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 equalled 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)

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

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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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE (2016)

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THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE (2016)

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

Spooky flick tells of the unidentified corpse of a young women (Olwen Kelly) found buried in the cellar of a house that is already the scene of two gruesome deaths. The body is turned over to Tommy (Brian Cox) and Austin Tilden (Emile Hirsch), who are a father and son team of coroners who run their own morgue. The autopsy of this “Jane Doe” is most perplexing. On the outside her body seems perfect, yet as they explore deeper, her insides appear to show signs the women was horribly tortured. Add to that mysterious ritualistic symbols found on a cloth inside her body, the Tildens are getting deeper into a mystery they are having trouble solving. Worse still, the further they examine the women’s body, the more it seems some kind of malevolent presence has been unleashed. Who was this woman and what evil has entered their morgue through her.

Entertaining and chilling flick is written by Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing and directed by Trollhunter director André Øvredal and has a novel premise with it’s story of an autopsy, first causing a mystery for it’s examiners and then releasing some spooky supernatural goings on. The film is well directed by Øvredal who slowly builds tension and atmosphere as our father/son duo dig deeper into examining the corpse of this women and everything they find defies logic and science. At first it appears to just be a crime thriller about an unusual cause of death, but slowly becomes something darker and more unnatural as we proceed. Once things go fully supernatural, the film is quite spooky and delivers some nice chills till the unnerving final moments. If anything holds the film back, it’s that the big reveal doesn’t seem to quite fit comfortably with the rest of the film. The explanation is full blown supernatural/fantasy and while it is surprising, it doesn’t seem to mesh well with a film that began as scientific investigation. The autopsy performed may have been delivering information that made no sense to our main characters, but the shift from scientific mystery to a full blown…and very familiar…occult/supernatural explanation is a bit jarring, even though the supernatural occurrences that were building as a result of their examination do work well. The otherworldly elements were being slowly mixed in, it’s just that the actually reveal is a bit ‘out there’ considering how grounded the film starts out. It doesn’t sink the film, it just seems to unbalance the mix of science and supernatural that was working well till this point. That and our two examiners seem to accept the supernatural a bit too quickly for men who have based their careers in scientific investigation. The film is, overall still effective and chilling, it’s just that perhaps something a bit more clever was expected where the answer we get is very old school horror. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just we were hoping for something less common for a horror flick, due to the intriguing set-up. Obviously, also expect some gore due to the nature of the story and it is rendered well.

The cast is small. Save for a few supporting characters that make brief appearances, like Austin’s girlfriend (Ophelia Lovibond) and the local sheriff (Michael McElhatton), it’s all Cox and Hirsch who are very good. Cox is a veteran and has turned in many a good performance and he is solid here as Tommy Tilden. He is a medical man and a man of science who is diving deeper into a mystery that challenges his scientific beliefs….although he seems to accept the supernatural explanation a little too quickly for a man whose career is based in facts, but that is the script and not the actor, who is first rate here. Hirsch is equally good. His character accepts that something unnatural is going on here much quicker and the actor conveys well a young man willing to accept something supernatural is occurring, as his veteran father takes a bit longer to believe this is not science they are dealing with. The two actors have a good chemistry and are believable as father and son. It makes the film click that these two are so convincing in their roles. As for poor Olwen Kelly, the actress plays a corpse and appears to have been quite a trooper playing the entire part completely nude and remaining perfectly still while be poked and prodded by the two leads. Using a real person here, instead of a prosthetic, adds to the effectiveness.

So, it’s not perfect, but still effective and entertaining. It has a clever premise and the director builds the story nicely along with some strong atmosphere and some very spooky sequences. I may not have been completely onboard with the big reveal, as it seemed to tilt the balance of science and supernatural more into familiar horror flick territory, when something more inventive or unexpected was what one was waiting for. Overall, definitely worth a watch and for the most part, a very spooky flick that only slightly disappoints when it set us up with such an intriguing mystery and solves it with something a little too familiar.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 scalpels.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: CARNAGE PARK (2016)

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CARNAGE PARK (2016)

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

Flick takes place in 1978 with country girl Vivian Fontaine (Ashley Bell) not having a good day. Her home is being sold out from under her and while at the bank getting turned down for a loan to save it, she’s taken hostage by two ex-cons (James Landry Hebert and Michael Villar) who rob the bank. That’s the least of her problems, as the three find themselves in a stretch of remote wilderness stalked by psychotic ex-soldier Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy), who slaughters anyone that enters his domain. Soon Vivian finds herself alone and in a battle for survival against the well-armed and quite deranged maniac.

Flick is written and directed by Mickey Keating who is proving himself quite diverse in his influences with films like the David Lynch-esque Darling and the X-Files-ish Pod under his belt. Here he delivers a brutal and twisted little movie that seems to have a bit of a Rob Zombie influence, as it did evoke some of the imagery, brutality and a bit of the deranged humor that was on display in Zombie’s first two flicks. But this is very much Keating’s own movie and he starts us out with the story in progress, with robber Lenny (Villar) wounded and Scorpion Joe (Hebert) pulling hostage Vivian out of the trunk to help him. We then get some brief flashbacks to fill us in on some character and plot details as the crazed Wyatt discovers the intruders on his land and the hunt/action begins. The film is stylish and off-beat and very entertaining as our girl-next-door Vivian tries to overcome a superior enemy and escape with her life. The film is intense, strange and very violent at times and does entertain as it intends with the oddball Wyatt tracking/tormenting the dazed and desperate, yet not totally defenseless, Vivian. It’s a twisted little flick, that tells it’s story in a Tarantino meets Rob Zombie kind of way. It’s not perfect, as Keating’s influences are a bit too obviously borrowed from at times and one character just disappears, which makes one question why they were included at all. But when all is said and done, Keating accomplishes what he set out to with splattered brains and all.

The cast go a long way in making this work and work well. Ashley Bell (The Last Exorcism) delivers a strong heroine in her Vivian. She is a simple country girl who starts out trying to save her home and ends up trying to save her life. Bell gives her a dazed look of a woman who just got dumped into the frying pan and then the fire and is trying to just stay alive and somehow get home. She gives Vivian a simple tenacity and a strong will to survive with a touch of frustration and confusion. She is endearing and likable. Pat Healy (Innkeepers, Tales Of Halloween) portrays a true psychotic, but yet not one who doesn’t deliriously enjoy what he is doing. He is arrogant and self-righteous and while his motives are not completely explained, the religious symbolism around his lair and in what he says and does, implies he is doing God’s work in some form. Healy is threatening and dangerous and a touch humorously demented and it is a good role for an underrated and versatile actor who can play both hero and villain. Ex-con and thieves James Landry Hebert (Skateland) and Michael Villar have smaller parts, but Hebert succeeds in making an impression as Scorpion Joe. He’s another underrated character actor who does good work when on screen. There is also an appearance by Alan Ruck as Wyatt’s sheriff brother who keeps cleaning up his sibling’s messes, despite the emotional drain of the conflict of interest and indie icon Larry Fessenden as one of Wyatt’s prey.

So, not a perfect thriller, but one that is successful in being 80+ minutes of twisted entertainment. Mickey Keating’s films seem to illustrate a variety of influences with him channeling a bit of Rob Zombie in this, his latest film. It’s off the wall and sometimes brutally violent and has a good cast to make it work very well. A fun and demented little movie, that while not completely original, amuses with a healthy dose of bullets, blood and weirdness.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets.

ex2 rating

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