[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 20 – Final Destination 5 (2011)

Director: Steven Quale

Cast: Nicholas D’Agosto, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher, Arlen Escarpeta, David Koechner, Tony Todd

Screenplay: Eric Heisserer

92 mins. Rated R for strong violent/gruesome accidents, and some language.

 

After The Final Destination (intended to be the last film), I wasn’t quite sure how the Final Destination franchise could keep things interesting and exciting going into a fifth film. Personally, I was so disappointed in how the fourth film went, I didn’t even really know if I wanted it to continue. So when Final Destination 5 popped up, I was skeptical as to what, if anything, it could bring to the table. This one swung for the fences, though.

Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto, From Prada to Nada, TV’s Masters of Sex) is embarking on a company retreat with several other employees when he has a vision of the suspension bridge the bus is on collapsing, killing hundreds. Concerned, he gets off the bus and runs to safety, followed by a handful of his employees, and the suspension bridge indeed collapses. Blessed but also shaken, Sam and the others notice that the survivors are dying in the exact they would have died on the bridge, and they learn that in order to save their own lives, they may have to take another’s.

Final Destination 5 does not reinvent the wheel, but it’s probably the best entry in the series. It has interesting characters with real motivations, strong set pieces, an overall sense of dread, and it teams with mythology. I’m not entirely on board with the “take another life to save yours” notion that is legitimately brought into this film (something that’s been toyed with before), but it does add another layer to the film.

Nicholas D’Agosto and Emma Bell (Plus One, Different Flowers) are both strong leads, and the film has some fun performances like David Koechner (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, TV’s American Dad!) as Dennis, Sam’s boss. Koechner is always fun and he’s restrained enough here to fit in nicely within the horror while still getting to do his own thing. The absolute win of the film, though, is the return of Tony Todd (Candyman, Reign of the Supermen) as the coroner Bludworth, who is given little screen time and just does so much with it. I’ve been saying for some time that Todd’s Bludworth needs to be expanded upon, especially how he seemingly knows so much about Death’s design and plan, and while we don’t get that in this film, his reintroduction is a step in the right direction.

Outside of the main story, I am happy to say that Final Destination 5 gets back to the horror roots of the series after the almost-silly fourth installment. It’s also the film that feels the most like it’s connecting a saga, with little references to other films in the series and an overarching mythology that’s been cleaned up and streamlined. This is one that you kind of want to watch again after unlocking the big reveals of the film and how it all comes together.

Final Destination 5 wins it with the ending though, a doozy of a revelation that makes it the most fun installment of the entire series. How this franchise seemingly stalled out after the fifth film is beyond me, but this is definitely one worth seeing. It’s gruesome and bloody and filled with atmospheric flavor. Go check it out.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of James Wong’s Final Destination, click here.

For my review of David R. Ellis’s Final Destination 2, click here.

For my review of James Wong’s Final Destination 3, click here.

For my review of David R. Ellis’s The Final Destination, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 19 – The Mummy (1932)

Director: Karl Freund

Cast: Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Edward Van Sloan, Arthur Byron

Screenplay: John L. Balderston

73 mins. Approved.

 

We’re taking a look back at the original rapper…er, wrapper tonight while we talk the Universal Monster film The Mummy.

About a decade earlier, the mummified remains of the Egyptian prince Imhotep (Boris Karloff, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Black Friday) were discovered alongside the Scroll of Thoth, an artifact supposedly capable of bringing the dead back to life. When a foolish man from the recovery expedition reads the scroll aloud, he unknowingly brings Imhotep to the land of the living, going insane in the process. Now, ten years later, Imhotep, under the guise of the Egyptian man Ardath Bey, tries to reunite with his long-dead love, reincarnated as the beautiful Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann, The Sin of Nora Moran, Tiger Shark).

This was actually the first time I’ve ever seen this original version of The Mummy, and while I enjoyed it, I definitely felt the style over substance that I’d heard murmurs of from other colleagues. The lack of substance comes from a lot of the background regarding this movie, mostly that it was just a star vehicle for Boris Karloff, and it was screenwriter John L. Balderston (Red Planet Mars, The Prisoner of Zenda), a big fan of Egyptian culture, who infused the script with a lot of what makes The Mummy special. He also included some truly radical reincarnation sequences and other scenes that would have made the film more special but were tragically cut.

The substance issues of the film stem from the fact that, without Balderston’s style, the film would have been a near-carbon-copy of Dracula with a little Frankenstein thrown in, and it’s more obvious than usual. There’s the long-lost love of the villain who he’s trying to bring back, there’s the need to kill and drain life that’s so notable, and even both films opening with a version of Swan Lake’s music.

It had been a year since Boris Karloff played Frankenstein’s Monster, and he’d essentially been transformed in that time into a bona fide star, practically a household name, credited on the poster as Karloff. He’s really solid in the film, able to stretch his acting chops and flex more than he did as the monster.

I was less impressed with the rest of the cast with the exception of the always-wonderful Edward Van Sloan (Sealed Verdict, Betty Co-Ed). Zita Johann very publicly quarreled with director Karl Freund (Mad Love, Gift of Gab), and it’s fairly obvious she doesn’t want to be there. David Manners (The Black Cat, The Death Kiss) and Arthur Byron (20,000 Years in Sing Sing, Marie Galante) are both serviceable but also a bit unmemorable.

The Mummy shines because of its interesting mythology, the performance of Karloff and Van Sloan, and it’s extremely powerful atmosphere, but there are story issues and some performances just don’t make the cut. It was a good movie in the Universal Monsters pantheon, but not nearly the best.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Tod Browning’s Dracula, click here.

For my review of Lambert Hillyer’s Dracula’s Daughter, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 18 – The Perfection (2018)

Director: Richard Shepard

Cast: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Weber, Alaina Huffman

Screenplay: Eric C. Charmelo, Richard Shepard, Nicole Snyder

90 mins. Rated TV-MA.

 

I had virtually no knowledge of the plot of The Perfection before viewing it. It was a benefit, so I’m going to be very surface-level in my description.

The Perfection revolves around famed cellist Charlotte (Allison Williams, Get Out, TV’s Girls), who has taken some time away from her talent to care for her dying mother, as she goes to Shanghai to see the charismatic and gifted music teacher Anton (Steven Weber, The Shining, TV’s 13 Reasons Why). There, she meets Lizzie (Logan Browning, Bratz, TV’s Dear White People) and the two end up having sex in Lizzie’s hotel room. The next day, Charlotte joins Lizzie on a vacation through China but as they begin their journey, it seems that things are not as they appear, and Charlotte and Lizzie find everything they know falling off the rails in a series of escalating horrors. I’ll leave it at that.

This movie is bonkers in all the right ways. My best advice is to not try to pick it apart and guess where it’s going because I don’t think you’ll be able to. It’s best just to take the mental mind fuck and roll with it. Director Richard Shepard (The Matador, Don Hemingway) crafts a tightly-packed and constantly evolving horror/thriller that kept me guessing the whole time. This film, like any good film or onion, has a lot of layers, and peeling them away was a great movie experience.

Allison Williams and Logan Browning are both great in the movie. Williams is more the lead than Browning but each is given plenty of opportunity to shine. Their performances as each layer is peeled away in the narrative was exhilarating to watch, and their chemistry was sizzling. Both actresses are steamy as hell whenever they appear onscreen together, my TV practically fogged up.

Not all the surprises worked as well as I’d have liked, but they were definitely unexpected and made me want to watch the film again, and though it doesn’t have the same level of interest on the second viewing, it’s still a damn fine mystery for the viewers.

The Perfection is an arty horror/thriller with plenty of surprises in store as long as you’re paying close enough attention. I really liked it on first viewing but it isn’t, for me, as strong once you know the whole mystery. Led by two amazing actresses and anchored by another standout supporting role from the criminally underrated Steven Weber, The Perfection is damn fun and damn shocking. Not a perfect film (almost no film is, right), but good enough to warrant your attention.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

[Early Review] [31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 17 – Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone, Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, Luke Wilson

Screenplay: Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

99 mins. Rated R for bloody violence, language throughout, some drug and sexual content.

 

It’s been a crazy ten years, and we are finally arriving, once again, back in Zombieland.

Zombieland: Double Tap picks up some years after the first film, and our favorite zombie killers have arrived at a comfortable life in a luxurious new home. They are not without their struggles, though. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and Wichita (Emma Stone, La La Land, The Croods) have gotten past the honeymoon phase of their relationship, and Wichita especially is having a lot of trouble with the idea of settling down with Columbus. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, The Highwaymen, TV’s True Detective) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine, Freak Show) have developed a father-daughter regard for one another, but Little Rock pines to interact with someone new, to begin dating boys, whereas Tallahassee would prefer the solitude of Zombieland life. So when Little Rock runs away with a cute boy, the others must band together to save  her.

I’ll make this one super-simple. If you liked Zombieland, I think you’ll enjoy this one. It isn’t as good as the original film, but it’s very self-reflective on the time that has passed culturally and a lot of the humor comes from the idea that these characters really haven’t changed much in that time. It’s regularly poking fun at itself.

The cast does a fine job again, especially Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee. Harrelson really matures as an actor in this role, and his is the one character that seems to really evolve to something new. All that being said, though, the best parts of this film are the new additions of Zoey Deutch (Set It Up, TV’s The Politician) and Rosario Dawson (Rent, Reign of the Supermen) to the cast. Deutch’s Madison steals every scene as a clueless woo girl that’s supremely ditzy and made me question how she could even survive this long in the apocalypse. Dawson joins up as the tough-as-nails Nevada, who lives in a bar that gets a visit from the gang. Both add a lot of flavor to the film.

The film is a little too convenient at times, and the additions of new zombies (very Left 4 Dead), new rules (not just by Columbus), and new zombie kills, while fun, don’t add a level of newness to the film. If this had come out right after the first film, I think it would not be as noticeable, but given that ten-year gap, I think the similarities stand out. Still better than the Amazon pilot, though.

Zombieland: Double Tap is fun for fans of the original film, and even though it’s just more of the same, I ended up having some good laughs and entertainment. This won’t bring in a lot of new fans, and it may not win over old fans at the same rate that the first film did, but I think it’s a worthy addition to the zombie genre, and I would really like this see this team come back together for a third installment. Just make it sooner.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 16 – The Field Guide to Evil (2018)

Director: Ashim Ahluwalia, Can Evrenol, Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz, Katrin Gebbe, Calvin Reeder, Agnierzka Smoczynska, Peter Strickland, Yannis Veslemes

Cast: Birgit Minichmayr, Claude Duhamel, Jilon VanOver, Fatma Mohamed, Niharika Singh

Screenplay: Roberto Bolesto, Elif Domanic, Can Evrenol, Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz, Katrin Gebbe, Calvin Reeder, Peter Strickland, Yannis Veslemes, Silvia Wolkan

117 mins. Rated R for disturbing and violent content, bloody images, sexual material, graphic nudity, and language.

 

I’m seriously not doing this on purpose, but today we’re talking about yet another horror anthology film.

The Field Guide to Evil features eight stories from nine directors from different parts of the world. The Sinful Women of Hollfall is about monsters born of a strong guilt. Haunted by Al Karisi, the Childbirth Djinn tells the story of a demon that steals children and takes on the form of animals and old women. The Kindler and the Virgin is about a man who consumes human hearts to gain knowledge. Beware the Melonheads features violent cannibals reminiscent of The Hills Have Eyes. What Ever Happened to Panagas the Pagan? is a Christmas reversal about a demon taken captive. Palace of Horrors features a story of a man searching for curiosities to serve in a circus. A Nocturnal Breath is another spiritual possession tale. The Cobblers’ Lot is an adaptation of a classic story of two brothers competing for a woman’s love.

So let’s be clear here. These are all quite well made technically. I just didn’t like any of them. There’s not a single one that I think is great or even rewatchable. The best one, to me, is Palace of Horrors because it feels like it is heading somewhere magnificent before heading off the rails. My biggest qualm of each of these stories is relatively the same. Each story seemingly sets itself up well, they all look terrific, and then each one feels like it’s heading somewhere cool, and then they all fail to end on a high note. Each ending sours the entire story.

Unfortunately, The Field Guide to Evil is a complete flop, and I really wanted to love this one. I love the worldwide flavor that an anthology gives, but this one doesn’t do it for me. I really wanted it to be good. I really hoped it would be, but it doesn’t work.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

[31 Days or Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 15 – Seventh Moon (2008)

Director: Eduardo Sánchez

Cast: Amy Smart, Tim Chiou, Dennis Chan

Screenplay: Eduardo Sánchez

87 mins. Rated R for language and violence/horror.

 

Is Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project, Exists) capable of doing something that isn’t found-footage? Until today, I’d only seen his found-footage films, and they were hit-and-miss for me, so I was interested in seeing what else this director had to give.

Melissa (Amy Smart, Just Friends, Avengers of Justice: Farce Wars) and her Chinese American husband Yul (Tim Chiou, Fat Camp, TV’s Living with Models) are celebrating their honeymoon in China, and everything seems to be going very well, but one night, as they are taking the car back from a festival they were attending, they become stranded in a village that they do not know…and they are being followed by something not human.

Wow, what a terrible film. What an absolutely terrible film. There’s not a single element of this film that works. First of all, let’s settle the big problem here. This movie isn’t a found-footage film, but it is shot with a shaky cam that’s so noticeably bad and confusing (dare I say headache-inducing) that it’s incomprehensible to even know what’s happening most of the time. The cam is shakier than it is in most found-footage films. I have no idea what happens in this movie after the first ten minutes because the camera can’t focus on a single element onscreen.

Amy Smart and Tim Chiou are probably trying their best, but the screenplay is pretty close to just screaming and yelling, not too far off from The Blair Witch Project. I don’t know enough about either of them to really care that anything bad is happening (I also wouldn’t have a clue what was happening anyway).

This film was an absolute waste of time. There’s nothing good about Seventh Moon except perhaps the kernel of an idea that this legend is real. I think you can make a good film with this central idea. Eduardo Sánchez just didn’t make a good movie. That’s it. Nothing more to say on the subject.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Eduardo Sánchez’s The Blair Witch Project, click here.

For my review of Eduardo Sánchez’s Exists, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 14 – House (1986)

Director: Steve Miner

Cast: William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, Kay Lenz

Screenplay: Ethan Wiley

93 mins. Rated R.

 

I caught House on the Sci-Fi channel as a child and was swept up in it. I taped it and watched it again and again and again. I figured that, today, I would take a look back at this movie to see if it’s worth my love or if it’s just a guilty pleasure. Both are fine with me.

Roger Cobb (The Man from Earth, The Other Side of the Wind) has just inherited his aunt’s house after her passing, and he’s taken the opportunity to move in and work on his next book. He has bad memories of the house; his son went missing several before and the house was the last place Roger saw him. The resulting marital problems left him divorced from wife Sandy (Kay Lenz, Breezy, The Secret Lives of Dorks). He’s also suffering from PTSD from his time in Vietnam. Roger has a lot of demons, and he’s about to discover that the house isn’t a normal one. It’s a conduit of evil, and Roger’s about to face his worst fears within its walls.

I might have given myself up too quick on this one at the beginning, but I fucking love House. It’s easily in my top ten favorite horror films of all time. There are faults to the film that are more apparent watching it as an adult, but I don’t even care because all the great parts of House outweigh the bad ten times over.

Let’s start with the incredible William Katt, an actor who never got the full-on recognition he deserves. He’s been steadily working for decades, but he kills it as Roger Cobb. I may be harboring a man-crush for Katt because I grew up watching him in Carrie and Greatest American Hero, but I just find him to be such a charismatic neighborly presence onscreen and his portrayal of Cobb as a sympathetic tortured but sweet individual is really strong.

The supporting cast is small but mighty. Though Kay Lenz doesn’t get much to do, George Wendt (Grand-Daddy Day Care, TV’s Cheers) gets a lot of the heavy lifting as new neighbor Harold. Wendt provides the straight-man comic relief to the many horrors of the house, and he really hits that perfect level of smarmy but friendly and truly caring about his neighbor. He’s not always the most-loyal, but I was taken by the realism that a standard comic relief character was able to be conveyed.

The real stars of the film, though, are the creatures. House contains some of the coolest and creepiest creature designs I’ve ever seen, and it’s all for the sake of twisting and turning Roger’s life upside-down. I don’t even want to pick a favorite one because they’re all so great. Hell, there’s even a bunch of sentient tools from the work shed that come to life and try to kill Roger, and it somehow works for the exact tone that director Steve Miner (Warlock, Day of the Dead) is going for.

House is an absolute blast that can be repeat-viewed over and over again. It’s a shame that this franchise never really kept to the quality of the original because I love the idea of the house being something different to each of its occupants. William Katt kicks ass as the lead and the film boasts some truly spectacular creature effects. Seek this one out immediately!

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 13 – Ghost Stories (2017)

Director: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman

Cast: Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther, Martin Freeman

Screenplay: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman

98 mins. Not Rated.

 

On the recent subject of anthology horror films, today we’ll be looking at Ghost Stories, a unique and interesting twist on the idea of anthologies. It’s not really an anthology, and it also has a level of anthology-style to it with a very interesting framing device. Let’s talk about it.

Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman) a professor known for his skeptical viewpoint of ghosts and the afterlife. He runs a documentary-style show that debunks paranormal events and stories, and when he is given a file with three cases of unexplained paranormal circumstances, he discovers that each of these ghost stories blurs the lines between what is real and what is not.

I had been told many great things about Ghost Stories and as I was watching Professor Goodman going through each of the cases, I kept wondering why. Each of these cases felt like something that I’d seen before, something I expected, something unsurprising. So why is it a good movie? About halfway through the film, I stopped wondering about that. There’s a reason why these stories feel familiar and why they seem unsurprising and expected. There’s a hidden connection among the stories and the effect they have on Professor Goodman.

Andy Nyman does some very solid acting as Professor Goodman, and, in fact, each of the three characters leading the three stories are both relatable and well-performed. I particularly liked Paul Whitehouse (The Death of Stalin, Alice Through the Looking Glass) as Tony Matthews, the central character of the first story. He’s an actor I don’t have a lot of experience watching, and his character arc in the first story mirrors a lot of how I would go through the experience of a haunting. That’s not to fault either Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game, TV’s The End of the F***ing World) in the second story or Martin Freeman (Black Panther, Cargo) in the third. Each story works much better in hindsight after understand the complete path of the film.

Ghost Stories is a wildly psychotic and enjoyable film. Its faults lie in a muddled first half meant to set up the big reveal at the end of the film. I’m also not entirely sure if the film is very re-watchable, but I’d like to see it at least once more to put all the pieces together. I’d highly recommend it for a fun puzzle of a movie, one that stuck with me after watching it. These Ghost Stories are well worth hearing.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 12 – Mom and Dad (2017)

Director: Brian Taylor

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Lance Henriksen, Robert T. Cunningham, Brionne Taylor, Samantha Lemole

Screenplay: Brian Taylor

86 mins. Rated R for disturbing horror violence, language throughout, some sexual content/nudity and teen drug use.

 

I wasn’t a big fan of the directing duo of Neveldine/Taylor. Their work is very stylized in a way that just never works for me. Now, one of the two directors, Brian Taylor (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, TV’s Happy!) has gone out on his own to write and direct Mom and Dad. So what does a film with half of Neveldine/Taylor look like?

Teenager Carly (Anne Winters, Night School, TV’s 13 Reasons Why) and her brother Josh (Zackary Arthur, The 5th Wave, Mississippi Requiem) are brats. They don’t get along with each other, and they don’t really get along with their parents, but they are forced to work together in order to survive an insane 24-hour period in which all parents become enraged and try to kill their own kids.

Let me be clear here. Nicolas Cage (Face/Off, The Croods), as patriarch Brent, is so perfectly cast for this film. I read somewhere that Cage said this is his favorite film of his from the past decade, and I can see why. He’s playing himself. He’s insane in the movie. He’s insane in real life. This is Nicolas Cage doing exactly what he wants on a playground built for him. Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions, After) does fine work as matriarch Kendall, but it’s Cage who owns every scene he’s in. The supporting cast here is fine enough for the material, but make no mistake; this is Nick Cage’s movie.

Brian Taylor’s direction is still quite similar to his work with Neveldine/Taylor, but to a lesser extent. He has some style that works here but he also takes time to outline his world with the rules by presenting scenes that flesh out most of the rules even if he never fully fleshes out the characters. At the same time, his style takes over near the end and the film falls apart because of it. Sadly, the ending is a messy downer that doesn’t really cross the finish line.

Mom and Dad is a mostly-winning genre film that succeeds where others have failed, and it has a nice tight runtime with a lot of flashy fun. Its failures exist in failing to work in really strong characters and an ending that falls absolutely flat. It’s still a lot of fun to watch and the good outweighs the bad, but it isn’t without its failings.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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