Barbarian (2022)

We’re seeing an upswing of Air B&B-based horror movies, and writer-director Zach Cregger’s Barbarian currently sits alone at the top of the heap. It’s a stylistic relative of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, as mood and tone careen crazily between multiple storylines that converge in one really bad house.

Our heroine Tess (Georgina Campbell) is on her way to Detroit for a job interview with a documentary filmmaker. She arrives at her rental, the only livable dwelling in a blighted suburb that looks like World War II ended last week.

To complicate matters, it’s a dark and stormy night. To further complicate matters, she finds her house already occupied by Keith (Bill Skarsgard), a somewhat intense fellow who seems determined to put her at ease, offering to share the house with Tess for the evening.

Eventually, and against her better judgment, Tess accepts Keith’s hospitality and the two get better acquainted over a bottle of wine.

Meanwhile, in another part of the movie, TV sitcom star A.J. Gilbride (Justin Long), is having a rough time with the #MeToo movement, causing his career to crumble.

He’s advised to liquidate his holdings, including some rental property in his native Michigan, currently occupied by Tess, Keith, and something else entirely.

There is a fearsome creature at the heart of Barbarian, but like any good monster, she’s highly sympathetic, certainly more so than the two male leads, neither of whom can adapt in the unexpected survival situation they all stumble into.

AJ in particular is a loathsome example of masculinity; a whiny, raging, mama’s boy, who proves to be the biggest obstacle in Tess’s escape from a hell-house that rivals the Sawyer Family farm in Texas.

Frank (Richard Brake), the owner of the house and its hell, gets his story told in a narrative hopping flashback, and we realize that the thing haunting this hacienda is not the real monster here. In fact, she’s a remarkably nurturing creature considering her grim origin.

There’s a hell of a lot happening in Barbarian, and it understandably leaves the viewer a bit rung out. It’s shocking, periodically funny, and superbly realized by Zach Cregger, formerly of The Whitest Kids You Know.

It’s also a film that’s not afraid to sound off on a laundry list of anxiety topics, including motherhood, property values, Cancel Culture, incest, hospitality industry paranoia, and awkward first dates.

Barbarian is a wild ride that changes course a few times. You’d best buckle up.

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Deadstream (2022)

Now that’s what I’m talking about!

As if to put an exclamation point on my earlier observation that internet adventurers are the new Red Shirts, along comes Deadstream, the Apocalypse Now of found footage horror.

Sean Ruddy (Joseph Winter) is an internet personality who stages dangerous stunts that also manage to be offensive, such as getting smuggled across the Mexican border in the trunk of a car.

After his latest spectacle goes horribly wrong, Ruddy hopes to apologize and move on, but his fans are deserting him in droves, peppering his inbox with destructive criticism.

Comments pop up throughout the movie acting as a sort of Greek chorus to the action, which is plentiful. Even as Sean battles all manner of paranormal entity, the comment string keeps up a barrage of fan posts that are funny, annoying, and even surprisingly useful.

Among my favorite comments: “Glad I’m not you,” “Better start praying,” and “Please sign this petition at Move.org so Sean will stop being be such a pussy.”

In order to atone for a bad call, Ruddy comes clean to his public about the one fear he’s never tackled—ghosts.

So, strapped with all the latest gear thanks to a sponsorship from an energy drink company, the repentant daredevil vows to spend a night in the most haunted house in America—that he can successfully break into without getting arrested.

The lion’s share of Deadstream originates from one of Sean’s cameras that are spread throughout Death House, the site of his viral vigil, or mounted on his person.

Admittedly, this is a long time to be looking up Sean’s nose, but writer-directors Joseph and Vanessa Winter reward our patience by throwing everything but the yeti at our fearful protagonist.

Sean spends an enchanted evening fending off angry spirits, misshapen freaks, and a hot girl named Chrissy (Melanie Stone) who wanders into the chaos.

Like the legendary Don Knotts in The Ghost and Mister Chicken, Joseph Winter delivers an unhinged scaredy-cat performance, that comes garnished with the best girlie shriek of man-terror I’ve heard in a minute.

As Sean Ruddy, a man who will do anything to please the ever-present and increasingly fickle comment string, Winter willfully throws himself into a thankless part, that of sacrificial lamb to his voracious followers.

Ruddy makes himself vulnerable to the dark forces of the house and to his followers. Will the truth set him free?

His unwavering commitment to see the project through drives Deadstream to thoughtful new frontiers that bear examining. For instance, shouldn’t everyone come equipped with a Stupid Things To Do spin board?

Simply in terms of pound-for-pound raw energy, and entertainment bang for the buck, Deadstream is a hot ticket.

I was a wee bit disappointed that the Winters decided to pay homage to Sam Raimi about three-fourths of the way through the film, precisely because they had managed to avoid doing so up to that point.

The Deadites must have a strong union.

Wer (2013)

I’m reasonably sure that this movie would have more of a following if it wasn’t saddled with such a clunker of a title.

Wer? Really, that’s the best we can do?

It’s a shame because Wer is top-shelf lycanthrope mayhem all day, every day.

Co-writer and director William Brent Bell wisely saved his nickels and dimes by filming in Romania and calling it France, where American lawyer Kate Moore (A.J. Cook from Criminal Minds) is defending a hulking peasant (Brian Scott O’Connor) accused of tearing up a family of tourists. Limb from limb.

And taking huge bites out of them.

The makeup and prosthetic work by Almost Human Inc. is worth the price of the ticket. The scene when Kate examines the shredded remains of the victims is startlingly savage. Seldom has bodily harm been rendered in such vicious detail.

A shaking hand-held camera gives Wer the appearance of a found footage police procedural, with lengthy talking sequences that flare into bloody chaos without warning.

Now that’s what I’m talking about. Modest movies that turn out to be way better than I expect are the coin of my realm. They’re my jam.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to make some toast.

Editor’s Note: Come and have a hang at our new Facebook site!

Prey (2022)

About 20 minutes into Prey, I made an offhand comment to my wife.

“This seems more like a Disney movie than a horror movie.”

A few momnets later, Barb replied, “Good call. It’s from 20th Century Studios, owned by Disney.”

Therein lies the rub.

Co-writer and director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) has assembled a violent, R-rated action movie that nonetheless features a headstrong and resourceful heroine who isn’t satisfied with her gender-defined role in life.

Prey also provides new management for the Predator series, which has been floundering since Schwarzenegger flew the coop. Here, an interstellar big-game hunter makes a landing in early 18th century America, amongst a tribe of sturdy Comanches.

Naru (Amber Midthunder), is a bad-ass hunter and tracker who wants to be a warrior. Unfortunately, she lives in the shadow of her older brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), the tribe Alpha Male.

In a refreshing turn, Taabe is actually supportive of his sister, speaking highly of her skills to his fellow hunters.

His encouragement pays off, as Naru is the only one with the smarts to figure out that whatever is killing nearby wildlife is not a bear or a mountain lion.

Eventually, Naru gets her most fervent wish: to hunt something that is simultaneously hunting her.

Prey is visually stimulating and full of arboreal wonder as the tale and the landscape itself unfold without the presence of Western man—except for some dastardly French trappers who get in the way of the Predator’s safari.

As for the main monster itself, we don’t get any major developments other than their hunting technology is more rudimentary than that one time with Arnold.

Overall, it seems a less formidable opponent, which takes some of the steam out of the narrative.

Equally bothersome, there’s CGI work involving some of the animal fight scenes (Predator versus Bear, Naru versus Mountain Lion) that seems crudely rendered and rather clunky. It makes you think, for a second or two, that the whole picture must be a bloody animated feature, rather than live action.

Yet the Disney thematic parachute is unmistakably present in Prey, and the result is an uneasy alliance between dueling Market Powers (Action Fans versus Disney Moral Authority).

My wife liked it more than I did.

Note: Naru has a brave dog sidekick that doesn’t get killed.

Hellbender (2021)

If you recall the lavish amount of praise I heaped upon The Deeper You Dig, then you might have a clue of how stoked I was for Hellbender, the follow-up effort from the shockingly talented filmmaking Adams Family.

In a possible star-making turn, Zelda Adams absolutely smashes glass as Izzy, a mysterious teen who leads an isolated existence with her mother (Toby Poser) in the woods.

Izzy is not unhappy. Life with Mom rocks, in a modest way. The two create raw punk music together in a drums-bass duo called Hellbender. Mom is wise in the ways of the forest and teaches her daughter all about the forces of nature.

However, contact with the outside world is verboten. Mom tells Izzy she’s too sick to be around other people. Can this be true, or is there a more compelling reason for homeschooling such a bright pupil?

Written and directed by Adams, Poser, and John Adams, Hellbender is a bold, original movie told with fearless artistic flair. After a lightning strike moment, Izzy must adjust to severe growing pains when she accidentally meets a distant neighbor (Lulu Adams) who awakens all kinds of new, dangerous feelings.

It’s such a confident blend of folk horror and coming-of-age drama/trauma, that when Izzy begins to change, we truly see the world through her eyes, and it’s an unsettling trip. Her caterpillar stage has ended, and something more powerful is emerging, heralded by Izzy’s switch from a vegetarian diet to fresh, bloody meat.

It’s also quite a change for Mom, who recognizes that a new administration will soon be taking charge, and that it’s just the start of a new season.

Highly recommended. The collective vision, brains, and arboreal soul displayed by the Adams Clan in Hellbender is never less than spellbinding, and watching their unique ascension in the horror film landscape leaves me giddy with anticipation of future treasures.

I only hope they can maintain some measure of artistic control as the budgets get bigger and they ponder leaving the creepy bucolic comforts of their upstate New York headquarters. The energy this team brings to each project is somewhat feral, and perhaps shouldn’t be tamed by Big Business.

In any case, I’ll be there in the dark with eyes wide open.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2021)

It’s definitely an immersive experience and most definitely a horror film.

Writer-director Jane Schoenbrun has found a fresh fear angle in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, forging sinister and frightening links in a story told largely online.

Casey (Anna Cobb) is the personification of teen restlessness. With establishing shots revealing a dreary anonymous urban nowhere, little wonder that she seeks stimulation and community on the web.

And so the web snares another fly as bored blogger Casey creates laptop videos of herself charting her progress through a horror-themed Online Role Playing Game called The World’s Fair.

To enter the game, a player must bleed. Not sure what kind of port you use for upload.

It’s a plot that cooks over a slow fire, but WAGttWF hums with a steadily climbing anxiety level. Our concern for Casey’s welfare deepens as we realize she’s not the only one playing, and the tone of her video posts get darker.

Casey mentions her father’s rifle. She knows where it is.

All kinds of red flags and warning bells go off, but Casey proves capable of mastering her game emotions, even if her opponent (Michael J. Rogers) does not.

Rogers portrays one of those super creepy concern troll that lurks under every virtual bridge. Switching to his perspective, Schoenbrum daringly gives us a nervous glimpse into his painfully shameful world—and that’s more than enough.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is a minefield of a movie about a very real war between the sexes. You read about it every day: A lonely wretch goes bananas and kills people because they are psychologically incapable of real-life interaction.

These are the ones I’m warning you about. They are a cause for concern.

Alligator (1980)

Alligator is the correct and proper way to make a giant critter movie. People create the monster. Monster eats people.

A vacationing couple and their daughter watch an alligator nearly bite a man’s leg off at a hick circus in Missouri. Struck by the wonder of this magic moment, they buy their little girl her own baby gator from a nearby huckster.

Soon after the family’s return to Chicago, Dad flushes the little lizard down the crapper. See you later, alligator.

Fast forward 12 years and there’s a monster-sized alligator in the sewer.

While we could blame the irresponsible father who bought the damn thing in the first place, John Sayles’ civic conspiracy-minded script points the guilty finger at Slade (Dean Jagger), a cadaverous old CEO whose company’s clandestine experiments with growth hormones have dramatically affected the local food chain.

Troubled-but-honest cop David Madison (Robert Forester) is the detective saddled with the thankless job of going into the sewer and capturing the rampaging reptile. Through his frustrating quest, Sayles and director Lewis Teague reveal that corrupt politicians and muckraking journalists are no help whatsoever, and deserve to be eaten.

Madison enlists the help of gorgeous herpetologist Marisa Kendall (Robin Riker) in an effort to get inside the lizard brain, while the mayor (Jack Carter) brings in famous big game hunter Colonel Brock (Henry Silva) to slay the beast.

When Madison’s investigation gets too close to Slade Industries, the spineless mayor has him fired, removing the one competent person in Chicago that’s committed to stopping the creature.

Soon the alligator is popping up all over the place. A backyard swimming pool, a nearby canal, dark alleys, and eventually the posh wedding at Slade Mansion, where the monster eats its fill of the elite guest list and dispenses justice at the same time.

The reason Alligator is revered as a classic of the genre, is usually attributed to the presence of Sayles, who went on to direct lauded art-house fare like Matewan, Lone Star, and Passion Fish, making him a favorite among the well-heeled brie and festival crowd.

It doesn’t hurt that plot and characters mirror the Jaws template, even twisting the knife a little deeper into the culpability of swinish local officials.

The cast of marvelous professionals, including Forester, Riker, Silva, and Michael Gazzo as a beleaguered police chief, really nail the story in place and bring it to life. Every actor, from top to bottom, brings humor and humanity to their roles, and that gives the production a big lift.

Even ancient faces like Jagger and Mike Mazurki get a little screen time!

And let’s not forget the titular terror. There’s no CGI here, just miniature sets and strong practical effects that emphasize flailing bodies in the gator’s mouth, with blood gushing, and bones crunching.

As it should be. People getting eaten by monsters is, perhaps, the highest form of cinema.

The Requin (2022)

What the hell is a “Requin?”

Oh, it’s French for shark. Seems odd to name the movie after a character that doesn’t even show up for the first hour.

Prior to the shark’s arrival, we get Alicia Silverstone emoting all over the place as a woman on a tropical vacation with her husband (James Tupper).

Jaelyn (Silverstone) is having trouble getting her groove back after a recent bloody miscarriage. She and hubby Kyle take an exotic trip to coastal Vietnam, where a recuperative idyl is interrupted by a storm so fierce, their little hut on the beach is pulled out to sea.

As if they didn’t face enough obstacles as a couple.

The bickering duo spend a few months adrift (it sure feels like it, anyway) until the signal fire they build to attract planes and ships burns up their raft.

Still no shark.

Kyle and Jaelyn eventually reach a place in their relationship (and in the ocean) where they’re comfortable forgiving each other and working together to achieve mutual goals.

It’s at this point, about an hour into the movie, that director Le-Van Kiet finds the key to the shark cage. Suddenly the water is full of fins, despite the fact Kyle has been gushing Type O since Day One.

Rather than continue to listen to his batty wife, Kyle manages to get his legs eaten, effectively freeing his soul to go anywhere else.

I would like to offer a modest round of applause to Kyle, who never stops being a supportive, caring spouse, even after many hours spent floating in a water tank with a cranky costar. His ability to crack jokes in an effort to buoy his wife’s ever-changing moods is nothing less than heroic.

“I’m going to ask for a discount on the room,” he quips, earning him a brief smile.

As for Miss Silverstone, she endures mounting misery in true Perils Of Pauline fashion. One shark in particular (they named the movie after him!) pursues Jaelyn and devours the Vietnamese fisherman (Danny Chung) who rescues her, because no good deed goes unpunished.

The Requin is a big bucket of smelly chum with Amateur Hour special effects, but you kind of want to see it through—if only to find out how much worse things get for Alicia Silverstone, who is clearly having a real bad year.

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 measuring devices, 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 by 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.