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.
white-witch-rating

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: LET’S SCARE JULIE (2020)

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LET’S SCARE JULIE (2020)

Flick finds troubled Emma (Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson) having lost her parents and now living with her cousin Taylor (Isabel May). Taylor and her friends Madison (Odessa A’zion), Paige (Jessica Sarah Flaum) and Jess (Brooke Sorenson) decide to prank the new girl across the street, Julie. The mysterious Julie and her family have moved into a house that already has a spooky reputation, due to a creepy woman who used to live there. Something goes terribly wrong for the girls while in the house and now Emma soon finds herself alone and feeling something is after her.

Let’s Scare Julie is written and directed by Jud Cremata and allegedly filmed in one long take. It is impressive for that alone, especially considering some scenes feature up to five actors performing at a time. Add to that it’s actually a very spooky and intense flick, once things get going and we have a pleasant and creepy little surprise. It achieves it’s effectiveness without showing us very much at all, instead relying on character reactions and Chuck Ozeas’ atmospheric and creepy cinematography to establish a feeling of dread and danger. A scene between Emma and her drunk uncle (Blake Robbins) is as unsettling as anything supernatural. The acting is quite good, from a cast of young unknowns, including little Dakota Baccelli as Emma’s little sister Lily. We know eventually Emma will wind up in Julie’s house, but it is still scary when she finally heads across the street. It’s not perfect. Sometimes the girls’ chatter overlaps and it’s hard to follow everything they are saying and the film does kinda just end after a very spooky middle and last act. Otherwise, this is a chilling little movie about a prank that goes terribly wrong, right in time for the Halloween season. Available to rent on Amazon and Google Play.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: MICHIO YAMAMOTO’S BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY

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MICHIO YAMAMOTO’S BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY

Between 1970 and 1974 Toho Studios produced three vampire movies under the guidance of director Michio Yamamoto. The director had only one feature film under his belt before these flicks, a crime drama for Toho, and despite how well these turned out, he would come to direct only one other full length film. While certainly Japanese productions, this trio of vampire flicks display a lot of the traditions of the genre, with coffins, gothic houses, ghoulish villains, spooky and sexy vampire girls, along with beautiful damsels and brave heroes. They feature some familiar Toho faces and have become known as The Bloodthirsty Trilogy. These three vampire flicks from the legendary studio are certainly worth a look by any vampire or horror movie fan.

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THE VAMPIRE DOLL (1970)

First of the trilogy finds Kazuhiko (Atsuo Nakamura) returning from business abroad to visit his fiancé Yuko (Yukiko Kobayashi from Destroy All Monsters). Her mother (Yoko Minazake) tells him Yuko died in an accident, but then why is he seeing her at night? When Kazuhiko disappears, his sister Keiko (Shogun Assassin’s Kayo Matsuo) and her fiancé (Akira Nakao) go to Yuko’s home village to investigate. What they find is something out of a nightmare…one they may not wake up from.

The Vampire Doll (Chi o suu ningyo) is a spooky flick as directed by Yamamoto from a script by Ei Ogawa and Hiroshi Nagano. It’s almost a gothic fairy tale as a young woman from tragic beginnings walks the earth in death, in search of blood. It’s got loads of atmosphere, a few surprises, follows the classic tropes well and has a charming cast. Yukiko Kobayashi makes for a sexy yet scary vampire and Kayo Matsuo, a classic damsel in distress. There is some blood, but the film is mostly atmosphere and Yamamoto proves he has an effective visual style for such a tale.

Rated 3 (out of 4) fangs!

Yukiko Kobayashi as the young woman turned monster, Yuko.

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LAKE OF DRACULA (1971)

Second film (known as Noroi no yakata – Chi o suu me in Japan) finds pretty Akiko (Midori Fujita) still suffering from a childhood trauma that she experienced as a little girl in a spooky old house. The nightmare returns, when the fiendish man (Shin Kishida from 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla) she saw back then, now stalks her lakeside village draining blood from his victims. Can her doctor boyfriend (Osahide Takahashi) save her and her sister (Sanae Emi) from this bloodthirsty fiend?

Yamamoto’s second foray into vampire folklore is again written by Ei Ogawa, this time along with Masaru Takesue. Once more he delivers a film that is is atmospheric and spooky. Shin Kishida makes for a creepy vampire and the flick is filled with gothic visuals such as the expected old houses, coffins and fanged fiends. Here the vampire is said to be a descendant of Dracula, as his father had Dracula family blood in him. As usual in these films, our bloodsucker has some sexy vampire girls to accompany him. Another solid and spooky entry in this series.

3 (out of 4) fangs!

Shin Kishida as Lake of Dracula’s unnamed vampire.

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EVIL OF DRACULA (1974)

Final film in this trilogy shows Yamamoto is really sinking his teeth into vampire lore. It finds teacher Professor Shiraki (Toshio Kurosawa) journeying to his new job at an all girls school. Soon he finds trouble as someone, or something, is stalking the nubile young students and there have been disappearances. A disturbing first night at the recently widowed principal’s (Shin Kishida) house leads Shiraki to believe he’s involved. Shiraki’s beliefs may get him and pretty student Kumi (Mariko Mochizuki) killed, as the principal and his recently dead wife (Mika Katsuragi) may be something unearthly.

Evil of Dracula, or Chi o Sū Bara as it is known in Japan, is Yamamoto’s last vampire film for Toho and is again written by Ei Ogawa and Masaru Takesue. It’s fiend’s origin comes from a legend that a Westerner, who was shipwrecked in Japan centuries before, was cursed for denouncing his Christian faith and thus became a vampire. The flick is atmospheric, Kishida once again makes a creepy bloodsucker, though his vampire principal here is no relation to Lake of Dracula’s fiend, and Katsuragi is also effective as his vampire wife. There is nudity in this one, as our vampire prefers to bite his pretty victims on the breast and it might be the most gruesome with bloodletting and face stealing among the ghoulish activities. This was the last film in the trilogy, Toho seemingly quitting while they were ahead with three solid entries.

3 (out of 4) fangs!

Shin Kishida as the fiendish principal snacking on his students.

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In conclusion, this is a spooky and atmospheric series. Three stand alone films that have no connection other than the subject matter and actor Shin Kishida playing the lead vampire role twice. They were moderately paced, but none of them overstayed their welcome, with the longest being only 85 minutes. Yamamoto proved he had an eye for gothic visuals and gave us plenty of fangs, blood, creepy old houses and a bevy of pretty vampire girls. Despite doing a good job with these three flicks, Evil of Dracula would be his last feature film before doing some television work and then fading from the business.

All three Bloodthirsty Trilogy flicks are now available on Amazon Streaming and in a blu-ray set from Arrow Video.

Japan’s Christopher Lee? Shin Kishida sans make-up.

photo: https://wikizilla.org/

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 -MonsterZero NJ
Sources IMDB/Wikipedia

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