Friday, October 14, 2022

Ominous October - Werewolf by Night (2022)

Streaming Service: Disney+
Movie Name/Year: Marvel Studios’ Special Presentation: Werewolf by Night (2022)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Horror
Length: 52min
Rating: TV-14
Production/Distribution: Marvel Studios, Disney+
Director: Michael Giacchino
Writers: Heather Quinn, Peter Cameron, Gerry Conway, Michael G. Ploog, Roy Thomas, Jean Thomas
Actors: Gael García Bernal, Laura Donnelly, Harriet Sansom Harris, Leondardo Nam, Eugenie Bondurant, Kirk R. Thatcher, Al Hamacher
IMDb Blurb: Follows a lycanthrope superhero who fights evil using the abilities given to him by a curse brought on by his bloodline.

Cat’s Point of View:
When Disney and Marvel announced that they were releasing a Halloween Special this year, I was rather over the moon. (No pun intended…this time.) As I was growing up, you could count on most shows to have a bonafide “Halloween Special” air separately from their usual storylines. These days you don’t see that as often. Sure, productions will give a nod to the season with set dressing; but more often than not, it feels like an afterthought rather than the drive of the narrative.
Werewolf by Night was exciting to me from the get-go because it felt like the equivalent of Marvel Studios and Disney+ teaming up to give us a full-size candy bar in our trick-or-treat bucket, just as the Halloween season is really beginning to ramp up.
While not a standard-length movie, the 52-minute runtime of this lycanthropic lark was just the right length to give a satisfying story for this stand-alone special. It was packed solid with mystery, action, shenanigans, and enough horror elements to delight genre fans.

While Werewolf by Night has a TV-14 rating, parents should be cautious about letting younger kids partake in this particular monster flick. If the production had been made entirely in color, rather than the throwback black and white, it would have received a TV-MA rating for the bloody action. We’re talking dismembering and worse, here.
I loved the monochromatic choice, though. While it might have made some of the violence more palatable for a wider range of audiences, it was all about the ambiance for me. I could just envision this as one of those classic monster movies of yesteryear. There are even quite a few Easter eggs sprinkled throughout that pay homage to those very cinematic forbears.
While I love comics, I have to admit that I wasn’t really that familiar with the Marvel characters introduced in Werewolf by Night. Admittedly, I am now significantly more curious about Ted, Elsa, and Jack… but I didn’t need to have knowledge of their respective comic runs to really appreciate this special. That’s really the beauty of these MCU productions – there are so many characters available for them to pick from that you never know what corner of the comic verse they’re going to mine for material.

That being said, it reinforces the point that the monumental volume of stories out there, it affords the perfect opportunity for Marvel to cherry-pick the moments to spotlight for specials like this. I would absolutely watch the hell out of as many stand-alone specials as they want to throw at us. Let me just say yes please, in advance, for regular seasonal-specific one-offs, please. I digress…
I’m hoping that we’ll see these characters again somewhere else in the MCU moving forward. Just because they decided specifically not to provide a post-credits scene to keep this story self-contained doesn’t mean they couldn’t waltz into another franchise later as supporting characters.
There really wasn’t anything I found negative about Werewolf by Night. The cast was amazing; led by Gael García Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle, Old, Maya and the Three), Laura Donnelly (Outlander, Tolkien, The Nevers), and Harriet Sansom Harris (Phantom Thread, Atlantic Crossing, Licorice Pizza). The production quality was on par with any other MCU offering, as well.

It was an impressive directorial debut for Michael Giacchino (Monster Challenge, Star Trek: Short Treks). Though, that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. He’s been in the industry a while now, though as a musical composer. He got his start in the mid-90s working with video games before transitioning to cinema. Everyone has heard his work before in productions such as Doctor Strange (2016), Jurassic World (2015), and even TV shows such as Lost (2004-2010). Composing movie scores is a bit like directing in and of itself. Music is so intrinsically tied to the experience of film and people’s emotions. Creating something to evoke the right feeling at the appropriate story moment is a very similar process – at least in my opinion. I’m looking forward to seeing what his creative vision will bring us in the future for MCU projects or elsewhere.
Werewolf by Night was an awesome addition to our Ominous October and I would recommend it for classic horror fans looking for a fun, if brief, experience.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 91%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 93%
Metascore – 69%
Metacritic User Score – 6.9/10
IMDB Score – 7.4/10
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 5/5
Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Ominous October - Hellraiser (2022)

Streaming Service: Hulu
Movie Name/Year: Hellraiser (2022)
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Length: 2h 1min
Rating: R
Production/Distribution: 20th Century Studios, 247Hub, Phantom Four Films, Spyglass Media Group, Hulu
Director: David Bruckner
Writers: Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski, David S. Goyer, Clive Barker
Actors: Jamie Clayton, Odessa A’zion, Goran Vidnjic, Selina Lo, Hiam Abbass, Brandon Flynn, Drew Starkey, Jason Liles, Aoife Hinds
IMDb Blurb: A take on Clive Barker's 1987 horror classic where a young woman struggling with addiction comes into possession of an ancient puzzle box, unaware that its purpose is to summon the Cenobites.

Cat’s Point of View:
Where do I even begin? When the original Hellraiser (1987) hit theaters, it was a big deal. The visuals from the trailers and posters promised some good scary fun and horror skirting the edge of taboo. Of course, at that time I still wasn’t allowed to watch R-rated movies, so I had to wait until much later to actually experience Hellraiser. The image of “Pinhead,” as the ‘lead Cenobite’ has forever been dubbed, and became enmeshed in pop culture so that it was inescapable even without seeing the whole film. You could say I was on pins and needles in anticipation of watching the franchise. (I couldn’t help it.)
It would be fair to say the same was relevant now, as Selina and I both listed this new Hellraiser as our #5 pick on October’s Top 20 list.
While some of the subsequent sequels weren’t necessarily as well-received, Hellraiser left a huge impact on the horror genre. That shouldn’t have been much of a surprise, since the source of the story came from the mind of one of the masters of horror, Clive Barker (The Midnight Meat Train, Candyman, Hellbound Laments). It was his novella, Hellbound Heart, which started it all. I’ve enjoyed his work and was happy to hear that this new incarnation of Hellraiser was returning closer to text than the prior iterations.

How so, you might wonder? It turns out that Barker really hasn’t loved the moniker that audiences have given his precisely-pinned purveyor of taboo and hellish “delights.” Thus, “Pinhead” has been rebranded a bit as the Hell Priest, or simply “The Priest.”
Another change-up came in the form of casting for this central character. I’ve heard mixed reactions to the fact that the new incarnation of the role went to Jamie Clayton (The Snowman, Sense8, Designated Survivor). Let me tell you, though; she did a phenomenal job with the part. In Barker’s original story, the Hell Priest was portrayed as a bit of an androgynous being with a somewhat feminine voice. Clayton nailed it. (Pun intended.) For those up in arms about the choice, just keep in mind that the original actor for Pinhead, Doug Bradley (Book of Blood, Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom, Dota: Dragon's Blood), went on Twitter to praise Clayton’s performance and show his support.

Finally, the aesthetic of the Cenobites got a bit of an update. Director David Bruckner (The Signal, The Ritual, The Night House) worked with Barker on some of these concepts for the film. They decided that the slick BDSM wear that we’re accustomed to seeing these otherworldly beings wear has become more mainstream these days, so wouldn’t deliver the same horror or shock factor that it did back when this franchise originally launched. Instead, this new Hellraiser gives us a vision of beings that truly take pleasure in pain and suffering.
Bruckner is a prime example of why we continue to relish diving into horror anthologies when they present themselves -- such as ABCs of Death (2012) or V/H/S (2012). Bruckner, in fact, directed the segment titled “The Accident” in the first V/H/S. You never know when a really promising director will pop up. I’m actually excited that he’s reported to be involved with the production of the upcoming V/H/S/85, which was just recently announced to land on Shudder in 2023.  I digress…

I really enjoyed how the story for this new Hellraiser played out. There were twists and turns as the infamous puzzle box of pain wreaked havoc upon the unsuspecting. I couldn’t even begin to list the elements of the production that really had me giddy, as it would be awash with spoilers. Hellraiser continued to pose the question of how far someone would go to get what they wanted, and also the choices made when given the opportunity. If you dig deep, you’d find questions of morality, lessons on being careful about what you wish for, and much more – but that’s not really why we watch these movies, right? It’s the body horror and slasher thrills that tend to draw the box office, but I can’t help but like the intellectual side of it, too.
Odessa A’zion’s (Nashville, Am I OK?, Good Girl Jane) character, Riley, had a compelling story as the primary protagonist. I was invested in her struggle as she fought her own personal demons even before she had to take on literal ones. Her experience with the cursed puzzle box was quite the rollercoaster.
I’m actually excited to see where this franchise goes from here.
You can find Hellraiser streaming on Hulu. Its October release this year was well-timed as a great addition to this spooky season's Halloween watch lists.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 67%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 64%
Metascore – 56%
Metacritic User Score – 6.1/10
IMDB Score – 6.2/10
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 4/5
Movie Trailer:

Monday, October 10, 2022

Ominous October - Dark Glasses (2022)

Streaming Service: Shudder
Movie Name/Year: Dark Glasses (2022)
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Length: 1h 26min
Rating: Unrated
Production/DistributionAlamode Film, Canal+, Ciné+, Cinobo, Getaway Films, Lumix Media, Ministero della Cultura, NonStop Entertainment, NOS Audiovisuais, Panda Lichtspiele Filmverleih, Pierrot Le Fou, Rai Cinema, Regione Lazio, Russian Report, Shudder, Sky, Urania Pictures S.r.l., Vision Distribution, Wild Bunch International
Director: Dario Argento
Writer: Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini
Actors: Ilenia Pastorelli, Asia Argento, Andrea, Gherpelli, Mario Pirrello, Maria Rosaria Russo, Gennaro Iaccarino, Andrea Zhang
Blurb from IMDb: Diana, a young woman who lost her sight, finds a guide in a Chinese boy named Chin. Together they will track down a dangerous killer through the darkness of Italy.

Selina’s Point of View:
I think Dario Argento (Creepers, Opera, Deep Red) put all the horror tropes from the 80s into a bag, picked them out blind folded then wrote a movie around what he pulled. I was seriously hoping to get something a bit better, especially from Argento. Then again, most of his best works are from the 70s and 80s. Maybe I should have expected this.
I’ll admit that the worst of my fears were circumvented. Whenever there’s a story written with a specific disability in mind, you need to worry about how it’s going to be handled. The trailer for Dark Glasses made me worry about how they would represent blind people. I think it could have done better, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.
I did think that some of the scenes going into how the protagonist learned to navigate her life as a newly blind person were decent.

The scene with the first kill was also bad ass. It gave me the impression that there would be some body horror and a slasher feel. The rest of the flick didn’t live up to that promise though. There wasn’t much body horror after that except for the tiniest amount at the end.
All-in-all, Dark Glasses was basic. It was a trope-filled, slow, disjointed film. Definitely not one I would choose to watch again.
If you plan to check it out, it will be available on Shudder this Thursday, October 13.

Cat’s Point of View:
When a trailer opens with the statement that the film you are about to watch was created by a country’s “Master of Horror,” it sets a couple of expectations in motion.
When we watched the trailer for Dark Glasses prior to putting together October’s Top 20 list, there were some red flags in the teaser that pointed to potential issues. There was a concern about the perception of those with vision impairment, and whether the crux of the horror would be based on that concept. I’m generally quick to play devil’s advocate and lean to the optimistic side of things. I guessed that it was a perception the trailer put forward rather than the actual plot of the movie. I was somewhat correct, there. I do, however, remain irked with the amount revealed by trailers these days. At least it didn’t give away everything this time.
Unfortunately, while the newfound vision impairment of the protagonist wasn’t at the core of Dark Glasses’ issues – it certainly had them in spades.
My points of contention with Dark Glasses came from the entirety of the rest of the movie. It was just clunky. The introduction segment was far longer than it needed to be. There was nearly 6-minutes of practically nothing. If I were really grasping at straws I could maybe write some of it off as building tension from a ‘what the hell is going on’ perspective, or even the symbolism of celestial events. It just felt pointless and had me looking at the runtime because it felt like forever.

When the story got moving, it was somewhat compelling – but felt a little stilted all the same. I felt some emotion for the characters involved, but also had a lot of eye-rolling going on. I don’t think I fully recovered from my initial annoyance if I’m honest. I didn’t quite connect with all of the practical effects, either – mostly at the end.
Bless their hearts, they tried.
I do have one other positive to offer for Dark Glasses, believe it or not. I didn’t have problems following along, as I sometimes do when I haven’t really connected with a subtitled movie. Perhaps I was more invested than I thought I was, or it made enough sense for me to piece things together without feeling like I was struggling to read a book and watch something at the same time.
Dark Glasses does fit into our theme of ominous and chilling films to partake of in October. It wouldn’t, however, be at the top of my list of recommendations… if there at all.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 50%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – None
Metascore – 45%
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score –5.0/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating 1.5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating 2.5/5
Trust-the-Dice’s Parental Advisory Rating: R
Movie Trailer: