Movie review: Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

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“Ermahgerd Gersberms!”
And that infamous meme was all I knew about R.L. Stine’s mega hit franchise.
As my 8-year-old son Ryder calls me…’I’m a Goosebumps noob.’

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That being said, both Ryder and I went to see the latest big screen install of the books/TV show franchise…and I have to say I’m a Goosebumps convert.

The plot see’s two nerdy teens Sonny and Sam finding an unfinished R.L. Stine novel and ventriloquist dummy (the irrepressible Slappy, from the previous movie – voiced by Jack Black) while collecting junk for their ’business’, Junk Bros (catchphrase “We grab your junk”).
Cue: Halloween hi-jinks as Slappy takes over the town on his quest for a family of his own.

For me the humour was balanced enough to be appreciated by both big kid and actual kid, and the scares weren’t that scary. I mean, I’m not expecting a movie to mess up my child for life. Incidentally I was of the generation that was shown “Apaches” (google it!) the horrific 1970’s safety film, at primary school when I was my sons age. But I would’ve preferred a couple more frights than the token saccharine monsters you see in every supermarket party aisle each Halloween. I would say though, that the balloon spider was my favourite and Slappy with his wise cracks certainly made a cheeky villain.

‘So Ryder, what did you think?’…as I hand over the keyboard to him.

I thought “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween” was a really funny movie. Younger kids under 7 or 8-years-old will be scared, I was not scared because I’ve seen the first one and seen a lot of the TV series. My favourite part was the gummi bears because they were so, so, so funny.

I agree with Ryder, the gummi bears were indeed a highlight. But perhaps if some of the other creatures had been given equal attention they wouldn’t have been so superfluous thus less threatening.

The Diagnosis:

Look this was an entertaining enough movie, but to be honest I don’t think I’m alone here in expecting to see an actual complete, concise movie when I go to the cinema and not part 1,2 or 7 of an incomplete story, that’s what I have Netflix for. Because yes, it does lead directly into a promised sequel.

But anyway, take your kids this Halloween for a bit of spooky fun both you and they will enjoy.

– Myles and Ryder Davies

Movie review: Halloween (2018)

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It’s been a long time coming. Since 1978 fans of Michael Myers have endured the ups and downs of their favourite slasher as he carved his way through the residents of Haddonfield, but never has captured the hearts and imagination of John Carpenter’s original vision.

We’ve seen Myers omitted from the franchise only to be brought back to stalk his niece, then inflicted with an ancient curse, played the part of a reality TV series, and then reimagined by director Rob Zombie with conflicting results.
It seemed that Myers was dead and buried, but when ‘hotter than hot right now’, production team Blumhouse started to taut the idea of bring him back to the screens once more, a new-found interest began to surface once again.

There were certain things that began to fall into place, such as the return of Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode (albeit with slight reservation as they had done this before), which was rewarded further with the approval of Carpenter himself, plus part of his agreement was that he would provide the score. Hell yeah!
It might be a small thing but with the casting of Nick Castle to the Shape back to Myers cemented things for their storyline, which would be set 40 years after the original events transpired. The catch, none of the other movies in the franchise would exist. The producers would be picking up the baton without the sequels to muddy the water.

The other slight snag is that director David Gordon Green and his writing collaborator Danny McBride, normally associated with comedy were attached to steer this new direction. The screenplay they presented had the approval of those around them, but could they pull off a horror slasher and one that comes with so much expectation?

As the pre-credits began to roll, you suddenly felt that they had got the tone just right, ranging from the familiar score charging up the emotions and the image of the pumpkin rebuilding itself with a giant metaphor for the franchise. Halloween is back and they’re going to make it as damn good as they can, whilst keeping in tone of the original movie.

As the film unfolds it soon becomes apparent that what Green and McBride are telling isn’t just a typical horror film, but one of the trauma and the suffering that one faces when they have gone through a massive ordeal such as the one Laurie Strode faced all those years ago. What does that do to the psyche? What would happen to someone like Laurie and how would she cope back once faced with the reality of her situation? The choice was to place her as a survivor of sorts who is still fighting her demons, as she has become a modern day doomsday prepper, although in her case, Laurie isn’t preparing for the end of the world, but her inevitable last encounter with Michael Myers.

Jamie Lee Curtis does an amazing job of portraying Laurie and the impact that her character has had on her family. I’m not sure if I can recall her ever showing such raw emotion on screen, but she is able to deliver a full range of vulnerability, compassion, strength, and empowerment and with it she harnesses the other characters with her to produce a well-accomplished, solid movie. Laurie Strode is now a symbol of the effect that trauma has on those who’ve lived it or experienced it. In one scene, Jamie Lee Curtis is so broken in her portrayal that you can see the pain etched across her face as her whole body folds in on itself. It truly is a wonderful performance and a fitting one as we move in a time of change and recognition of the suffering that women have had to endure over the years, forced to bury their emotions in a world that didn’t or refused to understand.

On Laurie’s journey of torment is her daughter, Karen, (who has had to bear the suffering of a childhood trapped in fear) and her Granddaughter, Allyson (a symbol of hope and understanding). Allyson almost represents the overall message here for the Halloween franchise. We have to bypass a whole generation in order to rebuild for the future. Our hands rest in the youth of tomorrow and if anyone is going to tap into that generation, it’s Blumhouse.

That’s no to say that Halloween doesn’t ignore the people that have had to tolerate each new chapter, if anything the movie wears it on its sleeve with plenty of nods and references along the way. It’s a fine line to tread, but Green manages to keep a perfect balance of old and new, whilst still offering something fresh and serving decent bouts of nostalgia to please all and sundry.

There are some stints of humour along the way though. It’s not all doom and gloom. Green is a comedy director first and foremost but he doesn’t saturate the film with light-hearted moments, instead he delivers when the beats serve it and it lifts the film all the more, especially with the scene in which Julian is being babysat for by Allyson’s friend, Vicky. It’s a great little exchange between the two of them that you know will just go sour as soon as Michael enters the scene.

As for our beloved psychopath, Michael, he hasn’t gone without his own set of changes. Having been incarcerated for 40 years, he too has bottled up his emotions, stifled from a system that refuses to let him indulge in his passion for killing. So when he does break free from prison bus transportation, he unleashes with such brutality that hasn’t been present in the franchise before. This suppressed Michael will stop at nothing to go on his killing rampage, selectively picking his victims at will, before coming face to face with his nemesis Laurie again.

The climax of the movie also hits some great strides and rewards with the choices that the characters take to meet the conclusion and puts you through the wringer whilst leaving you pleasantly satisfied with the result.

 

The Diagnosis:

 

“Welcome back Michael Myers.

David Gordon Green and Danny McBride have successfully resurrected new life into a much-loved franchise and delivered a movie that will delight both old and new generations alike.

Congratulations to the Blumhouse team. You’ve produced the best Halloween film in 40 years.”

 

– Saul Muerte

Movie review: Malevolent

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Malevolent is one of those movies that spring up on Netflix that you say to yourself one day, “Oh yeah, I’ll give that a go,” with very little expectation. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that it was a semi-decent British horror film that pulsates with enough intrigue and mystery to pull you along to the end hoping that the characters live to see it through their ordeal.

The story follows some charlatans who claim that one of their group is a medium with the ability to warn off ghosts and send them on their way. The group consists of siblings Angela (the medium), Jackson (the ambitious kid up to his eyes in debt with the heavies breathing down his neck), Beth (Jackson’s girlfriend), and Elliot (the techie who has all the camera and sound gear, and is a little keen on Angela).
Angela and Jackson just so happen to carry a dark past, when their mother committed suicide after allegedly not being able to handle her gift. You see she actually could contact the dead, and this gift is carried down to Angela who has her awakening during the beginning of the film.

Worried that she will react the same way as her mother, Angela is hesitant to pursue this gift any further, but is compelled to go on one last charade to save her brother from the mob, little knowing that they are about to go out of their depths and into the world of paranormal.

The relationship between Angela and Jackson are integral to the Malevolent’s success and Florence Pugh, (who is about to star in BBC’s The Little Drummer Girl and looks destined for greater things to come) and Ben Lloyd-Hughes (The Divergent Series) immerse into their respect roles with relative ease.

A worthy nod should be made for Scott Chambers who plays Elliot (effectively the heart of the movie) and delivers a charming and likeable performance; plus the always-amazing Celia Imrie as the landlady of the haunted estate with her own inner demons.

The Diagnosis:

This haunted house story evolves at a predictable pace but delights in many ways with a simple story of love, hope, and loss.

 

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Attack of the Killer Donuts

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Forty years ago Attack of the Killer Tomatoes entered the horror arena and marked itself as the B movie of all B movies.

Since then we’ve had a plethora of killer fruits and vegetables coming out of the wake to replicate the crazed, low grade antics of their predecessor.

Now it’s the turn of delectable sugary snacks in Attack of the Killer Donuts.

When crazed Uncle Luther performs a wild experiment on his pet rat, he is able to reanimate the beast and believes he’s on a massive scientific breakthrough .

One trip to the local donut store though and the formula is leaked in the kitchen and contaminates and entire batch that go on a killer frenzy throughout the local town.

The only people to stop the sweet rampage are the deadbeat employees of said store, Johnny (Justin Ray), his potential love interest Michelle (Kayla Compton), and his best friend Howard who just so happens to be sleeping with Johnny’s Mum.

Director Scott Wheeler cut his teeth in visual effects with previous films such as Avalanche Sharks and Martian Land and here he makes a decent stab at bring the killer donuts to life and look menacing enough… well as menacing as they can be. It’s not exactly going to turn heads, it is a low budget, straight to dvd feature, so what do you expect. It does exactly what it says on the tin.

If there was a criticism to be thrown at the feature, it would be that on occasion there is too much dialogue, particularly at the end of the movie, when the dust has settled, it feels like it takes a hell of a long time to actually rest with unnecessary storylines being tied up. Sometimes, you don’t need to explain every last detail. Especially not in a film like this.

AotKD does boast C.Thomas Howell (The Outsiders, The Hitcher) in its cast as one two bumbling cops, (it’s a film about killer donuts, you have to have cops right?) which was refreshing to see.

Plus it heralds some hilarious killer death scenes that will satiate your appetite.

 

The Diagnosis:

It’s a B Movie that is as farcical as it sounds, but in keeping with similar films of yester-year.

It’s watchable without rotting your brain too much and fans of this kind of sub-genre will find it entertaining… just maybe play it safe and stick to popcorn as your movie snack. Popcorn’s hardly going to come back and bite you, right? Right?

 

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: The Vault

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Steered as a bank heist with a difference, The Vault tries to merge two genres; crime drama, and supernatural horror together, but this is no From Dusk Till Dawn saga and unfortunately lacks the killer punch that Tarantino and Rodriguez were able to deliver.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t come with some plus points as the film does provide a little bang for its buck, just not enough to tip it into a ‘blow your mind venture’, which is a shame because the trailer did show some promise.

When siblings Leah (Francesca Eastwood), Vee (Taryn Manning), and Michael (Scott Haze), along with two other forgettable gang members perform a bank heist, they go in with all the hallmarks of a professional outfit, but as events unfold, the cracks begin to show, the tension of the situation is heightened, and sanity is questioned.

As with these bank heist movies, there’s more to the characters than meets the eye, as director tries to paint a colourful palette. Some of them fall a bit short in stretching their talents on-screen, but thank God for Taryn Manning (Orange Is The New Black) who always seems to captivate on-screen and manages to immerse herself in the role of Vee to keep the audience engaged enough to see it to the end.

So, when the robbers find out that the money is a little less than expected, all hopes seems lost, until the assistant bank manager played by a subdued James Franco (and I don’t mean in the stoned sense… well, maybe… who knows?) tells the gang that there is more loot in the old vault beneath the building. The thought of money lures them to seek their fortune, but in opening Pandora’s Box they unleash an unknown force that picks them off, one-by-one. Who will survive and are there souls worth saving at all?

 

The Diagnosis:

This is a middle-of-the-road movie that does just enough to keep you watching. Perfect movie to stay home and Netflix and chill.

 

– Saul Muerte

 

Movie review: One Cut of the Dead

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Look up One Cut of the Dead and you’ll start to see glowing reports and described as a low-fi, B-movie zombie fest that has been praised as the best zombie comedy since Shaun of the Dead.
The opening shot is a one-take 37 minutes of balls-to-the-wall insanity. It’s a sight to behold that keeps you not only on the edge of the seat, but from a filmmaker’s perspective, gripped with amazement at just how much they manage to pack in and deliver a stunning piece of cinematography that hangs on some precise choreography to pull off. A huge hats off to director Shinichiro Ueda who not only has the audacity to execute such a stunt but also does it so effectively. What’s more is that isn’t the only trick up his sleeve throughout the film.

As the story unfolds, we witness a film cast and its crew shooting a zombie film in an abandoned warehouse, only to have real zombies attack them and in a way that is believable as they struggle to endure their ordeal by bumbling and fumbling there way around the one location. The actors are equally believable as they go from you’re average cast and crew to hardcore survivors of a post-apocalyptic zombie outbreak.

There are some moments that don’t sit right in your mind as it unfolds, particularly some quirky moments from the actor director who keeps popping up and taking advantage of the dire situation and forcing the undead onto his actors in order to get his vision captured with every ounce of reality involved.

There are also some incredibly awkward silences and the usual found footage trope of the cameraman who still manages to capture everything without being attacked by any zombies.

All these things have a purpose though as Ueda has his own vision in mind and plays another trick after the one-shot take has been played out. For that though it contains some spoilers. If you are keen to know more, scroll down below the image as I dissect a little further.  Continue reading

Series review: The Haunting of Hill House S1

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“I am home”, writes Steven Crain.

Hill House may well have been home for the Crain family, but it also holds the key to a life defining memory. Flashing back and forth between past and present, this haunted house yarn is about the psychological effects of events that lead to them abruptly fleeing a haunted house in the dead of night many years earlier.

The Haunting of Hill House” is a genre busting ghost story with more levels than the house at its core. Using the Shirley Jackson novel (previously seen as “The Haunting” – both as the 1963 Robert Wise film and the 1999 Jan De Bont film) as its source material, master of horror Mike Flanagan has meticulously crafted a 10 part horror series for Netflix that is as much a traditional gothic horror as it is a story about how a family handles the traumatic stress of a horrific experience none of us could ever imagine. So essentially this is for anyone who wondered what was next for the Lutz family after “The Amityville Horror” or the Freelings post “Poltergeist”.

This is about the PTSD of horror and while they all have their ghosts to reconcile, these ones are literal.

Now this all may seem extremely heavy stuff, but there is still a good old fashioned ‘scare-ya-silly’ ghost story here and believe me it’s a frightening one too. The frights are drip fed when you least expect it and there’s creepiness resplendent too if you just keep your eyes open from behind that cushion.

But what makes this stand out as quite possibly the best horror of 2018 is the well developed characters, the incredible writing, and the heart (or boob) thumping performances. All of the actors throw their all into the work too and it’s evident in such stand out episodes as; “The Bent necked woman” that has one of the craziest WTF moments in horror history and “Two Storms” which is almost theatre. The almost hour long episode of “Two Storms” plays out over five cuts, as the characters all bounce off each other in long, incredibly choreographed 15-23 min takes.

Mike Flanagan has steadily crafted a brilliant career in horror films since his stellar debut film “Absentia”. Over the years he’s reinvigorated a franchise, with the prequel “Ouija: Origin of Evil”, directed a couple of Netflix exclusive films “Hush”, and the brilliant Stephen King adaptation “Gerald’s Game”, and is soon to direct another King adaptation “Doctor Sleep” (“The Shining” sequel). So it’s really no surprise his latest entry is his best…so far. There’s a familiar look to his work, a colour palette of greys and oranges, and a troop of regular actors that include the always amazing Carla Gugino, the outstanding Elizabeth Reaser, and Flanagan’s wife, Kate Siegel, who has her best role yet. Talking of actors, who knew ET’s Henry Thomas and Timothy Hutton looked so alike, here they play the role of Hugh Crain at various stages in his life and my god the similarity is uncanny.

 

The Diagnosis:

Look, while this is very loosely based on the Shirley Jackson novel, it’s not a direct adaptation in the slightest, but it still has the locked red door, the spiral staircase, and spooky housekeeper Mrs Dudley. This is a fantastically complex gothic horror story for the Netflix generation.

  • Myles Davies

 

Movie review: Apostle

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Since Gareth Evans made his impact on the cinematic landscape with his hard-hitting action-packed Indonesian martial arts movie The Raid and its sequel, fans of his directing style have been eager to see where he would turn to next.
And here it is with Apostle, an equally gritty film that cuts to the heart of religion, faith, and megalomania.

Starting Dan Stevens ego has been carving a name for himself in Hollywood circles of late with his quirky turn in TV series, Legion and Beauty and the Beast, but it seems that he has never shied away from his horror roots, dating back to Adam Wingard’s The Guest. It’s almost as if he is able to tap into that inner carnage and turmoil that humanity faces and bring it to the surface in the most powerful ways.
Apostle is no exception to this as Stevens delves deep into the psyche of Thomas Richardson, a former missionary who has turned his back on his faith, only to be tested once more when he learns that his sister has been taken for ransom on a remote welsh island.

The film is set in the early 1900s, and because of its setting is able to harness the feel of old school British folk horror which is on something of a resurgence of late.
There are elements in Apostle that is strikingly familiar to The Wicker Man in that a devout religious man ascends on a pagan island to retrieve a missing girl, in this case his sister, but that’s where the similarities cease as Apostle delves into the dark and twisted underbelly of when faith is taking to the extreme and abused at every level.
In one scene, Thomas literally has to swim through the guts and bile of the depraved to seek a reprieve from his pursuers.

There’s so much imagery and metaphor going on here, you’d be forgiven for feeling over whelmed with it, but Stevens performance is enough to ground the drama in reality.
He’s also joined by some terrific performers along the way too. There’s Michael Sheen (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) as the islands profit, Malcolm, who is simply marvellous in his role, eating up the scenery with his charisma on screen; and then there’s Lucy Boynton (The Blackcoats Daughter) as the prophets’ daughter and potential love interest Andrea, along with Mark Lewis Jones and Bill Milner also adding great strength to the cast.
Richardson’s quest is always balanced on a knife edge too as Evans proves once more to be capable of wringing out every last drop of tension and pain from his characters.

The Diagnosis:

Director Gareth Evans is a master in creating heart-wrenching angst and turmoil into his narrative and with Dan Stevens has the perfect muse, as a lost and troubled man on a quest that takes him into a dark and twisted labyrinth of angst and suffering to reach a place of peace and tranquility.

Apostle is available to watch now on Netflix.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Death Note

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Before I dissect this movie, I should stipulate that I came into this cold. I had no preconception of the Japanese manga series that it was based upon. On occasion, I delve into the source material to immerse in the world and its creation, but in this instance I went in fresher than a pillow with a mint on it.

Directed by Adam Wingard (Blair Witch, You’re Next) sans his usual writing partner Simon Barrett (Temple) attempts to weave the story of smarter than smart high school student Light Turner who discovers the gifted/cursed book Death Note in a Western setting of Seattle, US.

The book in question holds a unique spell whereby if a person’s name is written into it whilst visualizing their face, certain death will bestow upon them. With the original owner, a demon named Ryuk acting as an Iago of sorts chirping into Light’s ear and willing him to enact a godly vengeance on those who’ve wronged him.

Light initially sees the book as force of good, as he takes on a vigilante style quest to put all the criminals who have somehow escaped justice, behind bars.
Inevitably, fate will play the upper hand and steer Light towards a conclusion where they may be no turning back.
As far as the story goes, it peppers along with a fairly decent pace, but it has a strange pop-esque vibe to it that tears away at the narrative with little regard for sense or structure. This surprised me as I’m a big fan of Wingard’s other work, so I wonder if it was more of a case that the Death Note story was simply to big to harness everything into one movie. Yes, Wingard does leave the door open for more ventures down the track, but since watching the movie I was compelled to look back at the source and can see that it was rich in content and therefore always going to be tricky to pull off and get it right.

Most of the movie has a fluffiness to it, including the leads, Light, (played by Nat Wolff), and Mia, (played by Margaret Qualley who proved far more interesting a performer in The Leftovers). My interest was drawn more towards Shea Whigham (Light’s Dad) who always seems to deliver and Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out) in another stand out, quirky performance as a specially trained detective with a sweet tooth, L.

 

The Diagnosis:

The film is definitely watchable and enjoyable enough, but fans of the original may be sorely disappointed.

Death Note strikes a flat chord that is strangely disjointed and out of sync.

 

– Saul Muerte

Movie review: The House With A Clock In Its Walls

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Here’s the interesting thing with horror – it is easy to do, but hard to get right.

It’s a stance taken in various guises on this website alone, but for a quick reference as evidence, I would point you to the myriad of online horror flicks that look like they are a film school graduation project. And then write down how many of them are any good…

But I digress. If horror films are hard to do right, then you can imagine the extra layer of challenging you get when you have to make them PG as well!

On the surface it may seem an oxymoron, but there are plenty of great examples of TV shows & films that straddle the enviable line of embracing (and paying respect to) 2 tastes without offending one or the other.

In this case, adult content that is equally entertaining for children and vice versa.

In terms of kid’s comedy with serious dramatic elements, the UK series Press Gang instantly springs to mind. In terms of horror for a pre-teen audience, you also have Goosebumps (and the soon to be released sequel) plus there is the 2009 film The Hole.

Although now that I type this out loud, I didn’t think Goosebumps was any good. And The Hole was quite good…but for the life of me I can’t remember a thing about it. So maybe these aren’t great examples of PG horror.

But what about The House With A Clock In It’s Walls?

Set in the 50’s, it follows 10-year-old Lewis who is recently orphaned (which is very Up – OH UP! That’s a great example of an adult AND kid friendly film!) Anyway, he is taking a bus to live with his uncle Jonathan, who he has never met before, but seeing as he’s being played by Jack Black, he’s probably a lot of fun.

And Uncle Jack’s next-door neighbour is Florence Zimmerman, who is being played by Cate Blanchett, so you just know she’ll be awesome. Which for the most part she is. Especially at the beginning, as the banter between her and Black drives the movie and is the biggest highlight of the film (from an adult point of view).

Soon young Lewis – who is played by Owen Vaccaro, who has passable chops as the film’s protagonist (but is mostly whiny and annoying) – wakes up in the middle of the night in Uncle Jack’s house (which is old style and creepy) to the sound of a mysterious clock *tick-tocking* in the walls.

Jack Black roams the halls trying to locate it, as it seems to move from night to night, and when he thinks he’s found it, he tries to get at it. With a fire axe. Which is a little terrifying for a 10-year-old to witness…but he soon puts that all behind him when he finds out Uncle Jack is an everyday Warlock, and neighbour Cate is an exceptional Witch.

And from there the supernatural spooky (and PG) hijinks ensue.

Does it do well?


The Diagnosis:

No. Not really. THWACIIW is pretty safe fair, where the scares are pretty bland, and the ideas are just fine. Not even a super magnetic acting force like Blanchett can punt it over the bar, but in terms of colour & bounce it may appeal to kids. But for that you’ll have to go to the Junior Surgeons of Horror Website for the children’s review of The House With A Clock In It’s Walls.

PS: There’s no such website.

PPS: Yet.

 

  • Antony Yee