night Game), but can he convince the rest of the town in time to save the children?

Shot in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada for tax deals), Black Roses has largely been forgotten by mainstream horror fans, but I’ve had this one suggested to me for a number of years. Having finally seen it, I can state that this flick is great. It’s the perfect amount of fun and fear, excitement and creature effects. There’s a level of cheese that I have to assume was intentional, as director John Fasano (Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare, The Jitters) has done similar films before, and the fun latched onto me.

The creature effects here are great, especially the band’s transformation. It’s like GWAR before GWAR, and the way that they win over the townspeople with their soft romantic rock before going full demon as soon as the adults are gone. From the opening to the end, every scene with the Black Roses works, especially the facade. Sal Viviano (Spikes of Bensonhurst) is perfectly cast as Damian, the lead singer, and he convinced me that he was really must’ve had experience in a heavy metal band. That appreciation extends to the music written for the film, which I found to be quite catching and engaging. I could swear that it had been licensed instead of written directly for the film, but I’ve found no record of any license agreement.

There are a few odd choices, like the weird attraction implied between Moorhouse and one of his students (it’s never stated but there’s an odd amount of hinting), and also the late-in-the-game inclusion of the mayor’s daughter, Priscilla (Carla Ferrigno, The Adventures of Hercules, The Death of the Incredible Hulk) as a love interest for Moorhouse and then instantly making her unlikable. I was also confused about a few scenes of female nudity that were unnecessary and nonsensical. One sequences features a woman removing her top and caressing her breasts for what seems like several minutes, nonstop, before putting her top back on, and the scene ends. I understand that most nudity in horror is unnecessary, but this was just egregious and confusing.

Black Roses is a bit silly but a whole lot of entertainment. I was endlessly enjoying the entirety of this horror rock show, flaws and all. It might just be my favorite of the rock-n-roll horror films from that time period, and if you’ve missed this gem, check it out now.

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror: Resurrection] Day 25 – Lot 36 (2022)

Director: Guillermo Navarro
Cast: Tim Blake Nelson, Sebastian Roche, Demetrius Grosse, Elpidia Carrillo
Screenplay: Regina Corrado, Guillermo del Toro
45 mins. Rated TV-MA.

This week, the first installments of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities has premiered. The series or short features is, in many ways, a spiritual successor to Night Gallery and Masters of Horror, and I’m very glad to see a return of the anthology host in del Toro. Our first story is based on an idea crafted by del Toro himself, and it’s a strong start.

Nick Appleton (Tim Blake Nelson, Nightmare Alley, The Incredible Hulk) is a veteran looking to pay off his many debts by purchasing expired storage lockers and selling off the contents. When he buys up Lot 36, a rental that’s been owned for decades by an eccentric loner who has recently passed away. As he starts pawning off items, he begins to learn that the items in this storage locker have a demonic and monstrous origin.

The screenplay, from Regina Corrado and del Toro, does a great job at crafting interesting characters. Our leads aren’t all that likable, but Corrado and del Toro are able to imbue them with an understanding for their shitty attitudes and actions. Especially with the character of Nick, the screenplay is used to elevate the subtext around racism through fear, misdirected aggression, and the abandoning of veterans.

Sebastian Roche (The Adventures of Tintin, 6 Underground) is another standout here with such a small screen presence. Ever since his role on TV’s Fringe, I’ve been surprised by how much exposition Roche can give without ever getting bogged down in it.

Perhaps the only flaw of Lot 36 is that it just kind of ends right when it gets ramped up. We hit a moment when the narrative officially opens up and tells us what’s happening, and then about 3 minutes of intensity, and then the story is over. I felt like there was a lot of solid buildup and not enough payoff.

Lot 36 is a solid start to the Cabinet of Curiosities, promising great things ahead for this promising anthology. While the feature’s finale moves a little too fast, this is still an entertaining and engrossing tale full of style.

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror: Resurrection] Day 24 – The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

Director: Don Sharp
Cast: Clifford Evans, Noel Willman, Edward De Souza, Barry Warren
Screenplay: Anthony Hinds
88 mins. Not Rated.

Back in 1963, Paranoiac was released in a double-bill with The Kiss of the Vampire. This was a staple of the time, and the studio would often drop an “A” film to begin and a “B” film that the studio has less faith in. I’m just guessing here, I think The Kiss of the Vampire was probably not the “A” film.

Gerald (Edward De Souza, The Golden Compass, The Spy Who Loved Me) and Marianne Harcourt (Jennifer Daniel, Wuthering Heights, The Reptile) are celebrating their marriage with a honeymoon in Bavaria when their car runs out of gas. They are taken in by the kind and welcoming Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Doctor Zhivago). What they do not know is that Dr. Ravna and his family are part of a vampiric cult who plan to secretly kidnap and indoctrinate Marianne.

I remember reading that director Don Sharp (Psychomania, Rasputin: The Mad Monk) was not all that interested in making horror movies, and it shows here. Kiss of the Vampire spends so much time not being a horror movie that when the required horror elements start entering the story about an hour in, it’s lost a lot of goodwill. It’s a shame because there’s some good stuff in the finale of this one, but everything leading up to it is so bland that the mere hint of anything worthwhile is exciting. There’s a mild seduction happening to Gerald and Marianne from the vicious cult that could’ve been rather enticing, but it doesn’t lean into this at all.

Sharp had planned on going against the grain here, making something unlike Hammer’s previous vampire fare, which he does, and the mythology around the cult is interesting (when it’s finally revealed). Kiss of the Vampire was originally crafted to be the third Hammer Dracula film, following Horror of Dracula and The Brides of Dracula, seemingly to continue the series without Christopher Lee if he chose not to return, but when they were able to secure him for Dracula: Prince of Darkness, this one ended up being a standalone. Fun fact: the movie was initially delayed a bit to avoid comparisons with Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. The comparisons are minute, and they only involve a few sequences near the tail-end of the film.

There are a few engaging performances in the film, primarily from Clifford Evans (The Curse of the Werewolf, The Proud Valley) as the mysterious Professor Zimmer who stays in the hotel nearby our honeymooning lovebirds and Barry Warren (Lawrence of Arabia, Frankenstein Created Woman) as Dr. Ravna’s “son” who rides a line between suspicious and likable. The rest of the cast is ultimately wasted meandering around a castle for far too long looking for plot development.

The Kiss of the Vampire has a lot of the style and production design of the best Hammer horror, but it’s missing a lot of substance that could’ve made this another classic in the catalog. It’s fine, but a director more interested in horror could’ve added something really incredible to this premise.

-Kyle A. Goethe

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