THE VOID

 

If you’re a fan of John Carpenter or Clive Barker, there’s a good probability you’re going to dig The Void, a fun little low-budget affair that serves as a throwback horror film very reminiscent of John Carpenter’s early work, especially in the film’s first half.

The story concerns a deputy sheriff who discovers a man stumbling out of the woods, bloodied and terrified. The nearest hospital is on the verge of closing, (much like the police station in Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13) but it’s the young man’s best chance for survival. From there, the deputy, the injured man and the sparse hospital staff soon find themselves trapped inside, the building surrounded by strange, cloaked figures who will kill anyone that tries to escape. They also appear to have control over a mysterious, otherworldly power that causes spontaneous, homicidal madness among the survivors inside.

As I mentioned, the first half is a massive tribute to John Carpenter, with clear references to Assault on Precinct 13 and The Thing, not to mention the hospital itself, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the hospital in Halloween II. And the opening scene, which sets off the mystery man’s escape through the woods, is delightfully nasty. The titles and music are also clear nods to JC.

The second half of the film takes on more of a Clive Barker, Hellraiser-era vibe, and while these scenes, including the reveal of the “fully realized” villain, work well, the tribute fell a little flat for me and came off as more of a retread of something we’ve seen before – and much better – in Hellraiser. The same is true with the references to The Thing – while fun at first, the director pushes this aspect of the film a bit too far. Instead of harmless tribute, the gimmick wears thin by going too far and begins to take on the taint of rip-off rather than homage, even bleeding in to the awful Alien: Resurrection ending with the reveal of one of The Void’s primary hellish creatures. But the success of the first half of the film makes up for the ‘Thing’ overkill, and ultimately provides enough momentum to carry that enjoyment through to the end credits.

And was that a note of Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm I detected in the mix? Yes, it was – and it added to the overall fun of the film, particularly the conclusion.

The Void is a “bloody” good time.

See this one, Deadies!

The Void is currently streaming on Netflix, and is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

 

 

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The Blackcoats Daughter

 

 

It’s easy to see why The Blackcoat’s Daughter divided viewers when it came out.

It’s a slow burn – emphasis on SLOW.

Watching the film is like experiencing an endless waking nightmare of tortured visions that float across your mind’s eye in a macabre parade.

Overall, the film works pretty well. I appreciated the fact that it tries – and largely succeeds – at being an unconventional horror film. One without cheap jump scares or predictable endings where final girls are pursued by generic killers.

The story is interesting enough: two young girls at a Catholic boarding school await the arrival of their respective parents before embarking on a break. They are left with two nuns to chaperone them in the otherwise empty campus, when one of the girls begin to experience disturbing visions of her parents’ demise in a car crash on the way to pick her up. From there, things get darker as the girl becomes more and more distant – and considerably stranger. Meanwhile, the film picks up the story of a third girl who appears to be a drifter with a troubled past – a past that involved some sort of violent episode at a mental hospital. She is given a ride by a man who appears to be a kind, gentle sort of dude – but could also be a pervy rapist and murderer. The fact that he’s traveling with a woman he claims is his wife only adds to the suspense of this sequence.

To reveal more would spoil things, so I won’t. Suffice to say, things continue to get weirder and way darker for everyone involved.

The problem for me was that the slow burn aspect of the film was waaaay too slow. I feel the payoff was there, but it’s easy to see why viewers either tuned out or turned their attention to something a little faster paced – like watching paint dry or something. The acting is fine and the directing style of Osgood Perkins (son of Anthony Perkins) is first-rate, apart from the pacing issues.

At just over ninety-minutes, Daughter certainly isn’t a long film, but it sure as hell feels like it, especially in the first two acts. Cutting it to an hour would be my suggestion, but that would turn it into the world’s longest short film. Still, it would’ve worked better if it got to the point a little faster.

This was Osgood Perkins’ feature debut. He went to direct the Netflix film, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, which I also reviewed for this blog. It’s clear after watching both films the man enjoys the slow burn. I’m OK with this, overall. The slow burn can be done well – look no further than The Witch, for example. But Mr. Perkins needs to speed things up. Daughter is far better than Pretty Thing, but I’m going to be hesitant about watching his next film.

The performance of Emma Roberts kept me watching here. She’s terrific in this, as she was in the hilarious comedy from a few years ago – The Millers. Playing comedy and drama as well as she does is not easy. I hope there are more horror films in her future. She’s more than up to the task.

I think the payoff is there, Deadies – if you’re patient. My advice? Put away your phone before watching this, or the pace of Daughter will have you posting about how bored you are in no time. If you hang in there, attention intact, the cleverness of the story will take you over.

Thanks for reading!

The Blackcoat’s Daughter is streaming on Amazon.

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Fragile Storm Short Film | Starring Lance Henriksen

 

FRAGILE STORM is an excellent short horror film starring everybody’s favorite cult actor – the legendary Lance Henriksen. The film, at a mere nine-minutes-and-change, packs a hefty emotional wallop, with a story that bears more than a passing resemblance to some of Rod Serling’s finest work on Twilight Zone.

Give it a look, Deadies!

I think you’ll dig it.

 

 

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XX

I’m a fan of anthology horror movies.

Whenever I see a new one coming out, my mind immediately recalls those happy memories of watching classics like Creepshow and Trick r’ Treat, Trilogy of Terror, and lesser but still enjoyable ones like Nightmares or Tales from the Darkside (the TV series is better).

I was excited about XX because the movie is written and directed by women, who always offer a unique and welcome point-of-view in horror films, and whose filmmaking skills are tragically underrepresented in general. Horror works best when it comes from an emotional core, and women directors are generally better at executing this than men.

XX is comprised of four horror tales that unspool over the course of about ninety minutes, so all the tales are short and to the point. The film’s directors are: Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama, St. Vincent, and Jovanka Vuckovic.

If only those tales were better.

The best by far is the first. “The Box” is based on a story by legendary scribe Jack Ketchum and written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic. It’s a dark and deeply disturbing tale that answers the classic question, “What’s in the box?” – the question this time around posed by a child to a stranger on the subway. The contents of said box – and the ruinous effects it has in store – are perfectly captured in scenes of pure nightmare fuel. If only the other stories lived up to this one.

“The Birthday Party” takes a lighter tone, and the dark humor works well, but the logic of the story? Not so much. Still, it’s my second favorite segment of the film, due mainly to the fine work of Melanie Lynskey (I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore) who portrays a put-upon mother trying to pull off a birthday party for her daughter, with absurdly dark results.

“Don’t Fall,” is a bit of a slog. Written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin (she wrote “The Birthday Party” segment as well) the story follows four friends on a weekend camping excursion that lands them on some sort of sacred tribal ground where things go…. pretty much as you’d expect. There’s nothing in this story we horror fans haven’t seen before. Many, many times before.

“Her Only Living Son” is a take on another familiar horror trope, but the emotions surrounding the main character worked well, particularly the ending. Overall, it’s not bad, but it fell short for me in several areas.

Bookending the film is a disturbing stop-motion animation sequence that tells its own tale as it threads between the segments. It’s impressive and creepy, and is very effective at setting the mood of the film.

Despite its overall flaws, the first two segments of the film are worth checking out, and I’d like to see what this group of filmmakers does next, separately or together.

XX is currently streaming on Netflix.

Thanks for reading, Deadies!

LOGAN

 

X-Men director Bryan Singer once said that superhero movies are like westerns, in that there’s a certain look to them that should remain consistent and classic – much like with John Ford’s westerns, which shaped not only what the western looked like back then, but every sagebrush saga since.

Logan doesn’t look like all the other superhero movies out there. From an aesthetics standpoint, this film would look more at home alongside Watchmen, but even then, Logan stands apart.

Logan is not simply “another superhero movie.” It feels different than the glut of superhero flicks out there. It’s darker. More violent. Even the language, liberally dosed with F-bombs, is different than what we’ve seen before (except for Deadpool, but that was a comedy).

Logan is a noir film, and for the first time since meeting Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine all the way back in 2000 in Bryan Singer’s X-Men, this iteration of the character feels the most authentic. The character would use – and be met with – this level of graphic violence. He would use course language. It’s almost as if the X-Men films (and even the previous Wolverine movies) were the comic books, and Logan is real life.

Director James Mangold (The Wolverine, Cop Land) working from a script penned by himself and writers Scott Frank and Michael Green, has crafted a stunning modern noir film in Logan, infusing it with DNA from classics like Shane, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and No Country for Old Men, without ripping off any of those films.

Set in the year 2029, Logan finds the titular character (now mysteriously weakened and aging) in a brutal, post-mutant world, his X-Men pals having been hunted down and destroyed by government forces long ago. Living an anonymous existence, the former Wolverine scrounges to make a living as a limo driver while caring for the hundred-year-old Charles Xavier, now living in hiding in Mexico. Logan’s goal is to earn enough cash to get himself and Charles to a safer, better place to live out their remaining years, but his plans are interrupted when a Mexican nurse recognizes the former Wolverine and pleads for his help to get her daughter, who has powers like Logan’s, to a secret sanctuary known as Eden.

Soon government baddies are in hot pursuit as Logan and Charles and the girl fight their way north across the United States toward the promised land of Canada.

Fanboys of the X-Men film franchise seem to be obsessed with trying to figure out which timeline Logan takes place in, but my advice is to ignore all that and just enjoy the film as is. Clearly, the filmmakers weren’t stressing over this, and neither should you.

Logan is a masterpiece, and a fitting departure for Hugh Jackman as the embodiment of one of Marvel’s baddest badasses. Another actor will portray the character in what will undoubtedly be more installments of the X-Men franchise, but this performance – and this film – are going to be hard to beat, bub.

Logan is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Walmart has a version in both color and black and white, known as Logan Noir. That’s the one I’m gonna own!

Thanks for reading, Deadies!

Movie Review: Pontypool

Pontypool is a small 2008 Canadian film that I finally caught up with on Netflix streaming. I’d heard some buzz around it the past year or so, but never got around to watching it.

My mistake.

It clocks in at an hour and thirty-six minutes, and since I hadn’t seen reviews or read much about it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I got was a funny, suspenseful, and ultimately disturbing psychological story about a loose cannon radio talk show host who is suddenly faced with the most unusual turn of events he’d ever encounter.

Writing a review is difficult, in that, when I like a film, I want to encourage you to see it with information about it, yet not give away the bulk of the plot. Here goes: Stephen McHattie plays Grant Mazzy, a radio show host. During his show, he begins getting reports that things in the little town are getting a bit strange. Before long, it becomes obvious that a unique type of deadly virus has begun to infect people around him. The film deftly dances the plot back to the radio station until the viewer begins to glean what is happening.

McHattie makes the film. His portrayal of Mazzy is deep and believable. He feels like a real person, as do the other, less recognizable actors. And this is the secret to the film. Don’t expect the apocalypse to be this massive, CGI-laden, action-filled extravaganza. Expect it to be the loss of real people that you care about.

There is also some questions about how the virus comes to be. If you can’t figure out exactly what has happened, I suggest researching about the film’s deeper meaning. A couple minutes on the internet will add much more to your understanding and appreciation of the film.

Pontypool opened in the United States in 2009 and grossed less than $3500. That’s right. There’s something wrong in our society when a decent film can’t gross more than a used car costs. It speaks to the way we approach films as a society. We want entertainment, so the big film companies give us what they think we want and what most likely will make them money, oftentimes sans quality. If those companies took a fraction of what they would spend on the blockbuster films they invest in and use it to fund more unknown films and filmmakers, the overall quality of our entertainment would increase exponentially. Sure those films won’t make the millions the big films will probably make, but then again, maybe they should be looking at the return on investment as a baseline.

Enough of my rant. See this film. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And be sure to pay attention to the opening lines, with Mazzy giving a nice overview of what is going to happen in the story. Also stick around for the end credits. Pontypool is an enigma, albeit an entertaining one.

Nine out of ten headstones, Deadies!

TWILIGHT ZONE Rod Serlings Lost Classics

 

Submitted for your approval….

A man searching the vast library of a popular streaming service. Titles both familiar and unknown flash by – thumbnail images blurring together under the rule of a bored, impatient thumb. The scrolling halts at the sight of a title that stands out from the muddle of faces and graphics – a familiar signpost, if you will, standing alone on the shoulder of a dark highway….

That’s how I came to discover TWILIGHT ZONE: Rod Sering’s Lost Classics while scrolling through the Amazon app on my TV recently. A lifelong fan of the series, I was both bewildered and delighted that there were two new episodes by Rod Serling I had never heard about, and that they were filmed for a TV movie all the way back in 1994!

I was a bit apprehensive as well. I am a huge Twilight Zone fan. I grew up on a steady diet of TZ reruns, not to mention Night Gallery. How could I not know about the existence of this movie?? Writing my ignorance off to old age (I seem to be suffering lately from a strange version of Alzheimer’s that affects only my knowledge of nerd pop culture) I sat down to watch Twilight Zone: Rod Serling’s Lost Classics, hoping – praying – that this mini-resurrection of my all-time favorite TV show wouldn’t suck.

The “two hour” movie (with no commercials, you can shave a good half hour off the running time) consists of two episodes, “The Theater” and “Where The Dead Are.” If these were TZ episodes from the original run, “The Theater” would represent one of the half hour episodes that comprised the bulk of the series, while “Where The Dead Are” would’ve been one of the episodes in Season Four, when Twilight Zone switched to an hour-long format.

First up is “The Theater,” written by legendary author Richard Matheson, (he penned the classic TZ eps “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and “Nick of Time” among many others) from an outline left behind by Mr. Serling wherein a young woman goes to the above-mentioned theater to see the classic Cary Grant flick His Girl Friday. As the film plays, she suddenly sees herself up on the big screen, along with her fiancée, replaying a scene from her life that occurred earlier that day. She soon discovers that only she can see these moments of her life – everyone else is watching the Cary Grant classic. Flustered, she leaves – only to return later for another showing. This time she sees scenes from her future, and that future is anything but bright as she is shown her life coming to an end under the wheels of a city bus.

“The Theater” was a worthwhile journey back to the land of both shadow and substance, and would’ve fit right in with the generous supply of well-crafted episodes that populated the first few seasons of the show. A terrific job by Matheson turning Serling’s notes into a very Serling-esque script.

“Where The Dead Are,” is a script written by Rod Serling in 1968, and would be equally at home in Season Four of The Twilight Zone and in Serling’s early 70’s anthology series Night Gallery. In this hour of richly dark television goodness, Serling applies his unique voice to the zombie genre, of sorts. No, this isn’t George Romero zombie-verse or Kirkman’s Walking Dead, folks. This is Rod Serling, and the theme is greed. And addiction. And the perils of playing God. In other words, it’s an hour of intelligent, damn good television.

This episode would likely have been rejected by the censors during Twilight Zone’s original run due to its dark subject matter, even though by today’s standards it’s tame to the point of being refreshing in a blissfully nostalgic way. And legendary actor Jack Pallance turns in a typically menacing performance studded with plenty of artfully delivered nuance thanks to Serling’s script.

The movie is hosted by James Earl Jones, who does a respectable job of providing the narration for the stories. He is tasked with being the “Rod Serling” of this revisit, and he fills the role with his own style that naturally compliments the iconic work of his predecessor without ever becoming an imitation or worse – a parody.

If you’re a Twilight Zone fan, this movie is a must-see, despite the fact that, while it’s a fun return to that shadowy realm whose boundaries are that of imagination, it never quite achieves the greatness of the storytelling on display in episodes like “Time Enough At Last,” “The Invaders,” or “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street.” Still, it is fun, quality storytelling – and these two tales alone are far better than pretty much anything that was done on the previous two iterations of the series, namely the CBS revival in the 80’s, and the god-awful UPN series in the early 2000’s.

Twilight Zone: Rod Serling’s Lost Classics is available to stream or purchase on Amazon.

Thanks for reading, Deadies!

 

 

 

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ALIEN Covenant

 

 

 

With Alien: Covenant, legendary director Ridley Scott embarks on his third voyage into the Alien universe – a world he created (built upon the brilliant script by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett) nearly four decades ago.

With many fans grumbling about Prometheus, (I loved that film, and frankly never understood the harsh criticism) rumor had it that Covenant would be everything Prometheus wasn’t – a scary, action-packed horror film with loads of Xenomorphs!

It delivers. The scares come early and often after the crew of the Covenant receive a signal of human origin – in a part of the universe where there can be no humans. Once the signal is traced to a nearby habitable planet, the crew set aside their colonization mission to planet Origae 6 and follow the signal to its source – a beautiful, paradise of a planet – or so it seems. In a matter of hours, the crew of the Covenant regrets the detour as they fight for their lives against hordes of ‘aliens’ – including a few very hard to kill new species. These new xenos were particularly cool – resembling the H.R. Giger alien, with a touch of Clive Barker injected into their DNA.

Overall, with Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott has a delivered a popcorn-worthy summer flick. It’s solid, loaded with scary alien action sequences, and should serve to quiet the rowdy masses who were upset with the direction of Prometheus. My biggest complaints with Covenant? One of the biggest “surprises” in the film I saw coming a MILE away, and with regards to the scares, while there are many, they quickly fade at the end of the scenes, rather than maintaining (and intensifying) the dread as the first Alien was so successful at doing. Still, the fanboys should be happy, and the film appears to be headed toward enough success that there will be another one, most likely directed by Scott, that should lead up to the events of the first film, thus completing (hopefully) the circle.

If you bundled together Alien, James Cameron’s ALIENS, and Covenant, you’d have one hell of a trilogy. I still have mixed feelings over David Fincher’s Alien 3, and don’t even get me started on Joss Whedon’s Alien: Resurrection. If Ridley Scott can complete his vision for this series, I’m game for another film, but I’d rather see Ridley embark on another sci-fi adventure that ISN’T set in the Alien universe.

See Alien: Covenant. Then go back and watch Prometheus again. It’s a much better film than you remember, and one that frankly never got its due. In twenty years, I think everyone is going to finally acknowledge that film as a classic.

Thanks for reading, Deadies!

Nights Harbor

 

The vampire tale.

A foundation of the horror genre, the vampire story hasn’t been treated with much respect these days. Editors haven’t exactly been inviting them in (unless you count those AWFUL sparkly ones) and readers haven’t succumbed to their cold embrace in years – again, not counting the legions of Twilight fangirls.

As with the zombie, the vampire tale has suffered from a toxic mixture of pop culture overkill, repetition and reader fatigue.

Night’s Harbor, by author and editor W.J. Renehan, is a short novel that serves as a celebration of the vampire story by paying tribute to these legendary creatures of the night, as well as the authors behind the storytelling, most notably Bram Stoker and Stephen King.

I found the story to be an enormous success. The author intended the book to be a tribute to the genre, celebrating the best attributes of the vampire tale, and he pulls off the feat quite well. The first several pages of Night’s Harbor are reminiscent of Mr. Stoker’s work, while the chapters that follow are grounded firmly in Stephen King territory.

The book is beautifully written and edited, and the plot unfolds quickly to a thrilling finish that will be sure to please fans of our fanged friends. Or is it fiends? Again, the prose is stunning and gorgeous, making each page a genuine pleasure to savor, much like the life-giving blood the vamps of Night’s Harbor relish in!

The book is available in both digital and paperback editions. I highly recommend the paperback as it is a beautiful, high-quality product that you’ll be proud to display on your shelf.

If you’re a fan of vampires. Of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, you’ll dig Night’s Harbor.

Invite this one into your collection, Deadies!

Night’s Harbor is available on Amazon from Dark Hall Press.

Click the cover image to go to the book’s landing page.

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SPLIT

With SPLIT, we find one very talented filmmaker back in top form. M. Night Shyamalan, who burst onto the scene and soared to A-List success with his debut film, The Sixth Sense – which, apart from the directing style reminiscent of Hitchcock, featured one of the single most memorable twists in cinematic history – has been gradually getting his groove back over the last few years, after a series of near-fatal stumbles. Looking at YOU, The Last Airbender. Not to mention The Happening. Or After Earth. Did I say The Village? THE VILLAGE. Blech!

But then came The Visit. It wasn’t great, but it WAS a welcome step in the right direction.

SPLIT.

In the hands of another director, especially one working for Blum House Productions, SPLIT probably would’ve been yet another cheap gross-out, jump-scare fest like HOSTEL or THE GREEN INFERNO.

With M. Night Shyamalan directing from his own script, we are instead treated to a horror film firmly embedded in the Hitchcockian realm. In short, it’s a scary, suspense-filled ride buoyed by a jaw-dropping performance from James McEvoy (the younger Charles Xavier in the X-Men franchise) with a stellar supporting cast headed by Anya Taylor-Joy as a teenage girl with a troubled past who, along with two friends, is kidnapped by a man named “Dennis,” (James McEvoy) who has 23 personalities, and is planning to sacrifice the girls to an emerging 24th referred to only as “The Beast.”

With only hours to plot their escape from the apparently impenetrable dwelling of Dennis and Co., the girls attempt to “trick” the other personalities to free them, and with every moment in the film after the girls’ abduction, the suspense mounts, punctuated with intense moments ranging from sheer terror to fairly brutal horror (the film is only rated PG-13 – sorry, hardcore gross-out fans!) as the film barrels headlong into the final moments of its white-knuckle conclusion.

While the main story was enjoyable, I found myself drawn to the backstory of Anya Taylor-Joy’s character, Casey Cooke, who is shown in flashbacks as a sweet little girl whose life is about to become savagely dark, and that’s years before she finds herself trapped in a creepy, industrial-sized basement ruled by a madman. She’s not your average “final girl,” folks!

As is so often the case in Shyamalan’s worlds, there are monsters everywhere, supernatural or otherwise. To say more would spoil the film, suffice to say the world of SPLIT is very dark, indeed.

What’s that? Twist, you say? I mean, this IS M. Night Shyamalan, so there must be a twist, right?

Yes – although I would categorize it as more of a revelation than twist. Which is cool, because unlike M. Night’s lesser works where the twists came off as forced, the ending of SPLIT features a very cool, completely natural revelation that may – or may not – lead to a sequel. Of sorts.

See it and judge for yourself.

SPLIT is one of my favorite films by a talented writer and director. I was impressed by the story, the acting, and the directing. It was like a reunion with an old friend who’d been away too long.

See this one, Deadies!