MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and VFW

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MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature is back again and featuring another flick from director to watch Joe Begos. His latest flick VFW throws some serious love at John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13, so, what better feature to pair it up with than the film that Begos so affectionately pays homage to. It’s a Saturday night of awesome siege flicks, with the master John Carpenter and the next generation Joe Begos!

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ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

Tasked by producer J.S. Kaplan to make a low budget film for him, John Carpenter came up with this violent and action filled urban version of one of his favorite Howard Hawks westerns, Rio Bravo. Two years before he hit big with Halloween, Carpenter wrote, directed, edited and composed the score for this cult classic about a remote and soon to close ghetto police station, under siege by a vengeful and well armed youth gang. Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is sent to oversee the closing night of the Anderson ghetto police precinct, an assignment he expects to be routine and dull. But across town a youth gang with a cache of stolen guns and already sworn to avenge the death of some members by a police ambush, roam the streets looking to take their anger out on someone. They pick a poor ice cream vendor (Peter Bruni) and when a little girl (Kim Richards) gets in the way, both vendor and his young customer are brutally murdered. When the little girl’s father (Martin West) follows and kills a gang member, the rest chase him across Anderson where he finds himself at the skeleton crewed police station. Add to that the arrival of a bus carrying prisoners being transported to a state correctional facility who stop at the precinct when one prisoner takes ill and we have a recipe for a night of violence, revenge and a fight to survive. Now Bishop and the meager staff of the precinct must decide if they can trust two hardened criminals as the gang Street Thunder lays siege to the station with intensions of killing everyone inside.

Assault On Precinct 13 is a great little action flick that definitely foreshadows the type of intensity, suspense and style that John Carpenter would become known for. The film is loaded with tense action as the gang tries to get into the station and slaughter all inside and the uneasy alliance of cop and inmate must somehow fend them off with very little arms or ammo. And it works, because not only has Carpenter set up this claustrophobic situation of a remote and small building surrounded by vicious enemies, but fills it with great and endearing characters like the noble Bishop, the death row inmate with a sense of honor, Napoleon Wilson (a great Darwin Joston) and resilient and tough secretary, Leigh (Laurie Zimmer).

The acting is top notch with Stoker, Joston and Zimmer really giving intense and well rounded performances in their respective roles and a good supporting cast including Carpenter familiar faces Charles Cyphers, as the prison bus commanding officer and Nancy Loomis as meek secretary Julie, along with Tony Burton as prison inmate Wells. We never get to personally interact much with the vengeful gang, instead they are presented as a malevolent and deadly force, a faceless wall of death that surrounds and closes in on the station’s occupants and this approach keeps them a dangerous and unpredictable element whom we fear because, like Michael Myers in Halloween, they appear less human and more a force of homicidal rage. It gives them a supernatural quality despite being very much flesh and bone.

The action scenes are very intimate but intense, fast paced and well shot and, as with all Carpenter’s movies, the film has a great visual style that makes good use of it’s desolate locations and it’s largely night set scenes. While the film didn’t get much notice upon release, it was a hit in Europe and, as with a lot of Carpenter’s work, is now recognized for the classic film that it is. In my opinion it is one of what I call ‘Carpenter’s Core 5’ which in my opinion are his best films… or at least my favorites… Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York and The Thing. A great low budget action classic!

Rated 4 (out of 4) classic bullets.

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VFW (2019)

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

Bliss director Joe Begos’ latest flick takes place in a very near future where a highly addictive drug called “hype” has turned it’s users into violent addicts and city streets into war zones. Inside one of those war zones lives Viet Nam war veteran Fred (Stephen Lang) who runs a VFW hall where his friends and fellow soldiers Walter (William Sadler), Abe (Fred Williamson), Thomas (George Wendt), Lou (Martin Kove) and Doug (David Patrick Kelly) hang out. One night a young woman called Lizard (Sierra McCormick) steals some hype from drug dealer Boz (Travis Hammer), to get revenge on Boz for killing her sister (Linnea Wilson). On the run from Boz and his gang, Lizard runs into the VFW hall for cover. Still men of honor, Fred and the other veterans vow to protect Lizard as Boz, his thugs and an army of frantic hype addicts lay siege to the VFW hall.

Flick is basically John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 on crack as directed by Begos from a script by Matthew McArdle and Max Brallier. That is in no way a bad thing, as this is a bloody blast of an action flick as the war veterans take on an army of zoned-out drug addicts and a psychotic gang of thugs. We are treated to spurting blood, flying limbs and exploding heads, as the war vets use guns, axes and a host of homemade booby traps and weapons to keep the vicious gang at bay. It’s fast paced, though not enough that we don’t get to know this endearing bunch of men who never stopped being soldiers at heart. That is what makes this click all the better, is that despite all the fast and furious action, Begos lets the script’s messages about respecting and honoring those who have served, shine through. One of the very few issues with the flick is that the army of crazed drug addicts seems to come and go at the needs of the script, instead of consistently laying siege to the VFW hall. They disappear conveniently when the film needs a quiet moment for our characters to regroup. Other than that, Begos accomplishes a lot on a small budget, delivers the blood and action and has assembled a great cast of veteran actors to play his aged warriors…

…and how can you not like this cast!…Stephan Lang makes his Fred a world weary yet still honorable and strong man, one who still has nobility and honor. Sadler makes for a very likable Walter, a good-natured man who remembers the days of war as a time of loyalty and friends made. Williamson still kicks ass as the tough yet somewhat mellowing Abe and Martin Kove is solid as the business man of the group, car salesman Lou. Lou is the only one wanting to “deal” with Boz and his gang to save his own skin. Wendt and Kelly are also likable as grizzled vets Thomas and Doug, who still have their senses of humor about them. As our bad guys, Travis Hammer is a bit weak as Boz. He’s more sleazy than scary or intimidating, but he isn’t a hinderance to the blood soaked fun. Making up for it is Bliss’ Dora Madison as gang member Gutter. She’s ruthless, vicious and deadly and probably should have been the main villain…just sayin’. Any girl that takes on Fred “The Hammer” Williamson is not to be taken lightly. Rounding out is Tom Williamson (All Cheerleaders Die ) as a young vet named Shawn who wanders into the hall just home from the Middle East, Sierra McCormick (Some Kind of Hate), who is solid as the tough Lizard and Begos regular Graham Skipper as Boz’s brother, Roadie. A good cast.

Overall, this was a blood-soaked blast of a good time that manages to not only be bloody entertaining, but heartfelt about how we should view our war veterans. It’s got a lot of bloody action, but doesn’t move too fast that we don’t endear to these grizzled vets. It has some well rendered and plentiful gore, a great John Carpenter-esque score by Steve Moore and some effective cinematography by Mike Testin. All in all, it might be the most fun you’ll have at a bloodbath in quite some time. Flick is available on Amazon Prime and definitely worth the rental!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) bullets.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: VFW (2019)

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VFW (2019)

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

Bliss director Joe Begos’ latest flick takes place in a very near future where a highly addictive drug called “hype” has turned it’s users into violent addicts and city streets into war zones. Inside one of those war zones lives Viet Nam war veteran Fred (Stephen Lang) who runs a VFW hall where his friends and fellow soldiers Walter (William Sadler), Abe (Fred Williamson), Thomas (George Wendt), Lou (Martin Kove) and Doug (David Patrick Kelly) hang out. One night a young woman called Lizard (Sierra McCormick) steals some hype from drug dealer Boz (Travis Hammer), to get revenge on Boz for killing her sister (Linnea Wilson). On the run from Boz and his gang, Lizard runs into the VFW hall for cover. Still men of honor, Fred and the other veterans vow to protect Lizard as Boz, his thugs and an army of frantic hype addicts lay siege to the VFW hall.

Flick is basically John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 on crack as directed by Begos from a script by Matthew McArdle and Max Brallier. That is in no way a bad thing, as this is a bloody blast of an action flick as the war veterans take on an army of zoned-out drug addicts and a psychotic gang of thugs. We are treated to spurting blood, flying limbs and exploding heads, as the war vets use guns, axes and a host of homemade booby traps and weapons to keep the vicious gang at bay. It’s fast paced, though not enough that we don’t get to know this endearing bunch of men, who never stopped being soldiers at heart. That is what makes this click all the better, is that despite all the fast and furious action, Begos lets the script’s messages about respecting and honoring those who have served, shine through. One of the very few issues with the flick is that the army of crazed drug addicts seems to come and go at the needs of the script, instead of consistently laying siege to the VFW hall. They disappear conveniently when the film needs a quiet moment for our characters to regroup. Other than that, Begos accomplishes a lot on a small budget, delivers the blood and action and has assembled a great cast of veteran actors to play his aged warriors…

…and how can you not like this cast!…Stephan Lang makes his Fred a world weary yet still honorable and strong man, one who still has nobility and honor. Sadler makes for a very likable Walter, a good-natured man who remembers the days of war as a time of loyalty and friends made. Williamson still kicks ass as the tough yet somewhat mellowing Abe and Martin Kove is solid as the business man of the group, car salesman Lou. Lou is the only one wanting to “deal” with Boz and his gang to save his own skin. Wendt and Kelly are also likable as grizzled vets Thomas and Doug, who still have their senses of humor about them. As our bad guys, Travis Hammer is a bit weak as Boz. He’s more sleazy than scary or intimidating, but he isn’t a hinderance to the blood soaked fun. Making up for it is Bliss’ Dora Madison as gang member Gutter. She’s ruthless, vicious and deadly and probably should have been the main villain…just sayin’. Any girl that takes on Fred “The Hammer” Williamson is not to be taken lightly. Rounding out is Tom Williamson (All Cheerleaders Die ) as a young vet named Shawn who wanders into the hall just home from the Middle East, Sierra McCormick (Some Kind of Hate), who is solid as the tough Lizard and Begos regular Graham Skipper as Boz’s brother, Roadie. A good cast.

Overall, this was a blood-soaked blast of a good time that manages to not only be bloody entertaining, but heartfelt about how we should view our war veterans. It’s got a lot of bloody action, but doesn’t move too fast that we don’t endear to these grizzled vets. It has some well rendered and plentiful gore, a great John Carpenter-esque score by Steve Moore and some effective cinematography by Mike Testin. All in all, it might be the most fun you’ll have at a bloodbath in quite some time. Flick is available on Amazon Prime and definitely worth the rental!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) bullets.

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: AUTOMATION (2019)

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AUTOMATION (2019)

Automation tells a familiar story set in the near future about a robot, affectionally named “Auto”, who is put to work as a prototype at a small company. Auto does his job well, so well that the owner Susan (Sadie Katz) wants to replace her workforce with robots and scrap Auto for the new and improved models. Auto, has become quite human-like in his emotional responses and finding out he is about to be scrapped, activates his former programing as a combat robot and even his human crush Jenny (Elissa Dowling) may now be in danger.

Stories of robots gaining human feelings and reacting badly to the idea of being shut down are not new, but director Garo Setian gives it enough charm and effectiveness to entertain, despite the familiarity. His script, written along with Rolfe Kanefsky and Matthew L. Schaffer, makes Auto very likable, which in turn makes his relationship with wannabe singer Jenny work very well. This gives us conflicting feelings and keeps us sympathetic when Auto starts to enter combat mode and kills. Do we cheer for him, or boo him? We don’t hate Auto. As he and Jenny’s relationship works so well, we are certainly sympathetic for her when she has to choose to try to stop Auto to save her co-workers. There is violence, but it is not too over-the-top to disrupt the film’s balance, but it does make Auto a threat when he needs to be. A fun and well made little movie that uses a familiar story very well. Also stars low budget horror film fixture Graham Skipper as an employee who resorts to desperate actions upon finding out he’s going to be replaced.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DOWNRANGE (2017)

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DOWNRANGE (2017)

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

A group of teens on a road trip find their journey interrupted when they get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. Soon they find out this was no accident and that their tire was shot out. They also find, to their horror, that a sadistic sniper has got them in his sights and is patiently waiting till they make the wrong move so he can brutally gun them down.

Dark and sometimes savage flick is tautly directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Azumi, The Midnight Meat Train) from a script by he and Joey O’Bryan. There is some very gruesome violence, here and Kitamura puts these young characters through the bloody ringer as the sniper plays with them. The director also keeps tension high, as the killer waits the kids out, for their fear, the isolation and the elements to wear them down into making the wrong move. The script also simply solves the cellphone problem by having our group pinned down in an area with no signal, and uses trying to get to a signal spot a tense plot point. Add to that some clever use of the technology, as the teens try to determine their assailant’s location. If the film has anything that holds it back, somewhat, it’s that a sequence with a family in a passing car gets really over the top with the violence and gore. It’s not that the rest of the film has been subtle, but here it seems just over-indulgent, as it does in the gruesome finale. There’s nothing wrong with a good gore flick, just that this film didn’t need to go that overboard to make us understand the lead characters’ desperation and eventual rage. It was brutal enough at this point. That and it is a very simple premise to be drawn out to feature length, even at just 90 minutes, though never boring.

The young cast are very good, especially Stephanie Pearson as the tough and level-headed Keren. Kelly Connaire is also solid as the sweet and meek Jodi, who learns to overcome her timidity. Anthony Kirlew is sympathetic as the injured Eric and Rod Hernandez does well as the short tempered Todd. Rounding out the road tripping teens are Alexa Yeames as Sara and Jason Tobias as Jeff, both likable in their roles. Overall, an endearing enough bunch, so our sympathies are with them as they are trapped and tormented by this unseen assailant. The Sniper in question is played by someone named Aion Boyd, but he has no dialogue and his motives are kept ambiguous, which works very well here. Any supporting characters such as cops and the before mentioned family are paraded out quickly and disposed of as sniper fodder, to add to the hopelessness of our lead characters’ situation and for body count.

In conclusion, this is a tough, bloody and intense watch from a director whose American films have been spotty. Kitamura’s Japanese films prove he is a talented filmmaker, but he has gotten little opportunity to really show that here…until maybe now. There is some savage violence and some very over-the-top gore…much like his ‘Reservoir Dogs meets Evil Dead’ film, Versus…to add to the suspense and some likable characters to fear for. It’s a very dark and nasty flick, but very effective.

Flick is currently an exclusive on Shudder.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 bullets.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE MIND’S EYE (2015)

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THE MIND’S EYE (2015)

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

In Almost Human writer/director Joe Begos gave us a horror/sci-fi with some nice homages to flicks like Fire In The Sky and John Carpenter’s The Thing in a gore wrapped story of alien abduction and a creature within stalking a small rural town. Here Begos returns to pay tribute to David Cronenberg’s Scanners with a story of individuals with powerful psychic abilities, even setting his flick in the early 90s. The story tells of Zack (Graham Skipper) and Rachel (Jug Face and Darling’s Lauren Ashley Carter) who are two people with incredible psychokinetic abilities and are being held by Dr. Michael Slovak (John Speredakos) for his own nefarious purposes. The two escape and thus begins a tale of pursuit and revenge that leaves a trail of bodies in it’s wake.

Joe Begos certainly knows his influences and his affection for that which he pays homage is certainly apparent through his past two films. That being said, the same applies here even more so than Almost Human in that, while it is entertaining, the film is a little too close to it’s source material to really have it’s own identity. Almost Human was, at least, a bit of a mash-up within it’s own story. Here the flick is basically just a stripped down version of Cronenberg’s classic, right down to exploding heads…a tribute, we get that…to the climactic duel between good and evil psychokinetic powered individuals. Again, it is a fun tribute, that while it spares us the more complicated conspiracy aspects of Scanners, ups the gore and violence quotient in it’s place. As with Begos’ last flick, the film is moderately paced, which to be fair, is much like the films it purposely evokes. Also like Almost Human, the acting is again a bit wooden especially from the overacting Speredakos, who might have been a bit more threatening bad guy with some moderation and less eye-rolling. The gore FX are quite good, Begos has a good visual eye and style and there is a wonderfully nostalgic electronic score by Steve Moore to give it that 80s/early 90s feel.

Overall, this was an enjoyable tribute to a classic flick from a filmmaker who has an eye for what made those flicks work. As with Almost HumanBegos shows potential as a good low budget filmmaker who certainly has some classic influences and his heart in the right place. Now it’s time for him to take what he has learned from the films he grew up with and do his own thing…and looking forward to it when he does. A fun Cronenberg love letter that while isn’t overly original, successfully evokes what it is giving homage to. Also stars indie horror flick icon Larry Fessenden as Zack’s dad and Noah Segan who is racking up quite the horror resume.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 beers lifted cinematically to David Cronenberg.

worlds end rating

 

 

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BARE BONES: ALMOST HUMAN and SANATORIUM

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ALMOST HUMAN (2013)

Story takes place in rural Maine and tells of ill-fated Mark (Josh Ethier), a man abducted into the sky one horrific night leaving his friend Seth (Graham Skipper) to carry the suspicion for his disappearance. Two years later Mark returns, but he’s not the same man he used to be and cuts a blood-soaked path back home to his girlfriend Jen (Vanessa Leigh), to give her the ‘family’ she’s always wanted.

Almost Human is a completely derivative, but still fun horror flick. It combines elements of Fire In The Sky, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and John Carpenter’s The Thingbut has a bloody good time with those elements as it tells it’s much smaller scaled story. There are drawbacks. The acting is a bit wooden all around, the pacing is slow at times and, fun as it may be, we’ve seen it all before. Director/writer Joe Begos does try hard and manages to do a good job building some suspense and keeping us interested. The FX team also provide some effective make-up and gore to punctuate this horror tale with a lot of spurting blood and goo. Not a great movie, but an entertaining enough chiller for a night on the couch. Extra kudos to actress Vanessa Leigh for being a real trooper in performing one of the more graphic and disturbing scenes late in the film. Watch after the credits, too.

3 star rating

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SANATORIUM (2013)

Biggest failing of Brant Sersen’s found footage horror is that at no time does it ever feel like real footage that we are watching, or anything but actors in staged settings. Add to that, bad dialogue and some very amateur acting…and there is little to recommend. In a plot very reminiscent of Grave Encounters, we have a team of paranormal investigators from a fictional show called Ghost Trackers, investigating the infamous, abandoned Hillcrest Sanatorium where murder and death plagued the halls of it’s past. Obviously, their investigation leads to horrors beyond their imagination, though the film is never the least bit scary. We are never frightened, because it’s a series of weak and obvious set-ups acted out by amateur actors who never once appear to be anything but characters reading off a script. The whole point of found footage is to make us believe we are watching actual footage, events and people…something Sersen’s flick never achieves. At least there was good use made of the abandoned building setting and there was more bloodshed than usual in a flick like this. Otherwise, it’s a rather dull and forgettable attempt. At least the far more effective Grave Encounters, had the smarts to wink at it’s audience and have fun with it’s premise.

2 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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