Prince of Darkness, Shadowzone, and Talk to Me

Prince of Darkness – 1987, US, 101m. Director: John Carpenter. Streaming: Peacock

Shadowzone – 1990, US, 89m. Director: J.S. Cardone. Streaming: Tubi

Talk to Me – 2023, Australia, 95m. Director: Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou. Streaming: N/A

PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987) The death of a priest leads to the discovery of a secret sect—not even the Vatican knew of its existence—known as the Brotherhood of Sleep, which operated within a rundown Los Angeles church that contains a mysterious green liquid locked away in the basement. A research team of scientists is brought in to study the goo, which seems to have sentient properties and may, in fact, be Satan itself, or at least a close relative. The team is too busy deciphering archaic scripture and solving mathematical equations to notice the slimy evil slowly influencing the minds of the neighborhood’s lower intelligences, including insects and—gasp!—street people. There’s a bunch of talk about Jesus having been an alien, a church cover-up lasting millennia, and even time travel! It’s all trivial to the film’s real purpose, which is to become yet another possession/slasher variant as characters are whittled down by impalement, stabbing, neck-snapping, and decapitation. The silly plot is further hampered by flat direction by John Carpenter and stiff acting by a mostly uncharismatic cast. There’s some interesting stuff thrown in to keep viewers awake—a man’s body disintegrates into a puddle of bugs and gore. But these scenes are too few and far in between the plodding screenplay. C

SHADOWZONE (1990) You have to admire a movie like Shadowzone. Here’s a film that makes absolutely no sense within the realms of its science-based story, yet it’s professionally made, features good acting and likable characters, and is entertaining enough to carry its largely preposterous story from beginning to end. Square-jawed NASA bigwig David Beecroft is given special access to a top-secret, government-funded research facility (dubbed “Project Shadowzone”) located inside an abandoned underground bunker, where scientists are doing advanced experiments in deep sleep and its dream states. Beecroft’s visit is the result of the death of one of the project’s volunteers—judging from their physiques, these male and female volunteers were apparently chosen based on their centerfold layouts. One of the subjects reaches beyond the normal dream state and into a Lovecraftian dimension filled with ugly, shapeshifting creatures. One of these beings eventually crosses over into the real world and forms the shapes of the characters’ worst nightmares, which for the lab’s in-house cook is a giant, mutated rat. Shadowzone resembles From Beyond in large parts and its story structure seems to have been modeled after Alien. That doesn’t prevent the movie from being highly enjoyable for what it is. Excellent make-up FX by Mark Shostrom (Evil Dead II, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3). B

TALK TO ME (2023) Mia has problems. Not only is the poor high school student trying to recuperate after the untimely (and mysterious) death of her mother, but she has to deal with the fact her ex-boyfriend, whom she still has romantic feelings for, is now playing Double Tap with Mia’s best friend (Alexandra Jensen). The arrival of an evil specter, which attaches to Mia during a Let’s Get Possessed and Live Stream It party, doesn’t help matters, especially after it claims to be the spirit of Mia’s mom. Played by Sophie Wilde, Mia exudes such a healthy amount of energy and brains within the first act of Talk to Me that it becomes all the more disappointing when she transforms into a complete idiot—that cliched character audiences scream at to not go into the basement? Mia goes into the basement. The same can be said for the film itself: after a good start, the script stumbles and turns into a hodgepodge of murky character motivations and predictability, including an ending you can smell coming a mile away. It often feels with some of these films the writers lose interest halfway through working on the script—you know, one of those good concept, poor execution deals. This is all the more disheartening given the overwhelming amount of praise Talk to Me received from critics dubbing it the next great horror flick. It’s not. C

Last Voyage of the Demeter, Meatcleaver Massacre, and Prom Night III

The Last Voyage of the Demeter – 2023, US, 118m. Director: André Øvredal. Streaming: N/A

Meatcleaver Massacre – 1976, US, 75m. Director: Evan Lee (Ed Wood). Streaming: Tubi

Prom Night III: The Last Kiss – 1990, US, 97m. Director: Ron Oliver, Peter Simpson. Streaming: N/A

THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER (2023) In what is the umpteenth retelling of Dracula, The Last Voyage of the Demeter separates itself from the pack by expanding on a single passage from Bram Stoker’s novel, in which the Count sails from his crumbling castle in the Carpathian Mountains to the lush English countryside. An interesting take on the story, considering most adaptations of Dracula, including the two most famous, Nosferatu (1922) and Dracula (1931), wisely bypassed the Demeter subplot—mainly because the passage is entirely incidental to the rest of the tale. Last Voyage takes the Demeter section at face value, and by doing so the movie ends up becoming a failed experiment in mundane storytelling. Despite flagrantly stating the film is based on the Stoker novel in its opening credits, the majority of Last Voyage is a creation of the filmmakers, the plot following a struggling medical doctor (Corey Hawkins) who boards the doomed vessel where he and a handful of halfwit characters must fight off the blood-drinking menace of Dracula (Javier Bolet). Unless you’re a complete novice when it comes to the Dracula legend, Last Voyage of the Demeter offers nothing new to the viewer, except a whole lotta “Who Shot John?” explanations as to why it takes nearly two hours to tell a story that barely has enough material to cover 80 minutes. Adding insult to injury, the movie throws integrity out the window by turning the survivor of the Demeter into a Van Helsingesque caricature for the sole purpose of a sequel. A tale best left to sleep with the fishes. D+

MEATCLEAVER MASSACRE (1976) The family of professor James Habif, who teaches occult history, is savagely murdered by a gang of cretinous dullards. When he learns one of the killers is a student of his, Habif summons forth an ancient Gaelic spirit called Morak to avenge his family. We’re then treated to a scene of a gang member being clawed by an invisible force, the aftermath leaving the victim looking like he has a piece of red-painted cardboard glued under his tattered shirt. The next person is smashed under the hood of a car by what looks like a demonic claw. And so forth, ad nauseam. None of this is particularly arresting, considering the lack of creativity and skill that went into this meandering production. It’s not at all surprising to find out director Evan Lee was actually Ed Wood, which would explain the movie’s overwrought melodrama and general insincerity. What meat cleavers have to do with anything in Meatcleaver Massacre is a question never answered. Maybe that’s for the best. D

PROM NIGHT III: THE LAST KISS (1990) Since her reign of terror in Prom Night II, Prom Queen mass murderer, Mary Lou Maloney (Courtney Taylor), has been held captive in Prom Hell. After cutting through her chains with a nail file, Mary Lou heads back to haunt the hallways of Hamilton High, where she immediately begins picking off school employees in comical fashion. “It wasn’t a person. It was a guidance counselor!” Mary Lou then sets her eyes on class nerd Alex (Tim Conlon), using him as a puppet to bring her more souls for her buffet of carnage. In return, she transforms Alex into the perfect student, even allowing him to score a touchdown for the football team. Alex eventually tires of Mary Lou’s bloodshed and wants out of their demented symbiotic relationship, but not before Ms. Maloney steals Alex away to Hell—which is 1957 Hamilton High, the night Mary Lou was crowned Prom Queen. This has nothing to do with the first two Prom Nights and has more of a Nightmare on Elm Street vibe, but it’s not all bad. Taylor is funny, Conlon makes for a likable schmuck, and there are several imaginative set pieces, including a flying football that turns into a metal spike and impales the school bully. Prom Night III ultimately shoots itself in the foot by offering a clever twist ending that it drops the ball on way too quickly, leaving the viewer somewhat dissatisfied. Still, harmless fun. B

Evil Dead Rise, First Man into Space, and Uncle Sam

EVIL DEAD RISE (2023) Another Evil Dead reboot to emerge after the 2013 remake failed to reignite the franchise, this appropriately gnarly reimagining of the original 1981 horror classic moves the action to Los Angeles, where the teens of a single-parent family discover the dreaded Book of the Dead in a hidden vault under their apartment complex. It isn’t long until Deadites are possessing the inhabits of the building and turning the place into a blood-covered hellhole. The first movie in the series to abandon the cabin-in-the-woods scenario since Army of Darkness, Evil Dead Rise works surprisingly well, especially in the third act when things go completely batshit crazy—but it wouldn’t be an Evil Dead movie any other way. You won’t feel a thing for the lifeless characters—who spend most of the film looking as if their Deadite Mommy just returned home with a bad haircut—but this is a fun and cheerfully gruesome return to form for the long-running series. Burning question: Why is there an industrial-size woodchipper in the basement of an L.A. apartment building? B

FIRST MAN INTO SPACE (1959) Reckless test pilot, Lt. Prescott (Bill Edwards), working for a military-backed space exploration project, becomes the first person to leave the planet’s atmosphere, only to vanish without a trace after his rocket is found abandoned at a crash site back on Earth. Unbeknownst to Dan’s brother (Marshall Thompson) and girlfriend (Marla Landi), Prescott roams the area as a blood-craving, deformed creature, transformed by microscopic space dust. Slight but mildly amusing low-budget sci-fi/horror that gets by because of a good cast and a couple of gory moments. Just don’t expect much and you might enjoy yourself. C+

UNCLE SAM (1997) “Don’t be afraid. It’s just friendly fire!” So says the charred body of Desert Storm soldier Sam Harper (David “Shark” Fralick), who puts a round of bullets in his fellow soldiers just before he dies in the wreckage of a helicopter downed by—yes—friendly fire. But that isn’t the end of Harper, a man who was filled with so much American patriotism he comes back from the grave like an EC Comics character to punish the wrongdoers of his hometown of Twin Rivers. Decked out in a gaudy Uncle Sam costume, Harper goes about dispatching those who are unpatriotic, rude, or just plain jerks—something the incredibly small town of Twin Rivers seem to be overflowing with—during the town’s Fourth of July festivities. A fun concept for a slasher, Uncle Sam is disappointingly flat, lacking the energy found in director William Lustig’s earlier movies (Maniac, Vigilante, Maniac Cop 1 and 2). The characters are dull and don’t add any sparks to the lazy screenplay, which spends too much time on a subplot involving Harper’s snot-nosed nephew (Christopher Ogden). The silly freeze-frame ending is a groaner. C

The Pope’s Exorcist, Scream VI, and Son of Frankenstein

THE POPE’S EXORCIST (2023) Taking a stab at the “based on real case files” scenario The Conjuring made popular ten years earlier, The Pope’s Exorcist delivers a “true” chapter out of Father Gabriel Amorth’s (Russell Crowe) book of paranormal activity. The only official head exorcist to the Vatican, Father Amorth tries to help a small American family whose young son (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) becomes possessed by a demonic force after they relocate to an inherited piece of property in Spain, 1987. Upon investigation of the site—a decaying abbey—Amorth, along with a local priest (Daniel Zovatto), discovers the place harbors an evil secret that connects back to the Catholic Church. While the possession plot takes center stage, the film feels more like an epic haunted house movie, complete with dark corridors, mysterious knocking at night, and a grandiose finale taking place in a corpse-laden cellar. It’s all fairly familiar territory, but director Julius Avery (Overlord) infuses the movie with energy, humor, and a lightening-quick pace. Crowe has obvious fun with the material in a role that practically begs for its own Netflix series. B

SCREAM VI (2023) It’s not out of the ordinary for long-running horror franchises to eventually wind up in either (1) space or (2) Manhattan. Going the Jason Voorhees route, Ghostface targets the bustling avenues of the Big Apple in the latest installment of the Scream series. Picking up a few years after the the events of the last Woodsboro slashings, sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega), along with the remainder of their still-breathing friends, leave home for campus life in New York City, only to have their studies interrupted by a new series of Ghostface killings. A step in the right direction after last year’s misguided reboot, Scream VI helps the series feel fresh again—removing the plot (and characters) from Woodsboro is a risk that pays off for most of the runtime. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett offer some terrific suspense set pieces—the makeshift catwalk escape sequence is a highlight—and the gore runs thick and fast. The script, unfortunately, spends too much time on the newer, duller characters and doesn’t give the legacy survivors from past Screams enough screen time; fan-favorite Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) from Scream 4 feels wasted in a bit part. By now you’d think the makers of these movies would realize you don’t need that many red herrings! B

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) Years after Bride of Frankenstein left the Monster (Boris Karloff) for dead, the son of Dr. Frankenstein, Baron Wolf (Basil Rathbone), moves his family into Castle Frankenstein, only to be met with hostility by the villagers. When Baron discovers the semiconscious body of the Monster in his family’s crypt, he becomes inspired to continue his dad’s work and—with the help of disgraced blacksmith, Ygor (Bela Lugosi)—brings the creature back to full life. While easily the weakest of the Karloff-era Frankenstein films, Son of Frankenstein is solid stuff thanks to good direction by Rowland Lee, but mostly because of the movie’s first-rate cast, including a scene-stealing Lugosi, whose role, according to Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula by Koren Shadmi, was re-written and expanded by Lee without Karloff’s knowledge—an act that ultimately lead to Karloff’s decision to abandon the role. Karloff would return as Dr. Niemann in House of Frankenstein. B

End of the Year Wrap-Up

It was an interesting year for horror films in 2022. We got a few new classics, a few surprises, and two of the biggest franchise disappointments in recent years. We also got a glut of high-profile but incredibly mediocre films from critical darling directors. Here’s a quick wrap-up of the horror titles I was able to watch.

Honorable Mentions

BARBARIAN The best horror film of the year, Barbarian is a breath of fresh air. Funny, suspenseful, topical, and, most importantly, unpredictable, the movie succeeds in an area where so many have failed: it’s all about the strong, well-written characters. Fast-moving and exciting, Barbarian is classic horror storytelling without having to resort to cheap theatrics or media hype. A

THE BLACK PHONE After dabbling in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Doctor Strange, Scott Derrickson returned to horror with this terrific ghostly tale of a kidnapped 13-year-old who must communicate with the spirits of his captor’s previous victims in order to escape. As with Sinister, Derrickson delivers a strong story, smart characters, and an intense climax. B+

SMILE Smile is the kind of slow-burn horror tale that never grows old. While investigating the gruesome death of her patient, a psychiatrist uncovers a supernatural plot that literally gets under its victims skin and drives them to the brink of sanity – and suicide. Much like The Ring, Smile‘s story is structured as a mystery, building to a nerve-jangling resolution that’s both bleak and honest. B+

X Having been a fan of director Ti West since 2009’s House of the Devil, it was a pleasure to see him grow into the mature filmmaker he is today, and X is his best work yet. A small group of people looking to break into the porn biz during the turbulent time of ’79 unknowingly walk into hell in the form of an elderly farmer and his unstable wife. A witty, scary slow-burn into madness, X will leave you smiling for many reasons. B+

(Dis)honorable Mentions

SCREAM It was only a matter of time until Scream lost sight of its core and adapted the silliness of its self-referential movie-within-a-movie Stab series. As with most franchises nowadays, the new Scream goes backwards by introducing new characters related to the originals and creating an overly complicated web of relatives and suspects, and – just like the first movie – it all climaxes at Stu Macher’s old house. Neve Campbell is always lovely, but she, along with Courtney Cox, are pushed to the side in a scare-free plot that rarely makes sense. Flat and empty. D+

NOPE Critics can’t seem to praise Jordon Peele enough, even giving this borefest rave reviews, despite the fact it rips off Close Encounters of the Third Kind without attaining any of that classic’s energy and awe-inspiring chills. Instead Nope offers a story about horse breeders trying to catch a UFO on film for fame and fortune, an interesting premise that’s unfortunately swallowed in humdrum character arcs and a massively pointless subplot that’s nothing more than the product of over-indulgent filmmaking. D

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE In the history of bad sequels, there has never been one quite as horrendous as the new Texas Chainsaw (that is until Halloween Ends). Limping along like a zombie looking for brains, the new Massacre is devoid of plot, character, personality, and energy – it’s a dumb byproduct that feels so disingenuous to the original, one wonders if the writers actually paid attention to Tobe Hooper’s masterwork. The return of Final Girl Sally Hardesty smacks of desperation, and when Leatherface is about to chainsaw her, she asks him to say her name. When at any moment did Bubba actually speak, and why would he know her name? D

HALLOWEEN ENDS After a rough start with the 2018 Halloween reboot, followed by a spike in creativity with the energetic Halloween Kills, the newest, and allegedly last, chapter in the Michael Myers saga is a sucker punch to the gut. Lacking any shred of suspense or story fluidity, Halloween Ends removes everything that made the earlier Halloween movies work so well – even eliminating MM for most of the movie! – replacing those elements with a needless and boring “doomed romance” subplot involving characters you couldn’t care less about. The worst. F

Halloween Ends (Badly)

By Frank Pittarese

Here’s what happens: Completely disregarding her emotional and mental state of the previous films — and despite the brutal murder of her daughter —  Laurie Strode is living a happy, pie-making suburban life in Haddonfield, with her Awful Granddaughter, Allyson. Meanwhile, troubled misfit Corey Cunningham encounters Michael Myers, and after some true nonsense happens, is lead down a dark (and muddled) path as Michael’s…apprentice? Amidst CW-style romance, shoddy internal continuity, and happenings that make Riverdale seem plausible, the filmmakers remember that Michael Myers is why we’re here, and quickly shoehorn him into a proactive role in the final act for a showdown with Laurie. Nothing makes sense. The end.

This long review will be FULL OF SPOILERS; there’s no way around it. Scroll on, if you like. Or, for your spoiler-free pleasure: Grade D-

I have conflicted feelings about Halloween (2018) and Halloween Kills, but taken on their own merits — which itself takes an effort — they’re decent, fine-for-a-thrill movies. Halloween Ends, taken on its own merits, is a disaster. Undoing whatever good will they’ve established in the previous two movies, director David Gordon Green and his too-large-to-function writing team have spun a story that plays out like a cinematic head injury. Things don’t track from the previous films, which is bad enough, but the body of this movie itself is, largely, incoherent.

The previous two entries in this cycle firmly established certain things:

-Laurie, irreparably traumatized, was obsessed with the idea of Michael Myers, to the point of living in a homemade, booby-trapped, armed fortress.

-The town of Haddonfield was still mourning the deaths of four (FOUR) people, some forty years prior.

-Michael’s return to Haddonfield was the fault of his evil doctor.

-The more Michael kills, the stronger he gets.

-Michael killed people with a personal connection to Laurie: Chief Brackett, Tommy Doyle, her son-in-law, Ray, and, ultimately, Laurie’s own daughter, Karen. Michael also slaughtered at least thirty people in 2018, including an entire fire brigade and a massive number of average citizens.

Those aren’t things I’ve fan-wanked. Those are things the creators TOLD us and SHOWED us.

So what does Halloween Ends do? It’s says “Fuck that. Fuck ALL of that!” In this one…

-Laurie, despite the death of her own daughter and friends, is happily living a trauma-free life, literally carving out Halloween pumpkins to celebrate the holiday. HALLOWEEN PUMPKINS. On the anniversary of her loved one’s murders. For 40 years, Michael sat in prison and this woman built herself a high-security, weaponized hideout. Now, she knows he’s on the loose and she’s baking pies. This is not a fake-out. There’s no secret armory in the basement. Her daughter died, Mike’s in the wind, and after some lip service about “therapy,” Laurie has, in this reboot series, been rebooted, herself.

-Haddonfield mourned Michael’s handful of victims from 1978, but the thirty from 2018? Firefighters torn to shreds? Eh, it’s been four years. Never mind them. Life is back to normal. Let’s dance.

-Laurie, for some reason, is blamed by the general public and by her own Awful Granddaughter for Michael’s 2018 return, DESPITE EVERYONE KNOWING IT WAS HIS EVIL DOCTOR — including Awful Granddaughter, whom said evil doctor trapped with Michael in the back of a police car. But sure…blame Laurie.

-Michael, despite slaying an entire mob of people with superhuman strength at the end of Halloween Kills, is now weak and feeble. Homeboy is living Pennywise-style in the Haddonfield sewers. But they TOLD us in the previous movie that killing makes him stronger. That’s what we SAW. He should be fine. He should be ROBUST. But the creators are stupid and/or lazy. They need Michael weak to boost Corey Cunningham’s storyline.

Oy…Corey Cunningham…

Corey is a poor soul who, in a 2019 cold-open, accidentally killed the obnoxious kid he was babysitting. Corey encounters Michael Myers in his sewer hideaway (long story), and when Michael tries to strangle Corey, Myers apparently sees into Corey’s mind, witnesses his memories, and lets him go! But Corey is changed. Corey is now (psychically?) “infected” by evil. Seemingly now-channeling Michael, he wanders through town in a scarecrow mask, killing bullies and/or anyone else he encounters. At one point, he even brings Michael a victim, like Slasher Seamless. Later, Corey beats up Michael(!) and steals HIS mask(!!) before running off to kill Laurie(!!!). This is enough for Michael to remember that he’s in this story, and he just shows up out of nowhere to fight Laurie himself.

(BTW, Corey is dating Laurie’s Awful Granddaughter, who is one of the worst characters in the entire franchise. I’d sit through yet another sequel if it meant seeing her get eaten by alligators.)

It’s just…it’s a vomit of randomness. It plods on for two hours with no focus at all; or rather, a misplaced focus. There’s no atmosphere or tension. There’s no POINT except for some psychobabble about evil-as-contagion. It’s like when you get hired for a job and say, “Yeah, I know Excel.” But you don’t know Excel, so you fake it till you can learn it. That’s what the writing on this movie is like. They fake it, but they never learn it.

This could and should have been a straightforward Laurie vs. Michael story. After what happened, it’s only natural that Laurie would want revenge. (The Extended Cut of Halloween Kills literally ends with Laurie storming out of the hospital and saying, “I’m coming, Michael,” but I guess she ran out of gas). Plus, Lindsey Wallace, played by a returning Kyle Richards, is RIGHT THERE, with a personal investment, but she has maybe ten lines, total. Imagine Laurie and Lindsey, two strong women, legit survivors of “The Night HE Came Home,” hunting down the guy that so horrifically impacted their lives… That’s all the story we want. That’s all the story we NEED.

But nope. We’ve got Brady Bunch Laurie, a Mini-Me Michael, some hullaballoo about “evil infections” in a film that feels like it was directed by eight people and written round-robin-style on a drunken road trip. “You write a scene, and YOU write a scene, and YOU write a scene!!” They were so busy circle-jerking that Michael actually only kills three people himself in the whole, two-hour movie. Three. And there’s STILL no sign of Ben Tramer.

The positives are sparse. The cold open makes a fun, gruesome short story. Rohan Campbell’s Corey is very endearing and likable (before they ruin him with that dumb mind-link). The fact that it’s so astonishingly messy almost makes it watchable. My investment in the Halloween franchise is low (Friday the 13th is my jam), and at least this was better than the terrible Halloween: Resurrection, and there are a few decently gory kills. And the “ends” part of Halloween Ends is accurate. It does feel like it’s legitimately over. Oh, they’ll make five more in my lifetime, no doubt, but unless there’s another retcon, we DO get closure.

But for actual closure, in a well-told, logical story, watch H20. It outshines Ends by miles.

Final thoughts: This movie is the end of a 40-year-old narrative, the conclusion to Laurie’s traumatic struggle which David Gordon Green repeatedly underscored in his own first two films. He had a creative obligation to the fans here. It’s not some five-year-old trilogy that he created (in that case, go ahead, dude, do as you please). Tell the story, finish the story, but don’t abandon the story — which is exactly what he did. Narratives have structure. Objectively, editorially, he failed. As a conclusion to a trilogy, as a wrap-up to events HE put forth, he failed. No matter how enjoyable some people are finding this film (and hooray to those who like it; I’m happy for you), Green just plain dropped the ball by being self-indulgent.

Grade (and thanks for reading if you got this far): D

But it’s so, sooooo dancing on the edge of an F.

Frank Pittarese is a long-time comic book editor and Brooklyn native. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

Beast, Color of Night, The First Power, and Redneck Zombies

BEAST (2022) Idris Elba goes mano a mano with a rogue lion in this well-made but by-the-numbers when-animals-attack thriller. After his wife succumbs to cancer, an emotionally distant father (Elba) takes a getaway with his two teen daughters to the wilds of Africa, unaware that an enraged, vengeful lion stalks the grounds looking for the poachers who slaughtered its family. Shades of Cujo hit once Elba and kin are trapped inside their stalled truck, but, unlike that 1983 classic, Beast never utilizes its dire situation to its fullest potential. Instead, the film relies more on Elba’s father-cum-hero subplot. The screenplay is also a bit lazy when it comes to character consistencies: Elba spends a good amount of time being overly cautious about safety in the early scenes, yet later, while seeking shelter in an abandoned building, he leaves the doors wide open for the hungry cat to walk through. A fun concept that should have gone full-tilt gonzo (á la Anaconda) instead of trying to be something else. Sharlto Copley (District 9) is well cast as the movie’s Quint-like animal expert. C

COLOR OF NIGHT (1994) A big-budget slasher whodunit dressed up as a glossy erotic thriller about arrogant New York psychiatrist Bill Capa (Bruce Willis), who, after the suicidal death of a patient, goes to Los Angeles to spend time with Bob Moore (Scott Bakula), a college friend and fellow shrink. After Moore is knifed to death in his office by a hooded killer, Capa must try to figure out who the killer is (while avoiding the assassin’s blade) while simultaneously having lots of sex with a mysterious beauty (Jane March). If you’ve seen one or more of these films you can see the twist coming a mile away. The screenplay – by erotic thriller expert, Matthew Chapman (Consenting Adults) – is littered with too many red herrings and double-crosses, with the plot usually circling back to a lengthy sex scene between Willis and March. That said, Color of Night is often very entertaining, having the ostentatious, sleazy feel of a giallo, and at times attaining a so-bad-it’s-good quality. Willis does a good job at shedding his John McClane persona (as well as his clothes, especially in the unrated director’s cut), while March is cold but sympathetic. The supporting cast, including Brad Dourif, Leslie Ann Warren, Kevin J. O’Conner, and Lance Henriksen, is excellent. Given the right audience, this could become a trashy cult classic. B

THE FIRST POWER (1990) L.A. detective Russell Logan (Lou Diamond Phillips) is haunted by unexplained visions and incidents after the capture and death of the evil Pentagram Killer, Patrick Channing (Jeff Kober). Logan’s old-school, tough guy mind can’t wrap his head around the seemingly bizarre occurrences surrounding the deceased Satanic serial killer, until Tess (Tracy Griffith), a spunky psychic, informs him Channing has become more powerful after death, and is body-jumping to continue his murderous deeds. Although similar in plot to the later, and duller, Denzel Washington vehicle, Fallen, First Power offers up exciting material for the patient viewer. What starts as a typical cop/serial killer cat-and-mouse game turns into a fun, demonic horror/action hybrid. The film’s unfortunate predictability is silver-lined by its energy and some truly impressive stunts and set pieces, including the water- and fire-filled climax. Phillips and Griffith make a very likable pair of supernatural sleuths. B

REDNECK ZOMBIES (1989) Goofy backyard splatter-comedy that looks like it was made by your brother’s high school friends over a long weekend. A barrel of toxic waste is discovered in the woods by some tobacco-chewing, gun-toting, straw hat-wearing country bumpkins and, after it seeps into their moonshine, turns them into flesh-eating zombies. Shot on tape, this ultra-low budget cheapie has some spirit and energy to (almost) carry its lengthy 90 minutes, but, as with most slapstick flicks, for every laugh there’s whole lotta crickets. A funny concept, but one can’t help feel this movie is a joke without a punchline. Terrific make-up FX, though. C

Haunting of Julia, Orphan: First Kill, and Sinister 2

THE HAUNTING OF JULIA (1977) This moody ghost tale stars the always good Mia Farrow as a woman who, months after the death of her young daughter, moves into a house off London’s Holland Park to try and put her life back together. She soon suspects the house may be haunted by the spirit of a murdered child, and investigates the place’s dark past. Adapted from Peter Straub’s novel, Haunting of Julia is an effective, character-driven supernatural chiller. Hardcore horror buffs might be put off by the film’s slow pace and deliberately ambiguous tone, but the patient viewer will by rewarded with a creepy, dark story, and a truly unsettling ending. B+

ORPHAN: FIRST KILL (2022) A surprisingly good prequel to the 2009 cult favorite that delivers a sort-of-origin story of psychopath Leena (Isabelle Fuhrman), a.k.a. Esther. After killing several people and escaping a secured institution in Estonia, 31-year-old Leena disguises herself as Esther, the missing child of a wealthy American family. Once in America, Esther tries, and mostly fails, to assimilate into her new home. When her spoiled “brother” (Matthew Finlan) becomes suspicious of her bizarre mannerisms, Esther quickly unravels. Things get worse when a nosy investigator (Hiro Kanagawa), hired by the family four years earlier, looks into Esther’s alleged reappearance. What starts off as more or less a repeat of the first movie roars to life when a midpoint twist turns the tables on not only the viewers but Esther; once seen as the villain, Esther/Leena suddenly becomes an antihero, and one worth rooting for. Only a somewhat lackluster ending gets in the way of a super-fun flick. B

SINISTER 2 (2015) An uneven sequel to Scott Derrickson’s terrific original features the now-ex Deputy (James Ransone) from Part 1 doing some DIY investigations into murders and child disappearances which mirror the events of the first film. Connecting these events to a massacre that took place at a remote farmhouse introduces him to its new owner, Courtney (Shannyn Sossmon), and her two young sons (real life brothers Robert Daniel Sloan and Dartanian Sloan). Unknown to the adults, the youngest of the boys is being tormented not just by his abusive father, but by the spirits of the kids who serve the demon, Bughuul. It’s interesting to see the action unfold this time through the viewpoint of the children, but the violent, disturbing atmosphere of the original is replaced here with a more conventional ghost story narrative that, at times, feels stale. Considering the horror happening to him, Robert Sloan’s Dylan is too emotionless and nonchalant to register much sympathy for, while Lea Coco, as Dylan’s father, is so hammy and over the top he comes off as cartoonish. C

The New Scream Doesn’t Cut Deep

Warning: This post contains spoilers!

By Frank Pittarese

I went into the new Scream with low expectations, but wanting so badly to love it. It wasn’t the most necessary of sequels, but knowing that the original cast was returning was exciting. If nothing else, I was looking forward to checking in with their characters again. But since this was the fifth film in the series, the stakes needed to be high. This one needed to matter. We’ve already had four films with essentially the same plot, so if this “requel” didn’t level up, it would be a pointless. In my mind, that meant one of two things had to happen: Sidney Prescott had to die in a blaze of glory — or Sidney Prescott had to be the killer. But whichever way it went, it was time to close the door on Sidney’s too-long arc.

Scream 5 is, unfortunately, a half-baked regurgitation of what has come before. Self-referential? Check. Multiple killers? Check. Killers motivated by fame? Check. It’s fair to say that we want some familiar touchstones — the template for every Friday the 13th is practically the same and I never get sick of those. But with the Scream franchise — thanks to Wes Craven’s genre-defining launch — there’s an expectation of something better…a level of quality that should rise above a by-the-numbers, lazy, cash-grab

But that’s what we got. Oh, all our favorites are back — but every one of them is here strictly for fan service. The “old school” characters are hollow window-dressing in a story that disrespects every one of them. Apart from a phone call with Dewey, Sidney is sidelined for the first hour. Dewey and Gale have, for no justifiable reason, divorced between films — and to really drive a nail in the coffin, Dewey is killed off at the halfway point. He dies like a chump before ever reconciling with Gale. They barely even share screen time. Were you a Randy fan? Well, his teenage niece and nephew have been created for the sole purpose of name-dropping him multiple times. How about Billy? Well, one of the newbies is Billy’s daughter, retconned for the sole purpose of — what did I say? Fan service, and insulting fan service, to boot.

The mystery, such as it is, is rendered pointless when, in the final act, the main killer simply whips out a gun and starts shooting people. It’s like the screenwriters grew tired of their own laziness and gave up. Sidney and Gale, two strong women with a history of conflict, arrive on the scene and for a brief flash, I had hope. Maybe this was the point for Sidney and Gale to bond, work together, and save the day. But no, Gale is shot within seconds of meeting the killer. She survives, but the possibility of seeing something different or interesting play out evaporated at that moment.

The lead actress — playing our new Sidney, I suppose — is a bland, blank slate. Neve Campbell is the embodiment of the word “personality,” and gave us a character we could invest in for decades. This new girl, Sam, is just a CW character gone astray. She brings nothing to the table.

The one surprise is the second killer. Not that there IS a second killer, because that’s pretty apparent early on. It’s their identity that was a surprise. Somehow, they managed to structure the story and cast a performer who worked so well that I was honestly taken aback in a good way.

Word is, there’s another sequel coming. Nobody is asking for it, but we’re getting it. Perhaps they’ll redeem themselves, but given the mess Scream 5 left behind, I wouldn’t count on it. D+

Frank is a Brooklyn native, comic book editor, and horror fanatic. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram

Mini-Reviews: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE ’74 and ’22

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) d: Tobe Hooper. c: Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Paul A. Partain, Allen Danziger. Perhaps the perfect American horror film, this baby not only took the slasher movie to terrifying new levels but gave birth to one of horror cinema’s most memorable, and horrifying, villains: Leatherface. A seemingly fun summer afternoon in backwoods Texas for a van-load of friends is turned into a nightmare when they encounter a family of sadistic cannibals. The simple premise is made the more horrific thanks to Hooper’s handling of the material. The film utilizes sound, disorienting music, and extreme close-ups to create a claustrophobic environment that makes the ordeal intense and authentically brutal. The cast is amateur but good, especially Burns whose character, Sally, became a benchmark for future Final Girls. Unrelentingly suspenseful and unforgivingly grim, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a masterpiece in horror filmmaking. A

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2022) d: David Blue Garcia. c: Elsie Fisher, Sarah Yarkin, Mark Burnham, Jacob Latimore, Olwen Fouéré, Alice Krige. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a good example of a sequel being the polar opposite of its predecessor, Tobe Hooper’s seminal 1974 masterwork, also called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Where Hooper’s film was well-written, smart, and relied on suspense and terror, the new TCM is lazy, soulless, and relies on cartoonish gore to keep you interested. A group of investors celebrating a town renovation project in the middle of nowhere Texas are put through the bloody ringer when old Leatherface (Burnham) comes crawling out of the woodwork, putting the chainsaw to, well, anyone. Leatherface’s cannibalistic needs seems to have disappeared (the film abandons that subplot completely) but his need for wearing the face masks of his victims is still vital. The make-up FX are on the cheap side (over half of the gore seems to be computer-generated), resulting in Bubba’s face looking like it’s melting through most of the movie. The five-minute return of the original’s Final Girl, Sally (Fouéré), is so ridiculously underwritten that it comes off as pointless. The film’s saving grace is the blood-drenched bus massacre scene, which is the only part of the movie that has a pulse – I’m even speculating the scene was an early idea for which the entire movie was written around. A shit stain on an otherwise decent horror film series. D