41 posts categorized "Horror"

April 18, 2018


A Quiet PlaceDon’t believe the hype. “A Quiet Place” is a plot-hole filled waste of time. Scary? Not even close. All respect for John Krasinski (making his directorial debut) and his real-life wife Emily Blunt aside, the performances in this film leave much to be desired.

As Graham Parker sings, “Children and dogs will always win, everyone knows that. I won’t work with either one again.” Wise words. Deaf child actor Milicent Simmonds (“Wonderstruck”) seemingly couldn’t act wet in a rain storm. This film’s flaws however reach much further than shoddy portrayals.

A by-committee minimalist script from three writers (Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and John Krasinski) drops the audience into day 89 of an alien invasion. The premise is simple, alien monsters with acute hearing, and poor vision, track humans by sound. Sneeze loudly and you’re toast. Needless to say there is very little dialogue in the film. This is not a good time or place for characters to be having babies considering the inevitable cries that will cost you and your would-be infant its life. More on that later.

Our four-person family unit consists of Blunt and Krasinski playing parents Evelyn and Lee Abbott to adolescents Beau (Cade Woodward), Regan (Simmonds), and Noah (Marcus Abbott). These parents aren’t winning any awards for their responsible parenting skills. The number of children drops to two early on in the action before the remaining kids go missing. Where most parents would be worried sick, Evelyn and Lee are cool to a fault. "The kids will be fine." If the parents don’t care, why should we. Not only that, Evelyn has a fully-baked bun in the oven who, when he’s born, is the quietest baby you’ve ever seen or not heard.

The tail-chasing narrative comes down to a couple of irresponsible parents searching, or not, for their two missing young kids while bringing another one into an inhospitable world where it will most certainly be eaten within a matter of days if not hours. I suppose you could read the text (and subtext) as a poorly formulated parable about overpopulation in a capitalist society that hears everything you do, but that would be giving this boring film far too much credit.


So while the groupthink virus continues to consume so-called critics, “A Quiet Place” is on par with M. Night Shyamalan’s (a.k.a. M. Night Shyamalamadingdong) insultingly mediocre post “Sixth Sense” overwrought, underdeveloped, and meepy films. Your disappointment awaits.     

Rated PG-13. 90 mins. (C-) (One star — out of five / no halves)

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

October 22, 2015


Crimson-peak There’s a reason that Guillermo del Toro has felt the need to defend his latest film with the excuse that it is a Gothic Romance, as opposed to the ostensible horror movie, that the film’s trailer, and poster, indicates. Why would your "romantic" movie poster say "Beware?" Is there a danger of STDs? Genre confusion, however, is not this tedious film’s only fatal flaw. A protagonist breaking character is another egregious error that sends this visually appealing movie down its melancholic, if gory, path to entropy.

Guillermo del Toro’s long-awaited return to his signature phantasmagoric style (see “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”) arrives with an unexpected thud. On first blush it seems possible that del Toro’s experiences making Hollywood films, has eaten away at his creative powers. Directing “Pacific Rim” might not have been the best career decision after all.

“Crimson Peak” is an exquisitely lush movie to look at, but it lacks suspense. Regardless of whether you go into the film expecting to see some preconceived notion of a gothic romance or a horror movie, suspense is a key element that should be there. For a movie that del Toro says is not a horror movie, sudden outbursts of vicious bloody violence play out in deadpan counterpoint to the mundane narrative at hand.

Crimson Fireplace
Mia Wasikowska’s Edith Cushing is a shrewish author of ghost stories living in Buffalo, New York during Europe’s Belle Epoch. From her writerly perch Edith prefers Mary Shelley to Jane Austin. The subtext here is that she may be searching for her own Lord Byron. Edith’s naughty-librarian appearance (hair up with glasses) disguises a sharp wit, and lusty loins seething to tempt the town’s latest mystery man, Thomas Sharpe, a baroness earnestly portrayed by Tom Hiddleston.

Thomas earns Edith’s respect when he notices one of her ghost stories sitting on her desk in her industrialist father’s office. The charming baroness is dutifully impressed at the pages he peruses before discovering that Edith is the story’s author. More importantly, Thomas is in town with his not-right sister Lucille (unconvincingly played by Jessica Chastain), on a mission to find financial backing for a mining machine he has devised to remove the red clay upon which his British mansion is sinking. Naturally, Edith’s business-savvy father Carter Cushing (note the Peter Cushing reference) is the wealthy would-be investor that Thomas must convince. Is the love that blooms between Edith and Thomas to be trusted?

Thomas and Edith
In spite of her instincts about the kind of “toxic” man he might be, Edith marries Thomas after her disapproving father’s murder. Edith manages to act against the resolute instructions of both of her deceased parents when she moves across the Atlantic to live with Thomas and Lucille at “Crimson Peak,” a place her mother warned her never to go.

Edith’s writing aspirations go out the window after she moves into the gigantic snow-covered “Allerdale Hall” (aka Crimson Peak), whose land glows bright red. Allowing Edith's primary character trait (as a fiction writer) to vanish into thin air just when she should be using her ghost-infested surroundings for novelistic inspiration, removes a key part of Edith’s identity. It is as if del Toro is reneging on his female character’s intellectual promise in favor of a weak emotional bond with a man who is clearly not what he presents himself to be. It doesn’t help del Toro’s goth-romance gambit that Hiddleston and Wasikowska share an utter lack of romantic chemistry. A secret that Thomas and his sister share, explains the coldness Thomas exhibits toward Edith. Del Toro isn’t as daring in the realm of sensual expression as he is at showing sudden bloody violence.

The Mexican filmmaker has fun borrowing elements from films such as “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (see the decrepit mansion’s elevator) but the overall effect is overwrought and underwhelming. “Crimson Peak” isn’t an awful movie; it just isn’t a very good one either. Come back Guillermo del Toro. We need you.


Rated R. 119 mins. (C) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

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July 15, 2013


Ghost Story —
James Wan Abandons Gore for Suspense

ConjuringSince carving his name as a modern-horror director to be reckoned with, James Wan (“Saw” - 2006) has been moving steadily toward a less literal, more haunting, approach to the genre. “Insidious” (2010) evinced a maturity of creepy style and suspenseful execution to rival even the impressive work of Ti West (“The House of the Devil”), arguably the best young horror filmmaker working in the genre today.

Operating from a fact-based script, Wan serves up a memorable if relatively gore-free haunted house creep fest filled with ghastly surprises in a cool '70s retro-gothic atmosphere. Although anchored by a now-clichéd paranormal-investigator plot device, Wan takes full advantage of the obvious narrative framework to escort the audience through a historically-bound hell house where a working class family find themselves trapped by an age-old malevolent spirit with a lot of ghastly history and deadly tricks up its sleeve.

Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are husband-and-wife paranormal investigators/authors with an off-limits basement full of possessed accouterments taken from their many encounters with the supernatural universe. An especially demonically contaminated doll sits inside its own locked glass case in their Connecticut house. Their young daughter knows better than to go into the cellar, but still can’t resist a little visit now and again.


The couple dresses in the wide collar polyester styles of the era. The pair of college-lecturing experts on things that go bump in the night could have spawned their own ‘70s TV show — imagine “Charlie’s Demon Hunters.”

Blue-collar parents Carolyn and Roger Perron (played by the oddly cast Lily Taylor and Ron Livingston) move into a large but broken-down lakeside house in Harrisville Long Island with their five daughters. The “hateful” spooks that have inhabited the property and its land for more than a century waste no time sending a message for the family to take their leave, or else. All of the clocks stop at 3:07 am. Voices talk to the little girls. A grotesque female ghost makes frequent appearances. Pictures fall off the walls so many times that Carolyn doesn’t bother putting them back up anymore. The inexplicable murder of the family dog sends the couple to visit a nearby college where the Warrens are lecturing, in order to beg for their assistance.

Sure enough, the Warrens sense that horrible spirits possess the house during their initial visit. One malevolent spirit in particular means to bring serious harm to the newly arrived family regardless of where they attempt to run.


The Warrens return with their small team of assistants to set up cameras around the house, along with tape-recorders, to chronicle the evil that freely roams and terrorizes the innocent family. James Wan artfully employs handheld camera-work with inspired flourishes of shocking action to send goose bumps.

Lorraine is especially gifted with an ability to see into the dark spirit world, but each mysterious communication takes a toll on her — a detail that adds to the film’s sense of impending doom. Still, it’s Carolyn who is most susceptible to physical attacks from the demonic spirit at large. Shocking events transpire.


The Conjuring” backs up its creaking floor and slamming door tropes with episodes of all-out terror to send its audience to bed with a worrisome feeling in the pit of their stomachs. Nightmares may follow.  

Rated R. 112 mins. (B) (Three stars - out of five/no halves)

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April 28, 2013


Blood Feast
Xan Cassavetes Sinks Her Teeth In

Kiss of the DamnedVampires are by definition a retro construct. Living forever means always looking back. The future is merely a continuing cycle of corruption and death. Flesh-and-blood is the only reliable thing around. In cinema, vampire stories have served a multitude of purposes. Everything from the transmission of venereal diseases to racial and nationalistic bigotry has provided allegorical connections in a horror genre never without a sexual component.

Xan Cassavetes [daughter to the Godfather of independent cinema] pays stylish homage to vampire films of the past 40 years with a blood-soaked predator thriller based on romantic obsession — BDSM comes gratis. Aesthetic elements from Italian giallo horror films, Hammer movies, and American vampire flicks are on moist display.

Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume - “The Princess of Montpensier”) lives in a remote Connecticut mansion where she hides from the sun. The home’s absent but charitable matriarch Xenia is a Broadway diva who never does matinees. Xenia oversees a global community of well-to-do vampires whose world-weary ennui is offset by their appreciation for the finer, if quirkier, things in life.

Djuna refers to her “skin disease” after meeting Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) for the first time at a video store; it isn’t 2013. Luis Bunuel’s “Viridiana” Paolo is in town on a sabbatical to write his next big script. Needless to say, Paolo is easily distracted by Djuna’s off-kilter allure. She generously gives him fair warning before putting the bite on. She goes so far as to make him chain her to the bed during sex, but Paolo is an adventurous type. Bite him, she does.

The mechanics of the story are clear-cut. The arrival of Djuna’s bad-apple sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) threatens to derail Djuna’s and Paolo’s romantic plans to travel away to Italy together, if not bring down the whole vampire community that Xenia has protected though exotic means. Synthetic plasma is a mainstay. Another unexpected entrance — by Paolo’s overanxious agent Ben (Michael Rapaport) — gives cause for some tempestuous excitement.

Clothes come off. Fangs are bared. Bodily fluids spill in a vampire movie that is as much about tone and style as it is about the seductions and bloody attacks that take place. Cassavetes fabricates plot references to films such as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “All About Eve” for knowing film buffs to revel in.

A line between desire and execution is blurred to suspenseful effect, as when Djuna envisions acting out her barely tamed inner nature on an unsuspecting would-be victim. Cassavetes’s solid command of fluid cinematic language creates visual bubbles that infuse a dreamlike quality. “Kiss of the Damned” is a dark sex fantasy after all. The beard of blood that drenches down from a female vampire’s mouth is at once a humiliation and a messy acknowledgement of man’s animal nature. Decadence and debauchery are equal parts death and creation in a cool little vampire movie that makes the “Twilight” franchise look like kid stuff.

Rated R. 97 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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January 15, 2013


Mother Monster
Freaky Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Frightening

MamaGuillermo del Toro — the director of such minor masterpieces as “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” — weakens his sphere of influence by producing a sorely underdeveloped horror movie that manufactures scares from the crudest of tropes. Sound effect shocks produce most of the film’s artificial jolts of fright. Del Toro endorses newcomer co-writer/director Andrés Muschietti’s efforts to engender audience gasps from a soulless computer-generated monster that make’s the Hulk look lifelike by comparison.
The set-up is topical. A suburban father of two little girls returns home after murdering his two business partners. A bullet for wifey sends the crazed man driving like a maniac on icy roads with his kidnapped daughters pleading for mercy from the back seat. The film’s money-sequence comes when the car spins out of control, eventually sending it off the side of a snowy cliff into a steep ravine. The cinematography on display is exceptional. The film never again hits such a heart-pounding crescendo.

Still able to walk, daddy carries his youngest girl Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse) deep into the woods. His older daughter Victoria (Megan Charpentier) follows them into a disused cabin where some one or some spooky thing lurks. Once inside the remote residence, the man makes a fire in the fireplace using a freshly broken chair for firewood. We can sense what’s coming next. In his hand he holds the pistol he has used to ruin his life. He doesn’t know that he shares the space with a witchlike exterminating angel with wall crawling abilities. She is Mama. She will rescue the girls and raise them as her own.

Cut to several years later. The homicidal man’s brother Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Walldau) has kept up a vigil to locate his nieces. Suspension of disbelief becomes harder to sustain. How could the girls have gone missing for so long? Wouldn’t the authorities have sent out search teams during the crisis? Here’s the kicker. The monster-raised girls crawl and jump around like spiders on acid. Their verbal skills are minimal.

Lucas and his Goth rock bass-playing girlfriend Annabel (played by an unrecognizable Jessica Chastain in dyed hair and heavy eyeliner) battle for custody in spite of the fact that neither seems to possess much maternal or paternal instinct. They live in a glorified man cave. Musical gear and big rusty signs adorn their bedroom. Lucas’s nasty sister seems better suited to take on the challenge of adapting the wild children to the demands of civilized behavior. However, a ghost-in-the-machine plot device arrives via clinical psychologist Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash), who offers up a research-provided suburban house where the young couple can raise the girls under his supervision. The green-skinned, alien-faced Mama follows the girls to their new residence to set up shop. Her insect-mind intentions are unclear.

Although the story is set in Richmond, Virginia, the movie never gives so much as a glimpse of that historic town’s iconic personality. The filmmakers could have at least taken a spin down Monument Avenue for crying out loud. A conscious lack of narrative distinction permeates every aspect of the story. Clunky desaturated flashback sequences attempt to tell Mama’s tale of persecution that led her to jump from a cliff while holding onto her infant child. Any empathy the audience might share with the jealous creature is blunted by its grotesque appearance and penchant for unwarranted violence against whosoever comes near the girls.

At best, “Mama” is a subpar PG-rated monster movie. At worst, it represents a desperate grasp for relevance by a once-inspired filmmaker [Guillermo del Toro] relegated to producing entry-level films for far less talented auteurs.

Rated PG-13. 100 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

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August 28, 2012

The Awakening

Awakening“The Awakening” is an old-fashioned haunted house story with a couple of neat twists. Rebecca Hall’s bewitching portrayal of Florence Cathcart, an early 20th century ghost-busting novelist working in post World War I England, gives debut director/co-writer Nick Murphy plenty to work with. In keeping with such suspense-teetering thrillers as “The Devil’s Backbone” and “The Others,” chills and spills come as much from a ghostly atmosphere of uncluttered spaces as from sudden shocks of paranormal activity.

Florence garners fans with her novels, and enemies by assisting police in busting up phony moneymaking séance rings around London, circa 1921. At a time when nearly all of England’s population has lost relatives in the war, people are desperate for any kind of contact with the dead — however hokey that connection might be. A visit from private boys’ academy headmaster Robert Mallory (Dominic West) invites Elizabeth to investigate the rural Rookford School for evidence of a young male ghost who has been busy terrorizing its students and faculty. A young student recently died there. As well, a murder occurred on the estate several decades ago. Mallory carries battle scars from the war, which cause him to stammer and limp. Nonetheless, he has a romantic connection with Elizabeth, whose professional approach to her work doesn’t hinder her emotional availability. An especially curious scene finds Florence spying on Mallory as he tends to an unhealed wound on his leg after a bath. Florence and Mallory each have secrets that need airing out.

Hall’s ghost hunter is one sexy creature. Cinematographer Eduard Grau (“A Single Man”) balances the film’s potentially suffocating drab color-scheme with vibrant compositions that keep the eye moving. His teasing depiction of windswept Gothic isolation is the stuff of an alluring horror-fantasy.

Imelda Staunton spices up the Gothic drama as the school’s personable doyenne Maud. A fan of Elizabeth’s books, Maud is a supportive foil for Elizabeth against the school’s creeping horror, which also comes in the very physical form of a threatening groundskeeper named Joseph (Joseph Mawle).

The narrative isn’t without a few cobwebs. The malevolent groundskeeper comes across as a gratuitous device used to rev up suspense late in the story. The one-dimensional character isn’t awarded any kind of inner-life to bring meaning to his violent actions.

Although the all-boy student body is away on vacation, one boy — Tom Hill (well played by newcomer Isaac Hempstead Wright) stays behind. Florence and Tom strike up a friendship upon which the plot twists. The story finds itself playing catch-up when the proceedings are brought to a close with a barrage of backstory exposition designed to tie the narrative up with a neat bow.

Still, the ensemble performances go a long way toward masking the script’s less persuasive aspects. “The Awakening” is all about mood and tone. Peepholes, poison, and long dim hallways with ghosts at the end of them never get old.

Rated R. 107 mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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April 09, 2012


Cabin_in_the_woods Slicing & Dicing
Slasher Horror Feigns Reinvention
By Cole Smithey

Back in 2005 Renny Harlin directed a winning little slice-'em-and-dice-'em slasher flick that upped the stakes on James Mangold’s “Identity” (2003), itself an average addition to the subgenre. I mention this because, for all the unwarranted praise being slathered on “The Cabin in the Woods,” each of those efforts represent much better movies.

Much like the mechanically operated environment of “The Hunger Games,” the setting for “The Cabin in the Woods” is a remote-controlled “killing floor” where a group of youthful characters do battle for their lives. A stereotyped psychotic serial killer even shows up for an ill-defined cameo. As with “The Truman Show” (1998), there isn’t a sufficient amount of context and background to allow for a satisfying story to be told.


Joss Whedon and co-writer/director Drew Goddard go lazy-style from their days spent writing for television’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and paste together five pigeonholed characters. We have the letter-jacket-wearing jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth), along with air-headed sorority chic Jules (Anna Hutchinson), an African American nice-guy (Jesse Williams), and a requisite white-boy stoner who has just a pinch more common sense than anyone else.

As knee-jerk practitioners of the quick-cut editing techniques that plague modern filmmaking, the filmmakers here are too insecure about their under-developed narrative to ever allow the movie to breathe. The movie is never scary. Neither is there ever a hint of sustained suspense. A viewing of something like Francis Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now Redux” could go a long way toward providing a teachable lesson in this regard. A little "Rosemary's Baby" wouldn't hurt while you're there.


Our predictable group of slasher-fodder experiences time-honored hints of looming violence from a redneck tobacco-chewing gas station attendant who points them in the direction of their vacation destination — a cabin by a lake. Once at the remote cabin, the narrative floor drops out, exposing the college kids to a bunch of zombies on the prowl for blood. That’s right, blood. Yawn. A lurking monster waits patiently for his less than necessary third-act appearance. Naturally, there’s some untold corporate or government entity behind the whole bloodbath. Like “The Hunger Games,” “Cabin in the Woods” is a high-concept story whose writers know nothing of the rigor required to fulfill the political objectives of dystopian films.

The would-be social satire opens with a couple of white-coated military industrial complex administrators goofing around in the secluded privacy of a colossal facility that serves as the headquarters from which all activity in and around the cabin is controlled. Jokes make for an inappropriately casual atmosphere. The clinically dressed employees are in fact homicidal torturers whose cloaked actions will exact excruciating deaths for the young people on the mean-end of their meticulously designed killing machine.


Before you waste your time and money on this cinematic mongrel, check out “Mindhunters.” It’s not a perfect slasher picture either, but it’s a damn sight better than “The Cabin in the Woods.” As for deconstructing the genre — as many easily excitable bloggers are wont to pretend occurs here — Eli Craig peed on that tree in 2010 with "Tucker and Dale vs Evil." 

Rated R. 95 mins. (D+) (One star - out of five/no halves)

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