Movie Review: SIREN

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Movie Review SIRENUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
2016
NR

“I like you.”

One week before his wedding day, Jonah and his groomsmen hit the town for a wild night of club hopping and debauchery. The night soon takes a twisted turn for the worse when the group is invited to a seedy underground club. After Jonah frees a seemingly imprisoned dancer, he realizes that the woman he released is actually a terrifying, legendary creature that will stop at nothing to claim her prey.

Hey, remember the horror anthology movie V/H/S? If you don’t, that’s fine. I won’t judge you too harshly. But, the first short on that collection was something called “Amateur Night”, which, to quote directly from my own review, is about “three bros go bar-hopping and bring back a couple of girls to have sex with in their hotel room and make an amateur porn video in the process…until they discover too late that one of the girls is not what she seems”. Well, bravely traversing into SPOILER territory, that was because the young lady was a Siren, the beautiful creature of myth and legend that lures unsuspecting males to their doom by way of mystical singing. Also, in this case, transforming from their human form to a terrifying wing-ed gargoyle-looking thing that originally lead me to believe she was more of a harpie when I first saw the short. This, of course, was rectified by the full-length adaptation of that short, entitled SiREN.

The movie begins with a police officer and a powerful shaman stumbling upon the titular Siren that was summoned by a bunch of amateur (and very dead) black magick practitioners. He manages to charm the Siren long enough to get a mystical lock on her. “Now, we can be friends” and all that. Cut to the standard Guys On Their Way To Bachelor Party Shenanigans, wherein the younger brother of the guy getting married takes him and their friends to a less-than-stellar strip club, because why waste a good stereotype? While moping about how underwhelming the experience is, they’re approached by a guy in a bad goatee to check out a secret Gentleman’s Club where it’s promised their dreams of the perfect night would be realized. Of course, they follow him out there, where they’re met with, not only something completely different from your standard strip club, but the proprietor of this fine establishment, Mr. Nix. Which also happens to be that occult master we saw at the beginning of the flick. He takes the boys into the back, where the bachelor in question gets some time with Mr. Nix’s star attraction: the Siren. A slight problem arises when the Siren takes a shine to the young man, who in turn decides to bust her free from not only her cage, but also her mystical shackles. Now what started as a night of sub-standard bachelor hijinks is now a terrifyingly horrific game of cat and mouse, with neither side really knowing if they’re the cat or the mouse, with Mr. Nix doing everything in his power to get the Siren back, and the hapless groom-to-be discovering first hand the mating habits of said Siren while they attempt to elude her former owner. Things don’t end well, let’s just say.

Usually, padding out a short to make it work as a full-length results in something a bit more sub-standard than expected. Fortunately, expanding “Amature Night” into the full-length Siren worked very, very well. Mainly due to the fact that the story doesn’t really follow that of the short, outside of a bunch of guys going out for shenanigans and running into the Siren. The story in Siren was expanded to explain why the creature was on this plain of existence, as well as a bit more expansion to how the boys run into her. Oh, did I mention that the same actress that played the siren in the short also plays the titular creature here in the movie? And both times she manages to nail the character’s horrific yet curiously tragic mythical creature. She still utilizes the phrase, “I like you” in a way that still sent danger chills shooting down my spine and raising the goosebumps.

Overall, I found Siren (or SiREN, as it’s listed on Amazon and IMDB) to be a fun and very effective B-Movie horror flick that will give give you the creeps and give you an aversion to gentlemen clubs in the middle of nowhere that are run by possible Voodoo warlocks.

Movie Review: ABATTOIR

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abattoir movie posterMomentum Pictures
2016
R

An investigative reporter works to solve the mystery behind a mysterious man who has been buying houses where tragedies have occurred. Set in a world where it always feels like night, even in daylight hours, real estate reporter Julia Talben’s life is turned upside down when her family is brutally murdered. It is believed to be an open and closed case, but Julia quickly realizes there is much more to this story when she returns to the crime scene to find the murder room deconstructed and physically removed from her sister’s home. This ignites an investigative pursuit that eventually leads her and ex-lover Detective Declan Grady to the town of New English where they find the enigmatic Jebediah Crone and the Abattoir–a monstrous house stitched together with unending rooms of death and the damned. Julia comes to realize that her sister’s soul is trapped inside, but the Abattoir isn’t just a house–it’s a door to something more evil than anyone could have ever imagined. Julia and Grady are ultimately faced with the question: How do you build a haunted house? One room at a time.

So, just recently, I decided to rent a handful of movies based solely on the cover art and titles alone. I didn’t read the synopsis, I didn’t do any research into any of them; I just saw the cover, thought “this will do”, and picked ’em up to watch over the weekend. The results were…mixed, to say the very least. Although, it’s nothing I haven’t come across before.

Anyway, one of those movies was Abattoir, a movie that was released in the tail end of 2016, and is described as a haunted house movie with a twist. That twist apparently being that it manages to be original while being as disjointed at possible.

The story involves a young and plucky real estate reporter who has a taste for old-timey styles and is looking to move beyond her position and make a name for herself in the crime beat. Then her sister’s family is brutally murdered one night, which is bad enough; what’s weird, though, is that shortly thereafter the room where the murders happen is taken out of the house. Just the one room. Soon, said young and plucky real estate reporter and her Friend Zone’d detective guy begin uncovering other instances where a house that was the scene of a grizzly murder was purchased only to have the room or area where the murder occurred be removed. This and a coincidentally timed retrieval of a bit of documentation stating that her biological parents live in a small town called New English (seriously) causes our plucky real estate reporter to head out to the town, where she finds a weirdness that would give the denizens of Innsmouth pause. Seems that, decades ago, there was a very charismatic circuit preacher that arrived in the town, offering up not salvation, but more a chance to have their best lives now, if but for a pledge of a loved one to sacrifice. Faster than you can make a Joel Olsteen joke, our plucky real estate reporter discovers that she and her sister was sent away in an attempt to break this curse. But, now she’s back, and she’s stumbled upon the massive mansion that was built by all the bits of other houses, the ones that contain the specters of the murders past. A haunted house built from other haunted rooms, if you will. And it’s only missing one thing before it’s finished being built…and she’s the key to that capstone.

So, then, with Abattoir, you get the sense that there’s a fantastic horror movie underneath the surface, but the execution of it fell short of its potential. On the one hand, the concept of a house that’s haunted due to being built from the various bits of other houses that have ghosts with them is something that blows my mind considering all the story possibilities that come with it. The problem is, the actual house in question doesn’t show up until the final 20 minutes of the movie. What comes before is a kind of disjointed noir-ish murder mystery as filtered by Dario Argento, with zero chemistry between the two main characters and a plot that is rather disjointed, leading up to the last part with the house. There are some good points to the movie, like the character of Jebediah Crone. Had we focused on him a bit more, there could have been a better movie, here. And of course, Lin Shaye is always the best part of any movie she’s in, bit part or no.

Overall, Abattoir is certainly different and a bit more innovative than a lot of horror movies I’ve sifted through over the years. It certainly stuck with me a bit more than the one-and-done flicks I began forgetting ten minutes after the movie ended. However, this haunted house movie’s facade was shoddily constructed, and could have done with better building materials.

See what I did, there? I made a house joke. You’re welcome.

Movie Review: IT FOLLOWS

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movie-review-it-followsRADiUS-TWC
2014
R

“Okay, even though it is following you I can still see it. It is not done with me either. Okay, like I told you, all you can do is pass it on to someone else.”

For 19-year-old Jay, fall should be about school, boys and weekends out at the lake. But after a seemingly innocent sexual encounter, she finds herself plagued by strange visions and the inescapable sense that someone, or something, is following her. Jay and her friends must now find a way to escape the horrors that seem to be only a few steps behind…

It’s funny, really. I skipped out of watching the recent (and by “recent”, I mean within this decade of the 21st Century) teen horror flick It Follows when it was out in the theaters. Mainly because it was a modern teen horror movie, and I have yet to be even somewhat impressed with any of those released in the past fifteen, twenty years or so. I actually find more amusement at the audience reaction in the theater to the sub-par jump scares and cliche’s being watched on the screen than I do with the actual movies. Once in a while, I do find myself amused by the movie, but it’s never in the way intended by the film makers. Maybe it’s because I’m in my fourth decade of existence, but I refuse to believe that teenagers and young adults have mediocre tastes when it comes to horror. I could be wrong, though.

Anyhoo, after It Follows was released, I started reading and watching online reviews stating that the movie was actually good. These were reviewers that were starkly honest about their reviews, who pull no punches but aren’t critical for the sake of being critical. Podcasts from long-time, jaded horror fans like myself. People who, if they said they liked it, I would have to check it out for myself. No guarantee that I would like it in kind, but nine times out of ten I probably would. Mind you, I didn’t have any word from personal friends who may have watched it. Regardless, I decided to wait until it was released on VOD to give it a watch. It was a couple of years, but I finally watched it. And all I have to ask, is…what was the movie everyone else watched? Because clearly it wasn’t the same one I watched.

After getting my hopes up from all the positive reports about It Follows, finally watching the movie was such a let down of such that I hadn’t experienced since watching the 1998 Godzilla movie. Worse, because at least the Godzilla movie had things blowing up and getting demolished to keep most of my attention.

I will give It Follows this: it has, at best, an interesting concept. Not a unique one, mind you; variations of the whole “stalked by a curse” have been done many times before. Even ones where sex is the catalyst of said curse. And that’s not even getting into the ham-fisted symbolism. And make no mistake, it’s so much ham-fisted in this movie, that I’m surprised it doesn’t cut to the director shouting at the camera “This means something! I’M BRILLIANT!”

While there is a nice, slow burn to the movie, and there is a good bit of atmosphere to help with the build-up and feel, there’s just so much missed opportunity here that it’s downright frustrating to sit through watching the mishandled attempts at the horror execution by a cast that clearly were directed to constantly react to everything like they’re watching a two-hour YouTube video of a goldfish swimming around their bowl.

It Follows is a movie that had possibilities, but fell rather short in the execution. I spent a good amount of time checking the time left on the movie, which is usually a bad sign right there. When something did happen, it was rather underwhelming. Mostly, it was a lot of watching “teenagers” running around, looking scared and shocked, one character constantly reading fan fic on her phone shaped like a pocket mirror (which, admittedly, was kind of cool looking), with everyone emoting with a kind of lethargy, and when the final showdown occurs, the only reaction is relief that things are soon to be over so we can get on with the rest of the day.

Overall, I found It Follows to be a mediocre teen horror flick that tries hard, yes, but ultimately fails to deliver anything beyond a “meh” reaction. Maybe I don’t get it, but I certainly didn’t find It Follows to be the “game changer” that is “unlike anything I’ve ever seen” and an “instant horror classic” that I’ve seen other reviews proclaim it as. It’s worth a look-see, but I find no reason to dwell on it longer than a mere one-and-done.

Movie Review: The VVITCH

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movie-review-vvitch-theA24
2015
R

“Wouldst thou like the taste of butter? A pretty dress? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”

A devout Puritan family in 1630s New England are exiled from their village, and struggle to survive in their new home situated at the edge of a mysterious forest. The sinister, witching forces in the wilderness emerge silently to terrorize them, first by kidnapping the youngest of their five children. As their life-sustaining crops fail, the clan fall victim to paranoia and fear as they begin to turn on one another, eventually suspecting teenage daughter Thomasiin of witchcraft.

I’m afraid that everything I know about the Puritan society in America’s past comes from Nathanial Hawthorne novels, and of course the Salem Witch Trials. In other words, it’s not a very flattering image that’s been presented of these sectarian Christian settlers in this country of ours. Of course, a lot of our country’s early folklore and proto-horror tales come from the fables and myths created by these seemingly uptight yet hale-and-hearty shoe buckle enthusiasts in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Some very good American Gothic yarns have sprung from this era’s imagination, to be certain.

Which brings us to The VVitch. Yes, I’m using the double-“V” usage on what is normally a “W”, mainly to keep in time with the period setting that has been meticulously researched by writer/director Robert Eggers. Meaning, he made a greater effort than just spending a couple of hours on Google, like I normally do. Puritanical beliefs and behaviors, folklore, witches, vocabulary and grammar, all brought together to make the movie feel as real and authentic as possible, and it works greatly to that effect. I have to credit the actors, who all really made the archaic language and mannerisms come across as genuine and effortless. I can imagine how tempting it could have been to make things needlessly campy; these guys pulled it off.

I am going to go ahead and point out, like so many others have, that The VVitch doesn’t fall neatly into the general area of “horror” as we know it. While there are supernatural elements in the movie, they aren’t so much seen as felt; even then, it’s left wide open as to whether what’s happening to the family is, in fact, the result of supernatural shenanigans, or if it’s the natural mental breakdown due to their circumstances, buffeted by the strong religious superstitions that come with their sect of their faith.

The VVitch is a great, Ye Olde Fashioned Gothic tale, both in the time setting and the atmosphere of the story, building up the tension and the natural paranoia slowly, filling you with a sense of dread to the point where a scene featuring a static shot of a bunny feels darkly off-putting.

Make no mistake: The VVitch is a horror movie, but it’s an unassuming one that will find its way burrowed deep underneath your skin, delighting in the way you will squirm until the end, and even then will stay with you long after the end credits have stopped rolling. Greatly recommended.

Movie Review: OUIJA: Origin Of Evil

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movie-review-ouija-origin-of-evilUniversal Pictures
2016
PG-13

“Do you know what it feels like to be strangled to death? First, you feel the pressure in your throat. Your eyes water, and you start to taste something very, very sour in your mouth. Then it’s like someone lights a match right in the middle of your chest, and that fire grows. It fills your lungs, and your throat, and all the way behind your eyes. And finally, that fire turns to ice; like pins and needles of ice are sticking into your fingers, your toes, your arms. You see stars, then darkness. And the last thing you feel… is cold. Goodnight, Romeo.”

In 1967 Los Angeles, widowed mother Alice Zander unwittingly invites authentic evil into her home by adding a new stunt to bolster her seance scam business. When the merciless spirit overtakes her youngest daughter Doris, the small family must confront unthinkable fears to save her and send her possessor back to the other side.

So, it seems that, despite Ouija being something of a dull snoozefest of a horror movie, the demographic it was aimed at with its PG-13 rating (young teenagers looking for Junior Thrills to feel all edgy and adult-like and stuff) still went out and made it a bunch of money, warranting a green-light for a sequel. Or something like that. That’s the only way I can rationalize something like Ouija getting a sequel made in the first place. It happens all the time, and that’s what is said about it to justify a sequel, “it made money”.

Control yourself, Uncle NecRo. Deep breaths. Don’t want to spend the entirety of this review lamenting how mediocre movies are more popular than actual good horror movies that remain and languish in obscure cult status. You’re here to talk about the sequel to Ouija that is really a prequel to the story in Ouija.

As you can imagine, I wasn’t looking forward to Ouija: Origin Of Evil. Even though I watched it back-to-back with Ouija as part of my standard Weekend of Horror/Sci-Fi Marathon, after watching the first one, I was sorely tempted to find an alternate title to cleanse the taste of mediocrity from my brain. Fortunately, though, Ouija: Origin Of Evil managed to do that by itself, just by being a vastly better movie than its predecessor.

Ouija: Origin Of Evil is a prequel to Ouija, in that it tells the story of the family that lived in the house previous to the characters in the first one, and how the titular board game came to touch their lives with whimsy and wonder by way of black magic.

Set in the 1960s, Alice, a single mother, is struggling to make ends meet to keep a roof over the heads of her and her two daughters, teenager Lina and grade schooler Doris. She does this by holding seances and other things that self-employed psychics do out of her house, most of which are, in fact, illusions and tricks employed to make the clients think they’re making contact with the other side.

You can probably see where this is going, but bear with me, here.

One night, after sneaking out of the house for a intimate shindig with friends, the oldest daughter plays the Ouija board for the first time (ending up with hilarious results), and suggests to her mother that they add it to their act to pump things up a notch. And so she does. And upon taking it out for a spin the first time, seems to unleash an entity that’s been tied to the house for decades before Alice and her minions took over residence. Or, as it turns out, a whole bunch of entities that have been stuck in the house due to a Nazi war criminal. Yeah, it’s always has to do with Nazis, doesn’t it. Anyway, one particularly nasty one takes possession of Doris, which leads to a whole bunch of creepy and downright bone-chilling supernatural shenanigans, which lead up to a bunch of other possessions and deaths that help set up that one scene in the first one that turned out to be the best part of that movie. Post-credit scene cameo from the Doris from the first movie, and booya, a far superior movie has been experienced.

Look, I know the why and the how Origin Of Evil is the vastly superior Ouija movie. This time around, there was a good script, a very good cast, which included one of the most convincing Creepy Child actors I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting creeped out at while watching this. Seriously, whether it was her staring at someone while smiling with an off-putting vibe, or cheerily describing to someone what it feels like to be choked to death (in one of the more amusing scenes, because she was playing with the head of her older sister’s would-be boyfriend), or gradually going all Evil Dead in the background shadows…yeah, that kid has made my Top 5 list of favorite Creepy Child characters. Maybe one day I shall share it with you. But for now, let’s finish up this review.

If you were given the choice between seeing only one of the (so far) two Ouija movies, I would strongly urge you to watch this one: Origin Of Evil. It’s a horror movie that does everything right, with minimalist effort. In other words, it seems that everyone involved learned their lesson from the first movie. Either way, check this one out, as it’s strongly recommended from your Uncle NecRo.

Movie Review: OUIJA

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movie-review-ouijaUniversal Pictures
2014
PG-13

How are you even supposed to talk to someone using a board game? I mean, yo, can you hear me? Signal’s real bad. I only got, like, one bar in here.

In Ouija, a group of friends must confront their most terrifying fears when they awaken the dark powers of an ancient spirit board.

I remember over two years ago, sitting in the theater, awaiting the start of the movie Annabelle, and halfheartedly watching the previews that were playing leading up to it. One of those previews was for Ouija, which to me looked exactly like the kind of upcoming horror movie that I was going to pretty much skip when it was in the theaters, and maybe watch on DVD or streaming or something in the future. Maybe not the near future. But some time. I promise. Then it was released, and the general consensus confirmed my predictions that Ouija was a movie I could skip, and watch when I have nothing better to do. Or when I feel like doing my weekend Bad Horror/Sci-Fi-A-Thon. Which I did recently, along with the sequel. Because of course they made a sequel to this mediocre snore-fest.

Yeah, Ouija is one of those “horror” movies that is (not surprisingly) lacking in personality from both the cast and the execution of the scary bits. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, here.

The story of Ouija plays out like the classic commercial for the board game (because this is technically a movie based on a board game, like Battleship), wherein we start with a couple of girls playing with an old version of the Ouija board, constantly asking, “It’s just a game, right?” like the commercials always did. Yeah, I remember those. I’m old, remember? Here they read off the rule sheet and proceed to summon the unholy minions of the Dark Lord. No, kidding, that would have made this a good movie. Actually, they play with the board, which causes time to fast forward to when the girls are now teenagers, one of which is clearly finishing up a solo play with the Ouija board, followed by tossing it into the fireplace to burn. Of course, this doesn’t destroy the thing, as it reappears a few minutes later, after causing a bit of boo-scare wackiness in the kitchen. The girl hangs herself, cut to opening credits, and then we’re treated to a ninety-minute barely scary horror movie that plays more like a badly made young adult evening soap opera on the CW, with a plot that lifted from pretty much every supernatural-based prime time show that’s several times better than this movie.

I’d describe the rest of the story, but it’s not something that hasn’t been done before: Besties to dead girl decide it wasn’t suicide, makes the leap that it involves the Ouija board, uses said Ouija board to make contact with girl, instead gets in touch with another spirit with malevolent intent, there’s an insane Older Sister that does a bit of subterfuge in the guise of “helping”, then the Magic Wise Grandma who only appears a grand total of three times, for a couple of minutes each, to dispense the real method of defeating the malevolent spirit (hint: in involves a method that made me expect the Winchester brothers to show up at any minute), and the whole thing ends with what a friend of mine pointed out while I was live commenting on FaceBook should have been a “The End…OR IS IT?!?” Well, clearly not the end, seeing as how they did a prequel sequel, but I’m getting ahead of myself again.

Overall, I would say that Ouija is neither a good nor a bad movie, just a “meh” kind of forgettable movie that has some good ideas going, but the execution is uninspired and relies too heavily on the same old formula with the same old non-scares, which leads to the audience being as bored as the actors’ collective performance.

Movie Review: The REMAINS

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remainsVertical Entertainment
2016
NR

“Eggs.”

After a family moves into an old home, it discovers a chest in the attic that contains items tainted by a malevolent spirit. As the items slowly possess each family member, the spirit grows stronger and becomes hellbent on kidnapping the children.

Here we have a haunted house movie that manages to do the impossible: Make the Amityville Horror sequels from the 1980s seem like James Wan-crafted horror classics. Yeah, it’s that bad, folks.

The Remains is the movie I decided to ring in the new year with on New Year’s Eve 2016. It’s a sacred tradition: I grab some takeout of some kind (I went with Chinese this year), pop in a horror flick and call it a year. This year, I was once again fooled by the DVD cover, which promised something far more interesting than what was actually contained in said movie.

Written and directed by one Thomas Della Bella, based on his short film “Open House”, The Remains starts off with a prelude of sorts of a seance gone wrong in a house of a spiritualist trying to contact the daughter of a grieving couple, only to see things go horribly wrong in the process. Over one hundred years later, a grieving widower decides to move his family–which consists of the standard Two Younger Kids and Rebellious Emo Teenager–into the house for a fresh start. His wife had recently passed away, you see…a fact that he shoehorns in every twenty minutes or so, complete with the requisite Sad Music sting in the background. While cleaning the house, they come across a trunk in the attic that contains what was left of that last seance all of those years ago. The kids think the contents are neato, while meantime some haunted house stuff starts happening pretty much right off the bat. Lights flicker off and on, doors open and close by themselves, the ghost of a little girl shows up a couple of times, and…well, that’s about it. Oh, there was a bunch of stuff broken on a bookshelf, so that’s kind of spooky, I guess. You know it’s spooky because it has the Spooky Stinger Music (TM) accompanying it. A neighbor lady promises to bring over cake, and then is forgotten about until near the end, when she pops back up to say there was nothing right with the house before exiting the movie, some stupid things happen, the kids beat the father to death, and then everything seems to end, but then it doesn’t…and then it does. And everyone’s stupider for having watched this pathetic waste of time.

At first, during the beginning flashback scene, due to the campy overacting I thought this would be a stupid yet amusing in a campy sort of way kind of horror movie. But then, within the first few minutes of the widower and his children pulling up to the house, I realized that The Remains is one of those kind of horror movies that I like to refer to as Hallmark Channel Horror. This is where the movie tries their golly-gosh dar-diddly-arndest to be an “edgy” horror movie, but comes off as more of a hard PG rather than a lite PG-13. Thomas Della Bella certainly has a grasp of the general tropes of a haunted house horror movie, yes; unfortunately, what he lacks is the ability to use these concepts to craft something actually effective. And don’t think I’m just getting my nose out of joint because of the use of tropes, here: the aforementioned James Wan used the same tropes in both of The Conjuring movies, but he made something effectively scary out of them.

But, I admit that it’s not just the tropes, or the inability to use them effectively. You see, the script itself lacks a personality, giving us all limp, uninteresting “characters” that only fill archetypes to the point where I forgot all of their names early on and only referred to them by said archetypes: the Grieving Single Dad, the Bland Child #1 and #2, the Rebellious Teenager, the Neighbor Lady, Real Estate Agent Lady, so forth and so on. The “Rebellious Teenager” is especially annoying, as the only set mode of emoting happens to be eye-rolling and snarky sarcastic voice. Fortunately, her “acts of rebellion” are fairly lame, and the Grieving Single Dad only reacts like one would on a bad afternoon sitcom on the Disney channel. Which, now that I have a moment to think about it, seems a bit redundant.

Anyway, The Remains is a limp, lame and lamentable waste of time. Don’t let the DVD cover fool you, pass up on this one.

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