IT (2017) Movie Review

(Submitted by our own Mr. Anton Phibes…Thanks, Ho-rror Ho-mie! 🙂 xoxo)

To say that expectations were high for 2017’s IT would be a grotesque understatement. Based on the best-selling Stephen King novel, the film is the second adaptation of the material, following the much beloved miniseries. Before even a single frame of this latest version came to be, a thunderous jolt of anticipation struck film-goers like a circus locomotive. Thousands of think pieces, fan art, and parodies sprouted up when the very first image of “IT” was released, and that goes doubly so for the trailer. IT was a bonafide cultural phenomena before it was projected on a single screen. Living up to such monstrous adaptations seems impossible, but does IT succeed?  With a big grease-painted grin, I’m very pleased to report that IT is every bit the monsterpiece we had hoped for.

Stephen King’s novel is a massive work of fiction told through narratives alternating between two timelines, so the film wisely adapts the half of the novel that focuses on the seven protagonists as kids. The film advances the setting from the 1950s to the late ’80s, but still maintains much of the source material. In the movie, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Richie (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and Stan (Wyatt Oleff) are all social outcasts in their own way. United by their misfit status, they develop a tight-knit relationship and dub themselves the “Losers’ Club”. When a malevolent shape-shifting killer targets them, the unconventional heroes must conquer their fears to conquer “IT”.
IT is a lot like King’s Stand By Me, but with an eldritch abomination creeping about. It’s almost as much a coming-of-age story as it is a monster movie. Sure, the clown is a fright to behold, but the children are undeniably the heart of the story.  Their struggles, their quirks, and their interactions feel so very real that it’s easy to forget that these are actors reading from a script. They are the kind of “geeky” kids you may have known (or been) growing up, with all the flaws and idiosyncrasies that come with such children. All are incredibly lovable, making the horror (both otherworldly and mundane) that befalls them unbearable. Both their chemistry and individual charms are what elevate this film to greatness and achieve the impressive feat of making a film about a child-eating clown monster heartwarming.

Of course, even with an exceptional group of heroes, a monster movie still needs a credible monster… oh boy! does It succeed in that regard! Actor Bill Skarsgard had some big floppy shoes to fill after Tim Curry’s turn in the miniseries, but he works sorcery here as Pennywise, the clown form of “IT”.  Pennywise’s initial appearances in this film are almost inviting, but there’s always that sense that he’s plotting… and hungry. Even in his most clownishly charming moments, he can barely conceal his ghastly appetite. As the film progresses, Pennywise grows more and more demonic in a truly unsettling fashion. It’s the stuff of nightmares.


There’s been a lot of talk about whether or not the new “IT” is superior to the old one.The way I see it, Tim Curry and Bill Skarsgard are to Pennywise what Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee are to Dracula: two unique actors giving equally brilliant performances as the same monster. Bill Skarsgard’s interpretation is considerably different than Curry’s, but still magnificent in its own way. Curry was pretty darn funny as the hellish harlequin, giving him a comedic edge that makes his more violent moments genuinely shocking. Skarsgard had a more overtly diabolical quality that is still  quite effective. Regardless of which performance you prefer, I think most of us can agree that Bill Skarsgard is a worthy “IT” for a new generation. Bravo to both clowns!

Despite its cast of children, IT is a fairly disturbing movie with some wonderfully nasty bits. Some of the most beautifully wicked scares you’ll see in a big budget fright film are lurking in this film. From the gory to the surreal, there’s a shock here for every taste. There are even some scenes that have an old-fashioned Gothic flavor to them, most of which take place in what is perhaps the best “haunted house” set I’ve seen in years. If you like a wide variety of creepy things, IT’s the spook show for you.

With an already killer box office intake and fabulous reviews, there’s little doubt that a sequel based on the novel’s second half is on its way. In fact, there’s one teased at the very end of the film. While I’ll certainly miss the child actors, I have no doubt that the next one will be another sensational work of horror cinema. I look forward to seeing Pennywise dance again. As for this current installment, stop clowning around and see it as soon as you can! Beep Beep!

Arrival (2016)

(Submitted by Anton Phibes…Thank you, Kinky Ho-bot. PS- #AmyAdamsRules!! 😉 xoxo)

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Isolated on a relatively small ball of dirt and water,  Mankind has always longed to know if, on other worlds or in the unexplored depths of what we call “space”, there exists intelligent life to equal or even surpass us.  Inquiries of this nature have been explored so often in science fiction, it has become standard practice for the genre. However, stories of alien visitations or journeys to uncharted planets continue to fascinate us because we, despite our best efforts, are no closer to knowing the truth. Through our fancies and fantasies, we try to envision what an encounter with honest-to-goodness extraterrestrials would entail. Would they be the war-mongering nightmares H.G. Wells cooked up in War of the Worlds? Is it possible that we would disturb the creatures with our customs? Would their arrival be a grand explosion that will instantly alter our existences or would it be subtle, to the point where none of us our even aware that they are here? Would they be humanoid or something more incredible than we could ever dream of? These are questions that may never be properly answered outside the realm of fiction, but what fascinating tales they lead to.
arrivalfanartDirector Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival (2016) is one such story that imagines what an encounter with visitors from another world may play out. Much like The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), Arrival presents this scenario with a sort of optimism. The story deals with mysterious spacecraft that appear across the globe. Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and an elite team of experts are brought together to investigate and perhaps establish some connection with the unearthly guests, eventually known as “Heptapods”. Squid-like in appearance and communicating through an advanced ink-based language, the Heptapods and their intentions are nearly impossible to decode. As Louise and  mathematician  Ian (Jeremy Renner) work desperately to understand the Heptapods, world leaders begin to lose their patience with the alien presence, fearing the Heptapods are here to destroy Mankind. With tensions quickly growing, Louise and Ian must push themselves to fully understand the Heptapods before Earth attacks the potentially peaceful creatures.
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Like the best of science fiction, Arrival is rich with mood and thought-provoking concepts, as well as alien spectacle. With an eerie quality and suspense that would fit well within a more horrific sci-fi outing, the film draws you in with its clever story and otherwordly atmosphere. Though there are no huge invasion sequences or alien attacks like many other films within the genre, there are never any dull moments and the imagery is as awe-inspiring as any alien-loving sci-fi fan could hope for. Its pacifistic message of understanding is truly refreshing and gives it feel like a worthy descendent the aforementioned Day The Earth Stood Still. Though I dare not spoil the story, I will say that there is an element involving time that’s both intriguing and beautifully heartbreaking in ways that only the best genre fiction can achieve.

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Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker as the US Army Colonel are both excellent in their roles, but it’s Amy Adams who dominates the picture. Haunted by the loss of her daughter and driven by her thirst for knowledge, Louise Banks is both a largely admirable character and a sympathetic figure and Adams is able to convey this with a very human complexity within very alien situation. Adams’ Louise stays strong through her personal tragedy and emerges as a throughly brilliant and likable heroine. I truly believe Adams deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance.

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Arrival is a most extraordinary sci-fi picture that lovers of the genre ought to love.  In a way, it feels like a journey into a wondrous land of imagination that Rod Serling might have guided us on. With heart and mind, this picture is a science-fictional fable that reminds us of the power of the genre and fascination we all have with extraterrestrials. Though may never have the pleasure (or horror) of an actual alien visitation, Arrival is a brilliant and surprisingly human encounter with beings from beyond the stars.

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Movie Review: Blair Witch Treads the Same Old Ground

Ho-stess’s Note: I’m so sleepy!! Puppetmaster was grueling for all the strangest, most unexpected- yet awesome- reasons. More on all that later, and ho-pefully a #SuperheroSaturday post in ho-nor of Batman Day (assuming I can manage to talk Prince Adam into blowing a lil’ more smoke up Batsy’s Bungho-le ;)). But for now, here’s a look at the “re-imagining” of Blair Witch, as seen through the eyes of Mr. Freddy In Space himself, The Real John Squires. (Thanks for this, Ho-rror Ho-mie. I was sincerely very curious!! 🙂 xoxo)

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There’s sometimes a fine line between a “remake” and a “sequel,” and that line has become increasingly blurred as Hollywood continues to come up with clever ways to cash in on past successes. Recent films like Creed, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Jurassic World smartly rebooted iconic franchises in the form of brand new movies that were undoubtedly sequels but often felt quite a bit like remakes, and you can now put this year’s Blair Witch into that same category. But if the aforementioned films only blurred the dividing line, then this year’s big horror reboot, well, it aims to erase it completely.

Written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard, Blair Witch centers on James Donahue, who just so happens to be the brother of ill-fated Blair Witch Project character Heather Donahue. James has spent his whole life wondering what actually happened to his missing sister, and so he heads out into the Burkittsville woods with a few friends – and a couple of local Blair Witch-obsessed weirdos – on a quest for answers. Of course, while there, they’re filming a documentary about the experience.

Set 20 years after the events of The Blair Witch Project, Blair Witch is unquestionably a sequel, but you’ve probably seen actual remakes that cover more new ground, and expand more on their respective franchises, than this one dares to. It’s been 17 years since The Blair Witch Project changed the game and spawned countless imitators that are still clogging up the home video scene to this very day, and what’s most disappointing about Blair Witch is that it’s entirely too comfortable with the idea of just being another one of those copycats – an official copycat, to be sure, but a copycat nonetheless.

Bigger, louder, and decidedly more action-packed than its predecessor, Blair Witch plays out like the Hollywood version of the original, and though that may have been the whole idea, it’s far too beholden to the inaugural Blair Witch outing to really ever create a personality of its own. Yes, it’s filled with new technology, including a drone and earpiece cameras, but aside from the various bells and whistles of present-day life, Blair Witch operates way more like a remake than it does a sequel. Is that a problem? Well, it is for the horror fan whose seen this exact movie not just once, but literally dozens of times.

Not surprisingly, Blair Witch is at its best whenever new ideas are being injected into the proceedings, and the film is not devoid of its own ideas; the problem, however, is that it only briefly touches upon anything resembling a new idea. The additions to the overall Blair Witch Project mythology are slight to the point of being nonexistent, and whenever it seems like Barrett and Wingard are about to blaze a new path and start making their own movie, you can almost feel the studio influence course-correcting them back into bland remake territory. Even the drone, which initially seems like a really fun way to create a really fun sequence, is never actually utilized: it gets stuck in a tree early on in the film.

To his credit, director Adam Wingard brings some pretty effective terror sequences to the table in Blair Witch, utilizing the ear-mounted cameras in such a way that the film almost feels like it has a virtual reality component – VR is undoubtedly the future of horror cinema, and in some ways, Blair Witch feels like the start of that immersive movement. Since the characters are literally wearing the cameras rather than holding them out in front of them, it often doesn’t require much imagination to feel that it is YOU in these situations, and fear boxes like claustrophobia and acrophobia are ticked off in two standout scenes that feel very much like VR experiences – okay, so maybe it doesn’t quite make sense WHY a character decides to climb a tree at one point, but it makes for a memorable sequence nonetheless.

It’s not that Blair Witch is a bad movie – and I’m honestly not convinced that Barrett and Wingard are even capable of making one of those – but it’s a movie that never quite justifies its own existence. Limp, safe, and totally aimless, Blair Witch is yet another forgettable found footage movie in a long line of unremarkable found footage movies, and one would (and honestly should) expect more from not only a 17-years later sequel to the film that pioneered the whole damn sub-genre, but also from a film written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard. This slick, polished “sequel” seems to miss the point of what made Blair Witch Project so effective back in 1999 – and even still to this day – and since it blazes no new paths of its own, it ultimately feels like an inferior knockoff that serves no real purpose.

Given how excited I was when Adam Wingard’s The Woods actually turned out to be Lionsgate’s Blair Witch, it’s pretty ironic and kind of a bummer that I left my local theater wishing I had instead seen Adam Wingard’s The Woods. Because Blair Witch, though Wingard may have directed it, feels very much like a studio horror film, and there’s just something about seeing a studio horror film made by two of the most talented and unique horror filmmakers in the game today that feels a little bit depressing.

Barrett and Wingard don’t deal in bad movies, but here they’ve made their most forgettable one.

Ho-stess’s PS#NeverForget. 

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“Lights Out” Review: A Good Old Fashioned Fright Flick

(Submitted by John Squires…Thanks, Ho-mie!! SIDE NOTE: I’m Comic Con bound at ass crack o’clock in the AM. Ho-sting duties will resume -with cumplete comic con coverage, of course- when I return to Hell-A. In the meantime, happy a frighteningly fantastic weekend, freaky fiends!! 🙂 xoxoxo)

Nyctophobia, the technical term for a debilitating fear of darkness, may not be something we all suffer from, but there’s no denying that we humans are inherently, on at least some level, afraid of the dark. It’s the first fear we ever really experience, as kids, and it’s one that tends to stick with us throughout our lives. No matter how old we get, and no matter how jaded we become, there’s just something about a dark room that will always be a little spooky, and the 2013 short Lights Out exploited that fear so effectively that it quickly became a viral hit. Now, three years later, it’s a feature film.
Written by Eric Heisserer and directed by David F. Sandberg, who also directed the original short, Lights Out stars Teresa Palmer as Rebecca, a young woman who comes to the aid of her younger brother when a malevolent spirit begins tormenting him at the home of their mentally ill mother, Sophie (Maria Bello). The entity only appears when the lights go out, and it has only one goal: destroy the family.

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Running less than three-minutes long, the short film was so simple that it was hard to imagine it justifying a feature length expansion. In it, a woman who’s alone in her house at night sees a strange form in her hallway when she turns the light out, and the figure disappears and reappears as she flicks the lights on and off. A quick jump scare later and the short is over, ending with the memorable reveal of precisely what has found itself in the woman’s home. It was a clever concept, and it’s because of how well Heisserer and Sandberg expand upon it that Lights Out more than justifies its existence as a feature.

Rather than merely being a random entity that pops up when the lights go out and disappears when they go on, the villain in Lights Out is given a complete backstory that connects her to Rebecca’s mother, and it’s the way the character is used as a metaphor for her mental illness that is truly impressive. Not unlike Aussie horror flick The Babadook, the dark-dwelling creature here is quite literally Sophie’s illness represented by a corporeal form, and that core idea gives the film a surprising amount of depth. The entity/illness literally tears the family apart, and it’s at its strongest whenever Sophie is at her weakest.

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Of course, none of this would work if it wasn’t filled out with characters worth caring about, and though Lights Out seems to waste so little time getting to where it wants to go that it may feel a little bit rushed, at least initially, it nevertheless manages to spend enough time establishing the characters that we do indeed care once their lives are in jeopardy. Thanks in no small part to strong performances all around, particularly from Teresa Palmer and Maria Bello, the film almost effortlessly invests you in the family’s plight. Even Rebecca’s boyfriend, who could have been a throwaway character, is one of the most likable characters in a horror movie this year, so genuinely in love with Rebecca that it’s palpable.

And it’s because we care about the characters, and therefore the overall stakes of the piece, that Lights Out is at times quite effective in the scare department. Alicia Vela-Bailey, who plays the villain, is nothing more than a sinister shadow throughout much of the film, but the way she moves around is so unnaturally chilling that the nightmarish imagery will likely stick with you for at least a couple nights after watching. Any horror film that makes you question sleeping with all the lights off has more than done its job, and I have a strong feeling that for many, Lights Out is going to be one of those films.
Admittedly, there’s something repetitive about the creature’s appearances, as there’s only so much you can do with the concept, but to the credit of the film, it employs some pretty damn clever techniques that keep things feeling fresh. Without giving anything away, alternate light sources like car headlights and the muzzle flashes of a gun quickly blinking the villain in and out of existence are incredibly fun, and once a blacklight comes into play, things get even more fun. The name of the game here is using various different lights in creative ways, and Sandberg admirably proves he was more than up for the task.

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Quick, efficient, and without a dull moment, Lights Out is an entertaining fright flick that’s full of depth if you want it to have depth or just plain full of fun if you’re not interested in digging too deep. In that sense, it’s a horror film made for both popcorn audiences and horror fans who are looking for something a little bit smarter than the average Hollywood fare, and I suspect that both audiences will be pleased with what Sandberg and company have done with the most popular short film in recent years.
2016 continues to be a damn good year for horror.

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Movie Review -The Purge: Election Year

(Submitted by John Squires, who might’ve taken the wind out of my sails just a tad with this review, but I’m still totally checking it out over the ho-rrorday weekend…Happy Purge, Kinky Ho-s!!! 😉 xoxo)

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Us horror fans are always begging for original ideas, and James DeMonaco damn sure gave us one with 2013’s The Purge. The basic concept of the hit franchise-starter was that all crime, including murder, is made legal for 12 hours each year in future America, allowing the citizens of this great country to unleash their inner beast and cleanse themselves of the violent acts they’d otherwise carry out throughout the year. A mere tease of that universe, the first film played out more like a confined home invasion film than anything else, and it wasn’t until 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy that we saw just how twisted the “holiday” truly is. The Purge: Election Year, well, it delivers more of the same.

Set two years after the events of Anarchy, the James DeMonaco-directed Election Year again centers on Leo Barnes, who is now a security guard for presidential hopeful Charlie Roan. The senator’s stance, and first act if she becomes president, is to do away with the annual Purge, and she’s got a good reason for wanting to make it a thing of the past – her whole family, years prior, was slaughtered on Purge Night. As eager to eliminate Roan as Roan is eager to eliminate them, the New Founding Fathers of America make her their primary target for this year’s Purge, and it’s up to Barnes to protect and serve.

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One of the admirable things about the Purge franchise is that it dares to tackle relevant social issues that most horror films don’t bother to even touch upon, and The Purge: Election Year is not only no exception, but it’s also the series’ most topical installment to date. Smartly released in the midst of perhaps the most unsettling election season in our country’s history, Election Year features a plot that is very much ripped from the headlines, drawing some all-too-real comparisons between the franchise’s fictional universe and the world we have no choice but to live in. For that, it’s a film worth commending. But as important as its subject matter may seem, it’s the execution that leaves much to be desired.

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Like the previous installments in the franchise, The Purge: Election Year is not quite smart enough to make anything more than surface-level, on-the-nose observations about the problems currently plaguing this country. It again touches upon things like our collective obsession with violence and the upper class’s mistreatment of the lower class, and this time around injects some very anti-Trump sentiments into the proceedings, but any chance of that stuff resonating is always washed away in a flurry of bullets and bloodshed. Of course, what we have here is at the end of the day an action/horror affair, but the film’s political stance often clashes with its action in a very confusing way.
For a movie that seems to be anti-gun violence, it sure does revel in gun violence.
Nothing about The Purge: Election Year is remarkable or even all that different from what we saw two years ago, and one of its biggest problems is indeed that it feels like much the same movie as The Purge: Anarchy. The always badass Frank Grillo reprises the role of ex-cop Leo Barnes, and though he does such a fine Max Payne impression that you can’t help but hope he someday plays Max Payne, his return to the franchise only adds to the familiarity of it all. Just like in Anarchy, the majority of Election Year sees Barnes protecting people from cartoonish villains and saving the day whenever the most amount of shit possible decides to hit the fan, and it’s all quite repetitive and again, just a bit too familiar.

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Election Year does more of the same with a franchise concept that almost begs DeMonaco to do anything but more of the same with each new installment, and though it’s guaranteed to please those who preferred Anarchy to The Purge, anyone looking for a new take on the titular 12-hour event is likely to be at least a little bit disappointed. Brief teases of other stories going on around Barnes and company are almost more interesting than the central plot itself, most notably the barely touched upon idea of tourists traveling to America for the sole purpose of purging. Murder tourism, the media dubs it.

Let’s see THAT movie.

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On the plus side, the cast here is all around better than Anarchy‘s, with veteran actor Mykelti Williamson bringing a whole lot of welcome humor to the table as small business owner Joe Dixon. His relationship with Mexican immigrant employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) is the real heart of Election Year, and easily the single best aspect of the whole thing. Serious props must also be given to actress Betty Gabriel for nearly out-badassing Frank Grillo as Laney Rucker, a woman who bravely takes to the streets on Purge Night to help the injured and avenge the murdered. She needs a spin-off film, like right now.

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Missing the mark on its social commentary and failing to deliver an experience different enough from Anarchy to make me excited about the future of the franchise, Election Year isn’t quite a win for me, but there’s again something to be said for a horror film (if we can still call these things horror movies) that at least tries to run head-on into hot button issues. Even if it failed, the effort is appreciated.

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Now let’s change things up big time with The Purge 4, shall we?

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