REVIEW: JOKER (2019)

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JOKER (2019)

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Joker is a daring and provocative origin story from DC tracing the beginnings of one of the greatest comic book villains of all time, back to one Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). Fleck is a man with issues of mental illness who lives with his mother, Penny (Frances Conroy), goes to therapy and works as a clown at a low level entertainment company. Arthur has dreams of being a stand-up comedian and delusions of grandeur, like being on the Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) Show. Arthur has a hard life and is picked on and beaten up by the thugs in a lawless Gotham City. Things start to change for Arthur, both good and bad, when he uses a gun he’s given by a coworker to defend himself, against three young and abusive Wall Street types on the subway. An uprising of the haves vs the have-nots ignites in Gotham over the incident, with clown faces as the symbol of those deprived of a better life. This fuels Arthur’s inner rage and delusional nature and starts him on the road to becoming the clown prince of crime we all know.

Joker is exceptionally directed by Todd Phillips and written by he and Scott SIlver and is a disturbing and dark take on the origins of a super villain. Phillips makes the movie all the more effective by keeping it grounded and the lack of an over-the-top comic book style, makes the portrayal more realistic, thus relatable, and intense. Gotham is not a Blade Runner-esque city, but a New York of the early 80s with crime, decadence and filth at an all-time high. Arthur is disturbed as it is, but is constantly pushed, picked on and preyed upon by Gotham’s dirty underbelly and apathetic elite. Arthur’s mental illness is treated head on by the script and we do feel bad for him as he grew up in an environment with a single mother with her own mental issues, along with her abusive boyfriends. The city of Gotham pushes him till he snaps and a madman is created. Fans fear not, as the links to the Dark Knight are there. Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) is running for mayor and not only is Arthur told the delusion by his mother that he is Wayne’s illegitimate son, he also meets young Bruce (Dante Pereira-Olson) when he tries to talk to his “dad” at Wayne Manor. The death of Bruce’s parents is also part of the goings on and signals what is to come for both young Mr. Wayne and Arthur who comes to want to be known only as “Joker”. It adds up to a dark and fascinating look at abuse, mental illness and how it drives one meek fellow to becoming a violent and quite unhinged psychopath. It’s a unique take on one of the comics greatest villains and an intense and sometimes shocking comic book themed film. Be warned, there is graphic violence and it is treated without humor unlike in the R-rated Deadpool flicks.

Joaquin Phoenix is simply brilliant as Arthur Fleck/Joker. From his mannerisms, body movements and overall performance he is riveting as first a pathetic and sad man trying to exist in a world completely unsympathetic to his mental issues, to a man who finally finds his smile committing horrific acts. It is a career defining performance from an actor already known for his eclectic performances. Simply a brilliant portrayal. De Niro is good as talk show host Murray Franklin who sees footage of Arthur’s terrible stand-up and wants to exploit him for laughs. Zazie Beetz is sweet as his single mom neighbor whom Arthur’s forms a delusional attachment to. Brett Cullen is solid as Thomas Wayne, a man who the film boldly portrays as a bit of a rich a-hole, when he is far more saintly in other portrayals. The various supporting players including Frances Conroy as Arthur’s ill and fading mom Penny, are all top notch. A great cast!

In conclusion this is a powerful film whose bold and daring portrayal of a legendary comic book character’s beginnings makes it one of the most unique comic book themed films thus far. It features a masterful performance by it’s leading man and by using a grounded approach to the material, makes it far more real and thus ultimately frightening. Men like Arthur Fleck do exist outside the comic books. A great movie. One of the best of the year!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) clown masks.

 

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REVIEW: DOCTOR SLEEP (2019)

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DOCTOR SLEEP (2019)

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Doctor Sleep is an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel which in itself is a sequel to The Shining. The film picks up in 1980 shortly after the events of the first film/book with Danny (Roger Dale Floyd) and his mother Wendy (Alex Essoe), who are both still traumatized from their stay at the Overlook Hotel. Danny is especially troubled because of his psychic abilities and what they attract. It then moves forward to 2011 where Danny is now an adult (Ewan McGregor) and an alcoholic mess of one at that, still trying to get over his emotional scars. He joins AA and gets a job at a hospice where he finds he can bring solace to the terminally ill residents. The film finally settles in presented day, with Dan now clean and sober, but being contacted by a girl with similar abilities named Abra (Kyliegh Curran). Unknown, at first, to Dan and Abra, a sinister group called the True Knot, who feed upon the powers of people with such abilities, are hunting Abra down. This eventually leads Dan and Abra back to the dreaded Overlook Hotel for a showdown with True Knot’s powerful leader Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and the spirits that still linger there.

Adaptation is written and directed by Mike Flanagan, who did the brilliant Gerald’s Game adaptation for Netflix and is one of the most innovative writer/directors in horror right now. Here he creates what is more of a dark fantasy than straight up horror with some clever representations of the various abilities of both those with Shining and the True Knot. The recreations of events, places and characters from Stanley Kubrick’s film are really on point, too and a lot of fun with some inspired casting, such as Starry Eyes’ Alex Essoe as Wendy and Carl Lumbly as Hallorann. If anything holds this intriguing and entertaining film back a bit, it’s that it feels like one must have read both Stephen King’s books to really appreciate the mythos being created here. Maybe this flick needed to be in two parts like the It adaptation, as it feels like certain things needed more attention, such as who or what really are the True Knot, and Abra and Dan’s friendship could have been fleshed out a bit more for it to resonate. Still, Flanagan has a solid script and is a good editor in cutting his own material, but here it just feels like there wasn’t enough of certain elements to really emotionally involve the uninitiated viewer not familiar with King’s books. The audience in attendance was very quiet and seemed a bit detached from the film. The flick does earn it’s R rating. There is graphic violence and some disturbing sequences, especially when the True Knot kidnap and murder a young boy (Jacob Trembly), and the final conflict had intensity and chills. It’s just, overall, the flick didn’t inspire a strong emotional investment to really get one involved in what was going on…unless there was already an invested interest in the material going in. A first for a Flanagan film, which are usually emotionally gripping and intense like Gerald’s Game and Hush. The FX are very well done and there are some really wild sequences, like Abra taking on Rose who’s not used to being challenged. At 152 minutes it’s not boring, there is an atmospheric score by the Newton Brothers and Flanagan’s visual style is well represented by Michael Fimognari’s cinematography. It just it wasn’t as gripping as it needed to be, despite all that Flanagan gets right…and he gets a lot right, here.

Flanagan has a great cast and the characters are well written. Ewan McGregor is very good as the adult Danny, who becomes a reluctant hero, of sorts, when the True Knot come after Abra. His downward spiral as an alcoholic and eventual recovery to the point where he is selfless enough to combat Rose, is well played by the veteran actor. As Rose, Rebecca Furguson steals the film as the sinister yet smolderingly sexy True Knot leader. A devious yet powerful woman and one who will commit horribly acts without question to keep she and her followers “fed.” Kyliegh Curran is very good as Abra, a powerful young teen in her own right. The actress gives her the strength needed to believe in her abilities, yet still keeps her a relatable teen. Cliff Curtis is also very good as Dan’s only friend and AA support, Billy. There are some familiar faces in the supporting cast, such as House of the Devil’s Jocelin Donahue as Abra’s mom, the before mentioned Alex Essoe as Wendy, Henry Thomas in a role not to be spoiled here and Bruce Greenwood as Dan’s AA group leader. Sadly, Greenwood’s likable Dr. John Dalton character just disappears and one questions his inclusion at all.

Overall, this was an entertaining film, though not as engrossing as it should have been. Flanagan directs solidly with a clever and innovative script, but doesn’t quite get the emotional investment needed from those not already familiar with King’s material and characters. There are some intense and disturbing sequences and the dark fantasy element works so very well, but something was still missing for those of us who haven’t read the books. It did have a strong villainess and it was spooky fun to revisit the Overlook Hotel again. A good movie, but as the end credits roll, one feels it should have been more.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) hats.

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: TERMINATOR-DARK FATE (2019)

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TERMINATOR-DARK FATE (2019)

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Ironically, in Terminator fashion, this new chapter goes back in time to erase it’s past, eliminating, Rise of the Machines, Salvation and Genisys from it’s timeline. The film opens in South America in 1998, a year after the averted Judgement Day was supposed to, but didn’t, occur. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is living there as a fugitive with John (Edward Furlong). They may have misjudged Skynet’s game plan, as another Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrives to complete it’s mission. The story then moves to 2020, with a new kind of Terminator, a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), appearing in Mexico to hunt factory worker Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). Arriving to protect her is technologically enhanced super-soldier Grace (Mackenzie Davis). Intercepting Grace and Dani is Sarah Connor (Hamilton) who has been hunting and destroying Terminators since we last saw her decades earlier. The question is…if Skynet was destroyed, avoiding Judgement Day, who is sending new Terminators and why are they after Dani? Worse still, the answers may lie in the memory banks of an old enemy.

Direct sequel to T2 is directed very well by Tim Miller (Deadpool) from a script and story by six people, including producer James Cameron, who returns to the franchise. Usually that many writers is a problem, but the script works very well in explaining how new Terminators are coming from the future when Skynet does not exist. It works very well and Miller’s solid direction, especially in the action sequences, helps get past the familiarities. We are kept in suspense as to why Dani is now a target and are given glimpses of a future that is once again apocalyptic, though for a somewhat different reason. Having Grace upgraded for Terminator combat makes sense and the new Rev-9 makes the lethal machines scary again, despite the whole Terminator of the month feel at this point. The only thing that the six writers didn’t pull off so well, is the reason for Arnold’s T-800 to be an ally. He is now a drapery installer named “Carl” and has an adopted family who haven’t yet figured out he’s a machine. What? He also has developed a conscience being without any guidance from Skynet and want’s to right past wrongs by helping Sarah, Grace and Dani…again, WHAT? Despite this plot hiccup, Arnold has some solid action moments battling Luna’s Rev-9 and does provide some humor that the film needs after all the explosions and bloodletting, this is a hard R, after all. On a production level the effects are top notch, the Mexican and Southwestern US locations give the film a bit of a fresh look and feel and the finale is quite exciting and fitting. There is some crisp cinematography by Ken Seng and Tom Holkenborg provides a good score when Brad Fiedel’s original theme isn’t being used to give it that Terminator flavor.

Miller is supported by a good cast. Linda Hamilton is great as the angrier, older and even more bitter Sarah. Her arrival gives goosebumps and it should, as she is a legendary figure in modern cinematic pop culture. Pretty Natalia Reyes makes an impression as Dani. She starts out a terrified girl and transforms into a fighter over the course of the film, much like Sarah first did over three decades earlier. Mackenzie Davis is noble and strong as Grace. Sort of the “Kyle Reese” part, an enhanced soldier to protect Dani from harm. A welcome addition to the franchise. Gabriel Luna is an intimidating Terminator as the Rev-9. Each film tries to up the game with it’s new model, but here they concentrate more on his lethality than gimmicky abilities. It works. Rounding out, while the story behind Arnold’s T-800 “Carl” being present is the only thing that didn’t click here, It is a return to form in many ways and it’s fun to see him back in action. Still not sure why he’s become the source of humor in this franchise, when he was so formidable in the first flick, but Arnold pulls it off.

In conclusion, it’s still the best Terminator sequel since T2, even if a lot of the elements are still familiar. The script explains well how the story can continue after the events of T2, even if it’s subplot of Arnold as the T-800 comes across as silly and preposterous. Some solid action scenes, a good cast and some excellent effects combined with an intense and suspenseful climax, help it overcome any story issues and also helps one overlook some of the lesser entries that preceded it. At least for this entry, this franchise is back to being a well-oiled machine.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) T-800s.

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEWS: 10 RECENT HORRORS IN TIME FOR HALLOWEEN!

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Harper (Katie Stevens) and friends find the wrong Halloween attraction to visit in Haunt!

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10 RECENT HORRORS IN TIME FOR HALLOWEEN!

The Halloween 🎃 season is here and once again horror flicks are filling theaters and online streaming platforms. There have been a number of spooky movies recently released and reviewed here and it’s time to recap some of these frights flicks. Click on the links to read the reviews to help decide which chillers and thrillers you’ll want to add to your Halloween watch list!…

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READY OR NOT

Ready or Not finds pretty Grace (Samara Weaving) about to marry into the wealthy but eccentric Le Domas family, who have grown rich on games and pro sports. After taking her vows with their son Alex (Mark O’Brien), it’s revealed she must follow tradition and play a game with the family at midnight. The game, chosen from a mysterious box, is hide and seek. What Grace also soon finds out is that she must hide as the family hunts her and that she must be captured and sacrificed before dawn to appease the mysterious Mr. Le Bail, who is responsible for the family’s success. If they don’t, they will all die. Now Grace is in a fight for her very life as she is alone and pursued through the labyrinth-like mansion…. CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW!

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ITSY BITSY

Flick has divorced home-care nurse Kara Spencer (Elizabeth Roberts) taking a job as a caretaker for an elderly man named Walter Clark (Bruce Davison). She movies into his guest house with her two kids Jesse (Arman Darbo) and Cambria (Chloe Perrin). Clark is a collector of ancient artifacts and has recently come into possession of an illegally obtained tribal vessel that when broken open unleashes a vicious entity that takes the form of an enormous and deadly spider. Now, unknown to them, it’s loose inside the house and out for blood…theirs…. CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW!

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IT: CHAPTER 2

It: Chapter Two is an adaptation of the second half of Stephen King’s classic novel, focusing on the characters as adults, though we still visit them as kids in flashbacks. It’s been 27 years since we last saw the characters and something sinister is stirring in Derry once more. Only Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) has remained and summons the other “Losers” Bill (James McAvoy), Bev (Jessica Chastain), Ben (Jay Ryan), Richie (Bill Hader), Eddie (James Ransone) and Stanley (Andy Bean) to return home to face Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), hopefully for the last time. Stanley commits suicide, but the remaining members reluctantly return and must face some of their own personal demons before they can confront the demonic clown…who has been patiently waiting for them…. CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW!

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SATANIC PANIC

Simple plot finds pizza delivery girl Sam (Hayley Griffith) delivering to a rich neighborhood and stumbling into a Satanic ceremony. She’s chosen as a sacrifice due to her virgin status, but the resourceful young lady escapes. She meets up with the Satanic Coven Leader Danica’s (Rebecca Romijn) outcast daughter Judi (Ruby Modine), who is in peril of her own and the two try to evade capture. Can the two women escape almost certain death with the forces of evil in hot pursuit?…. CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW!

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HAUNT

Story finds pretty Harper (Katie Stevens) trying to part with abusive boyfriend Sam (Samuel Hunt) and heading out to party on Halloween night with friends Bailey (Lauryn Alisa McClain), Angela (Shazi Raja) and Mallory (Schuyler Helford). At a club, they run into a couple of guys, Nathan (Will Brittain) and Evan (Andrew Caldwell) and decide to leave with them to find a Halloween haunt, dragging a reluctant Harper along. They stumble upon one such haunt, in the middle of nowhere and soon find they may have picked the wrong haunt to haunt…. CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW!

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CANDY CORN

Halloween set horror has a group of small town thugs following their cruel Halloween tradition of pranking local boy Jacob (Nate Chaney), who now works for a carnival. Their bullying takes an unexpected turn when Jacob finally fights back and they accidentally kill him in retaliation. The carnival’s ring master Dr. Death (Pancho Moler from Rob Zombie’s 31) uses his voodoo powers to resurrect Jacob as a mask wearing monster that avenges himself brutally on his attackers, leaving candy corn stuffed in their dead mouths…. CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW!

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HELL HOUSE LLC III: LAKE OF FIRE (2019)

Shudder Exclusive takes place nine years after the events of the first film with a new chapter of the story told with new footage. We find that the Abaddon Hotel was finally set to be demolished after all the death and disappearances that have occurred there. It was suddenly purchased in 2018 by entrepreneur Russell Wynn (Gabriel Chytry) to be used to stage his performance show Insomnia. He asked the new host of Morning Mysteries, Vanessa Shepherd (Elizabeth Vermilyea) to cover the set-up of the show with his cast and crew, leading up to opening night. It’s mostly her footage we are witnessing, as once again spooky things are documented occurring at the infamous location, leading up to an opening performance where all Hell breaks loose…literally…. CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW!

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ARTIK

Artik (Jerry G. Angelo) is a man who lives on a sunflower farm and likes to draw comics. He’s also a man who likes to imprison children to work on the farm and kill people. He’s trying to teach his son (Gavin White) the serial killer trade, until his son befriends a stranger (Chase Williamson) who starts to open the boy’s eyes about his dad’s “hobby”…and by that we don’t mean the comics…. CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW!

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DEPRAVED

Modern day Frankenstein tale has former army medic Henry (David Call) suffering from a traumatic tour in the Middle East and wanting to use his talents for a good purpose. He teams up with pharmaceutical exec Polidori (Joshua Leonard) to combine a new drug and Henry’s medical skills in the creation of a human being from spare body parts. Adam (Alex Breaux) is the result and at first seems like a naive child, but as in all such tales, the combination of the harshness of the world around him and the truth of his existence turns Adam’s curiosity and innocence into anger and rage…. CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW!

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BLISS

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…. CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW!

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Ten recent flicks, which isn’t bad considering only a few years ago there wasn’t much new to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve with. Not all of these are classics, but read the reviews and decide for your spooky selves which films will make you shiver for the Halloween season!

 

-MonsterZero NJ

You’ll have to excuse Judi (Ruby Modine), she’s having a bit of a Satanic Panic.

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HAUNT (2019)

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HAUNT (2019)

There have been a lot of horrors set in Halloween haunts as of late, from The Houses October Built to Hell Fest to Extremity, so, this Shudder* produced flick needed to impress coming in with a concept that is already becoming familiar…and not only does it do that, it might be one of the best horrors this year.

Story finds pretty Harper (Katie Stevens) trying to part with abusive boyfriend Sam (Samuel Hunt) and heading out to party on Halloween night with friends Bailey (Lauryn Alisa McClain), Angela (Shazi Raja) and Mallory (Schuyler Helford). At a club, they run into a couple of guys, Nathan (Will Brittain) and Evan (Andrew Caldwell) and decide to leave with them to find a Halloween haunt, dragging a reluctant Harper along. They stumble upon one such haunt, in the middle of nowhere and soon find they may have picked the wrong haunt to haunt.

Flick is directed intensely by the A Quiet Place writing duo of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who also scripted here. It’s premise may not be novel at this point, but is carried out very effectively. It starts out tense with Harper putting on make-up over a bruise suffered from her alcoholic boyfriend and Bailey trying to convince her to finally break up with him. We find out in flashbacks that Harper’s father was also an abusive alcoholic and all this personal drama gives the character some emotional depth, much like Extremity‘s emotionally wounded Allison. We are thus sympathetic to Harper, and her friends, too, as they are all likable characters, especially when we start to realize those running this backwoods haunt are in it for some deadly thrills of their own. The pranks start out playful and then get mean spirited before becoming lethal. The violence is sparse, so it has impact when it occurs and there is some decent gore once things really start to get vicious…and Harper finally learns to stand up for herself and fight back. Beck and Woods build some good old-fashioned suspense and stage some nicely intense set pieces to put our likable leads through. Obviously, not all of them make it and killing off main characters makes us feel unsure about any of their safety. It adds to the suspense. The film looks cool and the sets are well rendered on what appears to be a modest budget. It has a Halloween feel and an atmosphere of foreboding throughout. The costumes for our haunt folk are creepy and they are equally spooky without their Halloween masks. We don’t get to know them very well, or their motives, but they come across as deranged and dangerous and that helps this work. Add to that a very cool score by tomandandy, and you’ve got a very effective Halloween themed chiller that makes very good use of a now familiar setting. Any issues here are minor, such as the movie evoking some of the other haunt set flicks mentioned earlier and the addition of Harper’s jerk boyfriend Sam to the action in the last act, doesn’t really add anything to the proceedings. Otherwise this is a very solid horror.

The cast of fresh faces really helps this flick click. Katie Stevens is very impressive as Harper. She’s a girl with a painful past, dealing with her own issues and finally learning to fight for herself, when thrown into a nightmarish situation. The actress makes her likable and sympathetic and we’re totally with her when she goes on the offensive. Actress McClain is very likable as best pal Bailey. She’s a caring person and looking out for her friend makes her endearing to us. Will Brittain is a solid male lead and he is charming, handsome and his Nathan seems like the nice guy Harper really needs. This makes us like him and fear for him. Caldwell is fun as the obnoxious and bombastic Evan. This character could have been annoying, but script and actor avoid that by presenting his sarcastic humor in the right degrees. He is also brave when he needs to be. Raja and Helford get the least focus of the group, but the actresses make them extremely likable supporting characters with the scenes they have. The key to a horror flick’s success is feeling empathy for it’s main characters and here we do. It also needs effective villains and our masked haunters, Chaney Morrow as “Ghost”, Justin Marxen as “Clown”, Terri Partyka as “Witch”, Justin Rose as “Vampire”, Damian Maffei as “Devil” and Schuyler White as “Zombie” all give their characters a lethality from under their already effective costumes. Last but not least, Samuel Hunt makes the brutish Sam appropriately dislikable with what limited screen time the character has. A solid cast all the way around.

Overall, Haunt is a chilling and intense horror that overcomes the familiarity of a recent horror trend by simply being really good at what it does. It’s intense, scary, has some striking violence and gore and makes good use of it’s spooky setting. It gives us some very likable lead characters, including a three dimensional and sympathetic final girl, to root and fear for and some dastardly villains to be fearful of. Really solid horror and a very spooky surprise from Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, producer Eli Roth and those great folks at Shudder.

*Just to be clear…Flick was produced by Shudder, but won’t be hitting their streaming network until next month. It is currently available on most Pay Per View outlets such as Verizon, Vudu and iTunes. Sorry if there was any confusion caused by my initial referral to it as a Shudder “Exclusive”. -MZNJ

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) creepy haunt hosts.

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SATANIC PANIC (2019)

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SATANIC PANIC (2019)

Simple plot finds pizza delivery girl Sam (Hayley Griffith) delivering to a rich neighborhood and stumbling into a Satanic ceremony. She’s chosen as a sacrifice due to her virgin status, but the resourceful young lady escapes. She meets up with the Satanic Coven Leader Danica’s (Rebecca Romijn) outcast daughter Judi (Ruby Modine), who is in peril of her own and the two try to evade capture. Can the two women escape almost certain death with the forces of evil in hot pursuit?

Flick is directed by Chelsea Stardust from a script and story by Grady Henrix and Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here) and sadly doesn’t quite live up to it’s amusing premise. One problem is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be, a hip comedy or a horror flick. The tone changes from scene to scene with one moment trying to have fun with the tropes of a Satanic thriller and another trying to pull off some serious horror. Unfortunately, director Stardust doesn’t really evoke any scares or intensity when it tries to be more of a horror film and the script fails to be all that funny when it’s trying to be humorous. It wants to be a quirky, edgy comedy one minute and a occult themed horror the next and never really accomplishes either to a successful degree. Sure, there is some fun to be had and there is the underlying commentary about the haves vs the have nots, but none of it really hits the mark we hoped it would. It’s colorful, energetic and Stardust has a good visual eye, it’s just she never really settles on a tone. Should we be having fun?…or should we be taking this more seriously? On the plus side, there is a cool score by the “Wolfmen of Mars” and it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome at only 89 minutes. There is also some fun practical gore, too and it is elevated by a cast that is all in with the material.

On the subject of cast…Hayley Griffith makes a strong and very endearing heroine in her Sam. She’s a down on her luck young lady, working her first night as a pizza delivery girl and her pursuit of a much needed tip turns her first night into a literal living Hell. Rebecca Romijn chews the scenery appropriately as Danica, a rich woman who is also the coven leader. She’s fun in the part and gives her scenes a lot of the “snap” they need. Ruby Modine is good as Danica’s rebel daughter Rubi. Rubi is tough and confident, but being on the outs with a Satanic cult has put her in mortal danger. Modine and Griffith work well together. There are also supporting roles from Jerry O’Connell, horror vet Jordan Ladd and Rob Zombie regular Jeff Daniel Phillips. The cast get the material and really help make this very watchable despite a disappointing script.

Overall, Satanic Panic is a flick that has it’s moments, but ultimately doesn’t live up to it’s potential or premise. It has a bit of an identity problem and isn’t funny enough when it’s trying to be funny and isn’t scary enough when it wants to be scary. It’s heart is in the right place and with a better script with a more consistent tone, one wonders if Chelsea Stardust might be a filmmaker to keep more of an eye on. At least it has enough moments and a material savvy cast to make it worth a look, as long as expectations aren’t conjured too high.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 (out of 4) pizzas.

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: IT CHAPTER TWO (2019)

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IT: CHAPTER TWO (2019)

It: Chapter Two is an adaptation of the second half of Stephen King’s classic novel, focusing on the characters as adults, though we still visit them as kids in flashbacks. It’s been 27 years since we last saw the characters and something sinister is stirring in Derry once more. Only Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) has remained and summons the other “Losers” Bill (James McAvoy), Bev (Jessica Chastain), Ben (Jay Ryan), Richie (Bill Hader), Eddie (James Ransone) and Stanley (Andy Bean) to return home to face Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), hopefully for the last time. Stanley commits suicide, but the remaining members reluctantly return and must face some of their own personal demons before they can confront the demonic clown…who has been patiently waiting for them.

Second half is again well directed by Andy Muschietti from a script by Gary Dauberman, who co-wrote It: Chapter One. Like the first film, this flick has some wonderfully creepy visuals and some really cool monsters and ghouls, but is never really all that scary. There are some very effective moments and good jump scares, but, again, the movie never really gets under your skin or really grabs you. It’s quite entertaining, but there are also a few scenes, like Richie’s meeting with Pennywise in a park, that are a bit too over-the-top for their own good and come across as borderline silly. The film can be very gruesome and never feels nearly as long as it’s 169 minutes, though the inclusion of a sub-plot with grown-up bully Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) seemed like overkill and could have been removed with no harm to the story. The FX are top notch and we even get some background on Pennywise and what he really is and where he came from. To some this might remove some of his mystique, but it also moved this more into monster movie territory, which for others, is just fine. There was a great homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing and a very amusing cameo from a certain world famous author. As stated, it is more of a monster movie this time than supernatural thriller and that also made it a bit more fun and action oriented, though, again, never really as scary as it should have been.

The cast are again strong. McAvoy is very good as the adult Bill and seems to be the one most strongly onboard to confront Pennywise again. He is still tormented by guilt over Georgie. Chastain is a solid actress, no matter what the role and really gives Bev a strong emotional core. She’s still traumatized by her father and the choice of an abusive husband proves it. Pennywise isn’t the only demon she must face down. Hader is good as RIchie, who is now a stand-up comedian. He uses humor to hide his fear and still conveys much of his feelings in sarcasm. Hader shows some solid dramatic chops here. Isaiah Mustafa is noble as Mike, the only one to remain on watch in Derry. He also believes he knows how to stop the monstrous clown and uses that to convince the others to join him. Ryan is solid as the now skinny and sexy Ben. He still has a soft spot for Bev and is still in some ways insecure. Ransone is also good as the cowardly Eddie and makes his journey to overcome his fears work very well. Andy Bean has a brief few moments as Stanley, but makes them count to give his early death emotional resonance. All the young actors who portrayed the characters as kids also return in flashbacks. As for Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård has even more to do this half and it is in this second part that he really makes this incarnation of the character his own. The young actors who played the characters as kids, all return in flashbacks.

Overall, this second chapter was an entertaining flick, but still wasn’t all that scary. Andy Muschietti directs well and has a great visual eye, as well as, takes a few risks this time with the carnage. The cast all perform strongly and there are plenty of effective scenes to entertain. The film can also be a little too over-the-top at times for it’s own good, like a Chinese restaurant scene, and a few of these scenes do skirt a little close to being silly. It does keep one involved, despite being almost three hours long, though a few things here and there could have been trimmed with no harm to the proceedings. A solid mainstream horror and will most likely repeat the success of It: Chapter One.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 (out of 4) red balloons.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: READY OR NOT (2019)

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READY OR NOT (2019)

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Whether it be 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game or John Woo’s 1993 Hard Target, the concept of rich people hunting common folks for sport, or otherwise, is nothing new. Ready or Not finds pretty Grace (Samara Weaving) about to marry into the wealthy but eccentric Le Domas family, who have grown rich on games and pro sports. After taking her vows with their son Alex (Mark O’Brien), it’s revealed she must follow tradition and play a game with the family at midnight. The game, chosen from a mysterious box, is hide and seek. What Grace also soon finds out is that she must hide as the family hunts her and that she must be captured and sacrificed before dawn to appease the mysterious Mr. Le Bail, who is responsible for the family’s success. If they don’t, they will all die. Now Grace is in a fight for her very life as she is alone and pursued through the labyrinth-like mansion.

The film is directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who helmed the fun found footage flick Devil’s Due. Ready or Not tries to have a good time with it’s premise, but also seems a bit moderately paced for a chase/hunt flick. The action stops frequently for a movie that needs a sense of urgency and what action there is could have been punchier, as could a few of it’s big moments. It felt like they were holding back from really cutting loose with the mayhem. The script is from Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy who take a familiar story and add some social commentary and a twisted sense of humor, but not really much new. A good deal of that twisted humor falls flat and while the directors try to give it a little spark, the familiarity of the story handcuffs it from being really suspenseful. We know what’s coming and where it’s going. That and the trailers basically featured all the best bits, so it left very little to surprise or amuse…which is not the filmmakers fault, but the marketing. There is some entertaining action and a few tense bits and the film can be amusingly gruesome at times. A few of the jokes do wear out their welcome, such as the constant killing of the help by incompetent family members. A way too convenient character turn gets Grace out of her biggest trouble only to have another character turn put her back in it a few scenes later. Both seems like plot contrivances aside from simply being repetitive. The first is an obvious plot device to get Grace out of a fix when the writers wrote themselves into a corner and the second character turn simply doesn’t make sense happening at such a late point. Occurring at such a late juncture also doesn’t give it any time to resonate and thus it appears to be just there to give the flick one more “WTF?” moment before the climactic ending.

Weaving gives it her all and makes for a solid heroine for us to root for. Grace’s got fire and resilience and becomes a survivor pretty quick. She makes this a lot more worth watching. O’Brien is fairly generic as her conflicted new husband, Alex, while Adam Brody is amusing as his bitter and also conflicted, alcoholic brother, Daniel. Andie MacDowell gives her performance some malice as the one who really wears the pants in the family, Becky with Henry Czerny being fun as her husband, the easily panicked family patriarch Tony. The cast, main and supporting, get the satirical nature of the script and that helps give this some fun.

In conclusion, Ready or Not has it’s moments, but overall is nothing new and could have used a bit more spark and energy. There are some fun bits and it is quite giddy with the bloodshed, but also wasn’t as quite action packed as one expects and some of the big moments lacked the impact they needed. The social satire and twisted humor fall flat more often than they should have and only a plucky Samara Weaving makes it as watchable as it is. Amusing, but not the real blast one hoped for.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) arrow heads.

 

 

 

 

 

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Be warned! Trailer gives away some of the best moments…

 

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REVIEW: GOOD BOYS (2019)

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GOOD BOYS (2019)

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Disappointing coming of age comedy finds three sixth grade buddies Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon) and sensitive Lucas (Keith L. Williams) going to a “kissing party” run by the most popular kid in middle school, Soren (Izaac Wang). Max wants to go to finally show his class crush Brixlee (Millie Davis) how he feels, but there’s one problem…none of the the nerdy trio have never kissed a girl before. That is the least of their worries, however, as their path to the biggest party of the school year is blocked by a series of escalating misadventures involving, drugs, sex toys, a drone and two pissed-off college girls named Hannah (Molly Gordon) and Lily (Midori Francis).

The film is lifelessly directed by The Office veteran Gene Stupnitsky from a unimaginative script by he and Lee Eisenberg. It’s a shame because there was potential here for a really funny and heartfelt look at modern day Tweens at that crucial point where they leave childhood behind for the tumultuous teens. The film fails on every level. There are a few sentimental bits in the last act, but overall the film is far more concerned with being as vulgar as possible and by putting these kids in as many inappropriate situations as can be and even with that, it takes the easiest and laziest path. There were a few laughs, but very few and most of the moments involving drugs, internet porn, Thor’s parents’ sex toys and frat house drug dealers are either just uncomfortable or fall flat altogether. This film is a perfect example of the trailer showing the best bits and literally, anything slightly amusing was in the previews. The rest is bland, cliché and sometimes outright dull. Sorry, but having middle school kids doing things in slow motion to gangster rap music does not cleverness make…and is an overused cliché at this point, as well.

Biggest shame is the waste of a good cast. Tremblay, Noon and Williams are an endearing enough trio as the self proclaimed “Bean Bag Boys”. They’re likable nerds, full of mischief and suddenly emerging hormones and it’s sad the script isn’t better for them. They have a good chemistry together and are sadly put through the motions of a series of situations that strive for the lowest common denominators of humor. Also good were Molly Gordon and Midori Francis as college girls Hannah and Lily, two girls the boys cross paths with. All the girls want is to go to the city for a concert and get high, but the boys’ antics shatter their plans and put the girls in hot pursuit. Gordon and Francis work really well together and it would actually be fun to see the characters return in their own flick, with a much better script and director this time. Also good are Will Forte as Max’s dad and Lil Rel Howery and Retta as Lucas’ clueless, divorcing parents.

Despite having a good cast and the platform for a fun story of Tweens growing into their teens, Good Boys and it’s makers take the laziest route possible. It focuses on being vulgar and uncomfortable and forgets to actually be funny and engaging. It wastes a good cast with a series of bland and cliché situations, when it could have done something really funny with more of a story and a little substance beneath the dirty jokes. Worst of all, the trailer truly showed all the best bits, which are few and far between to begin with. If you want a coming of age comedy with intelligence, heart and yet still raunchy and hilariously funny, try Booksmart, a sadly overlooked flick from earlier this year.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 (out of 4) drones

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK (2019)

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scary stories to tell in the dark

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SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK (2019)

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Flick is based on the kids books by Alvin Schwartz and opens on Halloween night, 1968 in the small town of Mill Valley, Pennsylvania. Three friends Stella (Zoe Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush), Chuck (Austin Zajur) and new guy in town Ramón (Michael Garza) sneak into the supposedly haunted Bellows house, where Sarah Bellows is said to have poisoned a bunch of children after telling them scary stories. Stella finds and takes Sarah’s story book, which starts to write stories of it’s own, stories which come to life and deal out terrible fates to members of the group. Now the remaining friends must somehow find a way to save themselves, before they become just another scary story to be told in the dark.

The film is directed by André Øvredal (The Autopsy Of Jane Doe) from a script by Dan and Kevin Hageman. That script is based on a story by producer Guillermo del Toro, Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan from Schwartz’s book. As such it’s a well made movie, but one that is not really all that scary, at least not consistently. There are a few spooky moments, but in between there is a lot of tedious and somewhat stale melodrama, as we get a very familiar ‘kids in supernatural peril trying to solve a mystery’ scenario, that we’ve seen so many times before. It’s nothing new and not presented in a fresh or innovative way. It was kinda dull. Maybe those endeared to the stories would find the film’s presentation of the material far more entertaining, but for the uninitiated, it’s very been there, done that. The PG-13 rating keeps things fairly tame, it is based on children’s stories after all, not that a film needs gore to be scary, as the recent Annabelle Comes Home proves. The make-up effects are very well done and the flick looks good, as Øvredal has a good eye, especially when represented by Roman Osin’s cinematography. The cast of young performers all play their roles well, as do the supporting adults. There is some atmosphere, especially in the opening Halloween segments, though it should have stayed set on Halloween night, as it looses some of it’s spookiness, once the story goes past All Hallow’s Eve.

Overall, it’s a well made movie, just not an overly scary one. To those not familiar with the books, the material is nothing we haven’t seen before and there are long stretches of tedium between the spooky parts. It looks good and is well acted by it’s cast, but really didn’t provide the chills the books, or Stephen Gammell’s illustrations for that matter, are famous for. A good horror flick for kids, or adults who scare easily, but hardcore horror fans might find themselves yawning through a lot of it.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) books it’s based on.

 

 

 

 

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