• Phantasm

    Phantasm

    ★★★★½

    83

    Have you ever had a nightmare where you're against an almost insurmountable force, but instead of being alone, you have a few friends and family there to back you up? To help fight whatever it is that's evil? Phantasm captures this, all while evoked in liminal spaces, with ideas of adolescence and grief floating in the autumn air. One of my favorite openings to a horror film, with the blood-red title card and dreamy score hitting like an adrenaline shot.

  • The Hitcher

    The Hitcher

    ★★★★

    80

    Rutger Hauer absolutely terrifies in The Hitcher, an action-horror hybrid that balances a mythic ambiguity for its antagonist and a downward spiral for its lead. After the initial barebones set-up, there's a sense of surreal plotting as Hauer's John Ryder comes and goes as he pleases, disappearing into thin air. The result is a tense mix of horrific imagery (captured with such beauty by DP John Seale) and hard-hitting action beats. The car crashes in this are unreal! One of the kind - The Hitcher rides such a delicate line between two genres, all without breaking a sweat.

  • Mars Attacks!

    Mars Attacks!

    ★★★★½

    87

    "They blew up Congress! Ha ha ha ha!"

    Mars Attacks! is maybe a tad messy and unfocused, but with an ensemble cast like this, it's a small price to pay for a total joy-buzzer of a sci-fi riff. Bursting to the brim with movie stars - to the point that it's impossible to single anyone out - and led by Tim Burton's undiluted love for flying saucer films, this is absolutely the greatest 'alien invasion' movie from 1996. From…

  • Castle Freak

    Castle Freak

    ★★★★

    75

    Castle Freak asks the important questions, such as: what if there was a castle? And in that castle, there was a freak?

  • Fury

    Fury

    ★★★★½

    83

    Spencer Tracy and Sylvia Sidney turn in two powerhouse performances in Fritz Lang's first American work. Fury is an apt title. Not only is this scathing critique dissecting mob mentality, but also the sensationalistic forces that fan the flames, and the media that revels in the despair of others. Fritz Lang knew how to shoot a face, and it culminates in a mid-film climax on par with his finest expressionistic moments.

  • Conan the Destroyer

    Conan the Destroyer

    ★★★

    60

    If Conan the Barbarian is a mythic landmark of swords and sandals sorcery, Conan the Destroyer is the Italian knockoff in spirit, the cash-grab, the kiddie adventure. Nothing wrong with that, although I can understand the initial disappointment. Shot by legendary DP Jack Cardiff and directed by Richard Fleischer, this is pure junky fun. Absolutely stunning to look at, and full of goofy sidekicks and ancient castles and crypts and a few beheadings for good measure. It's also integral…

  • '71

    '71

    ★★★½

    65

    This is quite an impressive thriller. Set in Belfast at the height of The Troubles in northern Ireland, the political context is a necessary foundation for what essentially is nearly all action and motion. Not only intense, but grounded in the ramifications and details of the situation and setting. Jack O'Connell impressed me in Starred Up, and he lights up the screen yet again in a role that requires various degrees of physicality and a strong emotive presence. '71

  • The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

    The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

    ★★★★

    80

    As with M, Fritz Lang showcases another unforgettable use of sound in its infancy. The crime thriller as a mechanical perpetual evil on the verge of expansion. Opening scene is an all-timer.

  • The Sign of the Cross

    The Sign of the Cross

    ★★★★

    75

    Mostly a puritanical exercise in Christian perseverance, but madman Cecil B. DeMille always found time for debauchery. This is one naughty Sunday School special. The Sign of the Cross not only features an incredibly horny cast dressed up in decadent costumes but also a highlight reel of exotic animals killing Christians in a gladiator arena in the climax. Elephants stepping on heads, gorillas and alligators assaulting women, and countless angry lions. And I didn't even mention Claudette Colbert bathing in milk. Absolutely deranged, a total Pre-Code wonder.

  • The Thief of Bagdad

    The Thief of Bagdad

    ★★★½

    63

    Exceptional set-design and adventure tropes. Douglas Fairbanks is a treasure. Not quite up to par with the 1940 film, but it's very much a great example of a silent fantasy.

  • The Indian Tomb

    The Indian Tomb

    ★★★★★

    94

    Very much a prime example of late-style. This is Fritz Lang almost entirely removed from anything beyond his own preoccupations. The childlike fantasy, the pulp serial tone, the exoticization of the Other as viewed though our cardboard European hero - all of this is given greater thrills and urgency in more traditional adventure films, but Fritz Lang makes it his own. What The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb form as a whole is an epic of stateliness…

  • The Mask of Fu Manchu

    The Mask of Fu Manchu

    ★★★½

    70

    File this as yet another Pre-Code film that remains shocking, even today. To begin, it's monstrously racist. Not just dealing in 'yellow peril' politics and lead actors in yellow-face, but the insidiousness of the villain studying in the United States in order to utilize his knowledge against the white man. This could've been interesting but it's hardly explored, so it's yet another tactic of mystical orientalism. At barely an hour long, The Mask of Fu Manchu packs in a…