Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Some Reviews... short and sweet. Halloween Fest 2019


A fairly standard and formulaic horror flick. A couple of teens head out to the local "haunted" house where they are systematically killed by the ghost of a Witch that had died some hundred or more years prior. Look, the story wasn't all that compelling but the film wasn't actually very bad. Nor was it very good. It was just sort of there and was a decent hour and a half spent for a horror fan. There's no reinvention of the wheel, here.

5 out of 10.


Is the game over? Is there an escape?

The monsters are coming... one after the other, the monsters will come and they will kill them all, one after the other. When Kayla wakes up in a box, she finds herself the target of a hunt. But she's not the only one, as other women are also waking up locked in boxes and being hunted by masked maniacs. Each maniac is linked to the victims in a way that is revealed through the film.

High gore meter ups the ante of what looked like a fairly standard torture-porn slasher flick. The film makers probably thought they were making some sort of statement regarding misogyny, but I think they missed the mark and wanted the film to be more than it was. But as a fun gory romp, the movie delivers on the goods.

8.5 out of 10.


Around this time last year I was watching "Gerald's Game" on Netflix. And this year they repeated the success of that film with another King adaptation, though this one also receives a co-writer credit from King's son, Joe Hill. The two crafted a brilliantly claustrophobic story that could almost happen to anyone- getting lost in a field of tall grass. But there's something dark about this field, something very twisted, and everything becomes lost in this film where neither time nor space continue to play by the rules.

And if there is one thing I love, it's the twisting reality of cosmic horror and the fear of the unknown.
Vincent Natali is no stranger to claustrophobia, having previously explored the subject in Cube. He masterfully take advantage of the surrounding field and builds on the suspense endangering the pregnant Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) and her brother Cal (Avery Whitted). While trying to help a young boy find his way out of the field, they find themselves separated and hopelessly lost. But most of the film's menace comes from the boys father, unnervingly played by Patrick Wilson.

If you're looking for a pretty decent halloween jaunt, this one won't lead you astray.

8 out of 10.


 Some sort of gator-croc-humanoid hybrid thing that just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Over acted, underfunded, and unfortunately available on Amazon Prime this creature feature makes the Asylum films look like big budget Hollywood features. A small town sheriff has to contend with devious scientists, distraught(?) parents, crooked politicians, and a monstrous creature of dubious origins. Ancient Indian rituals are involved, so is toxic waste, so is genetic experimentation, as is medical testing, and the list goes on- and people are incapable of speaking like actual humans while reciting lines written by someone who has definitely seen the movie JAWS a few times in his life.

You can skip this one unless you really enjoy bad creature flicks.

2 out of 10


Adding to my Halloween 2019 list, I'm not entirely certain how I managed to miss this entertaining vampire romp from across the pond but I'm glad I found it streaming on Amazon Prime tonight. Charlie Cox (Daredevil), Freema Agyeman (Doctor Who), and Eve Myles (Torchwood) are among the well established cast fanging it up in this campy horror-comedy.

Every fifty years or so, this small council of vampires meet to discuss old feuds, territory, debate food quotas, and vote on new members to the council. On this evening, there will be a few unexpected guests and arrivals. Primarily, the group is introduced to a young Romani man (Billy Cook) brought in as a guest by the seductress, Vanessa (Eve Myles, noted above). And then, a group of vampire hunters waiting in ambush surrounding the farmhouse where the group is meeting.

Who you root for throughout the film may change throughout various moments, as we get to know all of the characters involved. Peppered with the rather typical dry British humor you might expect, the film doesn't flinch from the grue and gore that horror fans just love to see.

Satisfying 7 out of 10.

Keep up on the rest of my 31 Days of Halloween Horror Flicks through Letterboxd.


And as always, feel free to leave comments below. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

Ready or Not!

Count to one hundred Mississippi's while I find a neat little place to tuck myself in. Which is exactly what I did a few weeks later than intended and certainly a bit more lonelier than I expected. But with an early bird ticket at the local theater, I found myself alone in an empty theater as the music played and the credits rolled- and I fucking loved this movie!

Firstly, let's get the preliminaries out of the way. Grace (Samara Weaving) is set to marry into the incredibly wealthy Le Domas Family "Dominion" by marrying younger son Alex (Mark O'Brien). It's the event of the season and the whole family is there to celebrate the nuptials. Alcoholic brother, Daniel (Adam Brody) seems to be the only family member still on speaking terms with the rebellious Alex. Mother (Andie MacDowell) is just happy to have her son back and the rest of the family is eager to start the evening's festivities which always includes a game to be played whenever someone marries into the family. The game is never planned in advance and Grace must pick a card from a mysterious box, and when she pulls "Hide and Seek" the world might as well have dropped out on her.

You see, the Le Domas family has a secret pact with a mysterious being and picking THAT card means that she has to hide while the rest of the family tries to hunt her down and kill her. And while it may be cliche to say, hilarity does ensue. When a maid is accidentally killed, it tips off the bride to the truth and her husband fills her in on the rest of the details as he tries to get her out of the house and to relative safety. (Pun intended) But all is not a clear cut path for our lovers, as revelations expose more family secrets and consequences for both wife and husband.

Samara Weaving OWNS the screen from start to finish. She's working up quite the genre resume the past few years and is no less astounding and downright charming in this story. Which is good, because we really need to cheer for Grace throughout the film. But we also wind up cheering for one other character, Adam Brody instills pathos and depth to Daniel, giving us a brilliantly layered performance throughout the film. He could have just coasted on one-liners and odd jabs here and there, but this is the one Le Domas family member who truly seems to understand Grace's humanity and the lack of that humanity in the rest of the family.

10 out of 10, a perfect film for me with great energy throughout.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

It: Chapter Two

Pennywise returns and the brings the gang all back together.  It's been 27 years since the "Losers Club" had defeated Pennywise, but the evil clown returns to wreak more chaos. So the calls go out and the children, now all growed up, return to their hometown and prepare to do battle once more with the terrifying entity that lurks beneath the cursed town. And while the events of the previous film may still hin bright in my mind, the minds of the other "Losers' don't have the same luxury as most don't even know why they feel such a compulsion to return. They've all (With the exception of Mike Hanlon) forgotten many of the events of the previous film and must now recall those events in order to stand a chance against the evil clown.

But Pennywise hasn't forgotten them. In fact, he's eager for their return and spends the rest of the film reminding them just why they should be terrified. Bill Skarsgard is still chilling and creepy as the monstrous clown. But he's also licking his wounds from that previous loss and the gloves are coming off this time. He doesn't waste much time in peppering his meals with fear, and goes for the gruesome horror with a vicious thirst for carnage. He opens the film with a brutal killing after picking an already brutalized victim- CRUNCH!!! He devours the poor victim with glee as he forces someone else to watch, completely helpless.

We receive several flashbacks featuring new scenes with the older cast, but that often serves to confuse the current story and undermines the stakes. And, with the exception of Hayder, Chastain, and James Ransone, the rest of the cast don't really succeed in capturing the same camaraderie that made the first film so successful.  James McAvoy doesn't really capture the spirit of the original film's "Bill" and seems less charismatic and connected with the rest of the cast. It's a small downbeat, however as the direction and storytelling is pure nightmare fuel.

But the film does a truly terrific job in reflecting the most horrible of terrors- that there's no going back. That once innocence is gone, it is gone forever. It was the major underlying theme of the original novel and the film reflects that theme beautifully. The now adult members of the Club face that reality as they wander the town and face their previous traumas and the terrors they thought they'd left behind. 

Let's get to the elephant in the room- the film opens with a moment that seems to be causing a bit of a ruckus on social media and includes a subtle change to one of the films' main protagonists. This opening and the character alteration are gaining some steam with the LGBTQ community with accusations of homophobia and bigotry. For what it's worth? I'm not  member of that community and can't speak to the offensive nature of the material- what I can say is that I thought the opening scene was horrific and spoke to real life terror that community may face. I felt the change was subtle and built a tasteful arc for the character, though probably wasn't a necessary change when all was said and done.

There is, however, an even deeper change that troubled me in the film's final narrative. One of the Losers is unable to make the reunion and leaves a letter- the letter offers an explanation that undermines the lingering terror IT leaves behind. It was a little frustrating to have the post script, but it made sense with the ending that the director likely intended. 

9 out of 10 and a definite recommend.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

STAGEPLAY: Halfway to Hell


An original stageplay.

Sofia Peterson is an ex-con fresh out of prison. Adapting to life on the outside will be difficult, to say the least. But she's moving into an old halfway house with a haunting atmosphere and bible-thumping landlady who walks and talks in her sleep. Her parole officer is a scumbag and the only friend she's managed to make has a history of mental illness and drug addiction.

This gothic horror story is ideal for the Winter season, featuring an intended cast of primarily mature women, HALFWAY TO HELL is mind-bending horror in the tradition of the best ghost stories.

Monday, August 12, 2019

STAGEPLaY: An Adaptation of The Dunwich Horror by HP Lovecraft

The Dunwich Horror: A Stageplay

This may never be produced, but I have sat on it for a couple of years and hoped to one day find a place with which to put it on display. I t would make a great regional production for Halloween... but I currently lack the funds. So I'm putting on here so that my readers might have a chance to read it-

This is an adaptation for the stage. It is not an original work. If anyone would be interested in performance rights, the only thing I ask for is credit in the program. HP Lovecraft has been a huge inspiration for me and I wouldn't actually feel right about profiting from what many consider to be one of his greatest works. I also have no copyright on any of the characters or on the plot in general.

Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

ZATOICHI and Shintaro Katsu

Several years ago, around 2004, I discovered Samurai Chambara (sword fighting) Films with nearly everyone's usual introduction- Akira Kurosawa. He'd been named a heavy influence on some of my favorite film-makers and my (future) wife introduced me to The Seven Samurai. I'd never seen such an epic and masterful tale of honor, loyalty, respect, duty, and dignity. And while I had seen the American Western remake, The Magnificent Seven, it truly did pale in comparison to the original. And so began a fascination with Chambara films-

Zatoichi is a blind swordsman and part of the Yakuza tradition during the Edo period of Japan. He makes his living as a masseur and/or as a gambler. He carries a cane sword and his flashing blade is often quicker than the eye can follow. He is a skilled warrior- and an often cheerful and unassuming champion to the downtrodden. Thematically, Zatoichi is about a flawed and sentimental hero trying to bring justice in a world threatened by corruption and tyranny.

Oh, and there are 26 films in the series.

And a television series.

And two additional films made several years after the original actor's passing...

And a live stage show directed by Takashi Miike.

I spent the month of July viewing 25 of the films, currently streaming on the Criterion Collection streaming service. That's 25 of the original films... 1989's "Zatoichi, Darknless is his only Ally" was unavailable. This last film also had a lot of very negative associations- the films villain, played by Shintaro Katsu's son, had accidentally killed a man during filming when a prop sword was mistakenly replaced with the real thing.

The Twenty Five original films are too staggering a task to review one after the other and that was not my intent when I undertook the task. They all follow similar formulas and features the same actor playing the role all 25 times, with several plots borrowing liberally from one another. Zatoichi delivers children to absent parents some distance away after the untimely death of one parent a number of times, helps maidens' pay off their family debts to the corrupt yakuza or government official, and usually befriends another skilled swordsman that he will face in a climactic battle toward the film's climax. The formula itself isn't bad, despite it's occasional repetition. In fact, it's often charming and comforting to know that Zatoichi is getting into the same bowl of trouble again and again.

Shintaro Katsu is a skilled performer who has a bit of a reputation as a bit of a "bad boy' in Japanese Cinema. The son of a Kabuki performer, Katsu was classically trained as a Shamisen player, and it was the influence of his blind teacher that acted as the inspiration for his performance as the folk hero of the series. He was the focus of a documentary on Japanese film making, where an American in Japan followed three Directors with vastly different styles in order to show-case the direction of that regions film industry. Katsu Productions was started when Daiei Studios shut down.

Zatoichi starts with "The Tale of Zatoichi" and never really finds an ending- though the twenty-fifth film in the series would see Zatoichi return to the town of his birth and have him defend it from a child-hood friend in "Zatoichi's Conspiracy". Notable films for me have been "Zatoichi's Flashing Sword", "Fight, Zatoichi, Fight", "Zatoichi and the Chess Expert", "Zatoichi's Cane Sword", and "Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo".

"Zatoichi Challenged" also served as a basis for the American remake, "Blind Fury" in which Rutger Hauer plays a blind swordsman who lost his vision during the Vietnam conflict.

But my favorite in the series, and it's saying a lot, is "Zatoichi at the Fire Festival" in which the Blind Swordsman goes against another Blind Yakuza boss. It is one of the most intense, brutal, and exciting films in the long-running series and places the swordsman in peril. He is betrayed, lured into various traps, and the scheme is clever. Zatoichi's reputation finally catches up with him and he is not as underestimated as he had been in previous films.

Zatoichi is a treasure to Japanese cinema and Katsu is a charismatic wonder in the role. Take advantage of the opportunity wherever and whenever it arises to catch some of these beautiful Chambara films.

1 The Tale of Zatoichi 1962

2 The Tale of Zatoichi Continues

3 New Tale of Zatoichi 1963

4 Zatoichi The Fugitive

5 Zatoichi on the Road

6 Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold 1964

7 Zatoichi's Flashing Sword

8 Fight, Zatoichi, Fight

9 Adventures of Zatoichi

10 Zatoichi's Revenge 1965

11 Zatoichi and the Doomed Man

12 Zatoichi and the Chess Expert

13 Zatoichi's Vengeance 1966

14 Zatoichi's Pilgrimage

15 Zatoichi's Cane Sword 1967

16 Zatoichi the Outlaw

17 Zatoichi Challenged

18 Zatoichi and the Fugitives 1968

19 Samaritan Zatoichi

20 Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo 1970

21 Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival

22 Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman 1971

23 Zatoichi at Large 1972

24 Zatoichi in Desperation

25 Zatoichi's Conspiracy 1973

26 Zatoichi: Darkness Is His Ally