HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DEVIL’S GATE (2017)

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DEVIL’S GATE (2017)

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

Flick finds FBI agent Daria Francis (Amanda Schull) traveling to the rural town of Devil’s Gate, North Dakota in search of a missing woman (Bridget Regan) and her son (Spencer Drever). Along with a local deputy (Shawn Ashmore), she decides to question the woman’s husband, Jackson Pritchard (Milo Ventimiglia), who is her prime suspect, even against the warnings of the local sheriff (Jonathan Frakes). Once at his remote farmhouse, Agent Francis discovers that those actually responsible for the disappearances may be something quite otherworldly.

Directed by Clay Staub from his script he co-wrote with Peter Aperlo, this is a sci-fi flick with severe X-Files envy. The film starts out intriguing enough with the death of a stranded motorist at the booby trapped Pritchard farmhouse and that Jackson has someone…or something…locked up in his basement. Once Agent Francis and Deputy Salter get there, we soon find that the basement’s occupant is definitely someTHING and what Pritchard claims to be demons are actually extraterrestrials. From here it becomes a routine alien movie of the Mars Needs Women variety with heavy doses of Mulder and Scully conspiracy theory. We’ve seen it all before, alien/human hybrids, abducted humans and captured extraterrestrials. After a decent start, this flick degenerates into a very routine, and sometimes silly alien abduction/conspiracy flick and not an all that great one at that. There is some entertainment here and Staub is a competent director, but it’s far too familiar to really make an impact.

The cast are fine enough. Schull makes a good FBI agent. She was tough and believable in the part. Ashmore and Frakes are solid as small town deputy and sheriff respectively and Ventimiglia is also fine as a simple farmer whose sanity we question. As for the extraterrestrials, their design and prosthetic representations are well done and effective, if not familiar.

Devil’s Gate can be amusing at times, but is too derivative to really grab you. The film is technically well done, but reuses too many plot elements from previous extraterrestrial films and TV series to really stand out. The initial opening catches ones interest, but once we find out we’ve seen a lot of this on the X-Files, it loses a lot of it’s momentum.

-MonsterZero NJ

rated 2 and 1/2 aliens.

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: WELCOME TO WILLITS (2016)

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WELCOME TO WILLITS (2016)

Ho-hum flick has pot farmer, Brock (Bill Sage) in the backwoods town of Willits, seeing aliens and conspiracy at every turn. When a group of campers invade his turf and some actual aliens drop by, too. Brock doesn’t know who to trust and his paranoia puts everyone in danger, alien and human alike.

Boring flick is directed by Trevor Ryan from a script by Tim Ryan and the flick doesn’t know whether it wants to be funny or serious and is successful at neither. It a dull thriller about a paranoid burn-out who sees aliens and conspiracy everywhere, even with his own girlfriend (Sabina Gadecki) and niece (Anastasia Baranova), not to mention some innocent campers. The flick has some decent effects, but there are long dialogue stretches that aren’t interesting or entertaining, as the film switches focus from paranoid Brock to the fish-out-of-water campers who eventually cross his path. Those looking for the credited Dolph Lundgren will be greatly disappointed, as he appears only as a cop on a TV show that Brock is watching during the course of the film…and false Dolph Lundgren advertising is definitely going to loose this flick even more points with this reviewer.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: SANTA’S LITTLE HELPER and POD

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SANTA’S LITTLE HELPER (2015)

Moderately amusing and heavily cliché’d flick has selfish businessman, Dax (WWE superstar Mike “The Miz” Mizanin) out of a job and being tested for a new one by mysterious woman, Billie (AnnaLynne McCord). It turns out Billie is one of Santa’s elves and old St. Nick (Eric Keenleyside) needs a new right hand man and based on his kind-hearted youth, feels Dax is the one to be his new “Ho Ho”…not making that up. Standing in Dax’s way is ambitious and arrogant elf, Eleanor (WWE superstar Paige) who is outraged that a normal human is being courted for the job and not her…and vows to stop him.

Silly flick has it’s amusing moments, but is so cliché that it needed a lot more entertainment value to overlook it’s extremely familiar story from James Robert Johnston and Bennett Yellin’s script. As directed by Gil Junger it is very-by-the numbers and only McCord’s adorable perkiness adds some life. Both Mizanin and Paige seem to just be playing versions of their WWE ring persona’s and the film doesn’t try hard enough to give itself some real Christmas spirit. Completely bland and forgettable, but not without some small amount of charm…probably more due to watching it during the Christmas season than the film itself. At least the girls were cute.

Kids may find it more amusing, especially if they are fans of Miz and Paige, but after her work in Excision, McCord deserves better.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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POD (2015)

Sci-fi/horror has psychiatrist Ed (Dean Cates) picking up his alcoholic sister Lyla (Jug Face’s Lauren Ashley Carter) and heading to a remote cabin to check on brother Martin (Brian Morvant). Martin is a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of violence and emotional problems who recently sent Ed an ominous and upsetting message. They arrive to find the house and Martin, in complete disarray with the ex-soldier claiming to have been part of government experiments and that one of those experiments, has followed him there. Does Martin really have a creature locked up in the basement or has he finally lost his mind?

Written and directed by Mickey Keating, this isn’t a bad movie just an extremely familiar one that offers nothing new to this conspiracy type tale told many times before and better…including 2014’s Extraterrestrial. The directing is competent and there are a few suspenseful scenes, but it’s predictable and we’ve seen it so many times before. The acting is decent, though Morvant’s raving gets really tiresome especially since it goes on for over 30 minutes. Worth a look, if you like X-Files flavored stuff, but don’t expect much or anything fresh or new. Also stars indie horror icon Larry Fessenden in a cliché role that I won’t spoil.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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-MonsterZero NJ
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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: EJECTA (2014)

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EJECTA (2014)

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

This Sci-Fi thriller is written by Tony Burgess, who wrote the book the film Pontypool was based on, and tells the story of William Cassidy (Julian Richings) who allegedly had an encounter with extraterrestrials 39 years earlier and hasn’t lived in peace since. He asks amateur filmmaker and conspiracy theorist Joe Sullivan (Adam Seybold) to come to his secluded home, on the eve of a historic sun storm, to document his story. Nothing can prepare either of them, though, as the solar storm brings not only the return of William’s alien abductors, but a sinister government organization that will go to any lengths to find out what William knows.

As directed by the pair of Chad Archibald and Matt Wiele, Ejecta is a film filled with a lot of interesting ideas that are not quite successfully carried out in the execution. The story opens with Cassidy’s abduction by the unnamed government organization and brought before the ruthless Dr. Tobin (Lisa Houle) for interrogation and torture. The footage shot by Sullivan detailing what happened during the night, is intercut with Cassidy’s incarceration as we and Dr. Tobin slowly review the footage to see the evening’s events unfold. It gives the film an odd fractured narrative as we cut back and forth with the found footage format serving as flashbacks and the cameras of soldiers on the scene with the straight forward style for the lab interrogation. The film also takes a while before it really gets interesting, but there are some spooky sequences in the found footage flashbacks and some surprising gory violence in it’s last act. The interrogation stuff is less effective as Tobin comes across as some cheesy movie villain just short of rubbing her hands together and maniacally cackling as she gleefully tells Cassidy of what horror she has in store for him. It takes what is supposed to be a serious thriller and brings it down a few notches as the character and the actress’ overacting make Tobin more of a stereotypical movie villain who seems unnecessarily cruel. It strips away the realism as does the character’s more outlandish torture methods and habit of killing her own people when not satisfied. It’s corny and cliché when the rest of the film is trying to be believable and interesting. On a production level, the film looks good on what was probably a modest budget and the FX work is very well done with some surprising and effective bloodshed at times.

Aside from the over-acting from Houle, Richings is effective as Cassidy. He’s plays a man who has been tormented for decades in seclusion from what he has experienced, only to have it return and then be tortured by his own kind to be given the details. He does evoke sympathy and gives the appearance of a haunted man. Adam Seybold is fine as the conspiracy theorist Sullivan, who jumps at the chance to meet Cassidy and get the truth he believes exists. His part is smaller, but he does fine as a young man who gets more than he bargained for. There are also a bunch of supporting scientists and soldier types who are all adequate in their parts.

To wrap it up, Ejecta is an interesting and sometimes spooky mixed bag. While it’s flashback found footage scenes work well and provide most of the chills, it’s sequences of torment and interrogation fall short due to an overacting and very over-the-top, cliché villain. There are some interesting ideas throughout and there are a few surprises, secrets revealed and gruesome moments, too, especially in it’s last act. Worth a look, but not quite what it had the potential to be.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 haunted abductees.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: WAVELENGTH (1983)

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WAVELENGTH (1983)

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

Wavelength is a cool and unique little sci-fi thriller that sadly has faded into obscurity and never gotten a proper DVD, much less Blu-Ray release. It’s atmospheric soundtrack by Tangerine Dream is easier to come by than the movie and hopefully someday this entertaining little flick gets it’s proper due!

The film tells the story of down-on-his-luck guitarist Bobby (Robert Carradine), who lives in the Hollywood Hills near an abandoned military facility. Bobby’s dog starts acting strangely, barking in the direction of the government owned building and his new artist girlfriend Iris (Cherie Currie), claims to be getting some sort of voices in her head emanating from that very structure. Bobby decides to take Iris and check the old building out with the help of a neighbor (Keenan Wynn) who worked on it’s construction back in the 40s. Once inside, Bobby and Iris discover, to their horror, that not only is the place filled with personal, but there are three alien visitors being held inside. Apprehended by the military, Bobby is imprisoned and Iris is used to communicate with the extraterrestrial beings. As much prisoners as the innocent alien travelers, Bobby and Iris plan a daring rescue and escape that makes them and their alien companions, fugitives from a military determined to cover-up their mistakes.

Written and directed by Mark Gray, this low budget film isn’t perfect, but it is a little movie that could and succeeds far more than it fails…and it’s failures are small. What makes the story work, years before the similar Starman or The X-Files made them popular, is that it takes two ordinary people we can identify with and thrusts them into a situation in which they’re up against a government conspiracy that the very knowledge of, makes their lives forfeit. The military are totally the bad guys here as they shot down and now have imprisoned these innocent travelers and their ignorant paranoia and fear keeps the conspiracy going. They plan to eventually make sure Bobby and Iris never see daylight again for what they’ve seen…and they have no intention of ever letting the alien beings go, either. Once they escape, we are there rooting for them to get away, every step. Gray works in subtlety here. He gets some nice tension and suspense simply because we feel for the couple and the aliens and are angry at the ignorant jack-booted mentality of their military captors. He never beats us over the head with any aspect of the story and everything from the action to the FX are all simple and subtle and it’s the emotions from within his tale that make the biggest impact. Never trying to make his small film more than it is, is it’s greatest strength and helps it overcome some of it’s flaws. Those flaws being some weak dialog, some cliche’ characters and a few instances of having a boom appear in his shots. Other than that, this is a quiet, but very effective little sci-fi thriller that never seems to have gotten the attention it deserves. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a darn good movie that proves you don’t need a massive budget to do entertaining and thought-provoking science fiction… and The X-Files wasn’t the first to present this type of situation of alien visitation and sinister cover-ups.

The cast is most noteworthy for having ex-Runaway Cherie Currie as one of it’s leads. Currie seems a bit wooden early on, but as the story gets more intense and requires more of her, she seems to rise to the occasion a bit and does fine enough. The same can be said of Carradine as the guitarist trying to get his career going. A veteran actor already at this point, he doesn’t seem quite comfortable in the role at times, but overall is fine, as his Bobby takes a backseat to Iris as the story progresses. Keenan Wynn does his crotchety old man routine that he can do in his sleep and the rest of the cast are adequate as assorted scientists and villainous military types.

I really like this movie. Sure, it’s pretty low budget and there are no event level scenes or FX, but It’s not that kind of movie. It’s a small and subtle movie about intergalactic travelers who arrive at this planet only to be treated horribly by the inhabitants and two innocent humans who make the mistake of getting in the middle of it. Together they bond to escape the same fate from the same ignorant enemy. It’s the type of story we’ve seen before and have seen many times again, but there is something about the quiet but atmospheric style with which Mark Grey tells his story that makes it work on an emotional level. No better example than a scene where our fugitives take shelter in a church. It’s an effecting scene with minimal dialog. A very enjoyable low budget film that needs a proper release.

-MonsterZero NJ

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