August 2020 Review: The Best and Worst Movies I Saw Last Month
Updated: Feb 6
August was an exceptionally difficult month for me due to expectations and responsibilities surrounding work. I was not able to write as much as I normally would and that got me down. Additionally, I ended up watching a lot of really bad movies this month which made it harder for me to connect with the writing. Now that work has quieted down tremendously, I have more time on my hands to devote to this blog. Thankfully, the quality of movies started going up by the end of the month so I found myself feeling revitalized by the end of it all. All three of my favorite movies of the month were watched in the last week or so of August. In total, I watched 46 movies last month. Here is a brief snapshot of the best and worst. I hope you enjoy it!
WORST #3) The Curse of the Komodo (2004); Director: Jim Wynorski; United States
A group of scientists and a team of criminals must work together to escape an uninhabited Hawaiian island threatened by a pack of genetically modified Komodo dragons. They only have a limited time to get out before the government takes matters into their own hands and destroys them all before any information can get leaked to the public. The Curse of the Komodo is one of many early 2000s works that try (and fail) to continue the energy of the late 90s’ creature feature revival. Bad acting, laughable effects, and nonsensical plots are requirements for films like this but The Curse of the Komodo feels even more phoned in than some of its predecessors. What’s disappointing is that many elements were present that could have elevated the film beyond bottom of the barrel schlock to something of a more respectable B movie. There’s much potential for a truly scary story about genetically modified animals (particularly the Komodo dragon, which is underrepresented in horror) and the film certainly boasted some interesting setpieces that could have been better utilized (an electric fence protected island mansion and supply hut in the middle of the forest come to mind). Overall, The Curse of the Komodo’s rapid-fire pace, under-baked plot, and tacky effects make it a forgettable, throwaway piece of sci-fi horror trash that is worth a watch only if you are completely strapped for options.
Overall Score? 3/10
BEST #3) Antichrist (2009); Director: Lars von Trier; Denmark/Germany/France/Sweden/Italy/Poland
After the death of their son, a man and a woman attempt to rebuild the pieces of their lives and each other. They decide that a trip into the woods is the best therapy they can manage and set off with purpose. Once there, their situation deteriorates as they succumb to something dark and sinister. Antichrist is not an easy film to watch. It is graphic, explicit, and audacious in tone, imagery, and subject material. At times I found myself repulsed, shocked, and intrigued, which is not something I can say for many films. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg give great performances, with the latter truly relishing in the unhinged nature her role demanded. Their chemistry is palpable and makes the film feel more personal and genuine. Antichrist is wrapped in spiritual and natural metaphors for nature, morality, gender roles, sexuality, and mental health. Admittedly, a decent amount of it flew over my head so I’ll put it out there that I need some repeat viewings before I say anything with certainty. What I can say, is that Antichrist is a compelling film that will make you gasp, shudder, and above all think about the dark complexities of human nature.
Overall Score? 7.5/10
WORST #2) Sharkman (2001); Director: Brian Meece; United States
Representing a pharmaceutical company that is on the brink of the next big discovery, a team travels to a reclusive scientist’s laboratory to negotiate a deal to work with him on his latest experiments. They discover that he has ulterior motives that stem back to his history involving his tenure at their company and the mysterious circumstances behind the death of his son, who was set to marry the group’s leader. Sharkman is another venture in bad sci-fi horror that brings little merriment to compensate for its lack of practical finesse. Even with is ninety-minute runtime, Sharkman drags and plays like an endurance test in hokey cgi and Z-tier community theater acting. What bothers me about films like this is that there is barely any joy in its script. It plays itself pretty straight, which is remarkable for a film whose plot hinges on a shark-human hybrid mating with various drugged and sacrificed women. There’s something appealing underneath all the mediocrity, but it can’t seem to find the surface. Sharkman is yet another entry in the lame sci-fi horror, creature feature subgenre that can’t seem to take the hint and die off to where it is better left to only the most ardent of Syfy apologists.
Overall Score? 3/10
BEST #2) Waxwork (1988); Director: Anthony Hickox; United States/United Kingdom/West Germany
A group of college students are invited to an exclusive midnight party and premiere at a new Waxwork exhibit in their sleepy college town. Once there they begin exploring the museum and interacting with the horror-inspired exhibits in a way that transports them to a new world. Really. Once they cross the threshold of an exhibit, they are taken to the world inspired by the display– worlds, worlds populated by mummies, vampires, zombies, and so much more. The crew must survive their individual cycles of horror if they want any chance of leaving the Waxwork alive. Waxwork is a humor and fright-filled nostalgia trip that takes viewers on a journey of some of horror's greatest hits. It achieves the perfect balance of 80s’ cheese and genuine thrills. The set design felt particularly inspired. The waxworks themselves were visual delights, both captivating and curiosity inducing. Once the plot gets going, it becomes more of a game to see which crazy scene the heroes will endure next. Another strength of Waxwork is the delightful cast of characters. While sporting solid performances all around, Zach Galligan’s Mark, a smarmy rich kid, and Michelle Johnson’s China, a brash and breezy HBIC, are easy standouts. China may be one of my new favorite horror characters and absolutely deserves to be a gay icon. Playful, witty, and smarter than her peers give her credit for, my only complaint is that China deserved more screen time! Waxwork is a wacky and entertaining love letter to the genre that will melt any horror fan’s heart.
Overall Score? 8/10
WORST #1) Strawberry Estates (1997); Director: Ron Bonk; United States
A cameraman, a professor, a student research assistant, a psychic, and a few technical assistants trek to an allegedly haunted property in the middle of the country. While narrating its deep and lurid history, the team finds itself getting more acquainted with the ghosts of the past better than they intended. Strawberry Estates came out around the time that the wildly successful The Blair Witch Project came out and, regardless of its purported earlier release date, it shows! Strawberry Estates begins getting unbearable after the first thirty minutes or so. Its formula vacilates between unnecessarily long fake history lessons of the estate, some of which seem contradictory upon reflection, done in its faux documentary-style approach to mundane conversations about God and religion that add neither substance nor mystery to the film’s story. Where are the scares you ask? Great question! There are none. There are moments here and there that attempt to escalate the tension and create a fearful atmosphere but mostly come across as annoying. Speaking of annoying, every character, and I mean every character, is absolutely miserable. Each actor leeches off the camera in their own unique way that makes Strawberry Estates that much more painful to watch. A cringeworthy waste of film, Strawberry Estates should have left its mystery stay buried in the depths of the internet’s library of bad horror movies.
Overall Score? 2/10
BEST #1) Nightbreed (1990); Director: Clive Barker; United States
A young man seeks out therapy to better understand the troubling recurring dreams he has of a mythical city named Midian where peaceful monsters live. At the end of his latest session, he’s convinced that he is responsible for a string of murders. On the run and searching for answers, he finds himself on the outskirts of a cemetery that may hold the answers to his obsession. It’s hard to write about Nightbreed and omit the many threads that come together to create such a unique and fun film. Part horror, part action, a little fantasy, and a splash of romance make Nightbreed an adrenaline rush and monster mayhem fueled hour and fifty minutes. Clive Barker does an excellent job of bringing this whimsical world alive through expert world-building and immersive set design. Everything about Nightbreed hits the mark for me: great pacing, varied and engaging action and suspense scenes, creative creature designs that primarily use practical effects, and both compelling and likable characters. I also really enjoy the messaging of Nightbreed. The freakish and outcasted monsters are the protagonists while the antagonists are the “normal” folks, but mostly just law enforcement and other carceral figures. The true violence lies in how you treat others and that theme is repeatedly used throughout Nightbreed. As much as I enjoyed Nightbreed, I do believe it could benefit from a more modern retelling or update. With the right director and cast, I would endorse it! Harrowing and heart-pounding, Nightbreed is a fantastic piece of early 90s’ action-horror that is pure entertainment and fun.
Overall Score? 8/10