Movie Reviews

The Possession of Hanna Grace – A Crimson Screen Collectibles Film Review

By
Westley Smith

Possession films are a hard sell to horror audiences and there is one reason for that: 1973’s The Exorcist. The Exorcist is the pinnacle of demonic possession films, and most films dealing with demonic possession made after The Exorcist pale in comparison to William Friedkin’s landmark film.


There have been dozens of rip-offs over the years like The Rite, Deliver Us from Evil, and The Last Exorcism, just to name a few from the last decade. Still none of these films were memorable, nor are they talked about in today’s horror community.

Still there are even fewer films dealing with demonic possession that were decent: The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Conjuring, just to name two.  But even these films cannot come close to the pure terror and raw emotional power of the original Exorcist.

The Possession of Hannah Grace falls into the latter category; there isn’t anything new to this film that we haven’t seen before to make it feel fresh or unique. In fact, not only does The Possession of Hannah Grace not bring anything new to the table, it borrows elements distinctly from three films: The Exorcist, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, and Nightwatch (1994 or the 1997 remake).

The film follows former cop Megan Reed (Shay Mitchell) who takes a job working for the hospital’s morgue unit during the night shift. Megan, who suffers from PTSD and is dealing with a drug addiction and in rehab, is trying to put her life back together after the death of her partner  while on the job. The stress of working with cadavers is hard enough while alone, but things take a turn for the worse when the corpse of young Hannah Grace arrives.

Director Diederik Van Rooijen does a serviceable job telling the story, though the plot is paper thin and never really resolves itself and leaves a few glaring holes that are hard to overlook. Most of the scenes have been washed out and dimmed to give the film that cold dreaded feeling but a lot of them come off too dark and it’s hard to tell, at times, what’s going on. Rooijen never really elevates the atmosphere nor plays off it to enhance the creepiness. The scares (even the jump scares) come off stale and uninspired with the normal horror clichés that have been done to death. There isn’t really anything shocking in the film that could raise the hair or gooseflesh on one’s arms, except for the way Hannah Grace (Kirby Jonson) can contort her body – it is rather unsettling to see this young lady move the way she does, but the best part of this contortion show is shown in the trailers.

There was some time allotted to character development, mostly with Shay Mitchell’s character, Megan Reed, as she is on screen for almost the entire film (but even some of her character traits are stolen – she boxes, just like Father Karras in The Exorcist) as well as the paramedic Megan befriends. But outside of these two characters no one is memorable and only serve as bodies for the demon to consume.

The Possession of Hannah Graces isn’t the worst film in a long line of possession films, but it is as forgettable as films like The Rite, The Possession, or The Last Exorcism.

3 stars out of 10

Overlord – A Crimson Screen Collectibles Film Review

By

Westley Smith

Overlord follows a group of World War 2 paratroopers on the eve of D-Day (hence the name of the film as Operation Overlord was the code name for the Battle of Normandy). Trapped behind enemy lines, a rag-tag group of soldiers must take down a radio tower in a small town in Nazi occupied France before the beach invasion on June 6th 1944 can proceed, but what they find is far more horrifying than just Nazi soldiers.

(L-R) Jovan Adepo as Boyce, Dominic Applewhite as Rosenfeld in the film, OVERLORD by Paramount Pictures

There is nothing really new to see with Overlord that hasn’t been done countless times before, whether it be in a war film or a horror movie with crazy Nazi experiments  – think of Overlord as Saving Private Ryan meets Re-Animator meets Frankenstein’s Army.

Jovan Adepo as Boyce in the film, OVERLORD by Paramount Pictures

The film is filled with cliché war and horror movie moments, jump scares that sting with a loud music cues, and characters that are not likeable or fleshed out, making everyone forgettable. Though the acting is strong from the entire cast and everyone is working hard to deliver the material, there just isn’t enough character development to become invested in these men and women to care about them.

Overlord also suffers in tone, swinging wildly from a hard hitting war movie one moment to a balls-to-the-wall horror film the next.  It never really knows what it wants to be: a war film or a horror film? Pick one!

Mathilde Ollivier as Chloe in the film, OVERLORD by Paramount Pictures

One of the films biggest problems is that it presents itself as a horror film first, set during the darkest days of World War 2, but it takes more than an hour for the horror to start.  Sure there are some hints that something is going on around this town where the radio tower is, but it focuses so much on war drama and war suspense that you begin to forget Overlord is a horror movie and it comes off like you’re watching just another World War 2 film – and not a very good one at that; a platoon of soldiers would not be chatting while walking through heavily Nazi occupied France in the middle of the night (ON THE EVE OF D-DAY) like they were strolling through Central Park, but with the hard of hearing Nazi’s in this film, (they don’t even hear gunshots in a town they patrol and occupy) they’d probably be fine anyways.

(L-R) Iain de Caestecker as Chase and John Magaro as Tibbet in the film, OVERLORD by Paramount Pictures

With the added horror element of Nazi experimentation there’s no explanation why they are doing these experiments other than one line: “A thousand year reich, needs thousand year soldiers”. So are they trying to create super soldiers from the dead soldiers? Yes? No? Then why experiment on the town’s people, who all look like they were melted for some reason? Why are certain re-animated dead acting like crazy zombies, while others act pretty much normal just with super strength? So many unanswered questions.


There is just too many head-scratching moments in this film for it to be taken seriously as either a good war movie or a good horror movie – though there are some good suspense and action sequences the film still fails on both fronts.

4 out of 10 stars.

Halloween (2018) – A Crimson Screen Collectibles Film Review

by

Westley Smith

There is a lot to unpack in David Gordon Green’s Halloween, making it stand out from being just another run-of-the-mill sequel to the John Carpenter classic. From a strong story, to the deep character development of Laurie Strode, to the suspense and brutal kills, and the relentlessness of an absolutely terrifying Michael Myers, Halloween (2018) may be the most faithful to the original than any of the other sequels in that it hits on one key point and drives it home: Michael Myers is purely and simply…evil.

By erasing the sequels, including 1981s Halloween 2, Green and co-writer Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley started with a fresh slate, bringing the shape back to what made him scary forty years ago. In the original film, there was no motive for Michael’s decision to kill his sister, Judith Myers, and then go on a killing spree on Halloween Night fifteen years later; he just did. It wasn’t until Halloween 2 that we found out he and Laurie were brother and sister. Stripping the brother and sister angle away allowed Michael to return to his purest form of evil.

Picking up forty years after the events of the first film, Michael Myers is being held in a sanitarium, when two journalists come to meet with him, hoping to get him to speak to them about why he went on a murder spree in 1978. When unresponsive to their questions, his iconic mask is shown to him as motivation, unleashing the dormant evil inside.

Green pays homage to Carpenter’s film in feel and tone, but makes Halloween (2018) his own while at the same time not totally distancing themselves from the other sequels either.

The opening credits, which are exactly like the 1978 film but with a twist: this time the Jack O’ Lantern is flat and begins to reform as the updated Halloween Theme plays, setting the tone that Michael is coming back. For keen viewers of the franchise, there are elements from almost every Halloween sequel peppered throughout the film: the garage killing from Halloween 4. The knife steeling from Halloween 2. The bathroom scene from Halloween: H20 or Rob Zombie’s Halloween reboot.

Even though Green and CO. throw these scenes in their movie, they don’t feel like a rehashing of material, but honor them in a way that feels fresh and updated, also as a wink to the audience that they too have seen all these films in the series and they’re not trying to totally do away

with them

.

 

 

Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the role that started her career and plays Laurie as a completely broken woman, whose traumatic encounter with Michael left her mentally scarred and unable to function like a normal person for the last forty years. She has become a survivalist, locking herself away in her home, complete with a safe room loaded with guns.

Curtis as Laurie Strode is a more broken character than what she was in Halloween: H20. Where in H20 Laurie had somewhat moved on, changed her name, moved to another state, when finally her past caught up with her and she was forced to face it. Here Laurie is consumed, even at the expense of her family, with making sure Michael Myers stays behind bars, but secretly prays that Michael gets loose and comes after her – so she can kill him once and for all.

Green keeps the tension of the film tight for almost the entire one hour and forty-five minute runtime, only letting a few moments of comic relief in to break that tension, allowing a deep sense of foreboding dread to build until the final showdown between Laurie and Michael.

John Carpenter’s score (along with his son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies) may be the best score of Carpenter’s career. With the re-tooling of the original Halloween theme and cues, giving the score a more metal/rock vibe helps set Halloween’s (2018) tone apart from its predecessor and lets the audience know it’s going to be a more intense ride.

While Halloween (2018) has sufficient amount of subtext to please older fans of the series, with callbacks and homages to the original series, there is also enough innovative material to make it feel fresh and scary to a whole new generation of fans.

9 of out 10 Stars

Hell Fest – A Crimson Screen Collectibles Film Review

By
Westley Smith

With the upcoming release of Halloween (2018) on October 19th, March’s Strangers: Prey At Night, and last year’s Terrifier, it seems there is a small resurgence of slasher films.  Hell Fest (seemingly coming out of nowhere and hitting theaters September 28th) fits this mold of modern slashers perfectly, while at the same time calling back to films from the 70s and 80s.


Fans of the genre should catch this one on the big screen while they can. Hell Fest could easily be the next series of yearly Halloween films as Saw or Paranormal Activity used to be, and before those, Halloween – before they were released in August, which started with Halloween: H20 in 1998.

Hell Fest is simple in its premise, much like the era of slasher films it’s emulating: A group of snarky college kids go to a Halloween theme park, “Hell Fest”, only to be stalked and murdered by a masked man known as “The Other”.

Though Hell Fest does not tread new ground in the slasher sub-genre, nor challenge the rules of the genre either, like Scream, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything fun to be found here.

For one, the location and the set-up for the film is fantastic. Being inside a Halloween theme attraction can be scary on its own, with things popping out, people dressed up trying to scare the customers, not to mention the whole unsettling feeling one gets just stepping into those places – rooms that get smaller, narrow hallways, strobe lights, things touching your face in the dark – only add to the atmosphere and claustrophobic feeling of the whole place. Now imagine if someone was  trying to murder you while you were inside one of these places and you had fight get away from them thought scary props, twisting hallways, and dark rooms.

A scary thought, right?

The second thing that stands out in Hell Fest is “The Other”. Not only is his mask scary, (much in the way Michael Myers’ mask is scary because it’s emotionless) but his character is realistic.  “The Other” could be anyone: your brother, friend, even your neighbor. That thought alone is scary, and makes anyone who’s visited (or thinking about visiting) a Halloween park wonder about the ‘actors’ that are scaring them.

Who is the person behind the make-up or the mask? What are their intentions? To scare or to maim?

Again, this idea is nothing new. The Houses October Built dealt with this subject as well. But the difference between Hell Fest and The Houses October Built is that Hell Fest is more grounded in reality, making it feel as if it could happen.

As stated before the setting of Hell Fest is fantastic, and the production designer went to great lengths to put the characters in a a seemingly real life Halloween Park – the neon lighting, the mechanical monsters popping out of the walls and dropping from the ceiling, ‘actors’ in costumes jumping out at our protagonists as they venture their way through Hellfest – that works for the perfect backdrop for the story.

Getting back to the retro feeling of the film, Hellfest relies on old-school F/X rather than CGI. There are some rather satisfying kills in the film, though it is not overly gory.  Still, gore hounds should be pleased when the blood does flies.

Director Gregory Plotkin, allows the story to unfold around the group of kids slowly (much like films of the 70s and 80s would, as the body count grows) but keeps the pace by moving the kids through Hell Fests’ scary rooms and rides. His camera set-ups in these sequences are brilliant, allowing the audience to experience the scares of Hellfest as they unfold to the characters, almost as if the viewer is walking with them. He crafts several unnerving and suspenseful sequences and a few misdirects that cause our characters to get split up (in a logical manner) and eventually get picked off one by one.

Though most of the characters are the run-of-the-mill horror cliché characters that have been in countless slasher films before, there is something about this cast that elevates them above some of the others – especially the quirky romanced between Natalie (Amy Forsyth) and Gavin (Roby Attal) that is both endearing and innocent and makes the viewers instantly root for them. Still, these characters are college kids and they are doing such antics while out looking to have fun at a Halloween park, and are played that way with no deep motivations or characterization – which makes the film a hell of a lot of throwback fun that it isn’t bogged down with needless character development.

The shining light maybe “The Other” He’s equally creepy as he is dangerous in an unassuming way, with his expressionless mask and his ability to blend in with the crowd around him; you can never tell where he might pop up or who he may be – the person next to you, one of the security guards, the executioner?

There is one disappointment of the film and that’s the minimal use of Tony Todd (Candyman) who may have a total of five minutes screen time. Though his voice is peppered throughout the film, adding to the creepiness, he is vastly underused in the film.  If Hell Fest is a success, and sequels are greenlit, one wonders if Todd’s character will have a bigger role in future instalments of the franchise, because the feeling is that there is more to his character than what was shown in the film.

Hell Fest is a fun, throwback slasher flick that gets to the spirit of going to a Halloween attraction but adding another element of danger. If you love slasher films of the past, this is a film for you, so go check it out at the theaters this weekend and hopefully this can become a yearly event like Saw, Paranormal Activity, and Halloween used to be.

9 out of 10 stars.

The Strangers: Prey at Night (Review)

By

Westley Smith

The Strangers: Prey at Night finally arrived in theaters a decade after the original film.

Not a lot has changed since the first movie and The Strangers: Prey at Night pretty much follows the same formula set up in the first film.

Cindy and Mike (Christina Hicks and Martin Henderson) along with their son, Luke, (Lewis Pullman) are taking their daughter, Kinsey (Bailee Madison) to a boarding school, after several incidences with her behavior has landed her in hot water. While heading to their destination, they plan to spend the night at Cindy’s uncle's place at Gatlan Lake, a small community of trailers that during the fall becomes completely vacant, except for the owners. But little does the family know that the Strangers have already made Gatlan Lake their next hunting ground.

Leading up to the family arriving at Gatlan is the normal character development we’ve seen in most horror movies of this kind. In this case, character development is put on the back burner for more suspense and tension. There really isn't much time given to the characters or their motives other than to establish the basic fundamentals for the plot to unfold and to get the ball going and for the blood to start flowing.

This is the films biggest problem.  With little to no character development, leaves the viewer unable to become invested in these people, and when the tension is amped up, and their lives are on the line, you don’t really feel all that invested in their safety because the characters are so flat and generic.

That isn’t to say the film is bad just because of the weak characters. It is a rather well-crafted horror/thriller that had plenty in the bag when it came to the scares and suspense. The setting in the community was fun, expanding the idea of the first film of just two people locked inside of a house to a deserted community filled with multiple trailers, playgrounds, and cars to trap and terrorize their victims.

Johannes Roberts direction was creepy and stylish, crafting several nail biting scenes that were as unnerving as they were bloody. One can tell his love for the slasher flicks of the 1970s and 1980s, using shots (techniques that are rarely used now days) from movies of that era, giving the film a retro throwback vibe. He keeps the tension high, the atmosphere dark and dreary, while supplying some fantastic jump scares in the process.

Speaking of retro. The soundtrack by Adrian Johnston is worthy of noting, with a stylish synth score that paired well with the Roberts style of filmmaking.

The film never feels slow or boring, and at a runtime of just one hour and twenty-five minutes, you get what you paid for: to see the Stranger stalk, hunt, prey, and murder their victims.

The Strangers: Prey at Night is a worthy successor to the original, even if the characters were a little underdeveloped, but it’s still a fun, stylish horror/thriller that should please most fans of the genre.

8 out of 10 Stars

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Death Wish 2018 (Review)

By

Frank Ford

The remake to the 1974 Charles Bronson film, Death Wish, hit theaters this past weekend starring Bruce Willis and helmed by horror director Eli Roth – stepping far away from his horror roots with this modernization of the Bronson classic.

As with most remakes there are several questions to be asked: is the remake necessary; is there something different to be said; does it need to be updated for a modern audience?


Majority of films that get remade do not meet the above guidelines; most are remade because of a brand that a studio can cash in on – A Nightmare on Elm St, Halloween, and Friday the 13th. This is a quick and easy way for the studios to make money with an already built-in fan base and hopefully get a few of the younger generation into the seats with a lazy retelling of a classic movie.

But the best remakes are the ones that not only pay homage to the original but add something new to the films. John Carpenter’s The Thing maybe the best example of this - though at the time of its release, The Thing was a bomb and took years for people to discover its brilliance.

So these same questions need to be applied to Death Wish: is the remake necessary; is there something different to be said; does it need to be updated for a modern audience?

The answer is: Yes.

But does the 2018 Death Wish do this successfullly? Yes and no.

There is enough updated in Death Wish from is ‘74 counterpart that it feels fresh and new for modern audiences, while at the same time throwing a call-back to the original film when it’s needed – epically the ending. But the modernization is only technology, and not ideology; there are no looming moral question about gangs, gun violence, murders, or the repercussions of Kersey’s actions if he’s caught – this is a story that is set morally in a different era.

A lot has changed in the United States since the 1974. Culturally, racially, and politically we are in a different world some forty-four years later; even if snippets of the past seem to be coming back. The 1974 film is a movie made of its time – a rough around the edges, grindhouse-style film with Bronson at his gnarled best getting revenge on the punks of 1970s NYC. It is a tale of a man pushed to the breaking point, where he takes the law into his own hands and dishes his own brand of punishment.

Death Wish 2018 is pretty much the exact same story just set in modern times. And though the two movies share the main character of Paul Kersey, and a vigilante plot, little else is the same.

This time around Bruce Willis plays Paul Kersey, a respected Chicago surgeon who takes it upon himself to find his wife’s murderers and clean up the streets of Chicago, where crime seems to be at an unprecedented all-time high. Paul Kersey, at first, is a soft-spoken, caring doctor who’s willing to save every life, including gang-bangers and thugs because that’s his duty as a doctor. He’s a man devoted to his wife Lucy (Elizabeth Shue), his daughter, Jordan, (Camila Moore) and his out of work, broke brother, Frank (Vincent D’Onofrio). But when his life is forever changed with Lucy’s brutal murder, Kersey flips from soft-spoken nice guy to stone-cold killer and he does so with such ease that it’s scary – almost like the Kersey character had some dark monster living inside of him all along, just clamoring to be set free.

Death Wish 2018 isn’t as heavy handed with its message of vigilantism as the ‘74 film was, but at the same time, it still asks the question should someone take the law into their own hands, when the system fails. It’s shown several times in the film how bogged down the police are with unsolved crimes in the city the size of Chicago, and that another murder is just another name added to a wall. Kersey does everything by the book before he takes the law into his own hands: talking to the police, following up with them, giving them any and all information that would help them find his wife’s killers.

As stated above, the social commentary of the original Death Wish is not as present in the 2018 film. Death Wish 2018 is meant to entertain, and be a fun Bruce Willis/Eli Roth escapism revenge action film with a touch of social commentary about gun violence, gangs, and vigilantism to make you aware, but not to pound a political message down your throat. The film makes no effort to hide what it is trying to be, or what it is trying not to be – and it is definitely not trying to be politically correct.

Willis is cast well in this role, even if he is wooden and phoning it in at times. But in the scenes when he decides he wants to act, he’s actually pretty good and you can see his range as an actor shining through. Vincent D’Onofrio is the stand-out in the film, and an actor no matter what film or TV project he’s in, always give it one-hundred percent. It’s too bad that he wasn’t in the film more, and wasn’t given an opportunity to flex his acting chops more.

Being a first-time director of an action-thriller, Eli Roth handles the material well, and gives ample screen time for the characters to develop and story to unfold, before kicking the film into high gear with well-crafted suspense, action, and shootouts set pieces. He also gives us a very nasty torture scene that will have you squirming in your seat. If Roth continues with action/thrillers, he has a big career in the genre as he showed skill crafting the film.

With Death Wish, Willis and Roth are not looking to make anything more than a satisfying revenge movie, like those of the 70s or 80s. And let’s face it, if you’re going out to see Death Wish 2018, you’re going to see Bruce Willis dish out some justice on those who wronged him. The film sides with Kersey in the end, and that his actions were justified, as did the original Death Wish. But that is the point to the Kersey character arc and Death Wish itself; he begins to feel what he’s doing is justified, even if it’s wrong in the viewers eyes. Kersey is not a hero; he’s the anti-hero and you’re not supposed to like what he does during the film, nor are you supposed to want to be him.

8 out of 10 Stars.

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Insidious: The Last Key – A Mysteriously, Scary Old-Fashioned Ghost Stroy

By

Westley Smith

Insidious: The Last Key is the fourth chapter in the franchise and the second prequel before the events of the first film. After Insidious: Chapter 3 (the first prequel), we were left wondering where Leigh Whannell was going to take Elise (Lin Shaye), Specs (Leigh Whannell), and Tucker (Angus Sampson) as they were last seen walking off together to form their little ghost hunting group; it was never made clear how close we were to the events of the first film.

Now normally I would say that prequels can be a bad idea. Most of the time no one really wants to know the backstory of our heroes or villains because it takes away the mystery of these characters and over explains events that were better spoken and not shown.

Not only do prequels tend to explain backstory of characters and villains we don’t really want, but prequels have a bad habit of creating plot holes in the timeline that does not match up with the events of the first film, leaving the audience scratching their heads trying to figure it out like a jigsaw puzzle and how it all fits together.

Insidious: The Last Key does not fall into this trap. Writer Leigh Whannell gives us a well thought-out prequel and an equally impressive haunted house film that works as a great mystery too.

The first three Insidious films follow a similar pattern: a family is in trouble, a house is haunted by spirits and demons, and Elise (or another paranormal investigator) is called in to solve the haunting. This time Whannell flips everything on its head, and instead of Elise investigating someone else’s haunting, she’s really investigating her own and its connection to her past.

With this change in the formula, it allows Whannell to dive further (no pun intended) into Elise’s backstory, while at the same time giving the character such depth and emotional weight that one can’t help but empathize at her tragic upbringing at the hands of an abusive father (Josh Stewart) who doesn’t want young Elise to develop her ‘gift’ because he is afraid of it – or so the film would have you believe.

This was a prequel done right. Not only did it tell a new story, it shed light into a characters past that we did not know about, while at the same time, expanding the Insidious universe.

Director Adam Robitel takes over as director on this film from Whannell (who helmed Insidious Part 3) and James Wan (who helmed Insidious 1 & 2). If you do not know Adam Robitel’s work, I highly suggest seeking out The Taking of Debra Logan. Robitel does a wonderful job of creating tight, atmospheric tension without relying on jump scares to shock the audience. Instead, he allows the tension of the story to build, the mystery to unfold, slowly drawing us in to this world. The few jump scares that are in the movie (and there are not a lot) are very well timed and effective, aided by the build up to them.

What makes Insidious: The Last Key stand out from the rest of the sequels is the mystery element of the film, and a pretty clever twist that one will not see coming. Yet with the added mystery to the movie it may turn some viewers off because it does not put the focus onto the ghosts and demons right away, or even on The Further. To say the movie drags as the mystery unfolds would be unfair; to say it slows down as things are discovered would be a better assessment to the film. That is what makes Insidious: The Last Key a lot of fun to watch. You find yourself so absorbed in the mystery, that you forget, at times, that you are watching a haunted house movie, so when the scares do happen they are jolting.

All good ghost stories are not about the haunting itself. The story is always more interesting when you know the lore around the ghost story, the mystery of what happened to that person that caused them to haunt a building, an abandon asylum or hospital, or a battlefield like Gettysburg. Sometimes the human story is more frightening or emotional than their ghost story, and this is what Insidious: The Last Key does perfectly by adding in the mystery surrounding Elise’s past.


Lin Shaye as Elise is fantastic and her portrayal of the character as a broken woman, is as emotional as it is sympathetic. Shaye brings so much depth to the character with just her eyes, so much heart with her warm voice that it is not hard to feel both safe and empathetic for that character. Elise has had a lot of real-life demons: she lost the love of her life, she struggles with a “gift” she does not want, and grew up with an abusive father. But at the same time she is not a woe-is-me character. Elise faces her inner demons and meets her challenges head on, even when they terrify her.  Shays’ character, in this day and age where women are playing stronger resilient female roles, should be examined as one of the strong architype women characters. Not all strong female characters have to lift buildings or blow stuff up. Some are strong in other ways and that’s what makes Elise (and Shaye) feel so human and relatable.

Specs and Tucker (Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson) provide the comic relief, just as they have in the previous films. Their presence in the films is welcoming and their friendly banter and comradery really shines, giving all the films some levity. Their jokes have always been well timed and on point – again showing strength to Whannell as not only a good horror/mystery writer, but a good comedian writer as well.

If there is one thing to dislike about the film it was that a key plot point was not addressed fully and could have been handled better in the end. Needless to stay even with this very small gripe, Insidious: The Last Key is a welcome addition to the franchise. And if you are a fan of the series, go and check this one out in a dark theater with some popcorn and friends – you’ll have a blast!

9 out of 10 Stars.

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It: Movie Review

By
Westley Smith

The new adaptation to Stephen King’s IT wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I knew things were going to be changed and updated for today’s standards, but I can honestly say that I was hoping for a little more and walked away not as impressed as everyone else seems to be with the film.

Understand that this is just my opinion on the film. If you have a different opinion and loved every moment of IT, that’s great! I, on the other hand, did not.

Though the film looks good, is shot well, and competently directed by Andres Muschietti (Mama) I think where the film falls apart is the script and lack of character development.

What I love about King’s IT novel is that each character is built so well that they don’t even seem like characters on the page. The amount of detail that King puts into all his characters is nothing but astounding (he may be considered the master of horror, but he excels with character development; something he’s overlooked for).

In the IT movie a lot of that rich character development has been dropped to keep the movie moving. What we are left with was nothing more than a surface level characterization of better characters. Even the bullies in the IT novel were giving life and backstory, here they are nothing more than movie bullies that we’ve seen hundreds of times before.
What’s pushed on us instead of character development is the kids FEARS and how Pennywise can manipulate them and use it against the kids to fear him: taking the form of a leper, or a scary painting, or Bill’s dead brother George.

That brings me to why Pennywise scares children. In the book he has a reason for scaring them before he kills them, in the movie it’s never explained; he just does it.

I felt a lot of times the movie fell back onto too many modern day horror movie cliché like spitting up, stopping when your name is called (which happened more than once and it annoyed me), and stupid jump scares that really were not all that effective with exception to one.

I will give credit where credit is due though. The young cast of actors were great in their roles and they all played well off each other, giving their lack of substance in character development to work with. I was delighted to see them shine none-the-less.

Bill Skarsgård was decent as Pennywise (much different from Tim Curry portrayal of the character). He was subdued and scary (at times) and was kept more in the background rather than the focal point of the movie; there were other monsters that Pennywise took the form of so you didn’t see him in the clown form all that much.

Really I could nit-pick this movie apart on things that I did not like, from use of characters, to changes in places, settings, character arches, but it would just become a bore for you to read and not fun for anyone.

So instead of saying anything else on the film, I’m going to stop right here and leave it at that.

4 out of 10 Stars.

Annabelle: Creation: Movie Review

By
Westley Smith

A few months ago The Crimson Screen reviewed the trailer to Annabelle: Creation and were not overly impressed with what we saw, not to mention confused on how this film related to the 2014 film Annabelle and The Conjuring. As noted in that article: it’s a real head scratcher.

To say that Annabelle had overstayed her welcome may have been a fair assessment. The first film, directed by John R. Leonetti (Wish Upon) wasn’t horrible, and it did have a few moments that were scary: The scene where Annabelle sits up and the demon is behind her, holding her, and the basement scene were both particularly well done. But there was WAAAAY too much padding in between the scares, with an overly predictable plot and stiff characters, and the way Annabelle (the doll) became cursed by a demon seem…well…odd – a drop of blood falls onto the doll and it’s suddenly cursed by a demon.

Okay…? It made no sense?

I know that Annabelle is pretty disliked around the horror community and people have voiced their opinion on the film openly on social media, being far less kind than I was above about the film. I think the point to Annabelle: Creation was a way of righting the wrongs made on the first Annabelle film without rebooting, resetting – whatever you want to call it – the Annabelle storyline.
So do they succeed?

YES!

The story follows a doll maker, (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife (Miranda Otto), after losing their daughter in a horrific car accident. Twelve years after their daughter’s death, they welcome in a nun (Stephanie Sigman) and several children into their lavish, but out in the middle of nowhere, home. But what seems to be the ideal place for these kids, soon turns into a nightmare when Annabelle is unlocked.

The film was directed by David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) and produced by James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring). This time, Annabelle was handle right. The thing is: Annabelle – the doll – isn’t really that scary. She, unlike say Chucky from Child’s Play, doesn’t do anything; it’s what’s lurking inside of her that is scary, the demon, so everything around the doll needs to be scary, more-so than the doll itself.

That’s how this film is built. The tension is so tight with a slow burn story that by the end you are riveted to the screen, unable to take your eyes off what is happening.

There were several times in the film where I found myself gripping the seat in terror – there is a really effective jump scare that is nothing (and I mean that, nothing) but the way the tension is built around the scene I damn near came out of my skin. Seriously I did. And this is how Annabelle: Creation is, you find yourself jumping at just about everything, including small noises and creeks because the tension is so thick you can cut it with a knife at times. There were several times I heard people gasping at just noises.

The cinematography is fantastic in the film and Sandberg really knows how to use the camera to provoke fear with very effective use of low lighting, shadows and spots of pitch blackness where the demon lurks; it leaves so much to your imagination about what’s in the darkness that you can’t help but become frightened. There were times in the film where people started laughing, not because the scene was funny, but because they were so scared they had to release their fear, laughing was the only way. It was great!

I also really enjoyed the religious symbolism throughout the film. If you keep your eyes open you’ll see there are a lot of crucifixes in the movie, both upright and upside down, and that at times, sunlight casts crosses on the walls. This little added detail really helped the mood of the film and the battle of good vs evil.

All the actors in the film do a wonderful job, especially the two young leads (Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson) who have to endure most of the demons torment. The always wonderful Anthony LaPaglia was convincing in his roll of heartbroken father and caretaker of Miranda Otto’s creepy, but mysterious, Ester Mullins who’s locked herself away in her bedroom for unknown reasons.

Also keep an eye out for some Easter Eggs in the film that are going to be expanded upon further as this Conjuring Universe begins to build. There is one scene in the film (that is an Easter Egg) but done so masterfully, and extremely creepy, that it sends chills running right up your back. Oh, and stick around after the credits, there is a post credit scene…

Like I said above, Annabelle: Creation is a slow burn movie, and has the feel of a much older haunted house movie, like The Changeling, and it doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares with a loud noise to scare you; in fact there are very few traditional jump scares in the film, rather relying on tone, mood, setting, really well done sound design (maybe the best I’ve ever heard) and one really scary demon to frighten the bejesus out of you. Annabelle: Creation takes its times to get to the scares, letting the plot, characters, and mystery unfold slowly while the tension builds and builds into the final climax of the film when all hell breaks loose.

And the way they tied Annabelle: Creation to Annabelle was brilliant, and may just save that film from being looked at as unfavorably as it was when first viewed. I know I now look at the first Annabelle differently after seeing Annabelle: Creation and I think others will too.

10 out of 10 Stars

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The Dark Tower: Movie Review

By
Westley Smith

The process of adapting Stephen King’s magnum opus in to a film has been a long, drawn out process, going though countless directors, writers (re-writes) stars (at one point Russell Crow was attached to star as Roland) studios, and even a planned TV series crossover that would tie in to a three film trilogy – which may or may not be moving forward at this time.

The problem is that King’s Dark Tower books are not easily adapted for the screen – maybe more so than any of his other works. There are a total of eight books coming in at 4,250 pages. Trying to adapt all of that material would be insane (by any filmmaker) and not to mention tiring for your average movie goer or TV watcher.

The decision was made (and King liked the idea as well) to make the movie adaptation for The Dark Tower as a sequel to the book series, while Roland is on the second journey of his quest – so in an essence, The Dark Tower film is its own thing, and only using the source material loosely. This also allowed the book adaptation to be opened to a wider movie going audience unfamiliar with the source material.

To some of the hardcore Dark Tower fans out there, this is a major letdown (or a slap in the face for sticking with 4,250 pages of reading) to just take the easy way out and make the movie its own thing.

I disagree.

As I stated above, adapting Stephen King is not easy – even some of his smaller works have been adapted into movies and they still are not as good as the books/stories. King is a very prolific writer. His books, though dealing with horror, monsters, and inner demons of characters are very literary tails. His style of story-telling is more akin to older story-tellers than for modern audiences and even movie adaptations. You have to invest your time, energy, and patients with a King novel as he takes you on a journey through the story.

Trying to flesh out The Dark Tower series into one movie (or even several) would be impossible to do. There is just too much to cover over the eight book series, a lot (even if they made all eight into movies) would have to be cut from the movie to save time.

The decision to make The Dark Tower movie a sequel instead was more of the way to go with this adaptation. And I think once you look at The Dark Tower movie that way, it helps elevate any preconception you may have of the film - remember in the books, Roland does create a time paradox that changes events.

The movie adaptation of The Dark Tower, follows Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) as he begins to have nightmares of The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) and Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) and of The Dark Tower. He realizes that he’s being followed by The Man in Black’s goons – creatures that hide under human skin to disguise their true identity – because of his gift called ‘the shine’. Walter, also known as The Man in Black is collecting other kids with ‘the shine’ in hopes to bring down The Dark Tower, which holds the universe together, with the help of their gift.

The Dark Tower movie is not bad (as some would have you believe); it’s engaging enough that you can follow the story, the characters, and what’s going on and not become board or tied down with tedious amounts of detail that fill the novels – again this was made with the mindset of getting it to a wider audience and not just hardcore fans of the series. Here, the story is told pretty straight forward – a good vs evil tale.

The problem is that there just isn’t enough story to make one feel that what is happening on screen is really that big of a deal to the universe. The Man in Black’s goal ultimately is to bring down The Dark Tower, but you never learn why he wants to destroy it, and he never really feels that threatening to Roland because, unlike everyone else in the movie, he cannot control Roland – so the threat to Roland isn’t there and you know he’s going to win in the end.

The other thing is that we never get an idea of how big Mid-World is; we get snippets of dialog or images that suggest what it was, or is, but never a fully fleshed out realization of the world. The idea of jumping between worlds is never expanded upon – it’s just there as a plot device - nor are we ever given a clear explanation of what the creatures (The Man in Black’s goons) who are chasing after Jake and Roland are; there are a lot of plot holes. The scope of the film feels smaller than it should for this type of movie, unlike say Lord of The Rings. It all needed to be bigger, grander, the threat needed to be more sinister and not so easily stopped in the end. It’s a self-contained story that is wrapped up neatly at the end.

For fans of the books series there are plenty of hidden images pointing to The Crimson King and other Dark Tower lore, but again, it is never spoken of or mentioned in the movie and leaves you wondering what the The Crimson King is. I guess this is going to be addressed in future movies, if there are any.

There were a lot of Stephen King Easter eggs hidden in the movie though, and some of them are hard to spot, some are not. It’s fun to see that The Dark Tower was trying to say that all of King’s works (or at least a lot of them) are connected to this universe.

Both Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey are excellent in their rolls. Idris Elba, in my opinion, captured the spirit of Roland perfectly and pulled off The Gunslinger without any flaws – he understood his dry wit, his callous, and that he had only one thing in mind: killing The Man in Black. And you could not have cast a better Man In Black when they cast Matthew McConaughey as Walter – I would love to see him play Randle Flagg in The Stand (yes, I know they are the same character). Though the threat to Roland is lacking, to the rest of the characters surrounding The Man in Black, McConaughey chews up the scenes in a devilish good way, and really sells himself as the ultimate bad guy who, at times, can climb under your skin.

For the general audience, who know nothing about The Dark Tower series (nor has any interest in reading the books) I’m sure they will enjoy this movie for what it is – a fun action/fantasy movie with a decent story, characters, and is well acted and aptly directed from a script that is lacking understanding of the source material.

For hardcore Dark Tower fans, they are going to hate this water-down version and would just rather go back and re-read all 4,250 pages of the books than put themselves through watching this movie again.

6 out of 10 Stars

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