Assault on Overlook Hotel


by Hope Madden

Equal parts Assault on Precinct 13 and The Shining by way of Charles Manson, Anthony DiBlasi’s Malum is a quick, mean, mad look into the abyss.

Jessica Sula stars as a rookie cop whose first night on the job is a babysitting gig, so to speak. The new station is up and running and all she has to do is sit tight at the old station, redirect anyone who stops by, and wait for morning. So far, so Carpenter.

Jessica (her character’s name, as well) actually requested this stint because her dad, a hero, ended his career in this very building and she just wants the two careers to overlap, if only for one shift. But the cult that her father put an end to one year ago tonight has designs on Jessica.

DiBlasi is reimagining his own 2014 flick Last Shift, although it feels more like a riff on Carpenter’s 1976 Precinct 13 than anything. Regardless, what the filmmaker does is confine the audience along with our hero in a funhouse.

As the film wears on its nightmarish vibe intensifies. Weird characters and genuinely unsettling scenarios play out, some of them predictable but most of them surprises. The jump scares work, the gore plays, and the creature effects are top notch.

Inspired supporting turns from Natalie Victoria, Sam Brooks and Kevin Wayne keep the bizarre tensions building and Sula’s grounded, understated hero holds the mayhem together well

Malum gets nuts, exactly as it should. Though it never feels genuinely unique, it manages to avoid feeling derivative because of DiBlasi’s commitment to the grisly madness afoot. The result is a solid, blood soaked bit of genre entertainment fully worthy of your 92 minutes.  

Fright Club: Iconic Creature Make Up

We are beyond thrilled to get to talk with horror makeup FX master and good friend David Henson Greathouse for an episode on the best creature makeup in horror.

5. The Howling (1981) (Rob Bottin)

Rob Bottin won an Oscar for his FX makeup in Total Recal and was nominated for the glorious mostermaking in Ridley Scott’s Legend. Still, he may be best known for the touchstone in horror movie makeup, The Thing.

But the Bottin work we want to celebrate is in Joe Dante’s 1981 lycanthrope horror The Howling. Not because we love it more than his groundbreaking work those others, but because he shapes so many characters, and his makeup defines those characters. From partial transformations to complete metamorphosis, the makeup FX in The Howling create an unseemly atmosphere and tell us all we need to know about the characters on the screen.

4. Hellraiser (1987) (Bob Keen)

Bob Keen’s creatures have terrified in Candyman, Lifeforce, Nightbreed, Dog Soldiers and more. But his crowning glory wore pins.

Keen is the builder who brought Clive Barker’s maleficent cenobites to life and he had such sights to show us. Josh Russell took what Keen created and finessed it brilliantly for David Bruckner’s 2022 reboot, but Keen’s original – Pinhead, especially – cut a figure as memorable and identifiable as any monster since Frankenstein’s.

3. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) (David Martí)

David Martí won the Oscar for his magnificent work on longtime collaborator Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth. He’d brought del Toro’s wondrously macabre imagination to life many times – The Devil’s Backbone, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Crimson Peak – but never as beautifully, terrifyingly or heartbreakingly as here.

The Pale Man is a perfect example of actor and artist melding, Doug Jones taking the inspired horror of Martí’s makeup and animating the character as no one else could. The result is absolute perfection.

2. The Fly (1986) (Chris Walas)

When Chris Walas and David Cronenberg collaborated on 1981’s Scanners, a star was born. Probably two. That head explosion catapulted both artists into the genre stratosphere. With Naked Lunch, Walas was able to indulge his imagination in wildly various ways with all manner of creature.

But his Oscar came for his 1986 stroke of genius that was The Fly. Once again, artist and actor merged as Walas’s designs led Jeff Goldblum through the transformation, and his character’s arc. No matter how grotesque or repulsive, Walas and Goldblum managed to maintain a human heart, which is what was broken by the time the credits rolled.

1. Frankenstein (1931) (Jack Pierce)

What else? There may be on planet earth no image more instantly recognizable, and in the genre there is certainly no profile more iconic, than that of the monster created by Jack Pierce and brought to life by Boris Karloff.

The design didn’t resemble the description from Shelley’s text, nor did Whale’s direction or Karloff’s performance resemble the doomed monster of the novel. But what image do you associate with the Frankenstein monster? What square head, big boots, bolted neck has become the shorthand across popular culture from film to cereal boxes? And whose wild imagination conjured that image? Jack Pierce’s.

Screening Room: John Wick 4, A Good Person, One Fine Morning, Return to Seoul & More

Freedom from Tyranny

John Wick: Chapter 4

by Hope Madden

What do you want to know? John Wick: Chapter 4 doesn’t disappoint.

Guns, blades, cars, swords, fire, motorcycles, explosions, horses, bludgeonings, fisticuffs, playing cards, dogs. Of course, dogs.

Donnie Yen, Hiroyuki Sanada, Scott Adkins, Marko Zaror, Clancy Brown, Bill Skarsgard, Shamier Anderson, Aimee Kwan, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Keanu Reeves and Lance Reddick. Farewell, Lance.

Do you need to see the first three installments to follow the plot? No. It’s good to know that John Wick (Reeves) wears a bulletproof suit. Otherwise, he’d just look silly pulling up his lapel all the time. Other than that, you can probably figure out the gist. The stakes? High. The villains? Bad. The good guys? Professional villains. The best thing about being four episodes in is the needlessness of context or exposition.

Chad Stahelski returns to helm the latest, having carved out an impressive niche in action with his 2014 original. Since then, John Wick has become a cultural phenomenon sparking more copycat action flicks than Die Hard or Taken and solidifying Reeves as an undeniable if  unusual cinematic presence.

Chapter 4 is not just more of what makes the series memorable, it’s better: better action, better cinematography, better fight choreography, better framing and shot selection. Sandwiched between inspired carnage are brief moments of exposition set within sumptuous visions of luxury and decadence. This movie is absolutely gorgeous.

One of the reasons each episode of this franchise surpasses the last is that the franchise is not exactly about John Wick. It’s a love letter to a canon, a song about the entire history of onscreen assassins and their honorable, meticulous action. Genre legends arrive and we accept a backstory that isn’t detailed or necessary because the actors carry their cinematic history with them, and that’s backstory enough.

It’s hard to believe it took this many sequels to get us to John Wick v Donnie Yen, but it was worth the wait. Yen’s wryly comedic presence injects the film with needed levity. Plus he’s a better actor than Reeves and he looks less silly when he runs.

Skarsgard ­– though his French accent is dubious – fits the bill as the diabolically privileged Marquis who’s forgotten that “a man’s ambition should never exceed his worth.”

Hats off to Stahelski, his entire ensemble, stunt department, action choreographers and crew. No one could have guessed back in 2014 how this would snowball, but the director at the helm has managed to up his game once again.

Seoul Searching

Return to Seoul

by George Wolf

“Your birth name is Yeon-Hee. It means ‘docile’ and ‘joyous.'”

None of those things apply to Frédérique (Park Ji-min), whose name was changed after a French couple adopted baby Yeon-Hee and moved her from Seoul to Paris.

25 years later, she’s back.

In Return to Seoul (Retour à Séoul), the trip “home” becomes a catalyst for one woman’s search for identity, as director and co-writer Davy Chou crafts a relentlessly engrossing study of character and culture.

Now 25, “Freddie”‘s planned vacation in Japan is diverted by a typhoon, and she lands in Seoul “by surprise” – or so she tells her adoptive mother in France. But it isn’t long before Freddie is visiting the agency that handled her adoption, and reaching out to her birth parents to gauge interest in a meeting.

And from the minute we meet Freddie, she is purposefully upending the societal expectations of her heritage. When Freddie laughingly explains it away to her friend Tena (Guka Han) as “I’m French,” Tena quietly responds that Freddie is “also Korean.”

Freddie’s birth father and mother have very different reactions to her outreach. Chou moves the timeline incrementally forward, and Freddie’s two-week holiday becomes a new life in Seoul, one that’s fueled by restlessness and unrequited longing.

In her screen debut, Park is simply a revelation. Her experience as a visual artist clearly assists Park in realizing how to challenge the camera in a transfixing manner that implores us not to give up on her character. Freddie is carrying a soul-deep wound and pushes people away with a sometimes casual cruelty, but Park always grounds her with humanity and restraint.

As the narrative years go by, Chou adds flamboyance without seeming overly showy, and manages to toe a tricky line between singular characterization and a more universal comment on Korean adoptees.

Freddie begins to embody the typhoon that pushed her toward this journey of self, and Return to Seoul becomes an always defiant, sometimes bristling march to emotional release. And when that release comes, it is a rich and moving reward for a filmmaker, a performer, and all who choose to follow.

(Senior) Women Talking

Chantilly Bridge

by Tori Hanes

Time: the paramount unreasonable force, promised to break most any sacred bond Earth has to offer. Navigation through the inevitable – birth, death, marriage, divorce, getting drunk with your friends – will be the muse of filmmakers until our rock stops spinning.

Chantilly Bridge is, in so many ways, a unique viewing experience. Going in completely blind, it’ll take unfamiliar audiences a hefty portion of their viewing time and brain power (unless they constitute the aid of ol’ pal Google) to decipher that this film is a sequel. Its predecessor, Chantilly Lace, was released 30 years ago into the warm reception of television movie stardom. Director and co-writer Linda Yellen returns for Chantilly Bridge, leaning on presumed familiarity like a splintered crutch to shape her wobbly narrative. Initially enlisting confusing flashbacks to scoot forward a clunky and unimpressive premise, Bridge eventually cracks the crutch over their good knee and sprints forward toward the meat of the film: the character chemistry.

The cast is loaded with veteran talent, including Talia Shire, Ally Sheedy, JoBeth Williams, Helen Slater, Jill Eikenberry and Lindsay Crouse, who all reprise their roles from ’93. The chemistry is palpable, and the film relies on improvisation to fill in the massive gaps between loose plot beats. These moments of filler snuggled within the “story” are to be savored. They’re teeming with the authenticity that makes film viewing a life affirming experience. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to find yourself intertwined in a conversation steered by women who deeply, irrevocably, unconditionally care for each other, you’ll feel Chantilly Bridge’s genius stir the deepest cockles of your heart.

What’s maddening is the production’s backward desire to hinder enjoyment. The cinematography makes the film’s made-for-tv roots obvious: intensive exposure and lighting, clinical color palettes, and jarringly un-inherent shots. Often, speakers will be out of frame for incredibly long beats while the camera lingers on a polite listener. This coincides with the clunky moments of obvious scriptedness – when Chantilly Bridge attempts to be a film, it largely fails. When it allows itself to be a vehicle for female friendship, it astounds.  

Through the nauseatingly winding start, an angry thought flickered: “how can a film say so much and mean nothing?” As the women on screen selflessly shared the complexities of connection and joy, the same thought reemerged in the shape of an ashamed trickle: “how could I have been so stupid?”

The Long Goodbye

One Fine Morning

by Hope Madden

“I wait for the thing that should come and it doesn’t.”

So says Georg Kienzler (Pascal Greggory, devastating), a retired philosophy scholar deteriorating under the weight of a neurodegenerative disease. His daughter Sandra understands.

One Fine Morning tempts you to believe it’s a film about nothing in particular. Mia Hansen-Løve conjures Claire Denis or even Kelly Reichardt in her approach to settling into a rhythm of small, intimate moments that tell a deeper if less tidy story than more clearly structured films. She robs the tale of melodrama, of obvious beats, and replaces those trappings with slice-of-life poetry.

Her poem is aided immeasurably by Léa Seydoux as Sandra, a widowed mother who’s already beginning to feel the loss of her father. An affair with an old friend complicates things by satisfying her profound longing while also leaving her vulnerable during an emotionally delicate period.

There’s a lot there that begs for drama, but it’s to the film’s great benefit that Hansen-Løve chooses nuance. A low-key melancholy colors this story of a woman losing pieces of herself. The beauty in that tone is matched by the raw authenticity in Seydoux’s performance.

Though she’s proven her talent a dozen times or more, this performance is a real departure for her. It’s open and vulnerable, effortlessly conveying the raw nerve this woman has become.

What Hansen-Løve captures so beautifully is the day-to-day tragedy of losing someone bit by bit and of the flashes of understandable, even necessary selfishness. Sandra is sole parent to precocious 8-year-old Linn (Camille Leban Martins), contends with facility options for her father, and oversees the unenviable task of sorting through his belongings while he’s still living. The filmmaker approaches all of this with the natural, relatable quiet persistence, resigned laughter, or unexpected tears that mark the reality of this situation.

For Your Consideration

Casting Kill

by Hope Madden

A stylish indie ride through the seedier side of filmmaking, James Smith’s Casting Kill delivers laughs and surprises on a shoestring.

The anxiety at the core of Casting Kill exploits an actor’s vulnerability. There are countless openings for a predator to take advantage, including desperation for a role and personal insecurities. It’s staggering what an actor might put up with – might make themselves see as “eccentricity” – in order to get a gig.

In this case, they have to put up with Arthur Capstone, whose eccentricities run deep. Smug, self-important and biting, Capstone somehow still wants you to relax as you audition for him. Specifically, he’d like you to close your eyes.

Rob Laird is Capstone, an identity thief passing himself off as a Hollywood casting director. But stealing hapless actors’ identities is hardly this guy’s biggest kink.

Hopeful after hopeful arrives, each starry-eyed for the big break. The film has the most fun in this early montage of mostly terrible auditions. It’s a laugh that makes the film’s final moments land with a smirk and a chuckle. 

Gareth Tidball is a charmer in a small, doomed role – though she keeps delivering even when her lines have run out. Andrew Elias injects a bit of macabre fun into an almost unending supply of creepy characters.

Caroline Spence’s script has a grisly blast with this conceit, looking at the casting process from every angle to give the film a “behind the curtain” vibe that suits it.

Smith’s direction intentionally recalls Hitchcock, a theme amplified by Shaun Finnegan’s score. Framing, camera angles, and in particular Smith’s use of color give the film an unsettling, off-kilter vibe that helps to offset Casting Kill’s lack of movement and action. Smith makes the most of the film’s tight quarters with shots that are equally lovely and bizarre.

From Starry Eyes to Neon Demon to Pearl and more, indie horror never seems to run out of horror stories about trying to make it big. That’s scary and a little sad in itself, but the result is, once again, a thoroughly entertaining film.

Dark Academia

The Tutor

by Christie Robb

An academic coach to the children of the one percent, Ethan (Garrett Hedlund, Tulsa King), agrees to take a job that’s too good to be true.

A $2,500 a day under-the-table paycheck and housing on premises lures him into the life of Jackson (Noah Schnapp, Stranger Things), a highly-strung 17-year-old with boundary issues and a murky family life. But, Ethan has a baby on the way and the promise of extra cash helps him to tamp down his misgivings.

All is not as it seems, however. As Ethan spends more time with his client and the weird inhabitants of the mansion, it becomes clear that someone’s life is in danger.

Jordan Ross’s (Thumper) thriller doesn’t exactly tread new ground, but it is a solid entry in the genre. The movie has a dark academia aesthetic with a score that plays like classical music’s greatest hits.

Writer Ryan King’s story is a bit sketchy at the beginning. Some of the characters could have been developed more in the earlier scenes. Ethan and Jackson’s relationship, in particular, could have profited from a smidgen more screen time together before things start to take a turn.

But the final acts are rewarding enough to watch and there are plenty of red herrings scattered throughout to make guessing at the ending enjoyable. Hedlund becomes wonderfully unhinged as the film goes on and he plays off of  Schnapp’s creepy kid-in-a-turtleneck pretty well.

Overall, the film could have used more character development, but it nails the vibe.

Press To Play

Kubrick by Kubrick

by George Wolf

Stanley Kubrick gave so few interviews in his lifetime that an early striking moment in Gregory Monro’s Kubrick by Kubrick comes the first time you hear his voice.

It doesn’t really seem to fit, until you remember Kubrick wasn’t French or British, he was a native New Yorker. And he had a clear penchant for precise, matter-of-fact observations.

Film critic Michel Ciment was lucky enough to get some of those thoughts on tape over the course of several years, and Monro surrounds highlights of those cassette recordings with still photos, movie clips, and interviews with various cast and crew from Kubrick’s 13 movies.

Monro anchors the film with a recreation of the hotel suite from 2001. This one is adorned with mementos from Kubrick’s catalogue, which Monro spotlights as Ciment and Kubrick move their conversations from film to film.

Obviously, film fans will get critical insight into Kubrick’s mindset and interpretations of the stories he told (horror fans may especially take note of his far-from-the-rabbit-hole thoughts on The Shining).

But however much time Ciment spent with Kubrick, it seems Monro only found enough usable material for a heavily padded, barely one-hour running time, which leaves plenty unsaid. It’s certainly great to see all the classic clips from Kubrick’s films, but after actors such as Jack Nicholson, Malcolm McDowell, Sterling Hayden (Dr. Strangleove) and Marisa Berenson (Barry Lyndon) comment on Kubrick’s legendary perfectionism, you wait for reactions from the man himself that never come.

Maybe beggars like us can’t be choosers, and there are fascinating answers from Kubrick here, chief among them some suddenly prescient thoughts on HAL’s A.I. awareness. Kubrick by Kubrick is the rare chance to get inside the mind of a guarded legend, and even when it leaves you wanting more, that somehow feels like an ending he had planned all along.