Film Review: Candyman (2021)

Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman…..

NOPE.

Not saying it five times cause we all know what happens next, especially if you’re a 90’s kid. But now with Nia DaCosta’s revamped spiritual sequel to the 1992 original film, a whole new generation can fear the hook. It’s no surprise that I was a huge fan of the original, and some of the old school horror fans didn’t take it well when this sequel was announced. I, instead was excited to see this franchise be resuscitated and now after viewing the film (first film I’ve seen in an actual theatre since the pandemic hit), I’m even more thrilled to see where the Candyman journey may take us in the future.

The absolute pro that this film has is that it manages to seamlessly connect the 1992 film with the current one in a way that doesn’t seem forced nor stilted. We follow the protagonist, Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), now an adult, but in the 1992 film was saved from the fire by Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), unknowingly returns to his origins when he’s back to living in the former Cabrini Green only now filled with high-rise luxury apartments that he shares with art curator girlfriend.

Anthony is introduced to the Candyman legend by William Burke (Coleman Domingo) who gets him up to speed on how the legend originated (the superb use of shadow puppets is used to depict the violent backstories). As it’s true with any urban legend, details have been distorted or forgotten so we soon find out that Candyman isn’t merely Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd) wronged painter, but that it encapsulates an array of different black men that have been wronged throughout the years that have taken up the scepter of Candyman and kept the legend alive.

My only gripe with the film is that it lacked any real feeling of dread. The body horror element added a bit of creep factor, but it’s hard to make a film about a legendary ghoul if the one you’re using isn’t as compelling, frightening, and seductive as Tony Todd’s Daniel was. In fact, the strongest scene in the film is when we’re finally graced with Tony Todd’s cameo, his commanding voice lulling the audience back into a trance that is equal parts mesmerized and scared shitless.

This is not to say though that the franchise doesn’t have room to grow, because I think it does and I honestly can’t wait for a new installment to be made.

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Shriekfest 2021 – Getting a little freaky, getting a little spooky, getting a little SHRIEKY

Photo by: David Hanger

Shriekfest is a Horror Film Festival that is a goldmine of both upcoming and veteran horror talents. Denise Gossett, the founder and organizer of the festival has helped many debut directors and screenwriters find an audience at Shriekfest, which is very much appreciated. There’s suddenly been a resurgence in the horror genre, but Gossett has been an advocate for horror for the past twenty-one years, which is to say that she has seen a lot of horror films to know exactly which ones are worth showcasing and which ones need better tweaking.

I was very excited to receive Press Passes for this event because as a huge horror enthusiast, watching horror films for thirteen hours straight is basically heaven. Not to mention that I really love the chill vibe that the festival has and how appreciative everyone is for being there to view their films and support them. Plus, I really have a soft spot for the Charlie Chaplin theatre at the Raleigh Studios. I’d give anything to watch ALL my movies there. Seriously, folks, if you haven’t seen a film there, you’re missing out.

That being said, I was so happy that this year the event wasn’t canceled as the previous year (pandemic and all – ya know the drill) because the films I got to see this year were incredibly good. The previous years, the shorts tended to be more on the campy side of horror (which I don’t mind cause who doesn’t love the OG Evil Dead am I right?), but I do love it when horror can also be on the uber dark and creepy side, so I was all for that.

I ended up watching 31 shorts and 2 features and I know many of the directors and screenwriters I spoke to asked me how I was going to remember all of them and I told them that I was taking notes of the film titles and what they were about, but that mostly after one day of viewing if I could easily recall my favourites then that means that those were the ones that really stood out to me and were worthy of my mention. Although, I have to admit that there were probably only one or two films I wasn’t too crazy about, for the most part, the shorts were extremely well produced, edited, written, and acted.

One of my favourite shorts was from the Spanish director Alvaro Vicario called Polter. The film was about a guy trying to get rid of poltergeist in his home. The film didn’t take itself too seriously, and the fact that it was fun and campy is what really honed in the ending for me. I really suggest you guys check it out if you can because it’s very well worth the ten minutes it takes to view it. Polter was followed by another very well acted and written short called, A Strange Calm. This short was very dark and sad as it followed two friends, Rosie and Mills who encounter a strange man while they’re out playing in rural California in the 70’s and end up getting abducted. The short was full of tension and dread and overall it was excellent. Now, the shorts seemed to get progressively darker as A Strange Calm was soon followed by Killing Small Animals which was a very disturbing short where the protagonist kills various animals throughout the movie, slowly graduating to bigger ones until the very end where she’s seen abducting a little girl. I wouldn’t say that the short was bad, but I wasn’t that keen on the storyline and wasn’t a fan of seeing various animals getting killed (guess it’s just not my kind of horror).

Meanwhile, The Rule of Three expertly explored how a young woman suffering from severe OCD has to try to overcome her demons while trying to survive a home invasion. The short was filled with dread and suspense and tied everything up in a way that wasn’t cheesy. Wide Awake in Bridgewater may have easily been my favourite short. It was mysterious and held an element of sci-fi that I really liked. An elderly man receives a phonecall from his teenage girlfriend and he tries to figure out what happened to her fifty years ago when she disappeared. It was easily the best written, acted, and edited short and had a satisfying ending. Seek was a fun, thrilling short about two sisters who stop at a rundown restroom only to find out that a strange entity haunts that area.

Love Bite was a refreshing and hilarious take on the zombie trope. A bickering couple soon find out to what lengths one of them will go to just to be proven right, despite the dire consequences that it will bring. It was easily very funny because it was also very relatable. I think any couple whose been together for awhile could easily see themselves in the couple. Being a huge fan of A Nightmare on Elm Street Nancy played by the incredibly awesome Heather Langenkamp, it was a pleasant surprise to see her star in the short Cottonmouth. The short easily flourished cause of Langenkamp’s star power, but it was also engaging as the viewers can’t help but wanting to know who or what is continuously drinking from a glass of water that the protagonist keeps next to her bed stand. Selfie was another short that I enjoyed, where a girl’s photoshopped self somehow manages to come alive and become the monster that she is.

The Otherside dealt with the very real horror of child trafficking and how the mother’s of the victims tend to be haunted by their grief and in this case, one mother in particular not only haunts but seeks revenge to those that do the same to other kids. And last but not least the shorts cycle ended on a high note with Half-Cocked where two doctors find a way to bring a man to life and make him immortal only to find out that that man isn’t appreciative since he had committed suicide. The film was definitely on the campy side of horror but it was a very funny and thrilling ride.

The two features I was able to view were Ten Minutes to Midnight and Redwood Massacre: Annihilation. Ten Minutes to Midnight was a campy fun vampire film about a radio show host (played by the ever charismatic and alluring Caroline Williams) who slowly manifests the signs of vampirism after she’s bitten by a rabid bat. Apart from being a fun film, the movie also focused on an important message, especially for women, how we’re often easily discarded after we’ve passed a certain age. That’s why I love horror, because it’s a genre that dares to tackle difficult topics that other genres simply gloss over.

The last film I viewed was Redwood Massacre: Annihilation that starred horror veteran Danielle Harris (which you may recognize her from the Halloween franchise). I was really excited to check this film out as I have an affinity for killers who choose to use a burlap sack as a mask. All in all, I did enjoy the film, although once we started to surpass the sixty minute mark and no one had died I started to fret when the massacre was going to happen (no need to worry, the promised bloodbath does occur and doesn’t disappoint).

Thirteen hours of film watching was an intense feat but can you truly call yourself a horror fan if you can’t do that? Am I right?

Stay spooky my friends.

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Film Review: Malignant

The opening scene in Malignant may be offputting. We’re shown a gothic looking hospital sitting on top of a high cliff with the ocean below, while a doctor known for dramatics orders her underlings to “Cut out the tumor,” as a young patient writhes and kills people either through force or telepathy.

Then the story shifts to Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) where a hardworking but very pregnant nurse returns home because she feels ill. Of course Madison has an abusive husband who dares to hit her while she’s overwhelmingly pregnant (and those scenes will never get easy to watch for any woman or decent human being). It doesn’t take long for her husband Derek to meet the most gruesome and deserved death ever. The only caveat is, the audience is lulled in this strange idea that maybe the dark entity that visits them was only after Derek, but we’re soon shown that Madison too is victim of the entity’s ire.

Director James Wan is famous for his use of string instrumentals during pivotal scenes. Now, Wan trades the strings for trippy 70’s giallo music ala Goblin mixed in with 80’s synth. And for the first half of the film you can’t help but think that this is exactly a modern day Giallo, with a killer that dons a black leather coat and leather gloves before he goes on a killing spree throughout Seattle.

Then the TWIST arrives and a major shift happens. I’m not going to tell you what the twist is because it’ll spoil the film and I actually suggest that you do not read any reviews prior to seeing this film so that you can dive in blind. But I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the twist only because it’s one of my fave subgenres in horror and am happy to finally see it being explored again.

I will admit that I wasn’t sure what to think when I first started watching the film but once the credits rolled, I was a fan of the craziness that unfolded during the three act of the film. So, if you’re an old school horror fan, I would totally recommend this film as it’s one wild, fun romp. I haven’t had this much fun watching a horror than Evil Dead and that’s saying a lot.

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Film Review: We Need To Do Something

I read the novella that this movie is based on, Max Booth III’s “We Need to Do Something.” And I’ll admit that in this case, you may want to see the movie prior to reading the novella, only because the film follows the novella very closely, so the surprise factor will be gone. However, this didn’t completely spoil my viewing of the film because I was very curious to see how the filmmaker would direct certain scenes.

As we’re in full hurricane season, watching a film about a family who decides to hole themselves up in a bathroom to brace a storm is very fitting. For 90 minutes we watch the horror unfold as a very dysfunctional family have to try to stay in the same room for what seems to be days. Pat Healy plays the alcoholic father who loses his mind once he runs out of booze, Vinessa Shaw plays the mother, a Pollyanna-type figure who clearly doesn’t want to admit that bad shit is happening even when she’s soaked in blood, Sierra McCormick is the resident goth Mel who is plagued by guilt over a supposed-spell gone wrong, and finally John James Cronin is younger brother Bobby who seems to have been plucked out of a 50’s sitcom and feels a bit out of place for such a movie.

The whole premise of the movie is that we, the audience, don’t know what the fuck is going on beyond the bathroom door, but some gnarly crazy shit is happening there that we’re never made privy of. The element of the unknown is what keeps the film going, and as we’re bombarded by flashbacks of Mel and girlfriend Amy casting several incantations (and in horror movies, this is code for, shit is going to get bad real fast) we have to try to stitch the pieces together and try to understand what the hell is happening.

The movie’s strength is in the characters and the setting. The only time you’re taken a bit out of the story is when the director rely on special effects that probably due to budgeting issues, aren’t as effective as they should be. The film’s climax (as well as the novella’s climax) is the chilliest scene you’ve seen in awhile. Not to mention, if you’re a rockfan, you’ll readily recognize Ozzy’s voice (and it’s used for the best purpose ever). But overall it’s an enjoyable, dark ride, and I would recommend for you to check it out if you’re a fan of confinement horror, and highly suggest you read the novella the film is based on because it seriously delivers on the chills.

You can now stream on demand on most major streaming services.

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Film Review: Fear Street 1994 & 1978

Growing up I was a HUGE fan of R.L. Stine’s books, in particular the Fear Street series. Basically, those books were my crack and I bought at least three books a month. So when Netflix announced that they were gonna come out with three Fear Street inspired films, I knew that I was going to check it out.

From the very beginning 1994 opens with a very Scream-esque sequence – a recognizable actress is first chased and then stabbed to death by a guy dressed in a black cloak and skull mask. I didn’t mind the heavy handed reference because the inside of a mall after hours was definitely creepy. However, I was soon annoyed by the following scene where the protagonist is listening to the radio and Garbage’s “Only Happy When It Rains” in 1994, when the song came out in September of 1995. That aside, the film’s soundtrack was completely awesome if you’re a lover of 90’s music.

I loved the look of the movie and feeling like I was reliving my high school days, but what didn’t work for me was the fact it simply had too much going on. What I mean is, you have killers, ghosts, and zombies. ALL AT ONCE. It’s just too over the top.

Meanwhile, 1978 was very reminiscent of Friday the 13th franchise with the setting of a summer camp and a possessed killer that wields an ax and wears a burlap sack as a mask (which if you’re a fan of Jason Vorhees you know that he used to wear that as a mask long before he donned a hockey mask). Just like 1994, 1978 had a killer soundtrack (lots of Bowie, and lots of Bowie references, my heart was full). But what made this film superior to 1994 was that it had better fleshed out characters, and I was more invested in these characters than I was in the previous film. Not to mention that this installment mostly focused on ONE possessed killer rather than have a smorgasbord of all things spooky.

FEAR STREET PART 2: 1978 – Cr: Netflix © 2021

I’m really looking forward to the third and final film, 1666. I truly hope that the film is based off of R.L. Stine’s origin saga, The Betrayal, The Secret, and The Burning because those books were truly top notch for MG and it really explained by Fear Street became so cursed (I’m looking at you Goode!).

Let me know if you’ve checked these films out or any of the books when you were young! I’d love to talk more about all things Fear Street!

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Series Review: Them – Covenant

Them is receiving many comparisons to Jordan Peele’s US – but the only thing that the two have in common is a similar poster and a black family dealing with a brutal home invasion. Where Jordan Peele managed to both horrify and crack the audience up – Them only manages to make us feel uncomfortable as we witness all the horrific acts of violence that white characters bestow upon the black characters throughout the duration of the series.

Them is closer to the film Antebellum than US – in depicting black trauma and suffering with no slices of comic relief. Them follows the Emorys relocating from North Carolina after a traumatic event – to Compton, California in the 1950’s. Each character not only has to deal with real horror (overt racism and past PTSD) but also with evil supernatural forces.

The series is a non-stop violent marathon, and even for seasoned horror viewers like myself who has enjoyed watching Hostel a billion times – doesn’t prepare you for the sick dread feeling you’ll experience if you choose to watch Them. Personally, I would’ve liked some moments of levity in between all the violence. I would’ve liked to have gotten to know each of the Emorys in a way that wasn’t entirely focused on their trauma and suffering. Even when Lucky was at Hazel’s home and seemed to be having fun, suddenly she was reminded of the traumatic event that caused them to move – or I would’ve liked to see Ruby triumph when she upstaged her white classmates with her knowledge, rather than be brutally mocked and humiliated.

I wanted the Emorys to have little triumphs in the midst of darkness. Instead – what we’re left with after viewing ten episodes is feeling utterly exhausted and haunted and yes, a little traumatized. Horror should scare us – but it should also entertain. Where Them falls short is that we’re well aware of the real life horrors of racism, we haven’t been able to look away ever since there were some high profile incidents in the past year.

Some Black reviewers question who the series was written for since they don’t feel like it was written with them in mind. If Little Marvin wanted to depict the evils of the white man, then he did a superb job. But after all the horror, a bit of levity and triumph would’ve been the balm we needed.

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Love or Hype: My So-Called Life

It’s 1994 and all my teen mags bleed My So-Called Life – from giving tips n how to mimic Rayanne Graff’s (A.J. Langer) iconic bohemian grunge chic style to swooning over Jordan Catalano’s (Jared Leto) puppy dog eyes, and lusting over Angela Chase’s (Claire Danes) crimson locks and trendy flannels. It seemed like everyone was talking about this cult show that only lasted for one season, and yet since I was living in Italy at the time, this show never made it across the pond. So when I saw that Hulu finally had the show, I decided to dive in and see if I had missed something truly amazing. Spoiler alert: I did.

The show introduces us to a very young Claire Danes as Angela Chase. Watching the show, I was reminded as to how much I was taken by Danes’ charm and how much she emulated the awkward teen years so well. The winning point of this show is that it shows real teen dynamics and the characters spoke like real teens, which means that they don’t always have amazing come backs and rather mumble or take awhile to find the right words, such as like in real life. In other words, this show doesn’t feel scripted as far as the dialogue goes.

For the two weeks that I spent to watch this show, I really emerged myself in the late 90’s and the nostalgia for that time really hit me like a two ton truck. It was fun to be a part of Angela’s life. Although the real scene stealer was Rayanne (and rightfully so), I couldn’t help but really loved Ricky Vasquez (Wilson Cruz). He was an openly gay character who had pearls of wisdom when it came to love, although he never found love in the course of the show. Although everyone was gaga for Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto), I couldn’t see why since for a good portion of the show he barely speaks and when he does he doesn’t say anything too charming. But towards the end of the show Jordan got more airtime and I actually liked him more after he and Angela broke up than prior.

The real understated heart of the show was Angela’s mom Patty (Bess Armstrong) who truly loved her family and husband and yet no one gave her the time of day, same as Angela’s young sister Danielle (Lisa Wilhoit) who actually wasn’t as annoying as everyone acted like she was. The one character I wasn’t crazy for was Brian Krakow (Devon Gummersail). He was the typical awkward, nerdy fake nice guy who most likely grew up to be an incel. He was the one who came up with the rumor that Angela and Jordan had slept together, only because he was jealous that his love for Angela was unrequited.

To say that I loved this show is an understatement. The show really captures real life teens with real life problems. Often times, teen shows show teens that are very rich and very beautiful (think The OC, Gossip Girl and Beverly Hills 90210), while My So-Called Life depicted the typical teen, meaning that a lot of times you saw Angela wearing clothes from previous episodes in different ways, much like a real teen would do, or styling your hair the way a real teen would, not having amazing blowouts or impeccable makeup. This show was very authentic and hit a nerve. It’s too bad that we never got a chance to see Angela and her friends evolve and grow, instead they remain trapped in amber in that idyllic 90’s moment that everyone will always cherish.

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Series Review: Firefly Lane

Recently, I was asked to view an advanced screening of Firefly Lane, the newest series to hit Netflix in February, based off of the New York Times best-selling author Kristin Hannah’s 2008 novel of the same name. I purposely didn’t read a plot summary before diving in, but I did decide to watch it based off of the fact that Katherine Heigl (Grey’s Anatomy fame and early aughts rom-com queen) and Sarah Chalke (Scrubs and Rick & Morty) star as the two best friends, Tully Hart and Kate Mularkey.

The show is split in three time frames, present 2007, past 1982, and childhood past 1974. The show, like the novel, shows the spanning of a 30-years-old friendship between two best friends who first met at the pivotal age of 14 when living on the same street, Firefly Lane.

Tully Hart has always been ambitious and beautiful, the stark contrast of Kate Mularkey who’s intelligent but mousy. The two have always envied the life of the other. Tully envies Kate’s family, while Kate envies Tully’s beauty and charisma.

I only got to view the first two episodes, but episode one shows us meeting the protagonists at their lowest points. Tully is a successful talkshow host but is worried that her beauty is diminishing and feels like her talent is wasted on the talkshow, while Kate is trying to deal with a divorce and trying to navigate work again after being out of the workforce for the past fourteen years.

FIREFLY LANE (L to R) ALI SKOVBYE as YOUNG TULLY and ROAN CURTIS as YOUNG KATE in episode 102 of FIREFLY LANE. Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2020

Both actresses excel in their roles and compliment one another. My favourite aspect about this show is the enduring friendship between the two protagonists and how even the possibility of a love triangle doesn’t seem to derail how they feel about each other. If anything, this series focuses on how maybe your soulmate is your best friend and not your romantic partner, and that the greatest love story you’ll ever live is the one you have with your childhood best friend. At a time when women are always seen competing against one another on shows or movies, this is refreshing. Again, I’ve only viewed the first two episodes, so I ope that they continue on this course and don’t derail into the normal tropes that I despise about female friendships.

One of the moments I loved best about the show is when Tully, noticing that Kate is feeling frumpy, decides to swap dresses with her so that her best friend can feel beautiful in a more attention-seeking dress. Or when Tully is speaking with Kate’s daughter, and Kate’s daughter is complaining about her mom and calls her a bitch and Tully stops her and says, “Hey, don’t talk about my best friend like that. Your mom is nice, she was nice at 14 and no one is nice at that age.”

If you’re someone who loves friendship stories, I think you’re really going to love this series and you should definitely check it out.

*Thank you to Netflix for advance screening!

Watch Firefly Lane starting February 3, Netflix.

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Film Review: Gretel & Hansel

Oz Perkins has quickly become one of my favourite directors. Son of the late horror icon Anthony Hopkins, I first came to know of Oz Perkins when I watched The Blackcoat’s Daughter, one of my recent favourite horrors of the past few years.

So when I saw that he was going to tackle a fairytale, I was intrigued. The winning point for this film is that it’s incredibly atmospheric. From the very first scene you’re sucked into the world of the film and feel immersed in its Gothic forest wonder. Gretel is portrayed by Sophia Lillis who has been showing her acting chops in IT and also the miniseries Sharp Objects, and even in this role she doesn’t disappoint.

Personally, I love that we got to know more about the witch in question that lives in the woods. In the fairytale, we never really got a sense of who she was other than a hideous lady that cooked up children to eat them. Not that she doesn’t do this in this film, but we also get more of a backstory.

In a way, the film is very feminist as it proves that Gretel wasn’t willing to work for a nobleman who seemed more interested in her maidenhood than her abilities to clean and launder. I also liked that the witch wasn’t seen as particularly evil at first, because she was teaching Gretel many skills and looked at her as a possible stand in for a daughter figure. In a way, she was happy to share her power with her and to help Gretel nurture her own power.

But what really makes this film unforgettable isn’t all the feminist messages (there are many and it’s cool) but for the enchanting yet terrifying images. There’s something about the witch’s house that compels you to enter but also once you’re inside, you can’t help but feel like something is terribly amiss despite the tasty banquets that seem to appear on the table at all hours of the day.

Watch this film for its rich photography and if you’ve ever wanted a little more depth analysis of the Grimm fairytale, Hansel and Gretel.

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Film Review: The Dark & the Wicked

Being cooped up at a home with no signs of theatres opening up, I’ve had to rely on streaming services to watch any new movies that I would’ve watched on the silverscreen. That being said, this film kept coming up time and time again as being the creepiest horror of 2020, so of course I had to see if that statement were true.

The Dark and the Wicked starts out with a feeling of dread, and that feeling never subsides, it actually continues to escalate to a horrifying crescendo. The beginning scenes have the mother chopping up a bunch of veggies with a cleaver, and if you’ve ever feared that using a cleaver in a horror means you’ll end up losing some digits, well this film delivers on that fear in spades.

The premise of the movie is quite simple, two estranged siblings return home when they find out their father is on his death bed. The mother keeps telling them to leave, and the siblings feeling guilty for having pretty much abandoned their parents, don’t leave, not seeing her request as the warning it truly is. A strange nefarious entity has been plaguing their home and their parents, but the brother and sister don’t acknowledge its existence until it’s too late.

This movie delivered on the creepy atmosphere and jump scares, but if you’re looking for answers, you won’t receive any. We never know why the parents were targeted, except for a tiny hint where the father’s caretaker tells the sister that love is how you keep evil away alluding that evil managed to take hold of their parents because they lacked their children’s love. But you never learn how the siblings could redeem themselves and rid themselves of this evil, because this film offers no such comfort. Basically everyone is doomed from the very beginning.

It doesn’t bother me that the film didn’t have a neat little resolution, because some things can’t be undone.

Check this one out if you love creepy, visceral horror.

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