• Maxwell J.

June 2020 Review: The Best and Worst Movies I Saw Last Month

Updated: Feb 6

June was whirlwind. With everything going on in the world, and there is plenty, it’s felt chaotic and overwhelming. They say that horror thrives in times of great turmoil, so I wonder what great art will be made from 2020 over the next few years. I guess time will tell.

Overall, I ended up watching 48 movies. On top of watching fewer movies than the previous month, the quality of movies was also sadly lower. Of the 48 films I watched, I rated 18 of them to be bad or terrible. Seven of those films earned a 3/10, which is something I reserve for some of the worst films I watch (for a film to earn lower than a 3, I have to consider it a film I hate which normally takes a lot to accomplish).

WORST #3) Death House (2018); Director: B. Harrison Smith; United States

Two highly trained, specialized soldiers are introduced to the “Death House”, a maximum-security, underground prison where experiments are conducted on its inmates. Following a security breach, the two must fight against the agitated prisoners and the supernatural horrors that lurk in the darkest depths of the prison in order to get out alive. Death House brings together a myriad of genre veterans including Tony Todd, Bill Moseley, Adrienne Barbeau, Kane Hodder, Dee Wallace, Barbara Crampton, and more to tell this tale of survival horror. If only they spent some of the money used on hiring big names and allocated it towards better writing, Death House might have been an alright film. Instead, Death House is a plodding, exposition-heavy bore. The characters are bland and so expendable its pathetic. Most scenes feel included because they look or sound cool rather than for what they add to the plot. The most egregious example I can point to involves two characters sliding down the cord of a mile-long elevator shaft, shooting guns at the doors of each level in the prison. I’m all for bending the laws of physics, but even that’s a stretch for me. Unless you feel like punishing yourself skip Death House and watch literally any other by-the-numbers survival horror film.

Overall Score? 3/10

BEST #3) Bad Samaritan (2018); Director: Dean Devlin; United States

While attempting to rob a wealthy man’s house while he’s out to dinner, a young man stumbles upon a woman chained up on the second floor. After unsuccessfully trying to free her, the would-be burglar makes it his mission to bring her abductor to justice, even at great personal cost to himself. I’ll admit that Bad Samaritan had been on my watchlist for a very long time and I had begun to dread watching it for some reason. I am so glad that I ignored that instinct because Bad Samaritan is an absolute RIDE. Bad Samaritan drips with dread and tension in every scene. I had this bad feeling in the pit of my stomach throughout the entire film, it really hit hard for me. David Tennant gives a riveting performance as Cale Erendreich, the abductor with the dark and mysterious past. I’d say without Tennant’s performance the film would not have been as enjoyable. Leading man Robert Sheehan gives a solid performance, as does the rest of the supporting cast. While it doesn’t offer much new to the serial killer thriller genre of horror, Bad Samaritan delivers classic chills and frightening chase segments that will leave your pulse pounding.

Overall Score? 8/10

WORST #2) Scare Me (2020); Director: Conrad Glover, Mark Stephens; United States

Scare Me is a horror anthology film that follows a group of friends traveling to a music festival who decide to camp in the woods before their weekend exploits. A contest is being held to determine who can tell the scariest story and the prize is a free ticket to the aforementioned festival. Scare Me is the cinematic equivalent of eating a bread sandwich. There is a distinct lack of both substance and style that leaves viewers helplessly disappointed. Budgetary restrictions may confine a film in some regards, but that isn’t an excuse for terrible acting, inconsistent writing, cringeworthy dialogue, and uninspired direction. Each segment has the potential to be good, or at least tolerable, but somehow misses the mark every time, often ending right when a story gets interesting. The wraparound segment is also equal parts distracting and over-the-top. Another aspect of Scare Me is the weird political statements it makes throughout its runtime. I’m all for horror films tackling social issues, but these one-off pieces of dialogue just felt out of place and devoid of the thoughtful analysis or depth one would expect a film to have when taking a stance on issues. Passable horror anthologies are often easy enough to pull off and yet Scare Me is eclipsed by almost every modern horror anthology released in the past five years, if not ever.

Overall Score? 3/10

BEST #2) The Wicker Man (1973); Director: Robin Hardy; United Kingdom

Sent to a mysterious island populated by free-spirited pagans, an investigator attempts to get to the bottom of the disappearance of a young girl. The longer he stays, the deeper he tangles himself in the island’s bizarre customs and rituals. Preceding the campy and maligned 2006 Nicholas Cage remake (which I will admit to seeing first many years ago), this 1973 adaptation exhibits confidence in its slow-burn dread and deep social commentary. I found the story of Wicker Man captivating. Between a clever script and adept direction, The Wicker Man provides real suspense and intrigue. Even though I already knew where the story was heading, the journey is still wrought with plenty of tense and frightening moments. Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee give incredible leading performances as Sergeant Howie and Lord Summerisle respectively. Lee in particular injects a kind of sunshine-y and sinister energy into his role as the leader of the island community that complements Woodward’s straight role, Sergeant. I also appreciated the commitment to deconstructing themes of puritanism and the roles of sex and death within society. It added an additional, thoughtful layer to the film notably absent from the remake, which made for an even more pleasureful viewing experience. A cult-classic with much to chew on for cinephiles and casual audiences alike, The Wicker Man is a must-watch for fans of the 70s, slow-burn, and cult horror.

Overall Score? 8/10

WORST #1) Engine Trouble (2002); Director: Marc Ickx; Belgium

Two friends on a road trip in a coworker’s fixer-upper car find themselves stuck in the middle of nowhere after their ride stalls out in the countryside. After splitting up to find help, the young women realize they are being hunted. I don’t want to mince words here; Engine Trouble is absolute hot garbage. From the derivative story to the terrible acting, Engine Trouble lacks the proper foundation to telling a seemingly coherent and enjoyable horror experience. The directorial choices hinder Engine Trouble even further. Sequences drag on for what seems like forever, often blunting whatever suspense could be squeezed from them in favor of prolonging the discordant wails of Cecilia Bergqvist’s Rebecca. The final twenty minutes could have been condensed into five without losing much from the script or overall experience and the beginning is hardly relevant to the hour or so of film that follows. Even if you disregard the myriad of technical issues holding back the film, Engine Trouble is simply not a scary film. It is a tepid, unoriginal, and boring piece of cinematic trash that is not deserving of your time or energy. An exercise in mean-spirited and directionless mediocrity, Engine Trouble is riddled with too many irreparable problems to consider taking it out of the impound lot.

Overall Score? 3/10

BEST #1) The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2009); Director: John Erick Dowdle; United States

Boxes of tapes depicting the extreme depravity of a New York based serial killer are examined by a team of detectives attempting to crack multiple cold cases of missing people upstate. The Poughkeepsie Tapes features only some of the stories of the murderer’s voracious appetite for torture and murder. As much as found footage has inundated the market since 2007, The Poughkeepsie Tapes still feels fresh and energetic compared to many of its contemporaries. What it lacks in plot, it makes up for incredibly well-directed scenes of tension, suspense, and carnage. For fans searching for more visceral films, The Poughkeepsie Tapes offers many disturbing and downright terrifying scenes filled to the brim with nightmarish imagery and sounds. Ben Messmer delivers an incredible performance as the deranged killer, without ever showing his face. Messmer’s voice and body language alone evoke goosebumps throughout his performance and often linger when the story cuts back to the procedural portions of the film. While The Poughkeepsie Tapes is chock full of shocking moments, one scene, in particular, stands out in my mind as extra jarring. I won’t go into too much detail to avoid spoilers but trust me when I say you’ll watch it and know exactly what I am referring to here. Guaranteed to put you on edge, The Poughkeepsie Tapes is not for the faint of heart, but it will satisfy your need to be scared.

Overall Score? 8/10

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