Archive for October, 2015

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There are good “found-footage” horror movies.

There are bad “found-footage” horror movies.

And then there are Asylum “found-footage” horror movies.

Usually setting their tales at or near the scenes of purportedly “real” paranormal “hot spots” or the stomping grounds of infamous serial killers (although all their flicks are shot in California), the no-budget, straight-to-video “moguls” who run The Asylum follow pretty much the same formula every time : hire an eager kid either right out of film school or looking to get in to direct it, give him or her an HD video camera, hire a bunch of uniformly good-looking guys and gals who are out  to pad their meager acting CVs, get the ladies to take their shirts (at least) off, mix in a bit of dodgy CGI effects work meant to be indicative of “ghostly”  activity ( I really wanted to say “paranormal activity” there, but the name’s taken), and then kill everybody off by the time the credits roll — assuming they even bother to include them. The end.

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Certainly 2013’s The Bell Witch Haunting is no different (and, like all the rest, it bills itself as a “true” story assembled from “genuine” footage), and while I could throw out a bunch of specific “spoilers” here and go into great detail about the paper-thin story on offer involving the hapless Sawyer family, who move into a new home (supposedly) in North Carolina and almost immediately find themselves terrorized by the spirit of the legendary Bell Witch who is rumored to haunt the area, I think I’ll let the film’s director, one Glenn Miller (not that his name is anywhere to be found in the movie itself) do that for me, since he gives away the ending right at the start of the flick, notifying us that the Sawyer case was thought to be a murder-suicide, but was really the work of “a centuries-old demon responsible for America’s most famous paranormal event.”

So — you know what’s gonna happen from the outset, the only question is how it’s all gonna go down. And it occurs to me that we’ve covered that already : the chicks will get naked, there will be some squiggly lines on the cell phone and video camera footage, some cheap “apparitions” will appear, and everybody will die.

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I could — and probably by all rights should — also talk about the about the acting for a minute, since that’s the customary thing to do in a movie review, but honestly, unless you’re a friend or relative of this flick’s nominal “stars” like Marissa Lynne Johnson, Laura Alexandra Ramos, or Ted Jonas, you have no reason to care about who’s in this any more than the actors themselves have reason to care about the job they do. It’s about three days’ work for three days’ non-union pay — get in, get out, get your rent paid for the month, and everybody’s happy. If some of them want to put forth something resembling actual effort — a mindset which doesn’t seem to afflict any of the cast members here — then so much the better, but honestly, it’s not really necessary.

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Hey, look, these things have their fans — I get that. There’s a certain low-rent charm to inherently crappy productions that have no aspirations to be anything other than inherently crappy productions — but you really do have to be in exactly the right from of mind to get anything resembling “enjoyment” from an Asylum production, and when I watched this one the other night on Netflix, well — I just wasn’t. I stuck with it to the end simply because I had nothing else going on (although I suppose I could have come up with something — anything — easily enough), but it’s already been more or less completely forgotten in less than 48 hours.

Which is probably a blessing, really, now that I think about it, since remembering any of the details with too much clarity would probably just “ruin” the next Asylum horror flick for me (given that it’ll have more or less exactly the same plot), and this way it’ll all seem fresh, new, and exciting instead, right?

Okay, maybe not. Damn, though, it’s weird : looking back over this review, I realize that while I’ve talked a lot about The Asylum in general, I really haven’t had that much to say about The Bell Witch Haunting specifically — and yet I’ve still told you all you that need to know.

 

 

 

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Quick question — would you buy a house from a doctor who had been running a pediatric clinic out of if and who told you, right to your face, that they’d experienced a “family tragedy” there and decided to close up shop and split town because no one wants to hire a pediatrician “who can’t keep her own children alive”?

Nope, I wouldn’t either, but if the Asher family — consisting of father Alan (Brian Wimmer), mother Emily (Ione Skye — remember her?), teenagers Evan (Harrison Gilbertson) and Sara (Danielle Chuchran), and youngest daughter Anita (Ella Harris) don’t buy the place from sole-survivor-of-the-aforementioned-tragedy  Janet Morello (Jacki Weaver), well, then — we wouldn’t have director Mac Carter’s 2014 indie horror effort Haunt to talk about here, would we?

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Which, truth be told, probably wouldn’t be such a bad thing, because even for a Netflix weeknight time-waster, this movie is pretty goddamn lousy. I watched it the other night simply because, hey, I’ve got a theme to my viewing (and reviewing, obviously) this month, and this one fit the bill in that I hadn’t seen it before and was consequently going in with no real foreknowledge, much less any preconceptions, of it. The film was distributed onto, as they’re called, “home viewing platforms” by IFC Midight, and their stuff is usually of the “hit-or-miss” variety, but after a rather artfully-done and visually interesting opening scene that succeeded in grabbing my attention and setting a suitably eerie and atmospheric ood, it didn’t take long for everything to go straight downhill and for it to become  readily apparent that this was definitely going to be a “miss.”

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In point of fact, that last statement is probably too generous, because Haunt misses by a country fucking mile. The key relationship at the supposed “heart” of screenwriter Andrew Barrer’s story center’s around shy, awkward Evan meeting neighbor-girl Sam (Liana Liberato), who’s being badly abused by her drunken-ass father, and striking up a rather dull and uninspiring teenage romance with her. There’s not much out in BF Egypt to do for fun, though, so when the youthful lovebirds find an old radio in the attic, they decide to play around with the thing — and to keep messing with it even after it becomes clear that this particular radio can be used to communicate with the dead.

You see where this is going, right? Pretty soon the very same malignant force that killed the Morello family in that very same house has been unleashed again to pursue its very same ghoulish aims and everyone is in deadly danger, but the parents keep assuring the kids that there’s no such thing as ghosts no matter how plainly obvious it becomes that, hey, they’re wrong.

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Carter’s flick has some decidedly good practical effects work to recommend in its favor (see the photo directly above), but not much more than that. The acting is generally pretty wobbly, the story’s a complete rehash of about 1,000 other (and better) movies, the characters are uniformly two-dimensional, there are no actual scares to speak of, and Carter’s early interest in his project obviously wanes at about the 15-minute mark. Unfortunately, there are roughly 70 minutes to go after that, and if you want to spend them traipsing around yet another run-of-the-mill haunted house, then by all means, keep watching. If not, do yourself a favor and bail on Haunt at that point as surely as its director did.

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The label “Eli Roth Presents” is becoming positively ubiquitous on the purportedly “indie” horror scene lately — to the point, one could convincingly argue, that it probably doesn’t even really mean anything anymore. And yet, writer/director Guillermo Amoedo (who hails from Uruguay but makes his movies in Chile) seems to have at least something of a bona fide working relationship with Roth insofar as he penned the screenplay for The Green Inferno, so maybe ol’ Eli isn’t just helping himself to an air-quote credit as executive producer on the film we’re here to talk about today, 2014’s The Stranger (no relation to Albert Camus’ existentialist classic) — or maybe he is. I dunno. And I guess I don’t really care all that much, either, because it’s not like he would have all that much to do with the finished product here even if he did help cobble together financing, distribution, or whatever it is executive producers do. This flick is clearly Amoedo’s baby, and any praise and/or scorn for it should rest squarely on his shoulders.

As a fairly recent addition to the Netflix streaming queue that got, as far as I know at any rate, zero theatrical play here in the US, detailed analyses of the film are frustratingly hard to come by at this point, but I hope to do my best to alleviate that situation by chiming in here with my two cents’ worth, and what better time than now given that I literally just finished watching the thing?

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Right off the bat The Stranger assumes for itself something of an other-worldly tone in that it supposedly takes place in a small Canadian town, but the settings and characters are all distinctly Latin American. I really don’t have a beef with that sort of strictly formal incongruity and find that it can do a nice job of telegraphing to audiences that what they’re watching is anything but a “reality-based” story, but for those of you whose suspension of disbelief is immediately shattered by anything that doesn’t correspond to the world as we know it, well — be warned that you might be in for something of a tough slog here.

Which is your loss, really, because Amoedo has crafted a deceptively ambitious little number here that, while far from flawless and far from fast-paced, is nevertheless a reasonably immersive viewing experience that drops plenty of subtle hints in between bouts of stomach-churning violence and does a nice job of layering generous helpings of mystery both over the top of and underneath its more visceral main narrative. All of which is just my pretentious-ass way of saying that if you’re willing to pay somewhat close attention to the proceedings on offer, you’ll remain glued to your seat.

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Our central focus here is on a drifter-ish character named Martin (played by Cristobal Tapia Montt — who is, hopefully for his sake, no relation to Rios) who wanders into an unnamed (remember, Canadian) town one night and shows up at the doorstep of the home shared by wannabe-delinquent Peter (Nicolas Duran) and his mother, Monica (Alessandra Guerzoni),  demanding to know the whereabouts of his apparently-estranged girlfriend, Ana (Lorenza Izzo).

The two of them know where she is alright — the cemetery. And while visiting her grave, he’s set upon by a local group of real delinquents, led by a young punk named Caleb (Ariel Levy), who beat the shit out of our ostensible “hero” and, they’re convinced, leave him for dead.

Except, of course, he’s not, and Peter, who’s seen the entire altercation (a polite way of putting things to be sure since Martin doesn’t even really seem to fight back), takes his bruised-and-bloodied new “friend” home, despite Martin’s protestations that his blood is, in fact, contagious.

Wouldn’t ya just know, Caleb’s father, Inspector De Luca (Luis Gnecco) just so happens to be “top cop” in town, and so he’s in, shall we say, a very advantageous position when it comes to covering up his son’s criminal hijinks, but soon enough it won’t matter anyway — Martin’s very presence in town sets off a violent and sometimes surprising chain of events, and about the only thing that’s really predictable here is the fact that he avoids sunlight and drinks blood.  On that note, then,  I think it’s safe to assume that you know what Martin is (and if you’re especially thick or slow on the uptake, this film’s alternate title, Bad Blood, should more or less give it away) — but trust me when I say that what he’s up to hardly follows the standard formula.

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Amoedo’s script could use a little bit of fine-tuning as far as its pacing goes, and the acting from all parties other than the superbly-cast Montt can veer into decidedly wooden territory at times, but these flaws are more than compensated for by superb atmospherics throughout, inventive camera work, smart editing choices, and an intelligent musical score. The whole may end up being greater than the sum of its parts here, but what the heck — most of those parts really aren’t too shabby in and of themselves, either.

Let’s be honest — when you’re dealing with subject matter as tried-and-true as vampirism (whether actual or implied), the most you can really ask is that what you’re getting is an interesting, dare I say even fresh,  new take on things. The Stranger definitely provides that much and even a little more, and while not everything Amoedo tries to do here is necessarily all that successful, enough of it is to ensure that, for the most part, his film is able to break from the mold and stand out in comparison to the vast majority of its ilk. Maybe I’m just an easy mark, or maybe too may years of watching dull and predictable horror movies has worn down my resolve to the point where I go in expecting to get burned and end up pleasantly surprised whenever I’m not, but hey — that’s all it takes, at least in the instance at hand,  for me to recommend that you give this one a shot.

 

 

 

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Let’s take a quick breather from our Netflix horror movie rundown to talk horror comics for just a minute (or, more accurately, several minutes), shall we? After all, man (and woman) cannot live on a diet of celluloid scares alone — even in October — and once in awhile you may just wish to get your chills and thrills via a four-color, printed delivery method. If so, I humbly suggest that there’s no better way for you to go as we approach Halloween 2015 than by plunking down five of your heard-earned dollars for the fifth issue of Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ superb Lovecraftian travelogue, Providence.

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We’ve talked Providence around these parts before, of course — a couple of times, in fact (in fact, I halfway feel like I ought to go back and review issues two and three just to say I’ve covered ’em all) — but as long as it maintains this lofty standard of excellence, I see no harm in bringing it up again. In fact, it’s no exaggeration at all to say that every issue to date has been “the best one so far,” and I’m pleased to report that trend continues here. I have a fairly respectable monthly pull at my LCS, and right now it can easily be broken down into four categories : books that I’ll probably end up dropping sooner rather than later because they suck; books that are okay but that I could easily see myself parting company with because they’re wildly inconsistent at best, and two subpar issues in a row will probably seal their fate; books that are good and that I’ll continue to pick up; and Providence. Honestly, if I only had five extra bucks a month to spend, I’d spend it on this. My monthly Providence fix is starting to become essential to my survival.

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And while that may sound pathetic, I assure you that the comic itself is anything but. For those who are reasonably steeped in the lore of H.P. Lovecraft, like myself, this is the series we’ve been waiting our whole lives for and just didn’t know it, while for more casual readers it can serve as a springboard into a hitherto-unexplored literary world that will immediately arrive on your doorstep with a tremendous amount of breadth, depth, and resonance thanks to the million-and-one clever ways Moore has woven core aspects of Lovecraft’s ever-fluid mythos into his sprawling, multi-faceted narrative. One thing’s for certain, though : whatever your prior “Lovecraft immersion level,” this comic is going to creep you the fuck out and keep you glued to its pages. I’ve read every issue at least a half-dozen times so far, and frankly am looking forward to getting this review over with so that I can read number five again.providence05-women

Do I really want to do that, though? Chances are that once I do, I’ll notice any number of little details that I missed last time around, and that will have me scurrying back to these virtual “pages” to hastily edit this review and mention them all before I feel like an idiot for omitting them. Some comics hold up fine on second, third, and subsequent re-readings, but Providence flat-out demands them — and gets better each time.

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For those unfamiliar with the basic set-up, I suppose a quick run-down is in order : journalist Robert Black has recently quit his job at the New York Herald in order to track down a Necronomicon-esque ancient tome that he hopes will be of assistance as he researches material for his slowly-developing novel about America’s secret underbelly, and has taken up the trail of the volume through a number of , shall we say, dinstinctive rural New England backwaters. He meets various and sundry bizarre personages along the way — variations of whom will all play a role in later Lovecraft fictions — and remains semi-blissfully unaware of the obvious-to-us-readers connections between them and the part he will no doubt play in tying all their stories together. In short, he’s as important as he is clueless, and seems more concerned with protecting his own secrets (the largest ones being that he’s gay and Jewish) along the way than he is in puzzling out the ones presented to him in plain sight.

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Each issue to date has seen one Lovecraft story serve as its major “anchor,” while dropping in plenty of knowing winks and nods toward others, and number five is no exception, with The Dreams in The Witch House playing the largest role in the proceedings, but characters, plot elements, and themes from The Rats In The WallsThe Colour Out Of SpaceIn The Walls Of EryxThe Thing On The Doorstep, and Herbert West – Reanimator all weaving their way into the web of  strangeness surrounding Black, as well. If you happen to have any or all of these stories at your disposal, keep them handy — if not, don’t sweat it too much,  because you’re still in for a heady, intoxicatingly good read.

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Our protagonist’s travels this time out  take him to St. Anselm’s college in Machester, New Hampshire, where he’s got a couple of weeks to kill before he can arrange a viewing of the book he’s determined to scope out, so he rents a headache-inducing, oddly-angled attic room at a boarding house during the forced interregnum, making the acquaintance of a nowhere-near-as-simple-as-she-seems landlady, a cab driver who’s always there when you need him (and especially when you don’t), a “fellow traveler” who “helps out” in some unspecified manner in the university’s medical department, a precocious 15-year-old girl, a perhaps-too-helpful priest, and a federal agent investigating a decades-old meteorite crash while he bides his time.

That’s just during the daytime hours, though, and it’s at night when the real weirdness in Manchester goes down.

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Don’t get the wrong idea — there’s no real crazy nightlife to be found in 1919 New England college towns (hell, there probably still isn’t much today), but Black”s been having some decidedly odd dreams since he took out his rented room, and they’re getting worse. Dreams about rats with human faces. Dreams about witches speaking horrifying secrets about the nature of the universe that the conscious mind can’t comprehend. Dreams about odd geometric angles that cause one plane of existence to intersect with another. Dreams about being watched by presences he can’t even define, much less see. Dreams about time folding back in on itself (which Moore mirrors in the dialogue boxes at the bottom of each page). Dreams that eventually send him running from the house in the middle of the night and over to the residence of Dr. Hector North, whose home reeks oddly of formaldehyde —

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Where to begin with all the details to be on the lookout for here? Moore and Burrows are throwing them at readers so fast that you really can’t afford to miss a beat, beginning with the tiny figure running through the rain in page one, panel one, and continuing throughout. A favorite of mine is paying close attention to which panels are hand-ruled and slightly uneven and which are straight-ruled and perfectly symmetrical. I won’t give away what that denotes, but once you figure it out for yourself, you’ll be all “damn — that’s genius, that is.”

And yes, despite the fact that we’re not even at the halfway point of this 12-issue series yet, I don’t think it’s too early to call Providence a work of genius. Moore is gradually building up all the elements in his story and moving his chess pieces into almost agonizingly-precise locations, while Burrows is deftly mixing in reams of visual clues and hammering all the horror home with his finely-detailed, richly-realized illustrations. Both gentlemen are in top form and operating at the peak of their skills, and if you’re one of those who’s been waiting for “the next great Alan Moore comic,” well — here it is.

So, what could be better than this? It’s hard to say, but something tells me that we’ll all be finding out on October 28th, when Avatar releases Providence #6 — just in time, of course, for Halloween. How perfect is that, I ask you?

 

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Okay, let’s get the confusing stuff out of the way first : writer/director Luke Hyams’ 2014 British indie horror offering The Beast Of Xmoor was originally released under the simpler title X Moor, only to have  the “X” and the “Moor” combined, for reasons unknown, into one word later, perhaps to more (semi-)accurately reflect the name of the North Devon region it takes place in — which is, in fact, called Exmoor with an “E,” and really is rumored to be the favored stomping grounds of a puma-like creature that plenty of people have seen, but no one’s actually been able to photograph.

Think of it as the UK’s answer to Bigfoot, only on four legs, and you’re getting a reasonably clear idea of the “real-life” phenomenon, as well as at least some inkling as to why this particular legend could make for good horror movie material. In fact, looking at the plethora of information and/or disinformation on the fabled animal easily available online, it’s not only  a wonder that I’d never heard about it before but that, at least to my knowledge (which we’ve just established is nowhere near what it probably should be on this subject), no other intrepid would-be celluloid auteur has taken a crack at it previously. So maybe Hyams’ first job with this is simply to make up for lost time?

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Before delving too deeply into the proceedings on offer here, I should give the director credit for eschewing the “found footage” trappings that one would assume this flick would make use of — after all, it’s about a boyfriend/girlfriend documentary film-making team that heads off to (E)Xmoor in hopes of collecting a reward for the creature’s capture and getting some honest-to-goodness footage of it at the same time. And yet there are no hackneyed “shaky-cam” antics to be had here as Matt (Nick Blood) and Georgia (Melia Kreiling) go about their risky business — this is just good, old-fashioned movie making.

Fortunately for us all, the emphasis in that last statement should be on the “good,” because whichever title you choose to refer to this by, it’s a pretty damn effective little modestly-budgeted would-be creature feature, made all the moor — whoops, more — gripping once the plot takes a major twist that removes the “creature” from the equation altogether and reveals that, yes, there’s definitely something hunting and killing hapless travelers and/or adventure seekers in the area, but it ain’t no panther.

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Which is probably as good a point as any for me to shut the fuck up before I give anything else away. From what I’ve been able to gather, this wrinkle has managed to divide other critics (both of the professional and semi-pro variety — I leave it to you, dear reader, to decide which camp I fall into), but let me just state for the record that I found it not only plausible and well-thought-out, but maybe even downright nifty (does anyone use that word anymore?) on a good day. In other words, it worked for me, and if you keep an open mind, I think it’ll work for you, too.

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As will, I’m prepared to wager, more or less the entire movie. Hyams hasn’t crafted an instant classic or anything of the sort here (although he shows all the signs of having one in him at some future point), but his script is well-paced, the direction is taut, the setting creepily atmospheric, the performances very solid indeed, and the tension gets thick enough to cut with a knife on a pleasingly high number of occasions. Ignore the naysayers, give it a go on Netflix, and you’ll probably (or at least possibly) be back to thank me later.

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What’s this? Five days (and five movies — not that I can promise that this roughly one-film-per-day pace will prove to be sustainable a whole lot longer thanks to “real life” responsibilities) into our Netflix Halloween round-up, and not one “found footage” horror movie has made its way onto these virtual “pages” yet? Well, let’s rectify that right now, shall we?

Apparently,  writer/director Karl Mueller’s Mr. Jones was something of an audience-splitter when it made its debut at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, with about half the folks who saw it thinking it was superb, the other half hating it with a passion, and not too may people in between — which means it’s in good company with things like White Castle hamburgers, chicken and waffle-flavored potato chips, and other stuff that tends to elicit a love-it-or-hate-it reaction among the populace at large. I’m sure I’m forgetting plenty of other good (and non-food-related) examples here, but I think you get the point.

All of which puts yours truly in something of a strange position because I really wasn’t terribly swayed by it either positively or negatively. It just sort of happened.

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Certainly Mueller does what he can with a rather bog-standard set-up that sees his protagonist, Scott (played by Jon Foster) heading for the unspecified wilds of — I dunno, someplace —to film some kind of equally- unspecified nature documentary, but when he and his girlfriend, Penny (Sarah Jones) discover that their nearest thing to a neighbor out in the sticks might ust be the legendary (and titular) Mr. Jones, a near-anonymous sculptor/artist who’s famous for sending his works, unsolicited, to anonymous recipients across the country, our newly-non-medicated (for yet again– unspecified mental health issues) “hero” quickly shifts his film-making focus and abandons his better half to rough it on her own while he traipses around the Manhattan art scene trying to find out anything and everything he can about their mysterious fellow denizen of the wilderness.

Not quite intriguing, I’ll grant you that, although certainly at least interesting — but when Scott returns to his new “home”  with the lines between reality and delusion getting blurrier all the time, Mueller temporarily (and abruptly) abandons the whole “mockumentary” thing for a brief while before returning to it in equally unannounced fashion and showing that somehow the “madness” has somehow spread to Penny, as well, and now it’s a very open question as to how and even whether or not Mr. Jones himself represents a genuine “threat” or one entirely of the couple’s own invention.

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As a case study in the vagaries of isolation and its sometimes-attendant mental breakdowns, Mueller’s flick is a reasonably gripping drama, I suppose, but as an actual horror film, well — let’s just say that it comes up more than a bit short in terms of delivering anything like thrills, chills, or even payment on its ghastly bills. Mr. Jones plays out more like a wannabe-art house number than anything else, with some nods made in the general direction of genre fans in an attempt to cover its bases by fitting into some kind of category (however tenuously), but on the whole the impression it left, at least with me, was more one of “well, I guess that was worth a watch, but once is enough” than anything else.

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Which probably puts it a notch above a heck of a lot of the pablum infesting the shallow waters of the horror queue on Netflix at the moment (remember, that’s out theme here), but only by the most slender of margins. And the fact that it shares a title with a truly awful Counting Crows song doesn’t exactly add points to its ledger, either, does it?

Still — it would be crazy for me to hold that against Mueller and his movie, especially when there’s a wealth of perfectly logical reasons to be less than enamored with Mr. Jones that don’t involve dragging in superfluous strikes against it.

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I don’t know much about Spanish director Marc Carrete, but I’ll say this much for the guy : he seems to be a man of his word.

His 2014 Barcelona-filmed Asmodexia, which generated at least a little bit of buzz over the past year or so on the horror festival circuit before making its way onto various on-demand and streaming platforms (including, of course, Netflix, which is why we’re talking about it here), billed itself as a “different take” on the exorcism sub-genre, and whaddya know, even though we’ve heard that same pitch a hundred times before, in this case it’s actually true.

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Which isn’t to say, mind you, that it’s an entirely successful “new take,” but at least this story of five days in the life of travelling exorcist Eloy de Palma (Luis Marco) and his grand-daughter, Alba (Claudia Pons)  offers up a fairly generous number of intriguing variations on an admittedly shop-worn theme and gives audiences plenty to think about along the way.

In fact, you could probably argue that it gives us all a little bit too much to think about for roughly the first two-thirds of its 81-minute runtime, in that it’s not entirely clear just what the heck is going on and Carrete and his co-writer, Mike Hostench, don’t seem to be in too terribly much of a hurry to clue you in. I’ll do you the favor in case you decide to watch this, though, by saying that as far as I was able to puzzle things out, what we seem to have going on here is a kind of “exorcism-in-reverse” centered on a character named Ona (Irene Montala) who has apparently caught hold of an unwelcome demonic entity by means of a supernatural transmission from somebody else.

At least, I think that’s a reasonably accurate summation of the general gist of ebb and flow of events here. Don’t hold me to it too tightly, though.

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The idea of demon possession operating like a spiritual virus is a reasonably clever wrinkle (although I think Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta may be playing the same angle in the pages of their Outcast comic book series) that’s played for nearly-maximum effect here, and this hauntingly-shot, incredibly well-scored (seriously,  massive hat tip to soundtrack composer Jordi Dalmau) flick may be confusing, but it’s so aesthetically pleasing on the whole that you never lose interest, even during its most convoluted, even flat-out inexplicable,  sequences.

The payoff at the end is pretty nice, too, so while your patience may be tested here and there at times, hey, at least it’s rewarded. No cheat, cop-out, or sideways maneuver is on offer when it comes time for Carrete to put his money where his mouth is, and in the world of horror, where we’re used to feeling ripped off or sold short, that’s very welcome indeed.

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I’m thinking that I may have to watch Asmodexia a second time just to make sure I really have a firm grasp on what happened, but it’s a compliment to everyone involved to say that really doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

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Indie director James Cullen Bressack is quickly making a name for himself as a guy who’s not afraid to “go there.” The last one of his films that we looked at around these parts, 2011’s Hate Crime, was a visceral tour-de-force of sleazy unpleasantness, and with his latest, 2014’s Pernicious, he adds a supernatural flair to the proceedings that in no way diminishes their right-the-fuck-up-in-your-face power. In short, it appears as though he’s learned how to translate “his type” of gut-punch cinema into a package that might have a bit more mass appeal, but without watering things down in any way.

That’s a pretty solid accomplishment right there, when you think about it, but don’t go getting worried that Bressack is on the verge of “selling out.” Truth be told, his obsessions are still too gleefully prurient to ever make it into the “mainstream,” and while that may be “good news” of a sort to us gore-hounds and filth-wallowers, for those of you out there with either weaker stomachs, stronger consciences, or both, Perncious is still going to be pretty far out of your wheelhouse and you’d probably do better to stay well away.

For sick bastards like yours truly, though, what can I say? There’s really a lot to like here.

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Our story concerns three vivacious, young American ladies (Ciara Hanna as Alex, Emily O’Brien as Julia, and Jackie Moore as Rachel) who are newly arrived in Thailand (ostensibly to teach English, but at least a couple of them seem more concerned with taking in the local, and notoriously decadent, nightlife) and find themselves rooming together in a house where things start going bump in the night pretty much right off the bat.

Don’t expect much by way of mystery or intrigue here, as the script (co-written by Bressack and Taryn Hillin) lays its cards on the table in fairly short order, but do expect plenty of shit guaranteed to make you squirm as it’s revealed that the entity haunting the joynt is the spirit of a deceased eight-year-old girl named Vanida (Irada Hoyos) who was brutally murdered by her own parents in a ritual sacrifice of some sort and now wants her pound of flesh (and blood, and guts) from basically anyone and everyone she can get it from. Her revenge may be scattershot, but what she lacks in planning she more than makes up for in determination, and she’s impressively sadistic for a kid — as well as for a ghost.

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That’s probably about as much as I should give away about the particulars here, since the whole thing with Pernicious boils down to “you’ve gotta see it to believe it” — and even then, you’ll more than likely have a hard time believing what you’re seeing. I pride myself on having a fairly cast-iron sense of resolve, but damn, this one, like Hate Crime, made me fidget more than a few times.

So, hey, you’ve been warned. One thing I think everyone who watches this could agree on, though, is that the performances , while obviously of an amateur variety, are fairly solid all things considered, and that Bressack has mastered the art of putting the “horror” back into “horrifying.” There’s something almost Deodato- or Fulci-esque about his complete lack of empathy for his characters and his single-minded determination to make his audience feel downright physically sick and emotionally unclean at all costs, and God forgive me, I can’t help but admire him for that. I’ll get around to feeling guilty for doing so later, I suppose (ha! As if).

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By now you should have a fairly solid idea of whether or not this sounds like the kind of movie for you. If so, then check it out on Netflix, where it was added fairly recently, and enjoy — if you can — the indelible stain it will leave on your brain for many days to come.

 

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I promise — our theme this month is “Netflix Halloween,” not “Netflix Movies Set In Mines,” but since Mine Games proved to be something of a pleasant-enough surprise, I figured that director Jeff Chamberlain’s 2012 filmed-in-Utah effort, Abandoned Mine (also released under the even-more-uninspired title of The Mine) might possibly be worth a look, as well.

I’ll just cut right to the chase here and say that I was wrong. And now my job is to tell you both why I was wrong and just how wrong I was.

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So, it’s Halloween night, and five friends (Reiley McClendon as Brad, Adam Hendershott as Jimmy, Alexa Vega as Sharon, Saige Thompson as Laurie, and Charan Prabhakar as Ethan) are all hanging out near the old Jarvis Mine, boozing and swapping ghost stories at this supposedly haunted locale. After they get a few in ’em, they decide what the hey? Let’s go inside.

Oh, and once inside, one of the group of one-note ciphers — sorry,  I mean characters — fills the others in on what happened there exactly (yawn) 100 years ago that very night. And, hey, it all might be happening again, ‘cuz remember, the place is haunted.

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Are you bored yet? If you were watching this instead of reading about it, I can assure you with absolute and complete certainty that you would be. Honestly, Abandoned Mine is so completely derivative and cliched that it almost doesn’t feel fair to even criticize it because it’s just too easy a target. The phrase “fish in a barrel” comes to mind.

Shit, Chamberlain and co-writer Scott Woldman’s script doesn’t even go to the effort of trying to fool you into thinking that there’s anything other than the absolutely predictable going on here, and the cast appears to have picked up on this cynical and taciturn approach and collectively decided to mail in their performances. Not exactly inspiring stuff, to say the least.

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If it feels like I’m half-assing this review and cutting things short, that’s because I am. Guilty as charged. Guilty as sin. Guilty as O.J. fucking Simpson. Having already wasted nearly an hour and a half of my life on this pablum, I refuse to spend any more time even thinking about it, much less actually discussing it, than is absolutely necessary. My conscience compels me to express to you, dear reader, the burning, overwhelming need stay the hell away from Abandoned Mine — and to do so in the strongest possible terms — but beyond that, man, I’m through with this thing.

I can live with its complete lack of gore. I can live without its complete lack of originality. I can even live, in a tight pinch, with its complete lack of scares. What I can’t live with is its complete lack of effort — nor can I be bothered with putting any of same into this review, which is probably the single-worst thing I’ve ever written. But hey — Abandoned Mine deserves no less. Or maybe that should be “deserves no more.” Whatever. Either way you want to put it (or, to be more accurate, either way you want to have me put it), I suppose the sentiment remains the same.

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Been there, done that — and goddamnit, we’re doing it again!

Last year, in order to spice things up a bit during the month of October, I whittled my focus for Halloween down from reviewing horror movies in general to reviewing horror movies (then-) currently available on Netflix — and this year, since I’m fresh out of ideas thanks to a grueling 55-hours-per-week work schedule, I’m just gonna do the same exact thing.

And why not, right? I mean, it’s Netflix — there’s gotta be plenty choose from, surely?

Except, ya know, when there isn’t. Which seems to be the case these days. Honestly, have you browsed their horror film “library” recently? It absolutely sucks. I mean, they probably had more to choose from five years ago when their streaming service was just getting off the ground. They really should be embarrassed. Maybe next year we’ll try a “Halloween On Hulu” instead.

Anyway, that being said, the only other ground rules to keep in mind for this month are that I’ll be watching and reviewing movies I haven’t seen previously and that, even though a good many (if not all) of the films we’ll be training our metaphorical lens on here are no doubt available on Blu-ray or DVD, technical specs for their physical-storage iterations won’t be under discussion because that’s not how I’m watching ’em. Fair enough? Okay, then let’s get started.

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Underground mines have been a pretty popular setting for horror flicks for years now, it seems, with everything from creature features like The Boogens , The Strangeness, and The Descent (okay, you’re right, that’s a fucking cave, but the basic principle still applies — sort of) to slashers like My Blood Valentine making effective use of the axiom that when you go beneath the earth, shit tends to get scary. So why not give Aussie director Richard Gray a paltry-by-film-industry-standards $1.5 million, send him up to the Seattle area with a cast of purported up-and-comers, and see if he can’t make something of his mine-set script (hammered out with help from fellow screenwriters Robert Cross, Michele Davis-Gray, and Ross McQueen)?

Here’s the lowdown : a gang of seven twenty-something friends (Julianna Guill as Claire, Rebecca Da Costa as Rose, Ethan Peck as Guy, Rafi Gavron as Lex, Joseph Cross as Michael, Alex Meraz as T.J., and B.J. McKay’s daughter, Briana Evigan, as Lyla) are all heading for — you guessed it — a weekend getaway at a cabin in the woods. They run into some trouble along the way when they swerve off the road to avoid an apparition that may or may not have been there, but it’s all good — they eventually reach their destination, and hey! There’s even an abandoned mine nearby that, of course, they figure it would be a good idea to explore despite the fact that no one in their right mind would actually go anywhere near the thing. And that, of course, is where their troubles really begin in earnest.

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In this case, “troubles” means auditory and visual hallucinations — that might not be auditory and visual hallucinations after all because they might actually be happening. It’s kinda hard to tell. But they sure do play with your head either way. And truth be told, for the most part they’re fairly effectively realized by Gray and company, and Mine Games — which also boasts the alternate title of The Evil Within — packs a reasonably decent wallop for what it is. I’m not sure why it languished in celluloid purgatory for a couple of years (filmed in 2012, it sat around unreleased until going straight to video in 2014) when plenty of worse crap sees the light of day immediately, but whatever. It’s here now and it’s a modestly enjoyable bumpy ride.

It helps that the cast of characters are mostly fairly likable and that no one’s named Justin or Colby or Madison or Britney or any of that shit the “Generation X”-ers saddled their kids with, sure, but credit where credit is due : this is an entirely competent, if wholly unremarkable, DTV fright flick.

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True, it fumbles a bit when it comes to providing actual explanations for what’s going on, but hey — as horror fans we’re used to that, aren’t we? If you’re more in the mood for something that sets it sights on doing the best it can with what it has rather than playing at being yet another failed attempt at “re-defining the genre” or whatever, you could do a whole heck of a lot worse than Gray’s plucky little contender here.