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

Night of the Wild (2015)

Directed by Eric Red [Other horror films: Body Parts (1991), Bad Moon (1996), 100 Feet (2008)]

There’s very little about this Syfy film that’s worth seeking this movie out for. The fact it stars Rob Morrow is one of the few things I enjoyed about this, because otherwise, it’s pretty unremarkable.

My first big problem is the plot – some meteors fall from space, and it causes all dogs and wolves in a local area to go crazy and start attacking people. The funny thing is, despite the fact that these meteors were a bright glowing green, only once was it brought up that they might have something to do with it, and exactly no one in the movie seemed to notice them scattered across the town (despite them being, you know, a glowing green).

Speaking of colors, it wasn’t uncommon for there to be a red light tinting some of the scenes. Apparently, according to IMDb, director Eric Red was influenced by the lighting of Suspiria (1977), which amazes me. It’s great that he’s seen the classics, but after watching Suspiria, he thinks that this pile of trash is a good way to give reverence to it?

Rob Morrow, who I know mostly from the television series Numb3rs, of which I’ve seen every episode, is a fun presence here. His character’s decent, but more importantly, Morrow himself is just a solid actor to see here, which is a positive, as few others stand out. Playing his daughter, Tristin Mays did fine, but wasn’t particularly memorable. Her two friends, played by Mary Risener and Mary Katherine O’Donnell, were pretty pointless characters, and neither actress was impressive (Risener in particular). Lastly, Kelly Rutherford didn’t do a thing for me.

There are some solid dog attacks in the film, and there was a somewhat gory aftermath (including a body torn apart) that I enjoyed. But toward the end of the film, a lot of time is spent on random dog attacks in the downtown area, and as it dragged on and on, I was just bored out of my mind seeing characters I didn’t know get killed by dogs that hadn’t appeared before, especially since few of the attacks there were really worth seeing. Also, there were about five to six scenes using slow motion, which just looked ridiculously dramatic and utterly unnecessary.

Personally, if it weren’t for Morrow, I’d rate this movie quite a bit lower. It’s still nowhere near a good movie, or even an average one, but I think I see it in a slightly better light because Morrow’s one of the stars. That said, if you couldn’t care less about Morrow, than I suspect that Night of the Wild is one Syfy flick that you could do without. Even with Morrow, I understand that feeling.

Also, the CGI dogs at the end didn’t help either. It’s a poor movie, period.

4/10

Toxic Shark (2017)

toxic shark

Directed by Cole Sharpe [Other horror films: N/A]

Yet another silly Syfy shark movie. Toxic Shark, as it is, probably isn’t the worst shark film Syfy’s done in recent years, and honestly, I had more fun with it than I thought I would (and this is especially true as I’ve now seen it twice). There were elements I didn’t care for, and make no mistake, the film’s below average, but it’s nowhere near as bad as crap like 2-Headed Shark Attack and related films.

For a movie like this, much of the main cast was somewhat enjoyable. Kabby Borders and Bryce Durfee bickered a bit too much for my liking, but both were still likable characters. Michelle Cortés also puts in a solid performance, perhaps even better than Borders. I rather liked Quinn Bozza too, though admittedly he’s a bit generic. Eric Etebari was somewhat fun as an over-the-top resort manager (at least until he was dispatched), and while Jaime Wallace didn’t do much for me insofar as her performance went, she did have the cutest ass (which, in a movie in where every single woman is wearing a bikini, is somewhat of an accomplishment).

Plot-wise, it’s pretty bleh, but honestly, that can’t really come across as much of a surprise. The CGI was utterly atrocious, particularly during the times when the toxic shark sprayed a green toxic spew, which looked so awful. It didn’t help that the CGI clipped a few times, which looked so amateurish. There was also a bit of a zombie component (in the form of an infection from the toxicity of the shark) that I didn’t care for, and felt overly unnecessary. Lastly, that ending was just terrible. What a shitty conclusion.

If you’re going out of your way to watch a Syfy production called ‘Toxic Shark,’ though, I know you’re not going in with high expectations. Obviously, it’s not that great of a film, but I do think it’s more enjoyable than plenty of other Syfy films. It doesn’t get to that rare list of Syfy films that come out above average, but it is better than I first thought it would be when I saw it a couple of years back. If you’re looking for an okay way to spend an hour-and-a-half, you could do better, but you could definitely do worse.

6/10

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

10 cloverfield

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg [Other horror films: N/A]

Talk about a rather masterfully-done film. A spiritual successor to the 2008 Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a damn good movie with a very competent cast and spectacular suspense.

Much of this lies in the ambiguity of the situation Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character finds herself in. Waking up in a doomsday bunker after being abducted by Howard (John Goodman), and told that there’s been some type of invasion, and she’s safer there, it’s a tense, tense movie with a lot of twists and turns.

John Goodman is an actor I’ve always appreciated. He was great in Roseanne, and pretty much everything else. He does look healthier here than he did in Red State (2011), which I’m grateful for. Here, his performance is superb, and he comes across both as genial and other times rather threatening and absolutely batshit. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is an actress I know from limited exposure (Final Destination 3, Live Free or Die Hard, and the short-lived series BrainDead), but she does great here, and totally feels right in the role. John Gallagher Jr. (from The Newsroom) is pretty solid also, and brings a little humor to the film.

The tense, suspenseful plot of this film is one that I can’t imagine easily being rivaled, and when you have such a great cast, everything comes nicely together. Toward the end, when some of the hard-asked questions finally have a light shined upon them, the movie loses a bit of it’s magic, but I rather like the final scene, so I think that some of the loss of suspense can be forgiven.

Given my somewhat lukewarm reaction toward Cloverfield, I am happy to say that you can definitely watch this as a stand-alone, and I’d highly recommend doing so, as this really is a damn good film with a lot going for it, such as Goodman’s great performance and the fantastically-crafted, tense story.

9/10

True Bloodthirst (2012)

Vampyre

Directed by Todor Chapkanov [Other horror films: Copperhead (2008), Ghost Town (2009), Monsterwolf (2010), Asylum (2014)]

For a Syfy Daybreakers clone, True Bloodthirst (better known as Vampyre Nation) is actually okay. I can’t tell you how surprised I am exactly to be saying that, but it’s true. While there are big problems, such as horrible special effects and moderately forgettable characters, the story itself was unique enough to give the film a bit more heart than I’d have first expected.

From the get-go, the plot is interesting. In a world where the existence of vampires has been found out by the general human population, vampires live in segmented sections of the cities, treated generally as second-class citizens, and due to a synthetic blood, there’s theoretically no need for hostilities between them and the humans.

Of course, that alone might make for an interesting drama, but naturally they threw something into the mix, being tainted synthetic blood that causes the vampires to regress to a much more primal, unsophisticated killing machine, which goes after both humans and vampires. A detective, with the help of both a group of vampire hunters and vampires themselves, tries to figure out what’s going on in order to save human and vampire alike.

Generally, I don’t think I’d like most movies with the plot description above, but this made it work. Admittedly, from a political perspective, I did find it interesting to see how the confirmed existence of vampires would theoretically play out among the human populations on Earth, and the creation of a synthetic blood seems logical in order to keep both sides feeling relatively safe. Of course, one can easily see the vampires as substitutes for either racial or religious minorities, bringing an actual element of contemporary politics into the mix, which I personally found welcomed.

I think the reason that I found myself engaged with the movie’s story, other than that it was pretty intriguing, was that it seemed somewhat well thought out. Elements could have been better fleshed out, of course, but overall, I got the sense of semi-realism. It’d be a legitimate concern of humans that more and more people would chose to transform into vampires (given a much longer life-span), and of course what with not having almost any power, vampires, just by being in the spotlight, are at high risk of danger themselves, especially since humans in powerful positions are more likely to back up vampire hunters than attempt to protect the weaker class (vampires), which all brings a lot of pretty solid points to the forefront.

I didn’t love Neil Jackson as the main character, but I eventually got used to him. More enjoyable was Ben Lambert, playing a vampire, and Heida Reed, who was a bit weak at times, but her character was both fun and had an interesting story. Most everyone else was a bit run-of-the-mill, such as Andrew Lee Potts (playing Harker, one of the vampire hunters, he was a bit over-the-top), Roark Critchlow, and Jonathon Hargreaves (which is a shame, as this is his sole role on IMDb). Bordering pointless, we have Claudia Bassols, who had a generic role with a pretty unnecessary character, so she didn’t really have much of a chance.

Like I said, the special effects were pretty awful. The primal state of a vampire seemed to be a blob with wings, not too dissimilar from a rather strong-looking gargoyle. The blood didn’t do it for me, and aspects of the vampire’s abilities, such as occasional bursts of super-speed, just looked ridiculous. I don’t fault the movie too much for this, given it’s budget limitations, but even so, from a technical standpoint, it was rather amateur.

I’m not overly familiar with director Todor Chapkanov’s other output; I have seen both Copperhead (2008) and Ghost Town (2009). Copperhead was actually a rather enjoyable film, from what I recall, while Ghost Town was more in the forgettable vein (until I rewatch both of these, though, my final judgment will have to wait). He’s behind other horror films of which I’ve seen, but based on what I have, Chapkanov at least seems a competent director with the budget he has. Since most of his work is on Syfy originals, though, it may be worth his while to branch out a bit at some point.

Vampyre Nation (which is the title I saw the film under) definitely had problems, but since I went into it with very low expectations, the fact that it felt as good as it did really skewed with my perceptions. It’s not a great movie, nor is it a good movie, but I could easily see myself watching it sometime in the future, so while it’s below average, Vampyre Nation isn’t disastrously bad, and may perhaps be worth a shot.

6/10

The Green Inferno (2013)

The Green Inferno

Directed by Eli Roth [Other horror films: Cabin Fever (2002), Hostel (2005), Hostel: Part II (2007), Knock Knock (2015)]

His first horror movie since Hostel: Part II, Eli Roth, with this film, writes a love-letter of sorts to the classic 70’s and 80’s Italian cannibal flicks. At times, The Green Inferno is deeply uncomfortable, undeniably brutal, and genuinely horrifying, yet it’s kept back from being a truly great film due to the somewhat anticlimactic conclusion.

While I won’t say that I was an activist when at college, I did participate in a handful of demonstrations and most memorably, in an anti-Guantanamo Bay protest, so it was interesting seeing such activities from a different perspective (Sky Ferreira’s nihilism and glib references to tear-gassing protesters was pretty disturbing, on a side-note). Seeing a naive freshman getting wrapped up in an activist group, then seeing her utterly broken throughout the course of the film, was both depressing but well-done.

It helps that Lorenza Izzo was able to pull-off the innocent, idealistic college kid look. She generally had a pretty strong and emotional performance. Eusebio Arenas was okay as slight comedic relief, but didn’t really fit in with the vibe I was otherwise getting from the film. Perhaps my favorite actor here was Nicolás Martínez, who, despite definitely not looking like a college student, had a particularly strong presence (and was one of the few truly good characters here). On the flip-side, Ariel Levy did well playing the scumbag leader of the activist group – past a certain point, nothing his character did was worth applauding, but he played the type well.

The Green Inferno does take a little while to get to the point, and it’s something like 45 minutes into the movie until things really get bad. I can imagine that bothering some people, but I was actually pretty interested from the get-go, and the protest scene after they get to Peru was damn tense, which only escalated over the following twenty minutes.

Which leads to the gore. Personally, I was somewhat taken aback by just how graphic one of the scenes was (which including both dismemberment and the messy removal of eyeballs), and when I first saw that scene, I admit I was disturbed. I watched it a few additional times, and it still positively stands out. The unfortunate thing is that no other scene even comes close to that level of brutality. There’s a very uncomfortable scene à la female genital mutilation, but it’s not particularly graphic. Other scenes, such as one when a man is fed to ants while on a pole, didn’t really work that well (in that case, it was due to the somewhat bad-looking CGI ants).

Generally speaking, though, I think the gore here, while limited, was very solid when it showed up, and I’d daresay that it probably beats out any competing scene from the Hostel films. I just sort of wish there was more of it.

As it is, the conclusion was somewhat lackluster. I was expecting a bit more of a downer ending, which I wouldn’t have loved, but what we got didn’t really do it for me either, especially when they added in an utterly unnecessary dream sequence (it was short, at least). The post-credits scene, too, felt a bit much, and if they’re setting up for a potential sequel, I don’t think that would be all that great. Lastly, the marijuana scene was just a bit too ridiculous, and I definitely wish they had come up with a better idea than what they did.

When everything is said-and-done, I think The Green Inferno is a solid exploitation flick reminiscent of Man from Deep River (originally Il paese del sesso selvaggio) and Jungle Holocaust (Ultimo mondo cannibale). The gore is great when it’s present, and I can imagine some people thinking it a bit much. It’s not an amazing movie, but I do find it a little above average, and if you’re a gore-hound, or a fan of the classic cannibal movies, perhaps worth a watch.

7.5/10

You Might Be the Killer (2018)

Poster

Directed by Brett Simmons [Other horror films: Husk (2011), The Monkey’s Paw (2013), Animal (2014), Chilling Visions: 5 States of Fear (2014)]

For a modern-day slasher, this was refreshingly innovative and ultimately a pretty fun take on what generally is a far too played out story.

Told in a non-linear narrative, much of it in flashback with a framing sequence, this comedy-horror mix was pretty fun. While laugh out loud moments weren’t really all that common, the humor here was still pretty enjoyable, and there was enough decent gore, though not the focus, to also keep slasher fans happy.

The structure of the narrative ends up making the film not only more unique, but more memorable also. I enjoyed how the beginning was told via flashback, but then we sort of caught up to the present, and went from there. It helped greatly with Alyson Hannigan’s inactive role, and gave her, despite lack of action, a lot to contribute.

Of course, Hannigan’s presence is perhaps one of the reasons this movie’s gotten more attention than it otherwise might have. Hannigan does great here, and while I basically only know her from the American Pie movies (I’ve never seen any How I Met Your Mother), I think she gave a great performance. As a lead, Franz Kranz (Marty the stoner from The Cabin in the Woods) was fantastic also, and brought a fun performance to the film. Brittany S. Hall and Jenna Harvey did well also, Harvey especially as the innocent, final-girl type.

At times, the humor was a bit much, such as the final few seconds, but even that was foreshadowed, so it didn’t come across nearly as bad as it otherwise would have. Really, for a modern-day horror-comedy, this was a pretty solid mix without the comedy coming across as either overbearing or too still, which was sort of nice.

The director of this film, Brett Simmons, also directed a flick called Husk from 2011, which had been one of the few scarecrow horror films I’ve found worth watching (along with the more classic Dark Night of the Scarecrow from 1981 and Scarecrows from 1988), but that film, as much as I recall liking it, didn’t reach the unique level this one did, so it’s great to see the director’s improving his craft.

You Might Be the Killer may not win any awards, but it’s a movie with a solid main cast (most of the cast not mentioned are interchangeable, but that sort of fits with the nature of the film), an occasional retro-feel, enjoyable humor, and most importantly, an innovative narrative. Definitely a movie I’d recommend to any slasher fans.

8/10

Investigation 13 (2019)

Investigation 13

Directed by Krisstian de Lara [Other horror films: N/A]

So this movie took me moderately by surprise, but it wasn’t a surprise that by any means made the film better. At a cursory glance, I was expecting a found footage film, and while there are elements of found footage here, Investigation 13 is more ambitious than that. Like I said, though, it doesn’t make for a better viewing experience.

I have a handful of problems with this one. Most importantly, and most damning, I didn’t get the sense that the actors and actresses had their heart in the script. It felt soulless, and that can be a hard detriment to overcome, primarily because my perception may be off, and that colored my view deeply of the film.

Also, Investigation 13 utilized some rough animation sequences when going into the origins of the antagonistic Mole Man (no, not the classic Fantastic Four foe). I don’t mind throwing in animation for stylistic variety, but none of the animated portions (including the post-credits one) really did much in the way of moving the story along. I guess we got an origin, but it didn’t really matter whatsoever.

Another thing that bothered me – this group of paranormal investigators have done twelve previous investigations into the supposed supernatural. The twelfth is brought up a handful of time as a failure, yet never does the film go into what went wrong with it, which just bugged me. Why bring it up at all (multiple times) if you’ve no intention on touching on it later in detail?

Stephanie Hernandez didn’t do great, but she was the only cast-member who is even partially memorable. I don’t really blame the performances for my dislike of the film, because had the story been better, or more interesting, or different (and sorry, animated origins spread throughout the film don’t classify as sufficiently different), it might have been worth something, but that’s not the case.

I didn’t much care for the Mole Man here. I guess he got an okay kill in near the end (complete with a scalping), but he’s pretty forgettable, and that ‘twist’ near the end (which isn’t really explained that well) didn’t help matters out.

However, I will give it this much credit – they easily could have made this fully in the found footage style, and had that been the route they took, I think the movie probably would have been worse and even more generic. That said, it’s not like the way they ultimately went was all that more original, but hey, there are worse movies out there.

When all’s said and done, Investigation 13 just felt hollow, and while the setting is okay, and maybe the story had some potential somewhere, the movie just wasn’t anywhere near what I’d call good, or even average.

4/10

Recovery (2019)

Recovery

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

I’m not going to go as far as to say Recovery is a perfect movie. In fact, it may not even be a great movie. It is, however, very strong at certain points, and while the different aspects of the movie don’t always blend together the best, I was overall quite happy with this one.

At times, Recovery’s an emotional ride. On the surface, that might be expected, given that the plot revolves around patients at a heroin treatment center, but this throws in some bonus points in that the new patient Ronnie (played fantastically by Stephanie Pearson) was a soldier, and so you have some PTSD action going on.

Not only that, but the main doctor (Hope Quattrocki) had a brother who was also a soldier, and developed addiction problems when he got back, giving her a deeper insight into Ronnie’s situation. The two of them share a fantastically emotional conversation about a third of the way into the movie, and boy, when this movie did something right, they really do it right.

Combining a very well-developed drama with a slasher made sense in the context of the story, but I’m of mixed views on it. On the one hand, I really think this movie would have been stronger had a different direction been taken (not even a non-horror one, just a non-slasher one), but then chances are lower that I’d actually see it, which would have been a shame.

Also, and perhaps I’m being nit-picky, but when the killer is revealed, I wasn’t always overjoyed with their performance. At times, it was really good, emotional even, but others, it felt like the caricature of a psychotic killer, which was a bit disappointing.

Recovery isn’t a film I want to harp on much, though, because I really thought it did something special. It’s true that some of the characters sort of faded into the background, and when they died, it didn’t mean much to me (and I confused Ariella Hader’s character with Andi Rene Christensen’s for a bit, which confused things), but that’s more on me than anything.

If I could have changed one thing, it would have been to give each character a little more time toward the beginning to really get their face and name clarified, which wouldn’t have even been a drag, because there’s not a bad performance in here.

Though it’s been said once, I’ll repeat myself: Stephanie Pearson does fantastic in this. Her character is quite complex, and though I felt pity toward her, I also felt a deep sense of respect. When she was comparing soldier to civilian life, about the lack of a purpose that civilian life boasts that life as a soldier had in spades, I definitely felt for her. She was a strong character, and incredibly memorable and well-acted.

No less impressive was Hope Quattrocki, playing another complex character. At times, I really thought she was going about events the right way (the approach taken by her superior, Mike Starr, seemed much less personal), but you could definitely argue she made some mistakes here (especially superimposing what she knew of her brother’s situation onto another patient simply because both were soldiers). Still, Quattrocki did well throughout, and when talking about her brother with Pearson – again, fantastic.

Others who definitely warrant a positive mention are Liz Fenning and Arielle Hader (who played a very loving couple really well), Mike Starr (when he’s yelling at Quattrocki’s character, you could tell that he felt up against a wall), and Aily Kei. Kei’s best moment may not be until the end, but she was good throughout.

As for the kills, there’s nothing really amazing here, but I did like a quick slice of the Achilles’ tendon (I cringed at that one, and it was well-shot), and there was another scene in which a character got stabbed through the neck. The kills here weren’t much the focal point, but they got done what they had to.

Like I said at the start, Recovery isn’t a perfect movie, and it may not even be that great. Really, the plot itself isn’t all that original; it’s just that the setting and characters made the film a lot more memorable. I know this much, though – despite not being as great as it could have been, Recovery deserves more than a single watch, and I applaud it for what it got right.

7.5/10