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Lunar Cycle - November 2022
Since I don’t have as much time to write longer reviews than I used to, I figured I would just post shorter reviews for horror/cult films that I feel deserve your attention.Directed By: Thom Eberhardt Starring: Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Robert Baltran, Sharon Farrell, Mary Woronov, Geoffrey Lewis Genre: Horror/Science Fiction/Comedy/Zombies Running Time: 95 Minutes Score: 3 Howls Outta 4 (8 out of 10) Plot:Two girls from the Valley wake up to find that a passing comet has eradicated their world and left behind a mysterious red-dust and a pack of cannibal mutants. With the help of a friendly truck driver, the girls save the earth from a villainous “think tank,” karate chop their way through flesh-eating zombies, and, of course, find time to go to the mall. Review:Thom Eberhardt’s cult flick NIGHT OF THE COMET is the post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror film for those nostalgic for arcade games, mall shopping and satire on Reaganism and consumerism. Inspired by multiple 50’s B-movies, THE OMEGA MAN and DAWN OF THE DEAD, this movie takes a dystopian world and infuses it with neon lights, new-wave and pop-rock and a rad vibe due to colorful characters who have a sarcastic view on their new reality. The film is boosted by fun lead performances from Catherine Mary Stewart [Regina] and Kelli Maroney [Samantha], who bring intelligence and toughness [Regina] or clueless, yet bubbly sass to lighten up the mood [Samantha]. It also helps NIGHT OF THE COMET having a good supporting cast as well, including future Star Trek: Voyager star Robert Baltran as love interest Hector and Mary Woronov playing a kind scientist who has to deal with colleagues who want to use any survivors as test subjects for their own survival. Eberhardt’s direction infuses a lot of mood and atmosphere through great cinematography by Arthur Albert, who captures the desolate isolation of an empty Los Angeles during Christmastime. The set locations, like the radio station and the mall are used really well and place NIGHT OF THE COMET during a certain era. From piles of dust due to curious people staring at a comet, to zombies who want to attack our survivors, Eberhardt shoots everything with a nice pace and a switching of tones that organically takes a serious topic and turns it into something lighthearted that makes the film’s message easier to swallow. I do wish the film had embraced its horror aspect more, as we barely deal with any zombies throughout much of the film. The film is more of a comedy than a horror movie anyway, but some tension would have been nice. I also think the film’s ending is a bit hokey and cheesy, only there to bring back an Easter egg from the opening moments of the movie. But other than that, NIGHT OF THE COMET is a good time if you’re looking for some light cinema that embraces its cheese. Directed By: Tarsem Singh Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vince Vaughn, Catherine Sutherland, Dylan Baker, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jake Weber, Dean Morris Genre: Horror/Science Fiction/Thriller Running Time: 107 Minutes Score: 3 Howls Outta 4 (7 out of 10) Plot: A psychotherapist journeys inside a comatose serial killer in the hopes of saving his latest victim.Review:An underrated sci-fi police procedural, 2000’s THE CELL would probably be forgotten about if it weren’t for the strength of the movie’s leads and the impressive visual presentation by director Tarsem Singh and cinematographer Paul Laufer. The visuals, especially, are what make THE CELL stand out from other contemporaries of the time like THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and SE7EN, resembling more films like 1984’s DREAMSCAPE or A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET flick. Each scene inside any of the leads’ minds looks like a music video, which is not surprising since Singh directed R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” [a scene in the film actually resembles one of the set pieces from that very video]. This is the work of a man who has let his imagination run wild, with so many stylish motifs inspired by famous art pieces. There’s fashion happening throughout the movie, with the actors given different looks to play off of. Even so, everything visually seems a bit off, with colors being both bright and muted at the same time, while figures in the background throw you off with strange poses and interesting visual aspects that don’t seem right to the human eye. It’s a stunning looking film with disturbing images, like a serial killer hovering over his victim via hooks through his naked back, or someone getting cut up to the point where their intestines are pulled out and played with. Even in 2022, I’m still impressed by this film’s strong direction. The cast seems game for all of it. In particular, Vincent D’Onofrio stands out as the film’s villain - getting to haunt our heroes while wearing strange outfits and headpieces, enjoying the moment to play a menacing presence for much of the movie. Even his quieter moments stand out, revealing a real person despite the evil that permeates through him. Jennifer Lopez is much more quiet and sympathetic as our heroine, allowing the looks she displays throughout to speak for her much louder than her dialogue. Vince Vaughn is good as the supporting FBI Agent who shares memorable moments with both lead actors. The only negative is really the pedestrian and predictable police procedural that plays out, mainly in the film’s final act. There’s nothing really special about it and plays out exactly as one would expect it to. There are no real twists and turns when it comes to the story, and the film never really explains how one can travel into someone’s mind all that elaborately. I guess the film needs this plot to drive the action forward, but it’s honestly the least memorable thing about THE CELL. Still, THE CELL is a film I feel that should be watched at least once, or revisited if you haven’t seen it in a while. It’s still a visually impressive work of art that shows that originality and creativity can go a long way in a feature film. Directed By: David Guy Levy Starring: Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, Jonny Coyne, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Enver Gjokaj, Sasha Grey, John Heard, Robin Lord Taylor Genre: Thriller/Horror Running Time: 93 Minutes Score: 3 Howls Outta 4 (7 out of 10) Plot: Desperate to help her ailing brother, a young woman agrees to compete in a deadly game of “Would You Rather”, hosted by a sadistic aristocrat.Review:I was expecting a lame rip-off of films of the “torture porn” era like SAW or HOSTEL. But WOULD YOU RATHER is surprisingly a tense little thriller with some decent-to-good performances and cringe-worthy moments due to director David Guy Levy letting one’s imagination create something more gruesome than what appears on screen [or lack thereof]. Following SAW’s footsteps in tackling the concept of playing with one’s ethics and morality when it comes to surviving a terrible situation - in this case, with an added incentive of the last person standing with a large sum of money - the film does a pretty good job mixing noble and kindhearted characters with those who take pleasure in hurting others like it’s some sort of sport. While not the most developed screenplay with dynamic characters, the storytelling does enough to give us a glimpse of the different personalities who are part of this devious game and why they choose to make the decisions they make as things get more desperate towards the end. The games played in WOULD YOU RATHER aren’t really visualized in a gruesome way like the “games” that are presented in the SAW films. But the ideas behind them are pretty twisted. Would you rather electrocute the person next to you, or yourself? Would you rather whip a person’s back until they bleed to death, or stab someone with an ice pick instead? Or maybe you’d like to submerge your head in a barrel of water for two minutes or take your chances with a mystery card? Director David Guy Levy does a nice job building tension and suspense over the character’s choices and their subsequent actions, whether good or bad. Despite not being a stylish movie, Levy allows the script and the actors to be the focal point. Considering the low budget, this is definitely a good move. The actors play their parts well. The standouts are Brittany Snow as a sympathetic player who is constantly in conflict with her morality due to wanting to save her sick brother and needing the money to pay their bills, Jeffrey Combs as a hammy upper class host who twirls his proverbial mustache any chance he gets, and Robin Lord Taylor as the snobby rich son who got his kicks watching people in need suffer. WOULD YOU RATHER is a bit of an underrated little horror flick that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy as much as I did. There’s nothing really special about it, but the actors are mostly fine and the tension and suspense created by the screenplay and direction are solid. I was caught up in what I was watching and the ending is a bit of a kick to the nuts. If you got 90 minutes to spare, this is not a bad film to fill that time.

Lunar Cycle - October 2022
Since I don’t have as much time to write longer reviews than I used to, I figured I would just post shorter reviews for horror/cult films that I feel deserve your attention.HELLRAISER (2022)Directed By: David BrucknerStarring: Odessa A’zion, Jamie Clayton, Adam Faison, Drew Starkey, Brandon Flynn, Aoife Hinds, Goran VisnjicGenre: Horror/Slasher/DemonsRunning Time: 121 MinutesScore: 3 Howls Outta 4 (7 out of 10)Plot: A young woman struggling with addiction comes into possession of an ancient puzzle box, unaware that its purpose is to summon the Cenobites, a group of sadistic supernatural beings from another dimension.Review:THINGS I LIKED:- The updated Cenobite designs. Instead of the usual leather S&M attire, their suits are nothing but their mutilated skin. It was a welcome change for this reboot.- Despite having big shoes to fill, Jamie Clayton was excellent as the new Pinhead [or The Priest]. She came across as very menacing and added her own flair and personality to a popular role.- All the actors were solid - especially Odessa A'zion as the lead [Riley] and Drew Starkey as Trevor [Riley's boyfriend].- I didn't mind the slasher elements. Resembling A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movie at times, I enjoyed the angle of having to sacrifice a certain amount of people to the Lament Configuration to gain some sort of wish/power.- David Bruckner's direction was good and the cinematography by Eli Born is beautiful and polished. It's nice to see filmmakers caring about making a good HELLRAISER film again.THINGS I DIDN'T LIKE:- The film is too tame for a HELLRAISER film. Off-screen deaths? Sex barely a factor? For a movie about demons focused on pleasure and pain, this film was really lacking in that department.- Good actors but under-written roles for character archetypes I barely cared about. Besides the two leads and the Cenobites, the other characters were just fodder to me. No Kirsty, Julia or Frank to be found here.Overall:A good reboot that will hopefully play it less safe in the next installment, HELLRAISER (2022) is the best installment since 1988’s HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II. But that isn’t saying a whole lot. Still, it’s nice that after 30 years, someone actually took the time to make a watchable installment in this troubled franchise.TERRIFIER 2 (2022)Directed By: Damien LeoneStarring: Lauren LaVera, David Howard Thornton, Elliott Fullam, Samantha Scaffidi, Casey Hartnett, Casey Hartnett Genre: Horror/SlasherRunning Time: 138 MinutesScore: 3 Howls Outta 4 (8 out of 10)Plot: After being resurrected by a sinister entity, Art the Clown returns to Miles County where he must hunt down and destroy a teenage girl and her younger brother on Halloween night. As the body count rises, the siblings fight to stay alive while uncovering the true nature of Art’s evil intent.Review:THINGS I LIKED:- The gore - oh, the gore! If you thought the first TERRIFIER was super gory, this sequel tops it in every way. Decapitations, heads being used as candy bowls, head explosions, mutilated bodies and so on. Just a brutal film in the violence department.- David Howard Thornton and Lauren LaVera are really solid in their roles of Art the Clown and Final Girl Sienna. Thornton is creepier than ever as the villain, especially as we get to look into his mental state. He’s captivating to watch in every scene he’s in, just with a simple smile. LaVera is a great Final Girl who comes across as smart, sassy and tough. I’d love to see more of her in the future because she definitely has star potential.- I liked the addition of a lore for Art the Clown. Unlike the first film where there was really nothing to the character, this sequel adds a ton and makes Art super interesting. We get to look into his mind to see what makes him tick, while the protagonists seem to have a strange connection to the clown that adds a creepy layer on to why he appears to be targeting them. I love slashers that have an actual story to chew on.- Damien Leone’s direction is more confident than it was in the first TERRIFIER. A lot of shots show a ton of style. The brutal murder sequences are choreographed super well. The sets and locations are infused with strange editing and lighting choices that create a bleak mood and atmosphere. And for much of the long runtime, I thought the movie had a nice pace going for it. Leone stepped up his game with this one.THINGS I DIDN'T LIKE:- The two-hour-plus run time isn’t necessary for this sequel. No slasher should be over two hours, especially when it loses steam like TERRIFIER 2. There are moments where the film could have ended, and it just felt like it kept going and going until we reached a strange mid-credits sequence that really needs to be explained in the third film. This is a homage to an 80s slasher movie, not THE LORD OF THE RINGS.- A lot of the acting from the supporting characters was cheesy and a bit over-the-top to take seriously. I’m guessing Leone was going for 80s B-movie acting? I would have been down with that if your lead actress wasn’t performing her role in a serious manner. Some of the reactions to things by some of the performers felt either wooden or just unintentionally comical. It’s fun to watch, but the tone becomes uneven because of it.- There are some story elements that really needed to be explained. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the film left me with more questions than answers - especially concerning the relationship between Art the Clown and the protagonists. It made the narrative feel unfinished, although this could possibly be explained in the next installment. But honestly, the answers should have been revealed within its own movie.Overall:TERRIFIER 2 is light years better than the 2016 original. There’s actually an interesting story this time around with decent characters you want to root for, the gore is more brutal than ever, solid lead performances and really great direction by Damien Leone. Despite a lack of substance and lingering questions to certain subplots, cheesy acting and a run time that isn’t justified to be over two hours long, TERRIFIER 2 is one of the better and more fun horror films of 2022. Considering my indifference to the first film, this was a genuine surprise for the better. I look forward to seeing where this franchise goes next because we need more fun slashers like this one in our lives.THEY/THEM (2022)Directed By: John LoganStarring: Theo Germaine, Kevin Bacon, Quei Tann, Austin Crute, Monique Kim, Anna Lore, Anna Chlumsky, Carrie Preston, Boone PlattGenre: Horror/Thriller/SlasherRunning Time: 101 MinutesScore: 1 Howl Outta 4 (3 out of 10)Plot: Campers at an LGBTQ+ conversion camp endure unsettling psychological techniques while the campsite is stalked by a mysterious killer.Review:THINGS I LIKED:- Kevin Bacon and some of the other actors. It’s nice to see Bacon returning to his campsite horror roots, considering his first major horror role was in 1980’s FRIDAY THE 13TH. He always plays a great villain, and he makes the most of his twisted role as a therapist at a gay conversion camp. Other actors, like Theo Germaine and Austin Crute, also make an impression as the teen victims at this camp.- The picture looks nice. It’s a Blumhouse vehicle, so of course the cinematography is very good. I think more could have been done with the location, but it’s a nicely polished movie.- THEY/THEM has a great concept. There should be more movies catered to the LGBTQ+ community and the idea of a conversion camp is horrifying on so many levels. There’s no need for a slasher villain when you have poor teens being put through things that are supposed to “make them normal”. The film does touch on some of those things as the counselors get more vicious with their daily exercises. Unfortunately…THINGS I DIDN'T LIKE:- THEY/THEM has a bad execution. For a film with commentary on how terrible gay conversion camps are, the film barely does anything with that idea. We get a scene with shock therapy. We get uncomfortable scenes in a regular therapy session with counselors belittling the campers. But other than that, not much is done because the film is trying to be a slasher movie too. About that…- The film is a terrible slasher movie. We get one kill in the opening. And then we have to wait about an hour or so until some slashing goes on. Not only are the murder sequences done off-screen [lame], but the slasher aspect doesn’t help THEY/THEM at all besides giving the film a bit of action and motivation. If you’re not going to bother with any stalking and slashing in your slasher movie, then you’re doing it wrong. Besides, the gay conversion stuff is the real horror and they wasted potential on that as well.- What was John Logan thinking? While Logan has written some great movies like GLADIATOR, SWEENEY TODD and SKYFALL, his direction leaves a lot to be desired. As an openly gay filmmaker, you would think he would probably be more careful with this type of movie more than most. But Logan plays it too safely and would rather focus on stereotypes and being hateful towards the community rather than providing a thoughtful commentary on the evils of these camps hurting people who have nothing wrong with them. I see that Logan wanted to make his own version of GET OUT here, but the film doesn’t have anything really to say, And when it does, it’s confusing and kind of insulting at times. Even the slasher portion is weak because it’s a whodunit with just one suspect. How does that work?? What a waste of potential.- That P!nk musical moment. I love P!nk. I enjoy her song “F*cking Perfect”. And I was okay with the young actors singing the first couple of lines of the song as a way to bond. But then they just kept going like it was an episode of Glee - and not a good episode either. This was really cringe. I pretty much checked out at that point.Overall:THEY/THEM is a film that had so much potential to be something important for the LGBTQ+ horror community with its conversion camp concept, while adding a slasher element to it considering Kevin Bacon was starring in the film. Unfortunately, the commentary is a confusing mess that probably does more harm than good. The film is only really a slasher for the last 15 minutes, with no real tension or suspense leading to the murder sequences. We have random musical moments that almost made me want to stop watching [I hope they paid you well, P!nk]. The best I can say about THEY/THEM is that the film looks nice and most of the acting is fine [especially Kevin Bacon]. Stick with HELLBENT for a good LGBTQ+ slasher and BUT I’M A CHEERLEADER for a great film that involves the perils of conversion therapy. The most clever thing about THEY/THEM is unfortunately its title.THE BLACK PHONE (2021)Directed By: Scott DerricksonStarring: Mason Thames, Ethan Hawke, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, E. Roger Mitchell, Troy Rudeseal, James RandsoneGenre: Horror/ThrillerRunning Time: 103 MinutesScore: 3 Howls Outta 4 (7 out of 10)Plot: Finney Shaw, a shy but clever 13-year-old boy, is abducted by a sadistic killer and trapped in a soundproof basement where screaming is of little use. When a disconnected phone on the wall begins to ring, Finney discovers that he can hear the voices of the killer’s previous victims. And they are dead set on making sure that what happened to them doesn’t happen to Finney.Review:THINGS I LIKED:- The lead actors carried this movie. Child actors could be hit-or-miss when it comes to horror films, but Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw were fantastic as two siblings who live in an abusive household and soon have to deal with The Grabber. Thames is convincing as a shy kid who has to learn to fend for himself to get out of a dangerous situation. McGraw is even better as the worried sister who uses her dreams to see what’s going on in order to save her brother and other children who may be targeted. Add Ethan Hawke in a small, yet really creepy role as the Grabber and you got yourself some great acting that will keep you invested from beginning to end.- Scott Derrickson’s direction was pretty solid throughout. Best known for his work on 2012’s SINISTER and 2016’s DOCTOR STRANGE, his work on THE BLACK PHONE isn’t as strong or as stylish as those two movies. But the 70s aesthetic works throughout and the supernatural elements involving the phone calls and the psychic dreams add a nice level of tension and suspense to this thriller. I thought Derrickson did a good job bringing Joe Hill’s short story to life.- I thought Joe Hill’s story was adapted quite well. The main characters are fleshed out enough for us to understand them. The situation is brought to life in a tense and creepy way. I liked how the film was less of a horror movie and more of a police procedural at times - as well as a strange coming-of-age story for Finney, who takes the lessons of the Grabber’s previous victims in order to have a fighting chance of surviving. Some might feel the film was too long considering Hill’s story is pretty short and to the point. But I never felt like it dragged a ton and thought the material was handled well. - I love The Grabber’s creepy mask. If you ever needed a mask to put some fear into people during the Halloween season, that’s definitely a choice. I thought it added some creepy personality to The Grabber when he would be quiet to intimidate Finney.THINGS I DIDN'T LIKE:- The film needed a bit more backstory. I felt things happened and none of them were really explained. Why are the phone calls supernatural? Why can Finney and The Grabber hear them? Why is the sister a psychic like her late mother? Why was Finney chosen by the previous victims to be the one to stop The Grabber? How did The Grabber’s brother, who was living with him, not realize what was going on until it was too late? Sometimes it’s better not to know these things, but I feel since this isn’t a movie meant to create a franchise, some of these answers would have been appreciated.- THE BLACK PHONE isn’t really a scary film. It has some creepy moments here and there, but it’s not a movie that will terrify people. I think it’s because we barely see The Grabber a whole lot and we’re more focused on Finney learning from the children before him how to escape his ordeal. I never really felt Finney’s fear, despite his desperation and frustration over how to get out of this situation. More of that would have added some much needed power to this film.Overall: One of the better horror film releases of 2022, THE BLACK PHONE is carried by solid lead performances to create a creepy thriller involving a masked kidnapper and a cunning child who receives help from the afterlife to escape the kidnapper’s clutches. While Ethan Hawke isn’t in the film a whole lot, his presence as The Grabber can put a chill down your spine through his performance and use of a killer mask that will most likely gain a cult following for years to come. But it’s the work of child actors Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw who bring the heart to the film, portraying siblings who are caught in the Grabber’s web from different angles. SINISTER’s Scott Derrickson does a nice job adapting Joe Hill’s short story and capturing a creepy 70s aesthetic, while keeping his style simple to let the story and the performances be the focus. Do I wish the film was scarier? Yes. Do I wish certain plot devices [especially some of the supernatural aspects] were explained and developed better? Absolutely. But for what it is, THE BLACK PHONE is worth making a call for.RESURRECTION (2022)Directed By: Andrew SemansStarring: Rebecca Hall, Grace Kaufman, Michael Esper, Angela Wong Carbone, Tim RothGenre: Thriller/Horror/DramaRunning Time: 103 MinutesScore: 3 Howls Outta 4 (7 out of 10)Plot: A woman’s carefully constructed life is upended when an unwelcome shadow from her past returns, forcing her to confront the monster she’s evaded for two decades.Review:THINGS I LIKED:- The two lead performances are fantastic. Rebecca Hall is a force of nature as Margaret, a woman who lives a mechanical and routine life until a man from her past destroys that once he returns in her life. Hall portrays a woman so in control of her own life that she slowly peels back those layers to reveal that she never was in control in the first place. Her performance grows more manic as the film moves along and her long monologue in the middle of the film where she reveals her truth is just wonderfully recited. It’s honestly a masterclass of trauma portrayed on screen. On the other hand, Tim Roth’s subtlety as David brings an eeriness to the film, displaying power just with a single look or a soft-spoken voice that rings louder than any yell. These two are wonderful as they play off the other, making them the reason to watch RESURRECTION. - The depiction of abuse is realistically displayed. From Margaret counseling interns about abusive relationships, to herself losing grip on reality as she spills her secret abusive past, RESURRECTION doesn’t hide how trauma can affect people. David’s presence alone upsets Margaret, telling us how powerful he is as a character without a single word. David doesn’t do anything, making Margaret lose control of herself and do rash things to make sure her control is maintained. This alienates her daughter. This pushes away a married co-worker she’s been having an affair with, who actually cares about her. It makes us wonder whether Margaret is being over-the-top and losing her mind, or if David really is this evil person who has done her tons of emotional harm. And when David gives Margaret simple commands to teach her “kindness”, which Margaret succumbs to out of habit, it shows that even the simplest of things can be abusive. Things reach a really weird and chilling climax, showing us that trauma can always be triggered no matter how much we try to control our lives away from the past.- I enjoyed Andrew Semans’ simple direction. RESURRECTION is not a stylish film, but it’s a nice looking one with a pace that intensifies as Margaret loses control of herself. The edits get a bit crazier. Shots seem to be repeated to show this never ending cycle Margaret has put herself on. Tim Roth is always shot in a way that displays power. Rebecca Hall’s shot scales tend to get smaller and smaller, letting her blend more into the background before the climax. For the man’s second feature film, it’s some good stuff.THINGS I DIDN'T LIKE:- I’m not sure how I feel about the film’s final act. While RESURRECTION does get a bit crazy in terms of what David’s motivations are with Margaret [won’t spoil it here], I felt the conclusion to the film was really jarring compared to everything that came before it. For a movie that was pretty grounded for most of its run time, going the David Lynch/David Cronenberg/Darren Aronofsky route wasn’t something I was expecting. I suspect it didn’t hit me as hard due to not having any past experience with abuse nor the struggle of being a parent. But it just left me confused as to what I was supposed to get out of the very end of the film. Maybe I have to watch it a few times to get a true interpretation on the things that happen in the final moments. I respect the storytelling, but I’m not sure if I connected to it other than feeling weird about it.Overall: While the final act jarred me quite a bit, to the point that I’m still trying to figure out what I saw and what it actually means, I felt RESURRECTION was a good psychological thriller that handled the trauma of abuse quite well. Through Andrew Semans’ direction that starts out simple but intensifies as certain characters start to lose control of their situation, we see through his eyes that trauma isn’t something one can control or hide once triggered by an outside force that will quietly help you fester in it and do you harm. The lead performances by Rebecca Hall and Tim Roth are excellent. Going from mechanical and routine to chaotic and frantic, Hall’s portrayal of trauma is a masterclass in acting. Roth’s quiet menace has to also be applauded, as he does a lot with a simple look or soft-spoken dialogue that’s not as quiet as it seems. The Lynch/Cronenberg/Aronofsky type of ending left me a bit odd considering how grounded everything else was prior to it, but maybe it’ll require another watch or two to really feel the effects of its message. That being said, definitely seek this one out on Shudder if you have the time for a slow, psychological burn.

Halloween Ends (2022) [Spoiler Review]
DIRECTED BYDavid Gordon GreenSTARRINGJamie Lee Curtis - Laurie StrodeAndi Matichak - Allyson NelsonJames Jude Courtney - Michael Myers/ The ShapeWill Patton - Deputy Frank HawkinsRohan Campbell - Corey CunninghamKyle Richards - Lindsey WallaceGenre - Horror/Thriller/Drama/SlasherRunning Time - 111 MinutesPLOTFour years after the events of Halloween in 2018, Laurie has decided to liberate herself from fear and rage and embrace life. But when a young man is accused of killing a boy he was babysitting, it ignites a cascade of violence and terror that will force Laurie to finally confront the evil she can’t control, once and for all.REVIEWMan, if you thought the division over last year’s HALLOWEEN KILLS was bad, it’s nothing compared to the ugly divide for the end of David Gordon Green’s trilogy, HALLOWEEN ENDS. While I’m in the majority of enjoying the 2018 reboot/sequel, I was one of the few who actually preferred KILLS due to its silliness and fun time. I can’t say I was looking all that forward to ENDS though, as big of a HALLOWEEN fanboy that I am. Considering the ridiculous writing of KILLS, it was tough to get hyped up for this movie despite the promise of a final encounter between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. Still, I went to theaters on opening Friday night with friends to watch this and… well, I may have been the most positive person for this movie. Then seeing all the vitriol and arguments over the quality of the movie on social media, I wanted to step away from reviewing this movie until I had another chance to watch it on Peacock.Having done so, my opinions on HALLOWEEN ENDS haven't changed much. And I do think it’s the lesser of the three David Gordon Green films, even though it has the most ambition going for it. It’s also not the worst HALLOWEEN film in the franchise, despite what many other fans are saying. This dude also isn’t signing a petition for a redo either. HALLOWEEN ENDS is a film with interesting story elements going for it. They’re just in the wrong movie.This review will be a spoiler filled one because I can’t share my thoughts without revealing plot elements. So if you haven’t watched the film yet, stop right here. If you have or you don’t care, keep on reading.So HALLOWEEN ENDS’ issues stem from the fact that the wrong story is being told for the finale of this divisive trilogy. I saw a lot of defenders of this film criticizing those complaining that they would have preferred a simple Michael vs. Laurie finale instead of what we eventually got. I mean, can you blame anyone thinking a movie called HALLOWEEN ENDS would be about an epic conclusion to the Michael Myers and Laurie Strode story that started way back in 1978? In fact, this entire DGG trilogy was pretty much set up and marketed as a way for these two horror icons to have their final confrontation so Jamie Lee Curtis could exit the franchise a lot better than she had in HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION. The 2018 film and HALLOWEEN KILLS put these two characters at the center of the marketing, making fans anticipate an eventual conclusion that would see this feud finally having an end. Even the trailers for HALLOWEEN ENDS seemed to focus on the one-on-one fight between Michael and Laurie, as well as the posters. If a studio is promoting a trilogy in a certain way, fans are going to expect that. So you can’t really blame them when HALLOWEEN ENDS isn’t that film at all.HALLOWEEN ENDS isn’t even about Laurie and Michael, who honestly feel like supporting characters in this movie. The film is centered by a newly created character named Corey Cunningham, who is now Haddonfield’s latest pariah after accidentally murdering a young boy he was babysitting on Halloween 2019. The town looks down on him. Marching band high schoolers bully him any chance they can get. The parents of the murdered child understandably make a scene whenever he’s around. And while his stepfather has given him a job and treats him well, his mother coddles him every chance she can get to the point of it becoming incestuous at times. Corey is a victim in Haddonfield.Laurie sees that and saves Corey from the bullies, knowing what it’s like to be a pariah herself. She introduces Corey to her granddaughter Allyson, who instantly becomes infatuated with him. Due to their respective trauma, they connect and fall for each other. While this goes on, Corey encounters Michael, who has been living in sewers for the past four years. While Michael attacks him, Michael sees something in Corey that makes him change his attack and wants to help him. Corey, seeing something in Michael that reminds him of himself, wants to learn from the killer - to the point that the two start tag teaming on people in Haddonfield out of revenge.As you can see, nothing about Laurie confronting Michael and vice-versa is anywhere in the above paragraphs. That’s because the film isn’t about that. It’s about a character study for a newly introduced character who, tired of being looked down upon and treated like crap in his hometown, snaps and wants vengeance on those he feels has wronged him. That includes Laurie, who sees “Michael’s eyes” in Corey after he encounters the killer.It seems that Michael may have transferred some of his evil - his “Shape” - into Corey, turning Corey more into Michael throughout the film. Also in a similar way that Michael may have transferred his “Shape” into Dr. Sartain in 2018’s movie, as well as doing the same to the entire town of Haddonfield in HALLOWEEN KILLS. Corey is Arnie to Michael’s Christine, which was David Gordon’s Green main influence on this film. There’s also a bit of THE LOST BOYS and ROMEO AND JULIET. But what the film mainly isn’t is a traditional HALLOWEEN movie.I personally think the Corey Cunningham angle is a really solid one, because it hasn’t really been done much in a HALLOWEEN movie. The closest we’ve gotten were with Jamie Lloyd in HALLOWEEN 4 and the remake Laurie Strode during Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN II - two characters who shared some sort of psychic connection with Michael Myers to turn them slightly evil and continue his work. Considering that Michael Myers is pretty much an old man in this trilogy, it would make sense for the character to want to continue his evil legacy through younger characters by passing on his evil from one shape to another. Corey is a character that’s well written enough and has motivation that would make it believable that he would continue what Michael had started in Haddonfield. The series could have had their own FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING with the Corey character in a possible trilogy on its own, making the town of Haddonfield believe that Michael Myers was still alive and well even if he was considered missing for years. Maybe with some added drama with Allyson finally seeing Corey for who he was and wanting to save him from the same fate, the series could have been revived in a fresher way.The Corey idea is great and one I support. It’s just that it shouldn’t be in the final film of a trilogy that is meant to focus on Laurie and Michael meeting one last time.Because of Corey being such a prominent character, it gives both Laurie and especially Michael the shaft in their own movie. Unlike HALLOWEEN KILLS, Laurie gets more to do. She’s writing a memoir on her life. She’s now a homemaker in a new house, trying to be a typical grandmother for Allyson [who is now acting out] after the loss of Karen at the hands of Michael. She’s trying to move on with her life and not let the trauma of the last 40 years define her and run her life. Yes, this change in Laurie’s character doesn’t really match what we’ve seen before, considering Laurie was Sarah Connor in the prior two movies. And I do see Laurie’s behavior being written backwards, as the trilogy’s events should have led to Laurie wanting to hunt down Michael and finish him. But trauma and grief do strange things to people and maybe the character wanted to be a good role model for her granddaughter, making up for what she couldn’t do for her own daughter.Michael, on the other hand, is a shell of himself. Living in a sewer had made him weak and vulnerable, especially after the brutality he suffered at the end of HALLOWEEN KILLS. He lets others bring bodies to him, whether to kill them or possibly eat them [how else did he survive down there for four years]. Corey has to push Michael into teaching him how to kill, which seems to rejuvenate Michael a bit, establishing his transcendence from HALLOWEEN KILLS. This is not the same villain we’ve seen in previous films, as he struggles to get his groove back and isn’t even at his 100 percent against Laurie at the end.The fight itself should be an epic battle, considering that this is what the trilogy has been leading to this whole time. But with both Laurie and Michael feeling like secondary characters in their own movie to a new character who is introduced here, it doesn’t feel earned for either character. Yes, the battle is pretty cool and both parties get their vicious shots in for a somewhat satisfying ending. But considering HALLOWEEN ENDS is really about Corey struggling with his demons and possibly taking over for The Shape due to Michael’s mentorship, the final confrontation feels forced because that’s the only way for this trilogy to end.It sucks that many are hating this film because of the Corey character, considering his arc is the strongest in the film. If it were up to me, I would have done the final confrontation at the end of KILLS and made ENDS a standalone HALLOWEEN movie where Haddonfield believes Michael is still alive because random murders are happening again in their town. You could have introduced Corey in either the 2018 or KILLS as a love interest for Allyson and built him up in an organic way. I honestly wouldn’t mind a FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING vibe for this series, because Corey is an interesting character and has motivation for his turn to the dark side. That could have been a trilogy on its own, as Laurie and Allyson could have dealt with the fallout that while the human being dies, the evil inside of him doesn’t and can get passed on to other members of the community. It’s something John Carpenter wanted to do with his anthology and with his original concept for HALLOWEEN 4. Unlike back then, I think fans would have been ready for something different in the franchise. But shoehorning too many plot elements in what should be the finale of a trilogy wastes that potential. There’s a good story here somewhere, but for a different movie down the line.The story also wastes characters like Deputy Frank Hawkins, who seemed to be on a redemption arc after the events of HALLOWEEN KILLS. But he’s barely used in the film and it's mainly to start a romance with Laurie. Lindsay is just a bartender who does tarot readings now. And Sheriff Barker only really appears at the end of the movie. I have no idea what went wrong with the writing here, but something must have changed because it doesn’t feel like the same people who worked on the previous two films here.What I can be totally positive about is David Gordon Green’s visual presentation. In my opinion, this is his best visual work of the three films he worked on. Some of the murder sequences are pretty damn good, with the opening kill being the best. The junkyard and sewer sets are lit with nice shades of blues and yellows that adds a bit of atmosphere. The junkyard scenes, in particular, reminded me of 1983’s CHRISTINE, with a brutal murder sequence taking place there in the film’s final act. The film had good editing and while the pace could have been better [Michael should have shown up sooner], I understand what DGG was going for here with his attempt at a slow burn. Really nice looking film hampered by an unfocused screenplay.The cast is very good though. In probably her best performance in the DGG trilogy, Jamie Lee Curtis gets to play with a lot of emotions as an older Laurie Strode who is trying to move past her trauma. She has great comedic moments. She’s charming as she brings back the shyness of her younger self. She’s also very strong in the final act as she reveals many layers to her character. I also liked Andi Matichak as Allyson, since she’s given the most to do here. Her scenes with Ronan Campbell felt natural and her explosive moments with Jamie Lee Curtis finally made her an interesting character. James Jude Courtney does well as an aging and weak Michael Myers. I don’t think the script does the character justice but Courtney makes it work. Will Patton is charming as Hawkins in the few scenes he’s in, while it’s always nice to see Kyle Richards outside of The Real Housewives franchise.The real star is Rohan Campbell as Corey Cunningham, a completely new character who gets the biggest spotlight in a film that should have been about Laurie versus Michael. Despite that, Campbell makes Corey a fleshed out character who we can sympathize with despite his actions. He has chemistry with anyone he shares a scene with and would have been awesome in a standalone HALLOWEEN film focused on him outside of the trilogy. Unfortunately he’s getting a lot of hate for something beyond his control. Campbell is a rising star and who knows where his career will go after the reception of HALLOWEEN ENDS. But I really liked his performance and turned, what could have been an unlikable character, into someone I would have liked to have seen more of. And I can’t end this review without mentioning the score by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies. The music is a lot more subtle than anything in the previous films, but it matched the quietness of HALLOWEEN ENDS. I think we can all agree that the music has been the best part of this trilogy.THE FINAL HOWLIt took me a while to gather my thoughts on HALLOWEEN ENDS, probably one of the more divisive horror movies I’ve seen on social media in many, many years. Having watched it once in theaters and then on Peacock, it allowed me to finally put into words how I felt about this finale of a trilogy that should have been more epic than it actually is. The performances are very good. The direction creates atmosphere and some nice visuals. The opening scene is the best thing about the film. The promoted confrontation between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers is fine but not as memorable as the one in 1998’s HALLOWEEN: H20. David Gordon Green and three other writers also bring ideas that create a freshness in the series that would be welcomed in a different movie that is not supposed to be the conclusion of a trilogy focused on the main heroine and her villain - two characters who feel like supporting characters to a newly created one who deserves his own movie to shine in. Personally, I would have had the final confrontation at the end of HALLOWEEN KILLS and done the Corey angle after that to bring something new to the HALLOWEEN franchise.That being said, HALLOWEEN ENDS isn’t the worst film in this franchise, nor is it close to it. In fact, there’s a lot to like in this movie. My issue is don’t bring something different to a franchise where fans are prepared for something else because it was marketed heavily as such. If David Gordon Green wanted to remake CHRISTINE under the HALLOWEEN banner, he could have saved it until after finishing the Laurie versus Michael story first. That’s all I’m saying. Not a total misfire, but disappointing considering the final battle doesn’t really feel earned since the film’s focus is on someone else. I’m very curious to see where this franchise goes next without the Laurie Strode baggage.SCORE2.5 Howls Outta 4(6 out of 10)

Werewolf By Night (2022)
DIRECTED BYMichael GiacchinoSTARRINGGael Garcia Bernal - Jack RussellLaura Donnelly - Elsa BloodstoneHarriet Sansom Harris - Verussa BloodstoneKirk R. Thatcher - JovanCarey Jones - Ted/Man-ThingGenre: Horror/Action/Fantasy/Monsters/Creature Feature/WerewolvesRunning Time: 55 MinutesPLOTOn a dark and somber night, a secret cabal of monster hunters emerge from the shadows and gather at the foreboding Bloodstone Temple following the death of their leader. In a strange and macabre memorial to the leader’s life, the attendees are thrust into a mysterious and deadly competition for a powerful relic—a hunt that will ultimately bring them face to face with a dangerous monster.REVIEWPhase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a mixed bag with only a few highpoints compared to the previous three Phases. Thankfully it may be ending on a strong note this year, starting with the Disney+ special, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT - based on a 1972 comic that brought in horror elements to the Marvel Universe.Composer Michael Giacchino proves that he’s also skilled as a horror director, as he puts the Jack Russell character in a setting that resembles a classic Universal flick from the 1930s and 1940s, complete with black & white filter and film grain that gives an illusion of age. With a narrative that resembles The Most Dangerous Game that deals with monster hunters trying to kill each other for a magical Bloodstone that can hurt monsters, it allows the audience to get to know the small cast of characters for a short period of time. Most of the supporting characters unfortunately get less screen time than others, but I enjoyed their different approaches to hunting. Thankfully, Jack and Elsa Bloodline are strongly written characters who share some nice chemistry throughout, strengthening the narrative.Probably the biggest takeaway from WEREWOLF BY NIGHT is Marvel’s allowing more violence and gore in their projects. While I think May’s DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS was probably more brutal, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT has its share of gore in terms of dismembered limbs, ears being bitten and pulled like Mike Tyson to Evander Holyfield and weapons impaling people. We also have Ted, a.k.a. Man-Thing, disintegrating a scared someone with just a single touch.Giacchino’s direction is confident and great, as the film feels like a classic horror film in its approach. The fight choreography is awesome and the pacing is perfect for a special like this. I love that the only color we see for a long time is the red from the Bloodstone, while the mix of CGI and practical effects works really well - especially when it comes to an awesome looking Man-Thing [or “Ted”] and a cool looking Werewolf By Night. The werewolf isn’t the greatest looking werewolf, but I liked the mix of the Lon Chaney look with a mix of a modern edge. Plus, Giacchino’s musical score is pretty awesome too. The actors are all solid. Gael Garcia Bernal is definitely a get for any studio and he’s wonderful as Jack Russell, bringing a likability and quiet charisma to his lead role. I definitely want to see more of him and his character going forward. Laura Donnelly was also solid as Elsa Bloodline, bringing a toughness and sassiness to her role. I also enjoyed Harriet Sansom Harris’ snooty and power-hungry role as Verussa Bloodline, Elsa’s stepmother and the leader of this hunt. And special mention to Carey Jones as “Ted”, a.k.a. Man-Thing. I really enjoyed his motion capture work that showed how lovable and innocent this supposed monster really is. He could be the next Groot if done right. THE FINAL HOWLOne of the highlights of the mixed bag known as the MCU’s Phase Four, director/composer Michael Giacchino’s WEREWOLF BY NIGHT is a great throwback to the classic horror of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s mixed with modern technology to really stand out in the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe library. The use of black and white [with red being the only color used for much of this television special] with added film grain is a nice touch, while using the common narrative structure of The Most Dangerous Game with an added creature element allows some bit of depth and a simple character arc that’s more than digestible. The action is well shot, as well as some of the more horror elements that’s gory enough to satisfy genre fans. Due to a great mix of CGI and practical effects, both Werewolf by Night and, in particular, Man-Thing look pretty damn cool. The cast, especially Gael Garcia Bernal and Laura Donnelly, are likable and bring an earnestness to their roles. WEREWOLF BY NIGHT is a nice surprise this Halloween season and I look forward to more of this character in a live-action setting, as well as more horror themed Marvel characters getting their time to shine.SCORE3.5 Howls Outta 4(9 out of 10)

Smile (2022)
DIRECTED BYParker FinnSTARRINGSosie Bacon - Dr. Rose CotterKyle Gallner - JoelCaitlin Stasey - Laura WeaverJessie T. Usher - TrevorRob Morgan - Robert TalleyKal Penn - Dr. Morgan DesaiRobin Weigert - Dr. Madeline NorthcottJudy Reyes - Victoria MunozGillian Zinzer - HollyGenre: Horror/Mystery/Thriller/CursesRunning Time: 115 MinutesPLOTAfter witnessing a bizarre, traumatic incident involving a patient, Dr. Rose Cotter starts experiencing frightening occurrences that she can’t explain. As an overwhelming terror begins taking over her life, Rose must confront her troubling past in order to survive and escape her horrifying new reality.REVIEWParamount’s SMILE could have been a really silly movie due to its gimmick of smiling demonic faces that reminded me of 2018’s TRUTH OR DARE - a film I never watched but heard so many terrible things about it. But who would have guessed that this horror movie actually has a lot of depth going for it, making me sympathetic towards several of the characters. While the film does focus on these smiling beings, the social commentary on mental health and its perception within the medical community and outside of it hit home for me. As someone who deals with depression and anxiety, as well as having several friends and family take their own lives due to mental illness, SMILE uses a cheesy gimmick to tell a serious story on how this “smile curse” reveals the negative opinions of those dealing with mental issues. Either they’re turned a blind eye by medical professionals who are desensitized, or looked down upon by members of society who don’t understand why anyone would want to help a so-called “crazy” person. If this curse affects someone, they start hallucinating and start losing their minds out of fear and frustration that no one will believe them, taking their life in front of someone after 7 days to pass on the curse to them. And the reason why this supernatural force has continued for so long is because a lot of people don’t want to deal with mentally ill people, looking at them as some kind of burden.Thankfully we have a character we can root for in Dr. Rose Cotter, a professional who cares for her patients and works long hours to make sure her patients don’t share the same fate as her mother, who overdosed on pills in front of her when she was a young girl. Her guilt over her mother’s passing and the negative stigma on mental illness drives her, especially when she’s cursed and must find a way to make people understand what she’s going through so she can stop her affliction. Her life begins to fall apart once she’s cursed. Her psychiatrist thinks she may be harmful to herself. Her fiance pulls away from her. A tragedy at her nephew’s birthday party causes strife between her and her sister, who lives with denial over the past. Her colleagues are concerned for her well being. Her life becomes a mess, which is a cool way of explaining how many with mental illness must go through in their lives if left untreated due to misunderstandings or ignorance from those around them.Besides the social commentary, SMILE’s story is pretty typical for this kind of movie. If you’ve seen other “cursed” movies like THE RING or THE GRUDGE, you’ll be able to follow every single beat in the narrative, right to its predictable conclusion. Thank goodness for a strong social commentary and decently-written characters because there are no real twists or surprises in the story. It’s told well and it’s done well, but there’s nothing narrative wise that stands out from the rest of the pack.Parker Finn’s direction is good. He handles all the tropes well and brings a bit of style and flair to certain shots and transitions. I love how he lingers on the smiling beings, never really cutting away from them to create this unsettling feeling. The violent moments are shot really well and make an impact when they occur. I do think Finn relied too much on jump scares, as SMILE has one like every 5 to 10 minutes. None of them got me, but if they had, I would have probably been immune by the halfway point of the film. But that’s the horror genre for you and I’m sure they worked on some folks.The cast is solid. Sosie Bacon [daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick] is really great as Dr. Rose Cotton. She really carries and drives this film to its success, portraying a likable and compassionate doctor who quickly becomes rattled and erratic once she’s cursed. I definitely want to see more of her because she’s a star. It’s always good to see Kyle Gallner in horror movies [we saw him earlier this year in SCREAM (2022)] and he does well as cop Joel, who helps Rose figure out what’s going on. Whatever the quality of the film, Gallner is always reliable in any role he’s in. Jessie T. Usher does fine as Rose’s fiance, while Gillian Zinzer is nice as Holly, playing a counter perspective against Bacon’s Rose. Always nice to see Kal Penn as well. SMILE has a really good cast who take the story seriously and help give it the depth it needs.THE FINAL HOWLDespite a gimmick that could have gone really badly [looking at you, 2018’s TRUTH OR DARE], SMILE surprises by using its smiling gimmick as an understandable way to depict mental illness within a world that chooses to be ignorant or desensitized by the topic. The film’s social commentary on the perception of mental illness is a strong one, as it allows the audience to sympathize with certain characters and gives the movie a depth you wouldn’t expect from a horror movie like this. It helps when the narrative is carried by strong, willing actors - in particular Sosie Bacon, who hits every emotional beat necessary to get the message across in a believable way despite the supernatural element attached to the film.That being said, SMILE is a film dealing with a curse - meaning if you’ve watched THE RING, THE GRUDGE, or any other similar movie, you’ll predict every beat of the story until it’s expected conclusion. The film also relies too much on jump scares, which become less effective as the film nears the end. However, director Parker Finn has a grasp on what type of movie he’s making, especially when it comes to focusing on the smiling gimmick, which makes the film a bit unsettling as the camera loves to linger on anyone giving an evil smile to the camera. SMILE doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but it’s still a fun time and definitely worth a look during the Halloween season and even after it’s over. 2022 continues to be good to us horror fans.SCORE3 Howls Outta 4(7 out of 10)

Dark Glasses (2022)
DIRECTED BYDario ArgentoSTARRINGIlenia Pastorelli - DianaAsia Argento - RitaAndrea Zhang - ChinAndrea Gherpelli - MatteoMario Pirrello - Chief Inspector AleardiMaria Rosaria Russo - Inspector BajaniGennaro Iaccarino - Inspector BaldacciGenre: Horror/Thriller/Drama/Slasher/GialloRunning Time: 86 MinutesPLOTDiana, a high-class prostitute trying to escape from a serial killer, suffers a car accident that leaves her blind and kills the family of Chin, a ten-year-old boy.REVIEWDARK GLASSES, the newest feature film by Italian horror maestro Dario Argento, was streamed for the first time on Shudder as a surprise screening. It was a welcome surprise, although Argento’s peak has passed him by for decades now. Personally, I feel 1987’s OPERA was the director’s last great movie, even though films like 1996’s THE STENDHAL SYNDROME and 2001’s SLEEPLESS managed to stand out for their high quality amongst the poor films he made since the start of the 1990s. 2012’s DRACULA 3D was just atrocious and probably his lowest point, which made me somewhat weary of DARK GLASSES, his first film as a director in 10 years.But the premise had me intrigued. Not only was DARK GLASSES a film Argento had written in 2002, but it involved a blind character getting mixed up in a giallo involving a serial killer murdering prostitutes in Italy. Argento is great at giallo films. The blind lead character isn’t a new trope in horror, but it’s not one that has done a whole lot in this kind of sub-genre. Considering Shudder was making a huge deal out of this, my hopes were kind of high for this one.Unfortunately, I expected too much out of a new giallo by a man who was a master at making them back in the day. All the elements are there - a gloved and mysterious killer, detectives trying to help a confused and vulnerable victim and nasty murder sequences. But the film never comes together for several reasons.The main culprit is an ironic one - the screenplay that Argento had plotted twenty years ago. The film starts off well. It focuses on Diana, a prostitute who is minding her own business and is trying to survive in Italy. She has some nice and generous clients. She has some creepy ones that should send red flags. Her profession has also made her the target of a killer who has an issue with prostitutes. During her initial encounter with this killer, Diana is driven off the road into another car with an Asian family inside - killing the father, putting the mom into a coma, making the child a temporary orphan and leaving herself blind. While she struggles with her new condition, she learns to cope with it through the help of a blind caretaker named Rita [and a seeing-eye dog named Nerea] who makes her see that she can still live her life, just in a different way. Along the way, the orphaned child Chin attaches himself to Diana and helps her try to survive as the killer plans on finishing the job he started with her.That above paragraph makes DARK GLASSES sound better than it actually is. The first twenty minutes is classic Argento giallo. We establish the main character. We get some gnarly kills - the first one being a knife to the jugular that unleashes a lot of blood. Then the car accident scene is just well-staged and really lands an impact on you at how brutal and sudden it is. Even the first scenes of Diana being blind and having Rita help her as she struggles with her condition are great stuff. But then the narrative just falls off a cliff for whatever reason. When Chin befriends Diana and they struggle with their new dynamic, you should feel more connected to it as an audience. But I didn’t think the two characters really had any chemistry and got annoying the more time they spent together. The characters also make some of the dumbest decisions as they’re being chased and targeted by this killer, making me wonder how bad the killer really was if these protagonists survived as long as they did. The detectives on the scene are also really stupid and it was hard to feel sorry for any of them when bad things happened to them.What really ruined the film for me was the killer’s motive. I won’t spoil it, of course, But really Argento - this was the best you could come up with? I thought it was super weak and made me stop caring about anything that happened after the reveal. I would have taken something really convoluted over the actual lame reason why this killer was targeting these prostitutes. What a disappointing mystery that could have elevated the script.Also, DARK GLASSES is way too short. There’s a lot going on in this film, especially when it focuses on Diana’s adjustment to her blindness and the relationships she makes because of it. Everything feels rushed and edited to a point where things can’t develop properly, making these relationships feel underdeveloped and cold to me. Even the killer is barely a focus in this film, which makes the bad motive even worse because while established, it’s not given enough depth to be anything more than laughable and ridiculous. This is a movie that could have used an extra twenty minutes to really develop plot elements to make for a stronger story. Instead, we get this abridged version of a giallo that should have been better than it actually is.Other than that, the rest of DARK GLASSES is fine. While not as colorful or as stylish as his previous peak work, Argento still manages to show that he still knows how to direct a giallo. The first half, in particular, is his strongest stuff. There’s good tension and mood happening. The first kill is pretty nasty and increased my interest in the movie. The car chase is also well shot and thrilling at times. Even the quieter moments are handled and paced well, making the audience look around to see if the killer is still in stalk mode while Diana has never been more vulnerable. I think the film loses itself in the last half with odd pacing, weird edits, and a flat ending that does no one any favors. But Argento’s work here is better than his last batch of films, to be honest. I just wish he had a better script to work with.The actors are also fine. Ilenia Pastorelli does a good job as Diana, convincingly portraying a woman who struggles with her sudden blindness while trying to escape a murderer. Pastorelli nicely brings about a freedom in her performance at the start, believably changing into a more introverted and frustrated persona once the blindness becomes a factor. I also liked her fear towards the end of the film, as I couldn’t imagine facing a killer blind.The supporting cast does their job as well. In particular, Asia Argento does a nice job in playing Diana’s caretaker and friend, Rita. She doesn’t get to do a whole lot, but she brings a calming presence to the film. Andrea Zhang is okay as Chin, although he gets kind of grating by the end of the film. I know Argento was trying to build this surrogate mother-son dynamic between Pastorelli and Zhang, but I never really bought it as much as the two tried.And special mention goes to Arnaud Rebotini’s score. Originally planned for Daft Punk before they retired, Rebotini provides music that’s loud and thumping. It’s not Goblin, but it fits the film well and adds a cool atmosphere to the film - which it needs.THE FINAL HOWLWhile an improvement over his last works as a director, Dario Argento’s DARK GLASSES still manages to be a disappointment considering all the elements are there to create a memorable giallo. Focusing more on the blind victim and an orphaned child instead of the serial killer who has targeted them and caused this trauma for them is an interesting approach for a giallo, as it should allow the audience to connect on a human level rather than just focus on the mystery and the violence that comes with it. Unfortunately, the screenplay isn’t strong enough to tell that kind of story with characters behaving in ways that make you care less about them as the film rolls on. The movie is also way too short, as it feels like an abridged version of a larger story, editing out all the character development and relationship dynamics needed for an audience to really connect with what they’re watching. And I won’t even mention the ridiculous motive for the villain of the film, which pretty much took me out of the film once it was revealed. I can’t believe Argento thought it was a good move to make.That being said, Argento’s direction [while not anywhere close to his peak] is still pretty good, as some of the murder sequences are gnarly and the car chase scene is shot well. There’s a nice atmosphere and tension that plays throughout, although I do miss the more stylish and colorful films of his past. The actors are fine, especially Ilenia Pastorelli as the lead who struggles with becoming blind due to a killer who has targeted her and continues to do so in her vulnerable state.I love Argento’s giallo films, but DARK GLASSES is a mixed bag for me. But it’s a way better movie than DRACULA 3D, so that’s gotta be worth something at least. Unfulfilled potential, in my opinion.SCORE2 Howls Outta 4(5 out of 10)

Lunar Cycle - September 2022
Since I don’t have as much time to write longer reviews than I used to, I figured I would just post shorter reviews for horror/cult films that I feel deserve your attention.Directed By: Bryan ForbesStarring: Katharine Ross, Paula Prentiss, Nanette Newman, Judith Baldwin, Peter Masterson, Tina LouiseGenre: Horror/Mystery/Science Fiction/ThrillerRunning Time: 117 MinutesPlot: Joanna Eberhart has come to the quaint little town of Stepford, Connecticut with her family, but soon discovers there lies a sinister truth in the all too perfect behavior of the female residents.Review: Based on the Ira Levin novel, THE STEPFORD WIVES remains a relevant piece of social-horror, especially considering what the American Government has done to the rights of women in 2022 alone. The film angered many feminist groups back in the day due to its premise, but THE STEPFORD WIVES is a well-told tale of some men wanting to create a utopian world in which they control women in their own image to maintain their supposed power of the sexes - which is depressing considering how this mentality remains unchanged for a certain group of men in our current social climate. Really only a horror film due to its premise and the haunting final moments of the movie, this drama meanders in the middle portion of the film but still manages to keep you thinking through its strong social commentary. Not a stylish film at all, but the acting makes up for it - especially by lead Katharine Ross and scene-stealing standout Paula Prentiss as the best friend who sees what’s going on until it becomes too late. Score: 3 Howls Outta 4 (7 out of 10)Directed By: Matthew CarnahanStarring: Donnie Wahlberg, Scott Bairstow, Eric Mabius, Chad Lindberg, Dee Wallace, Tara Subkoff, Lisa Loeb, John DoeGenre: Horror/Thriller/CrimeRunning Time: 101 MinutesPlot: A young man moves to a new town after experiencing a tragedy and becomes involved with a gang of Satan-worshiping teens who believe they have supernatural powers. But by the time he realizes he’s in too deep, it may be too late to escape.Review:If you take 1996’s THE CRAFT and add a male slant to it, you get BLACK CIRCLE BOYS - a film based on the true story of Ricky “The Acid King” Kasso, who [with two other teens] murdered his friend under the influence of LSD with many believing he was a Satan worshiper and using the friend as a sacrifice for power. If only the film itself was that interesting, as it’s barely a horror movie and more of a crime-drama with unlikable lead characters that will make you wish some evil power would just sacrifice all of them so we wouldn’t have to watch them for 100 minutes. The film looks cheap and is paced so slow and languid that you’ll end up caring about anything else but this movie. The performances, especially by Scott Bairstow, Eric Mabius and Chad Lindberg are solid enough to keep your attention somewhat. And besides funny cameos by Donnie Wahlberg playing a gay drug dealer and Lisa Loeb played an angry woman named “Angry Woman”, there’s not much going on here. And I won’t even mention one of the worst endings I have ever seen for any film in any genre. Make a wish to Manon to forget this movie even exists and just watch THE CRAFT again. Score: 1.5 Howls Outta 4 (4 out of 10)Directed By: Takashi Miike Starring: Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Tamaki MiyazakiGenre: Horror/Comedy/MusicalRunning Time: 113 MinutesPlot: The Katakuri family has just opened their guest house in the mountains. Unfortunately their first guest commits suicide and in order to avoid trouble they decide to bury him in the backyard. Things get way more complicated when their second guest, a famous sumo wrestler, dies while having sex with his underage girlfriend and the grave behind the house starts to fill up more and more.Review:The HAUSU of the early 2000s, THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS is a surreal and odd horror-musical that you won’t forget after watching it. Focusing on a dysfunctional family who run a motel in the middle of nowhere, they receive guests who check in but unfortunately don’t check out due to them randomly dying in different ways. While the narrative is amusing and escalates as the film reaches its end [how many bodies can one family bury in a single location], the movie is really focused on Takashi Miike’s visual style and musical compositions that will undoubtedly put a smile on your face. Stop-motion animation, cartoonish and green screen images [including a cool volcano scene] bring out the playfulness to hide a pretty dark narrative. The actors all bring something different and really seem to be into their roles, making the film as fun to watch as them being in it. Plus, I’m down for any movie that involves dancing zombies and musical numbers that make me feel like I’m on an acid trip that I don’t want to bring myself out of. I’ll also never see an uvula the same way again, so thanks for that, Mr. Miike. But seriously, if you enjoy batshit insane movies that playfully blend horror with funny musical numbers, THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS fits the bill. Score: 3.5 Howls Outta 4 (9 out of 10)Directed By: Rob ZombieStarring: Jeff Daniel Phillips, Sheri Moon Zombie, Daniel Roebuck, Jorge Garcia, Richard Brake, Cassandra PetersonGenre: Horror/Comedy/FantasyRunning Time: 110 MinutesPlot: Herman and Lily’s crazy courtship takes The Munsters on a hauntingly hilarious trip from Transylvania to Hollywood.Review:After that trailer failed to make any sort of positive perception, Rob Zombie’s take on THE MUNSTERS was a film I wasn’t really looking forward to despite the fact that I like his movies more than most in the horror community. Learning that the movie would go straight to Netflix [as well as home video and digital] instead of theaters was also a sign for the worst. Yet despite the majority of negative takes on the film, which is not surprising considering who the director is, I decided to take a chance on it and fear for the worst. And while I don’t think THE MUNSTERS is a good movie, I don’t think it’s as bad as many are claiming it to be.The good stuff out of the way - Zombie is still a very good, stylish director who definitely has an aesthetic and style that pleases the eye. While many critiqued the film for looking cheap, it didn’t bother me since the original TV series looked cheap anyway. I liked the colors of the film [the greens and blues pop out nicely] and the music video style of certain segments [actors in the foreground with wacky graphics behind them] is pretty cool. I also thought the added film grain after-the-fact [the film was obviously filmed digitally] was a nice touch.The actors are also game for whatever Zombie wants them to do. Daniel Roebuck is the standout as The Count, really embodying that character. Jeff Daniel Phillips has the Herman Munster mannerisms and his laugh down, but his voice was a bit off for me. Sheri Moon Zombie was gonna play Lily Munster no matter what and she’s fine, even if her one note performance becomes quite dull by the end of the film. I also enjoyed Richard Brake not playing a scumbag for once in an against-type role.As for the rest, what a mess. THE MUNSTERS barely has a story, if you can call it that. The first half of the film deals with Herman and Lily’s courtship, which is the strongest aspect to the narrative. It could have made for a good hour-long TV special or something that we could watch during Halloween season. But unfortunately, there’s 50 more minutes that just meander through moments needed to lead into the family living at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Zombie should have gotten a screenwriter or two because some of the dialogue is a bit cringe and the dad jokes don’t always land or are mostly unfunny. I get the TV show is camp and cheese, but I felt Zombie tried too hard with a lot of it. His heart was in the right place as a true fan of the source material, but sometimes that’s not enough to make a project worth recommending as an annual watch.I think if Zombie was just hired as a director and let people he trusted to write the story, THE MUNSTERS could have been a winner. But the film was a good first half and a pretty dull second half mainly due to its screenplay. That being said, I don’t think it’s his worst film [that would still be 2016’s 31]. But I don’t see myself taking the time out to watch this again, which is unfortunate because this could have built a cool updated franchise for beloved characters.Score: 2 Howls Outta 4 (5 out of 10)

Pearl (2022)
DIRECTED BYTi WestSTARRINGMia Goth - PearlDavid Corenswet - The ProjectionistTandi Wright - RuthMatthew Sunderland - Pearl’s FatherEmma Jenkins-Purro - MitzyAlistair Sewell - HowardGenre - Horror/Thriller/DramaRunning Time - 102 MinutesPLOTTrapped on her family’s isolated farm, Pearl must tend to her ailing father under the bitter and overbearing watch of her devout mother. Lusting for a glamorous life like she’s seen in the movies, Pearl’s ambitions, temptations, and repressions all collide, in the stunning, technicolor-inspired origin story of X’s iconic villain.REVIEWTi West impressed many earlier in the year with his return to horror with X, an obvious homage to 1974’s THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and 1977’s EATEN ALIVE with a more sexually liberated and repressed twist. Considering all the good horror we’ve gotten so far in 2022, X still remains the standout because it came out of nowhere and pushed a lot of the right buttons for audiences to remember it and to continue going back to it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on many Top 10 Horror Lists for 2022.The real surprise came after the end credits of X, where a trailer for a prequel called PEARL was revealed with X star, Mia Goth. Filmed secretly at the same time as X, Ti West made PEARL as a way to expand the X universe by explaining Pearl’s justifications for her strange behavior in X, while showcasing Mia Goth’s talents in a bigger role. PEARL was an automatic must watch in my personal opinion, considering how much I enjoyed X. Learning more about any of those characters grabbed my attention right away and I really looked forward to this prequel. Those expecting a repeat of X will probably be disappointed by PEARL. This prequel is pretty much the antithesis of what Ti West did before, making PEARL its own thing while connecting it to X. In fact, I think the existence of PEARL actually makes X a better film, given that we can now understand the villains’ motivations in that film in a more sympathetic light, although their actions were still horrific. PEARL is not a pointless film just to create a movie universe, but a window to the character of Pearl’s soul to provide the audience answers to many questions asked in the previous film. I think it was a smart storytelling and business move that will increase the rewatchability of X.Unlike the Tobe Hooper inspirations of X, PEARL is Ti West’s demented vision of THE WIZARD OF OZ. And by that, I mean Dororthy Gale didn’t wish for somewhere over the rainbow, losing her mind being stuck in Kansas and failing at any chance of going from a black and white world to a colored one. Pearl wants to be a movie star, feeling she has the talent to make it to the big time. Unfortunately, she’s stuck being an army wife on her parents’ farm, having to take care of her invalid father with her strict mother. It doesn’t help when there’s a pandemic going on, making Pearl’s mother so cautious and paranoid that her demand for control pushes Pearl to the edge.PEARL is a character study on a young woman trying to break the chains that life has contained her in, forcing her to do malicious things to escape reality. While Pearl does bad things to get her way, her situation helps us understand why she behaves the way she does and why she does the things she does. Her reality and her dreams for a better life clash in every way, making her crack mentally and emotionally until it’s too late for everyone involved. Her mother always berates Pearl for having dreams, feeling Pearl is ungrateful for what she has provided for her - even though Pearl catches her mother crying in her sleep, showing that the two are very much alike emotionally. Pearl’s father is a burden to his illness, making her mother bitter and Pearl making attempts to end his life as a way to move on. Even when Pearl’s in-laws want to help the family out with food and other goodies, her mother is too proud to take charity as well as being afraid of whatever germs the in-laws may have. It’s a messed up situation for everyone involved, which makes you realize this won’t end well at all.It doesn’t get any better when Pearl goes to a movie theater [using her mother’s money, which isn’t much] and meets the projectionist of the theater. He’s charming, handsome and tells her all the things Pearl wants to hear. The Projectionist builds upon Pearl’s dreams and aspirations for a better life by escaping her farm by promising her trips to Europe and making her believe she can become a big star anywhere in the world. Also being sexually repressed due to her husband fighting in World War I and not knowing whether he’s dead or alive, Pearl sleeps with the Projectionist, making her clingy due to finally feeling wanted again. When the Projectionist is turned off by some of her behavior, Pearl lashes out and creates more trouble for herself. Not only is Pearl’s story a sad one, but it also explains her behavior in X and creates a level of sympathy one didn’t have for the character before. If I did have any issues in the narrative, I do wish more was done with the pandemic subplot. Considering we’re still dealing with one now, it would have been interesting to see characters dealing with the subject more. Also, the tone can be all over the place. For every serious moment, it’s sometimes undermined by comedy. I get why that’s done because the humorous aspects create a bit of relief from the tension for the audience. But sometimes it gets to a point where you want to laugh at PEARL rather than laugh with PEARL. The balance between horror and comedy is always a slippery slope and I do think Ti West manages to successfully handle it for most of the film. But if a serious, horrific moment plays out that ends with some sort of punchline that takes away all the emotion from that moment, how am I supposed to really feel about what I just saw? I respect the hell out of Ti West for not only filming two films back-to-back in secret, but making both of them so much different from the other. PEARL is a much livelier movie than X in terms of its visual presentation. Unlike the gritty and grindhouse look of X, PEARL is a homage to Technicolor movies with its saturated colors and beautiful landscapes. I loved that the interiors of Pearl’s home looked more muted than all the exteriors, really capturing Pearl’s emotional state and her outlook on her reality compared to her potential escape.West also showcases various homages to other films in PEARL. I already mentioned THE WIZARD OF OZ, as the film mostly takes place on a farm. She also rides a bicycle into town like Dorothy would. Pearl even encounters a scarecrow in a very memorable scene that will definitely become a discussion point. The tense dinner scenes throughout the film remind me of 1976’s CARRIE, as Pearl and her mother argue over what’s best for Pearl, with Pearl wanting to try out for a dance trope so she can have a better life while her mother forbids it. There’s thunder and lightning and even a physical confrontation between the two that reminds me of that Last Supper scene in the film. There’s also a slow motion and split screen scene later in the film that’s pure Brian de Palma. And as Pearl becomes more murderous, she envokes Joan Crawford in 1964’s STRAIT-JACKET. And surprisingly, this all works and feels cohesive, adding depth to Pearl’s character and the world she lives in.The cast is also wonderful. Tandi Wright is great as the overbearing and strict mother that conflicts with Pearl’s more free-spirited persona. Matthew Sunderland uses his facial expressions in effective ways as Pearl’s father. David Corenswet is suave and smooth as The Projectionist, as Corenswet definitely looks like an actor who would have been a huge star in Old Hollywood. Emma Jenkins-Purro is endearing and perky as Southern Belle Mitzy. But PEARL belongs entirely to Mia Goth, who also co-wrote the film with Ti West to bring the character to life and explain her behavior in X. Goth captures your attention throughout. You root for her when she portrays Pearl chasing her dreams. You feel bad for her when she grows frustrated when those around her refuse to understand her. And you get a demented kick out of Goth when she takes Pearl to that devious level as she’s taking out anyone who stands in way of her dreams. Goth becomes more riveting as the film nears the end, where Goth just vents in a six-minute monologue. Then there’s the closing shot where Pearl just forces a smile at the camera during the end credits, losing the strength to keep it up and showing how sad and miserable she is behind her happy demeanor. If PEARL was any other genre but horror, I could easily see Goth being noticed for an Academy Award. She’s amazing in the film.THE FINAL HOWLWhether the film needed to be made or not, Ti West’s PEARL is another win for the writer-director in 2022. While X is the more exciting feature and will probably please more mainstream audiences with its direct and familiar approach, PEARL helps compliment X by developing an interesting backstory for that film’s main villain. Mia Goth’s performance is top notch, embodying the character’s flaws and quirks perfectly, making us root for her and feel sorry for her despite her character’s malevolent and twisted behavior. Ti West has created a twisted version of THE WIZARD OF OZ where Dororthy never gets to see that somewhere over the rainbow, growing more disturbed and delusional the longer she stays on that farm. The beautiful Technicolor homage, slo-mo and split screen editing that invokes Brian de Palma, and that telling final close-up on Goth’s face shows a filmmaker who knows exactly what he’s doing in creating this mini-universe. While I wish some narrative beats were stronger or went deeper than they did, as I also wish the tone would have stayed a bit more consistent at times, PEARL is a worthy prequel that fans of West and X should definitely check out. Hopefully West and Goth can go 3-for-3 with MAXXXINE in 2023.SCORE3 Howls Outta 4

House of Usher (1960)
DIRECTED BYRoger CormanSTARRINGVincent Price - Roderick UsherMark Damon - Philip WinthropMyrna Fahey - Madeline UsherHarry Ellerbe - BristolGenre - Horror/DramaRunning Time - 79 MinutesPLOTAfter a long journey, Philip arrives at the Usher mansion seeking his loved one, Madeline. Upon arriving, however, he discovers that Madeline and her brother Roderick Usher have been afflicted with a mysterious malady: Roderick’s senses have become painfully acute, while Madeline has become catatonic. That evening, Roderick tells his guest of an old Usher family curse: any time there has been more than one Usher child, all of the siblings have gone insane and died horrible deaths. As the days wear on, the effects of the curse reach their terrifying climax.REVIEWYou can’t do the Halloween season without Vincent Price, which is why I decided to watch something of his that I hadn’t seen in a long while. 1960’s HOUSE OF USHER was the first of Roger Corman’s films starring Vincent Price based on literature by Edgar Allan Poe. A prolific B-movie producer prior to this, HOUSE OF USHER is really the start of Corman receiving tons of accolades and respect as a filmmaker, as he treats the source material seriously and pretty faithfully.Corman was inspired by Hammer Films’ success with their CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA films, as well as Mario Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY of the same year. Wanting to come near to that quality, Corman begged American International Pictures for a sizable budget and the ability to film in color, as all previously produced films were in black and white. While AIP denied this request at first since they were in the monster business, Corman had to convince the studio that the house where the story takes place was the villain of the story. Seeing that Richard Matheson would co-write the story and Vincent Price [THE horror star at the time] would be attached, AIP took a gamble that would eventually pay off for everyone involved.Adapting Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”, one of the author’s most famous stories, would be quite the task for Corman and Matheson. As many of Poe’s readers know, a lot of Poe’s works are in first person and lack any sort of backstory, focused on the present and how the narrator feels within that time frame. Other adaptations were written for stage and film prior to Corman’s project, but I feel the 1960 film is its strongest adaptation that fleshes out Poe’s work in the visual way that was intended. The narrator of the story is finally given a name [Philip Winthrop]. Roderick and Madeline Usher are now siblings instead of lovers. And since the Poe story has no real internal conflict, Matheson creates a sort of struggle between the two men over Madeline. Winthrop is now Madeline’s fiancee, who wants to take Madeline out of this mansion that’s apparently cursed to anyone named Usher. Roderick wants to get rid of Winthrop to keep Madeline in the home to protect her as long as possible, creating a weird incestuous relationship between the siblings that’s strongly implied. The rest of Poe’s story plays out as written, with the house being the antagonist that will destroy anyone connected to the Usher bloodline due to past crimes that created some sort of sentient evil as punishment for future descendants. It’s a pretty simple story that is greatly helped by the soap opera between the three main characters, due to Matheson fleshing them out and creating a more thrilling scenario that will still lead to the same unhappy ending for everyone involved.Corman directs the film really well, as the stage-like set design creates an intimate feel for HOUSE OF USHER to its benefit. The look of the film and the way it’s filmed does resemble that of a Hammer film, obviously showing Corman’s inspiration on this Poe adaptation. Corman creates a gloomy mood throughout the film, simmering until the movie reaches its thrilling final act where the house begins to physically get revenge on the characters as it crumbles down and fire engulfs the entire scene. Special mention must go to cinematographer Floyd Crosby for making the sets look grander and richer than they probably were. And to production designer Daniel Haller for capturing the look of the Usher House, with its gothic and Victorian creepiness surrounded by dead looking trees and fog. It’s a great looking flick for 1960’s horror. Money well spent.The cast is fine as well. Mark Damon comes across as a bit bland and dry at times as Winthrop, although his portrayal of annoyance at times does give the actor a bit of a personality that’s much needed. Myrna Fahey is pretty stoic most of the time as well, although she gets to have more fun during the film’s final moments in an energetic turn in her character of Madeline.But seriously, HOUSE OF USHER belongs to one man and one man only - Vincent Price. Better known for his campy and melodramatic performances, Price does a 180 and portrays a more subtle and nuanced performance as Roderick. Instead of hamming it up to entertain the audience, Price allows himself to brood within his role, giving a more tortured and somewhat obsessive performance that makes you question his character. Is Roderick wanting to get rid of Winthrop to protect him from Madeline’s curse within the house? Is Roderick trying to eliminate the competition because he’s in love with his own sister? Is it both? We’re never really sure because Price plays it close to the vest. And thankfully Price is onscreen for much of the film’s runtime because his charisma overshadows the rest of the cast and carries the film to its success. It’s no surprise he would appear in more of these Poe adaptations because he’s the best part about them. The man is an icon for a reason.THE FINAL HOWL1960’s HOUSE OF USHER doesn’t reinvent the wheel, even for its time. But it’s still a great Edgar Allan Poe adaptation that proves Roger Corman’s strength as a horror filmmaker and businessman, as well as a memorable and charismatic performance by horror icon Vincent Price in one of his finest roles. The changes made to the adaptation’s narrative strengthen the story, adding in much needed internal conflict that was missing in Poe’s original work. Corman’s inspired direction to make an American horror film to resemble a Hammer Film works to the film’s favor, as the film carries a mood of dread from beginning to end through its beautifully Gothic set locations. As for the cast, Price overshadows everyone else on screen with him, even though the other actors are decent, if not a bit dry and bland compared to the horror icon. Still, HOUSE OF USHER is a recommended watch during the Halloween season - as Corman, Price and Poe make for a wonderful combination this time of year.SCORE3 Howls Outta 4(8 out of 10)

Barbarian (2022)
DIRECTED BYZach CreggerSTARRINGGeorgina Campbell - TessBill Skarsgard - KeithJustin Long - AJRichard Brake - FrankGenre: Horror/ThrillerRunning Time: 102 MinutesPLOTIn town for a job interview, a young woman arrives at her Airbnb late at night only to find that it has been mistakenly double-booked and a strange man is already staying there. Against her better judgment, she decides to stay the night anyway, but soon discovers that there is much more to be afraid of in the house than the other house guest.REVIEW2022’s BARBARIAN is a film I barely knew anything about before seeing it in theaters opening day. I may have watched a TV spot once or twice, but didn’t really pay attention besides learning that both Bill Skarsgard and Justin Long were in it. To my surprise, not only did I learn this film was written and directed by Zach Cregger [of The Whitest Kids ‘U Know and MISS MARCH fame], but BARBARIAN had a strong word-of-mouth. So considering we’re in the middle of 61 Days of Halloween, I went to a theater and gave the film a shot. And I’m glad I did because this film is definitely a horror surprise for 2022.The less you know about BARBARIAN, the better. The narrative is inspired by other films, like THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS for example. So you expect certain things to happen because the story feels familiar at the start. But then it turns on the tropes we’re accustomed to, taking the audience through twists no one could see coming. Then we learn the film is really three different stories/perspectives in one, all coming together quite nicely in the last twenty minutes. While I think the last part of the film was kind of lame and derivative, like no one really knew how to end the film in a way that matched the cleverness of everything prior to it, the rest of BARBARIAN is solid and a lot of fun. Plus, the film does have commentaries on things in our modern society that I wish were explored more, especially in the last half of the movie. The film takes place in a desolate town in Detroit with a minority lead actress, if that tells you what kind of topics are brought up. But other than that, there’s some twisted and disturbing stuff going on in this film at times, which makes going in blind a fun ride.The direction by Cregger really surprised me, considering he’s not really known for horror. But certain visual effects are strikingly effective and creepy. And the way Cregger paces the film and introduces characters help build atmosphere and mood throughout. During the first half of the film, my anxiety was going up at times because there was so much tension on screen, I was just waiting for something major to happen with the characters on screen. There are also moments of humor that actually work, plus some of the jump scares did get me because of the tension building to them. The uses of light versus shadow are done really well and the use of the locations are visualized well to increase the mystery of what’s really going on. Like I mentioned, I thought the last part of the film felt derivative and the direction didn’t really help there. But overall, I want to see Cregger direct more horror films because he’s pretty damn good at it.The actors are all solid. Georgina Campbell is great as the well-meaning and intelligent Tess, making the audience want to know more about her as the film rolls on. Bill Skarsgard is an inspired casting choice as Keith, considering his iconic role as Pennywise in the recent IT movies. He’s so good playing a creepy villain, it makes you wonder if he’s about to do the same in BARBARIAN. He’s great in his role. Justin Long also brings comic relief as cocky actor AJ, a guy dealing with things that make him less sympathetic as we know more about him. And Richard Brake plays another creepy serial killer type, doing it well as always.THE FINAL HOWLBARBARIAN is quite a pleasant surprise, considering I barely knew anything about this horror film prior to taking a chance on it this weekend due to word-of-mouth. Using three different perspectives to tell a single straightforward story, the film takes you for a ride as it builds tension and suspense with the use of twists and turns that will change your expectations of certain horror tropes being followed. Director Zach Cregger proves that he’s a very good horror director, focusing on mood and atmosphere to raise the tension and suspense level of his movie. The actors, especially Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgard and Justin Long, all provide solid performances. I do think the last portion of the film fell flat and got a bit too campy. Plus, the use of social commentaries on gender and minorities in a city like Detroit are interesting, but I wish more was done with it. But overall, BARBARIAN is a film worth seeing if you’re in the mood to watch something new during this Halloween season. The less you know about it, the better.SCORE3 Howls Outta 4(8 out of 10)

Eyes Without a Face [Les yeux sans visage] (1960)
DIRECTED BYGeorges Franju STARRINGPierre Brasseur - Doctor GénessierEdith Scob - Christiane GénessierAlida Valli - LouiseFrancois Guerin - Jacques VernonJuliette Mayniel - Edna GrüberAlexandre Rignault - Inspector ParotBeatrice Altariba - Paulette MérodonGenre - Thriller/Horror/DramaRunning Time - 84 MinutesPLOTDr. Génessier is riddled with guilt after an accident that he caused disfigures the face of his daughter, the once beautiful Christiane, who outsiders believe is dead. Dr. Génessier, along with accomplice and laboratory assistant Louise, kidnaps young women and brings them to the Génessier mansion. After rendering his victims unconscious, Dr. Génessier removes their faces and attempts to graft them onto Christiane’s.REVIEWA classic piece of French horror, 1960’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE is not usually spoken of in the same breath as other films of the time, such as PSYCHO, DIABOLIQUE or even PEEPING TOM. But the film has inspired just as many films as the previously mentioned films, including a badass Billy Idol song of the same name in the 1980s. You also wouldn’t have had 1997’s FACE/OFF, as well as Jess Franco’s THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF, which makes EYES WITHOUT A FACE essential horror watching.Inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, EYES WITHOUT A FACE focuses on Dr. Génessier who is guilt ridden over an accident that has disfigured his daughter’s face terribly. Christiane, who had a whole life including a fiancee, is considered dead and kept hidden inside of her father’s mansion until a successful face transplant can be done. Unfortunately, Génessier’s idea is an unproven and experimental one, meaning the only way he can figure it out properly is by kidnapping women [with the help of his assistant Louise] who look like his daughter, drug them, and then peel their faces off and graft them onto Christiane, hoping the skin doesn’t rot on his daughter’s face. These acts, unfortunately, gain the attention of the local police who believe they have a serial killer on their hands. EYES WITHOUT A FACE wears many different hats. It’s a body horror film before that really became a thing. It’s a police procedural. It’s also a family drama and haunted house story. The real tragedy comes from the facial transplants, as it affects many people involved in the process. The most obvious ones are the victims, who are charmed by Louise before getting drugged by her and having their faces surgically removed in a grotesque way. Dr. Génessier doesn’t care about these women, bandaging their skinless faces and allowing them to wake up to realize what has happened to them. Judging by the narrative, these victims are either murdered or end up killing themselves out of fear and emotional pain.Génessier is both a villain and a victim because his guilt over what has happened to Christiane has turned him from a father who wants to help his daughter look beautiful again, to a man who who sees that a successful facial graft will make him the most successful surgeon in the world, meaning big bucks. He’s too obsessed with greed and pride to realize that his daughter is suffering no matter what. The experiments on her are taking their toll mentally and emotionally. She’s convinced that faking her death is best since she’s not beautiful anymore, forcing her to move around her mansion and the exteriors as some sort of ghost who is trying to release herself out of Limbo. And even if the graft is successful, how does she explain to her fiancee and her friends that she looks like one of the girls who was found dead without getting herself and her father in trouble? How could she have a normal life wearing a dead woman’s face? Each one of the characters long for something, which goes awry once all this longing intersects with all the others.Having not watched EYES WITHOUT A FACE in a while, I forgot how gruesome the facial surgery and transplant was. For a film from 1960, this must have horrified audiences to see this type of body horror play out on screens. Director Georges Franju really takes his time with the scene, letting us see exactly what’s playing out before transitioning into another scene as the skin is being peeled off of the victim’s face. It’s a great special effect for its time and shows what an influence this film has had on later filmmakers, such as David Cronenberg and Stuart Gordon. Speaking of Franju, he does an impeccable job creating a thick layer of mood and atmosphere in this film. Nothing in this film feels hopeful or cheerful. There’s always a feeling of dread and bleakness surrounding the characters and the location they’re in. Eugen Shuftan's fantastic cinematography captures a beautiful, clean and haunting picture that you’re just captivated looking at. Even the film’s “hopeful” ending seems almost depressing, considering a happy conclusion to a certain character’s story doesn’t seem as likely. I also find it interesting that while the police procedural builds tension and suspense as the film nears its end, both filmmakers are more focused on the macabre experiments and Christiane’s lurking throughout her home as some uneasy spirit trying to find a way out. The direction is also complimented by the musical score, which sounds like it could be from a carnival at times, adding to the disturbing nature of the film’s narrative.The actors all play their parts wonderfully. But the two standouts are Pierre Brasseur as Doctor Génessier and Edith Scob as Christiane Génessier. Brasseur plays his Doctor as stoic and cold to everyone. Even when his character is trying to show affection to Louise and Christiane, it still comes off as icy, making one unsure what his true feelings and intentions are. I also love his acting when things start falling apart for his character, as he keeps it cool on the surface but you know the dam is ready to burst internally. Scob doesn’t get a lot of dialogue or even a whole lot to do compared to other actors. But she has an alluring presence about her whenever she appears on screen, especially through her body language and her big expressive eyes. You can see the pain, confusion and torment in her character, making her captivating to watch.THE FINAL HOWLA film probably ahead of its time, EYES WITHOUT A FACE is a French horror classic due to its subtlety and its poetic narrative that hits on greed, vanity, and the longing need to feel seen and respected despite the consequences that’ll follow. The film doesn’t get mentioned a whole lot in modern horror circles, despite the influence it has left on slasher films [the main character hidden under a blank white mask], body horror films [the graphic face transplant scene that probably scarred many audiences back in 1960] and even a hit song for Billy Idol. Director Georges Franju and cinematographer Eugen Shuftan capture a mood and atmosphere that captures a feeling of dread and unhappiness throughout, building tension and suspense as the characters get too deep in their selfish crimes, leaving only victims [themselves included] in their wake. The actors are all wonderful, but Pierre Brasseur as the stoic and cold Doctor Génessier and Edith Scob as his haunting and tragic daughter Christiane stand out and carry this masterpiece. In particular Scob, who doesn’t say or do much but is such a haunting presence through her body language, that you’re just captivated by her every time she appears. EYES WITHOUT A FACE is a hauntingly beautiful movie that will stay with you long after it’s over.SCORE3.5 Howls Outta 4

Orphan: First Kill (2022)
DIRECTED BYWilliam Brent BellSTARRINGIsabelle Fuhrman - Esther Albright / Leena Klammer Julia Stiles - Tricia AlbrightRossif Sutherland - Allen AlbrightHiro Kanagawa - Inspector DonnanMatthew Finlan - Gunnar AlbrightSamantha Walkes - Dr. SegarGenre - Horror/ThrillerRunning Time - 99 MinutesPLOTAfter escaping from an Estonian psychiatric facility, Leena Klammer travels to America by impersonating Esther, the missing daughter of a wealthy family. But when her mask starts to slip, she is put against a mother who will protect her family from the murderous “child” at any cost.REVIEWConsidering ORPHAN was released in theaters back in 2009, I was surprised that not only a new ORPHAN film was in production, but that it would also be a prequel with the same young actress now 13 years older. While I was curious enough to want to see what eventually would become ORPHAN: FIRST KILL, I also kept asking myself if a prequel to ORPHAN was even necessary. ORPHAN isn’t a horror film that a whole lot of people were talking about until the new film, even if it did do well enough at the box office. And considering how that film ended, it was obvious that the movie wasn’t meant to create a franchise for future installments. But then early reviews came out and the movie was being praised for some clever things within the narrative, while keeping expectations low to make it known that it wasn’t as good as the first film. Those reviews got me a bit more excited for the project, especially when it was decided to do a day-and-date release with Paramount Plus. While movies going straight to streaming used to be seen as a bad thing, there have been some good films that were exclusive to streaming platforms, making me hopeful that ORPHAN: FIRST KILL would join that group. So yes, this prequel is nowhere as good as the 2009 film. But considering the lengths the filmmakers went to in order to make this feel like a prequel, considering the main actress is now 13 years old playing an even younger version of herself, ORPHAN: FIRST KILL has no right being as good as it is.ORPHAN: FIRST KILL is one of those movies that’s hard to review, especially in terms of its narrative, due to a major twist midway though the film. Like the first film, the twist really changes how the film is presented. Before the twist, this prequel is pretty standard in what one would expect narratively. You see villainous Leena in a mental institution, causing a whole lot of trouble. Through stupidity by some of the supporting characters, she escapes and takes the identity of a little girl since that’s basically her gimmick.Here, we learn where the Esther persona from the first film comes from. Apparently, Esther was a missing child who resembles Leena, making sure to get attention from the family who is looking for her in order to live a new life outside of the institution. While the family does seem happy to have her, some grow suspicious when Leena can’t remember certain things or people, or just behaves in a way that the real Esther wouldn’t previously. At this point, you’re just waiting for Leena to screw things up to a point where she has to defend herself and hurt this family she manipulated herself into, especially considering a local detective is trying to find clues as to how Esther was suddenly found so easily and her strange behavior to everyone around her.It’s pretty common storytelling for a prequel like this. That is, until the twist midway through the movie that changes everything about ORPHAN: FIRST KILL. I usually see twists coming a mile away in these types of films, but this one threw me for a loop when it presented itself. While the first half was pretty pedestrian, the second half is where the film really takes off and gives itself a reason for existing to begin with. The drama increases. The tension and atmosphere get thicker. With this new information, you’re just waiting for the dam to burst. It’s done so well and the change in narrative is so bonkers, that you actually start to feel sympathy for a character who, before, wouldn’t or shouldn’t get any. It changes the complete dynamic of this sequel and I lived for it every second. While the conclusion is very predictable considering this is a prequel, the ride getting there is more fun than it has any right to be.The direction by William Brent Bell isn’t as good or as dynamic as Jaume Collet-Serra’s from the original film. Bell’s vision isn’t as stylish, or as thrilling as Collet-Serra’s work on ORPHAN. The use of CGI and body doubles to de-age Isabelle Fuhrman mostly works, especially since the film is filtered and lit in a certain way to soften the CGI work here. There’s nothing really visually inventive about Bell’s work here, but he maintains a nice pace and lets the twists in the film’s narrative drive the film and set the different tones that actually benefit each act of ORPHAN: FIRST KILL. Is the film a horror movie? A B-movie? A comedy? Yes, it is. And it oddly works.The actors are good, in particular both Isabelle Fuhrman and Julia Stiles in their respective roles. Despite being over a decade older, Fuhrman still captures the evil and manipulative essence of Esther as if she never left. Julia Stiles is probably even better, playing a distressed and complicated mother who is suspicious of Esther. While Fuhrman has a more restrained performance, Stiles really lets it all out and manages to have some of the best moments in the film. I thought the two actresses played really well against each other. Rossif Sutherland is pretty much a repeat of the father character in ORPHAN but less interesting, unfortunately. Matthew Finlan is more interesting as the teenage son, Gunnar. His layers peel off as the film runs on, giving Finlan some nice beats to play with. Not a bad cast, but Fuhrman and Stiles carry this film to levels far more entertaining than I was expecting.THE FINAL HOWLAfter 13 years since the first film’s release, I was not expecting ORPHAN: FIRST KILL to be as good and as fun as it is. While this prequel starts out pretty pedestrian, the plot twist midway into the film changes the narrative completely, taking the audience on a tense filled and insane ride to its predictable ending. The twist turns a pretty standard horror film into B-movie gold that doesn’t fail to be entertaining. While the direction by William Brent Bell isn’t anything to talk about, despite doing what it needs to do visually, the use of de-aging CGI and body doubles for the Esther character are used well for the most part. And actresses Isabelle Fuhrman and Julia Stiles carry the film from beginning to end, giving multi-layered performances that get pretty interesting as the film rolls on. I’m really surprised how much I enjoyed ORPHAN: FIRST KILL, as this prequel has no right being as entertaining as it is. I wouldn’t be opposed to a future installment if this movie is successful enough.SCORE3 Howls Outta 4(7 out of 10)

The WTF? Worst Films Extravaganza Presents: The Happening (2008)
DIRECTED BYM. Night ShyamalanSTARRINGMark Wahlberg - Elliot MooreZooey Deschanel - Alma MooreJohn Leguizamo - JulianAshlyn Sanchez - JessBetty Buckley - Mrs. JonesSpencer Breslin - JoshRobert Bailey Jr. - JaredGenre - Horror/Thriller/Mystery/Drama/Science FictionRunning Time - 91 MinutesPLOTWhen a deadly airborne virus threatens to wipe out the northeastern United States, teacher Elliott Moore (Mark Wahlberg) and his wife (Zooey Deschanel) flee from contaminated cities into the countryside in a fight to discover the truth. Is it terrorism, the accidental release of some toxic military bio weapon – or something even more sinister?REVIEWI’m not going to go too deep into M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 critical disaster THE HAPPENING, which is considered by many to be one of the worst films of the 21st century. You have all seen the memes. There are videos and articles written about why this film is looked down upon. The movie is not good for many reasons - which is disappointing considering the subject matter is quite interesting and could have led to a stronger and better film if executed right.The central theme of THE HAPPENING is probably the best part of the film, even if Shyamalan has no clue how to tell it in a convincing way. Instead of making it a tense mystery as to why bad things are happening, Shyamalan wastes no time in telling us what’s going on - it’s the plants releasing toxins into the air that makes people lose all sense of themselves to the point of the quickest suicide possible. The wind is constantly a threat to the characters, making them fearful of even going outside in large groups. Characters talk to plants, both real or fake, to show that they’re not a threat to nature. Characters attempt to hypothesize in scientific ways as to what is triggering this phenomenon in the eastern part of the United States. There’s a social commentary being told here by Shyamalan, but he just doesn’t know how to make it resonate in a serious way.The idea of airborne toxins feels more relevant now, considering COVID, Monkeypox and whatever new viruses are threatening our livelihood currently. Characters are afraid because they don’t understand, even if they think they do. Being in large groups only seems to quicken the threat. Not only are the plants trying to kill people, but so are other people who believe others are carrying the virus and will accidentally give it to them. It’s political. It’s social. This commentary that our destruction of nature has led to climate change and global warming is something that’s still debated about nowadays. These are topics that need to be addressed in a meaningful way, but you won’t find it anywhere in THE HAPPENING.While I’m still on the positive spectrum, I will commend the cinematography. The picture does look really nice and there is some interesting style and shot scales going on here. And the first 15 to 20 minutes of the movie are pretty strong considering the downturn the film takes right after. We see people sticking hairpins into their necks, construction workers jumping off high areas, a domino effect of people taking a cop’s gun and shooting themselves, and so on. There’s even a cool lawn mower demise, as well as a pretty shocking shotgun dummy whammy that takes out two teenagers, which is pretty rare for a horror film. There’s some good stuff going on here. So what happened?Apparently, Shyamalan wanted THE HAPPENING to be a homage to the B-movies of the 1950s, in particular 1958’s THE BLOB. The characters would be a little bit kooky, the threat would stem from a realistic place within the social culture at the time, and it would be a silly rollercoaster ride from start to end. The problem with this idea is that the commentary for THE HAPPENING is a pretty serious one that doesn’t seem like it could be from the realm of possibility. There are no giant gelatin monsters, giant atomic animals, or even aliens trying to conquer Earth. The idea of nature trying to kill the people who have been making it sick for centuries now is fairly serious. You also have a moment where two teenagers are brutally murdered due to fear and mistrust. How is anyone supposed to find that campy and fun?It doesn’t help when the scenes involving characters getting poisoned enough to commit suicide are treated with tension and legit horror to the situation at hand. Otherwise, you have atrocious dialogue that no human being would ever say to others, lousy acting from a capable cast, and just poor pacing by a director who ought to know better. The tone is all over the place and it brings down the movie. Bad movies like TROLL 2 or 2003’s THE ROOM embrace their horribleness, knowing exactly what their tone is, which makes those films fun to watch. Shyamalan seems conflicted between his alleged idea for THE HAPPENING and what the studio possibly wants. It’s a no-win situation here.Shyamalan is obviously a talented filmmaker. He proved it in THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE and mostly in SIGNS and THE VILLAGE as well. But either his ego was too big at this point, or he forgot to tell interesting stories, because THE HAPPENING continued the major downturn after THE LADY IN THE WATER. For a man known for his twists, there aren’t any here. He gives us all the answers right away, taking away all tension and suspense before anyone can settle in. The pacing is all over the pace, making you more bored than anything at times.And probably his worst crime - his direction of a capable cast who have done better work before or since. Actors don’t react naturally. They’re required to utter inane dialogue that’s unintentionally funny because it never feels realistic at all. Most of the film is just people walking around and talking about uninteresting things without much momentum. Again, there’s a good movie somewhere within THE HAPPENING but Shyamalan has no idea how to bring that forth. It’s even sadder when you realize that his work would only get worse [THE LAST AIRBENDER, AFTER EARTH] until he would finally hit the jackpot with 2017’s SPLIT.Speaking of the actors, most of them regret being in THE HAPPENING because they know how atrocious they look here. Mark Wahlberg isn’t the greatest actor or anything, but he’s done much better work. At least he tries here in the role of science teacher Elliot, only because it seems like he does care. But Shyamalan directs him to recite lines and react like an 8-year-old child, which provides an earnest and naive performance that feels forcibly immature. Zooey Deschanel is truly baffling as Alma. All she does really is stare like a deer in headlights for 90 percent of the movie, while reacting to dialogue and situations in a clueless and stoic way for the other 10. Considering Wahlberg and Deschanel are playing a married couple, Wahlberg has more chemistry with a plastic plant than with his fellow co-star. John Leguizamo wants to give a serious performance, but is put in situations where even Daniel Day-Lewis couldn’t salvage. Ashlyn Sanchez adds nothing, feeling more like a background extra than a child star in her own movie. Betty Buckley has unintentionally hilarious moments as a paranoid woman who keeps thinking the protagonists will break or steal her stuff. And Spencer Breslin might give the most memorable performance as a man obsessed with hot dogs [probably the best character moment of the movie]. I hope the numbers on those paychecks were satisfactory.THE FINAL HOWLOne of the most disappointing films of the 21st century, THE HAPPENING is a film that feels more relevant now due to its interesting commentary. But because of M. Night Shyamalan’s lack of knowing how to tell his story visually and on paper, there’s not a whole lot “happening” in this misfire of a movie. Shyamalan’s attempt at making a B-movie akin to the 1950s falls flat due to an inconsistency in tone, giving away all the answers within the first 30 minutes, and making the film feel more dull than it ought to. The cast just look like fools on screen, barely reacting to things or reciting unconvincing dialogue that comes across as more unintentionally funny than serious. It’s sad when Mark Wahlberg has more chemistry with a plastic plant than his on-screen wife Zooey Deschanel. The film is even more disappointing considering the idea of plants releasing an airborne toxin that hurts people feels way too close to home due to recent debates on climate change and the devastation of COVID. If taken seriously, this commentary could make a movie that’s remembered for all the right reasons. But for whatever reason, Shyamalan was not up for the task, instead making the most memorable thing about the film being about the quality of hot dogs. THE HAPPENING is not the worst film of the last 20-plus years, nor is it even the worst film in Shyamalan’s filmography. But it’s definitely a film that should have been better than it is considering the man is capable of making a thrilling and serious movie that audiences are fond of.SCORE1 Howl Outta 4

Prey (2022)
DIRECTED BYDan Trachtenberg STARRINGAmber Midthunder - NaruDakota Beavers - TaabeDane DiLiegro - The PredatorMichelle Thrush - ArukaStormee Kipp - WasapeJulian Black Antelope - Chief KehetuBennett Taylor - Raphael AdoliniGenre - Science Fiction/Horror/Action/Thriller/AliensRunning Time - 100 MinutesPLOTOn the Great Plains in 1719, Naru, a fierce and highly skilled Comanche warrior, sets out to protect her people when an unknown danger threatens them. But the prey she’s stalking turns out to be a highly evolved alien Predator with a technically advanced arsenal.REVIEWDespite having a huge fanbase, the Predator character hasn’t had the best track record when it comes to its big screen adventures. The 1987 original is still a peak action-thriller, with great one-liners and action sequences that have continued to inspire many action films today. And while I love 1990’s PREDATOR 2 [more people should], the rest of the series [including the 2 ALIEN VS. PREDATOR movies] have struggled in quality due to protagonists not being as interesting or as memorable as the badass alien antagonist that continues to carry this series.2018’s THE PREDATOR could have been a return to form, but it just ended up being a mixed bag due to actors having to play offbeat and silly characters to compensate for a messy script that should have been better considering director Shane Black was in the first [and still best] film. Not like 20th Century Fox was concerned anyway, considering they were about to be bought out by Disney in 2019, making any future PREDATOR movies their problem. But Disney sees money in milking a franchise, knowing PREDATOR has a huge fan base and needs a narrative overhaul. With the new film being titled PREY, Disney [under the new 20th Century Studios banner] hired Dan Trachtenberg - the man who directed the best CLOVERFIELD sequel so far, 2016’s 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE. With Trachtenberg wanting to do a prequel of PREDATOR that shows when the alien first landed on Earth in the 1700s to do battle with a tribe of Comache warriors, there was now hope and some promise for this franchise to gain its footing again. Trachtenberg realized the strength of the first PREDATOR is how basic it really is. It’s just an alien hunting down people, and vice-versa. No need for characters trying to be cool, other sci-fi characters to bring mainstream attention, or gimmicks. Trachtenberg just wanted the Predator to face a badass protagonist that could keep up with it. The PREDATOR franchise has always been a series about survival against a being that’s more technologically advanced. And with the film taking place in the 1700s against Native Americans, that makes for a really interesting idea.Despite being dumped on Hulu for whatever reason [this film should have had a limited theatrical run at least], there’s nothing to fear about the quality of PREY. Considering the mixed results of any Predator movie after the second one, PREY is a breath of fresh air and the first film since 1990 to understand the series’ strengths. It’s a film that understands that while the villain is the main attraction, it never lets the Predator drive the movie as the main focus. Instead, it lets the Comache tribe [especially main character Naru] take control of the narrative - building character development and relationships between the tribe members, making the audience see right away that they’re outmatched by this alien creature until one of them plays defense and understands its tricks to use against it. It’s hunter versus hunter, which strengthens the film’s quality and watchability as a whole.Some fans have been criticizing PREY as a “woke” project due to the film’s female protagonist, Naru, being able to keep up with the Predator and outsmart it throughout the movie. But I never saw the movie that way. Yes, it does focus on female empowerment and the misogyny of a Native American tribe towards the women of the group. Naru wants to be a hunter like her brother Taabe, but is urged by everyone around her to be an herbal doctor who has to treat the injured and sick after their hunts. But Naru, along with her dog Sarii, want to prove they can be just as good of hunters as the men. Naru has survival instincts, like being a great tracker, knowing when to fight and when to play defense, and observing the world around her to learn things about her foes that she could use against them. Naru isn’t a forced female badass that’s being written for some kind of agenda. This is her world and her life, learning everything she can to prove to her doubters that she can do it and survive. She’s not a character built to defeat a Predator. But she’s a character written intelligently to let us know that she has what it takes to defend herself and outsmart him however she can to survive this battle to save herself and her tribe. Naru is a character who is capable because of how she was raised, not because the filmmakers decided that the franchise needed a Sarah Connor type.The supporting characters also have arcs that give them a bit of depth. Naru’s brother Taabe is the chosen one of the tribe, seen as the leader of the young hunters and treated like royalty in spite of Naru wanting to be seen as good as him. While Taabe could have been the stereotypical jerk of a brother who puts Naru down with an air of superiority, he actually roots for his sister to improve on her skills so she can be treated with as much respect as he is. Taabe even acknowledges that when he’s seen as a hero for certain actions, it’s Naru who had the right idea and instincts that only led to him finishing what she started. It’s a nice sibling dynamic between the two, as they have a mutual respect for the other and try to take down the Predator and a group of French fur traders. Speaking of the fur traders, they come across as your typical prejudiced colonizers who treat others that don’t look or act like them as if they’re savages, even though they’re skinning animals and threatening to murder and rape people. But one of them, Raphael, had a previous encounter with a Predator and wanted Naru’s help in learning how to defeat it. Apparently this encounter took place in a series of comic books back in the 90s, but it would be nice to have learned more about it and how much Raphael knew about the alien before encountering the Comache tribe about it. And I can’t forget about Sarii, who is as much of an important character than any of the humans. This dog is super loyal to Naru, helping her fight against foes or distracting threats so she can get an upper hand on them. I thought Sarii was a great asset to PREY and added a lot to Naru’s development and evolution. If I did have any major issues with PREY, it’s some of the dialogue. Now, I watched PREY with the Comache Dub, which is the way Trachtenberg wants audiences to watch the movie. It’s pretty much the native language with English subtitles, which I’m happy for considering many complaints were about how the actors spoke way too modern for a period movie. Even so, the translations share the same problem at times, with characters talking to each other as if they would in 2022 than they probably would in 1719. It kind of threw me off at times, but it doesn’t hurt the film a whole lot. It’s just something to be mindful of if Trachtenberg attempts another Predator period film down the line. Trachtenberg’s direction and Jeff Cutter’s cinematography give PREY a nice visual boost, giving the film a beautiful and atmospheric look that’s been kind of missing in several of the PREDATOR films. While some of the CGI is a bit wonky at times, especially when it involves animals encountering other actors or the Predator itself, Trachtenberg does his best to shoot these moments in a way that it doesn’t totally bring the film down. The Predator effects are well handled though, with Trachtenberg using the antagonist in a similar way that the first PREDATOR did. The alien is invisible or cloaked for much of the film, creating a level of tension and suspense this series has surely needed for a while. In fact, a lot of the hunting scenes do well in keeping one’s interest, making you look around the screen to see if you can catch the Predator lurking in the background. The action scenes are also handled well, making the Predator look like a total badass as he overpowers many of its victims until Naru figures out its weaknesses. Trachtenberg seems all in with this franchise going forward, so I’m hoping he continues making more sequels/prequels because it’s a great film visually for the most part.All the actors are very good, considering some of the dialogue doesn’t really fit the time period PREY is supposed to take place in. The two standouts are Dakota Beavers as Taabe, surprising me how good he is considering he was working at a TJ Maxx before getting the role. I think he’s one to look out for in the future because he brought a likability and cool factor to Taabe. And Amber Midthunder, probably best known for her role in the underappreciated show Legion, is amazing as Naru. She carries the film from beginning to end, fleshing out a heroine that we can all root for. She’s so expressive in her face and tells a lot about her story through her body language. Midthunder’s acting makes her character earn her place as a dangerous opponent for the Predator, carrying a quiet strength that makes me hope to see more of in future projects.THE FINAL HOWLWhile PREY isn’t the best PREDATOR film like some have claimed, the film is still in the Top 3 within the franchise, proving that this series and its main character still have a lot of life in them. Amber Midthunder carries the film with a strong performance as Naru, proving to be a formidable force due to a believable story arc and convincing facial expressions and body language to convey an intelligent threat the Predator didn’t see coming. The narrative works since it goes “back to basics” in terms of what makes this series work - the joy of the hunt and developed characters we can root for. Dan Trachtenberg adds another well-crafted sequel to his resume - bringing atmosphere, tension and suspense that has been missing from the last few installments. Yes, some of the CGI is a bit dodgy at times. And I wish the dialogue was more of its period rather than making characters sound like they’re cosplaying as Comache hunters in 2022. Speaking of, the Comache Dub is the way to go with PREY. I couldn’t imagine how this would play out in English considering some of the dialogue. But overall, a return-to-form for a franchise that needed a win badly for so long now. SCORE3 Howls Outta 4(8 out of 10)

Nope (2022)
DIRECTED BYJordan PeeleSTARRINGDaniel Kaluuya - OJ HaywoodKeke Palmer - Emerald “Em” HaywoodSteven Yeun - Ricky “Jupe” ParkBrandon Perea - Angel TorresMichael Wincott - Antlers HolstKeith David - Otis Haywood Sr.Genre - Horror/Thriller/Western/Mystery/Science FictionRunning Time - 131 MinutesPLOTResidents in a lonely gulch of inland California bear witness to an uncanny, chilling discovery.REVIEW2022’s NOPE is Jordan Peele’s third directorial film in the horror genre, following the massive success of 2017’s GET OUT and the quieter success of 2019’s US. Unlike the more social and political commentaries of those two films, NOPE is less focused on that and more interested in a truthful look on the Hollywood industry and how people are changed because of it. Because of that, NOPE feels less like a horror film [even though aspects are there] and more like a Quentin Tarantino western-drama with aliens terrorizing a small California town. While audiences expecting more of what Peele had presented previously in his films might be disappointed, I like that NOPE stands out as something different from the rest of his filmography.This will be a fairly spoiler-free review since the less you know about NOPE will benefit one’s viewing experience. But I thought the narrative was pretty great for the most part, with some wonderful dialogue and narrative beats that actually captured your interest. The Haywood siblings, OJ [who gets mocked for his initials by caucasian members of the Hollywood industry for obvious reasons] and Emerald are victims of an industry that uses them and spits them out. After their father is mysteriously taken away from them, the siblings struggle with making ends meet by being horse handlers for television and film. OJ is the quieter one, focused on business and feeling like he’s being judged by others in the industry for social and political reasons. OJ is still grappling with what happened to his father and wants answers. Emerald has a more outgoing personality, less interested in the animal handling of the industry and more interested in selling herself to anyone with power for a job in front of the camera. She’s a singer, dancer, actress and whatever else because she feels like she’s a star that refuses to be seen and respected for various reasons. The siblings bicker over their differences in how they approach Hollywood, but come together when strange things happen around them.Other characters deal with the Hollywood industry in other ways. Ricky “Jupe” Park is a former sitcom child actor dealing with a massive trauma that had happened on the set of his show years ago. He runs a carnival as a way to get control over what happened to him, laughing away parodies and constant gossip about his past as a defense mechanism. Antlers Holst is a Hollywood cinematographer who doesn’t feel respected enough in the industry, wanting to capture something truly out there to make a name for himself. And while not part of the industry, retail worker Angel Torres gets caught up with the strange happenings that goes on because he wants something exciting in his life for a change.The main horror aspect is the obvious UFO narrative that drives most of the film. While there are creepy moments and random jump scares at times, the film mostly plays it like a Steven Spielberg action/drama/comedy more focused on how the characters react and deal with the situation rather than the aliens terrorizing them [even though they do]. There’s probably not enough alien invasion action for some viewers, but NOPE would rather focus on the human elements of the situation rather than gore, terror and special effects. It brings characters together, giving audiences some nice bits of dialogue and interactions that are entertaining. It also reveals the true colors of other characters, which may or may not reap rewards their way. But if you’re expecting a MARS ATTACK kind of movie, this isn’t it.What brings down the film for me are several things in terms of the screenplay. One, certain characters don’t get enough screen time to gain any depth. Certain characters at the end who played a key role didn’t really engage me because I barely knew anything about them. Two, some of the comedy takes one out of the terrifying situation. Where one should feel tense and creeped out a bit, these moments are drowned out by funny dialogue or jokes that destroy whatever horror Peele was going for.And the main downer involved a pretty important character’s backstory that was so interesting, I wanted to see how it would all play out in current time. Unfortunately, the characters involved exit the film before the film’s final act, making this subplot questionable. It wasn’t until I left the theater that I realized that this subplot had no real resolution, making me wonder why even bother adding it to the film. It’s almost as if Peele was more focused on the UFO stuff and decided to just end this subplot earlier than one would expect. It’s too bad because I found this particular narrative element super engaging and nothing really came of it. Very disappointing.As for the direction, Jordan Peele does a solid job with NOPE. The film is split into many chapters, but it never really ruins the flow or pacing of the movie. The special effects are handled well and the action moments are strongly presented.  And some of the jump scares worked on me, so nice job there. The real winner is the cinematography by Christopher Nolan collaborator, Hoyte van Hoytema. NOPE is a gorgeous looking movie, especially on an IMAX screen. Hoytema uses the locations and the vast, empty spaces of the Haywood ranch to their fullest potential, creating a visual arena where anything can happen. Do I think it’s Peele’s most exciting work as a director? Nope, pun intended. But it's solid visual masterwork by a confident filmmaker who knows what type of films he wants to make. And I have respect for anyone who could make Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night” into a dark, nightmarish song during certain moments of the film.The actors all do a great job. Daniel Kaluuya brings a quiet, stoic confidence as OJ Haywood. He’s your typical western hero, focused on the task at hand in order to save the day and answer the questions that have been haunting him. Steven Yeun is very good as Ricky “Jupe” Park, hiding the character’s trauma through smiles and confident body language, while showing vulnerability whenever the past begins to haunt him again. Brandon Perea brings some comic relief as Angel, bringing some levity and having nice rapport with Kaluuya and Keke Palmer. Michael Wincott brings a quiet intensity to Antlers Holst. But the show stealer is, without a doubt, Keke Palmer as Emerald Haywood. Palmer seems to be having a blast throughout, reciting the best dialogue, performing in the film’s best sequences, and just showing everyone how charismatic and talented she is. It’s about time she got some recognition for her talents because she’s a star. THE FINAL HOWLWhile not as good as 2017’s GET OUT, I found Jordan Peele’s NOPE to be slightly better than his previous film, US, due to the mostly successful handling of the movie’s ambition and scope. Less of a horror film and more of a sci-fi western, NOPE is a film about Hollywood and its troubling history when it comes to child actors and people of color. It’s a film that focuses on myths and gossip about the existence of UFOs. It’s a film that deals with how trauma changes people for better or for worse. There’s a strong narrative that’s sometimes hindered by a level of routine that could be seen as meandering at times, lack of depth for certain characters, and expendable subplots that make you feel cheated when they’re interestingly built up but not resolved in a satisfying way. But the direction, and especially the beautiful cinematography by frequent Christopher Nolan collaborator Hoyte van Hoytema, are solid. At times, Peele captures the anxiety and terror of the UFO situation that threatens the main characters in believable ways. And the acting is solid as expected, with a star stealing performance by Keke Palmer who outshines everyone around her due to her charisma and handling of funny dialogue that makes her a delight to watch. NOPE doesn’t totally come together as it should due to Peele sacrificing some of the stronger narrative beats to focus on the monster movie aspect of the story. But it’s a fun time, especially in theaters, and continues Peele’s streak in keeping me invested in what he has planned next for the horror genre.SCORE3 Howls Outta 4

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