HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE DEVIL MAY CALL (2013)

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THE DEVIL MAY CALL (2013)

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

Thriller has an interesting story. Sam (Corri English) is a young blind woman who works the night shift at the ‘Here For You’ crisis center. One of her regular callers is a brooding man named John (Tyler Mane) who none of the other councilors wants to deal with. Sam is working her last night at the center and when co-worker Valerie (Traci Lords) takes a call from John, she let’s it slip to the emotionally disturbed man that it is Sam’s last day. Now John has become unhinged and unknown to the pretty young Sam, he is heading to the crisis center to exact revenge for what he sees as a betrayal. Also unknown to Sam and her co-workers is that John is a full fledged serial killer and already has a trail of bodies in his wake.

Devil May Call is actually a fairly engaging little thriller as written by Jason Cuadrado and Wyatt Doyle and directed by Cuadrado. There are a few disturbing moments and some suspense, especially because we know right away that John is a killer yet, the compassionate Sam does not. The fact that Sam is blind adds to the tension and makes her especially vulnerable, but also makes her resilience seem stronger when she fights back. The film also has a more intimate scope, as it really has only two locations, John’s home and in and around the office building where Sam works. This gives it a somewhat claustrophobic feel and serves the film’s small budget, as well. There is some disturbing violence, but nothing too over the top and thus the film stays somewhat grounded. The flick is not perfect. There are some plot holes such as, if John cut off the building’s power then why do the elevators still work? Never having seen Sam, how does he know who she is? He seems to know who she’s not, even before hearing the sound of people’s voices. There is also a scene where Sam crawls across a floor covered with broken glass, cutting her hands when all she had to do was stand up, which she doesn’t do till she exits the room. It makes no sense and exploit’s Sam’s blindness simply for effect.

As for the small cast, they are all pretty good. Corri English, as Sam, comes across as a sweet but strong and independent young woman, despite her handicap and gives us a resilient and likable heroine to root and fear for. Tyler Mane is imposing and intimidating as the disturbed John and he has a nice screen presence and conveys a demented mind suitably. Van Hansis is good as office newbie and Sam love interest, Jess. He’s a likable enough character who tries to protect Sam when John invades the office. Traci Lords is also endearing as Sam’s cat lady co-worker Valerie who sadly provokes John by telling him about Sam’s last day at work. A perfectly adequate cast for an intimate low budget thriller like this.

I enjoyed this little flick. It’s not great, there are some plot holes and lapses in logic. But it also has a good cast, and some likable characters, as well as, an imposing villain. It’s got a story that’s a bit different than the usual serial killer formula, with it’s crisis center setting and has some disturbing and suspenseful moments. Overall, an entertaining enough flick that may not stay with you for long, or be especially memorable, but it is an engaging 80+ minutes with a few nice chills. Not bad for a night on the couch viewing.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 helplines.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: X-MEN and X2: X-MEN UNITED

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With X-Men: Days Of Future Past having just opened, I thought it would be fun to look back at the first two flicks that started this comic book-based film series, one that is still ongoing…

 

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X-MEN  (2000)

I never read the X-Men comics though, I am familiar with some of the characters but, as far as the mythos, I take the films for what they are and rate them as movies and not in comparison with the story-lines from the comics.

The first film opens with a scene set in a concentration camp during WWII of a young boy who shows extraordinary power when separated from his mother. Decades later it is revealed that beings with special abilities of all kinds, dubbed mutants, have evolved among us and some government officials, especially a Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison), are proposing to make mutant registration a law. Fighting against this form of discrimination are two factions. One, Dr. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) a powerful telepath who wants nothing but, peace between human and mutant alike, and the other, Erik Lehnsherr (Ian McKellen), also known as Magneto, a man who has the power to manipulate metal and feels that humans are inferiors who are meant to be ruled and dominated, not trusted. Magneto was the boy we saw in the opening scene and his experience in a concentration camp is what paints his refusal to trust humans ever again. Magneto and his fellow mutants Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), Toad (Ray Park) and the massive Sabertooth (Tyler Mane) have hatched a plan to turn a group of world leaders into mutants themselves at a crucial summit at Ellis Island. Xavier and his own team of mutants, Storm (Halle Berry), Cyclops (James Marsden) and Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) have been trying to stop Magneto and his plans of conquest and with the arrival of the rebellious and quick-tempered mystery man Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and the power absorbing Rogue (Anna Paquin), the odds may have shifted… but, in who’s favor?… as one of these new recruits may be crucial to Lehnsherr’s success.

Director Bryan Singer not only creates a fun superhero flick from David Hayter’s screenplay but, adds some very nice dramatic intensity and emotional resonance along with the underlying themes about tolerance and respecting each other for who we are. He gives the film a more down-to-earth look and setting, choosing to present a more grounded approach as how such a story might transpire if it occurred in the modern world and not a more comic book-style fantasy world. And it works very well integrating some fantastic characters into a real world setting and makes these characters very human and identifiable despite their unique powers. Singer takes his material very seriously and let’s it’s moments of unobtrusive humor come from the witty dialog and script and the talent of his cast to deliver those lines and moments. And it’s blend of intensity and subtle wit is what really makes this work so well. Add to it a very fitting score from Michael Kamen and some crisp cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel and you have a superhero flick that ranks among the best.

As for the cast. Singer has a really good collection of actors to work with from veterans Stewart and McKellen who bring nobilty and strength to the roles of Xavier and Magneto respectively. Powerful men from two opposite views who are both friends and opponents at the same time, which creates a very intriguing dynamic on screen. Jackman, in my opinion, makes a great Wolverine, giving him a sort of super-powered Snake Plissken vibe that makes the character very cool and endearing. And despite his harsh exterior, Jackman gives him a soul that peeks through enough to give the character some dimensionality. Rounding out are Berry, Paquin, Janssen and Marsden all giving some nice personality to their heroes as Romijn-Stamos, Park and Tyler Mane create worthy adversaries giving weight to their villainous turns. A good cast having a good time with their characters and it helps make this film work all the more better.

I really enjoy this flick, it has a bit smaller scale then some of the superhero epics that have followed but, that works in it’s favor by introducing a few of the more popular characters and letting us get to know them before steadily expanding the universe in future installments. It has a solid cast, a lot of action and some well executed SPFX but, also some emotional depth and nice character development too. Thus making it solid popcorn entertainment with a more substantial center. Like having a fine meal and a delicious dessert at the same time.

3 and 1/2 X-Men.

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X2: X-MEN UNITED (2003)

With Magneto (Ian McKellen) behind plastic bars the humans feel safer until an attack on The President Of The U.S. by a teleporting mutant named Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) provokes drastic measures allowing mutant hating Black Ops operative William Striker (Brian Cox) to receive permission to raid Prof. Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) school. But, Striker’s plans run deeper and has a far more sinister goal in regards to the world’s mutants. With Xavier in Striker’s clutches, it’s now up to Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and the rest of the X-Men to stop Striker and rescue Xavier before he succeeds in wiping out all mutant kind but, to do so they may have to join forces with their greatest foes… Magneto and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos)… and it’s a good bet Magneto has his own agenda. Can they succeed with serpents in their own den?

Singer returned to the director’s chair for the sequel and working with a script by Michael (Trick R Treat) Dougherty, Dan Harris and David Hayter, from a story by Singer, Hayter and Zak Penn, ups the ante with more action, more mutants but, without sacrificing the depth and characterization he brought first time around. We not only get the dynamic of  foes having to work uneasily together against a common enemy but, we learn more about Logan/Wolverine’s past and watch as the human/mutant relationship is crumbled even further. Our heros not only fight to save themselves here but, their place in the world and how it views them. There is a lot at stake as they battle an enemy who seeks to see them destroyed but, will oddly employ mutant against mutant to get his goal accomplished. It makes for an interesting dynamic and furthers the X-Men cinematic universe without cluttering it up. We get some interesting new characters and get to know the familiar ones a little better. Sigel returns as cinematographer and John Ottman provides a suitable score to the action and drama.

The cast who return all fit into their roles nicely again with McKellen especially having a good time with his second go round as Magneto. We get to see a bit more of what makes them tick, as some try to come to terms with who they are and others who are comfortable with themselves, face change and adversity. We meet a few more mutants such as Cumming’s religious German mutant Nightcrawler and he makes for an interesting and eccentric character. We get teens Shawn Ashmore as Iceman, a kind hearted young man who takes a liking to Paquin’s Rogue and the rebellious Pyro played by Aaron Stanford. On the side of evil, Cox makes a strong villain with his slimy and hateful Striker and the villainous Lady Deathstrike is played with an ice cold exterior yet, a definite lethality by the beautiful Kelly Hu. And there are also some some fun mutant cameos peppered throughout. Again, Singer makes good use of a good cast. Even those with minimal screen time are used well in the screen time they have.

With his second X-Men flick Bryan Singer gives us both sequel and equal as we have a film that once again gives us a healthy dose of superhero action and a good story as well. It’s a fun movie that finds our heroes challenged by not only their villain but, some by the choices they have to make and a world that is ever increasingly hostile towards them. Another strong superhero treat from Bryan SInger and a nice step forward for this series that stumbled somewhat when Singer left and didn’t really regain it’s footing till the delightful First Class.

3 and 1/2 X-Men.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN II

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With the Holidays here what better way to show some cheer then by featuring a couple of Rob Zombie movies…and holiday themed Rob Zombie movies at that…OK, the holiday is Halloween, but since it’s Halloween all year round at MonsterZero NJ’s, these flicks are appropriate…in my twisted little mind anyway! I know Zombie’s Halloween features have caused a lot of controversy and evoked some strong feelings both pro and con, but that’s far better in my mind than indifference. So, what did I think of them? Read on…
Both reviews are of the director’s cuts…

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ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN (2007)

(Click on the highlighted links to go to corresponding previous features here at MonsterZero NJ’s Movie Madhouse!)

There are things I like about Rob Zombie’s remake and things I don’t. As far as the things I didn’t like, Zombie’s biggest mistake is de-mystifying Michael Myers. Carpenter’s original had an average little boy from an average family, savagely murdering his older sister for no apparent reason on Halloween night. Zombie makes him the product of a broken white trash home with a stripper mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) who has a taste for loser boyfriends (William Forsythe). Giving Myers a reason for his violent behavior takes away the mystique the character had. Zombie’s Myers is a damaged young boy (Daeg Faerch) who tortures small animals and graduates to killing people and is sent to an asylum where he silently grows into a homicidal man (Tyler Mane). Carpenter’s Myers was pure evil, the young boy stopped existing and grew into a vessel for an unexplained evil force and it was random and thus spookier. The original Myers became a supernatural being, where Zombie’s Myers is all too human. Another mistake is spending almost an hour examining Myers youth and incarceration at the mental hospital before he is set loose to return home to find his little sister, now a teenager with the adopted name of Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton). Carpenter got things rolling within a few minutes in the original and his flick focuses on the stalking of Laurie and gets the scares started early. And Laurie Strode is a random victim in Carpenter’s flick, the convention that she was related to Michael wasn’t added till the original’s sequel Halloween II. Finally, the casting of genre legend Malcolm McDowell, as Dr. Loomis, doesn’t work for me. I love McDowell, but his portrayal is a bit off. He didn’t quite seem to fit the role. He also botches a couple of the classic lines and these lines are important to the mythos. Patrick Stewart would have made a far better Loomis, not that he would have done such a film.

On the plus side, Zombie does have a nice visual style and things do get intense once he finally let’s Myers loose on the peaceful town of Haddonfield. Zombie’s Myers has a savageness that the original Myers lost after being dragged through numerous sequels, and the havoc he raises is some of the best action the character has seen since the original. Tyler Mane does make an imposing Myers and his Myers is filled with rage whereas Carpenter’s Myers was more methodical. Aside from my feelings on the casting of McDowell, the rest of the cast are fine. Sheri Moon Zombie shows some nice depth as a mother helplessly watching her son become a monster. She generates some real pain in her eyes and it makes her very sympathetic. Scout-Compton is a spunky and cute heroine and plays Laurie as a typical modern teenager,  but also gives her part the needed intensity when HE comes home and she’s forced to save her babysitting charges and fight for her life. Zombie also peppers the film with familiar faces. We get Halloween sequel veteran Danielle Harris (Halloween 4 & 5) returning to the series now fully grown to play Annie Brackett and she plays a typical feisty teen girl with boys on the brain and genre vet Brad Dourif is cast as her father, Sheriff Brackett who is conflicted as to whether to believe Loomis’ warnings or not. We get cameos by the likes of Dee Wallace as Laurie’s mother, Ken Foree as Joe Grizzly, a trucker who unfortunately provides Myers with his trademark coveralls, Sid Haig as a cemetary caretaker, Danny Trejo as a hospital orderly who takes pity on Michael and Richard Lynch as Michael’s school principal. There is also a nice re-imagining of Carpenter’s score by Tyler Bates which adds some spooky atmosphere especially in the second half when Myers is finally unleashed and Phil Parmet’s cinematography captures Zombie’s visuals very well.

The scenes in Haddonfield are really what worked for me as they should have. Zombie shows he can produce some suspense and scares and he cranks it up here. Too bad he chose to focus a good deal of the running time on Michael’s youth and incarceration which is less interesting as we know where it all leads, as this is a remake after all. As for the climax, without giving away any details, Zombie chooses to end his remake with a blunt shock ending where John Carpenter crafted an opening ending that left us with a feeling of dread even after the film was long over. It’s not a bad ending and does have resonance, but doesn’t have the bone chilling effect of the original.

I stand by my opinion that Zombie has a great horror film in him but, he needs to concentrate on using his distinct visuals more often and moving past his fascination with the 70’s grind house style filmmaking and the white trash characters that inhabited a lot of those films. There is nothing wrong with paying homage to your influences, but Zombie has covered that ground in his first three films now and I think he is capable of his own style.

The lowdown: better than pretty much all of the sequels after Halloween III (which, as you may know, I like a lot!), but a far cry from John Carpenter’s original masterpiece. I at least give Zombie the credit for trying to do his own thing instead of a stale shot for shot remake.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) Zombie Myers!

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ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN II (2009)

WARNING: If you haven’t seen Zombie’s Halloween remake, there are some points of discussion in the sequel review which may contain spoilers for the first film…
This is the film of the two Zombie Halloweens that get’s the most flak, but to be all honest, I’ve come to like this one because it’s more of a Rob Zombie film featuring Carpenter’s characters. He’s free from the confines of a remake and doing his own thing. The results can be mixed, but it is still better than any of the post Halloween III sequels. This film takes place immediately after the last with Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) and Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris) in the hospital being frantically worked on and Myers being hauled off to the morgue. But when an accident wrecks the morgue transport, the resilient Michael Myers rises from his slab and walks off after murdering the surviving van occupant. He disappears and the story picks up two years later with a traumatized Laurie living with Annie and her father (Brad Dourif) while Laurie is trying to deal with the approach of Halloween and the fact that Myers’ body was never found. Of course it’s no secret to the audience that Michael is on his way back to Haddonfield to finish what he started and leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.

The fact that this sequel never really feels like a “Halloween” film works both for and against it. It’s more of a Rob Zombie film and here he is not afraid to take Myers’ mask off or get inside his head for some beautifully visualized hallucination sequences of Michael’s dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie). Tyler Bates also forgoes the traditional Halloween music for the most part and his score is quite good despite not imbuing the Halloween sound and flavor like all the other movies. Zombie gives his sequel a more methodical pace and while the film never really gets scary, there are some real brutal and intense moments such as Myers’ reuniting with Annie. There are some savagely violent scenes here that are very effective, but by the end of the film, you do feel a bit bludgeoned with all the brutality. McDowell returns as Loomis who is now a pompous bestselling author writing books about Myers and profiting from the horrible experience that left many dead. I didn’t like Dr. Loomis being portrayed as an egotistical asshole. Just didn’t work. The character was always representative of the good fighting the evil and now he is a douche who is willing to sell everyone out to make a buck and himself famous. It also makes his last minute change of heart near the climax hard to swallow. Ironically since McDowell is freed of the confines of the tradition portrayal of the Loomis character, I accepted him better in this incarnation of the role despite not liking the direction the character is taken.

There is a lot of other things to like here, too, though, unless you are a Halloween traditionalist and just can’t forgive Zombie for taking his own direction with things. There are some really twisted and bizarre dream sequences that have beautiful and surreal visuals that really impressed me and cinematographer Brandon Trost captures them well as with the look of the rest of the film. Much like the final act of Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, it is when Zombie takes his camera into these surreal sequences that his films really come to life and sadly he doesn’t do it often enough, thought I really liked what he did here and how these sequences got into both Myers’ and Laurie’s heads. I liked the sequences of Myers hallucinating that he sees his dead mother and his younger self (Chase Wright Vanek here as Faerch had outgrown the part), egging him on to kill. And the same for Laurie Strode’s nightmares. Great stuff. And I really liked the WTF ending. He really went outside the comfort zone of this series and in terms of traditional Halloween lore and it was daring. The Kubrick-esque final shot gives the appropriate chills the remake’s end lacked.

He gets some really good performances out of his cast again. Compton is good, but I do prefer her as the sweeter Laurie then the foul mouth tattooed traumatized girl here…though the progression is understandable and she does come across as a very messed up teen, mixing psychological damage with teen angst. Danielle Harris shows that she has grown into a really good actress as Annie, who was far more seriously hurt by Michael and yet is handling it a lot better then Laurie. She’s both friend and mother to Strode while soldiering on with her own life. A strong young woman and it makes her confrontation with Myers all the more powerful. And last, but not least, genre favorite Brad Dourif gives what might be the performance of his long career. Yes, he is that good and thankfully Zombie gives him a lot of good material and scenes to show it in. I loved him in this. Again, we also get some cameos by genre vets and Zombie favorites like Margot Kidder as Laurie’s psychiatrist, Howard Hessman as Laurie’s record store/cafe owner boss and Daniel Roebuck as a delightfully sleazy strip club owner.

While it’s not a great movie, I do like it for what it is and the risks Zombie took here with characters that are quite endeared to horror fans. Ironically, Zombie has been criticized and chastised for taking these risks, while equally so for not taking enough risks in the previous film. Sometimes you just can’t please fans when it comes to poking around an established classic. I hope someday Rob Zombie makes an original film that finally lives up to the potential he constantly shows. This film showed a progression from Halloween and I think we are seeing him move away from grind house and more toward Zombie. While many horror fans would disagree, I like this flick and recommend it as long as you have an open mind as to how classic characters are utilized and aren’t offended because someone took an established franchise and thought outside the box with it.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) Zombie Myers!

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For a look at Zombie’s House Of 1000 Corpses and The Devils’ Rejects click here!

And for a look at his The Lords Of Salem click here!

For a profile of Screen Queen extraordinaire Danielle Harris click here!

For our look at the original Halloween click here and it’s first two sequels here!

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