BARE BONES: SKINAMARINK (2022)

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SKINAMARINK (2022)

Horror film from IFC Midnight and Shudder takes place in 1995 and has four-year-old Kevin (Lucas Paul) and his sister Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) finding their parents (Ross Paul and Jaime Hill) suddenly gone in the middle of the night and strange things starting to occur. Soon it is quite obvious that the two are not alone and who or whatever is in the house with them is otherworldly and malevolent.
 
Experimental horror flick is written and directed by Kyle Edward Ball and is based on a nightmare he had as a child. It’s hard to be overly critical of a film that is made structurally like an actual nightmare, complete with a sometimes-incoherent narrative, surreal camera work and visuals, and an extremely methodical pace. One can appreciate the effort to make something different, but Skinamarink is simply both too much and too little for a 100-minute-long film. It’s excruciatingly boring and it’s almost until the end of the film that we start to piece things together, and then it simply ends without a traditional or at least satisfying resolution, or one of any kind for that matter. Yes, dreams rarely have a coherent plot or a beginning, middle and end, but movies do, and this was a little too fractured and slow-paced, not to mention over-long to keep one’s interest. There is literally no story or character development at all. With a constant barrage of camera angles from the POV of the carpet and corners of the ceiling and pieces of furniture, instead of the characters, it was hard to even tell who was talking, much less get to know or care about Kevin or Kaylee. It’s literally about 95 percent shots of parts of the house. There were a few disturbing images in the last ten minutes or so, but it was too little and too late. What was most likely a well-intended attempt to recreate a real nightmare, just comes across as a pretentious, sometimes confusing and extremely dull night at the movies.
 
-MonsterZero NJ
 

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: SATAN’S SLAVES and IMPETIGORE

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This edition of MZNJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature is a good match for quite a few reasons! One, they are both Indonesian horrors, two they are both written and directed by Joko Anwar and three, they both feature the beautiful and talented Tara Basro as the lead! So, head over to Shudder where both these spooky flicks are currently streaming and enjoy!

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SATAN’S SLAVES (2017)

Indonesian horror is from Impetigore writer/director Joko Anwar and tells of the ailing matriarch (Ayu Laksmi) of the Suwono family. When she passes, strange things start to occur around the house, causing eldest daughter Rini (Impetigore‘s Tara Basroto look into her mother’s past. Rini finds to her horror that her mother was part of a Satanic sect and the price of what benefits she gained from it are to be paid to that sect in the form of the youngest child in the family, little Ian (Muhammad Adhiyat).

Anwar directs again from his own screenplay, this time based on a 1980 Indonesian horror of the same name. It’s a spooky film with some offsetting visuals, such as ghastly specters and the dead rising from their graves. It’s not quite as consistently intense as Impetigore and seems like about ten minutes, or so, longer than it needs to be, but it is more of a slow burn that comes to a very creepy last act and climax. The benefit of a slower pace is that we get to know the members of this family well enough to care, especially Rini, and we find out the details of the hidden part of their mother’s life gradually, as they do. Anwar also plays with the motivations of some of his spectral guests in the family’s modest home, providing some interesting twists. The writer/director gets really good work out of his cast, including the kids and especially leading lady Tara Barso, as a young woman forced to take over as head of a supernaturally embattled family. Anwar juggles a fairly large number of characters, and it helps that his strong storytelling skills are at work. Can this clan keep together and save little Ian?…and themselves?…the flick is worth a look to find out the answer. On the technical side, the visual and make-up FX are well done and provide some very chilling entities to populate this supernatural thriller and Anwar’s visual eye keeps things atmospheric and unsettling.

This is a spooky and atmospheric film from a filmmaker who is proving he is good at supplying both scares and story. Director Joko Anwar and leading lady Tara Basro are also proving to be a formidable team as they were in Impetigore. Film can be found streaming on Shudder and if you liked Impetigore, you’ll probably like this!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) sisters of Satan’s spawn!

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IMPETIGORE (2019)

Impetigore is an Indonesian horror that finds a young woman named Maya (Tara Basro) looking into her past after a mysterious individual tries to kill her. Also down on her luck, Maya returns, with her best friend Dini (Marissa Anita), to the rural village that is her birthplace, to seek 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 her family…Maya.

Very spooky and well-made flick is written and directed by Joko Anwar and is a nice mix of dark folktale and city girl in a backwoods nightmare. Anwar creates a very thick atmosphere of malevolence and dread as Maya enters her former hometown, that she hasn’t step foot in since she was five years old. As those around her plot against her, Maya finds a past filled with jealousy, infidelity, murder and black magic. The writer/director slowly lets us find out the real facts about Maya’s past, as she does, with a nice last act reveal that finally unveils the dark truth behind the curse and its origin, as well as Maya’s role in it and how it can be stopped. It’s classic storytelling and the elements of dark fairy tale, backwoods horror and Indonesian culture are all blended skillfully. The last act has some very suspenseful moments, as the outnumbered Maya is hunted through the village and surrounding woods, and it’s all delivered with a very impressive visual style from director Anwar and cinematographer Ical Tanjung. Up till that point, the film is consistently unsettling as Maya gradually finds out what’s going on and how much trouble she’s in. It helps that our heroine is also very likable, as is her spunky best friend Dini. There is some bloody violence and gore and the plot elements involving village newborns, missing children, and puppets made out of human skin are extremely effective, especially when woven into the story so well. Anwar is a skilled storyteller and one who knows how to tell one in a very chilling and unnerving way.

The cast are all very good with lead Tara Basro standing out as Maya. She is a young woman trying to make a living in the city and who remembers very little about her past. When that past comes for her with a vengeance, she bravely, though cautiously, goes to get some answers, though her dire financial situation also plays a factor in her decision. When she realizes there is a village out to kill her, her resilient side comes through. Marissa Anita is cute and feisty as her friend Dini. Dini is a true friend indeed, traveling with Maya to this spooky little village in the middle of nowhere and the actress makes her very endearing. Ario Bayu is very effective as the film’s villain, village elder Ki Saptadi. He is the one who believes Maya’s demise is the answer to the village’s curse problems and Anwar does throw us a nice curve concerning Saptadi in the last act and Bayu plays it all well. In support there is Christine Hakim who oozes malevolence as Nyi Misni, Saptadi’s mother and Zidni Hakim and Faradina Mufti play Maya’s parents in flashbacks with no dialogue.

This is a very spooky and atmospheric film from a filmmaker who knows how to tell a story. It’s part backwoods horror and part dark folktale, with a young woman whose past comes back to haunt her. There is a very effective mood of danger and malevolence, some very atmospheric Indonesian locations, really taunt suspense and some surprising reveals and unlocked secrets, that enrich an already engrossing tale. Highly recommended and both director Joko Anwar and leading lady Tara Basro are talents to keep an eye on. Now streaming on Shudder!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) unfortunate heirs to a family curse!

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BARE BONES: DEADSTREAM (2022)

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DEADSTREAM (2022)

Found footage horror/comedy finds internet influencer Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter) facing his fears on his web show The Wrath of Shawn. To regain his audience, after being banished for six months when one of his stunts causes injury, Shawn decides to face his biggest fear upon his return…ghosts! Locking himself inside an actual haunted house Shawn learns the hard way that this may be one fear he may not live to overcome.

Laugh out loud flick is written and directed by star Joseph Winter along with Vanessa Winter and is deviously entertaining. It is a clever blast of a good time that not only skewers internet stars, live stream web shows, paranormal shows and found footage horror, but wonderfully captures the manic energy and ghoulish laughs of Evil Dead 2 in its overdrive last act. Winter’s hyperactive Shawn is annoying, endearing and hilariously funny all at the same time and he makes a worthy “Ash” for a new generation facing all sorts of scary spooks, being covered in various bodily fluids, and getting the crap beaten out of him. It’s energetic and entertaining and the filmmakers even get some legitimately spooky sequences mixed in with all the fun stuff. The Utah location is very creepy, and the Winters use it well. The spooks are nicely rendered FX, there are some surprisingly gory moments and some bonkers sequences with motor-mouth, coward Shawn fighting for his life against various ghosts and ghouls. The Winters pull off a nice mix of horror and comedy, give it some spooky atmosphere and manic energy, and it all adds up to a really fun Halloween time treat. Deadstream also stars Melanie Stone as Chrissy, a fan that follows Shawn to the haunted location. Flick is currently streaming on Shudder. FUN!

MZNJ: Not only is this one of the funniest and spookiest horror comedies in years, but definitely a strong candidate for being on the horror best of list for 2022.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: MOLOCH (2022)

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MOLOCH (2022)

Netherlands horror finds widowed Betriek (Sallie Harmsen) returning home with her young daughter Hannah (Noor van der Velden) to her family farmhouse after the death of her husband. Upon returning she is greeted by some odd deaths, a stranger attacking her family and the discovery of a group of buried bodies of woman with their throats slit. What is going on and why does Betriek feel something ancient, and evil has targeted her family.
 
Dutch horror is directed by Nico van den Brink from a script by he and Daan Bakker. Despite some intriguing story elements involving a malevolent biblical entity and a woman suspected of witchcraft, the film is very routine and kind of dull. There are some spooky visuals, and a few effective moments, along with some nice folklore elements but the film is very talky and takes far too long to get to the spooky stuff. The cast and setting give it some atmosphere and a refreshing look and feel, but there is little tension or scares, and it ends exactly as you expect it to. A disappointing example of some good ideas executed in a mundane and pedestrian manner. Flick is available to stream on Shudder.
 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: GLORIOUS (2022)

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GLORIOUS (2022)

Flick has down on his luck Wes (Ryan Kwanten) being locked in a disgusting, public rest stop bathroom with a powerful deity (voice by J.K. Simmons) that resides in one of the stalls. Yup…you read that right! The being needs the emotionally distraught man to help save the universe. No, really…that’s the plot!
 
Flick is directed by Rebekah McKendry from a script and story by Joshua Hull, David Ian McKendry and Todd Rigney. It’s a woefully misguided attempt to do H.P. Lovecraft in a gross public bathroom…complete with glory hole. It’s gross for the sake of being gross and doesn’t have any of the cleverness it thinks it does. It’s dreadfully slow paced for a film under 80 minutes and is mostly long-drawn-out dialogue sequences with a few moments of activity here and there. The lead character of Wes is unlikable long before the big end reveal…which is not all that unexpected…when being sympathetic to his predicament would have worked much better. McKendry’s direction is unremarkable, and she borrows a lot of her visuals from the recent Lovecraft adaptation Color Out of Space. J.K. Simmons does good work vocalizing the deity “Ghat”, but Kwanten is a bland lead as Wes. Aside from a few brief effective moments that are very few and very far between, there is little to recommend here. Flick is currently available to stream on Shudder if you want to waste 80 minutes of your time.
 

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: THE FOUND FOOTAGE PHENOMENON (2021)

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THE FOUND FOOTAGE PHENOMENON (2021)

The Found Footage Phenomenon is a fun and informative documentary about one of horror’s newest sub-genres…or is it? Flick from Sarah Appleton and Phillip Escott traces the start of the sub-genre back to moments and films from the 60s and 70s, such as the opening moments of the classic slasher Peeping Tom to Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, where the seeds of this sub-genre first were sown. We then cover films like The Last Broadcast and The Blair Witch Project where found footage really started to take form, to some of the newer entries like the Paranormal Activity series, [REC] series, Cloverfield and Megan is Missing. Along the way we get interviews from found footage filmmakers like Jaume Balagueró, Oren Peli, Eduardo Sánchez, André Øvredal, Ruggero Deodato himself and many more. We learn about how some of these films were made and of some of the titles we haven’t seen, or that missed the spotlight and credit they deserve. It’s a lot of fun! All in all, a very entertaining and interesting documentary for found footage and horror fans alike. Now available to stream on Shudder! 
 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: HAIL TO THE DEADITES (2020)

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HAIL TO THE DEADITES (2020)

Hail to the Deadites is a documentary from writer/director Steve Villeneuve that takes a fun look at the Evil Dead franchise’s loyal and dedicated fan base. The film travels from convention to convention and puts the spotlight on some of the movies’ most avid fans, as well as features interviews with the series’ cast members like Betsy Baker, Ellen Sandweiss, the late Dan Hicks, Kassie DePavia and the man, the myth, the legend himself, Bruce Campbell. It’s a fun and interesting look at the fans of one of horrors greatest and most recognized franchises and the effect that loyal fandom has had on the talent involved with those movies, such as FX legend Tom Sullivan. If you are one of these diehard fans and want an entertaining look at some of your peers and how you have affected the lives of the actors you idolize, then this is a nice companion piece to the classic horror film series. Documentary is now available to stream on Shudder.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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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: THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR (2020)

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THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR (2020)

Thriller has two young boys, Kevin (Ezra Dewey) and Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) kidnaped by a strange woman (Kristen Bauer van Straten) and her creepy accomplice (Micah Hauptman). Bobby is left to suffocate in the trunk of the car, while Kevin is taken and imprisoned inside a house. Resilient Bobby escapes his fate and instead of running away, enters the house with every intent of freeing his friend.

As written and directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell, this is no Home Alone but a brutal and intense thriller about a young boy fighting for his life and that of his friend. There is some startling violence and bloodshed, as the tough and tenacious Bobby fights against two nasty individuals who had no problem leaving him to die a horrible death. Kevin is the far more timid of the two and is also incumbered by a shock collar that is activated by sensors in the house. This leaves it mostly Bobby’s fight, even once the two boys are reunited. The cast is really good here. with Lonnie Chavis doing a fantastic job as the tough but likable Bobby. This kid goes through some rough stuff and performs it well. Ezra Dewey is sympathetic as the weaker Kevin, who is traumatized by what is happening and also performs it well. Van Straten and Haupton make for disturbing and effective villains, as a pair who not only traffic in children, but have no problem tormenting or killing them. This is a brutal, violent and suspenseful thriller, all the more effective as it involves two kids and doesn’t hold back because of it. It’s a rough watch, with some tough subject matter, but a very intense and well made thriller from this promising directing duo. Filmmakers to watch Charbonier and Powell also directed Ezra Dewey in IFC Midnight’s spooky The Djinn released just last May. The Boy Behind The Door is now streaming on Shudder. 

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: VICIOUS FUN (2020)

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VICIOUS FUN (2020)

Horror comedy takes place in 1983 with horror magazine writer, Joel (Evan Marsh) crushing on his hot roommate Sarah (Alexa Rose Steele). A jealous Joel decides to follow her new boyfriend Bob (Ari Millen) and tails him to a bar and restaurant. There he befriends and questions Bob, who eventually leaves with a young woman, while Joel soon passes out drunk. Upon awakening, he finds himself in a bizarre twelve step meeting, at the restaurant, for what turns out to be a bunch of serial killers. Joel is mistaken for one of their number, until Bob joins in and outs him. Now Joel becomes their next intended victim until he finds an unexpected ally, when one of the psychos turns out to be a killer with a grudge against killers

Flick is directed by Cody Calahan from a script by James Villeneuve. It starts out to be a lot of bloody fun, as we first get introduced to this bunch of various serial murderers and then when Bob shows up to out Joel and the blood and body parts start to fly. It’s the second act that really hurts this flick as a change of locations to a police station, grinds the momentum and bloody fun to a halt. A lot of time is wasted with Joel and his new ally sitting in jail cells as the moronic police try to pin the bodies at the restaurant on them. It’s not until the third act, when Bob, along with remaining killers, the Jason-like Mike (Robert Maillet) and the Gacy-like Fritz (Julian Richings) attack the police station to finish their work. The film is fun from here on in, but never really fully recovers from the dead weight of the middle. The cast are all good and get the sarcastic tone of the material and there is plenty of blood, guts and action, when killers, cops and prey all collide. It’s just a slow mid-section that really keeps this from being a consistent delight from start to finish. Also stars David Koechner as the session leader, Sean Baek as cannibal Hideo, Amber Goldfarb as female killer Carrie and has a great 80s-esque electronic score by Steph Copeland. Worth a watch on Shudder, but not the complete blast it could have been with a little trimming in the second act.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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