Dark Haul (2014)

Directed by Colin Theys [Other horror films: Banshee!!! (2008), Remains (2011), Dead Souls (2012), Deep in the Darkness (2014), Stalker’s Prey (2017), Stalker’s Prey 2 (2020), A Predator Returns (2021)]

So before I get into this atrocity (as much as I don’t really want to spend time on this), let me first recount why I watched this.

Back in March of 2017, I was pretty much recording any horror movie that was on television to watch, no matter how bad it sounded, no matter how much I thought I’d hate them (it was for this reason I recorded both 2-Headed Shark Attack and Finders Keepers). And so despite how terrible this sounded, I recorded it onto my DVR. Fast forward to the early days of 2021 (this is being written on the third of January), and I finally took the time to watch it.

I’ll give it that it tried something newish, or at least newish to me. Dark Haul (also known under the name Monster Truck, which is the title I recorded it under) is a fantasy-horror mix about a demon being born along with a superhuman sister with powers that aren’t fully delved into (she has sort of a warbling wave that can contact and calm her winged brethren) that are imprisoned by a religious group named he Keepers who believe in an end-of-the-world prophecy and such.

And bad things happen.

Within the Keepers, there is a hardliner who believes both the demon and the sister are evil, this hardliner played by Tom Sizemore. The leader of the Keepers is more moderate, and treats the humanoid sister more humanely, though still keeps her a prisoner. This kind gent is Rick Ravanello. The superhuman sister is Evalena Marie. There’s also a priest played by Kevin Shea who does a few things, though he’s not terribly important.

Perhaps if I were a fan of fantasy, I would have dug this more. Certainly the theological disagreements over the meaning of a specific prophecy were somewhat interesting to listen to, but the fantasy-action scenes didn’t do it for me, and when the demon escapes and the film veers more a horror direction, the CGI was so inept that it was painfully laughable.

I don’t fault the performances. Sure, Sizemore (of The Relic, Bottom Feeder, and Visible Scars) came across as ridiculously over-the-top sinister, but the movie almost portrays him as an unsung hero, especially when, at the end, Rick Ravenello’s character agrees with his tactics. Evalena Marie’s character was easy to root for, but in some ways, her success seemed to mean the end of the world. Kevin Shea (who I’ve seen in a surprising amount of low-budget horror films, such as Remains, Sasquatch Assault, Banshee!!!, and Dead Souls, some of which have the same director as this film, Colin Theys) was okay, but his character didn’t really get enough licks in to matter.

Still, I think most of the people involved gave it the best they could. I never personally felt any strong emotions toward any of them, even during scenes where you’d think an emotional response would be likely, but my problem with Dark Haul is the story, not the performances.

And the story is pretty lackluster, especially given I’m not a fantasy fan, but what’s worse was that hideous CGI, especially during some of the kills. A guy gets ripped in half, his organs falling out, and all I can wonder is how much that green screen cost. It was as pathetic and non-threatening as you could expect from a Syfy film.

Dark Haul was an easy film to get through, especially because I knew what I was working with within the first ten minutes of the film, but it was far from an enjoyable experience, and while I appreciated the fact that the writers went with a different approach, the fantasy aspects didn’t do it for me, and I thought everything else was embarrassingly weak also.

4/10

Blood Widow (2014)

Directed by Jeremiah Buckhalt [Other horror films: N/A]

Blood Widow is a movie that has very little going for it. I mean, very little. Like, almost nothing, if not for okay special effects and Kelly Quinn, who played a stereotypical, yet sometimes amusing, hippie character. Even with that, though, this movie is pretty much a waste.

Obviously lower-budget movies can have a harder time making things work, but honestly, the special effects here were mostly okay. True, a few decapitations and dismemberments looked rather weak, but there were some decent butcherings here. The lighting, or lack thereof, is probably the bigger problem, though, as it rendered some of the scenes rather indecipherable.

Performances were generally weak too. I don’t necessarily fault the actors and actresses for the rather awful dialogue (“Check the other rooms” “I am not checking the other rooms” “Please, check the other rooms.” “Fine, what room?” is a quality example), but the characters fall entirely flat and into stereotypical territory, such as the hippie, nature-lover, acid-taker named Harmony (played by Kelly Quinn). Now, I liked this character far more than anyone else, but boy, talk about a walking caricature.

Otherwise, I guess Danielle Lilley was okay, but the way she just accepted her boyfriend’s (Brandon Kyle Peters) immature behavior and consistent lies rubbed me the wrong way. In general, though, I just felt bad for her. Emily Cutting and Christopher de Padua were entirely forgettable, and I think I only wrote their names down here to take up a bit more space. #Professionalism.

I honestly think that, with a few changes, this movie might have been okay. Not great, mind you, just okay. First, instead of 80 minutes (74 if you don’t count the six minutes of credits), just make this an hour. Cut the fat out, especially if you’re going to go with an ending like this one went for. Secondly, try and write a better script that doesn’t feel like a bare-bones, by-the-numbers slasher. Thirdly, invest in some lighting.

For Blood Widow, I honestly thought there was potential. Now, I didn’t go into this one thinking that they were able to make it work (I had seen the extremely low rating this had on IMDb before starting the film), but it still could have been okay if they tried a bit harder in some aspects. As the finished film is, it’s honestly just somewhat pathetic, and save some special effects and a stereotypical character, Blood Widow just isn’t a memorable movie for anything positive.

2/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss Blood Widow.

Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)

Directed by Anthony C. Ferrante [Other horror films: Boo (2005), Headless Horseman (2007), Hansel & Gretel (2013), Sharknado (2013), Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (2015), Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens (2016), Forgotten Evil (2017), Sharknado 5: Global Swarming (2017), The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time (2018), Zombie Tidal Wave (2019)]

Well, the first movie was pretty awful, but I still found aspects of it moderately enjoyable. Unfortunately, this one felt a bit more over-the-top to me, and while I had occasional fun with Sharknado 2, overall, it was more of a cringe-worthy grind than anything.

Ian Ziering plays his role so serious here that, somewhat paradoxically, he’s very hard to take serious. He can fly through a sharknado with a chainsaw and cut him up some sharks, though, so kudos there. His family, though, or more specifically, his sister’s family, were pretty much all useless. Courtney Baxter was sort of cute, but I didn’t know her name was ‘Mara’ until an hour and ten minutes in, so she certainly wasn’t important.

It was sort of funny to see Judd Hirsch pop up (I know him best from Numb3rs, a show I loved the hell out of), playing a taxi driver (which is a role he played in some 70’s show I’ve never seen). Hirsch is decently fun, but I sort of think they overused him without really expanding on his character. We know about as much about him at his last scene as we do his first, so the fact he appeared as much as he did felt sort of hollow. Also, Richard Kind (who I know from Gotham) appeared, which was almost welcomed, but then he hit a home run with a shark, and I can’t deal with that kind of descent into stupidity.

Like I said, I really think Sharknado 2 goes overboard on it’s intentionally silly plot. The first twenty minutes, in which Fin was dealing with a sharknado while on a flight to New York, was bad enough (I was even hoping that it’d be a dream, but alas, no), and of course threw in a reference to the classic Twilight Zone episode ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,’ but it only gets worse, and overly bombastic, the worst thing being a buzz-saw being attached to a woman’s recently bit-off hand. The baseball thing was bad, but boy, this was horrible.

To be sure, I wasn’t expecting a great movie, but it’s worth noting that the first movie is the lowest-rated of all six Sharknado flicks on IMDb, meaning that this one is somehow better? I know I didn’t see it. Some portions were okay, but more than anything else, I couldn’t get past how utterly ridiculous this all was.

4/10

Cabin Fever: Patient Zero (2014)

Directed by Kaare Andrews [Other horror films: Altitude (2010), The ABCs of Death (2012, segment ‘V is for Vagitus’)]

For the first thirty to forty minutes, I was rather enjoying this flick, as they left much of the idiotic comedy that plagues the first two films and ventured more for a serious look at the flesh-eating disease. And it works out for about half the film, but then multiple factors come together to lead Patient Zero into a repetitive, rather uninspiring, direction.

It’s really a shame, as the film shows plenty of potential. The problem becomes that they jam so many things into the final twenty minutes or so that the movie quickly loses much of the fun feeling the movie had. Also, it didn’t help that it threw in a cat-fight between two woman who are both virtually skinless, because that’s something that the audience definitely needed.

Technically, the special effects and make-up are fine, but toward the end of the film, they go way overboard. Some of the victims of this skin-eating disease appear far more like what you’d expect from zombies as opposed to actual people, so some restraint would have been preferred. Early on, things look fine, but it just strikes me as unrealistic where things apparently end up.

Not many of the performances really helped out. I sort of liked Mitch Ryan, Currie Graham (who I know from two series, House and Agent Carter), and Jillian Murray. Graham’s character rather annoyed me, but it was nice to see a familiar face. Murray provided an attractive character, but really, she doesn’t matter past the first thirty minutes or so. I wasn’t necessarily expecting more from Solly Duran, Sean Astin, or Lydia Hearst, but I was rather let-down by their performances.

Honestly, though, it’s the story that’s the biggest problem here. The plot twist they threw in at the end didn’t come close to wowing me, and past the fifty minute mark, I won’t pretend that I wasn’t rather shut of the whole thing, which again is a shame, as if any Cabin Fever movie had potential, it was this one. As such, it’s probably better than Spring Fever, but if it is, it’s not by a perceivable amount.

5/10

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

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.

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

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