HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE WITCHING SEASON (2015-2017)

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THE WITCHING SEASON (2015-2017)

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

The Witching Season is an indie web anthology series, currently found on Amazon Streaming, created by Michael Ballif and is five stories filmed between 2015 and 2017. All the stories are set on Halloween and are filled with pumpkins, scarecrows and masked individuals to ad the nuance of horror’s favorite holiday.

First story is written and directed by Baliff and is entitled Killer On The Loose and finds a pretty young woman (Hailey Nebeker) running for her life on Halloween night. She makes her way to an isolated home and with finding no one there, she enters and hides. Sure enough a masked man (James Morris) with a machete enters after her and now she is trapped alone inside with him. This was an effective tale and was atmospheric and suspenseful and even if we figured out where it was going to end, it was still creepy fun.

Second story, Princess, is written and directed by James Morris from a short story by Baliff and finds pretty single mother, Kendra (Anita Rosenbaum) moving into a new house with her little girl, Jamie (Emily Broschinsky) at Halloween. Jaime finds a box of toys in the basement including a creepy stuffed rabbit she claims is called Princess. Soon strange things start happening and it’s almost as if Princess has a sinister life of it’s own. Another atmospheric and creepy tale even if we’ve seen the evil doll scenario dozens of times before. It still works.

Third story is called Not Alone and is also written and directed by Morris. This story finds a man, Kyle (Sean Hunter) listening to UFO reports on a radio show and having some strange occurrences begin happening in his home. That’s about it. It is atmospheric, but doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s some weird things happening, a spooky climax and that’s it. Not Alone is the shortest and weakest of the five.

Fourth story is called They Live Inside Us and is written and directed by Baliff and stars James Morris as a writer (and other various roles) who breaks into the Boothe House where a infamous murder/suicide occurred. He’s there to get inspiration for a horror script he is writing and let’s say he gets it in droves. An interesting and spooky story that is the longest and possibly best of the tales and is another atmospheric entry from series creator Baliff. It also stars Stevie Dunston as Mrs. Boothe who appears in all of the writer’s various scenarios.

Fifth and final tale is called Is That You and is another directed by Morris from a story he co-wrote with Baliff. It’s a short and simple tale where a spooky nursery rhyme comes all too true for a girl, Whitney (Karlee Broschinsky) stuck home on Halloween night with an injured leg. There isn’t much to it and like Not Alone it’s basically someone in a house with weird occurrences going on around them until a spooky ending. It’s atmospheric, but again, like Not Alone, it really doesn’t go anywhere just sort plays out and then ends.

I enjoyed this web anthology series which shows a lot of love for the spooky season and horror films from the series creative team of Michael Baliff and James Morris. Even the weakest of the tales had some Halloween spirit and all were atmospheric. Both directors got good work out of their cast of unknowns and seem to handle their multiple chores on each story quite well. Baliff seems like the stronger of the two behind the camera, though Morris shows potential even if all three of his stories followed the same format. He did create atmosphere. There is some great cinematography all around and some effective music on each story by Randin Graves and the series opening credits is quite effective at setting the spooky tone. A well done labor of Halloween love from creator Michael Baliff and collaborator James Morris. Can’t wait to see more from these guys!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 pumpkins.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: TERRIFIER (2016)

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TERRIFIER (2016)

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

Terrifier is the first full length horror to star spooky Art The Clown (David Howard Thornton), who previously appeared in a few stories of writer/director Damien Leone’s 2013 Halloween anthology flick All Hallows’ Eve. It’s Leone’s second film and the story is once again set on Halloween, as gal pals Dawn (Catherine Corcoran) and Tara (Jenna Kanell) are on their way home from a party. They encounter a scary clown and while Tara is legitimately scared, Dawn teases him. This begins a night of horror as the deranged clown corners the girls in an old apartment building basement. Art plans a horrible fate for both them, as well as, Tara’s sister Vicky (Samantha Scaffidi) who is on the way to pick them up and unaware of the psychotic clown awaiting her.

Written and directed by Leone, the director does show he can build tension and can produce some very creepy moments. It’s almost a shame then that he also likes to wallow in Herschel Gordon Lewis levels of gore, as the film can be creepy enough, at times, without having to drown us in severed limbs and cruelty. Let’s just say simple stabbings and shootings are not Art’s style. The clown villain is disturbing even without his blood-soaked antics and one wonders if Leone had dialed it back a bit, the film would have been more effective. As is, the constant hacking and dismemberment wears out its welcome and we become numb to it even before the 82 minute run time is up. It’s also a bit disappointing that the story switches attention from Tara to sister Vicky, about half way through, as Tara was proving quite the fiery opponent for Art and had a stronger presence than the more demure Vicky. Leone also knows how to find and utilize some really creepy urban locations and one might feel the urge to shower after spending so much time in the basement labyrinth Art uses as his house of horrors. For those who think this sounds a but misogynist, there are two male pizza parlor employees and a pest exterminator who demonstrate that Art dismembers everyone equally. The gore FX are fairly effective and are quite abundant as you can guess.

The cast do just fine, especially our three lead females. Jenna Kanell makes the biggest impression as the tough and feisty Tara. She gives Art a good fight and as stated, it’s a shame focus switches to Vicky when she arrives to play designated driver. It’s not that Samantha Scaffidi isn’t a decent final girl, it’s just Tara was a more interesting character. Vicky is more of a damsel who needs saving, while Tara was a fighter. Catherine Corcoran was cute and sexy as Dawn, but, unfortunately, we all know what happens to the sexy blonde in a flick like this, so…Rounding out David Howard Thornton is very effective as the silent Art. The actor projects the clown’s lunacy and lethal-ity quite well using only body language and his expressive eyes. There are also some supporting characters, homeless people and unsuspecting exterminators, to serve as clown fodder and they are fine for their purpose. Flick also features an opening scene cameo by All Hallows’ Eve‘s sexy Katie Maguire.

The film has it’s moments and the Art character is effective. Leone does manage some tension and legitimate scares and gives the flick some atmosphere. If anything takes it down a few notches, it is that relying on such extremely graphic gore and the constant acts of brutality by Art, by the last act, we are more tired of it, than unsettled by it. Still, Leone has a little something and Art is very creepy as creepy clowns go. Worth a look if you like your horror brutal and bloody.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 scary clowns.

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE HERETICS (2017)

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THE HERETICS (2017)

Creepy flick finds a pretty young woman named Gloria (Nina Kiri) kidnapped by a cult for some sort of ceremony. They commit mass suicide leaving Gloria a blood spattered survivor. Five years later she’s still haunted by the events, living with her mother, Ruth (Nina Richmond) and going to group therapy where she’s met her girlfriend Joan (Jorja Cadence). Just when she thinks things might be getting better, she’s kidnapped by Thomas (Ry Barrett) a former cult member who claims he’s trying to save her. He warns her that not all the cult members are dead and she is key to the birth of their deity. While Joan and Ruth begin to search for her, Gloria begins a horrifying transformation in a secluded cabin that no one may be able to save her from.

Horror is written and directed by Chad Archibald (Bite, Ejecta) from a story by Jayme Laforest. As illustrated by his work in Bite, Archibald can come up with some creepy and disturbing stuff and does so again here. He seems to have a penchant for body horror as captive Gloria begins to transform before would-be savior Thomas’ eyes. The second half of the movie especially has some unsettling stuff as cult members resurface and an unearthly ceremony begins again. The cabin in the woods setting is a much used trope, but Archibald gets good use out of it and shows he has a very effective visual style, too. There are some very unsettling scenes here and there are also a few surprises and reveals as characters are not who they seem and flashbacks fill us in on more details of what happened to Gloria five years ago. It’s a spooky and atmospheric flick that provides some memorable images and a few shocking moments. It also has some violent and gory scenes and the FX portraying them are well done. It’s not perfect. We can see a few things coming and lead Nina Kiri is sadly reduced to a damsel in distress in the second half where earlier on she seemed like she was capable of giving the character some depth. Too bad, Gloria seems to sit on the sidelines during a time when her character is proving crucial. That aside, this is an effective horror from filmmaker Chad Archibald.

The cast was on point for the most part. Lead Nina Kiri was good at portraying an emotionally damaged young woman trying to heal from a horrific experience. She gives Gloria a sense of tragedy when her transformation starts and it’s too bad she isn’t given much to do in the second half, but sit in a chair and looked hurt and bewildered. Ry Barret is somewhat likable as the ex-cultist who fell for the victim. He gives Thomas a sense of inner pain and torment and a touch of nobility. He also remains a tad creepy and that works in the context of the story. Jorja Cadence is the real show stealer. Her Joan seems like a strong, determined woman at the start, but certain revelations about her take the character to a whole new level and the actress is up for the task. She plays it well and avoids camp or going over-the-top. Rounding out is Nina Richmond, who is solid as Gloria’s caring and concerned mother.

Overall, this was a very creepy and effective flick from a director who is showing some potential both atmospherically and visually. He has a feel for body horror and uses it effectively as his last two films dealt with physical transformation. He has a good visual eye and was able to use some familiar tropes effectively. Aside from a few issues, this was an unsettling horror and makes for a spooky night on the couch.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 pairs of antlers, perfect for that cult ceremony mask you always wanted.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT 2 (2017)

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THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT 2 (2017)

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

The Houses October Built was a  fun found footage horror with a simple premise. During the Halloween season, five friends decide to take an RV road trip to seek out and find the most extreme and scary Halloween attractions they can, documenting it all on camera…of course they got more than they bargained for. The sequel picks up a year later with the group having become internet celebrities due to the broadcasting of their predicament at the hands of The Blue Skeleton on social media. Now Halloween haunts are paying them to come and promote their attractions…all but Brandy (Brandy Schaefer) who is still traumatized. Brandy…now known on the net as “coffin girl”…however, is the one the haunts all want promoting their attractions and the gang have to do a lot of convincing…and paying…to get her back in. Brandy eventually agrees, not knowing that someone is watching them and that the The Blue Skeleton group may not be done scaring them yet.

First flick was a lot of fun as it both worked both as a horror flick, yet also dove into the underground world of Halloween haunts. This sequel does the same but opens it up to include Zombie 5k’s and even an “adult” themed haunt. The script by director and actor Bobby Roe, with cast member Zack Andrews, cleverly gets the gang back out there by having them now being paid by the haunts themselves to do what they did last time. Roe keeps the found footage format somewhat, but this one plays more like a movie which works as the feel of legitimate found footage was one of the weaker aspects the first time around. The group’s use of a drone, also opens up the scale with some frequent aerial photography. This sequel does take a little while to get going and may not be as consistently Halloween spirited as the last one, but once things start to get spooky, when our group…Brandy in particular…are being stalked, it gets as fun as the last one. It also has a few surprises up it’s sleeve, especially when the group meets their intended fate at the Hellbent attraction where the familiar blue skull-ed creepers spring their trap. It provides an intense and entertaining last act and shows Bobby Roe has matured as a filmmaker, somewhat, providing some legitimate chills.

The main cast, Zack Andrews, Mike and Bobby Roe, Jeff Larson and Brandy Schaefer, all return and are certainly fine, basically playing themselves. Schaefer stands out as she has the most emoting to do with her character being a reluctant participant, who is still haunted by almost being buried alive. Brandy has a couple of strong scenes expressing her fears and concerns over returning to these underground haunts and the climax gives her some solid material to work with. She would make a good final girl in a straight up horror. Mikey Roe also has some screen charisma as lovable party animal and joker of the group.

This was an enjoyable sequel and with some clever writing they may be able to get at least one more chapter out of this franchise. This follow-up pretty much equaled the first flick, which was a fun look at extreme Halloween haunts and a sometimes spooky little horror flick, too. The sequel freshens things up by opening up it’s spectrum of interested to include other types of Halloween attractions and figures out a way to get it’s characters back out there, after being scared out of their wits the last time. It does take a while to get going and the Halloween spirit isn’t as consistent as the last time…maybe too much of it was shot in the daytime?…but it does deliver some goods, especially in the last act. If you liked the first The Houses October Built you might enjoy this second romp as well and it would make a nice double feature during the spooky season to watch both films together.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 scary clowns…they return too!

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THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT SEQUEL GETS A TRAILER!

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The Houses October Built was a spooky found footage flick with a cool concept about a group of Halloween adventurers trying to find the ultimate Halloween haunt and not liking what they do find. The sequel has them back and at it again, despite getting scared almost literally to death last time. Flick arrives September 22 just in time for the start of the spooky season! Check out the trailer below!

Source: Youtube

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THE HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET GETS A TRAILER!

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A trailer and a cool poster have arrived for the new film The House On Willow Street. Directed by Alastair Orr and written by he and Jonathan Jordaan, the film stars Sharni (You’re Next) Vinson and is about a group of kidnappers abducting a girl (Carlyn Burchell) under demonic influences. Film is slated for release on VOD, streaming and select theaters on March 23, 2017 from IFC Midnight!

Source: Youtube/IFC Midnight

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S WORST HORROR FLICKS of 2016!

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It’s time to look back at the past year and see what I DIDN’T like. These are pretty much the worst flicks I saw this year in the horror genre with little to enjoy or recommend!

NOTE: There are a few titles here initially released in 2015, but I did not catch up to them till their release on VOD or home media in 2016 and felt it unfair not to include them!

(Click on the titles below the movie poster gallery to get to our reviews!)

Full review links for the worst of 2016!

1. Cabin Fever

2. The Darkness

3. The Devil Complex

4. #Horror

5. Cherry Tree

6. The Girl In The Photographs

7. Blair Witch

8. The Phoenix Incident

9. The Forest

10. Condemned 

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: PET (2016)

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PET (2016)

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

Flick tells the grim tale of Seth (Dominic Monaghan), an introverted and emotionally disturbed young man who works at an L.A. dog pound. Seth sees pretty blonde Holly (Ksenia Solo) on the bus everyday, a girl he has been crushing on since school. Holly doesn’t remember him, but he pursues her anyway even when she shows no interest. He follows her to work and when she goes out and when he is finally, and quite harshly, rejected for his stalker-ish behavior, Seth hatches a plan to kidnap Holly and hold her in a cage in an abandoned room beneath his work place. But Seth may be in for more than he bargained for, as Holly is not what he expects and has a few dark secrets of her own. Seth soon finds out that while Holly may be in a cage, he may not be as in control as he believes.

Directed by Carles Torrens from Jeremy Slater’s script, this is a tense, disturbing and sometimes surprisingly brutal thriller about a damaged young man taking the wrong girl captive. The concept of a kidnap scenario going awry or a hostage being more than one bargained for is not new, but it is presented well here, with a few twists of it’s own and thus works beyond it’s familiar story. At first we are led to believe this is a simple tale of a pretty girl in the clutches of a deranged individual, a tale of mad love, but Torrnes slowly let’s us see that Holly is not a helpless damsel. In fact she has some loose screws of her own and Seth’s purpose of bringing his object of affection here may have a deeper agenda than just puppy love beneath the dog pound. We get a reveal halfway through that takes this in another direction and totally changes our perception of Holly quite a bit. It turns this into a something far more complex than simply an innocent hostage trying to outwit her crazed captor. Let’s just say things get delightfully nasty and leave it at that.  There are a few plot holes, such as Seth actually thinking holding her captive at work was a solid idea and a few others that involve sensitive plot developments, that will not be spoiled here. Otherwise, all the way through this self advertised ‘love story’ director Torrens keeps an atmosphere of tension and there are some disturbing developments that change our perspective and possibly our sympathies. It’s a disturbing little thriller that succeeds far more than it doesn’t.

We have a small but very effective cast, especially our leads. Dominic Monaghan does a difficult job of keeping Seth a bit tragic and sad despite his disturbing plot to kidnap his obsession. His early pursuit of her is a bit creepy but also earns some sympathy at his complete awkwardness. Once he accomplishes his deed, he keeps Seth from being totally villainous though still quite disturbed. He’s not quite an outright monster and when the tables start to turn we are not completely unsympathetic at the desperate young man having made a big mistake. Ksenia Solo really shines as Holly with a decidedly more complex character. At first she is just a pretty blonde with her own life and no time for Seth’s awkward pursuit. She is in the midst of a break-up herself and this only amplifies the effect of his creepy methods to get her attention. We like and sympathize with her, especially when she finds herself in a basement cage. Then the actress slowly transforms Holly into someone else. Someone we are not expecting and someone who is possibly far scarier than Seth. He is socially inept and emotionally disturbed as she where might just be…? Solo pulls it off wonderfully. There is also a supporting roles by Jennette McCurdy as Holly’s friend Claire and Da’Vone McDonald as Seth’s co-worker Nate who starts to get suspicious of Seth’s odd behavior and showing up at work at off hours.

So, the flick is not perfect and the story at it’s core has been done before. But this is a case of a skilled director and some unexpected twists from it’s writer that elevate it above the familiar. Add to that, two leads who really give it their all and you have a disturbing thriller that can be surprisingly brutal and brutally surprising despite a familiar base story. It’s a psychological showdown between two individuals, one who is disturbingly obsessed and the other…well, you’ll find out.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 cages that are not the best way to impress a girl.

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

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

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DON’T BREATHE (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

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

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THE NEIGHBOR (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 bullets.

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

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DON’T BREATHE (2016)

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

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

dont breathe rating

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