Iffy Recent Horrors 😕
by Kristin Battestella
Whether it's long form television, scary franchises, or famous faces onscreen, these recent horror legs leave a little something to be desired.
It was Okay
Bad Samaritan – Upsetting horses, whips, and screams open this 2018 thriller directed by Dean Devlin (Geostorm) starring David Tennant (Doctor Who) and Robert Sheehan (Red Riding). Older cars, computers, photography, and above the garage starving artists set the scene for our valets nicking from customers while they dine. It's a smooth operation – lifting trinkets, watches, small items that won't be missed. Why steal the gift card when you can scan it and they'll never know? Our burglars argue whether to con a decent family compared to the snobby rich before maneuvering around security systems, cameras, and dobermans. Viewers get to know these supposed crooks just trying to maximize any angle they can – Irish still struggling in corporate America while the bizarrely sans accent Tennant talks the expensive talk in his sweet Maserati. Coordinated snooping in his tricked out mod house to lift credit card numbers provides ominous phone action, handcuffs by the bed, and doors with seriously heavy locks. Encrypted passwords, suspect checkbooks, and smartphone flashlights lead to chains, horse bits, chairs bolted to the floor, and victims bound and gagged. Skeleton keys worn around the neck and cameras observing his quarry at all times elevate the suspense alongside designer tools, clean rooms, lye, serrated blades, and sinister saws. How can our robbers call the police without incriminating themselves? Close calls, regrets about the scheme, and fear of jail time or deportation bind our small timers against the twisted but suave serial killer methods, and stakeouts reveal mistakes made and a victim not where she is supposed to be. Our sociopath seeks to cleanse vulgar corruption at his secluded cabin containing torture devices, spurs, and cages. It's all about dressage and training to achieve the superior spark – just like a horse. Detective searches and police interviews come up empty thanks to coy clean ups, dismissing the bruises, lashes, and photographic proof. Our eponymous con turned do gooder becomes the prey – hacked, followed, and threatened with all manner of technology used against him. Sophisticated gadgets, vehicles, needles, and trackers implicate the petty thief, who turns to the seemingly uninterested FBI to file a missing persons report. Although he usually can't stand the low class squalor that's beyond “correction,” our killer's impressed with who's come to play in his sandbox. Terrorized families, job firings, social media blackmail, and presentation exposures help break the spirit as collared women are trained to go back to the cell and lock the door. The working class chaos and psycho trust fund order escalate to back alley attacks, violence down the stairs, baseball bats, gunshots, and explosions. So long as it isn't inelegant, who's next is going to watch, and snowy raids, jurisdiction technicalities, and shovel beatings lead to where all the gory bodies are buried. After resorting to the same old twisting mustache villain revelations, weak one on one fights, and action chases through the woods while the FBI sits on their hands waiting for a warrant; the finale does unfortunately loose some steam. The script never quite decides if we are inside the head of one or the other and doesn't always equally balance both sides. Overall this feels more like a nineties late night thriller – which is fine so long as viewers don't expect outright horror or thrills a minute – and fans of the cast can enjoy the careful orchestration and chilling interplay here.
Insidious: Chapter 3 – I liked the First Two in this franchise, but with releases so few and far between, it seems this 2015 prequel featuring Lin Shaye has been largely forgotten. Things here aren't off to a good start either with voices so, so low and music so, so loud. Unnecessary crescendos and warping toppers don't add atmosphere like the cluttered, old fashioned house and requests for a reading on a girl's late mother. Our psychic is out of the business and doesn't want to call on the dead because someone nasty may answer. Typical morning kitchen banter with dad Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend's Wedding) restarts the story in a fancy apartment building complete with a bratty, ultimately irrelevant brother, hip friends with pink hair, and a kooky old black neighbor who dies first of course. Daughter Quinn rehearses but botches an audition thanks to bright spotlights and creepy shadows in the theater. Car accidents that should be shocking are again more so in volume than horror, but the hospital rush, flat lines, and fractures lead to a blue limbo and scary demon growls. Two broken legs make for sleeplessness and ringing hand bells (super loud naturally), a trapped in bed awkward amid thumps on the ceiling, shadowy arms, and phantom figures by the window. Locked basements, dark stairwells, parlors with skulls and crystal balls – the lone lady psychic fears and silence are much better than making the audience jump with a loud noise. It's weird, too, that a different horror series with astral demon action resorts to standard teen issues. While texting on an old slide keyboard phone and fake graphics are meant to indicate this is a decade ago, primitive video chat is used to great effect with the caller asking who's standing next to the would be victim when no one's there. Moved wheelchairs, figures behind the lace curtains, and looking under the bed frights increase as the intruder draws the shades, shuts the door, and flings the girl off the bed for more injuries and terror. This raspy breathing, mask wearing demon is pretty strong, jumping out four story windows and mystically transporting the wheelchair bound for abandoned fifth floor races. He's luring faceless ingenues to Room 514 yet no one researches the history of this creepy art deco building, and it takes gooey footprints on the ceiling for Dad to get a clue. It's easy to blink and miss dialogue here, questionable internal logic makes things confusing, and exposition about suicides and the reasons behind Elise giving up readings are left to exposition when we could have experienced the characterization. The living must search in the dark, resisting the lure to join dead relatives as evil follows them back from the astral underworld. The foggy corridors and red elevators are creepy, but it takes over an hour to get proactive against the demons – random scares, ghostly girls, and fun house horrors waste time while distorted frights predicting the First Insidious remain too brief. Ghost hunters found on the internet are called in complete with hidden cameras and night vision to record the flickering power, cracking bones, chilling possessions, and eyeballs in the throat. Seeing Elise overcome her issues to bring the psychic team together should have been the focus here, but for everything good, something cliché interferes. With the teen in trouble start and the psychic battles in the end, this feels like two different movies culminating with typical rattling furniture, whooshing action, and good ghosts conveniently coming through in the nick of time. Although this is late night watchable, there was potential for something much more than jump scares and gotchas.
I Couldn't Take It
Scream Queens– This thirteen episode 2015 Fox horror comedy debut opens with 1995 blood and babies in the bathtub ruining the jams to TLC before today's couture sleep masks and a millennial fast narration waxing on the superior social class, house slaves, and bulimia vomit on the carpet. Our immediately unlikable, elitist, don't feel sorry for poor little rich girl Queen of Kappa Kappa Tau Emma Roberts (The Blackcoat's Daughter) provides the breakneck history to match the quick editing and constantly on the move camera. Not so clean dean Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween) threatens to revoke the house charter, leading to confrontations, extreme clique behavior, and alumni still trying to be hip. Red devil mascots and white robes build atmosphere alongside fearful pledges, killer pranks, and faces scorched in hot vats. Plebs wanting cool boyfriends named Chad go along with dumping a body – sharing in the sisterly secrets with blood oaths found online. Exaggerated zooms and screams over bloody faces peeling off create camp horrors while deadly encounters put the killer and victim face to face but texting rather than speaking or fleeing. Here, victims tweet for help rather than shout for police who don't believe there's an emergency thanks to howling hag legends and people taking selfies with dead bodies cum décor. Eerie basement accidents and bodies in the attic connect to fatal sorority secrets while eating cotton balls and tasers to the privates begat candlelight vigils and crocodile tears Visits to lux families of the deceased reveal holiday trysts, and film classes featuring Texas Chainsaw Massacre wink at the slasher genre before fresh slicing and dicing to the upbeat music. Commentaries and home videos wax on how Halloween lets one with the right dumb luck costume get away with anything, and pledges sharpening knives and carving pumpkins talk about making sausages out of the dead to sell them at the county fair. Camper frights and trailer park snooping pieces together what happened in sorority twenty years ago, but threats to call the news are more fearful than the authorities. Unfortunately, everything here is so gosh darn busy with tell not show exposition in every walk while they talk on the move scene. The far, far too many characters go overboard on bitchy freeze frame zingers amid racist, disabled, Asian, and lesbian insults. Singer Nick Jonas plays into the gay stereotypes, and there's a difference between having nasty characters mock the deaf or queer and using the demeaning and homophobia for laughs. Overused corporate radio and existential woke quips come at espresso speed alongside superficial, pissy, unnecessary monologues. If the sardonic was taken down a notch, viewers could appreciate the mood. However, the humor in death detracts from the horror. Are we supposed to laugh at the squirting sliced arms or enjoy the demented slasher references? We can't appreciate whether the horror is straight or sarcastic because the decision to chuckle at the preposterous has already been made for the audience. Library research and juicy reveals are withheld until convenient – happening in the past with brief flashbacks for the viewer after the fact. We're not in on the discovery and have no time for the details thanks to the random plot. Each brisk, forty-four minute entry feels like empty calories with Thanksgiving appropriation, “ghosts” of not dead characters, and scary storytelling complete with cliché re-enactments. Every person has to have the last comeback, me me me repeating the costumed encounters, killer chats, and double crosses. Pleb makeovers, questionable paternity, pacts to become alibi buddies, and deaths ruled suicide in spite of footprints and slit throats can't hide the killer giveaways slicing up the instantly dated Backstreet Boys wannabes in white. Despite pink furs and chandeliers, the grandeur is an ugly Clueless cosplay, and fine references to Sixteen Candles jar against the text speak. Who is ultimately the audience here – today's hipsters who will laugh or adults who understand the horror homages? Between creating writers Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan also directing alongside Bradley Buecker and Michael Uppendahl, perhaps there are too many male cooks in this kitchen. Like their American Horror Story, this has the cast and the opportunities, but the cool crescendos and uneven pacing toy with the action to arbitrarily fit network episodes. This should have been a three night October event with all the desperate hip and trying to be funny falling flat excised. Tame blood and gore and pretentious trash talk in lieu of actual cursing come off false, leaving the commentary laden dialogue more obnoxious than witty. I skipped around and didn't miss a thing, not liking anyone or caring enough about the killers to continue. Quirky security guard without a gun Niecy Nash (Reno 911) could have carried all the humor needed, and with her dark suits, silver crop, and morning scotch, not to be underestimated Curtis stands out from the sheep. Seeing the series from her perspective would have been much more interesting!