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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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: IT (2017)

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IT (2017)

New adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel basically covers the first half of his book by focusing on the characters as kids. The children of Derry, Maine have something to be afraid of as someone…or something…is stalking them and taking them, including Bill Denbrough’s little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) gathers his band of misfit friends to investigate and finds that a number of children die or go missing in Derry every twenty-seven years. They also find that an evil entity is involved that takes the form of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) and worst of all, the group of friends now have the fiendish clown’s attention.

New version of King’s best selling book is a well enough made film by Mama director Andy Muschietti from a script by Cary Fukunaga, Chase Palmer and Gary Dauberman. Like his first film this flick has some wonderfully creepy visuals, but isn’t really all that scary. There are certainly some effective moments in It, but the film never really gets intense or digs it’s nails in to really frighten you. It works and entertains, but is obviously a horror made to appeal to the mainstream audience who doesn’t venture too far from the generic PG-13 horror fair that is all too common lately. The film is R-rated and has a few gruesome moments, but never gets too intense or brutal, so it doesn’t alienate the average movie goer who is only going due to the Stephen King name being attached or having read the book. Folks who watch everything horror will probably find it entertaining enough, yet leave wishing it had really turned the screws instead of mildly twisting them. In It‘s favor, there are also some very well done coming of age story elements, such as dealing with bullies (Nicholas Hamilton), being perceived as different and first love, as between Bill and Bev (Sophia Lillis). They work well enough to endear us to the characters, so we do care when things start to really pick up. The film is moderately paced and takes time to tell it’s story…technically, it’s half of the story…and it’s only in the second act when the horror elements become steady and as such, it’s delivers some fun stuff, just nothing truly frightening. Much like with Mama, one leaves feeling it could have been more had Muschietti really went for the throat. He seems to be a director who likes to play it safe and when wanting to appeal to a mainstream audience with a horror…even an R-rated one…studios generally like to play it safe.

The cast are strong and that helps even if the horror elements felt like pulled punches at times. The young cast members are all good in their roles with Jaeden Lieberher and Sophia Lillis being standouts. Lieberher conveys well a boy not willing to give up hope that his lost little brother will someday come home and Lillis is very strong as a young girl becoming a young woman and catching her widowed father’s attention in the worst way. The rest of the kids play their fairly stereotypical roles well with the fat kid (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the Jewish kid (Wyatt Oleff ), the wise-ass (Finn Wolfhard), the black kid (Chosen Jacobs) and the sickly kid (Jack Dylan Grazer) all present and accounted for. As the main villain, Bill Skarsgård is certainly effective as Pennywise, but his performance is enhanced with a lot of state-of-the-art SPFX whereas Tim Curry achieved more with simply his performance in the modestly budgeted 1990 TV movie version. Curry was creepier without being surrounded by CGI, though Skarsgård certainly has his moments.

Overall, this was an entertaining flick, but clearly a horror flick made for mainstream audiences that don’t regularly choose horror. It’s made for the folks that flock to big name adaptations or the works of A-list directors, but avoid the more intense stuff that usually premiers on VOD or in limited runs. Mama director Andy Muschietti directs well and the film looks great, though plays it safe scare-wise with not getting too intense or brutal as to scare away the wider audience for which this was made. Either way, the success of It means studios will green-light more R-rated horror flicks, which isn’t a bad thing for a genre drowning in PG-13 teen-centric chillers as of late.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 red ballons.

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: JACKALS (2017)

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JACKALS (2017)

Jackals opens in 1983 with a chilling murder of a family in the middle of the night. The film then switches to the kidnaping of a young man, Justin (Ben Sullivan) by two masked individuals. We find out they are actually Ben’s father, Andrew (Johnathon Schaech) and ex-Marine, Jimmy (Stephen Dorff). We also learn that Justin is involved with a cult and his family has abducted him to a remote cabin for Jimmy to deprogram him. But as horror fans we know remote cabins in the woods are never a safe place and soon they are surrounded by masked cultists who want Justin back and his family all dead.

Flick is written by Jared Rivet and directed effectively by Kevin Greutert (Jessabelle). The plot may be a mix of things we’ve seen before like The Strangers, Faults and You’re Next, but it works well enough. There are some chilling scenes and some intensity, especially when the cultists surround the cabin and begin their efforts to get in. There is also some brutal violence and director Greutert does give it some atmospheric visuals to support the night-set story. The film falters a bit in a few aspects. First off, the Powell Family remain far too calm and organized when the cultists make their presence known. They quickly arm themselves, make weapons and seem quite ready to defend the cabin as if they’ve done this before. Have they? Did we miss something? Did Jimmy conduct a family boot camp just in case? Also, the cultists seem like they are a large group, yet constantly attack the cabin one or two at a time, instead of rushing the cabin all at once and overrunning it…which would end the movie very quickly. That and the whole animal masked killers thing is starting to get old and is far less effective since many films have used this trope in recent years. Still the film does entertain and there are some effective moments alongside the familiar ones.

The cast are all fine enough. The vets like Schaech, Dorff and Deborah Kara Unger take the material seriously and try their best to add some dramatic intensity. Ben Sullivan is creepy as Justin and the dynamic of being a brainwashed cultist is conveyed well enough to make the story work. We also have Nick Roux and Chelsea Ricketts as Justin’s jerk brother and girlfriend/baby momma, respectively and as the cultists are masked and silent, we never really get to know any of them. Cultist “Fox Girl” (Alyssa Julya Smith) had nice abs, but that’s as far as the character development went with her.

Overall, this was a decent enough horror/thriller to pass the time and there were some effective and brutally violent scenes to punctuate the story. There visual style of director Greutert added some atmosphere and the veteran cast took the material seriously. There were some story flaws, questions and a lot of familiarity which kept this from being a real nail-biter or more original, but you could do far worse for a night on the couch with a brew or two.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 hatchets, a common weapon for jackal masked cultists.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE ICE CREAM TRUCK (2017)

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THE ICE CREAM TRUCK (2017)

Flick finds pretty, married mom Mary (Deanna Russo) moving from Seattle back to her old suburban neighborhood. She’s arrived a week ahead of her family to get the house ready while the kids finish school. Mary suddenly realizes this is the first time she’s had to herself in over a decade and plans to enjoy it. Two things, though, impact Mary’s return to suburban living and “me” time…the tempting advances of her neighbor’s hunky teenage son, Max (John Redlinger) and a creepy ice cream man (Emil Johnsen) who has taken notice of the new woman on the block.

The Ice Cream Truck is written and directed by Megan Freels Johnston who successfully mixes the two stories of a woman reconnecting with herself and a slasher stalking an unsuspecting neighborhood. She gives us a likable heroine in Mary who is having trouble readjusting to suburban life and the nosey, eccentric, judgmental, neighbors she’s surrounded by. Being a wife and mother for so long, she has a chance to unwind and is certainly tempted by Max, her pot smoking, well-built neighbor’s son who has taken an interest in the pretty older woman. In the midst of Mary’s self proclaimed “reconnecting with her youth” there is the creepy ice cream man stalking the neighborhood and killing anyone who doesn’t follow his old fashioned sensibilities. Johnston does a good job having these stories run parallel to each other till it’s time they collide when Mary and the creepy confections vendor face-off. Johnston has a very interesting visual style and her shot composition does evoke John Carpenter at times as did Michael Boateng ‘s very 80’s/Carpenter-esque score. There is tension and we are certainly unnerved when the ice cream man is onscreen. The kills are bloody but routine, though they aren’t the point. This isn’t a gore flick. On another level, we also watch the tale of a woman simply enjoying being a little frisky for a few days and that works too. If the film falters a bit, it is in first, the confrontation between Mary and the psychotic ice cream vendor is far too short and over before it has time to have impact. The other is the “wait…what?” ending. Without giving away any details, it seems to imply that much of what we just saw might have been in Mary’s head. It undos some of what we just witnessed and makes us wonder if writer Mary was just daydreaming a little excitement, letting her imagination run a bit wild, to relieve the boredom of waiting for her family to arrive. Either way, it does’t have the impact it was probably intended to have, though does set up a potential sequel and Mary was a strong enough character that we would’t mind seeing more of her experiences in surreal suburbia.

As Mary actress Deanna Russo really nails it in what is basically her show. She presents us with a woman who has lived for others for far too long and now suddenly has a chance to cut loose a bit, smoke some pot, have the house to herself and enjoy that she has the attention of a much younger man. And what makes this work is that Russo doesn’t play her like the stereotypical MILF, she is a little awkward and has a bit of a sarcastic sense of humor, but is naturally pretty and has a sexuality to her that is just part of her personality and not something forced. She’s just being herself and is naturally sexy, especially when she starts to let herself enjoy Max’s attention. The two have a chemistry on screen and the scenes of high school grad Max’s awkward seduction attempts do crackle with a sexual tension. Credit to actor Redlinger here, too as the object of Mary’s temptations. Russo also makes a good final girl…and it was refreshing to have one that wasn’t a high school or college girl…though, these moments were far too short to really enjoy. As stated, John Redlinger did a good job as the infatuated Max and he was charming and one could understand how his awkward attempts at getting in Mary’s pants, could actually be a bit endearing to a lonely older woman looking to feel not so mom-like for a bit. Finally we have Emil Johnsen who is properly unnerving as the ice cream man. Not much info is given and we have no idea of his true motives, but he presents a very creepy dude and he is chilling in his scenes. The flick also has an appearance by Rob Zombie regular Jeff Daniel Phillips as a creepy delivery man. Poor  Mary seems to be a magnet for creepy dudes, as well as, high school hunks.

Overall, this was an interesting mix of slasher flick and drama of a woman trying to reconnect with her youthfulness and sexuality. This ties in well as bad behavior is usually what attracts slashers in the classic format, so it works here. Megan Freels Johnston appears to be a filmmaker to keep an eye on with some very impressive shot framing and imbuing the film with some nice atmosphere both as a slasher and a tale of a fish out of water in oddball suburbia cutting loose much to her neighbors’ chagrin. The flick may have stumbled in it’s last scene and with not letting it’s confrontation between Mary and maniac play out a bit longer, but it is an enjoyable little movie and hopefully a sign that Megan Freels Johnston might be someone to watch out for in the future.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 ice cream trucks.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HATCHET (2006)

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HATCHET (2006)

With word coming today that Adam Green secretly filmed a fourth Hatchet flick entitled Victor Crowley, I thought I ‘d drag out my original Hatchet review written pre-blog -MZNJ

Hatchet is both a homage and a spoof of the slasher films of the 80s and it’s obvious director Adam Green has a love for the films he playfully has fun with. Hatchet is a gory but silly story of Victor Crowley, a deformed boogie man legend claims stalks the New Orleans bayou. When a group of tourists on a haunted swamp tour become shipwrecked in Crowley’s backyard, they soon learn this is one urban legend with a lot of truth to it.
While Green does a good job recreating one of those 80s slasher flicks, he’s not as totally successful at juggling the gory horror with the comedy elements. Green is not subtle here and the film jarringly changes tone between scenes where one minute it’s being a comedy, and the next it’s trying to be seriously spooky. It’s this back and forth that keeps one from completely settling into his tribute to all things Jason. Green is also hindered here from his inner film geek seeing his vision not as a story, but as a movie. This gives Hatchet a staged look, it looks like a movie filmed on sets whether it was or wasn’t. This robs us of the illusion of watching his story unfold and instead constantly reminds us that this is only a movie and these are not characters but actors. Even in a playful homage like this, we still need that illusion.
But, there is still fun to be had as Adam Green does both skewer and stroke the slasher genre. The gore is over the top and top notch and he points out with a wink the absurdities of some of the films it references…Crowley finding a hand sander in the middle of a swamp, rain at a most crucial and inappropriate time…and the film geek in us knows exactly where he’s coming from. Despite the flaws in his method we still get his madness. Stars horror legends Tony Todd, Robert Englund and Kane Hodder as Crowley.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 hatchets.

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE MONSTER PROJECT (2017)

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THE MONSTER PROJECT (2017)

Found footage horror finds two Youtube pranksters Devon (Justin Bruening) and Jamal (Jamal Quezaire) coming up with a idea for a put-on to find and interview monsters for a Youtube show they dub The Monster Project. They add Jamal’s druggie roommate Bryan (Toby Hemingway) and Devon’s ex Murielle (Murielle Zuker) to the crew and begin advertising for “monsters” to interview. They rent an old creepy house to use as their setting and actually get people claiming to be a vampire (Yvonne Zima), a skin-walker (Steven Flores) and demon possessed girl (Shiori Ideta) answering their ad. As the night and interviews progress, the team start to find out these “monsters” are very real and that their lives are in real danger.

Directed by Victor Mathieu from a script and story by he with Corbin Billings and Shariya Lynn, this is an amusing concept of Youtube video makers getting more than they bargained for. The interview segments are creepy and when their supernatural subject matter turns out to be real, there are some truly spooky and intense sequences, as the vampire, skin-walker wolf and demon girl pursue them all through the maze-like old house. It’s played straight and there is some gore as the four aren’t all lucky enough to evade their fiendish pursuers. The found footage style works here, with even the cop/skin-walker having his own uniform cam as he follows his intended victims. This part of the film is the best and the most entertaining, even with some weak CGI. Where the film stumbles, is where a lot of found footage flicks do. The build-up to the interview/chase segment is nowhere near as interesting, especially when it delves into the drama between Devon and Murielle’s failed relationship and Bryan’s attempts to appear clean when he isn’t. It’s kind of dull and the actors aren’t always up to the task. The film also comes apart a little bit in the last act when there is a reveal which takes the film and the survivors in a different direction. It seemed like it was unnecessary when the simpler plot of the film crew actually finding real monsters was enough to entertain. It takes the simpler premise into different territory and the initial story didn’t need a hidden agenda. It had some spooky moments, too, but also seems to overload the flick in it’s last moments.

For the most part this found footage flick has an amusing set-up and generates some intensity, chills and some fun chase sequences as a crew of Youtube entrepreneurs get exactly what they wished for. There is some decent gore and make-up for a low budget flick and the found footage format works here to the flick’s advantage. Where the flick falters is in the personal drama between some of the characters which is dull and doesn’t add much and that the cast of unknowns aren’t always convincing in their roles. The ending takes the film in an unneeded direction and convolutes things a bit when the simpler premise was working just fine and didn’t need an extra inning. Sometimes less is more, though what we get does have it’s moments. Not the complete success it wants to be, but entertains well enough when it’s working.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 full moons.

 

 

 

 

 

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