Category Archives: Horror Films

The Blair Witch Project-1999

The Blair Witch Project-1999

Director-Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez

Starring-Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael Williams

Scott’s Review #761

Reviewed May 22, 2018

Grade: A

When a horror film “scares the viewer to death” than that film has superseded what is has intended to do since horror films are really a dime a dozen these days. Fondly remembering sitting in a crowded and very dark movie theater to see The Blair Witch Project (1999), I was left both mesmerized and clutching my seat for dear life. This film had an enormous impact on me.

The film wisely uses hand-held cameras (black and white 16mm film) and Hi-8 video, manipulating the audience into using their imaginations leading to terrifying results making the film one of the scariest horror films of the 1990’s. Sometimes what you don’t see is much more frightening than what is seen on screen.

In 1994 three college aged amateur film makers (Heather, Michael, and Joshua) decide to hike to Burkittsville, Maryland to film a documentary about a legend known as the “Blair Witch”.  The witch is reportedly responsible for mysterious deaths and disappearances over the past two hundred years. They interview, wander, and joke around with each other as a sense of dread begins to develop.

According to the film the trio themselves disappear, but a year later their equipment is uncovered fully intact with the film footage able to be viewed. The 1999 film is professed to be the footage left behind by the group. Throughout the film we watch the individuals conduct interviews with the townspeople and eventually get lost in the woods at nightfall, forced to stay the night as a mysterious entity terrorizes them. Numerous creepy noises and rustlings scare the group.

In retrospect, with more insight and knowledge about the film, it may be easy for critics to dismiss The Blair Witch Project as either a hoax or a complete manipulation, but in 1999 audiences flocked to the theaters in droves as word of mouth spread. In fact, I myself saw the film twice on the big screen and was frightened equally with each viewing. More importantly, with the onset of the reality television craze the film was clever in capitalizing on this trend, so it is to be championed. Timing is everything!

In the film genre, The Blair Witch Project used buzz and word of mouth to elicit interest before the film was even released- and then the craze began. The film was highly influential to subsequent releases that also chose to utilize camcorders as their method of storytelling- think 2007’s Paranormal Activity and 2008’s Cloverfield.

Additionally, The Blair Witch Project is similar in tone to older masterpieces such as 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and 1968’s Night of the Living Dead- independent releases made on a shoe-string budget that became enormously successful. As with these films the camerawork was tremendously important in eliciting necessary realism.

What makes The Blair Witch Project enormously authentic is the tricks used not only on the audience, but on the cast. Reportedly the film was almost entirely improvised including dialogue and situations that the characters faced. The actors began to feel as if events they were supposed to act were actually happening- their map disappeared and noises were created to frighten them. This clever approach to Method acting elicited the perfect responses from all involved- especially as they got colder and hungrier and more desperate.

My concern is how well 1999’s The Blair Witch Project will hold up as the years pass. Phenomenally effective and tremendously profitable at the time, dozens of imitations have arisen since the films idea was novel. So much so that it makes the original idea seem dated. One thing remains true- the film gave the horror genre a much needed breathe of fresh air and influenced many films to come.

A Quiet Place-2018

A Quiet Place-2018

Director-John Krasinski

Starring-Emily Blunt, John Krasinski

Scott’s Review #751

Reviewed May 1, 2018

Grade: B+

A clever modern horror film, A Quiet Place (2018) offers a unique premise and novel use of sound to elicit a compelling, edge of your seat story. With a science fiction slant and a “quiet” sensibility, the film is a good offering with ample jumps and frights that fit with the story rather than being added unnecessarily. Actor turned director, John Krasinski shines in this film to say nothing of the raw talents of Emily Blunt and the two child actors involved. Only the four principles exist in the story which is a benefit.

In the year 2020 most of the human population has been decimated by vicious creatures called “Death Angels”, who have hypersensitive hearing- they cannot see but pounce on their prey at every sound made. Thus the survives must either whisper or communicate non-verbally. An intelligent couple, Lee (Krasinski) and Evelyn Abbott (Blunt), he an engineer and she a doctor, have managed to survive with their two children, Regan and Marcus, their youngest son Beau having been killed after his toy rocket accidentally goes off. The family exists on a farm in upstate New York having created intricate ways to ward off the creatures, but live in constant fear of impending doom.

As Evelyn is now pregnant and due to give birth any day, in addition to Regan’s deafness, Lee attempt to create a mock ear to enable her to hear. One evening he decides to take Marcus out to hunt while Regan visits Beau’s grave.  When Evelyn goes into labor she steps on a sharp nail, dropping a picture which alerts a nearby creature. The remainder of the film (only ninety minutes in length) is spent with Evelyn alone in peril as the rest of the family makes efforts to save her with some eventual dire results, both before and after baby is born.

A Quiet Place immediately stands out as a unique film- especially for horror- by using sign language and sub-titles to show not only the characters communicating with each other, but also to the audience. This tactic is successful at immediately getting the viewer absorbed in the Abbott’s world and the hurdles they face. This unconventional approach gives the film more depth than a standard horror film would normally have and is tremendously effective.

Such a marvel are Blunt and Krasinski as the protective and clever parents that I fell in love with both characters almost immediately and bought them as a palpable couple. This is no stretch considering the two stars are dating in real life, but alas their chemistry works well in the film and they make a believable team.

Both Lee and Evelyn will do whatever it takes to protect their brood, and after a lovely day of foraging for supplies in an abandoned grocery store, we feel heartbreak when their youngest is annihilated by the savage creature. Lee, and Krasinski looking perfectly hunky in his beard and muscles, falls into the hero/Dad role nicely while Blunt, gives an emotional bravado performance worthy almost of an Oscar nomination if this were a different genre.

Not to be usurped by more seasoned actors, both child actors are wonderfully cast and hold their own. Millicent Simmonds, an unknown, flawlessly portrays Regan as the young actress is herself deaf which translated well onto the large screen. And Noah Jupe plays sensitive yet brave to the hilt. Both assuredly have bright acting futures ahead of them.

The “creature” is a strong element of the film, but suffers some misses as well.  Careful not to be too amateurish looking or too obviously heavy on the CGI effects, the fastness and ferocious nature is effective. However, no apparent motivation is ever given nor an explanation of how they came to exist is mentioned. Perhaps a sequel will give more depth? Regardless, I wanted to know more about the backstory of the creature. And how did the Abbott’s hold out so long when no others did?

A Quiet Place succeeds as a frightful film with depth and intelligence. Perhaps working better as an independent film  (it could have been edgier) with more grit and less polish from the creature, the film was released by Paramount Pictures. Nonetheless, Krasinski is off to a great start as a director and leading man with an impressive horror effort containing nice scares and little gore.

Friday the 13th: Part III: 1982

Friday the 13th: Part III: 1982

Director-Steve Miner

Starring-Dana Kimmell, Paul Kratka

Scott’s Review #743

Reviewed April 17, 2018

Grade: A-

By 1982 the Friday the 13th installments were becoming an almost annual event, which would continue until the late 1980’s. Still popular and fresh at the time (the novelty would soon wear thin), Part III has the distinction of being released in 3-D, a highly novel concept and just perfect for a slasher film, including sharp weapons to shove at the camera at every turn. Directed once again by Steve Miner, who also directed Part II,  the film charters familiar territory that will certainly please fans of the genre. The horror gem still feels fresh to me decades after its original release.

The plot originally was intended to copy 1981’s successful Halloween II and capitalize on the return of one central character, Ginny (Amy Steel), and continue her night of terror as she is whisked away to a local hospital following her ordeal at Camp Crystal Lake. While this plot seems laden with good, gruesome “kill” possibilities (think syringes, scalpels, and other neat medical objects), unfortunately this was not to be after Steel balked at a return appearance.

Directly following the bloody events the night before, a new batch of teenagers- oblivious to the recent killings- except for tortured Chris (Dana Kimmell), who once was attacked by the crazed killer, travel to Camp Crystal Lake for a weekend of fun and partying. As Chris teeters between imagining sounds and shadows, traumatized by her past, Jason lurks nearby waiting to pounce on unsuspecting victims. In this installment, Chris is most certainly the “final girl”, a fact that is obvious with the immediate backstory. The other characters fall in line with traditional slasher stereotypes- the lovelorn couple, the prankster, and a stoner couple. Also, a rival biker gang is thrown in for added drama as they vow revenge on the group following an incident at a convenience store.

A few main differences between Part III and Parts I and II follow:  Part III incorporates less “point of view” camera shots from Jason’s perspective, and more from the viewpoint of the victims. The result is neither better nor worse- just different. This is the first installment in which Jason dons his trademark hockey mask giving the film a slicker feel, and more identity, than Part II did, where Jason mostly wore a burlap sack. In clever fashion, Jason steals the hockey mask from one of his victims. Finally, as evidenced by the soundtrack, Part III adds a disco/techno beat to the famous “chi chi chi” sounds, giving the music a distinct 1980’s feel that the two preceding installments do not have- those feel more like 1970’s films.

Memorable slayings include a knife shoved through a victims chest while resting on a hammock, an electrocution via a basement fuse box,  and death via a shooting spear gun. The main draw to the kills and thus the film itself is the clever use of the 3-D technology, which makes the audience feel like the center of the action. What a treat to see the implements used in the killings coming right at me!

Credit must be given to the added diversity Friday the 13th: Part III incorporates. For the first time (a glorified black extra in Part II does not count) minority characters are featured. Bikers Fox (Hispanic) and Ali (Black) as well as pretty Vera Sanchez are included giving the film more of an inclusive feel- though each of these characters is killed off.

Enjoyable also is the inclusion of a quick recap of Part II, similar to what Part II did with the original, so that the climax of the preceding film gives the viewer a good glimpse of how the action left off.  The screenwriters add a few comical characters, admittedly offed rather quickly into the mix. I would have loved to have seen a bit more of junk food eating Harold and his nagging wife Edna, for example, before they meet their maker.

Hardly high art, Friday the 13th: Part III is mostly remembered for some cool, innovative technology, a tiny bit of camp that does not overwhelm the straight-forward horror flavor, and for still seeming fresh before the franchise got old, stale, and tired. Part III, along with I and II, make for a wonderful trio in one of horror’s finest franchises.

Friday the 13th: Part II: 1981

Friday the 13th: Part II: 1981

Director-Steve Miner

Starring-Amy Steel, John Furey

Scott’s Review #742

Reviewed April 15, 2018

Grade: A-

Hot on the heels of the surprising success of the low-budget slasher film, Friday the 13th, a sequel to the 1980 film was immediately ordered. The film was released merely a year later and is nearly as good as its predecessor, but not quite to the level of that horror masterpiece. Part II is a well above average sequel with a fun style all its own while wisely keeping facets that made the first Friday adored by horror fans everywhere.

Gushing fans must have undoubtedly been chomping at the bit for a follow-up film and with an opening sequence that is quite lengthy.  The heroine of the first Friday, Alice Hardy (Adrienne King), takes center stage, eliciting a clever twist that must have shocked fans as she is offed less than fifteen minutes into the film- think the sequence with Drew Barrymore in 1996’s Scream for comparison. Regardless of the reasons King would not be the films star (money demands or a rumored stalker), the fact of the matter is this improves the overall film adding an immediate surprise.

After this compelling opening number, things become much more familiar and predictable as the viewer is enshrined in the antics of young and horny camp counselors rushing to sunny Camp Crystal Lake (or in this installment, a neighboring camp) to setup for the impending arrival of kids. The young adults are all very good-looking, fresh-faced, and ready to be sliced to ribbons or dismembered in some fashion as the case may be. As any horror aficionado knows, this is a major part of the appeal of slasher films and Friday the 13th: Part II follows a familiar formula.

Paul (John Furey) and Ginny (Amy Steel) are the lead counselors- a bit more adult and responsible than the others, thus they ignore the authorities warnings not to re-open the camp since it has only been five years since the original massacres. As the day turns into evening, Paul teases the group with the story of the legend of Jason and how he survived his drowning only to live in the woods fending for himself and avenging the death of his mother. Little do they know that the legend is reality and Jason is lurking among the trees ready to off the group one by one.

Besides Paul and Ginny, the supporting characters include sexy Terry, known to wear skimpy attire, sly Scott, who has designs on Terry, wheelchair-bound Mark, sweet and  innocent, Vickie, jokester Ted, and, finally, madly in love, Jeff and Sandra, who are curious about the history of Camp Crystal Lake. Delightfully, the character of Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney), the comic relief of the original film, makes a heralded return to warn the youths of impending doom and gloom.

Friday the 13th: Part II mixes pranks and flirtations among many of the characters, but the audience knows full well what is in store for each of them- save for the honorable “final girl”, prevalent in these types of films. With Ginny receiving this title the others meet their fates in bloody style with interesting kills such as a throat slit by a machete while in a rope trap, a duo impaled with a spear as they engage in sex, and bludgeoning with a kitchen knife.

The final twenty minutes is quite engaging as Ginny must flee from the camp while enduring repeated obstacles preventing her safety such as a run through the woods, tripping and falling, and a failed barricade in a cabin. A wonderful touch within this sequence is the return of Betsy Palmer (Mrs. Voorhees) in a cameo appearance as Jason sees a vision of his mother. This move successfully creates a tie in to the original that works quite nicely as coupled with the opening sequence. The final “jump out of your seat” moment is highly effective as Jason, thought to be bested, leaps through a window for one final attack.

Interesting to note is what appear to be identical camera angles through much of the film, as the camera uses the point of view of the killer numerous times to elicit scares and the viewer serving as the killer- reminiscent of the first film. Additionally, camera shots of the peaceful, sunny camp and lake during the daytime are used, in contrast to the violence occurring at night.  Even the approaching vehicle the counselors drive (a truck) are shot the same way as we see them arriving at the camp in full anticipation of a fun time.

Friday the 13th: Part II is a fun follow-up to one of the most celebrated horror films of the slasher generation and is a perfect counterpart to the original. A perfect viewing tip is to watch both films in sequence on perhaps a late night horror extravaganza. Subsequently followed by a slew of not so great sequels as the franchise became dated by the late 1980’s, Part 2 serves as an excellent follow-up to the original using a similar style that will please fans.

The Lure-2015

The Lure-2015

Director-Agnieszka Smoczynska

Starring-Michalina Olszanska, Marta Mazurek

Scott’s Review #741

Reviewed April 12, 2018

Grade: B

2015’s The Lure is as odd a film as one can imagine- dreamlike and sometimes even absurd. The story mixes a strange blend of the horror genre with musical numbers, but for the sake of classification purposes, I would teeter to the side of gothic horror. Oddly enough, some of the choreography numbers are reminiscent of 2016’s La La Land, but that is where the comparisons between those films end as the former musical numbers dark and the latter cheery. A tough film to review, The Lure is rather disjointed, but kudos for creativity and unpredictability.

Bravely directed by a female (more kudos!),  Agnieszka Smoczynska, a Polish film-maker, the story is a cross between an autobiography of her troubled youth, and a retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Little Mermaid. Besides the obvious Polish language content the film does not appear overly Polish- it might have been nice to be exposed to some of the culture.

The film immediately gets off to a mysterious start as two teenage girls- later revealed to be mermaids/vampires named Silver and Golden- emerge from the water and follow a rock band back to a tacky nightclub where the band regular performs for patrons there for the strippers- it is sometime in the 1980’s. The girls perform music and strip, becoming an act called “The Lure”. While Golden continues to thirst for blood, Silver falls in love with a bassist causing her to yearn to be a real girl and subsequently has surgery to remove her tail and grow real-girl legs. As part of the fairy tale, if her intended marries someone else Silver will turn into sea foam and die.

The story is completely perplexing and a difficult follow, yet there is something mesmerizing and escapist about it. My wonder is if Smoczynska intended the film to make total sense or left it open to a bit of interpretation- after all the film is a mix of fairy tale and real-life experience. Some portions appear to be rather dream-like, for example the nightclub singer has thoughts or visions involving Silver and Golden, but what is unclear is whether she is experiencing reality or imagination.

Props must be given to The Lure for originality alone. The film is successful at stirring up multiple genres and creating something truly unique. In particular, the characters of Silver and Golden are transfixing- at times they are sweet and kindly, but then their fangs come out at a moments notice revealing evil and a carnivorous blood thirst revealing a grotesque, haunting countenance. The way in which Smoczynska created these characters is rather awe-inspiring and the up and coming director must have a wealth of imagination deep within.

On the other hand, the plot never really comes together enough to grab hold of the viewer in a riveting way. While Silver and Golden are clever characters and we feel some level of empathy for them, I also never felt completely gripped by them either. I felt no connection to any of the supporting characters either. Any attempt at figuring out the plot will only leave the viewer frustrated. I would advise taking The Lure as an experience and not a puzzle to necessarily be unraveled.

The Lure has elements of immeasurable fascination and an enormous creative edge. Attempts to create a unique fable meshed with a disturbing central theme are successful, but the overall story is way too confusing for the average user and ultimately ends up dragging towards the final portion with the final climax a wee bit unsatisfying. Still, a brave and inventive attempt at achieving something fresh and imaginative in cinema.

Jigsaw-2017

Jigsaw-2017

Director-Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig

Starring-Matt Passmore, Tobin Bell

Scott’s Review #739

Reviewed April 9, 2018

Grade: C-

As a fan of the horror genre and specifically of the Saw film franchise  that debuted in brutal form in 2004, directed by James Wan, has sadly become a lesser version of what was once clever writing mixed with wonderful, tortuous kills. Jigsaw is the eighth installment in a series that has now run out of steam- simply riding on the coat-tails of what was once its glory days. The 2017 film can only be appreciated by die-hard fans of the series, otherwise will be unsuccessful at obtaining any new fans.

Admittedly, Jigsaw does begin in strong fashion as the viewer is thrust into the midst of a compelling  rooftop police chase that results in a fleeing criminal, Edgar Munsen, being shot by detectives. Unknown if events are connected, the action shifts to a remote barn where (in typical Saw fashion) five individuals are held captive, each with a noose around their neck. Throughout the film we learn the back-stories of each victim as well as a connecting story of a pathologist, Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore), his sister, and the possibility that John Kramer has either returned from the grave or a copycat killer is on the loose, emulating his shenanigans.

The basic premise and tone of 2017’s Jigsaw is very similar to the preceding seven installments, however this version seems a bit watered down and glossy by comparison. My recurring thought throughout the feature was one of reminiscence of a horror version of a network episodic drama- think CBS’s Criminal Minds or the like. This is not a compliment. The camera style is of a slick production with nary a raw or authentic moment- incredibly produced with good-looking people in peril.

Fans of the previous Saw films will undoubtedly expect the now familiar twist towards the end of the film- a clever story turn making one character revealed to be not what he or she appears to be or even in cahoots with serial killer, “Jigsaw” (John Kramer). To be fair, this quality does surface in Jigsaw, but the surprise is so lame and inexplicable that it is hardly worth mentioning.  Suffice it to say the expected resurfacing of Kramer is a real sham and instead we are fed a less than satisfying riddle of one character faking his death and another sequence taking place ten years earlier. If better written this twist might be worth its salt, but the reasoning seems thrown together with little thought of staying true to the characters or history.

Other familiar elements in Jigsaw abound so that a fan of Saw or Saw II or Saw III will undoubtedly find tidbits that will satisfy them. In this way the film is like a trip to McDonald’s or a neighborhood burger joint- one will more or less get what is expected. As the barn victims are given choices via a tape recorded message by a sinister John Kramer voice, each is given a test and must ultimately confess their sins. As fans know, Saw victims are far from innocent and always harbor a neatly tucked away secret.

Such horrific acts like a haggard young mother smothering her screaming baby and framing her husband for the deed, or a thief stealing a woman’s wallet and causing her to die when her asthma medicine is lost, are back stories thought of by the writers. Another character once sold a motorcycle with a faulty brake line to an innocent man who later crashed and was killed. These aspects are the fun in a film like Jigsaw in that the tortures the victims endure have elements of “serves him or her right”.

Another solid to Jigsaw are the kills, again what fans of the Saw franchise have come to know and love. In this one we delightfully witness a victim’s leg severed, another impaled with needles, and yet another gleefully attempts to shoot one of the other victims trapped in the barn to allow her freedom only to realize the gun is rigged to shoot herself instead. These are fun moments that make Jigsaw less than all bad.

Having created an eighth version of a once great franchise that introduced the world to the term “torture horror”, by 2017 has grown ultimately stale and tired with a few glimpses of former glory created in the familiarity aspects. All great things must come to an end and the Saw series has more than crumbled from its former days of glory.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter-2017

The Blackcoat’s Daughter-2017

Director-Oz Perkins

Starring-Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka

Scott’s Review #732

Reviewed March 12, 2018

Grade: B+

The Blackcoat’s Daughter is an eerie 2017 independent horror film offering that combines various chilling elements to achieve its goal. Largely a fusion of the supernatural, the occult, and the psychological, the film, while slow at times, does offer a unique experience and is unpredictable in nature. Parts of the film are downright scary and spooky as religion meets satanism, always a safe bet for an unsettling experience. Writer/Director Oz Perkins, should be well on his way to a successful career in the industry with this, almost full-on artsy, film.

The action begins in a prestigious Catholic boarding school in a quiet, wintry area of upstate New York. As students (largely unseen) leave the school for a February break, Kat (Kiernan Shupka), and Rose (Lucy Boynton) are left behind when their parents do not arrive to pick them up. While the girls hunker down for the night, hoping their parents show up the next day, a third girl, Joan (Emma Roberts), who may be a psychopath, is en route towards the school, enlisting the help of a strange married couple (Bill and Linda), whose daughter had died years ago and was the same age as Joan. Also in the mix are two school nuns who are rumored to be satanists.

Little is known about the town, but the fact that nobody is around makes the setting a major plus. This may very well be due to budgetary restrictions associated with the film, but regardless, the use of very few characters or extras is a score, with the number of principle characters below ten. The cold and bleak nature of the town and the stark journey that Joan is on make the ambiance very successful. Many scenes throughout The Blackcoat’s Daughter are set during night time in relative seclusion and given the icy texture of upstate New York in the middle of winter the setting chosen by Perkins is spot on and quite atmospheric.

The overall story to The Blackcoat’s Daughter is both peculiar and mysterious and does not make complete sense a good deal of the time.  In fact, by the time the film concludes and the credits role, not a lot of the film adds up from a story perspective, which left me rather unsatisfied. Since Bill and Linda’s daughter looks identical to Rose, are we to assume that the events at the school occurred a decade before the events involving Joan? What ends up happening to Kat is perplexing- haunted by spirits and forced to kill, is she healed at the end of the film? Or is Kat really Joan? Too many loose ends are left.

The film is very heavy on the violence and the gore, and dares not hold back in showcasing the victims pain and suffering before they cease to exist. More than one character lies bleeding and immobile as the killer calmly approaches to finish the deed. Three characters are decapitated in horrific form as we later see their severed heads lined up in a boiler room. The demonic chanting of “Hail, Satan!” may turn some viewers off as would the overall story line- those who feel 1973’s The Exorcist is disturbing need not see this film as similar elements abound.

Also worthy of a quick mention is the cool, unique musical soundtrack that singer/songwriter, and brother of the director, Elvis Perkins, creates. With goth/techno elements, the score is noticed (in a good way) at various points throughout the running time, and adds to the overall feel of the film.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter succeeds as a disturbing and experimental piece of independent horror-making sure to at least pique the interests of horror aficionados. With plenty of blood-letting and squeamish parts, Oz Perkins knows what works. The story, though, would have been made better by a clear, definitive beginning, middle, and end, to avoid a confusing outcome. Still, I look forward to more works from this up and coming director.

Happy Death Day-2017

Happy Death Day-2017

Director-Christopher B. Landon

Starring-Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard

Scott’s Review #726

Reviewed February 20, 2018

Grade: C+

Happy Death Day is a 2017 horror/slasher film offering that incorporates the “groundhog day” theme into its story in clever fashion.  Oddly, the film was released in October instead of February- missed marketing opportunity? Despite a unique premise, the film is overly complicated, especially for this genre of film, and rather than succeeding as a late Friday night treat, Happy Death Day becomes tough to follow leaving too many questions and puzzled thoughts in the after effects.

We first meet snobbish and sarcastic sorority sister, Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), as she awakens with a pounding headache and a bad attitude one morning in the dorm room of a handsome classmate, Carter Davis (Israel Broussard). She barely remembers the drunken tryst as she haggardly goes about her morning- today is her birthday!  Irritated with the day, she proceeds to dismiss her kindly roommate, and her father, and is rude to a former one-night stand, finally going to a party, where she is followed and brutally murdered by a figure wearing a campus mascot mask. She suddenly awakens to the same morning she has just experienced!

Perplexed, Tree spends the remainder of the film on the hunt to figure out who killed her, and to unravel the mystery of putting the events to a halt by going on a continues “loop” of the same night, each time uncovering more clues. Mixed in with the events, Tree realizes she has feelings for Carter and should really become a nicer person.

Star Jessica Rothe is perfectly fine in a breakout film role- though she had a small part in the musical La La Land from 2016. Her chemistry with Broussard is adequate, though when we talk horror, romance is not at the top of the list- blood is. Unfortunately, Happy Death day offers little in true kills or scares- the film is rated PG-13 for heaven’s sake.

A nice aside and testament to the character of Tree, though, is her possession of both “good girl” and “bad girl” qualities. Trendy in slasher films  is that the girl who parties and has sex is offed before very long, but in Happy Death Day, we are served both in the same character. Tree is, in fact, butchered, but then when brought back to life, the character eventually blossomed into the clear heroine. This is a nice twist on a traditionally written character.

I enjoyed the perpetual whodunit factor that screenwriter Scott Lobdell carves into the fabric. A bevy of suspects are introduced and the tale changes direction with each loop. In this way, with each loop the story becomes a bit more complex and characters stories or motivations shift each time. Furthermore, a few more characters are introduced giving the story more layers. This is both a strength and problematic- Trees professor, Dr. Gregory Butler, her secret lover, is a suspect. Is Trees sweet roommate, Lori, who wants nothing more than to treat her friend to a lovely birthday cupcake, too good to be true?

At a certain point things spiral out of control from a story perspective. What is the point of the local serial killer, John Tombs, injured and conveniently staying at the campus hospital, other than to serve as a red herring? Who is the masked killer and why do they suddenly disappear from the story? How is Tree able to seemingly change the details of her murder so much so that it ends up never happening? The reveal of the true killer is very good, but how did we get to this point? By the big reveal at the end I had stopped trying to figure out the film.

Slightly above par, Happy Death Day, while spirited and reaching for something different, becomes muddled and senseless, leaving the viewer wondering how all the various “groundhog day” stories add up to a satisfying conclusion. Sadly, by the time the films conclusion is reached, one will likely not wish to waste the time bothering to care. Still, some props for creativity must be awarded.

Scream-1996

Scream-1996

Director-Wes Craven

Starring-Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, David Arquette

Scott’s Review #710

Reviewed January 5, 2018

Grade: A-

Wes Craven’s 1996 film Scream is a piece that greatly assisted in bringing the horror genre back into relevance after a long drought throughout the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when horror films suffered from both over-saturation and cliche-riddled messes. Thanks to Scream, creativity and plot twists and turns returned to the forefront of  good horror films and a clever film was birthed. Fast-forward to 2018, the film does suffer a bit from a dated “1990’s look,  but is still great fun to watch and a treat for all classic horror buffs as the references to classic greats are endless.

The film is sectioned off nicely and gets underway quickly  (in the best sequence of the film) as Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore)  receives a flirtatious phone call, while making popcorn,  from a man asking her to name her favorite horror film. The friendly game quickly turns vicious as the caller threatens to kill her boyfriend should she answer a question incorrectly. In a clever twist (think 1960’s Psycho!) Casey and her boyfriend meet deadly fates and the opening credits begin to roll. Given the huge star Barrymore was in 1996, this twist was all the more shocking and attention grabbing.

The remainder of the film centers around Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a popular California high school student, as she is pursued by an attacker known only as “Ghostface”, who dons a creepy costume and terrorizes victims via phone calls. The small town , led by police officer Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and bitchy newswoman Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), are determined to unmask the killer and figure out his or her motivations. Sidney’s boyfriend, Billy (Skeet Ulrich), and other friends are along for the ride as a possible connected sub-plot involving Sidney’s deceased mother are introduced. A romance between Dewey and Gale is also broached.

Scream is an enormous treat for fans of the horror genre as numerous references (and film clips!) of classics such as 1978’s Halloween abound throughout the film. Other references to Friday the 13th, Prom Night, and A Nightmare On Elm Street appear during the film. Writer, Kevin Williamson, clearly a horror enthusiast, must have had a ball writing the screenplay that would become Scream. In 1996, the mega-success of the film successfully not only jump-started the entire genre, it introduced younger fans of Scream to classics that were perhaps their parents generation and got them interested in the films.

Classic horror films are not only referenced during the film, but also explained, mostly by the supporting character of Jamie, the nerdy kid who works at the video store and adores horror films. A sequence in which he explains several “rules” of the horror genre is superlative and creative, and just great fun. He schools the teenagers at a party that anyone who drinks, has sex, or says “I will be right back”, is doomed to suffer a violent fate. This clever writing makes Scream enormous fun to watch.

The climax of Scream is quite surprising in itself and the “great reveal” of the murderer (s) is also intelligent writing and quite the surprise, as several red-herrings are produced along the way, casting suspicion on other characters who may or may not be the killers. A small gripe of the writing is the motivations of the murderers- when the explanation is given for their killing spree, the reasoning is a bit convoluted and hard to fathom, but this is horror and suspension of disbelief is always a necessity.

Scream is best remembered for giving the horror genre a good, hard kick in the seat of the pants and shaking all of the elements up a bit while preserving the core ideals of a good slasher film (suspense, a whodunit, and good solid kills). True to a good mention in the film, Scream was followed by several sequels, some achieving better successes than others. In 2018 the film may not be quite as fresh as it once was, but is still a solid watch and memorable for relaunching a genre.

Village of the Damned-1960

Village of the Damned-1960

Director-Wolf Rilla

Starring-George Sanders, Barbara Shelley

Scott’s Review #701

Reviewed November 30, 2017

Grade: B

Village of the Damned is a 1960 black and white horror film, released during a spectacular year for the film genre- and specifically for the horror genre. With legendary films such as Hitchcock’s Psycho and Michael Powell’s British Peeping Tom making their debuts at the same time, what a coincidence that Village of the Damned (also British) shares the same year. The film is a satisfying treat- certainly not on par with the aforementioned duo of masterpieces, but on its own terms is a fine film, with just enough suspense and intrigue to make it a memorable affair.

Anything in movie horror involving children is downright creepy, so German director Wolf Rilla is wise to adapt a film based on a 1957 novel entitled The Midwich Cuckoos, by John Wyndham. The title is one that I simply adore and wish Rilla had kept for the film. Alas, he did not, but the story is well written and almost like a long episode of The Twilight Zone or a similar television chapter from the 1960’s.- it just seems like more of an episodic experience. No disrespect, of course, but the film simply does not contain the bombast expected from a feature film, but rather a compartmentalized, small tale.

In the sleepy little town of Midwich, England, a polarizing force suddenly, and without warning, overtakes the town, causing all of the inhabitants to fall unconscious and into a state of inactivity. Attempts by the military to enter the town fail, even as an airplane crashes to the ground after attempting to cross into Midwich. As quickly as these events occur, the townspeople “wake up” and resume normalcy. When two months later all women of childbearing years suddenly become pregnant, gossip and intrigue ensue. As the years go by all of the children look similar, with platinum blonde hair, piercing eyes, and rapid growth spurts. Furthermore, they all are telepathic and communicate with each other in this manner.

The central characters include a prominent professor, Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders) and his wife Anthea (Barbara Shelley), are the parents of one of the children, named David, who appears to be the leader of the other children. As the children become increasingly menacing and intelligent as they grow older, sometimes hurting or killing other townspeople by somehow “possessing” their thoughts, Gordon must race to find a way to trap and stop the children from more dastardly deeds.

The use of black and white cinematography and the small town setting successfully give Village of the Damned an eerie and mysterious vibe, yet there is little or no bloodshed nor the traditional horror  themed elements- hence the above Twilight Zone reference. The film does not need these to succeed as the psychological mystique is effective enough. We wonder to ourselves, “What is wrong with these kids?” and “Why do they act so strangely?” “Are they possessed?” and  “Is this some kind of weird experiment?” The answers are never really explained in detail.

Slight negatives to the film are the only limited character development among any of the prominent characters such as Gordon or Anthea, and in this way these roles are one-dimensional- the children are the stars of the show. Sanders and Shelley are adequately cast, but I can think of numerous other actors who could have played these parts well or even better.

The conclusion to Village of the Damned is unspectacular and I was left with an unsatisfied feeling, especially as related to other more satisfying aspects to the film as a whole. I felt like a bit of potential was not reached.  Gordon merely orchestrates a big event, thereby sacrificing himself to destroy the children, and the film ends.

Village of the Damned was a followed by a 1963 sequel entitled, Children of the Damned, which was not deemed a critical nor a commercial success. Years later, in 1995, the film was remade and directed by John Carpenter, and was also met with poor reviews.

Don’t Look Now-1973

Don’t Look Now-1973

Director-Nicolas Roeg

Starring-Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland

Scott’s Review #693

Reviewed October 22, 2017

Grade: A

Don’t Look Now is an exceptional 1973 supernatural horror film that is as thought provoking as it is intelligently written and directed. Combined with riveting acting by famous Hollywood stars of the day, the film is simply an anomaly and must be seen to be appreciated. It is also the type of film that can be watched again and again for better clarity and exhibits the age old “it gets better with age” comparison. The film is rich with story, atmosphere, and cerebral elements, as well as being highly influential to horror films which followed.

Affluent married couple, John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie), live happily together in their English country home, raising their two children, Johnny and Christine. After a tragic drowning incident, resulting in the death of Christine, the devastated couple relocates to Venice, after John accepts a position restoring an ancient church. Soon, Laura meets a pair of elderly sisters, one of whom is blind and claims to be clairvoyant, warning her of imminent danger and that Christine is attempting to contact her from beyond.

Don’t Look Now is hardly your standard horror film, which is a main part of its appeal- psychological in nature, the film holds only one gruesome death- not including the death of Christina, which is a terrible accident- not malicious. Rather, director Nicolas Roeg quietly builds the suspense to a startling final sequence by using a chilling musical score to elicit a reaction from the audience. We know not what will happen, only that something sinister is bound to.

Due to the successful chemistry between Sutherland and Christie, in 1973, both cream of the crop in terms of film success and marketability, the actors deserve much credit for making Don’t Look Now both believable and empathetic. As John and Laura, each gives their character a likable nature and immeasurable chemistry, which makes the audience care for them. Despite the supernatural elements in the film, at its core the story is quite humanistic. John and Laura have tragically lost a child and we see them deal with the painful grief associated with this loss. The famous sex scene between the pair is shocking given the time period, but also tastefully done, as Roeg uses a fragmented filming style that mixes the nudity with the couple dressing for dinner.

Visually, Don’t Look Now is a pure treat. The viewer is catapulted to the cultural and wonderful world of watery Venice, where scene after scene feature gondola rides, exterior treats of the city, and filming locations such as the famous Hotel Gabrielli Sandworth and the San Nicolo dei Mendicoli church, wisely chosen as shooting locations giving the film an effective realism.

The characters of the elderly sisters, Heather and Wendy, are wonderfully cast. Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania are fantastic and believable as the mysterious duo. Seemingly kindly and eager to help, I was never really sure what the characters true motives were. Was Laura paying them for their assistance? The film never reveals this information, but Heather especially, contains a sinister look that shrouds her motivations in uncertainty. Fabulous actress Mason shines in her important role.

As John begins to “see things”, the use of the color red becomes very important. Christine died wearing a red coat and John sees a child wearing a red coat walking around the city, but cannot make out her face. When he then sees Laura and the sisters at a funeral, we begin to question his sanity. But are the sisters up to something and attempting to trick him or is his mind playing tricks on him? The terrific conclusion will only lead the viewer to more questions.

Don’t Look Now is a unique, classic horror film, with incredible thematic elements, an eerie psychological story, fine acting, and location sequences that will astound. Mixing the occult with an unpredictable climax, the film is influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, and succeeds in achieving a blood curdling affair sure to be discussed upon the chilling conclusion. The film is non-linear in storytelling, which only makes it more challenging to watch and appreciate.

Grindhouse: Planet Terror-2007

Grindhouse: Planet Terror-2007

Director-Robert Rodriguez

Starring-Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez

Scott’s Review #692

Reviewed October 15, 2017

Grade: B-

The umbrella title of “Grindhouse” is part of a 2007 double-feature, one film directed by Quentin Tarantino (Death Proof), and the other directed by Robert Rodriguez (Planet Terror). The gimmick was part of an attempt at something novel and also book-ending fictional trailers within the films. The term “grindhouse” refers to a cinematic specialty of either B movie or exploitation films- largely during the 1970’s. While Planet Terror gets credit for being unique and fun, it is often times too cartoon-like and rather over the top throughout.

The premise of Planet Terror is certainly not one to be taken seriously- as our heroine, Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), quits her stripper job vowing to move on to bigger and better things, she runs into her ex-boyfriend, El Wray (Freddie Rodriguez), and the two team up to lead a group of rebels, who are fleeing for their lives after a vicious zombie outbreak. The attack was caused by a group of military officials, led by the vicious Lieutenant Muldoon (Bruce Willis).

The film contains an undeniable retro feel- the sets and the props traverse back to the 1970’s in style and look, however, characters do use cellular phones. In this way, Rodrigues attempts to make the film an homage or a throwback to a different time in cinema- this feat is quite impressive and the film is a marvel from a stylized perspective. Another positive is that the film is reminiscent, by the camera styles and angles, to an actual 1970’s film, with grainy elements and a comforting old-style texture, which really works.

The plot, though, is the source of frustration, and many aspects of the film are just plain silly. The actors play way over the top- as they were probably directed by Rodriguez to do, but the end result is too much like watching a cartoon rather than a piece of art. Rodriguez appears to be copying many aspects of Quentin Tarantino films- specifically, the mixture of violence with camp, although these attempts do not always work.

The acting and casting is fine- in fact, Bruce Willis shines in the lead villain role and plays demented to the hilt. Unquestionably “borrowed” by Rodriguez through Tarantino, Willis, who was dynamic in Pulp Fiction, knows how to do his thing well in films such as this. Muldoon is quite the different character than boxer Butch Coolidge in 1994’s masterpiece, Pulp Fiction, but the acting style is the same. Stars such as Josh Brolin, Kurt Russell, and Rosario Dawson also make appearances so the film is assuredly a star-studded affair.

The casting of McGowan and Freddy Rodriguez as the leads is acceptable and the pair make a decent screen coupling. Still, her artificial leg which doubles as a deadly machine gun and his maniacal persona seem somewhat forced and, again, way over the top.

Planet Terror was a moderate box office success upon release in 2007, but watching the film in 2017, ten years later, unfortunately some of the luster has been tarnished and the gimmick not as catchy as at the time of release. Still, a decent offering in the horror, cartoon, campy genre, but much better films exist- think anything by Tarantino.

It-2017

It-2017

Director-Andres Muschietti

Starring-Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher

Scott’s Review #684

Reviewed September 20, 2017

Grade: A-

An enormous amount of hype has gone into the first big-screen adaptation of the epic length 1986 Stephen King novel, It. An above average mini-series based on the book was released in 1990, but the film version is much more effective. Officially entitled It: Chapter One, it divides the story in half, only focusing on the characters as children not as adults decades later. The film is highly effective with fantastic story, visuals, cinematography, and a rocking musical score. Simply put, it is one of the better Stephen King film adaptations.

As rabid Stephen King readers will understand, at over eleven hundred pages in length, and spanning a time period of thirty years, a two hour and fifteen minute film simply wouldn’t do to encompass the author’s artistic vision. To be determined is how chapter two will measure up to the glory of the first chapter.

Derry, Maine is the sleepy little town where the action takes place and the time period is 1988- worth pointing out is that the novel takes place in the late 1950’s. On a stormy afternoon, seven year old Georgie takes a paper boat, constructed by his older brother Bill Denbrough, outside to see if it sails. He meets a clown in the storm drain, who introduces himself as “Pennywise the Dancing Clown”. Pennywise toys with Georgie, turns vicious, and tears the boy’s arm off. Months later, life goes on as Bill and his group of friends known as “The Losers Club” all separately begin to see variations of Pennywise.

The film is really part teenage summer adventure balanced with a terrifying horror film and director Andres Muschietti achieves this mixture seamlessly. In fact, the use of lighting is one example of how the film goes about in this fashion. Most of the outdoor sequences, are bright, sunny, and airy. Conversely, the truly scary scenes, usually involving the entity of Pennywise, are shot using dark lighting, thereby eliciting fear and a perfect mood.

The casting is terrific- I specifically found actor Jaeden Lieberher as Stuttering Bill, Jeremy Ray Taylor, as Ben Hanscom, and actress Sophia Lillis, as Beverly Marsh, wonderful performers, and the clear standouts among the teenage characters. Lillis, bright-eyed and possessing a strong-willed composure, is reminiscent of a young Scarlett Johansson, and could have a bright future ahead of her. Lieberher contains an every-kid innocence and is believable in his earnestness and stuttering ability. Lastly, Taylor fills pudgy new kid in town, Ben, with comedy and a romanticism in his unrequited love for Bev.

Successful is the portrayal and appearance of the demonic entity, Pennywise. Since the fictional clown has over thirty years of interpretation and imagination, bringing him to cinematic life was surely a challenge. A risk would have been to make him either too horrific or too cartoon-like- the end result is a perfect hybrid. Bill Skarsgard exudes crazy in his brilliant performance, teetering between goofy and playful with Georgie, and evil personified as he taunts and terrorizes the kids in his dusty hideaway.

Interesting, and to be noted, is the fact that none of the adult characters are written in a sympathetic fashion. From the creepy Alvin Marsh, to the nerdy pharmacist, even the stern librarian, and the overbearing Mrs. Kaspbrak, they are each laden with an unlikable quality. The closest adult to being “nice”, Bill’s father, finally screams at his son to accept the fact that Georgie is dead.

Two small complaints include the two secondary bullies- king bully Henry Bowers cohorts are not given their comeuppance and simply vanish from the screen never to be mentioned again. Secondly, the sound exterior shots of Derry, Maine exude a New England freshness and a small town mystique. Too bad that the scenes were not filmed in Maine at all, but somewhere outside of Toronto, Canada- more realism would have been nice.

Due to the huge success of the adapted film, legions of fans will undoubtedly hold their breaths waiting for the resurrection of Pennywise and “It” to be unleashed on film fans everywhere- probably in 2019. I will be one of those fans.

Clown-2016

Clown-2016

Director-Jon Watts

Starring-Laura Allen, Christian Distefano

Scott’s Review #681

Reviewed September 16, 2017

Grade: B-

As a fan of all things horror, and with a robust appreciation for the horror film genre, the inclusion of clowns in said genre films is always a stroke of genius, and the 2016 film aptly titled, Clown, establishes a creepy premise right off the bat. After seeing the film, it was not until a few days later that the story began to marinate more with me and I gained a bit more appreciation than I had once the film originally ended.

Clown reminds me quite a bit of the mid-2000’s Showtime horror anthology series, Masters of Horror, though, in fact, the film is a full running length of one hour and forty minutes. The film has a unique, creepy vibe that was also a highlight of the cherished series of yesteryear and this film oddly also plays out like a vignette.

The premise is laden in the creep factor as the action kicks off. When Kent McCoy, a likable young father, who works far too much maintaining his real estate business, is notified by his wife, Meg, that the clown they had hired to entertain at their son Jack’s birthday party, has canceled. Determined to save the day, Kent discovers a very old clown suit in the attic of one of his abandoned houses and dons the costume. The next day, Kent and Meg are startled when Kent is unable to remove the costume even when pliers, a hacksaw, and other horrid machinery is used on him.

The story then introduces a strange character named Herbert Karlsson, who informs Kent that the clown costume is not a costume at all, but rather the hair and skin of an ancient demon from Northern Europe. The demon needs to feast on and devour children in order to survive, Kent realizes, as he begins to become ravenous with hunger. Karlsson attempts to kill Kent, revealing that the only way to destroy the beast is via beheading.

The clever and compelling part of the story is the mixture of clowns and children in peril- a recipe for success in most horror films- and at the risk of being daring. The fact that Kent and Meg slowly begin the temptation to harm children is both shocking and effective. The McCoys are average, everyday folks, Meg even working as a nurse, so the likelihood of the pair harming kids on any other day is remote, but tested by a vicious demon and their own son Jack in peril makes Clown work well.

My favorite sequence of the film occurs during a birthday party at a Chuck E. Cheese. While the kids play in a lavish and dark tunnel, the demon (Kent) is on the loose, causing havoc and eating two children. When Meg drives an unwitting young girl home, she is conflicted and tempted to offer the girl to the demon as a sacrifice in order to hopefully save Kent. The girls pleading is palpable.

The film is gruesome from a violence perspective and hesitates not in going where many horror films dare not to go- with the death and slaughter of young children. One kid in particular is basically shown disemboweled, granted the kid is written as a bully and therefore gets his comeuppance in grisly form. Sad is the death of a lonely trailer park type kid, only looking for just a friend in Kent- little does he know his short days are numbered.

As strong and measured as the story idea is, Clown does have some negatives. The film has an overall amateurish quality to it, and certainly not because it is an independent film. Rather, the style almost comes across as a student film project. Some of the acting is not great, specifically actress Laura Allen as Meg. In fact, the filmmakers might have been wiser to make this project more of an episodic venture instead of a full length release.

Clowns, kids, and demons make a fun combination for horror and the aptly named Clown is a solid B-movie effort in the glorious chambers of the cinematic horror genre. With a few tweaks and zip-ups, Clown might have been an even more memorable film. It will not go down in history as a masterpiece, but does have the necessary elements for a good watch.

Bride of Chucky-1998

Bride of Chucky-1998

Director-Ronny Yu

Starring-Jennifer Tilly, Brad Dourif

Scott’s Review #680

Reviewed September 11, 2017

Grade: D+

Bride of Chucky is the fourth installment in the famed late 1980’s Child’s Play hit franchise. The late 1980’s was not the best time for the horror genre in general, but the film was quite the highlight in a slew of duds. By this time in the series, (1998), the child/victim of the doll premise is dropped in favor of dark humor, thus the series immerses itself more into the horror-comedy arena. A treat is the inclusion of a fantastic hard rock soundtrack led by the Rob Zombie classic, Living Dead Girl, adding some points to the films final grade, otherwise having been more dismal.

The film is certainly not a great film and I find perverse pleasure in reviewing poor films. However, Bride of Chucky does have its place- as a late Saturday night viewing choice amid strong cocktails it contains a certain charm. Not to be taken seriously, the placement of a love interest for Chucky gives the film macabre romantic humor. Still, the film suffers from lackluster acting and quickly turns into drivel by the time the credits finally roll.

The action picks up from where Child’s Play 3 leaves off and the appearance of Chucky is now a weathered, stitched appearance that gives the doll a more gruesome and maniacal look- this works given the elimination of a child lead character. Left for evidence in a police compound, Chucky is stolen by Tiffany Valentine, played by Jennifer Tilly. The girlfriend of a deceased serial-killer, Tiffany is convinced that the spirit of her boyfriend exists within Chucky and she is determined to bring him back to life using a voodoo ritual. When the act finally works, Chucky and Tiffany reunite, but shortly afterwards, Tiffany is also turned into a doll and the duo set out on a killing spree.

The best aspect to the film is the camaraderie between Tilly and actor Brad Dourif, who voices Chucky. The duo have a light, comic banter that is fun to watch, as well as fantastic chemistry. Granted the actors only voice the dolls for a large part of the film, but their back and forth works well. This is what makes Bride of Chucky tongue in cheek- let’s face it, with talking dolls as your main characters, director Ronny Yu wisely avoids making the killings too grisly or heavy-handed, but rather, frequently uses quips and one-liners throughout the film.

As Chucky and Tiffany slice and dice their way to Hackensack, New Jersey, their motivations are to embody a neighborhood boy, Jesse, and his girlfriend Jade, played by a young Katherine Heigl. Along the trek, the foursome are faced with ludicrous obstacles, such as the brief introduction of a con artist couple who meet their doom by flying shards of glass after stealing Jesse’s money. The side story of Jade’s overprotective police chief Uncle, played by a miscast John Ritter, does not work at all. His schemes to plant marijuana in Jesse’s van are little more than plot driven machinations to advance the thin plot.

The characters of Jesse and Jade are trivial and secondary and Heigl’s acting is particularly garish to say nothing of the lack of any chemistry between Heigl and actor Nick Stabile. In fact, Heigl seems to wear a pout throughout the entire film. But, not to worry, these characters are as meaningless as all the others.

The gimmick ending, surely meant to “spawn” yet another sequel is as interesting as it is grotesque and a small highlight in a poor film. Bride of Chucky provides a nice lineage to the history of the franchise, a killer musical score, and decent chemistry among the leads, but also suffers a similar fate of many horror films, especially sequels- poor acting, a silly tone, and no character development.

XX-2017

XX-2017

Director-Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama

Starring-Natalie Brown, Melanie Lynskey

Scott’s Review #677

Reviewed September 1, 2017

Grade: B

XX is a 2017 American anthology film consisting of four unique horror vignette’s all directed by female directors- a brazen feat in itself as this gender is too often under-represented in the genre. The chapters do not always make complete sense, but what they do achieve is a creative, unpredictable edge and a feeling of having watched something of substance. Surely, another anomaly is that each features a female lead, giving the film as a whole a measure of female empowerment.

Immediately we are treated to an odd tale named The Box, based on a short story written by an author notable for composing tales of the gruesome, Jack Ketchum. In this story a young boy named Danny, cheerfully riding a train with his mother and sister during the holidays, innocently asks an odd-looking man if he can peek inside a shiny, red, gift-wrapped box. When the man agrees, Danny initially goes about his day, but proceeds to stop eating, much to his parents horror. This installment is my favorite of the four as it is the only holiday themed chapter, and contains a morbid quality amid the cheeriness of the season. The perspective soon switches from Danny to his mother, Susan, and the conclusion is a surprising one.

Next up, The Birthday Party features middle-aged Mary, intent on holding a birthday party for her young daughter, Lucy. When Mary finds her husband dead, she dresses him up in a panda costume and attempts to conceal him from the group of anxious young party-goers. The conclusion is a mix of the hilarious and the disturbing. This vignette features a nanny and a neighbor, both odd and mysterious characters. I admire the black comedy in this one most of all.

Third in the series is Don’t Fall, which transports the viewer to the middle of the desert, where four friends are on an expedition, seeking adventure. The main character, Gretchen, is deathly afraid of heights. When the group discovers a cave with ancient, evil writings on it, one of the group becomes possessed and embarks on a killing spree against the others. Very short in length, Don’t Fall suffers a bit from absurdity and the least character development of the four- it is also the one I found to be the weakest.

Finally, Her Only Living Son is the strangest in the quartet. Working class single mom, Cora, has only one son, Andy. About to turn eighteen, he is rebellious and known to be cruel to classmates- even gleefully tearing off one poor girls fingernails. Ironically, the high school faculty seems to worship Andy, deeming him remarkable and seeming somewhat entranced by him. As Cora becomes influenced by her mailman, Chet, it is revealed that Andy’s father is a Hollywood star, wanting nothing to do with Cora nor Andy. When Andy develops claws on his fingernails and toenails, Cora fears that he is not her ex-husband’s son at all, but rather the spawn of Satan. Clearly, this tale is a miniature of the classic 1968 horror film, Rosemary’s Baby, both haunting and devious in tone.

Enticing is how each chapter runs the gamut in theme and each is unique and different enough from the others so that they are distinguishable and do not suffer from a blended or all too similar feel. Certainly, each situation is implausible in “real life” and some head scratching plot points abound. For instance, how is is possible for a emaciated child, under doctor’s care, not to be force fed? Also, a teenager growing claws and hooves? Really? But, it is horror, and sometimes supernatural, or even silly, elements can be fun.

XX, new for 2017, is reminiscent of the successful horror anthology that the Showtime cable network was daring enough to air from 2005-2007- this series ran the gamut in stylized and edgy horror escapades, using various directors to achieve this result. Here’s to hoping that XX opens some new doors and prompts a new horror series. XX has a few flaws, but is successful in undoubtedly pleasing the legions of horror fans.

Annabelle: Creation-2017

Annabelle: Creation-2017

Director-David F. Sandberg

Starring-Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson

Scott’s Review #672

Reviewed August 17, 2017

Grade: B+

Annabelle: Creation is a prequel to the successful 2014 horror film, entitled Annabelle, and the fourth installment in total of the popular The Conjuring series.  Over just a few years these films have become well-crafted, intertwined stories in the modern supernatural horror genre. As a comparison to another latter day horror franchise, Saw, Annabelle/The Conjuring elicits more of the classic spook factor rather than the gore associated with the Saw franchise.

Set somewhere in the desert and mountainous region of California, the time is 1943. Doll maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and wife Esther (Miranda Otto) live a cheerful existence with their young daughter, Annabelle, who they nickname Bee. The family attend church services regularly and engage in cute games of hide and seek in their vast farmhouse and land. When one sunny day Bee is struck and killed by a passing car, the couple is devastated beyond repair.

Twelve years later, a group of orphans led by Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), are invited by Mr. Mullins (Mrs. Mullins now bed-ridden due to a mysterious accident) to spend some time at the farmhouse when their orphanage shuts down. The six orphans, led by best friends Janice (Talitha Bateman), and Linda (LuLu Wilson) embark on the quiet farmhouse and immediately are met by strange goings on, most notably a life-sized doll living inside a forbidden room, which Janice inevitably stumbles upon out of curiosity. Stricken with polio, Janice is left a cripple, unable to move around very well.

As Janice discovers the creepy doll, or shall we say, Janice awakens the doll from a strange closet covered with bible verses, the doll begins to terrorize the girls and wreaks havoc on Janice and Linda in particular. Apparently, the doll is inhabited by an evil entity and the peculiar circumstances following Annabelle’s death years earlier rise to the surface as secrets are revealed and demons seek refuge in the farmhouse.

Annabelle: Creation is quite well made and inundated with scary elements of surprise. The farmhouse, in particular, is a fantastic setting for a horror film- the remote locale, the eerie quiet, the dark, unfamiliar layout of the house, all come to fruition throughout the film. Specifically, a scarecrow, a stairwell chair-lift, and the years between 1943 and 1955 are of special importance.

Besides the common horror elements that the film uses to its advantage, the film is just downright scary and tense. On plenty of occasions the cameras are positioned as such so that a figure or object could easily be lurking behind a particular character, but out of sight from the audience. Sometimes nothing will appear and the scene goes on, but other times a scare occurs that makes us jump out of our seats- this is good, classic, horror at its finest- one knows not what is, or could, be coming next. I did not find Annabelle: Creation predictable in the slightest, which makes the film succeed.

As if I was not entertained enough throughout the duration of the film, the final set of scenes, now some twelve years after 1955, brings us to the very beginning of 2014’s Annabelle, as we witness the very first scenes of that picture, now making perfect sense and weaving the two films together in compelling fashion. Apt viewers will remember that Annabelle begins with a horrific home invasion scene, brilliantly crafted and shot. Now, the story line will make more sense and an “oh wow” moment will be experienced.

Certainly, I was left with a couple of slight gripes about Annabelle: Creation. The characters appearances are quite modern day, not the clothes per se, but the hairstyles, mannerisms and figures of speech- I never, for a second, believed the time period of the mid-1950’s. To build on this point, and at the risk of an honest historical inaccuracy critique , a black orphan would never have resided with white orphans, let alone be one of the “popular girls”, nor would the orphans ever have been led by a sexy, Indian nun wearing heavy mascara.

I get that the film makers deemed inclusiveness a higher priority over historical accuracy, but these details are noticed and readily apparent to me as not having  existed if the film were “real life”. Furthermore, the point was repeatedly hammered home that the film was a huge supporter of Christianity and went out of their way to promote the goodness of religion over evil.

Annabelle: Creation reaffirms my belief that good, old fashioned horror films can still be successfully made in the modern era, using elements firmly etched in the genre, but used in a  modern, scary and sinister way. Here’s to hoping the creators think of another good idea and make another segment in this thrilling dual franchise.

Homicidal-1961

Homicidal-1961

Director-William Castle

Starring- Jean Arless, Patricia Bresling

Scott’s Review #661

Reviewed July 8, 2017

Grade: A-

Homicidal is a 1961 horror film, shot in black and white, that is a direct homage to the successful Psycho, made only a year earlier. In fact, while some would argue Homicidal is a direct rip off of Psycho, I see the film as containing elements of Psycho, but twisted around so that its own unique story is created.  Regardless, Homicidal is a fantastic, edge of your seat film, that never drags or slows down, and the film deserves recognition. The surprise ending is terrific.

The story gets off to an intriguing start as a tall, leggy, blonde woman confidently walks into a local California hotel to request a room-there is something mysterious about the woman. She appears to be a woman of some wealth and convinces a young bellboy to marry her for $2,000.  Hesitant, but also enamored by the woman, he accompanies her to the local justice of the peace, who marries them in the middle of the night. The woman (Emily) then savagely bludgeons the justice of the peace and flees the scene. Later, she brags about the murder to a mute and sickly old woman named Helga, who Emily is caring for.

From this point, other characters in the small town are introduced and we slowly learn more and more about the intriguing Emily (Jean Arless). Flower shop owner, Miriam (Patricia Bresling) and her brother Warren are central to the story as Warren will inherit a fortune on his twenty-first birthday, which is the next day. Miriam’s boyfriend, Karl, is the local pharmacist, who Emily appears to fancy. All of these characters come into play as the intriguing plot develops. Is Warren’s inheritance a motivating factor? Will he be killed? Why isn’t his sister, Miriam receiving any money? Could she be secretly plotting something?

The comparisons to Psycho are endless. The gender bending twist during the final act is the most obvious one- Arless deserves kudos for tackling both roles in wonderful, compelling fashion. The fact that Arless resembles Psycho actress Janet Leigh is another similarity. Otherwise, Miriam and Karl resemble characters from Psycho and Helga could be a dead ringer for Mother Bates. Even some of the sets, specifically a staircase, resembles the one in Psycho.

Director, William Castle, brilliantly adds a gimmick to Homicidal that works very well- as the film is about to reach its shocking climax, the action suddenly stops and the introduction of a “fright break” ensues. At this point, Castle gives the audience forty-five seconds to leave the room to avoid what is to come next-we see the clock countdown in real time. What a fantastic idea!

Throughout the film, I noticed some of the actors, most notably Jean Arless, playing their roles in a slight melodramatic way. Suddenly, there is a knock at the door, or a car drives up, and the character quickly turns their head in a fast movement, to look in an almost cartoonish way. Rather than see this as a negative, this style of acting works for me and adds a bit of humor to the film.

Another positive for me is the way the film is gruesome in several parts. As a character descends the staircase from a stairlift, the image of the body is shrouded in dark shadows. When the dismembered head topples down the staircase, it is macabre and effective. The justice of the peace death scene is also well done and will please horror fans in its hefty bloodletting. Surprisingly, only two murders occur.

Certainly not as crafty, and containing a smaller budget (though Psycho was also small), Homicidal is quite the solid effort in a B-movie way. Success is largely thanks to the fantastic direction of William Castle, who carves a similar story to Psycho, but in a  different way so that his film does not feel like a carbon copy. Homicidal is a film for fans of classic, solid, horror films.

Strait-Jacket-1964

Strait-Jacket-1964

Director-William Castle

Starring-Joan Crawford, Diane Baker

Scott’s Review #650

Reviewed June 7, 2017

Grade: B

Strait-Jacket (1964) stars legendary Hollywood film star, Joan Crawford, on the heels of her successful “comeback” role in What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, circa 1962. Following this film, older actresses achieved some semblance of success in camp-leaning B- horror films and Crawford led the pack. Strait-Jacket is a perfect example of this sub-genre and glamorous Crawford sinks her teeth into this film with gusto, playing an axe wielding former mental patient, now released to the outside world after a lengthy stay in an insane asylum.

William Castle, a popular director of the time, had the ability to churn out films quickly and for very little money, a talent marveled at by studios. Certainly in the cult vein, Castle created Strait-Jacket on a dime and with one of the biggest stars in the world- now slowly in decline. Clearly, in “real life”, Crawford felt the role was beneath her, yet one would never know it by the brilliant performance she gives, a performance that makes Strait-Jacket better than it ordinarily would be.

We first meet Crawford’s Lucy Harbin (twenty years prior to present times) as she returns home very late one night, to a remote area, , having spent the weekend out of town. Her husband is a philanderer and has picked up a cheap girl at a bar, making love to her while his young daughter, Carol, pretends to sleep. In a fit of rage, Lucy decapitates them both while a horrified Carol watches. Years later, Carol (Diane Baker), now a grown woman,  prepares to introduce a recently released Lucy to her intended, Michael, and his affluent parents.

Living on a remote farm with Lucy’s brother and his wife, strange occurrences begin to happen to both Lucy and Carol- a dastardly child’s song, cut out faces from a photo album, and “imagined” decapitated heads. Castle wisely gives Lucy a makeover, from her graying, matronly appearance, to a sexy, youthful appearance reminiscent of her days when the murders occurred. Soon, the film, short at one hour and thirty two minutes, reaches a climax when Lucy appears to begin chopping new victims to bits. But is all as it seems?

The appeal of Strait-Jacket, as a viewer, is watching Joan Crawford tackle the role. Talented beyond belief, and with expressive eyes and facial features, she owns the role and subsequently the entire film, though Diane Baker is no slouch either. Crawford, never one to phone in a performance, at this time in career was happy with any role she received. She gives Lucy both grit and vulnerability, so that the audience roots for her. As the film goes along, we slowly begin to wonder if Lucy is hallucinating, still unstable, or perhaps being set-up by someone else.

Strait-Jacket is laced with several good scares- as both a grizzled farm hand and a vacationing doctor meet their fates in grisly fashion, the build-up to the kills is quite well done. A slamming door, a figure in the shadows, these elements are all used to wonderful effect to elicit suspense. To Castle’s credit, he uses elements of fright to make the film better than the writing is.

The plot itself is fine, but certainly not high art, nor anything rather inventive. The “big reveal” at the end of the film is rather hokey and seemingly a play on the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Psycho, but lacking the high intensity- the ending of the film is also a tad abrupt.

Strait-Jacket is a cool little horror film featuring one of the legendary actresses of Hollywood film history- and that is more than enough for me to recommend this film to both Crawford fans or horror film fans, or ideally both.

The Faculty-1998

The Faculty-1998

Director-Robert Rodriguez

Starring-Josh Hartnett, Piper Laurie, Salma Hayek

Scott’s Review #648

Reviewed June 4, 2017

Grade: B

Having watched The Faculty, a  teenage horror/science fiction flick,  at the time of release in 1998 (now almost twenty years ago!), I fondly remember sitting in the movie theater watching this soon to be cult classic take hold of its audience. Despite some now dated (in 2017) special effects, the story holds up well, and what a treat to see some “stars of tomorrow” mixed in with some venerable veterans, take center stage. The Faculty stirs up a strange hybrid of classic films (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien, and The Breakfast Club) to create a fun, and gory, horror film.

The action takes place in a small town said to be somewhere in Ohio, though the film is actually shot in Texas. A football town, and home of the Hornets, sports are central to Herrington High school- both to students and faculty. It becomes immediately evident that some of the staff is not “right” after two of the teachers stab Principal Valerie Drake (Bebe Neuwirth) with a pencil and scissors and flee with no emotions late one night after a faculty meeting.

Later, student Casey Connors (Elijah Wood) confesses to his group of friends that he believes the teachers are being controlled by aliens. Naturally, they are skeptical until strange events among the staff begin to take shape once the students watch the staff’s activities closely. The film then turns into a clever whodunit as one student after another is revealed to be infected and therefore an alien.

A highlight of The Faculty is its stellar casting- there is the younger set of actors, who share great chemistry together- Josh Hartnett (Zeke), Wood (Casey), Jordana Brewster (Delilah), Clea Duvall (Stokes), Laura Harris (Marybeth), and Shawn Hatosy (Stan) all make up the troupe of characters thrown together due to unlikely circumstances to figure out the big mystery- who amongst the staff is an alien and where they come from? All of the students are from different social classes, which make their antics unique- Zeke, the rebel, Stan, the jock, Stokes, the “weirdo”, and Casey, the nerd. In this way the film reminds me of The Breakfast Club, a mid-1980’s “coming of age” high school film.

Additionally, the staff comprise some of the best in the business- stalwart Piper Laurie appears as the drama teacher, luscious Salma Hayek as the sexy school nurse, comic Jon Stewart as the science teacher, and rugged Robert Patrick as Coach Willis. What a treat for film fans to watch a film such as The Faculty to see a bevy of popular film and television stars amongst the cast.

Director, Robert Rodriguez, most notably known for creative left of center works such as Machete and Sin City and for being a frequent collaborator of Quentin Tarantino in his edgy collection of films, helms a rather mainstream piece of work in The Faculty. Clearly, the film is targeted for your typical, mainstream audience, but with the right blend of clever quirks added in.

Delicious is the ode to the classic science-fiction classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, only set in a suburban high school. Clever still is the revelation of the teachers as the robotic “pod people” or aliens from outer space. This cute reference, in 1998, and still today, is an innocent knock on authority figures as the high school kids slowly get their comeuppance against some of the staff.

There comes a point in the film where nearly everyone is an alien and the film runs out of gas. However, the final scene is wonderfully constructed as the film ends as just another day in the life of a small town high school- life goes on and all is well. The Faculty is a treat to watch in present times as a “trip down memory” lane experience.

The Innocents-1961

The Innocents-1961

Director-Jack Clayton

Starring-Deborah Kerr

Top 100 Films-#98        Top 20 Horror Films- #19

Scott’s Review #639

Reviewed April 29, 2017

Grade: A

The Innocents is a 1961 British, psychological horror film, that is a ghost story, of sorts, and based on the novella, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. The film, though clearly horror, contains few of the traditional horror elements, such as contrived frights, jumps, and blood. Rather, the film succeeds by using lighting and magnificent cinematography by Freddie Francis. And, of course, wonderful story-telling and direction from Jack Clayton.

Deborah Kerr gives a wonderful turn as a beleaguered governess hired by a wealthy bachelor (Michael Redgrave) to tend to his young niece and nephew- Flora and Miles. The setting is a lavish, yet creepy, mansion somewhere outside of London. As the Uncle goes away to India on business, Miss Giddens, with no previous experience, is left to tend to Flora and Miles, who both begin acting strangely. To complicate matters, Miss Giddens begins to see sinister ghosts lurking around the property. The ghosts are former servants of the household, who have died, in which Miss Giddens has never met before. Miss Giddens is assisted only by the kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, who fills her in on the servants tragic deaths.

The Innocents, shot in black and white, a very wise decision in my book, uses sound to its advantage and combined with the interesting camera angles and focus shots- mostly of the ghosts Miss Giddens sees, makes the film unique and downright scary. As she begins by hearing strange voices, she becomes convinced that Miles and Flora are playing tricks on her, engaging in mischievous games. The sounds of the whispers are quite haunting and do wonders for the affects and chills it will undoubtedly give the viewer as the film moves along.

The question all throughout the film is whether Miss Giddens is imagining the voices and visions, or if this is true reality. Could the children be sinister and be playing a vicious prank on her? Could Mrs. Grose be evil? Certainly, nobody else within the household sees or hears anything amiss- or admits to it.

Kerr, a treasured actress, plays the part with emotional facial expressions and true fear, so much so that she will win the audience over, as we side and empathize with her character. Still, is she a woman on the verge of a mental breakdown? Does she have past mental problems? Like the uncle, we know nothing of her past, only that she claims to be a minister’s daughter. How then does she have stylish, expensive clothes? Could she only be pretending to be a governess? Has she run away from her past?

The Turn of the Screw is a true ghost story, but The Innocents is a bit different- it relies, successfully, as more of a character driven story. As Miss Giddens becomes convinced that both children have become possessed by the spirits of the servants, she makes it her mission to rescue the children from the spirits. We have an ominous feeling that events will not end well and they most certainly do not.

Several scenes will frighten the viewer- as Miss Giddens sees a haggard ghost (the female servant) quietly standing in the distance near a lake as Flora dances chirpily, the image of the faraway ghost figure is eerie and well-shot. In this way, the film draws comparisons to the classic Hitchcock film, Rebecca, as each are British, taking place in large mansions, and feature dead characters as complex villains. Also, in each film, the main characters sanity is in question.

With a compelling story and the nuts and bolts surrounding the story to add clever effects and a chilling conclusion to the film, the film succeeds as a wonderful and smart horror film. With great acting all around, including great performances by the child actors, The Innocents scares the daylights out of any horror fan, and uses exterior and interior scenes to make the film an all around marvel.

Get Out-2017

Get Out-2017

Director-Jordan Peele

Starring-Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams

Scott’s Review #629

Reviewed March 28, 2017

Grade: A

Get Out, a modern day horror film, is a unique film, mixing classic horror elements (especially great camera angles to elicit jumps) with bits of slapstick humor, not done very often in horror. In the case of Get Out, all of these tidbits come together in a marvelous experience, and the subject matter is rather risqué (see below), a plus for me as I like films that push the envelope a bit.

Certainly, as with most horror films, liberties must be taken in the way of plot points and continuity issues, but this film is an impressive work. Kudos, given the film is director Jordan Peele’s directorial film debut.

Chris Washington is a young photographer, handsome, educated, and enjoying life. He is black, and his girlfriend, Rose, is a pretty white girl from an affluent upbringing- it is implied that they are opposites on the social scale. One weekend, they traverse out of the city (presumably New York City) to visit Rose’s parents in the country. Her parents, Dean and Missy, own a sprawling estate with acres of land. Nervous to meet Rose’s parents and make a good first impression, Chris notices that Dean and Missy’s servants are all black and act in quite a peculiar fashion. Soon, it is revealed that Chris’s mother died when he was a little boy and when Chris is hypnotized by Missy, things begin to go from strange to downright scary.

I adore how the film immediately feels ominous- there is simply something not “right” with the situation-even before Chris and Rose arrive at her parent’s estate, something seems off. They hit and kill a deer with their car, the policeman who aids them seems racist, and despite Rose seeming fresh-faced, she also seems not to be trusted. There are so many ominous warnings not to approach her parents house, that when they finally  do arrive the audience is compelled to nervously watch for more, perhaps while biting fingernails.

Jordan Peele’s decision to have everything cheery and bright during most of the film only makes the audience wonder what secrets are lurking about in the grand estate- the setting where most of the action takes place. When the pair finally arrive at her parent’s house everything is out of whack. The film undoubtedly borrows from The Stepford Wives in the pleasant, almost robotic cheerfulness of some of the characters.

The big reveal and the rather objectification of all of the black characters- specifically black males- can certainly be cause for debate. The racial motives of the characters are also only skimmed over and never discussed or rationalized in detail. The physical strength and resilience of the black male is mentioned a few times and Rose’s parents being a psychologist and a neurosurgeon are major points in the story, but the intentions are somewhat wishy- washy and hardly plausible.

In a wise move, Peele mixes a hilarious scene amid the doom and gloom. Clearly the comic relief of the film, Rod, Chris’s best friend and proud TSA agent, calls the police and describes in detail his fears of a sex slave operation, which results in the police having a good guffaw- at Rod’s expense. Rod serving as an instrumental part of the film’s conclusion is a fantastic decision- mixing dark humor with more grotesque horror moments. This succeeds in setting Get Out well above the traditional genre.

The acting by all parties is believable and deserving of acclaim, but newcomer (to me) Daniel Kaluuya carries the film very well, even offering more than one heartfelt dramatic scene, mostly when remembering his mother. Allison Williams (a dead ringer for a young Jennifer Connelly) is also a marvel, especially as the character changes direction mid-stream and essentially becomes a different character.

Fantastic is the throwback elements of The Stepford Wives, complete with a similar setting. The film does not reveal whether “in the country” is Connecticut or upstate New York-Stepford Wives was Connecticut.

Get Out is a fresh, novel approach to the standard elements of horror, mixing comedy and aspects of race into a story brimming with suspense, good frights, and especially, interesting camera angles. This film, a great success at the box office, does not seem like the sequel type, but if so, I am intrigued by what more can be done with it.

Chained-2012

Chained-2012

Director-Jennifer Lynch

Starring-Vincent D’Onofrio

Scott’s Review #627

Reviewed March 24, 2017

Grade: B-

Chained is a 2012 independent horror film directed by Jennifer Lynch, who just happens to be the daughter of the brilliant film and television director, David Lynch, and his influence is readily felt throughout. The film is an exercise in cerebral, psychological horror, and is quite mesmerizing for most of the experience. The ending, however, is the pits, and takes away from the enjoyment of the rest of the film in its asinine, quickly wrapped-up, conclusion.

The film is set in an unknown area- all the audience really knows is a  decrepit, isolated, cabin in the middle of nowhere and that the shack exists in somewhat close proximity to a college town. Since the film is shot in Canada that is a good enough locale for me to accept. One day a seemingly happy husband drops off his wife and nine year old son at the movies, but implores them to take a taxi home as the bus is too dangerous. When they heed his advice, they are accosted by a deranged serial killer, Bob (D’Onofrio), who drives a cab and whisks them away to his remote home. After he kills the mother, he makes the son, whom he re-names Rabbit, his slave, reducing him to household chores and a somewhat accomplice to the subsequent victims he brings home. As the years pass and Bob continues to kill, he is determined to have, a now mature,  Rabbit follow in his footsteps.

A large chunk of Chained (and the film is aptly named because Bob commonly keeps Rabbit chained) takes place in Bob’s lonely home and Bob and Rabbit are all each other really have for support. Bob presumably earns a living by stealing the cash his victims carry. Many scenes of a bonding nature, albeit perverse, are featured as the two dole away the time between Bob’s kills, almost like a father and son. Jennifer Lynch wisely moves the film at a slow pace for appropriate build up.

Bob’s psychologically troubled childhood is told through flashbacks as he is victimized by his abusive father and forced to have sex with his own mother, who blames him rather than her husband. As a result, Bob hates women, and lures victim after victim into his cab and then slices and dices them back at his home. In a way, Bob is sympathetic, like a wounded bird, and whether he rapes the victims before killing them is unclear, as much happens off screen.

The cabin is purposely suffocating and when Bob teaches Rabbit intellectual facts and encourages him to read and study to become smart, it is a bonding experience. Slowly, Bob trusts Rabbit more and more. When Bob makes Rabbit pick out a young girl in a school yearbook to kill, the film kicks into high gear. Suddenly, it becomes vague whether Rabbit is loyal to Bob or still determined to escape. Will he help his intended victim instead of killing her?

David Lynch’s imprint is blatant in both the pacing of the film and more specifically in the low hum musical score, common in his own films. Daughter Jennifer clearly knows her father’s techniques as they continually come into play. A nice homage to Mulholland Dr. appears when a sweet older couple rides in the back of Bob’s cab, reminiscent of the older couple featured in Mulholland Dr. The gloomy ambiance is highly effective in Chained and the relationship between Bob and Rabbit, not sexual or overly violent, becomes actually rather sweet in some moments-almost like a typical father and son.

The rushed conclusion of the film is disastrous and Lynch’s attempt at a twist goes haywire in the “makes sense” department. After a compelling fight scene with Bob, Rabbit finally kills him, escapes his clutches, and returns to his fathers open arms (now newly re-married with another son) only to reveal to his father that he knows he orchestrated Rabbit and his mom’s abduction years ago and that Bob is really Rabbit’s uncle! To matters even more confusing, after a dramatic event, Rabbit is sent away yet again and returns to the cabin as his only safe place. This final act is a real dog, makes little sense, and is tough to digest.

I will give some liberties to 2012’s Chained since the director is spawned from the great David Lynch and the mood and several characteristics mirror his own work, but still with her own unique vision an obvious characteristic. Most of the film is a solid effort, but due to the ending of the film being such a let down, the body of work seems incomplete.

King Kong-1933

King Kong-1933

Director-Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack

Starring-Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong

Scott’s Review #624

Reviewed March 11, 2017

Grade: A

The original, black and white, 1933 version of King Kong (a few other remakes or reboots followed) is a masterful achievement in special effects never before done in film and is also a great horror/adventure film that is timeless in its look and feel, capturing 1930’s New York City, especially, in majestic fashion. Some of the dialogue and scenes now dated or slightly racist, it still holds up well as an overall lesson in film exploration and is a treasure to watch time and time again. The film is a take on the classic tale, Beauty and the Beast, sans the happy ending.

In the watery harbors of New York City, film maker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) prepares to embark, via ship, on a journey to film his latest picture. Known for films about exotic wildlife, he has a film to end all films in mind, and reluctantly, is talked into casting a female lead in the part. He scours the streets of New York City, finding broke and hungry Ann (Fay Wray)- a struggling actress unable to find work. She agrees to the role and off they go headed towards destination unknown. Weeks later, he reveals to the crew that they are headed for Skull Island, a secret island known for pre-historic creatures and a beast only known as “Kong”.

Amid the voyage to the island, Ann and First Mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) fall madly in love with each other giving the film a nice romantic slant along with the male driven adventure story. The adventure really begins when the crew arrive at Skull Island to find a weird, ancient ritual marriage occurring by the tribal people and all hell breaks loose when the dangerous “King Kong” escapes from captivity and falls in love with Ann. Mixed in with the story are enormous dinosaurs who destroy everything in their paths including many of the men from the island and the film crew.

As I watched the film in 2017, not too far out from 100 years past the films incarnation, I oftentimes sat in wonderment, amazed at how the film makers were able to achieve the luminous special effects throughout the second half of the film. Given the film is in black and white, the contrast of the dark, enormous ape (Kong) and the bright New York City, and the majestic Empire State Building, prominently featured in the final, climactic, act.

Scenes of a struggling Ann in the hand of King Kong seem flawless and believable and I marvel at how these scenes were shot and the enormous amount of effort to make them dramatic and not hokey looking. Since the film was made “pre code”, several shocking scenes exist- when Kong rips off Ann’s clothes as she struggles in his palm and Kong’s stepping on and squashing men are featured sparing no graphic details.

In addition to the great adventure story that is King Kong, also lies a tender love story and a bit of melancholy too. King Kong is not so much a dangerous creature, rather, has fallen in love with Ann and serves as her protector. He is a scared animal, chained and confined and subsequently shown to a stuffy Broadway crowd as entertainment- he becomes angry. I find Kong to be a sympathetic, misunderstood character, and because the human beings in the story are frightened, he becomes their enemy. He adores Ann and would not harm her in any way, but he is perceived as vicious, which he is not.

It can be argued who the real villain of the story is. Would it not be film maker Carl, intent on exploiting King Kong and gaining profit from it? Is it the tribe people who keep Kong locked up or is it for their own protection?

My favorite scene is the climax of the film. After taking Ann from a hotel room, he scales the Empire State building and is pursued by four military airplanes. When he sets Ann down on the rooftop ledge, he battles the planes, only to sadly topple down to the ground- dead. As he swipes at the planes and succumbs to gunshot wounds, it is a sad and powerful scene.

King Kong is a legendary film.  A film where audiences will empathize with the “villain” of the story and be impressed by the nuances on the technical side as well as enjoy the conventional and the unconventional love stories presented. One thing is for sure, King Kong is one of the most influential films ever made.

Happy Birthday to Me-1981

Happy Birthday to Me-1981

Director-J. Lee Thompson

Starring-Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford

Scott’s Review #621

Reviewed March 4, 2017

Grade: A-

Happy Birthday to Me is a 1981 slasher film that I fondly remember scaring the living daylights out of me as a little kid-clearly too young to be watching a film of this nature, but sneaking into my parents bedroom with my brother to catch this film. Certain that the film helped shape my passion for the horror film genre, I hold a fondness for it- critics be damned. My opinion is that the film is a small treasure in the land of 1980’s slasher films, containing a neat whodunit and a grotesque ending.

Melissa Sue Anderson, clearly desiring to break out of her nice television persona thanks to the wholesome Little House on the Prairie, is cast in the lead role. Happy Birthday to Me also achieves some merit since the film is directed by acclaimed British director, J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear). Anderson carries the film quite well in a challenging part. Glenn Ford co-stars as a Doctor.

Virginia Wainwright is a pretty and popular senior at exclusive Crawford Academy- a school for elite, rich kids. In fact, she is part of the “Top Ten”, the most popular and richest kids in the school. The ten friends meet nightly at the local pub. One night, Bernadette, one of the top ten, is murdered by an assailant on her way to meet her friends. This murder sets the tone as, one by one, the others are subsequently killed off, sending the school and local townspeople into a frenzy of panic. To thicken the plot, Virginia was involved in a horrible car accident four years earlier, which killed her mother, and caused Virginia to only have sparse memories of the accident. This piece is key to the film’s mystery.

There are many comparisons I can make to slasher classics that heavily influenced Happy Birthday to Me, but the most prominent must be 1978’s Halloween. The character of Virginia is very similar to Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), in their somewhat virginal, good girl characters, and both have an almost identical hairstyle! Also, Happy Birthday to Me successfully uses the killers point of view as the camera frequently serves as the perspective of either the killer or somebody lurking around spying on someone else. The film also just “looks” similar to Halloween.

The whodunit aspect is the most effective of all the qualities of the film. There are a multitude of likely suspects and the film does not shy away from this, purposely casting doubt on several characters- could it be the creepy Alfred, who carries around a pet mouse and creates a fake head of the murdered Bernadette? Or the suave French student, Etienne, who snoops in Virginia’s bedroom and steals a pair of her panties? Finally, could it be Head Mistress, Mrs. Patterson, a harsh, no-nonsense woman harboring resentment for the snobbish, elitism that exists at her school?

When the killer is finally revealed a measure of pure shock and confusion will undoubtedly transpire- how can this be? But by the time the ultimate finale is played out all will make sense. The conclusion does disappoint slightly in the implausibility factor, and the original ending is much more logical and compelling than what was actually in the final cut- rumors have run rampant that the screenplay of the film was rewritten numerous times well into the production- never a good thing. So, the motivations of the actual killer are quite weak, but the buildup is amazing.

Not to be outdone by the whodunit, the kills themselves are superlative: a shish kabob to the throat, falling gym weights, a scarf caught in the spokes of a bike, and the traditional fireplace poker are done in macabre and fantastic fashion. We always see the killers gloved hands and we are aware that the victim is friendly with the killer, so we continually try and deduce who it could possibly be.

The gruesome “Birthday party” finale is gruesome and gleeful at the same time. Each murder victim is propped up around a dining room table, each with a party hat on and all in various forms of dismemberment or blood soaked from their murder wounds. It is a grim and hilarious reveal. The murderer parades out of the kitchen wielding an enormous birthday cake, cheerily singing “Happy Birthday to Me”. This is one great finale.

Happy Birthday to Me is a wonderful trip down memory lane and the film still holds up as a key, perhaps overlooked part of the slasher genre that should be rediscovered by fans and followers everywhere.