“The Predator” Review

There’s something so unbelievably bonkers about Shane Black’s take on Predator that make it narrowly fun amid its messy hit-or-miss method. Rather than go for a more modern and serious retread of the classic action tale of gun-toting soldiers versus high-tech alien hunter, Black throws his picture so far deep into the pool of zany it should come labeled as a comedy, decked out with much winking in its silly banter and over-the-top gore. And sometimes, amid the massive mess of this nutty production, it works.
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“The Meg” Review

The Meg is a B-movie creature feature that seems to be trying so hard to be average, never favoring a tone too serious or silly. It struggles to play it straight with its exposition of underwater research and horrific with the titular shark, but still wants to wink at the camera and have a laugh with a quip or two. A PG-13 rating for a bigger summer box office gross prevents any memorable kills or bloody terror. It’s this assembly that makes the movie more of a dry, by-the-numbers monster movie than a more campier version that pays homage to its lesser and goofier counterparts.
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“Psychopaths” Review

Psychopaths is a pointless display of cruelty and violence that cakes on artful cinematography and relentless savagery in place of plot and purpose. But it’s a script that seems somewhat aware of its toxic nihilism, where a death-row killer admits in an interview that evil is evil, not needing a purpose to exist. The same sentiments can be applied to this film. Writer/director Mickey Keating perhaps wasn’t seeking to make a film that had some theme or characterization to a series of serial killer murders. He probably just wanted to film very vile acts for the sheer pleasure of watching people suffer. Evil is evil after all.
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“A Quiet Place” Review

There are some horror movies where I enjoy watching the audience reactions more than the movie itself. And then there are ones like John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place, where I turn into the reactive horror movie viewer I usually smirk at for being won over by jump-scares. I found myself doing things I don’t normally do while watching horror films; edging on my seat, my mouth agape, and my finger lodged between my teeth with intensity. It’s a rare exception of a film that manages to merge the artfulness of a slow-building dread with the rollercoaster effect of grinding anticipation.
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“The Shape of Water” Review

The Shape of Water presents the argument of why director Guillermo del Toro should be directing the new crop of Universal monster movies and why he will never be chosen for such an honor. He should be directing those films because he has a playful and experimental vision in both direction and tone for crafting an unorthodox creature feature. He won’t be selected because his ideas are just too out there if Universal wants their monster properties to nab some of that blockbuster cash. I can’t imagine general summer audiences would dig a film where a woman has sex with an amphibian creature in a romantic manner.
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“The Babysitter” Review

McG’s wild stab at a dark horror comedy continuously misses the mark, struggling to land a laugh like a lousy comedian flopping about a stage slippery with blood. Not only does it fail to garner a giggle, but also becomes embarrassing for how hip this script tries to be, slinging out geeky and topical talk like a grandpa drawing inspiration from a few threads he read online. This is almost like McG’s midlife crisis of a horror film, trying to prove that he’s still the fun director with his fingers on the pulse of today’s youth. His attempt comes off with more cringe than cool, akin to your dad dusting off his bellbottoms and throwing on some Ray Jay Johnson to impress your friends.
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“Wicked City” Review

Taki meets a woman at a bar and takes her back to his place. They start having sex and Taki notices something strange going on with the woman’s legs and arms. Her limbs grow longer and pointier as she tries to ensnare Taki into her vagina that has now bore teeth. Luckily for Taki, he’s accustomed to dealing with monsters such as this, grabbing his gun and forcing her out the window. Now in a more spider-like form, she scurries out the window and down the building. Just another dangerous day in Wicked City.
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“The Gallows” Review

High school students go into the school at night. High school students don’t come out. It’s the simple formula for yet another found-footage horror that proceeds through the motions more than it should. Here we have a high school that is a truly spooky building with its mysterious hidden hallways and secret crawl  spaces. But to get to these scary scenes of dark corridors to the unknown, we have to spend some time with some bland characters and put up with their meager excuses to go into the haunted school. And, of course, we’re stuck with following them in the found-footage format of camera phones and camcorders.

I’ll reiterate what I’ve stated many times already for this format – just give the characters camera glasses. They can put them on and forget about them just as easily as the audience rather than wondering why these terrified kids are still filming themselves being trapped. They even use the light on the camera to keep up some visibility in the darkness and still don’t turn off the recording. If this format really wants to continue, it would do well to adhere to a modicum of logic.

As unlikable as this teenage foursome appear in the picture, I must admit there is a believable dynamic to their characters. A jock desperately tries to impress a girl by attempting to act in the high school play. His dorky A/V buddy constantly shoves the camera in the jock’s face and anywhere where he can find a juvenile laugh. Convinced that the jock will fail miserably on opening night, the two of them decide to break into the school the night before the play and bust up the stage. And if that plan wasn’t crazy enough, they invite along their insane female friend and document the ordeal with a camera.

After some expected teen drama when the jock finds his crush followed him inside, the doors are locked and frights begin. The killer of the evening is the ghost of a student who died during a play of The Gallows, the very same play that was to take place the next day. Accidentally hung by faulty equipment, the angry soul tortures the kids with his haunted school antics. When he’s not pulling the usual ghost pranks of locking doors and replacing items behind their back. The teenagers wreck the stage, look away, look back and the stage is perfectly reassembled. The teenagers then start freaking out and blubbering with questions about how that happened. The prank is continuous throughout the picture that you’d figure the characters would catch on to the repetitive nature by the third act.

When the ghost isn’t pulling these goofy attempts at scaring teens, there is actually some scary imagery mixed in to this standard found-footage horror. Delving deeper into the mysteriously dark hallways and crawl spaces, the teens discover everything from creepy televisions that operate without power and a swinging corpse dangled high above a dark shaft. But to get to this point, you have to be with the characters in their journey. And when their excuse for going into the creepy, dark crawl space is “ah, screw it”, it’s hard to be with a horror experience that is clearly strung along without real progression. Characters run off, some get lost, some get locked behind doors and the deaths and panic set in with amateur horror logic 101.

The ghost of deceased student Charlie appears briefly here and there with the standard hangman bag over his head. His weapon of choice, obviously, is the noose. But how many ways can you kill somebody with a noose? You could grab the teens by different body parts and rip off limbs, I guess. But, no, Charlie really has a thing for the neck seeing as how his was snapped. Unless the rope itself is made of some impenetrable ghost material, I question why the teenagers don’t pack some scissors or a knife to simply cut the rope.

While there are some proper ingredients for an effective found footage horror, The Gallows just never takes off as it meanders around its spooky premise. Two of the teens find themselves walking along a catwalk. They turn around as they think they hear something. They turn back and the catwalk is littered with nooses. It’s a scene that perfectly sums up the laziness of the experience. We’re waiting for a scare and get served up the same old frights drooped about.

“Tremors 5: Bloodlines” Review

Did they really make a fifth Tremors movie? Yes. Did there need to be a fifth Tremors movie? No. Is it even any good? Surprisingly, yes. For being a direct-to-video feature and the latest entry in a dead franchise, Tremors 5 manages to be a rather pleasing bit of campy monster-hunting action. Am I lowering my expectations having spent so much time in the direct-to-video soup? Perhaps, but this is still one of the more enjoyable bowls of both the genre and the series. And sometimes you just want to enjoy a crazy movie about exploding bugs.

The series staple Michael Gloss returns for the role as the mustached gunmen Burt Gummer. Now a seasoned veteran at dealing with the wormy Graboids, Burt now has his own survival television program where he showcases his monster-hunting skills. Such promotion brings with it pushy young brand manager Travis Welker (Jamie Kennedy). Taking the show abroad, Burt accepts an invitation to hunt Graboids in South Africa. But the plot grows thicker as more Graboids are discovered and a greedy black market dealer desires to have these monsters captured alive.

Naturally, Tremors 5 never takes itself seriously. It’d be hard to do so when the type of Graboid our heroes are hunting is designated as an Ass Blaster class, based on the fire it spews from its rectum to launch through the air. True to the campy spirit of Tremors, the script by the original writers maintains a certain level of fun throughout. Burt showcases his usual gung ho attitude with plenty of guns in tow. He’s such an amusing character that the movie actually has enough faith to lock him in a cage and work with very little. The addition of Jamie Kennedy to the cast is solid given that he perfectly inhabits the role of an eager young assistant. He never plays the role up too heavily by acting as a suitable counter to the crusty old Michael Gloss.

The monster hunting is heavy on the computer graphics, but the picture makes due with the best with what it has to offer. The Graboids don’t appear very cheap for such a production and actually look pretty decent in most scenes. There are some sequences that are awkwardly staged as when one unlucky soul is gobbled up by a Graboid launching out of the sand and swallowing before burrowing back. But there are also scenes that easily avoid being laughable as when an Ass Blaster flies off into the night with human prey in its claws.

Plenty of firepower is brought to the party as Burt goes hunting in South Africa. You’ll rarely find a scene where Burt isn’t armed with a trusty hunting rifle. He may not do as much shooting as I’d like, mostly just taking aim for a Graboid kills, but the picture tries to make up for it in the second act with a helicopter armed with missiles that decimates a Graboid nest. The movie at least delivers on the blood and explosions as the grand finale involves a giant burst of bug guts over an entire African town.

Despite some slow spots, Tremors 5 delivers on a genuine sense of fun for another monster romp down the direct-to-video series. There’s a surprising amount of charm in how it delivers on some capable humor for what could have been a tired change of location and smattering of computer graphics. It would be nice to see Kevin Bacon return to the series after all these years, but Michael Gloss seems to do a good job at keeping a certain level of enthusiasm after all these years. After five Tremors movies, he still has all the intensity with his cackling at victories and teeth gnashing at those who hinder his hunt. He owns this series and he knows it, despite the attempt in this movie to spur a passing of the torch. I also really dug the concept for his reality show that would fit in snugly on National Geographic or the Discovery Channel. If the series has a future, I would be more than okay with a Tremors TV series of Burt hunting Graboids around the globe. Could you imagine him running through the streets of Tokyo with a hunting rifle as monsters emerge into crowded intersections?

“Poltergeist” (2015) Review

They’re heeeere…again. As commercial horror struggles to hold a loose grip on American audiences, the time has come to rehash another horror classic. The victim this time around is Poltergeist, a haunted house picture most notable for being Tobe Hooper’s frightening collaboration with Steven Spielberg screenwriting. Now in the hands of director Gil Kenan and producer Sam Raimi, this remake begs the question of why it had to be made outside of the blatant cash grab of marquee value.

Part of the fun of a horror movie is the element of the unexpected. The new Poltergeist plays to all the same notes, fruitlessly punched up for a modern audience. For example, take the creepy clown doll. In the original, the clown toy was scary not because it had a fearsome face, but because it seems sinister in the darkness during a thunderstorm. The new clown doll tries too hard to be scary in the light with its sharp teeth and beady eyes. By the time the clown actually pops out of the darkness to grab a little boy by the neck, his visage has lost the element of fright. It also doesn’t help that his reputation is plastered all over the movie posters as if to prep the audience ahead of time that there is a scary clown in the movie.

The only part of this new version that feels fresh and redefined is the family dynamic. The Bowen family is likable and relatable upon moving into the house with the concerned mother (Rosemarie DeWitt) and the struggling-to-find-a-job dad (Sam Rockwell). They’re all defined as real characters before the spook-fest begins. But when it’s time for the ghosts to arrive, the picture sacrifices their plight for the familiar ride.

The scary aspect of Poltergeist is just lost when regurgitated out for the 21st century. The only elements that seem divergent are the inclusion of drones and ghost-hunting reality programs. Other than that, it’s the same old scares relying on jumps and computer graphics. The tree outside the window smashes its branches into the house to grab the children, but now the tree reaches through the hallway and out the window. A shot like that screams of Raimi’s Evil Dead 2, but without all the skillful camerawork or general thrill. It’s hard to be scared of a computer-generated tree reaching through a house especially with the vision of the more practical effects from the original still in my mind.

And I hate to compare a remake to the original because that’s just not fair, but what do you expect when the movie follows the same plot with no new surprises? Moreover, it taunts the viewer with small Raimi-isms of what could have been a PG-13 Evil Dead if only there was a shred of creativity in its conception of creeps. It’s a movie I truly do want to love for the craft of its characters and technicalities behind the special effects. The portal in the bedroom is presented about as well it could be for a modern horror picture. But, again, did it need to be made? Sure, the teenagers who have yet to see the original may not be shocked at what is presented – cowering in their seats for the next jump scare. But when those kids eventually do see Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, they’ll have to decide which version of “they’re heeeere” is better. My money is on Hooper’s version.