31 Days of Horror: Day 24 – You’re Next (2011)

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Director: Adam Wingard

Cast: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, A.J. Bowen, Joe Swanberg

Screenplay: Simon Barrett

95 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity.

Man, I did not want to see this movie. The trailer just completely turned me off. I remember sitting in the theater thinking, “Yay! Someone made The Strangers again. Blegh!” I didn’t like The Strangers.

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When I finally did get around to watching You’re Next, I was blown away. This movie essentially kicked ass. It comes down to your basic home invasion movie, except that I was actually engaged fairly quickly by it. I found the plot to have twists and turns that, while often unrealistic, still kept me in.

It is all about the Davison family. Patriarch and matriarch Paul and Aubrey are celebrating a major anniversary and the family has gathered at the homestead for a get-together. Little do they know that they are about to become prey to masked assailants guerilla-style invading the home and trying to do away with them one at a time. However, the assailants and the Davisons do not anticipate son Crispian (A.J. Bowen, The Signal, The Sacrament) to have a new girlfriend with a particular skill set in this film from director Adam Wingard (V/H/S, The ABCs of Death).

I liked this movie. I feel like I am surprising even me by saying. I had a good time watching it. In hindsight, that shouldn’t bother me, as I loved Wingard’s work in V/H/S and even his short Q is for Quack in The ABCs of Death.

Sharni Vinson handles her roles nicely as Erin, the girlfriend with the past. Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies, V/H/S)  also gives good work as Drake, Crispian’s brother who harbors ill will for past events.

The action here was pretty excellent and I actually felt unsure of how this whole situation would play out. The only major flaw was that we had characters at the beginning that we knew would die based on how little we knew about them. The madness begins fairly early on during the family dinner, and I felt as though that was a real loss as we were just beginning to unravel this family as individual characters as opposed to pieces of meat to be picked off.

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That being said, Wingard handles the script, from writer Simon Barrett (The Guest, A Horrible Way to Die) very well, and the pacing never once falters throughout the entirety of the film. As I finished the film, I wanted more (in a good way)! I feel like the film has been set up for a sequel, which doesn’t make sense considering the events that take place, not to mention the difficulty in treading any new ground, but for now, I’ll be content with this movie. It was a hell of a lot of fun and a solid thriller to boot.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 23 – Horror Express (1972)

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Director: Eugenio Martin

Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Telly Savalas, Alberto de Mendoza, Helga Line, George Rigaud, Victor Israel

Screenplay: Arnaud d’Usseu, Julian Zimmet

88 mins. Rated R.

In the world of horror, few performers are so widely recognized together as Christopher Lee (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dark Shadows) and Peter Cushing (Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Horror of Dracula). The two practically led the horror renaissance of the 1950s and 1960s with their sensualized and gory takes on classic universal monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster with Hammer Horror Films. I recently found the 1972 film Horror Express among my unwatched film pile (it’s a pretty big damn pile, mind you) and I felt like I had to take it on considering the kind of weight these two actors carried.

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The entirety of Horror Express takes place on a train from China to Moscow. The brilliant Professor Sir Alexander Saxton (Lee) is taking a specimen found in Manchuria back to Europe when it, believed to be the Missing Link, awakens and terrorizes the passengers on board. Saxton alongside Dr. Wells (Cushing) will stop at nothing to catch the creature. Now, if only they can convince Captain Kazan (Telly Savalas, TV’s Kojak, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) that they are telling the truth.

This movie has more of a cult following than of an actual fanbase. It was not particularly popular during its initial theatrical release. I personally found it to be much more a bore than I had hoped for. As always, Lee’s performance captures the audience, but the years have not been kind to the film’s technical aspects. Perhaps it would be more likable if it hadn’t been so degraded by forty years of damage to the print. It certainly has some interesting moments and the tension of the enclosed cabins of the train, but I felt like very little plot progression actually took place.

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All in all, movies like Horror Express exist to entertain. They aren’t looking to take away a trophy. That being said, they still have to provide thrills, which this train was lacking.

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 22 – Monkey Shines (1988)

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Director: George A. Romero

Cast: Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil, Joyce Van Patten, Christine Forrest, Stephen Root, Stanley Tucci, Janine Turner, William Newman

Screenplay: George A. Romero

113 mins. Rated R.

 

George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Bruiser) has tackled zombies. I think we all attest to that. He has mastered camp horror (please check out his work with Stephen King in Creepshow, awesome film). There are a lot of things he can do with a horror film. Maybe a killer monkey just isn’t one of those things.

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I recently discovered Monkey Shines, a film I had been looking for since I saw the VHS cover some years back at a rental store (remember all those things?) and I was finally able to watch it.

Allan Mann (Jason Beghe, TV’s Chicago P.D., Thelma & Louise) is a successful athlete who is run down in a traffic collision and becomes a quadriplegic. Suffering from depression and the inability to cope with this new life, Allan is gifted with a monkey from his friend Geoffrey (John Pankow, TV’s Mad About You, Morning Glory). The monkey, named Ella, has been trained by gifted support animal trainer Melanie (Kate McNeil, The House on Sorority Row, Glitter). Unfortunately, Ella forms an obsessive and violent bond with Allan and begins to kill those around him. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.

I think the major flaw with Monkey Shines is exactly what doomed it from the start. It is a horror film that lacks horror. Here is a film with an animal that doesn’t seem all that dangerous, and it doesn’t convince me that Ella is. It isn’t easy to convince us that an animal with such an affectionate bond with a human can alter that love so quickly. We have stories that have succeeded where Monkey Shines failed. We have Stephen King’s novel Cujo, an excellent little exercise in creative horror about a dog who becomes the embodiment of fear when rabies (or as King hints at, pure evil) inhabits its body. Cujo (the book, not the movie) was an achievement. Monkey Shines was not. It just plain isn’t scary. Some of it just comes off as funny.

We don’t have any horrible performances. We get some early work from Stephen Root (TV’s King of the Hill, The Lone Ranger) and Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games, Transformers: Age of Extinction) here, but little more.

Although it feels tough to fully blame writer/director Romero, who had his finished film taken away from him multiple times and finally after being completed, the studio put a different ending in that makes it feel very un-Romero.

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Monkey Shines was taglined as “An Experiment in Fear.” I had my hypothesis. I had my conclusion. This is one experiment we need not try again.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

 

For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 21 – The ABCs of Death (2012)

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Director: Kaare Andrews, Angela Bettis, Helene Cattet, Ernesto Diaz Espinoza, Jason Eisener, Bruno Forzani, Adrian Garcia Bogliano, Xavier Gens, Jorge Michel Grau, Lee Hardcastle, Noboru Iguchi, Thomas Cappelen Malling, Anders Morgenthaler, Yoshihiro Nishimura, Banjong Pisanthanakun, Simon Rumley, Marcel Sarmiento, Jon Schnepp, Srdjan Spasojevic, Timo Tjahjanto, Andrew Traucki, Nacho Vigalondo, Jake West, Ti West, Ben Wheatley, Adam Wingard, Yudai Yamaguchi

Cast: Pablo Guisa Koestinger, Steve Berens, Erik Aude, Lisa Lynch, Joshua Diolosa, Dallas Malloy

Screenplay: Ant Timpson, Nacho Vigalondo, Adrian Garcia Bogliano, Ernesto Diaz Espinoza, Marcel Sarmiento, Simon Rumley, Jon Schnepp, Dimitrije Vojnov, Yudai Yamaguchi, Noboru Iguchi, Simon Barrett, Ti West, Kaare Andrews, Bruno Forzani, Helene Cattet, Yoshihiro Nishimura, Srdjan Spasojevic, Lee Hardcastle

129 mins. Not Rated.

 

Well, now that’s out of the way, and I can begin to talk to you about The ABCs of Death. Wow, what a movie. A hell of a daunting task. Basically, 26 directors were each assigned a letter of the alphabet and told to create a short film about death that connects to a word starting with that letter. The films are then played A to Z with the film first followed by the word and letter. The directors chosen were given full creative control which was used. Oh yeah, it was used. The types of films range from the gory to the cheesy to the downright disturbing and confusing. They aren’t all winners. In fact, most of them fall flat, but the experiment is a notable one. I was absolutely disappointed with the finished product merely because many of the directors didn’t really put forth the effort and understand that they are part of a collective.

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I feel like I am going to have to forgo the traditional review in lieu of timing purposes and just outline the major winners and losers here.

C is for Cycle is a winner purely because of its time-constrained uniquely bizarre tale. D is for Dogfight is absolutely incredible and likely the best short here, even if it feels out of place. L is for Libido is neither good nor bad but certainly memorable and shockingly disturbing. It kind of made me feel sick. O is for Orgasm is interesting in both its visual style and its placement in the film, and it is haunting and a little visceral. Q is for Quack is a very memorable short that really could only belong in this film as it depicts the filmmakers themselves trying to decide on a word and a short linked to the impossible Q. T is for Toilet is directed by Lee Hardcastle and was actually a winner of a contest to decide the letter T. It is an animated short about a child’s fear of the toilet and is pretty comical and creepy. U is for Unearthed is a vampire tale from the point of view of the creature. Y is for Youngbuck bothered me as well. It juxtaposed calm moments with gruesome acts and I couldn’t handle it.

Now, as far as bad goes, I would say the rest of them, but really awful to mind (F is for Fart, G is for Gravity, H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion, K is for Klutz, P is for Pressure, Z is for Zetsumetsu) shorts appear that just disappoint and disturb without actually providing any real thrills. The cream of the crap, though, is the short M is for Miscarriage from Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Sacrament). This is a piece of shit and truly disappointing that someone who is somewhat renowned in the horror community made something as awful and unstoppably offensive as this. It was lazy as well. Not even trying to provide entertainment.

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Okay, so what I am getting at here is that The ABCs of Death is definitely an interesting idea for a film, but I think inside I knew it would fail. There are just too many chances to fail here, and the bad outweigh the good. If you want my opinion, I think the film is worth viewing…once, and I mean only if you have the stomach to sit through some of the disgusting moments of the film. Warning has been given.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 20 – Children of the Corn (1984)

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Director: Fritz Kiersch

Cast: Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton, R.G. Armstrong, John Franklin, Courtney Gains

Screenplay: George Goldsmith

92 mins. Rated R.

 

I love Stephen King. I do. He has been one of the few authors in my lifetime that have inspired me to do what I do. I am currently reading his entire library of work chronologically, and I just find his writing fascinating. I was a big fan of the short story Children of the Corn from his collection Night Shift. It was terrifying at the core. The story, about a bunch of children in the town of Gatlin who turn on their parents and slaughter the adults of the town before forming their own society to serve the mythical deity He Who Walks Behind the Rows, is just so eerie and yet told in such a way that it becomes believable, which in turn makes it more horrifying. The film version is an inverse. It tells the story in such a way that it becomes wholly unrealistic and sometimes laughable.

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It stars Peter Horton (TV’s thirtysomething, The Baby-Sitters Club) as Burt and Linda Hamilton (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Dante’s Peak) as his wife Vicky. Of the children performing, the only two who warrant any such fear are Isaac (John Franklin, The Addams Family, Python) and his servant Malachai (Courtney Gains, Back to the Future, Faster).

Horton’s portrayal of Burt is totally fallable and silly. He comes across as not even believing himself when he reads lines. Hamilton as well is given next to nothing in terms of character arc (her entire character stripped down to being Daphne in any episode of Scooby-Doo). The children cannot control their scenes and the film ultimately falls apart before any supernatural elements, like a rotoscoped demonic shade deity, enter the field. It is no wonder that director Fritz Kiersch and screenwriter George Goldsmith have gotten nothing back from Hollywood, but that’s what you get when you completely throw out the original script from the source material’s creator.

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It is disappointing to see such terrific source material mangled in such a way, but the film is just not all that good. Well, I guess when compared to the sequels…Oscar anyone?

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 19 – Dark Shadows (2012)

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloe Grace Moretz, Bella Heathcote

Screenplay: Seth Grahame-Smith

113 mins. Rated PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking.

 

For horror fans, the 1966 television series Dark Shadows is a pretty big deal. For soap opera fans, it is also a big deal. A dark brooding and eventually supernatural based soap opera, Dark Shadows was so far ahead of its time that it didn’t really take off during its initial run. It didn’t really take off during its revival either. In 2012, director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Frankenweenie) brought a reimagining to the big screen from a screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith (TV’s The Hard Times of RJ Berger, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). It, too, did not take off. So how does a movie with this much going for it, a new and promising screenwriter, a talented director behind the camera, and explosive leading man Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Into the Woods) as a lead, fail so much? Truth be told, I rather enjoyed it for all the reasons you should.

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Depp portrays Barnabus Collins, a privileged man who took too much for granted. He loved and left women like the voluptuous Angelique (Eva Green, TV’s Penny Dreadful, Casino Royale), and he paid dearly for it, for unbeknownst to Collins, Angelique was a witch who cursed his beloved Josette (Bella Heathcote, In Time, Not Fade Away) to walk off a cliff and turned Barnabus himself into a vampire and had him buried for all eternity. Around 200 years later, Barnabus is awakened by random happenstance and returns to his beloved home of Collinwood Manor to find distant relative Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer, Scarface, The Family) and her family residing. Collins’ family name has been tarnished by the still living Angelique who has taken the town of Collinsport for herself. As Barnabus tries to put the pieces of his afterlife in order and bring his family back to their stance in the community, he is bewitched by the Collins’ new family tutor and caregiver Victoria, who bares a striking resemblance to Josette.

This movie succeeds at what it is trying to be. Much like the adaptation of Rock of Ages from a few years ago, this film is not rounding the bases to Oscar glory. All it wants is to remind you of cheese from which the original Dark Shadows bore and is what it is so beloved for today. Dark Shadows was not a great television series ever, but we love it. Why? Because it is so much fun. Exactly. Not because it was filled with nuanced performances, but because it was filled with such lovable (or unlovable) characters. I think people didn’t do their research for this film (surprise, surprise, those same people didn’t expect Sweeney Todd to be a musical) and they expected something dark and brooding, perhaps for akin to Edward Scissorhands or Sleepy Hollow, when really this is more attuned to Beetlejuice and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, being dark comedies with dark undertones.

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Now the film is far from perfect. Some of the performances are wooden, while others come off as over goofy. The cinematography is nothing particularly special. The music and visual effects are rather fun, but the film isn’t going to be remembered or rediscovered as perfect, but it is just a good time. This is a movie I should have expected to fail, but I had faith in moviegoers. If you saw this during its initial release, I advise you to give it another go, because it wasn’t all that bad. It is, ironically, rather lively.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 18 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)

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Director: George A. Romero

Cast: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley, Bill Cardille, Kyra Schon

Screenplay: John A. Russo, George A. Romero

96 mins. Not Rated.

 

Night of the Living Dead is perhaps the most famous name in the world of zombies, as is its creator George A. Romero (Bruiser, The Dark Half). He brought the modern zombie into the fold. Previously, the term “zombie” was used in voodoo films for someone under the control of a curse or possession. The modern-day cannibalistic zombie is a product of 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, which is the story of a night of terror as an unknown source causes the dead to rise up and feed on the flesh of the living. Much of the zombie lore was created in this film, and much more was refined ten years later in the first sequel, Dawn of the Dead. Barbara (Judith O’Dea) is one of our leads, who is visiting her father’s grave with her brother Johnny when they are suddenly attacked and Johnny is killed. Barbara escapes toward an abandoned farm house where she meets Ben (Duane Jones) and several other survivors. Now, they must hold up in the house while hordes of the undead prey on them in a night of shocking terror.

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I love this movie. I love this premise. The originality is less noticeable in today’s age, but this movie was incredibly envelope-pushing. The idea to have a film limited to one very comfortable place and having such horrible things happen to these people as they deal with an unimaginable situation coming to light before their eyes is just staggering. The fact that George A. Romero was able to take this story and use it to show the real fears of the 1960s was another reason it stuck with us.

Lead actor Duane Jones also began a recurring theme of strong black characters in Romero’s Dead series. This would continue throughout the original trilogy.

While the cast and crew are mostly comprised of people who knew Romero is noticeable, but the performances are still strong enough to carry the narrative.

I remember reading an article from Reader’s Digest written around the time of the release where the writer warned against viewing the film as it was cannibal pornography, promoting the consumption of human flesh. I remember finding it to be an odd fear. That was 1968. The world was changing. The space race was currently being run. We had fears of government secrets, wars on the horizon. It was a scary time to be an America. It was a scary time to be human.

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Night of the Living Dead began a series (or several series) of zombie/undead films and franchises that still exist and influence popular culture and cinema today. It still stands the time as a film that touches on fear, paranoia, and death in a way that few films since have been able to touch on. I love this movie, much more now than when I was a kid. I don’t entirely think younger audiences will understand that impact, but I don’t think that it feels aged. It is still relevant to our world, and it is still majorly unnerving.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 17 – Friday the 13th (1980)

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Director: Sean S. Cunningham

Cast: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Jeannine Taylor, Kevin Bacon, Mark Nelson, Robbi Morgan, Ari Lehman

Screenplay: Victor Miller

95 mins. Rated X.

 

I hit another classic on my watch list. The film that said to people everywhere, “Hey everyone! I’m Halloween again!” My review of Friday the 13th comes right now!

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Friday the 13th is an age-old classic. It also happens to be a movie that continues to surprise to this day. If you haven’t watched it, go buy it and watch it. It isn’t perfect by any means, but I’m warning you, there may be possible SPOILERs so look sharp.

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The movie takes place…on Friday the 13th. Years ago, Camp Crystal Lake was shut down after several murders and other crimes were committed on the premises. Now, years later, the camp is reopening with the help of several attractive 20-somethings (among them Kevin Bacon, TV’s The Following, Apollo 13). But, trouble starts up again as the camp counselors are picked off one by one by a mysterious stranger who just may be more connected than they know.

I love the original Friday the 13th. It is just so damn fun. The Jason Voorhees series is to this day one of those film series that you can have a bunch of friends over and just watch some mindless violence. It has a great drinking game. It has a bunch of young attractive people partying, playing Strip Monopoly, getting it on, and getting murdered.

This film actually has a bit more of a twist ending due to its franchise work. This was not intended by any of the filmmakers, but it certainly holds up as an interesting ending in light of the direction the franchise went.

The plot is simple. The performances are not good. The film is still fun. I will actually give this film a higher rating for fun factor, because it boils down to good old fashioned entertainment.

Many people still don’t know what the sound of the Ki Ki Ki Ma Ma Ma. Some people (myself included) think it is more of a Chi Chi Chi Ha Ha Ha, but that would be wrong. Others think it is an advertisement for Jiffy Pop Jif Jif Jif Pop Pop Pop, but that would be wrong as well. It is Ki Ki Ki Ma Ma Ma and if you know the ending SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT then you know it references Kill Kill Kill Mom Mom Mom.

People hated Betsy Palmer (TV’s Knots Landing, Mister Roberts) being in this film and portraying Mrs. Voorhees. One critic went as far as to publish her address in anger so that people could…I don’t really know, vandalize or send her Anthrax? Anyway, he published the wrong address, so I guess his plan didn’t work.

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So, Crazy Ralph said it best, these kids were all doomed…doomed! I love a little cheese with my horror films, and I think you will enjoy Friday the 13th.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 16 – Odd Thomas (2013)

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Director: Stephen Sommers

Cast: Anton Yelchin, Willem Dafoe, Addison Timlin, Nico Tortorella

Screenplay: Stephen Sommers

97 mins. Rated PG-13.

 

From the moment I heard about the character of Odd Thomas, created by Dean Koontz for a series of novels, I knew that he would eventually get a film series. I was probably a little incorrect. I doubt he will get a “series” after this meager film.

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Writer/director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) has been slowly killing his career for years now, but I’m starting to think that Odd Thomas might have been the last nail in the coffin. Odd Thomas is all about, you guessed it, Odd Thomas. Have you heard that name too many times? Good, I prepared you for the film, which entails our hero (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek, Burying the Ex) who, along with Police Chief Wyatt Porter (Willem Dafoe, Spider-Man, John Wick) and girlfriend Stormy Llewelyn (Addison Timlin, Derailed, The Town That Dreaded Sundown), must track down the mystery concerning a man with dark secrets to apocalyptic things. Honestly, I’m trying to make it sound good, but I stopped caring long before the plot began lugging forward.

This movie was just kind of boring. The plot really went nowhere, and I applaud the attempt at something original, but it is a bore. Odd Thomas is the kind of film that looks like it was a pilot to a television series that might have aired over a decade ago. It is cheap looking, and it is slow moving, and it has a group of talent that is wasted on weak script and a knock-off narrative.

I liked that Stephen Sommers was trying to push the story forwards, and he gives it a look with style similar to comic books, but I just didn’t give a shit about these characters after a while.

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And the ending, my God! How could a film fall back so quickly towards a cheap and uninspired ending like Odd Thomas did. I feel sad that they likely won’t be continuing this story, I hear great things about the book series, but sadly, we are in a world of supernatural serials and one of them just had to fall by the wayside. I hope this doesn’t ruin Yelchin’s career, I mean, he has Chekov to fall back on, but I can’t say the same for Sommers.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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