BARE BONES: DASHCAM (2021)

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DASHCAM (2021)

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 and Punisher season 2 star Giorgia Whigham as his girlfriend Mara. Now available to stream on Amazon Prime.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: BINGO HELL (2021)

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BINGO HELL (2021)

Flick takes place in the barrio neighborhood of Oak Springs where feisty and stubborn elder Lupita (Adriana Barraza), and her friends, are growing frustrated with the changes going on around them. It comes to a boil when their favorite place, the bingo hall, is bought by a mysterious man (Richard Brake). Gentrification is the least of Lupita’s worries, as her friends are soon drawn to this charismatic, but sinister man. What fate does he have in store for them and can Lupita stop him?

Welcome to The Blumhouse movie is directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero from her script with Shane McKenzie and Perry Blackshear and is a loud, obnoxious and dull flick. Guerrero directs with the subtlety of a chainsaw, as the viewer is bludgeoned over the head with it’s messages about gentrification and eminent domain that have been presented far more effectively in other recent films. If that isn’t enough to get your attention, there are scenes bathed in garish neon and all sorts multicolored spurting fluids and bombastic violence. Problem is, once Guerrero has your attention, she really doesn’t know what to do with it, as the film is boring, silly, overly preachy and Lupita is so obnoxious, she’s hard to endear to even when the points she is making are right. The tone is all over the place and one wonders if this was supposed to be a comedy or horror. Either way, it fails as both and as social commentary, too. Very little to recommend here as even the usually reliable Richard Brake is reduced to a ho-hum villain.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: BLACK AS NIGHT (2021)

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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.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: ROYAL JELLY (2021)

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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.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

BARE BONES: IT CAME FROM BELOW (2021)

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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.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

BARE BONES: THE LAST MATINEE (2020)

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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.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: JOLT (2021)

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JOLT (2021)

Lindy (Kate Beckinsale) has a condition that only could happen in a movie like this. Not only does she have Intermittent Explosive Disorder, but also has excessive amounts of cortisol in her body, so when she does get enraged, it gives her augmented strength and agility. She has been studied and in therapy since childhood and now works as a bouncer. She finally meets a nice guy, Justin (Jai Courtney), who accepts her affliction, only to have him murdered just as she starts to care about him. Now Lindy uses her condition to her advantage, as she tracks down Justin’s killers to get revenge.

Yet another flick that wants to be hip while mixing hyper-violence and offbeat humor and fails miserably. Amazon Original is routinely directed by Tanya Wexler from an unimaginative script by Scott Wascha. It’s dull, even though filled with violent encounters, and almost all of the attempts at humor fall flat. The CGI blood spatters soften and lead Beckinsale seems to try hard as Lindy, but this flick shambles along from one dull fight to the next and even the surprise ending is exactly how we knew this would end up. Simply a waste of 90 minutes and a waste of Beckinsale, Courtney and Stanley Tucci, who plays Lindy’s therapist.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: WILLY’S WONDERLAND (2021)

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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.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE FUNERAL HOME (2020)

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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!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD (1983)

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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!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) martial arts swords.
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