‘It’ taps into ’80s nostalgia, but is short on scares

The 2017 “It” remake – now available from Redbox — is the most Stephen Kingy Stephen King adaptation to hit the screen in a long time, as the interactions between the heroic nerds and villainous bullies are palpable, and a lot of the action with titular clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) and other monsters feels like King’s words brought to life with modern special effects – something not possible in the 1990 TV miniseries.

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‘Insidious: The Last Key’ continues franchise tradition of emotionally resonant horror

There has always been a sense in the “Insidious” movies that they are about more than the scares. In each of the films the audience is given the opportunity to really spend time with the characters, to get an understanding of them outside the horror.

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‘Better Watch Out’ a surprise gift of holiday-themed horror

I give a soft recommend to “Better Watch Out” – now available to stream for 99 cents on Amazon Prime – for anyone who hasn’t seen the trailer. The twist is great, and the rest of the film is unusual enough to be compelling. But those who have seen the trailer can skip it, as they already know the whole movie, just in condensed form.

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Taut thriller ’47 Meters Down’ a respectable addition to pantheon of shark terror

1975’s “Jaws” invented the killer-shark subgenre of horror, but it didn’t invent sharks. As such, plenty of movies through the years have been spiritual sequels to “Jaws,” and most of them have been much better than “Jaws 3” and “Jaws: The Revenge.” “47 Meters Down,” which snuck in and out of theaters in June and is now available via streaming and Redbox, is the latest.

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‘Life’ is another ‘Alien’ ripoff – but it’s one of the better ones

It’s hard to review “Life” (March 2017) — which I recently saw via Redbox – without entering into apologia. It is undeniably in the “Alien” ripoff subgenre. But it strikes me as odd that “Gravity” (2013), for example, has a 7.8 on IMDB and “Life” has a 6.6. Both are about accidents on a modern-day space station, featuring all-star casts and a mission statement to be realistic. Maybe the monster in “Life” is the difference-maker in that rating, but to me, the monster is a positive, not a negative.

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You’ll ‘Wish Upon’ a star, or whatever gods you pray to, for a more creative movie

In “Wish Upon” — now available via Redbox and streaming — young Clare (Joey King, from Season 1 of “Fargo”) comes upon an ancient Chinese box that grants seven wishes. She makes a wish, it comes true, and there is a consequence. Repeat six more times until the movie ends.

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With thrilling ‘Split,’ it’s safe to say M. Night Shyamalan is back

Propelled by can’t-look-away performances by James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy and meticulous writing and direction by M. Night Shyamalan, “Split” (which hit theaters in January and is now on HBO) was one of the year’s first great films. It’s buzzworthy for its closing surprise (more on that after the spoiler tag below), but it’s worth seeing in its own right for its sci-fi-tinged examination of split personalities.

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‘It Comes at Night’ builds evocative apocalyptic world, but tells too small of a story

“It Comes at Night” (now available via Redbox and streaming) is the latest scary/smart horror-thriller, eschewing haunted houses and possessed children and instead taking its place with “Maggie,” “It Follows,” “The VVitch,” “Don’t Breathe” and “Get Out” by showing how people react in intense situations. It throws us into a world where a plague – which can only be contracted at night, hence the title – has wiped out most of civilization. It’s like if you tuned into a conventional outbreak drama after the opening act.

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‘Alien: Covenant’ balances xenomorph creation saga with crowd-pleasing horror

Director and saga overseer Ridley Scott continues his process of linking “Prometheus” with “Alien” in the second of what’s supposed to be a “Prometheus” quadrilogy, “Alien: Covenant” (now available for rental and streaming). While it’s at times derivative of other films in the series with its plot points and set pieces, it finds a balance between the Big Ideas of “Prometheus” (2012) and the straight-ahead horror of “Alien” (1979). This 11th film in the “Alien/Predator” franchise ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack, but that still makes it better than your average sci-fi film.

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