Month: September 2016


A group of carnies gets kidnapped while on the road. They are brought to a massive compound and forced to play a twisted game by three people dressed as old English aristocrats. The game is called “31”. All the carnies have to do is survive 12 hours in the compound while being hunted by one twisted clown after the other, each one more dangerous than the last. These clowns specialize in murder and mayhem. Will the small band of unwilling participants be able to survive the night?

31 was a hodge podge of really great ideas and some not so great ones. Overall, I think the concept was a really fun and exciting one. There wasn’t ever a dull moment during the film. The opening scene was one of the best parts of the entire film. It was a monologue by the aptly named “Doom-Head” clown. The scene was intense, even though it was just Doom-Head talking to his victim. That was a great way to start the film (even though there were some editing errors where the amount of blood on his face drastically changed between cuts and drove me crazy). After such a strong opening, the rest of the film was filled with a mix of high and low points. Most of the film was fun and exciting; I laughed, I gasped, and I had a lot of fun. Unfortunately, there were definitely some holes in the plot, which was where we run into the low points. Most of the holes surround the orchestrators of this event known as Father Murder, Sister Serpent, and Sister Dragon. Who are these people? How are they funding this? What do they do when it isn’t Halloween? How did they find the psychopaths to participate in their murder game? We may never know.

One of my biggest issues with this film was the character of Charly, played by Sheri Moon Zombie (Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses). Anyone who has seen a Rob Zombie film knows that he is going to have his wife as the star and hero of the film. That I don’t mind, but Charly was such a pathetic “hero”. There were times in the film where she definitely rose to the occasion and did what she has to do, but at the same time there were scenes where she was made out to be such a weak person. It was too extreme to see her go from one end to the other, making her character unbelievable. Also, the wig they had her wear throughout the film was so distracting for me. Every time Zombie came on screen all I could look at is the ridiculous hair. The various clowns, on the other hand, were fantastic. They were such extreme caricatures of demented personalities that you couldn’t help but laugh at them as they were hunting their victims.

The biggest standout performance was, of course, Doom-Head. He was played by Richard Brake (Water for Elephants, Spy). If this film had just been his opening monologue, I would have been completely satisfied with that. Brake managed to play a ruthless killer who clearly enjoys what he does, and it made you enjoy watching him at work. My only complaint was that I wish he had been in the film more. Jeff Daniel Phillips (Lords of Salem, Halloween II) also stood out as the carnival worker, Roscoe. Of all the carnies, I found him to be the most likable and realistic character. I was rooting for him to survive the game more than any other character (maybe it had to do with his sweet sideburns).

The clown makeup and costumes in 31 were delightfully strange and minimal. The various clowns were all made to look ridiculous, and only slightly clownish, in order to add to the insanity. For example, Sick-Head was a little person who was a Spanish speaking Nazi clown. He primarily looked like a Nazi with a painted on Hitler mustache and a swastika on his chest. The only aspect that looked clown-ish is the white painted face and red nose. Probably my favorite clown look was Death-Head, who was this mammoth of a man. He wore a little white leotard and the tiniest tutu I have ever seen. It was hilarious because Death-Head was so huge and terrifying, yet he was running around in the least threatening outfit one could possibly think of. Again, he could only really be thought of as a clown because he was wearing such a comical outfit. It was all a fun juxtaposition by having murderous lunatics in ridiculous costumes.

Rob Zombie gave us a film that has everything you expect from a Rob Zombie film: excitement, bloodshed, and bad guys that you can’t help but love. This was definitely not his best film, but it was a lot of fun to watch. He always succeeds in making me laugh at the most inappropriate times. If the various plot holes had been filled, or at least briefly touched on, and if the hero character was a bit stronger I would have enjoyed 31 that much more. As it is, 31 is a thrill ride that lacks a bit in substance, but makes up for it in carnage and madness.



Blair Witch

Over 15 years ago James’s sister went into the woods to film a documentary about the Blair Witch. Her and the two friends she was filming with were never seen again, but their footage was found showing some unsettling events. Now, a new video has been found in the woods and posted online. James believes it is his sister in the video and that she is still alive. In hopes of finding his long lost sister, James and his friends decide to head into those same woods to try to find her and film their entire experience.

The Blair Witch Project is one of the few films that still scares me, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. This leads me to have pretty high expectations for this latest installment. When I heard that Adam Wingard (You’re Next, V/H/S) was directing Blair Witch, my expectations were set even higher. Taking on a sequel to a very well known found-footage film was quite a different venture for Wingard. After seeing Blair Witch I can say it is the scariest film I have seen so far this year, and it’s all thanks to Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett (You’re Next, V/H/S).

The first film focused primarily on the fear and suspense of being lost in the woods for days. It relied heavily on the more subtle kinds of scares that give you goosebumps. Blair Witch focuses much more on big scares and being stalked in the woods by a supernatural entity. There are many aspects of the plot that make this film a great sequel, especially when you consider how many years apart the two films were made. The plot of course reminds audiences of the mythology we learned from the first film, but it then expands on that mythology. We get to learn a bit more about the witch herself, which was very interesting. Along with the mythology, the filmmakers do an excellent job of playing with time. As things unfold it becomes clear that time moves very differently in the deep dark of the woods.

The entire film keeps you at the edge of your seat. As soon as the group enters the woods, the fear and tension only continues to get more intense. I’m the kind of person that has to ball up and cover my ears when watching a terrifying film. I was so tensed up during the entire film, that by the time the credits rolled, my arms were sore. Blair Witch has a lot of the creepy subtle scares like its predecessor, but there are a lot more jump scares and being chased in the woods than ever before. Wingard also includes some claustrophobia-inducing scenes that are terrifying. He does a great job of making you expect one thing to happen, and while you’re focusing on that, something else pops out to shake your nerves. The climax of Blair Witch even goes to an extreme level of scares and surprises that I never saw coming. There are really only one or two things that I can say I thought weren’t a great fit, although I didn’t necessarily dislike them. There is a part of the climax where there are these alien-looking bright lights. I think I understand what the purpose of those lights were, but it just isn’t explicit enough when you’re watching the film for it to make sense. It ends up detracting a bit from the terrifying situation. This film also falls into an unfortunate stereotype involving the order in which characters tend to die in horror films (if you catch my drift) which seemed a bit beneath Wingard and Barrett.

I appreciated that the filmmakers made the decision to cast lesser-known actors for this film, much like in the first one. All of the actors are absolutely phenomenal. The two leads really stand out. James Allen McCune (Shameless) blew me away in what is arguably his biggest role yet as James. His determination and belief that his sister could still be alive is quite touching and something that McCune emotes well through the camera. Calle Hernandez (From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series) is also fantastic. She has some of the most demanding physical scenes in the film, and it makes you empathize with her more than any of the other characters.

While nothing will ever be quite as good as The Blair Witch Project, Blair Witch definitely exceeds my expectations in creating a compelling sequel. This film meets every standard I have for a sequel: great directing, very well written story that builds on the mythology, and everything is bigger (the scares, the technology, the effects, etc). Wingard and Barrett are truly a dream team of horror. It seems like there is nothing they can’t achieve when they partner up. I can’t wait to see what these two do with future projects. If you want to see a film that will curdle your blood, then be sure to run to the theaters to see Blair Witch.


The Disappointments Room

A woman and her family move into a decrepit mansion in the countryside after a tragedy. The goal is to spend a year in the quiet rural home while the woman, who is an architect, rebuilds the mansion to its former glory. While going through the house to see what needs to be fixed, the woman finds a strange room in the attic that was not on the floor plan. It doesn’t take long after the room is discovered for strange things to start happening. Is the grieving mother seeing things, or is their new home haunted by something sinister?

While I saw this film several days ago, I didn’t jump to write my review for two reasons: 1. I knew audiences weren’t running to the theaters for this film. 2. This film was so unfortunate that I was dreading writing my review for it. The general idea of this story could have made for a great film. A “disappointments room” is a hidden room in the homes of wealthy people where they would keep their children born with some kind of birth defect. These children would be locked away and kept secret so the family could avoid any embarrassment. This simple idea could have led to an interesting film. Sadly, it did not.

This plot was one of the more convoluted stories I have witnessed in some time. The filmmakers were clearly trying to make it whether the lead was insane or if she was actually seeing ghosts part of the mystery. The problem is that at the end of the film, you still had no idea which one was the truth. The actions of both the lead and the ghosts made absolutely no sense. Consequently, as the screen fades to black, you can’t help but wonder if that was really the ending. There is even a murder shown in the film, and by the time the film is over you’re still unclear as to whether that murder actually happened or not. One aspect that made the plot confusing was the use of flashbacks. Initially, there was some attempt to differentiate flashbacks by using distinct coloring (so you could tell whether it was a flashback from the lead character’s life or the life of the ghosts). However, as the film went on they seemed to stop using any color differentiation, so it was never obvious if things were happening in the past or the present. Also, assuming the ghosts were real, their actions and motivations made no sense. What the ghosts did had me scratching my head, and there was no clear reason why they did these things. The whole story was just a mess of poorly written half-ideas.

The acting in this film wasn’t much better. Kate Beckinsale (Underworld, Total Recall) played the architect and mother, Dana. Normally I’m a fan of Beckinsale. It seemed obvious that she was just phoning it in for this film. There was no real commitment to her role, and as the audience you don’t feel any of her emotions (the horrible blonde hair didn’t help much either). Mel Raido (Legend) was difficult to watch as the loving husband, David. His entire time on screen was spent speaking in the kind of voice one uses to soothe a fussy baby, even when is wife was doing some absolutely insane and horrible things. The fact that both of these actors are also British doing American accents was a bit distracting, as neither of them did a great job of holding the accent.

The Disappointments Room could have been an interesting film, but instead it was a befuddled mess with a title that makes for a great pun. The disjointed story is enough to make you want to walk out of the theater. It also tried so hard to be scary, but when you don’t understand what you’re supposed to be afraid of the “scares” fall flat. This film would have had a lower score, but I’m giving it a couple points for 3 reasons. Firstly, I like the idea of a disappointment room, and I hope another filmmaker takes this idea and runs with it. Second, I liked the opening scene. It was funny and unexpectedly adorable. Finally, I like the exposition scene where Dana is learning about what a disappointment room is from a woman who likely would have been in one of those rooms had she been born during that time. Other than those minor details, there were not many redeeming qualities to this film. It was not a film I would recommend to viewers, nor would I ever watch it again myself.




A group of scientists have artificially created a humanoid hybrid. Everything was going as planned until the humanoid, named Morgan, violently attacked one of the scientists. The corporation in charge decides to send a risk management analyst, Lee Weathers, to the remote site of the experiment. Her job is to determine whether or not Morgan should be terminated. During her investigation it becomes clear that Morgan is much too dangerous, and she is just getting started.

This is a film I feel very conflicted about. Immediately after seeing the film, my initial reaction was that it was great and I loved it. There is a lot to like about the film. Morgan is a great scifi thriller that keeps your attention and the plot was compelling. I also enjoyed when important bits of information were divulged in a variety of different ways, such as flashbacks and security camera footage, so it wasn’t one linear story. There were also many moments of calm that were broken by bloody violence. These were some of my favorite moments because the film makes a point of emphasizing that Morgan is still a child. When you see her commit these acts of extreme violence it’s shocking and beautiful, much like when you watch a wolf hunt a deer.

When looking at the character development, the only characters that didn’t feel like they were “phoned in” were Morgan, Lee Weathers, and the behaviorist, Dr. Amy Menser. The rest of the scientists felt a bit forced. There were a few big name actors in minor roles where we as the audience are made to simply assume their connection and love for Morgan. The film would have been just fine without many of the scientists, and with lesser known actors.

My biggest problem is I can think of two films that came out within the past two years that are strikingly similar to Morgan. Those films are The Hybrid (2014) and Ex Machina (2015). All three films feature an experiment in some kind of underground bunker, the experiment is a humanoid hybrid or has a human appearance, and the experiment will do whatever it takes to get out of the confines of its underground prison. While there are differences between all of these films that make them unique, it is hard for me to look past the similarities when judging the plot. I will say that Morgan had a bit more of a unique ending compared to the other two films. Without giving too much away, the way Morgan ended was similar to how I thought Ex Machina was going to end. Yet with Morgan it was something I didn’t see coming until the last 15 minutes of the film.

One of the best aspects of this film was the acting. Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) gave another knock-out performance in her second leading role in a major motion picture. Taylor-Joy plays Morgan in such a way that you at once both sympathize with her and fear her. Morgan is not fully human, and Taylor-Joy does an excellent job of emphasizing this fact at the perfect times. Kate Mara (Fantastic Four, The Martian) was also outstanding as Lee Weathers. She is a bit cold and robotic, but it worked perfectly for the character of Lee because she is a very calculating and analytical person. The surprise performance in this film was Paul Giamatti (Sideways, Straight Outta Compton). He plays the psychologist the corporation brings in to analyze Morgan. Giamatti has a very small role in the film, but he brings such a powerful performance to the role that he stands out in your mind, even after the film ends.

Morgan is a film that grabs your attention and makes you question whose side you want to be on. While it may not have the most original plot, and other films may have done a better job with that plot, it is still a great film. Setting aside some of the lesser unnecessary characters, the two lead actresses bring such power and elegance to the film. If you focus solely on Taylor-Joy and Mara, then this film exceeds expectations. Unfortunately, I have to also factor in the plot and the somewhat sloppily written scientists. It is a film I would definitely watch again, and recommend to fans of the scifi thriller genre, but there are many ways in which it could improve.



Tall Men (Customer 152)


Terrance, a man with mental health issues, recently had to file for bankruptcy. Soon after he gets a new credit card offer in the mail that he simply can’t refuse. Once Terrance receives the new credit card he buys a car for himself. It doesn’t take long for him to realize the deal is too good to be true, and he is being stalked by mysterious tall men who are ready to collect.

There are two things that intrigued me about this film. The first is that it had a unique story I had never seen done in a horror film before. The idea that creditors are bad guys out to get unsuspecting people who need money is nothing new. However, turn that into a horror movie and you have something that strikes a nerve with many viewers. Having financial troubles and going into debt is a fear almost every American has at some point in their lives. There is also an added layer to the story, because you can’t help but wonder if the events you see unfolding are actually happening or if they are all in the lead character’s head.

While overall the story was interesting, there were a couple of things I wish had been a bit different. The pacing of the film was a bit slow for me. It wasn’t just that the film moved at a slower pace, but there were long periods of time where there wasn’t any dialogue which made the film move even slower. Also, while I understand the filmmakers were trying to confuse the audience as to what was real and what wasn’t, some of the visions Terrance has just didn’t make sense to me with his mental condition (I can’t really go into more detail without giving away key plot points).

The other aspect that made me interested in this film is that this was actually the writer/director’s second attempt at the film. Jonathan Holbrook released the first Customer 152 in 2004. After deciding he wasn’t happy with what he created, Holbrook decided to redo the entire film and release it 12 years later. I wish I had been able to see the original version so I could compare the two, but it couldn’t have been all bad as it has a 5.3 rating on IMDB. I’m sure there are many filmmakers who would kill for the chance to redo a film or change something in their film they didn’t like. I commend Holbrook for being so dedicated to his craft, taking the time and money to recreate a film that he was proud of.

This film had a lovely cast of oddballs. All of the main characters are people with some kind of mental health issue. They all work together under a work release program. Dan Crisafulli (Grimm) was excellent as the lead, Terrance. It’s amazing to watch him in this film, then look at pictures of how he is in real life. He is almost unrecognizable. Crisafulli shined in this film because he was really rather pathetic and creepy, yet there was still something about his character that was likeable. Kay Whitney (Z Nation) was also great as Lucy, Terrance’s coworker and potential love interest. While we never really learn Lucy’s reason for being in this work program, Whitney expertly shows that Lucy is definitely a bit on the odd side. Although, just like Terrance, there is something about Lucy that draws you to her.

Since this film was a lower budget production, the filmmakers were smart in their use of effects. They are used sparingly, and all the effects are practical. The practical effects can be seen when Terrance has his visions. He sees things like his deceased mother in a monstrous form. The practical effects used on her hands and face are fairly well done, especially if you consider the budget. It almost reminded me a bit of the original Evil Dead film mixed with zombie makeup.

Tall Men is a film that turns a small, simple fear everyone has into what nightmares are made out of. You wouldn’t expect a plot like this to become a horror film, let alone one that is interesting enough to watch all the way through. While the film moves a bit slowly, making a few of the less intense scenes a bit on the boring side, it’s still enjoyable. The film has interesting characters, a unique plot, and it makes the viewer wonder where the line of reality lies. It makes me interested to see what Holbrook will do next, as well as Crisafulli.