Monday, September 26, 2016

RIP, Hershell Gordon Lewis

Text by Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Live image (c) Robert Barry Francos, FFanzeen Productions, 2016


Lewis, at a Chiller Theatre Con in New Jersey, early 1990s (pic: RBF)


The great cheese and gore director, as well as Direct Marketing maven Hershall Gordon Lewis has now passed on, well into his 80s. If you are not sure who he is, or have never seen one of his films, well, you're lagging. This is especially true if you are a genre fan.



Thursday, September 15, 2016

Review: CarousHELL

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

CarousHELL
Written and directed by Steve Rudzinski
Silver Spotlight
70 minutes / 2016
The film can be pre-ordered HERE. 

Steve Rudzinski is certainly not the most prolific of directors, but when he puts out a film, be it more serious (though still having some humor; e.g., Everyone Must Die!, from 2012, reviewed HERE) or even more hysterically absurd (e.g., Captain Z and the Terror of Leviathan, 2014, reviewed HERE), the viewer is in for a quality show. Here is the thing about absurdist humor: it can be really, incredibly stupid (e.g., anything by Seth Rogan), or it can be way smarter than it appears to be (e.g., anything my Monty Python), sometimes by mocking the genre’s own familiar tropes. Fortunately, Rudzinski’s work falls on the side to the latter.

Se Marie
Here is the basic premise: a carousel’s wooden unicorn, Duke, becomes sentient (or “wakes up” as they call it here) after an obnoxious kid, Larry (Teague Shaw) wipes some snot on its snout and kicks it a few times. Of course, that means the kid must die. His insufferable “#hotbitch” (her words) sister, Laurie (Sé Marie) drags him to a party at her friend’s house, where all comers, likeable or not, are fodder for the unicorn from (possibly literally) hell.

The film is so goofy, and yet remains consistently hysterical. I’m not talking about a couple of scenes here and there, I mean straight through. But pay attention for all the references. While you really wanna punch out this little bratty kid and his big even brattier (is that even a word?!) sister, but the people at the party are as much fun to watch as the arcing story. One of the running gags is a variation of the whole “Bronie movement (male fans of My Little Pony, as in Bro/pony), focused around…well, you should have figured that out by now.

Duke
We, the audience, hear Duke’s both inner (thought) and outer (oral) “voice,” and his comments are as snide and pun filled as a certain red and green sweater-wearing dream killer. Other people can hear it, too, as the trailer below shows. Yeah, there’s a lot of profanity, and there is more than a few “bitch” references, but Steve Rimpici does a fun job of it, as he’s done in other voice roles. While there is little subtlety, and certainly no pity towards Duke, there is absolutely many reasons to laugh at both the wooden horse’s (I mean unicorn’s) words, and even – believe it or not – actions: his “hiding” scenes towards the end had me rolling.

Steve Rudzinski
As with many of Rudzinski’s films, there are self-referential moments to his previous films, such as a bottle of Captain Z’s Totally Accurate Pirate Wine, or the off-hand mention of his Web series, SuperTask Force One. Also, Rudzinski uses the film not just to get his ideas across, but also as an acting vehicle for himself, not as the main character but a supportive-yet-pivotal role. His style tends to learn towards the Edgar Kennedy school of slow-burn-to-righteous-explosion. Rudzinski’s skill is pretty varied, as he’s shown in previous films, but this method is among my favorites.

There is not much nudity in the film, most of which is a response to one sleazy character’s (Chris Proud) cry of “show me your [pick a word for female breasts] for a beaded necklace” at the party. That being said, there is definitely one scene with the elfin cute pierced and tatted Haley Madison that goes beyond what you may expect even from an indie…or perhaps not, all things considered.

Haley Madison
The gore, however, is another story. Some of it is kinda (purposefully) cheesy, but man, there is a lot of it, and most of it look incredible for its budget. Duke seems to have access to any one of a number of deadly weapons, from throwing stars to machetes, which draws a very funny throwaway panicked line from the Pizza Boy (Rudzinski). I actually had to pause the film to laugh, as not to miss anything. Come to think of it, there was more than once I stop to rewind just a bit to either see or hear a bit again because it was (a) WTF, (b) so beautifully done, (c) to laugh, or (d) any combination. It should also be noted that there is a very large body count, so those into this kind of film should find that fun, as I did.

CarousHELL doesn’t answer a lot of question, which I think is fine (such as how this magic horse… I mean unicorn, came to be). This is the kind of film that you just say “fuck it” and watch it for what it is, without any guilt. If you actually sat down to mull over it, there could be a lot of questions that need to be answered, but the genre overrides the need for queries.

Cowboy Cool, aka PJ Gaynard
One of the more bizarre characters is Cowboy Cool (PJ Gaynard), who not only swaggers in a John Wayne style, but never removes his huge, mascot mask covered head. He seems to have the only gun that can kill Duke (who is, I suppose, ironically and purposely branded after Wayne’ nickname?). I think my fave characters are, however, the icky siblings Pierre (Josh Miller) and Margot (Sarah Brunner), who have the worst French accents possible (it sounds more German, actually). They are just so obnoxious, playing on the Francophone stereotype.

Rudzinski is a bit of a meat and taters kinda director. You’re not going to see many weird artistic flairs, which personally I find can be really tiring, especially for this genre. He has a message, and he gets to it. That’s a large part of the appeal. He takes the micro-budget that he has and makes the most out of it. But at the same time, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic in that it’s not all shot in one place, but rather in some nice locations, including, yes, an amusement park (the same one from 2015’s Scream Park [Conneaut Lake Park, PA], in which Rudzinski acts but not directs)? Oops, there goes those questions again… [The director responds: "It's not the same park. Conneaut was too far away and now multiple movies have shot there. So we went to an even smaller park in Southwest PA called Wildwood Highlands, which is more of a go-kart/putt-putt/arcade with a few rides. But it was Western themed so it worked beautifully.]

Rudzinski tends to make a film or two every year for the past few years, but his quality has never dipped below extreme fun. His characters tend to be not necessarily the same high school stereotypes you usually find, and he goes through a lot of them. He also manages to find actors who are well suited for their roles (for example, Marie just aces hers), so I’ve seen most of the last batch, and have never been disappointed. That says a lot, considering he works in the Pittsburgh area (I kid…). Seriously, this comedy is worth a view on many levels for genre fans. Just don’t expect anything super deep (or super shallow), and enjoy the references as they fly by. Grab a bag of popcorn and have a blast.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Review: The Purging Hour

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet



The Purging Hour (aka Home Video)
Directed by Emmanuel Giorgio Sandoval
Vicious Apple Productions / Ruthless Films / MVD Visual
80 minutes, 2015 / 2016

Naming a film to jump on the success of another that is unrelated is hardly new, especially since the 1980s. Even recently, how many have started with A Haunting in…? It’s no real stretch to guess the theme implied here, or where the name comes from. Actually, if the film holds up, I don’t care what it’s called. But we shall see, eh wot?

In retrospect, despite the name, they seem to try and go a bit more for the style of Paranormal Activity (2007) in that it takes until the last 20 minutes for anything to be of interest, but also keep with the incessant handheld found footage of The Blair Witch Project (1999). It seems like any time the wording at the beginning starts with something like “They were never seen again,” I have found it’s better to… run away!!!

We meet an attractive Latina family who have moved to some mountain resort town in California. This is their first day there and everything is already unpacked and pretty tidy (has anybody on this film ever moved before?). There is the handsome and muscular father, Bruce (Steve Jacques) and beautiful mother (Sophia Louisa), their typically emotional beautiful teenage daughter, Kacie (Alana Chester) and her handsome and model-type boyfriend Mark (Tomas Decurgez) who is there to help, and a young teen son Manny (David Mendoza).

Using a single handheld camera, they tape each other incessantly through the most mundane stuff (cooking burgers on the grill, sitting around the kitchen, and like that). This includes some personal conversations forwhich no one in their right mind would have a camera on (or remain married for long in real life), making some of the characters kind of unlikeable (especially Bruce), which I am going to assume was not the intention of the writers or director.

Intercut in the first two-thirds of the film are interviews with friends, family, and locals, including the sheriff and mayor of this town. Unlike Blair Witch however, these people definitely are actors, not just local non-actors ad libbing. Some are convinced that the family was killed by one of its members, others that it was some outsider (hence the hinting of the movie’s title), and those that are sure it’s something supernatural (conspiracy theorist types).

I’ve seen lots of these kinds of films before, so I found myself looking at backgrounds as much as the characters, such as “Is there something on that hillside?” or “Is that door handle about to turn?” or “Is there a reflection in that mirror?” But no, most of it is just the family being a family, having family conversations (and arguments), living family lives. And yet, there is very little exposition about the characters. You get some idea of their nature, but not the motivation behind it. For example, pretty-boy boyfriend says “I like to draw so maybe I’ll be an architect.” Hunh? Sadly, I know people like that, but that doesn’t explain why he’s so aimless (commentary on his generation, perhaps?). So essentially, the first hour is like watching someone else’s home movies. Wooo-hoooooo.

My annoyance, however, is with the little things that make no sense. Usually I can avoid a couple of anachronisms or errors, but these seem to be a confusion that stands out perhaps because of the slow nature of the film, which makes it stand out more. For example, there is a blackout in the house (all lighting used is off the camera), and yet in the kitchen you can see the blue, electric digital clock on the fridge. Another is the mention that this happened “several years” ago, and yet the key to the car is one of those recent square ones that pop out like a switchblade, and cell phones are spoken of once though never seen; attractive teenage daughter without a cell phone every five minutes? Wow. And does this outage affect any of the other surrounding houses, which don’t really seem that far away. If the car won’t start, run to one of the houses if their lights are on… or even if they’re not.

The one that confuses me the most is that the footage starts with the usually VHS kind of PLAY wording-on-blue-screen and there is a lot of video-style stereotypical “noise” of lines and fading in and out, and the like; however, it’s clearly a camera not a camcorder, and with all the other modern extemporania, such as the aforementioned car keys, it just doesn’t make sense.

I totally respect that Sandoval did a “Robert Rodriguez” and used a largely Latino cast, and mostly they are good at what they do, but considering there are three writers and I’m sure tons of ad libs, there really is no plot, nor narrative, which is what brings this release to a standstill from the get-go. A couple of good bloody scenes and a nice touch and the end, however, aren’t enough to save this, I’m truly sad to say.

If you look at my history of reviewing, I champion indie filmmaking (hell, it’s in the title), but I am also honest (well, what is truthful to me). That being said, Sandoval was about 23 when he made this film. Yeah, he won a district award at high school for a short he directed, so perhaps there is promise there. If perchance he reads this, I am hoping he takes this as sincere criticism, not snarkiness. Let’s consider this film an exercise, and hope that he learns the techniques he needs to make the next one a killer.



Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Book Review: Dreaming of Nightmares – A Crash Course in Horror Movie History; by Nige Burton and Jamie Jones

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

Dreaming of Nightmares: A Crash Course in Horror Movie History
By Nige Burton and Jamie Jones
Stripley Media Ltd.
28 pages, 2016

I’m old enough to have grown up with Olde Tyme monster movies, mostly in black and white, usually on WPIX, shown on New York’s “Chiller Theater,” sometimes hosted by Zacherle(y). Whether the Universal films, or even schlock like The Monster That Conquered the World (1957), Plan Nine from Outer Space (1959), The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959), and even Attack of the Giant Crab Monsters (1957; where you could see the sneakers of the guy holding up the crab suit), it didn’t matter, you were glued to the screen. In fact, the first horror film I remember on TV (not counting The Wizard of Oz) was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

I’d often also go to the theater to see the latest AIP Poe adaptation with Vincent Price, enjoy bad gimmick films like Two on a Guillotine (1965) where a skeleton flew down on a wire in the theater…just once before it was knocked down by kids throwing candy and popcorn boxes), and the film that scared the shit out of me, Straight-Jacket (1964), where I couldn’t sleep for a couple of weeks (I was 9 years old). The last film I saw that really had a profound effect on my fear level was The Haunting (1963), which I saw when I was a teen in the early ‘70s (since then, I’ve probably read Shirley Jackson’s original novel, The Haunting of Hill House from 1959, about five times).I’ve been watching these kinds of films since as long as I can remember.

Magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland [FMF] and Castle of Frankenstein were great primers and history lessons, telling stories and showing behind the scene photos of people like Karloff, Lugosi, Harryhausen, Lorre, Cushing, Lee, and the countless Hammer actresses (especially Castle…). Then came Classic Monsters mag at some point.

When I had the offer to see this book for free as a .pdf (you can do if you visit the website and sign up for the monthly newsletter), I figured, why not. I find that most younger fans’ knowledge of horror starts around the period of Night of the Living Dead (1968; yes, I know it’s a gross generalization, but that’s okay).

Other than being quite a slim volume, the first inside image I noticed was a full-page picture on page 2 of a close-up of William Henry Pratt (aka Boris Karloff), and I thought, “Oh, that’s from The Old Dark House (1932). That’s when I knew I was in the right place.

It’s pretty quick to see by the grammar and tone of the book that it is British. Well, first there’s the use of “s” instead of “z,” such as in “generalisation.” Then there are some quaint wordings like “whilst” and “behindhanded” (the last word not even recognized by Spellchecker). Who knows, perhaps “unbeknownst” will show up?

But what about the content? Okay, okay, stop badgering me. The book is broken up into six chapters, each covering a period of time or era. The first chapter, “Silent Shudders,” focuses on the advent of film in the late 1800s to the introduction of sound in 1929. The biggies are here, such as Murneau’s Nosferatu (1922), Edison’s Frankenstein (1910), and especially Lon Chaney (Sr.). I would argue they left out Metropolis (1927), but I suppose technically that’s science fiction (it can be both; I mean the Maria robot was creepy as hell). I understand why they put in George Méiliès since his films did have a sort of devil character, but there was no real narrative story. I propose that the first really frightening film was Edison’s Great Train Robbery in 1903: at the end of the western, one of the villain characters (who was killed in the story) is shown in a portrait level shot. Facing directly to the camera (i.e., the audience), pulls out a pistol, points it at the viewer, and fires. That may seem kind of benign now, but then, because of the lack of context, people in the theater screamed, ducked and some even fainted. 

The second chapter deals with “The Golden Age,” or for those of us fans of the period genre, the Universal monsters. Of course, the first up, and rightfully so, is Dracula (1931). While each chapter is short, there are some interesting tidbits, such as resting the myth of Lon Chaney being up for the Lugosi role, and that Lugosi turned down the Frankenstein (1931) monster due to its lack of dialog. Burton wrote books that were definitive histories of these two films, so I believe his credentials. It’s amusing to see the authors’ grammar rear up again when describing director James Whale as a Brummie (I looked it up; it’s someone from Birmingham, UK). However, their amusing bias comes through when they make sure to describe Karloff as British (where he lived until his early 20s, when he moved to Toronto).

Of course other films than Universal are discussed, such as RKO’s King Kong (1933). Again, they are correct that the Golden Age ended with the censorship boards, but they discuss it under the British Board of Film Censors, rather than the effect of the Motion Picture Production Code (MPPA, aka the Hay’s Code) in America, where the films actually originated, which had a more drastic and direct artistic negative effect (FYI, I did my Master’s Thesis, in part, on the Code).

In the third chapter, “Second Wind,” they delve into how the monster machine was turned off because of the gatekeeping Code, but thanks to a bill of Frankenstein and Dracula shown towards the end of the ‘30s, there was such a profit margin that the factory started again, with the first big star being Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolfman (1941), and his revitalizing a new Egyptian myth with The Mummy’s Tomb (1942). The profitability of these monsters was the first time that the sequel train seriously pulled out of the station, with the likes of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) and House of Dracula (1945). They had mentioned the artistic success of The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), in the previous chapter, and acknowledge that many of the other sequels were more quickie B-films than A-line quality. Other studios, such as RKO, went in another direction and tended to focus on more human monsters, such as with The Body Snatchers and Isle of the Dead (both 1945 and both with Karloff, who was loaned to the studio).

“Out of this World,” the fourth chapter, delves into the 1950s paranoia of science fiction like This Planet Earth (1955) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). While science was in some form in films like Frankenstein, it was dark and mysterious arts that paralleled alchemy. By the ‘50s, however, with the ending of World War II and huge leaps and bounds made by technology and science that affected everyday life, such as television and Jonas Salk’s serum, it became more of a daily reality rather than an electric and test tube filled hocus pocus. Radiation fear was a big factor that entered into mainstream culture in the ‘50s, with giant insects and bugs, as well as monsters (e.g., Godzilla in 1956), which were seen as nearly a possibility (much like fear of a viral Zombie Apocalypse seems now).

Burton and Jones are correct, moreover, that the Comics Code had some effect on the death of that type of sci-fi (though, of course, it didn’t end completely). What really brought the end of this period in the States was a series of lawsuits by foreign films (e.g., The Bicycle Thief) about unfair distribution; according to the Hays Code, the companies that played the films also owned the theaters, shutting out foreign and independent releases. The end result of a Supreme Court decision was the studios were no longer allowed to do both (anti-trust laws), which wore down the MMPA enough so that independent studios could open and get their films distributed (e.g., those by the likes of Hershell Gordon Lewis, David Friedman, and of course, Roger Corman).

Another positive function of this period was the sexing up of the cinema, where monsters met women in tight clothing or even (gasp) bathing suits, such as the Black Lagoon chap kidnaping Julie Adams, or astronauts finding a zaftig Zsa Zsa Gabor in The Queen of Outer Space (1958).

Rightfully so, this leads to the next and fifth chapter of British monsters in “New Blood.” Of course, a large portion this focuses on the most important and influential British (I would say European) film studio, Hammer Pictures, which was arguable the Universal Studios of the late 1950s into the mid-1970s, even reviving the Frankenstein and Dracula mythos. This led to the rise of new horror icons such as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. It also led to the further lowering of the cleavage line.

There is a whole section of American cinema that is not addressed in the book, namely the indies of the ‘60s that dealt heavily in gore and sex, such as Blood Feast (1964), Two Thousand Maniacs (1965), and Mantis in Black Lace (1968), in addition to the myriad of Corman releases.

The final and sixth chapter is titled “Slasher Suburbia.” The authors posit that the slasher films started in the vacuum of the end of Hammer as a force in 1972, but I would disagree. Night of the Living Dead (1968; it was not a slasher film per se, but the level of gore equaled one), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and its predecessor Last House on the Left (1972) were all filmed while Hammer still existed and was a driving concern, and I do believe most would cite these films as a reference point more than Hammer (as wonderful as those films were, no argument with the authors). In fact, in modern extreme horror cinema, many do not even bother to go past these touchstone films, considering many of the Hammers were benign in comparison (I believe this is an error; it’s good to learn the history). To be fair, Burton and Jones do declare Psycho (1960) as the first slasher.

Nicely, they also give credit to the giallo for helping launch it, and of course it was the advent of video that made giallo have any real lasting impact. And it’s smart that they call it Suburban Horror, as many of the films take place at home (or someone’s house); another way they put it, I would postulate, is the events happen in “the ordinary.”

What follows the introduction of slashers is actually away from the ordinary, though in somewhat serene settings, leading to new icons to replace the Frankenstein monsters, Draculas, werewolves, etc. These came with the names Michael, Jason and Freddy. A neighborhood, a children’s camp in the woods, and in dreams are examples of what I’m going to call the “extraordinary ordinary.” That is part of where the story here ends, with the authors asking, “What’s next.”

Well, in part to answer that question by me is twofold. First, there is the introduction of digital production, with cheap cameras that look good and editing programs on the computer, creating a world in which anyone can be a filmmaker, even more so than with 8mm or 16mm thanks to means of distribution through the Internet and conventions. Films now are often more visceral and yet sometimes sillier, due to this. This gives rise to the likes of omnipresent zombies, torture porn, and handheld found-footage miasma, as well as some masterful works such as those by the likes of indie filmmakers like Richard Griffin and Dustin Wayde Mills (among many others).

This book is chock full of really fine stills, which thanks to it being a .pdf can be enlarged. That being said, perhaps I’m being a bit hard on what they didn’t put in, considering the thin volume, but I also believe it is also somewhat cultural, as they are looking from a British standard, and as I stated, some of these films didn’t play there, or the laws were different as far as content. Many of the more graphic films were banned in England in the 1980s as “Video Nasties.”

Most of this book could have been lifted right off the pages of FMF, but that is not meant as anywhere near an insult. It’s actually a really fun read, and the authors make some really fine points and history details, some I had never really thought of or known (remembered?) before.


To get the book you do have to join, but it’s still worth looking for, as it is associated with Classic Monsters of the Movies magazine. It is a fun read, as well. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Review: Model Hunger

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

Model Hunger
Directed by Debbie Rochon
Penny Spent Productions / Rebel Idol Films /
Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
84 minutes, 2016

I first became aware of actress Debbie Rochon, as did many, in Tromeo and Juliet (1996), but by that time, she’d been acting since the cult classic Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1982). Most of her films have been schlocky and sexy indie horror. But what made me sit up and notice was a dramatic turn she did in Richard Griffin’s Exhumed (2011). Man, she can act! Since then, I’ve paid more attention to her work. From everything I knew, she was intelligent (more than the roles she tended to play), and as soon as I learned she was about to direct her first feature, Model Hunger, I wanted to see it.

Lynn Lowry
The main character is Ginny, played by the wondrous, ethereal and underrated Lynn Lowry, who stunned many of us with her beauty in Shivers (aka They Came from Within; 1975), The Crazies (1973) and I Drink Your Blood (1970). In Ginny’s youth, she had aspirations to be a model and actress, but was deemed unworthy in a business demanding perfection. This turned her into an angry, psychopathic cannibal, with a touch of misguided Second Wave Feminist rhetoric [if I may digress here for a moment, modern Feminism is much more accepting and inclusive, and has come to accept that men are just as much culturally under pressure as are women; I respect that]. Ironically, she is as angry at women she perceives having issues with their own body images, overly positive or mistakenly negative, that she does not see her own trappings in the Other mind-set.

Of course, no matter how course or humorous (or both), some of the best films also have some very sharp social commentary, such as this one. The obvious one is the playing with cultural body image and how mass media dictates “beauty,” but there is more. One example is a look at what is commonly known as the male gaze, which if featured more than once here: for example, toward the beginning of the film, a man on a park bench (Michael O’Hear, who will later be realized as a recurring character) who is looking at a little girl in a playground (to me that was one of the more uncomfortable moments in the film), and a nosy neighbor, played by the iridescent Michael Thurber (who has shared some credits with Rochon, including Exhumed), who is seen looking at women (among others) through binoculars out his window.

Ginny’s favorite show is called “Suzi’s Secret,” an access cable-type shopping show hosted by an overweight women (model and genre actress Suzi Lorraine in a weight suit), that sells sexualized clothing using mostly heavy male models in lingerie (including drag queen Babette Bombshell doing things you can’t unsee). At one point Ginny comments how men don’t watch the show because they want skinny models, but we also see a bunch of men viewing in male gaze mode, unlike the women, who watch it for acceptance of their impression of their own body images.

Although filmed (mostly) in Buffalo, it takes place in Fishkill, NY, a town near the Hudson River, about two hours north of New York City. Now, here are two fun facts about that town: first, the word “kill” is Dutch for “river” so it actually means “Fish River.” Obviously they liked the name for it’s English connotation, which brings us to the other fact, that PETA tried to get the town to change the name a decade or so ago due to its same English “kill” counterpart; they lost. And now back to our show…

Tiffany Shepis
Moving in next door is a couple, Sal (played by Carmine Capobianco, who was the lead in 1987’s Psychos In Love, and has been having an acting renaissance in a number of indie features) and Debbie (fellow Troma queen Tiffany Shepis, who co-stared with Rochon in Tromeo...) who have a troubled yet loving marriage. Debbie, with a history of mental issues, hinted at by Sal’s question whether she’s taken her medications, is also starting to watch Suzi’s show. In another male gaze moment, a bare-chested and overweight Sal (sorry dude, had to say it, not that I can talk…) makes disparaging remarks about Suzi being heavy without seeing the irony. A pointed mirror- contemplating moment.

The kills are masterful, and the gore is plentiful and well done. It builds beautifully in degree throughout the picture as Ginny goes further and further off the edge. And with Debbie next door having her own issues, there is a fun time to be hand in the old town tonight, my friends. I must say, giving nothing away, that I had imagined the ending being totally different, but I have to say it was amazingly satisfying by the conclusion. I’m also grateful to be wrong about the possibility of it to be yet another modernized telling of the Elizabeth Bathory story.

So how did Ms. Rochon do on her first outing of a feature? Bueno. Molto Bene. Bien. No matter what the language, it’s actually quite accomplished. Sure, there are rough edges here and there, and I’m guessing down the road on her fifth or sixth film, she may look back and think “I should have done it that way,” but on the whole, it’s a joyful work to watch.

Director Debbie Rochon
Part of the reason is that Rochon (I’m going to consistently use her last name here since the main character share’s “Debbie”) has worked with many of these actors before, including some that are Troma-related, and the rapport shows. Also, she’s been in umpteen films at this point, and has seen the best and worst at the helm, and I find in life you learn what to do from both, and also importantly what not to do.

Lowry is a gem. Her work here is the best I’ve seen to date. Just the minutest movements of her mouth or eyes convey exactly what she wants us to feel about her character. It’s also an extremely brave performance, considering some of the things Ginny does and says. She definitely gives it her all. And the same could be said about Shepis, who runs the gamut from stressed, to depressed. She has a particularly touching scene where she melts your heart. Thurber also gives a much nuanced performance; it starts off kinda creepy, but over time, he somewhat wins you over.

There are lots of lovely extras included. First and foremost is the director’s commentary, which she shares with David Marancik, who was part of the crew and played one of the police officers. Fortunately she does most of the talking as it’s her project, and he wisely lets her thoughts flow. This is exactly what a commentary should be, telling the thoughts behind some of the action, as well as anecdotes about the performers. There is also a goose-egg track that highlights the music behind the dialog. Along with the trailer there is a synth-heavy music video that features Rochon by the Autopsy Boys titled “Song for Debbera.”

On a second page of extras is a 20-minute webcam show, “Lair of Voltaire,” which features musician / filmmaker Aurelio Voltaire, who is also one of the cast (he usually goes only by his last name), where he answers questions about being on the film. It is quite amusing, and a nice advertisement for his own vlog series. Then there is a short (not short enough) of Babette Bombshell eating hotdogs salaciously that, well, for me it was the ickiest thing on the DVD (slobbering in general is something I personally find not to my liking). Last up is a couple of deleted raw scenes with Rochon herself, and Troma head Lloyd Kaufman (I was expecting to see him in the film at some point). In both these cases it was right to not include in the film, but just as right to keep them as extras, because they are hoots as they both portray separate door-to-door sales people (a recurring theme within the story).

So it was months between first learning about the start of the project and getting it into my own anxious hands. Was it worth the wait? Hell, yeah, Rochon done good. Real good. And here’s the thing: if she continues, it’s pretty obvious she’ll only get better. Thank you, Ms. Rochon, for taking the chance and grabbing the reins. The end result was worth all the effort. Now, let’s see it win some well-deserved festival awards!


Monday, August 15, 2016

Review: Consumption

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

Consumption (aka Live-In Fear)
Written, directed and edited by Brandon Scullion
Iodine Sky Productions / Monsterworks66 /
Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
80 minutes, 2014 / 2016

Give a group of young people a cabin in the woods in the mountains with an evil spirit that has a cult of followers, and you just know fun is going to be abounded. Well, it should be for the audience, anyway. In his first feature directorial, originally released a couple of years ago as Live-In Evil, Brandon Scullion mixes and matches a bunch of genre stereotypes and brings us a story that is meandering and somewhat shallow in plot.

Right from the start, we meet two Californian couples heading up to a cabin in Utah that was once owned by one of their families (in real life, Scullion’s grandmother). In the car ride, we get the “ghost story” background that sets up the premise, and that’s good; get it out of the way to make room for the action to come.

But as happens too often, the two guys come across as douchebags. Seth (David Lautman, with dark circles around his eyes from the first shot) is acting all “leave me alone!” and creepy, and the other, Eric (Chris Dorman) is off the wagon and verbally abusive. This is a common a theme in “couples go to wherever…couples get dead” films. The two women have their own baggage, including a history of cutting, but don’t act like privileged macho morons, but rather like they’ve been sedated. So far, 20 minutes in, the pace of the film is pissing me off.

I’ve often said that if you take enough classic tropes and put them together, you can get an original story. This film abounds with them, and one can almost make it a drinking game finding the connections. Well, the box blurb mentions The Shining and Evil Dead, and that’s somewhat accurate, but each of them is changed a bit around; again, a wise move. For example, the “Cabin in the Woods” is actually a huge complex of townhouse condos linked together, which seem to be mostly deserted (though in great shape, and quite lovely, too, with lots of pine wood). The old weirdo warning them to leave is there, but he’s also the Black caretaker (Miles Cranford, who you may recognize from his many character roles), as at the Overlook Hotel.

We also meet Ma and Pa White (veteran actors Geoffrey Gould and Nancy Wolfe, the latter of whose claim to fame – and rightfully so – is playing Susan Atkins in the 1970’s Helter Skelter). They come across as overly creepy, and seem to be just about the only tenants around, so when a mysterious masked cult is revealed (as seen in the trailer), putting the pieces together on who they are is not difficult.

My biggest problem with the film is that while each of the four main characters interact with each other, they all seem to be in a world of their own, with their own problems, most of which are not addressed, such as why the cutting, or why one took such a drastic action that happened before the film’s start (and has a direct effect on the present). While I came to like the women in the film somewhat, and not so much the men as I mentioned earlier, I never understood the motivations of their actions, or what the attractions between them are/were.

Let me add the following at this point: the cast is strong. Every actor is a gem, from the foremost to the secondary. Especially noteworthy are redheaded Arielle Branchfeld and Sarah Greyson (who has a kind of Selma Blair vibe), though I would add that the two guys perform better than their roles, even given that, most of the time, again, they all seem sedated. I supposed the direction was given that they were in shock, but it’s too broad to be just that.

Also, some the film looks decent. It’s well shot (by Matthew Espenshade, who deserves a nod) and what few gore effects there are look well done (all appliance, not digital), though most are shown after the fact. The color saturation, like the roles, is kind of drab; perhaps this was on purpose to symbolize the lack of clarity of the story, or the monotone of much of the characters?

Other than a heavy reliance on “hollow eyes,” (or raccoon eyes, if you will), the make-up is actually effective. For me, the weakest spot is the writing / storyline. It’s a bit too chaotic and possibly ambitious for its framework and budget, and yet tells so very little of what is occurring, or why. The pace could use a little picking up as well, and please, some more people for whom we can have some emotional attachment. Let me put it this way: Seth’s character is roaming around at night, digging and whatnot in a scene that is supposed to be fraught, and it’s obviously pretty damn cold, and all I could think was, “Where are his gloves?” If something like that is catching my attention during that particular action, then that tells me something.

The extras are an 11-minute passable Making Of featurette that has some good photos but not much context, and a decent solo director’s commentary that I mostly enjoyed, so thanks for that.

After writing the above, I looked at some of the other reviews of this film, and some of them are quite praiseful, while others have lambasted it. For a first feature, yeah, it’s okay, but I also believe it has a way to go to achieve its goal. I’m hoping the experience of making this film, Scullion will keep going and make more, and I’m hoping they will improve more over time. But please, invest in a story editor.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Three Short Reviews: Oculus; It Follows; He Never Died

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

I’m home with a bad cold, so I thought I would do some catching up. Normally, I rarely watch mainstream films, meaning those that have theatrical runs, ‘cause I’m an indie guy. Given my choice, I tend to watch films that costs less than five grand over one in the millions range. But my brain is too sullied by snot to give close attention to the minors, so I figured it could be a good time to catch up to some theatrical releases I’ve missed. Now, although I don’t intend to give away salient plot point, I may talk about tones, but since these are mainstream films and this is a blog for horror films, the assumption is you’ve seen them. Trailers for the releases are at the end.

Oculus
Directed by Mike Flanagan
104 minutes, 2013
I used to write for a now-gone punk fanzine called Oculus (using my birth name) at the turn of the millennium, so I knew I needed to see this at some point. While the film has some issues, it was better than I expected it to be, for many reasons. It’s rare to find a slow building story these days of body counts and gruesomeness. The way the plot is presented in a dual time frame that flips back and forth and yet also manages to overlap them without it being a complete mish-mosh is worth noting. Sure there is the occasional confusion, but that’s built into a tale where things are not always what they seem, which is presented in an easy explanation thanks to a playback of a video late in the first act.

A mirrors as a doorway is certainly not new, such as (and this is a minor taste) Mirrors (2008), John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (1987) and Candyman (1992). They even did a porno version called Pandora’s Mirror (1981). If you wanted, you could go all the way back to the Brothers’ Grimm’s story about Snow White, which was actually a horror tale if you think about it. For this one, it has a bit of that trapped feeling presented in the first season of American Horror Story (2011), though in that case it was a house rather than a mirror.

Katee Sackhoff
The cast is relatively small so the film’s body count is not ridiculous, but the intimacy of the gore is extremely effective. While the stars are the brother and sister leads, played by Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites, both of whom do the roles justice, the takeaway for me was Katee Sackhoff: she plays the mom at various stages of duress, and gives it full tilt. I was duly impressed.

There are more than enough jump scares, which become almost expected hence losing their appeal, and certainly the ending is highly predictable, but what bugs me is the assumption that the evil must survive for the inevitable sequel (none has appeared as of yet, but…). Used to be that the hero(ine) would prevail and defeat the powers of darkness, but since the introduction of the franchise in the modern horror cinema cycle (amped up by the trinity of Jason, Michael and Freddy), evil doesn’t die, it gets to reoccur, sometimes even in prequels (e.g., Insidious). Even though I enjoyed the film, it’s bowing to sequelitis, whether there is another one or not, makes it end on an oh, c’mon rather than a yeah!

My biggest gripe, though, is the length. Horror films, more than any other kind, work best in the 90 minute or less format (in my opinion). After that it begins to be wearing and the adrenaline flow tends to works against the story rather than in its favor, kind of like when – and this does not happen in this film – the shots of people fearfully walking around a house with the audience expecting that jump scare, until it becomes tedious rather than nerve-whacking. Filmmakers, keep one eye on the story and one eye on the clock, please.

It Follows
Directed by David Robert Mitchell
100 minutes, 2014
This film made it to many of the Year’s Best lists, so seems like a good choice to view.

Sometimes a film wears it’s forbearers on its proverbial sleeve, and this sure is one of those. Just to name a few, there’s the suburbia of Halloween (1978), in one segment the naked huntress of Lifeforce (1985), the deadly spirit desiring death of any participant of The Ring/Ringu, the promiscuity of teens and deadly disease of Kids (1995), and the shift-shaping of The Thing (1982). While I’m at it, there are also clips of a number of other films on TVs, such as The Giant Claw (1957) and Killers from Space (1954). It’s nice that the director could give a nod to some previous sci-fi from his childhood, but in an overly long film, it feels a bit excessive (while making me smile as I knew most of them).

The film does well with suspense, as our heroine (Maika Monroe) ducks and covers for much of the story. However, the pace is as slow as the demon (or whatever it is), and sometimes for me the tension was more in the area of wanting to fast forward (I didn’t). Yes, there is some quality filmmaking going on here, like the metaphors of teen problems (leaves across a leg symbolizing cutting, for example), and at least one of the circular shots at the high school is well done. However, this really needed to be trimmed by at least 20 minutes to keep the suspense going. There are too many pointless dialog shots that don’t go anywhere, such as one between our heroine and a guy who obviously has a crush on her, talking about their childhood and finding porn; that could have easily been relegated to the Deleted Scenes section of the DVD, and not be missed in the feature.

Also, there are some occurrences I just don’t buy, including the obvious other passing on of the curse scenes to add a larger body count. I mean, there is something (as opposed to someone) following her to kill her, and one of her crew is going to take a chance? In one case, it happends in a hospital bed in a room full of internal windows to the hallway (that we see in another roundabout circular shot)?

Overall, I was disappointed in the heavy-handed direction where Mitchell tried to add in too many metaphors and symbolisms. Just look at the IMDB page under the Trivia section. I appreciate the ambitiousness of the project, but trying to do too much (“look what I can do!”) and not having a concept of what should probably stay and what should go (it makes me wonder how long the first cut was if this much stayed), made this drag in too many places. The body count was very low, and the first kill to Alice was definitely the best. There was some decent suspense, but really, it should have been tighter.

As for the ending, see my comment in the previous review.


He Never Died
Written and directed by Jason Krawczyk
97 minutes; 2015
Henry Rollins is having quite the post-Black Flag career, careening from singer, to print poet, to spoken word artist, vlogger, and screen actor. For the latter, his roles tend to lean towards bitter and especially angry people (come to think of it, so does his singing, poetry, etc.). Most of the roles I’ve seen him in have been either secondary or even tertiary/cameo ones, not counting his omnipresence in documentaries about punk music from the ‘80s). Here was a chance to see him as the focal antagonistic protagonist.

I realize this may technically be a relatively low budget film compared to the others, but hey…Netflix, if you know what I mean. As far as the film goes, it was quite the pleasant surprise. First of all, Henry is known for being somewhat stoic/sarcastic and very angry/clenched. Both of these work for him better than I have ever seen him before. His character is a non-classic vampire (“I’m the only one”) that has more of the qualities of a ghoul/cannibal, and who is old enough to be “mentioned in the Bible.”

There is a nice sized cast, and yet it feel intimate, with dark streets (though he’s not adverse to daylight in classic vampire tropes) in dingy areas, as Toronto takes the place of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York. After such a long life, Jack (Rollins) keeps his wits together, barely, by playing bingo, keeping to himself mostly, and eating at the same diner for every meal: always vegetarian as blood is like a drug to him, and he’s gone straight-edge. The question is, will those around him let him stay that way for long.

Into this mix comes a long-lost 19-year-old party-girl daughter, Andrea (Jordan Todosey, of Degrassi: The Next Generation) and a waitress who has a thing for him, Cara (Kate Greenhouse, of The Murdock Mysteries). There is also an extended “name” cameo of Jack’s “intern” (Booboo Stewart, of The Twilight Saga series and X-Men: Days of Future Past). And who is the mysterious man in the hat (not hard to figure out, really). Then there’s a long stream of Mafioso fodder that ends up being an extensive and gruesome body count. Yeah, there is a lot of blood, death and destruction.

There is also an incredibly strong sense of humor about the film, some of it played well by Greenhouse who easily steals some scenes from Rollins (check out the “Oh, c’mon” moment from the trailer). However, that is not to say that Rollins isn’t a force to be reckoned with here, as this is by far the strongest and best role, as if it were written for him.

While nearly as long as the reviews mentioned above, the time just went by incredibly fast. They left it so there could be a sequel, and in this case I’m hoping there is, as it’s also a film I will watch again, at some point.