Saw VI.

Headache-inducing and featuring one of the worst D-movie performances of the aughts from Costas Mandylor, as Detective Hoffman, the latest "Saw" installment is more of the same torture-punishment-rehab-porn audiences have come to expect. The filmmakers make a pathetic stab at political poignancy with an anti-healthinsurance-company cartel theme, but they do little to tweak the series’ chambers-of-horrors formula that regularly digresses to grainy flashback sequences and dares to dip its toe into a parallel subplot. Forget that the series gave up all continuity with Tobin Bell’s alternately dead villain Jigsaw long ago. The funniest thing about this edition of the “Saw” crap-fest is that it comes out during an outstanding year for great Halloweentimed horror films to run out and see. Rated R. 91 mins. (D)

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant.

Scattershot and comically unbalanced, "Cirque du Freak" is a wannabe horror movie that feels like it was filmed underwater. Teenage best friends Steve (Josh Hutcherson) and Darren (Chris Massoglia) buy their way into a troop of freaks performing at their local small-town theater. Mr. Ribs is so named because his internal organs are exposed. There’s also a monkey girl, a tribute to her simian tail. Miscast as the show’s vampire-about-town is John C. Reilly, as Larten Crepsley. Steve recognizes Crepsley as an immortal bloodsucker from a book Steve values, because he aspires to undead status. A visit from the nefarious Mr. Tiny and one misplaced psychedelic-colored, giant tarantula later, and the boys choose mutually-exclusive paths into evil. Darren suffers the ultimate insult in order to become a vampire, death, to save Steve from a coma induced by the spider’s bite. Steve teams up with Mr. Tiny, whose close ties to a less sophisticated tribe of vampires known as the "Vampaneze" play into his plot to provoke a longsimmering war between the Vampires and the Vampaneze. A pot-shot subplot romance between Rebecca (Jessica Carlson) and Darren turns out to be the most redeeming aspect of this woefully misguided film based on a series of books by Darren Shan.%u2028 Rated PG-13. 108 mins. (C-)

The Stepfather.

Sad evidence of the perennial appeal of square-jawed men who talk nice (in this case he’s a serial family killer played by Dylan Walsh), this update of the 1987 cult horror classic is a dud. After murdering his picture-perfect family, chameleon-psycho David Harris finds easypickings in divorcee Susan Harding (Sela Ward), whose reformed bad boy son, Michael (Penn Badgley), returns home from a private military school to find his new would-be step dad calling the shots. After a couple of obvious murders it’s time for Michael and his teen-dream girlfriend Kelly (Amber Heard) to confront the papa poseur with a dose of his own violent medicine. Rated PG-13. 101 mins. (D-)

Law Abiding Citizen.

Director F. Gary Gray’s ("Be Cool") disappointing urban suspense potboiler shares the same unsalted narrative soup as Spike Lee’s bone-headed "Inside Man.” Philly detective Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) and his office are so busy negotiating with freshly jailed revenge killer Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) that they barely get around to researching that he was a top-secret engineer for the government whose wife and daughter were murdered. Gerard Butler’s scene-chewing performance holds interest even as the story alternately melts and congeals like a bowl of poorly mixed Jell-O. Rated R. 108 mins. (C-)

Paranormal Activity.

For a low-fidelity, spooky house movie involving only a boyfriend and girlfriend, "Paranormal Activity" does a lot with a little. College student Katie and her day-trader guy Micah (Micah Sloat) have been living in their comfy San Diego house long enough for the demon that’s been following Katie since she was 8 to catch up with her again. So, Micah buys a video camera to capture evidence of the apparition. In the same vein as "Open Water" and "Blair Witch Project.” Rated R. 86 mins. (C-)

Where the Wild Things Are.

With the blessing of "Where the Wild Things Are" author/illustrator Maurice Sendak, director Spike Jonze sincerely adapts Sendak’s popular 1963 children’s book to the big screen. Dave Eggers’s co-writing screenplay credit speaks for the narrative amendments made in fleshing out the minimalist source material to fill up a feature film. Deploying a well-applied use of scale, Jonze creates the imaginary island world to which 9-year-old Max (Max Records) escapes when life with his divorced-and-dating mom and distracted big sister Claire becomes too much. James Gandolfini is the voice of Carol, a beast whose uncontrollable temper takes a toll on the stick-made huts the group uses for shelter. In order to convince the beasts not to eat him, Max introduces himself as an explorer king and is accepted as such by the likes of woolly "KW" (Lauren Ambrose), a birdlike creature named Douglas (Chris Cooper) and naysayer (Judith Catherine O’Hara). Max has a hard time keeping the wild things happy, and he learns some valuable lessons about communicating and the consequences of his actions. While not an instant classic, "Wild Things" does what it sets out to achieve as a literal but also embellished translation of a literary classic. (Warner Bros). Rated PG. 108 mins. (B-)

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