Dann Michalski

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Toledo, Ohio
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Misery

From director Rob Reiner comes the intense suspense thriller Misery. Based on a Stephen King novel, the story follows famed novelist Paul Sheldon who’s rescued from a car crash by an obsessed fan; but things take a dark turn when he discovers that he’s being drugged and is locked in his room. James Caan and Kathy Bates both give strong performances; particularly Bates, who does a good job at subtly moving from eccentric fan and psychopath. And Reiner effectively builds tension and suspense quite well; especially in showing Sheldon’s captivity and isolation. Still, there are some problems with the script, such as the underdeveloped subplot of the sheriff’s investigation and the rushed conclusion. Yet despite its flaws, Misery is a frightening horror film.

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White Noise

A rather bland and mediocre thriller, White Noise explores the mysterious paranormal science of EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon). Michael Keaton stars as John Rivers, a bereaved widower who discovers that his dead wife is sending him messages from the beyond through EVP that urge him to help people who are in danger from evil spirits. The writing in pretty weak and the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And it doesn’t spend much time developing who the evil spirits are or what they want. The performances aren’t that good either and are really toned down. Also, the EVP of the film isn’t real EVP (which can’t be interacted with post-recording) and is used more as a plot device to help the main character fight against the evil spirits. While it has an interesting premise, White Noise doesn’t know what to do with it and ends up being a dull, by the numbers ghost mystery.

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Life

Frightening and full of suspense, Life is a terrifying sci-fi thriller. The story follows the crew of the International Space Station as they study specimens brought back by a Mars probe and discover a micro-organism; however the organism begins to rapidly grow and starts attacking the station’s crew. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Ryan Reynolds, the film has an impressive cast that delivers some strong performances. And the special effects are especially good, particularly the creature deigns; which starts out rather innocent looking and gets progressively sinister and menacing as it grows. The score is also incredibly well-done; capturing the dark and foreboding tone of the material. Yet the plot is rather predictable and somewhat derivative of other sci-fi films. Still, Life is intense and entertaining, and delivers some chilling scares.

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Aliens vs Predator: Requiem

The ultimate matchup continues in AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator - Requiem. Picking up where the last film left off, the Predator ship crash-lands on Earth releasing a host of Aliens and a PredAlien hybrid. The story is innovative, but the execution is atrocious. Reacting to the fan backlash over the first AVP’s PG-13 rating, Requiem goes for the hard R and gets overly gruesome and bloody. Additionally, the acting is horrendously bad; almost unbearably so. However, the Predator action is fairly good, but that’s about all the film has going for it. AVPR: Alien vs. Predator - Requiem is a dark, ugly film that’s nothing but gratuitous violence.

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AVP: Alien vs. Predator

The long awaited crossover event final goes down in AVP: Alien vs. Predator. Adapted from the comic series, industrialist Charles Weyland discovers a pyramid buried deep within the ice of Antarctica and puts together an expedition team, but they find more then they bargain for and end up in a fight for survival. At its core this is a creature feature, and it delivers a lot of fun, exciting action and Alien/Predator fights. It doesn’t have much of a story or captivating characters, but AVP: Alien vs. Predator is entertaining and full of thrills.

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Predator 2

If Schwarzenegger’s not available...get Danny Glover? The misfit cast is only one of Predator 2’s litany of problems. The story is awful, the characters are terrible, and the cast is pathetically inept. A worse Predator film couldn’t have been made, even if they’d tried. That said, the Predator is still an interesting character and infuses a lot of solid action and terror into the film. However, Predator 2 is an atrocious film that has none of the charisma and excitement that the original had.

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Breach

An Alien knockoff, Breach is an abysmal low-budget horror film. On a ship transporting colonists to a new world an alien virus begins infecting and transforming the crew, jeopardizing the mission. Featuring Bruce Willis, Rachel Nichols, and Thomas Jane, there’s some talent in the cast, but they’re relegated to supporting roles and aren’t utilizes very well. And the script is poorly written; full of all the usual sci-fi tropes and clichés. Also, the sets and costumes look especially cheap and the CGI creature isn’t at all frightening. Breach is an appallingly bad piece of shlock that lacks any originality.

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Synchronic

Anthony Mackie stars in the science-fiction thriller Synchronic. When a paramedic comes across a new drug that’s killing people he tries to get it off the street my buying out the supply, but when he discovers that it has temporal properties that allows you to travel back in time he begins to experiment with it. Mackie gives a good performance, and the script does an impressive job at exploring time travel as the character learns how it works and what he can do with it. However, the pacing is rather slow and the plot meanders at times; unsure of where it’s going. Yet despite its problems, Synchronic is a compelling film full of intrigue.

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Maggie

A unique take on the zombie genre, Maggie is a provocative indie horror film. After receiving a zombie bite a young girl named Maggie is brought back home by her father to be cared for, and to allow her to say her goodbyes before she turns rabid. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin both give very strong performances; especially Schwarzenegger, who does an excellent job at portraying the burdens and struggles of a father with a terminally ill child. Additionally, the makeup effects are quite impressive and have a realistic, virus-like look. However, the plot is pretty formulaic and kind of just prolongs the impending showdown between Maggie and her father when she inevitably goes full zombie. It can be a little dull at times, but overall Maggie presents a compelling vision.

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The Lazarus Effect

Olivia Wilde stars in the supernatural horror film The Lazarus Effect. A university study goes horribly wrong when one of the researchers dies in a freak accident and is revived using an experimental procedure. Wilde gives a solid performance, and so does her co-star Sarah Bolger. Also, the film does a nice job of building suspense and tension. But, the writing’s a little weak and isn’t sure what direction to take the plot: as it’s unclear whether the resurrected character is demon possessed, lost their humanity, or something else. Yet despite its weaknesses, The Lazarus Effect manages to deliver some good scares.

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The Vatican Tapes

A little creepy, but not all that scary, The Vatican Tapes is a stereotypical demon possession film. When a young woman becomes possessed a priest gets permission to perform an exorcism, but it’s soon revealed that they’re not dealing with an ordinary demon. Olivia Dudley and Michael Peña lead the cast and give solid performances. And, the possession is fairly well-done, delivering all the standard fare; body twisting, shaking objects, prayers in Latin, etc. But the plot is paper thin with little character developed, and it gets batshit crazy at the end. For those who enjoy supernatural thrillers The Vatican Tapes will do, but there’s nothing original or compelling about it.

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The Snowman

Suspenseful and full of mystery, The Snowman is an atmospheric noir thriller. Based on an international bestselling novel, the film follows a police detective who investigates a serial killer who targets women. Starring Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, and J. K. Simmons, the film has a pretty strong cast; though the performances are rather lackluster. And the script is kind of weak, doing a poor job at constructing the mystery and investigation. Still, there are some intense scenes as the killer stalks his prey and crime scenes are discovered. It may not come together very well, but The Snowman is an engaging film with a fair amount of intrigue.

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Amityville: The Awakening

Rebooting the franchise, Amityville: The Awakening takes a fresh look at the haunted house that terrified a generation. The story follows a recently widowed mother who moves her two daughters and invalid son to a house in the country hoping that the change will help her son’s condition, and when he starts to improve the eldest daughter begins to question whether it’s really him or if he’s being possessed. Both Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bella Thorne give solid performances, and the film has an interesting meta quality to it where both the real life events and the films exist. But the horror is rather tame and the forces of evil are limited in their power and influence (not really going beyond possession). While it gets some points for creativity, Amityville: The Awakening doesn’t have much ambition and sets a rather low bar for itself.

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The Forest

Natalie Dormer stars in the atmospheric horror film The Forest. The story follows a woman who travels to Japan to search for her twin sister who is believed to have gone into a forest known for its allure for those intent on committing suicide; but the deeper she goes into the forest searching, the more she begins to sense a malevolent spirit at work. Dormer gives a decent performance, but she really doesn’t have much to work with as the script is incredibly weak. And the plot, if there is one, is paper thin. Additionally, the scares aren’t that frightening. Still, while it’s monotonous and uninspired, The Forest does deliver a few chills.

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Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning

Playing on a re-incarnation theme, Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning explores the root of the werewolf curse. Set in the 1800s, two sisters take shelter at a fort that’s under attacks by a werewolf pack; but when one of the sisters is bitten the other is forced into making a choice that forever alters their destinies. The plot repeats a lot of the same beats as the original, but the wilderness setting is refreshing and allows the series to do some new and interesting things. Unfortunately thought, the film’s storytelling is overshadowed by its politics; which accentuates misogyny and racism in a pretty heavy handed fashion. Yet despite its problems, Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning is entertaining and offers a deeper perspective on the bonds of sisterhood.

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Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed

Improving upon the original, Ginger Snaps: Unleashed is a frightful and disturbing supernatural thriller. After the death of her sister Brigitte goes on the run and attempts to manage her lycanthropy through drugs, but when social services put her into a rehab center her transformation into a werewolf rapidly increases. Emily Perkins gives a really strong performance that does a good job at selling the desperation of her situation. Additionally, the werewolf effects are fairly well-done and rather terrifying. Still, there are some script problems and the characters are underdeveloped. But despite its failings, Ginger Snaps: Unleased is a compelling horror film.

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Ginger Snaps

A cult horror film, Ginger Snaps attempts to put a unique spin on the werewolf genre but has some tonal problems. Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle star as two sisters whose bond is tested when one of them is attacked by a werewolf and begins to transform. Unfortunately, the writing is uneven and tries to insert some horror-comedy and satire that doesn’t quite work. Part of the problem is the performances, which are pretty lifeless. Additionally, the wolf effects are rather bad; though some of the transformation makeup work is quite creative. Yet while Ginger Snaps does some interesting things, in the end it doesn’t quite succeed.

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Red Riding Hood

Director Catherine Hardwicke attempts to Twilight the Grimm’s classic fairytale in Red Riding Hood. The story follows a small village that calls in the aid of a famed werewolf hunter to help them fight a werewolf that’s been attacking them; meanwhile a young woman plans to run off with her lover but has second thoughts when she begins to suspect that he may be the wolf. Starring Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, and Virginia Madsen, the film has a pretty solid cast, and Hardwicke does a good job at crafting a surrealistic visual style. However, the writing is rather poor; featuring all the usual genre tropes, one-dimensional characters, and a contrived love triangle. And the mystery of who is the wolf proves to be underwhelming. While Red Riding Hood presents an interesting new vision, it just doesn’t work.

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The Witch

The Witch: A New-England Folktale is a creepy and atmospheric low-budget horror film. Set in the early 1600s, the story follows a family that leaves their village to build a new home in the frontier; but when the youngest child is kidnapped by a witch and the crops fail the family begins to tear itself apart. The performances are quite good, especially Anya Taylor-Joy; who’s extraordinarily compelling and has a remarkable earnestness to her. And the lengths to which writer/director Robert Eggers has gone to bring authentic to the film’s look and feel is incredible. However, the pacing is kind of slow and the ending is rather controversial. Yet while it has a few issues, The Witch: A New-England Folktale is a chilling and well-crafted film.

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The Last Witch Hunter

Extraordinarily convoluted, The Last Witch Hunter is an incredibly bizarre supernatural thriller. The story follows an immortal witch hunter named Kaulder as he investigates the death of a priest who he worked with in the battle against evil. The plot is extremely hard to follow, as things just happen from scene to scene with unintelligible exposition about witchcraft. And Vin Diesel seems to be putting no effort into his performance; though his co-star, Rose Leslie, has some charisma. The creature designs are somewhat interesting, but they’re a bit too surreal for the aesthetic of the film. The Last Witch Hunter tries too hard to be an epic fantasy saga, and ends up being an incoherent mess.

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The Cave

A frightening creature film, The Cave delivers some good scares. The story follows a group of sea explorers who are hired to map an underground river system, but when there’s a cave collapse that traps them in a cavern they find themselves being hunted by a terrifying creature. Starring Cole Hauser, Piper Perabo, Lena Headey, and Morris Chestnut, the casting is pretty strong, and the creature effects are especially well-done. Also, director Bruce Hunt does an impressive job at capturing the scope of the caverns and the claustrophobia of the underwater tunnels; heightening the tension and suspense. Entertaining and full of thrills, The Cave is a solid horror film.

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Green Room

Gritty and intense, Green Room is a captivating indie horror film that’s atmospheric and frightening. After picking up a gig at a small backwater club an alternative rock backs ends up getting held hostage when they inadvertently become witnesses to a murder; things then escalate when they discover that the club is a cover for a heroin operation. Featuring Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, and Patrick Stewart, the casting is pretty good; Stewart in particular gives a terrifying performance. And the violence is quite brutal and horrifying. Green Room has a little trouble getting going, but it ends up delivers some chilling scares.

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Flatliners

A remake of the Joel Schumacher cult hit, Flatliners is a gripping psychological thriller. In an attempt to learn what happens to the brain after death four medical students experiment with inducing death and resuscitation, and in doing so touch something on the other side that begins to haunt them. Featuring Ellen Page, Diego Luna, and Nina Dobrev, the film has a pretty solid cast and a nice cameo from Kiefer Sutherland (who starred in the original). But the characters are a little underdeveloped and the conclusion is a bit anticlimactic. Still, there’s a good amount of mystery to what’s happening to the students and the chases and fight scenes are fairly intense. And the directing style helps to heighten the drama and suspense. Flatliners doesn’t quite live up to the Schumacher original, but overall it’s an entertaining film that delivers some creepy chills.

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Thir13en Ghosts

A rather gruesome horror film, Thir13en Ghosts delivers violence and gore aplenty. After his uncle’s death Arthur Kriticos inherits a luxurious and elaborate house, but he soon learns that it’s actually a machine that’s powered by the dead and was designed by the Devil for the purpose of opening the Eye of Hell. Starring Tony Shalhoub, Shannon Elizabeth, Matthew Lillard, and F. Murray Abraham, the cast isn’t half bad, but their performances are terrible. And, the ghost designs are pretty gratuitous. Additionally, the tone of the film is all over the place, from family drama, to wacky comedy, to supernatural horror. While Thir13en Ghosts does some interesting things, the execution is poor, resulting in a confusing mess that doesn’t work.

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Stir of Echoes: The Homecoming

Rob Lowe stars in the low budget horror film Stir of Echoes: The Homecoming. Unrelated to the original film, this spin-off follows a soldier returning from Iraq, who’s suffering from PTSD, as he begins to have visions of a burn victim and attempts to find a way to appease the vengeful spirit. The film doesn’t follow any of the rules established in the first film, and sort of does its own thing. And this is a problem, as there’s not much continuity. Also, the story and characters are wholly uninteresting; Lowe is boring as hell, and there’s no reason to care about his character. Monotonous garbage, Stir of Echoes: The Homecoming goes for cheap scares and comes up short.

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Case 39

A disturbing thriller, Case 39 delivers some frightening chills. The story follows a social worker who rescues a young girl from an abusive home and takes her under her care, but soon starts to believe that the girl is evil when people start dying around her. Starring Renee Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Ian McShane, and Bradley Cooper, the film has a pretty impressive cast. And the script does a good job at creating tension and suspense. However, it does get a little cliché at times; hitting the usual horror tropes. Yet while Case 39 may be a little formulaic, it’s still entertainment and full of intrigue.

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The Unborn

Written and directed by David Goyer, The Unborn is a dull and morose supernatural thriller. The story follows a college student named Casey Beldon who begins to have strange visions and comes to believe that she’s being stalked by a malicious spirit. Lead actress Odette Yustman has no charisma and gives a completely lifeless performance. And, the script is poorly written and is hard to follow (despite numerous exposition dumps). Additionally, the imagery, while disturbing at times, isn’t altogether that scary. Uninspired tripe, The Unborn is a monotonous and poorly made film.

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Flight 7500

Full of suspense and intrigue (but not many scares), Flight 7500 is a fairly decent horror film. When a plane traveling from Los Angeles to Tokyo hits turbulence a number of strange occurrences begin happening, leading several passengers to suspect that some malevolent force is at work. Leslie Bibb, Jamie Chung, and Amy Smart lead the cast and delivery solid performances. And the storytelling does a pretty good job at building mystery. However, the film tries a little too hard to set up misdirects and keep the ambiguity going until the final reveal (which is quite shocking). It’s kind of weak on plot and character, but overall Flight 7500 is a frightfully chilling film.

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Unfriended

Shot in first person perspective, Unfriended is disappointing horror film that’s rather convoluted. While video chatting online a group of friends are stalked by a mysterious caller who claims to be a classmate of theirs who was a cyber bullying victim that committed suicide and is seeking revenge. The storytelling is quite innovative and can be engrossing at times, but after a while it gets monotonous as the screen user logs on and off, types messages, and opens and closes various windows. Additionally, the acting is pretty amateurish, and none of them have any charisma. Unfriended has a few tense moments and some intrigue, but it fails to deliver any real scares.

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The Intruders

The indie horror film The Intruders is incredibly dull and monotonous. The story is painfully trite, following a young girl who comes to suspect that there’s something strange with the house that she and her father have moved into; possibly related to the mysterious disappearance of the previous occupants. Miranda Cosgrove’s performance is dreadful and completely lifeless; bringing no intensity or suspense to the film. And the script is terrible, as it’s overly focused on setting up red herrings and doesn’t develop the characters. Just a lazy and uninspired film, The Intruders fails to deliver any scares.

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