To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story

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Every horror fan knows Kane Hodder, whether they realize it or not. Sometimes he is a stuntman in the background of a film, other times the killer under layers of makeup or a mask, or even front and center in your favorite horror movie. His most famous film roles are from the Friday the 13th and Hatchet franchises, playing the main villains in both. While many people know of him because of his work in the film industry, not many can say they truly know who the man is. In the documentary To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story, audiences get to learn everything there is to know about their favorite horror villain.

The film does a great job of going through Hodder’s entire film history. We get to learn how he started doing stunts just to get a reaction out of his friends, and how that eventually led to him auditioning for a stunt film role. The documentary takes extra care to go over Hodder’s two biggest roles as Jason Voorhees, starting with Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, and Victor Crowley of the Hatchet films. Hodder has killed more people on screen than any other actor, and a majority of them are from those two fan-favorite franchises. It’s only natural that a lot of time would be spent on Hodder’s time in those films.

Looking at the hulking man we all know as Kane Hodder, it is hard to imagine anyone trying to pick a fight with him. Yet when Hodder was younger, he was bullied and beaten. While eventually he learned to hit back, which got rid of the bullies, he still went through a lot of hardship along the way. Hodder not only tells the story of his childhood trauma, but he uses this time to talk about the amount of physical and emotional harm bullying can do. He even discusses how often bullying can lead to suicide. Hearing that someone who plays Jason Voorhees went through the same experiences of bullying as many others not only reveals Hodder’s softer side, but it allows fans to relate to him on a more personal level.

Fans love meeting Hodder at various conventions. He always takes the time to talk to his fans, and if you want a photo of him strangling you he will strangle you for real. Anyone who has met the man in person has likely noticed the burn scars all over his body. For years the origin of those scars was kept relatively secret. While I won’t go into all the details, I will say that Hodder not only describes the true events that led to his horrific burns, but there are also still photos of the event shown. What’s even more horrific than the accident itself is the long recovery process that followed. While this is a horrible and tragic event in Hodder’s life, it actually benefited his career. Not only does he still do fire stunts to this day, but he also takes care to make sure that every stunt he performs (or coordinates) is the safest it can possibly be.

To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story is an absolute must for any horror fan. It shows a side of Hodder rarely seen by fans, and it allows us to connect with him even more. The documentary includes some great clips, images, and interviews with Hodder. It also has interviews with Hodder’s friends and other big names in the horror film industry such as Adam Green, Robert Englund, Bruce Campbell, and Cassandra Peterson (aka Elvira). The documentary is equal parts funny, interesting, and heartfelt. Not only do I recommend this to avid horror fans, but I think even non-horror fans will appreciate learning about one of the greatest stuntmen alive.

OVERALL RATING: MUST SEE*

*Since this is a documentary about a person’s life, it didn’t feel right giving it a number rating out of 10. Instead I am giving it a “MUST SEE” designation. I strongly urge people to see this documentary, especially if you get the chance to see it on the big screen.

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Summer of 84

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In a suburban town young boys are disappearing. One paperboy believes his police officer neighbor is behind it. He convinces his friends they should spend their summer vacation spying on him to get proof. Their little investigation leads the friends down a dangerous path. Is their neighbor an innocent man, or is he a serial killer?

One of the unique things about this film is that it has three directors. The directors are Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell, who together also directed the film Turbo Kid. Something this trio is particularly known for is capturing the spirit of the eighties. Summer of 84 is no different. The plot follows along as the boys try to find proof their cop neighbor is the serial killer everyone is talking about in the news. Only one of the boys truly believes he is the killer, while the other three are just going along with their friend. While the film is an intriguing mystery thriller, it is also very much a coming-of-age story. This aspect of the plot is enjoyable, but it also makes certain parts of the film feel a bit slow. That doesn’t mean the plot isn’t very well written. There are just times when the various subplots, like a romance between two of the characters, is developed a bit too much, taking away from the main premise.

First time screenwriters Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith do a great job of getting the right eighties feel, creating a group of friends with a strong bond, and bringing a large dose of suspense. Specifically, in the climax of the film, there is a very well-written monologue that sends chills down the spine. Many of the revelations at the climax of the film are more than the characters ever bargained for. A common theme throughout the film is that people never reveal everything about themselves. While this theme is used to show that you never know who could be a serial killer, the writers also applied it to the people you think you know best. As the plot moves forward the audience learns there are things the friends keep from each other, and these things allow the audience to see a side of the kids no one else does. This layer of the plot adds a lot of depth to the coming-of-age aspect of the film.

For the cast of Summer of 84 the filmmakers primarily chose relatively unknown actors. Graham Verchere (The Good Doctor, Fargo) plays the leader of the group of friends, Davey. Davey is a bit of a conspiracy theorist, which is why when he tells his friends the neighbor might be a serial killer they all think he is just imagining it. Verchere gives a very endearing performance as he balances the line between investigating the cop, finding summer love, and being a good friend. Judah Lewis (The Babysitter) plays Eats, while Caleb Emery (Goosebumps) plays Woody. These two characters, and the actors’ performances, stand out because they act a certain way around people, but when you learn about their troubled home lives it gives the characters more depth. Rich Sommer (GLOW, The Devil Wears Prada) plays Wayne Mackey, the cop and suspected serial killer. Sommer’s portrayal of Mackey stands out because he straddles the line very well between being a typical nice neighbor and a creep. It keeps the audience continually guessing at whether or not he truly is the killer. The entire cast does a great job, delivering especially strong performances in the final act of the film.

This film had a lot of artistic details that make it very authentic and enjoyable. Both the clothing and the music do a great job of transporting the audience to 1984. Even the lighting and color scale used throughout the film lends to the desired time period. Another great artistic detail is the practical effects. The effects are saved until the climax of the film, and for the most part they are shrouded in darkness, but what can be seen looks great. There is a disturbingly gooey quality to the effects that makes them appear even more horrific. Each small bit of artistry adds to the overall appeal of the film.

Summer of 84 is a suspenseful throwback flick that hits close to home. It instills the idea that no one ever truly knows another person, and, in this film, that means anyone could be a serial killer – even your next door neighbor. The plot can meander a bit, but when it sticks to the primary premise it is thrilling and even heartfelt. All of the young actors do a fantastic job, and the suspected serial killer perfectly walks the line between being normal and suspicious. Summer of 84 is the kind of film that has a broad appeal, even for non-horror fans, and it will likely end up with quite the cult following.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Cynthia

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Robin and Michael are the perfect couple. The only problem is, they can’t seem to get pregnant. The couple resorts to fertility injections mailed in from over seas. After months of trying they finally get pregnant, but along with the baby there seems to be a large cyst. The baby is born healthy, and the doctor removes the cyst. Everything seems fine, but the cyst isn’t just a cyst, and it will do whatever it takes to get back to mommy.

This is a very unexpected film. This is the first film written by Robert Rhine (Road Lawyers and Other Briefs) in almost twenty years. His recent focus has been on his magazine, Girls and Corpses, and this film is a great way for him to make his return. His plot is equal parts ridiculous, hysterical, and gory. Rhine’s script is combined with the directing powers of Devon Downs (Anarchy Parlor) and Kenny Gage (Anarchy Parlor). Fertility issues are something that many women go through, so creating a fun horror film around it not only makes the film relatable, but it also makes it more fun. It is almost as if some of the pressure of trying to get pregnant is taken away by being able to laugh about it in this film. There is an extra layer of hilarity when it comes to seeing such a perfect couple unravel after they get the baby they have always wanted, and seeing how a mother will care for her child no matter what. The film is definitely filled with campiness and dark humor that won’t be for everyone, but horror fans that enjoy a healthy dose of comedy with their gore will likely love this flick.

Cynthia has a cast filled with horror royalty doing what they do best, as well as giving us a few surprises. The leading lady of this film is Scout Taylor-Compton (Halloween, Halloween II) as Robin. There isn’t anything Robin wouldn’t do to have the family she’s always wanted. Taylor-Compton perfectly shows the change in Robin when her family unit doesn’t turn out quite like she planned. Another standout performance of this star-studded film is Sig Haig (The Devil’s Rejects, Razor) as Detective Edwards. This was a very different role for Haig, since fans are used to seeing him as the bad guy, yet he plays a detective very well. Despite his good-guy performance being different than what fans are used to, he still manages to inject a little bit of the classic Haig we know and love. Other noteworthy performances come from Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects), Robert LaSardo (Anarchy Parlor), Kyle Jones (The Boonies), and Rebecca Marshall (Raze). Each and every one of these actors is guaranteed to make you laugh.

The best part of this film is Cynthia herself. The creature design is absolutely brilliant because the filmmakers managed to create something that is both disgusting and cute at the same time. They make you love Cynthia, despite her appearance and the horrific things she does. This design feels slightly reminiscent of the evil baby from Dead Alive, except it is somehow more grotesque and lovable. She was created entirely with practical effects and puppeteers, which makes her all the more endearing. The filmmakers wisely were slow to reveal Cynthia. It is just the right amount of delayed gratification for the audience, because when the full reveal finally happens we are already emotionally invested in this character. The audience becomes attached to her sweet little baby sounds and farts, bringing out our paternal instincts, before seeing how horrific looking she truly is. After seeing this film I can only imagine fans will want their own Cynthia to cuddle with at night.

Cynthia is a campy delight with the most hideously adorably creature ever made. It is really a perfect storm of different horror elements. The film has a fantastic cast, superb creature design, and it is hilarious. The only downside to the film is some of the medical scenes and terminology are off, but since the rest of the film involves a strange baby-creature these inaccuracies are easy to overlook. This film isn’t for everyone, and there are many who will not appreciate the camp or the gore. Still, the comedic approach to telling a story about a couple struggling with fertility will delight audiences everywhere. If this film is coming to a film festival near you, then be sure to check it out.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Downrange

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A group of friends, acquaintances, and strangers carpool together on a road trip. While in the middle of nowhere they get a flat tire. The group soon realizes the tire was shot. There is someone hidden nearby, and he wants to take them out one by one. With no other people in the area, and no cell reception, the group is stranded. They will have to fight and do whatever it takes to survive.

This film has a simple and effective premise. It also feels very timely considering recent events happening in the United States. A lone shooter is well hidden from a vantage point, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. This is something that has been in the news a lot lately; the idea that there could be a shooter anywhere at any time is a fear many people experience these days. The realism of the premise makes the plot all the more intense to watch. However, there is one thing that takes away from the realism of this film: the gun. This is an issue in many films, but there is a lot of inconsistency when it comes to the gun used and how many bullets it can shoot. The gun is described as an antique, and when shown up close it appears that only a single round can be loaded at a time. Yet, there are scenes where multiple shots are fired without the man reloading his gun. This is a common flaw in film, especially action films. It is a detail many viewers will likely be able to ignore, but it took me out of the otherwise realistic plot.

What makes this premise stand out from similar plots is that the group aren’t necessarily friends. There is a couple in the mix, but everyone else just met in order to do a group carpool. We don’t know where each person is going, and no one knows anyone else’s background. That anonymity makes the dynamics between the group very interesting. It also adds an extra layer of intensity because each character doesn’t know how the other will react, especially in a situation like this where anxiety is at an all time high. In films where a group of friends are attacked, one can assume the friends will do whatever they can to save each other; when it is strangers, you never know what will happen.

The performances in this film start out a bit rough, but each character seems to get their groove as the film continues. Kelly Connaire (For Art’s Sake) plays the timid Jodi. In the beginning Jodi seems like a weak side character, but as the film progresses Connaire makes Jodi stronger and more interesting. Stephanie Pearson (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Insidious: Chapter 2) plays the most industrious of the group, Keren. Pearson gives the strongest and most consistent performance of the group, and she often is the one keeping the plot exciting. The dynamic between these two characters is also interesting because they are two opposite personalities. Witnessing how they react with each new horrific situation makes for a compelling juxtaposition.

There are a few aspects of the film that don’t quite translate. One of those things is the humor. There are scenes where half the audience will laugh, and the other half will find those scenes to be quite serious. Without speaking to writer Joey O’Bryan (Fulltime Killer) and writer/director Ryûhei Kitamura (The Midnight Meat Train), there is no way to know if parts of the film were meant to be humorous or not. Another aspect of the film that doesn’t translate, and could potentially relate to humor as well, is the practical effects. The gore is fun and brightly colored, which many horror gore fans will love. Unfortunately, there is one practical effects gimmick used twice in the film that doesn’t quite fit. First, it seems odd to use such a specific gimmick twice in a short amount of time. Second, the effect looks cool, but it doesn’t seem very anatomically realistic with how the injury happened. Luckily this happens earlier in the film, and likely has a hand in why the film gets better the further into the plot it goes.

Downrange is a thrill ride playing into audiences’ fears over current events. The film takes a while to to get into a rhythm, but once it does it is exciting, gory, and filled with a couple fun twists and turns. There are parts where the potential for humor is a bit muddled, and many people will likely not find the film humorous at all. This film will likely be viewed very differently depending on who watches the film, but that may also be one of its charms. This may not be Kitamura’s best work, but it is still highly entertaining.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

A Quiet Place

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In 2020 the world is taken over by strange and dangerous beings. While the creatures are completely blind, they have a heightened sense of hearing. The human race has been almost entirely wiped out. One family struggles to survive this new world where a single sound could mean death. They have the advantage of knowing sign language, but it might not be enough to remain silent.

There are so many things to love about this film. John Krasinksi (The Office, Away We Go) made sure to have his hand in nearly every aspect of the filmmaking process. He directed the film, co-wrote the script with Bryan Woods (Nightlight) and Scott Beck (Nightlight), and he also stars in the film. The plot focuses more on the family unit rather than the creatures, yet the creatures are quite terrifying. We know generally when they appeared, we know the creatures are blind and hunt using sound, but that’s about it. The filmmakers smartly avoid showing the creatures in full view until fairly far into the film. Many horror films try to over explain the origin of the monsters, but this film allows you to make your own deductions.

Since the monsters hunt with sound, much of the film is in near silence. This makes every sound all the more terrifying, and the entire film has an edge-of-your-seat tension. This also means the words that are spoken have much more impact. Speaking is dangerous, so if anyone in the family says something out loud it is something they find important. The only daughter in the family is deaf. While normally this would be considered an impairment, it actually ends up being a benefit for the family because they could already communicate with sign language before the creatures appeared. This form of communication is likely a large part of what has kept the group alive. The dynamic between the family members and how they live their daily lives in this new world are the driving forces behind the plot. It is a monster movie, but the plot goes much deeper by having compelling characters.

Acting in a film with such a small amount of dialogue takes a lot of talent. An actor has to be able to convey emotions with their face and body language because they are unable to use words. Krasinski is one of the stars of this film playing the father, Lee. A striking aspect of his performance is his ability to convey emotion with his eyes. Krasinski has a very expressive face that serves his portrayal of Lee very well. His real life wife, Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, Edge of Tomorrow), plays his wife in the film, Evelyn. Blunt is a very talented actress who shines in every role she does. Her performance in this film really shines when she’s protecting her children. The physical and emotional struggle of trying to remain silent in tense situations is something Blunt portrays very well. The breakout star of the film is Millicent Simmonds (Wonderstruck) as Regan. Simmonds is deaf in real life, just like her character in the film. Not only is it great that the filmmakers opted to hire a young deaf actress in the role, but Simmonds acts her heart out. She shows that being hearing impaired does not mean you aren’t as strong and capable as anyone else. The entire family feels real and authentic, making the characters ones fans will truly care about.

The creature design in this film is stunning. While the look of the creatures may remind audiences of other creatures from Stranger Things and Cloverfield, there are certain aspects that make them unique. We know the creatures hunt using sound, so naturally there are certain physical aspects to show they have enhanced hearing. These physical features look anatomically plausible, which always makes for a more compelling monster. The creature is masterfully created using CGI effects. The effects look startlingly realistic and include intricate details which would be difficult to achieve without CGI. While the origins and motives for the creatures remain a mystery, they are frightening and fun to watch.

A Quiet Place perfectly uses silence to generate high intensity into this monster flick. While it is suspenseful and exciting, it is also a film about the dynamics between family members in a post-apocalyptic world. The film has strong performances, fantastic creature design, and a unique story. This may be a bit nit-picky, but the biggest fault I find with this film is the very last shot of the film. Something about it feels somewhat out of place with the rest of the film and almost cheapens the previous events a bit. That issue aside, this film is one that every horror fan should see, and it is one that you could even bring your non-horror loving friends to enjoy.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

Veronica

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In Madrid, Spain in 1991 a teenage girl helps her mother raise her brother and sisters after her dad died. One day she experiments with a Ouija board with two school friends. From that moment on, she is plagued by an evil presence. Things only get worse when that evil starts to go after her younger siblings. She has to find a way to stop the malevolent presence, before it kills the ones she loves.

Director Paco Plaza has been known as a filmmaking force in the horror genre with his [REC] film franchise. Veronica was an obvious choice for him after finishing that franchise, as there are similar themes between the films. The biggest similarities are the common themes of demons, the devil, and possession. Plaza always does a somewhat unique spin with these themes, which are fairly common in the horror genre, keeping things interesting and exciting for fans. Another similarity is the focus on a female protagonist. In this film, that is the title character, Veronica.

The combination of jump scares and more subtle atmospheric scares allows audiences to experience near-constant fright. What makes this film uniquely scary from Plaza’s previous work is that it is based on a true story. Not only are many of the details of the film based on truth, but they come from a police report that is the only one in Spain’s history to note witnessing paranormal activity on an official report. Knowing the background for the film makes the events all the more terrifying. That being said, this is one of many recent films that was advertised as being the scariest film ever. The film has many frightening moments, but I would not go into the film expecting to experience the most intense fear of your life.

Considering all the leads in this film are children, every single one of them give great performances. Sandra Escacena plays Veronica in her very first acting role. Being in the titular role means Escacena has to give the character her all. Considering this is her first acting job, and as the lead character, Escacena truly shines and commands your attention. Her performances is not only haunting, but she plays the balance between being the unofficial parent to her siblings and being a normal teenage girl very well. I hope to see her in many more films in the future. The younger siblings, played by Bruna González, Claudia Placer, and Iván Chavero, also prove they are young new talents who will likely continue to do great things.

The filmmakers use primarily more subtle scares throughout the film. This means the effects are also very subtle. Many of them are small practical effects. When it comes to the climax of the film, there is a combination of practical effects and CGI. While much of it is well done, and the climax is intense and terrifying, this is also where the film loses me a bit. The climax suffers from a common horror-genre issue where the filmmakers show too much of the evil presence that is after the protagonist. In some cases it works, but in this film it seems like showing less would have been more effective and eerie.

Veronica brings strong scares to this film based on a true story. The plot isn’t entirely original, including common horror tropes such as a Ouija board leading to demonic happenings, but the fact that it is based on a true story makes it more interesting. The filmmakers opted to use a lot of young actors who had never been in a film before. This ended up being the strongest aspect of the film, especially when it comes to Escacena’s performance. Plaza made a lot of smart decisions with this film, especially when it comes to how he crafted the scares. Most of the scares are very effective, but there is a bit too much of the evil entity shown in the climax of the film, which takes away some of the terror. The key to enjoying this film will be avoiding a lot of the hype. No film can ever live up to that amount of hype, but if audiences can ignore it, then this film will be all the more thrilling to watch.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Annihilation

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Several months ago a biologist’s husband went on a top secret mission. He suddenly returns, only to fall deathly ill; then, both of them are taken in by the military. The biologist learns her husband was investigating an environmental disaster zone, and no one is sure how he got out. She volunteers, along with four other women, to be the next team to enter what is known as the “Shimmer.” Once inside, they realize the very laws of nature are being rewritten.

Alex Garland (Ex Machina, 28 Days Later) directed this film and wrote the screenplay based on Jeff VanderMeer’s novel. This is only the second film directed by Garland, but it is clear that he is the next great filmmaker. The plot of this film stands out for several reasons. One is that the film follows a group of five strong, intelligent women. The team consists of a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a physicist, and a paramedic. Not only are these women physically strong, but they are some of the best in their field. It is great to see this added to the list of recent films focusing on female role models. Another aspect of this film that makes it unique is all the strange and beautiful horrors the team encounters once they enter the Shimmer. Everything we know as natural is altered within the Shimmer, and it results in insane hybrids that shouldn’t be scientifically possible. Some of these hybrids are hypnotically beautiful, others are monstrous and deadly. Finally, the alien threat that caused the Shimmer is another aspect that makes this film stand out. The reason for the alien arrival, and the resulting events, is something rarely seen in sci-fi films. I won’t get too specific, because this is a film you have to see to believe.

While this film is clearly a huge cinematic achievement, it is also not for every viewer. Some of the more abstract scientific themes of the film may not appeal to all audiences. However, this alone shouldn’t ruin the film for viewers. Even if the concepts are a bit complex, it is still a thrilling, often terrifying, and sometimes beautiful film. The excitement alone will hold the attention of most audiences. The other drawback, to certain viewers, will likely be the ending. The film leaves certain questions unanswered, allowing the audience to make their own conclusions. I enjoyed both the strange science of the film and the way Garland chose to end the film, but there will be many people who will not feel this way.

The entire cast is absolutely superb in this film. While each member of the expedition team has stand out moments, there are two who stand out to me as having the strongest performances. Natalie Portman (Black Swan, Jackie) takes over the leading role as biologist and soldier Lena. Portman has always been a talented actress. She brings something a bit different to this performance because not only is her character brilliant, but she was also a soldier. It makes her character uniquely suited for this expedition, and Portman portrays a soldier-like strength that I haven’t seen from her before. Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok, Creed) also shines as the physicist, Josie. Josie is the least mentally stable of the group, and likely should never have been allowed to join the team. Thompson stands out in this role because she gives one of the most unexpected performances, and she reacts to being inside the Shimmer in a very interesting way. It was difficult to pick only two performances, but I would imagine every viewer will have different performances that stand out to them.

This is one of the most visually fantastic films of the year – if not the past several years. The things that happen inside the Shimmer, created in the mind of author VanderMeer, are so bizarre and original. Bringing this to the screen takes an equal amount of imagination and some brilliant CGI. Inside the Shimmer all species, even across different kingdoms, combine to create horrifying hybrids that are often as deadly as they are stunning. CGI is the only way to properly achieve these hybrids, and the work done in this film is positively spectacular. This film is an example of the right way to utilize CGI.

Annihilation is a visionary film that pushes the boundaries of the human imagination. Garland has yet again proven that he is not only a talented screenwriter, but an even more talented director. His talents are perfectly complemented by an extraordinarily talented cast. On top of everything, this film is filled to the brim with the most imaginative imagery, all of it perfectly executed through CGI. While some of the themes will polarize audiences, it is clear that this film is a near-perfect cinematic gem.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10