HORROR TV YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: MST3K: THE RETURN (2017)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

bars

MST3K: THE RETURN (2017)

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

Mystery Science Theater 3000 was created by Joel Hodgson and originally ran for ten seasons from 1988 till 1999 and was a beloved show for movie geeks everywhere, as it playfully skewered some of the worst cult classics and B-movies of all kinds. The format had a working stiff (originally series creator Joel Hodgson and then Mike Nelson) being kidnapped to a satellite in space and forced to watch some of the worst films ever made. The subject and a group of robots would then comment on these films as the series’ villains observed and routinely tried to make things miserable for our heroes. Fans have missed the show since it’s cancellation and were overjoyed to find out that Netflix was reviving it.

Premiering on Netflix streaming this April, the new series follows the same plot with newcomer Jonah (comedian Jonah Ray) being the newest test subject under the watchful evil eye of Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day), daughter of original series villain Dr. Clayton Forrester and Max (Patton Oswalt), otherwise known as The TV Son of TV’s Frank, offspring of original series villain TV’s Frank. There are fourteen new episodes featuring fourteen bad movies to which our hero, along with robots Gypsy, Tom Servo, Crow and Cam-bot, watch and mock while Kinga and Max do their best to make Jonah crazy…all with mostly hilarious results.

The revived series certainly is a welcome return and, for the most part, can be as funny as the original show. As with all the other seasons, there are some strong and hilarious episodes and some which are just OK. The key here is the movies have to provide the crew with something to work with. The funniest episodes of the new season, such as premiere episode Reptilicus, Time Travelers, Starcrash, The Land That Time Forgot and the season finale At The Earth’s Core all provide material that is ripe for commentary and the writers certainly take the ball and run with it. Then there are movies which are just bad, like Cry Wilderness, the first hour of Beast From Hollow Mountain, Wizards of the Lost Kingdom and Carnival Magic, which are so bad that Jonah and the boys struggle through them to keep the comments coming and funny. If the movie they’re watching is boring, there isn’t much the crew can do. Thankfully, the episodes that do work…and more do than don’t…hilariously make up for the few where laughs and fun are scarce. As with the previous seasons, there are movie geek references galore, such as Kinga’s house band looking delightfully like Infra-Man’s skull soldiers and meta references to previous episodes.

The cast are all having a blast and it shows. Jonah Ray is a suitable replacement for the earlier Joel and Mike. He’s a likable lug and fits the part well. Felicia Day is having a blast as Kinga, a cross between Cruella Deville and Veruca Salt. Day knows how to ad camp in just the right amounts and to dial up just enough villainy so Kinga stays a fun bad girl, like her predecessors and doesn’t tip over into unlikable. Patton Oswalt is equally successful as the bumbling Max…who has a crush on Kinga, which she obviously ignores…and is not quite such a bad guy as his boss lady…though he is trying. The robots’ voice actors all do a good job with instilling them with personality, although they are the same characters from the original show, so they don’t have to work as hard to establish themselves like out new leads. There are also cameos from original series characters and actors and some amusing appearances from famous faces such as Mark Hamill and Jerry Seinfeld.

Overall, this is a very happy return for a personal favorite show. The new cast and characters are likable and fit in with the show’s established style and the old format still works and works well when given material ripe for the picking-on. There are a few yawn inducing episodes, when the movie itself is dull and not even funny in the wrong way, but when the movie is the right kind of bad, the episodes measure up to some of the previous series best on equal footing. Welcome back MST3K!…and when can we expect season 12???

EPISODE LIST

(Rating the show by episode instead of the usual overall rating)

  1. Reptilicus – 3 and 1/2 stars
  2. Cry Wilderness – 2 and 1/2 stars
  3. Time Travelers – 3 and 1/2 stars
  4. Avalanche – 2 and 1/2 stars
  5. The Beast of Hollow Mountain – 3 stars…the last 1/2 hour was very funny
  6. Starcrash – 3 and 1/2 stars
  7. The Land That Time Forgot – 3 and 1/2 stars
  8. The Loves Of Hercules – 3 stars
  9. Yongary – 3 and 1/2 stars
  10. Wizards of the Lost Kingdom – 2 and 1/2 stars
  11. Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II – 3 stars
  12. Carnival Magic – 2 and 1/2 stars
  13. The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t – 2 and 1/2 stars
  14. At the Earth’s Core – 3 and 1/2 stars

-MonsterZero NJ

bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DIG TWO GRAVES (2014)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

bars

DIG TWO GRAVES (2014)

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

Not really a horror film, but more like a rural mystery/thriller with a thin layer of the supernatural. The film takes place in a community in the Illinois mountains in 1977 and finds young Jake (Samantha Isler) mourning the loss of her brother Sean (Ben Schneider), who drowned while diving into a local quarry. A tragic event for which Jake feels guilty. Three mysterious men appear to Jake and tell her that they have the power to bring Sean back, but someone must take his place, namely her classmate Willie (Gabriel Cain). Unknown to the girl, the motivations of these men involve Jake’s sheriff grandfather (Ted Levine) and a possible quest for revenge that’s taken 30 years to unfold.

This is an impressive debut from Hunter Adams from a script by he and Jeremy Phillips, that is loaded with atmosphere. The film plays like a dark fable as we start out with a glimpse of something awful taking place in 1947 then are introduced to Jake thirty years later as she loses her only sibling. From then on we meet the mysterious Wyeth (Troy Ruptash) and his two brothers, who claim to have the power to bring Sean back…but at a price. As we progress forward with Jake’s moral dilemma, Adams also takes us back thirty years with flashback’s told through the eyes of her grandfather Sheriff Waterhouse (Levine) to slowly, over the course of the film, reveal what got us to this point and how all the dots connect. It’s all done with the aura of  dark magic and something slightly supernatural going on and in just the right doses to keep us on edge, but not tip into full blown horror. The film stays somewhat grounded in reality which makes the moments that hint of something otherworldly all the more unnerving. The film sometimes evoked the rural set Winter’s Bone, but with a hint of dark fantasy that keeps us uneasy throughout. It takes till the very last scenes for all the pieces to come together and the climax will stay with you after the film is over.

Adams also gets very good work from his cast, especially his two leads. Veteran Ted (Silence Of The Lambs) Levine is very strong as Jake’s grandfather Sheriff Waterhouse and really creates an effective portrayal of a good man haunted by past events and wanting to protect his granddaughter from them. Samantha Isler gives a powerful performance as a young teen wanting to correct something she feels is her fault, but tormented by the moral implications of it’s solution. The young actress is a talent to keep an eye on. There is also Troy Ruptash as the creepy Wyeth. Ruptash gives the man a sense of power and menace with an aura of someone with dark powers beyond being just potentially lethal. Rounding out is Danny Goldring as former Sheriff Procter. Procter is a man with skeletons in his closet, skeleton’s he might kill to keep hidden and Goldring gives him that sense of a man desperate to keep something hidden.

This was an atmospheric thriller with a constant feeling of foreboding and an undercurrent of dark magic and possibly the supernatural. It’s a slow burn mystery that unravels at a deliberate pace and takes you on a journey both forward and backward in time to tell us it’s complete story. It has some very strong guidance from it’s first time director and excellent work from a good cast to punctuate the script and direction. The film was first released at film festivals in 2014 and finally has gotten a limited release and the attention it deserves thanks to Executive Producer Larry Fessenden! Highly recommended!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 rattlesnakes

bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE VOID (2016)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

bars

THE VOID (2016)

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

The Void is not only a trippy tribute to horror films of the 80s and the practical make-up and gore effects used in them, but a bloody good time and a creepy monster flick in it’s own right. The film opens with a young couple being chased by two men, with the man (Evan Stern) barely escaping and the woman being shot and then brutally burned alive. The man is found by local policeman, Dan (Aaron Poole) and brought to a nearby hospital that is in the process of closing down after a recent fire. There the cop and minimal staff and patients find the building soon surrounded by mysterious and lethal hooded figures, while inside it starts to turn into a house of horrors, as staff murder patients and the dead return to life transformed into creatures from out of a nightmare. Can Dan, his nurse wife Allison (Kathleen Munroe) and the remaining survivors figure out what is happening and how to get out alive?

Written and directed by the team of Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie, this is a mash-up/homage to the films of John Carpenter and Stuart Gordon, among others. There are elements of Assault On Precinct 13, The Thing, In the Mouth Of Madness, as well as Re-animator, From Beyond and a host of other cult classics. But Kostanski and Gillespie make it their own with their tale of other dimensions and nightmarish activities and the film is filled with some really unsettling imagery and a host of practical creatures and gore, along with it. The story itself is a bit convoluted at times and the filmmakers don’t spoon feed you everything, but that works far more in the film’s favor than it doesn’t. It’s a disturbing ride, loaded with atmosphere and we do gradually find out enough of what’s going on to satisfy, as the deliberately moderate pace carries us to an unsettling conclusion right out of Fulci’s The Beyond. Sure the acting is a bit wooden here and there and the FX are a bit rubbery, but it’s the charm of what the filmmakers are trying to do and of the many cult classics they evoke, that makes it so enjoyable and fun. Not to mention the filmmakers do conjure some of their own goosebumps along the way. It may not make total sense, but it is enjoyably creepy and when the gore hits the fan, it hits delightfully hard and spatters everywhere. There is some effective cinematography by Samy Inayeh and a cool soundtrack by Blitz//Berlin, who did the soundtrack for Extraterrestrial.

I enjoyed this love letter to many a classic 80s film, including Galaxy Of Terror…which I just re-watched…yet one that didn’t loose it’s own identity. It’s a weird flick that is part Lovecraft, part Carpenter with a few other pinches of famous names of horror thrown in. It has some effectively designed creatures and some delightfully gory moments and gives us some spooky visuals along with the thrills and chills. You may scratch your head a bit here and there, but it’s fun throwback that may have introduced us to two filmmakers to keep an eye on. Also stars Art (Black Christmas, The Brood) Hindle as a state trooper and Scott Pilgrim’s Ellen Wong as an intern in over her adorable head.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 scalpels, because I didn’t want to spoil any of the weirdness.

 

bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE DEVIL’S CANDY (2015)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

bars

THE DEVIL’S CANDY (2015)

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

I’m a huge fan of Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones and was obviously looking forward to seeing another flick from him…and finally, after eight years, it’s here. The Devil’s Candy is Byrne’s newest film, made in 2015, it’s only now getting a proper release on VOD and in select theaters from the cool folks at IFC Midnight.

The story here is of heavy metal loving artist Jesse (Ethan Embry), who moves to an old rural farmhouse with his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and chip-off-the-old-block teen daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco). While Jesse and Astrid know that the couple that formerly lived there died in the house, what they don’t know is that it is also home to some kind of malevolent influence. If it’s not bad enough that Jesse’s art starts to take a dark and ominous tone soon after moving in, Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), the child murdering son of the previous owners, wants to come home…and he has set his demented sights on Zooey.

While not quite as intense as The Loved Ones, and lacking it’s twisted sense of humor, this is still an atmospheric, disturbing and sometimes brutally violent horror flick. The mix of heavy metal music and demonic horror, obviously works as the two have been paired up since Black Sabbath took to the airwaves in 1968. While the demonic influence elements are nothing new, they are very effective as used by Bryne, draped in his thick atmosphere of foreboding. The most disturbing elements, though, are obviously Ray’s need to “feed” The Devil his favorite candy…children. He stalks Zooey right out in the open and the distraction the malevolent entity feeds Jesse by way of his art, leaves poor Zooey unprotected. It creates some very unsettling scenes as Ray gets closer to obtaining his goal, including one in Zooey’s bedroom that is absolutely bone chilling. This all leads up to not one but two harrowing sequences with Zooey and the rotund pervert, each more intense than the last. There are some drawbacks. The film comes in at a very tight 79 minutes and it sometimes feels too quickly over for it’s own good. We wish we had a little more time to let certain scenes resonate and be given a little more time to let the disturbing nature of what is transpiring sink in before moving on to the next dramatic moment. It is also never quite clear whether it is this demonic influence that led Ray to kill, or was it his homicidal habit that brought the entity into the house…if not…why is it there? On a technical level the film looks great and while there is some week CGI during the climax, the rest of the FX work is solid and there is a really atmospheric score from Mads Heldtberg, Michael Yezerski and the band Sunn O)))

If anything helps one past some of the flaws, it’s a really good cast. Ethan Embry has become a fixture in some good horror/thrillers lately such as the frustrated son in the awesome Late Phases, or the ill-fated gun dealer in The Guest. He is really good here, not only as metal head/family man Jesse, but in portraying Jesse’s gradual transformation from attentive father into obsessed artist. As his frustrated and scared wife, Shiri Appleby is solid as a woman whose family life is disrupted from both within and without. She has a suddenly moody and unfocused husband at home and a hulking child killer lurking about after her daughter. Appleby makes her a bit more than a damsel in distress, though she isn’t given as much to do when all hell breaks loose as we’d have liked. Kiara Glasco makes a really good impression as Zooey. A teen who walks to the beat of her father influenced drum but is her own person. She’s a tough kid and a little rebellious and the young actress has a great chemistry with Embry, so their father/daughter relationship really works well on screen. She has a couple of tough scenes to portray and does a good job. Making this all come together is a really disturbing performance by veteran actor Pruitt Taylor Vince (recently seen as “Otis” in The Walking Dead). Vince really makes Ray a creepy person who makes you uncomfortable every moment he’s on camera. It really makes you fear for Zooey, especially when he catches up to her…more than once. He makes your skin crawl. A solid cast just as in Byrne’s first flick.

So maybe writer/director Sean Byrne hasn’t quite equalled The Loved Ones in his sophomore feature flick, but he has delivered another disturbing, atmospheric and bloody movie that is of a different sort than his previous twisted love story. This plot may be a bit more commonplace, but he uses the familiar tropes very effectively. The theatrical cut…wikipedia lists a 10 minute longer festival cut…may be a little too short for it’s own good and there are some unanswered questions, but a really strong cast and a director who knows how to turn the screws makes up for a lot of it. Highly recommended. especially if you loved Sean Byrne’s previous work.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and1/2 screaming guitars!

 

 

bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: JOHNNY FRANK GARRETT’S LAST WORD (2016)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

bars

JOHNNY FRANK GARRETT’S LAST WORD (2016)

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

In 1981, a nun by the name of Tadea Benz was brutally raped and murdered on Halloween night. A mentally handicapped young man by the name of Johnny Frank Garrett was convicted and executed for the crime. All during the trial and his incarceration Garrett proclaimed his innocence and on the night before he died by lethal injection, he proclaimed his innocence one last time in a letter that also said that those who wrongly accused him would pay…

This is from an actual real-life murder case that occurred in Texas in 1981 and serves as the basis for this horror film that takes the all-true story and portrays the effects of Garrett’s ominous last words as folks involved with the case and their loved ones, start to die mysteriously. Former juror Adam Redman (Mike Doyle) begins to investigate and finds they may have indeed sent an innocent man to his death and his revenge may now be coming to bare!

It’s hard to decide whether it’s daring or in bad taste that writer Ben Ketai and director Simon Rumley made a horror film out of a real life murder case…and not just based on it, like many films…but use actual events and names and all, adding a supernatural element to turn it into a horror flick. Whatever one decides, it is an effective horror and the fact that a lot of the events we are watching are true…such as later revelations that Jarrett may have indeed been innocent…adds a very unsettling element. The supernatural additions to the story are a bit disturbing, too, as Garrett’s “curse” target’s Redman’s son and he races to save him, as others from the case die around him. There are some creepy moments here, though turning the possibly innocent Garrett into a vengeful specter is a bit odd as you should want to feel sorry for him, yet he is preying on innocent children to make his point from beyond the grave. Obviously, the prosecutor (Sean Patrick Flanery) is the real bad guy here, but Jarrett is the “Freddy Krueger” of the flick and it’s still hard to feel bad for his cinematic incarnation and we should.  The film was still effective enough and it makes one want to catch up on Jesse Quackenbush’s documentary The Last Word, which is about the actual events including the discovery of evidence years later that Garrett might possibly have been a victim of a justice system at it’s worst.

This was an effective and atmospheric horror film, even if the use of so many of the real facts from the case makes one uneasy about their use. Whether the filmmakers were being daring or exploitive is probably up to the viewer. The end credits also proclaim that there were indeed a number of mysterious deaths concerning individuals close to the case, but, so far, my online research has not confirmed this. Courageous or crass, Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word is if anything an unnerving little horror flick that does inspire one to find out more about what really happened on October 31st, 1981 in Texas.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 gavels

 

bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: GET OUT (2017)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

bars

GET OUT (2017)

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

Get Out is another movie surround by massive hype that it does’t really live up to, but is certainly worth seeing. The film tells of young black man, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) going up to a wealthy white community to meet the parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) of his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams). Chris immediately starts to feel something is wrong, as her parents are a little too eager to see him and appear open-minded to him. Worse still, the only black people he encounters are behaving quite strangely and the neighbors are a bit “off” to say the least. The longer he stays, the more he comes to believe something sinister is going on and he might be in danger if he stays…but will they let him leave?

Written and directed by Jordan Peele, this is a sort of combination of Stepford Wives and Disturbing Behavior with an African-American angle added. The film is obviously filled with statements on race relations and the status of black Americans in today’s world. And important though they be, the film’s messages were a little too obvious, at times, when subtlety was working much better, such as the party scene where Chris meets the neighbors. The film works best when dealing with paranoia and Chris is not sure if this hidden threat is real or imagined. Also, the flick isn’t nearly as scary as the hype surrounding it suggests, but Peele does create some nice atmosphere and tension and there are some scenes where there are some unsettling and yet darkly humorous moments. The film stumbles a bit with some intrusive comedy bits involving Chris’ TSA friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) and an over-the-top Franenstein-ish twist in it’s last act which dangerously borders on silly…though does work. It’s also obvious from the first scene at the house that Rose’s parents, Dean and Missy, are complete phonies, so it’s no surprise when we realize they are up to no good…and certain betrayals are also no surprise either, with that in mind. Peele still shows some strong potential, as he has a nice visual eye, constructed some spooky hallucinogenic sequences that are very effective and the last act has some impact as Chris enters in a fight for his life. There is some startling violence and the script is clever with connecting the dots from what we’ve seen during the course of the film to it’s big reveal. Not a great film, but one that works more than it doesn’t and shows that Peele has a cleverness to his writing we are interested in seeing more of.

Another thing that helps Peele is a good cast. Daniel Kaluuya makes for a down to earth, but solid hero. He is likable and seems like a genuinely nice guy. He conveys Chris’ paranoia well and even a reluctance as he is forced to act violently when thrust in a life and death situation. Catherine Keener nearly steals the show as Rose’s therapist mother. She oozes malevolence, once things get going and the sequences of her using her hypnotherapy on Chris are some of the creepiest in the film. Bradley Whitford is fine as Rose’s surgeon dad. He comes across as a bit too phony and obvious, though and his liberal banter to impress Chris comes across as exactly that and should have set alarms off right away. Allison Williams is also fine as Rose and while she doesn’t get much to do early on, she does deliver some nice malice once her true nature is revealed. Lil Rel Howery is the only character that I felt didn’t fit in. He is a little too over-the-top comic and that didn’t quite fit with the more subtly satirical nature of the rest of the film. He would be fine in an outright comedy, but his bits got in the way of the tension that was Peele was trying to build. This seemed, however, due more to directing and script than an actor doing his job. Finally, Caleb Landry Jones is suitably creepy as Rose’s brother who is a little less eager to hide his true self and is the first character to signal to Chris that he may not be as welcome here as he is led to believe.

A horror masterpiece?…no…an instant classic?…not really, but once you ignore the hype and take it for what it is, it is an interesting horror debut from Jordan Peele that isn’t perfect, but has enough that works to make it worth a watch. While Peele’s messages and social commentary can be a little too obvious at times and the film’s comic moments are a bit intrusive, a slightly satirical slant keeps the film from getting too preachy, which is in it’s favor. There is also some nice tension, an engaging climax and some really good performances especially from our leading man and Keener’s villainous therapist. It’s not nearly as scary as over-active hype would suggest, but it does have some intense and purposely uncomfortable sequences and does leave one thinking about how we are seen by and behave toward our fellow Americans. So flaws aside, this makes Jordan Peele a filmmaker to watch and Get Out a film that warrants watching as well…just don’t let the hype set standards for the film that it cannot possibly live up to.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 deer…you’ll have to see the movie

 

bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: XX (2017)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

xx

bars

XX (2017)

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

I’m a huge fan of female filmmakers making their voices heard in the horror genre, so, obviously, I was intrigued about this new anthology featuring four stories all written and directed by women. Unfortunately, like in most anthologies, the flick is a bit of a mixed bag with not all stories being equal.

First story is the best and is based on a short tale by Jack Ketchum. It’s written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic and is a disturbing tale. The Box has mom, Susan (Natalie Brown) out in the city for the day with her kids, Danny (Peter DaCunha from Hellions) and Jenny (Peyton Kennedy). Danny spies a man with a present and his curiosity gets the man’s attention and he’s offered a look inside. Whatever he sees disturbs Danny greatly and he stops eating. He refuses to talk about it, but as he slowly opens up to his sister and dad (Jonathan Watton), they stop eating as well. With her family wasting away before her eyes, Susan is determined to find out what was in that box. This is a tense and unsettling episode with some disturbing imagery that has lasting effects even after it’s over.

Next story The Birthday Party, is directed by Annie Clark and is co-written by she and Roxanne Benjamin and is the least of the four tales. This one has self absorbed mom Mary (Melanie Lynskey) throwing a party for her little girl (Sanai Victoria) and finding her husband (Seth Duhame) dead in his home office. Not wanting to ruin the party, she now must find a way to hide his body. That’s it. It’s as uninteresting as it sounds.

Next story is written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin and is called Don’t Fall. This is a fun and effective episode finding a young woman (Breeda Wool) with a fear of heights going on a desert camping trip with friends. She runs afoul of an ancient evil entity in a cave and is transformed into a demonic creature that now stalks her companions. It’s simple, a bit gory and is a more straightforward and fun horror segment.

Anthology ends on a so-so note with Her Only Living Son. Directed and scripted by Karyn Kusama (The Invitation), this is a ho-hum tale of single mother, Cora (Christina Kirk) whose son, Andy (Kyle Allen) has suddenly turned violent. As she tries to find out what’s wrong with his behavior, she begins to suspect that his coming of age may have triggered both a horrifying transformation and unveiled a revelation about his true “father”. This segment is nothing new and ends rather abruptly and un-satisfyingly.

There are some really cool stop motion animated framing segments to the stories directed by Sofia Carrillo, that are probably the most effective thing about this uneven anthology. I still recommend one give it a look based on the framing bits and the stories that work, as it is still worth checking out…just not the total success one hoped for from some of the up and coming ladies of horror.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 “X”s!

xx-rating

 

bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: BORNLESS ONES (2016)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

bornless-ones

bars

BORNLESS ONES (2016)

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

At it’s core, flick is a basically an Evil Dead (both old and new) retread with a group of people in an isolated cabin and an ancient evil taking them one by one. This cabin in the woods horror has pretty Emily (Margaret Judson) moving into a remote house/cabin so she can be near her brother Zack (Michael Johnston), who she is going to send to a nearby institution for his spastic monoplegia, a form of cerebral palsy. Her boyfriend Jesse (Devin Goodsell) is with her and their friends Woodrow (Mark Furze) and Michelle (Bobby T) have come along to help set things up. When they enter the house…which they apparently bought sight unseen…they find evidence some kind of cult ceremony or witchcraft was performed there previously. When they remove some creepy symbol adorned boards, something malevolent moves into the house with them. It first possesses poor Zack, who can now walk and talk…saying scary things, of course…and makes it known that they all shall fall prey to The Bornless. Sound familiar?

Flick is written and directed by Alexander Babaev with very little originality or novel additions to the cabin in the woods sub-genre. Zack’s affliction is one of the scant few original wrinkles and with it does come an interesting element that the demons healed him somewhat to use him more efficiently and there is evidence that this healing power is what provoked the original owner to invoke them. This is, however, for the most part, a retread of a classic using elements from it and it’s remake, thought sometimes effectively and I can’t say it wasn’t somewhat entertaining. Babaev may have little originality in his screenplay, but it’s atmospheric and he does direct some of the zombie/possession scenes well. He also has a good visual eye, too and there are some amusing bits where possessed cabin mates reveal their host’s darkest secrets just to be nasty and where some are visited by ‘spirits’ from their past to taunt them. There is some decent and effective gore, but unfortunately the “bornless” demon spirits are represented by some cheesy CGI and aren’t nearly as effective. The one time Babaev tries to deviate and actually show his demons, is a time he should have taken a cue from Raimi and let our imaginations do the work instead. Sometimes less is more. Thankfully they don’t have all that much screen time.

Cast are all fine. Margaret Judson makes a solid heroine. She nicely conveyed her character’s concern and affection for her illness inflicted brother and that makes her Emily endearing. She also turns into a resilient fighter once things start going bump in the night and proves to be effective final girl material. Michael Johnston was good as Zack. He at first has to emote with very little due to Zack’s condition and then gets to have a little fun once he is possessed and becomes fully functional. He has some creepy moments once things get going. Goodsell is fine as boyfriend Jesse whose deeper secrets and feelings are brought to the surface by the demonic presence and he’s not the person he pretends to be, though that’s not all that much of a surprise. Furze and Bobby T are also efficient as the friends who have secrets of their own and wind up not having a good time at the cabin…if you know what I mean.

I can’t give this flick much credit for originality, as it borrows far more from Evil Dead both past and present than it comes up with on it’s own. There are a few original ideas and they do work, but instead writer/director Alexander Babaev seems content to replay a lot from Raimi’s classic and Alvarez’s remake. It’s a shame. He does show some chops with some effective scenes and some nice atmosphere. A compassionate and strong heroine played by Margaret Judson also helps keep this from being a dull retread and the cast, overall, are fine in their roles. There is some nice gore and the cabin setting works well despite being so blatantly familiar. Ultimately, it’s definitely worth a look and was entertaining, but expect extreme amounts of Evil Dead envy.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 scared sh*tless sisters.

bornless-ones-rating

 

bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: ALL I NEED (2015)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

all-i-need

bars

ALL I NEED (2015)

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

Despite being made about two years ago, low budget horror thriller is finally being released on VOD. It tells the story of a pretty young woman (Caitlin Stasey from All Cheerleaders Die and Fear Inc) who wakes up in a small room bound and gagged along with about a dozen or so other young women in the same predicament. Most of her fellow captives are either already dead, or soon to be, leading the young woman to engage in a battle of wills with her murderous captor in order to get out alive. The story also follows a down on his luck man named Andrew (Markus Taylor) who starts getting job offers from a mysterious benefactor. Can the fates of these two individuals be somehow intertwined?

Writer and director Dylan K. Narang, who produced the cool monster flick Dark Was The Night, will answer that question by the time this film reaches it’s conclusion and while it’s not a total surprise, Narang does provide some intensity and some disturbing sequences before the credits role. Most of that comes in the segments that follow Chloe (Stasey) in her efforts to stay alive and out of the masked killer’s clutches in a confined space. The resilient girl uses whatever resources are at her disposal, including the bonds and bodies of the other young women who have also fallen prey to this individual. When we switch to Andrew’s story, the film is less interesting and a bit flat as we have become far more endeared to the embattled Chloe and are less interested in his tale, though his story does connect. The writer/director smartly keeps the focus predominately on the bloodied and scantily clad prisoner and it is those scenes that carry some nice intensity and a few disturbing moments. Narang is also not afraid to have our heroine make some tough decisions during her escape attempts regarding her co-captors and even the use of their bodies. The film’s momentum sputters a bit with Andrew, especially one lengthy scene with his benefactor’s boss (Holly Twyford), that despite delivering some needed exposition, kinda drags a bit. Once this scene plays out, we do return to Chloe’s horrifying drama, though at that point we already have figured out how it’s going to conclude. The film does have effective atmosphere and that is helped along by an 80s-ish score by Jacob Yoffee and the fact that Narang does have a good visual eye and delivers some effective shots even working on an intimate scale.

The cast is very small and the strongest performance comes from the pretty Caitlin Stasey who endears us to her Chloe quickly with some expressive eye emoting while bound and gagged and then with body language and facial expressions when she is free and in survival mode. As she is alone most of the time, she has limited dialog and filmmaker Narang avoids having her talk to herself to fill us in on what she’s thinking. Instead he let’s his actress show us and she does a great job feeding us her fear and resilience without externalizing her inner monologue. She uses her body and eyes to good effect. Markus Taylor is a little flat as Andrew, though he’s not what I would call bad. The material involving his character is not as interesting or intense as Chloe’s terrifying ordeal, which doesn’t give the actor nearly as much to work with. Holly Twyford delvers some important exposition with a monotone delivery and while her character is supposed to be a bit emotionally detached, the revelations could have used a bit more dramatic bite to make them work better and a little more depth to the ‘explanation ‘ as to the hows and whys. As for our killer, he is masked for 99% of the flick and he does carry some menace and intensity, even though he isn’t on screen as much as you might expect. There are a couple of other girls we see briefly and they are all fine as victims.

Not a perfect flick by any means, but one that was effective in the places it needed to be most. Dylan K. Narang delivered some intense sequences with his young heroine fighting for her life and we only wish the secondary story of down on his luck divorcee Andrew carried the same type of weight. Seeing Chloe try to survive her situation and somehow escape was far more effective and interesting than Andrew puzzling over the mysterious offer from a faceless voice on the phone. Chloe made some hard decisions in her quest to survive, while we feel Andrew made his ultimate decision far too easy considering what the job proposal turned out to be. Director Narang does show some potential and Caitlin Stasey shows she is a young actress to also keep an eye on, especially in the horror genre, where she has recently been no stranger.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 damsels in a lot of distress.

all-i-need-rating

 

bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SPLIT (2016)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

split-v2

bars

SPLIT (2016)

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

With The Visit, M. Night Shyamalan had started to show a bit of a return to form after a string of disappointments lasting over a decade of his career. Now with Split, he seems to have hit his stride again with this intense and disturbing thriller.

The film tells the story of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man diagnosed with over 23 different personalties. His therapist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) is using Kevin to prove her theory that the belief in a personality can effect the physiology of the subject while under the influence of that personality. But unknown to Fletcher, Kevin’s alter egos have kidnaped 3 young girls, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch and Morgan), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson from The Last Survivors and The Edge Of Seventeen) and Marcia (Jessica Sula). His alternates say they are to be used as sacrifice for a new personality…called The Beast. Can these three young girls escape before The Beast is unleashed?

Written and directed by Shyamalan, this is an intense and suspenseful thriller that is his best work in well over a decade. It has some interesting ideas, such as strong personality disorders developing physical changes within certain personalities, for example, Dr. Fletcher’s citing of a blind woman who gained sight under the influence of one of her alternate personalities. This does not bode well when Kevin’s alternates like Patricia, Barry and Dennis keep heralding something called The Beast. We also like the three captive girls and their refusal to give up trying to escape and it certainly makes us fear what’s in store for them. Shyamalan plays this out in the confined space of Kevin’s lair, only briefly going outside to Fletcher’s office during Kevin’s sessions. This keeps things isolated and claustrophobic which adds to the overall atmosphere. Of course the last act delivers the goods and without giving any details, it is a very intense and effective ride as ‘guess who’ finally arrives. As usual with his best work, Shyamalan also gives us some solid surprises and fans of his films will be thrilled as to how this one closes out. I’d go more in depth, but this is a film that is best seen knowing as little as possible.

James McAvoy is simply brilliant as the multi-personality Kevin and a number of his alternates. He plays each one as a separate person and gives each alternate a full personality, complete with facial expressions and their own body language. If there is any minor complaint, it’s that we only see about four or five of the personalities and McAvoy’s performance begs us to want to see more of the supposed 23. The girls are all good. Taylor-Joy plays the loner and social outcast and she is not only likable, but strong, resilient and may have some things in common with her captor. Richardson’s Claire is also resilient and is the one who is the most vocal and steadfast about escaping their captivity. She and Casey butt heads sometimes as to how to proceed in their efforts, as Claire sees Casey’s waiting for the right moment as more of an excuse to not try. Sula’s Marcia is the quietest and most timid of the three basically doing what she is told and seems to be the most frightened. Rounding out is a very solid Betty Buckley as Dr. Fletcher, a woman who is too fascinated by her subject to see how dangerous he really is. A very good cast who make this film work so well, especially lead McAvoy and his stunning performance.

This was definitely the Shyamalan of old with some truly suspenseful moments, an unusual, but well written story and some legitimate scares and intensity. He is aided by the perfectly cast James McAvoy who gives many of the film’s chills and a solid supporting cast in those playing his three hostages and therapist. The film has a fantastically nerve-wracking last act and a final scene that will have fans on their feet. Welcome back, M. Night!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 alternate personalities.

split-rating

 

bars