BARE BONES: KANDISHA (2020)

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KANDISHA (2020)

Disappointing French horror finds Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse) summoning the vengeful Moroccan spirit of Kandisha after being assaulted by her ex-boyfriend. Kandisha (Mériem Sarolie) is said to be the spirit of a woman who merged with a demon, after being murdered for avenging her husband’s death. Now she kills only men when conjured—but there is a price. The malevolent entity doesn’t stop with just her ex and starts killing Amélie’s friends, too. Now she and girlfriends Bintou (Suzy Bemba) and Morjana (Samarcande Saadi) must find a way to stop it.

Written and directed by the Inside duo of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury one expects more than a routine teens vs folklore boogieman film, but ultimately that’s all this is—with a healthy dose of Candyman thrown in, too. Strip away the feminist slant and the Moroccan background of the spectral villain and you have, basically, just another entry in the popular sub-genre of teens taking on some sort of evoked entity, that is popular in flicks right now. Aside from an abundance of gore, as per usual with Bustillo and Maury, this is no different than it’s PG-13 American counterparts—and not all that much more engaging. It’s competently made and visually sound, but not all that scary and even at only 85 minutes, gets tiresome towards the end. At least it does have a good cast and a likable and diverse group of characters to emotionally invest in. A disappointing flick from the usually innovative and far more effective French filmmakers.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: BENNY LOVES YOU (2019)

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BENNY LOVES YOU (2019)

British horror/comedy finds man-child Jack (Karl Holt) working for a toy company and frustrated with his lack of success. Jack decides to finally grow up and that includes throwing out all his old toys. One toy, a stuffed animal named Benny. is possessed by a demon and refuses to let Jack go. The resulting battle of wills between man and stuffed animal leaves a bloody trail of bodies in it’s wake.

Silly and sadly unfunny flick is written, directed and produced by star Karl Holt. It’s tedious at only 94 minutes, as the humor is juvenile and most of the jokes fall flat. There is plenty of gore, but the premise wears out it’s welcome about halfway through and the comedy bits get grating quickly. There is very little story, so it feels like a half-hour comedy skit stretched out to over 90 minutes. Holt has little on-screen presence, or charm and Benny hasn’t nearly the personality of a Chucky or Annabelle to make this flick work. A dumb and gory misfire that maybe should have played it straight and let the laughs come from the absurdity of the proceedings.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: FEAR STREET PART 3-1666 (2021)

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FEAR STREET PART 3: 1666 (2021)

Third film opens in 1666 with young Sarah Fier (now Kiana Madeira) being thought wicked for her love for village girl Hannah (Olivia Scott Welch). With the warnings of “The Widow” (Jordana Spiro), a local woman suspected of practicing witchcraft, and the increasingly strange and gruesome events that are occurring in the village, Sarah—and the villagers—start to believe it. Soon a full witch hunt is underway and Sarah and Hannah become the targets of the villagers’ fears and anger, as they wish to purge their village of this evil presence.

Concluding R. L. Stine based installment is once again directed by Leigh Janiak from her script with Phil Graziadei and Kate Trefry. A strong and spooky finale that has some fun telling the origin story of “witch” Sarah Fier by having the cast members of the first two chapters play the parts. Kiana Madeira really shines here playing the part of Sarah, after already making a strong heroine out of her Deena. She’s a star in the making. There is sympathy for Sarah as we find out the surprising truth behind her story, one of an independent and passionate young woman and the ignorance and superstitions of others. It’s a dramatically strong finish, as we find out how the Shadyside curse came to be, it’s true nature, and then return to 1994, to wrap up the story in a thrilling climactic last act. It’s a spooky and strong concluding chapter, with the atmosphere and gruesome bloodshed we’ve come to expect from this Netflix series.

All in all a solid finale that manages to be the best of the three flicks. A fitting end for this wonderfully creepy and bloody three part horror series, based on the works of beloved author R.L. Stine.

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Click on the link here for my review of  Fear Street part 1: 1994

Click on the link here for my review of  Fear Street part 2: 1978

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: A CLASSIC HORROR STORY (2021)

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A CLASSIC HORROR STORY (2021)

Derivative on purpose Italian horror finds five travelers on an RV trip crashing in the middle of nowhere. They happen upon a strange cabin, that turns out to be the sacrificial alter of a bizarre and bloodthirsty cult.

Flick is directed by Roberto De Feo and Paolo Strippoli from their script with Lucio Besana, David Bellini and Milo Tissone. Amusing it took five people to write the script for what is basically another variation on the cabin in the woods horror, but it shows with some definite idea overload. On the plus side, it has some effective and brutal violence, some unsettling sequences and some spooky and disturbing visuals. The cast are all fine and it at least has the respect to acknowledge it’s influences—a character refers to the cabin as “Sam Raimi’s house”—but when it comes down to it, we’ve seen it all before—many times. Between the spooky bits there are also some long dialogue sequences, with characters bickering and passing blame on each other for their predicament, and did we need another pregnant character for sympathetic effect? Last act veers off into a couple of different directions that are, like the rest of the movie, a mash-up of flicks we’ve already seen. It goes on a bit too long and gets quite convoluted before finally ending, thus losing what little grip it had. Overall, some effective moments, but maybe too many cooks adding too many ingredients to the homage soup for it’s own good. Flick is available on Netflix.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: FEAR STREET PART 2-1978 (2021)

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FEAR STREET PART 2: 1978 (2021)

Second film opens with Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) seeking out Christine Berman (Gillian Jacobs), the sole survivor of a previous massacre at a summer camp. The flick then goes back to 1978 to Camp Nightwing as Christine, known then to everyone as Ziggy (now Sadie Sink) is a picked-on outcast at the camp, who has a reputation for getting into and causing trouble. Ziggy is there with her older, good-girl sister, Cindy (Emily Rudd) and future sheriff, Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland). The Shadyside/Sunnyvale rivalry is in full swing and the legend of Sarah Fier (Elizabeth Scopel) hangs over the camp. Soon bodies start to fall, and both Ziggy and Cindy must try to survive and stop the witch’s curse.

Second R. L. Stine based installment is again directed by Leigh Janiak from her script with Zak Olkewicz, written from their story with Phil Graziadei. Flick follows the template of summer camp horrors fairly closely, yet also does it’s own thing, while adding the self aware movie references that contemporary horror fans expect. It has the stereotypical characters one also expects, well played by it’s young cast and both Ziggy and Cindy make for good leads. Much like the first installment, it’s fun, nostalgic and has some intense and scary moments. The makers, from Stine to Janiak, know their influences well, but also bring some of their own ideas, such as some spooky stuff in catacombs under the camp. Like Part 1 there is a lot of bloody action, some nicely placed homages and plenty of gruesome gore. There is also a great soundtrack of 70s songs and some very creepy visuals to add atmosphere. If there is anything that holds 1978 back a little bit, is that due to information given us in Part 1, we go in knowing the fates of our two leading ladies and a few others. That does mute the suspense a little bit. Other than that, this is another solid chapter in Nextflix’s adaptation. So far, this three part series has yielded two strong entries and hopefully, it ends as strongly as it has started. Bring on Fear Street part 3: 1666!

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: FEAR STREET PART 1-1994 (2021)

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FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 (2021)

First part of a Netflix three film series based on the books by R. L. Stine. Flick opens with a massacre in a shopping mall in the troubled town of Shadyside, Ohio in 1994. It’s a town whose continual woes are said to be caused by a curse set upon it by Sarah Fier (Elizabeth Scopel), a woman executed for practicing witchcraft in 1666. When kids from the nicer and safer Sunnyvale, come to pay their respects, a fight breaks out between schools and there is a confrontation between Sunnyvale high schooler Deena (Kiana Madeira) and her former girlfriend, Shadyside student Samantha (Olivia Scott Welch). During a resulting car accident, Sam’s bloody hand makes contact with cursed ground and now murderers from Shadyside’s past are hunting the two girls, along with Deena’s friends Kate (Julia Rehwald), Simon (Fred Hechinger) and her brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr).

Netflix Original is directed by Honeymoon director Leigh Janaik from her script with Phil Graziadei, based on Stine’s books. It is a fun throwback to 90s era horror flicks that, after Scream, were reference filled and high school centric. There is a surprising amount of graphic violence for Stine based material, but the books were written for an older audience than his Goosebumps. The young cast are good and their characters are likable and the fearsome killers are diverse in style and look, though all equally ferocious. The tone is serious and there are some nice scares, intense action, suspense and it movies quickly and efficiently at telling it’s own story while setting up the next installment. The gore and make-up are very well done, the kills have impact and the 90s setting gives a nice nostalgia for the time period both in itself and for the horror films released during that era. A real gory good time and starts this trilogy off with a bloody bang!

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: WEREWOLVES WITHIN (2021)

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WEREWOLVES WITHIN (2021)

Flick finds new forest ranger Finn (Sam Richardson) entering the small mountain town of Beaverfield at the same time when someone—or something—is attacking local residents. Along with pretty mailperson Cecily (Milana Vayntrub), Finn becomes trapped in a lodge during a storm with a bunch of the other citizens. The attacks continue and the occupants start to believe that one of them is a werewolf.

Silly flick is directed by Josh Ruben from a script by the ironically named Mishna Wolff, based on a video game. It’s basically an episode of Northern Exposure with a werewolf added—maybe—with a large helping of John Carpenter’s The Thing tossed in, as the paranoia between locals grows and accusations fly along with the fur. It’s silly and loses ones attention quickly, as there is a lot of finger pointing, mostly all for laughs, amongst the eccentric locals with Finn and Cecily caught in the middle. When we finally get our reveal, it’s no surprise as it’s simply the least obvious person, so they were obviously the killer all along. Sure, it’s harmless, but it’s also a bit tedious and tries way too hard to be off-beat. Vayntrub is cute and energetic and RIchardson is likable as the forest ranger in over his head, but the film stretches it’s sitcom length story over 97 minutes and is cliché and silly, overall. Not sure what all the fuss online is about.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: SEPARATION (2021)

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SEPARATION (2021)

Jeff and Maggie Vahn (Rupert Friend and Mamie Gummer) are two comic book creators who are separated and in the middle of a messy divorce, that includes a custody battle for their daughter Jenny (Violet McGraw). Jeff is out of work and when Maggie is killed in a hit and run, he has to find a job fast to keep Jenny from her rich, custody seeking grandfather (Brian Cox). Just as things start to turn around for Jeff, it begins to seem like a dark entity might be stalking he and his daughter…a spirit that might be his angry, dead, ex-wife.

Film is by-the-numbers directed by William Brent Bell (WerThe Boy), from a script by Nick Amadeus and Josh Braun, and is far more run-of-the-mill family drama than supernatural horror. Bell does create a few spooky moments and has a nice visual eye, but the spooky scenes are very few and far between, till the climax, as we watch Jeff try to turn into an adult to prove he is capable of taking care of Jenny. Aside from a few effective but briefly seen specters, and a few nightmare scenes, there is nothing really all that scary here. When spooky stuff does happen, it is very cliché, such as jittery moving phantoms whose bones click and creak with each articulation and a child blamed for a ghost’s destructive hi-jinx. The end reveal is also no real surprise either and gives the feeling of being an afterthought. The cast are OK, with only little Violet McGraw and veteran Brian Cox really showing some screen presence, and Cam star Madeline Brewer appearing as the babysitter with feelings for Jeff, Samantha. Overall, the potential Bell showed in his first few flicks seems to have settled into a sadly familiar routine with his recent studio films, which, including this one, are kind of forgettable.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: CENSOR (2021)

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CENSOR (2021)

Film takes place in England during the 80s when graphic horror films-referred to as video nasties-were heavily censored and edited. One such censor is Enid (Niamh Algar, From The Dark) whose sister Nina (Amelia Child Villiers) has been missing since childhood. She encounters a horror film by a filmmaker named Frederick North (Adrian Schiller) whose film has imagery that reminds Enid of the fateful day Nina disappeared and stars an actress (Sophia La Porta) that reminds her of her lost sibling. Now Enid sets off to find North and get some answers while those possible answers bring Enid to the edge.

Effective British horror is directed by Prano Bailey-Bond from her script with Anthony Fletcher. It is an unsettling film and while we’ve seen films about the search for elusive horror filmmakers, this one is more about Enid never having closure and how it’s affected her all these years. It’s about her finding the truth and, unfortunately, not wanting to accept maybe her sister is gone—or is she? Bailey-Bond creates a nice atmosphere of tension and dread and visually the film has some disturbing imagery and doesn’t skimp on the gore. There are some familiar plot elements, but the cast is very good, especially Niamh Algar, and the director knows how to make a spooky and unnerving flick. Censor is now streaming on Amazon Prime and definitely recommended for a creepy watch and a filmmaker showing some real promise.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: QUEEN OF SPADES (2021)

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QUEEN OF SPADES (2021)

Latest teen-centric horror is supposedly a remake of a Russian film, though seems like it could be a retread of a dozen recent movies. Flick finds a group of teens summoning an urban legend entity called the Queen of Spades and thus begin to fall victim to her. Sound familiar?

Film is decently directed by Patrick White from a script by John Ainslie based on the Russian film Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite by Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy. It could have been based by any number of recent flicks, though, where teens summon a malevolent urban legend specter. In this case it’s the ghost of a Russian woman, who ran an orphanage where she murdered the children and was brought to violent justice by local villagers. She can be summoned by the now traditional ceremony in front of a mirror that teens in these movies can’t seem to get enough of. A cross between Freddy Krueger and any number of the Creepy Pasta rogues gallery, she is a routine spook. It’s all very dull and uninvolving, even though the young cast tries hard and there are a few unsettling moments. Otherwise we’ve seen flicks like this far too often lately and this one is not innovative enough to get around the familiarity.

-MonsterZero NJ

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