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HORROR MOVIE DVD REVIEW: OVERLORD

Mar 29 19

That old saying, “War is Hell,” is given new meaning in this horror flick set during WWII.

I’m not a big fan of war movies, at all, but the previews for Overlord intrigued me. In June of 1944, on the eve of D-Day, planes carrying American paratroopers on a crucial mission are shot down over the coast of France. (This opening scene, introducing us to some of the main characters, quickly became nerve-frying.)

A handful of men survive, avoiding enemy troops on the shore.

Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) is green, and isn’t happy about being drafted. He literally couldn’t hurt a mouse when the opportunity arose in his barracks during basic training. Of course, he ends up being the “moral compass” of the group.

And then there’s the obligatory wise-cracking character, a sniper named Tibbet (John Magaro), along with young war photographer Chase (Iain de Caestecker) and jaded leader and explosives expert Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell – who looks just like his dad, Kurt).

The small band of soldiers tries to avoid the German night patrols, determined to fulfill their mission: destroy a radio transmitter the Nazi’s have installed in a medieval church’s tower. They get unexpected help along the way from a young French woman named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who helps guide them to her Nazi-occupied village where the radio tower is located.

The men hide out in Chloe’s home, where she lives with her kid brother, Paul, and an ailing aunt. The older woman’s strange suffering is their first clue that there’s more going on in the village than just a military operation.

Nazi (Aryan) leader Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), who has taken a shine to Chloe, complicates and compromises their mission immediately. But when Private Boyce manages to infiltrate the stronghold while doing reconnaissance, the true scope of the Nazis’ nefarious plan is revealed. Boyce’s exploration of the underground labs leads to gruesome discoveries of horrifying experimentation. Hitler’s main goal: reanimate the dead to create an army of super soldiers.

Oh, is that all?  The stakes are raised and the battle becomes even more vicious.

The amount of gore in this R-rated film should come as no surprise to viewers. Warfare + Nazi atrocities = bloody carnage.  Even though I’m not keen on splatter-fests, it didn’t seem gratuitous to me. Familiar tropes are present, however, and as often happens, I questioned the actions of certain characters who were in threatening situations. I wanted to yell, “Don’t do it! Don’t go in there!” But they always do.

All that being said, I felt satisfied at the end of the story (directed by Julius Avery). I was never bored and I thought the writers (Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith) did a great job of keeping the middle from dragging with the right amount of suspense-filled action and intrigue. And the cast was commendable – no acting greenhorns present.

People who know me will probably be surprised, but I’m giving Overlord four out of five goblins.

Next month on the blog: Guilty Pleasures – Part III: Monsters & Aliens  

GUILTY PLEASURES – PART II: DISASTER FILMS OF THE 1990s

Feb 28 19

Last month I talked about my top picks from the first big wave of disaster films to hit cinemas in the 1970s. Now I’m listing my favorite movies that were released during the second wave in the 90s.

ARMAGEDDON (1998) – Directed by Michael Bay; starring Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Steve Buscemi

A humongous asteroid is hurtling towards Earth, and NASA is desperate to come up with a plan to stop the collision. The answer, they hope, is a team of blue-collar deep-core drillers, led by Harry Stamper (Willis). Will they be able to set off an explosion on the asteroid to divert its course?

This movie was a little hard to resist, once I saw the all-star line-up. (And I wasn’t the only one to feel that way – it was the #1 movie of 1998.) I expected all action and little to no characterization. But I was pleasantly surprised. Humor is always a great ingredient, and there were even a few genuinely touching moments in the film. The actors prove they deserve to be stars.

DANTE’S PEAK (1997) – Directed by Roger Donaldson; starring Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton, Charles Hallahan, Elizabeth Hoffman

The quaint, picturesque (fictional) town of Dante’s Peak, Washington is suddenly threatened with destruction when a nearby mountain turns out to be a volcano. (I hate it when that happens!)

Dr. Harry Dalton (Brosnan) is the volcanologist who tries to warn the inhabitants, but of course, no one takes him seriously. When all hell breaks loose, he tries to help his new friend, the town’s mayor, (Hamilton) escape with her children. The special effects were (mostly) quite good and I definitely had no complaints about the actors involved.

I’m a huge fan of Brosnan’s, but I suppose the main reason I was drawn to this movie is because it likely could happen at some point in the future, affecting a populous city (unlike Mount St. Helens).

DAYLIGHT (1996) – Directed by Rob Cohen; starring Sylvester Stallone, Amy Brenneman, Viggo Mortensen, Danielle Harris

What do you get when a caravan of trucks carrying toxic waste collide with a stolen car used in a jewelry heist inside the heavily traveled Holland Tunnel? Impressive explosions – and the perfect vehicle for Sylvester Stallone to use to achieve more box office success.

Stallone is excellent in the role of Kit Latura, an ex-medical services chief turned cab driver who witnesses the collapse of the tunnel and springs into action to help the trapped victims. On the inside, among the survivors, sporting goods retailer Ray Nord (Mortensen) takes charge and tries to lead everyone to safety.

I found the movie a little exhausting to watch, there are so many ups, downs, close calls and triumphant moments. And the special effects are convincing, too.

DEEP IMPACT (1998) Directed by Mimi Leder; starring Téa Leoni, Robert Duvall, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan Freeman, Maximilian Schell

Earth is being threatened by a comet so large it could cause a mass extinction. Scientists and governments around the world try to find a way to destroy it, and somehow prepare for the worst.

Stellar acting all the way around and a more realistic ending, with moments of genuine emotion, helped hold my attention. Most of the special effects take place towards the end, of course.

This movie didn’t fare as well at the box office as Armageddon, which was released just a few months later. However, astronomers claimed that Deep Impact was more scientifically accurate (if you care about that sort of thing).

And…Morgan Freeman as the President of the United States? I’m all for it.

INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) Directed by Roland Emmerich; starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Randy Quaid

Finally! A good old-fashioned alien invasion! With fabulous special effects and a killer cast. Loved the action, the humor, the touching moments, the failures…and especially the triumphs. It was the highest-grossing film of 1996. Will Smith can do no wrong! (At least not back then.) And it doesn’t hurt my feelings that the story begins on July 2nd – my birthday.

SPEED (1994) Directed by Jan de Bont; starring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Daniels

I liked the premise of this movie. And I don’t care what you say about Keanu Reeves, he’s one of my favorite actors.

LAPD cops Jack Traven (Reeves) and Harry Temple (Daniels) are tasked with saving the lives of civilians who are trapped on a city bus rigged to explode if the speed drops below 50 mph. Naturally, Dennis Hopper is superior in the role of bomber Howard Payne. When the bus driver is wounded, Annie Porter (Bullock) takes the wheel.

The story has a nail-biting beginning, introducing the bomber and the cop he’s obsessed with, Traven. Trapped people on a sabotaged elevator always freak me out. The suspense holds on throughout the entire movie.

TITANIC (1997) Directed by James Cameron; starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Jonathan Hyde, Bill Paxton

Why do I feel the need to apologize for putting this one on the list? (Oh, right…guilty pleasure.) If you are as fascinated as I am by shipwrecks and any mention of the Titanic disaster, if you fancy doomed romances between couples from different social classes (DiCaprio and Winslet), and you adore jealous, devilishly handsome villains (Zane), then I see no reason why you wouldn’t want to watch this lengthy film at least once. And if all of that isn’t enough, the special effects showing the sinking of the Titanic are worth waiting around for.

TWISTER (1996) Directed by Jan de Bont; starring Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, Cary Elwes, Jami Gertz

The story begins in the summer of 1969 in Oklahoma. Young Jo and her family are in the direct path of an F5 tornado. The family takes refuge in the storm shelter as all hell breaks loose. In the chaos, Jo’s father is killed and the girl is traumatized.

Flash forward to the 90s and Jo (Hunt) is now a meteorologist (obsessed with tornadoes). One day her estranged husband (Paxton), who was once a weather researcher, shows up with his new sex therapist fiancée (Gertz) to get Jo to sign their divorce papers. Instead, Jo sucks him into a storm chasing adventure.

I’ve probably seen this movie more times than any of the others. I would never chase them, but I’ve always been in awe of tornadoes (having been one street over from one during a storm many years ago in Ohio).

This one has it all: crazy action and special effects, humor, romance (and a love triangle), good guys, bad guys, emotional drama and Bill Paxton (love me some Bill, and I can’t believe he’s already gone).

VOLCANO (1997) Directed by Mick Jackson; starring Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Don Cheadle, Gaby Hoffman

The fact that this film was released two months after Dante’s Peak could have something to do with its mixed reviews and lower box office draw. I had to give it a chance because I’m a fan of Tommy Lee Jones.

And the premise is different – no mountain explodes in this movie, like you’d expect. Instead, Los Angeles is struck by an earthquake that leads to a volcanic rift opening in the middle of the city, near the famous La Brea Tar Pits. Mike Roark (Jones), the head of Emergency Management, is forced to work with geologist Dr. Amy Barnes (Heche) to come up with a plan to save as much of Los Angeles as they can.

Jones is always a pleasure to watch in any role. And there are some really good performances in this film. The action and special effects are admirable, too.

GUILTY PLEASURES – PART I: DISASTER FILMS OF THE 1970s

Jan 28 19

We all have our guilty pleasures. I admit that one of mine happens to be watching disaster films from the 70s and 90s. I can’t seem to resist them when they show up on TV.

Here are seven of my favorite movies from the 1970s that fall into that category (next month I’ll list my faves from the 90s):

AIRPORT (1970) – Directed by George Seaton; starring Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, George Kennedy, Jacqueline Bissett, Jean Seberg – and too many more to name; based on the novel by Arthur Hailey

This star-studded epic kicked off the disaster film craze of the 70s and spawned two sequels (’75 and ’77). Not only do the plane’s crew and passengers have to deal with tricky romantic entanglements and dirty politics, they also have a bomb on board. A snow storm complicates matters even more, causing major problems at the airport where they need to land. Oh, and air traffic personnel find themselves mired in sticky issues, too.

I heard that if you’re a fan of Hailey’s complex book, then you would no doubt be disappointed in the film. Since it’s one novel I’ve never gotten around to reading, I’m blissfully unaware of the movie’s shortcomings.

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) – Directed by Ronald Neame (Irwin Allen production); starring Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, Red Buttons, Roddy McDowall, Jack Albertson; based on the novel by Paul Gallico

Another star-studded (CGI-free) adventure that holds up well – I’ve probably watched this movie more than any of the others on my list. I was in high school the first time I saw it on TV – and I remember being really pissed about the fate of my favorite character. Every cast member gave it their all – no bad actors here, folks.

You probably know the story: An aging passenger ship on her last voyage (before being scrapped) is hit by a rogue wave on New Year’s Eve, flipping her upside down. Reverend Scott (Hackman) attempts to lead a small group of survivors up through the damaged bowels of the ship to the hull – and possible salvation.

THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) – Directed by John Guillermin (Irwin Allen production); starring Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Robert Wagner, Fred Astair, Faye Dunaway (and many others … even O.J. Simpson); based on two novels: The Tower by Richard Martin Stern and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson.

During the dedication ceremony and reception for a new skyscraper in San Francisco – now the tallest structure in the world – a fire breaks out in the poorly constructed building, putting hundreds of lives at risk. It’s up to the architect (Newman) and the fire chief (McQueen) to come up with a rescue plan. This three hour film is a nail biter once the action begins – with plenty of impressive pyrotechnics/special effects. The cast is superb, so I found the characters emotionally engaging as well.

EARTHQUAKE (1974) – Directed by Mark Robson; starring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Lorne Greene, Geneviève Bujold

Another huge, impressive cast playing dysfunctional characters who come together when disaster strikes. In this story, a tremendous earthquake levels Los Angeles. (Charlton Heston and George Kennedy already know the ropes, since they both starred in previous disaster flicks.) There are some entertaining close calls and daring rescues worth seeing, which helps make up for the earlier melodrama.

THE HINDENBURG ((1975) – Directed by Robert Wise; starring George C. Scott, Anne Bancroft, William Atherton, Burgess Meredith

I was intrigued by this movie because it’s based on historical events, which I know you are familiar with: the German (hydrogen-filled) zeppelin (largest in the world at the time) that bursts into flames above a New Jersey airfield in May of 1937. This story mixes truth with conjecture, fictionalizing the events leading up to the tragedy. Rather than using the original theory of electrical issues as the cause for the blaze, this film chooses sabotage. A stellar cast makes it interesting to watch, even though you know what’s coming at the end.

THE CASSANDRA CROSSING (1976) – Directed by George P. Cosmatos; starring Richard Harris, Sophia Loren, Martin Sheen, and O.J. Simpson (again)

I love “train stories” – intrigue and danger and a mystery to solve means I’m hooked from the start (thinking of Murder on the Orient Express?). I’ve always been a big fan of Richard Harris, so that’s another reason this film is on my favorites list.

In this story, terrorists let loose a deadly virus among the passengers traveling on a European train. No one is allowed to get on or off to avoid spreading the disease. Of course, military officials plan to destroy the train to prevent an outbreak. When it was released, many critics called the movie ridiculous. But with the way the world is today, I can totally see this scenario happening.

THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979) – Directed by James Bridges; starring Jack Lemmon, Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, Peter Donat

An intrepid television reporter (Fonda) stumbles on a cover-up involving safety hazards at a nuclear power plant. She wants to make certain incidents known to the public, but is put in danger by those who are protecting a sinister conspiracy. (“China Syndrome” is a term used to describe a fictional result of a nuclear meltdown, where reactor components melt through structures into the earth, “all the way to China.”)

Incidentally, this film was released only twelve days before the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. I find the story suspenseful and scary because this sort of tragedy could easily happen again and again. (I’m glad I wasn’t anywhere near Chernobyl in 1986.)

I’ve listed only seven disaster movies from the 1970s here, but there are dozens of others. I decided to narrow it down to the ones I’ve watched the most. Next month, I’ll reveal my favorites from the “second wave” of disaster flicks released in the 1990s.

BIRD BOX – A NETFLIX MOVIE REVIEW

Dec 28 18

Bird Box, a Netflix original movie, is based on the 2014 post-apocalyptic debut novel of Josh Malerman. I haven’t read the book, but friends have told me that the film doesn’t do it justice. (Movie adaptations rarely ever do.)

The film flashes back and forth between two timelines. The opening scene is set five years after the beginning of the apocalyptic event. A woman and two children are attempting to navigate a treacherous river – and they are traveling blindfolded.

The box they carry with them at all times holds three birds. The sensitive creatures alert them to any danger that may be nearby.

In the first flashback, we learn that Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is a recently jilted pregnant woman who doesn’t want to become a single mom – or perhaps she’s never imagined herself as a mother under any circumstances. The chip on her shoulder weighs a lot more than a newborn baby – and her life is about to get way more complicated.

Malorie’s sister, Jess (Sarah Paulson), persuades her to go to an ultrasound appointment, where she declines to learn the sex of her baby. It’s right afterwards that Malorie first sees all hell break loose. People (including her sister) begin killing themselves for no apparent reason. Soon, it becomes clear that their suicides are caused by an invisible alien presence that shows them their worst fears. People who are already crazy seem to be immune, and they immediately become “disciples,” trying to force all who are still sane to gaze upon “the beautiful sight.”

Five years in the future, Malorie is in survival mode. She is traveling with two children, one of whom is her own son, and they all must make the journey to find a safe haven without the use of sight. Malorie is still afraid to be a mother – she doesn’t even give the children names, calling them “Boy” and “Girl.” “Boy” isn’t even aware that she is his mom, and “Girl” is afraid of her half the time. (This movie could have been called The Horrors of Parenthood – perhaps Malorie tries to suppress a portion of her maternal instincts and feelings because of all she’s lost and all she expects to lose.)

I’m a fan of Sandra Bullock, so I’ve seen most of her work. This might be the most unlikeable character she’s ever played. Of course, she’s excellent in the role. And grouchy Douglas is another character who stands out in the flashback scenes, due to John Malkovich’s stellar performance. Tom Hollander also shines as Gary.

A lot of people are comparing this movie to A Quiet Place, which I reviewed back in July. I can see why – the Bird Box characters must remain sightless instead of soundless, and there is a lot of suspense in both movies. They both have flaws, too. Less mystery surrounds the monsters in A Quiet Place, and some seem to think that there are more contrivances and clichés in Bird Box – especially with regards to the ending. I don’t disagree.

However, if you like horror/sci-fi films and you don’t hate Sandra Bullock, then by all means check this movie out on Netflix streaming. I’m giving it three out of five goblins.

BOOK REVIEW: ELEVATION – STEPHEN KING

Nov 30 18

Stephen King is, of course, one of my favorite writers of all time. That doesn’t mean I love every book he’s ever written. It’s impossible to be as prolific an author as King and please everyone even half the time. Some of his novels – always the longer ones – have either failed to capture my interest or lost it by the middle of the tale.

I believe he is truly (and consistently) gifted when it comes to writing short stories and novellas. When I pre-ordered his latest offering, Elevation, I wasn’t expecting such a short novel. I was pleased about the length; however, when I read the description I hoped the story wouldn’t descend into a diatribe against a certain world leader for whom neither of us voted.

I was pleasantly surprised in more ways than one.

Hate crimes are on the rise and it seems that many people are feeling brave enough now to voice their prejudices and display their bigotry in public. How should we react to such toxic behavior? What can we do to help heal our towns and neighborhoods? This topic weighs heavily (pun intended) on the mind of King’s latest protagonist – along with his highly unusual health problem.

Scott Carey is a middle-aged white guy living in Castle Rock, Maine. The computer nerd is leading an ordinary life until the day he notices that he’s losing weight at a rapid pace – though his outward appearance remains the same. He still looks like a 230 lb. man sporting love handles and a large belly. Stranger still, what he’s wearing, holding or carrying never has any effect on his weight.

Scott confides in his friend, Dr. Bob, who suggests that Scott visit the best specialists he can find. Scott soon rejects the idea. Either the inexplicable condition would go away or it would not – and there were no doctors on the planet with the knowledge to help him.

While he’s dealing with his ailment and all of its bizarreness, Scott begins to take more notice of what’s happening in his town. He is determined to appreciate life and do some good while he’s able. After having a disagreement with his new neighbors, a lesbian couple, over the behavior of their dog, he strives to find a way to get along with them. When the couple open a restaurant in Castle Rock and are rejected by most of the population (married lesbians are a deal breaker), Scott wonders how he can help the two women gain acceptance and keep their business from going under.

I could have sped through Elevation in a very short time, but I wanted it to last a little longer. King’s book is perfect for the season, being quite touching in places. The only real horror involved comes from humanity – the nasty ways human beings treat each other and their reasons for doing so. But the melancholy tale includes a heartwarming truth about the difference one man can make in his world. I found the ending more than a little satisfying.

I’m tempted to give it five goblins instead of four. If only I believed in perfection …

OCTOBER VIEWING: HORROR FILMS OF THE 1970s

Oct 30 18

Needless to say, I watch a lot of different horror films throughout the month of October. I always include a good number of the ghost story and vampire movies listed in my previous two blog posts. But I also watch psychological horror, possession and classic slasher films from the 1970s.

Here are my favorites:

THE EXORCIST (1973) – Directed by William Friedkin; based on the novel by William Peter Blatty; starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller and Mercedes Cambridge (the voice of the demon).

Some people argue that The Exorcist is the greatest horror movie ever made, and I’m not going to disagree with that assertion. The possessed twelve-year-old, Regan, scared and repulsed me more than any other character on the big screen. (Thank heavens I first saw it on a TV screen.) I can’t recall any other movie causing me to have such traumatic nightmares. It’s worth watching for the special effects alone.

When young Regan begins acting strangely and numerous doctors can’t find anything physically wrong with her, her worried mother reaches out to a priest for help. Father Damien soon becomes convinced that the only way to help Regan is by sanctioning an exorcism. Soon, Father Merrin arrives to do battle with the demon.

And, oh, what a battle it is…

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) – Directed by Tobe Hooper; starring Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, Paul A. Partain

Sally and her paraplegic brother, Franklin, are worried when they hear a rumor that their grandfather’s grave has been desecrated. They head out on a road trip with three of their friends to investigate. But when they reach their family’s Texas homestead, they come to realize that Grandpa’s neighbors are insane cannibals – led by Leatherface, who wears a mask of human skin. The monsters are determined to include them all in their feast’s  main course.

Yeah…I’m wondering if I can actually claim to have watched this movie, since throughout most of its runtime I had my hands covering my face. I have to admit that extreme gore isn’t my thing, but I liked the IDEA of watching a movie this disturbing. (Seriously doubt it was based on “true events” – but you never know…)

THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD (1975) – Directed by J. Lee Thompson; starring Michael Sarrazin, Jennifer O’Neill, Margot Kidder

When California college professor Peter Proud starts having dreams and flashbacks about people and places he’s never known, he begins to suspect he once lived before. He tracks down that other past from the 1940s and is led to a town in Massachusetts – and the lake where his previous self was murdered.

This movie haunted me for a while after I first saw it. I would say more, but I don’t want to give away the ending.

THE OMEN (1976) – Directed by Richard Donner; starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Harvey Spencer Stephens

Robert, an American diplomat, ends up “unofficially” adopting Damien when his wife gives birth to a stillborn infant. He keeps this secret to spare Katherine the pain. For the first few years everything is hunky-dory for the couple – they lead an idyllic life in England. But then strange, awful things begin to happen, and gradually Robert comes to realize that his son may be the Anti-Christ.

A stellar cast lured more people into cinemas to view it than were probably expected – you don’t often see lead actors like Peck doing a horror film. I love the story and the special effects are awesome.

(The creepiest kid ever… I wonder what Harvey Spencer Stephens is doing today.)

BURNT OFFERINGS (1976) – Directed by Dan Curtis; starring Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Bette Davis, Burgess Meredith

Ben and Marian Rolf decide to move into a grand Victorian summer home, where they hope to rekindle their marriage. They can’t help but wonder why the rent is so reasonable, and they soon find out that the house has a life of its own.

This is a strange movie in many ways, and I found the casting and acting to both be superb.

THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976) – Directed by Nicolas Gessner (Initial Release in Sweden); starring Jodie Foster, Martin Sheen, Scott Jacoby

Thirteen-year-old Rynn Jacobs lives a quiet, reclusive life in a coastal New England town. Whenever the landlady comes calling, asking to see her father, Rynn tells the nosy woman that he’s away on business. But when the landlady’s creepy son begins to pry into her life, refusing to leave her alone, Rynn enlists the aid of her teenage neighbor, Mario, to help hide her dark secret.

Even when Jodie was a kid, she always gave an excellent performance. And Martin Sheen is fantastic in his role as the highly disturbed Frank.

AUDREY ROSE (1977) – Directed by Robert Wise; starring Anthony Hopkins, Marsha Mason, John Beck, Susan Swift

Bill and Janice Templeton lead a contented life in Manhattan with their young daughter, Ivy. But things get complicated for them when a man named Elliot Hoover shows up on their doorstep. He’s just returned from a trip to India, and he tries to convince them that Ivy is the reincarnation of his own daughter, Audrey Rose, who died several years before. Hoover’s arrival causes supernatural events to wreak havoc in their lives.

I was quite young when I first saw this movie on late-night TV, and it bothered me a great deal. I don’t think another horror movie has ever made me feel that sad.

HALLOWEEN (1978) – Directed by John Carpenter; starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, P.J. Soles, Nancy Kyes, Nick Castle, Tony Moran

On Halloween night in 1963, six-year-old Michael Myers stabs his teenage sister, Judith, to death. He is committed to an institution, and fifteen years later, on Halloween Eve, he escapes and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois to unleash some fresh hell. I love the soundtrack, composed by director John Carpenter.

This is the movie I always save until last – it’s a tradition for me to watch it every Halloween night and recite the dialogue (“Totally…”) while I hand out candy. And no, I haven’t seen the latest reboot. I’m sure I will before long, though.

I need to add that I quite often include “Friday the 13th” (1980), “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), “Jaws” (1975), “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) and “Halloween II” (1981) to my October movie marathon.

Hope everyone has a spooktacular Halloween!

13 VAMPIRE FILMS I LOVE THE MOST

Sep 30 18

Halloween is fast approaching and I’ve already started my nightly horror movie marathon leading up to October 31st. Last month I listed thirteen of my favorite ghost story films. This month it’s all about the vampires. Here are my thirteen faves:

LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971) – Directed by John D. Hancock (shares writing credit with Lee Kalcheim); starring Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Mariclare Costello

Jessica (Zohra Lampert) has recently been released from a mental institution after suffering a nervous breakdown, and her husband decides she needs a change of scenery away from the hectic city. They move to a supposedly haunted country farmhouse near a remote little town, and right away Jess notices odd things about the locals, and begins to experience unusual encounters. Is it all in her mind?

At first, this movie appears to mix genres and has a surreal feel. I enjoyed the eerie moments. Viewers have to decide for themselves if Jessica lost her grip on her sanity once again, or if the monsters were real.

DRACULA (1979) – Directed by John Badham; starring Frank Langella, Sir Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasence, Kate Nelligan

This version differs greatly from Bram Stoker’s novel. It’s 1913, and an ailing Mina Van Helsing witnesses a shipwreck off the English coast. She finds a lone survivor washed up on the shore and he is none other than Count Dracula of Transylvania, come to take possession of Carfax Manor. Soon, Mina succumbs to her illness, but with other strange symptoms. Her best friend Lucy (Kate Nelligan) is distraught and notifies Mina’s father, Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Olivier), who rushes to England. In the meantime, Lucy begins to fall under the spell of the enigmatic Count.

I would say Frank Langella is one of my favorite actors to play Dracula on the big screen. He first appears on the scene like a rock star, with charm and swagger – sensual and sinister at the same time. The ending of the film is different in this version as well. It made me hope that the Count could have survived after all.

THE HUNGER (1983) – Directed by Tony Scott; starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, Susan Sarandon

This erotic horror film involves a love triangle and immortality – with a catch. John (Bowie) is the long-time lover of the beautiful vampire Miriam (Deneuve), his sire. He believes he’ll also live forever, but Miriam has kept the truth hidden. Her “offspring” will never share all of her gifts – and what awaits them is a fate worse than death. John begins to deteriorate and becomes desperate when Miriam seeks out a new companion. She finds Sarah (Sarandon), who becomes quite unhappy when she discovers the plans that Miriam has for her.

This unconventional vampire movie was panned by critics and stalled at the box office. I like it anyway, perhaps because I always believed that David Bowie could do no wrong. I also enjoyed the soundtrack quite a bit.

FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) – Directed by Tom Holland; starring William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall, Amanda Bearse

Don’t judge me, but I still love this movie – and for a moment I was offended when I heard they were filming a remake (I changed my mind about that – see below).

In the beginning, Charley Brewster (Ragsdale) is a horror-loving teen whose greatest concern is getting his skittish girlfriend (Bearse) to go all the way. But then he discovers that Jerry Dandridge – the handsome new neighbor who’s charmed his mother – is actually a murderous vampire (Sarandon – wasn’t he married to Susan at some point?). When his mother and his friends refuse to believe him, he tries to enlist the aid of TV’s Fright Night host and former “vampire hunter” Peter Vincent (McDowall). Of course, Vincent is also disinclined to believe Charley’s claims, and the teen realizes it’s all up to him to stop Dandridge.

The humor, the plot and the excellent cast are what make this movie fun for me. (The Evil Ed character is a fave, played with glee by Stephen Geoffreys.)

NEAR DARK (1987) – Directed by Kathryn Bigelow; starring Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton

When he falls in love with a pretty girl he meets at a bar, happy-go-lucky cowboy Caleb Colton (Pasdar) complicates his life in an unexpected way. Mae turns out to be a vampire looking for a forever companion, and she wastes no time putting the bite on Caleb. He realizes that to keep his family safe from his blood cravings, he has no choice but to join his girlfriend’s wandering band of vampires – who wreak havoc wherever they go.

I never get tired of watching this flick either. It’s worth seeing just for Bill Paxton’s performance as the evil, batshit crazy Severen.

THE LOST BOYS (1987) – Directed by Joel Schumacher; starring Jason Patric, Keifer Sutherland, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Jami Gertz, Dianne Wiest

After their parents are divorced, teens Michael (Patric) and Sam (Haim) move with their mother to Santa Carla, California. Michael soon falls for a beautiful, mysterious local girl named Star (Gertz), who has a dark secret, and Sam befriends the Frogs, a pair of comic-book nerds who claim their town is infested with vampires. Things get crazy when Michael goes head to head with a gang of vampires led by David (Sutherland), who has Star in bloodthirsty transition and under his thrall. Michael has to rely on Sam and the Frog Brothers to rescue both him and his girlfriend.

This flick is on my list of Top Five favorite vampire movies. It’s another one I never get tired of seeing. (And yeah, I’ll admit – I still listen to the soundtrack these days.)

BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992) – Directed by Francis Ford Coppola; starring Winona Ryder, Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves

Coppola’s blood-soaked vision of a gothic romance, this version is sensuous, surreal at times, and blessed with the uniquely dichotomous performance of Gary Oldman as Vlad the Impaler. (Depending on the scene, Oldman is either sexy or repulsive.)

The setting and time period is in line with Stoker’s novel. Vlad is a 15th century Transylvanian prince who, having lost his lovely young wife to suicide, has been cursed to live forever off the blood of humans due to his loss of faith. Jonathan Harker (Reeves) is a lawyer from London who is sent to Dracula’s remote castle to handle a real estate transaction. When the Count happens to see a photo of Harker’s fiancée, Mina Murray (Ryder) – who is the spitting image of his late wife – he imprisons Harker and sets off to England to find Mina, who he believes is the reincarnation of his lost love.

In London, we are introduced to vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Hopkins), who is quite delightful. (Thank goodness he was around to lighten the mood with the film’s only intentionally humorous scenes.) And of course, Mina’s best friend, Lucy (Sadie Frost), is on hand to give an over the top performance that I rather enjoyed.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending. I think I would have preferred a more traditional one, to be honest, but I knew going in that this movie would be anything but conventional.

INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE (1994) – Directed by Neil Jordan; starring Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas, Christian Slater

Based upon the novel by Anne Rice, who also wrote the screenplay, this gothic horror tale centers on two eighteenth century vampires, Louis de Pointe du Lac (Pitt) and his sire, Lestat de Lioncourt (Cruise). It begins in present day San Francisco with a melancholy Louis pouring his heart out to a reporter (Slater), recounting the story of his life, death and rebirth – and all the guilt and betrayals that followed.

Anne Rice fans (including me) had high expectations about this film. When it was announced that Tom Cruise had accepted the role of the blond “Brat Prince” Lestat, Anne and the majority of her readers (including me) were greatly disappointed and loudly voiced their displeasure. But when the movie was released, even the author admitted she had been wrong. Cruise did the part justice.

And wow – child actress Kirsten Dunst nailed the character of Claudia and stole nearly every scene she was in.

It’s not perfect, but I believe the film does the book justice as well – being sensual, mesmerizing, darkly humorous and frightening.

BLADE (1998) – Directed by Stephen Norrington; starring Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristopherson

I suppose you could call this a superhero horror film. It’s based on the Marvel Comics of the same name, which I have never read. The plot captured my interest right away. Blade, played by Snipes, is half-human and half-vampire, having a vampire’s strengths without any of their weaknesses. His mother was attacked by a vampire while she was pregnant with him, and Blade is out to avenge her death and rid the world of evil vamps – aided by his mentor Abraham Whistler (Kristopherson). In the meantime, one of the evil vamps, Deacon Frost, has a plan to bring about the Blood Tide – a ritual that will turn every human into a vampire.

This is one of those flicks I can’t resist watching whenever I find it on a cable channel.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) – Directed by Tomas Alfredson; starring Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson

Also on my Top Five favorites list, this Swedish horror film (with English subtitles) is unique and far superior to the American remake. Details about this character-driven story lingered on my mind for days.

Based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay, the movie held my interest from the start. Twelve-year-old Oskar feels neglected by his mother and is bullied at school. When a girl his age moves into his apartment building, who also seems to be a misfit, they quickly strike up a friendship. But her appearance in his town coincides with a series of grisly murders in the area, and Oskar comes to realize that Eli is no ordinary girl. She confesses, “I’ve been twelve for a very long time.”

FRIGHT NIGHT (Remake, 2011) – Directed by Craig Gillespie; starring Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots

I wasn’t impressed with the idea of a remake, and the only reason I went to see the movie was to see David Tennant on the big screen (he had recently given up his role as the tenth Doctor Who, and I already missed him). I didn’t think Colin Farrell was a good casting choice, either, but I changed my mind about that. Farrell proved to be charismatic, oozing a menacing sort of sex appeal. (And I loved the cameo by Chris Sarandon – the original Jerry Dandridge.)

Anton Yelchin is excellent and adorable as Charley Brewster (but not as adorable as he is playing Chekov in the new Star Trek franchise). I still can’t believe a freak accident took him away from us at such a young age.

And Tennant didn’t disappoint me in his role as Peter Vincent. A little over the top at times, but the movie didn’t suffer for it. Besides, the remake is set in Sin City. Everything is over the top in Las Vegas.

I thought the screenwriter, Marti Noxon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, did an awesome job of blending the old version with the new.

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013) – Directed by Jim Jarmusch; starring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin

As it begins, Adam and Eve (Hiddleston and Swinton) – two vampires who’ve been married for centuries – are now living on opposite sides of the planet. Adam, who lives in a Victorian home in Detroit, is a famous musician who fears exposure and is becoming more and more reclusive. Eve is hanging out in Tangier. They both fear contaminated human blood in the twenty-first century, and so must rely on other ways to obtain their food.

Adam becomes so despondent that he contemplates suicide, and has his devoted fan, Ian (Yelchin), procure a wooden bullet for him. When Eve realizes how depressed he’s become, she comes to Detroit to comfort him, and they resume their relationship. But the unexpected arrival of Eve’s younger, out-of-control sister Ava (Wasikowska) causes their lives to become far more  dangerously complicated.

A little artsy and off-beat, I enjoyed it because it was much different than I expected – and I’m a huge Hiddleston fan (Team Loki!).

30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007) – Directed by David Slade; starring Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster

Based on the horror comic book miniseries by Steve Niles, this vampire flick has a clever premise and is quite suspenseful. I can’t say if it stays faithful to Niles’ series, not having read those three issues, but I enjoyed the hell out of it.

As Barrow, Alaska enters into a 30-day long polar night, the town is besieged by a nomadic gang of vampires. The local sheriff (Hartnett), who has been distracted by the break up with his wife (George), must figure out how to stop them.

There is nothing romantic or noble about these blood-thirsty monsters. Humans are merely prey to them and they take great joy in playing with their food. If you’re the squeamish sort, this movie isn’t for you.

13 GHOST STORY FILMS I LOVE THE MOST

Aug 30 18

Like many of my friends, I’m counting down the minutes until Halloween – my favorite holiday of the year. Therefore, my blog posts for August through October will be about my favorite supernatural/horror movies.

First up – my favorite ghost story films of all time. (I managed to narrow the list down to thirteen, oldest to newest.)

Here they are:

THE UNINVITED (1944) – Directed by Lewis Allen; based on the 1941 novel by Dorothy Macardle; starring Ray Milland, Gail Russell, Ruth Hussey

This black and white movie was based on Dorothy Macardle’s novel, and tells the story of a composer and his sister who fall in love with a beautiful English seacoast mansion called Windward House. They soon find out why it sold for such a reasonable price: the house and the cliff side property are haunted by two entities – one benevolent, one malignant. Eventually they discover the truth about the long ago tragedy involving a love triangle that ended badly for all concerned. (But…when do love triangles ever have a happy ending?) I like the fact that there’s more than one decent plot twist in this old-fashioned story, and some genuinely eerie moments to enjoy.

THE HAUNTING (1963) – Directed by Robert Wise; based on the 1959 horror novel by Shirley Jackson; starring Julie Harris, Richard Johnson and Claire Bloom

Based on the excellent novel by Shirley Jackson – The Haunting of Hill House – this creepy black and white film is about a team of paranormal investigators who decide to “conquer” Hill House, infamous for its lurid past of violent deaths and insanity. Unlike the book, which Jackson considered to be purely supernatural, the screenwriter decided to also turn it into a psychological horror flick, playing up the vulnerable female character’s mental instability.  Needless to say, all hell breaks loose on the team and the consequences are disastrous.

THE SHINING (1980) – Directed by Stanley Kubrick; based on the 1977 horror novel by Stephen King; starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers

Stephen King made it known that he hated this movie version, unfaithful to his novel of the same name, and he eventually had it turned into a TV mini-series (1997), which he approved. He thought Jack’s performance was over the top, and he disliked Shelley’s wimpish portrayal of her character. Oh, well. It’s scary fun, in my opinion (although I also liked the TV version). You probably already know this story well: A couple, John (“Jack”) and Wendy Torrance, and their young, psychic son, move to an isolated hotel (The Overlook) in the Rockies, where they must spend the entire winter. The alcoholic dad has the job of caretaker, and he soon falls under the influence of the evil entities haunting the huge place. I love the twin girls – and the “lady” in the tub. The scene where the young, psychic Danny encounters her in Room 217 gives me chills to this day.

THE CHANGELING (1980) – Directed by Peter Medak; starring George C. Scott, Melvyn Douglas, Trish Van Devere

Classical composer John Russell relocates from NYC to Seattle, trying to get over the sudden death of his wife and young daughter in a car accident. His new friend, Claire, talks him into renting a monstrously huge mansion, and it doesn’t take long for John to realize he’s not alone in the house. To quote writer M.R. James, I felt “pleasantly uncomfortable” pretty much all the way through this film. I also felt moved to tears on occasion, not just from the grief displayed by John due to the loss of his family, but by the terrible secret he uncovers about the child entity that haunts the mansion. Spooky stuff. (Incidentally, the screenplay is based upon events that writer Russell Hunter claimed he experienced while he was living in the Henry Treat Rogers mansion in the Cheesman Park neighborhood of Denver, Colorado in the late 1960s.)

GHOST STORY (1981) – Directed by John Irvin; based on the 1979 horror novel by Peter Straub; starring Fred Astaire, John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Melvyn Douglas, Alice Krige

Four elderly, successful gentlemen (Ricky, Ed, John, Sears) have a private club they call “The Chowder Society” – they meet every week to tell horror stories. For fifty years, they’ve also shared a horrible secret. When they were young, they were all in love with a beautiful, mysterious woman named Alma. A tragedy unfolded, and now they must pay the price. Alma: “I will show you things you’ve never seen, take you places you’ve never been. And I will see the life run out of you.”

POLTERGEIST (1982) – Directed by Tobe Hooper and written by Steven Spielberg; starring Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O’Rourke

I never get tired of this one. A subdivision was built over top of a cemetery, and the unscrupulous businessmen didn’t bother to move the bodies. Tsk, tsk. The Freelings must be punished first, apparently, and things really get serious when their young daughter is “ghost-napped.” Good scares (I really hate clowns), and I also appreciate the humor throughout the flick. “They’re heeeee-re.”

LADY IN WHITE (1988) – Directed and written by Frank LaLoggia; starring Lukas Haas, Len Cariou, Alex Rocco, Katherine Helmond

The first time I watched this movie, I was haunted by it for days afterward. Horror writer Frank Scarlatti returns to his hometown and remembers the extraordinary events that occurred when he was nine years old in the fall of 1962. It all starts when Frankie is locked in his school’s cloakroom after hours on Halloween night by bullies. He sees the apparition of a little red-haired girl as she’s attacked. Later that night, the masked man who attacked her shows up looking for something in the cloakroom and tries to get rid of Frankie by choking him, but he’s interrupted and flees. The janitor is wrongfully accused. Frankie soon learns there have been eleven children attacked in the area by a mysterious killer. The little red-haired girl, Melissa Montgomery, was the first, and her grief-stricken mother (the Lady in White) jumped off the cliff where her body was found. Frankie knows the spirit of Melissa will lead him to the truth.

THE OTHERS (2001) – Directed by Alejandro Amenabar; based on the 1898 horror novella by Henry James; starring Nicole Kidman, Chris Eccleston, Fionnula Flanagan

Inspired by Henry James’ novella, The Turn of the Screw, this movie entertained me all the way through and was genuinely creepy and intriguing. A devout Catholic woman, Grace, lives with her two young children on an isolated estate located on the Isle of Jersey. WWII has just ended and Grace is waiting on the return of her husband, Charles. She’s under a lot of stress – she’s lonely and must take care of her son Nick and her daughter Anna, who are both severely allergic to the sun. With the arrival of three servants (Bertha, Ed and Lydia), she thinks things will get better, but mysterious things begin to happen right away. Grace thinks the house is haunted, or perhaps she is going insane. I definitely won’t give away the big twist at the end.

THE GRUDGE (2004) – Directed by Takashi Shimizu; starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, Will Mapother, Bill Pullman

This movie is a remake of the Japanese film, Ju-On, which is also worth seeing. Until this flick was released, I hadn’t seen a lot of Japanese-inspired horror. I was completely creeped out by the look and feel of the ghosts and the jerky camera-work. Lots of eerie moments and there were many scenes that had me jumping in my seat. Set in Tokyo, the story is about an exchange student named Karen who is studying to be a social worker. She offers to take over for a nurse who didn’t show up for work, and proceeds to care for an elderly woman in a house that turns out to be haunted. And wow – is it ever haunted! (What did I say earlier about love triangles and tragedy and revenge?) In this case, the grudge is also a curse that passes on to different people. I enjoyed it – and not just because I have a girlie crush on Sarah Michelle Gellar.

THE MARSH (2006) – Directed by Jordan Barker; starring Gabrielle Anwar, Forest Whitaker

Claire Holloway is a stressed out children’s writer who’s afraid she’s about to have a mental breakdown. She decides to take a vacation in the country, and when she notices an ad for Rose Marsh Farm, which strongly resembles the place she’s been seeing in her nightmares, she feels compelled to visit the property. Claire almost immediately senses something amiss with the old house, and when she begins seeing the troubled spirits of a little girl and a teenage boy around the nearby marsh, she contacts a paranormal expert to help her solve the mystery.

THE ORPHANAGE (2007 – Spanish, with English subtitles) – Directed by J.A. Bayona; starring Belen Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Princep

Made in Spain (El Orfanato), this movie not only creeped me out, the ending moved me to tears. It was so much better than I was expecting, mixing chills with a compelling plot. Laura, a former orphan, buys the old orphanage where she once lived for a while as a child, planning to turn it into a facility for disabled kids. She brings her husband and young adopted son, Simon, there, and soon Simon tells her he has made friends with the spirits of five children who are trapped there. The ghost children tell Simon that he is adopted and that he will die soon. Not long after that, Simon disappears. Laura is determined to find her son and unravel the terrible secret that has been hidden at the orphanage for thirty years.

INSIDIOUS (2011) – Directed by James Wan; starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins

I was a little upset by the ending when I first saw this movie, since I didn’t realize James Wan planned to continue the story with several sequels. I liked the original anyway, however, since it had many spooky moments that made me squirm in my seat. Renai and Josh Lambert move into their dream house with their sons, Dalton and Foster, and their baby daughter. One morning they find Dalton in a comatose state, and realize he’s become a vessel for the ghosts who reside in an astral dimension. Apparently, Dalton has inherited his father’s ability to astral project during sleep. Only this time, the boy has become stranded in the astral plane known as “The Further.” Dalton is guarded by a red-faced demon, and many other tormented souls who are determined to escape – including the “shadow woman” who once haunted his father.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012) – directed by James Watkins; based on the 1983 Gothic novel by Susan Hill; starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds

Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is a widowed barrister striving to make ends meet and raise his young son. Still grieving the loss of his wife, he agrees to leave London and travel to a remote village to put a recently deceased client’s affairs in order. Her estate is located on a small island and Kipps must travel to and from the village, on occasion being cut off by the rising tides and left alone and isolated.

Strange tragedies begin to occur, and it becomes clear that everyone is hiding a terrible secret from him. Kipps is told that the client’s decaying mansion is haunted by the spirit of a woman who suffered a great loss and betrayal – and no one, not even the children, will escape her wrath.

Many goosebump-inducing moments. This one would make my Top 5 favorites list. And so would the book.

A QUIET PLACE – DVD REVIEW

Jul 30 18

“If they hear you, they hunt you.”

It’s a simple idea that leads to loads of tension and suspense in a horror/sci-fi movie made for (nearly) the whole family. A Quiet Place has a PG-13 rating, which is the main reason I waited for the DVD. I thought it might be too tame for my taste.

But the opening scene captured my attention right away. Minor spoilers are ahead.

Silence means survival for Lee (John Krasinski) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt) Abbott, who live with their three children in an isolated farmhouse. We first see them scavenging for medicine in a small town within walking distance – and then traveling home barefoot on trails covered with sand.

Lurking in the shadows are huge insect-like creatures that are blind – and they are always hungry. We are never told how these monsters came to conquer the world. I think it’s safe to assume they are alien in origin.

There is very little dialogue in the film. The Abbotts already have experience communicating non-verbally. Their oldest, daughter Regan, is deaf and the entire family knows sign language.

But getting back to that first scene on Day 89… When it was over, I wanted to nominate Lee and Evelyn for Worst Parents of the Year. After that, the movie skips ahead 400+ days. Evelyn is heavily pregnant (please tell me this wasn’t a planned pregnancy). If I were them, I would have moved house a lot closer to that thundering waterfall Lee and his middle child like to visit when they need a father-son moment. “Louder noises cancel out smaller ones.”

Instead, they build a special box (reminded me of a coffin) for the baby, complete with an oxygen mask. I was thinking, “What’s their plan for the terrible twos?”

Admittedly, I had a problem with some of the characters’ decisions and actions and other little details, but the film wasn’t boring in the least. How A Quiet Place truly succeeds is by instilling every scene with nerve-wracking tension and making the viewer feel like they are anything but a passive observer in this terror-filled world. Even the silence becomes horrific. And we know from the beginning that a careless moment can mean a life lost.

Lead actor John Krasinski also directed the hour and a half film, and shares a writing credit along with Scott Beck and Bryan Woods. I found no fault with the acting – Emily Blunt, especially, gave a stellar performance.

For nit-picky horror fans like myself, I must give the flick three out of five goblins. But for everyone else who loves suspense and creature features, I’ll give it four.

CARGO – NETFLIX HORROR MOVIE REVIEW

Jun 30 18

Kick back and watch Cargo and you’ll see some of the usual tropes you’d expect to find in a zombie flick, but (forgive me) it has both brains and heart, being unusual for its character-driven plot. The pace is slow at first, but picks up when the tale expands from being about a family struggling to stay together during a pandemic to an even more desperate father-daughter journey.

Directed by Yolanda Ramke (who also wrote the screenplay) and Ben Howling, this Netflix original movie stars Martin Freeman as Andy, a father who has become infected with the virus after being stranded in rural Australia with his infant daughter, Rosie.

Andy knows he has less than two days to find someone who is willing and able to care for his baby, while he struggles to protect her from his own changing nature. And as he searches for help, he must protect them both from those who have already turned – and from humans who are worse monsters than the zombies.

Giving him hope is an Aboriginal girl he ends up rescuing, Thoomi (Simone Landers), who has been trying, in vain, to protect her own turned father. Thoomi joins him in his agonizing quest to save Rosie.

Martin Freeman is brilliant, as always, and Simone Landers gives an impressive performance as well. I love horror films, but they rarely move me. By the time I watched Cargo’s inevitable ending, I was a little shocked at my emotional response. (The only other time I’ve gotten teary-eyed during a zombie apocalypse tale was when I saw The Girl With All The Gifts.)

So I can’t help it … I must give Cargo four out of five goblins.