OVERLORD (2018)

Review by LL Soares

When I first heard about the movie OVERLORD, it was over a year ago, and it was about to go into production. At that time I knew just a few things about it. First, it was produced by JJ Abrams; second, the script was about Nazi zombies; and third, it would be part of the loosely-connected CLOVERFIELD series of films that Abrams have overseen, which so far consists of the movies CLOVERFIELD (2008), 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016), and THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX (2018). Well, the first two things I’d heard were right, but Abrams eventually decided not to have OVERLORD be a continuation of the CLOVERFIELD mythos after all, probably due to the failure of CLOVERFIELD PARADOX, which went straight to Netflix earlier this year and was pretty much universally panned by critics (including this one). Not making OVERLORD part of the CLOVERFIELD story was probably a good idea. Right now, PARADOX still has a lingering stink on it, and OVERLORD didn’t need the extra baggage.

A mix of a WWII mission movie and a horror film, OVERLORD is a fun little flick that tells a story that isn’t all that original, but which does a good job getting where it wants to go.

It starts in a plane over occupied France, one of many planes, but this one carries our heroes. It’s not long before the other planes around them start erupting in flames, and their own gets riddled with ammunition, forcing them to parachute out a little sooner than planned. This early scene takes us right into the middle of battle, and does a good job. OVERLORD isn’t SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998), but this strong beginning is a little reminiscent of its “war as chaos” motif, if a low-budget version of it.

Our crew includes Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), an African-American soldier who is teased for his kindness (he even had a hard time hurting a mouse), and who is trying to prove himself in battle; wise-cracking Tibbet (John Magaro), who seems like the New York-bred wise-cracking private who we always see in these kinds of movies, a motor-mouth with a heart of gold under all that bluster; Rosenfeld (Dominic Applewhite), a young Jewish kid who is terrified to be in Nazi territory; and Chase (Iain De Caestecker), a journalist/photographer who is embedded in their group to take pictures. There’s also the mysterious Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell) who has been added to this group of greenhorns because he’s a demolitions expert, and their mission needs him.

That mission is to take out a church steeple that doubles as a radio control tower. Take out the tower, and you seriously screw up the Nazis’ communications system, giving the Allies a chance to get in.

Our heroes find themselves in the little town surrounding the church, hiding in the attic of a German girl named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who lives there with her extremely ill aunt (Eva Magyar), and her young brother, Paul (Gianny Taufer). When a Nazi officer named Wafner (Pilou Asbaek) drops by for a “visit,” with every intention of raping Chloe, things get tense, and then violent. Leading to a plan to get inside the church and destroy the radio tower forever.

But there’s a lab in the church, a creepy German doctor (Erich Redman), and syringes full of red fluid very reminiscent of the (much prettier) glowing green goo that Herbert West injected into cadavers in RE-ANIMATOR (1985), with similar results.

There’s a scene toward the end where a zombified Wafner takes on the Americans, that goes on for a while, and yet works quite well. It’s a grueling sequence, and if Asbaek was effective as Wafner alive, he’s even more effective as the half-faced monster version.

The film is directed by Julius Avery, who previously directed some shorts and one other feature film, SON OF A GUN (2014), starring Ewan McGregor and Alicia Vikander, and he does a good job here. The  script by Billy Ray (who also wrote THE HUNGER GAMES, 2012, and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, 2013) and Mark L. Smith (who wrote VACANCY, 2007, THE REVENANT, 2015, and the 2015 American version of the French horror film MARTYRS), does some interesting things with a overly familiar story.

Jovan Adepo (also the son in FENCES, 2016, as well as having roles in MOTHER!, 2017, and the HBO series THE LEFTOVERS, 2015 – 2017) is good here as the kind-hearted Boyce, who nonetheless has something to prove as a soldier. He brings heart to his role. Wyatt Russell, who plays Ford, was previously in Richard Linklater’s EVERYBODY WANTS SOME! (2016) and the Joe R. Lansdale adaptation, COLD IN JULY (2014), but is currently playing Sean “Dud” Dudley, a goofy surfer dude, in the FX series LODGE 49. His Corporal Ford is kind of a badass, and the complete opposite of dim-witted Dud, which I found kind of fascinating. I always love it when actors play against type and make it work. I also enjoyed the performance by Mathilde Ollivier as Chloe, who starts out as a desperate woman who is just trying to survive, but who, in later scenes, isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, even picking up a flame-thrower when the opportunity presents itself. And, as I mentioned, Pilou Asbaek is very good as the main villain, Wafner.

OVERLORD isn’t life-changing, but it is an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes in a movie theater, and I thought it worked well, considering the whole “Nazi experiments” horror movie has been done before (and zombies have been done to death). If you want to have a good time watching a movie, you could do worse than this one. I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives OVERLORD ~ three knives out of five.

Stab_2Stab_2Stab_2

Advertisements

SUSPIRIA (2018)

Review by LL Soares

Like the recent reboot/sequel HALLOWEEN (2018), I left the theater with mixed emotions about Luca Gaudagnino’s remake of the Dario Argento horror classic SUSPIRIA (1977), but one thing was clear. Despite its flaws, the new SUSPIRIA is head and shoulders above David Gordon Green’s so-so HALLOWEEN. If nothing else, Gaudagnino is much more ambitious in his intentions.

Coming off of the massive hit of last year’s CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, Guadagnino seems to be an odd choice to remake one of the hallmarks of 1970s Italian horror. Except for both being Italian, there seems to be little in common between Gaudagnino and Argento. But let’s get something straight right from the start – this new film is not a direct remake. The two films share some characters and plot points (and, of course, a title), but the two SUSPIRIAs are very different films.

Gaudagnino’s SUSPIRIA is broken up into six acts and an epilogue. The first scene involves a young dancer, Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz) going to the office of her psychiatrist, Dr. Josef Klemperer (Lutz Ebersdorf), agitated and afraid. She says that the women who run the Helena Markos Dance Academy, where she lives as a student, are a coven of witches, and mean her harm. Klemperer is so alarmed by her behavior that he cancels his appointments with other patients to talk to her, but she ends up disappearing as quickly as she arrived. While I’m a big fan of Moretz, I found this scene, and her behavior, very annoying. I’m sure Gaudagnino intentionally crafted her behavior and lines, but for me, it immediately made it difficult to get into the story. I was so busy being irritated by Patricia, that I couldn’t let myself be immersed in the world of the film. That didn’t happen until the Patricia storyline was over, and Susie Bannion arrives.

The new film takes place in Berlin in 1977 (the year of Argento’s original film), and it’s a time of chaos, at the height of the Cold War, when Berlin was still a divided city between the democratic West and the Russian-controlled East. On the news is the hijacking of a plane by terrorists who are killing passengers if the police do not meet their demands (the real-life Lufthansa Flight 181 incident). While this intrusion of real history doesn’t explicitly play into the storyline, it creates a sense of unease throughout the film. 

Back to Susie. Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) is an American from a Mennonite family, who has come to Berlin to be a student of the much-vaunted Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), who is something of a legend in the world of modern dance. It seems that the academy has a stringent admittance policy, but Susie dazzles her teachers right from the start with her accomplished moves.

In fact, despite being a brand new student, Susie takes on the lead of the dance movement they are rehearsing, called Volk, when the former lead, Olga (Elena Fokina), leaves in a huff over Patricia’s disappearance. Olga doesn’t get far, though.

I took karate for awhile, and one of the things we did was a sequence of movements called katas, which were made up of a series of offensive and defensive moves. Later, we learned something called goshins, which were basically the mirror image of the katas—if katas were a one-sided fighting sequence, then goshins presented the other side of the fight.

What happens to Olga reminded me a lot of the concept of goshins. In one room, Susie is performing the dance sequence of Volk, which involves lots of sharp, forceful movements. Meanwhile, in another room, Olga has found herself trapped while trying to leave the school, and as Susie launches into her dance moves, the sharp thrusts and kicks she performs have real effects on Olga, as she is knocked about the room, beaten and twisted, and left in a heap of blood and bone shards on the floor. It looks like she is being pummeled by an invisible man, but it’s all in Susie’s dance.

As Susie becomes more and more the most talented dancer of the troupe, we learn that the women in charge have something sinister planned for her, that involves more than just matriculation. The school’s hierarchy is indeed a supernatural coven, the dance movements a form of magic, and an ancient, dying creature is in need of new flesh.

So let’s see what works and what doesn’t, shall we?

First off, what works. I was very impressed with the performance of Dakota Johnson here. She was the only thing that made those laughably awful FIFTY SHADES OF GREY movies watchable, despite the silly lines she had to spout. Mostly, she transcended those films because she really does have a strong sensual presence. Here, as she performs strenuous, powerful dance moves, she seems even more sensual. I’m heartened to see that she has taken on such an interesting role after the commercial success of those GREY movies, because it reminds me of the fascinating roles Kristen Stewart has been taking since the TWILIGHT series ended. I can really respect actors who use their most commercial/ successful roles as a launching pad for a much more eclectic and daring career. And I’m a fan of Ms. Johnson. She is perfect in the role of Susie Bannion here, a character much different from the one Jessica Harper played in Argento’s original. When she’s onscreen, Johnson is mesmerizing.

Tilda Swinton is also mesmerizing as Madame Blanc. Beautiful, strong, and completely in control, she makes the role work extremely well.

Other standout performances include Mia Goth as Susie’s fellow student and friend (she was also close to Patricia) Sara, who slowly realizes what is going on; Angela Winkler as another sinister teacher named Miss Tanner; and Malgorzata Bela, who is striking as both Susie’s mother, shown mostly on her deathbed in Ohio’s Mennonite community, and as an angel of death. Even Jessica Harper, the star of Argento’s original film, appears in this one, as Klemperer’s long lost wife, Anke.

And I really liked the dancing. Gaudagnino has said that he thinks Argento made a mistake to set his Markos Academy in the world of ballet, which is more stifling. Gaudagnino feels that modern dance is more vibrant and alive, more in tune with the very female magic here, and I have to agree with him. There was dancing in the original film, but I don’t remember much of it. In Gaudagnino’s SUSPIRIA it is unforgettable. The choreography (by Damien Jalet) is really breathtaking at times. And you really believe that this is a dance troupe, preparing for an actual performance.

I enjoyed the soundtrack by Thom Yorke of Radiohead. At times, it sounds a little more like you’d think a horror movie score would, but in key scenes his piano is more melancholy than horrific, helping to create a distinctive mood. The cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom doesn’t go in the direction of the bright, garish colors that made Argento’s original so distinctive—the colors here are more muted, even grim and gritty when we’re outside the academy—and the look and feel of the film worked well for me.

One complaint people had with Argento’s original—in fact with many of his films—is that not everything makes sense (the original was written by Argento and his frequent collaborator Daria Nicolodi). That the heightened style of Argento’s film came at the expense of clarity. Personally, that never really bothered me. I always saw Argento’s best work as brightly-colored dreamscapes. But the script to the new film is by David Kajganich, and it’s a bit more clear about what’s going on. Although a few details may still have some viewers scratching their heads.

Like the dance sequences, the scenes of violence (and violent abandon) are done quite well here.

On to what I didn’t like about the film.

At two hours and 32 minutes, I thought Gaudagnino’s film was too long. The pacing is a bit slow in parts, but I’ll admit I was never bored. The only scene that really annoyed me was that first one between Patricia and Dr. Klemperer (which is actually problematic, since a movie, like a good book, should grab you right away). There could have been some cutting to make the whole thing flow a bit smoother.

And then there’s Lutz Ebersdorf. A lot was made of this actor before the movie came to theaters. If you didn’t hear the controversy, no one had ever heard of Mr. Ebersdorf before, and there was speculation about his true identity. It turns out the role is played by Tilda Swinton under mostly effective prosthetic makeup. Many people said the makeup effects were so good, they couldn’t even tell it was Ms. Swinton beneath it all. Guadagnino tried to pull one over on us, but it was exposed before the film opened in America.

The thing is, I don’t’ think it’s half as clever as Guadagnino seems to think it is.

Yes, there are a few scenes, like that problematic first one, where Swinton really does look like an old man. The makeup is terrific. But in other scenes, it doesn’t look as impressive—and in certain shades of light, you can see Ms. Swinton’s features quite easily. So the makeup is not consistently believable throughout the entire film. Secondly, there’s the matter of Mr. Ebersdorf’s voice. It doesn’t sound at all like a man’s voice—and, to me, it sounds clearly like Tilda Swinton’s. Maybe if they’d played around with voice effects, deepening it a bit, it would have been more convincing. But as is, I didn’t think it was too difficult to realize we were being hoodwinked. It was also very distracting, taking me out of the movie almost every time Dr. Klemperer was onscreen. Swinton does a good job with the character, and should be commended for her virtuosity. But not once was I convinced this was a real actor. If I didn’t know beforehand that Swinton was playing him, I’m not saying that I would have been able to identify her immediately (except that voice might still have given it away). But I would have still been aware that something was definitely “off” about him, and it still would still have been distracting.

Guadagnino has said that what he was going for was a movie where all of the main characters, even the male one, were portrayed by women. That he wanted the movie to be extremely women-centric, perhaps as the opposite of the more male-centric CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. And I totally understand this aesthetic choice. But it could have been done in a more convincing way.

When we reach the last 30 minutes or so of the film, when all of the real violence is unleashed, I found the film extremely enjoyable. And scenes like the big one toward the end, and the murder of Olga that I mentioned earlier, are very well done. But not once did I really feel that this SUSPIRIA had the scares it needed to really have an impact. Sure, I’m a jaded horror movie fan, but I thought Argento’s original did have some truly effective moments of fear, and I just didn’t feel that with this version. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, just that the aesthetic is different. Argento was a hard-as-nails horror director in his best films. Gaudagnino, for better or worse, is an effective art movie director. They came at their films from different perspectives, and there are going to be differences.

Despite my complaints, I found that SUSPIRIA was one of those rare movies (like last year’s mother! By Darren Aronofsky) that sticks with you long after it ends. And I’ve been thinking about the film since I saw it, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. That doesn’t happen very often.

But the dance scenes, the horror scenes, the overall mood, the performances, the soundtrack, the cinematography, all combines to create a unique movie experience. It has its flaws, but I was impressed with it. I give Guadagnino’s a rating of three and a half knives out of five.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives SUSPIRIA (2018) ~ three and a half knives

Stab_2Stab_2Stab_2HALF

HALLOWEEN (2018)

Review by LL Soares

When I was a kid, the original HALLOWEEN (1978) was a big deal. Everyone was talking about it, and it played in theaters for months. I saw it at a drive-in theater, something I miss a lot. HALLOWEEN wasn’t just one of the first slasher films that precluded the onslaught of similar films in the 1980s, it was one of the best, thanks to director John Carpenter. Not only did Carpenter direct it, he also co-wrote it with Debra Hill, and composed the unforgettable soundtrack music. The tale of Michael Myers, who kills his sister as a child, and is locked away in a sanitarium, until he escapes as an adult and goes on a killing spree, HALLOWEEN worked because it was simple, straight-forward, and highly effective. There was no complex, convoluted plot, no prolonged explanations, just a guy in a William Shatner mask painted white, running around and killing people with ruthless precision.

As you might have heard, the new HALLOWEEN (2018) was written as a direct sequel to the first film, jettisoning not only the sequels to the original HALLOWEEN, but also the reboot by Rob Zombie in 2007 and his HALLOWEEN II in 2009. Zombie’s remakes didn’t get much love when they came out, and even I, a hardcore Rob Z fan, consider them the weakest of his films, but you can’t blame a guy for trying, and he did try to bring his own particular spin to them. At least he had the vision to cast Malcolm McDowell (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, 1971, CALIGULA, 1979) in the role of Dr. Loomis (originally portrayed by the great Donald Pleasence in the 1978 film).

The new one is directed by David Gordon Green, an interesting director whose first feature film was the much-praised GEORGE WASHINGTON (2000), about a group kids living in poverty who try to stave off boredom. His films also include the comedies PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (2008) and THE SITTER (2011), and the “based on a true story” drama STRONGER (2017). Green wrote the screenplay for the new HALLOWEEN with actor Danny McBride (one of the stars of PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, and who also collaborated with Green on the HBO shows EASTBOUND AND DOWN, 2009 – 2013, and VICE PRINCIPALS, 2016 -2017), and writer Jeff Fradley, who also helped writer some episodes of VICE PRINCIPALS.

Jamie Lee Curtis became a star in the original HALLOWEEN with her role as Laurie Strode, one of a group of teenagers Myers attacks, and the only one to survive. In a lot of ways, the new movie is her story, because Curtis is back as Laurie, 40 years older, and still traumatized by the events of the 1978 film. In fact, Michael Myers has left such an indelible stamp on her, that she’s pretty much made him the focus of her entire life, becoming an expert with an array of weapons (mostly guns), turning her home into a series of booby-traps, and ruining just about every human relationship she’s ever had, including the one with her daughter, Karen (the great Judy Greer, also in THE DESCENDANTS, 2011, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, 2014, and ANT-MAN, 2015, and seemingly a hundred other things), who was taken away from her by family services when she was 12. Laurie had a chance to instruct her daughter in the ways of self-defense, trying to drill her survivalist mentality into her, but as an adult, Karen is a psychologist who is basically trying to put her life back together. There’s also Allyson (Andi Matichak), Karen’s daughter, who wonders why her mom and her grandmother are so estranged, and who seeks Laurie out, with the intention of putting the family back together.

Meanwhile, Michael has been in a mental hospital for 40 years and has not spoken one word. It’s not that he can’t talk, it’s that he refuses to. His long-time doctor, the great Dr. Loomis, has since died, and we now have Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) trying to draw Michael out of his shell, to no avail. Two investigative reporters (Jefferson Hall and Dana Haines) come to the hospital to research Michael for their popular podcast, and open up a whole can of worms in the process, almost as if their presence reminds Michael what he’s supposed to be doing – namely killing.

While being transported to another, worse, hospital (since he doesn’t seem to be making any progress), Michael, of course, escapes, and he and his lust for killing are once again set free onto the world. He immediately high-tails it back to Haddonfield, Illinois, where the first movie took place, to pick up where he left off.

But Laurie’s been preparing for this her entire adult life. So she’s ready for Michael. Or is she?

Also along for the ride this time are Dylan Arnold (who just finished playing the nerdy kid Twig on the CMT network’s final seasons of the show NASHVILLE), as Cameron, Allyson’s boyfriend; Will Patton (of THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, 2002, and THE FOURTH KIND, 2009) as Officer Hawkins, who says he was one of the deputies who responded to the original murder back when Michael Myers was a little kid; and Jibrail Nantambu as a funny little kid named Julian whose babysitter is doomed. Michael Myers himself is played by both Nick Castle (who played Michael in the original movie), and, when he’s in action, by James Jude Courtney.

Let’s look at what works and what doesn’t in the new HALLOWEEN, shall we?

What Works

First off, the direction is strong and assured. I like David Gordon Green as a director, and the cast is very good, especially Curtis, who still has her acting chops, and then some. If nothing else, this movie is a chance to give an underrated actress a showcase, and a chance to shine. By focusing so much on Laurie Strode, the movie gives us an interesting perspective, which I like.

Another big plus is the fact that John Carpenter is along for the ride this time, as one of the producers, and as the composer of the movie’s soundtrack. The music provides variations on what he did in the first movie, but it’s top-notch, and almost a character itself.

I also liked Michael Myers here. The way he moved, the way he just randomly kills, the way he is drawn to weapons, made him very effective. Back in 1978, he seemed like the human equivalent of the shark in JAWS, a sort of mindless killing machine, and the new movie captures that very well.

And I really liked the last scene in this movie. Unfortunately, we have to weed through an uneven storyline to get there.

What Doesn’t Work

A lot of mainstream critics really seemed to like this one, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. A lot of mainstream critics, as a rule, hate most horror movies and are not especially fans of the genre. They also, almost always, are horrible judges of what is considered scary. When HEREDITARY, a very good movie, started riding the wave of film festival buzz earlier this year, before coming to regular theaters, most critics said it was one of the scariest movies of all time. It wasn’t. It was good, but I didn’t find it particularly scary. A lot of the same critics are saying the new HALLOWEEN is scary. It’s not. For a horror movie, the scares are few.

Part of this is probably because the director and writers mostly work on comedies (although Green started out making dramas). People assume anyone can make a horror movie, but that’s not really the case. Or rather, anyone can make a horror movie. But not everyone can make an effective/scary one. In fact, really scary movies are few and far between.

I thought the script here was very uneven. I found the whole reporters/sanitarium stuff that we start off with to be stilted – and it provided a very weak beginning to the film that almost had me bummed out right away. It bounced back a little once the reporters are out of the picture, but you really don’t want a lame start for a horror film.

There are several times where its pacing just seems off.  While Michael himself is good, they just don’t do enough with him. And while Laurie’s trauma/preparation was an interesting spin on the character, most of the story just left me cold by the time the end credits rolled.

In Carpenter’s original, you couldn’t take your eyes off the screen. It was riveting from beginning to end. And I didn’t feel that way with the new movie at all. There were parts I liked, but it didn’t seem like a fully-functioning whole. There were missteps.

And what the hell is up with the title? It’s not a remake or a reboot, but a sequel 40 years later, so why call it HALLOWEEN? Just to create confusion? It’s like in comic books where every once in awhile Marvel or DC will end all of their series and start over again with all-new Number One Issues, so that when you talk about #1, you have to include the date, so people know which one you’re talking about. Really, there is no reason why the new movie has to be called simply HALLOWEEN. I’m not completely sure why, but it irritates the hell out of me.

I wanted to love the new HALLOWEEN, but all I could muster was a like. It’s better than some of the other sequels, though I still have a lot of affection for HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982), which was the only film in the series to have nothing to do with Michael Myers. For diehard fans of Myers and the HALLOWEEN franchise, the new movie is worth seeing. But don’t buy into the hype and go in expecting something that it will blow you away and get you as revved up as Carpenter’s original. The new one isn’t even close.

But, based on the weekend box office, it looks like it’s doing well enough to revive the franchise.

And that’s okay. Not terrific, but okay.

Which is kind of my overall reaction to this one.

I give it two and a half knives out of five.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives HALLOWEEN (2018) – 2 1/2 knives

Stab_2Stab_2HALF

MANDY (2018)

Review by LL Soares

MANDY (2018) has just come to theaters after a very positive run in film festivals. It’s also available for rental on streaming services such as Amazon and Youtube, as well as iTunes, where you can buy it. What you think of the movie may be affected by what you think of lead actor Nicolas Cage. But this is the most-buzzed about movie he’s made in years, a grindhouse-worthy, gory revenge thriller by director Panos Cosmatos, who previously made the surreal masterpiece BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010), with a screenplay by Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn.

Lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) works hard in what looks like the forests of the American northwest. He works hard, then comes home to his signifcant other, Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough), who is an artist. They live in a little house in the middle of a forest, and pretty much keep to themselves. Sometimes Red wonders if they should move somewhere else, but Mandy likes it there.

One day, a van drives past Mandy on a rural road. Inside are cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roche) and his “flock,” who have dubbed themselves The Children of the Dawn. The group includes Brother Swan (Ned Dennehy), who drives and is Jeremiah’s right hand man; Mother Marlene (Olwen Fouere) who appears to be the woman who has been with Jeremiah the longest; Sister Lucy (Line Pillet), a younger woman who does what she can to please Jeremiah; and a few other men who aren’t as memorable.

Jeremiah is convinced that Mandy is special and that he must have her, even though he only glimpsed her from the car window. He demands that his people get her for him, so Brother Swan leads the way.

A group of them go out in the middle of the forest and blow something called the Horn of Abraxas. In response, some demonic-looking bikers come riding out of the woods, on jet-black motorcycles. The bikers lead the others to Mandy’s house, where she is abducted and Red is beaten.

When Mandy wakes up, she is put through an initiation of sorts and brought before her new master. But she refuses to be dominated. Instead, she laughs at Jeremiah, who then has her killed. Red, who is tied up behind the house with barbed wire, is forced to watch. Then the group of freaks heads out into the night.

Red gets free, mutliating himself in the process. He then decides to exact his vengeance. He goes to the trailer of a guy named Caruthers (Bill Duke) and gets a crossbow he had left with the man. Caruthers also gives him other weapons. Red also does some blacksmithing and forges a special one-of-a-kind battle axe. His first mission is to hunt down those maniac bikers.

We’re not sure if the bikers are human or not. They look otherworldly, like extras from the HELLRAISER movies. But Caruthers says that they’re just killers who were given a bad batch of LSD that drove them insane with pain. Either way, Red proves they’re mortal, using his weapons. But it’s not easy, and he’s further injured in the fights.

He then hunts down Jeremiah and his band of merry murderers, covered in blood and a little crazy himself.

At one point, Red comes across a man called The Chemist, played by Richard Brake (who was the best thing in Rob Zombie’s 31, 2016, where he played Doom-Head), who has a tiger and who goes into a trance to tell Red where Jeremiah has gone. I kind of wished the tiger had gone along with Red to assist him in his bloody tasks.

There are also some dream sequences, where Red dreams of Mandy, that are animated. This shouldn’t work, and could have looked very goofy, but somehow it does.

It seems that, online at least, the movie has been polarizing. Some people have complained that the pacing is slow, but I found the way the movie moved seemed just right, with enough gory punctuations to keep you engaged. Some people found Cage’s performance too over the top, but frankly, this is the kind of crazed performance people have come to expect from Nicolas Cage, and I think the movie works well with his particular brand of crazy. The rest of the cast is solid, including Ms. Riseborough as the titular Mandy, and especially Linus Roache as the evil Jeremiah. When we first see the cult leader, he reminded me totally of actor Richard Lynch, back when he appeared in movies like Larry Cohen’s GOD TOLD ME TO (1976); there’s the same strong sense of menace. Jeremiah has a vulnerable side too, but if he shows it to you, then he’ll have to kill you.

The movie leads up to the big final confrontation between the wronged husband and the vile sociopath who believes he is above the law. The results are predictable, but no less effective.

If you’re already of fan of Mr. Cage, then chances are that you’ll love this movie. The feel of the movie and the visuals, go very well with his intense performance. If you’re not a fan of his, then there may be a few scenes where you think he’s overdoing it, but even then, you may enjoy it, just because it’s so unusual and well-made. Mr. Cosmatos has a powerful style and a strong visual sense, that made this movie special for me.

I really loved this one, and I give it four knives.

(Also, keep an eye out for a scene where Red and Mandy watch a commercial on their television for a product called Cheddar Goblin. It’s a special laugh-out-loud moment, tucked inside all the intensity and gore.)

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives the movie MANDY ~ four knives.

Stab_2Stab_2Stab_2Stab_2

 

THE PROWLER (1981)

Movie Review by LL Soares

And here we have another review of an 80s slasher movie I always meant to see, but somehow missed. This one puts enough of a spin on the basic formula to make things a little interesting, but it’s still another excuse for a relentless murderer to pick off a bunch of party-going kids.

THE PROWLER (1981), however, begins during World War II, when a soldier gets a “Dear John” letter. We hear the letter’s writer reading it over the opening credits. This was common at the time, when a girl back home felt she had waited a long time for her boyfriend, and couldn’t wait any longer for him to return. After all, he might soon be dead, if he wasn’t already, and she wants to go on with her life. Rosemary Chatham (Joy Glaccum) is young and rich and enjoying her college graduation dance in the 1945, when a mysterious figure in a uniform kills her and an amorous boy in a gazebo with a pitchfork. The murderer is wearing a uniform and his face is concealed. He leaves a single rose at the murder scene. And that’s the set-up for our little story.

Jump to 1981. The local college hasn’t had a graduation dance since Ms. Chatham’s demise, almost 40 years previous, but maybe it’s been long enough for old wounds to heal. We’re in a small New Jersey town, and Sheriff George Fraser (Farley Granger of Hitchcock’s ROPE, 1948, and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, 1951) is just about to leave for his annual fishing trip, leaving his young deputy, Mark London (Christopher Goutman, also on episodes of CHARLIE’S ANGELS and BOSOM BUDDIES in 1981) to watch over things. Even though there’s word of an “escaped prowler” on the radio, the Sheriff says he doubts the guy will even make it to their town, and Mark should have an uneventful weekend.

Thinking it should be a piece of cake, Mark drives over to the college to watch over the dance and his girlfriend, Pam MacDonald (Vicky Dawson, CARBON COPY, 1981). Except it’s not as easy as it sounds when a killer shows up to slaughter college kids, such as Pam’s roommate, Sherry (Lisa Dunsheath) and her boyfriend Carl (David Sederholm) in a gruesome shower scene, involving first a bayonet through Carl’s head and then a – surprise! – pitchfork to finish off Sherry. While fleeing when she discovers a body, Pam finds a man in a wheelchair in the yard—neighbor Major Chatham, the father of the Rosemary character from earlier, and played by Lawrence Tierney of such classics as BORN TO KILL, 1947 and RESERVOIR DOGS, 1992), whose role is so short it’s one of the “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” variety—who tries to grab her. Was he the killer, or someone trying to help? We’ll never know, because we don’t see him again. Even when Mark and Pam go to his house to search for clues, he’s nowhere to be seen.

The killer continues to stalk the kids and leaves a single rose near the body of each dead girl (he must have an account with the local florist!). Victims also include a teacher chaperoning the dance named Miss Allison (Donna Davis), and Pam’s friend Lisa (Cindy Weintraub), who at one point tries to steal Mark away at the dance. When Mark tries to call the Sheriff for help on his vacation, the motel clerk can’t even be bothered to look for him. The guy (Bill Nunnery) just puts the phone down for a few minutes, pretending to go look, and then comes back on to say he can’t find him. Thanks for nothing, Mr. Lazy! There’s also a crabby guy named Pat Kingsley (John Seitz) who runs the local hardware store and his creepy brother Otto (Bill Hugh Collins), who makes a surprise appearance later on.

The WWII connection, and those signature roses the killer leaves behind makes THE PROWLER a little more interesting than some of the other ’80s slasher films (there were a lot of them!), but the plot doesn’t do much with it. It’s just another chance to introduce us to more college kids who will get knocked off one by one. Goutman is good as Deputy London, and, as usual, the most interesting character is our female lead/”final girl” Pam, played here by blonde Vicky Dawson, who is fine as our protagonist, even if she isn’t given much to do besides running around, either looking for clues or fleeing from the mysterious murderer.  There’s even a jump scare at the end that no doubt was trying to cash in on the similar one in Brian DePalma’s CARRIE (1976). I’m just sad Dawson didn’t have a bigger career.

THE PROWLER was directed by Joseph Zito, who went on to make more famous films like FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984, a job he got probably because of THE PROWLER); the action movies MISSING IN ACTION (1984) and INVASION U.S.A. (1985), both starring Chuck Norris; and the Dolph Lundgren action flick RED SCORPION (1988). The script was by Glenn Leopold and Neal Barbera.

Not the best of the 1980s slasher flicks, but far from the worst, THE PROWLER is probably most memorable for graphic murder effects by the great Tom Savini, and worth checking out by afficionados of the genre.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

68 KILL (2017)

Review by LL Soares

I’ve read a few books by writer Bryan Smith, and I’ve enjoyed the hell out of them, so when I heard one of them, 68 KILL, was made into a movie, I was eager to check it out. I was happy to see that the movie keeps the unrelenting pace of the novel intact.

Chip (Matthew Gray Gubler, who also plays Dr. Spencer Reid on the show CRIMINAL MINDS), pretty much does anything his girlfriend Liza (AnnaLynne McCord, also on the show NIP/TUCK, 2007 -2009, and the reboots of 90210, 2008 – 2013 and DALLAS, 2014) tells him to. She’s incredibly hot, but also most probably insane, but he’s addicted to her and puts up with a lot to stay with her. Money’s tight for the couple, but Liza has a sideline being the lover to a rich guy. This side relationship has a motive, however, and when Liza figures out how to get into the rich guy’s safe, she and Chip go to the house for a big payday. But things go wrong. The rich guy and his wife end up dead. Liza and Chip get their money, but also end up having to figure out what to do with Violet (Alisha Boe), a young girl who was a lover of the rich guy (and his wife) who just happened to be at the house during the home invasion and is now a witness. So Liza throws her in the trunk of her car.

Since the robbery erupted in unexpected violence (thanks to the unstable Liza), Chip is constantly having second thoughts about what to do next. When Liza suggests selling Violet to her equally insane brother, Dwayne (Sam Eidson), Chip finally sees a line he’s unwilling to cross. He knocks Liza out and takes off with the car and the money, and Violet in the trunk.

Chip tries to reason with Violet and let her know he saved her, but then some new psychos show up to complicate things, when he wakes up to find himself framed for a murder, and when he tracks down his assailants, he ends up the victim of a prolonged torture session. Meanwhile, Liza is trying to track him down and get her money back, intent of administering some payback of her own.

Like the book it’s based on, 68 KILL is a fast-paced, violent roller coaster ride, and the cast helps it to all work extremely well. Gubler is believable as our hero, torn between being a wimp and a hero, and desperate to do the right thing in the face of complete lunacy. McCord is a terrific femme fatale, alternately sexy and scary. Other standouts include Boe as Violet, and Shiela Vand (“The Girl” from the movie A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, 2014) as another maniac named Monica.

Beyond that, I don’t want to give too much away. This movie has a lot of twists and turns, and some surprises, and it’s better to just sit back and experience it for yourself. I think this is a terrific little movie, and I hope it leads to more Bryan Smith adaptations. The dude has a very cinematic style that is very compatible with movies.

68 KILL is directed (and has a screenplay by) Trent Haaga, who previoiusly directed the movie CHOP (2011). He also wrote movies like CHEAP THRILLS (2013) and DEADGIRL (2008); and acted in movies like BAD MATCH (2017), BLOOD SHED (2014) and EASTER BUNNY, KILL! KILL! (2006). Haaga does a fine job bringing Smith’s novel to the screen.

I give 68 KILL a score of three and a half knives.

Stab_2Stab_2Stab_2HALF

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

THE ENDLESS (2017)

Movie Review by LL Soares

The first time I saw THE ENDLESS was on July 4th of this year, on Amazon OnDemand, and I wasn’t very impressed. I’d been eager to see it, since it was directed by Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, who also made RESOLUTION (2012) and SPRING (2014). I’m especially a big fan of SPRING, and was eager to see what they’d come up with next. But my reaction was mixed, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to review it here.

Then I went to a horror writers convention, and the movie people were talking about most seemed to be THE ENDLESS. So, I figured I should give it a second chance. Not something I normally do, but hey, these are the guys who made SPRING, so it was the least I could do. Besides, there had to be some reason why people liked it so much.

I have to admit, I liked it better the second time around.

First off, some critics have been saying that you don’t need to see their first feature film as co-directors, RESOLUTION, first, but I think it helps. There are characters and themes between the two movies that overlap, and I think if you watch them in chronological order, RESOLUTION does a good job of setting things up so that THE ENDLESS makes maximum sense. For my review of RESOLUTION, just click here.

THE ENDLESS introduces us to brothers Justin Smith (co-director Justin Benson) and Aaron Smith (co-director Aaron Moorhead). They clean people’s house for a living and are just about scraping by. They also don’t have much of a social life. There’s something a little off about these guys, and it’s because they were in a “UFO death cult” as kids, and escaped, and are now trying to go about living normal lives.

Except, it’s not really working out for them. Justin, the older brother, is trying to look out for his sibling and give them a decent life, but Aaron is severely unhappy. He remembers the time in the cult as being happy and isn’t sure if he fully believes the stories Justin tells him, like the fact that cult members are eventually castrated, or that they were planning to kill themselves when the time of the apocalypse was upon us. This is emphasized by the fact that Aaron receives an old videotape in the mail, from the “cult” (they prefer to call themselves a commune), where one of the members, Anna (Callie Hernandez) is talking about their leaving soon to go somewhere. Justin immediately believes it’s code for a mass suicide. Or so he says.

But it’s hard to know how much he believes that, because Aaron’s reaction to the video is that he wants to go back, if only for a day, to visit their old home and the people they knew, before they “go.” Justin resists at first, but eventually gives in, considering how depressed his brother has been. If he really feels going back is dangerous, then why would he give in so easily?

When the two brothers escaped the commune as kids, it was a news-worthy story, and even now, they’ve been going to see a therapist regularly for sessions they call “deprogramming.”

So, on the weekend, they drive back to the commune. First, they stop off at a memorial site where their mom died. A place where people still leave drawings and flowers. She died in a car crash when they were kids, and it was the commune that found them and took them in.

Next stop, the commune, and things haven’t changed much. The first person they see is Smiling Dave (David Lawson Jr.) at the gates, a guy in a suit who smiles all the time (he’s got some kind of brain damage). Then they come across the spokesman for the commune, Hal (Tate Ellington) who welcomes them and sets them up with a place to sleep for the night (a shack with two bunk beds), and food (Aaron makes a point to say how good the food is, since back in the “real world” they were always broke and ate Ramen noodles a lot). There’s also Tim (Lew Temple) a quiet, bearded guy who brews craft beer, which is the commune’s main source of income; Lizzy (Kira Powell), a resident of a local mental hospital who came to stay with the commune (and who says the commune is much healthier for her); and Anna, the girl in the video, who knew the brothers as kids, and who makes most of the clothes for the commune members.

When asked what made the guys come back to the commune, they say it was because of the video they sent. But Anna and Hal insist they never sent a video.  (This mirrors the beginning of RESOLUTION, where Mike receives a mysterious videotape in the beginning of the movie of his friend Chris, that Chris says he never sent).

With the comraderie and games, Aaron finds himself really enjoying being back, and wants to stay another day. It’s so much better than their depressing life back home. Justin is more hesitant, but gives in to one more day. And then things get weirder.

First off, there are two moons in the sky at night. The commune people explain it as some kind of natural phenomenon, having to do with reflections and magnetic fields, but that doesn’t explain when a third moon begins to show up, first as a crescent, and then fuller as time goes on.

Justin can also feel something watching them, even if he can’t fully explain it.

And there are the time loops. At one point, Justin goes for a walk and gets lost, and he comes upon a guy named Shitty Carl (James Jordan) who lives alone in the woods, and who talks about how his life keeps repeating. When he attempts to commit suicide, he shows Justin how real his claims are. Justin also comes across two guys in a cabin, Chris (Vinny Curran) and Mike (Peter Cilella) – yes, the two stars of RESOLUTION – still trapped in a time loop of their own. (Younger versions of Justin and Aaron also appeared briefly in RESOLUTION, as Mormon-like kids in buttoned-down white shirts who Mike met in the woods and who asked him to come worship with them – which we find out was back when they were originally in the cult. So how long have Chris and Mike been in that time loop, anyway?

Will Justin get back to the commune in time to save Aaron, or will they end up in a similar predicament? And just what is going to happen when that third moon becomes full? And just what is the thing that is watching them and communicating through weird photographs and videotapes (just like in RESOLUTION)?

THE ENDLESS is a good example of “quiet horror,” there’s no graphic violence or gore, but there is an overwhelming sense of dread and danger. It’s a subtle film that failed to completely “grab” me, and yet, it has grown on me, and I do appreciate it more now. I’m still a big fan of Moorhead and Benson, and can’t wait to see what else they have in store for us (maybe they’ll finally make the Aleister Crowley biopic which they originally intended to make after SPRING).

THE ENDLESS got a very brief theatrical release before going to streaming video. Where I am, it played for less than a week in a local art theater. So, chances of you seeing it on the big screen are slim. While it was unveiled in film festivals in 2017, I consider it more of a 2018 release, since that’s when most people have seen it.

I recommend watching it as a double feature with Moorhead and Benson’s RESOLUTION, and watching RESOLUTION first, since it will set things up nicely. RESOLUTION is currently available on the streaming service SHUDDER. THE ENDLESS is available for streaming, and has also come out on DVD/Blu-ray.

THE ENDLESS is a strange, subtle little film and I think people should check it out. The first time I saw it, I wanted to like it more than I did, but the fact that I enjoyed it more the second time gives me hope. Over time, I wouldn’t be surprised if my opinion of it grows. It’s that kind of movie. I give THE ENDLESS, three knives.

Stab_2Stab_2Stab_2

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares