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Devil’s Rejects, The (2005)

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Starring Bill (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) Moseley, Sid (Spider Baby) Haig, Sheri Moon (House of 1,000 Corpses) Zombie, William (Once Upon A Time In America) Forsythe

Directed by Rob Zombie


Right off the bat let’s get a few things crystal clear about The Devil’s Rejects. First of all, it isn’t House of 1000 Corpses 2. Yes, it shares characters with the original and is set after the events of that film, and yes, the story here is seeded by events that took place during our last visit with the Firefly clan, but that’s as far as it goes.

Occasionally, a film will come along that does this… takes characters from one film and uses them in a completely different type of story; Road Warrior and The Chronicles of Riddick spring to mind as examples.

Secondly, it’s difficult to label as a horror movie. Dr. Satan and all his horrific experiments aren’t even mentioned. We aren’t told what happened to that underground lair and all of its contents, leaving us to guess at what happened.

Both of those things make it difficult to review, as both can distract from what The Devil’s Rejects actually is. While I have no doubt that many people will defend its position as a horror movie, I struggle to see that myself, and given that Zombie’s directorial debut was heralded by quite a few of the people that saw it as the saviour of horror, a lot of people are going to be disappointed by the fact that Rejects isn’t balls out horror.

Corpses followed a fairly traditional horror template. We first meet the victims and then stay with them as they fall into a world of murder and mayhem. The story revolves heavily around the Firefly clan, but really it’s the story of Bill and his friends. From beginning to end those are the characters we’re feeling and fearing for. To me that is a fundamental aspect of a horror movie — not just characters we’re afraid of but characters we fear for, and it’s something that Rejects doesn’t have.

Really, though, I don’t want to overstate this point. I’m only making it because we here at Dread Central are focussed on horror. We debate what is and isn’t horror, and sometimes, no matter how much we want to cover a particular film or game, we have to turn our attention away from it. As a sequel to a horror film, many people are going to expect it to be just like every other horror sequel out there, and you can only be disappointed if you have expectations.

Which would only be unfair on Rob Zombie and his movie. Rejects isn’t a horror movie, but it is violent, brutal, bloody and better constructed than Corpses. It’s far from perfect, but it’s nearer perfect than Corpses.

Basically, what Zombie has delivered is something akin to Natural Born Killers. The film opens with the Firefly clan surrounded by the police, forced into a massive firefight in order to get out alive. They don’t all make it, and it’s this opening that really sets the tone for the rest of the film because despite what we know about them, we want to see them get away.

Rejects is their story. It follows their bloody steps along the way as they murder and steal, never more than a few steps ahead of the police. There are no innocents brought along for the duration of the ride for us to feel attached to, and as a result, more often than not we find ourselves cheering on, or laughing along with, the Firefly family in spite of ourselves.

The first compliments need to go to Rob Zombie himself. Whereas Corpses felt almost like Rob was trying on every directorial style, and trying out every trick in the book, Rejects sees him settling into a style. Apart from some overly shaky camera work in the opening scene, he’s consistently solid here; more confident to just let the actors do their thing. That’s not to say he hasn’t kept a few of the tricks we saw on display in Corpses, but the ones that return are the ones that worked best. Scenes again play out in montage. Zombie again lets a period 70’s-era soundtrack, with no other sound at all, play out over graphic violence, arguably to greater effect.

He still hasn’t quite found his own unique voice, borrowing this time more from Robert Rodriguez and Tarantino than from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper. It doesn’t feel like plagiarism so much as trying on the style to see if it fits, and while in many ways it does, I hope he finds his own tune soon. He certainly feels a lot closer to it.

Most importantly, his added confidence transfers into the cast, who seem on a tighter leash this time and turn in better performances as a result. Of all the returning cast members from the original, it’s Sid Haig who excels. His role is greatly expanded on, and seeing Spaulding unmasked and relaxing with his family members for the first time gives us deeper insight into the character while giving Haig more to work with. He stole the show in the first one, so Zombie is much more comfortable to let him be the show this time around. His first few scenes are better than his scenes in Corpses, and while the other Fireflys are fish out of water, Spaulding is able to just be himself here in ways he wasn’t able too before.

Sheri Moon Zombie should receive a lot less flack this time around, thanks to a much more subdued take on Baby. Like her husband Rob, she seems to have learned to settle into her role and plays it with more subtlety than before as we get a better sense of how much of the Baby we saw in the original was her playing in front of her victims. We still see that hyperactive side of her character, but now we see it’s not what she’s like all the time, elevating Baby from caricature to character.

Bill Moseley seems to lack a little something he had in the original Corpses however. Otis isn’t the preacher he was in the first film. His philosophical ramblings on mortality are missing, as is his artistic, creative side. It makes him seem more of a typical cinematic psycho, and without the comforts of home Otis isn’t really given a chance to have fun with his killing the way he did in the original, which is something I missed. It is a good performance though — a more measured Otis forced to focus a bit more is still a force to be reckoned with. You can see the tensions coming out in anger towards his family in a way he didn’t display in Corpses, and perhaps a more subdued Otis will play better with a wider audience.

Otis isn’t the only character who doesn’t come off quite as well as in the original. Tiny is sadly underused here, and it’s a shame given the strength of his performance and how fascinating a character he is. There’s much less personality here, and I was really hoping to get to know more about him. Matthew McGrory does well with the time he has, but it’s far too brief for my liking.

Those Firefly family members who are being played by different actors this time around all do a good job thankfully, as it really helps to smooth over the transition, but it’s still a shame we couldn’t get everyone back. Leslie Easterbrook did wonderfully as Mother Firefly in fairly demanding circumstances, and her scenes are amongst the best in Rejects. Full marks there.

At its heart though, Rejects is a road movie, a very bloody road movie, and like all road movies we meet a lot of people on the way. Many will be very familiar faces to the horror movie fan.

Ken Foree puts in an outstanding performance as the owner of a whorehouse and plays the pimp with believable relish. Hopefully a prominent part in a film such as this will get Ken more parts of this calibre, as he certainly proves himself once again here. There’s a feeling of joy in seeing Ken given such a meaty part to chew on, and he doesn’t disappoint. But he’s not the only person who deserves credit, and there are many other notable faces putting in memorable turns. It’s Priscilla Barnes, Danny Trejo, Michael Berryman, and P. J. Soles who really shine in their brief time with us.

Oh, and I should definitely mention again that it’s bloody. There’s a very predictable moment in the first act when a character is given an exceedingly messy death, but the predictability is forgiven based on the aftermath of it. You might see it coming, but you probably won’t expect it to be quite so messy when it comes. To describe any of the gore or violence in detail would be to suck all the air out of the film. It’s brutal. It makes for uncomfortable viewing, and even when all of it isn’t shown onscreen, the concept of what’s taking place will probably still get to you. It was certainly more than some of the audience could take as there were a few walkouts, which is usually a pretty good gauge of how violent a film is.

What is strange about it, though, is that it’s hard to know just how much you’re meant to be associating with the Firefly family. They certainly haven’t changed, and any hell that comes their way you’d be hard pressed to say they didn’t deserve. It makes the film a little difficult to digest at times because you’re not sure what Rob was going for with some of the scenes. A lot of the time, I didn’t know who I was meant to feel sorry for, if anyone. While this could have lead to a degree of detachment, ultimately it’s something you can’t take your eyes off. At the very least you want to know what’s going to happen around the next bend of the road, even if you don’t really care about any of the characters it happens to. By the end of the film, if only for having been with them every step of the way, you almost want the Firefly clan to avoid capture if only so that the journey doesn’t have to end.

In closing, it’s best to quote Captain Spaulding himself. “You like blood? Violence? Freaks of nature?” Then you’re going to be satisfied by Rejects. It might not be as fun as House of 1000 Corpses was, but it’s certainly a more even and better-constructed film. The things I liked most about Corpses aren’t present in Rejects, but that’s no criticism. It’s a very different film, and when it isn’t trying too hard to make you empathise with the Fireflys, it’s one that definitely works very well either as a stand-alone film or as a companion piece to the original. Lions Gate has let Rob make the film he wanted to make, and while it’s not going to be seen as a classic years from now, I do think it’ll hold up better than Corpses.


4 out of 5

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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 3.62 (21 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 4.14 (22 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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