Friday, July 19, 2024

This week sees a pair of releases making premiere runs at The Brattle Theatre. In addition to the new documentary “Flipside,” which Tom Meek reviews in Film Clips, moviegoers will have a chance to see one of the year’s best – and best-titled – horror-comedies: Ariane Louis-Seize’s “Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person.” Madeleine Péloquin plays Sasha, a teenage vampire whose pathological inability to take a human life worries her parents to no end. Her prayers seem to be answered by Paul (Félix-Antoine Bénard), a depressed high schooler contemplating ending it all. The two form a pact – he’ll agree to become her “first time” – until feelings inevitably get in their way. “Humanist Vampire,” which won the audience prize at this year’s Boston Underground Film Festival, taps into the irresistibly morbid vein of classic Tim Burton, the darkness of its story made palatable by its candy-colored visuals, a streak of cheerfully black humor and the adorable chemistry of its two leads. “Humanist Vampire” and “Flipside” run Friday through Monday at The Brattle.

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If “Humanist Vampire” whets your appetite for Halloween-in-almost-July, the Somerville Theatre’s Midnight Special series continues Saturday with Stuart Gordon’s classic zom-com “Re-Animator” (1985). One of the undisputed classics of the golden age of the video rental store, “Re-Animator” borrows its title and general premise from a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, but uses them as a springboard for a gleefully gruesome bloodbath of a comedy. Med student Herbert West (the great character actor Jeffrey Combs, in his defining performance) has discovered the secret of life and death in a mysterious serum, which bears more than a passing resemblance to glow-stick fluid. Unfortunately, West’s experiments go almost immediately awry, and he soon has to contend with both a morgue full of violent zombies and the vengeful severed head of his faculty nemesis (the latter of whom also engages in one of cinema’s most notorious sex scenes). For those with a strong stomach for red corn syrup and ripping latex, “Re-Animator” is a comic delight, buoyed by a healthy serving of slapstick and some instant-classic one-liners: “Who’s going to believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow!”

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On Sunday, the Somerville serves up yet another bargain-priced double feature of classic Z-grade schlock. The first feature, Al Adamson’s “Dracula vs. Frankenstein” (1971), might sound like part of the classic Universal monster canon, but don’t be fooled: This notorious drive-in cheapie was shot in grimy color on a disused Venice Beach carnival and stars a Dracula who looks more like Frank Zappa and a decidedly misshapen Frankenstein (it does, however, feature one of the final performances by Lon Chaney Jr., in a pitiable performance as Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant). The next film, “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” (1962), is a classic slice of atom-age mad science with a surprisingly lurid streak. When a gifted surgeon’s fiancee is decapitated in a car accident, his first course of action is to revive her head in a pan in his laboratory. His second, naturally, is to start shopping for a new body – by cruising seedy bars and fashion competitions! A favorite of TV’s “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and the inspiration for Frank Henenlotter’s cult classic “Frankenhooker” (1990), “Brain” is something of a classic in its own right for those with a taste for twisted pulp.

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In anticipation of Ti West’s horror threequel “MaXXXine,” which releases in theaters July 5, The Brattle hosts on Tuesday a double feature of its predecessors, “X” and “Pearl” (both 2022). I wrote about “X” a couple of weeks ago, so it feels only right that I should give “Pearl” her due. Despite being conceived literally as an afterthought – West and star Mia Goth wrote the screenplay during quarantine as they prepared to shoot “X,” and convinced studio A24 to extend their shoot to film it – “Pearl” has in many ways surpassed its sister-film in the public consciousness. Set in 1981, this prequel trades the grindhouse grime of “X” for MGM Technicolor, with Goth playing the title role as a farm girl on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It’s a shame the Academy is so famously allergic to horror, because Goth’s performance here – terrifying, hilarious and heartbreaking, frequently all at once – is nothing short of extraordinary. It’s not necessary to see either film to enjoy the other, but the conversation between the two about sex, violence and stardom is fascinating, and it will be interesting to see how it is continued in “MaXXXine.”

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Next week is, of course, the Fourth of July, and while many people will host cookouts and watch fireworks, movie fans have their own tradition: The Brattle’s annual screenings of “Jaws” (1975), which will unspool on 35 mm across several showtimes Wednesday and Thursday. “Jaws” is, of course, one of those movies that changed everything, ushering in the age of the Hollywood blockbuster (while prompting a miserable business year for beaches). It is also, however, a product of the “New Hollywood” boom of the 1970s, and as such holds up better than nearly any film that’s followed in its footsteps in the 49 years since. Its trio of protagonists, played unforgettably by Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw, are at once archetypes and undeniably human, and its supporting cast – many of whom were non-actors discovered by Steven Spielberg on Martha’s Vineyard – make the fictional seaside town of Amity feel like a real, lived-in place. It is also an absolute machine of entertainment, as finely tuned as John Williams’ iconic score: Its scares and laughs still play like gangbusters to a crowd, even if they’ve all seen it a million times. As blockbusters go, we’ve honestly never needed a bigger boat than this one. (Oscar Goff)

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Miao Wang and Hao Wu’s documentary “Admissions Granted” plays at 9 p.m. Sunday on on MSNBC. The film, seen at this year’s Independent Film Festival Boston, examines the Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard case that brought affirmative action and Harvard admissions standards before the Supreme Court. The doc homes in on conservative activist Edward Blum and his unlikely alliance with Asian students who feel jilted by elite universities because of their race. Blum’s argues for color-blind, merit-based acceptances; others in the balanced doc argue that changes to college acceptance standards set racial equality back decades. Well-versed talking heads include Harvard law professor Jeannie Suk Gersen, former Harvard University president Neil Rudenstine, Tufts professor Natasha Warikoo and newly hired Mount Holyoke president Danielle R. Holley, who quite poetically throws fire. Wang, who now lives in New York, went to BB&N for high school. (Tom Meek)


Oscar Goff is a writer and film critic based in Somerville. He is film editor and senior critic for the Boston Hassle and his work has appeared in the monthly Boston Compass newspaper and publications such as WBUR’s The ARTery and iHeartNoise. He is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Online Film Critics Society.