Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review: All Sinners Night

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

All Sinners Night
Directed by Bobby Easley
Horror Wasteland Pictures International /
High Caliber Films / World Wide Multi Media / MVD Visual
90 minutes, 2014 / 2015

You reap what you sow, I guess. This Satanic cult film was shot in the Hoosier state of Indiana, where the governor is a Far Right Christian by the name of Mike Putz…I mean Pence. Yep, he's the very same one that Trump guy picked as his running mate. That this was made in his state make me, well, smile.

The way the story is set up, we meet two people with something in common, though just how they found each other I’m not sure. David’s (Tom Sparx… hmm, I wonder if that’s his birth name, he asked with a nod and a wink) wife killed herself (on camera) on Halloween, and Lana’s (Brittany Jessee) brother disappeared at the same time. They meet in a town 12 hours away on the next Halloween, though I’m not clear how they knew where to meet either, or how they knew when.

As you can see, there are some issues in the story. Perhaps I missed the connector? Either way, they go to the sheriff and the deputy (who they do not shoot because they are not Bob Marley, nor Eric Clapton, but I digress…), who of course do not believe there is anything mysterious is happening there and now because, well, these occurrences happened 12 hours away a year before.

Meanwhile people in masks are killing men and kidnapping women left and right. Honestly, most of the masks are quite cool, and I kept thinking, “I want one of those!” even though I have nowhere to put them in my house. Of course, people are going to reference The Purge franchise because anytime anyone is silent and does things violently as a group in masks these days, that’s the vibe that resonates. In this case, however, I don’t think that applies to the actual Purge story, from what I could make of it. To me, The Purge chain is more equivalent to The Hunger Games.

Why the killing? Why the kidnapping? How do these two strangers fit into it all? That actually gets answered, but I’m not gonna be the one to break it to you and be a spoiler.

The film actually looks decent, with lighting and editing, though the storyline is somewhat compromised. Also, there are a couple of scenes towards the end where the sound is so highly modulated that the voices actually buzz. This should have been fixed in post, in my opinion, but I’ll move on. What I found likewise found strange was that it seemed like some of the sounds were looped, so you would hear something like screaming in a certain pattern, and then repeated in that exact same way with a jump between the two, so it definitely was a tape played over once or twice, if not sometimes more. Kinda distracting, quite honestly.

The one thing that’s consistent throughout, though, is incredibly bad acting by just about everyone. Sadly, the worst of the batch is Jessee, which is a shame because she really is attractive and I’d otherwise like to see her in more roles (so far, this is her only IMDB credit). She looks like she is always looking to the side to read cue cards, which I call the Saturday Night Live Syndrome. Hamming it up to the nine’s, though – in a different style of bad acting – is Bill Levin, who plays the hyper-intense Reverend Hiram Graves (if you can’t figure out his role in the whole shebang, you probably shouldn’t be doing crossword puzzles). With this forceful level, the irony to me is that Levin is the founder of the First Church of Cannabis! But even though he is chomping on the scenery every chance he gets, he has a great look for the part, with an angular face and penetrating eyes that fit the role perfectly. Not sure about the Joker purple and green wardrobe, but whatever.

Actually, the best acting is by John Dugan, who plays a small but pivotal role that is almost comic relief but not quite. For those who don’t know, he’s the guy who played Grandpa under the rubber mask in the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974. It seems like every production needs to have at least one great genre cameo these days, and I say that with glee not derision. Coming in second acting-wise is Jackie Palmer who plays – er – Deputy Palmer. It’s not a flawless rendition, especially her last scene, but she has good conviction.

I will say that this is an earnest film, and the last act is definitely ramped up from the rest. Also, the raids to kill the men and kidnap the women that show up sporadically are usually handled well, despite the acting limitations. Throughout, the makeup effects by Phil Yeary are stupendous (with one exception, where there is a close-up of a shot-in-the-head victim who you can easy see the hole is drawn on). Everything else looks really great. The only nudity, since we’re talking about this kind of thing now, is the same person, twice, from the waist up.

For extras, there is a music video by Dead Dick Hammer which is fun but not spectacular, and a bunch of cool trailers (including this film and another by the same director). Then there is 7:02 set interviews feature with the director, cast and crew; it’s short and interesting. Also included is a 6:29 outtakes reel which is a combination of mistakes and pleased comments by the director that were taken off the original track in post.

All in all, it’s not a great film due to many factors, but it’s not so bad it’s bad, nor is it quite up to so bad it’s good. On the other hand, it certainly has its redeeming moments of action that make the in-between hunh? flashes livable.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Review: The Invoking 3: Poltergeist Dimensions

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

The Invoking 3: Poltergeist Dimensions
(aka The Invoking 3: Paranormal Dimensions)
Written and directed by Lee Matthews
Ruthless Pictures / MVD Visual
81 minutes, 2016

Just a couple of housecleaning bits to begin. First, although this is the third of the anthology Invoking films, I have never seen the earlier editions. Second, although Lee Mathews is listed as the director, with one exception, he is actually the compiler of the shorts that make up the collection, and in fact he directed only the last of the nine tales included in this edition. And lastly, while the subtitle of the DVD is Poltergeist Dimensions, the film itself and all information about it has it as Paranormal Dimensions. Perhaps it was changed legally so as not to step on the foot of the overrated Paranormal Activity franchise?

Although independent from the other Invoking series, the overarching theme remains the same in that it is supposedly based on true events in the supernatural world, or as the film states it: “Although hundreds of disturbing paranormal events occur every year, most of these chilling encounters go unreported – until now.”

There is no overriding arc or bookending addition that ties them all together, but rather it lets each speak for itself. The one thing all these dark tales have in common is the title cards, which state the location (twice with typos) and time of day. The shorts come from around the world, although most from the eastern half of the United States. Like the ABCs of Death series, another anthology work with multiple directors, many of these are either without dialog, or kept at a minimum, but is not afraid to use the original language in which it was filmed (for which I totally agree); in those cases there are subtitles.

Like most collections, there is a wide range of quality of story, though each looks good (i.e., not amateurish) in its own right. The weakest link, in my opinion, is the opener, “The Dark Comes Quickly” (2014), a 15-minute found-footage style opus of a trio of obnoxious PhD students who go looking for a temple in the Mictal Mines in San Luis Potosi, Mexico (about 250 miles due north of Mexico City). It’s frat boy mentality and handheld cameras. There’s a cool beastie and Aztecs warriors, but it falls flat. The other eight tales are more interesting and much less annoying.
Fortunately it is followed by “The Dweller” (2016), a 6-minute piece filled with yuck, rot, worms and something hiding. The only human character here is well handled by the busty Tessa Netting (she was on Glee and Disney’s Bunk’d, but thankfully she actually acts here rather than emotes like a cartoon), arguably the biggest name in the film.

The theme of this particular short, the figurative thing under the bed, is a common thread/threat throughout a few of the films here, two of them being incredibly similar in the final act: this one and the finale, “3 AM” (2016), though both “Selfies” and “Bedroom Window” (2016) come awfully close.

Don’t get me wrong, they are all fun, even though they rely on a similar trope. Others include (but not exclusively) aliens, demons, and the zombie apocalypse.

Lemme get to some of the standout pieces, though I don’t think there was a stinker in the house, even with my whine about the opener. Let’s start with “La Dama de Blanco” (2015), also found on YouTube as “The Lady in White.” Four young men (college age) take a night drive to the beach resort of Puerto Piritu, on the north-central coast of Venezuela (about 200 miles East from Caracas). The time posting for this episode is 4:44 AM. The story has an inevitable and obvious track, and it’s a tad too long at 17 minutes, but it’s actually well directed, acted, and lit, considering most of it takes place in a moving car in dead of night.

“Prisoner at Bannons" (aka “The Thing at Bannon’s Lookout”; 2006), takes place in Lawrence, Kansas, dealing with an exchange between a couple and some mysterious woodland creatures. It definitely has a couple of big surprises in it, including a bucket of deplorables turn of events, but the Richard Matheson-worthy twist is the icing on the tale, as mixed metaphors might say. The news crew aspect is a bit of an add-on that I can understand but believe to be not totally necessary because it doesn’t really add to the story (other than perhaps comic relief in a Scream/Gale Weathers kind of way), but it also doesn’t take away much either. With or without, it’s one of my faves here.

One of the two stories based in New Jersey (isn’t that scary enough?) is the brief “Heartbreak of the Dead” (2014) which starts off confusing, but leads to a very satisfying ending. Thousands of miles away in Prague, I’m mixed about “She is Not My Sister” (2016; 7 min, which can be found on YouTube), where a a boy and his step-sister deal with a playground demon. The effects are great and the verbal punchline is cute, but on some level the ending left me uncomfortable and sad.

The last short I’ll discuss is, as I said, the finale, “3 AM,” directed by Matthews. Located in the bleak (here, anyway) and desolate Brecon Beacons area of Scotland at 3:00 AM, a woman is alone and frightened by, well, just about everything, including a Romper Room jack-in-the-box. Yes, it even has the official RR logo from when I was a kid. Didn’t even know they were still a brand. But I digress… This short was a bid of a joy ride, and Matthews manages to make the viewer jumpy about practically everything. He works the dread nerve like a pro.

There are no extras other than the chapters, obviously broken up by each story as a new chapter. This is the second film by the director, the other also an anthology of shorts (I’ll bet there is included one by him) that is not part of the Invoking series. I have to say that I like horror shorts because they’re usually more directly to the point, without too much fluff. And that’s just what you have here, a nice bunch of meat and taters tales to tantalize by keeping interest taut.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Review: The Devil’s Forest

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

The Devil’s Forest
(aka The Devil Complex; The Devil Within)
Directed by Mark Evans                                   
Lonely Crow Productions / itn distribution / MVD Visual
80 minutes, 2016

The Hoia-Baciu Forest is a real place in the Transylvania area of Romania, just outside the city of Cluj, that is known as one of the most haunted forests in the world. UFOs, ghosts, weird plants and trees, and images appearing in photos are reportedly common there. It’s also infamous as a “Bermuda Triangle” where people disappear. While the name of this film was originally The Devil Complex,” it kinda makes sense that the DVD would be changed to add the word “Forest,” not to mention being able to cash in on another film with a similar name about a mysterious woods in Japan.

To be honest, I’m a bit apprehensive about starting this one, for two reasons. No, it’s not because I’m afraid it will scare me, but rather that it’s a found footage film about a trio of filmmakers scared in the wood who – and here’s the apprehensive part – “were never seen again.” Sound familiar?

I am not one of the cult of The Blair Witch Project (1999) [BWP], and found nearly the whole thing extremely tedious, as I do with many other found footage films. The whole term “never seen again” already tells the viewer way too much. And I’ll tell yaz right now, if I see someone crying into the camera by flashlight with snot running down their nose, I’m gonna lose it. But rather than whine more, I’m turning the film on. See you on the other side (pun intended).

Maria Simona Arsu
Right at the front, we’re told they die. Woo-hoo, so no spoiler alert. Three go into the woods (no Stephen Sondheim pun nor wit here): there is a student, Rachel (nerd-cute Maria Simona Arsu), and two macho putzes, Tom the interpreter (Patrick Sebastian Negrean, and the camera guy, Joe (Marius Dan Munteanu... yes, all three actors use three names). Taking them as a guide is Mr. Dogaru (the deep-toned Bill Hutchens, who was in the last two The Human Centipede films).

Near the start, after immediately not liking the guys here, we are presented with a BWP – er – homage with the actors asking the local populace (mostly non-actors, I believe) for stories about the forest, and it certainly appears they are being honest of the culture of the place, including one amusing skeptical guy.

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.  I’ve seen films of the actual forest, and even though people are afraid of it, there are defined and easy to follow trails, so why go when snow hides all that?

Now I won’t give away much of the actual woooooo (to be read as a spooky sound) moments of the film, but I will talk about the framework, hopefully without too many spoilers.

After a while, deep into the trek and a third of the way into the story, 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. And walk through the snow. And walk through the snow. There’s nothing more exciting that watching people walk through the snow except possibly watching people keyboarding. Or watching people running through a snowy forest in the dark by the light of the camera, as also occurs (again, BWP).

And that brings me to another question, and that is how long does a camera battery last? How many did they bring? All I know is they run the camera the whole time and never mention new batteries. And why am I thinking about that during a film that is supposed to keep me jittery?

Yes, there is the guy giving his final talk in the dark tent with the light of the camera, but thankfully no snot, just drinking from a flask. Yet another question is if we are going to spend so much time with these three characters, why can’t they be likeable, so you feel something when anything happens. For at least two of them, I think of the Darwin Awards: Really? Deep forest in the winter. With snow. In what is known to be a dangerous place, i.e., no great loss to humanity, especially a fictional one.

This really is a winterized version of BWP, with the creepy house at the beginning rather than at the end (again, I’m sure it’s a homage). All the tropes are there, the running and walking and kvetching and being scared about… what again? Boy, I really want to discuss the ending right now, but I won’t.

What blood there is appears to have the consistency of chocolate syrup, and certainly no exposed body parts in this weather.

The only extra is the trailer, and not even a cursory offer of chapter choices. The production is micro-budget to the point where the largest expense, other than catering, was probably the art design of the poster or DVD cover.

The film is like a cross between a haunted winter evening Robert Frost poem and Poe, but without the eloquence. Perhaps it’s because it’s become cliché? Nah, I felt this way about hand-held found footage films since I first saw BWP. Did I mention how much this is like BWP? If you are/were a fan of BWP or hand-held running, or even found footage films, this may be right up your alley. Me? I’m taking some Dramamine and going to bed.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Review: The Carnage Collection

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

The Carnage Collection
Written and directed by Bob Ferreira, Derek Ferreira, Kimball Rowell
Point and Shoot Films
85 minutes, 2015 / 2016

Back in the mid-1970s, some low-budget “sketch” sex comedy films came out with names like If You Don’t Stop It…You’ll Go Blind!!! (1975) and Can I Do It ‘Till I Need Glasses? (1977; Robin Williams’ first on-screen appearances). They were short bits, sometimes with the same actors playing different roles.

The Carnage Collection presents a similar model, except it focuses on various forms of horror. Here, all the stories are written by brothers Bob Ferreira and Derek Ferreira, who also co-direct along with Kimball Rowell, all of whom also act in multiple segments..

There is a minor bookending story of someone getting free cable, and what we see is what he watches, but it’s such a dippy piece, with some downright gawdawful fun acting by Tom Ferreira (Bob and Derek’s dad?). This is not meant as an insult to the wrap, it’s just kinda superfluous for the meat of the matter, which are the stories.

There are eight tales in total, averaging about 10 minutes each, covering different horror genres. They range from incredibly silly to quite decent, albeit a bit on the amateur side. Feels a bit like “let’s make a movie,” and for the three New England filmmakers, this is kinda true as it’s all their first shots. That makes me happy.

I’m not going to go into super detail about each story, but I’ll skim a bit. Do note, however, that there is a humor that runs through this, but not buried in "jokes," but in an amusing manner that makes it fun rather than punny. Again, appreciated.

Amusingly, they start off with a Christmas horror story of sorts, as a magical, killer life-size Santa ornament pops in and out of reality, spewing inane Kruger-isms. His victims? The Brothers Ferreira, Bob and Derek, who play themselves. I had a good laugh at the roly-poly Bob, shirtless and tied to a chair by Christmas lights, yelling at the Santa and calling him a “fat fuck.” Is it me or smile-worthy that the first story is about something that is at the end of the year. Perhaps I’m analyzing too deep?

Speaking of which, holy-man the characters say fuck a lot. Not a compliant, but definitely an observation. Honestly, was a bit of a distraction for me, sort of like an easy way to expand the dialogue, but hey, I’m gettin’ old, so what the fuck do I know?

A couple of stories do kinda fall flat, such as one with a guy literally screwing his resentful VCR (using a very pale dildo in place of his real bits), and another torture porn tribute about a guy in a mask doing nasty things to a woman who is tied up (his ex?).

On a more positive note, similarly to the Santa story is one where a killer clown is visualized by an angsty teen girl, who somehow magically comes to life and does some serious damage to a few people. Happily the clown is female, and I say this because (a) its gender is obvious, and (b) it goes against the male killer clown stereotype. Good choice.

Felisia Grimm and Rufio
Among the eight are at least two really good ones. The first deals with a suicidal rich man who is followed by an apparent derelict that he meets near a bridge who knows more than he should. The other is the final one, about a lonely woman-child who is obsessed with stuffies and Jeebus, and is in unrequited love with one of the girls (now woman) she grew up with. This one is also pretty sexually graphic, including using dolls as sex toys. While not a new premise, they use the device of a sloth stuffie named Rufio (don’t call him “Rodeo”) who goads her on, or perhaps it’s her own inner voice?

I find it interesting that some of the actors kinda have fake-sounding porno names, such as Druscilla Deville, Felisia Grimm, and my favorite, Mandatron Divine. Not sure why, but I really don’t care, because Grimm (who plays both the Clown and Andrea, the woman-child), is a standout.

This film certainly won’t win any awards, as most of the acting is wooden, the writing is obvious and the direction is rough. That being said, there are some really decent effects, especially in the Santa episode, the clown piece, and the one with the rich guy. There are also some cheesy ones, such as the obviously rubber sexual prosthetics employed.

Here’s the thing, and I’ve said this in the past: my punk rock ethics says “form a band, it’s the best way to learn.” In this context its more “pick up a camera.” So many first films are ones that people will look back on and think, “Oh, I could have done that better if I could do it now” (which is why so many musicians cover their own material on later recordings). That is pointless thinking, because the first films are the training wheels, where one (or, in this case three) learns the craft which can only be done by doing, not by reading about it.

Shooting an anthology to start was a smart idea, because it’s actually like making eight short films, using different styles to stretch the envelope of learning. That would explain why some of them are a bit more developed than others, which shows a good level of growth in a short amount of time.

From what I understand, The Carnal Collection 2 is currently being filmed. That made me happy to hear. For a first project by a group with little experience, this was actually quite a decent accomplishment. Check it out so you can say, “I saw them when…”

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Review: A House is Not a Home

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

A House is Not a Home
Directed by Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray
Deinstitutionalized Films / Tiki Terrors / Transformational Films / MVD Visual
92 minutes, 2015

Have you ever noticed that many of the horror films that focus on African-Americans are not only comedies, but really bad ones? I blame the Wayans family for that, who took a fine family cinematic heritage and ruined it the likes of A Haunted House (2013) and any Scary Movie (2000) past the first sequel. Sure there is the likes of indie director Sean Weathers who is taking a more serious approach, but generally they tend to rely on either stereotypical characters or ones that are so deep in the culture that it comes off as shrill and hard for anyone else to identify: think Beauty Shop (2005) as an example. This is a thankful reprieve from that: a serious horror film where the main characters are Black, without it being “Minstrel Show” as decried in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled (2000).

The loving but self-described “dysfunctional” Williams family move into a stunningly beautiful yet mysterious house where, we learn from the prologue (as they must always be a prologue, it’s the law), evil things are amiss, as if we didn’t know already. There’s patriarch Ben (Gerald Webb, who has worked with the director a number of times before both in front of the camera and behind it), Linda (Emmy-award winning for actress Diahnna Nicole Baxter), 16-year-old Ashley (Aurora Perrineau) and 15-year-old Alex (Vine Internet star Melvin Gregg), the latter two playing much younger than their years.
As a quick note, there were a couple of things that felt off pretty early on. First of all, while being shown the house by character actor Bill Cobbs (who will forever be thought of by me for the underrated 2000 show, The Others, though most probably will remember him from the Night in the Museum franchise), there is the closed room the Williams are not allowed into but they still buy they house. Nuh-uh, that Is not gonna happen. When we bought our modest little house, we went over every inch of it, and knew exactly what was there and what wasn’t, because we needed to know what needed updating or fixing. I mean just to start, if the last owners used a rotary phone, there may be some electrical updating needed, not to mention painting, etc. Our house had all newly painted walls by the previous owners, and then we repainted them all to the colors we wanted. None of that goes on here, they just move in. Okay, okay, suspension of disbelief, I get it. Thing is, it only works up to a certain number of times, and then it becomes less ignorable. Also, you know the real estate agent is in on/part of the mystery, because, well, they always are (in fact, I feel like I would be giving something away if I said he wasn’t).

The loving-yet-dysfunctional Williams family.
From the first night the troubled family moves in, things are already going wonky. One member is finding murder photos, another feels like he’s being followed (of course he is), another has creepy old dolls appearing that had been put away (Annabella anyone?). Oh, and the leather tablecloth is growing veins. Let me repeat, that’s the first 24 hours.

Another of the tropes strongly relied on here is The Amityville Horror (1979). We met the previous owner in the form of the driven-mad dad (which apparently must always be played by a television actor), played with glee by a heavily made up Richard Grieco (yep, the dude from “21 Jump Street,” a co-producer of this film), who is still ghosting the house covered with blood, more than hinting of a supernatural/evil force floating around.

During the day, everything relatively human seems to be happening and somewhat normal (if argumentative among the participants), but at night, things go bump and shadows roam, even in dreams. I wonder about the weirdness at night and normality in the morning; wouldn’t you talk about it with the family, or at least be shaken up? My one (possible) real-life ghost experience was mentioned the second my ass hit the chair for breakfast.

At first, there are no characters you really interact with on a deep level at first, and little character development to build on, even with their previous foibles (affairs, drinking…you know the drill), until the viewer gets “comfortable” with the family, just in time for, well, I’ll get there.

Nearly everything happens inside or just outside the door of the house, surrounded by trees, giving a claustrophobic feeling of a tiny budget. We hear the kids talk about school once, but both the adults work from home: him as an architect and her as a piano teacher. I have no doubt that it is exactly what was intended, the feeling of no way out. While this also helps with the budget, it also can be an effective tool to the story, as it is here.

Truthfully, the film drags a bit during the first half, but the mood and tone change drastically at the nearly half-way mark, and the story amps up drastically and dramatically. This begins with the introduction of a voodoo practicing college professor, Lucas St. Michelle (Eddie Steeples, to be – like it or not – forever known to a generation as “The Crabman,” from “My Name is Earl”), who comes to exorcise the house. Dressed in a fine white suit and, for some reason that is never explained even in the commentary, wearing whitish contact lenses similar to the kind used by Marilyn Manson, he unites the Williams family and joins forces with them to fight back. But is his mojo strong enough to rid the forces of evil from the abode? In today’s cinema climate, it could go either way, and I’m not going to say which.

Once the battle begins, the film really draws the viewer in, and becomes a lot more interesting. It seemed as if this part of the film was about half as long as the first half. Perhaps that is a clearer example of a bit more towards what I am trying to say.

As they roam through the house, other tropes ignite, such as the rooms changing order as they walk through the doors, as in Grave Encounters (2011), or one nasty spirit sporting dark make-up a la Insidious (2011). The smoke spirits were pretty cool looking, and the main villain, who is mostly seen in silhouette, is particularly nasty and effective, though dressed in something you might see in a 1970s gay leather bar.

The one that drives me crazy though, and this is true of more films than I can think of off the top of my head, is if the doors won’t open, why would the protagonists not try to break a window (though you don’t seem to see many windows in this house). Odds are nothing would happen, but still... Also, the only phone seen throughout the film is a rotary one (a scare device is used in relation to that object that I first saw on soap “Dark Shadows” in the late ‘60s to introduce the Quentin character, and it freaked me out as a kid); in other words, teens with no cell phones? Say what? No computers for that matter, either, that I can remember. The kitchen’s appliances seems pretty modern, though. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to keep the timeframe questionable? If that’s the case, well, never mind.

While the film has quite a serious atmosphere, there are some comedic tones that crop up once in a while, such as a comment here and there by the son, one character giving a knowing smile at the camera – both funny and very creepily effective – and a phone number indicated as 666-1313 (with a Los Angeles area code, though the location of filming is Mill Valley, just north of San Francisco).

The acting is all fine, especially Diahnna Nicole Baxter, who feels the most natural in a most unnatural situation. She’s the one who seems the most annoyed and also the most scared of the lot. Grieco also does well, even with his mostly silent role after the intro. His stares are quite intense, and from what I gathered from the commentary, he was doing The Method method; I get the feeling he’s actually a better actor than many of the roles he’s been given.

There is zero nudity (again, serious film) and while there is some blood and a couple of semi-gore effects, this story isn’t necessarily about that: it’s more about arcing events than carnage moments, and rightfully so. There are a few jump scares here and there, but I don’t think this will really scare anyone who is reading this review. The second half, however, is definitely entertaining, even while stretching credulity at times.

The soundtrack by DJ/musician Knappy is also moody and well done, but you know things are getting really bad in the house when the same few discordant and tinny notes on the piano play over and over (yes, another trope).

The extras on the DVD include the trailer and a 10:25 Making Of documentary. Director Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray (aka Chris Ray) and actor / producer Gerald Webb sit in what looks like a home theatre and discuss the production, the cast (the core of whom also comment in on-situ interviews), and the reaction to the film, including winning Best Film at the Burbank Film Festival where it premiered, and the two adult leads also were nominated for best actor/actress.

There is also a commentary with Olen Ray Webb is quite decent. Because they’ve been friends and working together for years, they are obviously comfortable with each other, which comes across in their banter. They are respectful and don’t try to talk over each other, and they give mostly anecdotes and some information about the film that is easy to take: not too technical, and not too fluffy; but rather a conversation. There is a bit of redundancy (such mentioning Eddie Murphy’s excellent bit about Black people and horror films from his seminal – and hysterical – stand-up film Delirious from 1983), but still worth the listen.

Considering this was filmed in a single location over a mere eight days, it’s actually quite accomplished, especially the second half. The atmosphere stays moody, with some of the hue zapped out of the image; it’s not quite sepia, but it certainly isn’t a blast of color, either. Douglas-Olen Ray, son of genre cult figure Fred, has his own history of action horror (most of which borders on the WTF), such as Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus (2010), 2-Headed Shark Attack (2011), and 3-Headed Shark Attack (2015), settles into the straight horror genre decently, without pandering to just an African-American audience, but one we all can relate to, relative to the topic of course.

Whether you turn it on from its beginning or at the half-way point, by the end you may feel satisfied with your time spent.

Monday, September 26, 2016

RIP, Hershell Gordon Lewis

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

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

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

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Review: CarousHELL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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