BARE BONES: VIRAL and SUMMER CAMP

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VIRAL (2016)

Basically a high school version of 28 Days Later and the more recent What We Become and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Flick finds sisters Emma (Sofia Black D’Elia) and Stacey (Analeigh Tipton) trapped at home alone when an viral outbreak caused by a worm-like parasite initiates a quarantine with both their parents unable to come back to their neighborhood. The parasite takes over it’s hosts, who violently and animalistic-ally seek out other hosts for the organism to spread to. The sisters must battle former friends and the threat of infection themselves to survive as the outbreak spirals out of control.

Written by the Paranormal Activity series’ Christopher Landon, with Barabara Marshall and directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost (Catfish, Paranormal Activity 3 and 4), this is actually an entertaining little movie despite it’s familiarity. Joost and Schulman create a nice mood of continual dread and danger, along with delivering some suspenseful sequences and moments of intense and bloody action. The actresses give us two very likable heroines in D’Elia’s smart and sweet Emma and Tipton’s more aggressive and headstrong Stacey. The combination of endearing characters and the directors making good use of the familiar tropes (as they did with Paranormal Activity 3) makes this a worthwhile flick for a night on the couch. Aside from some so-so CGI, the production value is good and the filmmakers prove they can work beyond found footage. A fun little apocalyptic outbreak horror despite having seen it all before.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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SUMMER CAMP (2015)

Horror flick finds three Americans (House of the Devil’s Jocelin Donahue, Scream Queen’s Diego Bonita and Maiara Walsh) traveling to Spain to be councilors at an English summer camp for kids and dealing with some kind of viral outbreak/infection that turns the effected violent and vicious. Is it the pollen, the water or something else turning others and themselves into homicidal monsters? Will these strangers in a foreign land survive?

Summer Camp is directed by Alberto Marini from his script with Danielle Schleif. What makes this flick work, despite the oft-told premise, is that Marini has a little fun with his ‘infection’ in both it’s actual cause and the fact that we find the effects are only temporary. This allows for the film to swap out infected and uninfected, so one minute we are fearing someone and rooting for someone else and then it switches them out as someone recovers and someone else starts foaming black at the mouth. There are some suspenseful moments and some vicious and gory violence as our three councilors battle each other, commit acts of murder while under the influence and then battle a group of infected rednecks (Yes! Even in Spain!) camped out in an RV nearby. It moves fast enough to keep us from realizing just how silly and familiar it all is and the added caveat of having our infected recover, does leave them to amusingly have to face what horrors they have committed. It’s not perfect, we are a bit confused as to what is going on till the late in the third act explanation and the end is predictable, even though still very amusing. Go in with moderate expectations and this can be fun if you just go with it.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (2012)

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PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (2012)

I know this sequel gets a lot of negative heat thrown it’s way but, as a fan of this series, I have to say I liked Paranormal Activity 4 to a degree. It’s the weakest entry in the series so far, and is low on scares but, I still had spooky fun with it and the last act delivered some goods. I think there still is enough of what fans like about this series to entertain but, next entry better start cranking things up and taking risks as this 4th chapter is showing some major signs of a franchise running out of steam. This entry opens up in 2011. A family in Nevada gets new neighbors across the street, a strange boy named Robbie (Brady Allen) and his single mom, Katie (Katie Featherston). When his mom is suddenly taken to the hospital, the family takes creepy Robbie in. Once he is settled into their home, teen Alex (Kathryn Newton) starts to notice strange occurrences as Robbie befriends her little brother, Wyatt (Aiden Lovecamp) and so, she and boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively) set up cameras and set the household laptops to record to get to the bottom of things that are going bump in the night…and bump in the day, too. Soon Alex begins to believe Robbie is not the only new occupant in the house and this spectral guest is far from a friendly ghost. The first act seems to be a bit choppy… though the director’s cut does flow better and adds a few fun bits… and there are a few odd edits throughout… such as one character being dragged out of their room and then suddenly on their feet, laptop in hand and apparently unharmed in the very next scene like it never happened… and it is also in act 1 in which the film has it’s strongest feeling of déjà vu but, things start to pick up steam during the middle act and the movie really starts to click and become more it’s own thing. Then the third act locks in and delivers the goods up to and including the spine-chilling climax. Sure, along the way there are some familiar elements but, you wouldn’t remove Jason’s hockey mask would you? There were enough new wrinkles in my book to keep things going, as well as, some subtle hints as to where the mythos might be headed. Not to mention a surprising reveal, too… although I admit it poses more questions then it answers. The cast are all fine. The parents (Alexondra Lee and her real-life husband actor Stephen Dunham who sadly passed away the month before this was released) get the least screen time and character development but, the teens are very likable, Newton and Shively work well together and give the flick a sort of Scooby Doo vibe, Newton especially is a strong heroine, Lovecamp’s Wyatt is sweet and Allen’s Robbie is very creepy. Series regular Katie Featherston gets a bigger role then last time around and without spoiling things, I liked how the character was used and Katie Featherston did a good job with her role. All in all there is some definite ‘been there done that’ and some wear and tear on the formula but, I think fans will enjoy this entry enough to want more and that’s what the filmmakers will have to deliver next time to keep this series going. It’s time to really take some chances and give us something to really bite our nails over. Paranormal Activity 4 is a nice snack to hold us over till then but, it’s time for Katie and company to give us a full meal of new frights and new surprises as PA4 admit-tingly does appear more like something put together just to keep us busy till they come up with something really solid. This series needs a second wind if it is to survive.

3 generous spooks!

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The infamous trailer which includes a lot of spooky scenes that didn’t make it into the final cut or directors cut… the film was edited up to the last minute before release and sadly some of these bits didn’t make the released print. Shame, because some of it looks better than the sequences we got and I personally think a lot of the negativity this flick gets is a product of the disappointment of not getting stuff that the trailers advertised…

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 (2011)

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PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 (2011)

I like the Paranormal Activity series. It’s a minimalist smoke and mirrors approach that let’s your imagination conjure up a good deal of the scares and a pleasant change from some of the more gruesome stuff I love and entertain myself with. But, with a third installment, the question is, can they keep the formula fresh and your imaginations properly manipulated? The answer is yes! PA3 directors Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman (directors and writers of the indie hit Catfish) take the reins and take us back to 1988 when sisters Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) are little girls and all the bumps in the night began. And these two know how to manipulate the formula and crank it up while also adding some welcome humor to the mix. Where 1 & 2 were a slow burn, PA3 starts almost immediately. When strange noises start to occur and Kristi starts talking to an imaginary friend, their single mom Julie’s (Lauren Bittner) boyfriend Dennis (Chris Smith), a wedding videographer, sets up cameras in the house to capture what’s going on and… we all know what comes next…and the makers of PA3 are counting on it. They know we know what to expect and when and cleverly use that against us. That and they use a fantastic gimmick involving a camera mounted on an oscillating fan base and with it Joost and Schulman take us on a roller-coaster ride of delightfully scary fun.You literally sit there eyes darting all about the frame trying to anticipate where the next scare is coming. And Joost and Schulman lure you in every time. In the film’s final act we do go into slightly new territory for this series and in some truly bone chilling sequences get an idea as to why Katie and family are targeted by this malevolent force. To say anymore would spoil an extremely nerve-wracking and nail biting climax that is as haunting as it is revealing. Most of the cast are new and perform well, especially the little girls who really handle their difficult roles with surprisingly strong performances while Bittner and Smith make a very real and charming couple. We like this bunch and therefor care about them. Series star Katie Featherston also does appear briefly as adult Katie, as does Sprague Grayden as Kristi, which helps us better link this with the previous two flicks. The FX are minimal as usual but, really effective and the POV camera style still works just fine with a little suspension of disbelief. A fun addition to the series and while I do understand why they don’t appeal to everyone, I have a good time with these, especially in a packed movie house where horror movies should be seen. The home media release includes a director’s cut that is a bit longer and has some amusing bits added in.

3 and 1/2 spooks!

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