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Jessabelle – 7

January 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Director – Kevin Greutert

Cast – Sarah Snook, Mark Webber, Joelle Carter, David Andrews, Ana de la Reguera, Amber Stevens, Chris Ellis, Brian Hallisay, Vaughn Wilson, Larisa Oleynik

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I personally feel that we do not see enough horror films involving voodoo/hoodoo, and seeing that Jessabelle was such a flick I was stoked to give this a watch. While not exactly similar to The Skeleton Key, aside from its location and voodoo, I was hoping for a familiar feel set in the spooky swamps of the deep south. From Saw VI and VII director Kevin and the writer behind the silly Night at the Museum films, Jessabelle is a good film but not one that I personally enjoyed very much. The horror is there, and it is good at times, but in the end this is one of those “good” films that I will not watch again.

Returning to her childhood home in Louisiana to recuperate from a horrific car accident, Jessabelle comes face to face with a long-tormented spirit that has been seeking her return – and has no intention of letting her escape. – Lionsgate

Writer Robert Ben Garant kicks things into gear right away, throwing us face-first into a terrible tragedy that claims the life of someone close to Jessabelle. On top of this, she is severely injured and must remain bound to a wheelchair during her recovery. We see the first hint of superantural terror only 10 minutes into the film, and four minutes later she finds what I thought to be the most interesting element of the story: video tapes her mother recorded for her when she was a child. Jessabelle lost her mother at a very young age, and only now did she realize that her mother left her the tapes. Before this she had only seen pictures of her, never video, so she is quite elated to finally experience her mother’s voice and personality. The videos consist of her mother using tarot cards to predict Jessabelle’s future, and her future does not look bright. Elation turns to terror when her mother’s predictions ring disturbingly true about a supernatural presence in the home that wants Jessabelle out at all costs. Nobody believes her, and she is stuck to a wheelchair, so she is not going anywhere. The first really good horror hits at the 31 minute mark, and to me it was the scariest scene the story had to offer. At the time it makes little sense, but nonetheless it was highly effective. For the majority of the film we are left to wonder whether the horror Jessabelle is experiencing is internal/psychological or supernatural/malevolent, and I am glad to say that the scarier of the two is eventually revealed as the answer. There are constant developments and revelations regarding Jessabelle’s past, which is now haunting her present day life, and I credit them with keeping things interesting when the horror subsides. For such a simple film there sure is a lot going on, and I know that seems like a contradiction but it is something that is hard to explain and must be experienced yourself. At times I felt like the story was losing me. It dragged at times and the horror, while good, was too infrequent and its effect did not last long enough until the next scare hit the screen. On top of this, I found none of the characters likable. I don’t need likable characters. I am just fine with every character dying because I hated them all, but when a film drags or the content loses your interest an enjoyable character is a remedy to keep you engaged. Thankfully, while I have said before that I would not watch this again, I do feel like it offered a really unique premise to the “horror in the swamp” scene, so props to Garant for breaking away from lame Night At The Museum movies.

Director Kevin Greutert is a big reason behind why I am giving this film a positive rating despite some writing faults. A swamp setting provides awesome atmosphere for a horror film, and while this was filmed in North Carolina (set in Louisiana) the sets and locations were employed well. I loved the spooky old home Jessabelle was forced to reside in during her recuperation, and Greutert’s dark and gloomy cinematography made the simplest of scares more effective than they should have been. There are some scares, though, that will be remembered as some of the best I have seen in 2014. The first and last attack sequences are amazing. From the shaky-cam, to the extreme audio, to the utmost in live-action gore, these scares are incredible and make the film worth viewing at least once. Trust me, if you watch the film wearing over the ear headphones like I did you will jump in your seat. Guaranteed.

Overall, Jessabelle is a film that gets things right and wrong yet still delivers a solid experience in the end. The horror is there, and while the supreme scares are infrequent they are superbly executed and will leave a memorable impression. Like I said, this is worth at least one watch.

Rating: 7/10

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Hannibal – 7

September 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Ridley Scott

Cast – Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, Ray Liotta, Frankie Faison, Giancarlo Giannini, Francesca Neri, Zeljko Ivanek, Hazelle Goodman, David Andrews, Francis Guinan

Release Year – 2001

Reviewed by John of the Dead

The sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, it surprised me that Hannibal was released an entire decade later. Typically sequels are released with the original still fresh in our minds, but I suppose Anthony Hopkins was so darn good in his Oscar-winning performances that filmmakers thought they could cash in on him once again. This time, Hannibal gives Lecter much more screen time and continues the manhunt with a new lead portraying Clarive Starling. It was never going to be as good as its famed predecessor, but this effort is sure to please those who want more of Dr. Lecter’s charismatic mayhem.

With Hannibal Lecter living in exile, the once esteemed FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling is now treated as a disgrace after a colleague causes significant casualties in a botched raid. With the agency railroading her to save face, Dr. Lecter reaches out to Clarice, which in turn makes him a target for a powerful victim of his seeking vengeance.

Just by looking at the credited cast and filmmakers you would expect this to be a tremendous effort. It comes directed by Ridley Scott, who at the time was still reeling in praise for Gladiator. Co-writer Steven Zaillian adapted Shindler’s List – enough said. Lastly, the cast consists of Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, and Ray Liotta. With names like these you would assume this would be an Oscar contender, but it’s not. In fact I would not even say this is the best in the series, as I enjoyed prequel Red Dragon more. While it may seem like I am dogging the film I promise you I am not, I just…expected better. I expected greatness and was instead treated to “good”.

The film takes off with Clarice Starling’s action-packed fail of a suspect apprehension. It’s not her fault, but the good ole boys she works will don’t mind watching a natural over-achiever, who happens to be female, fall from grace. Much of the first act focuses on Clarice’s troubles, but 24 minutes in we get our first look at the devil of her past, Hannibal. After reaching out to her with a perfume-laced letter, he appears via a surveillance video from a store in Italy. At the 30 minute mark he finally makes his on-screen appearance, when a police detective makes contact with him. To further trouble Clarice’s attempt to bring Hannibal to justice, the detective intrudes on the investigation so that he can claim the 3 million dollar reward for Lecter’s capture. All of this attention brings the eccentric Mason Verger into the game. Verger is a former victim / lover of Hannibal the Cannibal, and his grotesque physical appearance is proof of that. Verger wants his revenge and he will pay handsomely for it. There are so many different elements going on in this film, and they all lead to Lecter. Clarice, dealing with the consequences of Special Agent Paul Krendler’s accusations of wrongdoing, wants him captured the right way. The Italian Inspector, Rinaldo Pazzi, wants the reward money for himself, and Verger is in cahoots with the inspector to have Lecter assassinated by Verger’s hired goons. Despite of the extreme odds against him, Lecter is on top of his game and gives everyone one hell of a fight.

There is plenty of horror written into the film, and unlike The Silence of the Lambs, we get to experience Hannibal commit several murders first-hand. These are not tame murders either, but torturous slow deaths that ridicule the victim as much as they cause physical pain. This effort gives us more of the Hannibal the Cannibal spoken of earlier in the series, and I was glad to see what I had been missing. The horror, first present about half way into the film (58 minutes), never relents and continues until the film’s final sequence that will leave some of you shying away from the screen in disgust.

Director Ridley Scott did very well with this effort, although I feel that I have been hard on him. He directed some of the greatest films all time, including Alien – one of the best horror films ever, so naturally I expected him to exceed what Jonathan Demme did with The Silence of the Lambs. He did not, but he did expand on the horror and I believe that is what matters most. Live gore was employed during the kill sequences, which included a kill that left a victim’s innards exposed for screaming spectators to see. The kills are full-frontal and Scott, along with the film’s two writers, did not why away from the violence. You would expect good performances from the notable actors involved, and to no surprise their performances were top notch. Obviously Anthony Hopkins stole the show, with Gary Oldman stealing thunder from Julianne Moore. Ray Liotta’s role was miniscule but he did well at portraying an asshole. I enjoyed the atmosphere here but the 10-year difference displayed the difference in film quality. The graininess from The Silence of the Lambs is gone and we are instead treated to a crisper image. This may seem minimal, but it did have a direct effect on the atmosphere. Thankfully, Scott still delivered a moody, dark, shadowy feel that makes this especially fun to watch with the lights off, which you should already be doing anyway with horror films.

Overall, Hannibal is a solid sequel to one of the most notable horror films there is. While high expectations will most likely not be met, this effort makes up for any shortcomings with great horror, awesome performances, and an engaging story that comes very well written and directed.

Rating: 7/10

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Graveyard Shift – 6

September 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Director – Ralph S. Singleton

Cast – David Andrews, Kelly Wolf, Stephen Macht, Andrew Divoff, Vic Polizos, Robert Alan Beuth, Ilona Margolis, Jimmy Woodard, Jonathan Emerson, Minor Rootes

Release Year – 1990

Reviewed by John of the Dead

After viewing Thinner for the first time since my childhood I decided to treat myself to another film that had suffered the same fate, Graveyard Shift. I remembered it being an adaptation of a Stephen King short story (just like Thinner) and having to do with a giant creature, so I went in expecting to enjoy the piece and I did just that. Sure the story comes with many faults and cliches often seein in low-budget 90s horror, but the direction is solid and with an awesome antagonist this was a pretty enjoyable flick for me.

Down on his luck and desperately looking for work, John Hall (David Andrews) takes a job at a rundown textile mill with an insane rat infestation. John and a few others are tasked with cleaning out the decrepit basement before a final building inspection is to take place, and while down there they learn of a deadly secret that has been munching on them one by one.

An atmospheric creature film from the mind of Stephen King is hard to pass over for me, and I was not surprised I enjoyed this. From the get-go the writers throw us into the utterly scary world of a decrepit mill under siege by an army of vermin and a hideous creature leading the pack. With employees constantly falling victim to the creature, foreman Warwick hires our protagonist to do their dirty work and eventually stand in the path between the best and the lives of those around him. I was glad o see that there were plenty of creature scenes and kill sequences to adorn the film, including some full-frontal creature action that I did not expect from such a film. The character play was positive and also served as the area where the most cliches were thrown in, but I was forgiving of this piece and it then gave me what I wanted.

Graveyard Shift marks director Ralph S. Singleton’s only directorial effort, and I found that hard to believe after seeing how well he executed this piece. The atmosphere is great and he makes good use out of the creepy and low-lit sets used for the mill and basement scenes, and a chilling musical score added to the creepiness. The acting performances are so-so overall, which is expected and should be forgiven since none of them were poor or atrocious, and some were in fact pretty good. The biggest reason for my enjoyment of Singleton’s direction was his execution of the horror, which was pretty good for an adaptation of a Stephen King story. The creature action was awesome and we were treated to an incredibly scary beast coming at us via live-action FX, and the creature did not only appear in close-ups but was mobile as well. There is not very much gore, but with a ton of rotting corpses and an awesome creature I did not notice the lack of gore until I began writing the review – an obvious indication of good execution selling a film despite a few faults.

Overall, Graveyard Shift is a fun piece that provides plenty of horror cheese in an enjoyable package so long as you can forgive just a little. The creature action was great and definitely “made” the film thanks to Singleton’s positive direction, and the simple story did its job in providing good horror and an engaging experience.

Rating: 6/10

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