Monday, November 20, 2017

Review: Night Zero

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


Night Zero
Written and directed by Mark Cantu
Lost Empire; Cineworx; Tredd Productions;//; Dreaming Droids Productions
81 minutes, 2017

First of all, right off the cudgel let me posit that Night Zero is a great title. For those who don’t know, when the word “zero” follows a noun, it usually means “where the destruction began,” such as the first known to die of AIDS being called “Patient Zero.”

As the prologue shows, there is some kind of explosion that releases a chemical gas – it’s ambiguous by whom – with a toxin that increases the person’s rage, and also takes away all inhibitions. Thereby, the infected becomes extremely angry and violent without the compulsion of socially constructed guilt. One might think from the trailer that this is yet another zombie movie, but rather it’s more insanity with the blood lust, without the need to consume said blood or body parts. Just Me Smash!

Dawnelle Jewell, Monisha B. Schwartz, Katie Maloney
For the meat of the film, we are introduced to three couples who come together to celebrate the moving away of Sophie (Dawnelle Jewell) and Eric (Vincent Bombara) from a small-ish town in Pennsylvania (more on that in a sec) to Boston. Joining them are interracial couple Monica (the fabulously monikered Monisha B. Schwartz) and Danny (Umar Faraz), and the two main protagonists who are on the verge of separation, Nina (Katie Maloney) and CJ (Eric Swader).

For the first 20 minutes or so, we get to hang out with these three pairs, as they talk, argue, talk, argue, celebrate, and then talk some more. For an action film, there is a lot of conversation at the onset, but I have come to believe that when cinema historians look back on the horror genre of this period, they will come to the conclusion that the first 20 minutes of most films is basically lead-up time and exposition.

This all takes place in a burg about 20 miles away from Pittsburgh (actually filmed an hour south of Steel City). Of course, Pittsburgh is a touchstone town for this kind of story as most of the …of the (Living) Deads took place in that area, thanks to the godfather of the modern zombie and violently looney genres, George A. Romero.

There are many film references and hallmarks that are reminiscent of others that came before. Let’s start with the local, mainly being the trapped in the house as the infected try to get in of Night of the Living Dead (1968), and the diseased violence of the Crazies (1973). But here, those effected by the gas can run (though we don’t see much of that), such as in 28 Days Later… (2002). Like 28 Days, neither that nor this is a zombie film per se, but rather both pertain to a disease or infection, and this is certainly closer to 28 Days than to NotLD. There is also the cabin-in-the-woods claustrophobic feel and fear of Cabin Fever (2002), and the last is the slow, inevitability of On the Beach (1959).

Eric Swader and Umar Faraz
Especially once the film gets on its hind legs, there is a lot to like about it. For example, whether you like them or not, the main characters feel like real people; they make good or bad choices, but mostly it feels realistic, such as Monica wanting to go home even though there is extreme danger in the streets and a greater possibility of absorption of the gas. They also turn on each other out of fear, even after years of friendship, which also feels accurate to me. But on a more subtle note, the audience begins to wonder about how much of the anger this group exhibits among itself is the onset of the toxin, or just righteous indignation and anxiety.

What especially impressed me was that while the cast is certainly attractive, they also have more of an everyday look, rather than as if their second jobs are models. For example, while low on role credits in IMDB, Maloney would be more believable to me as Tonya Harding in the new film, I Tonya, than poster queen Margot Robbie (plus, I believe Maloney would do a great job of it).

Writer (and director) Mark Cantu wisely adds two characters later on: a cop (Mike Dargatis) and a scienist (in this case, the ironically named Tom Mirth), who both help with exposition and to be the connection to what is happening beyond the door – which is locked, but never barred, even with all the glass.

Going against the grain, I’m guessing in part due to direction and budget constraints, this is more of a thriller than a gorefest, into which it could easily have waded. There is some violence, and there are spurts of the salty red stuff, but it’s kept at a minimum and is not a key part of the zestiest. It’s more about how the characters interact with each other and their situation that is the locus focus.

For me, the one flaw is that the protagonists are trying to avoid being seen by whomever is out there, yet walk around with flashlights on making themselves targets. Me? I would turn off all the lights to avoid attraction, but they’re swinging the huge torches around, even when not needed, such as waking through the center of town.

Despite the budget and a few of the actors with limited credits, the cast is quite strong and work together well. With a mixture of good writing, editing that isn’t in hyper speed, and a wise use of the unseen (such as being able to hear the screams and sirens from outside with needing to drive the audience into it), Cantu comes up with a film that is subtle and one that becomes more interesting as time passes over its single night.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review: Effects

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


Effects
Directed by Dusty Nelson
AGFA / Something Weird Video / Bududa Inc. / MVD Visual
84 minutes, 1980 / 2005 / 2017
https://www.americangenrefilm.com

So-called snuff films became a focus in American culture during the late 1970s and early ‘80s, in large part, for two reasons. The first was due to some pretty bad films such as Snuff (1975), which supposedly had a real snuff scene at the end (any seasoned SFX fan could see that it was fake), and the Faces of Death series (which was also bogus when concerning humans). The other was the rising video boom that was desperately in need for film fodder for fans, and would take anything they could find and put it out there in the exploding video store market. Snuff, a film that probably would have easily passed into the mire of bad cinema along with the Face of Death, found new life and became shocking sensations that made national news.

This led to a series of “realistic” releases trying to ride the wave. Hell, no one would have probably even heard the word “snuff” if it weren’t for those reasons. But it did lead us to Dusty Nelson’s film, Effects. Thanks to a revival of the VHS craze from that period, which has now passed into the nostalgia phase, companies like American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) are putting out hi-def, Blu-ray versions of these very same films. In this case, thanks to distribution and legal issues, this film was not actually released until 2005 on DVD, and now this Blu-ray from a rare print (more on the quality later). Thing is, as bad as some of these releases are, I’m glad they are given new – err – life.

Joseph Pilato, Tom Savini
Essentially, in a convoluted way, the film plays with the notions of what is real, what is pretend, and what happens when they mix in the world of film (although there are some moments that seem like it’s television). This is what is facing the dating couple of special effects expert/cameraman Dom (Joseph Pilato) and actress Celeste (Susan Chapek); they – and others – are caught in a web of confusion, like the audience. How will this effect the director, Lacey (John Harrison), fellow actors Barney (Bernard McKenna), Rita (Debra Gordon) and Nicky (SFX wizard Tom Savini in one of his early acting roles)? The big question, however, appears to be how far would/should/could one go to make a film?

Though I’m certain they were just trying to keep current, it’s interesting to me how many then-current cultural signifiers they use throughout the film, such as someone playing the electronic game Simon, or all the drug references (e.g., lines of coke and Maryjane). Then there’s the clothing, such as the common place jeans-and-tees (with images like The Rocky Horror Picture Show logo from 1977). There are other small touchstones, similar to a take-off of the Bill Saluga classic, “You doesn’thave to call me Johnson” bit.  There are more references in here than in a Family Guy episode. Heck, there’s even a bit of a soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Richard II.

Susan Chapek
Speaking of the “looks of then,” it’s amazing how the look and pacing of the film is like porn films of the period. Yeah, there’s a couple of (female) nudie scenes, such as the then-obligatory and totally unnecessary-to-the-story shower scene that opens up the pic, but nothing that would really qualify as even softcore. And yet, the feel of the film, the pacing, acting and ambiance screams late ‘70s adult cinema.

That being said, much of the cast and crew are part of the Pittsburgh area film group, which included George A. Romero (RIP). Many of the cast and crew were in front or behind (or both) the camera on numerous Romero releases. In fact, one of the lead actors, Pilato, would play a pivotal role (and have an iconic scene) in Day of the Dead (1985).

Filmed in a pre-MTV period, by the standards of even a couple of years later, the camera is quite static, with long shots and dialogue that keeps the story at a steady pace, as we get to know, although not necessarily like (which is the point), most of the main characters. The camera pretty much sits there, or just lazily cuts from character to character.

Debra Gordon (Bernard McKenna in mirror)
Along with the languid pace until the last 15 minutes, even though there are some decent moments of tension throughout, the film bleeds out rather than spurts. I wish the story was a bit clearer as it was happening, but even with all the character build-up, there isn’t much to connect to with hardly anyone. This is not helped by the very grainy visuals (shot in 16mm) and spotty sound, but I’m glad to have had a chance to see this almost-lost piece of cinema history from a very specific period of time.

The first extra is the 59-minutes documentary After Effects: Memories of Pittsburgh Filmmaking (2005; Red Shirt Pictures), directed by Michael Felsher, in which Felsher interviews the cast and crew 27 years later in Los Angeles. The arc is how the director and his team first got into making indie films (then called guerilla filmmaking) including and documentaries and commercials, and grew into raising the funds and gathering all the threads with enough cojones to make Effects. Also featured and interviewed is the late, great Romero (d. 2017). There are also some cleaned-up clips both visually and audibly from the film that I wish had been the whole film proper. Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of watching this long featurette because I thought I was going to be bored by it for the hour, but it’s actually quite well done and kept my interest throughout. There is an additional After Effects full-length commentary with the director. Much of the talking is about the distribution deal that squashed the original film, and how it eventually came out. It’s also the link between Effects and After Effects. Not overly exciting stuff, honestly, but somewhat interesting in its historical perspective. To be truthful, I made it through about the first 20 minutes.

Next up are two rare shorts. The first is the 12-minute Ubu (1973), an experimental picture directed by John Harrison, who plays the director in Effects. He actually has a few really nice credits under his belt, including the 2000 mini-series version of Dune. Here, we meet the titular Ubu, who is the tyrant of a Dark Ages version of Poland (or, as the marionette narrator states, “that is to say, nowhere”). It’s definitely a piece for its time, in a period of paranoia about the Nixon Administration. This is followed by Dusty Nelson’s 15-minute Beastie. Chris (Paula Swart) is hitchhiking and gets picked up by George (Steve Pearson). They instantly start a relationship, and we follow it until… well, I’ll not give it away. It’s also a story of its generation, which seems to be just-post-hippie.

Last up is the 2005 full-length commentary with Nelson, Harrison and Pasquale Buba, who all make up the production company, Bududa Inc. It’s a quite decent combination of technical matters, anecdotes and intentions. They work really well together, and it shows in the way they respectfully let each other finish their own bits, such as positing what the film is actually about: “…What’s real and what’s not, and if you don’t know the difference, does it matter?” Even though it’s hard to tell who is telling what story, it really isn’t important because it’s the content of the tale that matters. It was interesting throughout.

In some ways Effects reminds me of Maniac (also 1980, and name checked in one form or another in the documentary sides, which is not surprising considering Savini also worked on that one), which also had an appearance and – err – effects by Savini. I would recommend any fan of the VHS or Pittsburgh film school to see Effects, because it is an important piece of work, even with its occasional wonkiness.




Friday, November 10, 2017

Review: The Faith Community

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


The Faith Community
Directed by Faith R. Johnson     
Vicious Apple Productions
88 minutes, 2017
While I’m generally over the whole found footage genre, every once in a while someone uses it effectively, though that’s rare and far between. Guess which side of the coin this one turns up on, thank Jeebus?
Jeffrey Brabant, Janessa Floyd
On the car ride over to Camp Nazareth, we meet a trio of college students. The leader of this particular group is Hannah (Janessa Floyd), who is president of the school’s Christian club. Although opinionated, rather than making her self-righteously obnoxious like, say, Tracy Flick in Election (1999) or obnoxiously overbearing like, well, most of the present US government, she actually seems like a nice person… But not to the level that I’d necessarily want to hang out with her, or agree with her much. This alone tells you that something here is going to be different.
Her two companions are Andrew (Aidan Hart) and Colin (Jeffrey Brabant). The former is obviously interested in experimenting with religion, though not as obsessed as a believer, and the latter seems to be along for the ride; he’s profane and less Biblically knowledgeable than his companions. These two guys do most of the filming.
The point of the road trip is to hook up with a religious community that Hannah found online for a Bible study weekend retreat, but once they get there, duh, it’s a not exactly what they expect. The sheer “rustic-ness” (i.e., camping) of the group is only the beginning.
Jeremy Harris
The leader of this smallish and cultish clan is a 30-year-old man (Jeremy Harris) who calls himself “The Messenger.” As for Harris, despite this being his only listed IMDB credit, gives a chilling performance with a mix of confidence, child-like exuberance, devotion, and… seemingly just a touch of madness.
Do I really need to say that things gets progressively stranger as time goes on, so I don’t need to say “spoiler alert”? If I’ve ruined anything for you in this paragraph, you need to see more fictional films about religious cults. Y’knowhadimsayin’?
Even though this release has some of the things I truly dislike the most about found footage, including running, pointing at the ground, pointing at the sky, and characters talking while the camera is pointed elsewhere, all things considered it’s possibly one of the better ones I’ve seen in a while that I can think of, at least since The Changing of Ben Moore (2015).
In fact, much of the film has a kind of fuzzy look that is often washed out in sunlight, almost like it was filmed through some kind of gauze. This gives it a kind of VHS feel, though I’m not sure that was intended. The poster of the film gives some idea of what I’m trying to explain.
Aiden Hart
There is nothing supernatural in the film, no great goat-headed demon rising out of the ground to rip souls and bodies to shreds, but that’s part of what makes the story so potent and chilling, in that we are dealing with mere humans with expectations of God and the Devil. What I mean by that is, well, I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Oh, Lord, protect me from your believers.” I think that is a bit too broad and inaccurate. A more suiting message that would be applicable here (and life) is, “Oh, Lord, protect me from your interpreters.” I only needs to watch modern televangelists to get what I mean (i.e., “My God can beat up your God, even if it’s the same God”).
The screenplay and story by director Faith (yeah, I snorted back a bit of a laugh at that piece of irony) Johnson and Robert Trezza is pretty interesting, but it is the acting by the troupe that really brings this to life. I wonder how much of this is written dialog and what percentage is ad-libbed, because there are some long stretched of talking very fast. I am assuming a bit of both, but it’s blended really well. Most off-the-cuff conversations tend to be clumsy, but here it stays where it should, with the storyline.
Most found footage is a lot of cockiness followed by the comeuppance of running around screaming, and while there is a bit of that here, too, the strength of the cast makes it work rather than be an annoyance. The proof is in the long shots of conversations or rantings that hit all the marks, and keep the viewer interested.
I also liked how there were a few set pieces of Colin and Andrew interviewing some of the cult members in extended Q&As or monologs that were as spooky as an action piece, such as with The Messenger, or Michael (Oliver Palmer). But what I also found impressive is that for most of the cast this is, if not their first credit, then one of few, including the director.
Nicely done is that sometimes the camera would be focusing on someone talking as something is happening in the background, and you’re aware that the person shooting it is just as aware as you are. It’s like, “Wait, am I seeing that right?”
Sure, it’s shot amateurishly (on purpose is my guess) with a single camera and no musical soundtrack, but for once it’s more honest that way. I still have an issue with how a camera can keep running for so long without being recharged, as there is obviously no electricity going on at cultville, but in this rare case I’m willing to forgive it for the sake of a rare, decent found footager.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Review: Halloween Pussy Trap Kill! Kill!

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


Halloween Pussy Trap Kill! Kill! (aka Halloween Hell House)
Directed and edited by Jared Cohn
Cleopatra Entertainment / MVD Visual
82 minutes, 2017

To be honest with all  y’alls, this review is going to be a bit schizophrenic, or at least seeing both sides of the coin, as it were. Take it as you wish, just know it is honest.

 The obligatory story prologue takes place on a Pakistan battlefield in which some US soldiers come under direct attack by the bad guys, including one who has great indignities done to his body and mind.

From there we are taken to a more present Halloween where all-girl “punk” band Kill, Pussy, Kill are playing a show at a club and are preparing to take a van to play their biggest one yet at a festival. Their cliché and bright colored costumes remind me more of the Josie and the Pussycats film with more skin and tighter tops than, say, anything Riot Grrrl. With internal stress brewing within the group and the male manager (white dreads? really? why not a man-bun?) who is trying to keep them all together, they end up in a situation that is thematically more reminiscent of the Saw franchise, Cube (1997), or In the House of Flies (2012).

They are under the control of some guy doing a Jigsaw in another room, playing “games” with the group white sitting in front of video monitors, where they have to make life and death choices or suffer harsh consequences, such as being sprayed with an acidic liquid (don’t worry, I won’t give too much away).

Sometimes it feels like the women aren’t characters, but rather they are just there for the body count. There is very little we know about them, or even learn to care about. This is a flaw of many of these types of films. In the three previously similar storylines I mentioned above, they all gave us people rather than characters who the viewer may not even know what they are named.

When the architect of the whole experiment explains why he’s conducting it, one of the Pussy members says it best for me: “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” The Saw series was essentially a morality tale about our culture (or at least they started that way), but this one lacks that, though it seems to try to give the “don’t waste your life” message while wasting lives: when I was in elementary school, we had to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the weekly assembly. If we stumbled with it or seemed unenthusiastic, the Assistant Principal would get angry and scream at us from the stage, “There are boys dying overseas for you, so you better say it again with meaning!” That’s a similarly nonsensical comment as to why these women are put through these rigors.

Among other things, part of the problem to me is that some of it is not very well researched. For example, at some point the nerve gas sarin is used, as we see it fill a room. Even the most basic of research will show that it is odorless and colorless (it’s a florescent hue here). Also, after being sprayed, the effected in this basement torture chamber live, even though the smallest amounts of the gas are extremely toxic (thank you, Wikipedia).

The voice of the villain, who is swathed in bandages, is Dave Mustaine of Megadeth. This is a similar theme to In the House of Flies, where the bad guy is voiced by Henry Rollins of Black Flag (etc.). At least Henry’s is instantly recognizable. Mustaine? Not so much (at least not to me).

Now, before y’all get on my case about the negativity, I do want to say that a bit after the halfway mark, when “new players join the game” (as the swathed one posits), the film starts to get better. However, I find it interesting that the strongest character is a man, as one is also the weakest (his companion). The women vary in strength but tend to get a bit screechy, rather than steely.

Richard Grieco
Part of what improves the story is beyond the basement. We learn that Mr. Bandageface is not alone in this escapade, but has an equally insane nephew, spouse, and possibly…a child? Anyway, the wife is played with extreme gusto by Kelly Erin Decker, who I think makes her scenes standouts. She’s hysterical in a killer statuesque, cute and nerdy-looking way; I want to see a film of just her character. Richard Grieco (who is also a producer) shows some aplomb as the drawling garage owner that brings the group into the situation in the first place. I’m not totally sure, but they seem like the family out of House of 1,000 Corpses (2003), more than The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) or The Hills Have Eyes (1977).

The basement setting is an old one, again reminiscent of Saw, which seems to be the go-to theme, as the victims go from room to room, with commands that are disastrous to others, and even to the psyche of those who continue on.

There is a smear of gratuitous nudity (not a complaint), but what stands out even more is the gore. It looks flippin’ great. Ron Karkoska does a bang-up job on the makeup effects, all of it practical as far as I could tell. There’s lots of it, as well, so that was quite satisfying.

Also a stand-out is the acting by the whole cast. Although Decker won my heart in her naturalness, that does not take away from any of the cast. No wooden line readings, just full gusto. The big cameo, though, is held by Oscar winner Margaret O’Brien (that young girl who sat by Judy Garland as she sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in Meet Me in St. Louis in 1944), who appears as a drug-induced hallucination. Nice touch having her as an evil grandma!

As for the extras, well, there is a ton, many of them different variations of a “Making Of.” To start, there’s “Basement of Blood” (4:51), “Behind the Scenes” (8:27) that is called “Plot Description” on the menu, and a “Video Diary” (10:03) which focuses on Richard Grieco, how the Kill Pussy Kill band originated, and the final day of shooting (the prologue). A cool featurette is a mock “ZH1 Beyond the Music” (7:32) documentary about the band after the whole situation (with one of the Pussy’s putting on an out-of-context British accent) that is about twice as long as it needs to be. There’s also a nice focus on “Jared Cohn: Director of Horror and Action (6:24)”. In addition are two music videos, one by Jyrk!: “Last Halloween” (4:03) in which the singer seems to be channeling the emo version of Dave Vanian, and Kill Pussy Kill’s “Superstar” (3:22). Last up is a Slideshow (2:10) and the film’s trailer (1:41).

This is conjecture on my part, but I am surmising that the problem is that the director, Jared Cohn, is possibly a bit too prolific? I kinda wish he would focus more on the project on hand and not worry so much about everything else. If he did even two or three films a year instead of five or six, the quality control may be a bit more followed through. I truly respect his work ethic, and some of his films, but I do wish he would slow that mustang down, Sally. I mean that as a positive statement, because his films look good (Director of Photography Pascal Combes-Knoke deserves a huge nod for that, too), from lighting and editing, but it’s the story quality that feels rushed.

I like the hats off to Russ Meyer in this film’s title, but I also appreciate the original name which is often referred to in the extras, Halloween Hell House. But fear not, it can still be used, as they have set it up so it can be a franchise if it catches on. And honestly, compared to what’s out there these days, it could and possibly should. But please, one film at a time! Who loves ya, baby?!




Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Review: Bonehill Road

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

Bonehill Road
Written, directed and edited by Todd Sheets
Extreme Entertainment / Eclipse Video /
Fuzzy Puppy Filmworx / Lycanthrope Motion Pictures
89 minutes, 2017
www.zombiebloodbath.com/bonehillroad.html

After a health hiatus, long-haired director Todd Sheets came back stronger than ever with the likes of House of Forbidden Secrets  (2013) and Dreaming Purple Neon  (2016). Now he’s dipped his toe into the waters of the even shaggier werewolf genre.

I haven’t seen many decent lycan films since Ginger Snaps (2000), though there have been the occasional ones like Sheep Skin  (2013) and Bubba the Redneck Werewolf (2014). No, I do not count the Twilight series as werewolf films, nor decent (though the first Underworld [2003] was okay).

My theory for the reason why werewolf releases are far and in-between is the cost of either the costumes or making digi versions. Most are full body suits, which tend to be cumbersome, or if digitized, take a full team to make it look good.

For this film, Sheets takes an interesting approach, asking us to question which is worse, the big bad trio of wolves outside the door, or the human monster inside with the knife and sadistic attitude. That is the predicament in which Todd has placed his main characters.

Anna Rojas-Plumberg and Eli DeGeer
Emily (Eli DeGeer) and her teenage daughter Eden (Anna Rojas-Plumberg) are on the run from one human monster, an abusive husband (Aaron Brazier, who has some great tats on his forearms, including Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Monster and Johnny Rotten Lydon). When their car is toast, in part due to the hairy trio, they wind up in a house with serial killer Coen (Douglas Epps) and his hostages, Tina (Millie Milan), Lucy (Dilynn Fawn Harvey), and Suzy (an extended cameo by Linnea Quigley).

Between our furry friends outside and the less hairy one inside, there is a lot of damage that happens to everyone involved, leading to tons of carnage and gore. Luckily, both of those are Sheets’ specialities, and so is a touch of nudity for which Harvey amply lends a – err – hand in that department.

Douglas Epps
While presented more as a werewolf flick, there is equally, if not more so, the dichotomy of what happens inside the house with the human monster as with the beasties without. That’s part of what makes this so interesting, rather than being just the dangers of a straightforward supernatural or shaggy human creature.

Also at the heart of the whole visual is that all of the effects and wolfie-poos are practical SFX rather than digital. Sure, the wolves kinda appear as people in full body costumes, but they actually look really good most of the time. The masks are also easily identifiable individually, so you know which is which. You can tell a lot of effort was placed into the costumes, which made me smile. As for the gore, other than sometimes the occasional innards looking a bit like pasta, the effects are quite well done. Sheets tends to show the carnage in extreme close-up, which is both fun for the viewer and I’m sure makes it easier for the filmmaker to use body doubles (which is totally forgivable if it works, which it does in this case).

Linnea Quigley (on the right)
Most of the acting is quite powerful. Other than the occasional over-emoting, such as Epps sporadic high-pitched maniacal laugh, the cast – including Epps – is pretty solid. As the two leads, Plumberg and especially DeGeer hold their own as strong women who are put in extraordinary circumstances. Even Quigley, who on occasion has had trouble with her boundaries (under- or overacting, as do her contemporaries, Brinke S. and Michelle B.), nails it here.

Generally speaking, there tends to be two types of werewolf films: the first is when the bearer of the curse becomes an out of control animal, such as in An American Werewolf in London (1981); the other is where they keep their wits and just like to screw with their prey, no matter what the form, like in The Howling (also 1981). This one falls into the latter category. While the werewolves, who were able to break through doors and rip a tire to shreds with a swipe of its claws, apparently could not seem to break through the windows of the house, even when banging on the glass – when I saw this, I said an audible, “Hunh?” – it was then pointed out to me by Sheets that the monsters were playing "cat and mouse" with the occupants. That makes a lot more sense to me.

IThe rest of the film looks great, with sharp editing and visuals. There is nothing really fancy here, no “artistic flares,” which suits me just fine. A meat and ‘taters creature feature is just what the witch doctor ordered for this Halloween.

If I had a wish, it would be the occasional dark humor here and there, but you know what, that’s my own thing and not the film’s fault. There are some nods, though, such as Quigley’s tee, a character named after Stephen Biro from Unearthed Films, another for Rolfe Kanefsky who recently directed The Black Room, and one called Tucker Woolf  

Of course, watch after the credits as an epilogue has become as nearly omnipresent as a prologue. As werewolfian cinema goes, this is pretty impressive and another positive notch on Sheets’ cinematic rap – err – sheet.

Trailer is HERE

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Review: Murder Made Easy

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



Murder Made Easy
Directed by David Palamaro
No-Money Enterprises / Lock and Key Films
76 minutes, 2017

I found it kind of humorous, for a number of reasons, that part of the story in the film sprung from a previous play production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, in which many of the characters performed together a few years earlier.

First of all, the whole film production reads like a play. It’s heavy in dialogue, mostly takes place in a single room, and the pacing of the whole thing could easily be mounted on a stage. As far as Christie goes, this also feels very Frank Capra-esk in the way the words are spoken in a quick and light patter. This murder mystery has been compared to the game Clue, but I definitely believe that it’s more the source material of the dining room murder mystery that they have in common rather than the end piece.

In a theatrical way, there are title cards announcing the various acts, and there’s even an intermission (albeit brief), which helps keep track of just where the viewer is in the process, and also giving us some point of reference about both the story and the food.

Did I mention the food yet? There’s plenty of it as we watch course after course being consumed, each one unique and all looking very tempting – and occasionally healthy.

This is a very dark comedy. How dark is it, I can hear Ed McMahon asking in my head? If this film were chocolate, it would be 90% cacao or more. Of course, that is definitely part of its charm. Like most murder mysteries – again, let’s use Christie as an example – there are a lot of characters most foul, and even more important, there is double-crosses upon double-crosses.

Jessica Graham
In the story, Joan Chandler’s (Jessica Graham, who is also one of the film’s producers and published author of a non-fiction book on good sex) husband Neil (Neal?) has been dead for a year. Not happy with the way her husband was treated by his friends, she and mutual pal Michael (Christopher Soren Kelly) decide to take matters into their own hands, and make things right by… well, the title is more than just a hint.

Each of the guests, who arrive in serial fashion, are acquaintances of Neil, who have either worked at the Theater Department of the local university, and have all performed as a troupe in one of his productions. Guests are an amusing yet annoyingly self-righteous vegan (Emilia Richeson), a self-quoting psychobabbling passive-aggressive author (Sheila Cutchlow, who also is actually a published author), a not-too-bright wannabe documentary filmmaker (Daniel Ahearn), and a co-professor (Edmund Lupinski). Gifting each of their dinner companions with objects that were Neil’s that reflect just why the widow feels slighted on his behalf, it isn’t long before things get pretty tense.

Jessica Graham and Christopher Soren Kelly
The cast is really tight, like they’ve been doing this particular piece for a while. Solid professionalism. While there are some standout performances, there is not a weak moment in the acting, from opening scene to close. That being said, it feels like the camera loves Graham and either keeps gravitating to, or lingering on her. Luckily, Graham can handle it, as she says so much with a snide smile, a frown, or a subtle shift in mood. Kelly is the yin to her yang, a ball of kinetic energy to her nuances. They spin around each other like a double helix, boosting each other’s characters.

Of course, though it needs not to be said if you are at all familiar with the style, little is as it seems. There is a lot of smoke and mirrors, as there should be in this kind of story, and I recommend giving yourself enough time to watch it twice, to catch all the – err – clues you may have missed (I would say the same about some of the more extensive Christie pieces).

In case I haven’t made it clear, this is a strong and solid piece of work. The writing is crisp and sharp as a razor, which never takes the easy way out, even by the end (which, of course, I will not give away… no spoiler alerts). Considering the confined space, the camera does not feel claustrophobic, which is quite the accomplishment in itself.

With the large amount of bodies piling up in corners of the house, there actually is very little blood, and the violence is often blocked by the way the shots are – err – blocked by the director.

For a set piece with a lot of dialog and extremely lengthy shots (i.e., less editing), there is also enough of a high energy level to transfer to the viewer so it doesn’t seem as static as it actually is onscreen. While I tend of find Christie a bit tedious, the pace remains fluid rather than stodgy even though this is kind of modeled after that paradigm, so I was riveted by what was unfolding before me. This is an example of good filmmaking.

The only negative I can say about this movie is that I can almost guarantee you’re gonna be hungry, and for something more substantial than fast food. Like this film, which is a fine vintage, quality stands out.

Trailer is HERE.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Review: Strapped for Danger

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


Strapped for Danger
Directed and edited by Richard Griffin
Scorpio Films Releasing
73 minutes, 2017

So, here’s the thing: I have some film reviews to catch up on, and am even in the middle of one I am enjoying, but I was just given the opportunity to see this newest Richard Griffin film, and my writing world fucking came to a halt. Despite Griffin’s tendency to be extremely prolific by averaging two to three films a year up to this point, for those of us who revel in indies, this is an event to be taken seriously, no matter how ludicrous the premise of the film. As far as the ridiculousness level goes, well, check out the trailer below. Needless to say, I am chomping at the bit, as it were, in a non-S&M innuendo way.

Playwright Duncan Pflaster has come up with a script that sort of crosses a host of genres such as Ocean’s 11 (et al.) and Thelma and Louise (1991) group crime dramady, male stripper and drag queen love stories like Magic Mike (2012) and To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995), in addition to the wild frat houses of Animal House (1978), and then tossed the whole thing over the rainbow of any sense of sanity. But does it all work? Let you know when I’m done…

The basic premise is as follows: Some male strippers rob the club in which they dance, kidnap a copper, and hide out in an accomplice’s ex-fraternity, which happens to be during pledge hell week. While this takes place in Boston, it could be any college as in that city you can just about throw a Trojan and hit one.

Anthony Gaudette
We meet non-exclusive strippers and lovers Joey (Anthony Gaudette) who is the ringleader, and Matt (Diego Guevara), and their pan-sexual-yet-semi-closeted always-in-sunglasses friend Chuck (Dan Mauro) at the Bigg Club, where they work. And apparently where they rob, when they take off with the joint’s money, the customer’s clothes and wallets, and a kidnapped police officer named – of course – Rod (C. Gerlad Murdy).

With Rod’s partner Elaine (Anna Rizzo) in hot (in more ways than one) pursuit, you know it’s all circling around to a confrontation of a possible South-of-the-Border-named-stand-off (see the film to get the joke).

Unlike, say, Magic Mike, the love focus of the story is not boy-meets-girl, but boys-screw-boys, and there are a lot of male genitalia on display. Luckily, I don’t have that cultural thing that many straight guys have where they are put off by others’ peni because they are under the belief it will make others think they are gay. Body parts are body parts, and there’s always Sarah Reed’s nudity in the film to keep anyone else hopefully contented. But the male nipples and naughty bits, as it were, far outnumber the female. 

Diego Guevara
Which brings me to a point that I find quite interesting: as I mentioned Thelma and Louise above, this film is sort of the reverse side of it (and many other “chick flicks” – a term I’m not always comfortable with, by the way), where it’s the men who are the dashing anti-heroes, and the women are those who are obnoxious and overbearing. Please note that I find the idea of this quite amusing. This is the flip of a much more common thread of women good/men bad motif

There is a nice mixture of insane love, real love, and just rubbing against each other to cause sparks. As he has done in previous films such as The Sins of Dracula (2014), Griffin shows straight sex as boring and missionary, but male-with-male as much more exciting. But what makes this all work, honestly, is the level of humor employed. Pflaster’s writing is sharp as a tack, and I found myself laughing often. There’s no great Dickensian comeuppance, though I’m sure they could figure out a way to make that into a suitable innuendo as they do often in the story. However, there are many revelations and a few surprises in store. And my favorite line may actually be an ad lib, spoken by Rizzo, who demands, “What in the raging shits is this?” in a kind of updated Dorothy Parker query.

Speaking of which, let me discuss the cast a bit. Anthony Gaudette can be seen as the – err – straight man, as it were, as he is the one in charge, and he feeds the comic lines to others more than he takes them on himself. In the ‘60s, his character would probably have a name like Colt Steele. With dashing good looks in a pre-chub Ben Affleck kind of way, his has a good handle on who his character is about. Guevara, on the other hand, looks like a cute puppy with a biting wit and some killer dance moves. He makes Matt loveable, yet sharp, and Guevara has the ability to play to both sides well. The chemistry between the two is a large part of what makes this film work so well.

Sarah Reed and Dan Mauro
As for the two main female characters, Rizzo plays a classically hard-boiled, tabacca-chewin’ police officer who feels the unrequited nth degree for her abducted partner. She plays it a bit over the top, which is actually nice to see because she usually plays her parts very subtly and nuanced. As I’ve seen her do some quite serious and heavy roles, it’s nice to see her take a comic, anger-fueled character that if the genders were reversed, might be played by someone like Jack Nicolson or (and this is a stretch) Edgar Kennedy. The lead villain is the hyper-sexualized (i.e., the frat slut) Beverly, handled well by Sarah Reed. With a snort to punctuate the end of each sentence and a Lawng Eyeland-ish accent reminiscent of the Lina Lamont character from 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain and a personality reminiscent of Nancy Spungen, it’s hard to like her (which is the point, of course), yet you can certainly understand what the Chuck character sees in her, as she can be cute beneath the sneer.

Another funny side character is the person running a WonderSpa in one scene, played with gusto by Lee Rush, who only has a few lines and makes the most of it. During that one set piece, Samantha Accampora does a wonderful and silent Sam Peckinpaw-ish slow motion bit. The most sympathetic female character is a lonely quickie mart worker Carol, portrayed by Hannah Heckman-McKenna. I wanted to give her a reassuring hug after her scene.

Anna Rizzo and Johnny Sederquist
But the title of Scene Goniff Supreme by far is Johnny Sederquist’s turn as drag queen Piñata Debris, who makes every scene she is in his own. Even with enough face paint to make Lucille Ball seem bald and the exquisite Lady Bunny possibly blush, Sederquist makes Debris seem both ridiculous and a bit sympatric in a balls-out bitchy way (pun intended). He nails the drag queen persona, I am assuming in part because he actually does drag from time to time. Yeah, I’m a Sederquist fan.

There are the occasional weird moments, like a college student at the frat house calling the library the “lie-berry,” but it’s also part of the film’s charm, actually. But I want to make sure to make a comment on John Mosetich’s cinematography. Some of the shots are stunningly beautiful, such as one of a close-up of Guevara staring at the camera as flower petals fall in slow motion. That was just one of the moments where I verbally said, “wow.”

I haven’t delved much into the story because I don’t want to prejudice the viewer. There is so much that can be discussed that would give away too much of the story, and more importantly the fun. It really is a hysterically funny film going to places that most viewers rarely see. While taking wide swaths with its story direction, it’s actually a very tight film with few locations (as is common with indies). I can’t wait to hear the commentary track once it comes out on DVD. And fans of Griffin films are bound to enjoy a particular cameo that I am sworn to secrecy about. While I’m at it, be sure to watch after the credits.

Compared to most films that deal with the male-on-male milieu, this makes The Rocky Horror Picture Show look like Patton. If it’s not too much of an oxymoron, you might say that this film is a gay comedy that has very broad humor. But you don’t need to be either one to enjoy it, just be glad it’s not in 3D, sit back, and prepare to laugh.