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.
Directed By: Justin G. Dyck
Starring: Sheila McCarthy, Julian Richings, Konstantina Mantelos, Josh Cruddas, Yannick Bisson, Lannette Ware
Running Time: 97 Minutes
SCORE - 3 Howls Outta 4 (7 out of 10)
Plot: A bereaved Satanist couple kidnap a pregnant woman so they can use an ancient spellbook to put their dead grandson’s spirit into her unborn child, but they end up summoning more than they bargained for.
A Shudder Exclusive, ANYTHING FOR JACKSON was a recommendation by friends who thought the film would be up my alley. As someone who needs to catch up on a lot of what Shudder has to offer when it comes to newer horror, I figured this would be a good time to start that. And while the film has issues that keep it from being a modern classic, ANYTHING FOR JACKSON is still an entertaining flick that has things going for it.
ANYTHING FOR JACKSON is an interesting horror film for a couple of reasons. The biggest surprise is that this film about Satanists wanting to use a pregnant woman’s baby as a host for a spirit of a dead child is directed by Justin G. Dyck. Dyck may not be well known to horror genre fans. But if you’re a sucker for those Hallmark Christmas movies, then you have definitely seen his name before. I mean, it’s not the first time a Christmas director has done a decent horror flick. But considering he caters to a family friendly demographic in Hallmark, the creepiness he infuses in ANYTHING FOR JACKSON is a bit surprising. It’s a bit James Wan-lite, with disturbing looking demons and ghosts hiding and creeping around within the shadows. There are contorting monsters, beastly ghouls and a dead spirit flossing her teeth in a way that unnerves me. I thought Dyck established some nice atmosphere and mood, because I dug the vibe of this flick.
The other interesting aspect of the film is who the story is following. You’d think the pregnant victim would have the perspective, as she’s the one in trouble and is trying to escape a situation she has been forced into by people in her community. She’s the one you would want the audience to sympathize with and root for. But instead, ANYTHING FOR JACKSON is really told through the eyes of the elderly couple who are using this pregnant woman’s unborn child to host the spirit of their dead grandson through Satanic means. And while they’re doing a terrible thing, the narrative makes you understand why they’ve gone to these crazy lengths to bring back a loved one. It helps when this elderly couple seem like sweet people outside of kidnapping pregnant women, going to Satanic meetings and bringing dead animals back to life through evil incantations. While I felt bad for the pregnant victim, I was connecting more to the villainous couple who were just grieving and not thinking logically in terms of accepting death. Who wouldn’t want to bring back someone we lost? What they do isn’t right at all, but I can understand their motives and actions.
It also helps when the actors are really good in their roles, making one enjoy their characters more than one probably should. Both Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings are wonderful as the elderly couple, bringing a kind and loving nature to their roles while they’re doing hurtful things to an innocent woman. It works when the actors look so unsuspecting, bringing a humanity and groundedness to their roles. Konstantina Mantelos is also very good as the pregnant victim, getting more to play with towards the second half of the film.
If I had a major issue with ANYTHING FOR JACKSON, it’s really the film’s final act. I just felt it was clumsily written, as if the screenwriter had no clue how to proceed forward towards the story’s conclusion. It felt rushed and involved a character who wasn’t really developed until the last half hour of the movie. It’s not to say that this character wasn’t effective, as they were creepy and corrupt with power. But it took away from what the other characters were dealing with, making this person the true villain of the film rather than the elderly couple who started this whole mess. The imagery was cool and all, but it felt lacking in terms of a satisfying conclusion to a captivating story otherwise.
That being said, I liked ANYTHING FOR JACKSON and it’s definitely worth a look if you’re into Satanic people who have no clue what they’re doing, creating more problems than what they had started out with. Great performances, nice direction and an interesting narrative make this one a recommendation if you have Shudder.
Directed By: Maria Lease
Starring: Denise Crosby, Sam Bottoms, Rip Torn, Chris Demtral, Candace Hutson, Lupe Ontiveros, Enrique Renaldo
Genre: Horror/Supernatural/Killer Toys
Running Time: 93 Minutes
SCORE - 2 Howls Outta 4 (5 out of 10)
Plot: An American family moves to Mexico to fabricate dolls, but their toy factory happens to be next to a Sanzian grave and the toys come into possession of an old, malicious spirit.
Pretty much inspired by the 1988 horror classic CHILD’S PLAY, 1991’s DOLLY DEAREST is a film I thought I had seen before - only to realize that I hadn’t, confusing it for 1987’s DOLLS for whatever reason. Or maybe I did see the movie before and didn’t remember it, considering how mediocre it is.
The movie does have good things going for it. The box art cover is pretty sweet, as it’s kind of creepy and more memorable than the actual film itself. I also thought the Mexican location was an interesting touch, giving the film a nice foreign feel that stands out from other killer doll movies. The use of religion and spirituality to threaten the evil that was unleashed elevated this flick quite a bit.
I’m a sucker for any kind of evil curse/possession angle in a horror film, and DOLLY DEAREST does a good job establishing that. Instead of having the doll possess the child as their main motivation throughout the film, the child is quickly possessed right from the start, getting more nasty and demonic during the movie’s runtime. The supernatural stuff with the child is probably the most entertaining aspect of DOLLY DEAREST.
Also, the doll effects are pretty good considering the film’s budget. The dolls, when they come alive, are done with nice practical work that seem believable within the context of the film. And of course you get the shots of little feet scampering in the background like in CHILD’S PLAY. I thought the doll was creepy as hell, animated or not.
And I’m not gonna lie - the death sequences, which the film needed much more of, were pretty hilarious. We get rocks crushing someone. We get another person who falls in a pool of water in a basement - why was there a hole full of water in the basement, anyway - before getting electrocuted. And then someone gets their hand stuck in a sewing machine, leading to a random heart attack I guess. The way the actor performed his death scene had me in stitches.
Other than that, there’s not much to say about DOLLY DEAREST. The film is definitely trying to be CHILD’S PLAY, but the characters aren’t that interesting and the horror aspect is just not there at all. In fact, the characters are all kind of unlikable and not sympathetic, considering they don’t seem to heed any warnings that are flashing right in front of their faces until it’s too late. I mean, characters die and no one treats it as a major deal. And if you see your child acting strangely, especially when they’re threatening your life with a demonic voice spouting ancient Mayan languages, wouldn’t you think something was majorly wrong? Not this family!
The actors don’t do much for me either. Rip Torn uses a Mexican accent that seems to come and go whenever it wants. Denise Crosby plays another wife and mother dealing with some bad stuff, although her character is nowhere close to having as much depth as her character in PET SEMETARY. Sam Bottoms is just there, pretty much sleepwalking through the entire film. Honestly, the only actor of note is young Candace Huston as daughter Jessica, who gets a lot of cool stuff to work with and shows great talent as her character grows more evil over time.
Overall. DOLLY DEAREST is worth a look if you enjoy horror films involving demonic toys or dolls that aren't starring Chucky. It has amusing moments, decent special effects and a solid performance by a child actor who outshines anyone else in the movie. You could do a lot worse.
Directed by: Steven Kostanski
Starring: Nita-Josee Hanna, Owen Myre, Matthew Ninaber, Steven Vlahos, Adam Brooks, Alexis Hancey, Kristen MacCulloch, Anna Tierney, Roxine Plummer
Genre: Horror/Comedy/Science Fiction
Running Time: 95 Minutes
SCORE - 3 Howls Outta 4 (7 out of 10)
Plot: Siblings Mimi and Luke unwittingly resurrect an ancient alien overlord. Using a magical amulet, they force the monster to obey their childish whims, and accidentally attract a rogues’ gallery of intergalactic assassins to small-town suburbia.
If there was an independent horror film that I couldn’t escape from the mouths of others within the past year, it was PSYCHO GOREMAN - a movie that was unanimously praised by friends who had seen it. Despite digging the colorful visuals, obvious Power Rangers vibe and constantly being thrown recommendations to finally see the damn thing, it just took me until a few days ago to sit down and experience for myself. And while I did find much of the movie to be entertaining and fun, I think the constant hype somewhat ruined the experience for me. I mean PSYCHO GOREMAN is a good movie, but I never once felt it was a great one.
I think the main reason for that feeling is due to how I felt about the film’s main character. Child characters in horror films can be a mixed bag for sure, but I usually don’t mind them too much - especially in modern horror films. But the Mimi character - she got on my nerves as the film went along. It’s sad because I found her amusing at first, until the portrayal of brattiness, bullying and just overall annoyance started to piss me off to a point where I was hoping the titular alien would give her a warrior’s death [eating her alive]. Not since that kid in THE BABADOOK have I wanted a child character to just go away. I didn’t even care if they had explained her disappearance or not. I just wanted Mimi gone. Now I know her behavior sort of leads to a plot point at the end that leads to the film’s resolution. But the main character of a film should never turn your audience off before getting there. There’s one thing to have a female character be tough, independent and a bad ass. It’s another to have them be a miserable piece of dung you wanted flushed right away.
I think my feelings for Mimi distracted me from really enjoying PSYCHO GOREMAN. All the elements I usually enjoy in a B-movie are here. Goofy looking monsters and/or aliens? Check. Dumb human characters who handle the situation stupidly, yet have their hearts in the right place? Check. Cheesy effects and gore? Check. A silly story that doesn’t take itself all that seriously? Check.
I loved all the homages that were thrown into the film. We get a bit of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. We get a bit of E.T. There’s some THE GUYVER in here. I see a lot of THE MONSTER SQUAD in PSYCHO GOREMAN. You also get some of that former Astron-6 humor and it’s a fun time! And I like that director and writer Steven Kostanski didn’t try to spoof or parody the films and TV shows he was inspired by. It takes those elements, twists them in a non-PG way, and attempts to build a universe out of them for potential sequels with the title character. It wears its influences on its sleeve, but never does too much winking at the audience to distract you with it all.
Speaking of Kostanski, he does a great job visualizing the story. The film is super colorful, feels like a children’s live-action show for adults through its constant gore and special effects [some of the deaths are gnarly] and moves at a nice pace to never overstay its welcome. It also maintains a silly tone throughout, with characters being frightened by P.G. and then just accepting him being around. I mean, when you have parents who don’t think less of their Krang-looking son, you know what you’re getting into. For a film with a not-so-large budget, I think PSYCHO GOREMAN exceeds all expectations.
The acting is also strong. As much as I despised the character, Nita-Josee Hanna was super solid as Mimi. I don’t think any child actor would have made the character tolerable, but Hanna does what she can with it and carries the film quite well, having genuine chemistry with the other actors around her. I’d like to see her in another film playing a character that didn’t want me to turn off the movie. The other actors, like the likable Owen Myre as Mimi’s insecure brother Luke and the hilariously dry Adam Brooks as the father are all good in their roles. And Matthew Ninaber as P.G. [voiced by Steven Vlahos] does an awesome job as the evil alien who must work with the humans who enslaved him to defeat his enemies and get his freedom back. It’s like having Lord Zedd with a bigger budget fronting his own movie, which I wouldn’t mind more of if it happens.
Overall, PSYCHO GOREMAN is a film I dug, but not to the extent of many of my friends who gushed over it as the next big thing in B-movie horror. I love the visuals, as the 80s aesthetic and the cheese special effects and gore are right up my alley. The homage to other sci-fi and horror films, like E.T., THE GUYVER and even the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, work within the silliness of the story. The actors are all good and the soundtrack is fun. If not for the insufferable main character Mimi, I would have loved PSYCHO GOREMAN. But when a character, no less your main one, makes me want to turn off the movie, points have to be taken off. But other than that, this is an entertaining movie if you can tolerate annoying brats and embrace your love for Hunky Boys.