Review: Four very different horror films arrive in time for Halloween
There’s nothing wrong with the cast of “Mary,” a seafaring ghost story starring Gary Oldman as a down-on-his-luck commercial sailor named David, and Emily Mortimer as his long-suffering wife, Sarah, who gets annoyed when her husband spends their meager savings on a rickety old boat. To make matters worse, when the couple attempts a test voyage with their two daughters, the family falls prey to the vessel’s curse, which leaves passengers drifting and directionless, while an eerie specter provokes them into suicidal madness.
Oldman and Mortimer are, as always, outstanding. But while veteran TV director Michael Goi helps make “Mary” look handsome, he has trouble finding the scares in Anthony Jaswinski’s script. Too much of this fairly short film is spent exploring David and Sarah’s marital woes, which keep getting awkwardly introduced into otherwise ordinary conversations. (When Sarah looks at the boat and grumbles, “It needs work,” David answers, “So do we.” Yeesh.)
The idea of this boat as a last-ditch play to save a marriage is fine as an inciting incident, but it ends up steering the story way too much. Oldman and Mortimer play the drama in “Mary” well. Too bad they don’t get much chance to play the horror.
Rated: R, for some terror, violence, and language
Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
Playing: Starts Oct. 11, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; also available on VOD
The excessive length of writer-director Jonathan Holbrook’s micro-budget art-horror film “Beloved Beast” is, in a perverse way, its main selling-point. At 90 minutes or less, this movie’s flat acting, choppy conversations, artless cinematography and sub-David Lynch surrealism would be easy to dismiss. But at nearly three hours, “Beloved Beast” becomes an endurance test, forcing viewers to reckon with Holbrook’s — for lack of a better word — vision.
The most original element here involves the uncommon bond between an orphan, Nina (Sanae Loutsis), and a hulking, masked serial killer, Milton (played by Holbrook), who slaughters his way through the community of creeps, crooks and addicts that Nina meets while living with her neglectful Aunt Erma (Joy Yaholkovsky). The movie’s combination of slasher clichés with a whimsical fairy tale tone is fairly unique. But the rest of the picture’s fascination with a violent small town demimonde plays like a community theater production of “Blue Velvet.”
Still, there’s something admirably bravura about “Beloved Beast,” which just keeps going, hour after hour, grinding through dry, tedious scenes of lousy people misbehaving, with no end in sight. This is a movie about misery, which makes viewers feel every bit of the characters’ ennui.
Running time: 2 hours, 53 minutes.
Playing: Starts Oct. 11, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; available on VOD
‘Along Came the Devil 2'
The horror sequel “Along Came the Devil 2” is slightly better than its 2018 predecessor — if only because it’s actually coherent. Director/co-writer Jason DeVan’s original film covered one family’s history of demonic possession, via a disjointed, derivative, “Exorcist”-like story, about a troubled teen inviting a Satanic presence into her life. The sequel follows the heroine’s sister Jordan (Laura Wiggins), who returns from college to get to the bottom of this mess, and, in the process, reconnects with the estranged father who emotionally abused her.
The big mystery in “Along Came the Devil 2” is who’ll get possessed this time. Jordan? Her recovering alcoholic dad? Her oddball half-brother? The film’s first two-thirds is mostly about a parent trying to compensate for past mistakes. In the final third, the dark spirits finally take hold, and mayhem ensues. There’s not quite enough new or exciting about the picture’s demon-haunting tropes to recommend it. But the connection between family dysfunction and supernatural evil at least gives the routine jump-scares and vaguely spooky atmosphere a firmer context.
'Along Came the Devil 2'
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Playing: Starts Oct. 11, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD
Even the weakest horror anthology films can be redeemed by one good segment; but alas, the semi-comic compendium “Holiday Hell” is pretty dire from start to finish. All four of its very loosely connected pieces — one set on Valentine’s Day, one pegged to Hanukkah, one featuring a murderous Santa, and a harvest-themed tale that ties to the Christmas-set framing story — are turgid and unimaginative, notable only for their gratuitous vulgarity, represented in multiple crude, joyless sex scenes.
The closest “Holiday Hell” comes to a high point is the performance of Joel Murray, as a sad-sack pharmaceutical salesman who pops one of his company’s experimental mood-booster pills at an office party after seeing his wife having a quickie with a colleague. He subsequently goes on a homicidal rampage, dressed as Kris Kringle.
Even that story, though, comes across as more sour and mean-spirited than fun — as does the opening segment’s teen slasher homage and the second’s tedious take on the “killer doll” sub-genre. Seriously: If horror filmmakers can’t even make killer dolls entertaining, why bother?
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: Starts Oct. 11, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; available Oct. 15 on Tubi
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