BARE BONES: TAKE ME (2017)

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TAKE ME (2017)

Indie comedy has the interesting premise of a man named Ray (Pat Healy) who performs kidnap scenarios at a client’s request. He has recently relocated to his family home in California and is quite down on his luck. He gets an opportunity for financial redemption when a client named Anna St. Blair (Taylor Schilling) contacts him for a $5,000 weekend scenario with all the trimmings. But once Ray has Anna in his clutches, he starts to get the impression that something is very wrong and this kidnapping may be far more real than even he bargained for, as the lines between fantasy and reality start to blur.

Flick is directed by star Healy from a fairly clever script by Mike Makowsky. Actor Healy is a first time director here, who also has to star in the production and maybe this was a bit much as his first flick could have used a bit more spark. It does have an intriguing premise and does throw us some fun twists that make one wonder if Ray has the right victim, or if she is far too into her own fantasy than even he can handle. With this novel plot, though, we do feel Makowsky could have gotten more use out of some elements of the scenario, such as a police visit that could have taken things a bit further. And while it’s amusing to see it all play out, we do wish the flick had just a touch more fun with it’s story. Healy and Schilling work well together and have a nice chemistry. Healy keeps Ray somewhat likable despite being a bit of a creep and Schilling has a blast keeping us guessing if she is a real victim or way too into what’s going on. It’s amusing to watch her turn the tables on a man who is used to being in control. Not a great movie, but entertaining enough thanks to an amusing premise and a good cast.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: CARNAGE PARK (2016)

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CARNAGE PARK (2016)

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

Flick takes place in 1978 with country girl Vivian Fontaine (Ashley Bell) not having a good day. Her home is being sold out from under her and while at the bank getting turned down for a loan to save it, she’s taken hostage by two ex-cons (James Landry Hebert and Michael Villar) who rob the bank. That’s the least of her problems, as the three find themselves in a stretch of remote wilderness stalked by psychotic ex-soldier Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy), who slaughters anyone that enters his domain. Soon Vivian finds herself alone and in a battle for survival against the well-armed and quite deranged maniac.

Flick is written and directed by Mickey Keating who is proving himself quite diverse in his influences with films like the David Lynch-esque Darling and the X-Files-ish Pod under his belt. Here he delivers a brutal and twisted little movie that seems to have a bit of a Rob Zombie influence, as it did evoke some of the imagery, brutality and a bit of the deranged humor that was on display in Zombie’s first two flicks. But this is very much Keating’s own movie and he starts us out with the story in progress, with robber Lenny (Villar) wounded and Scorpion Joe (Hebert) pulling hostage Vivian out of the trunk to help him. We then get some brief flashbacks to fill us in on some character and plot details as the crazed Wyatt discovers the intruders on his land and the hunt/action begins. The film is stylish and off-beat and very entertaining as our girl-next-door Vivian tries to overcome a superior enemy and escape with her life. The film is intense, strange and very violent at times and does entertain as it intends with the oddball Wyatt tracking/tormenting the dazed and desperate, yet not totally defenseless, Vivian. It’s a twisted little flick, that tells it’s story in a Tarantino meets Rob Zombie kind of way. It’s not perfect, as Keating’s influences are a bit too obviously borrowed from at times and one character just disappears, which makes one question why they were included at all. But when all is said and done, Keating accomplishes what he set out to with splattered brains and all.

The cast go a long way in making this work and work well. Ashley Bell (The Last Exorcism) delivers a strong heroine in her Vivian. She is a simple country girl who starts out trying to save her home and ends up trying to save her life. Bell gives her a dazed look of a woman who just got dumped into the frying pan and then the fire and is trying to just stay alive and somehow get home. She gives Vivian a simple tenacity and a strong will to survive with a touch of frustration and confusion. She is endearing and likable. Pat Healy (Innkeepers, Tales Of Halloween) portrays a true psychotic, but yet not one who doesn’t deliriously enjoy what he is doing. He is arrogant and self-righteous and while his motives are not completely explained, the religious symbolism around his lair and in what he says and does, implies he is doing God’s work in some form. Healy is threatening and dangerous and a touch humorously demented and it is a good role for an underrated and versatile actor who can play both hero and villain. Ex-con and thieves James Landry Hebert (Skateland) and Michael Villar have smaller parts, but Hebert succeeds in making an impression as Scorpion Joe. He’s another underrated character actor who does good work when on screen. There is also an appearance by Alan Ruck as Wyatt’s sheriff brother who keeps cleaning up his sibling’s messes, despite the emotional drain of the conflict of interest and indie icon Larry Fessenden as one of Wyatt’s prey.

So, not a perfect thriller, but one that is successful in being 80+ minutes of twisted entertainment. Mickey Keating’s films seem to illustrate a variety of influences with him channeling a bit of Rob Zombie in this, his latest film. It’s off the wall and sometimes brutally violent and has a good cast to make it work very well. A fun and demented little movie, that while not completely original, amuses with a healthy dose of bullets, blood and weirdness.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets.

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

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TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015) Blu-Ray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: BORN and COMPLIANCE

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BORN (2007)

Unintentionally hilarious horror stars Alison Brie (Sleeping WIth Other People) as a virginal young woman who is impregnated by a demon at her mother’s funeral…don’t ask. Now as she falls under her unborn child’s evil influence, she goes on a killing spree to supply six victims for it’s birthing ritual.

Low budget horror is as stupid as it sounds and as filled with clichés as you’d expect and gets more and more ridiculous as it goes on. Star Brie recites some side split-tingly awful dialog and goes completely over the top in scenes that are meant to be shocking and scary, but provide rib-tickling laughs instead. The sex scene is worth watching this for alone… you’ll laugh till you cry…as is the scene where her water breaks and it looks like green dishwashing liquid! And the whole thing is meant to be serious! Epic fail for them!…Win, win for us!

Also starring Denise Crosby and genre favorite Kane Hodder who actually looks embarrassed to be in this. Crack open your favorite brew and enjoy this schlock-fest.

Oh…and for those watching for the charming Alison Brie, there’s good and bad news…the Community star does get to kiss another girl and talk hilariously dirty during a sex scene, but sadly uses an obvious body double for the brief nude scenes. Below rating is purely for ‘so bad it’s good’ entertainment value.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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COMPLIANCE (2012)

A disturbing thriller based on supposedly true events about a mean spirited prank pulled on the employees of a fast food restaurant. A caller (Pat Healy), claiming to be a police officer, tells manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) that one of her employees, Becky (Dreama Walker) has committed a theft and needs to be searched and detained. The caller asks Sandra and her staff to do increasingly humiliating things to Becky all under the guise that it is part of a criminal investigation and none of them seem to have the courage to question the increasingly depraved acts until it’s too late.

Compliance is a tough movie to sit through and it would be hard to believe that people could be stupid enough to go along with such a horrible prank for as long as they did, except for the fact that it is all taken from a case in 2004 at a Mc Donald’s in Fort Washington, Kentucky. Craig Zobel writes and directs the story fairly straightforward and he gets good performances out of his cast and the result is a disturbing movie that is tough to sit through…even more so, because it actually happened. Not a great film. The aftermath seems rushed after the film took it’s time portraying the events, but it is still effective and fairly well made.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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

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TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

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

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: STARRY EYES (2014)

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STARRY EYES (2014)

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

Starry Eyes is a very disturbing and at times, gruesome horror flick that may be a metaphor for loosing one’s soul in the pursuit of fame and fortune…in this case, literally. The film tells the story of emotionally fragile, wannabe actress Sarah (Alex Essoe) who lives with a group of hipster acting hopefuls and works at a degrading Hooters-esque fast food restaurant. She answers an ad for a horror film to be made by Astraeus Pictures, a company renown for such films and gets a strange audition to say the least. The more auditions she goes on for the film, the more bizarre the auditions get till she meets the creepy producer (Louis Dezseran) and he wants something very inappropriate from her. At first Sarah refuses but, the more hopeless her quest for stardom appears, the more she may be willing to give in to his demands. Unbeknownst to Sarah, Astraeus is far more than just a film studio and wants something far more than simple casting couch behavior…and Sarah might sacrifice literally everything to get what she wants.

This movie is a very disturbing horror that evokes Rosemary’s Baby and the work of David Lynch at times, with it’s sinister cult, somewhat surreal approach and explosions of vicious and gruesome violence. It is an exaggerated telling of someone sacrificing their life and soul for a chance at Hollywood stardom and writers/directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer use the cult-like Astraeus Pictures to symbolize the inner circle of Hollywood fame that some might even kill to become part of. They place their already emotionally fragile Sarah into a situation where she is desperate enough to sacrifice everything for her dream, but, as this is a horror film, that ‘everything’ is literal as is the application of the word sacrifice. They skillfully and effectively follow Sarah’s transformation, as the person she was dies away and a new person evolves, one that will kill those she feels have wronged her or, are in her way. The results are chilling, especially when Sarah turns violent towards her one-time friends. It’s a very unsettling ride and even to a hardened horror movie fan, some of the violence is savage enough to evoke a strong response. Graphic violence aside, the film is just very creepy at times with the bizarre employees of the sinister studio and mysterious cloaked figures that seem to follow Sarah, as her physical and mental downward spiral continues toward whatever end is coming. Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer also have a simple yet effective visual style and their atmospheric film is aided by some nice shadowy cinematography by Adam Bricker and a John Carpenter-ish score by Jonathan Snipes.

As for the cast, it’s mostly Alex Essoe’s show and she is really strong here and helps make this work so well. She at first gives us a sweet but, somewhat damaged young woman who wants to give meaning to her mundane life by achieving the Hollywood fame she’s always dreamed of. Once she gives herself over to the strange people at the studio, the actress takes us on a startling and disturbing transformation that would be just as effective without the well-executed make-up effects. Essoe gives it her all and she is downright scary at times whereas moments before, she seemed unable to ‘hurt a fly’ as Norman Bates would say. A really good performance and she is supported by an effective cast of relative unknowns as her actor friends and cult members alike. Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer get good work out of their players and it helps make this film effective as it is.

I liked this movie, if ‘liked’ is a word that can be applied to a film that is creepy and sometimes absolutely vicious. It is a very effective horror and gives a very literal and sinister nature to the whole concept of sacrificing all to become one of Hollywood’s elite. It has an effective cast, including a knock-out performance from Alex Essoe as Sarah and some very gruesome gore and make-up FX. A very unnerving and sometimes savagely violent horror with a chilling atmosphere that lasts after it’s over. Also stars The Innkeepers’ Pat Healy as Sarah’s boss at The Big Taters fast food restaurant.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 wannabe actresses!

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE INNKEEPERS (2011)

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THE INNKEEPERS (2011)

Ti West’s follow up to his spooky 80s throwback House of the Devil is a return to a more basic and CGI-less haunted house story and is all the more refreshing for it. Tale of the final days of a supposedly haunted New England hotel is a fun and sometimes downright scary horror chiller that will please those horror fans that can still appreciate the days when effects were done live and scares were generated by the director and his camera, not digital FX artists. West once again takes his time to slowly build the atmosphere as he presents us with the story of the remaining employees of the old Yankee Pedlar Hotel, Claire and Luke (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) as they decide to do a little paranormal investigating to gain evidence of the hotel’s haunting before it closes. It gives nothing away to say that they may not like what they find.

Ti West starts the film out with a light tone as we get to know these two slackers with an interest in the paranormal and as the story progresses, the tone slowly gets darker until, as with House Of The Devil, West unleashes his supernatural horrors during the intense final act. Some of today’s impatient horror fans might not appreciate the slow burn, but it worked in House of the Devil as it does with Innkeepers because, when we finally get to the good stuff, it is all the more effective since we haven’t been bludgeoned with it from the start. West gives us a few red herrings and some spooky stuff along the way to wet the appetite and thus we are primed and ready when the real scares start. It also doesn’t hurt that we like Claire and Luke and obviously are afraid for them when they fail to heed a psychic guest’s (Kelly McGillis) warnings about leaving well enough alone.

A really fun, spooky ghost flick that proves once again that Ti West is a legitimate filmmaking talent who’s work deserves to be noticed.

3 and 1/2 adorable amateur spook hunters

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