Occult Horror: WOLVES AT THE DOOR (2017) Review

Based on the true events of the murder of Sharon Tate and her friends by the Manson Family, it depicts the events on that horrific night. What was supposed to be a nice, quiet, and fun night eventually turns into one that shocked and disturbed the country.

The thing with this movie for me, is that it’s not a bad movie itself, it’s just badly made. The movie runs at a mere 75 minutes; and at first I thought it could have been a good thing in order to prevent it from dragging on more than it needed to. It turns out that the short running time is one of its huge downfalls. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that felt so rushed. Due to the short runtime, the characters are greatly underdeveloped. We only get brief snippets of the characters to get an emotional attachment to them, but it’s not exactly enough. We care for them sure, but we don’t really get to know them. Ironically, they chose to focus more on the secondary couple of Abigail and Wojciech (played by Elizabeth Henstridge and Adam Campbell). They’re a very likable couple from what we see of them, but you would think they would have chosen to focus more on Sharon Tate (Katie Cassidy) and her boyfriend Jay (Miles Fisher). These two quite frankly don’t get much development at all (at times it seems they’re hardly even in it). With Tate I can only assume we’re just supposed to worry for her because she’s pregnant, which is understandable, but at the same time don’t let that speak for the character. Even Sharon and Jay’s relationship comes off as non-existent.

Had this been longer, we could have been given a lot more of these characters and their relationships with one another and actually make us care for them more. For those who know the story of these murders, it does bring on a massive sense of dread knowing that the outcome for these characters won’t be a positive one. And this sense of dread does in a sense provide a good and emotional impact on the movie. However, if you’re one of the people who thinks it’s in “poor taste” to have made a movie about this, then don’t bother with this one. I’m personally glad someone had the guts to finally touch upon this story. They don’t show the murder of the pregnant Tate, but the way it plays out in your head is probably much worse than them actually showing it. Instead of playing out the movie with the story it’s trying to tell it ends up becoming more like The Strangers and your basic home invasion movie. I feel like had this been a slow-burn horror movie with all of the terror coming towards the end with more character development, but also giving us hints of what’s to come (such as news reports of previous Manson break ins or crimes, not counting the opening scene). The suspense and intensity works here, but also could have been stretched out better instead of being clumped together.

Also, for a movie that takes place in the late 60s, there wasn’t anything that felt 60s about this movie. They tried to make it look 60s, but even that felt half-assed. In terms of acting, we kind of have a mixed bag. Elizabeth Henstridge provides the strongest performance of them all (this could be due to the fact that she has the most development and screen time), Katie Cassidy has more weak moments than she does strong ones; however, the moment where she is taken to her ultimately doom, Cassidy nails it here and makes the moment really gut-wrenching as she only fears for the life of her unborn child. The two male actors are basically the weakest of the bunch because of how bland they come off. I could almost say that maybe had their characters been more developed, the cast could have been able to turn in stronger performances.

While this movie could have been much worse in terms of brutality, it’s definitely not for the most sensitive of viewers. It has some decent terror in it, and the knowing sense of dread really helps with making the movie all the more horrific. Despite this, Wolves at the Door suffers from an extremely rushed script with underdeveloped characters and story, with performances ranging from weak to decent because of it, and extremely weak portrayal of the time period it takes place in.

–Cody Landman

Weepy Whisper: VOICE FROM THE STONE (2017) Review

A young nurse named Verena goes to stay with a widower and his son in order to help the boy through his grief after losing his mother. She soon learns of the belief that the voices of the dead can be heard through the stone structure in the house they live in and around the house. Thinking it’s all make believe, Verena gradually begins to second guess everything as the voices begin to speak to her.

One thing to mention about this movie is that it’s not a horror movie. At least not the one it tries to make us think it is. Instead this plays out more like psychological drama/thriller. In some instances it draws elements of The Shining, The Skeleton Key, elements of The Yellow Wallpaper, and places it in this gothic romantic setting. And for the most part it works. In the last 20 minutes that is. Everything prior to this is slow and boring to the point where I couldn’t even keep focused. The gothic and moody atmosphere is great at least to give us something nice to look at. Besides of course he lovely Emilia Clarke as the lead. Those last twenty minutes are definitely the best part of the movie and I suppose does make it worth the suffering of everything prior. However, it doesn’t really have much of a build up towards it. It’s has a decent twist, but it sort of interrupts the flow of the fact that we’re watching this woman’s mentality disintegrate the more she begins to believe in these voices. This aspect would have been better instead of the final twist thrown in. Had there been more of this sprinkled throughout a majority of the film as opposed to Verena wandering the ground and following Jakob around like a dog, it would have made the pay-off even better. Emilia Clarke is also a positive about the film. At the start she portrays Verena as a pretty uptight but caring person. But Clarke’s performance really takes off when she has to portray the character slowing losing her sanity. I personally hope we get to see her branch out more once Game of Thrones is done, because she really is a great actress and pretty expressive when the roles calls for it.

Voice From the Stone’s biggest flaw is the fact that everything prior to the final act is so boring and doesn’t serve much purpose in how it’s structured. In fact until the end I almost felt disbelief that this was supposed to be a horror film. The general idea is good, but getting there is tiresome, even if it’s very-well filmed and has the talents of Clarke to guide it.

–Cody Landman

Mega Monster Man: COLOSSAL (2017) Review

After being kicked out by her boyfriend for being unstable, Gloria returns to her hometown and end up reconnecting with an old friend. Meanwhile over Seoul, a monster has emerged and threatens the city. It isn’t long before Gloria realizes that she has a certain power over the monster, but also that that’s not the only foe she has to face.

Colossal borrows many elements from classic monster movies and meshes it into an intelligent and clever story. I will admit there is a twist revealed early on that we’ve seen many times in horror films. However, in those cases it’s revealed in the ending and in most cases leaves the movie to come off a hokey and unsatisfying. By revealing this twist early on, it allows the story to elaborate more on it and make the decision worthwhile. Gloria, played by Anne Hathaway, is basically a trainwreck. Despite living together, she and her boyfriend never see each other due to her flightiness, being out all night, and coming home hung over. Returning home doesn’t resolve matters as she gets involved with her old friend Oscar, played by Jason Sudeikis. Oscar is even more of a disaster than she is. He’s a drunk, a hoarder, and gives off some strong obsessive/sociopathic tendencies. Initially, Gloria finds her control of the monster humorous, but she eventually begins the fear of this control she has and the damage it can cause. As the story progresses, Gloria not only has to control her physical monster, but also her inner monsters, and even own physical monster of an enemy. The movie is Gloria on a journey to redeem herself after the mess she’s made of herself. And this works really well, as the movie goes on, Gloria becomes this unlikely hero after being this disaster of a human being we really don’t admire much in the beginning. You could say that in some ways it is almost a parody of sorts for monster movies, but it doesn’t get too carried with that. There is a pretty good and serious story at hand with fun bits thrown in.

Anne Hathaway does great with her role as Gloria and showing her development and strength throughout the movie. It’s also nice to see her doing more fun roles and not super serious ones. Equally great, if not slightly more stand out is Jason Sudeikis. Here he provides a more darker and sinister performance on top of his usual quirky and comedic role that we are familiar with. It’s definitely a side of him I never thought him capable of capturing, but damn it he does well with the darker side of his character.

Colossal is a great film that brilliantly ties in fantasy, drama, and monster horror with sprinkles of comedy. Don’t let the metaphoric aspects of the film discourage you because unlike most, it’s elaborated on here and actually works unlike others. It’s also a great underdog story. On top of that we have great performances by the two leads.

–Cody Landman

Oh No, UFO: PHOENIX FORGOTTEN (2017) Review

A young woman goes back to her hometown of Phoenix, AZ in order to conduct a documentary involving the disappearance of her older brother and his friends when she was just a kid. She ultimately uncovers the shocking truth and what the government doesn’t want revealed.

This latest found footage horror film goes back to the roots of the found footage we actually enjoy, the mockumentary subgenre that was enlightened by The Blair Witch Project. And the inspiration of that film is clearly inspired here. The film primarily takes place in present day with our lead Sophie. We see her conducting interviews with her parents and other citizens of the town about the legendary “Phoenix lights” that did in fact happen back on March 13, 1997. A mysterious set of lights formed in the shape of a “v” hovered over Phoenix and then disappeared, leaving citizens baffled. Some say it was military, some say it was aliens. Sophie’s (who was six at the time) brother Josh is hell-bent on finding out more about these lights. He then enlists the help of his crush Ashley and his best friend Mark to make this happen. As mentioned, the first half of the film is Sophie’s interviews with people about that night and the disappearances. Between this are intercuts of Josh’s footage. When Sophie thinks she’s reached a dead end, some new and shocking footage falls into her lap. The last half is that footage.

What I appreciated most about this movie is that it is clearly trying to set itself apart from the basic found footage films that get spewed out constantly. The structure and editing of the film works in its favor to make it appear more as a documentary film instead of found footage. The first half involving Sophie seeking answers is slow-moving, but it works to build it all up to our final footage. And I think the wait is worth it. Essentially it moves at the same pace as The Blair Witch Project, especially when it comes to the last half of the film. There aren’t any jump scares in this movie, but it uses the scares of the unknown to screw with your mind until it all goes crazy in the end. And I gotta say I was really tensed up when all hell breaks loose at the end. And this is executed really well because of how little we actually see. We get enough glimpses of the occurrences to shock us and it doesn’t linger on them, and it seeks to use sound more than anything. In some ways though it bares a little too much to Blair Witch in terms of how events go down. I don’t want to make this sound like a huge flaw, because it’s not, but it is hard to not make those mental notes in your head. The intensity of the film’s ending is great and a solid pay-off, but I was let down because that’s where it chose to end. I was expecting it to cut back to the present for at least little more time with Sophie, but it didn’t. This was a huge missed opportunity because I really liked where it was headed when Sophie found this last footage. In terms of character though, I really liked Sophie and the trio of friends in the footage and actually cared for them. The trio had good chemistry together, but their general performances I felt were really lacking.

Needless to say, I was massively impressed with Phoenix Forgotten. The creators knew that found footage has grown really stale and formulaic. Not to say this one doesn’t have its moments, but they recognized what made The Blair Witch Project so great and scary, and they hard-core applied it here. And it works. Found footage horror these days comes off as extremely fake, but what this and Blair Witch did is seek to make you think what you’re watching is real. Even if you know it’s not. Everything here feels authentic and it’s not out for jump scares, it’s out to psychologically freak you out and provide intensity. I was let-down of where it ended, and the similarities to Blair Witch very much linger, but Phoenix Forgotten is the approach I wish found footage horror would take by looking back on Blair Witch and using it as inspiration in how to really make these film scary.

-Cody Landman

Lost & Found Footage: THE DARK TAPES (2017) Review

A young couple discovers a random video tape that leads them to an abandoned room where it seems an experiment had been taken place. The tape is played back to show two young students and their professor trying to make contact with spirits of a parallel world. All the while, the clips are inter-spliced with other bizarre, supernatural footage.

One of the biggest problems with The Dark Tapes is that there is just point to it. We have our wrap-around story, which is the two students and their teacher. There is a story about a couple who enlist the help of ghost hunters to find out what’s going on in their home, a tale about a sinister web show involving two young women, and one about a girl experiencing visits from otherworldly beings after being drugged at a party. While each of these stories do consist of the paranormal, there is just no point to any of them being in the same movie. There are no connections at all. Unlike V/H/S for example, they don’t have anything in common, but they are at least found with each other. The tapes involved with the wrap around don’t have that indication. What’s even more tragic is that the wrap-around story was by far the most interesting, but it’s completely rushed with no real development and can often be hard to follow due to being rushed. And the supernatural entities that we are shown look nice with its practical costuming and effects, but once they start talking, it’s super ridiculous. The other tapes are severely boring and don’t offer anything chilling, disturbing, or entertaining. I will give credit though to the ending of the Paranormal Activity-ish story with the ghost hunters in that the twist was decent. Though it should have ended at that reveal immediately. The web show tape featured some nice gore, but that’s as far as the positives go for that. In terms of performances, very weak all across the board, unfortunately.

Had The Dark Tapes been primarily about the wrap-around story and into a choppy anthology story with boring and uninteresting segments, this actually could have been a decent movie, even with the poor acting. And despite it’s small budget it does really well with the practical effects without looking cheesy and hokey. Instead we get one of the worst entries in the found footage subgenre that I’ve personally seen.

–Cody Landman

Shop Til You Drop Dead: PERSONAL SHOPPER (2017) Review

A young woman who works as a personal shopper for a snobby model uses her down time to get in contact with her dead twin brother. Prior to his death, they made a promise that whoever dies first would try to contact the other. She visits their old home hoping that she has the same gift as her brother in contacting the dead. It is during this that she suddenly begins to feel target by someone or something watching her. Is it her brother? Someone or something else? Or is she slowly going insane?

This drama/horror film is another entry in the slow burn psychological subgenre. What this movie does a great job with is putting is firmly into the world of our lead character and where her mind is at. We see her in this job she hates as much as her employer, as well as the desperation she feels to make contact with her brother. As it goes on and the horror begins, we see her world begin to spiral, and how much on edge this begins to put her. It all seems to clump together and take its toll on Maureen and she begins to question her sanity, whether this is all happening or not. We as the viewer also begin to wonder whether what we are seeing is real or if this is just Maureen’s psyche and emotional damage messing with her. All of the horror here comes from the fact that it’s a supernatural story, and while there aren’t any particularly scary moments, it has some rather intense and chilling effects to bring the horror to the forefront. We have a CGI ghost involved, but for what it is, it looks pretty fantastic. It’s not overdone, and it feels just right. On top of this we have amazing direction from Olivier Assayas. He has this way of capturing the setting with perfection and beauty, and the filming techniques he chooses are brilliant. Kristen Stewart turns in an excellent performance and really brings forth the pain, confusion, fear, and frustration Maureen is feeling. I would say this is definitely one of my favorite performances of hers.

Personal Shopper is different kind of horror film that while it does have more dramatic elements, it also allows you to feel the different variation of horror at hand. It leaves you guessing and wondering what is or isn’t real as you watch it, and even after it’s over.

-Cody Landman

Slow Burn Surprise: THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER (2017) Review

During winter break, two young girls are left behind at their boarding school. While they wait for their parents to come and pick them up, a demonic force targets them for torment. Meanwhile, another young teen hitches a ride with a husband and wife, making her way towards the same school.

Oz Perkins’ writes and directs this slow burn horror film that is all kinds of crazy. To me, Perkins is easily becoming one of my favorite modern horror directors. He has this way of completely setting up a creepy setting along with atmosphere. This one gives you a very unsettling atmosphere and a sense of dread, and it all leads to one hell of a crazy ending with you thinking about it long after it’s over. This movie is pure psychological horror all the way through. It’s a demonic possession horror film that follows a different formula than most. And that completely sets it apart from others. Besides the growing sense of doom, I loved following it and seeing how these two stories will collide and how they parallel with each other. When it happens, you have that immediate “oh shit” thought going through your mind. It’s also one of those few movies that doesn’t rely on jump scares. And there is definitely some good bloody moments in it. I will say though, that this is one you really should pay attention to in order to follow it. And even some of the dialogue you have to pay attention to.

The only thing I wish it did more was give us more time with the two girls at the school and develop them much further. Kiernan Shipka nails it as our shy and reserved main girl who is one of the targets of the supernatural presence. Shipka really captures the innocence of her character that is almost child-like, but then there are moments where she makes you feel uneasy with just a slight change of facial expression. Emma Roberts also headlines as the teen hitchhiker. What’s special about Roberts’ performance here is that it relies completely on her facial expressions and body language since she has very minimal dialogue. What she shows is a troubled young girl, but there’s also side of her that makes her come off as untrustworthy. As Roberts acting-career has grown, she definitely proves she can get completely into character. Lucy Boynton stars as Rose, the other girl left behind at the school. She’s the school beauty and rebel who is dealing with her own issues as the presence swarms. I don’t think Boynton really had enough moments to shine, but in the screen time she does have, she shows her uneasiness and fear very well. James Remar and Lauren Holly star as the couple who pick up Roberts’ character. Remar has some great scenes with Robert who tries to get her to open up. Holly on the other hand really doesn’t get much to do, but she’s fine for the most part.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter is one of the best original films I’ve seen. Yes, it’s slow moving, but it’s totally worth the ride. It brings psychological horror to a new level and really knows how to get the heart beat racing.

-Cody Landman

Support Indie Horror: IRRATIONAL FEAR Bonus Rewards End Soon

There are only a few days left to receive some killer rewards and get your name in our IRRATIONAL FEAR credits! Did you miss out on our IRRATIONAL FEAR Kickstarter? We are now expanding several of the perk rewards here on Slasher Studios. All money raised will go directly into the filming of IRRATIONAL FEAR. Support indie horror and pick up some killer rewards!

What is IRRATIONAL FEAR?
Everyone has something they are afraid of that they know cannot possibly hurt them. With our third horror feature we ask..what if these fears could kill them? Slasher Studios is teaming up with LA Horror to bring you a slasher style feature that is unlike anything Slasher Studios has ever done before. Titled IRRATIONAL FEAR, the film centers around six therapy patients are brought together at a secluded cabin to confront their strangest fears. Little do they know, these fears will certainly be the death for some of them. Who will make it out alive?

REWARDS AVAILABLE:
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Staying Alive: PRESERVATION (2014) Review

Two days ago I watched “Preservation (2014)” on Netflix for the first time. This movie is written and directed by Christopher Denham (Home Movie). The cast includes Wrenn Schmidt (Outcast), Pablo Schreiber (The Manchurian Candidate), Aaron Staton (Mad Men) and Cody Saintgnue (All Cheerleaders Die). My hopes weren’t that high for this movie to tell you the truth, but it was sitting in my Netflix queue for a long time. The low ratings certainly didn’t Two days ago I watched “Preservation (2014)” on Netflix for the first time. This movie is written and directed by Christopher Denham (Home Movie). The cast includes Wrenn Schmidt (Outcast), Pablo Schreiber (The Manchurian Candidate), Aaron Staton (Mad Men) and Cody Saintgnue (All Cheerleaders Die). My hopes weren’t that high for this movie to tell you the truth, but it was sitting in my Netflix queue for a long time. The low ratings certainly didn’t help with building up any excitement either. It’s a good thing that I managed to avoid watching a trailer for this movie beforehand though.

Preservation is a slightly above average effort in the “survival horror” subgenre. The acting performances are okay at best, with the exception of the talented Wrenn Schmidt. The two male lead characters in this movie are some of the dumbest characters I’ve seen in horror movie history – period. Who in their right mind decides to turn their back to the killer after just knocking them out for two or three seconds? I was intrigued by the killer(s) in the first act, but everything about that aspect fell through the cracks when the masks were taken off and the motive was assumed. That bit honestly turned me off. I did however like the design of the masks. I loved the way this movie was shot even though I noticed some “shaky cam” here and there. The cinematography of the landscape looked pretty and helped with elevating the story to a higher level and makes you forget about the clichés.

The script is for most part disposable and it’s evident that the makers didn’t even try to be any different than similar horror movies. This movie has a short running time and the pacing becomes fast as things get more suspenseful. The soundtrack is excellent and succeeds in giving off a nice retro vibe. The ending is predictable, but gives the audience closure. Preservation is a fairly by the numbers survival horror movie that offers more style than substance. I don’t think I’m planning on watching this movie ever again. I’d still say it’s worth watching once on Netflix for the die-hard horror fans, but you might want to maintain realistic expectations.

–Ferdi Akkulak

Haunted Horror: BETHANY (2017) Review

After the death of her mother, Claire and her husband move in to Claire’s childhood home. Claire then begins to have haunting flashbacks to her abusive mother who is hell-bent on making her a beauty queen like she was. Not only that but she also finds herself being haunted by her imaginary friend from when she was a child.

Bethany plays essentially the same way as any other “ghost child” movie. But at the same time, it was interesting to have Claire being haunted by two different things, and by the end the two ultimately become connected. That said, the moment when that happens, the reveal isn’t entirely surprising, but it’s good for the story, though the final scene plays out essentially like the ending of this year’s Rings. And in all honesty, the reveal is kind of disturbing. There isn’t much that’s suspenseful or terrifying about this one, but it does put in a decent effort to try and give it a spooky atmosphere. It also has some interesting “body horror” moments that don’t get too grotesque but are still enough to be cringe-worthy even if some of the CGI pretty evident. If there are any moments where the CGI isn’t very pretty it’s moments involving the ghost.

For the most part, Claire is a likeable lead, she’s not great, but it’s better to have her trauma be something like this instead of the typical “death of a child” cliché. Though I do question why she would care that much about her mom or the house after the hell she put her through. And as far as the husband goes, he’s good-hearted, but he’s also very annoying with his constant use of “baby”, “sweetie”, “honey”, etc. The acting from Stefanie Estes does a good job as Claire, and she captures the trauma and pain Claire is going through pretty well. Her husband is played by Zack Ward (the bully from A Christmas Story), and for the role, he’s not really outstanding, but he plays the caring and supportive husband party well-enough. But then we have the two big names of Tom Green and Shannon Doherty. Tom Green is barely recognizable as Claire’s shrink; and honestly, there’s just not much to say about him here. It’s a super basic role that didn’t require much, similar to Ward’s role. Doherty plays Claire’s crazy mom, and while it’s not a bad performance, I could feel like she wasn’t really giving it her all. From the small glimpses we got, I could see that she could knocked it out of the park as a psycho mom, but it seems like she was holding back.

Bethany is pretty by the numbers, but for what it is, it’s a decent enough watch. What I would praise it about it is the use of the two evils and how they come together in the end and I liked what they did with that, even if the outcome isn’t particularly new or original.

-Cody Landman