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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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006)

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THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006)

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

The original The Hills Have Eyes (1977) is not among my favorite Wes Craven films, but it certainly is an enjoyable, and now a touch nostalgic, survivalist horror that pitted a vacationing family against a clan of mutant cannibals in the middle of the desert. This remake basically follows the same story, but with a larger budget and cranking the intensity and brutality up to 11 by handing the writing/directing reigns to Haute Tension writer/director Alexandre Aja.

The screenplay is credited to Aja and frequent collaborator Grégory Levasseur, but it follows Craven’s original film very closely except it focuses heavier on the vicious clan being the genetic mutation result of atomic testing decades earlier and obviously, cranks up the violence and intensity which is Aja’s style. The story still follows the family of ex-cop Bob Carter (Ted Levine) who is heading out to California with his wife Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan), daughters Lynn (Vinessa Shaw) and Brenda (Emilie de Ravin), son Bobby (Dan Byrd), Lynn’s meek husband Doug (Aaron Stanford) and their infant daughter (Maisie Camilleri Preziosi). They are led astray by a gas station attendant (Tom Bower) who, unbeknownst to them, is in league with a vicious clan of cannibalistic mutants led by patriarch Jupiter (Billy Drago). Soon they find themselves stranded and their car disabled and under attack by a hungry and brutal clan that wants them all for dinner. Will this family perish in the middle of nowhere, or will they find it within themselves to meet brutal violence with brutal violence?

We all know the answer to that question and Alexandre Aja has a gory, brutal blast not only putting this average American family through a vicious ringer, but administering payback with equally violent, blood-spattering efficiency. The film is far more intense than the moderately placed original and it’s larger budget enables it to really crank up the gruesome carnage which reaches a fever pitch in the blood soaked last act. The effects by K.N.B. Effects are very well executed and now the cannibalistic clan look far more like the mutant creatures they are than the original ‘dirty hobo’ look of the 1977 version. The Craven film had some violent moments, but Aja plays it very hard-core and his backwoods mutants are far more threatening and the carnage on both sides far more graphic and with more impact. This film is a really rough ride and has a far darker edge than the original, which was quite brutal in it’s own right back in it’s time, but also had some unsettling humorous moments as well. Aja’s visual eye combined with Maxime Alexandre cinematography give the film a gritty and grungy look that serves to make one uncomfortable even when nothing is going on and when you add in the pulse pounding score from Tomandandy and François-Eudes Chanfrault, you have one intense and brutal 106 minutes that expands and improves on an original that is, in itself, considered a cult classic.

The cast all do well and play their parts very effectively from Levine’s macho ex-cop to Stanford’s mild mannered yuppie phone salesman, who slowly transforms into a man who will do anything to protect his own. Ravin and Byrd also gives strong performances as the frightened teen siblings who find not only the will to survive, but the ability to kill to do so. Drago and company all give us some truly frightening and detestable villains though, none really stand out and make an impression like fan legend Michael Berryman did in the original film that made him a horror icon. Overall, a good cast with solid performances that help add to the film’s effectiveness.

I really like this movie, if ‘like’ is the proper word to use in reference to such a brutally intense blood-bath that Aja transforms Craven’s original film into. It’s got some nail-biting action, some really intense gore, and characters that we like enough to not want to see harmed…and some we want to see get it real good! It’s one of the few remakes that improves upon the original and stands on it’s own as a horror achievement. A really good and really brutally effective horror that honors the original film it’s based on, yet makes it’s own statement. A really good horror.

3 and 1/2 axes.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: BANSHEE CHAPTER (2013)

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BANSHEE CHAPTER (2013)

Banshee Chapter is writer/director Blair Erickson’s blend of real life stories of government drug testing on human subjects in the 70s and a touch of H.P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond, which the film even openly references. The flick centers on pretty young journalist Anne Roland (Katia Winter) who is looking into the disappearance of both her good friend James (Michael McMillian) and an associate of his, Renny (Alex Gianopoulos). James was investigating secret experiments conducted by the government using a compound called DMT-19 on innocent subjects during the 70s while Renny documented. James was last seen trying some DMT-19 on himself, that he got from an unknown source, and soon after he vanished, with Renny’s footage revealing that something very strange went on in the house before his disappearance. A trail, which includes bizarre and unidentifiable radio transmissions, leads her to Hunter S. Thompson-like author Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine) who was James’ “source” and along with Blackburn she learns that DMT-19 was more then just an experimental drug, it turned the minds of those who took it into receivers for something very unworldly. And the more she learns the horrifying truths behind this drug and it’s uses, the more she may come face to face with a nightmare not of this Earth. Simply put, despite some familiar trappings, this is a very spooky little flick. Erickson takes his X-Files-ish conspiracy/horror story and imbues it with some very creepy scenes and a very consistent and unsettling atmosphere. He knows how to create tension and scares with his scene set-ups… he really milks the whole ‘person in the dark with a flashlight’ thing and very well at that… and rarely falls back on jump scares even though he uses a lot of POV shots. Once Anne is knee deep in her investigation, we constantly are on guard as we are never sure when or from where our threats may come or who she can trust. He sets us up with a mystery in which we are let in on the details very slowly so, we are never sure what to expect. And while I will admit, I would liked to have known a little more about the what’s and whys of the entities that DMT-19 users evoke, I’d be lying if I told you that by ending his tale with a little mystery still left, Erickson doesn’t keep you thinking and maybe looking over your shoulder a bit. Sometimes not being spoon-fed all the answers gives a film more staying power and this is the case here. The cast also do very well with the film being carried by Winter and Silence Of The Lambs vet Levine who give nice characterization to the smug (at first) journalist and drug addled rebel writer respectively. The little flick isn’t perfect. When all is said and done the story elements have been used quite often in the horror and sci-fi genres especially post Mulder and Scully. It takes a little while to warm up to Winter’s Anne and I wasn’t completely sold that she would dive so readily into this investigation alone, especially since two people have already disappeared without explanation and what little evidence she’s seen is pretty unnerving. Or that despite being in a house filled with guns, which Anne makes a point to mention to Blackburn, no one grabs one while the author’s home is under siege. But, overall, even though we have seen the whole government conspiracy, alien cover-up thing before and have witnessed tales of opening portals to and from our world many times, Erickson uses these familiar elements very well to craft a very creepy and unsettling film. Maybe not an original movie but, a very spooky and unsettling one for sure. Recommended.

3 inquisitive reporters who should have called Mulder and Scully in on this one!

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