In Bertrand Blier's curiously hideous Ménage (1985), sexual orientation is not as set in stone as we may think: Homophobic straight men just need the attention of a brutish, tattooed, bisexual cat burglar, and they'll be decked in drag in no time. In this awkward, unpleasant domestic farce-cum-melodrama, Gerard Depardieu is the rakish thief, Michel Blanc is the meek suburban man he seduces, and Miou-Miou is the man's wife, elliptically and inevitably reduced to prostitution (were there no other jobs for women in '80s French films?) when her husband decides to play for the other team. All kinds of filthy dialogue abound here, none of it funny. But more importantly, is Ménage misogynistic? Because Blier seems to feel equal contempt toward his waffly and callous males, I think general misanthropy better describes his MO this time around. Blier has made some movies to be proud of, such as 1978's Oscar-winning Get Out Your Handkerchiefs and 1981's amusing Stepfather — but this stultifying, cross-dressing soap opera isn't one of them. It doesn't help that Koch Lorber's transfer is, like many of its releases, subpar. —John Thomason
Before he delved almost exclusively into erotica, in the '60s and '70s Caligula director Tinto Brass made a series of censor-baiting Italian exploitation films that are as dated as they are disturbing. The Howl, long-banned and finally released by Cult Epics, is disorienting, disconcerting, druggy and proudly incoherent; in other words, it's vintage Brass. There is no plot but plenty of grossly memorable images from this virtuoso of filth. The Howl pinpoints the moment when Brass mashed together the grindhouse and the art house, Russ Meyer and Dusan Makavajev, Battleship Potemkin and Mondo Cane. While it technically predates his full-on porn period, everything in The Howl has sexual overtones — good luck finding an expression of military might that isn't a phallic object. There's a bit of social consciousness and antiwar activism buried in this unpleasant sensory experience, but don't be surprised if the shots of rape, masturbation, necrophilia, animal mutilation and unusually hairy women's body parts linger a lot longer in your cerebral cortex. —John Thomason
Dark Sky Films
Children are scary. Sure, new parents and prolific baby-makers like the Duggars will say they're a blessing. But don't let them suck you in. There's a reason they showed a real childbirth on video in health class — to frighten the bejeezus out of you. Combine that with piles of dirty diapers and very public temper tantrums and you'll see what calling them a “blessing” really means. It doesn't help that horror films have been preying upon our pedophobia for decades. Whether it's one malevolent brat like Damien from The Omen, or feral half-pints like those in Children of the Corn, filmmakers know children are a perfect expression of evil.
Well, Plague Town's got scary children all right. It's too bad writer-director David Gregory — who's produced a slew of docs and DVD extras for some slasher classics — doesn't have anything inventive to do with them. His film sees a dysfunctional American family stranded in the Irish countryside while on vacation. By nightfall, they've stumbled upon an isolated village that harbors a dark secret. Seems all the kids are some sort of mutants left to run amok. Meanwhile, the townsfolk are abducting women who wander into their decrepit hamlet and using them as breeding stock. Part of Plague Town's problem is that it's never clear if this is truly a plague or just a case of a very shallow gene pool. You can see what Gregory was hoping for — a sort of grim fairy tale about the practice of gruesome and archaic traditions. Instead, his flick plays out like a low-budget Wicker Man with some Village of the Damned thrown in for good measure. And while not a horrible flick — it's stylishly filmed and some of the family's banter really sparks — it isn't any scarier than an episode of 18 Kids and Counting. —Paul Knoll