October isn’t messing around, as there are already plenty of new horror options available for people to check out, among other more recent, smaller, and streaming releases. This set of reviews includes a horror reboot, an MCU Halloween special, a Spanish horror film, a gay romantic comedy, a Walter Hill western, a Vietnam comedy-drama, a music drama, and a thriller/mystery. The following features reviews for Hellraiser, Werewolf by Night, Piggy, Bros, Dead for a Dollar, The Greatest Beer Run Ever, I Used to be Famous, and Last Seen Alive.
The Setup: A new take on Clive Barker’s 1987 horror classic in which a young woman (Odessa A’zion) struggling with addiction comes into possession of an ancient puzzle box, unaware that its purpose is to summon the Cenobites, a group of sadistic supernatural beings from another dimension.
Review: I may not be close to being an expert on Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and the nine sequels that followed the original 1987 film, but I know one thing – the first couple happily crossed every line possible to deliver all kinds of gore and torture. There are admirable things about this new reboot from director David Bruckner (A’zion has the only strong character to play, it’s slickly made, and practical makeup and effects look solid), but it does feel curiously slight when considering the way pain is being inflicted. Perhaps that comes down to the overlong story (this movie clocks in at just under two hours) that eventually starts to play as a generic supernatural horror film in Hellraiser cosplay. Sure, there’s a Pinhead (Jamie Clayton) and other Cenobites that all look gross (relying on their own skin as opposed to black leather costumes), but the film still begins feeling largely predictable, as one person after another gets stabbed by the evil puzzle box of death, and then pulled apart by chains while extra-dimensional demonic torture monsters watch. Sure, who doesn’t enjoy a good visit from an extra-dimensional demonic torture monster? But it started to make me wonder what else there was to offer after getting so much of the same for so long. The craft is there, though compared to the cheap but terrifically sickening original, this entry feels like it’s made more as a proof of concept than a real push forward. Still, Hellraiser 2022 has to be better than most of the previous sequels.
Where To Watch: Streaming on Hulu starting October 7, 2022.
The Setup: Inspired by horror films of the 1930s and 1940s, on a dark and somber night, a secret cabal of monster hunters emerge from the shadows and gather at the foreboding Bloodstone Temple following the death of their leader. In a strange and macabre memorial to the leader’s life, the attendees are thrust into a mysterious and deadly competition for a powerful relic–a hunt that will ultimately bring them face to face with a dangerous monster.
Review: Let’s have more of this, please. Something the MCU has struggled to figure out is the best way to approach its push into the world of television. For every WandaVision or She-Hulk, which makes good use of the TV format to either do something different or play into certain tropes, there is The Falcon and Winter Solider or Moonknight, which feels like a movie stretched out into an unfulfilling, lengthy span of time. Werewolf by Night is the MCU pulling off a Halloween special, providing a quick hit of a story that blends its classic horror homages with some of the more favorable quirks of the Marvel world. Gael Garcia Bernal is a delight as Jack Russell, a man (of sorts) caught up in an oddball memorial that will require the hunt of a monster. This leads to intrigue, action, and a Man-Thing (!!!). It works. The special is largely fun, and director Michael Giacchino (who also provides the score, naturally) was even allowed to let the gore fly (within reason, as this is a Disney+ exclusive). Perhaps it could have gone further, but as it stands, if this is Marvel getting its feet wet with more inventive one-offs, I’m all for it.
Where To Watch: Streaming on Disney+ starting October 7, 2022.
The Setup: With the summer sun beating down on her rural Spanish town, Sara (Laura Galan) hides away in her parent’s butcher shop. A teenager whose excess weight makes her the target of incessant bullying, she flees a clique of capricious girls who torment her at the town pool, only to stumble upon them being brutally kidnapped by a stranger, who drives off with them in his van. When the police begin asking questions, Sara keeps quiet. Intrigued by the stranger — an interest that’s mutual — she’s torn between revealing the truth and protecting the man who saved her.
Review: Given the first 20 minutes or so of Piggy, I was concerned about how worthwhile it would be to have to wait for some sort of Carrie-like ending that allows Sara to finally have revenge on those who tormented her. Fortunately, the film had more tricks up its sleeves than something that familiar. Instead of dragging out how awful the bullies are, Sara finds herself in a more interesting position of having to care enough to say something about the mysterious stranger, arguably relieving her of some clear pain. Piggy struggles a bit in its second act to maintain a certain momentum. However, writer/director Carlota Pereda makes good use of the sundrenched Spanish town the film is set in, building a level of tension from multiple angles before finally unleashing more of a vicious streak to lead into the bloody climax.
Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters.
The Setup: Bobby (Billy Eichner) is a neurotic podcast host who’s happy to go on Tinder dates and content not to have a serious relationship. That all changes when he meets Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), an equally detached lawyer who likes to play the field. Repeatedly drawn to each other, both men show their vulnerable sides as their undeniable attraction becomes something resembling a commitment.
Review: Eichner has built a persona over the years thanks to his Emmy-winning Billy on the Street episodes. That’s a good thing, as the biggest hurdle this movie has (for those already ready for a theatrical rom-com built around a lesser-seen perspective) is making sure Bobby remains likable, given how loud he can be. In the hands of director/co-writer Nicholas Stoller, there’s plenty to enjoy about what he and fellow writer Eichner have put together. At its best, Bros adheres to the formula of a rom-com while doing well enough at building out the characters, so the formula does not make the film appear too tired. Its only real issues come from the standard extra padding that comes with most Judd Apatow-produced comedies and a level of self-importance. Yes, there’s something to be said about making a theatrical film featuring a main cast made up entirely of performers from the LGBTQ community. However, Bros doesn’t always balance the choice to applaud itself for existing with the more charming plot about two guys working out their issues as they grow closer. With all of that in mind, the film is so frequently funny and well-observed in the way it presents a culture that knows it’s different than others and finds ways to apply that specificity on a universal level.
Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.
The Setup: Veteran bounty hunter Max Borlund (Christoph Waltz) heads deep into Mexican territory to find and return Rachel Kidd (Rachel Brosnahan), the wife of a wealthy businessman. After learning she actually fled from the abusive marriage, Max faces a choice: finish the job he’s been hired to do, or stand aside while ruthless mercenary outlaws and his longtime rival close in on a town that’s been his temporary sanctuary.
Review: It’s been eight years since Walter Hill last made a movie and a lot longer since his last great one. His fixation on westerns has certainly informed all of his films. Hill has even gotten the chance to actually set some films back in the old west. Dead for a Dollar is another push into that territory, and it’s largely successful. I don’t know if Christoph Waltz thought he would be pigeonholed as a clever bounty hunter, but he wears the role well as a man looking to bring back the wife of a businessman. Of course, the setup is just a way for the film to deliver various bouts of posturing, entering duels, and occasionally reflecting on what all this gruffness really means. Thanks to the presence of Brosnahan and a couple of Black soldiers, the material gets some additional focus that I found interesting. Best of all – Willem Dafoe steps in as a wild card outlaw with a personal grudge against Walt’s bounty hunter. Dead for a Dollar isn’t rewriting any rules here. Still, Hill puts enough effort into the areas that count, making for an enjoyable ride.
Where to Watch: Now playing in select theaters.
The Setup: To show support for his neighborhood friends serving in Vietnam, Chickie Donohue (Zac Efron) decides to do something totally outrageous: travel to the frontline by himself to bring the soldiers a little piece of home — their favorite can of American beer. However, what started as a well-meaning journey quickly turns into the adventure of a lifetime as Chickie confronts the reality of this controversial war and his reunions with his childhood buddies thrust him into the complexities and responsibilities of adulthood.
Review: Not that movies need to be graded on a curve, but following the success of the entertaining but shallow Green Book, now a Best Picture winner, director Peter Farrelly does seem to have a target on his back no matter what he does. Well, that’s a shame, as The Greatest Beer Run Ever feels just as accomplished as Green Book while being less of a threat to get in the way of whatever films are lining up for the Oscars. It’s not the most profound look at the Vietnam War; it also doesn’t have to be. This is a story based on some random, true event that clearly seems of interest to a director that’s attempted to blend heart with raunchier films such as Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary. Now, with a bit more prestige under his belt, and the opportunity to expand his scope, this is a pretty solid war drama spiked with occasional humor. A pro like Russell Crowe doesn’t need to dig too deep as a war photographer, but his support is welcome. Efron, leading this whole thing, brings an interesting level of confident naivety that plays well to the film’s spirit. It’s a lightweight picture, but sincere in its intentions and the right kind of entertaining.
Where To Watch: Now streaming on Apple TV+.
The Setup: Vince (Ed Skrein) used to be in the hottest boy band around. Now the troubled former popstar is alone and desperate. He dreams of making a comeback and starts performing in the streets of Peckham, hoping that anyone will listen. An impromptu jam with Stevie (Leo Long), an autistic young drummer with an incredible gift for rhythm, sparks an unexpected friendship between the two misunderstood musicians. Together they form a unique bond through the power of music.
Review: In the scheme of things, it’s not as though a film like I Used to be Famous is destined to be seen as some sort of under-the-radar classic. However, it does allow viewers to see Skrein cast against type as a musical loser dreaming to make a comeback. Honestly, that was enough for me. This is a nice buddy story about a talented has-been and a kid with autism coming together to make music. It’s got just enough edge to relieve the film of any sense of pandering, and the characters are filled in enough to help it avoid feeling like too much of a cliché. I appreciated the nature of the music Skrein’s Vince was trying to develop with Stevie, along with the things it doesn’t do to make the plot too overly complicated. As a film to randomly find on a streaming service, there’s a nice amount of rhythm to go along with here.
Where To Watch: Now streaming on Netflix.
The Setup: After Will Spann’s wife suddenly vanishes at a gas station, his desperate search to find her leads him down a dark path that forces him to run from authorities and take the law into his own hands.
Review: This is the kind of poor man’s thriller that already doesn’t have a very high bar to clear yet still manages to disappoint based on limited imagination or limited means. Gerard Butler is entirely fitting as a man pushed to the brink in this rip-off of 1997’s terrific action-thriller, Breakdown, with Kurt Russell. The difference we see with Butler’s version, however, is the choice to fill this movie with alpha male energy and pay little effort to make the actual mystery worthwhile. Starting the film off with a pivotal scene from the climax before flashing back eight hours is a bizarre choice, as it already renders much of the suspense useless. Therefore, it’s a long waiting game to get the answers we expect while Butler yells, gnashes, and hurls his way through a small town and a series of nefarious characters. That this is currently a hit on Netflix is of little surprise, but hopefully, Butler’s brand of B-to-C-movie mayhem reheats another older property with better success.
Where To Watch: Now streaming on Netflix.