MONSTERZERO NJ’S 10 HORROR FLICKS FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S 10 HORROR FLICKS FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH!

February is the month where we mark the achievements of the black community and there have been some wonderful contributions to the world of horror films by some amazing talents. Whether it be black filmmakers like William Crain and Jordan Peele, or actors such as William Marshall, Pam Grier and Duane Jones, there is much to celebrate! Here are ten films that illustrate the sometimes groundbreaking and always entertaining achievements in the horror genre that this month so proudly commemorates!

REVIEW LINKS: click to read the corresponding review!

  1. Blacula
  2. Scream Blacula Scream
  3. Abby
  4. Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde
  5. Sugar Hill
  6. The House On Skull Mountain
  7. Candyman
  8. Tales from the Hood
  9. Night of the Living Dead
  10. Get Out

 

To all these talented men and women in front of and behind the camera…CHEERS!

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HELL FEST (2018)

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HELL FEST (2018)

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

Hell Fest is a slasher flick that finds pretty Natalie (Amy Forsyth) reluctantly going to a Halloween Haunt with her friends on All Hallow’s Eve. Hell Fest is almost a Renaissance faire for horror fans with costumed performers and dozens of mazes, fun houses and ghoulish games. What Natalie and company don’t know, is that a real serial killer (not listed in the cast 😱) has entered the park and she and her friends have gotten his attention in the worst way.

Flick is a routine but fun slasher, as directed by Gregory Plotkin (Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension) from a script and story by six people, no less. It’s not especially scary, though there are a few effective moments, mostly in the last act. The body count is unusually low for a modern day slasher, but there is some good gore and Plotkin at least has a very cool stetting that he can take advantage of…though more could have been done with the concept. All the tropes are followed and handled well enough to entertain, though there is nothing inventive enough to really make an impression and the generic masked boogie man was serviceable at best. The cast of characters are all fairly stereotypical, though the attractive cast does make them likable enough for us not to be completely apathetic with their fates. Lead Amy Forsyth (Torment) is a decent final girl, though she didn’t leave a strong enough impression to make her Natalie overly memorable. If any of the cast members stood out, it was Bex Taylor-Klaus as the cute but obnoxious horror buff Taylor. The rest of the supporting cast make decent killer fodder and there is a brief appearance by genre legend Tony Todd as a Hell Fest carnival performer. The film ends a bit suddenly and the denouement is both interesting and anti-climactic at the same time. Only time and box office numbers will tell if the makers can expand on that ending, if there ever is a Hell Fest 2.

Overall, Hell Fest is an entertaining enough horror flick as long as you are not expecting anything groundbreaking or innovative. Plot-wise it was by-the-numbers slasher hi-jinx and it’s killer was effective just enough, but not so much to make one look forward to an ongoing franchise. There was some nice gore, the Hell Fest setting was fun and the young cast was likable enough, so we weren’t detached from the proceedings. The film is also helped by the fact that it was nice to have a horror movie out this Halloween season that didn’t involve found footage or increasingly ridiculous traps. Routine but fun and you could do a lot worse during the spooky season..

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 masked killers…generous, but hey…it’s Halloween 🎃

 

 

 

 

 

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HALLOWEEN SET “HELL FEST” GETS A POSTER and TRAILER!

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Halloween set horror from Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension director Gregory Plotkin finds a group of youths entering a carnival spook house and being stalked by a serial killer while inside. Hell Fest features horror icon Tony Todd and will see release on 9/28/18! Looks like it could be fun!

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source: Youtube

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: VICTOR CROWLEY (2017)

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VICTOR CROWLEY (2017)

Fourth installment of Adam Green’s slasher homage series takes place ten years after the last one with survivor Andrew Yong (Parry Shen) becoming a bit of a cult celebrity after writing a book about his encounter with Victor Crowley. On route to an interview, his plane crashes right into Crowley’s killing ground, Honey Island Swamp. At the same time, a group of amateur filmmakers head into the swamp to make a trailer for a proposed film on Crowley. The plane survivors and the filmmakers soon find out that Crowley’s legend is all too true.

Adam Green returns to the director’s chair…after abdicating it to B.J. McDonnell for part III…and again writes. The result is a lazy, by-the-numbers sequel with a few laughs and gory moments here and there, but the “been there done that” is heavily setting in. Green doesn’t offer anything we haven’t seen before in this series and delivers a fourth dose of the same gory kills and goofy humor in the same setting. Fans of this series will probably enjoy the familiarity, but if you are looking for Green to do something innovative to freshen up his franchise, you’ll be extremely disappointed. The gore FX are well done, but the film otherwise looks cheap and restricts a good two-thirds of the action to the wrecked plane interior and the immediate grounds surrounding it. The film centers on the whiny Andrew Yong and the likes of Danielle Harris’ vengeful Marybeth Dunston are sadly missed.

Kane Hodder returns as Crowley and stomping around and grunting is basically all the role requires him to do. Shen tries hard, but Yong is a supporting character and promoting him to lead really doesn’t help. Laura Ortiz shows a bit more spunk as movie make-up artist Rose and Dave Sheridan is fine as wannabe actor turned hero, Dillon. We also get horror vets Felissa Rose and Tiffany Shepis as Yong’s agent and ill-fated passenger, Casey, respectively. The cast get the material and go with it.

Overall, this is basically just more of the same and not very effectively at that. Adam Green doesn’t do anything to freshen up his slasher homage series and falls back on the same ole, same ole for his latest chapter in the Victor Crowley saga. It just comes across as lazy. The first film was amusing and the two sequels had their moments, but this fourth flick shows a franchise definitely running out of swamp gas.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 hatchets.

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HATCHET (2006)

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HATCHET (2006)

With word coming today that Adam Green secretly filmed a fourth Hatchet flick entitled Victor Crowley, I thought I ‘d drag out my original Hatchet review written pre-blog -MZNJ

Hatchet is both a homage and a spoof of the slasher films of the 80s and it’s obvious director Adam Green has a love for the films he playfully has fun with. Hatchet is a gory but silly story of Victor Crowley, a deformed boogie man legend claims stalks the New Orleans bayou. When a group of tourists on a haunted swamp tour become shipwrecked in Crowley’s backyard, they soon learn this is one urban legend with a lot of truth to it.
While Green does a good job recreating one of those 80s slasher flicks, he’s not as totally successful at juggling the gory horror with the comedy elements. Green is not subtle here and the film jarringly changes tone between scenes where one minute it’s being a comedy, and the next it’s trying to be seriously spooky. It’s this back and forth that keeps one from completely settling into his tribute to all things Jason. Green is also hindered here from his inner film geek seeing his vision not as a story, but as a movie. This gives Hatchet a staged look, it looks like a movie filmed on sets whether it was or wasn’t. This robs us of the illusion of watching his story unfold and instead constantly reminds us that this is only a movie and these are not characters but actors. Even in a playful homage like this, we still need that illusion.
But, there is still fun to be had as Adam Green does both skewer and stroke the slasher genre. The gore is over the top and top notch and he points out with a wink the absurdities of some of the films it references…Crowley finding a hand sander in the middle of a swamp, rain at a most crucial and inappropriate time…and the film geek in us knows exactly where he’s coming from. Despite the flaws in his method we still get his madness. Stars horror legends Tony Todd, Robert Englund and Kane Hodder as Crowley.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 hatchets.

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: ENEMY TERRITORY (1987)

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ENEMY TERRITORY (1987)

Enemy Territory is an obscure and currently unavailable 1987 urban action exploitation flick from Charles Band’s defunct Empire Pictures that I was fortunate enough to have seen at the Hyway Theater in Fair Lawn N.J. during it’s release in the late 80s. It was unusual for Band to produce a straight action film without killer dolls, robots or creatures and it’s controversial storyline of a white insurance agent being trapped in an inner city tenement and pursued by a black youth gang, may be one reason the film appears to remain out of print. But it is an exploitation film and it is the nature of the beast with such flicks to present controversial or taboo subjects in an entertainment format and Enemy Territory is no different. I had an opportunity to revisit it, recently and see if it was still the entertaining B-Movie I remembered it to be. It is.

The film takes place in NYC and tells the story of down on his luck insurance agent Barry Rapchick (Gary Frank) who is desperate for cash and goes into the crime-ridden ghetto neighborhood of Lincoln Towers at dusk to get a policy signed that will net him a big commission. But a run-in with a young member of the Vampires gang, a gang that rules the night in Lincoln Towers, leaves the youth (Teddy Abner) and a security guard (Tiger Haynes) dead. This makes Barry a marked man and a man hunted through the embattled tenement by the vicious gang and it’s psychotic leader (Tony Todd) who torment and kill anyone who gets in the way of them catching their prey. Befriended by sympathetic phone repairman and army veteran Will (Ray Parker Jr.) and some good natured tenants, Barry might have a chance to survive. But the Vampires are many and Barry’s allies are few and it’a a long way down to the ground floor and a longer way till dawn when the police would even dare enter the notorious neighborhood.

Low budget thriller is directed by Band regular Peter Manoogian, from a script by Stuart M. Kaminsky and Bobby Liddell and is an entertaining and suspenseful B-Movie, that manages to make good use of the isolated and claustrophobic setting of it’s inner city tenement building location. Manoogian overcomes some cheesy dialog to create some nice atmosphere and tension and give us some effective low budget action scenes to punctuate all the hiding and running around. And the film can be very violent and bloody at times as a result of that action. There are certainly some characters (the gang) that were stereotypical of movies of this era, but there are also some down to earth and very human characters (the tenants) to balance it out. The performances from the principles are better then you might expect in such a low budget flick with Gary Frank being effective as the ‘humbled’ white yuppie, Barry and singer Parker, giving us a noble working class man who believes in doing the right thing, as Will. Frances Foster is solid as Elva, Barry’s client, a good Christian woman who becomes one of his allies against the brutal gang members. Fan favorite Tony Todd is appropriately over-the-top as the psychotic gang leader, “The Count” as is Jan-Michael Vincent as Parker, a well-armed but paranoid and bigoted, wheelchair-bound Viet Nam vet, who lives in a fortified apartment in the tenement building and gets drawn into the conflict. Rounding out is sweet but street-tough Toni, played well by Clueless’ Stacey Dash in her first film. On a technical side, the film uses a lot of location shooting, so it looks solid on a meager budget and the cinematography is by future Spike Lee DOP and established director in his own right, Ernest R. Dickerson.

I can see how in today’s easily offended and overly-sensitive times where a lot of this flick’s racial content could make distributors wary of releasing it. I have yet to find definitive proof that the film’s blunt portrayal of racial issues, stereotypes and prejudices is the reason it languishes unreleased on DVD or Blu-Ray, but I do feel it’s a good guess. I don’t get the impression the film was trying to be crass in it’s portrayal of a white man caught in the middle of inner city violence. And despite being an exploitation flick, it never seems to make light of gang violence and though presented in an action film content, I don’t think there is any intent to make light of the negative aspects of inner city life or the unfortunate prejudices between the races, either. As I stated earlier, for every stereotype, there is a more down to earth character to demonstrate that the stereotypes do not represent the community as a whole. Remember, it would be a few years yet before filmmakers like Spike Lee and John Singleton would present to audiences a far more serious look at life in our country’s ghettos for minorities and raise awareness and sensitivity toward the subject. This is an 80s flick and it has a heavy 70s vibe. Even if Enemy Territory‘s grim depiction of urban life is a bit more comicbook-ish, it still has some resonance beyond the over the top gang characters and gunfire. Overall, it is made to entertain and is far from a message film, but in my opinion, if you watch the film objectively, it does ultimately show that there is good and bad in everyone and prejudices are based on exceptions and not the rules, even if the flick’s first concern is telling an entertaining action story…and as low budget action flicks go, Enemy Territory is actually pretty good, if viewed simply as the action/exploitation flick it’s meant to be.

3 bullets.

ex2 rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE CROW and THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS

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This week’s double feature needs little explanation. The first Crow flick is a classic and simply a great comic book movie and it’s first sequel, City Of Angels is actually a decent film on it’s own and kind of underrated as it gets a lot of flack for simply having the audacity to be a Crow film without Brandon Lee. It has it’s flaws but, is still entertaining if you cut it a break for trying to tell a new story with a new central character and actor. Together with the first flick they make a cool night of dark themed heroics from beyond…
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THE CROW  (1994)

The Crow is a bonafide film classic and one of my all time favorites and one whose story of revenge from beyond the grave is made all the more haunting by the tragic on-set death of it’s leading man Brandon Lee. Though, I think this would have still been a great flick without the notoriety of Lee’s accidental demise but, you can’t deny it adds a chilling effect when watched.

Based on the graphic novel by James O’Barr, this supernatural superhero flick tells the ill-fated story of rocker Eric Draven (Lee) and his fiancé Shelly Webster (Sophia Shinas) who are murdered the night before their Halloween wedding when Shelly’s well-intentioned battle against tenant eviction gets the attention of bizarre crime boss Top Dollar (Michael Wincott). His thugs T-Bird (David Patrick Kelly), Tin-Tin (Laurence Mason), Skank (Angel David) and Funboy (Michael Massee) kill Eric and then brutally rape and beat Shelly who dies a day later. But, Eric and Shelly’s love ran ran deeper then life itself and on the first year anniversary of their murders, Eric returns from the grave as an invincible avenger guided by a black crow and one by one starts to hunt down and slay the the fiends responsible for the death of he and his true love. But, Top Dollar has otherworldly assistance of his own and when he finds the source of Eric’s power, it now becomes his weakness and possibly the end of his quest for justice and revenge.

The script was written by David J. Schow and John Shirley and they really captured the essence and tone of O’Barr’s tale. Then when you add director Alex Proyas to the mix, you get a visually stunning and atmospheric adaptation that really nails the graphic novel’s look and feel. Proyas also gives us some great action sequences choreographed by star Brandon Lee and master stuntman, martial artist and stunt co-ordinator Jeff Imada, which make this a gritty, violent comic book come to life. But, it’s not all visuals and action as Proyas also gives this movie a heart and soul. Despite all the gunfire and explosions, the film is about eternal love and we are treated to flashbacks of Eric and Shelly’s relationship so, we get the full effect of how much these two meant to each other and it really is what makes this work so well. We believe Eric loved her so much that  he would cheat even death to avenge the wrongdoing of those responsible for ending his happy life with Shelly. We are right along with him rooting for him to take out the despicable villains and once we realize Eric has an exploitable Achilles’ Heel, it adds some tension and suspense as our hero can be made vulnerable and be stopped by those he seeks to destroy.

The film is populated by some colorful characters, brought to life by an eclectic but, strong cast. Lee shows that he could act as well as kick ass and he had the charm to be a leading man had his life not come to such a sad and early end. His Eric is charismatic, strong and sympathetic as well. Despite his being driven by rage to avenge Shelly’s cruel death, there is still a melancholy that makes him as sad a figure as he is imposing as a vengeful force. Perfect casting and sadly proof of a potential that will never be realized. Shinas is seen briefly in flashbacks but, her Shelly is sweet and kind and we see why Eric loves her. Wincott makes a strong and very eccentric villain, sort of a modern day pirate with a taste for the supernatural provided by his spooky half-sister and lover Myca (Bai Ling). He makes a formidable foe as do Kelly, Mason, David and Massee as his detestable yet, oddly likable gallery of rogues that one by one meet Eric’s wrath. Rounding out is fan favorite Tony (Candyman) Todd as Top Dollar’s bodyguard Grange, Jon Polito as dirtbag pawnshop owner Gideon, the always good Ernie Hudson as Eric’s only ally, a cop named Albrecht who investigated the couple’s death and got busted down for it, Rochelle Davis as a young girl named Sarah who was a friend of Eric and Shelly’s and provides an emotional ground for the avenging rocker, and Anna Levine as Sarah’s mom and Funboy’s girlfriend, Darla. All really give their supporting characters three dimensional life and it all adds up to what makes this comic book movie a classic.

On the production side, there are some really effective visual effects on a moderate budget that give us a gritty and rundown near future Detroit where the film is set. It is a no man’s land of crime and violence bathed in darkness, shadows and almost endless rain. The cathedral setting for the climax is especially noteworthy as it gives the final act a Phantom Of The Opera-ish feel and… in my opinion… far better utilizes the setting then Batman did five years earlier in it’s similar climax. Finally, while Alex Proyas certainly gives this flick a heavy gothic tone, we get a really effective score by Graeme Revell which includes some great songs, from various artists, producing a film score and soundtrack that are as equally classic as the movie they represent. The music and songs interact with the story to a point of being almost another character.

Overall, I could pick out some of the film’s minor flaws but, what’s the point. The film is a classic and it is no small feat that the filmmakers where able to craft such a solid flick when their leading man was killed with weeks of filming yet to go. Considering how the film was reconstructed and the FX crew used alternate scenes to extract their star and include Lee in footage he was not there to film, I think we can cut it some slack that there is a film at all and it wasn’t scrapped as was one considered option. But, it would have ben a crime to not let the film world see Lee’s last and best work and like his on-screen hero and the legacy of the man who played him, this flick will live on. A great movie that remains strong and entertaining even now.

The film also has some personal resonance with me, as well, as Brandon Lee and I were the same age when he died and it impacted me deeply for reasons I, even today, can’t fully explain. There is now talk of a remake but, I can’t seeing it having the impact this one has had, even if it turns out to be a good flick.

4 classic crows.

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THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS (1996)

This review is of the director’s cut and not the original theatrical version which is 7 minutes shorter…

In hindsight, it might have been best to leave the success of The Crow as a testament to Brandon Lee’s legacy and let it go but, money talks and a sequel was made, opting to tell the story of a new character then try to recast a part already immortalized by Lee. The film gets a lot of flack for trying to continue the Crow series without Brandon Lee and Eric Draven but, while the film does not come close to matching it’s predecessor, I think it is actually pretty entertaining and succeeds in having it’s own personality and feel. Given a chance, it’s not as bad as it’s bitterness fueled reputation makes it out to be.

This film takes place years later in an equally seedy Los Angeles and tells the story of single father Ashe Corven (Swiss actor Vincent Pérez) who is gunned down along with his son Danny (Eric Acosta) when Danny mistakes gunshots for Day Of The Dead fireworks and runs straight into an execution being carried out by the four henchman of crime boss Judah Earl (Richard Brooks). The story also includes a now grown up Sarah (Mia Kirshner)… who, aside from Eric and Shelly’s cat Gabrielle, is the only character to return from the original… who is a tattoo artist living in L.A. and has premonitions of Ashe and his impending return accompanied by the crow. She is there to guide him when he rises from his watery grave to exact revenge on Earl and his minions Curve (punk icon Iggy Pop), Nemo (Thomas Jane), Spider Monkey (Vincent Castellanos) and Kali (ex-Power Ranger, Thuy Trang). But, Ashe’s quest for vengeance has complications as Earl has also discovered the secret and weakness of the crow’s power and Ashe is starting to fall for Sarah, knowing that the completion of his mission will return him to the realm of the dead. Will being torn between wanting to stay with Sarah and yearning to see his boy again give his adversaries a deadly edge over the undead avenger?

The sequel was this time written by frequent comic movie scribe David Goyer and directed by feature film newcomer Tim Pope who does a good job in giving the film it’s own distinctive look and feel despite glaring plot similarities. The film follows what is now the basic Crow formula with a wrongfully murdered person returning to avenge a loved one and battling a foe with an interest in the supernatural. The original had Draven battling Top Dollar and his weirdo half sister Myca, while here it is Ashe going against Earl and his sooth-sayer Sybil (Tracy Ellis). The only real difference is Earl is far more sadistic then the brutally practical Top Dollar and Sybil more of a pawn than a willing participant unlike the gleefully sadistic Myca. The film uses the same ‘kill the crow, kill the man’ plot device to weaken the invincible Ashe as in the last film, as it also again presents Sarah as hostage bait to lure our hero in… and it is already wearing out it’s welcome. But there is a lot of pluses too, the film does give us another cast of colorful villains and there are some very well done sequences of Ashe taking them on one by one, including his battle with the vicious martial arts expert and she-devil that is Trang’s Kali and his mythology laced showdown with Iggy Pop’s wacko Curve. Pope’s action scenes are styled differently and help give the film it’s own flavor. The director also gives the film a lot of strong atmosphere, it has an even spookier edge then the previous film as this one is also set at Halloween but, focuses more on the Latin “Dia de Los Muertos” which gives it a far more spiritual tone and aura. The original was centered around the destructively festive ‘Devils’ Night’ but, here it is the mournful Day Of The Dead celebrations that add a more somber tint to Pope’s canvas.

The cast are fine, though, not all as lively as those Proyas had to work with. Vincent Pérez certainly looks the part especially with the face paint and his brown leather outfit and motorcycle. His accent does get in the way and he tries hard to give Ashe his own personality and while he isn’t as memorable as Lee, he actually does OK on his own. Kirshner is pretty but, bland as the grown-up, emo Sarah. Her delivery is very monotone and her gloominess kind of goes against the feelings of hope given her by Eric at the end of the first movie. Our bad guys are fun with Brooks making a strong villain whose Earl actually echos his Jubal Early character from Firefly that he would play six years later. But, Early had more restraint and an odd whimsy despite being an equally dangerous man. Pop and Thrang’s baddies stand out the most among the thugs while Castellanos and Jane really aren’t given much to do aside from meeting their doom at Ashe’s hands. Pop’s Curve is delightfully demented while Thrang’s Kali is a sadistic dragon lady with a taste for sadism and twisted nursery rhymes. Last but, not least, is the late Ian Dury as the cantankerous Noah, the owner of the tattoo parlor where Sarah works.

As for the rest of the production, the film looks really cool yet, drastically different then the first flick and the model work and visuals are more then satisfactory. Graeme Revell contributes another strong score that echos the first film’s just enough yet, adds more haunting choral vocals and it also comes with a really good soundtrack of music from various artists that is a good listen on it’s own.

Overall, I like The Crow: City Of Angels, it’s got it’s flaws and was never going to live up to the instant classic that the first became. But, especially with it’s director’s cut, it is actually a decent enough flick on it’s own and has enough of it’s own style in telling the classic Crow story of revenge after death. Sure it’s ending is a little overblown but, when all is said and done, when cut some slack for not being what it couldn’t possibly be, it is an entertaining enough sequel that doesn’t dishonor what it follows. Give it a chance if you haven’t seen it. Followed by two direct to home media sequels, the weak The Crow: Salvation with Eric Mabius and Kirsten Dunst and the abysmally awful The Crow Wicked Prayer with Edward Furlong and Angel’s David Boreanez.

3 crows.

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