film

Doctor Sleep

MV5BYmY3NGJlYTItYmQ4OS00ZTEwLWIzODItMjMzNWU2MDE0NjZhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzQzMDA3MTI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_

It’s been many years since the events at the Overlook Hotel. Dan Torrence is all grown up and battling his own demons. He meets a young girl named Abra, who also “shines.” When a deadly cult called The True Knot comes for Abra and her power, it is up to Dan to protect her.

Writer and director Mike Flanagan (Gerald’s Game, Haunting of Hill House) once again shows he is a master of storytelling and filmmaking. To be clear, I have not read either The Shining or Doctor Sleep, so I do not have the context other Stephen King fans have. From what I understand, Flanagan’s adaptation of King’s Doctor Sleep honors King’s work while also incorporating elements of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, which many horror fans cherish. Even more amazing is how Flanagan still creates a film with his unique stamp on it. Both in terms of stylistic choices and the emotional content, there is no mistaking Flanagan’s work.

Doctor Sleep expands upon the mythology fans know and love from The Shining. We get to see a bit of what happened to Danny and Wendy not long after the events at the Overlook Hotel. Then there are multiple time jumps to when Dan is an adult. It is then that the audience is introduced to Abra and her powers. We also meet The True Knot cult of individuals with powers who want to be immortal. The leader of the group, Rose the Hat, is as beautiful as she is dangerous. When Rose sense’s Abra’s power, she becomes determined to find the girl. Much of the mythos of this film focuses on Dan, Abra, and Rose. Dan and Abra help the audience learn a bit more about the shining and those who have abilities. Rose introduces a new set of individuals with different abilities who essentially want to eat those who shine. The film even expands on the mythos of the Overlook Hotel and the permanent inhabitants Dan encountered as a child.

One thing that was arguably lacking in Kubrick’s film that Flanagan’s film has in abundance is heart. This is most evident in how Doctor Sleep deals with trauma and addiction. Between the burden of his shining and the horrific events he experienced at the Overlook, it’s no wonder Dan has many demons. He grows up suppressing his gift and compartmentalizing the trauma of his past, which leads to alcohol addiction. We meet adult Dan at his worst and when he begins his quest to overcome his addiction, but it isn’t until he meets Abra that he is truly forced to take a hard look at himself and his past. While the supernatural aspects of the film are likely what will bring in audiences, as well as King’s name, it’s Dan’s character arc and his struggle for sobriety, acceptance, and self-discovery that will stick with you long after the film has ended.

The entire cast of Doctor Sleep is perfect in their roles. There are so many superb performances it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few standouts. Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge, Trainspotting) stars as adult Dan Torrence. We all know McGregor is a phenomenal actor, but this might be one of his best performances yet. The way he conveys Dan’s struggles with his past as well as his battle with alcohol is stunning. There is one specific scene at the climax of the film where those struggles culminate in a truly heart-wrenching way and McGregor gives the scene his all. Young newcomer, Kyliegh Curran (I Can I Will I Did), absolutely dazzles as Abra. In many ways she is the polar opposite of Dan. She cherishes and practices her power, although she does try to hide it from her parents. Abra is such a strong character despite her young age and Curran is perfect in the role. Curran and McGregor play off of each other very well and create a striking juxtaposition between Abra and Dan. Then there is Rebecca Ferguson (Life, Mission: Impossible – Fallout) as Rose the Hat. As soon as she is on screen Ferguson has a powerful presence that demands your attention and fills the screen. Rose can appear disarmingly warm and kind, but she quickly shows her darker, cutthroat side. Ferguson makes Rose the Hat an iconic and memorable villain. As I said, many of the other actors deliver great performances, but there are too many for me to give honorable mention to. Suffice it to say, everyone is amazing.

Doctor Sleep does a great job of being it’s own story separate from the events from The Shining. Yet it is vital to note the scenes Flanagan recreated from Kubrick’s film and the absolutely perfect casting for those recreations. With the exception of a couple exterior shots, each scene from The Shining is an exact replica with new actors. The fact that Flanagan was able to so perfectly recreate these scenes is already astounding, but it’s the casting that stands out. Some of this amazing casting I will keep a secret for those who are planning on seeing the film as it relates to a pivotal scene in the film. A few casting choices I will talk about are Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes, Tales of Halloween) as Wendy Torrence, Roger Dale Floyd (The Painter, Kronos) as young Danny Torrence, and Carl Lumbly (A Cure for Wellness, Men of Honor) as Dick Hallorann. Each of these actors perfectly embodies the characters from The Shining from the way they talk to their mannerisms without feeling like a caricature. At times it’s even difficult to tell the difference between these actors and the ones they are imitating. It’s not only a testament to their talents, but it also serves as evidence that casting great actors who look like characters/actors is much more effective than implanting a CGI replica of the original actor.

Every single artistic aspect of Doctor Sleep is meticulous and purposeful to create a gorgeous film. Right away audiences will likely notice the stunning set design and cinematography. From the recreations of Kubrick’s film to the entirely new world created throughout the film, there is so much beauty filling the screen that it is impossible to look away. It all speaks to Flanagan’s signature style, even down to the overall green coloration of much of the film. There is also a fantastic mix of practical and CGI effects. Most of the physical wounds and injuries are done with very realistic practical effects. The CGI is most evident when powers are being used and in various dream-like sequences. The dream-like sequences also utilize forced perspective and rooms that move and turn to create striking imagery.

Doctor Sleep is a stunning film that seamlessly combines the supernatural with trauma and addiction. Flanagan yet again delivers a film that is as visually striking as it is unsettling and emotional. He clearly took great care to blend King and Kubrick’s work, while still making the film his own. The storytelling, the expansion of the mythology, and the beauty of the film are incredibly well done. McGregor, Curran, and Ferguson, along with the rest of the cast, deliver striking performances fans won’t soon forget. Honestly the only negative thing I can say about the film relates to a couple characters who die, but I can’t get into details without giving things away. Luckily, the rest of the film is practically flawless. I can honestly say Doctor Sleep is now one of my top 5 favorite Stephen King adaptations, if not my favorite. This is a film fans need to experience on the big screen, so be sure to catch it in theaters while you can.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

The Furies

MV5BZDAxNmM1N2ItMGQ2ZC00OTljLWEyNjgtMjEwZjYzMGY2ZGJiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjE1NzM2MQ@@._V1_SY1000_SX675_AL_

A woman and her friend are kidnapped during the night. She wakes up the next day and finds herself in a box alone in the Australian wilderness. Soon she realizes not only are there other women trapped here, but there are also hulking men wearing terrifying masks out to kill the young women. It’s a fight for survival and no one can be trusted.

Writer and director Tony D’Aquino makes his feature film debut with the Australian thriller, The Furies. From the opening shot D’Aquino makes it clear this is going to be a feminist take on slashers as two of the female characters are shown spray painting “FUCK PATRIARCHY” on a wall. This moment between the two women is very brief, but still manages to establish who the characters are before throwing them into peril. From there the filmmakers waste no time in delivering high-octane thrills. Once the women are thrown into the remote Australian setting they have to battle masked madmen, those who have trapped them all here, and each other. It’s a relatively simple plot that relies heavily on the bloodshed and mayhem, but D’Aquino manages to make it feel fun and different.

There are many aspects of this plot that make it interesting and unique. One obvious difference from other similar films is how these women and killers ended up in this remote location together. The women were obviously kidnapped and brought to this place, but the surprise is that the killers appear to have arrived the same way. The boxes the women arrived in are all marked “beauty” and the boxes the men arrived in are marked “beast.” The people who brought everyone to this place are clearly very organized and use advanced technology which creates an odd dynamic between all the captives and interesting sets of rules they must follow. Another interesting aspect is how the female lead, Kayla, not only acts as a feminist icon, but she also shows how women with physical or mental illnesses are as capable as anyone else. Kayla has epilepsy. She has always seen this as a hindrance to her being an independent woman, yet it gives her a strange advantage when she is thrown into the twisted cat and mouse game. It allows her to see that she is capable of being a self-reliant warrior woman. All of the other woman are also quite compelling characters because none of them fit into any stereotype often seen in horror films.

Since the vicious men in the film don’t speak a single word, the women of The Furies carry the performances. Airlie Dodds (Killing Ground, Ready for This) stars as Kayla. She starts out in the film as very meek and she is convinced her illness keeps her from being able to take care of herself and live life to the fullest. Dodds does a fantastic job of showing Kayla evolve throughout the film as she is thrown one curveball after another. Linda Ngo (Mako Mermaids, Top of the Lake) plays another captive in this deranged game, Rose. Rose is an interesting character because she is slightly odd and innocent, but there is also something hidden just beneath the surface that is waiting to be released. Ngo is quite memorable in her portrayal of Rose and how easily she straddles the line between naive and creepy.

This film doesn’t hold back on the gore and luckily the practical effects are fantastic. The first thing viewers will notice is the truly disturbing masks worn by the killers. Each one is very distinct, unique, and terrifying. The practical effects of the various wounds and kills are so well done. They look incredibly realistic to the point where some viewers might have to turn away. In addition to the effects, the way the film is shot also gives it a unique look. As soon as Kayla emerges from the box, the entire film has a white-washed look to it. The filtering and color palette are clearly meant to add to the barren and sun-scorched Australian landscape. This appearance not only adds to the idea that the setting is exceedingly hot, but it also makes the blood and gore stand out as the most vibrant colors.

The Furies delivers a unique slasher dripping with girl-power and gore. This is a very strong feature film debut for D’Aquino. He manages to deliver a film that is familiar, yet injects intricacies that make the plot still feel fresh. Each performance is great from the dynamic women to the physical acting of the killer men. All of the gore hounds out there will have a ball watching this film with it’s fantastic practical effects and others, who like a bit more depth to their slashers, will enjoy the fascinating rules the film puts into place. Not only is this film sure to be on many must-watch lists this October, but it also has the potential to spawn a new horror franchise.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Harpoon

MV5BOGE5ZDI2NmUtZTU5Yi00NDVhLTk4OTItYzUyYWE5MzQ4OWYwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTMzOTMzMTg@._V1_SY1000_SX675_AL_

Three friends go out for a day pleasure cruise. While out at sea, tensions flare and horrible choices are made. The group is left adrift in the middle of the ocean with no food, no water, no radio, and no working engine. As the yacht endlessly floats, sexual tension and deep dark secrets are forced to the surface with disastrous consequences.

Writer and director Rob Grant (Desolate, Alive) brings the darkest of dark horror comedies with his latest film, Harpoon. A narrator sets the tone for the film with sarcastic and cynical monologues introducing viewers to the three main characters. Then, when the characters are finally brought together for the first time, an explosive burst of violence perfectly shows the tumultuous and deranged relationship these people have. How quickly they go from a physical altercation to going for a day cruise on a yacht makes it very clear that there are a lot of deep rooted issues with these three friends just waiting to bubble up to the surface. It leads to some truly gruesome and hilarious hijinks as things go from bad, to worse, to complete and utter disaster. All the while, the narrator continues to describe the disturbing events in ways that are sure to make the viewer laugh at the most inappropriate times. There are also some great long-running jokes throughout the film. Even the name of the film is a joke because there is in fact not one harpoon in the entire film.

One of the most interesting things about Harpoon is that it does something I usually hate in horror films, yet Grant makes it work. Typically, it bothers me when none of the characters have any redeeming qualities because then I don’t care about their fates and it kills the suspense. All three people trapped on the yacht are really despicable people in various ways and to differing degrees, yet it works exceedingly well in this context. We aren’t meant to really feel for these people. We are meant to be shocked by what happens while also cracking up at the unfortunate events that befall the group. It is the perfect combination of horror and humor that doesn’t make the viewer feel ashamed for laughing at their misfortune.

The entire small cast delivers memorable performances. Budding horror film star Munro Chambers (Riot Girls, Turbo Kid) plays Jonah. Chambers has been making his mark in genre films over the past couple years and his performance as the tragic Jonah is another great success. Jonah’s intentions sometimes appear to be good, but there are many layers hidden within that really allow Chambers to show off his acting prowess. One of the surprises of the film is Emily Tyra (Flesh and Bone, Ring Ring) as Sasha. Of all the characters, Sasha comes across as the most levelheaded. It is her knowledge and resolve that help keep the group alive and Tyra shines in the role. Christopher Gray (The Mist, The Society) plays Sasha’s boyfriend and the owner of the yacht, Richard. Richard is the epitome of the rich, white, privileged guy you can’t help but hate, yet Gray also manages to make him the most hilarious character in the film. Between his great dialogue and his anger issues, Gray is sure to give the audience a good laugh. All three actors play off of each other incredibly well and their on-screen chemistry truly makes it feel like they have known each other for years.

The sets, practical effects, and filming techniques allow for a lot of visual interest throughout Harpoon. Really there is one set for 90% of the film – the yacht. It is a fairly spacious boat, but when three people are stranded on it with nothing but open water as far as the eye can see it definitely becomes claustrophobic. There is something about being adrift in the vast abyss of the ocean that is truly terrifying. That terror is intensified by the surprising amount of gore. There are bruises, cuts, infections, and copious amounts of blood and all of it looks disgustingly real. With the film taking place on a yacht at sea, there are some great opportunities for interesting cinematography. Yet what stands out are a couple flashback scenes that connect the events of the film to events of the past in a way that adds to the plot while also giving the viewer something fun to look at.

Harpoon abandons a group of dysfunctional friends adrift on a yacht and lets the insanity unfold in this dark horror comedy. It is a relatively simple plot that Grant manages to inject with memorable moments and humor. While the characters are all horrible people, it makes it much more entertaining to watch them deteriorate and turn against each other and the performances from all three actors are fantastic. This film definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is exactly the kind of deranged humor I can’t get enough of.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

In the Tall Grass

MV5BN2M0NTJmMDAtNWI0ZC00MjdlLTlmYWEtMjNiMmJmOGRiNTEwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUxMTY3ODM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_

A brother and sister on a cross-country drive pull over in a remote part of middle America. While stopped, they hear a young boy calling for help in a field of very tall grass. The siblings decide they have to go into the field to help the boy. It doesn’t take long for the two to become separated and soon they realize there is something sinister about the grass.

Based on the novella by Stephen King and Joe Hill, writer and director Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice) brings In the Tall Grass from the page to the screen. This sci-fi horror mash-up begins with the brother and sister. They are lured into the field of grass, which appears to be at least 8 feet tall, and quickly find themselves separated and lost in the abyss of green. There also seems to be a family separated and lost in the grass, but their intentions aren’t very clear. It isn’t until the sister’s ex-boyfriend comes looking for her that the mystery slowly begins to unravel. The film plays with some ideas that will feel familiar to fans of this particular type of horror, while also managing to create something thrilling and unique. The plot takes the very simple idea of being lost in a virtual sea of grass that rises high above the average person’s head and expertly turns it into something much more complex.

The tension of In the Tall Grass can be felt almost immediately. Each part of the plot builds this tension from the young boy calling the siblings into the grass, to the siblings immediately getting separated, to the simple fact that the sister is pregnant, and to the various people in the grass not being trustworthy. Even the grass itself adds to the suspense. It is so tall and it seems to go on forever, generating an extremely claustrophobic feel as the audience sees from the point of view of those trapped in the grass. From there the suspense and the plot become much more complex. Whatever entity or energy exists within the grass, it has the ability to play with all the laws of physics humans have come to know. Time and space mean nothing in the tall grass. Being in the grass creates a sort of time loop, which is a popular concept in many recent horror films, yet In the Tall Grass still manages to make it feel unique. There is also a great element of the unknown. The film hints at the ancient power within the field and other specific elements, but nothing is overtly explained. There is just enough shown to create a mythos, but a majority of why these horrible things are happening is left a mystery. There is one aspect of the mythos in the climax that is rather horrifying. It is the one aspect that is not explained that really should have been as it leaves a gaping whole where the answer should be.

The cast of the film is primarily made up of lesser-known actors, with the exception of one name horror fans are sure to recognize. Laysla De Oliveira (Guest of Honour, Locke & Key) stars as the pregnant Becky. Oliveira does a fantastic job of conveying Becky’s vulnerability in her pregnant state, yet that pregnancy is also what makes her more determined to survive and escape the grass. Equally determined is her ex-boyfriend, Travis, played by Harrison Gilbertson (Need for Speed, Upgrade). Travis’s determination comes from wanting to save his unborn baby and the woman he loves. Gilbertson also delivers a compelling performance in this role. The surprise performance of the film comes from the most famous of the actors, Patrick Wilson (Insidious, The Conjuring). Wilson plays Ross, a man already trapped in the grass. He manages to portray a character that is far more sinister than anything we have seen from him before. Additional strong performances come from Avery Whitted (The Vanishing of Sidney Hall) and Will Buie Jr. (Bunk’d).

Most of the horror and suspense in the film rests entirely on the setting. Many horror films take place in fields of corn, but the field of grass that goes far above your head in this film is far more menacing. The grass doesn’t grow in a uniform way like corn does, which makes it much easier to get lost in the endless green. The grass is also very tightly packed, making it difficult to know where you are or if there is anything lurking just beyond those blades. It’s quite effective and beautiful. The filmmakers include gorgeous aerial shots of the grass that truly make the field appear as if it goes on forever. At the center of the field lies something large and ominous that lends to the mythos created throughout the film. It is a simple setting that has a striking look. The only other visual aspects are a few practical effects. These are also well done. They come in the form of minor wounds, a few corpses, and some very intriguing masks worn by beings in the grass.

In the Tall Grass is a twisting, cyclical journey of mysticism and madness from the minds of Stephen King and Joe Hill. Natali does a superb job of bringing the story to life. The resulting film is mysterious, thrilling, and gives the viewer something unique. The filmmakers were smart in making much of the mechanics behind the field of grass a mystery, yet there is one aspect of the climax that needs a bit of explanation. As is, it comes across as simply being in the film for shock value. While this plot stands apart from similar films, it may fall to the wayside with the many successful time-loop films that have been released in the past few years. Luckily the film has strong performances and an eerie setting to really build the suspense. This is a Netflix original film fans of Stephen King, Joe Hill, horror, and time-loop films will definitely want to see.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

 

 

3 From Hell

MV5BMTQ1N2MxNjEtYjNkNS00ODZjLWIxZGYtODU4MGY5OTIzMDJiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTg1MTk0Mzc@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,697,1000_AL_

The Devil’s Rejects survived the shootout with Ruggsville police. After being found guilty of heinous crimes, the Firefly family has been locked away in prison awaiting death row. When Otis Firefly is able to make a bloody escape, he comes up with a plan to free Baby. Then it’s time for this deranged family to wreak havoc on all those who cross their path.

Ever since the film was first announced, fans have been chomping at the bit to see 3 From Hell. Written and directed by Rob Zombie (House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects), this is the third film chronicling the murderous adventures of the Firefly clan. The film begins by giving a brief update of the family surviving the shootout from the end of the previous film and a bit about the trial that took place after. From there, we see Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding nearly 10 years later as they await their death sentence. Eventually the family is able to escape, with the help of a new face. We see as these psychopaths balance trying to stay hidden from the law while still following their murderous nature. The film is as violent as one would expect from a Zombie film, while also incorporating dangerously dark humor fans will love.

The Devil’s Rejects is a much loved film, and it has one of my favorite film endings of all time. With the way that film ended, there was no real need for a sequel. Audiences watched as their favorite murderers went down in a blaze of gunfire, being shot so many times they should have died. When 3 From Hell was announced I wrote an article for The Coda Films discussing different ways the family could be brought back for a third film (you can read that article here). Unfortunately, Zombie went with what I believe is the laziest option by having them simply survive. I do appreciate that there is a joke made about it in the beginning of the film, but there was a missed opportunity to either bring back the Doctor Satan character from House of 1000 Corpses or even connect this film to The Lords of Salem and have the witches bring the family back. That being said, Zombie clearly wanted the second and third films in this trilogy to be more firmly rooted in reality than the first film, which could explain this storytelling choice.

While it’s not a necessary sequel, 3 From Hell still manages to come very close to the magic of its predecessor. Fans get to see more of their favorite psychopaths, Otis and Baby Firefly, while also getting to meet another member of the family. Zombie is eerily successful at writing despicable characters who do horrific things, yet there is something about them that makes you root for them. There are also some very compelling moments of humanity mixed in with all the chaos, especially between Baby and a new character named Sebastian. I believe what holds the film back a bit from reaching the same level as The Devil’s Rejects, aside from the way the family survived, is the lack of a truly formidable opponent. In the previous film the Firefly clan was up against Sheriff Wydell, who was just as sinister and deadly as the Fireflys themselves. In this film there are a few different opponents, but none of them have quite the same presence as Wydell. Without that opposing force, the Fireflys not only don’t have an worthy adversary to go up against, but it also doesn’t give the audience as much of a reason to sympathize with them.

Between the familiar and new characters, the entire cast is pure magic. The highlight is definitely Sheri Moon Zombie (The Lord of Salem, The Devil’s Reject) as Baby Firefly. Fans are familiar with Baby’s playfully homicidal antics. This time around, years in solitary confinement have turned that playfulness into insanity. Moon Zombie gives a stunning portrayal of the character in those moments of insanity, but she also brings a deeper emotional level to Baby, especially during her interactions with Sebastian. Bill Moseley (House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects) also returns as the most brutal of the family, Otis Firefly. Moseley brings much of the same ferociousness to the character of Otis in this film, but the years in prison have changed Otis as well. It may not be as obvious as with Baby, but he has become a bit more cautious as he tries to keep himself and his family out of police hands. A new member of the Firefly clan is Richard Brake (31, Doom) as Winslow Foxworth Coltrane, half-brother to Baby and Otis. This is the first time we have met Winslow, but he clearly has the same extracurricular interests as the rest of the family. Brake’s chemistry with both Moon Zombie and Moseley is a delight to watch, and watching him on screen feels like he’s been part of this franchise from the beginning. Other fantastic performances come from Dee Wallace (The Howling, The Lords of Salem) as Greta the prison guard, Pancho Moler (Candy Corn, 31) as Sebastian, and Jeff Daniel Phillips (The Lords of Salem, 31) as warden Virgil Dallas Harper.

As with every Zombie film, 3 From Hell is both stunning to look at and has great music. The sets, cars, wardrobe, and filming style all transport the viewer back to the films of the 70’s and 80’s. Zombie has always had a great eye for creating that vintage aesthetic, and this film is no different. He also curates an amazing soundtrack of rock classics combined with the gorgeous film score by Zeuss, who also did the score for 31. 3 From Hell also incorporates very realistic practical effects for the various wounds the Firefly family inflicts on their victims, as well as ones inflicted upon them.

3 From Hell is an unnecessary, yet delightful third film in the saga of the savage Firefly clan. The film has it’s flaws, mostly in the way the family is brought back for this film and the lack of a worthy adversary for them to fight against. That being said, Zombie comes so dangerously close to catching the same magic of The Devil’s Rejects that most of his fans will likely be delighted with this film. It has great visuals, fantastic acting, and it’s a bloody good time. Much like every film Zombie has ever made, 3 From Hell is sure to polarize audiences. One thing is for sure, I had a smile on my face during this film from start to finish.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire

MV5BYTIzNTBiOGQtNDI1OC00YTcyLThhOTQtNTk4OTQwZWUxMGUyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTE4NTYyNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,671,1000_AL_

After several years, the Abaddon Hotel will once again be open to the public. This time, famed interactive-show director Russell Wynn is putting on a live performance in the hotel called Insomnia. Wynn invites the new Morning Mysteries crew to come and document the making of his latest show. What they film is even more horrors in this cursed building.

Like the first two films, Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire was written and directed by Stephen Cognetti. The film is a combination of found footage and mocumentary style. As with those first two films, this one takes place in the Abaddon Hotel. Despite the numerous reports of strange happenings, disappearances, and deaths, a new crew is entering the hotel. In the second film we met the new host and crew of Morning Mysteries, the TV segment whose previous host and crew were in the second film. They are sent to the Abaddon Hotel to document the making of a live interactive performance called Insomnia. At first everything seems normal, but then increasingly frightening things happen. What’s worse is the creator of this show, Russell Wynn, seems to know more that he lets on and is determined to finish the show.

Cognetti’s final installment of the Hell House LLC franchise does a fantastic job of upping the stakes. It comes to new revelations fans didn’t already know and brings the tale of the Abaddon Hotel to a close. In some respects, the final act of this film is a bit too neat in how it brings all the various storylines to a end. There is such a thing in horror as too much closure. The very last scene of the film does a nice job of bringing everything full-circle, but it is still too tidy.

One thing Cognetti has been incredibly successful with in all three films is capturing the feel of walking through a haunt. There is a near constant feeling of tension just from the eerie set of the hotel itself. As we follow the camera walking from room to room, you never know if something is going to jump out at you from around the corner. Cognetti also knows how to use subtlety to his favor. The first scares are small and involve a creepy sound or a slight movement of something that shouldn’t move. From there the scares build, often feeling reminiscent of a true haunt when you aren’t sure if something is a prop or a person until they finally jump out and scare you to death.

The filmmakers also wisely chose to go for very simplistic makeup, also much like a haunt. Lake of Fire includes some familiar spooky faces including a creepy woman who likes to lurk in one of the upstairs rooms and the clown mannequin who likes to move around on his own. These chilling characters are created with very minimalistic makeup and masks. The climax of the film utilizes some CGI effects. Much like with the previous films, I don’t think the CGI works as well in this found-footage, lower budget film, but it doesn’t detract from the overall appeal of the film.

Luckily, Lake of Fire continues the trend of great performances for the Hell House LLC films. The entire ensemble cast is fantastic and conveys fear quite well. Gabriel Chytry (Altruism) plays the creator of Insomnia, Russell Wynn. Russell is an interesting character as he clearly is hiding things from the crew. Chytry balances the character between appearing to have sinister intentions and simply being an eccentric director. Elizabeth Vermilyea stars as Morning Mysteries host, Vanessa, in her first feature film role. Vermilyea’s portrayal of Vanessa also plays a balancing act as she attempts to prove herself in a male-dominated industry while also doing what’s best for the people around her rather than her career. Other notable performances come from Sam Kazzi (Law & Order: SVU), Bridgid Abrams (Contributions), Leo DeFriend (Mordeo), Jordan Kaplan (My Alien Girlfriend), and Scott Richey (Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell).

Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire is a fitting end to a trilogy that perfectly captures the feel of walking through a Halloween haunt. Cognetti created an intricate a complicated plot spanning three films, each one raising the stakes and revealing terrifying new information. While the end of the film attempts to tie all the various subplots up too cleanly, the franchise still ends in an impactful way. Of all the films, Lake of Fire may be the least scary, but there are still plenty of spine-chilling moments that will keep you up at night. Along with great performances and creepy effects, it’s hard to escape the thrilling feeling of walking through a haunted attraction. Lake of Fire rounds out a great trilogy that is a must-watch for the Halloween season.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Candy Corn

MV5BMmZiYjVmZTYtNDRmMS00ZTQwLTkyMDctOGViNzRmY2Y3OGQ0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTgyNjIyMTU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,652,1000_AL_

It’s almost Halloween. A group of local punks decide to honor their longtime tradition of pranking the local outcast while he’s at work at the visiting freak show. When the guys take things too far, a ritual is used to bring him back to life. Now he will take his revenge on this sleepy little town.

For me, Candy Corn has been one of my most anticipated horror films of the year.  The film was written, directed, edited, and produced by Josh Hasty (Honeyspider, In Hell Everybody Loves Popcorn: The Making of 31).  Immediately we are introduced to the group of young adults who just love hazing the local outcast, Jacob. The three young men are your typical small-town jerks who get pleasure out of other people’s misery. When they accidentally kill Jacob, it is Jacob’s employer, Dr. Death, who comes up with a plan to bring him back. This introduction to the various characters automatically makes the audience despise the locals and sympathize with Jacob and the freaks. It also plays well to those in the audience who have ever been bullied. When it comes down to it, that’s all those who tormented Jacob really are; a bunch of bullies. Watching them get torn apart is incredibly satisfying.

The film is one part supernatural and one part slasher resulting in a thrilling and bloody ride. This blend of horror subgenres helps to make Candy Corn the perfect fall film. It captures the essence of what horror fans love about this time of year. Part of that Halloween feel also comes from the filmmakers who clearly influenced Hasty in this film. The most obvious influences are John Carpenter and Rob Zombie. From the filming style to the sets to the characters and the music, Hasty shows his passion for the great filmmakers who came before him while still creating a film that is entirely his own. Even though those influences are clearly felt, Hasty still creates a really entertaining and unique mythos around the freak show and the ritual Dr. Death. Hasty wisely leaves some of the mythology vague, yet gives the audience enough to follow what’s happening, which leaves the film open to sequels that expand on that mythos.

It is clear that each artistic decision made by Hasty was chosen to make Candy Corn a new Halloween classic. From the first frames the look of the film transports the audience back to the 70’s. While it isn’t explicitly stated, it is clear from the wardrobe, the cars, and the technology used in the film. Even the somewhat gritty look of the film and the slightly washed-out colors harken back to that era of filmmaking. This time period and look also feel very reminiscent of Carpenter’s and Zombie’s films. One thing that doesn’t work quite as well is the use of freeze frames and removing audio, except for the music, in scenes where people are killed. This is similar to some of Zombie’s filming methods. It looked interesting in a couple scenes, but it is a bit overused throughout the film.

Other artistic elements help to make the film exciting, gory, and fun. The mask worn by Jacob when he returns to exact his revenge is absolutely terrifying. It almost looks as if a jack o’lantern was combined with the Michael Myers mask to create something out of a nightmare. Candy Corn also primarily sticks to gruesome practical effects for the kills. Each kill has a high level of brutality created with the practical effects and minor CGI enhancement, mostly utilized to add extra blood spatter. Then of course there is a fantastic score composed by both Hasty and Michael Booker. It is ominous, yet has a lightness to it that helps to build both suspense and excitement. Much like the plot, the score simply feels like the Halloween season.

This indie film has several faces horror fans know and love. Courtney Gains (Children of the Corn, The Funhouse Massacre) stars as the local sheriff, Sam Bramford. The sheriff tries his best to keep the peace between the local punks and the visiting freak show, but when the bodies start piling up he’s left with no choice. Acting opposite him is Pancho Moler (31, American Fright Fest) as Dr. Death, leader of the freak show. While on the surface he seems stern and mistrusting of outsiders, it is also clear that he cares deeply for his freaks and is sick of seeing them treated like second-class citizens. These two characters play off each other quite well because neither of them is purely good or bad, they simply want to protect the ones they care for. Unfortunately, they care for people on opposing sides. Other notable horror favorites are Tony Todd (Candyman, Final Destination), PJ Soles (Halloween [1978], Carrie), and Sky Elobar (The Greasy Strangler, The Rocker).

When it comes to the group of punks who attack Jacob, the performances are well done, but the casting is a bit confusing. The group is played by Cy Creamer in his feature film debut as Steve, Madison Russ (Junkie) as Carol, Caleb Thomas (The Terror of Hallow’s Eve) as Bobby, and Jimothy Beckholt (Corky and Bob Get a Job!) as Mike. They all do a great job of making the audience dislike their characters, which in turn makes it more fun to watch them die. The issue is it is difficult to figure out what age these kids are supposed to be. Most of the actors could pass for teenagers or very early 20’s, yet Beckholt appears to be older than the rest of the group. It may be a small detail, but in a genre where it’s typically either teens or college kids being slaughtered, that missing piece stood out.

Candy Corn is a love letter to Halloween and classic slashers of the 70’s and 80’s that is sure to be a holiday favorite for horror fans. Hasty’s passion for filmmaking and his influences are clearly felt. It perfectly balances the line between homage and originality resulting in a violent thrill ride with a unique mythology. The cast of horror fan favorites and newcomers all do a fantastic job. Then of course the film looks like it came straight from the 70’s, has gory practical effects, and the score is so fantastic that I can’t wait to buy it. You’ll want to watch the film now and then again for Halloween.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10