BARE BONES: INCANTATION (2022)

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INCANTATION (2022)

Incantation is a Taiwanese found footage horror that has former paranormal investigator Li Ronan (Tsai Hsuan-yen) fighting to save her six-year-old daughter Dodo (Huang Sing-ting) from a malevolent entity. During a past investigation, a pregnant Li and her companions (Sean Lin and Wen Ching-Yuan) violated sacred ground and provoked a curse. Now the sinister specter has come for Dodo. Flick is supposedly inspired by actual events.

Directed by Kevin Ko from his script with Chang Che-wei, this is a delightfully bonkers horror in all the right ways. Sure, it’s a bit too long at 111 minutes, but unlike most found footage flicks, this movie gets started with the spooky stuff right away and maintains an atmosphere of dread throughout. There are some very unsettling and disturbing moments, and some very over-the-top and gory moments too. The film knows when to be subtle and spooky, and when to go off the rails and really hit us with some craziness…and it does. Some of it provides unintentional chuckles, when it’s trying to scare, but that is still as entertaining as when the flick is giving us goosebumps. Kevin Ko gives the film a nice creepy atmosphere and uses his locations very well, while utilizing the past investigation footage to show us how Li got into her current supernatural conundrum. Tsai Hsuan-yen makes a solid heroine as the overwhelmed Li Ronan, and little Huang Sing-ting makes for a sweet and sympathetic kid as the malevolent entity’s helpless target, Dodo. Flick is currently streaming on Netflix and definitely worth checking out, even if not being quite as scary as its online reputation would have us believe.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: INFRARED (2022)

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INFRARED (2022)

Found footage horror finds paranormal investigator Geoff (Greg Sestero) teaming up with his estranged psychic sister Izzy (Leah Finity) to investigate an abandoned and allegedly haunted school. If personal tensions weren’t enough, the effects of a past tragedy and a sinister presence lurking the halls make this possibly the most real and terrifying episode of Infrared of all! 
 
Flick is written and directed by Robert Livings and Randy Lundlall Jr. and the duo try hard. There are a few spooky sequences, but like most found footage flicks it takes a long time to really get going and we spend at least an hour with Geoff and Izzy’s personal melodrama. It follows the formula almost too closely with anything interesting happening in the last act and then it ends suddenly with a cheap jump scare. Yes, there is an unexpected element that is revealed near the end, but it comes too little and too late to make things interesting and not enough is done with it before the credits roll. At least the directors give the flick a bit of a found footage feel, most of the time, though an overacting Jesse Janzen as the eccentric property owner Wes comes across as nothing but scripted hijinks. Seen worse. Seen better. Infrared premiers on VOD on 7/22/22 on the Terror Films Channel and 7/29/22 on all other digital streaming outlets.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: H.P. LOVECRAFT’S WITCH HOUSE (2022)

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H.P. LOVECRAFT’S WITCH HOUSE (2022)

H.P. Lovecraft’s Witch House is an impressive low budget indie horror based on the legendary writer’s short story Dreams in The Witch House. The story finds graduate student Alice (Michelle Morris) staying at an old house that allegedly was the scene of much occult and supernatural activity. Alice intends to prove that witchcraft was actually used to open dimensional doorways, but her investigation only opens up a nightmare for the pretty young student.
 
Flick is atmospherically directed by Bobby Easley from a script by he and Ken Wallace, and Easley gets a lot accomplished on his low budget. The director has a good visual eye and there is some very spooky imagery here. He gets good use out of the atmospheric old house that a lot of the film is shot in, the dream/hallucination sequences are spooky, and what minimal make-up and gore FX there are, such as a very effective demonic entity, are well shot and executed. The story has been done before, and the ending is no shocker if you are a horror fan, but it’s still quite effective. Lead Michelle Morris gives a really good performance as Alice, a woman with a scientific interest in witchcraft and who is also emotionally wounded by a toxic relationship with an abusive boyfriend (Andrew Hutchinson). Aubrey Smith-Leonard is spooky as the owner of the allegedly haunted house and Julie Anne Prescott is good as her daughter Tommi, whom Alice forms a friendship and romantic relationship with. Not all the acting is as solid and some of the surreal dream sequences are shot a little too dark, with the color filters and lights being used a bit too much. Flaws and budget restraints aside, though, Bobby Easley crafts an effective little horror with some legitimate chills and some very impressive and spooky visuals on what appears to be an extremely modest budget. Worth a look when it comes to VOD on 7/5/22!
 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: STUDIO 666 (2022)

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STUDIO 666 (2022)

Foo Fighters horror/comedy opens in 1993 with a pretty and very wounded girl (Jenna Ortega) crawling across a floor and meeting a gruesome fate. We then cut to modern day as the Foo Fighters are under pressure to deliver their 10th album and move into an ominous mansion to record it…a mansion where a band gruesomely met their deaths decades earlier. Soon the guys are embroiled in a blood-spattered tale of spooky specters, evil books, demonic possession and flying body parts.
Flick is directed by BJ McDonnell from a script by Jeff Buhler and Rebeca Hughes from a story by Dave Grohl, himself. As such it is an hour and forty-one minutes of silliness, spookiness, gore and mildly amusing jokes. One probably has to be a big fan of Grohl and the band to truly find these proceedings entertaining, though the effort has it’s torn-out heart in the right place. There is abundant gore once things get going, a lot of classic horror tropes and clichés are poked fun of, there’s a little rock n’ roll, and there are some legitimately spooky and amusing bits amongst the ones that fall flat. The flick is about ten to fifteen minutes too long, though, and could have used a much snappier pace. The Foo Fighters obviously play themselves, with Grohl taking center stage, and do get the tone of the material. The band members are also surrounded by guest appearances from Will Forte and Lionel Richie, not to mention horror queen on the rise Jenna Ortega, as a member of the ill-fated 1993 band Dream Widow. The flick is made with an obvious love of horror movies, and it does show, as it uses elements from its influences brazenly. Even if it’s not totally successful at what it sets out to do, and is a bit overlong and self-indulgent at times, there are far worse ways to spend 100 minutes.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: OFFSEASON (2022)

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 OFFSEASON (2022)

Flick has Marie Aldrich (Jocelin Donahue) returning to the place of her mother’s (Melora Walters) burial upon receiving notice of the gravesite being vandalized. She becomes trapped in the remote island town of Lone Palm during a fierce storm and finds her mother’s tales of the village’s dark past may not have been the mere ramblings of a mentally unstable woman.

Film is written and directed by indie filmmaker Mickey Keating (Carnage Park, POD) with a definite Lovecraftian flare. Offseason is very atmospheric and there are some very spooky visuals and cinematography. It’s all much ado about nothing, though, as story-wise there isn’t very much going on, nor is anything really accomplished other than a bunch of strung together set pieces with some admittedly unsettling visuals. These island folk made a deal with a demon from beneath the sea and Marie unfortunately is related to one of the island’s inhabitants, making her prime interest to the right-out-of-Lovecraft entity. Donahue is good, as is the rest of the cast, but ultimately there really isn’t a strong enough story to support the spooky goings on. Worth a look, but its spookiness is as shallow as the surrounding shore without any dramatic weight or the emotional resonance that comes with good story telling. Flick is currently available on VOD.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DEMON WIND (1990)

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DEMON WIND (1990)

Demon Wind may have been released in 1990 but it was filmed in 1989 and is an 80s horror to its gory core. Nonsensical plot has Cory (Eric Larson), triggered by his father’s suicide, journeying to his family’s abandoned farm to find out what happened to his grandparents, who disappeared sixty years earlier. Along for the ride is girlfriend Elaine (Francine Lapensée) and some friends, who soon find themselves besieged by a hoard of demons and one by one start to become demon possessed themselves.

Hilariously 80s flick is written and directed by Charles Philip Moore with a heavy dose of Evil Dead envy. This flick has everything you’d need in an 80s demonic themed horror, including rubber monsters, lots of prosthetic gore, bodily fluids, boobs and a group of attractive twenty-somethings to fall victim to the ancient forces of evil. It is a delightfully cheesy horror, with equally cheesy animation FX, and hilariously awful acting all across the board. The make-up FX are charmingly rubbery, and the film gets more and more preposterous as it goes along. There is a very 80s electronic score by Bruce Wallenstein and the farmhouse location in Thousand Oaks, California is very effective despite all the silliness. It’s goofy, gory and with the right beverages, can be a real hoot of an 80s good time!

Overall, this is not a good movie on traditional levels, but is a delightfully blood-spattered cheese-fest on another. Bad acting, rubber make-up, a nonsensical plot and plenty of colorful creatures, gore and animation FX, make this a fun midnight movie for fans of 80s horror at it loopiest. This was a first-time watch and MZNJ is delighted to now be acquainted with this cult classic horror. Flick is available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo from the awesome folks at Vinegar Syndrome!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) delightfully rubbery demons!

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BARE BONES BOOK REVIEW: THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR by DARCY COATES

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THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR by DARCY COATES

Jo lives next door to The Marwick House, an ominous home that has a dark history and has seen more than one owner flee the residence in the middle of the night, never to return. When pretty Anna moves in, she and Jo become friends bringing Jo into the house for the first time. Jo and Anna soon find out that there is indeed a presence in this house, and it is very angry and may want something even more frightening than just its mere presence.

This is one of Darcy Coates more intense chillers and perhaps one of her darker stories. Aside from the angry spirit inhabiting the house, Anna’s abusive boyfriend also plays a part. There is an air of mystery as now Jo feels she must help Anna and is drawn into finding out who haunts the house and why. It has some very spooky moments and Coates weaves some very atmospheric imagery as the secrets of Marwick House are slowly revealed. There is more intensity here than in some of her previous haunted house tales and is delightfully a bit scarier that one usually expects from her. Another spooky and chilling read from Darcy Coates and one refreshingly darker than her norm.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: HAPPY 42nd ANNIVERSARY to JOHN CARPENTER’S THE FOG (1980)

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HAPPY 42nd ANNIVERSARY to JOHN CARPENTER’S THE FOG (1980)

John Carpenter’s The Fog was released on February 8th, 1980, and my butt was there in a theater to see it! So, in honor of the 42nd anniversary of one of my all-time favorite horror flicks, I am re-posting this look back at Carpenter’s classic!

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One of my all-time favorite horrors and one of my favorite John Carpenter flicks, in fact, since I was too young to see Halloween when it came out, this was the first Carpenter film I saw in a theater and the flick that started me on my love of his movies.

The Fog tells the story of the 100-year anniversary of the small coastal California town of Antonio Bay and as the town prepares for its centennial celebration, a dark secret is revealed. Legend has it a leper colony paid the founders of Antonio Bay a lot of gold to let them settle nearby, but they were betrayed and murdered, as their ship was lured onto the rocks to crash and sink on a fog laden night. All were lost, but now a horde of vengeful spirits returns from the sea, wrapped in a surreal fog, to make the descendants of those who wronged them, pay with their lives.

The Fog focuses not on a main character, but a group of central characters whose individual experiences during this supernatural crisis bring them slowly all together, for its tense and creepy final act set in the town church. A good cast, including Jamie Lee Curtis as hitchhiker Elizabeth, Tom Atkins as local fisherman Nick, Janet Leigh as centennial chairwoman Kathy Williams and Adrienne Barbeau as single mom and radio DJ Stevie Wayne, give life to this ensemble and make them characters we like and care about, so we fear for them when they are placed in harm’s way. Add to that Hal Holbrook as the town’s alcoholic priest and a host of Carpenter regulars—with even a cameo by Carpenter himself—and you have a film wonderfully filled with a variety of characters who are all potential victims for the marauding phantoms. As for those phantoms, let’s not forget to mention the ghostly Captain Blake (FX man Rob Bottin) and his vengeful crew who are portrayed with in-camera practical FX. This makes them quite spooky and gives them a heavy dose of menace and a lot of effectiveness when they are on the attack. There is loads of atmosphere and some very solid scares and suspense created by Carpenter, along with some great cinematography from frequent Carpenter collaborator Dean Cundey, which makes this a good, solid, old-fashioned ghost story and a fun Halloween season treat. Carpenter again delivers a score which adds chills and foreboding to his tale of ghostly revenge, much like he did for Halloween and he starts the film off perfectly, with a chillingly fun opening sequence featuring veteran John Houseman as a crusty sailor who likes to tell kids scary stories. It sets the mood for the thrills and chills yet to come. This classic was made back when there was no phony CGI, just solid make-up effects from master Rob Bottin (who went on to do The Thing’s FX for Carpenter) and some very basic down to earth smoke and mirrors style visuals, that are as beautiful as they are scary. A great flick the likes of which they rarely make anymore and one of MonsterZero NJ’s must-watch flicks during the Halloween season!

The film is thankfully available, on blu-ray from Scream Factory with all the extras from previous releases, plus a new commentary track with Barbeau, Atkins and Tommy Lee Wallace and two really fun and informative interviews with Jamie Lee Curtis and Cinematographer Dean Cundey, who also supervised the absolutely gorgeous transfer!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) spectral sailors!

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BARE BONES: THE CURSE OF LA PATASOLA (2022)

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THE CURSE OF LA PATASOLA (2022)

Indie horror flick finds two young couples, Naomi (Najah Bradley) and James (Patrick R. Walker) along with Sarah (Gillie Jones) and Daniel (A.J. Jones) camping in a remote forest despite ominous warnings from a park ranger (Mark Pettit). There they encounter their own personal melodrama and a bloodthirsty creature from Amazonian folklore called La Patasola (Luciana Faulhaber).

Flick is directed by star A.J. Jones from a script by he and Shaun Mathis. As per its opening conversation, the film tries way too hard to be “woke” and it feels forced and not like natural conversations between friends. Daniel is also too ignorant in his views to be believable as someone the others would even want to hang out with. Naomi is South American in origin and thus provides the background exposition for our seductive creature and the film tries to set the mood with the ominous warnings of the park ranger as well. Cliché yes, but done right, the time-honored clichés still can work. Again, here it seems forced, as is Naomi relating the folklore of La Patasola as a campfire tale and it just so happens the creature is actually here in Florida, USA. What are the odds! The Amazonian folklore is interesting, but the character melodrama is not. The film is boring, not scary, so it’s faults only become more obvious, since there is nothing to distract us away. The acting is stale as is the dialogue. Only Luciana Faulhaber gives her role a little life, imbuing La Patasola with a bit of spooky sex appeal in her far too brief appearance as the human form of the creature. Disappointedly amateur and forgettable despite being based on actual untapped folklore.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: THE WASTELAND aka El PÁRAMO (2022)

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THE WASTELAND aka El PÁRAMO (2022)

Netflix streaming horror finds a family, husband Salvador (Roberto Álamo), wife Lucia (Inma Cuesta) and their young son Diego (Asier Flores), living on an isolated farm far from wars and the evils that men do. When Salvador leaves and doesn’t return, the loneliness and isolation start to embrace Lucia and Diego. Worse still, they have told Diego about a beast that roams the wasteland between their farm and the rest of the world and Diego believes it is now stalking his fragmenting mother.

Spanish film is directed by David Casademunt from his script with Martí Lucas and Fran Menchón. As such, it is a bleak and depressing film as we watch the loneliness and hopelessness set in on the mother and son, as the days drag on and Salvador does not return. It’s also heartbreaking to watch as Lucia starts to go mad and becomes suicidal, with little Diego having a terrified front seat to it all. The film looks great, as Casademunt has an effective visual eye, but The Wasteland is more tedious than scary, as the scenes with the stalking beast are few and far between. Is it real?…or just the specter of death pursuing the desperate Lucia and her frightened son Diego? Overall, it is a somewhat effective movie with some gruesome gore, spooky visuals and very good performances, especially from young Flores and his screen mom Cuesta. Overall, though, the film is far too bleak to be truly engaging or to be considered entertaining.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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