HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HEREDITARY (2018)

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HEREDITARY (2018)

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

Story finds an eccentric family, whose lineage has a history of mental illness, experiencing strange occurrences and tragic events after the death of it’s matriarch. Her surviving daughter Annie (Toni Collette) slowly begins to believe something supernatural is attached to her family, something evil, while her husband feels it’s all in her head. Is Annie losing her mind, or is she about to find out she inherited more from mom than just some mental issues.

The hype machine has been working overtime for weeks on this flick being an instant classic, but much like 2016’s The Witch, which received the same pre-release praise, this one has some merit, but is far from the traumatizing experience it’s being sold as. Hereditary is atmospherically directed by Ari Aster from his own script, has some very unsettling moments and the eccentric family members are enough to give you the willies themselves. From Collette’s Annie who relives traumatic events in her life by building miniature dioramas of them and daughter Charlie, who likes to cut the heads off dead birds, this is an Addams Family in the making. From a distance, the post funeral events could be the result of traumatic events, mixing with some bad DNA, but we slowly discover there might actually be something malevolent stalking this family. There are some creepy moments and Aster gives us some initial doubts whether this is elemental or simply mental, till a last act where we finally open the flood gates to hell and get what we came for…and that’s the flaw here. The film is very slow paced and while it seems to be intentional, it’s a bit too slow paced for it’s own good. Much like The Witch there are some very spooky sequences and visuals, but there are also long stretches that are just tedious. Some of the supernatural hocus pocus comes off as a bit silly, too, and the really scary stuff doesn’t happen until the last few scenes. It’s a long stretch till the film really delivers and while there is plenty of unsettling things to keep us occupied, there are also quite a few moments where you might find yourself checking your watch. The film does go somewhere that was very effective, had some chilling developments, but sometimes felt like it was rambling at times before getting to it’s Rosemary’s Baby-esque finale. On a strictly production level, the cinematography is very effective from Pawel Pogorzelski, as is Aster’s visual eye and a lot of the atmosphere comes from Colin Stetson’s goosebump inducing score.

Aster did perfectly cast this somewhat mixed-bag. Toni Collette is near brilliant as a woman with her own issues dealing with not only the trauma of two deaths, but the belief that there is some sort of curse or malevolent entity stalking her family. It’s an opinion her somewhat clueless husband doesn’t share, which isolates her. Gabriel Byrne does a wonderful job as husband Steven, a man who is sometimes too calm and emotionally detached to be of any help. He believes it’s all in her head and refuses to see there is something very odd going on. Milly Shapiro is downright creepy as the introverted and odd daughter Charlie. The young actress gives us goosebumps with just a look and a tilt of her head, not to mention carrying out the script’s extremely weird behavior for her. Rounding out the family is Alex Wolff as teen son Peter who already has a tenuous relationship with Annie thanks to her trying to set him on fire while sleepwalking at one point. He is very sympathetic, especially in the second half when things escalate. There is also a small part portrayed by Ann Dowd as Annie’s friend from a loss support group, who is a little off-kilter herself after losing her grandson.

In conclusion, the sum of it’s parts are greater than the whole. There are too many stretches where the film gets a bit tedious and borders on outright dull to be the modern horror classic PR hype wants us to believe. Ari Aster shows he has a nice touch for providing atmosphere and unsettling visuals and while it takes a bit too long to get to them, he can produce outright scares, such in the last act. The final ten minutes alone make up for some of the waiting. His characters were disturbing without the supernatural goings-on, though some of those those goings-on weren’t always as effective as they should have been, to keep the tension consistent. The director loses his grip here and there as his pace is a little too meandering for the movie’s own good. There is a lot of potential shown here for Aster as a filmmaker, just too soon to be calling him a master…or this a masterpiece. Despite being extremely over-hyped, it is worth a look for all the things that do work.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 cans of lighter fluid which should be kept away from sleepwalkers at all times.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: FERAL (2017)

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FERAL (2017)

Flick has a group of six grad students taking a hiking trip deep in the woods. Alice (Scout Taylor-Compton) has brought her new girlfriend Jules (Olivia Luccardi) and officially come out to her friends, not all who take her pronouncement well. None of them, however, are prepared when a vicious and animalistic man attacks them in the night, wounding one and killing another. On route back to get their friend help, they encounter mysterious, lone woodsman Talbot (Lew Temple) who takes them to his cabin. After some provocation, Talbot warns them that what they encountered carries a virus that kills it’s host and takes over the body…and their wounded friend will eventually turn. Alice and company soon start to wonder how he knows so much and if he is possibly more dangerous than what now hunts them from outside.

A zombie is a zombie and whether it runs or walks, whether you call it a virus or if it’s supernatural in origin, it’s still a zombie. The creatures in Mark Young’s film, that he co-wrote with Adam Frazier, kill their prey, who themselves reanimate at night, vicious and hungry. Physically they more resemble the creatures from Neil Marshall’s The Descent, but otherwise, they are the living dead. Young and Frazier do try to freshen them up a bit, like the virus being dormant in the daytime and the creatures seeming to have animal-like intelligence, but at the core they are still zombies who need to be shot in the head to be put down. Even so, the attack scenes are still very effective, there is some nice tension and the flick gets quite gruesome, as the camping friends are besieged by these “feral” creatures of the night. The horror elements here are familiar, though still work well. What makes this film even more interesting, though, is strong characters, particularly lead Scout Taylor-Compton as Alice and the very effective sub-plot involving her and her girlfriend Jules. Taylor-Compton is a real bad-ass here, yet she is a caring one who is trying to protect her friends. Before the first “feral” creature appears, there is some tension as Alice is concerned for how her religious parents will react to her new relationship and her friend Jesse (Brock Kelly) is very un-excepting of her announcing she’s gay. Obviously Jesse focuses his anger on Jules and it’s no surprise at one point there will be a confrontation between the two. Young is a competent filmmaker and does use the familiar tropes solidly, but it is his characters and the insertion of some topical human drama that makes this undead chiller stand out a bit from the pack.

We have a good cast here. Mark Young uses Rob Zombie film vets Taylor-Compton and Lew Temple very well. Scout Taylor-Compton gives us a very strong and intelligent young woman, but one with a heart. She fights hard for her friends and loved ones and while it’s a bit convenient that she is a med student and from a “family of hunters”, she is a very strong final girl. She conveys a toughness and a sensitivity. She also has very good on-screen chemistry with Olivia Luccardi (It Follows) as Jules. They come across as a believable couple and it helps make their characters endearing. There is also some interesting tension between them, as differing opinions on dealing with infected friends causes conflict between the lovers. Temple is good as the woodsman who knows far more about these creatures than he first lets on. He has a dark secret and the actor keeps us curious till it’s revealed. It’s not anything we haven’t figured out, but Temple plays it well. Renee Olstead is fine as the injured Brienne, Landry Allbright is a standout as Gina, George Finn is likable as the ill-fated Matt and Brock Kelly conveys the anger and ignorance of Jesse very well. A good cast.

In conclusion, while still a zombie film at it’s core, it’s solidly directed by Mark Young. The horror scenes are gory and effective, and he and co-writer Adam Frazier try to make their zombies a bit different, which begs the question why they needed to be zombies at all and not just infected and crazed humans. What makes the film really worth a look is strong character interaction, a solid heroine in Scout Taylor-Compton’s Alice and an interesting story element finding a young woman opening up to her friends about being gay and the mixed reactions she and her girlfriend get. The dynamic of Alice fighting to save her friends, especially Jules, gives the film a fiery spark that adds something beyond good use of very familiar tropes. Definitely worth a look.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 bullets so you can shoot ’em in the head!

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE WITCHING SEASON (2015-2017)

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THE WITCHING SEASON (2015-2017)

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

The Witching Season is an indie web anthology series, currently found on Amazon Streaming, created by Michael Ballif and is five stories filmed between 2015 and 2017. All the stories are set on Halloween and are filled with pumpkins, scarecrows and masked individuals to ad the nuance of horror’s favorite holiday.

First story is written and directed by Baliff and is entitled Killer On The Loose and finds a pretty young woman (Hailey Nebeker) running for her life on Halloween night. She makes her way to an isolated home and with finding no one there, she enters and hides. Sure enough a masked man (James Morris) with a machete enters after her and now she is trapped alone inside with him. This was an effective tale and was atmospheric and suspenseful and even if we figured out where it was going to end, it was still creepy fun.

Second story, Princess, is written and directed by James Morris from a short story by Baliff and finds pretty single mother, Kendra (Anita Rosenbaum) moving into a new house with her little girl, Jamie (Emily Broschinsky) at Halloween. Jaime finds a box of toys in the basement including a creepy stuffed rabbit she claims is called Princess. Soon strange things start happening and it’s almost as if Princess has a sinister life of it’s own. Another atmospheric and creepy tale even if we’ve seen the evil doll scenario dozens of times before. It still works.

Third story is called Not Alone and is also written and directed by Morris. This story finds a man, Kyle (Sean Hunter) listening to UFO reports on a radio show and having some strange occurrences begin happening in his home. That’s about it. It is atmospheric, but doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s some weird things happening, a spooky climax and that’s it. Not Alone is the shortest and weakest of the five.

Fourth story is called They Live Inside Us and is written and directed by Baliff and stars James Morris as a writer (and other various roles) who breaks into the Boothe House where a infamous murder/suicide occurred. He’s there to get inspiration for a horror script he is writing and let’s say he gets it in droves. An interesting and spooky story that is the longest and possibly best of the tales and is another atmospheric entry from series creator Baliff. It also stars Stevie Dunston as Mrs. Boothe who appears in all of the writer’s various scenarios.

Fifth and final tale is called Is That You and is another directed by Morris from a story he co-wrote with Baliff. It’s a short and simple tale where a spooky nursery rhyme comes all too true for a girl, Whitney (Karlee Broschinsky) stuck home on Halloween night with an injured leg. There isn’t much to it and like Not Alone it’s basically someone in a house with weird occurrences going on around them until a spooky ending. It’s atmospheric, but again, like Not Alone, it really doesn’t go anywhere just sort plays out and then ends.

I enjoyed this web anthology series which shows a lot of love for the spooky season and horror films from the series creative team of Michael Baliff and James Morris. Even the weakest of the tales had some Halloween spirit and all were atmospheric. Both directors got good work out of their cast of unknowns and seem to handle their multiple chores on each story quite well. Baliff seems like the stronger of the two behind the camera, though Morris shows potential even if all three of his stories followed the same format. He did create atmosphere. There is some great cinematography all around and some effective music on each story by Randin Graves and the series opening credits is quite effective at setting the spooky tone. A well done labor of Halloween love from creator Michael Baliff and collaborator James Morris. Can’t wait to see more from these guys!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 pumpkins.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DOWNRANGE (2017)

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DOWNRANGE (2017)

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

A group of teens on a road trip find their journey interrupted when they get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. Soon they find out this was no accident and that their tire was shot out. They also find, to their horror, that a sadistic sniper has got them in his sights and is patiently waiting till they make the wrong move so he can brutally gun them down.

Dark and sometimes savage flick is tautly directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Azumi, The Midnight Meat Train) from a script by he and Joey O’Bryan. There is some very gruesome violence, here and Kitamura puts these young characters through the bloody ringer as the sniper plays with them. The director also keeps tension high, as the killer waits the kids out, for their fear, the isolation and the elements to wear them down into making the wrong move. The script also simply solves the cellphone problem by having our group pinned down in an area with no signal, and uses trying to get to a signal spot a tense plot point. Add to that some clever use of the technology, as the teens try to determine their assailant’s location. If the film has anything that holds it back, somewhat, it’s that a sequence with a family in a passing car gets really over the top with the violence and gore. It’s not that the rest of the film has been subtle, but here it seems just over-indulgent, as it does in the gruesome finale. There’s nothing wrong with a good gore flick, just that this film didn’t need to go that overboard to make us understand the lead characters’ desperation and eventual rage. It was brutal enough at this point. That and it is a very simple premise to be drawn out to feature length, even at just 90 minutes, though never boring.

The young cast are very good, especially Stephanie Pearson as the tough and level-headed Keren. Kelly Connaire is also solid as the sweet and meek Jodi, who learns to overcome her timidity. Anthony Kirlew is sympathetic as the injured Eric and Rod Hernandez does well as the short tempered Todd. Rounding out the road tripping teens are Alexa Yeames as Sara and Jason Tobias as Jeff, both likable in their roles. Overall, an endearing enough bunch, so our sympathies are with them as they are trapped and tormented by this unseen assailant. The Sniper in question is played by someone named Aion Boyd, but he has no dialogue and his motives are kept ambiguous, which works very well here. Any supporting characters such as cops and the before mentioned family are paraded out quickly and disposed of as sniper fodder, to add to the hopelessness of our lead characters’ situation and for body count.

In conclusion, this is a tough, bloody and intense watch from a director whose American films have been spotty. Kitamura’s Japanese films prove he is a talented filmmaker, but he has gotten little opportunity to really show that here…until maybe now. There is some savage violence and some very over-the-top gore…much like his ‘Reservoir Dogs meets Evil Dead’ film, Versus…to add to the suspense and some likable characters to fear for. It’s a very dark and nasty flick, but very effective.

Flick is currently an exclusive on Shudder.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 bullets.

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HORROR TV YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: ASH vs EVIL DEAD season 3 (2018)

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ASH vs EVIL DEAD season 3 (2018)

“Good sex is 30 seconds followed by a cheeseburger”– Ash Williams

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

Ash vs Evil Dead season three is the final season, not only for the canceled, cult favorite show, but also a final farewell to Bruce Campbell’s Ash, too, as with it’s cancellation, the actor has officially announced his retirement from the role. One can’t fault him, he’s been playing the character on and off for over thirty years and is a true horror icon. Thank you, Bruce!

Season three arrived later than usual, debuting on February 25, 2018 and opens with Ash (Bruce Campbell) still in Elk’s Grove, Michigan and now running his father’s hardware store. Ash also finds out he has a daughter, Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neill) who immediately becomes a target of Ruby (Lucy Lawless) and her evil schemes to create Hell on Earth. Pablo (Ray Santiago) is selling tacos outside the hardware store and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) returns, along with a Knight of Sumeria, Dalton (Lindsay Farris), who belongs to an order sworn to assist “The Chosen One”. Can Ash handle fatherhood and fighting evil, as Ruby has birthed a hell-spawn of her own and The Dark Ones are soon to rise?

Like the past two seasons, this one has it weak spots and strong points. Season three starts off a tad shaky with introducing Brandy pretty much right off the bat, in the first episode Family and then having her thrown into the gory action before we or Ash really get a chance to embrace her. Not only are father and daughter thrown together a little too quickly, but new characters such as Brandy’s mother Candy (Katrina Hobbs) and knight Dalton get introduced and then meet their fates way too early for the characters to have resonated. A little more time with them would have been nice. There is still the trademarked gory action and some of it is quite clever, like a scene in the music room of Brandy’s school in episode #1, which utilizes musical instruments in quite a bloody inventive way. There are also some funny bits, too, such as Ash checking on his “donations” at a local sperm bank in Booth 3. The stuff involving Ruby’s pregnancy and birth are as disturbing as a delightful inappropriate funeral scene in Apparently Dead, is hilarious. Things start to get serious in episode four and then build in intensity as Ruby’s hungry offspring grows, Pablo comes into his own as a Brujo and Ash and his daughter bond in blood…and pop tarts. There are some really great moments in the second half, though few match a final showdown between Kelly and Ruby in Tales from the Rift, which is really intense and violent and shows how much Kelly has grown as a character. There are a few weak spots, too, such as yet another evil Ash doppelganger in Twist and Shout, but all the death, resurrection and blood and gore hasn’t quite warn out it’s welcome just yet. The last few episodes all lead up to the return of The Dark Ones and Ash’s confrontation with the massive demon Kandar, himself, as Deadite chaos erupts all over the world in the finale, The Mettle of Man. It’s a strong finish to the season and the show as a whole and the last scene is true to the Evil Dead spirit and is typical Ash. A fond farewell.

The cast are enjoyable as ever and certainly will be missed. Campbell plays the role with the same perfect blend of hero and schlep he has from the beginning. He pulls it all off with his trademark swagger and a little newly added paternal instinct when it comes to his daughter. As Brandy, Arielle Carver-O’Neill is a chip off the old chainsaw. Early on she is a typical troublesome teen who is not eager to accept that her dad is Ashy Slashy, but by the last few episodes is dispatching evil with the same blood-soaked gusto as her dad. The actress is quite appealing and it would have been nice to see the character evolve further. Dana DeLorenzo still shines as Kelly. Her showdown with Ruby might be one of her finest moments and one of the best episodes in the entire three season run. Ray Santiago really owns the role of Pablo, especially now that he is a full Brujo Especial. He’s a very talented actor, who has a gift for comedy and can be a hero, as well as, a sidekick. Lucy Lawless continues to be a strong villain as Ruby. Here she is defying not only Ash, but the Dark Ones themselves, which leads to Ruby being on everyone’s hit list. Lawless oozes malice and devilish confidence. Newbies Lindsay Farris as Sumarian Knight Dalton and Katrina Hobbs as Brandy’s mom Candy, both are good in their parts, but neither character hangs around long enough to really make an impact or get fully developed. To get to the meat of the story, some character development went out the window with the supporting players. Good news to fans of last season, though, Lee Majors returns in episodes Apparently Dead and Unfinished Business as Ash’s dead dad Brock. Couldn’t have cast Ash’s dad any better.

In conclusion, This was consistent with the other two seasons and thus fans should be thankful for three solid seasons of Ash and his battle against the Deadites. There were a few weak spots, but they were outweighed by lot of fun and gory moments, true to the franchise. The last half of the season was really strong and gave us a satisfying…and very Evil Dead…finale as the show and it’s star are not returning. Thanks to Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi and the rest of the cast and crew for finishing Ash’s story in true Evil Dead style.

EPISODE LIST

  1. Family – directed by Mark Beesley and written by Mark Verheiden
  2. Booth Three – directed by Mark Beesley and written by Rob Fresco
  3. Apparently Dead – directed by Diego & Andres Meza-Valdes and written by Ivan Raimi
  4. Unfinished Business – directed by Daniel Nettheim and written by Nicki Paluga
  5. Baby Proof – directed by Daniel Nettheim and written by Luke Kalteaux
  6. Tales from the Rift – directed by Regan Hall and written by Aaron Lam
  7. Twist and Shout – directed by Mark Beesley and written by Caitlin Meares
  8. Rifting Apart – directed by Mark Beesley and written by Bryan Hill
  9. Judgement Day – directed and written by Rick Jacobson
  10. The Mettle of Man – directed and written by Rick Jacobson

**************************************************

…and a farewell message from “Ash Williams” himself, Bruce Campbell…

“Good people, Evil Dead fans everywhere, I bid you a heartfelt farewell playing Ash – the character I took acting lessons with for 39 years. I am hereby retiring from that portrayal. It’s time. I followed Ash from his formative years thru his mid-life crisis and decline. What a thrill! What a privilege! We had a great resurgence with the help of Starz (kudos not jeers, folks). They made it possible for 15 more hours of Evil Dead-ness in your life – the equivalent of 10 more features! Is Ash dead? Never. Ash is as much a concept as a person. Where there is evil in this world, there must be one to counter – man or woman, it matters not.

Thanks for watching.

Love, Bruce”

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 groovy chainsaws.
evil dead 2 rating

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: GHOST STORIES (2017)

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GHOST STORIES (2017)

British horror anthology has an interesting premise. Professor Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman) has spent his career debunking supernatural events and exposing fraudulent psychics. Professor Charles Cameron, a renown paranormal investigator in the 70s, who hasn’t been heard of for years and is assumed dead, summons Goodman and tasks him with a challenge. He must debunk the only three cases that Cameron failed to. One is the case of Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse) a night watchman in an abandoned asylum who is seeing things go bump in the night. The second is that of Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther) a meek young man who claims to have hit a demonic goat creature with his father’s car and is now hunted by it. The third is the case of Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman) who is haunted by a malevolent spirit while his wife lay in the hospital in painful labor. As Goodman investigates each case, it may be himself that he ultimately learns the truth about.

Flick is written and directed by star Nyman and Jeremy Dyson and is a spooky affair. The story set-up is quite intriguing with a skeptic, who has made a career of exposing frauds and hoaxes, being called upon by a like individual to solve three cases the man could not. As such, the three stories are very spooky, especially the first two, as Goodman faces what could be actual supernatural occurrences, unlike the frauds he’s used to dealing with. The second case “Simon Rifkind” is by far the creepiest with the young man’s home life being as unsettling as the story he is telling, his own house being scarier than the demon infested woods that his tale takes place in. The film generates the creeps with little blood or CGI and uses some nice spooky locations to add atmosphere. If the film stumbles a bit, it’s that the three stories seem a bit rushed and feel like they could have gone on longer. Also, the last act reveal/wrap-up is a bit disappointing compared to what has passed. After being rushed through the really spooky stories that could have used more attention, we get a reveal that has been done before and seems like a bit of a let-down after such a clever set-up. It evoked a “that’s all?” reaction instead of a “that’s fricken’ creepy” which it needed.

The small cast is solid. Co-writer/director Nyman was fine as Goodman, though he could have used a bit more presence. Paul Whitehouse is good as Tony Matthews, the working class man who has seen things he cannot explain or comprehend in our first case. Alex Lawther is positively creepy as the odd Simon Rifkind, who may be more unnerving than the idea he ran over an actual demon. Martin Freeman is good as Mike Priddle, a self centered business man haunted in his home, while his poor wife suffers an unusually grueling labor in a hospital. As for who plays Charles Cameron…you’ll have to watch to find out.

Overall, this was a spooky flick that only loses it’s grip in the final act when we get our big reveal. Star Nyman and his collaborator Jeremy Dyson deliver some spooky goods in their three cases, as well as, a clever set-up. Not able to end the flick on the same level of scary and clever is the only stumbling point the flick has. It’s not that the finale doesn’t work, it does. It’s just that we were expecting something more…unexpected. Still very much worth a look, as the three cases do deliver and we wish they had more attention spent on them than with our wraparound story.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 spooks.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: WILDLING (2018)

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WILDLING (2018)

Wildling finds a little girl named Anna (Aviva Winick) being held in a single room by a man she knows only as “Daddy” (Brad Dourif). He cares for her and tells her tales of a creature called a “Wildling” that will come for here if she steps outside. When Anna grows into a young woman (Bel Powley from Diary of a Teenage Girl) the man becomes fearful and his suicide attempt brings the police. Rescued, Anna is put in the custody of Sheriff Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler) till they can find her real parents. The longer she stays with Ellen and her brother Ray (Collin Kelly-Sordelet), though, the more Anna starts to change. When a young boy’s body is found mutilated in the woods, it starts to appear that Anna is something far more than simply a victim of imprisonment…and there may be far more truth to the fables of The Wildling.

This is certainly not the first time that lycanthropy has been used as a euphemism for a young woman coming of age. It is, however, a far different film than the cult classic Ginger Snaps, as directed by Fritz Böhm from his script with Florian Eder. While Ginger Snaps was more about budding sexuality, here there is a large focus on the fear in men of a woman’s empowerment, as the last act centers on a group of hunters trying to track Anna down and destroy her. We also get some disrespect from some of these men towards Tyler’s female sheriff, as she tries to find Anna and figure things out. Unfortunately, it is also in the last third where the film loses a bit of it’s grip, as Anna becomes more beast-like and it turns into torch light villagers hunting the monster, when the first two thirds were about a girl trying to find her place in the world, while dealing with some kind of metaphorical transformation. That was more emotionally interesting, as we like Anna and sympathize with her trying to fit in after years in a cell. Still Böhm tells his tale in his own style and he accomplishes some atmosphere and does make some really good use of the New York State locations, including some in downtown Piermont, NY, which I personally have frequented often. The film is visually satisfying and there are some gruesome sequences to remind you there is a horror flick under all the thinly veiled metaphors.

The small cast is very good, especially Powley as Anna. She creates a young woman both frightened and fascinated by the new world she is thrust into and then having to deal with a terrifying transformation into something she was taught is very dangerous. Her petite stature and youthful features allow her to successfully portray a woman ten years younger, as she did in the sexually themed Diary of a Teenage Girl. Liv Tyler is solid as the caring Sheriff. She becomes attached to Anna and it becomes hard for her when she starts to believe the girl might be dangerous. Dourif is good, as always, as “Daddy” a man who may have actually been locking the little girl up for her own good. Rounding out is a good performance by Collin Kelly-Sordelet as Ellen’s brother Ray, who also cares for Anna and James LeGros as a hermit who lives in the woods and may know more about Anna than she does herself.

In conclusion this is not an original idea, it could be oversimplified into Room meets Ginger Snaps, but is well done enough to walk to the beat of it’s own drum. Director/co-writer Fritz Böhm creates an atmospheric allegory of a young woman coming of age and thus becoming dangerous to those who fear her empowerment. The first two-thirds are involving and it’s only in the last act, when it becomes more of a monster hunt that it loses it’s grip somewhat, thought it’s point is still made. A good cast, especially our lead, also helps tell the story well. Worth watching, though one might end up wanting to like it a bit more than one actually does. Not bad for a first full length film, Böhm could be someone to keep an eye on.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 full moons.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: APARTMENT 212 (2017)

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APARTMENT 212 (2017)

Jennifer (Penelope Mitchell) is moving to the city to escape her abusive ex-husband, Boyd (Chris Johnson) and start life anew. She moves into a rundown apartment complex and immediately starts hearing noises and whimpering from her reclusive neighbor. Soon after that neighbor commits suicide, Jennifer starts to awaken with nasty bite marks. These nocturnal attacks escalate, but the exterminator says she has no bugs or vermin and her doctor can’t identify them. Her lack of sleep is getting to her and everyone, including her sweet neighbor Terry (Kyle Gass) thinks she’s on drugs. Jennifer begins to investigate her deceased neighbor’s apartment for answers and finds she might be up against something out of a nightmare.

Horror is well directed by Hylar Garcia from a screenplay by he, Kathryn Gould and Jim Brennan. The film has some solid tension and until our reveal, gives us the willies quite nicely. Garcia paces the film moderately and it is a bit of a slow burn, but it gives us the chance to get to know Jennifer and both like and feel sorry for her, on both counts of being victimized by her mystery pest and the abusive ex-husband who finds her quite easily. It is a creepy flick for the most part. There are some flaws which kept this from being a real treat. First off, if Jennifer is trying to escape the abusive Boyd, why does she move, what appears to be, driving distance away from his trailer. You’d think a few states away would be more effective. Next, an opening credits sequence with her neighbor gives us a good idea of what we are dealing with right off the bat and thus removes much of the suspense of figuring it out along with Jennifer. The sequence is disturbing, it starts things off ominously, but practically lets the creature out of the bag, so to speak. Finally, when our little “guest” is revealed, it looks like something out of a Charles Band, Full Moon flick and proves that the imagination can conjure up far worse when it remained unseen. The showdown between Jennifer and her nemesis also evoked the Karen Black Trilogy of Terror episode Amelia which featured the Zuni devil doll. Maybe that was intentional, or maybe an influence…and it was well done enough…but the tone of the confrontation isn’t as creepy or disturbing as what came before. It never sinks into camp, but the very nature of it makes it somewhat lighter and less intense. The film also comes to a predictable conclusion, though it is fitting and it works.

The small cast work very well in making the story effective. Penelope Mitchell is very likable as the young woman trying to escape abuse, Jennifer. We instantly like her and obviously feel sympathy for her when both the attacks start and abusive cop Boyd finds her fairly quickly. She’s a likable actress and handles the material really well, taking it serious enough to make it work and it gives the mystery intruder some weight. Chris Johnson is very effective as Boyd. The bad tempered cop is a very unlikable person and it makes us like Jennifer more. The character needed to be detestable with only a few scenes and Johnson delivers a real A-hole. Rounding out is Kyle Gass as the sweet-natured Terry, who is Jennifer’s first new friend at the complex and veteran actress Sally Kirkland as the grumpy landlord Claudette. A good cast.

Overall, this was a very creepy and effective flick from Hylar Garcia. It has some flaws which chip away some of the chills, including some plot holes and feeding us some information a little too early. The film’s pest isn’t as effective when finally seen as it was when it remained stealthily hidden and the final confrontation evokes a classic 70s TV horror, which is not necessarily a bad thing, as Garcia keeps it from turning campy, but does give the film a bit different tone than the disturbing chills that came before it. Still recommend giving this a look, as it still succeeds more than it stumbles. Watch through the credits for a few additional scenes.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 band aids.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: TERRIFIER (2016)

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TERRIFIER (2016)

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

Terrifier is the first full length horror to star spooky Art The Clown (David Howard Thornton), who previously appeared in a few stories of writer/director Damien Leone’s 2013 Halloween anthology flick All Hallows’ Eve. It’s Leone’s second film and the story is once again set on Halloween, as gal pals Dawn (Catherine Corcoran) and Tara (Jenna Kanell) are on their way home from a party. They encounter a scary clown and while Tara is legitimately scared, Dawn teases him. This begins a night of horror as the deranged clown corners the girls in an old apartment building basement. Art plans a horrible fate for both them, as well as, Tara’s sister Vicky (Samantha Scaffidi) who is on the way to pick them up and unaware of the psychotic clown awaiting her.

Written and directed by Leone, the director does show he can build tension and can produce some very creepy moments. It’s almost a shame then that he also likes to wallow in Herschel Gordon Lewis levels of gore, as the film can be creepy enough, at times, without having to drown us in severed limbs and cruelty. Let’s just say simple stabbings and shootings are not Art’s style. The clown villain is disturbing even without his blood-soaked antics and one wonders if Leone had dialed it back a bit, the film would have been more effective. As is, the constant hacking and dismemberment wears out its welcome and we become numb to it even before the 82 minute run time is up. It’s also a bit disappointing that the story switches attention from Tara to sister Vicky, about half way through, as Tara was proving quite the fiery opponent for Art and had a stronger presence than the more demure Vicky. Leone also knows how to find and utilize some really creepy urban locations and one might feel the urge to shower after spending so much time in the basement labyrinth Art uses as his house of horrors. For those who think this sounds a but misogynist, there are two male pizza parlor employees and a pest exterminator who demonstrate that Art dismembers everyone equally. The gore FX are fairly effective and are quite abundant as you can guess.

The cast do just fine, especially our three lead females. Jenna Kanell makes the biggest impression as the tough and feisty Tara. She gives Art a good fight and as stated, it’s a shame focus switches to Vicky when she arrives to play designated driver. It’s not that Samantha Scaffidi isn’t a decent final girl, it’s just Tara was a more interesting character. Vicky is more of a damsel who needs saving, while Tara was a fighter. Catherine Corcoran was cute and sexy as Dawn, but, unfortunately, we all know what happens to the sexy blonde in a flick like this, so…Rounding out David Howard Thornton is very effective as the silent Art. The actor projects the clown’s lunacy and lethal-ity quite well using only body language and his expressive eyes. There are also some supporting characters, homeless people and unsuspecting exterminators, to serve as clown fodder and they are fine for their purpose. Flick also features an opening scene cameo by All Hallows’ Eve‘s sexy Katie Maguire.

The film has it’s moments and the Art character is effective. Leone does manage some tension and legitimate scares and gives the flick some atmosphere. If anything takes it down a few notches, it is that relying on such extremely graphic gore and the constant acts of brutality by Art, by the last act, we are more tired of it, than unsettled by it. Still, Leone has a little something and Art is very creepy as creepy clowns go. Worth a look if you like your horror brutal and bloody.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 scary clowns.

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: PYEWACKET (2017)

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PYEWACKET (2017)

Creepy supernatural thriller finds teen Leah (Nicole Muñoz) drawn into the occult after the death of her father. She and her mom (Laurie Holden) aren’t getting along, especially when her mother decides to sell the family house and move them out and away from Leah’s school and Goth friends. When at their new woods-set home, her mother lashes out at her during an argument and an angry Leah conducts an occult ritual evoking the dark spirit, Pyewacket, to kill her mom. Soon Leah learns the meaning of “be careful what you wish for” as something dark and evil has entered their home with malevolent intent.

This is a subtle and spooky as hell flick and certainly one of the best horrors of the year. Written and directed by Adam MacDonald (Backcountry) this is a chilling tale that shows that you don’t need jump scares or over-the-top gore to make an effective horror film. MacDonald bathes his film in atmosphere and uses his camera to evoke a pervading sense of dread, even in broad daylight. He creates an already tense situation as both Leah and her mom, are each handling the death of Leah’s dad in different ways and not very well. There is friction and while Leah turns to dark music and an interest in the occult, her mom wants to have a ‘fresh start’ away from anything connected to him. This leads to some harsh words in their remote new home and Leah to dabble in something she isn’t prepared to deal with. Soon there are dark shadows lurking about the house and a visit from Leah’s tough, Goth girlfriend, Janice (Hellion’s Chloe Rose) has the girl leaving the house a terrified mess. As creepy as it is thus far, MacDonald saves the best for last with a truly unnerving final act as Leah attempts to send back what she’s conjured and let’s just say the malevolent spirit has other plans. MacDonald doesn’t resort to hokey FX or overused tropes, he simply serves up some nerve wracking moments with simple skilled camera work and some wonderful emoting from leading lady Muñoz. MacDonald, as with Backcountry , also knows how to make woods look ominous which adds to the atmosphere. And while ultimately we know where this story is headed, it’s still a shocking and unsettling finale that perfectly punctuates a very creepy film.

The small cast is very effective. As stated, Nicole Muñoz is very good as the emotionally wounded Leah. She creates a likable yet, troubled young woman who tries to sate her grief with death related interests. The only person she should be able to turn to for support is the one she is having the most problems with. Once she performs the ritual and awakens something, she gives us a very scared young girl with nowhere to run. Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead) is excellent as her equally troubled mom. She lashes out at Leah one minute, for simply reminding her of her husband and tries to be there for her daughter the next. The two actresses work well together creating a very dysfunctional dynamic between the two that makes this flick work. Rounding out the small cast is Chloe Rose as her friend Janice who has a traumatic sleepover at Leah’s new home and Eric Osbourne as Aaron, a boy interested in Leah.

Adam MacDonald has gone back to basics and made a very spooky, unnerving, yet down to earth horror movie. He wisely makes his scares very grounded and the fact that they are not presented in a theatrical and over-the-top manner makes them more realistic and thus more frightening. His leading ladies work well together in creating a fractured and troubled relationship between the mother and daughter, based on two completely different methods of mourning. Add to that a young girl delving into dark forces she doesn’t completely understand and certainly can’t control and you have a supernatural bone chiller that is refreshingly driven on what really makes a true horror film work…fear. This one will be on my best of the year list for sure.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 balls of red yarn.

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