HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: IT CHAPTER TWO (2019)

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IT: CHAPTER TWO (2019)

It: Chapter Two is an adaptation of the second half of Stephen King’s classic novel, focusing on the characters as adults, though we still visit them as kids in flashbacks. It’s been 27 years since we last saw the characters and something sinister is stirring in Derry once more. Only Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) has remained and summons the other “Losers” Bill (James McAvoy), Bev (Jessica Chastain), Ben (Jay Ryan), Richie (Bill Hader), Eddie (James Ransone) and Stanley (Andy Bean) to return home to face Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), hopefully for the last time. Stanley commits suicide, but the remaining members reluctantly return and must face some of their own personal demons before they can confront the demonic clown…who has been patiently waiting for them.

Second half is again well directed by Andy Muschietti from a script by Gary Dauberman, who co-wrote It: Chapter One. Like the first film, this flick has some wonderfully creepy visuals and some really cool monsters and ghouls, but is never really all that scary. There are some very effective moments and good jump scares, but, again, the movie never really gets under your skin or really grabs you. It’s quite entertaining, but there are also a few scenes, like Richie’s meeting with Pennywise in a park, that are a bit too over-the-top for their own good and come across as borderline silly. The film can be very gruesome and never feels nearly as long as it’s 169 minutes, though the inclusion of a sub-plot with grown-up bully Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) seemed like overkill and could have been removed with no harm to the story. The FX are top notch and we even get some background on Pennywise and what he really is and where he came from. To some this might remove some of his mystique, but it also moved this more into monster movie territory, which for others, is just fine. There was a great homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing and a very amusing cameo from a certain world famous author. As stated, it is more of a monster movie this time than supernatural thriller and that also made it a bit more fun and action oriented, though, again, never really as scary as it should have been.

The cast are again strong. McAvoy is very good as the adult Bill and seems to be the one most strongly onboard to confront Pennywise again. He is still tormented by guilt over Georgie. Chastain is a solid actress, no matter what the role and really gives Bev a strong emotional core. She’s still traumatized by her father and the choice of an abusive husband proves it. Pennywise isn’t the only demon she must face down. Hader is good as RIchie, who is now a stand-up comedian. He uses humor to hide his fear and still conveys much of his feelings in sarcasm. Hader shows some solid dramatic chops here. Isaiah Mustafa is noble as Mike, the only one to remain on watch in Derry. He also believes he knows how to stop the monstrous clown and uses that to convince the others to join him. Ryan is solid as the now skinny and sexy Ben. He still has a soft spot for Bev and is still in some ways insecure. Ransone is also good as the cowardly Eddie and makes his journey to overcome his fears work very well. Andy Bean has a brief few moments as Stanley, but makes them count to give his early death emotional resonance. All the young actors who portrayed the characters as kids also return in flashbacks. As for Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård has even more to do this half and it is in this second part that he really makes this incarnation of the character his own. The young actors who played the characters as kids, all return in flashbacks.

Overall, this second chapter was an entertaining flick, but still wasn’t all that scary. Andy Muschietti directs well and has a great visual eye, as well as, takes a few risks this time with the carnage. The cast all perform strongly and there are plenty of effective scenes to entertain. The film can also be a little too over-the-top at times for it’s own good, like a Chinese restaurant scene, and a few of these scenes do skirt a little close to being silly. It does keep one involved, despite being almost three hours long, though a few things here and there could have been trimmed with no harm to the proceedings. A solid mainstream horror and will most likely repeat the success of It: Chapter One.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 (out of 4) red balloons.

 

 

 

 

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HORROR TV YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SWAMP THING season 1 (2019)

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SWAMP THING season 1 (2019)

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

Swamp Thing was sadly canceled after it’s first episode aired and before it was even given a chance…and it’s a shame. The ten episode first season nailed so many aspects of the comics and also managed to be one of the better horror shows currently on TV. Was that the problem? Was it too edgy? Right now there are few answers to the questions of why a great first season was also it’s last.

The story takes place in Marais, Louisiana, where an outbreak of some strange illness has occurred. CDC doctor Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed) arrives on the scene to try to find some answers and a cure. She meets eccentric scientist Alec Holland (Andy Bean) who tells her the answer is in the swamps. There they find that someone has been dumping a chemical growth accelerator in the swamp that has had a bizarre effect on the plant life. Alec is murdered in the swamp one night for what he knows and his body is regenerated by the plants into a massive human/plant hybrid..The Swamp Thing (Derek Mears)! Now Holland must not only come to terms with what he’s become, but protect Abby from those who would harm her and protect himself for those who find him a curious object of study.

Written and directed by a number of talents (see list below) Swamp Thing is a fun, atmospheric and delightfully gory show, that takes itself seriously despite it’s comic book roots. The show uses the North Carolina locations very well and the production and set design is perfectly spooky and fitting of the overall tone. There is a lot of action and intrigue as Abby and Holland uncover a conspiracy led by local businessman Avery Sunderland (Will Patton), his chief scientist Jason Woodrue (Kevin Durand) and crooked sheriff Lucilia Cable (Jennifer Beals), who are trying to exploit the swamp for profit. This puts Abby in danger and makes Holland/Swamp Thing a hunted man/thing. The episodes are each slightly under an hour and with the variety of directors and writers, the show maintains a consistent look and tone. The FX are good, especially the prosthetics and the CGI ranges from good to passable with some weak spots here and there. This show had a lot of potential and whatever the reasons for it’s canceling, unfortunately there will be some loose ends that will never get tightened unless, somehow, there is a continuation either by revival or a feature film. Sad, this show had a lot of potential and a strong first season start that was thrilling and enjoyable for comic and horror fans especially.

The cast really click here. Crystal Reed makes a solid heroine in the determined and resilient Abby Arcane. The actress presents a strong, intelligent and caring young woman that makes her very likable and endearing. Andy Dean is good as Holland, thought we only see him in the first episode and a few other spots. He builds a likable character in limited time. Derek Mears shines as the plant hero. He does a very good job giving Swamp Thing some complex emotions as he tries to figure out who and what he has become. He can be fierce and dangerous and yet kind, gentle and very sympathetic. Too bad we can’t see where he could take the character. Mears and Reed also had some nice on-screen chemistry, too. Patton makes a nice villain as the scheming and greedy Avery Sunderland, He’s a man that will kill for what he wants and does. Kevin Durand’s Woodrue is a scientist blinded and made cruel by his work. The post credits scene at the end of the last episode signals a side of him we would liked to have seen more of. The rest of the supporting cast, including Jennifer Beals and Ian Ziering, all play their parts well, A very solid cast for a really well done production.

In conclusion, This is a sad example of studio chaos ending a good show before it had a chance. This had some great atmosphere, a cool horror movie tone, yet didn’t ignore it’s comic book roots. There was some great production design, some spooky visuals and settings and a healthy amount of blood, gore and creatures. One of DC’s best representations of their properties as of late and it’s canceling is as mysterious as it’s swamp setting!

-MonsterZero NJ

Photo Credit: Fred Norris / 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

EPISODE LIST

  1. Pilot – directed by Len Wiseman and written by Gary Dauberman and Mark Verheiden
  2. Worlds Apart – directed by Len Wiseman and written by Mark Verheiden and Doris Egan
  3. He Speaks – directed by Deran Sarafian and written by Rob Fresco
  4. Darkness on the Edge of Town – directed by Carol Banker and written by Erin Maher and Kay Reindl
  5. Drive All Night – directed by Greg Beeman and written by Franklin Rho
  6. The Price You Pay – directed by Toa Fraser and written by Tania Lotia
  7. Brilliant Disguise – directed by Alexis Ostrander and written by Andrew Preston and Rob Fresco
  8. Long Walk Home – directed by E. L. Katz and written by Doris Egan
  9. The Anatomy Lesson – directed by Michael Goi and written by Mark Verheiden, Noah Griffith and Daniel Stewart
  10. Loose Ends – directed by Deran Sarafian and written by Erin Maher, Kay Reindl and Rob Fresco

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-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4 ) swamp things.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

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ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

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

The third time is the charm, as the latest Annabelle flick is a haunted house roller coaster ride of scares, fun and thrills! The film starts off from the opening scene of The Conjuring with paranormal investigators Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick WIlson) Warren, bringing the haunted doll home and placing it in their room of haunted and cursed objects, locked inside a blessed glass cathedral case. They have to go away overnight and leave their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace), who has inherited some of her mother’s psychic abilities, with pretty babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Mary Ellen’s feisty friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) comes over, too, and despite warnings, goes into the forbidden room of haunted and curse objects, in the hopes of contacting her dead father. Annabelle is released from her prison and a sleepover becomes a nightmare, as the demonic doll lets all the malevolent spirits loose with the three girls trapped inside the house.

This is how you make a haunted house movie! Gary Dauberman hits a grand slam his first time at bat as the writer and director of this threequel. He has written for The Conjuring Universe before, but shows he knows how to direct horror, too, with this delightfully old fashioned scare-fest. Dauberman uses some very atmospheric camera work, in-camera practical effects, some very well built tension and suspense, along with some outright goose-bump inducing scares, to deliver simply one of the best haunted house movies since Poltergeist..the 1982 original, that is. His script cleverly gets the adult Warrens out of the house and using some classic horror tropes turns an already spooky home in a nightmare for the three young ladies trapped inside. There are a few jump scares, but only to climax some expertly built tension while his camera turns every shadow into the potential hiding place for something evil. Anything could come from anywhere at anytime and it keeps one constantly on edge. The room of haunted objects is wisely a focus and Dauberman milks all the chilling tchotchke for all it’s worth. Despite conjuring some Carpenter level scares, it’s the emotional depth that really makes it work. The girls are all three dimensional characters. Judy is a very likable kid, who’s “spooky” parents have earned her outcast status at school, with Mary Ellen being her only real friend. Mary Ellen is a sweet and very endearing young lady and one who is very brave when tasked with protecting Judy. Her tenderness and protectiveness towards the Warren’s daughter really makes her someone whose wellbeing you care about. Daniela could have been a stereotype ‘bad girl”, but Dauberman gives her a sympathetic and sweet core under the mischievous veneer. Her inner pain over the death of her father gives her a very sympathetic and endearing quality, even if this mess is kinda her fault. Add to it all that, that the writer/director, having put you through a last act ringer, gives us a nice cool down with a very sweet climax that works far better than it should being this is a intense horror flick. Very Spielbergian.

The cast are wonderful here and really bring the scripted characters to life. Farmiga and Wilson are basically just there at the beginning and end, but have really locked these characters down. Regardless of what you think of the real Warrens, their cinematic counterparts are quite the likable duo. Mckenna Grace handles the lead like a pro. She really makes us feel Judy’s loneliness due to the reputation caused by her parents line of work and the emotional turmoil caused by inheriting her mother’s abilities. Obviously, the demonic spirit in Annabelle, targets her. Madison Iseman continues to impress as an actress. She takes the stereotypical babysitter and gives her a very endearing personality and imbuing her with a very natural sweetness in her caring for Judy. She’s also brave and resilient when Annabelle’s demonic entity unleashes all the other spirits, including a particularly spooky entity that sets it’s sights on the babysitter. Iseman has a natural girl-next-door presence and she really makes this character three dimensional. Same could be said of Katie Sarife as Daniela. Her character is more the mischievous bad girl, but Sarife really makes her a bit complex as inside she is in pain over the death of her father and it motivates some of the bad decisions she makes. She wants to talk to her father one last time. She is also very sweet at heart, especially when it comes to Judy. Makes for a very un-stereotypical classic character. All three young actresses share great chemistry, which makes their on-screen relationships gel realistically. Lastly, is Michael Cimino as Bob, a nice boy who has a crush on Mary Ellen. Their awkward and sweet conversation scene, when he comes over to the Warren’s to see her, has such a natural feel to it. A perfect example of a good script meeting a good cast.

This movie gave continual goose-bumps to a man who has literally been watching horror movies for half a century. It proves when a talented director pushes all the right buttons, and in the right ways, old tropes can become solid scares. We have a nice build to the story and given time to get to know some well-rounded and likable characters, all the while the tension is simmering with it. We are then thrown into a literal fun house of horrors, as all hell breaks loose in the last act. Along the way Dauberman proves subtle nuances can be just as scary as grotesque phantoms and nothing makes the scares stronger than a solid emotional center to all the supernatural hijinx. An incredibly impressive directorial debut from Gary Dauberman who delivers one of the scariest flicks in quite some time and yet one with some surprisingly sweet and sentimental moments that mix far better than one might expect. Evoking Carpenter and Spielberg at their best in your first flick is quite an accomplishment.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) Annabelles.

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE NUN (2018)

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THE NUN (2018)

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

The Nun is the latest film in The Conjuring film series now referred to as “The Conjuring Universe”. The film explores the origins of the demonic nun that plagued the Warrens in Conjuring 2 and is a spooky fun entry in a series that, up till now, has taken itself a bit too seriously at times. The story opens in 1952 where a veteran priest, Father Burke (Demián Bichir) is asked by the Vatican to travel to Romania to investigate the suicide of a nun at a remote Abbey. He is asked to bring along young Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) who is about to take her vows to join the sisterhood. There they find that the locals think the place is cursed and maybe with good reason as the Abbey is housed in the castle of a duke who used to perform occult ceremonies. Something evil he conjured has been reawakened and now needs a human host to escape. It’s focused on Irene and so she, Burke and a French-Canadian migrant named Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), must find a way to send this demon in nun’s clothing (Bonnie Aarons) back to the hell it came from before it releases it’s bad habits upon an unsuspecting world.

Flick is directed by Corin Hardy (The Hallow) from a script and story by James Wan and Gary Dauberman. Hardy brings loads of atmosphere and some incredibly spooky visuals to the proceedings. The man knows how a Gothic horror should look. He manages some spooky scenes and delivers loads of nods to other movies such as Fulci’s City of the Living Dead, Raimi’s Evil Dead and at times it even evoked the Blind Dead series and obviously, some of the nun themed horrors out of Europe in 70s, like Jess Franco’s The Demons. It’s never truly scary, even if it does play it’s story straight, but it’s fun in that it throws it’s familiar tropes at us fast and furious and mixes and uses them quite well. We get frightened villagers, ominous woods, exorcisms, fog strewn graveyards, re-animated corpses, folks buried alive and more crosses than you can shake at a demonic nun. We do find out who the demon in question is and why it’s here, but other than liking the style or mocking it’s prey, it’s never clear why it prefers to dress like a nun. But with all the spooky goings on, do we really need to know? What the heck…It works. By the rolling of the credits a good time has been had and the film does gives us that vital link to the Warrens that makes the Conjuring connection. After the holy smoke clears we haven’t seen anything new, but are amused by the way Corin Hardy took all the familiar tropes and ran with them…and run with them he does. He also had good support from Maxime Alexandre’s sumptuous cinematography and a really Gothic score by Abel Korzeniowski.

The cast work well, especially young Taissa Farmiga as Sister Irene. She portrays well a young woman of the cloth whose faith and strength are tested against something not even The Bible has prepared her for. She’s a good actress much like her older sister Vera Farmiga from The Conjuring films. She makes for a good heroine. Demián Bichir is good as the priest with a past. He has a grizzled demeanor and a gravelly voice which essays a man who has seen a lot in his lifetime and experienced some harsh events. Of course the demon uses those events from his past against him and it makes things interesting. Jonas Bloquet is OK as the French Canadian Maurice or ‘Frenchie’ as he is known to the locals. He has some of the weakest lines and his character disappears for a long stretch, so his character development is the weakest. Rounding out is Bonnie Aarons as our demonic nun Valak, and she is effective under the make-up and CGI, but never appears long enough to really chill us like she should.

Not being the biggest fan of this Conjuring Universe, the general opinion is that they run hot and cold with the original The Conjuring still being the most effective of the lot, with Annabelle: Creation and now The Nun being the more enjoyable spin-offs. The Nun is full of things we’ve seen before, but mixes them well and serves them up at a rapid pace with some real nice atmospheric and visual support from director Corin Hardy. It’s played straight, but one can tell Hardy is having fun throwing all the crosses, headstones, spooks and specters at us and the film is more self aware and a bit less serious than it’s predecessors in this series…and that’s a good thing. Spooky fun.

For those who haven’t seen Corin Hardy’s first film The Hallow, I recommend you check it out! -MZNJ

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 demonic nuns.

 

 

 

 

 

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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 (out of 4) red balloons.

 

 

 

 

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