Netflix Scrolling & Arthouse Horror – 2017 Best of Horror Reviews 16-13

[Cult of Chucky images courtesy @ChuckyFilm Official Facebook page; Box Office figures courtesy]

After watching 16 out of the 30 movies on Scott Weinberg’s 2017 Best Horror Movies of 2017 list over at Thrillist, here’s my mini-reviews and rankings, beginning at 16-13.

OK for a Matinee (or Scrolling Through Netflix)
16 – House on Willow Street
15 – Cult of Chucky

House on Willow St. Photo by Alon Cohen. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Midnight release.
Just your ordinary kidnapping/demonic possession story. Photo by Alon Cohen. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Midnight release.

16 – House on Willow Street
Director – Alastair Orr
Written by Catherine Blackman, Jonathan Jordaan, Alastair Orr
Cast – Sharni Vinson, Carlyn Burchell, Steven John Ward, Gustav Gerdener, Zino Ventura, Dimitri Bajlanis
US Distributor – IFC Midnight
Worldwide box office (US dollars) – N/A
MPAA Rating – N/A
Thrillist Ranking – 29

(Home Invasion) House on Willow Street starts off as a grungy and entertaining, “kidnapping-gone-horribly-wrong” B movie. Hazel (Sharni Vinson) leads a motley gang of kidnappers plotting to exchange young Katherine (Carlyn Burchell) for a sizable ransom from her diamond merchant father. Unfortunately – and fatally for some of the crew – nothing goes according to plan.

But instead of sticking to a tried and true storytelling formula to deliver a crime thriller laced with supernatural elements, Willow Street tosses in demonic possession, ley lines, forbidden books in the Vatican, exorcism and a couple ghosts into the mix.

One of these stories might’ve worked, maybe two. But as I noted in my initial Fang and Saucer review, “I found myself wishing that the movie had concentrated on one of these stories (the symbols in the house, Hazel’s story, the previous tenants, the Super-Secret Book Written By God) and developed it while staying in one location. In the end, House on Willow Street is a frustrating view experience …”

Is House on Willow Street worth a watch? In my view, mainly as an intriguing misfire – a collection of interesting ideas that, for me, never coalesced into an entertaining whole.

Currently streaming on Amazon, iTunes, Netflix and vudu; DVD/Bluray available from Shout! Factory.

Cult of Chucky @chuckyfilm official FB page
From Talky Tina, to Chucky, to Annabelle, dolls are not to be trusted.

15 – Cult of Chucky
Directed and Written by Don Mancini
Cast – Allison Dawn Doiron, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif , Fiona Dourif, Michael Therriault, Zak Santiago, Jennifer Tilly, Marina Stephenson Kerr
US Distributor – Netflix
Worldwide box office (US dollars) – N/A
MPAA Rating – N/A
Thrillist Ranking – 30

(Slasher) From the reviews I’ve read, the seventh movie in the Child’s Play series isn’t a bad starting point to this movie franchise. If you know who Chucky is (and what horror fan doesn’t), you know enough to follow along the story, which mainly exists as a meta-tail swallowing journey into the referential territory of the later Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

The Good News for Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif)? She survived her encounter with the murderous ginger haired killer doll who killed her family in 2013’s Curse of Chucky. The Bad News? Chucky framed her for the death of said family and she’s institutionalized in a hospital for the criminally insane.

Cult of Chucky does use its mental hospital in winter setting to full advantage. Like a Child’s Play version of an Italian Giallo thriller, Cult is all design, mood, music, and murder set pieces. Production Designer Craig Sandells and Director Don Mancini (co-writer of the original Child’s Play now directing his third installment of the series) do a great job with the gleaming white hallways, off kilter angles and setting of the oddly isolated and easily broken into Harrogate Psychiatric Hospital, aided by Joseph LoDuca’s atmospheric score.

Add in some memorable supporting performances – Zak Santiago as Nurse Carlos and Marina Stephenson Kerr as longtime patient Angela and there’s enough to make Cult of Chucky an interesting one-time visit to Pint Size Slasher Land.

I might’ve enjoyed this movie more if I didn’t find Chucky so annoying. Listening to overly talkative slasher icons like Chucky and Freddy wisecrack their way through a parade of victims makes me long for the equally deadly (but blessedly silent) Jason Voorhees.

Currently streaming on Amazon, iTunes, Netflix, FandangoNow, and vudu; DVD/Bluray available from Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Beautiful – but Remote
14 – A Dark Song
13 – It Comes at Night

A Dark Song No7 jpeg
Like this image, A Dark Song is beautiful, haunting – and remote. Photo by Samson Films. Courtesy of IFC Midnight. An IFC Midnight release.

14 – A Dark Song
Directed and Written by Liam Gavin
Cast – Steve Oram (Joseph) Catherine Walker (Sophia)
US Distributor – IFC Midnight
Worldwide box office (US dollars) – N/A
MPAA Rating – N/A
Thrillist Ranking – 7

(Haunted House) In a remote country manor, grieving mother Sophia (Catherine Walker) endures months of indoctrination in arcane rituals at the hands of spiritualist for hire Joseph (Steve Oram). Sophia claims she only wants to communicate with her dead son. But true goal is much more sinister – and may be fatal for both her and Joseph.

Given the high Metacritc and Rotten Tomatoes scores (alongside a Thrillist rank of seven out of 30), I am in the minority in placing A Dark Song near the bottom of my list. I’ll grant that the story is original, the setting atmospheric, and the acting first rate. Writer/Director Liam Gavin brings a unique take grief (and the extremes to which it can drive people) to a haunted house story.

But in the end, the characters in A Dark Song remained as unlikable and cryptic to me as they did to each other throughout the movie. One of the characters suffers a painful, protracted demise three quarters of the way through the movie. But when that person finally succumbs, I felt relief instead of any sense of loss.

Currently streaming on Amazon, iTunes, Netflix, and vudu; DVD/Bluray available from Shout! Factory

It Comes at night official fb
Don’t Open the Rust-Red Door! Photo courtesy It Comes at Night Official Facebook page.

13 – It Comes at Night
Directed and Written by Trey Edward Shults
Cast – Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Travis) David Pendleton (Grandfather)
US Distributor – A24
Worldwide box office (US dollars) – $13,985,117
MPAA Rating – R
Thrillist Ranking – 22

(Art House Apocalypse) Like A Dark Song, It Comes at Night is original, creative, visually interesting – and emotionally remote.  While the characters in A Dark Song struck me as unlikable ciphers, the “lucky” survivors of a (supposedly) world-wise pestilence in Night are a bit more sympathetic, if just as cryptic.

In the face of a worldwide pandemic, Paul (Joel Edgerton) and Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) retreat to a remote woodland cabin with their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Sarah’s father Bud (David Pendleton). The arrival of another family (Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, and Griffin Robert Faulkner)  may prove to be more of a threat than the plague that ended civilization.

The audience learns almost nothing about who these characters were before the world fell apart. Nobody communicates anything that would help me understand why they make the choices they do. Instead of creating a sense of mystery, or making me concentrate on the events at hand, the lack of information keeps everyone in the story at a distance.

In the end, the only message is one of pessimism and distrust and inescapable despair.  Trust and empathy leads to destruction. This is heartbreaking message delivered with clinical detachment.

I did connect with two characters – one we meet at the beginning and one who fights to the end. Grandfather Bud dies in the first few minutes of Night, but his loss affects his grandson profoundly. Because of that loss, Travis makes a choice that leads to disaster for everyone. Even Travis’s acts of compassion and love inadvertently doom his family, they still seem like the right choices, and make his journey the most memorable one in the story.

Currently streaming on Amazon, iTunes, FandangoNow, and vudu; DVD/Bluray available from Lionsgate.

Sixteen Out of 30 ‘Aint Bad – Thrillist’s Best Horror Movies of 2017 Challenge Results

[Featured image – The Devil’s Candy courtesy IFC Midnight]

Another year, another bumper crop of horror movies. As always, the horror genre continues to provide truckloads of cash receipts to studios. 2017’s horror releases provided their own unique road-map of scares – from faux documentary (Creep 2), to Stephen King coming of age tale (IT), to social satire (Get Out). In a pleasant change of pace for horror fans, some of the highest grossing genre titles also earned critical raves to go with the oceans of green (IT and Get Out earning 84 and 99 percent Fresh ratings respectively at Rotten Tomatoes).

Late last year, Thrillist’s Best Horror Movies of 2017 (So Far) by Scott Weinberg inspired me. How many of the listed movies could I watch before January 1, 2018? How would my opinions agree or clash with Mr. Weinberg’s? I started off with House on Willow Street (here at F&S) and The Void (reviewed at SciFi4Me). However, due to things like “work” and “going to Urgent Care“, I only managed a total of 16 out of 30 movies.

Detailed reviews of my arbitrary groupings will follow. For starters, here’s my ranking of the sixteen movies I managed to watch, with Scott Weinberg’s ranking in parenthesis.

The Top Tier
1 – Raw (5)
2 – The Devil’s Candy (8)
3 – Creep 2 (16)
4 – The Void (28)
5 – Split (15)
6 – Get Out (1)

Fun Creature Features 
7 – Life (17)
8 – Alien: Covenant (23)
9 – Annabelle: Creation (27)

The Stephen King Afterschool Specials
10 – Gerald’s Game (4)
11 – IT (2)
12 – 1922 (13)

Beautiful, but Remote
13 – It Comes at Night (22)
14 – A Dark Song

OK for a Matinee
15 – Cult of Chucky (30)
16 – House on Willow Street (29)


Year End Horror Movie Challenge – HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET

[All images courtesy Alon Cohen/ IFC Films]

A few days ago, I set myself a challenge for the end of 2017, inspired by Scott Weinberg’s Best Horror Movies of 2017 (So Far) article on Thrillist. Before January 1, 2018, I’d watch as many of the 30 listed movies as I could. Not counting movies I’ve already seen (grand total of six), that left a whopping 24 titles to go! While I’ve already seen Numbers 28 (The Void) and 30 (Cult of Chucky), my first review for the challenge is House on Willow Street.

House on Willow Street (2016)
Directed by Alastair Orr
Written by Catherine Blackman, Jonathan Jordaan, Alastair Orr
An IFC Midnight release

Four people plot a kidnapping in a dingy, dimly lit warehouse. Hazel (Sharna Vinson) is clearly in charge of the group. She insists that six weeks more than enough time to plan and flawlessly execute the kidnapping of a young woman named Katherine (Carolyn Burcher).

The ransom Katherine’s diamond merchant father exchanges for her return will solve all their individual problems. Which, for Hazel’s boyfriend Ade (Steven Ward) includes a need to skip town before going on trial for involuntary manslaughter of his brother (Dimitri Belianis).

Things go south as soon as the group arrives at the isolated home of their target. Recovering a ransom is soon the least of their concerns as each thief is relentlessly haunted (and hunted) by their pasts – and a not-so-helpless Katherine.

House on Willow Street, a 2016 South African heist/horror mashup directed by Alistair Orr, sets up an intriguing mystery in suitably creepy settings. In each of the main locations – the titular house, the kidnapper’s lair, and the rural road between them – Orr and his entire crew create a sustained mood of dread. When jump scares are used, they’re effective, as is the use of negative space to keep the viewer on edge.

Hazel isn’t as in control of this situation as she images.

Unfortunately, the many, many plot elements crammed into Willow Street’s one hour and thirty minute run time ultimately work against those positives. For me, these discordant threads never transformed into an effective whole.

While the kidnapping goes according to plan, Ade and his cousin James (Gustav Gerderner) go back to the house on Hazel’s orders because Katherine’s parents won’t answer the phone. The pair discovers a couple brutally murdered in their bed, along with a pair of dead priests (Ashish Gangapersad and Jonathan Taylor)impaled in the basement.
Then came the segment that exhausted my patience with this movie.
After discovering all the dead bodies, James and Ade grabbed a couple videotapes on their way out,  providing the gang (and us) with the following backstory tsunami.

*All the previous tenants of the house were coping with some form of loss and grief.
*Every tenant of the house went mad and slaughtered their families in various bloody ways
*Weird symbols on the basement had something to do with the murders.
*Katherine just happens to be the person relating this information. We see the symbols from the basement carved into her body as she confesses to falling under the house’s influence.

The second conveniently stolen video tape features a previously unknown couple listening to the previously seen priests explaining why the house is so evil. Turns out it’s all because Willow Street is super far away from a super secret book written by God and kept in the Vatican.

Of course.

Next up – go to the basement to check the fuse box! What could go wrong?

As Gareth Jones at notes, “Orr appears to be throwing just about everything he can at the wall and merely praying that something sticks. Hell, there’s even an impending apocalypse and ghostly elements to the story. Why not, eh?!

As I watched House on Willow Street, I found myself wishing that the movie had concentrated on one of these stories (the symbols in the house, Hazel’s story, the previous tenants, the Super Secret Book Written By God) and developed it while staying in one location. At the end, House on Willow Street is a frustrating view experience; a movie with many interesting ideas that end up canceling each other out.


Two minor items.
-Wouldn’t a house so far out in the country, so distant from any real neighborhood be on a Road, a Rural Route, or County Highway (at least in the US)? Willow Street implies an urban (or suburban) address, not an isolated dwelling at the end of a glorified dirt road out in the middle of nowhere.

-Hazel insists the kidnapping must be planned to perfection with precise timing.  But when their van rolls up to the house, she has to gives James and Ade directions, “you go to the front, you to the back.” If this was such a well-planned operation, would every member of the gang already know their roles and where to enter the house?

House on Willow Street is distributed by IFC Midnight and is currently available on Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu.


UPDATED Year End Horror Movie Challenge Begins In THE VOID

[All Images courtesy Screen Media Films.Net]

Some people have a post holiday season goal to get back in shape after too much indulgence. After reading Scott Weinberg’s The Best Horror Movies of 2017 (So Far) on Thrillist, I have a pre-New Year’s goal. As I read through Mr. Weinberg’s list, I realized I’d only seen six of the 30(!) movies featured.


What to do?

Start a crash horror movie watching regime, of course. Thanks to Netflix I caught The Void. Now I’m only 23 movies behind  instead of 30. As I go through titles I’ll put up a short review – and be better prepared to creat my own “Best of” list for posting here on Fand and Saucer and SciFi4Me/Horror4Me.

Let’s begin, shall we?
The Void (2016)
Written and Directed by Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski

The Void opens with a jolt.  A bedraggled young man flees an isolated country house moments before a woman is dragged outside, murdered, then set on fire. The fleeing man (Evan Stern) runs in front of the patrol car of Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole). Carter takes the badly injured man to the closest hospital.

Unfortunately for Daniel Carter, his passenger, and everyone else we meet in The Void, the soon-to-be-shuttered hospital isn’t so much a House of Healing as a Portal to Hell.

As a fan of creepy abandoned places, horror movies set in creepy abandoned places, and Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror, I was predisposed to like The Void. It makes the most of its setting, story, and characters to produce a movie that, for worked on all levels. It drew me in to its world, kept me watching, and left me eagerly waiting for The Void 2.

Besides the skillful blending of the horror elements above, The Void takes care to adhere to storytelling logic. All of the characters have a logical reason for being at the hospital (work, illness, medical emergency). The hospital’s imminent shutdown explains both the minimum number of staff and patients and no new characters showing up once the story gets moving. Anyone who’s ever had to work the last shift in a closing store or business understands this set of circumstances and the attitudes of the employees and patients stuck in it.

When your escape car is so close, yet so far away.

Directing/Writing team of Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski effectively create the mundane reality of the characters and their environment. It’s easy to accept the almost imperceptible slide into unreality – the police car that suddenly seems much farther away from the hospital entrance than when we first see it, the hallucinations and visions, the sudden blurring of lines between reality and nightmare.

The cast is solid.  Veteran character actors Kenneth Welsh (Dr. Powell) and Art Hindle (State Trooper Mitchell) lend gravitas to their authority figure roles. Kathleen Munroe (Deputy Carter’s estranged wife Allison), Ellen Wong (flippant student nurse Kim), and Stephanie Belding (Beverly) express both professionalism (or lack thereof for Kim) as well as sense of a closing crew’s boredom and overwork

Even the characters we only know as “The Father” (Daniel Fathers) and “The Son” (Mik Byskov) are effectively established. It’s a compliment to the entire production that every character could simply be identified in a similar way – “Old Cop”, “Young Cop” “Estranged Wife” “Pregnant Teen”, “Grandfather” and still be memorable individuals.

For a soon to be closed hopital, a LOT of people are stopping by tonight.

The Void’s practical effects recall the classic work of Rob Bottin (The Thing, 1982), Chris Walas and Stephan Dupui (The Fly, 1986), and Yûichi Matsui (Infection, 2004), even some of the later creature effects fall a bit short in execution compared to those three. By the time Daniel reaches the ultimate truth of what lies beneath the hospital, I was too wrapped up in the story to nitpick.

The dividing line between who will enjoy this movie or not can be easily  summed up. Mr. Fang and Saucer took in about 30 minutes of The Void before deciding it was time to go play Candy Crush. By comparison, when Carter witnesses a skinless mass of blood and flesh uselessly bashing their head into, and through, a metal bar in a futile effort to finally die, I felt sadness and pity. It was both a total gross-out and a heartbreaking callback to the finale of Cronenberg’s The Fly, when Brundlefly pulls a gun to his head and wordlessly begs Veronica to end his existence and his torment.

The setting of The Void drew me in even as it creeped me out. Even as it transformed into a trans dimensional charnel house, I wanted to explore more of the hospital and the charnel house below it.

James wishes he was back at the Farmhouse of Doom right about now.

The ending of The Void, like final shot of The Beyond is both mystifyingly bleak – and oddly optimistic. We see two characters in a landscape that resembles a mix of Ancient Egypt and the Alien hellscape of LV-426.

Do we know where the two surviving characters are? What they’ve become? Nope and Nope. But I have a sense that, just like Ash at the end of Army of Darkness, the next chapter of their story is just beginning.

And I’d love to see it.

More more goopy Lovecraftian goodness, check out The Void Official website, as well as Facebook and Twitter.
It is available on Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu