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Formally titled The Well, this post-apocalyptic drama takes place in a world that hasn’t seen rain in ten years. Once lush farm lands are now barren and home to squatters who survive on remote farms with wells that are slowly drying up. If the threat of not having water isn’t great enough, there is the greedy Carson (Jon Gries), a man who seeks to control all the remaining water and will kill anyone on the surrounding lands he finds using the wells. Enter young Kendal (Haley Lu Richardson) and Dean (Booboo Stewart) who live hidden on the ruins of the Wallace Farm For Wayward Youth surviving on an underground well. They have plans to escape, if they can find the right part for the old Cessna on a nearby property. Time is running out, though, as the ill Dean’s kidney’s are failing and Carson is becoming more desperate to rid the land of ‘vagrants’. Soon teen Kendal must choose between leaving Dean and the farm behind, or fight superior odds to save what she holds dear.

Film is well directed by Tom Hammock from his script with Jacob Forman. This isn’t an action flick, per se, and the film is moderately paced, but it is still an engrossing story of survival featuring a very endearing and strong central character in the young Kendal. Despite the looming threat of both running out of water and running into Carson, Kendal moves with a singular focus and that is to get her, Dean and a young boy, Alby (Max Charles) hiding on a neighboring farm, on that plane and out of there. It’s watching this tenacious teenager fighting to keep those around her alive and at the same time, not lose her humanity, that is what drives the film and keeps us watching despite familiar elements for this type of flick. Sure, we have seen many a post-apocalyptic drama with noble survivors and greedy villains, fighting over/hoarding gas or water, but this is more character driven and gives us a strong leading lady to follow. The film does have it’s confrontations and there is some startling bloodshed in the last act, when Kendal’s fragile world starts to collapse and she is forced to go on the offensive. The movie looks good on a low budget with it’s minimal but effective desert setting and properly creates the purveying mood of desolation and gloom, but not without a glimmer of hope via the resilient Kendal.

Hammock hit a home run with the casting of young Haley Lu Richardson as our strong-willed fighter, Kendal. Richardson carries a presence that comes across as natural and delivers a nice range of emotions in an untraditional story and setting. You believe she cares for Dean and Alby and fully believe in the risks she takes to see them safe. In a somewhat similar role, she reminded me a bit of Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone. In the final confrontation with Carson and his thugs, we are rooting for her all the way. As Carson, the underrated Jon Gries creates a man who is so full of his own self-righteousness that he truly believes the water is his and murdering other survivors is actually an act of mercy. He makes an interesting villain and again proves himself a versatile character actor that doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Booboo Stewart is effective as the kind but ailing Dean. It’s easy to see why Kendal cares for him so much and why he is her emotional and moral anchor. Girlhouse‘s Nicole Fox plays Carson’s daughter, Brooke and she is actually far more vicious than her father and outright enjoys the acts of murdering the innocent, while her father makes excuses to justify it. We also get appearances from veterans such as Barbara Crampton, Michael Massee and Rena Owen, who was so good in the powerful New Zealand drama Once Were Warriors.

There are a lot of really familiar story elements that keeps this from completely impacting the viewer, but it’s leading lady keeps us far more interested than we should be with it’s oft told story. Haley Lu Richardson is a star in the making and gives us a character far more worldly and wise than her age would imply. The film is well directed by Tom Hammock and despite it’s intentionally slow burn, it does deliver some action and violence that comes with such a story of survival against overwhelming odds. An impressive starring role for Haley Lu Richardson and an impressive debut from director/writer Tom Hammock who was production designer on The Guest and All The Boys Love Mandy Lane.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 samurai swords.

last survivors rating







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devils door



I am a fan of writer/director Nicholas McCarthy’s first feature, the surprisingly effective The Pact. It had it’s flaws, but it was very spooky, used some familiar horror conventions well and had a few surprises. When I heard he was working on a second feature, originally titled Home, I was anxious to see what he had up his sleeve next.

Now re-titled At The Devil’s Door, McCarthy brings us another tale of supernatural horror this time involving a demonic entity and those who have the misfortune of coming into contact with it. The film opens in the 80s with a young woman (Ashley Rickards) playing a strange game with an equally strange man (Michael Massee) in the middle of the desert for $500. She wins and is thus told she has been ‘chosen’ and to her horror, she realizes an evil presence has now followed her home. We cut to modern day where realtor Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is tasked to sell a house in foreclosure. The same house that once housed the girl we met from years earlier. But there is a dark presence still within in that empty home which has now targeted Leigh and her younger sister Vera (Glee’s Naya Rivera). And the more the history of the house and those that lived there is looked into, the more danger the sisters appear to be in from a malevolent force that has now ‘chosen’ one of them.

Much like with The PactMcCarthy crafts a very unsettling chiller that is not without a few flaws, but certainly the spooky goods far outweigh those flaws. Again he uses some very familiar horror movie trappings, but uses them well. It’s a creepy mix of Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen and with a touch of Paranormal Activity. It also reminded me slightly of Oculus from earlier this year, as it did employ flashbacks to fill in blanks in the story and briefly involved a mirror, but I believe that is purely coincidental and the overall story is quite different. McCarthy creates some very chilling atmosphere and his simple old school visual style is quite effective in enhancing that. I liked that his FX are mostly done in camera with good old fashion smoke and mirrors and the man certainly knows how to build tension and gives us a few good scares. The film’s flaws come in that the story sometimes jumps forward giving the impression that certain plot elements where achieved a bit too easily or persons found too quickly. And as such, they don’t resonate as much as they could when they seem to come about with so little effort. We could have used a bit more of the investigation aspects of the story so things had the illusion of some degree of difficulty to increase their dramatic weight. I’m also not sure I quite bought certain elements that set up the last act, but to discuss details would be unfair to those who want to go in knowing as little as possible, which I recommend. Suffice to say there are a few little plot holes that might evoke some questions, but nothing detrimental to the overall effect of this very unsettling film. There is also some nice cinematography by Bridger Neilson and an effective score by Ronen Landa to add to the overall mood.

McCarthy gets good work from a fairly small cast. Moreno is likable as Leigh. She’s an ambitious young woman, but one that has her own inner dramas and when it seems she’s unknowingly walked into contact with something malicious, her fear seems genuine as is our concern for her. Rivera also gives us a likable character in the artistic younger sister Vera, who is even less prepared to deal with this demonic entity especially since she is also unaware that she has been targeted. When the film switches focus to her in the second half, she handles it well as she begins to investigate into what is going on and why. The rest of the supporting cast do well in their parts including a brief appearance by Rob Zombie favorite Daniel Roebuck as the eager to sell homeowner and a creepy turn by young Ava Acres as a little girl who figures into the story later on.

Overall, I liked At The Devil’s Door. Not a major improvement over The Pact, but McCarthy is showing growth as a filmmaker and writer and it is a very spooky and moody little horror and one of the better ones I’ve seen so far this year. I think there are some very good things to come from McCarthy if he maintains his progression and, at the very least, he has delivered two spooky chillers so far. There’s a charm to his ability to make entertaining use of some traditional horror elements and his style is refreshingly simply and old school. A recommended horror, as is The Pact if you still haven’t seen that.

3 red raincoats.

devils door rating




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double feature_CROW_CROW-COA


This week’s double feature needs little explanation. The first Crow flick is a classic and simply a great comic book movie and it’s first sequel, City Of Angels is actually a decent film on it’s own and kind of underrated as it gets a lot of flack for simply having the audacity to be a Crow film without Brandon Lee. It has it’s flaws but, is still entertaining if you cut it a break for trying to tell a new story with a new central character and actor. Together with the first flick they make a cool night of dark themed heroics from beyond…


THE CROW  (1994)

The Crow is a bonafide film classic and one of my all time favorites and one whose story of revenge from beyond the grave is made all the more haunting by the tragic on-set death of it’s leading man Brandon Lee. Though, I think this would have still been a great flick without the notoriety of Lee’s accidental demise but, you can’t deny it adds a chilling effect when watched.

Based on the graphic novel by James O’Barr, this supernatural superhero flick tells the ill-fated story of rocker Eric Draven (Lee) and his fiancé Shelly Webster (Sophia Shinas) who are murdered the night before their Halloween wedding when Shelly’s well-intentioned battle against tenant eviction gets the attention of bizarre crime boss Top Dollar (Michael Wincott). His thugs T-Bird (David Patrick Kelly), Tin-Tin (Laurence Mason), Skank (Angel David) and Funboy (Michael Massee) kill Eric and then brutally rape and beat Shelly who dies a day later. But, Eric and Shelly’s love ran ran deeper then life itself and on the first year anniversary of their murders, Eric returns from the grave as an invincible avenger guided by a black crow and one by one starts to hunt down and slay the the fiends responsible for the death of he and his true love. But, Top Dollar has otherworldly assistance of his own and when he finds the source of Eric’s power, it now becomes his weakness and possibly the end of his quest for justice and revenge.

The script was written by David J. Schow and John Shirley and they really captured the essence and tone of O’Barr’s tale. Then when you add director Alex Proyas to the mix, you get a visually stunning and atmospheric adaptation that really nails the graphic novel’s look and feel. Proyas also gives us some great action sequences choreographed by star Brandon Lee and master stuntman, martial artist and stunt co-ordinator Jeff Imada, which make this a gritty, violent comic book come to life. But, it’s not all visuals and action as Proyas also gives this movie a heart and soul. Despite all the gunfire and explosions, the film is about eternal love and we are treated to flashbacks of Eric and Shelly’s relationship so, we get the full effect of how much these two meant to each other and it really is what makes this work so well. We believe Eric loved her so much that  he would cheat even death to avenge the wrongdoing of those responsible for ending his happy life with Shelly. We are right along with him rooting for him to take out the despicable villains and once we realize Eric has an exploitable Achilles’ Heel, it adds some tension and suspense as our hero can be made vulnerable and be stopped by those he seeks to destroy.

The film is populated by some colorful characters, brought to life by an eclectic but, strong cast. Lee shows that he could act as well as kick ass and he had the charm to be a leading man had his life not come to such a sad and early end. His Eric is charismatic, strong and sympathetic as well. Despite his being driven by rage to avenge Shelly’s cruel death, there is still a melancholy that makes him as sad a figure as he is imposing as a vengeful force. Perfect casting and sadly proof of a potential that will never be realized. Shinas is seen briefly in flashbacks but, her Shelly is sweet and kind and we see why Eric loves her. Wincott makes a strong and very eccentric villain, sort of a modern day pirate with a taste for the supernatural provided by his spooky half-sister and lover Myca (Bai Ling). He makes a formidable foe as do Kelly, Mason, David and Massee as his detestable yet, oddly likable gallery of rogues that one by one meet Eric’s wrath. Rounding out is fan favorite Tony (Candyman) Todd as Top Dollar’s bodyguard Grange, Jon Polito as dirtbag pawnshop owner Gideon, the always good Ernie Hudson as Eric’s only ally, a cop named Albrecht who investigated the couple’s death and got busted down for it, Rochelle Davis as a young girl named Sarah who was a friend of Eric and Shelly’s and provides an emotional ground for the avenging rocker, and Anna Levine as Sarah’s mom and Funboy’s girlfriend, Darla. All really give their supporting characters three dimensional life and it all adds up to what makes this comic book movie a classic.

On the production side, there are some really effective visual effects on a moderate budget that give us a gritty and rundown near future Detroit where the film is set. It is a no man’s land of crime and violence bathed in darkness, shadows and almost endless rain. The cathedral setting for the climax is especially noteworthy as it gives the final act a Phantom Of The Opera-ish feel and… in my opinion… far better utilizes the setting then Batman did five years earlier in it’s similar climax. Finally, while Alex Proyas certainly gives this flick a heavy gothic tone, we get a really effective score by Graeme Revell which includes some great songs, from various artists, producing a film score and soundtrack that are as equally classic as the movie they represent. The music and songs interact with the story to a point of being almost another character.

Overall, I could pick out some of the film’s minor flaws but, what’s the point. The film is a classic and it is no small feat that the filmmakers where able to craft such a solid flick when their leading man was killed with weeks of filming yet to go. Considering how the film was reconstructed and the FX crew used alternate scenes to extract their star and include Lee in footage he was not there to film, I think we can cut it some slack that there is a film at all and it wasn’t scrapped as was one considered option. But, it would have ben a crime to not let the film world see Lee’s last and best work and like his on-screen hero and the legacy of the man who played him, this flick will live on. A great movie that remains strong and entertaining even now.

The film also has some personal resonance with me, as well, as Brandon Lee and I were the same age when he died and it impacted me deeply for reasons I, even today, can’t fully explain. There is now talk of a remake but, I can’t seeing it having the impact this one has had, even if it turns out to be a good flick.

4 classic crows.

crow rating





This review is of the director’s cut and not the original theatrical version which is 7 minutes shorter…

In hindsight, it might have been best to leave the success of The Crow as a testament to Brandon Lee’s legacy and let it go but, money talks and a sequel was made, opting to tell the story of a new character then try to recast a part already immortalized by Lee. The film gets a lot of flack for trying to continue the Crow series without Brandon Lee and Eric Draven but, while the film does not come close to matching it’s predecessor, I think it is actually pretty entertaining and succeeds in having it’s own personality and feel. Given a chance, it’s not as bad as it’s bitterness fueled reputation makes it out to be.

This film takes place years later in an equally seedy Los Angeles and tells the story of single father Ashe Corven (Swiss actor Vincent Pérez) who is gunned down along with his son Danny (Eric Acosta) when Danny mistakes gunshots for Day Of The Dead fireworks and runs straight into an execution being carried out by the four henchman of crime boss Judah Earl (Richard Brooks). The story also includes a now grown up Sarah (Mia Kirshner)… who, aside from Eric and Shelly’s cat Gabrielle, is the only character to return from the original… who is a tattoo artist living in L.A. and has premonitions of Ashe and his impending return accompanied by the crow. She is there to guide him when he rises from his watery grave to exact revenge on Earl and his minions Curve (punk icon Iggy Pop), Nemo (Thomas Jane), Spider Monkey (Vincent Castellanos) and Kali (ex-Power Ranger, Thuy Trang). But, Ashe’s quest for vengeance has complications as Earl has also discovered the secret and weakness of the crow’s power and Ashe is starting to fall for Sarah, knowing that the completion of his mission will return him to the realm of the dead. Will being torn between wanting to stay with Sarah and yearning to see his boy again give his adversaries a deadly edge over the undead avenger?

The sequel was this time written by frequent comic movie scribe David Goyer and directed by feature film newcomer Tim Pope who does a good job in giving the film it’s own distinctive look and feel despite glaring plot similarities. The film follows what is now the basic Crow formula with a wrongfully murdered person returning to avenge a loved one and battling a foe with an interest in the supernatural. The original had Draven battling Top Dollar and his weirdo half sister Myca, while here it is Ashe going against Earl and his sooth-sayer Sybil (Tracy Ellis). The only real difference is Earl is far more sadistic then the brutally practical Top Dollar and Sybil more of a pawn than a willing participant unlike the gleefully sadistic Myca. The film uses the same ‘kill the crow, kill the man’ plot device to weaken the invincible Ashe as in the last film, as it also again presents Sarah as hostage bait to lure our hero in… and it is already wearing out it’s welcome. But there is a lot of pluses too, the film does give us another cast of colorful villains and there are some very well done sequences of Ashe taking them on one by one, including his battle with the vicious martial arts expert and she-devil that is Trang’s Kali and his mythology laced showdown with Iggy Pop’s wacko Curve. Pope’s action scenes are styled differently and help give the film it’s own flavor. The director also gives the film a lot of strong atmosphere, it has an even spookier edge then the previous film as this one is also set at Halloween but, focuses more on the Latin “Dia de Los Muertos” which gives it a far more spiritual tone and aura. The original was centered around the destructively festive ‘Devils’ Night’ but, here it is the mournful Day Of The Dead celebrations that add a more somber tint to Pope’s canvas.

The cast are fine, though, not all as lively as those Proyas had to work with. Vincent Pérez certainly looks the part especially with the face paint and his brown leather outfit and motorcycle. His accent does get in the way and he tries hard to give Ashe his own personality and while he isn’t as memorable as Lee, he actually does OK on his own. Kirshner is pretty but, bland as the grown-up, emo Sarah. Her delivery is very monotone and her gloominess kind of goes against the feelings of hope given her by Eric at the end of the first movie. Our bad guys are fun with Brooks making a strong villain whose Earl actually echos his Jubal Early character from Firefly that he would play six years later. But, Early had more restraint and an odd whimsy despite being an equally dangerous man. Pop and Thrang’s baddies stand out the most among the thugs while Castellanos and Jane really aren’t given much to do aside from meeting their doom at Ashe’s hands. Pop’s Curve is delightfully demented while Thrang’s Kali is a sadistic dragon lady with a taste for sadism and twisted nursery rhymes. Last but, not least, is the late Ian Dury as the cantankerous Noah, the owner of the tattoo parlor where Sarah works.

As for the rest of the production, the film looks really cool yet, drastically different then the first flick and the model work and visuals are more then satisfactory. Graeme Revell contributes another strong score that echos the first film’s just enough yet, adds more haunting choral vocals and it also comes with a really good soundtrack of music from various artists that is a good listen on it’s own.

Overall, I like The Crow: City Of Angels, it’s got it’s flaws and was never going to live up to the instant classic that the first became. But, especially with it’s director’s cut, it is actually a decent enough flick on it’s own and has enough of it’s own style in telling the classic Crow story of revenge after death. Sure it’s ending is a little overblown but, when all is said and done, when cut some slack for not being what it couldn’t possibly be, it is an entertaining enough sequel that doesn’t dishonor what it follows. Give it a chance if you haven’t seen it. Followed by two direct to home media sequels, the weak The Crow: Salvation with Eric Mabius and Kirsten Dunst and the abysmally awful The Crow Wicked Prayer with Edward Furlong and Angel’s David Boreanez.

3 crows.

crow-coa rating