Review – There goes the Neighborhood… (“10 Cloverfield Lane”)

Here’s a real head-scratcher: this is and isn’t a sequel to J. J. Abrams remarkable 2008 monster movie, Cloverfield. Yes, it’s produced by Abrams and bears part of the same previous movie title, but other than that.

It’s Louisiana and twenty-something Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is on the move. She’s just broken up with her fiancé, Ben (Bradley Cooper’s voice on the cellphone) and is on the road when WHAM! she’s in a horrible car accident. She wakes up, groggy and patched up, but chained to a cot in the underground bunker of farmer Howard (John Goodman). Looks like this large bearded man is a doomsday survivalist and is also a little nutso in his conspiracy theory that, outside in the world above them, a war is waging “against us and the Russians or maybe the Martians”.

Also in this sealed-off bunker is Emmett (John Gallagher, jr), a local handyman who helped Howard build the shelter. He believes Howard’s theory on the bomb being dropped, having seen a huge red mushroom cloud just before entering, but Michele is still skeptical. After she gets well, Michelle attempts a bold escape by stealing Howard’s keys and bolting for the padlocked air-lock door. Much to her shock and anguish, her worst fears are realized when she sees a horribly disfigured woman (radiation burns?!) trying to gain entrance to their shelter.

Now agreeing that Howard was probably right, she settles in for a rude awakening: she’s stuck there indefinitely with nice-guy Emmett and wack-job Howard. Well, it could be worse, right? But things DO get worse when Michelle discovers by accident that Howard may be a closet serial killer! Yikes! She and Emmett concoct a scheme to fabricate a plastic hazmat suit for her to escape with and then go for help, but things go terribly wrong.

The third act is a fast-paced, sucker-punch taking place outside the bunker, spinning a bizarre left turn into the Twilight Zone. I won’t reveal the climatic (and somewhat strange) ending, but it comes out of nowhere and takes you completely by surprise. You’ll also find out that 10 Cloverfield Ln is the address of the farm where all this mayhem takes place.

A tight screenplay by first-time writers Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken with Damien Chazelle, who wrote the gripping Whiplash, the script doesn’t short-change the audience by giving them any foreshadowing; you learn exactly what’s happening as the characters learn it. Not to mention the claustrophobic setting inside the small bunker shot by director Dan Trachtenberg (his feature film debut), showing his rock-solid staging and a real complexity in filming. All this from a guy who mostly shot Coca-Cola and Nike commercials! I also have to mention the musical score by Bear McCreary, which only added to the overall thrilling mood.

Then you have the three-person cast, starting off with veteran John Goodman; the man making crazy look good. His disturbing Howard is so ‘out-there’ one minute and then so compassionate for the others the next, he just makes you feel creepy the whole time. Winstead (who reminds me of Cloverfield‘s Lizzie Kaplan) has dark, expressive eyes and matches Goodman in intensity and acting. Gallagher, as the good ‘ol boy, has the dubious distinction of just being ‘the guy’ in the film who’s there for window dressing. Still, a remarkable cast with a great script that has nothing to do with the original 2008 movie.

Demon Knight (1995)

A bunch of people hold-up in a confined area for fear of the outside? Check, please! Also known as Tales From The Crypt Present: Demon Knight, this quirky and fun horror film based on the HBO series came out of nowhere and took everyone by surprise by being not only being well written, but loaded with a damn fine cast, decent directing, and that decomposed body puppet, The Crypt Keeper to begin and end the movie as playful bookends.A simple enough premise: a bunch of people from different walks of life are confined in a dilapidated church (now a boarding house) while a demonic force outside is trying to get inside to retrieve a valuable artifact. The place is New Mexico and the man, Frank Brayker (William Sadler), is the one The Collector (Billy Zane) is pursuing. Why? Aye, that’s the rub, as Shakespeare would say.

Brayker holds a key-like cross vial that contains blood. But not just ANY blood, oh no, no, no. But blood from Jesus Christ himself! And that Collector? He’s a nasty demon that wants it for his own nefarious deeds! Anyway, the locals of that boarding house get a BIG surprise when all Hell breaks loose and they’re stuck inside, fending off the evil minions of The Collector outside.

You have local drunk Uncle Willy (Dick Miller), owner Irene (CCH Pounder), prostitute Cordelia (Brenda Bakke), postal clerk Wally (Charles Fleischer), lecherous cook Roach (Thomas Haden Church), and a work release convict named Jeryline (Jada Pinkett Smith). But that Collector convinces local Sheriff Tupper (John Schuck) that Brayker is a dangerous thief  to draw him outside the building. Y’see, Brayker can use some of the blood to ‘seal’ off the doorways from the Collector’s (or demon creature’s) entry.

But this wouldn’t be a Tales From The Crypt movie without tons of bloody deaths and tongue-in-cheek moments for gruesome laughs. As the residents are picked off one-by-one, Brayker confesses that he’s one of many caretakers of Christs’ blood throughout time and, if he dies, a new caretaker who’s worthy of taking up his mantle must prevail. Sure enough, Brayker gets killed and the last survivor of the house manages to barely escape to carry on with Brayker’s mission. But, who is it? Awww. . . I’m not gonna give THAT away! Rent the movie!

Written by Mark Bishop, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris, this short 92 minute film was just like the old HBO series: graphic, funny, and well written with a touch of pathos and satire. And you have John Kassir as the raspy-voiced Crypt Keeper muppet to open and close the movie; a silly but nonetheless effective tool. Directed  by Ernest Dickerson (a frequent cinematographer for Spike Lee), he mostly does TV/cable series like The Wire and Once Upon A Time. However, he showed a real flair here for horror and close-tight shots that were TFTC signatures.

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