BARE BONES: 3 FROM HELL (2019)

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3 FROM HELL (2019)

Unnecessary sequel finds that Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis (Bill Moseley) and Captain Spaulding (the late Sid Haig) survived their shoot-out with police at the climax of The Devil’s Rejects and have been on death row for ten years. Spaulding is executed by lethal injection, but Otis escapes with the help of half-brother Winslow (Richard Brake) and plans to spring Baby. Once that’s accomplished, with plenty of bloodshed, the three head to Mexico. That’s kinda it.

Flick is written and directed by Rob Zombie and is a chore to sit through. There is barely what could be called a story and the mess of a script seems to be making it all up as it goes along. Fans of these characters will note that they don’t even seem like the same fiends that graced House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects and their intensity is lacking. Otis seems a bit too laid back and Zombie’s wife is way overdoing it as the demented Baby. She’s more silly than scary. Only Brake’s Winslow seems to exude a little legitimate menace and he is never really given a chance to be fully unleashed. Even their carnage and depravity feels like it’s been dialed down a few notches. Are these killers slowing down?

Zombie seemed to have peaked with the interesting and spooky Lords of Salem and is continuing his filmmaking downward spiral that began with the uninspired 31 and now includes this undercooked, rambling mess. You know something is wrong when even the violence in a Rob Zombie flick has a very ho-hum, been-there-done-that feeling. At least we got to see Sid Haig one more time. Also stars Poncho (31) Moler, Zombie regular Jeff Daniel Phillips and horror legend Dee Wallace.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: CRITTERS ATTACK! (2019)

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CRITTERS ATTACK! (2019)

Revival of the classic franchise is sadly disappointing as the Krites…or Critters…return to earth after last being seen here in 1991’s Critters 3. They land near a small town, much like in the first two features and start to chow-down on the inhabitants. They cause trouble most specifically for a babysitter (Tashiana Washington), her two charges (Jack Fulton and Ava Preston) and her younger brother (Jaeden Noel), who find a friendly Krite female while hiking. Luckily Dee Wallace shows up (reprising her role from the first flick…maybe?) and goes Critter hunting!

Sequel is directed very by-the-numbers by Bobby Miller from a witless and dull script by Scott Lobdell. It’s so low budget, it looks like someone’s homemade fan film and the acting is strictly amateur, save for the veteran Wallace. Aside from the female Krite our teens adopt as a pet, there is little new or innovative here and not much reason to revisit this franchise. There is some decent gore…when they bother to show it, and the Critters are delightfully still rubber puppets, but there is little fun in their new exploits. At least there is a cool 80s-ish soundtrack from Russ Howard III.

A sadly underwhelming direct-to-digital sequel that begs one to revisit the originals instead…at least the first two anyway. While on the subject, there is also Shudder’s Critters: A New Binge web series, which is supposedly not much better.

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CRITTERS (1986)

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CRITTERS (1986)

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

Critters is a 1986 sci-fi/horror/comedy that owes as much to the creature features of the 50s as it does Joe Dante’s Gremlins. The flick opens with alien beings called “Crites”…furry little creatures with LOTS of teeth…escaping from an interplanetary penitentiary with shape-shifting bounty hunters Ug (Terrence Mann) and Lee (various cast members) in hot pursuit. The Crites land on Earth in Grover’s Bend, Kansas near the farm of the Brown family and they are very hungry. Now mom Helen (Dee Wallace), dad Jay (Billy Bush), teen daughter April (Nadine van der Velde), young son Brad (Scott Grimes) and drunken handyman Charlie (Don Opper) come under siege by the carnivorous Critters, who have chosen them as their next course. Will the bounty hunters arrive in time before this quaint family all become alien happy meals?

Despite being derivative this is a fun movie as directed by Stephen Herek from his script with Domonic Muir. Herek gives the flick a bit of a Spielbergian touch and it works well for the material. It has a fairly even mix of horror and humor and the bloodshed does push the boundaries of the PG-13 rating, while delivering some laughs. The Critter FX by the Chiodo Brothers (Killer Klowns) are enjoyably rubber prosthetics and the visual FX are delightfully cheesy. The action is limited to in and around the Brown farm with inept police deputies (Ethan Phillips) and visiting boyfriends (Billy Zane) showing up to become Critter fodder. The film is very 80s, no more of an example than a music video featuring star Terrence Mann, whose cheese metal rocker Johnny Steele becomes the face adopted by changeling Ug. It’s a bit overplayed, but is 80s hair metal to the core. The film wisely doesn’t wear out it’s welcome either, cruising in at an economical 85 minutes.

The cast are having a good time. Dee Wallace is the quintessential 80s mom next door, but despite playing a humble Midwestern housewife, she has a quiet sexiness that makes her hot. Billy Bush is the all-American, Midwest father and is the subject of a lot of Critter abuse. Nadine van der Velde doesn’t get much to do but scream and find herself in peril, but she is cute and is a fine damsel. Grimes is the hero of the film and does a good job as the nerdy kid who rises to heroic status. Opper is funny as the drunk, conspiracy theorist handyman, Charlie and Terrence Mann is solid as the terminator-like Ug and MTV idol Johnny Steele. The flick also has small roles with familiar faces, like M. Emmet Walsh as Sheriff Harv, horror icon Lin Shaye as his receptionist, Sally and the before mentioned Billy Zane as April’s ill-fated boyfriend, Steve. The Crites are all puppets and are voiced…complete with subtitles…by voice actor Corey Burton.

Sure, it was most likely inspired by Joe Dante’s classic from two years earlier, but stands up on it’s own thanks to some fun direction by Stephen Herek and a cast that knows how to play the material. The FX on all levels are nostalgically cheesy and the film has the right mix of humor and horror to entertain. It’s also delightfully 80s and shows what kind of movies New Line Cinema churned out before The Lord of the Rings trilogy turned them into a mega-studio. It was a modest hit for New Line and a sequel was paraded out two years later. Fun movie and worth a watch for 80s nostalgia fans.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 critters.

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THE HOWLING and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

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THE HOWLING and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly compare these two films, I have to give DETAILED SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen The Howling or An American Werewolf In London, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW for each film. You have been warned!

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Previously, I’ve made such comparisons such as David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows and John Carpenter’s Halloween (link here), the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Predator with the B-movie sci-fi/horror Without Warning (link here)and the classic Evil Dead and it’s 2013 remake (link here). Now I’d like to compare two classic 80s horror tales of lycanthropy with a look at Joe Dante’s The Howling alongside John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London. These two films were released in the same year, just six months apart and both have revolutionary transformation sequences that changed the world of SPFX make-up at the time. So, let’s take a look…

(Click on the highlighted movie titles to go to the full length reviews and on the photos to enlarge them!)

THE STORY

The Howling opened on March 13, 1981 and tells the tale of intrepid reporter Karen White (the legendary Dee Wallace) who is meeting notorious serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo). Karen is traumatized by their encounter, one which ends in a hail of police bullets. She is sent by psychiatrist Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee) to his remote retreat in the Northern California woods for treatment, but unknown to Karen, Eddie Quist was a werewolf and that Waggner’s retreat is where he and his pack preside.

An American Werewolf in London opened on August 21st, 1981 and tells the story of David Kessler (David Naughton) and his buddy Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne), who are backpacking across the English countryside. Despite ominous warnings, they wander onto The Moors and are savaged by a wild beast. Jack is killed, but David survives and is brought to London to recuperate. As he recovers under the tender care of pretty nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter), he soon finds out from Jack’s none-too-happy spirit that he was bitten by a werewolf and will soon become one himself when the moon is full!

Except for both films being about werewolves, the stories are vastly different.

 

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THE WEREWOLVES

There seem to be two different kinds of werewolves in movies. One is the traditional cursed soul who passes the curse on to another through a bite. This type has heavy origins in the supernatural with it’s appearances sometimes heralded by a pentagram appearing on a potential victim. They transform only during the period of the full moon…depending on the film that may include the night before and night after, as well. Generally they can only be killed by silver, preferably a silver bullet.

The other kind of werewolf is a shape-shifter. These werewolves generally have an origin in Native American or old world European folklore and can change their form at will. They sometimes spread the ability through a bite, are born as such, or transformed through some ceremony or ritual. Their mode of being vanquished vary from conventional weapons to the traditional silver bullet.

The Howling’s werewolves are of the shape shifting variety. They can change at will, night or day, and without the need of the full moon. While they seem to be less supernatural in origin, they still can only be killed by silver bullets and pass the curse or condition on by a bite. They are bipedal creatures with both human and wolf characteristics. They obviously feed on meat, preferably humans, despite Waggner’s attempts at getting them to co-exist alongside mankind and feed on other meat sources.

An American Werewolf in London’s beast is of the more supernatural variety as, for example, the locals were using a pentagram as protection. David is told by Jack’s spirit that he is cursed by the bite of a werewolf and will transform into a ferocious beast when the moon is full. David’s victim’s are doomed to wander in limbo and haunt him, begging him to end his life, so their spirits can be free. David’s wolf is far more animal than human and is a massive beast that travels around on all fours. Oddly, despite being far more supernatural than The Howling’s werewolves, David and his predecessor can be killed simply by conventional weapons, such as guns with normal bullets.

 

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MAIN CHARACTERS

The Howling’s main character, Karen White is a news reporter being stalked by a pack of werewolves at a remote deep woods retreat. For a long time she is unaware of what she is up against and it is friends of hers, Chris and Terry ( Dennis Dugan and Belinda Balaski), who finally figure it out and attempt to warn/rescue her. Karen only becomes a werewolf at the film’s climax and is mercifully killed by Chris during a live news broadcast were she attempts to warn the world that these mythic predators are very real.

An American Werewolf in London’s David is an American tourist in Europe, who is bitten very early in the film and the rest of the movie follows his transformation into a lycanthrope. He is haunted by the spirits of his victims and is in denial at first, until he realizes he is responsible for a string of brutal deaths across London. The reluctant monster is finally put out of his misery by the guns of the London police after a bloody rampage through Piccadilly Circus.

Both characters are likable and sympathetic, suffer from horrific nightmares and at some point fall to the werewolf curse.

 

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THE SETTINGS

The settings for these two film’s are both urban and rural, yet totally opposite as to when those settings come into play.

The Howling opens in the urban jungle of Hollywood Blvd where Karen White is bravely going to meet serial killer Eddie Quist in a porn shop. It then switches to the coastal woodlands of Northern California, when Karen is sent to Waggner’s retreat, which is actually a sanctuary for werewolves. Here director Joe Dante is able to use shots of moonlit and fog-shrouded woods to keep the atmosphere spooky.

An American Werewolf in London opens in the rural marshlands of Yorkshire where David and Jack encounter the werewolf which curses David. It then switches to urban metropolis of London where David transforms into a beast and terrorizes the city. Ironically, at one point, he meets the spirits of Jack and some of his victims in a porno theater, echoing Karen’s meeting with Eddie. Unfortunately, 1981 London isn’t quite as spooky as The Moors of the opening, thus giving The Howling a distinct edge in the atmosphere department.

 

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THE OPENING SCENES

The Howling starts off with intrepid reporter Karen White meeting with serial killer Eddie Quist in a porn shop peep booth. The police are tracking her and only by chance arrive in time as he starts to transform. He is killed…or so we believe…and poor Karen is traumatized. She is then sent to a backwoods retreat run by Dr. George Waggner only to find out she’s been dropped in the wolves den, literally. The opening is creepy, disturbing and sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

American Werewolf’s opening sequences are just as effective and probably the scariest part of the film. Here we meet American backpackers Jack and David who wonder into a local pub and get a very cold reception and some very ominous warnings. Despite what they are told, they wonder onto The Moors and are attacked by some form of savage beast. Jack is killed and David barely escapes with his life thanks to the arrival of those same locals, armed with guns. Before he passes out, David sees that their now dead attacker, is a bullet-ridden human. Once back in London, the real nightmare begins for the cursed young man.

Both openings work in setting us up for what is to come, starting us off with an atmosphere of fear and foreboding. Howling does it by letting us know something is very wrong with Eddie Quist, aside from being a psychotic killer, but keeps exactly what a bit ambiguous. American Werewolf  utilizes the classic werewolf set-up with an American in a strange land getting bitten and being cursed.

 

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THE ENDINGS

The Howling’s Pretty heroine is finally bitten as she and Chris are the only ones left alive after a fiery confrontation with Waggner’s pack of lycanthrope. Karen uses this unfortunate turn of events to try to warn the rest of the world and makes a tearful plea to a live television audience. She presents the horrible truth by turning into a werewolf in front of the TV audience before being shot by Chris. The film ends with varying reactions to what happened and the frightening revelation that Eddie’s nymphomaniac, werewolf sister Marsha (Elizabeth Brooks) escaped the conflagration at the retreat and is now in L.A. The ending has some humor to it, but is still effective.

American Werewolf’s ending is a bit simpler. Transforming into a wolf in the middle of London’s, Piccadilly Circus, David goes on a bloody rampage, that causes complete chaos and bedlam. Alex arrives just at the time the London Police trap David in an alley and gun him down. The last shot is a tragic one of David’s bullet-ridden body and Alex’s tearful face as we cut to the credits. Director John Landis lightens up the somber mood by having the song Blue Moon playing on the soundtrack as the credits role. The ending is a bit abrupt and the song does neuter the power of the last shots, unfortunately.

 

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MISC

Both of these flicks are considered classics for many reasons. Both are gory and have a sense of humor and feature their own twists on the classic werewolf tale. The Howling was based loosely on a book by Gary Brandner, while American Werewolf seems to be more of a modern spin on the classic The Wolfman with Lon Chaney Jr. The soundtracks are both written by acclaimed composers, with The Howling’s by Pino Donaggio and American Werewolf’s by Elmer Bernstein. Robert Paynter did the impressive cinematography on Werewolf, while The Howling’s lush visuals were filmed by John Hora. As for the amazing transformations scenes, The Howling’s scenes was done by legendary FX man Rob Bottin and Werewolf’s by equally legendary Rick Baker. Both are impressive with Baker’s having the advantage of a larger budget, but is far shorter, where Rob Bottin’s is lengthy, a little more rubbery and goes over the top in many ways. They are both fun and were groundbreaking at the time and are still effective even today.

 

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IN CONCLUSION

In this case it’s up to the individual to choose a favorite. Both films have gained equal status as classic horrors and despite each having their own identity, they both feature sly senses of humor and great make-up FX work to enhance their classic werewolf tales. Personally, The Howling has always been my favorite and it’s only by personal taste that it is. I find it more atmospheric and I prefer the satirical sense of humor over the dryer humor of AWIL. I like Bottin’s over-the-top transformation better, prefer the bipedal werewolf to the four legged wolf beast and Dee Wallace made for a sexy girl-next-door heroine to howl over. The Howling is more in the Roger Corman style of film-making, including a cameo from the master producer, whereas American Werewolf is more of a mainstream studio flick. I also find The Howling simply to be spookier and more fun. Either way these are two classics that have earned their reputations equally.

-MonsterZero NJ

Check out more editions of A Comparison In Horror here!

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: EXIT HUMANITY (2013)

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EXIT HUMANITY (2013)

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

Exit Humanity is an interesting approach to a typical zombie story. It is told by a narrator (Brian Cox) and in chapters from a journal by Confederate soldier, Edward Young (Mark Gibson) who details the story of a zombie outbreak that occurs just as the Civil War is ending and the personal quest he embarks on in the midst of it.

Director/writer John Geddes does give us a lot of the traditional zombie movie elements like the flesh eating, the shot to the head and the humans who are worse then the ravenous zombies, but, also gives us a unique setting, some nicely visualized dream sequences and even some really cool flashbacks and montage sequences done with animation. The make up effects are good, although the film lacks the abundant gore fans look for, and Gibson makes a nice hero trying to keep his humanity despite what is happening around him. There are some flaws that keep the film from being a really strong entry in the zombie sub-genre as the pace is rather slow, the film is a tad long, and despite his novel touches and setting, there really isn’t anything new story-wise here, or themes that others haven’t touched on before in these films…although, the cause of his zombie plague was a cool twist once revealed.

Aside from a serviceable lead in Mark Gibson, the cast also includes genre favorites Dee Wallace as Eve a healer thought to be a witch and Bill Moseley as General Williams a megalomanic who wants to find a cure to the zombie plague, so he may become rich and powerful. Williams doesn’t care how many innocents die while his outmatched doctor (Stephen McHattie) experiments on both the dead and the living.

All in all, it’s not bad and certainly worth a watch if you like zombie movies and, most of all, John Geddes shows some nice potential as a filmmaker and some growth after the OK cannibal horror Scarce. He utilizes his more unique touches well, he frames his shots very nicely and pulls off some effective moments. A nice, though not without it’s flaws, horror flick from Mr. Geddes.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Confederate caps.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: POPCORN (1991)

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POPCORN (1991)

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

This 1991 horror starts out with an interesting story, a film class decides to screen an all-night horrorthon in an abandoned theater to raise money for the class’ film projects that their high school can’t afford. Things will go horribly wrong though, as young film student, Maggie (Jill Schoelen) is being haunted by dreams of a cult filmmaker who died when he set fire to a theater showing his last film. As the show begins a Phantom Of The Opera-like killer starts stalking the horror film festival who may…or may not…be that same filmmaker. Either way, bodies behind the scenes start dropping as the audience enjoys the horror festival, unaware a killer lurks within.

As directed by Mark Herrier, from a script and story from Todd Hackett and Michael Smith, movie starts out alright with a fun premise of a horror movie marathon stalked by a killer, who may be a crazed filmmaker thought to be dead. The film cuts back and forth between the audience eating up the cheesy horror flicks, while our film class students are stalked and killed by the phantom-like maniac. Then, about halfway through, the killer is revealed too early and begins a tediously long pontification on his motives and master plan and it stops the movie dead in it’s tracks. The film gets a bit convoluted at this point and never recovers as it slowly plods to it’s outlandish ending. It’s a shame, as the initial story was working with the whole ‘Phantom Of The Film Festival’ plot-line, as the killer wore the faces of his victims to lure in his next. It’s fun. Then we unveil the killer about halfway through and he begins to try to talk us to death with his endless speech about why he is doing this and some very weak reasoning as to why he holds Maggie and her mother (Dee Wallace) to blame. It takes a fun flick and drags it kicking and screaming into snooze-ville for the rest of the movie. Sure, there are a few more deaths, but he continues talking afterwards and we never buy his reasons for targeting Maggie, or this film festival itself. He talks about wanting revenge for being an outcast, but the character is actually an accepted and liked person, so explain again how you’re an outcast? Herrier doesn’t manage a whole lot of scares or suspense to begin with, but the film collapses and looses it’s sense of fun once all the whining starts. When it picks up a bit for it theatrical finale, it’s too late. We’ve been taken out of the picture at this point and what does happen, doesn’t draw us back in.

The cast are OK, but none of them really stands out except for veteran Dee Wallace and she disappears for a good portion of it. Jill Schoelen is a cute heroine, but is a little bland and fails to really capture our hearts. Veteran actor Tony Roberts is on hand as the film course teacher, but he doesn’t have enough screen time to really make his likable character endearing. Ray Walston is appropriately strange as a benefactor of the film festival, but his role is basically a cameo. Tom Villard is the weird movie geek character and is also a bit bland, too, which hurts when his character becomes more important as the story movies along. Rounding out is Derek Rydall as Maggie’s boyfriend and the hero of the story, but again, he is fine, but not overly endearing. A bit more of an energetic or memorable cast might have helped this be a bit more of a treat instead of a forgettable diversion.

Popcorn is a better idea than it is an actual movie. The basic plot of turning an all-night horror movie festival into a Phantom Of The Opera-like story is a fun idea, but the execution is weak. There are some entertaining elements here, but the villain and his motives are kinda lame once revealed and they are revealed far too early. There is a lot of pontificating in the second half, when there should be more chills and thrills and the over-the-top ending seems a bit rushed as a result. There are some veterans in the cast, but their parts are all too small to make the impact the film needs as our young leads are a bit on the bland side. Flick is worth a look, if you are a movie buff and the idea of a horror film set within a horror film festival intrigues you, just don’t expect too much.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 popcorn kernals.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)

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THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)

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

Five years after The Last House On The Left, Wes Craven returned with this, his sophomore effort…and begat another cult classic. The film also continues his exploration of the theme of good people driven to violence in self-defense or revenge. Here, a vacationing family passing through the desert, takes a turn off the main road to do some sightseeing and encounters a clan of vicious, feral cannibals that target them for their next meal. As the savages, one by one, reduce the Carter family’s numbers, the surviving members must turn savage themselves in order to survive.

Once again Craven wrote and directed and with a somewhat larger budget, the film is less crude than Last House and the director is starting to show his visual style with the desolate desert setting. The film also has some brutal violence and an offbeat sense of humor, though here, Craven mixes the humor and violence much better than in Last House where the humorous bits stuck out. In Hills it’s mostly relegated to the oddball behavior of the feral clan and while it lessens their threat level a bit, it makes sense for those raised outside civilization. It also gives us a breather from the brutality, rape and violence that comes quite frequently. And there are some brutal moments and some suspenseful ones too and Craven shows definite growth as a filmmaker in both his style and his technique. It’s interesting to watch the wholesome Carter family revert to some of their own viciousness when faced with extermination. It’s an offbeat horror flick with a bit of a Chainsaw Massacre slant, but despite the story similarities, is quite it’s own movie and has become a cult classic in it’s own right.

The cast of mostly unknowns are all fine with only Dee Wallace and Michael Berryman having gone on to become genre favorites and horror icons. Wallace plays the older Carter daughter Lynne whose baby is abducted by the cannibal family during one of their raids on their RV. Berryman, of course, plays one of the mutant cannibals named Pluto and it is a role that started him on a cult icon career. He is certainly fitting in the role and provides much of the odd humor the film mixes with the more brutal moments. Some may recognize James Whitworth, who plays the clan patriarch Jupiter, from the cult classic monster movie Planet Of Dinosaurs. His Jupiter is fierce and threatening and far less ‘goofy’ than son Pluto. There is also prolific character actor John Steadman, who is the old gas station owner, Fred and father to clan leader Jupiter. The rest of the cast perform their roles as either Carter or clan family members appropriately, with standouts being Russ Grieve as ex-cop and family patriarch Bob Carter, pretty Susan Lanier as the younger Carter daughter Brenda, Janus Blythe as the sympathetic clan daughter Ruby and future filmmaker Robert Houston as Carter son Bobby.

Overall, this is both a mean and yet sometimes darkly funny flick. There are some very brutal moments offset by some oddball humor, especially from our villainous cannibals. It’s a cult classic and another example of Wes Craven’s versatility and the potential he would live up to with his future works. There was a remake (click here to see my review) in 2006 by Alexandre Aja, which is actually quite brutal and removes the oddball humor for a very intense take on Craven’s story.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 propane tanks…which come in handy battling cannibals.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: EVIL DEAD and THE LORDS OF SALEM

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I’ve covered these two movies before but, as I recently named them as my top 2 favorite horrors of 2013, I decided to watch them together and found they made quite a chilling double feature so, if you are looking for an evening of frights and chills on the couch, why not give these two a try together…

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EVILD DEAD (2013)

The original Evil Dead is one of my all time favorite fright flicks so, I was very apprehensive about a remake. With Sam Raimi, Robert G. Tapert and even Bruce Campbell on board as producers, I hoped the material would at least be treated with respect. Now having seen this new vision of one of the all time horror classics, I can say not only was the material treated with respect but, it is one of the best horror remakes and one hell of a nasty, scary, bloody blast. The best thing is that co-writer and first time director Fede Alvarez smartly takes the basic premise and does his own thing with it. This version has heroine addict, Mia (Suburgatory’s Jane Levy) being taken by big brother, David (Skateland’s Shiloh Fernandez) and 3 friends to an old family cabin to try to get Mia to quit her habit cold turkey. But, someone has been in the cabin since they were last there and something gruesome has definitely gone on inside with blood stains and dozens of dead animals hanging in the cellar. Of course there is also a mysterious book and within it ominous warnings that certain words not be read aloud… so, of course, someone does… and at the same time Mia is alone in the woods… uh, oh… I don’t need to tell you that soon Mia is possessed by some horrible demonic entity and the gruesome blood soaked nightmare begins as the ancient evil wants to claim them all. Alvarez really crafts a strong, gruesome and scary horror of the likes we haven’t seen in a while. It’s vicious and nasty with top notch gore and make-up that is done the old fashioned way without any CGI. When limbs fly… and they do, it is good old fashioned prosthetics and I loved the lack of CGI when it came to the ghouls and gore. Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues (Diablo Cody was supposedly hired to work on the script but, if she was credited, I missed it.) basically give us enough elements of the original to make it recognizable as an Evil Dead flick and thus fits in with the series but, makes the flick it’s own animal. And that’s the way to do a remake like this. And Alvarez is the real deal who knows how to make a good old fashioned horror movie complete with suspense, tension and intensity, not to mention, plentiful scares. He also gives the film a strong atmosphere and I really liked his visual style. He gets good work from his cast too, especially leading lady Levy whose character has a few stages to go through from heroine addict to a demon possessed creature to… well, you’ll have to see the flick to find out. Shiloh Fernandez is also very good, after a lifeless performance in Red Riding Hood, he shows us the actor we saw in Skateland was no fluke. The rest, Lou Taylor Pucci as Eric, Jessica Lucas as Olivia and Elizabeth Blackmore as Natalie, do fine making their characters more then demon fodder and they are all likable enough to make us afraid for them when all hell breaks loose.  The flick is not perfect but, any flaws are minor and can be overlooked due to all that is done right. Evil Dead 2013 may not be as groundbreaking as the original and only time will tell if it will be highly regard like it’s predecessor but, it is a strong, visceral horror that gives equal parts suspense and scares with all the goo and gore. Maybe not quite a classic but, a film worthy of the title Evil Dead. Well done!… and stay to watch after the credits!

Check out our look back at the original classic that started it all!… HERE!

A very solid 3 and 1/2 demon possessed sitcom stars

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THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013)

If Stanley Kubrick, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci got drunk and decided to make a horror movie together, Lords Of Salem would probably be close to what you’d get. Even back in the White Zombie days, rocker/director Rob Zombie has always shown a heavy influence from movies, especially horror so, it’s no surprise to see such influences in his films. And this time, Zombie sheds the 70s grind-house style that his earlier films have had and goes for something that evokes the work of the previously mentioned filmmakers and also some of the 70s occult themed flicks like the infamous Mark Of The Devil. To a degree, it is Zombie’s most solid effort as director but, also his most experimental as Lords gets downright head trippy and surreal at times, especially in it’s last act. If you liked his dream sequences in Halloween 2, there’s lots more where that came from. Today’s impatient audiences weaned on cookie cutter horrors and endless sequels may not appreciate what Zombie has done here but, to me it was a disturbing breath of fresh air. In a time of CGI phantoms and overused jump scares, I really like that Zombie had the courage to make something that aims to simply unsettle and disturb you with it’s atmosphere and imagery and doesn’t rely on cheap scares and elaborate post production hocus-pocus. Lords tells the creepy story of late night Salem DJ Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) who receives a wooden box with a record in it from someone referring to themselves simply as “The Lords”. When she plays the vinyl album she suddenly starts to have increasingly disturbing hallucinations and her life starts to spiral out of control. When author Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison) begins to investigate, he finds that an ancient evil in the form of a devil worshiping witch coven, once burned at the stake, may be returning to Salem and Heidi might be key to their vengeance. Director/writer Zombie tells his disturbing tale with a deliberately slow burn yet, never at any moment does he ease up on the atmosphere that something sinister and very wrong is going on here. Whether it’s the haunting visuals that he fills the film with or the excellent use of Griffin Boice and John 5’s score… which evoked Fabio Frizzi and Goblin at times… the film oozes atmosphere and keeps us involved even if the film’s narrative flow doesn’t always follow a tradition path. And as for the visuals, they range from haunting to shocking and as disturbing as they can be, they are also beautiful. This is certainly, at the very least, a visually striking film. And despite all the shocking imagery, I actually feel Zombie showed some restraint at times which made the horror elements all the more horrifying when they arrive. And Rob is not the only Zombie to watch here, Sheri, who proved she had some acting chops as Deborah Myers, is again very effective here as Heidi, a woman with emotional troubles and past bad habits who is being drawn into a living nightmare that she is not equipped to fight. Jeff Daniel Phillips is also good playing one of the two Hermans who DJ with her, a man with feelings for Heidi who tries to help her without knowing the true cause of her emotional down-turn. And Zombie also peppers his film with genre vets like Ken Foree (the other Herman), Meg Foster, Sid Haig and the effectively spooky trio of Dee Wallace, Patricia Quinn and Judy Geeson as Heidi’s neighbors, who are more then they appear. Overall Zombie has created his most interesting work yet and one that won’t appeal to everyone. It evokes a type of horror in the vein of Argento’s early films or Fulci’s The Beyond, that they don’t make anymore. But, that’s why I liked it so much. Zombie remembers a time before the MTV generation when horror films took their time to draw you in and had loads of atmosphere. He also knows, like those films, that there is a time to shock you too, and he does that well. And finally, he knows that sometimes the best way to make sure you leave the theater spooked is to not wrap everything up in a neat little bow and thus leave you looking over your shoulder when you are home at night. I would recommend this film highly for those who don’t mind a slow burn and a splash of avant garde with their horror. Not perfect but, a really spooky flick for those that can appreciate it.

A very spooky and disturbing  3 and 1/2 haunted heroines

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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.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) 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.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) 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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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009)

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THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009)

I am a big fan of director Ti West and of 70s and 80s horror, so that’s already two in the win column for me in regards to West’s homage to late 70s/early 80s occult themed horror flicks. This story, also written by West and set in the early 80s, has financially struggling college student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) renting an apartment and now trying to figure out how she is going to pay for it. When a babysitting job at a remote house on the edge of town comes up, Samantha takes it despite warnings from her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) that something isn’t right. When she arrives, Samantha finds a spooky old couple (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) and learns she is actually there to keep an eye on their elderly mother and not a child. She decides to decline, but an offer of significantly more money coerces her to stay. As this is a horror film, it’s no secret that this night is not going to proceed quietly for Samantha.

Ti West perfectly recreates one of the horror flicks of this bygone era in every detail from the grainy photography and the camera angles to the hairstyles and fashions. But is it a good horror movie? Yes, it most certainly is. Today’s impatient audiences may not appreciate the slow burn, but West keeps the atmosphere creepy and full of foreboding till the suspenseful and blood-soaked finale act. It’s paced much like a fright flick from that time and it worked perfectly for me. It’s set on the night of a lunar eclipse which sets off our primal fears of something supernatural being afoot and Megan’s warnings make us doubt Sam is making the right decision. All adding to the mood and uneasiness. One of the things I like about West, is that he knows how to create tension with his camera and the composition of his shots, much like vintage John Carpenter. With Samantha being alone in the creepy house by herself, there isn’t a lot of dialogue or exposition, so he keeps things tense by giving the house a constant feeling of dread with his lens. He and cinematographer Eliot Rocket film the big old house with lots of shadows where evil may lurk and there are plenty of rooms with closed doors where who-knows-what may reside. It’s like the house itself is a character and one we know is up to no good.

He also gets good performances from his cast. Donahue, who was seen recently playing Barbara Hershey’s younger self in Insidious: Chapter 2, makes a strong heroine. She’s smart, but her need for cash makes her a bit desperate and thus vulnerable. When the blood hits the fan, she’s a fighter we root for. Veterans Noonan and Woronov play The Ulman’s as a bit eccentric and while they appear harmless, there is something off about them that keep us wary about the two, just as Sam is. Gerwig is a spunky and likable friend and there is a nice cameo by horror icon Dee Wallace as Sam’s landlord.

Like the films it pays homage to, it keeps things unsettling but subtle till West is ready to unleash his horrors and then we are in for a bloody and intense final act where a babysitter’s worst nightmare comes true. Even the climax is right out of a horror flick of that era, subtle and spooky. As a nostalgic trip back to a type of horror they don’t make anymore or for a spooky Halloween treat, I definitely recommend it. A really good old school horror flick.

To check out my review of West’s follow up flick The Innkeepers click here!

3 and 1/2 creepy houses that no one in their right mind would want to babysit in.

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