Since I don’t have as much time to write longer reviews than I used to, I figured I would just post shorter reviews for horror/cult films that I feel deserve your attention.
Starring: Samuel Davis, Gage Golightly, Matthew Daddario, Nadine Crocker, Dustin Ingram, Randy Schulman, Louise Linton, Timothy G. Zajaros
Running Time: 98 Minutes
SCORE - 0.5 Howls Outta 4 (2 out of 10)
Plot: In this grisly remake of the 2002 horror hit, five college chums rent an isolated woodland cabin for a party. But their fun quickly ends when the group is exposed to a hideous flesh-eating virus, and survival becomes the name of the game.
I didn’t think I would ever see a remake as pointless as 1998’s PSYCHO, but 2016’s CABIN FEVER definitely takes the cake. Using the same Eli Roth script from 2002 but with a different director and different actors, the 2016 remake is pretty much the exact same film that a lot of us watched two decades ago. The only difference this time is that the direction isn’t as dynamic and the actors, as much as they try, don’t have the chemistry or charisma of the originals. Again, what was the point of this movie?
Does explaining what “Pancakes” refers to justify a new version? What about gender swapping the deputy, which doesn’t really change much of anything? Other than that, you’ve already seen this movie before - just with better actors and a hungry director trying to make a name for himself. I refuse to fully review this film since I had already done that years ago for a much better product.
If I have anything nice to say, the direction by Travis Z is fine and the film looks nice, if not a bit stale. The gore effects are okay. And while the actors are all decent, they just don’t elevate the story like the original actors had almost twenty years ago.
Seriously, just stick to the original CABIN FEVER since it’s a better film in every way. Hell, watch the sequels since they’re adding new and different elements to the original story. I’d really like to know the thought process behind this remake because it adds nothing new to what has already been established. What a waste.
Starring: Garance Mariller, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss
Running Time: 99 Minutes
SCORE: 3.5 Howls Outta 4 (9 out of 10)
Plot: In Justine’s family everyone is a vet and a vegetarian. At 16, she’s a gifted teen ready to take on her first year in vet school, where her older sister also studies. There, she gets no time to settle: hazing starts right away. Justine is forced to eat raw meat for the first time in her life. Unexpected consequences emerge as her true self begins to form.
Julia Ducournau’s 2016’s debut film RAW is a strange tale about a young woman finding herself in college through some odd means. Only sixteen, Justine is feeling the pressure of being “gifted”, with her professors expecting major things from her. She gets hazed like a young adult, almost to the point of peer pressure leading her astray. And she suddenly becomes addicted to human flesh after eating a rabbit kidney, which she was bullied into even though she was a vegetarian.
For much of the film, you’re wondering what’s the subtext here. Is this representing a girl finally coming into womanhood? Is this a commentary on vegetarians and vegans in a society that caters more to meat eaters? Is this about college experimentation and the struggle of figuring out one self? Until the very end, we’re never really sure other than the fact that she suddenly has a weird craving for biting and eating human flesh. And it’s an interesting and surreal way of telling a story about an unsure young lady who wants to fit in and understand who she is meant to be, rather than what others want her to be.
RAW works because while some of the scenes can be a bit graphic and disturbing, the film takes its time letting things breathe and allowing characters to slowly develop into people we care about. Why are Justine and Alexia’s parents so concerned about being vegetarians? Why is Alexia seen as the black sheep of the family and why does she enjoy messing with Justine in hurtful ways? Even Adrien’s sexuality gets time to grow, as he struggles with his attraction to Justine even though he’s gay. Plus the whole cannibal deal - was it the result of a rabbit kidney or is this something that has been suppressed in Justine for a long time? It’s really well written and lets the audience want to figure out all these mysteries at the same time the characters do.
Ducournau visualizes a well-made film for a feature debut, showing tons of confidence and letting her actors tell the story through their performances rather than covering it with tons of style and crazy editing to make it exciting. The most memorable thing Ducournau provides are the gore and disturbing moments that make RAW somewhat of a modern horror favorite. We get a vomit scene where hair is pulled out of the mouth. We get fingers and legs being chewed on. There’s also a Brazilian wax that goes terribly wrong. There’s also a pissing contest between the two sisters, while another scene focuses on a discussion about raping a monkey. These moments are made even more shocking due to the rest of the film being presented as a quiet drama of sorts, making these moments stand out from the rest. It’s a beautiful looking film for sure.
And the actors, in particular Garance Marillier as Justine, are all wonderful. Mariller really brings out a power of femininity by the film’s end that makes her performance one to watch. Her emotional beats - from feeling vulnerable, to being confused and scared by her new addiction, to her somewhat acceptance of her new life - are all handled really well and make her a flawed human being we want to root for despite her habits.
I wish I had seen RAW sooner because it’s a wonderfully made teen drama with horror elements that will make certain audiences cringe. But with an interesting story, confident direction by Ducournau and strong performances that carry the film from beginning to end, RAW is a cannibal movie that’s worth chewing on if you haven’t yet.
Starring: Megan Fox, Eoin Macken, Aml Ameen, Callan Mulvey, Jack Roth
Running Time: 89 Minutes
SCORE - 3 Howls Outta 4 (7 out of 10)
Plot: After a romantic evening at their secluded lake house, a woman wakes up handcuffed to her dead husband. Trapped and isolated in the dead of winter, she must fight off hired killers to escape her late spouse’s twisted plan.
TILL DEATH is a film I heard about during the summer on some YouTube video that was discussing the surprising PVOD success for the film. It also happened to star Megan Fox, a model and actress who gets a lot of flack due to many feeling she only got famous due to her looks - despite having some decent performances, especially in 2009’s JENNIFER’S BODY. I hadn’t seen much of her since 2016’s TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS, despite still being a constant in tabloids over her messy relationships. So seeing Megan Fox make an acting comeback in 2021 is something I wasn’t expecting. But I’m glad it happened because TILL DEATH is a film I wasn’t expecting to be as good as it was.
Much of that praise has to go to Megan Fox herself, who is pretty much the only constant in the film from beginning to end, carrying the story as it twists and turns throughout many scenarios. Fox has to play a physically and emotionally abused wife who goes through the ringer after her rich husband finds out about an affair she’s been having with one of his co-workers. Even though the husband is controlling and a hypocrite since he’s also an adulterer, he takes it out on her by committing suicide as they’re handcuffed together. Fox, for much of the film, has to drag a stunt man across this large house and even outside in the freezing snow as she acts angrily, desperately, and so many other emotional beats you wouldn’t expect from her. This is made worse when two men - one of whom she shares a violent past with - invade her space and try to steal from her and murder her. Fox does a great job showcasing the fear and frustration for a situation like this, as well as doing a lot of impressive physicality that I’ve never seen her do in any of her films. She’s really the reason to watch TILL DEATH.
The jilted lover and home invasion angles have been done to death, especially if you watch Lifetime, but the performances by everyone involved [especially Fox and Callan Mulvey] make it worth a watch. You get complicated relationships between all the characters involved, which raise the stakes when it comes to the survival of Fox’s character as she has to use what she learns to attempt an escape from this nightmare her husband has put her in as revenge. The cat-and-mouse chase in the last half of the film is done pretty well and I definitely wanted to see how it would all play out.
The direction by SK Dale is well done, with some surprisingly tense and suspenseful moments that make you wonder how it’ll all play out at the end. The film was shot in Bulgaria during the height of the pandemic and it definitely has an indie film feel, but TILL DEATH still looks pretty good considering the budget probably wasn’t spent on the actors since there’s only really five characters in the film. And the film is set pretty much in a single location, with Dale using his environment as much as he can to get his money’s worth. And there’s some underwater shots near the end that are quite stunning.
The use of sound design is great as well, as there’s not much of a score in this film, allowing ambient noise to become a character in itself. Doors and the floorboard creaking, as well as the sound of the weather outside, create a bit of atmosphere I wasn’t expecting as Fox tries to evade her attackers.
Starring: Christopher Plummer, Margot Kidder, Sarah Lassez, James Duval, Tatyana Ali, Melissa Galianos, J.P. Grimard, Ryan Bittle
Running Time: 91 Minutes
SCORE - 1.5 Howls Outta 4 (4 out of 10)
Plot: After Kate’s friend Monica invites her to help clean up an old opera house where her mother was killed in a play she starred in, she is skeptical. But when the doors suddenly get locked from the outside, she has good reason to be. She starts having visions of her dead mother getting killed down in the basement and everyone starts to see a mysterious clown. When people start dying they decide that they have to get out quickly. When the clock hits twelve, someone wants her to be in the final scene with them.
It’s a rarity when I find a slasher I’ve never seen, let alone never heard of until the last few months. But 1998’s Canadian slasher THE CLOWN AT MIDNIGHT is one that passed me by for more than two decades. But after watching the film, I can understand why.
THE CLOWN AT MIDNIGHT is definitely a film inspired by the late 1990s slasher resurgence started by 1996’s SCREAM. I mean just look at that poster! Those floating heads date the film right away! The concept also seems to be an amalgamation of many other horror films - such as 1987’s STAGEFRIGHT, 1991’s POPCORN and even the infamous 1989’s CLOWNHOUSE - all films I wished I was watching instead of this one. This generic direct-to-video [and it looks it] slasher doesn’t bother to reinvent the wheel. I’m more than okay with that if the film was actually, I don’t know, good. But whether it was the budget or the talent involved, THE CLOWN AT MIDNIGHT never fully clicks to stand out and justify its reason for existing in the first place.
The characters aren’t all that interesting. The main character has a family history with the opera house the film is located at. She also has visions and dreams of past events she wasn’t even born for, yet the film never bothers explaining why she even has them. She’s also whiny and as dull as watching paint drying. Everyone else is a token archetype - token jock, token person-of-color, token homosexual, token movie buff bad boy, token witch with a capital “B” and a token Velma wannabe who is into the paranormal. The sad part is that they’re all more interesting than the main character, just with way less screen time. Then you have both Margot Kidder and Christopher Plummer in this film, both collecting paychecks for their small roles. But at least they give the film star power.
The direction by Jean Pellerin isn’t all that bad. Not a whole lot of style visually, as the film looks like a TV-movie, but at least Pellerin infuses the movie with slasher tropes that will slightly satisfy fans of the sub-genre. While the film has no tension, suspense, or even mystery, at least Pellerin shoots the killer clown appearances in the style of how John Carpenter framed The Shape in the original HALLOWEEN. The clown is usually hiding in the shadows or in the background just watching or waiting to strike. And while I’m not scared of clowns, I’m sure those who are will feel some chills looking at this lurker. Too bad the kill scenes don’t have much gore, despite a couple of stabbings and decapitations going on. Only good slashers can get away with that, which THE CLOWN AT MIDNIGHT is not.
The acting is alright for the most part, but nothing outstanding. Margot Kidder and Christopher Plummer try to add some personality to their small roles. Plummer, in particular, adds some class to a film that probably doesn’t deserve it. The only other actor of note is Tatyana Ali of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air fame, who gives her best friend character a lot of sass and spunk. The other actors do what they need to do, even though lead actress Sarah Lassez could have done more with her role considering all the backstory and paranormal abilities her character possesses.
Starring: Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Jack O’Connell, Finn Atkins, Thomas Turgoose, James Burrows, Lorraine Bruce
Genre: Horror/Thriller/Bad Kids
Running Time: 91 Minutes
SCORE - 3 Howls Outta 4 (7 out of 10)
Plot: When a young couple goes to a remote wooded lake for a romantic getaway, their quiet weekend is shattered by an aggressive group of local kids. Rowdiness quickly turns to rage as the teens terrorize the couple in unimaginable ways, and a weekend outing becomes a bloody battle for survival.
EDEN LAKE is nothing new in terms of backwoods horror if you’re familiar with other titles like DELIVERANCE, STRAW DOGS or even I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. You have a naive city couple traveling to the woods for a vacation, quickly making them targets for locals who enjoy making them suffer with increasing violence each time. It was interesting seeing this story play out in England of all places, but I suppose every country has something like this go down.
The villains here are teenagers, as EDEN LAKE was made during a time where the British media was discussing young people they considered “chavs” - or loud and roguish kids who dressed a certain way that was perceived as someone of a lower, working and/or uneducated class in society. It’s a term not many in the United Kingdom find endearing due to its connotation, but it has obviously lived on in the reputation of this film. The villains in the film all represent this slang term, all from working class families who don’t seem concerned in raising them right, letting them go ramshod in the area as they torture strangers they consider weak for different reasons. Some do bad things to be part of the gang. Others, like leader Brett, enjoy the violence and death - even filming it all for later entertainment. While some feel guilty for the acts they commit, all the teenagers in this film are unlikable and you don’t really feel all that bad when they get their comeuppance.
It doesn’t help that the protagonists aren’t the most likable people either. These may be two of the stupidest people in a horror movie ever, considering everything could have been avoided if they had used common sense. Steve, in particular, has to be one of the more frustrating characters in modern horror history. Even though he seems to be educated in terms of books, he lacks schooling in the streets because he just instigates the situation when he doesn’t have to. But macho Steve does the opposite and suffers for it.
Jenny, while pro-active in the last half, does a lot of watching and trusts people she doesn’t know way too much in this type of scenario, making me yell at my television for her idiotic decisions. It was quite a frustrating experience at times.
The rest of EDEN LAKE is pretty standard if you’ve seen these kinds of films, as you’ll pretty much predict how things will mostly go. The only real gut punch of the ending, which I won’t spoil here. But man, it’s such a downer that you’ll want to shower after the movie’s over. It just made the frustration with the characters all that much worse because of it. Honestly, it was probably the right narrative direction, but boy was it depressing.
As for the technical stuff, the direction by James Watkins is solid. The film is also nicely paced, edited well and the picture looks good. The actors are all strong as well.
Directed By: Julius Avery
Starring: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Pilou Asbaek, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Iain De Caestecker, Bokeem Woodbine
Genre: Horror/Action/War/Science Fiction/Zombies
Running Time: 110 Minutes
SCORE - 3 Howls Outta 4 (8 out of 10)
Plot: France, June 1944. On the eve of D-Day, some American paratroopers fall behind enemy lines after their aircraft crashes while on a mission to destroy a radio tower in a small village near the beaches of Normandy. After reaching their target, the surviving paratroopers realise that, in addition to fighting the Nazi troops that patrol the village, they also must fight against something else.
A film I regret not supporting in theaters during its release, 2018’s OVERLORD is a fun monster-zombie action-horror film that probably deserves more love than it gets. Considering the film’s time frame and the premise of zombie monsters being created by the Third Reich to combat Allied soldiers during World War II, I was expecting B-movie silliness. But the fact it took itself seriously while embracing the concept full force makes this one worth a watch or two.
While the film takes time to really get going, allowing relationships to form and characters to develop enough for the audience to like or dislike them, it never really lets up once the sci-fi aspect is introduced to the protagonists. While a majority of the soldier characters are in full military mode and just want to complete their mission, rookie soldier Boyce is the conscience of the story, seeing things in an ethical and humanistic way that conflicts with basic training for war. It’s through Boyce we see all the incidents of the film go down. He’s the first one to gain the trust of French ally Chloe due to speaking the language. He’s the first one who finds the labs where the monsters are created. He’s the first one to see what the monster serum does to a dead soldier, not realizing that bringing them back to life only makes things worse. He’s also the one who makes the soldiers realize they’re human and that they need to help Chloe and her brother from the Nazis while also accomplishing their goal to eliminate the Nazis. It’s also a neat casting choice since Boyce is an African-American soldier during a time where the media of this time period wasn’t focused on people of color, although there were many fighting the war. Some may see that as forced, but I think that adds to the story and to Boyce’s character and his choices.
As for the rest of the story, it’s your typical mad scientist monster movie where people try to play God, not realizing it’s only going to backfire badly in the end. It’s well written and it’s definitely entertaining since OVERLORD feels like a live-action Wolfenstein video game adaptation. But it doesn’t move the needle enough to really stand out besides the historical time frame and monster zombies concept. It’s still a very fun flick once the action gets going, but I can see why so many people haven’t watched this since it doesn’t do anything really new within the genre.
Julius Avery’s direction is very good. The old school wartime opening and closing credits are a nice throwback. The action is really well shot, especially an opening sequence involving a plane being shot down and soldiers either falling out of the plane or jumping out. It’s almost shot like a Sam Raimi sequence and it’s beautiful. All the gunfire and monster stuff is handled extremely well, bringing some nice tension to the film. The film can be pretty gory and violent, for those interested in that. And the monster special effects are pretty sweet. It’s so good that it’s sometimes hard to figure out what was practical and what was CGI. I thought Avery did a great job with the film and hope to see more of his projects.
The actors are also solid, with Jovan Adepo carrying the film with a lot of confidence and likability. Wyatt Russell is a welcome addition as your typical military leader who is so stuck in that military mentality that he slowly remembers what it’s like to be a human being. Mathilde Ollivier brings a nice feminist touch to the movie, while Pilou Asbeck plays the creepy villain with campy glee.
I’m glad I got to watch OVERLORD over the Halloween season, after years of many of my friends recommending me to watch it. It won’t move the needle, but it’s a fun ride when the film really gets going [especially in the second half]. Solid characters, very good acting and cool visuals make this one worthy of a look if you want to see monstrous zombies causing havoc in a war setting.
Directed By: David Gordon Green
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Anthony Michael Hall, Kyle Richards, Nancy Stephens, Robert Longstreet, Charles Cyphers, Dylan Arnold, Jibrail Nantambu, Omar Dorsey
Running Time: 105 Minutes
SCORE - 3 Howls Outta 4 (7 out of 10)
Plot: The nightmare isn’t over as unstoppable killer Michael Myers escapes from Laurie Strode’s trap to continue his ritual bloodbath. Injured and taken to the hospital, Laurie fights through the pain as she inspires residents of Haddonfield, Ill., to rise up against Myers. Taking matters into their own hands, the Strode women and other survivors form a vigilante mob to hunt down Michael and end his reign of terror once and for all.
After a year wait due to COVID, HALLOWEEN KILLS became the horror film of the season due to anticipation and controversy. 2018’s HALLOWEEN reboot/sequel was a step in the right direction despite erasing previous movies to create another timeline that seems like a running joke at this point. But the film was well made and made the franchise feel legit again as a franchise powerhouse, making a lot of us salivating for this sequel. Unfortunately, HALLOWEEN KILLS caused a lot of debate about its quality and caused some unneeded drama within the horror community.
I was going to make HALLOWEEN KILLS one of my longer reviews, but I wanted to watch it more than once to see if my opinion would change the second time. The first time was at a theater and the entire audience was totally having fun with the film. The second time on Peacock was still a fun time, but it made it more obvious that this movie has narrative issues that can’t be ignored. Yet, my opinion on the film’s entertainment value didn’t change, making this review more of a positive one.
Let’s see what the movie gets right. The actors are all good and handle their roles well. Some probably should have had more screen time, but I thought the actors were all fine with what they were given. Although how many times can Jamie Lee Curtis be sidelined in a hospital setting in this series? She’s done it three times now. Judy Greer, in my opinion, was the star of this film and did a great job with her arc. Her character can be frustrating to watch at times, but Greer is really the emotional center of this film and I enjoyed her here. I know people disliked Anthony Michael Hall as Tommy, but I blame the writing for the character more than I do his performance. And hey - Kyle Richards did a nice job as Lindsey. I wasn’t expecting much honestly, but I thought she handled herself well.
Also, those 1978 flashback scenes were incredibly done. David Gordon Green’s best contribution to this sequel, I was really in awe of it visually. It looked like the original movie in terms of Michael’s look, the Haddonfield police, and even that make up job for that Dr. Loomis stand-in. Honestly, I kind of wished that the entire film was just a continuation of 1978’s HALLOWEEN in this flashback mode. It probably would have given more people nicer things to say about this movie.
I also loved the kill sequences in this movie. While Michael may have been more Jason-like than a stealthy Shape, I thought it added a lot of entertainment value to make up for a lackluster script. In fact, I’m a big fan of a bad ass and brutal Michael Myers. The best kills probably involved a fluorescent light bulb and especially a gun firing into the person holding it, due to Michael slamming a car door into the gun. My theater clapped for that one. HALLOWEEN 2018 didn’t really have enough brutality, so HALLOWEEN KILLS surely made up for it.
As for the screenplay, it felt like a first draft that needed more rewrites. A lot of the dialogue was cringe, and the attempt at comedy conflicted with the horror aspects in a major way. If Danny McBride is writing these comedic sequences, he needs to stop because he’s not helping the narrative. Yes, I laughed at how awful the dialogue was in a MST3K sort of way. But this should have been a more serious movie considering the events of the last film.
And I appreciate any movie with a relevant social commentary, but HALLOWEEN KILLS had a lot of trouble making it work. I’m talking about the mob mentality sequences where characters kept repeating “Evil dies tonight,” to the point where it almost became a drinking game that would lead to multiple fatalities due to alcohol poisoning. I understand it’s David Gordon Green’s critique on how politics and societal differences have divided a lot of us, especially when a certain person was in charge of the United States. And yes, any town would want to try to band together in order to stop someone creating trouble within their community. But the way it’s handled is so goofy and a lot of it doesn’t make a whole lick of sense. I mean, most of the community don’t even seem to know who Michael Myers is and what his history with Haddonfield is. So why would these people want to join a mob to stop him? Why would they risk themselves for a danger they have no history with? Why would they chase a dude with Danny Devito’s body shape, thinking he’s Michael? I like the idea of a mob justice angle because technically, it makes sense. But the characters are too dumb and/or ignorant to make this look anything but silly.
I also thought focusing on side characters was a good and a bad thing. We should see more perspectives from residents of the town, especially those who had interactions with the Shape in 1978. But it created a loss of focus on the Strode family, who should have been the center of the story. Besides Karen really, both Laurie and Allyson seemed like side characters.
But I still had a great time with HALLOWEEN KILLS. It reminded me of silly 80s slashers with dumb characters you want done in by the killer because of the idiotic decisions they make along the way. I think experiencing the film first in a theater with a big crowd who was game for anything really enhanced my enjoyment of the movie, which extended itself to my rewatch on Peacock. The 2018 movie is technically a better movie script wise, but I don’t think it’s as fun of a watch as this sequel is. I get the dislike for HALLOWEEN KILLS, but I just laughed, awed and never got bored once. But I do hope HALLOWEEN ENDS next year takes itself a bit more seriously and maybe gives reasons to what was done with HALLOWEEN KILLS, possibly enhancing the justification of decisions made. I guess we’ll find out next October.