Cucuy: The Boogeyman (2018)

Cucuy

Directed by Peter Sullivan [Other horror films: Summoned (2013), High School Possession (2014), Ominous (2015), The Sandman (2017)]

This is definitely one of the better flicks I’ve seen on Syfy in the last few years, surpassing my admittedly low expectations of it rather easily.

Focusing on the Latin American-based mythology of Cucay or the Sack Man, the movie had a strong Spanish feel to the film, which is something that I generally don’t care for. Here, however, they made it work, a big part due to the characters themselves who were mostly solid. It helped too that the story was pretty well-done, especially for a television flick.

Bella Stine did pretty good for as young an actress as she is. Both Marisol Nichols and Pedro Correa did commendably also, though it did take a bit for Correa to grow on me. The star of the film, and also the strongest performance, was Jearnest Corchado, who came across quite well as a strong teen fighting for her sister.

Another somewhat surprising aspect of the film is that the design of the titular Cucay isn’t that bad. At first, it does look a little ridiculous, but like Correa’s character, it grew on me after a while. I’m somewhat reminded of the 2017 Syfy film Stickman, in which the story was decent, but the design was terrible. Here, luckily both the story and special effects are superior.

So too is the ending. Instead of tacking on a hideous downer ending in the last two seconds of the film, they do something a bit differently, and though the effects of the specific scene I’m referring to are sketchy, I really liked the implications.

Most modern-day television movies don’t blow me away, and this one didn’t either, but I certainly recognize it as clearly one of the stronger efforts in the last few years (the only other one that really comes to mind is Neverknock from 2017). For a television movie, you could certainly do worse than this one, and though it doesn’t really add much to the genre, I was happy with the final product.

8/10

The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)

Strangers

Directed by Johannes Roberts [Other horror films: Sanitarium (2001), Hellbreeder (2004), Darkhunters (2004), Forest of the Damned (2005), When Evil Calls (2006), F (2010), Roadkill (2011), Storage 24 (2012), The Other Side of the Door (2016), 47 Meters Down (2017), 47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)]

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one. The first movie was the very definition of blah, and though I heard some positive things about this (along with quite a bit of negatives, to be sure), I didn’t think it’d be something that worked for me. Boy, was I wrong.

The movie has a strong retro feeling, and you can tell by the title screen, the score (both song-wise and movie-wise), and the general vibe. It worked well with the cinematography to create an enjoyable and suspenseful movie. Just check out the pool sequence – absolutely loved what they did with the color scheme and sound.

As far as how the movie’s better than the first, aesthetics aside, there are two important factors. For one, the setting is a lot more open (instead of just a house and the immediate vicinity, here we have a whole campgrounds), which really upped the game of cat and mouse. Instead of running room to room, there are tons of places both inside and out that can be the stage of a battleground or a makeshift hiding place.

Secondly, and I can’t imagine this point would get much contention (though that shows I may not have met the internet), the characters are much more sympathetic. This is true, by-and-large, because they’re a family. A dysfunctional, messed-up family, but a family all the same. The chemistry between the brother and sister felt pretty real to me, and generally, I cared far more about the fate of those involved here than I did from the first movie eight years ago.

I don’t know any of these actors or actresses, but it was mostly solid performances throughout. Perhaps the weakest was Christina Hendricks (the mother), but at the same time, her character was going through a difficult time, so the lack of feeling she portrayed makes some sense. Martin Henderson was moderately generic, but tolerable enough. While at first Lewis Pullman wasn’t working for me as the brother, he did start to grow on me, and ended up a good character.

Lastly is Bailee Madison – I really loved her character. Reminiscence of Anya-Taylor Joy’s character in Split and Kiara Glasco’s from The Devil’s Candy, I thought that Madison had a lot of spunk here. She had the tough-girl look, but you know that she was just reacting to the struggles of being a teen. Her character was by far the best, and I’m glad the movie shines a light on her.

The gore here is pretty top-notch. It’s not really the focus of the film (that’d instead be suspense), but it didn’t shy away from some pretty gruesome sequences. Perhaps the bathroom death was the most shocking, but the pool scene, not to mention the finale, were both solid also.

I can’t think of any major complaints about this flick, to be honest, which is odd, as it’s a sequel to a very subpar film. I am a bit annoyed that they threw in the “this is based on a true story” tripe at the beginning, but otherwise, you have an atmospheric flick with a delightfully retro soundtrack (Kim Wilde, Bonnie Tyler, and Air Supply) and great aesthetics.

While it’s a surprise to say, this film really took me for a ride, and though I was hesitant of watching it, it won me over.

9/10

Ye ban ge sheng (1935)

song at midnight

Directed by Weibang Ma-Xu [Other horror films: Ye ban ge sheng xu ji (1941), Wu ye jing hun (1956), Du mang qing yuan (1961)]

Often considered China’s first horror film, Ye ban ge sheng (or Song at Midnight, at it’s commonly known) is a piece of history in many ways. This Chinese adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera has much of the tragedy and suspense you’d hope to see, but it’s also muddled due both to the worn print and lengthy run-time.

To be honest, when I first saw this one years back, I don’t remember what I thought. Part of this may be because it was during October, and getting a feel for an individual horror film in a month where I watch at least thirty to forty (or as many of two hundred and seventy-five) can be difficult. Suffice it to say I didn’t remember all that much about this one before watching again, which may have helped temper my expectations.

The biggest problem with the movie itself is the almost two hour run-time. The first fifteen minutes of this movie were borderline incomprehensible, even with English subtitles. Easily, fifteen to twenty five minutes could have been cut, and I think it’d have brought a better sense of pacing to the movie.

Though not the film’s doing, the commonly-available print of this film has really been through the wringer. Audio issues, visual issues, odd cuts, it can sometimes be a hassle to get through. Once the story starts picking up around twenty minutes in, things tend to come across more comprehensively, but then a subplot later on sort of loses me a bit.

Given that this movie isn’t that well-documented, I can’t much point out performances I thought were good. The individual playing the Phantom of the Theater House was extraordinarily solid, and probably stole the show. Others, including the younger protegee, were good, but none captured the utter tragic existence of the Phantom (a twenty-minute flashback explaining how he came to be, each minute more heartbreaking than the last, stood out as one of the best segments of the film).

Really, the story could be riveting at times. There’s also some creepy scenes to keep us going (an early one with a troupe of actors exploring a rather decrepit theater house stands out, along with the unmasking), and some good revenge at the end. At times, the film felt a bit more like a silent film than American peers at the time, and the fight sequence toward the end felt weak, but generally speaking, this is a good film.

Sadly, what probably holds Ye ban ge sheng back the most is the atrocity of the print. I think that even those who are fans of classic horror would struggle with much of it, and that can certainly lead to a more negative feeling about the story. This movie is a classic, but I just don’t think it holds up as well as it should, not through much fault of it’s own. Just below average sounds about right, sadly.

6.5/10

Halloween (2018)

Halloween

Directed by David Gordon Green [Other horror films: N/A]

Disregarding everything but the first Halloween from 1978, the newest addition to the Myers mythology is pretty solid, though I don’t know if it’s overly special, and it certainly doesn’t possess the same charm of the original.

Story-wise, everything’s basically fine. The idea of an uber-prepared Laurie just waiting for Michael to come back seems a bit much, but Curtis gave a good performance, so I can live with that. Admittedly, I didn’t care much for the whole Sartain sub-plot, because it didn’t really go anywhere or add anything to the movie aside from a small twist (which is rendered ineffective just minutes later).

Overall, though, the story’s good. I was a bit bothered by the fact that they felt the need to add as much gore as they did. Make no mistake, the gore’s well-done, and there are some rather brutal kills here, but at the same time, the original managed to become a classic without gore, by-and-large, and given this one has that almost-retro feel (just look at the opening credits), it’s just somewhat disappointing they went the route they did.

Like I said, Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance here is pretty good, and I’ve nothing to complain about regarding Will Patton or Haluk Bilginer (despite not personally caring for where the movie took him). Judy Greer (who, believe it or not, I know best from the charming romantic fantasy 13 Going on 30) and Andi Matichak, who played Curtis’ daughter and granddaughter, didn’t really add all that much, in my opinion. Neither was particularly important toward the end, and it just felt somewhat wasted. Dylan Arnold, who played Matichak’s boyfriend, just disappeared half-way through the film (though there were reasons), and I was sort of expecting him to pop up again, but to no avail.

There are plenty of positive things about the movie. The gore, though I personally thought they should have tried without, was pretty solid. I also liked the sequences focusing on Curtis’ life after the 1978 original, and there was a bit of psychology involved with her character (naturally so). More so, there were a decent number of more subtle, creepy scenes (I liked the jack-o-lantern head, along with Michael’s walk to grab the hammer) that added a more traditional feel to the movie.

I guess my biggest problem is with Bilginer’s character (who played the Loomis-type doctor in the movie). His actions just didn’t really change anything, and they didn’t really add anything. It just seemed sort of pointless. If they had changed that up a bit, I could see myself giving the movie a better rating.

As it is, if you’re a fan of the Halloween franchise, I think you’ll enjoy this addition, as there’s plenty here to be happy with. A few mishaps aside, this is a good slasher with an occasionally pretty retro feel, and is generally enjoyable. It’s just not quite amazing.

8/10

Halloween (1978)

hallo

Directed by John Carpenter [Other horror films: Someone’s Watching Me! (1978), The Fog (1980), The Thing (1982), Christine (1983), Prince of Darkness (1987), They Live (1988), Body Bags (1993, segments ‘The Gas Station’ & ‘Hair’), In the Mouth of Madness (1994), Village of the Damned (1995), Vampires (1998), Ghosts of Mars (2001), The Ward (2010)]

Without a doubt, this classic film is one of the best horror movies ever made, surpassing films such as The Evil Dead, The Shining, Jaws, and A Nightmare on Elm Street with utter ease.

So many factors of the film are great – masterful cinematography, an amazing musical score, pretty good performances, a captivating story, and a fine control of suspense. With little gore, Halloween manages to be the slasher that so many others afterward try to set their standards by, and generally reach nowhere close.

It’s true that Jamie Lee Curtis doesn’t look like a high school student, but she had a great performance here for her first film (her previous appearances were on television shows). I adore her character, the fact that she’s a mostly good girl who’s not averse to good times (the weed scene), and she’s just great here. Donald Pleasence, who has a long history of horror before this, dating back to 1960’s The Flesh and the Fiends, is amazing as Loomis, and while occasionally over-the-top, has some of the best dialogue in the film.

Between P.J. Soles (Lynda) and Nancy Kyes (Annie), I have to say I like Kyes’ character a lot more, though Soles’ does have a great piece of dialogue about the lack of necessity of books. It’s somewhat unfortunate that Kyes didn’t have much of a career (she appeared in the third Halloween, along with The Fog, also directed by Carpenter), as I thought this showed a lot of potential.

If there’s any problem with the film, it could be that Michael seems focused on Laura for absolutely no reason. While later sequels attempt to explain this, as far as this movie goes, it’s random with no meaning behind it. In some ways, though, I think that makes it more effective, and given that Nick Castle (who brilliantly plays The Shape, as he’s called) is fantastic throughout, it’s only an additional positive.

The only other John Carpenter film that could compete with this one, in my mind, is The Fog, and while the Fog is good, few movies could ever reach this level of excellence (on a side-note, many may be outraged I didn’t mention also The Thing, but I’m not as big a fan of that one as others). For this movie, though, whether you watch it with or without the additional television footage, you could only do worse. One of the twenty or so horror films I see as pretty flawless, Halloween is a movie that will never get old, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, and the ending will never not be iconic (focusing on different locations seen in the movie with that music playing – perfection).

10/10

Dead in the Water (2018)

Dead in the Water

Directed by Sheldon Wilson [Other horror films: Shallow Ground (2004), Kaw (2007), Screamers: The Hunting (2009), Carny (2009), Mothman (2010), Red: Werewolf Hunter (2010), Killer Mountain (2011), Scarecrow (2013), Shark Killer (2015), The Unspoken (2015), The Hollow (2015), The Night Before Halloween (2016), Neverknock (2017), Stickman (2017)]

Oh boy. This Syfy film is pretty derivative of better movies from the past (such as 1989’s Leviathan and 1998’s Deep Rising), and doesn’t bring anything remotely interesting to the story to make up for the lack of originality.

What hurts the movie most isn’t necessarily the story, though, it’s the fact that the cast (comprised almost entirely of women) is utterly one-dimensional. I finally ended up learning their names toward the end of the film, but there was very little about the characters that we really knew, aside from the fact they were all on a ship together. None of the actresses did much with their shallow characters, but that’s more likely an issue with the script than the actresses themselves. I guess Nikohl Boosheri did the best, as tepid praise as that is.

The special effects weren’t terrible, though I didn’t care for the look of the parasitic organism. The stale nature of the story doesn’t really lend much in the way of suspense and mystery past a certain point, though, and more so, I can’t think of a reason to watch this when you could instead watch something like The Thing, or Leviathan, or even DeepStar Six. It just seems pointless, especially since there’s not much context to this movie to begin with.

Dead in the Water is an apt name for this – unoriginal ideas combined with uninteresting characters leads to a film that doesn’t take long to show how uninspired it all is. Theoretically, Syfy could have been able to cobble together something better than this (maybe along the lines of The Devil’s Tattoo, also known as Ghost Rig, from 2003), but as it is, this movie is very much so below average.

4/10

The Black Sleep (1956)

black sleep

Directed by Reginald Le Borg [Other horror films: Calling Dr. Death (1943), Weird Woman (1944), Jungle Woman (1944), The Mummy’s Ghost (1944), Dead Man’s Eyes (1944), Voodoo Island (1957), Diary of a Madman (1963), House of the Black Death (1965), So Evil, My Sister (1974)]

In some ways, The Black Sleep feels quite a bit like a Hammer film, despite being an American production. It does have a good story, solid cast, and pretty tense ending, but I couldn’t absolutely find myself in a position to love it come the credits.

Recommended to me by an online friend who knows I dabble in the more classic entries of the genre, much in this movie certainly came across a pleasant surprise. The story is pretty fun, and has a twist thrown in there too. Some scenes, such as the dungeon sequence, were rather frightening, and felt more out of a 60’s or 70’s horror film than a 50’s (in fact, some of this movie reminded me quite a bit of Mansion of the Doomed from 1976).

The cast is superb. Basil Rathbone and Herbert Rudley did well as the main characters, Rathbone of course being a rather well-known actor (as he played Sherlock Holmes in quite a few films, including the 1939 Hound of the Baskervilles, a classic), and while I don’t know Rudley, he was convincing in his role. Lon Chaney Jr. (who needs no introduction) didn’t have a big chance to showcase his abilities here, but still exceeded in the role he was given. The same is true for Bela Lugosi, who played a mute, but given that this is his final movie performance before his death later in the same year, that can be excused.

Tor Johnson (perhaps most infamously known from The Beast of Yucca Flats) gives a strong performance here, despite not really appearing until near the end of the film. Patricia Blair isn’t a name I’m familiar with, but I liked her as the main female character in the film. Lastly, both Akim Tamiroff and John Carradine were notable in their roles, though Carradine probably was the most forgettable.

It’s hard for me to say where the downsides of this movie arise from, given that so much of the movie (from the cast to the story) is pretty good. Suffice it to say, maybe the bulk of the film, dealing with a scientist who is above the morality of mere mortals, felt more akin to a 30’s or 40’s throwback film than to the 50’s. At the same time, I could easily see Hammer looking at this movie as a way to influence their Curse of Frankenstein, which came out the following year.

Whatever my personal shortcomings of the film are, I won’t deny that this is a classic that unfortunately seems to be overlooked by many nowadays. I didn’t know much about it before jumping in, but I was mostly pleased by the film overall, and if you’re a fan of the classics of the genre, given the cast this film has, I’m somewhat sure you’ll be pleased also.

7.5/10