Nightmare Cinema Serves Up Schlocky Fun

I’m a huge fan of horror anthologies.  Give me a classic Amicus horror like Dr. Terrors House of Horrors or Asylum; The Monster Club straight from the 80s; or the more recent Tales of Halloween-I’ll watch them all.  I was excited to hear there was a new anthology coming out, helmed by Mick Garris (The Stand, Sleepwalkers) who enlisted horror directors Joe Dante (The Howling), David Slade (30 Days of Night), Alejandro Brugues (Juan of the Dead), and Ryuhei Kitamura (The Midnight Meat Train) to direct their own unique segments for Nightmare Cinema.

The directors. Back row: Garris, Kitamura, Brugues
Front row: Slade, Dante.
Photos copyright Good Deed Entertainment

Five unsuspecting people end up at the historic Rialto Theatre where they witness a cinematic premonition of their fates on the big screen. The show is presented by the Projectionist (Mickey Rourke), a gnarly looking overseer of the theatre. He is as harsh as he looks, and the visitors must endure their personalized screenings until the bitter end.

The five shorts in the anthology are pretty diverse, so there’ll be something for everyone. Take for example the surrealist “This Way to Egress”, where Helen (Elizabeth Reaser, Twilight, The Haunting of Hill House) awaits her doctor’s appointment with her two petulant sons.  Shot in stark black and white, Helen’s unease is clear as her surroundings become strangely apocalyptic and the people around her more distorted.  It’s my favorite of all the segments, giving an old school Twilight Zone feel. Then there’s “Mashit”, a gore-filled splatter fest starring Maurice Bernard of General Hospital fame playing a less-than-perfect priest who heads a catholic school.  The students are being tormented by a demonic force and he must find his courage and faith to battle it.  If you’re looking for a more exploitation, drive-in feel, this is the segment for you. There’s also the plastic surgery nightmare “Mirari”, with 80s veteran actor Richard Chamberlain; the slasher trope with a twist “The Thing in the Woods”; and “Dead”, with Annabeth Gish and a great performance by Faly Rakotohavana, who plays a teen victim of a carjacking dealing with the consequences of a near death experience.

Gish and Rakotohavana – Dead
Photo by Michael Moriatis
Photos copyright Good Deed Entertainment

This latest edition to the anthology genre is a lot of fun, and it feels like the directors enjoyed doing their segments too. I matched up only two directors with the correct segments because the style of each one is really out of character for them, so I suggest trying to avoid spoilers of who directed what for a challenge. Along with Rakotohavana, Reaser was riveting as a woman hanging on to her last hope, and Mickey Rourke was his usual intense self which is what any fan of his would want.

If you’re looking for variety, I’d definitely check out Nightmare Cinema.  It’s got schlock, scares and scads of fun for all the anthology enthusiasts out there.

Child’s Play 2019 is a Decent Romp

Stephen Hawking, the late world-renowned scientist, warned us about artificial intelligence. He basically said we should be careful because artificially intelligent machines could eventually become sentient beings, putting humans in peril. I’m not a fan of all the A.I. platforms myself, and cringe at the thought of a disembodied voice greeting me or selecting my favourite playlists on command. The new Child’s Play, directed by Lars Klevberg, bases its horror around the concept of an autonomous automaton, modernizing the lore of Chucky and his voodoo origins.

Andy (Gabriel Bateman) is a lonely kid. Moving into a new apartment with his young mom Karen (Aubrey Plaza), he is more concerned with his smartphone than making friends. He’s hearing-impaired and self-conscious about it, and his mother desperately wants him to be more social. Her job at the local Zed Mart is tedious with customer returns and complaints, and she is surrounded by the latest toy, Buddi, an interactive doll. Hooked up to the Kaslan Industries multifaceted smart system, it can connect with virtually any appliance and anticipate its owner’s needs and emotions. When someone returns a Buddi doll because it’s faulty, Karen takes it home to Andy in the hopes of cheering him up. Andy is dubious of the doll at first, but soon he finds it charming with its mimicry and seeming intelligence. It names itself Chucky and they soon become inseparable until sinister events lead Andy to believe there is more to Chucky than just a computer chip.

Bateman as the lonely Andy.

Was a reboot to this iconic 80s franchise necessary? Probably not, but we can’t stop the reboot railroad. And if we can’t stop it, then I hope we get reboots like this one. It’s clever, draws on the first original Child’s Play film and has an updated story that works for the most part. It’s clever with its tongue in cheek self-awareness and speaks to the crutch of technology that’s slowly but surely taking over our lives. The film also calls attention to exploited workers in the global electronics market. Reports of overworked, underpaid and dehumanized worker bees assembling our modern electronics has been numerous, making a larger social commentary within a darkly comedic horror film.

Bateman was really, really good as the angst-ridden Andy, and coupled with his gang of fellow world-weary, latchkey kids, gave us some fun moments. I also have to mention Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, If Beale Street Could Talk) who plays Detective Mike, Andy’s neighbour. His banter with his mother Doreen (Carlease Burke) was pretty adorable. Chucky himself was something else all together. I love me some Brad Dourif, but you have to admire Mark Hamill’s vocal talent as the murderous doll. He was every bit as creepy as that hideous reimagining, and hats off to the FX team for creating that horrifying doll face.

Chucky 2019 at his finest.

Plaza reined in her usual quirky style to for a decent performance considering what she was given to work with. Karen was one dimensional and somewhat predictable, reinforcing the desperate single mom trope. It’s understandable that there is some reality to the character being a young, unprepared mother, but the script didn’t do her character any justice by making her a wishy-washy caricature. Add a less-than-desirable boyfriend played by Canadian fixture Adam Lewis, and Karen just becomes sad. There’s also an unnecessary animal death, so be forewarned those who are sensitive.

Overall, this Child’s Play reboot is a fun update to the slasher doll who won’t quit. See it for Hamill’s doll gone mad performance, creepy janitors, nods to classic horror and a surprising comment on our obsession with artificial intelligence and consumerism.

Men In Black International Keeps Things Safe

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones were the first to make Men in Black a fun, alien-filled comedy with gags galore.  As a franchise, the stories in subsequent films gave us more of the secret agency ready to protect the universe as we know it from invading extraterrestrials vying for galaxies to intergalactic doo-dads filled to the brim with power. The fourth installment, Men in Black International, crosses the pond to London and Paris where new agents fight a new alien threat.

As a child, Molly (Tessa Thompson) witnessed MIB agents neuralyze her parents after a pesky little alien invades her home. With the knowledge that there is life beyond the stars, she grows up to become a brilliant young woman with the goal to become a MIB agent. She soon learns she has to get creative to get into the top-secret headquarters, only to be discovered by Agent O (Emma Thompson). Her one-mindedness gets her a crack at being an agent in London governed by the stoic Agent High T (Liam Neeson), and her quick thinking gets her teamed up with the legendary Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), a once revered agent who has become careless.  When the double threat of powerful amorphous alien twins (Les Twins dancing duo Larry and Laurent Bourgeois) try to assassinate alien royalty, Agent H and M must figure out the who, when, and whys before there is irreparable damage done to the universe.

Agent H (Hemsworth) and Agent M (Thompson) on the job.
(ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC.) 

This colorful world of aliens has endless potential for high stakes and adventure. In this newest chapter, there seems to be a tried and true approach where if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Director F. Gary Gray who directed 90s classic Set It Off, the acclaimed Straight Outta Compton and the hit Fate of the Furious, kept the same feel to the MIB universe with a touch of slickness, making the film a safe bet for a family night out at the movies.  

Thompson and Hemsworth will fill seats due to their superhero Thor: Ragnarok past together; and there’s quite a bit of fun to be had, including a tiny alien called Pawny voiced by The Big Sick’s Kumail Nanjiani who gets most of the laughs. It was also exciting to see Les Twins, with their hugely successful dancing career leading them to a big budget movie. The film falls short however, with the formulaic and predictable galaxy in danger storyline, especially when there are two great talents as headliners who could give much more.  Thompson, who can play a superhero, artsy girlfriend and sultry executive, is charming if a bit over the top as the determined and ambitious Molly or Agent M, but more importantly, kids see a woman of color excelling at S.T.E.M.  She’s a role-model for little girls who also have their heads in the stars.  It’s also nice to note that the character Molly comes from a two-parent family in a nice home in Brooklyn. Not an unfathomable thing and an important representation of people of color in a big budget film.

Take the kids to see Men In Black International for a bit of fun, but they haven’t reinvented the galactic wheel with this one.  

Godzilla: King of the Monsters Fights For Some Balance

I’m always down for a good monster movie, and Godzilla is one of my favorites.  After seeing the 2014 Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, the anticipation for the next chapter was excruciating. It’s been a long wait, but director Michael Dougherty has brought the radioactive kaiju back to us with some of his closest frenemies in Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

Animal behaviorist Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) has thrown himself back into his work after his family was shattered with the loss of his son during Godzilla’s epic San Francisco battle in 2014.  He is a former employee of The Monarch Agency, a cryptozoology outfit researching Godzilla and other animals they call massive unidentified terrestrial organisms (MUTOs) or titans, hibernating beneath the earth’s surface for millions of years. His estranged wife Emma (Vera Farmiga) still works for them and is devising a machine to communicate with the titans. An eco-terrorist group has different ideas for the device and kidnap Emma and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) to use the device to awaken the beasts so they can take back the world from the most destructive force on the planet: humans. Mark is enlisted to find his estranged wife and daughter and save the world.

Madison (Brown) and Emma (Farmiga) captured by the eco-terrorists.

I can’t say I enjoyed the story of Godzilla: King of the Monsters much.  With such a heavy-handed script, there wasn’t much to like. We have to remember Godzilla’s origins through his many iterations – to simplify, he is a creation of the post-nuclear attack fears of the Japanese. To make him and his nemesis monsters a global concern is of course important as nuclear threats have no borders, but I felt the fabulous Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa needed more Japanese backup, so-to-speak.  As far as diversity though, I was happy to see some familiar faces front and center like Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Elizabeth Ludlow, and Ziyi Zhang.

The theme of wanting to help rid the earth of us pesky humans was a concept I could get down with but it was conveyed in such a pedantic way it became tiresome, and the family melodrama seemed like saccharine filler. Director Michael Dougherty, the man behind Trick r’ Treat and Krampus, gave us plenty of eye-popping visuals but none of the substance of his previous films because there was too much talking and not enough monster time. Too much exposition, “‘splaining”, emoting and platitude after platitude; along with some aggressively comedic moments hammed up by Bradley Whitford of Get Out and West Wing fame. In fact, there was so much talking, some weirdo came into our cinema off the street and shouted at the screen.

Godzilla and Ghidorah battling for the earth.

Godzilla himself was simply glorious. The fights, animation and sound design created an immersive experience on the IMAX screen. The scoring by Bear McCreary payed homage to Godzilla’s epic theme originally written by Akira Ifukube, and Ghidorah, Mothra and Rodan all had their time in the spotlight. Godzilla’s concept design was true to his historically cranky “Hey, you kids just woke me up from my nap and I’m gonna whup your asses” look. With radioactive blue beams and his signature giant stomping foot, it was worth enduring all the human hot air to see him rise and fight his monster enemies.

There’s not much else to say except see Godzilla King of the Monsters for, well, the monsters. Pay the extra to see it in 3D and IMAX so you’ll at least appreciate the top-notch visuals amidst all the jibber-jabber, but don’t expect much more. Here’s hoping the next chapter has a better story and script when Godzilla meets Kong.

No Comfort in Ma

Formulaic teen slasher films have been around for decades. Popular kids who fulfill all the tropes chased by an immortal antagonist, one who is relentless in its pursuit and thorough in its decimation of all things young and fancy free. But this time, the boogeyman is a black woman who harbors a deep-seated anger for those teens, and you’ll find her in Tate Taylor’s Ma.

Maggie (Silver) meets Ma (Spencer)


Maggie (Diana Silver) has moved from San Diego to her mom Erica’s (Juliette Lewis) hometown so they can start over after her mother’s divorce. Willowy and pretty, Maggie soon picks up with a bunch of popular kids who like to hang out and drink. Looking to score some booze from a willing adult, the kids finally convince an unassuming veterinarian technician Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) walking one of her charges to buy their partying supplies. She’s concerned they’ll drink and drive, so she offers her basement for them to party on the conditions that they don’t swear, leave sober and most of all, don’t venture upstairs.
The kids, thinking she’s a little odd but ok for an old broad, decide to take her up on her offer and nickname her “Ma”. Ma’s basement soon becomes a booze can for the local teens, and she’s the life of the party until things get more than a little weird, intense and dangerous.


I’m going to try and stay spoiler-free, but Ma made me sad for many reasons. Through flashbacks, we learn that Sue Ann wasn’t a popular girl in high school and neither was I. She constantly felt like she was the butt of the joke, and I always felt that way too. Her character allowed me to feel empathy for her, but I’m also sad that most of the production team were white. The writer, Scotty Landes, hit a lot of notes well, but Sue Ann’s character ended up looking really pathetic. Could he possibly know what it was like growing up unpopular, black and female? Probably not. Perhaps he too was an outsider for whatever reason, but the Carrie-like narrative that was done well by Stephen King for instance, didn’t translate here. And trying to turn the mammy/black care-giver stereotype on its head didn’t work either. It was messy, aimless and too delicate a subject for this kind of treatment.

I’m also sad that Ma didn’t ramp up the weird. Landes is behind several episodes of Comedy Central’s Workaholics and Adam Devine’s House Party-two extremely bro-ish comedy series, and has had a brief career in stand-up comedy. He and Taylor could have pushed it to a slightly more absurd feel, like the 1973 film, The Baby. That film was disturbing, absurd and everything you need to make you squirm uncomfortably, but this isn’t the 70s, and sadly, we only find those films kitschy in hindsight. While the comedy beats were decent in Ma, I wished Landes and Tate had drawn more from the absurdity of the situation instead of straight horror with a few laughs.

Spencer’s performance was really, really good. I was a fan of hers after I saw her in Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer, and when you look at her IMDb page, there’s so much variety there, especially within genre film, that you know she’s a versatile performer. Spencer and Taylor are reportedly best friends, so there’s a mutual trust for her to give her best performance. Her emotional transitions were seamless; really putting Sue Ann’s unhinged persona center stage. I also loved Allison Janney as Sue Ann’s disgruntled veterinarian boss, in fact I feel there was a spark between Spencer and Janney that was wasted. That venom could have been central to the film, because really, who needs to see more teens in jeopardy, but Janney was only in a couple of scenes and I almost forgot she was in it.

Ma creeping on the teens.

I wonder what a black female director and writer would have done with Sue Ann’s character. It’s a shame Spencer shows her range in a starring role with complex character who doesn’t quite get the attention she deserves. If you’re set on seeing Ma, go for Spencer’s menacing performance and what I hope is her gateway in more starring roles in more genre films, but this time with a black female horror director.