Movie Review ~ Insidious: The Red Door

The Facts:

Synopsis: To put their demons to rest, Josh and a college-aged Dalton must go deeper into The Further than ever before, facing their family’s dark past and a host of new and more horrifying terrors that lurk behind the red door.
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Sinclair Daniel, Hiam Abbass, Andrew Astor, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Lin Shaye
Director: Patrick Wilson
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 107 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: With the summer movies already scoring major points by making our hearts leap into our throats with the big action blockbusters (Indiana Jones and the Dial Code of Destiny) and finding our funny bone with comedies (No Hard Feelings), it was inevitable that a scare or two would follow. A reliable fright is always something to look forward to, and perhaps that’s why the arrival of a new Insidious movie makes my pulse race a bit. Though it wasn’t widely screened for critics in advance like the four previous installments (uh-oh), this fifth, and supposedly for the moment final, entry hopes to pack audiences in and goose them good with its trademark jump scares. And you know what? It’s an entertaining way to close the chapter on this franchise, at least for now.

Directed by its star Patrick Wilson who returns in front of the camera along with most of the previous cast, save for one character whose funeral opens the movie, Insidious: The Red Door picks up nine years after the events of Chapter 2. (For those tracking, Chapter 3 and The Last Key were stand-alone prequels involving Lin Shaye’s droll psychic Elise Rainier). The Lamberts never fully recovered on an emotional level from the events that happened to them, culminating in a demon possessing Josh (Wilson, Moonfall), who then attempted to hunt down his wife Renai (Rose Byrne, Spirited) and sons Foster (Andrew Astor) and Dalton (Ty Simpkins, Jurassic World) with whom he shares a special gift. 

Josh and Dalton can use astral projection to travel to other dimensions and had found themselves in one haunted by demons waiting for vulnerable souls to capture. Once imprisoned, they can use their physical bodies to inhabit the real world. After Josh was free of the demon inside him in Chapter 2, he and Dalton were hypnotized into forgetting about the previous year’s events, taking the memories of their gift with them. While they may have forgotten, the fog left behind casts a shadow over the lives of everyone, driving a wedge between a family already emotionally devastated.

As Dalton heads off to college, Renai suggests Josh drive him as a way for the father and son to reestablish some bond before they are further separated. A gifted artist, Dalton’s work reflects a mind conflicted with uncertainty, and having been estranged from his own absent father (hello, thematic daddy issues!) Josh understands the outward manifestation of his inner thoughts. Still, the two struggle to connect, and after meeting Josh’s mistakenly paired co-ed roommate Chris (the marvelous Sinclair Daniel), they leave on bad terms. Shortly after, during his first class with a demanding teacher (Hiam Abbass, Blade Runner 2049) with unconventional methods, the memories locked away in Dalton’s mind are slowly released, opening a door that has been shut too long and releasing an evil that has been biding its time as it waited for freedom.

For the fourth sequel in a long-running franchise, Insidious: The Red Door spends more time than you might think with its setup. Screenwriter Scott Teems (director of 2020’s The Quarry and a writer on 2021’s Halloween Kills) has worked with original creator Leigh Whannell to take the Lambert story to a new level, introducing ideas and deeper threads that further character development. These are all pieces you’d expect to find in subsequent chapters of a continuing story, and the Insidious films have generally been good about fleshing out their storylines. I still have some issues with the whole notion of astral projection and The Further because the rules of it appear to be arbitrary at times. Still, we’re here for the scares the situation provides, and Wilson has been on scary sets long enough (The Conjuring and its two sequels) to know how to creep an audience out.

Viewers familiar with the series will recognize the terrifying Lipstick Demon (played again by Joseph Bishara, who also composes the spine-tingly score), but Wilson also throws in several well-timed jump scares and nerve-janglers along the way. Those already given to having a fear of MRIs might want to visit the concession stand during Josh’s nightmare-inducing encounter with the machine. Then there are the slow boils, visual cues that are just barely in our eyesight; these are the ones we have to strain to see as they come into focus. Is that a ghost? A demon? A friend? How long do you wait before you run? Just when you thought about it long enough, the scare comes where you least expect it.

While the film delivers on its genre goods, it can feel staid on a performance level. Doing double duty didn’t hinder Wilson so much as show that he’s just as flat behind the camera as he is in front. Wilson isn’t a bad actor, just an uninteresting one, and the same goes for his directing of dramatic scenes. Watching the movie’s first thirty minutes, much wrapped up in family dynamics, comes across as a point-and-shoot exercise. Compare that to what previous directors in this series have done from a visual angle, and Wilson comes up short. Wilson singing on the furiously upbeat lite-rock track that plays over the closing credits is the most Patrick Wilson-y thing ever but also…perfect.

Seeing this on a cool July Saturday summer eve with a packed audience, it’s entirely possible I’m giving extra points to Insidious: The Red Door because it felt like the right movie at the right time. Maybe that’s better than taking my opinion from an early screening mid-week when everyone is tired and expectations are set at a different level. Who knows? As a paying customer, this one was worth my time, and the adrenaline rush from the scares after re-visiting the Lamberts and The Further sent me off into the dark of the night feeling satisfied.

Movie Review ~ Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story


The Facts:

Synopsis: Robert Englund, a classically trained actor and director, has become one of our generation’s most revolutionary horror icons. This unique and intimate portrait captures the man behind the glove.
Stars: Robert Englund, Lance Henriksen, Lin Shaye, Tony Todd, Bill Moseley, Eli Roth, Heather Langenkamp, Monica Keena, Miko Hughes, Amanda Wyss, Dennis Christopher, Tammy Lauren, Jill Schoelen, Andrew Divoff, Kane Hodder, Kelly Jo Minter, Mick Garris, Adam Green, Tuesday Knight, Dwight H. Little, Gary Sherman, Jeffrey Reddick, Kenneth Johnson, Nathan Baesel, Corey Taylor
Director: Gary Smart & Chris Griffiths
Rated: NR
Running Length: 120 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: Certain names in the horror genre become synonymous with a singular character. Merely mentioning Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Brad Douriff, Jamie Lee Curtis, Doug Bradley, Christopher Lee, Neve Campbell, Tony Todd, or Peter Cushing will likely conjure up an image of their iconic contributions to the fight flicks that have kept audiences up at night over the decades. One name is missing from this list, and it’s one of the most recognizable and beloved of them all: Robert Englund. 

The actor who brought scarred dream killer Freddy Krueger to life in eight Nightmare on Elm Street films and over fifty other appearances in separate movies and television programs has amassed a bevy of additional credits in his six-decade career. Yet his freaky villain remains his calling card and most known-for work. In a new documentary, Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story, directors Gary Smart and Chris Griffiths crack open Englund’s history, going above and beyond to show new shades of the classically trained, well-respected actor behind the prosthetic make-up. 

Before making his film debut in 1974’s Buster and Billie, Englund had already spent much time exploring a full range of characters on stages nationwide. Playing summer stock and professional theaters in traveling troupes allowed the actor without the typical leading man looks to get experience creating different personas from the ground up. As he began to get minor roles in grindhouse films and more familiarity in the movie industry, Englund proved to be a dedicated professional that impressed his co-stars and important figures within studios, many of whom would go on to their own celebrated careers.

Movies like 1978’s Big Wednesday showed solid dramatic chops, but it was his ability to turn small supporting/cameo roles in weekly television series (or movies like 1981’s Dead & Buried) that were early indicators of Englund’s talent for standing out in a crowd. Securing a pivotal role in the landmark 1983 miniseries V was his first solid step on the ladder to mainstream success, and it was also what led him to an audition for Wes Craven’s tiny horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984. That film and its numerous sequels would keep Englund busy (and wealthy) for a decade, allowing him to play Freddy almost yearly while making various other genre offerings that capitalized on his Nightmare on Elm Street success.

With his Freddy days behind him, Englund has taken a page from the horror actors of the past and became a valued salt-of-the-earth performer, appearing in films from major studios and established directors down to low-budget productions with first-time filmmakers. This provided breathing room for the actor to continue to work and offer his unique presence while sharing his bounty of history within the business. Not every project is top-tier, but no one expected much from A Nightmare on Elm Street when it was in production either. 

As a documentary on Englund’s life and career, Smart & Griffiths’s movie is standard and straightforward as an examination of the trajectory of how Englund has gotten to where he is now. Interviews with family, friends, and co-workers offer the expected insights and platitudes without much conflict, and the star himself is shown at length to be a gregarious and friendly subject. There is a strange edge to the film at times, though, where it can feel like it’s out to prove that Englund has somehow been overlooked or undervalued throughout his career, and that starts to become more evident as things progress. 

Coming in at a solid two hours, there is room for the doc to be cut down, and it wanders around a bit early on, delaying as much as possible before getting to the Freddy of it all. That’s understandable, in a way. Most audiences will likely be tuning in to get tidbits on A Nightmare on Elm Street, and there’s a palpable impression that those involved want to keep a balance between Freddy and the rest of Englund’s career. I enjoyed learning about Englund’s early life on the stage quite a bit, but even I thought it started to drag as 1984 on the timeline drew closer.

Every horror icon deserves their day in the sun, or the full moon if you will, and I’m glad we now have a complete picture of Robert Englund’s life before, during, and after Freddy. Fans will find joy in Englund’s recollections of making A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels and will likely spark to other discoveries found in Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story.

will be On Screambox and Digital on June 6, 2023.

Movie Review ~ Living with Chucky

The Facts:

Synopsis: A filmmaker who grew up alongside Chucky the killer doll seeks out the other families surrounding the Child’s Play films as they recount their experiences working on the ongoing franchise and what it means to be a part of the “Chucky” family.
Stars: Abigail Breslin, Adam Hurtig, Alex Vincent, Billy Boyd, Brad Dourif, Christine Elise McCarthy, Dan Povenmire, David Kirschner, Don Mancini, Elle Lorraine, Fiona Dourif, James A. Janisse, Jennifer Tilly, John Waters, Kyra Gardner, Lin Shaye, Marlon Wayans, Tony Gardner, Tony Timpone
Director: Kyra Gardner
Rated: NR
Running Length: 105 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review:  The great benefit of being a child of the ’80s is that all these years later, the films, shows, music, and general themes we grew up with are all getting the documentary treatment. Allowing us to get this first-hand nostalgia is a treat because it comes pre-packaged for our consumption and presented by filmmakers who share the same passion. The wealth of available archival footage is consistently impressive, as are the actors and technicians willing to come back and reflect on their experiences making a movie that may not have meant much to them at the time but has been solidified in amber for a broad audience. 

I’ve spent hours (hours, I tell you!) watching documentaries on horror film franchises that run the gamut from Friday the 13th to Hellraiser; there was the four-hour examination of A Nightmare on Elm Street films, and In Search of Tomorrow, a 5-hour journey through ’80s sci-fi films. I’ll also admit to watching (devouring?) the 14+ hours of the In Search of Darkness trilogy, walking the viewer through every nook and cranny of the ’80s horror market. 

Mentioned in more than a few of these were the Child’s Play series (or “Chucky” films, if you’re using shorthand), and now there’s finally Living with Chucky. This well-seasoned documentary examines the seven movies and touches on the recent television series surrounding the long-lasting doll possessed by a serial killer. Brisk at 105 minutes, but feeling like it provides ample coverage for its subject, there’s a personal connection for writer/director Kyra Gardner. That special touch goes a long way in keeping the film affectionate but not reverential. 

As I mentioned in a recent post, I first met Chucky in Child’s Play 2, and we got along like a house on fire. Something about the playful tone of that 1990 sequel has always appealed to me. While I see the structural defaults in that film as I grow older, it’s the one I’ll always want to return to first, even if my gut wants me to start with Tom Holland’s creepy original from 1988. Gardner takes viewers through the character’s origin story (thankfully, not going too deep since most of the audience is likely familiar) and how the film journeyed to the big screen. Relying primarily on celebrity color commentary from franchise fans instead of those directly involved with the movie (only some true must-haves are here) helps Gardner keep the documentary from feeling like another special feature from a BluRay package. With a wide range of people being interviewed, it’s often amusing to hear how the movies have influenced genre stars over the years.

If anything, Gardener keeps her tie to the Child’s Play films in the bag for too long. I will hold off saying what it is because the director intentionally leaves it until almost the end, and I want to respect that it’s likely a creative decision. Still, I can’t help but wonder if the question she introduces wouldn’t have been more intriguing being asked an hour earlier. That’s just a tiny grievance I had for Living with Chucky, a hugely enjoyable look back at a series that has given much entertainment to its audience while making some bold steps and taking huge swings along the way. 

31 Days to Scare ~ Hulu’s Bite Size Halloween 2022

The Facts:

Synopsis: Shot in seven different countries, the third season of 20th Digital Studio’s Bite Size Halloween series of spooky shorts on Hulu takes on topical issues such as racism, gender, parenthood, sexuality, and identity.
Stars: Tatiana Maslany, Brendan Hines, Misha Osherovich, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Lin Shaye, David Costabile, Rebekka Johnson, Kate Nash
Director: Nuhash Humayun, Sam Max, Michelle Krusiec, Zoey Martinson, Michael Schwartz, Conscian Morgan, Brandon Espy, Samantha Aldana, Jon K Jones, Nikki Taylor-Roberts, Carlo Ledesma, Robin Takao, Minsun Park, Coral Amiga, Nicole Hartley, Luka Wilson, Natalie Metzger, Rebekka Johnson, Kate Nash
Rated: NR
Running Length: Between 2 and 15 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review:  I know you know this feeling. You’re flipping through your queue looking for something scary to watch on a weekend night leading up to Halloween and you can’t manage to commit to anything. You’ve either seen everything or can’t bring yourself to watch another film with zombies created by a deadly virus that has decimated most of the planet. Hulu must have heard enough grumblings about this within their employees’ families each holiday season because they started producing a series of short films for their Huluween celebration a few years back.

Dubbed Bite Size Horror, the programming provides opportunities for directors from underrepresented groups (women, racial & ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities) to submit their horror-themed shorts for a run leading up to Halloween. More popular shorts in past years have been considered for feature-length films, and two upcoming Hulu Original Movies, Grimcutty (out 10/10) and Matriarch (out 10/21) began their life in this programming block. Easy to digest with lengths running anywhere from 2 minutes to 15, these 20 spooky shorts for 2022 aren’t all winners but even the least successful of the bunch has a decidedly creative point of view.

Lauren Mei in NIAN

Despite the presence of current She-Hulk star Tatiana Maslany and her husband Brendan Hines, Lin Shaye, and musician Kate Nash, most actors participating in these shorts aren’t familiar faces. This approach gives the Bite Size Halloween shorts room to breathe, living or dying on their moxie and not on how well-received their recognized cast members are. Speaking of Maslany and Hines, Hulu’s featuring their short SNATCHED quite a lot in their advertising, specifically Maslany’s blazing blue eyes. I found this short to be on the lower end of the pile, with its message of acceptance/tolerance only being possible if aliens invaded our planet to be unintentionally regressive.

Things start fun with NIAN, following a Chinese American girl’s show and tell day that takes a deadly turn when the ancient mask of a mythological creature goes on the offense toward her high school tormentor. The acting gets iffy, but the premise is solid. Though bloody with scary make-up effects, as a short TICKS didn’t work for me at all, and neither did BUG, which finds a woman losing her annoying daughter in the woods but getting something nasty back when she returns.

Yvonne Campbell in NZU

Entries that stood out early on were NZU, making great use of its short time frame to turn a Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?-ish awkward family first meeting into an exploration of past transgression stretching back generations. Director Conscian Morgan has something unique here, and if Hulu is looking for something to throw money at to develop further, this is a good one to keep an eye on. I’d also like to see INCOMPLETE fill out more. Featuring Marchant Davis as a man terrorized by his breathalyzer machine (it’s more menacing than it sounds), director Zoey Martinson gets a lot of mileage out of a simple premise. Then there’s FOREIGNERS ONLY, a disturbing trip to Bangladesh where we learn just how far a local man will go to usurp the country’s notorious welcoming of tourists while rejecting the needs of their people. This short was frightening, so take my advice and watch this in the daytime.

REMOTE is almost near the bottom of the list, bungling its sci-fi story with lugubrious editing, a barely coherent screenplay, and effects that feel more like a first-run experiment. This feels like true amateur filmmaking compared to other shorts playing alongside it. 

Titles like LIVE BAIT, MR. CROCKET, ANGELS, FRACTURE, GO TO BED RAYMOND, SLEEP STUDY, ALONE WITH HIM, TRESPASSERS, and RIDE OR DIE are serviceable but forgettable entries that were neither here nor there for this viewer. Do yourself a favor and watch THE HERITAGE on an empty stomach. I’m not one to gag when watching obvious special effects, but this one is so disgusting that I watched almost everything with my eyes closed. Maybe that means it was a success in the eyes of the filmmakers, but it’s pretty revolting if I do say so myself.

Lin Shaye in REMOTE

Though it is by far my least favorite of all the shorts by a large margin, I feel BAD RABBIT will be one people will be interested in because singer/songwriter Kate Nash shared the writing and directing duties with her GLOW co-star Rebekka Johnson. Both also star in this, a mean-spirited and super tacky look at a nasty invalid mother and her brow-beaten daughter (Nash). She finally cracks and follows the advice of her bunny (Johnson – in the lamest rabbit outfit ever) to mow her down. Literally.  This short is terrible. You’ve been dutifully warned.

I’ll mention the last two titles (like NZU and INCOMPLETE) that Hulu could lengthen into a feature film. DISPOSAL isn’t a horror movie in the traditional sense. A Brooklyn family gathers for a celebration, giving a young husband pause to consider that his wife might be having an affair. I get the impression writer/director Luka Wilson has more to talk about with this family and what happens in this episodic short is just one piece of a larger puzzle. The acting and filmmaking are top-notch here; I hope this gets its due. 

The final short to look out for is THE KAPRE from writer/director Carlo Ledesma. On a stormy night in a Philippine forest, an American couple camping at the base of a tree supposedly protected by a mythical creature finds out that some legends are real…and gigantic. There’s a nice dose of comedy here that doesn’t go over the top and effects, which suggest Ledesma would be able to provide the goods if given more time and budget. 

Marchant Davis in INCOMPLETE

None of these are so much of a commitment you must skip entirely. If you need to pass over some, I can tell you my preferences. I wouldn’t want to revisit REMOTE or BAD RABBIT, and you can also keep TICKS and BUGS off my list. Do seek out NZU, INCOMPLETE, THE KAPRE, and DISPOSAL. If you are feeling brave, I think FOREIGNERS ONLY is twisted fun. Especially nice if you want something akin to an adult bedtime story, throw one of these on your phone or the TV before hitting the hay, and then try to fall asleep with a few of these freaky images floating through your mind. 

31 Days to Scare ~ The Temp (1993)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A troubled businessman’s life is upturned after the arrival of a mysterious female temp worker in his office.

Stars: Timothy Hutton, Lara Flynn Boyle, Dwight Schultz, Oliver Platt, Steven Weber, Colleen Flynn, Faye Dunaway, Scott Coffey, Dakin Matthews, Maura Tierney, Lin Shaye

Director: Tom Holland

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  Tell me if this sounds familiar to you (and if not, humor me).  You’re at home, eaten a nice meal, and are ready for dessert.  You go to the freezer, get out a batch of ice cream that already has a flavor profile…let’s say, Peanut Butter Cup.  Tonight, though, Peanut Butter Cup alone isn’t good enough.  You go to your cupboard and add some M&M’s, a few mini marshmallows, maybe some actual peanut butter cups to gild the lily, and then top it off with some chocolate syrup and whipped cream.  By the time you’re done, there’s this strange creation in front of you that doesn’t resemble what you started with and when you bite into it…you wish you had just left it alone.

That’s sort of what I feel like when thinking about The Temp, the goofy thriller that came out on my birthday in 1993 and made back just a paltry 1/3 of it’s 15-million-dollar budget.  With a strong director (Tom Holland of Thinner & Child’s Play), two Oscar winning actors (Timothy Hutton and Faye Dunaway) and a number of rising stars in its cast, not to mention it’s perfect for the early ‘90s pseudo-suspense set-up, The Temp should have been an easy score for Paramount Pictures.  However, if you read up on the film and even just watching it through, you can tell that it’s been royally messed with on its way to release and either maneuvered into the half-hearted attempt it is, or torpedoed from something more sinister which it feels like it wanted to be.

Of all the offices to stage a murder mystery, a cookie company in Oregon would be the last thing I would think of but that’s exactly where screenwriters Kevin Falls and Tom Engleman post Peter Derns (Hutton, Ordinary People) as a divorced dad with anger management issues recently returned to work after suffering a bit of a breakdown. With his company about to be taken over by a larger corporation looking to trim the executive roster as a cost-saving measure, his paranoid nature is back on high alert almost instantly. To make matters even worse, his personal assistant (Scott Coffey, It Takes Three) just left for paternity leave, and he’s left scrambling to please his own boss (Faye Dunaway, Eyes of Laura Mars, wild-eyed and sweat-lipped from the downbeat) with little notice.

He’s not on his own for long, because he’s soon assigned a temporary assistant, the well-educated Kris (Lara Flynn Boyle, Poltergeist III) who time and time again proves to be Peter’s saving grace.  There’s clearly some kind of electric connection between the two and whatever flirting goes on between them remains on the up and up. This is especially good considering that when his full-time assistant returns Kris has endeared herself enough to stick around and begins to rise up the ranks of the company rather quickly.  So quickly, in fact, that it comes on the heels of a suspicious number of accidents, deaths, and exposed secrets about executives, suggesting that someone on the inside might be making it easy for Kris to have a path forward.  Is it Kris herself or someone else with a vested interest in seeing the others around her fail?

In our current era of #MeToo and understanding more about gender politics in the office workplace, The Temp actually becomes an interesting watch through a more experienced lens.  I’m sure the movie couldn’t have been written exactly as-is now…but could it remain just slightly altered and be more effective?  Possibly.  It’s a shame that it seemed to go through so many test screenings and alterations in post-production.  The well-known tale is the entire final act was reshot, much to the anger of Dunaway who refused to film certain scenes and to the overall confusion of audiences.  What’s there now seems incongruous with the rest of the movie, turning into a half-baked Hitchcock film when it never expressed any interest in being up until that point. 

What it had shown some curiously in exploring were a few nasty deaths and Holland’s expertise in building tension as we waited for some bad things to happen to the employees and friends of Peter. (Look for Single White Female’s Steven Weber, Oliver Platt from Flatliners, and Beautiful Boy’s Maura Tierney in the cast as well.)  One such incident is bloody memorable even today (two words: Paper Shredder) and if The Temp had been more adventurous in exploring those kinds of shocking moments, perhaps it would have been promoted more in theaters from a box office dud to minor success.  It also might have helped Boyle break out more as a film star because while she had notoriety on TV and minor roles in films, leading lady status sadly evaded her.  Hutton and especially Dunaway look embarrassed to be in this by the end, but Boyle stands by the movie throughout, which in a strange way works for her character as well.    

Movie Review ~ The Grudge (2020)

The Facts:

Synopsis: After a young mother murders her family in her own house, a single mother and detective tries to investigate and solve the case. She discovers the house is cursed by a vengeful ghost that dooms those who enter it with a violent death.

Stars: Andrea Riseborough, Lin Shaye, Demián Bichir, Betty Gilpin, John Cho, William Sadler, Jacki Weaver, Frankie Faison

Director: Nicolas Pesce

Rated: R

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: I’ve always liked to look at the start of a new year as a way to wipe the slate clean and start fresh.  What a perfect time to forget about old annoyances, unmet goals, and the resolutions from the previous year that you didn’t stick to.  For this critic embarking on his ninth year of being a one-man reviewing band on this site, it’s also a fine time to hope that the next year of movie-going will be a smooth ride, where every film is a winner and each expectation I have going in is met.  Though 2019 shaped up to be a rather strong year for film in those final few months there were some bumps along the way…with some real rough patches especially in the horror genre remake/reboot realm.  If you read my end of the year review you’ll know I put the trash update of Child’s Play as my #1 worst movie in 2019 and unfortunately we are only two days into the new year and I already have a likely candidate to be (dis)honorably mentioned 12 months from now.

Always wanting to support my beloved horror films I was silly enough to take myself to see Sony’s restage of The Grudge thinking that it would be the scary new vision of 2002’s Ju-On: The Grudge it made itself out to be.  Instead, writer/director Nicolas Pesce squanders a talented cast and decent production values in a film that is schizophrenic at best, incoherent at worst.  The films in this series have always suffered from issues with structure and there is barely a framework in place before Pesce starts to tear it all apart. Coming off of two well received movies, 2018’s Piercing and The Eyes of My Mother from 2016, Pesce was an intriguing choice to take on this reboot but brings none of the style he showed in those smaller movies with his first foray into franchise territory.  This is Horror Movie 101, with lame-o jump scares favored over any kind of build up of suspense or furthering of the narrative action.

After the death of her husband, Detective Muldoon (no first name given ever) packs up and moves with their son to Cross Creek, PA, where they have a chance at finding a new normal.  Her first day on the job she’s partnered with Detective Goodman (another character not given the benefit of a first name) and they are sent to the woods where a decomposed body has been found in a locked car.  Tracing the body back to a house with a bloody past, Goodman wants to turn the investigation over to the federal authorities and forget about it but Muldoon can’t resist doing some work on her own.  Once Muldoon enters the infamous house she starts to experience strange events that can all be tied back to a family that had been murdered two years prior…and whatever caused all that trouble before is now after her.

If you’ve never seen it, the original Japanese film Ju-On: The Grudge is quite an effective entry in J-Horror.  I remember catching it at a small theater in my town when it received a limited release and receiving good chills for my effort.  When I heard the original director was coming to the US to remake the film in partnership with Sam Raimi (Oz: The Great and Powerful), I was curious to see how Hollywood would handle it.  The 2004 version of The Grudge followed it’s foreign predecessor pretty closely and was a decent if completely unnecessary effort; setting much of it Japan with a largely American cast had its own problems, though and it’s non-linear format didn’t flow as easily overseas.  A quick sequel was pushed into production and the 2006 result was a steep nosedive in quality and logic.  I never got around to seeing the third film, released in 2009, but skimming reviews for it online it appears I didn’t miss much.  Stepping back from the 2020 version a bit and squinting, you can see where a new twist on The Grudge may have sounded appealing to the studio heads at Sony.

I have to believe that something happened between Pesce’s pitch and the film being released that changed what was originally intended.  Made for a small-ish $10 million dollars, there was a real opportunity to make a suspenseful film that took the haunting elements from the original movies and placed them in a new story.  Instead, the movie is stuck in the same old narrative rut that proved so problematic in the past.  Set between the years 2004 and 2006 (why?), Pesce has really made four mini-episodes showing how the cursed house has taken deadly action over the years and then thrown it all into a wood-chipper before piecing it back together.  It never allows the action to find a rhythm because there’s no impetus to when or how the storylines diverge from one another.

One moment you’re in 2006 where Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough, Oblivion) and Goodman (Demián Bichir, A Better Life) are investigating the body in the car, the next you’re back in the past watching married real estate agents (John Cho, Searching and Betty Gilpin, Isn’t it Romantic?) dealing with their own tragedy who make the mistake of taking on the spooky dwelling.  Aside from the original family who meet a gruesome fate, the other noteworthy arc involves a man (Frankie Faison, The Silence of the Lambs) who has called upon a euthanasia supporter (Jacki Weaver, Stoker) to help his ailing wife (Lin Shaye, Insidious: The Last Key) transition.  Of all the plots Pesce juggles this is the one that I wanted to know more about, thanks to the performances of all three actors…especially Weaver.  The way Weaver reacts to the horror she sees made me wish she had better material to work with…but she gives it her all anyway.

Actually, all the actors deserve some pat on the back for imbibing what sensibility was possible into their roles.  Riseborough is such a fascinating actress but struggles with a character that becomes more hyperbolic as the film goes on.  Pesce makes a concerted effort to pause the action while Riseborough works through her emotions but since we have no real sense of who she is these slow sections become annoying, making the film feel longer (much much much longer) than its 94 minutes.  I’m not sure if Bichir ever spoke above a throaty whisper but I’m definitely sure Cho and Gilpin didn’t know they were in a horror movie until after the movie was finished.  Both look bewildered instead of scared.  You can always count on Shaye to bring us back on track and her few scenes as a woman that has become unhinged due to the house consistently find the right tone.  I also found William Sadler’s (Freeheld) brief appearance to be approaching the right ballpark of where Pesce should have taken things.

A clumsy film to kick off 2020, hopefully audiences won’t take the bait with this new version of The Grudge and allow this series to just disappear.  The only thing good about seeing this is that everything else you watch this year is bound to be better…but maybe that’s me being too hopeful again.

Movie Review ~ Insidious: The Last Key


The Facts

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

Stars: Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Josh Stewart, Caitlin Gerard, Kirk Acevedo, Javier Botet, Bruce Davison, Spencer Locke, Tessa Ferrer, Ava Kolker, Marcus Henderson

Director: Adam Robitel

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 103 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: By the time a franchise gets around to its third sequel, there’s a definite formula that’s been developed, a ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ vibe, if you will.  As derivative as it may seem artistically, unfortunately all movie studios care about is the bottom line and as long as audiences continue to come out in droves with their cash handy, they’ll keep making the same movie over and over again.  That’s what’s been so interesting about the Insidious films; they’ve all followed the same pattern and have similar beats to hit but they wind up being more entertaining than they have any right to be.  After two successfully entries the series ventured into prequel territory for it’s third outing and this new film is a sequel to that prequel.

While it doesn’t tread any new ground, Insidious: The Last Key proves worthy as connective tissue from Insidious: Chapter 3 to the original Insidious (let’s just leave Insidious: Chapter 2 far out of the conversation, shall we?) and it’s largely due to supporting player turned star Lin Shaye (A Nightmare on Elm Street) appearing once more as medium Elise Rainer.  The other three films have benefited from her presence but she’s truly the central figure of screenwriter and co-star Leigh Whannell’s latest episode.

Opening with a prologue set in the ‘50s, we meet Elise as a child living with her parents and brother in their creepy house next to a maximum-security prison.  Every time the lights flicker it’s a signal another death row inmate has met his maker via electric chair but that’s the least of the worries this family has.  Elise can see ghosts and while she’s encouraged to embrace it by her supportive mother, her alcoholic father (Josh Stewart, Interstellar) fears his child that can seemingly communicate with the dead and punishes her when her gifts emerge.  Charmed by an evil entity into freeing it from its basement confines, Elise unwittingly brings a malevolent force into her family which sets into motion events that will haunt her for the rest of her life.

Picking up in 2010, Elise is contacted by a man now living in her old house.  Strange events have started up again and she takes his invitation as an opportunity to exorcise (literally) her childhood traumas and reconnect with her brother (Bruce Davison, The Lords of Salem) who has a family of his own, including two daughters played by Magic Mike’s Caitlin Gerard and Spencer Locke.  As she explores her house (always, I should add in the dead of night armed with a small flashlight and never during the day) she comes face to face not only with secrets from her past but a freaky figure we come to know as KeyFace (Javier Botet, IT).

After the first two films were directed by James Wan (The Conjuring) and the previous entry directed by Whannell, I was encouraged to see a new face in the director chair this go around.  Director Adam Robitel wrote and directed the real horror gem The Taking of Deborah Logan a few years ago so I was interested to see what he brought to the franchise.  Turns out Robitel brings a more grounded approach to the film and while that doesn’t always work for a vehicle that’s supposed to be an all-out scare machine, his approach feels right at this late stage.  These are characters we’re all familiar with, so let’s take some time to get to know them between the scares.

That’s good news for Shaye who shines even when she’s navigating clunky dialogue and playing the straight man to her goofy sidekicks played by Whannell (Cooties) and Angus Sampson (Mad Max: Fury Road).  Both of these oddballs provided some interesting comic relief in the first film but have steadily gotten broader with each passing entry, much to the overall detriment of any kind of mood everyone is trying to create.  Davison looks like he’s thinking of what he’s going to buy with his paycheck while Gerard and Locke are passable as characters that might pick up the psychic torch from their aunt.

This feels like a good way to round off the rough edges of this series that started strong, dipped, and then leveled off.  It misses a few opportunities to go deeper and actually is missing creepy scenes shown in the trailer.  I found it interesting that while Elise’s haunted house is next to an imposing abandoned prison, we never get a look inside the derelict penitentiary. It’s worth seeing it with a large audience that’s there to have fun.  The screams at my screening were as entertaining as the film itself, especially the woman that yelled out ‘Gosh DARN it’ after a particularly nasty scare. There are a few interesting curveballs thrown in and it’s packed with enough jump scares to satisfy your post-holiday cravings.  Just remember: it’s not art, it’s the fourth entry in the Insidious series.

31 Days to Scare ~ Tales of Halloween


The Facts:

Synopsis: Ten stories are woven together by their shared theme of Halloween night in an American suburb, where ghouls, imps, aliens and axe murderers appear for one night only to terrorize unsuspecting residents.

Stars: Booboo Stewart, Adrianne Curry, Barry Bostwick, Pat Healy, Lin Shaye, Sam Witwer, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Cameron Easton, Nick Principe, Jennifer Wenger, John Savage, Adrienne Barbeau

Directors: Neil Marshall, David Parker, Darren Lynn Bousman, Adam Gierasch, Axelle Carolyn, Lucky McKee, Paul Solet, John Skipp, Andrew Kasch, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin

Rated: R

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: The problem I seem to have with many horror films is follow-through.  While quite a few have a good central concept, tasked with stretching that idea to a feature running length can water down the story the filmmaker wanted to tell.  That’s what makes Tales of Halloween such a tricky treat for horror lovers because it relieves the writers and directors of the need to overstuff their campfire tales.

A nice throwback to the days of anthology horror (Asylum, From Beyond the Grave, After Midnight, Trick ‘r Treat), the 10 frightful fables featured in Tales of Halloween are very loosely drawn together by radio disc jockey (Adrienne Barbeau, maybe playing the same character she did in The Fog?) who operates in a town where all of the action takes place.  With multiple directors and writers, this could easily have been reduced to incongruous material joined together by the Halloween theme but the assembled product is remarkably consistent in tone.

While there’s not a real stinker story in the bunch, some are more effective than others and with a running length of 97 minutes you won’t have to wait long before one tale wraps up and another begins.  Starting off strong with Sweet Tooth (nvolving an urban legend of a candy monster targeting those that don’t share) the various sequences that follow feature evil trick or treaters turning the tables on a foursome with secrets of their own, a kidnapping gone terribly awry, an evil demon called upon to punish some wicked street thugs, and a super fun reversal of fortune for a backwoods killer who encounters a UFO.  Of all the mini-features, only the final one involving a rampaging killer pumpkin (don’t laugh…well, ok…laugh) is one I could see having a feature length life of its own.

The acting has its ups and downs and those craving torture-porn gore and nudity will come away empty-handed.  Still, there’s enough gross out moments and wicked twists of fate to please most horror fans looking for something new to watch.  It’s also nice to see some fun in-jokes and a whole host of familiar faces of horror from both in front of and behind the camera. Here’s hoping we get More Tales of Halloween in the future.

Hasta La Vista…Summer (June)

arnold-terminator-almostdidnotstarHastaWe did it! We made it through another summer and while the outdoor heat wasn’t too bad (in Minnesota, at least) the box office was on fire.

I’ll admit that I indulged in summer fun a bit more than I should, distracting me from reviewing some key movies over the last three months so I wanted to take this opportunity to relive the summer of 2015, mentioning my thoughts on the movies that got away and analyzing the winners and losers by month and overall.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride read.


If May was the month that studios dipped their toe in the summer waters, June was a time when they waded in up to their waists. The first weekend in June saw three high-profile releases, each catering to different audiences to mixed results.

After last summer’s disaster Tammy (my worst film of 2014) I was mighty suspicious of Spy, Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig’s action comedy. After having such success with Bridesmaids the duo reteamed for the underwhelming The Heat so it was a 50/50 shot at how well Spy would do. Lucky for us, it was McCarthy’s best performance to date and by far her most enjoyable film as a solo star. A great, game supporting cast helped make this highly entertaining.

I never watched HBO’s Entourage but felt like I knew what I was getting myself into when catching the big screen outing for the California guys navigating their way through Hollywood and a bevy of beautiful women. It was pretty on par with my expectations but I wasn’t lost in the wilderness with its plot. It was nicely made and an adequate diversion for the time I spent in the theater.

Scary films are usually left for early in the year or around Halloween but several studios were willing to gamble that audiences were ready to be spooked in the summer. First up this season was the third entry in a diminishing franchise:

                                                   Movie Review ~ Insidious: Chapter 3
insidious_chapter_three_ver6The Facts
Synopsis: A prequel set before the haunting of the Lambert family that reveals how gifted psychic Elise Rainier reluctantly agrees to use her ability to contact the dead in order to help a teenage girl who has been targeted by a dangerous supernatural entity.
Stars: Lin Shaye, Stefanie Scott, Dermot Mulroney, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Hayley Kiyoko
Director: Leigh Whannell
Rated: PG-13
Running Length:  97 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: I’ll say this for the third chapter of the Insidious franchise…it’s a lot better than the meandering second outing which strayed a tad too far away from its original mythology. A prequel to the two films, Chapter 3 focuses on a motherless girl that becomes the target of a pretty nasty specter of evil. It’s all fairly standard stuff but not quite as chilling as it thinks it is. The performances sat well with me and I loved that Lin Shaye, an actress that’s been in the biz for quite some time, was brought front and center because she ably carries the picture. I think it’s time to close the book on these films, and it didn’t go out as a total embarrassment…but it could have been handled better.

For some time now, the film I’d been most looking forward to was Jurassic World and on June 12 the film was released to thunderous acclaim from audiences and critics. It quickly broke box office records around the world and squashed any fears that the franchise had run its course. I loved it and happily saw it a second time in 3D IMAX, enjoying it even more on a repeat viewing. Now the wait begins for the next one…and I’m intrigued to see where it’s going next!

Halfway into June two dramas were released to good reviews but audiences didn’t quite seem to find them and I can only hope that they’ll find more success when they become more available via streaming services or rentals.

                                        Movie Review ~ Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
me_and_earl_and_the_dying_girlThe Facts
Synopsis: High schooler Greg, who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl, finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer.
Stars: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, Jon Bernthal, Bobb’E J. Thompson
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 105 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: I hardly expected to well up with tears at a movie from the director of the remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown and several episodes of American Horror Story. But I did. Eschewing the gauzy mawkishness of the disease of the week melodrama, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a creative tear jerker that will make your mascara run…but maybe for not the reasons you expect. It’s almost worth the price of admission to see the titles of the parodies of classic films that are produced by our lead characters…but there’s much more to love about this sweet, knowing film that had a tender heart around its rough edges. Very much worth your time.

                                                         Movie Review ~ Love & Mercy
love_and_mercyThe Facts
Synopsis: In the 1960s, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson struggles with emerging psychosis as he attempts to craft his avant-garde pop masterpiece. In the 1980s, he is a broken, confused man under the 24-hour watch of shady therapist Dr. Eugene Landy.
Stars: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Elizabeth Banks
Director: Bill Pohlad
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 121 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: I almost let this one slip of out theaters before catching it and I’m so glad I did. It’s one of the best biopics (music or otherwise) that I’ve seen and features uniformly excellent performances…and this is an especially big accomplishment considering I’m not a fan of the three of the four lead actors. I normally find Paul Dano to be a bit like a marshmallow, puffy and flavorless but he presents a deeply nuanced portrait of Brian Wilson, the Beach Boy that suffered from mental illness and madness for most of his life. His brilliance is expertly captured by Dano, less so by John Cusack as the elder Wilson that enters into a relationship with a car saleswoman (Elizabeth Banks) while being treated by a therapist (Paul Giamatti) with questionable morals. Banks is great as always and whatever annoyances Cusack, Giamatti, and Dano have provided in the past are forgiven in director Carl Pohlad’s riveting look into the mind of a troubled man.

Now that I think about it, June was a month with movies that gave my tear ducts a run for their money…never more so than the one two punch of Pixar’s latest and greatest.

Before Inside Out even started, I was wiping my cheeks thanks to their moving short Lava. Entirely set to the music of the Hawaiian islands, it’s a heartfelt tribute to love, dreams, and destiny. I bought the song from iTunes and yes, was moved to tears just listening to the beautiful melody again.

                                                         Movie Review ~ Inside Out

inside_out_ver13The Facts:
Synopsis: After young Riley is uprooted from her Midwest life and moved to San Francisco, her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness – conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school.
Stars: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
Director: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Rated: PG
Running Length: 94 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Stumbling a bit in recent years by focusing more on sequels instead of original material, the genius minds at Pixar came back in full force with Inside Out, their little lesson to audiences young and old that having emotions and showing them is natural…and a good thing. It’s difficult to present a message like that in a way that will speak to young children as well as the adults in the room but by George they did it. Growing up isn’t easy and feeling the loss of childhood is painful, but the gentle hand guiding the film helps us come to terms with those emotions in the best and brightest way. The waterworks started early and kept on going through the credits. A lovely film.




The Silver Bullet ~ Insidious: Chapter 3


Synopsis: This chilling prequel, set before the haunting of the Lambert family, reveals how gifted psychic Elise Rainier reluctantly agrees to use her ability to contact the dead in order to help a teenage girl who has been targeted by a dangerous supernatural entity.

Release Date:  May 29, 2015

Thoughts:  Though 2010’s Insidious had a healthy share of moments that scared the ever-lovin’ beejeezus out of me I was less impressed with the 2013 sequel that relied heavily on cheap scares and had so many plot holes it should have come with a promotional slice of Swiss cheese. With original director James Wan (The Conjuring) off working on another film, writer Leigh Whannell moves into the director chair for this third installment designed as a prequel. This may turn out to be a good thing because it gives us a chance to spend more time with the most interesting character of the first films…psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye, A Nightmare on Elm Street) as she helps another family rid themselves of some nasty demons. Hopefully Whannell learned from the missteps of the last film…though you’d never know it from the conventional looking teaser. Still, I’m willing to read another chapter in Whannell’s terror tale.