White Zombie, 1932
The acting is stiff and melodramatic, a signature of films in the thirties, but this is really an underrated horror classic. The film takes you back when zombies were not new millennium rotting puss. Modern zombie films for the most part have steered away from the lore of voodoo rituals giving rise to zombies. Now it's more often scientific reasons a zombie horde was created, like an alien virus or lab experiment gone wrong, etc.
The film creates an eerie atmosphere with great stage sets and subdued lighting. The dead zombies are more like catatonic slaves as opposed to the modern zombie eating machines seen today. I'm not 100% sure, but I believe this is the very first zombie movie, so it's worth checking it for that alone to see how it all started. Not to mention the legendary Bela Lugosi puts on a great performance.
Wind Chill, 2007
"Winter is coming." Nothing like a traditional ghost story in the frozen tundra to prepare you for the winter months rapidly approaching. While the plot isn't exactly original, it's a good presentation of familiar ghost stories. The two main actors, including Emily Blunt, give convincing performances in a horror film that relies on atmosphere and build up rather than gore.
Considering the majority of the movie takes place in a broken down car stranded in the snow, it manages to hold your attention with solid character development along with episodes of intense fright. While the back story on why that area is plagued with ghosts is predictable, it's still a fun old fashioned horror tale accompanied by a gripping soundtrack. This ghost story would be perfect to watch on a night when your home is blanketed in snow and its twenty degrees or less outside.
World War II in Colour, 2009 & Hitler's Circle of Evil, 2018
I'm reviewing two documentaries as a pair because they compliment each other for an all encompassing look at Hitler and World War II. Over the years I have watched numerous World War II documentaries, and I consider these two documentaries the best of the bunch. World War II in Colour (WW2IC) offers a broader view of Hitler's rise to power with the bulk of the episodes covering the global conflict between the Allies and Axis powers. Hitler's Circle of Evil (HCOE) dives deeper into Hitler's lust for dictatorship and the gang of sycophants that enabled him.
Robert Powell narrates WW2IC, an excellent choice, he conveys the right emotions to enhance the presentation. The colorization of black & white film footage in WW2IC is sometimes seamless, but other times it's actually distracting. It's the content and presentation that is its strength. The series is presented in a non-linear timeline at times. I would have preferred a linear timeline, but it's not difficult to keep the critical events sorted.
HCOE employs quality reenactments to portray Hitler and his band of madmen from morphine-addicted Herman Goring's decadence to Heinrich Himmler's bloodlust for genocide. While Goring and Himmler may be the more well known names of Hitler's deranged henchmen, HCOE includes the rise of lesser known power hungry zealots like Martin Bormann and Reinhard Heydrich.
I highly recommend you set aside time to watch both documentaries back to back for a complete picture how the Silent Generation literally saved the world from an evil fanatic.
RED, 2010 and RED 2, 2013
Talk about an all star cast, both films include - Anthony Hopkins, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ernest Borgnine, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, Karl Urban, Mary Louise Parker, James Remar, Neal McDonough, and David Thewlis. I'm reviewing RED and its sequel, RED 2, together because I recommend them for an evening-at-home double feature. While RED/RED 2's primary genre is comedy, its violent action offers a steady diet of grim and sometimes brutal deaths.
We quickly learn that Frank Moses (Willis) is a retired Black Ops agent living a quiet civilian life before erupting into frenzied bloodshed seeded with nonstop humor. An endless supply of bad guys are bent on making sure his retirement is anything but quiet. The same for the sequel - it starts out with cutesy domestic humor, and then bam! The viewer is smacked with fiery explosions and buckets of bullets taking out characters every which way.
Both films have a healthy share of passive comedy/drama to give the viewer a little breathing room, but its frantic pace also bombards the viewer with action-packed chaos and absurd scenarios. The all star cast was a sure hit for me, but even the lesser known supporting cast give convincing performances. The acting by some of the main cast is at times a bit over the top, but Mary Louis Parker stole the show with her priceless reactions.
Bruce Willis, well, all he had to do was act like Bruce Willis, but it still works for this type of movie. And the machine gun-yielding Helen Mirren is pure gold. In both films where it's packed with good guy and bad guy contract killers, you get the impression Helen's character is the most dangerous of the bunch. Then there's Anthony Hopkins, who's performance shines as an amusing, likable, and a bit unstable character . . . until his creepy dark side sneaks up on you.
The sequel offers nothing new to the original, it's really more of the same raucous mayhem with a slightly different plot, so it's best to look at both films as a four hour long action-comedy, pedal to the metal, globe trotting adventure. Sure, a number of scenes are just down right silly, but that's forgivable once you experience the lively dialogue, deadpan humor, sizzling action, and peppy soundtrack.
The Impossible, 2012
An intense and harrowing adventure that puts the audience in the middle of the "Boxing Day" Tsunami. We follow a British family's fight to survive through the catastrophe that killed over 200,000 people in 2004. The filmmakers did an excellent job of giving the audience the experience first hand what it would be like to be caught in such a devastating disaster. The acting is genuine from the lead characters to the supporting characters.
Black Mass, 2015
A crime thriller about Boston's infamous Irish gangster Whitey Bulger, Black Mass is not on the level of The Departed, but Johnny Depp delivers an Oscar-worthy performance. While it has a strong supporting cast, Depp's performance is the showcase of this film. The movie itself impressively captures that seventies gangsters feel, but leans heavily on copy-catting dozens of previous crime films.
While Benedict Cumberbatch is a great actor, I question if he was a good casting choice. I found myself studying his accent - converting his British accent to a Boston accent - rather than absorbing the character. The movie's pace is sluggish and lacks the emotion and intensity of great crime thrillers like Goodfellas. This movie had the potential to be placed along with the all time great crime drama classics, but falls flat with it's mundane presentation. Depp's brilliant performance as the ruthless gangster is the lone shining light of this film.
The Universe: Ancient Mysteries Solved, 2015
I'm probably being a little generous giving this series an 8 out of 10, but I personally found what it had to offer truly fascinating. On a positive note, they regularly include competent experts to weigh in on the astronomical phenomenon unfolding in our dangerous universe.
Be warned though, it's a steady diet of galactic data overload. One of the few series I would recommend that you do NOT binge watch. You need some time between episodes to soak in the juggernaut of apocalyptic perils of space. The series includes a doom and gloom presentation that can make the viewer feel like mankind is nested in a vast Armageddon depot. Any hopes of humans escaping a dying Earth are squashed as the series assures us that far worse and inevitable events of destruction are awaiting us in this interstellar mine field called the universe.
Fortunately, the series also explores more benign events of our celestial playground along with an interesting look at the history of astronomy and the possible science behind ancient omens. So the viewer is not constantly inundated with an endless feed of cosmic calamities. A more objective viewer might find its sensationalistic approach and unintentional silliness a bit off putting, but I personally found it an orbital joyride of other-worldly fun facts.
Vatican Tapes, 2015
After The Exorcist - 1971, it's been a struggle for filmmakers to produce a satanic horror film with the central theme of exorcism, that is fresh. Not so much the fault of the creators, after all, how much can you stray from the premise of a person possessed by an evil spirit? So naturally, every exorcism movie will always include a series of events that reveals the person is possessed and the inevitable battle to exorcise the demon. Vatican Tapes is no different, its plot is cornered into this very specific horror sub-genre.
The film features a cast of familiar actors who all deliver competent performances. Technically, it's supported by a haunting soundtrack along with serviceable audio/visual effects. Anyone who has watched numerous exorcism films will likely be disappointed since it brings nothing new to the satanic horror sub-genre. That said, the familiar plot devices employed in the film are well done. There's even a few scenes indicating an evil spirit is present that I have not seen in other exorcism films.
Unfortunately, the film often relies on cliches and because of its PG-13 rating, it lacks the graphic horror often seen in other exorcism movies. All that combined with a plot that is wholly unoriginal, I would probably not give this film a rating higher than 5 out of 10. However, with it's able cast delivering quality performances, the filmmakers successfully executing a series of creepy events, and a powerful ending, I feel it deserves a 6.
This now makes three satanic horror films I've recently watched, an unintentional marathon on my part. It doesn't seem necessary to offer a review on another possessed-by-demon film as I just did with The Vatican Tapes, I would simply be repeating observations of the same plot points, but Incarnate is the first of its kind to mix things up in this horror sub-genre.
It starts out like every other possessed-by-demon film - the victim, a young boy, is possessed by a demon familiar to the religious dark entities we have seen so many times before. The evil red eyes, altered voice, supernatural abilities - all the familiar tropes are there. However, it's the exorcism that brings a fresh approach to this very specific horror premise.
Instead of a priest, the exorcist is actually a scientist, Dr. Ember (Aaron Eckhart) who has the ability to enter the dream state of the victim where the demon is deeply embedded. It's similar to Nightmare on Elm Street regarding surreal and nightmarish conflicts as the doctor and his team employ scientific methods to drive the demon from the victim. Bibles, rosaries, and prayer are replaced with computers, IV's, and electrodes to battle the demon.
The cast deliver fine performances, but the film is hampered by weak direction. Once again, cheap jump scares are used, a marginally average soundtrack, and a few scenes are the same cookie cutter devices seen all too often before. Fortunately, the plot maintains a level of mystery and intensity throughout the whole story along with an intriguing sub-plot I can't divulge without revealing spoilers.
For production and presentation, I would give this film a 6 out of 10, but considering possessed-by-demon films are all nearly identical, I raise the rating to 7 out of 10 for it's originality relative to its very confined horror sub-genre.
The Magnificent Seven, 2016
The upside is its packed with star power, good direction, and it's better than a lot of other remakes. However, it doesn't measure up to the original film starring Yul Brynner. Now bear in mind, even the original Magnificent Seven is a remake of Seven Samurai. Denzel Washington gives a great performance as Brynner's counterpart and the rest of the cast deliver entertaining performances.
The villain certainly is all kinds of evil, but lacks the charisma seen in a few really great cinematic villains. He's a nasty little cowboy nerd who looks like he is more likely to embed a malware virus on your laptop than kill you. That said, the actor, Peter Sarsgaard, makes the best of what he was given character wise. Character development is lacking and it's riddled with cliches, but once you get past that, it delivers some amazing visuals and good old action packed fun.
Despite its flaws, the film is worth checking out since Western feature films seem to be a rarity. Oh sure, there are numerous westerns that go straight to video or streaming, but big box office westerns died with Heaven's Gate in 1980. Even decades later, the Western has never been able to recover from that cinematic disaster.
Score: -- /10
Slender Man is a faceless, thin, and freakishly tall creepy man in a black suit well known on the internet. Often seen in scare prank video clips, apparently the character is copyright owned, so they couldn't even have Slender Man appear in their Slender Man movie. Oops.
I could not objectively give this movie a rating because I couldn't finish watching a crushing bore. Switching it off assuaged the 30 minutes suffered watching this dreck. What I did see was a cluster of lame found footage presentation infested with basement YouTube actors and an entertainment factor equivalent to someone reading their 20 page life insurance policy out loud to you.
Little Evil, 2017
Little Evil feels like a movie that jumped out of the eighties and leap-frogged into the new millennium. Which would explain why its formula feels dated. A comedy horror? Well, it uses the plot vehicle of satanic horror to launch its story, so technically it carries the horror tag, but there's nothing horrific about it, making it pretty much a straight up comedy. The humorous nods to The Omen are in your face, including the child, Lucas, looking and dressing like Damien.
The acting is quite good by most of the cast, especially the hilarious reactions by Adam Scott who plays the stepfather trying to bond with this anti-Christ junior. Early in the film, it manages to stay within the realms of reality, but as the story progresses, that's thrown out the window to make room for all levels of absurdity. So it's best to not take one second of this film seriously and have a good laugh at its devilishly whacky premise.
Hell Fest, 2018
Obnoxious teenagers are killed off one at a time in this Haunted Attraction slasher film. Sorry for the massive spoiler. ;)
The filmmakers don't bother themselves with creativity or bringing anything fresh to the tired slasher genre. Instead, they embrace the entire gambit of horror tropes seen too often in hack n'stab movies. You know the drill - one teen who is a passive, caring, kind soul, surrounded by a group of obnoxious, way too cocky teen friends. Some more obnoxious than others - which tells you in which order they are killed off.
The cast features a pack of unknown actors aside from Tony Todd (Candyman), who delivers a lame performance. Forget about any hopes for decent acting or enticing dialogue. It's a haunted attraction converted to a movie, and that's what makes it fun. Props for stage settings were borrowed from actual well known haunted attractions. All the blood, neon colors, frightening sounds, eerie lighting, horror cosplay - it's like enjoying a haunted attraction from your sofa.
This slasher flick would be great to play during a Halloween party. Your party guests couldn't care less trying to follow the plot, because there is no plot. Okay, I'm exaggerating, it has a plot, but it's so predictable you could park your imagination in auto-pilot and not skip a beat. The killer, known as "The Other," likely will not go down in horror cinematic history like the legendary Freddy Krueger, but The Other's level of dread and creepiness does not disappoint.
The House With a Clock in Its Walls, 2018
If I were more objective, I would have given this film no more than a 6 out of 10, but my biased admiration for Halloween movies bumps it up to 7/10. Just to clarify, there are horror movies and there are Halloween movies. The two genres certainly go hand in hand, but Halloween movies... where the holiday period of Halloween is the central theme, holds a great deal of charm for me.
Plus Jack Black and Kate Blanchett's characters are so likable. Those two are the showcase of the film, while the remaining characters, mainly the kid and the villain, were rather bland. Aside from a few casting weak choices, the film delivers wonderful and traditional Halloween story telling.
In The Cloud, 2018
Being a huge Gabriel Byrne fan, I went in hoping for a solid movie, but it soon turned into a cluttered mess. This sci-fi thriller's plot set-up throws everything and the kitchen sink at you early on, nearly all at once, creating a train wreck of story telling. To make matters worse, the special effects are not just poorly done, they are actually annoying. Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, apparently the filmmakers fell in love with what they thought was a great audience view - that being repeatedly using a migraine-inducing blurry fish-eye lens view.
The young casts' performances were embarrassingly bad - at times just plain weird and awkward. Any hopes it might get better as you continue watching are dashed when you hear the exhausted dialogue surrounded by an obnoxious disco thumping soundtrack. Then there's the disjointed editing, injecting quick scenes that were marginally coherent, but more often incoherent. This is really a 1 out of 10 movie, but I gave it a 2 for Byrne at least trying to salvage what he was stuck with character wise.
I understand this is a low budget sci-fi film amounting to a little less than 4 million. It's okay that the filmmakers have a very short list for their filmography. It's forgivable that, except for Pedro Pascal, the cast are relatively unknown actors. But what's most annoying is how so many low budget sci-fi films involving an alien world are always forests. Going by these type of films, apparently the galaxy is filled with nothing but earth-like forests.
Costumes, props, and cast/crew fees apparently eat up most of a 4 million dollar budget. So there's nothing left to create an alien world. Time and time again, low budget filmmakers default to the same old tired backdrop - a forest you've often seen on a family vacation. I had read later the movie was filmed in a park near Tacoma, Washington. While it's certainly pleasing forestry, there's nothing alien about trees, vines, ferns, ivy, and other familiar plants.
If you look at amateur sci-fi shorts on YouTube, film hobbyists all film in forests or a desert due to them having little to no budget. You would think professionals would shake off that amateur habit. The story, acting, directing, costumes, and props actually range from decent to good, so a more objective viewer might give it a higher rating. It's my negative bias for lame "earth-like forest worlds" that I just could not get past and cannot rate it higher than a 5 out of 10.
An ancient war drama/adventure made in the Netherlands. In 700 A.D., under the flag of Christianity, The Franks wage war and carnage on barbarian tribes. Other than Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad), the cast is mostly Netherlands actors. A good chunk of the film has Dutch dialogue (and maybe other foreign languages), requiring English closed caption, but the majority of the film is in English dialogue.
The cinematography is truly a sight to behold, enhanced by a rich soundtrack and solid audio effects. The costumes and stage sets are every bit as good as The Game of Thrones. Visual effects are fairly impressive save for a couple scenes that were rather weak (look for a burning-at-the-stake scene that is cringe worthy). You may notice a few flaws in the battle scenes, but over all they are well choreographed.
Unfortunately, it's the technical aspects only that are the highlight of this movie. The rest is downhill. While the actors were competent, they were weighed down by bland dialogue. Though Jonathan Banks is a good actor, he felt out of place in this ancient period adventure. Jonathan portrays a main character in this film with the same persona as his character in Breaking Bad.
The film has some shockingly brutal and intense moments, then jumps to disjointed, incoherent moments. Making it worse, some war campaigns are just blatantly illogical. Also, the sluggish pacing and poor editing made the story feel so unnecessarily bloated, I found myself drifting at times. A more streamlined presentation would have made for a more captivating watch. But that magnificent cinematography, it's worth a look for that if nothing else.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, 2019
Most of us have actors we simply cannot stand. For me it's Adam Sandler and Zac Efron. My animosity towards them is probably not even justified, nevertheless, I scroll right past any movies in the menu starring Adam or Zac. It was actually by accident I watched this film, I didn't realize Zac was the lead role, but I left it on anyway. I was pleasantly surprised with Efron's captivating performance.
This movie is the latest feature film version of Ted Bundy. I've seen the archive video clips of Bundy, and Zac really nailed Ted's persona, not to mention they share very similar facial features and build. I suppose it's fitting an actor that repels me, so brilliantly portrays a nefarious psycho. Also, the director does a great job of conveying his victim's perception of Ted........how Bundy convinced his victims he was a sane, thoughtful, dedicated husband, boyfriend, or lover.
With Zac's chilling performance of Bundy, perhaps moving forward, I will give Efron a chance again . . . in another serious role. Not one of his god-awful comedies. I can't say the same for Adam Sandler. It's difficult for me to get past Sandler's frequent habit of using that annoyingly childish voice he makes. How someone is able to make a career with a mocking voice characterization that pretty much every kid on the planet has tried at some point, is beyond me.
In the Shadow of the Moon, 2019
In this sci-fi thriller, a serial killer - a young woman in a blue hoodie goes on a murder spree every nine years. The film wastes no time in launching a premise steeped in mystery. Detectives, along with the film viewer, are kept in the dark regarding why those particular victims were murdered and no clue for motive. The first unsolved murders occur in 1988, then jumps to 1997 when the young woman somehow returns for more killing sprees.
She returns again in 2006, committing more murders, and once again in 2015. While the film's primary genre is crime thriller, there's a significant sci-fi factor involved, but I can't share those details without revealing spoilers. The film's pacing does a fine job of slowly unfolding the mystery for the detectives and the film viewer, but even the clues are shrouded in their own level of mystery, adding more questions on how and why.
The main cast features trendy actors such as Boyd Hoybrook (Narcos) and Michael C. Hall (Dexter) along with other familiar actors for supporting cast. Acting, dialogue, soundtrack, and cinematography are all pretty standard, but they fill the bill in support of the plot. It's the intriguing and attention-gripping plot that is the star of this film. Fortunately, the writers eventually provide answers to all your questions.
Terminator: Dark Fate, 2019
The Terminator franchise has arguably been played out and by the fifth film there was not much left in its gas tank. So here we are with a sixth film for a franchise complicated for its mine field of alternate futures and modified pasts. There's a good chance many viewers would suffer splitting headaches trying to sort out the tinkering of the timeline in the first five films. So what does Dark Fate do? It throws out a big chunk of the franchises' timeline.
Canon be damned, the film disregards the 3rd, 4th, and 5th films, and picks up where Terminator 2 left off. James Cameron, the creator of the Terminator, returns as producer along with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton - the original Sarah Connor. While there are exceptions, action stars of the past stepping in to make new millennium action films often comes across as cringy for me. High velocity action is for the young.
There's a good mix of young cast to at least help counterbalance the geriatric duo of Arnold and Linda. Their advanced age shows in this film and it distracts from the high adrenalin action. Once you get past your eye rolling at the two old geezards packing heat and kicking metalized butt, Dark Fate is actually an action packed fun romp. It also helps that the young and rising star McKenzie Davis is the scene stealer of this latest film of the franchise.
And the villain bot? First time in the franchise to see a chatty terminator. It goes against the silent, cold, lethal image of the original killing machines. Dark Fate is a spent shell of the hallmark sci-fi films The Terminator and Terminator 2, but it does fill the bill if you're looking to kill some time on a generic over the top action movie. That said, a replay of the first two films would be a much more rewarding experience.
Don't Listen, 2020
With my recent reviews, it seems I'm on a ghost story marathon, but honestly it's just coincidental. Unless you're into Spanish film, you will not recognize the cast, nevertheless, I had no issues with their performances. Going back as far as the sixties, Spanish horror has served up some hallmark horror movies. However, this isn't one of them. I will say it does have some choice moments to justify rating it a little above average.
A married couple with one son move into a new home when the kid starts hearing voices. Soon after, the father also hears the voices and becomes alarmed. Ahh, the voices. Talk about a beaten path. Now in all fairness, one of the most common experiences people suffering through sleep paralysis have reported, is hearing voices along with disturbing visions. Problem is, none of the characters in this film were asleep when they heard the voices. So, never mind.
Loaded with jump scares, a few are actually somewhat effective, but there's too many that are the tired cheap trick of startling the audience with a bolt of jarring audio. The cinematography is often very striking with a few visual frames that look like they were crafted by a master photographer. The exhausted plot seen a thousand times over does at least build up a trail of mystery and suspense. The eerie music and audio effects have been heard in a bazillion other horror films.
The scary moments rate anywhere from surreal to just lame, in fact, seasoned horror film enthusiasts might think they were not scary at all. That said, the truly creepy visuals made an impact on me because I was one of those people who suffered through years of sleep paralysis. The visions I experienced during sleep paralysis were very much similar to the apparition-like visuals shown in the film. In conclusion, the film is worth a look, but it holds little to no replay value for me.
Ghosts of War, 2020
Just like the movie I reviewed above, another old fashion ghost story....... but this time with Nazi's!
A band of WW2 American soldiers arrive at a French chateau that had been used by the Nazi's conducting supernatural experiments. They waste little to no time on character development, thrusting the viewer knee deep in ghostly encounters. Despite the excessive use of cheap jump scares and plenty of gore, the horrific encounters and horror effects are above average, supported by top notch cinematography.
The young cast give a solid performance and the quality stage sets are a real treat. The filmmakers keep the viewer constantly submerged in a creepy atmosphere, but editing is rather weak and the ghosts are unoriginal standard fare. Veteran actor Billy Zane appears in the first few minutes of the film, but I was surprised they gave this great actor a brief and minor part. We find out why later in the film.
I must admit I did not see the twist end coming, and the twist is not just one scene. The twist ending is really a full chapter of the story. You almost feel like you have switched to an entirely different genre movie. However, I found the very last scene ending the story, annoying and incomplete. Before the final scene, I might have given this film a 7 out of 10, but I drop it a whole point for that disappointing ending.