MONSTERZERO NJ’S 10 REASONS IT’S NOT HALLOWEEN WITHOUT LIN SHAYE!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S 10 REASONS IT’S NOT HALLOWEEN WITHOUT LIN SHAYE!

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Lin Shaye as ghost hunter, Elise in the Insidious franchise! Photo: Universal Pictures

Watching horror flicks during the Halloween ūüéÉ season, there might be one face, aside from Karloff, Lee, England and Lugosi, that you might see more than once‚Ķand that familiar face is actress and horror icon Lin Shaye! A horror veteran for over thirty years, Shaye has appeared in a number of horror classics and cult classics, from the early 80s to present day, like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Insidious and The Midnight Man. So, in honor of this queen of horror, here are 10 horror flicks that illustrate why it’s not Halloween ūüéÉ without Lin Shaye!

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A talented and versatile actress that despite many roles in drama and comedy, has returned to the horror genre continually for over thee decades! Photo: Steve Granitz

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(To get to the reviews of the titles listed that were covered here at the Movie Madhouse, just type the title in the search engine to find the corresponding critique!)

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: THE CALL (2020)

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THE CALL (2020)

Flick takes place in 1987 and finds new kid in town, Chris (Chester Rushing) falling quickly for pretty schoolmate Tonya (Erin Sanders). When hanging with her friends, tough guy, Zack (Mike C. Manning) and his brother, Brett (Sloane Morgan Siegel), they find themselves assailing the house of Edith Cranston (horror legend Lin Shaye) with rocks and vulgarity. Edith Cranston is a former day care operator suspected of being a witch and Tonya blames her for the disappearance of her little sister, Laura (Brooklyn Anne Miller). The confrontation leads to Edith committing suicide and shockingly, the four youths are included in her will. At her home, husband, Edward (Tobin Bell), explains that to claim their inheritance of $100,000 each, they must simply go upstairs, one at a time, and answer a phone call. The call however turns out to be a nightmare for each, one they must endure, or loose the money and maybe their lives.

Film is directed by Timothy Woodward Jr. from a script by Patrick Stibbs. He directs well enough and the film has a spooky visual style, but it’s in the story where it stumbles. The set-up works fine enough and even the oft-used element of having one face their greatest fears, darkest secrets, inner pains, can still be done effectively, but here it’s not. None of what the four go through is particularly interesting. Having Zack and Brett being brothers, the two face exactly the same fear, their abusive, alcoholic father (Judd Lormand), so we get the same scenario played out twice. It’s repetitive and lazy. Chris’s ordeal is nothing new, or done all that interestingly and let’s just say we can easily guess what Tonya’s dark secret is, long before it’s revealed. On top of that, the 80s setting has literally no bearing to the story. What was the need to set it in the 80s and then have it take place inside the same house almost the entire film? The cast are all fine, especially a chilling turn from veteran Shaye, and the production looks good with some nice atmosphere. It’s just that after an intriguing set-up, the flick drops the ball in following it up with something equally as interesting, scary, or at least, less routine and predictable. A disappointing example of having a good premise and cast, but going nowhere with them.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CRITTERS 2: THE MAIN COURSE (1988)

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CRITTERS 2: THE MAIN COURSE (1988)

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

Sequel to Critters finds the Crite eggs seen at the end of the first film finally starting to hatch two years later at Easter time. This gets bounty hunters Ug (Terrence Mann), Lee (Roxanne Kernohan and Eddie Deezen) and Charlie (Don Opper) summoned back to earth. At the same time, Brad Brown (Scott Grimes), whose family had moved away, is returning to Grover’s Bend to visit his grandma (Herta Ware). Now in greater numbers, The Critters descend on the town and only Scott, Harv (Barry Corbin replacing M. Emmet Walsh) and the bounty hunters are all that stand between feast or famine for the fanged alien fur-balls.

Sequel is the directorial debut of Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers, The Stand) who wrote the script with David Twohy (Pitch Black and it’s two Riddick follow-ups). As such, it’s somewhat fun, but the material is already running out of gas, as it’s basically the first film all over again just bigger. The FX are still cheesy and the gore and brief nudity do again stretch the boundaries of it’s PG-13 rating, but the sequel, otherwise, plays it safe story-wise. There is a romantic interest for Brad, named Megan (Liane Alexandra Curtis), but otherwise there is little new as The Critters make mincemeat out of anyone that crosses their path. There is still some fun to be had, but the novelty, of something that is technically already a Gremlins clone, is definitely wearing off. The film under-performed at the box office, but still spawned two more direct-to-video sequels…the third being the acting debut of one Leonardo DiCaprio.

The cast seem less enthused than the previous film. Grimes tries hard, but it’s a bit off-putting that he seemed to be playing a much younger kid only two years earlier and now is playing a young man of his real age (17 at the time) with love interest and all. The film literally takes place only two years later and the difference seems odd. Mann and Opper repeat their roles fine with Charlie now being a bounty hunter and it is fun to have Lee zero in on an identity straight out of Playboy magazine, in the form of statuesque beauty Roxanne Kernohan. Barry Corbin is now playing Harv and makes the character his own to the point where it didn’t really need to be Harv, when all is said and done. Liane Alexandra Curtis makes a cute love interest/sidekick for Brad, as teen reporter Megan and Lin Shaye is back hamming it up as Sally.

It’s not as fun as the first film, which in itself was basically a rip-off of another flick, but is far from terrible. There are some laughs and some amusing gore and even a touch of nudity this time, despite a teen friendly rating. The FX are still amusingly cheesy, though the cast seem to be just running through their paces in this one. It’s still worth a look and does make a good double feature with the first flick, but it’s not quite the equal fans would have hoped for.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 critters.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CRITTERS (1986)

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CRITTERS (1986)

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Critters is a 1986 sci-fi/horror/comedy that owes as much to the creature features of the 50s as it does Joe Dante’s Gremlins. The flick opens with alien beings called “Crites”…furry little creatures with LOTS of teeth…escaping from an interplanetary penitentiary with shape-shifting bounty hunters Ug (Terrence Mann) and Lee (various cast members) in hot pursuit. The Crites land on Earth in Grover’s Bend, Kansas near the farm of the Brown family and they are very hungry. Now mom Helen (Dee Wallace), dad Jay (Billy Bush), teen daughter April (Nadine van der Velde), young son Brad (Scott Grimes) and drunken handyman Charlie (Don Opper) come under siege by the carnivorous Critters, who have chosen them as their next course. Will the bounty hunters arrive in time before this quaint family all become alien happy meals?

Despite being derivative this is a fun movie as directed by Stephen Herek from his script with Domonic Muir. Herek gives the flick a bit of a Spielbergian touch and it works well for the material. It has a fairly even mix of horror and humor and the bloodshed does push the boundaries of the PG-13 rating, while delivering some laughs. The Critter FX by the Chiodo Brothers (Killer Klowns) are enjoyably rubber prosthetics and the visual FX are delightfully cheesy. The action is limited to in and around the Brown farm with inept police deputies (Ethan Phillips) and visiting boyfriends (Billy Zane) showing up to become Critter fodder. The film is very 80s, no more of an example than a music video featuring star Terrence Mann, whose cheese metal rocker Johnny Steele becomes the face adopted by changeling Ug. It’s a bit overplayed, but is 80s hair metal to the core. The film wisely doesn’t wear out it’s welcome either, cruising in at an economical 85 minutes.

The cast are having a good time. Dee Wallace is the quintessential 80s mom next door, but despite playing a humble Midwestern housewife, she has a quiet sexiness that makes her hot. Billy Bush is the all-American, Midwest father and is the subject of a lot of Critter abuse. Nadine van der Velde doesn’t get much to do but scream and find herself in peril, but she is cute and is a fine damsel. Grimes is the hero of the film and does a good job as the nerdy kid who rises to heroic status. Opper is funny as the drunk, conspiracy theorist handyman, Charlie and Terrence Mann is solid as the terminator-like Ug and MTV idol Johnny Steele. The flick also has small roles with familiar faces, like M. Emmet Walsh as Sheriff Harv, horror icon Lin Shaye as his receptionist, Sally and the before mentioned Billy Zane as April’s ill-fated boyfriend, Steve. The Crites are all puppets and are voiced…complete with subtitles…by voice actor Corey Burton.

Sure, it was most likely inspired by Joe Dante’s classic from two years earlier, but stands up on it’s own thanks to some fun direction by Stephen Herek and a cast that knows how to play the material. The FX on all levels are nostalgically cheesy and the film has the right mix of humor and horror to entertain. It’s also delightfully 80s and shows what kind of movies New Line Cinema churned out before The Lord of the Rings trilogy turned them into a mega-studio. It was a modest hit for New Line and a sequel was paraded out two years later. Fun movie and worth a watch for 80s nostalgia fans.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 critters.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (2017)

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INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (2017)

Fourth installment in this franchise is again a prequel, this one taking place just before the events of the first film. First, it opens in 1953 and shows us a young Elise (Ava Kolker) in her childhood home showing her psychic abilities much to the anger of her abusive father (Josh Stewart). We relive a horrifying event and then are taken forward to 2010 where an adult Elise (Lin Shaye) is called by the current occupant of her old childhood house to investigate some paranormal activity. Now Elise must overcome her inner fear and go back to that house and not only relive those awful memories, but find out some horrifying truths as well.

Flick is again written by Leigh Whannell, who also appears as “Specs”, but this time directed by Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan). Robitel brings atmosphere and provides some spooky moments, though the series is starting to show signs of loosing steam. It is interesting to go into Elise’s past and see where this all began, but even so, the backstory isn’t enough to freshen things up completely. The story is well presented and we get the tension between Elise and the estranged brother (Bruce Davison) she left behind when she walked away from her father and that house, but despite the dramatic weight of this being a very personal investigation for Elise, we still feel it could have been stronger. The final showdown in The Further with the house’s reigning specter should have had more intensity. The evil entity lacks weight with being given little to no backstory and is kept on the sidelines till the last act. Still, it is well directed and shows, with a stronger script, Robitel could deliver a spooky and atmospheric film. This flick does have some good moments, including a fairly shocking reveal and there was a purveying sense of dread whenever the action took place inside the house. The film is entertaining, it’s just that it may be time to let this franchise rest in peace, or bring in new blood both creatively and on camera. We are introduced to Elise’s psychic niece Imogen (Caitlin Gerard from Smiley), so maybe such plans are already in place. It’s hard to do much with Elise when they killed her off in the first film, which in hindsight was a big mistake.

Lin Shaye is once again in top form as Elise. She is a great character and the actress gives the role lots of heart. She’s very likable and despite her experiences, she’s still vulnerable and can be scared. She makes the character very endearing which would explain her continual return in prequels. Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell are fine as Tucker and Specs, but it’s Elise’s show and they are wisely kept to side-kick duties. Bruce Davison is a class act and is sympathetic as her emotionally wounded brother, Christian. Josh Stewart is detestable as Elise’s dad and both Spencer Locke and Caitlin Gerard are likable as Melissa and Imogen, Elise’s nieces. A solid cast.

This was a good effort in many ways, just unfortunately in a franchise running out of gas. They gave us some nice backstory on Elise and made the story more personal, but the adventures in The Further and even it’s Key Face (Javier Botet) demon are routine and showing series wear and tear. Adam Robitel added atmosphere and handles the spookiness well, but Leigh Whannell’s script fails to freshen things up despite a more Elise-centric story. Overall, it was entertaining enough, but not going to win new fans and will have current ones questioning how much longer they are going to stick around for “Further” adventures.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 spooks.

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BARE BONES: THE MIDNIGHT MAN (2016)

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THE MIDNIGHT MAN (2016)

Creepypasta based flick finds emotionally troubled teen Alex (Gabrielle Haugh) caring for her dementia inflicted grandmother, Anna (Lin Shaye) in her old house. When she and boyfriend Miles (Grayson Gabriel) are poking around in the attic, they find what appears to be some sort of game. The Midnight Game involves inviting a malevolent spirit, known as The Midnight Man, into the house and then trying to evade him until 3:33 AM. If you do, you win. If you don’t…he claims you. Not taking it seriously, Alex and Miles begin to play not realizing the game is all too real…and so is The Midnight Man!

While yet another urban legend/boogeyman flick, Midnight Man is elevated by the presences of horror vets Robert Englund, as Anna’s old friend and physician Dr. Goodberry and Lin Shaye. It’s also well directed by Travis Z (Travis Zariwny) who wrote the script based on a screenplay by Rob Kennedy, from Kennedy’s own 2013 film about this creepypasta urban legend. Despite a fairly routine story, the film is atmospheric and entertaining and has a very effective visual style. Travis Z may not have concocted the most original film, but he still redeems himself here after the awful Cabin Fever remake, with some solid and spooky direction. It’s not perfect. The film’s boogeyman isn’t really all that scary, though Lin Shaye’s disturbing portrayal of Anna certainly makes up for it, and the characters seem willing to believe the game is real a little too quickly. Overall, though, what could have been another cookie cutter teen-centric horror, stands out a bit from the pack with some atmospheric direction from Travis Z, some generous blood and gore and the good use of two horror icons to support the young cast. Also stars Emily Haine as Alex’s friend Kelly who joins in on the game and has one of the spookier sequences.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY GETS A TRAILER!

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The fourth flick in the Insidious franchise is subtitled The Last Key and is slated to arrive on January 5th, 2018. For now we get a trailer and it does look kinda spooky. This one is again written by Leigh Whannell, but this time directed by Adam Robitel, who directed the very creepy The Taking of Deborah Logan. Series star Lin Shaye also returns in the flesh, which seems to imply it is another prequel.

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COOL STUFF: TALES OF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL EDITION BLU-RAY!

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TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015) Blu-Ray

Tales Of Halloween is a spooky fun 2015 Halloween anthology flick that has grown on me quite a lot since my initial review (see full review here) and has finally arrived on blu-ray a year later. This multi-story horror has been released by Epic pictures in a four disc special edition that is available from their website store, HERE.

As for the feature film itself, there is both a blu-ray and DVD version.¬†As for¬†the technical aspects of the blu-ray feature disc…

The picture is gorgeous, the colors vibrant and really represents well¬†the visual styles of all the directors and their cinematographers on the ten¬†tales told¬†here. The disc is presented¬†in the original 2.39.1 widescreen aspect ratio, preserving the film’s¬†intended¬†dimensions. The sound is in 5.1¬†surround sound with alternate 2.0 and basic stereo tracks for those without home theater sound systems. The menus are simple and easy to navigate. A nice presentation¬†to enjoy this holiday horror!

Now on to the extensive extras which make this 4-disc set even more appealing!…

The extras start out with a¬†production diary covering the 23 days of shooting that comes complete with interviews with cast and crew and some fun behind the scenes footage. In the bonus features, we get a behind the scenes reel‚Ķwhich does repeat a lot of what we saw in the production diaries‚Ķand an examination of the filming of one of the scenes from Mike Mendez’s gruesomely comic Friday The 31st, complete with storyboards.¬†We also get a deleted scene from one of the best stories, Grim Grinning Ghost and are treated to replays of the segments Sweet Tooth, Trick, Ding Dong¬†and This Means War¬†all with additional bonus commentary, aside from the commentary track that accompanies the movie¬†on the feature film discs. We also get eight short films from¬†a few¬†of the filmmakers involved, some of which are definitely worth checking out. There are also storyboards, a photo gallery, trailers and some pop-up video commentary that can be activated on certain stories¬†on the feature blu-ray. A nice selection¬†of extras.

The fourth and final disc is a CD featuring the film’s soundtrack which includes all the music from the segments and wraparound by¬†artists like Lalo Schifrin, Christopher Drake,¬†Joseph Bishara and more.

All of the discs are region free and can be played anywhere and the set also comes with two trading cards, too!

I really have come to appreciate and enjoy this flick beyond what my initial review reflects. It is now part of my traditional Halloween viewing, as it is loaded with Halloween spirit and imagery and I would love to see a follow-up with yet more filmmakers creating Halloween tales as in this film. If you liked this movie and have become endeared to it like I have, this 4-disc set is a must!

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015)

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TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015)

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

Tales Of Halloween is an amusing anthology flick that has ten stories told by ten different directors with the obvious reoccurring theme of Halloween. The stories are loosely connected by the presence of Adrienne Barbeau as a DJ, much like her Stevie Wayne character from The Fog and some shared characters.

Created by filmmaker Axelle Carolyn, this is a good idea that disappointingly has only¬†four out of the ten stories really being successful. The tone of the stories vary with some being goofy like Mike Mendez’¬†fun Friday The 31st, which has a Jason-like killer squaring off with an alien¬†who possesses the body of one of his victim’s and Carolyn’s own creepy Grim Grinning Ghost, which has a woman crossing paths with an urban legend. Those two hit their marks, though the best stories are the opening and closing tales.¬†Dave Parker’s Sweet Tooth, begins the anthology and¬†is another urban legend centric story of a boy that took his¬†love for Halloween candy to¬†a ghoulish level.¬†The closer, Neil Marshall’s Bad Seed, is a fun and gruesome story about a murderous jack-o-lantern. Darren Lynn Bousman’s self-explanatory The Night Billy Raised Hell is moderately amusing, as is Lucky McKee’s Ding Dong,¬†about a strange couple.¬†With unsettling Hansel and Gretel overtones and uncomfortable themes of spousal abuse and infertility, McKee’s tale is the most bizarre one. Ryan Schifrin’s The Ransom Of Rusty Rex is also somewhat amusing in it’s tale of a Halloween kidnapping gone very wrong. On the epic fail side, we have Adam Gierasch’s¬†tale of murderous trick-or-treaters with a twist,¬†Trick. It’s crude and violent without being¬†scary¬†or¬†funny. Paul Solet’s tale of demonic revenge with a spaghetti western slant, The Weak and the Wicked, is just dull and has the least Halloween spirit while¬†John Skipp and Andrew Kasch’s tale of neighbors battling¬†over competitive Halloween displays, This Means War, is just boring and predictable. Add that up and we have four stories that work really well, three that are pretty decent¬†and three that basically fall flat. There are some nice homages along the way, the SPFX¬†and make-up FX are pretty good¬†and the visual style varies¬†from filmmaker to filmmaker. It always has the look of Halloween, with jack-o-lanterns everywhere, even if the spirit isn’t quite captured by the tale being told. This anthology’s heart is in the ghoulish right place, though, if not completely¬†successful in accomplishing it’s overall goals.

The cast is rather large and even in the weaker episodes they seem to get the tone of the material and are having a good time. We have genre favorites¬†like Lin Shaye, Adrienne Barbeau, Barbara Crampton, Lisa Marie, Caroline Williams and Clare Kramer. There are some veteran actors like Barry Bostwick and John Savage and director cameos such as John Landis, Stuart Gordon, Adam Green and Joe Dante. Then there are also familiar faces like Some Kind Of Hate’s Grace Phipps, Cabin Fever’s Cerina Vincent, Starry Eyes’ Alex Essoe, scream queen Tiffany Shepis and Adrienne Curry as herself, to name a few. Overall a good cast that helps the stories a lot, even when they don’t make the grade.

Tales Of Halloween is far from¬†perfect and doesn’t succeed as much as we’d like. The stories that work are worth watching for and the middle ground stories are amusing¬†enough to check out, too. Even the failures aren’t a complete waste of time and are short enough to be over mercifully quick. While not totally¬†successful, it is a really good idea and hopefully next year, we get another and that one hits the ghoulish mark far more often. Not quite the Halloween classic hoped for, but¬†when it hits it’s stride it’s ghoulish Halloween fun.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 jack-o-lanterns as the stories I liked, I really liked.

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REVIEW: INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015)

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INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015)

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

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‚Ķand 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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