Shadows of the Dead (2016)

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

This is a Syfy film I have little to say about, which isn’t really surprising. Shadows of the Dead isn’t a particularly poor film, but it’s certainly not that memorable, and I probably couldn’t see myself giving this one another go.

Story-wise, the movie takes a somewhat interesting route. I truthfully expected most of the movie to take place during the anti-prom party at the beginning, but no, it’s over the following days that the bulk of the story unfolds. It doesn’t really make the story itself any less mediocre, but it did go against my expectations, so that’s at least something.

Really, there aren’t many memorable characters here. I guess you have some decent young actresses (Kennedy Tucker, Alexandria Paige, and Lindsay Elston), but no one stood out whatsoever. As far as characters go, my favorite was probably the shadow creature, which looked okay (though every time it was onscreen, I was reminded of the Marvel comic book character The Fury, an enemy of Captain Britain).

I highly doubt I’ll remember Shadows of the Dead in another two weeks, and already small things going from my memory. The movie wasn’t nearly as bad as other newer horror films could be, but there’s little here going for it, and I can’t say that this is one I think many would look highly upon.

5/10

2 Lava 2 Lantula! (2016)

Directed by Nick Simon [Other horror films: Removal (2010), The Girl in the Photographs (2015), Truth or Dare (2017), Karma (2018), Untitled Horror Movie (2021)]

I gave the first movie a decent amount of praise, but this ridiculously-titled sequel is just a bit much. The first movie was just stupid fun, but as this virtually repeats that movie, there’s not really much point to it, and what was amusing in the first movie becomes old with this one.

Again, we get a lot of references to other movies (among them Scarface, Deliverance, Dr. Strangelove, Indiana Jones’ films, Crocodile Dundee, Die Hard, and Jurassic Park), but it didn’t feel nearly as fun as it did the first time around, and really, many times it felt a lot sillier. The Jurassic Park kitchen reference started out okay, but then it kept going, and toward the end of the scene, a banner falls down, just throwing the fact it’s a reference in our face, which we didn’t need.

Steve Guttenberg was, of course, nice to see, but I already saw him in the first movie, so the charm of seeing him again has worn off, especially when not much of the story has changed. Michael Winslow did as much for me here as he did in the first one, which isn’t really a positive. Michele Weaver did pretty okay, but Martin Kove (famous for The Karate Kid) didn’t wow me, quite possibly because his character was just too ridiculous for me.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, the first movie was ridiculous too (it’s called Lavalantula, for God’s sake), but as a one-shot wonder, it came across somewhat fresh. As little here was changed (aside from the fact that some lavalantulas can shook spikes), the movie strikes me as somewhat pointless. Were there a few worthwhile scenes? A handful, but overall, I didn’t care for this one nearly as much as I did the first.

5/10

The Crooked Man (2016)

Directed by Jesse Holland [Other horror films: YellowBrickRoad (2010), Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear (2013, segment ‘Listen’), We Go On (2016)]

Well, it’s not Syfy’s worst movie in the last five years, but it’s certainly not their best. Honestly, The Crooked Man is almost decent, and I like some aspects about it, but I’d rank it between the rather forgettable Karma and the decent-yet-flawed Stickman.

The origin of the Crooked Man is fine, but nothing special (given this is a Syfy original, I doubt that would come as much a surprise). It’s the design that I thought was more interesting. The hat is whatever, but the way the creature sort of glitches in and out, like some sort of corrupted computer program, was unique. It didn’t always look good, but it was passable, more so than most of the other special effects from the film.

My biggest issue here is that the kills were pathetic across the board. There was one solid scene of a character getting their head ripped off, but otherwise, I wasn’t impressed at all with the direction the kills went in, which ranged from broken bones to falling out of a window onto a car (which also includes some broken bones, now that I think of it) to being strangled. Just very little there to do anything for me.

Performance-wise, again, the movie’s passable. I find it laughable that Michael Jai White is on the cover of this movie, yet appears maybe a total of seven minutes in the film (and none of it is all that noteworthy), but Angelique Rivera and Cameron Jebo made an almost-acceptable couple. Rivera was pretty cute, and Jebo got a few funny lines in, so despite some character faults, I generally liked the pair. Though she didn’t appear a whole lot (though still more than White), Reilly Brooke Stith was decent also.

Overall, though, The Crooked Man is just barely decent. Like I said, it’s not near as forgettable as Syfy’s Karma, nor near as terrible as Dead in the Water. But it’s not even close to being as good as Neverknock or House of the Witch, and even a below average movie like Stickman beats it out. The Crooked Man isn’t that good, and some issues with the ending come into play. For a Syfy movie, you certainly could do much worse, but overall, I’d only go out of my way to see this once.

6/10

The Greasy Strangler (2016)

Directed by Jim Hosking [Other horror films: ABCs of Death 2 (2014, segment ‘G is for Grandad’)]

I saw Triloquist recently, and gave it the low, low rating of 0/10, but there are gradients in atrocity, as I hated this even more.

Everything I hate about this film is intentional, from the terrible dialogue (it’s stilted, sure, but the dialogue, even ignoring delivery, is utterly cringe-inducing) to the really stupid chants (be it ‘free drinks’ or ‘disco cutie’), from the characters, and just everything.

I get that some people like this humor, and the movie boasts over a 5/10 on IMDb, but I don’t see it at all. To be honest, I don’t want to dwell on this, or think about it any more than I have to. Triloquist was a bad film, in my opinion, but this was even worse, and entirely void of enjoyable content.

Sorry, but that’s all I want to say about this waste of time.

0/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Chucky (@ChuckyFE) enjoyed this one – I didn’t. Check the conversation out for a fun time.

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

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

The Void (2016)

Void

Directed by Jeremy Gillespie [Other horror films: Father’s Day (2011)] & Steven Kostanski [Other horror films: Father’s Day (2011), ABCs of Death 2 (2014, segment ‘W is for Wish’), Leprechaun Returns (2018), Psycho Goreman (2020)]

Generally well-liked by many in the horror community, The Void does a good job of standing out as a different class of film, but at the same time, certain elements are a bit hard to enjoy here.

The story and plot overall are both pretty interesting, in a rather H.P. Lovecraftian way. At the same time, my biggest gripe comes from the fact that much of what actually happens in the film isn’t really explained. Personally, I loved the ending, but I just wanted to understand more of what was going on. The movie certainly keeps the audience engaged, but instead of answering just a few of these questions (where did all of those cult members come from, for instance), we don’t really get much aside from the rambling of a mad man.

One of my favorite things about this film, though, is how suddenly the story picks up. Five minutes into the film, you know you’re in for an exciting ride, and past a certain point, there’s almost no reprieve whatsoever. In some ways, this can sort of make the movie feel as though it’s dragging, but generally, I thought they did well trying to balance out the panicked action with a few ‘taking a breather’ moments.

Of course, the special effects in this film are most of what people talk about. Done with very little CGI, the body horror in this film is pretty high intensity. It’s a bit downplayed in that it’s sometimes difficult, by virtue of lighting, to see exactly what some of these creatures look like, but also keep in mind that in some ways, that could make the situation even worse. Regardless, the body mutations in this movie were appropriately freaky, and certainly the highlight of the film. Also, the costume design of the cultists was simple yet highly effective. I sort of wish they did more in the film than just stand outside the hospital and look menacing, but they had a solid presence all the same.

I’ve seen the movie twice now, and while I do have an appreciation for it, I still don’t love it. If a few more questions were answered, I think I’d have an easier time with the film. Like I said, I thought the ending was pretty decent, not to mention cool, and though the sub-basement sequences at times got a bit much (with multiple hallucinations and the like), I think most people going into this will appreciate the retro feel this sometimes possesses (it sort of reminds me a bit of Prince of Darkness at points). Definitely a movie to give a chance, and certainly a movie that’s above average, but it didn’t utterly blow me away.

7.5/10

The Belko Experiment (2016)

Belko

Directed by Greg McLean [Other horror films: Wolf Creek (2005), Rogue (2007), Wolf Creek 2 (2013), The Darkness (2016)]

More or less a rehash of Battle Royale in a corporate setting, The Belko Experiment isn’t really anything new or all that special. I do think it’s pretty fun, but if one is left feeling like it’s ultimately pointless and derivative, I understand that also.

For me, the set-up brought a lot of interesting possibilities to the forefront. I certainly enjoyed the social examination aspect of it, with the dog-eat-dog world of corporate America coming down to violent and gory massacres. Very fitting of a system based off competition, in my opinion. I wish a little more of the mindset behind the experiment was explained, but what we got was fine.

So many individuals in the film were, at the very least, good. Of course, John Gallagher Jr. (of The Newsroom and 10 Cloverfield Lane) did great as a character with extraordinarily difficult choices to make. Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, and Owain Yeoman made for a great team of antagonists (that lobby execution sequence was brutal). I sort of appreciated what they did with Melonie Diaz’s character, but Adria Arjona’s didn’t do much for me.

Other stand-outs include Brent Sexton (loved his scene toward the end), Sean Gunn, James Earl, Michael Rooker (God, I wish he was in this movie longer), David Del Rio, and Abraham Benrudi (who I know from one of my favorite episodes of the X-Files).

The conclusion is more-or-less what I was expecting, so no big surprises, but at the same time, it was moderately satisfying. I did like the concluding shot, so no complaints there.

Obviously, The Belko Experiment doesn’t do all that much that hasn’t been done before. It wasn’t even all that gory (there were some good scenes, but overall, the violence wasn’t too noticeable to me), but at the same time, I enjoyed it. It’s one of those films you can just sit back, relax, and watch, without having to really think too much. I liked this one, and while I understand the more tepid reactions to it, I find it above average, and would generally recommend it.

8/10

Split (2016)

Split

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan [Other horror films: Signs (2002), The Village (2004), The Happening (2008), The Visit (2015)]

I didn’t really know what to expect going into this one, but I am happy to say that this movie did not disappoint at all.

The story is pretty simple, and the cast small (in a manner of speaking), but it was told in a very tense and heart-racing way. The three kidnapped girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula) all did pretty well, and worked hard to get out of the situation they were in. Taylor-Joy’s character, though, was tragic, in that even if she happened to get away, her nightmare was far from over. And while I can’t begin to praise James McAvoy’s performance here enough, suffice it to say that it’s perhaps some of the best and most diverse acting I’ve ever seen.

My one issue with the movie is that the whole beast personality comes off as a bit ridiculous. Sure, some of the things that he can do are pretty creepy (that wall thing, for instance), but it really felt a bit much, especially toward the end. I also sort of wish we got looks into a few other personalities, though the few we did get nuggets of (such as the historian) were pretty interesting.

Split’s a movie done well. Taylor-Joy (who I’ve seen previously in The VVitch) did amazing with her role, and I think she has a lot to offer the genre. M. Night Shyamalan obviously has a sketchy history, though I will fully admit to enjoying both The Visit and The Village. He did an amazing job here, and really, this is a moderately easy contender for top horror film of the last five years. If only that last personality wasn’t as unrealistic as I felt it was. On a final note, while this is related to the 2000 film Unbreakable, but you definitely don’t need to see that film to enjoy this (as I certainly haven’t).

8.5/10

Terrifier (2016)

Terrifier

Directed by Damien Leone [Other horror films: All Hallows’ Eve (2013), Frankenstein vs. the Mummy (2015)]

Originally a short from 2011, and then edited into the anthology All Hallows’ Eve in 2013, this film follows the homicidal Art the Clown as he dispatches multiple victims in inventively gory ways.

Plot isn’t really a high point of this film, but then again, I don’t think it really needs to be. No background information is given on Art, and he doesn’t utter a word during his stunning performance, but for a film like this, I don’t feel that’s a terrible drawback. What mattered was the gore and tension, and this movie has it.

Art the Clown was damn creepy. Even before he started killing people, he made me feel more than a little uneasy. A damn creepy performance by David Howard Thornton utilized facial expressions and hand gestures to amazing effect. Just by his actions in the pizza restaurant – that smile, his staring – it freaked me out. And I watched this during the day. I cannot imagine watching this in the dark of night. Seriously, Thronton’s performance here was one of the freakiest I’ve seen in a long time.

Jenna Kanell did well also, though of course was nowhere near as memorable as Thornton, no matter how cute she was. Same with Samantha Scaffidi – both of them can likely do well in the future (Kanell was later in The Bye Bye Man, though I’ve heard only negative things about that film). Neither was amazing, but they both did competently enough.

It’s true that the whole cat-and-mouse game, with Art chasing after a new victim just after killing the previous one, felt a bit old after a while, but given Thronton’s strong performance throughout the film, it didn’t really bother me all that much. What helped fight against the potential boredom was the strong gore – great gory effects throughout the film, and it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. Terrifier’s gore rivals some of the strongest stuff I’ve seen in recent times, so kudos to that department also.

Terrifier is a pretty tense and freaky movie, especially with the early scenes featuring Art. Talk about unsettling *shudders*. The ending was a bit weak, and if that was supposed to be a twist, then they need to try harder, but the gore and acting make this a film that I think many horror fans would enjoy, even without having previously seen All Hallows’ Eve.

8/10