Lunar Cycle - December 2023

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:
Takashi Yamazaki

Starring: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Minami Hamabe, Kuranosuke Sasaki, Yuki Yamada, Saki Nakatani 

Genre: Horror/Drama/Science Fiction/Action

Running Time: 125 Minutes

Score: 4 Howls Outta 4 (10 out of 10)

PLOT: In postwar Japan, a new terror rises. Will the devastated people be able to survive… let alone fight back?


GODZILLA MINUS ONE may be the surprise film of 2023 for me. I had never planned to watch this new installment of Toho’s iconic monster in theaters, but friends kept mentioning it and decided to watch it on opening night on a whim. While I expected awesome monster action and cities getting destroyed by a giant lizard, I didn’t expect an actual human story that not only is emotional, but made me forget that I was watching a GODZILLA movie at times.

The entire cast, especially Ryunosuke Kamiki as former kamikaze pilot Koichi, is incredible in MINUS ONE. Kamiki, in particular, juggles a lot of emotional beats as a soldier who struggles with deserting his country at the end of World War II. Things get worse when Godzilla shows up and murders a bunch of mechanics on an island Koichi lands on, guilt building when he had a chance to save them all but is too scared to confront the monster face-to-face. We watch Kamiki play Koichi as a man struggling with PTSD - distancing himself from a woman he meets [who also has a child she’s taking care of due to the death of the child’s parents during the war] and feeling like a ghost in a devastated post-war Japan. When Godzilla shows back up and sees the damage the creature causes in front of him multiple times, he knows he has to confront his literal monster even if he has to off himself to do it.

The story is so well-written, well-paced and gives so many character arcs to multiple characters that we actually care about their encounters with Godzilla, hoping they find a way to stop the monster. Godzilla, playing a role closer to his original incarnation from 1954, is a complete villain here, destroying everything in its path and coming across as entirely unstoppable. This is a Godzilla who doesn’t care who or what it is destroying, as long as he gets to unleash its devastation as many times as possible.

Director Takashi Yamazaki takes a $15 million budget and makes MINUS ONE look better than most Hollywood blockbusters have looked in the last few years. And these films have budgets that are ten to fifteen times as much as MINUS ONE. Yamazaki lets the human story simmer and plays it all seriously, letting things build up towards the film’s exciting final act while twists and turns happen when you least expect it. The action sequences are thrilling and look phenomenal for the film’s budget. Godzilla, in particular, looks awesome - especially when he’s building up that atomic heat ray that destroys whatever is in its path. The pacing is so damn good and I loved the homage to JAWS anytime Godzilla swam underneath ships that were searching for it. The use of the original GODZILLA theme also made me giddy and was used at appropriate times. I hear Yamazaki wants to direct a STAR WARS film and I would be down to see what he does with that property with a much larger budget.

Seriously, GODZILLA MINUS ONE is not only one of the best installments in this multi-decade franchise, but it may just be the best installment of them all. It clicks in every way and checks every box that I would ever want in a GODZILLA film. I’m super happy word-of-mouth on social media has helped the film continue its success in America because this movie deserves it. One of the best films of 2023.

Directed By:
Rhys Frake-Waterfield 

Starring: Craig David Dowsett, Chris Cordell, Amber Doig-Thorne, Nikolai Leon, Maria Taylor, Natasha Rose Mills, Danielle Ronald

Genre: Horror/Slasher 

Running Time: 84 Minutes

Score: 0.5 Howls Outta 4 (2 out of 10)

PLOT: Christopher Robin is headed off to college and he has abandoned his old friends, Pooh and Piglet, which then leads to the duo embracing their inner monsters. 


So apparently while Disney owns the rights to the Winnie the Pooh characters when it comes to their own franchise within the studio, the original Winnie-the-Pooh book from 1926 had its rights go to public domain for the first time in decades. This allowed filmmaker Rhys Frake-Waterfield the opportunity to write, direct, produce and edit a slasher film called WINNIE-THE-POOH: BLOOD & HONEY, starring these classic characters to the surprise and anger of many. And I totally understand the fan reaction to this because I’m surprised I watched this in one entire sitting and I’m angry I wasted 80 minutes of my life giving this a shot.

I mean, the concept for this movie is actually quite good. Christopher Robin befriends the Winnie-the-Pooh characters throughout his young life, leading to the characters to be emotionally attached to their human friend. But once he grows old enough for college and decides to leave them for a higher education and pursue his adult life without them, the characters grow bitter and resentful enough to want revenge on Robin and other humans who enter 100 Acre Woods. That sounds like a cool horror movie!

Too bad this only works for the first ten minutes of the movie, leaving 74 minutes of Pooh and Piglet stalking bland and annoying female characters who do the most dumb things I’ve seen characters do in a horror film in a very long time. It almost borders on misogynistic, as Pooh and Piglet have no issues targeting young women for slaughter but aren’t as brutal on the male characters that show up. It doesn’t help that these female characters are way too ignorant or lack any common sense for any audience to care about them in any sort of meaningful way other than to watch classic characters eliminate them. I mean, sure you can talk to hostages for five straight minutes in Pooh’s lair. It would be smarter to free them and have them explain things once you’re safe enough from danger, but what do I know right? 

Other than a cool idea, an amusing pre-credits sequence and decent gore sequences, WINNIE-THE-POOH: BLOOD & HONEY has nothing else to offer. The direction isn’t all that impressive. The acting is not good. The costumes look alright I guess, but doesn’t save the film from being terrible. I’m sure some will laugh at how stupid and bad this film is [especially if you’re under the influence of certain substances]. But I think most will just be frustrated by the end of this film, wishing death on everyone on screen. This honestly may be the worst film I’ve watched that was released in 2023. I’m actually sad this is getting a sequel because that means I’ll probably have to watch it for a review. And I thought Eeyore had a depressing life.

Directed By:
Tyler MacIntyre
Starring: Jane Widdop, Joel McHale, Justin Long, Jess McLeod, Katharine Isabelle
Genre: Horror/Thriller/Comedy/Slasher
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Score: 2 Howls Outta 4 (5 out of 10)

PLOT: Winnie’s life is less than wonderful one year after saving her town from a psychotic killer on Christmas Eve. When she wishes she was never born, she finds herself magically transported to a nightmarish parallel universe. With the murderous maniac now back, she must team up with a misfit to identify the culprit and get back to her own reality.

A horror take on the 1946 Frank Capra holiday classic IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE [with some elements of 1983’s A CHRISTMAS STORY implemented], I was expecting a scary version of a familiar story. Considering it was written by a co-writer of 2020’s FREAKY and riding the wave of time-traveling horror films like 2017’s HAPPY DEATH DAY and 2023’s TOTALLY KILLER, it should have been mostly a slam dunk. Unfortunately, IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE is just a mediocre slasher film that has a really cool concept but doesn’t bother to execute it to its fullest potential.
The first act is the best part of this film, as it gets into the plot right away and reveals things that will be important once the time changes for the rest of the film. And while seeing a different timeline is cool at times in IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE, not enough time is given to really flesh out the major changes that the Final Girl Winnie has to deal with in order to get her back to her original timeline. While relationships are different and the mystery of the killer gets a bit more complex, things just happen because they need to in order for the story to move forward towards its conclusion. There’s no real tension, suspense or drama that’s brought out from these changes, making one wonder why even bother using this concept to begin with. The final act also feels way too convenient and easy for the main characters to achieve that Hollywood ending, which is a shame.
While some shots are cool looking, mainly due to lighting and framing, Tyler MacIntyre and his team didn’t really wow me with their visual presentation. It does what it needs to do to get from Point A to Point B. The actors are probably the highlight here, especially Justin Long as this greedy narcissistic Mayor and Joel McHale playing a serious role that actually works for the most part. It’s also nice to see Katharine Isabelle doing her thing, while Jane Widdop does what she can with the material. I would like to see her in a better project.
I really wanted this to be an annual holiday tradition, but I honestly can’t see myself willingly watching this again unless it was to show friends or for a podcast for whatever reason. While it’s definitely better to just stick with IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, there’s nothing wrong with more holiday horror. So if you’re curious, check it out. I just hope you don’t wish that you were watching a better film like I did.

Directed By: Jenn Wexler

Starring: Georgia Acken, Mena Massoud, Olivia Scott Welch, Gus Kenworthy, Chloe Levine, Derek Johns, Laurent Pitre, Madison Baines 

Genre: Horror/Thriller/Supernatural/Demons

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Score: 3 Howls Outta 4 (7 out of 10)

PLOT: Christmas break, 1971. Samantha and Clara, two students who are staying behind for the holidays at their boarding school, must survive the night after the arrival of uninvited visitors.


Did any of you watch this year’s THE HOLDOVERS and wish it had a more horror slant involving a group of serial killers murdering people in order to summon a demon during the holidays? Well if you did, THE SACRIFICE GAME is definitely your jam. 

I didn’t know what to expect out of this, even though the trailer was intriguing. But a lot of this film worked for me, both visually and narratively. Jenn Wexler was smart in using a 70s vibe, a time where Satanic Panic was at its peak. It added an old school horror feel to THE SACRIFICE GAME that added a bit of atmosphere to film that mainly takes place indoors the entire time. I also thought the horror elements were used sparingly well, with the special effects looking very good. The final act isn’t shy about showing blood and gore, which was a nice change of pace from the more quiet and talky first two acts. 

The story is also pretty simple, as a group of people are going from home to home killing people to collect blood in order to summon a demon that’s trapped inside of a boarding school. It plays straightforward for the first half of the film, until the twists begin that make the movie a lot of fun to watch. It’s tough to discuss the last half without spoiling stuff, but I like how misunderstandings and not doing enough research can get some really stupid and greedy people in trouble.

The acting is hit-and-miss, with some actors really hamming it up with some interesting line readings that amused me more than get me invested in their character arcs. Mena Massoud, the live-action star of 2019’s ALADDIN, really twirls that proverbial mustache as the film’s lead villain, chewing up scenery any chance he gets. It works in some instances and it’s really distracting during others. But at least Massoud is having fun. I thought the two younger actresses, Georgia Acken and Madison Baines, were very good - especially Acken since she’s given more to do. Gus Kenworthy doesn’t get a whole lot to do, but he’s a recognizable name that will interest some viewers. 

While the holidays are over, I still recommend this one if you have Shudder. I think it has enough interesting twists and good enough acting to earn a recommendation for anyone looking for a recent Christmas horror flick.

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