One Cut of the Dead (2017)

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If you made a Christmas wish for an undead version of Truffaut’s Day For Night, I have some wonderful news. Writer-director Shinichiro Ueda pulls off multilevel moves on a micro budget in One Cut of the Dead, a riotous ride about the joy and terror of no-frills filmmaking, and the question every horror director asks themselves during a production: Do we have enough fake blood?

A small Japanese film crew sets up in an abandoned munitions factory as a location for a slap-dash feature for cable channel Zombie TV. The tyrannical director (Takayuki Hamatsu) wants real fear from his star-crossed leads, Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama) and teen heartthrob Ko (Kazuaki Nagaya). This motivational tactic comes to fruition when the little troop faces an undead ambush.

Unfortunately for the young actors, the director has apparently joined the other side in his pursuit of cinematic excellence, and the director’s wife (Harumi Shahama), who serves as company den mother, no longer trusts anyone—and she’s got an axe.

While the single-cut, running hand-held camera splatterfest is the main course in One Cut of the Dead, the backstory of how the plucky crew successfully pulls off a nearly impossible realtime shoot is funny and frantically paced, and gives one a deep appreciation of frugal artists on a deadline.

During filming, the one-shot restriction requires actors to nervously ad-lib entire scenes and take inexplicable pauses in the action to await the arrival of makeup and effects people to throw more blood and body parts on the scene. But the show must (and does) go on. Somehow.

Lovers of quality cheese will be pleased and gore hounds will howl.

A Quiet Place (2018)

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Count me among those who thought A Quiet Place was an adaptation of the excellent Tim Lebbon novel, The Silence. The similarities are many, but chief among them is that both stories take place after the world has been decimated by blind, winged predators that attack sounds.

Furthermore, in each case the plot revolves around a family with a hearing impaired daughter, who have managed to stay alive due to their mastery of sign language. Coincidence? I hope Lebbon got paid for his trouble.

Real-life couple John Krasinski (who also directs and co-wrote the script) and Emily Blunt, star as Lee and Evelyn Abbott, the parents of three, whoops, make that two kids, who live the quiet life on several rural acres.

Perhaps not thinking far enough ahead, Lee and Evelyn conceive another baby, which, as we all know, never make any noise. If you can get passed this rather obvious lapse in logic, then you should remain emotionally invested enough to make it through the entire movie, as Mom and Dad heroically protect their offspring from flying terrors that look like gargoyles imagined by H.P. Lovecraft.

The Abbott clan’s desperate need to remain stone silent under any circumstances (including childbirth and stepping on a goddamn nail) keeps the stress level near the tipping point. And then it spills over into the audience where it belongs.

As the title suggests, the biggest change of pace happening here horror-wise, is the lack of not only dialogue, but sounds in general. A Quiet Place exists in an enviably noise-free environment, where children are encouraged to play the Quiet Game on a full-time basis, lest they become lunch.

 

 

 

 

Crawl (2019)

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Treated myself to a new movie from Amazon, and settled on Crawl, the turbid tale of Haley, a dutiful daughter (Kaya Scodelario), who drives into the heart of a Florida hurricane to rescue her injured dad (Barry Pepper).

Complication One: Dad’s trapped in the cellar of their family home and it’s rapidly filling up with water.

Complication Two: The rising floodwaters are teeming with bloodthirsty alligators.

This is not an intricate narrative, and director Alexandre Aja (High Tension, Piranha 3D, The Hills Have Eyes) wisely keeps the focus on what’s going to pop out of the water next. There is some obligatory backstory about the bond between father and daughter, forged while the the latter trained to be a competitive swimming champion, but it’s just enough to make the audience understand that Haley has a fighting chance against the gators.

As the waters rise, Aja tightens the screws to the point where one can’t help shouting out words of encouragement to Haley and her pop, such as, “Get out of there, dummy!” or “Stop thinking about old swim meets and haul ass!”

There’s not much dialogue in Crawl. Seriously, the script is probably like 10 pages long, and both Scodelario and Pepper play their parts to the hilt while submerged in bloody water. Ultimately, the movie succeeds because Aja never allows us the leisure time to get bored with their plight.

It’s one crisis after another, and they’re usually hungry.

Bad Moon (1996)

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Werewolves, like mummies, have been relegated to second-tier movie monsters, no question. Just ask Benicio Del Toro.

On the other hand, there are fantastic werewolf movies, that any cinephile worth their silver bullets should pay rapt attention to this Halloween season. Joe Dante’s The Howling and John Landis’ American Werewolf In London (both released in 1981) are two crucial examples. If you haven’t had the hair-raising pleasure, get on them before the wolfsbane blooms. Chop, chop!

Since lycanthropes get little love from the critics, I’m going to point you in the direction of something rare and valuable: a very watchable werewolf fable with a hero dog, called Bad Moon.

Written and directed by legendary weirdo Eric Red (screenwriter of The Hitcher and Near Dark, among others), the movie stars deadpan tough guy Michael Paré, who, once upon a time, was a somewhat bankable actor (Eddie and the Cruisers, 1983, Streets of Fire, 1984).

Here, Paré sinks his teeth into a meaty role as a cursed photojournalist visiting his widowed sister Janet (Mariel Hemingway) in the wooded wilds of the Pacific Northwest.

Unbeknownst to Janet and her son Brett (lovable towhead Mason Gamble), beloved Uncle Ted recently emerged from the jungle after a nasty scrape with a vicious lupine predator, and everyone around him is looking more like Today’s Special with each passing hour.

Fortunately, Thor (Primo), the family German Shepherd, isn’t fooled by this man who looks familiar but smells all wrong. I mean, come on, who goes jogging in the woods all night long?

And thus begins a very real pissing match between guardian and invader.

Other than one sex scene and a few moments of grisly flesh shredding, Bad Moon could be an old Disney film. There’s an inquisitive child, a virtuous mom, a sinister uncle, and a really brave dog.

I’m as surprised as anyone that I got so wrapped up in a boy-and-his-dog movie that I was legit cheering for the fearless canine to save Mom from the Big Bad Werewolf.

Michael Paré and Mariel Hemingway get top billing, but the dog steals the show, plain and simple.

Good boy, Thor.

 

It Comes At Night (2017)

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Earning someone’s trust can be tough. If we factor in a deadly plague that’s already wiped out a significant portion of the population, well, then it gets exponentially tougher, especially for two families under one roof.

With It Comes At Night, writer/director Trey Edward Shults has crafted a taut, apocalyptic domestic drama awash in tension and nervous decisions. It’s a movie that’s small in scale, but it carries a sobering interpersonal message that continues to stare humanity in the face.

Paul (Joel Edgerton) is a survivalist ensconced with his family in a deep-woods compound. Everyone wears gas masks and rubber gloves on group expeditions outside, like setting fire to Grandpa (David Pendleton), so we can safely assume something’s in the air.

The shrinking, demoralized tribe eventually welcomes another fleeing family into its barricaded midst, and for a short time new friendships blossom and an alliance is formed. But can real trust survive a viral holocaust? This dilemma weighs heavy on both sides, eventually spelling doom for all parties.

The horrors afoot in It Comes At Night are never fully explained and we have very little by way of actual facts to go on. All the unanswered questions make the danger even more menacing, as speculation and fear take the wheel. What the hell is the source of the contagion? Is there an antidote? How many people are still alive? What’s happening in the rest of the world?

We don’t know. We’ll never know. Not in this story.

Malevolent (2018)

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When your life is full of evil secrets, ghosts are an occupational hazard—and even a phony ghostbuster can save the day.

American college student Angie (Florence Pugh) is the front for a paranormal investigation racket in Glasgow.

Led by her brother Jackson (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), the four-person team sets up gadgets and spook detectors around the “haunted” house, while Angie makes contact with the restless spirit, imploring them to shuffle off their post-mortal coil. Jackson then swoops in to handle the messy but necessary financial arrangements.

It helps their reputation immensely that Angie and Jackson’s mother was a renowned psychic in her own right, albeit one who came to a sad end.

As word gets around, the team is contacted by Mrs. Green (Celia Imrie), the headmistress at a secluded foster home. Apparently the spirits of three murdered schoolgirls are stirring things up and nobody can get a proper night’s sleep.

There are few surprises in Malevolent, but it’s a tale well-told, as the ghost hunters unwrap a horrible mystery that won’t stay buried, even as their new client begins to suspect she’s been duped by some hustlers.

It’s a handsomely mounted British production, and director Olaf De Fleur effectively uses the decay and desolation of a once-grand estate to act as a visual metaphor for the darkness within.

As the ambivalent Angie, Florence Pugh turns in admirable work. Her point of view is chaotic and troubled, remaining duty bound to her conniving brother, but also coming to the realization that her mother was much more than a lunatic.

Like Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone, the presence of ghost children is both terrifying and tragic, blameless victims of sinister intentions who must find a way to be heard so that a longstanding injustice may be rectified.

 

 

Dead Shack (2017)

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Warning: Stranger Things template in full effect.

A trio of nosy teens and their piss-poor adult supervision spend a weekend at a cabin in the woods. What could possibly go wrong? Since the name of the film is Dead Shack, we can assume they don’t get their cleaning deposit back.

Jason (Matthew Nelson-Mahood) gets roped into a camping trip by his obnoxious friend Colin (Gabriel LaBelle), which works out fine since he has a major crush on Colin’s sister Summer (Lizzie Boys).

Along for the ride are Colin and Summer’s party hearty dad Roger (Donavon Stinson) and his bored alcoholic girlfriend Lisa (Valerie Tian), who has zero interest in bedding down in the boonies with a bunch of goofy adolescents. At least not while sober.

Inevitably, the snoopy kids stumble upon a neighboring house owned by a lady in body armor (Lauren Holly) with a passel of undead kinfolk who need regular meals. Tonight’s Special: You!

Unfortunately, Roger and Lisa are too busy playing cards and getting plastered to listen to such an outlandish story, so it’s up to these wily misfit teenagers to save the day.

Dead Shack lives up to its potential and delivers splashy fun and flying body parts in Raimi-esque abundance.

With all the baggage present, director Peter Ricq could simply have allowed these characters to speak their minds, give voice to their dissatisfaction, and engage in Dysfunctional Family Feud for the entire weekend, but then we’d have a Tennessee Williams play instead of a grisly and often-amusing Zombie Comedy (Zom-Com).

We liked it. Worth a look.

 

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