BARE BONES: CHERNOBYL DIARIES (2012)

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CHERNOBYL DIARIES (2012)

With HBO’s Chernobyl getting some attention, I thought I’d drag this review out of the vaults-MZNJ

Chernobyl Diaries tells the story of a group of six twenty-somethings who sign up for a shady tour of Pripyat, a city outside Russia’s infamous Chernobyl reactor, where all the workers lived with their families. The city is still abandoned…or is it?

Despite the novel set- up, Diaries becomes very routine once our young adventure seekers become trapped in the city with whatever is lurking there. Despite some reasonable competence behind the camera by director Brad Parker, the film never generates much suspense or tension, as we know what’s coming and even the jump scares were familiar enough to not have much effect. The photography is spooky and it helps give it a bit of atmosphere, but the two dimensional characters never give us a reason to care and the film follows a time worn blueprint for this kind of flick. Add to that a very odd and unsatisfying end that doesn’t help either.

Chernobyl Diaries isn’t the worst horror, but it’s lazy in that it takes it’s unique setting and places within it a very unoriginal story and does nothing interesting with playing it out. It’s as if the filmmakers felt that the creativity with the initial idea of setting a movie in that desolate area was enough to carry the whole film. It’s not. They could have at least given us some shocking gore. They don’t even do that, as the kills are off screen and the carnage is barely shown. Flick is written by Paranormal Activity’s Oren Peli, Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke and stars Olivia Taylor Dudley, who later went on to star in The Vatican Tapes and the final Paranormal Activity flick The Ghost Dimension.

-MonsterZero NJ

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REVIEW: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION (2015)

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PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION (2015)

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

I’ve enjoyed the Paranormal Activity series and while I admit it was starting to show definite signs of running out of gas with the much maligned part 4, there did seem to be a bit of a second wind with the fun spin-off, The Marked Ones. Now we get Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension which is being sold as the series finale, but really doesn’t answer any more questions than the previous entries and doesn’t really make good on some of The Marked Ones‘ promise.

This entry takes place at Christmas time at the home of the Fleeges family. We have Ryan (Chris J. Murray), his pretty wife, Emily (Brit Shaw) and their adorable little girl Leila (Ivy George). They are joined by Ryan’s recently single brother Mike (Dan Gill) and pretty blonde “Auntie Skyler” (Olivia Taylor Dudley), whose actual relationship with the family is never really clear (Emily’s sister?) other than to provide exposition and look hot in Daisy Dukes. They discover a box with an old video camera and VHS tapes, in the house, which reveal young Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristie (Jessica Tyler Brown) from Paranormal Activity 3. Upon watching these tapes they observe some bizarre cult activity with the two girls and strange things begin to occur in their own home. The camera can apparently pick-up ‘spirit photography’ (as per our lovely Auntie Skyler) and Ryan begins to see strange things floating around the house. The activity seems to be focused on Leila and as the activity grows and Leila’s behavior begins to change, the Fleeges begin to fear there is something dark and dangerous in their home…and evidence indicates they have been targeted by something sinister. Somebody call an exorcist!

Series editor Gregory Plotkin directs from a story and script by no less than five people. While he actually doesn’t do a bad job for his first outing, the script doesn’t really give him that much new to work with till the last act and while that adds a few new wrinkles, it doesn’t come close to providing a satisfying finale. Odd that five people working for two years couldn’t come up with anything more then basically just another installment. The spirit camera gimmick looses it’s novelty quickly and since our imaginations can concoct far worse than any FX technician, demon “Toby” is reduced to just another CGI phantom that has become all too common in this digital effects age. He’s not that impressive now that he’s been outed and we are no longer as afraid of him. At least in previous entries we never knew where he would strike from next. Here we can see him coming. Plotkin does give us some legitimate tension and chills, but the movie really doesn’t go too far from where any previous entry went and when we finally find out what the witch coven “The Mid-Wives” want, it’s basically nothing that the demon/exorcism movie of the week hasn’t done before. There is some cool stuff with the dimension portal introduced in Marked Ones and some fun use of PA3 footage, but the film seems to only casually address elements in the last two films with throwaway lines and even uses that same approach with a major character, leaving her fate a loose end. Even the climax leaves us at a point where there is obviously more to the story, so, as a finale, this feels far from final. The usual complaints are still here, too. Such as, why don’t they ever put the camera down, even when in danger and why don’t these people seem anything more then moderately curious when discovering there is a demonic entity stalking their child…and did no one think of Windex-ing the demonic symbols said child drew, off the wall? She’s continually allowed to sleep in a bed surrounded by writing that has been identified as demonic in nature. Bad parenting indeed! Suffice to say, characters do not behave logically or practically as the film progresses and we wonder if “The Mid-Wives” indeed made the right choice as this clan seems to be walking right into their sinister plot perfectly…and with predictable results.

The cast were fine and at least the characters where likable. Murray is fun as dad Ryan who is quite fascinated at first by the camera, tapes and odd goings on. The script doesn’t have him or anyone else as scared or concerned as they should be, but that’s not the actor’s fault. Gill is amusing as Ryan’s goofball brother and provides the comic relief, which is welcome at times. Ivy George is adorable as little Leila and escapes annoying child syndrome, so, we like and care about her. She does good work for a tyke. The Paranormal Activity series continues the tradition of hot mom’s and good looking supporting characters with Brit Shaw’s pretty girl-next-door mom Emily, who seems a little more concerned about the lurking demon than her husband and Olivia Taylor Dudley (also seen recently in The Vatican Tapes) whose character’s purpose may be questionable, but she’s hot, so we’ll tolerate it. We also get familiar faces such as Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown and Hallie Foote returning as young Katie, Kristie and Grandma Lois respectively. Notice anybody missing?…grrrr!*

Didn’t hate it, but it is a big disappointment for those looking for a solid finale and tied up loose ends. New director Gregory Plotkin doesn’t do a bad job, but is working from a script compiled by five people and it does teeter on the edge of mess at times. The flick has a few new wrinkles that are amusing enough, but falls back on familiar series tropes and makes a bit of a mistake in revealing it’s series villain as just another CGI spook, after five films left him to our own overactive imaginations. There are…as usual with this series…just as many loose ends as there are questions answered, leaving the door ajar in case this makes a boatload of cash and Toby returns once more.

*As a personal gripe, how can you end a series without it’s lead character (aside from Toby) is beyond me. Boo!

-MonsterZero NJ

  2 and 1/2 spooks…it earns a few ‘hottie in Daisy Dukes’ extra points.

paranormal activity 5 rating

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: AREA 51, BURYING THE EX and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROUGUE NATION

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AREA 51 (2015)

After the smash success of Paranormal Activity, Oren Peli returned to the director’s chair for his sophomore effort in 2009…and the movie has since languished in post-production hell for the last six years…now we know why. Found footage flick has a silly plot with three young friends (Darrin Bragg, Reid Warner and Ben Rovner) concocting an absurd scheme to break into the infamous Area 51 military base. They have the help of a former employee’s daughter (Jelena Nik) and succeed where many have failed.

Obviously, they are not happy with what they find…and neither are we. Flick takes a ridiculous 70 minutes for anything interesting to happen and at about 95 minutes long (including it’s slow crawl credits) that’s simply too long to wait. What we do get is amusing, but exactly what you’d expect to get in a flick about Area 51 and it’s fleetingly glimpsed and over far too quickly. There is barely anything resembling scares or suspense and what we do finally encounter is very predictable and been done before, especially in the X-Files…and done better. Area 51’s actual secrets may still be a mystery, but why this flick sat for six years and was quietly dumped onto VOD and home media, isn’t.

 -MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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BURYING THE EX (2014)

Director Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins) has made quite a few classic films, which is why it’s disappointing that his latest effort is so sadly mediocre. Story has horror movie fan and slacker Max (Anton Yelchin) dating the hot but extremely bitchy, Evelyn (Ashley Greene), while he could be with the sweet, horror movie-themed-ice-cream-shop owner, Olivia (Alexandra Daddario). The wrong words said in front of the wrong magic item in the shop Max works at, ensures he will be with Evelyn forever…even when she is hit by a bus and killed. Now, as he desperately wants to date Olivia, Max’s girlfriend is back and there’s going to be trouble.

Flick’s problems lie in it’s uninspired and sadly unfunny script by Alan Trezza. Dante tries to give it some life and it is colorful and filled with the horror movie references and imagery Dante excels at, but the script is unimaginative, predictable and let’s Dante down at every turn. The premise has been done before, but still could have made fun use of it’s scenario, instead it is routine and without the wit to really make this a good time. At least Dante get’s good work out of the cast as Yelchin, Greene and Daddario…who is especially endearing as the ultimate horror geek girlfriend fantasy, Olivia…do their best to get something out of their thinly written parts. With a better script this could have been a real treat as it had a great director!

 -MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (2015)

I originally was not a fan of this series, but to be honest, each installment has been an improvement over the last with this and the previous installment, Ghost Protocol, being a lot of fun. Dare I say this series has finally hit it’s stride with it’s fourth and fifth entries. This chapter finds the IMF being dissolved by the government right in the middle of Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) mission to track down “The Syndicate”, an organization that is the IMF’s equal, yet dedicated to disruption and terrorism. Now considered a rogue agent and being hunted around the world, Hunt must team with Benji (Simon Pegg), Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Luther (Ving Rhames) and mysterious agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) to bring the syndicate down.

As written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, Rogue Nation is fast-paced and entertaining with some great camaraderie between Cruise and his team, especially Pegg. There are some fun action sequences and some thrilling escapes with the usual espionage and covert operations mixed in. The only thing holding it back a little, is that the action is nothing out of the ordinary, despite being well-staged and the main villain (Sean Harris) is rather weak. Otherwise this is a fun spy/action flick and Swedish actress Ferguson gets to steal a few scenes from Cruise…which isn’t an easy thing to do. Also stars Alec Baldwin as a CIA thorn in the IMF’s side. Fun!

 -MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HALLOWEEN HOTTIES: KATIE FEATHERSTON

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This installment of Halloween Hotties takes a look at the paranormally beautiful and very talented Katie Featherston, a girl next door from the lone star state of Texas who has been capturing our hearts and scaring us out of our wits in the Paranormal Activity movie series.

click on the highlighted links to read a review of Paranormal Activity featured here recently in our Date Movie column at MonsterZero NJ’s Movie Madhouse! And click HERE for a more in depth look at Katie’s character in our Why Do Good Scares Like Bad Girls expose’ of some of Horror’s recent femme fatales. And for fans of her co-star Micah Sloat, we take a look at his character here!

KATIE FEATHERSTON

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Texas born Katie Featherston has long dreamed of being actress. She studied acting at Southern Methodist University graduating with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts… beauty as well as brains… and headed out to L.A. to seek her dream like many other acting hopefuls. Answering an ad, she auditioned for a role, along with another aspiring young actor named Micah Sloat, for first time filmmaker Oren Peli’s supernatural themed thriller, Paranormal Activity. Peli liked the dynamic between Katie and Micah and the rest is history. The actors where paid around $500 each for a week’s work where they would not only be doing a lot of the filming themselves, but improvising most of their dialog as well for the now classic found footage haunting flick. The film became a huge hit after gathering a reputation playing film festivals and Katie’s character has now appeared in all 3 smash hit sequels with another on the horizon… though her participation is being kept secret as always, we can only hope she will haunt us again in PA5. But fans may not know that Katie was also in 2 other low budget horror flicks before Paranormal Activity hit big. She played a rescued victim of a serial killer in the 2006 low budgeter Mutation and the loving girlfriend of the main character in the gory Psychic Experiment which finally got a recent release and made good use of Miss Featherston’s star power featuring her prominently on the movie art despite her role being a supporting one. Katie also recently had a multi episode role in Oren Peli’s supernatural found footage TV series The River as a camerawoman on an ill-fated expedition. Paranormal Activity is now considered a modern classic and it’s sequels are very popular all around the world and whether she’s playing an angel or a devil, her work in the horror genre makes Katie one of our favorite Halloween Hotties!
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As a potential victim of a serial killer rescued by a pursuing detective in Mutation...

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…As loving girlfriend Elsbeth in Psychic Experiment

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…in a quieter moment as ‘Katie’ before all hell breaks loose in Paranormal Activity… 

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…under the thrall of a supernatural fiend in Paranormal Activity’s chilling last act…

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…looking adorable with the equally cute Sprague Grayden who plays sister Kristi in PA3…

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… as “Rabbitt” an ill-fated documentary crew member in Oren Peli’s short lived TV show The River…

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… stalking her prey in Paranormal Activity 4

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…and as herself, a beautiful and talented young woman we’d like to see a lot more of!

BONUS: watch this very funny skit as Katie pokes fun at PA‘s effect on her auditions…

And don’t forget to check out our Halloween Hotties focusing on Melanie PapaliaKatharine IsabelleAmber Heard, Alexandra DaddarioKatrina Bowden, Briana Evigan and Danielle Harris! (just click on their names to go to their pages!

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DATE MOVIE: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007)

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Welcome to a new feature I am experimenting with, Date Movie! Horror flicks are great flicks to take a date to or to watch with your honey… unless of course your date or mate hates horror flicks then there’s always the latest from Sandra Bullock or Channing Tatum. Horror flicks are a lot of fun to get scared with and hold onto each other and well… hopefully you can take it from there. But, you have to choose the right horror flick as something too mild won’t provide the proper scares and something too nasty or violent might put your date out of a romantic mood or make it your last date… unless for that rare occasion where they are into the rough stuff, then maybe you should be a little afraid. So, I am going to try to focus on flicks I think are perfect for scaring the object of affection into your waiting arms… the rest is up to you.

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PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007)

Paranormal Activity began screenings at film festivals in 2007 but, it wasn’t until 2009 when Paramount Pictures picked it up (with a little help from some guy named Steven Spielberg) and, after briefly considering remaking it with major stars in the lead, wisely decided to release it with only a few tweaks including a new ending. the rest is history as the series has now grossed over $700 million worldwide. Not bad for a flick that cost only $15,000.

While this series has divided some fans, I enjoy them and I especially think this first flick was very effective and quite spooky fun. It’s a simple found footage flick that uses an old fashioned smoke and mirrors approach which is refreshing in a time of CGI overkill. This movie uses your imagination against you, as nothing is more frightening than what your own mind can conjure up and Writer/Director Oren Peli knows it. The movie starts out with an attractive young couple, Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) who are experiencing some odd occurrences in their home. Gadget happy boyfriend, Micah decides to get a camera and set it up in their bedroom to capture whatever is happening when they sleep. Obviously, they find they are not the only occupants in the house but, what has moved in has targeted Katie and is far from a friendly ghost. Oren Peli perfectly manipulates the audience throughout the 90+ minutes of the flick’s running time. You know something is going to happen, the ominous rumbling on the soundtrack tells us so. You also know it will be worse then what came before, as the incidents are escalating, but, you don’t know what or from where and by the time it happens, our imaginations have got us so transfixed in tense anticipation that we jump out of our seats when it does. The fact that this happens at night while the protagonists are sleeping adds to goose bump factor as they are at their most vulnerable as would we be. The characters are portrayed by then unknown actors Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat so, they come across as real people and are likable and sympathetic. Katie is a strong spirited girl being slowly broken by the supernatural presence that seems to be targeting her. Skeptical boyfriend Micah is stubborn, prideful and can be a bit of a jerk sometimes but, his love for Katie seems genuine and sadly, his attempts to protect her only provoke and escalate the malevolent entity. Another thing that makes their performances so genuine is the Oren Peli cleverly let them improve their roles. His script was a basic story outline and both actors improvised their own dialog and thus gave life to their own characters. This really makes you believe you are watching the events unfold with a real couple. Featherston and Sloat also have a real great chemistry and their interaction with each other makes their relationship seem real and it is key in making the movie work. They and Director Peli also give the invisible yet malicious entity a strong and threatening persona despite the fact that we never see it and this makes it the threat it needs to be for the film to succeed. And it does. The last act and climax still give me chills and goose bumps even when watching it now. My one complaint involves a cheap scare involving a CGI image (the only CGI in the movie) that I felt was unnecessary. I understand that the filmmakers wanted one more jolt to give the audience at the point it occurs but, I actually thought what was there was creepy and unsettling enough and the actor involved was providing sufficient chills without the cheap scare… but it worked so, I can’t hold it against them too much. Spooky, fun, minimalist horror and an inventive use of the found footage format that, while not creating it, gave it a massive push into becoming a major sub-genre!

Read more about Katie’s character in “Why Do Good Scares Like Bad Girls?” here …

…and my in-depth look at Micah Sloat’s character here

So, the film gives us a young couple whom you and your date can identify with and provides plenty of chills and thrills to get you reaching for the comforting arms of your equally spooked companion… that equals a strong 3 and 1/2 on the Date-O-Meter!

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