HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SUPERHOST (2021)

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SUPERHOST (2021)

Disturbing yet fun flick finds travel vloggers and couple Teddy (Osric Chau) and Claire (Sara Canning) picking a remote house in the woods for the next installment of their failing vlog, Superhost. The home is owned by Rebecca (Gracie Gillam) a woman who seems a bit eccentric to say the least. The longer Claire and Teddy stay, the more they begin to feel something isn’t right in this house and something is certainly very wrong with their Superhost, Rebecca.

Flick is written and directed by Brandon Christensen (ZStill/Born) and despite being a familiar story, it is still a very effective and entertaining horror. Christensen lets us know from the start that something isn’t right with Rebecca and we know where it is all headed from the moment they get there, but unlike Teddy and Claire, this is about the ride and not the destination. What a ride it is, as we slowly find out, along with the couple, just how deranged Rebecca is and what she’s prepared to do—aside from what we find out she’s already done. What starts out as unsettlingly eccentric becomes diabolical and viciously violent, as the two are stranded in the middle of nowhere with the demented Rebecca watching their every move and listening to their every word. It’s a creepy fun flick, though it does get straight-up disturbing and bloodily violent before the credits roll. Christensen has a nice visual eye and creates an atmosphere of dread from very early on, then delivers a suspenseful and blood-spattered last act that might have you spilling your popcorn here and there—or even laughing uncomfortably in a few spots.

The small cast really helps make this work! Gracie Gillam, who, under her former stage name of Grace Phipps, starred in Some Kind of Hate, Dark Summer and Tales of Halloween, gives an over-the-top tour de force performance as the demented Rebecca. She’s unsettlingly cute and energetic one moment and full-blown vicious psychopath the next. She nears Heath Ledger Joker heights at times with her ability to change levels of crazy at the drop of a hat and being equally scary both in her exaggerated moments and in the calm ones, too. She and The Loved One’s Lola could be roommates no problem. Osric Chau is very likable as Teddy. Teddy is the weaker and more emotional of the couple, but is sweet and sympathetic. Claire is the more ambitious and business minded of the two…and the stronger. She sees Rebecca as prime ratings subject matter and is willing to continue with the episode long after Teddy’s alarms are going off about the alleged homeowner. Sara Canning plays her well and yet keeps her likable, despite her putting the vlog before boyfriend Teddy. Rounding out the cast is horror legend Barbara Crampton, who plays Vera, a woman with a grudge against Claire and Teddy. A solid cast!

Overall, this may be a familiar story and there is no doubt how this is going to end up, but it is a chilling hoot getting there. Brandon Christensen proves yet again he is a skilled director who can freshen up familiar tales and provide some nice atmosphere, chills and suspense. He has definitely become a filmmaker to keep an eye on. The small cast all perform well, with a delightfully demented performance from horror veteran Gracie Gillam. Superhost is now streaming exclusively on Shudder!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 1/2 (out of 4) Superhosts.

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BARE BONES: SLAXX (2020)

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SLAXX (2020)

Slaxx finds eager young Libby (Romane Denis) starting a new job at the posh Canadian Cotton Clothiers clothing store, working a night shift in preparation for a new clothing line launch. She and her new co-workers are sealed inside the store and come under attack by a pair of possessed designer jeans.
Canadian horror/comedy is directed by Elza Kephart from her script with Patricia Gomez. She wisely plays the material straight, letting the proceedings deliver the fun, and the audacity of the premise works much better this way. Not making this an outright joke was definitely the way to approach such a whimsical concept. Anyone who has worked in retail, especially for some upscale brand, will appreciate the plentiful satire aimed at the shallow and vapid atmosphere of such places. There is also some strong commentary on the treatment and unethical use of labor, such companies as the fictional CCC employ. There is plenty of gore and cute Romane Denis makes for a solid heroine, with her Libby being the only one strong-willed enough to take on the possessed pants. Even a killer pair of designer jeans can only be so scary, but Kephart uses her tale to deliver a message, not only entertain. Not a great movie by any stretch, but there is amusement to be had, as the pants decimate the shallow staff, and Kephart adds some strong commentary and sly satire to go along with the blood and bloomers. Now streaming on Shudder the flick is smartly a brisk 76 minutes.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: LUCKY (2020)

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LUCKY (2020)

Writer May (an excellent Brea Grant) believes a man is stalking her. Each night he appears and breaks into her house and she has to fight him off. Her husband Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh) seems to be very glib when discussing it, to the point where he leaves May and goes to stay with his parents, when she confronts him about his cavalier attitude. Even the police don’t seem to be taking her very seriously. Feeling abandoned and alone, May decides to deal with it in her own way, as each day the mysterious stalker (Hunter C. Smith) returns. Is this all in May’s head?…or is someone really out to hurt her?

Film is directed by Natasha Kermani, who gave us the interesting Imitation Girl, from a script by star Brea Grant. The film is partially commentary on how female victims of sexual assault, or harassment, become the ones under scrutiny and who have to prove themselves amid disbelief. May constantly fights to be believed and finds herself having to defend herself to everyone around her. Lucky is also about living in constant fear after such a trauma and learning to confront those fears. With each encounter, May becomes stronger and more resilient, as the mysterious attacker gets bolder and more violent. The people around her also become more and more dismissive and are of no help, so she is on her own. If it seems like something is a bit off here, with so many people not believing and even patronizing May, you would be right. It’s a slasher film as a metaphor for trauma and it’s effects. If there is anything predictable about the unconventional Lucky, is that this obviously isn’t going to end like a typical slasher movie and everything is not what it outwardly seems. We also know from early on there is more beneath the surface than Kermani and Grant are telling us, or plan to tell us. There is no spoon feeding here, or revelatory reveal. It’s up to the viewer to fill in the blanks and the pieces are there if you want to put them together. The film may ultimately be unsatisfyingly ambiguous to some, but as someone who grew up in a household with an abusive parent, the film’s messages about alienation, trauma and living in fear are well received, as are those of learning to face those fears and fight back. Another bold and innovative film from Kermani and a strong, clever script by Brea Grant. Lucky is streaming on Shudder.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: SHOOK (2021)

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SHOOK (2021)

Shudder original finds internet beauty and make-up personality Mia (Daisye Tutor) dog sitting for her sister Nicole (Emily Goss). While at Nicole’s house, Mia comes under attack from a mysterious individual who taunts her and makes her play sadistic games with her friends’ lives in the balance.

Newest addition to the internet/cellphone stalker sub-genre is written and directed by Jennifer Harrington from a story by Alesia Glidewell. It’s fairly routine story-wise, as this recent trend of horror flicks go. Jennifer Harrington does direct effectively and there are some chilling moments. It doesn’t really get interesting till the last act reveal of who is stalking Mia and why. It is a nasty revelation and a bit unexpected, but works well in being fairly disturbing, as it makes things unsettlingly even more personal. Mia’s selfish behavior may have come back to haunt her. The commentary on our online social lives, especially in these COVID isolation times, is becoming commonplace in these flicks as of late, but when Shook does it’s own thing with it’s familiar tale, is when Harrington most shows she has some potential. The cast is also solid with Tutor doing good work as our initially shallow heroine and at under 90 minutes, it is also short and to the point. Far from perfect, but still worth a look if you are into the recent spate of social media based thrillers. Available to stream on Shudder.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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2020: THE YEAR THAT PUT INDONESIAN HORROR ON THE MAP!

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2020: THE YEAR THAT PUT INDONESIAN HORROR ON THE MAP!

Maya (Tara Basro) returns to her birthplace to find a decades old curse that’s marked her for death in the Indonesian horror Impetigore.

The horror genre is no stranger to Indonesian cinema, in fact they make spooky flicks quite prolifically. It’s just that, up till now, this was only known to die hard horror movie buffs and dedicated cinephiles. That may have changed this year, thanks to streaming networks like Shudder and Netflix, whose acquiring of some recent titles has brought Indonesia’s horror cinema to mainstream attention…and availability! Film’s like Netflix’s May The Devil Take You and Shudder’s Impetigore have gotten solid reviews for being really spooky and well made movies. It’s also brought much deserved attention to not only their respective writer/directors, Timo Tjahjanto and Joko Anwar, but their resilient final girls Chelsea Islan (May The Devil Take You, May The Devil Take You Too)  and Tara Basro (Satan’s Slaves, Impetigore), as well. This has also brought attention to the fact that Netflix has numerous other Indonesian horror offerings such as The 3rd Eye franchise, The Doll and Kuntilanak, and the same goes with Sudder, Amazon Prime and Tubi. Now everyone is aware of what only a few movie fans have known for some time and thanks to these streaming networks, we have a whole new world of horror flicks to choose from!

Four recent releases that helped put Indonesian horror on the map!

(To get to our reviews of the flicks covered here, click on the highlighted titles!)

2018 Indonesian horror May The Devil Take You has teen Alfie (Chelsea Islan) and her step-siblings paying the price for their father’s occult practices.

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-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: LINGERING (2020)

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LINGERING aka HOTEL LAKE (2020)

Lingering aka Hotel Lake finds Yoo-mi (Se-yeong Lee) taking charge of her little sister Yoon Ji‑yoo (So-yi Park) after the death of their mother. She doesn’t plan to do that for long, as she returns to an old lakeside hotel run by her mother’s friend Gyeong-seon (Ji-Young Park) to leave her sister with the woman known to them since childhood as “Auntie.” Upon arrival, things are not as they seem, as strange events begin to occur and soon Yoo-mi starts to believe she and her younger sibling may be in danger. What follows is an unraveling mystery of both the human and the supernatural kind with Yoo-mi and her little sister caught in the middle.

Korean horror is written and directed by Yoon Een-Kyoung and is a disappointingly mediocre supernatural thriller. It has some nice atmosphere, the cinematography by Hyeong-bin Lee is quite sumptuous and the locations are quite spooky. Se-yeong Lee makes a solid heroine as Yoo-mi and Ji-Young Park is good as “Auntie” Gyeong-seon. It’s just the story is predictable and the haunting elements are routine. We know something isn’t right at this beautiful old hotel and that there is something Auntie is not telling us. We also never quite trust the almost too gracious and agreeable Gyeong-seon from the start, which makes later reveals more of the “I thought so!” kind. Still it has some effective moments and there are some gruesome make-up FX and abundant bloodshed in the second half, when Yoo-mi starts to unravel the hidden secrets of Auntie and this haunted hotel. Not a bad movie, but not especially memorable either. Streaming on Shudder for those interested.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HALLOWEEN HOTTIES: HALLOWEEN HOTTIE OF 2020!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S HALLOWEEN HOTTIE OF 2020

TARA BASRO!

It’s Halloween🎃!…and as it has become tradition, it’s time to announce MonsterZero NJ’s Halloween Hottie of the Year!…an actress that has not only captured our hearts, but gotten our attention with a strong performance, be it as a final girl or a femme fatale!…
…and our Halloween Hottie of 2020 is…Tara Basro!
Tara Basro is a talented Indonesian actress and model who seems to have become the go-to leading lady for Indonesian director Joko Anwar. She had previously starred in his spooky horror flick Satan’s Slaves and his superhero flick Gundala, before her attention getting role as heroine Maya in the Shudder original Impetigore. This very intense and creepy flick finds down on her luck Maya looking into her past after a mysterious individual tries to kill her. Maya travels, with her best friend Dini (Marissa Anita), to the rural village that is her birthplace, in hopes of securing her inheritance. Having been away from her family home since she was a child, she finds that there is a curse on this small village. Worse still, the locals believe her family is involved and the only way to end the curse is to kill the last remaining member of the family…Maya. Thankfully the resilient and resourceful Maya proves to not be the easiest target. Not many final girls have taken on an entire village full of killers, black magic and ghosts, all at one time, but Basro’s Maya does exactly that and made an impression doing so! A talented actress we’d like to see more of, especially in the horror genre!

(Click on the highlighted links or on the movie poster to read a review of the Shudder original, Impetigore!)

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Tara Basro as Maya in Impetigore!

Down on her luck Maya has been going from one mundane job to another.

A close call with an armed madman leads disturbingly back to her ancestral village.

In the hope a life changing inheritance awaits, Maya travels back to her birthplace.

Almost immediately Maya and bestie Dini, find something is not right in this small remote village.

The more Maya finds out about her family history, the more she finds reason to be afraid…for her life!

Maya finds herself surrounded by black magic, mortal enemies and in deep trouble. Will she escape alive?

MONSTERZERO NJ’S HALLOWEEN HOTTIE OF 2020 RUNNER UP…SEO YE-JI!

As it is now tradition, we have a runner up! A new face on the horror flick scene! Korean actress Seo Ye-Ji made an impression in the Shudder Original Warning: Do Not Play as young, up and coming film director Mi-Jung. Mi-Jung has two weeks to come up with a screenplay in order to keep her first big directing job. Research leads her to a student film, that when shown at it’s premiere, caused panic and even death. Intrigued, she sets out to to find this supposedly haunted film and it’s equally elusive maker Jae-Hyun (Jin Seon-Kyu), who disappeared along with the movie. Mi-Jung learns to be careful what she wishes for and some urban legends are better left alone!
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Seo Ye-Ji as Mi-jung in Warning: Do Not Play

Mi-Jung will lose her directing job without a script, until an urban legend about a haunted film catches her attention.

Mi-Jung soon learns to be careful what you wish for and some things should be left alone.

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This year was, again, a tough choice…or maybe MonsterZero NJ is just an old softie when it comes to final girls. Both these ladies were great in their roles and really brought it as their respective film’s lead!

-MonsterZero NJ

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(And don’t forget to check out our previous Halloween Hotties by simply going to our Halloween Hotties main page!)

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BARE BONES: THE CLEANSING HOUR (2019)

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THE CLEANSING HOUR (2019)

Shudder Original has a shyster priest, Father Max (Ryan Guzman) staging phony exorcisms for his web show, The Cleansing Hour. During one of his staged performances, a real demonic entity decides to show up. Now the fraudulent Father Max has to not only battle the real thing, but has all his darkest secrets brought out to bear in front of his live audience.

Flick is well directed by Damien LeVeck despite being from a silly script from he and Aaron Horwitz. There is some very bad dialogue and some silly moments, but LeVeck directs the nonsense with a skilled hand and makes it far more effective than it should be. His demon puts Max through an emotional wringer, as the former priest is forced to bare his soul before his internet audience, which grows as the demonic hi-jinx accelerate. LeVeck has a good visual style and there are some very convincing gore and creature effects. He gets good work from his cast, especially Guzman as the troubled priest, Father Max and even sneaks in some biting commentary on the contemporary clergy. Director and cast take this all very seriously and this also helps make it far more effective than it should be, including a very disturbing climax. No classic, but worth a watch and signals LeVeck could turn out something really interesting with a stronger script. Also stars horror flick vet Kyle Gallner (Jennifer’s Body, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010) as Max’s childhood friend and partner, Drew and Alix Angelis as Drew’s fiancée and the object of demonic possession, Lane.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: SPIRAL (2019)

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SPIRAL (2019)

Spooky thriller finds a gay couple, Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Aaron (Ari Cohen) moving into a suburban town with their daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte). Malik is still suffering trauma from a vicious hate crime perpetrated against he and a former lover and starts to feel something is not right in this town from the moment they move in. Aaron thinks it’s all in his head, but Malik comes to believe their is something very sinister going on here and it has set it’s sights on them. Is he being paranoid?…or is there evil here beyond small town, narrow-minded prejudice?

Horror is very well directed by Kurtis David Harder from a strong and smart script by Colin Minihan (What Keeps Us Alive) and John Poliquin. The story deftly mixes social commentary about the prejudice and hate homosexuals endure at times, with a very unsettling yet more traditional horror scenario. Kurtis David Harder creates some very tense, atmospheric and spooky scenes, as poor Malik is manipulated and isolated from the people he loves by something sinister…or is he? We are kept guessing, for quite some time, as to whether Malik’s emotional trauma isn’t letting some simple prejudices and the ominous warnings of an old townie, “spiral” out of control in his head. It’s heartbreaking to see Malik, tormented, broken down and separated from his loved ones, whether it be mental or supernatural, and the last act is very disturbing and chilling, once we find out whether this is a result of past trauma, or something far more diabolical. The cast is very good, especially a strong, emotionally charged performance by Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman as Malik. The players also include horror vets Lochlyn Munro (Freddy vs Jason) and Chandra West (Shudder’s Z, Puppet Master 4 & 5), who evoke Get Out, as neighbors who seem a bit too welcoming to the gay couple to be legit. Kurtis David Harder is a director to keep an eye on and co-writer/producer Colin Minihan once again proves he’s a filmmaker more people should be talking about. A very chilling and relevant Shudder Original streaming now.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: LA LLORONA (2019)

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LA LLORONA (2019)

Shudder original is a Guatemalan film that mixes the supernatural with some all too real events from Guatemalan history. The film opens with elderly Enrique (Julio Diaz) on trial for war crimes he’s accused of committing as a general during the bloody Guatemalan Civil War. Events surrounding the trial have he and his family trapped inside his home, with hundreds of angry protestors outside. When new housekeeper Alma (María Mercedes Coroy) is brought into the house, strange things start to occur and soon it appears something more dangerous than the angry mob outside, is now inside the home with them. What is it and what does it want?

Guatemalan tale of a vengeful spirit is directed by Jayro Bustamante from his own script with Lisandro Sanchez. It ‘s a very atmospheric and spooky film on one side and some stark commentary on Guatemala’s bloody history of internal war and genocide on the other. The film is very moderately paced and while there is plenty of supernatural activity going on, it does seem to lean more towards drama, as the family is forced to look at it’s part in some horrific events. When the spooky stuff comes, it is quite effective and Bustamante not only presents some chilling visuals, but achieves his effectiveness with simple in-camera lighting and shot composition. There are no CGI phantoms here, just good old-fashioned filmmaking. The cast are all very good and the Latin folklore adds even more atmosphere to an already atmospheric film. An effective movie that chills both with the supernatural and with the evils that men do. Now streaming on Shudder and costars Sabrina De La Hoz as Enrique’s daughter Natalia, Margarita Kenéfic as wife Carmen, Ayla-Elea Hurtado as granddaughter Sara and María Telón as Valeriana, a housekeeper and possibly illegitimate family member. Definitely NOT to be confused with last year’s lackluster Conjuring Universe flick, The Curse of La Llorona.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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