The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

Directed by Rob Zombie [Other horror films: House of 1000 Corpses (2003), Halloween (2007), Halloween II (2009), The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009), The Lords of Salem (2012), 31 (2016), 3 from Hell (2019)]

Like many of the films I’ve seen recently, The Devil’s Rejects is one that I’ve not seen in years. There was a time in the past where I rated this quite highly, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. While I still derive quite a bit of enjoyment out of it, I don’t think it’s the masterpiece I once thought it was. Easily, though, this would be in Rob Zombie’s top movies, without question.

Also important to mention is something most people already know, being that this is a complete tonal shift away from the psychedelic House of 1000 Corpses. It’s a shift that I think makes sense, and more so, was probably necessary. In fact, the shift is so huge that this barely resembles a horror film, and, much like The Silence of the Lambs (which is arguably more horror than this), it’s on the fence of the genre. Personally, I’ve always seen enough here to count it, but I also dislike The Shining and Drag Me to Hell, so as always, take my opinions with a grain of salt.

I think what really pulls this movie together into the solid film it is are the fantastic central performances, especially from Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, and Sid Haig. We don’t get a lot of Haig in the previous film, but here, he’s decently fleshed out, and his scenes with Zombie and Moseley are golden given their deep history and fun interactions, and that ending is an emotional gut-punch on par with Titanic’s finale (and I’m only half joking).

Haig’s fun throughout, and the same can be said for Moseley, who really gives up some quality quotes (“I am the devil, and I am here to do the devil’s work”) throughout. Sheri Moon Zombie used to annoy me here, and to an extent, she still does, but I do find aspects of her character quite amusing (such as her blowing at a victim’s hair just to get a rise out of them) and her relationship with Otis and Spaulding is well-shown here.

Replacing Karen Black as Mother Firefly was Leslie Easterbrook (Police Academy), and while she may lack some of the charisma as Black, I think she does a great job showing the character’s more unstable side despite not having much screen-time. And speaking of unstable, William Forsythe (who strikes me as a big name, but I’ve not seen outside of Halloween and The Rig) does great as a deranged police officer. Lastly, Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead, From Beyond, and Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) was great, though his character was a bit hard to like at times. Still, him and his carnal relations with chickens made for a quality subplot.

I’m not really as interested in Forsythe’s investigations throughout the film, be it his argument about Elvis and Groucho Marx or his dealings with the two bounty hunters (Danny Trejo and Dallas Page), partially because I get tired of seeing Trejo’s face, and partially because it took time away from what I found the far-more engaging relationship between the remaining Firefly family, but I get the interest too in seeing more of Forsythe’s character devolving.

Otherwise, I find the story pretty engrossing throughout, and the finale at the Firefly house, what with Forsythe’s character torturing the three of them, was both fantastic and oddly emotional, though it can’t compete with the true emotion we get at the ending, and “Free Bird” playing the movie out. Just an overall fantastic conclusion.

I don’t like this movie quite as much as I used to, or maybe it’s more fair to say that I don’t quite place this on as high a pedestal as I did in the past. No doubt The Devil’s Rejects is still a good movie, but as my appreciation for House of 1000 Corpses has grown over the last couple of viewings, I can’t even truthfully admit that I like this much more.

8.5/10

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

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Directed by Tim Burton [Other horror films: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), Dark Shadows (2012)]

Tim Burton didn’t make that many horror films, but after seeing this, you really wish that he would. I’m not going to go as far as to say this rendition of the classic story is flawless, but Sleepy Hollow is a hell of a lot of fun, with a fantastic cast and a mystery that’s actually quite engaging.

Of course, you have some Burton staples here, such as very artistic scenery (especially during flashbacks and dreams), and there’s admittedly some questionable CGI during the witch scene, but overall, this is 1990’s horror done right, and I can only imagine how fun this was to see in theaters.

That cast, tho…

Johnny Depp (A Nightmare on Elm Street and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) is a no-brainer casting choice here. Utterly love his performance, and I like how he’s not as weak as other portrayals of Ichabod Crane tend to be. Christina Ricci (who I best know from the 1990’s Addams Family movies) did great as an innocent young woman with a secret.

No one here, though, did a bad job. Jeffrey Jones (Beetlejuice and Ravenous), Michael Gambon (Dumbledore from the third Harry Potter film onward), Miranda Richardson (Rita Skeeter from Harry Potter), Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers), Christopher Walken (The Dead Zone and Batman Returns), Michael Gough (Alfred from 1989’s Batman and it’s sequels), and Christopher Lee (don’t get me started) were all great. Seeing a cast of this caliber was more fun than I can say. I mean, I’ve seen this movie before, to be sure, but I forgot just how good it was.

With as good as the cast was, though, let’s not downplay the intriguing mystery playing out. There are multiple red herrings, and a lot of potential suspects, and given that the mystery was actually good, it was a very pleasant ride throughout, especially once we’re shown at the end the various clues to the ultimate solution. Very satisfying story, and I commend it heavily for that.

Crane’s more scientific mindset being at odds with the Headless Horseman was an interesting route to take. I don’t know if it was used to as much effect as it could have been, but I did love his defeated attitude once he actually saw the supernatural being in action. He overcomes his fears, though, and really works hard to figure out the mystery and save the town.

The Headless Horseman (played by Walken) had a pretty fun origin, and overall, I really liked the design of the Horseman. Related, that first tree scene always stuck with me – the blood just spurting from the tree was always a good time, if not a bit gruesome.

Sleepy Hollow isn’t my favorite horror film from the 1990’s, but it’s an enjoyable ride through-and-through. Artistically, it’s quite beautiful, and the setting is stellar. Honestly, I don’t think most would expect anything less from Tim Burton, but Sleepy Hollow is certainly worth a watch, and worth the praise.

8.5/10

Wrong Turn (2003)

Directed by Rob Schmidt [Other horror films: The Alphabet Killer (2008)]

In some ways, I do view this one as a modern-day classic. It’s not amazing, by any means, but it’s consistently entertaining and solidly gruesome (though honestly, there’s not really a ton of onscreen onslaught), and had we not been over-inundated with sequels, I think this one would stand out more positively to a larger population of horror fans.

The story here is simple, and takes from such classics as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes (and in fact, I wonder if this movie had anything to do with The Hills Have Eyes being remade just three years later), the only difference being that this movie feels more real than either of those two. Taking place in the dense forests of West Virginia (though filmed entirely in Canada), the setting was solid, and the plot, though simple, quite effective.

I think a lot of this comes from the fact that the characters here are mostly decent people. I think that Desmond Harrington’s (Love Object) performance is a little one-dimensional, but Eliza Dushku was great as a kick-ass female protagonist, and I really liked Jeremy Sisto (Population 436) here too. Emmanuelle Chriqui was the least-engaging of the four main characters, but Lindy Booth was attractive, so there you go.

The action here is also pretty top-notch, with a few chase scenes in tree-tops, and some bow and arrow action. Perhaps my favorite scene is when the three inbred killers are chopping up someone while the four characters are hiding in their shack. We never see much, but it has a gritty, brutal aura to it all the same. Even the conclusion was decently-believable action, and overall, I didn’t have a lot of complaints when it came to the action, or the various tense scenes here (the watchtower too being a scene worth mentioning).

Like I said, I don’t think the movie is necessarily special, and it’s somewhat bare-bones in it’s presentation (though I do think that works to it’s favor), but I’ve always enjoyed this one, and seeing it again after many years only confirms that. I’ve not seen all the sequels (the second, third, and fourth are all I’ve gotten around to, and none come close to this one), but I doubt any of them would be as solid as this one is.

8/10

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

Wrong Turn (2021)

Directed by Mike P. Nelson [Other horror films: Summer School (2006), The Domestics (2018)]

Well, I had heard that this remake was quite different from the original, and boy, was it ever.

I thought there was a decent amount to like about Wrong Turn. Certainly there were problems – the film’s around an hour and 50 minutes, and it definitely feels like it at times. Many characters during the first third of the film make utterly idiotic decisions, something that also happens late into the movie with Cory Scott Allen’s character. Also, there’s a sequence during the finale that I disliked

Otherwise, though, I found the movie a pretty good experience.

There’s a bit to this one, given the length. The movie really feels like it has three separate parts, four, if you want to count the finale. It almost feels daunting at times, too, given the uncomfortable atmosphere during some of the scenes. The movie isn’t violent often, but when it veers that way, it can only increase the uneasiness one might feel while watching this.

I’m not entirely sure why they decided to create this film as a remake to Wrong Turn – elements are similar, I guess, though they randomly decide that Virginia is a more reasonable setting that West Virginia. It’s quite different though, and I suspect many who enjoy the Wrong Turn films might find the various alterations here somewhat difficult to swallow.

If I have one large problem with the movie, it’d be that I doubt how realistic some of the film is. There’s a small, secluded, separatist community in the film, one with rather a merciless and unbending moral code which applies even to outsiders, and while I can buy that perhaps this community can live side-by-side with the modern world, with little interaction, I have a harder time believing that, in the modern day, they would be able to get away with what they’re up to for long. It just takes a helicopter flying over their home, and it’s national news. In fact, I’d love a sequel in which the FBI swarm the community, and we get a Waco massacre situation.

Regardless of whether or not the community is realistic in the modern day, I was deeply interested in the foundation of this community, and the reason they separated themselves from the rest of society. I won’t spoil anything, but I personally thought it was a pretty cool idea, though it did lead to a somewhat predictable choice that Adain Bradley’s character makes.

And speaking of the cast, it’s pretty strong. The movie first focuses on six friends (Vardaan Arora, Charlotte Vega, Dylan McTee, Adrian Favela, Emma Dumont, and Adain Bradley), but really, out of these six, only Vega and Bradley are really important. I did sort of like Dumont’s (The Body Tree) character, but most of these individuals have obvious flaws, such as the aggression displayed by Dylan McTee’s (The Wind). Boy, did I feel bad for Adrian Favela’s character, though.

I can’t say Adain Bradley moved me much in any way, but I did find Charlotte Vega’s (The Lodgers) role quite strong. She did great, and had plenty of good moments throughout. Playing her father was Matthew Modine (47 Meters Down), who was great during all his scenes, and Tim DeZarn (The Cabin in the Woods and Grave Matters) had some layers to him. Bill Sage (American Psycho, Fender Bender, The Dinner Party, We Are What We Are, and Ascent to Hell) doesn’t play the nicest guy, but it was a pretty good performance.

Only a few other performances really made an impression. One of them was Cory Scott Allen, who unfortunately died December 13, 2021. I don’t think his character is used to great effect, but I liked the performance. Also, there’s Amy Warner, and again, I really think they could have done more with her character.

I mentioned briefly that there were a few violent scenes, and though they don’t pop up often, when they do, you notice. I think the most disturbing might revolve around burning people’s eyes out with a hot poker, but there was also someone who met the wrong end of a tree, and another who may have gotten their head bashed in. Other examples, such as people being stabbed or shot by arrows, aren’t usually graphic, but some scenes here are somewhat harrowing.

On the finale, while I mostly found it suitable, and in fact, I did love the final scene (which played as the credits began rolling, which I found a solid choice), there was a sequence which was purely a character’s imagination. It personally felt somewhat jarring, and I would have cut that. Otherwise, I dug the ending, especially with the slow rendition of “This Land Is Your Land”, performed by Ruby Modine (daughter of Matthew Modine, and also from Happy Death Day). It was a beautiful rendition, and I dug it’s inclusion.

Wrong Turn can be a challenging movie at times. I really wish it had been cut a little in places, as it’s not exactly approachable (nor do I find it quite as captivating as films like Apostle or The Wicker Man), but I did find it a good movie. Some scenes were creepy (such as the friends being stalked in the woods, along with the designs of the animal head costumes), the gore gruesome, and the ending actually decent. It won’t be for everyone, and it’s definitely different from the 2003 movie, but I think that this Wrong Turn works.

8/10

Hide and Seek (2005)

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

Hide and Seek isn’t really a movie I’d call good, nor would I call it that memorable, but it is sort of interesting.

Interesting in that this horror film stars a big name (Robert De Niro) and yet I’ve rarely ever heard about it from fellow horror fans (in a way like What Lies Beneath, starring Harrison Ford), after seeing Hide and Seek, I can sort of see why, because while well-made, I don’t think this is exactly original.

Robert De Niro does perfectly fine here. I don’t really care for the end of the film nor his role in it (the idea itself was fine, but I don’t think the execution did the idea justice), but he’s still a good actor that doesn’t often appear in horror films. Dakota Fanning does decent as a child actress, though I can’t honestly say she made a big impression on me either way.

It was nice seeing Famke Janssen show up (I know her best as Jean Grey from X-Men, but she was also in Lord of Illusions and Deep Rising), but she didn’t really add that much. More interesting was Dylan Baker – because of his role from Trick ‘r Treat, I had suspicions of the guy from the beginning, which wasn’t necessarily fair (nor does it mean he’s not a guilty party), but thought it was worth mentioning.

I really like the idea here because toward the end, there’s a hell of a lot of suspense, and the mystery which we’re all trying to figure out is pretty engaging. It’s just that the solution they go with doesn’t really work for me (nor many, if the common complaints I see about this one can be transposed onto the negative critics as a whole). The ending just seems like something that would have been figured out earlier than what it was. I won’t go as far as to say it was illogical, but I wouldn’t excuse others for coming to that conclusion.

Truthfully, I don’t think Hide and Seek is terrible, no matter how derivative some of the film is. It’s not a great movie by any means, but it’s not near as bad as I’ve seen some say. Ultimately, though, Hide and Seek isn’t going to be memorable one way or the other, which, with an actor like De Niro starring, is condemnation enough. Good idea, but iffy execution, and I find it a bit below average.

6.5/10

Red Dragon (2002)

Directed by Brett Ratner [Other horror films: N/A]

I’ve not seen Manhunter, the 1986 movie which was the first to portray Hannibal Lecter. The film used to get a bit of a bad rap, but in recent years, I’ve heard pretty positive things about it, and when I do get to that one, I generally expect to enjoy it for what it is. Red Dragon is based off that same novel, though, and with strong star power and a decent story, the film stands out well in my opinion.

Admittedly, I like the story in 2001’s Hannibal more than the story here, but I think the cast for this one is of a higher caliber. Anthony Hopkins does well in his limited screen-time, but he’s not near as memorable here as The Silence of the Lambs. Edward Norton, an actor I enjoy in everything from The Incredible Hulk to Moonrise Kingdom, does great here, and it’s always fun to see Norton on-screen, even if he’s played a tortured FBI agent.

Ralph Fiennes (who played Voldemort in the Harry Potter films) does a fantastic job as the insane Dolarhyde. At times gentle, at times fierce, Fiennes really put a lot into his performance. Philip Seymour Hoffman isn’t a name I really know, but he stood out as a sleazy journalist. I didn’t like his character, but he did a solid job. Others who are worth a mention include Anthony Heald (from The Silence in the Lambs), Ken Leung (2004’s Saw, along with the ill-fated series Inhumans), Harvey Keitel (Pulp Fiction), Emily Watson (I don’t know her, but she is attractive, with a strong performance), and Mary-Louise Parker (a reoccurring character on The West Wing).

With as many solid cast members as there were, it’d be easy to think the story doesn’t matter, but of course it does. While I appreciated the story in Hannibal more, I did like Norton’s quest to catch the Tooth Fairy killer, and like I said, Fiennes did a great job with his role, especially around Watson’s character, who was an interesting addition.

I’d argue that, cast aside, and some story elements, the film’s not really that memorable, and it definitely doesn’t have memorable kills as Hannibal did (though the wheelchair on fire scene was pretty decent). Really, it’s an okay thriller, but since they went a slightly more psychological route, and didn’t really focus much on Lecter, I didn’t find myself enjoying it as much as I did when I’ve seen it before.

None of this means I find the film bad, as I don’t. I do think it’s closer to average than the series has come before, but I think Norton alone is able to help boost the movie up at least a point. I’d certainly recommend this, but I don’t think it’s really as good as Hannibal.

7.5/10

Vampyr (1932)

Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer [Other horror films: Prästänkan (1920)]

Sometimes called a German classic, Vampyr is a rather interesting film with unique stylistic choices. I don’t think any of it makes the film particularly good, despite the strong, often eerie, atmosphere, however.

The main issue with this film is that it’s rather incomprehensible at times. It’s experimental and dreamy, but despite the somewhat simple plot, not really coherent, so while you get some memorable sequences and rather interesting cinematography (especially regarding shadows), it’s possible that such design will fall flat if the style of the film doesn’t much enamor you.

One somewhat fun thing about the film is the sparse dialogue. The film was filmed much like it would have been during the silent era, and there are even plenty of title screens present, so the film really feels older than 1932. The dialogue they do have is generally inconsequential, and I don’t think it really helps make the story clearer.

Unfortunately, that’s my biggest problem with the film. Vampyr often feels incoherent, and while the skeleton outline of a story is there, it definitely isn’t explained well. Some may argue this helps induce a dreamy atmosphere, and it partially does, but when there’s atmosphere at the expense of story, I sometimes have problems.

As such, I can think of so many more classic horror films from the 1930’s that I’d rather watch again than this one. In fact, I might have liked this one more the first time I saw it, because it really didn’t gel with me upon my most-recent viewing. Vampyr has it’s fans, and it probably should, but I will admit to not being one of them, and despite some decent scenes and a solid aura, I don’t come close to loving the film.

5/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast – listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this film.

The Wicker Man (2006)

Directed by Neil LaBute [Other horror films: N/A]

Even to this day, I don’t think the original Wicker Man gets the respect it so totally deserves. It’s a classic that really has a lot going for it. This remake isn’t altogether dissimilar, but for entirely different reasons.

I have to get this off my chest first, though: I just cannot take Nicholas Cage seriously. I just can’t. I love his character in National Treasure, but as an actor, Cage is a hard person for me to see in serious light – I think Next (2009) was the only time I remember his character coming across as a bit more normal, for lack of a better word.

Because of his presence, what really is an interesting and almost mostly-well written story (even with it being a remake of a far better film) just comes across as silly much of the time. It’s not just some of Cage’s more questionable lines, either, be it ‘What’s in the bag, a shark or something,’ or his yelling at the end about ‘goddamn honey.’ His actions are just as ridiculous, such as that scene where he punches out one of the women without comment, or kicks another one (while wearing a bear costume) into a wall.

If they had gone for someone a bit more generic, but brought less unintentional camp into the film, it’s possible The Wicker Man wouldn’t be as memorable, but I also think it wouldn’t be nearly as panned as it has been.

I have little complaints about others in the film. While few of them really stood out, Kate Beahan was moderately decent in her role. While by no means a big actress, Leelee Sobieski was nice to see, as I know her from starring in the 2006 British film In a Dark Place. Even James Franco has a small (and unexpected, as when I first saw this, I had no idea who Franco was) appearance at the end. Otherwise, no one really did much for me, aside from Cage, who I’ve already spoken extensively about.

The Wicker Man is a hard movie to talk about because of the fact that Cage’s performance overshadows so much of the actual story, which, like I said, is decently enjoyable. I rather loved the conclusion (though, as always, I thought the original did a better job), and generally, I think the story’s both somewhat interesting and fun.

Truth be told, this is a difficult one to rate. It feels really ridiculous at times, but I cannot pretend that I wasn’t amused or engrossed with the story playing out on-screen. On one hand, I think it could have been shortened by at least ten minutes, but on the other, that’d mean ten minutes less of Cage’s antics.

Love him or hate him, ultimately, this is the Nicholas Cage show, and while I really didn’t care for what his presence did to an otherwise pretty interesting plot, this is one that I’d watch again just due to the sheer amusement it brings forth.

6/10

Mute Witness (1995)

Mute Witness

Directed by Anthony Waller [Other horror films: An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), Nine Miles Down (2009)]

This is a pretty mixed ride, and much of that due to the fact the film sort of switches up genres toward the end, going from a tense slasher-esque flick to an almost black comedy/crime movie.

That’s not entirely fair, though – the comedy, most of it black, wasn’t terrible, but given the first two-thirds of the film, I thought it was going a bit far. It’s going from horror to crime that bothered me, and although it made sense story-wise, I didn’t care for the shift.

Most of the movie is quite suspenseful. A long chase scene as a mute woman attempts to outwit two people who she saw murder someone. That sequence, especially the ending, was well-done, and the follow-up scene was too an elongated, albeit more peaceful, sequence, wrought with both confusion and frustration.

There wasn’t a bunch of gore here, but what there was ended up being fine. The biggest selling point, by far, is the suspense anyway, which the film does really well. But the last third of the film felt a lot like a crime movie, and the triumphant ending doesn’t erase the distaste I rather had of that portion.

Russian actress Marina Zudina (who is somewhat well-known in her home country) does really well here, playing a mute character in a rather dangerous situation. Fay Ripley and Evan Richards, though, contributed most of the black comedy, and like I said, I could have done without that addition. Really, Zudina should get the most props, by far – her performance here is excellent.

I like a lot of things about this movie. Like I said, the slasher-portion of the film is tense as hell, and until the movie shifts to a crime-feel, the movie was on it’s way to a way above average score. As it is, the final thirty minutes really didn’t do much for me, so while I still recommend the film, especially for 90’s horror, I wouldn’t call Mute Witness amazing.

7.5/10

Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (1924)

Waxworks

Directed by Leo Birinsky [Other horror films: N/A] & Paul Leni [Other horror films: The Cat and the Canary (1927), The Man Who Laughs (1928), The Last Warning (1928)]

A far more well-known silent anthology than Unheimliche Geschichten (1919), this Paul Leni film (commonly known as Waxworks) has an entire different set of problems, but at the same time, still comes out a slightly better film.

With two stories comprising most of the hour and 23 minute film (each story an average of 38 minutes), the biggest issue with Das Wachsfigurenkabinett is that it’s tone isn’t that consistent. The first story is a bit of a light-hearted adventure, with jaunty sequences and music. The second was a much slower, almost somber, historical piece about Ivan the Terrible. And the last sequence was a mere six minutes or so, which is where most of this movie’s horror elements come from.

So an adventure/history/horror mix is certainly an interesting idea, and the framing story (a writer comes up with stories on some waxworks figures) is certainly decent, but how is the movie as a whole?

The first story, starring Emil Jannings (previously seen in the 1918 Die Augen der Mumie Ma) as a Caliph, was lot of fun, with some great looking set pieces and an enjoyable story. The second, with Conrad Veidt (from 1919’s Unheimliche Geschichten and 1920’s classic Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) was certainly more in the vein of horror, but the story didn’t do much for me until the pay-off at the end. And the third sequence, with Jack the Ripper/Spring-heel Jack was just too short to really warrant strong opinions one way or the other.

For any anthology movie, I feel that there should be a base of three to four stories, and not counting the framing story, Waxwork had two, all things considered. And while one of them was pretty fun, and many sequences looked cool (along with a fight on top of a temple), this movie didn’t have what I really look for in anthology films.

Paul Leni, who later directed such titles as 1927’s The Cat and the Canary, 1928’s The Man Who Laughs and The Last Warning (perhaps one of my favorite silent horror films), did an okay job, but again, the tone didn’t really work for me. That said, this is still considered a classic for a reason, and providing that you’re able to locate the right print, if you’re a fan of silent flicks, this is still worth a watch (if for nothing else, the expressionist set pieces), but all-in-all, it falls a bit below average for me.

6.5/10