HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DARK SUMMER (2015)

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DARK SUMMER (2015)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

MINOR SPOILER WARNING: To discuss certain aspects of the film, I had to go into details which may be considered spoiler-ish, though I tried to remain as vague as possible.

Dark Summer tells the story of Daniel (Keir Gilchrist), a teen who is put under house arrest after cyber-stalking classmate Mona Wilson (Grace Phipps). Alone in the house with his mother away and his parole office (Peter Stormare) keeping a close eye on him, his incarceration looks to quickly become a living hell. A living hell indeed, as Mona phones him online, one night, only to commit suicide right in front of him. Soon after, it appears there is a malevolent presence in the house with him and it might be her. Fearing she is with him in the house to exact some sort of revenge, Daniel enlists the help of his best friends Kevin (Maestro Harrell) and Abby (Stella Maeve) to help him put a stop to it. The more they investigate Mona, though…and a way of ridding the house of her dark presence…the more they realize Daniel’s object of affection was not who they though she was…and he may truly be in grave danger.

There were things I liked about this teen-centric horror and things I didn’t. On the negative side, there are some clichés that we’ve seen time and time again that could have been used more inventively, such as the usual levitations and the Scooby-Doo-ish investigations by sleuthing teens. The biggest problem for me was that Daniel comes across as not only as a creep for cyber-stalking the girl, but a real jerk for the way he callously blows off Abby, who really cares about him. True, there are certain revelations later on that might explain some of this, but for a good hour, he remains unsympathetic to us, despite what is happening to him. If you don’t sympathize with the victim, the film looses impact. The positive is that director Paul Solet (Grace) does manage some creepy moments from Mike Le’s script and I will say the last act had some fun reveals and the film wraps up on a very disturbing note. So, you take the good with the bad and overall it’s a moderately entertaining low budget flick that ends effectively. I would have liked to have seen Stomare’s parole officer be more than just a creepy cop, but at slightly over 80 minutes, such character development is not given enough time and when you think his Stokes is about to become more interesting to the plot, the film ends. Solet’s 2009 Grace was a disturbing flick, so he knows what he is doing. Maybe he works better with his own scripts.

The cast are all adequate, but nothing to grab our attention. Gilchrist is fine, but the way Daniel is written, we never really come to like him or feel bad for him much. Even after all is revealed, we still don’t feel all that sympathetic towards him. Suburgatory’s Harrell has little to do, but look concerned, as the film focuses more on the efforts of the long-suffering Abby. It is Stella Maeve as Abby that generates the most sympathy and does the strongest work as a girl who has fallen for someone who doesn’t see her that way…and that same boy is currently haunted by a malevolent spirit of the girl he stalked. That sucks for Abby. Stormare is a veteran, but here just seems to be punching a clock as the creep of a parole office. Not even sure what overall purpose the character served other than the situation warranted he be there.

Overall, Dark Summer was a decent enough watch with some effective moments and a last act with some nice surprises and a disturbing final scene (part of which comes after the credits). Not everything worked and sometimes the clichés just got silly and it was the unlikability of the leading character that lends to detachment from sympathizing with his plight. Even though there were supernaturally extenuating circumstances, he still acted like a jerk on enough levels to not feel bad when faced with supernatural payback. Worth a look and has some spooky moments, but don’t expect too much.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 laptops that should never be used to stalk you classmates.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE NEST (1988)

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THE NEST (1988)

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

Killer cockroach flick comes from Roger Corman’s Concorde Pictures and was produced by his wife Julie. The story finds the small island community of North Port suddenly under siege by a swarm of flesh eating cockroaches. As local Sheriff Tarbell (Frank Luz) investigates along with the cute mayor’s daughter, Elizabeth (Lisa Langlois), they find the sinister INTEC corporation has conducted genetic experiments on the local roach population. Now their Frankenstein creation is out of control and not only are they hungry for flesh, but are impervious to pesticides and have an annoying habit of becoming genetically combined with whatever they eat. Will the citizens of North Port somehow defeat this six legged army or become mutant roach fodder one and all?

This fun B-Movie is directed with a sense of humor by Terence H. Winkless from a script by Robert King based on Eli Cantor’s book. Winkless takes his subject seriously, but knows this is a silly flick, so there is a healthy dose of humor to go with the plentiful gore and numerous deaths. What makes it work is that the film blends the humor and more serious aspects well, so we are willing to go along with it for entertainments sake. The FX are kind of cheesy, especially when it enters John Carpenter’s The Thing territory as our villainous insects begin to “become what they eat”, but that’s part of it’s charm. We also get the traditional sinister corporation conspiracy personified by the town’s greedy, sell-out mayor (film veteran Robert Lansing) and the traditional mad scientist (Corman regular Terri Treas) who refuses to see what they have wrought. It all adds up to a fun little flick that doesn’t try to be more than it is and makes no excuses for what it is, either.

The cast are all adequate, but there will be no awards given out here. Robert Lansing does the best work as greedy Mayor Johnson, but Lansing is a film veteran and a veteran of these type of flicks, so he gives it his all despite the silly premise. Luz is bland but serviceable as lead Sheriff Tarbell and Langlois is a feisty heroine in support of him. Terri Treas, who had a busy film and TV career in the 80s and 90s, has some fun with her mad scientist role and gives her part a little needed over-the-top. Overall, exactly the level of talent you’d expect in a flick like this, save for the long-time veteran Lansing…and it works with the tone of the material.

This isn’t a great movie. It’s a fun little B-horror flick, though, and the cheese, gore and humor mix well enough to make it so. It knows it’s material enough to not take it too seriously, but serious enough not to make a complete joke out of it. Julie Corman and Co. deliver something worthy of her husband’s pictures, and certainly worth a watch with some brews and friends with like-wise taste in these kind of flicks. A fun, unassuming B-Movie.

Now available on blu-ray from the awesome folks at Scream Factory!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 genetically enhanced roaches.

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BARE BONES: GRACE: THE POSSESSION and DEVIL’S PASS

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GRACE: THE POSSESSION (2014)

Jeff Chan’s horror tries to do something novel by telling his possession tale from the demon’s point of view, but the idea never really works and just creates a non-camera POV movie where it isn’t needed. The film tells of 18 year-old Grace (Alexia Fast) a young woman coming of age who lives with her strict religious grandmother (Lin Shaye) after her single mom (also Fast) dies during childbirth.  Due to the nature of her conception…a reveal later on…there is a demon that want’s to corrupt the shy girl. What follows is basically just a routine possession flick told from the eyes of the demon within, though it could just be Grace’s eyes as nothing clever is ever done with the concept. It also wears out it’s welcome long before the film ends. Even as a possession flick, it’s nothing new or particularly scary and is actually slow going for a 90 minute movie. I appreciate trying something different, but then do something different with it. Routine and dull. Also stars The Guest’s Joel David Moore as a young priest taken with the pretty Grace.

2 star rating

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DEVIL’S PASS (2013)

Renny Harlin (NOES4, Prison) returns to his horror roots with this fact-based found footage tale of a group of US college students trying to discover the fate of a team of Russian hikers, who all died mysteriously during an expedition into the Ural mountains in 1959. As written by Vikram Weet, there are some good ideas here, but after an intriguing set-up, the film goes completely over-the-top for it’s final act. Not only is that final act filled with elements from a dozen X-Files episodes, but drags in elements from another supposed factual incident, as well. Some of it is still interesting, but going from a subtle mystery to an out-of-control adventure better fitting Mulder and Scully, is jarring and we get some truly awful CGI that totally undermines the impact of what it is supposed to represent. An intriguing and well-made effort that ultimately sinks itself under the weight of it’s own ambitions and the epic fail of it’s CGI artists. A case where an ambiguous ending may have been more effective than the idea overload we get.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES FEBRUARY 13-15

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Complete estimates are in for the weekend box office!

1. “Fifty Shades Of Grey” $81.7 Million

2. “Kingsman: The Secret Service” $35.6 Million

3.  “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water” $30.5 Million

4. “American Sniper” $16.4 Million

5. “Jupiter Ascending” $9.4 Million

6. “Seventh Son” $4.2 Million

7. “Paddington” $4.15 Million

8. “The Imitation Game” $3.5 Million

9. “The Wedding Ringer” $3.4 Million

10. “Project Almanac” $2.7 Million

source: Box Office Mojo

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: WYRMWOOD (2014)

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WYRMWOOD (2014)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

“The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.”- Revelations 8:11

Leave it to the Australians to give life back to the stale zombie genre with this delightful mash-up of Evil Dead and The Road Warrior. This fun and sometimes intense and gruesome flick, tells the story of brother and sister, Barry (Jay Gallagher) and Brooke (Bianca Bradey) during a mysterious zombie outbreak. Not much is given to us about the cause except for an abundance of shooting stars on the night it begins and a biblical reference to Wyrmwood, a star which falls to earth during Revelations and brings a plague of death. Barry is with his family and Brooke doing a photo shoot in the town of Bulla Bulla. Barry looses both his wife and daughter to the mysterious condition which, for some reason, spares those with A- blood. He eventually teams up Aborigine camper Benny (Leon Burchill) who lost both his brothers. Together they run into some locals and discover that while this ‘situation’ has rendered gas and fossil fuels inert, the zombies’ blood is quite flammable and the methane-like gas they exhale works as a fuel substitute. So, they go out armed and armored to gather ‘fuel’ and rescue Barry’s sister. Brooke, on the other hand, has been kidnaped by a sinister military group who keeps her restrained and gagged in a lab where there are performing experiments on zombie and human alike. Experiments, unbeknownst to her captors, that render Brooke with the ability to telekinetically control the living dead. Obviously the two siblings and their stories will come together…and then the bloody fun begins.

As directed by Kiah Roache-Turner from a script he co-wrote with his brother Tristan Roache-Turner, this flick is a blast of fun and a breath of bloody fresh air for the zombie sub-genre. A sub-genre made stale by an over-saturation of movies and weekly zombie TV shows. They make even the silliest aspects of the story work, and work very well. They take their story very seriously…though it is laden with that off-beat Australian sense of humor, which seems to fit in perfectly with the more gruesome aspects of this deviously twisted tale. The film has a really cool visual style and is obviously made by those who love these kind of movies and who also know what makes them work. This energetic mash-up is filled with subtle references to films like Dawn Of The DeadEvil Dead, the Mad Max films and even a playful nod to The Walking Dead involving a Samurai sword. Roache-Turner, however, creates his own flick from all the hat-tipping, despite borrowing concepts from George Romero and George Miller and makes his homage to the movies he loves in his own style. One of the things I loved most about it was that the combination of eclectic elements is mixed so well and works far better than it sounds like it should…cause it’s mixed in the right amounts and given the respect it deserves. The film is action packed but, never at the sacrifice of it’s off-kilter story, or characters, and can be very intense at times. There is also a lot of gory violence, which appears to be mostly…and thankfully… well-rendered live effects, too. Abundance of action and bloodshed aside, though, what makes it really work so completely is a charming group of main characters and some delightfully eccentric supporting characters, such as a sinister scientist who prefers to listen to K.C. and the Sunshine Band while he conducts his gruesome experiments. There really is little to not like about this film, made by film geeks for the film geek in all of us. Roache-Turner is certainly a filmmaker to watch.

As for the cast, they are all engaging. Gallagher is a charming and solid hero as Barry. Despite his loses and what is happening, he is valiantly going to find his sibling, as she is all he has left. Burchill is delightful as the oddball Benny. The character is given a lot of charm by the actor and is extremely likable. He has some of the best lines and is a perfect side-kick for Barry. As Brooke, Bianca Bradey is strong and sexy and her tattooed heroine becomes quite the powerhouse once she learns to use the side-effects of the experiments against those who hold her captive. The actress spends about 75% of the movie tied up with a fetishistic gag in her mouth and has to express her emotions and thoughts in her eyes and body language and Bradey does a great job. Long before she gets free, we like her immensely and are rooting for her. The supporting characters are also an eccentric lot and help add an offbeat atmosphere to the story and film. They seem both over-the-top and yet, somehow believably human, at the same time.

What little faults the film has are minor and not really worth bringing up when the filmmakers get so much, so right. They somehow mash-up quite a few different genres worth of ideas to fuel their homage and, as such, make sure to give nods to the types of film’s that inspired them. It reminded me of Neil Marshall’s Doomsday in that the entire film existed to pay homage to others yet, somehow, is it’s own movie. Energetic, delightfully gory and with a fast and furious pace, Wyrmwood is a real blast of George Romero meets Sam Raimi meets George Miller and yet remains very Kiah Roache-Turner. One of the year’s best horrors, so far, in my book and by a filmmaking talent to keep a close watch on!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Road Warrior-esque zombie fighters!

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CULT CLASSIC CUTIES: ANNE-MARIE MARTIN as JESSICA in THE BOOGENS!

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Cult Classic Cuties are characters from some of our favorite cult classics and midnight movies who captured our hearts and/or actresses who got our attention but, sadly, never returned to these type of flicks or whose sexy stars shined only briefly, not quite achieving scream queen status. And this installment’s cutie is…

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ANNE-MARIE MARTIN

While Rebecca Balding’s perky and cute girl-next-door Trish is clearly the heroine of the 1981 creature cult classic The Boogens, it’s Anne-Marie Martin’s sexy, sassy Jessica that got my attention. Whether in a plaid shirt and cowboy hat or running from the title creatures in nothing but a towel, Jessica had a fiery personality and sarcastic sense of humor that made me want to get snowbound in a remote cabin with her…monster infestation or not. Martin gave the character a feisty and vivacious liveliness that made her very crush-worthy and imbued her with smarts and a tinge of girl-next-door charm that kept her from being the stereotypical ‘horny chick’ slasher character that she could have been…and as such, she stole our hearts long before catching the eye of the creepy critters that lurk in the catacombs beneath the cabin in question.
Being Boogens fodder aside, the Canadian beauty also had another genre role in the classic slasher Prom Night and a bit part in the classic horror sequel Halloween II. Martin also had a fairly busy TV career between 1976 and 1988 before retiring from acting and was married and had a daughter with legendary author Michael Crichton before divorcing in 2003!

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 as JESSICA in THE BOOGENS!

(click on the poster for a full review)

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SIDE NOTE: While we were falling for Martin’s sassy and sexy Jessica, Boogens’ director James L. Conway was falling for leading lady Rebecca Balding and the two have been happily married ever since!

Be sure to check out our Cult Classic Cuties (click right here on the link) section to see more crush worthy ladies from cult films and midnight movies!

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES and THE ZERO THEOREM

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A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (2014)

If there is ever an example of Liam Neeson’s ability to elevate a routine thriller and make a cliché character interesting, it’s here. Flick has Neeson as an ex-alcoholic, ex-cop with a past…wasn’t kidding about the clichés…who is now a private detective and is hired by a drug trafficker (The Guest’s Dan Stevens) to find the men who kidnaped and brutally murdered his wife. As a thriller, the film is well directed by Scott Frank from his own script based on Lawrence Block’s book. There is nothing new here, though, as we get an investigation that leaves to something much deeper and darker and we even get the smart-aleck neighborhood kid turned sidekick. Neeson is solid and intense and makes the whole affair seem much more important than it really is, despite that once it’s over you realize that nothing much was actually achieved. A movie that is far more entertaining than it should be, even though we’ve seen Neeson threaten people on the phone countless times by now. Thanks, Liam!

3 star rating

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THE ZERO THEOREM (2014)

Some of Terry Gilliam’s early films are borderline brilliant, such as his cult classic Brazil and the award winning The Fisher King. Ex-Python Gilliam has seemed to have lost his way, though, after the dead-on Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas and the collapse of his Don Quixote film…and this colorful but, convoluted Sci-Fi flick proves it. Despite a really good performance from Christoph Waltz as the eccentric Qohen Leth, the film meanders for over 100 minutes but, never really goes anywhere. There is the usual original and sumptuous production design, as is typical of Gilliam’s films, but Pat Rushin’s story of a futuristic corporate run society…a theme already overdone…where the loner Leth is asked to prove a theorem that everything is leading up to nothing, doesn’t really lead to much in itself. No more proof of The Zero Theorem than the actually film, which achieves little after almost two hours of Gilliam’s off-beat comedy and the antics of the story’s eclectic, cartoonish supporting characters. As a fan of Gilliam, I didn’t hate it. There were things to like, such as the visuals, Waltz’s performance and a delightfully sexy role from French actress Mélanie Thierry as a cyber-sex girl who falls for Qohen. As a complete film, however, it achieves little. Gilliam is still one of the most original filmmakers around but, it’s been awhile since he accomplished something noteworthy. Also stars Matt Damon as “Management” and Tilda Swinton as a cyber-shrink.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE PACT 2 (2014)

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THE PACT 2 (2014)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

I really enjoyed Nicholas McCarthy’s The Pact. It was a spooky little movie with some nice surprises and well-acted by it’s small cast. Obviously, I was hesitant that they were making a sequel without McCarthy’s involvement and while The Pact 2 doesn’t come close to the original, it was a moderately entertaining supernatural thriller.

The story takes place after the events of the last film and focuses on pretty crime scene cleaner June (Camilla Luddington) who is also an aspiring illustrator. June is having dreams about a woman named Ellie (Suziey Block) who is the recent victim of, what appears to be, a Judas Killer (Mark Steger) copy-cat. Without realizing it, she is drawing her dreams and revealing Ellie’s fate in her work. Worse still, an eccentric FBI agent (Patrick Fischler) feels she might be in danger due to a shocking connection to the original killer and one of his victims, Jennifer Glick. Finding no comfort from her policeman boyfriend (Scott Michael Foster), June turns to the one person who might be able to help, Annie Barlow (Caity Lotz), the woman who finally took the Judas Killer down. But, can either escape this new and unknown serial murderer…or the vengeful spirit of the original Judas Killer?

Written and directed by Dallas Richard Hallam and Patrick Horvath, this unnecessary sequel does have some spooky moments but, also gets a little convoluted by it’s end. Overall, it was moderately entertaining but, the writers do stretch things a bit to get their new character June, connected to the Judas Killer and it’s a bit cliché. Of course, having a policeman boyfriend and an FBI agent around is of no use to her and she has to investigate things on her own and with the help of Annie. This conveniently puts them both in harm’s way and even Ellie’s spirit giving them clues, doesn’t bring them all that closer to the killer. As for the copy-cat reveal, it comes out of nowhere and is there to add shock value and not make real sense. What helps the film is that, as directors, the pair do give the film some atmosphere and there are some genuinely spooky moments, as June is haunted by both, victim Ellie and serial killer Judas.

June is an interesting character and thought the rest of the cast are a bit flat, Luddington and the returning Caity Lotz are both likable and we wish the film had focused on their teamwork a bit more. Patrick Fischler’s FBI agent Ballard seems to only exist to provide exposition and suspicion and Foster’s cop boyfriend pops in and out of the story when needed. Like the original film, this focuses on a small central group of characters, mostly on it’s leading ladies.

So, this sequel passed the time and I was never bored though, there was little fresh or innovative. The filmmakers are far better directors than writers, as the script is a bit convoluted and cliché but, the film is atmospheric and has some creepy moments. Lead character June is likable as is Camilla Luddington in the part and it was nice to see Lotz return. There were some familiar faces and links to keep this from being a completely detached sequel though, we wish McCarthy had some involvement to make things mesh a bit better. Overall it’s worth a look but, go in with moderate expectations and don’t expect an equal to the enjoyable and spooky first film.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 cute, creeped-out crime scene cleaners

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CLOWNHOUSE (1989)

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CLOWNHOUSE (1989)

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

Clownhouse is a late 80s horror written and directed by controversial director Victor Salva (Jeepers Creepers) and appears to have gone direct to home media back in the day. This is my first time seeing it and I wasn’t overly impressed. This is also the film where Salva was charged with sexual abuse of his young star, Nathan Forrest Winters, which makes it a bit uncomfortable to watch, too…for all the wrong reasons.

The story is of three brothers, oldest Randy (Sam Rockwell) who is a bit of a jerk, Geoffrey (Brian McHugh) who is the practical one, and youngest and most sensitive, Casey (Nathan Forrest Winters), who has a strong fear of clowns. Of course, the circus comes to town and Casey reluctantly goes with his siblings. Unknown to the three brothers, though, a trio of inmates has escaped the local asylum and after the show, kill and take the identities of the circus’ three clowns. Now Casey’s worst nightmares come true as the inmates discover the three boys home alone and lay siege to their house. Can Casey overcome his fear of clowns and survive the night?

All controversy aside, this is actually a dull movie. Director/writer Salva gives the film a leaden pace and despite a story ripe for horror fun, rarely makes good use of the premise. Aside from Casey’s fear, there really is no reason to have it’s three psychos dressed like clowns. It may be the only thing that gives them personality and menace because, they never speak, their actions are random and they are not very good at the whole stalk and kill thing. The kids outwit them constantly. Salva tries to make a serious Halloween-like horror out of this, but gives us none of the suspense or chills, unless clowns really spook you. They do make effective horror villains, but otherwise, I never had a fear of them, personally. The three young actors all perform with a monotone delivery, with Rockwell especially giving no indication of becoming one of the most versatile actors around. The characters aren’t especially endearing either, so we really aren’t that emotionally invested as the three psychos lay siege to the house. The characters also do dumb things such as stay in the house, once the creeps are inside, when they have multiple chances to leave and make a run for it. Casey actually calls the police, but emphasizes that the intruders are clowns and thus his call is dismissed by the cops who know of his fear. Just tell them there are three men trying to enter the house and leave their mode of dress for the police to discover. It’s just dumb and doesn’t help a film already devoid of the scares and suspense needed to make it work. Aside from the fact that Salva does have a decent visual style, there is none of the tension, atmosphere or intensity of his Jeepers Creepers and as far as the slasher basics, very little body count or gore.

Some consider this a cult classic, I find it fairly forgettable. If it wasn’t for Salva’s indiscretion with one of his young cast members, there really wouldn’t be much to say at all about this flick. The film totally drops the ball on it’s clown theme and doesn’t really deliver any of the horror goods, aside from some nice visual shots. There may be some 80s nostalgia, but otherwise, there is very little atmosphere and Salva gets very little intensity out of his cast performance-wise. Even his clown dressed villains are stale and evoke little fear or threat. And when you can’t make clowns scary, there is definitely a problem.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 psychotic clowns.

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