MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and VFW

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MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature is back again and featuring another flick from director to watch Joe Begos. His latest flick VFW throws some serious love at John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13, so, what better feature to pair it up with than the film that Begos so affectionately pays homage to. It’s a Saturday night of awesome siege flicks, with the master John Carpenter and the next generation Joe Begos!

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ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

Tasked by producer J.S. Kaplan to make a low budget film for him, John Carpenter came up with this violent and action filled urban version of one of his favorite Howard Hawks westerns, Rio Bravo. Two years before he hit big with Halloween, Carpenter wrote, directed, edited and composed the score for this cult classic about a remote and soon to close ghetto police station, under siege by a vengeful and well armed youth gang. Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is sent to oversee the closing night of the Anderson ghetto police precinct, an assignment he expects to be routine and dull. But across town a youth gang with a cache of stolen guns and already sworn to avenge the death of some members by a police ambush, roam the streets looking to take their anger out on someone. They pick a poor ice cream vendor (Peter Bruni) and when a little girl (Kim Richards) gets in the way, both vendor and his young customer are brutally murdered. When the little girl’s father (Martin West) follows and kills a gang member, the rest chase him across Anderson where he finds himself at the skeleton crewed police station. Add to that the arrival of a bus carrying prisoners being transported to a state correctional facility who stop at the precinct when one prisoner takes ill and we have a recipe for a night of violence, revenge and a fight to survive. Now Bishop and the meager staff of the precinct must decide if they can trust two hardened criminals as the gang Street Thunder lays siege to the station with intensions of killing everyone inside.

Assault On Precinct 13 is a great little action flick that definitely foreshadows the type of intensity, suspense and style that John Carpenter would become known for. The film is loaded with tense action as the gang tries to get into the station and slaughter all inside and the uneasy alliance of cop and inmate must somehow fend them off with very little arms or ammo. And it works, because not only has Carpenter set up this claustrophobic situation of a remote and small building surrounded by vicious enemies, but fills it with great and endearing characters like the noble Bishop, the death row inmate with a sense of honor, Napoleon Wilson (a great Darwin Joston) and resilient and tough secretary, Leigh (Laurie Zimmer).

The acting is top notch with Stoker, Joston and Zimmer really giving intense and well rounded performances in their respective roles and a good supporting cast including Carpenter familiar faces Charles Cyphers, as the prison bus commanding officer and Nancy Loomis as meek secretary Julie, along with Tony Burton as prison inmate Wells. We never get to personally interact much with the vengeful gang, instead they are presented as a malevolent and deadly force, a faceless wall of death that surrounds and closes in on the station’s occupants and this approach keeps them a dangerous and unpredictable element whom we fear because, like Michael Myers in Halloween, they appear less human and more a force of homicidal rage. It gives them a supernatural quality despite being very much flesh and bone.

The action scenes are very intimate but intense, fast paced and well shot and, as with all Carpenter’s movies, the film has a great visual style that makes good use of it’s desolate locations and it’s largely night set scenes. While the film didn’t get much notice upon release, it was a hit in Europe and, as with a lot of Carpenter’s work, is now recognized for the classic film that it is. In my opinion it is one of what I call ‘Carpenter’s Core 5’ which in my opinion are his best films… or at least my favorites… Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York and The Thing. A great low budget action classic!

Rated 4 (out of 4) classic bullets.

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VFW (2019)

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

Bliss director Joe Begos’ latest flick takes place in a very near future where a highly addictive drug called “hype” has turned it’s users into violent addicts and city streets into war zones. Inside one of those war zones lives Viet Nam war veteran Fred (Stephen Lang) who runs a VFW hall where his friends and fellow soldiers Walter (William Sadler), Abe (Fred Williamson), Thomas (George Wendt), Lou (Martin Kove) and Doug (David Patrick Kelly) hang out. One night a young woman called Lizard (Sierra McCormick) steals some hype from drug dealer Boz (Travis Hammer), to get revenge on Boz for killing her sister (Linnea Wilson). On the run from Boz and his gang, Lizard runs into the VFW hall for cover. Still men of honor, Fred and the other veterans vow to protect Lizard as Boz, his thugs and an army of frantic hype addicts lay siege to the VFW hall.

Flick is basically John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 on crack as directed by Begos from a script by Matthew McArdle and Max Brallier. That is in no way a bad thing, as this is a bloody blast of an action flick as the war veterans take on an army of zoned-out drug addicts and a psychotic gang of thugs. We are treated to spurting blood, flying limbs and exploding heads, as the war vets use guns, axes and a host of homemade booby traps and weapons to keep the vicious gang at bay. It’s fast paced, though not enough that we don’t get to know this endearing bunch of men who never stopped being soldiers at heart. That is what makes this click all the better, is that despite all the fast and furious action, Begos lets the script’s messages about respecting and honoring those who have served, shine through. One of the very few issues with the flick is that the army of crazed drug addicts seems to come and go at the needs of the script, instead of consistently laying siege to the VFW hall. They disappear conveniently when the film needs a quiet moment for our characters to regroup. Other than that, Begos accomplishes a lot on a small budget, delivers the blood and action and has assembled a great cast of veteran actors to play his aged warriors…

…and how can you not like this cast!…Stephan Lang makes his Fred a world weary yet still honorable and strong man, one who still has nobility and honor. Sadler makes for a very likable Walter, a good-natured man who remembers the days of war as a time of loyalty and friends made. Williamson still kicks ass as the tough yet somewhat mellowing Abe and Martin Kove is solid as the business man of the group, car salesman Lou. Lou is the only one wanting to “deal” with Boz and his gang to save his own skin. Wendt and Kelly are also likable as grizzled vets Thomas and Doug, who still have their senses of humor about them. As our bad guys, Travis Hammer is a bit weak as Boz. He’s more sleazy than scary or intimidating, but he isn’t a hinderance to the blood soaked fun. Making up for it is Bliss’ Dora Madison as gang member Gutter. She’s ruthless, vicious and deadly and probably should have been the main villain…just sayin’. Any girl that takes on Fred “The Hammer” Williamson is not to be taken lightly. Rounding out is Tom Williamson (All Cheerleaders Die ) as a young vet named Shawn who wanders into the hall just home from the Middle East, Sierra McCormick (Some Kind of Hate), who is solid as the tough Lizard and Begos regular Graham Skipper as Boz’s brother, Roadie. A good cast.

Overall, this was a blood-soaked blast of a good time that manages to not only be bloody entertaining, but heartfelt about how we should view our war veterans. It’s got a lot of bloody action, but doesn’t move too fast that we don’t endear to these grizzled vets. It has some well rendered and plentiful gore, a great John Carpenter-esque score by Steve Moore and some effective cinematography by Mike Testin. All in all, it might be the most fun you’ll have at a bloodbath in quite some time. Flick is available on Amazon Prime and definitely worth the rental!

-MonsterZero NJ

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

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: VFW (2019)

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VFW (2019)

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

Bliss director Joe Begos’ latest flick takes place in a very near future where a highly addictive drug called “hype” has turned it’s users into violent addicts and city streets into war zones. Inside one of those war zones lives Viet Nam war veteran Fred (Stephen Lang) who runs a VFW hall where his friends and fellow soldiers Walter (William Sadler), Abe (Fred Williamson), Thomas (George Wendt), Lou (Martin Kove) and Doug (David Patrick Kelly) hang out. One night a young woman called Lizard (Sierra McCormick) steals some hype from drug dealer Boz (Travis Hammer), to get revenge on Boz for killing her sister (Linnea Wilson). On the run from Boz and his gang, Lizard runs into the VFW hall for cover. Still men of honor, Fred and the other veterans vow to protect Lizard as Boz, his thugs and an army of frantic hype addicts lay siege to the VFW hall.

Flick is basically John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 on crack as directed by Begos from a script by Matthew McArdle and Max Brallier. That is in no way a bad thing, as this is a bloody blast of an action flick as the war veterans take on an army of zoned-out drug addicts and a psychotic gang of thugs. We are treated to spurting blood, flying limbs and exploding heads, as the war vets use guns, axes and a host of homemade booby traps and weapons to keep the vicious gang at bay. It’s fast paced, though not enough that we don’t get to know this endearing bunch of men, who never stopped being soldiers at heart. That is what makes this click all the better, is that despite all the fast and furious action, Begos lets the script’s messages about respecting and honoring those who have served, shine through. One of the very few issues with the flick is that the army of crazed drug addicts seems to come and go at the needs of the script, instead of consistently laying siege to the VFW hall. They disappear conveniently when the film needs a quiet moment for our characters to regroup. Other than that, Begos accomplishes a lot on a small budget, delivers the blood and action and has assembled a great cast of veteran actors to play his aged warriors…

…and how can you not like this cast!…Stephan Lang makes his Fred a world weary yet still honorable and strong man, one who still has nobility and honor. Sadler makes for a very likable Walter, a good-natured man who remembers the days of war as a time of loyalty and friends made. Williamson still kicks ass as the tough yet somewhat mellowing Abe and Martin Kove is solid as the business man of the group, car salesman Lou. Lou is the only one wanting to “deal” with Boz and his gang to save his own skin. Wendt and Kelly are also likable as grizzled vets Thomas and Doug, who still have their senses of humor about them. As our bad guys, Travis Hammer is a bit weak as Boz. He’s more sleazy than scary or intimidating, but he isn’t a hinderance to the blood soaked fun. Making up for it is Bliss’ Dora Madison as gang member Gutter. She’s ruthless, vicious and deadly and probably should have been the main villain…just sayin’. Any girl that takes on Fred “The Hammer” Williamson is not to be taken lightly. Rounding out is Tom Williamson (All Cheerleaders Die ) as a young vet named Shawn who wanders into the hall just home from the Middle East, Sierra McCormick (Some Kind of Hate), who is solid as the tough Lizard and Begos regular Graham Skipper as Boz’s brother, Roadie. A good cast.

Overall, this was a blood-soaked blast of a good time that manages to not only be bloody entertaining, but heartfelt about how we should view our war veterans. It’s got a lot of bloody action, but doesn’t move too fast that we don’t endear to these grizzled vets. It has some well rendered and plentiful gore, a great John Carpenter-esque score by Steve Moore and some effective cinematography by Mike Testin. All in all, it might be the most fun you’ll have at a bloodbath in quite some time. Flick is available on Amazon Prime and definitely worth the rental!

-MonsterZero NJ

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

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE MIND’S EYE (2015)

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THE MIND’S EYE (2015)

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

In Almost Human writer/director Joe Begos gave us a horror/sci-fi with some nice homages to flicks like Fire In The Sky and John Carpenter’s The Thing in a gore wrapped story of alien abduction and a creature within stalking a small rural town. Here Begos returns to pay tribute to David Cronenberg’s Scanners with a story of individuals with powerful psychic abilities, even setting his flick in the early 90s. The story tells of Zack (Graham Skipper) and Rachel (Jug Face and Darling’s Lauren Ashley Carter) who are two people with incredible psychokinetic abilities and are being held by Dr. Michael Slovak (John Speredakos) for his own nefarious purposes. The two escape and thus begins a tale of pursuit and revenge that leaves a trail of bodies in it’s wake.

Joe Begos certainly knows his influences and his affection for that which he pays homage is certainly apparent through his past two films. That being said, the same applies here even more so than Almost Human in that, while it is entertaining, the film is a little too close to it’s source material to really have it’s own identity. Almost Human was, at least, a bit of a mash-up within it’s own story. Here the flick is basically just a stripped down version of Cronenberg’s classic, right down to exploding heads…a tribute, we get that…to the climactic duel between good and evil psychokinetic powered individuals. Again, it is a fun tribute, that while it spares us the more complicated conspiracy aspects of Scanners, ups the gore and violence quotient in it’s place. As with Begos’ last flick, the film is moderately paced, which to be fair, is much like the films it purposely evokes. Also like Almost Human, the acting is again a bit wooden especially from the overacting Speredakos, who might have been a bit more threatening bad guy with some moderation and less eye-rolling. The gore FX are quite good, Begos has a good visual eye and style and there is a wonderfully nostalgic electronic score by Steve Moore to give it that 80s/early 90s feel.

Overall, this was an enjoyable tribute to a classic flick from a filmmaker who has an eye for what made those flicks work. As with Almost HumanBegos shows potential as a good low budget filmmaker who certainly has some classic influences and his heart in the right place. Now it’s time for him to take what he has learned from the films he grew up with and do his own thing…and looking forward to it when he does. A fun Cronenberg love letter that while isn’t overly original, successfully evokes what it is giving homage to. Also stars indie horror flick icon Larry Fessenden as Zack’s dad and Noah Segan who is racking up quite the horror resume.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 beers lifted cinematically to David Cronenberg.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: CUB (2014)

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CUB (2014)

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

Cub…also known as Welp…is a Belgian horror flick that takes place in the remote French woodlands with a group of Flemish Cub Scouts on a camping trip. To spice things up for the excursion, the scout leaders (Titus De Voogdt and Stef Aerts) have told the scouts a story about a feral boy named Kai, who roams these woods and can transform himself into a werewolf at night. Troubled loner Sam (Maurice Luijten) has taken this campfire story very seriously…and maybe he should. As once the troop enters the dense woods, they soon find out that maybe there is some truth to this fireside tale after all.

Directed by Jonas Govaerts, who co-wrote with Roel Mondelaers, this is an effective and entertaining little horror that can be quite brutal and gruesome despite it’s large cast of kids. Being a European production, this bloody little flick doesn’t operate under the same PC guidelines as American features do and isn’t afraid to ‘go there’ when it comes to putting it’s young characters in harm’s way…or sometimes portraying them as just being kids. There are some very spooky sequences and some very violent ones, too, as there is indeed someone…or something…lurking in the woods. As in most horror, there are some questions that don’t get answered and the ending isn’t totally a surprise, but it is a satisfying 80+ minutes of backwoods horror and presented with a nice visual eye by director Govaerts. Supporting him is some effective cinematography by Nicolas Karakatsanis, of the forest setting and of the old factory that comes into play later on, and there is a very Carpenter-ish electronic score by Steve Moore.

The cast are all fine, especially the kids lead by Maurice Luijten as Sam. Sam is a likable hero and the flick puts him through the ringer at times and Luijten plays his transition from loner to fighter very well. Titus De Voogdt and Stef Aerts are solid as the scout leaders Chris and Peter. Chris being the level headed adult and Peter being more immature and less responsible. Evelien Bosmans is pretty and likable as the expedition cook, Jasmine and object of Sam’s crush. She shows some spunk later on when things get rough and is one of the few to defend Sam when he is blamed for acts he didn’t commit. A decent cast where the kids perform some tough sequences and very well.

I liked this little flick. It’s not perfect, but it was entertaining and had some nice tension and good gore FX. The characters all worked well and young Maurice Luijten did a good job as Sam. There is some nice atmosphere and while it is not an unfamiliar story, it was told effectively and well. An entertaining little horror and hopefully a sign of good things to come from Jonas Govaerts.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) Cubs.

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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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