A House on the Bayou (2021)

Now here’s a movie that skips the main course and gets right to the Just Desserts.

As is so often the case these days, A House in the Bayou focuses on a family unit in turmoil, caused by a patriarch who can’t keep it in his pants.

John Chambers (Paul Schneider, from Parks & Recreation) is the unfaithful husband and father. His real estate agent wife, Jessica (Angela Sarafyan), is super pissed but doesn’t want to break-up the family.

Daughter Anna (Lia McHugh) is fearful of a divorce and having to attend separate Christmas dinners. I just assumed the last part.

Jessica packs her contentious clan off to bayou country in the hopes of getting past all the unpleasantness with a surprise vacation to a palatial plantation.

What a great idea!

Upon arrival, Anna meets Isaac (Jacob Lofland), a creepy boy who hangs out at the general store run by Grandpappy (Doug Van Liew), a creepy old geezer. Next thing you know, Isaac and Grandpappy are invited to dinner and hell can proceed to break loose.

Isaac is aptly named, because he has a similar vibe of righteousness as the leader of Stephen King’s Corn kids, not to mention access to a great deal of personal information for a hick from the sticks.

The clever teen also performs “magic tricks” like lighting candles without a match and bringing the family cat back to life.

Grandpappy tells the Chambers’ that Isaac “appeared out of the swamp one day” and the local rubes have been following his lead ever since.

This isn’t good news for a family starting over and learning to trust each other. “The Devil is watching you,” Grandpappy warns John.

Whether or not there are supernatural forces at work in A House on the Bayou, is a back-and-forth situation, but eventually lands squarely in the affirmative camp, with a clear-cut case of pagan idolatry unfolding in modern day Louisiana.

Feel free to use you spare time to figure out Isaac’s origin story. I’m sure it’s a whopper.

Writer-director Alex McAulay shuffles his clue cards with sufficient dexterity to keep a reasonably bright viewer guessing. The ending comes from deep left field, but even so, you probably won’t ask for your money back.

Editor’s Note: Cheating husband John is considering leaving his stunningly gorgeous wife in favor of a less attractive candidate. Doesn’t ring true, sorry.

The Hunting (2017)

Editor’s Note: If you’re in need of some fresh garbage, Tubi Channel is a greasy treasure trove of Don’t Go in the Woods epics like this one.

Hunting buddies go in search of their missing mentor in the cleverly titled thriller, The Hunting.

The movie is set in the year 1961. This is probably so director Blaine Gonzales and writer Trevor Doukakis wouldn’t have to worry about cell phones or realistic-looking weaponry.

Seven collegiate lads with plastic rifles rent boats for a camping trip to the mysterious Island of Hobbes, where their friend and teacher Dylan Kane (Bill Collins, a poor man’s Lance Henricksen) has gone to track down the Beast of Hobbes, a legendary bogeyman known to haunt the region.

Leadership responsibilities fall to Ryan (Corey De Silva), Kane’s favorite among the group, which also includes Leonard (Zeph Foster) a laconic tracker, and Al (Jarrett Patrick Burkett) a sniveling British crybaby who carries his gun by the barrel. We ain’t exactly talking about The Wild Bunch here.

Also showing up on the remote island that no one ever goes to is Kane’s plucky daughter Francine (Lisa Collins), who has a simmering crush on Ryan.

None of it adds up to squat, and the group is quickly decimated by a leaping figure in a gorilla suit with an elk-skull helmet. By this time, the viewer will have concluded that they are indeed watching crap, and should disengage with the narrative long enough to huff a couple bong hits, a choice of action that is highly recommended.

There is a reasonable body count here, and the fiend in the fur coat adds a gruesome cherry to the sundae by scalping the victims, perhaps a dig at our own genocidal history.

Even so, The Hunting is a credit-card cheap production, the acting is abysmal, and you will gain no experience points for watching.

The Resort (2021)

Is The Resort worth watching? Only as a last resort.

The glacial pacing is a major challenge. Nothing remotely frightening happens for like 45 minutes, and we’re left to tag along with one of the dullest character quartets ever assembled.

Seriously, these guys should have to study improv comedy or something. Entire scenes go by and we’re hard-pressed to remember anything that was done or said until the mayhem commences.

Lex (Bianca Haase) is hoping to write a book about a Hawaiian resort that closed after two years, “under mysterious circumstances.”

Her beard-o boyfriend Chris (Brock O’Hurn, who appears to have emerged from the same genetic material as the Hemsworth Brothers), springs for a ticket to Maui so they can explore the ruins of a vast luxury hotel complex in search of literary subject matter.

Along for the ride are two expendable friends, Sam (Michael Vlamis), an alcoholic asshole (gotta be one in every group), and Bree (Michelle Randolph), a flirty blonde (ditto).

After several days of travel and gum-flapping exposition, the group finally makes a helicopter landing at the titular destination, which turns out to be haunted by a ferocious specter known as “The Half-Faced Girl.”

The vengeful ghost exacts a 75% death rate in an efficient wave of mutilation, and Lex awakens in a hospital to a nosy detective who wants the whole story.

The (ten-minute?) sequence of the The Half-Faced Girl terrorizing these nimrods at the eerie, deserted resort is almost worth the downtime spent getting there. Heads are crushed, faces are peeled, and the dead rise with Raimi-esque abandon.

Writer-director Taylor Chien makes the rookie mistake of wasting too much of our valuable time on disposable characters. The Resort is not a flick we tune into for a Student Lounge discussion on what happens after we kick the bucket.

Fast-forward through the talking and traveling scenes, and start at their arrival on the island. It’ll save time and be way less annoying.

Terrified (2017)

It’s scary watching a good neighborhood go bad.

Set in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, Terrified zooms in on one unlucky block of real estate, where strange things are happening.

How strange, you ask?

Just ask the kid next door. He was recently run over by a bus and buried, but has returned after clawing his way out of the grave. The boy’s mother (Julieta Vallina) is beside herself, as you might expect.

Her detective boyfriend Funes (Maximiliano Ghione) calls in retired cop Jano (Norberto Gonzalo), a forensic expert with a knack for bizarre cases.

Before the investigation can begin, renowned paranormal researcher Dr. Mora Albreck (Elvira Onetto) materializes with questions of her own. Despite the assembled brain power, the best theory that Albreck can proffer is that they are sitting on a nest of beings from another dimension.

Further observations from the good doctor reveal that the creatures occupy the same space we do and can inhabit our bodies. Also, they drink blood and seem to enjoy tormenting their subjects to death.

Using comically archaic spiritual weights and measures, Albreck assembles concrete evidence that establishes the existence of vampiric entities that can crawl out from under the bed or emerge from the closet at will.

“What should we do now?” a colleague asks her.

“I have no idea,” she answers truthfully.

Terrified is a potent and terrifyingly graphic film about the dissemination of fear in an urban setting, with roots in paranormal activity. In this regard, it’s quite unlike the Paranormal Activity series of films created Oren Peli.

Instead of endless sequences spent observing snoring citizens, we get pants-wetting shock value from a parade of singular spooks that will leave trauma marks on the cerebral cortex.

Argentine writer-director Demían Rugna wields a deep arsenal of disorienting camera moves that offer no comfort or safe space to hide. We bounce from mouse-eye views looking up, to sinister surveillance peering in the windows, to awful things taking shape on the periphery of the senses.

Utilizing every centimeter of the frame, Rugna proves, just as H.P. Lovecraft did before him, that there’s plenty of room for malign beings to coexist with us—and drive us insane.

This is not a comforting thought. Terrified delivers the scary when it counts.

Animal Among Us (2019)

A very weird and cheap little film.

Animal Among Us kept me marginally enthralled through its entirety, and really, the best I can offer is that it’s weird and cheap, occasionally endearingly so, but mostly it’s a rolling mess.

Somewhere in the California wilderness lies Camp Merrymaker, a blighted spot that’s been closed for 15 years due to a couple kids getting mauled to death by a mysterious creature.

Anita Bishop (Larisa Oleynik) and her sister Poppy (Christine Donlon) are the cute caretakers of this forsaken forest community. They hope to reopen the ill-reputed summer camp with the help of Roland Baumgarner (Christian Oliver), the best-selling author who originally wrote about The Merrymaker Murderer case.

Editor’s Note: After the whole Friday The 13th debacle, why in God’s name would anyone with a grain of sense want to open a summer camp? Were they ever profitable? Just asking.

There’s a junk drawer of subplots spilling all over the place, and what starts out as Cat & Mouse with a monster in the woods, evolves into a revenge plot against the arrogant and faithless Baumgarner.

By no means is Animal Among Us compelling drama, but director John Woodruff and writer Jonathan Murphy pull a few rudimentary surprises out of an old, battered hat.

Their neatest cinematic trick is enlisting the talents of Christine Donlon as a sex-pot forest ranger, who seems to have wandered in from a steamy Cinemax thriller.

Donlon’s libidinous, unhinged performance works as an effective snare to the unaware, hopeful of bonus porn tableaux. (Cue saxophones)

And so the time passes.

Indeed, there is such a palpable sensation of delayed sexy time throughout, that the existence of a spicy director’s cut would surprise absolutely no one of this Earth.

With barely any gore and no actual nudity in the offing, Animal Among Us plays out like community theater Campground Gothic, as an evil, but determined family hangs on against all odds to preserve their vanishing way of life.

To be grudgingly honest, there is a smidgen of entertainment to be derived from witnessing this unstable combination of ludicrous script, wooden acting, and Craft Night special effects.

Keep your expectations as low as the budget and you’ll be fine.

Boar (2017)

Boar is an Aussie animal-attack flick about a small outback community of ranchers threatened by a gigantic, bloodthirsty pig.

Yes, I know it sounds like Razorback (1979). When the star of the movie is a massive swine, comparisons are inevitable.

For my money, writer-director Chris Sun accomplishes exactly what he sets out to do, namely, make an old-fashioned thriller about a giant critter on a rampage that racks up a hella high body count.

It helps greatly that cinematography and practical creature effects were areas of focus for Sun. He dexterously shuffles hog-o-vision POV stalking camera with flying tracking shots of victims trying to escape the oncoming Pork Chop Express in ways that maximize impending terror.

When poor Blue (Roger Ward) has to make a stand against the monstrous boar, the buildup is dizzying, with cameras swooping and circling around him like vultures.

The cast of familiar faces include John Jarratt (Wolf Creek) and Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects) in non-maniac roles.

In fact, Jarratt, who played one of the most cruel and violent killers ever in Wolf Creek, is borderline heroic here. He risks his life, unarmed, to rescue some old-looking teenage campers who’ve pitched their tents in the pig’s path of destruction.

It’s a refreshingly uncharacteristic touch, in a movie that’s full of them. Another example is heroic hulk Bernie (Nathan Jones, think Jason Statham Down Under) launching into a gleeful rap-a-long of “Ice Ice Baby” that reminds me of Quint’s crew enjoying a song in Jaws—a timely comic moment shortly before the shit hits the fan.

There are a number of such moments in Boar, particularly in the beery banter between drinking buddies Ken (Jarratt) and Blue, who are forced to put down their Fosters and run for their lives.

Blue yells at Ken for not loading his rifle before they drunkenly embark on a midnight run to track the creature.

“Well, I never reckoned I’d run into a pig the size of a rhino out here!” Ken retorts.

The “out here” Ken refers to is the beautiful Mary Valley in Queensland, Australia, whose bucolic splendors are never less than gorgeous. Even while characters plan, plot, and panic over their porky predicament, the scenery remains a sparkling gem.

Taken as a whole, Boar isn’t a bore; there are too many good things going on to complain about the uneven pace or a few CGI pig shots that don’t cut it.

Your time invested will be paid off in quality entertainment. You’re welcome.

Choose Or Die (2022)

Video games are bad, ‘mkay?

Choose Or Die takes place in a slightly dystopian future that looks like the present, where our protagonist, Kayla (Iola Evans), ekes out a living cleaning clean offices every night, plus whatever she can scrounge by refurbishing obsolete technology.

During a visit with her friendly fence Isaac (Asa Butterfield), she discovers an old text-based video game from the 1980s called Curs>r that more than lives up to its name.

Isaac informs Kayla that there’s an unclaimed $100,000 prize that supposedly awaits the player worthy enough to win.

The bummer is that it’s a sentient game made with sorcerous runes that can take over reality, forcing the player to make impossible choices, usually having to decide which friend or family member gets maimed in grisly fashion.

Therein lies the tension in all its one-dimensional glory. Dig it, or don’t.

Choose Or Die gets a needed boost from actress Iola Evans, who invests Kayla with brains and bravery. Even with loved ones in constant peril, she keeps her focus while trying to hack the sinister system.

Writer-director Toby Meakins does an adequate job of creating a cold and confusing reality in which financially trapped citizens like Kayla engage in risky occult business in hopes of a prize that will rescue them from wretched poverty.

You know, like in The Hunger Games.

Though Kayla is a talented programmer, she can’t get her foot in the door anywhere, leaving her stuck with mindless labor as the only way to keep the drug-dealing landlord (Ryan Gage) from stringing out her junkie mom.

You should be entertained by the painful predicaments pondered in Choose Or Die, and you will definitely root for the plucky heroine. But it’s all pretty one-dimensional. Hopefully that’s enough.

The Happening (2008)

And back for a return visit to the director’s chair is our ol’ pal M. Night Shyamalan! Hope he brought snacks.

The Happening is one of those Shyamalan features that feels very insubstantial, with an ending bound to elicit cries of “That’s it?”

Nigel Floyd from Time Out, summed it up thusly: “At first, a great deal happens, then nothing much happens for quite some time, then something so underwhelming happens that one is left wondering, ‘Did that really just happen?'”

It doesn’t help that stars Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel have precious little chemistry as Elliott and Alma Moore, a couple on the run from an unspecified menace.

Shyamalan can take some of the blame. His dialogue is so wooden you could build a raft out of it.

It could be argued, however, that MNS movies are seldom character studies in the traditional sense, but rather about subjects adapting to extreme situations.

In this case, the Moores, along with most of the eastern seaboard are fleeing from a mysterious ill wind that upon contact motivates humans to destroy themselves in gruesome fashion.

Fortunately, Elliott is a science teacher so he hypothesizes his head off, and figures out the virus is being produced by sentient plant life. Needless to say, the shrubs are pretty damn unhappy with our stewardship of the planet, and their intent is to pull a few weeds out of the garden.

Timing is everything in show business. The Happening wasn’t a commercial or critical success upon its release, but it certainly has more impact on an audience today, having collectively experienced the Covid-19 crisis and an ongoing pandemic.

Not only that, my allergies are killing me. I think MNS deserves credit for anticipating floral warfare.

Frankenstein: Day Of The Beast (2011)

Frankenstein: Day Of The Beast is the low-budget shocker being watched by the doomed audience in The Last Matinee when the maniac (played by Ricardo Islas, the writer-director of this film) goes on his cinematic killing rampage.

Truth be told, I was intrigued enough by the footage to give it a shot, and it turned out to be worth the effort.

In this version of the Frankenstein tale, Victor Frankenstein (Adam Stephenson) has fled to a remote island to wed his beloved Elizabeth (Michelle Shields).

Victor has employed a squad of mercenaries to keep her safe, but the monster (Tim Krueger, who’s quite good) has promised his creator that he would appear on his wedding night to take her.

Islas stays fairly faithful to Mary Shelley’s source material, but departs from the template in significant ways. This incarnation of the Frankenstein Monster is pure evil, with no grey area. He kills in extravagantly brutal fashion, bifuracting one unlucky guard with intestines on full display. Another gets his spine removed, and a blind man is forced to swallow his own cane.

The monster also eats human flesh, so there’s that. Apparently mangling his victims wasn’t sufficient to inspire terror. This guy bites faces off and rips throats out with his teeth.

How downright monstrous!

As the title implies, Frankenstein: Day Of The Beast is a more elemental take on a familiar story, one that doesn’t hold back on the blood and guts, and allows no sympathy for the monster, who doesn’t speak, but occasionally laughs cruelly.

The aforementioned budget limitations show up in various forms, from flimsy sets to terrible acting by supporting characters, but Islas clearly understands what makes Frankenstein’s creation so damned frightening. He is a relentless enemy who can’t be destroyed.

So what are you gonna do? As the vengeful Mohawk says to Max in The Road Warrior, “You can run, but you can’t hide.”

Ghost Team (2016)

I don’t generally award points for amiability, but somehow Ghost Team managed the feat.

A bunch of goofy ghost chasers get a shot at a real spook surveillance mission, where they must confront dark forces and come together as a team.

As you’ve already guessed, it’s a crew of unhappy misfits looking for something meaningful in their failed lives. Team leader Louis (Jon Heder) is a nonentity who owns a copy shop in a strip mall.

Louis’s depressed BFF, Stan (David Krumholtz), lives on the couch, unable to get past the delusion that his fiancee was abducted by aliens—on their wedding day.

“Why else wouldn’t she be there?” he asks Louis between sobs.

Every team needs a tech wizard, so we also meet Louis’s nephew Zak (Paul W. Downs), a sarcastic prick with access to killer gear, thanks to his job at a Big Box electronics store.

Security guard Ross (Justin Long) is a reasonably brave moron with a military fetish, and Victoria (Amy Sedaris) is a sketchy cable-access clairvoyant looking to get paid.

Finally, there’s Ellie (Melonie Diaz), the pretty Latina who works at the nail salon next door to Louis’s print shop. She signs on to do hair and makeup since everything is being filmed.

The various members of Ghost Team suffer from comically low self-esteem related to their crummy careers, except Stan, who doesn’t have one.

“You remember when you were a kid, and you dreamed one day you’d own your own print and copy shop?” Louis asks Ellie. “Me neither.”

Underdogs. Nerds. Nobodies. The odds are certainly stacked against them. Spirits are lifted with the arrival of matching yellow Ghost Team t-shirts. Sadly, they couldn’t afford the sweet jackets.

Through a timely tip from a copy shop customer, Ghost Team stakes out a remote, boarded up farmhouse and bust out Zak’s “borrowed” ghost-busting gadgets.

Instead of paranormal pratfalls, they stumble upon a meth lab staffed by junkies, who look and act like traditional zombies, leading to a splashy paintball shootout.

Jon Heder provides earnest strength as Louis, the fledgling leader who shows genuine concern for his newfound comrades.

Written and directed by Oliver Irving, Ghost Team is a consistently amusing haunted house caper with heart, one that works best as a team-building exercise. No, it’s not very intense, but if you’re not careful you will be won over by a winning cast of losers.