BARE BONES: CANDYMAN (2021)

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CANDYMAN (2021)

Flick is interestingly both sequel and reboot of the classic 1992 film of the same name. The movie finds Chicago artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) returning to the now vacant and gated Cabrini Green projects, to add some spooky spark to his creativity, after hearing of the Candyman legend. Anthony learns the hard way to ‘be careful what you wish for’ as he evokes a malevolent entity and bodies start to fall. Even worse, Anthony begins to transform into something out of urban legend. Is the Candyman more than just a folktale and has he returned for new blood?

Delayed sequel is directed by Nia DaCosta, based on her script with Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld. Their script, in turn, is based on Bernard Rose’s classic film, which itself is based on a Clive Barker short story The Forbidden. As a horror film, Candyman has disturbing imagery, very graphic gore and make-up, and some chilling sequences, though is never really all that scary or suspenseful. Where it really succeeds, aside from DaCosta’s flare for visuals, is in presenting some very well rounded characters, and as scathing social commentary. DaCosta, Peele and Rosenfeld not only give us some three dimensional characters to like and become emotionally invested in, but have some bold commentary on both gentrification of urban neighborhoods and the treatment of the black community, especially by police. Candyman is no longer just an urban boogieman, his mantle is picked up from generation to generation by innocents who have faced brutality and injustice at the hands of oppressors and by those who are supposed to protect them and their rights. There are no punches pulled and it’s blunt honesty adds the power to the proceedings that the lack of strong scares did not. The cast are all very good, especially lead Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, the flick has it’s disturbing moments and the gore FX are quite well-rendered when blood flows. It is as a film with a strong message, however, that is where Nia DaCosta and company really breathe new life into a classic horror icon.
 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: DON’T BREATHE 2 (2021)

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DON’T BREATHE 2 (2021)

Flick takes place about eight years, or so, after the events of the first film. The Blind Man (Stephen Lang) is living in a remote house with young orphaned girl Phoenix (Madelyn Grace) whom he rescued—sort of—from a fire and now has raised as his own daughter. When a group of thugs invade his home to kidnap Phoenix, The Blind Man once again goes on the violent offensive. Things get complicated when one of the invaders, Raylan (Brandan Sexton III), turns out to be Phoenix’s real father.

Sequel is co-written by the first film’s director Fede Álvarez along with Rodo Sayagues, who takes over the directing reigns here and does a fine job of matching the look and feel of the gritty and violent original. For those concerned that The Blind Man—now called Norman—was going to be portrayed as a hero here, he’s not a good guy by any means, but those he goes up against are just as bad or worse. Their intentions for Phoenix are the furthest thing from a family reunion and despite “Norman” being a villain himself, you don’t mind seeing bad guy vs worse guys, when he comes to rescue his kidnapped “daughter”—whom he technically kidnapped himself. It’s vicious and very violent and while it does seem like a cash grab sequel, it also entertains in a basic way—if one is looking for some savage violence perpetrated against people who basically deserve it. Lang is good, once again, as the twisted Blind Man and Sexton and crew make perfectly acceptable deviants for him to go up against and violently dispatch. Young Madelyn Grace impresses as Phoenix, whom Norman has trained with survival skills, and Stephanie Arcila is likable as a fellow war veteran and friend of Norman and Phoenix, Hernandez, a good character who had far too little screen time. In the end, after all the bone-crushing violence, it may be a forgettable sequel, but Rodo Sayagues at least shows he did pay attention well to collaborator Álvarez’s work. Watch through the credits. Now available on VOD platforms such as Amazon Prime.
 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: HAPPY DEATH DAY and HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U

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While talk of a third installment goes back and forth, the two current installments of Blumhouse’s comedy/horror franchise are a lot of fun when paired together. So, if you’re looking for something light and more fun, but don’t want to completely leave the horror genre, this is an entertining Saturday Night Double Feature…

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HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017)

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

College student Theresa (Jessica Rothe) is having a really bad day…over and over again. She wakes up in the dorm of a strange guy, she’s mean to those around her, she’s sleeping with one of her professors, it’s a birthday she doesn’t want to face and someone is trying to kill her…and does. But Theresa keeps waking up at the moment of her death, starting the day all over again. She soon realizes that if she is to break the loop, she has to find out who this masked killer is and stop them. Easier said than done if there weren’t so many people who might want her dead.

Obviously, the Groundhog Day routine with reliving the same day over and over has been done to death, but here it’s literally. Director Christopher B. Landon knows we’ve seen it all before and takes the derivative ball and runs with it. Landon is helped by a fun script he co-wrote with Scott Lobdell and a sassy stick of dynamite leading lady in Rothe’s Theresa. As it starts out, Theresa is an unlikable mean girl…though her mean quips are very funny…but as she embarks on her journey of identifying her masked killer and ending this loop, it takes her from snotty sorority girl to sarcastic and feisty heroine. It’s a blast to watch Theresa as she meets each day head on and each time finds a new piece of the puzzle, all the while discovering things about herself. If it sounds corny, it is and Landon knows it and revels in it. He also delivers some solid suspense, some intense action and a few surprises on the road to Theresa’s final confrontation with the killer in her midst. It’s also kind of fun to watch the spunky girl die over and over again in different ways, only to have to do it all again with increasing frustration. The humor and suspense are perfectly mixed here, making it all the more enjoyable. This is a prime example of a filmmaker taking familiar elements and having a good time with them and not just re-using them in a by-the-numbers manner. The result is a fun slasher/thriller with a very hip sense of humor and a heroine to really endear to and root for.

As for our leading lady, Jessica Rothe is having an outright blast with the plot contrivances and owns this flick from start to finish. She introduces us to a mean, snarky, sorority princess and slowly transforms her into a smart, sarcastic and resilient final girl, who grows with each repeat of the ill-fated Monday the 18th. She is firecracker of a leading lady and really makes even the corniest elements of her transformation believable, such as her having the courage and tenacity to face a killer head on. It’s her show and she handles it like a boss. In support is a charming turn by Israel Broussard, as Carter, the boy she wakes up with and bonds with over her dilemma. The two have a nice chemistry on screen and their forming relationship works very well. The rest of the cast is also solid with Rachel Matthews as Theresa’s even meaner sorority sister Danielle, Ruby Modine as her sweet and verbally abused roommate Lori, Charles Aitken as her professor/lover and Rob Mello as a captured serial killer who may, or may not, be her masked murderer.

So, maybe this is not the most original film in terms of story, but it knows it and just runs with it. Christopher B. Landon…who wrote four successive Paranormal Activity sequels and also directed the Marked Ones spin-off…has really sharpened his craft by having a blast with he and Scott Lobdell’s clever slasher variation on the Bill Murray classic…which is playfully acknowledged in the film. It’s a fun movie that succeeds beyond it’s means thanks to a filmmaker who gets how to handle the material and a star-making performances by leading lady Jessica Rothe.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) baby-faced killers.

 

 

 

 

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HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U (2019)

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

Sequel pics up right after the first flick with Tree (Jessica Rothe) cozying up with Carter (Israel Broussard) and all being well until roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) starts to relive his own murder over and over. Tree finds out her previous predicament and Ryan’s current one are as a result of Ryan and friends science experiment that effects time…just not in the way they planned. An effort to kill the loop sends Tree back to Monday the 18th again, only this time in an alternate universe.  She’s reliving her death all over again, only in this dimension Lori (Ruby Modine) is no longer the killer, Carter is dating Danielle (Rachel Matthews) and her mother is still alive. Can Tree get back to her normal dimension…and does she want to?

As you can guess by the plot description, Happy Death Day 2U sends the slasher elements to the background and focuses more on a Star Trek-ian/Back to the Future-esque tale of alternate timelines and other dimensions. It’s still fun, though shifting the focus also mutes some of the chills and thrills that made the first film such a treat. There is a lot of entertainment to be had and they have fun with the expanded concept, but this seems more like a cinematic episode of The Big Bang Theory with a slasher sub-plot. Christopher Landon again directs well, though this time from his own script and seems to want to play more with the whole alternate timeline thing and guide the story away from the slasher elements. A mid-credits scene hints that a part 3 will veer away even further. There was also a brief flirting with dopplegangers, but that disappears quickly, which is a shame as Tree being stalked by other alternate reality selves sounds like it would have been a hoot. If the film is missing anything, it’s the intensity the slasher elements brought to the table in the first film. The mix was more even in Happy Death Day and this sequel could have used a bit more.

Jessica Rothe is again a blast to watch though she shares the film’s focus with other characters and isn’t always the center of attention. The actress also proves again she is a leading lady with talent and can do drama, comedy and kick some ass, too. Israel Broussard is still charming and likable as Carter. The alternate reality version is pretty much the same guy, except for dating Rachel Matthews’ Danielle, who is a lot nicer in this other dimension. Matthews gets more screen time and gets to perform some slapstick comedy in one of the sillier sequences. Phi Vu gets a far more expanded role and is fun as Ryan and Suraj Sharma and Sara Yarkin play two of his nerdy lab partners/friends.

In conclusion, the sequel is not an equal, but not a disappointment either, unless you were expecting more of a horror film. There are some amusing sequences, some fun character interaction and even a little heart-tugging drama to go with the occasional dips back into slasher territory. On the downside it is slower paced, the killer was easy to guess and horror fans might not be happy with all the science geek quantum this and quantum that mumbo jumbo. Leading lady Jessica Rothe is still at least every bit the firecracker and if there is a three-quel, hopefully she is not pushed to the sidelines or lost in an ensemble piece. A fun movie thought maybe not what you might go in expecting. Stay through the credits for that mid-credits scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) baby-faced killers.

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U (2019)

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HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U (2019)

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

Sequel pics up right after the first flick with Tree (Jessica Rothe) cozying up with Carter (Israel Broussard) and all being well until roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) starts to relive his own murder over and over. Tree finds out her previous predicament and Ryan’s current one are as a result of Ryan and friends science experiment that effects time…just not in the way they planned. An effort to kill the loop sends Tree back to Monday the 18th again, only this time in an alternate universe.  She’s reliving her death all over again, only in this dimension Lori (Ruby Modine) is no longer the killer, Carter is dating Danielle (Rachel Matthews) and her mother is still alive. Can Tree get back to her normal dimension…and does she want to?

As you can guess by the plot description, Happy Death Day 2U sends the slasher elements to the background and focuses more on a Star Trek-ian/Back to the Future-esque tale of alternate timelines and other dimensions. It’s still fun, though shifting the focus also mutes some of the chills and thrills that made the first film such a treat. There is a lot of entertainment to be had and they have fun with the expanded concept, but this seems more like a cinematic episode of The Big Bang Theory with a slasher sub-plot. Christopher Landon again directs well, though this time from his own script and seems to want to play more with the whole alternate timeline thing and guide the story away from the slasher elements. A mid-credits scene hints that a part 3 will veer away even further. There was also a brief flirting with dopplegangers, but that disappears quickly, which is a shame as Tree being stalked by other alternate reality selves sounds like it would have been a hoot. If the film is missing anything, it’s the intensity the slasher elements brought to the table in the first film. The mix was more even in Happy Death Day and this sequel could have used a bit more.

Jessica Rothe is again a blast to watch though she shares the film’s focus with other characters and isn’t always the center of attention. The actress also proves again she is a leading lady with talent and can do drama, comedy and kick some ass, too. Israel Broussard is still charming and likable as Carter. The alternate reality version is pretty much the same guy, except for dating Rachel Matthews’ Danielle, who is a lot nicer in this other dimension. Matthews gets more screen time and gets to perform some slapstick comedy in one of the sillier sequences. Phi Vu gets a far more expanded role and is fun as Ryan and Suraj Sharma and Sara Yarkin play two of his nerdy lab partners/friends.

In conclusion, the sequel is not an equal, but not a disappointment either, unless you were expecting more of a horror film. There are some amusing sequences, some fun character interaction and even a little heart-tugging drama to go with the occasional dips back into slasher territory. On the downside it is slower paced, the killer was easy to guess and horror fans might not be happy with all the science geek quantum this and quantum that mumbo jumbo. Leading lady Jessica Rothe is still at least every bit the firecracker and if there is a three-quel, hopefully she is not pushed to the sidelines or lost in an ensemble piece. A fun movie thought maybe not what you might go in expecting. Stay through the credits for that mid-credits scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 baby-faced killers.

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 (2000)

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BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 (2000)

While this Blair Witch sequel is not that good, it’s not quite as bad as it’s reputation suggests. Sequel has some good ideas, such as being about the mania caused by the movie The Blair Witch Project and not a direct sequel to the film itself and tells the story of a group of oddball characters that seek to find out if there is some truth behind the movie and if there really is a witch that inspired the film. Obviously some weird stuff starts to happen to them as they investigate and death and madness soon follow.

The biggest problem with Blair Witch 2 is simply not doing anything interesting with the ideas director Joe Berlinger and his 3 co-writers, Dick Beebe, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, have come up with. The film is a lot of talk and finger pointing as strange occurrences start to make the characters unravel and turn on each other. Video evidence changes and disappears, characters vanish and then turn up dead, but this spooky activity never comes together to form a solid story. It’s almost like a bunch or random acts that are only thinly related. By the time we find out what happened, we really aren’t that interested anymore, despite the fact that better handled, it could have been very unsettling. It also doesn’t help that the film is peppered with police interviews and scenes that occur after-the-fact and thus we know what’s coming. It neuters any suspense the film might be building. There are some mildly spooky images and sequences throughout and a few bloody moments, but not enough to make this film work completely or consistently. I appreciate the effort to do something different then a generic sequel, but the filmmakers just didn’t take their concept far enough. At least there is a spooky score by Carter Burwell and some cool songs on the soundtrack CD. (see track listing below)

The cast is fine, though the characters are stereotypical Hollywood cliche’s such as the handsome con-artist with a past (Jeffrey Donovan), the hot Wiccan (Erica Leerhsen), the attractive yuppie couple (Tristen Skyler and Stephen Barker Turner) and the hot Emo Goth chick (Kim Director). My biggest peeve cast-wise, though, is that the actor, Lanny Flaherty, playing the local sheriff, is so awful that even had the film been better he would have ruined it. Yes, he’s that bad.

Director Joe Berlinger gives the film some decent atmosphere and some creepy moments, but doesn’t seem to be able to assemble all his parts into an effective whole. Apparently the film was taken away from him and re-edited with new footage shot to make it more of a horror film, but if this is better than what he delivered, then I doubt I want to ever see a director’s cut…though, as a film geek, I’d probably watch it if it ever surfaced. Again, some cool ideas wasted without anywhere to go with them.

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) hot goth chicks.

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CD SOUNDTRACK TRACK LIST

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  1. The Reckoning- Godhead
  2. Lie Down- P.O.D.
  3. Goodbye Lament- Tony Iommi/Dave Grohl
  4. Dragula- Rob Zombie
  5. Mind- System Of A Down
  6. Stick It Up- Slaves On Dope
  7. Suicide Is Painless- Marilyn Manson
  8. Soul Auctioneer- Death In Vegas
  9. Ps- Project 86
  10. Old Enough- Nickleback
  11. Feel Alive- U.P.O.
  12. Tommy (Don’t Die)- Steakknife
  13. Arcarsenal- At The Drive In
  14. Human- Elastica
  15. Feel Good Hit Of The Summer- Queens Of The Stone Age
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