BARE BONES: THE DJINN (2021)

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THE DJINN (2021)

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: INITIATION (2020)

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INITIATION (2020)

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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

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30 COINS (30 MONEDAS) (2020)

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

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

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

1. “Cobwebs” (Telarañas)

2. “Ouija” (Ouija)

3. “The Mirror” (El espejo)

4. “Memories” (Recuerdos)

5. “The Double” (El doble)

6. “Holy War” (Guerra Santa)

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

8. “Sacrifice” (Sacrificio)

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: JAKOB’S WIFE (2021)

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JAKOB’S WIFE (2021)

Story finds Anne Fedder (Barbara Crampton, who also co-produced) unhappy in her marriage to overbearing Minister Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden). When on an ill-fated rendezvous with an old flame (Robert Rusler), Anne is bitten by a female vampire (Bonnie Aarons). Now Anne suddenly finds the strength to stand up to her husband and be her own person, but only the bad thing is, she also develops a strong appetite for blood.

Tale of female empowerment and vampirism is directed by Travis Stevens (The Girl on the Third Floor) from a script by he, Kathy Charles and Mark Steensland. It’s well intended and there are plenty of effective scenes, but the first third seems a bit bland and slow moving until the spooky stuff really begins. Once things get going, there is plenty of bloodshed and it is when dealing with it’s vampire elements that Travis’ flick really comes to life…pun intended. It’s fun to watch Crampton “vamp’ it up as the bitten Anne and also see Fessenden’s minister going all Van Helsing in order to save his wife. It has it’s slow spots, as Travis seems to be far better at the horror elements than the husband/wife drama between Anne and Jakob. It is fun, though, to see the tables turn, as Anne starts to wear the pants in the relationship and Jakob is revealed to be a bit of a coward. The vampire scenes are chilling and there is a subtle humor laced into the proceedings, so we can have a little fun between the darker and bloodier moments. Travis also avoids the clichés in this type of flick whenever possible and while it is not completely unconventional, the familiar tropes are used very well and it comes to a fitting conclusion. The film also has an effective visual style, as photographed by David Matthews and a fun vampire appropriate score by Tara Busch.

The cast are good, especially an excellent Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, Chopping Mall) as the oppressed wife experiencing a supernaturally charged awakening. It’s one of her best roles in a long time. Larry Fessenden is also well cast as her boorish minister husband who realizes there are vampires afoot…and his wife is one of them. It’s fun to see Robert Rusler (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Vamp) back in a horror, though his appearance is basically an extended cameo. The film also stars Nyisha Bell as a parishioner turned bloodsucker, Jay DeVon Johnson as Sheriff Mike Hess, along with a cameo by former WWE Superstar CM Punk (The Girl on the Third Floor) as a deputy and featuring Bonnie Aarons (The Nun), who is very effective as the master vampiress.

Overall, Jakob’s Wife starts off a little slowly, but finds it’s footing and presents a spooky and entertaining story of a woman rediscovering and asserting herself, with the help of a little vampirism. Some of the dramatic scenes can come across as a little flat, but director Travis Stevens handles the spooky and bloody stuff a lot more effectively to make up for it. The filmmaker has a good cast, especially with a strong performance by lead Crampton. Not a completely fresh take on the traditional vampire tale, but one that has some novel moments, does it’s own thing at times and mixes in some contemporary themes of female empowerment deftly into it’s story. Flick from RLJE Films and Shudder is now available to stream on Amazon Prime and other streaming outlets.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) fangs.

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

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GRIZZLY II-REVENGE (1983/2020)

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

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

 
-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: THE HORDE (2009)

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THE HORDE (2009)

French horror has a group of dirty cops raiding a tenement to avenge one of their own against some drug dealers inside. While things go wrong inside, a zombie apocalypse erupts outside. Tensions rise, as cops and crooks reluctantly work together to survive.

Flick is directed by Benjamin Rocher and Yannick Dahan from their script with Arnaud Bordas and Stephane Moissakis. For a screenplay by four writers, it follows the zombie formula quite closely, with lots of gore, shooting them in the head to take them down and has more contemporary fast zombies, as opposed to traditional slow ones. Thus, herein lies the problem, we’ve seen it all before. It’s not badly made and the action can be fast and savage, but it’s also all too familiar, especially if you are a fan of the genre. There are also points were the film stops dead for long dialog scenes, where the zombies seem to almost courteously hold off their attack till everyone’s done talking. Blood drenched final act delivers some good stuff, but still nothing to really set this apart from any other recent zombie films, in an extremely overloaded genre. Flick stars Claude Perron, Jean-Pierre Martins and Eriq Ebouaney.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE BANISHING (2020)

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THE BANISHING (2020)

Haunted house chiller is set in 1930s England in the shadow of the rise of Nazi Germany. It finds a Vicar (John Heffernan), his wife (Jessica Brown Findlay) and her daughter (Anya McKenna-Bruce) being sent to a small village to live in a house with some dark secrets. Soon the dark nature of the house seeks to overwhelm them.

Flick is directed by Christopher Smith (The Black DeathTriangle, Creep) from a script by David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich and Dean Line. It’s an atmospheric, yet dull movie that takes far too long to get spooky and interesting and by that time, it’s too little and too late. It’s also predictable, with no better example than the end reveal for Bishop Malachi (John Lynch), which was obvious from the beginning. It’s also very cliché, as we have seen countless flicks with haunted old houses with terrible secrets being inhabited by characters with secrets of their own. Smith does direct well and the cast is certainly efficient, but they can’t overcome that it’s all blandly familiar, even with it’s undercurrent of religious commentary. A disappointing, tedious and routine flick from a director whose previous works have been noteworthy.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: APOLLO 18 (2011)

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APOLLO 18 (2011)

Apollo 18 is a found footage horror with the interesting premise that there was a classified moon mission kept secret from the public…until now. The mission went horribly awry and we are supposedly seeing the actual footage from this secret 1974 moon launch.

Flick is directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego from a script by Brian Miller. The film does have some creepy sequences and the idea of a secret mission to the moon is intriguing, but sadly this film never delivers the scares and terror it sets out to. Even as our ill-fated astronauts realize that there is something very wrong with their top secret mission and they discover that they may not be the only ones there on the moon, the film fails to really generate the kind of tension it needs. There is a lot of screaming and things begin to become clear to us as to what is happening as the film enters it’s final act, but it never grabs us or involves us in the astronauts’ terror. Is it that we can pretty much figure out how this story will end? Is it that the lunar threat isn’t all that scary to us? Or is that the multiple cameras and camera media is too distracting to allow us to be drawn into the drama? Either way, the film fails as much as the mission it portrays. Too bad, it was a cool idea. Flick stars Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen and Ryan Robbins as the doomed astronauts.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: THE STYLIST (2020)

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THE STYLIST (2020)

Claire (Najarra Townsend) is a lonely and emotionally troubled hairstylist who likes to live vicariously through the lives of her clients. She also murders those clients and scalps them, to wear later on when she is home pretending to be them. Maniac much, Claire? Her latest target of obsession is client Olivia (Brea Grant), who is about to be married and wants Claire to do her hair for the wedding. Will Olivia live happily ever after, or get the worst hairstyle ever on her big day?

Film is directed by Jill Gevargizian from her script along with Eric Stolze and Eric Havens. It’s a perfect example of a familiar story made fresh with an innovative and creative touch by a talented filmmaker. At it’s core, it’s a routine story about an emotionally troubled, demented and lonely individual, who forms an unhealthy and dangerous obsession/attachment to others. Sure, we’ve seen it before, but not quite like this. Gevargizian not only bathes the film in a lush visual style, with some very impressive shot composition, but gives it’s characters some nice depth, making Claire in particular sympathetic in her loneliness. Sure Claire is a demented young woman who murders those she obsesses with and keeps/wears their scalps, but we do feel sorry for her and she is almost likable, despite her homicidal activities. She is not a monster, but an incredibly damaged and sad human being. Olivia isn’t perfect either, despite being in the role of obsession/potential next victim, she can be a little selfish and self absorbed. When Olivia, at one point, rejects Claire, we do feel bad for her, even if we expect she’ll resort to violence and she does. The director and writers avoid the stereotypical character portrayals usually present in these types of tales. Gevargizian also climaxes her gory and tragic story with a gut punch ending. Even if it’s not beyond expectations, it still hits hard and shocks. It resonates as the credits role. The cast is very good, with a wonderfully demented and sad performance by Najarra Townsend (Contracted). It’s her show and she carries it beautifully. Great work from the actress in making Claire human and keeping her from simply being a monster. The cinematography by Robert Patrick Stern is absolutely amazing and there is a really great score by Nicholas Elert. Definitely worth watching.

Flick is currently showing exclusively for subscribers on ARROWPlayer.com, but should be available for VOD streaming elsewhere in June.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: LUCKY (2020)

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LUCKY (2020)

Writer May (an excellent Brea Grant) believes a man is stalking her. Each night he appears and breaks into her house and she has to fight him off. Her husband Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh) seems to be very glib when discussing it, to the point where he leaves May and goes to stay with his parents, when she confronts him about his cavalier attitude. Even the police don’t seem to be taking her very seriously. Feeling abandoned and alone, May decides to deal with it in her own way, as each day the mysterious stalker (Hunter C. Smith) returns. Is this all in May’s head?…or is someone really out to hurt her?

Film is directed by Natasha Kermani, who gave us the interesting Imitation Girl, from a script by star Brea Grant. The film is partially commentary on how female victims of sexual assault, or harassment, become the ones under scrutiny and who have to prove themselves amid disbelief. May constantly fights to be believed and finds herself having to defend herself to everyone around her. Lucky is also about living in constant fear after such a trauma and learning to confront those fears. With each encounter, May becomes stronger and more resilient, as the mysterious attacker gets bolder and more violent. The people around her also become more and more dismissive and are of no help, so she is on her own. If it seems like something is a bit off here, with so many people not believing and even patronizing May, you would be right. It’s a slasher film as a metaphor for trauma and it’s effects. If there is anything predictable about the unconventional Lucky, is that this obviously isn’t going to end like a typical slasher movie and everything is not what it outwardly seems. We also know from early on there is more beneath the surface than Kermani and Grant are telling us, or plan to tell us. There is no spoon feeding here, or revelatory reveal. It’s up to the viewer to fill in the blanks and the pieces are there if you want to put them together. The film may ultimately be unsatisfyingly ambiguous to some, but as someone who grew up in a household with an abusive parent, the film’s messages about alienation, trauma and living in fear are well received, as are those of learning to face those fears and fight back. Another bold and innovative film from Kermani and a strong, clever script by Brea Grant. Lucky is streaming on Shudder.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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