HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016)

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OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016)

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

Flick is a prequel to the 2014 Ouija, a much criticized, but extremely successful teen centric horror. New chapter takes us back to 1967 and tells the story of Doris Zander (Lulu Wilson) who was the malevolent entity in the first installment. The story opens with pretty widow Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) who is trying to support her two daughters, nine year-old Doris and teen Lina (Annalise Basso), as a fraudulent fortune teller. Upon hearing Lina used a Ouija board at a party, Alice decides to add one to her act. This brings a presence into the house that fixates on Doris and claims to be her father. As they use the board more and more and Doris’ behavior starts to change, it appears something malevolent has entered their home…and Doris.

Origin of Evil is directed by Mike (Absentia, HushOculus) Flanagan from a script he co-wrote with Oculus co-writer Jeff Howard. While it is an improvement over the silly but amusing original, it is Flanagan’s most routine and familiar movie yet. Perhaps having to follow-up an established property without alienating it’s core audience put restrictions on just how much the usually inventive writer/director could do with it, but aside from a few interesting touches, we get a story that is extremely familiar with an evil entity entering a home and targeting a child. The use of Mrs. Zander as a phony medium does work well and there was some nice depth to the characters, which is one of Flanagan’s strengths. It’s just that the core story has been done before and the film rarely gets scary because it’s all so familiar. Flanagan does deliver some spooky moments, but far fewer than in his previous films, which is surprising as spooky is something he does well. It’s the character drama that is more involving than the supernatural elements, which at least keeps our attention, if not slightly disappoints those looking for something with a far steadier scare factor for the Halloween season which it was released. His visual style is strong as always, but here he relies a bit too much on tired CGI creations that resemble every other PG-13 horror film manifestation thrown at teenagers today. It’s not a bad movie, just far too ‘been there, done that’ for a director who got our attention with some very original takes on his supernatural tales.

As with previous Flanagan flicks he gets strong work out of his cast. He is a director that works well with actors. Little Lulu Wilson is really good as Doris. She can be really creepy at times and very sweet and precocious at others. She is asked to handle a lot of strong material for a kid and does so very well. Elizabeth Reaser is solid as a loving mother just trying to provide for her daughters. She’s not trying to scam people, but sees her services as a way to help those suffering from loss. When Doris’ ouija use seems to be genuine, she jumps at the chance to do some real good. Annalise Basso is also very good as Doris’ caring teenage sister. She plays the character that was played by the incomparable Lin Shaye in the original and we see the journey that got her to that point and essayed very well by the young actress. There is also E.T.’s Henry Thomas all grown up and playing a widowed priest who is the principal at the girls’ Catholic school and has an interest in Alice. He obviously gets involved when it appears there is something sinister going on. The cast also features a small appearance in the opening sequence played by Hush star and co-writer Kate Siegal, who is also Mrs. Flanagan. A good cast that helps keep the flick interesting and our attention.

This wasn’t a bad flick just a surprisingly familiar one coming from Flanagan who has been very innovative with his use of traditional story elements, like in Hush. This movie could have used some of that thriller’s intensity as the scare level was fairly low and despite a more mature story than the first installment, we got a lot of elements that we have seen often and recently. Maybe picking up someone else’s franchise didn’t fit Flanagan all that well, or possibly having to follow up a previous film he wasn’t involved in, handcuffed him a bit. It passed the time, had a few spooky moments and was an improvement over it’s 2014 predecessor, but coming from one of the brightest new director’s to hit the genre in some time, it was a little bit of a disappointment.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) planchettes as the solid cast earns some extra points.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE QUIET ONES (2014)

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THE QUIET ONES (2014)

What horror fan isn’t happy that Hammer is back in business making horror flicks and they seem to, so far, be trying to deliver them in that old fashioned gothic horror style they are famous for. The latest flick from the legendary studio is The Quiet Ones a supernatural chiller about a young woman named Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) who, upon appearance, is possessed by an angry spirit named Evey. But, her doctor, a Professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) believes the supernatural is simply manifestations of an unbalanced mind and intends to use Jane in experiments to prove that Evey is a manifestation of Jane’s own psychosis… or so he thinks. He brings along students Brian (Sam Claflin), Harry (Rory Fleck-Byren) and Kristina (Erin Richards) to assist and document his experiments in a secluded old house after being thrown off campus for his unconventional methods. As the experiments probe deeper and Brian documents with his camera, Professor Coupland may have to face some horrifying facts about the real truth of what is psychological and what is supernatural.

The Quiet Ones is an interesting supernatural thriller to a degree and has some spooky moments but, doesn’t really get scary and seems to get a little too theatrical in it’s final act for it’s own good. The film is set in the mid 70s and supposedly based on real experiments but, the film, directed with some atmosphere by John Pogue, never really pulls us into Jane’s torment or really makes good use of it’s story. Four writers are credited and maybe that’s why it seems to be a supernatural soup that someone keeps throwing ingredients into in the form of plot twists that aren’t all too surprising and sudden jolts of horror elements we’ve all seen before such as CGI vomited entities, popping light bulbs and boiling baths.Then, there is various human melodrama such as, is Brian falling for Jane, is Coupland shagging a student and what is his obsession with Jane anyway? None of the answers to these questions is either all too unexpected and some ultimately don’t really have much baring on the plot. It’s no surprise that we start to see Coupland as more Frankenstein than Freud and his motivations are quite cliche’ as these flicks go. It’s not quite as bad as it sounds. It can be entertaining at times and it’s never dull. It also has some spooky moments but, it’s never innovational or rises about the traditional cliche’s to tell it’s tale. Even the use of Brian’s film footage to give us a camera POV throughout seems convoluted and doesn’t really serve much purpose other than to try to add a little found footage element to the film. And that’s what brings this fairly well-acted and atmospheric chiller down, is that we’ve seen it all before and it comes to a predictable and familiar conclusion which is sad that none of the four writers could add a little innovation or originality even with it’s fact-based premise.

Pogue’s cast all are fine and do good work. Cooke makes a very sympathetic Jane but, can also be creepy when she needs to be. We like Jane and feel sorry for her as we’re not sure if Coupland’s experiments are doing more harm than good. As Coupland, Harris is effective as a man on the border between dedicated professor and mad scientist. Obviously he has personal reasons for his obsession and Harris convey’s to us that something is behind the man’s experiments before the plot reveals it. Sam Claflin makes a noble and likable hero in Brian and Richards and Fleck-Byren are adequate in their roles, though they don’t seem to add up to much when all is said and done.

So, in conclusion, The Quiet Ones is a moderately entertaining tale that doesn’t really make interesting enough use of it’s story and chooses to stay familiar and cliche’ despite the efforts of four writers working on it’s supposedly fact-based script. It has some effective atmosphere and performances and achieves some spooky moments but, never goes anywhere all that interesting with it’s story elements. I was never bored by watching it, but, also found very little of it memorable except for a couple of poor CGI effects that stuck out very badly in a film that seemed to use in-camera effects otherwise. Not a total loss but, very disappointing considering the directions it chose to go with it’s premise are ones already well traveled in the genre.

2 and 1/2 haunted heroines.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE EVIL (1978)

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THE EVIL (1978)

This 1978 haunted house flick, released by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, spooked me quite a bit as a kid. And upon a recent revisit, I still found it to be a fun, nostalgic good time, but obviously for different reasons. It may be tame and kind of silly by today’s standards, but as 70s B-movie horror entertainment, it’s delightfully effective. The film opens with drunk caretaker Sam (Ed Bakey) grumbling about having to clean up the large old house he now enters. He hears children laughing once inside and follows the sounds into the basement to the cold, dead furnace…which promptly blazes to life and sets him on fire. Creepy old house now has our attention! We soon find the large old house is being renovated by psychologist, C.J. Arnold (Richard Crenna) as a clinic, along with his doctor wife Caroline (Joanna Pettet). They are getting help from volunteers and friends who are going to work and live there over the summer till it is ready to open. Despite some spooky occurrences during the walk-through and local tales that the house and grounds are haunted, they move in anyway and begin work. And as soon as they do, the weirdness begins such as apparitions, strange noises, moving objects and a seemingly friendly pet dog who turns vicious. As a man of science, C.J. refuses to believe there is anything supernatural going on, even when his wife finds a diary that warns of an ancient doorway to evil within the house, that has been sealed and must never be opened. So, of course, when C.J. finds a stone door in the cellar floor sealed by a cross…he removes the cross and opens it. To say all hell breaks loose is far more appropriate than you think, as now the house is sealed by some horrible force and the trapped guests are being tormented and murdered one by one in gruesome ways. Will they find a way to escape with their lives?…and their souls?

Written and directed by Gus Trikonis (Moonshine County Express), The Evil has everything you could want from a 70s B-Movie haunted house flick. There’s cheesy apparitions with dire warnings, levitations, diabolical echoing laughter, an endless thunderstorm, possessions, horrible deaths and even a showdown with Old Scratch (Victor Buono) himself. What more could you want to go along with a six pack of your favorite poison on a Saturday night?  Trikonis’ style is pretty straightforward and he takes his material seriously, but he is definitely having fun with his supernatural story, as it’s elements are presented with just the right touch of theatricality and flair. The cheesy dialog and simple FX work all the better because, it is presented sincerely and not made a joke of. It’s not the intense, visceral horror of today’s standards…though there are some violent moments that are still effective…but the film has it’s devious heart in the right place and I appreciate the daring of having our atheist hero actually come face to face with the Prince Of Darkness himself for a James Bond-ish hero vs. villain Tête-à-Tête at the film’s climax. It works better then you think, especially due to some witty dialog and Buono’s malice drenched performance that goes just over-the-top enough without becoming camp.

The rest of the cast take their parts seriously, too, with Crenna giving us a man of science who is resisting the notion that the supernatural things he’s disbelieved all his life may be far too real. And to survive, he may have to turn to the God, whose existence he has always denied. Pettet gives us a solid heroine in his wife and as she’s a doctor, too, she is strong-willed and a fighter, though far more receptive to what she is experiencing than her husband. The supporting cast, including 70s mainstays Andrew Prine and Cassie Yates, all do well in creating likable people out of characters who all face possible doom in the grasp of an ancient evil right out of a bedtime story. It’s treating the material with respect and playing it straight by cast and crew that makes this film so much fun. If it were played for laughs, then we as the audience would appreciate it much less. Our entertainment comes from the fact that it’s all being presented to us in a serious manner, whether it be the house’s former tenant possessing Caroline right before C.J.’s eyes, or his arguing there must be a scientific explanation for a house filled with diabolical laughter locking you and your friends inside. Sure doc…it’s the humidity.

It all comes down to a really entertaining 70s B-Movie horror that, while it may not be perfect and may not scare like it did back in it’s day, still thoroughly entertains for much different reasons and that, is still entertainment after all. A flick made unintentionally campy by the passage of time, but still not without some very effective moments. A prime example of fun, nostalgic 70s B-Movie horror!

Rated 3 (out of 4) delightfully devilish Buonos.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: ODD THOMAS (2013)

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ODD THOMAS (2013)

Even someone like me who has been watching movies for almost five decades and can be very cynical about them at times can be pleasantly surprised occasionally by a movie I wasn’t expecting much from. Odd Thomas is one of those pleasant surprises. Based on a book of the same name and the following series of novels by Dean Koontz, Stephen Sommers’ adaptation tells the story of Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) an eccentric young fellow who lives in Pico Mundo, a small town in California, and has a very unique talent. He is a clairvoyant who not only sees dead people, but other unearthly spirits as well. Odd Thomas…his real name…uses his special gifts to not only bring justice to those whose deaths are caused by foul play, but to thwart evil in general whenever it rears it’s ugly head. He has a beautiful, loving girlfriend, Stormy (Addison Timlin) who understands his powers and is very supportive and acts as a sidekick. He also has a good friend in the local police chief (Willem Dafoe) who is grateful to Thomas’ ability to find the guilty and prevent heinous acts before they are committed. But there is an evil brewing in Pico Mundo signaled by the appearance of a strange man (Shuler Hensley) surrounded by demons and a rash of nightmares suffered by Odd, and some close to him, that foretell of a coming doom…a doom that even Odd Thomas may not be able to stop. But Odd is going to try, even if it costs him his life.

Despite being a far smaller film than Mummy and G.I. Joe director Stephen Sommers is used to, he brings his creative energy and fine-tunes his over-the-top style to give Odd Thomas a fast paced and eccentric tone that perfectly fits the material. He also creates some very creepy moments with his visual eye and crafts some very tense and suspenseful sequences, especially in the nail-biting last act. But what really made Odd Thomas a special treat for me was the combination of Sommers’ witty script banter and the wonderful work from his cast, especially lead Anton Yelchin. Yelchin creates a very likable hero who is saddled with a great burden and yet, not only uses it to do good and defeat evil, but is actually happy to do so. The banter between he and adorable leading lady Addison Timlin really creates a delightful character dynamic between the two and totally makes the relationship between this strange, yet noble, young man and his spunky and fiery girlfriend, work. It’s very effective and makes you really care about both of them. The same goes when either character is onscreen with Dafoe. The dynamic between the three characters is a delight to watch and really is what makes an already good supernatural suspense thriller even more enjoyable. Timlin and the veteran Dafoe shine in their parts and are great support for what is Yelchin’s show, one he carries to perfection. Shuler Hensley is also creepy and unsettling as “Fungus Bob”…Odd’s name for the man who triggers the events of the film…but he is just the tip of the iceberg and I will say no more as the less you know going in, the better it draws you into Odd’s attempt to uncover the diabolical plot in the making.

Odd Thomas is an odd and off-beat but very effective film from a writer/director usually more at home with bigger, more comic book-style stories. But here he shows he can also take things down a few notches and gives us some chills and entertainment on a smaller and more intimate scale. He can also gives us some very endearing and three dimensional characters to go with his story. And this book-based story of evil, both supernatural and human created, and the young man who stands in it’s way, is very entertaining if anything. A really fun and very plesant surprise. Shame this flick is getting dumped unceremoniously onto home media when so much junk gets a theatrical release.

Check out my review of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas book series HERE.

3 and 1/2 baseball bats.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE PACT (2012)

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THE PACT (2012)

The Pact is an effective and, at times, very creepy, supernatural mystery chiller that achieves a lot of atmosphere on it’s small budget. Flick tells the story of Annie (Caity Lotz) who arrives at her recently deceased mother’s house to meet her sister, Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) for the funeral. But Nicole is missing and soon strange things start happening in the house. Annie begins to have strange dreams and there seems to be a supernatural presence there with her. As it increasingly tries to get her attention, Annie begins to find clues about their mother, a mysterious woman and a serial killer case from decades before. What does it all mean and what does this supernatural presence want from her?

To say anymore would spoil an entertaining little chiller as the film takes us along with Annie on the path to finding the truth. While not perfect, The Pact is very effective at times and actually provides us with a nice mystery to go along with the things that go bump in the night. The atmosphere of dread is well maintained by writer/director Nicholas McCarthy and the cast, including genre vet Casper Van Dien as a grizzled veteran cop, all do well with the material. There are some very spooky sequences and some good scares and it all leads to a tense and suspenseful last act. The FX appear refreshingly all in camera and work well, only a few dragging effects get overused a bit by the end and their effectiveness is also diluted since we’ve seen them used a lot lately with the Paranormal Activity series.

An enjoyable little horror/mystery from Nicholas McCarthy. A sequel has been announced though, disappointingly, McCarthy doesn’t seem involved, but this filmmaker to watch is coming out with a new horror called At the Devil’s Door starring Glee’s Naya Rivera later this year.

A solid 3 spooks!

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