HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SPUTNIK (2020)

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SPUTNIK (2020)

Russian sci-fi/horror takes place in 1983 with a Soviet spacecraft finishing it’s mission and about to begin re-entry to Earth. Something impacts the ship and when it does land, one of the cosmonauts is dead and the other taken to a military instillation. Neurophysiologist Tatyana Yuryevna Klimova (Oksana Akinshina) is called in to examine the surviving Cosmonaut Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov), who is suffering from amnesia about the incident. To her horror, Tatyana soon discovers that Konstantin did not return alone. There is an alien creature living inside him that comes out once a night to feed…and what it is being fed is the worst nightmare of all.

Film is very effectively directed by Egor Abramenko from a script by Oleg Malovichko and Andrei Zolotarev. There will be comparisons to Alien, but they aren’t as many as one might initially expect. The creature here is using Konstantin as a space suit, technically and has formed a symbiotic relationship with the cosmonaut, who is at first thought to be oblivious to his internal guest. There are some clever explanations as to how the creature exits his body without causing harm and goes back in when done with it’s meals. There are some disturbing reveals about just how much Konstantin knows about what his symbiote is up to when it exits and just what their “relationship” is exactly. The most Alien of Sputnik’s plot elements is what the villainous Colonel Semiradov (Fyodor Bondarchuk) is planning to do with the creature and Konstantin. No spoiler there, as what else do these guys plan to do with dangerous biological entities in these movies. There are some subplots which give Tatyana and Konstantin some emotional depth, though Semiradov remains a stereotypical military bad guy with opportunistic and power hungry plans. There is a lot of blood and gore spilled to satisfy the horror crowd, some nice tension and suspense and the Russian locations are very atmospheric. The creature’s design is a little different and comes across more Cloverfield than H.R. Giger, which helps distance it from the 1979 Ridley Scott classic even more. The creature is given a lethality and a viciousness, yet there are hints of an intelligence beyond what it shares with it’s cosmonaut sleeping bag. An effective beastie!

The cast is small in terms of leads but good. Oksana Akinshina is a very likable heroine as Tatyana. She strong and clever and sympathetic to Konstantin’s plight. Add to that, her horror over what Semiradov is doing and planning, is enough for her to risk her own life to stop him. She’s also not perfect, as the opening moments reveal. Pyotr Fyodorov is solid as Konstantin. The character is interesting and not completely portrayed as a victim, so much, but possibly someone accepting this as his fate for some selfish decisions. Some nice depth here for the character. Rounding out is Fyodor Bondarchuk as a classic military bad guy. He’s very effective in the part, even if it is a bit two-dimensional and familiar. Lastly is Anton Vasiliev as Yan Rigel, a scientist too afraid to speak out against what he’s seen, though he does have a nice…and not all that surprising…change of heart in the last act.

All in all, Sputnik was an entertaining science fiction/horror that evokes the classic Alien, but not as much as one might expect. There are some similar plot elements, but Sputnik is it’s own thing and tells it’s own story. There are the classic tropes of military bad guys, sympathetic scientists and of course, a person caught in-between. We have an interesting and threatening alien creature and there is plenty of blood and body parts spread about when the beast is on the loose from his human host. A solid and entertaining flick that may evoke Alien, but never feels like it’s copying or ripping it off. Available on streaming formats from IFC Midnight!

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 (out of 4) Sputniks!

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE RENTAL (2020)

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THE RENTAL (2020)

Flick has two couples, Charlie and his wife Michelle (Dan Stevens and Alison Brie) and his brother Josh and girlfriend Mina (Jeremy Allen White and Sheila Vand) renting a remote oceanside house for the weekend. Things get off to a tense start when Mina accuses handyman/house owner Taylor (Toby Huss) of being a racist and as Mina and Charlie are business partners, there is tension between them of the sexual kind. Add to that, a mysterious individual is watching the couples from without and within the house and it’s a recipe for a weekend of infidelity, betrayal, violence and murder.

Flick is the debut feature from actor/director Dave Franco from his script with Joe Swanberg. It’s an atmospheric but bland mix of genres and sub-genres that never really grabs hold of you. We get a slasher flick, mixed with a stalker/voyeur flick, mixed with a ‘self-centered yuppies try to cover up a death to save their selfish asses’ flick and none of these elements are engrossing, nor is the mash-up itself one that is put together with much cleverness. Taken as a whole, or in it’s genre/sub-genre parts, it’s all very flat and routine. Mix in the fact that none of the characters are particularly likable and there is no one to care about or root for, either. They are all self-absorbed and seem to have little problem cheating on, lying to and backstabbing each other. Once the stalker and slasher element kicks in, we really don’t care if any of them fall victim to his hammer. We don’t care if he uses his acquired footage to turn them against each other, either. Besides, why go through all trouble manipulating them if you’re just going to hunt them down and try to kill them regardless? Even the victim whose death the four are trying to cover up…in a sub-plot that adds nothing and doesn’t further the story any…isn’t particularly likable. The dog Reggie (Chunk) is the only character we do like and even he conveniently disappears for most of the last act. There is some graphic violence and some bland shower sex and overall, this is simply a very routine and forgettable flick beneath the sumptuous cinematography and a bit of atmosphere in the last act.

The cast are solid enough in their parts, but, again, none of the characters are particularly likable. Stevens’ Charlie is a bit full of himself and is apparently a cheater and does so as Michelle sleeps in the next room. Alison Brie’s Michelle is a bit of a prissy whiner, even before she has to deal with infidelity and a dead body. Josh seems like a stereotypical hotheaded punk and while White is fine in the role, he comes across as a jerk, especially when he outs Charlie to Michelle about his cheating ways. Vand is possibly the most likable, as the feisty Mina, but she looses any sympathy when she cheats on Josh with Charlie. Even Toby Huss’ homeowner Taylor is accused of being a creep and a racist, so we don’t endear to him either, even when he gets caught in the middle of couples and killer…which is no spoiler, as it is obvious from the start that Taylor isn’t our stalker. No strong suspicion is ever set up. As for the killer, he doesn’t generate enough menace to make an impression and is given no personality. Even the climactic coda has been done before and is nowhere near as unsettling as it’s meant to be. Again, bland.

Franco shows he can give a flick a little mood and atmosphere and has a good visual eye, but needs to come up with a better script and story to put that to good use. This flick is a ho-hum mash-up of routine elements, some that don’t even really seem to serve the story much. Why pit the couples against one another with infidelity and the murder cover-up, only to have them stalked indeterminately by the killer anyway? It seems like filler and a waste of time. Overall a very flat and routine thriller from Dave Franco and IFC Midnight.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) shower heads complete with spy camera.

 

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BARE BONES: RELIC (2020)

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RELIC (2020)

Australian flick finds Kay (Emily Mortimer) journeying to see her elderly mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) in her large, decrepit, old house in the countryside. Along with Kay is her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) and when they arrive, Edna is nowhere to be found. The house is a mold-filled, mess and filled with ominous notes. When Edna does turn up, she can’t rememeber where she was and appears to be suffering from dementia. The longer the women stay with her, though, the more it seems there may be something else effecting Edna, as this house has a past that may still be haunting it.

As directed by Natalie Erika James from her script with Christian White, this is a very atmospheric, creepy and sometimes sad movie that may be a horror on the outside, but is also a tale about watching a loved one age and their health deteriorate. Sure there is something supernatural going on, with the tales of a cabin that once stood on the property and the ominous fate of past relatives, but it’s also a heart-touching drama about having to deal with watching someone you love approaching death. It works well as both and while it starts out as a slow burn, Relic turns up the scares and horror elements full blast for it’s intense and chilling last act. Maybe not everything is explained outright and it does evoke The Taking of Deborah Logan at times, but it works with some details kept ambiguous and it successfully spooks and scares, while also telling of a very real part of life we all must face. A very effective feature debut from Natalie Erika James, a talented filmmaker to keep an eye on. Flick is available on streaming networks from IFC Midnight.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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IFC MIDNIGHT’S “THE WRETCHED” RULES THE BOX OFFICE!

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IFC MIDNIGHT’S THE WRETCHED RULES THE BOX OFFICE FOR THE FOURTH STRAIGHT WEEK!

During the current state of various lockdowns only a few drive-ins around the country are open for business and one film playing many of those drive-ins is IFC Midnight’s The Wretched! As a result, this indie horror film has ruled the box office for four straight weeks! With the recent re-opening of more drive-ins, The Wretched  expanded it’s screen total and brought in $236,334 for this past Memorial Day weekend, bringing it’s box office total to $598,943 as of 5/25/2020. Not bad for a movie released during a pandemic! For our review of The Wretched click HERE!

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source: Box Office Mojo

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE WRETCHED (2020)

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THE WRETCHED (2020)

Latest horror from IFC Midnight opens 35 year in the past, where a babysitter (Sydne Mikelle) walks into something horrible, thus setting the mood for what is to come. The film then brings us to the present where teen Ben (John-Paul Howard from 14 Cameras and Snatchers) is going to live with his father Liam (Jamison Jones) in a remote lakeside town for the summer. His parents are separated and dad even has a new girlfriend, Sara (Azie Tesfai). His parent’s impending divorce is the least of his problems, though, as a witch has taken the form of the neighbor next door (Zarah Mahler) and she is not happy that she’s gotten Ben’s attention…but, who’ll believe him?

The Wretched is written and directed by The Pierce Brothers, Drew and Brett, and if it sounds like Fright Night meets The Witch, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As with Charlie Brewster’s situation, we know from the start that there really is a witch, or Wretch (Madelynn Stuenkel) as she is listed in the credits, and a creepy wretch she is. Her true form is unsettling and much like her fairy tale counterparts, she likes to eat children and influences those around her to hide her creepy activities. Obviously, Ben is having a hard time convincing anyone his neighbor is a supernatural creature, even cute teen Mallory (Piper Curda), who has caught his eye, is highly skeptical. Ben’s behavior, as of late, hasn’t been exemplary and this is just seen as another bad reaction to his parents separation. There are some spooky moments, as The Wretch stalks her prey and closes in on Ben, and there is some very effective gore and make-up FX throughout. If there is anything on the downside here, it’s that the film never gets really scary or intense till the last act, when Ben is forced to confront his nemesis head on. It’s still a fun horror movie and not without some chills in the meantime. It also has a couple of nice twists, some unselling atmosphere and the Pierce’s have a great visual eye for horror aesthetics. We may have seen the twig and bone sculptures before, but they are still effective here. The occasional violence is equally effective, because it is used sparingly and has impact when it does occur. The film looks great. The Pierces are Michigan natives and utilize the Omena and Northport Village, Michigan locations very well to give the film a refreshing look as to it’s settings. The cinematography by Conor Murphy is excellent, especially in the supernatural scenes and the score by Devin Burrows suits the film very well.

The film is very well cast. John-Paul Howard is really good as our lead. He’s a likable teen and even if he is troubled and his parents separation is getting the best of him, we sympathize and still like him. A good performance, as Howard carries a lot of the film. Piper Curda is cute and spunky as Mallory. She’s sweet, but has a nice sarcastic sense of humor. Jamison Jones is solid as Ben’s dad. He’s trying to be understanding to Ben’s behavior, but at the same time, wants him to accept the way things are and adjust. Zarah Mahler is very good as hot mom next door turned witch Abbie. She’s sexy and and a little eccentric before The Wretch wears her skin, and can crank up the spooky once she does. Rounding out the main players, Azie Tesfai is good as the girlfriend caught in the middle of family drama, Sara, and one must mention Madelynn Stuenkel, who effectively performs under SPFX make-up as The Wretch in true form. The supporting cast including the kids are all good, here. Good cast.

This flick may not be quite as scary as we wanted and we have seen this story before, but there is still a lot to entertain here. It’s a fun horror, has some very spooky sequences and The Pierces know the tropes and aesthetics of this type of flick and use them well. The make-up and gore FX are very effective and the cast all perform their parts nicely. Add to that a spooky visual style and some great, fresh locations and The Wretched is a fun and recommended horror flick from directors to keep an eye on. Now available on Amazon Prime.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 (out of 4) candles, which no witch alter would be complete without.

 

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: DISAPPEARANCE AT CLIFTON HILL (2019)

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 DISAPPEARANCE AT CLIFTON HILL (2019)

Canadian mystery opens with a family outing at a lake where little Abby (Mikayla Radan) thinks she’s witnessed a kidnapping. Twenty-five years later, an adult Abby (Tuppence Middleton) returns to Niagara Falls to receive her inheritance, after the death of her mother. Still haunted by what she saw, she begins to investigate. Abby finds a young boy (Colin McLeod) did disappear around that time, though the case was strangely determined a suicide, even without a body. Now Abby teams with a local conspiracy theorist (David Cronenberg) and starts digging into the town’s past to find out the truth…and there are some that may not like the past being disturbed.

Offbeat, indie mystery is well directed by Albert Shin from his script with James Schultz. It’s not your run-of-the-mill mystery, as Abby has her own issues and there are reasons her sister (Hannah Gross from Joker), or the police, aren’t in a hurry to believe her. There is a web of intrigue, she is slowly unraveling, that involves a local businessman (Eric Johnson), a shady couple (Elizabeth Saunders and Maxwell McCabe-Lokos) and the boy’s own parents, The Moulins (Marie-Josée Croze and Paulino Nunes), who are famous area magicians. Just when we…and Abby…think we have all the answers, Shin pulls the rug out from under us and changes our entire perception of the whos, whats, and whys. Like the Moulin’s act, nothing is as it appears. It’s methodically paced and moody, but the performances are very good, especially from lead Tuppence Middleton and David Cronenberg, who is usually behind the camera. The characters are refreshingly eclectic. Not perfect, but engaging and keeps you involved in Abby’s investigation. Available on streaming outlets such as Amazon Prime and Vudu.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S 15 CABIN IN THE WOODS HORRORS!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S 15 CABIN IN THE WOODS HORRORS!

The Granddaddy of the modern cabin in the woods horror, Evil Dead 1981!

Despite being a horror film no-no, folks are always vacationing in, or moving into, remote cabins or houses in the woods. Win, win for us horror movie fans, as this almost always means bad news for the occupants! So…here are 15 such chillers, that can be found on various streaming outlets such as iTunes, Hulu, Vudu, Amazon, Tubi, Google Play, Netflix and Youtube Movies. Just Google the title and they’ll tell you where it’s available and how much to rent, if it applies!

 

Here are three old school honorable mentions that were remote house/cabin flicks before it was cool!

Decades later, no one has learned from the movies!…as Evil Dead 2013‘s bunch will soon find out!

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(To get to the reviews of the titles listed above covered here at the Movie Madhouse, just type the title in the search engine to find the corresponding critique!)

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: RADIOFLASH (2019)

 

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RADIOFLASH (2019)

Radioflash is another term for an EMP…electromagnetic pulse…an event which begins our story. When the power is knocked out, civilized behavior quickly becomes fear and panic and survivalist Frank (Will Patton) begs his teen granddaughter Reese (Brighton Sharbino) and her father Chris (Dominic Monaghan) to join him in the safety of his secluded house, deep in the mountains. The trip is treacherous and an unfortunate series of events finds Reese all alone. As the young girl runs afoul of murderous looters and a strange backwoods, mountain family, her concerned grandfather sets out to track his loved ones down.

Survival drama is directed by Ben McPherson from a script by he and Matt Redhawk. It’s a somber and low key film about a young girl trying to survive two harsh worlds, one created by a catastrophic event and the other that may have always been there. It’s well done and somewhat involving, but never really grabs us, or seems to really go anywhere. It’s refreshing to not have zombies or fetishistic biker gangs, in this kind of scenario, but it could have used a little more dramatic weight. It’s a little too laid back for it’s own good. Both the selfishness of people in panic and the weird rural mountain folk are both familiar elements at this point, but still work in the context of the story. It’s a bit questionable, though, that cellphones and laptops would still work after the EMP. Brighton Sharbino does make for a likable heroine, as the resourceful Reese and Fionnula Flanagan, Michael Filipowich and Kyle Collin are effective as the mountain clan that want to make Reese one of their own…whether she likes it or not. Well directed, but could have used a bit more intensity.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S 20 REASONS IFC MIDNIGHT HAS DELIVERED A DECADE OF HORROR!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S 20 REASONS IFC MIDNIGHT HAS DELIVERED A DECADE OF HORROR!

IFC Midnight was created by IFC Films in 2010 as a distributor for their horror movie releases. They have been going strong for ten years, now delivering dozens of genre flicks! So, without further ado, here are twenty reasons why it’s been a decade of horror, because of the great folks at IFC Midnight! Their movies can be found on various streaming or VOD outlets!

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(To get to the reviews of the titles listed above covered here at the Movie Madhouse, just type the title in the search engine to find the corresponding critique!)

-MonsterZero NJ

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IFC MIDNIGHT’S “THE WRETCHED” GETS A TRAILER and POSTER!

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Theaters may be shut down, but VOD is still going strong. As streaming and in-demand is a common release platform for IFC Midnight, their new releases will keep coming. Today the trailer and poster for The Wretched debuted and it looks like a creepy tale of something sinister going on in a small rural town. The flick is scheduled to premier on digital streaming and VOD on May 1st and is written and directed by the sibling duo of Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce. The film stars John-Paul Howard, Piper Curda, Zarah Mahler and Kevin Bigley. Check the trailer below! Spooky stuff on the way from IFC Midnight!…

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-MonsterZero NJ

Source: youtube/IFC Midnight

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