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.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Review: Francesca

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

Francesca: Limited Collector's Edition
Written and directed by Luciano Onetti
Guante Negro Films / Unearthed Films / MVD Visual
80 minutes, 2015 / 2016

The advent of VHS spawned an entire industry of VHS-based films that would have never been seen by a large audience, but rather relegated to areas like Times Square or art cinemas that were usually in the seedier parts of towns. These releases tended to be geared towards the cheap, the rushed and violent. American cinema in this area had a boom in both the sexploitation and horror, as these were the biggest sellers at Video Stores, but in places like Italy, the genre turned towards what’s commonly known as Giallo, murder mysteries that specialized in both gore and close-ups (sometimes even zooming close-ups!). The word Giallo, literally translated as “yellow,” is named for a style of populist fiction that started after WWII, which tended to have yellow covers.

Enough time has passed now that this period is looked upon (and rightfully so) with a strong pang of nostalgia by many, especially after the bombardment of high-powered franchised blockbusters. The films from earlier period didn’t always make sense, but they had heart (both figuratively and literally in many cases). Over the past few years, it has become cool to model the style of Giallo films, with various levels of success. In fact, I might ponder that there are more indie films adopting the style in honor of it, than there were to begin with in the day.

Francesca is one of those. Made just a couple of years ago, it is modelled after the Italian style. But unlike most, this is actually in Italian with English subtitles, although it was filmed in Argentina. But here’s an interesting thing that it almost seems as though the film was shot silently, and then all sound, including the voices, were dubbed in after. It’s obvious they are mouthing Italian, but it also seems like a bad dub at the same time, with all the actors’ voices dubbed by Luis Vazano and Silvina Grippaldi. It’s an interesting concept, which I’m not sure if it was intended, or purposeful. Considering the budgetary constraints, it’s forgivable, and gives the film an interesting touch.

The premise is that Francesca, a  psychopathic child, had apparently been kidnapped 15 years earlier, and now, similar to Se7en, people who are deemed “sinful” via Dante’s Inferno, are popping up dead with some Inferno reference nearby. The connection to Francesca is that her dad is a Dante expert. Two police detectives are kinda defective figuring out the mystery and are on the verge of losing their jobs. Will they catch the killer? Will the killer catch them?

The film is steeped in the motif of Giallo, loyal to its look, as if the world was based on the likes of Dario Argento. There are weird camera angles, an odd sort of off-coloring with an occasionally reddish filter, and the film is made to look VHS grainy. Also, there are lots of indicators of the time period, such as typewriters, a film camera, a slide projector, and the wardrobe. This all works together well, and there are actually some incredibly beautiful shots such as a bird flying in slo-mo and just the right composition to make it artful. The ending is also somewhat satisfying, with just the right couple of red herrings. But overall, the film itself is a bit wanting.

A confused copper
The reason for this is that the acting is kind of wooden, the kills are shown mostly off-screen, and the direction is at a tepid pace, even though there is a nice body count. Part of the problem is that there is a dearth of dialog, so the audience is left to fill in just what the cops are up to (it’s around the police that the writing is the weakest), and this never quite shapes up much.

In some ways, however, the film is successful in that is respectful to the genre, and they hit a lot of the right notes for the time. However, it is perhaps a bit too focused on what it is trying to be rather than bringing enough originality to the process. It’s sort of like when someone covers someone else’s song, but they do it exactly like the original. To me, the biggest error, though, is that they released this in Italian, towards that tribute. Considering it was filmed in Latin America, I believe if they had left it in Spanish, the overdubbing would have matched closer, and it would have brought that much more of the Ornetti brothers’ influence into the mix, and been less distracting from the story.

The soundtrack, which is included as a CD in the Limited Collector’s Edition, is a fun listen. The music is also on point, with a ‘80s sound that has just the right touch of dissonant electronica.

As for the film’s extras, first up is a 14:20 minute Behind the Scenes featurette that covers a wide range of topics, such as make-up, anecdotes about filming, locales, and yes the dubbing process, by using a mix of off-stage shooting and production stills. Next is a Deleted Scene, which is an alternative opening at 3:24. It was decent and good to see, but they made the right choice in the one they picked.

I was looking forward to seeing the 19:47 Interview one with the director, Luciano Onetti and the producer, Nicolas Onetti. The brothers also co-wrote the film together. While not as deep as I was hoping it would be, the brothers discuss the film from some interesting aspects. Nicolas goes on a bit about the premieres and awards; Luciano discusses the more interesting connections between this film and their first, Sonno Profondo (Deep Sleep) from 2013. He also indicates they are part of an intended trilogy.

The penultimate is a 2:01 “Hidden Scene,” which is what is shown after the end credits. Last is a bunch of trailers for Unearthed Films, including this one. Oh, but did I say that was all? No, for the Limited Collection Edition, there are the three-discs of a soundtrack CD, a DVD and a Blu-Ray, plus a very nice package with inserts and the like.

I do respect that this was an ambitious work by the brothers Onetti, and on some levels, it actually is quite the nice job. Personally, I believe they could use some outside editing (don’t look at me) to help them punch up some of the looser material. Either way, I look forward to seeing Sonno Profondo, and whatever comes next.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Review: Bubba the Redneck Werewolf

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

Bubba the Redneck Werewolf
Directed by Brendan Jackson Rogers
And You Films / Two Rubbing Nickels / MVD Visual
80 minutes, 2014 / 2016

Southern humor has been the subject of film fodder for decades, at first sequestered in the Drive-In circuit, but breaking out into the mainstream in the mid-sixties, with Smokey and the Bandit stoking the fires to big box office.

Most films with a Southern fried bent tend to be political dramas, murder mysteries, or balls-out/boobs-out yee-haw broad comedies. From the title, I’m going to assume you realize that this film doesn’t fall into the “political” or “detective” range. After all, one of the first images you see is a sign that states, “Beware of dawg,” in front of the Barkham Asylum Dawg Pound. While I was totally impressed with that pun, that does tell you which kind of swamp you’re putting your steel-toed shoes into. It should be noted, at this point, that this is based on a comic book series that originated in the 1990s, which would explain a lot.

Filmed in Deland, FL, about halfway between Daytona Beach and Orlando, the story all takes place in Broken Taint, Florida, part of Cracker County, where the drawl is deeper than the thoughts. Which brings me to our hero, the shlubby, balding and thick as a stump Bubba (pre-werewolf Chris Stephens), who works in a go nowhere job (happily), hangs out at the local saloon to buy the cheapest booze they have, and has an unrequited love for Bobbie Jo (Malone Thomas). But she’s involved with town bully, Dangerous Dwight (David Santiago), a man who proudly knows how to cut arm holes in his shirts.

Bubba will do anything to get her back, including making a deal with the Devil (excellently played by Mitch Hyman, also the comic book’s creator), who turns him into the titular wolf-man (post-wolf Fred Lass). Now, this isn’t a Lawrence Talbot full moon kinda werewolf, but rather one who is in the skin, as it were, permanently. Is he scared? Is he evil? Does he terrorize the town? Hell, most people think it’s pre-wolf Bubba with a beard. Ironically, the only one who doesn’t recognize him is Bobbie Jo! And now that the Devil’s in town, he’s going to make due.

The humor here is quite broad, and definitely geared towards a certain audience; it’s completely Trumpville, as equating college students with zombies, and Bubba makes a meal out of a “liberal Democrat” (off-screen) as a throwaway punchline. Even so, this is quite funny. I’m sure there’s a joke or two I didn’t get as a New York liberal Democrat, but all of it still comes across as good natured and fun. Speaking of which, make sure you read all the posted signs that appear often throughout the film, even if you have to freeze-frame, or rewind a bit.

Some of the cast comes across as locals of where it was filmed, and many parts are the actors’ only IMBD listing. Either this is a relatively fresh cast, or they are using pseudonyms due to the title. Even so, the acting is quite at the right level (though the one really over-the-top is humorously done by the director himself). In a broad comedy, however, this is a given, so I had no problem with any of it. It should also be noted that some of the cast was also some of the crew. It all part of the tight-knit world of indie filmmaking that I love so much.

This whole creature feature is not really scary, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to young’uns for the following reason: while there is no nudity, there is a lot of innuendo, and plenty of blood and gore. Sure most of the splatter is highly digital looking, but it is still effective, and that doesn’t count some of the more gruesome appliance effects, which look really good. The gore aspect is not surprising considering it was written by Stephen Biro, who directed the intense American additions to the Guinea Pig series. Of course, however, this being a broad comedy in the modern period, there are the fart jokes, the vomit jokes, the drool jokes, and the ones involving (dog) shit. Again, appropriate for the genre.

What about the werewolf, you may ask; how did he look? Quite decent actually, in a non-threatening way. Wouldn’t want to meet him in a back good, but in this context, he’s a happy camper to be around, as long as you don’t try to mess with him. The make-up was designed for the actor, who manages to show emotion through it, which is a compliment to Lass. The overall appliance is okay, but he makes the most of it.

The humor is broad enough that it can incorporate other nods, such as one to Abbott & Costello, which fell a bit flat to me. But at the same time, when not dealing with bodily fluids (and gasses), the humor is quite warm and works well, usually.

I have to give a nod to the music by the Blast-Offs. Their stuff is a mix of rockabilly, old time country, and those “Hot Rod Lincoln” kinds of talk-songs with a doot-doot-doot backbeat.

For extras, and there are lots, so let’s start with the 16:08-minute “From Page to Screen: the Making of Bubba the Redneck Werewolf.” It’s the usual mix of on-set interviews, behind the scene b-roll, and covers several topics, including the stage from comic onward, the make-up, the music, some great anecdotes, and reactions by the cast/crew. It was all so very well done so that I enjoyed it throughout the length.

Next is a sweet and neat 2:39 minute Blooper Reel, and a 3:03-minute Deleted Scenes. While I agree with all of the snips, I’m glad they put this in. Doesn’t add anything to the story, but still sets some nice moods.

Lastly, there’s the Make-up Process featurette at 2:37, which is b-roll played over some of the Blast-Offs material, the title song video again by the Blast-Offs that is made up of a mix of behind the scenes b-roll and film clips, and the trailer.

I would like to add one final thought, and no disrespect is meant for anyone, but if I was a fictional character living a fictional life in this fictional town, and I would have walked into the bar where most of the action takes place, my choice would have been to cozy up to the bartender, Jamie Sue (Sara Humbert). Just sayin’.