2018: THE YEAR HORROR REGAINED SUBSTANCE and RESONANCE!

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SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly discuss these films in context with this article, some important details that may be considered SPOILERS had to be included. If you haven’t seen one or any of these films, you may want to watch them first before reading this discussion. You have been warned!- MZNJ

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2018: THE YEAR HORROR REGAINED SUBSTANCE and RESONANCE!

 

Those who think horror movies are just an excuse for blood, boobs and boogie men are sadly mistaken and there is no more proof that horror flicks are capable of substance and emotional resonance than some of this year’s genre offerings. To prove these aren’t just the words of an overprotective horror fan, here are a few recent examples of how horror has returned to telling stories with strong emotional centers…

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to the full reviews for the movies discussed below)

Pyewacket’s story is triggered by the fractured relationship between a mother (Laurie Holden) and daughter (Nicole Muñoz) who are both mourning the death of their husband/father in completely different ways. Teen Leah has turned to an interest in death and the occult and her mother wants to start a new life in a new house, taking Leah away from her friends and school. The resulting turmoil has Leah evoking a dark entity, Pyewacket, to kill her mother and learning the harsh lesson…be careful what you wish for. The dysfunctional relationship between mother and daughter is strongly presented by writer/director Adam MacDonald and wonderfully acted by the lead actresses. The conflict between Leah and her mom is the catalyst for the horror that results and gives this spooky chiller a resonance that enhances it’s supernatural element, by giving it subjects to prey upon that are already emotionally vulnerable.

 

What Keeps You Alive tells the story of Jules (Brittany Allen) and Jackie (Hanna Emily Anderson), a married, lesbian couple going to Jackie’s family cabin deep in the woods to celebrate their first anniversary. There, Jules finds out Jackie is not who she thought she was and that she may have married a psychopath. Jules is forced to fight for her life against the one person in the world she loves the most. Colin Minihan’s thriller works so well because it skillfully presents a loving relationship between two women and then tears the relationship apart in the most painful way as one woman finds the love of her life is a vicious and cruel person. Both actresses give fantastic performances as the cold and cunning Jackie and the heartbroken and terrified Jules. The film may be intense and brutal, but even more so because Jules’ betrayal and the torment she endures as a result, are portrayed so well and give the story impact beyond the violence we witness.

 

Feral is another film this year to present a lesbian couple as the character focus for it’s story. Here Alice (Scout Taylor-Compton) comes out to her friends on a camping trip by bringing her girlfriend Jules (Olivia Luccardi) along. It’s met with mixed emotions from her friends and adds conflict before our infected even appear. Once our creatures are introduced and the bloodshed and carnage begin, we watch a strong-willed young woman fight to save the ones she loves and even finding conflict with her new partner over how to handled those of the group who become infected themselves. Director and co-writer Mark Young elevates this cabin in the woods/zombie horror by having a strong and topical human interest story at it’s center with three dimensional characters well played by the cast, especially Taylor-Compton’s strong-willed but compassionate Alice.

 

Our House is a haunted house story that tugs at our hearts as well as chills us to the bone. Here, college student Ethan (Thomas Mann) is forced to leave school and abandon his dreams as the accidental death of his parents takes him from sibling to parent to his younger brother Matt (Percy Hynes-White) and his little sister Becca (Kate Moyer). Director Anthony Scott Burns gives us time to become endeared to this young, emotionally wounded family before introducing the supernatural elements brought into the house by Ethan’s experiments. Even if the basic haunting story is routine, it becomes very effective as the audience has a strong emotional investment in the characters from early on. We like them and fear for them. This could have been just a routine ghost story had Burns not given it such a very human heart and elevated it in a crowded sub-genre.

 

Hereditary may have split fans with it’s slow pace and extremely eccentric characters, but it was a story of mental illness as much as the supernatural. It had a very strong performance by Toni Collette as Annie, a woman dealing with her own mental health issues, as well as, those of her very offbeat family. Filmmaker Ari Aster could have left out the demonic portion of the story and still had a disturbing portrait of an unbalanced family created by some sadly damaged DNA. By giving us a strong picture of possibly mentally unstable characters, it kept us guessing till the final moments if it was the demonic or the psychotic that was to blame for this family’s woes. Again, basing the story in a strong human element that we can identify with and invest in, makes the supernatural elements plaguing our subjects all the more effective and believable…and thus more frightening.

These are just some examples, but one could site a few more illustrating how horror has refocused from blood, gore and things that go bump in the night to the matters of the mind and heart of some very human characters. It gives the films in question resonance and when we identify and care about characters, it makes their respective predicaments all the more effective. This year’s horrors also had something to say about some very topical human issues, while telling their stories of ghosts, ghouls and malevolent specters…and the genre is all the better for it.

…And obviously, I recommend you catch up with all these flicks if you haven’t already!

-MonsterZero NJ

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HALLOWEEN SET “HELL FEST” GETS A POSTER and TRAILER!

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Halloween set horror from Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension director Gregory Plotkin finds a group of youths entering a carnival spook house and being stalked by a serial killer while inside. Hell Fest features horror icon Tony Todd and will see release on 9/28/18! Looks like it could be fun!

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source: Youtube

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ACTUALS AUG 24-26

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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. “Crazy Rich Asians” $24.8 Million

2. “The Meg” $12.8 Million

3. “The Happytime Murders” $9.5 Million

4. “Mission: Impossible-Fallout” $8 Million

5. “Mile 22” $6.3 Million

6. “Christopher Robin” $6.2 Million

7. “Alpha” $6 Million

8. “BlacKKKlansman” $5 Million

9. “Slender Man” $2.79 Million

10. “A.X.L.” $2.78 Million

 

source: Box Office Mojo

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE (2018)

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WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE (2018)

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

Jules (Brittany Allen) and Jackie (Hanna Emily Anderson) are a married couple going up to Jackie’s lakeside family cabin in the woods to celebrate their one year anniversary. Once there, Jules starts to find out that Jackie is not the person she thought she married. In fact, Jules has married a monster and will soon be fighting for her life against the person she loves most.

Intense and brutal flick is written and directed by Colin Minihan, who from Grave Encounters to Extraterrestrial to It Stains The Sands Red to this, is getting better and better as a filmmaker and it’s a mystery why more people aren’t talking about him. Minihan weaves a disturbing tale of lies, betrayal and murder as a young woman finds out her wife is a dangerous psychopath who delights in killing her lovers…among others. What makes this work so well is that Minihan builds a nice and believable relationship between Jules and Jackie in a short time and then has it painfully unravel and turn into a fight for survival between the two wives. The script is clever and Minihan gives it some nice artistic touches which elevate it from a simple horror flick to a movie with substance, style and some shocking moments, too. There is brutal violence and as it’s used sparingly and at the right moments, we feel it when it comes and it’s effective throughout. The cat and mouse game between Jackie and Jules is tense and suspenseful and we are riveted when Jules is forced to watch her lover engage in some horrible acts against innocents. It’s a rough ride for the audience, yet never exploitative…which makes it all the more effective. Minihan knows how to build suspense and how to use his camera and shots to create atmosphere and tension. That camera work is captured excellently by David Schuurman’s cinematography and there’s a really great score by star Brittany Allen. Having seen all of Minihan’s films, this is his most confident and daring movie yet. It’s the film where a filmmaker moves out from under his influences and finds his own voice.

What also makes it work so well is borderline brilliant performances by it’s leading ladies. Brittany Allen, in her third film for Minihan, gives a powerful portrayal of a woman who is torn apart by betrayal and finding that her wife is a psychotic monster. We watch a gentle woman shattered by the pain and torment of these horrific revelations and then slowly finding the strength to fight back against someone she loved more than anything. Hanna Emily Anderson at first fools us into believing, as does Jules, that this is a sweet and caring woman in love with her soulmate. We then watch her slowly turn into the calculated and cunning psychopath she really is and one with disturbing depth, making her unnervingly real. She’s not a stereotype and the fact that Anderson avoids over-the-top and stays chillingly calm, makes her even more frightening. Wonderful work by both actresses. Martha MacIsaac and Joey Klein also appear as a couple that live across the lake, but we know their purpose from the start and they serve it well.

Simply one of the best horror films of the year, so far and the best film yet from a writer/director who gets better and better with each film. It’s clever, intelligent and brutal and intense. It’s a disturbing portrayal of love and betrayal. It’s two former lovers in a battle of wills and survival that is as provocative as it is unnerving. The leading ladies give really powerful performances and Colin Minihan proves he is a filmmaker that genre fans should be talking far more about.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 hunting knives.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: SUMMER OF 84 (2018)

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SUMMER OF 84 (2018)

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

80s set flick is from Turbo Kid makers François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell and takes place in the small town of Ipswich, Oregon where normally nothing happens. The area, however, has been plagued with the disappearances of some teenage boys and now a killer dubbed The Cape May Slayer is taking credit. Ipswich teen Davey (Graham Verchere) is convinced his cop neighbor, Officer Mackey (Rich Sommer) is responsible. Determined to save themselves and their neighborhood, Davey and friends Tommy (Judah Lewis), Curtis (Cory Gruter-Andrew) and Woody (Caleb Emery) decide to gather enough evidence to bring him down.

Simard and the Whissells direct from a well-written script by Stephen J. Smith and Matt Leslie and give this mystery/thriller loads of atmosphere, aside from it’s wonderfully nostalgic 80s feel. It’s like one of those teen-centric buddy movies from the 80s like Stand By Me, but with the brooding atmosphere and last act right out of an 80s slasher. While Turbo Kid paid homage to the low budget Road Warrior rip-offs that permeated much of the decade, this one recreates an 80s coming of age movie that’s been cross-bred with a slasher flick and the mix works perfectly. The tropes are all present, including our young hero Davey crushing on his former babysitter, Nikki (Tiera Skovbye) and finding she likes him back and a climax that leaves us unsettled long after the credits roll. This trio knows their 80s and they also know how to deftly create a homage while still making their own film. By the very nature of being a homage we’ve seen a lot before, but it is the love and respect given the recreation of the beloved elements that makes it work so well. It also knows our familiarity with these scenarios and is not afraid to play a little with our expectations, too. We get a likable group of young guys to get behind and the makers are not afraid to put them…and the audience…through the ringer once the last act kicks into intense gear. Add to that some nice nostalgic cinematography by Jean-Philippe Bernier and a great electronic score by Le Matos and you have not only return to a style of filmmaking that inspired many of today’s talent, but a successful mystery/thriller in it’s own right.

The cast of relative unknowns are really effective. Graham Verchere is a very likable, yet realistic teen. He has an overactive imagination and a crush on the slightly older girl-next-door and an obsession that his neighbor is a killer. A classic character, but one given enough of his own personality to avoid being a cliché. Lewis, Gruter-Andrew and Emery also accomplish the same with their characters taking the classic delinquent, geek and “fat kid”, respectively and making them more than the stereotype characters they represent. Rich Sommer is also good as Officer Mackey. The actor makes him nice enough to have us doubt Davey one moment, yet also gives him a subtle creepiness that makes you think that maybe Davey is right after all. Rounding out the main cast is pretty Tiera Skovbye as sassy girl-next-door Nikki, a character also given enough emotional depth from the actress and script to transcend the cliché she could have been. The flick’s script gives each character some emotional resonance and thus a good cast a solid base to work with.

Overall, this was a really good homage to a unique age of movies that was the 80s. It had all the tropes very well recreated, yet as a mystery and thriller was quite effective on it’s own, aside from the nostalgic 80s setting. The script gives the characters some dimension and depth while putting them through the paces of a coming of age movie intertwined with a slasher. If you are a fan of 80s flicks or are old enough to have seen a lot of these flicks during that era, this movie is both a nostalgic treat and a chilling and intense thriller, that’s not afraid to play with your expectations at times.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3and 1/2 80s style walkie talkies.

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018)

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CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018)

Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is a woman from humble beginnings who is now a college professor and has a handsome boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding). When Nick needs to return home to Singapore to be the best man at a friend’s wedding, Rachel finds out his family is “crazy” rich and Nick is heir to an empire. Worst still, Rachel feels that his wealthy family may not accept her…and they don’t. But Rachel is in love and determined to win them over whether they like it or not.

It’s been twenty-five years since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club that Hollywood produced a film that was steeped in Asian culture and featured Asian talent in front of and behind the camera. Crazy Rich Asians is based on Kevin Kwan’s book, which has been adapted by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim and very well directed by Jon M. Chu. At it’s heart it’s still a fairly routine romantic comedy/ drama, the kind we’ve seen many times before. What elevates it, aside from the abundant Asian culture, is a strong and witty script and a wonderful cast. From the legendary Michelle Yeoh, as Nick’s mother, to Constance Wu’s strong-willed Rachel…not to mention a scene stealing Awkwafina…we are given a cast of three dimensional characters to inhabit this familiar and oft told story. Sure it’s predictable, but it presents some old clichés from a refreshing perspective that Hollywood hasn’t visited in quite some time.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE LAST SHARKNADO-IT’S ABOUT TIME (2018)

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THE LAST SHARKNADO: IT’S ABOUT TIME (2018)

Supposed last installment of this popular Asylum/SYFY series finds hero Fin (Ian Ziering) traveling back in time to destroy the first Sharknado and thus ending them for good. This leads Fin, April (Tara Reid), Nova (Cassie Scerbo) and a host of guest appearances and return characters battling Sharknados through a variety of time periods.

Franchise director Anthony C. Ferrante returns to helm this final chapter though the script is from Scotty Mullen, without series writer Thunder Levin. It’s still about as ridiculous as one would expect from a series that has prided itself on being as ridiculous as possible. To criticize it for it’s absurdity would be absurd in itself as, at this point, you should know what you’re getting into. Taken for what it is, it’s a fun ride through time and and the cast still find a way to keep a straight face while the CGI FX seem to actually be getting worse. It is a fitting finale to a series that continually upped the lunacy ante, while at the same time also knows when to call it quits. Now that Fin has put down his chainsaw, hopefully we get a Nova (Cassie Scerbo) spin-off!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: PUPPET MASTER-THE LITTLEST REICH (2018)

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PUPPET MASTER-THE LITTLEST REICH (2018)

After a brief opening that takes place in the 80s, the film jumps to present day where there is a convention being held to commemorate the Toulon puppet murders from three decades previous. There are going to be some replica puppets given away and a tour of Toulon’s mansion. Comic artist Edgar (Thomas Lennon) and his hot girlfriend Ashley (Jenny Pellicer) are there to attend and soon find the puppets present are the real thing and Toulon (Udo Kier) is not done with his reign of terror, even from beyond the grave.

Reboot is directed by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund who gave us the derivative but entertaining Blood Runs Cold and Wither. They direct from a script by S. Craig Zahler based on the characters created by Charles Band and Kenneth J. Hall. One would probably have to be a fan of the original series to appreciate this dull reboot. If not, it’s just a series of gruesome murders of various puppet fodder characters, that has only some well executed practical gore effects to hold one’s interest. It’s just a random series of killings with no real plot other than to see toys kill people leading up to a Sharknado-esque finale. The tone of the flick goes from silly to trying to take itself seriously and if puppets, blood and boobs are all you came for, than it does at least deliver that…though still lacks the goofy charm of the original movie. Also stars genre favorites Barbara Crampton, Michael Paré and Matthias Hues.

-MonsterZero NJ

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES AUG 17-19

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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. “Crazy Rich Asians” $25.2 Million

2. “The Meg” $21.1 Million

3. “Mile 22” $13.6 Million

4. “Mission: Impossible-Fallout” $10.5 Million

5. “Alpha” $10.5 Million

6. “Christopher Robin” $8.8 Million

7. “BlacKKKlansman” $7 Million

8. “Slender Man” $4.9 Million

9. “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” $3.7 Million

10. “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!” $3.4 Million

 

source: Box Office Mojo

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REVIEW: UPGRADE (2018)

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UPGRADE (2018)

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

Set in the near future, Upgrade tells the story of vintage car restorer Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green), who on the way home from delivering a car to a client with his wife Asha, (Melanie Vallejo) is ambushed by a group of men. They kill Asha and turn Grey into a paraplegic. Paralyzed from the neck down, Grey’s client, billionaire genius Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) offers him a chance at being able to function again. A micro computer called STEM (voiced by Simon Maiden) will be inserted in his spine to bridge the gap between his body and mind. STEM, however, is not just a computer but an A.I. that co-exists with Grey. Now with STEM operating in his head and enhancing his physical abilities, the A.I. begins to help Grey track down those who murdered his wife and make them pay.

Fun 80s style action flick is written and directed by Leigh Whannell, who wrote the first three Saw films, all the Insidious flicks and directed Insidious: Chapter 3. It tells of a future where humans can be enhanced by computers and internal parts, such as the thugs who killed Grey’s wife having their guns built inside their arms. Now enhanced with STEM, mild-mannered Grey can fight like a trained soldier and move like a martial artist. He can also kill with lethal efficiency. It’s an entertaining good time to watch him track down those responsible, all the while being pursued by a cop (Betty Gabriel) who is trying to figure out how a paraplegic is killing the thugs in question one by one. While the film can get silly at times, a bar scene stands out as an example, it’s mostly a fun time well directed and cleverly presented by Whannell, with some intense action and chase sequences and horror movie level gore. On a technical level Whannell accomplishes a lot on his modest budget. The film looks great and has an awesome 80s vibe with colorful cinematography by Stefan Duscio and Jed Palmer’s very 80s electronic score. A fun homage, yet also very contemporary with it’s portrayal of the gap between man and technology becoming smaller and smaller.

The cast are solid. Logan Marshall-Green is convincing as a guy-next-door who becomes a detective and a skilled killer basically overnight. He is fun to watch as he tries to deal with having another intelligence in his head and abilities he’s never had before, not to mention a peaceful man now killing for revenge. He’s very well cast. Simon Maiden is effective as the voice of STEM, who only Grey can hear. He gives the A.I. character. Harrison Gilbertson portrays well the recluse billionaire who is barely out of his teens. He captures the solitude and awkwardness of being a unique individual very effectively. Betty Gabriel is good as Cortez, a cop trying to figure out how these thugs are being murdered when her only suspect is in a wheelchair. Rounding out the leads is Benedict Hardie playing Fisk. He’s basically the lead thug, a former military man now with computer enhancements to make him even more lethal and an equal opponent to the upgraded Grey. It was refreshing that he wasn’t played as a paramilitary tough guy, but almost a nerd that was now equipt to kill and enjoying it. While her screen time is limited, Melanie Vallejo made an impression as Asha and she and Logan Marshall-Green had nice chemistry, so their relationship was believable and the effect of her demise strongly felt.

Overall, this was a fun and clever action movie with a delightfully 80s vibe. Whannell directs well from his own inventive script and accomplishes a lot without a big budget. He has a good cast and if the film has any flaws, it’s that occasionally it veers into silly territory and the end reveal wasn’t that hard to see coming. The action is well choreographed and there is some graphic violence which fits in with it’s 80s feel. A very entertaining and sometimes inventive little movie that works as both 80s homage and contemporary sci-fi thriller.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 3 computer chips.

 

 

 

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