Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 8, 2018


Tom Cruise and Annabelle Wallis in the lousy Mummy
Here is a round-up of some new and fairly recent films in the horror genre:

The Ruins (2008). Director: Carter Smith. Young tourists in Mexico go to a Mayan temple lost in the jungle and discover that they won't be allowed to leave, as they are apparently meant to be sacrifices to weird vines that can penetrate their flesh. Gruesome and harrowing, this plays like a story out of an EC horror comic. The cast is comprised of first-rate young actors, with an especially good performance from Laura Ramsey. Well-made and chilling. The alternate ending on the DVD works better than the one shown in theaters. ***.

Pandorum (2009). Director: Christian Alvart. Two men wake up seemingly alone on a spaceship with much of their memory missing. Before you can say Aliens or Predator, some albino, flesh-eating monsters show up along with a tough Ellen Ripley-type who helps the crewmen against the creatures. There are some interesting ideas and some exciting scenes in the movie, but it all seems over-familiar and by the numbers. Although Dennis Quaid is the nominal star, the true hero is Ben Foster, who is quite dynamic in his mild-mannered way. "Pandorum" refers to a kind of space-happy syndrome that makes people go nuts. The picture is more confusing than it needs to be. **1/2.

The Uninvited (2009). Directors: The Guard Brothers. A young woman, Emily, comes home from a mental hospital after a suicide attempt not long after her ill mother was incinerated in a fire. Emily and her sister are convinced that their mother's nurse, who is now engaged to their father, was responsible for her patient's fiery death. Are the young ladies next on her list? Spooky and indeed physical visions seem to be sending Emily warnings. The Uninvited may not be especially original, but it still has some interesting twists to it. ***.

Enter Nowhere (2011). Director: Jack Heller. Two woman and one man wake up to find themselves in an isolated cabin and discover their last memory places them in completely different parts of the country -- and worse. Then a handsome soldier (Shaun Sipos) shows up and things get even freakier. Scott Eastwood, Clint's son, may not be a great actor, but he certainly has presence. Katherine Waterston (daughter of Sam) and Sara Paxton are effective as the ladies. The film is suspenseful and well-made, even if it builds up to a Twilight Zone-type of climax.  **1/2.

Devil's Pass ((2013). Director: Renny Harlin. A documentary team of Colorado students discover weird giant foot prints in the show and a strange door in the side of a mountain in Russia. Inspired by the true story of the mysterious deaths of nine hikers in the Ural Mountains (the Dyatlov Pass incident) in 1959,  Devil's Pass comes up with an "explanation" that blends the military, flesh-eating monsters, alternate dimensions, and even the Philadelphia teleportation experiment! The result is a very entertaining and undeniably creepy movie with an ending that reminds one of an E.C. horror comic. The gay-baiting of a couple of characters is annoying, but generally this is a well-written and competently acted picture. ***.

Most Likely to Die (2015). Director: Anthony DiBlasi. A group of people find themselves beset by a savage killer at a high school reunion where everyone has issues. There is an admirable attempt at characterization, although the cowardly gay guy (Perez Hilton, who should have known better) is a tired old cliche. Some of the acting is quite good, especially Tess Christiansen as a more positively drawn lesbian character. The movie has more than one graphic sequence to satisfy the gore geeks, but its biggest strength is a genuinely tense climax where some of the survivors are put in an untenable situation to say the least. By no means, a classic, but entertaining enough. ***.

The Boy (2016). Director: William Brent Bell. Greta (Lauren Cohan) takes a job minding a little boy who turns out to be a life-sized doll. Skillfully directed by Bell, the movie is surprisingly creepy and suspenseful as it plays around with our expectations of what might really be going on. The improbable tale has loose ends by the score but it is quite entertaining and well-acted. ***.

Phantasm: Ravager (2016). Director: David Hartman. The fifth and final in the long-running Phantasm series stars the now-aged cast in a essentially plot-less rehash of previous films with a man named Reggie (Reggie Banister) not knowing if he's on the run from the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) or recuperating in a nursing home. Only hard-core fans of the series will give a damn. Some good effects, but the movie often resembles a video game and the acting is only so-so. *1/2.

Bachelor Games (2016). Director: Edward McGown. On the eve of his wedding a man takes his friends on a camping trip in the Argentine. where they are warned about a dangerous spirit called the Hunter. Meanwhile old resentments and jealousies flare up, and then the dying begins. The movie is quite well-acted and suspenseful, but the supernatural aspects of the story are pretty lame and the viewer may feel cheated by the conclusion. Otherwise, this is notable. **1/2.

The Great Wall (2016). Director: Yimou Zhang. In ancient times a mercenary (Matt Damon) helps male and female Chinese soldiers fight against an invasion of huge, man-eating lizard monsters that even the Great Wall of China can't keep out. Opulent fantasy film with excellent FX work and some exciting scenes, but most of the time this just seems monumentally silly. Musical sequences add to the camp factor. **1/2.

Rings (2017). Director: F. Javier Gutierrez. This is another in a series of films based on a Japanese movie in which people who watch a certain videocassette wind up dying in seven days, all centering on the ghost of a young girl. The premise doesn't really make much sense, but the movie is creepy and entertaining in spite of it. **1/2.

Get Out (2017), Writer/director: Joran Peele. A young white lady brings her black boyfriend to meet her parents in the suburbs and weird things begin to happen. Is there a racist conspiracy afoot, and exactly what form is it going to take?. Get Out is entertaining and well-acted, and has some suspense, and what might be called a clever twist if only the secret of the plot wasn't a hoary cliche. The social commentary -- how some black people feel about whites and vice versa -- is about on the level of a seventies sitcom, with Caucasian characters making comments about Tiger Woods and Obama to show how hip and non-racist they are. By no means a bad movie, it's just ridiculously over-praised and, all told, rather silly. More a thriller than an out and out horror film despite certain developments, it is never the nail-biter it should have been. **1/2.

Alien: Covenant (2017). Director: Ridley Scott. In this sequel to Prometheus -- itself a prequel to the original Alien -- a ship bearing earth colonizers to a new world is drawn to the same planet of both of those movies, and the crew are soon beset by parasitical aliens. This retread of earlier Alien films isn't as bad as the second Alien vs Predator film, but it doesn't compare to the far superior Prometheus. Michael Fassbender plays two robot versions of himself, one of whom kisses the other on the lips, not as a homoerotic act but to confuse the other and get him off his guard. (There is a genuine gay couple in the movie but if you blink you might miss them.) There are a couple of good action scenes and the usual gruesomely effective FX, but the movie doesn't add much to the Alien legend and there's way. way too much of Fassbender. **1/2.

Eloise (2017). Director: Robert Legato. Eloise is the name of a shuttered mental institution where Jacob (Chace Crawford) comes with some companions to search for his mother's death certificate, which he needs to claim an inheritance. While inside the institution, the searchers are visited by ghosts from the past and there are some surprising revelations. The problem with Eloise is the matter-of-fact quality of the sequences with the murderous ghosts, and they way the characters show little shock or confusion when confronted by them. The picture has intriguing elements, but it just doesn't work. **.

The Mummy (2017). Director: Alex Kurtzman. Tom Cruise is a soldier and would-be "Indiana Jones" who messes with antiquities and gets taken over by the spirit of an Egyptian princess who has gone over to the dark side. This is a real mess of a movie, with 55-year-old Cruise playing the role too "cutesy" by far as if he thought he were still twenty-five. Annabelle Wallis makes a better impression as heroine Jenny, but I'm not sure what to make of poor Russell Crowe as "Dr. Jekyll." This is badly-directed and badly-scripted with one-dimensional characters and FX we have all seen before and better. A plane crash sequence and a bit with Cruise being chased by underwater zombies are exciting, but not enough to save this mega stink bomb.The only other good thing you can say about this movie is that it's not quite as campy as the Brendan Fraser Mummy series. *1/2.

AND we'll add a couple that are over 25 years old:

The Terror Within (1989). Director: Thierry Notz. Andrew Stevens gives a good performance in this Alien-clone set in the future when he and other survivors in a bunker must clash with mutated "gargoyles" who are trying to kill them. There are some suspenseful sequences. **1/2.

Dead Space (1991). Director: Fred Gallo. Scientists at a space station seek a cure for a deadly virus, but only succeed in creating a monster that never quite seems alive. Marc Singer is the star, but the best performance is given by Judith Chapman as the head of research. **.


angelman66 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
angelman66 said...

Reposting, correcting my typos!!

Agree with you on almost all of these, Bill, though I do like Get Out a lot more than you a sucker for Stepford Wives and Rosemary's Baby (and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, for that matter), that movie tickled my fancy tremendously, though your points about the stereotypes are obviously well taken.

I also liked The Boy a lot! Fun!

Have you seen Mother with Jennifer Lawrence yet? I am anxious to hear your take on that one...(unless you covered earlier and my memory has lapsed...)

Have a great week, Bill!

William said...

I haven't seen "Mother" yet but I will check it out. "The Boy" was a nice surprise and very entertaining and weird.

You have a great week also and as always thanks for your comments here and on Facebook! I'm sending you a friend request. (The "bears" who friend me don't seem to like old movies, LOL!)

angelman66 said...

Finally we are now friends on Facebook, after all this time! Delighted!

William said...

Me, too!