HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: GHOST STORIES (2017)

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GHOST STORIES (2017)

British horror anthology has an interesting premise. Professor Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman) has spent his career debunking supernatural events and exposing fraudulent psychics. Professor Charles Cameron, a renown paranormal investigator in the 70s, who hasn’t been heard of for years and is assumed dead, summons Goodman and tasks him with a challenge. He must debunk the only three cases that Cameron failed to. One is the case of Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse) a night watchman in an abandoned asylum who is seeing things go bump in the night. The second is that of Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther) a meek young man who claims to have hit a demonic goat creature with his father’s car and is now hunted by it. The third is the case of Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman) who is haunted by a malevolent spirit while his wife lay in the hospital in painful labor. As Goodman investigates each case, it may be himself that he ultimately learns the truth about.

Flick is written and directed by star Nyman and Jeremy Dyson and is a spooky affair. The story set-up is quite intriguing with a skeptic, who has made a career of exposing frauds and hoaxes, being called upon by a like individual to solve three cases the man could not. As such, the three stories are very spooky, especially the first two, as Goodman faces what could be actual supernatural occurrences, unlike the frauds he’s used to dealing with. The second case “Simon Rifkind” is by far the creepiest with the young man’s home life being as unsettling as the story he is telling, his own house being scarier than the demon infested woods that his tale takes place in. The film generates the creeps with little blood or CGI and uses some nice spooky locations to add atmosphere. If the film stumbles a bit, it’s that the three stories seem a bit rushed and feel like they could have gone on longer. Also, the last act reveal/wrap-up is a bit disappointing compared to what has passed. After being rushed through the really spooky stories that could have used more attention, we get a reveal that has been done before and seems like a bit of a let-down after such a clever set-up. It evoked a “that’s all?” reaction instead of a “that’s fricken’ creepy” which it needed.

The small cast is solid. Co-writer/director Nyman was fine as Goodman, though he could have used a bit more presence. Paul Whitehouse is good as Tony Matthews, the working class man who has seen things he cannot explain or comprehend in our first case. Alex Lawther is positively creepy as the odd Simon Rifkind, who may be more unnerving than the idea he ran over an actual demon. Martin Freeman is good as Mike Priddle, a self centered business man haunted in his home, while his poor wife suffers an unusually grueling labor in a hospital. As for who plays Charles Cameron…you’ll have to watch to find out.

Overall, this was a spooky flick that only loses it’s grip in the final act when we get our big reveal. Star Nyman and his collaborator Jeremy Dyson deliver some spooky goods in their three cases, as well as, a clever set-up. Not able to end the flick on the same level of scary and clever is the only stumbling point the flick has. It’s not that the finale doesn’t work, it does. It’s just that we were expecting something more…unexpected. Still very much worth a look, as the three cases do deliver and we wish they had more attention spent on them than with our wraparound story.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 spooks.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: PYEWACKET (2017)

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PYEWACKET (2017)

Creepy supernatural thriller finds teen Leah (Nicole Muñoz) drawn into the occult after the death of her father. She and her mom (Laurie Holden) aren’t getting along, especially when her mother decides to sell the family house and move them out and away from Leah’s school and Goth friends. When at their new woods-set home, her mother lashes out at her during an argument and an angry Leah conducts an occult ritual evoking the dark spirit, Pyewacket, to kill her mom. Soon Leah learns the meaning of “be careful what you wish for” as something dark and evil has entered their home with malevolent intent.

This is a subtle and spooky as hell flick and certainly one of the best horrors of the year. Written and directed by Adam MacDonald (Backcountry) this is a chilling tale that shows that you don’t need jump scares or over-the-top gore to make an effective horror film. MacDonald bathes his film in atmosphere and uses his camera to evoke a pervading sense of dread, even in broad daylight. He creates an already tense situation as both Leah and her mom, are each handling the death of Leah’s dad in different ways and not very well. There is friction and while Leah turns to dark music and an interest in the occult, her mom wants to have a ‘fresh start’ away from anything connected to him. This leads to some harsh words in their remote new home and Leah to dabble in something she isn’t prepared to deal with. Soon there are dark shadows lurking about the house and a visit from Leah’s tough, Goth girlfriend, Janice (Hellion’s Chloe Rose) has the girl leaving the house a terrified mess. As creepy as it is thus far, MacDonald saves the best for last with a truly unnerving final act as Leah attempts to send back what she’s conjured and let’s just say the malevolent spirit has other plans. MacDonald doesn’t resort to hokey FX or overused tropes, he simply serves up some nerve wracking moments with simple skilled camera work and some wonderful emoting from leading lady Muñoz. MacDonald, as with Backcountry , also knows how to make woods look ominous which adds to the atmosphere. And while ultimately we know where this story is headed, it’s still a shocking and unsettling finale that perfectly punctuates a very creepy film.

The small cast is very effective. As stated, Nicole Muñoz is very good as the emotionally wounded Leah. She creates a likable yet, troubled young woman who tries to sate her grief with death related interests. The only person she should be able to turn to for support is the one she is having the most problems with. Once she performs the ritual and awakens something, she gives us a very scared young girl with nowhere to run. Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead) is excellent as her equally troubled mom. She lashes out at Leah one minute, for simply reminding her of her husband and tries to be there for her daughter the next. The two actresses work well together creating a very dysfunctional dynamic between the two that makes this flick work. Rounding out the small cast is Chloe Rose as her friend Janice who has a traumatic sleepover at Leah’s new home and Eric Osbourne as Aaron, a boy interested in Leah.

Adam MacDonald has gone back to basics and made a very spooky, unnerving, yet down to earth horror movie. He wisely makes his scares very grounded and the fact that they are not presented in a theatrical and over-the-top manner makes them more realistic and thus more frightening. His leading ladies work well together in creating a fractured and troubled relationship between the mother and daughter, based on two completely different methods of mourning. Add to that a young girl delving into dark forces she doesn’t completely understand and certainly can’t control and you have a supernatural bone chiller that is refreshingly driven on what really makes a true horror film work…fear. This one will be on my best of the year list for sure.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 balls of red yarn.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE LODGERS (2017)

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THE LODGERS (2017)

Creepy flick is set in 1920’s Ireland in an old mansion where twins Rachel (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Milner) preside alone after the suicide of their parents. There is something unnatural there with them, something that decrees that they must be in bed by midnight, never let in strangers and never leave the estate. But their trust fund has run out and Rachel starts to feel the desires of womanhood when handsome Sean (Eugene Simon) comes home from the war. Can Rachel escape the curse and her increasingly disturbed brother, or is there a worse fate in store for her?

Irish supernatural thriller is stylishly directed by Brian O’Malley (Let Us Prey) from a script by David Turpin. The film is loaded with atmosphere and is very creepy, especially when we get some last act details on what fate awaits the twins and some truths about their family’s past. It’s a methodically paced film and is more about the mood of dread and foreboding than physical horror, though there is a little bloodshed, too. On that level it works very well in giving us goosebumps as we watch Rachel try to escape this curse that claimed her parents and their parents and so on. If you are looking for body count or intense scares look elsewhere, as this is about a prevailing spookiness which director O’Malley provides. He has a really effective visual style and makes great use of the decrepit old house setting and some water based imagery for the supernatural elements. There is some really atmospheric cinematography by Richard Kendrick and an appropriately Gothic score credited to Stephen Shannon, Kevin Murphy and writer David Turpin. It’s a slow burn chiller, but if you go in expecting something more on a Crimson Peak level, it is very unsettling and spooky.

The cast was very effective as well. Charlotte Vega presents us with a sad young woman, who is determine not to share the fate of her parents and ancestors. She evokes the feeling of being trapped in an undeserved fate, yet also gives us the tinges of desire of a woman come of age. Bill Milner is very creepy as the deranged Edward. He embraces his cursed life completely and he can be very chilling as he tries to convince his twin to accept it, too. Rounding out the main cast is Eugene Simon as handsome WWI vet Sean. Sean is rejected by the townsfolk upon his return for fighting with the English. That combined with the loss of a leg, makes him a lonely and sympathetic character, who finds a kinship with Rachel aside from the physical attraction. It makes for an interesting triangle as Edward’s unnatural attachment to his sister evokes a growing jealousy.

This flick may not be for everyone, especially those looking for more visceral horror like in O’Malley’s Let Us Prey. It is a more Gothic thriller and thus relies on atmosphere and dark moods to tell it’s tale of supernatural horror. The performances help guide the tale of a family cursed and the director knows how to build tension and dread to go with his spooky visuals. Yes, it’s slow moving and with only a few moments of bloody action, but still a very disturbing and creepy film from Brian O’Malley.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 black birds.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE RITUAL (2017)

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THE RITUAL (2017)

Based on a book by Adam Nevill, this chiller finds four friends traveling deep into the Swedish wilderness on a hiking excursion while mourning the death of a fifth member of their group. Deep in the woods they find a supernatural entity presides there, one worshiped as a deity by the locals and who feeds on the mental…and physical…pain of it’s sacrifices…and anyone wondering into it’s territory qualifies as a sacrifice.

Film, directed by David Bruckner (the Amateur Night segment of V/H/S) from Joe Barton’s script, which is based on Nevill’s novel, evokes mixed feelings. On one hand it is basically The Blair Witch Project meets The Wicker Man (original version, of course) and thus is very familiar. On the other hand, Bruckner does conjure up some spooky sequences and the film has a very unsettling visual style, especially in the last act when it’s wendigo-like deity makes it’s appearance. There are scenes directly lifted from The Blair Witch Project with symbols found carved on trees, strange formations made from sticks and antlers and characters screaming in the distance as something unseen drags them away. There is a spooky cabin in the woods and even a witch. We do, however, also get some gory stuff with animals and people found gutted and hanging from trees and some very unsettling dream sequences, especially from lead Luke (Rafe Spall) who feels guilty over his friend’s death. It turns full blown into The Wicker Man in it’s last act, when the surviving hikers are taken to a village lost in time, where they are to be sacrificed to whatever lurks among the trees. Once the thing shows up, Bruckner gets some good effect from the spirit creature’s look and ferocity and the fight to escape it by the remaining characters. The movie is atmospheric and the small cast perform their clichéd roles well. There is a spooky score by Ben Lovett and some really effective cinematography from Andrew Shulkind to add to it’s overall effectiveness.

This film was a bit hard to rate as it is very effective in terms of it’s atmosphere, it’s spooky visuals and some effectively creepy moments from director Bruckner, but constantly reminds us of other movies. It does use the familiar elements to do it’s own thing, but also borrow heavily from some widely renown films. It’s definitely worth a look, but go in knowing you’ve seen a lot of it before. Also stars Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier and Sam Troughton as Luke’s three friends. Film is currently streaming on Netflix.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 deer.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE (2016)

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I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE (2016)

Sophomore flick from Osgood Perkins, shows the filmmaker has indeed mastered spooky atmosphere with this tale of home care nurse Lily (Ruth Wilson) moving in with ailing horror novelist Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss). As she cares for the woman, the easily scared Lily starts to believe that the house is more than just a home, but a direct inspiration as it appears one of Blum’s character’s, Polly (Lucy Boynton) was indeed murdered in the house…and her spirit may still be there.

While Perkins script presents a very thin story, the director loads it up with some really creepy atmosphere. Most of the film consists of Lily wandering about the house and seeing and hearing some very strange things as the film takes her on a journey of discovering that something happened in that house to inspire Blum’s most famous novel, The Woman Inside The Walls. Perkins accomplishes a lot with some very simple visuals and some very chilling moments as Lily discovers that Blum may have recounted an actually murder that took place in the house and relayed by the spirit of the victim herself, Polly. The story is far simpler than Perkins’ creepy The Blackcoat’s Daughter, but despite taking place solely in the house and mostly with just Lily, it still is quite unsettling at times. To say much more would be to spoil the effectiveness of this atmospheric tale. The equally atmospheric score for the film is once again by the director’s brother Elvis Perkins.

The minimal cast is quite good as it practically is a one woman show. Ruth Wilson creates a very meek and timid woman, possibly a bit eccentric, too and takes her on a supernatural quest of discovery as Lily finds that the house has a dark secret that may have inspired her charge’s most famous tale. As Blum, Paula Prentiss doesn’t have many scenes, but is effective at portraying a woman with dementia, who is only adding to Lily’s mystery with her words, that may be more than babbling. Bob Balaban has a small part as a man who manages Blum’s affairs, Erin Boyles plays Blum in flashbacks and Lucy Boynton effectively plays Polly in flashbacks and when Lily has visions of her.

The film may be of a simpler nature than Oz Perkins’ first flick, but this is an old fashioned haunted house movie done in what is becoming the writer/director’s signature spooky style. It’s loaded with chilling atmosphere and unsettling scenes and while it is very economical in terms of story, it is still effective in giving chills for those patient enough to go with it’s slow burn.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 pretty things that live in the house.

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM (2016)

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THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM (2016)

The Disappointments Room is exactly that. Kate Beckinsale stars as architect, wife and mother, Dana, who is moving into a rural country home with her family. Exploring her new house she finds it has a hidden locked room in the attic. Research reveals it’s a disappointments room…a room where well-to-do families hid deformed or handicapped children, to live out their lives in secret without ’embarrassing’ their families. Dana, having lost one of her own children, is especially disturbed by this and starts to see and be haunted by visions and apparitions of a past family and their deformed daughter. Is she just experiencing delusions caused by grief over the accidental death of her baby daughter, or is she really being haunted?

Directed by D.J. Caruso (Disturbia), from a script by he and Wentworth Miller, this is an incredibly generic ghost story. All the well-worn clichés are present, such as Dana being the only one who sees these apparitions and the husband (Mel Raido) leaving mid-haunting to go away for a few days with the haunted wife now home alone with her son (Duncan Joiner). Beckinsale really tries hard here to give her emotionally strained mom some depth, but the incredibly bland script doesn’t give her much to work with. Raido’s husband is the typical doubter who believes it’s all in his wife’s head and there is the stereotypical young, hunky handyman (Lucas Till) to hit on Beckinsale’s hot mom, in a sub-plot that goes nowhere. Caruso directs competently, but achieves only a few spooky moments and holds our interest only by a thread. Bland and very familiar.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: A DARK SONG (2016)

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A DARK SONG (2016)

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

Irish horror presents the story of the grieving Sophia (Catherine Walker) who has hired occult expert Joseph (Steve Oram) to perform a series of dark rituals so that she may speak with her dead son. The rituals are grueling and take an emotional toll on both participants. Nothing will prepare them, however, for what they will meet when the rituals start to take effect.

Written and directed by Liam Gavin this is a tense and atmospheric chiller that presents black magic rituals with a far more grounded and realistic approach than the usual theatrics. Gavin focuses mainly on his two leads and adds to the tension by having them become more and more confrontational as impatient Sophia doesn’t feel the rituals are working and Joseph doesn’t feel Sophia has been honest about her intent. It’s an interesting character study under emotional and supernatural duress as Joseph becomes more abusive to keep Sophia following the procedures and Sophia becomes more and more desperate to accomplish her goals. There are also some very spooky moments as signs appear that the barriers between worlds are coming down and thus otherworldly things are coming in. This leads to a last act which can be outright scary at times and surprisingly sentimental at others. Gavin has a very good visual eye, via Cathal Watters’ cinematography and uses the old house setting to maximum effect. There is also a really haunting score by Ray Harman, that rivals last years The Witch score by Mark Korven. If there is anything that holds the film back a bit is that the middle section drags somewhat, as the film is already moderately paced. The antagonistic relationship between Joseph and Sophia also starts to wear out it’s welcome as Joseph’s methods and demeanor towards Sophia start to become borderline cruel. Just at the point where one starts to feel the film’s grip slipping, the walls come down and the things that go bump in the night come knocking. The last act does deliver the goods and a few unexpected surprises as well.

As for the minimal cast, both leads are very good. Walker plays a grieving and desperate woman quite skillfully. We sympathize with Sophia even if she is dabbling in some very dark arts to see her child one last time. She has a few secrets and over the course of the film, Walker does strong emotional work revealing them. Steve Oram is equally solid as Joseph. He can be a cruel and mean person when he feels Sophia is straying off the path, but Oram and Gavin’s script also give glimpses to a more likable person under the surface. He is driven but human and he is never portrayed as a bad guy. Good work by both cast members.

Overall, I liked A Dark Song and was especially intrigued by it’s more realistic approach to dark magic rituals. There are some genuinely scary scenes and the film is always atmospheric. If the film has any flaws, it’s that the bickering and abusive behavior between Sophia and Joseph starts to wear on one after awhile and the middle of the film, where much of this occurs, drags a bit before the film’s spooky last act kicks in. There is an intensity about the film and some surprising sentimentality, too, though the methodical pace might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Maybe it doesn’t quite live up to early word and I didn’t love it as much as I’d have liked, but it’s a starkly original take on occult thrillers and certainly worth a spooky look.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 candles.

 

 

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BARE BONES: PERSONAL SHOPPER (2016)

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PERSONAL SHOPPER (2016)

French thriller tells the story of Maureen (Kristen Stewart) who is a personal shopper for bitchy celebrity Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten) …and a paranormal medium. She’s also in Paris to try to make contact with the spirit of her twin brother, who recently died in his home there. On top of all that, she is receiving ominous texts from an unknown source who seems to be stalking her. Still with me?

Despite not knowing what it wants to be about, the film is well directed by Olivier Assayas from his own script. It manages to provide some very spooky moments when dealing with the paranormal issues and some taunt suspense when dealing with the ominous texts Maureen keeps receiving from the unknown sender. The personal shopper drama is also well done though the least interesting part of the film. Assayas also gets good work out of Kristen Stewart whose disassociated style of acting works perfectly for the emotionally troubled Maureen. A few of the supernatural moments come close to tipping over into silly and the author of the mysterious texts wasn’t hard to figure out, but somehow despite, the multiple narrative, Personal Shopper does remain intriguing and sometimes very effective. Worth a look for something a bit offbeat.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DIG TWO GRAVES (2014)

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DIG TWO GRAVES (2014)

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

Not really a horror film, but more like a rural mystery/thriller with a thin layer of the supernatural. The film takes place in a community in the Illinois mountains in 1977 and finds young Jake (Samantha Isler) mourning the loss of her brother Sean (Ben Schneider), who drowned while diving into a local quarry. A tragic event for which Jake feels guilty. Three mysterious men appear to Jake and tell her that they have the power to bring Sean back, but someone must take his place, namely her classmate Willie (Gabriel Cain). Unknown to the girl, the motivations of these men involve Jake’s sheriff grandfather (Ted Levine) and a possible quest for revenge that’s taken 30 years to unfold.

This is an impressive debut from Hunter Adams from a script by he and Jeremy Phillips, that is loaded with atmosphere. The film plays like a dark fable as we start out with a glimpse of something awful taking place in 1947 then are introduced to Jake thirty years later as she loses her only sibling. From then on we meet the mysterious Wyeth (Troy Ruptash) and his two brothers, who claim to have the power to bring Sean back…but at a price. As we progress forward with Jake’s moral dilemma, Adams also takes us back thirty years with flashback’s told through the eyes of her grandfather Sheriff Waterhouse (Levine) to slowly, over the course of the film, reveal what got us to this point and how all the dots connect. It’s all done with the aura of  dark magic and something slightly supernatural going on and in just the right doses to keep us on edge, but not tip into full blown horror. The film stays somewhat grounded in reality which makes the moments that hint of something otherworldly all the more unnerving. The film sometimes evoked the rural set Winter’s Bone, but with a hint of dark fantasy that keeps us uneasy throughout. It takes till the very last scenes for all the pieces to come together and the climax will stay with you after the film is over.

Adams also gets very good work from his cast, especially his two leads. Veteran Ted (Silence Of The Lambs) Levine is very strong as Jake’s grandfather Sheriff Waterhouse and really creates an effective portrayal of a good man haunted by past events and wanting to protect his granddaughter from them. Samantha Isler gives a powerful performance as a young teen wanting to correct something she feels is her fault, but tormented by the moral implications of it’s solution. The young actress is a talent to keep an eye on. There is also Troy Ruptash as the creepy Wyeth. Ruptash gives the man a sense of power and menace with an aura of someone with dark powers beyond being just potentially lethal. Rounding out is Danny Goldring as former Sheriff Procter. Procter is a man with skeletons in his closet, skeleton’s he might kill to keep hidden and Goldring gives him that sense of a man desperate to keep something hidden.

This was an atmospheric thriller with a constant feeling of foreboding and an undercurrent of dark magic and possibly the supernatural. It’s a slow burn mystery that unravels at a deliberate pace and takes you on a journey both forward and backward in time to tell us it’s complete story. It has some very strong guidance from it’s first time director and excellent work from a good cast to punctuate the script and direction. The film was first released at film festivals in 2014 and finally has gotten a limited release and the attention it deserves thanks to Executive Producer Larry Fessenden! Highly recommended!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 rattlesnakes

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BARE BONES: LAVENDER

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LAVENDER (2016)

Flick is a mystery thriller with a supernatural element as young wife and mother, Jane (Abbie Cornish) has been struggling all her life to remember the events from her childhood that took the lives of her parents and sister. A car accident gives her temporary amnesia and as her memories return, so she starts to remember things from that night 25 years ago. But something or someone is trying to help coax her memories back and whatever or whoever it is, it draws her to her childhood home for a confrontation with that dark event her mind has chosen to forget.

Film is stylishly directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly from a script by he and Colin Frizzell. It presents us with hints of what happened in it’s opening and then takes us 25 years into the present where Jane tries to remember the occurrence and it takes another traumatic event to start shaking the memories loose. As Jane begins her journey with her family in tow, we go along with her as she slowly puts the puzzle pieces together. There is also a bit of a supernatural twist, as though there is some force leading her in the directions she needs to go. It adds a spooky element to the film that works in it’s favor and keeps the audience a bit unsettled…in a good way. A strong performance by Cornish helps us like and root for Jane, too, even when we suspect she may have been somehow involved in the deaths. The supporting cast, Including Justin Long and Dermot Mulroney as her uncle, help keep the film involving as does the rural farm setting add atmosphere. The plot and resolution may not be entirely original, but it is engrossing and a bit spooky, too.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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