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Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2017

‘Get Out’
Release Date: Feb. 24, 2017
Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams and Bradley Whitford
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: R for violence, bloody images and language including sexual references.
Grade: A+

Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Obviously, I loved “Get Out.” If you somehow have not seen and loved “Get Out” by now, I hope you do so immediately. What more can be said about this hugely successful movie? It’s easily the best horror film of 2017 and one of the defining horror films of our generation. So many things about “Get Out” are brilliantly executed, thanks to Jordan Peele’s excellent writing and directing talents. It’s frightening, savvy and thought-provoking — so topical it’s inspired countless analyzations, memes and major award nominations. The film follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a black photographer, who is going to meet his white girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family for the first time. He quickly notices something off about the countryside neighborhood, the father who is swift to brag about voting for Obama, and the only two other black people present — a highly-strung maid (Betty Gabriel) and a silent groundskeeper (Marcus Henderson). As the visit goes on, the film’s clever twists and turns lead the viewer on a terrifying and all too real journey. Best of all is the brilliant conclusion and electrifying final scene that seems to succinctly sum up the film’s overall message.

Release Date: Feb. 17, 2017
Director: Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin and Karyn Kusama
Starring: Natalie Brown, Melanie Lynskey and Breeda Wool
Genre: Horror
Rating: R for horror violence, language and brief drug use.
Grade: C

Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

I enjoy horror anthologies for a lot of reasons. I appreciate the short story format, and I love the opportunity to see multiple directors’ takes on the genre. “XX” is a 2017 horror anthology featuring the work of only female directors, which is also cool. It would’ve been cooler if the shorts were better, but what can you do? The best piece is “The Birthday Party,” also known as “The Memory Lucy Suppressed From Her Seventh Birthday That Wasn’t Really Her Mom’s Fault (Even Though Her Therapist Says It’s Probably Why She Fears Intimacy).” This short was written and directed by indie musician Annie Clark, who performs under the stage name St. Vincent. Starring Melanie Lynskey as neurotic housewife Mary, “The Birthday Party” is the most put-together and well-acted story. It’s darkly funny, slightly creepy and thoroughly entertaining. The scariest piece is the anthology’s most simple, Roxanne Benjamin’s “Don’t Fall,” which is straightforward in its depiction of a group of friends who encounter a demonic creature while camping. They hear it, then it gets ‘em, and that’s it. The end. Karyn Kusama, who brought us “The Invitation” last year, presents “Her Only Living Son,” a complex piece that could absolutely be expanded into a full-length feature tackling the idea of Rosemary’s baby growing up to be Rosemary’s pubescent teenager. And, finally, Jovanka Vuckovic attempts an adaptation of a Jack Ketchum short story with “The Box.” It’s a thought-provoking and eerie story, but it’s poorly executed and the acting is abysmal.

Release Date: March 10, 2017
Director: Julia Ducournau
Starring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf and Laurent Lucas
Genre: Drama, Horror
Rating: R for aberrant behavior, bloody and grisly images, strong sexuality, nudity, language and drug use/partying.
Grade: A

Photo courtesy of Focus World.

“Raw” is a great horror film. It’s so disturbing and bloody that viewers reportedly fainted during early screenings, but it’s also very relatable! There are some really sick, depraved scenes that are all kinds of fun for gore aficionados, and some excellent character development to elevate the story beyond the surface level. Justine (Garance Marillier), a lifelong vegetarian raised in an all-vegetarian family, is heading off for her first semester at the same veterinary school her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) attends. She is shocked by the unfamiliar environment and struggles to fit in. During a hazing ritual for incoming freshman, Justine is pressured to eat raw meat and finally does so after seeing her sister do the same. Unfortunately, this small taste awakens a dark thirst inside her for more. Like “Ginger Snaps” before it (which equated girls’ coming of age to becoming a werewolf), “Raw” appropriately compares cannibalism to female adolescence. Despite the strict protectiveness of her upbringing, Justine eventually finds a way to become free and explore her own identity. She is no longer able to suppress her inevitable growing desires — both sexual desires and the desire to eat human flesh. It’s an interesting film and a nicely-done take on the monstrosity of young adulthood.

Release Date: Sept. 8, 2017
Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård and Sophia Lillis
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for violence/horror, bloody images and language.
Grade: C

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

“It” was definitely the high-budget, must-see horror film of the year, but I wasn’t too impressed. I was hoping this remake would fill in some of the gaps where the 1990 Stephen King adaptation was lacking (there were a lot), but it didn’t really do that. The 2017 “It” mostly excelled in its visuals. Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise the Dancing Clown is fabulously constructed and aesthetically impressive with his creepy, lurky smile and a costume ruffled for the gods. Several of the film’s phenomenal sets seem ready to be transported directly to Universal Studios for a Halloween Horror Nights maze. But the plot was as convoluted as ever. Basically, a group of youngsters have to work together to defeat a mysterious evil being that lives in the town’s sewer system, dresses in a clown costume and kidnaps children. Why does no one mention how strange this story is? It’s super weird and makes no sense for this monster to appear as a clown. Like, WHY is it a clown? In the original novel, It is actually a shapeshifting demon that takes the form of your greatest fear, which is an important bit of explanation that is never, ever brought up in the film. I guess they’re just assuming everyone’s greatest fear is a clown with a gigantic forehead?


Capsule film reviews: Four more horror movies from 2013

Release Date: Jan. 25, 2013
Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Starring: Peter Cilella, Vinny Curran and Zahn McClarnon
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+


Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film and Cinedigm.

Well, “Resolution” starts out with Michael (Peter Cilella) handcuffing his junkie buddy, Chris (Vinny Curran), to a pipe inside a run-down cabin in the middle of nowhere in an attempt to get him sober. What could go wrong? The film is a pleasant surprise, though. As it progresses, it reveals itself to be a slow-paced psychological thriller that comments on storytelling and the horror genre itself. It’s like a low-budget take on the ideas explored in 2012’s “Cabin in the Woods,” although it’s definitely not as well-acted nor as tongue-in-cheek hilarious as its predecessor. Curran, in particular, does a really subpar job portraying his drug-addicted character. On the other hand, “Resolution” is a lot more actually menacing and scary than “Cabin in the Woods,” and its final 30 minutes are tense and unpredictable.

Release Date: April 1, 2013
Director: Conor McMahon
Starring: Ross Noble, Gemma-Leah Devereux and Tommy Knight
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Rating: R for strong bloody violence and gore, sexual content, language, drug and alcohol use – all involving teens.
Grade: C-


Photo courtesy of MPI Media Group and Irish Film Board.

This is a really goofy premise, so stay with me: “Stitches” is an Irish horror-comedy about a clown who is accidentally killed at a child’s birthday party and is resurrected six years later to exact his revenge on the kids who were there. It’s an attempt at the hilariously over-the-top gore perfected in movies such as the “Leprechaun” franchise or “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” but it isn’t executed as well. The cartoonish special effects aren’t too impressive, and it ends up being neither scary nor really funny (although there are some laughs). Considering there’s a Satanic ritual performed by clowns in the graveyard and an obsessive occult research segment on the history of clowns, “Stitches” should have been way more amusing. But there’s probably still a market for this. I’m not sure who those people would be, but they’re out there.

‘Berberian Sound Studio’
Release Date: June 14, 2013
Director: Peter Strickland
Starring: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco and Antonio Mancino
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B

Berberian Sound Studio 2

Photo courtesy of Warp X and Illumination Films.

The film-within-a-film technique makes “Berberian Sound Studio” a creepy, slow-moving, atmospheric piece of surrealist cinema. The story follows British foley artist Gilderoy (Toby Jones) as he arrives on set in Italy to work on mixing sounds for director Giancarlo Santini’s (Antonio Mancino) latest giallo flick. Santini’s film is an Argento-esque horror story (although he refuses to refer to it as such) about a girls’ school cursed by witches, requiring Gilderoy and crew to create many creative sound effects in the studio. This is fascinating to watch, although potentially boring for American audiences. “Berberian Sound Studio” then takes a “Mulholland Drive”-style abrupt left turn into the realm of the absurd about three-quarters of the way through, as Gilderoy grows increasingly discomforted by the nature of the film and the working environment. The final act is eerie and tense, although this film is a lot more understated and never becomes truly “horror.”

‘We Are What We Are’
Release Date: Sept. 27, 2013
Director: Jim Mickle
Starring: Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner and Bill Sage
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violence, bloody images, some sexuality, nudity and language.
Grade: B-


Photo courtesy of Entertainment One.

“We Are What We Are” is a thoughtful, beautifully-shot creepy thriller, but a lot of plot holes make it less enjoyable. The film (a remake of the 2010 Mexican horror film of the same name, although several key elements are different) focuses on the reclusive Parkers — a family of urban cannibals — following the death of Emma Parker (Kassie DePaiva), the mother of three children. The film is clearly supposed to make comment on religious fervor, patriarchal traditions and family bonds, but it seems like a lot of this is lost in translation. The influence of 2011’s excellent “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” about a woman escaping from the clutches of an oppressive cult, is extremely evident, but “We Are What We Are” never seems as believable. Luckily, the acting is strong from all three leads, the cinematography is attractive, and super blonde children are inherently disturbing. I only wish as much attention to detail had been paid to the screenwriting as was paid to the look of the film.

Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2013

‘The Lords of Salem’
Release Date:
April 26, 2013
Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Judy Geeson and Bruce Davison
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug use.
Grade: C+


Photo courtesy of Anchor Bay Films.

It pains me to say, but as much as I love and admire the talents of both Sheri Moon and Rob Zombie, I was not a big fan of “The Lords of Salem.” I do enjoy the corresponding Rob Zombie track, as well as the movie score that was penned by Rob Zombie guitarist John 5. The movie itself, however, misses the mark quite a bit. The story centers on Heidi (Moon Zombie), a recovering drug addict who works as a DJ at a rock ‘n roll radio station. When she plays a strange record that she receives from a band called The Lords of Salem, she begins having creepy Satanic visions that are traced back to a curse from the Salem witch trials. The premise sounds really cool, and there are some great artsy shots of priests masturbating with giant dildos and naked old witches and goats’ head masks and all kinds of weird shit. But the film doesn’t really come together as a whole, and these interesting sequences come across a little too obscure.

‘Curse of Chucky’
Release Date:
Aug. 2, 2013
Director: Don Mancini
Starring: Fiona Dourif, Brad Dourif and Danielle Bisutti
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for bloody horror violence and language.
Grade: C


Photo courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

“Curse of Chucky” was less cheesy than most of the previous installments in the “Child’s Play” franchise, but I don’t know why anyone would want that. The series reached its peak of cheesiness with 1998’s “Bride of Chucky,” which is still definitely the best film of the bunch. As for the “Curse of Chucky,” there was too much spooky ambiance and too few Chucky one-liners. I am, however, so incredibly glad that this film was made rather than a reboot or remake of the original “Child’s Play,” as was initially intended. I also appreciate that the film stars Fiona Dourif, the real-life daughter of Brad Dourif (Charles Lee Ray/the voice of Chucky). I was also pleasantly surprised that the movie focused on a female hero in a wheelchair and two lesbian/bisexual characters. I just didn’t think there was enough Chucky silliness. But I do hope they continue making “Child’s Play” movies for a long time coming.

‘The Jeffrey Dahmer Files’
Release Date:
Feb. 15, 2013
Director: Chris James Thompson
Starring: Andrew Swant, Pamela Bass and Pat Kennedy
Genre: Documentary
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C


Photo courtesy of Good / Credit Productions.

A documentary rather than a horror movie, “The Jeffrey Dahmer Files” is nonetheless horrible. However, this not a very well-filmed nor well-made movie. The dramatic reenactments are pretty goofy and unrealistic — particularly a scene that depicts Dahmer (Andrew Swant) carrying a set of mannequin legs out to the trunk of a taxi that was so silly I’m still unclear on its purpose. There are also a lot of inexplicable fade-to-black transitions that were rather bothersome. But, aside from the filmmaking, there are some interesting aspects to this documentary. The file footage is compelling, as is its unique focus. The documentary features interviews with only three people, providing a clear look into their lives and how they were impacted by the Dahmer case — an unusual perspective that almost made up for many of the filmmaking missteps.

‘You’re Next’
Release Date:
Aug. 23, 2013
Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci and Wendy Glenn
Genre: Horror, Suspense, Thriller
Rating: R for some sexuality/nudity, language and strong bloody violence.
Grade: D


Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

The plot twists in “You’re Next” are terribly predictable, which makes the whole thing pretty disappointing and left me wanting a lot more. The carnage is pretty standard (save a choice bit involving a blender and someone’s still-thinking brains — that was a little off the wall), and the suspense is pretty lacking as the villains simply aren’t strong enough to make much impact. However, Sharni Vinson (“Step Up 3D”) is badass as Erin and does a strong job carrying the movie on her own. Some of the dialogue and action is amusing, particularly regarding the ill-fated family dynamic. And the movie ends on a good note with an almost slapstick final scare.