Via Welcome to Moviz Ark! – The Ritual (2017) Review!!!

Synopsis – A group of college friends reunite for a trip to the forest, but encounter a menacing presence in the woods that’s stalking them. My Take – If there is one thing that horror films have taught us, well other than walking into abandoned houses for fun, is to never go into the woods. […]

via The Ritual (2017) Review!!! — Welcome to Moviz Ark!

MOHAWK Delves Into Folklore & the Horror of History

[All images courtesy Dark Sky Films]

American history is full of enough blood, horror, and tragedy to fill countless horror movies. Writer-director David Eggers mined the dark history of Puritan New England for 2016’s The Witch. This year, Mohawk looks to the War of 1812 and Native American folklore for some homegrown Nightmare Fuel.
Mohawk‘s IMDb summary teases a bloodier (and sexier) update of Last of the Mohicans; “Late in the War of 1812, a young Mohawk woman and her two lovers battle a squad of American soldiers hell-bent on revenge.
The official summary from Dark Sky films adds a bit more texture “After one of her tribe sets an American camp ablaze, a young Mohawk warrior finds herself pursued by a contingent of military renegades set on revenge. Fleeing deep into the woods they call home, Oak (Kaniehtiio Horn)  and Calvin (Justin Rain), along with their British companion Joshua (Eamon Farren), must now fight back against the bloodthirsty Colonel Holt (Ezra Buzzington) and his soldiers – using every resource both real and supernatural that the winding forest can offer.”

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Clearly this man never saw Last of the Mohicans or The Witch to learn the dangers in the woods.

Back in July of 2016 I wrote a short piece for SciFi4Me when Mohawk started production. I thought there were three factors making this movie one horror fans should keep an eye on.
First, the production companies involved, Dark Sky Films and Snowfort Productions, have created some of the more interesting and original recent genre releases, including Starry Eyes (2014) and We Are Still Here (2015).
Secondly, the writing and directing talent involved. Ted Geoghegan’s first feature writing/directing credit, We Are Still Here, combined location, story, and genre veterans like Barbara Crampton for a wintry (and terrifying) mediation of loss and grief. Mohawk’s co-writer, author Grady Hendrix, has written novels about the dangers lurking at your local home improvement big box store in Horrorstor (2014), demonic possession of high school teens (My Best Friends Exorcism, 2017), and the hidden history of 80-90’s horror paperbacks (Paperbacks From Hell, 2017). I had a chance to interview Hendrix about Paperbacks From Hell for SciFi4Me’s “Live from the Bunker”.

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Man may not be the most dangerous foe this warrior will face in Mohawk.

Finally, the movie’s historical and geographic setting. Mohawk visits territory previously seen in Sleepy Hollow and The Witch, but switches the focus from colonists and settlers to Native Americans as the new Untied States fights Great Britain in the War of 1812.
Mohawk comes to theaters and iTunes March 2nd, but select screenings (some attended by Geoghegan) are already happening. Check out the trailer, and see if there’s a screening near you.

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Via Hell Horror – THE BABYSITTER (2017) Ending Explained

The Babysitter (2017) is Netflix‘s horror comedy that provided good scares and laughter. The Babysitter is about a boy who has a crush on his babysitter only to discover that he is her sacrifice to an evil force. There are many hilarious moments and fun times to be had watching this film on Netflix. Watch…

via THE BABYSITTER (2017) Ending Explained Video — Hell Horror

Fang & Saucer Review – THE HOUSEMAID

TheHousemaid2018thumnailThe Housemaid (2018)
Written and Directed by Derek Nguyen
Starring Kate Nhung, Jean-Michel Richaud, Kim Xuan, Kien An, Phi Phung, Svitlana Kovalenko and Rosie Fellner
An IFC Midnight Release

(All images courtesy IFC Midnight)

“Sa-Cat is a place of death.”

In 1950’s Vietnam, surrounded by a forest of real and metaphorical death, a beautiful mansion decays. Endless acres of rubber trees literally drip blood as a forgein occupation nears its end. And every person (living or dead) on Sa-Cat plantation is doomed to play their part.
In THE HOUSEMAID, Writer-Director Derek Ngyen grafts the sturdy tropes of Gothic revenge tragedy to the tangled history of French colonialism in Vietnam. While staying true to the blood-splattered tropes of the Gothic, Ngyen’s first feature film  creates a unique environment for these familiar elements to follow their preordained paths.
THE HOUSEMAID begins in 1953, one year before the defeat of French forces at Dien Bien Phu that led to France’s withdrawal from Vietnam. Linh (Nhung Kate) sits in a police station. Questioned by police officers Guy (Leon Bown) and Bao (Linh Son Nguyen), the young woman relates the path that leads to her discovery of the bloody corpse of her employer, Captain Sebastien Laurent (Jean-Michel Richaud).
As she begins her story, we see Linh trudging through driving rain to the gates of a magnificent (albeit decaying) mansion. Once this house was the center of a sprawling rubber plantation. Now Sa-Cat is home to a handful of servants working for the widowed Captain Laurent, reclusively mourning his dead wife and infant son. Driven from her home by war, Linh seeks work as a housemaid.

The Housemaid - Linh and Sebastien
Nhung Kate as Linh, Jean Michel Richaud as Sebastien in THE HOUSEMAID. Directed by Derek Nguyen.

Linh becomes enmeshed in daily life at Sa-Cat. Imperious housekeeper Ms. Han (Kim Xuan), garrulous cook Mrs. Ngo (Phi Phung), and maintenance man Mr. Chau (Kien An) welcome the added labor Linh provides. Like the servants of the House of Usher, they’re fighting a losing battle on multiple fronts in service to the Captain.  But no one can escape the pressures of events in the present – or the demands of the past. Linh may appear to be a simple country girl, but she also is also burdened with fulfilling the obligations and wishes of others.
What Works in THE HOUSEMAID
Sam Chase’s cinematography and production design of Jose Mari Pamintuan create an atmosphere of dust, decay and rot you can almost feel through the screen. The blood-soaked history of the estate and its influence on the present comes to life just by showing a finger sliding along a dusty banister. Visual effects by Thierry Nguyen and the special makeup effects by Brad Greenwood add to the tactile creepiness, and Jerome Leroy’s score is haunting, lush, and wistful.
Director Derek Ngyen does a good job maintaining a plausible sense of misdirection until the final revelations. The viewer knows that whatever haunts Sa-Cat arises from events in the past. But along with the haunted residents, we don’t realize which threat poses the most danger – or its true motives – until the very end.
For me, the revelations at the movie’s end made sense and fit with most of what we’ve seen before. However, we don’t find out enough about some of the characters actions in the past to make sense of their ultimate fates

The Housemaid - Camille
A ghost, dripping with black lace, wearing a tarnished crown – and wielding a very real axe.

This is not the case for Ms. Han and Mr. Chau. Chau is proud to recount his past as an overseer on the estate; Ms. Han’s role in tracking down and punishing escaping workers is illustrated in flashbacks. But for the character who meets the most bloody and gruesome fate, there is too much Tell and not enough Show. We don’t see (or hear) enough about the past to put alongside the present. But we see and understand this dilemma for Linh; she is both a strong character with agency – and a woman acting out of obligation and duty to the desires of others.  We don’t get that insight for another major character.
And on a minor point, I would’ve ditched the subplot involving Sebastien’s fiancée Madeline (Rosie Fellner) . Besides having a French identity mismatched with a British accent, this selfish, one note plot point of a character exists only to create jealously in Linh, then run off and die in a particularly non-terrifying manner. The screen time spent on that story could’ve been used to flesh out the past of Sa-Cat and the characters we spend most of the movie with.
In the end, THE HOUSEMAID is an interesting journey, taking the Vengeful Ghost story along a road I haven’t travelled before. Horror fans will appreciate how it uses the hallmarks of the genre to create a story with style and atmosphere.
THE HOUSEMAID will be available on demand and in select theaters February 16.

For more information, visit IFC Midnight.

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

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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.

Gothic Ghosts Haunt THE HOUSEMAID from IFC Midnight

TheHousemaid2018thumnailThe Housemaid
Written and Directed by Derek Nguyen
Starring Kate Nhung, Jean-Michel Richaud, Kim Xuan, Kien An, Phi Phung
An IFC Midnight Release

(Images courtesy IFC Midnight)

If, as Tolstoy famously wrote, “each unhappy family is unhappy in it’s own way,” then the family unit assembled around  Captain Sebastien Laurent on an isolated plantation in 1950’s Vietnam is one even he might’ve avoided chronicling. But Linh, a young woman alone in the world, needs work to keep starvation at bay, no matter how creepy the circumstances.

Thus begins The Housemaid, written and directed by Derek Nguyen and coming to selected theaters and VOD February 16 from IFC Midnight.

Compared to Japan, Thailand, and Cambodia,Vietnam has been underrepresented in the horror genre. Government disapproval may be one reason. According to Reuters, in 2007 the Vietnamese government warned filmmakers against producing ghost and horror movies “with incomprehensible plots and extreme horror.”

Whatever the subgenre, it is good to see more Asian horror making its way around the world. Here’s the trailer for The Housemaid

The Housemaid will be available on demand and in select theaters February 16.
For more information, visit IFC Midnight.

Sixteen Out of 30 ‘Aint Bad – Thrillist’s Best Horror Movies of 2017 Challenge Results

[Featured image – The Devil’s Candy courtesy IFC Midnight]

Another year, another bumper crop of horror movies. As always, the horror genre continues to provide truckloads of cash receipts to studios. 2017’s horror releases provided their own unique road-map of scares – from faux documentary (Creep 2), to Stephen King coming of age tale (IT), to social satire (Get Out). In a pleasant change of pace for horror fans, some of the highest grossing genre titles also earned critical raves to go with the oceans of green (IT and Get Out earning 84 and 99 percent Fresh ratings respectively at Rotten Tomatoes).

Late last year, Thrillist’s Best Horror Movies of 2017 (So Far) by Scott Weinberg inspired me. How many of the listed movies could I watch before January 1, 2018? How would my opinions agree or clash with Mr. Weinberg’s? I started off with House on Willow Street (here at F&S) and The Void (reviewed at SciFi4Me). However, due to things like “work” and “going to Urgent Care“, I only managed a total of 16 out of 30 movies.

Detailed reviews of my arbitrary groupings will follow. For starters, here’s my ranking of the sixteen movies I managed to watch, with Scott Weinberg’s ranking in parenthesis.

The Top Tier
1 – Raw (5)
2 – The Devil’s Candy (8)
3 – Creep 2 (16)
4 – The Void (28)
5 – Split (15)
6 – Get Out (1)

Fun Creature Features 
7 – Life (17)
8 – Alien: Covenant (23)
9 – Annabelle: Creation (27)

The Stephen King Afterschool Specials
10 – Gerald’s Game (4)
11 – IT (2)
12 – 1922 (13)

Beautiful, but Remote
13 – It Comes at Night (22)
14 – A Dark Song

OK for a Matinee
15 – Cult of Chucky (30)
16 – House on Willow Street (29)