The Lights (2009)

Directed by John Sjogren [Other horror films: N/A]

There’s basically only two reasons, as far as I can tell, to really seek this movie out. One, if you’re a slasher fan, and two, to see if Oscar Lusth can act (the answer is not really).

Oscar who? Well, many years back, I was a fan of the reality show Survivor, and Oscar, or Ozzy, has been a repeat contender, well-known for his strong athletic ability, outstripping almost every peer. In fact, since he first appeared on Survivor back in 2006, I’m surprised this DVD copy I have doesn’t milk the fact that they have Ozzy in the movie.

As it is, while it’s nice seeing a familiar (and unexpected) face, the novelty doesn’t really take long to wear off. That said, his character, Steve, is a decently fun guy. Other actors worth mentioning include the killer Kerry Wallum (not great acting, but a somewhat charming personality) and Joe Estevez (who has had well over two hundred roles). On the flipside, Elizabeth Jauregui had some of the worst delivery I’ve seen in a while. Part of the fault might lie with the script-writer (seriously, she was expected to tell a serial killer that the law says he shouldn’t kill her with a straight face?), but bad script aside, she was pretty weak.

None of the kills in the flick are excellent. Some quick-paced hammer attacks are nice, and an individual gets his arm chopped off in what’s probably my favorite scene, but overall, nothing really comes across as that memorable (including a dismemberment). And that final kill just didn’t look good.

There’s not really much to this movie, when all’s said and done. Some funny lines, some hammy acting, and sure, seeing half naked women is never bad, but the meandering start to the film, along with unspectacular kills, really don’t make this film one that stands out. I saw this first in October 2017, and for all the good a re-watch has done, I’d have been better served watching a plethora of other flicks. Not terrible, but below average.

6/10

Krampus (2015)

Krampus

Directed by Michael Dougherty [Other horror films: Trick ‘r Treat (2007)]

I didn’t have a whole lot of expectations going into this one, despite having seen the trailer a few times, and overall, that may have been a positive thing.

Krampus does many things right – the atmosphere is appropriately bleak and frigid, with multiple well-done scenes depicting the cold Hell this extended family has found themselves in. Most of the comedic elements are decent, and I’ve no complaints about the acting of any of the characters, which is of course another plus. The flashback, as narrated by the grandmother, was done in a rather enjoyable animation, and thoroughly enjoyable to witness. The Krampus’ design was pretty solid. Even most of the ending worked for me.

Of course, few movies are totally without flaws. At times, the amount of dangerous creatures got a bit much (a teddy bear, gingerbread cookies, an evil angel, a Jack-in-the-Box, and a toy robot, for instance), and while I’ve no complaint about most of these, I thought the gingerbread men were a bit ridiculous. Toward the end, when the pit to Hell (presumably) opened, I was finding it more difficult to care than I’d hope for (if only because I expected some twist to come up, rendering the whole thing moot).

And while the ending scene itself was actually pretty cool (the snow globe workshop was indeed fun), the last split second was a jump scare, with a bunch of evil toys coming at the screen. I abhor endings that try to scare the audience (not a character in the movie, but the audience) in the last split second. It’s over-done, and ruins any chance that the movie could be spectacular. All-in-all, Krampus is a good slice of Christmas horror. Plenty of the actors and actresses stand out (notably Emjay Anthony, Adam Scott, Stefania LaVie Owen, and Conchata Ferrell), and while not the best Christmas comedy-horror film out there (Santa’s Slay, anyone?), it was certainly worth a watch.

8/10

The Tripper (2006)

The Tripper

Directed by David Arquette [Other horror films: N/A]

As a critique on both the Reagan and, at the time, present Bush administration, The Tripper rather falls flat. As a slasher, with occasional splatter influences, the film fares a bit better, but not amazingly so.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what about this movie doesn’t entirely work. Part of it, in my opinion, is the somewhat inconsistent tone. At times, the movie is certainly tongue-in-cheek (though few scenes are outright comedic; this isn’t Broken Lizard’s Club Dread, people), but other times, the Tripper comes across a serious slasher, and hell, even between the characters Samantha and Ivan, there was a pretty sweet scene present.

What this movie somewhat lacks in tone, though, it makes up for in most kills. The first few kills are quick, clean, and efficient (a snapped neck and a decapitation) – these were perhaps my favorites. But some individuals get killed by multiple stabbings, or disembowelment, so there’s fun to be had all around. The final kill in the movie didn’t do much for it, as the special effects looked a bit worse for the wear. That could be said for more than a few kills, though, as it wasn’t uncommon for the blood to look more than a little brighter red than it should. Still, the kills overall were strong.

In the political realm, I certainly would have preferred more discussion of the character’s feelings on then-current president George W. Bush, as you would think a movie that hits you over the head with the idea that “Republicans are bad” would have a little more substance, but aside from some weak criticism of Bush and just stating some facts about Reagan’s actions while president (cutting off federal funds to mental institutions), we get little to really chew over. Perhaps that’s not the point, but when one is making a political satire, of sorts, I feel like no punches should be pulled. This movie could have had something to say, but didn’t attempt it.

None of the characters aside from Samantha (Jaime King) and the killer really stood out. The design of the killer was pretty cool – loved his straight-laced appearance and suit (even though the mask was ehh). Really, while the movie might be okay for a single watch, having watched it twice now, I don’t think there’s much to go back to it for. Not a particularly memorable movie. I’d never watch this one if I had the chance to re-watch Uncle Sam (1996).

6.5/10

Cannibal Feast (2011)

Cannibal Feast

Directed by Carlo Rodriguez [Other horror films: Long Pig (2008), Psycho Killer Attack (2009), Naked Horror: The Movie (2010), Psycho Killer Bloodbath (2011)]

This movie is thoroughly unenjoyable, which leads me to believe another cannibal film from this director, titled Long Pig (2008), is much in the same vein (and honestly, a part of me wonders if Cannibal Feast isn’t some type of edited version of Long Pig, as reviews for Long Pig mention scenes remarkably similar to scenes from this movie).

First things first, none of the characters stand out from each other. Every other girl looks the same, and so when one is killed and captured, you have no idea who exactly it was. Worse, you aren’t given a clear picture of the relationship between the characters. I think there were two girls who were supposed to be sisters, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you who they were. And related, there’s only two names I remember from the movie, and I just finished it ten minutes ago (at the time of the writing of this review).

Also, this is a dark and dingy film. While likely intentional, the way the film was shot really hindered from both potential enjoyment and potential comprehension. There’s one scene with a girl being tortured, while scenes of two girls getting dressed in Halloween costumes are spliced in. I thought that was a flashback, showcasing the tortured girls’ memories of a sister/friend she’ll never see again, but no, those two getting dressed appear later in the movie. I think. Honestly, it’s not clear, and as the movie was atrocious, I don’t really care to examine it too much.

Religious ramblings, cannibals, unanswered questions as to who is actually behind the group who goes out to kill “sinners and hippies,” this movie is a mess. No amount of nudity can fix this (though, in all fairness, there were some occasionally rather attractive women), and the almost plot-less murder and torture and rape with featureless characters was just awful. In all honesty, I only watched this because there were less than five votes for it on IMDb. I regret that choice, as there’s virtually nothing to recommend here.

2/10

The Strangers (2008)

The Stranger

Directed by Bryan Bertino [Other horror films: Mockingbird (2014), The Monster (2016), The Dark and the Wicked (2020)]

Let me get this off my chest first: this movie is not “based on true events.” It’s inspired by an utterly unrelated crime. When a movie tries to pass itself off as real to increase the suspense, or whatever the hell they think they think is does, it just pisses me off. It didn’t work with The Blair Witch Project, and it sure as hell doesn’t work here. It adds nothing to the movie, and in fact, takes away from what otherwise is an okay (though below average) flick.

Home invasion flicks have never been a favorite of mine. I love slashers, but most home invasion flicks do nothing for me (save some exceptions, such as 2016’s Hush), mainly because they’re often so repetitive. Which isn’t to say there aren’t some quite suspenseful scenes and creepy imagery in the movie – there are. But when that’s all your movie has to boast about, it doesn’t amount to much.

Liv Tyler did a good job as the main female victim, and the masked guy had a cool mask. Also, one of the songs in the movie, “Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard, was pretty catchy. Still have that chorus stuck in my head. And as aforementioned, there were some creepy scenes now and again.

But what I always took as the “wham” line, their explanation as to why they’re causing such pain to this couple, doesn’t really do it for me. I don’t have a big problem with it – it just falls flat. It falls flatter still because even after that, we don’t see their unmasked faces, which doesn’t make much since, story-wise. Again, it adds nothing.

The Strangers isn’t necessarily a bad movie, but really, when there are literally hundreds of better movies from 2005 – 2010 alone, there’s not much point in seeking this one out. Just a below average flick with little going for it.

5.5/10

The Howling (1981)

Howling

Directed by Joe Dante [Other horror films: Piranha (1978), Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983, segment ‘It’s a Good Life’), Gremlins (1984), The ‘Burbs (1989), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), Trapped Ashes (2006, segment ‘Wraparound’), The Hole (2009), Burying the Ex (2014), Nightmare Cinema (2018, segment ‘Mirari’)]

I saw this movie once many years ago, and I didn’t care for it then. Upon rewatching it, my views haven’t really altered all that much.

The Howling has more than a few positive qualities. Plenty of the actors and actresses are either good or fun, the special effects are very well done, there are some tense scenes, and the setting itself (forest retreat) is pretty decent.

Dee Wallace did a very good job, especially near the beginning, of a woman suffering from the aftermath of a violent attack. I didn’t really care for where the story took her, but still, she did a solid job. Patrick Macnee stood out also, as did Belinda Balaski, who, along with being a rather attractive woman, was one of the few characters really trying to figure out what was going on. And need I mention Dick Miller? His appearances are always fun, and this one was no different.

The special effects certainly were top-notch, with good werewolf transformations and severed arms. Really, if there’s one reason to watch this film, it’s probably for what they were able to do as far as the effects went, as even by today’s stands, they’re impressive.

The problem is, though, despite the positives (the Colony, in concept, was cool, for instance), this movie just didn’t jibe well with me. I’m not sure what it is – it has elements I rather like throughout the film, but it just didn’t work for me.

Often hailed as a werewolf classic (which, let’s be honest, isn’t that much an accomplishment), The Howling didn’t do much for me. It had a memorable ending, memorable transformations, memorable actors. But the movie just falls flat, despite all that, and end up well below average.

5.5/10

The Unspoken (2015)

The Unspoken

Directed by Sheldon Wilson [Other horror films: Shallow Ground (2004), Kaw (2007), Screamers: The Hunting (2009), Carny (2009), Mothman (2010), Red: Werewolf Hunter (2010), Killer Mountain (2011), Scarecrow (2013), Shark Killer (2015), The Hollow (2015), The Night Before Halloween (2016), Neverknock (2017), Stickman (2017), Dead in the Water (2018)]

What an interesting film. The Unspoken, a Canadian film, plays out much like an average haunted house horror movie. A mother and her mute son move to a small town, living in a house that has a reputation for being haunted. Angela (played by Jodelle Ferland) takes the job of babysitting the son, charmed by him despite her nervous disposition and the creepy house. However, three chauvinistic rednecks in town have hidden a stash of drugs in the basement of the house, not expecting anyone to ever move there, and attempt to get it back, causing problems for Angela.

The Unspoken isn’t your normal ghost movie, however much it seems to be. Near the end, some twists occur that shine a whole new light on the strange ongoings at the house. To say that this threw me for a loop would be understating it – never in a thousand years did I see it coming. In fact, it’s reminiscence of another new-ish horror film, though I’ll not mention it to be safe. As for this movie, ignoring the ending sequence for now, it’s decently high quality.

Save for a few special effects issues, The Unspoken is decently solid in the production department. Insofar as actors are concerned, there’s more good news: Jodelle Ferland is a talented young actress with the looks of Navi Rawat (best known for both Feast and Numb3rs), and really sold herself as a nervous babysitter with her own personal problems. Her father was played by Lochlyn Munro (Freddy vs. Jason fame), and while he didn’t have a hell of a lot of screen time, his face was a friendly sight. Lastly, Anthony Konechny played a very well-done Southern bad boy, with fingers in drugs and guns. His figure was a threatening one, and his dickish behavior was on par with what you might expect.

But as decent as some of these actors and actresses are, that won’t be the main talk of the movie – that honor goes to the ending. While I obviously won’t divulge any twist, I will say that I think it has the potential to be controversial. Whether or not that’s a positive thing isn’t my call, but as for myself, I thought it was moderately welcomed. Certainly mind blowing to an extent. Though I will say I cringed as the very last scene of the film went down a predictable path.

Also worth mentioning, this film has a bit more gore in it than you might initially expect. The blood’s not flowing by any means, but you see a skeleton of a dog rip off a man’s jaw, along with a man impaled in multiple places by nails sticking out from the floor and the aftermath of more than a few knives flying into one unlucky fellow.

Overall, The Unspoken is a surprisingly decent movie. Certainly went a unique route, and I applaud it for that (though there were also some unanswered questions throughout). Would I recommend it? Without much hesitation. An above-average movie, and if you’re into haunted house movies, give this one a go.

8/10

Night Howl (2017)

Directed by Michael Taylor Pritt [Other horror films: Fun Time (2015), Miles Before Sleep (2016), Are We the Waiting (2017)]

Night Howl is Michael Taylor Pritt’s fourth full-length film, and first werewolf flick. This Kentucky-based director/actor has been, for not all that long, a favorite of mine when it comes to low-budget horror. Night Howl shows great improvement over his last movie (the disappointing Are We the Waiting), and is perhaps the best movie he’s done thus far.

Pritt’s films are fun, in part, because he almost always uses the same faces again and again. Night Howl’s no different, with no less than six recurring actors from his other three films (one, of course, being himself). That said, some of the strongest acting comes from a new face.

With Night Howl being her first credit on IMDb, Alana Mullins really stole the show, her lines well-done and more so, came across as a really fun person. I certainly hope that this isn’t just a one-off, and she decides to get behind the camera more. She worked damn well with Michael Taylor Pritt, and was overall a fun presences on screen.

As for Pritt, his acting is just as it’s always been. Which I certainly don’t mean negatively – Pritt’s low-key style, in my opinion, is rather amusing, and his wry humor that pops up here and again is always good fun. The only other actor who really stood out was Andrew Potter, who’s one downside was not enough background for his character. Which isn’t to say that all the cast members didn’t put their heart into this one. I adored Pat Roberts, playing a moderately foul-mouthed older woman. She also needed more screen time, alas.

The story itself wasn’t overly unique, but I do certainly like the approach they took. I thought it worked out well, and more surprisingly, perhaps, there was some real feeling toward the end (partially helped by a low-key but enjoyable score). The ending, in many ways, depressed the hell out of me, which goes to show you don’t need a high budget for feels.

The main downside of the film is the lack of inventive, or even interesting, kills. I guess there’s not much you can do with a werewolf to begin with, but I certainly felt as though these kills were more repetitive than those of Pritt’s past movies. Hell, Are the the Waiting’s strongest suit, in my view, were the kills. Still, a good story with solid acting is more important than great gore, but it would have been nice to have something more in this department.

When all’s said and done, though, Night Howl was a well done flick on a low budget. The gag reels thrown in the end were amusing, and I just loved Mullins’ character. I’ve seen all four of Pritt’s movies thus far, and this is up there with Miles Before Sleep (his second outing). Hard to say which I liked more, as both had very strong points, but Night Howl was a strong film that I’d recommend to fans of lower-budget flicks.

7.5/10

Dolls (1986)

Dolls

Directed by Stuart Gordon [Other horror films: Re-Animator (1985), From Beyond (1986), Daughter of Darkness (1990), The Pit and the Pendulum (1991), Castle Freak (1995), Dagon (2001)]

Seeing this movie a second time really solidified what I felt the first time around: while certainly corny at times, with some overacting afoot, Dolls has a lot of feeling to it.

There were some atrocious characters in the film (Bunty Bailey’s Isabel, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon’s Rosemary, and Ian Patrick Williams’ David), but the heart of the film lie in Judy, Ralph, and the elderly couple Hilary and Gabriel.

Played by Stephen Lee, Ralph was a great character, and while at times he was played up a bit much as the comic relief, I really enjoyed how he was able to connect with Judy (Carrie Lorraine) better than her father or step-mother ever could. And of course, Hilary Mason does wonderful as a witch-type old woman. While Ralph was a great character, though, the true stand-out is Guy Rolfe’s performance as Gabriel.

Charismatic and often kindhearted, Gabriel was a real treat, who spoke with respect to those who deserved it. In many ways, his placement of importance on kids’ and their wonder really reminded me, oddly enough, of a Willy Wonka-type character. Who couldn’t love that?

In relation, this movie had a strong fantasy feel throughout, which, while at times I find bothersome in a horror flick, really worked out well here. Stuart Gordon did a great job balancing the two, and while overall I think Paperhouse (1988) is a better fantasy/horror blend, Dolls is damn enjoyable also.

There were creepy scenes throughout, some subtle, some not so, and the kills were both memorable and, at times, brutal (I enjoyed the dolls attacking one of the characters in waves, but the firing squad death has to be my favorite – the slow motion worked really well there). The stop motion effects were pretty good looking, so kudos to that department also. Lastly, the music throughout the film was deeply enjoyable. Sometimes suspenseful, sometimes fantastical, those who worked on the score did a really great job. High quality all around.

Dolls isn’t by any means the perfect film, but it does possess occasionally poignant scenes and overall comes across as a feel-good movie, despite the violence. It harkens back to the creativity of childhood, and questions why we lost the wonder most of us once had. It’s a pleasant watch, in short, and I’d certainly recommend this to any interested party.

8.5/10

Die Präsenz (2014)

die pra

Directed by Daniele Grieco [Other horror films: UFO: It Is Here (2016)]

Found footage is a very rarely well-done style of horror. Off the top of my head, I can think of only around five found footage flicks that I really liked.

This German flick, known as The Presence, has little to offer that countless other found footage movies don’t. The best I can really say is that the setting (a German castle and the surrounding woods) looks pretty cool, occasionally there are some worthwhile scenes, and the actress Liv Lisa Fries does a good job. Everything else, while not bad, was utterly unable to enthrall.

The ending was more or less a jumbled mess of jump scares (be them loud noises, sudden camera static, or a face popping up out of nowhere), and the surrounding narrative, the tapes being recovered by the police, just made me feel additionally apathetic.

Just a word of advice – I get that, in making a found footage movie, the events on camera are supposed to be real, but every time I see “This video was located at the crime scenes. Investigators still have no explanation for the events,” I want to kill myself. If literally no one buys that it’s real, what the hell is the point? It’s found footage filmmaking 101, and the best examples of the genre came to pass over ten damn years ago.

To be clear, though, I enjoy more than a few found footage movies, but the genre is so over-saturated that it’s almost hard to take seriously anymore. Is Die Präsenz any worse than any other run-of-the-mill found footage? Probably not. But is it better? Not really.

Seeing it once was enough, and upon seeing it twice, I must say there really just isn’t any point to it.

5/10