Halloween Kills (2021)

Halloween Kills picks up on the action only minutes after Halloween (2018) rolled credits. As Dylan Arnold’s Cameron walks home, upset with himself and wallowing a bit, he comes across Will Patton’s Officer Hawkins where he lies bleeding on the pavement as he’d been left to die in the final third of the previous installment. Though Hawkins appears to be dead at first, he is soon revealed to be clinging to life.
We are treated to a surprisingly well-produced return to Halloween (1978) in a flashback that shares the concluding events of that night from the perspective of a younger Hawkins and his partner. In this, we discover that Hawkins has cause to feel no small amount of guilt over the events of that night 40 years before.
We witness further events of that night, encountering children having an altercation before being sent home by police roaming the streets in search of Michael Myers. One of those children will be a familiar character to discerning viewers of the older Halloween.
We meet up with Tommy Doyle (now played by Anthony Michael Hall), Nancy Stephens’s Marion (returning to the character for a fourth time in the series, though only the second in this internal timeline), and Kyle Richards’s Lindsey (reprising her role from the 1978 classic) at a bar where open mic night is in full swing. While I would have enjoyed seeing a nod to The Curse of Michael Myers, with Paul Rudd returning to portray Tommy Doyle, I was nonetheless pleased to see so many performers returning to roles they played in 1978 and 1981 respectively. This includes Charles Cyphers returning to take on the mantle of Leigh Brackett yet again.
As emergency services race toward Laurie Strode’s burning home, Jamie Lee Curtis’s Strode shouts a desperate plea that they let it burn. If they had heard her and heeded her request, the movie would have turned out quite differently. A single firefighter falling through the floor into Strode’s trap basement provides the means for the still breathing Myers to remove himself from his imprisonment below the house.
Carnage ensues in a scene that pits Michael against a group of firefighters, in which the killer’s prowess is displayed to be anything but diminished. This is something we experience more than once in this movie that has rarely, if ever, been incorporated in a slasher flick. In Halloween Kills, we are treated to one-against-many conflicts that are typically antithetical to the slow, methodical stalker and prey relationships we often expect from such stories. The Michael Myers of this movie is more a force of nature than we’ve come to expect, capable of bursts of intense violence directed, rather than toward singular targets, at groups of people. An economy of brutality is on display with murderous efficiency, as Myers dispatches multiple opponents with expedience and ruthlessness.
I went into Halloween Kills with the expectation that it would suffer from middle movie syndrome, being the second of a planned trilogy of sequels following the events of Halloween 40 years before. What I experienced was more like The Empire Strikes Back than The Two Towers, a self-contained narrative that–while it is designed to carry the plot between beginning and end of the trilogy–manages to satisfy my needs as a standalone experience.
The performances are spectacular, the kills are savage and visceral, the soundtrack/score was superb, and the story unfolding for the characters as Michael makes his way through Haddonfield toward his natural destination is a vivid enough assortment of threads as to make for a worthwhile tapestry. The sheer brutality of Michael’s murders is almost enough to distract the viewer from the underlying theme of fear spreading through a community primed for terror and harboring a certain tension just beneath the surface for nearly half a century. This explodes in a predictable fashion as the residents of Haddonfield create the conditions wherein Michael is able to thrive and flourish, feeding–as he seems to–on the very anger and horror being amplified by the mob mentality spreading like wildfire throughout the movie.
A bit of dialogue near the end of the movie manages to sum things up nicely. When Hawkins expresses his regret at having made this possible by not letting Michael die back in 1978, Laurie Strode corrects him and explains that this is her fault, that her fear of Michael’s return has been allowed to spread and fester like an infection in the otherwise quaint community.
I know that I am certainly looking forward to the release of Halloween Ends next October, and I truly hope a whole lot of you are as well.

We Need To Do Something (2021)

If you’re unfamiliar with We Need To Do Something, I recommend that you sift through my earlier blog posts for my review of the novella by Max Booth III. Published in spring of 2020, Max’s We Need To Do Something set an unexpectedly appropriate tone for a year that frequently included the term “shelter in place.” Deeply disturbing and claustrophobic, the novella got under the skin of almost everyone who read it. It was no surprise that the screenplay Max adapted from his novella managed to capture attention. Now we have the opportunity to watch the result of more than a year of hard work from Max and the cast and crew involved in the production.
We Need To Do Something is a tale of a dysfunctional, broken family taking shelter in a bathroom as a tornado warning precedes a massive and destructive cataclysmic event taking place in the world outside of their confinement. Trapped by a fallen tree, the family bonds dissolve as panic sets in. Revealed in flashbacks, we learn that the daughter, Melissa, might have something to do with what begins to feel more like the end of the world than merely a storm.
To say that Sean King O’Grady captured the foreboding atmosphere and quirky humor of the story is an understatement. I sincerely believe he’ll have a lot of attention after this particular movie makes the waves it surely will. I don’t doubt Max had plenty of input on set as an Executive Producer, and the screenwriter of the project, but it required a quality director with vision and attention to detail no matter how much consultation the writer provided.
Largely a single-location shoot, the set was an important character in and of itself. The bathroom where the family found themselves trapped as a storm–and whatever else–raged beyond the walls needed to be perfect in its way. The art department nailed the bathroom design.
Pat Healy’s performance as the angry, alcoholic father, Robert, is eerily well done. Vinessa Shaw captures the humor and sympathetic nature of Diane, the mother who, desperate to hold everything together, had been planning to leave her awful husband until the storm forced them into captivity. The true stars are Sierra McCormick and John James Cronin, Melissa and Bobby, respectively. The two of them portrayed siblings so well as to make one feel as if they’d been living together for years. Melissa was brought to life as a confused, terrified teenager wracked with guilt over the witchcraft she’d performed with her girlfriend, Amy, and the belief that they’d been responsible for everything happening. Bobby was believable as the equally adorable and annoying younger brother, so much so that the events are no less heartbreaking and painful than they were when reading the novella.
While the production wasn’t at all what I’d pictured in my imagination, it triumphantly came to replace the things I’d seen in my mind’s eye while reading the book more than a year ago.
I can only imagine how proud Max Booth III must be, having seen his vision brought to life in this new way, with such spectacular quality. It’s especially gratifying, I suspect, to have seen the “good boy” scene played out on screen. Anyone who has read the novella will know precisely what I’m talking about. It’s truly the turning point of the story, where the reader/viewer realizes there’s something horrifying taking place.
We all need to do something, indeed. We Need To See This Movie!

Ex Machina (2014)

This review was originally written in July of 2015

Ex Machina starts off slow but remains compelling from the beginning through to the end, and it managed to prove itself to be easily the most well-written and well thought out story to touch on this subject matter.
Chappie was entertaining and sort of sweet, Age of Ultron was exciting, but Ex Machina was the best and most honest exploration of artificial or emergent intelligence I have witnessed on screen.
Everything from the introduction of Ava, through the process of getting to know her as she is put through a protean sort of Turing test by a gifted coder, to the intense and chilling (but somehow still understated) climax of the film is insanely captivating.
The interactions between the relatively naive Caleb (the programmer) and the erratic and controlling Nathan (his boss and the man who developed Ava) fluctuate between bizarre and somewhat friendly but with an ever present sort of tension that builds as the narrative continues.
The true star of the movie is Ava herself, portrayed by Alicia Vikander…and she most certainly shines in her role, showing that it might not be the best idea to strive for human emotional development and sexuality when working towards AI.
Elements of the movie definitely take a cue from Bladerunner…questions of identity, what it is to be human, and how far we might go in simulating humanity when creating a new form of life…in addition to exploring all too common human issues like insecurity, desire, and mistrust.
I want to say more. I want to discuss specific points in the narrative, but I don’t want to include any spoilers. I hope that you’ll see it for yourself. There is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the best science fiction movies I will see in a good long while, and I believe you will feel the same if you take the time to watch it.

Lost River (2014)

This review was originally written in July of 2015

On the surface Lost River is a devastating portrait of urban decay after the housing collapse, delving into the virtually empty remnants of what were once thriving Detroit neighborhoods…but it ends up being so much more than that.
Ryan Gosling proves himself to be perhaps more talented as a writer and director than as an actor, which is an impressive feat considering just how good he really is as an actor.
As grim and heartbreaking as the story is, there is a sense of stubborn hope and refusal to give up threaded throughout the narrative. In the desolate and unsettling environment and conditions in which the movie takes place we find Gosling displaying intense imagination and creativity as he weaves a story that is as much dark fantasy as it is drama.
Matt Smith (yes, that Matt Smith, The Doctor) portraying a deeply unstable and psychotic antagonist taking control of the neighborhood is fantastic opposite Iain De Caestecker (probably best known for his role in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) in his role as a son desperate to help his family survive by stealing copper from the abandoned buildings around where they live.
Christina Hendricks (Saffron from Firefly) is amazing as the mother driven to extremes trying to keep her home and her family together.
Honestly, I can’t think of anything I disliked about this movie and I am damn glad that I took the time to watch it. Gosling’s writing and directing are about perfect, the acting is superb, the filming locations manage to get under the viewers’ skin and create an atmosphere that truly works with the beautiful score to enhance every aspect of the story that’s being told, and the cinematography is so well done that it really draws you in.

Fear Street Part Three: 1666

The final installment of the Fear Street trilogy from Netflix had some weaknesses, but it was an overall satisfying conclusion to the story. In a sense, it was like two movies in one.
As Deena restores the skeleton of the witch, Sarah Fier, she finds herself transported back in time to the colonial community of Union, where she experiences the final days of Sarah Fier’s life through her own eyes. We discover that the history everyone had taken for granted throughout the previous two installments is not the reality of what happened during those fateful days in 1666.
Sarah and Hannah Miller–much like Deena and Sam in 1994–are lovers in a time when it was most certainly less socially acceptable than it is today. Jealous men of the village spurned in their advances, use this forbidden love as justification for cries of witchcraft and devilry. It just so happens that there is witchcraft afoot, but Sarah and Hannah are, of course, innocent.
There was a satisfying moment in the story when Sarah determines that she will bring the devil down on the citizens of Union in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Already condemned for practicing witchcraft, she feels there’s nothing to lose. Instead, she discovers the truth of who is behind the apparent curse afflicting the village before she is captured and hanged by the overzealous Union residents. It’s this discovery that brings us back to the present of 1994–and the latter half of the movie.
Deena, Josh, and Ziggy–along with the custodian, Martin–craft a desperate plan to bring down the real witch and end the curse that’s afflicted Shadyside for more than 300 years…hopefully, saving Sam in the process.

Fear Street Part Two: 1978

Where the first installment of the Fear Street trilogy paid homage to the pivotal slasher flicks of the 1990s, Fear Street: 1978 devotes itself to crafting a tale reminiscent of classic films like Friday the 13th, The Burning, and Sleepaway Camp.
Desperate to save Sam’s life–and perhaps her soul–Deena and Josh turn to one of the only survivors of the massacre at Camp Nightwing, hoping to discover any clues that might assist them. To discover what–if anything–can be done, they experience the tale of that horrible July as shared by the traumatized sister of one of the victims.
The filmmakers did an excellent job of capturing the summer camp slasher aesthetic throughout this installment of the Fear Street series. It felt both authentic and immersive. I was impressed.
We discover more of the mythology associated with the witch and the curse afflicting Shadyside, and there is some fantastic creepiness in the caves beneath the camp itself.
Young campers and camp staff are slaughtered left and right, and there’s no skimping on the violence except where the killing of some of the younger children is concerned. I don’t know if I can claim to be disappointed by that, as it was sort of expected that Netflix wouldn’t go the whole hog on slaughtering children.
It sets the stage nicely for the final installment of the trilogy, and I certainly can’t pretend I wasn’t immediately interested in seeing Fear Street: 1666 and discovering just how this tale will end.

Fear Street Part One: 1994

Loosely based on the young adult horror books written by R. L. Stine during the 1990s, the first installment of the Fear Street adaptation achieves a good deal of success in capturing elements of Stine’s writing while gearing the production for an audience now well into adulthood. Though likely to draw a new audience unfamiliar with the source material, this movie was produced to appeal to those who might have grown up reading Stine’s books for younger readers and young adults. While the Fear Street books were more violent and gory than a lot of Stine’s writing geared toward a younger audience, this movie amplifies that element quite nicely.
A killer is on the loose in Shadyside, but this isn’t the first time. In a town with a history of mysterious plagues of madness and murder, can Deena and her brother Josh hope to discover the secret behind these horrors before they–and all of their friends–are slain?
On the surface, it’s a color-by-number slasher flick complete with Shadyside High School students as fodder, but more backstory and mythology is forming the substrate than is typical in slasher fare. With an obvious fondness for the slasher flicks of the 1990s, one can’t help but see ample homage to such borderline classics as Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Urban Legend. Fear Street: 1994 goes beyond the superficial slasher characteristics, however, and incorporates a tale of witchcraft, and a town cursed for centuries into the narrative, setting the stage for the subsequent two volumes of the series.
The deaths are often fantastic, brutal, and gory–I doubt anyone will look at an industrial bread-slicer the same way again–and the story flows nicely at a fast pace, balancing suspense and jump scares as well as one could hope for.
The characters don’t consist solely of two-dimensional ciphers, as has become the meme for these types of movies, but they almost couldn’t be if the series is expected to span three movies. I found them largely likable and sympathetic.

Midsommar (2019)

Ari Aster’s Midsommar doesn’t receive the credit it deserves within a lot of the horror communities I interact with. The same goes for his previous film, Hereditary.
To some extent, I think it’s simply a matter of taste…some people seem to have little patience for more atmospheric horror, and Midsommar relies heavily on atmosphere much as movies like It Follows and Session 9 previously did. Similarly, there are psychological and symbolic elements scattered throughout the narrative, both subtle and overt. This is very much a movie for those who enjoyed Hereditary’s relatively slow burn horror and drip-fed revelations.
In both movies, the overall focus is that of cult activity, albeit framed quite differently from Hereditary to Midsommar. In this one, the communal religious sect from Sweden is quite upfront about their existence and adherence to old rituals and practices. Speaking of those rituals and practices, Aster did a fair bit of research into mythical traditions as well as actual practices within the prehistoric Nordic cultures to cultivate a plausible framework for the cult’s beliefs and activities. Mingling that blend of fact and fiction with the supernatural allowed him to craft an unsettling, tense, and phantasmagorical experience with this movie.
Florence Pugh puts forth an excellent performance as the emotionally and psychologically fragile, Dani. Her breadth of expression and emotive display is stretched about as far as a single performance could manage. On the opposite side of the central relationship, we have Jack Reynor’s performance as Christian which, while no less impressive, leans more toward emotionally distant and confused throughout the tale. Watching the relationship deteriorate from the already well-eroded substrate at the beginning is both heartbreaking–as we feel sympathy for Dani–and satisfying–as we feel increasing contempt for Christian.
The rest of the cast is no less impressive in their respective roles, but they all take a backseat to the dominant spotlights of the movie…the crumbling relationship between Dani and Christian, and the increasingly disturbing unveiling of the nightmare the outsiders have wandered into as guests/sacrifices.
Comparisons with The Wicker Man (1973) are certainly appropriate. The same element of outsiders being manipulated into playing preordained parts in a larger, primitive ritual is present in both movies. The same sort of disquieting undercurrent runs beneath the surface in both movies, though it certainly seems to breach the surface far more frequently and earlier in the film in this case. In fact, if you took The Wicker Man and blended it with a splash of Believers (2007), a dash of Shrooms (2007), and just a touch of Rosemary’s Baby (1968), you would have something quite similar to Midsommar.
It’s best to sit down and just experience this movie as it all plays out before you. There’s certainly gore (though the movie doesn’t rely on it as the backbone of the story), nudity, and psychological aspects that might be disturbing for some viewers…but there’s also a compelling story taking place.

Willy’s Wonderland (2021)

Willy’s Wonderland comes closer to being an adaptation of Five Nights At Freddy’s than The Banana Splits Movie managed a couple of years ago. I loved them both, but I have to say Willy’s Wonderland succeeds in surpassing The Banana Splits Movie in almost every way one could imagine. This could easily be one of the best horror/comedy flicks I’ll ever see.
Nicolas Cage, as the unnamed janitor, does more with over-the-top expressions and action than many actors could pull off with a full script of dialogue. There’s a sort of hilarity to the total and complete lack of dialogue from the actor and the focus on a face that conveys exaggerated grimaces and sneers with such ease. We learn nothing about the janitor’s life before unfortunate circumstances led to his being locked in the dilapidated Willy’s Wonderland building overnight. Dog tags dangle from the rearview mirror of his car, hinting at possible military service in the past, but that is the extent of our protagonist’s backstory.
That’s ok, though.
We learn enough to know that if we ever need a janitor who can excel with a virtually impossible job on their plate and constant distractions, this guy is our man. If this were a video resume, I’d hire the dude for his work ethic alone…though he does appear to be a bit inflexible concerning when he takes his breaks.
We learn plenty of backstory regarding the town of Hayesville and the history of Willy’s Wonderland itself. A Chuck E. Cheese-like establishment owned and operated by a serial killer who hired other serial killers to work as the staff. There’s something about a Satanic suicide ritual that allows the murderers to inhabit the animatronic bodies of the various cartoonish hosts of the place, and an uneasy bargain struck with the town’s inhabitants to keep the evil contained to the building itself.
It’s absurd, gory, and ridiculously violent…and it is, in my opinion, a must-see for anyone who enjoys the Five Nights At Freddy’s games or any sort of ludicrously violent movies where teenagers and other people are slaughtered and oil replaces blood splatter as animatronic monstrosities are dismembered by the best janitor the world will ever see.

The Ripper (2020)

After disappointing documentaries focused on Richard Ramirez and the Elisa Lam disappearance at the Cecil Hotel, I was hesitant to sit down for another Netflix true-crime documentary.
I’m pleased to say The Ripper more than makes up for the frustration of those other two recent documentary series from the streaming service. Gone is the transparent, painful hero-worship of the police involved in the investigation I found so agonizing to sit through during the Ramirez documentary. Similarly missing is the fixation on incompetent, repeatedly detrimental “contributions” from amateur sleuths in the Cecil Hotel documentary. What we’re left with is a straightforward documentary about the crimes of Peter Sutcliffe, the appropriately named Yorkshire Ripper, and the difficulties plaguing those attempting to investigate the crimes (difficulties often produced or amplified by the investigators involved).
The most interesting aspect of this documentary is that it showcases just how awful the people leading the investigation were at their jobs. The Yorkshire Ripper title applied to the unknown killer seemed to have intensified a series of biases held by these men, nudging them down dead ends and imaginary lines of inquiry. In the minds of those in charge, this man was simply another prostitute killer like the Whitechapel ripper of a century before…even though there was little to no evidence supporting numerous early victims being associated with prostitution at all…beyond the assertions of the investigators speaking to the press.
Latent and widespread misogyny, refusal to look beyond anything that fit a pet theory, and fixation on letters and tapes supplied by someone wasting their time directly and unambiguously led to more murders being committed by Sutcliffe than he would have successfully committed if they’d simply worked with the facts they had in front of them rather than distorting their perception of the facts to fit the preconceived notion of who the killer was and why he was committing these terrible atrocities.
It’s fascinating to see this investigation from the outside, in retrospect, because there’s no reason the case couldn’t have been closed years earlier than it ultimately was. Sutcliffe had been interviewed by investigators a total of nine times during the investigation and one of the cops involved was concerned at just how well Sutcliffe matched a sketch of the assailant from one of the attempted murders. Instead, his superiors ignored his report because there was a single-minded fixation on a certain accent the killer was expected to speak with.
Where the Ramirez documentary spent so much time praising the superstar detectives involved in bringing The Night Stalker to justice, The Ripper spends a lot of time following the case only to finally display just how botched and bungled the investigation was when they finally had their man in custody. It was a matter of a good cop acting on a hunch–a cop who was not associated with the investigation–that brought Sutcliffe to justice.
This one is worth watching.
It delves into the lifestyles and living conditions of post-industrial England and the underlying conditions that made it not only possible but perhaps even easy, for Sutcliffe to perpetrate the crimes he committed. Similarly, it provides a fantastic argument against linkage-blindness and confirmation bias in these sorts of investigations.