WILLY’S WONDERLAND (2021)
When a tough loner (Nicolas Cage) gets his tires suspiciously blown out in the rural town of Hayesville, he’s coerced into paying off the repairs by spending the night cleaning up WIlly’s Wonderland, a shut down family restaurant looking to reopen. Once inside, the animatronic characters become lethally animated and “The Janitor” must fight for his life. He’s joined by a group of tough teens, led by the strong-willed Liv (Emily Tosta), who are looking to destroy the place once and for all. They inform him he has been tricked into being a human sacrifice to this now evil establishment founded by a Satan worshipping serial killer (Grant Cramer). Will any of them get out alive?
Flick is directed by Kevin Lewis from a script by G. O. Parsons and both script and director play this amusing premise straight and let the material provide the fun. It is a good time to see Cage as the silent loner…literally, he has no dialogue…who seems to be quite a match for the demonic animatronics. Our teens arrive to up the body count, though Liv is there to give exposition on how this place came to be a sacrificial killing ground and the town’s dark little secret. Emily Tosta actually makes a solid heroine as Liv and she keeps up with Cage quite nicely. It’s too bad she gets left out of the action in the last act, but it is Cage’s show. As for the veteran actor, he never goes too far over the top and the ambiguousness of his character works in the film’s favor. The flick makes no apologies, or excuses, for what it is…Nicolas Cage and a young hottie battling serial killer possessed animatronic puppets. It moves quickly at only 90 minutes and its fun and delightfully gory. It could have been a little more energetic, but is far better than the disappointing Banana Splits movie which was similar in story and tone. Also stars Beth Grant as the town’s sheriff and Ric Reitz as Willy’s current owner, Tex.
THE FUNERAL HOME aka LA FUNERARIA (2020)
It’s trouble enough for funeral home owner Bernardo (Luis Machín) to have a normal family life with having married abused widow Estela (Celeste Gerez) who has a rebellious daughter, Irina (Camila Vaccarini). It’s harder still, with the house being filled with the supernatural presences of those being given their final rest and having to appease them before they move on. A home filled with spirits is unsettling enough, but Bernardo and his new family now have to deal with a malevolent presence that has moved in with them. Who, or what, is it and why has it come here?
Argentine haunted house flick is chillingly written and directed by Mauro Iván Ojeda. It has loads of atmosphere and Ojeda fills his tale with some very spooky images and unnerving moments, as this already haunted family tries to find out why something darker has targeted them. There are some interesting reveals and the story evokes the recent horror tales from Indonesian filmmaker Joko Anwar, as it is filled with dark family secrets and occult activities, as a catalyst for the current supernatural hijinx. There are a lot of familiar elements and the basic story is nothing new, but Ojeda uses and presents them well and with his own slant. The film can also get a bit bloody, especially in the last act. Spooky flick is available to rent on Amazon Prime and also stars Susana Varela as Ramona, the family’s paranormal medium. Recommended!
THE RECKONING (2021)
Period thriller takes place in 1665 during The Great Plague of London. Pretty wife and mother Grace (Charlotte Kirk) is widowed when the sickness takes her husband (Joe Anderson). Her landlord Squire Pendleton (Steven Waddington) requests a lecherous way for her to pay her rent and when she refuses, he accuses her of witchcraft and has her arrested. In the dungeons, a battle of wills thus takes place as cruel and sadistic inquisitor John Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee) tries to get a resistant Grace to confess to the false charges.
Violent and tedious flick is directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent, Centurion) from his script along with star Charlotte Kirk and Edward Evers-Swindell. As such, it starts out interesting, but degenerates into a dull torture show, for the next hour, as Moorcroft gets crueler and crueler to get Grace to confess. There are some interesting nightmare sequences, which are effective, and like most Marshall flicks there is a healthy amount of blood and gore. There are even some feminist messages mixed in with all the cruelty, about the treatment of woman at that time and about abusive relationships. Flick does pick up a bit in the last act, when it turns into an action/revenge flick with Grace turning the tables and getting some payback. Charlotte Kirk and Sean Pertwee do give strong performances, which add a little weight, as does Christopher Drake’s strong score. Overall, kind of disappointing, considering Marshall’s previous flicks were all very entertaining to one degree or another and his Game of Thrones episodes were quite good, as well. Available on Amazon Prime, if you want to give it a look.
HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD (1983)
Chinese period fantasy has brother Yin Tien Chu (Max Mok Siu-Chung) and sister Tan Fung (Yeung Ching-Ching) separated as babies, when their parents are murdered by a pair of evil wizards (Leanne Lau Suet-Wa and Philip Kwok Chun-Fung). Tan Fung is raised by the two villains, while Yin Tien Chu is rescued and raised by good sorcerer Monster Yu (Jason Piao Pai). Eighteen years later, while initially on opposite sides, both siblings are destined to be reunited for revenge. Mix in some mystically powered swords and you have yourself a Shaw Brothers sword and sorcery epic!
Fun martial arts fantasy is energetically directed by Chun-Ku Lu from his script with Kwok-Yuen Cheung, based on a story by Sang Siu. It heavily evokes Tsui Hark’s Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain, which came out the same year. It doesn’t quite seem to have that film’s budget, or level of SPFX, but does make up for it by being delightfully bonkers, fast paced and action packed. The film is also incredibly colorful with enough lavish costumes and sets to satisfy most fans of these movies. The fights are well orchestrated and the fantasy elements can be quite imaginative and creative, especially on what appears to be a modest budget. The visual and make-up FX can be cheesy, but are always charming. The mix of martial arts and sorcery is typical of these Shaw Brothers flicks and all the magic, king fu, treachery and romance, leads up to a climactic stunt and SPFX filled battle between siblings and sorcerers. Fun stuff!
The cast are all good here with Max Mok Siu-Chung and Yeung Ching-Ching doing a solid job as the separated twin siblings. There is also an array of colorful supporting characters, both good and bad, played just over-the-top enough to be entertaining. Leanne Lau Suet-Wa and Philip Kwok Chun-Fung are delightfully villainous as the evil sorcerers Chief Tsing Yin and You-ming Elder, while Jason Piao Pai is bombastic fun as good sorcerer Monster Yu. There is also actress Candy Wen Xue-Er as “Snake Boy” and Yung Jing-Jing as Yin Tien Chu’s beautiful love interest Chuan Erh.
Overall, this is a silly but very fun martial arts fantasy. It’s production is not quite up to the level of the similar Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain, but it makes up for it with being delightfully goofy and full of heart. There is almost a constant flow of martial arts and magic, and it moves very quickly as brother and sister fulfill their destiny and avenge their parents, in true Shaw Brothers style. It is currently available to rent on Amazon Prime and the print is in absolutely gorgeous HD!
Rated 3 (out of 4) martial arts swords.
SADISTIC INTENTIONS (2018)
Flick has musician Kevin (Michael Patrick Nicholson) inviting his friend Stu (Jeremy Gardner) over to his parent’s house to jam. He also invites pretty stoner Chloe (Taylor Zaudtke) under the pretense of buying drugs. When the two arrive, Kevin is nowhere to be found. While they wait, the blunt and moody Stu and the sweet and free-spirited Chloe start to bond, despite being polar opposites. Unfortunately, as per the film’s title, there is a darker intent to this evening, especially for Chloe.
Interesting and effective little flick is written and directed by Eric Pennycoff. The filmmaker creates an almost deceiving first act as metalhead Stu and hippie chick Chloe start to connect. It’s actually a cute and charming start, even though the opening minutes of the film let us know something bad is coming. Possibly a bit of a miscalculation on Pennycoff’s part, as the title and opening scenes signal that, at some point, this evening is going to go in a disturbing direction. Otherwise, we would have been taken completely off-guard when it goes from sweet, unexpected, potential romance to something darker and ill-intended. It still works, even as it’s no surprise this isn’t a chance meeting between two opposites who attract, but a calculated plan to do something nasty. Again, this is telegraphed by the opening moments and the title, so, it is not a spoiler…and the film still has a few tricks up it’s sleeve. The cast are good. Indie horror fixture Jeremy Gardner is solid as the dark-natured metalhead Stu. We like him despite his sometimes dour, cynical mood. Taylor Zaudtke is absolutely adorable and enchanting as stoner girl Chloe. She’s very crush worthy and we root for her when things turn ugly. Michael Patrick Nicholson is also effective as the disturbed and mysterious Kevin, when he finally appears.
Overall, this is an effective little flick, even if we could have been taken even more by surprise with a little less telegraphing. Eric Pennycoff is a filmmaker to keep an eye on and this flick is worth a look on Amazon Prime. Sadistic Intentions also features some nice cinematography from Malcolm A. Purnell and an effective score by Eric Romary.
LA CASA (2021)
Haunted house flick takes place in 1986 Chile where curfews are in effect. Officer Arriagada (Gabriel Cañas) is called to investigate possible intruders at an abandoned house. That house has a dark past and is rumored to be cursed and haunted. It is safe for you to assume that Officer Arriagada will not have a pleasant time of it.
Chilean horror is written and directed by Jorge Olguín and supposedly based on an actual house. It is also shot to give the illusion that it takes place in real time. Olguín tries hard, with a spooky location, some opening newsreel footage to give us a little history on the house and our hero goes in already agitated from a failing marriage. There are some effective jump scares, the spooks seem all in camera, their make-up well rendered and Gabriel Cañas performs solidly as a man in constant fear. The only drawback in this tight 75 minute film is that it simply isn’t all that scary. It’s a noble effort, but the flick just doesn’t muster any real solid scares. Even with some effective moments and a few disturbing ones, as the horrors in the house escalate, we’re not as frightened as we want to be. A last act reveal does add an interesting slant to what we just saw, so it does end on an unsettling note. Overall, it’s an entertaining effort and shows a lot of potential from Jorge Olguín, but would have really been something if it was simply scarier. Stay through the credits. Available on Amazon Prime and is worth a look.
WIND CHILL (2007)
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A young woman (Emily Blunt) takes a ride share with another student (Ashton Holmes) on her way home from college on Christmas break. The pair are off to a rocky start, especially when he takes a side road off the main highway and through the woods. The two are run off the narrow road by an oncoming driver and are now stranded deep in the woods and in deep snow. That’s not the worst of the girl’s problems, as not only is she suspicious of her driver’s true intentions, but there may be something unnatural lurking in those bitter cold woods.
Flick is directed by Gregory Jacobs from a script by Joe Gangemi and Steven A. Katz. The movie starts out interestingly enough with Blunt’s unnamed young woman, being suspicious of Holmes’ unnamed young man, as his conversations with her reveal he has not been honest with his fellow student. As the film progresses and they are trapped together in the stranded car, with no heat, no food, no water and in extreme cold, we start to learn more and more about his true intentions. It’s enough to give this film tension and make it a bit unsettling as it is. Jacobs and the writers then add a supernatural element with mysterious figures lurking in the woods and a few corpses, both animated and not. It’s all very spooky and adds an interesting caveat with stalker-ish guy and snooty girl bonding over mutual fear and concern. Aside from a few briefly seen supporting players, this is a two person show and both perform well. Blunt is strong as the somewhat difficult yet likable “Girl” and Holmes is appropriately a little off as the “Guy” who lies his way into a ride with the pretty student from his class. If anything holds this unnerving little movie back a bit, it’s that it takes a while to “warm up” and sympathize with our lead characters, with him being an awkward stalker and she difficult and rude to him, even before she starts to suspect their ride comes with ulterior motives. While ambiguous for quite some time, we do start to get clues as to what is going on here supernaturally. It is satisfying and spooky in a Twilight Zone kind of way, but at the same time, a little disappointing considering the build-up had us expecting something a bit more bizarre. It still works and effectively portrayed, even if familiar.
Overall, this is an enjoyably spooky flick even if what it turns into is something a little more routine than we hoped for. It is still well done and our leads help us overcome somewhat negative characters to like and sympathize with them. The film is shot nicely, with good use made of the wintery woodland locations and it has some nice atmosphere without relying on violence or gore to give us the chills. Flick is currently streaming free on Crackle, or as a cheap rental on Amazon Prime. Supporting cast includes Ned Bellamy, Martin Donovan and Chelan Simmons.
Rated 3 (out of 4) rolls of duct tape, which adds sealing malfunctioning car windows to it’s 1001 uses.
2020: THE YEAR THAT PUT INDONESIAN HORROR ON THE MAP!
Maya (Tara Basro) returns to her birthplace to find a decades old curse that’s marked her for death in the Indonesian horror Impetigore.
The horror genre is no stranger to Indonesian cinema, in fact they make spooky flicks quite prolifically. It’s just that, up till now, this was only known to die hard horror movie buffs and dedicated cinephiles. That may have changed this year, thanks to streaming networks like Shudder and Netflix, whose acquiring of some recent titles has brought Indonesia’s horror cinema to mainstream attention…and availability! Film’s like Netflix’s May The Devil Take You and Shudder’s Impetigore have gotten solid reviews for being really spooky and well made movies. It’s also brought much deserved attention to not only their respective writer/directors, Timo Tjahjanto and Joko Anwar, but their resilient final girls Chelsea Islan (May The Devil Take You, May The Devil Take You Too) and Tara Basro (Satan’s Slaves, Impetigore), as well. This has also brought attention to the fact that Netflix has numerous other Indonesian horror offerings such as The 3rd Eye franchise, The Doll and Kuntilanak, and the same goes with Sudder, Amazon Prime and Tubi. Now everyone is aware of what only a few movie fans have known for some time and thanks to these streaming networks, we have a whole new world of horror flicks to choose from!
Four recent releases that helped put Indonesian horror on the map!
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2018 Indonesian horror May The Devil Take You has teen Alfie (Chelsea Islan) and her step-siblings paying the price for their father’s occult practices.
IFC MIDNIGHT’S THE WRETCHED RULES THE BOX OFFICE FOR THE FOURTH STRAIGHT WEEK!
During the current state of various lockdowns only a few drive-ins around the country are open for business and one film playing many of those drive-ins is IFC Midnight’s The Wretched! As a result, this indie horror film has ruled the box office for four straight weeks! With the recent re-opening of more drive-ins, The Wretched expanded it’s screen total and brought in $236,334 for this past Memorial Day weekend, bringing it’s box office total to $598,943 as of 5/25/2020. Not bad for a movie released during a pandemic! For our review of The Wretched click HERE!
source: Box Office Mojo