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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Monday, December 24, 2018

Better Watch Out (2016)

The Twelve Days of Christmas horror marathon is winding down and I thought the last couple on the list would be new to me. Better Watch Out was recommended when I started talking about doing this and when I found it on Shudder, I knew it would have to be included.

Christmas is right around the corner and everyone is getting festive, stockings have been hung and decorations setup. We meet Ashley as she is driving and speaking to her Mom on the phone. Her family is moving to Pittsburgh and she should be home packing but is instead going to babysit Luke for the last time. They establish that she has been watching him for years and while he is now almost thirteen, she still sees him as a child. After some hilarious dialogue with the parents, played by Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton, they are left on their own. Things get creepy when Luke tries to “make a move” on Ashley and fails miserably. But that isn’t what the movie is really about.

During the awkward attempts at romance some creepy stuff is happening. Ashley keeps finding the back door open. There are strange noises in the house. A pizza gets delivered when they forgot to order it! Then there are the phone calls where someone is on the other end but refuses to speak. When the pair realize that someone is in the house, they try and call for help, but the phones are dead, and the internet is down! Before you can say Ho Ho Ho there are armed men stalking around the house looking for them. But why? Does it have to do with Ashley’s creepy ex-boyfriend or perhaps her new one that is upset she is moving? Maybe it is Luke’s best friend Garrett who is a bad influence on him and likes to steal medication from Luke’s Mom. Or maybe there is something completely different going on.

Okay it is the last one. Better Watch Out starts off as a home invasion movie and even references Home Alone in a line of dialogue. I was ready for a movie like that and the first third plays out like I expected it too. But then it takes a huge left turn and becomes something completely different. Now I’ve debated whether I should spoil anything here because the absolute best part of Better Watch Out is the WTF moment that happens where everything changes. Normally I’d toss in a spoiler warning and be on my way. That just doesn’t seem adequate here. So I’m going to review the movie without giving anything away. That should be fun…

That duct tape isn't very festive... just sayin'
The acting is solid with our two leads being played by Olivia DeJonge and Levi Miller, Ashley and Luke respectively. They are both young but are very talented. I totally bought the characters and considering how crazy things get that is amazing. While Warburton and Madsen are barely in the movie, they have some killer dialogue and add a lot of humor to the scenes they are in. The story is clever, not only in how it shifts gears and surprises the audience, but also in how well constructed the plot is. Things get crazy, but there is a method to the madness that by the end seems plausible. Speaking of the ending I will say that where I thought it was headed had me a bit pissed off. But then there is one final twist and I was all smiles.

There aren’t many kills in Better Watch Out and what we do get happens off-screen. If you are looking for a body count and lots of gore this isn’t the one for you. I will say that each kill initially seems sort of random, but again there is a plan that makes sense by the time the credits roll. While we only get four kills they are all important to the story and carry some impact, especially the last one.

This is a fun movie that kept my interest. My only concern is that once you have seen it, I don’t know that it warrants a second viewing. This one is all about the story and how clever it is presented that once you know the twists much of the fun is gone. That is why I didn’t go too far in my plot synopsis because I want people to watch and enjoy Better Watch Out like I did. As of the writing of this review it is streaming on Shudder. You can sign up for a month for less than it would cost to rent or purchase a digital copy and you get access to the service for an entire month. Check it out and sign up for Shudder! It is a win win scenario.

© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer

Friday, December 21, 2018

All the Creatures were Stirring (2018)

I have another anthology for the Twelve Days of Christmas horror marathon. No killer Santa or murderous Snowman to be found in this one. Nope they go a completely different direction while maintaining that holiday spirit.

The movie opens up with a couple meeting up in front of a theater to see… All Creatures were Stirring. Okay that is a cool way to start things off they are going to watch the movie that we are watching. Only once they get inside that isn’t the case. Instead there is an artsy theater group acting out the stories for them. No worries though we get to actually see the movie. After meeting the weirdos who are also attending the show our characters get seated and we get to see the first segment.

The Stockings were Hung is first up and is set in an office as the workers are impatiently waiting for quitting time so they can finally leave. Most of the action takes place in a conference room where they are having a party and doing a gift exchange. When a jack in the box goes off and kills one of them things get weird. The doors are locked and the phone rings with a crazy person on the other end demanding that they have to each open a present before they can leave. As an added incentive poison gas has been pumped into the surrounding office so they really can’t go until he lets them out. They turn on each other and things get ugly quick. This is the most violent of the stories and was a lot of fun.

Dash Away All finds a man doing some last-minute shopping while getting texts from his wife. His parents have arrived early and are driving her nuts. In a hurry to get home he accidentally locks both his phone and his keys in the car. He thinks he is alone in the parking lot until he spots a creepy van in the distance. Having no other options, he goes to ask for help and is surprised by a couple young women who are very friendly. Of course, they aren’t what they seem, what kind of movie would that make? Not only is it Christmas, but it is his birthday as well which is very important for the girls. Why is that? It has to do with the van and the fact that they aren’t really by themselves after all. This is the spookiest of the stories and also has the best monster. The fact that it is a practical makeup effect was much appreciated as well.

All Through the House is a creative retelling of A Christmas Carol with a bit of gore added in for fun. They managed to introduce us to a guy who really hates Christmas and in a single short flashback to his youth let you know exactly why. But when the television keeps showing the same program and the characters start to talk to him you know something is up. Horrible things happen, he dies, and rats feast on his meaty bits… but not really. Yeah, he wakes up and realizes the error of his ways. This was a solid story but after the first couple I wanted more creative and original stuff. The last two do that in much different and satisfying ways.

Rudy's Revenge!
Arose Such a Clatter is my favorite of the bunch. Its rather short and lacks and gore or special effects work but the story is a blast. A photographer is driving home and is distracted by the naughty pictures he has with him. Not paying attention to the road he runs down a deer but doesn’t kill it. He doesn’t know that until he is startled by it moving and proceeds to beat it to death with a rock! All of this is watched by something in the woods that is clearly mad since we see the scene from its point of view as if thru a red filter. The mysterious thing from the woods follows him home and some revenge is had. Did I forget to mention that the deer had a collar? Or that its name was Blitzen? And that the scene was all red not out of anger but because of a red glow coming off of the observer? Oh Hell Yeah! Why has no one ever done a killer reindeer movie before?

In a Twinkling does a fantastic job of creating expectation and then giving you a twist ending. It’s Christmas Eve and a man arrives home after looking at the full moon and ditching his friends over the phone. Going into his bedroom he opens a heavy gym bag full of chains and a gun. Okay he is totally a werewolf… only not. When he cancels on the party his friends bring it to him and get caught up in his annual abduction by aliens! Never saw that coming. Secrets are revealed and, in the end, we are given an unexpected but really sweet ending. You know not all your holiday horrors have to be a bummer.

Support your local theater group... OR ELSE!
The end of the movie has us back in the theater where the man excuses himself after loud noises come from his stomach. The actors launch into another story that mirrors them coming to see the show and literally circles back around to the beginning. It hints at some dark motivations that we never get to see as unexpectedly the credits roll.

Other than Dash Away All the special effects work are either CGI or kept off screen. They clearly didn’t have much of a budget for the movie. While that might bug me a bit, I loved the stories and the creativity behind them. Other than the one retelling of A Christmas Carol these were all unique and original yet related to the holiday. The best independent movies make up for lack of budget by doing something different that you can’t get anywhere else. That is exactly what All the Creatures were Stirring does and I loved it. I highly recommend that you check this one out.

© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer