The legacy of John Carpenter’s 1978 classic Halloween has endured for four decades trough some good and not-so-good sequels, offshoot one-offs, soft reboots, and remakes.
The identically-titled 2018 direct sequel that ignores everything since the original – save for some sly screenplay and delightful visual nods – does right by that legacy and uses the 40 years of history to incorporate themes of lasting trauma in ways rare to the genre. This is especially rewarding to those of us who have been longtime fans of the series. It also helps that much of the familiar killer-on-the-loose stalking in the film’s back half is well-executed while also folding into the narrative.
Marketed as the first Argentinian paranormal horror film, Terrified (Aterrados) isn’t exactly a genre novelty, borrowing heavily from Wan, del Toro, Ju-On and other similar films, but it does what it does very effectively and offers fresh spins on old standards. The ways in which it absorbs its influences and cleverly turns them on their head give the film an edge and constant sense of dread as it expands haunted house traditions to an entire haunted neighborhood. The film unnerved and surprised this longtime horror fan more than once.
The simple, smart premise of Hell Fest turns a haunted attraction into a masked killer’s playground. The murderer blends in with the haunt’s actors, who only pretend to want to murder horror-loving patrons of the themed carnival. The naturally chaotic setting full of frights leaves potential victims vulnerable and provides cover for the slasher as he stalks his prey.
Though the film isn’t terribly inventive or scary beyond this intriguing central conceit and the five credited screenwriters struggle with the group dynamics of the potential casualties, it’s a fun, well-paced slasher. This is a fine way to kick off a horror fan’s Halloween viewing season.
The Predator spends too much of its time hunting for ways to bring several uninteresting plot strings together and not nearly enough indulging in its throwback action swagger. Director Shane Black, who co-starred in the original Predator, and his co-writer Fred Dekker occasionally flash that renegade ‘80s attitude found in their beloved projects of yore – Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and The Monster Squad – but much of the pep is swallowed up by plot-heavy modern blockbuster sensibilities that dull the experience.
The pitch for Peppermint is a simple one: a gender-swapped Death Wish from the director of Taken. While that’s pretty straightforward and there’s another layer of intrigue and potential with Jennifer Garner making her return to the action genre, Peppermint is loaded with problems conceptually, thematically, and in execution.
Pierre Morel exports the pacing and ease of the hero’s journey from Taken, but that becomes problematic when dealing with the question of what happens when a hardworking white mother has her daughter “permanently taken” (to use a disgusting parlance of our time) by a group of brown immigrant thugs.
The portrait of the fiendish nun in The Conjuring 2 was scary because of its simplicity. The cold stare through blacked-out eyes is chilling; the minimalism of the two-toned demonic face matches the habit that frames it, allowing us to easily project our fears.
Now, just like the creepy doll in Annabelle, the infernal character gets its own spinoff in the expanding Conjuring cinematic universe (CCU?) in The Nun. And, just like Annabelle (but unlike Annabelle: Creation which works pretty well), The Nun has difficulty fleshing out a standalone story or generating serious shocks. The generic, longwinded backstory ascribed to the monster diminishes its power, and the imposing figure barely feels like a threat as it remains largely sidelined in its own story, only appearing for some CGI-aided face contortions and repetitive jump scares. The effective steely gaze of Bonnie Aarons, who plays the demon Valek in its nun form, gets wiped away by unnaturally large, pointed-tooth roars.