MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: HAPPY DEATH DAY and HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U

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While talk of a third installment goes back and forth, the two current installments of Blumhouse’s comedy/horror franchise are a lot of fun when paired together. So, if you’re looking for something light and more fun, but don’t want to completely leave the horror genre, this is an entertining Saturday Night Double Feature…

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HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) baby-faced killers.

 

 

 

 

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HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U (2019)

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

Sequel pics up right after the first flick with Tree (Jessica Rothe) cozying up with Carter (Israel Broussard) and all being well until roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) starts to relive his own murder over and over. Tree finds out her previous predicament and Ryan’s current one are as a result of Ryan and friends science experiment that effects time…just not in the way they planned. An effort to kill the loop sends Tree back to Monday the 18th again, only this time in an alternate universe.  She’s reliving her death all over again, only in this dimension Lori (Ruby Modine) is no longer the killer, Carter is dating Danielle (Rachel Matthews) and her mother is still alive. Can Tree get back to her normal dimension…and does she want to?

As you can guess by the plot description, Happy Death Day 2U sends the slasher elements to the background and focuses more on a Star Trek-ian/Back to the Future-esque tale of alternate timelines and other dimensions. It’s still fun, though shifting the focus also mutes some of the chills and thrills that made the first film such a treat. There is a lot of entertainment to be had and they have fun with the expanded concept, but this seems more like a cinematic episode of The Big Bang Theory with a slasher sub-plot. Christopher Landon again directs well, though this time from his own script and seems to want to play more with the whole alternate timeline thing and guide the story away from the slasher elements. A mid-credits scene hints that a part 3 will veer away even further. There was also a brief flirting with dopplegangers, but that disappears quickly, which is a shame as Tree being stalked by other alternate reality selves sounds like it would have been a hoot. If the film is missing anything, it’s the intensity the slasher elements brought to the table in the first film. The mix was more even in Happy Death Day and this sequel could have used a bit more.

Jessica Rothe is again a blast to watch though she shares the film’s focus with other characters and isn’t always the center of attention. The actress also proves again she is a leading lady with talent and can do drama, comedy and kick some ass, too. Israel Broussard is still charming and likable as Carter. The alternate reality version is pretty much the same guy, except for dating Rachel Matthews’ Danielle, who is a lot nicer in this other dimension. Matthews gets more screen time and gets to perform some slapstick comedy in one of the sillier sequences. Phi Vu gets a far more expanded role and is fun as Ryan and Suraj Sharma and Sara Yarkin play two of his nerdy lab partners/friends.

In conclusion, the sequel is not an equal, but not a disappointment either, unless you were expecting more of a horror film. There are some amusing sequences, some fun character interaction and even a little heart-tugging drama to go with the occasional dips back into slasher territory. On the downside it is slower paced, the killer was easy to guess and horror fans might not be happy with all the science geek quantum this and quantum that mumbo jumbo. Leading lady Jessica Rothe is still at least every bit the firecracker and if there is a three-quel, hopefully she is not pushed to the sidelines or lost in an ensemble piece. A fun movie thought maybe not what you might go in expecting. Stay through the credits for that mid-credits scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) baby-faced killers.

 

 

 

 

 

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: LAID TO REST and CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2

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The Laid To Rest flicks are contemporary slashers that have a bit of a following in the horror community. So what better choice for a MonsterZero NJ Saturday Night Double Feature than both of these gory slashers from director Robert Green Hall…

LAID TO REST (2009)

Flick opens with a pretty young woman (Bobbi Sue Luther) awakening inside a coffin. She has no memory and no idea how she got there. Before she has a chance to figure things out, she is attacked by a deranged killer (Nick Principe) with a chrome skull mask and a nasty serrated knife. She barely escapes with her life and is pursued into the night by this madman. She picks up a few allies along the way, in friendly local, Tucker (Kevin Gage) and nerdy, Steven (Sean Whalen), who try to help her escape him. The killer relentlessly pursues her and those trying to help her, murdering anyone that gets in his way. Who is he and why does he want her dead?

Gory slasher is written and directed by make-up FX man and musician Robert Green Hall and is a perfect showcase for his PostHuman FX special effects shop. First and foremost, this is a very gory flick and that gore is very well designed and rendered. Gore fans will enjoy the inventive and very realistic looking kills. It’s not an overly scary film, but there is some intensity in the attack and chase scenes. Chromeskull is an imposing villain and there are some likable characters to fear for, such as our final girl, dubbed “Princess” by Tucker, and Tucker himself, of course. The film moves fast, looks good on what is probably a very modest budget and there is plenty of action. To a degree it’s also a chase film, as we move from location to location with Chromeskull in hot pursuit. Princess is chased from one house to another, makes her way back to the funeral home and then finally to the blood-spattered conclusion at a gas station/convenience store. It’s an economical 90 minutes and delivers plenty of the blood and gore fans look for. If there is any flaw the film has that holds it back a bit, is going all out with the gore from moment one. By starting right off with the brutality and extreme bloodletting, by the time the third act rolls around, we are getting a little numb to it. Otherwise, this is a brutal, bloody and entertaining slasher flick from Robert Green Hall.

The cast are all fine here. Curvy and cute Bobbi Sue Luther makes a fine heroine as “Princess.” Her real identity is kept secret and she is a strong and resilient woman, once her situation sinks in and she decides to survive. Kevin Gage is good as local man Tucker. A likable man just wanting to help out a young girl in trouble. Whalen is also solid as the whiny, timid Steven. The recent death of his mother makes him especially sensitive to the death and murder going on around him. Nick Principe, who was the pig-masked killer in Madison County, is an imposing killer as Chromeskull. We don’t get too much background on him, but he is effective. There are some familiar faces playing killer fodder. Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey is Tucker’s ill-fated wife, legendary Richard Lynch is a funeral director in league with Chromeskull, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010’s Thomas Dekker is Tommy, a convenience store customer and Johnathon Schaech is Tucker’s ill-fated brother in-law. A good cast.

Maybe not a classic, but Laid To Rest is a solid enough slasher that gets the job done. Its extremely gory and it’s inventive and graphic kills are exceptionally done. It may pull the trigger on it’s brutality and graphic demises a little too soon, though, where a build up would have been more effective. Otherwise, it has an effective killer, a likable cast and moves quickly, and at times, with intensity.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated a gory 3 (out of 4) Chromeskulls.

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CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2 (2011)

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Sequel finds that Chromeskull has a well financed and equally disturbed support team run by a man named Preston (Brian Austin Green) and a woman named Spann (Danielle Harris). They resuscitate the masked killer and have a team of surgeons restore him as best as possible. Preston tracks down and kills “Princess” (now Allison Kyle), while Chromeskull sets his sights on new girl Jessica (Mimi Michaels). Jessica is brought to his new lair and so is Tommy (Thomas Dekker), the only survivor left from the last movie. As Chromeskull prepares to play with his new toys, dissension between Spann and Preston threatens to tear this evil organization apart, while the police close in.

Flick is also directed by Robert Green Hall from his script with Kevin Bocarde. It’s a bit of a letdown after the first flick. The impressive gore and kills are still there in abundance, but putting Chromeskull in charge of a sinister James Bond meets Jason Voorhees organization, complete with minions, takes away a lot of the killer’s mystique. He’s a mystery in the last film, now we may find out a bit too much. The bickering between Spann and Preston isn’t interesting, as we know where that will lead, and having the flick set basically in the same location for 90% of the movie, also makes it very stagnant. The last flick was basically one long chase. Here, it’s basically a standstill with victims sitting around waiting for their teased demise…which, for some, doesn’t even come. There are some effective bits, but it never really feels like a slasher flick. That’s one thing the last film did well. 

The cast are fine. Nick Principe is effective again as Chromeskull, but it’s how he’s used and what he’s involved in that looses the character a lot of steam. Thomas Dekker gets a bigger role and is good as Tommy, now the hero of the flick. Mimi Michaels is really good as final girl Jessica. She’s pretty and sweet and unfortunately, isn’t given much to do but cry and look scared for most of the movie. The one setting keeps her put till the end and only gives her one scene where she shows some resilience. Green and Harris are going through the motions as Chromeskull’s feuding minions and Johnathon Schaech appears again, this time as an F.B.I. agent.

Second flick is sadly a disappointment from the fun and gory first flick. While the inventive and well-rendered kills remain, the setting and story not only keep the film grounded in one spot, but strip Chromeskull of a lot of his mystique by turning him into a James Bond villain, complete with pontificating minions. The rivalry between his first and second in-commands adds nothing and only succeeds in taking time away from the final girl, who basically sits around crying the whole movie. Despite the end setting up a an interesting possible third installment, Chromeskull has yet to return.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) Chromeskulls.

 

 

 

 

 

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-MonsterZero NJ

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: EQUINOX and THE EVIL DEAD

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MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature is back! For years horror fans have discussed the similarities between the 1970 low budget flick, Equinox and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. Was this flick an inspiration for Raimi’s classic, or was it all a coincidence? We may never know exactly, but we can watch both films together and decide for ourselves…

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EQUINOX (1970)

Four college students (Edward Connell, Barbara Hewitt, Frank Bonner and Robin Christopher) venture into the woods to meet a professor (Fritz Leiber) who, unknown to them, has discovered an ancient book of evil. They find the cabin destroyed and once acquiring the book from a creepy old man (Irving L. Lichtenstein), find the devil himself is after them to get it back.

While this does sound like the plot of an Evil Dead film, it is actually the plot of the low budget horror, Equinox which was released in 1970. Over a decade before Raimi’s classic, the film does share a lot of plot elements, such as the students being possessed, here by the park ranger disguised Satan, and even the book itself is quite similar to Raimi’s Necronomicon. It’s never been stated that the film was an influence on Raimi’s flick, but Evil Dead effects artist Tom Sullivan admits seeing the film and it inspiring him to make movies. Draw you own conclusions.

Equinox is campy by today’s standards and is slow paced, unlike Raimi’s roller coaster ride, but there is some fun to be had and some nice SPFX for such a low budget flick. Equinox started out as a low budget short film, put together by three future FX legends, Dennis Muren, Jim Danforth and Dave Allen in 1967. It was made for about $6,500, from a story by Mark Thomas McGee and directed by Muren. So there is some great FX work for the time and budget, including some very cool stop-motion animated creatures, representing the Devil’s minions and Old Scratch himself in winged demon form. Producer Jack H. Harris saw their film and hired writer/director Jack Woods to film some new footage and expand the 70 minute short film into feature length and re-edit it. The film was finally released in 1970 as Equinox, shortened from the original title of Equinox…A Journey Into The Supernatural. I saw this as a kid and must admit it creeped me out back then. I watch it now and it’s more campy fun than scary, but it’s no denying that it is a valiant low budget effort, despite some very amateurish acting from the cast, including director Jack Woods, who also appears as The Devil in park ranger form.

This film, like Raimi’s, is now considered a classic. Whether it inspired Evil Dead or not, both films represent the achievement that future filmmakers can make on a micro-budget, if their hearts and talent are in the right place. Evil Dead fans should check it out for the interesting similarities, even if we may never know if Raimi indeed saw and was influenced by it, or if the familiar elements are just coincidence. It’s been released in a wonderful restored edition by the Criterion Collection, which includes the original short film and effects work that didn’t make the final cut. A campy, fun horror that gave the world, Dennis Muren, Jim Danforth and the late, great David Allen…and maybe…just maybe, Evil Dead.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated A campy fun 3 (out of 4) blue giants!

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The original Evil Dead is one of my all time favorite horror movies, if not the all time favorite. I was fortunate enough to see it in a theater when it was released in 1981 and it changed how I looked at horror movies. This one was furiously paced, wildly inventive and delivered buckets of blood and gore, all on a shoestring budget. It launched writer/director Sam Raimi’s career and made a cult legend out of star Bruce Campbell.

The film opens as Ash (Bruce Campbell) and girlfriend, Linda (Betsy Baker) are traveling to vacation in a remote cabin with another couple, Scott (Hal Delrich) and Shelly (Sarah York), along with Ash’s sister, Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss). When they get to the rundown cabin they find an old book and a tape recording, in the creepy cellar, that claims it is the book of the dead and wrapped in human flesh. Thinking it’s all a joke, they play the recording, which includes someone reading from the book and find out the hard way that it’s all too real, as they unleash horror beyond their imaginations. The quiet Cheryl is the first to be possessed, as she is attacked and literally raped by the trees during one of the film’s most talked about scenes, As the panicked bunch lock her in the cellar, it is only the beginning as they are soon possessed one by one by an ancient evil that can only be stopped by total bodily dismemberment. Let the fun begin!

The first Evil Dead did not have the heavy comic elements of it’s two sequels or recent series and what follows is a gore soaked roller coaster ride, when Ash finds himself the last man standing against his demon possessed friends. Raimi uses some fantastically inventive camera work and low budget gore effects to bring us Ash’s battle to survive against the people he once loved, in all it’s gory glory. The film is fast paced and once it starts, it never stops, as this classic turns the screws on it’s viewing audience with a barrage of scares, jolts and suspense, all bathed in buckets of blood. This was the first of it’s kind to use such a relentless and merciless attack on it’s viewers where most films at the time, like John Carpenter’s Halloween, or the original Friday The 13th, used a bit of a slower burn and more of a methodical pace to present it’s suspense and scares. Raimi paces this like an action flick. Carpenter did crank things up in the last act of The Fog, a year earlier, but it was still nothing like Raimi’s final act, as the outnumbered Ash refuses to “join us”, as his demonic assailants constantly taunt.

Evil Dead revolutionized horror to a degree and inspired some of today’s best young horror directors. Without it, we may not have a Blair Witch, Dead Alive or Martyrs. While we still get the occasional slow burn horror like Paranormal Activity and the films of Ti West and Stevan Mena, which is just fine, Raimi opened the door for horror filmmakers to take a far more aggressive approach and showed us horror can be deliriously scary, delightfully gory and just plain fun. A true classic that placed Raimi amongst the likes of George Romero and John Carpenter!

-MonsterZero NJ

Check out our review of the remake!

A solid 4 (out of 4) Ash salute!

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ALSO…

If you’ve got time, add Evil Dead II as a third feature, which also shares some amusing similarities with Dennis Muren and Jack Woods’ 1970 cult classic!

-MonsterZero NJ

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE PROWLER and FRIDAY THE 13th:THE FINAL CHAPTER

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NYC born Joseph Zito

MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature is back! This time our double feature consists of two 80s slasher classics from director Joseph Zito. Zito made three horror films in his career, including the 1980 Bloodrage, before leaving the genre to make action movies with the likes of Chuck Norris and Dolph Lundgren. Shame, these two are among the best examples of the slasher genre of the late 70s and early 80s.

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THE PROWLER (1981)

This 1981 slasher opens up in 1945 as soldiers are coming home from the war and we hear a young woman reading a ‘dear John’ break-up letter, intended for a boyfriend away on duty. We cut to Avalon Bay which is having it’s annual college graduation dance and a young couple leave the dance for a romantic walk. Their romance is cut short by someone dressed as a combat-ready soldier, who promptly runs the embracing couple through with a pitch fork, leaving a rose in the female victim’s hand. We then pick our story up in 1980 where the Avalon Bay Graduation Dance is being revived after having been halted 35 years earlier by the father of the murdered girl, Major Chatham (Lawrence Tierney). Someone is reviving another activity from that night, as a killer dressed in military gear descends on the partying co-eds with bayonet and pitchfork and starts leaving a bloody trail of bodies and roses behind. Can sweet Pam (Vicky Dawson) and her deputy boyfriend Mark (Christopher Goutman) stop this deranged killer, or will they join his list of victims?

Directed by Joseph Zito, who is mostly known for directing the fourth Friday The 13th flick and two of Chuck Norris’ biggest hits Missing In Action and Invasion U.S.A., this bloody slasher follows the 80s slasher format very well. We get a bunch of nubile young intended victims being stalked by an unbalanced killer with a grudge, who is dispatching them in gruesome and versatile fashion. We also get a pretty young heroine to serve as our ‘final girl’ and the doomed slutty girls who’ll show us their boobs! Zito also manages to serve up some suspense and some tension, too. He’s not the most stylish director, but his directing here is far less by-the-numbers than his Norris action flicks. And there is some decent cinematography from frequent Zito D.O.P. João Fernandes. The horror genre seems to suit Zito better than his generic action movies. The film has some atmosphere, a touch of Scooby-Doo-ish mystery and it is an entertaining 90 minutes of horror that represents the era well. It’s not perfect, we really aren’t given enough suspects, or red herrings, to make it really interesting, though when we do get the big reveal, it is still kind of a surprise. We never really get to know the victims all that well, so most of their deaths have little impact other than Tom Savini’s still effective gore FX.

The cast are fine, even though we only really get to know Pam and Mark. Actors Dawson and Goutman make them likable enough. The rest are generic horny college kids, who are there to be victims and they serve that purpose well. Vet Tierney doesn’t get to have any lines, despite the film implying he’s a suspect, so not sure why they even hired a name actor for the part.

In conclusion, The Prowler is still one of the better slashers of this era. Maybe not in the same league as Halloween, or the original Friday The 13th, but it is a solid enough slasher and is a fun and nostalgic sample of the type of film made in the early 80s before films like Evil Dead, ScannersRe-Animator and A Nightmare On Elm Street took horror in new directions. A fun, gory example of what made 80s slashers fun. Extra credit for filming in my home stomping ground of New Jersey!

Rated a solid 3 (out of 4) pitchforks!

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WARNING: this trailer does show a lot of plot elements…

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FRIDAY THE 13th: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984)

Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter is one of my favorites of the sequels and the one that comes closest to matching the original. The film saw not only a return to the more serious tone and atmosphere of the original film, but with the return of Tom Savini to the make-up FX duties, also brought back the more intense and graphic kills and gore.

This entry opens right where Part 3 left off with Jason (stuntman Ted White) and his victims carted off to the morgue from the Higgins place only to have Jason revive and escape, but not before gruesomely murdering two horny hospital employees. We then switch to two houses deep in the woods near Crystal Lake, one occupied by single mother Mrs. Jarvis (Joan Freeman) and her daughter Trish (Kimberly Beck) and young son Tommy (Corey Feldman), the other occupied by a group of partying youths on a make-out and drinking getaway. A certain someone has returned home to his stomping grounds and now has targeted both young partiers and innocent family alike. Will any of them survive his relentless rage?

This installment brought in The Prowler director Joseph Zito and he brings the suspense, atmosphere and intensity to the proceedings that made that 1981 slasher one of the more entertaining of the time period. He comes very close to providing an equal to the original Friday with what was supposed to be Jason’s final film. The kills are brutal, as well, and with Savini’s return, the make-up FX are quite inventive and gory. Zito leaves some of the lighter humor that appeared in Part 3 behind and it keeps the atmosphere taunt and foreboding, as it should be. The film also added an interesting plot element in the character of Rob (Erich Anderson), who at first seems like a hunter/camper, but turns out to be the vengeful brother of a girl murdered by Jason (Sandra played by Marta Kober from Part 2) and he is now stalking the lethal serial killer with the intent of ending his reign of terror. One of the film’s few faults is the confrontation between these two could have been a bit more epic. The character of young Tommy (Feldman) being a bit of a geek/make-up artist also adds a fun twist to the proceedings.

As for the rest of the characters, this bunch are a lot livelier then most of the generic victims and with the inclusion of Crispin Glover in one of his most ‘normal’ roles as a shy teen and 80s movie fixture Judy Aronson as a one of the babes, we get a nice group of likable, horny teens to fall under Jason’s varied weapons. It gives their deaths impact because we like them and the young cast give them life and personality. Also stars Hell Night’s Peter Barton as one of the party goers who meets Jason’s wrath and the score is one again by Harry Manfredini.

A really good entry in the series and by far the best of the sequels.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: There is a small mistake here in this installment. When driving past a graveyard, they spot Mrs. Voorhees’ tombstone which has her date of death being 1979. But, as we all know, she actually died on Friday June 13th, 1980 by having her head removed by final girl Alice in the original Friday The 13th.

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) hockey masks

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: EX MACHINA and ANNIHILATION

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MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature is back again, this time with the two feature films from writer/director Alex Garland. For those who like visually striking and thought-provoking science fiction, read on…

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EX MACHINA (2015)

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

Ex Machina is a great little thought-provoking piece of Sci-Fi from Alex Garland, who wrote the cult favorite Dredd and the equally thought-provoking Sunshine. It’s his first directorial effort and as such, it shows he is as adept behind the camera as he is the keyboard.

The film opens with Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), an employee of the internet company Bluebook, being chosen to spend the week at the remote home of the company’s CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Caleb arrives and finds this is not a social event, but he is there to assist in testing a Bateman created artificial intelligence housed inside a very life-like robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Though as Caleb begins his test to see if the A.I. is truly self-aware or just responding to programming, he starts to believe that Nathan may have a dark side and there may be far more to Ava than mere machine.

To describe the story anymore would be to ruin a really interesting and entertaining piece of Sci-Fi from British writer/director Garland. The film obviously takes us to places that we originally did not expect from our opening sequences and certainly more than one character, human and/or machine, may be more than they first appear. Garland brilliantly guides us into his set-up and gets us very interested and emotionally invested in what’s going on and then, slowly starts to pull the rug out from under us, gradually, so we at first don’t realize it. Does Bateman have a hidden agenda?…does Caleb?…or does Ava? It’s a subtle but intense journey to find out what is really going on in this remote home/research facility and one that leaves us thinking about where artificial intelligence ends and sentient life begins. It’s a subject also touched upon in last year’s equally intriguing The Machine, but Garland doesn’t bother going onto the broader implications of A.I. as weapons or something as equally cliché or grandiose, but goes deeper than that to a far more intimate and emotional arena. Just how human can these creations get…and what effect will that have on us? Where does programming end and legitimate emotions begin? Where is the line and when does it disappear?…and what if it does? Do we treat these ‘machines’ as such, or as humans? Garland definitely posses a lot of intriguing questions while skillfully entertaining us with a story that can be equal parts endearing and disturbing. On a technical level, this modestly budgeted thriller has a really interesting visual style with a stark contrast of the gorgeous Norway locations used for the exterior sequences and the colder and more sterile interior of Bateman’s home/lab. The interiors sometimes evoke Kubricks 2001: A Space Odyssey with it’s almost sterile and functional interior design that contrast it’s occupant with Bateman’s, casual, shoeless and unshaven appearance. Garland has a nice eye for shot framing and it is captured well by cinematographer Rob Hardy whose lighting adds a lot of mood and atmosphere. There is also a very moody electronic score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow and the special visual FX are excellently carried out in presenting Ava and some of the more fantastic elements. A very impressive production on a limited budget.

The cast is excellent! Domhnall Gleeson is perfect as the programmer whisked into the lair of his company CEO and shown wonders he never expected. He obviously starts to have feelings for Ava and the actor makes you believe these feelings are real…and you understand his actions based on them. Oscar Isaac creates an eccentric yet brilliant man with his Nathan Bateman. He is also a man that seems troubled and may have a very dark side and Isaac let’s that bubble just below the surface before our story really starts to show Bateman’s true nature and agenda. As Ava, Alicia Vikander is totally enchanting. We understand how Caleb can start to fall for her, despite her being a machine and Vikander makes her innocent, yet intelligent and gives her a charm and vulnerability which is very convincing…and distracting. Rounding out is Soyona Mizuno as Bateman’s personal assistant Kyoko, who doesn’t speak any English and Mizuno gives her a nice air of mystery that suits the story tone.

In conclusion I really loved this movie. It’s thought provoking, skillfully crafted and keeps one intrigued and guessing. It is intelligently written, but avoids pretension and it can be very very entertaining and a bit disturbing when it needs to be. Definitely made my list of best films of the year for 2015.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 4 (out of 4) Avas.

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ANNIHILATION (2018)

Biologist and former soldier Lena (Natalie Portman) hasn’t seen or heard from her commando husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) for over a year. When he finally shows up at her door sick and disorientated, a black ops team abducts them both to a secret location designated Area X. There Lena finds out there is some sort of disruption called “The Shimmer” surrounding an area of land with a lighthouse being it’s point of origin. This “Shimmer” is slowly growing and everything and everyone sent into it has never returned…except for Kane. Now Lena volunteers to join a four women scientific team, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), geologist Sheppard, (Tuva Novotny) and Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez) to enter The Shimmer and find out what is going on inside. What they find is beyond belief and whatever it is, it’s changing the DNA of all lifeforms trapped inside it as it expands.

Another well directed sci-fi flick from writer/director Alex Garland (Ex Machina), this one from a book by Jeff Vandermeer. Not only is the film visually stunning, but thought-provoking, suspenseful and sometimes downright scary, too. Garland’s script only feeds us information a little at a time so we learn about The Shimmer and it’s effects on life, much as our four explorers do. The further they go into the anomaly, the more mutated the plant and animal life seems to get…and dangerously so. Along the way they visit an abandoned military base and an evacuated town where even more mysteries and abominations are presented to us. Add to this a group of women who are slowly coming apart at the seams and you have a sci-fi chiller that, at times, evokes the fear and paranoia of John Carpenter’s The Thing. We know it’s all coming down to a visit to that lighthouse at the center and what awaits us is chilling to the bone. On a production level, the film has some top notch visual FX and to add atmosphere to an already atmospheric film, is some wonderful cinematography from Rob Hardy and a fitting score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, who did the same for Garland on Ex Machina.

The cast is top notch. Portman’s Lena is a somewhat emotionally complex character. She’s a woman who has had no word from her husband in a long time and even then there were complications in their relationship. Now he reappears and is in bad shape and needs her help. Add to that a woman already interested in biology and cellular activity and it creates a character with both scientific and personal reasons to go on what could be a suicide mission. Portman handles it very well. Leigh is strong as the group leader and another woman with her own personal reasons to enter The Shimmer. She’s tough and strong and can be hard on the others, but she never reaches villainous levels. Tessa Thompson is the emotionally weakest of the group and she is sweet and very likable and the first to bond with Lena. Rodriguez is the tough paramedic, Anya Thorenson. While she is a strong character, she is in over her head in terms of what her mind can accept of what she sees and the actress plays it well. Novotny’s Sheppard is a likable character as the team geologist and another character that bonds with Lena on this out of this world journey. Rounding out is Oscar Isaac who plays a lot of the role of Kane in a disoriented state, except for flashbacks when he is himself and does it well. A dependable actor.

There is very little to complain about here with a film that is a return to more thought-provoking science fiction. It is also a visually stunning ride, a suspenseful journey into a dangerous unknown and sometimes, a simply scary flick. We have a solid cast of strong female characters who each have their own reasons for going where only one has returned. It’s well-written, intensely directed and shows, like Ex Machina, that Alex Garland is a cinematic force to be reckoned with and a filmmaker who walks to the beat of his own drum.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) lighthouses.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and VFW

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MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature is back again and featuring another flick from director to watch Joe Begos. His latest flick VFW throws some serious love at John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13, so, what better feature to pair it up with than the film that Begos so affectionately pays homage to. It’s a Saturday night of awesome siege flicks, with the master John Carpenter and the next generation Joe Begos!

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ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

Tasked by producer J.S. Kaplan to make a low budget film for him, John Carpenter came up with this violent and action filled urban version of one of his favorite Howard Hawks westerns, Rio Bravo. Two years before he hit big with Halloween, Carpenter wrote, directed, edited and composed the score for this cult classic about a remote and soon to close ghetto police station, under siege by a vengeful and well armed youth gang. Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is sent to oversee the closing night of the Anderson ghetto police precinct, an assignment he expects to be routine and dull. But across town a youth gang with a cache of stolen guns and already sworn to avenge the death of some members by a police ambush, roam the streets looking to take their anger out on someone. They pick a poor ice cream vendor (Peter Bruni) and when a little girl (Kim Richards) gets in the way, both vendor and his young customer are brutally murdered. When the little girl’s father (Martin West) follows and kills a gang member, the rest chase him across Anderson where he finds himself at the skeleton crewed police station. Add to that the arrival of a bus carrying prisoners being transported to a state correctional facility who stop at the precinct when one prisoner takes ill and we have a recipe for a night of violence, revenge and a fight to survive. Now Bishop and the meager staff of the precinct must decide if they can trust two hardened criminals as the gang Street Thunder lays siege to the station with intensions of killing everyone inside.

Assault On Precinct 13 is a great little action flick that definitely foreshadows the type of intensity, suspense and style that John Carpenter would become known for. The film is loaded with tense action as the gang tries to get into the station and slaughter all inside and the uneasy alliance of cop and inmate must somehow fend them off with very little arms or ammo. And it works, because not only has Carpenter set up this claustrophobic situation of a remote and small building surrounded by vicious enemies, but fills it with great and endearing characters like the noble Bishop, the death row inmate with a sense of honor, Napoleon Wilson (a great Darwin Joston) and resilient and tough secretary, Leigh (Laurie Zimmer).

The acting is top notch with Stoker, Joston and Zimmer really giving intense and well rounded performances in their respective roles and a good supporting cast including Carpenter familiar faces Charles Cyphers, as the prison bus commanding officer and Nancy Loomis as meek secretary Julie, along with Tony Burton as prison inmate Wells. We never get to personally interact much with the vengeful gang, instead they are presented as a malevolent and deadly force, a faceless wall of death that surrounds and closes in on the station’s occupants and this approach keeps them a dangerous and unpredictable element whom we fear because, like Michael Myers in Halloween, they appear less human and more a force of homicidal rage. It gives them a supernatural quality despite being very much flesh and bone.

The action scenes are very intimate but intense, fast paced and well shot and, as with all Carpenter’s movies, the film has a great visual style that makes good use of it’s desolate locations and it’s largely night set scenes. While the film didn’t get much notice upon release, it was a hit in Europe and, as with a lot of Carpenter’s work, is now recognized for the classic film that it is. In my opinion it is one of what I call ‘Carpenter’s Core 5’ which in my opinion are his best films… or at least my favorites… Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York and The Thing. A great low budget action classic!

Rated 4 (out of 4) classic bullets.

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VFW (2019)

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Bliss director Joe Begos’ latest flick takes place in a very near future where a highly addictive drug called “hype” has turned it’s users into violent addicts and city streets into war zones. Inside one of those war zones lives Viet Nam war veteran Fred (Stephen Lang) who runs a VFW hall where his friends and fellow soldiers Walter (William Sadler), Abe (Fred Williamson), Thomas (George Wendt), Lou (Martin Kove) and Doug (David Patrick Kelly) hang out. One night a young woman called Lizard (Sierra McCormick) steals some hype from drug dealer Boz (Travis Hammer), to get revenge on Boz for killing her sister (Linnea Wilson). On the run from Boz and his gang, Lizard runs into the VFW hall for cover. Still men of honor, Fred and the other veterans vow to protect Lizard as Boz, his thugs and an army of frantic hype addicts lay siege to the VFW hall.

Flick is basically John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 on crack as directed by Begos from a script by Matthew McArdle and Max Brallier. That is in no way a bad thing, as this is a bloody blast of an action flick as the war veterans take on an army of zoned-out drug addicts and a psychotic gang of thugs. We are treated to spurting blood, flying limbs and exploding heads, as the war vets use guns, axes and a host of homemade booby traps and weapons to keep the vicious gang at bay. It’s fast paced, though not enough that we don’t get to know this endearing bunch of men who never stopped being soldiers at heart. That is what makes this click all the better, is that despite all the fast and furious action, Begos lets the script’s messages about respecting and honoring those who have served, shine through. One of the very few issues with the flick is that the army of crazed drug addicts seems to come and go at the needs of the script, instead of consistently laying siege to the VFW hall. They disappear conveniently when the film needs a quiet moment for our characters to regroup. Other than that, Begos accomplishes a lot on a small budget, delivers the blood and action and has assembled a great cast of veteran actors to play his aged warriors…

…and how can you not like this cast!…Stephan Lang makes his Fred a world weary yet still honorable and strong man, one who still has nobility and honor. Sadler makes for a very likable Walter, a good-natured man who remembers the days of war as a time of loyalty and friends made. Williamson still kicks ass as the tough yet somewhat mellowing Abe and Martin Kove is solid as the business man of the group, car salesman Lou. Lou is the only one wanting to “deal” with Boz and his gang to save his own skin. Wendt and Kelly are also likable as grizzled vets Thomas and Doug, who still have their senses of humor about them. As our bad guys, Travis Hammer is a bit weak as Boz. He’s more sleazy than scary or intimidating, but he isn’t a hinderance to the blood soaked fun. Making up for it is Bliss’ Dora Madison as gang member Gutter. She’s ruthless, vicious and deadly and probably should have been the main villain…just sayin’. Any girl that takes on Fred “The Hammer” Williamson is not to be taken lightly. Rounding out is Tom Williamson (All Cheerleaders Die ) as a young vet named Shawn who wanders into the hall just home from the Middle East, Sierra McCormick (Some Kind of Hate), who is solid as the tough Lizard and Begos regular Graham Skipper as Boz’s brother, Roadie. A good cast.

Overall, this was a blood-soaked blast of a good time that manages to not only be bloody entertaining, but heartfelt about how we should view our war veterans. It’s got a lot of bloody action, but doesn’t move too fast that we don’t endear to these grizzled vets. It has some well rendered and plentiful gore, a great John Carpenter-esque score by Steve Moore and some effective cinematography by Mike Testin. All in all, it might be the most fun you’ll have at a bloodbath in quite some time. Flick is available on Amazon Prime and definitely worth the rental!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) bullets.

 

 

 

 

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE DEVIL’S CANDY and BLISS

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Been a long time since the last MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature, but after re-watching Joe Begos’ Bliss, I realized it would make a great double feature with Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy. Both flicks feature tortured artists, supernatural influences on their art, hard core music and neither skimps on blood and gore. So, on to the sex, gore and Rock n’ Roll!…

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THE DEVIL’S CANDY (2015)

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

I’m a huge fan of Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones and was obviously looking forward to seeing another flick from him…and finally, after eight years, it’s here. The Devil’s Candy is Byrne’s newest film, made in 2015, it’s only now getting a proper release on VOD and in select theaters from the cool folks at IFC Midnight.

The story here is of heavy metal loving artist Jesse (Ethan Embry), who moves to an old rural farmhouse with his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and chip-off-the-old-block teen daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco). While Jesse and Astrid know that the couple that formerly lived there died in the house, what they don’t know is that it is also home to some kind of malevolent influence. If it’s not bad enough that Jesse’s art starts to take a dark and ominous tone soon after moving in, Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), the child murdering son of the previous owners, wants to come home…and he has set his demented sights on Zooey.

While not quite as intense as The Loved Ones, and lacking it’s twisted sense of humor, this is still an atmospheric, disturbing and sometimes brutally violent horror flick. The mix of heavy metal music and demonic horror, obviously works as the two have been paired up since Black Sabbath took to the airwaves in 1968. While the demonic influence elements are nothing new, they are very effective as used by Bryne, draped in his thick atmosphere of foreboding. The most disturbing elements, though, are obviously Ray’s need to “feed” The Devil his favorite candy…children. He stalks Zooey right out in the open and the distraction the malevolent entity feeds Jesse by way of his art, leaves poor Zooey unprotected. It creates some very unsettling scenes as Ray gets closer to obtaining his goal, including one in Zooey’s bedroom that is absolutely bone chilling. This all leads up to not one but two harrowing sequences with Zooey and the rotund pervert, each more intense than the last. There are some drawbacks. The film comes in at a very tight 79 minutes and it sometimes feels too quickly over for it’s own good. We wish we had a little more time to let certain scenes resonate and be given a little more time to let the disturbing nature of what is transpiring sink in before moving on to the next dramatic moment. It is also never quite clear whether it is this demonic influence that led Ray to kill, or was it his homicidal habit that brought the entity into the house…if not…why is it there? On a technical level the film looks great and while there is some week CGI during the climax, the rest of the FX work is solid and there is a really atmospheric score from Mads Heldtberg, Michael Yezerski and the band Sunn O)))

If anything helps one past some of the flaws, it’s a really good cast. Ethan Embry has become a fixture in some good horror/thrillers lately such as the frustrated son in the awesome Late Phases, or the ill-fated gun dealer in The Guest. He is really good here, not only as metal head/family man Jesse, but in portraying Jesse’s gradual transformation from attentive father into obsessed artist. As his frustrated and scared wife, Shiri Appleby is solid as a woman whose family life is disrupted from both within and without. She has a suddenly moody and unfocused husband at home and a hulking child killer lurking about after her daughter. Appleby makes her a bit more than a damsel in distress, though she isn’t given as much to do when all hell breaks loose as we’d have liked. Kiara Glasco makes a really good impression as Zooey. A teen who walks to the beat of her father influenced drum but is her own person. She’s a tough kid and a little rebellious and the young actress has a great chemistry with Embry, so their father/daughter relationship really works well on screen. She has a couple of tough scenes to portray and does a good job. Making this all come together is a really disturbing performance by veteran actor Pruitt Taylor Vince (recently seen as “Otis” in The Walking Dead). Vince really makes Ray a creepy person who makes you uncomfortable every moment he’s on camera. It really makes you fear for Zooey, especially when he catches up to her…more than once. He makes your skin crawl. A solid cast just as in Byrne’s first flick.

So maybe writer/director Sean Byrne hasn’t quite equaled The Loved Ones in his sophomore feature flick, but he has delivered another disturbing, atmospheric and bloody movie that is of a different sort than his previous twisted love story. This plot may be a bit more commonplace, but he uses the familiar tropes very effectively. The theatrical cut…wikipedia lists a 10 minute longer festival cut…may be a little too short for it’s own good and there are some unanswered questions, but a really strong cast and a director who knows how to turn the screws makes up for a lot of it. Highly recommended. especially if you loved Sean Byrne’s previous work.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and1/2 (out of 4) screaming guitars!

 

 

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BLISS (2019)

Dezzy (Dora Madison) is a down on her luck artist and drug abuser who is having trouble finishing a piece that could turn her life around. She vents her frustration in a night of debauchery, involving alcohol, a new drug from her dealer and a threesome with friend Courtney (Tru Collins) and Courtney’s boyfriend Ronnie (Rhys Wakefield). Not only does this get her working on her painting again, but gives her an insatiable appetite for blood.

Joe Begos writes and directs this sometimes hallucinogenic tale of artistic block, depravity and vampirism. Begos’ first two features Almost Human and The Mind’s Eye were homage heavy flicks, though very entertaining. Here he shows he can do something outside of his influences and do it well, even on a very small budget, which seems to suit Begos. While not a traditional vampire tale, as Dezzy has no fangs and doesn’t turn into any creatures of the night, it has some gory demises once Dezzy’s thirst drives her to kill. Whatever she is, can be killed by a wooden stake, as Courtney demonstrates by finishing off one of Dezzy’s victims, and apparently sunlight can be lethal, too. Vampires or not, this is a tale of excess and Begos sometimes put’s his audience inside Dezzy’s head trips and it gives us a sense of the state of mind the troubled artist is in. It’s a trip and a disturbing one for all the right reasons. The gore is very plentiful and well orchestrated and the film itself has a raw feel to it that works very well, as it revels in the seedier side of Los Angeles nightlife. A contemporary vampire tale substituting ancient curses and cloves of garlic for sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.

While there are quite a few supporting players, it’s very much a one woman show and lead Dora Madison (Exists) rises to the occasion. She dives into the role with a passionate yet very real performance. One doesn’t feel like they are watching a movie character, but a real person whose artistic nature has her living a life of excesses and extreme stimulation, and this is before she is transformed into a creature of the night. Her role requires a lot of nudity, drug use and hedonistic behavior, not to mention outbursts of rage, anger and violence when she realizes something is very wrong with her and her bloodlust takes hold. The actress performs it all very well. The supporting cast, such as Collins as Courtney and Jeremy Gardner as Dezzy’s “friend” Clive all create interesting people who seem to dwell more within the underground lifestyle of L.A. A good cast of interesting characters.

Overall, Begos is once again proving he is a filmmaker to watch. His homages to The Thing (Almost Human) and Scanners (The Mind’s Eye) were solid flicks that paid respectful tribute to their inspirations. Here Begos shows he can operate outside his influences and presents a tale of a young woman’s downward spiral into madness, depravity and murder all in the name of artistic expression. It’s trippy, gory and dirty and sleazy in all the right places. Looking forward to Begos’ upcoming VFW about a group of war veterans under siege at a VFW hall.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) fangs, even if Dezzy doesn’t have any.

 

 

 

 

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: HELLBOY II and BLADE II

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Been a long time since the last Saturday Night Double Feature, but with a Hellboy reboot on the way and talk of a new Blade film with Wesley Snipes, It’s time to revisit both series with their Guillermo del Toro directed entries…

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HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008)

Guillermo del Toro cranks things up for the Hellboy sequel which really scores with an amazing visual style and some stunning creature design. Del Toro this time brings a faster and more even pace to this one, as well as, a story that is a bit more Brothers Grimm than Lovecraft and that helps lighten the tone a bit, too. There’s a little more humor (Hellboy and Abe drunkenly singing Barry Manilow is sidesplitting), but the film never gets silly.

The story this time finds Hellboy (Ron Perlman) outing himself to the general public while a noble but vengeful elf prince, Nuada, (Played with dignity and strength by Luke Goss) plans to resurrect the mythic Golden Army to rid the world of mankind, so the creatures of fairy can return to their former glory. His twin sister, Nuala (Anna Walton) tries to thwart his efforts at genocide and allies herself with Hellboy and the team to protect pieces of a golden crown which can resurrect and control the goblin-made mechanical army. Can Hellboy defeat this powerful elven prince in order to protect the very humans who now seem to reject him, despite all he’s done to protect them?

Del Toro stages some absolutely beautiful set pieces with his trademark sumptuous visually style and design. Highlights of the film being The Troll Market scene and the following sequence featuring a giant plant elemental battling our heroes by the Brooklyn Bridge. They alone are worth the price of admission, not to mention the climactic battle against the Golden Army itself. There is an amazing assortment of supporting fantasy creatures that are incredibly designed and rendered and are worth the price of admission as well. Once again the mix of practical and CGI FX is truly breathtaking and elevate an already very entertaining film.

The cast are mostly all back except, Doug Jones now voices Abe himself and Agent Myers is absent. There is also new team member Johann Krauss, an ectoplasmic gas in a diving suit voiced by Seth MacFarlane, who butts heads…or glass bubbles…with the loose cannon, Hellboy.

Not only is Hellboy 2 a bigger and faster paced supernatural action flick, but it is a visual feast for the eyes and just plain loads of fun. A sequel that exceeds and improves on the entertaining original.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Hellboys!

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BLADE II (2002)

In my opinion Blade II is the best of the Blade series and is certainly my personal favorite in the comic book-based trilogy. Second adventure of the half human, half vampire hero Blade (Wesley Snipes) finds him hunting down Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) who has been taken and turned by the vampires. Upon finding him and using his serum to effect a cure, Blade is contacted by the vampire hierarchy…and asked for help. It seems a vampire mutation strain has evolved creating vicious creatures called Reapers, who hunt vampires much like they hunt humans. The vampires’ reasoning is that once the vampires are wiped out by the rapidly multiplying Reapers, they will turn on the humans that Blade protects. Why not work together to destroy a common foe? Now the vampire slayer must join forces with his mortal enemies in order to defeat a threat that makes even vampires afraid of the dark…but can he trust his new allies?

As directed by Guillermo del Toro, Blade II has a great visual style, some fierce, gory action, a cool cast of supporting characters, along with a nasty and very effective foe in the Reapers. Where the first Blade was an action film with horror elements, Blade II is a horror film with lots of action…win, win!  Under Del Toro’s guidance, the cast all bring vivid life to their comic book-style characters. Wesley Snipes really takes control of the Blade character at this point, no more evident than in the scene where he first meets ‘The Bloodpack’, a team of vampire commandos who’s sole purpose is to kill him, but now must work with him against the Reapers. “Can you blush?” Luke Goss is fierce and yet noble as the Reaper leader Jared Nomak, a monster with some interesting secrets. Kris Kristofferson is cantankerous, as always, as Blade’s partner, mentor and weapon’s maker, Whistler. Leonor Valera is the beautiful Nyssa, a vampire aristocrat and warrior who steals Blade’s heart, despite being of a species he’s sworn to destroy. And Ron Perlman is effective and entertaining, as usual, as Bloodpack member Reinhard who is not happy with Blade as an ally and would love to take him down first chance he gets.

Blade II is a really fun flick and gives us some great and gory action set pieces, as when Blade and The Bloodpack take on the Reapers in a vampire night club, again in the catacombs underneath the city and finally, the climactic three-way showdown between Blade, Nomak and some double crossing vampires in the vampire stronghold. A really fast paced, delightfully gory and very entertaining action/horror with Blade at his best. Also stars Norman “Daryl Dixon” Reedus as Blade’s new sidekick, Scud and Hong Kong legend, Donnie Yen…who also choreographed the fight action…as Bloodpack member, Snowman. A really good movie and the best of this fun and far too short-lived series.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) fangs!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT 1 & 2

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Haven’t done one of these in a long time! However, the Halloween season 🎃👻 is approaching and what better way to spend a Saturday night during the spooky season than with a good double feature. Here is a pair of found footage flicks that take place in the world of Halloween Haunts and makes a splendidly spooky double bill to enjoy with some popcorn and pumpkin ale!

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THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT (2014)

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

The Houses October Built is a found footage horror with a simple but fairly novel 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. This includes tracking down an almost mythical attraction called The Blue Skeleton rumored to be the most extreme of all. Obviously, the more intense these attractions get, the stranger the individuals they run into and it increasingly appears this group might be getting more than they bargained for, until they actually find the elusive Blue Skeleton and…as the old saying goes…be careful what you wish for!

I liked this found footage horror, which seems to have grown out of director Bobby Roe’s own 2011 documentary about Halloween attractions with the same name and cast. The film sets up the intriguing idea that there are attractions out there that hire questionable individuals who have no problem crossing boundaries to get the appropriate scares…and are not to be trifled with. The film then illustrates what may happen when a group of thrill-seeking individuals goes looking for such fright experiences and unfortunately finds them. This is not a great flick, but has some very creepy moments, not only from some of the attractions our crew visit, but when they piss off the wrong people and it begins to be clear that they are being followed by some malevolent individuals…or are they being lead? The found footage format makes you feel like you are there with this fairly likable bunch, but the drawback is that I never felt like I was watching anything but actors. They never really make you feel like they are real people, so I wasn’t completely taken in when they appear to be threatened or in harm’s way. The film still has some very effective moments, especially in the last act when things start to go very wrong for our group and the only female, Brandy (Brandy Schaefer) seems to be singled out at times. I will admit, though, that the climax could have used a bit more intensity and shock value to offset the fact that we go into this knowing it won’t end well to some degree. It’s not a groundbreaking film, but it does work on quite a few levels and we can’t help but imagine ourselves in a spot where we are surrounded by individuals who may not know…or care..where the show ends and real terrorizing begins.

So, I did like this flick. I think it’s clever that Roe made a documentary about some really over-the-top Halloween attractions and used what he learned to turn it into a movie. It’s as if this actually happened to him and his crew while they were making the 2011 film. Almost a film within a film, though I have yet to see the original documentary and hope to remedy that. This isn’t a great horror, but it is a spooky enough flick about a hidden dark side to a favorite holiday pastime. It may not ever totally make us feel like we’re watching actual footage, but has enough effective imagery and situations to accomplish a good deal of what it sets out to do. Film was co-written by Roe along with Zack Andrews and Jason Zada and stars Roe, Andrews, Brandy Schaefer, Mikey Roe and Jeff Larson as themselves. If you like Halloween and all the trappings, you’ll probably enjoy this effective little flick.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 scary clowns… and there are plenty in this flick!

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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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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and SLITHER

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Haven’t done one of these in a long time! These two features are paired up for obvious reasons, but let it be known that James Gunn sights David Cronenberg’s The Shivers as an inspiration for his gooey creature feature and not Night of the Creeps!…though they pair a bit better being both horror/comedies.

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NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986)

Fred Dekker wrote and directed 2 of my favorite 80’s guilty pleasures, the underrated The Monster Squad (our second feature) and this B-movie blast, Night of the Creeps. A fun sci-fi/ horror that is not only a homage to the drive-in flicks of the 50’s, but is nostalgically 80’s now, too. Creeps starts out with a desperate chase inside an alien spaceship where a fugitive releases a tube from the ship carrying an “experiment” before being gunned down by his fellow crew members. The tube lands on earth in 1959 where two college students are on a date at a make-out point. The young man sees the tube land and heads into the woods to find it. His pretty date remains behind and is killed by an escaped ax murder while her date gets a face full of alien slugs when he finds the tube and it opens. We then move forward almost 30 years later where dorky college freshman Chris (Jason Lively) and handicapped bud J.C. (Steve Marshall) are desperate to join a fraternity, so Chris can impress beautiful sorority girl Cindy (Jill Whitlow). A little too anxious to accomplish an initiation prank they are assigned to carry out at the morgue, the two wander into the wrong room and wind up letting loose a frozen corpse from suspended animation…that of the young man infected by the alien slugs in the opening sequence. Now with fellow students being infected by the freed creatures and zombifying, the two team up with Cindy and a detective with a past linked to the 1959 ax murder (a great Tom Atkins) to try to stop the alien invasion from spreading through the entire campus and then the world.

Night Of The Creeps is a lot of fun. The whole thing is tongue in cheek from the campy dialog to every major character having the last name of a horror movie director. And, best of all, the audience is in on the fun. Dekker does take his material seriously to a degree so not to make a complete joke out of it and so it does have some suspense and tension, but in the spirit of the drive-in movies of the 50s, lets the deliberately absurd material, bathed with homage, deliver the fun. The cast also play their parts straight and are all good with Atkins’ cynical and grumpy Detective Cameron stealing the show with his one liners and our three leads giving us some very likable heroes and heroines to root for. Whitlow also makes for a fetching flame thrower wielding sorority girl. The entire cast seems to get the tone of the material and it really makes this work. The FX are really good too and there is some nice and abundant gore to go along with the slimy critters and their army of co-ed zombies.

A real fun homage to the sci-fi horrors of yesteryear, as well as, a great slice of fun 80s horror, too. How can you not like a movie with the line “I’ve got good news and bad news, girls… the good news is your dates are here…’what’s the bad news?’… they’re dead!”

MONSTERZERO NJ TRIVIA: Keep an observant eye out as Dekker gives a little shout out to his next movie The Monster Squad in a scene with J.C.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 infected aliens!

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Slither

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SLITHER (2006)

Slither is a really fun sci-fi/comedy from writer/director James Gunn who helmed Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy flick. This creepy, gooey story is set in the small town of Wheelsy, South Carolina where a meteorite crash lands in the woods and is happened upon by two-timing husband Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) while out messing around with a local girl. Grant is stuck in the chest by some kind of organic dart from within the object and immediately starts to change physically and behaviorally. At first he tells his wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks) it’s an allergic reaction to a bee sting, but as Grant starts chowing down on the local pets and begins transforming into something otherworldly, Starla turns to Sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) for help. As fate would have it, Starla Grant has also been the apple of Sheriff Pardy’s eye since they were kids and as the two former school sweethearts try to figure out why Grant is transforming into a ‘squid’. Meanwhile Grant impregnates local girl-toy Brenda (Brenda James), who then gives birth to hundreds of slug-like creatures who set upon the town entering their victims through their mouths and turning the locals into zombies at alien infected Grant’s command. Can Bill, Starla and whoever is left stop this extraterrestrial threat and save Wheesley and the world from this slimy alien incursion?

Gunn directs this fun flick with tongue firmly in cheek. The film doesn’t make a joke out of it’s homage filled story, but never takes itself too seriously either. And while it is light in tone, it is not without it’s share of suspense and chills. The cast are all having a good time with Fillion once again showing he can play comedy and be a charming leading man. Rooker is delightfully over the top as the infected Grant. The actor is having a blast as he transforms into an alien creature who seems to enjoy some of the side benefits of being human, such as his host’s pretty wife. Banks is quite feisty as Starla and makes a fun combo of damsel and heroine and has a great chemistry with both Rooker and Fillion. Also in the cast is Gregg Henry as the obnoxious ass of a Mayor who goes by the name of R.J. MacReady (a nod to Carpenter’s The Thing) and The Office’s Jenna Fischer in a small role as Sheriff Pardy’s sassy receptionist Shelby. The make-up FX are excellent with Grant going through numerous stages as he transforms and of course the activities of his slug-like minions and their carnage are well portrayed. It is a mix of practical and CGI, but it appears mostly practical with some very well done CGI in support, the way it should be. The production value is high on this modestly budgeted film and there is an effective score by Tyler Bates to add atmosphere.

Whether it’s paying homage to The Thing, The Shivers, Night Of The Creeps or The Blob to name a few, Slither is just a real fun, gory and very entertaining night at the movies with a great cast and it’s heart in the right place. Much like some of the films it pays tribute to, Slither was sadly overlooked when it first came out, but seems to have now found it’s audience and developed a bit of a cult following. A highly recommended and delightfully gooey movie.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 disturbingly shaped alien slugs.

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