Wednesday, June 29, 2022

#2,776. Trophy Heads (2014) - Full Moon Features


2014’s Trophy Heads is director Charles Band having a little fun with Full Moon’s storied history. A love letter to the various Scream Queens who helped put the studio on the cinematic map, it is an entertaining - and in a way even an endearing - motion picture, the kind of movie that puts a smile on your face from start to finish.

Obsessed fan Max (Adam Noble Roberts) spends his days watching ‘80s and ‘90s horror films, and laments the fact that his favorite Scream Queens are getting older by the day.

So, with the help of his devoted mother (Maria Olsen), Max sets to work kidnapping these actresses, namely Brinke Stevens, Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer, Denise Duff, Jacqueline Lovell, and Darcy DeMoss (all playing themselves), then forcing them to appear in video reenactments of scenes from their most popular movies.

Only this time, the scenes will have a very different ending!

As much a comedy as it is a horror film, Trophy Heads has moments that will make you laugh out loud. When Max finally tracks her down, Linnea Quigley, a born-again Christian, is knocking on doors and asking people if they’ve been “bathed in the blood of Jesus Christ”.

In addition to the Scream Queens reunion, we’re treated to scenes from some of Full Moon’s classic movies, which play on a monitor for each of the actresses to “enjoy” during their incarceration in Max’s basement. Among the titles featured are Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity, Creepozoids, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama, and Bloodstone: Subspecies II, which, incidentally, are the very movies the actresses are forced to “reinterpret”, with Max serving as both their co-star and director.

Everyone seemed to be having a great time throughout Trophy Heads, and that went a long way in making it so much fun.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Monday, June 27, 2022

#2,775. Sideshow (2000) - Full Moon Features


As Tod Browning proved to us in his 1932 classic Freaks, carnival sideshow attractions (at least in the movies) live by their own code, and heaven help anyone who dares to cross them!

Clearly, the young characters in Fred Olen Ray’s 2000 film Sideshow never saw Freaks, and some would pay the ultimate price for their ignorance.

Bobby (Jamie Martz) and Tommy (Michael Amos) take their dates for the night, Melanie (Jessi Keenan) and Jeanie (Jeana Blackman), to a traveling carnival. Unfortunately, Bobby also brought along his handicapped brother Grant (Scott McCann), which puts a bit of a damper on the evening. To make matters worse, Tommy at one point insults Abbot Graves (Phil Fondacaro), the diminutive sideshow barker, picking him up and treating him as if he were a child.

After visiting a fortune teller (Brinke Stevens), the five are given free passes to the “Freak” show, and though Bobby is a little reluctant, the remaining friends make their way to the sideshow tent. Alas, not all of them will walk away from it.

Produced by Full Moon, Sideshow was done on the cheap, and features mediocre performances (though Fondacaro does an admirable job as Abbot Graves) and low-grade effects. Yet while the make-up and special effects aren’t all that convincing, I got a kick out of the various sideshow attractions, some of which are damned creative.

There’s Hans the Bug Boy (Fred Pierce), and “Conjoin-O” (Peter Spellos), who has a face growing out of his stomach (the face is played by Luigi Francis Shorty Rossi). It’s the female attractions, however, that steal the show. First up is Digestina (Shyra Deland), who sits in a tub of stomach acid and consumes whatever drops into it. And then there’s the sexy Aelita (Curran Sympson), the “Inside-Out Girl” whose dance is fairly sexy… that is, until she finally displays her particular “talent”! Also handled in a very imaginative way is the “retribution” brought down on the young friends, featured in the film’s final 10 minutes.

So, while Sideshow may occasionally let its budget limitations bleed through the cracks, they won’t detract one bit from your enjoyment of the movie.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Saturday, June 25, 2022

#2,774. Doctor Mordrid (1992) - Full Moon Features


For me, Full Moon is at its best when the filmmakers let their imaginations run wild. Such is the case with 1992’s Doctor Mordrid, directed by the father / son team of Albert and Charles Band.

Starring the great Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, From Beyond) in the title role, Doctor Mordrid tells a basic story of good versus evil; for about a century now, the powerful wizard Doctor Anton Mordrid has been watching over the citizens of earth. But the re-emergence of his old nemesis Kabal (Brian Thompson), an evil sorcerer intent on taking over the world, has put Mordrid on high alert.

As Kabal and his henchmen gather up rare elements from around the globe, which they will use to open a portal between earth and the Fourth Dimension, Mordrid joins forces with criminal psychologist Samantha Hunt (Yvette Nipar) and prepares for the inevitable showdown against Kabal and his evil minions.

Inspired by the Marvel comics hero Doctor Strange (which, initially, was the movie Albert Band wanted to make, but couldn’t work out a deal for the rights), Doctor Mordrid combines fantasy, sci-fi, adventure, and even horror to wonderful effect, delivering a movie that’s an incredible amount of fun. From the stylish set piece of Mordrid’s lair to the film’s various fight scenes, culminating in a final showdown between Mordrid and Kabal in New York’s Cosmopolitan Museum, this movie has creativity to spare.

And while the effects may be showing their age, they are far from mediocre. I especially enjoyed the stop-motion dinosaur skeletons that spring to life in the final scene.

Much like they did with Dollman, Trancers, Puppet Master, and Subspecies, the creative forces at Full Moon have proven once again with Doctor Mordrid that they can take a small budget and a good idea and turn it into a motion picture that generates a million dollars worth of entertainment!
Rating: 9 out of 10

Thursday, June 23, 2022

#2,773. Puppet Master II (1990) - Full Moon Features


If nothing else, the Puppet Master movies (the first two, anyway) get off to a strong start.

Puppet Master II opens late at night, with the puppets standing around an open grave. Pinhead (the puppet with a tiny head and large human hands) pours a green liquid into the grave, at which point the corpse that had been resting in it for 50 years, that of the great puppet master Andre Toulon (played this time around by Steve Welles), springs back to life!

It’s a crazy, ridiculous opening, but it’s also kinda awesome.

A team of paranormal researchers, led by Carolyn Bramwell (Elizabeth Maclellan), descends on the Bodega Bay Inn to investigate the recent, unexplained murder of Megan Gallagher. They’re joined by psychic Camille Kenney (Nita Talbot), who warns the team – which also includes Carolyn’s brother Patrick (Greg Webb) and their friends Lance (Jeff Wetson) and Wanda (Charlie Spradling) – that she’s picking up a lot of negative energy. Later that night, Camille disappears and Patrick is murdered by the puppet known as Tunneler.

It’s around this same time that a shadowy stranger, his head wrapped in bandages, shows up on the scene, claiming he owns the hotel. This stranger is actually Andre Toulon, whose ultimate goal is to resurrect his beloved wife Elsa (also played by Maclellan).

Joining forces with Michael (Collin Bernsen), Camille’s son who was called in to help locate his mother, Carolyn sets out to uncover the mystery behind Toulon, including what it is that gives him the power to bring inanimate objects to life.

Steve Welles is quite good as the enigmatic Toulon, and Puppet Master II also ups the ante effects-wise, utilizing stop-motion more frequently than the first film did. I also liked the brief flashback to 1912, which provided a backstory for Toulon and how he acquired his unusual talents. In addition, Puppet Master II features a tense scene set inside a cabin, where this entry’s newest puppet, Torch, burns a woman alive.

Not everything impressed me; the story centering on the researchers is weak, and a romantic subplot involving Carolyn and Michael felt forced. As it was with the first movie, the puppets are what make Puppet Master II an entertaining watch, but at least this time they didn’t have to do it all on their own.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

#2,772. Puppet Master (1989) - Full Moon Features


This is the movie that started it all, both the long-running Puppet Master film series (thus far there have been 14 entries) and Charles Band’s Full Moon Features (this was the studio’s very first production).

1989’s Puppet Master gets off to a great start; flashing back to 1939, we’re introduced to an elderly puppeteer named Andre Toulon (William Hickey), who, with the help of ancient Egyptian magic, has found a way to bring his beloved puppets to life. With a pair of Nazi spies closing in on him, anxious to get their hands on his secrets, Toulon places his creations in a chest, hides it in the wall of his hotel room, and commits suicide.

Alas, this opening proves to be the best sequence in the entire movie. Once the story switches to present day, Puppet Master is more hit and miss.

Jumping forward to 1989, several psychics, including Professor Alex Whitaker (Paul Le Mat), fortune teller Dana Hadley (Irene Miracle), and researchers Frank Forrester (Matt Roe) and Clarissa Stamford (Kathryn O’Reilly) are contacted by their old partner Neil Gallagher (Jimmie F. Skaggs), who invites them to join him at the Bodega Bay Inn, the very hotel where Toulon hid his puppets all those years ago.

When Alex, Dana and the others arrive there, however, they are surprised to discover that Neil is dead, and his widow Megan (Robin Frates) is the hotel’s current owner. The confused psychics do their best to figure out what’s going on, never realizing that Toulon’s puppets have somehow returned, and are determined to kill each and every one of them!

Directed by David Schmoeller (who also penned the screenplay), Puppet Master has several weaknesses, chief among them it’s story. After discovering their old partner is dead, Dana, Frank, and Clarissa just sort of meander around the hotel, wasting time, while Alex tries his best to cozy up to Megan. Also lackluster are the performances of its main cast; even Paul Le Mat, who was quite good in American Graffiti and Melvin and Howard, is flat. The lone exception is William Hickey, who does a remarkable job in his brief appearance as Andre Toulon.

Fortunately, Toulon’s puppets are themselves worth the price of admission, and the scenes in which they’re featured are far and away the movie’s strongest. Among the puppets who make their presence known are Blade (thus named because he walks around with a knife), Pinhead, Tunneler, and Leach Woman (who regurgitates leeches, resulting in some of the movie’s most uncomfortable moments). I also liked how director Schmoeller occasionally shot from the puppet’s POV (which, seeing that they are about a foot tall, means his camera was very close to the ground), and while the final scene (twist and all) was only so-so, the fact that it featured all of the puppets, each doing what they do best, was a definite plus.
Rating: 6 out of 10

Sunday, June 19, 2022

#2,771. Jakob's Wife (2021) - 2021 Horror Movies


Vampires, by their very nature, are the harbingers of death, but for Anne Fedder, the title character in 2021’s Jakob’s Wife, a bite from a vampire has the opposite effect; it gives her a new lease on life.

For 30 years, Anne (Barbara Crampton) has been the dutiful – and unfulfilled – wife of minister Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden). Hoping to liven things up a bit, Anne meets with old flame Tom Low (Robert Rusler), who is in town to assess whether or not a dilapidated mill can be transformed into a viable business.

Unfortunately, when Anne and Tom visit the mill, they find it is already occupied… by “The Master” (Bonnie Aarons), a monstrous vampire. During this encounter, Anne is bitten, and though frightened at first, she soon realizes that she’s never felt more alive!

And while a voracious appetite for blood might put a strain on any relationship, this “change” in Anne even has Jakob seeing her in an entirely new light.

Directed by Travis Stevens, Jakob’s Wife is a story about marriage in the guise of a horror film. Crampton delivers a bravura performance as Anne, the bored spouse of a holier-than-thou minister who undergoes a most unique transformation. The early scenes do a masterful job of filling us in on Anne’s situation; though she plays the role of the loving wife well enough in public, Anne is anything but satisfied, and in her eyes we see her growing contempt for Jakob, whose reliance on routine is slowly killing her inside.

Yet as convincing as Crampton is in the movie’s first act, she’s even better after her character’s run-in with The Master, at which point Anne experiences life as she never has before. While she does grapple with her new desires from time to time (especially the craving for blood), there’s rarely a moment when we feel Anne would have it any other way.

Fessenden is equally strong as the dull husband, and the later scenes when he's realized what Anne has become results in a handful of funny moments. Also quite good is Bonnie Aarons as The Master, a Nosferatu-like vampire who, despite her grotesque appearance, seems to have Anne’s best interests in mind.

Its loftier themes aside, Jakob’s Wife never forgets that it’s a horror film. There are moments that will make you jump, and more than enough blood and gore to go around (especially brutal is a scene involving the Fedders’ next-door neighbor, played by Ned Yousef). The fact that the movie leaves you with plenty to think about as well is just icing on the cake.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Friday, June 17, 2022

#2,770. The Night House (2020) - 2021 Horror Movies


It was such an innovative, new take on the haunted house horror that I just knew that I had to be part of it”. This was director David Bruckner’s first reaction after reading the script for 2020’s The Night House. Written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, Bruckner said he “fell in love” with that script, and after seeing the movie it’s easy to see why. Along with spinning an intriguing, inherently eerie mystery, The Night House is as clever as they come.

School teacher Beth (Rebecca Hall) is searching for answers, specifically why her husband of 14 years, Owen (Evan Jongkeit), recently took his own life. Convinced they were happy together, Beth has a hard time accepting Owen’s death, and the more she delves into this tragedy, the more she realizes he may have been leading a double life.

Owen, who built the beautiful lake house they called home, even went so far as to construct a similar house in the middle of the woods. Why did Owen go to all that trouble, and what did he mean with the final line of his suicide note, when he told Beth she was now “safe”?

The manner in which The Night House pieces this puzzle together is easily it’s biggest strength, with Rebecca Hall delivering one hell of a performance as the grieving widow who won’t stop asking questions until she uncovers the truth. Each evening, Beth experiences what appears to be waking nightmares, which grow in intensity from one night to the next (occasionally she even sees Owen himself, as if reaching out to her from beyond the grave). Bruckner does a masterful job building the tension with each successive dream sequence, and it isn’t long before we’re dreading the sundown, and what new terrors await Beth once darkness descends (in an interesting contrast, Beth herself seems to embrace that darkness, seeing it as another chance to understand why Owen did what he did).

In addition, The Night House features a number of clever jump scares, the most effective of which involves a home stereo system, all the while offering up clues to help Beth (and we the audience) piece together a mystery that only gets darker with each new reveal.

As ingenious as it is creepy, The Night House is one of the smartest movies, horror or otherwise, that I’ve seen in years.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

#2,769. Son (2021) - 2021 Horror Movies


Writer / director Ivan Kavanagh’s Son spends its first hour or so building an intriguing mystery, slowly peeling away the layers of a story that hints at everything from sexual trauma to demon worship. The issue, unfortunately, is that once that hour is up, we the audience have been able to piece most of it together, resulting in a final act that isn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped.

Laura (Andi Matichak), who escaped from a cult the very day she gave birth, has spent the last 8 years being a good mother to her son David (Luke David Blumm). Their peaceful existence is threatened, however, when Laura walks into David’s room one night and finds a group of strangers gathered around his bed, who seem to disappear as quickly as they materialized. The police, led by Detective Paul (Emile Hirsch), investigate, only to find no evidence of forced entry.

Things go from bad to worse for Laura when David suddenly becomes deathly ill. The doctors have no idea what’s causing his sickness, but a secret from Laura’s past may hold the answers, leaving her with the troubling realization that David is far from the “normal” little boy he appears to be.

As he did with both The Canal and Never Grow Old, Kavanagh infuses Son with a dark ambiance, which grows in intensity as the story unfolds. And, for a while, that story was equally as dark; from the opening scene where we witness David’s birth to the moment we realize the boy’s true nature - a particularly violent sequence involving Laura’s neighbor / good friend Susan (Erin Bradley Danger) - Son had my undivided attention.

The cast is also strong; Matichak delivers a solid performance as the devoted mother whose memories of past traumas slowly return to her, and young Luke David Blumm is especially good as David, convincingly portraying both ends of his character’s extremes. Thanks to these two, the relationship between mother and child proves to be the most compelling aspect of the film.

Unfortunately, the final act, when Laura and David are on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of both the police and those mysterious individuals who have taken an interest in the boy, is a bit more pedestrian than what went before it. There’s a scene set inside a dingy motel room that, though quite violent, played out exactly as I thought it would, and the big twist at the end didn’t come as much of a surprise.

With its brooding atmosphere, intriguing (early) mystery, and fine cast, Son is ultimately worth a watch. I only wish it ended as well as it began.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Monday, June 13, 2022

#2,768. Saint Maud (2019) - 2021 Horror Movies


Psychological horror can, at times, be a frustrating experience for the viewer. Are the events playing out in front of us real, or are they the figment of a character’s imagination? With Saint Maud, writer / director Rose Glass makes such questions a moot point; whether what we’re seeing is genuine or not, the time we spend in the company of its lead character is enough to shake us to our very core.

Hospice nurse Maud (Morfydd Clark), a recent convert to Christianity who is convinced God communicates with her directly, becomes the live-in caretaker for Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a former dancer who is dying.

The two women eventually strike up a friendship, but when Maud takes it upon herself to save Amanda’s eternal soul, it causes a rift between the two. Is Maud actually doing the Lord’s work, or have the traumas of her own past caused her mind to splinter, warping her perceptions of right and wrong, fantasy and reality?

Despite it being her first film, director Rose Glass shows a steady hand behind the camera, infusing Saint Maud with style and atmosphere to spare; utilizing sharp angles and upside-down images, Glass takes us inside her lead character’s damaged psyche, and it is every bit as disturbing a trip as you’d imagine. Clark delivers a tremendous performance as the pious Maud, a woman whose “prayers” cause the power of God to surge through her (her response to which is borderline orgasmic), and whose penchant for self-flagellation results in some of the film’s most uncomfortable scenes (at one point, Maud lines the inside of her shoes with nails and walks around town, in extreme pain).

There are hints scattered throughout the film, both with the opening scene and Maud’s eventual run-in with former colleague Joy (Lily Knight), that something traumatic happened to Maud during her previous position as a hospital nurse, and while we never learn what actually occurred, it clearly had a profound effect on her life, and was more than likely at the root of her newfound faith. It’s to Clark’s (and, of course, Glass’s) credit that we pity Maud as much as we fear her, and even when her actions cross the line (which they do on a number of occasions), we never lose our connection to her.

Jennifer Ehle is equally amazing as the dying Amanda, who is affectionate one minute, cruel the next, and the scenes in which she and Maud are discussing life and religion give the movie it’s center, as well as its key conflict. In addition, there are moments scattered throughout the movie (especially towards the end) that have us wondering if Maud does, indeed, communicate with the almighty, all leading to a final 15 minutes that are positively terrifying.

As mentioned, Saint Maud was Rose Glass’s feature film debut (as both writer and director), and based on what she accomplished here, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!
Rating: 9 out of 10

Saturday, June 11, 2022

#2,767. Meander (2020) - 2021 Horror Movies


As several critics have pointed out, writer / director Mathieu Turi’s Meander has quite a bit in common with 1997’s Cube. But where that earlier movie focused more on its unusual setting than its characters, this 2020 film strikes a nice balance between the two.

Following a chance encounter with a possible serial killer (Peter Franzén), grieving mother Lisa (Gaia Weiss) wakes up to find herself trapped in a strange tunnel system packed with booby traps. What’s more, there’s a timer attached to her wrist, which is counting down from 10 minutes. With no idea where she is, who put her there, or what will happen when those 10 minutes elapse, Lisa starts crawling through the dark, treacherous tunnels, determined to do whatever it takes to survive this dangerous predicament.

Like the characters in Cube, Lisa (played superbly by Weiss) is thrust into a life-or-death situation against her will, and must act quickly - using both her brains and her brawn - if she’s to have any chance of making it out alive. Her journey through these tunnels takes up the majority of the film’s runtime, and it’s to director Turi’s credit that he keeps the tension at a fever pitch throughout; like Lisa, we don’t know what she will encounter around each bend, what new danger will be waiting for her as she moves through this bizarre maze. She eventually discovers that she is not alone, though those with her offer no help (one fellow traveler even chases her). And in a very clever sequence (a first-person flashback to her earlier encounter with the killer), Turi even reveals who (or what) it was that put Lisa in this situation.

Yet as cool as the tunnels and their various hazards are, it’s Lisa who remains front and center throughout; her emotional state, due to the loss of her daughter (a tragedy she feels wholly responsible for) is often at odds with her survival instinct (when we first meet Lisa, she is contemplating suicide), and watching her self-doubt and despair slowly give way to confidence and self-preservation is every bit as rewarding as the movie’s more visceral thrills.

I don’t want to go any further with this; Meander is a movie that earns its shocks and surprises, and I wholeheartedly recommend you check it out. A tense, action-packed sci-fi / horror / thriller that also works on a dramatic level, Meander absolutely blew me away!
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Thursday, June 9, 2022

#2,766. Seance (2021) - 2021 Horror Movies


From the opening scene, in which several students at a prestigious all-girls academy attempt to conjure the spirit of a former pupil, it’s obvious that writer / director Simon Barrett’s Séance isn’t going to be the year’s most original horror film; the sequence follows all the normal beats, right down to the accidental death of Kerrie (Megan Best), who may or may not have had a run-in with said specter.

So the question then becomes: if Séance isn’t bringing anything new to the table, will it at least deliver the “old reliable” well enough to keep us entertained?

Soon after Kerrie’s death, Edelvyne Academy welcomes another pupil, Camille Meadows (Suki Waterhouse), to its ranks. Camille strikes up a fast friendship with fellow student Helina (Ella_Rae Smith), but finds herself at odds with the “popular” girls - i.e. Alice (Inanna Sarkis), Bethany (Madisen Beaty), Yvonne (Stephanie Sy), and a few others – who staged the séance that resulted in Kerrie’s death.

Following a fight between Camille and Alice, Edelvyne’s Headmistress, Mrs. Landry (Marina Stephenson), punishes all of them with after-class detention, during which the curious girls hold another séance and discover that the fabled Edelvyne Ghost may, in fact, be real.

But when some of them start turning up dead, is the ghost truly to blame, or is the killer someone much closer?

Like its central story, the characters in Séance are of the routine variety, and while some of the performances are decent enough (especially Waterhouse, who manages to bring an air of mystery to Camille), there’s nothing - and nobody - here we haven’t seen before. Even the jump scares are standard issue, to the point that I saw most of them coming (ghostly images appearing when the lights flicker; characters hiding under bed covers only to find there’s someone lying next to them; etc).

Where Séance does manage to differentiate itself is in its “big reveal” at the end, not so much the reveal itself, but the fact that it comes earlier than usual; there’s a good 20 minutes left when we find out what’s really been going on. But instead of doing anything interesting with these extra 20 minutes, what transpires instead feels like padding on the filmmakers’ part, and I just wanted it to be over.

Forgettable, pedestrian, even dull, Séance was a disappointment.
Rating: 5 out of 10

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

#2,765. The Power (2021) - 2021 Horror Movies


A place people die in should never be allowed to get that dark”.

Writer / director Corrina Faith’s 2021 horror film The Power weaves a tale of the supernatural, but its otherworldly thrills are far from original. And like most ghost stories, there’s a central mystery, one that I was able to figure out well before the big reveal.

Yet I am happy I saw it, and I would ultimately recommend you do the same, because in the case of The Power, its message alone is potent enough to carry the movie to a whole other level.

January, 1974. East London. Valerie (Rose Williams), a nurse in training, is assigned to work the night shift at a local hospital. Due to a power shortage, the government has ordered that all electrical power be turned off at night, meaning Valerie and her fellow nurses, including Comfort (Gbemisola Ikumelo), Terry (Nuala McGowan), and Babs (Emma Rigby), will be forced to perform their duties by candlelight.

It’s during her first evening on the job that Valerie is tormented by an unknown entity, one that seems to take control of her body, forcing her to act out and putting both she and young patient Saba (Shakira Rahman) in harm’s way. What does this spirit want, and why has it chosen Valerie?

Rose Williams delivers a stunning performance as Valerie, a meek, reserved nurse whose desire to help others masks a dark secret from her past, and the supporting cast is also quite good, especially Ikumelo as the strong-willed Comfort and Diveen Henry as Matron, the strict disciplinarian in charge of the nursing staff whose authority is inadvertently undermined by Valerie (the young nurse strikes up a friendship with Dr. Franklyn, played by Charlie Carrick, despite orders from Matron that the doctors and nurses are not to fraternize in any way). And while the supernatural scares are undoubtedly routine (whispers in the dark that seemingly come from every direction; candles blowing out on their own; doors creaking; etc), director Faith presents them in such a way that they still manage to get our collective pulses pounding (Valerie’s first encounter with the entity is particularly chilling).

As for the film’s central mystery - the identity of the ghostly menace and the reason it has chosen Valerie – my guess is you will figure both out as quickly as I did (if not quicker), yet knowing the answers will not detract from the film’s powerful themes of marginalization and abuse. Without going too deeply into it (I don’t want to spoil anything), by the time the end credits roll, you will realize, as I did, that the title The Power was referring to much more than a simple electrical shortage.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Sunday, June 5, 2022

#2,764. No Man of God (2021) - 2021 Horror Movies


In 1985, the FBI was in the early stages of developing its profiler division, also known as the BAU, or Behavioral Analysis Unit. Agents in the BAU look at crime from a behavioral aspect, attempting to understand what it is that motivates an individual to commit murder, in the hopes such information will bring killers to justice in a timely fashion.

Based on a true story, director Amber Sealey’s No Man of God centers on a series of interviews conducted by Agent Bill Hagmaier (played here by Elijah Wood), a new recruit to the bureau, during which he talked with notorious serial killer Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby), at the time on death row in Florida for kidnapping and murdering a 12-year-old girl.

Warned at the outset by both his superior Roger Depue (Robert Patrick) and the prison’s warden (W. Earl Brown) that Bundy, who hated the FBI, would likely not cooperate, Hagmaier nonetheless established a rapport with the infamous killer, and would meet with him regularly until 1989, when Bundy was put to death in the electric chair.

Ted Bundy, who for years maintained his innocence, was as clever as he was dangerous, and proved to be a fascinating case study. Aided in his final days by civil attorney Carolyn Lieberman (Aleska Palladino), who was fighting to delay his execution, Bundy nonetheless requested to talk to Hagmaier one last time, vowing he would finally come clean. For his part, Hagmaier wanted to know the truth so that the families of Bundy’s many victims (he would eventually confess to 30 murders) might find some closure. But will the enigmatic killer actually confess, or will Bundy take his secrets with him to the grave?

Though dialogue-heavy, No Man of God is at times an intoxicating motion picture, an edge-of-your-seat thriller that grows more intense with each passing scene. The early give-and-take between Hagmaier and Bundy reminds me of similar exchanges between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, with Bundy feeling out Hagmaier by prying into the agent’s personal life. When Hagmaier doesn’t back down, telling the serial killer about his unhappy childhood and his alcoholic father, Bundy himself begins to open up, and watching the rapport build between the two was quite fascinating.

Wood delivers a strong performance as Hagmaier, perfectly expressing the inner conflict his character experiences as he and Bundy continue their conversations, admiring the killer’s sharp mind (Bundy even helps Hagmaier on occasion by providing insight into the actions of serial killers still at large) while at the same time realizing justice must be served, and Bundy must die.

Aleska Palladino is also good as the well-meaning civil attorney out to stop the execution (for her, killing is killing, whether committed by Bundy or the State), but it is Luke Kirby’s mannered, chilling portrayal of Ted Bundy that steals the show. Going from cold and calculating at the outset to desperate and frightened in the later scenes (when his date with the electric chair is fast approaching), Kirby manages to convey Bundy’s intelligence without losing sight of what he was, or the heinous crimes he committed. It is an amazing performance, and does its part to make No Man of God a compelling, absorbing, and very disturbing motion picture.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Friday, June 3, 2022

#2,763. The Last Matinee (2020) - 2021 Horror Movies


Intended as an homage to both Italian Giallo films and the American Slasher subgenre, director Maxi Contenti’s The Last Matinee is, first and foremost, a love letter to the cinema.

It’s 1993, and a small theater in Monetvideo, Uruguay, is screening a low-budget horror film. Convinced that her father, the theater’s projectionist, is working himself too hard, Ana (Luciana Grasso) agrees to fill in for him, but what neither she nor the handful of patrons in attendance that evening realize is that a killer in black gloves (Ricardo Islas) has also bought a ticket, and is waiting for the perfect moment to turn the dilapidated cinema into a bloodbath.

When discussing his movie The Last Matinee, director Contenti said he wanted “to pay tribute to the movie theater, to the ceremony of going to see a movie in a theater”, and by setting the entire film within the confines of a movie house, he manages to do just that; from the plethora of posters lining the walls of Ana’s projection booth to the popcorn containers and candy wrappers tucked under the seats, you feel as if you’re there, watching the movie in the dark alongside the other patrons.

Of course, once the killer gets down to business, you’ll be damn happy you aren’t there! And for a low-budget film (according to Contenti, the entire budget was around $350,000), the gore effects are damn impressive! One young couple, who only just hooked up, meet a particularly gruesome end, and the killer’s penchant for removing his victim’s eyeballs results in what is arguably the film’s grossest reveal. Those who like their giallos / slashers soaked in blood will certainly get a kick out of The Last Matinee, especially a late scene in which the entire theater is tinted red!

And in what was my favorite bit of casting in the entire film, Ricardo Isles, who plays the killer, is himself a Uruguayan filmmaker, and the guy who directed the movie that’s screening when all hell breaks loose (Frankenstein: Day of the Beast)!

South America has been responsible for some of my favorite horror films of the last five years. Both 2017’s Terrified and 2018’s The Nightshifter were my top horror movies the years they were released here in the states (2018 and 2019, respectively), and I am also a big fan of the werewolf / musical Good Manners. A joint production between Uruguay and Argentina, The Last Matinee is another fine addition to this already impressive list, and if you’re a fan of horror or even just movies in general, this is a film you won’t want to miss!
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

#2,762. Censor (2021) - 2021 Horror Movies


Almost 40 years after the fact, the UK’s Video Nasties campaign of the ‘80s, when specific movies on video were singled out and even prohibited for their violent content, still doesn’t sit well with horror fans. That’s because the genre was the movement’s primary target; with moral crusaders like Mary Whitehouse leading the way, titles such as Blood Feast, The Evil Dead, and Zombie were deemed far too gory for home consumption, and any video rental store offering said films opened themselves up to prosecution.

Acting as watchdogs, the censors working for the BBFC (British Board of Classification) decided whether or not a film could be made available to the public. Some movies were passed with cuts, others were deemed unacceptable and banned. Set during the height of the Video Nasties craze, Censor stars Niahm Algar as Enid, one of several censors working for the BBFC. Enid takes her job very seriously, and is determined to prevent violent horror films such as Nightmare and I Spit on Your Grave from falling into the hands of the nation’s impressionable youth.

But Enid has a secret from her past that continues to haunt her; years earlier, her younger sister Nina (played in flashbacks by Amelie Child Villiers) disappeared without a trace, and Enid believes she was personally responsible for this tragedy (the two sisters were playing together when Nina vanished).

Enid’s already fragile mental state takes a turn for the worse when she reviews the newest horror movie from producer Doug Smart (Michael Smiley). Not only does it feature a sequence that seems to mirror Nina’s disappearance, but it also stars an actress named Alice Lee (Sophia La Porta), who Enid believes might actually be her long-lost sister!

One of the strengths of writer / director Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor is that it doesn’t vilify the BBFC or its employees, treating them instead as ordinary men and women hired to do what many at the time believed was an important job. There are several scenes in which Enid and her co-workers preview violent movies, and we see the process by which the board makes their decisions. At one point, Enid and fellow censor Sanderson (Nicholas Burns) even get into some hot water for passing the 1974 horror film Deranged; an accused killer supposedly mimicked one of that movie’s grislier scenes. Enid even receives threatening calls from angry citizens, and is hounded by the press, who want to know why she passed such an obviously violent picture.

But while director Bailey-Bond and her co-writer Anthony Fletcher may have stopped short of disparaging the BBFC and the role they played during the Video Nasties era, the two also go to great lengths to prove that real-life violence is caused not by movies, but a sickness of the mind. Played superbly by Niahm Algar, Enid is a tortured soul, a woman who cannot shake the trauma of her past. While the rest of her family has moved on from Nina’s disappearance, Enid cannot, and the never-ending search for her beloved sister will take her down some very dark paths.

The last half-hour of Censor, when Enid is frantically searching for Alice Lee, features violence and bloodshed that is often quite shocking, with a final scene that you will not soon forget. It’s ironic, in a way; had Censor been made in the ‘80s, it would likely have been classified by the BBFC as a Video Nasty!

Which, I suppose, is kind of the point.
Rating: 9 out of 10