HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HOWL (2015)

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HOWL (2015)

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

Okay British horror has a young train guard (Ed Speleers) presiding over a late night passenger train heading out of London on a stormy night. While traveling through some dense woodland, a minor accident strands the train and it’s small group of passengers and crew, in the middle of nowhere. Being stuck in the woods is the least of their problems, as they soon find themselves stalked by some kind of vicious and hungry predator, one only heard of in fairy tales…and horror movies.

Despite the simple premise, this werewolf flick has four writers attached, including Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday, Game Of Thrones). But, it’s veteran special make-up effects man turned director, Paul Hyett that lets us down somewhat, as he fails to give the film any real intensity or suspense. The film does have some atmosphere, but with a savage beast lurking just outside the train cars, you’d think we’d be feeling a lot more dread or tension. The film is directed very by-the-numbers and is a bit too slow paced for it’s own good. The cast of stereotypical characters are all very bland, too, so we never really get endeared to anyone and our strongest reaction is to the wolves themselves and in hating selfish douchebag, Adrian (Eliot Cowan), who is the standard ‘sacrifice others to save himself’ character. Not to mention commonsense things like, don’t they keep track of their trains in England and so, therefor, why doesn’t anyone at HQ notice one of it’s trains has stopped in the middle of nowhere. The good points are that the werewolves are not only interestingly designed but well-rendered and look pretty cool onscreen. They make an impression and Hyett does give their attack sequences some ferociousness and there is plentiful, top-notch gore to represent their carnage. It’s a shame Hyett couldn’t keep the intensity going as the werewolf scenes succeed in what they set out to, but then the film settles back down into it’s less impressive motions until the next one, or till the moderately involving but predictable climax. There is some moody cinematography by Adam Biddle and an appropriate score by Paul E. Francis, but it doesn’t elevate this film above the mediocre flick it is.

In conclusion, the movie wasn’t terrible, just not nearly as involving as it should have been considering the setting of isolation and what’s lurking about. The werewolf scenes worked very well and had a viciousness to them, yet the scenes in-between were flat and concerned un-involving, common stereotype characters. The make-up and gore effects were top notch and the scenario itself was suitable for a fright flick had director Paul Hyett been better at managing the scares and intensity. Worth a look if you like werewolf flicks, but don’t expect another Dog Soldiers or Late Phases. Also stars Shauna Macdonald from The Descent and Sean Pertwee from Doomsday and ironically, the far superior Dog Soldiers.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 full moons.
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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: DOG SOLDIERS (2002)

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DOG SOLDIERS (2002)

I am a big fan of writer/director Neil Marshall and while it is his The Descent which really sold me on him as a filmmaker, it was his freshman film Dog Soldiers which first got my attention. The film is a simple yet very effective and intense story of a group of British grunts on training maneuvers in the Scottish Highlands, who not only find their SAS opponents dead, but by the claws of what appear to be a pack of werewolves straight out of legend. With their Sergeant (Sean Pertwee) injured, stoic Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd) takes control of the panicked group and attempts to get them to safety. They soon find themselves in the company of pretty Zoologist Megan (Emma Cleasby) who leads them to a small cottage where they decide to make a stand and fight against their lycanthropic pursuers. Thus begins a terrifying siege through the night as unbeknownst to our group of beleaguered soldiers, that when the moon is not full, the cottage is where these werewolves call home.

Sure Marshall’s werewolf flick does evoke Aliens with it’s soldiers v.s. monsters story, which even includes a bit of military conspiracy concerning the SAS unit’s true mission, but we let him slide because, he does it so damn well. Dog Soldiers is a very intense and sometimes very gruesome horror flick with a group of tough and likable grunts in the fight for their lives against supernatural creatures in the middle of nowhere and with no one coming to their aid. Unlike James Cameron’s classic, these guys also have to deal with their own who get bitten, as we all know what happens when the moon is full to those who get bit. There are moments of quiet to let the audience catch their breath, but Marshall then gives us sudden explosions of intense action and sometimes in some very tight places within the small cottage. Bullets and blood fly regularly, but it’s all the more effective because Marshall has given us enough time to get to know and like his besieged soldiers and he gives their canine opponents a real sense of menace…and an intelligent menace at that. These are cunning, vicious and powerful creatures and as the myths are true, the soldiers weapons are only a temporary inconvenience. This sets up a sense of not only dread but, of a growing hopelessness as our protagonists are running out of time, options and numbers in which to save themselves.

Marshall gets very good work from his cast, especially McKidd who is a strong and heroic lead. Cooper is a simple but smart and tenacious man who is not going to give up even when faced with opponents from out of a horror movie. We get a cute but very smart and spunky heroine from Cleasby as Megan and a tough but lovable sergeant from Pertwee. The rest all give their characters a personality and life beyond the printed script and the performers under the latex and fur give our lycanthropes some real threat. As for our wolves, the costumes are effective animatronics and prosthetics and since they are created on a low budget, Marshall keeps them effective by shooting them in quick shots and keeping them in shadow giving them an air of mystery, as well as, hiding any possible flaws from budgetary restraints. The rest of the gore and bloodshed is also quite well orchestrated and there is plenty of it!

While not perfect…there are a few plot holes, but most flaws come from a limited budget…Dog Soldiers is an atmospheric and action-packed tale of hard and tough men up against something even their steel nerves and military skills can’t handle. It’s witty and fast paced and takes a time honored siege story and really makes it work. A solid and scary horror/action flick that also has a bit of a sly sense of humor and is not without a few surprises too. Highly recommended! Also stars Liam Cunningham as sole surviving SAS Captain Ryan, a man with quite a few secrets of his own.

There has been continual talk for years about a sequel. but so far, nothing has yet to happen…and maybe that’s a good thing as we all know how the sequel to Marshall’s The Decent…which he didn’t write or direct…turned out.

3 and 1/2 bullets…which only annoy a werewolf since they are not silver!

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