Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Fantasy Violence and Frightening Images

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Directed by: Mike Newell

Written by: Steve Kloves

(based on the novel HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE by J.K. Rowling)

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Miranda Richardson, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, Stanislav Ianevski, Robert Pattinson, Clemence Poesy & David Tennant

After directing the best HARRY POTTER film, Alfonso Cuaron decided to step down and let someone else take the reins for GOBLET OF FIRE. The fourth HARRY POTTER novel easily stands out as my favorite book in the series and promised to be a spectacular film to the point where pages seem like they were written with a big-screen adaptation in mind. The plot is also just as exciting as PRISONER OF AZKABAN, while offering its own nifty plot twists as well. However, this fourth film is a bit of a mess. GOBLET OF FIRE was directed by Mike Newell (who also brought us PRINCE OF PERSIA and MONA LISA SMILE, which aren’t exactly credits that scream for a high-profile fantasy-adventure). GOBLET OF FIRE is entertaining enough to be a decent watch, but the smell of a missed opportunity remains.

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After a trip to the Quidditch World Cup ends in magical terrorism, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) finds that his fourth year at Hogwarts provides excitement in the form of the famous Triwizard Tournament. This deadly competition will pit three different champions from three different schools against each other for the Triwizard Cup…but this year there are four champions. Powerful magic has been performed and Harry has somehow wound up in the Triwizard Tournament. Facing three dangerous challenges, Harry will find himself tested in ways he never imagined. All the while, dark forces are at work.

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Let me get the main positive quality out of the way. GOBLET OF FIRE is entertaining in a spectacle-driven way. It’s hard to make dragons and deadly challenges into a boring watch. The challenge sequences are well-executed with lots of grand special effects, excitement, and high stakes. Lives are literally on the line, so Harry and the other champions are forced to muster incredible courage…in the face of a huge audience and media coverage. Scenes outside of the challenges range from watchable to great. However, uneven pacing, annoying jokes, and unnecessary plot details frequently stall GOBLET’s momentum.

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GOBLET’s pacing has two speeds: too fast and too slow. Within the first 15 minutes, it seems like we’ve been given the Quidditch World Cup (which is more of a fun prologue) and three different introductions for the Triwizard Tournament. The film shows us the two other schools arriving through magical means, then has the two other schools walk into the grand hall with style, and then has Dumbledore explain details about the tournament. It makes you wonder if these three introductions could have been combined and allowed for more natural interactions between Harry, Ron and Hermione in the beginning.

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Besides rushing through plot details without giving the viewer enough time to care, GOBLET constantly gets bogged down in unnecessary details. Did we really need to see Moaning Myrtle in a scene that borders on becoming a PG-13 sex comedy? What about the long section dedicated to a drawn-out dance that provides a whole lot of teenage angst? It’s true that both of these things were in the source material, but the script should have found a way to make them interesting as opposed to sucking the excitement out of the proceedings. Groundskeeper Filch also strangely becomes an often-seen source of silly comic relief, which is downright awkward in this installment…and much better utilized in ORDER OF THE PHOENIX.

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Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson all put in quality performances, though they don’t come off nearly as strong as they were in PRISONER OF AZKABAN. Alan Rickman’s Snape gets numerous highlights as he reveals a few clues about dark dealings and delivers great humor. Gary Oldman gets a quick blink-and-you-missed-it scene, while Maggie Smith steals a couple of moments during the film’s otherwise annoying dance section. Michael Gambon remains a strong Dumbledore and Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid only receives a couple of memorable scenes.

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GOBLET delivers more characters into the wide world of HARRY POTTER. These include: three Triwizard champions, a cartoony Death Eater (follower of Voldemort), an eccentric new professor, and the long-awaited dark lord. As Harry’s competitors, Clemence Poesy, Stanislav Ianevski, and Robert Pattinson (three years before he became sparkly vampire Edward Cullen) all have distinct screen presences in their own ways. Brendan Gleeson is the best part of the entire film as crazy new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor Mad-Eye Moody and receives huge laughs. Though he’s regulated to one sequence, Ralph Fiennes more than delivers as Voldemort. Fiennes has played memorable bad guys before, but Voldemort is one of those special villains for the ages. Meanwhile, David Tennant is embarrassingly over-the-top as a briefly glimpsed Death Eater.

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HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE is a mixed bag. On one hand, it has solid spectacle, a handful of great scenes and two fantastic performances. On the other hand, the film frequently falls victim to uneven pacing, unnecessary extra details, forced teenage angst and one downright terrible performance. What’s even more disappointing is that GOBLET OF FIRE is one of the best books in the series and was perfect for a big-screen adaptation loaded with special effects. The pros keep the film from becoming all-out mediocre or bad, while the cons keep it from being great. When held up to the other seven HARRY POTTER films, GOBLET OF FIRE sticks out as the weakest in the series.

Grade: B-


Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 57 minutes

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Starring: Douglas Booth, Charles Dance, Maeve Dermody, Burn Gorman, Anna Maxwell Martin, Sam Neill, Miranda Richardson, Toby Stephens, Noah Taylor & Aidan Turner

Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE might sound familiar because: (a.) it’s required reading in some schools and (b.) it’s commonly cited as one of the greatest mysteries of all-time. With a fantastic reputation and worldwide acclaim, one would think that Christie’s novel would have been properly adapted to the screen already. You’d be sadly mistaken though, because most screen adaptations of the text rely on a silly clichéd ending (used in the stage play) and go for light-hearted chills instead of a dread-soaked atmosphere. BBC’s miniseries of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE may have added changes to the source material (after all, it needed to fill three hours), but remains a highly suspenseful, dark, and faithful execution (pardon the pun) of Christie’s most famous work.

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Ten strangers have been invited to Soldier Island, off the coast of England, by an unseen host. It appears that each guest was summoned under different pretenses, but they all share one thing in common. They are all, in some way, connected to the death of an innocent person. After eating a delicious dinner and still not having met their host, a strange record plays and reveals that all ten guests stand accused of murder. Nine of them shrug it off, while one fully admits to it. Soon, a death results from a glass of poisoned wine. It appears that someone on the island has the intention of murdering all ten guests (in ways related to a grim children’s rhyme) and bodies begin to pile up…

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I’ve purposely kept the plot synopsis vague, in case you’re not familiar with Agatha Christie’s novel. There are many twists and turns strewn throughout this complex mystery and I wouldn’t dare spoil any of them. Seeing that a few of these characters are killed throughout the three-hour running time, I will not single out a specific performance that might potentially reveal key details. Instead, I’ll briefly run through these performances one-by-one. Douglas Booth is perfectly smarmy as a reckless rich kid/motorist. Charles Dance brings his usual sophisticated manner to the table as a government official. Maeve Dermody is sympathetic as a teacher with some serious baggage.

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Burn Gorman is delightfully scummy as a questionable police officer. Anna Maxwell Martin and Noah Taylor play a foreboding servant couple. Sam Neill is tragic as the PTSD-suffering general, while Toby Stephens is equally distraught as a doctor with a drinking problem. Miranda Richardson is perfectly despicable as a holier-than-though upper-class zealot. Finally, Aidan Turner is great as a man who says what’s on his mind. All of these characters are potential suspects and each has a part to play in the proceedings, even if that just means being gruesomely murdered.

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A deliberate change that was not in Christie’s original novel are added flashbacks that flesh out these characters/suspects. Besides including some fantastically disturbing imagery in these moments, the miniseries masterfully dishes out nuggets of background information that grow as the number of living guests steadily decreases. I thought I had one character completely figured out (I’ve read the book) and flashbacks revealed something I didn’t see coming. These flashbacks are creative deviations from the original text, but actually feed off of the source material to make the already suspenseful story even more compelling.

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I appreciated that AND THEN THERE WERE NONE had a thick, gloomy atmosphere that rang absolutely true to Christie’s darker than dark mystery. There’s a sense of hopelessness and impending dread that’s aided by the stormy isolated setting. Slight tweaks are made to the book’s original conclusion that help it play out cinematically (and arguably in a far more brutal manner), but this is the most faithful on-screen conclusion to Christie’s twisted book. When I originally read the novel, my jaw was on the floor during the final chapter. The same thing happened here during the final ten minutes. I absolutely adore this miniseries’ final scenes and its unflinching eye for a chilling note to the send the viewer out on.

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The only subplot that I didn’t care for was a love-interest angle between two of the characters. This forced romance seems to come out of nowhere, with little rhyme or reason. People are dying, only a handful of survivors are left, there’s a killer in your midst, and you think it’s a good idea to start flirting with a stranger? It was too far-fetched for me to buy, though it does benefit a later scene. The deaths themselves are kept mostly off-screen, but we do see the graphic aftermath of each kill (packing graphic gore into a couple of moments).

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AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is easily the best adaptation I’ve seen of Agatha Christie’s novel. It captures the sense of impending dread and gut-punches the viewer multiple times with clever twists, turns, and guilty revelations. Though it tweaks a few of the book’s details along the way, only one of these changes was to the miniseries’ detriment. The rest adds to the already stellar and suspenseful viewing experience. AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is a must-see for fans of dark mysteries, intense thrillers, and (yes, I’m saying this) slasher flicks!

Grade: A


Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 25 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language, Violence, Sexual Material and some Drug Content

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Directed by: Richard Kelly

Written by: Richard Kelly

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Justin Timberlake, Miranda Richardson, Wallace Shawn, Bai Ling, Nora Dunn, Kevin Smith, Jon Lovitz & Amy Poehler

Richard Kelly has become a low-rent M. Night Shyamalan. He blew a lot of people away with DONNIE DARKO (similar to how Shyamalan blew everyone away with SIXTH SENSE) and was hailed as an interesting new filmmaker. However, he quickly squandered this reputation away by making crappy overblown movies (that looked good) and not realizing when his stories were in drastic need of a rewrite. The difference between Kelly and Shyamalan is that Shayamalan made three good films before disappointing audiences and Kelly let them down with his second feature. SOUTHLAND TALES premiered at Cannes 2006 to horrible reviews and booing (which isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary as even Quentin Tarantino’s PULP FICTION was heckled at the festival). It took a year for the studio to release this film afterwards to which I can only imagine their discussions were something along the line of “Just do it quickly…like a Band-Aid and then this pain will be over.” SOUTHLAND TALES is a colossal, mind-boggling failure of a film on every conceivable level. This isn’t so bad it’s good, this is so bad it will make you question what anybody on the set was thinking.


Set in an alternative history, the United States has been forever changed since 2005 nuclear attacks on Texas. This led to a military regime taking over America, states being treated like individual countries, and harmful alternative fuels being created. It is now 2008 and the USA is on the brink of chaos. Boxer Santaros is an actor, suffering from memory loss, who has been sucked into a group of neo-Marxist extremists. Alongside another neo-Marxist (impersonating a police officer), Boxer finds himself in a confusing tangled web of conspiracy, power struggles, and all sorts of craziness. Oh, he’s also aided by a psychic ex-porn star and there are other sub-plots weaving in and out of Boxer’s journey. That’s the condensed version of this plot, because I really think Richard Kelly didn’t know what the hell he was doing while writing/filming this epic-length mess of a movie.


I should have known that I was in trouble from the get-go as the story begins with a 10-minute-long prologue that spews exposition like it’s going out of style. Usually science-fiction films will introduce the world in a few short minutes and then incorporate the crazy technology and profound concepts into the story in an effective (sometimes, subtle) manner. That’s not the case in SOUTHLAND TALES as the lengthy prologue is just the tip of the iceberg. Justin Timberlake (who was fairly new to the acting scene at the time of this film) pops in and out to guide us through the story as best he can. His efforts are all in vain as this is entirely nonsensical and confusing. Some may argue that there’s a deeper meaning to everything in the film (right down the repeated phrase of “pimps don’t commit suicide”), but I’d argue that Richard Kelly didn’t have anyone to reign in his ambition on this project. He tried to cram way too many concepts, ideas, and plots into the space of one film. It backfired and the result is somehow simultaneously chaotic, stupid, and boring.


Arguably, the plot isn’t even the strangest thing about SOUTHLAND TALES. That would come in one of the weirdest mismatched ensemble casts to ever hit the screen. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tries to deliver his lines in a semi-convincing manner, but he doesn’t really seem to understand who his character is (I can’t blame him either). Seann William Scott attempts to take a semi-dramatic role as twin brothers (one’s an undercover neo-Marxist and the other is a racist cop) and seems confused (again, I’m not blaming him for the faulty characters). Sarah Michelle Gellar is playing a typical ditz as the psychic porn star. Meanwhile, lots of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE alumni show up for no discernible reason (including Jon Lovitz, Amy Poehler, etc.). Shawn Wallace is hamming it up as an oddball villain. Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake serves as a narrator who occasionally pops in for a pointless scene (including one baffling drug-addled musical number).


SOUTHLAND TALES is also supposed to be a satire. Though I can see it trying to make political points and mock the state of our country, it doesn’t do either of these things well. In fact, every ounce of humor (including one brief joke from Timberlake about a Proposition 69) feels forced or just confused. The futuristic setting could have made for a neat world being brought to life, but it’s not fully explored as Kelly seems to focused on linking together bland characters and uninteresting plot threads. I can’t even call SOUTHLAND TALES an interesting failure, because it’s far too long for its own good and feels even longer than that. This movie drags to an unbearable degree.


There are strange movies. There are weird failures of a film. There are also “WTF” moments strewn throughout many movies (just look at any David Lynch story). However, I think SOUTHLAND TALES takes the cake in being the ultimate WTF movie…and I don’t mean that in a good way. This movie is godawful and really makes you question how it got past the pre-production with a script this horrible and unfocused. This has made its way in my list of bottom three worst films that I’ve ever suffered through (right next to BRANDED and THE BLACK DAHLIA). The only possible way I could even recommend SOUTHLAND TALES on the tiniest merit is so people who sit through this epic-length failure will appreciate everything else they watch that much more.

Grade: F


Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Language, some Sexuality and Drug Content

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Directed by: Stephen Kay

Written by: David McKenna

(based on the novel JACK’S RETURN HOME by Ted Lewis)

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Miranda Richardson, Rachael Leigh Cook, Alan Cumming, Mickey Rourke, John C. McGinley, Michael Caine & Rhona Mitra

Though it eventually went on to win critical acclaim, 1971’s GET CARTER wasn’t originally well-received upon release. Due to marketing blunders and a studio that seemingly didn’t care, the Michael Caine revenge-thriller wound up sinking into obscurity in the USA. Two decades passed and the film gained a cult following behind it, eventually re-entering the cinematic scene during the 90’s. Where there’s popularity (no matter how niche it is), there will be a studio exec waiting to cash in on that craze. I present to you the 2000 remake of GET CARTER. This was a cooler, more hip and edgier take on the material…at least, that’s what one studio exec would have you believe. Though it’s watchable and does try to tell its story in a slightly different manner, this remake of GET CARTER ultimately feels like a bit of watered-down bore.


Jack Carter is mob enforcer in Las Vegas (as opposed to London). When his brother winds up dead in an apparent drunk driving accident, Jack returns to his home in Seattle (as opposed to Newcastle). Something surrounding his brother’s death doesn’t seem right, so Jack goes sniffing around the darker corners of the city for answers. While on his quest for the truth, Jack bonds with his young niece and discovers a conspiracy involving a porn kingpin and a computer genius…that could be linked to his brother’s suspicious untimely demise.


Credit where credit is due, 2000’s GET CARTER does try to tell its story in a different way. Those new spins on the material don’t quite work out, because the movie still finds itself clinging to the original to move the plot forward. However, this inferior remake is still watchable…even if it’s poorly made. Sylvester Stallone is certainly not the actor that Michael Caine is, so he plays his usual tough guy role here. Stallone aside, every other character has been slightly shaken up. The innkeeper is now Jack’s sister-in-law. Jack’s sister has now become Jack’s niece. The shady businessman has transformed into a computer geek (played in not so intimidating fashion by Alan Cumming). Then there’s Mickey Rourke as the porn kingpin who’s pretty much the same scumbag as the original character, but with a website and CD’s. While the original GET CARTER had bad guys and worse guys, this new version has been painted with a good vs. evil brush. Jack Carter wasn’t someone who you could completely root for in the original, but he’s pretty much a generic action hero in this reboot. As you might imagine, this lessens the moral ambiguity that made the original so haunting and special.


On the technical side of things, GET CARTER feels like it’s trying way too hard to be hip and cool. For crying out loud, this new Jack Carter wears cufflinks with his initials on them. The film is over stylized to the breaking point. There are lots of useless lens flares, fast editing, quick cutting and slow motion. The movie speaks for itself in a scene where Jack makes a horrifying discovery. The original let the scene quietly play out and all the emotions break across Michael Caine’s face. This remake doesn’t give us much a glimpse of Stallone’s face in that moment that isn’t in double vision or with the camera spinning upside down. Those technical touches are supposed to portray the emotion, instead of the actor. If you’re wanted an MTV action-packed thrill-ride the first time around, then this 2000 reboot also tries to throw in lots of pointless action scenes that exist for the sake of having a chase or fight sequence. To top it all off, the stunning, depressing conclusion that so perfectly closed out the original has been replaced with a forced, uplifting Hollywoodized hodge-podge of an ending.


I had kept my hopes at a reasonable level for this remake and was still let down. I should have taken the techno-reboot of the original’s theme as a warning. Though this new version of GET CARTER may have tried to do things differently, but none of it fully works. I did somewhat enjoy one sub-plot, but it’s only purpose was to add in pointless action scenes that never amount to anything by the ending. Michael Caine shows up in a side role as if to give his approval for this remake and that’s sort of neat, but again, it all amounts to nothing. All this dumbed down remake accomplishes is showing how vastly superior the 1971 original really was. I think I’ll let Michael Caine’s final line in this remake sum everything up. He’s walking away from Sylvester Stallone and says “I’m not turning around.” You should take his advice and just walk past this remake of GET CARTER on the DVD shelf at your local store.

Grade: D+


Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Graphic Horror Violence and Gore, and for a scene of Sexuality

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Directed by: Tim Burton

Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker

(based on the short story THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW by Washington Irving)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, Richard Griffiths, Ian McDiarmid, Michael Gough, Christopher Walken, Martin Landau & Christopher Lee

Published at the beginning of the 19th century, Washington Irving’s “Legend Of Sleepy Hollow” has become a staple tale read by many schools and a widely celebrated classic ghost story. Tim Burton’s approach to tackling this material for a feature film would take lots of creative liberties with the story. After all something that works as words on a page might not necessarily translate perfectly to a visual art form. SLEEPY HOLLOW made a huge splash upon its release in 1999 and (even though I was only nine years old) I can still remember seeing the creepy commercials and ads for it. Over a decade later, SLEEPY HOLLOW holds up as a fantastic crowd-pleasing horror flick and one of Tim Burton’s best works.


Near the dawn of the eighteenth century, constable Ichabod Crane is tired of the barbaric practices by law enforcement. Enamored with new-fangled ideas such as autopsies and fingerprints, Crane is sent by his superiors to the small country town of Sleepy Hollow. In a mere two weeks, the community has seen three murders. All victims were beheaded and the heads are still missing. Crane is told by the town elders that the murders were committed by a ghostly figure known as the Headless Horseman. Ichabod is naturally skeptical, but finds out that the horseman is very real and lopping off people’s heads left and right. It’s up to Ichabod with help of an orphaned child Masbath and love-interest Katrina Van Tassel to find out why the horseman is killing as put a stop to his reign of terror.


As with most of Burton’s films, SLEEPY HOLLOW is set in a darkly tinted world where the sun never shines. While this can be a little tedious in some of Burton’s other stories, it suits this tale quite well. The atmosphere captured the classical tone of an old Hammer horror film. It also isn’t necessarily taking itself seriously the whole way through as a silly sense of humor makes itself quite well-known within the first scene that Crane appears. The reworked story is a mix of a mystery and a supernatural slasher. One of the issues found Andrew Kevin Walker’s script is that SLEEPY HOLLOW can sometimes focus too much on the mystery at work, but also follows a traditional slasher formula at other points. It’s creative story, but also a slightly uneven blend of two different types of movies.


Walker’s screenplay works on the general premise of Irving’s short story and taking it in whole new directions, but also pays a nice homage to the original tale during one scene in particular (the character is Brom is also included in the film). The fog-laded setting is brought to life by stellar set design and the film does work at transporting you into another world. This creepy tone is boasted by a phenomenal score from Burton regular Danny Elfman at the top of his game.


As far as the cast is concerned, almost everyone does a damn good job. Johnny Depp has inhabited a vast variety of oddball characters with their own unique quirks. Ichabod Crane is a fine name on that considerable list of performances. He follows the predictable coward turned reluctant hero and gets a lot of solid laughs for it. Christina Ricci is bland as the love interest and the weakest character here. Orphaned Masbath is a close second. Unfortunately, they serve as his sidekicks. Fortunately, they don’t take up a huge amount of screen time. The side characters and other familiar faces (Jeffrey Jones, Michael Gough, Christopher Lee, etc.) all make their performances stick out in various ways. The real scene-stealer is Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman (glimpsed in an elongated flashback sequence).


Besides a couple of iffy characters and a mixed bag of two distinct formulas, the other problem I have with SLEEPY HOLLOW is that Tim Burton doesn’t know where to draw the line at some points. The film gets downright campy in a few areas (with some aged CGI). Back in 1999, I probably would have thought these moments were a little too comically fake as well. The movie does shine in its kills, nearly all of which involve beheading of some kind. You might think decapitation would get old very fast, but each death has its own unique spin on it (in one case, quite literally). The design of the Headless Horseman is great. It’s been said that the more you show the monster in a horror film, the less frightening it becomes. That’s not the case with this flick, because the Horseman looks phenomenal and is always intimidating.


As the poster tagline states, heads do indeed roll. Your eyes might roll too due to some silly moments, two dumb characters, and a somewhat confused screenplay. However, the film works fantastically as a whole. It has held up very well over time and will continue to so as it has a rewatchability that most films of this type lack. It’s a spooky ghost story, intriguing murder mystery and fun slasher. What more could you want in an atmospheric take on an old-school horror tale?

Grade: A-

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