Streaming-Kino: Night of the Living Dead (1968) - George A. Romero, Duane Jones

The groundbreaking, genre-defining zombie movie that has set the mark for all zombie movies to come.

A study of social psychology, a picture of its time, a pioneer in gore cinema, and an overall exciting and scary movie, "Night of the Living Dead" is still and will probably forever remain in the top five of the genre.

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Review: Signs (2002, M. Night Shyamalan)

A priest who's lost his faith, mourning the death of this wife, watches an alien invasion unfold. Soon, he and his now all male family are facing close encounters with the visitors...

"Signs" undeniably has some good stuff. It's a science-fiction horror movie, and, well, it's got some sort of science (...), obvious fiction, and some horror. It's a quality production featuring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, so a certain amount of entertainment is guaranteed. Moreover, the story is lightly touching, the suspense grows, and as the signs of alien activity become more visible, the horror emerges quite effectively. It works really well, the first sighting of the visitors sends genuine chills down your spine, there's a cultural reference here and there, performances by the cast are as expected - overall flawless, exciting handicraft.

Until suddenly it becomes base. Gone is the excitement, and you're staring into the bottomless abyss that is the script of "Signs". Who in his right mind had the idea to suggest that the memory of the words "swing away...", whispered out of context by the dying wife of our ex-priest protagonist, would six months later be interpreted by the latter as a justification to bash someone else's head in with a baseball bat? That is so wrong, on so many levels, it puts the entire movie in a different light. Horror cinema isn't the right place if you're looking for political correctness, but still there's a common denominator for what is considered right and wrong, otherwise horror movies just wouldn't be horror. "Signs" chooses to put the laziest, dumbest idea imaginable at its core and resolution: As she was dying, she had visions of... blunt violence! Swing away, baby!

That choice is probably adequate to some sort of audience, but any person with even the slightest idea of ethics will be appalled. Our ex-priest really has made a remarkable u-turn, and you're wondering if the movie is actually endorsing it. Science inherently means to look at and decipher things - not to crush them with brute force.

"Signs" has nothing to do with science-fiction, it's fantasy, and casually creates a dangerous, arbitrary pseudo-justification for violence. Michael Winner's "Death Wish" (1974) openly portrays a person driven by frustration and revenge, and not much else, making it a far more honest movie. "Signs" creates a framework of emotions, visions of the future, failed Christian belief, and UFO mumbo-jumbo, leading to the supposedly enlightening, supposedly cathartic moment of basically an ex-priest, wait for it, here it comes: bashing someone else's head in with a baseball bat. 

That's what the dying lady is supposed to have hinted at? Wow, that's far beyond anything "Death Wish". In "Signs", the violence is not only supposed to be justified, but an obligation, dictated by visions, UFOs, reptiles, whatever superstition you like.

Paul Verhoeven's "Starship Troopers" (1997) is a comparably clear statement, with its obvious satirical elements, Nazi Germany references, and over-the-top violence. With "Signs", you're not so sure. It's a template for the kind of anti-science, violence-happy, non-reasoning culture that puts belief above democracy and law, and unless you can see the entire movie as a joke, there's little satire in it.

Some educational value can be read into it: Don't. By all means, don't. But the far stronger impression, it seems it wants to create, is: Ohyeah, do. Absolutely. She had a vision, you know.

Calling "Signs" a good movie would be a mistake. It's too shallow to qualify as a portrait of a demolished family, and as a tale of overcoming it's just wrong. This movie doesn't deserve any money. Paying to see it would be immoral.

Verdict: Really? Nah, comeon. 3/10



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Review: Europa Report (2013, Sebastian Cordero)

Humankind goes on a mission to explore Jupiter moon "Europa". What will we find? And how will we get back home?

Science-fiction documentary/found-footage style movie "Europa Report" is a comparably small production, but it opens an entire book of philosophy. It kind of works as a pure thriller, albeit maybe a slightly sober one. But especially if you're the thinking kind of viewer, this movie will keep you occupied for a long time.

In an extended news report, we follow our fictional crew on their journey to moon "Europa". Various challenges and problems lead to setbacks, and tragedy. Still, the team persists. The movie is an exercise in exposing existential questions of humankind. The on-screen action is limited (to some degree probably by the budget), but it's motivated and held together by the writing, and cool, serious, atmospheric mise-en-scene. This perfectly fits the setting, it adds to the survival-suspense, our crew is made of serious scientists. The characters feel a little two-dimensional here and there, and there's the occasional move that feels forced, but, in a sense, that just emphasizes what the movie is all about. It's an exciting space thriller, but "Europa Report" has much bigger ideas.

At some point it just hits you, either while you're watching it, or after. Questions. Many questions. Who are these people? Why does someone choose to go an such a journey? Is that an accurate depiction of how a person behaves under such circumstances? Is that a scientist's mindset? Does science justify such a mission? What place, and purpose, does science have in humankind? What place has one life in evolution? Are we alone? The list goes on. This film is genuinely profound. It creates a string of situations that are thrilling, sometimes scary and sad, to watch, but at the same time point to fundamental, universal questions of life and humanity. Which means: to us, the viewers.

"Europa Report" is fascinating, captivating, and highly thought-provoking. What it lacks in budget, it easily makes up for in clever premise, epic implications, and coherent execution. This is one of the films after watching which you're going to want to have someone to talk with.

Verdict: Clear, existential, moving. Outstanding sci-fi. 9/10



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Review: Tras el cristal ("In a glass cage", 1986, Agusti Villaronga)

A Nazi criminal tries to escape his dark past and his demons by attempting suicide. But he fails, and ends up in an iron lung, requiring constant attention and care. A young male nurse is assigned to the job, and appears to have an unexpectedly deep relation to the patient...

If there's any aspect of humanity that deserves to be characterized as "innocent", it has to be the children. The loss of that innocence is a tragedy, and oftentimes becomes the root of more tragedy to come.

"Tras el cristal" is a Spanish horror thriller that deals with childhood trauma, and, in a wider sense, with war, but in strong contrast to e.g. "Quien puede matar un nino?" goes deep into psychology, exposing the individual experience of pain.

Given the horrific premise of the story, and the meticulous execution of the film, "Tras el cristal" is genuinely hard to watch. On the surface it's a depressingly dark tale of revenge, a sinister psycho thriller that plays out to grotesque levels. But at its core is a sad, sobering truth: The trauma will be passed on. Life does not choose - it just adapts.

Visually, it's dark, and surreal. We're undoubtedly in real horror territory. This is not a crime movie - this is about the human soul. Throughout the movie we're seeing traumatized characters. Which are portrayed by the actors, young and old, with gut-wrenching accuracy. The mere sight of a person in an iron lung might be hard to stomach for some, but "Tras el cristal" goes much, much further in its descriptions and depictions. Actually not too much is shown on screen, but enough to make you gasp, and your mind will fill in the gaps.

Is it an exploitation movie? Well, yes, it kind-of is. It's a horror movie after all, which implies simplification and provocation, to make it accessible for the intended audience. And it's an effective one. In fact it's so effective, and scenes involving children are always a particularly sensitive issue, it's really not for everyone. But "Tras el cristal" is also a well-rounded, captivating production, adequate to the difficult subject in its serious tone, and undeniably carries an important message that must be universally heard and understood: Don't hurt a child.

Verdict: Dark. Very, very dark. 7/10 



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Review: Quien puede matar un nino? ("Who can kill a child?", 1976, Narciso Ibanez Serrador)

A man and his pregnant wife seek ease and reclusion on an island. What they find is the island to be seemingly devoid of people - except for the children. Slowly, the couple begins to uncover the true extent of what is going on...

Spain has produced a round of outstanding horror movies - one of which certainly is this one. It's genuinely scary, and can be pretty tough to sit through, especially if you're a parent. 

Two obvious themes come to mind when trying to analyze this film: a couple facing birth of their child, and rebellion of children. A third one is hidden in plain sight: Could you actually kill a child? Under what circumstances could this even become an option? These questions alone are almost too uncomfortable to even think about, let alone seeing them applied in a movie.

That's a lot of heavy subject matter. But do not despair. "Quien puede matar un nino?" takes the easy way out. It doesn't go into the actual psychological causes and implications of the above, or, just to a very limited degree. If it really would, it would also be a very, very long movie, and, being in the horror genre, probably just downright devastating.

What remains is an intense shocker, that decides not to answer the (partly serious) questions it asks. In that sense, it's a bit on the naive side, but in every other sense it goes all the way, and doesn't flinch away from the consequences. Technically, the acting is good to outstanding, there are a couple of epic scenes of creeping terror, the script, together with some nice editing, provides twists and reveals, music is used sparsely, but effectively, and everything is put together with a good pace, resulting in a constantly growing feeling of suspense and scare. "Quien puede matar un nino?" is a terrifying experience, that might be a little too much for some, but at its heart is inspired by the love for children, and - thankfully - is "just" a great horror film.

Verdict: Hellish. Grotesque. Brilliant. 8/10



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Review: Spoorloos ("The Vanishing", 1988, George Sluizer)

A couple in love is on a vacation trip. When they stop and have a break from driving at some petrol station, the woman is kidnapped. Three years later, her boyfriend is receiving letters from the kidnapper, and goes on a frantic search for the truth...

Oh. My. God. "Spoorloos" aka "The Vanishing" is masterpiece of writing, and suspense.

It begins with some personal moments of a loving relationship, but there are some undertones - and soon the woman, Saskia, goes missing. What follows is a fascinating look at the psyche of her boyfriend, Rex, as he gets lost in search of inner peace, and the kidnapper, who proceeds with half naive, half devilish insanity. It all heads towards an unavoidable conclusion, but "Spoorloos" takes its time. Technically, it's a very simple production, but it drags you in with its intricate writing, editing, and camera work, the beautiful, mostly calm settings, and unobtrusive acting. While, slowly, the horror starts creeping in, as you begin to guess what might have happened, and what is yet to come...

As all the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall together, you realize the true quality of what you're seeing. "Spoorloos" is bright, precise, and just beautiful from the first scene, but when the end credits roll, it has become a brilliant, scary monster. There are mere seconds of physical violence in this film, there's no gore, no vampires, no undead, and nothing that really qualifies as special effect. But there's also no comic relief in it, and its self-awareness doesn't pour into the story. It's lighthearted when required, but nonetheless serious throughout, creating a mesmerizing, uneasy mood that only grows. Real horror is all in the mind.

"Spoorloos" is a very sad, very not-dumb, highly thought-provoking, and hair-raisingly scary low-budget movie, beautifully filmed and acted, that combines some Hitchcock-ian suspense with a dramatic build-up a la "Smilla's Sense of Snow" and the simplicity of "Man bites Dog" into an effective, shockingly realistic psycho thriller. 

Probably very disturbing for the average viewer, an absolute must-watch for fans of the genre, and a potential hidden gem for "true" horror geeks.

Verdict: Super scary... 9/10



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Review: Too Late the Hero (1970, Robert Aldrich)

It's World War II. A British army base on a Japanese island is the starting point for a special mission to capture and destroy a Japanese radio transmitter. Tensions and reconsiderations among the squad threaten the mission's success...

In this war action film production featuring Michael Caine and Cliff Robertson, we witness a half united, half torn apart group of characters entering combat with the enemy, the jungle, and themselves. As with many of these older war movies, the depiction might be a bit wooden or maybe naive in some regards, but overall "Too Late a Hero" is miles away from being dumb or flat. Quite the contrary. It's full of little and not so little sub-plots going on between the men, there's some wild action, it's gritty and gory at times, and touches on psychological horror. Henry Fonda makes a great appearance at the beginning of the movie, Caine and Robertson both play their roles with routine perfection, and all other performances are solid, too.

It is a thrilling action movie, and it does tackle some important subjects - like integrity versus responsibility, resilience and belief under pressure, nihilism of war - but we kind of don't really know what we're seeing here. Is it really an action movie, or more of an epic? Is it a psychological treatment? Or was it ultimately just about personal overcoming and heroism?

"Too Late the Hero" is a bit of a mixed bag - but it's entertaining, thrilling, and thought provoking, nonetheless. And, yeah, it's really gritty at times.

Verdict: Somehow unfocused, but still very well worth a watch. 6/10



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