THE ENDLESS RIDE

Time loop movies have become more common in recent years, but The Fare (2019) takes the genre into different territory. After a cab driver (Gino Anthony Pesi) picks up a beautiful woman (Brinna Kelly) on a desolate country road in the dead of night, he becomes intrigued by her until the moment she vanishes from the backseat. Then the scenario plays out again and again, with the cabbie initially forgetting but soon remembering that the events have unfolded before. But she knows they have. It’s hard to discuss further without spoilers, but co-star/writer Kelly and director D.C. Hamilton wring as much as they can from The Fare‘s two-character premise—including switching between black and white and color—and the twist is a fun one. It helps that the leads have good chemistry, and Kelly gets bonus points for amusing banter about Jack Kirby’s D.C. Comics work. You just have to be willing to spend a lot of time with them in the taxi. In her bonus feature interview, Kelly passionately lays out her inspirations and Easter eggs, which makes for a nice supplement and helps you appreciate her writing more.

SURREAL NOIR

While The Fare drives us through a loop in time, Yesterday Was A Lie (2008) injects a noir-ish detective tale with temporal displacement, as a private investigator named Hoyle (Kipleigh Brown) tails a mysterious man (John Newton) in possession of a book with a formula that could bend our reality. (And may already be doing so.) She is aided in her quest by her tough partner (Mik Scriba) and a sultry lounge singer (Chase Masterson, who also produced the movie). The film is also notable for a small role featuring the late Peter Mayhew (aka Chewbacca from Star Wars). Writer-director James Kerwin has come up with an intriguing genre mash-up and inverts expectations with a female lead, and cinematographer Jason Cochard beautifully shoots in black and white to invoke the Hollywood noir of yore. But the leading ladies, whose sex appeal is overly exploited, do not bring enough grit to their roles, and the ultimate revelation is a bit of a letdown. Yesterday Was A Lie is one of those movies with greater potential than what is delivered, yet it’s still intriguing to watch despite falling short. If you’re a fan of cult movies and strange curios, you may enjoy it and find that parts of it will stick with you.

DEATH HOUSE

Part horror tale and part gang movie, I’ll Take Your Dead (2018) begs the question: Which can be scarier, country monsters or city gangs? A rural farmer (Aidan Devine) who secretly disposes of corpses left by criminals gets a shock when an allegedly deceased young lady (The Expanse‘s Jess Salgueiro) awakens on his carving table. Unsure of what to do, he keeps her tied to a bed while he and his 12-year-old daughter (Ava Preston) tend to her wounds. Tension abounds on all levels: the father wants to flee the terrible life he has created for his daughter; she has the ability to communicate with the spirits haunting the house; and there is potential peril and disaster looming if the woman’s failed killer learns she is alive. Not to mention the terrible moral implications of the farmer’s actions to begin with. There are interesting character studies lurking within this low-key horror crime piece, where no one is pure or unscathed by the horrors around them, but the action-packed climax and predictable ending feel at odds with the emotional territory writer Jayme Laforest and director Chad Archibald have invested in. There are certainly some good performances here, but it feels like the material could have been taken further.

KILLER KLOWN

The second half of the big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s famous chiller, It Chapter Two (2019) takes us forward in time to when The Losers Club have become adults and mostly fled from the stifling environment of Derry, Maine. But after the nightmarish clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) awakens from a 27-year slumber to wreak murderous havoc anew, the survivors of his past killing spree (Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, and Andy Bean) must reunite in a showdown that will test their individual sanity and collective will. Although there are some subdued character moments to balance out the mayhem, director Andy Muschietti revels in the horrific sequences that plague the characters alone and together. He does a good job freaking us out, but there are times where this sequel gets over the top. (The fortune cookie creature scene had many audience members laughing because it was too much.) Despite its flaws and epic running time, It Chapter Two is just satisfying enough as a follow-up and includes a poignant ending. Plus the Stephen King cameo is pretty funny.

A JAZZ FANTASY REVISTED

When Francis Ford Coppola’s epic Prohibition-era movie The Cotton Club (1984) was originally released to critical acclaim but anemic box office grosses, the finished film had been compromised. The intended narrative arc evenly balanced the tale of two men trying to make it in the world of that famed Harlem jazz club. One is a white cornet player (Richard Gere, who actually performs) rising up the ranks thanks to unintended underworld connections, which gradually corrupt his younger brother (Nicolas Cage). The other is an African-American tap dancer (the late, great Gregory Hines) who teams up with his brother (Maurice Hines) as they fend off racism and family friction in their quest for success. The white story line won over clueless studio heads back in the eighties, but Coppola recently got the chance to make amends, excising 13 minutes but adding in 27 more to balance things out. Ultimately, the Oscar-nominated film is still too long as the director/co-screenwriter juggles a gangster movie, romantic period piece, and a loving ode to a bygone venue and era. It’s still worth watching, particularly for the dazzling singing and dancing sequences, the fantastic cast (Bob Hoskins, Fred Gwynne, and Tom Waits among them) and many of the performances, including Diane Lane as a gangster’s mistress and Lonette McKee as the biracial singer who drifts between black and white circles. There is so much to explore more deeply here, including the segregation of the club’s white audience and its black performers, that it could have been a mini-series. The making of the film, which involved everything from financial shenanigans to a murder, is worthy of its own documentary. The 19-minute Lincoln Center Q&A with Coppola, Maurice Hines, and James Remar just scratches the surface.

BLAST FROM THE PAST

Originally titled Eyewitness from the adapted novel by Mark Hebden, the vintage crime thriller Sudden Terror (1970) packs one hell of a wallop. An imaginative young boy named Ziggy (Mark Lester) constantly invents tall tales to the chagrin of his older sister (Susan George) and grandparents (Lionel Jeffries and Betty Mardsen). When he actually witnesses a creepy policeman (Peter Vaughn) commit a political assassination, no one believes him, but once the killer and his accomplice (Peter Bowles) come after him, all their lives are at stake. These vicious criminals will stop at nothing to cover up their crime, even killing a child in cold blood. The film is tautly directed by John Hough (The Legend of Hell House) with a fine late sixties score from David Whitaker (with contributions from the groups Van der Graaf Generator and Fairfield Parlour). Sudden Terror is an underrated gem that crime thriller and action fans will get sucked into, particularly the catacombs pursuit, nighttime fort siege, and bruising cliffside car chase which features some outstanding stunt driving. The raw action contrasts nicely with the beautiful scenery of the island of Malta.

HIGHWAY TO HELL

Another underrated thriller from Australia, Road Games (1981) stars the affable Stacy Keach as a truck driver who, during an overnight stay outside of a motel, may or may not have unwittingly identified the killer of young women (Grant Page) on the loose. The spunky Jamie Lee Curtis plays the hitchhiker he picks up who becomes involved in his quest to seek the truth, particularly as the van of the alleged murderer keeps crossing their path on the highway. As directed by Richard Franklin (Psycho II), the ensuing game of cat and mouse in the Aussie wilderness may put both of them in jeopardy. If the man (who never utters a word) is indeed the killer, will he let them live with that knowledge? The ending features an unusual yet highly effective pursuit sequence devoid of the cliched high speed approach of other movies. Long out of print in this country, Road Games has been transferred to HD and lovingly remastered by Scream Factory, who provide hours of bonus materials (including new and past interviews, an audio table read, music score demos, a “making of”) that provide deep insight into this underappreciated adventure.

SIDEBAR: FRIGHT BITES

FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1974)—This is a well-done British anthology in which four sinister items—an antique mirror, a military medal, a snuff box, and an ornate door—all threaten the lives of those who purchase them from a shop run by Peter Cushing. The first and last of the main stories are particularly imaginative British Gothic tales. Co-stars include Donald Pleasance, David Warner, Nyree Dawn Porter, and Lesley-Anne Down.

THE FAN (1981)–A disturbed young man (Michael Biehn) becomes increasingly  obsessed with an aging star (Lauren Bacall) who has a new Broadway show in the works. As his mania swells from intense letter writing to homicidal stalking, she realizes that police protection is not enough and that she herself must confront him head-on. This is an above average thriller that was tweaked to fit the slasher craze of the day, and thus compromised an originally less violent and a more personal story for Bacall’s character, as director Edward Bianchi attests in his interview. Co-star Michael Biehn’s juicy stories from the set will also raise eyebrows.

VAMPIRES (1998)–After a master vampire (Thomas Ian Griffith) decimates most of a human hunting team bent on his destruction, its two survivors (James Woods and Daniel Baldwin) take one of the bloodsucker’s newest victims (Sheryl Lee) prisoner and prepare for a final showdown. Well-directed by John Carpenter and featuring an unusually bluesy score for him, Vampires unfortunately presents two unlikable anti-heroes whose misogyny is insufferable and mars the film. What were they thinking?

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