Halloween II and III

*Originally written like 2001 or roundabouts when I had no clue what I was doing. Spoiler Alert – I still don’t. These are crappy reviews so I’ve stuck them both together for a double dose of pain.

Halloween II

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After the smash of Halloween it seemed inevitable that there would be a sequel. Carpenter’s films have a habit of ending with a cliffhanger, and fans wanted to see whether Michael would return. He does, just as Laurie is taken to a nearby hospital. Loomis is still on the prowl, and Michael follows Laurie to hospital intent on finishing his work, killing any unfortunate doctors, nurses or patients who get in his way. Once again Laurie and Michael are alone to chase and fight to the death.

Unfortunately this for the most part feels like a cash-in, and is a much inferior sequel complete with weaker performances and more elaborate deaths. There are good points though, Curtis and Pleasance are still great, while the setting is quite atmospheric. Many of the original cast come back for a short while, helping to keep us interested with the plot, and there are plenty of kills. However, much of the film lacks the tension which Carpenter can easily create, and we do not care about any of the new characters. Michael now seems to be entirely unstoppable which further distances us from the reality of the first film. This is okay, and definitely worth watching if you’re a fan of the first.

Halloween III

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Firstly, yes this has little or nothing to do with the other Halloween films, and it is the worst so far. To gave it credit though it must be said that Carpenter wanted to take the series in this direction, telling a different story in a different film each Halloween. This was an ambitious and exciting idea which had potential, even if that potential was limited. Unfortunately this film is a mess, and flopped, ending Carpenter’s idea. Viewers were expecting more Myers mayhem and were disappointed by the complete change of direction here.

An evil toy maker decides to kill millions of children via his Halloween masks. He is the owner of the company Silver Shamrock, and infuses all the masks with black magic which will burn any child who wears it on Halloween night when a special jingle is played. After a successful advertisement campaign it seems that his mask is a massive hit, and his plan will be complete. Only Doctor Challis and Ellie can stop the evil, but will they?

This was the first Halloween movie I saw, when I was very young, and a few moments have stayed with me since then-  Cochran’s goons on patrol, killing anyone who gets in their way, and the jingle which is admittedly creepy, though a familiar tune. The idea is good, but it falls on its face through a combination of bad acting and poor storytelling, and in the end little makes sense. The shock ending is still good though, but its potential impact is decreased by the fact that we don’t care for the characters, that we don’t really meet any kids, and that we have become bored by the end. Little is explained, most of the deaths are bizarre, while sufficiently bloody. Plus the whole thing looks cheap and doesn’t have enough scares. If there had been a better cast, more thought with the story, and better direction it could have been a lot better. It even could have become an effective satire on Commercialism, especially during the holidays. For fans of the series, watch it once, but don’t expect much.

Let me know in the comments what you thought of the first Halloween sequels and their place in the series!

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Are You Afraid Of The Dark – The Tale Of The Pinball Wizard

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Greetings, Glancers! Since the series disappeared from Amazon Prime, I haven’t bothered trying to catch up on any more episodes. I see on the stats though that the old posts get a few views every so often so it’s time to kick off my ‘hilarious’ reviews once more. Looking at the title and the synposis, I have no memory of this episode. Does it feature a deaf, dumb, and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball? I sure hope so. About that synopsis though:

Ross is a latchkey kid and spends his time after school playing pinball at the mall. Mr Ohlsen, manager of the arcade, leaves him there alone and warns him not to play the ‘Mystery Machine’. Temptation gets the best of Ross and he plays it anyway. He becomes absorbed in the game, loses track of time, and soon finds that he is locked inside the mall.

You see, this is promising. Malls and horror go hand in hand like zombies and chopper blades. And to that the fact (as I’ve probably mentioned here before) that I’ve always loved the idea of being trapped in a mall overnight – as a kid it was one of my dreams. It still kind of is. American Malls, I should add, are a hell of a lot different from the crap we have over here.

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All these are dead

While you have fountains and playing areas and multi-levels and hundreds of stores, all I had growing up was a large supermarket (or one on either end) with a few minor stores dotted around it. Everything would be on a single level, and instead of fountains we had tramps pissing in the corner. My favourite destinations were the Toy Store, naturally, and the doughnut joint where you could watch the doughnuts being made, splatting into the fryer, travelling up the belt, and being covered in sugar. For a while there things got better, with higher quality shops and better options – now though it’s just pound (dollar) shops and pointless clothes places. Who buys clothes, seriously?

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I rarely do

Regardless, who wouldn’t want to be stuck in a mall overnight. Ignoring being caught by the authorities, think of all the awesome antics you could get up to and all the food you could devour. If there was an arcade, of course you’d have to spend some time there. Which takes us back to the episode. We open as we generally do, with the campfire weirdos prepping for another night of just-pubescent terror. David is playing on his Gameboy (90s, yo) while Betty Anne watches, until Eric turns the game off. Shockingly, David does not use the Gameboy as truncheon to sprinkle shards of Eric’s skull into the fire. Fake Rufio (Frank), Kirsten, and Kiki all discuss videogames for a few moments until Gary shows up to tell his tale, reminding the viewer that in real life we can’t simply hit the reset button when shit goes south. And so, our Tale begins.

We get some nice opening shots of the mall which make 90s me jealous and angry about not living in America. Does anyone know what Mall this is and if it has appeared in any other media? It looks familiar. Ross is our (anti?) hero, hunting for quarters and dimes in the mall’s fountains and he is accosted by what appears to be a homeless person wrapped in luxury bedding. After being interrupted by an indoor-shades-wearing security chump, while sinister thumpy piano music plays, Ross checks out a super-soaker with two giant bronze dildos adorning its surface. Ross goes to speak to Mr Olsen, where we learn that Ross is doing an awful Sylvester Stallone impression. Is this supposed to make him look tough? Italian? It’s a very awkward performance. Olsen tells him to get out after he uncovers a mysterious new pinball machine. What the hell is this store? It looks like a Cobbler’s – there are no furnishings or paint on the walls or decorations of any type, just some old timey cash register and a fiery pinball machine.

Olsen has a change of heart and decides to leave Ross in charge for a while so that he can grab a late lunch. In true forbidden fruit style he reminds Ross not to touch anything, especially the new pinball machine. Can you see where this is going? In Ross’s defence, he does last about four seconds before abandoning his duties and going on a silver ball hunt. He appears to shove his hands down his pants to check his own balls are in place first. Note to employers – if this guy enters your offices, do not approach him or make contact in any way. The mystery machine has a cartoonish court jester as its central relief, surrounded by other regal emblazons. Inexplicably, Ross begins touching his genitals again while saying ‘wow’, and then sticks some money in the slot. As he plays, we get a shot of Olsen hanging around outside, listening and grinning. It’s all highly dubious and seemingly perverted.

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Any excuse

A hot girl enters the store looking for her music box to be returned and Ross thinks to himself I have some silver balls I’d like to return to your music box. This scene is very awkward too, at least this time it’s deliberate. She leaves and, you’ve guessed it, Ross rushes out back to touch himself again. After a brief montage of gaming cliches Ross realizes he has somehow been left in the store alone and the Mall has closed. Things take a creepy turn as Ross panics and receives mysterious, prophetic phone calls. Two Gestapo or MIB jump-scare into view and terrify Ross with their detachable limbs. A whole unit of these mindless fucks appear, but it seems they can’t pass over water – must be white-walkers or Baptists or something.

Hot girl appears once more, shrieking about keys and tiaras, while an extra from Prince Of Thieves struggles to hold her without touching her boobs. At least Ross appears to be somewhat resourceful, shoveling handfuls of water towards the MIB which makes them dance out of shot. Is Ross in the game? Has the game come to life? Nobody knows. Still, there’s some good jump-scares and weirdness and old school game noises to enjoy. The musical cues and music in general are pretty funny. He grabs a magical tiara then chases hot girl down a Workers Only entry, only to be jump-scared by Grotbags. That was actually a pretty effective and well timed scare – we’ve had a few of these in this episode, so kudos. I can imagine kids being freaked out by all this – on a personal note, I’ve always found high pitched cackling, the likes of which the witch emits here, to be deeply disturbing. You know those moments you have in the house in the dark where you think something is standing behind you or about to grab your foot as you tiptoe upstairs? It’s high-pitched wails that do it for me – I imagine myself entering a room and seeing a shadow figure rush towards me, wailing, and my sphincter sneezes.

Next up we have more awkward scenes with Ross and Sophie about keys, music boxes, tiaras, an executioner, the witch, thrones – Ross is as confused as us. Things get more confusing when Ross gently rolls a handful of marbles (clearly pinballs) towards the witch. The witch sees them coming but rather than step to the side, open her legs and let them roll through, or simply stand still and watch them bounce of her feet, she somehow does the whole Home Alone back flip onto her arse. There’s a torturous ‘chase the slow moving Tiara’ scene, more weird stuff happens, and just as it looks like the game has been won the bad guys come and send Ross back to the ground floor. Ross learns from his mistakes, grabs the supersoaker, and heads off to battle. After some furious squirting the enemy is vanquished and hot girl is crowned – yay! Just time for a twist ending and some more chatter from the campfire weirdos.

If there’s a message here, it seems to be that videogames are evil and for losers. Presumably as it’s the last episode of the season, Campfire Ross looks directly into the camera and says ’till next time’. Yeah, don’t push your luck, son. Some of the weirdos don’t even return for Season 2. Anyway, this was an inconsistent and weird episode that had good ideas and some good scares, but was let down my poor acting and too short a running time to really explore what they wanted to do. Still, for any kids watching this at the time it would have been a decent enough end to the season.

Lets take a look at the roster from today’s episode. Joe Posca starred as Ross and has some good, mostly bad moments, and according to IMDB he only managed two further credits – as Puerto Rican boy in some TV movie and Drew’s Teammate in some TV series. The hot girl – Sophie – on the other hand was played by Polly Shannon who has had a pretty bright career as writer, producer, and actress. She has been in a bunch of TV movies and series including Leap Years, La Femme Nikita, and The Girl Next Door. AJ Henderson (Olson) makes his second appearance in AYAOTD so we won’t talk about him again. One of the interesting things about the episode is that a few of the actors play dual roles – the bed mummy at the start is also the witch, the security guard is also the Sheriff, and the Wrestler, Nutcracker, and Executioner are all played by Normand James – he of the unnecessary D. He plays three roles here, but that’s all he ever did apparently. Tom Rack has had a long and varied career though, aside from his dual performance in this episode he has also been in many shorts, TV shows, done voice work and bigger movies such as The Human Stain and 300 albeit in minor roles. He also returns in a later AYAOTD episode. Finally, Witch/Mummy is played by Nathalie Gautier who performance her seemed to be her last, having previously been in a small number of unknown movies like Mind Benders and Night Of The Dribbler.

Let us know in the comments what you though of this one. Next time up, it’s The Tale Of….. Sweet Dreams!

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The Windmill Massacre

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Another Frighfest film – which can be hit or miss – The Windmill Massacre has a few things going for it from the off, namely a sort of interesting premise and a rarely used location. The cast has a few semi-recognisable faces, the director (who also writes) is an unknown, and as yet I haven’t seen this spoken of in the horror community. Is it any good?

In grand horror tradition we have a group of individuals getting picked off one by one by a masked villain. Before we get to that point, we meet each of the group in The Netherlands and it seems that a few of them have secrets to hide. Jackson, an English soldier, is there for some R and R with his mates, but after some sort of event with a prostitute he needs to keep his head down. To run down the clock before he checks out, he decides to go on a bus tour of the countryside, visiting various windmills and sites of interest. There he meets Jennifer, an Australian who has apparently been working as a Nanny but hiding her true identity – she too hops on the tour to avoid the police. They meet a Japanese tourist, a father and son, a photographer, a doctor, and the tour guide. As the tour embarks we are drip fed information about each person and it soon becomes apparent that they all have a dark past.

As is inevitable with these things, the bus breaks down, the group becomes stranded in the middle of nowhere, and a psycho with a fetish for scythes kicks off an evisceration party. This is where the premise kicks in – the killer only seems interested in people who have not atoned for their sins. Which of the group will show remorse when that means admitting what they have done? Who in the group knows more than they are telling? Who will run? Who will die? You know the drill.

Although we do get some pieces of backstory for the characters, there isn’t much discussion on morals or repentance or reasons given for their sins. Having said that, we do sense the conflict between the person and their past, and indeed between certain members of the group. The movie has some early moments of atmosphere, and it does burn slowly until the first kill. We are treated to some efficient and nasty kills, there are some twists, but I was looking for the story to take me somewhere else – there were a few points where I thought the plot could have taken a different turn or surprised with a more shocking twist, but instead it plays a safer game. Technically fine, Jongerius gets the most out of his cast and the settings shot in daylight are nice. Most of the second half of the film is set at night so the location loses its impact. Most people will probably recognize Noah Taylor from his Game Of Thrones days and Patrick Baladi from The Office. The slasher killer isn’t charismatic or scary enough to truly make an impact, but for a simple one-off view it’s fine. This is one horror fans should give a go if they can find it, but it’s not going to be on many ‘best of year’ lists.

Let me know in the comments what you thought of The Windmill Massacre!

Ghosts Of Mars

*Originally written in 2004

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What is increasingly, and unfortunately looking like John Carpenter’s last feature film (2017 note to past self – not quite!) Ghosts of Mars is another genre-blending experiment typical of his illustrious career. Set in the distant future, Ghosts of Mars is a mix of sci-fi, action, horror, and western which follows a large group of people including prisoners and prison guards who must work together to overcome a deadly, massing foe, much like Rio Bravo and Assault on Precinct 13. There is a lack of trust between each character, minimal dialogue, a sense of claustrophobia, and the usual cliffhanger ending. Ghosts of Mars is a good film, much better than most critics and fans have said, yet inferior to Carpenter’s past classics. It does unfortunately suffer from some cheap looking sets and odd casting choices – perhaps if Kurt Russell had been here instead of Ice Cube it would have been a greater success, but this choice would have been too predictable and samey for Russell.

A group of Prison guards are sent to Mars to transport a dangerous criminal, Desolation Williams (Cube) from a remote mining community to a maximum security prison. When Commander Braddock (Pam Grier), Melanie Ballard (Henstridge) and her team arrive, they find the community ominously empty and quiet. As they look around, the sense that someone is watching them rises, and as the team splits we get their two different perspectives of events. Upon further investigation it seems that the inhabitants of the town have somehow been possessed and have become ultra-strong, vicious killers, ready to butcher any intruders. What soon becomes clear is that the survivors must work together to find a way out of the place alive, while not letting Desolation and his team get free. However, certain team members may also be possessed, and they are greatly outnumbered.

Even though everyone gives a good performance, Ice Cube has his critics and sometimes seems as if he is trying too hard to look as serious as possible. Many have spoken about the appearance of Mars, and the lack of logic behind the physics involved, but I’ll assume that as this is 200 years in the future technology will have magically changed. And that it is science fiction. Yes, the sets do not look like expensive buildings for millionaires, but this was the desired effect, a ghost town which has been worn down over the years which adds to the atmosphere of isolation. Perhaps there are too many characters, the dialogue is not as strong as in other films, the score will put some off and it is not as memorable as others. It is quite gory though, with some good effects when blood and death is involved, and there is plenty of action.

Although we can probably predict some of the survivors, there is enough intrigue to make us wonder who will be next to die, or turn. The direction is sound, and the split perspective at the start is a good idea. Henstridge is strong, Statham gives probably the best performance – one reminiscent of past Carpenter hits – Clea Duvall is also good, and Grier is fine in a short-lived part. Most fans expect greatness from Carpenter, and something fresh – this is something he has done all his career so it is hardly surprising when he just makes a fun movie which doesn’t try to be serious, and when there is not much originality. The B-movie feel will likely alienate many people, the characters and plot have been seen before, but for gory action this is sure to please, as long as you are not expecting a masterpiece.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Ghosts Of Mars!

Final Destination

*Originally written in 2003

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Of the teen horror movies which appeared in the Nineties era, most were dumb gore-fests with cheap shocks and a sexy, young cast. However, there were two stand outs: Scream, of course, and Final Destination. Both are intelligent, both have involving story lines, good characters, genuine shocks, and grisly deaths. While Scream was full of parodies and self-referential stuff, Final Destination played on our fear of death – the one common denominator which we all cannot avoid. While it does make jokes about itself and its genre, they are fewer than Scream, and do not go as over the top as some other films. The director fills every scene with real tension and fear, and successfully combines this with excellent set pieces and stunts, as well as sustaining a brilliant story. There are few films that can do this so we should admire Final Destination.

128 students are planning to travel to France with their teachers for one last big school trip. The plane crashes, killing everyone on board. We then flashback and realise that it was the premonition of one of the students, Alex. He has been having a strange day, and when he sees that his premonition is coming true he tries to get everyone off the plane. Like a certain Twilight Zone episode he succeeds in only causing a minor panic and some embarrassment, but is fortuitously thrown off the plane together with a few others who got involved. As they wait in the airport Alex relates what he saw and of course no one believes him. Suddenly the plane explodes – his premonition came true. In the aftermath, some of the survivors mourn, others see it as a second chance, the cops become interested in how Alex knew what was going to happen, and Alex has further visions. Soon the survivors are killed in bizarre ways, and the cops believe it is Alex. Alex thinks that death is stalking them because they cheated it, and he works out the order that they will die in, believing that if they can understand the visions and prevent themselves from dying again, they will be safe. This will not be easy though, as death can, and does strike from everywhere.

The idea behind the story is excellent, and it is stylishly and effectively executed. It will appeal to the teen audience it is aimed at, but also older viewers as it is a very thought-provoking, existential film when stripped back. One character, Carter, believes he is in control of his own life, not some invisible force, and at one point tries to prove this by parking on train tracks in front of an approaching train. Alex becomes increasingly paranoid, hiding in a hut from death, safe-proofing it in every way he can. Clear tries to be strong, has learnt to be this way through a tough childhood and cannot believe that all life is is a series of days avoiding death. The other survivors all have their individuality, and are not pastiches of other characters from teen movies. The performances are each outstanding, even from Sean William Scott who proves he is better than just being Stiffler forever. The side plot of the cops believing Alex is behind the deaths adds a depth which most teen horror films do not have.

Wong’s direction is very stylish, and the deaths and set pieces are some of the most innovative ever, recalling the style of Argento. That everything is a potential killer is an idea ripe for exploitation. Wong also creates a massive amount of tension throughout, peaking with each death – the train and car scene will get the most flabby heart racing, the teacher in the kitchen is brilliantly staged within every fork and implement seeming deadly. The opening 15 minutes have to be among the most tense and exciting 15 minutes in horror movie history, confirming all those with a fear of flying to stay firmly on the ground. The film shows how we are not immortal, and without the humorous moments it might become too much.

There are many famous shock moments, the bus scene being the most notorious – many have complained about this being stupid and unrealistic, but if Death was stalking you, of course it would try to put the approaching bus under a veil of silence. The premise may seem too far-fetched for people, but this is primarily for a horror crowd who come baying for the blood, and we do appreciate it more when our intelligence isn’t insulted. Death here as a character does have a sense of humour, each death being ironic, gruesome or made to look like an accident, but this is all the more terrifying, that this force is coming after us for entertainment. Death wants immediate pay back for those who cheated it, but in the style of a Bond villain, likes to play with its victims first. Of course the deaths may seem impossible in the real world, but if it is Death stalking us, I think it has the power to bend a few rules. Most criticism I have read of this film is petty and unexplained, but I can understand why some would be put off by it. For clever, shocking, exciting teen horror movies, there are very few better than this.

What do you think of Final Destination and its many sequels – let us know in the comments!

Rings

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A brief bit of history – Ringu is my second favourite horror movie of all time, and one which kicked off my love for J-Horror. Its sequel is problematic but a lot of fun, while its prequel is glorious and criminally underrated. I saw both the US remake and its sequel upon release – I hated The Ring at the time – a watered down, cheap jump-scare filled mess, while the sequel I thought was decent throwaway fun. There was no real need for another entry, but then again enough time has passed and enough new technology has arrived to allow for some interesting new spins to explore. Does Rings explore these?

Does it fuck. Rings is a mess. I can’t think of a single, remotely scary moment in the film – no tension, not even any jump scares, and Samara is again some ultra cheap CG mess who looks like she would slip and break her back sooner than crawl across the room to murder you. The film does offer interesting ideas, but either abandons them or messes them up in some convoluted fashion. The idea of being trapped on an airplane with someone about to succumb to the curse is sound – hell, that’s a movie in itself right there. This is messed up and rushed and filled with inexplicable moments – why do all the screens change, why does the plane crash etc? The idea of a group, almost cult set up surrounding the video – who both apparently worship and fear the video, while simultaneously creating a system for viewing and sharing the video to keep each other alive while not spreading the loop too wide – again a sound idea. This is abandoned fairly early and doesn’t get a lot of discussion – it’s basically a minor plot point irrelevant to everything else that comes afterwards. There may be other interesting ideas, but I can’t recall given that my mind is clouded by the other crap.

So the plot is that a guy is leaving his gal to go off to college. They’re very luvvy-duvvy. After a while the guy doesn’t return her calls so the gal goes looking for him. For some reason she has dreams which seems to involve Samara, before she knows anything about it. After some amateur sleuthing she realizes that people seem to be covering up her bloke’s recent whereabouts and there is a lot of talk about watching a video. The girl goes to a house with another girl who promises to find the guy if she watches ‘The Video’. The guys calls just in time to tell her not to watch so she hides and the other girl is killed. Soon we hear all about it, the girl watches the video anyway to save her man, then they both go to investigate the history of the video, which for some reason has decided to display new images.

So, we get a lot of unnecessary additional back story which doesn’t tell us anything new, and some sort of unexplained convoluted reasoning to explain how Samara wants to break free from the binds of the videotape, using the girl. How could she have foreknowledge of the girl? Did she smell her through the bathroom door and thought she was some sort of key? Why? What is special about this girl? It seems pretty obvious that one of the first things any viewer of the videotape in the last 10 years would do is upload it and send to their friends, yet that seems to be the big scheme and shock ending after all. Why? Why find the body, why find the man who got the mother pregnant, why anything? It’s just completely absurd.

Why make it another teen movie too? Ringu was powerful because it was about a mother, her son, her ex partner. There were kids in it too, but they were peripheral. I have no problem with teens being the focus, except when it is only there as a cynical cash grab. And yet with all this, I didn’t hate the movie. Maybe it’s because when I watched it I was dying with some stinking cold and was possibly hallucinating a better movie as I watched, or maybe I’m too lenient on movies, crap as they may be. Aside from Samara, it looked decent enough – standard bland stuff, and the performances were fine – nothing memorable, nothing bad. In the end it’s an entirely pointless exercise with zero scares, and a nonsensical story. I still say someone could make another good Ring movie, but I think it’s time we let it die.

Death Sentence

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The forgotten James Wan movie. James Wan is rightly one of the biggest names in horror, and deserves to be seen as much more than simply a single genre director. He has since has success in other realms and will presumably continue in that vein, but his first foray outside of the genre is nonetheless a violent and grim story of revenge which has just as much in common with Saw as it does with the 70’s films it seeks to emulate.

Based upon the book by Brian Garfield (in name and barely anything else only) which is a sequel to his novel Death Wish, this film follows a Nick – a wealthy (I want to say lawyer) man with a perfect life heading to the wrong part of town with his son to get some gas. Unfortunately for all concerned, a local gang is initiating a new member in the area and they rob the gas station, killing Nick’s son. We get scenes about how legal justice never works – a la Death Wish et al – and Nick takes the issue into his own hands. Normally, the protagonist would get his revenge after leveling up his Schwarzenegger and ninja stats and the movie would end with a hard rock credits sequence. Where Death Sentence is more interesting, more honest, closer to the source material, and ultimately more brutal is where it plays revenge as an unending cycle – you hurt me, I’ll hurt you – you stab me, I’ll shoot your wife – you have oil, I’ll airstrike you into oblivion. It doesn’t end, and no-one wins.

This cycle of revenge is played out with increasing violence and spectacle – we end up learning just as much about the gang members as we do about Nick, and the general tone is one of helplessness – is revenge the only option when justice doesn’t work? Do these events come from nowhere and we can have no answer for or resolution to them? Kevin Bacon gives one of his best performances as Nick, John Goodman hams it up nicely in a small role, and Kelly Preston is still as hot as get out (whatever that means). Wan shows a measured hand in the early proceedings garnering enough of an emotional core for us to care about what happens, before allowing the film to spiral out of control in the second half. The action is fast, the violence is grueling, and overall the film offers entertainment and intelligence (if not insight) in a sub genre not known for much more than a vigilante killing faceless punks.

Have you seen Death Sentence? How does it rank alongside other vigilante justice movies? Let us know in the comments!