BARE BONES: THE OPEN HOUSE (2018)

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THE OPEN HOUSE (2018)

Flick has teen Logan (Dylan Minnette) witnessing the death of his father in an accident. This forces he and his out of work mother Naomi (Piercey Dalton) to move into his aunt’s empty house, which is in the process of being sold. Once there, Logan starts to believe that he and his mom might not be alone and that someone…or something…might be stalking the two…from inside the house.

Written and directed by the duo of Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote, this is an effective thriller. The story of an intruder within a home is not new, but is given some spooky treatment here as the unknown invader’s actions go from mischievous to scary. We have the dynamic of Logan believing something is wrong and Naomi believing her son is simply showing effects of the tragedy he witnessed involving his dad. By the time mom starts to believe, too, it’s too late. We also get a creepy neighbor (Patricia Bethune) and a local man interested in Naomi (Sarif Atkins) to act as our suspects and the cast overall do good work. Minnette and Dalton especially have nice chemistry, so they click as a son and his mother. If the film fails somewhat, it is in delivering a satisfying conclusion. Without giving away details, it has some chilling moments, but leaves us a little too in the dark and asking too many questions to really end the flick on an effective note. Otherwise, it’s an entertaining and sometimes spooky thriller worth giving a stream on Netflix, where it is currently showing.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: DON’T BREATHE and THE NEIGHBOR

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Two thrillers/horrors that I think would make a good pairing for a Saturday night on the couch with your favorite brew. One was a big hit recently and the other deserves more attention than it got and both involve sneaking into someone’s house and the unexpected things you might find there…

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DON’T BREATHE (2016)

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

Don’t Breathe is an intense and very entertaining thriller that turns the home invasion flick on it’s head and proves writer/director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead remake) is the real deal. The story takes place in a rundown suburb of Detroit where house thieves Rocky (Evil Dead’s Jane Levy), Money (It Follows‘ Daniel Zovatto) and Alex (Goosebumps’ Dylan Minnette) hear of a big score. There is an almost deserted street with only one house still occupied, the home of a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) who supposedly was given a large cash settlement by the family of a rich girl who ran over and killed his daughter. Thinking it easy money, the three break into the man’s home one night. But the man turns out to be far more dangerous than they realize and soon has them trapped inside his house with the intent they never leave.

Co-written with his Evil Dead co-scribe Rodo Sayagues, Alvarez crafts a very suspenseful and intense game of cat and mouse inside the Detroit house that gets started quickly and never gives up till it’s unsettling last moments. Alvarez gives us a claustrophobic and isolated setting by placing the house on a deserted block and making great use of the desolated Detroit setting to give it atmosphere. He then has his ex-soldier seal our three thieves inside, where he knows the layout and they…and we…don’t. Alvarez also uses the character’s blindness to set up nerve-wracking moments, as our thieves try to quietly elude him and then he clever turns off the power to turn the odds in his favor. There are also some moments of brutal violence that really punctuate the intensity of the proceedings, as the director plays with the home invasion formula by turning our intended victim into the monster and the invaders into the victims. This works well due to the way his characters are written. While Money is basically a street thug, Alex has a conscience and a heart, which keeps him likable and Levy’s Rocky is only stealing to get enough money to take her little sister out of Detroit and away from her alcoholic mother. This makes them sympathetic, despite their criminal activity, yet Alvarez still puts them through the ringer for them to truly earn our empathy. If the brutal pursuit through the three floors of the old house isn’t enough, Alvarez has a late reveal that adds a really disturbing angle to a simple theft gone awry story…one that will have you squirming as much as Levy’s Rocky was…and turns the blind soldier into a true fiend. And it works very well. As with Evil DeadAlvarez accents his story with a great visual eye. His settings and shots are captured stylishly by the lens of Pedro Luque and Evil Dead composer Roque Baños returns for an atmospheric score. It all adds up to a suspenseful, intense and very atmospheric thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and squirming in it too!

Alvarez has assembled a small but very effective cast for his sophomore film for Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures. Evil Dead leading lady Jane Levy is very strong as the street smart Rocky. She is convincing in that she is stealing only out of love for her little sister and she moves from thief to anti-hero to heroine very well. Her Rocky is really put through Hell, just as her Mia was in the 2013 horror remake and she really provides us again with a strong character to root for, even if she, like Mia, isn’t the sweet girl next door. Levy has a unique way of combining an intensity with a sensitivity that deserves more spotlight roles. Daniel Zovatto, who was the kindly Greg in It Follows, plays basically a street thug and does play him well. He has his charisma, but is not a good guy and the one we least feel sorry for when the poop hits the fan. Dylan Minnette’s Alex seems almost too nice to be part of this group, but it is made known he crushes on Rocky and is betraying his security company father most likely to be close to her. It succeeds in keeping him likable and he proves once again he is a charming actor with an appealing screen persona. This would not work if our blind ex-soldier, whose name is never given, wasn’t convincing as a monster and Stephen Lang once again is a strong bad guy. He is sympathetic at first, then let’s us know that this man is still lethally dangerous, even with his war injury handicap and then becomes a full blown fiend once the movie progresses. His soldier is filled with menace and threat and once we get the full picture, any feelings that this guy is just protecting what’s his, go out the window and it works thanks to an intense performance from a skilled actor.

I really liked this movie and it proves to me Fede Alvarez is a filmmaker to keep a close eye on. I really enjoyed his remake of Sam Raimi’s horror classic and certainly enjoyed the results now of a film entirely his own. This is an intense, brutally violent and sometimes twisted thriller that turns a home invasion into a house of horrors with a strong cast to back up the director’s vision and story. A solid thriller and one of the few films to live up to early word in the summer of 2016 movie season.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 turkey basters…you’ll have to see the movie!

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THE NEIGHBOR (2016)

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

Intense crime drama tells the story of John (Josh Stewart) and Rosie (Alex Essoe from Starry Eyes and Tales Of Halloween) who live in the rural town of Cutter, Mississippi and work for drug runners. They plan to do one more job and when they collect their money, they plan to make a run for Mexico and an early retirement. When John returns after a job and finds Rosie missing, he suspects his odd neighbor Troy (comedian Bill Engvall) who seemed to be quite taken with his pretty girlfriend. When John sneaks into Troy’s house, he discovers his neighbor has been engaging in far worse activities than he could ever have imagined…and he may not get back out alive.

Writer/director Marcus Dunstan (the Saw series, the Collector movies) crafts a lean and mean thriller about bad people going up against far worse people in a small backwoods town in rural Mississippi. It does share some similarities with the recent Don’t Breathe, but is it’s own movie and aside from criminal types, who are looking to make a better life for themselves, being trapped in a house by psychotics, that’s where the similarities end. Dunstan gets his story started quite quickly, but not too quick that we don’t get to know John and Rosie a bit, and keeps the intensity cranked till the very last frames. We find ourselves rooting for John, even though he is not a good person, because Dunstan is able to make Troy and his boys a lot creepier. Add in a corrupt cop (Jaqueline Fleming) who already has it in for John and you have solid reasons to get behind our anti-hero couple. There is some graphic violence, but unlike his torture heavy Collector and Saw films, Dunstan uses it sparingly, so it is vicious and effective when it happens. The director does have a good visual eye and stages the action fast and furious with some nice suspense in-between the bullets and beatings. The tension is thick at times and while the climax may conveniently wrap things up, it is quite satisfying. There is some crisp cinematography from Eric Leach and a really cool score by Charlie Clouser.

Dunstan also gets good work from a good cast. Despite being a criminal who works for a sleazy drug lord, Josh Stewart makes his John quite likable and embues him with a bit of a heart underneath his criminal activities. His work reminded me of Jane Levy’s Rocky from Don’t Breathe, an anti-hero to root for. I have been a fan of Alex Essoe since her stunning work in Starry Eyes and she is solid again here. She does spend part of the flick as a damsel in distress, but gets to really turn it up in the last act and show another side to a versatile actress we want to keep seeing more of. Her Rosie is a badass when provoked. Bill Engvall makes for a very creepy villain. He gives you chills without going over the top and his subtle yet unnerving Troy is all the more effective because he doesn’t overdo it. A very creepy villain that makes you forget John and Rosie are criminals of a different kind. Jaqueline Fleming is also good as a cop with her own agenda and Luke Edwards and Ronnie Gene Blevins are solid as Troy’s equally creepy sons, Cooper and Harley. Melissa Bolona is also effective as another of Troy and company’s “guests.” 

This little flick took me by surprise. I am not a big fan of the Collector films and never watched Dunstan’s Saw movies, as I was done with that series by then, but this high octane thriller took me a bit by surprise. Sure there are some familiar story elements, but Dunstan uses those elements well and really cranks up the suspense and tension in the last hour, peppering it with moments of brutal violence that don’t overstay their welcome and are very effective because of it. A good cast helps the filmmaker out and overall, cast and crew deliver a solid and engrossing thriller.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 bullets.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DON’T BREATHE (2016)

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DON’T BREATHE (2016)

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

Don’t Breathe is an intense and very entertaining thriller that turns the home invasion flick on it’s head and proves writer/director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead remake) is the real deal. The story takes place in a rundown suburb of Detroit where house thieves Rocky (Evil Dead’s Jane Levy), Money (It Follows‘ Daniel Zovatto) and Alex (Goosebumps’ Dylan Minnette) hear of a big score. There is an almost deserted street with only one house still occupied, the home of a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) who supposedly was given a large cash settlement by the family of a rich girl who ran over and killed his daughter. Thinking it easy money, the three break into the man’s home one night. But the man turns out to be far more dangerous than they realize and soon has them trapped inside his house with the intent they never leave.

Co-written with his Evil Dead co-scribe Rodo Sayagues, Alvarez crafts a very suspenseful and intense game of cat and mouse inside the Detroit house that gets started quickly and never gives up till it’s unsettling last moments. Alvarez gives us a claustrophobic and isolated setting by placing the house on a deserted block and making great use of the desolated Detroit setting to give it atmosphere. He then has his ex-soldier seal our three thieves inside, where he knows the layout and they…and we…don’t. Alvarez also uses the character’s blindness to set up nerve-wracking moments, as our thieves try to quietly elude him and then he clever turns off the power to turn the odds in his favor. There are also some moments of brutal violence that really punctuate the intensity of the proceedings, as the director plays with the home invasion formula by turning our intended victim into the monster and the invaders into the victims. This works well due to the way his characters are written. While Money is basically a street thug, Alex has a conscience and a heart, which keeps him likable and Levy’s Rocky is only stealing to get enough money to take her little sister out of Detroit and away from her alcoholic mother. This makes them sympathetic, despite their criminal activity, yet Alvarez still puts them through the ringer for them to truly earn our empathy. If the brutal pursuit through the three floors of the old house isn’t enough, Alvarez has a late reveal that adds a really disturbing angle to a simple theft gone awry story…one that will have you squirming as much as Levy’s Rocky was…and turns the blind soldier into a true fiend. And it works very well. As with Evil DeadAlvarez accents his story with a great visual eye. His settings and shots are captured stylishly by the lens of Pedro Luque and Evil Dead composer Roque Baños returns for an atmospheric score. It all adds up to a suspenseful, intense and very atmospheric thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and squirming in it too!

Alvarez has assembled a small but very effective cast for his sophomore film for Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures. Evil Dead leading lady Jane Levy is very strong as the street smart Rocky. She is convincing in that she is stealing only out of love for her little sister and she moves from thief to anti-hero to heroine very well. Her Rocky is really put through Hell, just as her Mia was in the 2013 horror remake and she really provides us again with a strong character to root for, even if she, like Mia, isn’t the sweet girl next door. Levy has a unique way of combining an intensity with a sensitivity that deserves more spotlight roles. Daniel Zovatto, who was the kindly Greg in It Follows, plays basically a street thug and does play him well. He has his charisma, but is not a good guy and the one we least feel sorry for when the poop hits the fan. Dylan Minnette’s Alex seems almost too nice to be part of this group, but it is made known he crushes on Rocky and is betraying his security company father most likely to be close to her. It succeeds in keeping him likable and he proves once again he is a charming actor with an appealing screen persona. This would not work if our blind ex-soldier, whose name is never given, wasn’t convincing as a monster and Stephen Lang once again is a strong bad guy. He is sympathetic at first, then let’s us know that this man is still lethally dangerous, even with his war injury handicap and then becomes a full blown fiend once the movie progresses. His soldier is filled with menace and threat and once we get the full picture, any feelings that this guy is just protecting what’s his, go out the window and it works thanks to an intense performance from a skilled actor.

I really liked this movie and it proves to me Fede Alvarez is a filmmaker to keep a close eye on. I really enjoyed his remake of Sam Raimi’s horror classic and certainly enjoyed the results now of a film entirely his own. This is an intense, brutally violent and sometimes twisted thriller that turns a home invasion into a house of horrors with a strong cast to back up the director’s vision and story. A solid thriller and one of the few films to live up to early word in the summer of 2016 movie season.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 turkey basters…you’ll have to see the movie!

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: GOOSEBUMPS (2015)

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GOOSEBUMPS (2015)

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

When his mother (Amy Ryan) accepts a vice principal job in Madison, Delaware, high schooler Zach (Dylan Minnette) is forced to move there with her from New York. He finds he has a reclusive and unfriendly neighbor Mr. Shivers (Jack Black) with a pretty teenage daughter named Hannah (Odeya Rush). When sneaking into Shivers’ house one night to check up on Hannah, who he feels is being imprisoned there against her will, he finds out that Shivers is actually famed horror author R.L. Stine. Zach also discovers that opening Stine’s original, locked manuscripts actually releases the creatures within into the real world. With evil ventriloquist dummy Slappy (also voiced by Black) accidentally released, the diabolical doll unlocks all the rest of the monsters into the streets of the unsuspecting town. Now Zach, Stine, Hannah and Zach’s new buddy Champ (Ryan Lee), have to somehow find a way to get all the monsters back in the books…books that Slappy is gleefully burning.

Goosebumps is a clever and fun family horror from director Rob Letterman from a script by Darren Lemke based on Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s story. It amusingly combines not only a number of Stine’s ghoulish creations, but involves the author himself in the mix. It’s never really scary, but it is a lot of fun, especially a scene involving lawn gnomes which evokes some of the best bits in Gremlins. The characters are all likable and while the scenario is played fairly seriously, there is a lot of humor added to the mix as our heroes battle a wide assortment of Stine’s creatures running rampant on this small Delaware town. To a degree it’s nothing new. We have seen creatures come to life from the written page before, but it is an entertaining movie with it’s heart in the right place and fans of Stine’s tales should enjoy the parade of his characters marched out across the screen. If there is any fault with that, it is that only a few of them get any more than a few moments of screen time with Slappy being the main villain with a few secondaries like a werewolf and a giant praying mantis. On a production level, while the CGI can be weak at times, Letterman has a nice visual eye, especially scenes set in an abandoned amusement park, and it is all photographed well by Javier Aguirresarobe. There is also a buoyant and spooky score by legendary composer Danny Elfman, which adds nicely to the atmosphere of spooky fun.

The cast all have a firm grasp of the nature of the material. Black is amusing as the reclusive and egotistic Stine and also gives voice to the villainous Slappy and the mischievous Invisible Boy. The young cast shine as Minnette, Rush and Lee all provide their high school stereotypes well, as the new boy in town, the adventurous girl and the eccentric sidekick respectively. They are all quite charming with Ryan Lee showing a flair for comedy and Minnette and Rush having nice chemistry together. It’s an example of a solid cast making the material work very well.

I had fun with this. It’s not a classic and I’m not all that familiar with Stine’s stories, but it was entertaining in the style of something like the 80s classic Monster Squad. It has some shaky CGI, but the characters it represenst do have some life and personality and the human characters are quite endearing, as is the cast. A fun night on the couch and something kids and Stine fans will probably have a good time with.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Slappys.

Columbia Pictures' "Goosebumps," starring Jack Black.

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