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  • Writer's pictureMaxwell J.

December 2021 Review: The Best and Worst Movies I Saw Last Month

Updated: Feb 6, 2022

I always spend my December getting comfortable and hibernating at home more, which means way more movies! Last month I watched 49 movies. Let’s not waste time and get into it!

WORST #3) Night Train to Terror (1985); Director: John Carr, Phillip Marshak, Tom McGowan, Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, Gregg G. Tallas; United States

All aboard this haunted express! Night Train to Terror takes place on a passenger train on its way to an undisclosed destination with a very prefixed predestination. God and Satan themselves are aboard the train deciding the fate of three people and discussing their stories as they flow in an anthology format. While the two figures debate and decide, passengers on board make merry and have the time of their very short lives by singing and dancing to fun music. This will all be cut short when their train crashes as a part of God and Satan’s plan. Out of all of the movies I watched in December, nothing infuriated me more than Night Train to Terror. Its concept is simple. Take three full length films, finished or unfinished, and cut them down to bite sized shorts. The result is a confusing and irritating abomination of cinema. None of the segments are given the time they need to flesh out their stories because they were intended to be viewed at feature length. Beyond the fact that each cut is mutilated beyond repair, they aren’t even that compelling of premises to begin with. The result is three below average horror films spliced together to create… this. Take it from me and find another train to travel for your cinematic pursuits.

Overall Score? 3/10

BEST #3) The Advent Calendar (2021); Director: Patrick Ridremont; France

Please check out the full review here.

Overall Score? 7.5/10

WORST #2) Trancers 4: Jack of Swords (1994); Director: David Nutter; United States/Romania

Time travelling trancer slayer Jack Deth is once again sent back in time to defeat a cabal of undead menaces in order to restore balance to the time and space. This time he must come face to face with evil Lord Caliban, a man who rules with an iron fist over a land bereft of technology and knowledge on trancers. Jack must use his wit, his brawn, and his inscrutable luck to break the people free from Caliban’s reign of terror and make it home to confront his wife and colleague for stepping out on him. The Trancers franchise is odd to me. The first two are clunky, yet forgivably cheesey sci-fi horror relics from the 80s. As the series progresses, it gets more nonsensical and, more worthy of scrutiny, boring. This one feels very much like a low budget cash in on Army of Darkness but much less compelling and entertaining. Tim Thomerson injects his usual steely cool charm and edge to the film, but it isn’t enough to rise above this cynically mediocre Full Moon feature. There are more interesting life-or-death battles being waged in films than whatever the hell Trancers 4 has for you; it’s best for you to explore those galaxies instead.

Overall Score? 3/10

BEST #2) The Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001); Director: Christopher Gans; France

Central France has a big problem in 1764. A ferocious beast is claiming the lives of humans and livestock that dare venture out alone in the mountains and woods. The King of France seeks out the expertise of Chevalier de Fronsac and Mani, a famed French explorer and his Native companion who make it their mission to put an end to the beast’s grip on the nation. Once there, they find themselves embroiled in a mystery that leads them to coy royals, rowdy political dissidents, and indecipherable brothel owners who all hold the key to what is behind the killings but how? An insightful and beautifully realized interpretation of the Beast of Gévauden killings that plagued France in the mid 1700s, Brotherhood of the Wolf holds up well as a dark horror fantasy epic that isn’t afraid to get dirty. Stunning cinematography, marvelous creature design, and beautiful period costuming help realize a world of violence, terror, and political intrigue. There is something for everyone and Brotherhood of the Wolf pushes the boundaries for all viewers in unique ways that make it such a genre force. Sink your claws into this wonderfully poignant and engrossing period horror from the early 2000s whenever you have a spare winter’s night to spend huddled on the couch.

Overall Score? 8/10

WORST #1) Sledgehammer (1983); Director: David A. Prior; United States

A lonely house in the middle of nowhere hides the sins of a blood-soaked tragedy that happened ten years ago. A young boy murders his cruel mother and her lover with a hammer. Today, a group of teenagers make the abode their vacation destination to enjoy a nice vacation. Throughout the night their group dwindles in numbers as they succumb to a series of brutal slayings. Once they find out, will it be too late to escape, or will they pull off the unthinkable and be the first to avoid the Sledgehammer? Slashers aren’t notorious for substantive storytelling, three dimensional characters, and flawless visuals, but attempts are made to put together a fun yet respectable film. None of those details come together in Sledgehammer, a stalk-and-slash film devoid of thrills, chills, or narrative sense. The production can’t be blamed for the budget it rustled up, but that doesn’t erase the grainy and unfocused cinematography that sends viewers on a blurry journey into supernatural killings. The deaths are bland and forgettable, much like the spartan set and charisma-less teens unceremoniously slaughtered by the central antagonist. Sledgehammer brings to life the worst a bad slasher can bring, so it’s best to keep it locked up in the shed out of view.

Overall Score? 2/10

BEST #1) Funny Games (1997); Director: Michael Haneke; Austria

A family travels to their lakeside home for a quiet vacation. Just as they are getting settled in, two young men visit with the neighbor and assume that they are family friends. Seemingly innocuous moments turn into something violent when the two men escalate a conflict involving some eggs. They duo take control and begin torturing the family both physically and psychologically over the course of the evening. Forced to endure the worst of humanity, will they have the grit and tenacity to overwhelm their captors and survive? Funny Games is a frustrating film in the best of ways. Compelling characters and exceptional performances drive this arduous exercise in shock filmmaking. Director Michael Haneke asks the audience to reflect on their relationship with violence, breaking the fourth wall at times to really hammer home the point. As often as Funny Games is a masterclass film in visual and psychological terror, it does lose points for scolding its own audience for perceived moral failings for daring to watch in the first place. Some may find it preachy, others may feel nauseous from the realistic portrayal of violence, and still, others may find it a bit of both. If nothing else, there are no games to be played with this Austrian gem.

Overall Score? 8/10

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