HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: RABID (2019)

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RABID (2019)

The Soska Sisters are back in the director’s chair after a four year absence and this time it’s a remake of David Croneneberg’s classic 1977 horror Rabid. Update finds fashion designer Rose (Laura Vandervoot) suffering an accident on her way home from a party. Her face is badly damaged and she has received severe injuries. Dr. William Burroughs (Ted Atherton) promises to heal her wounds at his clinic with an experimental stem cell treatment. It works, but there are a few disturbing side effects. Rose not only has some vivid nightmares, but the mild mannered vegetarian also starts to crave blood and meat, not to mention show violent tendencies. Even worse, any human she bites or scratches develops a mutant strain of rabies and become increasingly crazed and violent. As an epidemic spreads throughout the city, Rose tries to find out who…or what…she’s become.

Aside from directing, Jen and Sylivia Soska have written the script along with John Serge. They’ve updated the story well and have done a good job staying faithful to Cronenberg’s basic film, while taking it in their own direction, most notably in the last act. It’s one of the better remakes in a remake heavy era, one that maintains respect for the source. The film can be quite gruesome at times and there are some very disturbing moments. The FX are well done, especially in depicting Rose’s injuries and during the earlier operating sequences. The violence can be brutal, but is used sparingly, so it has impact when it comes. The last act does take things in an interesting direction, but also pays homage to Cronenberg’s penchant for body horror, while adding a Soska spin to the original story. Rabid accomplishes a lot on what appears to be a modest budget, especially when the disease spreads and the film has a strong visual style to portray it’s horrors. Also making it work very well is having a likable leading lady and sympathizing with Rose, not seeing her as a villain, is important to the story’s success. She’s never portrayed as a monster, even if she starts to believe she is one. The film is, overall, chilling and and disturbing and modernizes a forty year-old premise without losing it’s essence.

The Soska’s have a solid cast. Laura Vandervoot is really good as Rose. At first she is a meek and mild mannered woman in a cutthroat industry. After her treatment, she gains her confidence and begins wowing her prima donna boss Gunter with her work. As the side effects progress, Vandervoot gives us a very troubled and confused woman, as well as a vicious predator. We like her and have empathy for her, even when she’s on the attack. As the before mentioned Gunter, Mackenzie Gray delivers the designer exactly as one would expect someone like him to behave. He’s not a villain, just extremely demanding and not above humiliating those who he feels failed him. Ted Atherton is good as Dr. William Burroughs. He doesn’t really turn into a true villain till the last act, but at first seems like a man legitimately wanting to help Rose and provide advancements in medicine. When he reveals his inner Frankenstein, Atherton is a solid mad scientist and his villainous turn keeps any blame off the tragic Rose, who needs to remain sympathetic. Rounding out is Hanneke Talbot as Rose’s friend and one of the firm’s models and Ben Hollingsworth as a fashion photographer who has a personal interest in Rose. The Soska’s are wrestling fans, so guest appearances by former WWE Superstars Phil “CM Punk” Brooks and A.J. “A.J. Lee” Mendez are no surprise, nor is a cameo from the Twisted Twins themselves.

Rabid may not be a classic in itself, but does successfully put a contemporary spin on one. It’s good to see the Soska’s back in the director’s chair (chairs?) and back in horror, as their last film Vendetta was a violent prison/revenge drama that didn’t quite feel like a right fit for the duo. Their take on Cronenberg’s classic pays proper homage and respect, but also updates the story and does a few new things with it. It’s not quite as starkly original as their American Mary, but is still a gory, disturbing thriller that proves The Soska’s are here to stay.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) raw steaks.

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: VENDETTA (2015)

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VENDETTA (2015)

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

Vendetta is an action/revenge drama and is the second collaboration between WWE Studios and The Soska Sisters (American Mary, See No Evil 2). The story has celebrated Chicago cop Mason Danvers (Dean Cain) finally taking down the crime syndicate duo of Victor (Paul “The Big Show” Wight) and Griffen (Aleks Paunovic) Abbott. Three months later, an important witness vanishes and so does the case against The Abbott Brothers. Victor wastes no time and shows up at Danver’s house and murders the cop’s pregnant wife (Kyra Zagorsky) before the detective and police arrive and arrests him. A distraught Mason then tracks down Griffen Abbott and kills him in cold blood. The revenge minded cop is now sent to the Stonewall Correctional Facility…the same prison that is now home to Victor Abbott…and sets on a path to vengeance.

The Soska Sisters directing duo are two of the more original filmmakers around right now, as is their American Mary one of the most original horror flicks in quite some time. All the more disappointing that they chose such a routine action/revenge flick as their latest project. Written by Justin Shady it is a very straightforward prison-set story of vengeance and gives the Soska Sisters little opportunity to be…well, The Soska Sisters. The directors keep the film moving at a nice click. It’s only twenty minutes before Danvers is in prison and the hi-jinx between he and crime lord Abbott begin. Once behind the prison walls, though, it becomes a series of by-the-numbers fight, beating and murder scenes that start to grow a bit tiresome, when mixed with the been-there-done-that drama in between. As we move towards the eventual showdown, which is also a bit of a letdown, too, considering the build-up, we get very little we haven’t seen before in this type of flick. We also get a very predictable sub-plot about Abbott’s real boss and even that is revealed far too soon to give it real impact and the whole bit about Danvers and his wife trying to conceive…and succeeding right before she’s killed…is beyond cliché. Add to it that the film gets wrapped up very conveniently and we have a movie that is a far cry from what we enjoy watching the Soska’s do. It’s technically well-made and was never boring, but never felt like a Soska Sisters film. There was none of the dark humor and off-the-wall uniqueness that made American Mary such an original film.

As for the cast, I enjoyed watching Dean Cain as a bad-ass. Bulked up and with some facial hair covering his boyish good looks, he surprisingly made a very solid tough guy. WWE Superstar The Big Show is fun to watch as the massive Victor Abbott and is convincing as the vicious and cruel criminal. He also gives us a lively characterization of a routinely written villain. Michael Eklund is very eccentric as Warden Snyder, but despite an off-beat portrayal, the character revelations are not all that surprising and actually make him less interesting, when all is said and done. The supporting cast are all fine as various prison guards, thugs and inmates. Again, in a Soska Sisters film, I expected far more interesting characters, but this isn’t their script.

I understand the Soska’s doing this to keep their relationship with WWE pictures strong, but wish they either picked a more interesting project…like their proposed film with WWE’s horror movie inspired Wyatt Family…or at least been allowed to do a draft of the script to add their quirky/morbid style. Their previous WWE Studios film See No Evil 2 was more up their alley and felt very much like a Soska film despite them not writing the screenplay. They seemed to feel more at home directing that and just seemed more like going through the motions here. The film is still amusing at times and I was never outright bored, but I’d seen it all before and that’s something I’d never thought I’d say about a Soska Sisters film.

-MonsterZero NJ

  2 and 1/2 bullets.

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BARE BONES: THE ABCs OF DEATH 2 and BLOOD GLACIER

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THE ABCs OF DEATH 2 (2014)

My opinion on the first ABCs Of Death was simple and to the point… “Intriguing premise has 26 filmmakers from around the globe each given a letter of the alphabet. They then must choose a word and make a film focusing on a death from that word. Too bad that out of 26 short films, only about 5 are actually worth watching.”…I am happy to say the sequel continues the intriguing premise, but also delivers far more quality vignettes to spook or gross out the intended horror audience. Sure there are a few clunkers and head-scratchers, but there are also far more effective and worth watching entries than the first installment. Directors include indie fixture Larry Fessenden (Beneath) and The Soska Sisters (American Mary, See No Evil 2).

An improvement and definitely worth a look with a variety of styles and stories…and some of the stories are quite gruesome!

3 star rating

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BLOOD GLACIER (2013)

Austrian horror is a refreshing return to an old fashioned monster movie with charming prosthetics to represent it’s creatures instead of CGI. The film centers on a small weather observation station in the Swiss Alps that happens upon a bizarre single celled organism that turns the snow of the melting glacier it resides in, blood red. It also has a nasty habit of absorbing the genetic material of whatever ingests it and before you can say John Carpenter’s The Thing…there are a host of insect/animal hybrids running around. Now our crew and some visiting dignitaries must fend for their very lives against a variety of vicious genetic mutants.

Directed by Marvin Kren and written by Benjamin Hessler, this is nothing we haven’t seen before, but it is done well and is a fun and entertaining monster flick. The creatures are creatively designed and fairly well rendered and there is plenty of bloodletting to go along with their carnage. No classic, but an entertaining creature feature.

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SEE NO EVIL 2 (2014)

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SEE NO EVIL 2 (2014)

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

I’m not a big fan of the original See No Evil. Despite the use of the imposingly massive WWE superstar Glenn “Kane” Jacobs, the film was a by-the-numbers slasher that generated very little suspense and it’s juvenile delinquent characters didn’t generate much endearment to give us someone to root/fear for. But the film does have a bit of a following and did well, especially on home media. So, after 8 years…Jacob Goodnight is back and he’s not only bringing fan favorite scream queens Danielle Harris and Katharine Isabelle along with him, but he is being directed by the devious duo behind American Mary, the Soska Sisters, as well.

The story opens the same night as the massacre at The Blackwell Hotel, with pretty morgue attendant Amy (Danielle Harris) about to leave her shift and head out to celebrate her birthday. But with bodies from the massacre heading in, Amy decides to stay and help her co-worker Seth (Kaj-Erik Eriksen) with the added workload…and thus her friends, including vixen with a morbid side, Tamara (Katharine Isabelle) decide to surprise her at the morgue with an impromptu birthday party. But there is still some life in the prone corpse of vicious serial killer Jacob Goodnight (Glenn “Kane” Jacobs) and soon he rises from his slab, with an assortment of postmortem surgical tools at his disposal, to continue his work by slaughtering the “sinners” who are partying in the morgue. Will any of them escape alive as Goodnight seals them in and begins adding to the bodies already stored there?

With the Twisted Twins taking over from ex-porn director Gregory Dark, the film is an improvement over the first one and for some very surprising reasons. The Soskas are working from a script by Nathan Brookes and Bobby Lee Darby and thus it doesn’t quite have the delightfully eccentric tone of Mary, that they wrote themselves, but it does have their style and does have a bit more fun with this slasher sequel than the deadpan and too-serious-for-it’s-own-good first flick. At first I was a little disappointed as the film started out and seemed to be a bit routine coming from directors whose work is anything, but until the second half suddenly cranks things up considerably and that’s where the film surprised me a little bit. And it’s not with the kills, which are cool, that the Soskas really got my attention with, but with some surprisingly poignant moments between the characters, mostly involving Harris’ Amy, that really resonated and really added something to the proceedings. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a slasher/horror that took the time to have such nice character moments between the carnage and it really added to the endearment of those characters and the suspense of wanting them to get out of there moderately intact. The film also deviated at times from the slasher formula and that added some freshness to it and the Soskas, as with American Mary, give us some disturbingly gruesome moments, but without going overboard or being gross for gross sake like SNE #1. A little restraint makes the violent moments all the more effective when they do come…and there are a couple that elicited an out loud “whoa” from me as I watched. Add in some nice moody cinematography by Mahlon Todd Williams that takes good advantage of the city morgue setting and a nice score from The Newton Brothers and you have an entertaining little slasher that does have the usual slasher plot holes…such as, are there so few exits in such a large public building that Goodnight could seal them all on all floors and without anyone knowing…and why are the guests’ cellphones locked in a safe?… but it still entertains like it’s supposed to.

As for the cast… “Kane” is as imposing as ever as Goodnight. Harris does really strong work here. Not only in creating a little depth for Amy, who has chosen a career that is obviously not popular with her family, but really shines in some of those character moments I mentioned before. Amy is a strong, though slightly cynical, heroine with guts and a heart. She also has a nice chemistry with Eriksen, who is good as Seth. Seth is crushing on her big time and she knows it and the scene when they reveal their mutual feelings for each other works really well and the actors’ chemistry makes it work despite there being a 7 foot madman stalking them at the moment. Isabelle is a hoot as the promiscuous babe with a dark side, Tamara. It’s not a deep role as her Mary Mason and it seems like, this time, she’s having some fun with a more ditzy part and letting Harris do the more serious emoting. Her postmortem lap dance for Jacob Goodnight’s corpse is a fun number, to say the least. The rest of the cast are solid and despite Amy’s brother Will (Greyston Holt) being a bit of a self-centered jerk, we have a fairly likable cast of supporting characters with Chelan Simmons as pretty blonde Kayla, Lee Majdoub as Tamara’s boyfriend Carter and Michael Eklund as the chief morgue attendant Holden. A much more endearing bunch than the angry delinquents that populated the first flick.

So, See No Evil 2 may not be a classic, but it is a solid and entertaining slasher that has some surprisingly effective quieter moments in-between the well-orchestrated carnage. The Soska’s bring the action and suspense, especially in the second half and even with it’s barely 90 minute running time, give us some nice resonating character scenes bolstered by it’s lead actors especially, Harris, who does some of her best work. And that’s what impresses about the Twisted Twins the most…they can deliver some very sick and twisted moments, but can also deliver some poignant quiet moments in between, just like the little conversations between Mary and Lance in American Mary. Another intriguing film from two of the more original filmmakers out there.

3 extremely hot morticians.

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