Upon seeing my name mentioned recently in the context of film writing by the exceedingly talented Heather Drain, it struck me that I haven’t actually written about film in a long time. I’m not sure how much the following list counts as breaking that streak, but I will take a minute to talk about some of the more memorable titles I’ve watched recently.
I’m consistently shocked at the excellence of the selection at Shudder.com. We live in a beautiful world where $50 a year gets you access to titles like The Devils, Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and His Women. Selling me on a “horror streaming service” is a dicey proposition, since I’m more incidentally interested in horror. It’s not so much the horror-ness of a movie that attracts me, as it is that stories classed as “horror” are reliable sources of the kind of bizarre and thrilling things that I enjoy. As such, here are a few Shudder titles I can recommend.
Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion : DELICIOUS fashion, bad behavior, duplicitous women, and really awful personal decisions combine to make this Italo-thriller sizzle. So long as you’re not at 101-level gore-seeker status (and if you are, why are you reading anything I write?), this is a keeper.
Play Motel : OH MY GOD there’s a bouncy, soft-rock theme song that references the title of the movie and this was made for a dollar ninety-nine and I feel like I’m coated in a thin sheen of something slimy and disquietingly organic after accidentally stumbling into a sex party and then staying because dude, it’s a sex party–what am I going to do, LEAVE? Perfect, perfect, perfect. You, too, will be havin’ fun at the Play Motel, but you’ll feel super-gross about it afterwards.
Lust for a Vampire : Ralph Bates has gone on record saying this is “one of the worst films ever made,” which makes me sad. That the actor who is Hammer Films’ answer to Crispin Glover failed to see the beauty of this ode to lesbonic passion in a continental girls’ school where the heavy-bosomed students traipse about performing pseudo-Grecian dances while giggling is one of the great mysteries of cinema.
Amazon Prime Video is a reliable source for weirdness dredged up from god knows where, often with dubious-quality prints. All of this makes their pristine streaming copies of vintage Shaw Brothers movies even more of a treasure. It’s impossible to pick a favorite, but Human Lanterns can’t be rivaled for sheer Grand Guignol monstrosity. You’re gonna have a bad day after watching this martial arts revenge film whose “surprise” is right in the title. That is either a recommendation or a warning depending on your personality. Also: if you’re not watching movies starring the Venom Mob, then I just don’t know what you’re doing with your life. These martial arts masters make it all look so damn easy, capable of doling out serious ass whippings even when wearing bespangled, chest-baring satin outfits. Check out Flag of Iron, Five Elements Ninjas, and of course Five Venoms and prepare to be amazed.
I finally watched Fatal Attraction which is a wry comedy from the point of view of a middle-aged office worker who imagines himself to be an object of unbearable sexual desire, like some darkest timeline Walter Mitty (unless I’m reading this movie incorrectly…?). Following closely on the heels of this absurdist romp, I figured it was high time that I checked out Basic Instinct. The latter title was, if anything, even more bananas than I’d been led to believe. Sure, at one point in my life Basic Instinct was just a cultural artifact that brought me great pleasure when denying its rental to teen boys during my stint as a video store manager. I used to dismiss these 1990s erotic thrillers as aesthetically weak-sauce knockoffs of giallo, and while younger me was not entirely wrong in that assessment, I was very mistaken to think that this particular brand of bad taste was meritless as a result. Twenty-five years after its release, Basic Instinct has aged into a surprisingly heady brand of grotesque charm.
Speaking of grotesque charm, I blind-watched The Devil’s Mistress, a 2016 Czech docu-drama about actress Lída Baarová’s affair with Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, and walked away satisfied. Have you ever wanted to see a telenovela-style love scene featuring a close-up on Goebbels’ leg brace set to Wagner’s Tannhäuser? Well, if you do now, you can head to Netflix and sate your curiosity.