BARE BONES: THE DJINN (2021)

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THE DJINN (2021)

Story takes place in 1989, with asthmatic and mute Dylan (Ezra Dewey) moving into a new house with his father (Rob Brownstein). In the house, he discovers an old book called The Book of Shadows. Upon reading the tome, he discovers a summoning spell that can call upon a Djinn, a being that can grant wishes. When his father goes to work and leaves him all alone, he does exactly that and now must face the fiendish creature (John Erickson) all by himself, as his wish will only be granted if he can stay alive against the Djinn till past midnight.

IFC Midnight release is written and directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell. It’s a well done and spooky flick, as the malevolent supernatural entity pursues the boy throughout the house in different forms, including Dylan’s deceased mother Michelle (Tevy Poe). The film is all the more effective thanks to the strong work by young Ezra Dewey in what is basically a one man/boy show. Dylan is a likable kid and his affliction makes him even more sympathetic, as is the use of his feelings of guilt over his mother’s suicide being used by the Djinn to wear the boy down. The story may not be all that original, with its cautionary tale of be careful what you wish for, but it’s suspenseful and spooky and establishes well the rules surrounding it’s deceptive, supernatural villain. While the Djinn itself reminds one of It Follow’s shape-shifting fiend, it is an effective and scary creature. There is also some nice atmospheric cinematography by Julian Estrada, an 80s-esque electronic score by Matthew James and it wastes little time at only 81 minutes in length. A solid and spooky flick with a great, young lead actor and some nice legitimate scares overcoming a familiar story. Available in both limited theatrical release and on Amazon Prime and other VOD platforms.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: OXYGEN (2021)

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OXYGEN (2021)

Oxygen finds a woman (Mélanie Laurent) awaking in a cryogenic sleep chamber with her oxygen fast depleting, due to an unknown malfunction, and no idea who she is and how she got there. With time running out and only the unit’s computer MILO (voiced by Mathieu Amalric) to assist her, she starts a journey to find out her identity, how she into this predicament and if she can somehow escape before her air runs out.

French language flick is tensely directed by Alexandre Aja (Crawl) from a script by Christie LeBlanc. It’s part mystery, part thriller and part science fiction, as the trapped young woman desperately tries to find all the answers and a way out of her predicament before she suffocates. It’s a taunt and suspenseful journey made even more intense by way of being set completely within the confines of the claustrophobic cryogenic sleep chamber. Mélanie Laurent makes a likable and resilient heroine and we slowly find out what the real story is here, through flashbacks and reveals, as she finds out the facts herself. It’s an entertaining film and a solid mystery thriller from a filmmaker yet to disappoint. Flick is available to stream on Netflix.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: INITIATION (2020)

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INITIATION (2020)

Initiation is another horror with a message about inappropriate sexual behavior towards women. The slasher focuses on a college campus where girls thought to be promiscuous are marked in texts with exclamation points by predatory males. Pretty Kylie (Isabella Gomez) finds herself waking up in a male student’s bedroom after passing out during a homecoming party and not sure of what happened to her. Soon, one of the boys possibly involved, star student Wes Scott (Froy Gutierrez), is brutally murdered. While Kylie struggles with what happened to her and Wes’ sister Ellery (Lindsay LaVanchy) struggles with the murder of her brother and what he’s accused of, a mirror masked killer begins stalking and murdering students.

Flick is stylishly directed by John Berardo from his script with Brian Frager and star LaVanchy. It finds inspiration not only from contemporary themes from the #metoo era, but classic slashers like Scream, and it’s visual style, with it’s mirror masked face killer and bold neon colors, hinting Berardo may have been a fan of Dario Argento, as well. The kills are quite vicious and there is some graphic bloodshed, as the stalker uses various tools to savagely kill his or her victims. It’s a very somber slasher for it’s first hour with it’s gruesome kills few and spaced out, while focusing on the emotional turmoil of both Kylie and Ellery. It cranks up the intensity for it’s climax, where we get a reveal which works in context of the story, though isn’t a complete surprise, as, at this point, there are not too many suspects left. Overall, this is an effective and stylish slasher with a more moderate pace, until the last act, which deftly applies some very topical themes with it’s subtext of young women being taken advantage of and more concern show for the victimizer than the victim. Worth a watch on streaming outlets like Amazon Prime and has a good cast that also stars veteran actress Yancy Butler, as a police detective and horror vet Lochlyn Munro (Freddy vs. Jason), as the university chancellor, who may be more concerned with reputations than justice.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: 30 COINS (30 MONEDAS) (2020)

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30 COINS (30 MONEDAS) (2020)

30 Coins is a Spanish horror series from director Álex de la Iglesia (The Last Circus) currently streaming on HBO Max. It tells the story of a secret and sinister religious organization that is searching for the 30 coins Judas received to betray Christ. It is said these coins will bring them apocalyptic power and the last coin is in the hands of disgraced priest and exorcist Padre Manuel Vergara (Eduard Fernández) in the remote Spanish village of Pedraza. Hell is literally unleashed on this small farm town as the search for the coin tightens.

30 Coins is a very involving, disturbing and quite creepy series as atmospherically directed by Álex de la Iglesia from his scripts with Jorge Guerricaechevarría. Aside from all the spookiness, there is a lot of gore, some unsettling creatures and it’s not afraid to use heavy biblical lore and imagery in the story. There are some very interesting characters. Eduard Fernández is a badass hero, as disgraced priest and boxer Padre Vergara, Megan Montaner was a strong willed and sexy as hell heroine as village veterinarian Elena and Miguel Ángel Silvestre was a noble hero as Pedraza mayor Paco. Manolo Solo and Cosimo Fusco were also very effective as the scary bad guys. There was also a spooky score by Roque Baños (Evil Dead, Come Play) to add to the atmospherics. It wasn’t perfect. Sometimes the narrative wandered from the main story and there was some weak CGI to lessen the effect of some scenes. Ultimately, though, it was a spooky and disturbing eight episodes of horror television. Definitely would watch a season 2!

All episodes listed below were directed by Álex de la Iglesia and co-written with Jorge Guerricaechevarría :

1. “Cobwebs” (Telarañas)

2. “Ouija” (Ouija)

3. “The Mirror” (El espejo)

4. “Memories” (Recuerdos)

5. “The Double” (El doble)

6. “Holy War” (Guerra Santa)

7. “The Glass Box” (La caja de cristal)

8. “Sacrifice” (Sacrificio)

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: MORTAL KOMBAT (2021)

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MORTAL KOMBAT (2021)

Not having played the game or been a fan of it’s movie franchise may have made it a bit harder to quite get what is going on here, but probably not. Apparently there are other “realms”, or worlds, of which Earth is only one. There are champions on each world who gather together at certain points in time to compete in Mortal Kombat, which is a sort of gladiatorial battle to the death. Dull, pontificating villain Shang Tsung (Chin Han) wants to derail a prophecy predicting his realm’s loss, by eliminating Earth’s champions before the competition.

Tedious flick is directed very by-the-numbers by Simon McQuoid from a messy script by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham, based on the fan favorite video game. There are a lot of fights and CGI bloodshed, but very little storytelling or character development for those of us who are uninitiated in the original game and it’s characters. A movie should not rely on assuming one knows the source material, whether based on a video game or book. There should be some depth to make the characters three dimensional and thus give the audience emotional investment when they fight. The cast are all dull, along with their thinly written characters, and the fights, which are the reason we watch this, are generic and routine with a lot of CGI effects enhancement. Watch any classic Hong Kong flick from the 80s and 90s to learn that martial arts and SPFX can be combined inventively and with energy and excitement. Not so here. At least the catchy song from the 1995 movie gets a remix during the end credits.

Franchise reboot is overall boing and forgettable and will probably set this series back another twenty-four years. Don’t waste your time unless you are a real fan and absolutely have to.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: MACHETE (2010)

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MACHETE (2010)

Machete is two things an exploitation flick should never be…overly talky and overly preachy. Co-writer and co-director Robert Rodriguez seems to be more focused on bludgeoning us with his views on illegal immigration and the treatment of those migrant workers, than with delivering the promise of the trailer from Grindhouse, from which this exploitation flick homage grew. The conspiracy plot is too involved for this type of movie and too much time is spent on it rather than delivering the action that this type of film should feature. There are some cool action scenes and blood does flow often, but not enough to get us through the endless dialog sequences. Also curious is why he hired all the eye candy than does very little with them. There is only one sex scene and it seems chopped short. This is exploitation, why hire actresses who won’t disrobe? Also curious is why Rodriguez films the pre-credits scene in the dirty, broken film “grindhouse” style, then abandons it after the credits. It is nice to see, after decades of supporting roles, Danny Trejo get the center spotlight as ex Mexican Federal Isador “Machete” Cortez, but, to be honest, he doesn’t generate the charisma to be a leading man…at least not here.

The original Machete trailer during Rodriguez and Tarantino’s Grindhouse was fun, but maybe it should have stayed a trailer. Flick was co-written by Alvaro Rodriguez and co-directed by Ethan Maniquis and also stars Robert DeNiro, Don Johnson, Jessica Alba and Steven Seagal. There was a sequel, Machete Kills and talk of a third film Machete Kills Again, that has yet to materialize.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: ANVIL-THE STORY OF ANVIL (2008)

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ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL (2008)

Anyone who is a fan of music, especially heavy metal, should watch this fascinating, funny and sometimes sad documentary about the infamous Canadian metal band Anvil, from writer and director Sacha Gervasi. Though listed as inspiration to countless other bands, true success has eluded original Anvil founding members Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner, in their 30 plus years (now 40) together, and this documentary follows them as they continue trying. With a doomed European tour and efforts to put together their 13th album, the band simply refuses to quit despite constant adversity and disappointment. As a metalhead and former band manager myself, this brought back a lot of memories and had me rooting for these old rockers who won’t give up or grow up! Party on dudes!

NOTE: Since this documentary premiered in January of 2008, Anvil has changed bass players a few more times and recorded five more albums to date!-MZNJ

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: NOBODY (2021)

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NOBODY (2021)

Suburban husband and father Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk) lives a typical mundane life, till one night two thieves break into his home. Hutch fails to take advantage, when he has an opportunity to foil the thieves, and his manhood comes under question from some of those around him, including his disappointed son (Gage Munroe). Feeling angry about the criticism, a smoldering Hutch goes out one night to find the thieves. Things don’t go as planned and his evening climaxes with a violent outburst against a bunch of drunken thugs on a bus. One of those thugs turns out to be the brother of Russian mobster Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksei Serebryakov), who sets out to find the one responsible for putting his little brother in a coma. But Hutch has a past that make Kuznetsov’s efforts at revenge a lot harder than the Russian gangster anticipates.

Film is directed by Ilya Naishuller (Hardcore Henry) from a script by Derek Kolstad (the John Wick franchise). Despite what could have been a fun premise-a simple suburban dad, so enraged over his questioned masculinity, that he violently takes on a dangerous Russian mobster-making Hutch a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ simply turns this into another routine action flick. Giving Hutch a secret past, making him equally dangerous, ruins the chance to take an amusing concept and run with it. It becomes yet another cookie cutter revenge flick; a B or C level John Wick…and those flicks are far better. On the plus side, Bob Odenkirk is convincing as both an angry and embarrassed suburban dad, and a dangerous man unleashed, though Serebryakov is a very routine villain. There are some good action/fight scenes and it does get quite violent, but it would have been simply far more amusing to see some milquetoast suburbanite go ballistic instead of a man with hidden skills and deadly training. Not a bad action flick for a night on the couch, but not nearly as fun or special as it could have been. Also stars Michael Ironside, Connie Nielsen, RZA and Christopher Lloyd as Hutch’s retired FBI agent dad.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES BOOK REVIEW: A GATHERING OF CROWS by BRIAN KEENE

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A GATHERING OF CROWS by BRIAN KEENE

The town of Brinkley Springs is sealed off and besieged one night by an ancient evil that plans to feed on the souls of all the occupants of this sleepy little town. Lucky for them, demon fighter Levi Stoltzfus is staying at the local bed and breakfast, while passing through, and becomes the people’s only chance of escaping the night alive.

Another fun, chilling and gory tale from Brian Keene. It’s fast moving, filled with some disturbing sequences and, most of all, features the return of Levi Stoltzfus from Ghost Walk. Ex-Amish demon fighter Stoltzfus is a great character, who this time is up against a foe he knows little about. Keene pits his warrior of God against an enemy from before the world began. It’s a fun ride, as Levi tries to figure out how to stop them, before everyone has their souls drained and eaten. A creepy good time! As said before, another Keene book that deserves a film adaptation and Levi Stoltzfus is a character that is equally deserving of a movie or show.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: GRIZZLY II-REVENGE (1983/2020)

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GRIZZLY II-REVENGE (1983/2020)

Awful sequel to the 1976 cult classic Grizzly was originally filmed in 1983, but was put on the shelf when funding disappeared. It sat for 37 years till finally being completed and released last year! While a sequel in name, it has no relation to the 1976 Jaws rip-off. If the 18 foot female grizzly here is the mate of Grizzly’s grizzly, it’s never made clear. This mess of a movie has a wounded and enraged mother grizzly going on a murderous rampage after her cub is killed by a hunter. It’s up to park ranger Nick Hollister (Steve Inwood), pretty director of Bear Management, Samantha Owens (Deborah Raffin) and grizzly hunter Bouchard (John Rhys-Davies) to stop her before she collides with a packed outdoor concert playing nearby.

While it took 37 years to complete this flick, it’s not sure what was actually done, as it still looks like an unfinished movie…and a mess of one at that. At a scant 74 minutes, the film has a bear-ly followable story as the movie looks like it was edited together with one of half-Native American Bouchard’s tomahawks. Original footage shot in 1983 was directed incompetently by André Szöts from a laughably bad script by David Sheldon and Joan McCall. The 1983 footage, with a few new shots, has been thrown together in what can hardly be considered an actual film. The kills are all off screen, top-billed Charlie Sheen, George Clooney and Laura Dern are the bear’s first victims and the bear prop Bouchard battles at the concert set ending is hilariously awful. Not to mention so many of the characters are unlikable jerks, you don’t really hate momma grizzly for killing them. Even the concert musical act performances are pathetically awful. Sadly, it’s so bad that you can’t even laugh at it, and at least that would have made it entertaining. A 37 year wait for absolutely nothing.

 
-MonsterZero NJ

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