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Are You Scared? (DVD)

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Are You Scared reviewReviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Alethea Kutscher, Erin Consalvi, Carlee Avers, Kariem Marbury, Soren Bowie

Directed by Andy Hurst

Distributed by Lionsgate


SAW FOR DUMMIES

That’s what the title of this film should have been. And the tagline:

“Oh yes, there will be rip-offs.”

Are You Scared? opens in a grungy-looking interior with a young woman whose hands are chained behind her back and has an electrified shock collar around her neck. An ominous voice tells her that she has to push two buttons within sixty seconds or suffer dire consequences. To push the first button she has to walk barefoot over broken glass and push it with her chin. The second button is at the bottom of a fish tank, requiring her to dunk her head in the water to push the button, again with her chin. Of course, there’s quite an unpleasant catch – that’s not water. The whole time the ominous voice is egging her on and giving her a second-by-second countdown. Does any of this sound familiar?

We then meet a police detective that’s been in pursuit of this killer for two years. He’s joined by a female FBI profiler who will go on to tell him about how the killer is methodical in his planning, ruthless in his execution, and repeatedly uses the line, “The game’s started again.” She also goes on about how this methodical madman is actually trying to teach his victims a lesson about how “a merciful death is better than a life of pain,” a line that will be repeated numerous times throughout the film, even by the killer himself.

I mean wow, just wow. This is such a shameless knock-off of Saw I’m literally shocked to know that it wasn’t produced by The Asylum. Nope. Are You Scared? is being released through Lionsgate. You have to admire a company willing to cash in on one of its most financially successful big screen horror franchises by putting out a DVD movie that is essentially a poor man’s wannabe version of that very franchise.

In Saw the killer was known as Jigsaw. I honestly do not recall what, if anything, the killer in Are You Scared? was known as so I’m just going to refer to the character for the remainder of this review as Word Jumble because his words were meaningless and his motivations quite jumbled.

Six teenagers now awaken in an abandoned, dilapidated factory with no memory as to how they got there. The shameless copycatting just doesn’t let up. Within 10 minutes it has gone from shamelessly ripping off Saw to ripping off Saw 2.

There is a bit of a deviation from the ripping off of the Saw formula. Word Jumble uses the ruse of a fake reality game show called “Are You Scared?”–hence, the film’s title. All of the potential victims had applied to appear on this phony reality show and upon waking up in some rundown hellhole are led to believe they’re competing at that very moment on live television for cash and prizes by facing their worst fears. For example, the girl in the opening sequence was led to believe she’d win a modeling contract if she were to complete the task. Of course, there was no possible way of getting out of the trap alive so there’s another deviation from the Saw formula.

There’s another serious deviation from the Saw formula. Unlike Saw, the potential victims in Are You Scared? are so far beyond the realm of stupid they border on mental retardation. The Saw victims weren’t too bright but still weren’t as far gone as these dolts. They pretty much lap up the line from the scary voice guy (whose scary disguised voice sounds almost exactly like Jigsaw’s) telling them they’ve been selected to compete on this live reality show. Despite claims that they never heard back after applying, never actually signed any sort of consent forms, and then there’s that little matter of being drugged and kidnapped, their skepticism is mostly muted. But then why should the characters be allowed to be smarter than the movie itself?

Case in point: Jason, the token Black guy who wastes little time buying into the premise and trash talking about how he’s going to win even though he woke up with no idea how he go there and with a bloody bandage under his shirt from where he’d been cut. Jason is coerced into a then sealed room where he’s told he has to defuse a bomb in x amount of time or go boom. This concept is the first thing to alert him that all in not right with this reality show. Unable to find the bomb, he begins panicking. Then he sees an x-ray on the wall and realizes it’s of him. He lifts up his shirt and reveals a big bloody bandage barely covering a large, very nasty looking and very fresh surgical scar where the explosive device has been inserted into his body cavity. This is what he described as “being cut”? This guy has been bouncing off the wall with excitement over how he’s on TV, bragging about how he’s going to win, and moving around with no visible discomfort from having a fresh foot-long incision in his abdomen or from walking around with a hockey puck-sized explosive in his body cavity. Word Jumble offers him the use of nitrous oxide to ease the pain before cutting himself open to remove the bomb, but why would he need it if he wasn’t feeling any before?

Look, suspension of disbelief is a two-way street. For crying out loud, Word Jumble didn’t put a “Kick Me” sign on the guy’s back. He sliced the guy’s abdomen open and surgically inserted a good-sized explosive device. A movie has got to play by some rules. Are You Scared? cheats every chance it gets.

The film keeps cutting back to the police detective and FBI profiler on Word Jumble’s trail. Both are utterly worthless characters. The highlight of their investigation is when they trace a piece of equipment used in one of the traps to a shop whose clerk cannot think of anything particularly out of the ordinary about the person that came in to purchase power drills mounted sideways on a track system. This clerk didn’t find anything especially out of the ordinary about his request and, it seems, didn’t even notice that half the guy’s face was melted off either.

Whatever one may think of the Saw films, Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw was at least an interesting character with intriguing motivations for why he did what he did. Word Jumble is a boring Jigsaw wannabe with a burnt face and poorly thought out motivations. Those motivations do become clearer with a revelation towards the end, but that revelation really only added to my annoyance with the gibberish nature of the script.

One of the big complaints about the Saw films was over how was Jigsaw able to put together and pull off such ridiculously complex Rube Goldberg deathtraps. The complaint registers doubly so here. Word Jumble’s traps are even cheaper and hokier than Jigsaw’s. One involves a character with their own intestines hanging out of their body having to complete a task before they bleed to death. I never really understood what the point of this task was. Then again, they were no-win situations so it didn’t really matter. Heck, Word Jumble even leaves his perch to kill a character or two manually.

Once the characters figure out what’s really going on after witnessing the fate of the game’s second victim, the whole reality show angle is totally scuttled, the movie completely falls apart, and the film goes from being a perfectly watchable, albeit positively moronic Saw rip-off to a drabber, run-of-the-mill, moronic horror flick. While gorehounds might be satisfied with the carnage on display, Are You Scared? never succeeds at generating any of the suspense or repulsion that the Saw films strived for. It’s impossible to watch this movie without the constant feeling that you’re watched what I described at the beginning as “Saw for Dummies”, a rip-off with logic gaps that often display sheer contempt for the audience.

Look no further than the big twist ending (which all films like this are required to have whether they need one or not). It’s positively insulting in its contempt for the audience’s intelligence. I’m talking insulting on the level of the end of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer‘s climax. Yeah, it’s that insulting.

And to answer the film’s title question; no, I was not scared.

Special Features
Trailer gallery

Film

2 out of 5

Special Features

1/2 out of 5

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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 (3 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 3.9 (10 votes)
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The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!

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Starring Perri Lauren, Sean Meehan, Dan Berkey

Directed by Alan Lougher


The loss of a young child drives a mother to take a set of unusual measures to preserve his memory, and all it takes is one call to The Dollmaker.

When the short film by Alan Lougher opens up, we see a rather disturbing image of a little boy inside a casket, and the sound of a grieving mom speaking with an unidentified man in the background – he’s requesting something personal of the child to help “finish” his product, and it’s not before long that mom has her little boy back…well, kind of. What remains of the child is the representation of his former self, although it’s contained within the frame of a not-so-attractive doll, and the boy’s father isn’t a believer in this type of hocus-pocus (or the price to have this constructed, either). The doll comes with a specific set of instructions, but most importantly, you cannot spend more than one hour a day with the doll, or else you’ll go mad thinking that the soul inside of it is actually the person that you lost – sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Well this is just too good to be true for Mommy, and as the short film progresses, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to her mind – it’s ultimately a depressing scenario, but Lougher gives it that creepy feel, almost like visiting a relative’s home and seeing their dearly departed pet stuffed and staring at you over the fireplace – HEEBIE-JEEBIE CITY, if you ask me. All in all, the quickie is gloomy, but ultimately chilling in nature, and is most definitely worth a watch, and if I might use a quote from one of my favorite films to apply to this subject matter: “Sometimes…dead is better.”

  • Film
3.5

Summary

Ultimately chilling in nature!

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User Rating 3.31 (16 votes)
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