HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: MUSE (2017)

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MUSE (MUSA) (2017)

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Spanish horror flick from [REC]‘s Jaume Balagueró finds Professor Samuel Solomon (Elliot Cowan) at an Irish college having an affair with one of his students (Manuela Vellés). She makes him promise to love her forever and then commits suicide in his own tub. A year later he begins to have strange dreams of the ritualistic murder of a woman (Leonor Watling) he’s never met. When the murder actually occurs, he begins to investigate with the help of Rachel (Ana Ularu), a single mother who was having the same dream. They find out about the existence of a sect, The White Circle, who believed in seven supernatural women, muses, who infiltrate our world through the words they inspire mortals to write. Members of the sect have all died and now the seven muses may be coming for Rachel and Sam.

Flick is filmed in English and directed by Jaume Balagueró from a script by he and Fernando Navarro (who ironically also co-wrote Verónica with Paco Plaza), based on a book by José Carlos Somoza. There are some very spooky moments here and some bloody ones as well. The story is a bit different with a focus on this group of seven supernaturally empowered women who manipulate things through the words and poetry they inspire writers to write…and not all of their inspirations are good. On paper, in Somoza’s book, a lot of what happens probably worked very well, especially with the pages to develop ideas and plot points. On film, though, things get a bit convoluted and some of the story elements start to feel made up as the film goes along. It is atmospheric and there are some very chilling and disturbing moments, but the story almost starts to feel it’s rambling a bit, before it comes to a conclusion that’s pretty much spelled out before the last act confrontation begins. Overall, it’s not a bad film, Just maybe not one easily translated from book to film and therefor we don’t get the full impact of the original tale, even if much of it is effectively done.

The cast is fine. Elliot Cowan tires hard as Professor Solomon, though comes across as a tad bland. His character also seems to dive right into the supernatural elements a little too easily for someone still suffering emotional trauma. Ana Ularu is sympathetic and a bit mysterious as Rachel. She will do anything to protect her son, which has her in practical slavery to the unsavory owner of a strip club. Franka Potente is solid as a close associate of Solomon who gets dragged into the supernatural drama. Flick also stars veteran Christopher Lloyd as the last remaining member of The White Circle, who is in hiding and a chilling Joanne Whalley as one of the seven ladies, Jacqueline.

This was a decent supernatural tale. It had an interesting premise, was atmospheric and had some spooky moments. Drawbacks are sometimes the film feels like the story is being made up as it goes and it gets a bit convoluted in the second half. It is based on a novel and maybe the story simply doesn’t translate that well to film. Some tales are better told on paper, despite a good filmmaker like Balagueró at the helm.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 razor blades.

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BARE BONES: COLD MOON (2016)

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COLD MOON (2016)

Supernatural thriller finds pregnant sixteen year-old Margaret Larkin (Sara Catherine Bellamy) murdered, throwing her family and the small town of Babylon, Florida into turmoil. While the killer, Nathan Redfield (Josh Stewart), successfully points blame towards another man, he is haunted by Margaret’s angry spirit. When more bodies start to pile up to cover his tracks, he finds himself surrounded by vengeful specters and a local sheriff (Frank Whaley) closing in.

Silly flick is directed by Griff Furst from a script by he and Jack Snyder from a book by Michael McDowell, who wrote the screenplay for Beetlejuice. Problem here is that subtlety would have worked better on this small town set chiller, yet Furst instead uses some over-the-top haunting sequence that laughably evoke McDowell’s Beetlejuice when it should be chilling to the bone. It’s not a comedy. The director has a nice visual style and when he does dial it down, there are some spooky sequences, but it’s hard to get scared with coffins exploding and giant snakes with old lady heads chasing after a terrified Redfield. Also, our killer is revealed way too soon, obviously, thus ending the mystery element in the first half hour, and the focus then switches to him unraveling and away from the grieving Larkin family. It gets comical as he is pursued by the overused visual of spirits with snakes coming out of their mouths and starts to leave a trail of bodies that gets ridiculous. Sad thing is, there was a spooky little movie in here somewhere drowned in overindulgence. Also stars Candy Clark and Christopher Lloyd and there is an effective score by the director’s brother Nathan.

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: PIRANHA 3DD (2012)

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PIRANHA 3DD  (2012)

Sequel to Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3D (which is in itself a remake) is not as fun as it’s predecessor, nor is it quite as bad as it’s made out to be. The story, this time, has the prehistoric piranha traveling from the decimated Lake Victoria through an underground river to a sleazy water theme park to continue their feeding.

The problem with this sequel is, director John Gulager seems to take the material a little too seriously despite a script that replaces Piranha 3D‘s wit for blatantly stupid. And stupid would be fine if director Gulager took the ball and ran with it like Alexandre Aja did. The budget for this installment is smaller and thus the film’s scale and carnage lesser, but still, look how fun the low budget 1978 original was without the budget and bloodshed of the 2010 remake. Joe Dante knew to play it serious to a point, but all the while letting the cast and audience in on the fun. When you open a film with Gary Busey and a dead cow that farts piranha eggs, there’s no point in pretending you’re directing Jaws. The gore effects are fine although the CGI is even weaker then it’s predecessor, but despite it’s faults, there is still some entertainment to be had such as MZNJ Halloween Hottie Katrina Bowden, reciting one of the best lines in the film involving a baby piranha and a certain part of her anatomy.

Gulager’s cast is fine, though only David Hasselhoff seems to really be in on the joke. The rest of the cast, including pretty lead Danielle Panabaker, try really hard to give they proceedings some weight, but probably should have just embraced the goofy material and had a good time. The cameos from some of the survivors from the last entry are fun and there are some funny bits, most involving The Hoff.

It could have been a lot better, but Piranha 3DD did pass the time and I actually feel that with a better script that was more clever than crude, John Gulager might actually have delivered a decent B-movie. An OK time waster when watched in the right frame of mind, but far short of the deliriously fun remake that precedes it.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 carnivorous critters

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER (2016)

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I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Horror/thriller is based on the first book of the same name from Dan Wells’ trilogy about sociopathic teen John Wayne Cleaver. Fifteen year-old teen John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records) is currently being treated by a therapist (Karl Geary) for having homicidal thoughts. Not helping John is that he lives and works in his mother’s (Laura Fraser) mortuary and is surrounded by death on a daily basis. He sets up rules to control his urges, despite being fascinated with death and serial killers, but things take an odd turn when people in his small Midwestern town start showing up dead. John becomes obsessed with the case and sets out to find who this serial killer is…and his first suspect may be his kindly old neighbor Mr. Crowley (Christopher Lloyd). Is John over-imagining things due to his dreary obsession, or has he found real evil in his sleepy little town?

British/Irish flick is directed by Billy O’Brian with the book based script written by he and Christopher Hyde. It is part horror, part mystery and part character study as we watch a boy investigating the very type of activity that he struggles with himself not to commit. It is an interesting study of an interesting character as John fights with his inner dark urges and by contrast sees death everyday working with his mother and now by pursuing a killer. It is offbeat and intriguing and O’Brian avoids a lot of clichés by not making this a straight up serial killer thriller, but from the view of someone who might be one in the making, himself hunting another. A sort of teenage “Dexter” if you will. There are some brutal and disturbing moments and the film only stumbles a bit when it’s reveal conjures something far less grounded than we expected from the tone of the film up till that point…though it is effective and the film does come to an appropriately suitable conclusion that fits the story and direction it took. It just was a bit off-putting that the film’s killer is something a bit more supernatural when the film seemed to be examining the evil’s that men do.

The cast are all good. Records makes an intriguing and odd youth in his John Wayne Cleaver. He is certainly not your normal kid and he knows it. He knows there is something wrong in his head and the young actor portrays well the conflict and effort to avoid becoming something he already has shown great potential in being. The fact that he pursues another “like” personality seems, at first, to be more out of curiosity than to battle evil. Laura Fraser is solid as John’s single and hard working mother. She conveys well the frustration of loving her child yet knowing he is a bit unstable and has urges that could turn dangerous. Christopher Lloyd is a veteran actor and gives the old neighbor Crowley a nice sympathetic touch so we find it hard to believe that this kindly old man might be a monster on the inside. Solid acting from supporting cast members as well.

I liked this movie, though didn’t quite love it, despite a novel premise. It features a sociopathic lead who is fighting to control his own homicidal urges while pursuing someone else who is giving in quite brutally to theirs. The reveal kind of switches the focus to something more supernatural, when the film seemed to be telling a more grounded story and that is a bit off-putting. Director and co-writer O’Brien does recover and ends the film appropriately and effectively. Recommended, but just go in without grand expectations.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 scalpels.

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REVIEW: 88 (2014)

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88 (2014)

Canadian thriller opens with a young woman named Gwen (Katharine Isabelle) suddenly finding herself in a diner and having no recollection of how she got there. There is also a gun in her bag and an unfortunate set of circumstances find a waitress shot and Gwen being pursued by the police. Now the young woman is on the run trying to remember who she is, how she got in this mess and why the number 88 is apparently very important to her. With some sporadic memories returning to her, the young woman realizes that her past…and future… involve murder, death and a quest for revenge.

I liked this crime thriller well enough. All the flashing back and forth in time does get a bit tiring after the first hour and sometimes it’s a bit too over-stylized for it’s own good but, overall it is still fairly entertaining. The story by Tim Doiron is nothing new. We have seen thrillers involving memory loss before and certainly, in the age of Tarantino, have seen many a quirky, stylish tale of unsavory types and abundant bullets and bloodshed. But, director April Mullen does a decent enough job of keeping things moving and keeping us guessing as Gwen tries to piece her head back together and figure-out why she is heavily armed and missing a pinky finger. Again, nothing trend-setting and nothing we haven’t sat through before but, it is involving enough, though, I did guess where it was heading long before we get there. The biggest reason to watch is to see star Isabelle in a strong turn as Gwen. She does a nice job conveying the current confusion of her character, as well as, the different personas she takes on, as we flash back and forth to the different points in time that lead her to where she is now. Isabelle is a sexy leading lady and she can be confused victim and vicious killer from one scene to the next and it really makes this far more worth watching than it might be otherwise. It was also cool to see Christopher Lloyd in a strong role, once again, as a crime boss name Cyrus who figures heavily in Gwen’s fate and Michael Ironside as a cop on Gwen’s bloody trail. Nice to see veterans like this playing something other than goofy old men.

In conclusion, this is not a great movie. “Hip” crime thrillers like this are a dime a dozen these days, but, a strong performance by it’s leading lady and some stylish direction make it watchable and enjoyable enough. It isn’t very original and it isn’t overly memorable, but, it is intriguing enough to keep one involved. We get strong parts for veterans like Christopher Lloyd and Michael Ironside and there are enough bullets and blood to keep one from getting too worn out by all the jumping back and forth in time. A decent, if unremarkable flick.

2 and 1/2 gum-ball machines.

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