Category Archives: Horror

They’re coming to get you, Barbera.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021) Movie Review

I hadn’t stepped foot in a movie theater in 425 days. It is perhaps the longest consecutive stretch of time I’ve gone without seeing a movie in a theater since I’ve been able to walk. And, all things considered, I made good use of those 425 days. I researched, drafted, and completed a master’s thesis (on horror movies that are nothing like Spiral: From The Book of Saw, but the Saw franchise certainly has an important place in the history I was looking at). I am on the verge of earning my master’s degree; and the time commitment probably would have kept my theater-going to a minimum even if the world was not facing a crisis.

None of this is particularly relevant to my review of Spiral: From The Book of Saw, save for the fact that this was the film that broke my 425-day streak. And I thought it fitting to return to theaters with the type of movie that really keeps me invested in film art: pure horror genre schlock.

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Spiral: From the Book of Saw may be the oddest horror sequel title ever thought up (who wrote the book of Saw? Is it available at my local library? Is it like an Anarchist Cookbook type deal, where it teaches you how to concoct sadistic death traps just like John Kramer used to? So many questions that have no answer). It is entirely possible that Continue reading Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021) Movie Review

Willy’s Wonderland (2021) Movie Review

The premise of Willy’s Wonderland resembles the video game Five Nights at Freddy’s. Everyone knows it. They probably knew it when they made the movie. Call it a ripoff if you’d like. I can’t really say, myself, as I’ve never played the games (from what I understand, the enjoyment derives mostly from jump scares, which just ain’t my bag). But there is something to the idea that Willy’s Wonderland is a video game movie of sorts. For one thing, the unnamed protagonist played by Nicolas Cage doesn’t speak—a feature of many a video game.

Cage’s character, a silent stranger who rolls into the rural town of Hayesville, Nevada (the town is so untouched by the modern world that it does not have an iota of internet access), finds himself with his tires blown out on the side of the highway. Towed back to town, he doesn’t have the money to afford repairs. Luckily, Continue reading Willy’s Wonderland (2021) Movie Review

Smiley Face Killers (2020) Movie Review

Director Tim Hunter is perhaps best known for the crime drama River’s Edge starring Keanu Reeves. He has since directed the occasional feature, but most of his work is done on television programs. Fittingly, his Smiley Face Killers has the appearance of a teen drama show (like Riverdale or Scream: The TV Series, two shows Hunter has worked on).

I don’t say this disparagingly; it is simply an apparent feature. The young actors are lit and shot like they are models in an advertisement. Soft focus accentuates them in the frame. Soft, high key lighting highlights their features. At one point, a major character strips down and takes a shower, and the camera lingers on Continue reading Smiley Face Killers (2020) Movie Review

Wrong Turn (2021) Movie Review

Mike P. Nelson’s Wrong Turn, a hard reboot of the 2003 horror film of the same name (which in turn spawned numerous direct-to-video sequels), is (at least initially) so knowingly a “teen scream” slasher that it borders on parody.

A group of late-twenty-somethings hiking the Appalachian Trail find themselves lost somewhere in Virginia and set upon by something lurking in the woods. Almost instantly, the film starts teetering on the “city/country axis” like it’s a gymnast on a balance beam. The rural Virginia folk turn their noses at these “yuppie” millennial travelers, with one confronting them about how they likely never worked a day in their lives (actually, our protagonist has a double master’s degree in art history and dance, so she is a gainfully employed barista).

When our clan of hikers find themselves stranded, one of the first things that strikes fear into their hearts is the inexplicable disappearance of their cell phones. Without this precious tool (“No phone, no GPS!”), they are all but helpless to defend themselves against the crude makeshift traps set for them among the trees. When they come across the people who are terrorizing them, the travelers Continue reading Wrong Turn (2021) Movie Review

Lucky (2021) Movie Review

May (Brea Grant), the protagonist of Lucky, suffers the condescending disinterest of the police, reductionist head-shrinking of social workers, and emotional manipulation and gaslighting of her partner (Dhruv Uday Singh). Oh, and she also gets attacked by a masked man every night of her life.

Lucky, written by Grant and directed by Natasha Kermani, is a lean (perhaps too lean) horror satire that imagines society’s patriarchy, microaggressions, and trauma as a surreal nightmare cycling again and again with no end in sight. As far as “social horror” goes, it’s a pretty perfect premise.

The film starts as a fresh twist on an old favorite. May and her husband Ted are attacked in their home by an intruder in the middle of the night. Only, Ted is shockingly nonplussed by the situation. In fact, Continue reading Lucky (2021) Movie Review

Freaky (2020) Movie Review

Writer-director Christopher Landon has a long history working with Blumhouse, first with the Paranormal Activity sequels then with the duo of Happy Death Day horror-comedies. The latter—Happy Death Day 2U in particular—present an intriguing twist on familiar generic ground which I enjoyed quite a bit. It would only make sense, then, that his latest, Freaky, a body-swap horror farce, would tickle my fancy just the same. That was my first thought.

Then, I recalled that Landon also co-wrote and directed Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, a similarly self-aware horror comedy that I found Continue reading Freaky (2020) Movie Review

Psycho Goreman (2021) Movie Review

It isn’t often when a movie with the singular perfect title comes along; just the best movie title of all time. Studios might as well not title new movies from here on out. They just will not be as good. The ghost of Orsen Welles wishes that he would have thought of the name Psycho Goreman when he shot Citizen Kane. Citizen Psycho Goreman might have actually won the Oscar for Best Picture.

But I digress. Steven Kostanski’s Psycho Goreman is not quite the movie that its name suggests. Yes, there is a Psycho Goreman (PG, for short), and he does Continue reading Psycho Goreman (2021) Movie Review

The Reckoning (2020) Movie Review

Neil Marshall’s The Descent holds special weight in my mind. I can recall being extraordinarily tense throughout watching that film, cementing it in my head as a distinctly effective horror film. That film is an intensely close-quarters survival thriller turned creature feature that has its cult fanbase, of which I guess I am a part. But after watching The Reckoning, I question whether it was simply a claustrophobia I did not know I had that made that film so effective.
 
 
The Reckoning, Marshall’s follow-up to the similar dud Hellboy, is a substantial disappointment. The premise of the film holds promise: during the time of the Great Plague, a woman is accused of dealing with the devil while trying to save her homestead following the untimely death of her husband. Setting a witch trial narrative on the backdrop of the Plague is intriguing. The Witch by way of Contagion, perhaps? Not quite.
Continue reading The Reckoning (2020) Movie Review

Review: The Dark and the Wicked — Fantasia Festival 2020

The Dark and the Wicked is screening as part of the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival program.

Bryan Bertino’s The Dark and the Wicked, his first feature film since 2016’s The Monster, is in one sense a story of grief and loss. Two siblings, Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.), return to their parents’ Texas farmhouse, as it has become clear that their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) is struggling to care for their ailing father (Michael Zagst). Following an untimely death, Louise and Michael have to maneuver grief, while also contending with an evil presence that is haunting the farm.

It is certainly a workable premise for a moody horror flick, but the film ultimately fails to Continue reading Review: The Dark and the Wicked — Fantasia Festival 2020

Fantasia Festival 2020 Movie Reviews — Special Actors, Fried Barry, Patrick

Continuing our coverage of this year’s virtual Fantasia Festival, here are reviews of a few more titles playing at the fest: Shinichiro Ueda’s Special Actors, Ryan Kruger’s Fried Barry, and Tim Mielants’ Patrick.

 

Special Actors

Shinichiro Ueda’s follow-up to the great horror experiment One Cut of the Dead is not a horror film, but an oddball comedy about Continue reading Fantasia Festival 2020 Movie Reviews — Special Actors, Fried Barry, Patrick