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AFM: The 2008 Round-up!

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Horror may currently be in a slump, but the 2008 American Film Market has shown a huge light at the end of the tunnel. This year showcased a record number of horror titles and Dread Central was on hand to catch a great deal of them. Some were good, some were bad but all showed that this genre still has plenty of lifeblood left. Many exhibitors were also kind enough to show us movie promos, while others coldly showed us the door (Lesbian Vampire Killers, I’m looking at you). The most promising show previews were easily Night of the Demons and Clive Barker’s Dread, with plenty of new projects being announced. Check out our full AFM ’08 coverage here.

AFM 2008 Round-up!

So without further ado, we present you with our yearly AFM round-up:

AFM: The ChildrenTHE CHILDREN:

What a hell of a way to kick of the market! The latest from writer/director Tom Shankland (Waz: The Killing Gene) is a UK-lensed evil children movie (not to be confused with the 1980 film of the same name). When two families meet in a secluded home for Christmas vacation, things take a turn for the worst when all the kids succumb to a mysterious illness that turns them into homicidal maniacs. Snowed in and cut off from the outside world, the parents soon find themselves in a brutal fight for survival against their own twisted offspring.

Scary and visceral, “>The Children is the stuff of nightmares and one of the creepiest horror films in ages. With a solid cast, eerie visuals and unnerving score Shankland takes his time building the characters and dread before unleashing absolute hell in the second half. The screenplay wisely keeps things ambiguous and never explains what is driving the kids mad (and even suggests that the adults might be suffering from a different psychosis). After seeing The Children, there is little doubt that Shankland is one of the new masters of horror. Easily the best film of its kind since the original Village of the Damned.

4 ½ out of 5

Book of BloodCLIVE BARKER’S BOOK OF BLOOD:

Director John Harrison’s adaptation of the “The Book of Blood” which frames Clive Barker’s infamous shorts collection. The story follows Mary Florescu (Sophie Ward), a professor and psychic researcher who recruits a team of paranormal investigators to study a haunted house. Among them is Simon McNeal, a student and supposed-medium, who quickly becomes a living catalyst for the angry spirits – with very gruesome results.

Though there’s plenty of Barker’s trademark sex n’ flesh, Book of Blood is a disappointingly dull experience. It may be faithful to the source material, but like The Midnight Meat Train, there is so much extra padding that the film version gets bogged down in repetitiveness (only without the aid of Ryuhei Kitamura’s slick visual style). Harrison’s flat, made-for-TV movie direction lacks any real atmosphere and events move at a lethargic pace, further demonstrating why Barker should stick to directing his own work.

2 out of 5

AFM: AnimalsANIMALS:

The first film adapted from splatter punk gods John Skipp & Craig Spector tells the story of down-on-his-luck hick Jarrett (Marc Blucas) whose luck changes when he meets a mysterious sexpot (Nicki Acox). After several steamy encounters, a psychotic man (Lost’s Naveen Andrews) enters the picture and Jarrett realizes that he’s been inducted into a group of blood-thirsty lycanthropes.

Despite an interesting cast and a screenplay by Craig Spector, Animals is a flat-out embarrassing adaptation. Horrendous direction, editing and visual effects ruin any trace of suspense or eroticism and turn what is supposed to be a backwoods character study into a student film-level redneck soap. The CGI werewolves, which look like giant ‘roided-up ghost chihuahuas, look like they were stolen from the FX department of The Asylum’s upcoming Wolf Man knock-off. It’s enough to drive any Skipp and Spector fan to drink.

1 ½ out of 5

AFM: SexykillerSEXYKILLER:

Macarena Gómez (the Spanish hottie from Stuart Gordon’s Dagon) stars as a plucky med-student/serial killer who dismembers unsavory people on her college campus. The police are baffled and have no leads so they enlist the help of an experimental brain analyzer which they hope can identify the killer. Naturally, science opens up a whole new can of worms…

Wild and over-the-top, Sexykiller tries hard to become a cult classic with mixed results. The self-referential script seems more like a product of the Scream era and the whole novelty about a female turning the tables feels like old hat these days. The movie starts out more annoying than funny with its mix of bubblegum humor and stale slasher jokes, but eventually picks up steam in the second-half after several bizarre plot twists. Fans of off-the-wall Spanish splatter-comedies will feel right at home here.

2 ½ out of 5

End CallEND CALL:

If you thought you couldn’t get phone service in Hell, think again. Satan owns a cell (and probably AT&T too). When four dumb Japanese school girls call his number at midnight, they discover that the Dark Lord will grant them each a wish. But there’s always a catch: All callers eventually wind up dead. Fearing for their souls, the girls proceed to sulk around and not do much of anything.

The days of tech-based ghost horrors are long over in Japan, but the makers of End Call obviously never got that memo. But unlike even the worst post-Ring knock-offs, this one doesn’t even give us the basic ingredients for a spook show. Not only is End Call devoid of scares or atmosphere, for most of its agonizing 100 minutes, nothing much happens at all. To add to the confusion, the plot jumps forwards and backwards in time for absolutely no reason. You’ll find more joy in tentacle-rape.

½ out of 5

AFM: How to Be a Serial KillerHOW TO BE A SERIAL KILLER:

Mike Wilson (Dameon Clarke), a prolific psycho takes a disgruntled video store clerk (Mathew Gray Gubler) under his wing to teach him the dos and don’ts of serial killing. But when Mike’s girlfriend discovers his secret identity, all hell breaks loose and the duo must find a way to escape the authorities.

This micro budget mockumentary tries to be Dexter meets The Office with a dark and dry sense of humor. The two leads are charismatic enough and deliver solid performances, but this is largely a one-joke affair without the smarts or wit to make it memorable. Stick with American Psycho for real serial killer satire.

2 out of 5

PontypoolPONTYPOOL:

In the snowy Canadian town of Pontypool, edgy radio personality Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) arrives at work for another grueling day of creative battles. Broadcasting from a church basement, the grizzled shock jock locks horns with his creatively-challenged producer but quickly finds his troubles have escalated when reports of a zombie-like outbreak begin flooding the station. Quarantining himself in the radio booth, Mazzy tries to make sense of the chaos and find a way to warn people about the zombie infection, which seems to be spreading through the English language.

Fiercely intelligent and original, “>Pontypool is Night of the Living Dead meets Talk Radio with a dash of William S. Burroughs. While the small cast has a great dynamic, this is largely a one-man show and the charismatic McHattie delivers the performance of the year. The one-location script feels like it was adapted from a play, but director Bruce McDonald makes good cinematic use of his surroundings and keeps things moving through a brisk ninety minutes. Smart, funny and intense, Pontypool is a small film with a big head on its shoulders and is not to be missed.

4 out of 5

AFM: Mum & DadMUM & DAD:

A young Romanian woman (the incredibly hot Olga Fedori) takes up work in a British airport and is invited over to spend the night with a female co-worker. There she meets the girl’s psychotic parents (Perry Benson and Dido Miles delivering frightening performances) who imprison her and force her to be “part of the family” in a gruesome household of perversions and discipline.

While the premise fits the typical Texas Chainsaw mold, “>Mum & Dad has a few twisted tricks up its sleeve and makes the most of its micro-budget. Writer/director Steven Sheil goes for a pitch-black satire on family values with several disgusting shocks and a lot of dark humor. Well-paced and tense with terrific performances, this is a surprising debut effort, even if it does end on a fairly standard note.

3 ½ out of 5

AFM: The Gray ManTHE GRAY MAN:

This historical drama recounts the story of renowned serial killer/cannibal Albert Fish (Patrick Bauchau) who murdered several children and the obsessive six-year manhunt to bring him to justice in the 1930s.

Like David Fincher’s Zodiac, The Gray Man sticks to the facts instead of sensationalizing its subject which is a real breath of fresh air amidst so many bad serial killer biopics. Even with its modest budget, the film does a great job capturing all the period details helped in part by good cinematography and an understated score. Debut director Scott Flynn has done a good job creating a classy and disturbing piece of true crime anchored by a superbly creepy performance from Bauchau.

4 out of 5

Blood RiverBLOOD RIVER:

Adam Mason, the director of Broken and The Devil’s Chair, reigns down psychological madness and Old Testament-style vengeance in this nuanced fable that combines horror, drama and western influences. Clark (Ian Duncan) and his newly-pregnant wife Summer (Tess Panzer) are driving threw the Nevada desert on the way to deliver the news to her parents when their car breaks down. Taking refuge in a ghost town, the two meet a lone drifter (Andrew Howard) who believes he is God’s avenger and sets his sites on the two to answer for their supposed crimes.

Beautifully-shot and expertly-crafted, “>Blood River is a disturbing little gem that never takes the easy way out. Mason weaves an unsettling character study and slowly ratchets up the tension, and while there are several grueling moments, he never resorts to “survival horror” or “torture porn” tactics. This is a dense, intelligent and thematically-rich film that never takes its audience for granted. That’s a rare thing in this day in age.

4 out of 5

AFM: Long WeekendLONG WEEKEND:

Jamie “I Hate Kangaroos” Blanks delivers a remake of the 1978 Aussie classic with James Caviezel and Claudia Karvan as a bickering couple who go camping in the wilderness. But Mother Nature doesn’t take too kindly to their presence and unleashes the elements at a spooky, supernatural rate.

After his brief skirt in Hollywood with the god-awful Urban Legend and Valentine, Blanks seems more comfortable on his home turf. Like Storm Warning, Long Weekend is beautifully-shot and well-acted, and Blanks does an admirable job building a sense of menace throughout the film. It’s undeniably well made, but the remake also covers the same ground as the original and feels kind of superfluous in the end. Viewers unfamiliar with the original will most likely get more enjoyment out of it.

3 out of 5

AFM: Seventh MoonSEVENTH MOON:

Writer/director Ed (The Blair Witch Project, Altered) Sanchez’s latest follows a honeymooning couple (Amy Smart, Tim Chiou) as they attend the “Hungry Ghost” festival in China – an event which honors the carnivorous walking dead who supposedly roam free during the seventh full moon. When the newlyweds find themselves lost in an ancient backwoods village, they discover that the legend is true and must fight to survive the night.

Though it suffers from an overabundance of shaky-cam, “>Seventh Moon still delivers enough creepiness to rise above the usual horror dreck. The pasty-white Chinese demons, which look like practical versions of I Am Legend’s infected (take note, Francis Lawrence!) will send chills down your spine. There are moments when the cinematography makes it painfully difficult to grasp what is happening, but there are still several memorable scares and set pieces, and the finale is especially frightening.

3 out of 5

Sadly, we weren’t able to catch every genre film this year but we heard from others that Norio Tsuruta’s Orochi, Elio Quiroga’s The Beckoning, and Richard Dutcher’s Evil Angel were all greeted with unanimous praise. There were also a few amazing films that we are currently forbidden to talk about, but we can easily say this AFM was the best yet and that fans have a lot to look forward to next year.

Special thanks to all the exhibitors who were kind enough to let us check out their films.

Andrew Kasch

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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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

Directed by Charles Martin Smith


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

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

Now let’s get to it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rockstar lighting for days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

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

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User Rating 3.59 (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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