HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: PET (2016)

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PET (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Flick tells the grim tale of Seth (Dominic Monaghan), an introverted and emotionally disturbed young man who works at an L.A. dog pound. Seth sees pretty blonde Holly (Ksenia Solo) on the bus everyday, a girl he has been crushing on since school. Holly doesn’t remember him, but he pursues her anyway even when she shows no interest. He follows her to work and when she goes out and when he is finally, and quite harshly, rejected for his stalker-ish behavior, Seth hatches a plan to kidnap Holly and hold her in a cage in an abandoned room beneath his work place. But Seth may be in for more than he bargained for, as Holly is not what he expects and has a few dark secrets of her own. Seth soon finds out that while Holly may be in a cage, he may not be as in control as he believes.

Directed by Carles Torrens from Jeremy Slater’s script, this is a tense, disturbing and sometimes surprisingly brutal thriller about a damaged young man taking the wrong girl captive. The concept of a kidnap scenario going awry or a hostage being more than one bargained for is not new, but it is presented well here, with a few twists of it’s own and thus works beyond it’s familiar story. At first we are led to believe this is a simple tale of a pretty girl in the clutches of a deranged individual, a tale of mad love, but Torrnes slowly let’s us see that Holly is not a helpless damsel. In fact she has some loose screws of her own and Seth’s purpose of bringing his object of affection here may have a deeper agenda than just puppy love beneath the dog pound. We get a reveal halfway through that takes this in another direction and totally changes our perception of Holly quite a bit. It turns this into a something far more complex than simply an innocent hostage trying to outwit her crazed captor. Let’s just say things get delightfully nasty and leave it at that.  There are a few plot holes, such as Seth actually thinking holding her captive at work was a solid idea and a few others that involve sensitive plot developments, that will not be spoiled here. Otherwise, all the way through this self advertised ‘love story’ director Torrens keeps an atmosphere of tension and there are some disturbing developments that change our perspective and possibly our sympathies. It’s a disturbing little thriller that succeeds far more than it doesn’t.

We have a small but very effective cast, especially our leads. Dominic Monaghan does a difficult job of keeping Seth a bit tragic and sad despite his disturbing plot to kidnap his obsession. His early pursuit of her is a bit creepy but also earns some sympathy at his complete awkwardness. Once he accomplishes his deed, he keeps Seth from being totally villainous though still quite disturbed. He’s not quite an outright monster and when the tables start to turn we are not completely unsympathetic at the desperate young man having made a big mistake. Ksenia Solo really shines as Holly with a decidedly more complex character. At first she is just a pretty blonde with her own life and no time for Seth’s awkward pursuit. She is in the midst of a break-up herself and this only amplifies the effect of his creepy methods to get her attention. We like and sympathize with her, especially when she finds herself in a basement cage. Then the actress slowly transforms Holly into someone else. Someone we are not expecting and someone who is possibly far scarier than Seth. He is socially inept and emotionally disturbed as she where might just be…? Solo pulls it off wonderfully. There is also a supporting roles by Jennette McCurdy as Holly’s friend Claire and Da’Vone McDonald as Seth’s co-worker Nate who starts to get suspicious of Seth’s odd behavior and showing up at work at off hours.

So, the flick is not perfect and the story at it’s core has been done before. But this is a case of a skilled director and some unexpected twists from it’s writer that elevate it above the familiar. Add to that, two leads who really give it their all and you have a disturbing thriller that can be surprisingly brutal and brutally surprising despite a familiar base story. It’s a psychological showdown between two individuals, one who is disturbingly obsessed and the other…well, you’ll find out.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 cages that are not the best way to impress a girl.

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES DEC 2-5

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Complete estimates are in for the weekend box office

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to the reviews here at The Movie Madhouse!)

1. “Moana” $28.3 Million

2. “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” $18.5 Million

3. “Arrival” $7.3 Million

4. “Allied” $7 Million

5. “Doctor Strange” $6.5 Million

6. “Trolls” $4.6 Million

7. “Hacksaw Ridge” $3.4 Million

8. “Bad Santa 2” $3.3 Million

9. “Incarnate” $2.7 Million

10. “Almost Christmas” $2.5 Million

source: Box Office Mojo

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: DON’T BREATHE and THE NEIGHBOR

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Two thrillers/horrors that I think would make a good pairing for a Saturday night on the couch with your favorite brew. One was a big hit recently and the other deserves more attention than it got and both involve sneaking into someone’s house and the unexpected things you might find there…

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DON’T BREATHE (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Don’t Breathe is an intense and very entertaining thriller that turns the home invasion flick on it’s head and proves writer/director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead remake) is the real deal. The story takes place in a rundown suburb of Detroit where house thieves Rocky (Evil Dead’s Jane Levy), Money (It Follows‘ Daniel Zovatto) and Alex (Goosebumps’ Dylan Minnette) hear of a big score. There is an almost deserted street with only one house still occupied, the home of a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) who supposedly was given a large cash settlement by the family of a rich girl who ran over and killed his daughter. Thinking it easy money, the three break into the man’s home one night. But the man turns out to be far more dangerous than they realize and soon has them trapped inside his house with the intent they never leave.

Co-written with his Evil Dead co-scribe Rodo Sayagues, Alvarez crafts a very suspenseful and intense game of cat and mouse inside the Detroit house that gets started quickly and never gives up till it’s unsettling last moments. Alvarez gives us a claustrophobic and isolated setting by placing the house on a deserted block and making great use of the desolated Detroit setting to give it atmosphere. He then has his ex-soldier seal our three thieves inside, where he knows the layout and they…and we…don’t. Alvarez also uses the character’s blindness to set up nerve-wracking moments, as our thieves try to quietly elude him and then he clever turns off the power to turn the odds in his favor. There are also some moments of brutal violence that really punctuate the intensity of the proceedings, as the director plays with the home invasion formula by turning our intended victim into the monster and the invaders into the victims. This works well due to the way his characters are written. While Money is basically a street thug, Alex has a conscience and a heart, which keeps him likable and Levy’s Rocky is only stealing to get enough money to take her little sister out of Detroit and away from her alcoholic mother. This makes them sympathetic, despite their criminal activity, yet Alvarez still puts them through the ringer for them to truly earn our empathy. If the brutal pursuit through the three floors of the old house isn’t enough, Alvarez has a late reveal that adds a really disturbing angle to a simple theft gone awry story…one that will have you squirming as much as Levy’s Rocky was…and turns the blind soldier into a true fiend. And it works very well. As with Evil DeadAlvarez accents his story with a great visual eye. His settings and shots are captured stylishly by the lens of Pedro Luque and Evil Dead composer Roque Baños returns for an atmospheric score. It all adds up to a suspenseful, intense and very atmospheric thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and squirming in it too!

Alvarez has assembled a small but very effective cast for his sophomore film for Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures. Evil Dead leading lady Jane Levy is very strong as the street smart Rocky. She is convincing in that she is stealing only out of love for her little sister and she moves from thief to anti-hero to heroine very well. Her Rocky is really put through Hell, just as her Mia was in the 2013 horror remake and she really provides us again with a strong character to root for, even if she, like Mia, isn’t the sweet girl next door. Levy has a unique way of combining an intensity with a sensitivity that deserves more spotlight roles. Daniel Zovatto, who was the kindly Greg in It Follows, plays basically a street thug and does play him well. He has his charisma, but is not a good guy and the one we least feel sorry for when the poop hits the fan. Dylan Minnette’s Alex seems almost too nice to be part of this group, but it is made known he crushes on Rocky and is betraying his security company father most likely to be close to her. It succeeds in keeping him likable and he proves once again he is a charming actor with an appealing screen persona. This would not work if our blind ex-soldier, whose name is never given, wasn’t convincing as a monster and Stephen Lang once again is a strong bad guy. He is sympathetic at first, then let’s us know that this man is still lethally dangerous, even with his war injury handicap and then becomes a full blown fiend once the movie progresses. His soldier is filled with menace and threat and once we get the full picture, any feelings that this guy is just protecting what’s his, go out the window and it works thanks to an intense performance from a skilled actor.

I really liked this movie and it proves to me Fede Alvarez is a filmmaker to keep a close eye on. I really enjoyed his remake of Sam Raimi’s horror classic and certainly enjoyed the results now of a film entirely his own. This is an intense, brutally violent and sometimes twisted thriller that turns a home invasion into a house of horrors with a strong cast to back up the director’s vision and story. A solid thriller and one of the few films to live up to early word in the summer of 2016 movie season.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 turkey basters…you’ll have to see the movie!

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THE NEIGHBOR (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Intense crime drama tells the story of John (Josh Stewart) and Rosie (Alex Essoe from Starry Eyes and Tales Of Halloween) who live in the rural town of Cutter, Mississippi and work for drug runners. They plan to do one more job and when they collect their money, they plan to make a run for Mexico and an early retirement. When John returns after a job and finds Rosie missing, he suspects his odd neighbor Troy (comedian Bill Engvall) who seemed to be quite taken with his pretty girlfriend. When John sneaks into Troy’s house, he discovers his neighbor has been engaging in far worse activities than he could ever have imagined…and he may not get back out alive.

Writer/director Marcus Dunstan (the Saw series, the Collector movies) crafts a lean and mean thriller about bad people going up against far worse people in a small backwoods town in rural Mississippi. It does share some similarities with the recent Don’t Breathe, but is it’s own movie and aside from criminal types, who are looking to make a better life for themselves, being trapped in a house by psychotics, that’s where the similarities end. Dunstan gets his story started quite quickly, but not too quick that we don’t get to know John and Rosie a bit, and keeps the intensity cranked till the very last frames. We find ourselves rooting for John, even though he is not a good person, because Dunstan is able to make Troy and his boys a lot creepier. Add in a corrupt cop (Jaqueline Fleming) who already has it in for John and you have solid reasons to get behind our anti-hero couple. There is some graphic violence, but unlike his torture heavy Collector and Saw films, Dunstan uses it sparingly, so it is vicious and effective when it happens. The director does have a good visual eye and stages the action fast and furious with some nice suspense in-between the bullets and beatings. The tension is thick at times and while the climax may conveniently wrap things up, it is quite satisfying. There is some crisp cinematography from Eric Leach and a really cool score by Charlie Clouser.

Dunstan also gets good work from a good cast. Despite being a criminal who works for a sleazy drug lord, Josh Stewart makes his John quite likable and embues him with a bit of a heart underneath his criminal activities. His work reminded me of Jane Levy’s Rocky from Don’t Breathe, an anti-hero to root for. I have been a fan of Alex Essoe since her stunning work in Starry Eyes and she is solid again here. She does spend part of the flick as a damsel in distress, but gets to really turn it up in the last act and show another side to a versatile actress we want to keep seeing more of. Her Rosie is a badass when provoked. Bill Engvall makes for a very creepy villain. He gives you chills without going over the top and his subtle yet unnerving Troy is all the more effective because he doesn’t overdo it. A very creepy villain that makes you forget John and Rosie are criminals of a different kind. Jaqueline Fleming is also good as a cop with her own agenda and Luke Edwards and Ronnie Gene Blevins are solid as Troy’s equally creepy sons, Cooper and Harley. Melissa Bolona is also effective as another of Troy and company’s “guests.” 

This little flick took me by surprise. I am not a big fan of the Collector films and never watched Dunstan’s Saw movies, as I was done with that series by then, but this high octane thriller took me a bit by surprise. Sure there are some familiar story elements, but Dunstan uses those elements well and really cranks up the suspense and tension in the last hour, peppering it with moments of brutal violence that don’t overstay their welcome and are very effective because of it. A good cast helps the filmmaker out and overall, cast and crew deliver a solid and engrossing thriller.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 bullets.

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BARE BONES: SATANIC and THE PHOENIX INCIDENT

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satanicSATANIC (2016)

Forgettable horror has a group of obnoxious youths heading to Coachella and stopping off to tour true crime sites with occult activity allegedly involved. They get more than they bargained for, of course.

Written by Anthony Jaswinski and directed by Jeffrey Hunt, this is a dull and predictable horror with some really obnoxious and annoying characters. There is nothing here we haven’t seen before and done better. I had a hard time paying attention as nothing held my interest other than it being very teen centric, yet rated R so the intended audience can’t see it. Stars cute Sarah Hyland who should stick to Modern Family.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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THE PHOENIX INCIDENT (2016)

Found footage sci-fi flick uses real life footage of alleged UFO activity over Phoenix, Arizona and uses it to spin a yarn about a conspiracy involving alien creatures. It centers around four friends who are investigating the UFO activity and get caught in the middle of a confrontation between extraterrestrials and the military. Film takes place after the men disappear and an investigation into the cover-up discovers their footage.

Written and directed by Keith Arem, an interesting concept is given the routine found footage treatment. It’s a cookie cutter found footage flick with the worst of the genre all present and accounted for from annoying shaky cam to even more annoying characters running around and screaming each others names for an hour. Done far better in The Vicious Brothers’ fun Extraterrestrial.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: CARNAGE PARK (2016)

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CARNAGE PARK (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Flick takes place in 1978 with country girl Vivian Fontaine (Ashley Bell) not having a good day. Her home is being sold out from under her and while at the bank getting turned down for a loan to save it, she’s taken hostage by two ex-cons (James Landry Hebert and Michael Villar) who rob the bank. That’s the least of her problems, as the three find themselves in a stretch of remote wilderness stalked by psychotic ex-soldier Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy), who slaughters anyone that enters his domain. Soon Vivian finds herself alone and in a battle for survival against the well-armed and quite deranged maniac.

Flick is written and directed by Mickey Keating who is proving himself quite diverse in his influences with films like the David Lynch-esque Darling and the X-Files-ish Pod under his belt. Here he delivers a brutal and twisted little movie that seems to have a bit of a Rob Zombie influence, as it did evoke some of the imagery, brutality and a bit of the deranged humor that was on display in Zombie’s first two flicks. But this is very much Keating’s own movie and he starts us out with the story in progress, with robber Lenny (Villar) wounded and Scorpion Joe (Hebert) pulling hostage Vivian out of the trunk to help him. We then get some brief flashbacks to fill us in on some character and plot details as the crazed Wyatt discovers the intruders on his land and the hunt/action begins. The film is stylish and off-beat and very entertaining as our girl-next-door Vivian tries to overcome a superior enemy and escape with her life. The film is intense, strange and very violent at times and does entertain as it intends with the oddball Wyatt tracking/tormenting the dazed and desperate, yet not totally defenseless, Vivian. It’s a twisted little flick, that tells it’s story in a Tarantino meets Rob Zombie kind of way. It’s not perfect, as Keating’s influences are a bit too obviously borrowed from at times and one character just disappears, which makes one question why they were included at all. But when all is said and done, Keating accomplishes what he set out to with splattered brains and all.

The cast go a long way in making this work and work well. Ashley Bell (The Last Exorcism) delivers a strong heroine in her Vivian. She is a simple country girl who starts out trying to save her home and ends up trying to save her life. Bell gives her a dazed look of a woman who just got dumped into the frying pan and then the fire and is trying to just stay alive and somehow get home. She gives Vivian a simple tenacity and a strong will to survive with a touch of frustration and confusion. She is endearing and likable. Pat Healy (Innkeepers, Tales Of Halloween) portrays a true psychotic, but yet not one who doesn’t deliriously enjoy what he is doing. He is arrogant and self-righteous and while his motives are not completely explained, the religious symbolism around his lair and in what he says and does, implies he is doing God’s work in some form. Healy is threatening and dangerous and a touch humorously demented and it is a good role for an underrated and versatile actor who can play both hero and villain. Ex-con and thieves James Landry Hebert (Skateland) and Michael Villar have smaller parts, but Hebert succeeds in making an impression as Scorpion Joe. He’s another underrated character actor who does good work when on screen. There is also an appearance by Alan Ruck as Wyatt’s sheriff brother who keeps cleaning up his sibling’s messes, despite the emotional drain of the conflict of interest and indie icon Larry Fessenden as one of Wyatt’s prey.

So, not a perfect thriller, but one that is successful in being 80+ minutes of twisted entertainment. Mickey Keating’s films seem to illustrate a variety of influences with him channeling a bit of Rob Zombie in this, his latest film. It’s off the wall and sometimes brutally violent and has a good cast to make it work very well. A fun and demented little movie, that while not completely original, amuses with a healthy dose of bullets, blood and weirdness.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets.

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COOL STUFF: TALES OF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL EDITION BLU-RAY!

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TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015) Blu-Ray

Tales Of Halloween is a spooky fun 2015 Halloween anthology flick that has grown on me quite a lot since my initial review (see full review here) and has finally arrived on blu-ray a year later. This multi-story horror has been released by Epic pictures in a four disc special edition that is available from their website store, HERE.

As for the feature film itself, there is both a blu-ray and DVD version. As for the technical aspects of the blu-ray feature disc…

The picture is gorgeous, the colors vibrant and really represents well the visual styles of all the directors and their cinematographers on the ten tales told here. The disc is presented in the original 2.39.1 widescreen aspect ratio, preserving the film’s intended dimensions. The sound is in 5.1 surround sound with alternate 2.0 and basic stereo tracks for those without home theater sound systems. The menus are simple and easy to navigate. A nice presentation to enjoy this holiday horror!

Now on to the extensive extras which make this 4-disc set even more appealing!…

The extras start out with a production diary covering the 23 days of shooting that comes complete with interviews with cast and crew and some fun behind the scenes footage. In the bonus features, we get a behind the scenes reel…which does repeat a lot of what we saw in the production diaries…and an examination of the filming of one of the scenes from Mike Mendez’s gruesomely comic Friday The 31st, complete with storyboards. We also get a deleted scene from one of the best stories, Grim Grinning Ghost and are treated to replays of the segments Sweet Tooth, Trick, Ding Dong and This Means War all with additional bonus commentary, aside from the commentary track that accompanies the movie on the feature film discs. We also get eight short films from a few of the filmmakers involved, some of which are definitely worth checking out. There are also storyboards, a photo gallery, trailers and some pop-up video commentary that can be activated on certain stories on the feature blu-ray. A nice selection of extras.

The fourth and final disc is a CD featuring the film’s soundtrack which includes all the music from the segments and wraparound by artists like Lalo Schifrin, Christopher Drake, Joseph Bishara and more.

All of the discs are region free and can be played anywhere and the set also comes with two trading cards, too!

I really have come to appreciate and enjoy this flick beyond what my initial review reflects. It is now part of my traditional Halloween viewing, as it is loaded with Halloween spirit and imagery and I would love to see a follow-up with yet more filmmakers creating Halloween tales as in this film. If you liked this movie and have become endeared to it like I have, this 4-disc set is a must!

-MonsterZero NJ

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES NOV 25-27

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Complete estimates are in for the weekend box office

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to the reviews here at The Movie Madhouse!)

1. “Moana” $55.5 Million

2. “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” $45 Million

3. “Doctor Strange” $13.3 Million

4. “Allied” $13 Million

5. “Arrival” $11.2 Million

6. “Trolls” $10.3 Million

7. “Almost Christmas” $7.6 Million

8. “Bad Santa 2” $6 Million

9. “Hacksaw Ridge” $5.4 Million

10. “The Edge of Seventeen” $2.9 Million

source: Box Office Mojo

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE CAR and RACE WITH THE DEVIL

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Been a while since I did one of these and thought it would be fun to pair up these two 70s thrillers featuring cars, crashes and Old Scratch himself…

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THE CAR (1977)

I love this 1977 B-movie action/horror, it is a textbook example of how a good director… Cat Ballou’s Elliot Silverstein… can take even a ridiculous premise and turn it into a solidly entertaining flick. And The Car is exactly that. The plot is simple, a demonic looking black sedan comes thundering out of the desert one morning and heads into the small rural desert town of Santa Ynez and begins to mow down innocents like a hitchhiker and two young bicycle riders. While the Thomas County Sheriff’s office, including Captain…soon to be sheriff thanks to The Car…Wade Parent (James Brolin and an awesome 70s mustache), think there is a psycho on the loose, we already know something supernatural is afoot from the red tinted POV shots from within the vehicle and the mysterious wind that blows through right before it’s thunderous engines and blaring horn can be heard. Despite road blocks, the vehicle appears and disappears at will and Wade and his deputies start to realize something is satanically wrong here when the vehicle tries to run down a group of school children and is stopped when they flee into the hallowed ground of a cemetery and Wade himself confirms eye witness accounts that the vehicle has no driver. But something evil is inside as indicated by the gleeful sounding horn after a kill and the fact that single dad Wade’s pretty school teacher girlfriend (Kathleen Lloyd) finds out the hard way that calling the ‘driver’ a “chicken shit” is a bad idea. Now with the body count mounting and all signs pointing to the fact that Old Scratch himself might be out for a joyride, Wade and his rapidly diminishing police force must find a way to stop Satan’s Sedan before Santa Ynez becomes a ghost town.

As with  The Devil’s Rain… The Car is another film that employed Satanist Anton LaVey as a technical advisor and even opens with a quote from him. Not sure what he advised as there really is very little religious talk in the film and even when they start to believe something evil is going on, a priest is never even mentioned much less consulted. Who cares, as Silverstein takes this laughable idea and makes a really fun and suspenseful action/horror flick that actually has some goose bump inducing moments such as when The Car has the kids trapped in the cemetery and when Wade has an encounter with it in his own garage. Silverstein accomplishes this by taking his subject totally seriously and not only instilling his villain with a good deal of menace, but delivers some really intense chase and action sequences including a very thrilling climax where all Hell literally breaks loose. Obviously the 70s nostalgia adds a lot of fun to it too, but this is actually a well directed film and we enjoy it far more then we expect from a movie about a demon driven car. Another thing that adds to the effectiveness is that The Car appears in sleepy Santa Ynez for no reason, nor do we ever get one. It’s very spooky and random and that works far better than a hokey explanation and it gives The Car added personality to what Silverstein already imbues it with.

The cast, also starring Ronny Cox, R.G. Armstrong and Kyle and Kim Richards as Wade’s precocious daughters, take their roles very seriously with Brolin making a very human and sometimes fallible hero. He and Lloyd really do come across as a cute couple, too. The film was criticized for it’s acting back in the day, but personally, I think they are just fine for being in a flick about a demon possessed car. And speaking of which… the real star is George Barris’ customized 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III and it’s an iconic movie vehicle and is very intimidating and effective. If Beezelbub had a car, I have no problem believing this is what it would look like. Leonard Rosenman’s score is appropriately spooky and incorporates bits of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique…the piece that open’s The Shining and Gerald Hirschfeld’s cinematography makes nice use of the desert locations. Despite being filmed mostly in the day, it has plenty of creepy atmosphere.

All in all, The Car is a really fun B-movie blast with a well deserved cult following and a favorite guilty pleasure of mine that I actually saw at The Park Lane theater in Palisades Park in 1977 when I was a kid…and it delightfully holds up all these years later! A fun action/ horror of the type they don’t make anymore!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 satanic sedans.

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RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975)

One of my favorite 70s B-movies. Race is now loaded with nostalgic charm, as well as, being an entertaining and sometimes spooky movie in it’s own right. Story of two couples on an RV road trip vacation crossing paths with a sinister cult and witnessing a human sacrifice is campy to be sure, but there are some creepy scenes and the are a number of good chase/action scenes as well. As the couple try to get out of town while being pursued by what appears to be everybody, director/actor Jack Starrett does a good job of creating tension as everyone seems suspicious and no one appears trustworthy. True, the cult’s actual subject of worship is unclear as our antagonists’ research drags up everything from witchcraft to Mayan sacrificial ceremonies and the cult creates far more attention and far more evidence of their existence by pursuing the RV cross country, leaving a wake of death and destruction behind. But if they had just cleaned up their tracks and left no evidence to support the couples’ claims, we wouldn’t have anything to entertain us for the next 90 minutes. The acting is surprisingly good and the cast…including Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Lara Parker and Loretta Switt…and crew wisely take the proceedings seriously and let the audience have all the fun with it. A 70s gem that is still fun today.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 fighting Fondas

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THANKSKILLING (2008)

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THANKSKILLING (2008)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

 Low budget flick about a trash talking, homicidal turkey opens in 1621 with the foul mouthed fowl murdering a topless pilgrim woman. We then cut to the present with five friends heading home from college to the town of Crawl Berg for Thanksgiving with their families. In the meantime, a dog pees on a Native American burial site and unleashes the murderous bird from it’s temporary grave. As it goes after the college students and their families, they discover a local legend telling of an evil Native American sorcerer who cursed a turkey to kill any white people invading their lands. The bird is supposed to rise every 505 years to exact revenge…and guess how long it’s been since his last visit? Can it be stopped?

Holiday themed comedy/horror sadly makes the laziest effort, instead of trying to be legitimately funny or clever. It wallows in bargain basement toilet and sex humor with it’s vulgar talking muppet villain, which could have been funny with some wit behind it. The super low budget and terrible acting can be forgiven and the fact that the killer in this slasher is a muppet, could have been funny, even on a ‘so bad it’s good’ level, only if there was some effort to have a bit of ingenuity behind the humor. Instead we get jokes on the level of a horny twelve year old boy and despite some decent gore, the film is even technically lazy with amateur shot set-ups and choppy editing. With a running time at only 70 minutes long, this holiday horror still wears out it’s welcome quickly. It’s just a dumb flick where characters spout awful dialog and barely react when loved ones are slaughtered…and the fact that they are battling a talking turkey, barely registers. It’s a lazy effort and the scariest thing about it is that director Jordan Downey needed four additional co-writers to come up with this disappointingly terrible flick. Five writers for this lame and witless nonsense? Really?

For those looking for some wit and cleverness to your Thanksgiving themed horror, continue to hit Youtube to watch Eli Roth’s hilarious Thanksgiving trailer from the movie Grind House. If this ultra low budget flick had put half the effort and thought into it’s holiday themed horror, that Roth did in his trailer spoof, it would have been a true cult item to appreciate. Instead it’s just a lazy effort that appeals to the lowest common denominator and took five writers to accomplish even that. Stars Lindsey Anderson, Lance Predmore, Ryan Francis, Natasha Cordova and Aaron Carlson as the five ill-fated friends with director Downey voicing our feathered fiend. Actually spawned a sequel, too.

-MonsterZero NJ

1 and 1/2 turkey drumsticks.

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REVIEW: IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE (2016)

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IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE (2016)

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Western homage is written and directed by Ti West who is known for horror films like The House Of The Devil and the recent The Sacrament. This is a departure for West and shows he can do more than just horror with this tale of revenge. Flick has ex-soldier Paul (Ethan Hawke) wandering into the small town of Denton, New Mexico. He is just passing through, but in true western fashion, has an altercation with the town bully/deputy, Gilly (James Ransone). Paul is commanded to leave town by Gilly’s sheriff father (John Travolta), but is pursued into the desert by Gilly and his thugs. Upon being ambushed, his beloved dog, Abbie is murdered and Paul himself left for dead. Surviving Gilly’s attempt at payback, the lone drifter heads back to Denton with death and revenge on his mind.

In A Valley Of Violence may not be perfect, but it is a fun homage to both spaghetti and American westerns. Ti West creates a classic drifter in Paul, a man who grew tired of killing Native Americans senselessly and left the army behind, too ashamed to return home to his own family. He wants no more to do with death, but is forced by the slimy Gilly and his father into picking up gun and knife once more. We also get the classic love interest in young Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga) who happens to be the sister of Gilly’s fiancé, Ellen (Karen Gillan) and takes a shine to the handsome drifter. In telling this classic story, West’s horror background does come through. Paul uses an assortment of weapons to gain revenge, including gun, straight razor and bludgeoning a man with his own boot heel. The flashback to the Native American massacre the broke him down is also very reminiscent of his set up for the sacrifice scene in The House Of The Devil. This western is also a bloody one, thought he does not go overboard with it. If West stumbles a bit, it’s with the film’s odd sense of humor. It is a bit intrusive in a few spots such as during the climactic scenes with Paul stalking Sheriff Martin and his posse throughout the town. There are a couple of moments where some humorous dialogue interrupts the tension that West has built, such as after witnessing a cohort gunned down, one of Martin’s thugs (Tommy Nohilly) declares, in a rant, that he no longer wants to be called “Tubby”. The humor is blended fine most of the time, but here it seems to slow the momentum a bit and break the suspense. It doesn’t damage the film, but the climactic showdown could have been tighter and more tense. On a technical level the film looks good. Cinematographer Eric Robbins makes good use of the New Mexico locations and Jeff Grace gives it a homage filled western score that evokes Morricone at times.

West also gets good work out of an impressive cast. Hawke may be no Clint Eastwood, but he plays the tortured drifter very well. Paul is a man who has come to abhor violence, but is forced back into it, reluctantly, by the bully Gilly. His dog Abbie is the rock that what humanity he has left clings to and when she is taken, the killer is unleashed again. Hawke makes Paul likable, yet a bit distant and we do believe he is lethal when the time comes. Travolta is very good as Sheriff Martin. He plays him as not quite a bad guy, but obviously someone who lets his son and thugs have their way around town. He knows enough to not mess with the ex-soldier Paul, but sadly is not convincing enough to his son. As Gilly, James Ransone is appropriately slimy and full of himself. Gilly is a bit too much of a jerk to really be completely menacing and Ransone plays him as someone a bit too over confident to know when to quit. Taissa Farmiga is sweet and spirited as Mary-Anne, the lonely impressionable young girl who falls for Paul and Karen Gillan is also entertaining as her snooty sister Ellen, who is engaged to the bully Gilly. Indie flick icon Larry Fesenden also appears as one of Gilly’s three thugs along with Toby Huss and Tommy Nohilly.

Overall, I liked this odd little western homage and was entertained. The story is common to the genre as are the stereotypical characters, but that is completely on purpose. This is some nice tension and suspense to go with the bloody action and the cast all perform their parts well. If the film falters somewhat, it is in that sometimes it’s quirky humor comes at the wrong moments when things should stay tense. Otherwise this is a fun western from a man who has already impressed with his horror flicks and Blumhouse who continues to support indie filmmakers. Also stars Burn Gorman as a less than typical priest.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 six-shooters.

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