Knuckleball (Review) Let’s keep it in the family…

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KNUCKLEBALL

 

THE SETUP

775 Media Corp and Freestyle Digital Media presents “Knuckleball”, the latest Horror/Thriller feature from Co-Writer/Director, Michael Peterson. Knuckleball sees parents Mary and Paul (Kathleen Munroe and Chenier Hundal) offload their 12-year-old son Henry (played by Luca Villacis from Channel Zero) with Mary’s estranged father Jacob (played by Michael Ironside) while they try to reconnect following a death in the family. When Henry awakens to find Jacob’s body stiff and cold, panic sets in and nearby neighbor Dixon (Munro Chambers) sees an opportunity to take advantage of the situation. With a snowstorm fast approaching, Henry must overcome his fears and outsmart the mystery man if he’s to survive the night.

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THE GOOD

Peterson’s a Canadian filmmaker with an extensive background in shorts, having made a dozen or so over the last decade. I’d heard some positive rumblings in the lead up to the release of this wintry home invasion style flick and wanted to see for myself what it was all about. The snow-covered setting usually makes for a great foundation and often leads to some rather picturesque cinematography. In addition, the element of a snowstorm further adds to the severity of the protagonist’s plight (in this case it’s that of young boys). Jon Thomas conveys simple framing and a bunch of nice shot choices early on. The use of a drone also helps to capture some of those widespread aerial shots on display at the beginning of the film. Furthermore, the color grading looks natural and defined. The audio track is nice and clean, and the score slowly builds around low-fi bass that turns to ominous droning synth as the situation begins to escalate. The film’s pacing is reasonable and there’s an eventful family dynamic at play too. I give Mike some credit for at least attempting to ground the story a bit more, even if it doesn’t always feel convincing.

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Peterson reunites both a talented veteran actor in Ironside (Total Recall and The Machinist), with a rising Canadian in Munro Chambers to form two of the three pitchers in Knuckleball (see what I did there). The two previously worked together on the criminally underrated “Turbo Kid” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/turbo-kid-review/ and it’s great to see them back together here, despite the two not sharing many scenes. The performances are all solid- Ironside well and truly suited to playing the hard ass- and presents with an aptly dour front. As for Chambers, he gets to play by his own set of rules a bit more and I enjoyed seeing that. Young Luca turns out to be the surprise packet of Knuckleball, which is surprising because it’s usually a gamble when your lead character is a child. It’s not easy to keep audiences engaged for a full 90 minutes, especially when you’re a relatively inexperienced youth, so kudos to him.  The action elements in the film are adequately carried out, though perhaps without being overly memorable. One is likely to draw comparisons to Chris Columbus’s infamous “Home Alone” and in turn, Kevin McAllister’s manning of the house with traps. There can be no denying that Peterson’s script is much darker though (think something like Bereavement) and there are a few effective sequences that involve violence and blood and gore.

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THE BAD

Displaying Henry’s phone messages and gaming habits via a separate screen image in the frame isn’t a great look. I understand maybe establishing the medieval style game he plays on his phone in the beginning (if for no other reason than to show him being groomed for what comes later), but several more references in that same fashion to both the phone, the game, and a message, just feel stale. Some of the visual foreshadowing at the end of the first act is rather obvious (not sure if that was the intention), and so when Henry makes use of those items you often see it coming. Even though we do get some insight into Dixon’s motives, they don’t really present themselves until the very end of the film and that hinders how much of an effect his character has on the viewer in the lead-up. What we do learn appears to be a little lacking anyway. It’s made known early on that there’s been a sizeable fracture in Mary’s immediate family. A disconnect with her father and some emotional scarring regarding events that took place at the property during her childhood. One may deduce from that, that it might not be the best place for Henry, Right? I would’ve liked to have seen him either take longer to warm to Jacob (given how little they’ve seen of each other over the years), or the characters to have made mention of seeking someone else out for the “babysitting” duties, in turn, eluding to Mary’s father being a last resort. As I said, Luca’s performance is quite a good one, but Henry’s complete poker face and non-existent reaction to one particularly violent action (really the only one) doesn’t really help to sell the believability. In fact, for a lot of the more intense moments, Henry doesn’t appear to be all that worried. A situation arises that involves a drugging. My question is that if said drug is a hallucinogen (which I was led to believe it was given the trippiness that transpired after) why would you aim to use it on that particular character? On the contrary, if it wasn’t that and a sleeping pill of sorts instead, Why time the visual of those altering effects to coincide with the crucial soda pop scene? That part was a little hazy because at that point there’s no prior evidence of Dixon being anything more than just a little odd.

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Knuckleball is a darkly entertaining Horror/Thriller take on something like the aforementioned “Home Alone” or even last years “Better Watch Out” (only far superior to the latter film). The camera work is satisfying, the score is effectively moody, and Peterson tries to bring some family drama to proceedings. I thoroughly enjoyed the return pairing of Ironside and Chambers, and young Luca is a lot better than he has the right to be (at his age and development). Despite some conveniences here and there, things get entertaining as the storm approaches and Henry’s situation worsens. The cat and mouse game is fun and there are a couple of scenes involving some practical blood work. The negatives are mostly personal preference related. I’m not a huge fan of phone content being displayed in the fashion it is here and the foreshadowing is a little too predictable. The reveal of Dixon’s motive is left until late in the piece, Henry fails to react to something pretty shocking, and the drug plot device doesn’t play out all that clearly. In spite of its issues, Knuckleball is 90 minutes of good solid entertainment and I’m looking forward to seeing more films from Peterson and his production company. You can check out the official trailer for Knuckleball below and it’s now available for viewing on VOD (video on demand) and various other streaming platforms.

My rating for “Knuckleball” is 6/10

Here There Be Monsters (Review) It’s time to fight back…

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HERE THERE BE MONSTERS

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Wanderer Films and Writer/Director, Drew Macdonald (Creeper) for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 14-minute Horror/Thriller short “Here There Be Monsters”. Here There Be Monsters is an Australian made film about a timid and tormented school girl named Elki (played sublimely by Savannah Foran McDaniel), who falls asleep during the bus ride home and awakens to find herself at the end of the line where something lurks in the shadows of the depot. The film also stars Jordan Small and Toby Barron as “The Monster”.

THE GOOD

Some of you die-hard MovieGod readers (if such a person exists haha) might remember me reviewing Macdonald’s previous short film “Creeper”, a genuinely disturbing slow-burn Mystery/Thriller, that was, in fact, the best short of 2017 *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/creeper-review/. Well, I’m pleased to see Drew right back at it again with another outstanding homegrown piece of work. The film, whilst fictional in nature, broaches some of the current societal issues we’re having with bullying in our schools and the detrimental effects on the victims of that bullying. Young Elki is just minding her own business on the bus home from school and is yet subjected to a barrage of physical and mental abuse from fellow teen classmate Noelle (Small). Sadly Macdonald showcases the worst of adolescent behavior, and what’s more disturbing is that it’s true to form. This is happening to youths everywhere and it shows the dangers of what can transpire if others idly stand by and do nothing. This is DP, Josh Zaini’s first venture into short filmmaking and it’s a successful one at that. His framing is lovely, the shot choices are smart, and the low angles on the school bus are some of the best shots in the film. The night exteriors of the depot are atmospherically backlit too.

Erin McKimm (who scored Creeper) delivers another memorable score and some really sharp sound design here. Early provocative foley techniques effectively generate a sense of uneasiness and help convey Elki’s ever-growing frustration and anger toward what she’s constantly having to deal with.  A lovely section of the score contains somber piano and violin, and then when the situation escalates, the driving synth begins to flow in. The creatures terrifying sound is another facet worth mentioning. A rather inexperienced Savannah McDaniel simply blew me away with her performance. She’s got her eye line right, a truly expressive face, and she manages to hit all the required emotional beats – seemingly doing so with ease. I wasn’t surprised at all to see Steve Boyle’s name (expert special effects artist from Queensland) attached to this project. Boyle’s worked on a number of impressive films (Daybreakers, Bait, and Boar are just a few) and combines here with Toby Barron to bring this otherworldly monster/alien to life. Macdonald times his final dramatic transition in the ideal place and the viewer is also left to make up their own mind about the validity of the creature and what it represents in the scheme of the narrative.

THE BAD

One particularly shocking moment between Noelle and Elki at the start does lead to the smallest of continuity errors regarding the latter and her makeup (at least if what I saw or didn’t see, was right).

I recall giving Drew’s previous short Creeper a perfect score (something I don’t usually do) and I’m very much inclined to do the same thing with this follow-up film. This is simply brilliant filmmaking of the highest order. The issues on display are pertinent, the technical elements are outstanding, and McDaniel has got that raw talent that very few actors possess. The creature is carefully presented and the film as a whole is entertaining, informative, and thrilling in its final stages. I can’t fault Macdonald at all, he’s a guy who budding filmmakers can look to in order to see how it’s done. I feel he’s poised to have a successful career in the industry if he continues driving high standards and production values. With only a couple of weeks left before I compile my Top 10 of 2018 list, it’s almost impossible to see anything dethroning Here There Be Monsters for the best short of the year. Keep an eye out for this one soon, you certainly won’t want to miss it!

My rating for “Here There Be Monsters” is 9.5/10

Mystery Box (Review) It’s the gift that keeps giving…

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MYSTERY BOX

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Stockholm Syndrome Film and Co-Writer/Director, Sonny Laguna (Blood Runs Cold and Wither) for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 10-minute Horror/Mystery short titled “Mystery Box”. Mystery Box opens on an isolated island with Moa (played by Lisa Henni), a young woman whose enjoying a quiet bit of fishing, her only haul for the day being a mysterious metal box. Placing it in a nearby shed she thinks nothing more of it, but as nightfall approaches, there’s a knock at the door and Moa discovers that getting rid of the box might not be so easy.

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THE GOOD

I was introduced to Swedish-born Sonny Laguna years back, around the same time he released his feature film “Blood Runs Cold” (one of the first films I reviewed here at AdamTheMovieGod). It was a micro-budget homage to the slasher in the woods trope (only those particular woods were snow-covered Canadian ones) and the end result certainly surprised me *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/blood-runs-cold-review/. Sonny followed up with “Wither”, yet another tribute, this time to Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead”. I thoroughly enjoyed the practical effects on display and even some of the action sequences, but the film as a whole was rather lacking. From there, Laguna dropped off my radar for a few years, despite going on to make another couple of features during that time. Mystery Box sees him return to the world of short filmmaking. This might be the first time I’ve seen him utilizing more cinematic methods in spite of  budget. The cinematography is made up of some glorious aerial shots of both the boat in the beginning and Moa’s cabin too. The edit transitions with a bunch of nice quick cuts, most of the framing is good, and there are even a couple of smooth tracking shots as well. The audio is clear and the foley work is the best it’s been in any of Sonny’s films thus far. The music can be likened to that of a Lovecraftian style film. Loud horns are eerie and atmospheric synth gives Mystery Box that desired otherworldly feel. This is a one-woman show and Henni does a fine job in the role. Stockholm Syndrome Films have always taken pride in their effects work, and once again, Mystery Box is no exception. This time, Sonny and Co. opt for dirty and greasy makeup and goop and a majority of it works.

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THE BAD

My only real complaint is that the film lacks clarity in regard to the function of the box. The climax plays out in intriguing fashion but you don’t necessarily get the reveal you might be expecting. Also, Lisa has somewhat of an understated reaction to the contents of the box. I expected her to show a little more shock and awe.

Mystery Box is an entertaining and sharp short film from talented European filmmaker, Sonny Laguna. The film is clearly inspired by the world of H.P Lovecraft, with perhaps a little nod to something like Richard Kelly’s “The Box” in there. The cinematography looks impressive, the sound is clean, and the moody synth score further complements the intended tone. Henni is easy to watch and the practical effects are of a high standard. Issues are slim and mostly personal preference in nature. I think Moa’s reaction to what’s inside the box is a little weak and I think the film may have better benefited from some clearer details in relation to the box itself. Small gripes aside, Mystery Box is an impressive short film that genre fans are really going to enjoy. Keep an eye out for the teaser trailer soon!

My rating for “Mystery Box” is 8/10

I’m Dreaming Of A White Doomsday (Review) Tis the season to lay low…

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I’M DREAMING OF A WHITE DOOMSDAY

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Reel Splatter Productions and Writer/Director, Mike Lombardo for allowing me early access to an online screener of his debut feature-length film “I’m Dreaming Of A White Doomsday”. I’m Dreaming Of A White Doomsday (aside from being quite the lengthy title) is a Christmas themed post-apocalyptic/horror film about the lives of a mother (played by first-timer Hope Bikle) and her 8-year-old son Riley (Reeve Blazi) as they fight for their survival in the wake of an end of the world apocalypse. The film also stars Damian Maffei (The Strangers: Prey At Night), Holly Andrew, and Shannon Moyer.

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THE GOOD

The hand-drawn poster art for Lombardo’s holiday-themed survival film is what initially caught my eye. I didn’t know much about the film going in, but the combination of the end of the world and the holiday season makes for an interesting premise. Now, I’ve reviewed some pretty good post-apocalyptic films over the years, Brett Bentman’s “Apocalypse Road” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/apocalypse-road-review/ is one that comes to mind. In spite of its micro-budget price tag, I’m Dreaming Of A White Doomsday manages to get a fair bit right. The film opens with an abundance of establishing shots showcasing some impressive decorations and Christmas set design. Lombardo managed to do this with less than 5 percent of the budget spent on John Carpenter’s “Halloween”. It begs the question, Where were your decorations, John? (sorry folks and Halloween fanboys but it had to be said haha). Dylan Stern-Courney’s camera work is pretty solid. He employs some nice panning techniques and gentle zooming here and there, as well as opting for plenty of tripod shots in the latter half of the film. The audio track is clean and the score implements a touch of the holiday jingles without overstating it. The highlight is a haunting synth piece that reminded me somewhat of the key theme in Brad Anderson’s masterpiece, “The Machinist”. The art department also deserves some credit for their resourcefulness in manufacturing a bulky and realistic bunker door with such little money. The film’s key location is a basement and that looks fairly well detailed too. The two lead performances are both quite consistent, all the more impressive given that this is Hope and Reeve’s first time in front of the camera. The dynamic between the pair is raw and natural, add a little experience from Maffei and you’ve got a solid foundation. The film contains some practical blood spray but it’s rather brief.

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THE BAD

Even taking into consideration the speedy run time of just 71 minutes, I’m Dreaming Of A White Doomsday is somewhat diminished due to its one location and the overall slow burn nature, which ultimately sees very little actually happen over the duration. I think Lombardo could have elaborated on the decline of the environment itself, perhaps eluding to certain essentials dwindling or other resources failing altogether. The food supply is briefly addressed but other than that the rest remains unexplored. The cinematography is usually best when the shots are stabilized. Unfortunately, there are a few moments early on where the focus drifts back and forth and that indecision is a little distracting. The score is good but maybe a touch repetitive, and I’d like to have seen some more foley recorded. The sound of gusty winds is formulated for externals, but at times the sound bed as a whole feels a little hollow. For a sizeable chunk of the film young Riley is nowhere to be seen. The sole focus switches to Kelly (the mother) and there isn’t so much as a glimpse of the young boy. It was quite noticeable because there are predominantly only three characters. The continuity and details surrounding Simon (Maffei) are a little foggy too. He mentions heading out to look for more supplies, and although he appears to return, it isn’t actually shown. There’s no loving embrace or even a general outcome to that particular plot point (Was it in her head?). Unless I happened to have missed something, it seems as if he must have left again at some point (unbeknownst to the viewer). There doesn’t appear to be any fallout from whatever transpired. I don’t know? It was all rather confusing.

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I’m Dreaming Of A White Doomsday is a small time indie production competently made by some hard-working people with a DIY methodology. I’m digging the poster art, Lombardo’s setup has its own little spin on the sub-genre, and most of the technical facets are quite well conceived for a film of this nature and budget. Some of the music is memorable, the set design contains attention to detail, and each of the performances is better than I expected. Although it’s only just over an hour, the combination of some slow pacing and a lack of verve do hamper the end result somewhat. Mike could have passed the time better by introducing a few more developments inside the four walls of the bunker to keep it engaging. That said, I quite enjoyed the third act all the same. The film does lack sound design and some much-needed clarity in regard to Simon’s character. All in all, though, this is still a solid debut feature-length film from Lombardo and I look forward to seeing what Reel Splatter Productions does next. If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic films and indie filmmaking, go ahead and check out the official trailer below!

My rating for “I’m Dreaming Of A White Doomsday” is 6/10

Father (Review) He’s the type of figure you don’t want in your life…

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FATHER

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Co-Writer/Director, Chris Keller for sending me the link to his fifth short film, a 9-minute Horror tale called “Father”. Father introduces us to a young boy named Danny (played by Rodion Kilinc), whose quietly drawing in his bedroom late at night. Shortly after his mother (Rayanna Dibs) and her soon-to-be latest one-night stand (Sam South) arrive home, things take a dark turn. Danny is locked in his bedroom and eventually forced to face the very real demon that plagues his nightmares. The film also stars James Killeen as “Father”.

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THE GOOD

Chris Keller has forged a seven or eight-year-long career thus far, working in compositing visual effects on projects like “Man Of Steel”, “Thor: The Dark World” and “The Hunger Games” (just to name a few). Throughout that period he began venturing into short film, doing so with quite some success. DP, Thomas Shawcroft shot Father’s cinematography in glorious 5K, and the image really pops (as is to be expected). All of the framing is nicely conceived and the gentle camera movements make for pleasant viewing. The scenes in Danny’s bedroom are atmospherically lit and provide plenty of suspense to proceedings. The audio track’s clear, there is some big sound design, and the use of keys in the score results in an eerie little theme that feels like something out of a dark fairytale. The demon design and the practical makeup effects are where Father truly shines through though. A decaying corpselike exterior isn’t necessarily anything new (just look to The Walking Dead, among other things) but this trio of makeup artists bring it to life really well (well.. not life but ya know what I mean). Combine its look and sound with Killeen’s sudden jerky movements and restrained advances at Danny and you’ve got a memorable evil.

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THE BAD

My only real complaint in Father is that young Rodion, being a little raw/green (in just his second short), lacks consistency with the level of fear he portrays. It’s a tough balancing act because you don’t want a child actor to be over the top or forced, but on the opposite side of the coin, you don’t want to underplay it either. Unfortunately, his performance doesn’t quite progress at the same rate as the level of threat does. That said, it’s by no means enough to take away from the overall entertainment and enjoyment of Father. Also, I’m not sure how I feel about the ending either.

Father is my official introduction to Keller as a Writer/Director and the end result is a rather impressive one. Coming from a visual effects background, it’s clear Chris approaches his work with a high level of attention to detail. The 5K image looks superb, the audio and sound design are both sharp, and the score, while subtle, is rather fitting. The presence of the demon is alarming, and the practical effects, coupled with James’s acting, are the reason this one is as good as it is. If I’m being critical, I do think young Rodion’s intensity wavers somewhat toward the back end of the film, but I have no doubt he’ll further improve with more time and experience. Father is now currently available for viewing on YouTube and you should definitely check it out at the link below, Enjoy!

My rating for “Father” is 8/10

Halloween 2018 (Review) Michael’s coming home…

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HALLOWEEN

 

THE SETUP

October 31st, 1978 was the night he came home. He, being the evil that is Michael Myers. Some of you may recall that I recently reviewed Director, John Carpenter’s iconic horror film “Halloween” not all that long ago here at AdamTheMovieGod *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/2018/08/21/halloween-review-the-night-he-came-home/. Despite composing a thorough breakdown of the film highlighting all its obvious shortcomings (shortcomings some hardcore fans just refuse to acknowledge), I still really respect Carpenter’s original film and how it paved the way for future generations of filmmakers, particularly in the horror genre and its subsequent “slasher” format. Is it a masterpiece? No, I don’t think it is. But I certainly don’t hate it. I just simply can’t ignore the number of issues, which stem all the way back to even the simplest foundation of creating a Halloween themed film but not establishing any cornerstones of the actual holiday itself. Now that’s not being critical, that’s just an essential element you need if you’re going to call your film “Halloween”. Its age tag shouldn’t be an excuse either, because Wes Craven’s rejuvenation of the genre 22 years ago with “Scream”, still more than holds up in just about every department. Anyways, enough about all of that. It’s been 40 years, a tonne of pretty lame sequels, a tonal shift through two of Rob Zombie’s entries, and here we are talking about the highly anticipated release of Halloween in 2018. Halloween is Directed by David Gordon Green (Stronger and Snow Angels) and is a true sequel to Carpenter’s 78′ original. Laurie Strode (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) is now a broken woman living in isolation. After two failed marriages and a now rocky relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (played by Andi Matichak), Laurie must face her fears once and for all, when on Halloween night she’s confronted by the masked figure known as Michael Myers. The film also stars Will Patton, Haluk Bilginer, Toby Huss, Dylan Arnold, James Jude Courtney, and Nick Castle.

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THE GOOD

Halloween comes to us from Blumhouse Productions, a company responsible for some of the best horror releases of the last decade. DP, Michael Simmonds manages to re-create some of that visual appeal that was present in Carpenter’s original, while still maintaining a particular contemporary look and feel for the modern slasher audience. The cinematography is wonderfully executed. Highlights include a number of terrifying and sharp profile shots of Michael, slick panning, and a slew of atmospheric POV shots (point of view). Timothy Alverson’s edit is nice and tight and the color grading exhumes the best of both worlds in regard to light and dark. John teams with son Cody to resurrect the infamous Halloween synth theme – man it’s a classic. The score is much more effective this time around because it’s not overworked, it doesn’t cue every single one of Michael’s entrances and there’s room left for the material to breathe. Where is the suspense if you choose to telegraph each one of those moments?  I’m pleased to say that Green and Co. opted against that. There are a number of stretches void of music and yet they manage to effectively build tension. The dramatic themes are also nicely composed. Make no mistake about it, this year’s undertaking of Halloween deserves its slasher crown. In spite of its worldwide success, in my eyes, Carpenter’s original film was mismarketed. Seemingly advertised as a slasher film, where in reality, very little slashing occurs. It plays as much more of a suspense/thriller than anything else.

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Most fans were excited about the return of Jamie Lee Curtis, the real Laurie Strode if you will (not to say Scout Taylor Compton’s Laurie wasn’t real) but… well, you know what I mean. To be honest, I’ve never really rated Curtis’s performance from forty years ago, nor was the one-dimensional character of much interest to me either. I understand the intention was probably to keep a simplistic approach to the setup, but you still want to root for a protagonist you like and care about, and I simply didn’t. Let’s just say Jamie’s improved a lot over the years and she’s gone on to make a number of solid films. Her performance as an older downtrodden Laurie, whose living the life of a timeworn recluse, is a very good one. Not only that but it was a stroke of genius casting a dark-haired Judy Greer to play her daughter Karen, so to newcomer Andi Matichak as the youngest in the Strode family lineage. All three are incredibly well cast and have the required level of fight in them to face Myers. There are a few other familiar faces in here, such as Will Patton (Remember The Titans) as Officer Hawkins, Toby Huss (HBO’s Carnivale) as Ray, Karen’s husband and Jefferson Hall (of Vikings). The performances all around are a hell of a lot better than almost all the other films in the franchise. Turkish born, Haluk Bilginer was a much-needed addition and served as a credible vehicle for Michael’s character arc over the course of the years between the original film and this one. Bilginer plays Dr. Sartain, once a pupil of Dr. Loomis (played by the late Donald Pleasence) who was Michael’s original physician following the murders in 78′. The writing surrounding Sartain makes for a fresh perspective on the potential risks or dangers of spending your entire life studying something that simply can’t be explained. I liked that angle.

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This latest script, penned by a combination of three writers, is multi-faceted in nature. A majority of the issues surrounding a lack of attention to detail in Carpenter’s original film are all but rectified here in 2018. Let’s start with the raw foundations. As soon as the words October 31st hit the screen at the start of the second act, the holiday is well and truly established. Halloween itself is incorporated into the story through a number of different avenues, none of which required much money to conceive. Whether it be a number of conversations that mention it, decorations on porches and pumpkins exploding, or an abundance of trick or treaters out in force on the streets of Haddonfield. It’s all there, everything you want to make you believe in the world that Green’s creating. Even the school dance is aptly a costume themed one. The importance of simply filling out the world of the film and having Michael blend in with his surroundings cannot be understated. There’s a certain eerieness that’s generated from that. I’m going to assume that actor turned writer, Danny McBride (Eastbound & Down) was responsible for the comedy infused into the script. Surprisingly, it’s good-natured and pretty well-timed. Youngster, Jibrail Nantambu (in his first film) plays Julian, a boy being babysat by Allyson’s friend, Vicky (Gardner). He’s quite a charming kid and a couple of his lines were pretty funny. Huss has his moments, playing the dorky somewhat embarrassing dad To a T, and even the duo of local cops have some back and forth banter in their patrol car which provided a couple of chuckles. The decision to age Michael and have two different actors play him was a smart one. The disheveled look of his mask was a nice touch too.

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The pacing and runtime of Halloween are perfect. The proper consideration is taken regarding setting crucial events in motion before the chaos and body count starts to pile up. Normally it’s a strike against any slasher that doesn’t deliver a kill in the first fifteen minutes, but given this is a widely known franchise with a lot of entries I can forgive that. It’s somewhat overshadowed by the fact that you’ve got countless entertaining nods to the original film and a number of others in the series. Notable moments include Allyson looking out the classroom window, shots lingering through a clothesline, the graveyard scene, and one particular character being killed and hung up and left against a wall. Babysitters, escaped mental patients, and references to sibling connections are just a few of the many more. Finally, we get a Halloween film where virtually every single character takes Michael Myers seriously. Even residents of the town are told to stay inside their homes and batten down the hatches. Short of including a news bulletin or a town curfew, not much more could be asked of the writers. Most importantly, Laurie is crafty. She’s prepared for everything that’s coming and approaches the inevitable showdown with a sense of confidence and vigor. It’s a combination that results in an outstanding final twenty minutes that sees Laurie navigate every inch of her home trying to find Myers. It’s darkly presented, perfectly slow burned in nature, and further highlights Laurie’s preparedness. The on-screen violence certainly hits hard too. Maybe not Rob Zombie kind of hard, but still heavy none the less. The film boasts quality practical blood and gore fx and some extremely suspenseful stalking scenes. The killing is often swift and ruthless, especially during a montage of Michael going house to house. Even the off-screen kills usually contain a graphic aftermath and that’s a blast to see.

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THE BAD

The number one hindrance with Halloween is the creative license issue that comes when the filmmakers consciously choose to ignore crucial details established in prior films from the franchise. Firstly, if you’re going to attempt to do that then the last thing you ought to be doing is referencing said films, other than perhaps the original. Secondly, I’m not sure why you’d want to disregard the previously explored backstory between Michael and Laurie anyway, especially when the result makes for a far more unnerving context within their cat and mouse game. In this particular sequel, the writers provide us with some passing dialogue intended to debunk the theory of Michael and Laurie being siblings by claiming it’s all just something people made up to make the ordeal seem bigger than it was. Come on guys, that’s a pretty weak out. If the two are related, it’s personal and scary as hell. If they’re not, then why Laurie? Myers has no particular MO, so why her? A couple of pieces of dialogue might have benefited from a re-write. Namely the overly formal use of the term “grandmother”. Laurie is even labeled that way in Allyson’s phone contacts. One might argue that it was to convey the separation of the family, but that only works if Allyson and Laurie feel like strangers, and they don’t. They seemingly talk quite regularly so a simple change to “grandma” would have sufficed. In addition, Laurie’s line “Every night I prayed he’d escape” and explanation “So I could kill him” (I’m paraphrasing), leads to Hawkins reply of “Well that was stupid” and subsequently the conversation ends on an awkward beat. He would have been better to respond with something like “Congratulations, you got what you wanted” (or something to that effect). It has more impact and makes more sense than simply just stating the obvious.

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If I’m being nitpicky the older father in the truck with his young son should have been established as his grandfather, the guy was way too old to play that part. Halloween isn’t without a few flat reactions from characters either. Allyson’s phone being thrown into a bowl of food would likely elicit more of a response than she ends up giving (after all she’s a teenage girl). She never really reacts to what she initially witnesses Cameron doing, and then also contradicts herself by showing frustration and disapproval of his drinking and immaturity at the dance, yet moments before makes plans for the two of them to meet up with Vicky and her boyfriend Dave to smoke weed, uh, what?? In addition, it takes laying eyes on Myers and not a friend of hers incapacitated in a precarious position, to make Allyson act. The most obvious example of an undersold reaction comes in response to the demise of one particular and likable character. There’s zero reaction from two others in the moments after it occurs, nor is there anything from them at the closing of the film. The inclusion of a few slow-motion frames highlighting the magnitude of it all wouldn’t have gone astray. Little Jibrail’s reaction to seeing Michael pop out of the closet is oddly comedic and underplayed as well, though he can be forgiven because it’s his first time in front of the camera.

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Halloween well and truly exceeded my expectations and has turned out to be arguably the best pure slasher film since “Scream 2”. The cinematography is fantastic, the editing is stylish and tight, and Carpenter’s iconic score is employed in all the right places. There are countless nods for fans of the original, the casting of the family is spot on, Sartain acts as the conduit for the missing years as well as an homage to Loomis, and to most people’s delight Curtis leads from the front and all the remaining performances follow suit nicely. Halloween’s pacing is superb and it boasts a level of attention to detail like no other film in the franchise has. For once the characters actually take Michael seriously. There are a few nice light-hearted moments but the violence is hard hitting and the body count is high. The practical effects look impressive and the final twenty minutes makes for one of the best third acts in recent horror history. I have to say the filmmakers choosing to ignore all the other films wasn’t the best decision and I think Laurie and Michael’s specifics should have remained the same as they always have. A few lines of dialogue feel clumsy, characters sometimes contradict themselves, and on a few occasions the reactions either simply aren’t present or aren’t all that believable. In the end, though, the facts don’t lie. Halloween has just overtaken Wes Craven’s “Scream” as the highest grossing slasher film of all time, and for that and more, it deserves credit. Needless to say, it’s the best film in the Halloween franchise and certainly the best horror film of the year. You can and should check out the official trailer below!

My rating for “Halloween” is 8/10

Vesper (Review) Something is haunting Marge Ofenbey…

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VESPER

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thanks to Amitice and French Writer/Director, Keyvan Sheikhalishahi for allowing me access to an online screener of his 23 minute Mystery/Thriller short, “Vesper”. Vesper places you in a dream-like state as Marge (played by Agnes Godey), a middle-aged woman, shuts herself off from the world in the hopes of escaping her manipulative and controlling husband, Walter (played by Gotz Otto from Iron Sky). Marge seeks counsel from her young nephew Christian (played by Sheikhalishahi himself), but he begins to discover secrets that involve both him and the troubled pair.

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THE GOOD

At just twenty years old, Keyvan has already made two shorts and a feature-length film, a wonderful accomplishment in an of itself. Vesper serves as my introduction to the young French filmmaker and it’s certainly an interesting little film. For the most part, Jean-Claude Aumont’s cinematography is easy on the eyes, with all the shots nicely framed and well executed. The internals at night are one of the highlights and the house makes for a quaint setting for this psychological story. The audio track is clean and the subtitles are all accurate. The original score is rather plain, though some of the high-frequency synth notes help to create a sense of otherworldliness. Vesper aims to keep you guessing about what’s at the core of it all and I certainly had an awareness about what the two male characters ultimately represented. All of the performances are good and the respective characters each have a solid arc.

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THE BAD

On the technical front everything is pretty well conceived, but if I’m being critical the lighting is perhaps a touch flat in a few frames. My biggest criticism of Vesper is that it is a bit long and rather vague in some of its specifics. Twenty-three minutes is a long short, probably too long. I think Keyvan’s intention was to leave his audience with questions, but the problem is that the resolution feels unrewarding. It’s as if there are supposed to be two different timelines playing out over the course of the runtime, and characters reactions further support that theory. Christian and Marge are in the living room having a conversation about Walter and his ever-growing threatening behavior when he actually comes in and approaches her, yet there’s no reaction from Christian at all. It’s as if he didn’t know Walter was there, something established again in the scene that follows. Why couldn’t Christian see without his sunglasses? Or more specifically why was it painful for him without them? Was that a reference to something that had previously happened to him? It’s those vague particulars that prevent Vesper from really shining. I feel as though you can get away with a fair bit in the realms of a mystery film, but I think it may have benefited had there been some more clarity.

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In spite of its shortcomings, Vesper is a nicely presented and effectively enough Mystery/Thriller from a young up and coming French filmmaker. The camera work is impressive, the sound is sharp, and all three performances are good ones. The story is intriguing enough but the lack of transparency took away from the end result. I think the runtime is a good five or six minutes too long and I had plenty of questions surrounding Christian’s reactions (or lack thereof) to various situations. I think it’s certainly worth a look but I’m even more excited to check out Keyvan’s next short film “Nox”. You can check out the trailer for Vesper below and keep an eye out for it soon!

My rating for “Vesper” is 6/10

Hang Up! (Review) Some things are best kept secret…

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HANG UP!

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Fatal Pictures and Producer, Zach Green along with Writer/Director, Richard Powell for allowing me early access to an online screener of their 13 minute Drama/Thriller short “Hang Up!”. Hang Up is the fifth short from the Fatal Pictures duo and it sees them team up yet again with actor, Robert Nolan (Silent Retreat and Canswer). Gary’s at his work desk when he suddenly gets a call from his wife Emelia (voiced by Astrida Auza). It’s an accidental dial that proves to be enlightening, as a multitude of dark secrets are bought to the surface.

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THE GOOD

I’ve been privileged enough to have seen and reviewed three other films from Fatal Pictures, each very different from one another, but all equally as impressive. The common denominator between “Worm”, a story about a high school teacher with a narcissistic personality, “Familiar”, where a father and husband suspects something is controlling his mind, and “Heir” a dark tale of a father and son, is the superbly talented Robert Nolan. There’s a reason Powell and Green continue to utilize Nolan and it’s likely because of his range. Hang Up is tonally quite different from Powell’s other works. He primes you for an intense one-way conversation, where you’re simply a fly on the wall, as Gary, a seemingly everyday man, endures a verbal onslaught that reveals some startling discoveries. DP, Michael Jari Davidson (who worked on the two previous FP shorts) brings a mix of simple shots choices to the table (I mean to the actual table the character sits at haha) but he also implements some interesting techniques, such as flipping the camera on its head or using a reflection to frame something a certain way. The black and white photography is something new from Fatal Pictures and I liked it. The audio is clear, and some bass within the soft score makes for a nice change of pace as well. Nolan’s primarily reactive based display is as good as I’ve seen and Astrida has an interesting and sinful emphasis to her line delivery. Richard’s script is certainly adult in nature and deals with some pretty ruinous stuff. A focus on the dying plant was interesting, I saw it as a metaphorical touch regarding the couple’s connection. In a roundabout way, Hang Up has surprising topical relevance with things like the #MeToo movement and other pertinent issues in the world right now.

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THE BAD

My only criticism of the film (and it’s a personal preference issue) is that it should’ve ended after Emelia discovered what transpired. It wasn’t necessary to hear her reaction and I think it ultimately took away from some of the desired impact had she just hung up. Stylistically speaking, the way it bleeds into the credits does kind of work though.

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Simply put, Hang Up is just more superb filmmaking from Richard Powell and Fatal Pictures. These guys are constantly reinventing themselves and there’s a real sense of professionalism about what they do. There’s a dedication to telling impactful stories, each different from the next. The black and white works well, the shot choices are cool, and the audio sharp. The script is smartly written and both Nolan and Auza deliver extremely impressive performances. I do think the last couple of minutes could’ve been cut in order to garner more of a one-two punch finish. Leave some mystery. First and foremost, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of “The Boxcutter Trilogy”, which features three of Powell’s aforementioned short films. Check out the teaser trailer for Hang Up! because it’s coming soon.

My rating for “Hang Up!” is 9/10

Good Girl (Review) All good things must come to an end…

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GOOD GIRL

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thanks to Three Tales Productions and Co-Writer/Director, Wesley Alley for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 9 minute Drama/Thriller short, “Good Girl”. Good Girl takes place on the night of Charles (played by Zack Ward) and Helen’s (Amanda Markowitz) milestone anniversary. The pair is enjoying a nice meal, fine wine, and some old tunes in the comfort of their own home before they realize that all good things must come to an end.

THE GOOD

I previously reviewed Wes’s micro-short, “SockMonster” earlier this year https://adamthemoviegod.com/2018/04/16/sockmonster-review-this-aint-no-puppet-show/ and it’s turned out to be one of the most impressive shorts of 2018 thus far. Building a career mostly in the camera and electrical department, Alley has since ventured into writing and directing short films over the last 7 or 8 years. It’s filmmakers like Wes that have inspired me to get involved in the industry. Ryan McCoy’s camera work in Good Girl is smooth in nature and it’s complemented nicely by a soft lighting in a gothic style of presentation. There’s a series of nice close-ups and the proper time is taken in setting the scene. The audio track is clean, and the old record music combines with Rob Reider’s brief but frenetic orchestral score to create an effective atmosphere. Zack Ward (Freddy vs Jason) brings an ample amount of creep factor to Charles. Appearing calm on the surface but you’re never quite sure what he’s thinking. Amanda is solid in her role too.

THE BAD

It’s a little on the nitpicky side, but some of the shots in the climax are just a fraction darker than they needed to be. If I have one key complaint it’s that I was able to predict the direction of the story less than a couple of minutes into it (and that was without looking at screenshots). Being only 9 minutes long though, it doesn’t alter the overall enjoyment of the film. I was left a little in the dark (pardon the pun) about the why of it all, but I suppose leaving your audience on that kind of note isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Good Girl is another really impressive short film from Three Tales Productions. The cinematography is sound, the audio is crisp, and the score is subtle in the best possible way. Zack and Amanda give commendable performances and it proves to be an entertaining thriller. Seasoned viewers (and particularly ones of short films) are likely to find the key development rather predictable from the outset, and they might be left a little cold on the reasoning. Whilst I don’t think this one is quite as memorable as SockMonster it’s still well worth a look. Keep an eye out for the release of Good Girl soon!

My rating for “Good Girl” is 7.5/10

Hush (Review) When actions speak louder than words…

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HUSH

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Jam Productions and Writer/Director, Joseph McGovern (All Over Again) for allowing me access to an online screener of his second short film “Hush”. Hush is an 11 minute Drama/Fantasy short about Jeremy (played by Anthony Scanish), a young man struggling with an infatuation for his best friends wife, Suzanna (Melissa Damas). The desire finally gets to be too much following a couples night and the two will never be the same again. The film also stars Kristin Teporelli, Erik Searle, Constance Reshey, and Marion Tention.

THE GOOD

Hush opens in heavily saturated reds that pierce the frame as the credits roll to the sound of Matthew Amadio’s beautiful synth theme. It’s a dramatic composition made up of those familiar tones you’d get from an LA vibe film. Paul DuVilla’s cinematography is simple in structure but well executed, and McGovern’s edit is pretty clean. The red lighting is certainly stylish though perhaps a little overexposed in places. The most interesting element of Hush is McGovern’s reluctance to use dialogue to guide the narrative. His previous short “All Over Again”, about an aging musician, was built around conversation and conventional music, Hush is void of both of those and I like that. As an amateur filmmaker myself, I can’t help but respect Joseph’s willingness to challenge himself by doing something different. I read Hush as one man’s externalization of his deepest desires, something that ultimately culminates in an interesting and dark turn of events.

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THE BAD

Hush undoubtedly comes with a few questions. For example, there’s a woman who approaches from behind Jeremy and touches him on the shoulder during the party. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be Suzanna or just a figment of Jeremy’s imagination, it was a little unclear. I thought the imagery might have been his mind simply playing tricks on him, highlighting the guilt he might have felt if he had cheated or was cheating on his girlfriend. I wasn’t exactly sure what Joseph was trying to convey through it all. That said, there are some relevant issues on display here regarding fantasized behavior and the importance of consent. I do think if Hush was half the length it’d make for a tighter end result.

Hush is a unique Drama/Mystery story and quite the diversion from McGovern’s debut short. The synth score is amazing, it’s well shot and the abstract nature toward this kind of subject matter isn’t something you often see. The overly long run time (which is still relatively short might I add) limits the effect of Hush and I think a good three or four minutes could have been trimmed. A few specifics aren’t entirely clear and I’m not one hundred percent sure what Joseph is trying to say here. All that said, this is another solid short film from a young indie filmmaker. Keep an eye out for the official release of Hush soon!

My rating for “Hush” is 6/10

Killer Kate! (Review) It’s a bachelorette party to die for…

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KILLER KATE!

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thanks to both Feld Films and Co-Writer/Director, Elliot Feld for allowing me early access to an online screener of his new Horror film “Killer Kate!”. Killer Kate sees a non-for-profit worker, Kate (played by Alexandra Feld) reluctantly accept an invitation to a remote cabin for her estranged sister Angie’s (Danielle Burgess) bachelorette party. Along for the ride are Angie’s co-workers Sara and Mel (played by Amaris Davidson and Abby Eiland respectively). What the group doesn’t know is that the siblings of a random family business, led by the hesitant, Jimmy (Grant Lyon) have targeted the girls specifically. What ensues is a life or death battle between the two parties. The film also stars scream queen Tiffany Shepis, Brandon Bales, Preston Flagg and Robert Donavan.

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THE GOOD

Killer Kate’s high production value ensures that the film be taken seriously, all the more impressive is that this is Elliot’s debut feature-length film. Daud Sani’s cinematography is certainly one of the technical highlights. Everything is nicely framed and competently shot. Both the gentle panning techniques and overall color grading are extremely smooth in nature. A tight edit by young filmmaker Carter Feuerhelm sees to it that Killer Kate never feels like it’s dragging. The audio track is crisp and clear and John Hopkins mighty synth-centric score will go down as another one of my favorites of 2018. One might argue that with the worldwide success of Netflix’s “Stranger Things”, composers are simply just cashing in on the overnight rejuvenation of 80’s synth in movies. Hell, they’d probably be right, but there’s a reason why audiences still love it and it’s because of that sense of nostalgia that kicks in. That said, Hopkins brings his own dramatic ideas to the table, with the inclusion of some lovely somber piano and then fading bass thumps as the situation escalates.

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Killer Kate presents as a fairly straight-up horror flick with elements of the slasher thrown in, though there’s a surprising amount of dark humor to proceedings that sadly doesn’t always translate. I’ve seen a few slashers that have played to the setting of a wedding or an engagement party so this is unlikely to be seen as treading new ground. “Hen’s Night”, and even Staci Layne Wilson’s “The Fiance” both come to mind (among others). Most of the cast is serviceable but Lyon delivers quite a fun-filled performance and proves to be the most consistent source of comedy. He happens to look a hell of a lot like fellow actor and funny man, P.J Byrne. As for the humor, some early banter between the family members stands out and the ongoing ski mask gag is quite funny too. The lovely Tiffany Shepis (Victor Crowley) shows off her surprising comedic sensibilities in a brief but enjoyable role. As for the action, it takes more than half the 78 minute run time for the practical blood spray to rear its ugly head. There are a couple of respectable kills involving an ax and a barbed-wire bat, though it turns out that this one isn’t really the type of horror film fans might be expecting.

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THE BAD

I’ll be the first to admit that I was caught a little off guard by the tone of Killer Kate. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Horror/Comedy blend but the humor here isn’t present enough to accurately describe it like that, and the violence isn’t really severe enough to see it appropriately labeled a horror/slasher film either. There’s an attempt by Feld to give his protagonist duo of sisters some more depth, but when all is said and done the expression of the material is a rather self-aware one (highlighted by the “this isn’t a movie” line) and it leaves you feeling uncertain. On the creative front, there are a few frames of overly soft lighting and chunks of the dialogue feel immature at times. It may have been Elliot’s intention to have the girls clearly overreact to the sight of a muddy footprint but it wasn’t a logical reaction to the situation, especially considering nothing out of the ordinary happens prior to that to suggest that people were coming to kill them. Unfortunately just about everything else in the film reactive based-wise is steadily undersold. Once again, that might have been the intent, but it can’t help calling into question the validity of the entire format and perhaps the marketing of Killer Kate. The acting isn’t bad by any means but there’s little weight to any of it. It’s never really explained as to why Mel has it in for Kate so badly? It can’t simply just be a jealousy thing because everything displayed in her character core suggests she isn’t the type. It seems as if there’s been an altercation between the two previously and maybe the audience just doesn’t know about it, I’m not sure though. I spent a fair portion of the runtime asking, Why the strained relationship between siblings Kate and Angie? After all, it didn’t appear like there was one instance that served as the reason for their disconnection (maybe their father’s illness?). I discovered that it was likely Angie’s self-absorbed nature that drove the pair apart, an outlook that she seemed completely oblivious too. Kudos to both writers in Feld and Daniel Moya for writing a realistic character, but that said, Angie’s a frustrating watch and I had little sympathy for her when it came to the business end (and I don’t think that was the intention). All signs appear to point to one particular motive regarding the home invasion. Even underlined by some of Angie’s fiance story sharing with her sister, or so I thought. Then out of left field comes an odd head-scratcher of a rationale behind the killings. Let’s just say I don’t think the landing stuck.

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Despite its shortcomings, Elliot Feld’s “Killer Kate!” is a decent debut feature-length film. Sani’s cinematography is wonderfully presented, the audio is sharp, and John’s pulsating synth score pulls plenty of creative punches. Some of the comedy is entertaining and the script elements aren’t bad either, even if they are somewhat tonally conflicting. It’s a short runtime with adequate blood splatter and a few kills and I think Grant and Tiffany give the two best performances of the bunch. On the downside, the film doesn’t possess the emotional weight it wants you to think it does and that’s highlighted in a lot of the under and overplayed reactions. Some of the characters decisions are questionable, Angie’s selfish persona is likely to test viewers, and I couldn’t quite work out why there was so much animosity towards Kate, especially given two out of the three girls had never met her prior to the getaway. The motive remains the weakest aspect of Killer Kate and I can’t help but feel a little cheated. Especially when either directly or indirectly, Feld’s all but sets events in motion with a seemingly clear target in mind, one who disappointingly never really becomes that target. With that said, genre fans are still likely to have fun with Killer Kate and may enjoy it even more than I did. The film will be available in theatres and on VOD from the 26th of October. You can check out the trailer below, Enjoy!

My rating for “Killer Kate” is 5/10

2001: A Space Odyssey (Review) Humanities rise and the dangers of technological advancement…

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2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

 

THE SETUP

This is a review of the 1968 Adventure/Sci-Fi epic “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Written and Directed by Stanley Kubrick (The Shining). 2001: A Space Odyssey has been described as a space opera of sorts, divided into three separate acts, each depicting various stages of our evolution. In the beginning, we’re shown how man came to learn about the use of tools and weaponry. The appearance of multiple Black Monoliths (machines built by an unknown species) acts as the catalyst in advancement that eventually sees humanity reach as far as the stars and beyond. Then, onboard spacecraft “Discovery One”, Dr. Dave Bowman (played by Keir Dullea) and Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) are en-route to Jupiter on a mission, the details of which are classified. During their journey, they’re confronted with the potential dangers of their onboard supercomputer, the seemingly faultless HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain). Its ever-expanding intelligence could ultimately threaten the next step in the evolutionary chain. The film also stars William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, and Leonard Rossiter.

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THE GOOD

It’s hard to believe that in his 70 years of life, Kubrick only managed thirteen films (it sounds like a lot but it’s not). The approach was clearly quality over quantity, and that shows in the way he moved freely across all genres, making a name for himself in each of them. It began (more or less) with “The Killing”, his very own Crime/Film Noir picture that came at the height of the genre, yet still had its own style and structure that set it apart from the rest. “Paths Of Glory” and “Spartacus” saw Stanley step into the world of war, and “Lolita” added that touch of Romance and Eroticism to proceedings. His most well-known films like “A Clockwork Orange”, and the now-infamous “The Shining” received the level of attention they did because of his groundbreaking work with 2001. To date, I’ve seen seven of his films, and whilst I think this science fiction saga has been somewhat over-hyped, I still highly respect the work and the techniques used to make it. Kubrick clearly paved the way for the likes of Christopher Nolan and his less than stellar “Interstellar” (whom the filmmaker even referenced as inspiration), as well as “Europa Report” or something like Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity”, a masterclass survival thrill ride. The cautionary tale element of humanity’s technological developments proved to be well ahead of its time, especially given our now somewhat unhealthy reliance on it here in the 21st century.

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With over twenty years of prior experience, DP Geoffrey Unsworth (Superman) used his ingenuity to conceive the absolutely stunning visuals on display in 2001, the likes of which had never been seen before. There are a series of grand establishing shots (probably too many) that not only set the atmosphere but allow Kubrick to bask in his own eminence. Understandably so, considering he was the first to take on something of this magnitude. Unsworth utilizes the full scope of the camera’s capabilities, placing it at various angles and in interesting positions throughout the second act in order to demonstrate the aesthetics of zero gravity. It helps to put you in the shoes of the crew members, while simultaneously presenting the viewer with something innovative. The bulk of the cinematography showcasing space is grand in nature and highlighted what could be achieved using miniatures and the right backdrops. Some of the lighting is quite expert too. Namely the use of reds and whites. I personally feel as though the full-blown classical music has a sense of heavy-handedness about it, but the various composers are good and the crew did a wonderful job of the arrangement. I think that the high-quality sound design actually eclipses the self-satisfying ways of the musical compositions. The tradeoff between subtle sounds heard onboard the craft and then the cutaways to Frank out in the haunting void (and the same with Dave) makes the experience a completely immersive one.

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2001’s Set Decoration by Robert Cartright is a huge part of the reason that the film was successful and why it’s managed to hold up so well today. The facility set introduced at the end of the first act is nicely detailed, so to the craft that Dr. Floyd and his counterparts travel in. Remember that this was 1968, so attention to detail hadn’t really become a thing of note yet. The design and detail in all the features of Discovery One is certainly something to behold, simply unparalleled for that era. The wardrobe department created realistic suits and helmets and zero gravity is mostly nullified due to the fact that characters are often seen wearing a kind of soft velcro shoe. Due to its seemingly non-existent character development, not a lot of range is actually required of the actors. That said, both Dullea and Lockwood’s performances are serviceable and Douglas Rain happens to possess the perfect tone for the supercomputer’s voice. It’s equal parts controlled and eerie. The middle act is by far and away the strongest. It’s the closest the film ever gets to a semi-conventional narrative that’s both rewarding through its entertainment value as well as its cautionary warning. Kubrick’s writing surrounding the HAL 9000 and its determinations is genius, eventually leading to some thoroughly unnerving and suspenseful moments of unpredictability.

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THE BAD

Whilst I really respect Kubrick and what he was able to do with 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film still comes up somewhat short in regard to its “masterpiece” branding. It’s unnecessarily long and lethargic in its pacing, and therefore I don’t think that it really warrants such high esteem, at least not in its current state. There’s quite a sense of overindulgence on Kubrick’s part (and it wouldn’t be the first time), but I guess the hope was to give audiences a larger than life cinematic experience, unlike anything they’d seen before. Said to have set the tone and depict the notion of the unknown, 2001 opens with a black screen and some eerie synth for the first five minutes. I understand the reasoning behind it but half that length would have sufficed. The same can be said of the bizarre warp speed sequence in the third act. I’m not sure I understood the context, so I’m going to assume the most logical explanation was Bowman entering a black hole of sorts. It’s an extremely long-winded scene loaded with landscape establishing shots where Kubrick goes well and truly overboard with colored lens filters, and for what purpose? I really don’t know. In the first scenes with Dr. Floyd, we’re introduced to a number of other scientists and researchers who end up having no bearing on the events. No important information is conveyed between them and they’re never revisited. It’s yet another example of five or six minutes screen time that probably should have been cut. The infamous “hominids” sequence is undoubtedly important to the evolution framework of 2001, but once again, it’s just a bit too long.

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Continuity-wise, the film is pretty solid. Though if I’m being finicky I’d say that the counter to depicting zero gravity ( e.g the velcro shoes) isn’t actually established on board the Discovery One. Much of the final act can only be described as highly conceptual and I have no qualms in saying that I didn’t fully comprehend all of it. Stylistic Filmmakers like David Lynch (Eraserhead) and David Cronenberg (Naked Lunch) were clearly inspired by the likes of Stanley Kubrick and 2001. The black monolith still remains somewhat of a mystery, although I suppose that’s the point. The hominids touch the pillar in the beginning and I guess that ultimately acts as a catalyst in their understanding of tools and weaponry and how to use those elements. Does the monolith on earth somehow project to the other one eventually found on the moon? If so, does that mean you have to make contact with it? How do the researchers even know where to go to find it? Or were they heading to the moon on another mission and then randomly discovered it? Little is understood about any of it. What is it that the monolith does to the structure of the space-time continuum that results in Dave being able to see multiple versions of himself? Everything comes to a culmination in a kind of rebirth scene, but it’s all rather abstract. I suppose the takeaway from 2001: A Space Odyssey is that it’s by and large a story about humanity, about the life cycle of a human and told among the widely unknown nature of the universe. Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” tried to accomplish the same kind of thing but failed miserably with regard to exploring the human condition.

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I’ve been meaning to watch Stanley Kubrick’s infamous “2001: A Space Odyssey” for several years now and just never got around to it. With stars Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood set to visit Australia next month for a convention, I thought now was as good a time as any. There are some interesting layers to 2001 and Kubrick’s thoughts on life, the universe, and technology, particularly in his foreshadowing of the potential dangers of its advancement. Unsworth’s cinematography is unique and super sharp, the lighting is fantastic and the sound design is often unexpectedly eerie. The set decoration and wardrobe still hold up today and the performances are more than serviceable. Despite not being seen, Douglas Rain’s performance as the HAL 9000 remains the most memorable, and that whole middle segment is where the film is its strongest. Unfortunately, as it stands, 2001 is a good twenty-five minutes too long and the overall sluggish pacing makes it seem even longer than 140 minutes. There are four or five examples of scenes that could have been cut down and they wouldn’t have lost anything. Having questions about something so cerebral isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but coupled with the vibe of Kubrick’s excessive self-congratulatory nature, it’s all a little much. If the bulk of 2001 further explored the link between man and machine it would have not only maintained a more defined narrative, but it would have been more interesting and relevant. With that said, one can’t deny Kubrick’s level of ambition with this film and how truly impressive it is that something that’s now 50 years old, still holds up today. It’s not quite the masterpiece some say, but it certainly helped shape the world of modern science fiction filmmaking and for that I highly respect it.

My rating for “2001: A Space Odyssey” is 6/10

Any Bullet Will Do (Review) You reap what you sow…

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ANY BULLET WILL DO

 

THE SETUP

This is a review of the Region 1 (U.S) DVD of “Any Bullet Will Do”, the third feature-length film from Papa Octopus Productions. I thoroughly enjoyed their two previous releases which consist of the dramatic thriller, “Big Legend” see review- https://adamthemoviegod.com/big-legend-review-something-lie-beyond-the-woods/ and a slow-burn western called “A Reckoning” see review- https://adamthemoviegod.com/a-reckoning-review-revenge-comes-in-all-different-forms/. Any Bullet Will Do is an Action/Western film Written and Directed by Justin Lee. Primarily set in Montana during 1876, Former Union soldier turned headhunter Hollis Ransom (played by Kevin Makely), enlists the help of a fur trapper, as he sets out through unfamiliar territory in Big Sky country looking to find and kill his brother Everett (Todd A. Robinson). The film also stars Bruce Davison (Insidious: The Last Key), Jenny Curtis (Friends Don’t Let Friends), Meg Foster (Lords Of Salem), and Mark Ryan (TV’S Black Sails).

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THE GOOD

Driven. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think of young filmmaker Justin Lee. Here’s a guy with not only a clear knowledge of filmmaking but an understanding of resourcefulness when it comes to independent film. The amount of praise I’ve been singing for Lee in recent times probably makes it seem as though I have an affiliation to, or a biased view of the man, such is not the case. I, myself, are an aspiring filmmaker, and it gives me hope to see someone in a similar position making a successful go of it. Any Bullet Will Do is the second western from Papa Octopus Productions, but unlike the reluctant nature of its predecessor, this time around the pacing is better handled. Lee combines nicely with DP, Will Turner to get a rather fulsome presentation, perhaps his best yet. Shot on location, the Montana forest looks nothing short of breathtaking, both in its spring setting and the winter. Turner’s framing is fantastic and the shot choices are simple but constructive. The use of a drone in several establishing shots certainly raises the production value, as to do the dynamic wide shots during the trekking transition portions of the film. A majority of it takes place during the day but Turner and his team still do a great job of keeping the amount of light consistent from shot to shot. The audio track is crisp and clear, and the use of low-fi treble and bass help complement Makely’s opening piece of narration as the Union prepares to do battle with the Confederates. Justin’s regular composer Jared Forman is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Any Bullet Will Do has three distinct musical styles and is clearly some of his best work thus far. The first theme builds around rock/blues acoustic guitar, the second changes to electric guitar but melodic in nature, even ballad-like. The last is where things become drum-centric, left for the films more suspenseful moments. I don’t normally mention the wardrobe department on independent films, but when it comes to the Western genre it remains an essential detail of the film’s fabric (oooh that’s a bad pun). Christina Bushner deserves all the accolades for the detailed clothing, hats, belts, and holsters (among other things). I was able to buy into the setting immediately and all because of the costume and set design, so kudos.

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Some familiar faces return to take part in Lee’s third film, most notably Makely and Robinson. Everyone involved turns in really solid performances though. Experienced heads in Davison and Foster lead from the front and are particularly good. Davison playing “Carrington”, a greedy town mayor/sheriff of sorts. He chews the scenery as good as anyone during his interactions with Makely. Meg makes an appearance as “Ma Whitman”, the woman who runs the prostitutes in town and again she’s as natural as we’ve come to expect. The addition of Jenny Curtis as “Rose Gage” is a nice one too. She brings a bit of fiery female spirit to the proceedings and I dug her characters look. Makely and Robinson worked together on Justin’s two previous films. They’ve definitely grown, and over time developed an organic shorthand with each other. Todd has a little less screen time than he did in Big Legend but he’s good regardless, and I think this is Kevin’s best performance. Not to mention, he more than looks the part of the disheveled and emotionally wrecked lone soldier. Lee’s honed his writing abilities in quite a short period of time and Any Bullet Will Do is solid proof of that. Through some good dialogue, he touches on Hollis’s family division early on, as well as making an interesting choice for the soldier’s guide (leading you one way and ultimately going another). The inclusion of several stronger and more interesting scenes ultimately pays dividends this time around. The opening battle, albeit brief, is ambitious and well-executed. Then there’s Carrington’s eventful interrogation of a townsperson (Bruce’s best scene) and a lively sequence in a saloon. All the western tropes that we love are on display here. You’ll even find the witty and humorous conversation that occurs between two drifters, Lonnie and Karl (played by Sean Cook and Randy Ryan) to be far more entertaining than expected. The action is carefully arranged and somewhat limited (mainly due to the budget), but some practical blood spray and effects work from Jerry Buxbaum bring that vital element of realism to this harsh environment.

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THE BAD

If I’m being nitpicky, I’d say that Makely and Curtis try their damndest to stretch their faculties beyond their current limits in order to try to harness the full spectrum of emotions. Crying freely isn’t an easy thing to do for most people, and made even more difficult in the land of make-believe. I found some of Jenny’s punchy delivery to be a touch too modern for the period as well. Lee gives us a few momentary peeks into the window of Hollis’s past, which is more than we got in the aforementioned “A Reckoning”. That said, I think one pure flashback to the event in question would’ve gone a long way to gaining further insight as to how these brothers drifted apart and what the catalyst ultimately was for that happening (other than the obvious). The film doesn’t have any obvious plot holes, other than the fact that it’s not overly realistic to shoot a man once and just leave him for dead, especially not in that revenge-fueled world. I understand the need for said sequence because it sets up the vengeance aspect, but still. I’m a little disappointed that this is a bare-bones release because those of us interested in film would’ve loved some features looking at how something like this was made on such limited funds, never mind though.

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Justin Lee’s, Any Bullet Will Do is a super impressive independent venture into the hardened world of the Western. It’s like a mix of “Seraphim Falls” and the “True Grit” remake and is easily Lee’s most impressive film to date (with the end result likened more to the latter film). I love the DVD artwork, the landscape is stunning, the cinematography smooth, and the audio is as sharp as ever. Forman’s score is wonderful and Bushner’s costume and set design are methodical in the attention to detail. The returning players here are great to watch and the newcomers make for lively inclusions, most notably Brea Bee who sings really well in her one scene. The standard of acting is high from all involved, but both Davison and Makely deliver almost career-best performances. The characters are all enjoyable, the downtime is shortened, and most of the scenes are more dynamic than in Lee’s previous western. Whilst the action is still reduced, the story is never boring. I can critique a couple of the finer points in a few of the performances and look at what could have been added that wasn’t, but at the end of the day, it’s nothing that puts a dampener on affairs. People seriously need to start talking about this film and they’re not. For some unknown reason, Lee seems to be copping a bit of a beatdown from critics of late. I think it screams of jealousy or unrealistic expectations because none of their feedback appears to carry any real weight. I say it time and time again, if you’re going to review these types of films it’s important to grasp the process behind it and all that it entails. Anywho, in typical hard-working fashion, Lee just continues to go about his business unaffected. If you’re a fan of western pictures and are open to watching independent films, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything in the genre as good as Any Bullet Will Do. The film is now available to purchase and you can check out the official trailer below!

My rating for “Any Bullet Will Do” is 8/10

The Zero Boys (Blu Ray Review) When war games go wrong…

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THE ZERO BOYS

 

THE SETUP

UK distribution company “Arrow Video” have been in the game since 1991. They’ve been responsible for some of the best film restorations in recent times and I never miss an opportunity to pick up more new content from them. Arrow takes the old negatives, tidies them up, color corrects them, and jam packs the releases with new features and interviews etc. The 1986 backwoods style Horror/Thriller, “The Zero Boys” was given the same treatment and it was recommended to me by a friend. The Zero Boys is a genre mash-up about war games that go wrong. The zero team is headed up by the ultra-competitive, Steve (played by Daniel Hirsch) and consists of his two buddies, Rip (Jared Moses) and Larry (Tom Shell) who spend their days playing elaborate survival games in the wilderness. After celebrating a fresh victory, of which the prize being young psych student Jamie (played by Kelli Maroney), Steve, the boys, and their respective girlfriends all head off for some downtime but unknowingly find themselves in an authentic kill or be killed situation. Zero Boys is Co-Written and Directed by Nico Mastorakis (Island Of Death), and also stars Nicole Rio (Sorority House Massacre), Crystal Carson (TV’S Dallas), Joe Estevez (Samurai Cop 2) and Gary Jochimsen.

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THE GOOD

This 4K transfer of Zero Boys is incredibly sharp, though having never seen the film in 35mm or the heyday of VHS, I can’t make a full comparison. That said, if I was betting man, I’d say that this print is as good as the 1986 cut will ever look. Almost all the imagery looks clean, and the sets being laced with rain and fog certainly adds an element of charm to the proceedings. DP, Steven Shaw (who had previously worked as an AC on Spielberg’s E.T) carries out some really fine Steadicam operating and utilizes some effective high angle shot choices. The clean and loud audio and fresh master both do the film a huge service. I’m sure that chunks of the dialogue were re-done using ADR (additional dialogue recording), but in this case, it doesn’t make the result any less rewarding. The brandishing and chopping sounds of the killer’s machete are one of the standout features of the sound. Both Stanley Myers, and much-lauded composer Hans Zimmer (Black Hawk Down and The Dark Night) are credited for the surprisingly impressive score on display in The Zero Boys. Zimmer has since become one of the most sought-after people in Hollywood but ZB is one of a handful of the places where he honed his craft. The opening theme is interesting, balancing high-frequency synth with a military march tempo to match the setting of the film. The style of synth becomes more energetic as the film progresses. Myers was responsible for all the suspenseful themes involving the bass, cello, and violin. The best theme comes in a scene that sees Trish (Carson) enter the bathroom to clean herself up only to encounter one of the killers. It’s very Hitchcockian in nature and delivers on the suspense front. I got a kick out of Nico’s nods to both iconic characters “Rambo” and “Jason” (from the Friday The 13th franchise), those were a bit of fun. Some of the cheesy disses spouted between characters provide a number of amusing moments too.

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The introduction to The Zero Boys is one of the most entertaining ten-minute sequences in 80’s horror. The trio and their arch-enemy Casey (played by John Michaels), play up the significance of their on-going rivalry something fierce. The 80’s were undoubtedly a simpler time, at least they must have been for Steve and his pals. The proof is in the pudding, in the sense that the appeal of approaching college life and an opportunity for greener pastures would surely outweigh the trivial bragging rights of besting your peers in juvenile war games, wouldn’t it? Well, no, apparently it doesn’t (haha). This innocent game appears to be the most relevant thing in their lives, and I suppose that’s both a happy notion and a sad one. If I measure the characters and quality of the performances here against those in John Carpenter’s infamous slasher film “Halloween” (which came just 8 years earlier), it’s not even a question as to which is better. I believe the budget’s for both films were similar and those who know me know that I’ve been quite vocal about both characterization and acting in the latter film. The arcs were purely one dimensional and the performances lacked the required emotional reactions. Whereas each of the characters in The Zero Boys is first and foremost likable, and though the stereotypes are present, they’re never overstated. Even with Steve’s hot-headed persona, he’s smarter than he lets on (despite voluntarily emptying his magazine at nothing), and Rip’s humor is pure, never mean-spirited. With Larry, the pretty boy looks make him seem like he doesn’t quite fit, so it’s an interesting inclusion to the team. As for the women, they all sport those big hairdo’s. Jamie has a tough exterior and doesn’t pretend to be something she’s not. Sue and Trish are both quieter types who offset their respective boyfriends. None of them are overly annoying or stupid, and consequently, the performances they turn in are pretty good. The threat of violence is ever-present but there’s not a lot of it on-screen. However, one eventful kill does take place during the third act and it includes some practical blood effects.

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THE BAD

The only weakness in this brand new transfer of The Zero Boys is the lack of grain management in some of the night exteriors. Ninety percent of the film looks vibrant and illustrates complete clarity, but there are a few scenes guilty of inconsistent resolution efficiency. As I said, the performances are much better than one would expect from a genre film from this time. A handful of lines do feel a little scripted as the film intensifies, resulting in some rather weak delivery. The Zero Boys isn’t without a few obvious continuity issues and some lapses in credibility regarding the writing. Steve and Larry reference a girl from a videotape they watch in the barn, yet none of the other girls ask any questions about it. The same thing can be said about the girls discovering a body in a trunk and expressing virtually no reaction to it. I suppose Trish does spontaneously vomit, but the other girls give nothing. I expected at least some screaming or calling out to the boys for help. In the aforementioned barn scene, Steve and Larry proceed to shoot the shit out of the timber door because there’s a lock on it (one that mysteriously wasn’t there the frame before). Do you know what an Uzi would do to wood? It would completely shred it. Needless to say, the boys enter the barn with the door completely intact and the lock gone. What’s more, they recklessly empty countless magazines all over the barn despite not knowing how many killers are really out there. I’m sure you’d look to conserve ammo and not waste it. The highlight of the film action-wise (involving a pitfall), doesn’t end up holding much integrity. I’m almost sure I saw the entire group walk over the area the hole was in during the prior shot of Sue falling in (it’s also in plain sight might I add haha). Not only is it not covered, but it’s also shown to be so shallow that you could climb out of it on your own. The one thing hindering the re-watchability factor of The Zero Boys is its lack of action and blood and gore.

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The Zero Boys is another solid Blu Ray release from Arrow Video. The film is more of a backcountry thriller than it is a horror or slasher flick. It’s in the vein of “Hunter’s Blood” (coincidentally released the same year) or the underrated “The Backwoods”. There’s even a touch of something like “Blood Games” about it, just replace the softball team with a bunch of paintballers instead. I couldn’t have been more impressed with the overall transfer. The cinematography is nice, the sound is crisp, and the Zimmer/Myers score is fantastic and helps drive the suspense. Most of the comedy is upbeat, the film references are fun, and the opening scene dives straight into the setup. Excusing a few flatly delivered lines, the performances are all pretty even and the characters are surprisingly appealing. The night exteriors could’ve used a little more work during the restoration process. I suppose some of the continuity stuff could be deemed artificial given the type of film this is, but characters reactions and actions during crucial moments don’t always add up. The aspect that lets the film down is that it’s almost void of action. Mastorakis stated in a feature interview that it wasn’t intended to be that type of high body count film, fair enough I suppose. Though when you set up the story with 6 or 7 characters and call it a horror film I’m expecting multiple deaths, and I didn’t get that. Still, there’s a bunch of things to really like about The Zero Boys and 1986 was a damn fine year, the year of my birth in fact. I can definitely recommend this one to fans who like these types of Horror/Thrillers. You can check out the official Arrow trailer below!

My rating for “The Zero Boys” is 6/10

E-Demon (Review) When evil goes viral…

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E-DEMON

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Kate at October Coast PR, along with Dark Cuts Distribution for allowing me early access to an online screener of a new Horror/Thriller called “E-Demon”, Written and Directed by Jeremy Wechter. E-Demon is set within the wonderful world of the interweb, where a group of old friends are enjoying a video chat when things suddenly take a turn for the worse after one of them foolishly releases a demon that’s looking to spread virally. The film stars Julia Kelly, John Anthony Wylliams, Christopher Daftsios, Ryan Redebaugh, Jessica Renee Russell and Vincent Cooper.

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THE GOOD

It would be safe to say I approached E-Demon with a fair amount of trepidation. For no reason other than the fact that it’s a small independent release presented to us through the familiar medium of the lens of a web camera (or series of web cameras to be more precise). We’ve come to equate a lot of these types of films with amateur technical execution and sub-par acting so you can imagine my surprise as E-Demon rolled on and neither of those expected shortcomings eventuated. This is Wechter’s debut feature-length film after making a dozen or so shorts since 2005. The film’s foundations are deep-seated inside the parameters of the possession component of the genre. Everything is divulged through either the video chat or the eye of each persons headset and web camera. It’s a risky method for storytelling and can easily translate as gimmicky depending on its use. In this case, the live feed works and those end credits in the form of dos information was unique. E-Demon has good quality audio all around, excluding perhaps one half of a phone call that occurs toward the climax. In the beginning, there are several news reports that make reference to “The Quad Murders”, which gives you a little insight as to what’s in store. Following the initial disclaimer delivered by a mysterious hooded figure, we’re introduced (in a roundabout way) to the group of four friends. Kendra (Kelly) is an aspiring author who shares an apartment with her two friends, Taylor, and Fawn (played by Max Rhyser and Lindsay Goranson respectively), AJ (Daftsios), is a confident and charming practical joker with a new girl always on the go. Dwayne (Wylliams) is happily married with two girls, and then there’s the struggling Mar (Redebaugh), who’s just moved back in with his siblings and gamma (grandma).

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Once you start to get a look at the different personality types, you can see the potential for drama to unfold amongst them when the situation inevitably escalates. Making matters worse is the parties penchant for elaborate pranks and one-upmanship. Coming in the form of an impromptu game of “Freak Out”, where the goal is self-explanatory- scare the other into thinking the action you act out is real. What I like about this addition is it creates a sense of uneasiness from the get-go, and ultimately you can see things going the way of the boy who cried wolf. There’s some effectively creepy imagery over the course of the film, most notably with AJ’s character, and Wechter does divulge the demons origin story (although stock standard in nature) to save questions being raised in the wake of all that happens. The most clever phase of the writing is incredibly subtle, so much so that I’m not even sure it was intentional. As we come to learn that the demon has the ability to change hosts without warning (well sort of), it appears to ingeniously pit friends against each other through false concern and accusation. At several points throughout the film, Kendra, AJ, and Dwayne all use messenger to type to each other. I noticed that when AJ chats to Kendra about Dwayne and vice versa, his arms and hands don’t appear to be moving… (now that’s creepy). It could just be that the image isn’t entirely clear (due to the format) but I’m going to give Jeremy the benefit of the doubt because I thoroughly enjoy finer details like that. The performances are pretty solid from all involved, particularly the three leads who have varying degrees of experience.

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THE BAD

The frames with distorted representation aren’t something I’m really a fan of. I suppose it does create a sense of dread in a couple of the scenes, but fortunately, it’s kept to a minimum. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t catch Wallace’s dialogue in the initial conversation with Bastian (Cooper), that particular audio was quite muffled. There are a couple of minor continuity issues throughout E-Demon. In one scene, a member of the group gets involved in some commotion that involves someone being fatally wounded. A stabbing is implied but when the body is removed there’s no blood on the rug (I guess it must have been an expensive one). On another occasion, Dwayne flees the kitchen and races to the basement in order to avoid possession. We see the shaky cam from his headset point of view but when he sits down in the second location he’s looking through a webcam again. I guess we’re led to believe he has a second computer in the basement? Feasible enough I guess, but one that just so happens to have a camera as well? There are a couple of other specifics that don’t make a whole lot of sense. For one, no one seems to question why Mar’s camera is upside down for an extended period of time (even if his sister did take it), and when paramedics arrive at Kendra’s place they go on the assertive immediately, even though there’s nothing to suggest that “camera control process” (for lack of a better term) has taken place. The last five or so minutes lost me somewhat too, the people running off in different directions came across as unintentionally funny (think The Sims). Was the resistance network member AJ? That was my take on it anyway.

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Much to my surprise, Jeremy Wechter’s Horror/Thriller E-Demon is a really solid first outing from some pretty inventive folks. It feels like a combination of “Unfriended” in terms of its style, yet thematically much more akin to something like Mike Boss’s relatively undiscovered “Anonymous 616”. https://adamthemoviegod.com/anonymous-616-review-it-knows-everything-about-you/ It’s a prime example of smart independent filmmaking on a budget. We’ve seen this type of presentation before but the real-time approach is well done and the audio sounds good. The characters have their individual trademarks, they interact the same as well-established friends do, and each of the performances further highlights that. The game they play serves as the catalyst for the ever-growing tension between them, that and a couple of Wechter’s creative choices are innovative and add another previously unseen layer. There are a couple of marginal technical hiccups and some continuity errors, but that’s par for the course. A few of the details don’t quite add up and I don’t think the climax is as strong as the rest of the film. The pacing is quite good but a couple of scenes could’ve been trimmed slightly. All in all, E-Demon is one of the surprises at the lower end scale of Horror for 2018. If you like these types of films conceived with a survelliance style of footage, I can definitely recommend this one. Check out the official trailer below and the film will be available in US theatres and on VOD from September 14th!

My rating for “E-Demon” is 6/10

Trouble Is My Business (Review) And the business is good…

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TROUBLE IS MY BUSINESS

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d like to say thank you to Lumen Actus Productions and both Co-Writer/Director, Tom Konkle, and Co-Writer Brittney Powell for sending me an online screener of their latest film “Trouble Is My Business”. Trouble Is My Business is a Film-Noir/Crime film set in Los Angeles in the late 1940’s. Former cop turned private investigator, Roland Drake (played by Konkle himself) has fallen on hard times after backlash from the public, ultimately causing him to be evicted from his office. From there, Drake unknowingly becomes entangled in a web of deceit and betrayal when he takes on a missing persons case involving a woman who he’d previously had relations with. Jennifer Montemar (played by Powell), a wealthy socialite and sister of the woman in question, inquires about his services but all is not as it seems in this world of double-crosses and femme fatales. The film also stars Vernon Wells, David Beeler, Ben Pace, Jordana Capra, Mark Teich, and Steve Tom.

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THE GOOD

I logged on the other day to find a request from Co-Writer and Actress, Brittney Powell inviting me to watch and review Trouble Is My Business. Shortly thereafter, Tom spoke to me about it as well and I informed him that I had funnily enough just recently purchased a hard copy (which comes complete with both color and black and white versions of the film). I’m a bit of a sucker for film noir and crime films of the era’s gone by. I went on a kick there a while back and purchased a good one hundred or so of the best older crime films (most of which I haven’t even watched yet). It’s clear that Konkle and Powell are both film noir fans too, and perhaps this is their independent venture aiming to serve as a love letter to the genre. The script has all the essentials of the genre, private investigators, corrupt cops, femme fatales and a rare diamond thrown in just for good measure. DP duo, Jesse Arnold and PJ Gaynard achieve quite a simple but clean look with their photography style. Everything is nicely framed and the establishing shots (often conceived with CG) feel diverse and as though they fit well. I’m interested in going back to watch the color version at some point but I was advised to watch the black and white edition (which I’d usually do anyway). Sections of the nearly all CG backgrounds look rather impressive, most notably the driving sequences with Drake and his old partner, Lew (played by Beeler). In addition, the audio track is nice and clear as well.

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Thomas Chase and Hayden Clement’s original score is another solid aspect of Konkle’s film. There’s a moody orchestral score in the beginning and plenty of effective french horn and clarinet (or at least what sounds like those two instruments) used in between pauses and moments of dramatic emphasis. The costume and wardrobe design isn’t bad considering the limited funds that would’ve been allocated for it. Tom has a good voice for narration and there’s some enjoyable stuff on display over the course of the film. Though who he’s actually narrating the events to, I don’t know? Most of the performances are serviceable and hit the appropriate beats that best fit the film noir bill. Tom carries a good portion of it and Powell complements him nicely. Both Beeler and Pace, who plays John, Jennifer’s beau (of sorts), provide a clean smart-alec sense of humor to the proceedings. Jordana Capra presents with a natural and well-rehearsed mannerly front as Evelyn Montemar, head of the rich family at the center of the case. Rivers the butler (Teich) is lively, but the characters motivations make very little sense (unless I missed something). A special mention goes to Steve Tom in his small role, and for pulling off a thick and believable Russian accent, no easy thing to do. There are a few moments of decent gunplay and action in Trouble Is My Business but it’s not the prime focus.

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THE BAD

There’s the odd bad shadow here and there but the film’s technical aspects can’t be faulted, and that’s an impressive feat in an of itself, especially on this kind of budget. The two biggest issues with Trouble Is My Business are its lengthy runtime and the overall slower pacing of it. Now, that wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the film had more on-screen action or even extra active content, but it doesn’t. There aren’t a whole lot of altercations that occur during the near 110 minutes and that’s a problem. Some of the dialogue feels a little stiff, especially when it comes to Wells character, Detective Barry Tate. Vernon is an Aussie born actor that’s made a solid living for himself in the US, and he’s a guy I usually like watching. Unfortunately, I can’t say that about his performance in Konkle’s latest film (for which he was given top billing). I couldn’t tell what his intended accent was, whatever it may have been though ended up feeling inconsistent and at times noncommittal. Even Well’s off-screen delivery was lacking, and in turn, the appropriate demanding nature of the character doesn’t really translate. A couple of scenes didn’t quite work tonally speaking. The obvious one coming early on between Drake and Jennifer, who have just met, and have to deal with an office intruder in a rather odd altercation. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be funny or if the intended emotional hint just didn’t fit. I thought Drake’s reaction to the situation was rather unrealistic too. There are other examples of characters lacking the appropriate reactions, such as Jennifer pointing a gun at Drake, who gives absolutely no response, yet he doesn’t know her at that point so you’d think he might have some questions. Credibility has to be called into question when the pair overpower three Russian guards, and what the hell was going on with Rivers? Why was he acting crazy? Did I miss something there?

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I was looking forward to checking out Trouble Is My Business and I ended up getting to it much sooner than I probably would’ve had Tom and Brittney not inquired about a review. The film is an earnest throwback to the likes of film noir gems like “The Big Sleep” and “The Maltese Falcon”, with perhaps a modern-day touch of something like “Give ’em Hell Malone”. The camera work is great, the audio is sharp and the atmospheric music completes the desired foundation of a genre film like this. Some of the CG is high quality and the costumes are nicely detailed too. The performances are mostly consistent and the script is satisfactorily written. What’s missing though is that important layer of action to help keep viewers intrigued. I’m aware that mightn’t have been the initial intention, but it needed to be. Two hours (or thereabouts) on little money is a long time to try to keep people entertained. Wells performance falls on the disappointing side, some characters actions and reactions don’t always appear to make a lot of sense, and the sluggish pacing makes it a bit of a battle along the way. That said, down the track, I’m still interested in watching the color version and seeing if I gain anything new from it. Whilst I can’t recommend it to everyone, I do think hardcore fans of the film noir style should give this sincere endeavor a look, and keep doing your part to support independent film. You can check out the official trailer below and the film is now available for purchase!

My rating for “Trouble Is My Business” is 5/10

Bad Samaritan (Review) What could possibly go wrong…

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THE SETUP

Electric Entertainment presents “Bad Samaritan”, a new Horror/Thriller that’s just hit VOD (video on demand). It’s the latest film from actor turned director, Dean Devlin (Geostorm) and is written by Brandon Boyce (Apt Pupil). Bad Samaritan centers around Sean Falco (played by Irish actor, Robert Sheehan), a young man living in Portland who’s been floating through life hoping that his passion for freelance photography takes him somewhere. Whilst Sean moonlights as a valet at a restaurant, his girlfriend Riley (Jacqueline Byers) is studying to get her degree. With parents constantly on him about growing up and taking responsibility, Sean ends up resorting to petty crime to support his leisurely lifestyle. Along with longtime friend Derek (Carlito Olivero), the pair gets in over their heads when they decide to target Cale (played by David Tennant), a wealthy man whom Sean discovers has been keeping a dark secret inside his home. The film also stars Kerry Condon (TV’S Better Call Saul), Rob Nagle (Dawsons Creek), Lorraine Bahr and Tracey Heggins.

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THE GOOD

Bad Samaritan is the latest entry in a slew of recent home invasion-style thrillers. This particular sub-genre has found itself somewhat rejuvenated of late, and that’s a good thing for fans of the PG-13 style content. Devlin’s film boasts some of our very own homegrown talent in the form of Australian DP, David Connell (TV’S Leverage). His cinematography is a big part of what drives the high production value of the film. All the framing is consistent and the shot types are smart and simple. There are a number of particularly effective POV (point of view) shots, as Sean carefully explores Cale’s rather lavish house looking for things of easy access. One of the central locations is the home itself, and it’s a great one. It has the look of a new age apartment, complete with a wood look finish, an open plan staircase, lots of glass paneling, and large entertaining areas. Connell’s able to light and shoot each of those internal scenes perfectly, knowing where to darken the frame and how much to keep front and center. Some of the crew were credited for additional audio work, but as far as I could tell, the track sounded clean and natural. Composer, Joseph LoDuca (The Evil Dead Franchise) has almost 40 years worth of experience, and it shows with the class of score he developed here. After working with Sam Raimi back in 81′ (on his first picture none the less), LoDuca continued on in horror for several years before eventually getting a gig on “Hercules”, and thus began a lifetime of composing for the Action/Adventure genre. This particular score triumphs with deep and brooding violin and cello that plays throughout the more intense moments.

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Boyce’s screenplay does call to mind other similar thrillers, but it doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable. He’s able to bring about a certain amount of suspense through purely just placing you in Sean’s shoes. Ultimately Sean’s a nice guy, relatable and respectful. Well, as much as one can be while they’re doing some pretty questionable things. We’ve all done it hard at some stage throughout our lives, or let someone we care about down, and that’s what keeps you connected to this grounded and flawed character. The strongest scenes are those in which Sean and Cale almost cross wires but they don’t. The acting is reliable right across the board too. Tennant and Sheehan both leading from the front. Unlike some, I didn’t go into the film with pre-conceived notions of David (having not watched his infamous role on Dr. Who), in fact, I’m not entirely sure that I’d ever seen a film that he was in prior. The multitude of mannerisms Tennant seems to be able to throw out are reminiscent of someone like Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills and Carnage Park). Olivero’s lighthearted take on Derek makes for the logical ying to Sheehan’s yang, and Byers serves as the innocence throughout the whole thing. Kerry Condon’s role is mostly one that requires an emotional display and she does it quite well. Bad Samaritan doesn’t have a whole lot of action, at least not until the final act, but the evolution of the story is still entertaining.

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THE BAD

Without spoiling anything, I’d say Bad Samaritan puts a nice spin on its home invasion facet, but if you’re a seasoned watcher then there’s a chance that you might have still seen it all before. The film feels like a descendant of something like “Disturbia” or Fede Alvarez’s white-knuckler, “Don’t Breathe”, only not quite as extravagant. It’s not exactly original, so if you’re one of those movie-goers who’s bothered by that element, your overall enjoyment of it might be limited. The very opening scene feels like something out of a western and it makes for an odd introduction. It has absolutely no context until the latter part of the film, and what’s even worse is that it misdirects you into thinking its somehow relevant to Sean, seeing as shortly thereafter he awakens from a sleep rather unsettled. It’s a small thing but Derek’s constant use of the word “dog” or “dawg” (as it’s known) while referring to Sean, started getting on my nerves after a while. There are a few of those obvious plot holes that usually come complimentary with this type of film. The one that always irks me is when a particular character (in this case Sean) discovers something huge going on but fails to tell a key player about it when given the opportunity to do so. Hell, not even a key player, I’d settle for just anyone, tell anyone! Sean should tell Derek exactly what he’s uncovered, but he doesn’t. Boyce saves face somewhat with that piece of writing though because Sean is able to divulge the information in the next scene (but that’s not always going to be the case in films). We’re not told in as many words, but it’s safe to assume that Cale is some kind of high tech designer, and even safer to wager that he ain’t short of a dollar. Even knowing that though, I still question the credibility of the lengths he goes to regarding his home and Sean. The biggest question of them all though is why would Cale enter the address of his isolated cabin into a GPS? Wouldn’t he already know where it was? And wouldn’t you question the risks if someone gets wind of that location? For a guy who’s clearly smart and doesn’t leave traces, Cales actions weren’t and traces were left.

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Despite its lack of originality, Bad Samaritan makes for highly entertaining home invasion viewing. Boyce’s script is mostly solid and Devlin’s directing is formidable. The cinematography is high class and suspenseful, the audio work is crisp, and the low-toned score is rather atmospheric. The characters are sufficiently watchable and the acting is strong all around, with both leads delivering authentic American accents. It was my introduction to Scottish born, David Tennant and I’d love to see him taking on some more darker roles like this moving forward. Being Irish, Robert Sheehan also brings something fresh to the production, and the remainder of the cast is good too. The runtime is perhaps a fraction long and the opening scene wasn’t necessary. Not all of the dialogue phrasings worked and the film is guilty of having characters carrying out actions that weren’t all that believable. Plot holes vary from nitpicky status to fairly sizeable, but nothing that can take away a couple of hours of time well spent. I can definitely recommend Bad Samaritan to fans of Suspense/Thrillers. It’s currently playing on VOD and you can purchase the film on DVD and Blu Ray. Check out the official trailer below!

My rating for “Bad Samaritan” is 6.5/10

A Reckoning (Review) Revenge comes in all different forms…

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A RECKONING

 

THE SETUP

Papa Octopus Productions and Vega Baby present the release of “A Reckoning”, a Drama/Western film Written and Directed by Justin Lee (Big Legend) see review https://adamthemoviegod.com/big-legend-review-something-lie-beyond-the-woods/. A Reckoning is set in the 1800’s and picks up with Mary O’Malley (played by June Dietrich), the wife of a farmer whom she comes to learn was just brutally murdered. Seeking revenge, Mary leaves her life behind and vows at all costs to hunt down the man responsible. The film also stars Kevin Makely and Todd A. Robinson (Big Legend), as well as, Lance Henriksen (Aliens) and Meg Foster (They Live). Immediately after A Reckoning’s credits started rolling I began looking at some of the reviews for it online. Much to my surprise I only found a couple. The first was quite receptive and constructive in his feedback, the second not so much. Opting instead, to personally attack Lee and a number of those involved with the film (despite initially saying he doesn’t go on the personal attack). I have to ask what purpose does that serve? Honestly. Why would anyone want to deter others from doing something they’re clearly passionate about? It makes no sense to me why we tear each other down. This particular critic panned A Reckoning as if it were an amateur hour production, slapped together by a bunch of students going through the motions in order to get extra credit on an assignment. Not only were the comments disrespectful, they have zero merits. Now I’m well aware that we all see different things in a film, but some things are just fact. The sky is black at night, right? A Rubix cube is the shape of a cube, yeah? (cue 27 more examples). Needless to say, this particular reviewer lost all credibility in one fell swoop. That being said, I’m not saying Justin’s latest film is perfect because it’s not. Let’s get into it.

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THE GOOD

What we have here is a good old fashion American western. A Reckoning was conceived on a modest budget (to say the least) by a filmmaker who’s clearly a fan of the longstanding genre. Lee is a proud and dedicated independent filmmaker who’s hard work speaks for itself (having made three films with limited cast and crew and in quick succession). The film comes across as more of a love letter to the genre rather than an action spectacle set in that very familiar world. Justin Janowitz, who served as the DP on Justin’s aforementioned film Big Legend, returns here. He frames everything nicely and utilizes what is a simple but beautiful landscape, in order to get the most bang for buck in regards to the cinematic look and feel. The sets are plain, as they would’ve been in that era, and the costumes are fittingly hardened leather and wool with colors made up of mostly earthy tones. Lee’s clear willingness to get to numerous locations, if for no other reason than to shoot coverage for establishing shots in order to build this lost world, is something to be praised. A lot of filmmakers wouldn’t bother going to those sorts of lengths. The overcast beach scenes are reminiscent of those in the post-apocalyptic survival film “The Road”. The films audio track is loud and clear, and composer, Jared Forman is no stranger to those recognizable western tones (having worked on TV’s Hell On Wheels). Lee’s introduction of Mary comes layered with subtle blues, via acoustic guitar, and later, transitions into some much darker notes with a choir singing underneath them. Sweeping violins and cello enter the fold when the drama of the piece heightens.

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Plenty of film fans have been calling for stronger female protagonists and more focus on that part of the storytelling process for a while now. Westerns, in particular, have primarily been a male-dominated culture (minus the odd film here and there). It’s a nice change of pace to see Dietrich at the core of this narrative, and even Meg Foster impresses as Ms. Maple, a townie who sympathizes with Mary at the beginning of the film. Both her and Henriksen, playing a town elder of sorts, give the film another level of depth as they showcase their expertise through a couple of lengthy yarns. In fact, this is the best I’ve seen Lance in years. He takes command with every moment he’s on screen. June is solid as the strong-minded Mary, though, with just the basics of an arc, one might have hoped she’d display a wider range of expressions. I’m a little disappointed that Robinson (who was so damn good in Big Legend) doesn’t have a lot to do here. I feel like if given the chance, this guy could chew scenery with the best of them. Kevin Makely shows up for the third act, and despite the questions that come with his character “Marrow”, he turns in a lively display to close the film. To the untrained eye, A Reckoning could perhaps appear to be a case of style over substance. I’d argue that Lee knows the confines of making a film like this on such a small budget, and that’s primarily why it’s not an action-heavy film. With that said, the fight choreography is still decent and there are a couple of on-screen kills. Better than that, Mary carries the same reservations that one in a similar inexperienced position would. Lee doesn’t once make her out to be Black Widow or Wonder Woman, she’s grounded, and the learning curve that comes with that is made obvious through some of her failures.

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THE BAD

You’ll probably be left with a few questions at the end of A Reckoning, and certain details perhaps aren’t as fleshed out as adequately as they could have been. The main issue here is the same one that I have with a lot of westerns, it’s a slow-burn. I like a good slower paced method of storytelling if everything gets explored during that timeframe. Unfortunately, due to the lack of action (mostly a budgetary constraint), a lot of what we’re left with for this 80-minute runtime are long-winded transitions and copious amounts of interaction with secondary characters who never really fully figure into the equation. There’s a ten-minute scene involving a local trader that Mary happens upon. It does serve as a means for her supplies but they talk for what seems like forever, and she eventually stays the night. The sequence probably could have been cut in half and it wouldn’t have lost anything. Marrow (so in turn Kevin) goes on what can only be described as an environmentally defensive rant in the latter stages of the film and seeing as though it’s our first look at the character, there’s no real significance to any of it. Short of mentioning a trail that most travelers seem to take, Mary never reveals how she knows where to find the mystery man, or who he even is. I guess she figures it’ll be obvious when the time comes (which turns out to be true), but still, can anyone say coincidence? The film may have benefited from introducing a flashback scene involving Marrow and the late husband, giving the audience at least a piece of the puzzle in relation to what went down. In addition, it serves to break up the monotony of Mary’s constant travels. Speaking of her journey, after she takes care of a certain bit of business (those who’ve seen it will know the scene I’m referring to) I expected she’d want to get her horse back? Especially when it’s going to potentially save you a day or two on foot. I thought that element of her story was a touch thin.

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I’m really surprised that Justin Lee’s, A Reckoning isn’t getting more love from critics and western fans alike. Other than perhaps “Jane Got A Gun”, and to a lesser extent “Brimstone” (which was epic), both of which featured heavy hitting casts and were made on much bigger budgets, there’s been little in the way of female orientated protagonists within the genre. It’s important to understand the Director’s intent and the restrictions that almost always come with DIY, independent filmmaking. If you don’t, perhaps you’re not the best person equipt to be critiquing it. A Reckoning has plenty working in its favor. The cinematography is high-class, the set design looks neat and the costumes were given the appropriate sense of detail. The music is some of the best I’ve heard in a while and each of the performances is solid. In spite of what could be considered a reserved visage, Dietrich holds it all together, and Lance Henriksen and Meg Foster deliver some of their best work in recent memory. The slow burn nature is bound to put some viewers off, and I’ll be honest by saying it does get a little strenuous at times. I think had we got more of a look at Makely’s character and that lead up to his conclusion with Mary’s husband, it might have evened things out somewhat. Not all of the decision-making seems logical, nor do we gain any solid proof behind Mary’s knowledge of Marrow’s whereabouts or identity. I’m not going to fault Lee for the film’s lack of action because I have a good grasp of the limitations on a film like this. A Reckoning is clearly Justin’s avenue for showing an appreciation and love of the genre and I can’t see how that could possibly be a bad thing. If you’re a fan of simplistic storytelling in the parameters of a western, this one is well worth your time. You can purchase the film on DVD and it’s also available through various streaming platforms now. Check out the trailer below!

My rating for “A Reckoning” is 6.5/10

14 Cameras (Review) This is the real Gerald’s game…

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14 CAMERAS

 

THE SETUP

Bought to you by Gravitas Ventures and Hood River Entertainment comes “14 Cameras”, A Horror/Thriller Written by Victor Zarcoff (13 Cameras) and Co-Directed by Seth Fuller and Scott Hussion. 14 Cameras is the follow-up to 2015’s 13 Cameras, a film that centered around Gerald, a seedy and reclusive landlord with a specific perverse pleasure for surveilling people while they went about their daily lives *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/13-cameras-review/. 14 Cameras opens up with Gerald (played by the returning Neville Archambault) once again, mid spying on a young vacationing couple (played by Zach Dulin and Kodi Saint Angelo) who are unknowingly staying in a home that he actually leases. Later, a family of five comes to stay in the same lavish home but are unaware that Gerald has rigged the place with a series of spy cameras that are live streaming 24 hours a day over the internet. The film also stars Amber Midthunder (Hell Or High Water), Brytnee Ratledge (Only The Brave), Brianne Moncrief (13 Cameras), Chelsea Edmundson, John-Paul Howard, Hank Rogerson, Lora-Martinez Cunningham and Gavin White.

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THE GOOD

I enjoyed the structure of Zarcoff’s original film (which he also directed) and how it raised the concerns that come with these sorts of technological advancements. Perhaps the more we learn about electronics, the less we can control in terms of confidentiality.  The subject matter fittingly lends itself to a voyeuristic presentation and Fuller (also the DP) handles that very well. Much like in the first film, the production is a balanced mix of surveillance footage and conventional cinematography. Much of Gerald’s screen time is spent watching his cameras, so we see what he sees. Then when the film takes a more intimate look at the seemingly oblivious subjects, we start to get the more cinematic approach. Fuller’s framing is neat and he employs a lot of nice tracking shots and rotating movements over the course of the 90 minutes. The resulting edit is clean,  the pacing is good, and the audio track is consistently clear. The music by Paul Koch is quite tempered, not something you’d usually expect in this type of thriller but it works. There are some nice low-end synth notes but it’s the use of a heartbeat sound effect that really stands out and coincides with Gerald’s growing elation. Due to its subtlety (I know… who’d have thought?), it actually took me a while to realize a few of the surprising connections to the first film. The biggest improvement upon the previous 13 Cameras is the sheer likeability factor with some of Victor’s new characters. That and the multiple avenues that see three sets of different characters given screen time over the course of the story, rather than just the one.

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In spite of some fairly one-dimensional bases, most of the core family present as inherently nice people. There isn’t the petty level of bickering and overplayed drama that surrounded the young couple in Zarcoff’s previous film. I even like the couple that was introduced in the beginning and was disappointed they got such little screen time, especially Kodi who was lovely. All the performances are solid and each of the female characters looks gorgeous. Two different stories play out simultaneously over the course of 14 Cameras. Married couple, Arthur (Rogerson) and Lori (Cunningham) unknowingly become targets of Gerald’s after renting the home and dragging their teenage kids, Molly (Ratledge) and Kyle (Howard) along, with Molly’s best friend, Amber (Midthunder) in tow. Molly’s the type of girl who is very much what you see is what you get, but Danielle, whose struggling with a cheating boyfriend, clearly has a little bit more of a wild side that comes to the surface when she drinks and smokes. Kyle is sort of third wheeling it and doesn’t really want to be there but does the family thing anyway. The second story involves Sarah (played by Edmundson), a young woman who is held against her will by Gerald, and who ultimately ends up working with another victim (Moncrief) in a desperate attempt to escape. Whilst everyone is solid in their respective roles, it’s Archambault that takes the cake here. His brutish nature and imposing physicality is something seldom seen, but that’s only part of the reason he impresses. It’s actually his jilted mannerisms, mouth always agape, and the fact that he says very little, in turn making Gerald so powerful. Additionally, Archambault has protruding varicose veins that help project an unwavering intensity. Gerald doesn’t just watch, he interacts via some creepy behavior that appears to be randomly gone for at any given stage.

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THE BAD

Some of the editing transitions are unnecessarily jolting as they go between the various house cameras. I don’t like the shaky approach that’s representative of someone knocking the camera. Clean cuts would’ve looked a lot better. It’s conveniently always quite dark inside the holiday home, especially as night approaches. Even after the girls hear a few noises and begin to suspect that all might not be as it seems, they still don’t actually turn on any lights. I didn’t find that overly realistic. There are a number of different locations that Gerald makes his way around to over the course of the film and I lost my bearings on a couple of occasions. I couldn’t help but think logistics might have been more problematic for him than we’re led to believe. There’s the key location where the family are staying, Gerald’s place, Sarah’s unit (I don’t know where that is in relation to the other desolate locations) and a hole in the ground that serves as his underground “chamber” (for lack of a better word), which I believe was on the same property as his house but I’m not entirely sure. The film is nicely paced but the anticipated payoff doesn’t come in the usual form of a body count or an escalation in on-screen violence. Most of the dialogue is pretty well-written but Kyle not being able to go a sentence without dropping the F-bomb does get a bit tedious. There’s a few continuity issues and details we’re not privy to but they’re fairly minimal. E.g, What was his incentive behind live streaming the family across the internet? It seems like a big risk to take if you’re trying to stay anonymous. Little things like not being shown how Gerald ultimately vacates a place that’s being guarded by a dog, or when he’s hit by the truck in the third act it occurs via the wrong direction. We see young, Jr (White) facing the engine with his back to Gerald, which would indicate the driver needing to move forward to run him over, but instead, she reverses to do it. Speaking of the truck, it’s big, and it’s likely that someone would’ve seen it parked at one of the locations, especially considering Gerald visits each of them multiple times.

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14 Cameras is a surprisingly good Horror/Thriller sequel, albeit somewhat predictable. It’s reminiscent of films like “Alone With Her” and the incredibly underrated “388 Arletta Avenue”. Seth and Scott explore the potentially damaging effects of a world controlled by big brother, especially when those capabilities are accessible to everyday people. The cinematography methods are practical, the sound design is good, and the music works well too. The inclusion of several more characters, of whom are likable, is a welcomed addition. Each of the performances is strong and the story ends up cleverly tying into Zarcoff’s original film. Neville Archambault’s intense portrayal of a seemingly sleazy man, who deep down is perhaps just a lonely soul, is the main reason for giving 14 Cameras a spin. Some of the editing techniques and faint lighting weren’t fully to my liking, and if you’re not paying attention to the ever-changing locations you can get lost. There are a handful of minor continuity troubles and a few things that raise questions. A little more action wouldn’t have gone astray either. It’s rare that a sequel outshines its original, but 14 Cameras just so happens to be the superior of Zarcoff’s two films. If you like the less is more approach when it comes to your thrillers, I think you’ll get a kick out of this one. It’s currently playing on Netflix and you can check out the official trailer below!

My rating for “14 Cameras” is 6.5/10

Halloween (Review) The night he came home…

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HALLOWEEN

 

THE SETUP

WARNING: For anyone who hasn’t yet seen John Carpenter’s iconic 1978 Horror/Slasher film “Halloween”, this in-depth analysis of the film will contain many SPOILERS. I also urge people who have a categorized bias toward the film to proceed with caution, as I aim to strip every element of it right back. Halloween is a Horror/Slasher film set in the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois and it centers around teenage babysitter, Laurie Strode (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) whose stalked on Halloween night by Michael Myers (Tony Moran), a knife-wielding maniac. The film also stars Donald Pleasence (The Great Escape) as “Dr. Loomis” Michael’s psychiatrist, Nancy Kyes (The Fog) as “Annie” Laurie’s best friend, P.J Soles (Carrie) as “Lynda”, and Charles Cyphers (The Fog) as “Sheriff Brackett”.

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THE GOOD

There’s simply no doubting that this genre-defining classic will forever have its place in the history of horror filmmaking. Released in October of 78′ and made on a budget of just $300,000, John Carpenter’s Halloween went on to gross 47 million dollars just in the US alone. It became the highest grossing film of the time, a record that it held for many years, but why was it so successful? I suppose in most people’s minds, up until its release, the only films that even slightly resembled what we’ve since coined “the slasher”, were the works of Alfred Hitchcock in the 60’s (Psycho). Genre greats, Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper, who were also young filmmakers at the time, had explored a much more exploitative brand of horror with their respective films, “The Hills Have Eyes” from 77′ and the groundbreaking “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” in 74′, but there was nothing quite like the idea of a cat and mouse game between young teens and a deranged psychopath… or was there? Because that’s not entirely true, is it? Bob Clark’s 1974 Horror film “Black Christmas”, about a group of sorority girls being stalked by a stranger on Christmas, may well have played a part in shaping Carpenter’s idea behind Halloween. Even still, horror, as we know it today, was uncharted territory in the United States at that time (minus perhaps The Exorcist). The Giallo (Italian murder mystery) was flooding the European market throughout the 70’s but there was very little in the way of genuine slasher horror until Halloween came along.

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Groundbreaking for the time, Halloween’s consequent success was in big part due to its marketing and promotion. The studios cut a restrained trailer, designed an eye-catching one sheet, and the film was officially released just a few days before the holiday itself. Being born in 86′, I never had the privilege of seeing the film in the era it was intended to be seen in, so I’ve got fresh eyes on it I suppose. That said, I’m a proud cinephile and I love films of all genres from all eras and I don’t let pre-conceived notions affect my judgment or critique. Halloween is most certainly a slow-burn where very little slashing actually occurs. I can respect that it was a different time though, with different standards and methods for scaring audiences. Even with its lack of excitement and somewhat passive progression, the film never gets boring. Carpenter is able to sustain the desired atmosphere even when not a lot is happening on-screen. I’m a sucker for Horror against the backdrop of safe, small-town, American suburbia and that’s one of the best things Halloween has going for it, Haddonfield. The streets are clean, the trees are leafy, houses are unassuming and the neighborhood is quiet. Enter, Michael Myers, who was once a 6-year-old boy who stabbed his sister Judith to death and wound up institutionalized, now, an adult escapee patient looking to return to his hometown to kill again. That contrast of a peaceful and somewhat naive community going about their daily lives while a masked killer lurks in the shadows (or not in the shadows as is often the case here) is what makes Halloween appealing. With Michael Myers, Carpenter created one of the most memorable villains in the history of horror cinema. The combination of the mechanic’s jumpsuit, the William Shatner look mask, and the long kitchen knife, makes it all extremely unnerving, at least aesthetically speaking.

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Let’s talk about some of the technical facets that make Halloween a memorable viewing experience. Carpenter’s regular DP, Dean Cundey shot the film on 35mm with a Panavision Panaflex camera and the end result in cinematography is impressive. It’s incredibly clean, the framing is expertly handled, and the use of shadows through lighting help to create some of the more memorable shots. Carpenter is always aware of how much or how little to show of Myers at any given time. So much so that Michael isn’t fully revealed to the audience until the climax and showdown with Laurie. Long takes of nothingness amplify the atmosphere, and clever gentle camera positioning and tracking gives some diversity to the presentation. Whenever you mention Halloween, it’s usually that iconic piano and synth motif that first comes to mind, made famous by Carpenter himself. It’s a great piece of music and it continues to live on all these years later. If I’m critical of one thing it’s that it’s overused throughout the film, and slowly but surely it negates the fear initially induced by the sudden appearance of Michael. The theme conveniently cues his arrival every single time when it really doesn’t need to, and in fact, the film would have been scarier had it not. Aside from some inventive daytime leering, the two best scenes in Halloween are the opening POV sequence (point of view) followed by the drive to the facility, as well as Michael’s final showdown with Laurie. Contrary to popular belief, the opening isn’t unique because of its POV element, which Bob Clark had previously explored in the aforementioned Black Christmas but didn’t get the praise he should’ve. No, the reason it’s so good is that you don’t know the context yet, the motive (if there is one), or who’s under the mask. What a great way to start a horror film. The unique nature of daytime stalking is great and it works surprisingly well here. The scenes in which Michael just stands off in the distance are incredibly simple but effective. I also like the way he uses a vehicle as a means of surveillance and doesn’t just do it all on foot.

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THE BAD

Okay. So now’s where things are going to get a little controversial. I haven’t done detailed research on the holiday itself or its initial inception, but I know it’s been around a long time. Halloween is a huge tradition embraced in many places around the world, and none more so than in the United States. Bringing me to the biggest weakness in John Carpenters film, the complete lack of attention to detail surrounding the night itself. There can be no denying that Halloween is simply void of any actual Halloween, and that’s a problem. In fact, if not for the title, a few jack o lanterns and Myers putting a bed sheet over his head to imitate a ghost, you wouldn’t even know it was October 31st. Hardcore fans are certainly set in their ways and refuse to acknowledge that the film is missing many crucial details that appropriately set the scene. Some argue that’s just being nit-picky and all the film is about is Michael Myers vs Laurie and the cat and mouse game between the two. I’d argue that you don’t have to delve deep at all in order to notice all the little shortcomings in Halloween, and they all add up. How can there be nothing but a few pumpkins to represent the holiday? I liken it to a western without horses or a saloon, A war picture without uniforms and guns. Would you believe that? With a $300,000 budget, I’m quite sure Carpenter could’ve set a small portion of it aside so as to authentically establish the foundation for the film, So the question is why didn’t he? And why has no one ever questioned it? There’s not a single decoration to be found throughout the movie. No cobwebs, no cheap gags, no toilet paper covered trees. Carpenter even introduces a scene at the school which is just one of a number of opportunities to hang some fake cobwebs, buy some cheap props and gags. It’s a school, a building full of kids (and kids love Halloween) and yet there’s no promotion. No costumes, no banners, not a single mention of candy, nothing. No matter how you spin it that’s incredibly poor for someone as good as Carpenter. If for whatever reason funds were tight, the simple fix would have been to establish that the film takes place on another night other than Halloween itself. Perhaps the eve of?

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As I previously mentioned, it’s not like there weren’t opportunities to create some of these missing facets either. There are some kids at the beginning that could’ve later figured into events but don’t. Lindsey and Tommy, the two kids that Laurie ends up looking after, are the only ones given any screen time and they don’t at any point indicate anything Halloween Esq. Not to mention their acting is really weak. There’s a scene where Lynda and Bob are having sex and he leaves the room to go and get the beer, a prime example of good timing to perhaps introduce a trick or treater to help build the suspense. Is it Michael at the front door or not? Is he inside? If for no other reason than to give credence to the fact that it’s actually Halloween. What’s worse is that Carpenter indirectly highlights some of these problems through pieces of the dialogue and specific characters actions. Now, I’m not saying the audience needs to be shown absolutely everything, especially if it isn’t crucial to the advancement of the story, but how about something? Just one thing? Because I don’t recall any. Sheriff Brackett finds Dr. Loomis outside the old Myers house waiting on Michael’s return, and it’s understood that later he patrols the town looking for suspicious behavior. I suppose that’s fair enough, but he makes mention of just seeing the usual Halloween stuff, looters and such. Well, everything we’ve seen (or not seen) in Haddonfield up to that point suggests that there’s very little activity and there aren’t even many kids around as it is. Time would have been better well spent if Brackett actually informed his station of the escaped Myers and how much of a danger to the town he is. Though If I’m honest, that’s not really the issue because it’s all just passing dialogue between him and Loomis. The bigger problem is that awful line from Laurie as she looks out the window to a street with literally nothing happening on it and proceeds to say, “Everyone is having a great time tonight”….. ah, excuse me? What? Who is everyone? There’s no one around! The edit was odd, to say the least. I’ve been informed by fans that the blue van on the street (which apparently belongs to Bob) is the visual cue Laurie is referring to in regard to her friends being the ones having such a great night while she’s stuck babysitting. We’re never officially introduced to Bob prior to his scene with Lynda though so I’m not sure how we’re supposed to know it’s his van? If that’s what Carpenter meant to imply he could’ve easily had Laurie say the line to herself in frustration rather than showcase an empty street at the most inopportune time.

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I found Halloween void of even an ounce of tension, nor were any of the performances believable. Two aspects that are of the utmost importance in a film like this. Had they been better, I might have not been looking elsewhere at all those little specifics. If the streets were at least semi-populated it probably would’ve been a great cover for Myers and raised the suspenseful component of the film. The one thing Carpenter does get right is the atmosphere, mainly due to the aforementioned cinematography and his eerie score. Unfortunately, atmosphere doesn’t translate to suspense. The body count is low and the on-screen violence is almost non-existent, so all that’s left is the scares. Now I’m well aware that this was violence in 1978 and people didn’t know any better, but now, such is not the case and that makes the viewing experience completely different. I can let Curtis’s emotionally strained performance slide somewhat, if for no other reason than it was her first time in front of the camera, but I have no idea how people see her as a scream queen (well a good one anyway). It’s all the little things like eye line and incorrect directional delivery that threw me off. All of Annie’s stuff is particularly bad. At one stage she’s having a conversation on the phone in her kitchen while she’s babysitting. Young, Lindsey sitting in the lounge which is to Annie’s right, yet when she calls out to her she does so facing the left, wherein a previous shot it’s established that to her left is the end of the house. Michael is also shown watching her straight through the window and in the very next shot he’s standing at the side of the garden bed and the window is now at an angle like he’s reapproaching. Those are just a couple of examples of things that had me scratching my head. Each of the performances is incredibly weak and despite what fans say, the era had very little to do with that. John Dall and Farley Granger were very good in Hitchcock’s “Rope” and that was in 48′. Anthony Perkins was impressive in “Psycho” and even Brad Dourif’s debut role in the masterpiece “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” 3 years prior to Halloween was great. They’re just a few examples supporting the fact that the time period had very little to do with it. I know we’ve come a long way but no one could ever convince me that the standard of acting in Halloween is anything other than bad. Even Donald Pleasence comes up short and he had 25 years experience prior to Halloween, I don’t know what happened here.

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Carpenter missed his chance with both Loomis and Brackett, to make sense of why his version of Halloween night appears so inexplicably peaceful. Despite my earlier sentiments about changing the date of the film, all viewers really need is a reason as to why there’s nobody around. If Dr. Loomis was serious about Haddonfield and Myers (whom he claims is pure evil after having looked into his eyes) he would’ve insisted that Brackett’s station get a town-wide curfew in effect (much like Craven did in Scream), in turn, making sense of the empty neighborhood and all the absent particulars that one can’t help but question. Hell, even when Loomis appears on-screen in the latter part of the film he’s strolling up the street or standing around in one place. There’s no sense of urgency about any of it and there’s no excuse for that. Once again, the common response from fans is that they’re all nitpicky issues. For mine, nitpicking would be highlighting the credibility of a psychiatric facility without any security. There sure as hell doesn’t appear to be any when Loomis and the nurse discover patients outside the gate. I wouldn’t ordinarily even mention that scene because the lead into it through the forest and the heavy rain is so well done aside from that fact. Reaching would be emphasizing what a coincidence it is that Loomis finds the abandoned mechanics vehicle and white hospital gown right by where he just so happens to stop to make a phone call (doing so without any prior paper trail on Michael). Other things like not officially introducing Bob, something that would have made sense during the school scene, or even questioning where the parents are in all of this? Did Laurie’s parents go away? What about Annie’s mom? Does she have a mom? Maybe it doesn’t matter but all these little things better flesh out the characters. Otherwise what you’re left with is one-dimensional arcs all around, as is the case with Halloween. It’s painstakingly clear that Carpenter’s intention was to solely focus on Michael and Laurie, however, for that to occur, he left out too many things to make the film believable. For that reason alone I can’t see how Halloween could be the masterpiece everyone seems to think it is, it can’t possibly be.

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So I’m well aware at this point that it probably sounds like I’m tearing into a film that has since become one of the most iconic films in the history of horror, but I’m really not. Hear me out, yes, I’m a self-proclaimed fan of “new school” horror more so than one of old and I make no apologies for that. With that said, I still like and respect the films that paved the way and ultimately made the genre what it is today. I’ve seen John Carpenter’s Halloween three times and there’s certainly a few things to like about it, but perhaps because I wasn’t there in that time and place I can’t truly get an accurate read on it. Now it may not be fair, but all I can do is analyze where it fits in the genre now and how it stands up by today’s standard. I’m sure that if Halloween were remade today (which it was and successfully by Rob Zombie) but followed most of the same aspects as Carpenter’s film but cleaned up all the easily rectifiable issues it has, it’d be a very impressive and timeless film. Unfortunately, I can’t see it in that light. Every facet of the genre has changed so much over the years, from the standard of acting, the technical capabilities, and even the writing, and I just don’t see a way in which Carpenter’s film holds up in relation to any of those things. I respect the hell out of the man and he’s made some great films over the years (some of my favorites) but I have to call a spade a spade and question the masses and what they’re seeing. Halloween is supposed to be a horror/slasher masterpiece and yet it’s got no real slashing, nor is it scary, not even close. If you do happen to find this film frightening I’d suggest perhaps seeking some professional help (I kid, sort of). Masterpieces are few and far between in any genre and even more so in horror. When I think of films that are the best at what they do though,  I think of both Wes Cravens film “Scream”, a slasher that reinvented the wheel, and A Nightmare On Elm St, one that gave birth to an iconic villain in Freddy Krueger. The Thing (also from Carpenter), Argento’s “Suspiria” and even independent films like Bryan Bertino’s “The Strangers” and Mickey Keating’s “Darling” come to mind. Sad to say I just don’t think of Halloween in the same light, I wish I did.

My rating for “Halloween” is 4.5/10