Devil (2010) Review

Director: John Erick Dowdle

Genre(s): Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Runtime: 80 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

M. Night Shyamalan, known for his twisty thrillers, didn’t direct Devil, but he did come up with the story and also co-produced it. The movie’s story is about five strangers who find themselves trapped together on an elevator in a Philadelphia skyscraper…and somebody’s killing them off one-by-one. This flick gets figurative points for its interesting premise, but its execution is only so-so.

Devil largely revolves around the five distinct characters in the broken elevator, which makes the film feel appropriately claustrophobic. That being said, a significant part of the runtime takes place outside of the lift, with security guards and first responders trying to unjam the elevator and figure out just who the murderer is. This gives the feature a light whodunnit quality, even if the focus is primarily on the scares.

The resolution of the mystery at the heart of Devil is perhaps the weakest part of the picture. I wouldn’t really describe it as “unsatisfying,” but it does come across as a bit hokey. The movie veers a little out of control at times, and you may need to stifle a laugh or two at something that wasn’t intended to be comical. However, I do enjoy unintentional humor, so I suppose I can’t complain too much.

Devil wraps up in less than an hour-and-a-half, so, even if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t be out too many minutes of your time. I’ll give the flick credit for its creative ideas and fine pacing, but it does feel borderline-tacky at times. In the end, I don’t really say “watch it” or “avoid it;” just know that it can be a little silly.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Shutter Island (2010) Review

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre(s): Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Runtime: 138 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

With 2010’s Shutter Island, director Martin Scorsese waded into the world of the psychological horror-thriller film…and he did so quite effectively, in my opinion. Set in the 1950s, this movie is about two American federal agents – Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) – who’re sent to investigate the disappearance of an inmate from an offshore asylum for the criminally insane. Despite a somewhat mixed reception from critics, many moviegoers have latched onto this menacing mind-bender.

Professional film reviewers are generally quick to compare this picture to the works of director Alfred Hitchcock, but there are also notable elements of noir and pulp here, too. I can’t help but feel that the aforementioned pulpy aspects threw some critics, who may have expected something a bit more grounded, for a loop. Anyway, this flick’s paranoid thriller style is supremely foreboding and sinister.

With its high-impact imagery and tense musical choices (collected by Robbie Robertson of The Band fame), Shutter Island is gripping from the start and never lets up. It starts off mysterious and uneasy before building up to fever dream-like ferocity. Some audience members have found some of the production’s plot points to be predictable, but I think that it’s just as much about the journey as it is about the destination in this case.

This feature got a divisive reaction, and I happen to fall on the side believing that it’s a superb piece of suspense and psychological terror. Its plot is alluring and the pacing is swift enough to keep the viewer from questioning some of its potential excesses. For fans of trippy cinema that messes with your head while remaining somewhat mainstream (we’re not talking Un Chien Andalou [1929] levels of nuttiness here), this is an easy one to recommend.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Murders in the Zoo (1933) Review

Director: A. Edward Sutherland

Genre(s): Crime, Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 62 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Murders in the Zoo is a short and sweet horror-thriller from the Pre-Code days of Hollywood, before the Production Code was enforced. Its plot concerns a big-game hunter named Eric Gorman (Lionel Atwill) who uses animals to kill the men who have affairs with his wife, Evelyn (Kathleen Burke). It’s not quite up there with the very best of the Pre-Code era, but it’s still worth checking out for horror fans.

There are a few familiar faces in Murders in the Zoo, including Randolph Scott as Dr. Jack Woodford, the zoo’s lab technician, and the aforementioned Kathleen Burke, who played Lota in the horror masterpiece Island of Lost Souls (1932). The actor who gets top billing, though, is actually Charles Ruggles, who plays the zoo’s new publicity agent, Peter Yates. He’s the film’s comic relief character, and focusing on him so much may have been a minor misstep on the movie’s part.

Another little error is that its most shocking act of violence is the very first one to take place in the runtime. Still, there’s some good stuff later on in the flick. The fights between the zoo animals towards the end are pretty disturbing, as it looks like the action wasn’t overseen by anybody who had the creatures’ well-being in mind. When the inhabitants of the zoo aren’t brawling, though, there’s some good footage of them.

Murders in the Zoo isn’t as out of control as some viewers may hope. It might not live up to its full potential, but this is still a fun, nifty, little horror picture (it’s not a mystery movie, as the bad guy’s identity is revealed in the opening sequence). It’s really, really short as well – running only about an hour – so, if you see that it’s on television or something, you should watch it.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Night of the Hunter (1955) Review

Director: Charles Laughton

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 92 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Charles Laughton only directed one film in his career (well, IMDb does have him listed as an uncredited co-director for The Man on the Eiffel Tower [1949]), and that picture is the masterpiece The Night of the Hunter. Set during the Great Depression, serial-killing preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) stalks two children – John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl Harper (Sally Jane Bruce) – who’re hiding a small fortune that their late father – Ben Harper (Peter Graves) – stole for them. Often considered a film-noir, I feel that this horror-thriller classic is better classified as some sort of dark fairy tale.

Influenced by German Expressionism, this movie’s shadowy cinematography is some of the very best of all time. Robert Mitchum’s fanatical, murderous holy man is one of the greatest villains to ever grace the silver screen. There are several intentionally uncomfortable moments involving his character that’ll have you squirming in your chair. He’s a vicious, greedy wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing that the audience will love to hate.

The third act of The Night of the Hunter is decidedly less intense than the first two-thirds. It’s certainly not bad…far from it. It just lacks some of the menace that the opening and middle sequences had. There are also some touches towards the end that feel like they were mandated by the Production Code of the time. However, not even a saccharine ending can sink this ship.

The Night of the Hunter is a must-watch for people wanting to learn more about the art of cinema. It’s artistically distinguished, but can also be easily enjoyed by any type of viewer. This highly relevant story is full of suspense and drama, with a gripping, superb visual style. It has an easy-to-manage runtime of 92 minutes and one of the best baddies in the medium, so why not watch it today?

My rating is 9 outta 10.

Halloween II (2009) Review

Director: Rob Zombie

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 105 minutes (standard version), 119 minutes (unrated version)

MPAA Rating: R (standard version), Not Rated (unrated version)

IMDb Page

Director Rob Zombie continues his reign of terror over the Halloween series with 2009’s Halloween II. In the tenth movie in the series, killer Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, to kill again. Wait, isn’t that the plot of every Halloween film? Yyyyyaaaaawwwwwnnnnn. I’ll get straight to the point: this picture is abysmal.

This feature opens with a sequence that reminds you of the original Halloween II (1981). Remember how great that one was? [Sigh], those were good times. Anyway, as I was saying, this hunk of junk opens with Michael Myers, who resembles a hillbilly mountain man, stalking Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) around a hospital. That’s something we’ve never seen before. Little stands out here from the rest of the franchise.

Well, the flick’s ultra-gore is more noticeable than any of the other entries in the Halloween series. This one also has some surrealist touches, because why the Hell not? Myers here constantly has hallucinations of his late, stripper mother, Deborah Myers (Sheri Moon Zombie), and of himself as a child (Chase Wright Vanek). There’s also a white horse. Make of it what you will.

2009’s Halloween II is a nasty, tasteless piece of cinema that goes on forever (by Halloween standards). Myers is seen too often without his mask, and – holy shit! – is that “Weird Al” Yankovic? Okay, okay, okay, I just have to make some sort of “Weird Al” joke here. After Halloween (2007), this one should’ve just been titled “Even Worse.”

My rating is 3 outta 10.

Halloween (2007) Review

Director: Rob Zombie

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 109 minutes (rated cut), 121 minutes (unrated cut)

MPAA Rating: R (rated cut), Not Rated (unrated cut)

IMDb Page

Michael Myers is now a redneck. Thank you, Rob Zombie. After the so-bad-it’s-good disaster that was Halloween: Resurrection (2002), it was decided to try to make Myers scary again, and Zombie was hired to helm the project, bringing his alternative rock aesthetic to the proceedings. This film, set in a different timeline than the rest of the previous Halloween pictures, is the unnecessary origin story of notorious psychopath Michael Myers (Tyler Mane and Daeg Faerch), going from his childhood in a white trash family to his serial-killing heyday. It’s a piece of garbage.

As I’ve already noted, this attempt to explain Myers’ backstory and sociopathy is completely pointless. The original Halloween (1978) worked magnificently because the audience knew virtually nothing about Michael other than that he was pure evil. He was “the Shape.” “The Bogeyman.” Demystifying the character was a huge mistake, even if this picture exists in an alternate timeline. At least Myers can still burst through walls like he’s the Kool-Aid Man.

Director Rob Zombie has created a thoroughly unpleasant universe for his characters to inhabit. Almost every person in his world has a cartoonishly ugly soul. You’ll probably find yourself rooting for ol’ Myers on a couple of occasions. It’s a grungy, graphic film that’s overlong by Halloween standards (around two hours) and makes you wish you were deaf from all the screaming.

So, does 2007’s Halloween do anything right? Well, Danny Trejo’s in it, playing Ismael Cruz, one of Myers’ sanitarium guards. That guy’s always fun to see. Uhhhh…well, it does ape a few moments from the previous Halloween flicks, making you remember better times. Yeah, this one’s no good. Where’s Busta Rhymes when you need him?

My rating is 3 outta 10.

Halloween: Resurrection (2002) Review

Director: Rick Rosenthal

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 94 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

If every film franchise had to nominate one of its installments to go to the So-Bad-It’s-Good Awards, the Halloween series would definitely pick 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection (the eighth entry). This is the one where a bunch of dumbass college students go on an Internet reality show where they must spend a night in the old Myers home, where serial killer Michael Myers (Brad Loree) was raised. In case you haven’t guessed, the show is hosted by Freddie Harris (Busta Rhymes) and produced by Nora (Tyra Banks). This right here is a slice of bad movie nirvana.

Many (most?) fans of the original Halloween (1978) are bound to shed some tears over this one. We’re not talking everyday stupidity here. We’re talking electroshock-Michael-Myers’-gonads-level stupidity. It’s not a scary picture, but its true appeal is in its unintentional comedy. There are definitely some belly laughs to be found in Halloween: Resurrection. Hell, people in the other room may think that you’re watching a marathon of The Simpsons or something, instead of viewing an entry into one of the most famous horror series of all time. Oh, yeah, did I mention that it’s directed by Rick Rosenthal, who helmed the classic Halloween II (1981)?

It should be noted that the opening sequence of Resurrection is perhaps more insulting than hysterical, as it revolves around a gallingly bad cameo from Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). After that, there’s a few mildly slow moments, but this horrible feature’s got it where it counts. Atrocious dialogue and baffling action is what Resurrection‘s all about. It tries to go for a semi-“found footage” vibe with the low-resolution camerawork done by the reality show’s “contestants,” making it all the more endearingly kitschy.

Okay, do you shy away from so-bad-it’s-good flicks? If you do, stay miles away from Halloween: Resurrection. However, fans of the outlandish and enjoyably awful will want – nay – will need to see it. It may not be as deliriously funny as, say, Death Wish 3 (1985), but I can see this one becoming a cult classic in the future…and rightfully so. Busta Rhymes wills it.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998) Review

Director: Steve Miner

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 86 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

This one just might have the silliest name of the entire Halloween series. I mean, “H20?” You mean like the chemical formula for water? Who thought this out? The flick’s tagline is “Blood is thicker than Water,” so I guess they tried to tie in the whole water thing to the marketing. Okay, enough with that. The seventh installment in the franchise sees the return of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), who’s now the dean of a private school in California. Unfortunately for her, and fortunately for the audience, Michael Myers (Chris Durand) is also alive and well, and is making his way to the West Coast to kill her. Could this be the final showdown between Laurie and Michael? Don’t count on it!

Despite the water-logged title, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later is actually one of the better regarded sequels in Halloween universe. I think a lot of its appeal comes from the return of Laurie Strode, who goes by the alias “Keri Tate” in this picture. The last time she was seen in the Myers saga was Halloween II (1981), so many an audience member reacted positively to seeing her character come back and kick some ass. The final fights between her and Michael are, of course, the reason to watch.

On the down side, it seems like the filmmakers can only be so original with the seventh entry in the series. Halloween H20 sometimes feels like a “greatest hits” reel for the franchise so far. After the pre-opening credits sequence, this movie takes a while to get going. I’m not sure I’d describe it as a slow start exactly, but it comes close. The runtime’s short, though, so, all things considered, it doesn’t take that long for Michael Myers’ rampage to begin. The grungy Creed song (“What’s This Life For”) that plays over the end credits is, er, an interesting touch.

H20 is certainly competently made and avoids mistakes (unless you count misspelling Donald Pleasence’s last name “Pleasance” when dedicating it to him at the end), but is that enough? Well, it’s not the most original Halloween film, but I like it. If you’ve kept with the series this far, I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of it, too.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) Review

Director: Joe Chappelle

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 87 minutes (standard version), 95 minutes (Producer’s Cut)

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Well, what does the sixth entry into the Halloween franchise have in store for viewers? Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) was hardly the strongest movie in the series, so where do things go from there? In this film, killer Michael Myers (George P. Wilbur) and his beer belly return and chase around Jamie Lloyd’s (J.C. Brandy) baby for about an hour and a half. However, this time we’ve got an army of robed cultists who use Myers as a tool for making Halloween-time human sacrifices. Yes, that is a thing now.

Oh, how innocently this franchise began! Now look at its convoluted lore, overdone traditions, and wacky elements. As you may have guessed, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) comes back and he’s still doing monologues on Myers being “pure evil.” Jeez, give it a rest, old man. Unfortunately, this would be Pleasence’s last Halloween film, as he would die before the picture’s release. Paul Rudd, better known to modern audiences at Ant-Man, shows up here as Tommy Doyle, a grown-up version of one of the kids that was babysat in the original Halloween (1978). I’m sure he’s very proud of his performance here.

Okay, this feature may make your eyes roll at times, but that’s part of the fun. This is the most ridiculous of the Myers Halloween flicks yet, as well as being the most violent one at the time of its original release (the electrocution scene is so over-the-top, one can’t help but laugh). It’s a barely coherent horror picture that tries to explain too much of why ol’ Michael is basically unkillable. Oh, yeah, the end credits also have a grunge rock song (“And Fools Shine On” by Brother Cane) play over them. I mean, this was the mid-1990s, after all.

A “Producer’s Cut” of the film exists that’s supposedly more watchable, but I haven’t seen it yet. Still, I crave this sort of crazy schlock. It’s not exactly compelling on a filmmaking level, but I can sit back and enjoy a serious motion picture (like the original Halloween) and also get some fun out of a confusingly-made movie like this, about an invincible serial killer and his, uh, cult of robed fanatics. I’m giving it a positive rating, because of how far-out it is.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) Review

Director: Dominique Othenin-Girard

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 96 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

When giving a short plot description of the fifth entry into the Halloween series, it’s hard not to sound like you’re repeating the story from the previous installment, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988). Once again, seemingly invincible killer Michael Myers (Don Shanks) is on the loose and chasing after his niece, Jamie (Danielle Harris). It’s hard not to get just a little bit of déjà vu watching this barely passable slasher thriller.

Yes, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) returns for more, and he’s slightly crazier than we’ve seen before…so that’s something, I suppose. He’s still consumed with killing Myers once and for all, and his obsession is starting to get a little creepy at this point. One of the more notable aspects of this feature is the inclusion of two bumbling cops, Nick Ross (Frankie Como) and Tom Farrah (David Ursin), who I believe are here for comic relief. Several other characters exist for the sake of being cut down by Michael Myers, as you would expect.

Despite repeating some material from the previous Halloween film, there are some reasonable horror and suspense scenes here. The sequence in the metallic chute (I’m not giving away any more than that) is probably one of the better nail-biter scenes of the Halloween sequels. Speaking of sequels, does this movie bait us for one or what? Hell, the elements promising a continuation of the story are probably the most interesting aspects of Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers.

The Halloween series isn’t running on fumes yet, but it sort of feels like we’re getting there. Halloween 5, like Myers himself, seems to just keep going and going, even if the runtime is only 96 minutes. I don’t really think it can be considered a classic, but I’ll give it a passing score because, although it contains many familiar plot points, they’re generally executed with competence. Should you watch it? Well, you’ve come this far into the franchise, so why stop now?

My rating is 7 outta 10.