Halloween On Hulu 2016 : “Haunting Of Cellblock 11”

Posted: October 4, 2016 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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Every October for the past few years I’ve done a little something called “Netflix Halloween” that surveys a random sampling of the horror flicks available on America’s purportedly favorite streaming service, and every year I’ve noticed the same thing : the pickin’s are getting slimmer and slimmer on Netflix all the time for horror fans. This year I finally decided to break the mold, quit scraping the bottom of the barrel, and jump ship over to Hulu for the Halloween season, and whaddya know? They have a shit-ton more to choose from, and lots of it is stuff that I’ve never even heard of, much less seen — which, believe you me, takes some doing.

Sufficiently chuffed to find some films to review that you won’t see covered on many other movie blogs, I dove right in with just a couple of ground rules in mind : everything I’ll be reviewing this month has to be available as part of Hulu’s standard-rate subscription service (as opposed to its “premium” Showtime-linked service), and they all have to be flicks that I’ve never seen before. Many are available on Blu-ray and DVD, but we won’t be delving into the particulars of any of that because that ain’t how I’m gonna be watching any of ’em. Beyond that, everything I’m choosing to take a look at is being selected more or less entirely  random — it needn’t be something that necessarily looks good to me, so much as it looks new to me. It’s gotta be listed under their “horror and suspense” genre heading, but other than that, I’m just going where my entirely inexplicable whims take me. And the first place they took me was to writer/director Andrew P. Jones’ 2014 indie low-budgeter Haunting Of Cellblock 11 — which is missing a “The” in its title quite obviously, but is missing a whole lot more, besides.

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At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking that Jones has unleashed yet another “found footage” number on us with this one — and another “found footage” number focused on a paranormal investigation team, at that! — but in truth this is a mixed bag, genre-wise, combining plenty of hand-held “shaky cam” stuff with standard-filmed scenes and typically grainy flashback material. Nothing revolutionary, to be sure, but it’s kind of nice to get a break from the “actual live feed” once in awhile.

Still, at the end of the day this is, in fact, about a team of ghost hunters looking to revive the lagging ratings on their dime-a-dozen TV show by visiting a reputedly haunted prison only to find out that, yeah, the place really is packed to rafters (and iron bars) with things that go bump in the night. If you think anything can still be milked from such a premise, then congrats — you might (I said might) find something to like here, but even then it’s a stretch.

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I’m not ready to blame any of this movie’s problems on its cast, though, who generally manage to acquit themselves pretty nicely across the board. Jeffrey Johnson and Linara Washington are both quite likable as Joel and Kate, respectively, the de facto “leaders” of the team, and Charley Koontz is effective in his role as Berger, the standard-issue camera-and-sound dude who doubles as stereotypical fat guy comic relief. Somewhat less endearing is John Zderko as Roger, but even then that’s just evidence of him doing the job he’s supposed to do as the group’s resident skeptic/wet blanket. Plus, Dee Wallace puts in an appearance, and who’s gonna complain about that?

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The problems here are strictly of the “been there, done that” variety, then, given that Haunting Of Cellblock 11, while generally competent in terms of its execution, offers absolutely nothing new, even for fans of “mockumentary”- style horror. Most of the biggest supposed “scares” happen entirely off-camera — most likely for budgetary reasons — and the ones we do see are all of the highly pedestrian variety. The effects are generally fine (if less than spectacular), and the storyline is about as solid as you have any right to expect from this particular sub-genre, but there’s absolutely nothing memorable on offer here, and at this point “almost good enough” just doesn’t cut it as far as “hand-held horrors” go in my book. Either give us something new, give us something really good, or, ideally, give us a nice mix of both. You only have so many precious hours to spend here on this Earth, and there’s no compelling reason to spend any of yours on this film, even if everyone involved does seem to be putting forth an honest effort.

 

 

Comments
  1. Ryan C. (trashfilmguru) says:

    Reblogged this on Through the Shattered Lens.

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