Movie Review: Hush (2016)

Director: Mike Flanagan, Writers: Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel, Stars: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr., Michael Trucco |

Hush posterI have scrolled past Hush several times on my Netflix streaming menu. It just did not jump out at me. But after hearing several friends praise the shocker, I decided to give it a try. I was more than pleasantly surprised. Expecting a twist on The Strangers and Hostel, I got something that vaguely resembled that mash-up but was much more.

Maddie (played by Kate Siegel) is a deaf writer who lives in a very secluded spot in the woods. After her close friends and only neighbors are viciously slaughtered by a masked maniac (John Gallagher Jr., in a very surprising performance) Maddie becomes the killer’s target and a senses-deprived game of cat and mouse develops.

hush2frameNow, full disclosure… I am not a huge fan of director Mike Flanagan’s previous work. I expected a very by the numbers slasher flick but when the enigmatic killer removes his mask, things get very different and deep. The whole dynamic of the picture changes, and you get to know the killer in a way that makes the premise much more frightening.

This movie is very stylish, does some very out of the box things, plot wise, and Siegel and Gallagher turn in marvelous performances. There are no clichés, no formulas, no moments of disbelief. Nothing for you to scoff at or roll your eyes. It’s tense, well-written, well-shot and well-acted.

Hush is a winner. I can’t wait to see more from everyone involved.

Movie Review: The Conjuring 2

conjuringpostersmall

In 2013 James Wan scared the hell out of millions of people and turned the horror genre on its head by delivering The Conjuring, a superb, terrifying film chronicling a purportedly real life case of haunting and possession investigated by the husband and wife team of Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Now we have The Conjuring 2, which picks up several months after the Warrens concluded their involvement in the Perron case (the basis for the original film).  As the new film opens, Ed and Lorraine (again portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, who still share an electric chemistry which provides the film with its emotional core) are investigating the Amityville haunting, the case that catapulted them into the spotlight. During this sequence (which, unlike the original film, actually earns this sequel its R rating), Lorraine has an encounter with something evil, leaving her afraid for the safety of her husband.

While this is going on, we’re introduced to Peggy Hodgson and her four children, who live in a run down council house in Enfield, North London.  A series of terrifying paranormal occurrences (centered around daughter Janet) besieges the family, increasing in frequency and ferocity. These events are witnessed by multiple people and when even the police realize they are unable to provide any substantial help, Peggy turns to the church. News travels across the ocean to America, where the Catholic church again turns to the Warrens for assistance.

conj2frame2Despite Lorraine’s objections, Ed and Lorraine make the trip to London and investigate the events, which would go on to achieve global fame as the Enfield Poltergeist case – one of the most documented paranormal incidents in history.

The cast is superb, with Frances O’ Connor as Peggy Hodges and Madison Wolfe as young Janet being the two newcomers ably holding their own with Wilson and Farmiga. Simon McBurney is also on hand in an effective turn as psychical investigator Maurice Gross, who was one of the first to believe the Hodgsons claims.

Writers Cary and Chad Hayes (along with David Leslie Johnson) deliver a screenplay equal parts smart, scary and involving, taking time to develop these characters as human beings, establishing a connection between them and the audience before unleashing all manner of horrors on both families.

And there is indeed horror. James Wan returns behind the camera to deliver a knockout sequel, a film every bit as terrifying as its predecessor. If some of the scares in The Conjuring 2 seem familiar at times, the execution is anything but. Wan understands better than anyone working today how to use darkness, sound and our instinctive fear of the unknown to weave sequences that will have audiences jumping out of their skin or gripping their armrest with white knuckles.  Moreover, there are entirely original moments of legitimate genius throughout, evoking the best moments of Carpenter and Craven, such as a skin crawling, hair raising conversation Ed is forced to have with the ghastly specter harassing the family with his back turned.

However, that isn’t where the film succeeds. All of those attributes would be meaningless if we didn’t care about the characters. On that score, The Conjuring 2 isn’t just a terrific sequel and a great horror film, it’s one of the best genre entries I have ever seen.

conj1frameAs was the case in the original, these characters are fleshed out. They have substance and flaws, fears and hopes and are not mere horror movie cliches.  The scorn and derision Ed and Lorraine were frequently subjected to at the hands of skeptics isn’t glossed over here (Ed loses his temper on live television at one point), neither is the fact that certain reports emerged from the Enfield case indicating young Janet Hodgson was in fact faking at least some of the phenomena.  These are real people and, as such, their fate matters. I’ve seen a lot of films that put everything into scaring the audience only to have the human quality suffer, but few as diligent about demonstrating the behind the scenes drama inherent in an experience like this as the Conjuring films. Some of the best moments in the sequel are the quieter ones, such as a truly moving and gentle scene where Ed entertains the Hodgson family by strumming a guitar and crooning a respectable rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.” It’s a warm, generous moment, representative of this film’s soul.

conj2frame3Going into this movie, I was aware that many liberties had been taken with the case records and that, for the most part, this is a fictionalized Hollywood representation of the real story. That doesn’t matter. This could be made up whole cloth (and there are certainly a number of people who think that’s exactly what this story is) and it doesn’t make a difference. Whether its complete fiction or based on a true story as the titles claim, The Conjuring 2 is a surprisingly effective human drama wrapped inside of an absolutely frightening horror thriller.  The Hodgsons are sympathetic and the Warrens continue to be a likable couple you’ll end up cheering for.

Like the first film, this is one the few movies determined to convey the ideal that love, courage and faith are still the most powerful tools we possess for combating evil in any form. At a time when the news is filled with hideous stories capable of draining people of hope, that’s a message we need to hear. It just so happens it’s been delivered in the form of one of the best horror sequels I’ve ever seen.

***** out of ***** stars. This is the rare sequel that’s every bit as good as the original.

Blu-ray Review: Bride of Re-Animator

Director: Brian Yuzna. Stars: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Claude Earl Jones. Theatrical release: 1989. Company: Wild Street. Special Edition Blu-ray/DVD release through Arrow Video

borframe1If you have read my Night Things books, you’ll see that I have a particular fondness for Herbert West. A character from a throw away episodic series that Lovecraft hobbled together (influenced mainly by Shelley’s Frankenstein), Dr. West has become an iconic horror figure. The first Re-Animator film is easily in my top three 80’s splatter fests. I have seen Bride of Re-Animator a few times over the years, but it never really found a spot in my video library. But when the new Arrow Video edition of Bride hit my player, it became evident to me that I had not really given the film a chance.

In this outing, Herbert (Jeffrey Combs) and Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) continue their mad experiments. Herbert uses a piece of Dan’s departed love (Megan’s heart) to build the perfect woman. Using various dead parts, he uses Dan’s misery over losing Megan to keep his assistant and experiments alive.

You simply cannot envision Herbert West without seeing Jeffrey Combs in the role. He embodies the part perfectly. If you think people threw a fit when Freddy and Jason were cast without Englund and Hodder, just imagine a reboot without Combs. Villages would burn.

Bride-Reanimator-Blu-rayWith this installment, West begins to show how mad he truly is. He takes more of a perverse pleasure in his experiments. You start to see that mean streak exhibited in Lovecraft’s original stories. Abbott works well as Herbert’s straight man, Dan Cain. But a few scenes of Herbert convincing Dan to continue with the work feel very flat. That is really my only complaint about the movie itself. Dan is convinced, fairly easily, to see Herbert’s creation through and I always felt Dan had a bit more backbone. The highlight of the film, of course, is the final act gorefest. The team of Screaming Mad George, Richard Kilroy, Robert Kurtzman and Greg Nicotero (you’ve heard of them, right?) hand in some great, gruesome practical effects.

The disc itself is packed with bonuses. The highlight is Brian Yuzna discussing what Bride would have been, given more time and money. The behind the scenes footage of David Gale as dead head Dr. Hill is a lot of fun as well. Arrow Video did a hell of a job with this one, folks. I highly recommend adding this to your collection, based on the extensive added bonuses. The film looks great. The 2K restoration makes this the best viewing you can possibly imagine. This might be one of the best horror film packages I have ever seen.

Check out this video from Arrow video regarding their special edition of Bride of Re-Animator:

London After Midnight

lomframe1London After Midnight
Reminiscing about a lost film by Kerry E.B. Black

On this day, 17 December, 1927, MGM Studios released the American silent mystery film “London After Midnight.” Director Tod Browning of “Dracula,” 1931 fame, based the movie on his short story “The Hypnotist.” “London After Midnight” was Browning’s first attempt at a vampire film and starred Lon Chaney in a dual role. Chaney also provided uncredited makeup artistry which produced an iconic look for its monster. Some of the effects he used included sharpened teeth and a haunting eye apparatus which required monocle-like wire fittings. Fishhooks in his cheeks created the character’s eerie grin. Chaney exaggerated the vampire-like qualities of the nemesis to differentiate it from the film’s investigator, since he portrayed both. The movie includes a bit where Chaney used his famous makeup case. Modern filmmakers of “Babadook” found inspiration and incorporated Chaney’s dark-hatted character into its own monster. Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion also used Lon Chaney’s depiction as a model for their hatbox ghost.

A melancholy menace permeates the story. Roger Balfour (Claude King) supposedly committed suicide. Five years later, his neighbor Sir James Hamlin (Henry B. Walthall) discovered mysterious interlopers including a ghostly woman called Luna the Bat Girl (Edna Tichenor), her assistant (Andy MacLennan), and a black-hatted fellow capering in the abandoned Balfour’s estate. He and his nephew, Arthur Hibbs, called on Scotland Yard’s inspector Burke for assistance. Arthur (Conrad Nagel) feared the ghoulish intruders were vampires. Lucille Balfour (Marceline Day), Roger Balfour’s now grown daughter joined the investigation but began hearing a voice similar to her father’s calling from the garden. The Balfour’s staff, including Williams the Butler (Percy Williams) and the comedic new maid (Polly Moran) participated in the action as the cast discovered Roger Balfour’s body missing from its tomb. Hypnotism, requests for trust, gunshots, and an abduction spurred the action until they solved the mystery.

lomframe2When the film premiered at the Miller Theater in Missouri, set musicians Jack and Sam Feinburg heightened the experience for those in attendance by performing works by Greig, Rappe, Wagner, and Ase. The film’s production was $152,000, and it grossed $721,000 at the domestic box office, marking a successful collaboration between Lon Chaney and Tod Browning. Contemporary critics at the New York Times criticized the “sometimes incoherent storyline,” and Harrison’s Report felt the story was nonsensical. However, Film Daily called it “a story to disturb the nervous system of the more sensitive patrons,” and The Warren Tribune noted Chaney’s presence in most every scene “in a dual role that tests his skill to no small degree.”

Although the last known copy of “London After Midnight” burned in 1967 during a vault fire at MGM, Turner Classic Movies reconstructed the film in 2002 using the original script and film stills. It gives a feel for what the movie must have been like. The Internet Movie Data Base lists “London After Midnight” was release in eleven other countries. In Australia, it’s known as “Der Vampyr,” “The Hypnotist” in England, and “La Casa Del Horror” in Spain. Film enthusiasts hope to find an undamaged copy of the film. In 1935, Tod Browning remade the film as a talkie “Mark of the Vampire” starring Lionel Barrymore and Bela Lugosi in the Lon Chaney roles.

One ill-intentioned soul cited Lon Chaney’s portrayal in this film as an unsuccessful defense for an attack. In the 1990’s, Californian songwriter and musician Sean Brennan began a gothic rock band named London After Midnight.

Movie Review: The Mirror (2014)

The MirrorThree friends purchase a “haunted mirror” from eBay in hopes of filming paranormal happenings. They set up round-the-clock surveillance, certain their footage will earn them a one million dollar paranormal challenge sponsored by the James Randi Foundation. The results surprised them.

This British “found footage” horror film finds its inspiration from a news story about a mirror in Muswell Hill said to bring misfortune to its owners. Most of the action takes place in Matt’s (Joshua Dickinson, “Opening Night of the Living Dead” 2014) flat. His girlfriend, Jemma (Jemma Dallender, “I Spit on Your Grave II,” 2013) doesn’t believe in ghosts. Steve Higgins (Nate Fallows, “Christmas Eve,” 2014) operates the cameras and drives the experiment, bringing in an Ouija Board when things don’t progress quickly enough for his liking. Their relationship strains when strange dreams, nocturnal happenings, and mysterious toothaches bother them. Although the script dictates the cast lack common sense and the ability to recognition of the need for medical treatment, the acting is believable. However, much of the found footage is dull and unremarkable. The few scares in the film are largely given away in the trailer and film packaging, but the short escalation into gore was done well.

Directed by Edward Boase (“Blooded,” 2011) who co-wrote the screenplay with Theidrych Waslay, The Mirror was released in the UK on 8 September, 2014 to a mixed reception. It was nominated by Total Film Fright Fest for the Best Found Footage Horror.

Movie Review: Crimson Peak (2015)

crimson peak posterGuillermo Del Torro waltzes his viewers through another visually stunning cinematic experience with his gothic tale, Crimson Peak. In it, aspiring novelist Edith Cushing (Mia Waikowska, Alice from “Alice in Wonderland”) asserts, “Ghosts are real.” Her first visitor from the beyond came with a warning when she was a grieving ten year old. Although she had no idea what the terrifying spirit meant, she never forgot its message. “Beware of Crimson Peak.”

After being dismissed by a publisher for writing ghost stories instead of the more socially acceptable romance, Edith asks to use her father’s work typewriters to disguise her feminine handwriting. While thus transcribing her manuscript, she made the acquaintance of Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston, Loki from “The Avengers”) who visited Buffalo, New York in hopes of securing an investor in his mining invention. Edith’s father, self-made industrialist (Jim Beaver, Bobby from “Supernatural”) distrusts the smooth-handed, slick-featured Baronet.

Sir Thomas then woos and wins the lovely Edith. They marry after her father is brutally murdered. The newlyweds move to the Baronet’s dilapidated ancestral home, Allerdale Hall in England, joining Sir Thomas’s stoic sister, Lucille (Jessica Castain). Lucille volleys from disdain for her new sister-in-law to fawning, offering tea and comfort to Edith. After taking up residence at her new home, Edith befriends a Papillion dog and is assailed by terrifying visions. She sets out to solve a mystery as her health begins to fail.

CP oneDel Torro combines includes all the classic elements of a Gothic romance. Brooding secrets, an innocent heroine, a dashing rescue come into play. Edith’s friend, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) provides a foil for the mysterious bridegroom. Lush, Victorian costuming, haunting melodies (including a creepy lullaby), and enormous portraits of deceased family members couple with hidden pasts, secret marriages and murders, and the betrayal of long-held plans to provide the feel of a Hammer horror film. Most important for the genre, though, is the setting which assumes its own vibrant importance within the story; dripping in red and as thick with shadowy recesses as the secrets it holds, Allerdale Hall invites viewers to linger as its tale unfolds. Del Torro adds his own, distinctive touches, including an obvious respect and sympathy for the departed (mostly portrayed by Doug Jones, Paleman from “Pan’s Labyrinth), cinematic views, and a focus on insects.

cp 2Although Crimson Peak is not scary in the “clutch your seats and try not to scream” way, its subtle approach diverges with a few “avert your eyes” scenes of violence that warrant the movie’s “R” rating. Despite a couple of blips, including items dropped by actors that mysteriously disappear (notably a candelabra and a strangled dog) and a few problems with synching the words with the actors’ lips, the film was well-acted and a worthy diversion for an autumn evening.

Anchor Bay to Unleash GOODNIGHT MOMMY Dec. 1st!


GMA DVD FlatAustria’s Official Entry for Foreign Language Film for 2016 Academy Awards®

Available on Blu-ray and DVD December 1st  

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. – October 13, 2015 – “Unsettling.”  “Terrifying.”  “Sinister.”  The most talked about movie of summer and one of the most critically-acclaimed films of the year,
Goodnight Mommy arrives on Blu-ray and DVD December 1st from Anchor Bay Entertainment and RADiUS. The “masterful and artfully unsettling” film, which is generating strong Oscar® buzz as Austria’s official 2016 entry for Best Foreign Language Film, is written and directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, and stars Susanne Wuest  (Antares, Judas Goat, Thank You Mr. President), and brothers Elias Schwarz and Lukas Schwarz in their feature film debut. 

A worldwide festival favorite, Goodnight Mommy made audiences squirm at the Venice Film Festival, AFI Fest, TIFF, Sitges, Thessaloniki Film Festival and Fantastic Fest.

In a lonesome house in the countryside in the heat of mid-summer, nine year old twin brothers await their mother’s return from the hospital. When she comes home with her face obscured by bandages, nothing is like before and the children start to doubt whether this woman is actually who she says she is. What ensues is a terrifying struggle with fatal consequences on par with The Shining and Dead Ringers in what The Daily Beast calls “the most terrifying film of the year.”

Goodnight Mommy is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment on December 1st for the suggested retail price of $26.99 and $22.98, respectively, and includes the special feature “A Conversation with Filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala.”

To learn more about the film, please visit www.anchorbayentertainment.com.

Movie Review: Devil (2010)

M. Night Shyamalan creates movies with glorious camera work and marvelous twists.devil poster

The twist with his 2010 “Devil” is the narrator tells the premise from the outset. A suicide paves a path for the Devil to take human form and sport with some victims.

Of course, any time the Devil plays, there is Hell to pay.

A group of flawed humans become trapped in an elevator with the Lord of Lies in a clever disguise. Claustrophobia and paranoia prey on them while the building engineer and security staff scramble to rescue them from the situation. Within the car are actors Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O’Hara, Bojana Novakovic, Bokeem Woodbine, and Geoffrey Arend. Threats are leveled, music enrages, and the lights flicker and die. With the return of illumination, they find a passenger dead.

devil picLuckily Police Detective Bowen (Chris Messina) already on hand to investigate the rosary-clutching suicide comes to their aid.

None of the players lent credence to security’s Ramirez (Jacob Vargas) and his religious foreboding. He admonishes Detective Bowden, “Everybody believes in him (the Devil) a little bit, even guys like you who pretend they don’t.” He explains, “The lies we tell ourselves introduce us to him (the Devil).”

Rescuers need rescuing and the sins of the elevator’s inhabitants become known.

John E. Dowdle directed and Brian Nelson wrote the screen play for M. Night Shyamalan’s story.

“Don’t worry,” Ramirez relates, “if the Devil is real, then God must be real, too.”

Movie Review: Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2 (2009)

Halloween2-2009There are a few very good reasons why John Carpenter’s Halloween has made such an impact even three and a half decades later:  The music, the mask, and the mute.   No other film’s soundtrack is as recognizable or sets the mood as much as the one Carpenter himself composed for his swan song, Halloween.  The subtleness of Michael Myer’s plain mask helps create a spook factor that has been replicated over and over since.  Mix in a merciless, homicidal madman who never utters a word sporting said mask, and you get this emotionless enigma that can’t be reasoned with.  If you’re in his line of sight, you’re dead.  Plain and simple.  No matter how fast you run, Michael can walk faster.

Rob Zombie took that enigmatic nature of Michael Myers that we all know and very much love and pinched a big steaming loaf on it.  I tolerated his remake of the original Halloween.  I was curious, and I’ll admit there was an interesting back story.  But I never saw any reason for him to do a second, and after witnessing the pile of garbage that is Zombie’s Halloween 2, I understand it even less now.  After sitting through it I felt like I needed to watch Carpenter’s Halloween 1 and 2 back to back while taking a long shower with a toothbrush planted firmly in mouth.  It left a bad taste and ruined an image I’ve had since I was 12.

Where I come from, Michael Myers was a 6-foot tall human Godzilla that destroyed anything in his way—doors, windows, glass, and of course… humans.

Rob Zombie tried adding a more humanistic side to Michael Myers with grunting, being maskless half the movie (and looking suspiciously like Zombie himself), and even giving us a single word in English at the end.  Part of what brings people back to watching the Halloween franchise is wondering if we’ll ever seen Michael’s face (excluding the very dark glimpse of him in the original Halloween) or witness some type of emotion.  We’re waiting for it, but we never really want it.  Like the sexual tension between two characters in a TV series.  You want Jim and Pam to hook up, but when it happens the excitement is gone.  It was a mistake.

Halloween 2 pic 1Zombie also destroyed the image of Dr. Loomis—the lovable doctor that did everything he could to help Michael and everyone around him, dedicating his entire life to the monitoring and treatment of Michael, all the while reminding us time and time again that Michael Myers was pure evil.  In Zombie’s Halloween 2 remake, Dr. Loomis is nothing but a greedy-eyed, selfish monster himself with no real regard for anything but a bigger paycheck and a girl in his bed.

In my opinion, Zombie isn’t a horrible filmmaker, though I think he misses the mark several times with all but maybe The Devil’s Rejects.  You can tell the man has a great artistic eye, but he also likes to trash up his movies to where even the hardcore audiences wonder where he’s coming from.  I believe he feels he’s bringing some unique element to something that doesn’t need it and instead distracts the audience from a potentially decent film.

I think one day Zombie may just get a homerun with one of his films.  But I’d really like to see him stay clear of tainting any other franchise that so many hold dear.

King of Cameos

 

large creepshowNot only is Stephen King a prolific writer with fifty novels and hundreds of short stories to his credit. His non-fiction, columns, essays, poetry, and comics garner praise, and he additionally writes screenplays. He’s even made cameos in some of the adaptations of his stories and books.

His first published novel, “Carrie,” also became his first to be adapted to a film in 1976. Stanley Kubrick famously changed “The Shining” in 1980. “Stand By Me,” “Misery,” “Shawshank Redemption,” and “The Green Mile” became major motion pictures, while “Salem’s Lot” (twice), “It,” “The Tommyknockers,” “The Stand,” “The Langoliers,” “Storm of the Century,” “Rose Red,” and “Bag of Bones” became made for television miniseries. Stephen King created television series, too, including “Golden Years” (1991), “The Dead Zone” (2002-2007), “Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital” (2004), “Nightmares and Dreamscapes” (2006), “Haven” (2010), and “Under the Dome” (2013).

Of the over twenty adaptations of his works for film or television, Stephen King appeared in many. Also, he acted in a couple of established tv show episodes. Follows is a list of his appearances on silver and small screen:

Creep Show                       (1982 movie)                      starred in “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”

Maximum Overdrive      (1986 movie)                      uncredited appearance as man at cash point

Creep Show 2                    (1987 movie)                      played a truck driver in “The Hitchhiker”

Pet Semetary                    (1989 movie)                      played a minister

The Golden Years            (1991 tv)                              played a bus driver

Sleepwalkers                     (1992 movie)                      played a cemetery caretaker

The Stand                            (1994 tv miniseries)         played Teddy Weizak

The Langoliers                   (1995 tv miniseries)         played Tom Holby

Thinner                               (1996 movie)                      played Dr. Bangor

The Shining                         (1997 tv miniseries)         played the band leader

Storm of the Century     (1999 tv miniseries)         appeared as lawyer in ad and a reporter on a broken tv

Frazier                                  (2000 tv series episode “Mary Christmas”)                          played Brian

The Simpsons                    (2000 tv series episode titled “Insane Clown Poppy”)      “played” himself

Rose Red                             (2002 tv miniseries)         uncredited appearance as pizza delivery guy

Kingdom Hospital             (2004 tv episode finale) played Johnny B. Goode

Fever Pitch                         (2005 movie)                      himself throwing out first pitch at a Red Sox Game

Gotham Café                     (2005 movie)                      Mr. Ring

Diary of the Dead             (2007 movie voiceover) news reader

Sons of Anarchy                               (2010 tv episode “Caregiver”) played Richard Bachman

Stephen King is scheduled to appear on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert on 11 September, 2015. He and his wife Tabitha also acted in George Romero’s 1981 “Knight Riders,” portraying Hoagieman and his wife.

Said Mr. King, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” Stephen King lives by this motto. His considerable talent is supplemented by dedication to his craft and a desire to experience life in his own creative way, be it through participating in the band “Rock Bottom Remainders,” acting, writing, or private pursuits.