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Monkey’s Paw, The (Blu-ray / DVD)

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The Monkey's Paw, (Blu-ray / DVD)Starring CJ Thomason, Stephen Lang, Michelle Pierce, Corbin Bleu, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Charles S. Dutton

Directed by Brett Simmons

Distributed by The Scream Factory


With reboots and remakes and reimagining being all the rage right now, it’s slightly refreshing when a film takes a different approach to sourced material while still operating within an established universe. The Monkey’s Paw (2013) is a spiritual sequel to the W.W. Jacobs short story of the same name, which was published in 1902. Jacobs’ original tale was a cautionary effort that dealt with fate and the repercussions of attempting to alter it for one’s own benefit. The monkey paw grants the owner three wishes, but the end result always comes at the cost of something greater. Wish for money to cover the rest of your mortgage and it’ll show up in the form of an insurance payment when a loved one is suddenly killed. Nothing ever works out as the owner intends. Director Brett Simmons, working from a script by Macon Blair, posits that the events of the original short have already occurred, and the paw is now in the hands of an owner who has held onto it for many years and resisted the temptation to use it. The resulting film is less about dealing with temptation and the negative effects of playing god, coming across more like an undead slasher film when a wish goes horribly wrong.

Jake (C.J. Thomason) is a middle class blue collar worker with little ambition outside of having a few drinks with his co-worker, Tony Cobb (Stephen Lang), and wishing for a better life like everyone else in the factory where he works. When one of his co-workers is let go, he and Cobb pay the man a visit to suck down some suds and talk trash on the bosses. When they arrive, Jake notices a monkey paw sitting on the table. The man explains its powers, though little mention is made of the ramifications of wielding such force. Jake, undeterred, immediately makes a material wish and asks for a new Camaro. Lo and behold, when he and Cobb go to leave there’s a Camaro waiting up front with the keys still in the ignition. The two go for a spin, one which ends badly when Jake swerves to avoid something in the road and promptly smashes head-on into a tree. He’s fine, but Cobb – who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt – is ejected and killed. Hey, maybe this paw has the power to bring him back to life! It does, though Cobb is… changed. Sporting a nasty head wound, he’s more violent, vicious and quick-tempered than before. Life hasn’t been easy for Cobb all these years, and it’s been even more difficult being estranged from his ex-wife and their son. The second act of the film features Zombie Cobb (a term Simmons mentions he hates but, sorry, dude is a zombie) killing those who have wronged him. Cobb figures the best thing he had in life was his son, so he takes members of Jake’s family hostage and demands the paw’s final wish be used to reunite him with his child.

Perhaps the biggest downfall of The Monkey’s Paw is that our lead, Jake, is not a hero worth caring about. He’s just your typical grease monkey, working a job he hates and generally doing little in life to better his position. He isn’t exactly a sympathetic character. Jake has no grand ambition, as evidenced by his first wish which was used to acquire a Camaro, this despite the fact that, oh, you know, his mom is dying of cancer in a hospital bed! His second wish is just as impulsive, when he finds Cobb’s lifeless body near the crumpled wreck that was the aforementioned Camaro. Jake, clearly upset that he wielded such great power so poorly, throws the paw away and hopes that’ll be the end of that. It isn’t.

From there, the film turns into a routine slasher. Cobb gets even with his younger, cocky boss back at the factory. Anyone who crosses his path winds up on the slab. Lang is the film’s gravitas, and without his presence this could have easily been an unwatchable mess, rather than the watchable one it is. There’s a slight satisfaction in vicariously living through Cobb as he hole punches his dickhead boss into the next realm, but that’s about where the fun stops. Lang chews a lot of Southern scenery, though some could argue that’s kinda what he does best as an actor.

If there’s a strength to be commended, it’s the use of New Orleans as a backdrop for this haunting tale. The locations used already provide an ethereal, otherworldly quality all on their own. Bathed in hues of blue and looking ominous, the swamps and backwoods of Louisiana are the perfect setting for anything supernatural. The film’s cinematographer, Scott Winig, should be commended for injecting life into a mundane script by presenting such stunning visuals. Still, it’s hard to give the film a recommendation because it lacks any lasting impact.

The greatest aspect of the film’s 1.78:1 1080p image is Winig’s aforementioned cinematography, which is steeped in atmosphere. The swampy locales of Louisiana take on a life of their own, bathed in blue light. The best looking moments come during daylight scenes, when clarity is at its peak and detail is given sufficient room to breathe. When darkness falls – and much of the film takes place at night – the image is diluted to a muddy, unspectacular appearance. Contrast levels are mediocre, only allowing minor image detail to emerge from within the shadows, leaving the rest obscured and too dim to decipher. Overall detail is middling as well, with many shots appearing soft or out of focus. Black levels vacillate between inky & deep and flat-out hazy. There is a nice fine grain structure that was added during post to aid in giving the film a more cinematic aesthetic.

Scream Factory offers up the option of an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track or a 2.0 stereo track. Clearly, multi-channel is the way to go here if your setup allows for it, though rears are used sparingly enough that it almost doesn’t matter either way. The sound design features some nicely placed, discreet effects, like a creek flowing through the woods or crickets chirping on a cold, swampy night; whispers in the dark pan smoothly between the left and right assembly. Composer Bobby Tahouri’s score evokes that Southern feel through the use of slide guitar and other instruments that feel right at home on the bayou. There are few bombastic, eruptive moments here, allowing for a more subtle approach to the audible experience. Subtitles are included in English.

Director Brett Simmons, cinematographer Scott Wining and actor C.J. Thomason kick things off with an audio commentary that manages to cover a lot of material thanks to a diversity of participants. Simmons offers up his thoughts on the film’s direction and what it was like working with material he hadn’t written; Wining has all the technical details on lighting such a moody picture; and Thomason regales with tales from the set. In Making The Monkey’s Paw, director Brett Simmons discusses this film’s story and how it branches off from the short story that preceded it, as well as reminding viewers that Cobb is NOT a zombie and how he didn’t want to make a zombie movie… even though he kinda did. The film’s trailer is also included.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with director Brett Simmons, cinematographer Scott Winig, and actor C.J. Thomason
  • Making The Monkey’s Paw featurette
  • Trailer

    The Film:

    2 1/2 out of 5

    Special Features:

    1 1/2 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 3.59 (22 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 4.13 (23 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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