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Psychotica (2010)

Director: Jonathan Wright
Starring: Megan Hutchings, Mike Webster, Aimee Feler, Christian Bako
Not Rated, 79 minutes

After witnessing one of their friends commit a very gory suicide, a group of heroin addicts decide to get clean. They agree to venture out to a secluded house in the country where they will be unable to access any more drugs, but only after making one last score to enjoy opium bliss for the final time. Their sleazy dealer gives them a freebie -- a little baggie of blue heroin that's just hit the streets. What they don't know is this is no ordinary heroin -- it is a government-engineered super smack intended to end the War on Drugs once and for all by causing users to kill themselves. Problem is, it turns them into homicidal maniacs instead. While the junkies are settling down for their last ride on the horse, a murderous doctor with government ties is looking for the group, and killing anyone who happens to be in his way.

It's hard to point to a single element that dooms PSYCHOTICA (aka NOSTRUM). It's a dark and ugly looking movie filled with unsympathetic characters acting out a dumb story. Aside from a visually interesting moment or tow, it's predictable, and worst of all, incredibly dull.

1.5 out of 5.


Carrie (2013)

Director: Kimberly Peirce
Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday
Rated R, 100 minutes

 With remakes coming each decade, Stephen King's classic novel CARRIE is moving into folk lore territory. It's not hard to see why; the twisted coming-of-age/revenge tale has universal appeal because we've all known a Carrie White, and we've all witnessed some degree of the high school cruelty she was subjected to.

With the exception of a bloody birthing scene as the prologue, the 2013 remake remains fairly true to the source material, in both the King novel and the 1976 Brian de Palma film. Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz, LET ME IN) is a socially awkward and shy girl being raised by her religious fanatic mother (Julianne Moore). After suffering a dehumanizing and humiliating experience in the locker room showers, Carrie earns the sympathies of her gym teacher Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer), who comes to Carrie's defense and punishes the girls involved,by demanding they go through a boot camp-style after school detention. Mean girl Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) refuses and is kicked out of school, while her co-conspirator Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) begins to regret her participation and tries to make amends by convincing her boyfriend to take Carrie to the prom.  Through all of this, Carrie has been coming to terms with the telekinetic powers she possesses, powers which have led her mother to believing her daughter is a witch. As the fateful night nears, Chris and her equally unlikable boyfriend, Billy, conspire to set Carrie up for the ultimate prom night humiliation.

Despite being faithful, there are a number of huge problems with this newest incarnation of CARRIE. The first being the star: Chloe Grace Moretz. Woefully miscast as the troubled and emotional scarred teen outcast, Moretz lacks the weirdness and the vulnerability needed to portray Carrie White. In her defense there aren't many who could touch Sissy Spacek's role-defining performance in the 1976 film. Whereas Spacek brought a naivete and all-around oddness that sold the movie, Moretz doesn't have the edge or the fragility needed to be to a convincing Carrie. Julianne Moore and the rest of the cast are fine, but without a strong central performance, none of it amounts to much.

Even worse, the film's legendary climax, in which Carrie launches all-out psychic warfare against the bastards who mocked her, is made laughable by some ridiculous choices by director Kimberly Peirce. In order to avoid spoilers, I won't reveal them here, but I will say that Peirce demonstrates that she is utterly clueless in handling this material. Top it off with some very unfortunate CGI, and you have a finale that's more likely to provoke laughter than thrills.

This version of CARRIE plays more like a business decision than an organic project. While it attempts to update the clothing, the music, and the special effects, it fails completely at imbuing any of it with the feeling and shocks of the original. In the end, like most of the contemporary horror remakes, it's completely pointless.

2 out of 5.


XTRO (1982)

Director: Harry Bromley Davenport
Starring: Philip Sayer, Bernice Stegers, Danny Brainin, Maryam d'Abo, Simon Nash
Rated R, 84 minutes

The success of ALIEN spawned a slew of knockoffs, but perhaps none were as bonkers as this. XTRO is about a boy who witnesses his father being kidnapped by aliens. Of course, his mother doesn't believe him, and prefers to think that her husband simply abandoned the family. Several years pass, Mom (Bernice Stegers, MACABRE) has taken up with a live-in boyfriend (Philip Brianin), hired a sexy and hot-to-trot French nanny (Maryam d'Abo). Yet son Tony (Simon Nash) still believes his dad is living in the stars, and will one day return.

And he does, in grand fashion. An alien creature lands on earth and attaches a face hugger-style tentacle to a woman's face, and badda bing, badda boom, Dad is reborn in perhaps the screen's most painful, and bloodiest, birth sequence. From there, the film just gets crazier. Dad returns home and seriously disrupts life for all involved, and before its over, the son will be slowly turned into an alien, Maryam d'Abo will get naked, and toys will come to life and kill.

No plot description could ever capture the sheer lunacy on display here. Writer/director Harry Bromley Davenport apparently decided if he couldn't compete with ALIEN in terms of style and execution, he would just go nuts instead. As a result, XTRO is a complete mess of half-baked ideas and non-sequitirs. It feels like ideas for several movies hodge podged into one, and ends up playing like a long weird dream. While there's no known measurement that could qualify it as a "good" movie, it's definitely not a boring one. XTRO's kitchen sink approach to space weirdness must be seen to be believed.

2.5 out of 5.

WNUF Halloween Special (2013)

Director: Chris LaMartina, James Branscome,  Shawn Jones, Lonnie Martin, Scott Maccubbin, Matthew Menter, Andy Schoeb
Starring: Paul Fahrenkopf, Aaron Henkin, Nicolette le Faye, Richard Cutting
Not Rated 83 minutess

It's Halloween night in 1987, and a film crew from local news station WNUF is doing a live broadcast from the Webber House, a purportedly haunted house. Led by disinterested reported Frank Stewart (a great Paul Fahrenkopf) and accompanied by a pair of paranormal investigators (obviously based on huckster couple Ed and Lorraine Warren), the crew venture into the infamous house to expose the claims of ghosts and other weird goings on. And being live broadcast, the event is wrapped in commercials for everything from carpet to movies and shows airing on WNUF, a local station UHF station.

The "found footage" approach of the film is only marginally convincing, as its humorous tone is distinctly modern. Despite that, WNUF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL is a good-natured tribute to a time before the big, syndicated media conglomerates ruined the airwaves by homogenizing programming and taking the fun out of local TV in the process. There was a wild west feel to television at the time; you never knew what would appear on the airwaves, for better or for worse. To that end, WNUF is successful in capturing that spirit. However, the act starts wearing thin about halfway through. Perhaps sensing this, the makers conveniently lean on the fast forward button (seriously) as the film heads towards its surprise conclusion.

While it's certainly nostalgic fun for those of us old enough to remember the glory days of local late night television, its charm may be lost on those below the age of thirty-five. If you were fortunate enough to be alive during the era, it's worth a look.

3.5 out of 5.

The Witch (2015)

Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Julian Richings, Ellie Grainger, Bathsheba Garnett
Rated R, 93 minutes

 THE WITCH tells a simple story: a banished Puritan family's new life in exile is shattered when they are targeted by supernatural forces. But it's director Robert Eggers minimalist approach to horror and and a set of incredible performances from its cast that give the film a richness and an unsettling power not often found in modern horror cinema.

The film takes place in the 16th century, decades before the Salem Witch trials, and immerses viewers in the world of fire and brimstone and superstition, where God smiles on the pure and the Devil is very, very real. Despite their religious devotion, the family is slowly succumbing to the hardships and isolation of their new existence. One morning, baby Samuel vanishes while in the care of eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). From there, an already dire situation spirals into a nightmare as tensions within the family begin boiling over, while an unfathomable evil living within the woods moves closer and closer to the distraught family.

This is a slow burning story with an oppressive and menacing atmosphere that never relents for its running time. Its intelligent and profound mix of family drama and out and out horror recalls the sort of dynamics employed by THE EXORCIST, another film that managed to balance intelligence with visceral shock tactics that left viewers equally unnerved. In his feature-length directorial debut, Robert Eggers shows remarkable control over every aspect of the film; he allows his excellent cast to convey the horrors of the unknown without resorting to the sort of cheap tricks that taint far too many of today's horror films. With its beautifully gloomy photography (by cinematographer Jarin Blashke)  and eerie score by Mark Korven, the film is an immersive experience in which the viewer is transported to a bleak and frightening world where the wilds are home to the sort of primal forces thought only to exist in nightmares.

THE WITCH bears all the marks of a great work of art; its simple story is vague enough to allow its meaning and subtext to be discussed at length, and does so without broadcasting any sort of hidden agenda. But most importantly, it is a perfectly conceived and executed horror film that will leave the viewer disturbed and unsettled long after it has ended. THE WITCH is a masterpiece that will take its place among the greatest horror films ever made.

5 out of 5.


Centurion (2010)

Director: Neil Marshall
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, Liam Cunningham, David Morrissey, Imogen Poots, Ulrich Thomsen
Rated R,  97 minutes

CENTURION is a bloody, action-packed film that speculates about one of the great mysteries of Western history: the fate of the legendary Ninth Legion of Rome. More specifically, it riffs on the often disputed theory that the army marched into Scotland to break the Picts and were never seen or heard from again. Here the Ninth, led by the incredibly badassed General Virilus (Dominic West) are sent on a final, all-out push with the intention of assassinating the Pict king Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen). To accomplish this seemingly impossible task, Virilius is ordered to use a fierce Pict warrior woman named Etain to guide them into the heavily booby-trapped Pict territory. It's no surprise when Etain betrays Virilus and leads the Ninth into a devastating ambush that wipes out all but a handful of Roman soldiers. The remaining men, led by Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender; EDEN LAKE), must fight their way back home, while being pursued by a band of bloodthirsty Pictish warriors.

It's important to note that CENTURION is NOT a film that is interested in historical accuracy. Director Neil Marshall (DOG SOLDIERS; THE DESCENT; DOOMSDAY) has repeatedly stated that the film is an action-thriller based on legend, not recorded fact. Still, that point hasn't stopped many from trashing the film for not staying true to history. If anything, the biggest weakness here is the sense that Marshall tried to tell a story that was bigger than time and money would allow. Some characters aren't developed enough, and the story seems to jump ahead too often, particularly early in the film. As a result, CENTURION loses some of the epic feel that it could have had.

Instead, CENTURION is more like a gloriously violent comic book-style tale with likable heroes and fearsome villains, with a bit of political intrigue thrown in for good measure. There's a lot of familiar faces here (including Liam Cunningham from DOG SOLDIERS and "Game of Thrones," and David Morrissey from the RED RIDING trilogy and "The Walking Dead"), sexy warrior women, and all the gory sword-and-spear action a movie like this should deliver.

3.5 out of 5.

The Purge (2013)

Director: James DeMonaco
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield
Rated R 85 minutes

In the not-too-distant future, America seems to have undergone a soft-fascist revolution, where the "New Founding Fathers" have instituted a national holiday known as "the Purge." Once a year, for twelve hours, murder and mayhem is legal, and anyone with violent impulses is free to engage in whatever type of violence they desire, as long as they don't attack government officials or use explosives. On the surface the Purge seems to be a good thing; the crime rate is lower, the economy is better, and a high-tech alarm system salesman and Purge supporter named James Sandin (Ethan Hawke, SINISTER) is having his best year ever. As the holiday is about to begin, Sandin settles in for the long night with his wife (Lena Headey, LAID TO REST) and kids to wait out the twelve hours of hell in his seemingly well-protected home. As good as he thinks his alarm system is, it doesn't protect against threats from within, and his children, through a combination of conscience and stupidity, breech the system, and expose the Sandin home to a gang of country club psychos determined to kill a homeless man taking refuge in their house.

Rather than explore the savagery and cruelty of mankind in general, writer/director James DeMonaco chooses to take the easy way out and portrays society's most dangerous people as a group of prep school jacket-wearing rich kids who presumably attend Tea Party meetings on the nights they aren't stalking and tormenting the poor and the downtrodden. This community college sociology sensibility seriously undermines the film's secondary function as a brutal home invasion thriller by throwing light on each flaw in the film's concept. What's left is a fairly routine slasher film that isn't as tense or interesting as it could have been. The villains aren't frightening, the victims aren't sympathetic, and while it throws in a decent amount of gory violence in the final act, the film is unable to tie its concept and its execution together.

2 out of 5. 


Dear God No! (2011)

Director: James Bickert
Starring: Jett Bryant, Madeline Brumby, Paul McComiskey, Johnny Collins, Nick Morgan
Not rated, 81 minutes

DEAR GOD NO! is yet another low budget, shot-on-video trash flick that attempts to replicate the alleged "grindhouse" pictures of the late 60's and early 70's. After a strip club massacre in which they do battle with a rival bike club, the Impalers gang head out to the country to hide from the cops and to continue their rape and murder spree. They eat magic mushrooms and decide to invade the home of a wealthy anthropologist and his daughter. What they soon discover is the "anthropologist" is a little more of a mad scientist and that a bloodthirsty Sasquatch-like creature is roaming the grounds around the house.

While the film certainly pays homage to the biker/drug movies of the past, its main intention seems to be as outrageous and offensive as possible. DEAR GOD NO! takes a kitchen sink approach and includes as many gross-out gags, boobs, and gory carnage as it can fit in its running time, like a Troma film without the production values. It's mostly amusing until the halfway point when director James Bickert incorporates a very mean-spirited and vile rape scene that feels as if it belongs in a different movie. And it just gets worse from there. It's dumb, gross, occasionally funny, but never boring. Recommended for fans of extreme bad taste cinema, and that's about it.

Bickert returned in 2016 with FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS, featuring much of the same cast and covering the same thematic ground. 

2.5 out of 5.


The Seasoning House (2012)

Director: Paul Hyett
Starring: Rosie Day, Sean Pertwee, Kevin Howarth, Anna Walton, Jemma Powell
Rated R 90 minutes

THE SEASONING HOUSE uses the Bosnian Civil War as the backdrop for a tale of a little mute girl (Rosie Day) who is thrust into a nightmare. When her mother is executed during a neighborhood raid by a heartless warlord/mercenary type named Goran (Sean Pertwee; BACKWOODS), she is taken and sold to an even more vile character named Viktor (Kevin Howarth; SUMMER SCARS, RAZOR BLADE SMILE, THE LAST HORROR MOVIE). Viktor runs a grimy brothel that provides drugged girls for the various soldiers and mercs roaming the wastelands. He demonstrates his utter indifference towards his slaves by slashing the throat of one woman in front of the newest arrivals. Fortunately for our heroine, Viktor takes a liking to her, names her "Angel," and puts her to work as a sort of maid instead of a sex slave. As days go by, Angel begins bonding with brothel's girls and explores the house's numerous vents and crawlspaces. But as she settles in to her new, miserable routine, Goran and his men arrive and set off a very bloody chain of events.

It's dark and dreary subject matter, and the film's look certainly matches the tone of the material.  The brothel is a filthy and bloodsoaked palace of misery, as the heroin-addicted women are forced to service all sorts of horrible, disgusting characters. It's so unbearably miserable it reeks of artificiality, and despite good performances from all involved, it fails to become the engaging drama it attempts to be. It's not until the arrival of Goran and Co. towards the end of the second act, when the THE SEASONING HOUSE shifts gears and turns into a stalk-and-slasher, that the film comes alive. Director Paul Hyett is a seasoned special effects pro (THE DESCENT, DOOMSDAY, EDEN LAKE, and many more) and he handles the violent action with a sure hand. It makes you wish the film had gone a little lighter on the drama and focused more on brutal thrills.

2.5 out of 5. 


Before Dawn (2013)

Director: Dominic Brunt
Starring: Dominic Brunt, Joanne Mitchell, Eileen O'Brien, Nicky Evans
Not Rated 82 Minutes

In a last ditch attempt to mend their crumbling relationship, a married couple head off to a secluded countryside cottage. Husband Alex (director Dominic Brunt) has been out of work for a long time and has been hitting the bottle hard, while wife and breadwinner Meg (Joanne Mitchell) has thrown herself into her career, as well as the arms of her personal trainer. Alex is desperate to rekindle their love, while Meg seems to have moved on emotionally. The only thing holding the pair together are their children, who are staying with Meg's mother while the two go on vacation.

The trip starts well enough, but their problems soon begin to surface. In their isolation, there is nowhere to run, and nothing to distract themselves from the reality that their marriage is beyond repair. Their already bad situation takes a nightmarish turn the following morning, when Meg's morning run is interrupted by a hungry, and very fast moving, zombie.

BEFORE DAWN is a very intimate, very serious zombie film that rests on the relationship between Brunt and Mitchell, a real-life married couple whose natural chemistry imbues the film with an emotional weight that is often lacking in the genre.They give the film an air of authenticity which serves to make the shift towards violent horror in the second half feel even more horrible and raw. And when it does shift gears, it doesn't hold back. The minimalist make-up effects are some of the best in recent memory -- the goopy, nasty, bloody faces of the zombies are effective and genuinely disturbing. First time director Dominic Brunt does an impressive job of blending serious drama with serious horror, and successfully generates an atmosphere of doom and despair throughout.

While the film wears its influences on its sleeve (most notably 28 DAYS LATER and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD), it never feels like a clone. Dominic Brunt has created a unique little horror film in which the human drama is just as compelling as the gory thrills. BEFORE DAWN is a dark, intelligent, and welcome addition to one of the most tired sub-genres in horror.

4 out of 5.


Grim Reapers (2014)

Director: Cade Saint
Starring: Ben Friedman, Charlie Friedman, Henry Friedman, Andrew Wilson Williams, Ryan Patrick Williams, Cade Saint
Not Rated 81 minutes

GRIM REAPERS opens with a man home alone, sensing that he's being stalked by some unseen presence in the woods. He sits, drinks a beer, paces his kitchen, looks out windows, walks around his front porch, all the while acting uneasy. For ten minutes. The next day the man's teenaged son arrives and notices his father is obviously disturbed about something. He tells his son he thinks there's something in the woods and is going to investigate. The son pleads for his him to reconsider, but Dad has a rifle and says he will be back shortly. The son, now as distraught as his father, waits for his return, while pacing around the house and the porch, looking out windows, and walking up and down the hallway. For another ten minutes.

That in a nutshell is the problem with GRIM REAPERS, the micro budgeted debut film from writer, director, editor, and actor Cade Saint. Nothing really happens. Sure, the man's sons and their friends decide to stay at the house, but it's more of the same for the rest of the running time. There's a bit of family drama, some comic relief, and a lot of talking, pacing, waiting, and looking out into the night. We only get glimpses of the titular creature, but never enough to generate much in the way of suspense, or even mild interest. If ever I was ever tempted to lean on the fast forward button, it was while watching this movie. Which is unfortunate, because the young cast is likable despite their obvious inexperience, and Saint does manage to capture some moments of genuine creepy atmosphere. The final scene is surprisingly effective, but sadly comes too late to redeem it.

GRIM REAPERS is lot like another low budget debut film, RETURN IN RED. In both cases, there is the seed of a good movie, but not enough story to allow it to grow. Both would make for excellent short films, and both have directors worth keeping an eye on.  Those who would skewer GRIM REAPERS for its obvious low budget should spend a day watching THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA and THE IRONBOUND VAMPIRE. Then you'll learn what a "bad" movie really is.

2 out of 5.