BARE BONES: HANGMAN

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HANGMAN (2015)

Found footage horror has a demented serial killer (Eric Michael Cole), who likes to hang his victims, sometimes, targeting the Miller family while they are on vacation. He lives in their home, while they are away and installs cameras everywhere because he plans on staying once they come back and observing them. They do return and despite calling the police to report the break-in, Hangman remains hidden in the attic thanks to shoddy police work…or a weak script? Soon the maniac is watching the family’s every move and even moving among them while they are unaware. What are his sinister plans for this unsuspecting family? Do we care?

Dull flick is written by Simon Boyes and Adam Mason and directed flatly by Mason. It’s basically 85 minutes of a masked looney watching a family from an elaborate set-up in their own attic that somehow gets missed by investigating police. The nut pulls stupid pranks on them like moving furniture around, making parents aware of bad report cards and spitting in their food. Oooohhh…scary!!! He finally gets deadly in the last five minutes, or so and by that time we don’t care anymore. A premise like this could have been quite creepy, but the film has no atmosphere, tension or suspense. A boring found footage flick that also stars Jeremy Sisto and Kate Ashfield as the homeowners and Ryan and Ty Simpkins as their kids.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR (2016)

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THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR (2016)

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

Supernatural thriller is a familiar one, but is well made enough to keep one moderately entertained. Story has a couple, Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Michael (Jeremy Sisto), moving to India to base their rare antiquities business. We pick up the story years later where the couple have had two children, Lucy (Sofia Rosinsky) and Oliver (Logan Creran) and a horrible car accident put Maria in a position to save only one of them, Lucy…a decision that haunts her continually. Their Indian housekeeper (Suchitra Pillai-Malik) tells Maria of an ancient temple where one can go to speak one last time to the dead. She also warns Maria that no matter what Oliver says, she must not open the temple door to let him in…so, guess what Maria does and guess what happens.

Directed by Johannes Roberts, who co-wrote with Ernest Riera, this is an awfully familiar story filled with the typical clichés that go with such a tale. We have a heartbroken parent, or parents, dabbling in the supernatural to speak or see their lost child one more time and given an exact set of rules to follow…which they break. We saw it in Pet Sematary and even more recently in Wake Wood and it’s the same story with the same results. Johannes Roberts does direct the tale well and does give it some atmosphere, especially making good use of the exotic India locations and folklore. This keeps the film from being dull and even provides some legitimately spooky moments to keep us entertained. It is ultimately routine and forgettable, but to a degree does work well enough considering how often we’ve seen this scenario played out. The FX are solid and seem to use prosthetics often and the overall production looks good with some spooky cinematography by Maxime Alexandre (Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac remake) and an equally atmospheric score by Joseph Bishara.

It’s got a good cast, too. Lead Callies is very sympathetic as Maria. She strongly portrays the woman’s guilt over having to make a choice between her children and the pain it puts her through every day. It also makes us tolerant of her acceptance of Oliver’s returned spirit, even when it starts to reveal itself as malevolent. Jeremy Sisto is likable as Michael and is a husband pained to see his wife in such torment. He creates a man trying to keep his family together and be strong for them, yet obviously not sure what to do when his wife begins to believe their son’s spirit has returned and he begins to doubt her sanity. Sofia Rosinsky is surprisingly effective as little Lucy who is the first to feel the presence of Oliver’s spirit, but also the first to feel his wrath. Rounding out is Indian actress Suchitra Pillai-Malik who as Piki provides us with our local folklore exposition and successfully portrays a caring woman who, due to her own life experience, is trying to help the family find peace.

Sure this flick is as familiar, routine and cliché as a mainstream horror can get…but it isn’t all that bad. Director Johannes Roberts gives the film some nice atmosphere, there are a number of spooky scenes, some nicely executed jump scares and a cast that adds a little emotional weight to an oft told story. For a quiet night on the couch and approached with moderate expectations, it’s passes the time without wasting it.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 stuffed tigers.

other side of the door rating

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: MAY (2002)

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MAY (2002)

“If you can’t find a friend, make one.”

May is the feature film debut of writer/director Lucky McKee and tells the story of eccentric, strange and shy May (Angela Bettis) who works at a veterinary clinic, who likes people only for certain parts of them and has an old doll in a glass display box as her only friend. But May starts to try and come out of her shell when she happens upon handsome mechanic and wannabe filmmaker Adam (Jeremy Sisto) and starts getting hit upon by the sexy receptionist at work, Polly (Anna Faris). May starts to see Adam and has an affair with Polly, but her odd behavior and interest in morbid things pushes both of them away and as the emotionally troubled May tries to deal with all the rejection, she remembers the words of her mother…”If you can’t find a friend, make one.”…and with gruesome results.

Lucky Mckee creates a film that is both disturbing and whimsical at the same time. Despite being a very emotionally awkward and troubled young woman, we like May and feel bad for her when she scares people away with her bizarre behavior and over-eagerness to get attached to someone. When her behavior turns violent, it’s shocking, yet, she still comes across as sympathetic, as the people she encounters appear shallow and self centered and don’t evoke our sympathy when May turns to her gruesome solution to her social isolation. Even Adam, who seems like a nice guy who legitimately likes May, has a jerk side to him that comes out when May doesn’t get that it’s over and he says some very mean and insensitive things about her. After all, she just wants to be loved. And this is where Mckee shows some real promise with his first feature as he takes a character who is well within Norman Bates territory, but makes her the most likable character in the film and tells her blood soaked story as an almost modern day urban fairy tale, with our princess being emotionally scarred and homicidal. After all, while she doesn’t have a magic mirror to talk to, she does have her doll “Suzie”. And McKee mixes the more whimsical elements perfectly with the more disturbing elements and we never truly see May as a monster, but more sad and tragic. She evokes our sympathy even after all the blood is shed and she has unleashed her inner Frankenstein. We still want her to have a happy ending.

Obviously McKee would not have been as successful without a subtle tour de force performance by Angela Bettis as May. She’s awkward and yet adorable, creepy and yet likable and sympathetic. The actress really gives this bizarre character life with her ability to present the facial expressions and body language of a young woman who has little clue on how to express her emotions to other people. She truly gives the appearance of someone who is in social circles for the first time and the frustration of coming across as weird to those she wishes to like her. And of course she remains sweet and innocent even when she is exacting bloody revenge on those who reject her…as if this is how it’s done normally. An understated and overlooked performance. Sisto is also good as the apple of May’s lazy eye and he comes across as likable until we get to meet the inner jerk, when he gets mean concerning May’s bizarre behavior. But he does try to do the right thing and make peace with May and we are left wondering what he really feels about her. Sisto and McKee give Adam an appearance of conflicting emotions when it comes to May which give the character an interesting dynamic. When they are together there seems to be legitimate feelings in play, when apart, he dismisses her as a weirdo to friends. Rounding out the main players, Anna Faris plays Polly as a ditzy woman with a sexual appetite and it’s something Faris plays well and does a good job as the sexually promiscuous woman who unintentionally only confuses May further. A good cast that handles the disturbing material very well.

I recommend May to those who like a little variety and originality in their horror. McKee has a talent for mixing disturbing and whimsical elements…no more evident then in a scene involving a classroom of blind children and some broken glass, that is horrifying yet, almost makes you giggle…It’s got a really strong performance by it’s leading lady and good work by the supporting cast and the director gives his ultimately gruesome story a twisted fairy tale-like atmosphere that works and well. A interesting debut from an interesting filmmaker.

3 Suzie’s.

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: WRONG TURN (2003)

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WRONG TURN (2003)

The original Wrong Turn is no classic, but is a solid entry in the “inbred cannibals in the woods” horror sub-genre. It is derivative of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hills Have Eyes, but is well done and suspenseful enough to work despite being very familiar. The story has med student Chris (Desmond Harrington) driving through West Virginia and taking a back road to get to an interview after an accident clogs up the highway. On this dirt road he literally runs into five hikers whose vehicle has been disabled from some suspiciously placed barbed wire across their path. He, engaged couple Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and Scott (Jeremy Sisto) along with tough girl Jessie (Eliza Dushku) head out to find help while stoners Francine (Lindy Booth) and Evan (Kevin Zegers) remain with the wrecked cars. It’s not spoiling anything to say that soon our attractive young city slickers encounter some deformed and very hungry inbred mountain folk and are running for their lives through the dense woods.

Wrong Turn is by no means original, but director Rob Schmidt is able to take Alan B. McElroy’s familiar script and create a well made and suspenseful horror/thriller out of it. Part of the reason it works is that he gets good performances out of his cast and they create very likable characters and so we care about what happens to them and some of them do meet gruesome ends. There are some gory deaths, as expected in a flick like this, that are not only well executed by the FX team, but since the victims are very likable and the villains very deserving of what’s coming to them, it adds to their effectiveness. While we never get to know the cannibalistic hillbillies here, like we do in the previously mentioned Hooper and Craven classics, they are quite formidable and lethal and they get the job done as far as being effective bad guys. The script also does set up some nice suspenseful situations to put our likable characters in, such as a chase through the upper branches of the dense forest and a really tense sequence early on with our young protagonists caught in the carnivorous country folks’ home.

So basically a good cast and a good director are able to take a familiar story and turn it into a good “Saturday night on the couch” horror flick and sometimes that’s all you want and need. Not quite a classic, but a well made horror that’s simple, back to basics and gives us enough of what we want from a modern horror flick to earn it a spot on the Halloween season view list.

Rated 3 (out of 4) damsel Dushkus!

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