‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ – A Mixed Bag at Best

With Sam Raimi returning to Marvel Movies for the first time since “Spider-Man 3,” I honestly got really excited. With a title inspired by one of the many H.P. Lovecraft stories out there, and a look which makes this film seem like “The Evil Dead” as if it were produced by Kevin Feige, this “Doctor Strange” adventure looked to be more than the average superhero flick as it ventured into the horror genre, something we have not seen a Marvel movie do recently, if ever before. Plus, I was looking forward to the Bruce Campbell cameo you know is coming and to see where Raimi was going to put his classic 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 car on display as it has been featured in every one of his films. Come on, you know that car is going to make an appearance at some point.

Well, what stunned me about “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” was how much of Raimi’s visual flair ended up onscreen here. When it comes to Marvel Movies, I assume they are usually made by committee to where the director does have some say, but the producers usually get final cut regardless. But watching this one made me realize how much leeway Feige and company gave this celebrated filmmaker, and that’s even though said leeway only goes so far. As for the screenplay, well, just read on.

I went into this “Doctor Strange” sequel believing it would take place after the events of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” but some have said this one is actually a prequel to it. Is it? I don’t know and would love it if someone could give me a definitive answer on this. What I can tell you is that it starts off with Stephen Strange and America Chavez (played by Xochitl Gomez) running away from an ever so fierce demon while trying to find the Book of Vishanti, this movie’s answer to the Necronomicon. But it is soon revealed that Stephen was just having a bad dream, or was he?

America then appears to Stephen again while he attends the wedding of his beloved, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), to someone other than him. After defeating an octopus demon with one eye with the help of Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong), they learn America is being hunted by demons because she has the power to travel through the multiverse in a way few others can only hope to.

It should be noted that this “Doctor Strange” sequel went into production without a finished screenplay, and it shows. Trying to explain everything which goes on here is very difficult as the number of universes these characters travel through is endless to where I am surprised no one had totems like those “Inception” did. Surely everyone here would eventually wonder if they were actually in the correct universe, right?

When it comes to the visual effects, I am back and forth on them. The opening featuring a lot of CGI to where I found myself not being the least bit enthralled at the action. As the show went on though, the effects became quite immersive and very clever, and there’s an absolutely brilliant scene in which Stephen and America find themselves flying through different universes which vary in colors, depth and weather. It reminded me of when Cameron Diaz chased after Catherine Keener while traveling through the mind of a celebrated actor in “Being John Malkovich.” With creativity like that, I wonder how far the imagination can stretch.

And yes, the actors are all terrific here as one would expect. I don’t even want to think about what other actors could possible inhabited have inhabited the role of Doctor Strange any better than Cumberbatch. While this is the second film where this Marvel character has the lead, Cumberbatch has already played this doctor in various other MCU adventures to where he can play a role like this in his sleep. With a simple move or inflection of his voice, this Oscar nominated actor can communicate so much even without uttering a single word.

Benedict Wong offers strong support throughout as, like Cumberbatch, is not about to let any of the visual effects upstage him in the slightest. Xochitl Gomez excels at playing a young adult who has more to deal with than the average teenager as she navigates through puberty while being afflicted with a special superpower. Rachel McAdams reminds us of what a pleasing presence she can be as Christine Palmer, the love of Stephen’s life who got away from him because superheroes can’t always have loving relationships. And there’s no leaving out the great Michael Stuhlbarg who portrays surgeon and Stephen’s one-time colleague, Nicodemus West. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t have a lot of screen time; Stuhlbarg makes every single second he appears onscreen count for all they are worth.

But for me, the best performance in this “Doctor Strange” sequel comes from Elizabeth Olsen who returns as Wanda Maximoff, better known as the Scarlet Witch. While Wanda may have been good in the past, we see here going rogue here as she attempts to reunite with her children, and these are kids who may not actually exist if you know what I mean. While this particular character could have easily turned into a one-dimensional villain whose selfishness comes at everyone else’s expense, Olsen gives Wanda an emotional depth which makes her threat to those around her all the fiercer. If there is one reason to check out this sequel, it is for Olsen.

After writing all of this, I imagine you must wonder why I have such mixed feelings about this MCU film as its screenplay needed another draft or two. I would have liked it if there were some sort of Thomas Guide available for the average audience member as the story is hard to navigate through to where it is difficult to become emotionally involved in everything going on. Perhaps it is best to view the previous events which took place in both the first “Doctor Strange” movie and “Wandavision” before stepping into this latest chapter as it will help ground you in every single event going on here.

Also, the pace drags in ways it should not, and taking this into account is especially frustrating. While many complain about the average movie lasting around two hours and 30 minutes, and this is not counting the half hour or so of commercials we are forced to experience at our local AMC theater, this one only lasts 126 minutes, and yet there were still moments where I found myself almost falling asleep. This should be a sign of when something or anything drags slower than your ordinary snail as we live in an age where we have no choice but to pick up the pace.

When it comes to “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” I cannot help but describe it as a near miss. While there is a lot here to admire, the final cut is undone by a screenplay which needed another draft or two before production began. While some filmmakers can get away with giving us an enthralling motion picture which everyone involved made up along the way, this one does not quite qualify. It really sucks to say this, but there you go.

As for the post credit scenes, one features an Oscar-winning actress who I did not expect to see here, and the other features an actor from many cult films pointing out the bleeding obvious. I hope you enjoy what they have to offer.

* * ½ out of * * * *

‘Cursed’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

From reading up on “Cursed” through the IMDB trivia section, the story behind the scenes of this film might be more interesting than the film itself.  I say this as a huge fan of the film.  I think it’s a really, really good Wes Craven/Kevin Williamson collaboration.  Is it as good as their work on the “Scream” franchise? No, but there is a reason so many fans of the duo have discovered and enjoyed “Cursed” since its initial release in 2005. Their usual brand of humor, self-awareness and gruesome kills are featured at times, in this film.  This Shout Factory Blu-ray features both the theatrical cut (PG-13) and the unrated cut.  I highly recommend you check out the unrated cut. I’ve seen both cuts, and the unrated cut, even though it’s only two minutes longer, features more gore.

“Cursed” stars Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg as Ellie and Jimmy, a sister and brother duo living together after the unexplained death of their parents.  Jimmy is seen as a dork and feels forgotten about by his sister while Ellie is working on the “Craig Kilborn Show” as a producer. Oddly enough, Kilborn was no longer on the air when the film was released because it was delayed for two and a half years. Jimmy is in high school and being constantly picked on by Bo (Milo Ventimiglia) who resorts to homophobic insults every chance he gets.  Bo’s girlfriend, Brooke (Kristina Anapau), does not approve of his behavior, and she also takes a liking to Jimmy’s dog named Zipper.

Ellie is romantically involved with a smooth-talking ladies’ man named Jake (Joshua Jackson) who is about to open up a horror-themed nightclub.  His past causes Ellie to wonder if he really cares about her or if she’s just another notch on his belt. One night, Jimmy and Ellie have a car accident where Jimmy swears he saw a werewolf or a monster.  Ellie doesn’t believe him, and a police officer played by Nick Offerman is even more skeptical.  Before long, they can’t start to ignore the strange and weird things happening to their bodies and the feelings they are experiencing.

CURSED, Mya, Shannon Elizabeth, 2005, (c) Dimension Films

Let’s talk about the cast as I felt like, every time I turned around, I saw an actor or actress I was familiar with on screen. Shannon Elizabeth is in the film, and she’s game for a grueling and demanding part in the film.  There is also the always reliable Judy Greer as a fast-talking publicist who finds herself butting heads with Ellie throughout.  There is also a cameo from Scott Baio as himself, and it’s just about perfect. Portia de Rossi plays a psychic, and she makes the most out of her limited screen time. Singer and songwriter Mya has a fun turn as the best friend of the Shannon Elizabeth character. As far as the standouts from this amazing cast, the brother/sister relationship between Eisenberg and Ricci is the heart of the film, and it feels very real.  They felt like brother and sister. Joshua Jackson also has just the right amount of mysterious charm to him, and Greer is a spitfire as always.

Any problems with “Cursed” are not the fault of Craven or Williamson. They were at the mercy of the studio.  It felt like they were both looking to make a witty werewolf film to turn the genre on its head just like they did with “Scream” while the studio and producers were looking to make a PG-13 film.  It’s why we are left with a film that shows hints of greatness and other moments which were aimed to be studio-friendly.  There are too many jump scares for example.  At times, the film plays it too safe.  Other times, in the unrated cut, they really go for the gore.

However, when it was all said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of “Cursed.”  The script is witty, sharp and timely for the early 2000’s. When I see its flaws, like the jump scares and poor special effects, I know it is the studio and not Craven, and that’s even though it’s his film.  When I see the material that works, such as the strong acting, the self-awareness and the gore in the unrated version, I see what could have been if the studio let Craven make the film he wanted to and stayed out of things. It’s clear the studio didn’t know how to market “Cursed” as it had a budget of $75 million, and it only made $29.6 million.

While this might sound like a negative review at times, I think “Cursed” is a cult classic which will gain more appreciation now that it’s released on this two-disc set from the fine folks over at Scream Factory.  I think it will get a second life. There is a lot of good in this film, and it allowed me, as the viewer, to overlook the studio’s interference. I really wish audiences could have seen the original werewolf design by the legendary Rick Baker (“An American Werewolf in London”) in the film.  Even though his name is in the credits, his work is not featured in it.  That’s a major mistake on the studio’s part. This is a really good movie which could have been great.  I still like it a whole lot. 

Do yourself a favor and read all of the drama surrounding this film.  It’s a miracle it was released at all. A special shout-out to Scream Factory for giving “Cursed” its day in court. It’s an enjoyable ride, warts and all.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Blu-Ray Info: “Cursed” is released on a two-disc Collector’s Edition Blu-ray set from Scream Factory.  It comes on a 1080p High-Definition Widescreen (2.40:1) transfer with an audio track of DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and with subtitles in English. The theatrical cut has a running time of 97 minutes while the unrated cut is 99 minutes. The unrated cut is the one to watch.

Special Features:

Theatrical Cut

Unrated Cut

Theatrical Trailer

NEW 4K scan of the original camera negative

NEW A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing – an interview with actor Derek Mears (13:57) – Derek Mears talks about his start in Hollywood as a stuntman and his background and training. He talks about his start on “Wild Wild West” and how he met Rick Baker on the film.  He also discusses how it can be hard in Hollywood to be seen as an actor and a stuntman as they want one or the other. Baker was how he got involved in “Cursed” as the werewolf. He details some of the issues when shooting the film, but he was mostly thankful for the opportunity to work with Craven, Baker and Williamson. I really enjoyed his enthusiasm and love of horror films.

NEW A Movie That Lives Up to Its Title – an interview with editor Patrick Lussier (17:57) – He talks about his early work with Craven going back to 1991 on TV. The fact they offered Craven a ton of money to make this film, and it would have put a lot of crew members out of work is ultimately the reason why he chose to direct it.  Craven had his concerns about the tone of the film and if it would be similar to “Vampire in Brooklyn” and the problems he had on that one.  Lussier was only supposed to be on “Cursed” for six weeks, and in total, he worked 19 months on the film. WOW! He goes into tremendous detail on the issues that plagued the film from start to finish.  In his words, “It was something to have survived.”  There were issues with Dimension Films changing the ending, test scores influencing them, and cast and crew members coming and going.  He ends it with a great quote on Dimension Films, “They don’t pay you for what you do. They pay you for what they do to you.”

Behind the Fangs: The Making of “Cursed” (07:33): This is a previously released special feature which includes interviews with the cast and crew.

The “Cursed” Effects (06:45): This is another previously released special feature which includes interviews with Derek Mears, Greg Nicotero, and Judy Greer.   It’s kind of odd to see everyone speaking so positively about the film and its effects, considering all of the drama surrounding what went on.

Becoming a Werewolf (07:58): Jesse Eisenberg hosts this special feature which is clearly tongue in cheek. Eisenberg and Nicotero have some fun together in playing this straight for laughs. Craven pops up here as well to join in on the fun. It’s also written and directed by Eisenberg, and his trademark humor is evident throughout.

Creature Editing 101 (05:32): Now this special feature is really interesting to watch considering what he said in his new interview that is included on this Collector’s Edition Blu-ray. He’s much more politically correct here.

Select Scenes with Audio Commentary by Special Effects Artist Greg Nicotero and Actor Derek Mears: The following scenes are featured: Car Wreck, Parking Garage, Tinsel and Final Fight.

Should You Buy It?

As a horror fan, this is a film definitely worth adding to your collection.  “Cursed” is a film a lot of people have talked about online over the past few years.  They have been clamoring to see the Craven cut of the film, but it’s not clear who owns the footage, and also the original ending was never shot. It has achieved cult status thanks to the fans. I’ve even revisited it a few times over the past year, and I’ve grown to enjoy it more and more with each viewing.  I also can’t help but wonder, “What if?” when I watch the film.  I wonder what could have been if the studio had let Craven do his thing and stayed out of his way.  I also wish Scream Factory would have released this film on 4K as they have been releasing a lot of their titles in this high-definition format. It looks pretty good on Blu-ray, but I imagine a full 4K release would have been really, really fun to look at, especially during the gorier scenes.  If you love Scream Factory and horror films with an interesting backstory, this is a must-own.  I think it’s only going to grow in popularity after this Blu-ray release.

There are two new special features here which are really good, but it would have been quite a treat to have a few modern interviews with some of the main cast members. I imagine they would have some fascinating and bizarre stories to tell. You can pre-order the film now on the Shout/Scream Factory website as it will be released on May 10th.

‘Scream 4’ – The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2011.

Honestly, we needed another “Scream” movie. Since the original was released back in 1996 (YIKES!), we have had dozens upon dozens of horror movies thrust upon us. Many of them had an endless number of clear-skinned teenagers and were given PG-13 ratings which, after a while, indicated the horror genre was being watered down too much. Of course, there is the “Saw” franchise which makes the MPAA go nuts with all the copious blood and guts on display, but those plot twists always give me a massive migraine. Horror went at times from being laughingly lame to hardcore bloody, but they could never top what Asian or Japanese movies achieved. However you look at it, we needed Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson more than ever to give us their take on the continually evolving rules of surviving a horror movie.

Each generation has its own ongoing horror franchise(s) along with the occasional “remake” or “reboot.” When I look at movies from decade to decade, I eventually come to see the more things change, the more they stay the same. This is definitely the case with “Scream 4” which, while having a strong level of suspense, also has a weariness about it. In the process of dealing with a new generation of horror fans, this sequel feels no different from ones which preceded it as the old rules still apply when new ones should be installed.

So, the whole gang is back along with Craven, Williamson (sorely missed on “Scream 3”) and composer Marco Beltrami. Neve Campbell returns as Sidney Prescott who arrives back in her hometown of Woodsboro to promote her new self-help book, and she is reunited with her friends Dewey (David Arquette) who is now the Sheriff in this town, and Gayle (Courtney Cox) who has long since gotten married to him and retired from tabloid journalism. Soon after Sidney arrives, the Ghostface killings start up again. You might think this killer would be more imaginative and use another mask instead, but horror sequels are not heavy on originality, are they?

This time though, the focus of the killer’s rage appears to be on Sidney’s cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts), and it also puts her best friends Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe) in the crossfire. Ghostface’s priority targets are usually teenagers, but after a while he (or she) proves to be indiscriminate as adults become easy targets as well. Oh yeah, Jill has an ex-boyfriend named Trevor (Nico Tortorella) who still wants to be a part of her life regardless of the fact she wants nothing to do with him. Does any of this sound familiar?

With “Scream 4,” the chief thing to expect is to expect the unexpected, just like with any Peter Gabriel album. I do have to hand it to Craven and Williamson though because, even after a decade, they still leave us guessing throughout who the real culprit is (or if there is more than one) and of what will happen next. The movie moves along fairly swiftly to where you really have no time to examine the logistics of everything going on. I imagine you could punch a few holes in the plot, but only after you have watched this movie. I also got a huge kick out of the beginning which plays on the reality of what we are seeing on top of the monotony of a franchise which, like Michael Meyers, just won’t die.

But it’s also the inescapable problem with “Scream 4;” we have gotten so used to expecting the unexpected to where while there is tension, the whole thing is not as scary as it used to be. I kept waiting for this sequel to get seriously scary, but it never does. Even the moments designed to make us jump up out of our seats aren’t as effective as they once were. The first “Scream” was more than just a simple satire of the horror genre, but a movie going experience which was more intense than we expected, and it reinvigorated the horror genre at a time where it was not particularly popular. With each installment, the filmmakers gleefully deconstructed horror movies while scaring us out of our wits. But with this fourth film, the enthusiasm and inventiveness are at an all-time low.

It is nice to see Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courtney Cox back as their infamous characters. I could not help but expect Campbell to be this Ellen Ripley/Paul Kersey character by now, so used to seeing people and those closest to her get killed off in brutal fashion to where she now desires to bring her own brand of vigilante justice to whatever nemesis chooses to cross the Prescott path. Perhaps Sidney could have used a bit more of this attitude as Campbell looks a bit worn out from all those sharp pointed knives that always get pointed in her general direction. Let’s face it, running from a demented killer is nothing new for her.

Of all the veterans, Cox shines the most as we watch Gale Weathers emerge from being just another desperate housewife to someone who is desperate overcome an unwelcome writer’s block. Seeing Gale get back to her bitchy self is fun to watch. In the other movies you hated her for it, but knowing Gale for this long makes you long for her inevitable return to greedy selfishness. As a result, it gives this sequel much of its bite.

In regards to the newcomers, they are more or less designed to be types, and part of me wished they were given more dimension and depth. Emma Roberts is fun to watch as Jill Roberts, but she gets the show stolen from her by “Heroes” star Hayden Panettiere whose character of Kirby is part tease, part sharp retort, and part movie geek more than she would ever admit. She’s got a lot of sass about her which reminded me of the girls from my high school I couldn’t stand, and of the heart and soul they do have which I never took into account back then.

It’s also nice to see Rory Culkin here, having made a strong impression in “You Can Count on Me,” “Mean Creek” and “Signs.” As Charlie Walker, he represents the chief movie geek Randy Meeks was in the previous “Scream” movies. Charlie is not exactly a geek nor is he exactly one of the cool guys. In the end, he’s kind of in between those crowds like most people I know. Culkin is truly one of the perfect actors to play someone very knowledgeable about movies in general, and he gives this sequel some of its more satirical moments.

But when all is said and done though, I still came out of “Scream 4” feeling rather weary. I didn’t dislike it, and it did keep me interested throughout to where I wasn’t looking at my watch. But in the process of creating a new formula for satirizing horror movies, it ends up getting caught in the clichés of them all. Also, I felt it could have spent more time examining the endless films which came out in the past few years. This franchise was incredibly influential, and we continue to realize this with the passing years.

Still, I am open to seeing a “Scream 5.” Whatever problems this particular sequel has, I believe and hope they can be compensated for in the future. And like I said, we always need movies like “Scream” because the horror genre will constantly be its own worst enemy from one generation to the next. As it was described before, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

* * ½ out of * * * *

‘Malignant’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

Malignant” was not only one of the most polarizing horror films of 2021, it was one of the most polarizing 2021 films in general.  There were critics and fans who called it a horror classic and one of the best horror films they’ve seen in quite a while.  You also had an audience which absolutely hated the film and thought it was laughably silly.  I thought it was one of the most entertaining, graphic, and in-your-face films of this past year.  It reminded me a lot of a David Cronenberg film with its use of imagery, especially during some of the later scenes, which I don’t want to go into great detail about because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.

Our film opens with a pregnant woman named Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) coming home from a long day of work to an abusive husband watching UFC on TV. He ends up banging her head against the wall in a fit of rage when he finds out she is not feeling too well.  They have had a couple of miscarriages in the past, and he is abusing her as though it is her fault.  Things, however, take an even more dramatic turn for the couple when her husband, Derek (Jake Abel), ends up dead in brutal fashion.  The two detectives on the case, played by George Young and Michole Briana White, first look at it as a home invasion where the husband died and the woman suffered some major injuries.  However, Madison doesn’t remember anything about a home invasion or what happened that night.

She turns to her sister, Sydney (Maddie Hasson), to help her figure out exactly what is going on. Things are taken up another notch when more and more people end up dead, and Madison is able to see and experience them as if she is there for the murder, even though she’s at home.  Detective Kekoa Shaw (George Young) is very curious about the case and believes the sisters when they say something is amuck.  He’s not afraid to look into it and investigate it while his partner, Regina Moss (Michole Briana White), thinks the two sisters are not making a lot of sense. However, before long, it’s not hard to see a connection between Madison and all of the murders.

“Malignant” is a film which relies on a big twist in the third act.  A lot of people said they saw the twist coming.  When I’m engrossed in a film, I tend not to spend a lot of time trying to figure out the result.  I’m more focused on what is happening and letting it unfold for me before my eyes. I’ve seen this film twice now: once on HBO Max and now on Blu-ray.  The first time I watched it, I found it a little slow-moving, tedious and, at times, quite dull.  The third act, however, saved the film for me.  I remember looking at my wife after the amazing third act and saying, “I need to watch this movie again. That ending blew me away!”

On a second viewing, the first half made a lot more sense to me, perhaps because I knew what was going to happen and how it was going to end.  This is a film which is only going to get better with multiple viewings.  I truly believe it is going to be a cult-classic for decades to come because of how balls-to-wall and brutally bloody and gory it is.  With that being said, this is a smart, well-made and well-acted horror movie.  It’s also a smart look at PTSD, trauma, how we handle it, and how our thoughts can control us.  There is a lot underneath the surface of “Malignant” and a whole lot to like.

James Wan, director of “Saw,” “The Conjuring”, “Insidious,” and “Furious 7” to name a few, has shown he has a great eye behind the camera.  This might be his most ambitious film to date which is saying something considering he directed “Aquaman.”  He goes for broke and does not disappoint.  As I mentioned earlier, I had a whole new appreciation for this film on a second viewing.  The emotional aspects are incredibly powerful and work in the world of a horror film.  Wan has always known how to create drama and real characters in a horror movie that you care about and root for from start to finish. I can’t wait to watch it again and again.  It’s a true work of art.

* * * * out of * * * *

Blu-Ray Info: “Malignant” is released on a single-disc Blu-ray from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It also comes with a digital code of the film. The film has a running time of 111 minutes and is rated R for strong horror violence, gruesome images, and language.

Video/Audio Info:  This comes on a 1080p High-Definition transfer.  The audio formats are DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, Dolby Digital: English Descriptive Audio, French, and Spanish. Subtitles are included in English, French, and Spanish.

Special Features:

Malignant: James Wan’s Visions

Should You Buy It?

YES, YES, and YES!!! The major bummer is the fact there is only one fourteen-minute special feature on this Blu-ray.  I would have loved an audio commentary with director James Wan. I’ve listened to his commentaries on some of his previous films, and he never fails to entertain and inform the audience.  This is the only blemish on this release: one tiny special feature.  However, if you are looking at the stand-alone film, this is a great one to pick up for the horror fan in your life.  They will not be disappointed by the final product.  I understand the polarizing nature of the film based on reviews from both critics and audiences alike.  However, I think “Malignant” is a horror masterpiece. The jail scene took my breath away.  The way it’s shot with wall-to-wall action is simply outstanding.  The way he takes his time in building up to the finish is exceptional. This film is only going to get better the more you watch it.  You should take a chance on it. You won’t regret it.

**Disclaimer** I received a Blu-ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘Halloween Kills’ is Brutal in More Ways Than One

It’s been a long time coming, but “Halloween Kills” has finally arrived in theaters everywhere. Personally, I think it is the result of Michael Myers keeping his mask on. Heck, he has been keeping it on for the most part since 1978. In this franchise, it is said that evil never dies and you can’t kill the boogeyman. Maybe this is because he is not an anti-vaxxer and has gotten his shots (whether it was Moderna or Johnson & Johnson, I have no idea). Besides, his victims this time around aren’t wearing masks. Doesn’t this tell you something?

Okay, let’s get something out of the way here, is “Halloween Kills” as effective as David Gordon Green’s previous “Halloween” from 2018? Not quite, and it does at times seem more concerned with upping the blood and gore this time around to where no one dies an easy death. Still, this follow-up has some very suspenseful moments as we know Michael, or The Shape as he is often called, is just around the corner. The question is, which corner?

Picking up at the moment where the previous installment ended, three generations of Strode women are being driven away from the fiery inferno which has engulfed Laurie’s home, but the fire department in Haddonfield is more reliable than they could have expected as they race over to her address even as she yells out, “let it burn!” And as the trailer shows us, Michael is quite handy with tools and hardware as he easily lays waste to trained professionals.

With 2018’s “Halloween,” Green retconned the franchise to excellent effect. In “Halloween Kills,” Green and screenwriters Scott Teems and Danny McBride retcon it even further as we see Michael getting captured by the police, and we learn of Deputy Frank Hawkins’ first run in with Michael when he was a fresh newbie on the police force. More importantly, it allows Will Patton to appear in yet another “Halloween” film as his seriously wounded character manages to survive. We also get to understand why Frank now has a renewed interest in killing Michael.

One of the things I really enjoyed about “Halloween Kills” is its attention to the characters. This is not your average slasher film filled with people you cannot wait to see get bludgeoned to death, and you never hear the audience breaking into a chant of “kill the bitch” as I witnessed at a screening of “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” years ago. They are all flesh and blood, some simply minding their own business while others still vividly remember what happened to their beloved hometown 40 years ago. Heck, even Lonnie Elam (Robert Longstreet) and Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) get along here as Lonnie’s days of bullying Tommy have long since been put behind them. Deaths here are not ones to be celebrated, but are instead meant to be tragic.

Another fascinating thing is how this sequel touches on current events without ever exploiting them. When word gets out that Michael is back in Haddonfield doing his slicing and dicing act, Tommy is quick to get everyone he can together so they can form a mob to take down the Shape once and for all. The police encourage him and others not to go down this path, but considering how well they did the last time Michael came to town, and they refused to be swayed.

Granted, this franchise has dealt with angry mobs before, particularly in “Halloween 4,” but the mob in that one was incredibly tiny compared to one presented in “Halloween Kills.” Just about everyone in Haddonfield is seen shouting out “evil dies tonight” endlessly to where even its former sheriff, Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers, back for the first time since 1981’s “Halloween II”), wants to see justice done for his slain daughter. Of course, we all know angry mobs can lead to needless violence and death, and this makes the events which unfold here all the more tragic.

Of course, it is the Strode women who take center stage in this latest confrontation with the Shape. Surprisingly, Laurie Strode is largely left on the sidelines this time around as she recovers from a knife wound to the stomach. Still, this gives Jamie Lee Curtis a chance to shine in scenes opposite Patton as both talk about what could have been. Judy Greer proves to be more badass than ever as Karen, Laurie’s daughter who struggles to move past the death of her husband to keep her daughter safe. But as “Halloween Kills” reaches its bloody conclusion, even she realizes how evil must die.

Andi Matichak also returns as Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson, who has since come to see that the boogeyman is real. Matichak makes Allyson into a tough character, but the actress is never hesitant to show the fear on her face as she gets closer and closer to Michael. As Allyson enters his childhood home armed with a shotgun, even Matichak knows it would be foolish for this character not to be the least bit scared.

There are some actors who are new to the franchise here, and they are very welcome additions. I figured Robert Longstreet would make Lonnie into an adult who still loves to bully kids like Tommy, but he instead makes this character into a wounded adult who looks out for his son and will never forget “the night he came home.” It is also great to see Anthony Michael Hall, long since removed from his Brat Pack days, here as Tommy Doyle. With Tommy’s introductory monologue, Hall puts the audience under a spell as he reminds us of Haddonfield’s tragedy while paying respect to the lives lost and how we should “never forget.” Hall is really good here. I also got a kick out of Scott MacArthur and Michael McDonald who play an eclectic couple that own the old Myers’ house. Furthermore, they know what happened there and have no buyer’s remorse (or will they?).

And yes, John Carpenter, along with son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, have provided “Halloween Kills” with a terrific film score. The themes are familiar ones, but they are given a mournful sound as we are reminded of ghosts which have yet to be laid to rest. There are also some nice propulsive themes as well to keep the adrenaline going. Those who are a fan of Carpenter’s music will not be disappointed.

In some ways, “Halloween Kills” is at a disadvantage as it is the middle chapter in a trilogy, and we still have “Halloween Ends” to look forward to. Whether or not evil can die, I think it’s safe to say it can take one hell of a beating and keep on ticking. I mean, it has to knowing a third chapter is one the way. Regardless, this sequel gave me much to admire about it as it deals with how the bullied often become the bully, how the past can haunt us to no end, that small suburban towns are more often know for tragedies than anything else, and that some people have no business holding a gun.

Just keep in mind one thing: While this looks like a John Carpenter “Halloween” movie, it is a David Gordon Green “Halloween” movie. It is important to note this as many horror fans may be expecting a certain kind of film here, and you really should remember who is behind the camera on this one as it may not be the one you think.

It will be interesting to see Laurie Strode have one last showdown with Michael Myers, and I believe David Gordon Green has long since been prepared to save the best for last. Michael is not just pure evil; he is like the Energizer bunny, except with a bloody knife instead of a drum. He just keeps stabbing and stabbing and stabbing…

* * * out of * * * *

Final Trailer For ‘Halloween Kills’ Promises a Big Reunion

While the previous trailer for “Halloween Kills” showed how brutal the latest installment of this long running horror franchise is going to be, the final trailer proves it will be one hell of a reunion as well as several familiar faces return in an effort to lay waste to Michael Myers. Evil never dies, but it never stops the residents of Haddonfield from trying to kill it.

Kyle Richards returns as Lindsey Wallace, one of the kids Laurie Strode babysat in the original, and seeing her yell at a couple of young trick-or-treaters to rush home shows she has not fully recovered from the events of 40 years ago. We also see Nancy Stephens back in her fourth go-around as Marion Chambers, former assistant to the late Dr. Sam Loomis, and she is smart enough to bring a gun to a knife fight. But like Loomis in “Halloween II,” Marion appears to lack that extra bullet, and it looks as though she will have as much luck in this “Halloween” timeline as she did in the other.

Tommy Doyle, the other young lad Laurie saved in “Halloween,” is back as well, this time played by Anthony Michael Hall. Tommy as a youngster was convinced of how no one can kill the boogeyman, but seeing Hall wielding a metal baseball bat indicates he will give it his best shot.

Heck, even the kid who bullied Tommy as a kid, Lonnie Elam, makes a return to the franchise, and he is played as an adult by Robert Longstreet. This trailer also hints at Lonnie’s own encounter with Michael Myers, which he somehow survived, and even he is determined to take out “The Shape” anyway he can, even if it means going to Michael’s childhood home.

So, what is opening up in October looks to be a horror film where everyone is still deeply traumatized from the horrible events which took place four decades ago, and now history has repeated itself to where no one in Haddonfield will allow this murderous rampage to continue. While Laurie looked to be the only one traumatized amongst the characters in the previous “Halloween,” this follow-up is filled with dozens of people whose lives have been forever shattered. Of course, there is another sequel coming after this one (“Halloween Ends”), so it will be interesting to see how this one will conclude as Michael’s reign of terror is still far from over.

Seeing all the characters in town chant “evil dies tonight” makes “Halloween Kills” especially chilling as an angry mob, even with the best of intentions, can make some seriously awful mistakes. We have seen this in previous sequels like “Halloween IV,” but on a much smaller scale. This installment has a budget which allows for the appearance of far more characters than its predecessors could ever hope to have.

Watching this final trailer several times over makes me wonder about a few things. Is Will Patton actually returning as Deputy Frank Hawkins even after what happened to him in the last film? Will we see how Michael Myers was captured by the Haddonfield police all those years ago? If you look really closely, Sam Loomis does make an appearance, but will he look and sound like Donald Pleasance?

But another thing I wondered about more than anything else was this: will Laurie Strode (played by the great Jamie Lee Curtis) die in “Halloween Kills?” While Laurie is featured throughout much of this trailer, the climax appears to be dominated by her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) and her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) as they attempt to not only kill Michael, but unmask him for all the world to see. We don’t see Laurie in any of those scenes, so I am worried this film maybe it for her. If she is to be killed off, let’s hope she gets a better fate than the one she received in “Halloween Resurrection.”

And of course, we have been promised an unmasked Michael Myers before. We got a glimpse of his face in John Carpenter’s original film, and we were promised an up close and personal look of him in “Halloween 5,” but the latter turned out to be a cruel tease. Besides, with one more “Halloween” coming in 2022, is this really the time to see Michael unmasked? Well, anything is possible.

“Halloween Kills” will finally arrive in theaters everywhere on October 15th, and will also debut on the Peacock streaming service on the same day. If I were you, however, I would see it on the silver screen with an audience, be it a big or a small one. And if you do see it in a theater, wear a mask. Hey, it works for Michael.

‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do” It is yet another intense, smart, funny and well-acted journey in this universe created over a number of films.  It really starts and ends with the love between Ed and Lorraine Warren, played perfectly by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. The chemistry between the two actors is off the charts. It is so good you would almost believe they are together in real-life. That is top-notch acting. They have also appeared together in “The Nun” and “Annabelle Comes Home.”  The formula works, and I’d be happy with even more “Conjuring” or “Annabelle” films featuring the two of them in the future.

When you have had so many films and various spin-offs, one would imagine they would have run their course by now.  However, this is still a solid flick, even though it is probably the weakest of the three films.  That is not a criticism, as they are all entertaining and enjoyable in their own way.  In “The Conjuring 3” (let’s stick with that title), Ed and Lorraine Warren are overseeing an exorcism of an innocent eight-year-old young boy named David. At this exorcism, his family is there, along with Arne (his sister’s boyfriend) and Father Gordon.  Once this demon starts to really do a number on David, Arne (Ruairi O’Connor) tells the demon to take over his body instead of David, despite Ed telling him it is not a good idea.

Ed suffers a heart attack, which sets him back for a while.  When he finally starts to feel better, he realizes the demon is inside of Arne, and it has to be stopped before more damage is done to other unsuspecting individuals.  He can see bad things around the corner for anyone who is near Arne.  Arne is in danger as well.  Together, as only they can, Ed and Lorraine Warren decide to take this demon down and remove it from the body of Arne and restore some sense of normalcy to all of their lives. Even though they encounter their share of doubters and second-guessers, they know what is really going on and will stick to their beliefs.

Without giving too much away, there is a courtroom element to the film that truly enhances it in a unique way.  It talks about how demonic possession can cause someone to do things they normally wouldn’t do if they weren’t possessed by a demon.  It is almost like the insanity plea a lot of people deal with in the courtroom.  This was a nice touch to the film.  Another thing which is consistent throughout “The Conjuring” films is how they really give you a sense of place and time. This film takes place in 1981, and from the clothes, the music and scenery, you really feel like you are in the early 80’s.  The devil (no pun intended) is in the details with these movies.

The issue with “The Conjuring 3” is the fact it is almost two-hours long.  There are times where the film can feel a little long in the tooth and drag.  It did not need to be this long.  I found myself clock-watching during certain scenes.  Even though I mentioned the devil is in the details, there are some details which can be left out, as not everything needs to be explained to such an extreme degree here.  I’m more interested in the necessary details and the background.  It feels like they are over-explaining things at times to the audience.

Many people ask me after watching one of these films, “Was it scary?” Truth be told, I don’t get scared by movies, really. That is not a knock against the film or any of the people involved in its making.  For me, what makes “The Conjuring 3” an enjoyable watch is the two main actors, their charm and chemistry, the background on these cases (based on true stories) and the way the films are directed and put together. Even though it is the weakest of the three films, it is still an enjoyable ride to take because they take it seriously and put effort into making sure they are producing quality films and not just a sequel for the sake of a sequel.

* * * out of * * * *

Blu-Ray Info: “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do” It is released on a single-disc Blu-Ray from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. The film is rated R for terror, violence and some disturbing images. It has a running time of 112 minutes.

Video/Audio Info: The film is presented in 1080p High Definition with audio formats of Dolby Atmos-TrueHD: English, Dolby Digital: English Descriptive Audio, English, Spanish and French. Subtitles are included in English, French and Spanish.

Special Features:

By Reason of Demonic Possession-An in-depth look at the true story that inspired the movie

The Occultist-Meet the terrifying new addition to the Conjuring Universe

Exorcism of Fear-Delve into the making of the movie and the chilling exorcism scene that opens the film

DC Horror Presents: The Conjuring: The Lover #1-A Video Comic that goes deeper into the Conjuring Universe.

Should You Buy It?

If you own the “Annabelle” films and the previous two “Conjuring” films like I do, you are going to want to add “The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It” to your collection.  There are some really cool special features here that really add a unique backstory to what you have seen in the film.  Also, the opening scene might be one of the best I’ve seen in a horror film in quite some time. Once again, I cannot praise the work of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga enough. They are the heart and soul of the film.  Without them, the story and the intensity simply do not work. They are a couple to root for and a couple that is interested in helping people.  While the running time can stop the film’s momentum occasionally, this is still worth owning and checking out. As long as Wilson and Farmiga keep coming back for these movies and the filmmakers keep finding case files from the Warrens, I’ll keep coming back to watch them.

**Disclaimer** I received a Blu-ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘The Night House’ Explores Grief While Thrilling You to No End

The isolated home by the seaside or out in the wilderness always seems like the perfect location for your average horror film or psychological thriller. It’s a place where many of us go to get away from our daily troubles as well as the hustle and bustle of city life as it can become too overbearing after a time. But once characters arrive at such a peaceful destination and have fallen in love with the beautiful vistas and ambient noises, all hell breaks loose. While they want to get away from everything, a brutal form of everything is coming after them. Whether it’s “The Evil Dead,” “Gerald’s Game,” “Honeymoon,” “Silent House” or other movies which are not coming to my mind right now, I have to wonder if getting away from everything is all its cracked up to be.

These thoughts went through my mind when as I watched “The Night House,” a psychological horror film which looks to have Rebecca Hall trapped in a beautiful seaside house which is haunted. But what unfolded before my eyes proved to be much more absorbing and thrilling than I expected as it deals with the things that go bump in the night, but it also deals with universal themes such as grief and coping with such an unexpected loss. While this movie is not exactly groundbreaking, it kept me within its grasp throughout and made me jump out of my seat a few times.

Hall plays Beth, a small-town schoolteacher who is now a widow. During a rather prickly parent-teacher meeting in which a mother is a bit miffed at Beth for giving her son a C in Speech, Beth tells her that her husband had died by suicide the other week. Suffice to say, this is not your typical parent-teacher meeting, but the parent did get their offspring a higher grade as a result. Of course, the parent walked out of it all embarrassed just like she should have.

Despite all the pain and anguish she is enduring, Beth continues to reside in the house her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) built for them during the early years of their marriage. Watching Beth’s home video footage of this house being built helps bring this story down to a more relatable level for me as friends of mine in Northern California shared videos of their own houses being constructed which had them all super excited. It is always more fun for some to create something than it is to destroy anything.

But when night falls, strange things begin happening around the house. The stereo system turns on by itself to play one of Beth and Owen’s favorite songs at an ear-splitting volume. Beth hears knocking on the walls but cannot find who is doing it, and with her getting drunk on a regular basis, it is getting harder to tell what is real and what is fantasy.

I sat in the darkened theater very much enthralled by “The Night House” as director David Bruckner, who previously the 2017 British horror film “The Ritual,” keeps us guessing as to what is really going on with Beth as she struggles to get past her husband’s sudden death even as she discovers things about him she was unaware of. To say he gives the proceedings a Hitchcockian vibe feels justified as the story holds onto its secret without ruining them long before the screen goes to black.

Bruckner also does a terrific job in making this house a terrifying place as he shows us how silence can be golden. As Beth moves around in her isolated home, there is little in the way of ambient sound, and it’s moments like these where I keep waiting with unbated anxiety for something loud to come out of nowhere. Yes, there are jump scares, but the ones Bruckner pulls off are highly effective as I cannot remember the last time I leaped out of my seat like this. Seriously, there may be cracks in the ceiling.

And then there’s Rebecca Hall who reminded me once again what an undervalued actress she is. Whether it’s “Iron Man 3,” “The Town” or the little seen “Christine,” she always proves to be a memorable presence as she fully invests herself in each character she plays. As Beth, she does some of her best work yet as runs the gamut of emotions while portraying a character going through the many stages of grief. Beth is sarcastic, biting and not always the nicest person to her friends, but Hall makes you empathize with her as this is her dealing with such a devastating and unforeseen death.

Hall also has nice support from her fellow actors here. Sarah Goldberg is a heartwarming presence as Beth’s best friend, Claire. While Beth may be pushing away, Claire still attempts to help her anyway she can even as she constantly apologizes for the things she said but didn’t mean to. Goldberg makes Claire feel painfully real as the character embodies the way many of us act towards a friend who has lost someone.

Vondie Curtis-Hall shows up as Mel, a local caretaker who also wants to help Beth in her time of need. The actor manages to find a subtle balance between being helpful and also vulnerable as Mel appears to be more knowledgeable about Owen than Beth initially realizes. Not all actors are successful in pulling this off, so it is noteworthy.

Stacy Martin, best known for her work in Lars Von Trier “Nymphomaniac,” has some choice scenes as Madelyne, a woman who may know more about Owen than Beth is comfortable with. It’s interesting to watch Madelyne as she struggles to befriend Beth even when Beth looks like she wants to jump across the table and strangle her. Martin does a great job in handling the awkwardness of her situation even as she looks to be risking physical and emotional harm.

I was surprised to see how deeply I was taken into “The Night House” as it looked, on the outside anyway, to be an average horror or thriller which may be fun but not leave much of an aftertaste. This film, however, really got under my skin though thanks to the performances and Bruckner’s direction which is even further enhanced by the beautiful cinematography by   Elisha Christian and the ominous film score composed by Ben Lovett. But at the center of it all is Rebecca Hall who fully involves us in her character’s frightening path which looks to have no happy end. From start to finish, she is a marvel.

Seriously, I came out “The Night House” shaking. I watched it in sheer terror as I feared for the secrets Beth would end up discovering, and I also was terrified this movie would have some shaggy dog ending which would just pull the rug right out from under us in a terrible way. Remember the wannabe “Sixth Sense” ending that Nicholas Sparks adaptation “Safe Haven” had? Oh lord! Well, this one does not have that kind of an ending even though part of me was a bit perplexed by it.

In the end, “The Night House” is really meant to be an exploration of grief and how one person can go through its brutal stages  It’s great to see a horror thriller pull this off in an emotional and thoughtful way, and it was all accomplished with little, if any, blood and gore. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but anyway.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Halloween Kills’ Trailer Promises a Brutal Follow-Up

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is one of the many films we had to wait an extra year for. But with the pandemic reaching its tail end (or so we have been told), we can look forward to “Halloween Kills,” the sequel to David Gordon Green’s highly successful “Halloween” reboot, arriving in theaters this October of 2021. John Carpenter, who returns as Executive, has told us the following about it:

“It’s brilliant. It’s the ultimate slasher. I mean, there’s nothing more than this one. Wow! Man.”

After watching the first trailer for “Halloween Kills” which was unleashed this past week, I believe Carpenter is a man of his word as what unfolds here is truly brutal. As I watched this preview, I wondered if this was a red band trailer or one which was approved for all audiences by the infamous MPAA.

When we last left this franchise, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) had left Michael Myers to burn to death in her house. But as she escaped alongside her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) in the back of a truck, they watched in horror as fire trucks rushed their way over to Laurie’s residence which had since turned into a burning inferno. But as one firefighter reaches out to another who has fallen through the floor, we know the hand he takes in his is indeed Michael’s.

Watching as Michael stepped out of the house while it was still engulfed in flames, and holding a rather sharp firefighter tool in his hands, I was quickly reminded of what Steve Rogers said to a bunch of mercenaries while stuck in an elevator with them in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier:”

“Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?”

Seeing Michael lay waste to these firefighters with their own tools, one of them a power saw, it is clear this will be an exceptionally bloody follow-up as we see the “essence of evil,” as Laurie describes him, lay waste to helpless victims with an assortment of tools, one of them a broken fluorescent light tube.

 “Halloween Kills” looks to start mere seconds after the previous film ended, and it looks like the mob is out in full force as the town of Haddonfield is out for vengeance in the wake of so many murders. It feels like blood will be flowing endlessly this time around as we watch Anthony Michael Hall as Tommy Doyle, the young boy who took way too long to open the door for Laurie in the original “Halloween,” walking around town with a baseball bat. Not just any bat mind you, but one made out of metal. That’s right folks, Tommy is out to hit some balls!

There are several unforgettable images to be found here. Among them is the visual of three kids wearing those Silver Shamrock masks from “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” whose bodies lay lifeless and bloodied in a playground. Of course, part of me wonders if they got lucky. I mean, Michael got to them before they had any opportunity to “watch the magic pumpkin” on television. If they just missed Michael, their heads would have crumbled and turned to mush, releasing all sorts of pesky bugs and poisonous snakes. Haddonfield may have a solid police department, but how are they with animal control?

Also, Michael is once again unmasked in the franchise, this time by Karen who dares him to get his altered William Shatner “Star Trek” mask back. But we have been down this road before as Michael, as an adult, has had some opportunities to show us the face behind the mask, and it resulted in being nothing more than a tease (particularly in “Halloween 5”). Will the filmmakers here tease us yet again?

And yes, Jamie Lee Curtis is back in action, looking every bit as lethal as Michael does. Even after getting stabbed in the belly, you believe her fully when she tells her daughter that evil will die tonight. Regardless of how this film turns out, you can always count on Curtis giving a top-notch performance as she never disappoints.

“Halloween Kills” arrives at a theater near you on October 15, 2021. I look forward as I do to its soundtrack which will again be composed by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies. I am so excited to where I am reminding myself to keep my expectations in check. It is too easy to be disappointed in a film and for all the wrong reasons, and I want this one to live up to the hype.

Check out the trailer below:

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘When a Stranger Calls’ (1979)

The original “When a Stranger Calls” from 1979 is a horror movie I am tempted to say I have seen many times already. This is because the scenes with Carol Kane playing a babysitter who is menaced by an anonymous caller who taunts her endlessly as he constantly asks if she has checked on the kids are scenes I have watched from time to time. It’s those scenes which keep getting presented on shows which celebrate the scariest horror movie moments, and it was featured in the documentary “Terror in the Aisles.” Even Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson paid homage to it in the “Scream” movies, and they did to such a powerful effect. Those scenes were enough to frighten me to my very core as being alone in the house was always deeply frightening to me when I was young, and the sound of silence can make things seem even more unnerving as it can get punctured at any given second.

Truth is, I never watched “When a Stranger Calls” until now. I finally took the time to watch it when I found it was available to stream on Amazon Prime. Like many movies I watch on this particular streaming service, I figured I would just watch it for a few minutes and then turn it off, perhaps hoping to watch the rest of it later. But in the end, I found myself watching it to its brutal conclusion, and this proved to be for better and, especially, for worse.

“When a Stranger Calls” starts off with Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) arriving at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Mandrakis (Carmen Argenziano and Rutanya Alda) to babysit their children while they are at a party. Everything starts off fine with Jill relaxing at the residence and speaking with her friend about the latest gossip at school. But while working on school assignments, she starts receiving phone calls from a man who keeps asking her if she has checked on the children. As the calls keep coming at her with the volume of each ring getting increasingly louder, Jill hears the man saying he wants her blood all over his body. To her credit, she does the smart thing by calling the police who attempt to trace these calls to their source. Of course, then they discover that the caller is actually inside the house…

The opening 12 minutes of “When a Stranger Calls” have long since become iconic as it does provide audiences with one of the most terrifying scenes in a horror film, and it does so without any blood or gore. Director Fred Walton does a brilliant job of setting up this babysitter in a normal home environment which is no different from the ones we have lived in, and the silence of them when the stereo isn’t on and playing the top 40 hits proves to be quite deafening. With scenes like these, we are reminded of how what we don’t see proves to be more infinitely terrifying than what we do.

But therein lies the problem with this film, it peaks too soon. Once Jill’s horrifying predicament comes to an end as she runs straight into private investigator John Clifford (Charles Durning), the story then moves to a number of years later when John is obsessively pursuing the man on the other end of the phone line, Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley) who has just escaped the insane asylum he was committed to. What results from there is frustratingly dull as “When a Stranger Calls” wastes fine actors in a movie which looked to promise so much more than it ends up giving.

It really sucks to say this as this film features a very talented cast who do give the material their all despite it being so lackluster. Durning gives us a fully realized character who is ever so obsessed about capturing the man who laid waste to a family in the worst way possible. Beckley, who died six months after the film’s premiere, does a strong job of inhabiting such an insane and unstable character in Curt to where I never caught him overacting. We also have Colleen Dewhurst on board as Tracy Fuller, a person who comes into contact with Curt in a rather ambivalent fashion, but once she does, things become far too predictable.

“When a Stranger Calls” does eventually return to Jill’s life years later when she is married and has children of her own, and this does result in a much-needed increase in suspense and tension as we are reminded of the hell she went through. We even get one highly effective jump scare, but it all leads to a conclusion which proved to be deeply unsatisfying.

When it comes to Kane, she is the best thing this movie has to offer. She has long since proven to be a tremendous comedic talent in movies like “Annie Hall” and “The Princess Bride, the TV shows “Taxi” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” and she was fearless in her portrayal of one of John Munch’s ex-wives on “Homicide: Life on the Street.” Here, she goes from playing a young student and babysitter to a woman still dealing with the trauma and guilt over a horrific event. Kane looks like an ordinary person here which helps to make her terrifying ordeal feel even more real, and she inhabits Jill with an unshakeable fear as the phone rings louder and louder and the calls get more and more threatening. Her performance is tremendous as she made me feel Jill’s fear and desperation throughout.

Now as much as I try to view a movie for what it’s trying to be instead of what I want it to be, I cannot help but think of how much better it could have been. Frankly, I think it should have focused more on Jill and how she deals with all she has been through. It could have been something along the lines of David Gordon Green’s “Halloween” reboot which catches up with Laurie Strode 40 years after her near-death encounter with Michael Myers. This would have been more enthralling as Kane is so good here, and watching her trying to process all she has been through is far more interesting than following a cop obsessed with catching a killer.

It also would have helped if Curt had been kept in the shadows, like the alien in “Alien,” the thought of him proves to be more haunting than his appearance. Some people want to see the monster right away, but like the anonymous truck driver in “Joy Ride,” a strange voice can be far more unnerving. The fact the filmmakers give Curt a face within the first half hour just killed much of the suspense and terror they thought this movie would have.

Having finally watched the original “When a Stranger Calls,” I can see why it still resonates strongly with horror fans, as those first 12 minutes are truly terrifying. While the rest of it doesn’t hold up, the opening has long since enshrined the movie as a classic scary flick in the eyes of many. It even got a sequel, albeit a made for cable one, in 1993 with “When a Stranger Calls Back,” and both Kane and Durning returned to reprise their roles. And yes, there was an inevitable remake of it back in 2006, but judging from its trailers, the thing looks like a Noxzema commercial disguised as a horror flick.  

But seriously folks, 12 great minutes does not a good movie make, and this one had the potential to much better than it was. The more I think about “When a Stranger Calls,” the more a certain question comes to mind; Is this film a cinematic example of premature ejaculation? Seriously, I’m asking for a friend.

* * out of * * * *