One of the great things about having a Roku, and the proliferation of channels on same showing silly public domain movies, is that rafts of Z-movie silliness that has been unavailable for decades (even during the video store age, who was going to carry this stuff when DTV had suddenly become A Thing?) is now as close as the Play button on your remote. For years I had this basic idea-call it the disease of nsotalgia-that every movie that had been made before the dawn of the MPAA was a Great Film and that it was only in my lifetime that people were making crap. I am certainly glad I found out different...but how much different, well, sometimes you have no idea until you're surfing around Netflix and you come up with ridiculousness like The Devil's Hand.
Rick Turner (Imitation of Life's Robert Alda, Alan's dad) and his fiancee Donna Trent (Three Sad Tigers' Ariadna Welter) are blissful and looking forward to their upcoming marriage, house, and two point four kids. That is, with the exception of these odd drams Rick has about hot chicks dancing in midair. But...what if they're not just dreams? As it turns out, the dancer is a real person, Bianca Milan (How to Seduce a Playboy's Linda Christian), who has ties to a nefarious cult. Rick finds himself drawn to them...but in order to join, he will have to make a sacrifice that calls into question everything he holds dear.
I always think of that line from Billy Joel's "Zanzibar" when I watch movies like this: "melodrama's so much fun/in black and white for everyone/to see...". Oh Cold River, the melodrama. You know exactly where this is going, don't you? Hole took an idea that could have been used for at least a few chills (or, more likely, some unintentional hilarity) and instead created something with aspirations to a weepie, with a bit o' coochie dancing to keep the males in the audience from gnawing their own arms off in an attempt to escape the theater. Pretty much everything about it is terrible, but it at least plasters on the goop thick enough to allow the cheese factor to shine through in hindsight; if you're a connoisseur of awful horror movies, you owe it to yourself to give this one a watch. Others can, and should, safely avoid. * 1/2
Abandoned Mine started off with a bang-there are some nifty filmmaking techniques that make it seem like you're going to get something much more than you are from this low-budget horrorfest. For some reason, however, Chamberlain abandons the pretense to the avant-garde once things get rolling, and we end up with a straightforward haunted-mine tale, mediocre but watchable.
Plot: Brad (Pearl Harbor's Reiley McClendon) is a post-high-school layabout in a small rural town, bored out of his skull. His ex-girlfriend Laurie (Reservations' Saige Thompson) is back in town, so he cooks up an idea-the two of them, Brad's current girlfriend Sharon (Spy Kids' Alexa PenaVega), Laurie's schoolmate Ethan (High School Musical 2's Charan Prabhakar), and Brad's best friend Jim (Radio Flyer's Adam Hendershott), will spend the night near the mouth of the legendary Jarvis Mine, supposedly haunted by the family of the Jarvis that the mine is named for. A thunderstorm drives them inside, and weird things start happening...
Unfortunately, none of those weird things are terribly unpredictable; you should be on the right track relatively soon, and from there, aside from some appealing ambiguity as to what's really going on with one of the characters, it unfolds in paint-by-numbers fashion. This has a surprisingly high-powered cast for such a shoestring affair, and despite being stereotypes, the characters are at least affable (I waffled the whole movie on whether Ethan was offensive or the best character in the entire movie). I've seen far worse movies this year, but I've seen far better as well. **
Historical drama/mystery set in nineteenth-century frontier Canada about a woman (Devil's Caroline Dhavernas) who walks into a sheriff's office and confesses to murdering her husband (Final Destination's Brendan Fehr), and the investigation that follows. Enjoyable, if somewhat slight, and most of the relationships never quite rang true for me (the exception is that between the alleged murderess and the lead investigator); how much you can overlook that likely determines how much you'll end up liking it. Would have been better with a slightly less predictable ending, but you can't find many of those these days. ***
I've said a great deal about American attempts to make horror anthology films since Creepshow, and it feels silly to reiterate it all here. From a Whisper to a Scream is another of those American anthology films where the framing device ends up working better than any of the stories therein, but unlike many movies of that stripe, the shorts in this one range from competent to pretty durned good, and the cast they dug up for this thing is pretty spectacular, with Vincent Price as the framing device's narrator and a solid B-movie cast with names like Clu Galager, Susan Tyrrell, Larry Kiser, and Lawrence Tierney delivering the fun. I wish Burr had pushed a little harder to try and send this one into the realms of Creepshow (though in hindsight-Burr's later output would include Pumpkinhead II and the fourth and fifth Puppet Master movies-he simply might not have had it in him), but what we got is watchable enough if you're looking for a handful of short, sharp shocks. ***
The Reeds is not a bad little film, certainly not one deserving of the kind of calumny it has received around the Internet (4.6 at IMDB, 10%[!!] at Rotten Tomatoes). It's nothing spectacularly original, but if you're looking for a somewhat understated supernatural thriller, this will do as well as most of your other options. A group of young-and-beautifuls head out of the city to spend a weekend boating in the middle of nowhere...but "middle of nowhere" turns out to be a much more accurate description than they were hoping, and the reeds are home to all sorts of the kinds of noises that make people wonder just how alone they are on the desolate moor. While the climax does get a touch ridiculous, that did not, in my estimation, detract from the basic enjoyability of the movie. It's empty calories, but it's an easily-swallowed ninety minutes that does not leave a nasty aftertaste. ***