Netflix Scrolling & Arthouse Horror – 2017 Best of Horror Reviews 16-13

[Cult of Chucky images courtesy @ChuckyFilm Official Facebook page; Box Office figures courtesy BoxOfficeMojo.com.]

After watching 16 out of the 30 movies on Scott Weinberg’s 2017 Best Horror Movies of 2017 list over at Thrillist, here’s my mini-reviews and rankings, beginning at 16-13.

OK for a Matinee (or Scrolling Through Netflix)
16 – House on Willow Street
15 – Cult of Chucky

House on Willow St. Photo by Alon Cohen. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Midnight release.
Just your ordinary kidnapping/demonic possession story. Photo by Alon Cohen. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Midnight release.

16 – House on Willow Street
Director – Alastair Orr
Written by Catherine Blackman, Jonathan Jordaan, Alastair Orr
Cast – Sharni Vinson, Carlyn Burchell, Steven John Ward, Gustav Gerdener, Zino Ventura, Dimitri Bajlanis
US Distributor – IFC Midnight
Worldwide box office (US dollars) – N/A
MPAA Rating – N/A
Thrillist Ranking – 29

(Home Invasion) House on Willow Street starts off as a grungy and entertaining, “kidnapping-gone-horribly-wrong” B movie. Hazel (Sharni Vinson) leads a motley gang of kidnappers plotting to exchange young Katherine (Carlyn Burchell) for a sizable ransom from her diamond merchant father. Unfortunately – and fatally for some of the crew – nothing goes according to plan.

But instead of sticking to a tried and true storytelling formula to deliver a crime thriller laced with supernatural elements, Willow Street tosses in demonic possession, ley lines, forbidden books in the Vatican, exorcism and a couple ghosts into the mix.

One of these stories might’ve worked, maybe two. But as I noted in my initial Fang and Saucer review, “I found myself wishing that the movie had concentrated on one of these stories (the symbols in the house, Hazel’s story, the previous tenants, the Super-Secret Book Written By God) and developed it while staying in one location. In the end, House on Willow Street is a frustrating view experience …”

Is House on Willow Street worth a watch? In my view, mainly as an intriguing misfire – a collection of interesting ideas that, for me, never coalesced into an entertaining whole.

Currently streaming on Amazon, iTunes, Netflix and vudu; DVD/Bluray available from Shout! Factory.

Cult of Chucky @chuckyfilm official FB page
From Talky Tina, to Chucky, to Annabelle, dolls are not to be trusted.

15 – Cult of Chucky
Directed and Written by Don Mancini
Cast – Allison Dawn Doiron, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif , Fiona Dourif, Michael Therriault, Zak Santiago, Jennifer Tilly, Marina Stephenson Kerr
US Distributor – Netflix
Worldwide box office (US dollars) – N/A
MPAA Rating – N/A
Thrillist Ranking – 30

(Slasher) From the reviews I’ve read, the seventh movie in the Child’s Play series isn’t a bad starting point to this movie franchise. If you know who Chucky is (and what horror fan doesn’t), you know enough to follow along the story, which mainly exists as a meta-tail swallowing journey into the referential territory of the later Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

The Good News for Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif)? She survived her encounter with the murderous ginger haired killer doll who killed her family in 2013’s Curse of Chucky. The Bad News? Chucky framed her for the death of said family and she’s institutionalized in a hospital for the criminally insane.

Cult of Chucky does use its mental hospital in winter setting to full advantage. Like a Child’s Play version of an Italian Giallo thriller, Cult is all design, mood, music, and murder set pieces. Production Designer Craig Sandells and Director Don Mancini (co-writer of the original Child’s Play now directing his third installment of the series) do a great job with the gleaming white hallways, off kilter angles and setting of the oddly isolated and easily broken into Harrogate Psychiatric Hospital, aided by Joseph LoDuca’s atmospheric score.

Add in some memorable supporting performances – Zak Santiago as Nurse Carlos and Marina Stephenson Kerr as longtime patient Angela and there’s enough to make Cult of Chucky an interesting one-time visit to Pint Size Slasher Land.

I might’ve enjoyed this movie more if I didn’t find Chucky so annoying. Listening to overly talkative slasher icons like Chucky and Freddy wisecrack their way through a parade of victims makes me long for the equally deadly (but blessedly silent) Jason Voorhees.

Currently streaming on Amazon, iTunes, Netflix, FandangoNow, and vudu; DVD/Bluray available from Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Beautiful – but Remote
14 – A Dark Song
13 – It Comes at Night

A Dark Song No7 jpeg
Like this image, A Dark Song is beautiful, haunting – and remote. Photo by Samson Films. Courtesy of IFC Midnight. An IFC Midnight release.

14 – A Dark Song
Directed and Written by Liam Gavin
Cast – Steve Oram (Joseph) Catherine Walker (Sophia)
US Distributor – IFC Midnight
Worldwide box office (US dollars) – N/A
MPAA Rating – N/A
Thrillist Ranking – 7

(Haunted House) In a remote country manor, grieving mother Sophia (Catherine Walker) endures months of indoctrination in arcane rituals at the hands of spiritualist for hire Joseph (Steve Oram). Sophia claims she only wants to communicate with her dead son. But true goal is much more sinister – and may be fatal for both her and Joseph.

Given the high Metacritc and Rotten Tomatoes scores (alongside a Thrillist rank of seven out of 30), I am in the minority in placing A Dark Song near the bottom of my list. I’ll grant that the story is original, the setting atmospheric, and the acting first rate. Writer/Director Liam Gavin brings a unique take grief (and the extremes to which it can drive people) to a haunted house story.

But in the end, the characters in A Dark Song remained as unlikable and cryptic to me as they did to each other throughout the movie. One of the characters suffers a painful, protracted demise three quarters of the way through the movie. But when that person finally succumbs, I felt relief instead of any sense of loss.

Currently streaming on Amazon, iTunes, Netflix, and vudu; DVD/Bluray available from Shout! Factory

It Comes at night official fb
Don’t Open the Rust-Red Door! Photo courtesy It Comes at Night Official Facebook page.

13 – It Comes at Night
Directed and Written by Trey Edward Shults
Cast – Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Travis) David Pendleton (Grandfather)
US Distributor – A24
Worldwide box office (US dollars) – $13,985,117
MPAA Rating – R
Thrillist Ranking – 22

(Art House Apocalypse) Like A Dark Song, It Comes at Night is original, creative, visually interesting – and emotionally remote.  While the characters in A Dark Song struck me as unlikable ciphers, the “lucky” survivors of a (supposedly) world-wise pestilence in Night are a bit more sympathetic, if just as cryptic.

In the face of a worldwide pandemic, Paul (Joel Edgerton) and Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) retreat to a remote woodland cabin with their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Sarah’s father Bud (David Pendleton). The arrival of another family (Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, and Griffin Robert Faulkner)  may prove to be more of a threat than the plague that ended civilization.

The audience learns almost nothing about who these characters were before the world fell apart. Nobody communicates anything that would help me understand why they make the choices they do. Instead of creating a sense of mystery, or making me concentrate on the events at hand, the lack of information keeps everyone in the story at a distance.

In the end, the only message is one of pessimism and distrust and inescapable despair.  Trust and empathy leads to destruction. This is heartbreaking message delivered with clinical detachment.

I did connect with two characters – one we meet at the beginning and one who fights to the end. Grandfather Bud dies in the first few minutes of Night, but his loss affects his grandson profoundly. Because of that loss, Travis makes a choice that leads to disaster for everyone. Even Travis’s acts of compassion and love inadvertently doom his family, they still seem like the right choices, and make his journey the most memorable one in the story.

Currently streaming on Amazon, iTunes, FandangoNow, and vudu; DVD/Bluray available from Lionsgate.

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