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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REVIEW: CRAWL (2019)

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CRAWL (2019)

New flick from director Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension, Piranha 3D) and producer Sam Raimi is basically 2010’s Burning Bright with alligators instead of a tiger…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Flick has massive category 5 hurricane Wendy hitting Florida so hard even rescue operations are imperiled. College student Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) defies evacuation orders to track down her father Dave (Barry Pepper), who hasn’t answered texts or calls. She finds him at their old family house unconscious in the basement and soon finds out why…the rapidly flooding house is surrounded by a pack of very hungry alligators.

Aja directs from a script by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen (The Ward) and delivers a fun and sometimes intense thriller. We follow the father and daughter as they try to evade the reptilian predators both inside and outside, while the storm intensifies around them and slowly fills the house with water. There are some very suspenseful moments as Haley tries to get out of the basement and get help for her injured father, who is too hurt to escape on his own. It makes for some very tense moments as the vicious reptiles can come from almost anywhere and often do. In case we’ve forgotten what damage a gator can inflict, some would-be looters and a couple of cops arrive to become gory gator fodder to remind us. The film does slow down for a few moments here and there to give us some character development and some father/daughter bonding. It works both for and against the movie, as it does build a nice relationship between Haley and David, turning them into three dimensional characters, but also stops the momentum dead, at times, as the alligators seem to disappear during these moments. Once the third act kicks in, though, it’s all cat and mouse between Kellers and alligators as the waters rise in the gators’ advantage. Here Aja does what he does best and provides some intense and brutal action. The film looks great with a lot of underwater photography in the flooded house and Haley is put through some very tense and suspenseful set-pieces as she tries to escape and/or save her dad. A fun summer flick with some gory bite that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome at a brisk 87 minutes.

It’s basically a two character show with the occasional gator snack showing up. Actress Kaya Scodelario has been through this before in Tiger House, where she played John McLane to a bunch of thieves that lay siege to her boyfriend’s house. Her Haley is courageous and resilient and does just as well against alligators as her Kelly did against home invaders. Scodelario proves she is not only a good actress, who can bring intensity, but she can kick ass as an action heroine. She gives Haley some nice depth in the quieter moments between scenes of her battling her reptilian adversaries with anything and everything available. Barry Pepper is also solid as her father, Dave. His character is both mourning a divorce and injured by gator bite and Pepper gives him some depth, so we feel for him. The two actors have a nice on-screen chemistry and work very well together portraying a father and daughter, who have their issues with each other. Good casting especially since the movie is very much on their shoulders.

Alexandre Aja is a versatile filmmaker even though he does seem to prefer the horror genre. This flick is not as intense or savage as his Hills Have Eyes remake, or outright bonkers like his ridiculously gory and fun Piranha 3D. It’s a mainstream thriller with some intense moments and some gory action, but not enough to scare off the casual movie goer. It does slow down for some character development and while that’s a good thing in making us care for these folks, it does kill the momentum in a few spots. Otherwise this is a tense and entertaining popcorn thriller from a director who knows intensity.

On a side note…This is a case of the trailer giving away too many good moments. If you plan to see this and haven’t watched the trailer yet…DON’T!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 (out of 4) alligators!

 

 

 

For those interested but be WARNED, trailer is SPOILER heavy…

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BOOK REVIEW: THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON by MALLORY O’ MEARA

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I know this is the Movie Madhouse, but I will review a book now and then, one that I really loved or one that pertains to the movie world…and what pertains more than a memoir about the woman behind one of the most famous horror icons in movie history, Milicent Patrick.

THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON by MALLORY O’ MEARA

You would think that a woman who was one of Disney’s first female animators and the designer of one of the most famous monsters in movie history, would be a household name, but Milicent Patrick’s legacy has gone virtually unknown, until a girl named Mallory O’Meara saw a picture of a beautiful woman working on the Creature from the Black Lagoon and swore to change that. Now an adult and a movie producer in her own right, O’Meara went on a quest to find the true story of this unsung pioneer artist and her journey is just as fascinating as the story she painstakingly uncovered.

O’Meara’s crusade was not an easy one. Peppered between the stories of Patrick’s upbringing as Mildred Elisabeth Fulvia Rossi, growing up around the Hearst estate where her father worked as an structural engineer, there are parallel’s to O’Meara’s own life and details of her investigation into Patrick’s. Whether it be going through endless files in Universal’s archives, or hitting the jackpot by tracking down Milicent’s niece “Gwen”, O’Meara’s task is worthy of a book of it’s own. It turns a simple biography into a fun mystery as we uncover the career of a talented woman, whose accomplishments were buried simply for making waves in a male dominated industry during the forties and fifties. We go along for the ride as O’Meara’s detective work uncovers Patrick’s breakaway from her strict family, to her going to art school, to becoming one of DIsney’s first female animators, including work on the masterpiece Fantasia. We’re then taken to the most important part of this untold story with her time working for Bud Westmore at Universal Studios make-up department, where Patrick did the initial designs for the Creature from the Black Lagoon…something Westmore took credit for…as well as other projects. Despite Universal sending her on tour with many of her monster designs, O’Meara paints a tragic story of professional jealousy…and maybe outright misogyny…as Bud Westmore fired Patrick for all the attention she was getting as “The Beauty Who Made The Beast”. The last third of the book is both sad and triumphant as Patrick’s personal and professional lives began a downward spiral that she never quite recovered from and author O’Meara details the big break of finally finding a living relative, who provided much of the info now in this book. Sure, there is a lot of filler, with details of Patrick’s life being so scarce, but some of it can be interesting, such as when we learn about another pioneer woman, architect Julia Morgan and some of Mallory’s own stories of what she’s had to face as a woman in a field still dominated by men.

The book isn’t perfect. O’Meara’s feminist rants can sometimes stop the story’s momentum and she does get repetitive. We understand she is passionate, but she makes her points well and doesn’t need to repeat herself. The whole book is a commentary on a woman whose rightful legacy was denied simply because she was making accomplishments and getting attention for them, in a man’s world. It makes O’Meara’s point without trying. Also, one sometimes wonders how and if she was able to remain objective dealing with a subject so close to her heart. You can feel her anger in her words. Were certain people definitely acting out of misogynistic intent…or was it simply ego?…thought the results are the same.

Overall, this is a very entertaining and thought-provoking book, with some hilarious footnotes from the author. Any horror or monster movie fan should read this, as should any girl wanting to make a career in film or in the arts. You may have to fight twice as hard, but it’s worth the fight when it’s something you love. Milicent Patrick didn’t fight back when her rightful due was taken from her…until Mallory O’Meara picked up the gloves and fought for her…and a rightful legacy is restored because of it. Now let’s make sure history does not repeat itself for all the future Milicent Patrick’s waiting to make their mark! A highly recommended read!

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) creatures, as designed by Milicent Patrick!

 

 

 

 

 

Milicent Patrick in a publicity still posing with her creature. (Family Collection)

 

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REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019)

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SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019)

Spider-Man: Far From Home opens with a lot going on in the life of Peter Parker (Tom Holland). He’s adjusting to life after returning from “The Blip”…the five year period during which those Thanos vanquished were gone. He’s trying to cope with the death of mentor Tony Stark. He’s dealing with an apparent relationship between Happy Hogan (John Favreau) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and his own feelings for MJ (Zendaya). Even his class trip to Europe gets complicated as he’s approached by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to battle creatures from another dimension with help from Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man said to be from an alternate dimension Earth. Can Peter save the planet, his friends and win the heart of MJ?…and can he trust Mysterio?

Sequel is a lot of fun and a bit bittersweet, as it deals with the effects of Tony Stark’s death on Peter and the world and it’s the first MCU flick without a cameo from the late, great Stan Lee. It’s directed with enthusiasm and a fast pace by a returning Jon Watts from a script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. It’s a bit refreshing…and slightly off-putting…getting Peter Parker out of NYC for a while, but it keeps things fresh as Peter tries to deal with Stark’s hopes the he would pick up the mantle, if anything should ever happened to Tony…and it obviously has. There are a lot of lighter moments, too, as Peter has to juggle his secret mission for Fury, keep his identity a secret, battle otherworldly creatures and still try to win MJ away from handsome jock Brad (Remy Hii). The script keeps the various story elements mixed nicely, all the while delivering some spectacular action scenes in various European locals, much like a 007 film. The movie establishes a nice bond between Peter and Quentin which makes the betrayal all the more effective, even though we know it’s coming, as Mysterio is one of Spidy’s classic villains. It all comes together in a nice, action-packed climax in London and then a shocking mid-credits sequence back in NYC that has a familiar face turning Peter and Spider-Man’s life upside down. The next Spider-Man flick should be interesting indeed!

The cast are all good. Tom Holland is a great Peter Parker and he handles the various emotions very well. He’s a superhero still growing into his suit and now has to handle the pressure of Stark choosing him as his successor. He also has to balance his duty to battling evil and satisfy his own heart with the girl he’s falling for. As MJ, Zendaya is smart, sarcastically funny, sweet at heart and has a girl next door beauty that makes her completely crush worthy and a fitting addition to Peter’s small circle. The actress creates a very quirky, independent, yet endearing character. Jackson and Favreau can play their characters in their sleep at this point and thankfully they don’t. Jake Gyllenhaal is a welcome addition to the MCU as Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio. Initially he delivers a man with very noble and heroic intentions, a man you can believe Peter would bond with. Once his nefarious plan is unveiled, Gyllenhaal goes delightfully over-the-top for some solid villainy. A good choice for one of Spider-Man’s major bad guys. The supporting cast, such as Jacob Batalon as the lovable Ned, Tony Revolori as Flash, Martin Starr as Mr. Harrington and Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, all create entertaining supporting characters in their given moments.

After the dramatic intensity of Avengers: Endgame, Far From Home delivers a lighter break, but with enough emotional depth to make sense with what it follows and as the supposed last film in MCU Phase 3. It has Peter Parker adjusting to missing five years, handling the death of his mentor and the possibility of filling his shoes to a degree. As with all the Spider-Man films, he also has to balance being a hero and yet still be a teenage boy. There are some really fun moments, a lot of spectacular action, it balances multiple characters well and delivers a solid villain in Mysterio. There are a few scenes that could have been a bit shorter, but overall is a lot of fun and feels far more like it’s own film than Homecoming. Stay through the credits for a shocking mid credits scene and a fun end credits scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

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


 

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REVIEW: ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

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ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

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

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) Annabelles.

 

 

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