October 23rd: 1408 (2007), Vacancy 2: The First Cut (2008)

Review #1: 1408

Michael Håfström directs 1408 from a short story by Stephen King and a screenplay by Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander, and Larry Karaszewski. John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack, and Tony Shalhoub star.

Mike Enslin makes a living debunking haunted places. One day he receives a post card that leads him to check out Room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in New York. Despite bribes to get him to check into any other room, he insists on staying in 1408. Once he’s in the room strange things begin to occur that will challenge his belief in the paranormal.

This is a slow burn movie. We spend some time getting to know Mike and what he does. As the story moves on, we get to know his past and how it scares him. Once he’s checked into the room, the haunting starts. At first it’s the radio turning on by itself and some things moving around, but the haunting gradually gets worse, building to a great ending that fulfills Mike’s character arc. The other cast are mostly cyphers, save for Lily, who’s connected to Mike’s past. But you don’t really need the other characters to be developed. They’re peripheral to the story. The pacing is slow, but it works to the movies advantage.

The cast is small which suits this movie just fine. It’s an intimate ghost story and you really only need one character as your main focus. John is totally unlikable at first, but as you learn the pain of his past you start to want him to escape the room. Mary McCormack really sells her pain and is such an underrated actress. Samuel L. Jackson is pretty restrained, unlike most of his characters, which is a nice change of pace. It’s nice to see a different side of him.

Most of the special effects are pretty good. Some, particularly the CGI ghosts, haven’t aged as well. But the practical effects are top notch. Especially the physical changes to the room. They do a great job selling the events that occur in 1408. You can almost feel what Mike is going on. What he’s feeling.

I give 1408 (2007) 7/10. It’s a slow burn ghost story worth a watch.

1408 (2007) trailer

Review #2: Vacancy: First Cut

Vacancy 2: The First Cut is directed by Eric Bross from a screenplay by Mark L. Smith. It stars Agnes Bruckner, David Moscow, Scott Anderson, Arjay Smith, and Trevor Wright.

A trio of teens heading south stop at The Meadow View Inn and soon realize their being recorded. However, what the proprietors have in store for them is far worse than they could imagine.

This movie was a huge disappointment. There was little to no suspense. There was barely any character development. The only thing we really get to know is that Jessica and Caleb are expecting a baby and Caleb is nervous about how Jessica’s dad will take all this. And that Tanner gets on their nerves constantly. The kills were lame. The pace is very slow. The movie seems to drag on endlessly, despite the run time only being about 90 minutes.

While the movie itself was awful, the cast was pretty decent. Trevor Wright is an underrated actor. Agnes Bruckner is honestly amazing and is so underrated. Jessica is honestly the only character who you really come to care about. Although the pregnancy is only ever mentioned once. Despite constant running and stress, never is the pregnancy mentioned again. David Moscow, Scott Anderson, and Brian Klugman do an adequate job as the antagonists, although there is a bumbling quality about them. Despite them killing a few of the cast, they just don’t feel very threatening.

Overall I give Vacancy 2: The First Cut (2008) 4/10. I expected better and was disappointed. I would avoid this.

Vacancy 2: The First Cut (2008) trailer

October 22nd: Room 6 (2006)

Room 6 is directed by Michael Hurst from a screenplay by Mark A. Altman and Michael Hurst. Christine Taylor, Shane Brolly, Jerry O’Connell, Chloë Grace Moretz, Lisa Ann Walter, Mary Pat Gleason, and Ellie Cornell star. Kane Hodder has a nice cameo.

Amy and Nick get into a horrible car crash and Nick is taken away in an ambulance. Amy struggles to find him along with help from Lucas who was the other guy involved in the accident and is looking for his sister. Meanwhile, Nick wakes up in a strange hospital where the nurses and doctor act very strangely. Soon enough, Amy realizes that in order to find out what’s going on she has to confront a tragic event from her past.

This movie had potential, but fails to execute it effectively. The characters don’t get much development, outside of Amy. The tension doesn’t feel genuine as the stakes never really feel that high. Other than Nick we only ever meet two other victims and they don’t provide much exposition. They’re just afraid. And the nature of the threat is never clearly defined. Are they ghosts? Vampires? Both? And the stakes for Amy don’t seem very high. Nick proposes to her in an early scene, but she blows him off in a very bizarre way. It just doesn’t feel very genuine. Honestly the best scenes are the opening scene and the two scenes with Ellie Cornell.

The cast is really great, Christine especially. She can really carry a movie. Unfortunately the story isn’t that great. But she’s fun to watch and she easily creates a character you care about. Ellie Cornell plays a kind of white trash mom and is really great at playing the role. Chloë is really creepy as a little girl with some kind of psychic powers, although she’s little more than a plot device to help move the story along. Shane is okay as Nick, but there isn’t much to give you a connection to him. Lucas is pretty much a cypher. All you know about him is that he smokes and he’s looking for his sister. And then his character makes a disturbing turn that in a better movie would have been more shocking.

There is some impressive make-up effects. Amy sees several demons which have some kind of connection to what’s going on, although it’s never really explained how. Kane plays one of the demons and his make-up is pretty good. There’s some blood, but not a lot. Although a nurse orgy with blood is interesting,

I give Room 6 (2006) 5/10. It features some interesting moments and a great cast, but not a story that lives up to its potential. I’d skip it.

Room 6 (2006) trailer

October 21st: The Belko Experiment (2016)

The Belko Experiment (2016) was directed by Greg McLean from a script by James Gunn. John Gallagher, Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, and Rusty Schwimmer star.

In Bogotá, Colombia, workers file into Belko Industries. Many of them are from other countries and they notice that all the local workers are being sent home. Eventually, a voice comes over the intercom challenging the workers to kill each other. At first they don’t take it seriously, but then the building is sealed and heads start to explode thanks to tracers planted into all their skulls, under the guise of tracking them if they were to be kidnapped. As their numbers dwindle, the workers divide into groups and start to fight against each other.

Belko is described very simply as “Office Space meets Battle Royale” and that’s completely accurate. This movie doesn’t set out to be anything but a gorefest. And they do a great job. While a few characters do get some development, plenty of others are little more than cyphers. But that’s honestly not a big deal in this case. How many of us work in an office where we only really know a select group of people? Most others you either won’t know or you won’t know beyond some surface details like their name. As the movie moves on, the office workers divide into cliques, each person out for themselves at the expense of others.

The plot is simple but effective and makes for a fast paced movie. Once you dig below the surface of the film you can see its theme is simple: what would you do to survive? Would you try to save as many people as you can? Would you put yourself first and steamroll anyone who gets in your way? It’s a very damning examination of humanity and how we all would really react to a similar situation. Many people would try to save as many as they could. But plenty would also kill anyone who got in their way. Goldwyn’s character justifies his actions because he believes his wife and children couldn’t survive without him. McGinley’s character simply sees this as his chance to embrace the maniac he’s held at bay all these years. Gallagher’s Mike is the only character who believes nearly the entire movie that he can save the others. It’s a very effective examination of humanity at its basest. And it all leads to a very intriguing ending.

The cast is really great. Tony Goldwyn is very effective as an executive at the company who goes off the deep end. John McGinley plays a very creepy character who thinks Leandra wants him, despite her constantly rebuffing him. He really gets into the killing of his co-workers. John Gallagher is our main focus, our way into the story and he really sells the emotional connection very well. He doesn’t want to see anyone die. But once he realizes it’s every man or woman for themselves, he does whatever he can to protect people, especially his girlfriend Leandra. Rusty Schwimmer, who played the nasty owner of a diner in Jason Goes to Hell, is one of the nicest characters here and one you really want to see survive. She does a great job here and I hope we’ll continue to see her work in the horror genre.

As I said this movie is a gorefest. Blood is everywhere. You get head explosions, bullet and stab wounds, skulls bashed in, and necks broken. All the kills are done very well. Unfortunately only one kill actually involves an office supply, a tape dispenser. Most of the kills come either from the tracers exploding or gunshots. That’s a tad disappointing as I feel we could have had some very inventive kills. But as it is, the kills do not disappoint.

I give The Belko Experiment 9/10. It’s a fast-paced, fun movie that has a very simple plot but never fails to be interesting. But at its heart, the movie really speaks about humanity and how when push comes to shove, we will do whatever it takes to survive, no matter who we have to steamroll over in the process. I definitely recommend this movie.

The Belko Experiment (2016) trailer

October 20th: The Skeleton Key (2005), Voodoo (1995)

Review #1: The Skeleton Key

Iain Softley directed The Skeleton Key (2005) from a script by Ehren Kruger. Kate Hudson, Peter Sarsgaard, Joy Bryant, Gena Rowlands, and John Hurt star.

Caroline is a hospice nurse in New Orleans, who gets hired by Violet to care for her husband, Ben, who was rendered immobile by a stroke. Soon enough strange things begin to happen around the house and it isn’t long before Caroline finds that that Violet and Ben have some strange connection to Hoodoo practitioners Papa Justify and Mama Cecile and that Ben needs her help.

This was the first time I’d seen this movie since it came out 14 years ago and it still holds up really well. I remember liking it then and I like it just as much now. It has lots of twists and turns. Some of the events are a little contrived, but the ending really makes the movie. The plot does share some similarities with Get Out but from the perspective of a white woman thrust into a situation that grows ever more strange as the movie moves along. At the very least, the movie does acknowledge the Afro-Caribbean roots of Hoodoo. It’s unfortunate that the few black characters in the movie are barely used, although two of them do play a very central part of the plot.

The cast is phenomenal. Kate Hudson is extremely likable. She has great chemistry with Sarsgaard. And the antagonism between her and Violet is fun to watch. Gena does a great job playing the manipulative Violet. Poor John Hurt is pretty much catatonic the entire movie, with very little dialogue. Although he does some great acting with his eyes. Joy Bryant is criminally underused.

I give The Skeleton Key (2005) 8/10. It’s a fun movie with lots of suspense and a very twisty third act. I would definitely watch it if you get the chance.

The Skeleton Key (2005) trailer

Review #2: Voodoo (1995)

Voodoo (1995) is directed by René Eram from a script written by Brian DiMuccio and Dino Vindeni. Corey Feldman, Joel J Edwards, Diane Nadeau, Ron Melendez, Sarah Douglas, and Jack Nance.

Andy surprises his girlfriend by transferring to her college so they can be together. Unfortunately he gets mixed up in a fraternity that has evil intentions.

First off, this is the Hollywood version of Voodoo and doesn’t even acknowledge its roots. Obviously things were a little less sensitive in 1995. But it doesn’t really sit well in 2019. While I am unsure of Diane Nadeau’s ethnicity, everyone in the cast is white. If you’re going to Hollywood-up a religion with ties to Africa and the Caribbean, you might want to at least have a diverse cast. The plot is pretty simple: Marsh needs six sacrifices to attain immortality. It has some interesting moments, but it’s very 90s. The most interesting aspect is how much of the town is in on Marsh’s plan. He benefits and so do they if they follow his orders. It honestly could have easily been a Lifetime TV movie. There’s little blood and one scene involving a member of a rival frat going on a shooting rampage is awfully relevant these days.

The casting isn’t bad. Corey is actually pretty good and likable. Joel is very charismatic and it’s easy to understand why people fall under his spell. Ron Melendez has a special “Introducing…” credit, although he had more than a few credits by the time he did this movie. I’ve actually been a fan of his for quite awhile and while he’s underused, he’s a competent actor.

Overall I give Voodoo (1995) a 3/10. It tries to be interesting, and it has a few good moments, but it’s not that great. I’d choose something else to watch.

Voodoo (1995) trailer

October 19th: In Search of Darkness (2019)

In Search of Darkness: A Journey into Iconic 80’s Horror (2019) is a documentary directed and written by David A. Weiner. It features tons of horror icons and people in the horror industry, like Caroline Williams and Barbara Crampton. Corey Taylor from Slipknot even pops up.

The doc goes through the 1980s year by year, discussing several movies that saw release. It also features sidebars discussing things like the music of horror movie, sex and nudity in 1980s horror, and special effects, among others.

The documentary is absolutely incredible. It’s 4 1/2-hours long yet never feels boring. There’s always a good movie or horror moment discussed. The movies discussed include the expected ones like the various Halloween’s and Friday the 13th as well as other classics like The Burning and The Thing. They also discuss some more obscure titles like Ghost Story.

In Search of Darkness (2019) is absolutely perfect and earns 10/10. I could not recommend this documentary more. You can pre-order it until Halloween at 80shorrordoc.com.

In Search of Darkness (2019) trailer

October 18th: Final Stab (2001)

David DeCoteau directs Final Stab (2001) from a story by himself and Matthew Jason Walsh, who also wrote the screenplay, from an uncredited adaptation by Ryan Carrassi. Jamie Gannon, Melissa Reneé Martin, Erinn Hayes, Laila Reece Landon, Bradley Stryker, Chris Boyd, and Michael Lutz.

Kristin wants to bet back at her sister Angela’s boyfriend Charlie for him not taking her up on her sexual advances. She knows about his past and intends to send him over the edge by hosting a murder mystery party. However, the guests start dying for real when a mysterious figure shows up.

This is a pretty bad movie. The story is pretty interesting, but not fully taken advantage of. The intro is interesting. Charlie takes a shower when someone enters his house. The power turns off and he gets out to investigate. Angela surprises him and promises to join him in the shower. However, someone else has something to say about that. It’s all downhill from there. The murder party aspect isn’t taken advantage of. Only one fake murder happens before everyone kind of goes off and does their own thing. Then people start to die. Like the titles implies it’s all stabbing deaths with the occasional slit throat. The mask is kind of lame although it had potential. There’s also a two-second subplot about two of the male characters fooling around in college, but it’s forgotten soon after. There is a twist at the end that’s pretty good. It’s unfortunate the middle of the movie couldn’t have been as good.

The acting is so-so. Some of the actors are better than others. Erinn Hayes is very good as the bitchy, conniving Angela. When she’s on the screen the movie is bearable. Jamie Gannon as Charlie isn’t bad. He’s believable as a man who’s seen some horrible shit in his life. Laila does a good job playing the very annoying Julie. I liked Melissa as Angela, but she did get a bit annoying when she found out what the party was really about.

Overall I give Final Stan 3/10. Some good moments can’t save an overall boring movie. I would avoid.

Final Stab (2001)

October 17th: Seance: The Summoning (2011)

Alex Wright writer and directs Seance: The Summoning (2011), starring Bobby Campos, Nazneen Contractor, Chris Olivero, and Devon Ogden.

Joey doesn’t believe that Eva is a genuine clairvoyant, so him and some friends decide to film her in action at the city morgue. Unfortunately they unleash something evil that takes a liking to Joey.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this movie. It’s one I really like for several reasons. One is the fact that unlike in most possession movies we get to see a guy who’s possessed. One who has issues and struggles in life and is filled with negativity because he’s capable of things that scare him. Another reason is because the cast is so small we actually get to know them. While Marcus doesn’t get as much character development, we get to know Joey and Eva really well. Eva struggles with the way some people view people with clairvoyant abilities as evil. Sara struggles with her faith and whether God can forgive her for something she had done in her past.

There’s some decent make-up effects, although continuity between shots and stuff gets to be an issue. The entire cast does a great job, especially Bobby. He clearly enjoys playing a badass and when Joey gets possessed the gloves come off. One of the toughest scenes involves Joey bringing up an event from Sara’s past that she’s tried desperately to forget. Another great scene involves Eva struggling with how the Christian religion has hurt her family. All this plays into the moments when they try to get the demon out of Joey.

I give Seance: The Summoning (2011) a 7/10. It’s not a groundbreaking possession film in the way The Exorcist (1973) was, but it’s a fun watch.

Seance: The Summoning (2011) trailer