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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

…Additional Stills…

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Fear Itself: “Eater” – 5

February 3, 2013 Leave a comment

Director – Stuart Gordon

Cast – Elisabeth Moss, Russell Hornsby, Stephen Lee, Stephen R. Hart, Pablo Schreiber

Release Year – 2008

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I took my sweet time getting to the Mick Garris-created Fear Itself series because I just assumed the show was of a lesser quality than its predecessor cousin, Masters of Horror (also created by Mick Garris). What is Fear Itself? Much like Masters of Horror, Fear Itself is a series of TV “episodes/films”of about 45 minutes in length, each directed by a known director of the horror genre. After viewing the series I do believe I was right about the show being of lesser quality than Masters of Horror, but in the end the show is not a waste of time and manages to give us short horrific experiences without these being “short” films.

Rookie Officer Bennerman, and avid horror film buff, has been assigned to watch the police station overnight along with two of her partners. Tonight is not a routine night though, as only hours prior a man was finally caught and brought in for holding after committing over thirty “Silence of the Lambs”-style murders. As the night progresses the station begins to suffer odd occurrences in relation to the capture of the killer, a killer who uses his cajun understanding of hoodoo witchcraft to toy with his captors.

This story comes written by Richard Chizmar and horror actor Johnathon Schaech (Quarantine, Prom Night remake, Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2), both of whom were responsible for writing an episode of Masters of Horror titled “The Washingtonians”. With only 41 minutes of actual film it does not take long for the story to get going, with the gigantic and utterly creepy prisoner brought in just as night falls and a storm is brewing in the distance. Bannerman begins to hear strange noises from the floor above, which is where the prisoner is being held, and along with the strange disappearances and reappearances of her partners she becomes aware that something is definitely not right in the lowly police station. Without giving too much away all I can say is that eventually we learn that the killer has perfected the art of hoodoo and is able to shape-shift, which made for some decent horror but nothing to marvel over. We really do not see any kills take place on-screen and are only left with the after-effect, and poor dialogue left me mostly uninterested in what was going on, building up to a climax that was as lame as the story.

Famed horror director Stuart Gordon directs this piece, which paled in comparison to the films he directed for Masters of Horror, titled “The Black Cat” and the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Dreams in the Witch House. His atmosphere was spot-on and he made the most of the tiny location used for all of the film’s scenes, but it was his execution that I found lacking. Aside from “The Black Cat” I have not come across a great film from Stuart Gordon in a really long time and his lack of directing prominence shows in this piece. This was not a horrible effort from Gordon, as the killer had an enjoyable look and there was live-action gore available, although the kill-sequences were not shown onscreen. What really bothered me the most though was his execution of the actors performances once things got going. I absolutely hated how they were portrayed when the killer was having his “way” with them and found it utterly cheesy in the worst sense of the word, leaving a rotten experience for one who expected more from a horror great.

Overall, “Eater” was a decent entry into the Fear Itself series that I would not recommend you view. Maybe the entry will be worth its weight in dirt if you have nothing better to do on a lonely night and need help sleeping, but even then there are much better choices out there.

Rating: 5/10

Sugar Hill – 7


Director – Paul Maslansky

Cast – Marki Bey, Robert Quarry, Don Pedro Colley, Betty Anne Rees, Richard Lawson, Zara Cully, Charles Robinson, Larry D. Johnson, Rick Hagood, Ed Geldart, Albert J. Baker, Raymond E. Simpson

Release Year – 1974

Reviewed by John of the Dead

This 1974 blaxploitation film sat on my queue for a a really long time, and I constantly passed it over simply because I was never in the mood to give it a shot. Well, I finally felt like it was time to give this one a shot, and I am darn glad that I did. Revenge films have a special place in my heart due to my love for anything vengeful, and when you mix in the horror genre, namely voodoo zombies, you have a concoction that I am sure to appreciate, and I did. Sugar Hill is simple and comes with flaws, but the experience is an awesome one that delivers good horror and sweet revenge.

When her fiance is killed by a local mob for not selling them his popular nightclub, Sugar Hill seeks unrelenting revenge with the help of a local voodoo mistress who summons up a powerful demon. Sugar’s demands for the demon are simple: kill every person involved in her fiance’s death…and give her a front row view of the voodoo-induced justice.

Horror and revenge are two of my favorite elements to see in films, so mixing them together in this one had my devout interest from the get-go. It does not take long for things to get going, and the first act moves quick in setting up the conflict that would send Sugar Hill over the edge and seek the aid of the town’s voodoo mistress. From then on out we are exposed to sweet revenge as Sugar directs the demon and his slew of zombies to deliver haunting justice to those who took her love from her. Simply put, the rest of the film follows Sugar and the mob as each of the mobsters is killed off one by one in a variety of fashions, each of which was unique in their own right and consisted of good horror as well. The storyline is a simple one and if you watch Sugar Hill with that in mind the story should do just enough to guarantee you a fun watch. My one biggest beef though was how supporting character, a detective assigned to the murders of the mobsters named Det. Valentine(Richard Lawson), was used in the film. Throughout the second act we were given small glimpses of the Det. Valentine at the gruesome crime scenes, but it seemed like he was merely thrown into the film in a grind house fashion in which he was used to help sell the film visually here and there and was never a full-frontal character. This especially came to light during the film’s closing sequences, the most important in the film, in which Valentine was nowhere to be found. Thankfully, the end result was a positive one and I did not see this poor character play keeping the film from my enjoyment.

Director Paul Maslansky did a good job executing this film to be the cheezy blaxploitation film it was set out to be, and he does a great job with the horror as well. I loved the look of the zombies, and unsurprisingly they were all of African descent. The makeup FX were simple, but I found the zombies highly effective and pretty chilling, and I enjoyed that they came covered in spider webs as well. Fans of the zombie sub-genre should rejoice at the idea that the film does not rely on radiation or toxic waste as the source of the zombies, but vengeful voodoo instead, something we rarely see in the sub-genre. We get some fair live-action gore as well, and Maslansky did a great job executing the awesome kills. The real treat and star of the film though is Sugar Hill, expertly portrayed by and underrated and under-appreciated Marki Bey. Sugar Hill is fine, sassy, and classy all at the same time, so it was great to see such a woman exact sweet revenge on the thugs responsible for taking her love from her. We get fair performances from everyone else involved, notably Don Pedro Colley as Baron Samedi and Richard Lawson as Det. Valentine, which combined with the film’s good horror and positive atmosphere make for an enjoyable end result.

Overall, Sugar Hill is a fun blaxploitation zombie/revenge flick that delivers good on the horror and revenge thanks to a sweet storyline and good direction. We are given a unique take on the zombie sub-genre with the film’s voodoo elements, and good kills, great gore, and sweet execution make this a fun and enjoyable 70s horror film.

Rating: 7/10

Art of the Devil – 5


Director – Tanit Jitnukul

Cast – Arisa Wills, Supakson Chaimongkol, Krongthong Rachatawan, Tin Settachoke, Somchai Satuthum, Isara Ochakul, Nirut Sutchart, Krittayod Thimnate

Release Year – 2004

Reviewed by John of the Dead

It took me a while to get to this well-known Thai horror film, and I am somewhat glad I did not rush to viewing this one.  Why?  Well, despite the attention this film has received over the years…it really isn’t that good.  It has potential, MUCH potential, but in the end poor execution and an under-appreciative story make this film nothing special to watch.

Art of the Devil follows Boom, a mistress who was once seduced by a married man, and now pregnant with his child…he wants nothing to do with her.  He pays her to leave him and his family alone, but that is not enough.  Boom goes to a witch doctor/shaman and casts a horrible spell on her former lover and his family, resulting in their brutal deaths.  Unfortunately for Boom, her war is just beginning as her former lover’s former wife has inherited her lover’s estate, and she now has another family to get rid of.

I really wanted to like this film, and I EXPECTED to like it due to its witchcraft element, which I always find creepy in films.  Also, this plot doesn’t only give me the witchcraft element, but a vengeance element as well, and you know I LOVE vengeance oriented films.  So how does this flick give me two things I love yet still fail overall, well…it’s all in the execution.

The directing effort from director Tanit Jitnukul was not a favorable one in my opinion, and is the biggest reason behind why I could never get into this film.  I did not like his use of editing and cinematography, and frankly, the execution of even the kill scenes was pretty weak and unconvincing.  Aside from the “eel death” in the hospital, I was never enamored by anything that went down on screen.  Story-wise this film was a bit hard to follow at times, and never engaged me with any of the characters in the film.  I found myself not giving a damn about most of the characters that I was supposed to give a damn about, and that is not a testament of good writing.  I will say this though, this film’s writer is credited as Ghost Gypsy(I am not joking), which I think is cool as hell.

Overall, this was an under satisfying watch that managed to maybe be a mediocre watch at best.  We get a cool storyline, but poor execution leads this film to not excel in nearly every level.

Rating: 5/10

The Skeleton Key – 7


Director – Iain Softley

Cast – Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard, Joy Bryant, Maxine Barnett, Fahnlohnee R. Harris

Release Year – 2005

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I have always been very iffy on the horrendous sounding idea of a PG-13 horror flick.  Why?  Well, most of them just downright suck!  There can be a number of reasons for this, such as the lack of kills(aka “fun”), and other content that would help provide great horror to the viewer.  Now I have always kept an open mind to PG-13 horror because I am a devout believer that a great script and proper execution can give you a great and horrific PG-13 watch without all the goodies that come with a Rated-R film.  Thankfully, this film proves my case and winds up being a great PG-13 horror film that did its job so darn well that I did not notice this flick was PG-13 until after its awesome climax. Yes, I am serious.

The Skeleton Key stars a pretty Kate Hudson as Caroline, a hospice worker who decides to quit her typical money-grabbing hospice job and look for something more sincere to the patient.  She comes across an add in the local newspaper for a live-in hospice worker needed to assist an old women named Violet(Geena Rowlands) with her mute(due to a stroke) and dying husband.  Caroline interviews, and despite her convictions over the odd situation she accepts the job.  Soon after moving in she notices strange occurrences around the old southern home, and things get even weirder the more she is around the strange old woman whom she answers to.  Her curiosity gets the best of her and she begins to investigate by finding a way into a sealed off door deep in the attic of the home.  It is then that she learns the horror behind the evil that lies within the home, and things are just getting started.

Be it as it may, this flick had me hooked.  Director Ian Softley(haha, Softley) did a seemingly perfect job setting up this film’s atmosphere with a very spooky looking home on both the inside and outside, as well as even more spooky looking sets surrounding the home.  For a guy not known as a horror director he did a fine job with this location and used it to the fullest of its abilities.  I mean, how else could a PG-13 horror flick be spooky?  It is all about execution, and he executed just fine.  This flick paced very well, and I was very happy to see that its runtime was nearly an hour and 45 minutes, 15 minutes longer than the usual PG-13 horror standard of 90 minutes.  Now, there have been great Rated-R horror flicks that clock in at 90 minutes, but they come with great horror and sweet kills that leave you fulfilled in those 90 minutes.  Most PG-13 horror flicks seem to be aimed at teens and take too much consideration into the attention span of the teen audience and keep the film around the 85-90 minute runtime.  This flick shows that it never had much of a desire to appeal to the young and dumbfounded teens out there and decided to first give us a horror film with REAL development, and because of this film’s lack of Rated-R content it had to take a little while to get it all in there, and I am glad it did.  We do not get many great scares in this film, unless you are a fan of the “person-appears-out-of-nowhere” scares(pfft), but great mood setting and camera angles provide some nice chilly moments which were enough to keep me interested.

Story-wise this film really excels.  We get some great conflict for Caroline thanks to the seedy personality of Violet whom we know not to trust, but must wait for more development was to WHY we should not trust her.  I find these situations fun and tension-inducing, especially if written and executed properly as they were in this film.  Writer Ehren Kruger is no stranger to the horror genre, he wrote the adaptations for both The Ring and The Ring Two prior to this film and it shows that he has a knack for this genre.  The twists and turns thrown into the story were all engaging and never came off as silly or needless.  Of all the positive buzz I have heard about this flick I must say that 90% of it is in regards tot his film’s climax, which I can absolutely understand.  This film’s ending sequence is one of the coolest and most well written twists endings I have ever seen in the horror genre.  At first it may come off as a cheap cop-out ending if you pay little attention to what is going on, but a further look into things will show just how great this ending is.  I speak from personal experience in saying that I at first saw this flick’s ending as a cool twist but nothing special.  I was fooled, but not wowed.  Now after viewing this film a second time since my initial 2005 viewing I can say that there was so much more I did not notice.  It would be a shame if I went into spoilers with this film, but I must say that the final twist comes with much meaning towards the hoodoo mentioned earlier in the film regarding the “children at the party“.  If you don’t get it, send me a message or email me through this site and I will be glad to explain what went on.  Trust me, when fully understood this flick’s climax is haunting, utterly horrific, and geniously written.  This only adds to the fact that this PG-13 flick was not made to appeal merely to the teen audience, because if it were it would not have come with such a complex and awesomely written climax.

Overall, this is a cool and positive watch that I recommend to all fans of the horror genre.  This flick comes with amazing atmosphere, sets, great execution, awesome writing, positive performances, and a clever ending.  I especially recommend this to all those who believe that PG-13 horror film cannot be a great watch, just make sure to turn off any and all ignorance before heading into this one, a tainted mind is cancerous in this genre.

Rating: 7/10

Child’s Play – 8.5

February 4, 2010 2 comments

Director – Tom Holland

Cast – Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif, Dinah Manoff, Tommy Swerdlow, Jack Colvin

Release Year – 1988

Reviewed by John of the Dead

If you know me, then you know that I LOVE inanimate horror flicks, with a huge focus on killer dolls.  I don’t know what it is about these types of flicks, but they sure to get me and make me happy.  It could be the fact that dolls are pretty much everywhere, which would make our lives pretty damn creepy if they really did have to potential to be possessed…heh.  I remember suffering many creeped out nights as a child thanks to this flick, and still to this day I can see why this flick has survived two decades of horror and still remains one of horror’s better known flicks.  When it comes to killer dolls, Chucky rules!

This flick follows hard-working single mom Karen(Catherine Hicks) and her six year old son Andy(Alex Vincent).  Andy doesn’t have very many friends, and has waited patiently for the best friend any kid could ever ask for, a “Good Guy” doll.  One day Karen is presented the opportunity to buy a Good Guy doll from a street peddler for a very discounted price, desperate to give Andy the present he so rightfully deserves, she never thinks twice about where the doll came from and buys it on the spot.  Little does she know, a low-life criminal named Charles Lee Ray was “killed” some time back, but not before he managed to use a satanic ritual to transfer his soul to the plastic body of a Good Guy doll.  When strange and deadly occurences begin to happen around Andy promptly after he receives the Good Guy doll, it seems only Andy could have committed those crimes.  He knows his doll did it, but neither his mother nor officer Mike Norris(Chris Sarandon, who played the vampire in “Fright Night”, also directed by Tom Holland) will believe him, that is…until their very lives are put in danger when Chucky decides to add Karen to his kill-list alongside the very officer who killed him…Mike Norris.

“Child’s Play” is one of my favorite horror flicks ever, and I will have no problems explaining why.  The subject matter is one that heavily appeals to me, and is sure to please those who also enjoy this killer-doll horror sub-genre.  I’ve seen flicks where vengeful spirits enter dolls, but not to the extent where they walk and talk like good ole Chucky.  The look of him as he is doing his bidding is awesome, and I think director Tom Holland(who also directed “Fright Night”) for creating such a creepy looking antagonist and including lots of action involving him.  It does take a little while before we get into the Chucky action, but when it hits it hits hard and never relents.  This helps with the film’s pacing, which is excellent and never left me bored nor uninterested.  The deaths at the hands of Chucky were pretty sweet, with the voodoo priest one being my absolute favorite.  I personally wish Tom Holland would direct another full-length film(he has not helmed the director’s chair since his 1996 film “Thinner”), because it is obvious this guy has talent.  After giving us the awesome vampire flick “Fright Night”, he used his great direction to make this film as creepy as can be with very little to work with.  It is his timing and execution that set up the awesome Chucky scares we get in this flick, and I’d love to see him do another inanimate horror flick sometime.

Writer Don Mancini, who has penned all five Child’s Play films thus far, struck gold with this flick.  Sure the dialogue isn’t the best and we do get some cheezy scenes, but for an 80s horror flick he sure did a fine job bringing the goods and giving us an awesome storyline.  You already know I loved this film’s killer doll aspect, but what really made this element different from others like it is it’s use of voodoo.  I really liked this addition to the plot and found it all the creepier given voodoo oriented flicks are another creeper sub-genre not to be messed with.

Overall, this is a great horror film that I recommend to all fans of the genre, and to those who love the killer-doll type horror flicks.  This flick provides great scares, atmosphere, story, and an awesome antagonist sure to remain in the minds and possibly even the hearts of all who have ever seen him do his thing.

Rating: 8.5/10

The Serpent and the Rainbow – 7

December 31, 2009 Leave a comment

Director – Wes Craven

Cast – Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson, Zakes Mokae, Paul Winfield, Brent Jennings, Conrad Roberts

Release Year – 1988

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Based on the book by author Wade Davis, this film has to do with voodoo in Haiti and the belief that the shamans there are able to resurrect the dead through zombification. This notion was actually first introduced to us with the first “true zombie” film, White Zombie(which came out in 1932), which also involved a shaman from Haiti and zombification.

Anywho iconic horror director Wes Craven(A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Last House on the Left, Scream) directs Bill Pullman AKA “the greatest fictional president ever”(see Independence Day) a Harvard anthropologist Dr. Dennis Alan, whom is sent to Haiti by a pharmaceutical company in order to locate the source that the shamans are using for the zombification. It is believed that if the zombification was properly adapted and marketed, it would provide a fortune as well as save the many lives lost on the operating table due to malfunctions with anesthesia. Unfortunately for Dr. Alan, there is much political turmoil in Haiti, and the environment is very unstable. There are government powers that are more than willing to use secret police AKA the Tan Tan “death squads” to keep the voodoo secrets in Haiti, where they belong. With the death squads keeping a close eye on him, he begins a very dangerous journey that leads to some gruesome deaths, horrible dreams, and put’s his new Haitian girlfriend’s life on the line.

I did like this film, not as much as I wanted to, but it was still enjoyable. I loved the idea of finding out whether or not zombification is real, and whether it is done by use of chemicals and potions, or by some king of supernatural formula. I just felt that this film took a while to get to the good stuff, with random moments here and there involving corpses and zombies. Now this film is not a “typical” zombie film. What I mean by that is that these zombies are not out to eat brains and devour human flesh. These zombies are very human, and although they know they are zombies, they are able to think and speak, which is where the true horror lies given that they know their soul is stuck in eternal damnation.

For a while the film actually goes away from being a “horror” movie to somewhat of a drama, with Dr. Alan having to go through some hard times to help his Haitian girlfriend he met on his trip, as well as trying to locate and help a zombie that wanders aimlessly through graveyards. One thing that Wes Craven really did very well was get the “feel” of Haitian society. Most of the film was filmed in Haiti, and really incorporated the traditional music as well as the atmosphere and feel of the area with the use of real life sets and lots of Haitian extras.

I was actually really surprised by the use of special effects for this film. We see a lot of live-action effects for the zombies and corpses and I really loved that! Live-action horror effects are just so much more effective than CGI effects, and it shows with the amount of goosebumps you get from live-action effects. Haha. I was actually a tiny bit unsatisfied with the amount of horror in the film, until we get to the end sequence, which really made up for the somewhat slow beginning. I was originally going to give this film a 6.5 rating, but the live-action effects and cool end sequence get this film a 7 rating.

Overall, this is an interesting film that uses a different take on the nature and actions of zombies. Check this out if you can find it, and would like to see one of Wes Craven’s lesser-known films.

Rating: 7/10

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