REVIEW: KILLING GROUND (2017)

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KILLING GROUND (2017)

Killing Ground is an Australian thriller that finds couple Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer) going on a camping trip in a rural part of the country. They find another vehicle and tent at the campground, yet no occupants seem to be around. Soon Ian and Sam encounter two local “hunters” (Aaron Pedersen and Aaron Glennane) who, unknown to the couple, know exactly what happened to the abandoned tent’s former occupants.

Written and directed by Damien Power, this is an effective but familiar survival thriller. His story is basically in the Wolf Creek ballpark with innocent travelers happening upon deranged locals in a rural setting. What we see is brutal and effective and while certain cruel acts are off-camera, just knowing what is going on induces chills. Power tells his story in a split narrative where we inter-cut scenes of Sam and Ian in the present with scenes from earlier on with the ill-fated family that resided in the now empty tent. It works well enough and once the stories meet it continues to it’s finish within the present timeline.  It makes for a grim yet fairly involving 90 minutes, though there are some questions. What drove these two to get homicidal with this family, as it seems they are too sloppy to have done it before and not gotten caught. Also, they are well known to local police, so they would logically be prime suspects if something went askew in that jurisdiction…though the police portrayed here are done so as stereo-typically daft local cops. Still, the film does work well enough and the cast are effective in their roles.

Harriet Dyer is a fine heroine in Sam. She isn’t a damsel and is a fighter when she has something worth protecting. Ian Meadows’ Ian starts out as a likable character, though as the story progresses and it becomes a battle for survival, he shows some unfortunate true colors. As for our bad guys, Pedersen and Glennane make fine deranged locals and even if the characters are well-worn stereotypes, they play them effectively. Again, the problem with them aside from familiarity, is they seem too sloppy in their activities and if this isn’t the first time they’ve done this…previous jail time is mentioned but not why…it’s hard to believe they haven’t already been caught. If this is their first crime of this magnitude, what was it about this family that triggered the violence and cruelty? We never get to know them enough to gives us a clue.

In conclusion, this is an effective but familiar survival thriller. Damien Power directs well enough to make it work better than it should and we are chilled by some of what we see. The film is overall, though, nothing new and there are some questions we are asking once it’s over. Also stars Maya Stange, Julian Garner, Tiarnie Coupland and Liam and Riley Parkes as the ill-fated family whose grim tale unfolds during the film.

3 bullets.

 

 

 

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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: HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET (2017)

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HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET (2017)

Flick has four kidnappers snatching a girl (Carlyn Burchell) whom they plan to ransom, only to find she is possessed by a demon and now they can’t get rid of her as she takes them down one by one. Silly flick is flatly directed by Alastair Orr from a script by he, Jonathan Jordaan and Catherine Blackman. Despite that it gets goofier and goofier as it moves along, this flick takes itself way too seriously, so we can’t even have fun with the ridiculousness of it all. It’s an endless parade of horror clichés and movie scene rip-offs that doesn’t even have the decency to allow us to laugh at it, as it’s just so dull. There is some nice make-up FX and gore, but the CGI is laughably bad and the performances and dialog are wooden and weak. Overall it’s a tedious mess of things we’ve seen so many times before and not reused with any cleverness or ingenuity. Yawn.

There was some good advanced word on this, though not sure where it came from. Stars Sharni Vinson (You’re Next, Patrick: Evil Awakens), who looks uncomfortable and like she’d rather be elsewhere, during the entire movie.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: THE DEVIL’S DOLLS (2016)

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THE DEVIL’S DOLLS (2016)

Silly but amusing flick has a cop, Matt (Christopher Wiehl) gunning down a serial killer and taking the killer’s Guatemalan Worry Dolls into evidence. Upon visiting his ex-wife’s (Samantha Smith) house, his little girl (Kennedy Brice) sees the dolls in his car and takes them. The dolls are possessed by the killer’s evil essence and now anyone who comes into possession of one gets possessed themselves and kills…still with me? Now Matt must recover the dolls before more people meet gruesome ends and free his daughter of the killer’s spirit.

Directed by Padraig Reynolds from a script by Danny Kolker and star Christopher Wiehl, it feels like someone read about Guatemalan Worry Dolls and cobbled together a story to use them. The result is a hodgepodge of a horror mixing possessed dolls, possessed people and a Guatemalan witch doctor (Tina Lifford) living in the middle of the woods (for exposition, of course) in a shack bigger than most people’s condos. If the film has a strong point, it is that there is plenty of gore and it is well rendered and quite abundant and somehow director Reynolds seems to keep the silliness somewhat amusing for the flick’s 85 minute run. It’s never scary, though never boring either. An unintentionally goofy flick and on that level it does entertain despite how bad it all really is.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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A DARK SONG TRAILER GIVES CHILLS!

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Liam Gavin’s supernatural horror arrives here in the U.S. on 4/28/17 from IFC Midnight and tells the story of a woman (Catherine Walker) joining forces with an occultist (Steve Oram from The Canal) to speak to her dead son. Nothing can go wrong with that…right? Check out the spooky trailer for this upcoming chiller!

source: Youtube

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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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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE DEVIL’S CANDY (2015)

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THE DEVIL’S CANDY (2015)

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

I’m a huge fan of Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones and was obviously looking forward to seeing another flick from him…and finally, after eight years, it’s here. The Devil’s Candy is Byrne’s newest film, made in 2015, it’s only now getting a proper release on VOD and in select theaters from the cool folks at IFC Midnight.

The story here is of heavy metal loving artist Jesse (Ethan Embry), who moves to an old rural farmhouse with his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and chip-off-the-old-block teen daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco). While Jesse and Astrid know that the couple that formerly lived there died in the house, what they don’t know is that it is also home to some kind of malevolent influence. If it’s not bad enough that Jesse’s art starts to take a dark and ominous tone soon after moving in, Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), the child murdering son of the previous owners, wants to come home…and he has set his demented sights on Zooey.

While not quite as intense as The Loved Ones, and lacking it’s twisted sense of humor, this is still an atmospheric, disturbing and sometimes brutally violent horror flick. The mix of heavy metal music and demonic horror, obviously works as the two have been paired up since Black Sabbath took to the airwaves in 1968. While the demonic influence elements are nothing new, they are very effective as used by Bryne, draped in his thick atmosphere of foreboding. The most disturbing elements, though, are obviously Ray’s need to “feed” The Devil his favorite candy…children. He stalks Zooey right out in the open and the distraction the malevolent entity feeds Jesse by way of his art, leaves poor Zooey unprotected. It creates some very unsettling scenes as Ray gets closer to obtaining his goal, including one in Zooey’s bedroom that is absolutely bone chilling. This all leads up to not one but two harrowing sequences with Zooey and the rotund pervert, each more intense than the last. There are some drawbacks. The film comes in at a very tight 79 minutes and it sometimes feels too quickly over for it’s own good. We wish we had a little more time to let certain scenes resonate and be given a little more time to let the disturbing nature of what is transpiring sink in before moving on to the next dramatic moment. It is also never quite clear whether it is this demonic influence that led Ray to kill, or was it his homicidal habit that brought the entity into the house…if not…why is it there? On a technical level the film looks great and while there is some week CGI during the climax, the rest of the FX work is solid and there is a really atmospheric score from Mads Heldtberg, Michael Yezerski and the band Sunn O)))

If anything helps one past some of the flaws, it’s a really good cast. Ethan Embry has become a fixture in some good horror/thrillers lately such as the frustrated son in the awesome Late Phases, or the ill-fated gun dealer in The Guest. He is really good here, not only as metal head/family man Jesse, but in portraying Jesse’s gradual transformation from attentive father into obsessed artist. As his frustrated and scared wife, Shiri Appleby is solid as a woman whose family life is disrupted from both within and without. She has a suddenly moody and unfocused husband at home and a hulking child killer lurking about after her daughter. Appleby makes her a bit more than a damsel in distress, though she isn’t given as much to do when all hell breaks loose as we’d have liked. Kiara Glasco makes a really good impression as Zooey. A teen who walks to the beat of her father influenced drum but is her own person. She’s a tough kid and a little rebellious and the young actress has a great chemistry with Embry, so their father/daughter relationship really works well on screen. She has a couple of tough scenes to portray and does a good job. Making this all come together is a really disturbing performance by veteran actor Pruitt Taylor Vince (recently seen as “Otis” in The Walking Dead). Vince really makes Ray a creepy person who makes you uncomfortable every moment he’s on camera. It really makes you fear for Zooey, especially when he catches up to her…more than once. He makes your skin crawl. A solid cast just as in Byrne’s first flick.

So maybe writer/director Sean Byrne hasn’t quite equaled The Loved Ones in his sophomore feature flick, but he has delivered another disturbing, atmospheric and bloody movie that is of a different sort than his previous twisted love story. This plot may be a bit more commonplace, but he uses the familiar tropes very effectively. The theatrical cut…wikipedia lists a 10 minute longer festival cut…may be a little too short for it’s own good and there are some unanswered questions, but a really strong cast and a director who knows how to turn the screws makes up for a lot of it. Highly recommended. especially if you loved Sean Byrne’s previous work.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and1/2 screaming guitars!

 

 

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BARE BONES: HAVENHURST and AMERICAN FABLE

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HAVENHURST (2016)

Havenhurst is a fairly entertaining if not familiar story of someone investigating strange goings on in a large house or apartment complex and finding out they live in a house of horrors. Here, it is pretty recovering alcoholic Jackie (Julie Benz), who has been released from rehab and has moved into Havenhurst, a NYC apartment that specializes in taking in hard luck cases. Weird things happen from the start, like Jackie’s former rehab friend Danielle (Danielle Harris) mysteriously disappearing and strange sounds eminating from within the walls at night. As Jackie begins to investigate, she starts to believe there is something truly sinister going on in the building, but no one will believe her. Her only ally is a child, young Sarah (Belle Shouse), whose own parents disappeared as well. Will Jackie expose the diabolical goings on, or is she the next victim of Havenhurst!?

Film is competently directed by Andrew C. Erin from a familiar script by he and Daniel Farrands. It has some effective moments and there is some surprisingly gory violence mixed in with the familiar tropes of someone with emotional problems being disbelieved when they cry wolf. Julie Benz is a solid heroine and Fionnula Flanagan makes for a creepy landlord, whom you know is up to no good despite her ability to fool everyone else. The building location is used with creepy effectiveness and the film does have an unsettling wrap-up. A decent watch if there is nothing else on.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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AMERICAN FABLE (2017)

Drama takes place in the Reagan Era with a family struggling to keep their farm. Imaginative young Gitty (Peyton Kennedy) makes a startling discovery one day when she goes to the farm silo she is forbidden to play around. There she discovers a man named Jonathan being held prisoner (Richard Schiff) and soon finds he is the real estate developer who has been buying up the folding farms in the area. Now Gitty is caught in the middle between her loved ones, who are committing a desperate act and doing what is right and helping Jonathan escape.

This is an engaging drama with a touch of fantasy as written and directed by Anne Hamilton. It has some nice emotional depth and young Peyton Kennedy really gives a very strong performance as the slightly eccentric young girl who dreams of things beyond her farm and is now caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s a little too slow moving for it’s own good at times, but otherwise is a solid drama. Gavin Macintosh also makes a truly detestable villain as Gitty’s cruel older brother Martin, who is enjoying the kidnapping a little too much and will resort to any means to carry out the plan…including murder. Hamilton makes a solid directorial debut for her first feature length film and has a nice visual eye to go along with her evident directing chops. No classic but, worth a look for sure, if you like indie dramas and a sign interesting things may be coming from Hamilton.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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

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DON’T KNOCK TWICE (2016)

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Flick is a perfect example of how a skilled filmmaker can take familiar story elements and tropes and use them effectively. Story has artist Jess (Oculus‘ Katee Sackhoff) trying to re-establish a relationship with her daughter Chloe (Lucy Boynton), whom she walked away from nine years earlier. Chloe however has run afoul of a local urban legend. It’s said that if you go to the abandoned house of suspected witch Mary Aminov (Ania Marson) and knock twice, it will summon the demon within and thus it’s minion…in this case Mary…will be sent to collect you. That’s exactly what Chloe and friend Danny (Jordan Bolger) do in jest one night and now Danny has vanished and something malevolent is following Chloe. Can Jess save her daughter from an unnatural fate?…a daughter who has nothing but contempt for her?

Horror flick is written by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler with an all too familiar a story, these days, of a youth crossing paths with a malevolent spirit. Under the guidance of The Machine director Caradog James, however, this is still a spooky and atmospheric flick despite having seen it all before. James gets some chills out of the haunting scenario that is the trend right now and serves up some really creepy imagery, even if the skeletal specter with long hair is a common visual in today’s horror. He also gives the film a dramatic intensity with it’s underlying story of a mother trying to fix the hurt she caused by abandoning her child and learning to love that child now selflessly. The familiarity unfortunately keeps this movie from really grabbing us and the abrupt ending is a bit jarring, but it is still far more effective than one might expect considering we have been deluged with similar films for the past few years. This was spooky and enjoyable, but it’s time for the next horror trend. The haunting/malevolent entity flick has played itself out and good ones are few and far between. This was entertaining, spooky and well made, but not quite unique enough to make it stand out too far from the pack like we wished it would.

Our leading ladies do help make this work well. Katee Sackhoff does some nice strong work as a women who selfishly abandoned her daughter nine years earlier and now wants her back. Not only does her Jess have to battle nine years of built up resentment, but also a demonic entity that wants to take her daughter from her. Sackhoff gives the role some depth and we do come to sympathize with her. Lucy Boynton is equally good as the young girl who has a lot of bitterness towards her mother, but has no one else to turn to when she is targeted by something no one believes her exists. She gives us an emotionally scarred but strong young woman and she and Sackhoff have a nice chemistry as we watch their relationship heal and build under extreme duress.

In conclusion, this was an entertaining and spooky flick, despite having a very familiar story. Director Caradog James gave it some chills and some cool visuals and his lead cast helped give their familiar characters some depth. While we wait for the next horror trend to give the tired haunting sub-genre a rest, at least this particular flick had some talent behind and in front of the camera to keep it from being mundane.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 creepy door knockers you should knock twice!

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