Happy Death Day (2017)

Directed by Christopher Landon [Other horror films: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014), Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015), Happy Death Day 2U (2019), Freaky (2020)]

When I say that this movie was one of the biggest surprises in the last few years, I totally mean it. This was a pretty big movie when it came out, and beforehand it garnered quite a bit of hype, but after glancing cursorily at the plot, I didn’t find it interesting. Having finally seen the movie, though, I can definitely say that I had quite a fun time with it.

I mean, there was just a lot of hilarious stuff here. The montage of death sequences, concluding with Jessica Rothe’s Tree character stating that Israel Broussard’s Carter’s plan “totally sucked” was funny, but even more amusing was Jessica Rothe’s character turning into Emma Stone’s from Easy A. Strutting around naked just because, or convincing the closeted gay guy to be himself (her reaction when she discovered he was gay was really funny, too), or pushing back on the sorority chick for fat-shaming another girl, or her dialogue while trying to get arrested (“I’m drunk. Wasted. And I’m high, ya know, pills, weed. You name it, man, I’m on it”), Rothe’s character here was fantastic in the latter part of the film, and it’s no stretch to say I had so much fun with this.

Happy Death Day is more than that, though. There’s not a whole lot of great timey wimey based horror films (Timecrimes comes to mind, and maybe Triangle, but really, what else has the genre got?), so that in itself was unique. And starting with a stereotypically terrible sorority girl, and over the course of the same multiple days turning her into a sympathetic character with depth (her conversation with her father on one of her last days before the loop broke was fantastically emotional) was a fantastic idea.

Central among important characters are those played by Jessica Rothe and Israel Broussard. Though it takes something like forty minutes for the two of them to really make a connection, I think it’s definitely sweet when they do, because Israel’s nice-guy attitude is so far removed from Jessica’s crass and loud personality, though at that point, she’s desperate for help wherever she can find. After the karma discussion with Carter, Tree attempts to make amends for the life she’s been leading, and it’s just heart-warming, especially the aforementioned discussion with her father.

A lot of the kills here aren’t that great, but there’s a few ones worth noting, such as the car explosion and taking a baseball bat to the head (which leads to a pretty good scene transition to Tree waking up again, still in the loop). I won’t say many others are amazing, but it’s the story of the film and the characters that make this such a good movie, and it certainly works.

The one weak portion here is the identity of the killer. I do prefer it over Tree’s original idea of it being a random serial killer who happens to be in the area, but the justification behind the killer’s actions strikes me as weak. That said, it could accurately be stated that the killer is somewhat psychotic, so though the reason seems somewhat small, it still makes sense.

Regardless, I enjoyed this movie so much more than I thought I would, and it’s a definite winner in my eyes. It’s just a shame that it took me as long as it did to see this one.

8.5/10

House of the Witch (2017)

Directed by Alex Merkin [Other horror films: No Escape Room (2018)]

For a Syfy original, I think House of the Witch is decent. It’s not great, by any means, but I do think it transcends much of the crap that they’ve put out in the last seven years.

There’s not much in the way of plot – a group of teenagers go to the local haunted house for a small Halloween party, but shortly after arriving, things begin to happen, such as entities appearing in mirrors, and the doors lock, trapping them all inside.

Despite this, I generally found the film enjoyable, albeit easily on the average side. I think a large part of my tepid enjoyment was due to the six central performances all being reasonably decent. Starring Jesse Pepe, Coy Stewart, Michelle Randolph, Darren Mann, Arden Belle (who is probably the weakest link), and Emily Bader, I found most of them acceptable and decently realistic, so while the story itself isn’t overflowing in creativity, it comes together nicely.

Most of the special effects are your average Syfy fair, but there was one decent scene in which one of the characters had a few of their fingernails pulled our – definitely a painful sequence to watch. Another thing I enjoyed was the idea that breaking the windows of the house didn’t lead outside, but into something else (what that could have been wasn’t explained, but I liked the way they went about it).

House of the Witch isn’t the most inspired Syfy original, but I do think it was decent enough to be thrown an around average score. It’s not as good as Neverknock was, but it blew films like The Sandman and Truth or Dare (all three Syfy films from 2017) out of the water.

7/10

The Sandman (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5/10

5 Headed Shark Attack (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/10

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

Dry Blood (2017)

Dry Blood

Directed by Kelton Jones [Other horror films: N/A]

I went into this one hoping for the best, and I liked aspects of the first half, but in the last twenty minutes or so, Dry Blood really started to irk me.

To be fair, I was irked earlier on also. So the main character (Clint Carney) is a drug addict trying to get clean, so he goes to a rather secluded cabin he partly owns in order to dry out. So far, so good. He asks a friend (Jaymie Valentine) to come to the cabin to help, and she does, so he now has support.

Here’s the issue – apparently even before he got addicted to drugs, the main character has a history of hallucinating, and so when he goes into withdrawal, the stuff he’s seeing could be caused by multiple issues (including, by the way, drugs he brought with him that he may or may not remember taking).

All of this is to say that we have a super unreliable narrator in Carney, and come the conclusion of the film, it’s hard to say what the true events of his stay at the cabin actually are. Did he kill some people, including a cop, or was that another vision? Even with that reveal in the last few minutes, I still don’t really know. Was the cop hounding him, as it seemed? Did his ex-wife come by? I have no idea, because with the drugs and hallucinations, nothing is clear-cut, and when they throw in possible flashbacks, it’s even worse.

Little in Dry Blood wowed me to begin with. I guess some of the special effects are decent, the cabin itself is a perfectly acceptable setting, and sure, the idea in of itself was interesting, but what we have here is mostly a ‘Oh, is it supernatural, hallucinations, or a combo?’ thing going on, and at that point, who knows what’s actually happening.

I went into Dry Blood with little expectations (assisted by the fact that I had never heard of this before starting it), and honestly, the first thirty, forty minutes of the movie were pretty solid. Once we are faced with more visions/dreams/drugged artifacts of the mind/supernatural stuff, though, I became more frustrated than anything.

Now, it is possible that everything is there in order to make sense of the story. Maybe with a close re-watch, the story of what really happens at that cabin emerges. It’s possible, and it would be unfair of me to discredit that. However, with this first-time watch, that certainly wasn’t the case, and while the movie does do some things right, and the basic idea is worth considering, I didn’t much care for this final product.

6/10

Little Evil (2017)

Little Evil

Directed by Eli Craig [Other horror films: Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010), Zombieland (2013)]

I will fully admit, I didn’t go into this one with expectations that I’d enjoy it. I try my best not to go into a movie one way or another, but I find it rather difficult at times. Despite my thinking that I wouldn’t care for this one, though, I’d say that Little Evil pleasantly surprised me.

A lot of this comes from the fact that the humor wasn’t too overbearing (until the final ten minutes or so), so while it was definitely a light-hearted film, I never got the sense that what I was watching was idiotic, which some comedy-horror films tend to be.

The route the story took assisted in this aspect also. While at first it was virtually a comedic Omen, in the last thirty minutes, the movie switched gears and went an entirely new (and welcomed) direction. Obviously, I won’t divulge that exact shift, but it even led to (believe it or not) an emotional scene or two.

Much of the cast was somewhat forgettable. I did like seeing Tyler Labine (who played Dale in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil) for a bit, and Bridget Everett was pretty fun, but most of the side characters were just sort of there. Clancy Brown was a nice face to see, though (I know him best from The Shawshank Redemption), and Adam Scott did really well as the main character. I don’t really know Scott from many things (he was in Krampus, but let’s be honest, I don’t remember any individual character from that film), but I couldn’t help but get a Thomas Gibson feel from him. Regardless, he did pretty good here.

Because the movie took a few interesting turns, it didn’t turn out to be nearly as stale or bad as I initially expected. It’s nothing great, mind you, but it’s certainly serviceable, and there are a few rather funny scenes here (I liked both the principal and Adam Scott’s conversation, along with the footage of the wedding), to make a single viewing of this movie go down pretty well.

7/10

Deadlines (2017)

Deadlines

Directed by Tracy Lee Staton [Other horror films: N/A]

In many ways, this movies comes across as a very low-budget version of Storm of the Century, and while it’s not a bad film, it really didn’t do that much for me.

The story is perfectly fine, though there are some questions left unanswered when we reach the end, so it’s not as though the script couldn’t have been tightened up a bit. At the same time, there’s a rather subdued feel to the story (which isn’t shared by actor performances, but more on that soon), and what I mean is that while plenty of horrific things happen, there’s not really a major conclusion, and while people are going mildly crazy, the film doesn’t really focus strongly on that.

Most of the actors and actresses were a bit much. The movie indeed has a few more humorously-inclined scenes, but plenty of individuals in the movie act as though it’s a full-blown comedy. In no particular order, these individuals stood out somewhat negatively: Matthew Ewald, Royce Hobson, John Johnson, Jaclyn Vames, and Robb Barger. Barger, admittedly, had a pretty solid breakdown near the end of the film, and compared to the others, he’s probably the most competently decent actor here.

The movie has been described as a supernatural slasher, which is moderately accurate, but I wish there had been more scenes of slashing as opposed to random characters, who in the end don’t really matter, throughout the town. The gore itself is okay on the occasions is comes up, but that’s not as common as one might hope.

This is Tracy Lee Staton’s first full-length attempt, and it’s not bad for what it is, but some things didn’t work with me. The script, especially regarding John Johnson’s character of the priest, was overly campy, and while that may be intentional, it didn’t fit with what I thought Deadlines was aiming for. Some interesting ideas and decent kills aside, this probably isn’t a movie I’d go out of my way to watch again. Still, for a first-time feature, it’s not too shabby if the story works out for you.

5.5/10

Stickman (2017)

Stickman

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 Unspoken (2015), The Hollow (2015), The Night Before Halloween (2016), Neverknock (2017), Dead in the Water (2018)]

Generally speaking, this is one of Syfy’s better attempts at an original film. It’s not as fun as previous enjoyable efforts (such as 2010’s House of Bones), but it’s still pretty decent for what they were aiming for.

The story isn’t really dripping in originality, but I do think it was pretty okay for a Syfy production. The “ten years later” epilogue was absolutely horrible, and it’s possible that scene alone lost the movie a whole point, but honestly, I’m hard-pressed to find endings of modern horror films I actually care for to begin with.

The Stickman, a CGI atrocity, isn’t the scariest thing I’ve seen. While the elongated fingers/claws are decently menacing, the creature as a whole is pretty weak. It doesn’t help that every other time it popped up on screen was meant as a jump scare. There were some subtler scenes, sure, but for the most part, just jump scare following jump scare.

Our main actress, Hayley Law, was more-or-less decent throughout the film, though her hysterics at times got a bit much (which can truthfully be said for most of the cast). I expected more out of Zoe De Grand Maison’s character, but the actress herself was fine. Same with Sara Garcia – expected more would come from here as the movie progressed, but we got nothing. Really, though, for a bunch of mostly limited-experienced actresses, I’d say most of these young women did adequate.

Director Sheldon Wilson has directed a handful of movies in the past I’ve enjoyed, such as 2015’s The Unspoken and 2017’s Neverknock. Others, such as 2007’s Kaw, 2009’s Carny, and 2011’s Killer Mountain have been the more generic Syfy fair. The Hollow, from 2015, was downright dreadful.

Stickman isn’t amazing, and the overuse of plenty of horror cliches gets old, but it’s still one of his better attempts, and for a Syfy film, I’d even say it’s worth a watch. Just don’t expect too much.

6.5/10

Are We the Waiting (2017)

Directed by Michael Taylor Pritt [Other horror films: Fun Time (2015), Miles Before Sleep (2016), Night Howl (2017)]

This was the first 2017 movie I saw, and the second Michael Taylor Pritt film I was able to watch (Mile Before Sleep, which I previously reviewed, being the first one). And though this is one of Pritt’s newer films, I actually preferred Miles Before Sleep.

Before any of that, though, let’s briefly discuss this movie. A group of five friends go to a secluded house to party before two of them defect to Canada, but shortly after getting there, they’re stalked and killed off by a mysterious killer. The plot’s simple enough, and honestly, the film doesn’t throw many unique plot points out at you. The kills are decently done (especially one toward the end), but overall, I don’t know how memorable they’d be.

The design of the killer’s mask (which is partially glow-in-the-dark) is pretty cool, and other small things, such as the atmosphere (save for the ending, which I’ll expand on shortly) work out well.

The acting’s a mixed bag – I rather liked most of Pritt’s acting, and others, such as Alyssa Cordial and Rob Pemberton, did a pretty good job, but some of Bridgette Kidd’s lines felt forced. Actually, quite a bit of the dialogue was flaky, and sometimes fell a bit flat, but most of the time, that was tolerable.

One of the places this was most notable, though, was the reveal of the killer. It felt a bit rushed, and I think that’s something that could have been done better. The final ten minutes felt rather out of place, though. Obviously, I won’t go over plot points, but let’s say that the ending, in my opinion, came out of left field, and really, I didn’t feel the final ten minutes were necessary.

At an hour and 15 minutes (the final five minutes being credits), I think the movie could have been cut down a little bit, maybe trimming the ending (or removing it entirely) and a few scenes throughout the film. Miles Before Sleep, not counting the outtakes, was around 53 minutes, so given how this one was about twenty minutes longer, I couldn’t help but feel as though it was dragging a few times throughout the film.

All this said, it’s a perfectly acceptable low-budget slasher flick. It’s more formulaic than Miles Before Sleep was (or at least that’s my impression), but I rather liked the group of friends as a whole, and thought that they did well together. It’s a bit below average, but for a fan of lower-budget horror, it may well be worth checking out.

6/10