May 2023 Mini-Reviews – Scream & Scream Again to Monster from the Ocean Floor

Ah, May… Plenty of work, minor medical procedures, suddenly having to replace Silver — our old faithful car — and get a new vehicle, our 35th anniversary, and the first real trip we’ve taken since the pandemic started (and it’s still not over).  Where did the time go?  Oh, yes, all of that plus plenty of viewing, too.

What did I watch?  Plenty of Midsomer Murders — though it’s not summer until next month, a few fun new blockbusters, and some really good series as well.  Plenty to amuse both you and me.  Check out the capsule recaps below.

Ratings are out of five stars. Here’s what those stars mean to me…

* – This film is not good. Avoid it unless you tolerate dreck well.
** – A flawed film. You may enjoy it if you like this genre or the folks in it.
*** – A good solid film. If you like this genre, you’ll probably like this film.
**** – A superior film within its genre. Thoroughly enjoyable.
***** – An outstanding film on many levels. A great example of its genre.

Scream & Scream Again *** Movie about a conspiracy to construct artificial, murderous, superhumans. Cool idea, but not as cool as the classic poster for this movie.
Midsomer Mysteries 8-3 Orchis Fatalis **** Midsomer’s annual flower festival is derailed by ruthless collectors fixated on murdering each other to obtain a one-of-a-kind orchid.
Nekrotronic **** Aussie film about an app that causes people to be possessed by demons & a schlub who accidentally becomes a key part of a secret society devoted to stopping those demons from taking over the world. Wacky gore & over the top violence make this fun.
House on Haunted Hill (1999) **** Remake of the Castle film is filled with actual supernatural & more grisly but still manages to be both entertaining & creepy.
Return to the House on Haunted Hill *** Sequel to the remake above can’t bring back the original characters, or house, or concept apparently. So, it’s just another gory haunt film.
Midsomer Murders 8-4 Bantling Boy **** While the titular race horse is having success, his owners suddently start dying, which naturally brings Barnaby & Scott in to untangle the bloody pieces.
Midsomer Murders 8-5 Second Sight ***** Weird experiments & psychic powers are just two of the puzzling aspects in this intriguing murder case that tests Barnaby & Scott’s deductive powers as well as their credulity. A strong & intriguing episode.
When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth **** Jim Danforth’s dinosaur animation & Victoria Vetri’s spectacular (sometimes nude) body are the stars of this cavemen & dinos effort. Fun!
Shadow & Bone (S2) ***** The divergent characters from S1 go on separate quests & then gather in time for a spectactular final battle & finish to the storyline. Strong characters, production, & world bulding make me hope this fantasy series of wizards & politics will get more series.
Blackula **** William Marshal is bitten by Dracula & cursed to return as a vampire in the modern day. Strong cast & stylish production blaxploitation.
Disenchantment (S4) *** Groening’s fantasy series is amusing, but never as funny or clever as I want it to be as Bean & her family vie for control of the kingdom.
Poirot (S4) **** A season of feature-length episodes includes “The A.B.C. Murders” (very strong), “Death in the Clouds” & “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe”
Star Trek the Motion Picture **** The final, director’s edition of this film moves along better & has very pretty SFX, but the production design is still too antiseptic for Trek.
Pan’s Labyrinth ***** Del Torro’s fable of Fascist Spain near the end of WWII is gorgeous, scary, & heartbreaking by turns. See the war from a “neutral” country.
Dagon **** Super & slimy production design, body horror, & H.P. Lovecraft’s “Shadow Over Innsmouth” make this film a fun, non-stop creep show.
Midsomer Murders 8-6 Hidden Depths ***** When one man jumps off a roof to kill himself & his neighbor goes missing, it sets up a series of intriguing puzzles for Barnaby & Scott to work on, including venturing into an ancient wine cellar. Clever solution & twists & turns make this one a standout.
Damsel in Distress **** Astaire gets mistaken for British Heiress Joan Fontain’s leaping lord boyfriend, comedy ensues. Catch Burnes & Gracie Allen at her peak.
Midsomer Murders 8-7 Sauce for the Goose **** The naked body that turns up in the machinery of a family’s generation-old relish factory turns out to be a long-time family rival who may or may not have been trying to buy the place out. Plus, the relish matriarch may or may not be having hallucinations. Barnaby’s on the case!
Midsomer Murders 8-8 Midsomer Rhapsody ***** A retired music teacher is murdered & it seems to be related to a famous piece of music, “Midsomer Rhapsody,” & a recently discovered early manuscript that may determine who gets future royalties. Good thing Barnaby has an ear for murder.
Hellraiser III *** A twisted sculpture plays more of a part in this gory entry to the series. Not really a sequel, though it tries, & misses the tone & even the base concept of the originals. Star Trek’s Terry Farrell is the hapless heroine, but it’s really more of a horror show than Hellraiser.
Street Fighter, The **** Sonny Chiba breaks out as “Terry Sugury,” martial artist for hire who gets mixed up with gangsters resulting in deadly duels. Gory fun.
Ghost & Mr. Chicken, The (Sven) **** Don Knots is a wannabe reporter who spends a night in a “haunted” house & then has to get people to believe him. Amusing kids’ stuff.
Head **** The Monkees teamed up with Jack Nicholson to create this wacky series of loosely strung-together psychedellic vignettes & music. Very trippy but has some good music & is maybe the film that Magical Mystery Tour wanted to be. Worth seeing if you like the Monkees.
Thing, The (2011) **** Prequel to John Carpenter’s version of The Thing tries to set up all the pieces for the earlier film & does pretty well at it, though studio interference & insistence on using more CGI than the filmmakers intended makes it less than it could have been & less that the original(s).
Midsomer Murders 9-1 The House in the Woods ***** A couple is murdered outside an old dilapidated mansion that’s for sale, which leads Barnaby & his new junior DC Jones into the world of crooked real estate & (of course) long buried secrets, as well as two juveniles inclined to skip school for drinks & smokes. Intriguing.
Killer Ants: They Are Coming for You ** Despite the ad image, the largest the ants get in this film are palm sized & that’s near the end. Some ideas but amateurish & meanders.
Midsomer Murders 9-2 Dead Letters **** A woman floating face down in a stream, dead, is somehow connected with the revival of the Oak Apple festival & crowning a queen.
Cocaine Bear **** A load of cocaine dumped out of a plane is found by a bear who then wreaks havoc on local rangers, gangsters, hikers. First half is hilarious, though it settles down a little after that. Based on a “true story” in that a bear did once find some coke, but not like this.
Ex-Mrs. Bradford **** The William Powell is a famous doctor. Jean Arthur is his famous mystery writer ex-wife always trying to drag him into crime solving. This time, it’s a mysterious murder at a racetrack that’s got her bug. It’s not the Thin Man series, but it is a lot of fun.
Midsomer Murders 9-3 Vixen’s Run ***** A wealthy gourmand friend of Barnaby’s dies at the dinner table just before he can reveal to his family something of great import. Though it’s ruled a natual death, things get stickier when more people connected to him die. Barnaby & Jones must sort out the tangled threads.
Horrors of the Red Planet *** The crew of a rocketship is accidentally stranded on Mars & must make their way to the other half of their ship, facing Martian perils. Based somewhat on the Wizard of Oz, there’s a lot of walking until they find the gold road, some okay special effects, pretty cool ancient Martians, & a long speech about what the heck is happening by the great John Carradine. Good low-budget try but could have been more.
Thing with Two Heads, The (Sven) *** Ray Milland is a racist doctor whose head is transplanted onto the body of black ex-football player Rosey Grier. Sincerely done exploitation flick is more amusing than you might expect.
Midsomer Murders 9-4 Down Among the Dead Men **** A man shot to death through his kitchen window turns out to be a blackmailer with many victims who might have wanted him dead. Barnaby seeks advice from a retired cop turned fisherman before he can final sort out ll the pieces & find a treasure.
Primeval (S1) ***** A government team composed of scientists & tough guys try to stop the invasion of England by dinosaurs & other strange creatures after windows into the past –= & perhaps the future — start appearing, seemingly at random, & letting monsters through. And somehow, all this is connected to the lead character’s ex-wife, who’s supposed to be dead. The first season of this series is a great start, but sadly due to casting & who knows what other production issues, it goes down fast over the next few seasons. This series is still great fun, though.
Midsomer Murders 9-5 Four Funerals & a Wedding **** The town of Broughton has a traditional male/female grudge match every year, but this time, during the festivities a priest is shot in the head while riding blinfolded on a horse while women taunt him. And naturally, the tangle just gets worse before Barnaby & Jones sort it out.
Angry Red Planet **** The sole survivor of a mission to Mars must remember the traumas she & her crew endured on the Red Planet, which includes monsters (a famous-rat-bat-spider) & a lost civilization. The blu-ray is spectacular & makes the red-tint “Cinemagic” effects really work. A minor classic.
Journey to the 7th Planet *** Astronauts going to Uranus unexpectedly find a planet with lush forests & a European village filled with women remembered from youth, though behind a strange force field, things are barren & monstrous. Better in idea than execution. A bit of nice stop motion.
Midsomer Murders 9-6 Country Matters ***** A man who turns up dead in a village had come there to evaluate whether land was suitable to build a new supermarket (disliked by many of the locals), but it seems he may have also been there to indulge himself in the local cottage industry of fantasy sex. Barnaby & Jones have some eye opening twists to pore through before they can get to the bottom of the crime.
Curse of Oak Island, The (S10) **** Rick & Marty’s teams find more mysterious artifacts & constructions, including a well & what might be a well, more “roads.” But the most important excavations seem to be restoring the Garden Shaft which scientific water tests say may be near a source of gold & an old tunnel. The science has been pretty good this season, though metal detection expert Gary Drayton seems to always turn up their best finds.
Ant Man & the Wasp Quantumania **** An experiment peering into the quantum micro world gets Ant Man & the Wasp and their team sucked into a micro-world full of hazards, where Jan Van Dyne was stranded for 30 years. And what she didn’t tell her family could fill… a movie — including this one about the time traveling conqueror, Kang. Plenty of pretty SPFX fill this film wall-to-wall, the story is pretty good, & the emotions hit home. I liked it.
Rocketship X-M (1950) **** An experimental rocket trip to the moon ends up diverted to Mars instead where the explorers find a destroyed, radioactive culture that’s devolved into sub-human barbarity. Despite its low budget, this movie has strong production values & a good cast. Amazon’s HD print/transfer is very good, & this minor classic is worth seeing in a good print, with proper tinting on the Mars sequence, rather than on a public domain one.
Atlantis, The Lost Continent (1961) *** George Pal spins a pre-Donovan song tale of the mytical lost continent between Europe and America & the highly advanced civilization there that has sunk into sadistic depravity. Good production & FX overall with an occasional annoying reliance of stock footage (Quo Vadis). Nevertheless, for me this is an enjoyable movie that I’m willing to watch at least once a year.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods **** Three Furies — including one played by the amazing Helen Mirren — come to Earth to find what they need to re-create their mythic realm. Unfortunately, they’re willing to kill people to get what they want, but fortunately the Shazam (Marvel) family are on the scene to oppose them, even if the group’s plans sometimes don’t turn out as well as they’d like. The amusing mix of comedy & action continues with good performances & SPFX all around. Not as good as the first film, but has some good emotional points & a lot of fun.
Killer Shrews, The (Sven) **** One of my favorite low-budget horror films. Scientific experiments release giant shrews on a remote island. Mayhem follows.
Tremors ***** Speaking of favorite monster films… Tremors remains near the top of the horror comedy list with a witty script & top notch performances by all the principals, including Kevin Bacon & Fred Ward give this just the right mix of laughs & suspese. Great direction & production, too.
Midsomer Murders 9-7 Death in Chorus **** Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who) is a driven conductor trying to make his Midsomer chorus, including Joyce Barnaby, the top of the heap. Unfortunately, one of his lead singers has turned up dead. DC Jones fils in the slot, but naturaly there are plenty of suspects for Barnaby to sort through.
Midsomer Murder 9-8 Last Year’s Model **** A nice twist on the formula. As a woman goes to trial for murder, Barnaby begins to doubt the case that he built against her. And as he talks to people & investigates further, he comes to realize that he’d been led to a wrong conclusion & the real murderer is still out there.
Serpent Island (1954) ** Crusty sailor comes out of “retirement” to help woman look for lost treasure in Haiti. Low budget. Photography by Bert I. Gordon.
Doc Savage (1975) *** George Pal’s last film is faithful to the original DS tale, has good production, but is too camp for Doc lovers. Pretty good fun despite that.
Monster from the Ocean’s Floor, The *** Early Corman production is well put together with interesting characters and, sadly, a monster that betrays the film’s low budget. Still okay.

So, that’s it for March 2023.  Lots of monsters, as usual, and some surprisingly good TV.  Total for the month is: 50 films/series!  Pretty good for a crazy/busy month.  Which brings the Grand Total to: 253 entries for the year — which, if my math is right now averages over 50 a month, much to my surprise.  What other surprises do I have in store?

NEXT MONTH: Plenty more Midsomer Mysteries!  More monsters!  And hopefully more than a few surprises.  Stay tuned!

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