REVIEW: FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES (2018)

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FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES (2018)

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Holiday flick takes place in 1983 in a predominately Italian working-class area of Pennsylvania. It follows aspiring artist Tony (Skyler Gisondo) as he has just broken up with girlfriend Katie (Addison Timlin) and his family is preparing for the annual Christmas Eve “Feast of the Seven Fishes”, an Italian Catholic tradition. When hanging out one night with friends Angelo (Andrew Schultz) and Sarah (Jessica Darrow), Tony is introduced to Beth, a Protestant college girl from the wealthier part of town. Tony and Beth start to fall for each other and he invites her over for the Christmas Eve feast. With his wacky Catholic family, Katie wanting him back and Beth’s mother (Lisa Velten-Smith) not liking her hanging out on the wrong side of the tracks, will these two ever find holiday romance?

Holiday romantic comedy is filled with old-school charm thanks to writer/director Robert Tinnell knowing to downplay the over-the-top bombasity that ruins most holiday flicks. The film has loads of atmosphere, both for the Yuletide season and from being steeped in old-fashioned Italian tradition. The 1983 setting adds to the charm, but Tanell never lets it become the focus over his well-written characters. Fishes follows many traditions of holiday romantic comedies, such as two people from different worlds meeting on a special night, yet avoids the clichés and overblown melodrama of the bigger Hollywood holiday flicks. That’s what makes this work so well, it’s subtle presentation of it’s story. It seems far more real and far less fabricated than it’s big studio counterparts, which prefer big overcooked set pieces to the down-to-earth human interaction that we get here. It feels like you’re watching real people and not something manufactured. The characters themselves are traditional, yet not stereotypes and the cast wonderfully fill the roles of real people types, despite playing familiar/classic roles.

As for that cast, it’s what really makes this movie fire on all Yule logs. Skyler Gisondo leads an excellent ensemble of actors. He’s likable, charming, but very understated. A very down to earth performance that makes Tony very realistic and endearing. Madison Iseman once again proves she’s an actress to keep an eye on. She makes Beth far more than the stereotypical rich girl that she could have been. Instead we get a young woman who wants to live her life her way. She’s sweet and very likable and she and Gisondo have some really nice subtle chemistry that makes their romance down-to-earth and relatable. Addison Timlin is also good as Katie. Another role that could have been cliché, but script and actress make you feel sympathy for a young woman who hasn’t quite found herself, or her happiness, yet. We like Katie and hope she does find what she’s looking for someday. Supporting cast is very impressive. We get veteran Paul Ben-Victor as Johnny, the host of the feast and a man who will defend his baccala to the end. Lynn Cohen is wonderful as Tony’s old-school Catholic grandmother who, at first, doesn’t approve of Protestant Beth. Again, a character avoiding stereotype with some subtlety and depth. Nonnie might surprise you. Rounding out are flavorful performances from Ray Abruzzo as Uncle Carmine, the legendary Joe Pantoliano as Uncle Frankie, Jessica Darrow as Sarah, Andrew Shultz as Angelo and Josh Helman () as Juke. A great cast.

In conclusion this is a wonderfully charming and refreshingly subtle and atmospheric Christmas romance. It’s steeped in the flavor of old school tradition and contains classic characters that avoid being stereotypes, thanks to down-to-earth portrayals and a heartfelt script. Writer/director Robert Tinnell avoids the overblown dramatics and bombastic set pieces that weigh down the big budget Hollywood holiday fare, to give us an old-fashioned Christmas tale of two kids from opposite sides of town meeting and falling in love under the glow of Christmas lights and some salty baccala. An absolute delight and maybe a new Christmas classic if given the attention it deserves!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Christmas trees.

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: ITSY BITSY (2019)

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ITSY BITSY (2019)

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

Flick has divorced home-care nurse Kara Spencer (Elizabeth Roberts) taking a job as a caretaker for an elderly man named Walter Clark (Bruce Davison). She movies into his guest house with her two kids Jesse (Arman Darbo) and Cambria (Chloe Perrin). Clark is a collector of ancient artifacts and has recently come into possession of an illegally obtained tribal vessel that when broken open unleashes a vicious entity that takes the form of an enormous and deadly spider. Now, unknown to them, it’s loose inside the house and out for blood…theirs.

Brought to us by Shout! Factory’s Shout! Studios, flick is directed by Micah Gallo from a script and story by Gallo, Jason Alvino and Bryan Dick. The movie is Gallo’s first full length feature and he does well enough. The flick gives us some solid underlying human drama as Kara is becoming addicted to pills due to the grief brought on by the loss of her third child. Davison’s Clark is also still mourning the death of his wife. It makes the characters human and thus sympathetic when our eight legged critter starts stalking the house, especially young Cambria. It’s also a bit of a drawback, as the film sometimes seems to focus more on the melodrama than the spider. When it does show up, it is effective enough and seems like it’s rendered mostly with old fashioned prosthetic and animatronic effects. There is also some bloodshed, though it’s not overly gory. There are some creepy moments, especially if you are not fond of arachnids and things do get quite suspenseful in the last act. Gallo does get good work out of his cast and his eight legged star and gives the film atmosphere.

As for that cast…human that is. Roberts is solid as Kara. She’s a woman in pain and not dealing all too well with her grief. Obviously, the threat to her children reawakens her inner strength. Bruce Davison is an old pro and makes Clark a likable man, even if his acquiring of some of his artifacts has him dealing with some shady people. Arman Darbo is good as Jesse. He’s old enough to understand that his mother’s addiction is making their lives more difficult and is developing a strong independent streak. Chloe Perrin is cute as Cambria and does her job well, as the script really only requires her to be cute and occasionally in peril. Denise Crosby rounds out the main cast as the town sheriff. She is a likable character and is sympathetic to Kara and her family. Well written characters and a cast well directed.

Overall, this is not a great movie, but it is an entertaining one. It’s not quite as scary as one hoped for, but does have some effective spider moments and a solid last act when it’s family vs arachnid. The film focuses heavily on the family drama and while it cuts down on spider time, it does create some well rounded characters. The spider is charming live effects, for the most part, and there is some modest bloodshed. An entertaining night on the couch. Stay through the credits for an additional scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) webs.

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CULT CLASSIC CUTIES: CINDY WEINTRAUB in HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP and THE PROWLER!

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Cult Classic Cuties are characters from some of our favorite cult classics and midnight movies who captured our hearts and/or actresses who got our attention, but sadly never returned to these type of flicks. They’re femme fatales and final girls whose sexy stars shined only briefly, not quite achieving scream queen status. And this installment’s cutie is…

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CINDY WEINTRAUB

This installment of Cult Classic Cuties, much like the previous one, is going to be a little different as it won’t profile an actress in a particular role, but this time, in a double feature of her only two horror appearances! Actress Cindy Weintraub definitely fits the definition of Cult Classic Cutie as she only made two films in her brief career and both of those are horror cult classics. Her first role was playing pretty girl-next door, wife and mother Carol Hill in Humanoids from the Deep and the second as sassy, sexy Lisa in The Prowler.

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Carol and husband Jim (the man, the myth, the legend…Doug McClure) find trouble in their little coastal fishing village in Humanoids from the Deep

When the hubby’s away, the humanoids are out to play, but Carol is armed and ready!

Carol Hill is one Noyo mom a fish-man may not want to mess with!

As sexy, flirtatious Lisa in the cult classic slasher The Prowler

Lisa’s sexy midnight swim is certainly going to attract attention…

…the WRONG kind of attention!

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After starring in these two cult classics, Cindy appeared in all six episodes of the 1982 tv series Baker’s Dozen before disappearing from show biz. She recently reappeared for the Humanoids from the Deep special edition extras in which she relates her time spent on Corman’s creature feature.

Cindy offering commentary on the extras for Shout Factory’s Humanoids from the Deep DVD and Blu-ray special edition. Still a looker!

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Be sure to check out our Cult Classic Cuties (click right here on the link) section to see more crush worthy ladies from cult films and midnight movies!

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: FENDER BENDER (2016)

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FENDER BENDER (2016)

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

Co-produced by Chiller TV and Shout! Factory this is an entertaining little slasher flick that has teen driver Hilary Diaz (Makenzie Vega) getting into a fender bender with a strange guy (Bill Sage) who may have caused the accident on purpose. Grounded by her parents for the accident and taking the car without permission, this leaves the young girl home all alone when they go away. Now Hilary and two of her friends (Dre Davis and The Guest’s Kelsey Leos Montoya) are at the mercy of the deranged masked individual who is apparently making a career out of stalking his fender bender victims.

Written and directed by Mark (The Night Flier) Pavia, this is actually an effective and fun slasher that also has it’s share of brutal moments. Pavia builds some nice suspense, especially when Hilary is alone in the house early on and Sage’s “Driver” is an effective enough stalker/slasher whose viciousness is demonstrated in the opening scene. The film is modestly budgeted and works well within it’s limited framework, confining most of the action to Hilary’s home and yard…despite the poster giving expectations for a more Mad Max-esque thriller. There are some plot holes, such as Hilary’s parents unrealistically making a 17 year-old stay home alone while they’re away and the teen being a little too quick to trade texts with a complete stranger she had an accident with…don’t even get me started on her not being creeped out when he leaves a cake on her car. But the film entertains where most important and Vega makes for a very likable and resilient heroine. While it’s body count is limited and the gore is basically just spurting blood, the kills have impact and there is some intensity to the cat and mouse chases through and around Hilary’s house. There is also a really cool and atmospheric electronic score by Nightrunner that oozes John Carpenter and overall the film does play nostalgically like an 80s slasher.

I liked this little horror flick. It isn’t perfect, but was effective when it needed to be and had a killer who had some menace. The characters are likable, especially lead Makenzie Vega, who gives us a cute and gutsy heroine to cheer. And while there were some flaws and plot holes, there was also tension and suspense and a nice 80s vibe to boot. A fun little movie that smartly doesn’t try to be any more than it is.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 creepy masks.

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