Most weeks, I review more DVDs than the Indy can fit into print. You can look for extra write-ups here on the IndyBlog.
An Aussie rip-off of the 2003 American hit Open Water, The Reef covers familiar territory: Vacationing jerks get stranded in the middle of a large body of water with sharks swimming hungrily around them. Unlike Open Water, however, The Reef manages to be shocking and scary because director Andrew Traucki decided that, instead of dwelling on the interpersonal problems of the drifting couples, he'd focus on how people will really relate when a shark is pulling them under one by one — through terrified screaming. No time to talk over our bedroom squabbles or reasons for divorce, that big freaking shark just ate someone! And all in graphic, limb-wrenching detail! This is a killer-shark movie that is proud to be a killer-shark movie and make no bones about it, which is ultimately refreshing. The Reef is a heart-pounding thriller that will shock even the most jaded of Discovery Channel junkies.
Skidoo is widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. A lot of times, however, when I review these much-maligned movies with fresh eyes, I find they have redeeming qualities and are actually pretty decent, in no way befitting their reputation. In this case, I am happy to report that, yes, Skidoo, directed by Otto Preminger, is one of the worst movies ever made, but it is such a lovably jaw-dropping misfire that it doubles back around and manages to become one of the best movies of all time. Jackie Gleason is a mobster who sneaks into prison to kill stool-pigeon Mickey Rooney. While in the joint, he is slipped LSD and goes on a hilariously dated trip that opens his eyes to the life of violence he’s led. With the help of a jailed anarchist professor, his wife Carol Channing, his dippy daughter and a busload of clean-cut (yet madcap) hippies, they take down crooked mob boss Groucho Marx, with a mixture of psychedelics and free love. Yep.
With a cover featuring a crying Jeffrey Dahmer cradling a severed, freshly boiled head, you’d expect 1993’s The Secret Life — released only two years after Dahmer’s capture — to be a stereotypical exploitative gore-fest made only to cash in on the media circus surrounding the serial-killing cannibal sensation. And, for the most part, it is. However, underneath the bloody proceedings is a real sensitivity to the relationships Dahmer had with his victims, managed without ever once glorifying Dahmer. The Secret Life is an apropos title, not only referring to his murderous desires, but also his inability to accept his own homosexuality. It paints him as a sad, disturbed individual who doesn’t understand love. You don’t see that in too many B-movie serial killer flicks, and maybe that’s why this was so controversial upon original release. No one wants to see a sympathetic portrait of a monster when his rampage is still fresh in our minds.