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Nightmares & Dreamscapes (DVD)

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Nightmares & Dreamscapes DVD (click for larger image)Starring William Hurt, William H. Macy, Ron Livingston, Tom Berenger, Claire Forlani

Directed by Rob Bowman, Mark Haber, Brian Henson, Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, Mike Robe, Mikael Salomon

Distributed by Warner Home Video


Stephen King and television have been hit or miss for many years. The man himself cannot be put to blame. Sometimes great ideas can never be translated into any other media outside of print. It takes a special breed of high powered Hollywood mutants to make a King project break out of forgettable TV special hell and into the core of the audience’s brain. Does Nightmares & Dreamscapes deliver that kind of mind invading punch?

The short answer is “yes.” However, it is a slightly stressed “yes” with a side order of lip biting. Nightmares & Dreamscapes takes several of King’s short stories and attempts to bring them to life without using the standard format associated with many of his other mini-series TV adaptations. Right off the bat it is easy to notice that the production values and effects, for the most part, catch the eye just right. In some cases (which will be detailed later) it is easy to forget you are watching anything that was made for the tube. This is one of the series’ many good points. It’s easy to watch even some of the lackluster stories just because of how beautifully they were shot and assembled.

The first story served up the audience is “Battleground.” The whole episode is played through with no dialogue spoken by any of the characters. The most we get is a grunt or yelp of pain. While this feature alone may not sound interesting, the way in which director/Muppet master Brian Henson constructed the episode makes things fit quite nicely. Jason Renshaw (William Hurt), an assassin for hire, has just murdered a beloved toy maker. Renshaw is quite the bad ass. He takes out guards like Sam Fisher and has a cool multi-tasking gadget like Bond. Nothing seems to faze this man until small things from his most recent kill start popping up on his trip home. Various toys from the company he just invaded begin to appear here and there. Even a package of little green army men arrives at his door.

Nightmares & Dreamscapes DVD (click for larger image)It could be a coincidence or his employer fucking with him. Oh, wait, the little green army bastards are alive?! Oh yeah!!! These guys aren’t friendly at all; they are out for blood and even fire real scale bullets from their machine guns. Looks like their anti-aircraft gun works as well! Things get ugly between the giant and the emerald brigade. Most of the effects shots work out really well and are only hindered by a few noticeable CGI helicopters. For such a loony premise the episode is very tense and is easily one of the best out of the whole mini-series.

“Battleground” is a great way to set up a series. In one episode you get to see King’s strange ideas, tension, and odd sense of justice. There are a few more examples of how well this works, but then you unfortunately have a handful of stories that never seem to click into place to make the whole machine run smoothly. Another example of great storytelling is in “Umney’s Last Case” where William H. Macy plays both a writer and the writer’s main character in a cartoony 1930’s private detective story that goes from fun to depressing with a dash of “holy damn, that is strange.” The other stories that work well are “The End of the Whole Mess” and “Autopsy Room Four.”

I hate bringing up the negative parts, but it has to be done. Like it has been said before, not all of King’s stories translate too well when brought to the small screen. The first case this is noticeable on is “Crouch End.” There was real potential for this story if it had not lingered so long on its main characters enjoying the nice parts of London. When there is finally a bit of terror and spark of evil ancient gods, the story is nearly over and the only thing left is puzzlement and a hatred of that damn grey, washout filter.

This same sort of overall “meh” feeling leaks onto “The Road Virus Heads North.” One may notice that some of the stories are metaphors. Some of them are blatant and a couple are hidden. “The Road Virus Heads North” is about as subtle with it as having a piano dropped on your privates. Tom Berenger plays a horror author who is possibly dying and is making his rounds to make sure his loved ones are OK before he bites the big one. The plot thickens when he purchases a painting that morphs as he travels. The painting depicts a devilish looking chap driving a beautiful old black Pontiac. BAM! Get it? The painting is death following him. Sigh … the story just never worked out right. The suspense never raised its head, and it was hard to care about Tom’s character or anyone else associated with him. Flesh him out a little more, and this could have been a fun romp instead of a flaccid bore.

Nightmares & Dreamscapes DVD (click for larger image)“You Know They Got a Hell of a Band” also falls into the same trap by giving us characters that are hard to relate to or connect with emotionally. It is a true pity because the idea of a hidden rock & roll hell populated by Elvis, Buddy Holly and Janis Joplin, to name a few, dripped of ooey-gooey Stephen King goodness. All of the actors were pretty spot-on with their impressions of late famous musicians, but the lead characters never did anything more than look scared or happy. You’re stuck in a rock & roll hell, for fuck’s sake! Don’t just give up and accept your fate so soon after you crash in the Jimi Hendrix bus! Arm yourself with ham sandwiches, pills, and model airplanes and fight those dead dicks!

OK, so there are good and bad points. It happens with all TV shows and series. Luckily the good outweighs the bad thanks to the number of special features. Each disc has more than a couple , usually one or two assigned to each episode; the problem is they are all too vanilla. A standard format is pretty much what is set for the interviews and behind-the-scenes featurettes. Usually one or two of the main actors will explain the story and the director will give you a look at the visual effects. Nothing is ever very in-depth, but if you are a technical nut, it may settle that itch if you were wondering how some shots were done.

Otherwise you are better off scratching yourself.

Oh, the ride has been fun, Mr. King. Sure there were some downers and the occasional toothless carney fixing the ferris wheel with a bandage and two toothpicks, but the journey through your latest carnival of terrors has been mostly enjoyable. I really do hope for another mini-series from you similar to this one now that we’ve gotten a taste of that sweet pie that so much work was put into. Don’t leave us hanging for another slice!

Special Features
Eight episodes on three discs, including one unaired extended episode
Behind the drama of Nightmares & Dreamscapes
“From the Mind of Stephen King” featurette
“Page to Picture” featurette
“The Inside Looks” making-of featurettes on six episodes
Interviews with series stars
Battleground special effects featurette

4 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 4.43 (7 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 4.14 (14 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 3.41 (17 votes)
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