Archives for posts with tag: horror

Grade B +

Manny’s Movie Musings: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star in “Shaun Of The Dead,” a British comedy/horror about two best friends who are caught in the middle of a zombie apocalypse in their hometown.  First order of business, find a way to rescue Pegg’s mom and ex-girlfriend, then head to a secure place: The Winchester Pub!  But as everyone knows, there’s what you plan for, and there’s what really happens.  Fans of British comedies and zombie flicks will love this great collaboration of the two genres, giving its core audience lots of funny jokes, zombie action and gore, silliness, and a few well acted scenes of drama.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Shaun Of The Dead” is the scene when Pegg’s group runs into another group of survivors led by Pegg’s friend; and both groups are nearly identical!

— M

Grade B –

“Saw IV” concentrates on two storylines: what truly motivated Jigsaw (played by Tobin Bell) into putting people into traps; and a cop (played by Lyriq Bent) being tested by Bell to see how far Bent’s obsession will go regarding Bent’s need to save everyone.  While the former is interesting and well played, the latter was forced, with Bent doing many things that were out of character despite the screenwriters trying to justify it with Bent’s emotional problems.

More bloody, heinous traps; more gruesome deaths of victims; more plot twists; more revelations; more mini cassettes with Bell’s altered voice; more frenetic editing and transitions that move the story along rapidly…all leading to more reasons for fans of this series to squirm and laugh and gasp and enjoy the morbid nature of these stories.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Saw IV” is the very detailed, disgusting, and fascinating autopsy scene.  Unless you have a very strong stomach, this is not the time to be eating your hot dogs or chips and salsa.

Four movies in, and the “Saw” movies still have lots of steam.  How far can it go before going stale?  I shall find out soon because I’ll be checking out part V.

— M

Grade B –

And the gore and traps and plot twists keep going in the “Saw” franchise with part III.  Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith reprise their roles as Jigsaw and his ex-junkie understudy, respectively.  Bell is at death’s door, so he enlists the help of Smith to kidnap a doctor to help keep him alive as he plays his last game, which presumably is the testing of an emotionally broken man played by Angus Macfadyen.  So here we have multiple themes/storylines  happening, adding layers of depth that makes this — and previous “Saw” movies — a level up from the many rip-offs out there.

First we have the complex relationship between Bell and Smith…teacher-student, father-daughter, perhaps lovers depending on which side you focus on.  Then there is the Macfadyen story: a husband blinded by rage to the point he has mentally abandoned his family…will he sacrifice everything to feed his rage and vengeance, or can he forgive and start living again?  The doctor…can she snap out of her daze (induced by drugs and an unhappy marriage) to keep a maniac alive without proper medical equipment?  And of course, there are the plot twists and surprise ending.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Saw III” is the scene when a man’s head and limbs are held in independently twisting, vise-like devices.  The key to freedom is guarded by a shotgun, and as the seconds tick by, the man’s limbs are slowly turned until bones, ligaments, and tendons break and snap.  Ouch!

“Saw III” does have plot holes and inconsistencies, which I refer to as shenanigans; but the clever and gory traps/puzzles, fast pace, twists and surprises, and some thought-provoking themes more than compensate for said shenanigans.  For fans of this horror sub-genre, prepare to cringe, laugh, feel queasy, and have fun.

— M

Grade C –

Manny’s Movie Musings: “The Bye Bye Man” is a mediocre horror movie about a malevolent spirit whose name must not be mentioned, or else he’ll become more powerful and he will eventually kill anyone who utters his name.  An extremely intense, violent and shocking opening sequence sets the bar very high, but it’s only a tease, as the rest of the movie is a disappointment from that point.  The stupid decisions the victims make, the silly excuses the story makes to get the parents out of the way, and the cheap scares all contribute to making this movie forgettable.  In the trailer, it is mentioned that the spirit’s name must not be said…he must not even be thought of.   Well, “The Bye Bye Man” is a movie that will soon be lost in the vast ocean of horror movies that failed to live up to their hype; a title that no one will ever utter nor remember.

— M

Grade C

Manny’s Movie Musings: astronauts do the dumbest things and start messing with an alien lifeform that is evolving at a fast rate; and when things start to go bad they just forget basic safety precautions and containment procedures.  The victims’ deaths are somewhat interesting; the evolution of the alien is somewhat interesting.   “Somewhat interesting” should not be the result of a $58 million movie.  Adding more misery to “Life” is the inevitable comparison to “Alien,” a masterpiece of a movie.   Whoever greenlit “Life” for production probably has no life left in his career in the movie business.

— M

Grade B+

Fresh off his indie hit, “The Visit,” writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan creates another mega indie hit, “Split.”  James McAvoy plays a seriously troubled man with about 24 different personalities.  Each personality vies for its time “out in the light,” but the more malevolent personalities have taken over, resulting in the kidnapping of three young ladies.

The police have no idea where the girls are, and it will be up to the girls to find a way out of their prison.  Time is quickly running out, because a new personality is coming out of McAvoy, an entity that supposedly has the power to alter McAvoy’s body into one that is monstrous.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Split” is the bonus scene after the end credits, revealing a tie-in with another Shyamalan movie that hints of what his next movie will be.

Shyamalan’s mojo is definitely back, helped by the superb acting of McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays one of the kidnapped girls.  I can’t wait to see Shyamalan’s next movie.

— M

Grade B +

From the mind of comedian Jordan Peele comes “Get Out,” a story of a black man (played by Daniel Kaluuya) who visits his white girlfriend’s (played by Allison Williams) family in the suburbs and slowly finds out that things are very, very off with her family and servants.

Everything is ok at first: the parents are all smiles and greet Kaluuya with hugs; the father mentions how he would have loved to vote for Obama a third time; the father using various slang to show he’s hip and down with the Negroes, etc.  Then Kaluuya notices the odd behavior of the black servants; the thinly veiled, racist remarks of Williams’ drunk brother; plus a weird dream of Kaluuya being hypnotized by Williams’ mother.  And this is just the start of Kaluuya’s long nightmare that will have him fighting for his sanity and life as the full secret of his girlfriend’s family is slowly unraveled.

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when Kaluuya is told of the family secrets and the heinous plan of what is to be done to him.

“Get Out” is not just a very good suspense/thriller, it is also loaded with social commentary that are insightful, funny, and infuriating.  Examples: a black man’s worry of being caught in a rich, white neighborhood at night; the troubles that black men have to deal with when dating white women; white liberals who are constantly giving examples of how they are not bigots; the physical superiority of black men over white men; the mental superiority of white men over black men; and how trendy it is now to be black, as if the color of skin is some kind of accessory to flaunt.

The subject of race relations is a touchy one, and those who are overly sensitive may want to steer away from this movie.  Everyone else, jump in and watch the movie and have a laugh.  “Get Out” is, after all, a satire.

— M

Grade B

The second part of the “Saw” franchise, “Saw II” is surprisingly good because of the plot twists and masterful use of non-linear storytelling.  “Saw II” gives us a bigger set of victims, 7 stuck in a building filled with deadly traps and puzzles, plus 1 more “victim”: a cop (played by Donnie Wahlberg) who happens to be the father of one of the 7 victims.  Caught in serial killer Jigsaw’s (played by Tobin Bell) twisted plot, Wahlberg must do as Bell commands in order to have a chance at seeing his son alive again.  But can Wahlberg, a notoriously brutal cop, follow Bell’s rules and keep his cool long enough to ensure his son’s safe return?

My most memorable, movie moment of “Saw II” is the scene when Bell’s timer for his “game” counts down to zero, revealing a shocking secret, and proving that all “players” must follow his rules.

I am very impressed with “Saw II” as it goes above and beyond the typical “torture porn flick.”  But it does suffer from several shenanigans such as: police procedures in raiding Bell’s hideout; Bell allowed to stay in his hideout because of what cops see on video monitors, giving the bad guy the advantage of being in his home turf; and a lowly Detective with anger management issues is put in charge, further jeopardizing the entire case and potential victims with his numerous bad judgments and decisions.   Still, the good more than outweighs the bad, and “Saw II” is a superior example of this genre.

— M

Grade C +

The very first in a long and successful movie franchise, “Saw” has two extremely unfortunate guys (played by Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell) chained to pipes in a large, disgusting bathroom.  From hazy memories and clues given to them in the room, they realize that they have been kidnapped by a serial killer named Jigsaw in order to play out a vicious, painful and bloody game in order to escape.  Should the two men refuse to play, there will be severe consequences.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Saw” is the scene when Elwes reaches his breaking point and uses a hacksaw to begin his escape.  Although cringeworthy, it is mild compared to what future “Saw” movies has in store.

“Saw” works because 1) it moves fast thanks to a tight script and frenetic editing that can be annoying most times; 2) there is the mystery of who the serial killer is; and 3) it offers the audience very interesting and sadistic ways to kill the victims.  Weaknesses of “Saw” are: 1) Elwes’ often melodramatic, soap opera-ish acting; and 2) Danny Glover’s cop character who makes one stupid move after another, making me wonder if he had a brain.  Taken as a whole, “Saw” is an entertaining movie for fans of so called “torture porn” horror movies.  Seeing the traps/puzzles alone is worth the price of admission.

— M

Grade B +

One of the best suspense/thriller movies from 2016, “Don’t Breathe” has three teens (Jane Levy playing the main character of the bunch) breaking into the home of a blind man (played by Stephen Lang) to steal a lot of cash that he supposedly has in the house.

It’s supposed to be an easy job for the teen burglars: Lang lives alone in a Detroit neighborhood where almost every house is abandoned (few witnesses); one of the teens has a master key for the burglar alarm that Lang uses; Lang is old, the teens are young and they outnumber him.  But once inside Lang’s home, the young thieves get much more than they planned for when Lang proves to be a very tough and vicious opponent who also harbors some very dark, nasty secrets.

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when the burglars discover a hidden room in Lang’s basement that reveals a shocking secret.

“Don’t Breathe” has a few, minor shenanigans that most viewers will easily forgive because overall, the entire movie works very well.  It is very suspenseful, the pacing is fast, the acting is good, you’ll want to know what happens to each of the four characters, and there are a few surprises thrown in there that seasoned movie fans should be able to foresee.

— M

Grade B –

Manny’s Movie Musings: based on the novel by Stephen King, “Cujo” is about a rabid Saint Bernard who terrorizes a mother (played by Dee Wallace) and her young son (played by Danny Pintauro).  Trapped in a small, Ford Pinto that doesn’t start, Wallace and Pintauro spend several agonizing days in the heat inside their car, unable to escape with Cujo just waiting for them nearby.  No cell phones, no neighbors…if Wallace doesn’t make a desperate attempt to flee or kill Cujo, she and her son will surely die in the car from heat exhaustion and dehydration.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Cujo” is the scene when Wallace has her car door open and trying to take care of Pintauro, and Cujo appears behind her and goes in for the kill.  Although “Cujo” feels at times like a made for tv movie (most of the director’s work is in tv), it is still a good horror/suspense movie that continues to be relevant today with all the reported dog attacks against humans.

— M

Grade B

A mother’s secretive past produces an evil entity that haunts not only her, but her two children (played by Teresa Palmer and Gabriel Bateman).

When Bateman’s sleepiness gets him into trouble at school, his big sister, Palmer, who lives on her own, is called in to answer for his condition and to pick him up.  After getting a quick rundown of what’s going on in the house, Palmer suspects that the entity that haunted her as a child — an entity she believed was a figment of her imagination — could be real, and is now coming after little Bateman.

With a bit of research into her mother’s past and her own, first-hand experience, Palmer realizes that her family is up against a powerful spirit that has killed before…a spirit that gains strength in the dark and is weakened in the light.  For Palmer and Bateman to have any hope of stopping the entity, they must conquer their fears and work together, and convince their frightened mother to help them.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Lights Out” is the scene when we first see the evil spirit.  It was…very frightening.  I think if that happened to me, I’d crumple up into a ball and start crying.  Not Denzel Washington crying, but Matt Damon crying.

Although this movie is several levels above the typical, horror movie out there, it does suffer from a few shenanigans, such as the main characters voluntarily separating from each other during crisis mode.  The lights have gone out, and you go off on your own to do some investigating?

Bottom line: if you’re going to watch “Lights Out” by yourself at night with the volume turned up in your home theater system, you may want to keep some lights on.

— M

Grade A

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return to play real life, paranormal investigators Ed Warren and Lorraine Warren, respectively.  This time, they help a family in England who claim to have an evil spirit in their house.  Wilson and Farmiga are sent by the Catholic church to investigate and prove the claim false or true, and then let the church handle the rest.  But what the married investigators discover will force them to go beyond their tasked duties and put one of them at risk of a horrible death.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Conjuring 2” is the lengthy, opening sequence of the movie, when Wilson and Farmiga are investigating what is famously known as the Amityville Horror.  This sequence is full of genuine frights, setting the tone for the rest of the movie.

A true test of a horror movie’s worth is its ability to provide true scares, and “The Conjuring 2” passes that test with flying colors.  Yes, there is little here that most horror fans haven’t seen before; but I dare you to watch this movie alone in the dark.  I started watching this in the dark, at night, with two people — after about 20 minutes we decided to turn on a few lights.

— M

Grade B-

Manny’s Movie Musings: Brittany Snow plays a woman who is in desperate need of financial help because she is caring for her brother who is dying and needs a bone marrow transplant.  Enter the always interesting Jeffrey Combs, who plays a rich man who invites Snow for a dinner and a game; and whoever is the last person standing gets all the help they ever dreamed of.  The game, of course, is  “would you rather do this, or would you rather do that?”  Both alternatives are horrible, and the players are not told that once the game starts, there’s no going back.  Winner takes all, the rest die in horrible ways.  “Would You Rather” is a good example of “torture porn.”  It is gory, it makes you cringe — unless you’re a sadist — and, believe it or not, I think it’s part comedy.  If seen purely as a horror flick, then it’s an “eh” movie; but if seen as a comedy/horror, then this movie works better than most people give it credit for.  Look: if you think of a Toyota Corolla as a race car, then you’d think it was the suckiest race car of all time; but if you look at that car as a basic, daily driver to take you grocery shopping and back and forth to work, then it’s a pretty damn good car.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Would You Rather” is the scene when a player is given the choice of holding his breath under water for 2 minutes, or slicing one of his eyes with a razor blade.  Yikes!

— M

Grade B

Based on the Swedish movie “Let The Right One In,” “Let Me In” is a complex story of love, loneliness, bullying, absentee parents, the need for companionship, and what people are willing to do to for those they love…and yes, this is a vampire story, and a reasonably scary one at that.

Taking place in 1983 (a time before security cameras and cell phones were everywhere), Kodi Smit-McPhee plays an unhappy boy who doesn’t have any friends, has parents who are separated, and gets bullied by three boys who are each twice his size.  His life is about to get very interesting — for better and worse — when new neighbors arrive at night to his apartment complex.   Enter Chloe Grace Moretz (as a little girl who only appears at night, and who is accompanied by an old man presumed to be her father).   Moretz and McPhee have their first meeting in the snowy playground, she being barefoot and quite hostile to McPhee’s presence; but as time goes on, a trust between them forms, leading to a strong bond that will be tested when Moretz’s true nature is revealed to McPhee and the body count rises and the police slowly figure out who is doing the killings.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Let Me In” is the scene when McPhee finally fights back against his bullies.  Holding a large stick, McPhee faces off against his three tormentors.  Lead bully says he is going to take the stick away from McPhee and shove it up McPhee’s ass.  Lead bully takes a step forward and McPhee hits him on the face with the stick.  In what seems to be slow motion, lead bully stops, falls on his knees, and then starts screaming like a bitch.  At first I thought the bully was just a punk who couldn’t take a little hit, but then it is shown that the  bully’s left ear has been ripped almost in half!   Oh, well, serves him right.

“Let Me In” stands apart from the other vampire movies because the two main characters are played by little kids, and we get to see the evolution of the relationship of these two outcasts go from being strangers to lovers (using the word’s most simple definition).   I enjoyed the amazing performances of McPhee and Moretz, the outstanding direction of Matt Reeves, and the tight screenplay that moved things along fairly quickly even with scenes that were “slow.”  One major complaint though…a shenanigan, actually.   Why did Moretz let the old guy do most of the hunting for victims?  Although small in stature, Moretz had the strength of about 10 men, so she could easily hunt for herself; or better yet, she should hunt with the old guy so that the chances of success would be much higher.   This is the biggest flaw I noticed in this movie; but no movie is perfect, and I thoroughly enjoyed this story despite this huge shenanigan.  Vampire fans should not miss “Let Me In” as it’s one of the better vampire flicks out there in the past 10 years.

— M

C+

Manny’s Movie Musings: A deaf/mute woman (played by Amanda Adrienne) is kidnapped, tortured, raped, and left for dead by a gang of racist “desertbillies” in New Mexico.  At the point of death, the spirit of an ancient, Apache warrior inhabits her body, giving her the opportunity to exact bloody revenge upon those who defiled her; but she must act quickly, as her body is dead and is quickly rotting.  What could have been a very bad, B movie is saved by the great acting of Adrienne and a lot of action sequences.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Savaged” is the scene when Adrienne’s broken body tries to save her kidnapped boyfriend: the pickup truck of the bad guys take off with her b/f, and she cannot pursue them because of her injuries; she reaches out and screams…and it’s just heartbreaking.

— M

Grade C+

Manny’s Movie Musings: a quirky, mystery/suspense/thriller/comedy that stars Morgana O’Reilly as a criminal under house arrest — her mom’s house!  Angry that she has to be in her estranged mother’s and stepfather’s old, creepy house, O’Reilly sulks and grunts, eats like a pig, drinks like a sailor, and contributes nothing to the family.  But as memories come back of a ghost that supposedly haunts the large house, O’Reilly starts to see and hear things that will make her a true believer.  Working with her parents and her parole officer, O’Reilly will try to solve the mystery of the ghost and what it wants from her.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Housebound”: O’Reilly sitting on a toilet peeing, and we hear her urine streaming into the toilet water.  She hears a noise…her peeing stops; noise stops…she continues to pee; another weird noise near the bathroom…she stops peeing; the weird noise disappears, and we hear her peeing again.  Toilet humor, literally!

— M

Grade A

The most horrifying movie I’ve seen in years comes not from Hollywood, but from Canada, and a low-budget production at that.

“The Witch” is a story set in the 1600s in America.  A family (Ralph Ineson as the father, Anya Taylor-Joy as the eldest daughter, the two main characters) is banished from their community because of Ineson’s strict adherence to the Bible.   They start a new life deep into the wilderness, but an evil lurks within the woods near their home.  One tragedy after another falls upon the family, and their frustrations slowly make them turn on each other until witchcraft is uttered and harsh words escalate into violence.

To be clear, when I say this movie is horrifying, I am not talking about the cheap scares one finds in so many movies…you know, when a creature jumps out at the same time extremely loud music is played.  Any idiot with a cellphone camera can do that.  “The Witch” is masterfully directed in the old-school way (a minimalist approach, if you will, where the camera is set up and kept still, and the actors are left to simply give brilliant performances).  A simple but very creepy score compounds the tension and fear, turning a shot of something that normally can be considered beautiful (such as a wide shot of the woods) into something dreadful.  Watch this movie alone in the dark, and I promise you will feel an evil presence lurking behind you for most of the movie.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Witch” is the scene when Joy, after being teased and frustrated by her younger sister, grabs and tells her sister that she (Joy) is the true witch of the woods.  That Joy made a pact with the devil, and if the younger sister doesn’t behave, Joy will kill her and eat her pink flesh.  Oh, boy!  You know that conversation is going to come out some day.

Fans of typical horror fare may want to skip “The Witch.”  Unfortunately, many people have been force-fed garbage horror to the point where that is what they are used to; and when they finally watch a well-made horror movie, they are bored and say the movie sucks because they want to see the monster over and over again and get shocked by “jump scares.”  But fans of true horror movies, you should not miss “The Witch.”  A bit of a caveat: this movie is hard to understand because of the actors’ accents and their use of old English.  But pay attention and you’ll get it; and you will be treated to a rare piece of true artwork in filmmaking.

— M

Grade D+

Manny’s Movie Musings: A watchable, campy, direct to video, zombie movie with enough action and gore to keep one from turning off this movie before it ends…unless you have something better to do.  “Dead Rising: Watchtower” stars Jesse Metcalfe as a reporter who finds himself on the wrong side of a quarantine wall after a zombie outbreak.  Trapped in a city that is about to be firebombed by the military, Metcalfe discovers a conspiracy regarding the outbreak that can both save and kill him.  A surprisingly poignant scene involves Virginia Madsen’s character who finally finds her zombie daughter — she kneels down, opens her arms, and happily gives herself to her daughter…there is no pain, no fear, just complete joy from Madsen who just wants to be with her child…a memorable scene in an otherwise forgettable movie.

— M

Grade D+

Five interrelated stories — only the first and last stories are truly related — taking place in a small town where strange characters and occurrences are commonplace.  Story 1: two men on the run from winged skeletons.  Story 2: three women in a band get a flat tire, and a weird couple take them to their home for a dinner they’ll never forget.  Story 3: a careless driver hits a woman with his car, and after much hesitation he takes her to a deserted hospital where the only help he gets is from two voices from a 911 call center.  Story 4: a man fights demons to take back his long, lost sister.  Story 5: a home invasion puts a family of three at risk; but the father may have done something to provoke the attack.

Sounds good so far, huh? Well, if that’s what you think, then you didn’t see the grade I gave it.  The concept is good…the execution not so good.  The screenplay is obviously written by someone who needs many more years of learning how to craft a well written screenplay (almost every main character says “What the f#@k!” numerous times, to give an example of the screenwriter’s lack of expertise in dialogue).  As for acting…there are maybe two actors who are good; the rest seem like first year actors who came straight out of Sears or Target where they were working for the last ten years and one day thought, “Hey, I should be an actor!”

The direction, cinematography, lighting…all have the feel of a first movie attempt.  I could easily forgive this because “Southbound” is a very low budget flick; but a so so script?  Nope, I don’t forgive that.  I’ve seen low budget movies that were saved purely by a great script.  No such redeeming writing here.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Southbound” happens to be the scariest part of the movie: the scene when a winged skeleton suddenly flies toward a pick-up truck, smashing against a window.  What made this scary is that the camera was pointing straight ahead of the creature, so when it rushed forward, it comes right at the audience; and when viewed from a big screen t.v., it could make you jump.

With all the new, horror movies out there, why did I choose this one to watch?  Because a certain, famous website had the majority of the viewers of “Southbound” give it very high ratings and praises.  After I watched the movie, I believe that those reviewers who gave highly favorable marks to “Southbound” were involved in the making of this movie and/or related to the people who were part of the movie.  See, you can’t trust everything you read in the internet.

— M

Grade B-

Sarah Wayne Callies and Jeremy Sisto play wife and husband who live in India, raising two little children, a boy and a girl.  A life that is a dream come true spirals into a nightmare when a car accident leaves the boy dead.  Unable to cope with the death of her young son, Callies becomes withdrawn and depressed.

The nanny takes pity on Callies, and tells her that there is a temple that could give Callies some closure.  Callies is to spread the ashes of her son on the steps of the temple’s entrance, then lock herself in the temple and wait for night to come.  And then…the spirit of her dead son will come to the door, where both mother and son can speak and say their final goodbyes.  But Callies is strongly warned to not open the door no matter what occurs.  Need I say more on what Callies does when her dead son begs her to open the door?

Soon after Callies breaks the number one rule of the temple, she begins to see and hear signs of her son’s spirit in the house.  Surprisingly, she is elated.  To her, this is her son who has come back to her, and she feels whole once more.  But joy slowly turns into dread and fear as the spirit she has unwittingly invited into her life becomes malevolent.

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Callies is in the temple at night, waiting for her son’s spirit to be summoned.  It is a well crafted scene that gives genuine scares and will have the audience constantly asking “What the hell is she doing?”

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Other Side Of The Door” is the final scene of the movie. **SPOILER ALERT** So, after Sisto experiences all the bad things from bringing the dead back to our world, he decides to make the same mistake as Callies and goes through the same ritual to talk to his dead wife, and open the door so she can be with him again?  Get the hell out!  This scene did not ring true with Sisto’s character.  His daughter was almost killed by the first spirit, and now he’s going to put both of them at risk again with the same, exact mistake that Callies did?  Granted, the execution of this scene deserves high praise; but logically it made no sense to the story.

Overall, “The Other Side Of The Door” is an enjoyable, horror treat.  Certainly not one of the best…but good enough.  And if it’s good enough for me, I think it’s good enough for you.

— M

Grade B

Lauren Cohan plays an American with a dark, troubled past who moves to England to be a nanny for “The Boy.” Living in a large, old, creepy house with no neighbors in sight, the elderly parents introduce Cohan to their son…who happens to be a large, creepy doll named Brahms.  There are strict rules that must be adhered to by Cohan, such as playing music and reading to Brahms, and never leaving it alone.  Treat Brahms well, it will treat her well, the parents caution; treat Brahms badly and…

As soon as the elderly “parents” leave for a vacation, Cohan disregards the rules and treats Brahms like the creepy doll that it is, covering it with a blanket and leaving it by itself on a chair in the dark.  Soon after, strange, scary things start to happen: her things start to disappear; her room appears to have been searched and left a mess; noises are heard throughout the house; and the doll sometimes is not where Cohan left it.  Is Brahms possessed by a spirit?  Is Cohan losing her mind from the stress of what happened to her in America?  Or could it possibly be the locals having wicked fun with the foreigner?

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Cohan is first introduced to Brahms by its “parents.”  Cohan laughs and looks at the elderly couple waiting for them to join in on the laughter, but instead they look at her as if she is naked in a funeral.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Boy” is the scene that reveals the mystery of Brahms.  I will write no more of this scene so as not to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen this movie yet.

“The Boy” is, for the most part, typical of this type of story; but what sets it apart from the rest is how Cohan deals with the doll once she accepts that he may be possessed, and the reveal of the Brahms mystery.  I was pleasantly surprised that I could not figure out Brahm’s secret; and an unpredictable movie is more fun than one that you can read with your eyes closed.  Some of the scares are cheap, but overall the director sets up many scenes that are  genuinely creepy and sometimes stressful to the audience as we try to anticipate when and if the doll will suddenly do something.

— M

Grade D+

Ten stories in one movie that takes place in one neighborhood during Halloween!  Wow, sounds like a great deal, right?  Wrong!  With a running time of about 90 minutes, including credits, that’s about 8 minutes per story.  There is just no time to set up the stories so that the audience will care for what happens to the characters.  “Tales Of Halloween” is just an orgy of gory deaths that sometimes has a surprise ending that is amusing.  And the special effects isn’t much better than what was seen in the “Tales From The Darkside” t.v. show decades ago.  Almost every story has so many shenanigans that they cannot be taken seriously, further disengaging the audience from the movie.  This is not horror, but comedy; and even as such, it is a failure.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Tales Of Halloween” is the scene when a little alien with a little bag for his Halloween candy keeps saying, “twick or tweet!”  It was a cute, little critter and it made me laugh.

This movie is to be avoided by horror fans, unless you want something silly and gory to watch with your friends as you get drunk and catch up on your lives.

No, Maximus, I was not entertained!

— M

Grade A

Part comedy, part drama, part suspense and part horror — unless you don’t think being unemployed and homeless is horrifying — “The Big Short” is an eye-opening, crazy ride into the world of financial markets and how the world economy collapsed in 2008/2009.

A handful of traders and investors (played by Steve Carell, Christian Bale, and Ryan Gosling, to name a few) have found serious flaws in the U.S. housing market that would cause it to collapse and take the entire U.S. economy — and those of other countries — down with it.  They decide to go “short” (basically a bet that prices will fall) against the housing market.  These men are laughed at and ridiculed by the rest of the traders/investors/banks who take the opposite bet; but eventually the financial apocalypse that so few had the vision to see — and the balls to take advantage of — will come, bringing such a wide swath of destruction that the effects are still felt by the entire world as I write this.

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Gosling is trying to do business with Carell to take a large, short position on the housing market.  Carell and his guys ask for the math on Gosling’s findings.  Gosling points to a young, Asian guy and tells Carell and his crew that the Asian guy is his math specialist!  “Look at his face, look at his eyes,” Gosling says.  Ha ha!   Yes, it was a racist comment; but it was also funny as hell.  I’m Asian, and I laughed my ass off — and even if I wasn’t Asian, I’d still laugh my ass off.  Don’t be so sensitive…the world isn’t here to tiptoe around your feelings.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Big Short” is the scene when Carell is in a restaurant asking a manager of a CDO fund (Collateralized Debt Obligation, which is a financial instrument that was filled with garbage a few years prior to the financial collapse of 2008/2009) what he does and what is in his CDO fund and who the manager really works for.   This scene quickly sums up the high level of greed and callousness in the financial markets that helped usher in all that pain for hundreds of millions of workers all throughout the world.   This scene is infuriating to watch.

For those not at all knowledgeable about the financial markets, “The Big Short” can be confusing despite a few segments where celebrities — playing themselves — explain things in a more simplified form.   But this will be easily understandable by all: there were a lot of shenanigans going on in the U.S. government, the ratings agencies, the traders/investors/brokers, real estate companies, banks, investment banks, and last but definitely not least, the numerous people who took out housing loans who had no idea what they were getting into.

Bottom line: whether you’re into stocks or bonds or currencies or commodities, it’s gambling.  Know exactly what you’re getting into.

— M

 

Grade B+

After a family (Patrick Wilson as the father, Rose Byrne as the mother, and Ty Simpkins as the oldest child) move into their new home, the haunting start almost immediately.  The attacks are focused on Simpkins, leading to his “coma.”  Byrne becomes the next target, hearing and seeing so many terrifying things that she is suffering a mental breakdown.  Wilson, not believing or not wanting to believe, moves his family to a new home…but the evil entities have followed.

Ghostbusters are eventually called in, and the prognosis is much worse than what the family thought.  Not helping matters is Wilson’s skepticism despite all that has happened; but he will need to believe and delve into his past in order to help save his son’s soul…and his own.

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Byrne wakes up one night to see someone walking back and forth outside her second story windows.  Back and forth, back and forth…and then the spirit suddenly appears inside her bedroom and runs after Byrne!  This made me jump and go “Oh!”

My most memorable, movie moment of “Insidious” is the scene when the red-faced demon shows up behind Wilson — don’t worry, I won’t mention when this happens.  This made me jump more and go “Oh!” louder than the scene previously mentioned.  Of all the scenes in horror movies that I’ve seen in the past two years, this one scared me the most.

“Insidious” stands well above the average horror movie; but even this one suffers from using cheap scare tactics (such as extremely loud sounds during the payoffs) in a few scenes even though it wasn’t needed.  I do give major kudos to the screenwriter for using a fairly original element in how the haunting started.  Bottom line: horror movie aficionados will enjoy “Insidious” and should try watching it alone and in the dark…but I suggest you wear diapers.

— M

Grade B-

Four young Americans on vacation in Mexico take up a German and Greek’s offer to visit the recently discovered ruins of an ancient temple.  Upon setting foot on the outskirts of the ruins, the local tribe appear with guns and bows, threatening to kill any foreigner that steps away from the ruins.   To make things perfectly clear, the locals kill the Greek who steps away from the ruins with an arrow to the chest, followed by a bullet through his face.  The remaining five travelers scramble to the top of the temple, trying to make sense of what the hell just happened.

The locals set camps all around the temple, being careful to stay at least forty feet from the base of the ruins.  Are the foreigners to be sacrificed?  Or have they unwittingly awakened an ancient evil that must be contained at all costs?

One of my most memorable, movie moments of “The Ruins” is the scene when two of the trapped foreigners lift one of their companions who has fallen and broken his back.  As the injured man is lifted to a makeshift backboard, his bones can be heard cracking and breaking!

My most memorable moment of this movie is the scene when the man with the injured back agrees to have the med-school dude amputate his legs so that injured dude won’t get the rest of his body infected.  Wanna-be Doc says to the trapped party that injured dude is paralyzed and won’t feel a thing.   Out comes the hunting knife, and wanna-be Doc starts cutting.  Injured dude starts screaming!  Wanna-be Doc takes a big rock and smashes the bone to break it.  Injured dude is screaming for wanna-be Doc to stop.  Idiot Doc repeats the process on the other leg!  What the hell!   Wanna-be Doc tells all that injured dude wasn’t feeling anything, he was just freaking out from seeing what was being done to his body.  Whoo, boy, if there was one guy I wanted to see die a horrible death, it was wanna-be Doc.  This was obviously a scene to make the audience cringe for a few minutes; but it was so extreme and unwarranted that it was almost comical, like watching a Monty Python sketch.

Cringe and squirm is what “The Ruins” is great at making the audience do.   It’s not so much a horror movie…it’s more “torture porn” horror.  It has a few cheap scares, and several lengthy, gross-out scenes of bodies being mutilated.  The great acting of Jena Malone and Laura Ramsey manage to pull this movie up to a B- grade.  A few tweaks of the script, such as making “the creatures” come out only at night, would have made “The Ruins” better.  As it stands, it’s an entertaining movie, and one of the better ones of its genre.

— M

 

Grade B+

A family headed by Ethan Hawke moves into a house where four members of the previous owners were hung in the backyard, and a fifth member — the youngest daughter — is still missing.  Unlike most movies that start off like this, Hawke knows the history of the property!  And he specifically chose this house so he can get inspiration for his new book and give his flagging, writing career a boost.  Of course, he doesn’t tell his wife or two kids.

Right from the start, weird things happen.  Hawke finds a Super 8 camera, several film reels, and a projector in the attic.  He plays them, and all the reels are of families being snuffed out in horrible ways, with the exception of one child per family being spared the gruesome deaths, although the spared children are all missing.  Believing he has possession of a serial killer’s work, he analyzes the film to piece together the puzzle of who the killer is, who the victims are, why one child is missing from each family that is murdered, and what is the purpose of the killings.

As Hawke gets deeper into his investigation and research — his main purpose is to write a best-seller out of his newly found evidence — his children begin to see visions of dead children.  Worse than that, Hawke may have put himself and his family into the crosshairs of a killer, or killers, who may not be of this world.

“Sinister” is a rarity among current, horror movies in that it offers genuine scares.  Sure, a few of the scares are cheap; but the majority are set up very well that gives the audience a sense of dread that can last for minutes.  That’s called good directing, editing, screenwriting, cinematography, and acting.

One of my most memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Hawke is doing a sweep of his house at night after hearing noises that sounds like an intruder is inside.  Carrying a baseball bat, Hawke moves from one part of his dark house to another (why he doesn’t turn on the lights I have no idea!), and as he does so, the ghosts of children appear where he is not looking.

**SPOILER ALERT–ENDING OF THE MOVIE DISCUSSED**My most memorable, movie moment of “Sinister” is the scene when Hawke wakes up from his drugged state and finds himself, his wife, and his son tied.  His daughter holds an axe, staring at him, and she says, “Don’t worry, daddy, I’ll make you famous again.”

— M

Grade C+

Taking place days after the ending of “The Descent,” Part 2 has Shauna Macdonald — the only person who escaped the cave infested with the flesh-eating monsters in the first movie — coerced by one of the dumbest, inept Sheriffs in movie history to go back into the uncharted cave system with a few other cavers to rescue Macdonald’s 5 friends who are still down there.  Oh, the Sheriff and his deputy, who have zero experience in caving and are not properly equipped, are also going along for the ride.  Yay, more victims.   Macdonald, suffering from PTSD and amnesia, of course cannot tell the rescue team that there are slimy, humanoid creatures in the cave who love the taste of human flesh and blood…until it is too late.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Descent: Part 2” is the scene when idiot Sheriff handcuffs himself to Macdonald!  Why did he do this?  Probably the same reason he kept this rescue on the down low, i.e., there is no good reason!  I chalk it up to extremely lazy screenwriting, where the filmmakers just wanted to send some victims back down there and have the most ridiculous excuse as to why there is no back-up team should the first team run into trouble.   Anyway, back to the idiot cop.  So this jackass handcuffs himself to Macdonald because she wants to go find her own way out, and idiot cop — who can’t even fight one monster by himself — thinks he knows better and will force Macdonald to go his way, and does so in a way that severely handicaps both of their fighting abilities!  To the screenwriters of this flick: was this movie shot using your first draft?  Don’t bother answering, because no matter how you answer, you look incompetent.

Despite the shenanigans mentioned above as well as others not mentioned, “The Descent: Part 2” is an okay horror movie, with a great atmosphere, a few good scares and many cheap ones, and good acting by the majority of the cast.  It’s nowhere near the higher level of “The Descent,” but I recommend fans of the first movie to watch this one so they can finish the story and put this to bed.

(Sigh) Well, Maximus, I was somewhat entertained; if you must throw your swords again into the crowd, please direct them to the director/writers of this movie.

— M

Grade B

You’ve heard of the saying “truth is stranger than fiction?”  In general, that’s a load of b.s.  What truth can compare with “Star Wars” or “The Lord Of The Rings?”  But in the case of “Moby Dick” and the true story from which Herman Melville based his novel on, the truth was much stranger — and horrifying — than fiction.

“In The Heart Of The Sea” tells the harrowing, true tale of the sailors of the Essex, a whaling ship from Massachusetts that was hit and sunk by a Sperm Whale.  The crew to was forced to use their small, whaling boats as lifeboats; and they crammed as much supplies as they could salvage from the sinking Essex.   Hundreds of miles from the nearest mainland, their supplies didn’t last long; and, ironically, fish was not readily available in the part of the ocean that they were in.  Thirst and hunger would turn the survivors to the only food source available: each other.

One of my memorable, movie moments is the scene when the crew of the Essex hunts its first whale.  Chris Hemsworth, playing the First Mate, harpoons the giant creature and takes Hemsworth and his men on a “Nantucket sleigh ride.”  The whale swims deep into the sea, desperate to escape the men who are trying to kill it.  Running out of oxygen, wounded from the harpoon, and tired from the struggle, the whale surfaces and Hemsworth makes the killing blow.  The whale spouts up blood and soon dies.  The men rejoice at their first kill…but Hemsworth isn’t so pleased with having to kill this majestic creature.  It’s his job, yes, and he needs the money to take care of his family (a wife and baby on the way); but he knows what he does isn’t completely justified.

My most memorable, movie moment of “In The Heart Of The Sea” is the scene when Hemsworth’s whaling boat has its first casualty: a sailor who has died from exposure, starvation, and thirst.  The other survivors are about to throw the body into the ocean; but Hemsworth has other ideas.  He tells his men that “No right-minded sailor discards what might yet save him.”

At first the sailors only eat the ones who have died.  But when the bodies have been consumed and the survivors were still out in the ocean, they begin to draw lots to decide who would be killed so that the others may live.  “ITHOTS” doesn’t delve too deeply into the cannibalism parts of the movie, rather it concentrates on the relationships of the sailors among themselves and their general fight for survival; and in the capable hands of director Ron Howard, it does that very well.

One bit of fact about the true story of the men of the Essex that I don’t recall was put into the movie: after the ship was sunk, the captain wanted to head for some islands that he knew they could get to before their provisions ran out; but his men scared him off with tales of cannibals in those islands.

— M

Grade B+

Six adventure seeking, female friends explore a cave in the Appalachian Mountains for fun and as a way to strengthen the bond among them.  Shauna Macdonald and Natalie Mendoza play the lead roles, the former having lost her husband and young daughter to a car accident, the latter being the natural leader of the group and wanting Macdonald to move on and heal from the tragic accident that occurred one year earlier.

What starts out as a fun adventure will soon become a nightmare as the entrance caves in and the women are trapped in a cave that Mendoza reveals to her friends to be one that has never been explored before, and that no one knows that the women went into this cave.  It is up to them to find a way out…if there is one.   As the women crawl and climb their way throughout the cave, flesh-eating, humanoid creatures are stalking them.  Making matters worse is a secret that Mendoza hides that can tear her friendship with Macdonald apart and reduce their chances for survival.

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when one of the women falls and breaks her leg, and a bone is protruding from her flesh.  Another woman — a doctor — presses the bone back in so that she could put on a splint for the injured woman.   This was the most cringe-inducing scene of the movie.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Descent” is the scene **SPOILER ALERT** when Mendoza, in a fit of rage and terror as she fights the monsters, hears footsteps behind her and she swings blindly with her climbing axe and hits the neck of one of her friends!  The victim (played by Alex Reid) happens to be my favorite of the group, so yeah, this wasn’t a happy time for me.

The title of this movie can lead audiences to conclude that this is a descent into madness for Macdonald, who never got over the death of her child.  **SPOILER ALERT** This conclusion is reinforced in the unrated version’s ending of Macdonald’s escape out of the mountain to be a dream, and she wakes up still inside the mountain and seeing a vision of her dead daughter.  Macdonald smiles, the camera pulls back, and we see Macdonald alone with no way out, and we hear the monsters closing in.   Were the monsters all in her head and she killed her friends, or were the monsters real and Macdonald’s mind has fallen apart at the end?  I happen to think it’s the latter.  Of course, there is a sequel that answers the real or imaginary question.

“The Descent” is a very good horror movie that not only gives good scares, it has a virtually all female cast that shows women as being physically and mentally strong.  Name one other movie that has these features…I can’t.  I would have given “The Descent” a “Grade A,” but there was a shenanigan I couldn’t let go: the creatures hunt only by sound, and they could not smell their victims — the women — even though they were inches away from them.   A creature that lives in total darkness would have all its other senses heightened, and that would include the sense of smell.

— M

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