HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: BLAIR WITCH (2016)

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BLAIR WITCH (2016)

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

Flick is a disappointing and scare-less sequel to the classic found footage horror The Blair Witch Project. It’s a true sequel this time, unlike the wonky Book Of Shadows which focused on the mania caused by the movie and was not a continuation of the film’s story. Found footage follow-up takes place twenty years later with Heather’s brother James (James Allen McCune) deciding to re-enter the Burkittsville woods after seeing footage posted on Youtube that he believes reveals his long lost sister. His trek to find his sibling is being documented by love interest Lisa (Callie Hernandez) along with two friends (Corbin Reid and Brandon Scott) and the two locals (Valorie Curry and Wes Robinson) who posted the footage that sparked this new expedition. Of course things start to go bump in the night in the Black Hill Woods.

First problem with Adam (The GuestYou’re Next) Wingard’s surprise sequel…it was secretly filmed under the pseudonym The Woods…is that never once did it feel like found footage. The cast all appear to be actors and not real people and the dialog, unlike the first flick, never seems anything but scripted…as by Simon Barrett. The first movie presented unknowns who improvised much of their dialog and it fooled a lot of people. Here these youths, with model good looks, never fool us for a minute that their trailer is just a few feet away and lost they are not. Second big problem is that not only is the film never tense or scary, but it actually was kinda dull for it’s brief 89 minutes.  It may be a sequel, but it’s more like a tepid remake that rolls out the Blair Witch tropes mechanically from noises in the woods, to characters running through the trees screaming, to twig stick figures popping up regularly. Things pick up somewhat in the last few minutes, set in a familiar old house, but even that goes on for too long and doesn’t really go anywhere the first film hadn’t already gone. There is a little bit more blood and violence in this one and there is some newer technology, like ear cameras and drones, but Wingard and Barrett never do anything interesting with it. The drone is taken out of the picture soon after it launches. Done. There were a few claustrophobic moments in some tunnels towards the climax, but, honestly, the film evoked last year’s Nightlight far more than recaptured any of the tension and fear of the classic film that it’s a continuation of…especially in the house set last act.

This is a sadly dull and repetitive sequel that only has a few original moments and relied far more on way too many jump scares than actual fear. Wingard builds no tension or suspense and the flick is too polished and over-produced to ever feel like it’s actual footage. Whether James finds Heather, or we actually see the Blair Witch this time, is up to you to decide if it’s worth finding out. Some will say this is at least an improvement over 2000’s Blair Witch 2, but at least that film failed while trying to be original and interesting. This one is just a retread and a very generic and assembly-line one at that.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 stick figures that are all too familiar.

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BARE BONES: 24 EXPOSURES, KILL ME THREE TIMES and THE INTRUDERS

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24 EXPOSURES (2013)

Odd and unsatisfying thriller has a troubled police detective (Simon Barrett) investigating a series of murders and questioning a fetish photographer (Adam Wingard who directed The Guest) who worked with a couple of the victims. The two form an odd bond as the investigation continues. Yea…that’s kinda it. I found this thriller rather pointless and dull. Writer/director Joe Swanberg seems more interested in giving his fellow director buddy Wingard opportunities to make-out with and enact sex scenes with multiple women than he is in actually telling a story. Ironically, when Barett’s cop character tries to sell his experiences as a book, he’s told that the characters and story aren’t compelling enough and there are too many loose ends…kinda like this movie. Also, instead of patting each other on the back by giving each other acting roles, this pack of filmmaker buddies should keep egos in check and hire real actors…just a suggestion.

2 star rating

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KILL ME THREE TIMES (2014)

Another Tarantino wannabe thriller that has a hip soundtrack, spurts of graphic violence and a story told out of sequence with dark humor. This time the wannabes are writer James McFarland and Aussie director Kriv Stenders. They deliver the story of hired killer Charlie Wolf (Simon Pegg) who is being payed by a ruthless husband (Callan Mulvey) to murder his cheating wife, Alice (Alice Braga). Unknown to Charlie, a conniving couple (Theresa Palmer and Sullivan Stapleton) are planning to kill her, too, in an insurance fraud plot…but Alice has other ideas. Add in a dirty cop (Bryan Brown) and a lovesick mechanic (Luke Hemsworth) and things get complicated and bloody fast. Flick isn’t terrible, it’s just that it’s style is so familiar at this point and a good deal of it is predictable because so many have already tried to be the next Quentin Tarantino and we know what to expect. Pegg seems to be having fun in more of a tough guy role, but the proceedings in flicks like this have just become so passé and it never reaches the cleverness or the manic energy of the filmmaker whose work is being emulated. OK at best.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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THE INTRUDERS (2015)

The Intruders is a completely derivative and familiar story of a emotionally troubled girl named Rose (Miranda Cosgrove) who moves into an apparently haunted house that wants something from her. Obviously her recently widowed father (Donal Logue) thinks it’s all in her troubled head and no one believes her that something may be in the house with them. So, she begins to investigate. Add in alleged disappearances and suspicious neighbors and you know where this is going. Thriller isn’t badly directed, as by Adam Massey, it’s just that Jason Juravic’s script is loaded with been-there-done-that. The only thing that elevated this for me out of the incredibly familiar and mundane material was that Cosgrove is actually quite good, despite being surrounded by clichés. In a much better film, the former Disney Channel actress could be quite an impressive final girl. Also stars Tom Sizemore as the suspicious neighbor and Austin Butler as the stereotypical nice guy hunk with a soft spot for pretty, damaged girls. Up to you.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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REVIEW: THE GUEST (2014)

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THE GUEST (2014)

While I certainly am no fan of Adam Wingard’s overrated Your’e Next, I did have a really good time with this fun and very 80s thriller. The story finds the Peterson family grieving over the death of their son Caleb, who died while serving overseas in the military. A man named David (Dan Stevens) shows up at the door unexpectedly, claiming to be an ex-soldier and a very close friend of Caleb’s, who he says asked David to check in on them before he died. They invite David to stay with them and he quickly bonds with the husband and wife (Sheila Kelley and Leland Orser) and their two remaining kids, teen Luke (Brendan Meyer) and twenty year-old Anna (Maika Monroe). Soon, though, when bodies start to pile up in town, it starts to become clear to Anna that the charming and handsome former solider may not be who he seems and is determined to find out just who they have welcomed into their house and what his real intentions are.

First of all, if nothing else, this film has a great 80s vibe, especially with Steve Moore’s electronic score, that evokes Tangerine Dream, and Robby Baumgartner’s cinematography. Second of all, the film is just a lot of fun. We know right from his first charming smile that this guy is not who he seems and that this devil wears an angel’s face. The fun is watching him charm himself into the Petersons’ life, telling them exactly what they want to hear about Caleb, saving Luke from school bullies and helping make dinner…all the while giving us, the audience, little glimpses that there is something far darker and far more lethal behind that boyish grin. Wingard gleefully and skillfully, let’s us in on what this heartbroken family refuses to see…David is a dangerous and possibly unstable man. Once Anna starts to suspect, we know she is immediately putting herself in danger. It’s even more fun when we find out just how much danger and just who David really is. I must say I didn’t expect the film to go in the direction that Adam Wingard and scripter Simon Barrett take this story and it’s a blast to see it play out. There are some fun and shocking surprises along the way, too. What really makes it all work, though, is that it’s makers know exactly what kind of movie they are making here. They know exactly when to play it cool and exactly when to have some fun and go a little over-the-top. And the 80s vibe is definitely deliberate as certain scenes evoked the glory days of Seagal and Norris, had they played more villainous roles. It’s not perfect. The Peterson’s seem a bit too eager to allow this stranger into their home, especially mom, Laura. Luke’s willingness to go along with David’s deception, even after Anna suspects him of murder seems a bit far-fetched and leads to a betrayal that’s a bit hard to swallow. Despite the two bonding, it seems quite a stretch that Luke would still trust David after all the suspicions and deceptions come to light. When we get the big reveal, we could have had a bit clearer picture as to what is going on with the ex-soldier, too. It’s not vague, but a few more details would have been nice. Flaws aside, though, it’s a good time with some nice suspense and a thrilling and action-packed third act that keeps you from dissecting things too much till it’s over…and by then you’ve had too good a time to be overly critical.

As for the actors, the cast are all very good. Dan Stevens almost fools us with his charming ex-soldier, but let’s just enough of the devil in for us to know something is up. It makes it even more fun to watch him pull the wool over the unsuspecting family’s eyes. When the ‘cat is out of the bag’, so to speak, he is convincingly lethal when the bullets and blood start to fly. Maika Monroe is a nice surprise as the sweet but strong-willed Anna. She has the look of a young Brittany Murphy and may just have the acting chops too. She plays a tough girl willing to go up against a possible killer to protect her family. Meyer is solid as the meek Luke. He’s the one who bond’s tightest with David and obviously, is the last to believe David is dangerous to him and his family. Meyer convey’s the confused emotions well when it starts to be believed that David is not who he seems. Kelley and Orser are also good as parents Laura and Spencer. Two adults that are too wrapped up in their own grief and lives to see something is definitely off with their guest. They convey that obliviousness and yearning to believe something is real to soothe their inner pain, even though it’s increasingly obvious it’s not. A good cast who take their roles seriously and make this flick work very well.

So, I really enjoyed The Guest. Even without some very heavy 80s influence on it’s story and style, this is just a fun movie that knows what it’s about and just goes with it in the right degrees…and at the right times. We have a solid cast and some good direction by Adam Wingard that makes this story work, even when it sometimes asks for a little suspension of disbelief. The key here is Wingard knows that we know something’s up and he respects that we’ve seen a lot of this before and so he just has a good time telling the familiar tale and takes us along for the ride. Oh…and yes, Mr. Wingard, I saw the Halloween III easter egg…well played. A fun retro movie with a great soundtrack of songs, too! (see track listing below)

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

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BONUS: SONGS TRACKS from The Guest Soundtrack…

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  1. “Haunted When The Minutes Drag” (Love and Rockets) – 8:01
  2. “Hourglass” (Survive) – 4:30
  3. “Anthonio (Berlin Breakdown Version)” (Annie) – 4:14
  4. “The Magician” (Mike Simonetti) – 3:59
  5. “Masquerade” (Clan Of Xymox) – 3:53
  6. “Omniverse” (Survive) – 4:34
  7. “Because I Love You (The Postman Song)” (Stevie B) – 5:03
  8. “Storm Column” (Gatekeeper) – 3:30
  9. “A Day” (Clan Of Xymox) – 6:40
  10. “Emma” (The Sisters of Mercy) – 6:34
  11. “Obsidian” (Gatekeeper) – 4:19
  12. “Cry In The Wind” (Clan Of Xymox) – 5:16

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: CONTRACTED (2013)

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CONTRACTED (2013)

Madison County was a horror that had it’s flaws but, showed some potential for writer/director Eric England and his latest flick Contracted shows some growth in that potential, but is sadly dragged down by an increasingly absurd last act and a predictable and silly conclusion.

The film opens with what looks to be someone having sex with a corpse in a morgue and then switches focus to Samantha (Najarra Townsend) a bi-sexual young woman who is going through a break-up with her girlfriend Nikki (Katie Stegeman). Sam gets drunk at a friend’s (Alice Macdonald) party, gets drugged and has sex with a strange man named BJ (Simon Barrett). Almost immediately the next day, Sam starts to feel ill and begins to hemorrhage from between her legs. As the hours pass Sam becomes increasingly sickly forming a rash and starts to experience loss of hair, nails and teeth. Her doctor thinks it may be a sexually contracted decease, but Sam feels it’s impossible having just slept with that one man 24 hours earlier, though she’s not sure if he used protection. Making matters worse, her mysterious lover “BJ” is being sought by police for unknown reasons. As Sam continues to degenerate, with bloodshot eyes and increasing sores, and without any clue as to what’s happening to her, her life spirals out of control. As she starts to become more and more unstable, she becomes more and more violent. What did BJ pass on to her and what is happening to her?

Writer/director Eric England had me hook line and sinker with the first two acts of this flick. The concept of this young woman contracting some plague-like sexually transmitted decease from not-entirely consensual sex on a one night stand, was effectively portrayed by both director and actress. The scenes of her initial hemorrhaging are very chilling and Najarra conveys Sam’s confusion, fear and denial very well as she degenerates. We also have the added tension of knowing her one night stand is now sought by authorities for an unknown reason. The fact that her mother (Caroline Williams) wants to pass it off as Sam’s return to drug use and her doctor (Ruben Pia) believes it’s something sexually transmitted only adds to her frustration and terror. That fear translates to the audience, but the film starts to degenerate, much like Sam, in the last act by just taking the concept to absurd levels. With Sam becoming violent to the point of homicidal, anyone who has seen a horror movie can figure out what is happening here. I won’t spoil it, but it becomes obvious as her violent behavior telegraphs the silly and thus predictable ending. Another thing that becomes completely ludicrous is that her doctor is sitting there looking at this woman literally falling apart in front of him and never once suggests she get to a hospital or needs immediate help, much less be quarantined. She degenerates over a mere three days and the doctor never once suggests or feels this is something possibly far worse than an STD. Even her friends seem to pass it off as she ‘looks bad’ but none seem overly concerned that her nails have fallen off, her eyes are blood red and there are sores and veins popping out on her face. One character (Matt Mercer) even has sex with her despite all this and blackened teeth to boot. It’s a female version of The Fly happening right before their eyes and not one of them seems overly alarmed…. Really? It just gets ridiculous and ruins the nerve-wracking set-up of the first hour. By then we’ve figured out where it is going and our suspicions are verified by the silly climax. It’s just very disappointing that such a well executed and written story, collapses into such a routine conclusion. It feels like a cop-out that England couldn’t end this on something far more clever then a horror movie cliché…and one currently overused at that.

As for the cast, at least England gets good work out of all of them. Najarra Townsend is really good as Sam and conveys her fear, frustration and confusion very well and her performance and England’s direction really help make the first hour of this flick very strong, before it collapses towards it’s silly conclusion. It’s her show and she shows some real chops here. The rest of the cast are fine with William’s being good, as always, as Sam’s religious mother and Macdonald being appropriately ditzy and self-absorbed as ‘friend’ Alice. The rest are all quite adequate and it’s a shame the story didn’t keep up with the cast.

Overall, I still feel this film is worth a look. It has a very strong and disturbing first two acts and some nice work by the actors. The first hour is very effectively directed by England and it’s disappointing he let’s the story go from a frightening commentary on STDs to a violent and bloody…and all too familiar…horror movie cliché. It’s also just plain absurd that a doctor could look at this young woman degenerate so quickly and not even suggest she go to a hospital. Still, there is growth here in England’s work and he may really surprise us yet.

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) maggots.

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REVIEW: YOU’RE NEXT (2013)

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YOU’RE NEXT (2013)

It amazes me how such a dull and predictable thriller such as You’re Next can arrive with such positive hype. It boggles the mind that so many positive adjectives are thrown at something that was so tedious to sit through and so unoriginal. You’re Next tells the story of a group of snooty rich people that gather for a family dinner at a remote mansion in the woods. But, all is not what it seems as soon they are besieged by a group of masked and well-armed killers and predictably, all inside the house are not what they seem either so it’s no surprise the killers are not in for an easy night. What follows is over an hour of annoying shaky cam, annoying characters, plot holes, brutal, numbing violence, plot twists seen from a mile away and a few well placed jump scares but, very little suspense or frights. First problem is the folks at the house are cardboard pretentious rich folks and not very interesting so, we have a hard time really giving a hoot as they become prey to the masked killers. The deaths on both sides are telegraphed long before they happen so, there is little suspense to go with the gore. We know ‘who’s next’ immediately by the unimaginative scene set ups that we’ve seen countless times before. Characters recuperative powers defy logic as they are gravely injured in one scene and appear fine the next. Running up the stairs with a crossbow bolt in your back? Sure! Characters also do really stupid things to set themselves up as victims on both sides and as for the ‘surprise plot twists’ they are obvious the minute the characters arrive as to who we should keep an eye on. There are a few effective scenes but, far too few to make this tolerable and it’s not inventive or clever enough to forgive that it’s really a routine home invasion flick with some predictable plot turns that are no surprise once revealed. We suspect this is what’s up from early on and are proven right by Simon Barrett’s weak script. Director Adam Wingard is too busy shaking his camera and spattering blood to do anything interesting with the simple concept nor distract us from seeing where this tedious flick is going long before it get’s there. The violence gets tiresome long before the final showdown… thought that scene does contain one of the film’s best bits. The cast too are pretty bland with Sharni Vinson showing a bit of spunk as the resourceful Erin but, even Re-Animator’s Barbara Crampton can’t give these two dimensional characters much life especially with spurts of some truly awful dialog. A character’s confession in the last act was literally making me wince. Worst yet, aside from knowing how it’s going to end, the film’s last shot ‘joke’ is also glaringly obvious, we know it’s coming and it offers no surprise or fun. A predictable and ineffective shock ending for a predictable and ineffective horror thriller. Also stars director Ti West in a brief role and TI West regulars AJ Bowen and Larry Fessenden. Very little to recommend unless you like violence for violence sake. A major disappointment.

2 blenders!

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