HORROR TV YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: STRANGER THINGS season 2 (2017)

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STRANGER THINGS season 2 (2017)

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

Stranger Things returns with nine new episodes on Netflix that take place a year later, delightfully around Halloween. The story returns us to Hawkins, Indiana, now in 1984 with new trouble brewing. Our four heroes, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp), are a year older, though still feeling the effects of their encounter with the Upside Down, especially Will. Unknown to the gang, a new threat is emerging from that paranormal dimension and has it’s sights set on Will. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has escaped and is now being hidden by police chief Hopper (David Harbour) from the Hawkins Laboratory folks who are still messing in otherworldly matters. While the group start to realize Will is once again in danger, Eleven goes on a journey to discover her real name and find her birth mother (Aimee Mullins) and half-sister (Linnea Berthelsen). Obviously all the characters’ stories will collide before the season is over.

Second season is just as good as the first and in some ways even more effective as now we are emotionally invested in the familiar characters. Ross and Matt Duffer (Hidden) again pay homage and give plentiful references to the sci-fi and horror flicks of the 80s, while still giving Stranger Things is very own heart and soul. They mange to expand the story, while keeping it familiar, also introducing us to some new characters like new gang member Maxine “Max” Hargrove (Sadie Sink) and her enormous jerk of a brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery from Better Watch Out). The Duffer Brothers still manage to blend in so many 80s references and yet without them being intrusive or overwhelming, or becoming the main focus. There is another great soundtrack of 80s tunes and the original score, again by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, really adds atmosphere as it did for season one. The FX are top notch, like last time and this season helps give the proceedings a bit bigger scale to go with it’s massive monster. There’s plenty of action, suspense, drama and otherworldly critters to keep it’s core audience happy while rooting for our favorite characters to battle evil once more.

The cast are just as good as last time with new facets being added to the characters. Winona Ryder is again solid as Will’s mother, who is now a bit overprotective, but more of a fighter when her boy is again in danger. Millie Bobby Brown really shines as Eleven, who is now frustrated at being kept from her friends and needing to find out who she really is and where her lost relatives are. As the gang, Wolfhard, Matarazzo, Schnapp and McLaughlin all are really strong and get to play the characters a year older, but still the lovable nerds we last saw, but now with an added strength of being heroes. Schnapp especially gets to show his stuff with Will being a far more present character this season with a strong connection to our story. Harbour is again, a good hero as police chief Hopper, who is going to great lengths to protect Eleven and has made a deal with the Devil, per say, to keep the bad guys out of Hawkins. The rest of the supporting cast get more to do and do it well and the new faces such as Sink, Montgomery and veteran Paul Reiser as Dr. Owens, a shady scientist, all add to the character mix quite nicely. The Duffers juggle a lot of characters, but everyone gets their moment.

This was another solid and very entertaining season. The 80s nostalgia was again very enjoyable as was the recreation of the look and feel of the 80s decade. It took the story in new directions, introduced new characters, yet never lost that Stranger Things feel. The cast are all good, both new and returning and the FX were top notch. There were plenty of chills, suspense, thrills and surprises and some cool critters, too. Can’t wait for season 3 and now there is little doubt the Duffer Brothers can deliver the goods.

EPISODE LIST

  1. MADMAX – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers
  2. Trick or Treat, Freak – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers
  3. The Pollywog – directed by Shawn Levy and written by Jessica Mecklenburg
  4. Will the Wise – directed by Shawn Levy and written by Paul Dichter
  5. Dig Dug – directed by Andrew Stanton written by Jessie Nickson-Lopez
  6. The Spy – directed by Andrew Stanton and written by Kate Trefry
  7. The Lost Sister – directed by Rebbeca Thomas and written by Justin Doble
  8. The Mind Flayer – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers
  9. The Gate – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 mysterious and powerful little girls.
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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: IT (2017)

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IT (2017)

New adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel basically covers the first half of his book by focusing on the characters as kids. The children of Derry, Maine have something to be afraid of as someone…or something…is stalking them and taking them, including Bill Denbrough’s little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) gathers his band of misfit friends to investigate and finds that a number of children die or go missing in Derry every twenty-seven years. They also find that an evil entity is involved that takes the form of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) and worst of all, the group of friends now have the fiendish clown’s attention.

New version of King’s best selling book is a well enough made film by Mama director Andy Muschietti from a script by Cary Fukunaga, Chase Palmer and Gary Dauberman. Like his first film this flick has some wonderfully creepy visuals, but isn’t really all that scary. There are certainly some effective moments in It, but the film never really gets intense or digs it’s nails in to really frighten you. It works and entertains, but is obviously a horror made to appeal to the mainstream audience who doesn’t venture too far from the generic PG-13 horror fair that is all too common lately. The film is R-rated and has a few gruesome moments, but never gets too intense or brutal, so it doesn’t alienate the average movie goer who is only going due to the Stephen King name being attached or having read the book. Folks who watch everything horror will probably find it entertaining enough, yet leave wishing it had really turned the screws instead of mildly twisting them. In It‘s favor, there are also some very well done coming of age story elements, such as dealing with bullies (Nicholas Hamilton), being perceived as different and first love, as between Bill and Bev (Sophia Lillis). They work well enough to endear us to the characters, so we do care when things start to really pick up. The film is moderately paced and takes time to tell it’s story…technically, it’s half of the story…and it’s only in the second act when the horror elements become steady and as such, it’s delivers some fun stuff, just nothing truly frightening. Much like with Mama, one leaves feeling it could have been more had Muschietti really went for the throat. He seems to be a director who likes to play it safe and when wanting to appeal to a mainstream audience with a horror…even an R-rated one…studios generally like to play it safe.

The cast are strong and that helps even if the horror elements felt like pulled punches at times. The young cast members are all good in their roles with Jaeden Lieberher and Sophia Lillis being standouts. Lieberher conveys well a boy not willing to give up hope that his lost little brother will someday come home and Lillis is very strong as a young girl becoming a young woman and catching her widowed father’s attention in the worst way. The rest of the kids play their fairly stereotypical roles well with the fat kid (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the Jewish kid (Wyatt Oleff ), the wise-ass (Finn Wolfhard), the black kid (Chosen Jacobs) and the sickly kid (Jack Dylan Grazer) all present and accounted for. As the main villain, Bill Skarsgård is certainly effective as Pennywise, but his performance is enhanced with a lot of state-of-the-art SPFX whereas Tim Curry achieved more with simply his performance in the modestly budgeted 1990 TV movie version. Curry was creepier without being surrounded by CGI, though Skarsgård certainly has his moments.

Overall, this was an entertaining flick, but clearly a horror flick made for mainstream audiences that don’t regularly choose horror. It’s made for the folks that flock to big name adaptations or the works of A-list directors, but avoid the more intense stuff that usually premiers on VOD or in limited runs. Mama director Andy Muschietti directs well and the film looks great, though plays it safe scare-wise with not getting too intense or brutal as to scare away the wider audience for which this was made. Either way, the success of It means studios will green-light more R-rated horror flicks, which isn’t a bad thing for a genre drowning in PG-13 teen-centric chillers as of late.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 red ballons.

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR TV YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: STRANGER THINGS (2016)

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STRANGER THINGS (2016)

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

Stranger Things is an eight episode series from Netflix that takes place in Hawkins, Indiana in 1983. This fun retro series tells of four friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp), who are into Dungeons and Dragons and Star Wars like most nerdy kids of this era. A bizarre series of events occur with Will disappearing and a mysterious young girl (Millie Bobby Brown) with strange powers showing up in town, at the same time. She calls herself ‘Eleven’ and seems to be on the run. The three friends bond with Eleven and the four set out to find Will, as does local police chief Hopper (David Harbour) with all clues pointing to the mysterious Hawkins Laboratory and it’s presiding head scientist (Matthew Modine). Where is Will? Who really is Eleven? And what do the experiments at Hawkins have to do with all this?

This is a fun and nostalgic series from Ross and Matt Duffer (Hidden) that not only pays homage and gives affectionate nods to the sci-fi/horror flicks of the 80s and their filmmakers, but succeeds in being it’s own thing as well. Sure we see references to many 80s classics, but Stranger Things has it’s own vibe and it’s own story to go along with it’s tributes and provides it’s own chills, as no more evident than it’s opening scenes. We get little girls with deadly powers, evil men in black, alternate dimensions, creatures, conspiracy and a small town caught in the middle of it all. The Duffers deliver it with the look and feel of a movie of that era, as well as, a really cool electronic 80s score by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, but not without a touch of their own style. While the mysteries slowly unravel over the course of the eight chapters, we are kept in the dark as long as possible, fed only small bits till it all comes together in the thrilling last few episodes. It’s a delightfully retro series that delivers the goods on all levels including having a little bit of an unobtrusive and offbeat sense of humor. It’s engaging and entertaining and very cleverly written by it’s creators who know exactly in what degree to deliver both it’s homages and it’s scares. The FX are well done, with much of the creature work appearing to be live effects and it never goes too overboard with them as to not betray the era it is recreating. To say anymore would be to spoil a really enjoyable and spooky show.

The cast are all really good from the name actors to the new faces. Winona Ryder is solid as Will’s emotionally troubled mother, who is pushed close to the edge by her son’s disappearance and the strange events that follow. Matthew Modine is appropriately arrogant and sleazy as head Hawkins scientist, Dr. Brenner, who pretends to care for Eleven, but is only using her for his experiments. Young Miss Brown is very endearing as Eleven, a child with some amazing and dangerous gifts who just wants to have a normal life and be cared for. We do feel sorry for her use as a test subject and how hurt she is that people fear her once they know what she is capable of. As our main group, Wolfhard, Matarazzo and McLaughlin all are engaging and make a likable trio of friends. They are brave in their search for Will and noble, especially Mike, in their befriending of Eleven. Harbour is also a good hero as the police chief who will go up against some very dangerous people to find a little boy. Schnapp doesn’t get much screen time as the missing Will, but he is likable enough in his brief appearances that we are sympathetic to what has happened to him. A good cast.

This was a solid and very entertaining series from start to finish. The 80s nostalgia was very enjoyable as was the recreation of the look and feel of films of that era, especially those of Carpenter and Spielberg. It payed homage to and referenced many 80s classics, yet was very much it’s own story that let it’s paying tribute be part of it’s tale, but not dictate it. The cast are all good, the FX were well-rendered, but did not look out of place in an 80s style film and there were plenty of chills, suspense and thrills throughout. Highly recommended and hopefully, there is only a second season, if it can match the quality of the first. Otherwise it stands perfectly on it’s own.

 

EPISODE LIST

  1. The Vanishing of Will Byers – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers
  2. The Weirdo on Maple Street – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers
  3. Holly Jolly – directed by Shawn Levy and written by Jessica Mecklenburg
  4. The Body – directed by The Duffer Brothers and written by Justin Doble
  5. The Flea and the Acrobat – directed by The Duffer Brothers written by Alison Tatlock
  6. The Monster – directed by The Duffer Brothers and written by Jessie Nickson-Lopez
  7. The Bathtub – directed by The Duffer Brothers and written by Justin Doble
  8. The Upside Down – directed and written by The Duffer Brothers from a story by Paul Dichter

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 mysterious and powerful little girls.
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