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

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review: Dreaming Purple Neon

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

Dreaming Purple Neon
Written, filmed, directed and edited by Todd Sheets
Extreme Entertainment
111 minutes, 2016

Fanzine publishers know it. Self-recorded musicians know it. So do indie film producers and directors. It is the knowledge and experience that sometimes you just have to go all in: take out the credit card, empty the bank account, fuel your dream and take a shot. It’s about putting into reality what you visualize in your head.

Thus is the micro-budget Dreaming Purple Neon, which went from Todd Sheets’ wallet to being available on VoD since Halloween of 2016. The thing is, experience has shown me that when it comes to indie…well, anything, some people know how to make the best of their finances by stripping down as much as possible (single room, minimal number of actors, shot in their own houses, for example). Others try to overdo it, making up for what can’t be afforded to be made up for more readily in digital post-production. Then there are the Todd Sheets of the world, who know how to work the balance between the simplified and the over the top digitalization.

Man, I don’t know how they did it with such a small budget, but there is a hell of a lot packed into this film, which looks way more than its budget suggests. Sure the acting is somewhat questionable (as with many indies), but the sheer size of the cast is amazing. The body count alone is bigger than most productions. Sure there is a lot of digitalization in the last 5 minutes (which looks great, by the way), but most of the gore – and there is a hell (pun intended) of a lot of it – is appliances and real liquid (as opposed to digital spray).

I’m kind of jumping ahead of myself here, but let’s get back to basics, namely the plot. There is a new recreational drug on the market called, of course, Purple Neon. But its root is even more nefarious and diabolical than just greed, which we also see in abundance. The focus is on a couple of drug dealers (while I’m not happy that they are Black, which can be interpreted by us PCers as stereotypical, they are not the only actors of color, so I’ll let it slide) in Kansas City, who are after someone who nipped their stash. [Postnote from Todd Sheets: "Ricky (Farr) was a manager at a chain store and he had a dream of playing that character, so I kind of tailored it to him, and Antwoine (Steele) has worked with me for 25 years and he wanted the part of Ray Ray to prepare for a similar role in a script he has been writing for a few years that I am going to produce for him."]

The dentist, the drug enforcer, the best friend
and the love interests
In a separate story, which you just know is going to link up with the other, poor lovesick Dallas (Jeremy Edwards) has returned to town, mooning over his lost love Denise (Eli DeGeer). I’m assumed he’s named Dallas because he wears a wide-brimmed hat, which is weird considering he’s from KC (though the name of the town is never mentioned). Anyway, with the help of his bestie, Chris (Grant Conrad), he’s out to see how she’s doing.

The catalyst of all the action, or the fork in the road of where the stories converge, is a demon-worshiping cult in a magical and unending basement that reminds me of a theme from Grave Encounters (2011), which is a link to hell. There are some other homages as well, to the likes of Hostel (2005), Demons (1985), and even arguably Goldfinger (1964), but nothing that really feels like a rip-off.

Even with the rubbery looking internal organs (there’s one intestine that looks like it was used a few times), the gore effects look pretty decent, and I’ll always go for appliance over digital. Lots of blood and gnawing and tearing with teeth give it a smile-inducing factor (for me). As the film flows on, the level of blood (and other secretions) pours even more.

Usually, I posit that indie films that are over 90 minutes really need to do some editing to keep interest keen. Now, at 111 minutes, this film could arguably use some trimming, but to be honest, it went by pretty fast as the pace of the film – especially the second half – is pretty consistently on a fast track.

Just for the heck of it,
a publicity shot of Millie Milan
Points of contention? Well, as I said, some of the acting is not very strong, and the two romantic leads are lacking in the chemistry department, but I like that most of the cast look like everyday people as opposed to prom queens/kings (one of the exceptions being the sultry Millie Milan, whose character is key to bringing all the storylines together). There is also one plot question which baffles me, and I’ll try to say this without giving away anything substantial: when a character leaves behind some drugs, why not keep the guns, considering the situation? Now, if that’s the worst I can come up with, well, this film is more than just leaning into the positive side.

I didn’t know what to expect walking into this release, but I was more than pleasantly surprised by how much fun it is. From the first scene, which always has to have a bit of violence in it to bring in the modern, jaded audience, we are pulled in, and even most of the expositions move at a decent pace.

The sets are interesting, as well. It’s obvious the scenes in the Dentist’s office (said DDS, played by Nick Randol, is possibly my fave character: unassumingly nerdy – despite the numerous tats – with the heart of a warrior) is an actual location, as the real dentist’s name is still on the door; I Googled it, which is how I knew it was in Missouri. The basement sets are cool and dark, but with decent lighting so you can see the action. The editing is sharp, with the occasional extreme-close-up that hides the ultra-violence, but again, overall it is very well done.

Other than a couple of moments here and there of “hunh?” dialogue, most of the storyline works well together, bringing it to a satisfying conclusion (watch past the credits for some eggs). The pace, as I said, is just right, which makes the few weaknesses here and there less egregious and forgivable.

There’s a fine line here walking the artiness of the whole gizmigollogy that still maintains its meat’n’taters horror base, which is where I like to go. Yeah, stripped down has its place, but when you add a flair to it, especially when dealing with a single camera, it’s the mark of a decent director.

If this is the kind of output Sheets can manage with a micro-budget, with some decent funding I bet he could open up the seams even more, and give a great bloodletting story that would soak your socks.

Link to trailer: HERE


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Review: The Hospital 2

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

The Hospital 2
Written, produced and directed by Jim O’Rear and Daniel Emery Taylor
Deviant Pictures / itn distribution / MVD Visual
120 minutes, 2015

In full confession mode, I have not seen the first The Hospital (2013), so I am going to be reviewing this mostly as a standalone. I did see one of the directors’ earlier works, Camp Massacre (2014; aka Fat Chance, reviewed HERE), which was occasionally problematic, but on the whole a lot of fun. I have high hopes for this one. Okay, that being said, now for the viewing.
* * *
Okay, I’m about a third of the way in. You may ask why I’m doing this in segments? Well, the film is two hours long, and with all that’s going on, honestly, I need to watch it in segments.

Betsy Rue
The prologue is apparently the ending of the first film. Two characters escaped the carnage, Skye (Betsy Rue replacing Robyn Shute) and Beth (Constance Medrano), and if you’ve seen Friday the 13th Part II (1981) or Halloween 2 (1981) and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), you can guess that at some point worlds are going to recollide.

This one picks up five years later (even though there’s only two years between films).The hospital in question this time isn’t some abandoned place, it’s a modern facility for treating women who have been abused. In this case, however, it’s run by Alan (co-director O’Rear), from the first film, and a new character, his daughter Samantha (Megan Emerick). They use the patients as victims to load up to a Black Net sex‘n’snuff show, which sets up a few stylized pieces for activities of torment, resulting in sexual force and death. That is, when they aren’t busy with their own joint copulations. Yeah, you read that right.

Doing his own thing is Alan’s accomplice, Stanley (co-director Taylor), who has normally liked necrophilia, but is coming around to a bit of warmth in his victims. This story seems like it was springboarded from the amoral collective of House of a Thousand Corpses (2003) / The Devil’s Rejects (2005). While the earlier Hospital had more of a mystic element with ghosts and demons, but here it’s all human monsters.

Jim O\Rear
So as you can see, this film is a bit of a nihilistic endeavor, without as much of the humor of Camp Massacre. There are a number of issues I’m having already, and here is just one of them: the way I imagine the writing session going is that the co-writers had a list of things that would piss people off, and then put a check next to them as they are included. Previous reviews I’ve read of Hospital (trying to catch up a bit on the previous plot) discussed how misogynistic the direction of the story is, and I agree. Men are done away with pretty quickly, but the women’s pain – in the form of torture and rape – play all the way out. Even if they don’t show a lot of the action (i.e., torture), which is blocked by either a body part, or is happening just below the camera frame, it’s the uni-direction of gender that I found the most disturbing.

There is a lot of torture porn out there now, from the detailed (such as both the Japanese and American Guinea Pig series, A Serbian Film, the Hostel and Saw franchises, etc.) to the less so (pick most slasher films), but most of them deal with both men and women being abused. Here, it’s purely females who get the truly nasty stuff thrown at them (or in them), with one exception.

Daniel Emery Taylor
Part of the reason for the length of the film, which seems kind of excessive at two hours, is that it can be looked at as actually Parts 2 and 3, and there are two overlapping but different storylines. The first half is mainly the family shenanigans, and the other is picking up the pieces from the first film. The time is nearly evenly split in half, with the second being more personal than …1000 Corpses. A family comes under attack by our troupe of snuffers, including Debbie Rochon, who surely must be aimed towards some kind of record of being in the most films. Usually she does cameos (or extended ones), but it’s always best when she gets to play at least a semi-central character, to show off her acting chops (and she’s got ‘em, boy; if I may digress, check out my review of her directorial debut HERE). This is also her first topless scene I’ve seen in quite a long time (love the Anarchy A tat on her shoulder!), though, to be fair, O’Rear takes it a step further with an erect penis. It’s good to be the ki – I mean, director!

One of the interesting points for me is the sheer and literal weight of many of the cast, and their lack of inhibitions to nudity. I’m not a chubby chaser, but as a culture where skinny is not considered thin enough, it’s great that the casting included more post-fast-food-world realistic sized humans rather than only media-inspired “beauty.” Kudos for that.

Megan Emerick
The problem with the length isn’t that the film drags, because most the pacing is fine with some bits that can definitely be excised (such as the entire preacher scene, which has no story advancement), but rather that it’s overload until the point of it being too much. Well, for many, I’m sure it’s already excessive, but for the fan or those of us who review this stuff, it becomes a level of impatience for a conclusion, whether the villains get away with it or are all or partly blown away (I’m not saying which is occurs here). I’ve talked before about the tedium of having people walk through a house, usually with just a flashlight, avoiding a ghost or killer, and the scene lasts too long to keep the tension. That’s what I’m positing here. 

How insane is this film? Well, here is the description of the film on IMDB: A mentally sick and illness two guys and one woman are running a shelter for women how got assaulted by their husbands. Basically as the events go on the place looks shelter but in reality it's where sick behavior and illness minds perform their acts [sic]. I baffled about why they let that stand as their official depiction.

Hopefully here is a hypothetical question: you’re locked in a room, and you know someone is going to kill you. Slowly and painfully. Do you sit down and sweat it out, or search the room for a weapon of any kind? Just askin’.

I would like to add that there are also quite a few positives about the film. For example, for what it is, most of the acting is decent. The shining stars are the two directors, though. Sure, most of Taylor’s character is smoldering anger, but O’Rear really seems natural, like he’s embracing the part, which is possibly the scariest thing about this. The other end of it is real-life reality show psychic investigator (and crew member) Scott Tepperman, who play a fictional version of himself, and is the comedy relief, though the biggest laugh is at his acting drunk here; I don’t know what his show is like as I’ve never seen it).

Despite the occasional oops! moments, such as one victim breathing (twice!) after she has been killed, the film looks pretty decent. Lots of nudity and the gore is plentiful, even if you never really see any direct object touch flesh, and it definitely has its icky moments, mostly involving body fluids and a drilldo.

After the trailer, first up in the extras is a 23-minute, five-part Video Diary. There’s nothing deep or meaningful, but it was quite a bit of fun, showing the backstage antics of the crew who seem to genuinely get along. And, of course, off-script Rochon is as always a hoot, thanks to her sharp improv film experience. When a release is particularly gruesome and the cast gels, sometimes getting some steam off is a joy to watch. A new part was based on approximately every two days of the 10-day shoot.

Next up is a 6:34-minute Blooper and Outtakes Reel, which is typical, but because of the way the cast interacts, it comes across as enjoyable, rather than just them saying the missed line damn it! Rue especially comes across as proving that she’s game for the action. Last up is the 13-minute “Kentworthy Featurette,” a more serious, historical piece by O’Rear about the century-and-a-half old haunted Hall which fills in for the film’s Home for Abused Women, in Marion, Alabama. A tour of the place is given by its owner and her friend, which is dry but interesting, despite the cheesy music.

The film’s finale is actually quite satisfying, surprisingly enough. Whether this is the end or beginning of the franchise is difficult to say, but I’m hoping that these guys go back to some comedy horror rather than nasties for nastiness sake, because they tend to be a bit more fun to watch. Would I recommend this? That depends on the genre of the person, rather than a general yes or no. Will I watch this again? It would probably be safe to say fat chance.