Don’t get to know ‘The Boy Next Door’

While Freud may argue that humans are instinctually driven by impulses of love and death, director Rob Cohen and first-time screenwriter Barbara Curry’s melodramatic romance/horror film, “The Boy Next Door,” is a grotesque mockery of the human condition.

As the title may imply, “The Boy Next Door” tries to be equally flirty and sinister, starting off as a bad harlequin romance which becomes an equally bad thriller.

It’s not hard to guess who this movie’s made for: the soccer moms enamored with E.L. James’ “50 Shades of Grey.” James’ books gave suburban mothers a brief education into the “dark and thrilling” world of BDSM. Likewise, Curry’s script, which draws heavily on Greek myths, attempts to provide an education.

Curry’s script loosely echoes the themes of David Mamet’s “Oleanna.” Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez) is a high school teacher teaching classics as her husband, Garrett (John Corbett), cheats on her with younger women.

In return, she cheats on him with muscles — a 20-year-old orphan who introduces himself as new neighbor Noah Sanborn (Ryan Guzman). This barely of age un-graduate is her student and a repeating senior at Claire and her son’s (Ian Nelson) school, Monroe High.

Unlike Dustin Hoffman’s character in “The Graduate,” Guzman is suave and self-assured as Noah, seeking the companionship of the MILF next door. He appeals to a mother’s sympathies — protecting his asthma-ridden son, fixing her garage door and quoting literature.

But while characters talk about Homer’s “Illiad,” they enact Sophocles “Oedipus Rex.” Like Eve, Claire takes a bite from the apple of temptation in some unnecessarily R-rated sex scenes.

Forbidden fruit is costly, though, and her sin has woven himself into her home and classroom.

Lopez and Guzman, however, haven’t woven themselves in ours. It’s not their fault that the characters they play are vapid caricatures. You can see that Lopez is trying to be serious. But the predictable and easily reproduced script is as forgettable as its tenants — empty bodies easily replaced with dozens of other attractive and sculpted actors. The pervasiveness of bad writing is the most frightening thing of all.

“The Boy Next Door” was directed by Rob Cohen and written by Barbara Curry.  

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Staring into the abyss of ‘American Horror Story: Asylum’

It’s “The Blair Witch Project” meets “The X-Files” meets “The Poltergeist” meets “A Clockwork Orange” meets “One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest” meets “The Exorcist” meets “I Know What You Did Last Summer” meets “Saw,” with lots of blood and fortification in between. And that’s just the first couple episodes of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s second season of their macabre freak show, “American Horror Story: Asylum.”

This time, we’re guests at Briarcliff Manor, a mid-1960s Massachusetts insane asylum.

Like season one, “Asylum” is told through flashbacks and multiple interconnected narratives. Present-day couple Leo (Adam Levine) and Teresa Morrison (Jenna Dewan Tatum) are celebrating their honeymoon with a self-guided tour of every haunted happening across America. Their stumble through the Manor’s steps awaken monsters from its past.

Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), a anti-semitic doctor who believes in electroshock therapy; Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto), a removed state psychiatrist assigned to diagnose Bloody Face’s mental condition; and Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), a weak-willed nun who enjoys little sins, used to roam the sanitarium’s halls.

But the warden of this prison was Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), who plays Briarcliff Manor’s Nurse Ratched.

When Kit Walker (Evan Peters) is admitted into Briarcliff as the infamous local serial killer, “Bloody Face” during the mid-1960s, investigative reporter Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), who fancies herself after Nellie Bly, sneaks into the mental ward to profile him; what she uncovers there is more horrific than her nightmares, especially when she finds herself admitted as a homosexual.

Murphy and Falchuk’s amalgamation of slasher flicks is a bloody mess. At times, it feels like they’re squeezing as many horror film allusions into an episode as possible. (“Nightmare Before Christmas” is even referenced more than halfway through the season in the “Unholy Night” episode). At other times, it’s like we’ve stepped into an episode of “Glee” (during a hallucination, Lange’s character sings “The Name Game” as the cast performs a choreographed musical number).

That doesn’t mean “American Horror Story” isn’t addictive. In fact, we can’t look away from this sensational and deliciously sacrilegious train wreck.

Perhaps that’s the problem.

As Sister Jude warns in the show’s finale, paraphrasing Nietzsche: “If you look into the face of Evil, Evil is going to look right back at you.”

Moving into an ‘American Horror Story’: season one review

Ryan Murphy is known for creating freaks. His melodramatic hit television dramedy “Glee” stars the teenaged rejects of the McKinley High School show choir.

His newest Frankensteins are even better. I’m talking about the revolving cast of characters in FX’s “American Horror Story” (2011).

At the center of its 12-episode pilot season is troubled couple Ben (Dylan McDermott) and Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton). After Ben cheated on his wife with his student Hayden McClaine (played by the wonderful Kate Mara of “House of Cards”), Ben, Vivien and their teenaged daughter Violet (played by Vera Farmiga’s younger sister Taissa) decide to literally “move on” from the affair, taking up residence in a beautiful 1920s Victorian-style Los Angeles mansion.

Of course, the Harmons aren’t the only ones residing in what’s dubbed the “Murder House.” Its tenants include the house’s founders and former residents including surgeon Charles Montgomery (Matt Ross) and his wife Nora (Lily Rabe); housekeeper Moira O’Hara (played by Frances Conroy and Alexandra Breckenridge); gay couple Chad (Zachary Quinto) and Patrick (Teddy Sears); and next-door neighbors Constance (Jessica Lange) and Addie Langdon (Jamie Brewer).

“American Horror Story” is a culmination of spooky ghost stories from campfire tales like Bloody Mary to scary film creations including Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby.”

Murphy and co-creator Brad Falchuk also draw inspiration from real-life murders including the unsolved Black Dahlia case and the Columbine massacre.

Evan Peters, who plays a deeply disturbed teenager who falls in love with Violet, channels a young Christian Slater from Michael Lehmann’s dark comedy “Heathers.” Constance’s a southern Sue Sylvester — biting, racist and cruel, but also a little sad.

“One of the many comforts of having children is knowing one’s youth has not fled but merely been passed down to a new generation,” she says. “They say when a parent dies, a child feels his own mortality. But when a child dies, it’s immortality that a parent loses.”

“American Horror Story” is chilling and creepy, feeding off our insecurities. But that’s what makes it so addictive. We want to see who or what’s behind that door or under that floorboard if only to ease our pounding hearts and racing minds.

While “American Horror Story” is an exaggerated and perverse reflection of humanity, we see bits of ourselves in murderers and psychopaths. We begin to understand their wants and motives. And how easy it is to lose one’s mind. That’s perhaps the scariest thing of all.

But like stumbling through a “haunted” attraction on Halloween, “American Horror Story” is scary good fun. Because in the back of our minds, we know these actors can’t reach beyond your tiny television or laptop screens. They can’t grab you and take you into their world. This mirror into death only makes you feel alive.

From Harry to Haunted: Daniel Radcliffe stars in ‘The Woman in Black’

The trick to making a good horror film is to tease the audience — show the elongated shadows on the walls, play the creaks and moans in the woodwork. Fill in a creepy soundtrack; sudden jarring noises; a stupid but lovable and brave hero or heroine and the imagination will fill in the rest.

This is why director James Watkins’ new film “The Woman in Black” works. Based on Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, “The Woman in Black” follows single father Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a young, widowed lawyer who lost his wife (Sophie Stuckey) in childbirth four years ago. Kipps’ job sends him from London to Crythin Gifford to settle the paperwork of the late Dablow family of Eel Marsh House, when he discovers the secret behind the mysterious woman in black (Liz White).

Like any true Gryffindor, the Harry Potter star tries to overcomes his legacy as the boy-who-lived by confronting new ghosts head-on. Radcliffe looks vulnerable and sometimes child-like while wandering alone in the dark, dwarfed by the sinister crevices of the Eel Marsh House. Radcliffe’s big blue eyes and past tenure as the lovable Harry Potter adds to the audience’s sympathy when his character approaches a long darkened corridor or greets violent thumping noises behind closed doors.

But his tender scenes with his adorable, real-life godson, Misha Handley, who plays Radcliffe’s four-year-old son, Joseph Kipps, separates him from his wizard, silver screen counterpart. The scenes between Radcliffe and Handley are endearing and genuine, such as when Joseph presents Arthur with stick-figure drawings of the two (Radcliffe’s stick figure sports a prominent frown). While the film does play up the father/son relationship at times by reminding Radcliffe that he has a son to go home to and featuring the pale faces of other little girls and boys, the acting is believable, taking the film beyond the average cheap horror film and making it more comparable to Juan Antonio Bayona’s 2007 Spanish mystery thriller “The Orphanage” — a film which also features beautiful outdoor scenery, elaborate spooky interior house décor and children.

“The Woman in Black” shows how palpable death is among both the young and old — lingering in cobwebs, gravestones, shadows and the pale faces of the children and superstitious townspeople of Crythin Gifford. The new adaption of “The Woman in Black” is designed to keep you tense in your seats and your children close.