HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SORORITY ROW (2009)

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SORORITY ROW (2009)

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

Flick is a remake of sorts of the 1983 House on Sorority Row. It finds the girls of the Theta Pi sorority in quite the moral conundrum as a prank goes awry and leaves one of their sisters, Megan (Audrina Patridge) dead. Good girl Cassidy (Briana Evigan) is overruled and the rest of the girls (Margo Harshman, Jamie Chung, Leah Pipes and Rumor Willis) decide to hide the body and forget it ever happened. But eight months later, on graduation day, the girls start getting cryptic messages and bodies start to pile up. Someone knows what happened that fateful night and has a homicidal grudge against the sorority sisters of Theta Pi.

Slasher is well directed by Stewart Hendler from a script by Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger. It follows the slasher formula very well, setting up a group of people being stalked by an unknown assailant for reasons of retribution based on an earlier incident. There are some good kills with some decent gore and even if it’s never really scary, there are some suspenseful chases and there is a bit of a sly sense of humor to the proceedings. There is nothing new or innovative here, but it is a well executed use of the traditional slasher scenario and the classic reveal is a bit of a surprise. The use of a group of bitchy sorority girls with a secret narrows the likable characters down to only a few, so in some cases we’re actually rooting for the mean girls to get theirs, but Cassidy is a likable heroine and so is conflicted Ellie and Megan’s smart-ass younger sister Maggie (Caroline D’Amore). So at least we have some characters to get behind as our hooded killer lurks about with their tire iron turned murder weapon.

As for the cast playing these characters, Evigan really shines as the morally sound Cassidy, who is blackmailed basically into keeping the big secret. She has screen presence aside from girl-next-door good looks and makes a solid final girl. Leah Pipes is fun as the sorority queen bitch, Jessica and while she is an unlikable character, the actress does give her some charm and swagger. Margot Harshman and Jamie Chung are also good as sorority snobs Chugs and Claire with Harshman giving her Chugs a strong devil-may-care attitude that makes her amusing. Rounding out is Rumor Willis as the sweet, but conflicted Ellie who is not dealing well with her guilt and Caroline D’Amore is fun as Maggie, especially when she gives major attitude to Jessica. There is also a small role by the late Carrie Fisher as the sorority house mother, Mrs. Crenshaw, which the veteran actress gives lots of character in her few scenes.

Overall, this is a solid enough slasher, though far from anything trend setting. It’s competently made and has enough sly humor and gory kills to entertain. It follows the traditional formula well and the cast go with the material, especially Briana Evigan as heroine Cassidy. A fun slasher and not bad as remakes go.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 tire irons turned nifty weapons.

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: LIVIDE (2011)

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LIVIDE (2011)

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

French horror tells the story of a young woman named Lucie (Chloé Coulloud) who is studying to be a home care nurse. On her first day, she learns that one of her future patients, a comatose old woman named Mrs. Jessel (Marie-Claude Pietragalla), is rumored to have some kind of hidden treasure in her creepy old house. Lucie tells her boyfriend William (Félix Moati), who sees possible riches as a way out of their small coastal fishing village. They break into the house one night, along with their friend Ben (Jérémy Kapone), but soon find themselves locked in and that the house and it’s occupant have a nightmarish secret.

Flick is written and directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, the French duo who brought us the bonkers chiller Inside and the recent Leatherface. It starts out as a sort of haunted house thriller, but then evolves into something else as we find out what really inhabits the Jessel home. There are some very spooky visuals as the duo use the creepy old house setting very well. There is also some of their trademarked graphic violence and the film has an unsettling atmosphere, especially once our three protagonists get inside the house. The flick is held back by a narrative that doesn’t always make sense, but does weave in some dark fairy tale elements, especially in the last act. The film also has moments that evoke Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos and even if we are scratching our heads a bit by the time the credits roll, there was enough to chill and entertain and maybe gross us out a little bit.

The cast are good with lead Chloé Coulloud making a strong heroine in student nurse turned reluctant thief, Lucie. She seems like a sweet girl and has issues of her own that motivate her and even affect her actions when she meets the occupants of the old house. Félix Moati is fine as her fisherman boyfriend, who dreams of a better life. He’s not an outright bad guy, just someone who is willing to cross lines to get out of his small town. Jérémy Kapone is also solid as Ben, a friend of the couple and another reluctant participant in the events. He is more likable than William. Marie-Claude Pietragalla is suitably creepy as Mrs. Jessel in both flashbacks to her days as a cruel dance instructor and to the old woman she is now. Rounding out is Catherine Jacob who is the home care specialist with a secret who is training Lucie and Chloé Marcq as Jessel’s daughter, who we are told is long gone and is seen in flashbacks when we start to get some backstory.

After the shocking Inside, Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo followed it up with a spooky flick that has some chilling moments, but also suffers from being a bit too ambiguous at times. It may leave us with a quite a few questions once it’s all over, but has enough chills and unsettling sequences to entertain us well enough. Not as memorable as Inside, but shows the French duo have some interesting ideas, some unique twists on familiar tropes and a solid visual style to accompany the chills and gore.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 rusty scissors.

 

 

 

 

WARNING!: the Livide trailer gives away some substantial spoilers!

 

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HORROR TV YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: STRANGER THINGS season 2 (2017)

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STRANGER THINGS season 2 (2017)

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

Stranger Things returns with nine new episodes on Netflix that take place a year later, delightfully around Halloween. The story returns us to Hawkins, Indiana, now in 1984 with new trouble brewing. Our four heroes, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp), are a year older, though still feeling the effects of their encounter with the Upside Down, especially Will. Unknown to the gang, a new threat is emerging from that paranormal dimension and has it’s sights set on Will. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has escaped and is now being hidden by police chief Hopper (David Harbour) from the Hawkins Laboratory folks who are still messing in otherworldly matters. While the group start to realize Will is once again in danger, Eleven goes on a journey to discover her real name and find her birth mother (Aimee Mullins) and half-sister (Linnea Berthelsen). Obviously all the characters’ stories will collide before the season is over.

Second season is just as good as the first and in some ways even more effective as now we are emotionally invested in the familiar characters. Ross and Matt Duffer (Hidden) again pay homage and give plentiful references to the sci-fi and horror flicks of the 80s, while still giving Stranger Things is very own heart and soul. They mange to expand the story, while keeping it familiar, also introducing us to some new characters like new gang member Maxine “Max” Hargrove (Sadie Sink) and her enormous jerk of a brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery from Better Watch Out). The Duffer Brothers still manage to blend in so many 80s references and yet without them being intrusive or overwhelming, or becoming the main focus. There is another great soundtrack of 80s tunes and the original score, again by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, really adds atmosphere as it did for season one. The FX are top notch, like last time and this season helps give the proceedings a bit bigger scale to go with it’s massive monster. There’s plenty of action, suspense, drama and otherworldly critters to keep it’s core audience happy while rooting for our favorite characters to battle evil once more.

The cast are just as good as last time with new facets being added to the characters. Winona Ryder is again solid as Will’s mother, who is now a bit overprotective, but more of a fighter when her boy is again in danger. Millie Bobby Brown really shines as Eleven, who is now frustrated at being kept from her friends and needing to find out who she really is and where her lost relatives are. As the gang, Wolfhard, Matarazzo, Schnapp and McLaughlin all are really strong and get to play the characters a year older, but still the lovable nerds we last saw, but now with an added strength of being heroes. Schnapp especially gets to show his stuff with Will being a far more present character this season with a strong connection to our story. Harbour is again, a good hero as police chief Hopper, who is going to great lengths to protect Eleven and has made a deal with the Devil, per say, to keep the bad guys out of Hawkins. The rest of the supporting cast get more to do and do it well and the new faces such as Sink, Montgomery and veteran Paul Reiser as Dr. Owens, a shady scientist, all add to the character mix quite nicely. The Duffers juggle a lot of characters, but everyone gets their moment.

This was another solid and very entertaining season. The 80s nostalgia was again very enjoyable as was the recreation of the look and feel of the 80s decade. It took the story in new directions, introduced new characters, yet never lost that Stranger Things feel. The cast are all good, both new and returning and the FX were top notch. There were plenty of chills, suspense, thrills and surprises and some cool critters, too. Can’t wait for season 3 and now there is little doubt the Duffer Brothers can deliver the goods.

EPISODE LIST

  1. MADMAX – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers
  2. Trick or Treat, Freak – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers
  3. The Pollywog – directed by Shawn Levy and written by Jessica Mecklenburg
  4. Will the Wise – directed by Shawn Levy and written by Paul Dichter
  5. Dig Dug – directed by Andrew Stanton written by Jessie Nickson-Lopez
  6. The Spy – directed by Andrew Stanton and written by Kate Trefry
  7. The Lost Sister – directed by Rebbeca Thomas and written by Justin Doble
  8. The Mind Flayer – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers
  9. The Gate – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 mysterious and powerful little girls.
stranger things rating

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HELL HOUSE LLC (2016)

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HELL HOUSE LLC (2016)

Found footage flick begins by revealing there has been a fatal occurrence at the grand opening of a Halloween haunt called Hell House. A number of guests and crew were killed and there is a veil of secrecy as to what actually happened. Years later, a documentary filmmaker (Alice Bahlke) tries to find out the real story and is given some of the crew’s own footage by surviving member Sara (Ryan Jennifer), leading up to that fateful night. As the footage is reviewed, it’s found that strange things were happening during the event set-up at the former Abbadon Hotel, a place with an already dark history, and something sinister might have actually been the cause of the catastrophe.

Found footage horror is written and directed by Stephen Cognetti and not only is it’s premise clever and spooky, but there are some downright scary bits in this little chiller. The idea of an ambitious crew setting up a Halloween haunt in a building that is already rumored to be haunted, works well and Cognetti gets a lot of mileage out of his story. The location used has a lot of dark places, especially the creepy cellar and having it already dressed for Halloween makes the filmmaker’s specters and shadows all the more creepier. Add in the manipulation of some scary clown mannequins and this is one unsettling little flick at times. Not everything works, the shock ending didn’t seem as much of a shock/surprise as it should have been and the actual disaster doesn’t seem quite as spooky as expectations lead us to believe it would be. But there is a lot of fun, creepy stuff leading up to the finale and the cast of unfamiliar faces do perform well enough to give the illusion that this is someone’s footage and not actors. Director Cognetti knows how to build scares and smartly gets things started fairly quickly, where most found footage movies take a while to get going. The flick also spares us a lot of the shaky cam until all Hell breaks loose at Hell House during the climactic disaster.

Overall, this was a spooky surprise. It’s a found footage flick that has some very scary moments thanks to a clever idea and script by Stephen Cognetti and some skillful direction. The makers get some good use out of it’s location and really do well in establishing early on that there is a malevolent presence in this notorious hotel. The climactic scenes could have used a little more punch, but there is some outright scary stuff leading up to it. A spooky little Halloween found footage flick from Stephen Cognetti.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 scary clown mannequins…or are they?

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017)

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HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017)

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

College student Theresa (Jessica Rothe) is having a really bad day…over and over again. She wakes up in the dorm of a strange guy, she’s mean to those around her, she’s sleeping with one of her professors, it’s a birthday she doesn’t want to face and someone is trying to kill her…and does. But Theresa keeps waking up at the moment of her death, starting the day all over again. She soon realizes that if she is to break the loop, she has to find out who this masked killer is and stop them. Easier said than done if there weren’t so many people who might want her dead.

Obviously, the Groundhog Day routine with reliving the same day over and over has been done to death, but here it’s literally. Director Christopher B. Landon knows we’ve seen it all before and takes the derivative ball and runs with it. Landon is helped by a fun script he co-wrote with Scott Lobdell and a sassy stick of dynamite leading lady in Rothe’s Theresa. As it starts out, Theresa is an unlikable mean girl…though her mean quips are very funny…but as she embarks on her journey of identifying her masked killer and ending this loop, it takes her from snotty sorority girl to sarcastic and feisty heroine. It’s a blast to watch Theresa as she meets each day head on and each time finds a new piece of the puzzle, all the while discovering things about herself. If it sounds corny, it is and Landon knows it and revels in it. He also delivers some solid suspense, some intense action and a few surprises on the road to Theresa’s final confrontation with the killer in her midst. It’s also kind of fun to watch the spunky girl die over and over again in different ways, only to have to do it all again with increasing frustration. The humor and suspense are perfectly mixed here, making it all the more enjoyable. This is a prime example of a filmmaker taking familiar elements and having a good time with them and not just re-using them in a by-the-numbers manner. The result is a fun slasher/thriller with a very hip sense of humor and a heroine to really endear to and root for.

As for our leading lady, Jessica Rothe is having an outright blast with the plot contrivances and owns this flick from start to finish. She introduces us to a mean, snarky, sorority princess and slowly transforms her into a smart, sarcastic and resilient final girl, who grows with each repeat of the ill-fated Monday the 18th. She is firecracker of a leading lady and really makes even the corniest elements of her transformation believable, such as her having the courage and tenacity to face a killer head on. It’s her show and she handles it like a boss. In support is a charming turn by Israel Broussard, as Carter, the boy she wakes up with and bonds with over her dilemma. The two have a nice chemistry on screen and their forming relationship works very well. The rest of the cast is also solid with Rachel Matthews as Theresa’s even meaner sorority sister Danielle, Ruby Modine as her sweet and verbally abused roommate Lori, Charles Aitken as her professor/lover and Rob Mello as a captured serial killer who may, or may not, be her masked murderer.

So, maybe this is not the most original film in terms of story, but it knows it and just runs with it. Christopher B. Landon…who wrote four successive Paranormal Activity sequels and also directed the Marked Ones spin-off…has really sharpened his craft by having a blast with he and Scott Lobdell’s clever slasher variation on the Bill Murray classic…which is playfully acknowledged in the film. It’s a fun movie that succeeds beyond it’s means thanks to a filmmaker who gets how to handle the material and a star-making performances by leading lady Jessica Rothe.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 baby-faced killers.

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: BETTER WATCH OUT (2016)

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BETTER WATCH OUT (2016)

Holiday set flick has pretty babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) going to babysit for twelve year-old Luke (Levi Miller), who has had a crush on her since they first met. As the evening progresses, it seems someone is stalking the house. Ashley goes into protective mode, but as things start to appear that they are not what they seem, Ashley finds she may need more protection from those already inside the house than anyone trying to get in.

Christmas chiller is directed by Chris Peckover from a script he wrote with Zach Kahn and despite a twisted sense of humor, it has a mean streak at it’s core. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, unless you’ve dated DeJonge’s baby-sitter, as diabolical Luke is eliminating any competition. The film starts out with a sense of whimsy, but once we find that Luke has sinister plans for the pretty Ashley and anyone who has recently dated her, then the movie takes on a more appropriate dark edge. The whimsy does still remain at times, though restrained a bit more than the first act and as the tone of the material has changed, that is just fine. The Christmas setting does keep the flick from getting too dark and Peckover knows enough to keep the violence from getting too vicious. This prevents the flick from ever becoming a outright torture show, despite poor Ashley being confined to a chair with tape over her mouth for most of the second half, as Luke becomes a pontificating and smug villain complete with sidekick (Ed Oexenbould). While it is twisted fun, the humor and darker elements don’t always mix as well as they should and Ashley seems to be a little too calm at times, for a teenager tied up at the mercy of a quite deranged tween. Even when the blood starts to spill, she seems to remain quite composed, despite this not being the traditional, harmless “tie up the babysitter” hi-jinx. It might have made this a bit more intense if she was a little more scared at first, though it is entertaining to watch her try to outwit her captors and escape.

The cast are good, especially for young actors handling this kind of material. Olivia DeJonge makes a feisty and very likable heroine as Ashley. She’s sweet, but has a strength to her that would make her good final girl material, if this was a straight-up horror. While it might have served the film better for her to show a little more fear at first, her defiant stance and maintaining a cool head during her ordeal makes for an endearing character as conveyed by the actress. Levi Miller is fun as the twisted and deviously smart Luke. He does a good job taking Luke from love-struck teenager, to deranged homicidal maniac gradually over the course of the film as the character slowly reveals his true nature and intentions. While he never goes over-the-top, he does chew the scenery as well as a twelve year-old villain can. Ed Oexenbould is amusing as Luke’s in-over-his-head sidekick Garrett, who has no idea just how demented his friend is. Rounding out the cast are vets Virgina Madsen and Patrick Warburton as Luke’s parents and Dacre Montgomery and Aleks Mikic are Jeremy and Ricky, two of Ashley’s ex’s who feel Luke’s wrath.

Overall, this is sort of a holiday version of The Loved Ones, with the roles reversed and a lot less physical torment. Like that film it has a twisted sense of humor to it and the Christmas setting does ad a touch of whimsy to the proceedings. Not everything works, but it succeeds far more than not. A twisted and fun holiday thriller with a good cast.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 babysitters currently unable to reason with their charges.

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: GERALD’S GAME (2017)

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GERALD’S GAME (2017)

Gerald’s Game is a Netflix original film adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name that many felt was almost impossible to adapt. Along comes Hush and Oculus director Mike Flanagan to prove those naysayers wrong. Story finds Jessie (Carla Gugino) and husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) going up to a secluded lake house to put some spark back in their marriage. Gerald’s idea of turning up the heat is to handcuff Jessie to the bed. When his sex game gets a little too rough for Jessie, she protests and struggles and the ensuing argument…plus the effects of the Viagra Gerald took…gives the man a fatal heart attack. Now trapped by the bonds of the intended sex game, Jessie is unable to get free, left alone with only the manifestations of a panicking mind, haunting memories from her past and a hungry stray dog to keep her company.

Flanagan once again delivers one of the best horror films of the year, as well as, one of the best Stephen King adaptations. His script with Jeff Howard brilliantly comes up with a way to portray Jessie’s inner monologue by using a trick he used briefly in Hush, by having Gugino and Greenwood basically play different trains of thought going on in her head. It works tremendously in letting us know what is going on in Jessie’s frightened mind as her imprisonment drags on for days and she engages in conversation with herself and her dead husband, revealing her fears and the painful memories her current situation drags up. If the inner terror isn’t enough…and some of these dialogue bits are intense and disturbing…there is the hungry mutt who is snacking on Gerald and a ghoulish phantom figure Jessie keeps seeing at night, at least one of which being a very real threat. The result is a very terrifying and nail-biting story of a woman basically left by happenstance to die and what goes on in her head during the ordeal. If the film falters a little…and it’s only a little…is that the last ten minutes deviates a bit into the subject of Jessie’s possible creeper and it feels like it’s part of a different movie, despite being basically from the book. It still brings us to a satisfying conclusion, but just felt a little out of place when compared to the preceding 90 minutes, which was dark and gripping on an intimate scale, taking place up to that point in the Burlingame bedroom.

Flanagan may have indeed masterfully directed this tale of terror, but his success would not be without two Oscar caliber performances from leads Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood. Both actors play themselves and manifestations of Jessie’s fears and mental breakdown and as such these actors are superb. Gugino has always been a good actress and here she delivers one of the best performances of her career. As Jessie, she vividly portrays a woman harboring some dark memories and secrets which come bubbling to the surface as she left alone and helpless to a horrible fate. The actress is simply amazing as both Jessie and the manifestation of Jessie’s subconscious. The same could be said of Greenwood, who plays not only her husband, who has a bit of a dark side himself, but also the manifestations of Jessie’s fears and weaknesses. The two actors’ performances are unbelievably in-sync especially when playing off each other as conflicting patterns of thought in the terrified woman’s head. Fantastic work. There are some supporting actors as well, such as Henry Thomas and Hush‘s Kate Siegel  as Jessie mom and dad in flashbacks and Carel Struycken as the phantom figure Jessie interprets as death coming to take her.

Mike Flanagan has yet to disappoint and here he delivers one of his strongest films yet. He and co-writer Jeff Howard have a script that borders on brilliant at times in it’s adapting of a story that many felt was impossible to adapt. The film is terrifying and disturbing and doesn’t pull punches or turn away from some of the more intense subject matter…and there is a bit of effective gore, too. The last few scenes may feel a bit out of place from the previous nail-biting sequences, but they remain faithful to King’s story and certainly don’t tarnish one of the best horror films of the year. The teaming of Flanagan and Netflix has produced two really top notch horror flicks and it makes one eagerly anticipate The Haunting of Hill House series Flanagan has upcoming on the network.

-MonsterZero NJ

A solid 3 and 1/2 handcuffs.

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: CULT OF CHUCKY (2017)

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CULT OF CHUCKY (2017)

It’s been four years since horror icon Chucky’s triumphant return to form in Curse Of Chucky. Now he returns again, this time roaming the halls of a medium security institute for the mentally ill. This installment finds Nica (Fiona Dourif) declared mentally insane after taking blame for the murders Chucky committed in the Pierce house and she’s been institutionalized since. Meanwhile, Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) has been keeping and tormenting Chucky’s possessed head and Nica’s doctor (Michael Therriault) decides to bring in a Good Guys Doll as part of her therapy. It also seems, though, that Chucky has been busy learning new spells and can inhabit more than one doll…and as more Good Guy Dolls show up at the institute via Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) and Andy, all hell breaks loose with Nica at the center of it. With more than one Chucky stalking the halls and Andy and Tiffany on premises, the inmates will soon be running the asylum!

Don Mancini returns again to write and direct and again delivers one of the best of the series. Cult of Chucky is an absolute blast of bloody fun as the demented Chucky starts to off the inmates and staff of the Harrogate institute, all the while tormenting Nica. The gore is plentiful and the kills inventive and Mancini takes full advantage of the sterile environment of the institute in contrast to the old haunted house style setting of the last flick. He giddily splashes the clean white walls with bright red blood and really has come into his own as a visual director with some Kubrick-esque shots and hallucination sequences. He balances the mood very well here with playing things fairly straight, yet keeping and honing the series’ twisted sense of humor, especially in portraying Chucky’s enthusiasm for what he does. He also gets to have some fun with the fact that Chucky can inhabit more than one doll at once and there are at least three roaming the dimly lit halls at one point. And Chucky gets to delight in the fact that only Nica knows he’s real and the rest of the inhabitants are in dangerous denial. It’s simply a really fun, stylish and gory time with one of horrors most famous icons in top form thanks to Mancini’s clever script and direction. Sure there area few plot holes, such as how did Chucky research new spells if he was only a disembodied head in Andy’s possession, but otherwise this is a solid entry in the Child’s Play franchise.

The cast are all in top form, too. Brad Dourif once again performs Chucky’s vocals with gusto and at this point, it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing it. Daughter Fiona Dourif is also solid as Nica. She takes the material seriously and plays the role with conviction, until the last act where the script allows her to go a little over-the-top and she has fun with what she’s required to do. Alex Vincent certainly is having a good time as the adult Andy and Jennifer Tilly is a delight as the demented Tiffany, playing it as if there was never a long break in-between films. The rest of the cast do well in portraying various inmates and staff, many of whom fall to Chucky’s homicidal antics.

This installment was really entertaining. Don Mancini has found a way to revive this series with two recent quality installments that further the adventures of Chucky and yet delightfully pay tribute to the earlier chapters in the franchise. Where most horror series slowly fizzle out as they go along, Don Mancini has found a way to keep this one fresh, inventive and lots of bloody fun. Sure there are a few plot holes, but you are willing to overlook them because you’re having such a gory good time.

-MonsterZero NJ

A solid 3 Chuckys.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: LEATHERFACE (2017)

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LEATHERFACE (2017)

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

Latest in this franchise, inspired by the late Tobe Hooper’s original horror classic, is a prequel that attempts to take us back to the youth of one Jed Sawyer, aka Leatherface. The film opens with young Jed (Boris Kabakchiev) getting his trademark chainsaw as a gift from his deranged mother (Lili Taylor), but not too keen on using it on the captive pig thief they mean to teach a lesson. When the clan murders a lawman’s daughter (Lorina Kamburova), her father, Texas Ranger Hal Hartman (Stephen Dorff) can’t prove it, but does get young Jed removed from the Sawyer house for child endangerment. He’s committed to an institution for wayward youth and there he is raised with a new name and identity. When four young inmates violently escape the institute with a pretty young nurse (Vanessa Grasse) as a hostage, their trail of blood will transform one of them into the mass murderer known as Leatherface.

Latest film in this series is written by Seth M. Sherwood and directed by the duo of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury who directed the over-the-top French gore-fest Inside. As such, the film does have some nasty gore and some really disturbing moments, including a shiver inducing scene of necrophilia. What the film doesn’t really have is a purpose. Do we really need to see Leatherface’s teen years? It may be somewhat clever that we don’t know which of the teens…well, it’s obviously not psychotic Tammy (Nicole Andrews)…is the grown-up Jed. We are kept guessing if it’s crazy Ike (James Bloor), the hulking Bud (Sam Coleman) or the somewhat noble Jackson (Sam Strike), who will turn out to be Jed. Once we find out though, it’s not the powerful revelation it should be. And this is where the film falters. Most of the flick is focused on these youth on the run causing bloody carnage wherever they go. It removes Jed from his clan for the first two acts and thus we really don’t get a sense of how the man became a monster, as we don’t really see him with his deranged kin and in their influence till the last third and then the transformation seems to happen all too quickly. True, the institute was almost a worse place than his childhood home and there is plenty of violence when they’re on the run, but like Rob Zombie’s Halloween, it almost takes away from the randomness of the character to try to explain his behavior through his constant exposure to horrifyingly brutal acts, even outside his bonkers family. Isn’t the maniac scarier when he is simply a maniac?…a natural born killer? Even in it’s final moments, we never really connect this young man with the monster, even when he dons his first face mask. At least Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury deliver some really twisted moments to keep the film entertaining on a basic horror film level and the carnage is very well rendered. It’s just it never completely feels like a part of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre legacy or adds anything really worthy to the lore.

The cast are fine enough. The teen leads all do their parts in playing their respective roles. Nicole Andrews is chilling as the completely deranged Tammy, as is James Bloor as the violently inclined Ike who becomes her lover. Sam Coleman is the large but outwardly timid Bud, who becomes extremely savage once provoked. Strike is solid as the only escaped inmate with somewhat of a moral center and Vanessa Grasse is a likable heroine as the hostage Lizzy. The real standouts here, though, are veteran actress Lili Taylor as the out-of-her-mind Sawyer matriarch, Verna and Stephen Dorff as the equally psychotic Texas Ranger Hardy. The film should have focused more on them.

Leatherface was a decent edition to the Texas Chainsaw franchise and better than some of it’s predecessors. But it’s also one that never really seems necessary or overly relevant. The events portrayed can be disturbing and gruesome, yet we never really feel we are watching the birth of a monster, as we did in Bereavement for example. It is interesting that the film tries to keep us in the dark as to who actually is the grown up Jed Sawyer, but once we find out, it lacks the impact it should have, even when iconic chainsaw and skin mask come into play. Worth a watch for some chilling moments, but the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 chainsaws.

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT 2 (2017)

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THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT 2 (2017)

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

The Houses October Built was a  fun found footage horror with a simple premise. During the Halloween season, five friends decide to take an RV road trip to seek out and find the most extreme and scary Halloween attractions they can, documenting it all on camera…of course they got more than they bargained for. The sequel picks up a year later with the group having become internet celebrities due to the broadcasting of their predicament at the hands of The Blue Skeleton on social media. Now Halloween haunts are paying them to come and promote their attractions…all but Brandy (Brandy Schaefer) who is still traumatized. Brandy…now known on the net as “coffin girl”…however, is the one the haunts all want promoting their attractions and the gang have to do a lot of convincing…and paying…to get her back in. Brandy eventually agrees, not knowing that someone is watching them and that the The Blue Skeleton group may not be done scaring them yet.

First flick was a lot of fun as it both worked both as a horror flick, yet also dove into the underground world of Halloween haunts. This sequel does the same but opens it up to include Zombie 5k’s and even an “adult” themed haunt. The script by director and actor Bobby Roe, with cast member Zack Andrews, cleverly gets the gang back out there by having them now being paid by the haunts themselves to do what they did last time. Roe keeps the found footage format somewhat, but this one plays more like a movie which works as the feel of legitimate found footage was one of the weaker aspects the first time around. The group’s use of a drone, also opens up the scale with some frequent aerial photography. This sequel does take a little while to get going and may not be as consistently Halloween spirited as the last one, but once things start to get spooky, when our group…Brandy in particular…are being stalked, it gets as fun as the last one. It also has a few surprises up it’s sleeve, especially when the group meets their intended fate at the Hellbent attraction where the familiar blue skull-ed creepers spring their trap. It provides an intense and entertaining last act and shows Bobby Roe has matured as a filmmaker, somewhat, providing some legitimate chills.

The main cast, Zack Andrews, Mike and Bobby Roe, Jeff Larson and Brandy Schaefer, all return and are certainly fine, basically playing themselves. Schaefer stands out as she has the most emoting to do with her character being a reluctant participant, who is still haunted by almost being buried alive. Brandy has a couple of strong scenes expressing her fears and concerns over returning to these underground haunts and the climax gives her some solid material to work with. She would make a good final girl in a straight up horror. Mikey Roe also has some screen charisma as lovable party animal and joker of the group.

This was an enjoyable sequel and with some clever writing they may be able to get at least one more chapter out of this franchise. This follow-up pretty much equaled the first flick, which was a fun look at extreme Halloween haunts and a sometimes spooky little horror flick, too. The sequel freshens things up by opening up it’s spectrum of interested to include other types of Halloween attractions and figures out a way to get it’s characters back out there, after being scared out of their wits the last time. It does take a while to get going and the Halloween spirit isn’t as consistent as the last time…maybe too much of it was shot in the daytime?…but it does deliver some goods, especially in the last act. If you liked the first The Houses October Built you might enjoy this second romp as well and it would make a nice double feature during the spooky season to watch both films together.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 scary clowns…they return too!

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