My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.

This week focuses on four 80s horror movies programmed by Criterion Channel.


Near Dark (1987)

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

This was my second look at Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire film. The last time I saw it must have been nearly two decades ago so it was definitely time to revisit the film, especially now that she’s one of my favorite filmmakers.

It has its contrived plot points and over-the-top moments but Near Dark remains one of the best horror films of the 80s and certainly one of Bigelow’s finest early works. The movie rests completely on the shoulder of its characters, a great ensemble (including Jack Deth a.k.a. Tim Thomerson!), and the consistent mood set by Bigelow and her talented team.

I had two additional thoughts on this watch that never would have occurred to me years ago: 1. This is a definite precursor to The Devil’s Rejects. I can’t imagine how this film couldn’t have directly or indirectly inspired Rob Zombie’s outlaw odyssey. Bigelow’s film is way ahead of its time in following a bunch of evil characters through their path of death and destruction. Just watch the astonishing bar scene and try to think of anything else like it in American cinema of the era. 2. Eric Red wasn’t on my radar at all more than a decade ago. Now I see his fingerprints all over this, from the road movie structure to the epic Bill Paxton truck finale. Having look at one of Red’s recent scripts the other day, it’s fun to see some of his recurring ideas play out in Bigelow’s movie.

Finally, I was delighted to see some Arizona landscapes in the movie, just an extra bonus during this fun viewing.

Watched on Criterion Channel


The Keep (1983)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Even in its botched state, the first half of The Keep is quite good. It’s slick visuals, electronic score, and mood are something to see even if the story jumps around.

But the last forty minutes are when the movie starts to fall apart. What I presume are cuts to Michael Mann’s original edit feel completely disjointed and the movie takes giant narrative leaps. Also, Scott Glenn’s wooden performance doesn’t work for me at all. I understand the intention but it was a mistake by both actor and director to not loosen up his character a little.

However much this checks all the boxes as a Michael Mann fan, it’s definitely his messiest and perhaps most disappointing movie (I need to see Miami Vice again to confirm this). That being said, I’m glad I finally saw it and it appears that this property and others from author F. Paul Wilson are still untapped treasure for filmmakers to explore.

Watched on Criterion Channel.


The Hidden (1987)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

I was excited to see this somewhat forgotten 80s Sci-Fi film programmed on Criterion. My parents mentioned seeing it when I was young and I’ve always been curious about it. I was surprised to see the movie is a little sillier than I expected but overall a solid genre picture.

What works most in The Hidden is the premise of alien jumping from body to body and the not-so-spoiler spoiler (it’s pretty obvious from the first scene) that an alien cop is tracking it down. The concept is played out with mixed results; I tended to appreciate the more serious side of the execution rather than the dated stylized moments and comic relief. But MacLachlan and Michael Nouri are a good duo and keep this moving till its touching finale (my favorite part).

This is actually a film that could be remade and improved upon. With all the dumb reboots Hollywood keeps doing, this is a property worth developing into a franchise or, better yet, an ongoing series since its brilliant concept is build for continuation.

Watched on Criterion Channel


Prince of Darkness (1987)

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

It’s hard to understand how some Carpenter fans put this near the top of the filmmaker’s work alongside such great films as The Thing and They Live. It’s missing two key components that Carpenter’s best work contains: a strong script and a charismatic leading man.

Regarding the former, I thought that Carpenter didn’t write this one but apparently he used a pseudonym. The exposition heavy dialog is different than his usual quick, character-based banter. And the ensemble is nowhere near as memorable as in most of his other films, an issue that goes back to the scribe.

No offense to leading man Jameson Parker, who does a serviceable job, but his performance shows just how valuable the male lead is in a Carpenter picture. He needed stars like Kurt Russell or Roddy Piper or James Woods to carry his films into “classic” territory, much like his inspiration Howard Hawks needed John Wayne, Gary Cooper, or Cary Grant and fell short when he replaced them with James Caan and Rock Hudson. Not having that strong lead cripples Prince of Darkness and unfortunately Victor Wong just can’t carry the whole damn thing himself.

It’s still fun and stylish but this movie’s best accomplishment is its ten minute opening title sequence.

Watched on Criterion Channel