slasher

Halloween (2018)

halloween

It’s been 40 years since Michael Myers escaped and wreaked havoc on the quiet town of Haddonfield, IL. In that time the lone survivor of the attack, Laurie Strode, has done everything she can to prepare herself and her daughter for the inevitable day when Michael would escape. The night before Halloween, her greatest wish and biggest nightmare comes true. Michael escapes, and his rampage will take him back to the town where it all began. It’s up to Laurie to finally put an end to it all.

At this point, horror fans should have an idea of where this film stands in the Halloween franchise timeline. If you’re unfamiliar, here is a quick refresher: Halloween (2018) is a direct sequel to the 1978 Halloween. Basically, forget every other story line after that first film, because they are irrelevant to this sequel. The screenplay for this new imagining of Halloween was written by David Gordon Green (Joe), Danny McBride (Your Highness), and Jeff Fradley (Vice Principals) and it was directed by Green. The trio brings an interesting mix of background from more serious films, to comedies, to this being Fradley’s first feature film. As a result, there are some aspects of the film that shine and others that don’t quite live up to the franchise.

One of the single most successful aspects of this film is that the filmmakers managed to make Michael Myers even more sinister and murderous than he was in the first film. He is an unstoppable force and his kills are far more gruesome this time around. The development of Laurie’s character is also fascinating. She becomes obsessed with Michael to the point where it completely takes over her life, and it feels like an authentic direction for her character after the trauma she endured the first time Michael escaped.

The filmmakers decided to include many scenes and Easter eggs throughout the film that act as nods to the original Halloween as well as the sequels, even the Myers-less Halloween III. It makes it fun for the audience to watch closely to see how many hidden gems they can spot. At some point the film begins to feel like there are too many different things going on. There are simply too many characters the film follows, too many subplots, and even the Easter eggs get to be a bit excessive. Some of the issues I have with the film could be attributed to there being three screenwriters with varying backgrounds. They likely all wanted to put their mark on the franchise while also honoring the film they know and love, but the plot ends up being muddled in parts because the focus moves from place to place instead of focusing on one or two characters. The third act is where the filmmakers clearly hit their stride. Not only is it the most exciting part of the film, it also finally delivers what fans have been waiting for these past 40 years. The focus tightens on Laurie and her family as they face off with Michael, and the madness that ensues is sure to delight fans.

Even though it seems like there are too many characters to focus on at times, the entire cast does a phenomenal job. The obvious shining star of the film is Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, True Lies) as the one and only Laurie Strode. Only Curtis could bring to life such an iconic character, and it is great to see her reprise her role. Curtis excels as she portrays Laurie simultaneously traumatized by the events 40 years ago, while also dedicating her life to preparing to kill Michael. Judy Greer (Cursed, 13 Going on 30) also solidifies her own scream queen status as Laurie’s daughter, Karen. The dynamics between the estranged mother-daughter duo allow Greer to deliver a strong performance, especially as she is forced back to her roots in the third act. A smaller role in the film that resulted in some scene-stealing moments shows Jibrail Nantambu (Preacher) as young Julian, who is being babysat on Halloween night. This kid is downright hilarious, even when his night takes a dark turn, resulting in some of the most memorable lines of the film. Honorable mention also goes out to Andi Matichak (Evol), Haluk Bilginer (The International), and Toby Huss (Rescue Dawn).

The artistry in Halloween (2018) is by far one of the highlights of the film. Right away it is impossible to ignore the drool-worthy cinematography, enhancing the tension and beauty of the film. The original film went for more minimal practical effects, primarily relying on blood to emphasize any wounds. This film cranks out the gore, giving fans some fantastic practical effects for grizzly, unique kills by Michael. The effects team really put in the effort to give the audience something that is both horrifying and believable, and they succeeded. On top of that, it’s impossible to talk about Halloween without talking about the score. John Carpenter returned for the music in this film along with his son, Cody Carpenter, and Carpenter’s tour guitarist/godson, Daniel Davies. The three composers did an absolutely fantastic job of bringing the classic theme that fans adore while also breathing some new life into the rest of the score. The score truly brings the film to life in a way that only Carpenter and co. could pull off.

Halloween (2018) is a love letter to John Carpenter’s original that only true fans could pull off. There are moments when the film diverges into to many different directions, but there are many things to love about the film. The film has many fantastic nods to the original franchise, as well as thrilling new material including an even deadlier Michael (complete with more graphic kill scenes) and a badder, stronger Laurie. Even Carpenter, Carpenter, and Davies’ score gives a fresh twist to the familiar. The third act is when fans will truly see the film shine as Michael and Laurie become the focus. While the film may not quite live up to the hype, and perhaps a rewatch after the hype has died down will shed new light, the film still has something for every fan to enjoy.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

***Spoiler/Tip: There is an end credit “scene.” Don’t bother staying around for it. It’s literally just a black screen and you can hear Michael breathing, that’s it. You’re welcome.

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The Ranger

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After a traumatic childhood, a teen girl lives a transient punk lifestyle with her friends. A police incident forces the group of punks to find a place to hide out. They go back to the place of the girl’s trauma where they meet the park ranger. Things go from bad to worse when the friends realize this isn’t your friendly neighborhood ranger.

This thrilling flick is the work of director Jenn Wexler and co-writer Giaco Furino, both making their feature film debut. At first glance this film seems like a typical popcorn slasher. While it does have many of the elements making it fun and exciting to watch, it goes even deeper than that. For one, the film has some great character development. A large portion of the beginning of the film allows the audience to really get to know the characters and care for them, especially the teen girl whose cabin they go to. All of the characters are flawed as well, making them more believable and relatable. There is a great aspect of the character development that explores both dealing with trauma and finding your place in the world. It is something that speaks to many different types of audiences, while still giving an entertaining story.

Another extremely successful aspect of the film is the treatment of LGBTQ characters. It is common in horror films for the LGBTQ characters to fit some stereotype or have their being gay be the focus of who they are as a person. In The Ranger there is a gay couple and the best part about them is that I didn’t even realize they were gay until a ways into the film. They feel like real people and, aside from them having a sweet couple moment or two, the filmmakers don’t focus on the fact that they are gay.

The only downside is that the character development may go on a little too long. When the action starts it almost feels rushed because so much time is spent on what happens before the kids even meet the ranger. There is also very little development of the ranger himself. In many ways it works. The ranger’s strange behavior is a mystery, which makes sense because the audience knows as much about the ranger as the teens do. Yet I can’t help wishing I knew more about some of the more bizarre things he does.

This film is filled with outstanding performances from the entire cast. The clear standout is Chloe Levine (The Transfiguration, The OA) as Chelsea. Chelsea went through a childhood trauma that lead her to finding a home in the punk scene. It’s fascinating to see how Levine portrays Chelsea as a young woman who is finding her way in the word. She also does a superb job of showing the audience Chelsea is a survivor who can adapt to any situation thrown at her. Another great performance comes from Jeremy Holm (House of Cards, Mr. Robot) as the ranger. Even when the ranger is being perfectly pleasant, Holm still manages to bring an edge to his performance. It is like he is a bear trap ready to spring at any provocation. When he finally does snap, Holm makes the ranger an entertaining and derange killer. Honorable mention goes to the rest of the punks including Granit Lahu (The Sinner), Jeremy Pope, Bubba Weiler (Puzzle), and Amanda Grace Benitez (All Cheerleaders Die), all of whom are perfect punks.

The artistry of the film is intriguing as well. As with any good slasher flick, there is a decent amount of blood and gore in this film. The practical effects are very well done. There is a high level of gore, but it is done in a very realistic way. This is great because there isn’t anything that feels over-the-top or overtly fake like in many classic slasher films. The music in the film also elevates it to a heightened level of art. The punk rock blends perfectly with the style and imagery to create something quite stunning to watch.

The Ranger is equal parts carnage, survival, and punk rock. It has all the appeal of an eighties slasher flick, but it also tells a more complex story. The plot allows for fascinatingly flawed characters to be thrust into extreme circumstances. This leaves room for great character development that explores the many facets of human nature, how people deal with trauma, and the will to survive. Sprinkle in a great killer and punk rock music and you get a very well made film. There may be a bit of room for improvement when it comes to the pacing of the film, but for a directorial and writing debut from Wexler and Furina, it is definitely a strong start.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

 

Secret Santa

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A large family comes together for Christmas. Like many other families, this one is broken and estranged and dysfunctional. As they all come together around the table for Christmas dinner the fighting begins. But these aren’t your ordinary family arguments. The fights turn violent and this average holiday get-together becomes a bloody, chaotic massacre.

Everyone believes they have a weird family. Some family members you love and others you can’t stand. Writer/director Adam Marcus (Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, Texas Chainsaw 3D) and co-writer Debra Sullivan (Conspiracy, Texas Chainsaw 3D) take something we are all familiar with and amplify it. This family has deep seeded issues due to divorce, remarriage, success, failure, and of course a large dose of sibling rivalry. When something happens that turns the family members into crazed, bloodthirsty killers the excitement really kicks in. The dynamics between various family members are some of the highlights of the film because many audience members will see themselves and their families in the film. The hilarious dialogue helps to highlight those strained relationships and it even carries into some of the kill scenes. As truths are revealed and the non-crazy family members try to fight for their lives, things get very thrilling and hilarious.

There are a few breakout performances in this film that will stick with you long after the credits roll. A early standout is Nathan Hedrick (Art of War, Seven Deadly Sins) as Jackson, the outspoken horndog half brother. Hedrick’s performance is totally over the top, but it works for his character. He’s loud, he’s crazy, and when he becomes violent he has some hilarious scenes. A Leslie Kies (The Newsroom, Jane the Virgin) shines as April. April is the perfect child among all the siblings. On the surface she seems too perfect, but as the film progresses Kies shows April’s hidden flaws and secrets in a compelling way. The true star of this film, in my opinion, is Ryan Leigh Seaton (NerdGirls, Dogs & Me) as Penny. Penny is the black sheep of the family and Seaton plays her as the sarcastic sibling who hates everyone incredibly well. Seaton also has some of the most hilarious lines and her delivery will leave you in stitches. While the entire cast is really fun to watch, Seaton is likely the one who will be remembered the most.

It’s safe to say that there is a lot of blood in this film. Fans of gore will not be disappointed. On top of that, there are some really unique kills. The film even opens with a fight from the point of view of a snow globe, which ends up being used as a weapon. This allows the filmmakers to show some very creative effects. All the attacks, from severed heads to cut Achilles tendons, are grotesque and thrilling.  Not only are these kills creative and even funny at times, but the practical effects look amazing as well. There is a level of campiness with the amount of blood and gore, but it fits in very well with the tone of the film.

Secret Santa is the holiday horror film to watch when you want to see a family that is more dysfunctional than your own. It is equal parts carnage and laughs, with outrageous characters that have you laughing and screaming from start to finish. This is the kind of film that you go into knowing it is meant to be humorous, gory, and campy. Slasher horror comedies with this kind of humor and gore can be an acquired taste, but they can also be some of the most fun experiences you’ll have in watching a film. This film will clearly become a holiday staple for horror fans.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Better Watch Out

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In a typical, quiet suburban neighborhood, Ashley goes to babysit twelve-year-old Luke. The cold, wintry night starts out like any other night babysitting, but then intruders break into the house. Ashley does what she can to keep Luke out of harm’s way, but this is no ordinary break-in. It soon becomes clear to Ashley that there is something much stranger going on and she is going to have to fight to survive the night.

It seems like every year there is a new Christmas-themed horror film released to the masses. Some of them become instant classics, while others fade into obscurity. Better Watch Out definitely has the potential to become one of those instant classics. The plot starts out like your everyday slasher. It has the standard formula of a babysitter being terrorized by a mystery person (or persons) and having to protect the child they are babysitting. The terrorizing begins with creepy phone calls and quickly escalates from there. Without going into spoiler-filled details, what makes this film stand apart from other films with a similar plot is all the surprising twists and turns. There is always something more going on than meets the eye and it keeps the audience guessing right up until the credits roll. Many of these surprises allow the filmmakers to inject humor in creative and hilarious ways. The film also gives nods to other holiday flicks that we all grew up watching.

Apart from having a great plot, this film also has fantastic performances. Olivia DeJonge (The Visit, The Sisterhood of Night) plays the babysitter, Ashley. While this character fits more into the usual archetype commonly seen in babysitter-slashers, DeJonge makes it her own. DeJonge especially shines in how she portrays Ashley’s strength despite the odds being stacked against her. The true highlight of this film is Levi Miller (Pan, A Wrinkle in Time) as Luke. While Luke tries to be serious and appear older, since he has a crush on Ashley, he often brings laughs when he gets exasperated and his puberty-stricken voice cracks. Miller delivers a performance that is equals parts shocking, hilarious, and intriguing. Both DeJonge and Miller carry the film and make it all the more enjoyable to watch.

Being a holiday thriller means there is a healthy amount of blood throughout the film. The filmmakers don’t shy away from blood, yet there is a noticeable lack of practical effects in the film. When a person is stabbed the audience is shown the blood, but the wound is never visible. Many of the shots are clearly deliberately set up to avoid showing any real gore. This seems like an odd choice for an R-rated film. Whether this is a conscious decision to not focus on gore or if it is a budget issue, I can’t say, but I believe by not showing any wounds, the filmmakers inadvertently draw more attention to them. When I watch a slasher flick, I expect to see when a knife enters a person’s body and that is one of many things not shown in Better Watch Out. This absence of gore is the one true drawback to the film.

Better Watch Out breaks the mold of the typical holiday slasher and is sure to be on everyone’s holiday must-watch list. It takes everything audiences love about the holidays and everything they love about horror to create a fun new Christmas movie. It is clever, entertaining, and exceedingly well acted. If there had been a bit more gore, I believe the film would have been a near perfect slasher. As it is, the film is still highly entertaining and one I would recommend to anyone looking for something different to watch this Christmas.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

The 6th Friend

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Six friends throw a party for their college graduation. When an uninvited guest shows up things get out of control, leading to traumatic events. Five years later the women agree to meet again to reconnect and try to move on from what happened. As soon as night falls it becomes clear that the girls are not alone. Is it the same uninvited guest coming for revenge, or is it something much more sinister?

The 6th Friend has a lot of potential. The story is simple enough, but still fun and interesting. The filmmakers do a great job of building the suspense and paranoia once the friends are gathered at the cabin and realize they are being hunted. While the characters can be a bit stereotypical, they are still enjoyable. From there, however, the film goes a bit downhill. The filmmakers try to generate hysteria by causing confusion. Is the killer the same man from 5 years ago, is it his ghost, is it a demon, or is it maybe even a copycat killer? This is great and would have made for an intriguing and suspenseful film. Unfortunately, there are two huge mistakes made that give away the “big twist.” I won’t get too much into what that is, because I don’t like to give spoilers, but I will say I figured everything out very early on in the film (certain elements even before the opening credits). With just a few minor changes the plot could be elevated in a way that makes every twist and turn much more thrilling.

As I mentioned before, the characters can sometimes fall into certain archetypes commonly seen in horror films. This is especially apparent in much of the dialogue. That being said, there are still many instances of well-written banter between the characters that is both humorous and charming. Much of it depends on the acting. While in general the performances are fine and there is great on-screen chemistry between the six friends, some of the performances leave a bit to be desired. For me the strongest performance came from Tania Nolan (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) as Sahara. There is something about her performance that comes across so natural on the screen. I believe she is Sahara and knows these women and has been friends with them for many years. While none of the performances by the other five women could be considered bad, per se, there is one role that stands out to me as the least enjoyable. Chantelle Albers (Moo Moo and the Three Witches) plays Melissa. Her mother owns the cabin the friends are staying at, and she is an aspiring starlet. Watching Albers in the role I can’t help but feel that she plays Melissa a bit exaggerated. This may be a conscious decision since Melissa is trying to use her tragic past as a means to get into the acting world, but there are times where Albers goes a bit over the top. While none of the remaining performances stand out as being terrible, but they don’t stand out as being amazing either. They are good enough to enjoy watching the film.

This is a film that doesn’t have many visual effects. The biggest effect involves distorting shots when the killer is in view. This technique emphasizes the notion that the killer could potentially be a supernatural force rather than a flesh and blood murderer. This would be an effective tool if, as I mentioned before, the clues to the truth were less obvious. One big positive is the design for the mask the killer wears. It almost looks like a skull within a skull, and it is downright creepy. My only complaint about the mask is that I wish it was in the movie more. Aside from scenes involving the mask and the killer, there is one other part that stands out as having amazing effects. That doesn’t mean that the filmmakers didn’t use simple tricks to create terror. There is a segment where a few of the friends are running through the woods to get away from the killer, then one of them gets caught in a noose. It creates such a great amount of suspense and is also quite well done, as it appears to be a real hanging. This particular scene is likely the most intense sequence of events that occurs in the entire film.

The 6th Friend is a film that many viewers may feel a bit blasé about. It isn’t terrible, but it isn’t particularly thrilling or scary either. If anything, I found the scenes involving humor to stand out more than the scenes of terror. The story is fine, the performances are fine, and the villain has a very unsettling mask. With just a few minor adjustments I truly believe this film could be much more frightening and exciting. As it is now, it is a  fun, light thriller that audiences will likely enjoy well enough. However, with the many amazing films to come out so far in 2017, it may quickly be forgotten.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10 (no pun intended)

Lake Bodom

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In 1960 four teenagers were murdered at Lake Bodom in Finland. Decades later, two teenage boys invite two girls to go camping with them. What these girls don’t know is that they are going to the same spot where those teens lost their lives so many years ago. One of the boys is determined to test his theory about who committed the murders. Once the group arrive at the lake things quickly go down a dark and twisted path that some may not survive.

One of the most interesting aspects of this film is that the murders in 1960 are true. Four teenagers went camping at Lake Bodom, and only one survived, although he suffered terrible injuries and mental trauma. To this day the murders remain unsolved. Instead of doing what most films do with true events, and trying to recreate them on film, the filmmakers of Lake Bodom decided to simply use that as a springboard for their story. The previous murders are acknowledged and used as the motivation for this new group to camp in the same spot. From there the plot dives into intrigue, deception, betrayal, and many equally interesting layers.

What makes Lake Bodom stand out to me is that every time you think you have things figured out, a new layer to the story is revealed. While I love that about the film because it keeps the audience guessing, it also felt like there may be one too many layers to the plot. If the filmmakers had held back just a little bit the film would have a stronger overall story. It is almost as if they try to put too many twists and turns into the plot to the point where it is hard to determine where the filmmakers wanted to go with the film. Despite that, I will say the layer that could be taken out does at least make audiences call into question if what they see is real or not.

Lake Bodom is the most visually stunning film I have seen so far at the Phoenix Film Festival/International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival. Every single shot looks like it is a work of art. The cinematography in the forest setting is not only gorgeous, but is done in a way that looks eerie as well. The filmmakers even do a great job of filming primarily at night, but there is enough light to clearly see what is happening. This is not easy to do without the artificial light being completely obvious. While watching the film it just looks like moonlight, and that only adds to the creepy atmosphere and beautiful style of the film.

The entire cast of Lake Bodom is amazing. Nelly Hirst-Gee (If You Love) portrays the innocent and broken Ida. She is the damaged one of the group and has to go through more of an emotional transformation to find her own strength, and Hirst-Gee does an amazing job in that role. Mimosa Willamo (Headfirst) plays Nora, the strongest personality in the group. Willamo stands out because, much like Hirst-Gee as Ida, she reveals the many aspects of Nora in a compelling way. The two male leads, Santeri Helinheimo Mäntylä (Bitwisards) as Atte and Mikael Gabriel (Flowers of Evil) as Elias, also give excellent performances. Both male characters can come across as creepy and sweet in turn, and both actors convey that very well. One thing they all have in common is that at different points during the film you call into question each of their motives and intentions.

Since this is more of a slasher film, most of the effects are on the minimal side. There isn’t a ton of blood and gore. There is enough blood to feel realistic for the injuries, but not so much that it turns into an over-the-top bloodbath. The kills themselves are also fairly minimal. There is really only one death that is a bit more unique. This one stands out because the way this character is killed fits in so well with what they say just before their death. This is clearly a deliberate choice by the filmmakers to give the audience a bit of an “ah-ha” moment. Also, by keeping things simple with the effects, it forces audiences to focus more on the story at hand.

Lake Bodom is a film filled with murder, betrayal, obsession, and deception. The many different aspects of the film add a lot of intrigue, but it also makes the film seem convoluted at times. Despite that it is still a stunningly filmed story with superb acting from the four leads. It also gives audiences a great mystery that twists and turns in ways that will keep you guessing from start to finish. This is another film that will appeal to many different types of horror fans and non-horror fans alike.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Fear, Inc.

A horror movie buff has his friends come in from out of town to celebrate Halloween. He wants to experience big scares, but finds the typical haunted houses and mazes predictable. A stranger tells him about a mysterious company called Fear, Inc. that will create terrifying scares catered to what he fears. Despite his friends warnings, the horror fan calls the company. It doesn’t take long for him to realize that he has made a grave mistake. He has put his friends and himself in peril as this dangerous company plays its wicked game.

What made this film stand out to me is that it strikes a cord with true horror fans. The discussions the friends have and the movies referenced are all parts of conversations we have had with other horror fans. There are also quite a few hidden gems throughout the film. They are almost like little inside jokes for genre fans to notice. An example of this is when the two lead males dress up as Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees for Halloween. The reason this is hilarious is because one of those two actors was in the movie Freddy vs. Jason. I almost died laughing when I saw them in costume and made the connection.

In terms of the overall story, this film reminded me a bit of The Houses October Built. Both feature characters that are disillusioned by what Halloween haunted houses and corn mazes have to offer in terms of scares. As a result, they look for something more intense and terrifying. This leads the characters down a path they wish they hadn’t gone down. It plays into the idea of people wanting bigger scares to get the adrenaline going, but how far should it really go?

Fear, Inc. did a great job of making sure the audience understood the company manufacturing scares was not on the up and up. They will do whatever it takes to scare the participants, even if that means by physical means. The lead character thinks it’s all fun and games, but when it clicks in his head that the gore might be real things take a turn. The film quickly goes from more of a comedic style to an intense thriller. The end of the film is what really makes Fear, Inc. shine through. The filmmakers managed to create an ending that felt familiar to horror fans, but it was also something new and exciting that kept the audience guessing. The only downfall to the plot that comes to mind is a few minor questions I have (I don’t necessarily want to call them plot holes) about how certain things were achieved.

This was a film that had an all-around great cast you could tell had fun making the film. Lucas Neff (Raising Hope, Glitch) was quite lovable as the lead, Joe. I used to watch Raising Hope, and I almost didn’t even recognize him in this film. Not only did he physically look different, but he plays such a laid-back character compared to how I was used to seeing him. I loved watching Neff portray Joe as this carefree guy that thinks everything is a game until things go too far, and then we get to see his more intense side. Caitlin Stasey (Reign, All Cheerleaders Die) was also delightful as Joe’s girlfriend, Lindsey. She stood out to me because of how she could change her character’s disposition at the flick of a switch, while still making it seem natural.

Since this is a horror film made to appease genre fans, there was of course a healthy amount of gore. The filmmakers were very clever about how they showed the blood and guts. Much of what we see looks better than a low budget horror film, but also not too realistic. It is this odd in-between area where it could possibly be real, but it could be fake as well. It helped us stay in the same mindset as Joe so the audience is never sure if what we are seeing is real or all part of an act. This helped us to try to figure things out along with Joe.

If I had to say one thing about this movie it’s that it is fun. This film was a perfect homage to the horror genre and the loyal fans. Fear, Inc. is a film that makes you laugh and gasp in turn, and it keeps you guessing from start to finish. It is a movie that will be added to my list of  must-watch films for Halloween. If you are a true fan of horror, this is not a film you should pass up on. It may not be scary, and there may be one or two things that could have used a bit more explaining, but it is the most fun I’ve had watching a horror movie in  while.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10