Posts tagged with "Movie Reviews"

Hell Fest – A Crimson Screen Collectibles Film Review

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.

Death Wish 2018 (Review)


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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War for The Planet of The Apes: Movie Review

Westley Smith

War for the Planet of the Apes is the third movie in the modern Planet of the Apes films, which started with Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and continued with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014).

War  picks up shortly after the events of Dawn. The Apes, led by Cesar (Andy Sirkis) are being ruthlessly hunted down by soldiers in hope to eradicate them from existence and reclaim earth as the top species.

A large regiment of soldiers has located the apes near their home in the woods, thanks to Ape traders (who are called Donkey’s by the humans) that pledged loyalty to Koba in the last film; they have sided with the humans in hopes of staying alive. This particular group is being led by a mysterious man known only as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) who himself has a secret agenda – don’t worry, I will not spoil anything in this review. After a few of The Colonel’s men are captured, they are brought before Cesar. He spares their lives, showing mercy, in hopes that The Colonel will do the same and leave the apes in piece. But after The Colonel and a few of his men secretly enter the camp, inflicting a great amount loss to the apes, Cesar sets out on a quest to avenge his fallen brethren – a quest that will put him face-to-face with The Colonel and his morals.

Out of all three films, this is by far the darkest entry in the series. Cesar is pushed to his limit of what he will do to keep his kind safe from the humans. Unlike the last two films, were Cesar was more a pacifist, unwilling to fight unless he absolutely has too, Cesar goes on the war path to find the Colonel. Everything Cesar is, everything he has becoming in the last two films, has been stripped away from him this time; he is broken and hurting, in a dark place where delivering death to death is his only option – in a way, he has become just like Koba.

On his quest to kill The Colonel, Cesar is joined by Maurice, and two other apes that offer to help him. Along the way they discover a mysteriously mute child (Amial Miller) and another Ape, named Bad Ape (played loveably by Steve Zahn – That Thing You Do, Saving Silverman).

Over the last two films we got to see both sides: the human perspective and the ape perspective.

For the humans: Rise is filled with questions of should human kind being messing with nature, and when they do, look what happens. Dawn is how they deal with what they created, how do they go on, how they survive their own creation. And War is how they deal with it – when talking fails, you go to war.


For the Apes: Rise brings into question what it would be like for one ape to suddenly become smart (or smarter) than a human, to rise up against an aggressive species. Dawn is about betrayal and one ideal going up against another to fit the purpose of war and eradication of another species – that ape isn’t much different from man. War is how they deal with it – when talking fails, you go to war.

In the end, both species end in the same dark place.

But unlike Rise and Dawn, where we saw the good of man, and a bit of the bad, in War we get to see the darkest part of man. The Colonel (and his men) are deranged sociopaths, who will stop at nothing, including torturing, murdering, and enslaving the apes to get what they need out of them. It is in these scenes where the violence is really amped up, with apes being whipped, executed, and crucified when they step out of line.

There were times in the film where I forgot I was watching a sci-fi movie about smart apes that can talk, and thinking more about real life; how events in the history of mankind (our darkest hours as a species) played out just like some of the images on the screen. There is a heavy moral ambiguity to the film from both sides on who drew blood first – Cesar or The Colonel. And though there is no real ‘war’ in the film (there are two big battles scenes) the ‘war’ is really between ideals of who should be the supreme species – man or ape.

The performances in the movie are outstanding, especially Andy Sirkis, who could easily be nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Cesar. Yes, he is hidden under CGI, but at this point, that shouldn’t be an issue. He brings Cesar to life, much like he did Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. He does so much with just his eyes or a twitch of the face that he expels the soul within the ape to the audience that you feel everything Cesar is feeling.

Woody Harrelson as The Colonel was also very good – though there were times where I felt he was pulling a little bit of Brando’s performance as Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. He does an excellent job of making you both hate him and understand his reasoning for wanting to decimate Cesar and his ape clan.

Steve Zahn is also very good in the film as Bad Ape. Bad Ape is kind of a bumbling, stumbling, out of place ape that wants nothing to do with humans or the war between apes and humans; he just wants to live out his life in piece, alone. When I saw this character in the trailer, I feared he was going to be nothing but comedy relief for the film, and not in the good way – like Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars: Ep 1.  I couldn’t have been more wrong. Bad Ape was essential to the plot and would prove to be pivotal in the epic climax of the film. There were times when he was funny, and his character did help lighten the mood of the film when a laugh was needed, especially after some of the torture and brutality scenes inflicted by The Colonel or his men.

That brings me to the CGI in the film. This is some of the BEST CGI I have ever seen in my life. There are times when I was unsure if I was looking at a CGI ape or if they actually used a real ape – which most likely they did not. Yes, the CGI is that good, and this is coming from someone who LOVES practical effects.  Just look at the pic below and tell me that looks like a CGI ape…


Director Matt Reeves (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Cloverfield & and hopefully 2019’s The Batman) handles the script and characters with a tremendous amount of care and respect, allowing the film to unfold naturally instead of feeling forced just to get to the next big action sequence. And when the action scenes do come, they are shot very well and not over cut to the point where you cannot see what is going on.

I was really surprised how this film ended. And I can admit going in, I did not see the ending coming. I’m not sure you will either…

I will end with this: in the original Planet of the Apes movies there was a big plot hole in the series of films – why humans could no longer talk. If these new Ape movies do indeed exist in the same universe as their predecessors, they answer this question fully in War, closing the plot hole forever.

10 out of 10 Stars.