4 Shots From 4 Films: Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe


4 Shots from 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots from 4 Films lets the visuals do the talkin. Edgar Allan Poe, master of the macabre, was born on this date in 1809. His poems and shorts stories served as the inspiration for a series of films by Roger Corman, most starring the inimitable Vincent Price! To honor Poe’s birthday, here’s 4 shots of Poe films by director Roger Corman:

House of Usher (1960)

Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

The Raven (1963)

Masque of the Red Death (1964)

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Film Review: Insidious: The Last Key (dir by Adam Robitel)


Traditionally, good films are not released in January.

With most filmgoers more interested in catching up with the probable Oscar nominees and no one wanting to spend too much money after Christmas, January has become the month when the studios release all of the low-budget films that they’re hoping they can make a few bucks off before everyone forgets about them.  January is the month that sees sequels to the franchises that have a small but loyal fan base.  Just as last January saw the release of a new Underworld and a new Resident Evil, this January sees the release of Insidious: The Last Key.

Though it would subsequently be overshadowed by The Conjuring and its sequel, the Insidious franchise got off to a good start with the first film in the series.  Released in 2010, the first Insidious was a genuinely scary movie, one that can still give your nightmares if you watch it on a stormy night.  There are so many moments from that film that have stuck with me: the dancing ghost, the red demon suddenly appearing over Patrick Wilson’s shoulder, and the franchise’s first trip to the Further.  Of course, the thing that really elevated Insidious was the performance of Lin Shaye, in the role of demonologist Elise Rainier.  Lin Shaye played Elise with a combination of eccentricity and quiet authority and, from the minute she first showed up, you wanted to know more about Elise’s paranormal career.  Elise was the most popular character in the movie, which made it unfortunate that she was dead by the end of it.

Despite Elise’s death, she’s continued to be at the center of the Insidious franchise.  The first sequel dealt with her death by having her appear as a spirit, leading the hero through the Further.  The third film in the franchise was actually a prequel, dealing with one of Elise’s earlier investigations and showing how she first met her two comedy relief assistants, Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell).  The Last Key is another prequel, revealing the details of Elise’s childhood and following her all the way through 2010.  The Last Key ends with a call back to the first Insidious movie, suggesting that the franchise has now come full circle.

The Last Key is another haunted house movie.  This time, the house in question is the one where Elise and her brother (played, as an adult, by Bruce Davison) grew up with their horribly abusive (and possibly demon-possessed) father.  In 2010, the house has been purchased by Ted (Kirk Acevedo).  No sooner has Ted bought the place then it becomes obvious that it’s haunted.  However, Ted can’t just abandon the place because he’s sunk all of his money into this house, which he was hoping to be able to then sell to someone else.  Apparently, you can’t get much money for a haunted house.

(Well, whatever.  I’d pay good money to buy a haunted house and then I would open it to the paying public every October.  I would make a fortune, assuming everyone didn’t get killed.)

Anyway, it all pretty much leads to everything you would expect to happen in an Insidious movie.  Doors open and close.  Malevolent beings appear in the shadows.  Everyone goes to the Further.  Lin Shaye gives another entertaining and fully committed performance, obviously enjoying the chance to be the star of the film.  Nothing about the film is particularly surprising but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t often effective.  Watching this film is a lot like listening to a skilled storyteller tell the story about the girl, her boyfriend, and the escaped mental patient who has a hook for a hand.  You know exactly what’s going to happen.  You know that it none of it really happened.  You know the story is borderline ludicrous.  But you still find yourself jumping at every unexpected sound.  You still find yourself staring into the shadows, wondering if you really saw something moving or if it was just your imagination.

Needless to say, The Last Key is never as effective or as scary as the first Insidious or either of The Conjuring films.  There were a few moments — mostly dealing with Elise’s childhood — where The Last Key showed the potential to be something a little deeper than what I was expecting but those moments were rarely followed up on.  In the end The Last Key is a rather modest and workmanlike horror film, the type that makes you jump while you’re watching it but which you will also probably end up forgetting about a day or two after seeing it. However, for a January horror film, it’s good enough.

Creepy Crawlies: WILLARD (Cinerama 1971)


cracked rear viewer

Rats are not cute’n’cuddly little creatures. They’re disgusting, disease-infested vermin that should be avoided at all costs. But don’t tell that to WILLARD, title character in this 1971 chiller that started a regular revolution of “animals run amok” horror movies. Bruce Davison, later to become one of his generation’s finest actors (SHORT EYES, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, LONGTIME COMPANION), is a regular rodent Dr. Doolittle here, not only talking to the animals, but handling them fondly while he trains them to kill his enemies. Rats – yuck!

Willard Stiles is a lonely loser who shares a rambling, decrepit manse with his  domineering mother (Elsa Lanchester) and works for bullying boss Martin (Ernest Borgnine ), who stole the family business from Willard’s late father. Office temp Joan (Sondra Locke) feels sorry for Willard, but the socially awkward nerd is uncomfortable around people, preferring instead to spend time with the rats in…

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I Dare You To Watch The Trailer For Truth or Dare


AGCK!  Those smiles are creepy!

Otherwise, Truth or Dare basically looks like a remake of It Follows with a little bit of The Ring tossed in.  I have a bad feeling that this is going to be one of those movies where the entire plot is dependent on everyone being beyond dumb but as long as it’s scary, who cares?

 

Cleaning Out The DVR: The Sandman (dir by Peter Sullivan)


(Hi there!  So, as you may know because I’ve been talking about it on this site all year, I have got way too much stuff on my DVR.  Seriously, I currently have 189 things recorded!  I’ve decided that, on January 15th, I am going to erase everything on the DVR, regardless of whether I’ve watched it or not.  So, that means that I’ve now have only have a month to clean out the DVR!  Will I make it?  Keep checking this site to find out!  I recorded The Sandman off of the SyFy on October 14th!)

Madison (Shae Smolik) is a little girl who appears to have some issues.

For instance, her father just died under the most mysterious of circumstances.  One of the last things that he did before he died was get paranoid when a police car drove by him.  He was carrying a gun when he died, as well.  Also, he died right in front of Madison.

Madison ends up at the hospital, where she has violent nightmares and struggles so much with the doctors and the orderlies that she has to be strapped down.  Since both of her parents are dead, a call is made to her Aunt Claire (Haylie Duff).  Claire is willing to adopt Madison but Child Protective Services is a bit less enthusiastic.  Claire is unmarried and hasn’t always been the most responsible adult.  She currently works as a photographer, taking pictures of aspiring Bettie Pages in her garage.  Can Claire not only prove herself to be a good mother but also solve the mystery of what happened to Madison’s father?

You probably read that plot description and thought to yourself, “That sounds like a typical Lifetime film.”  And certainly, there is a bit of Lifetime to be found in this SyFy movie.  Peter Sullivan has produced, written, and directed several films that have appeared on both SyFy and Lifetime.  Haylie Duff is a regular Lifetime actress.  For a financially struggling photographer, Claire certainly does live in a nice, big house, which is one of the most familiar signs that you might be watching Lifetime film.

However, make no doubt about it, this is definitely not a Lifetime film.

You see, the reason why Madison is a nightmare to deal with it is because she’s linked to a monster.  The reason why Madison is an orphan is because the monster killed her father.  And now that Madison is living with Claire, the monster is coming for both of them.

And what a monster!  Seriously, the Sandman is about as frightening as a SyFy monster can get.  As you can probably guess from the name, he’s made of sand. The best way to avoid him, of course, would be to go some place where there is no sand but good luck with that.  SAND IS EVERYWHERE!  The Sandman pops up whenever Madison is in danger.

Nosy neighbor wants to know about Madison’s father?  Here comes the Sandman, pouring in through the kitchen faucet!

Hospital doctor planning on recommending that Madison be institutionalized?  Sandman!

In fact, anyone who poses a threat to Madison, whether real or perceived, can expect a visit from the Sandman.

Tobin Bell plays Valentine, a government agent who thinks that Madison could be weaponized.  He’s probably right but seriously, everyone should know better than to mess with the Sandman.  That said, it’s always fun when Tobin Bell is in one of these movies.  He’s just such a good villain.

The Sandman was a good mix of Lifetime family melodrama and SyFy horror.  As the aunt and the seriously disturbed niece, Haylie Duff and Shae Smolik were believable and sympathetic and the Sandman made for a memorable monster.  Watch this movie the next time you’re planning on spending a weekend at the beach.

Cleaning Out The DVR: Neverknock (dir by Sheldon Wilson)


(Hi there!  So, as you may know because I’ve been talking about it on this site all year, I have got way too much stuff on my DVR.  Seriously, I currently have 190 things recorded!  I’ve decided that, on January 15th, I am going to erase everything on the DVR, regardless of whether I’ve watched it or not.  So, that means that I’ve now have only have a month to clean out the DVR!  Will I make it?  Keep checking this site to find out!  I recorded NeverKnock off of the SyFy on October 16th!)

Sitting in a small town, there’s a deserted and dilapidated house.  The address is 59 Oakwood Lane.  In 1986, three teenagers were found dead in the house.  Carved in their backs were three words: “Never never knock.”  Forty years later, the murders remain unsolved but everyone has heard the legend.  If you knock on the door, the Never Knock Creature comes to life and uses your own fears to kill not only you but also all of your friends…

Okay, I know what you’re thinking.  “Easy solution to this problem!  Don’t knock on the freaking door!”

But let’s be honest here.  If I lived in that town, I probably wouldn’t knock on that door but I’d sure as Hell beg all of my friends to do it.  After all, who wouldn’t want to see what would happen?  When I was in college, there was a legend that one of the hallways of my dorm was haunted by Wicked Wanda.  They said Wicked Wanda could kill you but I still begged my roommate to go look for her.  Urban legends are like wet paint signs.  You have to encourage people you know to test them.

Needless to say, that is what happens in Neverknock.  Grace (Dominque Provost-Chalkley) is the new girl in town.  She’s still struggling to recover from a personal tragedy.  Her best friend, Leah (Jodelle Ferland), invites her to spend Halloween night with her and her friends.  Grace agrees but she makes the mistake of bringing along her bratty younger sister, Jenna (Lola Flanery).  Jenna dresses up like the devil for Halloween and she soon proves that it’s not a totally inappropriate costume by knocking on the door to 59 Oakwood Lane.  The Never Knock Creature comes to life, Jenna promptly disappears, and Leah, Grace, and all their friends find themselves being stalked by a creature that uses their worst fears to kill them.

(So, if the Never Knock Creature came after me, I’d have to worry about heights, drowning, dogs, fire, deserted barns, dead wasps lying unseen in the carpet, odd numbers, and the wire popping out of my favorite bra and stabbing me.  Good to know.)

Anyway, I liked Neverknock.  As is typical of Sheldon Wilson’s SyFy film, Neverknock has a ton of atmosphere and the pace never lags.  Wilson changes things up a little in this movie by having the fright scenes occur during both the day and the night.  For some reason, to me, it’s even scarier when someone gets attacked by an evil creature during the middle of the day.  Even with the sun out and hundreds of people around, there’s no escape from the Never Knock Creature.  Admittedly, Neverknock‘s characters are not exactly the most complex group of people to show up in a horror film.  For the most part, they’re just teenagers who don’t understand that importance to staying together in one group while being stalked by a demonic force.  But the cast is made up of appealing performers and veteran actor Nicholas Campbell makes a welcome appearance.  You don’t want to see any of them die and that’s really all that a movie like this demands.

And finally, the Never Knock Creature is seriously creepy!  When he first responds to Jenna knocking on that door … AGCK!

All in all, this was a good SyFy horror film.

Cleaning Out The DVR: Stickman (dir by Sheldon Wilson)


(Hi there!  So, as you may know because I’ve been talking about it on this site all year, I have got way too much stuff on my DVR.  Seriously, I currently have 191 things recorded!  I’ve decided that, on January 15th, I am going to erase everything on the DVR, regardless of whether I’ve watched it or not.  So, that means that I’ve now have only have a month to clean out the DVR!  Will I make it?  Keep checking this site to find out!  I recorded Stickman off of the SyFy on October 21st!)

When she was seven years old, Emma (Hayley Law) was accused of two terrible crimes.

The authorities say that Emma murdered both her sister and her mother.  She’s spent the last ten years in an institution, haunted by nightmares of the demonic monster that she claims committed the murders.  According to Emma, the Stickman comes for you if you make the mistake of reading a poem aloud.  The only way to keep the Stickman at bay is to draw a picture of him every night.  Of course, no one believes Emma.  At the institution, she has to regularly deal with smug doctors who refuse to accept that she’s being stalked by an unstoppable monster.  Obviously, they’ve never watched It Follows or that HBO documentary about Slenderman.

When 17 year-old Emma is finally released from the institution, she is sent to a half-way house where she is to live with 5 other girls.  They’ve all committed different crimes.  One of them is an arsonist.  Another one has a paranoid obsession with the dark web.  Emma’s the only one to have been accused of murder.  Even though Emma is assured that, as far as the other girls are concerned, “their bark is worse than their bite,” she soon finds herself targeted by Liv (Zoe De Grand Maison).  Not only does Liv refuses to believe in Stickman but she also doesn’t want to live with a murderer.

(I have to admit that sounds kinda reasonable to me.)

Anyway, as you can probably guess, that poem gets read again.  And, on her first night of half-way house living, Emma has a nightmare about the Stickman.  However, this time, Stickman doesn’t just stay in her dreams.  Instead, Stickmsn shows up in the real world and starts killing people.  Emma thinks that she can find a way to stop Stickman if she returns to the hospital.  Liv, meanwhile, remains convinced that Stickman is a myth and somehow, Emma is responsible for it all…

Stickman was aired as a part of SyFy’s 31 Days of Halloween.  I really wish that SyFy would show more original films.  Years ago, they used to show a new movie every weekend.  Now, we only get original movies during Shark Week and October.  (And, this October, SyFy devoted one weekend time slot to Jeepers Creepers 3, directed by convicted and admitted pedophile, Victor Salva.  Seriously, what the Hell was up with that?)  Original SyFy films, like Stickman, are always fun to watch and live tweet so it really does seem, to me, that SyFy is missing an opportunity by not showing more of them.

Anyway, I enjoyed Stickman.  Sheldon Wilson has directed several SyFy films and he obviously know how to create and maintain a properly ominous atmosphere.  Stickman is full of dark shadows and sudden jump scares and, even if he is a bit of a familiar monster, the Stickman is genuinely creepy.  Though none of the characters are particularly complex, everyone goes a good job making enough of an impression that you can keep everyone straight.  If I really wanted to, I could probably devote another 500 words to picking apart the plot and citing every logical inconsistency but you know what?  That would be totally missing the point.  This is a horror movie.  It doesn’t have to always make sense, it just has to be entertaining.  In the end, Stickman was a fun movie for Halloween.  I wish SyFy would make more like it.