Movie Review: WINCHESTER

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winchesterLionsgate / CBS Films
2018
PG-13

I’m a mother. A fighter. A protector. And I am not afraid.

On an isolated stretch of land 50 miles outside of San Francisco sits the most haunted house in the world. Built by Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester fortune, it is a house that knows no end. Constructed in an incessant twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week mania for decades, it stands seven stories tall and contains hundreds of rooms. To the outsider it looks like a monstrous monument to a disturbed woman’s madness. But Sarah is not building for herself, for her niece or for the brilliant Doctor Eric Price whom she has summoned to the house. She is building a prison, an asylum for hundreds of vengeful ghosts, and the most terrifying among them have a score to settle with the Winchesters.

To answer your unasked question: Yes, I am familiar with the Winchester House. You really can’t be an enthusiast of spooky legends and folklore and not know something about the house that ghosts built. I’ve never visited the place myself (as I rarely travel farther than a few states away from my neck of the woods); I do have a couple of friends who did tour the house during their honeymoon. They say it was…expansive.

It’s from this legendary house where we get the premise of the movie Winchester. Clearly, going into this, the notion that this was “based on actual events” is secondary to the horror flick this wants to be. Whether you believe in haunting and vengeful spirits or not, I find that going into these kind of flicks as straight-up fiction lends to a far more enjoyable watching experience.

As a movie itself, Winchester works well as a rather enjoyable slow-burning Gothic ghost story. Something like a classic Castle-style throwback, with lots of dark and spooky atmosphere, some decent jump scares (fortunately, the movie doesn’t rely on them like a lot of haunting movies out nowadays), very good visuals and some rather good acting from the cast.

Overall, I think Winchester is one of the better “true haunting” type horror movies to come out in these modern times. Far better than any of the long list of The Haunting Of… movies that always populate my video streaming suggestions. This works best as a late-night viewing, with all the lights off and preferably on a dark and stormy night, with a big bowl of popcorn. Recommended.

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Movie Review: CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD

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city of the living deadMedusa Distribution
1980
NR

“The city of the dead. The living dead. A cursed city where the gates of hell have been opened.”

The Seven Gates of Hell have been torn open, and in three days the dead shall rise and walk the earth. As a reporter and a psychic race to close the portals of the damned, they encounter a seething nightmare of unspeakable evil. The city is alive–with the horrors of the living dead!

I will have to double-check, but I’m pretty sure this is my first experience watching a Lucio Fulci movie. I know, I call myself a horror aficionado, and I haven’t been experienced with any of the Italian masters that everyone keeps recommending me to watch. Well, City Of The Living Dead has been sitting on my external hard drive for a number of years now, and here I am finally getting around to watching the first in a very loose unofficial “Gates of Hell” trilogy. And my initial reaction would be…”huh.”

Let me clarify: City Of The Living Dead has something of a reputation as a legendary movie that’s full of really insane and gory moments, where even those who haven’t seen this yet know of its existence as almost an urban legend. You know the type of movie, where it’s hyped up so much in your head, by the time you get around to watching it, it kind of doesn’t live up to your expectations.

Don’t get me wrong, here; City Of The Living Dead certainly earns its reputation as a completely nuts and insane zombie flick, heavy on the gore and violence effects. Where the movie excels greatly is the establishment of atmosphere, with the settings and pace, and especially the music score. Also, the zombies are less the shambling Romero style undead, and have more of a Lovecraft feel to their menace. However, where the movie falls short is the plot. I realize that, when it comes to Italian horror movies like this, it’s mostly all about the atmosphere and visceral horror than the story itself. I get movies like that. However, City Of The Living Dead really could have benefited from a good tightening of the plot itself, keeping certain points from being forgotten about and especially giving it an ending that didn’t feel like it just ran out of gas and stopped, leaving you thinking, “Wha…huh?”

Overall, I would say that City Of The Living Dead is one of the required viewing type horror movies for anyone serious about the genre. The caveat being that, this isn’t really an undisputed masterpiece, rather an excellent movie that is also rather frustrating to watch. Highly recommended, regardless.

Movie Review: SLENDER MAN

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slender manScreen Gems
2018
PG-13

When their friend mysteriously disappears, a group of teenage girls explore whether the culprit could be the creepy internet urban legend character Slenderman by summoning him with a ritual. They begin experiencing supernatural phenomena that make them believe the story is real and that they are now being haunted by the Slenderman.

The Slender Man. Or the Slenderman, whichever way you prefer to spell this. For now, we’ll go with what the movie decided to go with, and that would be with the space in-between the two words. Take it up with the filmmakers.

Anyhoo, here we have was essentially boils down to an internet meme being made into a horror movie. And before you say, “It’s like the Blair Witch myth!”, no. It’s not. The Blair Witch online mythos was created as part of the movie promotion; the Slender Man was originally the result of a paranormal-themed Photoshop contest on Something Awful back in 2009. This lead to the birth of the modern Urban Legend, one that lead to bunches of internet fiction, some rather effectively scary video games, and at one point insanity involving a couple of girls stabbing another young girl in the name of the Slender Man. So, of course there had to be a movie made about this guy. Which…technically, there’s been a handful already. But whatever, this one has the title Slender Man! Built-in horror movie marketability, right there!

As far as the movie goes, Slender Man is your standard bored teenager summon a supernatural folk legend entity and mediocre PG-13 rated paranormal wackiness ensues as they each begin to disappear kind of movie. Mainly, the best parts of the movie happen to be the nice dark atmosphere, and the rather effective hallucination/nightmare video effects techniques used. Otherwise, the characters are flat, the acting is wooden, and the story itself is right predictable. The use of the Slender Man itself was rather anticlimactic, as he would show up, wave around his tentacle arms in shadow, and…well, that’s about it. Booga booga booga. Then the movie ends on a sanctimonious slap to your intelligence kind of voice-over that will make you hit the stop button in disgust.

Overall, I would liken Slender Man to a microwavable burrito: hot enticement on the outside, but lukewarm disappointment on the inside. Pass.

Movie Review: 21 DAYS

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21-daysGravitas Ventures
2014
TV-MA

Three filmmakers embark on a paranormal challenge by barricading themselves in a house so haunted, no family has been able to live in more than 21 days, in order to film the supernatural phenomena which presumably occurs. But nothing can prepare them for the evil that lies in wait. There are some places so dark, so evil, where no human–no living thing–should dwell.

Oh, goodie. Another Paranormal Activity-style found footage horror movie. Well, okay, there’s a generous sprinkling of The Blair Witch Project thrown in, with the inclusion of the interviewed locals at the beginning.

One has to think, given the plethora of low-budget found footage horror flicks floating around out there, why another one? Well, as it turns out, according to writer / director / producer Kathleen Behun, 21 Day was born out of a frustrated attempt to produce something commercially viable. Fair enough.

I do have to admit that, although 21 Days manages to hit most, if not almost all of the given tropes and cliches, you would expect from this kind of horror flick (house built on an old Native American burial ground, furniture and other items move around on their own, the characters freak out over every bump, etc.), and the pacing is pretty decent, focusing on a handful of days rather than having us sit through all twenty-one days they were at the house. However, I should point out that there are some stretches in character motivation logic, like near the end, when the paranormal stuff hits the proverbial fan, after calling 911, the surviving bodies call…the lady who initially refused to be interviewed at the beginning of the flick. Mind you, this is merely used as a means of shoehorning in some exposition, but it made no sense.

Overall, though, 21 Days won’t be blowing anyone’s mind, at least the film maker admitted to not having delusions of grandeur when making this movie. At least it’s edited in a way that cuts out a lot of fat. Otherwise, you’re not missing much if you pass this one up.

Movie Review: The DARK POWER

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dark power, theNew Visions Productions, LTD
1985
NR

“Feel my whip, you son of a bitch!”

The Dark Power was the first movie that Western movie legend and bullwhip enthusiast Lash LaRue did with low-budget movie maker Phil Smoot. The second one was, of course, Alien Outlaw, which I reviewed first due simply to having watched that movie first.

Lo and behold, The Dark Power was available for free streamin’. So, let’s see what we have, shall we?

A group of unsuspecting college coeds move into the house on Totem Hill, a cursed place where four Tolee Sorcerers buried themselves hundreds of years ago…alive! On the coming of the Evil Days, the ancient demons arise to feed on the living. Now, only one old Ranger with a whip–fashioned out of materials from the four quarters of the world–stands between the girls and the mystical zombies from the past.

Well, at least I can’t complain that Lash LaRue never used his whip skills to good effect. And by that, I mean the script utilizes every excuse for him to use said whip, whether it made logical sense for the story or not. This is something covered by it being described as a mystical whip, having been given to him by the Native Americans of Non Descript. Because Native Americans are MAGIC! don’t’cha know. Which comes in handy, as he’s going up against Native American zombies!

Yeah, The Dark Power is a pugnant cheeseball of a low-budget flick. The plot plays fast and lose with piecemeal Native American lore. Or just makes it up as they go. The acting is unintentionally hilarious, and the parts that were supposed to be funny fell flat at best, and made me cringe at worst. And the zombies…my my my, the zombies. Not the worst makeup costume effects I’ve seen, but still rather goofy.

Overall, The Dark Power isn’t’ as much as a “so-bad-it’s-good” movie as Alien Outlaw was. Still, there’s some prime riffing material here, and you and your friends might have more fun than intended with this.

Movie Review: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY The Ghost Dimension

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Movie Review PARANORMAL ACTIVITY The Ghost DimensionParamount Pictures
2015
R

“Ryan, your daughter was born on June sixth, two-thousand five. Right? It’s the sixth day of the sixth month of the sixth year, two-thousand five. Six six six. I believe this is no coincidence. She’s part of the prophecy.”

So, here we are. Paranormal Activity, subtitle The Ghost Dimension. AKA Paranormal Activity 5. Paranormal Activity 6, if you count that spin-off The Marked Ones. Which I don’t. And because I’m a masochist when it comes to these movies, let’s see if this is a case of the same-old, same-old, or if the Paranormal Activity franchise still has something new to give at this point.

The Ghost Dimension follows a new family, the Fleeges–father Ryan, mother Emily, and their young daughter Leila–who move into a house and discover a video camera and a box of tapes in the garage. When they look through the camera’s lens, they begin to see the paranormal activity happening around them–including the re-emergence of young Kristi and Katie.

At this point, it should come as no surprise that the Paranormal Activity movies hold nothing new and innovative for the series. While the attempt to spice things up with the whole 3D aspect was decently done, I believe that franchise fatigue has set in, and a sense of treading the same ground as the previous movies seriously diminishes any kind of visceral thrills. Which is a pity, because the visual effects are fantastic, and the third act really goes all-out. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make up for the weakness in the script and story.

Overall, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is a passable horror movie at best. It does not deliver in the whole all questions will be answered! the promotional material promised, and ends the series with kind of a wet splat. Worth it if you have nothing better to watch.

Movie Review: The LAST EXORCISM Part II

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last exorcism iiCBS Films
2013
PG-13

“There’s a whole bunch of people out there who are definitely convinced that they are possessed.”

As much as I enjoyed the 2010 movie The Last Exorcism (despite that ending), I wasn’t really thinking that this was a movie that needed a sequel to continue the story. But, what do I know? three years after the fact, we got a sequel, anyway.

Nell Sweetzer is back in the relative safety of civilization and sent to live in a group home where she’s encouraged to leave her past behind and start a new life. Just as Nell settles in, she is tormented by the seductive demonic presence that once possessed her. She realizes that the evil force is back with unimaginably horrific plans which could only mean that her last exorcism was just the beginning.

I’ll give credit where credit is due: At least the makers of this movie didn’t go with the found footage route. Ashley Bell does an outstanding job as Nell, giving the character a great sympathetic quality, like Sissy Spacek in the original Carrie movie.

I just realized that I live in a time where I have to clarify which movie based on Stephen King’s book Carrie I’m talking about.

You just want to take her into your arms and comfort the kid, let her know everything is going to be okay. Maybe give her a cookie. Which lent a bit more weight to how this movie ended. Also good was the character of Nell’s would-be boyfriend, Chris, who is just adorable. Then there’s Gwen, a character that was woefully underused, as you get the feeling there’s more to her going on with her, the way she’s just a touch unsettling and creepy. I wanna see a movie about her.

the movie excels at building a tense atmosphere and utilizing some gorgeous cinematography. Working against it, is the slow pace, overuse of the “boo” scares and misplaced music stingers, and one of the more anticlimactic exorcism scenes I’ve seen. Not the worst; that one goes to the exorcisms in the Ed Furlong flick The Visitation. The bits of weirdness building up to Nell’s breakdown didn’t seem all that effective, really.

Overall, while it wasn’t really necessary, The Last Exorcism Part II is a fairly decent supernatural horror flick that sticks to the general formula and doesn’t require much investment. It’s good for a time waster rental, at least.

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