31 Days to Scare ~ Dementia 13 (Trailer)

Synopsis: A vengeful ghost, a mysterious killer, and a family where everyone has a secret converge in one night of terror in this remake of Francis Ford Coppola’s first feature film.

Release Date:  October 10 (VOD)

Thoughts: Deep down in my movie subconscious I’m sure I knew that Oscar winner Francis Ford Coppola cut his teeth with Dementia 13, a low-budget but not quite forgotten gore flick from 1963.  I feel kinda bad, though, that I had to be reminded of that when exploring its 2017 remake a bit further.  This has all the makings of old-school horror: secluded location, killer on the loose, guests falling prey to diabolical deaths in a systematic manner so count me as one interested fill buff.  As usual, its preview gives away far too much but I’m not so terribly put off that I won’t seek this one out and hope for the best.  Plus, I’m a sucker for a masked killer maniac – haven’t had many of those lately!  Now…gonna try to track down the original so I can compare the two…

31 Days to Scare ~ Tales from the Crypt: And All Through the House

The Facts:

Synopsis: A greedy woman makes the mistake of murdering her husband while an escaped mental patient dressed in a Santa Claus outfit is on the loose.

Stars: Mary Ellen Trainor, Larry Drake, Marshall Bell, Lindsey Whitney Barry, John Kassir

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Rated: NR

Running Length: 22 mins

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: While it gradually dissipated in quality over the course of its seven season run, HBO’s Tales from the Crypt opened with a first season that was chock full of scary tales helmed by some of Hollywood’s top directors.  The second episode was a Christmas-themed yarn (ironically broadcast in the dead of summer in 1989) directed by future Oscar winner Robert Zemeckis (Flight) and while my memories were fonder of it when I was a child, it’s a nice little 22 minute lark you can fit in during the holidays between another viewing of Home Alone or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

The credits are barely done before a cheating wife (the late, great, Mary Ellen Trainor, then married to Zemeckis) offs her husband (Marshall Bell) in their remote home on a cold winter’s night.  With her daughter upstairs anxiously awaiting the arrival of St. Nick, she attempts to dispose of the body in an outdoor well but fails to heed the warning on the radio warning of a madman (Larry Drake) in a Santa suit on the loose.  It’s no spoiler to say that mother and daughter get visited by Kris Kringle…but not the one they were expecting.

Watching this again recently, I was struck by some bad acting and pacing problems that I didn’t register when I was younger.  It’s not as taut as it could have been…and that makes sense considering this tale was filmed before with better results.  In 1972, this story was part an anthology in the theatrical release of Tales from the Crypt and in that version it was a full 10 minutes shorter.  The extra time here feels like padding and though it’s barely a half hour it starts to feel long before the halfway point.  Even with that said, there’s something manically delightful about this contained piece of business from an A-List director eager to try his hand out again on the small screen.

31 Days to Scare ~ 47 Meters Down

The Facts:

Synopsis: Two sisters vacationing in Mexico are trapped in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean. With less than an hour of oxygen left and great white sharks circling nearby, they must fight to survive.

Stars: Claire Holt, Mandy Moore

Director: Johannes Roberts

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  If there’s one thing this critic knows and loves, it’s shark movies.  Never one to shy away from a made-for-TV yarn about sand/snow/air sharks and forever true to  big screen fare like Jaws or The Shallows, I was looking forward to 47 Meters Down no matter how bad I thought it was going to be.  You couldn’t blame me for having some low expectations, though.

Originally set for release in spring of 2016 and titled In the Deep, a few copies of the DVD were sold before the film was bought by another studio and given a late summer 2017 release.  I don’t remember the last time a movie was all set for home consumption only to be pulled off the shelves to be released in theaters.  That just doesn’t happen…it’s usually the other way around. Clearly, someone at the new studio saw some potential to make more money and made the right call because while 47 Meters Down doesn’t reinvent the shark flick in any shape or form, it provides some solid entertainment and a decent amount of thrills.

Sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are on holiday in Mexico trying to cheer Lisa up after a bad break-up.  Lisa is the more reserved one while Kate is the risk-taker of the two (it also should be mentioned you won’t believe these two actresses are related in the slightest) so when Kate makes nice with some local boys and they float the idea of the ladies tagging along for cage diving with sharks, it takes some convincing for Lisa to get on board (literally).  At 89 minutes, the movie has to pack a lot of information into the first 20 minutes to set-up some later conflict so you’re going to have to grit your teeth until the film moves to the high seas.

When the ladies do make it onto the rusty boat with its crusty captain (Matthew Modine, doing his best to fly under the radar) it doesn’t take long for both to have second thoughts on getting into the water in a case that doesn’t look like it would survive a strong wind, much less a two ton eating machine.  The boys go first and have a jolly time, which encourages the ladies that it isn’t all that bad and safer than they imagined.  Not long into their dive the winch breaks, which sends them, yep, you guessed it, 47 meters down.  It’s a survival tale from that point on as Lisa and Kate deal with a quickly dissipating air supply and a handful of hungry great whites that begin to stalk them.

Director Johannes Roberts manages to keep this one or two levels above your standard direct to video effort.  Most of the shark effects are executed well and the underwater cinematography in general is clear and focused.  Yeah, there are some iffy moments that suggest quick reshoots on a lower budget but for the most part the movie is an impressive little nugget of fun. Performances are about average and Roberts slips in a few white-knuckle sequences and clever gotcha surprises.

Underwater horror films are a rare breed so when you find one that does its job and does it more than halfway decently it’s perfectly ok to celebrate it.  It’s success has actually sparked talk of a sequel…48 Meters Down and no, that’s not a joke. Now available (again) for home viewing, this is one you can dive into with ease.

31 Days to Scare ~ Insidious: The Last Key (Trailer)

Synopsis: Parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier faces her most fearsome and personal haunting yet – in her own family home.

Release Date: January 5, 2018

Thoughts: By the time Insidious: The Last Key is released in early 2018, audiences might be in the mood for a good scare.  Even though Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 in the Insidious series were less than stellar, they still brought a certain style to the table that is sadly absent in similar genre films.  What has me holding out hope for this fourth entry is director Adam Robitel joining a ghoulish gang that includes star Lin Shaye (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and writer Leigh Whannell (Cooties).  Robitel was the writer/director of the fantastically chilling The Taking of Deborah Logan a few years back and if he can bring that flair for the scare to this one it might just be the first step in advancing these films past the constraints of their original lore.

Movie Review ~ Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Poster

The Facts:

Synopsis: Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. The discovery leads him on a quest to find a former blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Rated: R

Running Length: 163 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review: Though it’s enmeshed in pop culture now, it’s worth noting that when Blade Runner was originally released in 1982 it wasn’t anywhere near the hit it probably should have been. Way ahead of its time (as most Ridley Scott directed movies were in those days) and arguably overtooled for less than discerning audiences, the movie was a wonder of visuals but lacked a certain depth. Scott would later make some cuts and remove a tiresome voiceover narration from star Harrison Ford (Working Girl) and that started guiding Blade Runner to a new audience while reenergizing its original fan base. Honestly, the movie has had so many different versions released that I have trouble remembering which is which…but the Blade Runner you can view in 2017 is much different (and better) than the one first seen over thirty years ago.

In this age of nostalgic and reworked reboots, when I first heard that Scott was coming back to the Blade Runner universe I was curious to see what the outcome would be. Having already dipped back into his canon with a prequel to Alien (Prometheus and, later, Alien: Covenant) would he be able to find that same new way in without totally destroying the memories of his original creation? Turns out, Scott did the wisest thing possible and stepped out of the director’s chair but kept his producer cap on for oversight. Handing over the reins to red-hot director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy, Arrival) was a stroke of genius because Villeneuve has delivered not only an exceedingly worthy sequel to Blade Runner but one of the most exciting visual spectacles of the year.

At the end of the screening I attended for Blade Runner 2049, we were read a laundry list of items the studio and director would rather we not mention in our review. I’ve no problem keeping those secrets as to go into the film with any hint of spoilers would be doing a disservice to yourself. What I can tell you is that the film picks up 30 years after the events from Blade Runner when the original replicants from the first film have been all but obliterated, replaced with newer models that are programmed to obey at all costs. There are a few early replicants still roaming the overcrowded wasteland cities of the future, though, and a new blade runner (Ryan Gosling, The Big Short) is tasked with rounding them up and retiring them for good.

During one mission, Gosling’s character makes a discovery that sets into motion a series of events that is equal parts mystery and sci-fi action suspense. His superior (Robin Wright, Wonder Woman) wants him to get to the bottom of things and eliminate any threat before anyone else does. That puts him in opposition with the new manufacturer (Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club) of state of the art replicants who dispatches his cold as ice henchwoman (Sylvia Hoeks) to get to Gosling’s target before he does. His journey eventually bridges the gap between the past and the future when he meets up with a familiar face harboring secrets of his own.

That’s all! I can’t say more or the studio will send a blade runner to retire me!

Villenueve has shown time and time again that he’s a master of both style and substance and Blade Runner 2049 is likely the pinnacle example of that. With jaw-dropping visuals incorporating seamless effects with Roger Deakins (Skyfall) gorgeous cinematography, the film is overwhelming in all the best possible ways. At 163 minutes, it could have had some major dips in momentum but miraculously the film keeps rocketing ahead, gathering speed and tension as it goes. There so many memorable sequences that it’s hard to pick just one that rises above the others, but be on the look-out for Gosling’s fight sequence set in a showroom amongst holograms of throwback Vegas entertainment. The finale showdown is also a white knuckle mini-masterpiece.

While the A-list stars are pitch perfect, it’s the lesser-known supporting players that stuck with me long after the movie was over. Hoeks, in particular is a most exciting find. The Dutch beauty actually has more screen time than Leto and she’s scary good because you never know quite what her angle is. Carla Juri and Mackenzie Davis (The Martian) also contribute strong work as important contacts Gosling makes along the way.

Answering some of the questions that Blade Runner left open may or may not happen here and this sequel may or may not close up shop with even more questions left for you to ponder…I won’t spoil some of the biggest surprises screenwriter Hampton Fancher and Michael Green (Logan) have waiting for you.

See this movie on the biggest screen you possibly can find, preferably with the best sound system too. Villeneuve has provided a full-bodied entertainment package for you and it deserves to be seen and appreciated for the knockout it is.

31 Days to Scare ~ Housebound

The Facts:

Synopsis: A young woman is forced to return to her childhood home after being placed under house arrest, where she suspects that something evil may be lurking.

Stars: Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, Ross Harper, Cameron Rhodes, Ryan Lampp

Director: Gerald Johnstone

Rated: NR

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: Sometimes you have to go digging through the garbage to find treasure. Such is the case with Housebound, a movie you may have passed over on Netflix but should add to your queue without hesitation. A real gem of a horror escapade, it succeeds not only on the merit of its clever writing and directing but with its delightfully wicked sense of humor. Chills are nearly equally matched with laughs, resulting in solid entertainment that should keep you more than engaged throughout.

Years spent hanging around with the wrong people have finally caught up to Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) when she’s arrested for attempting to steal from an ATM. Sentenced to eight months of house arrest, she is required to serve her time under the watchful eye of her dotty mom (Rima Te Wiata) and checked out stepdad (Ross Harper) in her creepy childhood home. Not long after she arrives she starts to believe her mom’s warnings that the house is haunted and teams up with Amos, a security bloke (Glen-Paul Waru) assigned to monitor her ankle bracelet, to get to the bottom of who (or what) may be lurking under the floorboards and behind the walls.

Writer/director Gerard Johnstone has dreamt-up a whopper for a first feature. Creating great atmosphere and setting a strong tone from his actors, Johnstone has a lot of tricks up his sleeves that he reveals at precisely the right moment. There’s a mystery to be solved here and not only is it totally twisted it feels fully thought out. There’s a wacky Scooby-Doo element to Kylie and Amos’s sleuthing and bickering banter and Johnstone really nails the ending with a master’s touch.

Housebound is another in a too-short line of horror comedies that have made their way to our shores from New Zealand. Like his countryman Peter Jackson who first cut his teeth on the gonzo cult classic Dead Alive, Johnstone has put a deranged spin on the haunted house genre film with superior results. Find this one and give it a shot – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed you did.

The Silver Bullet ~ Wonder Wheel

Synopsis: On Coney Island in the 1950s, a lifeguard tells the story of a middle-aged carousel operator and his beleaguered wife.

Release Date: December 1, 2017

Thoughts: Round and round he goes and where he stops, nobody knows because there’s a certain element of surprise each year as the release date for the next Woody Allen film draws near.  We’ve been teased on the cast, sometimes given good lead time on a title, but often the plot details are kept under wraps until the film is ready to screen.  Premiering at the New York Film Festival, Allen’s 48th film (!) doesn’t look exactly like I thought it would.  I imagined more of a period memory piece set on Coney Island but this first look at Wonder Wheel suggests more crime drama than family drama so I’m curious how this one will play out.  It’s been a while since Allen (Blue Jasmine) has delivered a full-fledged comedy but with long-time A-listers and first time Allen collaborators like Kate Winslet (The Dressmaker) and Justin Timberlake (Inside Llewyn Davis) in the mix it’s likely this one may attract a different audience than would normally take in an Allen flick.

31 Days to Scare ~ Home for the Holidays (1972)

 

The Facts:

Synopsis: When their aging father is convinced his second wife is out to kill him, his four adult daughters gather over the holidays to help make things right, only to find themselves terrorized by a pitchfork-wielding maniac.

Stars: Sally Field, Jessica Walter, Jill Haworth, Julie Harris, Eleanor Parker, Walter Brennan

Director: John Llewellyn Moxey

Rated: NR

Running Length: 73 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Watch it here

Review: Moving into October we’re about to hit the big three holidays of the year (Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas) and today’s selection in 31 Days to Scare manages to touch on all three of them. First broadcast on ABC as a TV Movie of the Week on November 28, 1972, Home for the Holidays is a neat little thriller that doesn’t overstay its welcome and produces more than its fair share of chills along the way.

Produced by Aaron Spelling and written by Psycho scribe Joseph Stefano, Home for the Holidays revolves around four daughters returning home for Christmas at the behest of their father (Walter Brennan). Brennan is convinced his new wife (Julie Harris) is slowly poisoning him and asks his girls to help get rid of their stepmother before she gets rid of him. Before they can do much, though, a figure in a yellow raincoat starts picking them off one by one.

This is a surprisingly effective film, even viewed from a contemporary lens. True, for a horror film there’s not much in the way of blood or gore, but that’s what elevates this from being too run-of-the-mill. The focus is on the tension and mystery, not on encouraging bloodlust. The solution to the killer’s identity might be easy to discern but enough red herrings and misdirection are introduced that you may find yourself doubting your instinct.

What a cast! Three time Oscar winner Brennan is a hoot as a wily old codger plagued by paranoia…or is it all an act? Either way, with his pain in the butt ramblings you’ll sort of understand why someone may want to do him in. Harris (an Oscar nominee herself) keeps her cards close to her chest, never giving away what she may be hiding while Jill Hayworth (the original Sally Bowles in Broadway’s Cabaret) and Jessica Walter (fresh from her psycho stint in 1971’s Play Misty for Me) add some pep as two of the more troubled sisters. Best remembered as the Baroness from The Sound of Music, three time Oscar nominee Eleanor Parker is the eldest sister struggling to keep her family from imploding and two time Oscar winner Sally Field (Lincoln) dials up her terror as her siblings disappear and she slowly realizes she may be next.

You may catch this one and find it overly quaint and low impact but I’ve always had a real fondness for its small scale production values and dramatic act breaks. It is so short that it won’t take up too much of your time and might just be the hidden gem you’re looking for if you like to be good and spooked.

Ready to watch? Check it out here

31 Days to Scare ~ Annihilation (Teaser Trailer)

Synopsis: A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don’t apply.

Release Date:  February 23, 2018

Thoughts:  Here’s another interesting project to look forward to in 2018.  Oscar winner Natalie Portman  (Jackie) stars in this adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel, the first in a trilogy.  Portman has had some high highs and low lows in the years since she won her Oscar for Black Swan but add director Alex Garlad (Ex Machina) in the mix and I’m officially intrigued to see how this one plays out.  Paramount seems to have thrown a bunch of money at Garland, though in the past he’s been known to do a whole lot with very little.  This first look at Annihilation is a nice teaser trailer that hints at some of the horrors that await Portman and her crew sent to investigate an abandoned zone disconnected from civilization known as Area X.  Co-starring Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Tessa Thompson (Creed), and Gina Rodriguez (Deepwater Horizon), all eyes will be on this one to see if VanderMeer’s two other novels will get a similar Hollywood shine.

31 Days to Scare ~ Gerald’s Game


The Facts
:

Synopsis: While trying to spice up their marriage in their remote lake house, Jessie must fight to survive when her husband dies unexpectedly, leaving her handcuffed to their bed frame.

Stars: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas, Carel Struycken

Director: Mike Flanagan

Rated: NR

Running Length: 103 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: When Stephen King’s novel Gerald’s Game was first published in 1992, film adaptations of the authors work had already been buzzing around for a while.  Most of King’s early books had already found their way to the screen and the well was beginning to run a little dry for marketable projects a studio could push into production.  While a King renaissance was still a few years away when his short stories were mined for more dramatic material, a few of his early ‘90s novels fell through the cracks.  With its relatively small cast of characters and abundance of inner voice monologues likely deemed too tough to adapt by studios looking to fast track flicks, Gerald’s Game kept falling to the bottom of the pile, even as lesser works got their fair shot at the big screen. Originally part of a larger planned work that included the story that became Dolores Claiborne (which found its way to the movie theaters in a drastically underrated 1995 production), Gerald’s Game finally gets its moment to shine in a first rate production courtesy of Netflix and writer/director Mike Flanagan.

It’s a beautiful day for the Burlingames as their arrive at their lake house nestled far away from neighbors and the outside world.  Hoping for a romantic weekend away to add some spice to their marital bed, every detail has been thought of.  Jessie (Carla Gugino, San Andreas) has packed a sexy new slip and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood, Endless Love) brings along two shiny pairs of handcuffs.  An unexpected turn of events leaves Gerald dead on the floor and Jessie tethered helplessly to two bedposts, her screams for help echoing silently across the waters.  With no one set to arrive for days, thirst and desperation set in for Jessie…especially when she receives several visitors both real and imaginary.

Revealing more than that would ruin the game King has devised and Flanagan has finessed with King’s blessing.  Flanagan made wise choices in removing some of Jessie’s inner voices and/or consolidating them to a singular person.  The seemingly happy couple had demons that are explored over the course of the film, especially Jessie who suffered a trauma as a child that wound up affecting the choices she made for herself.

Over the past several years with films like Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil, and last year’s Netflix gem Hush, Flangan has demonstrated a real knack in crafting movies with good atmosphere and nice scares while digging surprisingly deep into the psyche of his characters.  Jessie is a multi-layered creation, thanks not only to Flanagan’s creative way of telling her back-story but in Gugino’s bold portrayal of a woman in crisis.  She’s matched well with Greenwood, first coming off as a genial workaholic husband before showing a more sinister side as his sexual proclivities turn aggressively frightening.  Even in death he has a hold on her, as evidenced by Flanagan letting the dead speak as one of Jessie’s imagined houseguests.

This is a Stephen King tale, though, so expect some nifty twists and turns as the action unfolds.  While Flanagan creates some remarkable tension, he isn’t hoity-toity enough to shy away from a good old fashioned shriek-inducing scare or moments of gooey-gore that had me covering my eyes.  For eagle-eared King fans, there’s also a nice little morsel that ties this film to a previous King adaptation in a most enjoyable way.

Unfortunately, it’s not all fun and games when it comes to the ending.  Perhaps showing that the material couldn’t quite stretch past the 90 minute mark, Flanagan has a few finales to contend with here and none truly satisfy.  Both convenient and confusing, the final fifteen minutes are a bit of a muddle that fall well short of the superior first 2/3rds of the film.  It’s not weak enough to destroy the good-will Flanagan has roused in his audience, but a decent amount of it does evaporate.

With the pool of quality genre films getting low, Gerald’s Game is a fun addition to the good pile of available content you can stream and enjoy.  Gugino’s performance is aces and even with the few missteps mentioned above, as usual Flanagan acquits himself in the long run.  Definitely worth checking out.