Thursday, August 10, 2017

Review: Lust of the Vampire Girls

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

Lust of the Vampire Girls
Produced and directed by Matt Johnson
Some Hero Productions / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
77 minutes, 2014 / 2017
As with everything else, there are multiple levels of cinema: the big budget and the lower end. This was also true of the Euro-trash films of the late ‘60s into the late ‘80s. For every Dario Argento there was a Jesse Franco. This release models itself more after the latter than the former.

There certainly is a trend over the past few years to mostly honor and sometimes lovingly mock these now classics, be it the ones that were so-good-it’s-good or the so-bad-it’s-good. Most of these, though filmed before its fame, came to prominence in the Western Hemisphere with the rise of (i.e., a quick need for new product) video stores during the 1980s.

Most of the more recent batch of “throwback” style to Euro-horror is over the top in dialogue, in reading by actors and in style, such as purposefully putting in extremely obvious errors like the sound boom in the shot, or a crew member being in the background. A superb example of this is Richard Griffin’s recent Seven Dorms of Death.

While Lust of the Vampire Girls [LothVG] also does a lot of that, it does it a bit more subtly, so it actually looks like errors, rather than a nod-nod-wink-wink shared with the knowing audience. As I will describe later, it actually took me a while to catch on that this is what they were doing, so kudos to the production team.

Victor Medina and Amy Savannah
The basic story is that Pretty Girl (Amy Savannah) and Man (Victor Medina), as they are billed in the credits, are having a fight. She wants to go to a party, and in a very douchey and controlling way, he refuses, insisting she should be happy spending her time just with him. She goes anyway, and apparently her “friends,” all of whom wear party masks, are a cult led by a Romanian Nazi named Gunter (Dave Nilson) who worked beside Mengele in the camps. While there, Gunter invented a serum that turns women into snarling (there is a lot of snarling) vampires who do not age. The drug only works on women, but Dr. Gunter is still working on it.

Pretty Girl is kidnapped by the group, and Man goes to rescue her, in a passive-aggressive manner (“I’m here risking my neck for her tedious ass”). Meanwhile, Man falls for one of the more sentimental vampire women, Lead Vamp Girl (Ashely Eliza Parker).

Ashley Eliza Parker
One of the many interesting choices made by the director is to have one of the camp’s growling, nightgown clad (very Hammer Films style) vampires be African-American; note that I use that specific term because even though they were supposed to become vamps while in a Polish concentration camp, this was filmed in Utah. Don’t remember hearing much about people of color in the camps. But I digress…

The film takes place somewhere in the late-1960s or very early ‘70s, considering the cell phones, typewriters, and magazine covers (e.g., Look magazine from 1986…yes, I do my research). There are some anachronisms, though, such as a nose piercing or modern artistic tattoos on the backs and wrists of more than one character.

Now, when I started watching this, I thought perhaps they were trying too hard to get the feel of the style, with bad acting and one lead character that is a creep and another that is too – err – girly, but about a third of the way through, I had a realization that changed my mindset and actually made this film make more logical and additionally fun. Now, I’m not sure this is intentional, but simply put, I was comparing it to the likes of Italian releases by Argento or even Franco, but in actuality it makes more sense to see the likeness in the even lesser B-versions, if you will, such as Spanish/Mexican films starring Paul Naschy. Not as low as the Luchador ones with, say, Santo or Mil Mascaras, but yet not quite classic giallo.

One thing that is consistent with Italian giallo, though, is the humming and stepping-on-nerve soundtrack, which is more like an electronic pulse. There are also some intentional errors (again, I’m assuming), such as occasional shots that are actually in reverse (is there a reference for that for which I don’t remember?). Then there is the time padding of other clips, such as long and drawn out bits of said snarling vampire women, or someone walking through the woods.

Dave Nilson
Relying on the macho/feminine ethos of films from the period this is supposed to take place (i.e., when it is supposed to be shot), the gendered roles are heightened and exaggerated in hyper-sexualized ways: think of Jane Fonda in 1968’s Barbarella or Steve McQueen in…well, just about anything).

For example, Man comes home to an empty apartment and complains that Pretty Girl has smoked a joint while at the same time he came drunk and carrying a bottle. Then he smokes the last of her joint! He’s very controlling, not wanting her to see her friends. It’s hard to like him: he’s clearly unfaithful and ambivalent about rescuing her. He also falls for Lead Vamp Girl way too quickly. She’s unlike the other vampires in that she’s sweet, needs a man to love her, and is a bit too clingy and needy, unlike that damn Pretty Girl who has a mind of very own and wants something beyond the company of Man. The nerve! Damn those feminists (yeah, this is sarcasm on my part, and arguably on the film’s, as well).

The bad guy, Gunther, has a haram of vampire women that he created with his formula, like a Nazi Superfly; that is devotion-wise, rather than prostitution, though the vampire women definitely show their cleavage and beauty with their flowing nightgowns, as mentioned earlier.

The extras are a bunch of Wildeye Releasing trailers (always fun), including for this film, and a 4+ minute short showing how LofVG’s storyboard translates into the film. Not very deep, but fun.

My uptightness as the film unspooled was because of my own blindness. LotVG is so close to what it’s trying to reflect, that it took me a while to realize what it was doing. That is not the fault of the director, but of my own subjectivity. That is the reason I started it over after about 15 minutes, to watch again with a new set of eyes, as it were. I smiled a lot more, and it was much more of an enjoyable experience. Fans of either Euro- or Mexi-horror are bound to find much to like, especially if you are familiar with the paradigm Johnson used to build his story.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Review: Grindhouse Gutmunchers

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

Grindhouse Gutmunchers
Deadly Indie Entertainment / World Wide Multi-Media (WWMM) / MVD Visual
150 minutes, 2017

This double-DVD set contains two repackaged anthology films, including two bonus movies, from the pro-KISS and Alice Cooper, liberal-antagonizing Scarlet Fry (this liberal reviewer still likes him, even though disagrees often), who owns and runs the World Wide Multi-Media (WWMM) organization that puts out some amazing and oft overlooked releases. In other words, there is a heeeeell of a lot to see here.

But first this message: there are varying levels to cinema, with the top of the chain being the multi-million dollar sagas, and at the bottom some kid with a camera filming his friends. Scarlet’s work, especially the earlier stuff shot on VHS, is closer to the former than the latter. And yet…no, wait now… and yet, his output is so much fun that it really doesn’t matter in the long run. Personally, I would rather see one of these relatively amateurish anthology collections than, say, any of the Paranormal Activity films, or some of the same old rehashing of older films again and again. There is quite a bit of originality here, through the cheesy effects, corny jokes, and the occasional questionable acting skills. But I’ll delve into all that in a bit more detail as we go along.


Scarlet Fry’s Junkfood Horrorfest                                                      
Directed by Brian Crow and Walter Ruether (aka Scarlet Fry)
Chained to the Wall Productions / Chemical Burn Entertainment
75 minutes, 2007
From the brief opening segment, which is not technically part of either the wraparound or the six stories that make up the main body of the film, we are introduced to a stoned out drug dealer sitting by a dumpster, who is approached by a woman who demands him to give her some dope. He gives her a bag and she gives him a warning that it better be the real thing. What it turns out to be is the video tape that is Junkfood Horrorfest. What makes this even more special, I’m sure especially to Fry, is that the junkie is played by Calico Cooper, the talented and attractive offspring of the infamous Alice. This is quite the coup for Fry, and certainly a thrill for us.

We are then introduced to the wraparound, hosted by Scarlet Fry who uses his own name (stage name anyway) – as a hillbilly kidnapper with a partial leather facemask (assuming human). Every anthology film of Fry’s/Ruether’s has himself, sometimes with others, as some form of host to introduce the tales in Tales from the Crypt fashion (though comics have been doing it since at least the late ‘40s, of course). It’s filled with puns and groaners, as it should be, and I’m cool wid it.

Before I start on the stories, I have to say that even though it was shot on video (I’m guessing sVHS), it has a very clean and nearly digital look that made me happy, too… well, on my television anyway, which still has a cathode tube… don’t judge me; rather, send me bucks to get a newer one!
Scarlet Fry hosting
As with the other films on these discs, I won’t go into great detail because these stories are about 10 minutes each so that my going into great depths would reveal too much of the shenanigans. However, I will pick out some standouts.

There are some stories that are merely there, it seems, as an excuse to show some appliance effects, more than dependent on an actual narrative, such as “The Bloodthirsty Butcher” and “The Devil Made Me Do It” (with the very cute Sasha Lightstone). In many, the acting is quite borderline, some of it even terrible, but there are shining moments, such as the psychological study with Fry doing a solo in “Wasted Life.” I can see some people may see this particular non-action filled piece as the weak link in the film, but I thought it was among the strongest for just that reason. Fry does a great job in stoicism (yes, that’s a compliment).

A couple of the stories, the aforementioned “Wasted Life” and the trippy-albeit-obvious-ending “The Solution,” (which I enjoyed), as with a surprising number of other short horror films, have little to no dialog. This can be viewed as a good thing, as some of the dialog can be cheesy, and others downright (purposefully, I’m sure) offensive. For example, there is the totally nonsensical (and my least favorite) “Griptape Spank,” where a gay man pays a trio of skater duuuudes to hit his thonged ass with their boards, hence the title. One of the duuuudes is afraid of being thought of as enjoying it too much. The “F” words are thrown around a lot (no, I mean “fag” and “faggot” – and “gay,” as in “that’s so gay,” while we’re at it). Even in 2007, using these terms is of questionable taste (what, me PC?). I also believe that is the point of the story, to be offensive, so in context I guess it’s acceptable? I just believe that many people viewing this may actually share the sentiments espoused, rather than thinking about it. Truth is, even if the term wasn’t used, it’s still not among what I would call the best of stories.

Considering the age of the film and the assumption of its (lack of) budget, the effects look really decent, most of the time. Yeah, there’s some fakey looking stuff, but much of it looks beyond its budget, such as with (again) “Wasted Life,” and the final piece that was added on later in an amusing way (i.e., the sixth tale), “Love is Blind,” which is one of the better written bits, though not the best acted (Danielle Fisher definitely comes out the better through most of it).
As an early film, there has to be some forgiveness, especially considering the constraints of budget and acting (for most of the cast, this is their only credit listed). Believe me, I've seen much, much worse from people who have had more filmmaking experience than Fry at this point in his career. In all, it’s a good introduction to his work and this DVD(s) collection. Oh, and stick around after the credits for some cool outtakes.

Scarlet Fry’s Horrorama
Directed by Walter Ruether (aka Scarlet Fry)
Black Mass Entertainment / Pegasus Productions
27 minutes, 1989

Going back even further in time is this collection made when Fry was a mere 19 years of age. There are five tales shot on VHS, although that is pretty obvious from the visual video noise.

Once again (though this predates the feature above), Fry hosts our viewing under his own name in a gruesome Lon Chaney London After Midnight-ish outfit with nicely designed and disgusting teeth (especially when he eats in them).

Considering his age at the time, this release actually looks better than it may sound in my description. Yeah, it’s amateurish, grainy (again, VHS), and the story are not too deep which is reflected in the acting ability, but it has heart and some laughs (it is considered a comedy).

For example, “Manwich” and “Kiss Kiss Me New Wave Zombie” don’t really have proper stories, just set pieces, though the effects look decent (except for the wigs which have an ‘80s hair band level of poofiness). For “A Day in the Park,” an abusive tool finds a gun in the park and puts it to questionable use (“when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail” syndrome?).

The twist in the opening – and best – sequence of “In the Sack” is a hoot. Llana Lloyd (who also wrote this, I believe) is in Rhonda Fleming territory while waiting for her date, a putz who purses his lips (now it would be called duck face) and keeps popping his collar. The acting here is atrocious from all involved, but it’s still satisfying. The last piece, “R.I.P. Rest in Peace” is another subliminally (or perhaps pretty blatant) anti-gay screed as a leather-clad motorcycle hoppin’ woman (well she dresses like it, anyway) in Captain Sensible “Wot” mode is woken from her sleep by her effeminate hubby (also played by Fry) who is ineffectively trying to chop a log.

Thing is, ya gotta start somewhere, and this definitely shows some promise that was pushed forward. I’m glad Fry has kept making films, because you can certainly see some growth along the way. This is also what makes the collection fun, as you can see the trajectory of his career so far.

The last film presented on the first DVD is a somewhat fuzzy rerelease of the public domain cult horror classic from 1962, Carnival of Souls. Definitely worth watching, even if it’s to see that, yeah, even back then sometimes the acting and filmmaking are not up to A-level speed, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a benchmark. The intro and outro of the dreamy CoS is presented as a television program called “Scarlet Fry’s Cinemacabre, with three horror hosts making snarky comments and bad puns, led by Fry again, in a costume that looks more Boy George than horror (though for some of us, it’s a negligible difference).

Also added on are a few trailers for the films on this DVD.


Scream Machine: Unrated
Directed by Walter Ruether III
Deadly Indie Entertainment / World Wide Multi-Media (WWMM)
71 minutes, 2015
The main feature of the second disk has already been reviewed by me during its pre-DVD release, HERE

But there are also some nice extras on the disc that were not included when I saw it the first time (yes, I watched it again). There are also two different trailers for Scream Machine, but the smile-maker for me is a five-minute outtake compilation of Lloyd Kaufman trying to get through a promo for the film. It’s hysterical.

It takes a particular mindset to watch films of this caliber, and I know most of the people who are reading this are just of that ilk, so sit back and enjoy. Yeah, there will be some “WTF” and mocking comments, but that’s part of the fun, and more than likely there will be some amusement and certainly some on-screen disembowelments for all to enjoy.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: WTF!

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

Directed by Peter Herro
Midnight Releasing / Cthulhu Productions           
75 minutes, 2017

This film has just been released on VoD today (August 1, 2017), which makes sense since it’s definitely summer fare. To sum it up and categorize it in a single descriptor that is to be further deconstructed, it’s a cabin-in-the-woods-slasher flick.

In my humble opinion, what the twin-subgenres needs to be anywhere interesting, considering the umpteenth version of it, is some form of originality mixed into the formula. Right from the start, they begin well with an obvious nod to the godfather (godlessfather? godlessmother?) of all cabin in the woods films, The Evil Dead (1981). Got my attention, for shizzle (yeah, I’m that old). Not to mention the nudity in the first 30 seconds. Maybe a great start.

There is the mandatory – albeit brief – flashback bit, but there also seems to be a flashforward to the future piece at the beginning, as well. Ever more interesting.

As we get into the meat-and-gravy of the core story, we meet a couple of… I want to say overage college students? A pool party is raging, and we are introduced to the mostly male doofuses that are also obligatory, including the king of the cameos Shawn C. Phillips and (of all people) Perez Hilton. Is he still alive? A decade ago or so he was omnipresent. Now, well, this is the first time I’ve seen anything associated with him in a very long time. I don't have anything against or for him, just an interesting choice for a semi-celeb walk-on. Anyway, yeah, the guys are your typical genre skuzballs whose choice of topics are sex (here, one says, “You still haven’t done anal? That’s Jesus’ favorite!”), being drunk, hitting on women (even Donnie, the gay character played by Hilton, hits on the “hot chick”), and drugs – in this case pot. A bit too cliché, methinks.

Callie Ott
Into the party walks the queen of the group, Bonnie (Andrea Hunt in full Paris Hilton mode (”Those oldies but goodies remind me of you-ah-ooo…”). Meanwhile, Bonnie’s best friend and the protagonist of the story (aka The Good Girl) is Rachel (Callie Ott), who was The Last Girl after a bunch of her friends were slaughtered by a serial killer three years earlier. We get to see short clips from then strewn through the film. Perhaps eventually to be a prequel? Hey, this is all on the film’s description; I won’t give away anything that is not already avowed by the production team itself. And now, Rachel and her band of…jocks and Rich-Girl friends are heading to a cabin in the woods to party.

Some of the other cliché characters include The Stoner Jacob (Benjamin Norris, who is actually quite good in the role), the ambiguously and possibly gay Bevan (Adam Foster), and the Mean Girl, Lisa (Sarah Agor). Rachel’s boyfriend Sam (Johnny James Fiore) joins in, just in case she has (in her own truly clever wording) “a spring breakdown.” What could possibly go wrong, right? In total, the group includes four doods and three chicks (as opposed to four men and three women).

Even after the obligatory old guy at the gas station warns them to stay away, they go on ahead. If I were rich, I would love to just own a lone gas station in the middle of nowhere so when people ask for directions, I could say, “I’d turn back ifn ah wuz you.” But I digress… Instead, they head on to the cabin where they continue to act like complete asses. When Rachel thanks them for being supportive, one guy responds with “Show us your tits!”

Now I have to say, for a cabin, this is certainly a huge step up from the rustic ones you usually see in these kinds of films. Perhaps it is a mile in the woods, with no Wi-Fi or hardly any phone signal, but it’s huge, modern and has most of the amenities, having been owned by Jacob’s uncle, before he…well….

About half way through the film, the gristle starts to fly as these dum-dums get picked off one by one. Now, I want to be clear, while I feel justified to be mocking these characters, I do not want to give the impression that this film is lacking for entertainment value. Rather, there is a lot going on, some of it amusingly self-reflexive of the genre, which is a good thing. For example, while a lot of the dialog is – pun intended – WTF, it has a nice snarky tone, and some lines that are definitely quotable, such as, “C’mon, my balls are like fuckin’ Smurfs right now!” And if one were to make a drinking game of every time someone says, “Are you serious?!” in some form or another, you’d be plastered by the end.

What I get out of this is that rather than falling into merely formulaic characters, director Peter Herro is acknowledging the stereotypes that perpetuate this kind of film. What leads me to believe that is a number of things, such as two women having a pillow fight at a motel (seen through the window during a pan shot), and one character doing that added vowel at the end of sentences when annoyed, such as “You should dump him-muh!” and “I don’t know-wah!”

Then again, this is the director’s first film, so perhaps he’s being careful, rather than striking out with too much originality, i.e., playing it a bit on the safe side? I’m hoping to find out at some point. If there is any real flaw to the film, specifically the script, it’s that there is way too much talking during the first half of the film, especially before the killing starts. Parts of the party scene at the very beginning were painful in their over-sexualized tones. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all the nudity, it’s the constant hitting on by the men and the relentless ridiculing by the women. It goes beyond stereotype into drooling. But that’s easily solved with script editing in the next film; I’m hoping there is more for the director as this shows a large promise of things to come.

The acting is quite well done, especially Ott and Norris (as I said earlier), though everyone hits the mark with a decent reading and timing. The picture certainly looks great, with some sharp photography and editing. The gore is not abundant, and doesn’t need to be, but more important is that it looks good.

As for the ending, yeah, I figured it out pretty quickly, though there was a specific twist I did not see until near the end. Actually both guessing correctly and not getting it made me happy. Be sure to stick around for the credits and follow the art, as it continues the story.

Lastly, and this is my own snarky humor that’s neither here nor there, and it’s meant for a laugh, shouldn’t it be WTF? rather than WTF! If it were me, I’d take the easy way out with WTF?!

If you’re a slasher fan, I sincerely believe that you won’t be disappointed. There is just enough humor and tension – and even at least one jump scare – that make a viewing worth seeking out.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: Thorn

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet
Thorn [aka Legacy of Thorn]
Photographed, written, directed, edited, etc., by MJ Dixon
Mycho Entertainment Group / Wildeye Releasing / MVD Video
97 minutes, 2016 / 2017

Although the more human Leatherface pretty much began the thread of masked killers with sharp objects in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), it was kicked into high gear with the Michael Myers / Halloween (1978) and Jason Voorhees / Friday the 13th (1980) one-two punch of the additional supernatural nature of the hulking killing machines. While not yet cliché, the theme of the Thorn character is also certainly not exactly new. But then again, I truly believe it’s time we had a fresh franchise, doncha think?!

The original character of Thorn was from 2009; he showed up again in Slasher House in 2012. I have yet to see those first two releases, but this comes across as a remake/reboot by its creator. There are a couple of differences I already know about, and it’s probably a good idea to start fresh. Someday, though, I would like to see the original to compare. For example, in the first, Thorn was the concealed character’s family name; now perhaps it refers to the mucho grande machetes he carries.

The story is set in Avondale, a relatively new village in a suburb of industrial England (filmed around Greater Manchester). The film is broke up into two segments, which intercut between each other throughout. One is the modern Leap Year of 2012 (when it was filmed), and the other takes place the previous one, four years earlier in 2008. What is extremely well done is that the present one is chronological, but the previous is shown in reverse order, so it starts with the end of the day, and goes back to the beginning of it. I thought was well written/done is that you don’t lose track of either, and the viewer knows which is which. Bravo.

Thorn is a huge, brute of a man with an arm full of tribal stripe-style tattoos, dressed in tight leather (it must have been hell for Richard Holloran, who portrays him). The mask is interesting with a metallic sheen, and more so the two enormous machetes he carries crossed on his back, though most of the time at least one is in his hand. With superhuman strength (more on that later), he can easily chop a human into bits, though a mid-section stab from front or back seems to be the preferred choice.

The high school into which he enters – nay, saunters, as he has a very confident swagger – to obliterate anyone in his path is full of bullies/mean girls, cheerleaders, nerds and the cool Black guy (Paris Rivers). However, it doesn’t seem to be infested by any supervision. The only adult seen (not counting Thorn, that is) is the janitor, and he’s part of a bigger, cult happening (shades of the Wicker Man, Batman!). Perhaps the teachers and admin are in on it, but it’s never really explained. More on that, later, too.

Jade Wallis
Thorn’s focus is on one of the cheerleaders, Jessica. While he kills anyone who gets in the way of reaching her, he also seems to go out of his way to build a substantial body count. Jess is definitely a flawed human (as are all of us) in a film locus. An odd mix of ego and fear, gets to scream and cower a lot, needing – or demanding – help from others, which doesn’t end well for them. Local actor Jade Wallis does a decent job of it, though occasionally shrilly; but then again, I’m willing to bet someone in that position, being faced with an immortal with superhuman strength and twin machetes, just might be a bit shrill. I’m just sayin’. Jane Haselhurst, who plays her frenemy, Alice, does a nice turn, as well. Actually, the whole cast mostly does a decent job of it.

One factor I enjoyed was watching the difference between the characters in the 2009 sequences compared to the later 2012 ones. Some personalities are completely different, even in body language and tone.  

There are some issues with the film: the biggest one, for example, is that there are some conversational parts that go on way longer than they need be, past their point of usefulness to the plot. This would have been a very tight thrill-ride 80 minutes, but considering the action-to-talking ratio, this is better than most, and its concentrated in just a few scenes here and there.

Also, there are some plot holes, such as the why does this mask have so much power and where does it come from. Why only on Leap Year day. When – and why – did it all start? There are hints that the story will go on (having a title card saying “Thorn will return in” another film is a strong indicator, along with how, to some extent. What is the cult that it seems much of the town’s power class seems to be in on? As with many films of this nature, the first one introduces the evil character, and the sequel(s) tell the backstory in more detail.

There is a lot of blood (much spewing from the mouth) with little gore (juicy bits), and the SFX are largely applications, with some digi stuff thrown in to beef (pun unintended) it up. A couple of nude scenes mostly from the back, ample cleavage and braless tees add to the viewing, but nothing for the women as the men stay clad (and remain mostly clods).

Make sure you stay past the credits for a Marvel-like bit at the end. The extras are a standard-albeit-interesting 22-minute Making Of which includes backstage footage and interviews of the cast shot by the cast, and two different trailers for the film.

With the imperfections in place (hey, I had issues with both the original Halloween and Friday the 13th, too), I have to say this was still a fun film that goes what it sets out to do, create a new and enjoyable killing semi-human killing machine that can become a new – err – legacy to enjoy. I do recommend it.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: Badass Monster Killer

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

Badass Monster Killer
Written and directed by Darin Wood
TFO Productions / Wildeye Releasing / MVD Video
96 minutes, 2015 / 2017

After watching this enjoyable spoof/nod to the exploitation / Blaxploitation / sexploitation genres, I had an interesting discussion with a friend while I was trying to explain the basic premise to someone who (a) has not seen the film, and (b) not really into the styles it’s based upon. He said that if a film is purposefully over-the-top, then it loses its association with others that are unintentionally so-bad-they’re-good. My response was that it depends on the attitude of the secondary feature. If it is trying too hard to the point of where it becomes something else, and it becomes so-bad-its-bad, yes, I agree. This is true of films like A Haunted House [2013], or the likes of Vampires Suck [2010]. But there is a fine line where it works, such as Richard Griffin’s Seven Dorms of Death [2016], or this one.

This picture is from the director whose last release was The Planet of the Vampire Women [2011], which was a nod to ‘50s sci-fi (e.g., Queen of Outer Space in 1958) mixed with ‘70s sex sci-fi (such as Spaced Out in 1979). Now, he’s delved a bit deeper, and come up with a fine mashup that is both head scratching WTF? and laugh-out-loud Say What? As I proceed through the review, I will delve a bit into its references.

Amelia Belle and Jawara Duncan
The basic premise revolves around a hyper-cool brother who is a police officer for the Department of Supernatural Security named Jimmy Chevelle (Jawara Duncan). Did I mention this takes place in Camarotown? Anyway, along the way he meets women who fall for him and become sort of an army. Most reviews claim this is based on the Blaxploitation style of Shaft [1971]; early on, we even see the Loveshaft Hotel in the background. To be fair, this could also be a reference to H.P. Lovecraft, as this takes place in his mythos with references to Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones. Or, this is strange enough that the hotel name actually be a cross between both. But more than Shaft, I would posit that it’s closer to Dolemite [1975], and the better for it.

His subject of investigation is a sect that wants to bring back said Great Old Ones via weed that makes you susceptible to them (a motif also used in Todd Sheet’s Dreaming Purple Neon). Heading this group of miscreants is Reverend Dellamorte (Ryan Cicak), a goateed white guy with a thick southern accent – fighting the black guy…get it? – and wearing what I think is a full-length, sleeveless black leather dress. Now, to be fair, his gang of goof-ups include Latinos and African-Americans, so I’m not sure if my mind is interpreting more than I’m seeing. Still, it works for me, even with that inconsistency.

The dialog is hysterical, and occasionally repetitious, in a running gag form (Wood did a similar thing, also successfully, in his previous film around the term “vampire”). The word diabolical, for example, may be in every other sentence. Duncan is really good at spitting out strings of script in an amusing way, making it not feel repetitive as much as humorous. For example, every time he meets a woman who is in danger, he says to her, “Take it easy baby, I’ve got everything under control. Listen ‘cause I’m only gonna say this once: I work for a very top secret branch of the government that exists to do battle with supernatural, diabolical forces that most people don’t even know exist. Now, if you’re cool with that, later maybe you and me can get it together, but right now I got business.” This inevitably leads to a kiss between them before he fights whatever is the threat.

There is a lot of good writing and fine Dolemite-like moments. For example, when some guy is in the street screaming hysterically, Chevelle snarks to him, “What the fuck is the matter with you? Hunh? I’m in there trying to come up with the plan of how to keep the Earth from being enslaved by fucked up creatures from beyond and shit. How’s a brother supposed to concentrate with you out here screaming like a bitch!? Don’t make me beat yo ass!”

In case you’re wondering, I’m actually not giving away too much because there are a lot quotes that could be used as examples.

Another incorrect comparison, in my opinion, is to the film Sin City [2005], since nearly all of Badass is shot in green screen (other than two solid sets), with all the buildings and other objects leaning towards the center. This is more reminiscent of the work of Jimmy ScreamerClauz. If I may digress for a sec, check out some of the signs in the background for a laugh, such as Arkham Sam’s Liquors. So, back to the background art: I can understand the comparison, but it doesn’t hold up for me. Sin City was like a comic book, while this is more cartoon. Okay, another way to phrase it might be the latter is more Wally Wood, while this is more Basil Worthington. Both films take place in a world that couldn’t exist in real life, but SC went for more realism; BMK isn’t interested in any form of reality, it’s nearly surrealistic.

Which brings me to the monsters. Each one looks fake as can be, with cheesy digi-art or rubber limbs when they interact with the actors. They also look silly, again like something from the mind of Worthington. But in this context, they are fun to watch, like bad stop-motion. I mean, they’re right up there with the creatures from The Giant Claw (1957) or From Hell It Came (also ’57). In this completely produced and processed world, I thought the monsters were smile-worthy rather than cringe-.

As for the music by Phillip Baldwin, it’s a nice mix of funk and ‘70s porno chic-a-wah-wah, but if you listen carefully, the lyrics are exactly matching what is happening on the screen. It’s hysterical and incredibly well done.

One might expect – and one would be right – that the acting is a tad over the top. And again, it works here. It’s not so broad that it becomes as cartoonish as the backdrop, but it’s definitely what I call the John-Lithgow-on-a-sitcom level. As I said, Duncan is perfect in the role, able to handle both the smolder and the sass (and afro) to just the right tone for the film. Sometimes Cicak is a bit too Snidely Whiplash, but I understand it. I was almost expecting him to literally say, “Mwah-ha-ha!”

Most of the cast is female (not a complaint), though a majority seem to be strippers, hookers, a crime boss named Lola Maldonado (Amelia Belle; Maldonado is also a surname used in his previous film), and cops. For me, a standout was the Liz Clare, who has done some strong work in other productions, as well.

The Army of Foxes
A chunk of the action takes place in a strip joint, and even beyond that there is dancing, lots and lots of go-go style dancing. You see a street? There are women dancing in the shot. As overtly macho as the men are, most of the women need to be rescued until Chevelle trains them into an army of “foxes” (one black, one Latina, one white). Other than Chevelle’s boss, an exception is Maldonado, who is strong and smoldering from the beginning, but still has trouble resisting Chevelle’s funk-a-wonk-a-wong-wong mojo. This theme does feel a bit like Sin City to be honest.

The first extra is a 6:23 Deleted Scenes that were rightfully taken out, though most of it is related to the infected pot theme that doesn’t go anywhere in the story anyway. However, it is interesting to see the green screen sets to realize how much work went into the background. This is followed by a 14:40 onstage Q&A at a showing during the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. It consists of a few of the crew, including Wood, and some of the cast, specifically Duncan and Cicak. The sound is kinda fuzzy, seemingly recorded on a cell phone, so it picks up the fuzz from ambient room echo. Still, the info given is worth the listen. The last two extras are versions of the trailer.

I have no idea of H.P. Lovecraft had a sense of humor, but if he did, he would have gotten a hoot outta this, especially the battle of good vs. evil at the conclusion. How long this review is just an indication of how much I enjoyed it.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Review: The Acid Sorcerer

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

The Acid Sorcerer
Written, produced, directed and edited by Dakota Bailey
R.A. Productions
50 minutes, 2017

They say (whoever they are) that when you find something you’re good at, stick with it. With this being Dakota Bailey’s third feature, he’s doing just that. He has found a pretty unique (at this point) niche of reality that can scare the viewer, but not because of the supernatural but more because of a vision of life. If the past year has shown anything, Americans are capable of doing just about anything, even if it’s against their own self-interest. Bailey’s view is that to the extreme, at what most would probably consider the lower rungs of the social contract ladder.

Bailey has his formula, with title card introductions for characters or “stories” (all of which intermingle in a porous way) about drug dealers, prostitutes, hired killers, serial killers, and essentially the kind of people that fascinate when reading about on the paper or seeing on the big (or small) screen, but not necessarily someone whom you would want to share breathing space.

Mostly filmed in black and white, there is the occasional smattering of psychedelic color tones thrown in to represent alternative realities due to illicit substances. The atmosphere is stabbed by the soundtrack by metal band Ramesses. As this all unfolds, we are introduced to the characters one by one, and shudder.

Dakota Bailey as Smoke
There is no real past tense in this film, there is only whatever is happening in the moment, and the people act accordingly and usually impulsively. Also, there is no real need for character exposition to know that you cross the other side of the street when you see them. Bailey touches that instinctual, repulsed side of the average viewer: you don’t need to learn, just intuitively know.

There is also an unexpected, philosophical touch to the film, as it acknowledges its own inner darkness, as well as those as the characters. It’s a chilling and nihilistic view of a nearly claustrophobic group of people whose lives are revolving around the seven deadlies, and it’s hard to see past that, even when one character, a drug user named Crawdad (Darien Fawkes, who is also AD on the film), mentions a glimmer of hope at one point. Religion tries to open some light, but that door quickly slams shut.

The weird thing – and what makes Bailey a force on the rise – is that despite (or perhaps because of) the despicableness of those who infest the film, the viewer kinda wants to know what happens to them. For some of them, that feeling goes beyond the time length of the actual story. I promise, I won’t give away much.

While there isn’t any central character because the story is so episodic and scene driven, our introduction is with Smoke (played by Bailey). Not only is he a drug using… okay, I’m gonna stop there for a sec… let me suffice it to say that just about everyone in the story is a drug user. Okay, getting back, Smoke is a bit of a schizophrenic, or perhaps one via shooting up or through acid flashbacks. His “other” is the cloaked and appropriately named Leach, urging Smoke to be a serial killer, ridding anyone who is perceived in his way. Leach is the demon on his shoulder urging him on, without the aid of the angel on the other side. Of course, this is merely a reflection of his own drug-induced id taken shape… or is it something more sinister?

Nick Benning is Nikki
Other major characters include Crawdad and his pregnant meth-addicted girlfriend Vermina (Natasha Morgan), a cross-dressing sadistic snuff filmmaker Nikki (Nick Benning), a truly nasty drug dealer who likes to see his clients suffer named Eyevin (Brian Knapp), and an HIV-positive prostitute named Ecstasy (Selene Velveteen). Most are not going to fare very well in this lifestyle.

The film is literally littered with death, as we watch the characters interact with each other behind a wall of ego, masculinist posturing (in most cases), the urge of desire and need, and trying to figure out how to survive the present moment.

Part of what makes it all so compelling is that it feels like the dialog is ad libbed, as if it were actual people talking to (or at) each other. Mostly they’re lost in their own altered minds, awash in whatever substance is available, especially ego. Since most of the characters fumble through their lives in the realities that exist in their own heads, Bailey wisely has them verbalize their thoughts, to let us wussy straight-edgers know what is happening to them, such as (as this is not a direct quote), “Ha! Look at that guy! Can you believe it!?”

The film is visually dark, as are Bailey’s previous works, but thanks to it not being as grainy, it is a bit easier to see, especially since most of the action happens at night. Yeah, the acting is occasionally either stiff or over the top, but if you think about it, we all tend to do that; we’re just not used to seeing it on the screen.

This does for Denver, what Taxi Driver (1976) did for New York City: it focuses on the seedy, the dirty and the back alleys, where the denizens of the story would likely live, rather than the posh side of the city most people know from previous cinema. If you have walked down the central street in downtown Denver, with its book stores, its restaurants and watering holes and the sudden proliferation of weed shops, you would not recognize the city from these perspectives, both literally and figuratively.

There is a mention on IMDB about Bailey that states, “he does not think of himself as a director or an actor just a film fan who is making the kind of movies he wants to see and he never went to film school.” Yeah, you can tell. And I’m grateful for it because he has his own voice that I don’t see elsewhere, and would not want to see it “directed” through someone else’s vision of what cinema is supposed to be. The fact that none of the actors in this film are professionals but actually friends tells a lot. Sure, I’d like to see a larger female presence in this films (two out of eight here), but hopefully that will come over time.

If I could make any suggestions of help it would be twofold: first, to get some more practice in tone corrections to make the films a bit lighter and easier to see considering the many night scenes. The second would be in sound as sometimes the voices are a bit hard to hear over the ambient street noise. I fully acknowledge that it makes it more real (better than overdubbing the voices, that’s for certain), it’s just that a couple of times I had to back the film up to be able to make out what is being said. These are both minor bits, and it’s pretty obvious that on many levels, Bailey is a natural. And I’m not just saying that because I’m mentioned in the Thanks section at the end.

There is an interesting interview short on YouTube of some of the actors in the piece that’s also worth seeking out.