HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: JACKALS (2017)

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JACKALS (2017)

Jackals opens in 1983 with a chilling murder of a family in the middle of the night. The film then switches to the kidnaping of a young man, Justin (Ben Sullivan) by two masked individuals. We find out they are actually Ben’s father, Andrew (Johnathon Schaech) and ex-Marine, Jimmy (Stephen Dorff). We also learn that Justin is involved with a cult and his family has abducted him to a remote cabin for Jimmy to deprogram him. But as horror fans we know remote cabins in the woods are never a safe place and soon they are surrounded by masked cultists who want Justin back and his family all dead.

Flick is written by Jared Rivet and directed effectively by Kevin Greutert (Jessabelle). The plot may be a mix of things we’ve seen before like The Strangers, Faults and You’re Next, but it works well enough. There are some chilling scenes and some intensity, especially when the cultists surround the cabin and begin their efforts to get in. There is also some brutal violence and director Greutert does give it some atmospheric visuals to support the night-set story. The film falters a bit in a few aspects. First off, the Powell Family remain far too calm and organized when the cultists make their presence known. They quickly arm themselves, make weapons and seem quite ready to defend the cabin as if they’ve done this before. Have they? Did we miss something? Did Jimmy conduct a family boot camp just in case? Also, the cultists seem like they are a large group, yet constantly attack the cabin one or two at a time, instead of rushing the cabin all at once and overrunning it…which would end the movie very quickly. That and the whole animal masked killers thing is starting to get old and is far less effective since many films have used this trope in recent years. Still the film does entertain and there are some effective moments alongside the familiar ones.

The cast are all fine enough. The vets like Schaech, Dorff and Deborah Kara Unger take the material seriously and try their best to add some dramatic intensity. Ben Sullivan is creepy as Justin and the dynamic of being a brainwashed cultist is conveyed well enough to make the story work. We also have Nick Roux and Chelsea Ricketts as Justin’s jerk brother and girlfriend/baby momma, respectively and as the cultists are masked and silent, we never really get to know any of them. Cultist “Fox Girl” (Alyssa Julya Smith) had nice abs, but that’s as far as the character development went with her.

Overall, this was a decent enough horror/thriller to pass the time and there were some effective and brutally violent scenes to punctuate the story. There visual style of director Greutert added some atmosphere and the veteran cast took the material seriously. There were some story flaws, questions and a lot of familiarity which kept this from being a real nail-biter or more original, but you could do far worse for a night on the couch with a brew or two.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 hatchets, a common weapon for jackal masked cultists.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: VISIONS (2015)

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VISIONS (2015)

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

Routine story starts out with our heroine Eveleigh (Isla Fisher) having been in an automobile accident where a child is killed. We then jump forward a year later where Eveleigh is still haunted by the accident, which wasn’t her fault, but is now pregnant herself. She and her husband David (Anson Mount) have recently moved into an old winery and plan to start their own vineyard. Shortly after settling in, Eveleigh starts to see and hear strange things. Her husband and gynecologist (Jim Parsons) think it’s a combination of lingering guilt and her own pregnancy and refuse to believe anything supernatural may be occurring. Eveleigh starts to look into the past of their new home and…well, you can see where this is going…

The script by Lucas Sussman is loaded with every cliché and trope these kind of thrillers contain, though director Kevin Greutert (Saw VIJessabelle) does a good job translating the familiar elements to the screen. The only new touch is setting this spooky tale in the beautiful wine country of California and it is a stark contrast to the things that go bump in the night…and day. Despite the lovely setting, we still get hooded figures, mysterious ruins, superstitious locals, a house that may have it’s own secrets and a heroine who is the only one who seems to see the strange goings on. The whole ‘is she imagining it, or isn’t she’ is played out in grand tradition. Greutert does give the proceedings an air of mystery and guides the cliché story well, but if you are a fan of these type of movies, you know where it’s all heading. There are a few interesting twists, but the main reveal is far from a surprise as you know the film’s opening would figure in there somewhere. If you like these types of flicks than this one is entertaining enough to pass the time and at least gives you a likable heroine to follow.

We have a very good cast which ups things a notch. Fisher is a determined and strong-willed woman and makes a good heroine for this type of mystery/thriller. Anson (Hell On Wheels) Mount is fine as the doubting, yet caring husband and he and Fisher are a believable couple. Jim Parsons seems a bit out of place as a gynecologist, but maybe that’s because he has created such a memorable character on Big Bang Theory that he evokes Sheldon Cooper no matter what he does. Community‘s Gillian Jacobs plays a friendly neighbor who is also expecting and Eva Longoria has a small role as Eveleigh’s friend, Eileen. Rounding out is Star Trek: TNG‘s John de Lancie as a local who provides exposition and Blade Runner‘s Joanna Cassidy as a wine distributor with a sense for the supernatural, as we need our paranormal expert and/or psychic in there somewhere.

There is nothing new or special about this very routine thriller, but it is well cast and is well directed. Aside from a somewhat less traditional setting, the familiar tropes of the ‘haunted wife in a new home’ type thriller are all here and accounted for. While the flick is not without it’s twists, you can probably see what’s coming a long way off. If you are a fan of these thrillers, you can do a lot worse, but if you are looking for something novel and different, than look elsewhere.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 wine grapes.
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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: JESSABELLE (2014)

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JESSABELLE (2014)

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

Jessabelle may not succeed in everything it sets out to do and may have some very familiar elements to it’s bayou-set supernatural mystery but, it’s got enough legitimate chills and spooky atmosphere to make it a moderately entertaining viewing.

The story finds twenty-something Jessabelle (Sarah Snook) pregnant and going to move in with her fiancé Mark (Brian Hallisay). But, a horrible car accident takes her fiancé and their unborn child from her and temporarily cripples her. She is forced to turn to her estranged father (David Andrews) and goes to live with him in his Louisiana home on the Bayou. But, as soon as she arrives, she starts to see and hear things and begins to have vivid and strange dreams. She also finds a series of VHS tapes her long-dead mother (Joelle Carter) made for her during her pregnancy, when she found out she had a terminal brain tumor and would not be there for Jessie’s upbringing. But, these tapes are anything but, sentimental. Her mother does tarot card readings that get more and more disturbing and prophetically warns Jessie of a presence in the house that does not want her there… a presence that increasingly makes itself known. Now Jessie must discover who is this restless and angry spirit, what do they want and even more so, who is buried in the bayou-side grave marked with the name Jessabelle and the date of her birth as it’s day of death.

Again, there are a lot of familiar elements in Ben Garant’s script, such as a wheelchair bound subject immersed in mystery, voodoo practices, angry long-haired spirits but, director Kevin Greutert is able to give the film a nice creepy atmosphere, some really spooky dream sequences and uses those familiar elements well enough to give us some decent chills here and there, such as a cliché but, still effective bathtub scene. There is an element of mystery here that works just fine, too and I will say I wasn’t quite expecting things to turn out like they did… though the ‘shocking’ climax wasn’t really shocking. Not everything works, some of the supernatural elements are too familiar and having a voodoo tinged flick set in Louisiana’s Bayou isn’t exactly new. There is also some weak dialog and a major character exits a bit too quickly to have resonance but, Greutert gets through it competently and I think he shows potential with a stronger story and a bit tighter script and he does get good work from his leading lady, which helps us go along with it to a good degree.

Pretty girl-next-door Sarah Snook gives us a solid heroine in her Jessabelle. It helps us get past some of the clichés that she gives her Jessie some intensity and likability. Andrews gives her father an air of a man who knows something he isn’t going to talk about and displays successfully the uncomfortableness of seeing his daughter for the first time in years and having to deal with her snooping into things he feels need to be left alone. Joelle Carter does a nice on-tape performance as her mother, Kate, who dabbled into some kind of voodoo and her performances gets increasingly creepy the further into the VHS tapes we go and it works very well in providing a few goose-bumps despite being nothing new. Rounding out the main cast is Mark Webber as old high school friend Preston who helps Jessie in her investigation and provides a little sexual tension despite his character being married.

So, Jessabelle isn’t a great movie and probably not an overly memorable one but, it takes it’s familiar story and time honored supernatural elements and creates a moderately entertaining enough supernatural mystery/thriller. There was some nice atmosphere and director Greutert used his locations well and did give us some chills despite walking ground tread frequently. The cast all handle the material well despite some clunky dialog and leading lady Sarah Snook gives us a serviceable heroine to root for. Sure, we’ve pretty much seen most of it before but, it kept my attention and the big reveal worked well enough as long as you don’t analyze things too much. There are better supernatural horrors out there but, certainly far, far worse.

2 and 1/2 VHS tapes.

poughkeepsie tapes rating

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