IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: SWEET HOME (1989)

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SWEET HOME (1989)

Hard to find haunted house flick has TV producer Kazuo Hoshino (Shingo Yamashiro) bringing a crew to the supposedly haunted Mamiya mansion that has been sealed for thirty years. It was the home of famed artist Ichirō Mamiya and Kazuo believes his final works rest inside. Along for the production are his daughter Emi (Nokko), reporter Asuka (Fukumi Kuroda), cinematographer Ryō Taguchi (Ichiro Furutachi) and Akiko Hayakawa (Nobuko Miyamoto) his producer whom he has feelings for. Once inside they find that all the rumors are horribly true as a terrible incident decades earlier has left a vengeful spirit lurking inside the mansion.

Film is written and directed very effectively by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. All the haunted house traditions are present with the mansion itself being a very spooky and deserted place. There is a tragic backstory to give our haunting it’s purpose and a group of individuals who refuse to believe the folklore of the house, until it’s too late. Stormy nights, grotesque phantoms and some gory deaths are presented in a very entertaining fashion with Kiyoshi Kurosawa giving us just enough time to get to know the characters before the spooks hit the fan. It even has an old gas station attendant, Yamamura (producer Jûzô Itami), to give the traditional warnings and exposition. It’s a lot of spooky and gruesome fun and the make-up effects are not only nostalgically practical, it was the 80s after all, but done by make-up effects legend Dick Smith. When we finally see Lady Mamiya’s spirit in full view, it doesn’t disappoint. There are some chills, thrills, some blood spilled and a very exciting and suspenseful climax, as our survivors face the angry spirit head-on. You even need to watch through the credits for something extra. It’s a very entertaining haunted house flick that can stand on it’s own up against flicks like Poltergeist which set a standard in the 80s. Atmospherically directed, the house setting itself is great and there is just enough humor to make it fun without offsetting the scares. Despite being a familiar tale, the movie has it’s own creepy identity and likable characters to fear for.

As those characters, we have a solid cast. Yamashiro is good as Hoshino. He’s a likable guy and avoids the arrogance most characters like this carry. His intentions are good. Popstar Nokko is endearing as Hoshino’s teen daughter Emi. She’s rebellious, though not annoying and serves as a damsel in distress in the final act. Nobuko Miyamoto is widower Hoshino’s producer. A pretty woman he has feelings for and a strong heroine when all Hell breaks loose. Ichiro Furutachi and Fukumi Kuroda are fine in their roles, though they serve more as body count. Rounding out is producer Jûzô Itami, who is good in the classic role as Yamamura. An efficient and likable cast.

In conclusion, this flick desperately needs a blu-ray release! It was spooky, gory fun and had a likable group of characters ignoring the classic warnings to suffer the consequences. There were some great practical make-up FX from the late, great Dick Smith and a very creepy house where it’s paranormal action takes place. A very solid and old fashioned haunted house flick from Japan.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) spooks

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR (2019)

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GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR (2019)

Flick has Don Koch (Phil Brooks, a.k.a. former WWE Superstar CM Punk) trying to right past wrongs for his pregnant wife, Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn) by buying an old house and renovating it. The house has a history, though, and there were acts committed in the former brothel that may come back to haunt Don and his family…literally.

Haunted house horror is effectively directed by Travis Stevens from a script and story by he, Paul Johnstone and Ben Parker. The flick is entertaining, though a bit uneven, which does hold it back a little. There are some nice subtle, spooky touches early on in the proceedings, some good gore and some amusingly bonkers stuff here and there that achieve more Evil Dead II level supernatural hi-jinx. There are also stretches that are a bit dull, the tone is a little uneven and it’s hard to feel concerned or sorry…not that we’re supposed to…for Don when he is such a jerk. Don cheats on his wife, he deceived his clients, he’s a liar, a drinker and just seems like a bit of an all around a-hole in general. It’s like he’s getting what’s coming to him, especially when dealing with the sexy, mysterious and troublesome Sarah (Sarah Brooks). As such, it’s hard to sympathize and be afraid for a guy meeting the karma train head on. By centering the film on an unlikable character, you get more apathy than empathy from your audience, whether his comeuppance is the point or not. The flick does switch focus to his far more likable wife in the last act and douche Don seems to disappear for quite some time, while his pregnant spouse then deals with the horrors of the house. The sudden switch of focus is s a little off-putting, but we do like and fear for Liz far more and it makes for a very effective last act.

On a production level, the flick looks great and the FX well rendered. Stevens also makes great use of the old house location. The cast are fine with Brooks doing a good job in a role that is often a one man (and dog) show at times and pretty Trieste Kelly Dunn doing strong work when she shows up in the last act and the house reveals all. Sarah Brooks (no relation to Phil) is both sexy and spooky as Sarah, Karen Woditsch is good as insightful neighbor Ellie and Travis Delgado is effective as Don’s fed-up friend Milo.

Overall, flick is definitely worth a watch. A few things hold it back from firing on all cylinders, but it is atmospheric, spooky and can be both effectively subtle and delightfully over-the-top when it needs to be. There is some good gore, a few novel twists added to the haunted house tropes and the cast are all solid. Travis Stevens could be a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) marbles.

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

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ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

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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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BARE BONES: DARKNESS RISING (2017)

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DARKNESS RISING (2017)

Silly and dull flick has the already ludicrous plot of pretty young Maddie (Tara Holt) breaking into her childhood home twenty years after her mother murdered her baby sister and her father then killed her mother. Once inside the house, which is slated for demolition, she and her friends (Katrina Law and Bryce Johnson) become trapped by both a vicious version of Maddie’s childhood dog and a force field of some kind…no, really! There is a dark force inside the house that won’t let them leave and wants to finish what it started all those years ago.

Directed by Austin Reading from a mess of a script by Vikram Weet, this routine haunted house flick is far more filled with clichés than scares. It’s familiar one minute with the usual possessions and ghostly figures and borderline dumb the next with Maddie thinking nothing of making out with her boyfriend a room away from where her loved ones were murdered…and why would you need a demonic dog to keep the trio trapped inside if the house is surrounded by a force field? Asking such questions will not get any answers as one wonders why Maddie would want to spend the night in a house with such painful personal history anyway, especially finding out it has a history of death. While on the subject, just who owns the house now anyway, if it’s been empty for twenty years? Apparently not Maddie if she has to break in. But with characters continually doing stupid things, like trying to steal medication that is literally two decades old, why would you expect any other aspect of the script to make sense. A real waste of time that makes 80 minutes seem like three hours. Also features Ted Raimi in a small role in the framing segments, which add nothing.

MonsterZero NJ Rant: I’ll never understand how junk like this gets financed, yet a talented filmmaker like Stevan Mena can’t get the money to finish Malevolence 3. Grrrrrr!

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: THE DEAD ROOM (2015)

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THE DEAD ROOM (2015)

New Zealand haunted house flick is nothing new plot-wise as it features three paranormal investigators (Jed Brophy, Jeffrey Thomas and Laura Peterson) entering a recently vacated house to see if it’s as haunted as the owners claim. Obviously the answer is “yes” or we wouldn’t have a movie.

Film is directed well enough by Jason Stutter from a script by he and Kevin Stevens and while it presents nothing new, there is a charm about it’s old fashioned, CGI-less approach. The three leads are very likable as the stereotypical veteran ghost hunter (Brophy), skeptical scientist (Thomas) and pretty, goth psychic (Peterson), so we are willing to go along with their cliché and somewhat low-key ghost hunt. The film has a few spooky bits and while the last act does provide an intriguing twist, it also ends very abruptly and never gives us the backstory needed to clue us in as to who the spirits were and what had originally gone on in that house. It leaves one unsatisfied as the credits roll, despite having been somewhat entertained by the flick’s laid back style. Currently on Netflix Streaming, so it’s worth a peek if you’ve got nothing else to watch.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: WITCHTRAP (1989)

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WITCHTRAP (1989)

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1989 horror flick is written and directed by Kevin S. Tenney who gave us two 80s cult classics, Witchboard and Night Of The Demons. The story here, in his third flick, has a team of paranormal psychologists entering an old mansion that used to belong to a powerful psychic and warlock (J.P. Luebsen), who is now dead. His spirit supposedly haunts the place and the team is sent in with a trio of detectives to try to free the structure from it’s malevolent occupant’s grip. The spirit of Avery Lauder is a powerful one and soon the team’s numbers begin to dwindle as his diabolical influence attacks from beyond the grave.

This is a pretty bad movie. For starters, this flick has a silly plot of trying to subdue the evil spirit, so the present owner can turn the place into a ‘haunted bed and breakfast’ while the malevolent spirit is trying to resurrect himself. Add on to that the really wooden performances from the cast of unknowns…except for 80s scream queen Linnea Quigley…and some hysterically awful dialog and Tenney has fallen far from his first two cult favorite flicks. Even the shot set-ups are really awkward and the pacing is incredibly slow for a 90 minute flick, not to mention the really cheesy make-up and visual FX. It would appear Tenney forgot everything he learned about filmmaking for his third film and sadly, as it looks really amateur and he never really recovered, based on his mostly forgettable filmography following this clunker. At least there is a very 80s electronic score by the director’s brother, Dennis.

Sure, there is some entertainment value here. The dialog and some of the terrible acting can produce some giggles and Linnea Quigley does get to flash the assets that made her a horror icon during the 80s. It’s still not enough to really elevate this bomb or make it really worth sitting through. A disappointing and surprising misfire from a man who started his film career with two cult classics. Maybe he gave us everything he had the first two times around.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 powerful warlocks who inhabit a bad movie.

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BARE BONES: IRRATIONAL MAN, LAKE EERIE and LOVE IN THE TIME OF MONSTERS

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IRRATIONAL MAN (2015)

Odd flick from Woody Allen has philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) trying to find meaning in his life. When an affair with a married member of the faculty, Rita (Parker Posey) and a relationship with one of his students, Jill (Emma Stone) doesn’t help, he decides to murder a judge who is about to rule on having a woman’s children taken from her. He thinks he has committed the perfect crime and done some good, when it all starts to unravel as both his lovers begin to figure out whodunit.

As per the plot synopsis, this is a weird flick from Allen who has kinda been on autopilot for quite a few years now. The film is intriguing and has some quirky and eccentric characters, but starts to unravel in it’s last act just as the professor’s plan does. The whole notion that mild mannered Abe would just commit a random murder to give his life some meaning is a bit out there, as it is. It also seems a little too far-fetched that it would be both his lovers that start to put the clues together and actually come to believe Abe committed the murder, as it seems equally ludicrous that he would so easily conclude that he had to do it again to keep his lady loves silent. It’s one of those movie’s were it seems to be taking itself very seriously, but would have worked far better as a comedy, which it’s not, though it feels like it should be. Would also love to see Allen, for once, make a film that didn’t involve upper class elitists, that might be refreshing, too.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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LAKE EERIE (2016)

Written by and starring Meredith Majors and directed by husband and co-star Chris Majors, this is a little horror that may be too ambitious for it’s own good. Film has artist and recent widow Kate (Meredith Majors) moving into an old lakeside house. No one has lived there since the previous owner disappeared in 1969 and soon Kate starts to witness weird phenomena. Her research into the house reveals that the previous owner was an archeologist (Chris Majors) who may have discovered an amulet that could open dimensional portals. His notes indicate he may have entered one of these portals in pursuit of a banished Egyptian princess…you read that right…and Kate teams with her neighbor’s niece (Anne Leigh Cooper) to find the doorway and finally free the missing explorer.

I appreciate trying to do something a little different than the routine haunting, but this flick gets a bit convoluted long before the credits roll. The story mixes a haunting flick with something out of Tomb Raider and it doesn’t quite mesh together. The acting is also questionable from our leads and one thinks the writing/directing/producing couple should maybe have left the performances to more experienced actors than multi-tasking here. The film also doesn’t have the budget to really portray it’s alternate dimension, so it goes the Insidious route with staging it in the house with different lighting. It worked in Wan’s film, but here it just looks cheap. There is some nice atmosphere early on, but once the story starts to go all Indiana Jones meets Amityville Horror, it looses it’s grip. Yes, the attempt to do something more original is certainly admirable, but here a simpler haunting story might have been easier to pull off on a small budget and easier to swallow by the audience. Also stars Betsy Baker, who was Linda in the original Evil Dead and the incomparable Lance Henriksen in a small part as Kate’s concerned dad.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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LOVE IN THE TIME OF MONSTERS (2013)

Written by Micael Skvarla and directed by Matt Jackson, this is a fairly unremarkable and only mildly amusing horror comedy. The story has sisters Carla (Marissa Skell) and Marla (Gena Shaw) heading to a family getaway lodge to meet up with Carla’s fiancé Johnny (Jade Cater) who works there. Toxic chemicals dumped in a nearby lake start to turn the forest life and a few of the employees, including Johnny, into zombies. Now the girls and the survivors must band together and fight for their lives…oh, and there is a Sasquatch mixed in there, too.

Sure, the girls are hot and there is a lot of gore, but aside from having the zombified lodge employees dressed in Sasquatch costumes, this is another routine zombie outbreak comedy. Most of the humor falls flat and the acting and dialog are equally sub-par and that would be OK if the flick were witty and had more of a devious sense of fun, like the similar Zombeavers. There are a few amusing bits, but aside from an actual Sasquatch appearing in the last act to take on the zombified animals and people, there is little to set this flick apart from all the other by-the-numbers zombie comedies.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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REVIEW: CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

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CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

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

Crimson Peak is the latest film from Guillermo del Toro whose diverse resume ranges from the comic bookish Pacific Rim to the dark fantasy masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s Masterpiece Theater meets Hammer Studios in a deliciously gothic tale of romance, mystery, murder and things that go bump in the night.

The story takes place in the 19th century with Mia Wasikowska playing aspiring American writer Edith Cushing (a homage to the legendary Peter Cushing, no doubt.) who meets and falls in love with the dashing but mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe, who owns a massive but ancient castle in Cumbria, England. The castle is built over red clay deposits…that Sharpe hopes to mine…which seep up through the ground and stain the winter snow blood red…thus earning the land the ominous nickname Crimson Peak. Edith’s widowed father Carter (Jim Beaver) and handsome suitor Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) are against this romance and Carter’s investigation into Sharpe’s past gets him murdered and sends Edith into wedlock with Sir Thomas. Now having moved into the castle with her new husband and his odd sister, Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Edith begins to see ghostly apparitions that warn her all is not right. What is really going on at Crimson Peak?…what are Thomas and Lucille Sharpe hiding?…and why are ghastly spirits warning Edith to fear for her life?

Co-written with Matthew Robbins, Del Toro delivers a visually sumptuous feast saturated with gothic atmosphere. It’s a lush tale of romance, mystery and sinister goings on in a delightfully spooky castle. There are some surprisingly violent moments, especially in the blood soaked last act and a little steamy sex here and there, too. There are also spirits in this ancient structure and if Del Toro’s film has any slight disappointment it’s that, despite the ghostly presence, the film is never really scary. Sure there are some spooky moments and the specters are visually unnerving, but aside from some well executed jump scares, the film never gets as chilling as say, the hallway scene in The Devil’s Backbone. Del Toro does get some intensity going in the last act, but the film is a deliberately slow burn, though the mystery and intrigue do keep one interested till dark secrets are unearthed and the purpose of spectral apparitions revealed. It is an enjoyable film, the type they don’t make anymore and the visual design is worth the price of a ticket alone…as is the sound design. It’s just not the horror film it’s being sold as and while it does qualify as a haunted house movie, that is only a part of the overall story. Those looking for funhouse style frights may be disappointed. On the other hand, if you are looking for something with class, style, intrigue and some nasty violence to punctuate it, than this film should entertain. It’s very atmospheric and Del Toro is helped in that department by Dan Laustsen’s (Brotherhood Of The Wolf) cinematography and Fernando Velázquez’ (The Orphanage) hauntingly beautiful score. It’s a very old fashioned flick, despite the sex and violence, and one wonders if today’s audience will appreciate the Dark Shadows-esque (The show, not the goofy Tim Burton flick) tale he creates.

Del Toro’s cast is simply wonderful. Mia Wasikowska creates an idealistic woman who dreams of being a writer and has seen spectral apparitions since her mother died years earlier. She is young, though and falls in love with the charismatic Sharpe even if things don’t quite add up from the beginning. Once she is convinced something is amiss, despite her feelings, she digs deep in dangerous places to find answers. She’s a strong, smart heroine and an endearing character. Tom Hiddleston is once again engaging as the charming and mysterious baron with some very dark secrets. He conveys Sharpe’s emotional torment between his sinister agenda and the real feelings he has for Edith. A flawed and conflicted character and Hiddleston has the presence to make him intriguing and keep him from becoming a stereotypical bad guy. Jessica Chastain’s Lucille is the true villain of the piece and she is a dragon lady to be feared and reckoned with. Her secrets are dark, deep and covered in blood and the actress really gives us a villainess worthy of a classic Disney film…though one definitely not for kids. Charlie Hunnam is a suitable hero, though much of the focus is on Edith and her efforts to uncover the truth and Jim Beaver gives Edith’s father a strength and wisdom while allowing the warmth and love for his daughter to come through. A likable character for his time on screen. Del Toro regular Doug Jones also appears as various apparitions.

I really enjoyed Crimson Peak, even if it wasn’t quite the horror movie I went in expecting. It is a sumptuously filmed mystery dripping with gothic atmosphere and not afraid to splash some blood or throw a little sex into it’s old fashioned mix. There are some spooky moments and the ghosts are unnerving, it’s just not as scary a ghost story as we’d like and the ghosts are not the central focus as the marketing would have us believe. It does deliver on the mystery, murder and even romance in a style that is rarely used in today’s world of popcorn blockbusters, vulgar comedies and generic romances. It also proves once again that Guillermo del Toro is one of the most versatile storytellers around. Highly recommended, but just don’t expect the horror flick it’s being sold as.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 and 1/2 Sharpe family crests

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: POLTERGEIST (2015)

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POLTERGEIST (2015)

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

The 1982 Poltergeist is a classic and even if it comes off as a bit cheesy, over three decades later, it’s still a roller coaster ride of fun. Gil Kenan’s remake, on the other hand, is a completely by-the-numbers, generic haunted house flick that reminds one more of the awful The Apparition than the Spielberg produced, Tobe Hooper directed fright flick.

Story is basically the same, with couple Eric and Amy Bowen (Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt) moving with their three children, teen Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), young Griffin (Kyle Catlett) and little Madison (Kennedi Clements), into a housing development…built over a former cemetery, of course…and soon starting to experiencing paranormal activity. The activity seems to be targeting the two youngest, with Maddie in particular being the focus. Soon the little girl is abducted into a spirit realm and a paranormal crew, headed by famous TV ghost hunter Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris), arrive to try and save Maddie and rid the house of it’s angry specters.

Completely unnecessary remake is unimaginatively written by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed flatly by Gil Kenan, who brings nothing new or special to the tale. There are a few scant effective moments, but that is only when the film deviates slightly or tries to add a new wrinkle, like sending a toy drone, equipped with a camera, into the spirit realm. The film rarely tries anything new, though and basically follows the original story and very blandly at that. Kenan brings none of the fun that he gave his animated Monster House and writer Lindsay-Abaire rarely strays from the path set by the original movie. The flick also gives us very little to be scared of and doesn’t even try to match the original’s bombastic funhouse atmosphere. This flick is actually far more grounded and thus far less interesting and most of the time, it’s outright dull. The characters are all bland and not particularly endearing, like the slightly eccentric Freeling family were in the 1982 original. They also seem to accept the supernatural explanations far too easily to add any tension. If you are going to remake a classic like Poltergeist…and you really shouldn’t…then at least go somewhere new with it and really shake things up. People give Rob Zombie a lot of flack for his Halloween remake, but at least he tried to go in a different direction with it. This is a mediocre at best retread with none of the energy and life that was given the original film by those behind the camera. The look of the film and it’s lack of any real vitality evoked the recent and epically terrible, The Apparition far more than the beloved 1982 classic.

Despite the presence of vets like Rockwell and Harris the cast are also very bland and wooden. Rockwell seems like he is basically on a paycheck job and gives us none of the vitality he usually brings. Anyone could have played the part. Rosemarie DeWitt is equally bland and brings none of the fire Jobeth Williams had in the original. Sharbino is pretty, but a typical bratty teenager and Kennedi Clements is cute as Maddie, but just nowhere near as sympathetic or memorable as Heather O’Rourke. Only Young Kyle Catlett gives his role a little vibrance as Griffin, as does Jared Harris as the TV paranormal expert…but still, Zelda Rubenstein he’s is not.

Simply put, this is a boring and very generic remake whose few effective scenes come only when the film finally tries something new or deviates from the original story…mostly in the last act. Even then, it is only slight and the new elements are minimal. It’s not quite a scene for scene remake, but almost and none of it has the over-the-top energy or fun of the classic original. There are also no real scares either, including the new version of the infamous clown doll and if you can’t make a clown doll scary, than what exactly is the point? Watch the original.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 epic fail scary clowns.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: WE ARE STILL HERE (2015)

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WE ARE STILL HERE (2015)

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We Are Still Here is a supernatural indie horror that serves up some nice chills and surprisingly generous gore, though not quite living up to the internet hype that preceded it…but then again, little ever does.

Story finds older couple Paul and Anne Sacchetti (Andrew Sensenig and Barbara Crampton) moving from the city up to the small rural town of Aylesbury to escape the painful specter of their son Bobby’s recent death. They move into a secluded old house and immediately Anne starts to see and hear things and senses a presence she wants to believe is Bobby. Paul is skeptical and it only gets worse when a neighbor, Dave (Monte Markham) shows up and tells them that the house was a former mortuary and the owners were run out of town for selling the bodies and burying empty coffins. Paul is even slipped a note from the neighbor’s wife telling him “The house needs a family” and to “get out”. To get to the bottom of things, the couple invite their friends over, a hippie couple May and Jacob (Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden) who have an interest in the paranormal. They come to believe there is a dark presence in the house and they are surrounded by death. What they don’t know is, that the dark presence was awakened long ago when the house was built and every thirty years must be appeased with the sacrifice of a family, or it’s darkness and death will spread from the house to infect the entire town. Is it too late for the Sacchettis and friends to escape…and will they be allowed to leave?

Horror flick is written and directed by Ted Geoghegan and supposedly inspired by the works of the late, great Lucio Fulci. Geoghegan certainly has the gore part down, as the film gets graphically bloody at times and does have a visual style that is atmospheric and effective. He also does provide a lot of chills and spookiness throughout and the flick is loaded with atmosphere. Geoghegan uses the familiar tropes of the small town with a dark secret, well and there are some extremely gruesome deaths, especially during the blood-spattered finale. So what holds this flick back a bit? First thing is there is a seance/possession sequence with Sensenig and Fessenden, it should be a major scene, but the sequence itself comes off a little clumsy and gets borderline silly. Part of the reason is that filmmaker Fessenden is not a seasoned performer…despite numerous small roles in his fellow filmmaker’s productions…and the scene needed someone with stronger acting chops to really pull it off. It’s not as convincing as it needs to be. The next thing is the gore-soaked final act. It certainly was fun, but it’s not as spooky as the more subtle things that come before it. Everything is out in the open and the blood and organs are flying, but it’s not as atmospheric as when Geoghegan kept things in the shadows with lurking figures and only hinted at the malevolence that surrounded the family. When his vengeful specters are in plain sight ripping people apart, it becomes something more outwardly visceral and less deeply bone-chilling. There is also some shaky dialogue spoken, especially during that sceance/possession scene, as well as, a few of the exposition scenes that weakens their effectiveness. That and if Dave wants the family to stay, why does he keep telling them unsettling stories about the house? Doesn’t make sense.

Technically, this low budget film looks good and the make-up effects by Oddtopsy FX are really well-rendered in presenting our dark spirits and their carnage. There is some very atmospheric cinematography of the New York State locations by Karim Hussain and a fitting score by Wojciech Golczewski (Late Phases). For a low budget flick, production value is top notch.

The cast work well here, for the most part. It’s great to see Barbara Crampton on screen again and she plays the grieving Mrs. Sacchetti very well. We like Anne and she is our emotional anchor for the story. Andrew Sensenig is adequate as her skeptical husband, but his Paul seemed a little bland at times. The character could have used some warmth to make him more accessible. Lisa Marie is a little off as May, but since the character is a bit eccentric to begin with, that may have been intentional and seems to fit the amateur medium. Larry Fessenden is actually amusing as the stoner Jacob and it is only in the seance sequence where his limited range hindered the effectiveness. TV and film vet Monte Markham is solid as neighbor Dave whose knows the truth and has his own agenda. He is our human villain of the flick and makes a good bad guy. There is some weak acting from some of the supporting actors, but it’s not enough to hurt the proceeding to any degree.

Overall, I liked this flick and give it a recommend. It has some really good atmosphere, provides some solid chills and splatters the gore and guts generously, when needed. It has some flaws that keep it from really firing on all cylinders, but it still works very well and certainly is effective enough to make it worth checking out. A solid enough indie horror that shows we may see some interesting things yet from Ted Geoghegan.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 scary specters.

we are still here rating

 

 

 

 

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