CANDY LAND (2022)
Slasher flick centers on a group of sex workers at a remote truck stop. Their days and nights are filled with slobs, drug addicts, religious fanatics and a pervert of a local sheriff (William Baldwin). None of those are their biggest problem, though, as they are now being stalked by a vicious killer brutally offing them one by one.
Horror is written and directed by John Swab who creates a very unsettling slasher. This grindhouse style flick is filled with a bunch of eccentric and oddball characters, some likable and some not. There are some vicious kills, and some disturbing sexual situations, as the line of work these folks are in is rarely pleasant. Swab surprisingly lets us know who our killer is very early on, and it works, as now we know to be afraid for characters when they are in the killer’s presence. We know who they are, but the inhabitants of this den of iniquity do not…and we have come to like or feel sorry for most of them. The bloody violence has impact, is well rendered and Swab gets pretty good work out of most of the cast. Not a classic but a solid slasher and worth a watch, especially if you like grindhouse era stuff. Also stars Olivia (It Follows) Luccardi and Owen (X) Campbell.
THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE CHILDREN (2023)
Couple Margaret (Alisha Wainwright) and Ben (Zach Gilford) go on a camping trip with their friends Ellie (Amanda Crew) and Thomas (Carlos Santos) who bring their children Lucy (Briella Guiza) and Spencer (David Mattle). While hiking, the couples and kids discover some ruins. Within the ruins is a deep pit, one that seems to immediately get the kid’s attention. Soon the children begin to behave strangely and more aggressively and Ben, who is on medication, claims he saw the two of them fall into the pit and are now not who they appear to be. Tensions rise between the couples as the children manipulate them and pit them against each other. Is Ben right and are the children something other than they appear?
Bad kids horror is well directed by Roxanne Benjamin from a script by T. J. Cimfel and David White. She gives the familiar story a very strong atmosphere of dread and foreboding, as well as some nice tension and suspense. The story of kids turned evil and of folks being replaced as sinister doppelgangers has been done many times, but Benjamin makes it entertaining even if we already know that There’s Something Wrong with The Children long before the adults do. Once all is revealed…or heavily implied…it’s a bloody cat and mouse game with creepy kids vs the remaining adults. The cast all do good work, including young Briella Guiza and David Mattle…and the film does an efficient job of setting up potential conflicts between the adults that the kids later exploit. There is some bloody violence and not everything is spelled out so there is some spooky ambiguity to the proceedings. Like M3gan it is another example of a director and writers making good use of a familiar concept. The cool and atmospheric score by The Gifted is also worth mentioning.
Young Cady (Violet McGraw) has lost both her parents in a tragic car accident. Her Aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) gets custody and is overwhelmed by the prospect of being a parent to the emotionally wounded little girl. Gemma works for the Funki toy company that makes high tech toys. She is currently working on the Model 3 Generative Android…or M3gan for short…and thinks the artificial intelligence equipped doll would be the perfect companion for Cady. At first, she is, but soon M3gan (played by Amie Donald; voiced by Jenna Davis) starts to take her programming to protect Cady a bit too seriously and people start dying. Now Gemma needs to find a way to stop her, but the android’s ability to learn and adapt may have created a very intelligent and quite devious opponent.
Robot run amok flick is well directed by Gerard Johnstone from a script and story by Akela Cooper and James Wan. There is nothing original here. We have seen the killer toy or domestic robot gone awry many times before. M3gan, however, is not trying to reinvent the wheel, just have a little fun with it, and fun it is. The film takes itself seriously, but with tongue planted firmly in cheek, as the overprotective and self-aware android turns to deadly methods to protect Cady and then herself, when Gemma’s Dr. Frankenstein realizes she has created a monster. There are some violent scenes, and the last act in particular really delivers as Me3an goes all Terminator after they try to pull the plug on her. The cast here are good, especially young Violet McGraw whose onscreen bond with the android comes across as sincere. Sure, it’s predictable, but it’s an entertaining enough flick and utilizes the clichés and tropes quite well. A good example of a filmmaker using an oft told tale and all its familiar accoutrements and using them to good effect. A fun and sometimes twistedly entertaining flick.
BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER (2022)
Film opens with the tragic passing of King T’Challa/The Black Panther (Chadwick Bosman) from an undisclosed illness that Shuri (Letitia Wright) tries desperately to save him from. As Wakanda mourns, the world begins to turn against the once hidden land for not sharing their precious vibranium. This leads to nations trying to either steal it or find their own. When a vibranium detecting device invented by a brilliant teenager (Dominique Thorne) locates some deep on the ocean floor, it incurs the wrath of the undersea kingdom of Talokan and its powerful mutant king Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía). Wrath that soon turns towards Wakanda.
Superhero sequel is again directed by Ryan Coogler from his script with Joe Robert Cole. It pays heartfelt and emotional tribute to the late Chadwick Bosman, while trying to continue the story of Wakanda and The Black Panther without him. It is a heavy task, but one that is handled quite well, all things considered. It also makes it a very somber film as loss, mourning and the handling of one’s grief become major currents running through its 161-minute runtime. Even the film’s villain Namor is motivated by his own loss and his anger at the constant injustices committed by the surface world. It makes for a very serious and somewhat heavy superhero flick, though Coogler still balances it well with plenty of action and some epic battles. The cast all do strong work with Basset truly deserving of her recently won awards, almost carrying the film on her regal shoulders. Tenoch Huerta Mejía also gives us a strong villain, but one who’s motivations are not atypically sinister. Namor is trying to protect his people, by any means necessary. Yes, we do get a new Black Panther and Coogler leaves things with the series definitely having a direction to go in, with T’Challa’s legacy carrying on and further villainy lurking in the shadows. As with the first film there is a heavy influx of cultural background and visuals as Talokan is based on ancient Mayan culture just as Wakanda is on African. Overall, it may be a bit too solemn to be the fun ride that the first Black Panther film was, and the final confrontation with Namor was a bit lackluster, but considering they tragically lost their star and main character, Coogler keeps the series going and with some emotional resonance to go with it.
COVID era slasher finds selfish party girl Parker Mason (Gideon Adlon) taking her friend Miri (Bethlehem Million) to a lake house to quarantine in the middle of the COVID pandemic. Her quasi-boyfriend DJ (Dylan Sprayberry) follows them up there to confront Parker about a social media broadcasted dalliance with another guy. That is the least of their worries as Parker is getting cryptic texts and calls, and soon it is obvious the trio is not alone.
Slasher is well directed by John Hyams (the son of director Peter Hyams) from a script by Scream scribe Kevin Williamson and Katelyn Crabb. It is a routine slasher, but gets the job done well enough. It is basically Scream meets any recent quarantine film, and as such it can get a bit preachy at times when touching on the subject of those who carelessly spread the virus due to negligence or selfishness. There are some vicious kills, though the body count is small and there are also some brutal fight sequences. The reveal in the last act is borderline silly, but it does lead to a welcome shift from slasher to survival thriller and it is a vicious and bloody one, with Parker and Miri proving themselves tough and resilient against their opponents. The cast are good, and overall, it is an effective horror despite being somewhat derivative. Sick is currently streaming on Peacock and is worth a watch if you like a solid slasher that doesn’t overstay its welcome at under 90 minutes.
SMALL HORRORS by DARCY COATES
Just a reminder…while this is the Movie Madhouse, I will do an occasional book review, if the book has cinematic potential, or is a book that is movie related. There is no author I am reading right now whose books are more fit for film adaptation than those of Darcy Coates! – MZNJ
Book is a collection of fifty short stories from author Darcy Coates. The author covers a myriad of spooky subjects from ghosts to ghouls to crypto critters! It’s a creepy, scary-fun collection that illustrates just how imaginative the author is with such a wide variety of terror tales. It is also a surprisingly consistent collection of stories. Sure, a few don’t quite work as well as the others but in contrast there are many very strong ones that legitimately scare and chill to the bone in just a few pages. As with her full-length tales, Coates has a very keen visual sense in her descriptions, yet also knows when to let our imaginations conjure far worse than her words. Overall, it’s a fun book to read under the covers on a stormy night, and as they are short stories, only a few pages in length, there is always a good stopping point if you don’t have time to read too much. Another supernaturally entertaining book from a deviously imaginative author.
THE MENU (2022)
Dark humored flick has passionate foodie Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) taking date Margo (Anya Taylor-Joy) to an exclusive, private island located restaurant run by world famous master chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). Margo is unimpressed with all the pretention and performance, but that is the least of her worries. Chef Slowik has brought all his guests there with a specific purpose in mind and feeding them is only part of his plan. Margo and the rest of the guests soon realize that not everyone…or possibly anyone…is going to leave this elite dining experience alive.
Thriller with a grim but amusing sense of humor is very well directed by Mark Mylod from a taut script and story by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy. It is an extremely satirical film that skewers celebrity chefs, their pretentious dishes and the elitists who pay ridiculous prices to consume them, among other things. It also has some violent, disturbing and bloody moments, though one does find oneself snickering as these snobby aristocrats and arrogant wannabes get what’s coming to them. The film also has some poignant moments, too as Slowik’s eventually revealed motivations are actually somewhat sympathetic. He has a point about his pompous clientele. It’s a smart script with a top-notch cast that all give solid performances. Standing out are the impeccable Fiennes as the secretly demented Slowik and star on the rise Taylor-Joy as Margo, a woman with secrets of her own. It’s a deliciously slow cooked dark satire that is all the more savory as it takes it’s time to tell its sinisterly garnished story well and expertly builds to its intense finale…while providing a few appetizing chuckles along the way. A very well written, acted and directed black comedy/thriller. Highly recommended.
Thrill seeker Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) has spent the last year mourning the death of her husband Dan (Mason Gooding) who fell during a climb with she and their friend Hunter (Virginia Gardner). Hunter tries to snap her out of it by challenging her to climb an abandoned 2,000-foot-tall TV tower in the middle of the desert. Becky reluctantly agrees to the climb, planning to spread Dan’s ashes from the tower’s peak. Upon reaching the top, disaster strikes, as the ladder falls leaving them stranded up there without cell service or any protection from the harsh elements. Now, as no one knows where they are and they have no way down, it becomes a precariously perched battle to survive.
Suspense thriller is well directed by Scott Mann from his script with Jonathan Frank. Aside from some cheesy and predictable melodrama between the girls, involving Becky’s husband Dan, and the overall reckless idea the entire movie is based on, it is a tense and entertaining flick, complete with a disturbing twist in the last act. For anyone with a fear of heights it will be 107 minutes of hard road and Mann keeps the tension going by using some dizzying camera work and the extensive height to his advantage…and our discomfort. He also keeps things moving very quickly so we don’t have time to be too critical of just how badly prepared the girls are for this trip—such as these experienced climbers bringing no extra rope on a climb—or that disabling the all-important aviation obstruction lighting at the tower’s top would surely have alerted someone to come fix it. Becky and Hunter are also likable enough to earn our sympathy, even if they are doing something really irresponsible and stupid. Real thrill-seekers surely go better prepared into situations like this…although it is partially based on a real incident. Despite the weak melodrama, and some lapses in logic and simple common sense, it is still an effective and tense thriller with some nice suspense, tension and some vertigo inducing camera shots. Also stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Becky’s dad.
SIGNIFICANT OTHER (2022)
Couple Ruth (Maika Monroe) and Harry (Jake Lacy) are taking a camping trip deep in the Pacific Northwest woods, something the anxiety prone Ruth is very nervous about. Jake uses the trip as a staging for a marriage proposal which is something Ruth is even more nervous about. Camping and engagement issues are the least of Ruth and Harry’s problems, though, as something landed in the nearby woods just the night before and it is something unearthly and with a sinister purpose.
Flick is written and directed by the duo of Dan Berk and Robert Olsen who made the darkly comic Villains also starring Monroe. The filmmakers nail the first two thirds of this flick by giving us an ominous opening as a mysterious object lands in the middle of the woods and a deer soon becomes victim to something otherworldly. We then meet Ruth and Harry who are having their own personal issues, as the anxiety filled Ruth is dreading their little deep woods excursion
. This not only adds tension between the couple, but also with the audience who already know something malicious is waiting for the two in the woods that Ruth would rather not enter. The flick is loaded with atmosphere and is legitimately spooky, as it soon begins to appear that one of the two is no longer who they seem. So far, so good. It’s in the last act when the film loses its grip somewhat. While it remains atmospheric, we find out maybe a little too much about what is going on, and the delivery of this exposition on the extraterrestrial invader and its purpose is delivered in a borderline silly manner. The film does present an original and interesting caveat to the Body Snatchers
alien duplication scenario by presenting the other side of the coin. What effect on an alien doppelganger does the residual emotions of its human template have? This is an interesting angle to be sure, but one feels it could have been presented in a more intriguing and less matter-of-fact way. A cool concept sadly mishandled, and it causes all the tension built up in the first hour to dissipate. Maybe things should have been left a bit more ambiguous and the actor’s delivery less cavalier. It brings down a film that had impact in its first two-thirds. The movie simply reveals too much and in a very glib manner. Significant Other
is still worth a look and very effective in many respects, but it just doesn’t handle its most interesting idea in the most effective way. Also stars Matthew Yang King and Dana Green as Ray and Vivian, another couple Ruth and Harry encounter.