Friday, January 20, 2017

Review: Wolf House


Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet; live photo by Michael O'Hear

Wolf House
Directed by Matt D. Lord
White Lion Studios / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
69 minutes, 2016 / 2017

There’s nothing like a nice creature feature to sink one’s teeth into on a cold winter night, right? It’s -10F outside right now (serious), so I’m curled up in bed and about to watch what I’m hoping will happily mix with my hot chocolate and marshmallows and go down smoothly. Electric blankie? On! Pillows propped? Soft and supportive. Remote in hand? And… away we go!

Gotta say, in the first few minutes I’m getting a worrisome feeling. This is one of those “Six kids go to the woods and were never heard from again” found footage things. People are still making these? Please, let me be wrong. After all, I’m at less than 4 minutes so far.

The film takes place in a real location, Hartland, NY, which is somewhat close to Niagara Falls and Lake Erie (or maybe that should that be Lake Eeeeeerie…whooooo… Okay, I kid. Now back to the review).

These six people who go to the Wolf Cabin contain two couples, and their two male friends. As in similar films, we get to see them be asses to each other in “bro” moments – especially picking on one of them – for about half the film that is supposed to be the audience getting to know the characters. Continuing with the lowest common denominator, all we get to know is that we wouldn’t want most of these people in our lives if they treat their friends this way. Okay, I’ve been brutal with my pals, they’ve been that way with me (it’s a Brooklyn thing), but not to this level. Or maybe I’m older now I don’t remember it as it was, that could be true, too. Either way, other than them being childhood friends and their girlfriends; that about all we get to know about this group, so the opening 20 minutes are essentially very bad home movies. This last trope is quite common in found footage films.

After shooting some bigfoot kind of creature outside the cabin, they take the carcass to one of their homes in the ‘burbs. There, it revives and its scent attracts all different sorts of creatures from the woods, such as dog-like things and men with no eyes. It doesn’t really make much sense, but by this time I was so happy to see some action I was willing to let it go. Besides, the creatures looked pretty cool for a low budgeter like this. More on that shortly.

The crew gets taken out one by one through means of lurking creatures while the rest go running around with their cameras on willy-nilly, quite often focusing on the ground or their feet. And yes, there is the much-used scene where someone takes a selfie and says a sniffling goodbye to their family, a paradigm started by The Blair Witch Project (1999), I believe.

If you turn on the film at about 22 minutes in, you’ll see a much better – albeit shorter – movie, but you won’t really lose all that much in characterization. The action definitely picks up when they bring the whatever-it-is back to town, and the creature besieging begins. My guess is that most of the humanoid thingies are either Native Americans or their spirits (only one woman speaks briefly, in another tongue). What makes me think this is the location and the face paint. They don’t, however, have the facial features usually associated with Indigenous Peoples (I’m guessing Mohawk for that neck of the woods?), and I kept wondering if this might be seen as appropriation. Now, a film like this probably should be more suspenseful and not give the viewer room to reminisce on these kinds of questions. I should add at this point that one of the actors, Rick Williams, is First Nation, and even has a ‘Hawk hairstyle.

The big dog/wolf creature is interesting and decently done (a long extra is included about its creation), though it’s obviously a person in a costume, but it reminds me of the wolf from the play version of Into the Woods, using stilts and outer skin. From what the commentary says, it took up a chunk of the film’s $5,000 budget, and I believe it.

Another nice feature is the occasional inlay camera work where you see the main action, with a smaller inset of another room being filmed as creepy things happen there. This was a nice touch. The other thing I appreciated is that the actors did well sounding scared, and moved somewhat reasonably realistically in that agitated state. I just wish I could have cared more about them.

Part of the bigger issue is that there is no explanation about the creatures, or especially the humanoid ones, like where they come from. Are they human or not? A combination? Some come and go in a second, and others seem to be able to be killed. I mean, it’s pretty obvious they are there because they followed the people home. Now, while these creatures are roaming around outside, doesn’t any of the neighbors notice that there are huge, hairy things with glowing roaming around? There is some discussion about this during the commentary track, but the mix of natural and supernatural throws me.

One of my ideas of a missed opportunity is the lack of using the incessant tormenting of the nerdish guy by the others at the conclusion. I would have liked to see maybe him conspiring with the visitors to get rid of the others in anger and shame (and perhaps pay for that at the end).

Marcus Ganci-Rotella, Matt D. Lord, Ken Cosentino and Liz Houlihan
at the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival; pic by Michael O'Hear
On a positive note, the interspersing at the end of the horrors of the night and footage shot before when they were a relatively merry group is a nice touch, as is the photo memorial near the credits. It should be noted that this film did get some strong and positive reviews, and was selected at the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival, so don’t only go by me, please.

There are four extras here, including the trailer to this and two other found footage films. The 22-minute Making of Featurette is honestly not very interesting, showing the group filming mostly a particular scene, but it’s a bit too loose, in a found footage kinda way. There’s very little structure to tell you what is happening. That being said, there are some good moments here and there, lasting about 5 minutes overall interspersed throughout. The Making of the Monster is 1 hour/25 minutes! It’s essentially a step-by-step tutorial by Ken Costentino, who is an also an actor in the film, co-writer, and Director of Photography. Honestly, it was somewhat interesting, but I just didn’t have the time to sit through that much. If you are interested in a career in practical SFX, you may want to pay more attention than I did.

The last is the commentary, with Costentino, and two other actors, Marcus Ganci-Rotella (the picked-on guy), and Elizabeth Houlihan (the other co-writer), which is decent. They tell anecdotes while not stepping all over each other. There is nothing deep discussed, such as motivation or meanings, but they do give the impression that they mostly had good experience making the film.

Seriously, if you’re going to be making a found footage film by this late point in the trajectory, where it has become so commonplace, please try and do something more original. If you are going to do a home movies style beginning, there should be some interesting things happen rather than a bunch of tools tooling around in front of the camera. Let us know about some motivations, some history, something to latch onto to care about. This is especially true if it’s going to be a “never seen again” story where you know everyone is going to die. I really don’t mind if they do, but you’re projecting a final scenario that comes as no surprise, it cuts down on the suspense element.



Sunday, January 15, 2017

Review: Atroz

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

Atroz (aka Atrocity)
Written and directed by Lex Ortega
Cineauta / Grotesque / Unearthed Films / MVD Visual
79 minutes, 2015 / 2016

Torture porn, or whatever you would like to call it, is distinct in its own subgenre within the horror category. The one key element that runs through all of it is that it is extreme, and usually involved the slow and painful evisceration of a human, usually conscious at the time.

It’s almost like a dare to test to the viewer: “watch this if you can.” I would say the nascent history of it started at the hands of Florida Hershell Gordon Lewis (d. 2016), with films like Blood Feast (1963). While there have been other gruesome films, such as Night of the Living Dead (1968) and the Italian giallo movement of the late 1970s through early 1980s, which was different as the brutality usually was included into the story. Even in touchstone films like Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), more was implied than shown, focusing more on the tension of the situation. Then Eli Roth released Hostel (2005), and changed an important aspect, making the story revolve around the gore more than the reason for it, as did other films like the Saw (2004) series. Each one raised the bar by ramping up the realism. What it has morphed into all these years is the torture itself. There isn’t even always a substantive storyline, or sometimes even a reason other than a joyride on someone else’s pain, such as with the more recent A Serbian Film (2010), known more for its audience reaction videos on YouTube than the film itself. Gore been around for decades, such as in Germany’s Nekromantic duo (1987 and ‘91) and from Japan, there was the likes of the Guinea Pig series (late 1980s), but mainly it had been more underground until Hostel and Saw.
                                                                                                
The main difference between something like this genre and the European (mostly Italian) giallo films is that most of the latter is about the effects/affects before and after the killing (with exceptions of course), but the new trend is close-up details spurned on, I believe by the mainstreaming of clinical death images on shows like the CSI television series. What is also prevalent is the use of appliance over digital. When someone is attacked and hacked piece by piece, the reliance is on SFX, to keep the realism keen.  Many of the newer releases are also done as “found footage,” as in “the police found this footage by the killer(s), and here it is,” which means it may be grainy, jump or give some other visual cue that it’s supposed to be in the moment.

That is where Atroz comes in. Shot in Mexico (in Spanish with subtitles), it’s based on a 14-minute short the director did in 2012 (which is included in the extras), expanding the story and body count. In fact, most of the original short is incorporated into the first act of the film.

Carlos Valencia in the foreground,
Lex Ortega in the back
Two compadres/bad hombres in Mexico, Topo (Miguel Angel Nava) and Goyo (played by the director), are taken into custody by the policia after a car accident where they unintentionally kill a woman (you don’t see her bloody face, but you do see her brains spread across the road). The coppers discover a video tape and find the footage from the 2015 short, where a trans (M2F) prostitute is tortured to death. The framework about finding the tape, and the other recordings are often just a means to present the brutality to the viewing audience for most of the picture. Like I said, the violence begets the story, rather than the other way around.

In fact, most of the “shell” of the story may seem inconsequential at first, such as the too-long scenes of the police looking over the first shown death, before they find further evidence. But this being a world that would invent a Trump presidency, the police believe they must get evidence through any means necessary, so legally, on some level they are able to do to the brothers similar what they are accused. This is a damning statement on using torture for information, and its validity.

Now, I hope it’s no question to anyone reading this that anyone who deals with any of these guys are pretty much doomed, as this is the purpose of the story, so I don’t think I’m giving anything away; well, I hope not. If you’re expecting a happy ending, then you’re reaping in the wrong garden. But on a writ large stage, it is saying that the means is a method of control and dominance, more than anything else, even if it reaches a level of lust. Those under the police commander (Carlos Valencia) are willing extensions of his anger and will do things to the two without asking questions of morality or even sanity. A classic case of the pot calling the kettle, just with the degrees of legal power making the difference.

Don’t get me wrong, this pair is certainly not nice, and I am not justifying their actions, but the police stand on questionable grounds as well. During the second killing, again of a prostitute (this time a female, who is also a stripper) gives us the information that these guys have full-blown hematolagina. In other words, they are sexually aroused by blood (not their own, that is).

Quite a bit of what we see is the guys’ (and some cops) found footage. Now, I don’t own a video camera, but I do have video on my phone and digital camera, and have never had the “noise interference” that most of the found footage films show (jumping, skipping, like that). Is this common in real life or is it a trope used as an indicator to the audience that it’s the killers’ camera, rather than the director’s? To put it another way, it’s sort of like when a reel-to-reel is shown rewound, we hear sped, high-pitched voices, though rewinding is actually silent as far as the tape contents go. Personally, I can usually tell the difference because one is really shaky and the other relatively stagnant (or at least there is some stabilization level on it), so why do directors bother with that? Found footage is, in itself, annoying enough, so I say let’s all drop the digital noise and just show the image. Trust me, we usually get when it’s supposed to be one or the other. Thank you for that venting, and now back to our story in progress.

I’m not going to ruin the plot or the punchline – or the reasoning, but it is important to understand that there is a lot of cultural (religious?) gender and sexual politics running through the story, informing the action from the very beginning that is better understood by the end, though again, not condoned. As the action unfolds in the last act/video, a more complete story is given to the viewer that many of these types of films gloss over (i.e., why does that doctor want to cut up a live body in Hostel?; why does the person want to do the vile things they do in, well, too many to list?). For that I am appreciative, even for the squeamishness that is shown to us. For me, one of the most disturbing scenes is an act of violence to a man, while his sister watches stunned in the doorframe in the background.

Because of the gender politics, in part, there is a lot of nudity, of both genders. The blood and gore flow fiercely (though the fresh blood did seem a bit off in color and texture; totally forgivable), ably done by Reality FX Studios, run by Alfredo “Freddy” Sanchez and Jamie “Jimmy McFly” Nieto. The music is equally disturbing, running from noisy electronica (sort of like what is behind Public Enemy’s work) to heavy beats, supplied by the duo Eggun. Having the CD available with this package made it easier to give it some attention.

Along with the DVD, Blu-Ray and Soundtrack CD that comes in this package, there are a number of extras, generally ranging in the 3-6 minute range, including featurettes on the sound and visual practical effects (no digital), and the crowdsourcing video and similar Behind the Scenes, which focuses on talking by Ortega and producer Abigail Bonilla. Additionally, there is the aforementioned original short that is incorporated into this film, and a nice bunch of Unearthed trailers (including this one). In other words, it’s a really nice overall package.

Perhaps it’s because it’s from a country you don’t usually expect this kind of film (i.e., a different culture than those of which we are used to), but I have to say, the twist ending was extremely satisfying, and made me happy.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review: American Scumbags

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

American Scumbags
Written, produced, directed and edited by Dakota Bailey
R.A. Productions
70 minutes, 2016

Director Dakota Bailey is lucky. And smart. He has found a genre niche that fits him well, and is sticking to it. His stories are fly-on-the-wall tales of pure human animal need vs. want vs. humanity that are incredibly down-to-the-ground gritty. I hope he gets used to the word, because gritty is probably a buzzword that will become ever more associated with his work. This is a compliment.

What makes his films “horror” is not some guy in a mask and machete that can’t be killed, or evil raised by people in cloaks, or something buried that returns; rather it’s the guy on the street you pass that is thinking about his next fix and will do anything to get it, or the person in the car next to you sharing the street light who is planning to pour acid on someone to avenge a perceived wrongdoing. It is meaner streets, where Joe Pesci’s character Johnny “Am I a clown?!” Devito would be considered a punk ass (and not in a Ramones kinda way).

Bailey deals with similar themes as his previous film, My Master Satan (reviewed by me HERE); in this one, we a given three stories in a city ironically named Sunnydale that are so interconnected they overlap to the point of melding into a narrative of anger, fear, and depravity – all for the benefit and enjoyment of the viewer. In this way we are introduced to the main characters: a convict who is a sadistic sociopath named Billy the Kid who needs to control the women in his life even if it means killing their pets (Darien Fawkes), the drug kingpin with the man-bun Chester (Fred Epstein), a crazed ex-con who is in a money-pickle named Lucifer who believes his own designation (Nick Benning), and Johnny (director Bailey), a hitman who kills for his drug needs. Others include a wheel-chair bound alcoholic Vietnam vet, an equally drunkard pedophile who likes little boys just out of the can, and… well, you get the idea.

After the title-carded character introduction, the first story set-up is “Billy the Kid”, and the others include “Raping the World with Guns and Drugs.” Through it all, even with the mostly ex-girlfriend (Katy Katzar) obsessed Billy, we see mostly men acting at their basest. This is a macho world we are presented. The only “carded” female character is naturally a bombastic and zaftig prostitute, Angel (Bianca Valentino). Whether she lives up to the “Scumbag” descriptor, I’ll leave you to find out.

Dakota Bailey as Johnny, on the phone
In a similar feel to the earlier flick, we meet these characters who all seem to know each other in a kind of underworld miasma, but rarely do we see them interconnect physically for any length time (other than to kill), except via the technology of cell phones. By this means we get to know the individual characters better (well, more than we’d want in real life). Perhaps it is not the history of what got them there, but certainly a higher-level vision of where they are, which is more than you get with most modern “people = death fodder” films.

There’s nothing fancy in the production. For example, the camera work is obviously handheld with a feel of found footage, though with editing it is not meant to be that. It actually works for this kind of story, making it feel in part like you are there, but not like someone just turned on a camera and shot it, which ironically takes the viewer out of the moment. The black and white also gives the grit more of a kick, with a mixture of the view being high contrast, dark, or washed out, depending on the moment (and lighting). It could also be a metaphor for a colorless life of despair, crime, narcissism and high drama (and ego-and-drug induced stupidity).

As for the acting, well, there’s no Joe Pesci, but at the same time – and more importantly – it really does feel like these guys are just being themselves (with one exception), so there’s fumbling when talking as one would in real life. Some of the dialog definitely has an improv vibe. Again, while in other circumstances in films that make take the viewer out of the action through distraction, here it is used to bring you into the hyper-realism of these characters and situations that you would never really want to be a part of in real life (hopefully). It truly feels like a form of voyeurism, as if looking through someone else’s eyes.

Despite all the violence against others, what makes these people stand out is the level of self-destructive behaviour, even if it comes out as external expression. Deep down, every one of these characters is committing slow suicide on some level, enticing others to do action against them as much as they are putting dangerous substances into themselves.

I don’t want to end this without mentioning the really great soundtrack, featuring classic hardcore style by the band Pizzatramp, from South Wales, UK.




Thursday, January 5, 2017

Review: House of Forbidden Secrets

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

House of Forbidden Secrets
Written, filmed, directed and edited by Todd Sheets
Extreme Entertainment / BD Productions / Full Moon Productions
93 minutes, 2014
www.facebook.com/houseofforbiddensecrets 

Although this film was released less than three years before the last one I saw by the director, Dreaming Purple Neon (reviewed HERE), I watched this one shortly after it, and it was interesting to see the differences, and especially the similarities.

Even at this point, Sheets is not new to the director’s table, and that experience and know-how shows, even with a micro-budget. Yeah, this is VHS-1980s-type fare, but it is also no surprise that this has been accepted and shown at dozens of festivals in its nearly four years of existence.

Antwoine Steele
The story starts with it being Jacob Hunt’s (Sheets go-to guy, Antwoine Steele) first day on the job at an office building as a night security guard. Meanwhile, in one of the rooms, a medium named Cassie Traxler (Nicole Santorella) is holding a benign séance to bring back the spirit of a customer’s husband. Instead, she manages to unleash the evil spirit of a demonic priest (the excellent Lew Temple, who has been in a slew of stuff, including The Devil’s Rejects, 31, and a run on The Walking Dead) and the restless souls of those he has killed.

By Cassie’s action, the building’s basement has now turned into the stomping ground of the murdered and angry spirits of a 1930s brothel which we see in flashbacks, that was run by a couple played by the one and only Dyanne Thorne (here not-ironically named after one of her most famous characters in 1977’s Greta, the Mad Butcher, and her husband, Klaus (Howard Maurer, Thorne’s real-life husband). This is Thorne’s first role in nearly a quarter century, and it’s great to see her in all her eye-raising, inconsistent accent acting. This may sound like I’m being negative, but she is amazing and an important touchstone in modern horror history. Plus, she’s still lovely at 70 years old; the Las Vegas air has done her well. As a side note, when I met her in the early ‘90s at a Chiller Theatre in New Jersey, she was very open and sweet.

So our two main characters and a bunch of others (i.e., the fodder), such as the building maintenance guy, a film crew, and Cassie’s assistant, go a-roaming through the endless basement, picked off one by one in a number of gruesome manners, including crucifixion.

Actually, there is a lot of religious overtones throughout the film, including a lustful and murderous priest, and the psychic can be seen as sort of the flip slide of the Christian dogma, but still being a kind-hearted person, i.e., it can be interpreted as someone Christian may be “evil, and another who is pagan can be “good.” Personally, I believe this is a positive thing, because in my book, dogma (formalized religion), especially in today’s Trump-ified United States, shows that belief does not necessarily = peace and love. While I don’t know what the director had in mind, that’s what I read into it.

This certainly is a nicely wet picture, with a few wonderful moments of explicit gore, including a face dismantling, and much of it appears to be appliances. In one of the differences between this and the later film, there is less of a latex look here to the visceral shenanigans and, well, is that the same large intensive? I ask that as a hypothetical question. There is some female nudity, usually with blood splashed on the breasts, but no male, though there are all gendered bits in the later film.

As for similarities between the two pictures, well there definitely are some story motifs that overlap. I’m not implying that one is a remake, or that there is a rip-off, just some interesting turns in an auteur kind of way. For example, both buildings (shot in the same complex, by the way) have unending basements that hold terrors of malevolent and demonous denizens, with a group of fodderites trying to find a way out. And this may be a bemused stretch, but they also both have a strong character whose last name is Cane/Kane.

Nicole Santorella
The acting here is pretty decent, with the zaftig Santorella leading the way. Okay, occasionally there’s the over emphasis here and there, but the cast fares really well. It’s amazing the difference in characters played by Steele here and in Dreaming Purple Neon. The hammiest role award, however, definitely has to go to Lloyd Kaufman in one of his typical vested (does he own any other clothes?) rants, even though this one is “drunken.” Lloyd is always a hoot as the buffoon and humor content, and I hope he keeps on doing it, and there are a couple of nice quick nods to The Toxic Avenger included. I’m just shocked that if Lloyd is here, where is Debbie Rochon? But I digress…

There is an abundance of cameos here that is quite impressive, such as the aforementioned Thorne and Temple, and then there’s the likes of Ari Lehman (the first Jason Voorhees, as a kid), George Hardy from Trolls 2 (1990), and Allan Kayser (from 1986’s Night of the Creeps and TV’s “Mama’s Family”).

The lighting is just right, which is no small thing, as I’ve seen too many films that take place in suspicious and dangerous places where it’s so dark, you lose the action: “Wait, I know there’s something happening, but what the heck, it’s hard to see!” Here it’s pretty clear from beginning to end. The basement set design is also quite well done.

But the most important thing these two have in common, however, is that they are both incredibly watchable and damn good fun.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djkgPhlLJAQ

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Favorites and Not Favorites for 2016

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

It’s that time of the year again, when lists like this pop up, so why should I be different? I will republish the rules I have about such lists first:

I have an issue with “Best of” and “Worst of” year-end lists for the following reasons: most are chosen from either those that play in theaters, or viewed on PPV such as Netflix and film channels by the television provider. For me, I like to watch the DIY ones, rather than those theatre-distributed. These tend to have more heart.  My list consists of films that I saw in 2016, not necessarily ones that were released in that year.

As for Best and Worst, I never liked those terms; art is just way too subjective, which is why I called them Favorites and Not Favorites. That being said, even the “Not” ones have redeeming qualities, and the fact that they don’t touch me means nothing. I’ve hated films that have won tons of awards, so don’t take anything I say, good or bad, as the law. It’s just opinion, and I welcome you to agree or disagree. It’s all good.

These two lists are alphabetical, rather than ranked.

FAVORITES:


Abandoned Dead
Directed by Mark W. Curran
The excellent Sarah Nicklin plays a Californian rent-a-cop security guard that has been assigned to begrudgingly watch over the Mayfield Addiction Clinic over the Memorial Day Weekend. This film is not just about the supernatural (or is it?), but a supernatural thriller (or is it?). See, that’s when a film becomes a thriller, making the watcher wonder. I enjoyed how this careened over a number of genres, such as slasher, doctor experimentation, supernatural, zombie, paranormal, social commentary about family dynamics, psychodrama, crime drama, and straight out horror; and yet, it doesn’t stay in any one stream long enough to overstay it’s welcome, nor pass so fast that it is ignorable. A cameo by NoTLD’s Judith O’Dea also is a bonus.
Original full review HERE


Bubba the Redneck Werewolf
Directed by Brendan Jackson Rogers
Bubba happily works in a go nowhere job, hangs out at the local saloon to buy the cheapest booze they have, and has an unrequited love for Bobbie Jo, but she’s involved with the town bully. Bubba will do anything to get her back, including making a deal with the Devil, who turns him into the titular wolf-man. The humor here is quite broad and warm-hearted, and definitely geared towards appealing to a certain audience; it’s completely Trumpville, such as equating college students with zombies. Even so, this is quite funny, and it all still comes across as good natured and fun, when not dealing with bodily fluids (and gasses).
Original full review HERE

CarousHELL
Directed by Steve Rudzinski
When Steve Rudzinski puts out a film, the viewer is in for a quality show. Here is the thing about absurdist humor: it can be really, incredibly stupid or it can be way smarter than it appears to be. Fortunately, Rudzinski’s work falls on the side to the latter. The basic premise is that a carousel’s wooden unicorn, Duke, has become sentient after an obnoxious kid abuses it/him. Of course, that means the kid must die. His insufferable sister drags him to a party at her friend’s house, where all comers are fodder for the unicorn from (possibly literally) hell. The gore is kinda (purposefully) cheesy, but man, there is a lot of it, and most of it look incredible for its budget. This is the kind of film that you just say “fuck it” to any semblance of logic and watch it for what it is, without any guilt. Don’t expect anything super deep (or super shallow), and enjoy the references as they fly by.
Original full review HERE

Decay
Directed by Joseph Wartnerchaney
How far would you go for company if you were lonely? Rob Zabrecky plays a man who has a case of OCD, and a bit of a Norman Bates vibe to him. A teenage neighbor ends up dead on his basement floor, and in his own twisted way, he now has a friend of sorts. The whole cast is excellent, with just the right amount of pathos and creep factor to keep the attention sharp. She’s the yin of the physical decay, and he’s the yang of the mental one, balancing nicely as they both slide into a kind of sludge. Really nice SFX match the beautiful way it is lovingly shot, including an occasional artistic edge that enhances rather than overdoes the events. There are a number of really decent jump-scares as well.
Original full review HERE

Dreaming Purple Neon
Directed by Todd Sheets
Todd Sheets knows how to work the balance between the simplified and the over the top digitalization. There is a hell of a lot packed into this film, which looks way more than its budget suggests.  The body count alone is bigger than most overall productions. The focus is on a couple of drug dealers who are after someone who nipped their stash. In a separate story, which you just know is going to link up with the other, poor lovesick Dallas has returned to town, mooning over his lost love Denise. The catalyst of all the action is a demon-worshiping cult in a magical and unending basement, which is also a link to hell. As the film flows on, the level of blood (and other secretions) pours ever more. I was more than pleasantly surprised by how much fun it is. From the first scene, we are pulled in, and even most of the expositions move at a decent pace. Stripped down filmmaking has its place, but when you add a flair to it, it’s the mark of a decent director.
Original full review HERE


Hank Boyd is Dead
Directed by Sean Melia
In this story with comedic overtones, the action actually starts post-murders, and the death of the killer, the never-seen titular Hank. It’s at that point we meet our protagonist, a struggling actor who is on her first day of work as a caterer. As much as she is the central character, it’s the Boyd family (and acquaintances) that are the real scene grabbers, as each is looney in their own way. Most of the filmmaking is pretty straightforward, which is a compliment these days: There’s a story and they stick to it. That’s not to say it’s not creative, though. The film never lets up, but does not weary the viewer with undo tropes. It is a taut dynamic that doesn’t pander, and doesn’t let go, right to the end.
Original full review HERE

The Inhabitants: Standard Edition
Directed by the Rasmussen Brothers (Michael and Shawn)
Dan (Michael Reed) and Jessica (Elise Couture Stone) buy a mysterious Salem B&B from a widow who has been sinking into senility. The house was originally owned by a witch who was hanged during the infamous trials. Needless to say, she hasn’t exactly vacated the premises, and pretty soon wifey is under her spell. The premise itself is hardly new; however, the Brothers Rasmussen have taken an old motif and really worked it to the point where I didn’t feel, really?! That is actually saying a lot. Couture is the centerpiece of the film, but Reed is excellent as ever. The house, the lighting, the editing, the acting and the story all work together to create a totally enjoyable ghostie.
Original full review HERE

Invalid
Directed by Dustin Wayde Mills
Andrew (Brandon Salkil), thanks to a previous, pre-storyline accident, is in a catatonic state. His sister, Agnes (Joni Durian) takes over as caretaker. Through the story we quickly learn that Andrew has a way of communicating with Agnes… or does he? How much of this is really happening and how much is in her head, is one of the mind games the film plays with the audience. I was impressed by the murders here, which are so well done. It’s not gory, just really effective. Mills has come to master the simple less-is-more style of presentation that I thoroughly enjoy. Yet, despite the simplicity, Mills often uses some quirk that you just don’t expect. A good story, some great visuals, and a finely honed cast and crew make this another peg in Mills’ directorial cap.
Original full review HERE

Live-Evil
Directed by Ari Kirchenbaum
Officer Hancock (Charlene Amoia) gets called to a rich dude’s mansion to find a bunch of bodies and a naked woman forming out of ash, eyes aglow, aka the “evil.” Arresting her, aware that something is obviously afoot, Hancock puts her in a cell next to a couple of humorous snarky drug dealers. In an extended cameo role is the Candyman (1992) himself, Tony Todd, as an imbibing pastor. Then add some risen undead, affected by the ash that’s floating around the town that looks like snow. Along with the meat and ‘taters/blood’n’bones shooting is also an ample use of digital effects, from the previously described eye glowing and nearly omnipresent ash floating around, then add in some gunshot wounds, people appearing out of thin air, and other assorted gizmos. But there is also some appliance SFX as well. I enjoyed this immensely. Kirchenbaum doesn’t always take the easy or obvious road here. While I would not necessarily call this a comedy, it has some funny moments. It never lets up, it’s rarely predictable, and it kept me interested all the way through. It’s a good watch.
Original full review HERE

Model Hunger
Directed by Debbie Rochon
The main character is Ginny (the ethereal Lynn Lowry), who 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. Moving in next door is a couple (Carmine Capobianco, Troma queen Tiffany Shepis) who have a troubled yet loving marriage. There are some very sharp social commentaries in the themes, such as playing with cultural body image, how mass media dictates “beauty,” and what is commonly known as the male gaze. The kills are masterful, and the gore is plentiful and well done. It builds beautifully in degrees throughout the picture as Ginny goes further off the edge. And with those next door having their own issues, there is a fun time to be had. For a first-time director, the film is actually quite accomplished. Lowry is a gem. Her work here is the best I’ve seen to date. The same could be said about Shepis, who runs the gamut from stressed, to depressed. Rochon did good. Real good.
Original full review HERE

My Master Satan: 3 Tales of Drug Fueled Violence
Directed by Dakota Bailey
This is an anthology film with three dire and overlapping stories of dealers, criminals, psychopaths and drug users that all meld, which is a nice touch. Completely devoid of any kind of humor, these bleak stories rely more on realities, making it cringeworthy (a good thing) to watch these low-lifers react and take actions that would be shocking to most. The group is so vile, and so heinous, that it’s both hard to imagine wanting to remain in their company, yet you’re grateful for the opportunity to do so in the safe haven of your electronic viewing equipment. There is no lead character per se, and it’s seems more like they’re playing themselves than characters, which is quite the compliment. Shot on VHS, it has a look more of 8mm, with mostly a dull sepia tone, scratches, visual and sound noises, and tied up in some sharp and snappingly harsh edits. Bailey directs the film more like a fly on the wall than as a third person, bringing the viewer in on the action rather than merely viewing it. That was a nice touch, and not always easy to achieve without making it into some sort of lost footage. This makes it not necessarily an easy film to snuggle up to like a typical horror or crime drama release, but I believe that if you give it a chance, you may find yourself drawn into the stories.
Original full review HERE

Seven Dorms of Death
Directed by Richard Griffin
In the video nasty days of the 1980s, during the cheapie VHS phase of indie filmmaking, there was a different mindset to making a movie. Getting film was much harder, and it was rare for reshoots, and it was realistic policy to employ as much of the processed film that could be used, even if there was an accident, or an anachronism. It is with this premise as a motif that we are introduced to the 1983 Dunwich High School theater troupe, filled with ‘80s cliché characters. There’s lots of H.P. Lovecraft references, a particular metal band mentioned often supposedly to try to connect with teenaged boys (the audience demographic of the time), and some sex and nudity. It would be nearly impossible to categorize all of the intentional mistakes that were put in the film, such as the dead body breathing, or an actor looking for his mark.  The whole film is hilarious. The body count is high and the gore is, well, strange. There is a lot of it, but much of it is just plain (and, once again, purposefully) silly. Griffin also finds a way to work in gender/sexuality politics. Taken all together, this is a beautifully hot mess that any fan of the ‘80s fan genre will watch with glee. One can’t help but admire Griffin’s acumen in such an output of films, and his merry band of actors keeps on growing – and coming back – which shows that they know they are dealing with a quality product. And, perhaps by the end, you’ll find yourself using one of its wondrous bon mots: “Fuck you, skeleton!”
Original full review HERE

Winners Tape All: The Henderson Brothers Story
Directed by Justin Channell
There is a wave of nostalgia in the genre market for the quickie and cheap films that arose during the 1980s. Okay, sometimes C- or D-level. If one were to look back at some of these releases that we enjoyed so much, would we still find them so fascinating? That is the premise of this mockumentary. During that time period, the fictional West Virginia-based Henderson Brothers, Michael (Zane Crosby) and Richard (Josh Lively) made two straight-to-video films, The Curse of Stabberman and Cannibal Swim Club. Now, the Hendersons also have a both charming and creepy uber cheerleader in Henry Jacoby (Chris LaMartina). Mixed in with the talking-head interviews with the brothers and Henry, we see scenes from their two films, with Michael and Richard giving play-by-plays commentary. Not only financial constraints darken the Bros filmmaking, but so do the occasional rise of sibling rivalry. So this particular film also looks like it was made on a dime, but to the better of the result than the hindrance, since that is the look it was going for. I was smirking at the least and laughing at the high-jinx of these three guys (including Henry).
Original full review HERE


NOT FAVORITES

Consumption (aka Live-In Fear)
Directed by Brandon Scullion
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. Instead we get mixes and matches of a bunch of genre stereotypes that brings us a story that is meandering and somewhat shallow in plot. Two Californian couples heading up to a cabin in Utah. In this case, the “Cabin in the Woods” is actually a huge and beautiful complex of townhouse condos linked together. But as happens too often, the two guys come across as douchebags. The two women have their own baggage, but don’t act like privileged macho morons; rather they seem like they’ve been sedated. 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. I never understood the motivations of their actions, or what are the attractions between them. The acting is fine and some the film looks decent. What few gore effects there are look well done (all appliance, not digital), though most are shown after the fact. For me, the weakest spot is the writing / storyline. It’s a bit too chaotic and possibly too ambitious for its framework and budget, and yet tells so very little of what is occurring, or why.
Original full review HERE

Death’s Door (aka The Trap Door)
Directed by Kennedy Goldsby
We meet a bunch of overage teens that get a mysterious and anonymous invitation to attend a party at a maudlin mansion. Most of the dozen or so kids are nothing short of stereotypes of obnoxious characters, such as the pretty mean girl, the virgin guy with bad salon’d hair, the jocks, the chestbeating morons, and the “good girl.” When they get into the mansion, the doors lock, and they naturally panic and turn on each other. Also inhabiting the house are three ghosts. As for most of the rest of the cast, they’re kind of bland characters. Some of the acting is fine, but it’s either overwrought or underplayed, mixed with highly questionable storytelling and editing, that I kept waiting for someone to start shouting “Game over, maaan! Game over!” in that Dana Carvey voice imitating the guy in Aliens (1986). And yet, even with all the shenanigans going on, hook-ups continue to happen. Whaaaa? Bummed me out, because I wanted to really like this.
Original full review HERE

The Devil’s Forest
(aka The Devil Complex; The Devil Within)
Directed by Mark Evans                                   
The Hoia-Baciu Forest is a real place that is known as one of the most haunted forests in the world. This a found footage film about a trio of filmmakers scared in the wood who “were never seen again.” Sound familiar? Right at the front of the film, we’re told they die. Woo-hoo. There is a student, Rachel, and two macho putzes: Tom the interpreter and, Joe. For some reason, they pick the dead of winter, with the forest full of snow, as the time to go venturing, giving the first big whaaaaaaat? moment.  Of course the guide runs off, leaving the trio with no map, no food, and a lot of anger and especially angst. So they walk through the snow, and bicker. There’s nothing more exciting that watching people walk through the snow except possibly watching people running through a snowy forest in the dark by the light of the camera, as also occurs. They run the camera the whole time and never mention new batteries. This really is a watered-down winterized retelling of Blair Witch Project.
Original full review HERE

The Purging Hour (aka Home Video)
Directed by Emmanuel Giorgio Sandoval
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). 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. There is the handsome and muscular father and beautiful mother, their typically over-emotional beautiful teenage daughter and her handsome and model-type boyfriend who is there to help, and a young teen son. Using a single handheld camera, they tape each other incessantly through the most mundane stuff. This includes some personal conversations for which no one in their right mind would have a camera on, making some of the characters kind of unlikeable. Essentially, the first hour is like watching someone else’s home movies. My annoyance, however, is with the little things that make no sense that stands out perhaps because of the slow nature of the film. For example, there is a blackout in the house yet in the kitchen you can see the blue, electric digital clock on the fridge. I totally respect that Sandoval used a largely Latino cast, but considering there are three writers, 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 at the end, however, aren’t enough to save this, unfortunately.
Original full review HERE