HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DEAD NIGHT (2018)

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DEAD NIGHT (2018)

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

Wife and mother Casey (Brea Grant) brings her family up to a remote cabin in the woods for the weekend, hoping the mineral deposits in the mountain with help her husband (A.J. Bowen) with his cancer. We soon find that what we are watching is a flashback as the family was brutally murdered and Casey, now referred to as “The Axe Mom” is accused. As we continue to watch the events of that horrible night unfold, though, we find that something far more supernatural may have been responsible.

Film is directed with a very impressive visual style by Brad Baruh from a script and story by he and Irving Walker. The snowy mountain setting and some of the more supernatural elements look great and add atmosphere to this cabin in the woods horror. The narrative cuts between a segment of a real crime show called Inside Crime detailing the deaths from the public’s point of view, to watching the events unfold and seeing a tale of a diabolical woman (Barbara Crampton), witches, creatures and a wife and mother fighting for her life and those of her family. It works well enough, though it might have been more suspenseful if we didn’t know who died and who would survive from the get go. The editing within the flashback footage is a bit choppy as well, thus sometimes disrupting the narrative a bit. On the plus side the film looks spooky as do our supernatural elements, there is some really good gore and old fashion prosthetic make-up effects and horror icon Crampton gives us a really dastardly villain. Despite the rural setting, the film avoids resembling Evil Dead and other cabin in the woods horrors, too much and there are simply some creepy action scenes once Casey’s family starts being transformed by Crampton’s evil Leslie Bison. Again, with the editing, not every story element is clear, but this is a gory good time with a very effective and atmospheric visual style. The film also has a bit of an 80s horror vibe which always scores points with us older horror movie fans.

Brea Grant makes a really good lead. She plays a women already under an emotional strain with a sick husband and now she must fight against Bison and her supernatural back-up. She watches her family one by one turn into creatures and ultimately we know she’s going to be blamed for everything she’s fighting against. Crampton steals the show here as the evil Leslie Bison, a woman with a political and supernatural agenda. The veteran actress and horror icon really chews up the scenery here and just oozes malice. She’s a lot of devious fun. Rounding out the cast of principles is horror regular A.J. Bowen as sick husband James, a good-natured fellow despite his condition, Joshua Hoffman as son Jason, Sophie Dalah as daughter Jessica and Elise Luthman as Jessica’s friend Becky who the evil elements have an interest in. Daniel Roebuck also appears in a small role as Inside Crime’s host, Jack Sterling.

In conclusion, this was a fun enough movie, though some choppy editing does hinder the story telling. Brad Baruh is an atmospheric director with a great eye for visuals and he does keep this cabin in the woods horror from getting too routine. It’s got a good cast with Brea Grant making a strong final girl and horror film icon Barbara Crampton stealing all her scenes with a sinister over-the-top performance. Flaws aside, a fun and delightfully gory horror flick.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 axes.

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: ROB ZOMBIE’S 31 (2016)

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ROB ZOMBIE’S 31 (2016)

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

With The Lords Of Salem, Rob Zombie delivered his best film and one where he showed a lot of growth as a filmmaker. He also showed he was capable of writing outside his grind house influences and even some maturity in the writing of his characters. With 31 Zombie unfortunately takes quite a few steps back with this dull, vulgar flick that is simply a series of brutal vignettes where a group of uninteresting characters are beset upon by a group of equally mundane villains. Story takes place on Halloween in 1976 where five carnival workers (Kevin Jackson, Meg Foster, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and Sheri Moon Zombie) are kidnaped by a group of rich weirdos (Malcolm McDowell, Judy Geeson and Jane Carr) who force them to play a sick game called “31”. The rules are simple…the five have twelve hours to survive against a group of hired killer clowns, Sick-Head (Pancho Moler), Psycho-Head (Lew Temple), Schizo-Head (David Ury), Sex-Head (E.G. Daily), Death-Head (Torsten Voges) and the worst of them all, Doom-Head (Richard Brake). Locked in an abandoned factory, they must kill or be killed as their aristocratic hosts watch and wager on their survival.

If it sounds interesting, it isn’t. It’s basically yet another version of The Most Dangerous Game with innocents being hunted by killers while the haves cheer the deaths of the have-nots. Zombie directs from his own script and it’s one of his more uninspired stories, that lacks even the fun, homage heavy atmosphere of his first flick, House of 1,000 CorpsesSalem showed a lot of progress in his dialog and characters and with this mundane flick we’re back to obscenity spouting, two-dimensional characters that aren’t endearing or particularly likable…and those are the good guys. We just don’t care what happens to this bunch. The only person that earns our sympathy is Daniel Roebuck’s pre-credits scene preacher. The villains are all bland and generic loonies with only Brake’s Doom-Head projecting any menace, because he is the only one who doesn’t go over-the-top turning his killer-for-hire into a cartoon character that loses their threat factor. Zombie does still have a good visual eye and gives us interesting things to look at, despite the simple setting and crowd-funded budget. The violence once again returns to that of his earlier films and once again we are bludgeoned with so much brutality that we become numb to it long before the film’s 102 minutes are over. The movie does have a few moments, such as when our protagonists decide to go on the offensive against Psycho-Head and his brother Schizo-Head, but the overall effect is that the heroes become as vicious as the killers and it becomes hard to side with them as they match brutality with brutality. After a few more bloody battles, the film just ends suddenly with a sort of “That’s it, thanks for coming”. On a production level it is well made for a low budget flick and Zombie does pepper the soundtrack with some great tunes, like he always does. It’s just a sad disappointment that the maturing filmmaker that made the intriguing Lords Of Salem turned back into a horny 13 year-old who thinks endless vulgarity and gallons of spurting blood is all you need to be entertaining. Even his first feature, House of 1,000 Corpses was more interesting and a more solid movie.

The cast also seems to have regressed. Both Phillips and Zombie’s wife Sheri Moon were really good in Salem and here they are given very little to work with and don’t seem to really be into this flick. Their characters are bland, lifeless and have nothing all that interesting to say between curse words, sexual banter and violent death. We never really get to know them enough to care. Veteran Foster gives her Venus some gusto when under attack and Brake does give Doom-Head some real menace, but the rest of the cast seem to be operating on a paycheck level, not that they have much to work with from what might be Zombie’s weakest script.

In conclusion, this film was a major disappointment from a filmmaker who has been progressing from film to film. Even his much maligned Halloween II had some brilliant imagery and had the guts to do it’s own thing with a classic character and franchise. 31 has a minimal plot, that pits a group of cardboard good guys against some generic, vulgar and violent villains for another group of sadistic aristocrats. Nothing we haven’t seen often before. All the vulgarity and violence would be fine if there was some genuine wit, intensity or suspense here, but there isn’t…it’s just a series of increasingly violent interludes. It’s a dull and brutal movie that wears out it’s welcome long before the first hour is up and shows you all it has to offer in even less time. Would much rather have seen Zombie make his canceled Broad Street Bullies hockey flick than this dull regression.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 very disappointing butcher knives.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR (2014)

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AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR (2014)

I am a fan of writer/director Nicholas McCarthy’s first feature, the surprisingly effective The Pact. It had it’s flaws, but it was very spooky, used some familiar horror conventions well and had a few surprises. When I heard he was working on a second feature, originally titled Home, I was anxious to see what he had up his sleeve next.

Now re-titled At The Devil’s Door, McCarthy brings us another tale of supernatural horror this time involving a demonic entity and those who have the misfortune of coming into contact with it. The film opens in the 80s with a young woman (Ashley Rickards) playing a strange game with an equally strange man (Michael Massee) in the middle of the desert for $500. She wins and is thus told she has been ‘chosen’ and to her horror, she realizes an evil presence has now followed her home. We cut to modern day where realtor Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is tasked to sell a house in foreclosure. The same house that once housed the girl we met from years earlier. But there is a dark presence still within in that empty home which has now targeted Leigh and her younger sister Vera (Glee’s Naya Rivera). And the more the history of the house and those that lived there is looked into, the more danger the sisters appear to be in from a malevolent force that has now ‘chosen’ one of them.

Much like with The PactMcCarthy crafts a very unsettling chiller that is not without a few flaws, but certainly the spooky goods far outweigh those flaws. Again he uses some very familiar horror movie trappings, but uses them well. It’s a creepy mix of Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen and with a touch of Paranormal Activity. It also reminded me slightly of Oculus from earlier this year, as it did employ flashbacks to fill in blanks in the story and briefly involved a mirror, but I believe that is purely coincidental and the overall story is quite different. McCarthy creates some very chilling atmosphere and his simple old school visual style is quite effective in enhancing that. I liked that his FX are mostly done in camera with good old fashion smoke and mirrors and the man certainly knows how to build tension and gives us a few good scares. The film’s flaws come in that the story sometimes jumps forward giving the impression that certain plot elements where achieved a bit too easily or persons found too quickly. And as such, they don’t resonate as much as they could when they seem to come about with so little effort. We could have used a bit more of the investigation aspects of the story so things had the illusion of some degree of difficulty to increase their dramatic weight. I’m also not sure I quite bought certain elements that set up the last act, but to discuss details would be unfair to those who want to go in knowing as little as possible, which I recommend. Suffice to say there are a few little plot holes that might evoke some questions, but nothing detrimental to the overall effect of this very unsettling film. There is also some nice cinematography by Bridger Neilson and an effective score by Ronen Landa to add to the overall mood.

McCarthy gets good work from a fairly small cast. Moreno is likable as Leigh. She’s an ambitious young woman, but one that has her own inner dramas and when it seems she’s unknowingly walked into contact with something malicious, her fear seems genuine as is our concern for her. Rivera also gives us a likable character in the artistic younger sister Vera, who is even less prepared to deal with this demonic entity especially since she is also unaware that she has been targeted. When the film switches focus to her in the second half, she handles it well as she begins to investigate into what is going on and why. The rest of the supporting cast do well in their parts including a brief appearance by Rob Zombie favorite Daniel Roebuck as the eager to sell homeowner and a creepy turn by young Ava Acres as a little girl who figures into the story later on.

Overall, I liked At The Devil’s Door. Not a major improvement over The Pact, but McCarthy is showing growth as a filmmaker and writer and it is a very spooky and moody little horror and one of the better ones I’ve seen so far this year. I think there are some very good things to come from McCarthy if he maintains his progression and, at the very least, he has delivered two spooky chillers so far. There’s a charm to his ability to make entertaining use of some traditional horror elements and his style is refreshingly simply and old school. A recommended horror, as is The Pact if you still haven’t seen that.

3 red raincoats.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN II

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With the Holidays here what better way to show some cheer then by featuring a couple of Rob Zombie movies…and holiday themed Rob Zombie movies at that…OK, the holiday is Halloween, but since it’s Halloween all year round at MonsterZero NJ’s, these flicks are appropriate…in my twisted little mind anyway! I know Zombie’s Halloween features have caused a lot of controversy and evoked some strong feelings both pro and con, but that’s far better in my mind than indifference. So, what did I think of them? Read on…
Both reviews are of the director’s cuts…

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ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN (2007)

(Click on the highlighted links to go to corresponding previous features here at MonsterZero NJ’s Movie Madhouse!)

There are things I like about Rob Zombie’s remake and things I don’t. As far as the things I didn’t like, Zombie’s biggest mistake is de-mystifying Michael Myers. Carpenter’s original had an average little boy from an average family, savagely murdering his older sister for no apparent reason on Halloween night. Zombie makes him the product of a broken white trash home with a stripper mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) who has a taste for loser boyfriends (William Forsythe). Giving Myers a reason for his violent behavior takes away the mystique the character had. Zombie’s Myers is a damaged young boy (Daeg Faerch) who tortures small animals and graduates to killing people and is sent to an asylum where he silently grows into a homicidal man (Tyler Mane). Carpenter’s Myers was pure evil, the young boy stopped existing and grew into a vessel for an unexplained evil force and it was random and thus spookier. The original Myers became a supernatural being, where Zombie’s Myers is all too human. Another mistake is spending almost an hour examining Myers youth and incarceration at the mental hospital before he is set loose to return home to find his little sister, now a teenager with the adopted name of Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton). Carpenter got things rolling within a few minutes in the original and his flick focuses on the stalking of Laurie and gets the scares started early. And Laurie Strode is a random victim in Carpenter’s flick, the convention that she was related to Michael wasn’t added till the original’s sequel Halloween II. Finally, the casting of genre legend Malcolm McDowell, as Dr. Loomis, doesn’t work for me. I love McDowell, but his portrayal is a bit off. He didn’t quite seem to fit the role. He also botches a couple of the classic lines and these lines are important to the mythos. Patrick Stewart would have made a far better Loomis, not that he would have done such a film.

On the plus side, Zombie does have a nice visual style and things do get intense once he finally let’s Myers loose on the peaceful town of Haddonfield. Zombie’s Myers has a savageness that the original Myers lost after being dragged through numerous sequels, and the havoc he raises is some of the best action the character has seen since the original. Tyler Mane does make an imposing Myers and his Myers is filled with rage whereas Carpenter’s Myers was more methodical. Aside from my feelings on the casting of McDowell, the rest of the cast are fine. Sheri Moon Zombie shows some nice depth as a mother helplessly watching her son become a monster. She generates some real pain in her eyes and it makes her very sympathetic. Scout-Compton is a spunky and cute heroine and plays Laurie as a typical modern teenager,  but also gives her part the needed intensity when HE comes home and she’s forced to save her babysitting charges and fight for her life. Zombie also peppers the film with familiar faces. We get Halloween sequel veteran Danielle Harris (Halloween 4 & 5) returning to the series now fully grown to play Annie Brackett and she plays a typical feisty teen girl with boys on the brain and genre vet Brad Dourif is cast as her father, Sheriff Brackett who is conflicted as to whether to believe Loomis’ warnings or not. We get cameos by the likes of Dee Wallace as Laurie’s mother, Ken Foree as Joe Grizzly, a trucker who unfortunately provides Myers with his trademark coveralls, Sid Haig as a cemetary caretaker, Danny Trejo as a hospital orderly who takes pity on Michael and Richard Lynch as Michael’s school principal. There is also a nice re-imagining of Carpenter’s score by Tyler Bates which adds some spooky atmosphere especially in the second half when Myers is finally unleashed and Phil Parmet’s cinematography captures Zombie’s visuals very well.

The scenes in Haddonfield are really what worked for me as they should have. Zombie shows he can produce some suspense and scares and he cranks it up here. Too bad he chose to focus a good deal of the running time on Michael’s youth and incarceration which is less interesting as we know where it all leads, as this is a remake after all. As for the climax, without giving away any details, Zombie chooses to end his remake with a blunt shock ending where John Carpenter crafted an opening ending that left us with a feeling of dread even after the film was long over. It’s not a bad ending and does have resonance, but doesn’t have the bone chilling effect of the original.

I stand by my opinion that Zombie has a great horror film in him but, he needs to concentrate on using his distinct visuals more often and moving past his fascination with the 70’s grind house style filmmaking and the white trash characters that inhabited a lot of those films. There is nothing wrong with paying homage to your influences, but Zombie has covered that ground in his first three films now and I think he is capable of his own style.

The lowdown: better than pretty much all of the sequels after Halloween III (which, as you may know, I like a lot!), but a far cry from John Carpenter’s original masterpiece. I at least give Zombie the credit for trying to do his own thing instead of a stale shot for shot remake.

3 Zombie Myers!

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ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN II (2009)

WARNING: If you haven’t seen Zombie’s Halloween remake, there are some points of discussion in the sequel review which may contain spoilers for the first film…
This is the film of the two Zombie Halloweens that get’s the most flak, but to be all honest, I’ve come to like this one because it’s more of a Rob Zombie film featuring Carpenter’s characters. He’s free from the confines of a remake and doing his own thing. The results can be mixed, but it is still better than any of the post Halloween III sequels. This film takes place immediately after the last with Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) and Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris) in the hospital being frantically worked on and Myers being hauled off to the morgue. But when an accident wrecks the morgue transport, the resilient Michael Myers rises from his slab and walks off after murdering the surviving van occupant. He disappears and the story picks up two years later with a traumatized Laurie living with Annie and her father (Brad Dourif) while Laurie is trying to deal with the approach of Halloween and the fact that Myers’ body was never found. Of course it’s no secret to the audience that Michael is on his way back to Haddonfield to finish what he started and leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.

The fact that this sequel never really feels like a “Halloween” film works both for and against it. It’s more of a Rob Zombie film and here he is not afraid to take Myers’ mask off or get inside his head for some beautifully visualized hallucination sequences of Michael’s dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie). Tyler Bates also forgoes the traditional Halloween music for the most part and his score is quite good despite not imbuing the Halloween sound and flavor like all the other movies. Zombie gives his sequel a more methodical pace and while the film never really gets scary, there are some real brutal and intense moments such as Myers’ reuniting with Annie. There are some savagely violent scenes here that are very effective, but by the end of the film, you do feel a bit bludgeoned with all the brutality. McDowell returns as Loomis who is now a pompous bestselling author writing books about Myers and profiting from the horrible experience that left many dead. I didn’t like Dr. Loomis being portrayed as an egotistical asshole. Just didn’t work. The character was always representative of the good fighting the evil and now he is a douche who is willing to sell everyone out to make a buck and himself famous. It also makes his last minute change of heart near the climax hard to swallow. Ironically since McDowell is freed of the confines of the tradition portrayal of the Loomis character, I accepted him better in this incarnation of the role despite not liking the direction the character is taken.

There is a lot of other things to like here, too, though, unless you are a Halloween traditionalist and just can’t forgive Zombie for taking his own direction with things. There are some really twisted and bizarre dream sequences that have beautiful and surreal visuals that really impressed me and cinematographer Brandon Trost captures them well as with the look of the rest of the film. Much like the final act of Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, it is when Zombie takes his camera into these surreal sequences that his films really come to life and sadly he doesn’t do it often enough, thought I really liked what he did here and how these sequences got into both Myers’ and Laurie’s heads. I liked the sequences of Myers hallucinating that he sees his dead mother and his younger self (Chase Wright Vanek here as Faerch had outgrown the part), egging him on to kill. And the same for Laurie Strode’s nightmares. Great stuff. And I really liked the WTF ending. He really went outside the comfort zone of this series and in terms of traditional Halloween lore and it was daring. The Kubrick-esque final shot gives the appropriate chills the remake’s end lacked.

He gets some really good performances out of his cast again. Compton is good, but I do prefer her as the sweeter Laurie then the foul mouth tattooed traumatized girl here…though the progression is understandable and she does come across as a very messed up teen, mixing psychological damage with teen angst. Danielle Harris shows that she has grown into a really good actress as Annie, who was far more seriously hurt by Michael and yet is handling it a lot better then Laurie. She’s both friend and mother to Strode while soldiering on with her own life. A strong young woman and it makes her confrontation with Myers all the more powerful. And last, but not least, genre favorite Brad Dourif gives what might be the performance of his long career. Yes, he is that good and thankfully Zombie gives him a lot of good material and scenes to show it in. I loved him in this. Again, we also get some cameos by genre vets and Zombie favorites like Margot Kidder as Laurie’s psychiatrist, Howard Hessman as Laurie’s record store/cafe owner boss and Daniel Roebuck as a delightfully sleazy strip club owner.

While it’s not a great movie, I do like it for what it is and the risks Zombie took here with characters that are quite endeared to horror fans. Ironically, Zombie has been criticized and chastised for taking these risks, while equally so for not taking enough risks in the previous film. Sometimes you just can’t please fans when it comes to poking around an established classic. I hope someday Rob Zombie makes an original film that finally lives up to the potential he constantly shows. This film showed a progression from Halloween and I think we are seeing him move away from grind house and more toward Zombie. While many horror fans would disagree, I like this flick and recommend it as long as you have an open mind as to how classic characters are utilized and aren’t offended because someone took an established franchise and thought outside the box with it.

3 Zombie Myers!

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For a look at Zombie’s House Of 1000 Corpses and The Devils’ Rejects click here!

And for a look at his The Lords Of Salem click here!

For a profile of Screen Queen extraordinaire Danielle Harris click here!

For our look at the original Halloween click here and it’s first two sequels here!

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