BARE BONES: TRESPASSERS (2018)

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TRESPASSERS (2018)

Run of the mill home invasion flick has two yuppie couples (Angela Trimbur, Zach Avery, Janel Parrish and Jonathan Howard) taking a vacation at a remote desert house. Unknown to them, the previous tenants were kidnaped and murdered by a group of mask wearing thugs…and those thugs want something that is still there. But first, there is a ton of self-absorbed yuppie relationship drama and even a murder to wade through before our home invasion begins.

Orson Oblowitz unremarkably directs this flick from a very derivative and unimaginative script by Corey Deshon. It’s a movie one struggles to find a reason for existing, as it is just tired ideas paraded out without anything new to add or any innovation in the telling. It’s a ho-hum mix of home invasion flick mashed-up with the angry douche-bag kills someone and holds his friends hostage flick, as a strange woman (Fairuza Balk), who shows up at the house, pushes uber-jerk and coke-head Victor (Howard) too far. And that’s another problem, the four main characters are such a-holes that when the thugs finally show up, you can’t wait to see them tormented and get what’s coming to them. How are we supposed to have any sympathy for these characters when they are so self-centered and unlikable and one is now a murderer? Victor would be the villain in any other flick. Angela Trimbur (The Final Girls, Halloween II) tries to give her Sarah a bit of a soul, but the rest are such cheating, drugging, ass-clowns that we find ourselves rooting for and not lamenting their demises. Let’s not even get started on the generic “bad guys” who show up. There are a few effective moments, very few, but otherwise this is a soulless copy of films from sub-genres that, in themselves, were never that thrilling to begin with. Sad, flicks like this get made and released and so many talented young filmmakers struggle to get financing for far more worthy projects. Waste of time.

-MonsterZero NJ

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REVIEW: ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

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ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

The third time is the charm, as the latest Annabelle flick is a haunted house roller coaster ride of scares, fun and thrills! The film starts off from the opening scene of The Conjuring with paranormal investigators Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick WIlson) Warren, bringing the haunted doll home and placing it in their room of haunted and cursed objects, locked inside a blessed glass cathedral case. They have to go away overnight and leave their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace), who has inherited some of her mother’s psychic abilities, with pretty babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Mary Ellen’s feisty friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) comes over, too, and despite warnings, goes into the forbidden room of haunted and curse objects, in the hopes of contacting her dead father. Annabelle is released from her prison and a sleepover becomes a nightmare, as the demonic doll lets all the malevolent spirits loose with the three girls trapped inside the house.

This is how you make a haunted house movie! Gary Dauberman hits a grand slam his first time at bat as the writer and director of this threequel. He has written for The Conjuring Universe before, but shows he knows how to direct horror, too, with this delightfully old fashioned scare-fest. Dauberman uses some very atmospheric camera work, in-camera practical effects, some very well built tension and suspense, along with some outright goose-bump inducing scares, to deliver simply one of the best haunted house movies since Poltergeist..the 1982 original, that is. His script cleverly gets the adult Warrens out of the house and using some classic horror tropes turns an already spooky home in a nightmare for the three young ladies trapped inside. There are a few jump scares, but only to climax some expertly built tension while his camera turns every shadow into the potential hiding place for something evil. Anything could come from anywhere at anytime and it keeps one constantly on edge. The room of haunted objects is wisely a focus and Dauberman milks all the chilling tchotchke for all it’s worth. Despite conjuring some Carpenter level scares, it’s the emotional depth that really makes it work. The girls are all three dimensional characters. Judy is a very likable kid, who’s “spooky” parents have earned her outcast status at school, with Mary Ellen being her only real friend. Mary Ellen is a sweet and very endearing young lady and one who is very brave when tasked with protecting Judy. Her tenderness and protectiveness towards the Warren’s daughter really makes her someone whose wellbeing you care about. Daniela could have been a stereotype ‘bad girl”, but Dauberman gives her a sympathetic and sweet core under the mischievous veneer. Her inner pain over the death of her father gives her a very sympathetic and endearing quality, even if this mess is kinda her fault. Add to it all that, that the writer/director, having put you through a last act ringer, gives us a nice cool down with a very sweet climax that works far better than it should being this is a intense horror flick. Very Spielbergian.

The cast are wonderful here and really bring the scripted characters to life. Farmiga and Wilson are basically just there at the beginning and end, but have really locked these characters down. Regardless of what you think of the real Warrens, their cinematic counterparts are quite the likable duo. Mckenna Grace handles the lead like a pro. She really makes us feel Judy’s loneliness due to the reputation caused by her parents line of work and the emotional turmoil caused by inheriting her mother’s abilities. Obviously, the demonic spirit in Annabelle, targets her. Madison Iseman continues to impress as an actress. She takes the stereotypical babysitter and gives her a very endearing personality and imbuing her with a very natural sweetness in her caring for Judy. She’s also brave and resilient when Annabelle’s demonic entity unleashes all the other spirits, including a particularly spooky entity that sets it’s sights on the babysitter. Iseman has a natural girl-next-door presence and she really makes this character three dimensional. Same could be said of Katie Sarife as Daniela. Her character is more the mischievous bad girl, but Sarife really makes her a bit complex as inside she is in pain over the death of her father and it motivates some of the bad decisions she makes. She wants to talk to her father one last time. She is also very sweet at heart, especially when it comes to Judy. Makes for a very un-stereotypical classic character. All three young actresses share great chemistry, which makes their on-screen relationships gel realistically. Lastly, is Michael Cimino as Bob, a nice boy who has a crush on Mary Ellen. Their awkward and sweet conversation scene, when he comes over to the Warren’s to see her, has such a natural feel to it. A perfect example of a good script meeting a good cast.

This movie gave continual goose-bumps to a man who has literally been watching horror movies for half a century. It proves when a talented director pushes all the right buttons, and in the right ways, old tropes can become solid scares. We have a nice build to the story and given time to get to know some well-rounded and likable characters, all the while the tension is simmering with it. We are then thrown into a literal fun house of horrors, as all hell breaks loose in the last act. Along the way Dauberman proves subtle nuances can be just as scary as grotesque phantoms and nothing makes the scares stronger than a solid emotional center to all the supernatural hijinx. An incredibly impressive directorial debut from Gary Dauberman who delivers one of the scariest flicks in quite some time and yet one with some surprisingly sweet and sentimental moments that mix far better than one might expect. Evoking Carpenter and Spielberg at their best in your first flick is quite an accomplishment.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) Annabelles.

 

 

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BARE BONES: CHARLIE’S FARM (2014)

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CHARLIE’S FARM (2014)

If writer/director Chris Sun’s Boar was a homage to the nature run amok horrors inspired by Jaws than Charlie’s Farm is the Australian filmmaker’s nod to Texas Chainsaw Massacre and that which it inspired. Flick has four friends (Tara Reid, Allira Jaques, Dean Kirkright and Sam Coward) heading into rural country to find the supposedly haunted “Charlie’s Farm”. Local legends say that in the 1980s area townsfolk brought lethal justice to the murderous, cannibalistic Wilson family…all but their young, deranged son Charlie. Now he is said to “haunt” the area surrounding the farm, dispatching anyone who dares venture near. The four friends unfortunately find out there is some truth behind urban legends.

Flick is not perfect, but is a fun throwback/homage with former WWE Superstar Nathan Jones making an imposing Charlie along with some very gruesome kills. As Chris Sun is paying homage to flicks of this kind, don’t expect anything too original, but he seems to know his influences well enough. The rest of the cast are fine here with standouts being Sam Coward as fun, lovable lug “Donkey” and pretty Aussie Allira Jaques as spunky Melanie, who IMO would have been a better final girl than the by-the-numbers Reid. The violence can be brutal and while it isn’t much in the suspense department, the farm setting is creepy and effective and it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome at only 88 minutes. Film also stars horror legends Bill Mosley, who is channeling “Otis” in flashbacks as cannibal patriarch John WIlson and Kane Hodder, as a friend who comes looking for the ill-fated campers and finds trouble himself. An amusing enough slasher.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: BOAR (2017)

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BOAR (2017)

Australian nature run amok horror has a massive wild boar terrorizing the remote Australian countryside. A group of locals and a visiting family find themselves battling the monster, who is very hungry and will eat anything…or anyone…that wanders into it’s hunting ground.

Flick is a fun and delightfully gory monster on the loose flick from writer/director Chris Sun. The flick evokes the nature gone wild films of the 70s and 80s like Grizzly, Alligator and, of course, Razorback, that were themselves inspired by Jaws. Sun gives his monster boar a lot of menace and the creature FX are mostly good old fashioned prosthetics, and very effective ones at that. CGI is only used minimally for a few full body shots needing the big pig to move like a real animal. It’s quick and rendered well enough to work. There is plenty of blood, entrails and limbs flying all over the place, yet Sun doesn’t forget to give us some likable and endearing characters to root and fear for. As the writer/director is not afraid to have characters we like fall to the critter, it ads suspense, as anyone could end up a meal. A really fun and bloody as heck, old fashioned monster flick from down under. Boar stars Wolf Creek’s John Jarratt, horror legend Bill Moseley and former WWE Superstar turned actor Nathan Jones (Mad Max: Fury Road). Check it out on Shudder for a bloody good time!

 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: HAGAZUSSA (2017)

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HAGAZUSSA (2017)

German film takes place in the 15th century and tells the story of lonely Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen) who has lived alone in her rural cabin since the death of her mother (Claudia Martini). Her mother was thought to be a witch, for her pagan beliefs and so now is Albrun. She is persecuted by the local villagers and their clergy, especially when she has a child out of wedlock. The continual betrayal and abuse from those around her, drive poor Albrun to desperate and terrible acts.

Moody piece is written and directed by Lukas Feigelfeld and is a very slow burn tale. Feigelfeld doesn’t spoon feed his audience anything, as we never find the identity of the father of Albrun’s child, nor are we ever clear if her mother…or she…is really a witch. Strange things happen, that may or may not be all in Albrun’s mind, a result of the constant loneliness and the horrible treatment by the local villagers, including betrayal and rape. There are some subtle hints that maybe there is something supernatural going on and some not so subtle commentary about religious persecution and the evils done in the name of religion. The performances are good, especially from actress Cwen as the persecuted and finally vengeful Albrun. If you are patient enough for the slow pace and can handle some of the disturbing sequences of abuse and madness, this might be an interesting change of pace. An unnerving chiller with some very disturbing moments. Also stars Celina Peter, who portrays Albrun as a child.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE DROWNSMAN (2014)

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THE DROWNSMAN (2014)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

The Drownsman is an earlier film from Chad Archibald (The Heretics, I’ll Take Your Dead) and tells the spooky tale of pretty Madison (Michelle Mylett) and the malevolent spirit she encounters. Madison nearly drowns at a party and claims to have seen some kind of malevolent presence during the ordeal. This gives her an extreme fear of water and a year later friends Hannah (Caroline Korycki), Lauren (Sydney Kondruss), Kobie (Gemma Bird Matheson) and medium Cathryn (Clare Bastable), attempt an intervention that makes matters even worse. Troubled Madison’s research leads her to serial killer Sebastian Donner (Ry Barrett) also known as “The Drownsman”, a sadistic killer who kidnaped women to be drowned in his basement. Donner was finally drowned himself by his last attempted victim, Isabelle (JoAnn Nordstrom) and now his spirit uses water as a conduit back to the corporeal world, to continue his foul deeds. Worse still, he now has his waterlogged sights set on Madison and her friends, who one by one are meeting a horrid, watery fate.

Canadian filmmaker Archibald has proven himself an interesting filmmaker who uses his influences well. He directs from a script he co-wrote with Cody Calahan and makes it work far better than it should. Premise could have been silly in less capable hands, but Archibald delivers some very creepy sequences and gives the film an unsettling look, especially when we are in Donner’s lair. As our bad guy, The Drownsman is an effective supernatural creeper even if this kind of story has been presented quite a lot lately. The water element does give it a bit of a different angle and there are some interesting twists in the second act, where the intensity gets cranked up. Archibald accomplishes a lot on a modest budget and the film never tries to be more than it is. It’s effective even if basically just a familiar supernatural haunting tale mixed with a classic slasher flick. There are some questions, like where is newly married Hannah’s husband during all this and why didn’t authorities level, or at least lock up, Donner’s home after Isabelle’s escape? It’s just sitting there waiting for final girls to wander into. On a production level, Archibald has a solid visual eye and the film looks good, the make-up FX on Donner are very effective and the drowning deaths have impact, even without any gore or overly graphic violence.

Actress Michelle Mylett is a good final girl as the traumatized Madison. She presents well a woman living in fear, fears she must overcome if she and any of her friends are to survive. Caroline Korycki is solid as best friend Hannah, who at first doubt’s there is anything paranormal going on, but soon begins to believe her friend might not be imagining things. Matheson and Kondruss are also good as friends Kobie and Lauren, with Clare Bastable delivering a likable enough friend/medium in Cathryn. Last, but certainly not least, Ry Barrett brings presence and menace to the silent but lethal specter, Sebastian Donner/The Drownsman.

Not a classic, but an earlier work by a filmmaker that continues to up his game with each film. Archibald handles well a story that could have gotten very silly and delivers a spooky, at times, chiller. We have likable characters stalked by an effective boogeyman and the bloodless drowning deaths are given weight and impact. A good example of a filmmaker able to use familiar story elements and still make them effective and showing the potential he is currently living up to.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) bathtubs.

 

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BARE BONES: THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA (2019)

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THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA (2019)

Supernatural horror takes place in 1973 with widowed social worker Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) looking into the death of two children, from one of her cases. Their mother (Patricia Velásquez) claims it was La Llorona, The Weeping Woman, who murdered her children and they are dead because of Anna’s interference. Anna discovers that La Llorona is from Mexican folklore, a woman in the 1600s who got revenge on a cheating husband by murdering her own children and then killing herself. Distraught with guilt, her spirit is now said to seek out other children to kill to take the place of her own. Whether the folktale is true or not, a dark force is now stalking Anna and her own kids (Roman Christou and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen). Is the spirit of La Llorona real and out to get Anna’s offspring?

Generic horror flick is directed by Michael Chaves from a routine script by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis. Mexican folklore base could have been interesting had there been a more involving movie built around it, or a better use of that folklore. Flick centers on the usual, vengeful, sinister specter surrounded by dark cinematography, flickering lights and an abundance of jump scares. The lead character, Anna, is the cliché skeptic who is forced to go to someone of faith and supernatural belief (Raymond Cruz) for help. There is even an exorcism of sorts in the last act. Chaves tries to build atmosphere and Cardellini gives it her all, as the frightened Anna, but this is just too familiar to really evoke solid scares. It follows the recent template for mainstream supernatural horror to the letter and does nothing innovative or intriguing with it. While it also lacks the over-the-top fun of last years The Nun, this was still another box office hit for producer James Wan and his Conjuring universe, which this film is thinly linked to by the appearance of Annabelle‘s Father Perez (Tony Amendola).

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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REVIEW: BRIGHTBURN (2019)

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BRIGHTBURN (2019)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Flick takes place in the small Midwestern town of Brightburn, Kansas where couple Tori and Kyle Breyer (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) are trying unsuccessfully to have a child. One night, something crash lands on their rural property. The object is a ship containing a baby boy, whom the couple take in as their own and name Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn). As Brandon reaches his twelfth birthday, the ship hidden in the barn starts to send him disturbing messages, and he starts to show signs that he has powers that make him almost super human. But unlike the world famous superhero whose story this seems so similar to, Brandon has no interest in using his powers for good. In fact, Tori and Kyle soon learn their adopted son may be more Michael Myers than Clark Kent.

Superhero horror flick is very well directed by David Yarovesky from a clever script by Mark and Brian Gunn. The writers have taken what is basically the story of Superman and added the caveat of what Superman would have been like if he had malevolent intent, instead of being the giant Boy Scout he was. Brandon Breyer is no Clark Kent, as he develops a liking for hurting others and director Yarovesky really uses this twisted twist on a classic superhero scenario to his advantage. This is Smallville meets Elm Street as Brandon torments and kills those he doesn’t like, or anyone who crosses him. Once the town of Brightburn is on alert that a killer may be on the loose, Brandon uses his superhuman powers to intimidate or eliminate anyone who can give him away. No one is safe…not even Kyle and Tori. The result is one of the best horror films so far this year, as Yarovesky and his script writers delightfully mix superhero flick and old fashion slasher movie. It’s quite chilling as Brandon dons his red cape and creepy red mask and starts stalking his human prey, dispatching them in gruesome ways. This is a hard R and there are many chilling and suspenseful moments as Brandon becomes more and more evil and more and more vicious. It all leads to a nail-biting last act at the Breyer residence that really turns the super screws. A super bloody good time, it is.

The cast is really solid here and play the material very seriously. Elizabeth Banks is very strong as Brandon’s “mother” Tori, who at first refuses to believe her adopted son is capable of the things he’s accused/suspected of and when she finally sees him for what he is, becomes a mother very frightened of her own child. Jackson A. Dunn is really creepy as Brandon. He starts out a bit sympathetic, as a boy realizing he’s different and having trouble fitting in, but then transforms into a disturbing and frightening villain, in the Jason Voorhees mold, as he begins to realize that he is the most powerful creature on the planet. David Denman is good as his “father” Kyle who comes to terms a bit quicker with the fact that they may have a monster in their midst. In support there is good work by Meredith Hagner and Matt Jones as Brandon’s Aunt Merilee and Uncle Noah, who unfortunately get on the lad’s bad side.

This was one scary horror flick at times and really used the idea of a superhero gone bad to unsettling effect. What if Superman had the mind of a serial killer? It’s a frightening concept to have a sadistic mind in a body so powerful and it’s even more disturbing that Brandon is only a child. His parents brought him up right, but wherever he’s from, it’s not Krypton. Highly recommended for horror fans, and superhero fans who were always curious what would happen if Clark Kent was a psychopath.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) creepy serial killer/superhero masks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: CHERNOBYL DIARIES (2012)

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CHERNOBYL DIARIES (2012)

With HBO’s Chernobyl getting some attention, I thought I’d drag this review out of the vaults-MZNJ

Chernobyl Diaries tells the story of a group of six twenty-somethings who sign up for a shady tour of Pripyat, a city outside Russia’s infamous Chernobyl reactor, where all the workers lived with their families. The city is still abandoned…or is it?

Despite the novel set- up, Diaries becomes very routine once our young adventure seekers become trapped in the city with whatever is lurking there. Despite some reasonable competence behind the camera by director Brad Parker, the film never generates much suspense or tension, as we know what’s coming and even the jump scares were familiar enough to not have much effect. The photography is spooky and it helps give it a bit of atmosphere, but the two dimensional characters never give us a reason to care and the film follows a time worn blueprint for this kind of flick. Add to that a very odd and unsatisfying end that doesn’t help either.

Chernobyl Diaries isn’t the worst horror, but it’s lazy in that it takes it’s unique setting and places within it a very unoriginal story and does nothing interesting with playing it out. It’s as if the filmmakers felt that the creativity with the initial idea of setting a movie in that desolate area was enough to carry the whole film. It’s not. They could have at least given us some shocking gore. They don’t even do that, as the kills are off screen and the carnage is barely shown. Flick is written by Paranormal Activity’s Oren Peli, Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke and stars Olivia Taylor Dudley, who later went on to star in The Vatican Tapes and the final Paranormal Activity flick The Ghost Dimension.

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: JULIA’S EYES (2010)

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JULIA’S EYES aka LOS OJOS DE JULIA (2010)

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Julia’s Eyes is an occasionally effective and nicely photographed thriller that tries to be a combination of Italian Giallo and Hitchcockian thriller, but doesn’t quite succeed at either. Eyes is the story of Julia (The Orphanage’s Belén Rueda) a woman with a degenerative sight condition who is investigating the suicide of her twin sister, who was also afflicted. What follows is a somewhat convoluted tale as Julia, with her rapidly diminishing sight, tries to track down an almost phantom like character who she feels is responsible for her sister’s death.

There are some very effective scenes in this Spanish thriller especially the spooky opening scene and the climactic confrontation, but there are a lot of slow spots in between and some of director and co-writer Guillem Morales’ ideas and plot directions border on the silly. Morales shows potential to be a good director, there is some nice atmosphere and everything is well framed and shot. There are some solid scenes of tension and he also gets good performances from his cast, especially from leading lady Rueda. Morales just needs to rein his scripts in a bit and try to not let his story stray outside of what is necessary to tell his tale. The flick feels about 10-15 minutes too long with some scenes playing out far longer than they seem like they need to. Perhaps at a tighter 90 minutes, Julia’s Eyes would have been more of the thriller he was going for.

Julia’s Eyes is produced by Guillermo del Toro and is still worth a look despite it’s flaws. Guillem Morales has worked only sporadically since, despite showing potential here, while ironically, co-writer Oriol Paulo has gone on to have a successful career as a writer and director.

-MonsterZero NJ

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