RUN SWEETHEART RUN (2020)
Cherie (Ella Balinska) is a pretty single mom that works for a prestigious law firm in L.A. When her boss (Clark Gregg) claims she booked him for a client dinner on his anniversary, he asks her to take the dinner in his place. Cherie meets the wealthy, charming and handsome Ethan (Pilou Asbæk) and soon the client dinner starts to turn into a date. The date then turns into a nightmare as Ethan attacks Cherie and then relentlessly pursues the fleeing woman through the seedy streets of after dark L.A.
Horror flick with something to say is directed by Shana Feste from her script with Keith Josef Adkins and Kellee Terrell. Feste directs with a hip, artsy style with characters breaking the fourth wall occasionally and acknowledging we the audience are watching. There is also a lot to say about how women are treated in the workplace, hence Cherie constantly being called “sweetheart” instead of by name, and how women are not believed when reporting assault, such as Cherie being arrested when going to the police about Ethan’s violent attack. The film doesn’t forget to be an engaging and suspenseful movie along with making strong statements. It takes us into horror film territory as it changes gears into something different than just a tale of date assault. We sense there is something wrong with the charismatic Ethan from the start and he turns out to be something more than just an arrogant and twisted man. It sets the stage for a bloody, violent and intense second half as Ethan pursues Cherie through the bleak streets of nighttime L.A. It’s very well done with other characters being brought into harm’s way and Ethan bloodily dispatching them to get to Cherie, who just wants to get home to her toddler daughter. The cast are all very good with Balinska making a very likable and resilient lead and Asbæk making a very lethal and effective villain. Feste sometimes leaves a lot to the imagination, with some moments happening off camera, which doesn’t always work, but otherwise crafts an intense and entertaining horror/thriller with some style, surprises and a lot to say. There is also a very atmospheric and effective score by Rob and seedy L.A. is captured well by cinematographer Bartosz Nalazek.
Flick is now streaming on Amazon Prime and is from Amazon and Blumhouse Pictures. Recommedned!
MY BEST FRIEND’S EXORCISM (2022)
Amazon Prime flick is based on a book by Grady Hendrix and is set in 1988. Story has best friends at a strict Catholic School, Abby (Elsie Fisher) and Gretchen (Amiah Miller) going away on a lakeside weekend together and happening upon an abandoned house. Inside Gretchen is attacked and a terrified Abby flees. When Gretchen re-emerges, Abby thinks she was raped, but it soon appears the attack was more demonic in nature. As the possessed Gretchen wreaks havoc at school, Abby is determined to free her from this demonic presence.
Streaming horror/comedy is directed by Damon Thomas from a script by Jenna Lamia based on the Hendrix book. Despite its billing as a horror/comedy Thomas seems to want to play it straight, yet the film does feels like it is going to veer into a comedy at any moment…and sometimes does. Some of the stuff, such as the religious weightlifting trio, is outright goofy while some of the horror scenes are not. The noncommittal tone doesn’t help, nor does it that we have seen it all before right down to Gretchen’s ultra-religious parents. There is some commentary on rape and how victims are not believed, as Abby is vilified when initially trying to get her friend help for the perceived physical assault. There is also a lot of fun poked at conservative religion. Thomas does have a colorful visual style, but the film never gets intense enough to be taken seriously or funny enough to satisfy as spoof or comedy. Overall, a forgettable 90+ minutes.
Indie thriller takes place on Halloween night and finds news editor Jake Caul (Eric Tabach) awaiting the press release of dashcam footage for a big story. A police officer (Rich Vience) and a discredited former Attorney General (Larry Fessenden) were both killed when a routine DUI stop went bad. When Jake is accidentally sent a classified file containing police bodycam footage, that isn’t supposed to exist, and the real coroner’s report, he realizes there was nothing routine about the deaths and there is a larger conspiracy at hand. Having always wanted to be a reporter himself, Jake sees revealing the truth as his big break—a truth someone may not want known.
Effective indie thriller is written and directed by Christian Nilsson and takes place mostly on Jake’s desktop, though it does leave the confines of his apartment in the last act. The real intensity comes as Jake compares the press release footage with the classified information that has fallen into his hands, and starts to see the lies being fed the public. There is also an ominous phone call with thinly veiled threats, if the information accidentally e-mailed to him ever gets out. It makes for a tense little thriller as Jake digs deeper into the conspiracy and at the same time, gets more and more paranoid that someone might come after him. The flick only stumbles in a few places with some weak dialogue spots and a few plot contrivances—such as someone being stupid enough to e-mail a news editor classified information—that keep the story going. Otherwise this is an intense and entertaining little thriller, even more so for anyone with an interest or experience in digital video editing. Also stars Zachary Booth as Jake’s reporter boss Tim and Crawlers
season 2 star Giorgia Whigham
as his girlfriend Mara. Now available to stream on Amazon Prime.
BLACK AS NIGHT (2021)
Vampire flick premiered on Amazon Prime this past weekend as part of the new Welcome to the Blumhouse series. It takes place in New Orleans in the rundown housing project of Ombreux, where folks are suddenly disappearing. When teenager Shawna (Asjha Cooper) is attacked and bitten and her mother is turned, Shawna realizes vampires are preying on the locals. Determined to save the Ombreux and those who live there, Shawna and best bud Pedro (Fabrizio Guido) set out to hunt down and destroy the master vampire (Keith David).
Flick is directed by Maritte Lee Go from a script by Sherman Payne. It has it’s heart in the right place, covering some socially relevant topics such as gentrification of urban neighborhoods and the effects of Hurricane Katrina on people of color, fifteen years later. The film makes good use of the New Orleans locations, and has some fun moments and entertaining action sequences as Shawna and friends turn vampire killers. Where the film falters, is as a vampire movie it’s very routine and could have been more energetic. The similar Vampires vs, The Bronx handled similar socially relevant themes, but was much more fun and effective as a vampire flick, too. Sure it’s great to see Keith David as a master vampire and his purpose fits in with the film’s themes, but it’s all very 90s Buffy—not that there’s anything wrong with that—but without the pop culture wit. Bronx’s gentrifying vampires were more fun, as were it’s spunky vampire fighting kids. Cooper and the cast all perform well, but well-intended social messages aside, we just wish Black as Night was simply more bloody fun.
ROYAL JELLY (2021)
Film tells the story of outcast high schooler and avid bee keeper Aster (Elizabeth McCoy). Aster is not happy living with her stepmother (Fiona McQuinn) and half-sister Drew (Raylen Ladner) and the feeling is mutual. Things start to pick up when new teacher Tresa (Sherry Lattanz) shows interest in Aster and shares her love of bee keeping. When Drew and her friends destroy Aster’s hives, she runs away and Tresa takes her in. But Tresa is not who she seems and she may have sinister plans for Aster.
Written and directed by Sean Riley, this low budget film does get credit for trying to do something different, even if the flick misses the mark. Royal Jelly is a slow burn and has a few creepy moments, but drops the ball when it makes it’s big reveal and it’s attempt to turn into a body horror in the last minutes become downright laughable, with some awful make-up FX. The plot that Tresa is trying to make humans become bee-like is bee-wildering and silly anyway, with Aster, naturally. to be transformed into the hive queen. Still, it does pay homage to it’s influences and at least had the originality to not include zombies or an exorcism. Available to rent now on VOD.
IT CAME FROM BELOW (2021)
Film opens with a man (Stuart Packer) barely escaping a cave system with his life, claiming that he encountered a horrifying creature within. Now his daughter Jessie (Megan Purvis) enters the cave system with some of her friends to prove her father was telling the truth. Be careful what you wish for spelunkers!
Routine low budget monster movie owes a lot to The Descent with it’s story of a strange and possibly extraterrestrial creature stalking young cave explorers deep below the surface. Flick is directed in a fairly by-the-numbers fashion by Dan Allen from his script with Sam Ashurst. There isn’t all that much to recommend here, as we’ve seen much of it all before and it really doesn’t add anything new to the monster movie sub-genre. The creature is a sufficient enough critter and there is some bloodshed, but there are also a lot of scenes of crying, screaming and melodrama, too. Allen really doesn’t infuse it with anything all that special to set it apart from the dozens of other direct to VOD monster flicks that arrive constantly during the year. If you are a monster movie completest or just like seeing dumb twenty-somethings in peril, flick is available to screen today on Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms.
THE LAST MATINEE (2020)
South American horror finds young student Ana (Luciana Grasso) working the night shift at a rundown movie theater, where she and her father are the projectionists. While a sub-par horror flick plays to a small, disinterested audience, Ana studies in the projection booth, unaware a killer (Ricardo Islas) is stalking the theater and has started to kill it’s patrons. Will Ana, or any of them, make it to the end credits?
As directed by Maximiliano Contenti, from his script with Manuel Facal, this is a stylish and colorful tribute to the Italian Giallo flicks, especially those by Dario Argento. With its leather-gloved killer and colorful cinematography, The Last Matinee hits the mark paying tribute to those films, while also giving a few nods to the classic slasher films of the 80s, with it’s very slasher-like plot. Our rain-coated killer, is known in the credits only as Asesino Comeojos, which translates to “Eye-eating Killer.” He is very effective and let’s just say he’s appropriately named. This mysterious stalker dispatches his victims in very gory ways and the FX portraying those deaths would make Lucio Fulci proud. There are some fun chases, once Ana realizes what’s going on and is pursued, along with the few survivors, throughout the theater. The film is very moderately paced, like the movies it pays homage to, but balances that out by not overstaying it’s welcome at only 88 minutes long. There is a nostalgic and atmospheric electronic score by Hernán González and some very Giallo-esque neon cinematography by Benjamín Silva. A loving tribute that does a good job capturing the tone, visual style and feel of the films it pays homage to. Maximiliano Contenti definitely shows promise. Now available to stream on Amazon Prime.
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 shutdown 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.