THE BABYSITTER (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Directed by: McG

Written by: Brian Duffield

Starring: Samara Weaving, Judah Lewis, Hana Mae Lee, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Andrew Bachelor & Emily Alyn Lind

McG (real name: Joseph McGinty Nichol) isn’t exactly known for making great movies. Though I thought 3 DAYS TO KILL was a decent actioner, this man also gave us a subpar TERMINATOR movie, directed the lame action-rom-com THIS MEANS WAR, and helmed the “masterpieces” known as WE ARE MARSHALL and both CHARLIE’S ANGELS films. Like I said, McG isn’t known for making quality cinema. If THE BABYSITTER is any indication though, McG seems to have a solid knack for crafting fun horror comedy. Working from a stylish script and featuring a charismatic cast of characters, THE BABYSITTER is a bloody blast from beginning to end.

Innocent 12-year-old Cole Johnson (Judah Lewis) is constantly picked on by bullies and has a fear for seemingly everything around him. One thing that Cole has going for him is his friendship with hot babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving). Despite their obvious age difference, the babysitter-babysat pair get along fabulously and Cole is head-over-heels for Bee. One night, Cole decides to stay up past his bedtime to see what his babysitter and her friends do while he’s usually fast asleep. It turns out that Bee and her group of high school pals are actually Satanists who enjoy human sacrifice. Now that Cole has glimpsed their bloody hobby, he’s next on the chopping block. A life-or-death battle between a wimpy 12-year-old and a group of violent teens ensues…and it’s fun as hell!

THE BABYSITTER kicks itself off in the right fashion, beginning as a possible coming-of-age tale crossed with a teenage sex comedy. Judah Lewis and Samara Weaving sell their characters’ friendship as authentic, which makes the progressively crazy events a bit more affecting than I initially expected. THE BABYSITTER has a John Hughes vibe to its writing and characters. This Hughes-esque feeling isn’t simply reserved for the main relationship between the protagonist and antagonist. The rest of the teenage Satan-worshipping psychos (a cheerleader, a goth, a jock, and the token black guy) are more believable than you’d expect from a goofy, gory horror-comedy.

Speaking of which, THE BABYSITTER has a lot of wild kills and a fairly high body count. Many of these demises feel like ultra-violent versions of HOME ALONE scenes. No two kills are alike as each of the various victims receives a noteworthy death. You know that a slasher flick is doing something right when you are actually upset to see a few characters bite it early on because their on-screen presence will be missed. The blood flows freely and outright gushes in over-the-top fashion, though pretty much every death receives a punchline that ranges from chuckle-worthy to hysterically funny. A two-part explosion had me cracking up and sticks out as one of the major highlights in this film.

The only complaints that I have about THE BABYSITTER come from the film’s style occasionally trying too hard to sell its humor. During a few scenes, on-screen text outright interrupts the action. We see that a character has a pocket knife, but McG feels the need to add large text that reads something along the lines of “A pocket knife…bitches!” There’s an entire scene with the pocket knife that’s funny on its own merits, but this text doesn’t add anything to the proceedings and instead comes off as annoying. It’s like a discounted attempt at a SCOTT PILGRIM joke, but this film doesn’t maintain that style the whole way through. Also, the on-screen text straight up disappears after the halfway point, so it makes the viewer wonder why it was even included for the first half.

Aside from that damn on-screen text and a few punchlines that fall flat, THE BABYSITTER is frequently hilarious, ridiculously gory, always entertaining, and (at points) oddly heartfelt. If you want a great horror-comedy or a gory slasher in the vein of John Hughes’ coming-of-age comedies (a mixture that hasn’t really been executed in this way before), THE BABYSITTER is a safe bet for this Halloween season or any time of the year that you feel like indulging in a really cool (if slightly flawed) slasher comedy.

Grade: B+

THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN (2008)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sequences of Strong Bloody Gruesome Violence, Grisly Images involving Nudity, Sexual Content and Language

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Directed by: Ryuhei Kitamura

Written by: Jeff Buhler

(based on the short story THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN by Clive Barker)

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, Roger Bart, Ted Raimi, Vinnie Jones & Tony Curran

THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN has a special place in my movie watching past. I was in my sophomore year of high school and an avid horror fan who would read/watch anything that sounded remotely scary. I frequently visited a certain website that gave me insight into the world of horror filmmaking from the studio perspective and press announcements. In November 2006, it was announced that a film adaptation of Clive Barker’s MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN was officially underway. Months later, official casting information surfaced as well as a teaser poster. Over a year later, we had a trailer and this looked like an awesome masterpiece of terror. It was also touted as the first in a long line of BOOK OF BLOOD stories to be adapted onto film. As it turns out, only two followed (2009’s BOOK OF BLOOD and 2010’s DREAD). Most of this could be attributed to Lionsgate’s and Joe Drake’s piss-poor treatment of MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN upon release. Despite mountains of hype in the horror community and strong word-of-mouth coming out of festival screenings, the film was shuffled around through numerous release dates before ultimately winding up in 100 discount theaters. This is truly a shame, because MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN is a stellar nightmare of a horror film and stands out as the best Clive Barker movie to date.

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Leon is a photographer who has grown sick of taking grisly accident photos to sell to local newspapers. In an effort to expand his career, he meets with a reputable art contractor who advises him to capture the darker side of the city. So on that advice, Leon ventures into the subway where he captures a couple of great/dangerous photos. However, it turns out that one of these photos might be a clue to a possible murder. Leon soon finds himself on the trail of a mysterious butcher, Mahogany, who doubles as a serial killer on the late-night subway train. From thereon out, a deadly cat-and-mouse game erupts between Leon and Mahogany as blood is shed, bodies pile up and a mystery reveals horrifying secrets that lie under the city streets.

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I’m hesitant to say too much about MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, because part of the enjoyment directly comes from the unexpected twists that this story takes along the way. Rest assured, the plot is dark and disturbing. This is a grim friggin’ ride that doesn’t let up on the tension or brooding atmosphere the whole way through. Those looking for fun slasher fare had better look elsewhere, because MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN isn’t your typical gorefest. It’s also not a predictable serial killer thriller as well. The final third takes some really insane turns that might throw the viewer for the loop (in a good way). It simply isn’t anything that you expect. Though the conclusion is explained a bit better in the source material, I really love this adaptation of Barker’s work. It’s faithful to the short story while also offering enough original material to fill a feature-length run time.

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Before he starred in drunken comedies, voiced a space raccoon, and was nominated for Best Actor, Bradley Cooper played the lead in this grisly horror film. As Leon, Cooper is a compelling protagonist who slowly changes due to the trauma being seen in various horrifying scenarios. Even when he makes questionable choices, there’s always a concrete motivation behind Leon’s actions, making him an unusually well-developed horror character. Leslie Bibb makes a strong impression as Leon’s girlfriend and plays a bigger role in the second half of the film. Brooke Shields shows up for three scenes as an art critic and it’s up in the air as to why she’s even in this film, though she does steal her scenes. Roger Bart is enjoyable as Leon’s best friend and also has a bigger part in the second half. Without a doubt, the best character of the film is Mahogany. Played by Vinnie Jones, this mute (he only has one word of dialogue in the entire screenplay), intimidating killer is a fierce force to be reckoned with. Jones expresses so much through body language and facial expressions, far more than most dialogue-heavy cinematic killers. The scenes between him and Bradley Cooper are something to behold.

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MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN is a beautifully shot film. The visuals capture a grimy atmosphere with a polished look. The entire film reeks of dread and impending doom. The title itself suggests that this movie will get messy and oh boy, it does! Lionsgate actually submitted this film to the MPAA numerous times before it walked away with an R rating. Even still, only two minutes of gore were removed from the every-bit-as-brutal theatrical cut. Rest assured, MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN has some of the most insane kill scenes in horror movie history and I don’t say that lightly. Each death is stylized in a way that makes the scene as beautifully and carefully constructed as it is gruesome and gory. If there are any flaws to be found in this film (aside from an ending that was pulled off marginally better on the page), they come in a few seconds of spotty CGI. Even still, the creative use of this CGI is still bound to satisfy gore hounds. We get severed limbs, body parts, a couple of crazy fight scenes, and gallons upon gallons of blood.

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In my opinion, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN is one of Clive Barker’s best short stories and translates into near-perfection on the screen. Usually, short stories being turned into feature-length films tend to drag or stretch out unneeded details, but TRAIN has an unusually clever script. I loved MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN when it first came out and still love it to this day. I saw it three times at my local theater, caught it a few times on FearNet, all before buying the DVD on its release day. Without a doubt in my mind, I am calling MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN the best Clive Barker adaptation in existence!

Grade: A+

FLIGHT 7500 (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Thematic Material, some Scary Images and brief Language

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Directed by: Takashi Shimizu

Written by: Craig Rosenberg

Starring: Leslie Bibb, Jamie Chung, Jerry Ferrara, Ryan Kwanten, Amy Smart, Scout Taylor-Compton, Christian Serratos, Nicky Whelan & Johnathon Schaech

Airplanes seem like an unconventional and genius setting for a horror film. It’s too bad that the recent few attempts of would-be scary movies placed within the confines of flying transportation (AIRBORNE, ALTITUDE) have been mighty lame. The same goes for most action-thrillers set inside a plane (NON-STOP, FLIGHTPLAN, TURBULENCE). The oft-postponed 7500 doesn’t do anything to buck this cinematic trend. I remember seeing a trailer for this film on the big screen in front of WOMAN IN BLACK and it has since been shelved for two full years (supposedly making its way into select theaters on October 3 and available on DVD from Thailand). There’s a reason for these release date squabbles. Putting it lightly, 7500 is a sorry excuse for a horror film that wouldn’t have made any waves in theaters and garnered quite a lot of well-deserved hatred from the general public. Also Leslie Bibb seems to have bad luck picking horror films that wind up being shelved (e.g. the masterful TRICK ‘R TREAT, the solid MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, and this mess). I’m just saying what I’m seeing.

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Flight 7500 is traveling from Los Angeles to Tokyo. The passengers on the plane come in many shapes, sizes, and walks of life. This is going to be a bumpy ride as strange happenings are occurring high in the air. Turbulence is hit, something creepy is causing trouble and not everybody will be getting off this plane alive. The best way to really sum up what little plot there is for 7500 is to say its a made of three solid TWILIGHT ZONE episodes blended into a concoction that’s not original, entertaining, or even remotely creepy.

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7500’s production values are solid enough inside of the plane setting. The first shot outside showcases that not much of a budget was invested towards basic special effects though. The exterior CGI aircraft is worthy of a Syfy Channel film or direct-to-video cheapie to say the least. This is not acceptable for a big budget horror film that was originally granted a nationwide release (supposed to compete with the likes of THE already subpar POSSESSION and THE godawful APPARITION). Also the shoddy effects aren’t just limited to shots of the outside world, because the supernatural threat on board is never fully glimpsed. Takashi Shimizu was more than happy to lay a barrage of pale-faced spirits in his GRUDGE movies (some moments silly and others quite effective), but he keeps things off-screen for every supposedly spooky scene. These cut-away moments include but are not limited to: a character’s frightened reaction as something groans in front of them, white hands poking out of different places, lights shutting off, and the screen just awkwardly transitioning to the next moment with little rhyme or reason.

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Making things even worse is that the plot moves at a glacial pace and never fully gets moving. A handful of lame attempts at jump scares are given (most of which involve a character suddenly putting their hand on another character’s shoulder). The horrible writing really sinks this entire film. Not to mention that the big(ish) name cast members are wasted on laughably terrible characters who aren’t worth caring about in the slightest. In true TWILIGHT ZONE fashion (the movie even has the nerve to show a clip or two from a certain notable episode starring William Shatner and a man on the wing of the plane), the film ends with a twist. However, it’s an unbelievably convoluted and predictable climax. Honestly, your first guess is probably right as to how this film ends and don’t put any imagination or effort into your predictions. In recent years, this kind of ending has become almost as bad as the “it was all a dream” cop-out.

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Watching 7500, it became startlingly apparent as to why this film didn’t arrive on its intended destination of August 12, 2012. It didn’t even arrive in October 2013 and probably won’t see the light of day for a while longer (despite what IMDB states). Sometimes fantastic and original horror movies get crapped on (THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, TRICK ‘R TREAT, and I’m stoked to see Eli Roth’s THE GREEN INFERNO), but cases where the film being delayed outright sucking are also common. 7500 is one of the latter instances. It’s not a total failure as I found some scenes to be entertaining for the wrong reasons (bad acting or forced jump scares that might terrify an eight-year-old girl). If you want to see a solid horror story set in an airplane, watch the NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET segment from 1983’s TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. It’s shorter, scarier, and far more well written than 7500 could ever hope to be.

Grade: D

IRON MAN 2 (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Sci-Fi Action and Violence, and Some Language

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Directed by: John Favreau

Written by: Justin Theroux

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke & Samuel L. Jackson

The first IRON MAN was a competent and enjoyable superhero origin story, even though it fell into some pitfalls of the superhero film. It set up the characters well and got a ton of development out of the way. Of course, since it banked and it was the first in a series of films that set up THE AVENGERS, it was certain that we had not seen the last of Tony Stark or his special suit. Of course, a sequel was in production to further along the blueprint for The Avengers Initiative and this one would be more packed to the gills with action, right? You’d actually be wrong on that second guess. IRON MAN 2, though far from terrible, is just an okay sequel to a good predecessor.

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Since Tony Stark announced that he was Iron Man to the world, he’s become even more of a celebrity figure. The US military wants him to turn over the Iron Man suit to the government because they see it as a possible weapon (both against them and one they could utilize against others). Tony Stark flat-out refuses and incurs the anger of a fellow weapons designer, Justin Hammer. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to everyone, the dangerous Ivan Vanko is plotting a calculated revenge against Stark. Tony Stark’s problems don’t end there though, because the very device that is keeping him alive is also killing him with a toxic presence in his body. Can Tony Stark save himself and the day? Will Justin Hammer and Ivan Vanko succeed in their separate plots to humiliate/kill Iron Man? Will plenty of set up be thrown in for THE AVENGERS? Seeing as this is a superhero movie, you should know the answers to all of the above.

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Robert Downey Jr. hops back into the role of Tony Stark, which fits him like a glove. Gwyneth Paltrow is likable enough, reprising her role as Stark’s significant other. Don Cheadle has come in to play James Rhodes, a role that belonged to Terrence Howard in the previous film, and is fantastic as somewhat of a sidekick to Stark’s superego. Mickey Rourke is great as the insane creepy Russian Ivan Vanko. Sam Rockwell, as good an actor as he is, doesn’t really come off as the intimidating type and I never really saw him as anything other than a whiny loser. This may have been exactly what they were aiming for in his character, but there was potential in this role that never seemed to be fully realized.

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The production values are spectacular, as they should be when one considers the massive budget this film had. I personally enjoyed many of the little nods thrown in that reference THE AVENGERS film and there are winks for fans of the Marvel universe (a Captain America shield here and a Thor hammer there). Samuel L. Jackson goes from brief cameo to full-on supporting character as Nick Fury. These nudges and winks for the fans are fun enough. However, it seems like there’s far too much exposition here and not enough action.

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The story begins with promise and a showdown between Stark and Ivan at a Grand Prix is appropriately exciting. The final 40 minutes are also a rollicking good time. However, it’s the middle section that drags. The final showdown between Tony and Ivan also feels a bit like a boss fight in a video game and ends far too quickly. This should have been the most intense and riveting sequence in the entire film, but it resolves itself in a bit of an anti-climactic way.

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IRON MAN 2 is a fun time. It winds up being on the lower end of the Marvel cinematic universe so far. The predecessor is far better and so is the crossover film between all of the heroes, but this winds up being just an okay sequel to a superior origin story.

Grade: B-

TRICK ‘R TREAT (2009)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 22 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Horror Violence, Some Sexuality/Nudity and Language

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Directed by: Michael Dougherty

Written by: Michael Dougherty

Starring: Dylan Baker, Rochelle Aytes, Leslie Bibb, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox

It is odd that so few horror movies really capture the essence of Halloween. Even the ones set around the perennial holiday fail to show the spirit of All Hallows Eve. Arguably there are two film that have become essential viewing for every October. One of those is John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, which caught the atmosphere of the holiday, even if it was just a slasher set on the night. TRICK ‘R TREAT does justice to October 31 though. Weaving four (five, if you count the prologue) stories together on a single Halloween night, this is like CREEPSHOW by way of PULP FICTION. It also is one of the very few modern horror movies that I would call an instant classic.

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To reveal too many details about any of the stories would take away some of the fun to be had, so I will be vague. A school principal lives a night life as a serial killer. A group of kids try to pull a prank on a fellow peer, not knowing that there may be some truth to a local urban legend. A young woman’s quest to lose her virginity takes a bloody turn. Finally, a grumpy old man is terrorized by a mysterious trick-or-treater. The stories are all connected by intertwining events, such as the local Halloween parade that ties two of them together or a couple of stories that begin on the same street. The clever ties that bind these tales of horror together make for a lot of enjoyment. This is one of those movies where you notice something new every single time you watch it (which should be every October).

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While some may expect TRICK ‘R TREAT to be frightening, they will actually discover that the movie is a perfect horror-comedy. It mixes the scares and humor in a way that doesn’t feel too overly scary or too campy. It’s a FUN movie that is the very definition of the word. The production values here are stunning. I didn’t spot a single mistake or misstep in either the plot or filming. This is a love letter to the horror genre and Halloween, one that gives piles everything a horror fan could want into 82 minutes of flawless entertainment.

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The casting is also phenomenal across the board as well. There are young talents on display, along with well-known faces. Dylan Baker is hilarious as the principal who takes great care in the poisoning and tainting of his Halloween candy. Anna Paquin plays Laurie, the 22-year-old virgin on the hunt for her first. Brian Cox (from RED and X-MEN 2) plays the equivalent of the Mr. Scrooge of Halloween finding his reckoning in the form of the odd-looking Sam, a trick-or-treater with a sharpened lollipop and a candy bar with a razor inside.

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Though all the stories are stellar, if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the final one involving Mr. Kreeg and Sam. The tension is intense and the character of Sam himself has become a common costume to see at horror conventions (for good reason). The concluding minutes of TRICK ‘R TREAT wrap up every plotline perfectly and the final shot is one hell of a way to end the film. Honestly, I get chills just thinking about it.

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The acclaim that TRICK ‘R TREAT has received is deserved. It truly is a shame that Warner Bros. mistreated the movie. Many should consider it to be an act of cinematic criminal behavior. This didn’t deserve to sit on a shelf for two years and then be carelessly thrown onto the direct-to-video market. This is a modern classic of the horror genre and hands down, the best horror anthology ever created! A seasonal masterpiece!

Grade: A+

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