Bhoothakaalam

Vampire Owl: So, the title could mean the days of the past as well as the days of the ghost.

Vampire Bat: It is a nice play on the words being used here.

Vampire Owl: Do you think that Malayalam movie industry can have good horror anymore?

Vampire Bat: Well, horror is the only reality of life. So, it is always possible.

Vampire Owl: You mean to say that the realistic tendencies of the industry can help.

Vampire Bat: Yes, what is life, but a collection of horror of reality?

Vampire Owl: I can’t disagree. I once heard the story of the devil finding the burning hell as a better place to live in comparison to Earth.

Vampire Bat: Well, you know what humans are capable of. They have already made their world a place worse than hell.

Vampire Owl: So, who are the real monsters?

Vampire Bat: Humans are the real monsters, from the day of birth itself. You should see how they torment their own people.

[Gets a chicken biriyani and three cups of elaichi tea].

What is the movie about? :: Vinu (Shane Nigam) is a D.Pharm graduate who is living with his mother, Asha (Revathy) in what seems to have been a very unhappy household since the death of Vinu’s father post leaving a lot of money to be paid back for the loans which were taken. His grandmother dies after living most of her life on the bed after a terrible stroke which she barely survived, and the life of mother and son which was full of negativity only gets worse after the demise. Vinu has been looking for a job for a long time, but as he is focusing on getting some work in his field, and is also trying to keep the search close to home, he is not really able to make any progress with that. Depression seems to come naturally to him, as well as his mother, who is a school teacher for small children. Asha is also hesitant to send him anywhere distant, especially to go for a job which is not directly related to the course which he studied. She also temporarily losses her job, as she ends up hitting a child accidently.

So, what happens with the events here as we just keep looking? :: The mother and the son continues to have arguments over the past, present and future, as Vinu decides to find a job outside Kerala or even India at some hotels where his friends are working. Asha finds him as a rather useless person, as she originally wanted him to study MBBS, and they had spent a lot of money related to that too. But soon, things get worse, as Vinu feels that he was locked within a room by his dead grandmother, who moves around in the wheel chair. Asha feels that he needs counselling, but he doesn’t agree. George (Saiju Kurup) who runs a counselling centre comes home to help him, but Vinu is not happy about it at all, as he feels that he is being marked as an alcoholic and drug addict. George also feels that the sleeplessness might also be a reason, along with the mental problems which runs within the family. Vinu is in love with Priya (Athira Patel), but has stopped returning her calls, as he does almost nothing, while staying in his room, or in front of the television. But he continues to see and feel things – can this mean something else?

The defence of Bhoothakaalam :: Starting off as a movie which seems to have characters with some mental problems related to trauma, it smoothly enters the horror mode after some time. With many options being left behind, one can make different guesses about what actually happened. The minimum elements are used effectively, and the atmosphere of the house also brings a certain amount nostalgia – like our old houses which had mosaic on the floor along with some old style furniture as well as spaces on the wall. The darkness and shadows are pretty much effective in bringing the scares, and there is much to be felt about the possible presence in the house – they contribute to reaching a point where the title can be justified. The emotional side is also very much working, and there is much of the feelings going through here. Even with all the terror coming from outside, there is also the presence of the depressing past related to regret which continues to haunt everyone – the memories can be disorienting enough, as we move forward through a world of chaotic mind here too.

The claws of flaw :: Bhoothakaalam often restricts itself in the use of horror, except for the finally fifteen to twenty minutes when the film is finally allowed to unleash itself, bringing all the elements which it had in store, but didn’t use early enough. It does take its own time, and one feels that it is moving too slowly during that period of time. There are movies which slowly gets stronger, like Come Play, In Fear and It Follows, and one might feel that this might not feel that new with the early slow movement. The mind could have been given better focus, and the presence in the house could have also been better explained, thus leading to a better final finish. It is surely not that scary as some people seem to talk about it – there is something to be frightened about, but not that much as what the reviews exaggerate here, for only those who haven’t watched Hollywood horror movies at all can be that scared about it. After all, these are not the days when people are scared of ghosts that much, because humans have proven themselves to be more evil, each and every time. Ghosts have to be a special kind of scary to rise about human demonic acts.

The performers of the soul :: Shane Nigam continues his work more out of Kumbalangi Nights rather than the other movies, as he once again plays a similar youth who doesn’t really have a job for a multitude of reason, even though he is better educated this time. Revathy’s work continues to be a thing of quality, as he plays a mother role with a difference. There are moments which rises above the natural so well. James Eliya seems to be the man with logic, and has his moments of advice. Jilu Joseph has a small presence as a psychiatrist, as it is Saiju Kurup who deals with the counselling more, and even finds out a few secrets about the house – one would have loved to see more actions being taken by him here. Manju Pathrose plays the usual nosy neighbour, a role which is quite short. Valsala Menon played the grandmother, and that was the role which also lasted for only a few minutes as the movie continues to focus on the mother-son duo for almost all the time. Athira Patel is more or less the Mamitha Baiju of Operation Java coming in here as the seemingly forced love affair which in this case doesn’t reach anywhere in comparison.

How it finishes :: When we think about ghosts and past, the first movie which comes to our mind is Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, a Gothic romance horror which was not watched by that many people in this part of the world. But the past that haunts this movie is more or less related a good number of other horror movies, with one haunted house as well as a psychological side, both complimenting each other, sometimes from a distance, and at times, getting close enough and going through one another in style. Bhoothakaalam doesn’t hesitate to combine its elements, and then come up with the defining moments in the final stages of the film. This is surely a good deviation from the usual horror movies that we have in the Malayalam movie industry, and just like some of the other Sony LIV movies which released in the last few months, like Madhuram and Kaanekaane, this one also has a strong emotional side to go with. Well, you can also have some interesting horror with relationships running emotional in the background, for the ghosts are better and truer with their emotions than the fake humans.

Release date: 21st January 2021 (Sony LIV)
Running time: 105 minutes
Directed by: Rahul Sadasivan
Starring: Shane Nigam, Revathy, Athira Patel, Saiju Kurup, Manju Pathrose, James Eliya, Jilu Joseph, Valsala Menon

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@ Cemetery Watch
✠ The Vampire Bat.

Scary Stories

Vampire Owl: So, we have Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

Vampire Bat: Did you notice that it is the name of one movie with a very long title?

Vampire Owl: Yes, do you think that there will be stories which are that long?

Vampire Bat: It doesn’t seem to be about separate movies, not something like an anthology.

Vampire Owl: But the impression given is that of an anthology.

Vampire Bat: Yes, but this seems to be a story in which there are stories written about real horror which happens.

Vampire Owl: Horror has always been real. It is the only original genre in the world. The rest are not that close to reality.

Vampire Bat: Yes, who can expect thrillers and romance in life?

Vampire Owl: But horror happens to everyone, and is very much real.

Vampire Bat: Yes, if it is not present, we can always volunteer to provide them.

[Gets a marble cake and three cups of cardamom tea].

What is the movie about? :: It is the later 1960s, and three teenaged friends, Stella Nicholls (Zoe Colletti), August “Auggie” Hilderbrandt (Gabriel Rush), and Charlie “Chuck” Steinberg (Austin Zajur), prank play a Halloween prank on the bully Tommy Milner (Austin Abrams) who had been bothering them for a long time. Tommy is not someone who would take this lightly, as he and his gang chase them with baseball bats, they run to a drive-in movie theater, where a young drifter Ramon Morales (Michael Garza) hides them in his car. As he makes sure that Tommy doesn’t get them, he promises to have revenge on all of them sooner or later. Ramon becomes good friends with the kids, especially Stella with whom he has an instant connection, with a special interest in horror stories, and also connecting to her troubled past when her mother left her.

So, what happens with the events here? :: They decide to visit a haunted house for Halloween, where a girl named Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard) had committed suicide. After a kid had gone missing, the place was locked down by the local authorities, but the group manages to get in, only to be locked in by Tommy along with his own girlfriend who is Charlie’s sister, Ruth Steinberg (Natalie Ganzhorn). Stella finds a book which seems to be writen by Sarah who was mostly a recluse, and considered by people to be mentally unwell. She decides to take it home, but on that night, she finds out that the book starts writing all by itself, and it is done using blood. Soon, they understand that Tommy has gone missing, and by finding his t-shirt on a scarecrow, she realizes that he had become the new scarecrow after being attacked by the former scarecrow according to the book. Now, before it starts writing again, she has to stop it with her friends. Can she do that in time?

The defence of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark :: The movie is well-structured, and each death here becomes a special tale of supernatural murder when we look at them, connected by one which gets written by a supernatural entity which has terrible past behind it, that needs to be revealed. The idea is a really good one, and we are immersed in it, even without it trying to do the extraordinary. Everything here is kept pretty much simple, and you can always have time to admire some simple horror. The monsters are nice, beginning with the scarecrow coming alive, and going on to add more which relates to the worst fears of the victims. The Halloween setting is a fine beginning to the tale, and it continues to score well through the haunting in the middle, reaching to the end which is pretty well done, and leading to the option of a sequel being kept open. In the end, you have more than one story in your mind.

The claws of flaw :: There is not much unique being added here though, as this does remind us of other tales, and the predictability does come in, at times. There is not much of a character development around here, and the beginning moments are kind of drag, which could have been shortened to give this movie a better pace at the start. Even though the movie is based on Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, a series of three collections of short horror stories meant for children, this could have had some special additions because this is the movie version, and visuals mean a lot of horror. The book is supposed to have drawn heavily from folklore and urban legends, and so anything more can fit in here and there. Then there is the Academy award winner Guillermo del Toro’s name flashed as a producer, and your expectations are even higher, keeping this movie’s level below that. Well, I still want a sequel to his Crimson Peak as soon as possible, just like Dredd always needed.

Performers of the soul :: Zoe Colletti plays the protagonist, and leads the way in a horror movie amazingly well, leaving us hope for a scream queen many years later. From the beginning with silly Halloween pranks, she is someone who leads the way through the murders, and does that without doubts. Michael Garza who plays the next important character also does well, from the very moment he gets to meet the other characters. The other kids who are being hunted by the ghost with a past includes Natalie Ganzhorn, Austin Zajur, Gabriel Rush and Austin Abrams, and they all provided good support. Gil Bellows who plays the police officer also has his moments. But as usual, the ones who scores the best are the monsters, and even the book is a fine character enough. When you make good monsters, you inspire better work from the cast, unless you have The Conjuring, Annabelle, The Nun group, which works anyway.

How it finishes :: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark shows that simple scary stories do come alive, and when it does, there is great scope for horror. There is no usual anthology here when you hear that it is about stories. There are no different tales coming together from different directors this time, like they have been doing for a long time. It does take an amount of such terror, and use it pretty well, with a cast which is not much known, and it works well enough with some interesting moments of monsters to go with it, as well as a past which is worthy enough for a good haunting. The idea to bring these tales and monsters are also nice, as it becomes not a usual horror story with spirits haunting us. It makes a fine thing for Halloween, and maybe you can watch it during the witching hours, with one monster after the other, as you even feel the need to write a horror story by the end of this movie.

Release date: 9th August 2019
Running time: 108 minutes
Directed by: Andre Ovredal
Starring: Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint

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@ Cemetery Watch
✠ The Vampire Bat.

Haunt

Vampire Owl: Can this be more haunted than our own castle?

Vampire Bat: I don’t think so. We, true vampires provide top quality haunting all the time.

Vampire Owl: In this movie, they become part of a Haunted House attraction, only to find that it is real terror inside.

Vampire Bat: So, these humans want to get into a haunted place, but want to be haunted in a safe manner. It is a strange thing.

Vampire Owl: Yes, there should be no safe haunting. If there is such a thing, it is never really the haunting in the right form.

Vampire Bat: It is time that they realize that things just don’t happen as they want it to happen in a world of chaos.

Vampire Owl: Sooner or later, they would want to be murdered without being dead.

Vampire Bat: They are living in a strange and impossible world of their own.

Vampire Owl: They feel that they can make their own world according to the need, but that is a foolish thought.

Vampire Bat: Yes, sooner or later, they should understand that they are not the masters of this world, and they will never get even close to being something like that.

[Gets a marble cake and three cups of masala tea].

What is the movie about? :: Harper (Katie Stevens) is not having a good time with her alcoholic and abusive boyfriend Sam (Samuel Hunt), and her friends so not approve of him for what he has been letting her go through. The two lovers are very close to breaking up, as the Halloween night arrives, and everyone dresses up in their favourite scary costumes. Her best friend Bailey (Lauryn McClain), along with two other friends Angela (Shazi Raja) and Mallory (Schuyler Helford) attend a party. There, they also meet two guys, Nathan (Will Brittain) and Evan (Andrew Caldwell), who together decide to go on a ride. It is then that Harper feels that she is being stalked by a man wearing a mask. The figure keeps staring at her body on multiple occasions, and she decides to keep close to his friends, as they go on the journey, and stops at a special Halloween attraction, a haunted house. They decide to give it a try, as it has a nice, spooky look suitable for the season.

So, what happens with the events here? :: Just outside the attraction, they meet the Clown (Justin Marxen) of the Haunted House, who makes them surrender their mobile phones and sign forms with their name, address and other details before they are allowed to enter the place. The group which enters the place together, is soon separated. On one side, Bailey, Nathan and Angela finds out that the haunting is real the hard way, as Bailey gets cut on her right arm. At the same time Harper, Evan and Mallory have to crawl through a series of tunnels as well as spend time in coffins as part of the game, but end up losing Mallory who disappears. The two teams meet up again only to find Mallory taken out of a bag by a masked figure who impales her through the head, seemingly killing her. It is then that the group realizes that this is a life-threatening situation, and if they can’t find a way out, they might be killed by traps or masked figures. But is there a way out from there?

The defence of Haunt :: The setting is the one thing that gives this movie the big advantage, and Halloween world with a haunted attraction is what the world never gets tired of watching, and has immense possibilities even without trying too hard. The movie does manage to keep the blood and gore checked, keeping the violence from going too far, as this is a slasher movie made to kill most of its characters in brutal ways, with a setting like this. There are some sequences of terror which comes in, and brings the needed feeling for the audience. It works with the usual fears, and uses them effectively on different occasions created here. There is also a likable protagonist being brought here, and due to what she has been going through, we support her all the time. The masks and the people behind them are terrifying enough to watch, and the movie lives up to its haunted environment, also adding something for the scream queen to shine in the end.

The claws of flaw :: Even though the movie has that haunted house attraction setting, it never really uses it to the full potential, and neither does it manages the best with the youngsters from a party looking for Halloween fun. If you have watched Escape Room, you will know how tricky and scary the rooms can get, even without qualifying as a horror movie in essence – a life-threatening crisis is always the biggest challenge which can be displayed in grand style, no matter what the genre is, and horror has it easy. Haunt does make much of an attempt at divergence and innovation which could have come naturally, as options were always open. The moments before they reach the haunted house are pretty much dull, and that takes some valuable time which could have been used to add more scares into the movie. The movie also adds a certain amount of flashback to its protagonist, which also drags a little bit here and there.

Performers of the soul :: Katie Stevens might be best known for participating in the ninth season of American Idol and also for being part of some of the popular television series, but she is a new figure for the audience here. She was there in the Kathryn Prescott starrer Polaroid in which she had a small role of the girl who was hosting the party, and the second person to be killed in it. The actresses like Samantha Logan and Priscilla Quintana had bigger role than her in that movie. But here, we can see that Katie establishes her very well as one of the best scream queens in her twenties, even though understanding her potential, we know that she could have been given more to do within that haunted house, and the whole thing should have been focused even more on her. Will Brittain plays the male lead pretty well. Lauryn McClain, Schuyler Helford and Shazi Raja manage their roles pretty well. Andrew Caldwell also adds a little, but the masked ones score above them all sharing the glory with Katie.

How it finishes :: It has to be noted that despite having such a fine setting for terror resembling movies like The Collector, Saw and Hostel, this movie is something which has not been watched much by the people from this part of the world, and I wouldn’t be surprised if most people do not know that such a movie exists. Haunt is a movie that deserves some audience, even though it still hasn’t used its elements as much as the horror fans would have wanted it to. When you are locked in a haunted house attraction with psychopath killers wearing masks, you would surely expect more. Otherwise, the move manages to do its job just fine, and the movie maintains the level it had in the beginning, never really altering the mode. You can watch this to add another horror slasher with some traps and killers walking around, and the main characters always in danger, death walking through every corner – you know the ways of evil. After all, each and every movie can’t be Doctor Sleep, Lights Out, It Follows or Don’t Breathe.

Release date: 13th September 2019
Running time: 92 minutes
Directed by: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Starring: Katie Stevens, Shazi Raja, Lauryn McClain, Will Brittain, Schuyler Helford, Andrew Caldwell, Chaney Morrow, Justin Marxen, Samuel Hunt, Damian Maffei

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@ Cemetery Watch
✠ The Vampire Bat.

Girl on the 3rd Floor

Vampire Owl: What shall we find on the third floor?

Vampire Bat: What if there is no third floor?

Vampire Owl: If there is someone on the third floor, there would be that floor, right?

Vampire Bat: The movie itself seems to depend on illusions and hallucinations, and so we cannot ignore that possibility.

Vampire Owl: Well, death can also be an illusion. Not everyone really dies.

Vampire Bat: And not everyone really lives. I have heard that.

Vampire Owl: I have read some highly polarized reviews on this movie, and so I will also be having some doubts before watching it.

Vampire Bat: Maybe it is a case of the movie being watched only by two entirely different levels of auidence?

Vampire Owl: Well, maybe we can serve as that missing level.

Vampire Bat: This one has CM Punk, and so with all those WWE memories, we need to.

[Gets a marble cake and three cups of masala tea].

What is the movie about? :: Don Koch (CM Punk / Phil Brooks) wants to have a new beginning in life, as things don’t go that well as expected and his wife Liz Koch (Trieste Kelly Dunn) is carrying. According to him, the mother and the child would enter a new house which he bought in the Chicago countryside, and he himself would be renovating it. Without any professional help, he stays at the new house, and prepares it. He meets their religious neighbour Ellie Mueller (Karen Woditsch) from whom he understands that the house has a terrible past, and he even hears some strange sounds inside, pointing to supernatural interventions. He also meets Sarah Yates (Sarah Brooks) who is supposed to be living just near the house, and almost starts a relationship with her, only to try and keep her away after one night in the name of his wife and unborn child.

So, what happens with the events here? :: Don meets Sarah again on the next few days, but decides to avoid her and keep her out of the house, even though she seems to try to visit him every day. He calls Liz’s friend Milo Stone (Travis Delgado) for helping with the work, as the house seems to have a lot more to be done every day, with more and more faults being exposed, and part of it actually falling down – even the piping and electrical lines don’t seem to work well enough. But, as Milo finds out about Sarah, he is not happy at all, as he knows much about Don’s earlier life and how he used to be a cheating husband and a hedonist with no control over his activities. Sarah takes Milo to the basement and murders him with the help of a girl with a distorted face, coming out of the walls of the house. She also manages to kill his dog which seems to be watching everything. Don doesn’t have any idea what is happening, and there is more to the house than what meets the eye.

The defence of Girl on the Third Floor :: There have been many similar movies resembling Girl on the Third Floor in the past, but this might easily be the simplest of them all. The movie does provide the feeling that the house is alive from the beginning itself, and there are those moments which keep us guessing, on the edge of the seats. There is always something within the walls of the house, and it includes a walking, mutilated corpse – but what we see more are those coming out through the holes on the wall and the plugpoints, none of them giving an idea that the terror will be over anytime soon. Danger is established as a part of living in this particular house, that too without showing the mutilated figure much, and there is no violent shaking or shadows telling tales – this haunting is realistic and there is not much of special effects used here either. There are some messages to go with it too.

The claws of flaw :: Girl on the Third Floor is quite slow with its proceedings from the beginning itself. At no point does it seem to try to speed up things, quite satisfied with the pace with which it is working. Even though it is okay to go that slow in the beginning stages, the same can’t be said about the later situation, when picking up pace was needed towards the end. There is no big scare jump in the last few minutes unlike what was expected with all these established much earlier. The movie also ends with scope for a sequel with the process seemingly going on to continue, but there is no real explanation for that. There is no big cast to support the movie, and there is zero humour here, providing nothing to support in between. Parts of this movie can also be confusing for some people, as not many things are that direct in comparison to the usual horror movies with a haunted house at its centre and a mysterious girl.

Performers of the soul :: CM Punk a.k.a. Phillip Jack Brooks is not the person you have known as part of movies, or even television series and short-films. He is a mixed martial artist, but he is best known for his time in WWE, where he had some of the biggest matches in the industry written by his name. In wrestling entertainment, his four hundred and thirty four day WWE Championship reign happens to be the longest of this century. He had retired from all professional wrestling in early 2014, continuing in mixed martial arts, but he still has that skill for cinema shown by WWE stars, particularly The Rock whose recent movie, Jumanji: The Next Level was a big entertainer. CM Punk doesn’t disappoint in this flick, as he plays the role really well, and so does Trieste Kelly Dunn who plays the pregnant wife with all the worries. Sarah Brooks is really good as the girl in the house, and she has the mysterious person here under control.

How it finishes :: Girl on the Third Floor, despite its simple appearance, has enough to keep it going forward within the horror genre. With its setting and led by a WWE superstar, there is enough fuel that is in store and is used well. There is only limited resource that gets burned, and still, the effect is more. The usual Insidious and The Conjuring more of scares are not to be expected, as there are more like The Nun and Annabelle to support such cases. This one is rather the old style movie with a haunted house which doesn’t spend time scaring its protagonist all the time, but instead gets through him in parts, slowly and steadily. It is the house which preys the on a hero’s flaws, and as that includes overconfidence and arrogance, things take a turn for the worse. That would be a reason for a ghost to act on it, and you can’t really blame the supernatural being in that case. Along with this, you can also watch other lesser known horror movies like In the Tall Grass.

Release date: 25th October 2019
Running time: 93 minutes
Directed by: Travis Stevens
Starring: CM Punk, Sarah Brooks, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Elissa Dowling, Karen Woditsch, Tonya Kay, Travis Delgado, Marshall Bean, Bishop Stevens, Anish Jethmalani

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@ Cemetery Watch
✠ The Vampire Bat.