4 star(s), 85 minutes, streaming
Excuse the pun, but “HUM,” the third film by director/co-writer Henry Johnston, is nothing short of epic, a real humdinger, like the old codgers used to say.
“HUM” oozes with ambition and confidence. Even in the few moments where it tries to fly too close to the sun, you can tell that Johnston is giving his all to make an unforgettable mindfuck of a movie. And it works.
The setup couldn’t be simpler, as evidenced by an opening scroll of information: Two years ago, a mysterious chest appeared in a forest. It couldn’t be opened or moved. Within days of its arrival, the dead began returning from their graves.
“HUM” features a very small cast of characters, which allows viewers to fully invest: There’s David (Tyler Ross), a young police officer tasked by his supervisor Powell (Andrew Oliveri) with guarding the chest on the eve of the two-year-anniversary since it first appeared. David is haunted by memories of his sister, Grace (Sierra Miller), who became enthralled by the enigmatic Man in Purple (Bradley Grant Smith), who fronts a cult of worshippers who all seek the Void, a nebulous alternative dimension, which is believed to reside inside the chest. And then there’s Ellie (Sonaz Izadi), a young woman who has come to see the chest and who plans to bury her recently deceased brother in the ground near the mysterious object.
As Powell explains to David, many people now believe that the act of burial in the sacred ground around the chest will bring about the return of a dead loved one.
After David discovers Ellie in a trance near the chest, he tries to carry her away to safety, a plan that’s thwarted by Powell. Suddenly, all three of them are hit by a wall of a sound, a hum, if you will, which causes the chest to finally crack open, which immediately transports them each into the Void.
As David navigates through an escalating series of memories, good and bad, Johnston delivers one impressive sequence after another.
One such sequence, where Grace is being baptized by the Man in Purple, is so lyrically beautiful and so devastating that my mouth was agape. Johnston pulls off an amazing tracking shot in slow motion that follows Grace’s head from the cult leader’s hand down to the water. It’s the kind of moment typically associated with an A-list auteur, and its breathtaking to watch.
“HUM” teases one of its biggest moments throughout, which I won’t spoil, which Johnston saves for his closing shot.
If you’ve ever trusted me before, I implore you to do so again and seek out “HUM.”
Just remember, whatever you do, do not look directly into the Void.
Dead & Buried: Limited Edition
4 star(s), 94 minutes, streaming and 4K ultra-HD
I have long held a soft spot for Gary Sherman’s career-best film, “Dead & Buried,” which remains one of the best zombie movies not directed by George A. Romero.
Released in 1981 and penned by the dynamic duo of Dan O’Bannon (“Alien,” “The Return of the Living Dead,” “Total Recall”) and Ronald Shusett (“Above the Law,” “Total Recall”), “Dead & Buried” comes out swinging with a vicious mob-style slaying and then just keeps piling on the weird and wonderful reveals all the way to its bonkers closing twist.
Part of what makes “Dead & Buried” such a beloved classic is that the entire cast brings its “A” game, including veteran character actor James Farentino as Sheriff Dan Gillis, who oversees the locals in sleepy seaside Potter’s Bluff; Melody Anderson as Gillis’ schoolteacher wife Janet; Jack Albertson as eccentric medical examiner and mortician William Dobbs; and even Robert Englund, in an early role, as creepy local Harry.
O’Bannon and Shusett pepper their script with ruminations on free-will, mortality and the power to play God.
If you’ve never seen “Dead & Buried,” this is the time as Blue Underground’s impressive 4K Ultra-HD restoration looks amazing, and the three-disc limited edition set comes available with three distinct picture sleeves to choose from.
3.5 star(s), 82 minutes, streaming
Yes, I know, it’s yet another rideshare thriller.
And while it’s not on par with “Spree” or “Fox Hunt Drive,” co-directors Brad Baruh and Meghan Leon’s “Night Drive” is a surprising genre mashup buoyed by two stellar lead performances that nimbly introduces an unexpected sci-fi element midway through.
If you’ve seen “Drive All Night” or “The Fare,” and you feel like all rideshare movies fail to reach their desired destination, I’m here to tell you not to give up hope.
“Night Drive” starts strong and keeps its foot firmly on the gas. Russell (AJ Bowen, “You’re Next” and “The House of the Devil”) is in the midst of a midlife crisis, although much of his existential tumult is never fully explained. Regardless, he now cruises Los Angeles picking up passengers.
He has no idea the handful he is about to inherit with his next passenger, Charlotte (Sophie Dalah), who is half his age but possesses knowledge and life experiences that will blow Russell’s mind before their fateful evening is complete.
“Night Drive” is one of those movies where it’s best to know as little as possible going in so as not to ruin the genuine surprises in store.
Just trust us. This one is definitely worth a watch.
3.5 star(s), 85 minutes, Shudder
The latest film from directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, who practically single-handedly revived the slasher genre with 2007’s “Inside,” is a fun little mashup of both the urban legend and demonic possession genres. It’s not as masterfully done as “Inside,” but it’s a solid thriller with several OMG kills and some creative visual effects.
Blood Red Sky
3 star(s), 121 minutes, Netflix
Yes, it’s overlong and unnecessarily burdened with a so-so gang of bad guys fronted by Dominic Purcell, but “Blood Red Sky” has arrived to answer one of those wonderful hypotheticals that movie geeks love to ponder. In this case, the question is: ‘What would “Die Hard” look like if it was set on an international flight and featured a female vampire in the role of John McClane?
German writer-director Peter Thorwarth doesn’t lean far enough into the possibilities that his premise opens up for him to explore, and sadly “Blood Red Sky” suffers from a lack of focus at times, but it’s still a fun diversion.
3 star(s), 97 minutes, Shudder
Any opportunity to watch two genre stalwarts share the screen is always a good thing for horror fans, and Lin Shaye and Tobin Bell don’t disappoint as Edith and Edward Cranston, respectively.
If director Timothy Woodward Jr. and writer Patrick Stibbs had been willing to go way outside the box, then it’s possible “The Call” might have been something truly special.
As is, though, “The Call” is an occasionally rousing stab at a traditional mind-fuck supernatural thriller that drops four friends into a situation that they can’t comprehend while we watch them scramble about.
Kudos for sticking the landing and delivering a pitch-black-bleak ending.
Queen of Spades
2.5 star(s), 91 minutes, Streaming
Director Patrick White’s feature debut is essentially “Candyman” without any of the historical context that made Clive Barker’s creation so formidable and enduring.
This Canadian import is all smoke and mirrors for much of its early runtime after a young 13-year-old girl gets coerced into playing a variation of Bloody Mary whereby she and a friend look into a mirror and summon the Queen of Spades.
Once summoned, the entity that inhabits the girl’s body proves to be a determined foe. “Queen of Spades” kicks into high gear for a bit after the girl’s mother seeks help from a former physician whose own son played the game and committed suicide as a result, but the ending resorts to a particularly tired horror trope that leaves the door cracked for a possible sequel.
1 star(s), 80 minutes, Streaming
As gimmicks go, the big twist embedded deep within “Masquerade,” a new home invasion thriller starring Bella Thorne, is so wacky and so out of left field that it’s impossible to take seriously. That the big twist comes literally in the closing frames feels like a slap to anybody who actually suffers through until the end.
Not to be overlooked:
Paramount Presents: 48 Hrs. and Another 48 Hrs. (Blu-Ray): It’s funny in a not-so-funny-today way to revisit a beloved classic from the early 1980’s and see what then was considered cutting-edge now come across as gross and offensive. Such is the case with Walter Hill’s “48Hrs.,” the ground-breaking buddy-cop comedy-thriller that launched Eddie Murphy’s career and turned Nick Nolte into a bankable action star. What stands out the most when re-watching “48 Hrs.,” is just how blatantly racist the script by Hill, Roger Spottiswoode, Larry Gross and Steven E. de Souza really is. The “N” word is bandied about liberally, and that’s not even the worst epithet used. At one point, Nolte’s Jack Cates actually calls Murphy’s Reggie Hammond a ‘spearchucker,’ for Christ’s sake. Does it make “48 Hrs.” any less of a solid film? Not necessarily. Hill always frames his movies as if he’s shooting a western, and this is no exception, and that approach adds an extra layer of perspective and atmosphere. But yes, in a way, it does make one think twice before publicly proclaiming this to be a favorite film of all time.
The House on Sorority Row: Special Edition (Blu-Ray): Speaking of early 1980’s classics, as far as slasher films go, it’s very likely you’ve never seen “The House on Sorority Row,” which made a game effort to introduce a would-be movie maniac to the ranks of Michael, Jason and Freddy. Sadly, the killer, a medical mishap of a child named Eric, is barely seen throughout and barely registers when it comes to the Hall of Fame of unstoppable slasher killers.
The Night (Blu-Ray, Streaming): Iranian filmmaker Kourosh Ahari delivers in a big, big way with “The Night,” a nearly flawless psychological nightmare that deserves to be considered on par with genre classics like “The Shining,” “Enemy” and “Session 9.” Shahab Hosseini and Niousha Noor are pitch-perfect as Babak and Neda Naderi, an immigrant couple with a newborn living in the U.S. On their way home from a gathering with family and friends, Babak gets lost and decides they should stay at a desolate yet decadent art-deco hotel. Once checked in, each is visited by the ghost of their worst unspoken sin, and every effort they make to leave the hotel is thwarted. “The Night” will leave you gobsmacked with its sudden, unexpected scares and white-knuckle moments of drawn-out dread.
Mortal Kombat (Blu-Ray, HBOMax): My mom always said it’s better not to say anything unless you’ve got something nice to say. So, here goes: At least this film version of “Mortal Kombat” includes a plethora of gory, hard-R finishing fatalities.
The Dead Zone: Collector’s Edition (Blu-Ray): As Stephen King adaptations go, the fifth film based on one of his books, 1983’s “The Dead Zone,” doesn’t get nearly enough love and appreciation. However, rewatching it today, 38 years after its initial release, especially following the turbulence and political insanity that wreaked havoc across America for the last four years, you’re likely to have a newfound appreciation for King’s prescient gift of imagining a charismatic politician who might one day bring about the apocalypse, only to be thwarted by a man with psychic abilities.
The Nest (Streaming): Truth be told, the appearance of Dee Wallace in the creepy creature feature, “The Nest,” is the big draw here for horror fans. The film, which unleashes a gnarly parasite from inside a creepy old stuffed bear, does offer some decent special effects.
Hydra (Streaming): Despite clocking in at less than 90 minutes, this action import out of Japan is the definition of interminable. The story, set in and around a small restaurant/bar, involves yet another former assassin who is trying to walk the straight and narrow, but who gets called back to his old ways to defend himself and protect the daughter of a man he was tasked to kill.
The Five Rules of Success (Streaming): Another festival favorite from 2020 is now available to stream. Orson Oblowitz’s latest is difficult to describe or even place in a specific genre category, but it’s a fascinating look at how one ex-con goes about drafting his own code of conduct in order to survive in an outside world more savage than prison.
Lilith: A Horror Anthology (Streaming): This anthology, completed in 2018, marks the second film in recent months to focus on Lilith, the first wife of Adam, who was branded a demon in Judaic mythology. The short films included are female-centric, bloody and unexpectedly solid throughout.
Animosity (Streaming): If you watched and loved 2018’s “The Velocipastor,” and who didn’t fucking love that story of a man of God who turns into a dinosaur to devour criminals and clean his city’s streets, then you’ve already had a taste of the irreverent humor and obvious talent of director Brendan Steere. As often happens when a low-budget indie suddenly becomes a cult classic, now Steere’s earlier works are getting attention, including “Animosity,” which is a decidedly more mature horror flick that eschews camp and humor for a bloody tale of supernatural violence.
Also Available as of Aug. 3
“Wrath of Man,” “No Man’s Land,” “Rose Plays Julie,” “Snatch: 4K Ultra-HD,” “House of Wax: Collector’s Edition,” “Born for Hell,” “Siege,” “Skinned Deep: Unrated,” “Close Range + Savage Dog: Double Feature,” “Star Trek: Discovery — Season Three,” “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra — 4K Ultra-HD,” “G.I. Joe: Retaliation — 4K Ultra-HD,” “Flight to Mars: Special Edition,” “Brotherhood of the Wolf: Collector’s Edition,” “The Birthday Cake,” “The Daimajin Trilogy: Limited Edition,” “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage: Limited Edition,” “Vengeance Trails: Four Classic Westerns — Limited Edition”
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and Babes.com, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.
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