BARE BONES: ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL and THE NIGHTMARE

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ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015)

Offbeat comedy/drama tells the story of teen Greg (Thomas Mann) who has little ambition other than to make movie parodies with his friend…or ‘co-worker’ as he likes to refer to him…Earl (RJ Cyler). Greg’s parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) force him to spend time with classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who has been diagnosed with leukemia. Soon a special bond forms between them that changes Greg’s life as her condition worsens and his feelings for her deepen.

Written by Jesse Andrews and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown), this is a charming and sometimes very poignant story of love and friendship formed under unusual circumstances. As in most indie films like this, there are some very eclectic characters who are nonetheless appealing and Gomez-Rejon gets good performances out of our leads and support…though Offerman seems to be playing the same oddball he plays in everything he appears in. It’s sentimental at times and funny at others and obviously, there is a degree of sadness given it’s title. If the film stumbles somewhat, it’s in that, at times, it is a little too weird or too quirky for it’s own indie good. Random model animation sequences and Greg’s overly weird parents are sometimes distracting more than accomplishing anything to serve the narrative. Otherwise this is a sweet, sad and sometimes very funny movie.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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THE NIGHTMARE (2015)

Documentary tackles the subject of sleep paralysis, a state where individuals are stuck in-between being asleep and being awake, can’t move their bodies and suffer from extreme hallucinations such as shadow-like intruders. Director Rodney Ascher talks to eight different subjects gathering there stories of extreme cases of this state which has been often mistaken for paranormal, even extraterrestrial activity…and some believe it is.

While the subject in itself is interesting, the documentary stumbles a bit which keeps it from being really compelling. First off, the re-enactments of the hallucinations/events all look the same and utilize the same imagery and techniques so repetitiveness sets in quick when dealing with eight subjects with multiple stories. Another thing is that the subjects chosen all tell similar stories, so despite how intriguing it is, the stories themselves also start to get repetitive quickly. By the third story, from the same person, tedium starts to set in. The documentary also doesn’t seem to arrive at any real conclusions as those interviewed have varied results as to dealing with this phenomena. Some of the subjects seemed to have solved the problem by themselves, commanding the ‘intruders’ away, or by interpreting it as the presence of a dead loved one. Other subjects seem to have their own issues apart from sleep paralysis, so one must wonder if it is something caused by emotional stresses. Still other subjects truly believe that in this state they can see and be seen, by other dimensions, so there is that. We also never talk to any professionals on the subject, so we never get any other side to the story than those telling their own tales. A counterpoint or professional opinion would have added some nice contrast and given us some kind of scientific analysis to consider along with the testimony of Ascher’s subjects.

As the actual phenomena has not been fully explained, there are different points of view and while it is fine that Ascher let’s us decide for ourselves, it also leaves us feeling a bit unsatisfied and like not much was accomplished. Interesting at times, but wears out it’s welcome about an hour in and the lack of professional opinions/diagnosis leaves a void in the storytelling.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (2014)

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THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (2014)

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

The original The Town That Dreaded Sundown is based on a true series of murders that occurred in Texarkana, Arkansas in 1946 and were committed by a person known only as “The Phantom”… a man who was never caught. The 1976 film is considered a cult classic but, when I finally caught up with it, I wasn’t impressed with the pseudo-documentary flick. Now comes a new version which actually is a sequel of sorts that not only acknowledges the actual crimes but, the existence of the 1976 film, as well as, Texarkana’s morbid custom of screening Charles B. Pierce’s original film every Halloween… and it’s at one such screening in 2013 that the film begins…

The movie opens with pretty Jami Lerner (Addison Timlin, the scene stealing Stormy Llewellyn in Odd Thomas) and her date Corey (Spencer Treat Clark) leaving a Halloween drive-in screening of The Town That Dreaded Sundown as Jami is put-off by the film’s violence. The two retreat to a local make-out point but, much like the movie, a masked man appears and forces them out of the car, murdering Corey and letting Jami live as long as she “makes them remember Mary.” The traumatized girl makes her way back to the drive-in where the film is showing and soon the town is caught in a real grip of fear as the locals believe The Phantom has returned. Whether he is truly back or someone is imitating the killer from real life and the 1976 film, the result is the same, soon the bodies begin to gruesomely pile up. Worse for Jami, is that the killer has chosen her to be his messenger as he threatens to kill more unless she delivers his message of remembrance. But, Jami decides to fight fire with fire and begins to investigate the original case to try to find out who is the one actually stalking her and murdering innocent townsfolk and why. But, will she uncover the real killer or will he catch her first?

Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, this film takes the Blair Witch 2 concept of making a film about events inspired by the original film but, does it so much better. This is a stylish and sometimes strange… in a good way… flick that is basically a slasher that chillingly references real events and playfully references the original film, even cleverly having the director’s son Charles Pierce Jr. (Denis O’Hare) as a character. There are some brutal and disturbing sequences depicting the killer’s wrath and Gomez-Rejon gives us some nice suspense throughout, especially in the last act when Jami and the masked killer reunite. Not only does the director have a nice visual style to enhance his story and off-kilter storytelling but, gives the film a nice atmosphere of foreboding and bravely paces the film more moderately, much like the original film and the films of that era were paced. This is complemented by Michael Goi’s moody cinematography and Ludwig Göransson’s atmospheric score. The killings are also quite gruesome at times and have a lot of impact and the FX portraying them are well rendered and makes this overall a very effective slasher whether it be a remake/sequel or whatever you want to classify it.

The cast are all good with Timlin being a moody yet, resourceful heroine. She conveys the emotional trauma of a young woman who witnesses her date’s murder yet, the strength to fight back by investigating the very psychopath that may be waiting outside her door. A far different character than Odd ThomasStormy Llewellyn and proves this is a young actress to keep an eye on. Film vet Veronica Cartwright plays her grandmother who lived through the time of the original murders and gives us a woman who is pained to see her granddaughter living through similar events. Gary Cole is solid as the local sheriff, Anthony Anderson plays an updated Lone Wolf Morales echoing Ben Johnson’s character from ’76 and Travis Trope is charming as Nick, a young man who befriends Jami and helps her with her investigation. A solid cast who do good work in bringing this chiller to effective life.

Overall, I really liked this movie and was pleasantly surprised by it. It cleverly is both sequel and remake, yet, is also a film made outside the original so, it may deviously reference that film and use both the film and the actual crimes from 1946 as part of it’s story history. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has a bit of a quirky and offbeat storytelling style that adds to the unsettling atmosphere of the film and gives us some nice suspense and some disturbing and brutal scenes of violence to punctuate it. All in all, a solid and somewhat off-beat horror/slasher that is one of the more interesting horror flicks I have seen this year. Sad, it’s gotten too little attention, especially coming from the horror factory that is Blumhouse. It deserves more.

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

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