Friday, July 30, 2021

Review: "The Green Knight"


If you're a buff of the Arthurian legends -- what, you mean every 9-year-old wasn't checking out "Le Morte d'Arthur" from the public library? -- the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is well known to you. It's a parable about bravery and honesty, as one of the most steadfast knights is faced with a strange challenge and finds himself lacking.

"The Green Knight" is far from what most people expect of a King Arthur movie. One of my all-time favorite films is "Excalibur," one of the first R-rated movies I ever got to see, and this movie from writer/director David Lowery is decidedly not that.

It's a moody, existential exercise that has very little action or traditional narrative. It's written and directed by David Lowery, who has made mainstream fare like "Pete's Dragon" but also "A Ghost Story" and "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," dreamy films that are almost experimental in their eschewing of usual forms of storytelling.

It's visually resplendent, dark, deliberately hard to decipher. You will occasionally have trouble understanding what people are saying or what is going on. It's not so much the kind of movie that you watch and enjoy as an experience that slowly absorbs into your skin.

Imagine if Terrence Malick made a Knights of the Round Table movie -- that's the best description I can give.

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Monday, July 26, 2021

Reeling Backward: "Some Kind of Wonderful" (1987)


"This is 1987. Did you know a girl can be whatever she wants to be?"
"I know. My mom's a plumber."

It has been claimed that John Hughes wrote "Some Kind of Wonderful," which is in many ways a remake of "Pretty in Pink," strictly so he could finally have the ending he always wanted where the two misfits wind up together instead of Blane winning out over Duckie. If so, he brings some interesting notes to the fore despite the film not being nearly as engaging or enduring.

Hughes again turned over the director's chair to Howard Deutch, who had previously helmed "Pink" as his first feature film in that role. Actually, he fired Deutch after he disagreed about the casting, only to be rehired when his replacement, Martha Coolidge, was herself canned. 

Hughes, who could be prickly and demanding of loyalty, also parted ways with his personal muse, Molly Ringwald, after she turned down a role in "Wonderful" because she was ready to be done with teen roles.

(Alas, audiences felt the same way about her once she graduated, cinematically speaking, from high school.)

I would've thought that Hughes wanted Ringwald for the role of Amanda, the popular, perfect girl who was eventually played by Lea Thompson. No, he actually wanted her for the part of gruff, drum-playing tomboy Watts, which instead went to Mary Stuart Masterson. I loved Masterson in that role, especially the mix of toughness and vulnerability she brought to the screen. But I can't help imagining what Ringwald would've done with it.

Hughes, who wrote from the heart but was still a Hollywood opportunist, actually did a ton of music chair-pulling for this film. 

It was about to go into production when "Pretty in Pink" came out and became a huge hit, and Hughes found himself with newfound clout. He fired Kim Delaney, who was to play Amanda, and got Thompson, who initially turned down the part but agreed after her first starring role, "Howard the Duck," was a tremendous flop

Also canned was Kyle MacLachlan as Keith Nelson, the drippy boy leg of this love triangle. They tried to get Michael J. Fox, but got the hand after the smash hit of "Back to the Future," which Thompson co-starred in, and settled on Eric Stoltz instead, who himself had been fired from "Future" for not having the proper comedic touch. 

He was better known for dramatic roles like "Mask," and after a rewrite of the script morphed "Wonderful" from a straight teen comedy to something moodier like "Pink," Stoltz seemed a good fit.

I'm not so sure.

Like Andrew McCarthy's creepy Blane in "Pink," Keith is strangely under-developed as a character -- despite being the ostensible protagonist. Stoltz play him with a sort of moony, fatalistic charm as the poor kid who aspires to the hand of the prettiest girl in school. He soon learns that Amanda's slithery ex-boyfriend, Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer), is looking to set him up for a beating and mistakenly thinks she's in on the plot.

At this point the movie takes a strange swerve, as Keith is determined to continue the date despite it all being one big joke. He even goes so far as to withdraw all the money he's been saving for college working in a gas station to buy expensive diamond earrings for Amanda, which he will present to her as a token of his determination not to back down from... life, or something.

I'm reminded of Matthew Modine's role in "Vision Quest," in which he is resolved to drop two weight classes to take on the best wrestler in the state, just to prove that he has the fortitude to tackle such an undertaking. 

Stoltz' Keith is too passive and unassuming to seem capable of such a move, though. He plays the movie with a lot of shy smiles and high-pitched line deliveries, his voice actually above that of his two leading ladies. 

A side story about Keith having a quiet contest of wills with his father (John Ashton) about picking a college seems shoehorned in without much thought. Keith has good grades and is an aspiring artist, so why wouldn't he want to go to college? His dad is angling toward a business school, but a state college would surely have some creative courses he could explore. 

For his part the dad just wants his son to go to university because he couldn't, and wants him to become the first member of the family who 'doesn't have to wash his hands at the end of a work day.'

I was glad the movie made an effort to explore Amanda, a character who usually gets buttonholed in films like this. She has certain negative qualities, like using her beauty to get what she wants and enjoying going with Hardy, just because he's rich and popular. But she herself is not part of the upper-crust crowd, seeing her relationship with Hardy as the means to go through a door otherwise barred to her. She eventually dumps him after his serial cheating becomes too much to take.

She accepts the date with Keith basically just as a way to get out with Hardy, and truly seems to have no interest in him. But she comes to grow and accept that Hardy and her erstwhile friends (Holly Hagan chiefly) aren't worth the corrupting effect they have on her soul. 

The most interesting character, of course, is Watts. Masterson gets a short, vaguely punk haircut and androgynous clothes to wear -- including, famously, boys' boxer shorts that she gets teased about in the girls' locker room. Watts (I'm guessing that's her last name; we never hear any other) watches Amanda from across the changing room, admiring her feminine curves and rubbing her hands over her own body in a regretful way. Very female gaze-y.

(Interesting aside: in their few scenes together, the camera takes pains to make Watts seem bigger and more intimating than Amanda, though both actresses are the same height.)

Watts is a classic screen rebel, rejecting all the tropes and conventions of those around her while secretly pining to fit in and share the comfort of convention. We get the sense that she and Keith are only fairly recent friends, and that she has had feelings for him the whole time without ever expressing them. She loves a boy, but still waits passively -- albeit with a lot of dropped hints -- for him to act.

This being a 1980s popular film, "Wonderful" edges around some LGBT questions without ever directly addressing them. Watts is called a lesbian one time, and doesn't seem particularly bothered by it, and often mimics her oppressors by repeating the claim that she's not 'really a girl.' She's just enough of a feminist to cherish her individualism and right to make choices but not enough to tell Keith to go stuff it, which is what a truly self-assured young woman would do.

Elias Koteas turns up as Duncan, a skinhead antagonist of Keith's who winds up becoming his guardian after they bond during detention. He seems significantly older than the rest of the cast, though he, Thompson and Stoltz were all 26 when the movie came out. Masterson was the kid at 21.

I was struck during the movie by how compliant the school officials are with the kids' behavior. Hardy invades the girls' locker room while carrying on an argument with Amanda, calls the coach a bitch and just gets detention for it. Keith deliberately sets off the fire alarm and receives similar punishment. Despite having a knife, Duncan never gets suspended. Amanda sweet-talks her way out of detention by flirting with the driver's ed coach.

"Some Kind of Wonderful" was a modest hit, but has faded into the grayish zone of '80s teen movies, which is probably where it belongs. It feels less like a fully-formed film in of itself than borrowed leftovers from John Hughes' oeuvre. At least we get to see the boy as the object of affection, instead of only being the pursuer.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Review: "Val"


Celebrity can be a blessing, a curse and a drug -- often all, and for the same person.

Consider the lifespan of movie stardom. Maybe one out of 10,000 young film actors breaks out of the pack, and even then their heyday usually lasts a few years at most. You can be one of the most famous people in the world, and just a few beats of a lifetime later you're largely forgotten.

"Val," the new biographical documentary about (and largely by) Val Kilmer is a testament to the fleeting, fickle nature of celebrity. It's essentially one actor's cinematic diary, shot by himself using handheld video cameras dating back to his childhood when they first became available to the general public, and he and his brothers made all sorts of movies.

He looks back on his life and movies with the sort of clear-eyed honesty you don't get from a Hollywood celebrity, even a washed-up one.

Read the rest on Substack!


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Review: "Broken Diamonds"


I'm a big fan of Lola Kirke, a young actress whose name you probably don't know. She's worked  in indies and smaller films over the past few years, building a solid resume without ever breaking into stardom. 

I'm not sure if that's something she'll ever achieve, mostly because she doesn't seem to want it. 

Kirke has what the old Hollywood moguls called "presence" -- when she's onscreen, she's always the one you're watching. She's comfortable in her own skin and isn't afraid to show her characters' flaws, inside or out.

She's got an interesting mix of vulnerability and stubbornness, often playing young women who aren't very sure of themselves but find a reason to trust their own authenticity. Check out "Mistress America," in which Kirke was terrific opposite Greta Gerwig.

I was less enthralled with her newest turn, "Broken Diamonds," out this week on VOD. She plays Cindy, a woman with serious mental illness, in her case schizophrenia. But the movie's not really about her, instead focusing on Cindy's brother Scott, played by Ben Platte.

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Review: "Joe Bell"

“Joe Bell” has its heart in the right place. It’s also one of those movies that very much wants you to know it has its heart in the right place, and insists you feel good about the rightful placement of said heart.

Based on the true journey of the titular character, Mark Wahlberg plays a man walking across America to raise awareness after his gay son is mercilessly bullied. The film has a lot of admirable qualities, but also feels like it’s trying too hard. It seems less like storytelling and more cinematic virtue-signaling.

Bearded, creased and scraggly, Wahlberg gives a solid performance that nonetheless contains no surprises. I knew every step of this guy’s journey, both geographically and emotionally, before each heel hit the asphalt.

Read the rest on Substack!


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Review: "6:45"


When "Palm Springs" came along last year to do a serio-comedy using the same time loop idea as "Groundhog Day," I thought just enough time had passed -- 27 years -- for audiences to be ready for another crack at the material without it seeming like a total copycat. 

A few months later came "6:45," this time with a trippy horror/thriller tilt. The big difference is that involves a couple on an idyllic vacation who keep experiencing the same day that always ends in their gruesome murder. 

The divergence with "Palm Springs" is that only one of them is aware of the time trap they're in.

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Review: "The Boys in Red Hats"


How often I lament the low state of documentary film these days. There are more of them than ever, many of them on political topics, usually taking a particular point of view if not outright advocating for a cause. Last year saw a swath of documentaries leading up to the fall election that were little more than thinly disguised propaganda made for no other reason than to sway voters.

Some were so egregious they should’ve been required to be listed on FEC forms as campaign contributions.

So I did not hold high hopes for “The Boys in Red Hats,” a doc about the now-infamous incident on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 2019 when, it seemed, a group of MAGA-wearing young hooligans surrounded and taunted an elderly Native American man beating a drum.

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Review: "Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain"

I had mixed, and mostly ambivalent feelings about Anthony Bourdain while he was alive.

The chef-turned-author-turned-television personality made shows that didn’t really interest me where he traveled around the globe, sampling food and conversation as sort of a full-time cultural gourmand. He seemed more interesting and engaging in talk show or stage Q&A appearances, and I appreciated his non-fussy approach to food, something that often puts me at odds with dining professionals.

It’s hard not to like a guy who could crank out complicated gourmet recipes from memory, but also proudly expressed his admiration for a greasy In-N-Out burger.

The new documentary, “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,” is a revelation. Not since “Amy” made me completely rethink my perceptions of doomed singer Amy Winehouse has a non-fiction film delved as deeply and authentically into the life of a troubled famous person -- someone others looked upon with awe and envy but who (mostly) silently suffered a long, dark journey of the soul.

Read the rest on Substack!

Monday, July 12, 2021

Reeling Backward: "Last Train from Gun Hill" (1959)


There's a surprising amount of flesh and steel in "Last Train from Gun Hill," a largely forgotten Western that builds up to a real-time bloodletting in the mold of "High Noon" and "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral." The latter was also directed by John Sturges and starred Kirk Douglas, and even much of the crew and background cast tagged along again.

There is not one but two scenes featuring topless women, albeit carefully obscured for Production Code compliance, including one offscreen rape. They actually use the word "rape" in the movie, which is in itself pretty astonishing for 1959.

Douglas' character, Marshal Matt Morgan, is notably hard-bitten and cunning, essentially taking a young man hostage and threatening to murder him. Though Morgan professes to never have killed an unarmed man, he certainly seems prepared to do just that, holding a double-barreled shotgun under his quarry's chin as he marches the lad down the titular town's dusty streets in the film's signature penultimate sequence.

It's now out in a splendid remastered Blu-ray from Paramount that's well worth checking out. The VistaVision colors are achingly vibrant and the screen image is as crisp as the day it hit theaters. A first-class restoration.

Morgan's best friend is Craig Belden, played by the immeasurable Anthony Quinn. It's suggested they rode together on the wrong side of the law back in the day. Now, in the fading years of the Wild West when things have become much calmer and gunplay unfamiliar, they find themselves become aging relics: one the upstanding lawman, the other the uncompromising cattle baron who essentially owns the town.

In a by-then familiar switcheroo on cinematic tropes, it is Morgan who wears the black hat and coat, while Belden is outfitted in an unassuming blue shirt, tan leather vest and white Stetson. If you knew nothing of the movie and saw photos of their get-ups, you'd assume their roles were opposite.

It's interesting that the script by James Poe, based on a story by Les Crutchfield, takes pains not to portray Belden as a maniacal dictator or Morgan as a pure-hearted do-gooder. Each in their own way is hidebound by their ethos as self-made individualists, and their inability to bend to changing times sets up their inevitable confrontation.

The story is set into motion when Morgan's wife, a Cherokee woman (played, sigh, by Israeli-Amerian actress Ziva Rodann), is brutally murdered by a pair of drunken cowboys while she is driving her 9-year-old son, Petey (Lars Henderson) home to their quiet town of Pauley. She manages to lay open one of her attacker's cheeks with the whip. The boy takes the killer's horse and rides back to tell all to his pa, the marshal.

The saddle is a handsome black-and-silver job with the CB brand Morgan recognizes as his friend's. Assuming the horse was stolen, he takes the train to Gun Hill with a pair of John Doe warrants in his pocket. He goes to see Belden, and their reuniting is both bittersweet and genuinely heartwarming, old range riders now widowers -- one recent and raw, the other long ago.

Both men quickly surmise, though, that the culprit with the cheek scar is Belden's own son, Rick (Earl Holliman), a disappointing offspring who the rich man clings to with a domineering sort of love-shame hybrid. Belden offers to let Morgan have the other man, Lee Smithers (Brian Hutton), but forbids him to arrest Rick.

Now, if Belden & Son had half a brain between them, they'd quickly decide it best for the young scallywag to hole up at their ranch, with the solitary Morgan having no chance to plow through Belden's several dozen gunmen to apprehend him. But then we wouldn't have a movie, so of course he traipses off to Gun Hill to gamble and drink, where he is quickly knocked out and taken captive by Morgan. He handcuffs Rick to the bed of a hotel room, awaiting the 9 o'clock late train back to Pauley.

At this point, the movie settles into a slow-burn affair with Belden and his toughs staking out Morgan in the hotel, alternating between exchanges of dialogue and bullets. 

There seems no possible way Morgan can get Rick to the train, with literally the entire town against him. The local lawman, Bartlett (Walter Sande), not only refuses to assist Morgan, he actually goes so far as to refuse to wear a badge or acknowledge he is the sheriff, arguing for a "long view" of the law that doesn't encompass crossing Belden.

The actual mechanics of the standoff aren't terribly interesting. What is is that neither man ever for a second considers backing away one inch from his position. Morgan is clearly motivated as much by a sense of personal revenge as duty to the law, even at one point musing that he'll leave Lee behind if he has to in order to see Rick to the hangman.

Belden, for his part, seems plainly confused and hurt that his best friend -- the only man in the territory he considers his equal -- would try to take his son away from him. The life of an Indian woman doesn't tip the scales one iota against the blood of his only child. Belden doesn't want to kill Morgan, but sees no other way if he continues on his stubborn path.

The confounding variable is Carolyn Jones as Linda, Belden's saloon worker (prostitute?) turned estranged mistress. She bumps into Morgan on the train ride back to Gun Hill and instantly takes a shine to him. It turns out she's just returned from an extended hospital stay resulting from Belden's latest beating, apparently after Rick was spreading lies about her nocturnal activities.

I knew I recognized Jones from somewhere, with her impossibly big eyes and narrow waist, and finally learned she played Morticia Addams in the original "The Addams Family" show that debuted five years later.

The attraction between Linda and Morgan is palpable, so it's no surprise when she helps him by acting as go-between with Belden, and even sneaks him the shotgun previously mentioned. She also clearly still has conflicting feelings for Belden, so it's something of a low-wattage love triangle.

(Again with my literalist quibbles: Morgan asks her for a shotgun, saying he needs one for what he has to do. But why wouldn't the same scenario of him force-marching Rick to the train station work if it was a six-shooter snugged up under his jaw instead of a double-barrel? The unsatisfying answer: because then we wouldn't get that great visual, or have something to drive the Morgan-Belden-Linda dynamic.)

Aside from the cowardly sheriff, there aren't a ton of notable supporting characters. Val Avery plays Steve, bartender at one of Belden's saloons, friend to Linda and someone sensible enough to acknowledge that the cattleman's rule is unjust but he isn't the one to oppose it. Beero (Brad Dexter) is Belden's cigar-chomping right-hand man, performing whatever duties required including besting Rick in a fistfight at his boss' behest.

Holliman as Rick isn't give a lot to do but bellyache and beg. He isn't necessarily an evil kid, just a weak soul spoiled and bullied by his father. We're not sad to see him go, the victim of a stray bullet from Lee, though his death prompts Belden to demand a quick-draw duel with Morgan, who seems positively weary at the prospect.

I admired a lot of things about this film, and in fact was left wanting more. At just a hair over 90 minutes, the movie moves very quickly through its plot steps without a lot of Dosey Doeing around into deep character investigation. I would've loved to see some flashback sequences of the two rivals as younger men, including the incident referenced several times where Belden saved Morgan's life.

That could have signified the strength of their bond, rather than just alluding to it, and maybe also hinted at early indications of the potential for a fallout... perhaps around the time they parted ways.

"Last Train from Gun Hill" is still a solid Western, rather daring for its time, one that relies more on telling than showing its bitter, shadowy heart.


Thursday, July 8, 2021

Review: "Black Widow"

We’re in an interesting phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) right now, somewhat adrift -- but also open to fresh possibilities.

A decade of carefully interlocking movies culminated with “Avengers: Endgame,” with a number of pivotal characters definitively dying (not just “ashed” and then came back a la the Infinity Stones.) Now they’re turning up in Disney+ streaming shows like “WandaVision” and “Loki” and, with “Black Widow,” the first post-“Endgame” feature film.

(As you may recall, it was supposed to be released more than a year ago, so absent COVID it would have been out months before those shows.)

How does the movie get around the death of Natasha Romanoff, aka the former Russian superspy Black Widow? That’s easy enough: the story is set five years ago, in the in-between space after “Captain America: Civil War” and before “Infinity War,” when she was on the lam from her own government.

This film is essentially an origin story/reexamination of the character, with star Scarlett Johansson getting a chance to show more color and shadings for Natasha. We saw bits and pieces of them in the movies, but they had to be squeezed in between the big story pieces and male dominance of the MCU.

These are really the best parts of “Black Widow” -- learning about how Natasha morphed from abandoned kid to international heroine, dealing with lingering family schism (more on that in a minute) and exploring her journey from tragedy to redemption. This is a character who has outwardly expressed impervious confidence while hiding enough self-loathing to fill a Dostoevsky novel.

The action scenes are plentiful -- a little too much so, imho -- and can get repetitive, bordering on dull. Of course, we’re dealing with all normal, if exceptional, humans here with a paucity of super powers on display. There’s a self-conscious acknowledgement of this, with someone mentioning to Natasha that she previously enjoyed protection because people were afraid to come after her and risk retaliation from one of the “big Avengers.”

I’m not a big Avenger? she wryly challenges.

Australian director Cate Shortland (“Lore”) comes from an indie background, which probably explains why her character scenes are so compelling and the fighting stuff is a little jumbled. The screenplay by Eric Pearson, with story by Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson, starts with Natasha as a disaffected preteen in 1995 living in Ohio as part of a family that’s just a spy op cover.

Rachel Weisz and David Harbour play their parents, and will turn up again in the more modern section. She was a brilliant scientist and he was the Red Guardian, a super-strong analogue to Captain America. Weisz does her woman-of-mystery thing to a T, and Harbour has fun playing a loud-mouthed blowhard always ready for fight, the guy who thinks he’s coaching the team when really he’s the mascot.

Florence Pugh is terrific as Yelena, Natasha’s long-lost kid sister, now an adept spy/badass herself. She harbors an ocean of resentment against her more famous sibling, and even coyly mocks the overplayed “superhero jump landing” thing (already dinged in the second “Deadpool”). She brings a jaded Gen Z cool to the table.

Of course, none of them are really related to each other, but they gradually come around to the idea that they’re the closest thing to a family any of them has.

The heavy is Ray Winstone as Dreykov, a Russian mastermind who has been building an army of all-female “Widows” assassins, for which Natasha set the mold. Back in her day they underwent psychological conditioning to break their will, but this new generation is chemically altered to obey. Olga Kurylenko turns up as an especially notable recruit.

I won’t argue that “Black Widow” is one of the best MCU movies. In fact, I’d put it toward the lower end of the pool with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” It’s got a lot of elements that feel like retreads of earlier S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff, right up to a vertically enhanced headquarters called the Red Room.

But even if the blammo stuff is a little stale, Johansson gets a chance to flex thespian muscles in ways we hadn’t seen before for this character. Will there be another Black Widow movie, a la resurrection or more backstory stuff like this? We’ll see, but it was worth the wait for her to get a chance to shoulder her way past the boys to the front line.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Review: Lillith


You really can't be a true horror fan if you don't also include schlocky horror among your passions, imho.

Scary movies have also often been cheap movies throughout the history of cinema. They were they original B-movies, low-budget flicks played on a double bill with the more expensive main feature. The Hammer horror films were famous for their low-end production values, putting all their dough into creature makeup and special effects. The great-granddaddy of the modern horror flick, "Night of the Living Dead," was shot on a shoestring.

Filmmakers having to work without a lot of the tools of their counterparts often had to rely more on their imaginations and inventiveness, resulting in a lot of truly cool, but also some truly awful, horror movies. People who grew up on horror of all spectrums like me learned to appreciate the schlocky stuff, even when it wasn't that good.

"Lillith" is a horror with a lot of comedy elements that definitely belongs in the schlock corner. It's about a college student who summons a killer vixen from hell to exact revenge on her cheating boyfriend, then has to deal with the torrent of bloodletting she's unleashed.

It doesn't have any fancy sets or costumes or lighting; it looks like they just shot it in some college dorm rooms with the actors wearing whatever they had on them. It doesn't star anybody you've ever heard of, and it's hitting VOD a couple of years after it was made.

Still, I liked plenty of things about it, especially the cast, even while I was realistic about the things that aren't good. They obviously sunk a lot of their budget into the creature effects for the titular character, a succubus played by Savannah Whitten, when she appears in her demon form. It's a horned, greenish-black deal where she's naked but all the naughty bits are covered up with prosthetics, a la Jennifer Lawrence in the X-Men movies.

For my money, Lillith is actually much scarier in her human form, with flaming red hair, a toothy smile and a glare that looks like she's trying to decide whether to feast on your entrails or throw you into bed. Occasionally her eyes glow red for a second, a subtle (and inexpensive) visual trick that keeps us unnerved.

She was summoned by Jenna (Nell Kessler), who was just dumped by her boyfriend of five years, Brad  (Michael Finnigan) after catching him cheating on her -- on their anniversary, to boot. She's a good girl type but is righteously motivated toward some bad feelings. So she recruits her Wiccan friend, Emma (Robin Carolyn Parent), to perform ritual using her own menstrual blood to summon a revenging succubus.

I really liked Parent in this role, who with her short brunette hair, freckles, sardonic expressions and unwavering gaze reminded me of a young Winona Ryder. I kept wondering why we needed the Jenna character and didn't just make Emma the main attraction.

Hanging around the fringes is Taylor Turner as Charlie, Jenna's geeky friend who secretly pines for her. It's a classic movie love trope, and I liked the way director Lee Esposito, who also co-wrote the script with Luke Stannard, takes us through the expected romantic story arc and then disposes of it in a way that's both funny and authentic.

Lillith's M.O. is to seduce men and then slay them, a lady mantis for whom sex and death are inextricably intertwined. It seems she's been away from earth for awhile and is a little flummoxed by the new prevalence of out gay people, though she quickly surmises that it just means her potential victim pool is doubled.

Somehow Jenna thought that Lilly, as the succubus refers to herself, would just scare Brad back into her arms or something. But of course she makes a meal of him, and then their professor (Langston Fishburne), and then keeps on going, deciding she likes it away from Hell. So Jenna, Emma and Charlie take it upon themselves to go up against the demon.

I kept feeling like this movie wanted to pivot away from the scary and gruesome stuff and go straight into comedy, but never quite gets up the nerve. The last act in particular gets straight-up bloody/messy, and then when it remembers to find its funnybone again the audience doesn't have time enough to react to the shift. 

Is "Lillith" an excellent piece of horror? No, but if you are into schlock starring a solid cast clearly enjoying their roles, Whitten and Parent in particular, then it has enough entertainment value to justify a look. It's a little bit funny, a little bit scary and a smidge sexy.