AFM Wrap-Up! The Sights! The Sounds! The Scares! - Dread Central
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AFM Wrap-Up! The Sights! The Sounds! The Scares!

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Horror has always dominated the American Film Market and 2009 was no exception. And while there was a considerable shortage of titles this year, the overall quality was a huge step up from previous AFMs. I guess there’s something to be said for the lack of over-saturation.

The Dread Central crew was on hand through most of the week and caught several great screenings. Special thanks to all the exhibitors who let us see their latest offerings …

SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD

Survival of the DeadThe sixth entry in George A. Romero’s zombie series needs no introduction. But Voltage Pictures remains the least friendly exhibitor at AFM, shunning the very same genre press that has put them on the map. Despite Dread Central’s unwavering devotion to Romero and the fact that our own Uncle Creepy plays a member of the living dead, they were determined to keep us out of the screening. But I snuck in anyway.

While it doesn’t hold a candle to the Night-Dawn-Day cycle, Romero’s latest is still a smart and fun entry that fits perfectly into the living dead canon while feeling different than any of the films that preceded it. This is a post-apocalyptic Western pitting the Hatfields against the McCoys (or in this case, the O’Flynns against the Muldoons) as two families battle it out for native island supremacy. Romero still has a few things left to say about our society, as well as several more gory gags up his sleeve, which should please long-time fans (especially after Diary’s mixed reception).

4 out of 5

BURNING BRIGHT

A surly stepfather (Garret Dillahunt) has had enough of his stepdaughter and autistic stepson so he does what anyone would do: set loose a ravenous circus tiger in their home. Trapped inside during a terrible hurricane, the two stepkids must find a way to survive the night before they become tiger chow.

Believe it or not, Burning Bright isn’t anywhere near as ridiculous as it sounds and actually manages to build several intense set-pieces. It’s a pretty conventional entry in the survivalist/nature-run-amok subgenre, but it’s well executed enough and gets major props by forgoing CGI to use a real-life tiger in the carnage scenes.

3 1/2 out of 5

JU-ON: WHITE GHOST/JU-ON: BLACK GHOST

The Ju-On series returns to its V-cinema roots with two hour-long shot-on-video movies (this time without series creator Takashi Shimizu). Each film unfolds in vignette style with a new curse, new family, new house, and new ghosts. More J-horror shenanigans ensue.

While there’s nothing particularly new about these installments, there’s still some creepy fun to be had. With plenty of bizarre ideas (including a basketball-wielding granny ghost) and memorable set-pieces (including one of the most insane exorcisms ever shot), the results are never boring, and it’s still kind of fun to piece together the fragmented puzzle pieces. At the very least, these are head and shoulders above the American Grudge films. Even though Shimizu is completely absent, it makes little difference since these new directors imitate his style perfectly. Still, these are for die-hard Ju-On fans only.

3 1/2 out of 5

THE HOLE

Joe Dante returns to deliver his usual mayhem in glorious 3D! When two brothers move into a new house with their single mom, they quickly discover a strange bottomless hole in their basement. Before long, all hell breaks loose when mysterious apparitions begin to emerge and terrorize them.

The Hole is a fun throwback to 80’s kid-friendly horror films like The Gate, The Monster Squad, and Dante’s earlier films, which managed to throw some bite behind its PG-rated scares. It’s a fun ninety-minute ride with some great moments (if the Poltergeist clown creeped you out, get ready!), but frankly, I expected something a little more wild and crazy from Dante after all these years – particularly during the climax. Not quite the return to form we wanted from one of our favorite madmen, but it’ll do.

3 1/2 out of 5

REC 2

REC 2Picking up minutes after the first film, REC 2 follows a SWAT team and one ass-kicking priest as they venture into the infected apartment building to put a stop to the zombie-like outbreak. Returning directors Paco Plaza and Jaume Balaguero jump right into the Aliens formula by ramping up the action and expanding the mythology. Nope, this isn’t some mere virus (take that, Quarantine!) but a full-fledged plague of demonic possession.

REC 2 plays like The Exorcist crossed with a first-person shooter and improves on its predecessor in every way: The set-pieces are bigger, the kills more insane, and the pacing tighter. This is one white-knuckled rollercoaster ride that will be remembered as one of the stronger horror sequels out there.

4 1/2 out of 5

RAMPAGE

The latest film from the notorious Uwe Boll follows Bill (Brendan Fletcher), a jobless twenty-something living with his parents, who becomes disillusioned with the state of the world and decides to solve things the only way he knows how: suiting up with Kevlar and massacring everyone in his hometown. After bombing the local police precinct, we follow Bill through the streets and shops as he guns down every innocent (and not-so-innocent) person in sight.

After years of mockery and criticism, it’s finally happened: Uwe Boll has made a good movie. Rampage is not just a mere step up from his usual brand of video game dreck, it’s a truly compelling and ballsy piece of confrontational cinema with an honest-to-God statement and unforgettable ultra-violence. It’s not perfect: There’s a lot of awkward overlapping improv and some choppy editing, but Boll crafts a truly unsettling, visceral, and darkly entertaining experience anchored by a great lead performance by Fletcher (who perfectly echoes the cold-blooded nature of the Columbine killers). This is the film Elephant and Falling Down should’ve been. Boll bashers are going to have to find a new whipping boy. Hats off to Uwe for making a hard-edged and real piece of cinema that can’t be ignored.

4 out of 5

THE REEDS

One of the many “friends get picked off in an isolated location” horror movies that flood AFM year after year. In this British import, a group of old chums decide to have a party on a small boat in the middle of a desolate swamp (how exciting!) but quickly discover that there is something lurking among the reeds.

The Reeds is purely a conventional, by-the-numbers ghost story that hints at something greater but never goes there. It’s well shot with decent performances and a nice score but fails to make much of an impression in the end.

2 1/2 out of 5

MY SON, MY SON WHAT HAVE YE DONE

Director Werner Herzog and co-producer David Lynch deliver this digital avant-garde art house flick about a disturbed man (Michael Shannon) who stabs his mother with an antique sword and engages in a face-off with the local police. With the help of friends and eyewitnesses, the authorities (led by Willam Dafoe) slowly piece back the man’s odd back story with a local theatre troupe.

As a hardcore fan of both Lynch and Herzog, this was probably my most anticipated film of the year. The end result is a film that’s both engaging and hard to like. The performances, pacing, and offbeat art house ticks are wildly all over the map with moments that are both brilliantly complex and frustratingly pretentious. It’s certainly not a film for everyone. That said, Herzog continues his fascination with madmen and nature with Shannon delivering another great performance, and seeing Brad Dourif’s pet ostrich eat Udo Kier’s glasses (!) is worth the price of admission alone.

3 out of 5

Andrew Kasch

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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

Directed by Charles Martin Smith


I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

Now let’s get to it.

First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

Rockstar lighting for days.

Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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User Rating 3.5 (14 votes)
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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4.1 (21 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.95 (20 votes)
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