The House at the End of Time – 8

January 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Director – Alejandro Hidalgo

Cast – Ruddy Rodriguez, Rosmel Bustamante, Adriana Calzadilla, Simona Chirinos, Gonzalo Cubero, Guillermo Garcia

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I had been waiting for this film to release on Video on Demand formats ever since its many positive reviews after debuting (in the US) at the Frightfest Film Festival earlier this year. This marked my first time viewing a Venezuelan horror film, and pardon my ignorance but I was unaware that Venezuela put out horror films to begin with. Going into this flick I was expecting a supernatural tale heavy in ghosts and paranormal activity, but what I was given turned out to be so much more than that. The House at the End of Time uses its supernatural elements in a manner I was not expecting, which is partly my fault because I expected the usual cliches seen in other Spanish language horror films. What we are given here is an emotionally absorbed story that moonlights as a typical spookfest, excelling at both, and making this one of my favorite horror films of 2014.

Thirty years ago Dulce suffered the effects of a supernatural presence that left her husband dead. Convicted of his murder, she has been released to spend her remaining days in her old home, where she will once again face the forces that haunted her thirty years prior.

The opening sequences takes nearly seven minutes to complete, and it will leave you sucked in for everything else writer/director Alejandro Hidalgo has to offer. To begin the film the older, post-thirty-year-incarcerated Dulce is released from prison and reluctantly brought to her home. It is obvious that she is uneasy about returning to the location of such despair, and it is also obvious that the demons, which she referred to as “intruders” have been waiting for her. With the unsolicited help of a local priest who took an interest to the strange circumstances behind the murder, she begins to piece together what exactly happened that night, and how she can fix the past. I mentioned before that this is much more than a supernatural film. Without giving too much away I will say that the story uses time in a very unique manner. For the first two acts you will likely be confused about what is going on, but the third act ties everything together in what I can only describe as a “beautiful” manner.

Atmosphere to the extreme…

So is this even a horror film? Heck yes it is. The first act plays off like the traditional haunted house flick, but as the story progresses it loses that element and ventures into a time / reality-bending theme that had me glued to the screen. We are still provided scares during this progression, but keep in mind they are of a different nature. It would be safe for me to say that the horror is toned down a bit after the first act, but the tension remains high and that should do enough to keep you on edge. I keep saying it, but this story is more than what it appears to be. It is an emotional film as much as it is a ghost flick, and to be honest this is one of the few genre films to make me genuinely sad. I would call this a good kind of sad, but nonetheless…it’s not often a flick leaves me feeling this way. Bonus points for the unique experience.

Alejandro Hidalgo’s direction is equally as good as his story. From the get-go he portrayed this like the creepy paranormal tale this was disguised as, giving me chills with even the simplest of scares. Good execution will do that. He employs amazing atmosphere and a creepy home to sell the spooks and keep the tension high, and I believe this visual appeal helped keep my attention during the film’s slightly confusing (eventually not confusing) moments. The actors deliver solid performances too, making this an all-around great film from a first-time filmmaker in a country not known for horror films.

Overall, The House at the End of Time is one of my favorite flicks of 2014 and an experience I highly suggest to you. Watch, pay attention, and you’ll enjoy.

Rating: 8/10

…Additional Stills…

At the Devil’s Door – 6

January 7, 2015 Leave a comment

Director – Nicholas McCarthy

Cast – Catalina Sandino Moreno, Naya Rivera, Ashley Rickards

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I am sure we have all seen numerous films where a strange person shows up to someone’s front door, they let them in with good will, and the decision turns out to be a disastrous one. On the surface it looked like At The Devil’s Door would be this type of film, but I was wrong. While something similar does occur, writer/director Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact) delivers a truly unique experience that is unlike the majority of horror films we see these days. With such a story comes a few faults that kept it from greatness, but thanks to mostly-positive direction At The Devil’s Door provides a few good spooks.

When ambitious young real estate agent Leigh is asked to sell a home with a checkered past, she crosses paths with a disturbed girl whom she learns is the runaway daughter of the couple selling the property. When Leigh tries to intervene and help her, she becomes entangled with a supernatural force that soon pulls Leigh’s artist sister into its web – and has sinister plans for both of them.

McCarthy’s story begins with an engaging intro where a young girl makes the hasty decision to sell her soul to the Devil. The man who aids her in this transformation informs her that “he” will call for her soon, and soon enough he does. We are given some spooky scenes early on, about 12 minutes into the flick, where inanimate horror is used to taunt the young girl, and the viewer. I really enjoyed this sequence because its simplicity was highly effective, and inanimate horror has always been spooky for me. At the same time, we are also introduced to Leigh, and the hit/miss relationship she has with her sister Vera. Leigh first comes across the mysterious girl in red at the 20-minute mark, but she, and the viewer, are left to not think much of it. However, bout 15 minutes later we are exposed to an extreme development that changes everything we know about the girl in red. Hold on though, there is more. Less than ten minutes after this we are given another development that changes the scope of the plot, and this is a character-related one that I did not see coming. It is at this point that the horror begins to manifest greatly, giving us some surprising creature action and solid spooks until the flick’s love/hate climax.

I liked the story, but at the same time there was always something missing. It had the spooks, and they were paced very well, but the end result did not align with the horror seen beforehand. There is a payoff, but it is hardly a payoff worthy of the positive terror seen early on. I also was left a bit unengaged with the character play. The two sisters dominate the plot, but neither was really likable and that naturally leaves me not giving a damn about what happens to them. The same can also be said for the girl in red, so really, there is nothing to look forward here except for the horror and that is not always a good thing.

McCarthy’s direction fared much better than his writing. I enjoyed the atmosphere he provided and found its gloomy exposure and “temperature” to be fitting for the subject matter. His horror, especially the inanimate horror, left me very impressed as it gave me chills that I was not expecting. He managed to keep good tension as the film progressed, with the latter sequences of horror still spooking me despite some cheap CGI. The performances from the main actresses were fair, but that is about it. They were nothing special and nobody stole the show here, which is the one element of McCarthy’s direction that mimicked his writing.

Overall, At The Devil’s Door is one of those flicks that gets the good things right but at the same time lacks the elements that make for a good film. I enjoyed the horror, and you probably would too, but is it worth sitting through the rest of the film? You’ll need to watch and decide for yourself.

Rating: 6/10

…Additional Stills…

Late Phases – 8

December 30, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Adrián García Bogliano

Cast – Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Lance Guest, Tina Louise, Rutanya Alda, Caitlin O’Heaney, Erin Cummings, Tom Noonan, Larry Fessenden, Al Sapienza

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Werewolf films are still kicking these days, but not so much on the American side. Last year’s Game of Werewolves and 2014’s Wer, both Spanish flicks, were enjoyable efforts that delivered good horror. Then, along came the Nick Dimici-starring dramatic horror film Late Phases to blow them both out of the water. This is the simplest and rawest of the three films, where the end-result is a heavy blow of solid horror complimented with raw emotion.

Ambrose, a blind Vietnam veteran, moves into a retirement village where the elderly go to die. Little does he know, the residents of this village are not dying from natural causes, but from vicious werewolf attacks. With a month to spare until the next full moon, Ambrose works around his disabilities so he can give the werewolves a fight they will not expect.

This story comes from Eric Stolze, the writer behind the awesome Under The Bed, and I was pleased with what he provided. The story begins with Ambrose getting dropped off at the village by his son Will. Will and Ambrose don’t have much of a relationship aside from the fact that they are father and son, and that is on Ambrose. In a sense you feel for the guy and can’t really fault him. He served in a wildly umpopular war, and has since lost his vision. It is obvious that Ambrose is far from a weak individual, and he tries extra hard to not let his disability make him vulnerable – even though it does. His first night at the home proves to be an eventful one when his neighbor is brutally attacked by a werewolf. Of course, Ambrose does not know it was a werewolf because he cannot see. His sense of smell has heightened over the years, and he knows whatever it was…it was big, mean, and not human. He eventually learns that his neighbor was not the only victim that night, and that the community has been plagued with mysterious, brutal deaths once a month – all coinciding with a full moon. It seems silly, but Ambrose is not taking any chances.

The rest of the film follows Ambrose as he prepares for next month’s impending murders. Despite his lack of vision he remains a solid weapons expert and will use his proficiency, along with custom-crafted silver bullets, to ensure he does not go down without a fight. Yes, there is a fight. After a second act that includes much character development and a little humor, the full moon returns and the werewolf is out on the loose. It is about the 65 minute mark that the horror begins to kick into high gear, with a sweet transformation scene shortly after this. There are lots of deaths and plenty of gore for the viewer to enjoy, and the final fight between Ambrose and the beast is one you definitely need to see. While this is a devout horror film there is a supporting touch of drama as well. Stolze uses the end of the second act to play on the relationship between Ambrose and his son. Ever since his wife’s death Ambrose hasn’t quite been himself, although he wasn’t much of a “loving” father before that either. Keep in mind he was never a bad man. He loved his child and provided everything he needed, except emotional support. Don’t think that the film gets soft on you, because the filmmakers did a damn good job of keeping this a horror film.

Spanish director Adrian Garcia Bogliano (Here Comes the Devil, Penumbra) makes his English-language debut here and rides in with style. Once you view this piece will you realize that it employed very simple filmmaking yet Bogliano made the most of what little they had. The sets and locations are very basic, so if you are looking for a visually appealing piece you won’t find it here. However, the film makes up for that with everything else. To start, it stars horror vet Nick Damici (Stake Land, We Are What We Are, Mulberry St.) and he is hands down one of the best actors in the genre. His performance carries the film as he expertly portrays the Walt Kowalski-esque hardened war veteran just trying to pass the time until he passes on. For not being blind, Damici is a pretty damn good blind man here. He also portrays a man much older than he really is. His performance is only equaled in awesomeness by the horror. Werewolf films these days tend to involve a lot of CGI, so I was more than surprised, and impressed, at the live-action carnage that occurred here. We see werewolves tear people apart and leave their guts hanging out, all while wearing prosthetic suits that are a bit silly but downright awesome at the same time (if you’re into that kind of cheese). Keep in mind that the people being torn apart here are senior citizens, so their deaths feel a bit taboo…in a good way. It seems Bogliano’s direction is getting better and better, and I hope to see more films like Late Phases from him in the future.

Overall, Late Phases is an awesome werewolf flick and one of the best horror films of 2014. It has numerous elements for the viewer to enjoy, from Nick Damici’s badassery to gory werewolf action, so this is one film you cannot miss.

Rating: 8/10

…Additional Stills…

Ragnarok – 7

December 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Mikkel Brænne Sandemose

Cast – Pål Sverre Hagen, Nicolai Cleve Broch, Bjørn Sundquist, Sofia Helin, Maria Annette Tanderø Berglyd, Vera Rudi

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

The first time I saw a trailer for Ragnarok I knew that this was a film I would enjoy. If you know me then you know that I love creature films, especially BIG creature films. On top of this, I enjoy archeological / adventure elements and this also came with that. Plus, it had been a while since I viewed a Norwegian horror film, with the last being Cold Prey 3, which just so happened to also be directed by this film’s director. So, did I enjoy Ragnarok like I thought I would? I sure did.

Archeologist Sigurd Svendsen has exhausted the last few years, and a lot of grant money, on uncovering the meaning behind secret runes found aboard an old Oseberg ship. As of now he has failed to appease those who front the money for his research, and his wild theories about Ragnarok, the end of the world in Norwegian mythology, ensure that they have lost their faith in him. When a colleague comes across an ancient map that he believes will lead him to the answers he desires, he embarks on an expedition to Finnmark, the “no man’s land” between Norway and Russia, and finds that the runes were not what he expected them to be – they were warnings.

This story from first-time writer John Kare Baake had me hooked from the get-go. After an introductory scene where a large regiment of Vikings come face to face with a heinous, off-screen menace, we fast forward to modern times and the struggles of Sigurd Svendsen. He is somewhat the cliché modern single dad, widowed after the death of his wife and struggling to attend choir recitals while dealing with a time-consuming job as a lead researcher for a large museum. His wild theories about Vikings and their travels do little to impress anyone but his colleagues, as even his children don’t want anything to do with them. I will say this though – his theories definitely caught my attention. Before long he, two colleagues, and his two children are en route to Finnmark, which requires them to hire a guide to trek them through the terrain and remnants of the Soviet Union’s Cold War collapse. They cross large lakes and climb over forgotten military tanks, eventually reaching the site carved into the map. The first half of the story is entirely development, and that was OK with me. The constant changes in landscape and positive dialogue / character development kept me engaged, but it was really the landscape / scenery that had me glued to the screen. We first see signs of trouble at the film’s halfway point, with the first kill occurring right at the 45 minute mark. At this point the creature, or whatever it is, has yet to be seen, but soon enough we see evidence that something very sinister has been occurring at this spot for centuries. The Vikings met their demise, as did the Russian soldiers half a century ago, and now the researchers are in over their heads. The first visual of the beast does not occur until 70 minutes into the film, and it is a pretty sweet introduction. From then on out the story consists of our leads trying to make it out of the area alive, not caring whether they bring back the evidence they tried so dearly to uncover.

I will say this before I continue – Ragnarok is a borderline “family” film. It comes with a PG-13 rating, which does not automatically doom a horror film these days, but keep that in mind. The biggest reason behind why I refer to this as a family film is its execution. We get the usual adventure-esque score, similar to films like National Treasure, and the children play heavy roles in the film. This is by no means a complaint of mine, I am just throwing it out there for you. However, because of this family element the horror is affected. I am sad to say that there are no on-screen kills whatsoever. Yes, this is a creature film without any kills to view. There are kills, but if you are expecting the usual awesomeness associated with suck flicks you may be disappointed.

Thankfully, Mikkel Braenne Sandermose’s direction makes the most out of the horror. I loved the look of the creature, and while every scene of it involved CGI he managed to bring out good tension whenever the creature hit the screen. The same can be said about the kill sequences. While you do not see the kill happen, he manages to execute the off-screen action fairly well and with enough tenacity to keep the viewer engaged. I mentioned earlier that it takes a good while before the action kicks in, and what helped me stay engaged was how visually appealing the film is. The sets used are incredible and the landscapes are sure to keep those with a heart for exploration entertained. If it were not for the locations, props, landscape, and Sandermose’s overall direction, the film would have been a boring, B-movie-esque experience.

Overall, Ragnarok is a film that I enjoyed. I have an extreme love for creature films, as well as adventure flicks, so if you feel the same then you should give this a shot. Its family element will keep it from delivering the goods we typically desire, but everything else in the film makes up for that.

Rating: 7/10

…Additional Stills…

Mimic 3: Sentinel – 4

December 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – J.T. Petty

Cast – Karl Geary, Alexis Dziena, Lance Henriksen, Keith Robinson, Tudorel Filimon, Rebecca Mader

Release Year – 2003

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Guillermo del Toro’s Mimic remains one of my favorite horror films of all time because of how well it blends horror and biology. Mimic 2 was a lesser film but it still managed to deliver a mostly positive experience, so I thought Mimic 3: Sentinel would just be another step down but still give us the awesome creature action seen in the first two entries. I was wrong. Aside from a supporting role from Lance Henriksen, there no little to no reason to watch this effort.

Marvin, an asthmatic / allergic photographer confined to his room for health reasons, spends his days snooping on his neighbors with his camera. When he begins to witness the mysterious deaths of those in the neighborhood, his investigation leads to the discovery of two Judas Breed mutants that must be stopped at all costs.

J.T. Petty (Splinter Cell) both writes and directs this piece, which served as his crappy first feature film before doing well with S&man and The Burrowers. Much to my surprise, the story hits really hard early on with the brutal death of a young child only 2.5 minutes into the film. The rest of the flick, however, is a boring tale that follows Marvin and the conflict that arises when no one believes him that something strange, and deadly, is going on in the area. There is an assortment of characters, and thanks to poor writing I did not care for a single one of them. I found the character play to be annoying at best, with the usual clichés written in negative fashion. I was pleased to see some brutal kills written into the story, but the direction ensured they would not be as enjoyable as the should have been.

Petty’s direction may have lagged due to a miniscule budget, but it is what it is. Aside from Lance Henriksen the performances are mediocre and of extreme B-movie quality. Sadly, this same quality also applies to the horror. The kills are shot in a “shy” fashion where most of the good stuff occurs offscreen, and the few kills that do occur onscreen involve terrible CGI for the Judas bugs. Only on a few rare occasions did we see a live Judas bug, and those scenes did not result in much.

Overall, Mimic 3: Sentinel is a waste of time that is nowhere nearly as good as the first two films. You should skip this.

Rating: 4/10

The Pyramid – 6

December 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Grégory Levasseur

Cast – Ashley Hinshaw, James Buckley, Denis O’Hare, Christa Nicola, Amir K, Faycal Attougui

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

When As Above, So Below debuted a few months ago I was beyond excited for a storyline that involved a film crew traveling deep within the mass underground grave referred to as the Catacombs. The effort had its positives, namely atmosphere and sets, but ultimately it failed to deliver on the interesting, downright haunting, setting. Then I saw a trailer for The Pyramid and thought the same thing – awesome storyline that sends the crew into a creepy setting. Because this comes produced by French maestro Alejandre Aja and directed by his longtime writer Gregory Levasseur I had hopes that this would fare better than As Above, So Below…and it did. The biggest difference between the two is The Pyramid actually has a payoff while the former leaves you hanging. This effort has its faults and is a basic, run-of-the-mill found footage flick, but the payoff and scares associated with its unique antagonist made this a worthwhile watch for me.

Tall tales have been told of curses placed on the explorers who enter ancient Egyptian pyramids uninvited by the mummified royalty they were meant to protect. When a team of US explorers discovers a long-lost three-sided pyramid they defy orders to vacate the area prematurely and ultimately become loss in the dark, endless underground enigma. Searching for a way out, they soon realize they are not simply trapped – a beast long thought to only be a myth is hunting them.

The intro sucks you in by setting us up for the discovery of a lifetime. Never before has a three-sided pyramid been uncovered, and the crew is showcasing the immense satellite technology used to discover it. Nora, following in the footsteps of her renowned explorer father, teams up with her father, boyfriend, and a documentary film crew to trek into the pyramid before a government-imposed order to vacate the premises goes into effect. Early events lead us to believe that there is a sinister presence lurking within the shadows, but we soon learn that this antagonist is not the force that the crew should be afraid of. Around the halfway point of the film the crew is running for their lives as they one-by-one fall victim to brutally gory deaths. I was pretty surprised at how much horror was written into the film, especially because this was full-frontal horror. Typically, with found footage films you get a lot of off-screen action that leaves us wondering what is going on, and ultimately annoyed if there is no payoff. That is not the case with The Pyramid, and I applaud writers Nick Simon and Daniel Meersand for their inclusion of solid horror. I will say that the majority of the scares are jump scares, but hey, I jumped for once – twice actually.

Gregory Levasseur’s direction is pretty good for his debut effort. What sucks you in to this film is its location, which is might just be the first in the genre to feature a pyramid without a mummy. Anyway, the sets used are incredible and were built for the flick as such a three-sided pyramid does not exist in the real world (yet). The atmosphere is perfect, with dark shadows at every corner and a heavy sense of ever-present dread. Levasseur’s execution of the horror is great, starting off minimal but building up to at least one of the best jump scares I have experienced. As a whole the horror is cheap, but that is far from a bad thing. The horror we saw in 80s slasher films is “cheap”, it is good execution that makes the kills/horror worthwhile. This execution is not without its flaws, it delivers on the atmosphere and gore, which are two elements that are very important to me.

Overall, The Pyramid is an effort that I mostly enjoyed. I did go in with low expectations thanks to doing the opposite with As Above, So Below, so if anything I would recommend that you do the same if you give this a watch. It is not a film I would recommend to everyone, but if you want an atmospheric flick with a fair payoff then this may be worth your time.

Rating: 6/10

…Additional Stills…

Chemical Peel – 6

December 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Hank Braxton

Cast – Natalie Victoria, Arielle Brachfeld, Stephanie Greco, Lacy Fisher, Lony’e Perrine, Leigh Davis, Ruben Pla, Eric Hailey, Kevin Anthony Brooks, Madeleine Pla

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I knew very little about this flick going in. From the plot summary I could tell that this would employ a nowhere to run scenario, and that was all I needed to know. A weekend bachelorette party at a secluded cabin turns to chaos when a nearby train accident leaves the surrounding valley engulfed in a deadly mist. With nowhere to run and paranoia setting in, the women aren’t safe inside or outside of the cabin.

There are four credited writers to this story and that is usually a precursor for disaster. Aside from some mediocre dialogue I can say that the story doesn’t count as a disaster for me. Two of the actresses in the film also serve as writers, so teamwork is the theme here. Things start off fun, as one would expect for a bachelorette party, but by the 17 minute mark the first sign of horror hits. The women notice right away that something is wrong, as what was supposed to be a calm sunny weekend has been replaced with low-visibility fog. To make matters worse, the fog smells like bleach. Soon enough they learn the hard way that prolonged exposure to the elements will make ones flesh literally peel off their bones, hence the film’s title.

I am sad to say that there are no creatures lurking in the fog and this is strictly a disaster film where the horror stems from both the outbreak and the characters’ reaction to the conflict. I enjoyed watching the women go into survival mode and do their best to seal the home and keep the fog outside. Sealing the entire home is impossible, so time is of the essence and desperation kicks in when help does not come to their secluded area. We see the characters fight over decisions that must be made, like food rationing and :gasp: whether or not to let someone (and the fog) inside. There is plenty of tension written into the film and the writers do a good job of throwing in constant developments regarding the horror/fog. I was happy to see a good amount of deaths in the flick, and some of them were much gorier than I expected and drawn out to force the viewer to squirm in his/her seat. This story is not without its faults, but its biggest faults were budget related while the lesser ones, like poor dialogue at times, were story-related.

With a $20,000 (estimated) budget director Hank Braxtan did not have much to work with, but he definitely made the most of it. He sucked me in early on with a solid location that allowed me to envelop myself into the film and put myself in the same situations our characters were forced to endure. Even if a film isn’t that good, being immersed in it always makes for a more pleasing experience. The fog was believable and his execution of the deaths was pretty solid, and as mentioned earlier, they were drawn out to get the most extreme reaction from the viewer. Braxton employs live-action gore and delivers more and more of it as the horror increases, so if the dialogue bothers you then the goods should hopefully remove some of the sour taste.

Overall, Chemical Peel is alright. It’s not great and I won’t recommend it to anyone, but considering its budget it was better than it sure have been.

Rating: 6/10

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