EVIL is a Giant Cockroach Trying To Bite Your Head Off…Man! “Love and Monsters” reviewed! (Paramount / Blu-ray Review)

For seven years, monsters have ravaged the human race to nearly extinction after nuclear nations destroyed an planet killing meteor in space, but the radioactive debris that fall back to Earth mutated the smallest creatures into monstrous killing machines.  Humans have been divided into colonies forced into underground bunkers.  Joel Dawson has been barely surviving with bunk mates who see him as a liability in his inability to act when faced with a monster situation and has been unable to connect, romantically, with another person.  When Joel discovers his high school sweetheart is 85 miles away in another colony, Joel decides to leave the bunker safe haven and journey across the dangerous surface for seven days for the sole purpose of love.  Forced to face his fears and adapt to survive a perilous land full of giant centipedes, hungry massive toads, and a crusty crab the size of a two story building, Joel must rely on his instincts and the help of rule-following topside survivors to see again the girl he thought he lost.

Add “Love and Monsters,” a monstrously romantic creature feature, right up there with “Warm Bodies” as this decade’s version of horror and love dancing the tangled tango in this kill or be eaten comedy-love pursuit directed by Michael Matthews.  The 2020 release is Matthews’ sophomore directorial from a script co-written between Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson off a Duffield’s original “Monster Problems” script.  Duffield is best known for penning last year’s water leviathan success, “Underwater,” starring Kristen Stewart, with “Monster Trucks’” Robinson coming aboard to finesse the grand adventure mechanism that makes “Love and Monsters” a singular trek through heart-thumping terrorland.  The Canadian production filmed in the amalgam terrain of Australia is produced by Dan Cohen and Shawn Levy, who both know a thing or two about doomsday premises in producing Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and the Denis Villeneuve sleeper sci-fi first contact film, “Arrival,” under 21 Laps Entertainment in association with Entertainment One and Paramount Pictures distribution in North America.

A singular journey of bushwhacking and survival falls upon the shoulders of a young man who hasn’t yet transitioned to be an adult. From the time he was 16 years old, Joel Dawson knew love, but didn’t know how to fend for himself when life gets tough….really tough, like, full of carnivorous creatures in an end of humanity and heading to extinction tough. Yet, as adults, we thrive on challenges as our brains have learned to adapt with each new level of adversity and obstacle. For Joel, being stuck in the past, reliving a swift romance, has suspended him in nowheresville as he struggles to find love and age-appropriate interaction with of his kind peers. Dylan O’Brian captures Joel’s inability to see the clearly world around him because, literally, he hasn’t seen or experienced the world for about a third of his young life. Portrayed early on in young adult fiction with his feet firm in the heartthrob remake of “Teen Wolf” television series and coming out of adapted for film “The Maze Runner” trilogy, O’Brien discovers that being feeble and lonely can be just as powerful as being a werewolf or a dystopian survivalist; instead, O’Brien up-plays the quirky, quick-witted, outcast with delusions about his solitary and unpopularity as he finds fortitude by trekking seven days through a monster-riddled hell to rekindle his relationship with Amiee, the last person he personally felt a connection to who hasn’t been squished under the foot of a Granddaddy Long Leg. “The Head Hunter” and “Underwater” star, Jessica Henwick, retunes her vocal chords to present her best American English accent in order to be Joel’s live-or-die love interest, if she hasn’t changed in the last seven horrible years. Yet, before Joel and Amiee reunite in what’s a finger-crossable moment of love again at first sight, the meek Joel Dawson needs to go through, what half the monsters outside have already gone through, is a metamorphosis of sorts to be bigger, tougher, and more self-reliant. This is where MCU alums, Michael Rooker (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) and Ariana Greenblatt (“Avengers: Infinity War”) step in. As Clyde, Rooker’s the Bear Grylls of monster land, knowing all the tips and tricks of topside survival all the while sporting a Richard Simmons perm, whereas Greenblatt, as the orphaned Minnow traveling in companion with Clyde, is just rugged despite her pintsize. “Love and Monsters” really focuses on these four individuals that mainly perpetuate only one of them, Joel, to be the best survivor he can be at the bottom of the food chain, but other minor characters do arise and nudge brash action that requires the solidity of an unbroken community chain. Dan Ewing (“Occupation”), Ellen Hollman (“Asylum”), Pacharo Mzembe, Tre Hale, Senie Priti, Amalie Golden, and “The Road Warrior’s” Bruce Spence makes a cameo appearance as Old Pete.

What I find interesting about “Love and Monsters,” that’s more prevalent in most post-apocalypse themed plots, is the lack of dog-eat-dog between humans.  While the story mainly skirts around the concept with a running gag that the real reason Joel left his colony is because he’s a no-good food stealer, Joel’s interactions with his and Amiee’s colonies, plus in his travels with Clyde and Minnow, showed no sign of deception or greed, a rare and humbling dynamic when starved, weary, and scared people are backed against a wall and cutthroat advantages are at arm’s length; instead, a real sense of community and compassion is committed that brings a sense of hope, not for just Joel in a world conquered by monsters, but for also audiences with pessimistic views about the volatility of man.  Even with all the fears of A.I hostile takeover, tender moments of man face-to-face with machine seals that threat into inexistence as Joel comes across a damaged MAV1S unit, an anatomical automaton built for servicing humanity, borders that plane of complex human emotions with all the right things to say and able to read what Joel needs to here to keep him moving in a sacrificial scene of the androids’ last hurrah before complete battery drain.  “Love and Monsters” doesn’t do a complete withdrawal from the hypodermic needle of inhuman poison, but the concept is certainly not the emphasis.  With a title like “Love and Monsters,” you want the monsters to be, at the very least, half of the story, as promised, and we’re treated to a slew of different monsters with different personalities and with different innate weapons. Not all the monsters are blood thirsty. Some are gentle, but judged for their immense size and scary physical attributes and Matthews points this important theme out in a trope about-face, signifying that just because this is a monster movie, doesn’t mean all monsters have been unjustly deemed vicious and terrorizing. In a way, these monsters parallel in being judged just as inaccurately as Joel is by his survivalist peers without so much as the benefit of the doubt and only when a trust evolves from out of being scared is when judgements wash away with sheltered conventional thinking. Diminutive inside a fantasyland of behemoth horrors, “Love and Monsters” has a tremendous heart with an interpersonal message about understanding connections with people inside the mixed-messaged confines of coming into adulthood.

If we don’t nuke ourselves out of existence first, the lifeforms underneath the soles of our shoes will gladly seize dominance for an easy, human-sized, snack in Michael Matthews’ “Love and Monsters” now released on Blu-ray plus digital, as well as 4K Ultra HD and DVD, courtesy of Paramount Pictures. The PG-13 action-adventure creature feature is presented in high definition, 1080p, widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Australia is already a futuristic land of gorgeous overgrowth and untouched wonder, Lachlan Milne trades in the practical (zombie horde) aesthetics of “Little Monsters” to a transcending larger types of monsters to scale an open world environment to eventually be combined with post-production visual effects of Kaiju-sized myriapods, crustaceans, and amphibians to just name a few. Award winning VFX company, The Mill, has seamless and organic creations that blend truth and deception with the scariest of ease as creatures explode out of the ground or lumber above head with no angle left uncovered or underdeveloped in giving audiences unmistakable visuals of our nightmares. The English language 7.1 DTS-HD master audio mix is the epitome of well balanced with clear dialogue, a complimentary soundtrack, and a long range and diverse depth of sound engineered monsters being monsters from low, sonorous gutturals to the high cracks and pops of creature movements. Inside a cardboard slipcover, The Paramount Pictures Blu-ray comes with a digital movie code to add to your digital movie collection to watch anywhere, but the release also comes with deleted scenes, a “Bottom of the Food Chain” featurette feature snippet interviews with the cast and crew, and “It’s a Monster World: Creating a Post-Apocalyptic Landscape” that dives into the natural preserve combined with production design to create the apocalypse illusion. Adventurously invigorating and outside the norm of telling story patterns, “Love and Monsters” romanticizes the post-apocalypse with a self love theme in a hope-inspiring and fun creature-crammed monster movie.

Blu-ray of “Love and Monsters.” Click poster to purchase at Amazon.com!

EVIL Hoodooism is No Mumbo-Jumbo! “Spell” reviewed! (Paramount Pictures / Digital Screener)

Marquis E. Woods is a powerful defensive attorney good at his job, attaining wealth and position to the likes he’s never had as young boy raised by a fervent and abusive father in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky; a life now he always wanted he can now share with wife, Veora, and pass to their children, Samsara and Tydon.  The news of the death of his father sends him and family on a flying to the rural part of Kentucky to pay their respects in Marquis’ personal small aircraft.  A terrible storm forces down the plane down in a remote wooded valley and an injured Marquis wakes up in attic on a farm ran by a proclaimed rootwork old woman, Ms. Eloise, with her husband and oxen-strong farm hand.  Trapped and concerned for his missing family, Ms. Eloise slowly nurses him back to health with a Boogity, a Hoodoo figured representation of Marquis comprised of his flesh, blood, and other DNA elements, but her Southern hospitality isn’t for good intentions as she mends and prepares his wounded body, brewing a sinister spell upon his soul, for the forthcoming blood moon that lies days ahead.

Experiencing Hoodoo dark magic horror back on a bigger production scale is on the same extraordinary gamut in discovering the lost city of Atlantis.  Well, maybe not as profoundly archeological as discovering Atlantis, but still immensely impactful. Films like the Mark Tonderai directed “Spell” hit like a ton of brick-shaped talismans, fettering the imagination with hexes that bewitch fascination and captivation, and roots through an endless torrential fountain of ancient beliefs to scour the dark side of the practices for celluloid terror. “The House at the End of the Street” director Tonderai moves away from restraints of PG-13 horror before heading into a stint of helming television episodes only to make a glorious return back to features with the R-rated black magic action-thriller, “Spell,” penned by Kurt Wimmer who knows a thing or two about action-thrillers as the writer of the gun-toting, martial arts dystopian, “Equilibrium,” and bloodily vindictive thriller, “Law Abiding Citizen”.  Filmed in Cape Town, South Africa that, through the slight of hand of movie magic, turns South Africa into rural Kentucky, “Spell” is a co-production of Paramount Pictures, LINK Entertainment, and MC8 Entertainment as well as being a product of puncturing the rarely topical social class and racism division within the same race.

To play a determined and savvy father and husband on the ropes of survival, “Power’s” Omari Hardwick steps into the detained role of Marquis E. Woods, surely prepping himself against Ms. Eloise’s wicked dark magic before battling the flesh hungry undead in the upcoming Zack Snyder zombie-geddon horror, “Army of the Dead.” Hardwick is the ideal actor for a role that, at times, can be physical; his athletic build suits also Woods’ affluence though not required as scene with the brawny farm hand that introduces South Africa’s very own fitness entrepreneur, Steve Mululu.  Woods is pitted not only against formidable muscle, but also has to outwit the four or five lifetime smarts of an old root woman, Ms. Eloise, diabolically portrayed with a legendary entrenched Southern vernacular by the “Urban Legend” actress, Loretta Devine.  On the downside of the character, Ms. Eloise is rich with historical saturation that goes unchecked and unexplored and she seems a little more slapdash with her rituals and her captives.  In what really is a mind game of wit and Podunk wizardry between Hardwick’s Marquis E Woods and Devine’s Ms. Eloise, the remaining cast for “Spell” shoulders only little to annex more substance toward the tensions between the two principles, including performances from Lorraine Burroughs, John Beasley, Andrew Jacobs, Tumisho Masha, RJ-Karlo Handy, Hannah Gonera, and Kalifa Burton.

Aforementioned, “Spell,” between the domestic xenophobia opulence dividing the Woods family, the quaint, yet tangible body horror, and the abhorrent mysticism surrounding Hoodooism, teeters on loose ground with not only Ms. Eloise’s foundation, but also with main character, Marquis E. Woods, who suffers continuously from trauma-induced nightmares of his abusive father. Through flashbacks, Marquis is beaten with verbal assaults and even, seemingly, being stabbed or mutilated by his father. Yet, that’s about as far as the flashback dynamic progresses the thread bare bond until a minor moment at the climax is when Marquis then embraces his father’s aggressive nature, tuning more into a theme of stative stance that Marquis and father might not have seen eye-to-eye, but the son learns to survive through amplified evil by way of his father’s tough, tortuous care. The relationship circles backs with Marquis’ entitled children, whose piggyback wealth has molded them indifferent against the benefits given to them and partisan toward the backwoods people of color, and “Spell” becomes an insidious allegory creeping into the fold with a little tough love from your parents, in this case father, will go a long way. “Spell” also rarely pulls any punches with a welcoming cringe of ghastly violations of the human body (that pulling, inserting, and then re-pulling out the spike in the bottom of the foot gag will make you actually gag!) and inside the rustic and isolating confines of Ms. Eloise’s Kentucky farm compound, there’s a rough-hewn atmosphere that elevates the subgenre, shaking it to the core at times.

“Spell” is terrific urban horror tinged with “Misery” but driven by historical oppression stemmed Hoodoo, releasing just before Halloween on October 30th distributed by Paramount Players, a division of Paramount Pictures that’s still very much in it’s infancy. Jacques Jouffret (“The Purge” franchise) has a tight knit and jarring cinematography that puts the audience in the front, debilitating seat, empathizing the mind-warping effects that Marquis faces with a violent plane crash, nerve seizing torture, and banding Hoodoo hallucinations. Plus, there is fancy crane camerawork that marvels to capture multiple actions between characters. The score from Ben Onono fulfills the tension-riddle need with incessant zest, complimenting the narrative tenfold. Since “Spell” is a brand new release, there were no bonus material included and there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Don’t belittle the Boogity in this year’s most unique and contending horror movie that casts a “Spell” over the rest of the competition.

Pre-order “Spell” on Prime Video

 

The Dead Don’t Stay Dead in EVIL Burial Grounds! “Pet Sematary Two” reviewed! (Scream Factory / Blu-ray)


After the accidental and traumatizing death of his beautiful actress mother, happening right before his eyes, Jeff Matthews and his veterinarian father move from Los Angeles to his mother’s quaint hometown of Ludlow, Maine to start over. The father and son are met with small town hostility from an arrogant, abusive Sheriff and the high school bully, but the ease of settling into their new surroundings with a new veterinarian business going well and Jeff gaining friendship with the Sheriff’s stepson, Drew, provides some inkling of comfort after their loss. When the Sheriff’s hot-headed temper murders Drew’s dog, the disconsolate Drew, along with Jeff, buries his beloved best friend in a sacred Indian burial ground with a smidgen of hope of the dog’s return, as the town’s urban legends suggest, but the dog becomes the first to return in a series of deaths and catastrophic returns that stagger to a family reuniting climax Jeff and his father won’t ever forget.

With Stephen King removing his name and separating himself from the overall project, the sequel to the 1989 “Pet Sematary” raised a few eye brows from the general public, and I’m sure some anxious investors, of how just would a non-adapted sequel to one of Stephen King popular novels would pan out come release. “Pet Sematary Two,” released three years after first film, would follow the predeceasing story a few years later with an entirely new cast of characters while still evoking the presence of the first film to linger about with director Mary Lambert to return to the director’s chair and helm a script by a relatively unknown writer, Richard Outten. Yet, Lambert’s return didn’t necessary equate to the reimplementing a broody, ominous, darkness facade as the well versed music video and television director flipped the script on a film she might not have any control over albeit financial backers did. Instead, “Pet Sematary Two” garnishes a scoffing rock’n’roll polarity that’s a raiper-like obverse approach of merriment morbidity doused with flammable fun and demented delight.

Hot off the presses of his first major role as a young John Connor fighting man-killing machines from the future in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day,” Edward Furlong stars as the scathingly broody Jeff Matthews. While Jeff Matthews isn’t as punk, off the street, as the delinquent turned hero John Connor, Furlong is about to turn Jeff back into being a kid with real life problems such as bullying, father-son quarrels, and dealing with the death of a parent. That screeching cry, those sunken eyes, and that bad boy attitude from “T2: Judgement Day” convinced thousands of young teenage girls that Edward Furlong was a desired heartthrob and “Pet Sematary Two” continued to showcase those attributes even further. However, in my humble opinion, Clancy Brown is the real heartthrob of the sequel with his over-the-top performance in the abrasive Sheriff Gus. The New England twang instantly sells Gus’s malignancy and crimson temper without even lifting one ill-fitting moral finger. From another King adaptation in “Shawshank Redemption” to being a bug hunter Commander Zim in “Starship Troopers,” Brown’s distinguishable deep and resonating voice, square jaw, and tall with broad shoulders has made the veteran actor the picture of law enforcement and military type and while “Pet Sematary Two” played into that typecast, Brown, who didn’t want to venture into horror, saw the laughter in the darkness and came out on top with a stellar exaggerated and unforgettable Sheriff Gus as a full blown undead maniac. Furlong and Brown stands out immensely over the rest but the remainder of the roles are just a grand with performances from “Revenge of the Nerds'” Anthony Edwards, Jared Rushton, Darlene Fluegel (“Freeway”), Jason McGuire, and Sarah Trigger.

“Pet Sematary Two” might have been profane against all that is (un)holy from the Stephen King’s novel and Lambert’s first film, but truth be told, the sequel is a whole lot of fun, a shell of the name worth watching, and provides substantial brutality with gory leftovers including skinning stark white rabbits, shredding the face off a young punk with the back wheel of a motocross bike, and an electrocution that ends with a head eruption. The Steven Johnson effects had range and bite, but unfortunately, the full brunt of the “Videodrome” and “Night of the Demons” effects artist’s work was perhaps not entirely showcased with some hard cuts to obtain a R rating, even unfortunately keeping the age-old rating with the new collector’s edition from Scream Factory that’s also the feature’s Blu-ray debut. Lambert certainly wanted the sequel to bask in a different kind of darkness that’s more comedic than gloomy and the schism between the two gulfs compares like a night and day, but the core principles of what makes “Pet Sematary” “Pet Sematary” remains faithfully intact. In hindsight, the sequel should have been labeled something else other than “Pet Sematary.”

Back from the physical media graveyard comes Paramount Pictures’ “Pet Sematary Two” onto a full 1080p, High Definition, collector’s edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory, hitting retailers February 25th. The release sports a new 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative and presented in the original aspect ratio, 1.85:1 widescreen. The fact the source material remains unblemished becomes a plus that renders the newly scanned transfer with complementary darker shades of Autumn foliage and outerwear, delineating the burial ground and town nicely, and offering a range over hues that amplifying the perilous circumstances ahead. Still leaving some natural grain, the scan chisels through the softer portions and really does offer some nice details toward facial finishes, even in the dog’s mangy and matted blood stained fur. A few select poor edit choices, such as slow motion techniques, counteract against the detail naturally by disrupting the frames per second and causing a bit of a smoother finish than desired. If the English language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio could be described as one thing, that would be a menagerie of ambient gratification. The crinkling of leaves and the subtle cries of wildlife really set the primal and augury atmosphere. Dialogue clearly comes through and Mark Governor’s score shutters as a gothic western, an oddity for sure, mixed with wolf howls and Native American percussions, that fits the in the film’s black argyle pattern. All new special features accompany the single disc release, sheathed in an Laz Marquez illustrated cardboard cover, including a new audio commentary by director Mary Lambert, new interviews with Edward Furlong, Clancy Brown, Jason McGuire, special effectors advisor Steven Johnson, and composer Mark Governor, and a standard edition theatrical trailer. While not a fully uncut, “Pet Sematary Two” for the first time on Blu-ray is paramount to the genre the feature serves, swerving far from the antecedent, and evolving into a promising guilty pleasure.

Zowie Wowie! Check Out Pet Sematary Two on Blu-ray come Feb. 25th!