• Maxwell J.

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

Updated: Feb 6

By the time September came around, I finally felt like I had a chance to breathe in work, life, etc. I took some time off and have had the luxury of enjoying myself more. I’m still working on finalizing the edits on a bunch of movie reviews and I am hopeful they can start trickling in soon!

I watched 49 movies for the first time and re-watched another eight movies (the first seven Friday the 13th films and the original Japanese Ring). Overall, the month was pretty typical. I watched some great films and just as many bad ones.

WORST #3) Skinner (1993); Director: Ivan Nagy; United States

A socially awkward yet deceivingly charming and mildly handsome man rents a spare room from a couple in a dilapidated blue-collar town. Unbeknownst to all but one deeply scarred, both physically and emotionally, woman, the disturbed young man moonlights as a serial killer, reveling in his signature brand of torment– skinning his victims. Skinner is a boring and pedestrian take on psychosis. Lacking any true moments of tension or suspense, believable character motivations or actions, or compelling substance within the script makes Skinner a painful movie to finish. Barely clocking in at 88 minutes, the film draws out most of its scenes long past the typical audience member’s threshold of endurance. It’s languid, it’s schlocky, it’s masturbatory. Furthermore, it’s just stupidly offensive. Skinner features a particularly racist and anti-Black chase and kill scene of a Black character that is not only tasteless but incredibly unnecessary to the plot. I will say that I was checked out by the time this scene played through, but it still sucks! Chock full of the worst the 90s’ has to offer: low production values, careless writing, blatant racism, and poor direction make Skinner a rightfully forgotten rip-off of every serial killer thriller made in the thirty years that preceded it.

Overall Score? 3/10

BEST #3) Threads (1984); Director: Mick Jackson; United Kingdom/Australia/United States

This made for tv film follows the British city of Sheffield, England in the follow-up and aftermath of a nuclear attack. A film that horrified hundreds of thousands upon its release, Threads is a brutal and uncompromising look at the impact advanced nuclear war tactics could have on a community from a local and global scale. While not a traditional horror film, Threads straddles the line between science fiction, drama, horror, and war genres in a terrifying way. Karen Meagher plays everywoman Ruth Beckett, a pregnant bride-to-be who navigates the morbid realities of the new world in an attempt to make a life for herself and her child. Meagher’s performance is raw and grounded in reality, which makes it very easy to relate and sympathize with her. This can be said for the majority of the character in Threads. They all try and make the most of their situation but are ultimately doomed by their unchangeable circumstances and that inevitability is what makes Threads pack such a hard punch. If it could happen to them, it could easily happen to you. Released in the twilight years of the Cold War, Threads outlines the blueprint for what the consequences of escalating war meant for most people. This is potentiated by the faux documentary angle the director Mick Jackson chooses to use for a framing device. Macabre in ways different than most horror films, Threads is a disturbing and nauseating film that feels too close for comfort in a world of constant hostile international turmoil.

Overall Score? 8/10

WORST #2) Shadows Run Black (1984); Director: Howard Heard; United States

Billed as an erotic and sensual crime/horror hybrid, Shadows Run Black is a muddled paint-by-the-numbers cop slasher. There isn’t much here to critique. Another lame cash-in of better movies, Shadows Run Black has many bad things going against it, but above all, it is truly unmemorable. I watched this movie no more than three weeks ago and couldn’t recall a thing, beyond a really entrenched recurring racist subplot involving an interracial relationship. It fails as a slasher by putting no effort into the horror and suspense elements of the film and it fails as a crime thriller for offering no compelling reason for the sequence of events to unfold. This film offers nothing to the viewer. There’s no suspense, no great action, little mystery, it’s just flat. Beyond its story, it also fails on a number of technical issues: poor acting, abysmal lighting, confused direction, and inconsistent pacing and tone. Avoiding what makes typical films interesting, competent, or entertaining, Shadows Run Black leans into the fantasies of what an eleven-year-old boy might consider a great film: excessive nudity, shock humor, and overall lack of imagination or thought. It is best leaving this justifiably forgotten relic of the 80s’ where it belongs: deep in the confines of Amazon Prime’s streaming catalogue never to be played again.

Overall Score? 3/10

BEST #2) Day of the Dead (1985); Director: George Romero; United States

Charged with finding a solution to the ever-growing zombie problem plaguing the world, a group of scientists, soldiers, and civilians work together to envision their future. Or they at least try. Day of the Dead is the third film in George Romero’s original Living Dead Trilogy, Day of the Dead punches less social commentary into the series and instead offers a more philosophical approach to humanity. Are we merely here to survive? What rules do we except for others but not ourselves? Is there even a point to it all? Day of the Dead asks these questions while the military compound quickly dwindles to a few survivors. What I enjoy so much about Day of the Dead is that while there are clearly human antagonists in the fold, every character gets their chance to show the worst they have to offer. Stubbornness, rage, jealousy, elitism, nihilism, their flaws are evident and aren’t excused. We accept that these characters are not perfect people, but we still naturally want some to survive. A captivating script, a claustrophobic setting, and a constant feeling of dread permeating through the screen make Day of the Dead an excellent zombie classic to entertain and enthrall viewers.

Overall Score? 8/10

WORST #1) Murder Death Koreatown (2020); Director: Unknown; United States

Murder Death Koreatown follows a thirty-something shmuck with a camera as he investigates a murder in the apartment complex near his home. I don’t want to waste more time than necessary thinking about this film. It’s easily one of the worst excuses for a film I have seen all year. The idea is that we are following the “protagonist” on his own spiral fueled by conspiracy theories surrounding the murder that took place near him. The reality is we are forcibly taken on this guy’s joy ride terrorizing innocent people around Koreatown. The worst part is that the murder central to this film’s plot is actually real. Not only that, but it happened recently. On top of poor direction, awful writing, even worse acting, and lack of polish on anything, it’s absolutely vile and tasteless. One can only imagine how many people were filmed against their will in making this. We’ll never know because apparently no one is attached to the project. There are no credits for actors, the editor, the director, etc. One can say it might be to keep the whole schtick mysterious, but I think it’s because they knew they were a part of something truly terrible. It wasn’t enjoyable to begin with and I was already gearing to give it a low rating, but learning this makes me hate the film even more. There are so many better movies to watch, just stay away.

Overall Score? 2/10

BEST #1) Sputnik (2020); Director: Ego Abramenko; Russia

A cosmonaut returns to Earth after being attacked in space by something not of this world. Unable to leave an isolation facility, his only hope of survival comes from a brilliant doctor with a troubled past. The doctor, Tatyana, played by Oksana Akinshina, must work to uncover the cure for the arrogant Soviet hero so he can greet the public and the government can save face for the cosmic snafu. I’ll be posting a more in-depth review of Sputnik later, but I just want to say how absolutely engrossing this sci-fi horror drama is from start to finish. Tatyana and Konstantin are great characters that have solid character arcs throughout the film. Not only is there a lot to learn about them, but audiences find out just how compassionate, resilient, and dedicated they are to their respective missions. To me, it is always important for the characters to be both likable and compelling, otherwise the horror and mayhem doesn’t hit as hard. And Sputnik does not disappoint in either arena. While it does not feature tons of carnage, Sputnik is an impressively violent and frightening film that delivers on its terrifying premise in ways that most sci-fi horrors fail to achieve. Put this Russian gem on your radar if you enjoy thoughtful character meditations and political undertones accompanied by steadily escalated alien mayhem.

Overall Score? 8/10

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