Friday, March 10, 2017

Review: The Horde

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

The Horde                             
Directed by Jared Cohn
313 Films / Razors Edge Productions / Traplight Pictures
Gravitas Ventures / MVD Visual
87 minutes, 2012 / 2016

When I first heard the name of the film, I thought, “I wonder if it’s a zombie horde or a vampire horde? Perhaps a demon horde?” From the cover it is pretty obvious that at the very least this is a horror action film. You may ask yourself, “Isn’t most horror usually filled with action (if it’s good)?” You may ask yourself, “This is not my beautiful…” oh, sorry, I guess my mind wandered back to the 1980s…

Josh Logan has many shirtless moments
For the action part, we meet handsome ex-Navy SEAL John Crenshaw (real-life bio-chemist and stuntman/martial artist Josh Logan, who also wrote the film) and his beautiful girlfriend, Selina (Tiffany Brouwer). She’s a teacher taking five of her (high school?) beautiful students on a camping trip to take photographs of nature for school credit, including two couples and an angry and spoiled rich gay brat, Riley (Thomas Ochoa, who has specialized in LGBTQ-etc. roles).

Unfortunately, the woods are full of, oh yes, the Horde. It is a large, inbred family, which they call mutants, as they are just genetics mixed with radiation poisoning, in a similar vein to that kind of group in films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and especially The Hills Have Eyes (1977… I don’t feel a need to acknowledge the remake). They refer to the females they capture as “breeders” and the males as “meat.” Well, that explains a lot towards motivation, doesn’t it? Love it when stimulus is clean and simple. Then add the ingredient of escaped criminals and mad scientists who are out to make some meth to bring in some cash to the congenital mix, and you have a nice formula for said mutations to run amok.

The enforcer of the horde in question is a huge more-brawn-than-brain escaped con with anger issues named Stone (ex-Football player Michael Willig). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize at some point Crenshaw and the much taller Stone are going to go mano-a-mano. But that doesn’t mean Crenshaw isn’t going to have a few licks in beforehand, actually even before his class group even get to the campground (but no details about that, so no worries).

Tiffany Brouwer's Streets of Fire moment
However, the leader of the horde is fellow escapee Cylus (Australian actor Costas Mandylor, known for playing Lt. Hoffman in the Saw series), and Earl, the literal butcher, who makes fresh tongue sandwiches (on white bread) is none other than fellow Aussie Vernon Wells (arguably best known as Wes, the mohawk’d villain in the only Mel Gibson film I can still watch without wanting to puke, 1981’s Road Warrior/Mad Max 2); he has a great nearly-whispered monolog just past the halfway point. You can see that there are some heavy duty heavies in this film. Plus, Bill Moseley (Otis in House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects) and Don “The Dragon” Wilson have a bit of cameos, as well.

There are no huge surprises along the way, as Logan stealthily makes his way through the horde camp, killing without a second thought from his training background; “I’ve done a lot of things for my country I’m proud of, and some I’m not proud of,” he tells Riley at some point early on, an exposition to show he’s a trained military assassin (though I wonder what he does for a living since retiring from service). Actually, it’s easy to cheer for each kill, and it’s nice to root for the good hunter rather than the bad ones (e.g., Freddy, Jason and Michael). While abound in clichés and genre tropes, such as rising out of the water similarly to Rambo, this is still a fun watch. Truthfully, I’m not that much into pure action films with a hero rescuing his lady (in a tied-up situation reminiscent of 1984’s excellent Streets of Fire) by killing and beating everyone up, but this falls big on the plus side because the body count is high, the film looks good, and the action is definitely enjoyable. Logan makes for a formidable and likeable hero (who, of course, is shirtless as much as possible – including the scene that introduces his character – to show off his pack).

One of the mutants
The gore here is impressive, extensive and beautifully handled by a top-notch SFX team. Limbs are often separated, heads are smashed or snapped, and yes, an arm is broken a la Steven Seagal style. Also, the cinematography by Laura Beth Love is worth noting; there is lots of fog lighting giving us Logan in crouching silhouette, ready for the next move.

There are some double crosses along the way that you’re bound to see coming from a mile away, but again, so what. All things considered, part of what makes this film, along with the action of punching, chopping and hacking, is the direction. Jared Cohn is known for some heavy duty B-films, such as Hold Your Breath (2012), 12/12/12 (2012) and a bunch of the Sharknado sequels, so he knows how to frame the film into a positive mode for a genre fan. The lighting may be cliché at times (e.g., the smoky back lighting), but it’s never too dark to see what’s happening (for which I’m always grateful), the sound is solid, and the acting in commendable if sometimes a tad overdone (Riley’s pissy moments, for example).

The extras are kind of short, but shweeet. First up is a 2:28 b-roll (over music) of some of the CK VFX work done in the digital world, most of which look pretty good. That being said, there are a couple of fire tricks that are a bit weak as they look more like fire overlays than whatever it is aflame. Some of the splatter is obviously digi, but that is true for most films these days. Overall, the rest is pretty good. I enjoyed seeing how the effects were built.

Along with the trailer and chapter breaks, next up is the 16:36 “Making Of” (listed as “The EPK” – E-Press Kit – on the Extras page). Including on-set interviews with much of the cast and crew, this was one of the fun behind-the-scenes featurettes I’ve seen in a while. There’s no areas where it lags, but rather it keeps the viewers’ (well, this one, anyway) interest straight through. Somewhere in there Willig says, “It’s a fun ride.” And he’s right.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Review: The Ladies of the House

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

The Ladies of the House       
Directed by John Stewart Wildman
Wildworks Productions / Soaring Flight Productions / Femmewerks Productions /
Gravitas Ventures / MVD Visual
93 minutes, 2014 / 2016

I have wanted to see this film for a while now, so I’m glad for the opportunity. I have only been to a strip club once for a bachelor party, and it seemed like the only one who was more bored than me were the strippers. But this film is another kettle of fish, more because of what they do at home than on a stage.

In this story, three bros go to a club to celebrate a birthday. Two brothers, the birthday boy Kai (RJ Hanson) and Jacob (Gabriel Horn), who don’t really want to be there, and their macho moron pal Derek (Samrat Chakrabarti), the latter of whom refers to the trio as “Cowboys and Indian.” Yeah, the deep, sensitive type.

Michelle Sinclair
During the performance of one of the strippers, Ginger (Michelle Sinclair, aka real-life adult star Belladonna), Derek slaps her butt, and then pressures the brothers to follow her home, where she shares a house with three other dancers. His intention is to pay her for sex as a present to Kai. The banter between Derek and Ginger on the front steps is nothing short of cringe worthy, especially if you have any social or moral conscious. Yeah, this is a genre film, but it made me feel uncomfortable and squeamish, so the writers (husband-and-wife team Justina Walford and the director Wildman) successfully hit the mark with that one. It’s obviously meant to do just that, so when they get into the depths of the story, it’s not like the guys are innocent flies in a web (even the mentally challenged Kai has a bit of “Lennie Small” from Of Mice and Men in him). Ten minutes in, and I’m looking forward to the comeuppance, especially Derek’s.

Of course, things go awry, and when the other women come home, that’s when the second act begins and the picture kicks up into a much higher gear. These are certainly not women you want to trifle with, that is for certain, as the guys learn, one by one, becoming prisoners.

Brina Palencia
As time goes on this tragic start leads to a revenge-fuelled carnage. But I’m getting ahead of myself. It comes down to the three bros against three of the women, being the strange and childlike Crystal (the very cute Brina Palencia, who has sort of a Jill Banner vibe from 1967’s Spider Baby), the determined Getty (Melodie Sisk, rocking the look of the muscle-making woman in the “We Can Do It” poster), and the “matriarch” leader, Lin (Farah White). While mad, they are more cunning than reactionary. They have obviously dealt with men in such a fashion before, as they have a calm routine way of… dismantling.

With the film having a catch phrase like “They’re dying to have for your dinner,” well, it’s no surprise what the end result is supposed to be (won’t say one way or another what is the actual ending, so don’t worry). The cannibal women subgenre is not a new one, such as The Cannibal Girls (1973), the goofy-yet-fun The Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (1989), and the even more recent Model Hunger (2016) and The Neon Demon (2016). There is also the stripper horror subgenre, with the likes of Zombie Strippers (2008) and Stripperland (2011), but this is something else. Despite there being a history – albeit small – in this subgenre, this is a pretty original storyline. That being said, there is a very nice gender-reversal nod to an iconic bit from the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974).

Melodie Sisk
One of the things I like about the film is that while it’s technically not a horror film, relying more on terror and suspense, it certainly does not shy away from a bit of violence and gristle here and there (well done by Oddtopsy SFX, led by indie effects maven Marcus Koch); when it does, because it is not the main focus, it comes out as a bit more shocking and welcomed, without wearing out its welcome.
The four female leads are spot on, with just the right amount of sexiness (minimal nudity) and cold-hearted determination. They are to be feared, but without losing their humanity; that is, even considering their dietary regimen before these tools enter their lives and abode. And then there’s Piglet (Frank Mosley).

Yet through the carnage and chopping and caging and slicing and hacking, somehow, on more than one level, this remains… a love story?! This shows some solid directing by an ex-actor of genre films himself (Wildman starred in the amazingly titled and even more gloriously goofy cult classic Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, in 1988). The lighting, the angles, and the gore, all look and feel glorious.

Farah White
The original ending to the film is included in the extras as an alternative deleted scene, but I have to say, the non-linearity (or, as the director might have said, lineerity) of the final product is much more subtle and effective, and fits in well with certain aspects of the film throughout.

There are some quite enjoyable extras, such as a few deleted scenes, which were right to be deleted as they would have changed the tone of the film (the finger one, especially), yet they were not like many of the deletes I have seen that were just a waste of time; rather it was an interesting choice and it helped me appreciate some aspects of the film because they were excised.

The other is a series of seven interview segments with members of the cast and crew – both singular and in groups – that lasts between three and 13 minutes a pop. Most of it was interesting. While it didn’t change anything in knowing more about the story, that’s okay, because it’s also nice to see the cast as themselves. I would have liked a bit more anecdotes about the filming, but again, they were enjoyable and had no trouble sitting through all of them.

This is hardly what one would necessarily call a date movie, depending of course on whom you are relating, but for the genre fan, it was an entertaining film (even with the uncomfortable ants-in-the-pants early scene described above). Considering it was the first feature directorial by Wildman, that is even more amazing. If you decide to do another film, my suggestion is keep the same lighting, cinematography and editing people, as they helped relate your vision so spot on. They did an amazing job.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Review: Killer Waves

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Killer Waves                   
Produced, directed and edited (among others) by James Balsamo
Acid Bath Productions
90 minutes, 2017

Most directors have a shtick. Some call it auteur, but when you’re dealing those who tend to dispense comedic horror, each has their own thing, be it gender politics, absurdity with a sharp wink towards its own genre, or relying on a body of knowledge about the history of horror, directors have their strong points. For James Balsamo, it’s – for lack of a better word – the pun. Hell, he even has a book out of this kind of word play (Total Pun-ishment, HERE).

Balsamo’s film are self-depreciating (he gets beaten up in just about every one, usually by some heavy metal musician doing a cameo); he is the trickster, the hustler, and the – okay – pun-isher. And that’s exactly why he has so many fans.

I love it when killers have a name. Sure Meyers, Kruger and Voorhees are great, but I like the ones with designations like Ghostface, The Subway Vigilante, or the Shropshire Strangler. For this film, we are dealing with the Unholy Diver, someone dressed in a full and antique-style deep-sea diving outfit, including a Robot Monster-like full mask. But instead of what should be seen through the helmet, there is a skull face.

This is a slasher crime comedy that is a culmination of the direction Balsamo has been driving towards in his previous releases, all in the fast lane, in that his work is consistently inconsistent. What I mean by that is there are some constants, and not all of them are written in stone (though many are). As Desi once said, “Let me ‘splain”: With the possibly arguable exception of one (I Spill Your Guts, 2012), all of his six features have been loony comedies, some more outrageous than others, but all of them somewhat over the top. That descriptor is, of course, not meant as an insult.

Also, there is a lot of gratuitous female nudity (usually upper body, but not always), blood and gore (including the red stuff always pouring from mouths), a large body count, body parts (or visceral matter) separating from the victim, the aforementioned puns, and the cameos. Balsamo goes to many, many genre conventions and gets either musicians (sometimes solo, sometimes the entire band) or genre cult idols (such as Joel M. Reed) to do brief stints in the film, usually on the street, in an alley, or a hallway. Hell, if he doesn’t have any idea what to do with them, they just riff and he puts them in somewhere; most of the time, they beat him up, or say nasty things about his character. Yes, that is another thing, Balsamo is nearly almost always the lead in his films which, again, I don’t really have a problem with that.

Each film has a growing number of actors who appear regularly, such as the wonderful Carmine Capobianco and Genoveva Rossi; hopefully Chloe Berman joins this list. Then there’s a guy named Frank Mullen who always amuses me, even when he looks like he’s reading cue cards while doing his scenes. His spiel is to go into an angry, curse-filled rant, and I always cheer when he does.

Then there are, again, the puns. Beyond the excruciating ones during the dialogue that make Freddy’s look like Shakespeare (okay, maybe Robert Frost…), even the character names are jokes, such as Katie Crest (get it, a film about waves…), Brian Blackwater, Billy Bermuda, Blue Crush Vicky, and so forth. There are some snarky names as well, such as there both being a Vicky and a Vicki (“I’m Vicki with an ‘I’” is how she introduces herself), and Jenny and a Jenni (“I’m Jenni with an ‘I’”, I kid you not).

The loose (very loose) story is centered around the Killer Waves Surf Contest. The Unholy Diver (I guessed wrong at who it was for a while) is murdering the surfers – and nearly anyone else who crosses his path – in part to make a surfboard make of human flesh; the end products is one of the goofiest things you’ll ever see…again, not an insult. There are any number of ways of dispatching the victims, from various blades to electric eels, and so forth.

If you are familiar with Balsamo’s earlier films, there are a few self-references to his work, such as a mention of an Acid Bath (his production company), and someone else wearing a torn version of a Cool as Hell tee. This could be a drinking game. I’m up to my fourth glass of Lemon Ginger Echinacea drink from Trader Joe’s. Yeah, I’m a wild spirit.

While this was being filmed, I know that Balsamo (and his brother) were in the process of moving from Long Island, NY, to California, and it’s pretty obvious to tell it was recorded on both coasts. I mean, there are shots on a beach or street with palm trees, mixed with scenes obviously on the streets of Manhattan; during a key cop investigation scene at a dock, the Park City ferry (going between Bridgeport and Port Jefferson, Long Island) passes behind them. Made me smile.

As for inconsistent, well, the story is more of a series of vignettes and bits rather than a cohesive narrative. The core remains the same, of the events surrounding the surfing contest, but each bit (and murder) is more hodgepodge scenes than a storyline. Much of the movie could be a series of short films ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes. Occasionally this can be confusing if not distracting, especially with the improvisational feel of the overall product, but somehow it manages to work. Everything that seems a bit wonky is part of its charm; I don’t really know how to explain it more than that.

If one were to see just this film, it might be a bit of a headscratcher, but in the overall Balsamo canon, if one is familiar with his style and work, it’s more of the inconsistent consistency charm that I was discussing before, just more so.

The puns are cool as hell, the blood and gore graphic, the cameos superb, the nudity is nice, and the acting is, well, as these are mostly non-professional actors or winging it off the cuff in some alleyway, it’s adequate if not over-the-top. It definitely works, and this is fun all the way through, but I honestly would like to see more focus on a cohesive storyline. That being said, while it is surface level that never digs too deep in thought or tone, it’s still bloody good amusement.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Review: After

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Directed by Ryan Smith
Seabourne Pictures / Quite Quick Productions / Magnetic Dreams /
M.O. Pictures / MVD Visual
90 minutes, 2012 / 2017

When I first heard the title of this horror thriller, I was honestly a-feared that it might be one of those post-rapture Left Behind dreck kinds of things. Considering our society is being currently run and overrun by people who think the earth only 6000 years old and probably flat not only makes that a real possibility, but also, puh-leeeze. Thankfully, I was wrong, Amen.

The film starts off calmly enough, with two people sitting on a bus, being the only passengers. They only start to get to get introduced to each other (she’s really not into him), though they find out they live a few blocks from each other, when the bus crashes (off-camera).

When she awakes in her own bed, she heads off to work at the hospital and finds she’s the only one there in the entire building. Soon she realizes it’s not just there, but the entire town. She finds the dude, who is apparently in the same situation, so they go searching for answers together.

This may sound familiarly like the 1964 “The Twilight Zone” episode written by Earl Hammer Jr., “Stopover in a Quiet Town,” but that is where the similarity ends. Luckily, Jason Parish and director Ryan Smith’s story takes a different tack from that episode into something pretty unique, albeit familiar, as it does seem more like something Stephen King might take to write in about 800 pages.

While searching through their small town, secrets of their past will come to light, giving clues to how to possibly get out of the situation. They do figure out pretty quickly what is the outcome of the mystery, but not the how to beyond it. That’s what the plot is for, of course.

George (Steven Strait) is a film projectionist who draws comic books on the side, which he has done from his youth. Ana (Karolina Wydra, from “True Blood” and “House”; her look reminds me a bit of Andrea Marcovicci) is a nurse who dreams of being a fantasy writer. Well, first of all, that makes a strong combination if they pitch their tents together going forward. I know a writer who recently married a comic artist (Hey, JD and Kris!), and their co-work is phenomenal. But I digress…

As their bodies flash back to a time when they were children in the same town of Pearl, they watch themselves on the same day of consequential events, and try and figure out the clues. Meanwhile, the town is surrounded by a wall of smoke that starts to tighten its grasp, giving them just a few days to work it all out.

When they are in the present with the clouds looming, the film has a blue-hued, drab, colorless look to it. When they have moments in the past, viewing themselves, friends and relations (especially her aunt, played by character actor Sandra Lafferty, who you will probably recognize from The Hunger Games or the Johnny Cash bio-pic Walk the Line), the colors are bright. This reminds me a bit of the Richard Matheson 1988 novel, What Dreams May Come, where Purgatory is similarly gray.

Filmed in a few towns, all with two hours of Birmingham, it makes sense that this would be hellish. Okay, that’s kind of an inside joke as one of my best friends just moved to that state from Brooklyn; I really don’t have an opinion.

There is a strong fantasy element running throughout the picture, even beyond the mysterious flashbacks and literal encircling black cloud hanging over them. The two examples I’ll share is a magical wooden door just outside the evil cloud ring with a key that needs to be found, to a smoke monster that longs to kill the two that is on a chain that’s half a mile long before, they figure out how to get in the doorway.
Let’s get a bit to the nitty gritty of it. The smoke monster, as it roams around the city hunting them, looks kinda cool but definitely has a digital effect to its movement. That being said, when shown in close-up, it’s great. There isn’t much blood throughout (i.e., less then you’d see in a typical television crime drama), but that’s okay because this is more story-oriented.

Being story-driven rather than effects-focused (not that there aren’t SFX, such as the cloud and monster) was a smart move. This brings the person-ability of the two characters more to the forefront, making us care about them. After (no pun intended) seeing so many films filled with blood and guts in graphic detail, it’s nice to see one that is more simplistic in its approach, relying more on what is happening than how it is happening, if that makes any sense.

Except for some trailers to other films (not this one), there are no extras, but I do have one question, and one complaint (what can I tell ya, I’m crotchety). First, the question: what happened to the bus driver after the accident, who is never seen nor mentioned later? It would have been cool if he was the smoke monster, but that’s never really put out there. The complaint is that the incidental music by Tyler Smith is just way too overwrought and emotional Lifetime Television sappy orchestration.

This film was a bit of a eye-opener to me. I didn’t know what to expect from the name or cover, but it certainly came as a pleasant and enjoyable surprise. And there is a bit after the credits, for those who watch those things, as I do.