HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DARK WAS THE NIGHT (2014)

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DARK WAS THE NIGHT (2014)

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

I remember reading a supposedly true story when I was a little kid called The Devil Walked In Devon about the citizens of a snow covered English town in 1855 awaking to find a trail of cloven hoof footprints leading all through the village and neighboring towns, then stopping suddenly as if the maker vanished into thin air. As a kid, the story spooked me and stayed with me. I was delighted then to see that screenwriter Tyler Hisee cleverly incorporated that chilling tale in his story of a mysterious creature stalking a remote town.

As the film opens, we see the death of some logging crew members and then are taken 90 miles south to the remote town of Maiden Woods, whose population is well below 300. We are introduced to emotionally troubled sheriff, Paul Shields (Kevin Duran) who is suffering the effects of the accidental death of one of his young sons. He blames himself. His wife, Susan (Bianca Kajlich) has moved out and his other son, Adam (Ethan Khusidman) is caught in the middle. Soon, martial problems are the least of his worries as pets are disappearing and the usually abundant wildlife has all but fled the area. One morning, a trail of strange cloven footprints is found making it’s way through the entire town and paranoia begins to spread. Something is stalking the town of Maiden Woods, something vicious, strong and very hungry. Now it’s up to Shields and his transplanted New York deputy (Lukas Haas) to stop the mysterious creature before it begins to feed on the only source of food left…the citizens of Maiden Woods.

Directed by Jack Heller from Hisee’s script this is an atmospheric and spooky little movie that smartly keeps it’s mysterious monster in the dark for most of the film. It’s a slow burning horror/thriller in a time of rapid pace and the film benefits from it, as we get to know the characters and care about them as the threat looms and grows. Heller never lets us forget there is something formidable in the surrounding woods and we are constantly treated to spooky close calls with it, as well as, the effects of it’s nocturnal visits. He builds the tension slowly till we are treated to a tense final act with the desperate townsfolk huddled in a church during a snow storm with a creature lurking outside. If the film has any flaws, and it has a few, it’s that the ending could have been a bit more intense, with a little more cat and mouse inside the large church and when we finally see our fiend, the brief CGI is less than convincing. It’s a bit of a disappointment as we’ve been treated to shots of prosthetic limbs throughout, but the full creature is only moderately successful computer generation. It doesn’t drag the film down too bad as Heller has given his creature a formidable personality, it just didn’t have the impact it needed. Adding to the look and feel of the film are Ryan Samul’s atmospheric cinematography and Darren Morze’s moody score, which help us ease past those flaws a bit.

We get a solid cast here, too. Durand, usually known for supporting roles, is a fine and humanly flawed hero. His Paul has both a strength and an obvious sadness than makes him endearing and refreshingly vulnerable. Haas makes a likable Deputy Donny. He’s a bit of a fish out of water being a former NYC cop, who came to Maiden Woods to escape his own personal pains and he is a loyal partner for Shields. Bianca Kajlich is also fine as the wife who has lost a child and is maybe running away from the fact that she is loosing her husband too, to grief. She and Durand have a nice chemistry onscreen so we believe the emotions of their strained relationship. We also get some solid support from indie horror fixture Nick Damici (Stake Land, Late Phases) and Skateland‘s Heath Freeman as town locals.

This was an enjoyable monster flick with some nice atmosphere and chills from director Jack Heller. The script from Tyler Hisee cleverly incorporates a real life spooky folk tale in it’s story which helps build the sense of foreboding. The climax could have used a bit more intensity and the creature’s final unveiling could have had more impact but, it’s a little horror flick with it’s heart and chills in the right place. A fun and spooky movie.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 deer…though you’d be hard-pressed to find that many in Maiden Woods.
dark was the night rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: LADY IN WHITE (1988)

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LADY IN WHITE (1988)

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

I have to admit I only just saw this for the first time a short while ago. One of those flicks that slipped between the cracks. I’ve watched it twice now and, to be honest, can’t say that it really worked for me. Film, based on a real legend from Rochester N.Y., is considered a bit of a classic and tells the story of young Frankie Scarletti (Lukas Haas) who sees the ghost of a murdered girl and is almost himself killed by the man responsible. Now the spirits of the girl and her mourning mother, known as The Lady In White, won’t let Frankie rest till he solves the mystery of who done it…a mystery that could add him to the list of the fiend’s young victims.

Biggest problem for me is that the tone of the film is all over the place. One minute it’s a whimsical Spielberg-ish comedy such as in the opening scenes, the next minute a supernatural thriller in a Disney vein complete with floating, glowing specters and the next, a serious drama dealing with racism and the murder of little kids. It goes back and forth and writer/director Frank LaLoggia never settles on exactly what film he is trying to make. And when it comes to it’s more whimsical moments, the whimsy often slips into outright silly. LaLoggia does have a sumptuous visual eye and the film looks great, especially during the fairy tale-like supernatural scenes but, those scenes and the slapstick humor don’t gel with the more serious issues such as the murder of young children and the accusing of the wrong man solely because he is black. LaLoggia’s scene staging is also a bit clumsy and his work with actors isn’t much better as most of the performances across the board are wooden and even from veteran actors like Len Cariou and Alex Rocco, though Haas does good work for a kid his age. The fact that Frankie’s family is filled with cartoonish Italian stereotypes also weakens any potency the film tries to build…especially when it tries to make statements about racism and prejudice…and the dialog all-around is weak at times. Not to mention that we the audience have solved the who-dunnit long before the last act reveal. Overall, the film comes across as very corny, silly and a bit bombastic at times, which overpowers some of the simple charm it develops in quieter moments. The FX are also pretty cheesy by today’s standards and it’s hard to be chilled by what they represent. On the plus side, there is an atmospheric score by LaLoggia himself and Russell Carpenter provided the beautiful cinematography which really shines when the film delves into it’s more fantastic elements.

So, I can’t really say I like the film, because I really didn’t. There are some nice fantasy sequences and the visuals are sumptuous but, the tone is uneven and LaLoggia isn’t really a good director when it comes to getting performances out of the actors and staging scenes. He doesn’t seem to know what kind of film he really wants to make and never decides on a tone to properly set his tale. He also is overindulgent when subtle was working just fine. The film has some nice moments but, is too scatterbrained to be completely effective. Overall, it’s a bit of a silly film that has serious aspirations that just don’t blend with the more whimsical and fantastic elements. At least it is far better than his Fear No Evil, which is absolutely awful.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 ladies in white.

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