Night Teeth (2021)

I wish they hadn’t called it Night Teeth. It’s not a very good title for such an entertaining and inventive film.

Broke student Benny Perez (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.) just wants to earn a little extra cash driving for a car service. He borrows a sweet ride from his older brother Jay (Raul Castillo) and picks up mysterious beauties Zoe (Lucy Fry) and Blaire (Debby Ryan) for a night of club hopping around Los Angeles.

The ladies are able to read Benny like a book and quickly determine he’s a newbie at the chauffeur game, a source of amusement. And as the night goes on, Benny becomes alternatingly aroused and alarmed by his odd passengers, particularly after one stop when they return with a satchel full of bloody cash.

Meanwhile, his brother Jay has to get his boys together because there are vampires in Boyle Heights, and that runs counter to a long-standing treaty.

There’s a full slate of subplots in Night Teeth, including sparks between young Benny and the somehow-still-kind-hearted Blaire. When they’re together the movie freely pivots into a star-crossed romance and the night seems full of new possibilities.

Mostly the story sticks close to the mob-style coup being staged by ambitious vampire Victor (Alfie Allen), who wants to go back to the old ways of old days, when humans were fair game for blood draining, regardless of their address.

Night Teeth is also one of those vampire movies (like Near Dark) that doesn’t use the “V” word, which is why I found the title clumsy.

Even so, there is all-you-can-eat action, laughs, guts, and unlikely romance to be feasted on in Night Teeth. Just as in Vampires Vs The Bronx, bloodsuckers are depicted as affluent white gangsters trying to gain wealth and power by displacing a hardworking minority, in this case, Latin Americans.

“Who still uses crossbows?” Benny wonders out loud while trying to stay alive during a gnarly fight between undead rebels and vampire hunters. Find out this and other exquisite tidbits in Night Teeth, winningly directed by Adam Randall, and sharply written by Brent Dillon.

These vampires definitely don’t suck.

Seance (2021)

When you’re the new kid in school, it helps to be adopted by the popular clique, even if they’re into necromancy. Go along to get along, you know?

Seance is set at Edelvine Academy for Girls, a prestigious private learning institution with a recent opening, thanks to a student hopping out the window during a paranormal prank.

Editor’s Note: When are we going to outlaw pranks? Nothing good ever comes from pranks and people get hurt, disfigured, and killed all the damn time.

New student Camille Meadows (Suki Waterhouse) moves into the recently vacated room and gets picked on by the same Mean Girls who drove the previous occupant to jump.

Camille and the Mean Girls all end up in detention together, where an alliance of sorts is formed, and a seance is convened to see if any ghosts want to communicate.

Surprise! They do!

Featuring both a ghost and masked psychos bearing cutlery, Seance is smartly written and full of gradually revealed plot twists that take sinister shape under the guidance of writer-director Simon Barrett (You’re Next, Dead Birds).

There aren’t buckets of blood, but there’s a body count and a few memorable kills, including Bethany’s (Madisen Beaty) fluorescent tube tracheotomy.

It’s also a movie about duty and the bonds of friendship that run deeper than the need for acceptance within a group of nasty bitches.

Recommended! Start the new year off right.

Monstrum (2016)

Directed and co-written by South Korean filmmaker Jong-ho Huh, Monstrum is an exquisitely crafted 16th century period piece about a legendary beast that is decimating the population of Mount Inwangsan.

It is also a very astute political thriller about a beleaguered king (Park Hee Soon) who is being undermined by his cabinet ministers. The powers behind the throne conspire to keep the peasants wary and fearful by fueling rumors of a horrible creature that not only kills its victims but spreads the plague throughout the countryside.

Naturally, the peasants would like to see something done to mitigate the mutilations, so the king summons a loyal general (Kim Myung-min) to lead a party of warriors and farmers to hunt down and destroy the thing known as Monstrum.

The plot bubbles with palace intrigue and betrayals as a persistent rumor turns flesh (fur) in the form of a monstrous black cat that’s grown to massive proportions thanks to a steady diet of disease-ridden corpses.

The Monstrum itself isn’t the best CGI critter ever, but it’s far from the worst. Thematically, it represents man-made corruption, dishing out death as an equal opportunity destroyer, feasting on peasant and noble alike.

The monster is generally on the money in Monstrum, but the movie’s also chockful of superb swordplay and martial arts choreography that dazzles the senses. It’s no Crouching Tiger, but it’s definitely a hidden gem.

It also boasts terrific cast chemistry and you’ll have no trouble rooting for the scrappy band of heroes that takes on the vicious monster and stands up to a cadre of treacherous politicians.

And like Masque of the Red Death or Brotherhood of the Wolf, Monstrum uses a deadly plague to illustrate the indifference of the aristocracy to the suffering of an impoverished working class.

Twas ever thus.

It Waits (2005)

If your expectations are not currently residing in a lofty skyscraper, then It Waits should do the trick. The time passed and I was engaged, despite the teensy budget and a general lack of dramatic ability from the cast.

First and foremost, this is a story about redemption. Yes, there is a winged monster that dismembers campers, and plays cat-and-mouse with the lovely Danielle (Cerina Vincent), an alcoholic ranger stationed at a lonely tower in the forest primeval.

See, Danielle recently got shitfaced with her friend Julie, and was at the wheel of their jeep when it crashed, killing her bestie. Since then, she’s retreated to the solitude of her fire-watch perch to sulk and drink some more, with a wisecracking parrot as her primary companion.

If only there were some way for her to save the day, and earn back her self-respect!

Meanwhile, a bunch of stupid college students blast a hole in the side of a mountain, freeing a demon/gargoyle that’s resided there for ages and ages. After dispensing with the hors d’oeuvres, the monster plays the long game with Danielle, waging a gruesome terror campaign and reducing everyone around her to bloody mulch.

Director Steven Monroe recognizes that Danielle is the focus of the feature, so she’s never far from the camera, an aesthetic gamble that pays off. While her emotive capability seldom rises above school play levels, actress Cerina Vincent pumps the gas when action is called for and spends the majority of her screen-time looking absolutely ravishing.

The creature also gets a fair amount of camera time, and it’s a sturdily built costume that wreaks plenty of havoc, resembling Pumpkinhead with a wingspan. In fact, the diabolical monster seems rather too formidable for the plucky ranger.

Fortunately, dynamite is a great equalizer. Keep expectations on the ground floor and you will be reasonably pleased with It Waits.

Censor (2021)

To anyone who dares spread the rumor that horror movies are responsible for the moral decay of society, here is a provocative feature for your consideration.

Set against England’s Video Nasty outrage of the mid-’80s, Censor takes us inside the head of Enid Baines (Niamh Algar), an efficient and organized member of the government agency in charge of rating violent and disturbing films of the day, like Driller Killer and Deranged.

Enid is quite good at her job but her personal life hasn’t recovered from the childhood trauma of losing her sister Nina in the woods, and she continues to harbor hopes that she will turn up one day.

When she’s assigned a Nasty called Don’t Go in the Church, something shifts in Enid’s memories as the movie seems to be a re-creation of the day her sister disappeared, a haunting mystery that was never solved, and the details of which she can’t remember.

Her parents want her to move on with her life and meet a nice fellah, but Enid is determined to track down the cult filmmaker who could be the source of everything that’s gone wrong in her life.

Welsh writer-director Prano Bailey-Bond has fashioned a deeply drawn character in Enid, and the performance by Algar just keeps getting richer, even as her world gets darker, infected by the barrage of torture and cruelty she witnesses on a daily basis.

Bailey-Bond does a first-rate job of establishing time and place, when England was under a media-fueled frenzy of lurid details from “hardcore” horror films dubbed “Video Nasties.”

Enid’s office, with its dark little viewing rooms, becomes equally lurid, as screams and chopping sounds fill the halls.

Job pressures take their toll on Enid, a thoroughly professional woman with a complicated, compartmentalized life. Like Cassandra Thomas in Promising Young Woman, she has answered a calling and takes pride in her work.

Unfortunately, Enid, an otherwise intelligent and perceptive woman, ignores the warning issued by more than one character, that being, “Evil is contagious.”

In my estimation, Censor is one of the best horror films of the year.

Better Watch Out (2016)

Once again, the poor babysitter is left to deal with the devil while bourgeois Mom and Pop drink the night away. And right before Christmas! After watching Better Watch Out, I know of one kid who’s getting a load of coal dumped in his yard.

On the verge of leaving town for college, Ashley (Olivia de Jonge) takes one last babysitting gig for the Lerners (Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen), keeping an eye on their son Luke (Levi Miller).

Unbeknownst to Ashley, Luke and his flunky friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould) have contrived a “home invasion” to frighten her, in the hopes that a heroic-looking Luke will win her heart.

Yep, 12-year-old Luke has the hots for his sitter and his worst instincts take over. What starts out as Home Alone-inspired high jinks gets real dark, real fast, as Luke continually ups the stakes revealing him to be a vicious and clever sociopath.

“One-hundred one uses for duct tape,” he says merrily, as he binds Ashley to a chair.

The angel-faced kid is all bad, but when it comes to creating murder and mayhem he’s definitely a prodigy. They should probably consider moving him up a couple grades so he can torment older kids.

Miller is truly disturbing as Luke, imbuing him with a fiendishly high I.Q. that’s always inventing new means to escape his increasingly bloody problem. De Jonge is extremely formidable as the object of his grotesque affection and goes to extreme lengths to thwart Luke’s sinister scheme.

With Better Watch Out, director and co-writer Chris Peckover has left a distinctive mark on the Babysitter Horror subgenre, where the evil is always coming from inside the house.

Girl on the Third Floor (2019)

I haven’t followed professional rasslin’ for the last decade or two, so I’ve missed out on the rise of CM Punk, a straight-edge, comic book-loving, butt-kicking atheist who’s managed to win several championship belts in the early part of the 21st century.

In Girl on the Third Floor he tries on a tool belt to restore an old Victorian mansion with a bad reputation as a peace offering to his pregnant wife, Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn).

Don Koch (Punk), is a financial con artist who’s cut a deal with the feds to stay out of prison, despite draining several pension funds. Having proven himself to be a liar, a drunk, and a womanizer, Don has vowed to turn over a new leaf, and “make everything right” by fixing up a former brothel into a dream home for his burgeoning family.

Unfortunately, a leopard can’t change his spots and you can’t build a dream home on a rotten foundation. The man formerly known as King Don, immediately starts drinking beer and lying to his wife on their daily phone calls, which doesn’t say much about his commitment to the project or to his marriage.

While fumbling through basic carpentry and getting loads of gross fluids dumped on him in at every turn, Don entertains Ellie Mueller (Karen Wooditsch) a gabby nun from the church next door and Sarah Yates (Sarah Brooks) a simmering sexpot who seems to come and go at will.

Don gets characteristically drunk, smokes weed, and knocks boots with Sarah. Like Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction, he soon regrets giving in to his toxic masculine desires when his one-night stand turns out to be a vengeful spirit.

It’s a morality play, duh.

The house itself consumes the protagonist, serving as a warning to faithless spouses seeking redemption for their misdeeds.

Punk is up to the task, and acquits himself as an able, agile leading man, losing his marbles in entertaining fashion and getting tossed around like a pumped-up Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead II.

Watching the misadventures of the angry, bumbling, and ultimately remorseful Don Koch, writer-director Travis Stevens gives us a virtual Power Point illustration of the terrible fate that befalls an ethical weakling.

Maybe try couples counseling, instead.

Warning: The dog dies. Steel yourself emotionally.

Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

It’s great to see the ol’ Happy Death Day gang again!

In this decidedly Back To The Future II sequel, Tree (Jessica Rothe), Carter (Israel Broussard), and his genius/nerd roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) are once again stuck in a campus vortex that culminates in murder.

It turns out all the time-loop business has been caused by Ryan’s thesis project Sissy, a super powerful time-shredding device that only works sporadically with unpredictable results.

It was a test-run of Sissy that caused Tree to relive her own murder in perpetuity, and this time around she gets bounced to another timeline where things are slightly different.

For one thing, Carter is now the caring boyfriend of Tree’s insufferable sorority queen bee Danielle (Rachel Matthews). For another, her late mother Julie (Missy Yager) is miraculously still alive!

This leads Tree to a cataclysmic decision with an unforeseen butterfly effect that could leave Carter as another victim of the Babyface Killer (Rob Mello).

Perhaps the best line in the film is when Ryan, who’s being stalked by the murderous mascot, quips something to the effect of “What kind of a stupid college has a baby for a mascot?

Beware the Bayfield Babies.

Writer-director Christopher Landon (several of the Paranormal Activity movies and director of Happy Death Day) expands on the theoretical possibilities hinted at in the first film and smartly beefs up the supporting cast, particularly Ryan, who grows from comedy relief to a crucial character in the new timeline.

And the long-suffering Tree is played to comedic and dramatic perfection by Jessica Rothe.

Happy Death Day 2U is the rarest thing in Hollywood—a truly worthy sequel to an excellent film, one that succeeds on its own merits and generates fresh inspiration instead of rehashed mayhem.

One should also admire the discipline of the principle actors and set design team for re-creating seamless continuity from a two-year-old shoot.

If the rumors are true, there’s going to be a third chapter in the series, which will require the key characters to remain ageless in suspended animation until filming begins.

I can’t wait for Happy Death Day 3 Cheers For Babyface.

Demonic (2015)

A detective (Frank Grillo) and a police psychiatrist (Maria Bello) try to piece together what happened after a team of amateur ghostbusters bungle a seance in a haunted house, in Demonic.

Probably happens all the time.

The cops grill John (Dustin Milligan), the only survivor, in an attempt to locate his missing girlfriend Michelle (Cody Horn) and ghost team leader Bryan (Scott Mechlowicz).

The rest of Bryan’s crew are spread out around the house in various stages of decomposition after persons unknown went on a chopping spree.

The story unfolds via John’s remembrances and footage recovered by forensic specialists, so the narrative bounces from the current crime scene to the week before, when the paranormal investigators set up shop in a rambling manor house somewhere in Louisiana swampland.

There are jump scares aplenty and a decent amount of escalating tension, but not much in the way of blood and guts. Gaping plot holes abound (Really? The detective has no other recourse but to shoot his only suspect while the latter is holed up in a grocery store?) and no one associated with the film will win any acting awards.

Even so, director-cowriter Will Canon keeps his spooks flying and manages to perpetrate a few decent plot twists to keep our attention from wandering too far.

Demonic is not required viewing, but you could do a lot worse. I should know.

What Keeps You Alive (2018)

Talk about a relationship with serious obstacles.

Jules (Brittany Allen) and Jackie (Hannah Anderson) are a married gay couple who go off for a romantic weekend to a well-appointed house in rural Canada that belongs to Jackie’s family.

In horror movies, romantic weekends are second only to make-out pot parties as an invitation to trauma. What Keeps You Alive is no exception.

What’s different here is the source of the threat. Soon after their arrival, the couple is visited by Sarah (Martha MacIsaac), a local who recognizes Jackie, but calls her by the name “Megan.”

The next morning Jackie tries to murder Jules by pushing her off a cliff. This unexpected development caused my friend Kaja to remark, “I guess she fell for the wrong girl.”

Jules does not die in the fall, so Jackie begins tracking her, shouting conciliatory messages about how sorry she is, and that she wants to take Jules home.

The single scariest moment in What Keeps You Alive is when Jules, hiding behind a tree from Jackie, sees her wife’s flat emotionless face while she’s yelling endearments.

Presently, Jackie gets tired of playing the concerned mate and informs the unseen Jules that she knows the woods like the back of her hand and escape is impossible.

The sexual dynamic between the two lovers hovers over the carnage, occasionally referenced in flashback, as writer-director Colin Minihan explores the depths of betrayal that Jackie has orchestrated.

There’s plenty of nail-biting action, including a riveting rowboat chase across the lake, that will keep your hand close to the panic button.

Minihan alternates between closeups of injured and frightened Jules running through the house, and long establishing shots of the unforgiving terrain, effectively adding weight to the already considerable tension.

There are enough twists and reversals to keep even the most astute thriller fan off balance, and both Allen and Anderson bring everything they have to their respective roles.

We’re predisposed to root for Jules, who proves tougher than she looks, but Jackie’s unfolding madness is spellbinding. She shifts and sheds personalities seemingly at will to keep Jules on the defensive. Whether she’s cajoling, cursing, or crying it’s impossible to get an accurate read on Jackie.

Mercenary? Maniac? Misunderstood?

At one point, Jules demands an answer. “What happened to you? Was it your father? Did he do something to you?” she asks.

“It was nature, not nurture,” Jackie answers deadpan.

Definitely worth your time.