Zombie Night (2013)

Directed by John Gulager [Other horror films: Feast (2005), Feast II: Sloppy Seconds (2008), Feast III: The Happy Finish (2009), Piranha 3DD (2012), Children of the Corn: Runaway (2018)]

The Asylum strikes again, and while Zombie Night isn’t necessarily as bad as much of their output, it’s definitely rather generic and as run-of-the-mill as you might expect from a modern-day zombie flick.

Truthfully, I’ve always thought that more than any other subgenre of horror, zombies are the most difficult to keep consistently engaging. How many zombie movies have a group of people banding together to survive a zombie attack, and that’s virtually it? From Doomed to Consume (2006) to Remains (2011), from Day of the Dead (2008) to Isle of the Dead (2016), Zombie Apocalypse (2011), Dead Season (2012) and Zombie Women of Satan (2009), there’s so many bad and generic zombie films out there to make the genre virtually pointless.

Obviously, there have been some well-deserved successes, and those films almost exclusively add something different to the experience. Technically, Zombie Night sort of tries the same thing, as apparently the zombies are only active at night (during the day, they’re just harmless corpses), but that’s not really enough when everything else in the movie has been done to death (pun intended).

There are so many idiotic character choices in the movie, it gets really hard to feel sympathy for any of them. Have an older, blind mother? Leave her in the basement alone without company, I’m sure that won’t freak her out at all. Have a family member about to turn? Just refuse to shoot them, I’m sure that they’ll take your feelings into consideration and stay dead. Want a great place to hide? Try a greenhouse, you know, one of those structures made mainly of transparent glass that, you know, cracks. Even if the greenhouse was stormproof, you really think having a mass of bodies pushing against the glass isn’t eventually going to cause the structure to give? Oh, and instead of letting a babysitter go home to her family, lock her up in one of the rooms, I’m sure that’ll work out.

Of course, it didn’t, and a zombie broke in, killed her, and then all hell breaks loose, not that it matters, because most of the characters utterly suck. I sort of appreciate Anthony Michael Hall’s character, and Rachel G. Fox was sort of cute, in an emo way, which gave us a little something, but otherwise, no other performance (including Daryl Hannah) do that much for me.

It doesn’t really matter, because with a movie this generic, it’s really hard to stand out. Certainly, I was a bit more invested in this movie than, say, Day of the Dead (2008), and generally, I thought the movie was a little better (the fact that no origin was given for the zombies was somewhat refreshing, as opposed to some ham-fisted explanation twist at the end), but it’s still pretty pointless. For a zombie movie, you could definitely do much worse than Zombie Night, but I don’t think this movie has a whole lot to offer overall.

5.5/10

The Sandman (2017)

Directed by Peter Sullivan [Other horror films: Summoned (2013), High School Possession (2014), Ominous (2015), Cucuy: The Boogeyman (2018)]

This Syfy flick isn’t the worst I’ve seen the channel make, but it is overly generic and pretty close to pointless. Ultimately, it comes across as a poor knock-off of Firestarter, what with a little girl who has a power she can’t control being chased by military men, and I just couldn’t find myself caring whatsoever.

In terms of what the film does right, I felt there were a few solid kills that warrant a mention, such as a character’s head getting compressed until it pops, along with a scene in which the Sandman breaks the spine of one of the soldiers. Also, Tobin Bell has about six minutes of screen-time, so that’s cool, right?

Shaun Sipos’ character ends up being a lot less important than one might think, which was a bit surprising, but honestly, I couldn’t find the effort to care much. Lead girl Shae Smolik does about as well as you can expect a little kid to do, but I personally found her a bit irksome throughout. Amanda Wyss (Tina from ANOES) appeared for a bit, but I honestly didn’t know who she was until I checked through her IMDb credits. Haylie Duff somewhat sucked. But hey, Tobin Bell has about six minutes of screen-time, right?

Honestly, the more I think about this one, the more derivative I feel it is. Like I said, I kept getting a Firestarter vibe from it, which was exactly how I felt when I first saw this film, shorty after it’s premiere in October 2017. I didn’t like it then, and I certainly haven’t changed my view in light of another watch.

To be entirely truthful, I don’t think there’s really anything else to say about this, other than that I really didn’t care for the design of the titular Sandman (it didn’t look near organic enough, if that complaint makes sense). This flick wasn’t the worst Syfy original I’ve seen, but it was entirely pointless and without merit. I mean, at least I got to see Tobin Bell in a handful of scenes, so that’s enough, right?

3.5/10

5 Headed Shark Attack (2017)

Directed by Nico De Leon [Other horror films: N/A] & Jose Montesinos [Other horror films: Nightmare Wedding (2016), Sinister Minister (2017), From the Depths (2020)]

Oh dear. This series was looking marginally better with 3-Headed Shark Attack, but it dropped down a bit with this one. Now, this is definitely better than the first movie, but boy, it’s not a good or even enjoyable flick whatsoever.

Well, scratch that – there was one decently amusing scene of a multiple-headed shark (who’d have thunk it?) jumping out of the water to attack a helicopter. That was rad, in a hideous-CGI sort of way. Otherwise, I didn’t much see the point of the film.

Sure, both Lindsay Sawyer and Nikki Howard look steaming in bikinis, but that’s not enough. I did sort of like Jeffrey Holsman’s character arc (such as it was), and Chris Bruno looked super familiar (I’m guessing because he’s the brother of Dylan Bruno, an actor I enjoyed in the series Numb3rs), and was decently fun, but there’s still not a lot of reason to go watch this one.

Part of the issue is the repetitiveness of the plot – group goes out on the water, gets attacked, comes back to mainland, decides to go out on water again, gets attacked, so on and so forth. I mean, I’ll be honest, I don’t expect a whole lot from most shark movies, but even for a sub-genre as often dry as this, the film was pretty bad.

Worth noting – for the first 35 minutes or so, the shark only had four heads. Then, for some reason, the shark’s tail became a fifth head. Yes, it’s tail, and yes, it looked as stupid as you’re probably imagining right now.

I’ve now seen 2-Headed Shark Attack, 3-Headed Shark Attack, and 5 Headed Shark Attack, God help my soul, and none of them have been great. The closest the series has gotten to average (and it was still a far way off) was 3-Headed Shark Attack, and I’m sad to see that the series dipped down with this rather lackluster outing. Here’s hoping the next one is better, but let’s be honest, how likely is that?

3/10

Finders Keepers (2014)

Directed by Alexander Yellen [Other horror films: Battledogs (2013)]

There are times when a movie isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s utterly generic, unmemorable, and entirely unremarkable.

I think Finders Keepers falls into that category.

I don’t really have a lot to say about this one. The plot’s one we’ve all seen before: a mother and daughter move into a creepy old house with a sordid past, and the daughter finds an object (here a doll) and begins changing. This isn’t anything new or unique, and I’m honestly hard-pressed to come up with one thing in this film worth seeing.

Well, scratch that – Tobin Bell does have three scenes. Most well-known from the Saw series, Bell is solid here as a child psychiatrist. I wish he appeared more, but what we got from him was okay. Less impressive, but not horrible, were two of the leads, Jaime Pressly and Patrick Muldoon. Muldoon honestly didn’t make an impression on me one way or the other, but Pressly was definitely mixed. At times, she did rather well, at others, she seemed ridiculous.

Aside from Bell, though, I don’t know if this movie has much to offer. Most of the kills are unspectacular and, like the film as a whole, unmemorable. The ending is utter trash, and doesn’t make much sense to me. The child actress, Kylie Rogers, annoyed me more than anything else.

Really, Finders Keepers doesn’t seem to have a lot going for it. Someone of course could still have a good time with it, because it’s not really horrible, but after a few months past, some may find that they have little memory of it, for good reason.

Certainly not a film I’d go out of my way to see again, I’d only suggest Finders Keepers to fans of Tobin Bell. It’s certainly better than some of Bell’s other movies with small appearances, such as the atrocity that was The Sandman (2017). Finders Keepers wasn’t worth finding, and definitely far from a keeper.

5/10

Gehenna: Where Death Lives (2016)

Directed by Hiroshi Katagiri [Other horror films: N/A]

I think that this film had potential, certainly more potential than what the final product displayed. While I liked some aspects, including much of the conclusion and some of the plot, overall, I was underwhelmed, and because the film runs on a tad long, even bored at points.

The basic plot is interesting, especially if you’ve some interest in history. I was reminded a little of a film called Dead Mine (2012), but luckily, not only is this story better, the movie as a whole is more enjoyable (which says far more about how bad Dead Mine was as opposed to how good this is). A group of people exploring an old war bunker and running into several things that don’t make sense is a fun time. It gets less fun the longer the movie runs, but as a basic story, I enjoyed it.

Most of the main characters do well, but not that many really stand out all that much. Eva Swan, despite being a bit of a nobody, did rather good here, and I rather enjoyed how her character was mostly able to keep her cool when few others could. Simon Phillips too did well, especially toward the end when he became more antagonistic toward the others. Used primarily for comedic relief, Shawn Sprawling was decent, though I don’t necessarily care for where his story went.

Occasionally Gehenna: Where Death Lives reminded me of As Above, So Below (though that film is so much more enjoyable than this one, to be sure) due to the characters reliving past mishaps, but more often than not, Gehenna: Where Death Lives plays out as a by-the-numbers ghost story. It’s disappointing, because the setting is unique and some of the aspects aren’t fully explored like I feel they could have been (such as the time issue).

I wasn’t expecting much going into this one, and I didn’t get much coming out. There are portions of the film I enjoyed, such as the finale, and the characters are mostly decently-acted, but the film was an hour and 45 minutes long. At least twenty minutes could have been cut easy, so despite some of the more unique parts of the film, overall, this isn’t one I can see myself ever going back to.

5.5/10

Kristy (2014)

Directed by Olly Blackburn [Other horror films: Donkey Punch (2008)]

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of Kristy before going in, and I’d say that was probably a good thing. There were some elements and stylistic choices I didn’t care for, but honestly, I was overall pretty pleased with this one.

A lot of this has to do with the setting of a virtually empty university campus (as it takes place during Thanksgiving break). There’s a lot of scenes of just expansive buildings and grounds with just a single character in frame, which lent much of the film a great vibe. What also helped was the fog that was prevalent throughout most of the film.

In many ways, I was reminded of The Strangers: Prey at Night, as much of this film is a cat-and-mouse game between Haley Bennett’s character and her mysterious assailants. The only difference is that Kristy doesn’t have the same 80’s nostalgic feel that one does. There were some really suspenseful scenes, from the library sequence, to the gym scenes, and when Bennett’s character really starts fighting back, you have a great character to root for.

Bennett was really good in this. She’s a student with a less-than-perfect life (especially compared to her friends, one of which has rich parents who are vacationing in Aspen, the other who comes from a wealthy family that mocks the fact Bennett has to work while attending school), and seeing this character get beaten down only to fight back once the going really gets tough, it’s rather satisfying.

Bennett’s about the only performance that really matters, on a side-note. The four antagonists are fine, but they’re just basically the same type of silent, mask-wearing antagonist you see in movies like The Strangers and Cabin 28. There’s not much too them, really. Lucas Till’s character was mostly a nonentity, and the other two who really stood out one way or another, in as limited scenes as they had, were James Ransone (Deputy So-and-So from Sinister) and Mathew St. Patrick (who played a friendly and rather enjoyable campus security guard).

The kills were pretty solid past a certain point. A baseball bat with nails strapped on made for a solid scene in which someone’s head didn’t have the best of days. There was a fun sequence in a pool, and another great instance with someone burning to death. Some of the kills were a bit more generic, but the main ones were all on point.

A few problems did arise, though. I don’t personally think that loud music needs to accompany every scare the film has. There were plenty of scenes that would have been just a creepy, if not more so, in a subtle way, if they had just laid off the music. If a scene is legitimately creepy, the music isn’t necessary because the jump will come naturally.

Also, I didn’t love the story behind the antagonists. This is literally one of the first things we see, so it’s not a spoiler, but having an online cult going after girls they deem ‘perfect’ (without actually studying their subjects to see if they fit) just felt a bit shallow. The ending, which dealt with some of the aftermath of the events of the film, was sort of interesting, but at the same time, the dark web cult of serial killers just turned me off.

Speaking of being turned off, the post-credits scene was extraordinarily unnecessary. It seemed to imply that the cult still had some cells, which wasn’t something that really came as a surprise, and ultimately didn’t really seem all that worth tacking onto the ending.

Despite my problems, I think Kristy is a movie that has a lot going for it. I really enjoyed much of it’s style, and the kills that really mattered were great. There are many just plain satisfying scenes with Bennett’s character fighting back, and I think this was was pretty enjoyable overall. Definitely one that I’d recommend, and certainly one that I’d watch again.

8.5/10

It Follows (2014)

Directed by David Robert Mitchell [Other horror film: N/A]

Something of a modern-day classic, It Follows is certainly a memorable movie with plenty of creepy scenes, even if there’s something to be desired insofar as the origin of the ‘it’ is concerned.

There’s not too many performances here that really stand out one way or the other. Most of the main actors and actresses do just fine (such as Lili Sepe, Maika Monroe, and Keir Gilchrist), but didn’t really blow me away. Gilchrist, on a side-note, later starred in 2015’s Dark Summer, a somewhat disappointing film overall, but not altogether terrible. It was Olivia Luccardi’s performance I enjoyed the most, though I kept hoping for a bit more from her character.

Which leads to the crux of my problem with the film, which is that we never learn what exactly the entity that ‘follows’ is. Not only do we not learn what the entity is, but more problematic, none of the characters even come up with any ideas, nor seem to care. Luccardi’s character was a reader, and the first time I saw this, I kept hoping that she’d eventually run into something that matched this creature’s modus operandi, but we got nothing.

If you can get past that, and I by-and-large can, you have a pretty enjoyable and occasionally rather creepy film. Some of the music used worked quite well, creating an uneasy atmosphere, and given that the being here is invisible to most people, there are some decently subtle scares here also, and at times, the film feels pleasantly disorienting.

Overall, It Follows is a solid film, probably an easy top ten movie in 2014, but having seen it twice, it’s not a movie I necessarily love. I enjoy the film quite a bit, and if a sequel deigns to explore the background of the malevolent entity, I’d be all in. As far as this one goes, the film’s good, but I need more information to fully sate me.

7.5/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, so if you’re at all interested, listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss the film.

Insidious (2010)

Directed by James Wan [Other horror films: Stygian (2000), Saw (2004), Dead Silence (2007), The Conjuring (2013), Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013), The Conjuring 2 (2016)]

Well, at least there were some super scary jump scares, so I guess the movie’s not all a waste, right?

As it is, this is a film I had little interest in for quite some time, which is partially why it took nine years after it was released for me to actually watch it, and the sad thing is, even with that in mind, I still found the movie rather disappointing.

It’s not as though Insidious is an overly horrible film, though – I can certainly see why mainstream audiences might be enthralled by it. As for fans of the horror genre, though, I guess that I failed to see what’s so impressive about it. Jump scare after jump scare with ‘scary’ music to make the jump scares scarier and OMG another jump scare help me I’m scared

Obviously, this movie hit the right spots for some people, and I’ll certainly say that elements are pretty solid (such as the subtler approach to horror in a few scenes), and the plot itself is decently interesting. Even the end, when Patrick Wilson’s character goes into The Further, I was fine with it. I sort of liked the almost A Nightmare on Elm Street vibe of the Red-faced demon’s chamber, what with him sharpening his claws to Tiny Tim’s dulcet tones.

I saw (and I suspect it’s the same for most) the twist behind Wilson’s character a mile away, and the ending just didn’t impress me whatsoever. It felt so damn Hollywood, and didn’t do anything to at all to help end the film on a more positive note.

The principle cast is all fine. Patrick Wilson (of classics such as Hard Candy and The Conjuring) did pretty solidly, and everyone else, including Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye (who I amazingly still recognized from the 1984 aforementioned classic, A Nightmare on Elm Street, along with the more recent 2003 Dead End), and Barbara Hershey, did well also, though none of the three blew me away. Leigh Whannell (of Saw fame) was nice to see, but the brand of humor he and his cohort Angus Sampson brought to the film didn’t do it for me.

All-in-all, I’m not really surprised that Insidious didn’t impress me. In the past, I’ve heard it compared positively with Paranormal Activity, which is a film I utterly hated. I get how Insidious could impress some people, and obviously if it’s your type of film, by all means, enjoy it. I will admit it had potential with the story. But that ending was Hollywood tripe (and in fact, it’s not altogether removed from what you’d see on Syfy), and while I appreciate portions of the film, this isn’t one I plan on watching again for at least twenty years.

5.5/10

This is one of the films discussed on Fight Evil’s podcast. If interested in hearing Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I talk this one over, look no further.

Stage Fright (2014)

Directed by Jerome Sable [Other horror films: ABCs of Death 2 (2014, segment ‘V is for Vacation’)]

I’ve seen Stage Fright twice now, and while I wish I liked this horror-musical more, I ultimately find it far more generic and disappointing than anything.

The cast is fine. Douglas Smith didn’t get as much characterization as I would have liked, but Allie MacDonald was pretty decent. Meat Loaf was just okay, and Brandon Uranowitz did well with a really terrible character. And don’t get me started on Melanie Leishman’s character, who I hated with a passion.

Only two songs are really worth listening to on repeat, being the opening ‘Where We Belong’ and ‘The Show Must Go On,’ which is disappointing as there was certainly room for more catchy songs throughout the film. I don’t particularly love Repo! The Genetic Opera, but in terms of songs, that blows Stage Fright out of the water.

Related, not many of the kills did that much for me, and in fact, off the top of my head, though I watched this for the second time not that long ago, I’m failing to remember any kills that stuck with me. Maybe in the moment, some of the kills are solid, but this isn’t some new-age slasher classic whatsoever.

A musical-slasher sounds like it would be so fun, and it really could be if handled differently, but as sleek as Stage Fright looks, it doesn’t really deliver near as many catchy songs or bloody deaths as you might hope, and ultimately, while it’s okay for a single watch, I wouldn’t really go back to this one a third time.

6/10

As this was covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, you can listen to Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss it here.

Cooties (2014)

Directed by Jonathan Milott [Other horror films: Becky (2020)] & Cary Murnion [Other horror films: Becky (2020)]

I didn’t go into this one with many expectations, which is probably a positive, as I doubt that Cooties could have surpassed them. For a zombie comedy, Cooties is definitely a competently made film, and it may even be a good movie, but I don’t think it’s particularly great in any way.

The higher-budget production here looks nice, and we’re given a decent amount of mildly interesting characters, but the movie doesn’t really transcend the feel of an average film. Special effects, cinematography, it’s all decent, but at the same time, I really didn’t see much in here that’s likely to be either that memorable or that praise-worthy, mainly because zombie comedies are a tough sub-genre to crack anyway.

One high selling point here is the cast, of course. I never much cared for the star, being Elijah Wood (an actor who I personally haven’t seen in much, but is most well-known for Lord of the Rings), and I could have done entirely without Rainn Wilson’s (The Office) character, and now that I think on it, the characters played by Jack McBrayer, Nasim Pedrad, and Peter Kwong didn’t add much either.

If it weren’t for Alison Pill and Leigh Whannell, this would have been a much harder movie to swallow. I didn’t necessarily love Alison Pill’s character, but she did have much the same attitude her character from The Newsroom possessed, and I generally liked her spunk. Whannell, of course, played Adam in the first Saw movie, and though he’s noticeably older here, his socially awkward, scientifically-detached character is quite a lot of fun. Shout-out to Matt Jones’ (Badger from Breaking Bad) single appearance, which was nice, but the brunt of the enjoyment from performances came from Pill and Whannell.

The comedy here is moderately balanced, but it can really get a bit overboard at times (and many of these times revolve around Wilson’s ridiculous character, who seems right out of a Will Ferrell movie), which didn’t help matters. The gore was pretty solid, and I did like seeing zombie kids get taken down, but some parts were just too silly, and much of the ending itself was sort of suspect.

There’s also not near as much a sense as dread as you’d hope. Virtually none of the main characters die. One seems to have been torn apart, but they pop up at the end of the film, along with another character who had gone missing. I just didn’t get how at least three of the more likely suspects weren’t killed off, just to give us a sense of some type of real danger, but it just never happened.

Cooties isn’t a bad film, but it really should have been better, especially with the budget and solid cast members. I don’t think it really broke ground in the zombie comedy genre, even with zombie kids and teachers kicking their asses, but like I said, it’s still a competent enough film. It’s just not memorable, or really remarkable whatsoever.

7/10