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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BARE BONES: THE AMUSEMENT PARK (1973)

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THE AMUSEMENT PARK (1973)

Lost film from legendary director George A. Romero has been rediscovered, restored and released on Shudder. Romero made this scathing indictment of the ill treatment of the elderly from a script by Wally Cook. It was a film originally commissioned by the Lutheran Society to educate viewers on how badly seniors are treated by society. Romero’s film was so disturbing, that the Lutherans decided not to release it. The film tells a simple story of a 71 year-old man (Lincoln Maazel) who goes to an amusement park to spend the day and instead finds himself in a nightmare where he and the other elderly at the park are ignored, abused, taken advantage of, and even brutally beaten and robbed. The only senior given any respect or attention is one who is obviously wealthy. Romero presents a nightmare of ill treatment heaped on our elderly hero and his peers and it is quite uncomfortable to watch. It can be a bit preachy…though it’s subject no less important…and the performances of the supporting characters are admittingly amateur. It still conveys a strong message about how the senior members of our society are cast out and abused that resonates almost five decades since the film was made. Romero made this statement so strongly that the very people wanting to spread the message felt it too disturbing to release. 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: SON (2021)

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SON (2021)

Flick opens with Laura (Halloween 2018’s Andi Matichak) pregnant and escaping from a cult run by her father. She gives birth in a car while hiding from pursuit. Eight years later, she is a single mother of a boy David (Luke David Blumm) and a teacher. One night she sees a group of people, resembling cult members, in David’s room, but by the time the police arrive, there is no evidence anyone was there. David soon falls ill and the doctors have no explanation. The police detective on the case (Emile Hirsch) can find no evidence of a cult, as he digs into Laura’s disturbing past. As Laura fears something sinister is after them, she takes David and flees. Even worse, she discovers David’s illness can only be sated by something out of a nightmare. Is something demonic influencing her son, or is it all in Laura’s head?

RLJE Films production is directed by Ivan Kavanagh from his own script. This is a continually creepy and unsettling film, as the story unfolds and we question whether this is real, or all a product of Laura’s imagination, as a result of her troubled past. Is she responsible for some of the horrible things going on?…or is there something truly demonic coming to claim her son? The film has a consistent atmosphere of dread and some very gory sequences, as David’s illness is sated in a very disturbing and violent manner. The pace is more moderate, but that serves the slowly unfolding story. The cast are all good with Matichak being very strong as the emotionally troubled but loving mother, Laura. The flick comes to a chilling climax, that may not be totally unexpected, but will stay with you for a while, all the same. Son is available on streaming networks including Amazon Prime and is an unsettling film along the lines of The Dark and the Wicked.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: JAKOB’S WIFE (2021)

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JAKOB’S WIFE (2021)

Story finds Anne Fedder (Barbara Crampton, who also co-produced) unhappy in her marriage to overbearing Minister Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden). When on an ill-fated rendezvous with an old flame (Robert Rusler), Anne is bitten by a female vampire (Bonnie Aarons). Now Anne suddenly finds the strength to stand up to her husband and be her own person, but only the bad thing is, she also develops a strong appetite for blood.

Tale of female empowerment and vampirism is directed by Travis Stevens (The Girl on the Third Floor) from a script by he, Kathy Charles and Mark Steensland. It’s well intended and there are plenty of effective scenes, but the first third seems a bit bland and slow moving until the spooky stuff really begins. Once things get going, there is plenty of bloodshed and it is when dealing with it’s vampire elements that Travis’ flick really comes to life…pun intended. It’s fun to watch Crampton “vamp’ it up as the bitten Anne and also see Fessenden’s minister going all Van Helsing in order to save his wife. It has it’s slow spots, as Travis seems to be far better at the horror elements than the husband/wife drama between Anne and Jakob. It is fun, though, to see the tables turn, as Anne starts to wear the pants in the relationship and Jakob is revealed to be a bit of a coward. The vampire scenes are chilling and there is a subtle humor laced into the proceedings, so we can have a little fun between the darker and bloodier moments. Travis also avoids the clichés in this type of flick whenever possible and while it is not completely unconventional, the familiar tropes are used very well and it comes to a fitting conclusion. The film also has an effective visual style, as photographed by David Matthews and a fun vampire appropriate score by Tara Busch.

The cast are good, especially an excellent Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, Chopping Mall) as the oppressed wife experiencing a supernaturally charged awakening. It’s one of her best roles in a long time. Larry Fessenden is also well cast as her boorish minister husband who realizes there are vampires afoot…and his wife is one of them. It’s fun to see Robert Rusler (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Vamp) back in a horror, though his appearance is basically an extended cameo. The film also stars Nyisha Bell as a parishioner turned bloodsucker, Jay DeVon Johnson as Sheriff Mike Hess, along with a cameo by former WWE Superstar CM Punk (The Girl on the Third Floor) as a deputy and featuring Bonnie Aarons (The Nun), who is very effective as the master vampiress.

Overall, Jakob’s Wife starts off a little slowly, but finds it’s footing and presents a spooky and entertaining story of a woman rediscovering and asserting herself, with the help of a little vampirism. Some of the dramatic scenes can come across as a little flat, but director Travis Stevens handles the spooky and bloody stuff a lot more effectively to make up for it. The filmmaker has a good cast, especially with a strong performance by lead Crampton. Not a completely fresh take on the traditional vampire tale, but one that has some novel moments, does it’s own thing at times and mixes in some contemporary themes of female empowerment deftly into it’s story. Flick from RLJE Films and Shudder is now available to stream on Amazon Prime and other streaming outlets.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) fangs.

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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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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: EXTREMITY AND HAUNT

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: EXTREMITY AND HAUNT

This installment of MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature pairs two horror flicks, both set in extreme haunts. Aside from similar settings, both tales also present heroines who have emotional scars stemming from suffered abuses. Both films thus come with a more serious story to tell beneath the ones unfolding within the halls of these houses of horror!

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EXTREMITY (2018)

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

It is the fate of glass to break-tattoo on the back of lead Allison’s neck

Latest film from Anthony DiBlasi (Last Shift, Most Likely To Die) finds emotionally troubled Allison (Dana Christina) wanting to free herself from her childhood traumas and face her fears. She turns to an extreme haunt called Perdition, to help her accomplish this. But will a trip through this hellish underground haunt free Allison of her demons…or unleash them?

DiBlasi directs from a script by David Bond which is based on works from Rebecca Swan. What we see unfold here is not only a story of childhood abuse and the long term effects it has on the victim, but a filmmaker taking what could have been a routine horror flick and give it some very solid emotional depth. As the film unfolds, we follow Allison and a young man named Zachary (Dylan Sloane) as they begin their journey of torment and terror at the hands of the Perdition crew, headed by their skull-masked leader (Chad Rook). We already know Allison is troubled and on medication, but as her cruel treatment commences, we are taken in gradual flashbacks to her past and the horribly abusive treatment by her alcoholic father. Her father’s treatment in the past often echoes her current treatment in the depth’s of the haunt. Bond’s script peals back the layers of our unstable heroine to portray a woman who has attempted suicide, has violent impulses and now attempts to purge her issues by facing everything she fears. Perdition, of course has it’s own plans for her and maybe pushing her too far may not be a good idea. We also get some surprising depth into the skull-masked leader, revealing a man with his own demons and giving us an interesting portrayal of someone who might run a haunt like this. It gives the film some weight, making it more than a parade of abusive treatment and brutal violence, especially when the last act gets bloody. Diblasi guides us through a tense and brutal ride, though one with a lot to say about the types of people who frequent these haunts and those who create them…and on a deeper level, about the effects of abuse and tragedy and how it shapes someone. As the Perdition crew continually up the ante on their abusive treatment of Allison, so does Anthony Diblasi keep showing us his versatility and depth as a filmmaker. It makes Extremity all the more effective, aside from Perdition being portrayed as a very scary place, with added emotional resonance beneath the intensity and bloodshed. As it heads toward it’s shocking and brutal climactic moments, we get some last minute reveals and surprises that are effectively shocking.

The cast are very effective. Dana Christina makes for an interesting heroine as the troubled Allison. She is both strong and fragile at the same time. She wants to handle her life long trauma on her own terms and she has chosen to face her fears dead on…and Perdition has a lot to fear in store for her. As the creator and operator of Perdition, Chad Rook portrays a man who enjoys the torment and fear of others on the outside, but is a three dimensional character on the inside with his own issues and tragic history. He’s not a true villain, but a man trying to deal with his own demons. In support Dylan Sloane is solid as the meek Zachary, there to face his own weaknesses. Ashley Smith is a fine femme fatale as bad girl, Nell, one of Perdition’s top “performers” and Ami Tomite adds a little bit of a break to the tension as an over ambitious Japanese reporter there to profile Perdition’s operation. A solid cast.

This is Anthony Diblasi’s most interesting film yet. He’s a filmmaker that has yet to disappoint and another director that people should be talking more about. Extremity tells an intense, cruel and sometimes brutal tale on the outside, while on the inside telling a bluntly honest story about abuse, tragedy and how they shape the recipients. A tough and intense film at times, but like it’s heroine, one that faces some serious subjects head on.

-MonsterZero NJ

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

 

 

 

 

 

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HAUNT (2019)

There have been a lot of horrors set in Halloween haunts as of late, from The Houses October Built to Hell Fest to Extremity, so, this Shudder produced flick needed to impress coming in with a concept that is already becoming familiar…and not only does it do that, it might be one of the best horrors this year.

Story finds pretty Harper (Katie Stevens) trying to part with abusive boyfriend Sam (Samuel Hunt) and heading out to party on Halloween night with friends Bailey (Lauryn Alisa McClain), Angela (Shazi Raja) and Mallory (Schuyler Helford). At a club, they run into a couple of guys, Nathan (Will Brittain) and Evan (Andrew Caldwell) and decide to leave with them to find a Halloween haunt, dragging a reluctant Harper along. They stumble upon one such haunt, in the middle of nowhere and soon find they may have picked the wrong haunt to haunt.

Flick is directed intensely by the A Quiet Place writing duo of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who also scripted here. It’s premise may not be novel at this point, but is carried out very effectively. It starts out tense with Harper putting on make-up over a bruise suffered from her alcoholic boyfriend and Bailey trying to convince her to finally break up with him. We find out in flashbacks that Harper’s father was also an abusive alcoholic and all this personal drama gives the character some emotional depth, much like Extremity‘s emotionally wounded Allison. We are thus sympathetic to Harper, and her friends, too, as they are all likable characters, especially when we start to realize those running this backwoods haunt are in it for some deadly thrills of their own. The pranks start out playful and then get mean spirited before becoming lethal. The violence is sparse, so it has impact when it occurs and there is some decent gore once things really start to get vicious…and Harper finally learns to stand up for herself and fight back. Beck and Woods build some good old-fashioned suspense and stage some nicely intense set pieces to put our likable leads through. Obviously, not all of them make it and killing off main characters makes us feel unsure about any of their safety. It adds to the suspense. The film looks cool and the sets are well rendered on what appears to be a modest budget. It has a Halloween feel and an atmosphere of foreboding throughout. The costumes for our haunt folk are creepy and they are equally spooky without their Halloween masks. We don’t get to know them very well, or their motives, but they come across as deranged and dangerous and that helps this work. Add to that a very cool score by Tomandandy, and you’ve got a very effective Halloween themed chiller that makes very good use of a now familiar setting. Any issues here are minor, such as the movie evoking some of the other haunt set flicks mentioned earlier and the addition of Harper’s jerk boyfriend Sam to the action in the last act, doesn’t really add anything to the proceedings. Otherwise this is a very solid horror.

The cast of fresh faces really helps this flick click. Katie Stevens is very impressive as Harper. She’s a girl with a painful past, dealing with her own issues and finally learning to fight for herself, when thrown into a nightmarish situation. The actress makes her likable and sympathetic and we’re totally with her when she goes on the offensive. Actress McClain is very likable as best pal Bailey. She’s a caring person and looking out for her friend makes her endearing to us. Will Brittain is a solid male lead and he is charming, handsome and his Nathan seems like the nice guy Harper really needs. This makes us like him and fear for him. Caldwell is fun as the obnoxious and bombastic Evan. This character could have been annoying, but script and actor avoid that by presenting his sarcastic humor in the right degrees. He is also brave when he needs to be. Raja and Helford get the least focus of the group, but the actresses make them extremely likable supporting characters with the scenes they have. The key to a horror flick’s success is feeling empathy for it’s main characters and here we do. It also needs effective villains and our masked haunters, Chaney Morrow as “Ghost”, Justin Marxen as “Clown”, Terri Partyka as “Witch”, Justin Rose as “Vampire”, Damian Maffei as “Devil” and Schuyler White as “Zombie” all give their characters a lethality from under their already effective costumes. Last but not least, Samuel Hunt makes the brutish Sam appropriately dislikable with what limited screen time the character has. A solid cast all the way around.

Overall, Haunt is a chilling and intense horror that overcomes the familiarity of a recent horror trend by simply being really good at what it does. It’s intense, scary, has some striking violence and gore and makes good use of it’s spooky setting. It gives us some very likable lead characters, including a three dimensional and sympathetic final girl, to root and fear for and some dastardly villains to be fearful of. Really solid horror and a very spooky surprise from Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, producer Eli Roth and those great folks at Shudder.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) creepy haunt hosts.

 

 

 

 

 

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE DARK AND THE WICKED and THE VIGIL

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This installment of MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature pairs two of the spookiest flicks to come out in recent months. Both features present persons who are either non-believers, or of lost faith, who are faced with a malevolent demonic presence. Both are extremely spooky and make for quite a scary MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature!

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THE DARK AND THE WICKED (2020)

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

Chilling horror finds siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) returning home to their parent’s rural farmhouse, as their father (Michael Zagst) has taken gravely ill. Soon after, their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) mysteriously commits suicide and upon reading her journals, the atheist brother and sister start to believe there is a dark and sinister force stalking their family.

Movie is written and directed by Bryan Bertino (The Strangers, The Monster) and is one creepy and unsettling film. The flick opens with some mood setting sequences that elude to the fact that there is something malevolent indeed stalking this house. As the siblings arrive and their mother’s suicide causes them to investigate what is going on, it becomes obvious that in her final days, their atheist mother began to believe something evil was after their ailing father’s soul. Bertino maintains a very unsettling atmosphere throughout the entire film and it really starts to get under your skin as the film progresses. It also makes it unnerving that these simple folk are atheists, yet come to believe something very sinister and supernatural is at work here. He turns up the tension and creep factor gradually, as farm animals are gruesomely harmed and visitors to the house, such as a very strange priest (Xander Berkeley), prove to not be what they seem. Some may not like that we never get a solid explanation as to who, what and why, but here it seems to serve the film’s dread-filled atmosphere to have the cause and exact nature of this malevolence remain somewhat ambiguous. The film has some shockingly violent moments and some really goose-bump inducing scenes and imagery. Bertino rarely uses jump scares, and crafts all of the scares we do get, which are frequent and very effective, with an expert hand. The flick rarely let’s you relax, much like the characters within it are constantly on edge.

As those characters, the small cast are very good. Lead Marin Ireland is very effective as the concerned and then very frightened Louise. The actress starts Louise out with a convincing performance as a woman conflicted and a little hurt by her mother’s demands that she stay away, but then someone who becomes very scared when it seems the things she doesn’t believe in may be all too real. Michael Abbott Jr. is also solid as her brother Michael. Unlike his sister, he has his own family to take care of and it’s no surprise the evil in the house uses that to it’s advantage, to separate and divide the brother and sister. Julie Oliver-Touchstone is quite spooky, as their haunted mother, in her brief screen time. Her performance helps set the tone for the film. Michael Zagst doesn’t do much as their comatose father, but he is an important character nonetheless and has some chilling scenes. Rounding out are a very creepy Xander Berkeley as a “priest” and Ella Ballentine (The Monster) is effective in what she has to do as farmhand Charlie’s (Tom Nowicki) granddaughter. A really good cast!

Overall, The Dark and the Wicked is definitely one of the best horror’s of the year and one of the most consistently creepy and unsettling horror movies in some time. Bryan Bertino keeps the unnerving atmosphere cranked up and gives us numerous sequences and events to chill and spook us. His frights are legitimate and he never resorts to cheap jump scare tactics to get a reaction out of us. Keeping his malevolent entity ambiguous only works in the film’s favor, as the director knows how to get under our skin and does so often. Even the cinematography by Tristan Nyby and the haunting score by Tom Schraeder is effective in giving us the creeps. Definitely one of the best horror films in a movie year where major new releases were few and far between and indie horror came to the forefront at drive-ins and on VOD. Now streaming on Shudder!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) ill-fated goats.

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THE VIGIL (2019)

Supernatural horror steeped in Orthodox Jewish culture comes from Blumhouse Productions and is released by IFC Midnight. The story tells of Yakov (Dave Davis), an emotionally troubled young man, who has left his Orthodox Jewish background and is out of work, in therapy and on medication. He is offered much needed money to be a Shomer for the night, someone who, in Jewish tradition, watches over and prays for the recently deceased till dawn. As he watches the body of a man called Litvak, he starts to realize there may be something malevolent in the house with him.

Yes, this story does evoke the classic flick The Viy, but is most definitely it’s own thing. The film is written and directed by Keith Thomas and is a very impressive feature debut. Thomas creates tension from almost the first scene by first establishing Yakov’s emotional and financial duress, but also then the tension between he and the members of the Orthodox Jewish community that want him back. Once Yakov enters the house, he finds out the first Shomer left in fear and the widow, Mrs. Litvak (Lynn Cohen from Feast of the Seven Fishes), doesn’t want him there, either. As the spooky goings on in the house begin to escalate, Thomas lets us know that not only did Yakov witness the death of his little brother as a result of a hate crime, a death he feels responsible for, but that the recently deceased Mr. Litvak (Ronald Cohen) was obsessed with combating a demon called a Mazzik (Rob Tunstall). Thomas knows how to create an atmosphere of dread and knows how to generate chills simply with his camera. The combination of lighting, spooky sets and shot composition, go a long way in making this flick very spooky all in itself. There are some familiar tropes that come with these type of demonic haunting flicks, but Thomas knows how to use them very well and knows when to mix in some new twists, such as demonic manipulation of Yakov’s cellphone. The entity uses Yakov’s past trauma and the voices of those he trusts against him and it is scary stuff. Add to all that a really effective score by Michael Yezerski (The Devil’s Candy) and some very unsettling cinematography by Zach Kuperstein (The Eyes of My Mother) and you have a legitimately scary movie.

The small cast is also very good, with Dave Davis pulling out a very strong, emotional performance of a man already on the edge, being pushed by something unearthly. He makes Yakov sympathetic, so we connect with him and feel badly as the demonic presence really puts him through the ringer. We also are behind him when he digs deep into his abandoned faith to fight back. Solid work! Lynn Cohen can be very spooky as Mrs. Litvak, a woman suffering from loss and a touch of Alzheimer’s, but also somewhat likable as we get to know her. Menashe Lustig is also good as Reb Shulem, an Orthodox Jewish community leader who wants Yakov to return to them and gives him this job as a way of coercing him back. A very good cast.

Keith Thomas delivers what might be the first truly scary horror flick of 2021. Despite the flick playing festivals and internationally since 2019, it is only now being released here in the U.S by the awesome folks at IFC Midnight. It is simply a good, old fashioned, scary movie that uses atmosphere, tension and some super creepy camera work to scare you. Thomas builds a lot of tension before the scares even begin and gives us an emotionally troubled main character to get put through a truly hellish night. All his characters have some history and depth to them, that the telling of which is woven cleverly into his simple, but layered story. A very spooky, scary horror with some nice emotional depth behind the proceedings, a refreshingly different cultural perspective and some really effective use of the familiar tropes and trappings. Keith Thomas is definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye on. The Vigil is available to stream on Amazon Prime and other streaming outlets, while also in a limited theatrical release.

-MonsterZero NJ

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

 

 

 

 

 

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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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