REVIEW: ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

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ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

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The third time is the charm, as the latest Annabelle flick is a haunted house roller coaster ride of scares, fun and thrills! The film starts off from the opening scene of The Conjuring with paranormal investigators Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick WIlson) Warren, bringing the haunted doll home and placing it in their room of haunted and cursed objects, locked inside a blessed glass cathedral case. They have to go away overnight and leave their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace), who has inherited some of her mother’s psychic abilities, with pretty babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Mary Ellen’s feisty friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) comes over, too, and despite warnings, goes into the forbidden room of haunted and curse objects, in the hopes of contacting her dead father. Annabelle is released from her prison and a sleepover becomes a nightmare, as the demonic doll lets all the malevolent spirits loose with the three girls trapped inside the house.

This is how you make a haunted house movie! Gary Dauberman hits a grand slam his first time at bat as the writer and director of this threequel. He has written for The Conjuring Universe before, but shows he knows how to direct horror, too, with this delightfully old fashioned scare-fest. Dauberman uses some very atmospheric camera work, in-camera practical effects, some very well built tension and suspense, along with some outright goose-bump inducing scares, to deliver simply one of the best haunted house movies since Poltergeist..the 1982 original, that is. His script cleverly gets the adult Warrens out of the house and using some classic horror tropes turns an already spooky home in a nightmare for the three young ladies trapped inside. There are a few jump scares, but only to climax some expertly built tension while his camera turns every shadow into the potential hiding place for something evil. Anything could come from anywhere at anytime and it keeps one constantly on edge. The room of haunted objects is wisely a focus and Dauberman milks all the chilling tchotchke for all it’s worth. Despite conjuring some Carpenter level scares, it’s the emotional depth that really makes it work. The girls are all three dimensional characters. Judy is a very likable kid, who’s “spooky” parents have earned her outcast status at school, with Mary Ellen being her only real friend. Mary Ellen is a sweet and very endearing young lady and one who is very brave when tasked with protecting Judy. Her tenderness and protectiveness towards the Warren’s daughter really makes her someone whose wellbeing you care about. Daniela could have been a stereotype ‘bad girl”, but Dauberman gives her a sympathetic and sweet core under the mischievous veneer. Her inner pain over the death of her father gives her a very sympathetic and endearing quality, even if this mess is kinda her fault. Add to it all that, that the writer/director, having put you through a last act ringer, gives us a nice cool down with a very sweet climax that works far better than it should being this is a intense horror flick. Very Spielbergian.

The cast are wonderful here and really bring the scripted characters to life. Farmiga and Wilson are basically just there at the beginning and end, but have really locked these characters down. Regardless of what you think of the real Warrens, their cinematic counterparts are quite the likable duo. Mckenna Grace handles the lead like a pro. She really makes us feel Judy’s loneliness due to the reputation caused by her parents line of work and the emotional turmoil caused by inheriting her mother’s abilities. Obviously, the demonic spirit in Annabelle, targets her. Madison Iseman continues to impress as an actress. She takes the stereotypical babysitter and gives her a very endearing personality and imbuing her with a very natural sweetness in her caring for Judy. She’s also brave and resilient when Annabelle’s demonic entity unleashes all the other spirits, including a particularly spooky entity that sets it’s sights on the babysitter. Iseman has a natural girl-next-door presence and she really makes this character three dimensional. Same could be said of Katie Sarife as Daniela. Her character is more the mischievous bad girl, but Sarife really makes her a bit complex as inside she is in pain over the death of her father and it motivates some of the bad decisions she makes. She wants to talk to her father one last time. She is also very sweet at heart, especially when it comes to Judy. Makes for a very un-stereotypical classic character. All three young actresses share great chemistry, which makes their on-screen relationships gel realistically. Lastly, is Michael Cimino as Bob, a nice boy who has a crush on Mary Ellen. Their awkward and sweet conversation scene, when he comes over to the Warren’s to see her, has such a natural feel to it. A perfect example of a good script meeting a good cast.

This movie gave continual goose-bumps to a man who has literally been watching horror movies for half a century. It proves when a talented director pushes all the right buttons, and in the right ways, old tropes can become solid scares. We have a nice build to the story and given time to get to know some well-rounded and likable characters, all the while the tension is simmering with it. We are then thrown into a literal fun house of horrors, as all hell breaks loose in the last act. Along the way Dauberman proves subtle nuances can be just as scary as grotesque phantoms and nothing makes the scares stronger than a solid emotional center to all the supernatural hijinx. An incredibly impressive directorial debut from Gary Dauberman who delivers one of the scariest flicks in quite some time and yet one with some surprisingly sweet and sentimental moments that mix far better than one might expect. Evoking Carpenter and Spielberg at their best in your first flick is quite an accomplishment.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) Annabelles.

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BARE BONES: THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA (2019)

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THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA (2019)

Supernatural horror takes place in 1973 with widowed social worker Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) looking into the death of two children, from one of her cases. Their mother (Patricia Velásquez) claims it was La Llorona, The Weeping Woman, who murdered her children and they are dead because of Anna’s interference. Anna discovers that La Llorona is from Mexican folklore, a woman in the 1600s who got revenge on a cheating husband by murdering her own children and then killing herself. Distraught with guilt, her spirit is now said to seek out other children to kill to take the place of her own. Whether the folktale is true or not, a dark force is now stalking Anna and her own kids (Roman Christou and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen). Is the spirit of La Llorona real and out to get Anna’s offspring?

Generic horror flick is directed by Michael Chaves from a routine script by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis. Mexican folklore base could have been interesting had there been a more involving movie built around it, or a better use of that folklore. Flick centers on the usual, vengeful, sinister specter surrounded by dark cinematography, flickering lights and an abundance of jump scares. The lead character, Anna, is the cliché skeptic who is forced to go to someone of faith and supernatural belief (Raymond Cruz) for help. There is even an exorcism of sorts in the last act. Chaves tries to build atmosphere and Cardellini gives it her all, as the frightened Anna, but this is just too familiar to really evoke solid scares. It follows the recent template for mainstream supernatural horror to the letter and does nothing innovative or intriguing with it. While it also lacks the over-the-top fun of last years The Nun, this was still another box office hit for producer James Wan and his Conjuring universe, which this film is thinly linked to by the appearance of Annabelle‘s Father Perez (Tony Amendola).

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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REVIEW: AQUAMAN (2018)

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AQUAMAN (2018)

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DC comics flick is a mixed bag finding our aquatic hero (Jason Momoa) coming up against his half-brother King Orm of Atlantis (Patrick Wilson). The power and conquest hungry Orm wants to take control of all the undersea kingdoms and then use their combined might to lay waste to the surface world. Princess Mera (Amber Heard) of the undersea kingdom of Xebel defies her father (Dolph Lundgren) to warn Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman and inform him that if he retrieves the Trident of Atlan, he will have the power to stop Orm and take his rightful place as king. Standing in his way is a modern day pirate with Atlantean tech and a personal grudge against Aquaman, The Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Superhero flick is directed by James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring) from a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, based on a story by Wan, Beall and Geoff Johns. The flick is a bit of a mess, that bites off more than it can chew, though it can be a fun mess at times. The negative points are a thin story that gets poor development as the film steamrolls ahead from one set-piece to another. From the flashback meeting of Arthur’s mother Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and his lighthouse keeper father,Thomas (Temuera Morrison), to Arthur’s first meeting/fight with Orm, to a massive undersea battle, a lot goes on in this flick. Somewhere in between all this, the film stops and goes on a Tomb Raider style quest for the trident…wasn’t that the plot of the latest Pirates of the Caribbean flick?…and then finally back to Aquaman vs Orm, the rematch. It gives the film a choppy feeling for the first hour, or so, before it settles down a bit in the last act. None of the characters get proper development, especially Black Manta, whose sub-plot could have been eliminated completely with no harm done. At least we already met Arthur in Justice League…and, by the way, where were his League pals as this was a global destruction situation. The good points are that some of the action set pieces are quite fun and Wan has a great visual eye, so the film looks sumptuous and spectacular. The undersea kingdoms are amazing, there is a stunning Star Wars-esque underwater battle at it’s climax and the film has a lot of cool creatures. The cast all get the material and play their roles with the right tone and if the story was more involving, this might have been a bit more memorable, which sadly it’s not. A good time was had overall, though it didn’t resonate once the theater lights came up.

Back to the cast, Wan has assembled a top notch one. Momoa has locked it in as Aquaman and the character has never been cooler. His bad-ass surfer boy take works very well as a modern incarnation of the DC hero and Momoa has the charm and sense of humor to overcome the thin script. Amber Heard is beautiful and resourceful as Mera. She is a strong character and is not played as a damsel and Heard makes a solid heroine out of her. Patrick Wilson is a pleasant surprise as the vengeful King Orm. Wilson is usually cast in the straight-laced good guy role and here he chews up the seaweed and scenery with just enough restraint to keep Orm from flipping over into camp. He’s a better villain than Justice’s Steppenwolf and Wonder Woman’s Ares. Rounding out the supporting cast is Nicole Kidman as a noble Queen Atlanna, Willem Dafoe as Vulko, Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as David Kane/Black Manta and Temuera Morrison as Arthur’s dad. All do good work in their roles and help keep this bloated flick from sinking.

So, Aquaman is a bit of a mess and DC still has a way to go to catch up to Marvel and set it’s cinematic universe right. The story here is thin and underdeveloped due to filmmakers being too overeager to do too many things in one film. There’s globe hopping adventure, epic undersea battles, a quest for a mystical object and a superhero battling to save the world and find his destiny. All we needed was a musical number. It has a solid cast, who get the material and a director who knows theatricality and how to make it look gorgeous. In lesser hands this might of been an awful mess, but Wan makes it an entertaining one. Overall, it’s a step back from Wonder Woman, but two steps ahead over the disappointing Justice League and the bloated Batman v Superman.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 tridents.

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE NUN (2018)

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THE NUN (2018)

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The Nun is the latest film in The Conjuring film series now referred to as “The Conjuring Universe”. The film explores the origins of the demonic nun that plagued the Warrens in Conjuring 2 and is a spooky fun entry in a series that, up till now, has taken itself a bit too seriously at times. The story opens in 1952 where a veteran priest, Father Burke (Demián Bichir) is asked by the Vatican to travel to Romania to investigate the suicide of a nun at a remote Abbey. He is asked to bring along young Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) who is about to take her vows to join the sisterhood. There they find that the locals think the place is cursed and maybe with good reason as the Abbey is housed in the castle of a duke who used to perform occult ceremonies. Something evil he conjured has been reawakened and now needs a human host to escape. It’s focused on Irene and so she, Burke and a French-Canadian migrant named Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), must find a way to send this demon in nun’s clothing (Bonnie Aarons) back to the hell it came from before it releases it’s bad habits upon an unsuspecting world.

Flick is directed by Corin Hardy (The Hallow) from a script and story by James Wan and Gary Dauberman. Hardy brings loads of atmosphere and some incredibly spooky visuals to the proceedings. The man knows how a Gothic horror should look. He manages some spooky scenes and delivers loads of nods to other movies such as Fulci’s City of the Living Dead, Raimi’s Evil Dead and at times it even evoked the Blind Dead series and obviously, some of the nun themed horrors out of Europe in 70s, like Jess Franco’s The Demons. It’s never truly scary, even if it does play it’s story straight, but it’s fun in that it throws it’s familiar tropes at us fast and furious and mixes and uses them quite well. We get frightened villagers, ominous woods, exorcisms, fog strewn graveyards, re-animated corpses, folks buried alive and more crosses than you can shake at a demonic nun. We do find out who the demon in question is and why it’s here, but other than liking the style or mocking it’s prey, it’s never clear why it prefers to dress like a nun. But with all the spooky goings on, do we really need to know? What the heck…It works. By the rolling of the credits a good time has been had and the film does gives us that vital link to the Warrens that makes the Conjuring connection. After the holy smoke clears we haven’t seen anything new, but are amused by the way Corin Hardy took all the familiar tropes and ran with them…and run with them he does. He also had good support from Maxime Alexandre’s sumptuous cinematography and a really Gothic score by Abel Korzeniowski.

The cast work well, especially young Taissa Farmiga as Sister Irene. She portrays well a young woman of the cloth whose faith and strength are tested against something not even The Bible has prepared her for. She’s a good actress much like her older sister Vera Farmiga from The Conjuring films. She makes for a good heroine. Demián Bichir is good as the priest with a past. He has a grizzled demeanor and a gravelly voice which essays a man who has seen a lot in his lifetime and experienced some harsh events. Of course the demon uses those events from his past against him and it makes things interesting. Jonas Bloquet is OK as the French Canadian Maurice or ‘Frenchie’ as he is known to the locals. He has some of the weakest lines and his character disappears for a long stretch, so his character development is the weakest. Rounding out is Bonnie Aarons as our demonic nun Valak, and she is effective under the make-up and CGI, but never appears long enough to really chill us like she should.

Not being the biggest fan of this Conjuring Universe, the general opinion is that they run hot and cold with the original The Conjuring still being the most effective of the lot, with Annabelle: Creation and now The Nun being the more enjoyable spin-offs. The Nun is full of things we’ve seen before, but mixes them well and serves them up at a rapid pace with some real nice atmospheric and visual support from director Corin Hardy. It’s played straight, but one can tell Hardy is having fun throwing all the crosses, headstones, spooks and specters at us and the film is more self aware and a bit less serious than it’s predecessors in this series…and that’s a good thing. Spooky fun.

For those who haven’t seen Corin Hardy’s first film The Hallow, I recommend you check it out! -MZNJ

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 demonic nuns.

 

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017)

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ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017)

Annabelle was a terrible movie spun off from the first Conjuring film in an attempt to squeeze more cash out of fans of that series and it was painfully obvious. It made money though and if it worked once, why not try again. So now we have a prequel to a spin-off, but this time that’s not such a bad thing. Flick opens 24 years before Annabelle with the Mullins family (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto) losing their daughter Annabelle (Samara Lee) in a terrible accident. Twelve years later, they decide to turn their spacious farmhouse into an orphanage…which makes sense, right? But when lonely, lame Janice (Talitha Bateman) goes into Annabelle’s old room, she finds a creepy doll hidden in a locked closet…and upon opening the door, unleashes something evil that may cost all of them their lives.

This film is loaded with all the haunted house/Conjuring films clichés, but the difference maker is they are used very well by Lights Out director David Sandberg. The script by Gary Dauberman presents all the expected tropes one expects from a haunted house/possessed object movie, but that just gives Sandberg a chance to use them as they are meant to be and provides us with some very creepy and sometimes outright scary moments. Some of it does get a bit over-the-top and there are glaring questions like why the possessed doll wasn’t buried out in a field somewhere and why the Mullins’ brought children into a house that had a demon possessed doll as a tenant. But we do get some answers…if one really cares to ask…about how the doll became all things evil and the cast is very good, including the kids. A spooky and sometimes scary flick, despite being derivative and predictable, thanks to a talented up and coming director.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE CONJURING 2 (2016)

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THE CONJURING 2 (2016)

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I’ll start off by saying that I do think James Wan is a good director. But Wan just seems to be making the same haunted house movie over and over again and still makes the mistake of going all theatrical in his second act when subtle was working far spookier. Sequel to Wan’s overrated hit The Conjuring starts out with real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) investigating the famous Amityville haunting. While Lorraine suffers a horrifying vision that makes her question what she’s doing, a single mother (Francis O’Connor) and her kids in Enfield, England start to have things go bump in the night. The church asks the ghost hunting couple to travel to England to establish a validity to the Hodgson family story, while Lorraine is being haunted by a frightening specter of her own.

As with most of Wan’s horror flicks the initial set-up works well and actually has some really spooky sequences. There are some nice scares in the first hour before the Warrens travel to England, with the Enfield haunting escalating and Lorraine seeing a malevolent entity in her own home. We get to know this family very well and do start to endear to them, much like we do Ed and Lorraine. Regardless of what you think of the real Warrens’ paranormal escapades, their cinematic counterparts are likable movie characters. Visually the film is well designed, too. Wan has a good eye and choses more muted shades of blue/grey this time, where his Insidious flicks were more colorful and The Conjuring used more faded shades of brown. It suits the building mood, setting and atmosphere well. It also gives the film it’s own look, which is pretty much the only thing new here. The movie starts to run into trouble though, with simply being far too long. At 134 minutes, the flick gets very tedious and it’s middle section drags with only the occasional scare…mostly of the jump variety as Wan seems to rely more on those in the second half than the tension he built in the first half. It kills his chilling momentum as the film’s moderate pace really works against it at this point. For his climax, we again get all theatrical, cliché and over-the-top with thunder and lightening, levitations, yellow contact lenses, growling voices and the now trademarked Wan snarling demon enjoying the effects of their carnage. While we are spared an actual exorcism, we still get pretty much the same end to almost all his supernatural flicks and as with those, he looses his grip with all the mechanically paraded out tropes…twice familiar now for being used repeatedly in Wan’s films, as well as supernatural horrors in general. Like I said in my opening statement, it’s like he’s making the same movie over and over again.

One familiar element that is welcome in Wan’s films is he gets good work from his actors. The cast are really good here and help keep our interest on the story despite being routine. Wilson and Farmiga really have locked in their interpretation of the Warrens and have a good chemistry together. O’Connor is very good as the hysterical mother, though it is young Madison Wolfe who really impresses as 11 year-old Janet. She is the object of the evil presence’s attention and portrays her torment well for a kid. There is a large supporting cast, including Run Lola Run’s Franka Potente, who all do well portraying people from the actual investigation. A nice touch has pictures of the cast in character posted next to the actual individuals during the closing credits.

Much like the familiarity in Wan’s movies, my review’s for them are getting equally familiar. Once again Wan shines in the first half with some legitimate scares and thick spooky atmosphere. He then gives us a bloated middle that plods along, dissipating the atmosphere he built so well early on. He wraps it up with a very theatrical and over-the-top finale, with all the well worn tropes present…yet none of the actual scares he gave us in the more involving and chilling first half. Wan is a good director…but one whose overindulgence and adhering to the same tired formula keeps his flicks from being really special and completely satisfying.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 spooks

paranormal activity 5 rating

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DEMONIC (2015)

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DEMONIC (2015)

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Demonic is a supernatural thriller produced by James (The Conjuring) Wan and set in an abandoned house were a grisly massacre took place. In 1988 Martha Livingston had a group of friends over for a seance, which ended in her murdering all but one of them before killing herself. It was believed to be part of some satanic ceremony and the house has been empty since. The film opens with detective Mark Lewis (Frank Grillo) discovering the bodies of a paranormal investigation team inside the house with one, John (Dustin Milligan), still alive and two others missing. Now, along with police psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Klein (Maria Bello) the detective must try to pice together what happened, who did this and where the missing team members are.

Flick is written by director Will Canon along with Doug Simon and Max La Bella and moves back and forth between days earlier and present time to piece together what happened. It follows the paranormal team as they enter the house and start to discover something is not right there, to Lewis and Klein trying to get answers out of the dazed and confused John and from the evidence collected by the team. While the film is never particularly scary or offers anything we haven’t seen before, Canon does direct competently and the police investigation angle works well enough. The film really loses it’s grip in the last act, though, where it goes a little overboard and gets a bit silly and very cliché. The more subtle approach was working better and when the film goes all The Omen, it induces eye rolling instead of goosebumps. The flick did have some spooky moments and the house setting is creepy, but Canon and company opt for a more outlandish wrap-up and one we have seen countless times before. Too bad, as the film is somewhat entertaining till then and on a production level, it’s well made.

The cast is a mixed bag. Frank Grillo is strong as Det. Lewis and he is one of the reasons the film is as enjoyable as it is. He is a veteran detective faced with something out of his element in terms of the occult and supernatural and he is trying to make sense of a very unusual crime. Grillo creates a very likable character and conveys his frustration well. Bello is also strong as Dr. Klein. She is trying to get answers out of John through psychological means and the answers she is getting, puzzle and frighten her. Bello also creates a strong and likable character here. Sadly Dustin Milligan and the rest of the paranormal crew are kind of bland and are generic egotistical young hot shots. None of them are really that memorable or as strong as the veteran performers.

I was never bored by this and for the first two thirds was reasonably amused. We have a familiar story with some very common elements for this kind of tale, but early on they are used competently. The movie is never scary, but it had a few spooky moments until the filmmakers went all cliché in the last act and lost what grip they had. The film is elevated by the performances of two veteran actors, but at the same time, our younger leads are bland and forgettable. As a mild diversion it works fine, but overall very familiar, ultimately unremarkable and didn’t know enough to keep it subtle, which was working.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

2 and 1/2 axes, as veteran actors Grillo and Bello earn some extra points for this.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DEAD SILENCE (2007)

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DEAD SILENCE (2007)

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With Insidious: Chapter 3 out in theaters now, I thought I’d post a short review for the James Wan/Leigh Whannell collaboration Dead Silence that I had written before I started The Movie Madhouse

Dead Silence is filled with spooky atmosphere and great cinematography as director James Wan has a sumptuous visual style. The problem here is that Wan is a little too deliberate and obvious in the use of the classic horror trappings. He’s a little too in your face with the spooky stuff where a little more mystery and a little more patience with delivering the goods would have helped make this scarier. Wan let’s his horror elements out of the box immediately and then parades them out in the open where a little lurking in the shadows would have worked in the film’s favor. We know from the first scene that there is something evil about Billy the doll so, after a half hour in, nothing from it surprises or scares us anymore. We also know what’s going on from early on, too, so, there’s little suspense. Wan…who works from a screenplay by Leigh Whannell…is a good director who got a little too giddy with his first straight horror after directing the original and best of the Saw films. Saw showed us Wan can give us mystery, suspense and can make us wait to the right moment to hit us with the surprises. Too bad he got a little over enthusiastic here…though some fault must be given to Leigh Whannell’s over-anxious screenplay, too. Wan’s more recent horrors, Insidious and The Conjuring show he’s learned his lesson to a good degree though he still has a habit of getting a bit over-theatrical when more subtle touches were working a lot better. Dead Silence stars Ryan Kwanten, Amber Valletta and Donnie Wahlberg. Definitely still worth a look!

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 Billys.

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REVIEW: INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015)

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INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015)

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Series writer and star Leigh Whannell admirably takes over the directing reigns for this third installment. Instead of picking up where the second film left off, this film takes place a few years before the Lambert haunting that was the subject of the first two movies. It starts with a young girl, Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) seeking help from Elise (Lin Shaye) to contact her dead mother (Ele Keats). Elise refuses, as she is not only still grieving over the suicide of her husband, but fearful of an encounter with a very angry spirit who threatens her life. Quinn’s continual attempts to contact her mother gain the attention of another dark spirit (Michael Reid MacKay) and that spirit slowly begins to try to take the girl’s soul. Helpless, Quinn’s dad (Dermot Mulroney) pleads with Elise to save his daughter from this malevolent force. Elise now must fight her own grief and fear to combat the diabolical entity and gets a little help from two bumbling ghost chasers who join the case, Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell).

Leigh Whannell actually does a decent job filling in for James Wan who has moved on to other projects. He doesn’t quite have the chops or Wan’s pacing, but does create some atmosphere and some successfully spooky sequences. What holds Chapter 3 back is, Whannell’s script, which lacks a lot of the cleverness of his first two Insidious screenplays. It almost seems as if the writer/director either had too much of a full plate with working behind the camera and in front of it, or simply ran out of ideas. There is certainly fun to be had with this flick and it was amusing to see how Elise met Tucker and Specs, but at it’s core, it’s a routine haunting flick that we’ve seen so many times before. The use of “The Further” is nowhere near as inventive as the first two times around and the villainous “Man Who Can’t Breath” is a rather routine paranormal foe, who pales in comparison to the first film’s demon and the second film’s Parker Crane and mother. He’s nicely rendered and looks creepy, but is otherwise a rather mundane villain…and one whose background is never explored. Again, Whannell does provide some spooky fun and the movie is rarely dull…though some of the exposition scenes are a bit clunky…it’s just surprising the film’s weakest aspect is the part he has most experience with, the script. The Brenner family is also less endearing than the Lamberts, though Quinn is very likable and we do care what happens to her. It also doesn’t feel like an Insidious flick even with the shared characters and similar look and makes one wonder why they chose to go with a prequel which immediately spoils the outcome, as we have already twice seen future events.

Cast are all fine enough. Obviously, Lin Shaye is endearing as Elise. She’s a great character and killing her off in part 1 was a big mistake. It would have been a lot more amusing to have her as a spectral member of Specs and Tuckers team solving cases with them from the other side, but maybe Whannell couldn’t make that direction work. As for Whannell, he and Sampson are fun again as Specs and Tucker and their humorous bits do liven things up in the second act. Stefanie Scott is a very likable teen heroine as Quinn. She gives the girl a heart and is a worthy centerpiece to the story. I wish she had more to do in the final third than be a damsel in distress. Dermot Mulroney gives a half asleep performance as her dad, Sean and you never connect with the character because he doesn’t seem like he wants to be there. When focus switches from Quinn to him, the film definitely loses something, but thankfully Shaye and the guys are there to keep the film’s footing on track.

Overall, It’s not a bad movie, but it’s far from anything special and is definitely the weakest installment of this series, so far. Leigh Whannell does a pretty good job of picking up after James Wan (who has an amusing cameo) in the director’s chair, but sadly disappoints us in the area he’s best renown for, his script. The story is fairly routine and while it is not without some cleverness, it is far less inventive than the first two films. He manages some nice atmosphere, there are some legitimately spooky bits and the film even has a nice look that fits the other films in the franchise. It’s just that, at heart, it’s just another routine haunting flick and if the Insidious series has anything that can be said about it, it’s that it gave the haunting scenario some refreshing twists to keep if from the routine. I’d say it’s still worth a rental or bargain matinee if you are a fan of this series, but keep expectations moderate at best and you’ll probably have some fun with it.

-MonsterZero NJ

  2 and 1/2 spooks.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: ANNABELLE (2014)

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ANNABELLE (2014)

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

I’m not the biggest fan of The Conjuring. It was a well made film and had some spooky moments but, not nearly as good as it’s reputation suggests and it doesn’t hold up with repeat viewings. The film was a big hit, though and as money is what runs Hollywood, they couldn’t wait to pry more cash out of the pockets of The Conjuring‘s audience…and there are few better examples of a heartless, soulless, cash grab than this flick.

The unimaginative story takes place in the 70s, a year before the opening scene of The ConjuringWe have young couple John (Ward Horton) and Mia (Annabelle Wallis) expecting their first child and, of course, John celebrates this by buying the creepiest doll possible for his doll collector wife. That night their neighbors are slaughtered by their cultist daughter (Tree O’Toole) and her equally wacky boyfriend who, for some reason, decide to visit Mia and John after slaying mommy and daddy. There is an altercation in which Mia is stabbed but, the police arrive and kill the boyfriend while the daughter “Annabelle” commits suicide while holding the creepy doll…for the sole reason of setting up a horror film. Mia survives, as does their newborn daughter but, before you can say “burning Jiffy-Pop” the couple are besieged with every overused cliché in the horror movie manual as some demonic force has come to claim the baby’s soul.

With flat and by-the-numbers direction from John R. Leonetti and a completely unimaginative script by Gary Dauberman, this film can only be seen as the transparent attempt for quick cash that it is. There is literally nothing we haven’t seen before here and that would be fine if Leonetti directed these horror tropes with even the slightest bit of passion or energy. It barely follows a cohesive story as it runs through every cliché it can in it’s 99 minutes. We get flashing lights, dolls changing position, thrown out objects returning to their owners…without much concern either…and demonic creatures glimpsed in the shadows. We also get the stereotypical character who knows all about the occult and just happens to run a book shop down the block. Conveniently there to befriend and then help the embattled couple, since the stereotypical holy man only gets bitch-slapped by the evil force. This flick rips off practically every demonic evil and haunting movie that’s come before it and does so brazenly…it actually takes balls to blatantly rip-off the climax of one of the greatest horror movies ever made and not even have the respect to pay homage or give it a nod. At least James Wan freshened up the familiar material. They don’t even try here and that is the most insulting thing of all about this flick, the incredibly lazy, lack of effort to even remotely create something actually of merit. Did the director even show up on set? The wooden performances by it’s leads…and it almost takes an effort to get a boring performance out of Alfre Woodward…and the totally bland camera set-ups, makes me question if Leonetti was home watching The View and counting his money on his couch while one of his production assistants hit the “on” button on the camera. There is just no heart or effort in this film at all.

Annabelle is a completely obvious…and sadly successful…prequel/spin-off that doesn’t even have the cleverness to at least be cohesive with the film it is a prequel to. In The Conjuring it’s stated that there actually is no real Annabelle, it was a name the demon made up in the guise of a child spirit, yet, here we have a character named Annabelle whose death with the doll gives it it’s name. Did Dauberman even watch Wan’s flick? This is not only a complete waste of time but, a sad example of how little the studio beancounters care about the fans of a hit film. I can undertand wanting to keep the momentum going till Wan gets around to an actual sequel but, at least try to give the audience something worth their hard-earned cash…at least TRY! Not the worst movie I’ve seen but, lazy to the point of insulting.

-MonsterZero NJ

1 and 1/2 dolls!

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