Friday, March 25, 2016

Review: Fine Housekeep

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

Fine Housekeep
Written, directed, shot and edited by Trevor Bather
Trashmonger Video
57 minutes, 2015
Full movie free HERE

If you will indulge me the flash of ego, I’m a smart guy. I have a Master’s degree from a credible university, a long reach in cinema history, and know how to put together a metaphor. And yet, when it comes to a certain level of esoterica and abstraction, I get a bit lost.

As an undergrad, I had a professor who was into expressionist and surrealistic films by the likes of Stan Brakhage, and would show us their works such as Dog Star Man (1961-64). Without being able to read the films due to lack of narrative storylines, I was completely lost. It’s another reason I’ve avoided James Joyce’s novels Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939). This situation was handled beautifully in a 1963 animated short, The Critic (1963; starring Mel Brooks, and which won an Oscar for Animated Short, by the way). I know I’m digressing, but there is a bit of that here, as well, though I am hardly comparing this film to them.

The Wife
A man with wild eyes credited as The Husband (Ben Kepley) is sitting in his living room. Meanwhile, The Wife (Tyler Antoine), whose face throughout the film is covered in cream (looks like the shaving kind) and has cucumber wedges over her eyes, lolls around on a couch. They are both in a stream of consciousness state (drug induced, perhaps?), daydreaming about themselves in various situations. For example, he imagines himself as Jesus, in robes and carrying a wooden cross medallion (like the size Eastern Orthodox priests wear); she pictures herself dancing with a deranged looking football player?/fan? (Andrew Freud), who is often smacking and pursing his lips. We also follow his fantasy, at some point.

About half way through, there is a nicely done gory scene that is reminiscent of the Black Dahlia murder in 1947 (I’m willing to bet it was an influence), which is actually key to a way to look at this film. Rather than just being surrealistic, it would perhaps be better categorized (if that’s possible) into Transgressive Cinema, a movement come to fruition in the 1980s with the likes of Richard Kern and Nick Zedd. I kept expecting Lydia Lunch to show up at any moment. While the original group used S8mm film, this one is Shot-on-Video (SOV). However, it is the shaky camera, lack of dialog and the repetitive industrial electronic music that help indicate the genre.

Then there’s the Bazooka Joe redheaded serial killer… I call him that because of his tendency of covering the lower half his face with his turtleneck sweater.

In the end, the fault lies not in the stars but in myself. What I mean by that is, much like Black Metal or Electronica, I have very little point of reference. Simply put, I honestly don’t know if this film is brilliant or twaddle. Even with its listed $100 budget, you can tell a hell of a lot of work went into the editing of this baby (did I mention the amount of abuse a baby dolly with a gold-painted head is given in the second act? Uff da!).

Honestly, I wish I could give you a profound and deep analysis of what the cream on the face meant, or what the (lawn) grass “Jesus” had on his lap was for that made him so happy, or even the apparent affection between the football guy and the killer. Not a clue.

I’ve long-time learned that a reviewer or critic (whichever you want to use as a reference) is more a gatekeeper than a gate. What that means is that one could read a review and then go watch it anyway. Never let someone’s opinion (or in my case ignorance) stop or compel you from seeing a work. Decide for yourself. It’s easy in this case, because the film is free on YouTube (see the link above, or the trailer, below).

Monday, March 21, 2016

Reviews: Short Films, March 2016

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet
Reviews are in alphabetical order, not by ranking

Attic Panic
Written and directed by David Sandberg
3:00 minutes, 2015
The people who brought you the incredibly creepy short, “Lights Out,” are back with a new quickie piece with a similar theme that is well written by Sandberg, and acted by Lotta Losten, who also starred in that film as well. A woman is locked in what looks more like a storage basement than attic, with little wire cages sealed by a gym lock. Something is moving around and as it creeps along, the light bulbs start twisting off by themselves. It’s creepy, short, and well shot. And effective. Little time, and lots of tension. I really like these guys. Interestingly, there is a “Making Of” available on YouTube that’s about twice as long as the film itself, but I didn’t watch it.

Computer Hearts (Vanessa2 Cut)
Written and directed by Turner Stewart
Hentai Cop Films
25:14 minutes, 2014
There is a maxim that states that the introduction of a new technology does not change any one thing, it changes everything, and that all technologies are a “Faustian Bargain”: to accept the good, you must also take in the negative. There is also a discussion going among New Technology scholars on whether it is accurate to compare internet usage such as on iPhones,  and laptops, to addiction. This aspect is explored in this surprisingly gruesome film.  Albert, a chubby telecommuter (played by the director, Turner Stewart), is living with his fiancée, Vanessa (Alix Miller).  But under his user name, Sgtecchi (ecchi, is Japanese hentai slang for “dirty” or “sexy,” FYI), he is not only uncontrollably drawn to a particular animated porn site, but with a particular character, also named Vanessa2 (Dionne Copland), to the point of obsession. He’s missed work and ignored Vanessa, nicely presented as having Miller talk, with no audible voice, as Albert stares past her at his computer. As a two-day period veers on, things take a sinister turn that will effect (and affect) everyone in this three-identity piece. There is bound to be some comparisons to both Her (2013) and Videodrome (1983), and rightfully so, but that’s okay because it goes to some nice and moist extremes. Some of the SFX indicate the low budget, but others are incredible considering the mico-budget. An particularly well-developed and intriguing film, I just want to add it’s worth the view, and also, “All hail the new flesh!” Oh, and although I’ve included it, the trailer below doesn’t really tell you much (okay, anything), but don’t let that fool you, it’s truly impressive.

KNK Acting Institute
Written, directed (etc.) by Bahaish Kapoor
7:21 minutes, 2014
A really nicely done short from India (in English) that seems to rely on the Japanese trope of the possible haunting by a dead child (Vipassana Kapoor). A doctor (Monica Gill) thinks she’s hallucinating, and trying to call a colleague in the middle of the night seeking help, but the apparition keeps turning up. There is a hint of why this is happening, but not much detail. It’s hair-raising and also employs the common Japanese device of the moving elevator. Even though these elements are oft used, it’s effective here.  

Night of the Slasher
Written and directed by Shant Hamassian
We Make Movies
11:16 minutes, 2015
Much like Scream (1996) – and I’m going to guess that I’m not the only one who is going to make the comparison – this film plays with the topes of the slasher film. Beautiful Jenelle (Lily Berlina) is acting strange, by drinkin’, dancin’, sexin’ with The Bait (as Scott Javore’s character is credited), and checking off the list of slasher film clichés, trying to draw out a masked serial killer (Adam Lesar). But not just jump scary, this also plays with the genre, such as The Bait mentioning that the schoolmates keep saying he looks like he’s 30 (i.e., actors playing teenagers being older than their characters), and that the Killer is wearing not a white Shatner mask, ala Halloween, but rather a Leonard Nimoy one. It’s both spooky and hysterical, especially if you get the references, and I’m only touching on them. Enjoyable and intelligent from the first frame to the last.

Opus Dei
Written and directed by George Najdzien
Terror Vision Pictures
8:23 minutes, 2015
In the lush countryside of West Sussex, along the southern edge of the U.K., we meet a Priest (Tom Driver) and a cop (Tim Cullingsworth-Hudson). I won’t go into details as this is short and sweet so I wouldn’t want to give the twist(s) away, as this would certainly be more thriller than horror (though the definition of “Opus Dei” scares the crap outta me more than most fictional tales). What I will say is that in its brevity, the actors, especially Driver, are effective in this account that has a bit of a Miller’s Crossing (1990) vibe, but is more present day than flashback. Najdzien, in his first film, effectively presents the viewer with a premise and then sucker-punchers you. Honestly, I figured out the twist before the big reveal, but that didn’t stop it from working. I was impressed by Najdzien’s camerawork, especially one scene where you see the front of a car at an angle, and the trunk close in the windshield reflection, rather than the actual action. Nicely done. I certainly look forward to more work from him.

Written and directed by Cameron McCasland
Red Headed Revolution
14:20 minutes, 2015
Perhaps I’m from too far up in Yankee country (Mason-Dixon wise, not the Bronx Bombers), but I’ve never heard of this Appalachian=based American Folk Horror Tale of an English speaking big cat that comes after people in desolate areas who have taken his tail. What the beastie says, over and over, is “Taily-po, taily-po, give me back my taily-po” (it’s pronounced “-poh,” and in “po’ boy”). Hunting for food in a desolate area free of game (I think there is a hint that the cat is the reason) is a backwoods man, Levon (David Chattam), who shares his cabin and life with his beloved dog, Jasper (Ranger). Taking a shot at some apparent food, all he gets is the tail (enough to make some soup). Well, you know who’s gonna come a-callin’ lookin’ fer it back. Without giving too much away I hope, the creature is a bit reminiscent of the Michael Jackson Thriller werecat, made by puppetmaster Dustin Mills, who knows about these things.  It is man (and dog) against creature, but I won’t say who wins. The fall (spring?) brown-leafed woods of Kentucky fills in beautifully under McCasland’s direction in a story that’s loyal to the folktale, and shot to give a bit of a claustrophobic field, even in the out of doors.  You can see the whole film below:

Directed by Mike Diva (aka Michael Dahlquist) and Sam Shapson
Legendary Pictures
7:41 minutes, 2014
Nick Gregorio is stuck in a room for a reason we are not privy to for a while, locked by a bunch of chains and combination locks. He works on the numbers methodically and takes them off one by one until all but one is left. Time, however, is running out, as demonic creatures are ever moving forward. It takes a while for this to take off, but once it gets going, it does not let up. With CGI backgrounds and creatures, great and small, we get to see and feel his terror. The thingies looked a bit familiar, and then I realized some of the work was done by ScreamerClauz, who did the effects for (and directed) Where the Dead Go to Die (2012). Some imagery is also reminiscent of both The Mist (2007) and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), but by no means is the story weighed down by it.

Trouser Snake
Written and directed by Alex DiVincenzo
Grimbridge Productions
4:50 minutes, 2016
While being, quite frankly, nonsensical, every moment of this film is enjoyable. And that’s with an estimated $100 budget! The setting is a world that is kind of a mix of mid-1950s “Gee Whiz” dialogue and visuals, and present day bone-jumping horndogs. Perhaps this is a spoof of a “Sex Warning” scare film, though it’s in full and clear color. It shoots back and forth between the narrative of poor Thomas (Alexander Gauthier), a [supposed] teen who is having a bit of trouble you-know-where (read the title, that’s all I’m gonna say). His doctor (Michael Thurber in a facially expressive turn) doesn’t know what to make of the – er – situation, and Thomas’s girlfriend Lucy (Jamie Lyn Bagley, who as I’ve said before, has a wondrous sense of both comic timing and expression; she should be hired on a sit-com) is in the car and ready to take it to the next step…aggressively. There is no explanation for the events (hey, it is under 5 minutes), but who cares. I’m assuming it’s both a satire of a cautionary tale. Screw it; I just know I smiled through the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Review: Invalid

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

Written, directed, edited and scored by Dustin Wayde Mills
Blood Sprayer Productions / Dustin Mills Productions (DMP)
71 minutes, 2015

Truth be told, there are three essential reasons why I was looking forward to seeing this film. First and foremost, it was directed by Dustin Wayde Mills, whose works never fail to please, even when it sometimes gets me squeamish. The second reason is Brandon Salkil (okay, and Dave Parker), who often appear in Mills’ productions; Mills,Salkil and Parker are also besties off-screen). Those are the good reasons. The silly yet still honest one is that I was very curious to know whether the title means (a) someone who is lamed (IN-vah-lid), (b) someone who is cancelled out (in-VAL-lid), or (c) both.

There are two, perhaps three central characters in the film. First off, is the titular, Andrew (Salkil) who, thanks to a previous accident, is in a catatonic state of being a “living vegetable” (a descriptor within the story); Salkil – therefore Andrew – is a tall guy, hunched into his wheelchair. The second and central role is his sister, Agnes (Joni Durian), who takes over as caretaker. While not a beanpole, I wonder how she moves him from the bed to the chair and back by herself, but I digress... The lesser third is the physical therapist, Daryl (Parker), who has a bit of a thing for Agnes. I could also add in Daryl’s friend, Jake, whose sole reason for existence here is essentially to help us understand what Daryl is thinking through verbalization, and also to crack wise as the comic relief. He’s played by the director, Mills.

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. Is this a kind of Patrick (1978) vibe, or all PTSD? The publicity for Invalid equates it with Italian giallo horror of Argento and Fulci. Well, I can see it more as the former than the latter, as Argento was as much about the internal as the visual, but Fulci was much more about the graphic. I must say I was impressed by the murders here, especially the first one. Now, I’m certainly not saying it’s anticlimactic because the pace definitely keeps up, but that beginning one is just so well done. It’s not gory, just really effective.

Joni Durian
As Agnes, Durian is an attractive woman playing frumpy. Ever notice how many horror film caretakers are plain and disheveled, even all the way back to Julie Harris’ Eleanor in 1963’s The Haunting? Perhaps to make her look sallow, or to set a mood, Agnes is often dressed in yellow, and shot with lemony lighting. I’m guessing a bit of both (again), because when things get tense, the lighting changes to a red tone. More films are using colored lighting as much as music to set the tone of the scene, which works strongly here.

As far as the frumpy part goes, it’s pretty obvious that beneath the huge red frames, the slicker, and the loose clothes, Agnes is quite a catch, even though in the storyline there is a reason why she dresses down. However, thanks to an early shower scene, we get to know the book under the cover, as it were, In fact, there are a few shower scenes with various characters throughout, and plenty of female flesh (no male nudity, though Mills has proven that’s not something he necessarily shies away from).

Salkil doesn’t really need to do much, other than lay as still as possible, though there is a highly dramatic and creepy physical flashback scene. He has proven that he can be a fine, highly emotive actor in both dramatic and comedic roles. Even when he’s completely limp, there is still a feeling of dread or danger, and I chalk that up to both his skill onscreen, and of Mills’ effective use of moodiness.

From his silly (but highly enjoyable; not meant as anything but complimentary) films early on, Mills has come to master the simple less-is-more style of presentation that I thoroughly enjoy. Usually there are no elaborate sets, and the stories tend to be pretty straightforward, but there is always the twist of the knife (sometimes literally) and plot that just keeps you drawn in.

Yet, despite the simplicity, Mills often uses some quirk that you just don’t expect. For example, during a conversation, the film suddenly turns to a moving manga comic style that works to explain emotions that straight dialog has trouble getting through. This is a really nice and surprising touch.

Andrew demands blood, much like the plant from Little Shop of Horrors (1960 or 1986), to make him big and strong, but only from women. I first questioned the gender demand, i.e., what makes women’s blood different from men’s, but the symbolism of loss of virginity – even from a paid escort – shows a deranged mind through subjective experience. I’m hoping this isn’t too much of a spoiler alert.

The only two negative things I could see are pretty petty and, quite frankly, ridiculous on my part. First, there is a scene with Andrew on a respirator, and it is silent. As having been in a room with someone in that condition more than once, I can tell you, it’s quite noticeable. Even if you have sleep apnea, the CPAP machine, which is a junior version of an inhalation device, is noisy. The second thing is I believe that there is too much information given about motive in the trailer. Don’t get me wrong, I am a coming attractions fan from childhood, but I’m glad I waited until after seeing the film before enjoying the teasers (as I tend to do now with those I review).

So, the question of what the title means, as I mentioned in the first paragraph? Well, I would say (c) as yes, Andrew is an invalid, but through events that occur or have occurred (again, or both), Agnes and Andrew’s lives become cancelled, one by the accident, and the second by giving up her life to care for him, another by other’s actions.

A good story, some great visuals, and a finely honed cast a crew make this another peg in Mills’ directorial cap, one that should be worn proudly.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Free Film: The Survivors

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

The Survivors
Written and directed by Steve Rudzinski
Silver Spotlight Film
37 minutes, 2016

Interesting premise here. It starts off with a simple image of cute Cindy (not Sidney) sitting down in front of the television with some popcorn for the evening. As a cool quick easy-to-miss visual, her parking herself down is reflected in the action on the television at the same time, although the person on the television is not her. Anyhoo, the phone rings, and the opening call from Scream (1996) happens (of course, she doesn’t like horror films, so she cannot “play”), and is beset by a quartet of serial killers: Spookface from the previously mentioned Scream, the fisherman from I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), a white and more literal version of the Candyman (1992), and a woman named Brenda whose affiliation escapes me (perhaps 1998’s Urban Legend, as they mention it indirectly?). They, in turn are attacked by a pair of serial killer hunters.

Steve Rudzinski
I know that director Rudzinski is a comic book fanatic of fanboy level (meant as a compliment), and as such he sets this film up as almost an X-Men vs. Brotherhood of Mutants, with humor.  In fact, part of his real life is playing action heroes and villains such as the Beach Boys… I mean Spiderman at big events. A particularly funny bit involves “Frank” (aka Freddy K), played by Rudzinski with two gloves, rather than one, as he waits in Slasher hell for the chance to go back to Earth.

Apparently, the old guard slashers are being put aside for the new, more recent killers. In other words, this film is a sidebar companion to Rudzinski’s previous films, such as the intelligent and no-reason mass murderous, Everyone Must Die! (aka EMD!; 2012). On the other end of the spectrum (i.e., the good guys) include the presence of the title characters from Capt. Z and the Terror of Leviathan (2014) and even Wolfster, Part I: The Curse of the Emo Vamp (2006; a film I haven’t seen yet, sad to say, also played by Rudzinski, reprising his original role as the avenging werewolf).

The good team is filled with not only heroes from Radzinski films, but also the villains are both also from his previous releases, and others who are veiled mainstream slashers. But mostly what makes this film just so great (especially as it’s a love letter to the fans), is its self-referential humor. There are a lot of laughs built in, though if you’ve never seen any of Radzinski’s work, it may leave you scratching your head on occasion.

Part of the referentiality is the breaking of the fourth wall: not in talking to the audience, but rather things like Wolfie saying, “One of my super powers is knowing that we’re actually in a film,” and then picking up a script to see what’s next. However, there is some much subtler rib-stickers, such as the people playing Spookface including writer/actor Michael Varrati, who has written some amazing films like The Sins of Dracula in 2014 for director Richard Griffin, and Dustin Wayde Mills, who directed the likes of Puppet Monster Massacre (2010) and the more recent Her Name is Torment franchise.

Now, if you haven’t seen the previous films, would you be lost? Not necessarily, as so many of the villain characters are shadows of those familiar to all of us horror fans, both indie and mainstream. Not sure? Well, hell, check it out, it’s short at just over half an hour, and what’s more it’s free at the following site – and make sure you stick around for after the credits: