BARE BONES: QUEEN OF SPADES (2021)

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QUEEN OF SPADES (2021)

Latest teen-centric horror is supposedly a remake of a Russian film, though seems like it could be a retread of a dozen recent movies. Flick finds a group of teens summoning an urban legend entity called the Queen of Spades and thus begin to fall victim to her. Sound familiar?

Film is decently directed by Patrick White from a script by John Ainslie based on the Russian film Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite by Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy. It could have been based by any number of recent flicks, though, where teens summon a malevolent urban legend specter. In this case it’s the ghost of a Russian woman, who ran an orphanage where she murdered the children and was brought to violent justice by local villagers. She can be summoned by the now traditional ceremony in front of a mirror that teens in these movies can’t seem to get enough of. A cross between Freddy Krueger and any number of the Creepy Pasta rogues gallery, she is a routine spook. It’s all very dull and uninvolving, even though the young cast tries hard and there are a few unsettling moments. Otherwise we’ve seen flicks like this far too often lately and this one is not innovative enough to get around the familiarity.

-MonsterZero NJ

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REVIEW: THE CONJURING-THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021)

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THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021)

Third Conjuring flick takes place in 1981 and finds Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) presiding over the exorcism of a little boy named David (Julian Hillard). It almost costs Ed his life, leaving him unconscious, and unknown to Lorraine, the demon transferred to Arne (Ruairi O’Connor), a young man present during the ceremony. As Ed recovers in a hospital, warning that Arne is possessed, the young man under demonic influence, stabs his landlord (Ronnie Gene Blevins) to death. Now the Warrens must somehow prove that demonic possession was involved and Arne is innocent of murder.

Threequel is directed this time by Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) from a script and story by producer James Wan and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick based on a supposed real-life case of the Warrens. It opens with a supernatural bang with yet another exorcism, but it is an effective one and sets the tone for the film. It establishes to the audience that Arne is the host and we know something bad is soon to happen…and it does. Third in this series takes a bit of a different direction once blood is shed, as not only does it have the now traditional supernatural hi-jinx, but is a paranormal detective drama as well. Ed and Lorraine go on the road to investigate the origins of David’s possession, unraveling a trail of evil and death leading to a demonic cultist. It takes this franchise in a bit of a different direction and is well done, but the exorcism/possession storyline elements are just too familiar and overdone in recent films to be that scary. At least the cultist angle adds a human adversary which is a welcome change. Chaves is a competent director, but he can only do so much with such frequently treaded material and he doesn’t quite have Wan’s skill at theatrical scares. The investigative portion of the story is intriguing and keeps one’s attention and is the strongest element of this second sequel. If anything, it takes The Warrens out of their usual haunted house setting and that at least keeps them and this sequel from getting too stale. The FX are well done, there is some bloodshed and in contrast, the flick also has some nice heart to give resonance to the Warrens’ cause. Chaves may not have Wan’s visual eye, but he does produce some atmosphere and appropriately spooky imagery, especially in Lorraine’s visions, and orchestrates the jump scares well, though is less reliant on them. The climax is an entertaining The Exorcist meets Silence of the Lambs mash-up that works very well and ends the story with the theatrics fans come to expect.

The cast are solid. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are good as Ed and Lorraine Warren. Whether you believe the real couple are legit or shysters is up to you, but their cinematic counterparts make for endearing characters. They tread a little new ground for this series and do well and the actors make a good team that gives the movie it’s heart. Ruairi O’Connor is sympathetic as the tormented Arne and pretty Sarah Catherine Hook is likable as his girlfriend and little David’s sister, Debbie. John Noble also appears, in an exposition role, as a retired priest with knowledge of the cult in question, while Eugenie Bondurant is creepy as the cultist whose curse drives this flick’s story.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a well made film with some spooky moments and wisely takes it’s paranormal couple into a somewhat different scenario to freshen things up a bit. It’s well directed by Chaves, though still focuses heavily on demonic possession/exorcism elements that have become almost as frequently seen in recent horror, as zombies. If you are a fan of this series you will probably like this one and if not, the investigative/detective drama aspect may keep you intrigued enough to be entertained, during it’s almost two hour runtime. Series hasn’t run of of gas quite yet, but shows signs that it might be time to really dig into the Warrens’ case files for a fourth installment. Watch through the credits for some spooky footage, photos and reel to reel recordings from the real life Warrens and this case.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 spooks

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BARE BONES: SON (2021)

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SON (2021)

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE DJINN (2021)

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THE DJINN (2021)

Story takes place in 1989, with asthmatic and mute Dylan (Ezra Dewey) moving into a new house with his father (Rob Brownstein). In the house, he discovers an old book called The Book of Shadows. Upon reading the tome, he discovers a summoning spell that can call upon a Djinn, a being that can grant wishes. When his father goes to work and leaves him all alone, he does exactly that and now must face the fiendish creature (John Erickson) all by himself, as his wish will only be granted if he can stay alive against the Djinn till past midnight.

IFC Midnight release is written and directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell. It’s a well done and spooky flick, as the malevolent supernatural entity pursues the boy throughout the house in different forms, including Dylan’s deceased mother Michelle (Tevy Poe). The film is all the more effective thanks to the strong work by young Ezra Dewey in what is basically a one man/boy show. Dylan is a likable kid and his affliction makes him even more sympathetic, as is the use of his feelings of guilt over his mother’s suicide being used by the Djinn to wear the boy down. The story may not be all that original, with its cautionary tale of be careful what you wish for, but it’s suspenseful and spooky and establishes well the rules surrounding it’s deceptive, supernatural villain. While the Djinn itself reminds one of It Follow’s shape-shifting fiend, it is an effective and scary creature. There is also some nice atmospheric cinematography by Julian Estrada, an 80s-esque electronic score by Matthew James and it wastes little time at only 81 minutes in length. A solid and spooky flick with a great, young lead actor and some nice legitimate scares overcoming a familiar story. Available in both limited theatrical release and on Amazon Prime and other VOD platforms.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: 30 COINS (30 MONEDAS) (2020)

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30 COINS (30 MONEDAS) (2020)

30 Coins is a Spanish horror series from director Álex de la Iglesia (The Last Circus) currently streaming on HBO Max. It tells the story of a secret and sinister religious organization that is searching for the 30 coins Judas received to betray Christ. It is said these coins will bring them apocalyptic power and the last coin is in the hands of disgraced priest and exorcist Padre Manuel Vergara (Eduard Fernández) in the remote Spanish village of Pedraza. Hell is literally unleashed on this small farm town as the search for the coin tightens.

30 Coins is a very involving, disturbing and quite creepy series as atmospherically directed by Álex de la Iglesia from his scripts with Jorge Guerricaechevarría. Aside from all the spookiness, there is a lot of gore, some unsettling creatures and it’s not afraid to use heavy biblical lore and imagery in the story. There are some very interesting characters. Eduard Fernández is a badass hero, as disgraced priest and boxer Padre Vergara, Megan Montaner was a strong willed and sexy as hell heroine as village veterinarian Elena and Miguel Ángel Silvestre was a noble hero as Pedraza mayor Paco. Manolo Solo and Cosimo Fusco were also very effective as the scary bad guys. There was also a spooky score by Roque Baños (Evil Dead, Come Play) to add to the atmospherics. It wasn’t perfect. Sometimes the narrative wandered from the main story and there was some weak CGI to lessen the effect of some scenes. Ultimately, though, it was a spooky and disturbing eight episodes of horror television. Definitely would watch a season 2!

All episodes listed below were directed by Álex de la Iglesia and co-written with Jorge Guerricaechevarría :

1. “Cobwebs” (Telarañas)

2. “Ouija” (Ouija)

3. “The Mirror” (El espejo)

4. “Memories” (Recuerdos)

5. “The Double” (El doble)

6. “Holy War” (Guerra Santa)

7. “The Glass Box” (La caja de cristal)

8. “Sacrifice” (Sacrificio)

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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

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

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THE DARK AND THE WICKED (2020)

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

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

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

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THE VIGIL (2019)

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

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

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE VIGIL (2019)

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THE VIGIL (2019)

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

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

 

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: THE EMPTY MAN (2020)

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THE EMPTY MAN (2020)

Flick opens in 1995 with a group of four friends (Aaron Poole, Jessica Matten, Virginia Kull and Evan Jonigkeit) backpacking in the Himalayas. After one has an encounter with a strange skeleton in a cave, the trip goes horribly wrong. The film then picks up twenty-five years later with an emotionally troubled detective (James Badge Dale) trying to find a missing girl. His investigation leads him to a cult who are trying to conjure a malevolent supernatural being they call The Empty Man.

Ridiculously long and generic horror is directed by David Prior from his own script, based on a comic series by Cullen Bunn and Vanesa R. Del Rey. It is basically yet another movie that has someone evoking some sort of boogeyman. A generic and routine boogeyman The Empty Man is at that. With a 137 minute runtime, this film is at least 40 minutes too long and is a tedious chore to sit through, as it is neither scary, nor involving. It’s definitely nothing new. Of course the opening scene…that could have simply been done as a flashback…links to what is going on in present day. No surprise there…or anywhere for that matter. Other than a cast that tries hard, flick is generic, routine and simply way too long, thus giving little to recommend. Boring waste o.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: THE FUNERAL HOME (2020)

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THE FUNERAL HOME aka LA FUNERARIA (2020)

It’s trouble enough for funeral home owner Bernardo (Luis Machín) to have a normal family life with having married abused widow Estela (Celeste Gerez) who has a rebellious daughter, Irina (Camila Vaccarini). It’s harder still, with the house being filled with the supernatural presences of those being given their final rest and having to appease them before they move on. A home filled with spirits is unsettling enough, but Bernardo and his new family now have to deal with a malevolent presence that has moved in with them. Who, or what, is it and why has it come here?

Argentine haunted house flick is chillingly written and directed by Mauro Iván Ojeda. It has loads of atmosphere and Ojeda fills his tale with some very spooky images and unnerving moments, as this already haunted family tries to find out why something darker has targeted them. There are some interesting reveals and the story evokes the recent horror tales from Indonesian filmmaker Joko Anwar, as it is filled with dark family secrets and occult activities, as a catalyst for the current supernatural hijinx. There are a lot of familiar elements and the basic story is nothing new, but Ojeda uses and presents them well and with his own slant. The film can also get a bit bloody, especially in the last act. Spooky flick is available to rent on Amazon Prime and also stars Susana Varela as Ramona, the family’s paranormal medium. Recommended!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC (1981)

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THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC (1981)

1981 Indonesian horror is the basis for the recent quasi remake of the same name that has gotten some online attention. It has a very simple plot. The story finds pretty Murni (Suzzanna) betrayed by her lover (Alan Nuary) over another woman and accused of practicing black magic. She is thrown off a cliff by the terrified villagers, but survives. She is rescued by shaman Gendon (W.D. Muchtar) and given the powers of black magic to exact revenge on those who betrayed and tried to murder her.

Original version is directed by Lilik Sudjio from a script by Subagio Samtono, and aside from a revenge seeking woman named Murni and some gory black magic practicing, there is little carried over to the 2019 Joko Anwar written flick. This film is a fun and very gory supernatural revenge flick with plenty of maggots, flying heads and levitations. There is even a dash of martial arts. The FX utilized range from simple but effective to delightfully cheesy. After what Murni was put through, we don’t exactly root against her, when she gruesomely kills those who tossed her off a cliff. Actress Suzzanna is very pretty and charming one minute and fierce the next. Her Murni is reluctant at first, but soon finds the anger to exact her vengeance. There is even an interesting twist during the climactic confrontation that will pit student against teacher. While it lacks the remake’s depth of background story, this version knows to give us a break now and then and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome at only 89 minutes in length. Overall, this is an amusing and fun supernatural horror with both versions now available to stream on Shudder. Either version is worth a look.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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