Movie Review – Jessabelle (2014)

Jessabelle
Directed by Kevin Greutert
Courtesy of Lionsgate
Release Date: January 13, 2015

jessebelle-blu-ray

January is only halfway over, but I have already had the opportunity to watch some great horror flicks this year. I am happy to report this trend continues with JESSABELLE, a recent release from Lionsgate. Part ghost-story and part mystery, this film is a well-executed foray into horror. And although the plot might sound simple, don’t worry: this film has several twists and turns that will keep you enthralled throughout its entirety.

If you are not familiar with JESSABELLE, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Lionsgate:

Returning to her childhood home in Louisiana to recuperate from a horrific car accident, Jessabelle comes face to face with a long-tormented spirit that has been seeking her return and clearly has no intention of letting her escape.

This movie grabbed me from the start and never let go. I was surprised with how quickly I was immersed into it as well; most films take a few minutes to get me ensnared. This one somehow yanked me into its depths from the start. This is a testament to how entertaining and effective the film is.

JESSABELLE is shot well and contains some excellent scenery of the southern Louisiana bayous. The isolated locale of the house sets the perfect tone for the story and enhances the foreboding feel that permeates throughout it. Even the house itself, with its rundown semi-Victorian feel, offers a bit of tension that lingers in the air.

The acting is very good, with actress Sarah Snook portraying the lead character. I don’t recall seeing her in anything prior to this film, however I am making a note to look for her work in the future. She is a talented and beautiful actress, and I hope to see more of her in the future.

There are not many special effects in the film, however the few we get to see look great. I particularly like the nightmare sequences and how eerie they appear. The effects team does a great job of conveying a lot of feeling with minimal imagery. You have to see the film to truly understand.

The plot of JESSABELLE is excellent, and as I mentioned above it contains a couple of nice twists. My favorite is the conclusion, where the ‘big reveal’ is disclosed. I did not see it coming, and I started grinning as the credits rolled. I’ve read some reviews where the reviewer did not like the ending, however I loved it. It is clever and masterfully crafted.

JESSABELLE is a big win for me, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a nice ghost story. The movie is fairly clean as well (even for a PG-13 rating), so younger horror fans might enjoy this one, too (obviously, look at the Parents Guide online to see what it contains before you decide). The film is already available in a variety of formats, so give it a look.

MSB

Movie Review – Gut (2013)

Gut
Directed by Elias
Courtesy of Gut Productions
Release Date: September 1, 2013

GUT_DVD_Front

The legends and myths about snuff films have been around for a long time, much longer than I have been watching horror, in fact. But regardless, they are timeless in a sense, and movies about them are still intriguing. Such is the case with GUT, a 2013 horror flick from Gut Productions. GUT is a well-made, slow-burn thriller that keeps you engrossed to the end. And while it is not perfect, it is a heck of film and one every horror fan should give a chance.

If you are not familiar with GUT, here is the film’s plot synopsis courtesy of the official website:

Something is missing in Tom’s life. Every day he goes through the motions, becoming increasingly detached from those around him. His best friend Dan thinks he has the answer, a mysterious video he’s got to see to believe. What Dan shows him leaves Tom unsettled, flooding his mind with disturbing images and desires, and binding the two friends together with its ugly secret. As he tries desperately to forget what he saw, Tom’s mounting feelings of guilt and disillusionment quickly give way to paranoia and fear. One video soon follows another and another, blurring the line between reality and voyeuristic fascination, and threatening to dismantle everything around them.

Keep in mind, this is a low-budget indie film. But even so, it looks and sounds great. The cinematography is shot well, and the sound is nice and audible (many of the indie films I review have horrible sound quality). These reasons alone should be enough to pique your interest.

But GUT offers so much more than just good production value. It is entertaining and enthralling, close to ninety minutes of tension that leads to a startling climax.

The acting is very good, with Jason Vail and Nicholas Wilder heading up a great cast. Also, the special effects are top notch. The gore in the snuff films within the movie is excellent; I have no idea how they made it look so realistic, but WOW…I am certainly impressed.

The drama involving the gradual degradation of the main character, however, is the real winner for GUT. The way these films overtake his mind is haunting, a chilling reflection on how real this scenario might be in actual life. I particularly like how his self-destruction is evident onscreen, and how those around him become victims to his mind’s breakdown.

Yet, although it’s a great film, it does have some flaws. The primary one for me is the lack of a solidified ending. **WARNING: SPOILER ALERT** We never find out if Dan was the killer, or if his presence simply brought the killer to Tom’s house. Nor do we find out if Tom’s daughter was killed as well. Obviously, we assume she was, since she was bound right next to her mom in the video…but absolute clarification would have been nice for me.

The other issue I have with the film is that some of the non-action scenes carry on way too long. Most of these scenes are the nighttime/bedtime scenes, where Tom lays awake or watches his wife sleep. I understand these shots are necessary to help create an understanding of where Tom’s mind is going…but several of these could have been half the length and still as impactful.

Still, GUT is a definite win for me, and I recommend giving it a shot. You can’t help but be mesmerized as you watch Tom slip into a “bad place” within his mind. And you simply have to see the snuff film effects to appreciate them. GUT is one of those films that will linger in your mind long after it’s over. Give it a look…it’s available now in a variety of formats.

MSB

Movie Review – Honeymoon (2014)

Honeymoon
Directed by Leigh Janiak
Courtesy of Magnet Releasing
Release Date: January 13, 2015

honeymoon-blu-ray-cover-86

Do not be misled by this title; HONEYMOON is not a romantic comedy or anything of the sort. On the contrary, this film is a taut thriller that will keep you riveted in suspense. It is crammed full of tension and intrigue, along with a nice dose of horror and even some decent gore. In short, it has almost everything horror fans are looking for in a film.

If you are not familiar with HONEYMOON, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Magnet Releasing:

Young newlyweds Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie) travel to a remote lake cottage for their honeymoon, where the promise of private romance awaits them. Shortly after arriving, Paul finds Bea wandering and disoriented in the middle of the night. As she becomes more distant and her behavior increasingly peculiar, Paul begins to suspect something more sinister than sleepwalking took place in the woods.

I had high expectations going into this one. I really like Rose Leslie’s work (especially in Game of Thrones), and I remember liking Harry Treadway in a couple of roles he had previously in CITY OF EMBER and THE LONE RANGER. Combine these two talented actors with a plotline that is rife with mysterious circumstances, and I knew I was in for a treat. And a treat it was…I’m very happy to report the movie is very good.

As expected, the acting in HONEYMOON is fantastic. Leslie and Treadway appear to have a sincere chemistry onscreen, making their marriage very believable. Both do a fantastic job in their roles as individuals, but their relationship tension is very realistic.

The special effects are nice, too. I won’t go into great detail because some of them are key components of the film, but I was very impressed in particular with a certain scene towards the end that involves ‘an extraction’ of sorts. This made me cringe, and I loved every minute of it. You’ll definitely have to see it to believe it.

The storyline is the big winner for me, though. HONEYMOON is one of those films that delivers on several levels. It makes you smile at the beginning, when the newlyweds are discussing his proposal on camera, and then everything they experience during their first night at the honeymoon cabin. But when strange things start to happen, the happiness quickly turns to horror. I love it when a film can elicit this sort of response from me. It is a true testament to the talents of the writers and filmmakers.

My sole complaint is the lack of a definitive explanation at the very end of the film. We are told what happens to an extent, but the reasoning behind it is unclear. Again, I will not divulge details, so as to not spoil the mystery, but I was sorta surprised by the way the movie ends.

Still, that is nothing that should dissuade from seeing HONEYMOON. This is a first-rate horror flick full of chilling scenes and terror. I definitely recommend giving this one a shot; but if you’re about to walk down the aisle with your special someone, this film might make you reconsider your activities after you say “I do.”

MSB

Book Review – The Art of Eating Through the Zombie Apocalypse by Lauren Wilson

The Art of Eating Through the Zombie Apocalypse: A Cookbook & Culinary Survival Guide
by Lauren Wilson
Courtesy of Smart Pop Books
Release Date: October 28, 2014

The art

I’m not going to outright say that I believe in zombies or that there is actually the potential for a zombie apocalypse…however, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to prepare for the possibility. I mean, I LOVE zombie movies, and in many of them, the guy who states ‘zombies aren’t real’ is usually the first guy to get eaten. I guess, therefore, I am what you might call a ‘weekend doomsday prepper’. I’m not building a bunker or anything like that, but I am getting my family prepared and in a position to live off the land if need-be.

As you can probably guess, my mouth started watering when I heard about author Lauren Wilson’s recent release, THE ART OF EATING THROUGH THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. After all, food is one of the basics of standard survival, right? But usually food is scarce in these scenarios. So why not make the best of what you have? That is the inspiration behind this book, and it is an amazing collection that is definitely a must-have for every zombie aficionado.

If you are not familiar with THE ART OF EATING THROUGH THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, here is the synopsis courtesy of Smart Pop Books:

Just because the undead’s taste buds are atrophying doesn’t mean yours have to!

You duck into the safest-looking abandoned house you can find and hold your breath as you listen for the approaching zombie horde you’ve been running from all day. You hear a gurgling sound. Is it the undead? No—it’s your stomach.

When the zombie apocalypse tears down life and society as we know it, it will mean no more take out, no more brightly lit, immaculately organized aisles of food just waiting to be plucked effortlessly off the shelves. No more trips down to the local farmers’ market. No more microwaved meals in front of the TV or intimate dinner parties. No, when the undead rise, eating will be hard, and doing it successfully will become an art.

The Art of Eating through the Zombie Apocalypse is a cookbook and culinary field guide for the busy zpoc survivor. With more than 80 recipes (from Overnight of the Living Dead French Toast and It’s Not Easy Growing Greens Salad to Down & Out Sauerkraut, Honey & Blackberry Mead, and Twinkie Trifle), scads of gastronomic survival tips, and dozens of diagrams and illustrations that help you scavenge, forage, and improvise your way to an artful post-apocalypse meal. The Art of Eating is the ideal handbook for efficient food sourcing and inventive meal preparation in the event of an undead uprising.

Whether you decide to hole up in your own home or bug out into the wilderness, whether you prefer to scavenge the dregs of society or try your hand at apocalyptic agriculture, and regardless of your level of skill or preparation, The Art of Eating will help you navigate the wasteland and make the most of what you eat.

This book is an absolute joy to read, and I’m proud to have it on my bookshelf. I have mentioned it to several friends of mine who share my same love of the living dead, and they have all purchased copies. I am now going to say the same to you: do yourself a favor and pick this up now.

THE ART OF EATING THROUGH THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE is written very well, but it also contains hundreds of helpful illustrations, courtesy of talented illustrator Kristin Bauthus. Each chapter is carefully crafted to give information in an entertaining and insightful manner. And in addition to recipes, the book also gives tons of enlightening information on a variety of topics, including how to eat bugs and which ones to eat, tips for hunting, how to make squirrel jerky, cultivating your own window gardens, and much, much more. The book even tells how to make alcohol for your adult beverages using minimal ingredients!

Probably my favorite aspect of THE ART OF EATING THROUGH THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE is the simplistic way the information is presented. The book never talks over a layperson’s head, and yet it is chocked full of information the average citizen-on-the-street would probably not know. Heck, I’m a Southerner who grew up in the woods, but I didn’t know even half of the wild plant data contained within. The knowledge provided within this tome is truly amazing.

THE ART OF EATING THROUGH THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE is an excellent how-to guide, and it’s a must-have for zombie fans and/or doomsday preppers of all varieties. I highly recommend it, and I suggest you snag a copy now before the outbreak happens and the dead start to rise! You will be sorry if you don’t have this handy guide available when it does…

MSB

Movie Review – Zodiac: Signs of the Apocalypse (2014)

Zodiac: Signs of the Apocalypse
Directed by W. D. Hogan
Courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release Date: January 13, 2015

zodiac

I’ve mentioned many times before that I’m a big fan of the schlocky films SyFy Channel releases. Most of them give me the same feeling I used to get as a kid when I watched the old Roger Corman-style films on Saturday afternoons. But…unfortunately, not every SyFy flick is golden. Sometimes, there are simply too many negatives the film cannot overcome. Such is the case with today’s movie, ZODIAC: SIGNS OF THE APOCALYPSE. While the premise is interesting, the film never really comes together, and the result is an unentertaining trek into yawns-ville.

If you are not familiar with ZODIAC: SIGNS OF THE APOCALYPSE, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment:

When a primitive astrology carving is unearthed in Peru, it triggers explosive meteor storms around the world. But this is only the beginning: Tsunamis, lightning storms, lava geysers and giant waterspouts erupt globally, each disaster corresponding to a specific sign of the zodiac. Will a mysterious government agency now kill to hide a shocking planetary secret, or can a group of rogue scientists race against time and carnage to activate an ancient civilization s Armageddon machine?

I really wanted to like this movie because I am fascinated with archaeology, especially those finds that are mysterious and pose many questions. And if a director can combine archaeological finds with elements of science fiction, fantasy, or horror, then I’m definitely onboard. Sadly, I could not find enough to like about this film to make it enjoyable.

ZODIAC: SIGNS OF THE APOCALYPSE is shot well and looks pretty decent for the most part from a production standpoint. The acting is also pretty good. But even so, the confusing storyline and lack of cohesion within it are what kill this film.

There are so many things that never get explained: Who or what is the government agency? How did they know about the stone? Furthermore, how does an archaeologist know in-depth knowledge about the zodiac by heart? Why is his son mad at him? I grew frustrated with these questions very quickly, which in turn shot down any enjoyment I might have had with this film

Also, reading zodiac signs into these natural disasters is a bit too much of a stretch for me. While watching the film, I felt very much like the skeptical characters who don’t believe the archaeologist as he tries to explain. I usually don’t have problems suspending reality when I’m watching a film, but this is just asking too much.

ZODIAC: SIGNS OF THE APOCALYPSE is not a win for me at all, and I can’t recommend it with a clear conscience. I’m usually right in tune with SyFy Channel on their creature-features and whatnot…but this one misses the mark for me. I would steer clear of this, unless you’re absolutely desperate for an end-of-the-world film. It hits store shelves tomorrow if you want to take a look.

MSB

Movie Review – Finders Keepers (2014)

Finders Keepers
Directed by Alexander Yellen
Courtesy of Lionsgate
Release Date: January 6, 2014

finders keepers

Call me a chicken, but movies with demonic dolls in them really creep me out. I’m not really sure why, either. To my knowledge, I’ve never been traumatized by a doll, nor did I even own any dolls. I grew up with a brother, and he didn’t have any (unless he was hiding them). So this fear cannot be rooted in my childhood…I don’t think. But regardless of where it stems from, dolls are creepy, especially those that are battered and beat up. So imagine my delight when I saw the cover of FINDERS KEEPERS! I knew it was a must-see for me, so I gave it a shot. I’m glad I did, too, because this is a slick little thriller than doles out frights and fun.

If you are not familiar with FINDERS KEEPERS, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Lionsgate:

After her divorce, Allyson Simon and her daughter Claire move into an old house outside the city. When Claire finds an old doll left in the house by the previous occupants, Allyson begins to see sinister changes in her daughter. When Allyson discovers the doll’s dark secret, she and her estranged husband must race against time to stop the entity trying to take over their daughter.

I was surprised to discover the director, Alexander Yellen, has been involved with several ‘bad’ films over the years, particularly several that were released by The Asylum. I say ‘surprised’ because this film is nothing like any of those low-budget atrocities. If you are not familiar with The Asylum, it is the company that releases craptastic knock-offs of popular film franchises. FINDERS KEEPERS is a well made film, and it is hopefully a precursor of what is to come from Yellen.

FINDERS KEEPERS is shot well and looks great onscreen. The production value of the film appears high, and the locations chosen are perfect. I particularly love the house where the doll is found; it just screams ‘bad things happen here’.

The acting is great, with Jaime Pressly heading up a talented cast. I’ve overheard several people who do not like her because of her Southern accent and mannerisms, however I love the woman. She is beautiful and talented, an actress with a wide emotional range and a versatile skill-set. The film also features Tobin Bell, who you will remember from the SAW franchise. Bell does a great job portraying Claire’s psychiatrist, although he is not featured much in the film, unfortunately. And I would be remiss if I did not include young actress Kylie Rogers, who plays Claire. Rogers does a phenomenal job with her role, and I hope to see more of her work in the future.

As for special effects, there are surprisingly few in FINDERS KEEPERS. The doll is never seen moving, which is kind of disappointing, but it also helps to build the tension. There is no gore, although we do get some bloodshed, which looks pretty good.

I have to give FINDERS KEEPERS a thumbs up. It is simple in design, but it is executed very well. Fans of chilling, low-grade horror will want to give this one a look for sure.

I can already see a few of you rolling your eyes, and that’s fine…after all, everybody is entitled to their own opinion. But you have to take movies like this for what they are: fun, plain and simple. Sure, this is thoroughly explored territory (a possessed doll terrorizes people), but who cares? As long as a film is well done and entertains, the concept does not have to be original.

I recommend FINDERS KEEPERS. It is available now in a variety of formats.

MSB

Book Review – The Dark Servant by Matt Manochio

The Dark Servant
by Matt Manochio
Courtesy of Samhain Publishing
Release Date: November 4, 2014

DarkServant_The_v4

Ok, I know Christmas is over, but good horror is a gift that keeps on giving year round! And if you can get a nice dose of scares that are intermingled with a recent holiday, then so much the better. Such is the case with author Matt Manochio’s latest release, THE DARK SERVANT. Set against the backdrop of an approaching Christmas season in a small town, this book presents the horrifying truth behind the Santa Claus myth and what happens to those who don’t believe.

If you are not familiar with THE DARK SERVANT, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Samhain Publishing:

Santa’s not the only one coming to town…

It has tormented European children for centuries. Now America faces its wrath. Unsuspecting kids vanish as a blizzard crushes New Jersey. All that remains are signs of destruction—and bloody hoof prints stomped in the snow.
Seventeen-year-old Billy Schweitzer awakes on December 5 feeling depressed. Already feuding with his police chief father and golden boy older brother, Billy’s devastated when his dream girl rejects him. When an unrelenting creature infiltrates his town, endangering his family and friends, Billy must overcome his own demons to understand why supposedly innocent high school students have been snatched, and how to rescue them from a famous saint’s ruthless companion—that cannot be stopped.

I finished this book prior to the recent Christmas holiday, however I did not have the opportunity to post the review until now. Yet, the weather doesn’t have to be cold to enjoy this chilling tale of horror. Manochio does a masterful job of weaving together real life and myth to create the ultimate Yule Tide terror.

THE DARK SERVANT is written very well and flows at a smooth pace. Manochio writes in a fluid matter that conveys a lot of information but moves the story swiftly along. This allows the reader a complete immersion into the story, which in turn enhances the frights as they occur.

The characters are well fleshed-out and believable. They are damaged individuals who are relatable and likable (for the most part, that is…there are a few “bad seeds” that I enjoyed disliking). The realism of the characters is another reason this book is so enjoyable.

I particularly like the small-town setting in which THE DARK SERVANT takes place. I come from (and currently live in) a small town, therefore this book hits home for me. As a result, I felt a connection to the characters that some readers may not. This bond brought me closer to the story, and I felt more deeply vested in what happens in the story.

THE DARK SERVANT is an excellent read, and a feather in the cap of an up-and-coming horror author. I highly recommend giving this one a look, particularly if you are not ready for Christmas to be over for this year. Manochio is an author to watch out for, and he shines with this debut. It is available now in a variety of formats, so make a note.

MSB