HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: UNFRIENDED (2015)

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UNFRIENDED (2015)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

While there have been horror films that utilized Skype before (Paranormal Activity 4) and films that took place totally on a laptop (Open Windows), Blumhouse Productions’ Unfriended is the first to set a horror film completely within the social media world. Characters pop from Skype to Youtube to Facebook as the story unfolds and we even get some messages about the negative effects of cyber-bullying and having your entire life published online for the world to see…all within a surprisingly chilling and suspenseful horror.

The story opens on the one year anniversary of the suicide of high school student Laura Barns (Heather Soddaman), who killed herself after a humiliating video is posted on Youtube. Five of her friends, including pretty Blaire (Shelley Hennig), are having a Skype chat when an unknown caller joins in. No one can delete them and any effort to identify them leads back to the accounts of the dead Laura. A possible prank in bad taste turns into a living nightmare as the cyber-stalker starts to threaten the group into playing a game that slowly brings out their darkest secrets. There are deadly consequences if anyone tries to leave the game and as their numbers dwindle, horrible truths are revealed and the friends quickly begin to turn on each other. Is this some hacker with a cruel and personal vendetta, or has Laura truly returned from the grave with a vengeance?

Director Levan Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves have come up with a very clever horror set in the cyber world that today’s teens…and adults…inhabit. It lays out five convincing, typical high schoolers and then put’s them in a situation where their compulsion to document, and sometimes post, everything they do, comes back to haunt them…literally. Not only is Laura’s character dead due to a mean-spirited Youtube video, but her actual suicide was caught and posted as well. There is no privacy, even in death and this film exploits that as the mysterious stalker reveals the group’s darkest secrets through photos and videos they think are hidden safely on their computers. The fiend also seems to know some very personal details and there is even an online article about the dead communicating through social media with the living, to get the group…and the audience…properly spooked. And Gabriadze and his editors do a good job of building the chills and tension as this online nightmare gets worse and worse and the circle of friends gruesomely loses members when they don’t cooperate. The filmmakers make good use of the limited range of Skype, so we never know if there is someone…or something…lurking just behind our terrified teens. If anything held the film back a little, it was that those from an older generation, like myself, may have a harder time identifying with the laptop generation and the urge to have one’s personal life connected so thoroughly with the internet. That and some of the clicking back and forth between windows sometimes disrupts the tension a bit. Otherwise this is a very clever and sometimes very intense little horror that will make you think twice about how much you open up your personal life in cyberspace…or taunting someone else online.

The cast all do a convincing job portraying typical modern teens. They have their drama and sometimes can be a bit insensitive when it comes to the urge to go public with what happens around them and involving others. Shelley Hennig’s Blaire is our focus…it’s her laptop on which the action takes place…and she does solid work as she first tries to get to the bottom of this strange intruder and then conveying her terror as she is broken down and comes apart likes the rest of her friends. Those friends being played by Moses Storm as boyfriend Mitch, Renes Olstead as Jess, Will Peltz as Adam, Jacob Wysocki as stoner/cyber-geek Ken and Courtney Halverson as the bitchy Val. They all convey well their fear and anger as their souls are bared and it’s almost fun to watch as they go from fearing for one another to turning on each other to save their own lives.

So, overall I liked this a lot. I think it would have been even more effective if I identified better with today’s social media immersed generation. I don’t get people’s need to document and post their every though and action…says the guy with the blog…and certainly don’t understand the apathy and lack of respect by posting things harmful about others. This is not the fault of the film, however, and overall I recommend it for a clever, devious and sometimes very disturbing cyber-horror.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 very solid laptops.


unfriended rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: OUIJA (2014)

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OUIJA (2014)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

This teen-centric supernatural chiller got a lot of flack from hardcore horror fans when it first came out, but considering it’s aimed at tweens and not at those who could recite Texas Chainsaw Massacre in their sleep, it’s treatment can be viewed as a little harsh. It’s maker, Blumhouse Productions did give us adults the clever and spooky Oculusso let the Divergent crowd have their horror flick, too.

The story tells of longtime friends Debbie (Shelly Hennig) and Laine (Olivia Cooke) who have been pals since childhood and even played with a ouija board as kids. Lately Debbie has been acting strange and, unknown to Laine, is dabbling with a ouija board again and whatever Debbie has contacted, drives her to commit suicide. Heartbroken, Laine discovers her friend’s indulgence and she decides to gather their friends in Debbie’s empty house and use the ouija board to contact her and find out why she took her own life. Sounds like a good idea, right? Obviously, what they conjure up is not Debbie and now there is a malevolent force following Laine and her friends with their demises in mind. Can Laine discover the true identity of this dark spirit and send it back to whatever hell it came from?…before it gets them first!

Sure, this is a silly flick and it is filled with all the clichés and familiar horror trappings from every horror flick made in the last five years, but as directed by Stiles White, from a script he co-wrote with Juliet Snowden, it never tries to be more than it is. It’s made for the ages 10 to 15 crowd and it knows it. OK, so…even on that level, it is a bit stale and predictable and relies on jump scares far more than atmosphere. Yet, considering the target audience, mostly teenage girls and their dates, the film still works well enough for those who are far less demanding than the veteran horror flick fan, who is looking for the next big thing. It occupied the time well enough and was completely forgettable, but I’ve been watching horror films for over four decades and the flick wasn’t made for me. Go in with that understanding and it can be moderately amusing and certainly far from the worst thing I’ve seen this year. Sure there are plot holes, characters do really stupid things and the last act gets especially goofy, but the film is competently enough made and has kind of a Scooby Doo with an edge vibe to it. Though, it could have used a bit more of Scooby’s hip humor.

The main cast are all attractive, though none really acts with any enthusiasm and are basically generic twenty-somethings as teens. Olivia Cooke has shown that she has potential as an actress, but even she can’t muster too much gusto as the lead, Laine. Two mediocre horror flicks (the other being The Quiet Ones) in one year is not a good sign though, for Miss Cooke. We also get cameos by the Insidious series’ Lin Shaye and Paranormal Activity 2‘s ghost fighting housekeeper Vivis Colombetti, playing a similar part as Laine’s paranormally knowledgeable grandmother. To be honest, Shaye and Colombetti are having far more fun and get the material far better than their monotone speaking, younger co-stars who seem to be taking this way too seriously.

I certainly didn’t hate this flick. As a movie for older kids and young adults, it’s just fine. They probably will have a good time with it. It’s not made for a veteran horror buff like me and I’m not going to judge it from the perspective of one. If I were an average 13 year-old, I probably would have been very amused and maybe a bit spooked. As a horror movie loving adult, it passed the time and didn’t insult me, but I did go in with reasonable expectations. Its forgettable and predictable, but if you are a kid between 10 and 15, it’s probably just as much fun as the Hasbro board game that inspired and co-produced it. It was a big hit and a sequel has been announced, so it seems like it satisfied it’s intended audience just fine!

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 planchettes!

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: JESSABELLE (2014)

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JESSABELLE (2014)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Jessabelle may not succeed in everything it sets out to do and may have some very familiar elements to it’s bayou-set supernatural mystery but, it’s got enough legitimate chills and spooky atmosphere to make it a moderately entertaining viewing.

The story finds twenty-something Jessabelle (Sarah Snook) pregnant and going to move in with her fiancé Mark (Brian Hallisay). But, a horrible car accident takes her fiancé and their unborn child from her and temporarily cripples her. She is forced to turn to her estranged father (David Andrews) and goes to live with him in his Louisiana home on the Bayou. But, as soon as she arrives, she starts to see and hear things and begins to have vivid and strange dreams. She also finds a series of VHS tapes her long-dead mother (Joelle Carter) made for her during her pregnancy, when she found out she had a terminal brain tumor and would not be there for Jessie’s upbringing. But, these tapes are anything but, sentimental. Her mother does tarot card readings that get more and more disturbing and prophetically warns Jessie of a presence in the house that does not want her there… a presence that increasingly makes itself known. Now Jessie must discover who is this restless and angry spirit, what do they want and even more so, who is buried in the bayou-side grave marked with the name Jessabelle and the date of her birth as it’s day of death.

Again, there are a lot of familiar elements in Ben Garant’s script, such as a wheelchair bound subject immersed in mystery, voodoo practices, angry long-haired spirits but, director Kevin Greutert is able to give the film a nice creepy atmosphere, some really spooky dream sequences and uses those familiar elements well enough to give us some decent chills here and there, such as a cliché but, still effective bathtub scene. There is an element of mystery here that works just fine, too and I will say I wasn’t quite expecting things to turn out like they did… though the ‘shocking’ climax wasn’t really shocking. Not everything works, some of the supernatural elements are too familiar and having a voodoo tinged flick set in Louisiana’s Bayou isn’t exactly new. There is also some weak dialog and a major character exits a bit too quickly to have resonance but, Greutert gets through it competently and I think he shows potential with a stronger story and a bit tighter script and he does get good work from his leading lady, which helps us go along with it to a good degree.

Pretty girl-next-door Sarah Snook gives us a solid heroine in her Jessabelle. It helps us get past some of the clichés that she gives her Jessie some intensity and likability. Andrews gives her father an air of a man who knows something he isn’t going to talk about and displays successfully the uncomfortableness of seeing his daughter for the first time in years and having to deal with her snooping into things he feels need to be left alone. Joelle Carter does a nice on-tape performance as her mother, Kate, who dabbled into some kind of voodoo and her performances gets increasingly creepy the further into the VHS tapes we go and it works very well in providing a few goose-bumps despite being nothing new. Rounding out the main cast is Mark Webber as old high school friend Preston who helps Jessie in her investigation and provides a little sexual tension despite his character being married.

So, Jessabelle isn’t a great movie and probably not an overly memorable one but, it takes it’s familiar story and time honored supernatural elements and creates a moderately entertaining enough supernatural mystery/thriller. There was some nice atmosphere and director Greutert used his locations well and did give us some chills despite walking ground tread frequently. The cast all handle the material well despite some clunky dialog and leading lady Sarah Snook gives us a serviceable heroine to root for. Sure, we’ve pretty much seen most of it before but, it kept my attention and the big reveal worked well enough as long as you don’t analyze things too much. There are better supernatural horrors out there but, certainly far, far worse.

2 and 1/2 VHS tapes.

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BARE BONES: THE PURGE ANARCHY (2014)

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THE PURGE: ANARCHY (2014)

I wasn’t a fan of the first The Purge, I thought it was a really cool premise with a very lazy execution that turned a potential filled story into a routine home invasion flick. The sequel takes far better advantage of the concept of a 12 hour period where all crimes are legal and turns it into an action adventure that is part Escape From New York and part Enemy Territory. The story has a group of 5 people…a couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez), a mother and daughter (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul) and a mysterious and well-armed stranger (Frank Grillo) who are respectively trapped, forced outside and/or voluntarily outside as The Purge begins and details the various threats they encounter as they try to survive the night. Simple and effective and well directed by James DeMonaco, who also wrote the script, and is an improvement over the first flick, which he also wrote and directed. Sure the flick gets a bit cliché when it gets political and derails a bit when it deviates into some oddball situations that sort of disrupt the tension and flow of the action…some time spent with the family of a friend of Eva’s comes to mind…but the flick does move fast and has some nice atmosphere, suspense and more than a few intense violent moments. Not a great flick, but a far more entertaining one than the boring original and Grillo shows, once again, he is an action hero in the making.

3 star rating

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REVIEW: OCULUS (2014)

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OCULUS (2014)

I am a big fan of Mike Flanagan’s low budget chiller Absentia so, I was very much looking forward to his next flick which arrives from Blumhouse Productions and is his first big theatrical release. And Mr. Flanagan didn’t disappoint. Supernatural horror starts out introducing us to two siblings, Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites) Russell. Eleven years ago a horrible incident occurred in their home leaving their mother, Marie (Katee Sackhoff) and father, Alan (Rory Cochrane) dead, with ten year-old Tim incarcerated in an institution. From appearances, Alan murdered his wife and Tim killed him in self defense. It’s over a decade later and Tim has just been released and his older sister has come to help him get back on his feet…and destroy what she claims is the real culprit in their parents’ deaths. After years of treatment Tim sees the murders as a simple case of domestic problems and negative emotions gotten out of control. His father driven to torture and kill their mother and he, forced to defend himself and his sister by killing their dad. A tragic but rational explanation. Kaylie believes it to be the influence of a demonic entity that lives in an antique mirror purchased by their father for his office. While Tim was away, Kaylie has been planning to prove her belief, once and for all, and has tracked down and procured the mirror through her job as an antiques dealer and brought it to their still vacant former home. She convinces Tim to join her on calling out and destroying the sinister force that she believes, from her research, has left a trail of bodies and tortured souls for over 100 years. Is Kaylie delusional and in need of treatment herself, or has Tim’s treatment created a more practical way of rationalizing an even more horrible truth?

Director and co-writer (with Jeff Howard) Mike Flanagan crafts an intelligent, inventive and really creepy horror film that certainly has it’s share of out-right scares, especially in it’s last act. But much like his spooky Absentia, Flanagan never bludgeons us over the head with the horror and thus keeps it effective by keeping us from getting numb to it. As with his previous flick, he doesn’t give us everything at once and plays with our heads for a bit as to whether Kaylie is creating a supernatural fantasy to avoid the realities of the domestic horror she witnessed, or is Tim candy-coating the nightmarish truth with the psycho-babble fed him by his doctors? The film is a moderately paced, but has a constantly unnerving and creepy build-up, as the siblings delve deeper into the events that occurred over a decade ago. Flanagan…who also edited…deftly mixes in flashbacks to those horrible events and seamlessly blends them so that at times they all seem to be happening at the same moment and in the same space. It’s really disturbing as we try to figure out if these two are finally reliving and facing what happened, or is there an evil presence in that mirror that is happy to make them experience again the memories that torment them most. It’s in the last act where the full truth is revealed and I will say no more except to be ready for the film to deliver the goods when the time is right.

It’s an intense and scary ride Flanagan takes us on to get our answers, made all the more effective due to the skilled and disturbing build-up by a director who makes good on his potential. Again, Flanagan also has an underlying theme about the effects traumatic events have on our lives. With Absentia it was the emotional effects of a missing loved one and not knowing their fate. Here it is growing up and living with the trauma of witnessing domestic abuses and violence. He weaves these into his story subtly so they are not intrusive to the plot, but they are there. And speaking of subtlety, that is one of the things I like about Flanagan’s work and especially with this film, he knows when to be subtle and when to get intense and he does both here to maximum effect. Sometimes less is more and Flanagan’s instincts are good at knowing when to feed us an underlying creepiness and when to outright scare the pants off us. It’s what makes Oculus work so well and made Absentia such a treat. He knows what degree to feed us the films elements and when. He is also clever with his use of the traditional elements so, they appear fresh.

The director also gets good work from his cast with Gillan and Sackoff really standing out here with strong performances, but the acting is solid all the way around. No one ever goes over the top, even when the film is in full scare mode, the performances stay grounded and thus more effective. He got good work out of Katie Parker and Courtney Bell (who has a cameo) in his last film and seems to have a knack for writing and directing strong female characters that aren’t stereotypes or caricatures.

The film is not perfect, but it’s flaws are very minor and I loved that when the blood does flow, it was practical effects as did a lot of the make-up and effects seem to be. If digital was used, it was excellently rendered so it was not noticeable which, in a film like this, is the way it should be. CGI ghosts and blood are not scary.

Overall, I really enjoyed Oculus and how it was equally effective in it’s subtle moments as it was in the more intense ones. It never overloaded you with plot elements or the horror elements and fed you the answers to it’s mysteries gradually so it held your attention till it was ready to let you have it…and the final act does exactly that. A smart, disturbing and sometimes downright scary horror from Mike Flanagan. Also stars Annalise Basso and Garett Ryan as young Kaylie and Tim, respectively and these two youngsters can act.

3 and 1/2 spooky mirrors.

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NEW FULL TRAILER for ‘OCULUS’ FROM ‘ABSENTIA’ DIRECTOR MIKE FLANAGAN AND BLUMHOUSE PROD!

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As I’ve stated, I am a big fan of Mike Flanagan’s spooky low budget chiller Absentia and we now have a full trailer for his next horror feature Oculus which is coming from Blumhouse Productions. Personally, I am looking very forward to this! Oculus is slated to arrive in theaters on 4/11/14! Personally, I can’t wait!

Source:Youtube/ Shock Til You Drop

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TEASER TRAILER for OCULUS FROM ABSENTIA DIRECTOR MIKE FLANAGAN!

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I am a big fan of Mike Flanagan’s spooky low budget chiller Absentia (click on the title for my review) and his sophomore feature Oculus is coming from Blumhouse Productions and looks equally creepy. Film is slated to arrive in theaters on 4/11/14! Personally, I can’t wait!

Source:Youtube/ Yahoo Movies

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