REVIEW: AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

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AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

The highly anticipated sequel to the super-fun Avengers is admittedly a bit of a mixed bag but, it is an entertaining mixed bag and the good far outweighs any of it’s shortcomings, including a blast of a last act that makes up for most of them.

Joss Whedon once again writes and helms and picks up a few years after the last flick. The team has been scouring the world cleaning up Hydra’s strongholds. On the latest mission, they encounter two enhanced individuals, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) Maximoff who bare a grudge and some heavy tech that Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) decides to mess with. Stark intends on creating an automated security system for the rest of the world but, accidentally creates a monster in the A.I. Ultron (James Spader). Ultron feels the only path to world peace is to eliminate the main source of the problems…mankind. Now the Avengers must face their greatest threat as Ultron, aided by the Maximoff Twins, begins to initiate his master plan of world peace through global annihilation.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way, so, we can get to the good stuff. The 141 minute running time seems both excessive and not enough, as some plot elements…such as the introduction of one new team member, The Vision (Paul Bettany), seems rushed…while other situations…such as a furlough at a team member’s remote farm…seem to go on too long and not accomplish much. The film has a bit darker tone and thus isn’t quite as outright fun as the original and the plot is a bit more convoluted. I did like James Spader’s Ultron, though I though he could have used more ferocity and menace to really put him over. Overall, this keeps this from reaching the same heights as the last one or the recent Winter Soldier but, there is plenty to like, too!

The good stuff is certainly abundant. There is some truly spectacular action and Whedon gives the film a far more cinematic scope and shoots this one in widescreen to enhance that. The characters are all given some nice depth and each have their own moments to add to this and it works. The camaraderie between members, now that they are a team, also works well and it gives it impact when Wanda…The Scarlet Witch…starts to mess with their heads. Speaking of Miss Maximoff, it’s no secret to Marvel fans that she and her brother Quicksilver will see the error of their ways and be Avengers by the final battle…which is a doozy. I liked not only these new characters, but, how they were portrayed and Scarlet Witch and The Vision especially make quite an impression. Quicksilver’s debut, though, is somewhat muted by the character’s more amusing appearance in X-Men Days Of Future Past last Summer. Again, while Ultron could have been a stronger villain, the showdown between the team and the mechanical megalomaniac and his minions is a spectacle to behold and bares a resemblance more to the finale of Man Of Steel than the last Avengers flick. It made up for some of the more disappointing elements with some riveting action and some truly great visual moments. There is also plenty of Whedon’s trademark snappy dialogue and a few magical moments, too, such as one involving Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and The Vision that brought the house down…and let’s not forget a mid-credits scene that had equal impact on the audience I saw the film with.

As for the cast, I am not going to go through all of them, suffice to say the regulars and cameos from familiar faces are all performed well and those cameos were fun. Though, I will say the Banner/Romanoff relationship needed a bit more time to really have weight. There is some character overload here and some of the little things get ignored. As for the new blood, Elizabeth Olsen makes the best impact with her Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch. She gives her a sense of tremendous power without overacting and while her transformation from vengeful bad girl to Avenger is another element that seemed rushed, she fit in very well with the team including a really nice scene with Renner’s Hawkeye…who has some good lines here. Johnson is fine as her slightly arrogant twin brother Pietro/Quicksilver and it’s not his fault that X-Men beat his character to the punch and his character also gets short-changed a bit time-wise. Bettany makes a truly impressive Vision and that he also voices Jarvis is no accident. Finally there is Spader. I have always liked James Spader and he is a good choice for the snarky, homicidal artificial intelligence but, he never really is given opportunity to emanate true menace. Ultron disappears for long periods of time and his matter-of-fact approach to his evil plot robs the character of being a real intense threat. Even in physical combat I never got the impression The Avengers were in any real danger of getting defeated. Our mid-credits cameo has more threat in the 30 seconds he is onscreen than Ultron musters in the whole movie.

So, to simplify it, on one hand the film’s running time works both for and against it. It’s not as much pure fun as the first adventure and there is a bit of a character/plot overload. Add to that a villain who is never really allowed to reach his diabolical potential and it falls somewhat short of Loki’s attempt to rule earth last time. On the plus, there are some great character moments and interaction. The new characters worked really well and I am certainly looking forward to more of the new Avengers members. There were some great cameos from familiar faces and some really good lines too and the last act was an amazing thrill ride that ups the ante for future Marvel epics. So, I do highly recommend Avengers: Age Of Ultron, just downshift the expectations a little bit and you should have a blast.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Black Widows. avengers age of ultron rating

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“TERMINATOR: GENISYS” GETS A NEW POSTER!

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Terminator: Genisys, is the new reboot/continuation of the Terminator series and today we got a new poster. While I still believe this series has run it’s course, and I have my doubts about this new installment, it still could turn out to be a lot of fun. At least we get to see the “Khaleesi” Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor. Terminator: Genisys opens in 7/15!

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE NIGHT CREW (2015)

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THE NIGHT CREW (2015)

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

While this flick is 95% action movie…and a bloody one at that…there is a bit of a horror film element that seems to exist to set up an even more interesting sequel/further adventure…and it kinda works.

The Night Crew has four hardened bounty hunters, Wade (Luke Blade 2 Goss), Ronnie (Paul Sloan), Crenshaw (Bokeem Woodbine) and Rose (Luciana Faulhaber) going deep inside Mexico to recover fugitive Mae (Chasty Girlhouse Ballesteros) and bring her back to the states for a big payoff. Unknown to them, Mae is also wanted by a powerful drug cartel and the four and their quarry find themselves surrounded by an army of vicious killers who want the girl back and them all dead. Adding to the already desperate situation, is that Mae is more than she appears…as is the drug lord (Danny Trejo) who hunts her.

Low budget action flick is actually a very satisfying bullet and blood-fest with an interesting supernatural twist thrown in by writer and star Paul Sloan and co-writer/director Christian Sesma. This ‘element’ not only adds something a little different to the story, but sets up an even more interesting direction if there is a sequel…and hopefully there is. The movie is competently directed by Sesma and while some of the elements are very traditional to testosterone fueled flicks like this, they are stylishly presented and Sesma does serve up a lot of intense and bloody action on his moderate budget. Add in some very pretty ladies in Faulhaber and Ballesteros and you have a fun and entertaining B-movie action flick with a touch of horror movie thrown in. The movie is not perfect. There are some plot holes and lapses in logic, but you watch a flick like this for the action and on a low budget level it delivers. The horror movie elements not only add something interesting to the characters involved, but Sesma and Sloan work it so it sets up a potentially more interesting and entertaining direction as well, if we see more of some of these characters. It’s just enough of a twist to give the more traditional action elements an off-beat angle and an air of mystery and that helps give this enough of a boost to lift it out of the routine. Sometimes entertainment is all you are craving and this flick does serve some up without trying to be more than it is.

The cast all work well in the context of the material. The underrated Goss is solid, as usual, as is his hard-nosed team of Sloan, Woodbine and sexy Luciana Faulhaber. The beautiful and exotic looking Ballesteros gives Mae the mystery and sensuality the character needs and she can be a badass, too, when she needs to be. The villains are appropriately slimy and vicious and Danny Trejo is…well, Danny Trejo…as the cartel king with an even darker aspect to his personality. There is also an amusing cameo by Jason Mews as a security guard who gets caught in the middle of a bullet-riddled bloodbath.

Is The Night Crew a classic…no. Is it an entertaining B-Movie with an intriguing horror element thrown in?…for sure! I liked this flick. It gives us a lot of intense action and spattering blood on a small budget. We get some tough guy anti-heroes and vicious villains and a couple of gorgeous ladies who can kick-ass, too. It won’t win any awards, but it will entertain you on a B-movie level and director Christian Sesma knows his material and delivers it in a no-nonsense way, yet not without a bit of style. A solid B-movie action flick made for a night on the couch and a few of your favorite brews. Also stars Don Swayze and there might be an uncredited cameo by cult favorite director Robert Rodriguez, but the camera never focused on the familiar looking bartender to tell for sure!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets.

ex2 rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SLITHIS (1978)

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SLITHIS (1978)

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

I love a ‘so bad it’s good’ movie just as much as the next movie geek but, this 1978 “gem” is just all round bad. I had the misfortune of catching this at the Oritani Theater back in ’78 and let’s just say it hasn’t gotten any better with age and it’s still so bad that the 70s nostagia just doesn’t help.

The movie…also known as Spawn Of The Slithis…tells the story of a school teacher (Alan Blanchard) who, is trying to solve the mystery of some animal mutilations and then human murders, around a Venice, California cove. The police think it’s a serial killer or a cult and forensics can’t seem to tell animal bites when they see them. He discovers that a leak from a nearby nuclear plant created an organic sludge called “Slithis” (the name of which is never explained) that takes on characteristics of what it absorbs and it is now a humanoid fish monster craving food…preferably, human food. From it’s awful dialog to the even worse delivery of that dialog (an actor playing a police chief seems to think he’s playing a bad guy on a Sid and Marty Kroft TV show), Slithis is mind-numbingly bad. The pacing is slow. Half the film’s shots are in slow motion for no reason, including the goofy opening scene of a fat kid playing frisbee. This means that it’s scant 80 minute running time would be less then an hour without them and it makes one wonder if they were trying to stretch this out to feature length. The Slithis creature costume is okay but, it looks like a pudgy Creature From The Black Lagoon and the human eyes are just too nice and blue to illicit fears. Not sure if that was intended to imply the creature was part human, or just not enough money to afford scary contact lenses. As for fear, it is something this flick completely lacks. From the easily telegraphed attack scenes, where most of the carnage is off camera, to the tone, which goes from dead serious to oddly whimsical at times, Slithis can’t generate any suspense or tension whatsoever. It’s hard to figure out what kind of film writer/director Stephen Traxler was trying to make here as it’s serious one minute and goofy the next. There is some blood but, with a PG rating, Slithis is rather tame and there are only a few attack sequences, as the film is very talky for an 80 minute creature feature.

An awful film that somehow has garnered a bit of a reputation but, after revisiting it, I can only guess it was from lack of availability as the film has very little to recommend even to fans of bad movies. Even more disappointing was the “Slithis survival kit” that was advertised to go along with the film, was just a small reproduction of the poster with instructions to leave it under your pillow so the Slithis would leave you be…even the giveaway gimmick was cheap and disappointing.

-MonsterZero NJ

1 and 1/2 Slithis…Slithi?

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BARE BONES: THE SACRED, THE PYRAMID and DEEP IN THE DARKNESS

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THE SACRED (2012)

Horror flick did pass the time and had some effective moments despite a familiar story. Flick has pretty writer Jessie (Heather Roop) going alone to a recently inherited family cabin to work and not only experiencing paranormal activity but, a creepy possessed doll as well. Director Brett Donowho gives us some effective moments and some atmosphere from Carey and Shane Van Dyke’s derivative script and I liked that the film had some exploitation touches as it found numerous excuses to get the shapely Miss Roop into various and plentiful stages of undress. There is even some spooky but, enticing girl/girl action as Jessie gets supernaturally seduced by an equally sexy pair of specters. Not a very good movie in a traditional sense but, certainly found it’s ways to entertain, one way or another. Also stars B-Movie regular Jeff Fahey as the traditional creepy caretaker who knows more than he lets on.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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THE PYRAMID (2014)

The disappointing thing about this found footage horror is it starts out pretty good with a group of explorers having found an entire pyramid buried under the sands of Egypt that pre-dates all the others. The initial journey inside is spooky and works well…till the ridiculously bad CGI critters show up and it becomes a silly SYFY Channel level monster-on-the-loose flick. It’s well directed to a degree by Grégory Levasseur and the script from Daniel Meersand and Nick Simon starts out OK, but, it just gets really silly in it’s last act and the phony creatures don’t help. Add to that the character of “Fitzie” (James Buckley) who was so annoying, you begged for his demise and you’ve got a potentially interesting horror that goes downhill steadily after a promising first act. Too bad, there was potential here for a fun flick. Also stars Ashley Hinshaw and Denis O’Hare.

2 star rating

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DEEP IN THE DARKNESS (2014)

Despite some flaws, most coming in the third act, and a familiar story, this flick does manage to be entertaining. Story has city doctor Michael Cayle (Sean Patrick Thomas) uprooting his family to the rural community of Ashborough to set up his practice. Obviously, this is a secluded town with a very dark secret…one the good doctor and family may not escape. Though we’ve seen the scenario many times before with films like Children Of The Corn, Wake Wood and Jack Ketchum’s book Off Season, director Colin Theys still gives us an effective and atmospheric chiller from John Doolan’s script based on Micael Laimo’s novel. It’s only in it’s final third that things get a little out of hand, get very predictable and the plot holes show the most but, leading up to that is fairly entertaining. The production has a TV movie feel…it’s made by Chiller TV…but, the make-up FX and gore are well done. Thomas also makes a good hero, though none of the cast really make a strong impression in their roles. Also stars Dean Stockwell and Blanche Baker.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES APRIL 24-26

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Complete estimates are in for the weekend box office!

1. “Furious 7” $18.25 Million

2. “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” $15.5 Million

3. “The Age Of Adeline” $13.3 Million

4. “Home” $8.3 Million

5. “Unfriend” $6.2 Million

6 “Ex Machina” $5.4

7. “The Longest Ride” $4.4 million

8. “Get Hard” $3.9 Million

9. “Monkey Kingdom” $3.6 Million

10. “Woman In Gold” $3.5 Million

source: Box Office Mojo

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HALFWAY TO HALLOWEEN!

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By the end of the week we will officially be halfway to Halloween! As you may know by now it’s my favorite time of year. So, to herald the halfway point, I think a triple feature is in order!

(Just click on the movies posters to go to our look at these classics!)

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Already watched these two last night…

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source: MonsterZero NJ

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REVIEW: EVERLY (2014)

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EVERLY (2014)

Everly is an uneven but, still very entertaining action flick with a truly badass turn by Salma Hayek. Everly (Hayek) is a woman who has been imprisoned in the same apartment for four years as the personal sex slave/toy of powerful Yakuza lord, Taiko (Hiroyuki Watanabe). One day she gets tired of being passed around by his men and kills them all in a fit of rage. Now Everly has little time as she must warn her mother (Laura Cepeda) and young daughter (Aisha Ayamah) to get to safety as Taiko will be coming to kill her in retribution and her family, too. But, Everly is not going down without a fight and fight is what Taiko and his soldiers are going to get plenty of.

Directed by Joe Lynch (the fun Knights of Badassdom and Wrong Turn 2: Dead End) and written by Lynch and Yale Hannon, Everly can be a real blast at times in the Tarantino tradition. The only real problem that held this back for me was that the film’s momentum stops dead, occasionally, for lengthy scenes of exposition, such as when Everly’s mom comes to the apartment where she is holed up and with her daughter. If the dialog was as snappy as Quentin Tarantino’s…whose films this seems to be modeled after…than it would be fine but, it’s not. The warm and fuzzy moments and her conversations with one of Taiko’s dying gang members (Akie Kotabe) just serve to slow the momentum down before the next gunfight. We do need a breather now and then but, the slowing down of the pace does more harm than good. There is still so much to like, though, as when this movie is on, it rocks. The action is fierce and I liked that the film took place all in the same apartment, so, you were familiar with the surroundings and where things were happening during the furious gunfights. As Taiko’s men fail to take down Everly, the assassins he sends get more colorful…with characters called “The Masochist” and “The Sadist”…and he even places a bounty on her head so she is also attacked by bevy of her fellow prostitutes. It all adds up to a lot of bloody…and this flick gets bloody…fun as Hayek blasts, slashes and blows away her opponents with anything she can get her hands on. In this case, the good parts go far in making up for any flaws or familiarities the film may have. It’s an over-the-top comic book-style action flick and despite a few slow spots, it succeeds in what it sets out to do.

Two words…Salma Hayek. The actress is an absolute stick of dynamite here and her kick-ass performance goes a long way in making this action flick really take off. Aside from being a resourceful, gutsy, bad-guy smashing heroine, she still looks great and at almost 50, has a body that shames girls half her age. She is an ass-kicking machine here but, never loses her humanity or makes us forget she’s just a woman who is trying to protect those she loves, even if it means taking on the world and possibly losing her own life. In support, Laura Cepeda plays a good strong Latino mom as Everly’s mother Edith. Aisha Ayamah is adorable as her little girl Maisey. Masashi Fujimoto and Togo Igawa are effectively disturbing as Masochist and Sadist respectively and Watanabe is serviceable as Taiko though I felt he could have used a bit more presence/menace considering how ominously he’s spoken of.

I enjoyed and recommend this flick for those that like the Tarantino style of over-the-top action and eccentric characters and goings-on. The pacing was a bit uneven and the film’s momentum sometimes gets slowed down considerably by some of the dialog sequences but, does provide plenty of furious action. The film is a real blast when that action comes and there is an absolutely volcanic performance by leading lady Salam Hayek who can stand her ground with any action star today. Flawed but, still lots of fun.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets.

ex2 rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HAUNT (2013)

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HAUNT (2013)

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

Haunt is a very routine haunted house thriller but, it did hold my interest and was effective enough to be entertaining. The story has teen Evan Asher (Harrison Gilbertson) and his family moving into a house where there were four unfortunate deaths…which is NEVER a good idea. Soon after, Evan starts to see evidence of paranormal activity…SEE! When troubled teen neighbor Sam (Liana Liberato) convinces Evan to investigate, things at the Asher house take a turn for the supernatural worse as an angry spirit makes it’s presence known. Did this spirit cause the deaths of members of the former occupants, the Morello family years earlier?…or is there a far darker secret this specter wants to reveal?

On the positive side, Haunt is competently directed by Mac Carter from Andrew Barrer’s script. While Carter doesn’t really generate much in the way of true scares and tension, the film does have atmosphere and the numerous jump scares do work more often than not. The film looks good as shot by Adam Marsden and the young leads are likable and have a nice chemistry together so, it makes their relationship work. The film may be routine and predictable at times but, I will admit I was not expecting the climax to play out as it did and the big reveal was effective. On the downside, Barrer’s script is very familiar and the fact that the Ashers move in having full knowledge of the Morello deaths was a bit hard to swallow. Even though Evan’s parents (Ione Sky and Brian Wimmer) seem like non-believers when it comes to the paranormal, they seem to let a lot of weird stuff slide, too. The plot point that the littlest Asher, Anita (Ella Harris) appears to be communicating with the Morella’s youngest daughter (Maggie Scott) is just dropped and goes nowhere after a few instances. The subplot of Sam having a drunk and abusive father also never really has any real impact on the story as it never leads to anything or really has too much baring on things, other than to get Sam over at Evan’s for prolonged periods of time. The big reveal also poses as many questions as it answers but, I won’t ruin any surprises by discussing details.

Haunt is a mixed bag but, I was entertained and it did have some effective elements and a surprise or two. It may not be anything new or groundbreaking but, also wasn’t outright bad or badly made either. It’s a mildly entertaining chiller that will pass the time effectively enough but, will quickly be forgotten. Also stars Jacki Weaver as the last surviving member of the Morello family and a creepy one at that.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 spooks.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986)

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SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986)

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

British/American co-production is a routine and silly slasher flick that for some reason needed three writers and three directors (Mark Ezra, George Dugdale, Peter Litten) to churn out a reasonably forgettable horror with a very generic plot.

Flick has a gang of popular high schoolers led by Carol (British babe Caroline Munro) playing not one but two mean spirited pranks on awkward chemistry nerd Marty (Simon Scuddamore). The second leaves him horribly scarred and institutionalized. Ten years later the same gang is invited to a high school reunion, only to arrive and find their former school empty and abandoned. They investigate anyway and find it indeed set up for a celebration. The reunion may actually be a trap, though, as only the members of this clique were invited to this shindig. Now someone has locked them in on the eve of April Fool’s Day and is stalking and killing the popular crowd in cruel and bloody ways. Has Marty returned for revenge after all these years…or has someone else got a grudge against those who ruled the school back in the day?

This is a very boring and routine slasher that offers nothing new to the genre. It was filmed in England and cast with English actors, while trying to pass itself off as American. Epic Fail. The actors barely hide their accents, one doesn’t try to at all and the location has a very European look to it. The film is very jokey and silly for the most part but, then suddenly expects us to take it seriously when the murders start and the hunting down of the survivors begins by our jester-masked killer. It’s shocking this bland and style-less slasher took three people to script and direct, when it barely gives the impression that there was even one creative mind on-set. The accents aside, the acting is bad and most of the cast look like they’re pushing forty much less their late twenties. Munro was 36 at the time. There is some decent gore but, the killings are preposterous and would take a lot of work and money to set up the elaborate demises such as pumping acid into just the right plumbing and someone drinking just the right beer. There is a lot of convenient actions by our victims to ensure they are in the right place and time to meet their ends, too. Even in a silly flick like this, it’s just too hard to swallow. When the film tries to be a bit clever in it’s final scenes, it even blows that, too. Aside from a score by Friday The 13th composer Henry Manfredini, there is little to recommend here.

Quite obviously, I found little to like about this film even with buxom bird Caroline Munro as it’s lead. The story is routine and uninspired, it has a jokey tone to it and the British actors are wooden and doing a poor job of trying to pass themselves off as Yanks. There is some good gore but, most of the kills are a bit far-fetched and hard to believe that circumstances worked out so perfectly for them to occur. Characters seem to walk into their demises…as if scripted…and it took three people to write that unimaginative script. Definitely one of the lesser and forgettable 80s slashers. Not even the nostalgia factor could boost this one.

-MonsterZero NJ

1 and 1/2 jester killers.

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