MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE DEVIL’S CANDY and BLISS

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Been a long time since the last MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature, but after re-watching Joe Begos’ Bliss, I realized it would make a great double feature with Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy. Both flicks feature tortured artists, supernatural influences on their art, hard core music and neither skimps on blood and gore. So, on to the sex, gore and Rock n’ Roll!…

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THE DEVIL’S CANDY (2015)

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

I’m a huge fan of Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones and was obviously looking forward to seeing another flick from him…and finally, after eight years, it’s here. The Devil’s Candy is Byrne’s newest film, made in 2015, it’s only now getting a proper release on VOD and in select theaters from the cool folks at IFC Midnight.

The story here is of heavy metal loving artist Jesse (Ethan Embry), who moves to an old rural farmhouse with his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and chip-off-the-old-block teen daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco). While Jesse and Astrid know that the couple that formerly lived there died in the house, what they don’t know is that it is also home to some kind of malevolent influence. If it’s not bad enough that Jesse’s art starts to take a dark and ominous tone soon after moving in, Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), the child murdering son of the previous owners, wants to come home…and he has set his demented sights on Zooey.

While not quite as intense as The Loved Ones, and lacking it’s twisted sense of humor, this is still an atmospheric, disturbing and sometimes brutally violent horror flick. The mix of heavy metal music and demonic horror, obviously works as the two have been paired up since Black Sabbath took to the airwaves in 1968. While the demonic influence elements are nothing new, they are very effective as used by Bryne, draped in his thick atmosphere of foreboding. The most disturbing elements, though, are obviously Ray’s need to “feed” The Devil his favorite candy…children. He stalks Zooey right out in the open and the distraction the malevolent entity feeds Jesse by way of his art, leaves poor Zooey unprotected. It creates some very unsettling scenes as Ray gets closer to obtaining his goal, including one in Zooey’s bedroom that is absolutely bone chilling. This all leads up to not one but two harrowing sequences with Zooey and the rotund pervert, each more intense than the last. There are some drawbacks. The film comes in at a very tight 79 minutes and it sometimes feels too quickly over for it’s own good. We wish we had a little more time to let certain scenes resonate and be given a little more time to let the disturbing nature of what is transpiring sink in before moving on to the next dramatic moment. It is also never quite clear whether it is this demonic influence that led Ray to kill, or was it his homicidal habit that brought the entity into the house…if not…why is it there? On a technical level the film looks great and while there is some week CGI during the climax, the rest of the FX work is solid and there is a really atmospheric score from Mads Heldtberg, Michael Yezerski and the band Sunn O)))

If anything helps one past some of the flaws, it’s a really good cast. Ethan Embry has become a fixture in some good horror/thrillers lately such as the frustrated son in the awesome Late Phases, or the ill-fated gun dealer in The Guest. He is really good here, not only as metal head/family man Jesse, but in portraying Jesse’s gradual transformation from attentive father into obsessed artist. As his frustrated and scared wife, Shiri Appleby is solid as a woman whose family life is disrupted from both within and without. She has a suddenly moody and unfocused husband at home and a hulking child killer lurking about after her daughter. Appleby makes her a bit more than a damsel in distress, though she isn’t given as much to do when all hell breaks loose as we’d have liked. Kiara Glasco makes a really good impression as Zooey. A teen who walks to the beat of her father influenced drum but is her own person. She’s a tough kid and a little rebellious and the young actress has a great chemistry with Embry, so their father/daughter relationship really works well on screen. She has a couple of tough scenes to portray and does a good job. Making this all come together is a really disturbing performance by veteran actor Pruitt Taylor Vince (recently seen as “Otis” in The Walking Dead). Vince really makes Ray a creepy person who makes you uncomfortable every moment he’s on camera. It really makes you fear for Zooey, especially when he catches up to her…more than once. He makes your skin crawl. A solid cast just as in Byrne’s first flick.

So maybe writer/director Sean Byrne hasn’t quite equaled The Loved Ones in his sophomore feature flick, but he has delivered another disturbing, atmospheric and bloody movie that is of a different sort than his previous twisted love story. This plot may be a bit more commonplace, but he uses the familiar tropes very effectively. The theatrical cut…wikipedia lists a 10 minute longer festival cut…may be a little too short for it’s own good and there are some unanswered questions, but a really strong cast and a director who knows how to turn the screws makes up for a lot of it. Highly recommended. especially if you loved Sean Byrne’s previous work.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and1/2 (out of 4) screaming guitars!

 

 

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BLISS (2019)

Dezzy (Dora Madison) is a down on her luck artist and drug abuser who is having trouble finishing a piece that could turn her life around. She vents her frustration in a night of debauchery, involving alcohol, a new drug from her dealer and a threesome with friend Courtney (Tru Collins) and Courtney’s boyfriend Ronnie (Rhys Wakefield). Not only does this get her working on her painting again, but gives her an insatiable appetite for blood.

Joe Begos writes and directs this sometimes hallucinogenic tale of artistic block, depravity and vampirism. Begos’ first two features Almost Human and The Mind’s Eye were homage heavy flicks, though very entertaining. Here he shows he can do something outside of his influences and do it well, even on a very small budget, which seems to suit Begos. While not a traditional vampire tale, as Dezzy has no fangs and doesn’t turn into any creatures of the night, it has some gory demises once Dezzy’s thirst drives her to kill. Whatever she is, can be killed by a wooden stake, as Courtney demonstrates by finishing off one of Dezzy’s victims, and apparently sunlight can be lethal, too. Vampires or not, this is a tale of excess and Begos sometimes put’s his audience inside Dezzy’s head trips and it gives us a sense of the state of mind the troubled artist is in. It’s a trip and a disturbing one for all the right reasons. The gore is very plentiful and well orchestrated and the film itself has a raw feel to it that works very well, as it revels in the seedier side of Los Angeles nightlife. A contemporary vampire tale substituting ancient curses and cloves of garlic for sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.

While there are quite a few supporting players, it’s very much a one woman show and lead Dora Madison (Exists) rises to the occasion. She dives into the role with a passionate yet very real performance. One doesn’t feel like they are watching a movie character, but a real person whose artistic nature has her living a life of excesses and extreme stimulation, and this is before she is transformed into a creature of the night. Her role requires a lot of nudity, drug use and hedonistic behavior, not to mention outbursts of rage, anger and violence when she realizes something is very wrong with her and her bloodlust takes hold. The actress performs it all very well. The supporting cast, such as Collins as Courtney and Jeremy Gardner as Dezzy’s “friend” Clive all create interesting people who seem to dwell more within the underground lifestyle of L.A. A good cast of interesting characters.

Overall, Begos is once again proving he is a filmmaker to watch. His homages to The Thing (Almost Human) and Scanners (The Mind’s Eye) were solid flicks that paid respectful tribute to their inspirations. Here Begos shows he can operate outside his influences and presents a tale of a young woman’s downward spiral into madness, depravity and murder all in the name of artistic expression. It’s trippy, gory and dirty and sleazy in all the right places. Looking forward to Begos’ upcoming VFW about a group of war veterans under siege at a VFW hall.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) fangs, even if Dezzy doesn’t have any.

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: BELZEBUTH (2017)

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BELZEBUTH (2017)

Mexican horror opens with a massacre in a hospital maternity ward where police detective Emmanuel Ritter (Joaquín Cosío) loses his infant son. Five years later, he is given a case of a similar massacre at a school…one right out of today’s headlines. Aside from the painful similarities, Ritter doesn’t see a connection till Vatican paranormal expert Ivan Franco (Tate Ellington) arrives. Franco warns Ritter these killing may be the work of rogue priest Vasilio Canetti (Tobin Bell) and an ancient demonic presence. At first Ritter is skeptical, but soon his eyes are opened to things he’s never imagined, especially when he finds out the reason all these innocent children are being slaughtered.

Film is effectively directed by Emilio Portes from a plot heavy script by he and Luis Carlos Fuentes. There is a lot going on, but the film has some spooky and intense moments, especially the shocking maternity ward scene which sets the tone. The flick has biblical implications, some interesting plot twists and some very familiar demonic possession tropes, but uses them effectively for the most part. It is a bit overlong, but the cast is good and Portes has a visual style that works well with the horror elements. There is some graphic violence which has impact and Portes uses his Mexican locations atmospherically. Even the traditional exorcism is effective enough, despite the familiarity. An entertaining horror, even if a bit cliché heavy. Also stars Liam Villa as Isa, a little boy who is the focus of the demon’s attention and Yunuen Pardo as his mother.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: SWEET HOME (1989)

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SWEET HOME (1989)

Hard to find haunted house flick has TV producer Kazuo Hoshino (Shingo Yamashiro) bringing a crew to the supposedly haunted Mamiya mansion that has been sealed for thirty years. It was the home of famed artist Ichirō Mamiya and Kazuo believes his final works rest inside. Along for the production are his daughter Emi (Nokko), reporter Asuka (Fukumi Kuroda), cinematographer Ryō Taguchi (Ichiro Furutachi) and Akiko Hayakawa (Nobuko Miyamoto) his producer whom he has feelings for. Once inside they find that all the rumors are horribly true as a terrible incident decades earlier has left a vengeful spirit lurking inside the mansion.

Film is written and directed very effectively by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. All the haunted house traditions are present with the mansion itself being a very spooky and deserted place. There is a tragic backstory to give our haunting it’s purpose and a group of individuals who refuse to believe the folklore of the house, until it’s too late. Stormy nights, grotesque phantoms and some gory deaths are presented in a very entertaining fashion with Kiyoshi Kurosawa giving us just enough time to get to know the characters before the spooks hit the fan. It even has an old gas station attendant, Yamamura (producer Jûzô Itami), to give the traditional warnings and exposition. It’s a lot of spooky and gruesome fun and the make-up effects are not only nostalgically practical, it was the 80s after all, but done by make-up effects legend Dick Smith. When we finally see Lady Mamiya’s spirit in full view, it doesn’t disappoint. There are some chills, thrills, some blood spilled and a very exciting and suspenseful climax, as our survivors face the angry spirit head-on. You even need to watch through the credits for something extra. It’s a very entertaining haunted house flick that can stand on it’s own up against flicks like Poltergeist which set a standard in the 80s. Atmospherically directed, the house setting itself is great and there is just enough humor to make it fun without offsetting the scares. Despite being a familiar tale, the movie has it’s own creepy identity and likable characters to fear for.

As those characters, we have a solid cast. Yamashiro is good as Hoshino. He’s a likable guy and avoids the arrogance most characters like this carry. His intentions are good. Popstar Nokko is endearing as Hoshino’s teen daughter Emi. She’s rebellious, though not annoying and serves as a damsel in distress in the final act. Nobuko Miyamoto is widower Hoshino’s producer. A pretty woman he has feelings for and a strong heroine when all Hell breaks loose. Ichiro Furutachi and Fukumi Kuroda are fine in their roles, though they serve more as body count. Rounding out is producer Jûzô Itami, who is good in the classic role as Yamamura. An efficient and likable cast.

In conclusion, this flick desperately needs a blu-ray release! It was spooky, gory fun and had a likable group of characters ignoring the classic warnings to suffer the consequences. There were some great practical make-up FX from the late, great Dick Smith and a very creepy house where it’s paranormal action takes place. A very solid and old fashioned haunted house flick from Japan.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) spooks

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR (2019)

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GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR (2019)

Flick has Don Koch (Phil Brooks, a.k.a. former WWE Superstar CM Punk) trying to right past wrongs for his pregnant wife, Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn) by buying an old house and renovating it. The house has a history, though, and there were acts committed in the former brothel that may come back to haunt Don and his family…literally.

Haunted house horror is effectively directed by Travis Stevens from a script and story by he, Paul Johnstone and Ben Parker. The flick is entertaining, though a bit uneven, which does hold it back a little. There are some nice subtle, spooky touches early on in the proceedings, some good gore and some amusingly bonkers stuff here and there that achieve more Evil Dead II level supernatural hi-jinx. There are also stretches that are a bit dull, the tone is a little uneven and it’s hard to feel concerned or sorry…not that we’re supposed to…for Don when he is such a jerk. Don cheats on his wife, he deceived his clients, he’s a liar, a drinker and just seems like a bit of an all around a-hole in general. It’s like he’s getting what’s coming to him, especially when dealing with the sexy, mysterious and troublesome Sarah (Sarah Brooks). As such, it’s hard to sympathize and be afraid for a guy meeting the karma train head on. By centering the film on an unlikable character, you get more apathy than empathy from your audience, whether his comeuppance is the point or not. The flick does switch focus to his far more likable wife in the last act and douche Don seems to disappear for quite some time, while his pregnant spouse then deals with the horrors of the house. The sudden switch of focus is s a little off-putting, but we do like and fear for Liz far more and it makes for a very effective last act.

On a production level, the flick looks great and the FX well rendered. Stevens also makes great use of the old house location. The cast are fine with Brooks doing a good job in a role that is often a one man (and dog) show at times and pretty Trieste Kelly Dunn doing strong work when she shows up in the last act and the house reveals all. Sarah Brooks (no relation to Phil) is both sexy and spooky as Sarah, Karen Woditsch is good as insightful neighbor Ellie and Travis Delgado is effective as Don’s fed-up friend Milo.

Overall, flick is definitely worth a watch. A few things hold it back from firing on all cylinders, but it is atmospheric, spooky and can be both effectively subtle and delightfully over-the-top when it needs to be. There is some good gore, a few novel twists added to the haunted house tropes and the cast are all solid. Travis Stevens could be a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) marbles.

 

 

 

 

 

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HALLOWEEN HOTTIES: ROOKIE OF THE YEAR 2019!

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HALLOWEEN HOTTIES: ROOKIE OF THE YEAR 2019!

This newest installment of Halloween Hotties features a new final girl on the block, who appeared in her first horror flick in 2019 and made an impression in her debut! With the release of Brian Childs’ indie financed Hell of a Night, we were introduced to this fresh face in the role of the film’s heroine, Blake! Blake gets into double trouble when getting away from it all on her own, as the farmhouse she rents is haunted and she is being stalked by a far more earthbound threat. The actress portraying her displayed some solid final girl qualifications, so without further ado…MonsterZero NJ’s Halloween Hotties rookie of the year 2019 is…

RACHAEL HEVRIN!

RACHAEL HEVRIN as BLAKE in HELL OF A NIGHT!

Sharing some big sister love with younger sibling Shaine (Grace Powell).

Place looks peaceful enough…but they always do!

A quiet moment before the vaycay turns cray cray…

Poor Blake cant even have a peaceful shower without things going bump in the night.

Blake is a good girl who makes the mistake of trusting some bad people.

Isolated and alone, girl-next-door Blake is having a Hell of a Night!

Blake has had enough…

…and decides to heat things up for foes both supernatural and corporeal!

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Actress and model Rachael Hevrin has a very natural girl-next-door appeal that really made Blake a very likable character to carry this small cast horror flick. She handles double trouble from both human and spiritual opponents and shows that even in her damsel in distress moments, she doesn’t need a hero to rescue her. Like all classic final girls, she has a wholesome quality, yet is resilient and quite the fighter. Currently, the Texas native seems to be keeping busy with modeling, short films and commercial work, though with her down-to-earth good looks and endearing screen presence, we hope to see more of her in our favorite genre soon!

-MonsterZero NJ

And don’t forget to check out our previous Halloween Hotties!

Head over to the Halloween Hotties listings! to read them all!)

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BARE BONES: POLAROID (2019)

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POLAROID (2019)

Teen centric horror was filmed in 2017 and due to Dimension Pictures’ financial woes, has not found release until recently on VOD and streaming formats. Plot finds high school student and photographer Bird (Kathryn Prescott) getting an old polaroid camera from friend Tyler (Davi Santos), who works with her at a local antique shop. Later that night at a costume party, Bird takes pictures of her friends with the old camera. Soon her friends start dying and it seems anyone who she takes a picture of, falls victim to some kind of supernatural entity. Can Bird find out who, or what, this thing is and how to stop it.

Flick is directed by Lars Klevberg based on his short film, which has been adapted to feature length by Blair Butler. It’s a fairly generic teen horror that closely follows the pattern of today’s PG-13 horror trend targeting teenage audiences. As such, it’s not all that bad. It has a few spooky moments, the young cast are likable enough and it plays well the Scooby Doo mystery solving element. It actually has a few interesting twists. There is very little gore and when the specter is portrayed with CGI, it can be quite cheesy looking at times. Not the best of this recent horror-lite trend, but far from the worst. Also stars Haunt’s Katie Stevens, Galaxy of Terror’s Grace Zabriskie, X-Files’ Mitch Pileggi and prolific creature performer Javier Botet, for the none CGI entity segments.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA (2019)

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THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA (2019)

Supernatural horror takes place in 1973 with widowed social worker Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) looking into the death of two children, from one of her cases. Their mother (Patricia Velásquez) claims it was La Llorona, The Weeping Woman, who murdered her children and they are dead because of Anna’s interference. Anna discovers that La Llorona is from Mexican folklore, a woman in the 1600s who got revenge on a cheating husband by murdering her own children and then killing herself. Distraught with guilt, her spirit is now said to seek out other children to kill to take the place of her own. Whether the folktale is true or not, a dark force is now stalking Anna and her own kids (Roman Christou and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen). Is the spirit of La Llorona real and out to get Anna’s offspring?

Generic horror flick is directed by Michael Chaves from a routine script by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis. Mexican folklore base could have been interesting had there been a more involving movie built around it, or a better use of that folklore. Flick centers on the usual, vengeful, sinister specter surrounded by dark cinematography, flickering lights and an abundance of jump scares. The lead character, Anna, is the cliché skeptic who is forced to go to someone of faith and supernatural belief (Raymond Cruz) for help. There is even an exorcism of sorts in the last act. Chaves tries to build atmosphere and Cardellini gives it her all, as the frightened Anna, but this is just too familiar to really evoke solid scares. It follows the recent template for mainstream supernatural horror to the letter and does nothing innovative or intriguing with it. While it also lacks the over-the-top fun of last years The Nun, this was still another box office hit for producer James Wan and his Conjuring universe, which this film is thinly linked to by the appearance of Annabelle‘s Father Perez (Tony Amendola).

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: HELL OF A NIGHT (2019)

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HELL OF A NIGHT (2019)

Low budget indie flick opens with a Ouija game being played at a remote cabin by two young girls (Kaylee King and Tori Carew) and of course, it goes predictably awry. Two years later pretty co-ed Blake (Rachael Hevrin) rents that same remote cabin to get away from it all. Unknown to the Blake, she’s not alone in her spooky getaway spot, add to that the house Blake recently moved into with her mother (Deborah Kay Hooker) and sister Shaine (Grace Powell) is supposedly haunted, too and Shaine is alone there! Poor Blake is surrounded by danger from both within and without, as not only is there a presence inside the cabin, but someone close to her is not what they pretend to be. This girl has no luck!

Flick is written and directed by Brian Childs, who makes a good effort and seems to have a love for this type of movie. He gets the camera angles and mood right on a technical level, and while he overuses the colored lighting that is currently popular with filmmakers, he does accomplish some spooky moments. Leading lady Rachael Hevrin is very pretty and has a really nice girl-next-door presence, which makes her a good final girl. It was also interesting that Childs sets up double trouble for his heroine as there is definitely a dangerous supernatural element here and a threat from the real world, as so-called “friends” conspire against her. Drawbacks are, the dialogue scenes are a little flat, some of the paranormal stuff is very familiar and did we need both locations to be haunted AND having a plot convenience that has the hauntings collide at Blake’s rental? Also, the ghost in the opening Ouija scene is a male named Raymond, so why is the spirit stalking Blake an axe wielding woman?…and if it’s a ghost, why does she have corporeal attributes like being injured, or bleeding when Blake fights back? Was she actually a living person and I missed something? She’s billed as “Blood Splattered Ghost” in the credits. Anyway, it gets a bit convoluted and some of the conveniences are bit of a stretch. Did we need two hauntings and a betrayal? A rookie director adding a few too many elements in his supernatural soup, perhaps? Also, the real world threat looming in the shadows for Blake isn’t as convincingly as it should be. Blake doesn’t seem like a stupid girl and is quite resilient, so would she be that oblivious to the true nature of her “friend” Chloe (Ella Taylor)?

Overall, it’s still a decent effort from a first time feature filmmaker. And Childs could deliver solidly once he gets more experience under his belt and reigns in his stories somewhat. We do get a leading lady who does make an impression as the flick’s final girl and who we want to see more of. Cool to see filmmakers getting their flicks made!

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE PRODIGY (2019)

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THE PRODIGY (2019)

At the same moment that serial killer Edward Scarka (Paul Fauteux) is gunned down by police, Sarah Blume (Taylor Schilling) gives birth to her son Miles. As this is a horror movie, that kind of coincidence is never a good thing. Growing up, the boy starts to show a remarkable intelligence. As he reaches his eighth year, Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) also starts to show a propensity towards violent behavior. Soon Sarah and husband John (Peter Mooney) start to believe that there is something very wrong with their son…and they may not live to tell about it.

Very familiar tale is also very well directed by Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact) from a derivative script by Jeff Buhler. We’ve seen the bad seed/possessed kid story so many times that this movie has an uphill battle all the way trying to do something effective with this often used scenario. That being said, McCarthy succeeds in making this a very creepy and sometimes downright disturbing movie, despite having seen it all before. He is also helped by a truly chilling performance from young Jackson Robert Scott, as the serial killer in a little boy’s body and Taylor Schilling does strong work as a woman terrified of her own child. While it’s hard to give the flick any points for originality, it is easy to give Nicholas McCarthy big time kudos for making this well-worn scenario as effective as it is. A great example of a skilled filmmaker taking a lemon and making lemonade. Also stars Colm Feore as a reincarnation expert and Brittany Allen (What Keeps You Alive, Extraterrestrial) as the Scarka victim that got away.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: MERCY BLACK (2019)

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MERCY BLACK (2019)

Netflix horror flick has it’s roots in the Slenderman urban legend and the real life stabbing of a young girl by two twelve year-olds (documentary review HERE). Marina (Daniella Pineda) has been released from a psychiatric institute fifteen years after she and another friend stabbed a little girl to appease a mythical supernatural entity called Mercy Black. Marina comes to live with her sister Alice (Elle LaMont) and Alice’s son Bryce (Miles Emmons) to try to resume a normal life. Things get complicated as Bryce starts to become obsessed with Mercy Black and Marina starts to believe it may not be just an urban legend after all.

Film is written and directed by Owen Edgerton (Blood Fest, Follow) and is a fairly generic horror. The real-life crime story that it is inspired by is a lot more unsettling and this film follows the urban legend come to life template with little or no inventiveness. Lead Pineda does give a good performance and we’d love to see her in something that is a lot more effective. The director at least utilizes his locations well and his visual eye gives the film an atmospheric look. Edgerton has shown promise in his previous efforts it just seems here he was uninspired by his own script. Very routine and by-the-numbers. Also stars Austin Amelio as a creepy handyman and Janeane Garofalo as Marina’s psychologist.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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