HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: POLTERGEIST (2015)

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POLTERGEIST (2015)

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

The 1982 Poltergeist is a classic and even if it comes off as a bit cheesy, over three decades later, it’s still a roller coaster ride of fun. Gil Kenan’s remake, on the other hand, is a completely by-the-numbers, generic haunted house flick that reminds one more of the awful The Apparition than the Spielberg produced, Tobe Hooper directed fright flick.

Story is basically the same, with couple Eric and Amy Bowen (Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt) moving with their three children, teen Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), young Griffin (Kyle Catlett) and little Madison (Kennedi Clements), into a housing development…built over a former cemetery, of course…and soon starting to experiencing paranormal activity. The activity seems to be targeting the two youngest, with Maddie in particular being the focus. Soon the little girl is abducted into a spirit realm and a paranormal crew, headed by famous TV ghost hunter Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris), arrive to try and save Maddie and rid the house of it’s angry specters.

Completely unnecessary remake is unimaginatively written by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed flatly by Gil Kenan, who brings nothing new or special to the tale. There are a few scant effective moments, but that is only when the film deviates slightly or tries to add a new wrinkle, like sending a toy drone, equipped with a camera, into the spirit realm. The film rarely tries anything new, though and basically follows the original story and very blandly at that. Kenan brings none of the fun that he gave his animated Monster House and writer Lindsay-Abaire rarely strays from the path set by the original movie. The flick also gives us very little to be scared of and doesn’t even try to match the original’s bombastic funhouse atmosphere. This flick is actually far more grounded and thus far less interesting and most of the time, it’s outright dull. The characters are all bland and not particularly endearing, like the slightly eccentric Freeling family were in the 1982 original. They also seem to accept the supernatural explanations far too easily to add any tension. If you are going to remake a classic like Poltergeist…and you really shouldn’t…then at least go somewhere new with it and really shake things up. People give Rob Zombie a lot of flack for his Halloween remake, but at least he tried to go in a different direction with it. This is a mediocre at best retread with none of the energy and life that was given the original film by those behind the camera. The look of the film and it’s lack of any real vitality evoked the recent and epically terrible, The Apparition far more than the beloved 1982 classic.

Despite the presence of vets like Rockwell and Harris the cast are also very bland and wooden. Rockwell seems like he is basically on a paycheck job and gives us none of the vitality he usually brings. Anyone could have played the part. Rosemarie DeWitt is equally bland and brings none of the fire Jobeth Williams had in the original. Sharbino is pretty, but a typical bratty teenager and Kennedi Clements is cute as Maddie, but just nowhere near as sympathetic or memorable as Heather O’Rourke. Only Young Kyle Catlett gives his role a little vibrance as Griffin, as does Jared Harris as the TV paranormal expert…but still, Zelda Rubenstein he’s is not.

Simply put, this is a boring and very generic remake whose few effective scenes come only when the film finally tries something new or deviates from the original story…mostly in the last act. Even then, it is only slight and the new elements are minimal. It’s not quite a scene for scene remake, but almost and none of it has the over-the-top energy or fun of the classic original. There are also no real scares either, including the new version of the infamous clown doll and if you can’t make a clown doll scary, than what exactly is the point? Watch the original.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 epic fail scary clowns.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE QUIET ONES (2014)

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THE QUIET ONES (2014)

What horror fan isn’t happy that Hammer is back in business making horror flicks and they seem to, so far, be trying to deliver them in that old fashioned gothic horror style they are famous for. The latest flick from the legendary studio is The Quiet Ones a supernatural chiller about a young woman named Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) who, upon appearance, is possessed by an angry spirit named Evey. But, her doctor, a Professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) believes the supernatural is simply manifestations of an unbalanced mind and intends to use Jane in experiments to prove that Evey is a manifestation of Jane’s own psychosis… or so he thinks. He brings along students Brian (Sam Claflin), Harry (Rory Fleck-Byren) and Kristina (Erin Richards) to assist and document his experiments in a secluded old house after being thrown off campus for his unconventional methods. As the experiments probe deeper and Brian documents with his camera, Professor Coupland may have to face some horrifying facts about the real truth of what is psychological and what is supernatural.

The Quiet Ones is an interesting supernatural thriller to a degree and has some spooky moments but, doesn’t really get scary and seems to get a little too theatrical in it’s final act for it’s own good. The film is set in the mid 70s and supposedly based on real experiments but, the film, directed with some atmosphere by John Pogue, never really pulls us into Jane’s torment or really makes good use of it’s story. Four writers are credited and maybe that’s why it seems to be a supernatural soup that someone keeps throwing ingredients into in the form of plot twists that aren’t all too surprising and sudden jolts of horror elements we’ve all seen before such as CGI vomited entities, popping light bulbs and boiling baths.Then, there is various human melodrama such as, is Brian falling for Jane, is Coupland shagging a student and what is his obsession with Jane anyway? None of the answers to these questions is either all too unexpected and some ultimately don’t really have much baring on the plot. It’s no surprise that we start to see Coupland as more Frankenstein than Freud and his motivations are quite cliche’ as these flicks go. It’s not quite as bad as it sounds. It can be entertaining at times and it’s never dull. It also has some spooky moments but, it’s never innovational or rises about the traditional cliche’s to tell it’s tale. Even the use of Brian’s film footage to give us a camera POV throughout seems convoluted and doesn’t really serve much purpose other than to try to add a little found footage element to the film. And that’s what brings this fairly well-acted and atmospheric chiller down, is that we’ve seen it all before and it comes to a predictable and familiar conclusion which is sad that none of the four writers could add a little innovation or originality even with it’s fact-based premise.

Pogue’s cast all are fine and do good work. Cooke makes a very sympathetic Jane but, can also be creepy when she needs to be. We like Jane and feel sorry for her as we’re not sure if Coupland’s experiments are doing more harm than good. As Coupland, Harris is effective as a man on the border between dedicated professor and mad scientist. Obviously he has personal reasons for his obsession and Harris convey’s to us that something is behind the man’s experiments before the plot reveals it. Sam Claflin makes a noble and likable hero in Brian and Richards and Fleck-Byren are adequate in their roles, though they don’t seem to add up to much when all is said and done.

So, in conclusion, The Quiet Ones is a moderately entertaining tale that doesn’t really make interesting enough use of it’s story and chooses to stay familiar and cliche’ despite the efforts of four writers working on it’s supposedly fact-based script. It has some effective atmosphere and performances and achieves some spooky moments but, never goes anywhere all that interesting with it’s story elements. I was never bored by watching it, but, also found very little of it memorable except for a couple of poor CGI effects that stuck out very badly in a film that seemed to use in-camera effects otherwise. Not a total loss but, very disappointing considering the directions it chose to go with it’s premise are ones already well traveled in the genre.

2 and 1/2 haunted heroines.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE WARD (2010)

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THE WARD (2010)

As a fan of John Carpenter, it was exciting to hear he was making a new flick after an almost 10 year absence from feature films. And while The Ward isn’t the major comeback and return to form fans hoped for, it’s also not really a bad movie either. The story takes place in 1966 and tells of a young woman, Kristen (Amber Heard) who’s thrown into a psychiatric ward after setting a house on fire only to find it haunted by the ghost of a previous patient…and one who has set it’s lethal sights on the ward’s remaining inhabitants. As Kristen tries to unravel the mystery of this spectral patient, Alice (Mika Boorem), her own secrets slowly become revealed as well.

Horror flick is held back mostly by a weak script. It has it’s clever moments, too, but, overall it could have been much stronger. The screenplay by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen is filled with plot holes and implausibilities…the girls in the ward seem to have access to rooms like the kitchen and dispensary which I doubt would occur in real life…and while the twist ending might explain that to some, I felt certain principles, such as the hospital’s policies, would remain the same. But, Carpenter is a master and even if it doesn’t seem like his heart is fully onboard here, he is still able to get some effectiveness out of what he has to work with. There are some very creepy scenes and the last act is very spooky and there is also some nice tension and suspense especially as the film moves towards it’s climax. His skill at framing shots hasn’t diminished, as the film looks great and he creates a lot of mood and atmosphere with his camera. Carpenter’s only flaw seems to be not drawing stronger performances from his cast. Star Amber Heard doesn’t have nearly the fire and intensity that she showed in Drive Angry and some of the other ladies like Danielle Panabaker and Lyndsay Fonseca, also seem to be coasting a bit as well. It also doesn’t help that some of the script’s dialog is weak, too. At least Carpenter got to work with some very lovely ladies for this flick after his long absence from the director’s chair. The performances do pick up a bit in the final act, as does the whole film in general, as it’s the part of the story that Carpenter was most able to do what he does best with and deliver the horror goods. There is also a spooky and atmospheric score by Mark Kilian and Yaron Orbach’s cinematography also helps in the atmosphere department. There is also some well executed gore, though it’s used sparingly.

For die hard fans The Ward may be a disappointment, somewhat, but, for the casual horror viewer it is a spooky enough Saturday night watch and a return to a more basic type of horror. It’s far from Carpenter’s best films but, doesn’t rank as his worst effort either and is fairly entertaining when all is said and done. Just don’t expect Halloween and you’ll probably enjoy it. Also stars Jared Harris as Dr. Stringer, Kristen’s therapist.

3 spooks!

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