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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BARE BONES: THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH GRACE (2018)

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THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH GRACE (2018)

Megan Reed (Shay Mitchell) is an ex-cop still traumatized over freezing up and allowing a perpetrator to kill her partner. It’s turned her into a recovering addict who gets a graveyard shift job at the morgue. Makes sense! Along comes the body of Hannah Grace (Kirby Johnson), a young girl killed during a botched exorcism. The demonic entity that inhabits Hannah’s body hasn’t left yet and supernatural hi-jinx ensue. 

Film is directed by someone named Diederik Van Rooijen from an uninspired script from Brian Sieve. It offers almost nothing new to the possession sub-genre and pulls out every lame cliché demonic themed flicks have to offer. Any new wrinkles are few, far between and silly…like Hannah’s demon infested corpse being able to regenerate itself with each person it kills. What? It’s also hard to believe a former cop who is suffering from depression over the death of her partner would choose a morgue as a new place of work. Mitchell makes a solid enough heroine, but is let down by the movie surrounding her. Hannah Grace made almost four times it’s budget back at the box office, so someone thought this drivel was cool.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: TERRIFIED aka ATERRADOS (2017)

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TERRIFIED aka ATERRADOS (2017)

Argentinian supernatural horror finds a police detective (Maxi Ghione) teaming up with three paranormal investigators (Norberto Gonzalo, Elvira Onetto and George Lewis) when a neighborhood starts to suffer horrific…and fatal… supernatural occurrences.

Written and directed by Demián Rugna, Aterrados can be one disturbing and scary flick at times. It has some very creepy sequences, some shocking and brutal violence and a very steady atmosphere of dread and mystery. The ghost FX are all executed in camera with actors in very effective make-up and the gore is very well done and quite gruesome. Rugna creates some very scary moments and it helps that even his valiant leads, despite their expertise in their fields, are all quite afraid too…and they should be. What really holds the film back is that none of it is ever given any explanation, or are we given any reason why these spirits decide to suddenly attack this one block and start quite brutally killing residents. Who are they even? Ambiguity can be useful in stories like this, but getting no hints or exposition at all, as for what is happening and why, leaves us very unsatisfied by it’s conclusion. We get a lot of good scares and graphic deaths, but it all leads nowhere and we are given no clues as to why it suddenly starts happening. Still worth a look, but you won’t know any more at the beginning than you do at it’s end. Terrified, or Aterrados in Spanishis a Shudder exclusive only on their streaming horror network.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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