HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: LATE PHASES (2014)

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LATE PHASES (2014)

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

“People don’t come to places like this to live, they come here to die.”

Late Phases is the first English language film from Here Comes The Devil director Adrián García Bogliano. The film tells the story of Ambrose McKinley (Nick Damici), an armed services/Viet Nam veteran now blind and put into the Crescent Bay retirement community by his son, Will (Ethan Embry). The first night there, a full moon, his neighbor Dolores (Karen Lynn Gorney) is killed and Ambrose is viciously attacked by a savage wolf-like beast. His seeing-eye dog, Shadow, is mortally wounded fighting it off, saving the man’s life. The defiant Ambrose is determined to get answers and soon finds out these attacks occur once a month and the police pass it off as some animal that lives in the nearby woods. They also don’t seem too concerned about the seniors that are it’s victims. But Ambrose begins to put the hard to believe pieces together and realizes he has one month to find out who this shape-shifter is and a means to stop it, by the next full moon. However, his lycanthropic opponent knows he’s coming and is preparing, too…to make sure it’s a war Ambrose won’t win.

I really liked this flick! Not only was it a solid and refreshing take on a werewolf story, but a well made tale of a tough old man who won’t give up. Director Adrián García Bogliano, from Eric Stolze’s tight and clever script, quickly establishes McKinley’s stubborn character, his closeness to Shadow and the mundane life of Crescent Bay, so when the vicious attack comes in the first act, we get it’s full impact. We are then taken along for the smoldering ride as the blind veteran begins to investigate the identity of his lupine invader and make his plans to stop it on the next full moon. The suspense is turned up as we get our reveal a bit early and the cursed individual begins to prepare his counterattack. All this builds up to a very tense and bloody third act showdown between the blind ex-soldier and his lycanthropic enemy. It all works so well, because Bogliano takes his story seriously, generates the proper intensity and we like McKinley and are rooting for the stubborn vet to do what others don’t seem concerned enough to do. There are some minor flaws. McKinley comes to the werewolf conclusion rather quickly, an obnoxious cop character’s dialog is a little too obvious in it’s intent to convey the lack of concern for the seniors here and the climax could have actually played out a bit longer, but otherwise I liked what they accomplished here. It’s suspenseful, intense and has some vicious and very gory action. Technically, the low budget movie is sound, too. There is nice cinematography from Ernesto Herra who shot Here Comes The Devil and a very atmospheric score by Wojciech Golczewski. The werewolf suits and transformations use charming prosthetics and are very effective. There also is some really good and plentiful gore, as well as, a convincing job aging star Dimici about 20 years.

And as for Dimici… he is another reason this works so well. There is a really strong performance here by the Stake Land writer/actor. Damici creates a man who is handicapped by the horror of war and accepts it as punishment for deeds he committed in battle. He is stubborn, difficult but also strong and determined. He makes the crotchety old man very likable and gives him a lot of depth and we go right along with his quest to see this creature brought down. We totally believe that he would give his life to see this fiend stopped, if necessary. We also get nice work from Ethan Embry as his son. The dynamic between the two really works and we get Will’s frustration at how difficult Ambrose is, but yet he still wants to take care of him. The two have good chemistry and make this film really gel with their relationship dynamic. In support, and all doing good work, are familiar faces like Lance Guest (The Last Starfighter), House of the Devil’s Tom Noonan, the legendary Tina Louise as a catty housewife and a small role from the incomparable Larry Fessenden. A good cast that makes this film come together almost perfectly.

I really liked this flick a lot. It’s very well directed. It’s suspenseful, intense, the last act provides some really gory action and it has some nice emotional depth. It’s a refreshing take on the oft-told werewolf tale and it is a well balanced mix of horror, mystery and character drama. The FX are charmingly old-fashioned prosthetics and it’s briskly paced despite the middle act being an intentional slow burn. Highly recommended for something a little different and a horror made for adults at a time when PG-13 teen-centric fright flicks are making up most of what the genre is offering.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 silver bullets.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009)

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THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009)

I am a big fan of director Ti West and of 70s and 80s horror, so that’s already two in the win column for me in regards to West’s homage to late 70s/early 80s occult themed horror flicks. This story, also written by West and set in the early 80s, has financially struggling college student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) renting an apartment and now trying to figure out how she is going to pay for it. When a babysitting job at a remote house on the edge of town comes up, Samantha takes it despite warnings from her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) that something isn’t right. When she arrives, Samantha finds a spooky old couple (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) and learns she is actually there to keep an eye on their elderly mother and not a child. She decides to decline, but an offer of significantly more money coerces her to stay. As this is a horror film, it’s no secret that this night is not going to proceed quietly for Samantha.

Ti West perfectly recreates one of the horror flicks of this bygone era in every detail from the grainy photography and the camera angles to the hairstyles and fashions. But is it a good horror movie? Yes, it most certainly is. Today’s impatient audiences may not appreciate the slow burn, but West keeps the atmosphere creepy and full of foreboding till the suspenseful and blood-soaked finale act. It’s paced much like a fright flick from that time and it worked perfectly for me. It’s set on the night of a lunar eclipse which sets off our primal fears of something supernatural being afoot and Megan’s warnings make us doubt Sam is making the right decision. All adding to the mood and uneasiness. One of the things I like about West, is that he knows how to create tension with his camera and the composition of his shots, much like vintage John Carpenter. With Samantha being alone in the creepy house by herself, there isn’t a lot of dialogue or exposition, so he keeps things tense by giving the house a constant feeling of dread with his lens. He and cinematographer Eliot Rocket film the big old house with lots of shadows where evil may lurk and there are plenty of rooms with closed doors where who-knows-what may reside. It’s like the house itself is a character and one we know is up to no good.

He also gets good performances from his cast. Donahue, who was seen recently playing Barbara Hershey’s younger self in Insidious: Chapter 2, makes a strong heroine. She’s smart, but her need for cash makes her a bit desperate and thus vulnerable. When the blood hits the fan, she’s a fighter we root for. Veterans Noonan and Woronov play The Ulman’s as a bit eccentric and while they appear harmless, there is something off about them that keep us wary about the two, just as Sam is. Gerwig is a spunky and likable friend and there is a nice cameo by horror icon Dee Wallace as Sam’s landlord.

Like the films it pays homage to, it keeps things unsettling but subtle till West is ready to unleash his horrors and then we are in for a bloody and intense final act where a babysitter’s worst nightmare comes true. Even the climax is right out of a horror flick of that era, subtle and spooky. As a nostalgic trip back to a type of horror they don’t make anymore or for a spooky Halloween treat, I definitely recommend it. A really good old school horror flick.

To check out my review of West’s follow up flick The Innkeepers click here!

3 and 1/2 creepy houses that no one in their right mind would want to babysit in.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and THE MONSTER SQUAD

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NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986)

Fred Dekker wrote and directed 2 of my favorite 80’s guilty pleasures, the underrated The Monster Squad (our second feature) and this B-movie blast, Night of the Creeps. A fun sci-fi/ horror that is not only a homage to the drive-in flicks of the 50’s, but is nostalgically 80’s now, too. Creeps starts out with a desperate chase inside an alien spaceship where a fugitive releases a tube from the ship carrying an “experiment” before being gunned down by his fellow crew members. The tube lands on earth in 1959 where two college students are on a date at a make-out point. The young man sees the tube land and heads into the woods to find it. His pretty date remains behind and is killed by an escaped ax murder while her date gets a face full of alien slugs when he finds the tube and it opens. We then move forward almost 30 years later where dorky college freshman Chris (Jason Lively) and handicapped bud J.C. (Steve Marshall) are desperate to join a fraternity, so Chris can impress beautiful sorority girl Cindy (Jill Whitlow). A little too anxious to accomplish an initiation prank they are assigned to carry out at the morgue, the two wander into the wrong room and wind up letting loose a frozen corpse from suspended animation…that of the young man infected by the alien slugs in the opening sequence. Now with fellow students being infected by the freed creatures and zombifying, the two team up with Cindy and a detective with a past linked to the 1959 ax murder (a great Tom Atkins) to try to stop the alien invasion from spreading through the entire campus and then the world.

Night Of The Creeps is a lot of fun. The whole thing is tongue in cheek from the campy dialog to every major character having the last name of a horror movie director. And, best of all, the audience is in on the fun. Dekker does take his material seriously to a degree so not to make a complete joke out of it and so it does have some suspense and tension, but in the spirit of the drive-in movies of the 50s, lets the deliberately absurd material, bathed with homage, deliver the fun. The cast also play their parts straight and are all good with Atkins’ cynical and grumpy Detective Cameron stealing the show with his one liners and our three leads giving us some very likable heroes and heroines to root for. Whitlow also makes for a fetching flame thrower wielding sorority girl. The entire cast seems to get the tone of the material and it really makes this work. The FX are really good too and there is some nice and abundant gore to go along with the slimy critters and their army of co-ed zombies.

A real fun homage to the sci-fi horrors of yesteryear, as well as, a great slice of fun 80s horror, too. How can you not like a movie with the line “I’ve got good news and bad news, girls… the good news is your dates are here…’what’s the bad news?’… they’re dead!”

MONSTERZERO NJ TRIVIA: Keep an observant eye out as Dekker gives a little shout out to his next movie The Monster Squad in a scene with J.C.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 infected aliens!

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THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987) 

Practically ignored when it first came out, this overlooked gem written and directed by Fred Dekker and co-scripted by Shane Black, is now recognized by many as a classic. I saw it when it was first released in 1987 and have loved it since and I am very proud to be among those that championed this fun monster movie from the very beginning. The film tells the homage filled story of group of young monster movie fans who call themselves ‘The Monster Squad’. They acquire a diary…at a garage sale no less…that is allegedly from none other than the great Dr. Van Helsing (Jack Gwilliam) who tells of an amulet that keeps evil at bay. But once every hundred years the amulet becomes vulnerable to harm and at that time the forces of evil may seek to destroy it…and that time is soon approaching. And evil does come looking for the amulet, which is stored beneath an old house in their very town. Now this band of monster movie fans must quickly become a band of monster fighters to do battle with the most famous monsters of all time as Dracula (Duncan Regehr) has come to destroy the amulet and unleash great evil upon the world. And with him are Frankenstein’s Monster (Tom Noonan), The Wolfman (Jonathan Gries in human form, Carl Thibault once transformed), The Mummy (Michael MacKay) and The Gill-Man (Tom Woodruff Jr.). Left on their own by disbelieving adults, can these suburban kids stop the greatest monsters in horror film history?

A lot of fun, the flick plays it serious when it needs to but, also provides plenty of laughs and has a genuine love for the monster movies it pays tribute to. The monsters are all well represented by Dekker, the make-up FX team (headed by the legendary Stan Winston) and the actors portraying them with Regehr making a very sinister Count, Gries a sympathetic victim of lycanthropy and Noonan a monster who may still have a heart when treated with kindness. Dekker also gets great work from his squad of wannabe monster fighters, with Andre Gower as leader Sean, Robby Kiger as his best bud Patrick, Brent Chalem (who sadly passed away in 1997) as the bullied fat kid, Horace, who wants to prove himself, Ryan Lambert as tough rebel Rudy, Michael Faustino as the young Eugene and Ashley Bank as Sean’s little sister Phoebe, who steal’s the Frankenstein monster’s heart. Round out nice work from Stephen Macht and Mary Ellen Trainor as Sean’s concerned parents and Leonardo Cimino as ‘Scary German Guy’ and you get a movie filled with endearing characters and fearsome fiends.

The Monster Squad is a very entertaining little movie made with a lot of heart and has far more warmth and charm then a lot of the souless blockbusters that pass as entertainment today. A fun nostalgic 80s blast that also gives a lot of love and respect to some of the most famous monsters of all time. Finally recognized as the classic it is. “Wolfman’s got nards!”

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 wolfmen complete with nards!

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