Blood and Black Lace

By Jason Sawyer – Jan. 4, 2019

Released Mar. 14, 1964
Language: Italian
Unrated (equal to rated R for violence and thematic elements) – 1hr 28min
Directed by Mario Bava
Starring Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner, Arianna Gorini

It was a dark and stormy night, and young model Isabella is killed on the grounds of the esteemed Rome fashion house at which she’s employed. While the discovery of her body sets off a fervor, it’s the discovery of her secret diary that sets in motion a campaign of brutal murder by a masked assassin who is terrified of something the woman had learned. However, Isabella had dirt on everybody.

Blood and Black Lace is among the more influential yet lesser seen of the proto-modern horror classics. While its structure is not unlike a ‘whodunnit’ murder mystery, many contributions to the evolution of the horror film can be found here.

Narrative: It’s more of an engaging story of duplicitous and ruthless people than a satisfying mystery, and that’s likely more a matter of its age. The ‘whodunnit’ is not as interesting as the ‘why’, and it makes for a surprising third act.

blood and black lace 3

Acting: Nothing special here. The classical theater-style acting was starting to phase out during this era, but the performances in Blood and Black Lace fall more on the classical side of the line. As such, some may find the characters to be unnaturally wooden or rehearsed

Appearance: Here’s where the movie really shines – it’s got style to spare. Bold and vivid colors are contrasted by the void of concealing shadows, creating a disorienting cacophony of reactions in the viewer. Set design is often used to frame shots in visually pleasing or claustrophobic ways. Long tracking shots are implemented to generate mood, atmosphere, and suspense. The visual influence on later films is apparent throughout.

Horror Elements: Again, the impact that Blood and Black Lace would have upon the genre was substantial. Unlike other similar murder mysteries of the time, director Mario Bava opted here to focus on the killings as opposed to the cycle of accusation and defense. It was a daring and rarely-taken route at that point, and not altogether well-received at release. Refusing to cut away for the sake of sparing the audience greater discomfort, leaving them helpless and in anticipatory dread of the worst possible outcome, was initially loathed. Yet, in a relatively short time, it would become a horror standard – further popularized by Dario Argento (along with the visual style) and other European filmmakers before crossing over to America as the slasher film. Furthermore, Blood and Black Lace may be the first film to prominently feature the stalking masked killer, making its concealed antagonist a direct predecessor to the likes of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. However, it’s not particularly gory – that likely would have been yet another bridge too far – but the physicality of the violence, at times, is still quite shocking.

blood and black lace 2

Misc.: Good luck getting the theme out of your head. It’s 100% Euro-’60s, but it’s very effective here. It is overused though, as virtually the entire score is centered around it.

TL;DR: Blood and Black Lace – with its artistic visuals, macabre themes, and relatively grotesque imagery – is an often overlooked landmark horror film that is a must-see for anyone curious as to how the genre has developed over time. It does have its dated qualities – both in presentation and in social politics – so it might be of considerably lesser value to anyone predisposed to disliking ‘old stuff’.

strongly recommend icon

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The Autopsy of Jane Doe

By Jason Sawyer – Jan. 2, 2019

Released Dec. 21, 2016
Rated R – 1hr 26min
Directed by André Øvredal
Starring Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Ophelia Lovibond, Olwen Catherine Kelly

A coroner (Cox) and his assistant son (Hirsch) are urged by the local sheriff to perform an emergency autopsy upon a mysterious corpse (Kelly) who has no apparent cause of death, signs of physical trauma, or connection to a brutal crime scene. As the night progresses and a vicious storm rolls in, they’ll learn that some secrets are best left undiscovered.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is an unorthodox paranormal tale with loads of clinically graphic content. While there’s little violence and nothing sexual, the realistic depiction of autopsy procedures may leave some viewers reeling. Aside from that, the focus is on eerie atmosphere, well-orchestrated jump scares, and the progression of a mind-bending mystery.

It’s an attempt at a mind-bending mystery anyway, but I’ll get to that more in a bit. The Autopsy of Jane Doe strives to be a claustrophobic creeper that puts the spotlight on the most overworked yet rarely seen characters in horror – the coroners. They generally toil away in the hidden subtext of a story, overwhelmed with a grisly influx of some psychotic or supernatural carnage, and when they are featured, they’re usually killed off quickly to set up or establish a sequel or they have a couple of speaking lines in between bites of that sandwich that movie morgue workers are always eating. Here, they get an entire feature and story of their own, and, for the most part, it’s a riveting success.

It’s actually a novel concept for a number of reasons. The Autopsy of Jane Doe holds back little in its portrayal of an actual autopsy procedure, and that gory authenticity forms a squeamish foundation upon which more traditional scare sequences are executed with greater effectiveness. This is kicked off early with an introduction to the main characters as they wrap up work on a grotesquely roasted burn victim, and its unsettling effects linger on even after he’s been drawered up and the emphasis shifts to more mundane exposition. Even throughout the more ordinary formalities of the first act, many elements are introduced that are exploited later on with chilling results. The horror craft on display in this film leads to numerous well-earned moments as the story continues on.


I’m not a doctor or anything, but I’m pretty certain this is not a typical autopsy.

It’s also intriguing how the autopsy itself is transformed into the central narrative device, and rightly so, given the title. As senior coroner Tommy Tilden, yet another reliably solid performance from Brian Cox, explains for the sake of their video documentation that the autopsy will be performed in four stages, it is through each of those segments that the plot moves forward, the stakes are raised, and some new disturbing revelation is made – it’s great fundamental storytelling. Further, Jane Doe herself grows ever more compelling as events unfold. Mute, motionless, and naked as a jaybird, it’s rather amazing how much personality she ultimately projects, and speaks to both a fantastic character performance by Olwen Catherine Kelly and the movie’s adept structuring to help her out. She is a corpse on a table, after all – what could she really do?…

Director André Øvredal really impresses with this effort. Whereas he displayed a great talent with large-scale in 2010 must-see Trollhunter – which is fantasy-horror as a fun adventurous romp among dangerous giants – he shows amazing finesse in the fine elements of the genre with The Autopsy of Jane Doe. He demonstrates extensive attention to detail, excellent pacing, and an ability to generate an ever-thickening atmosphere of oppressive dread. He’s at the helm for the upcoming Guillermo del Toro-produced adaptation of classic ’80s youth horror anthology Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and he may very well bring some genuine terror to what will almost certainly be a PG-13 rated outing.

Now, I started off by stating that this movie was an attempt at mind-bending mystery, and it’s with that we come to its greatest flaw. At the moment of the big answer to the sinister puzzle driving the entire story, the film trips, hits its head on a table, and collapses to the floor with a clumsy thump. The leap that needs to be taken to arrive at the conclusion begs disbelief, as does the conclusion itself. However, it gets back up and stumbles onward to the finish line, somewhat worse for the wear, but it’s a testament to the quality of the rest of the film that it’s not a deal-breaker. This is still an exceptional feature and certainly among the better offerings from 2016.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe gets a rating of


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Horror Watch – January 2019

By Jason Sawyer – Jan. 1, 2019

January has traditionally been regarded as a dumping ground for new movie releases, but with a greater quantity of films being produced now more than ever before, distributors have scheduled quality titles throughout the entire calendar in an effort to get some distance from competition. There’s also people – like me – who have a demand for new horror content year-round. With that, here’s 11 of the most notable releases for this month.

The Demonologist – Jan. 1

Directed by J.M. Stelly
Starring Brian Krause, Jared Bankens, Lara Grice

Official Synopsis:
Detective Damien Seryph investigates a string of murders that connects to a group trying to bring forth the 4 King Demons of Hell. Damien’s past connects him to those involved and will force him to become “The Demonologist”.

Available on VOD

Lifechanger – Jan. 1

Unrated – 1hr 24min
Directed by Justin McConnell
Starring Lora Burke, Jack Foley, Elitsa Bako

Official Synopsis:
Drew has to shapeshift, or face painful death. He has to find someone and make a copy. He becomes them, and they die horribly. Enter Julia, the object of Drew’s affection. How can he make things right when he’s never the same person for very long? LIFECHANGER follows one shapeshifter’s twisted quest to repair the damage he’s caused, while leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.

Available on VOD.

Escape Room – Jan. 4

Rated PG-13
Directed by Adam Robitel
Starring Taylor Russell, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine

Official Synopsis:
Six adventurous strangers travel to a mysterious building to experience the escape room — a game where players compete to solve a series of puzzles to win $1 million. What starts out as seemingly innocent fun soon turns into a living nightmare as the four men and two women discover each room is an elaborate trap that’s part of a sadistic game of life or death.

Coming to theaters everywhere.

Rust Creek – Jan. 4

Rated R
Directed by Jen McGowan
Starring Hermione Corfield, Denise Dal Vara, Jeremy Glazer

Official Synopsis:
An overachieving college student gets lost on her way to a job interview. A wrong turn leaves her stranded deep in the Kentucky forest. The woman must defend herself against the harsh elements and a band of ruthless outlaws. She is forced into an uneasy alliance with a strange loner who has unknown intentions.

Coming to limited theaters and VOD.

The Vanishing – Jan. 4

Rated R – 1hr 41min
Directed by Kristoffer Nyholm
Starring Gerard Butler, Peter Mullan, Ólafer Darri Ólafsson

Official Synopsis:
On an uninhabited island 20 miles from the rugged Scottish coast, three lighthouse keepers arrive for their 6 week shift. As they settle into their normal quiet routine, something unexpected, potentially life-changing occurs – they stumble upon gold. What follows is a tense battle for survival, fed by isolation, paranoia and greed, leading three honest men down a path to destruction.

Coming to limited theaters and VOD.

The 6th Friend – Jan. 11

Directed by Letia Miller
Starring Jamie Bernadette, Chantelle Albers, Dominque Swain

Official Synopsis:
Six college best friends throw their own private graduation party that goes terribly wrong when an uninvited guest arrives. Five years later, the girls gather once again and endure a night of far more horror and bloodshed.

Coming to limited theaters.

Pledge – Jan. 11

Directed by Daniel Robbins
Starring Zachery Byrd, Phillip Andre Botello, Aaron Dalla Villa

Official Synopsis:
Three friends get the chance to live the college dream when they’re invited to join an elite fraternity—but first they’ll have to survive the hazing from hell. Freshman social misfits Ethan, David, and Justin are desperate to improve their terminally uncool reputations by pledging one of their university’s prestigious Greek houses. When every frat on campus turns them down, they are unexpectedly recruited by a shadowy social club offering them access to an exclusive world of raging parties, eligible coeds, and VIP social status. The catch? A sadistic initiation ritual that goes from depraved to deadly over the course of 48 booze- and blood-soaked hours.

Featured in our On The Radar series.
Coming to limited theaters and VOD.

Dry Blood – Jan. 15

1hr 23min
Directed by Kelton Jones
Starring Clint Carney, Jaymie Valentine, Kelton Jones

Official Synopsis:
In a rural mountain town, an unstable drug addict must unravel a surreal murder mystery as he’s terrorized by malevolent ghosts, a deranged sheriff, and the frightening hallucinations from his withdrawl.

Coming to VOD & Blu-ray/DVD.

Glass – Jan. 18

Rated PG-13 – 2hr 9min
Directed by M. Night Shymalan
Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, James McAvoy, Sarah Paulson, Anya Taylor-Joy

Official Synopsis:
Sequel to Unbreakable & Split – David Dunn pursues the superhuman figure of The Beast, while the shadowy Elijah Price – Mr. Glass – holds secrets critical to both men.

Coming to theaters everywhere.

The Final Wish – Jan. 24

1hr 35min
Directed by Timothy Woodward Jr.
Starring Lin Shaye, Michael Welch, Melissa Bolona

Official Synopsis:
From the creator of Final Destination – After the death of his father, Aaron returns home to help his grief-stricken mother and to confront his past. Going through his dad’s belongings, he comes across a mysterious item that is more than it seems.

Coming to limited theaters.

Animas – Jan. 25

1hr 23min
Language: Spanish
Directed by Laura Alvea & Jose F. Ortuño
Starring Ángela Molina, Luis Bermejo, Iván Pellicer

Official Synopsis:
Alex is a girl with a strong personality. She’s very close to her best friend Abraham, a shy, insecure boy as a consequence of his complex relationship with his parents. Everything changes when Abraham’s father dies in a bizarre accident. From this moment on, Alex will be thrust into a mind-bending trip where the line between reality and nightmares will start to start to blur.

A Netflix exclusive release.

Don’t Leave Home – Jan. 31

1hr 26min
Directed by Michael Tully
Starring Anna Margaret Hollyman, Lalor Roddy, Helena Bereen

Official Synopsis:
An American artist’s obsession with a disturbing urban legend leads her to an investigation of the story’s origins at the crumbling estate of a reclusive painter in Ireland.

A Shudder exclusive release.


Top 10 of 2018

By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 30, 2018

With nearly 50 movies to consider, these are what I decided upon as the finest of the year. However, despite everything I watched, there are some notable exceptions. We didn’t launch until Sept. 15th, and while a solid effort was made at playing catch-up, the clock ran out and a few managed to slip through. Those would be Suspiria, The House That Jack Built, Revenge, The Clovehitch Killer, Incident in a Ghostland, and Anna & The Apocalypse. We tend to focus on streaming offerings here at Terror Spective, so those limited theatrical and VOD releases tend to fall by the wayside. Got no excuses for Revenge though – it got cut in favor of Christmas Horror Week, but it’ll get covered very soon. Also, I’m going to skip making a worst-of list – I reason that the actual worst horror films of 2018 were ones I purposefully avoided, because I’d much rather find titles to recommend than hate on.

Honorable Mentions:


– The Endless
– Overlord
– Prodigy
– Unsane
– The Witch in the Window

The Top 10

TOP 10 2018 LIST

Happy 2019 from Terror Spective!

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Our Favorite Performances of 2018

By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 29, 2018

It’s the honest truth – 2018 was a ridiculously good year for horror. A simple Top-10 Movies list, which will be posted tomorrow, just wouldn’t suffice for the wealth of horror offerings made over the last 12 months, so I decided to break down the year’s best into 10 different categories to better explore all the greatness there was to be enjoyed throughout. Since we didn’t launch until mid-September, I’ve been scrambling to cover as much ground as possible, and while I didn’t get to everything, there’s nearly 50 films here in consideration. So with that, let’s get to it.

Best Content

This is for honoring the various providers and producers of horror material who consistently release quality films.

2nd Runner-Up – IFC Midnight

IFC MIDNIGHT LOGOYear after year, IFC Midnight cranks out a wealth of quality films – The Babadook and The Autopsy of Jane Doe being a couple of the most famous – and this year was no exception. Regrettably, the clock ran out on reviewing some of these titles for ’18, but their notable releases were: The Clovehitch Killer, Ghost Stories, Pyewacket, Wildling, The Devil’s Doorway, What Keeps You Alive, Lowlife, Our House, Feral, Welcome to Mercy, and Midnighters.

1st Runner-Up – Blumhouse

BLUMHOUSE LOGOI’ve mentioned it several times the last few months that Jason Blum is an exceptionally busy person. With something like 30 film production credits this year – most all horror – he shows no signs of slowing down in the future either. With a winning formula of tight budget management and faith in creator control, he’s been doing his part to forward the genre by proving that it can be profitable and interesting at the same time. Now that’s he been flexing his growing influence by acquiring classic franchises, there’s no telling what promising potential projects may lie ahead. Their notable releases were: Halloween, The First Purge, Upgrade, Unfriended: Dark Web, Insidious: The Last Key, Cam, Delirium, Truth or Dare, Stephanie, Seven in Heaven, All the Creatures Were Stirring, Into the Dark, and non-horror early Oscar favorite BlacKkKlansman.

Best – Shudder

SHUDDER LOGOThe best $5 a month a horror fan can spend. While their original content may not be as prolific as that of Blumhouse, both the quality and quantity of the original and exclusive content they procure and the bargain price at which it offered propel it to the top of the category. They have an amazing collection of classic and archival titles too. It doesn’t take long to gather that Shudder is operated and cultivated by diehard fans who know the good stuff when they see it. Their notable releases were: Mandy, Summer of 84, Terrified, Revenge, Satan’s Slaves, The Witch in the Window, You Might Be the Killer, Downrange, the Joe Bob Briggs marathons, Deadwax, Ruin Me, Still/Born, and Dead Shack.

Best Monster

This one speaks for itself, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking as well.

2nd Runner-up – Werner (Overlord)

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 95

1st Runner-up – Mutant Bear (Annihilation)


Best – The Jotun (The Ritual)


Best Character Performance

This category is for those who weren’t given much depth, screen time, or dialogue, but still managed to make a big impact. (Sorry Michael Myers, Predator, and The Strangers, but you’re all disqualified for familiarity.)

2nd Runner-Up – Sharon Morgan As Her (Apostle)


What straight-up scares there are to be had in Gareth Evans’ bleak period piece Apostle are provided by this mysterious blood-guzzling deity-like figure who, while imprisoned in an entanglement of her own overgrowth, is quite capable of travelling in an astral manner to occasionally antagonize (or perhaps warn) our hero at inopportune moments.

1st Runner-Up – Consuelo Trujillo As Hermana Muerte (Veronica)


It probably wasn’t intended for this blind, chain-smoking, no-nonsense nun to steal the show during her brief appearances – she was merely supposed to be the plot dumper who gives our heroine important story-moving information that she couldn’t be privy to otherwise – but she does, and it was something of a mistake to waste such a memorable character. In fact, I don’t remember a whole lot else.

Best – David Howard Thornton As Art the Clown (Terrifier)


Terrifier doesn’t succeed very well at all as a movie – there’s barely any effort applied to provide even the most basic of narratives – but as a showcase for its spotlight villain, Art the Clown, it actually does quite well. Thornton nails the balance of extreme menace and ironic whimsy – exactly what you’d want from a killer clown – and his depiction of the near-invincible and out-maneuverable psycho is, essentially, the entire film.

Best Screenplay

Some movies don’t have the advantage of deep budgets or fancy effects to gain and hold the audience’s interest – they must rely largely on the strength of their story to get the job done. And some times, movies do have those things and still have damn good scripts.

2nd Runner-up: Ari Aster – Hereditary

1st Runner-up: Isa Mazzei – Cam

Best: Matt Leslie & Stephen J. Smith – Summer of 84

More so than any other film up for consideration, Summer of 84 is especially reliant on its plot beats, story twists, and subversions of expectations and tropes to succeed. Further, the movie is quiet about what it’s up to, subtly building toward a third act that hits with a ton of force. It’s a fiercely rewarding mystery with a devastating finish, and Leslie & Smith’s script provides the elements that make it shine.

Best Director

The director is the one who is ultimately held responsible if a movie is completed as a disastrous mess, so it’s fair they get the credit when it turns out great. The best generally exhibit a blend of vision, control, and resourcefulness, and this year, these were our favorites:

2nd Runner-Up: Panos Cosmatos – Mandy

1st Runner-Up: John Krasinski – A Quiet Place

Best: Paul Urkijo Alijo – Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil

While fans are gushing over the fantastic debut feature of Herediary creator Ari Astor (who I had at 3rd runner-up), this phenomenal first film from Basque writer/director Alijo has gone sadly overlooked. Visually stunning and thematically strong with an engaging story and strong performances throughout, Alijo conjures comparisons to filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro and Terry Gilliam while establishing a unique tone that is decidedly his own, and for that, he takes the top spot here.

Best Youth Performance

You might not realize just how many roles there are for children in the horror genre until you start counting. There’s a lot, and that makes sense too. Children in peril is a fast way to engage an audience when you want to scare or unsettle them, and evil children are even more effective. Also, increasingly, horror is more closely examining parental relationships as well. As such, there was actually a lot of competition here.

2nd Runner-up: Charlie Tacker – The Witch in the Window

1st Runner-up: Simone Landers – Cargo

Best: Savannah Liles – Prodigy

Liles’ performance as sociopathic super-genius Ellie – a child so dangerous that she is held in restraints and treated with terror in a highly classified government facility – is the glue that holds this whole movie together. Largely dialogue-driven, her battle of wits with unorthodox psychiatrist Fonda, played by Richard Neil whose performance is very solid as well, makes for a surprisingly riveting film.

From here on out, the rest of the categories are pretty self-explanatory.

Best Supporting Actor

2nd Runner-up: Rich Sommer – Summer of 84

1st Runner-up: Linus Roache – Mandy

Best: Eneko Sagardoy – Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil

As captive demon Sartael, Sagardoy brings the complex and mischievous imp to charismatic life – portraying a conflicted antagonist that is torn between a sense of hellish duty, resentment for his failures and resulting captivity, and a desire to simply be free of it all. With his piteous obligation to responsibility paired with a lack of enthusiastic conviction to see it through, rarely has a demon been as readily relatable as his.

Best Supporting Actress

2nd Runner-up: Andi Matichak – Halloween

1st Runner-up: Andrea Riseborough – Mandy

Best: Laurie Holden – Pyewacket

Pyewacket is on a list of films that I was too harsh toward early on in my reviews and one of the motivators behind re-designing my whole rating process. While I harped on this film’s third act and its handling of its supernatural elements, it’s likely that I missed the greater point about a catastrophic relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter. Holden plays a frustratingly and realistically human role as Mrs. Reyes, torn apart over the grief of losing her husband while simultaneously blind to her daughter’s own struggles with the loss of her father. She’s both sympathetic and infuriating, so when the summoned demon of the title takes on her form to torment the young daughter, the film takes a chilling turn. This is one of the performances that has stuck with me after binging dozens of movies.

Best Actor

2nd Runner-up: Anders Danielsen Lie – The Night Eats the World

1st Runner-up: Alex Draper – The Witch in the Window

Best: Nicolas Cage – Mandy

No surprises here, as the one-time Oscar winner and two-time nominee has finally been paired with a role that both demands and accommodates the wild and unhinged performances that Cage has become associated with in his later career. The character of Red is not terribly special – a seemingly average Joe with a hidden past who is sent on a quest for bloody revenge after miscreants kill his wife and leave him for dead. To say it’s been done understates how often it’s been done. Yet, Cage breathes fire on what becomes a crusade to purge the earth of an evil and toxic force as much as it is to right the wrongs endured by Mandy, and the amazing film simply wouldn’t astonish like it does without him in the driver’s seat.

Best Actress

While the best female lead performance of the year was easy to decide upon, this was an extremely competitive category which included the likes of Natalie Portman, Sandra Bullock, and Emily Blunt. This is who we went with.

2nd Runner-up: Claire Foy – Unsane

1st Runner-up: Madeline Brewer – Cam

Best: Toni Collette – Hereditary

This was the easiest decision to make throughout this entire process. Collette turns in a tour de force performance for the ages as the supremely troubled Annie, who struggles with the loss of her mother, with whom she had a complicated and bitter relationship, and things only get far worse from there. Hereditary is her showcase, full stop, and her portrayal of an excruciating descent into madness and despair will be talked about for many years to come.


Bird Box

By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 28, 2018

Released Dec. 21, 2018
Rated R – 2hr 4min
Directed by Susanne Bier
Starring Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson

Pregnant Malorie (Bullock) and her sister Jessica (Paulson) are at the hospital for Malorie’s doctor appointment when chaos breaks out – a mysterious entity begins attacking people that, if seen, causes instant and often suicidal psychosis. Malorie, after losing Jessica to the malevolent force, finds refuge in a house with other survivors, including war veteran Tom (Rhodes) and cantankerous lawyer Douglas (Malkovich). Flash forward five years and Malorie and her two children, Boy and Girl, are making a treacherous and virtually impossible journey to possible sanctuary 20 miles down a river blindfolded.

Bird Box is a timeline-jumping post-apocalyptic survival horror-drama. It jumps frequently between its present narrative on the river and its flashback narrative as to how the main protagonist and her children wound up on this journey. The focus is largely on story and characters above all else.

When I say it jumps frequently, I mean that it jumps so often that Bird Box seems more like a collection of related short films than it does a fully cohesive movie. While all of its components are of a top-shelf theatrical quality, its distinctly episodic nature is an odd choice of presentation. This was developed and produced specifically for Netflix, as opposed to being an acquisition, and it’s another one of their big swings for the fences in their bid to compete with traditional distribution models. It leads me to wonder if the company hasn’t developed their own unique formula for how a film should be structured based upon their perception of what their subscribers enjoy – and what many subscribers enjoy is binge watching television. That’s what Bird Box is – a binge watch in fast-motion.


I know that new Robin Hood movie was bad, but I don’t know if it was necessarily soul-shattering.

There’s something like 15 principal roles in this film and Sandra Bullock is in about 95% of the scenes, so that’s a lot of people to put in orbit around the lead in a two-hour runtime. I even lost track of one character, so it was somewhat jarring when they suddenly re-appeared and did a thing. In fact, the constant ping-ponging back and forth between two different narratives – each with drastically different settings and dramatic stakes along with their own sets of supporting characters – couldn’t have been anything but jarring with such a high-concept story in play. It’s exceedingly easy throughout to forget that this is, essentially, a horror movie because the constant shifts and toggles allow for no atmosphere or tension to develop. That is, outside of the opening 20 minutes which had me mentally clearing a spot on my Top 10 of ’18 List for Bird Box – the mess hits in the fan in rather spectacular fashion, so the mysterious antagonists are well-established here. There’s no doubts as to the danger they pose.


Wonder why it’s called Bird Box like I did? That’s because there is a literal box of birds in it. These are the birds that will eventually be shoved inside of it.

So, over-stuffed story and off-putting presentation aside, the film is interesting. Much has been made of its conceptual similarities to A Quiet Place, but apart from being based around apocalypses caused by enigmatic creatures that have a sensory mode of attack and having some underlying theme about parental responsibility, they are two very different movies. Even if the correlation seems too much, Bird Box is based on a 5-year-old novel, so it wins the ‘First!’ game anyway. That aside, with a cast like this, an expectation for strong performances is the default, and Bullock & Co. do not disappoint. She and Malkovich, in particular, exhibit effortless command of the screen at this point in their careers and Trevante Rhodes is quickly rising in that regard as well. Along with Sarah Paulson, the movie shines when Bullock is sharing scenes with one of them, but it also expedites the speed at which many other supporting characters vanish into the scenery. It again raises the question as to why so much energy was expended on such a sprawling cast and their development, so even in praise, the lack of narrative focus rises to the surface.

Complaints aside, Bird Box is certainly worth watching, even if its horror elements take a far back seat to many other elements. It plays like a much-better realized attempt at M. Night Shymalan’s misfire The Happening, and that’s actually not a bad thing to be. It is, however, one of those ‘not the sum of its parts’ efforts, where all of its quality components are not put together in a way that capitalizes on their full value. (And seriously – the kids’ names are Boy and Girl? I get the lack of attachment vibe being attempted, but it’s exactly as silly as it sounds when she’s shouting for them on the river. It’s needlessly ridiculous.)

Bird Box gets a rating of


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A Quiet Place

By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 27, 2018

2018 – YEAR IN RETROSPECT review
Rated PG-13 – 1hr 30min
Languages: American Sign Language Directed by John Krasinski
Starring Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe

It’s been nearly 15 months since the appearance of mysterious super-predatory creatures with hyper-sensitive hearing and human civilization has been reduced to the fringes of existence. It’s in this grim world that the Abbott family cling to survival in their isolated farmhouse, growing and scavenging what they can while remaining as silent as possible. All is not well, however, as mother Evelyn (Blunt) is very pregnant and expecting, father Lee (Krasinski) is distracted by the past, and teenage daughter Regan (Simmonds) is growing increasingly resentful over her fractured relationship with her dad. Throughout one fateful day, the family will learn how the best laid plans often go awry.

A Quiet Place is a relentlessly suspenseful monster movie that makes inventive use of noise and silence to develop tension and invoke a sense of dread regarding its always-listening antagonists. The premise is furthered by the extensive use of subtitled sign language in place of spoken dialogue in most scenes, amplifying the authenticity of the threat faced by the characters.

I highly doubt I was the only one who never suspected that Jim from The Office was a horror auteur in disguise. I looked through John Krasinski’s entire filmography and didn’t find a single thing that would indicate an interest in horror, let alone any talent involving it. I have no idea if he likes the genre or studied it or how he managed to pull this off, but A Quiet Place is a masterwork when it comes to generating suspense and nervous anticipation. Likewise, it’s also an expert demonstration in world-building – there’s great attention to detail throughout, from the prevalent use of sign language to the walking paths that require sanding to absorb the sound of footfalls to the use of lettuce leaves in place of plates to avoid any dangerous clinking noises.


The studio vetoed the original working title – STFU, Kid

Those are just a few examples as to how much care has gone into cultivating the atmosphere that permeates A Quiet Place. One of the key questions with which I approach a horror film is ‘How good is it at being the kind of movie that it seemingly wants to be?’ This film’s answer to that line of inquiry places it quite easily as one of the best of the decade. Throw in some top-notch performances from the principal cast (I can’t recall Emily Blunt ever being mediocre in anything – she instantly elevates anything she’s involved in) and the movie only gets better. Ironically, the award-nominated musical score from composer and longtime Wes Craven collaborator Marco Beltrami acts as another element that is deftly used to emphasize the value of silence.

With all this praise, it would be fair to assume that I’m dropping the ‘Best of 2018’ accolade at the proverbial feet of A Quiet Place without any more debate, but let’s not be too hasty. It is, virtually without competition, the purest horror film of the year. When it comes to generating suspense and apprehension, the Argentine offering Terrified is probably the only one that can even hang with it. There is, however, more to horror than these most basic classical elements – there’s more advanced components like dread, devastation, disgust, and subversion to be considered. There’s also traditional narrative quality and thematic depth to be appreciated as well.


“Seriously though, kid. STFU.”

It’s in those things that A Quiet Place doesn’t stand as tall. It pulls its punches – cutting away or flashing forward whenever matters promise to get too uncomfortable, but it never has any designs on being that kind of movie in the first place. Films that do and succeed tend to be more memorable for having done so – let’s not overlook the sheer audacity of The Exorcist having been released for Christmas 45 years ago, and it’s still being discussed prominently today. So, while A Quiet Place thrills in the moment, and has some touching and heart-warming things to say about family and parenthood along the way, it doesn’t leave the deepest impression once it’s over. There’s not much to think about afterward and the whole experience quickly begins to fade. Factor in the creature design and FX – which aren’t terrible, but aren’t great either – and the film is brought somewhat back down to earth.

While I can now confirm that A Quiet Place is one of the best of the year and very likely has a spot reserved in the decade’s top 25 by the grace of its amazing craftwork, it’s also an experience not unlike a great sugar rush. It’s terrific while it lasts, but doesn’t leave that much once it’s finished.

A Quiet Place gets a rating of



By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 26, 2018

2018 – YEAR IN RETROSPECT review
Released May 18, 2018
Unrated (equal to rated R for zombie violence, thematic elements, and language) – 1hr 45min
Directed by Ben Howling & Yolanda Ramke
Starring Martin Freeman, Simone Landers, Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter

Months into the zombie apocalypse, Andy (Freeman) has 48 hours to live after being infected with the undead virus. Desperately racing against the clock, he must traverse a hostile landscape in search of a new caretaker for his baby daughter.

Cargo is a definitively Australian iteration of the very familiar Z-poc scenario – with its distinctive Outback setting, a musical score that invokes the unique style and tones of the sprawling continent-nation, and, most notably, a reflection upon the relationship and history between the land’s aboriginal inhabitants and the descendants of its European colonists. Between that and its ruminations on parental bonds and responsibilities, it is more assuredly a slowburn drama with horror elements than a capital ‘Z’ Zombie movie.

And oh, how slow it burns. Cargo is a film that really takes its time in establishing its stride. Much, if not virtually all, of the film’s first hour is a pain-staking setup of Andy’s precarious situation. While I would expect nothing less than a solid performance from Martin Freeman at this point – and he does deliver – the character himself is not a particularly compelling protagonist beyond his sympathetic quest. It’s through a rather bumbling sequence of bad decision-making and poor communication that he finds himself in such dire straits, so the movie is not well benefited by such a lengthy examination of these events. Andy does encounter some other people along his way, but they have little to offer in terms of generating interest. By and large, they are your typical stock survivors – the paranoid one, the optimist, the ruthless pragmatist – so ultimately, much of the runtime of the first two acts plays like an uninspired pilot episode of The Walking Dead: Australia, except the hero is carrying a baby on his back and is very close to impending doom.


“Gootchie-goo! Who’s baby’s blood-stained daddy? That’s right! I’m your blood-stained daddy! Gootchie-gootchie-goo!”

It’s a frustrating endeavor, because there did appear a way to circumvent this rather lagging pace. Occasionally, and very briefly, Cargo cuts away to follow a young aboriginal girl Thoomi, played by Simone Landers, doing various things without either dialogue or context before returning to Andy’s story. These interludes are quick and contribute little to the proceedings beyond interrupting the momentum of Andy’s lackluster travails. However, they suggest the existence of coinciding events that could have been expanded upon to develop an equal half, reducing the need to pad Andy’s narrative so heavily. The paths of these two protagonists do eventually cross, and when that happens, the film finally realizes its potential with a far superior third act. Had Thoomi’s story and circumstances been explored to a similar extent as Andy’s, many of the movie’s climactic moments may have landed with even greater impact while making it less of a trudge to get there.

Cargo does really come together well though. The film’s final stretch is a worthwhile payoff for that which preceded it – perhaps not enough to erase all its foibles, but certainly enough to warrant sitting through them. While I haven’t been terribly kind to the structure and characterizations in her script, writer/director Yolanda Ramke and co-director Ben Howling have collaborated upon a visually striking movie. Aesthetically, they counter-balance desolation and beauty in such a way that it allows the story’s deeper themes to flourish and truly be appreciated, and veteran cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson deserves a nod in that regard as well. Freeman and Landers, once finally brought together, forge a fascinating odd-couple dynamic built upon a shared need to trust the other, but without much cause for that mutual trust. Their converged story and the eventual conclusion make for a difficult but hopeful introspection on the history and status of race relations in Australia and the enduring legacy of indignities suffered by the aboriginal peoples inflicted by European colonialism. In that sense, Cargo carries forward the spirit of the George A. Romero zombie movie, using the now-classic archetype to explore complex social and cultural issues with an undead allegory.


This image is representative of Cargo at its highest moments – when it’s an examination of two people from very different backgrounds overcoming differences in a shared struggle for survival against difficult odds.

In all, Cargo is a film with issues of both the profound and troublesome varieties. When it’s at its best, in the last 30-40 minutes, it’s exceptionally well-made and presented, succeeding in drama, suspense, and spectacle. When it’s at its worst, it’s a dull shamble through the desert, making it a greater chore than necessary to get somewhere .

Cargo gets a rating of



The Predator

By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 24, 2018

2018 – YEAR IN RETROSPECT review
Released Sep. 14, 2018
Rated R – 1hr 47min
Directed by Shane Black
Starring Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Trevante Rhodes, Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key

The third official sequel to the 1987 classic Predator – when a US special forces sniper (Holbrook) on assignment in Mexico encounters a downed alien spacecraft, he sets into motion a sequence of events that will see him placed into martial custody and the infamous space-faring hunter-killers descend upon his hometown in pursuit of his son. He will team up with a ragtag band of military misfits (Jane, Key, & others) and a rogue government biologist (Munn) to save the young boy and secure crucial technology from the predators that may decide the fate of the human race.

The Predator is both a rip-roaring callback to over-the-top ’80s action and a surprisingly irreverent satire of both the genre and the series. While it may polarize audiences with its somewhat parodic tone, its sights are set on offering up a fun thrill-ride experience.

When I say that it may polarize audiences, I mean that it absolutely has. While its core fanbase may be somewhat smaller in scale, the scope of the backlash against The Predator can be considered on par with Star Wars: The Last Jedi or the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot (although the dynamics here appear much different). The top 50 user reviews on popular movie site IMDb range from moderately negative to cataclysmic rants of pure acidic hatred. You could distill the bile flying from the mouths of lifelong Predator fans and manufacture car batteries with it – that’s how bad the reaction is. This site – Terror Spective – launched during the film’s opening weekend, and given the putrid feedback from its fan community, I opted to skip it in favor of covering a different new release, Mandy. Now, having seen this, I don’t regret that decision.


Do you fear the villains in your sci-fi franchise might be getting a little stale? When in doubt, add a bigger one.

Now, that isn’t to say that The Predator is a terrible movie. The story is certainly a hot mess that doesn’t much hold up to scrutiny and makes a good argument as to how simpler can be better. A lot of things happen throughout the course of the narrative, and many of those things hinge on choices that are ill-advised, at the absolute best. The catalytic decision that sets off the ridiculous chain reaction to follow involves our not-particularly-sympathetic hero, Capt. Quinn McKenna, absconding some Predator technology from the crash site and having it packaged and mailed to himself where, through a lack of forethought, it winds up in the hands of his young autistic son. This just doesn’t hold up to the later revelation that our chief protagonist is a many-times decorated and highly respected soldier, but it is somewhat consistent with the additional reveal that he is a generally careless father – it’s a rather baffling and overly complicated setup for an action epic.

Ok – maybe it is, technically speaking, a terrible movie. Once McKenna and his band of military psychiatric patients roll into his hometown, they are able to procure weapons, vehicles, and even a helicopter – all without attention or confrontation with law enforcement as they blast their way from location to location on Halloween night. That’s just a representation of one of many grand suspensions of disbelief or gaping plot inconsistencies that exist within The Predator. I totally get that this is both an homage and send-up of the uproariously impossible action set pieces of the 1980’s, but many of the classics from that lot kept their stories simple. This movie, in relation, has a narrative that is akin to rolling down a hill in a barrel. There’s more concerns to be had as well, including lines of dialogue that fall like lead weights, some flimsy-looking CGI, and characters that don’t particularly contribute much to the final outcome. Those last two points might be, or likely are, the result of a third act that was quickly thrown together and re-shot shortly before release as both studio executives and test audiences apparently loathed the original climax.

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 82

The film that dares to answer the question “Do the Predators have doggos, and if so, are they good boys?” The answer would be ‘Yes’ to both.

That’s a lot of baggage for one movie to overcome – especially a high-profile sequel eight years in the waiting – but it’s not a total loss. The Predator makes for a fantastic pizza-and-beer flick to be watched with friends, where no one’s full attention is being demanded and everybody can just revel in the absurdity of it all. There are some genuinely fun action sequences to be enjoyed and intentional humor to be laughed at throughout, and I admit that it was at least fun to watch – there just wasn’t much pleasure to be had in thinking about it afterward.

So, the fan community went up in arms over this iteration of the Predator mythos, and for the most part, I understand it. It’s hardly ‘the worst movie ever’, a pejorative that’s thrown around with such frequency that it doesn’t mean anything anymore, but it’s in the running for being the least of the franchise. I’m including the 2 Alien Vs. Predator films in that assessment, because without them, there would be no debate. I don’t regret watching it or shelling out the money for a mere rental, but would not have felt the same way about paying for IMAX after months of eagerly anticipating the new entry of one of my favorite series. Now, after disappointing at the box office too, it will likely be years more before the fearsome extraterrestrial stalkers return to the screen.

The Predator gets a rating of



Red Christmas

By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 21, 2018

Released Oct. 17, 2017
Unrated (equal to rated NC-17 for graphic violence & gore, strong thematic content, language, and brief nudity) – 1hr 22min
Directed by Craig Anderson
Starring Dee Wallace, Geoff Morrell, Janis McGavin, Gerard O’Dwyer

Diane (Wallace) has gathered her bickering and quarrelsome family together for Christmas when an unexpected and previously unknown relative arrives at the front door. Disbelieved, rejected, and literally thrown out the front door, the spurned man opts to seek revenge, besieging the home in a blood-soaked night of terror.

Red Christmas is a cold sober serious Grand Guignol drama that tackles extremely heavy themes and uncomfortable subjects while also being a schlocky splatter fest that approaches its chosen material with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Yes, those are indeed two opposite things.

The opening line of Red Christmas is ‘Abortion is a huge issue on both sides.’ The film then proceeds to depict the bombing of an abortion clinic, with the culprit successfully escaping, but not before rescuing a still-living fetus in a biohazard bucket from a procedure interrupted by his deed. The opening credits then show in montage the surviving child enduring a physically abusive and religiously pious upbringing by his savior, the theocratic terrorist. If the movie has said anything loudly and clearly at this point, it’s that it isn’t here to mess around.

That’s why it’s so baffling when Red Christmas does, in fact, choose to mess around. For starters, the name of the tragic antagonist of the film is Cletus. Cletus the Fetus. As a joke, it’s about as subtle as a brick to the head. In appearance, he shambles around in an almost comical fashion, adorned in a black cloak and hastily wrapped bandages that makes one wonder how he’s even able to see, let alone be capable of stealthy attack – honestly, he seems much better suited as a character conceived for an edgy sketch show that traffics in tasteless humor. As a crescendo to the utter ridiculousness surrounding this villain, his big reveal has him resembling a certain cartoon chihuahua from a popular ’90s Nickelodeon show. Cletus would be a perfect match for the unapologetic take-no-prisoners irreverence of the Troma catalogue – that is, if it wasn’t for the rest of the film surrounding him.



There’s a vastly different and diametrically opposed set of dynamics at play throughout Red Christmas whereupon Cletus once more becomes a clumsy intruder. Before his arrival, it is a very straight-laced, if maybe somewhat quirky, portrayal of a dysfunctional family struggling to come to grips with the widowed mother’s decision to sell the home that the now-adult children grew up in. Afterward, when dealing with the aftermath of each murderous attack, it is a high-caliber tragedy, highlighting the trauma of each progressive death while posing troubling and thought-provoking questions about abortion, religion, mental disability, personal responsibility, and parenthood and not pretending as if any of them have clean and simple answers. Make no mistake – at the times when this film hits its stride, it’s uncomfortably powerful and powerfully uncomfortable – that is, until Cletus comes bumbling back into the picture, which generally serves to suck the life out of the room (oh shit – did I just make a pun?)


Maybe if you lie down and prop your feet up on something, that’ll help stop the bleeding. Trust me – I earned a first aid merit badge when I was a kid.

Like many low budget efforts, the acting tends to be uneven, but it needs to be said that Dee Wallace straight up delivers a tour de force here that frankly deserved a better – or at least, more consistent – movie in which to shine. She provides Diane with a fascinating complexity – a woman who truly has given much for her family, only to be second-guessed, guilted, and then ultimately subjected to the cruelest of emotional gauntlets, all for decisions that dare to take her needs into consideration for once. She portrays a true mom – a sweet and nurturing soul who hides a fierce warrior just beneath the surface who’s frankly had enough bullshit for one lifetime. She undergoes a metamorphosis each time one of her children are taken by the one she never wanted, ranging from shock, inner strength, despair, and ultimately, pure animalistic rage. Honestly, it’s a pretty amazing performance and I must admit that I forgot what she was capable of.

She’s not alone in this regard either. Gerard O’Dwyer as Jerry is something of a revelation. Early in the proceedings, as the adult son with Down syndrome – whereas O’Dwyer likewise has the condition – Jerry enjoys reciting Shakespeare and has to intervene as mediator into his sisters Ginny and Suzy’s bitterly nasty arguments. Later, however, once the bloody chaos has begun, he is thrust into an existential crisis by some upsetting information that causes him to question everything he has known, and O’Dwyer brings such charm and gravitas to the role, his scenes tend to pack the most dramatic punch. Again, like with Wallace, his is a performance that deserved a more esteemed platform – one where absurd wackiness didn’t keep obliterating the atmosphere.


This is hardly the only questionable decision made throughout Red Christmas.

Now, despite all my slams against the peanut-butter-and-tuna-fish-sandwich tone that permeates Red Christmas, that is not to call writer/director Craig Anderson’s debut effort a failure. His first feature does include some inspired performances, stylish vision, and undoubtedly bold storytelling. I particularly enjoyed the use of Christmas lighting to produce an Argento-esque ambiance to many of the later scenes. It also occurred to me that many of the uproariously gory death sequences in his film carry with them a grueling subtext, in that they resemble numerous different abortion techniques. Now, it’s a whole other discussion as to how prevalent any of these more distressingly gruesome practices actually are – or whether they are still in use, or what context in which they are used, or to what extent the entire subject might be distorted by propaganda – but the sheer audacity on display in presenting a film where a man who survived an attempted abortion kills his mother’s family, one by one, incidentally using the very techniques of the procedure he improbably survived is absolutely jawdropping, or at least it would be if played straight.

To think of the movie that could have been if only the role of the antagonist had been approached with more grounded dignity as opposed to so much cartoonish goofiness – it speaks to a profound amount of potential that Anderson has as both a horror director and screenwriter. I hope he follows this up with something that is equally provocative, but does not offer any easy outs by allowing the audience to chuckle away the discomfort and tension so readily. This could have been an acutely powerful horror film that, without equivocation, confronted both sides of an extremely divisive social debate. Instead, it’s a hot mess that still succeeds in being challenging and outrageous, if not always in the manner that it seems to intend.

Red Christmas gets a rating of