REVIEW: DOCTOR SLEEP (2019)

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DOCTOR SLEEP (2019)

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

Doctor Sleep is an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel which in itself is a sequel to The Shining. The film picks up in 1980 shortly after the events of the first film/book with Danny (Roger Dale Floyd) and his mother Wendy (Alex Essoe), who are both still traumatized from their stay at the Overlook Hotel. Danny is especially troubled because of his psychic abilities and what they attract. It then moves forward to 2011 where Danny is now an adult (Ewan McGregor) and an alcoholic mess of one at that, still trying to get over his emotional scars. He joins AA and gets a job at a hospice where he finds he can bring solace to the terminally ill residents. The film finally settles in presented day, with Dan now clean and sober, but being contacted by a girl with similar abilities named Abra (Kyliegh Curran). Unknown, at first, to Dan and Abra, a sinister group called the True Knot, who feed upon the powers of people with such abilities, are hunting Abra down. This eventually leads Dan and Abra back to the dreaded Overlook Hotel for a showdown with True Knot’s powerful leader Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and the spirits that still linger there.

Adaptation is written and directed by Mike Flanagan, who did the brilliant Gerald’s Game adaptation for Netflix and is one of the most innovative writer/directors in horror right now. Here he creates what is more of a dark fantasy than straight up horror with some clever representations of the various abilities of both those with Shining and the True Knot. The recreations of events, places and characters from Stanley Kubrick’s film are really on point, too and a lot of fun with some inspired casting, such as Starry Eyes’ Alex Essoe as Wendy and Carl Lumbly as Hallorann. If anything holds this intriguing and entertaining film back a bit, it’s that it feels like one must have read both Stephen King’s books to really appreciate the mythos being created here. Maybe this flick needed to be in two parts like the It adaptation, as it feels like certain things needed more attention, such as who or what really are the True Knot, and Abra and Dan’s friendship could have been fleshed out a bit more for it to resonate. Still, Flanagan has a solid script and is a good editor in cutting his own material, but here it just feels like there wasn’t enough of certain elements to really emotionally involve the uninitiated viewer not familiar with King’s books. The audience in attendance was very quiet and seemed a bit detached from the film. The flick does earn it’s R rating. There is graphic violence and some disturbing sequences, especially when the True Knot kidnap and murder a young boy (Jacob Trembly), and the final conflict had intensity and chills. It’s just, overall, the flick didn’t inspire a strong emotional investment to really get one involved in what was going on…unless there was already an invested interest in the material going in. A first for a Flanagan film, which are usually emotionally gripping and intense like Gerald’s Game and Hush. The FX are very well done and there are some really wild sequences, like Abra taking on Rose who’s not used to being challenged. At 152 minutes it’s not boring, there is an atmospheric score by the Newton Brothers and Flanagan’s visual style is well represented by Michael Fimognari’s cinematography. It just it wasn’t as gripping as it needed to be, despite all that Flanagan gets right…and he gets a lot right, here.

Flanagan has a great cast and the characters are well written. Ewan McGregor is very good as the adult Danny, who becomes a reluctant hero, of sorts, when the True Knot come after Abra. His downward spiral as an alcoholic and eventual recovery to the point where he is selfless enough to combat Rose, is well played by the veteran actor. As Rose, Rebecca Furguson steals the film as the sinister yet smolderingly sexy True Knot leader. A devious yet powerful woman and one who will commit horribly acts without question to keep she and her followers “fed.” Kyliegh Curran is very good as Abra, a powerful young teen in her own right. The actress gives her the strength needed to believe in her abilities, yet still keeps her a relatable teen. Cliff Curtis is also very good as Dan’s only friend and AA support, Billy. There are some familiar faces in the supporting cast, such as House of the Devil’s Jocelin Donahue as Abra’s mom, the before mentioned Alex Essoe as Wendy, Henry Thomas in a role not to be spoiled here and Bruce Greenwood as Dan’s AA group leader. Sadly, Greenwood’s likable Dr. John Dalton character just disappears and one questions his inclusion at all.

Overall, this was an entertaining film, though not as engrossing as it should have been. Flanagan directs solidly with a clever and innovative script, but doesn’t quite get the emotional investment needed from those not already familiar with King’s material and characters. There are some intense and disturbing sequences and the dark fantasy element works so very well, but something was still missing for those of us who haven’t read the books. It did have a strong villainess and it was spooky fun to revisit the Overlook Hotel again. A good movie, but as the end credits roll, one feels it should have been more.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) hats.

 

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: DEAD AWAKE (2016)

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DEAD AWAKE (2016)

House of the Devil star Jocelin Donahue plays twin sisters Kate and Beth in this routine tale of supernatural horror. Beth claims to be pursued in her sleep by something sinister. No one believes her until she dies mysteriously. Now sister Kate investigates the unthinkable, as there may have been a supernatural entity involved. But unknown to Kate, she may be it’s next target.

Flick is directed with little style or originality by Phillip Guzman from Jeffrey Reddick’s routine script. The uninspired story tries to explain the sleep paralysis phenomena by attaching a generic boogie man called the sleep hag, which is responsible for people dying as they slumber. It all comes across as very dull and lazy and wastes the efforts of Donahue who tries hard to overcome the by-the-numbers material in both roles and makes a good heroine in spite of what little she has to work with. A dull cookie cutter horror that wastes a talented leading lady. Also stars Lori Petty in the role of Dr. Sykes.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: VIRAL and SUMMER CAMP

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VIRAL (2016)

Basically a high school version of 28 Days Later and the more recent What We Become and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Flick finds sisters Emma (Sofia Black D’Elia) and Stacey (Analeigh Tipton) trapped at home alone when an viral outbreak caused by a worm-like parasite initiates a quarantine with both their parents unable to come back to their neighborhood. The parasite takes over it’s hosts, who violently and animalistic-ally seek out other hosts for the organism to spread to. The sisters must battle former friends and the threat of infection themselves to survive as the outbreak spirals out of control.

Written by the Paranormal Activity series’ Christopher Landon, with Barabara Marshall and directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost (Catfish, Paranormal Activity 3 and 4), this is actually an entertaining little movie despite it’s familiarity. Joost and Schulman create a nice mood of continual dread and danger, along with delivering some suspenseful sequences and moments of intense and bloody action. The actresses give us two very likable heroines in D’Elia’s smart and sweet Emma and Tipton’s more aggressive and headstrong Stacey. The combination of endearing characters and the directors making good use of the familiar tropes (as they did with Paranormal Activity 3) makes this a worthwhile flick for a night on the couch. Aside from some so-so CGI, the production value is good and the filmmakers prove they can work beyond found footage. A fun little apocalyptic outbreak horror despite having seen it all before.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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SUMMER CAMP (2015)

Horror flick finds three Americans (House of the Devil’s Jocelin Donahue, Scream Queen’s Diego Bonita and Maiara Walsh) traveling to Spain to be councilors at an English summer camp for kids and dealing with some kind of viral outbreak/infection that turns the effected violent and vicious. Is it the pollen, the water or something else turning others and themselves into homicidal monsters? Will these strangers in a foreign land survive?

Summer Camp is directed by Alberto Marini from his script with Danielle Schleif. What makes this flick work, despite the oft-told premise, is that Marini has a little fun with his ‘infection’ in both it’s actual cause and the fact that we find the effects are only temporary. This allows for the film to swap out infected and uninfected, so one minute we are fearing someone and rooting for someone else and then it switches them out as someone recovers and someone else starts foaming black at the mouth. There are some suspenseful moments and some vicious and gory violence as our three councilors battle each other, commit acts of murder while under the influence and then battle a group of infected rednecks (Yes! Even in Spain!) camped out in an RV nearby. It moves fast enough to keep us from realizing just how silly and familiar it all is and the added caveat of having our infected recover, does leave them to amusingly have to face what horrors they have committed. It’s not perfect, we are a bit confused as to what is going on till the late in the third act explanation and the end is predictable, even though still very amusing. Go in with moderate expectations and this can be fun if you just go with it.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HOLIDAYS (2016)

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HOLIDAYS (2016)

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

Holidays is a horror anthology that presents eight short stories, each based on a holiday and adding some kind of supernatural/horror twist. Each tale is written and directed by different filmmakers with somewhat mixed resluts.

The first is Valentines Day, written and directed by Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch (Starry Eyes) and tells the story of  introverted high school girl Maxine (Madeleine Coghlan) who has a crush on her swimming coach (Rick Peters). When she misinterprets a sympathetic Valentine’s Day card from him, she decides to solve her bullying problem and present her object of affection with a special gift, all at the same time. It is an effective story with some very gruesome moments and has a bit of that offbeat, disturbing feel that made Starry Eyes work so well.

Next up is St. Patrick’s Day written and directed by Gary Shore (Dracula Untold). This tells the story of a new little girl (Isolt McCaffrey) at school who gives her teacher (Ruth Bradley) a St. Patrick’s Day wish with disturbing results. This episodes starts out creepy enough, but gets progressively silly till it’s goofy ending.

Next up is Easter written and directed by Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact). This tells a really weird and disturbing tale of a little girl (Ava Acres) who accidentally catches the Easter Bunny (Mark Steger) in the act…but he’s not quite what she expected and there is a disturbing price for being the first child to ever see him. This is a weird episode that unsettlingly combines both the Christian doctrine and traditional bunny folklore of Easter. While not totally successful, it gets extra points for being daring enough to ‘go there’.

The next tale is written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith and is called Mother’s Day. It’s an odd story about a woman (Sophie Traub) who is ‘cursed’ by getting pregnant every time she has sex. She is sent to, of all places, a fertility clinic, to solve her problem, one which turns out to be more than it seems. This episode was really strange, yet a bit unsatisfying as it didn’t seem to go anywhere and had a predictable and cliché shock ending.

Father’s Day is one of the best tales. It is written and directed by FX man Anthony Scott Burns (FX for The Last Exorcism Part II). It tells of a young woman (House of the Devil’s Jocelin Donahue) who receives a recorded message from her long dead father, asking her to meet him at a special place from her childhood. This is a very effective episode that is moody, creepy and heartbreaking, thanks in equal parts to good direction and a very strong performance by Donahue.

The biggest disappointment and worst episode is Kevin Smith’s Halloween. It takes place on Halloween, but has little to do with the holiday as it tells the story of Ian (Harley Mortenstein) the mean owner of a Sex Cam business who has a painful rebellion from three of his employees (Ashley Greene, Olivia Roush and Harley Quinn Smith). It forgoes any attempt at something spooky for more of Smith’s traditional adolescent vulgarity. Boring, crude and has nothing to do with the holiday it represents.

Anthology get’s back on track with Scott Stewart’s (Dark SkiesChristmas. This one tells the tale of a down-on-his-luck dad (Seth Green) who goes to disturbing lengths to get his kid the pair of virtual reality glasses he wants. These glasses, however, reveal a person’s true self and he and his wife (Clare Grant) learn some very unsettling things about each other. This is a fun and chilling episode and Green is entertaining to watch as the desperate dad and Clare Grant is good as the wife with a secret side to her.

Final episode is New Year’s and is is directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer (Some Kind Of Hate) from a script by Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch. It tells the story of a serial killer (Andrew Bowen) who has specific plans for his New Year’s Eve date (Lorenza Izzo) who turns out to have far more in common with him than he realizes. This is a twisted and fun episode with a really entertaining psycho  turn by Izzo as Jean. Izzo is showning a talent for these roles, as she was one of the few fun parts of Knock Knock.

Overall, this was a mixed bag, but the good outweighed the bad. There were a few disappointments, especially from Kevin Smith who dropped the ball on delivering something in the Halloween spirit for his tale. We did gets some spooky and effective stories, with the standout being Burn’s Father’s Day which had a sympathetic and strong portrayal from Jocelin Donahue. Definitely worth a watch for the segments that did work and even a couple of the failures had an originality to their telling.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Christmas trees.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009)

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THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009)

I am a big fan of director Ti West and of 70s and 80s horror, so that’s already two in the win column for me in regards to West’s homage to late 70s/early 80s occult themed horror flicks. This story, also written by West and set in the early 80s, has financially struggling college student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) renting an apartment and now trying to figure out how she is going to pay for it. When a babysitting job at a remote house on the edge of town comes up, Samantha takes it despite warnings from her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) that something isn’t right. When she arrives, Samantha finds a spooky old couple (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) and learns she is actually there to keep an eye on their elderly mother and not a child. She decides to decline, but an offer of significantly more money coerces her to stay. As this is a horror film, it’s no secret that this night is not going to proceed quietly for Samantha.

Ti West perfectly recreates one of the horror flicks of this bygone era in every detail from the grainy photography and the camera angles to the hairstyles and fashions. But is it a good horror movie? Yes, it most certainly is. Today’s impatient audiences may not appreciate the slow burn, but West keeps the atmosphere creepy and full of foreboding till the suspenseful and blood-soaked finale act. It’s paced much like a fright flick from that time and it worked perfectly for me. It’s set on the night of a lunar eclipse which sets off our primal fears of something supernatural being afoot and Megan’s warnings make us doubt Sam is making the right decision. All adding to the mood and uneasiness. One of the things I like about West, is that he knows how to create tension with his camera and the composition of his shots, much like vintage John Carpenter. With Samantha being alone in the creepy house by herself, there isn’t a lot of dialogue or exposition, so he keeps things tense by giving the house a constant feeling of dread with his lens. He and cinematographer Eliot Rocket film the big old house with lots of shadows where evil may lurk and there are plenty of rooms with closed doors where who-knows-what may reside. It’s like the house itself is a character and one we know is up to no good.

He also gets good performances from his cast. Donahue, who was seen recently playing Barbara Hershey’s younger self in Insidious: Chapter 2, makes a strong heroine. She’s smart, but her need for cash makes her a bit desperate and thus vulnerable. When the blood hits the fan, she’s a fighter we root for. Veterans Noonan and Woronov play The Ulman’s as a bit eccentric and while they appear harmless, there is something off about them that keep us wary about the two, just as Sam is. Gerwig is a spunky and likable friend and there is a nice cameo by horror icon Dee Wallace as Sam’s landlord.

Like the films it pays homage to, it keeps things unsettling but subtle till West is ready to unleash his horrors and then we are in for a bloody and intense final act where a babysitter’s worst nightmare comes true. Even the climax is right out of a horror flick of that era, subtle and spooky. As a nostalgic trip back to a type of horror they don’t make anymore or for a spooky Halloween treat, I definitely recommend it. A really good old school horror flick.

To check out my review of West’s follow up flick The Innkeepers click here!

3 and 1/2 creepy houses that no one in their right mind would want to babysit in.

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