BARE BONES: BLACK CHRISTMAS (2006) and SILENT NIGHT (2012)

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BLACK CHRISTMAS (2006)

Remake, of sorts, of the holiday slasher classic finds a group of bitchy sorority sisters under siege by a demented serial killer and his sister. William Lenz (Robert Mann) escapes from a mental hospital and heads to his former home which is now a sorority. He is joined by his equally psychotic sister Agnes (Dean Friss) to stalk such cuties as Lacey Chabert, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Buffy alumni Michelle Trachtenberg and Katie Cassidy. Blood and body parts fly as they decimate the sorority sisters, one by one.

Flick is written and directed by X-Files writer Glen Morgan and turns what was a stylish and mysterious slasher into a blunt and over-the-top one. Bob Clark’s original was simple, had it’s bloody kills and never let us know who the killer really was, adding an eerie quality. Here we are introduced to our psychos right away with continual flashbacks and we get some really gory death’s and some very drunk and bitchy sorority girls to inflict them on. There is little or no suspense, though the action is fast paced, there is some entertainment to be had and the gore is well rendered. The girls are certainly Christmas eye candy and Katie Cassidy does make a good final girl even if Morgan’s script gets silly at times. Worth a look, but hardly a classic.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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SILENT NIGHT (2012)

This remake of the 1984 Silent Night, Deadly Night, barely qualifies as such, as it takes half the title and a few scenes and primarily does it’s own thing. Here Christmas is approaching and a pretty deputy (Jaime King) is hunting a sadistic murderer in a Santa suit and mask, who is killing the bad folks of Cryer, Wisconsin in ho ho ho-rrible ways.

Flick is directed by Steven C. Miller from a script by Jayson Rothwell and takes all the fun out of the holiday themed slasher concept. It’s an ugly and sleazy flick that has it’s homicidal Santa killing, bad kids, lecherous priests, drug dealers, porn film makers and their scantily clad actresses. It makes this small town look like quite the sleaze pit and gives us few to root for as the victims are all unlikable for the most part and we meet them like three minutes before they die. They’re just Santa fodder and not characters we care about. At least in the original the characters were only questionably bad, regular people and not societies dregs which evoke little sympathy. Also stars Malcolm McDowell as the town sheriff, Zombeaver’s Cortney Palm, and Scott Pilgrim’s Ellen Wong as the police station receptionist. An ugly and boring movie.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: DEATH RACE 2050 (2017)

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DEATH RACE 2050 (2017)

Leave it to Roger Corman to remake his own classic. After a lackluster redo in 2008 with Jason Statham, simply titled Death Race, Corman returns to the source material for a more faithful remake of his classic Death Race 2000. The result is a silly flick that finds an overpopulated United Corporations of America initiating the annual Death Race to trim the population and entertain the overcrowded masses. The #1 driver of this cross country demolition derby of carnage is Frankenstein (Manu Bennett), who not only has to deal with new rival Jed Perfectus (Burt Grinstead), who wants his crown, but a rebel movement that wants his head. Can the cyborg star driver survive the race, the rebels and his own hot co-pilot with her own agenda, Annie (Marci Miller)?

Corman produced flick is directed by G.J. Echternkamp who co-wrote the script with Matt Yamashita. The result is a silly, and sometimes amateurish effort that doesn’t come close to the original classic, though feels more like a Death Race 2000 remake than the 2008 version. It does have an infectious delirious energy and leads Bennett and Miller are appealing, but the direction and script are too lackluster and goofy to really make this flick a treat. The original 1975 version blended the violence and satire perfectly and this version needed a more deft hand behind the camera and some more genuine wit in the script. There is plenty of gore and there is a nice chemistry between Frankenstein and Annie, but the film ultimately falls far short of what it is trying to emulate. Also stars Malcolm McDowell as The Chairman and Yancy Butler as the rebel leader.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: ROB ZOMBIE’S 31 (2016)

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ROB ZOMBIE’S 31 (2016)

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

With The Lords Of Salem, Rob Zombie delivered his best film and one where he showed a lot of growth as a filmmaker. He also showed he was capable of writing outside his grind house influences and even some maturity in the writing of his characters. With 31 Zombie unfortunately takes quite a few steps back with this dull, vulgar flick that is simply a series of brutal vignettes where a group of uninteresting characters are beset upon by a group of equally mundane villains. Story takes place on Halloween in 1976 where five carnival workers (Kevin Jackson, Meg Foster, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and Sheri Moon Zombie) are kidnaped by a group of rich weirdos (Malcolm McDowell, Judy Geeson and Jane Carr) who force them to play a sick game called “31”. The rules are simple…the five have twelve hours to survive against a group of hired killer clowns, Sick-Head (Pancho Moler), Psycho-Head (Lew Temple), Schizo-Head (David Ury), Sex-Head (E.G. Daily), Death-Head (Torsten Voges) and the worst of them all, Doom-Head (Richard Brake). Locked in an abandoned factory, they must kill or be killed as their aristocratic hosts watch and wager on their survival.

If it sounds interesting, it isn’t. It’s basically yet another version of The Most Dangerous Game with innocents being hunted by killers while the haves cheer the deaths of the have-nots. Zombie directs from his own script and it’s one of his more uninspired stories, that lacks even the fun, homage heavy atmosphere of his first flick, House of 1,000 CorpsesSalem showed a lot of progress in his dialog and characters and with this mundane flick we’re back to obscenity spouting, two-dimensional characters that aren’t endearing or particularly likable…and those are the good guys. We just don’t care what happens to this bunch. The only person that earns our sympathy is Daniel Roebuck’s pre-credits scene preacher. The villains are all bland and generic loonies with only Brake’s Doom-Head projecting any menace, because he is the only one who doesn’t go over-the-top turning his killer-for-hire into a cartoon character that loses their threat factor. Zombie does still have a good visual eye and gives us interesting things to look at, despite the simple setting and crowd-funded budget. The violence once again returns to that of his earlier films and once again we are bludgeoned with so much brutality, that we become numb to it long before the film’s 102 minutes are over. The movie does have a few moments, such as when our protagonists decide to go on the offensive against Psycho-Head and his brother Schizo-Head, but the overall effect is that the heroes become as vicious as the killers and it becomes hard to side with them as they match brutality with brutality. After a few more bloody battles, the film just ends suddenly with a sort of “That’s it, thanks for coming”. On a production level it is well made for a low budget flick and Zombie does pepper the soundtrack with some great tunes, like he always does. It’s just a sad disappointment that the maturing filmmaker that made the intriguing Lords Of Salem turned back into a horny 13 year-old who thinks endless vulgarity and gallons of spurting blood is all you need to be entertaining. Even his first feature, House of 1,000 Corpses was more interesting and a more solid movie.

The cast also seems to have regressed. Both Phillips and Zombie’s wife Sheri Moon were really good in Salem and here they are given very little to work with and don’t seem to really be into this flick. Their characters are bland, lifeless and have nothing all that interesting to say between curse words, sexual banter and violent death. We never really get to know them enough to care. Veteran Foster gives her Venus some gusto when under attack and Brake does give Doom-Head some real menace, but the rest of the cast seem to be operating on a paycheck level, not that they have much to work with from what might be Zombie’s weakest script.

In conclusion, this film was a major disappointment from a filmmaker who has been progressing from film to film. Even his much maligned Halloween II had some brilliant imagery and had the guts to do it’s own thing with a classic character and franchise. 31 has a minimal plot, that pits a group of cardboard good guys against some generic, vulgar and violent villains for another group of sadistic aristocrats. Nothing we haven’t seen often before. All the vulgarity and violence would be fine if there was some genuine wit, intensity or suspense here, but there isn’t…it’s just a series of increasingly violent interludes. It’s a dull and brutal movie that wears out it’s welcome long before the first hour is up and shows you all it has to offer in even less time. Would much rather have seen Zombie make his canceled Broad Street Bullies hockey flick than this dull regression.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 very disappointing butcher knives.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: CLASS OF 1984 and CLASS OF 1999

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I haven’t done a double feature in a while and what better double feature than these two Mark Lester action/exploitation flicks!

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CLASS OF 1984  (1982)

Class Of 1984 is a good old fashioned exploitation flick and it knows it! Story finds idealistic music teacher Andrew Norris (Perry King) entering the crime and gang ridden Abraham Lincoln High School with the intent or doing some good. He immediately runs afoul of the most vicious gang in the school run by the charming but demented Peter Stegman (Vince Van Patten). The more Norris challenges the gang, the more they push back. Family, friends and biology lab animals are all caught in the crossfire as this feud escalates into a war and a peaceful teacher is pushed to the brink of savagery in response to Stegman and company’s increasingly cruel…and personal…attacks. Will anyone survive?

Sure, one could argue that Norris is a fool for putting, students, friends and his pregnant wife (Merrie Lynn Ross) in harm’s way by taking this gang of creeps on, but this is a sleazy exploitation film and co-writer/director Mark Lester knows it and delivers the goods. We let it slide that Norris continues to antagonize these vicious punks even though they let him know early on that they know where he lives and they are not going to relent. His crusade to rid the school of these deviants gets a lot of people…and cuddly lab animals…hurt, including a vicious attack on his pregnant wife, but Norris continues till they drive him over the edge and then, the real fun begins. Even back in 1982 this flick, that Lester co-wrote with Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play) and John Saxton, created controversy with it’s portrayal of violence, prostitution and drug dealing all perpetrated by high schoolers…and then the violent and bloody revenge exacted on them by one of their own teachers. It’s over-the-top portrayal of a school run by delinquents may actually seem more appropriate now with what is happening in today’s school and far less likely such a film would have gotten made today, even on an exploitation level. It’s violent and while over-the-top, it takes itself seriously and is an effective and brutal action flick that isn’t afraid to go places that are considered taboo, maybe even more-so today. Great movie…no. Damn effective exploitation flick…hell, yes!

I wouldn’t say the acting is great, but the cast all take their roles seriously. King is convincing as the idealistic and somewhat naive teacher who thinks he is going to just walk into a troubled school and clean house. He also is convincing…and a little scary…once that good man is turned into a vengeful savage whose vengeance may almost be crueler than the actions of those he’s seeking revenge upon. Van Patten is very effective as Stegman. Charming and crazy and totally living in a moral vacuum due to a rich mother who has blinders on to his heinous actions. Not her baby, absolutely not. He is vicious and cruel and will stoop to the lowest levels to maintain his iron grip on “his” school. Van Patten nails it. We have veteran Roddy McDowall, who is a teacher who prefers to look the other way, but snaps when drawn into Norris’ crusade. McDowall always gave his all, even in a sleazy film like this. We also have a pre-“Alex P. Keaton” Michael J. Fox as one of the few good students left and another person Norris’ obsession gets hurt.  Rounding out the main characters, Ross is fine as the sweet, loving loyal wife who we know from the start is there to be victimized and those scenes are brutal and added to the film’s controversy.

This is an exploitation flick through and through. It steamrolls right into controversial topics and does so with a bloodthirsty gusto at times. It never pretends to be anything else but what it is. It’s effective and relentless and even has some legitimate suspense and chills in it’s portrayal of a good man drawn into a personal confrontation with complete trash. An effective B-Movie that still resonates in today’s world of violence in schools. Title song “I am The Future” is performed by Alice Cooper.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 saw blades…ouch!

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SPOLIER WARNING: This trailer does show some scenes which reveal key moments!

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CLASS OF 1999 (1990)

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

Eight years after his controversial but profitable exploitation flick, Class Of 1984, Mark Lester co-wrote and directed this follow-up which shares similar themes, but goes further over-the-top by adding elements of Terminator and Escape From New York. The film takes place in the future…or what was the future when it was made…where youth gangs have gotten so out of control that the police establish “Free Fire Zones” around schools where they will not enter and it’s up to the Department Of Educational Defense to use their own private security force to establish order. They also have collaborated with a robotics company called Megatech to create cybernetic teachers to educate and discipline these unruly students. Unknown to Principal Langford (Malcolm McDowell) the devious Dr. Forrest (a spooky Stacy Keach) has used combat robots as prototypes for these new teachers. Now it is the teachers whose methods of discipline are out of control and it’s up to former gang member Cody (Bradley Gregg) and the principle’s spirited daughter (hottie Traci Lind) to stop these automatons before more of their classmates are slaughtered.

Sequel is more of a straight-up B-Movie action flick than an exploitation flick, like 1984 was. But like that flick, the film knows it and dives straight into it’s over the top story and just runs with it…like a good B-movie should. First off, Lester earns B-Movie high marks by casting exploitation icon Pam Grier, 80s movie bad guy Patrick Kilpatrick and B-Movie veteran John P. Ryan as the three cybernetic teachers who turn killing machines. They add a lot of personality to their villains. The action in the film is decent but unremarkable, but Lester saves the best for last for the finale when the surviving gang members take on the three combat robots in the halls of Kennedy High. It’s this last act where the movie really comes alive and is at it’s most fun, as the teacher’s reveal their true T-800 nature and the high school hallways become a bloody war zone. This film, obviously, has a bit more of a sense of humor than Class Of 1984 and doesn’t get anywhere near as cruel or vicious, though it has a few violent moments. Lester moves things along quickly and while it lacks it’s predecessor’s intensity, it has fun with it’s premise by flipping things around and having us rooting for the delinquent students this time. It’s not a great movie and under-performed at the box office, but overall, it’s a fun little B-Movie though, not quite up to Lester’s work on Commando.

The cast are fine, it’s obviously veterans like Grier, Ryan, Kilpatrick, Keach and McDowell who stand out with their over-the-top performances as robots, mad scientist and the principal caught in the middle, respectively. Bradley Gregg does make a sufficient anti-hero with an Edward Furlong-ish quality. He could have had a bit more of a presence as a supposed former gang leader, but he does well with portraying a young man who wants out, but is pulled back in. Lind is an adorable and very feisty leading lady. She sadly is demoted to damsel in distress for the finale, but she gives her Christy a lot of spunk and fire for the rest of the flick. I had a huge crush on her back in the day and while I like her here, I still like her Alex in Fright Night Part II better. Alex had a bit more fight.

I like this flick. Not as strong as Class Of 1984, but it is still a fun B-Movie action flick that just goes with it’s silly story. I did see it in a theater…I think it was the Hyway Theater in Fair Lawn, N.J., another cool place to see B flicks like this…and had fun with it. I still enjoy it now, even though 1999 has long past and we don’t have cybernetic teachers…that we know of. It’s an entertaining little movie from a director who made a career of fun flicks like this and was never afraid to take his stories and run with them. A fun time and a worthy second feature to the first flick. As said, it performed poorly at the box office, but must have done well enough on home media as there was a second sequel, without Lester, that went direct to VHS in 1994. Also stars Near Dark’s Joshua John Miller as Cody’s brother.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 cybernetic disciplinarians.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN II

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With the Holidays here what better way to show some cheer then by featuring a couple of Rob Zombie movies…and holiday themed Rob Zombie movies at that…OK, the holiday is Halloween, but since it’s Halloween all year round at MonsterZero NJ’s, these flicks are appropriate…in my twisted little mind anyway! I know Zombie’s Halloween features have caused a lot of controversy and evoked some strong feelings both pro and con, but that’s far better in my mind than indifference. So, what did I think of them? Read on…
Both reviews are of the director’s cuts…

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ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN (2007)

(Click on the highlighted links to go to corresponding previous features here at MonsterZero NJ’s Movie Madhouse!)

There are things I like about Rob Zombie’s remake and things I don’t. As far as the things I didn’t like, Zombie’s biggest mistake is de-mystifying Michael Myers. Carpenter’s original had an average little boy from an average family, savagely murdering his older sister for no apparent reason on Halloween night. Zombie makes him the product of a broken white trash home with a stripper mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) who has a taste for loser boyfriends (William Forsythe). Giving Myers a reason for his violent behavior takes away the mystique the character had. Zombie’s Myers is a damaged young boy (Daeg Faerch) who tortures small animals and graduates to killing people and is sent to an asylum where he silently grows into a homicidal man (Tyler Mane). Carpenter’s Myers was pure evil, the young boy stopped existing and grew into a vessel for an unexplained evil force and it was random and thus spookier. The original Myers became a supernatural being, where Zombie’s Myers is all too human. Another mistake is spending almost an hour examining Myers youth and incarceration at the mental hospital before he is set loose to return home to find his little sister, now a teenager with the adopted name of Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton). Carpenter got things rolling within a few minutes in the original and his flick focuses on the stalking of Laurie and gets the scares started early. And Laurie Strode is a random victim in Carpenter’s flick, the convention that she was related to Michael wasn’t added till the original’s sequel Halloween II. Finally, the casting of genre legend Malcolm McDowell, as Dr. Loomis, doesn’t work for me. I love McDowell, but his portrayal is a bit off. He didn’t quite seem to fit the role. He also botches a couple of the classic lines and these lines are important to the mythos. Patrick Stewart would have made a far better Loomis, not that he would have done such a film.

On the plus side, Zombie does have a nice visual style and things do get intense once he finally let’s Myers loose on the peaceful town of Haddonfield. Zombie’s Myers has a savageness that the original Myers lost after being dragged through numerous sequels, and the havoc he raises is some of the best action the character has seen since the original. Tyler Mane does make an imposing Myers and his Myers is filled with rage whereas Carpenter’s Myers was more methodical. Aside from my feelings on the casting of McDowell, the rest of the cast are fine. Sheri Moon Zombie shows some nice depth as a mother helplessly watching her son become a monster. She generates some real pain in her eyes and it makes her very sympathetic. Scout-Compton is a spunky and cute heroine and plays Laurie as a typical modern teenager,  but also gives her part the needed intensity when HE comes home and she’s forced to save her babysitting charges and fight for her life. Zombie also peppers the film with familiar faces. We get Halloween sequel veteran Danielle Harris (Halloween 4 & 5) returning to the series now fully grown to play Annie Brackett and she plays a typical feisty teen girl with boys on the brain and genre vet Brad Dourif is cast as her father, Sheriff Brackett who is conflicted as to whether to believe Loomis’ warnings or not. We get cameos by the likes of Dee Wallace as Laurie’s mother, Ken Foree as Joe Grizzly, a trucker who unfortunately provides Myers with his trademark coveralls, Sid Haig as a cemetary caretaker, Danny Trejo as a hospital orderly who takes pity on Michael and Richard Lynch as Michael’s school principal. There is also a nice re-imagining of Carpenter’s score by Tyler Bates which adds some spooky atmosphere especially in the second half when Myers is finally unleashed and Phil Parmet’s cinematography captures Zombie’s visuals very well.

The scenes in Haddonfield are really what worked for me as they should have. Zombie shows he can produce some suspense and scares and he cranks it up here. Too bad he chose to focus a good deal of the running time on Michael’s youth and incarceration which is less interesting as we know where it all leads, as this is a remake after all. As for the climax, without giving away any details, Zombie chooses to end his remake with a blunt shock ending where John Carpenter crafted an opening ending that left us with a feeling of dread even after the film was long over. It’s not a bad ending and does have resonance, but doesn’t have the bone chilling effect of the original.

I stand by my opinion that Zombie has a great horror film in him but, he needs to concentrate on using his distinct visuals more often and moving past his fascination with the 70’s grind house style filmmaking and the white trash characters that inhabited a lot of those films. There is nothing wrong with paying homage to your influences, but Zombie has covered that ground in his first three films now and I think he is capable of his own style.

The lowdown: better than pretty much all of the sequels after Halloween III (which, as you may know, I like a lot!), but a far cry from John Carpenter’s original masterpiece. I at least give Zombie the credit for trying to do his own thing instead of a stale shot for shot remake.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) Zombie Myers!

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ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN II (2009)

WARNING: If you haven’t seen Zombie’s Halloween remake, there are some points of discussion in the sequel review which may contain spoilers for the first film…
This is the film of the two Zombie Halloweens that get’s the most flak, but to be all honest, I’ve come to like this one because it’s more of a Rob Zombie film featuring Carpenter’s characters. He’s free from the confines of a remake and doing his own thing. The results can be mixed, but it is still better than any of the post Halloween III sequels. This film takes place immediately after the last with Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) and Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris) in the hospital being frantically worked on and Myers being hauled off to the morgue. But when an accident wrecks the morgue transport, the resilient Michael Myers rises from his slab and walks off after murdering the surviving van occupant. He disappears and the story picks up two years later with a traumatized Laurie living with Annie and her father (Brad Dourif) while Laurie is trying to deal with the approach of Halloween and the fact that Myers’ body was never found. Of course it’s no secret to the audience that Michael is on his way back to Haddonfield to finish what he started and leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.

The fact that this sequel never really feels like a “Halloween” film works both for and against it. It’s more of a Rob Zombie film and here he is not afraid to take Myers’ mask off or get inside his head for some beautifully visualized hallucination sequences of Michael’s dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie). Tyler Bates also forgoes the traditional Halloween music for the most part and his score is quite good despite not imbuing the Halloween sound and flavor like all the other movies. Zombie gives his sequel a more methodical pace and while the film never really gets scary, there are some real brutal and intense moments such as Myers’ reuniting with Annie. There are some savagely violent scenes here that are very effective, but by the end of the film, you do feel a bit bludgeoned with all the brutality. McDowell returns as Loomis who is now a pompous bestselling author writing books about Myers and profiting from the horrible experience that left many dead. I didn’t like Dr. Loomis being portrayed as an egotistical asshole. Just didn’t work. The character was always representative of the good fighting the evil and now he is a douche who is willing to sell everyone out to make a buck and himself famous. It also makes his last minute change of heart near the climax hard to swallow. Ironically since McDowell is freed of the confines of the tradition portrayal of the Loomis character, I accepted him better in this incarnation of the role despite not liking the direction the character is taken.

There is a lot of other things to like here, too, though, unless you are a Halloween traditionalist and just can’t forgive Zombie for taking his own direction with things. There are some really twisted and bizarre dream sequences that have beautiful and surreal visuals that really impressed me and cinematographer Brandon Trost captures them well as with the look of the rest of the film. Much like the final act of Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, it is when Zombie takes his camera into these surreal sequences that his films really come to life and sadly he doesn’t do it often enough, thought I really liked what he did here and how these sequences got into both Myers’ and Laurie’s heads. I liked the sequences of Myers hallucinating that he sees his dead mother and his younger self (Chase Wright Vanek here as Faerch had outgrown the part), egging him on to kill. And the same for Laurie Strode’s nightmares. Great stuff. And I really liked the WTF ending. He really went outside the comfort zone of this series and in terms of traditional Halloween lore and it was daring. The Kubrick-esque final shot gives the appropriate chills the remake’s end lacked.

He gets some really good performances out of his cast again. Compton is good, but I do prefer her as the sweeter Laurie then the foul mouth tattooed traumatized girl here…though the progression is understandable and she does come across as a very messed up teen, mixing psychological damage with teen angst. Danielle Harris shows that she has grown into a really good actress as Annie, who was far more seriously hurt by Michael and yet is handling it a lot better then Laurie. She’s both friend and mother to Strode while soldiering on with her own life. A strong young woman and it makes her confrontation with Myers all the more powerful. And last, but not least, genre favorite Brad Dourif gives what might be the performance of his long career. Yes, he is that good and thankfully Zombie gives him a lot of good material and scenes to show it in. I loved him in this. Again, we also get some cameos by genre vets and Zombie favorites like Margot Kidder as Laurie’s psychiatrist, Howard Hessman as Laurie’s record store/cafe owner boss and Daniel Roebuck as a delightfully sleazy strip club owner.

While it’s not a great movie, I do like it for what it is and the risks Zombie took here with characters that are quite endeared to horror fans. Ironically, Zombie has been criticized and chastised for taking these risks, while equally so for not taking enough risks in the previous film. Sometimes you just can’t please fans when it comes to poking around an established classic. I hope someday Rob Zombie makes an original film that finally lives up to the potential he constantly shows. This film showed a progression from Halloween and I think we are seeing him move away from grind house and more toward Zombie. While many horror fans would disagree, I like this flick and recommend it as long as you have an open mind as to how classic characters are utilized and aren’t offended because someone took an established franchise and thought outside the box with it.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) Zombie Myers!

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For a look at Zombie’s House Of 1000 Corpses and The Devils’ Rejects click here!

And for a look at his The Lords Of Salem click here!

For a profile of Screen Queen extraordinaire Danielle Harris click here!

For our look at the original Halloween click here and it’s first two sequels here!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: AMERICAN MARY and EXCISION

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I know that I have reviewed these films within the last few months, but I think these two unconventional films that both deal with a lead  female character with an interest/skills in surgery and the disturbing stories within which our leading ladies find themselves in, make for a very provocative and chilling Saturday night combo…

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AMERICAN MARY (2013)

Flick tells the interesting story of pretty med student, Mary Mason (Katherine Isabelle) who, when in need of cash, finds herself getting accidentally involved with illegal surgery and body modification. But it’s not till she is drugged and raped at a party by her arrogant pervert of a professor (David Lovgren) that Mary’s skills get put to horrifying use and her inner Frankenstein is unleashed.

American Mary is intriguing, but never fully decides what it is really about to make it completely captivating, or gets truly twisted enough to make it cult film material. This Canadian flick written and directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska (who also play twins in the movie) has a nice visual style and some very gruesome moments, but never really grabs us completely or shocks us enough to solidify itself the cult status it aims for. The cast is decent and there are a few interesting and eccentric characters, but lead Katherine Isabelle, who was so good in Ginger Snaps, plays Mary with a bit of an emotional detachment for the most part or maybe a bit too low key. With all that befalls Mary, the tone of the character seems to remain the same despite that her life gets sent in disturbing directions and the changes it makes to her. She’s still good, but there should have been a bit more of a difference between Jekyll and Hyde. It would have made more impact. But Isabelle is a good actress and maybe it’s not her fault as she is not given a lot of time to develop Mary before the story sets in motion, so we don’t really see the changes in the character as the film progresses. Perhaps the Soskas get things moving too quickly and as Mary gets drawn in deeper and deeper into this bizarre world, we haven’t gotten to know her well enough to really add resonance to her life’s sudden macabre twist and the changes that occur within her. After her brutal rape, we can understand her emotional shut down, but even before that she seems to adjust a bit too quickly, despite the absurdity of what she’s asked to do and after, her cruel revenge seems to come a bit too easily. After the story events that have the most impact on Mary occur, the moments the Soskas give us to experience what Mary is feeling are all too brief and don’t sink in properly and that robs us of appreciating the true gravity of her transformation from down-on-her-luck med student to illegal body modification diva to sadistic murderer. I’m not saying what occurs doesn’t have any effectiveness, it does. But we needed a little more time with Mary at those transformation points to really appreciate what’s happened to her. To a degree Mary seems likable, but we never really get truly emotionally involved as she embraces her dark and sadistic side or begins to revel at being a rock star of underground body modification surgery…and we should in order to give the story the weight it needs to elevate it to something unique and special. There’s just something missing. The Soskas seem to be far more interested in who Mary is to become and forget that we need to know her better as who she is first to appreciate that.

I won’t take away that this is an original story in a genre filled with remakes and sequels and it still held my interest throughout despite it’s flaws. This real segment of society has never really been touched on in films and we wish the Soska’s would also have delved even deeper into this sect of people that see their bodies as ever evolving canvases and physically alter them through illegal surgery such as Mary provides. There are also a few story lines going on during American Mary and none get fully developed, such as what is going on between Mary and strip club owner Billy (Antonio Cupo), who first hires her to perform an illegal surgery. A partnership/relationship between them then forms that the parameters of which are never really made clear. And then there’s the bond between Mary and Lance the bouncer (Twan Holliday) that I would like to have seen more of. And that’s what restrains American Mary, it is an interesting story with some equally interesting ideas that never gets fully developed enough to really get our complete attention or becomes bizarre and twisted enough to make it more memorable…though it has it’s moments. Worse still, the ending feels forced and sudden as if the Soska’s didn’t know where to go with Mary’s story at that point and add a plot contrivance to wrap things up in a bloody bow. It’s abrupt and not very satisfying.

An intriguing diversion and a nicely original story idea that’s worth a look and has it’s effectiveness, but could have been much more with a little more development of the story and it’s lead character. In conclusion, I did like it and find it intriguing, but it is a flawed film as much as an interesting one…and if anything, I’ve re-watched it a few times and it has made me second guess my feelings about it and the film at least deserves credit for that.

-MonsterZero NJ

A generous 3 bones saws!

american mary rating

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Excision_posterEXCISION (2012)

Richard Bates Jr. writes and directs this original, trippy and really disturbing horror/drama about emotionally troubled teen, Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) who escapes from her repressive mother (Traci Lords) by immersing herself in an interest in surgery, complete with gruesome and bizarre fantasies. Fantasy and reality may collide, as the disturbed Pauline grows desperate to win her distant mother’s love and plots to do so by saving her little sister, Grace (Ariel Winter) from her cystic fibrosis…in the only way her demented mind sees possible.

Not only does Bates weave a drama that mixes with equal parts horror, but also gets great performances out of McCord, who really surprises with how well she disappeared into Pauline’s demented ugly duckling persona, and Lords, who shines as her overbearing mother. It’s the performances all around that really make this haunting, off-center and sometimes gruesome character study really work. He also vividly creates the fantasies inside Pauline’s head and makes them both visually beautiful and highly disturbing at the same time. It gives us a chilling idea of just how unhinged this high school outcast really is.

Not for everyone, but for those who don’t mind something different and unnerving, this is a really good watch. Also features appearances by Malcolm McDowell, Ray Wise, Marlee Matlin and John Waters.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 solid bone saws!

american mary rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: EXCISION (2012)

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EXCISION (2012)

Richard Bates Jr. writes and directs this original, trippy and really disturbing horror/drama about emotionally troubled teen, Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) who escapes from her repressive mother (Traci Lords) by immersing herself in an interest in surgery, complete with gruesome and bizarre fantasies. Fantasy and reality may collide, as the disturbed Pauline grows desperate to win her distant mother’s love and plots to do so by saving her little sister, Grace (Ariel Winter) from her cystic fibrosis…in the only way her demented mind sees possible.

Not only does Bates weave a drama that mixes with equal parts horror, but also gets great performances out of McCord, who really surprises with how well she disappeared into Pauline’s demented ugly duckling persona, and Lords, who shines as her overbearing mother. It’s the performances all around that really make this haunting, off-center and sometimes gruesome character study really work. He also vividly creates the fantasies inside Pauline’s head and makes them both visually beautiful and highly disturbing at the same time. It gives us a chilling idea of just how unhinged this high school outcast really is.

Not for everyone, but for those who don’t mind something different and unnerving, this is a really good watch. Also features appearances by Malcolm McDowell, Ray Wise, Marlee Matlin and John Waters.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 solid bone saws!

american mary rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DOOMSDAY (2008)

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DOOMSDAY  (2008)

A fun tribute to 80s action classics like Escape from New York and The Road Warrior, that’s like a time capsule trip back to the that era of movies. Those who call it unoriginal and a rip-off, don’t understand that a rip-off wouldn’t be so blatantly obvious and downright giddy about wearing it’s influences so proudly out in the open. It’s supposed to be reminiscent of those two 80’s classics and with nods to other flicks like The Warriors and even Excalibur. Doomsday is a homage, and director Neil Marshall never intended it otherwise. I am a big fan of  Marshall and I get exactly what he was doing here. The similarities are all deliberate and taken as such, this film is a nostalgic blast.

Doomsday tells of a near future where a horrible and deadly virus has broken out in Scotland and the British government walls the country off and leaves the survivors to die. Britain is reviled and exiled by the rest of the world and now is becoming one giant slum. When the aptly named ‘reaper virus’ returns to London, the bureaucrats send loose cannon, Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) into Scotland with a team of scientists and soldiers to find rumored survivors and thus a possible cure. What they find are a number of living and dangerous threats including a vicious gang of punk rock cannibals and a society of people reverted back to medieval times, castle and all. Even if they find a cure they may not survive the inhabitants of Scotland’s wasteland to bring it back.

Marshall fills Doomsday with a lot of action and some of it very bloody and gruesome at that. The film rarely stops moving and delightfully spills plenty of gore between the fight scenes, zombie-like plague victims and hungry punk cannibals. The FX are all very well done, as are the stunts, and the cast, including Bob Hoskins and Malcolm McDowell, are all playing it straight, yet having a good time. Let’s not forget to mention that Rhona Mitra makes an ass-kicking and smoking hot, female Snake Plissken/Mad Max mash-up. And if you haven’t gotten the point, Tyler Bates delivers a nice score that pays homage to those before mentioned 80s classics, as well. If you are a fan of 80s action flicks, especially Escape from New York and The Road Warrior, then pull up a chair, open a beer and relive the spirit of those genre classics that is so perfectly recaptured here. A fun retro blast of a movie from Neil Marshall.

A fun bit of trivia: Actor Craig Conway who plays the gang leader “Sol” also played one of the creatures in Marshall’s The Descent and a camper in the opening sequence of Marshall’s Dog Soldiers.

MonsterZero NJ Rant: I know how things work. If a movie doesn’t do well…and Doomsday didn’t…there is little or no chance of a sequel. But I really loved the character of Major Eden Sinclair and thought Rhona Mitra really pulled off the female Plissken/Mad Max hybrid while yet making the character her own. I would love to see Eden Sinclair return in another film adventure, but especially now years later, there is little or no chance of that. Bummer! A great character that would really rock in another adventure set in Marshall’s grim future, but alas, it most likely will never happen! Too bad! End rant!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Eden’s

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