Monday, October 25, 2021

#2,648. Crawl (2019)


Director Alexander Aja’s Crawl is a high-octane, action-infused thrill ride, filled with gnarly beasts that generate tension to spare. But unlike other movies of this ilk, Crawl never loses sight of its characters, and their plight is what gives this rollicking creature feature its center, as well as its heart.

College athlete Haley (Kaya Scodelario) drives straight into a Category five hurricane to search for her estranged father (Barry Pepper), who isn’t answering his cell phone. Making her way to the family’s former home in the everglades, she finds her dad - injured and unconscious - lying in a a crawlspace underneath the house.

Unfortunately, he’s not alone; two enormous alligators have also moved in, trapping father and daughter, who now must find a way to escape before the hurricane unleashes its full fury.

The gators in Crawl are positively terrifying, made doubly so by the fact the main characters (and we the audience) seldom know where they are, or when they will strike (Haley’s first encounter with the gators results in several effective jump scares). Toss in a category five hurricane, with raging winds and torrential rains, and you have a situation that grows more desperate by the minute.

Yet what makes the thrills and screams in Crawl so effective are the lead characters, played superbly by Scodelario and Pepper. We immediately sense the tension between the two (Haley remembers all too well how her father pushed her to become a champion swimmer, and resents the fact that he and her mother divorced a few years back), but we also see the strong bond they share, as well as their determination to survive, regardless of how dire things become.

The creature effects in Crawl are outstanding, as are the scenes when the gators attack (one particularly gruesome sequence, involving a family looting an abandoned gas station, is executed to perfection), yet all of this would have been for naught had the characters themselves not been strong, and thanks to Scodelario and Pepper, Crawl features two of the strongest in recent memory.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Sunday, October 24, 2021

#2,647. Idle Hands (1999)


A stoner horror / comedy directed by Rodman Flender, Idle Hands is chock full of ideas, and, fortunately, most of them worked for me.

Anton (Devon Sawa) is a slacker who spends his days getting high and watching TV with good friends Mick (Seth Green) and Pnub (Elden Hensen). His life takes a turn for the worse, however, when he loses control of his right hand.

Anton’s hand is so far gone, in fact, that it has actually started killing people! Can he stop his murderous appendage before it turns on his new girlfriend Molly (Jessica Alba), or will Anton’s hand continue to have a mind of its own?

As you might expect, a lot of the comedy in Idle Hands is of the slapstick variety; Sawa delivers a strong physical performance as Anton (the scenes in which his character battles his own hand are a lot of fun). Yet as good as he is, it’s Green and Hensen (as Anton’s loyal - and eventually undead – pals) who get the most laughs.

While it does feature a few tense moments as well as a gory scene or two (one poor bastard gets his scalp ripped off), it’s the comedy that makes Idle Hands such an entertaining watch.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Saturday, October 23, 2021

#2,646. When Animals Dream (2014)


Marie (Sonia Suhi), a shy teenager, lives in a small fishing village with her father Thor (Lars Mikklesen) and wheelchair-bound mother (Sonja Richter).

The recent discovery of a rash on Marie’s chest coincides with several unexplained murders, and it soon becomes obvious that Thor is hiding a dark secret, one that might explain why Marie’s mother is catatonic and why Marie herself is undergoing a very frightening change.

We realize early on in When Animals Dream that Thor knows more than he’s letting on about Marie’s “condition”, but what’s even more interesting is that the entire town also seems to be in on it; there are arguments between Thor and angry locals, whose “concerns” seem to center on Marie’s mother (a woman so far gone at this point that she can’t even feed herself anymore).

Director Jonas Alexander Arnby drops hints throughout When Animals Dream that Marie is changing, transforming from a meek girl into an aggressive young woman, and the film’s remote setting works to the story’s advantage, enhancing its lead character’s sense of isolation.

When Animals Dream is a slow burn horror movie for most of its runtime (centering more on the mystery surrounding Marie’s family), but takes off in the final act, culminating in a sequence set aboard a fishing boat that you won’t soon forget.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Friday, October 22, 2021

#2,645. Demonic (2015)


Detective Mark Lewis (Frank Grillo) responds to a call at a derelict old mansion, where a possible murder has taken place. When he arrives, he finds that four college-aged kids (all paranormal researchers) have been hacked to death with an ax. In addition, two more (played by Cody Horn and Scott Mechlowicz) are missing, and another, named John (Dustin Milligan), is alive but in a state of shock.

Aided by psychologist Elizabeth Kline (Maria Bello), Lewis hopes that John will be able to shed some light on this very bizarre homicide, including why he and his friends decided to hold a séance in a house where, 20 years earlier, a similar murder took place.

Directed by Will Canon, Demonic is a horror / mystery that doubles as a pretty effective haunted house movie; the mansion that serves as the main set is uber-creepy (props to Production Designer Deborah Riley and Set decorator Ryan Martin Dwyer), and throughout the movie we’re treated to flashbacks of John and the doomed researchers as they prepare for their séance, scenes in which Canon utilizes a number of successful - though not totally original – jump scares.

An above-average horror film that’s an even better mystery, Demonic will keep you guessing right up to the end.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Thursday, October 21, 2021

#2,644. Nightmare (1981)


Writer / director Romano Scavolini’s 1981 horror film Nightmare is a nasty little slasher!

George Tatum (Baird Stafford), a diagnosed schizophrenic being held in a psychiatric ward for mutilating a Brooklyn family, has been the subject of an experiment designed to curb - and eventually eliminate – his violent tendencies.

Convinced the treatment was successful, the hospital discharges George, who, soon after his release, steals a car and drives from New York to Florida, where he stalks single mom Susan (Sharon Smith) and her three kids.

Even by ‘80s standards, Nightmare is a brutal picture; before arriving in Florida, George makes a pit stop in South Carolina, where he murders Barbara (Kathleen Ferguson), a waitress, slashing her throat (not the greatest effect, but good enough to make you cringe) and stabbing her repeatedly. Scavolini doesn’t shy away from nudity either; at one point George takes a nighttime stroll down New York’s infamous 42nd Street, where he visits a porn theater and watches a live sex show.

Overall, Nightmare is an effective slasher, with some strong gore scenes (though I don’t believe for a minute the producer’s claim that Tom Savini handled the effects; the quality is nowhere near his standard), and fans of ‘80s horror are sure to enjoy it as much as I did.

But go in knowing that Nightmare is not for the squeamish. Unlike others, this movie deserved its spot on the UK’s Video Nasty list!
Rating: 8 out of 10

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

#2,643. Lake Michigan Monster (2018)


A 2018 comedy / horror / fantasy, Lake Michigan Monster follows the exploits of the very strange Captain Seafield (writer / director Ryland Tews), who assembles a team of so-called “experts” (Erick West, Beulah Peters, Daniel Long) and sets up his HQ on the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

Seifield’s goal: to hunt down and destroy the lake’s dreaded sea monster, which, he alleges, killed his father.

The laughs come fast and furious in Lake Michigan Monster; it’s an assault on the senses, a low-budget black and white joke fest with bargain-basement CGI / special effects that only add to the enjoyment of it all. You’re not meant to take a single moment seriously, and with a running time of just under 80 minutes, the film maintains an impressive pace, never losing an ounce of energy along the way (Tews even throws in a couple of catchy musical numbers, just to mix things up a bit).

Lake Michigan Monster is Airplane-style lunacy, and I’m betting you’ll have as much fun as I did watching it.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

#2,642. Mimic (1997)


Director Guillermo Del Toro’s visual proficiency and love of monsters gets a full work-out in his 1997 sci-fi / horror film Mimic (which he co-wrote with Matthew Robbins).

A plague, carried by cockroaches, is wiping out the children of New York City. In an effort to extinguish the bugs (and thus end the disease), Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) and Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam) “create” a genetically enhanced insect species - a “superbug” if you will - which, because it is sterile, will die out itself within six months of destroying the infected cockroaches.

Their plan proves successful, and while some, including Susan’s colleague Dr. Gates (F. Murray Abraham), criticize their methods, New York hails Drs. Tyler and Mann as heroes.

Three years later, Peter and Susan - now happily married to one another - find themselves facing an entirely new problem: an undocumented species of giant insect is terrorizing both the city’s subway and sewer systems, and upon closer examination, Susan is horrified to discover that this new man-eating insect is actually a mutation of the superbug she herself engineered!

With the help of angry policeman Leonard Norton (Charles S. Dutton), a shoe-shiner named Manny (Giancarlo Gianni) and Manny’s autistic son (Alexander Goodwin), Peter and Susan search for answers, only to discover their superbug has mutated in ways they never thought possible.

The creatures themselves are definitely one of the film’s strong points; they walk upright, are as big as full-grown humans, and can even fly (which they do several times in the movie’s final act, resulting in some gnarly kills). In fact, these bugs have evolved to the point that, from a distance, they actually look human (Susan herself, caught off-guard, is attacked by one in the subway).

In addition, the underground set pieces that Del Toro and team created for Mimic work wonders, conjuring up a creepy atmosphere; at one point, Peter, Leonard, and Peter’s assistant Josh (played by Josh Brolin) find themselves in a long-abandoned underground station, complete with a decaying subway car (which proves useful once the bugs track them down).

Featuring a fair number of suspenseful sequences and even some nasty gore, Mimic is a superior creature feature, made by a director who, in the years to follow, would become a master of that particular subgenre.
Rating: 8 out of 10