Abigail (2024)

APRIL 19, 2024



I've often wondered if anyone ever got the opportunity to watch From Dusk Til Dawn without knowing it was a vampire movie. For the first 45 minutes or whatever it was, there's nothing in the film to indicate anything supernatural would be happening; it's just a straight ahead hostage thriller with some humor, with the vampire stuff being sprung as a total surprise. But naturally, the marketing focused on that, so there was no way for us 90s kids to go in blind. But perhaps there's a better chance for it happening with Radio Silence's Abigail, which similarly doesn't tell you you're watching a vampire movie until about the halfway point and may frustrate some viewers who were sold on that very premise.

Luckily for me, I enjoyed my pre-vampire time quite a bit, as the film was loaded with actors I enjoy watching (Dan Stevens, Kathryn Newton, Giancarlo Esposito, and - my man! - Kevin Durand) and their Reservoir Dogs-esque dynamic, where they've been assembled for a job under strict rule not to reveal anything personal about themselves and have been given code names (Joey, Dean, Frank, Sammy... either you'll get the theme or you'll need further explanation than I have space for here if I were to spell it out) to address one another. Joey is Melissa Barrera from the last two Scream movies, continuing her partnership with the Radio Silence team, and she's never been better, I must say. She's the requisite "criminal with a heart," as she has a young son that is currently with his father after she lost him due to a drug addiction she picked up during her time as a combat medic, using the money from their job to hopefully start a new life with him. Hard not to root for that!

Of course, if you're watching unaware then you can't root for her either, as the job is "kidnapping a little girl and holding her for ransom in a scary house." It's an odd disconnect; I never once really felt bad for the girl even when they have to knock her out to finish the kidnapping process, because I knew she was a little demon that could have killed them all right then and there if she wanted, but again, if some hypothetical person goes into this movie completely unaware, they'll probably have a tough time feeling for Joey even with her sob story. And the rest don't even have anything noble to even it out; an ex-cop, a mafia enforcer, a rich girl hacker... get em, Abby!

Even beyond that, the marketing and casting also kind of tips us off that despite the RD-esque setup that this won't be a movie about the team's paranoia turning them against each other. We know from the trailer that this house they all go to is actually HER house, and that their boss (Esposito) picked it specifically. And since Esposito exits after his first scene, we know they didn't cast him for that one rather thankless part, so basically while you're waiting for Abigail to show her true nature, you're also kind of waiting for the "reveal" that they were all set up by Esposito from the beginning. Amusingly, when Abigail explains why they were chosen, it comes off as a giant homage to another '90s crime classic - which Esposito was also in! So I can't help but wonder if Radio Silence intentionally cast him as tribute, only for the marketing to kind of gum up what also plays as a surprise reveal.

But like I said, it's fun to watch the group hang out, take shots at each other, attempt to bond (the late Angus Cloud, as the wheelman, gets plenty of laughs from his very terrible attempts to woo Newton's character), etc. And even though there are no specific "she's a vampire!" kind of things until she bares her fangs, there are some in-jokes that tell us what we're watching: she's introduced during her ballet routine set to "Swan Lake", and when Dan Stevens forgets to put on his mask when entering her room, he quickly tries to hide it by pulling his jacket over it, in a manner exactly like the not-Bela Lugosi guy in Plan 9. So there's plenty of amusement to be had, and while there might be a genre switcheroo (from thriller to vampire), it's *fun* from start to finish, which keeps it from a tonal inbalance. I feel an audience can go with anything a lot easier as long as the tone remains consistent, so it's only the severely impatient that should really have an issue.

Plus, it's not like they don't make it worth the wait. While the Screams made a lot more money we shouldn't forget that this is also the team that gave us Ready or Not, and whether they wanted to pay tribute to their first big success or just absolutely love doing it, there are once again very bloody body explosions in this movie, allowing nearly character to be drenched in blood at some point before they either die later or walk off into the sunrise. The compact cast (the six kidnappers, Esposito, and Abigail herself are the only people on-screen for 95% of the runtime) means the body count is obviously not going to be very high, but Abigail's pint-sized attacks means she doesn't always land a kill shot as quickly, so, yeah. Blood. Lots of it.

I also liked their take on vampires, where rather than just get the standard fangs she gets a row of sharp teeth over her normal ones, giving it a more monstrous flair than the typical bloodsucker. Her skills also involve flying, contortion, and (I think?) shape-shifting (there's a scene with a rat that suggests she turned into a cat? Unless I was just processing it wrong), but they never forget the fact that she's a ballerina either. So instead of just running she often twirls and Grand Jetes* her way towards her victims, a sight that never stopped being funny to me. And (spoiler that the trailer only offers a quick glimpse of) she does turn someone at some point, giving that actor even more fun stuff to do while also showing off a "puppet" skill where dance comes into play again, and the whole thing is set to Danzig's "Blood and Tears" for good measure. It's a truly awesome sequence.

It's also consistently funny, with very few duds in the attempts. Stevens' delivery of "F***in onions" (another character thinks they're a protective garlic) had me laughing for quite a while, and the reveal of his character's actual name is a funny little easter egg that pays homage to another filmmaking team he's worked with. And Kevin Durand is an absolute scene-stealer as a big lug who is a little slow to understand things but seems like perhaps the only genuinely decent person in the group except for Joey (his size and slow intellect kind of led him down the "bruiser" path more than any inherent malice), making him even more endearing than she is at times. His very late understanding of why they got the code names they got had me reeling. He's the main villain in the new Planet of the Apes movie too, so despite the mocap stuff obscuring his face I hope it catapults his star power a little; dude's been killing it for like 20 years now and deserves his due. If you can manage to entertain an audience during the insufferable Wolverine Origins, you deserve the world, far as I'm concerned.

OK ONE LAST SPOILER, I promise. Skip this next paragraph and the little one after it if you've been successfully hidden from some dumb social media bickering about the film's former connection to a certain vampire film of yore.

This movie was announced as a reimagining of Dracula's Daughter, and that information remains as current on the film's Wiki page, leading some lazy critics to accept it as fact. But she most certainly is NOT Dracula's daughter in the movie, because her dad shows up and I'm pretty sure they'd say his name if that's who he was (it's Grazer or something like that). However, those who have followed this movie from the time it was announced know that it only got its name very recently, and for a while was just referred to as "Untitled Radio Silence Universal Monster Movie." The fact that it took so long to say what it was actually called suggests to me that maybe the Dracula element was removed fairly late in the process, and that until then it was going to go out with that title OR they would call it whatever (including Abigail) and reveal her dad was Dracula when he showed up. Further, one could assume that since this is another comedic vampire movie from Universal, that said Drac would be played by Nic Cage, reprising his role from Renfield. But that film's total (undeserved!) failure probably would have put a stake into those plans even if that was indeed the case. Still, when her dad appears, it's an actor you might recognize, but he's hardly a big name worthy of a surprise appearance (though if you want to maybe grasp at straws, it IS kind of a funny bit of casting if you think about the title of this film that he starred in, but that's all I got). Nothing against him, he's not someone that the audience is going to be blown away by their sudden appearance, like Statham showing up at the end of Fast and Furious 6, or Sam Jackson in Iron Man, though the reveal plays like such moments.

(Ironically I had my money on someone even less exciting to a general audience: Henry Czerny, who appeared in Scream 6 and Ready or Not and even makes a random appearance in the film with his photo on one of the walls the characters slowly walk past. I would have cheered, anyway. Love that dude. But they shot the movie in Ireland, so maybe he was still in Prague.)

Besides that, my only issue is that the climax dragged, though that's been an issue with their other movies too so I can't say I was surprised. It's one of those things where things could have been wrapped up in the next five minutes, but instead they introduce another element that keeps it going. And then another element on top of that, so that what looked like the climactic scene ends up being almost an act onto itself. It also meant making one character I kind of liked as an anti-hero into a full on villain, so that was a bummer. It's mostly made up for by the final line from _______ to ______ before they explode (if you've seen it, the one involving "the cool s**t"), but it still could have been tightened. I know most people will complain it takes too long to get to the vampire stuff; I was mostly fine with that (if somewhat surprised at the delay) but weird ol' me started checking their watch during a bloody, stunt-filled battle. Just one turn too many for me.

Otherwise: total winner. I was sad but not particularly stunned to see that the box office wasn't all that great (better than Renfield at least), though I took solace with the decent Cinemascore (B, above average for horror) so maybe word of mouth will help out and it'll be a minor hit. But audiences just never tend to flock to see these kind of movies even in better theatrical times (even From Dusk Till Dawn, with a red-hot Clooney from ER and Tarantino's first script since Pulp Fiction, didn't perform all that well), and like Disney+, Universal has done itself no favors for its theatrical output (outside of major blockbusters) by training audiences to expect that they'll be on Peacock in a few weeks. You'll enjoy it just as much at home, I'm sure, but man. It'd be nice to see something like this get the "surprise smash" label, if only to ensure we get a few more before every decently budgeted (so, not Blumhouse, which keeps spending to a minimum) original horror goes extinct or streaming only. A friend of mine, who has been involved in some very gigantic movies (meaning: his stuff doesn't go streaming), believes that in 20-30 years, theatrical releases won't exist at all. *Theaters* will, but purely as a repertory or specialty thing, while the studios gradually lose interest just as audiences seemingly do, and put their slates on streaming (or whatever the next thing is) for mass audiences. People kept saying "superhero fatigue" led to the failure of the last couple Marvel movies, but if audiences want new things, they're not showing up for those either. I've stopped doing the bullying "YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS!" kind of thing that I used to, so see it or not, your call. But just know, the writing on the wall is getting easier to read by the day, and expecting to be able to go to the multiplex and seeing films like this alongside the "IP" stuff forever is perhaps misguided optimism.

What say you?

*I had to look it up, I assure you.


Death Carries A Cane (1973)

APRIL 17, 2024


I picked up Forgotten Gialli Vol 6 at this year's Overlook, as Vinegar Syndrome had a table set up outside the box office all weekend and I wanted a "souvenir" from my trip (it might stun you to learn I'm not much of a knick-knack collector). But I was also delighted by this particular volume because it was only the 2nd time that it included a film I had actually seen before: The Bloodstained Shadow. I don't remember much about the film beyond the title, but according to my review it sounds like a pretty good "level 1" giallo: nothing special, but easy enough to follow and featuring enough of the genre's hallmarks to let a newcomer know if they should keep seeking other titles. Amusingly, I can say the same thing about Death Carries A Cane, so now I'm curious if the third movie on the set (Naked You Die) is the same way.

In fact the most disappointing part of the movie is the title. While Death Carries A Cane is certainly in line with any number of other entries produced at the time, the Italian title (Passi di danza su una lama di rasoio) translates to "Dance Steps on a Razor Blade", which is way more awesome. Why would they give it this comparatively bland one? Didn't they know that fifty years later we'd have easy access to online translators that could tell us what the on-screen Italian title actually meant in English? Fools.

At least it actually refers to something in the movie, for the killer does indeed carry a cane for his limp. I don't know if it's intentional, especially with the different language, but I applauded this plot point at the end when the motive is explained, because the killer also faked being impotent, which is (at least here/now) referred to as having a limp d**k. So he has two fake limps! I dunno, it amused me anyway.

Anyway, the plot is fairly basic: someone witnesses a murder and the cops are suspicious of their story, but eventually they partner up to find the real killer. The initial murder is one for the ages, because our heroine (the stunning Nieves Navarro, who has appeared in a few other gialli) accidentally sees it while looking through a coin operated telescope in the park, and the time runs out at a crucial moment. So she scrambles to get another coin in, by which time the killer has escaped but she can see that he clearly tumbled with a street vendor as he ran. She also can see the house number but not the street name, and I guess we just have to assume that she's unable to track a straight line from the telescope to wherever it's pointing to, because they can't even find a body at first. How powerful was this telescope and why were they wasting it on tourists?

Sure enough, the street vendor also ends up dead, as does someone else who witnessed the killer's panicked run from the murder scene, so he's covering his tracks and thus that puts Navarro in danger. It's a pretty good setup, I think; the "we can't find the street" thing doesn't entirely make sense but the frenzy of the scene sort of covers it up. And the murder scenes are well done and fairly suspenseful, checking the boxes at an even clip (the J&B bottle appears just past the half hour mark, for the record) while also adding in more skin/sex than average. Not in a sleazy way like Strip Nude For Your Killer (unwanted a**l sex is not played for laughs here!), though Navarro's boyfriend tells her to either get back in bed or he will slap her around, which is a weird choice.

(She chooses the former, thankfully. And he's quite gentle with her!)

It's also got enough of the weird little things that seemingly only happen in these movies and never stop amusing me, like the cop is always sharpening pencils. There's also a part where a guy has some info for the reporter, but forgets a detail and asks to use her phone to call his girlfriend who'd remember. He gets what he needs, but then keeps talking to her about what to make for dinner. It's so charming! I also had to laugh that their big plan to trap the killer involved having Navarro dress as a hooker and sport the bag the killer knows a witness had, but when a car pulls up and the driver has a cane, it turns out to just be the police captain who was, you know, just looking for a hooker. Whoopsie!

The ending is kind of a letdown though, as it's one of those ones where the culprit is shot down before they're even unmasked, and then someone else just explains everything real quick. The historians actually talk about this as a sort of "feature, not a bug" of the genre, and while they're probably right (they're the historians, I'm the guy listening at home while eating Little Debbies), I feel that the best ones don't do that and thus it shouldn't be something to shrug off as an unwritten rule. At least it involves the line "He pretended to have become impotent to protect me from his mental illness, which would have forced him to kill me," so there's something. The rest of the track is the usual bios and such, though there is one really weird part where one historian (who is recorded separately from the other two) is talking and then suddenly they edit in the other two over him, so for twenty seconds you're listening to DUAL AUDIO COMMENTARIES! Very Spielbergian. The only other extra is an interview with the editor, and it's in Italian and he covers his whole career so I can't say it held my interest. Looks like he has a nice house though, good to know editors make bank over there.

What say you?


The First Omen (2024)

APRIL 10, 2024


In general, prequels rarely interest me. This goes double for horror, as the very nature of a prequel means filling in backstory, something few horror films/franchises benefit from. Even if I more or less like the movie, like TCM: The Beginning, the "prequelness" tends to drag the experience down (in that particular case: did I really need to know how Monty lost his legs?). So it's rather surprising that The First Omen works as well as it does, because not only is it telling the story of how Damien came to be conceived and thus keeping the series' marquee character out of it entirely, but it also kind of messes with established canon on top of it, which means it kind of fails at the one thing a prequel is supposed to do.

It's also surprising that it works considering it's essentially the same movie as Immaculate, and unlike other twin movies over the years (Volcano and Dante's Peak, Armageddon and Deep Impact, etc) I don't think it's just coincidence. As anyone who has listened to Immaculate's production history can attest, the script for the film has been around for years (Sidney Sweeney auditioned for an earlier incarnation that never got before cameras; when her star rose she remembered it and used her newfound clout to get it made) and thus very easily could have passed through the offices of the producers who made this movie. Not only does it have a generally similar plot (a very young American nun goes to a creepy religious group home in Italy and is impregnated with something unnatural), but a few scenes in this film are almost identical to ones we just saw in Immaculate (a nun's suicide in the courtyard of the building where the movie takes place, the heroine's roommate teasing her for being so conservative, etc.). It's enough to warrant looking into!

It also feels somewhat retrofitted into an Omen movie. The opening scene has a classic gory death like the older films offered, but this scene was added later after test screenings. And it also doesn't quite match up to what we learned of Damien's creation in the original movie, as if they skimmed a Wiki entry and fudged the details (I considered at first that they were actually just doing a reimagining from the ground up, but a picture of Gregory Peck as Damien's dad-in-waiting suggests it's meant to tie directly into Richard Donner's version of events). To be fair, I don't have any great affinity for the franchise; I don't think I've seen any of them except the original more than once, and even my rewatch of the OG was just to refresh for the one time I watched part 2. So I'm not gonna get all huffy about this or that change, just noting that it's kind of weird (and mildly suspicious) that it's so similar to an unrelated film already and then they bungle the things that could have set it further apart.

All that aside, it's another solid entry in the growing subgenre of body horror involving pregnancy, which smarter writers than me have already pointed out is probably the direct result of a government that seems so hellbent on rolling back certain medical rights of pregnant women. Our heroine Sr. Margaret (Nell Tiger Free, far more appealing and sympathetic than the actual Sr. Margaret I had in Catholic School, who was one of the absolute worst) comes to this Italian orphanage from America and almost instantly finds a kindred soul in Carlita, a young girl who is often isolated from the others there due to her sometimes disturbing behavior. As she digs deeper into Carlita's background, she also meets Father Brennan (Ralph Ineson in a rare non-villain role), the priest played by Patrick Troughton in the original movie. He suggests Carlita's behavior may be due to how she was born, and also that she may be targeted as the mother for the Antichrist.

More twists follow from there, so no sense getting into them (though if you think a major studio movie is going to let a 12 year old girl be the mother of a child, seek help and/or see more movies) except to say that the movie mostly works despite working toward a very obvious ending: the birth of Damien Thorn. The film's 1971 setting makes it very clear to those who remember the 1976 original that he will be born soon, though someone (my money is on producer David S. Goyer) felt we needed a moment where a character comes right out and says "They named the baby... Damien!" for audience members who hadn't made the connection yet, so maybe doing the "1971 plus five years" math IS indeed asking a lot of them.

But director Arkasha Stevenson (who also co-wrote) knows no one will wait until the end of the film for something scary to happen, so she gives us a few scares and deaths along the way; basically anyone trying to help Margaret discover the truth meets with a grisly end. One such death made me laugh out loud though, as the person is trapped by a crashed car at the waist and when someone tries to help them, they inadvertently rip the poor sod in half. And there's a little tribute to the "It's all for you" moment that adds a little fluorish (read: it's even more disturbing), so that was nice. Oh, there's also a Possession homage that comes at the tail end of Free performing an incredibly impressive/upsetting bit of physical acting, adding another highlight for those among us who know our horror of old.

Free is the highlight of what's already an impressive cast, including a trifecta of "Old UK guys who can make anything sound good" actors: Ineson, Charles Dance, and Bill Nighy. Dance is basically just a cameo (he's in that aforementioned tacked on opening), but Ineson and Nighy both get decently sized roles, offering some silly dialogue that still sounds good when it's coming out of their mouths (though the stupid "Damien" line is Ineson's, which puts that theory to its breaking point). It was also great to see Sonia Braga, as the head nun at the orphanage who may or may not be in on the Antichrist plans. Part of the fun of these movies, for me anyway, is that I believe anyone who wants to devote their life to the church must be unhinged and potentially evil, so when some kind of goofy villain plot is introduced, it's a joy to try to figure out which ones are part of it and which ones are just terrible in general.

Die hard aficionados of the franchise might be too annoyed by the minor changes to give the film a chance, and it's unfortunate that it's coming along so close after such a similar film (one that's a half hour shorter I might add!), but the tone here is pure horror, whereas Immaculate went for something a little more deranged/fun. I actually felt bad for laughing at that one part, as it was obviously not a film designed to get the crowd hooting and hollering (I just have a sick sense of humor!) and my outburst was not shared by anyone else in the room. But the point is, there's room for both right now, and we should consider ourselves lucky as genre fans to have two films in a not particularly common sub-genre in theaters at the same time. That they're both quite good and worth your time? That's some lottery level small odds.

What say you?


Overlook 2024 Wrapup!

APRIL 4-7, 2024


Back in the day, I used to mix things up with what festival I went to in a given calendar year, but at this point I barely even consider the others, zeroing in only on the Overlook Fest in New Orleans. While I would love to go to Frightfest UK again, and... well, I would enjoy the company at Fantastic Fest since a number of friends go (I don't particularly want to support the company anymore seeing as how they laid my ass off at the very beginning of Covid, not even a "furlough"), I just have too much fun gallavanting around New Orleans for four days to really debate going somewhere else instead. Summertime fests are a possibility, but when my kid is in school, it's just too much of a hassle for my wife to do the parenting gig solo for the better part of a week just so I can watch some horror movies.

Some GOOD horror movies, I should say, and ones I might not get a chance to see in theaters with appreciative crowds again. I just looked at the films I enjoyed the most at last year's festival, and some still haven't even come out (Trim Season, which is finally hitting limited theaters and VOD in June) and the others, like Clock, were streaming movies. And Renfield, alas, never had any packed screenings if its depressing box office was any indication. Apart from the 2022 lineup, which I assume was very slim pickings on account of Covid, they've always delivered a solid mix of titles at the fest, and specifically horror (or close cousins like thriller or dark comedy), whereas FF dips its toes into pretty much everything.

And as I've done for the past couple years, I bought my own pass instead of trying to attend as press, so that I could just enjoy myself and not worry about filing reviews right away, or jotting down notes as I watched to make sure I was covering all my bases. But I figured it'd be nice to say a few things about what I saw, if for nothing else but to provide you folks with a few titles worth keeping an eye out for (and for me to quickly consult what I saw as time passes and I forget).


The official opening night movie was Cuckoo, starring Dan Stevens, but it was at a theater further uptown that required transportation and also a bit of optimism, as badgeholders aren’t always guaranteed to get into every screening if everyone has the same idea. At the main theater, there’s always another option, but at this single screen location a potentially pricy Uber drive away, you might end up seeing nothing. So I stuck around the main theater and checked out this dark comedy instead, and I’m glad I did so as I don’t know if I’ll get another opportunity to watch it with a big appreciative audience. It’s an absolute crowd pleaser in the same vein as Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, in which a couple (Nick Kroll and Andrew Rannells) who are about to adopt a baby take a last “just us” kind of vacation to Italy. Unfortunately, the language barrier (Kroll is trying to learn the language via Duolingo) and some other standard mishaps result in them in a location that SEEMS like your standard Texas Chain Saw Massacre type house, and they act accordingly.

The truth is, of course, that the people there mean no harm, but their inability to properly communicate results in much comic bloodshed. Honestly it’s one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time; the chemistry between Kroll and Rannells is dynamite, and the smart script gets a lot of mileage from the idea that they think they’re being targeted for being gay when in reality the people they encounter are actually quite accepting of it (one Italian word sounds unfortunately close to a particular gay slur, which doesn’t help). And the gore gags are well done, so even though it’s not really a horror movie by any means, anyone who might have felt “duped” by seeing it at a genre festival should have been sated anyway. Keep an eye out for this gem.


This was produced by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (writer/director Michael Felker is their longtime editor) so it automatically got my attention. And the plot sounded intriguing; a brother and sister pair rob a bank and then hide out in an isolated farm that has a time traveling closet on its second floor, which will allow them to transport themselves to another period in time, hide for two weeks, and then return to their own time when the smoke has cleared (at no point does anyone explain how disappearing for two weeks after a robbery is the best way to escape attention, but I guess if time travel is real in this world then maybe applying real world logic isn’t a sound idea). Alas, when the two week period is up, they find themselves unable to return, and they are instructed by someone in the future (or past?) via tape recordings that someone is planning to disrupt the space time continuum and they need to wait there and kill them when they arrive.

It’s at this point that things start to go awry, as the vague time travel mechanics, plus the overseeing time travel… police? I guess? (Very TVA from Loki, which Benson and Moorhead steered through its 2nd season) start to ask more of the audience than the film is seemingly willing to offer in return, resulting in a frustrating back half. And it doesn’t help that the film’s closing sequence presents an idea that is fascinating and perhaps should have been a midway or even end of act 2 twist, so that the rest of the movie could have had fun exploring it a little. Instead we just get endless scenes of the brother and sister staring out at the surrounding area of their farm waiting for their unidentified attacker to finally show (their identity, when finally revealed, shouldn’t surprise anyone, though there’s next to no explanation of how they got involved in all of this). There are some fun moments with time travel logic, like when the sister (Riley Dandy) opens a cupboard to find it empty, slams it shut in frustration, and then opens it again to find it fully stocked (thanks to someone in the future sending it back into the past), but for every cute moment like that there are a handful of plot points that are woefully underdeveloped.


As always, I opted out of whatever movies were showing at the time to go offsite somewhere and participate in the annual horror trivia game that the fest (and Daily Dead) put together. Unlike our own horror trivia game here in LA, this one is always at a bar, so it’s nice to get progressively more and more tipsy as I search my brain for otherwise useless facts in order to win a Blu-ray. Sadly, while we did win a round (actually two, but to give everyone a chance to win stuff, you can only take prizes once), my hard-won copy of Smile (on 4K UHD no less) was later left behind in the theater. Oh well. I was really only playing for the glory of being, perhaps, part of the only team in the venue who knew the name of the actress who played Sr Margaret in Silent Night Deadly Night.


Finally, a legit horror movie! And a really good one! (Indeed, as I was writing, word just came in that it won the festival's audience award.) The story concerns a woman who is murdered at an isolated house that she’s in the process of restoring, seemingly by a former patient of her psychiatrist husband. A year later, her twin sister (who is blind and also a psychic) starts to wonder if the man being blamed is truly the murderer, and… well, that’s when things get into spoiler territory, so I’ll hush up.

I CAN say that the movie (which occasionally employs the use of non-chronological storytelling to let us know things when we need to know them) offers some terrific scares and suspense, including a jump scare that actually made ME utter a little frightened sound, which hasn’t happened in ages (usually at best I just jump a little). Those who enjoyed Talk To Me will be right at home here, as it has the same kind of tense moments and reliance on a strange haunted artifact, in this case a wooden mannequin that may be able to come to life. Also, without spoiling particulars, if you enjoy seeing terrible men get their just deserts, you’ll walk out fully satisfied. This was my favorite movie of the fest, and can’t wait for it to hit Shudder so more people can enjoy.


I’m always up for a deconstruction of my beloved slasher movies, but unfortunately In A Violent Nature’s “promising on paper” pitch - a Jason movie where you’re with Jason the entire time – doesn’t translate into a fully satisfying film. After being revived from the events of some previous adventure, we do indeed stick with the hulking Johnny (who also has mother issues and prowls the woods; unlike Leslie Vernon’s amalgamation of several slashers, Johnny is clearly just Jason) for the majority of the film’s runtime. But here's the thing: said runtime is 96 minutes, which is more than most actual Jason movies. And that’d be fine if there was more going on here, but I’d estimate a full 75% of the movie is just Johnny walking through the woods, with the camera pointed at his back. There are a handful of victims of course, and the edit gives us just enough to detect their basic archetypes and even a little bit of their customary drama (one guy is being a jerk to his girlfriend, another still pines for his ex who is now with another guy, etc), but let’s put it this way: if filmed traditionally this would be among the least interesting slasher movies we’ve seen in ages.

Personally, I think it'd be funnier/more interesting if the victim group was absolutely fascinating, and the movie denied us resolutions or context for their ongoing issues because Johnny himself wasn’t interested and opted to just wander away to find easier prey. That said the trailer is hardly misleading, as it (like the film) is mostly just shots of Johnny’s back, so it's not like they're hiding what the overall experience is like. And it does contain a nice surprise for Friday the 13th hardcore fans (a certain victim of yesteryear pops up as a Good Samaritan), so that was appreciated. I think it will go over well with the people who love the Terrifier movies, as those too are endlessly dull for a while before offering a ridiculous and well-executed kill scene (the yoga one here is an all timer, for sure). But if you. like me, aren’t just showing up to these things to see the kills, I don’t know how much entertainment value it’ll ultimately provide.


Over the years, Larry Fessenden has become one of the most reliable genre filmmakers, taking familiar tropes and monsters and putting his own “somber” (his word) spin on them. Here it’s the familiar werewolf tale; our hero Charley (Alex Hurt) has been cursed with lycanthropy and, sure enough, a new full moon is approaching. And when a friend of his is accused of a recent murder that he knows he committed while under its spell, he decides that he needs to put his affairs in order and capture his confession and subsequent transformation on camera, to clear his friend’s name and explain to his former girlfriend why he suddenly broke up with her. Honestly I may have liked the movie even more if it had a 25th Hour style setup and took place all in one day; a slow burn leading to his only transformation, or at least showing the other times as flashbacks. But I’m sure the distributor is happy to have something a little more commercially minded, and Fessenden’s couple decades of experience have allowed him to rope in a bunch of familiar faces for bit parts: Kevin Corrigan, Barbara Crampton, and Joe Swanberg all pop up for a scene or two.

But the real appeal is Alex Hurt, who was the son of the late William Hurt (who, via photographs, plays his father here) and is just as compelling to watch. There are only a few scenes in the movie he’s not in, and his performance allows the movie to pass the crucial test for a werewolf movie: you feel bad for him even though he’s technically a murderer. It’s honestly one of the best werewolf movies I’ve seen in ages, and the final scene suggests we haven’t seen the last of him just yet. Count me in.


I took another break from moviegoing to attend a taping of the Scream Dreams podcast, hosted by Catherine Corcoran, James Janisse, and Barbara Crampton (her again!). Janisse wasn’t there due to a convention appearance elsewhere, but that was OK as it allowed Crampton to take a bigger role than she usually does on the show, where she only pops in during its final 15 minutes. The guest was David Dastmalchian, who is always interesting to listen to, and we all got a tote bag for attending. In a city that charges for plastic bags at the grocery store, a new tote is always a plus. The episode should be available soon for their subscribers, keep an ear out!


Nic Cage fighting monsters is an easy sell for me, but this "A Quiet Place meets Darkness Falls" exercise doesn’t utilize his talents, making me wish they hired someone a bit cheaper and maybe put more money into another action scene or fleshing out the ones they had. Cage gets top billing but I can’t imagine anyone will be surprised when he is seriously injured at the halfway mark and barely appears after that – it’s just how it goes with these things nowadays. Instead we spend more time with his twin sons (not identical), who he has been caring for as a single dad since the monsters arrived 15ish years prior. And that’s fine, but… it’s just not particularly interesting or novel to see them go through the motions. It’s also too vague; it’s obvious that the monsters do not like the light and only freely roam at night, but it’s not like they melt or anything like vampires do in the sunlight, so they’re just… what? Wusses? It’s clear someone said “What if Quiet Place but light instead of sound?” and never really developed it further than that.

At least the monsters are cool. Like all modern movie monsters they move too fast/blurrily to really get a good look at them, but they DO offer – a few times! – shots of their mouth/teeth, which basically operate like out of control staplers? It sounds goofy but it’s actually quite effective in practice, and the sequence where they finally cut loose (against some out of nowhere evil humans, as if someone rushed on set at the 11th hour and reminded the rest of the crew that any movie like this that doesn’t have a “but man is the REAL monster” moment will be susceptible to fines) is pretty great. It’s fine, just not befitting Cage’s talents, especially at a time when he’s talking about retiring after a few more movies.


At this time I was very determined to be watching Azrael, a film I did the opening AND closing titles for (usually I only handle the latter) and was thus excited to see them on the big screen. But alas (for me, not the filmmakers) they had to turn folks away because it was such a hot ticket, and I was one of the ones who didn’t get in. If I hadn’t stopped for a coffee…

But luckily, the collection of shorts I saw instead was pretty great! These things can be hit or miss, as I’m sure everyone who has ever attended a “short block” can attest, but even the weakest one (out of eight) was still pretty good. I particularly enjoyed “Zit” from Amber Neukum, in which an office manager hoping to get a promotion is dismayed to discover a pimple on her forehead that proceeds to grow and bleed profusely as the day continues. However none of her coworkers can see it, so the comedic thrust is seeing her increasingly frazzled state as she tries to keep it together and not blow her promotion. Hannah Alline is absolutely perfect in the lead role, and kudos to her for pulling the whole thing off with that disgusting makeup effect on her at all times. I also enjoyed "MLM" from Brea Grant, which took the ongoing cult-like pyramid scheme nature of these things and took it to its extreme while also taking shots at online influencers (the full subject of another short titled, yes, "The Influencer" - also quite good!). And it had Barbara Crampton as the president of the company they work for! She was everywhere!


I was totally with this movie until its final ten minutes, at which point it… I actually don’t even know how to describe it, beyond noting it involves a time jump for the main character. But until then, it’s a lovely and haunting look at how our childhood nostalgia can inform much (too much, if I’m interpreting things correctly) of how we try to navigate young/regular adulthood. The two leads’ shared love of a TV show that seems to be equal parts Buffy and Twin Peaks is something anyone can probably connect to, and how such shared adolescent things can be a tether to that person as we grow up and apart, for better or worse.

Most people absolutely loved it; I would probably be in their company if it didn’t spend the last chunk of its runtime making me wonder if I had accidentally blacked out for a half hour and missed something. Not really horror per se, but the lead villain of the TV show is a damned freaky sight to behold. Great soundtrack too. I absolutely plan to watch it again, as maybe it will unlock some answers (often the case with something told out of order, and more so when you're watching on very little sleep), so I'll revise at the time. Either way it got me more interested in checking out We're All Going to the World's Fair, the previous film from writer/director Jane Schoenbrun.


My last film of the fest was also my only foreign language one (not counting one of the shorts and a few scattered lines of Italian in I Don’t Understand You). And if you’re arachnophobic, you’ll also probably consider it to be the scariest movie they showed there. Basically a spider-fied version of Attack the Block, our hero Kaleb sells stolen sneakers and is also a budding zoologist who collects reptiles and insects, so naturally he eagerly buys a spider off a dealer who warns him that it might be dangerous and brings it to his apartment home. Surprising no one, the spider gets loose and starts to breed, and at some point we learn that this particular type of spider can grow in size as a defense mechanism. And then those bigger spiders start laying eggs, and… well, you get the idea. Before long the building is… what’s the word, oh yeah, infested! by all sizes of spiders: tiny ones that can sneak through your vents and under doors, and bigger ones that you can’t just swat away. The police quarantine the building, but our heroes are determined to get out… not everyone makes it.

Again, if you harbor a deep fear for the creepy crawlies, this might be unbearable to watch, as they think of pretty much every single way a spider can ick you out and add in the (less likely) idea that it can also kill you. But it started to wear a bit thin for me after a while; the film runs 105 minutes and I really started to feel it after a certain point, particularly when the cops turn aggro out of nowhere. The final scene, which finally explains Kaleb’s movie-long opposition to making promises, brings things back and even got me a little touched, but I think if they found a way to speed things up in the front and stay a little more focused in the third act that this could be an all timer monster movie (like Attack the Block). But hey, pretty good and worth watching isn’t too shabby, either.

Overall it was a solid fest; as with last year I didn’t dislike anything I saw, and I saw a good mix of selections that were on my radar already (Infested, Arcadian) and films I knew absolutely nothing about (Oddity, I Don’t Understand You). I sadly didn’t get to do any of the immersive stuff this time around (they now require separate paid tickets for such things, and as I like to just follow my bliss and keep options open, I didn’t want to lock myself into anything), but trivia and the podcast taping kept the “more than just movies” vibe alive for me. Plus, let’s face it: the city is half the fun anyway. If they relocated the festival to, I dunno, Cleveland or Des Moines, I’m not sure I’d make it a point to go every year. But as long as they’re in a city that I can walk around with my beer and listen to buskers perform Dark Side of the Moon on a trumpet outside of a fresh beignet joint (and they keep it to spring, before the humidity there hits its awful stride), I’ll be there.

What say you?


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