BARE BONES: BODIES BODIES BODIES (2022)

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BODIES BODIES BODIES (2022)

Murder mystery/slasher mash-up finds a group of friends partying in a mansion while a hurricane rages outside. They decide to play a game called Bodies Bodies Bodies where everyone draws a piece of paper, one piece selects someone as the killer while the others are potential victims. Lights are turned out and if the killer happens upon a victim, the poke them in the back “killing” them. Someone is playing for real as one of the group turns up dead. Soon fear and paranoia are flaring, fingers are getting pointed and bodies bodies bodies start piling up. Is there a killer among them…will any of them survive?

Film is well directed with a very European/Giallo flavor by Halina Reijn from a witty script by Sarah DeLappe, based on Kristen Roupenian’s story. We have a perfect set-up with a large mansion, a fierce storm to trap everyone inside and a lot of drinking and partying to dull senses and unleash inhibitions. We also have a lot of drama between characters just bubbling beneath the surface waiting to explode. We then are given the simple rules to the game which apparently gets taken far too seriously by someone…but who? The film is very effective at setting up the paranoia and the fear of the survivors and keeping the guilty party a secret even as the numbers start to dwindle, as desperate people do desperate things. It’s very entertaining and it comes to a nicely unpredictable conclusion that ads a twisted and fun dimension to the proceedings. It’s a fun and sometimes bloody flick with a nice visual style and a cool score by Disasterpeace, who did the great score for It Follows. Bloody fun slasher/whodunnit. Cast includes Maria Bakalova, Amandla Stenberg, Myha’la Herrold, Rachel Sennott, Chase Sui Wonders, Pete Davidson and Lee Pace.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE MUNSTERS (2022)

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THE MUNSTERS (2022)

Rob Zombie’s revisit to the classic TV show The Munsters, is basically a prequel that introduces the characters and how they met and became a family. Netflix streaming flick finds lovelorn vampiress Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie) looking for love, while her father The Count (Daniel Roebuck wonderfully channeling Al Lewis) is all too eager to help…as long as it benefits him. Meanwhile Dr. Henry Augustus Wolfgang (Richard Brake) is trying to build the perfect human specimen in his lab. When his hunchbacked manservant Floop (Jorge Garcia) accidentally switches the brain of a genius with that of a stand-up comedian, Herman Munster (Jeff Daniel Phillips) is born. Lily takes a shine to Herman and now The Count must find some way to interfere as romance blooms.
 
Messy reboot is written and directed by Zombie and once again illustrates that writing is not his strong suit. It’s not as bad as the cringe-worthy trailer suggests, but nowhere near as good as we’d like. It starts out OK with Zombie providing some really great candy-colored visuals, which is his strong suit as a filmmaker, but its goofball in overdrive sense of humor starts to wear out its welcome about halfway through. The jokes are hit and miss, and Zombie has decided to make it far campier than the show, which gets tiresome. There is barely what can be considered a story. It basically skips from set-piece to set-piece with only a thread of consistency. It’s like a 110-minute music video. Only a subplot about Herman signing over the deed to The Count’s castle to Lily’s debt-laden werewolf brother Lester (Tomas Boykin), evokes the old show. Sheri Moon Zombie portrays Lily way too campy when she was the voice of reason between the bumbling Herman and her father. Phillips’ Herman is far too cocky here, as the original character was humble and sometimes a bit timid. The only one who nails it is Roebuck who is truly channeling the late Al Lewis as The Count aka Grandpa.
 
Overall, The Munsters might be worth a curiosity streaming when it premieres on 9/27/22 on Netflix, though don’t expect much. Reboot is an improvement over Zombie’s previous two flicks and do give him credit for making his first…and possibly only…PG rated movie.
 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE INVITATION (2022)

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THE INVITATION (2022)

Vampire flick has pretty artist Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) finding she has family in England and traveling overseas to meet them. As this is a horror flick, or at least an attempt at one, Evie’s arrival at Carfax Estate does not bode well for the New Yorker.
 
Tepid horror is directed by Jessica M. Thompson from a script by Blair Butler. It has slightly more bite than a Twilight movie but suffers from severe Anne Rice envy. It’s obvious from the start something is wrong here in Carfax and stuffiness is not the only thing Evie’s English relatives have wrong with them. Servants drop like flies, and one wonders why anyone goes to work there as nobody in servitude positions seems to leave with their jugular intact. The family wants to make Evie one of them in the worst way and thanks to some convenient character changes of heart, Evie might just have a chance to avoid the whole coffin and fangs scene. An uninvolving vampire movie overall that at least finds lead Emmanuel trying hard and the cinematography at least doing its job. Dry and dull equestrian vampire flick.
 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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REVIEW: PEARL (2022)

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PEARL (2022)

Prequel to Ti West’s X tells the background story of that film’s horny, homicidal spinster Pearl (Mia Goth). It takes place in 1918 with young Pearl on the farm tending to her ailing father (Matthew Sunderland) while under the strict and watchful eye of her overbearing mother (Tandi Wright), when she’s not sneaking off to the local movie theater. Her husband Howard (Alistair Sewell) is away at war and Pearl sees her dreams of being a dancer fading away. Her frustrations come to a boil when she meets a handsome projectionist (David Corenswet) at the local theater and soon Pearl will do anything to see her dreams come true…even murder.

Pearl is directed by West from a script by he and star Mia Goth and is filmed like one of those old-fashioned technicolor movies of yesteryear about a young girl wanting to be a star…only this one is homicidal. There are some disturbing sequences and some gory violence when things get going. The film is also set during the Influenza epidemic and thus makes plenty of COVID era commentary about masks and paranoia. What holds the film back from being an equal to its predecessor is a very slow pace and long dramatic dialogue sequences between the good parts. It’s a somber and dreary film despite the candy-colored cinematography and it gets tedious in parts till Pearl starts to pursue her dreams with a vengeance and slaughters anyone that gets in the way or makes her angry. These moments do their job, but it’s the in-between melodrama that slows things down and interrupts the more devious tone these scenes have. It doesn’t quite have the sense of naughty fun like X did, though there are some sequences that elicit an uncomfortable giggle like Pearl’s rendezvous with a scarecrow. It’s a decent enough prequel, overall, but not quite the bloody good time X was.

Mia Goth is wonderful as the sweet yet demented Pearl. She lets us know from the very beginning that something is already not right with Pearl. Then she gleefully takes us from girl with stars in her eyes to woman with bloodlust in her heart. She’s like a demented Snow White who has a friendship with all the farm animals, including the local gator. If anything gives this film a pulse and some life, it’s her. Tandi Wright is good as her oppressive, religious German mother Ruth. She is a strong woman whose own dreams where shattered as she now must take care of a sick husband and manage their slowly dying farm. Matthew Sunderland does good work as the very sick and silent father. He communicates much only with his eyes and minimal body language and does it quite well. David Corenswet is solid as the handsome projectionist who sets a fire under Pearl’s dreams and in her married loins. Emma Jenkins-Purro is good as Pearl’s sister-in-law Mitzy and Alistair Sewell appears briefly as Pearl’s soldier husband.

Overall, this prequel had its moments, but despite some disturbing sequences and gory violence, it’s far drearier and more somber than the deviously naughty X. Mia Goth is exceptional as Pearl and the technicolor cinematography makes the carnage quite colorful, but a slow pace and some more tedious sequences between the scenes of mayhem and murder make this flick a lesser prequel to one of the best horror films of the year.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) axes.

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REVIEW: BARBARIAN (2022)

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BARBARIAN (2022)

Flick finds pretty Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) renting an Airbnb in a desolate neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan for a job interview. She gets there only to find out it’s been double booked, and she has to share it with a stranger named Keith (Bill Skarsgård). That isn’t the worst of her worries, as is what she finds in the cellar upon getting accidentally locked in there. Meanwhile the house’s owner, an actor named AJ (Justin Long), who has been recently disgraced in a scandal, is on his way there and headed straight into the nightmare Tess and Keith are already embroiled in.

Barbarian is written and directed by Zach Cregger and is entertaining, but a bit of a mixed bag. The first act starts out uncomfortable with Tess and Keith meeting under equally uncomfortable circumstances. As the story unfolds and Tess makes a chilling discovery in the basement, the film starts to get creepy and has a few legit scares, before jarringly switching narrative to house owner AJ. This kills any atmosphere or dread and all the tension and the momentum the flick was starting to build, as we leave Detroit to get to know AJ. These sequences have a bit more of a nervous humor to them as the neurotic AJ learns his career died overnight due to a scandal involving an actress. AJ then goes to the house, which he now needs to sell, and eventually finds his way down to the basement and joins the horror. The tension, scares and atmosphere start to build once more, but again is stopped dead as Cregger now chooses to go back to the 80s for a flashback that does fill in some story elements, but also gives us way too much time to breathe after starting to get scared again. We then have the final confrontation, which is fairly strong, but also ends a bit abruptly. Cregger has a good visual eye and can build fear and tension, he just doesn’t know how to maintain it when introducing new characters or offering exposition. Sometimes he also needs to let the camera linger a few more moments, so we can fully get the full impact of what’s happened. There are also two instances which really stretch credibility. One has Keith being totally dismissive when Tess tells him what she’s found…and it sounds disturbing…and police totally dismissing Tess when she goes for help. Any good cop knows the difference between strung-out and terrified. There was still plenty to like here. The film has some decent violence and gore, make-up FX are solid, the villain is effective and the locations beneath the house and around desolate Detroit are creepy. It’s Cregger’s inexperience with making his first feature horror film that takes this down a few notches, when it should have been a blast. It’s technically sound, with the cinematography by Zach Kuperstein very effective, as is the score by Anna Drubich.

The cast are good here with Georgina Campbell being a strong and likable heroine as Tess. It’s actually disappointing that she plays second banana to Justin Long in the last act, when her character is the one we are really rooting for over jerk actor AJ. Bill Skarsgård is solid as Keith. At first we are unsure of him, as we should be in the film’s set-up, but come to like what seems to be a legitimately nice guy. Underrated Justin Long is also good as the panicked, neurotic jerk of an actor AJ, who is far less level-headed than Tess when the horror hits the fan. Rounding out is a role played by Rob Zombie regular Richard Brake, the type of role he plays very well and Matthew Patrick Davis as…well, you’ll find out.

Overall, this was entertaining but at the same time disappointing. There was some real good tension in spots, some legit scares and some very effective violence all stemming from its uncomfortable start. Horror thriller faulters when Cregger loses his grip on his audience, by switching focus more than once when we are just getting scared. It was like bringing a rollercoaster to the top of a climb and then telling everyone the ride is over before the drop. Film also evokes other horrors past and present, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is some good gore, a fairly creepy villain and the cast all perform well amidst some spooky locations. Uneven but still entertained.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 3 (out of 4) maggots, because there were maggots in the theater auditorium, I saw it in!

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BARE BONES: MOLOCH (2022)

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MOLOCH (2022)

Netherlands horror finds widowed Betriek (Sallie Harmsen) returning home with her young daughter Hannah (Noor van der Velden) to her family farmhouse after the death of her husband. Upon returning she is greeted by some odd deaths, a stranger attacking her family and the discovery of a group of buried bodies of woman with their throats slit. What is going on and why does Betriek feel something ancient, and evil has targeted her family.
 
Dutch horror is directed by Nico van den Brink from a script by he and Daan Bakker. Despite some intriguing story elements involving a malevolent biblical entity and a woman suspected of witchcraft, the film is very routine and kind of dull. There are some spooky visuals, and a few effective moments, along with some nice folklore elements but the film is very talky and takes far too long to get to the spooky stuff. The cast and setting give it some atmosphere and a refreshing look and feel, but there is little tension or scares, and it ends exactly as you expect it to. A disappointing example of some good ideas executed in a mundane and pedestrian manner. Flick is available to stream on Shudder.
 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: ORPHAN: FIRST KILL (2022)

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ORPHAN: FIRST KILL (2022)

Prequel is an origin story of sorts for Isabelle Fuhrman’s homicidal Esther character from the film Orphan.
The character is introduced as the psychotic Leena, a full-grown woman in her thirties who suffers from a condition that stopped her growth when she was around ten years old. Leena escapes from the institute she’s imprisoned in and takes the identity of Esther Albright, a little girl who disappeared four years ago. Desperate to have her back, the Albrights don’t see past the deception. The homicidal woman settles in with her new family and continues her murderous ways, especially when a nosey detective (Hiro Kanagawa) threatens her scheme.
 
Flick is directed by William Brent Bell from a script by David Coggeshall, which is based on a story by
David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Alex Mace. It’s a ho-hum sequel with routine blood, gore and violence, along with some predictable situations and sub-plots. It is hard to believe from the get-go that the family would be completely fooled by a total stranger who is not their own daughter, even after four years and a striking (convenient) resemblance. There is a twist about half-way through which explains this for some characters, but it comes across as more ludicrous than shocking, and takes the film into silly territory as Esther gets the tables turned on her somewhat. It all leads to a predictable and bloody conclusion, which has no suspense as, since this is a prequel, we know exactly where this ends up. First Kill is a mediocre follow-up trying desperately to turn a one-shot flick into a franchise and if you are a fan of the first movie, which was entertaining, you might get some mileage out of this one. 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: GLORIOUS (2022)

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GLORIOUS (2022)

Flick has down on his luck Wes (Ryan Kwanten) being locked in a disgusting, public rest stop bathroom with a powerful deity (voice by J.K. Simmons) that resides in one of the stalls. Yup…you read that right! The being needs the emotionally distraught man to help save the universe. No, really…that’s the plot!
 
Flick is directed by Rebekah McKendry from a script and story by Joshua Hull, David Ian McKendry and Todd Rigney. It’s a woefully misguided attempt to do H.P. Lovecraft in a gross public bathroom…complete with glory hole. It’s gross for the sake of being gross and doesn’t have any of the cleverness it thinks it does. It’s dreadfully slow paced for a film under 80 minutes and is mostly long-drawn-out dialogue sequences with a few moments of activity here and there. The lead character of Wes is unlikable long before the big end reveal…which is not all that unexpected…when being sympathetic to his predicament would have worked much better. McKendry’s direction is unremarkable, and she borrows a lot of her visuals from the recent Lovecraft adaptation Color Out of Space. J.K. Simmons does good work vocalizing the deity “Ghat”, but Kwanten is a bland lead as Wes. Aside from a few brief effective moments that are very few and very far between, there is little to recommend here. Flick is currently available to stream on Shudder if you want to waste 80 minutes of your time.
 

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: INCANTATION (2022)

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INCANTATION (2022)

Incantation is a Taiwanese found footage horror that has former paranormal investigator Li Ronan (Tsai Hsuan-yen) fighting to save her six-year-old daughter Dodo (Huang Sing-ting) from a malevolent entity. During a past investigation, a pregnant Li and her companions (Sean Lin and Wen Ching-Yuan) violated sacred ground and provoked a curse. Now the sinister specter has come for Dodo. Flick is supposedly inspired by actual events.

Directed by Kevin Ko from his script with Chang Che-wei, this is a delightfully bonkers horror in all the right ways. Sure, it’s a bit too long at 111 minutes, but unlike most found footage flicks, this movie gets started with the spooky stuff right away and maintains an atmosphere of dread throughout. There are some very unsettling and disturbing moments, and some very over-the-top and gory moments too. The film knows when to be subtle and spooky, and when to go off the rails and really hit us with some craziness…and it does. Some of it provides unintentional chuckles, when it’s trying to scare, but that is still as entertaining as when the flick is giving us goosebumps. Kevin Ko gives the film a nice creepy atmosphere and uses his locations very well, while utilizing the past investigation footage to show us how Li got into her current supernatural conundrum. Tsai Hsuan-yen makes a solid heroine as the overwhelmed Li Ronan, and little Huang Sing-ting makes for a sweet and sympathetic kid as the malevolent entity’s helpless target, Dodo. Flick is currently streaming on Netflix and definitely worth checking out, even if not being quite as scary as its online reputation would have us believe.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: NOPE (2022)

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NOPE (2022)

Latest flick from Jordan Peele has siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Em (Keke Palmer) Haywood struggling to keep their horse training ranch afloat after the accidental death of their father (Keith David). Having to sell off their horses is the least of their worries as something sinister, lethal and possibly extraterrestrial is inhabiting the skies surrounding their property.
 
Flick is written and directed by Peele and is a resounding disappointment, especially after a promising first half. It starts out quite spooky as Peele knows how to construct scary sequences, no better example than OJ’s foray into their stables one night after hearing noises. When things are kept in shadows and mystery, the film delivers some nice goosebumps. It’s in the second act when things are brought into the light that the film loses its grip and things go from scary to outright silly. Much like his sophomore effort Us, there are some cool ideas here, but the execution of those ideas is a bit shaky and there are far too many unanswered questions to be satisfying. At well over two hours, a lot could have been cut with no harm to the plot, like western carnival owner Ricky’s (Steven Yeun) past as a childhood TV star and a traumatic experience with a simian costar’s vicious and deadly rampage. Why was this sub-plot even there? As with Us Peele has too many ideas, some admittingly very clever, and does more harm than good trying to shoehorn them all into one film. Sometimes less is more. Add to that a downright silly final confrontation with our airborne invader and you a flick that starts strong and ends on a goofy whimper. Also stars Michael Wincott as an eccentric filmmaker and Brandon Perea as a UFO enthusiast tech guy.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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