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This month’s VOD is a mixed bag of horror

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For those weekends when horror movies don’t open in your local Cineplex’s, you can always catch some new and noteworthy finds on VOD. You’ll find some interesting genre entries this weekend of March 14, everything from the just released remake of 70’s B-movie classic “Patrick” to a slick psychological thriller starring Elijah Wood. If you can’t go a weekend without some good frights, here are the most noteworthy entries available through your cable provider or iTunes.

“Patrick: Evil Awakens”

One of the more effective B-movies of the late 70’s was “Patrick”. The 1978 horror film concerned a comatose patient who created all kinds of havoc through his telekinetic powers. (Yes, the influence of 1976’s “Carrie” probably yielded this similarly themed frightener.) It was brazen and badass then and still is today. Only this time, it’s got a better cast. Veteran character actor Charles Dance (“Game of Thrones”), Rachel Griffiths, and the wonderful ingénue Sharni Vinson star this time out. Vinson created a lot of empathy with the audience in last year’s “You’re Next” (http://exm.nr/1ktZBQ3), and she does the same here as the kind nurse whom Patrick manipulates with his mental powers. And if you think Dance is creepy on 'Thrones', you should see him here!

The movie is taut and suspenseful, working as more of a psychological thriller than a typical B blood-soaked horror. Perhaps that’s why it performed poorly at the box office in its native Australia. It may not have been horrific enough for genre audiences, and it does have a rather limited premise. Still, it’s worth a look because of its interesting take on the classic material and its top-notch cast.

“In Fear”

This Irish import, available on home VOD and iTunes just this week, has a lot going for it with its promising premise, expert direction, and capable cast of young actors. Yet the sum of those parts does not equal a great horror film. Tom and Lucy (Iain De Caestecker and Alice Englert) are a couple on a date, heading to a music festival in Ireland to rendezvous with mutual friends. However, Tom has planned a stopover at a rural hotel to take their relationship to the next level. Lucy is hesitant, but ultimately game. But they never get a chance to consummate their relationship as all sorts of obstacles present themselves to the naïve couple.

First, they have a run-in with some locals at a pub and one of them ends up following them. Then the directions to the hotel turn out to be a maze of confusion. But what really does the couple in is the utterly stupid ways in which the script has them act throughout. They're very slow on the uptake to what's happening to them. They misplace keys, separate to investigate things they shouldn't, and most egregiously, let the villain talk his way into their auto. At every point they make mistake after infuriating mistake, like when Tom decides to urinate a good 50 feet from the car and is almost grabbed by the bad guy. They're too idiotic to hold our sympathy.

Englert was very good in last year’s misbegotten “Beautiful Creatures” (http://exm.nr/1m6yuNO ), and here she tries with another messy script. It’s a shame director Jeremy Lovering didn't spend more time crafting his story because he has a great sense of camera, editing, and builds a good deal of suspense within the confines of that car. But his characters lose our good will after 45 minutes and never really recover. And by the time Tom and the bad guy are rolling around in the mud during an extended and pointless fight scene, I was checking my watch. “In Fear” comes close to being good, but at the end of the day it’s just too much blarney.

“Grand Piano”

Another thriller where the direction is better than its script is “Grand Piano”. Spanish director Eugene Mira has fashioned a gorgeous work, filled with lush cinematography and fluid camera movement that would make Brian De Palma envious. Unfortunately the script is not as picture perfect as it stumbles late in its final act. Nonetheless, "Grand Piano" is a fun and wicked thriller with a simple premise that will lure you in from the get-go.

Elijah Wood plays a concert pianist on the comeback trail. He’s performing for the first time in years, but just as he starts performing on stage to a packed concert hall, he discovers a note written on his sheet music. It threatens to kill his movie star wife in attendance if he doesn’t play every note perfectly. From there, an earpiece is introduced and it becomes a cat & mouse thriller between pianist and perpetrator. What Wood is asked to do during the concert performance is both scary and often funny. And the whole film has a Hitchcockian flavor to it that any genre fan will savor.

John Cusack is the villainess voice, and he even makes a surprising cameo at the end, but the film is mostly a one-man show with Wood. Just as he did in last year’s surprisingly deft serial killer movie “Maniac” (http://exm.nr/1d1wrYO), Wood demonstrates a real knack for nail-biting cinema. He creates a character here who is on the edge. We feel all his dread and terror throughout as his nerves are being played like those black and white keys underneath his fingertips. And it's utterly palpable. It’s the kind of performance that will never get awards attention, but honestly should. Wood is that good.

There are a lot of anxiously anticipated horror movies opening in April, including “Oculus” and “13 Sins” (http://aol.it/1o6CcFU), but until then you'll find some sharp chills in these VOD titles, particularly "Grand Piano". Happy haunting, fellow fright fans.

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