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This is going to be a hard one to review, not only because it’s a controversial remake (in name) of a classic, but also because it’s chaotic as a movie, too. The only spoiler that I’m giving in this review is that a prominently featured unicorn figurine with an extraordinary large horn is disappointingly *not* utilized in any type of maiming or killing, which was a real missed opportunity.

He just wants to be a useful plot device symbolizing female empowerment

The Plot:

I say that it’s a remake in name because it’s quite different from the original (1974) and remake (2006).

Riley and her sorority sisters are getting ready for winter break as she is still struggling with a sexual assault that occurred in her past. She mentors another sister, Helena, while being friends with Marty, Jesse, and the out-spoken Kris. She begins to get weird texts via their school’s notification system after she and her friends perform at a talent show, opening mocking the fraternity her assailant belongs to.

Soon, the strange texts escalate and they realize that they’re being hunted by a masked figure. They must work together and fast to discover the secrets behind the university’s history and unravel its dark past, terrifying present, and devastating future…

The Good:

The acting from Imogen Poots exceeded my expectations. It was not an easy role, and had challenging dialogue to not only convey but to make believable. Good use of body movement, especially when solitary and during quiet moments, for example in the blue portrait hallway before the talent show. I think she’d be great in an indie horror.

Same with Aleyse Shannon, especially when a lot of her dialogue was very clunky. I hope she’s in more Scream Queen parts, especially in different roles.

What I love in these Black Christmas movies is the use of Xmas décor as part of the set and lighting. Very good job with that. Cinematography was smooth and lovely until shaky-cam PG-13 violence.

Set design is beautiful with the “old tradition” narrative of the story. Every creak of the floor is real and genuine-feeling, and not a manufactured sound in post-production. Whoever scouted the areas did an amazing job.

Thoughts: Brain Roll Juice

So….yeah. It’s a heavy-handed #MeToo feminist film, so your tolerance and taste for the movie are going to be dependent on your opinions of the #MeToo movement. And it’s not subtle winks and nods, it’s most of what’s on screen, down to the pink snow shovel and diva cup used as weapons (in different ways).

Quarter for size comparison

And it’s told in the lens of Blumhouse Productions, so we get pink cat-ear headbands; Secret Santa vibrators; putting in a tampon in front of a roommate; thong-talk; the phrase “boy-cotted”; push-up bras; and the many times when people are corrected for using the term “girl” instead of “woman”. Surprisingly, there was not white wine, yoga pants, or pumpkin-scented candles present.    

What I’m saying, is that while there are things being said, things that rightfully should be said, it’s through a tight and mediocre lens. It felt more like an episode of Riverdale mixed with 13 Reasons Why than a remake of a classic slasher film, including the off-screen deaths and lack-luster ambiance.

Previously on Black Christmas…
we bought more high-waisted jeans

Also, thank goodness that the characters had stockings with their names, or literally necklaces of their names, so I knew who was who because they so often blurred together. Which is fine, almost standard, for a horror/slasher film, but not when your message is that we should care about these women from the beginning.

Character-wise, I knew almost nothing about them, any of them. It was even a throw-away line that we learned our main character’s parents had died, and this was never brought up again.

My wild guess is this: this was not originally a Black Christmas remake; it was a script about a sorority house that was slapped with the title to promote it. It’s so disjointed -plot and script- that I think there were a lot of scenes cut by the studio because they either got worried by the message or decided to double-down on the message. I think these scenes would have made it flow better and given more character development, maybe even a better ending (which didn’t make a lick of sense).

I don’t think the changes would have made it a great movie, but I think it would have been a better one. And don’t get me wrong – there have a lot of subpar movies made since the dawn of film, and this one is better than most, if just for the effort of trying to say something, especially in a male-dominated field of horror. Props to that. But at the end of the day, will this get more hate/vitriol than Blumhouse’s Uncanny Annie or Truth or Dare, even though they were of equal or lesser value? Yeah. Will a lot that hate/vitriol come from people reading a few keywords and not actually watching the movie? Sure. Maybe that’s the real juice to roll your brain in.

Now guess which one has
made less friends

One last thing of note before I sink back into the darkness. I find it odd that with PG-13, we can’t watch a human being bleed after getting stabbed in the chest by an icicle, but we can watch a woman be assaulted multiple times, and that meets quality standards for a 13-year-old.

Oh, and Riki Lindhome co-wrote the song for the talent show.

Bottom-line:

Don’t watch this as a first date movie – super awkward.

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

When not ravaging through the wilds of Detroit with Jellybeans the Cat, J.M. Brannyk (a.k.a. Boxhuman) reviews mostly supernatural and slasher films from the 70's-90's and is dubiously HauntedMTL's Voice of Reason. Aside from writing, Brannyk dips into the podcasts, and is the composer of many of HauntedMTL's podcast themes.

Movies n TV

Horror Noire, a Film Review

Horror Noire is a horror collection that includes “Daddy,” “The Lake,” “Brand of Evil,” “Bride Before You,” “Fugue State,” and “Sundown.”

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Horror Noire is a horror collection brought by the combined efforts of AMC+ and Shudder. The collection includes “Daddy,” “The Lake,” “Brand of Evil,” “Bride Before You,” “Fugue State,” and “Sundown.” Horror Noire boasts Black directors and screenwriters, providing six unique stories.

As this collection explores six stories, I will skip the usual synopsis to assess the genres and ideas explored, albeit limited as needed. Expect to find supernatural horror, creature features, and psychological thrillers. Many short films deal with these genres while exploring Black issues, but this isn’t universal for the collection.

The directors and writers include Zandashé Brown, Robin Givens, Rob Greenlea, Kimani Ray Smith, Steven Barnes, Ezra Clayton Daniels, Tananarive Due, Shernold Edwards, Victor LaValle, and Al Letson.

Woman and man wearing a vote for candidate shirt, scared of something off screne
Image from “Sundown” Directed by Kimani Ray Smith

What I Like

Each story remains unique, holding different strengths and weaknesses that highlight drastically different perspectives. Collections like VHS hold a similar premise to create their collection, but Horror Noire gives more creative freedom to its talent to be independent.

My personal favorite short film is Zandashé Brown’s “Bride Before You.” This period piece unravels a fable set in the Reconstruction Era. The entry feels Fabulistic in approach, which happens to be my preferred niche.

However, the best example of horror goes to Robin Givens’ “Daddy,” providing an existential horror tied directly to the characters involved.

Woman listening to a preacher amidst a crowd
Image from “Fugue State” directed by Rob Greenlea

What I Dislike

As mentioned, all have a particular style and idea. The downside of this approach always remains to keep the viewer interested long enough to find their favorite. If you find several underwhelming choices, this becomes a chore. But I imagine that is rare as the variety makes the options refreshing.

Personally, “Brand of Evil” had an interesting premise, but the execution fell short. On paper, it might have sounded like my favorite, which makes the lackluster execution a bigger letdown.

Zeth M. Martinez

Final Thoughts

Horror Noire gives power and control to Black creators, providing a formula for a unique collection against others in the space. While the various subjects and approaches mean you aren’t likely to love them all, there should be a short film for everyone.
3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Dahmer, Silenced

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Episode six of Netflix’s Dahmer was not, honestly about our title character. Instead, it was about one of his victims, a man named Tony. We’ve actually seen Tony a few times during this series. We just didn’t know it was him.

Rodney Burford in Dahmer

And, well, he wasn’t exactly alive the first time we saw him.

Tony was born into a supportive, loving family. This is good because soon after he was born a viral infection took his hearing. He is black, deaf, and gay in the early 90’s.

Tony has a dream of becoming a model. And he certainly has the looks for it. He is beautiful, body and soul. He has lots of opportunities for romance, but it’s not what he’s looking for. He wants a real relationship. 

Eventually Tony moves to Madison, trying to pursue his dream. He gets a job and starts getting modeling work.

Then, he meets Jeff Dahmer at a bar. 

At first, we can almost believe that it’s going to be alright. Jeff seems happy. He’s taking care of himself. He’s not drinking as much. He even has his dad and stepmom over for dinner. It seems like his life is getting on track. Even better, he’s treating Tony right.

Then, of course, things go bad. 

One thing that has always bothered me as a true crime fan is that we know so much about the killers, but not as much about the victims. Not so much if we don’t know who the killer is, of course. But the names that are part of our pop culture are those of the killers. Dahmer, Manson, Jones, Bundy, Holms. The names we don’t know are Roberta Parks, Beth LaBiancas, Leno LaBiancas, and Tony Hughes. And clearly, we should know them.

If Tony Hughes was half the shining, positive person that the show Dahmer made him out to be, I’m so sad that he isn’t with us anymore. We need so many more people like him. And many of Dahmer’s victims were likely just like him. After all, he was attracted to them for a reason.

This was a significant episode, and I understand why it’s the highest-rated episode of the series. I finished it with a heavy heart, saddened by the loss of a man who should still be with us today. 

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Mandrake, a Film Review

Mandrake is a 2022 supernatural horror directed by Lynne Davison and written by Matt Harvey, starring Deirdre Mullins and Derbhle Crotty.

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Mandrake is a 2022 supernatural horror directed by Lynne Davison and written by Matt Harvey. This film boasts a cast that includes Deirdre Mullins, Derbhle Crotty, and Paul Kennedy. It is currently available for subscribers in DirectTV, Shudder, Amazon Prime, or AMC+.

Cathy Madden (Deirdre Mullins) is a probation officer tasked with the most vilified case in her town, Mary Laidlaw (Derbhle Crotty). When a child goes missing, all eyes turn to the infamous Bloody Mary. Cathy, always believing in the best of people, tries to protect Mary. But evidence begins to mount, and Cathy finds herself in increasing danger.

Derbhle Crotty as Mary Laidlaw
In the forest
Derbhle Crotty as Mary Laidlaw

What I Like

Deirdre Mullins and Derbhle Crotty add weight to the film in their performances. Cathy proves resilient against the challenges she faces, while Mary can make any actions intimidating.
To not spoil anything, the ending is bittersweet in the best of ways, showing Cathy grow and mend relationships.

The atmosphere around Mary Laidlaw brings about the intimidation that earns the nickname Bloody Mary. It becomes easier to see why a town would fear this woman as we find her motives sinister.

Mandrake Cover Art: A mandrake behind Deirdre Mullins' Cathy Madden
Deirdre Mullins as Cathy Madden

What I Dislike

While there may be external magical elements, I found people obeyed Mary Laidlaw a little too easily for a vilified woman. There wasn’t enough for me to be convinced she intimidated them to action or magically charmed them. Or perhaps the performances felt underwhelmingly passive?

There was an irritating moment where a stalker helped save the day. The assistance is minor, but it still irritates me.

The daytime scenes of the film are bland. Perhaps it’s intentional, but the night scenes are stunning, making the contrast greater. While this film focuses on its night scenes, I couldn’t understand why it looked so bland, and sometimes poor quality, in the day.

Kraken eating a boat icon for Zeth M. Martinez
Zeth M. Martinez

Final Thoughts

Mandrake can be a frightful enjoyment, especially when set at night where the details work. However, many elements left me wanting more or better. If you’re looking for a witchy tale, I’d say there are better options, but Mandrake can keep you entertained.
2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

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