Saturday, September 29, 2012

DVD Review: The Scar Crow

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2012
Images from the Internet
                            
The Scar Crow
Written and directed by Andy Thompson and Pete Benson                
Gaia Media / Dead on Arrival Digital / Jingai                 
83 minutes, 2009 / 2012    

Well this is a just-miss Hammer-esk film that is a bit of a mixture of early-1970s and mid-‘80s clichés. The story of three fetching witches (Prim, Proper, and Vanessa Tanner) enacting a bloody plan to escape a curse by their lecherous (and non-warlock?) dad and move on after 300 years could have been right out of the mind of those who wrote the Karnstein Trilogy (look it up HERE) rather than written by co-directors Andy Thompson and Pete Benson).

Let me start with the good stuff, coz that’s the kinda guy/fan I am. The film looks beautiful, is shot well, and edited strongly (if sometimes confusing of the action, especially in dim-lit scenes). People fading in and out are certainly nice touches and the sense of atmosphere works incredibly well; also soundly done is a scene where the audience can see the post-carnage effects in a room, but some of the characters who are enchanted cannot. The British countryside and the farm have just the right feeling of isolation, creepiness and loneliness to show the emotions of the sisters, without needing dialog to explain, though the words and actions are there.

The shimming light of fire rather than electricity, for example, is used without much loss to the image (i.e., too dark to see), and the color saturation is nicely tuned (fire tends to make things too yellow or red).

As the viewer is taken back and forth between the origin story centuries ago that weaves through modern times, it is never confusing, and they tie together in a solid knot that is the center of the story.

Ah, yes, the story. Actually, it is a really decent tale that is poorly told (as you can see, I’m starting on the problem parts now). While the acting is mostly either over- or underdone, which I will get to shortly, it is the co-screenwriting by the directors where is the most troubling.

But first, let us catch up a bit on the story. You got the three enticing witch sisters who cannot leave the farm until the curse is lifted (they are both bodily solid and spatially fluid, depending on the circumstance, which is actually a nice touch), and then there are the four macho insurance salesmen (is that an oxymoron, or are they just trying to mock a cliché?) copping out on a mean-spirited office team-building weekend (I would quit the job before going through this ridiculous and physically rigorous nonsense; most office workers could not do what is expected in the film, and beside, many insurance sellers these days are women, and there is nary a true representation in the group. But, as usual, I digress…). Running out on the exercises (rightfully), they come across the rural farm with the witches, to become fodder, as expected.

Man, I hated these four guys. They are every macho jock moron bar bully you ever met. We are also never given a chance to really feel pity for them, because, with one exception, there is no background story given about them, and absolutely no character development. All they do is drink (excessively), talk about how they’re going to score with the three women (disproportionately), and goad and fight with each other, calling their supposed good buddies “twats” over and over. The dislike I felt for them, including the supposedly sympathetic one who is more than willing to cheat on his girlfriend, was palpable. There were a couple of times there where I just said to the screen, “Oh, c’mon, kill the asshole already.”

There is also no shock value in here. When one of the four twats (as I now will call them) stops for a potty break in a field, there’s no doubt as to what is going to happen. Even the ending is no surprise, if you’ve seen any horror film in the last 30 years.

 But the biggest annoyance for me was the questions that went through my mind about the plot holes. For example (and I’ll only give two here), if the witches are planning to use these twats for their great escape, why would they let them go to the town pub and mix with the locals, including the cliché wise-but-not-taken-seriously-by-anyone older guy (bar owner, here) who warns them to leave? And why, when they are seducing one of the twats, who is tied to the bedposts, would two of the sisters undress over him and start kissing each other?  I mean, gratuitous lesbian incest, really?

As for the cast, well, most of the acting, as I said, was either too subdued or too scenery chewing. For example, the witches are supposed to be 300 years old and isolated (are you trying to tell me that no one else has been on that farm in all that time for them to do what they need to escape?; obviously, there are more than two questions…), but they sure do seem to know a lot about Twenty-first Century mores for women from the Eighteenth Century, including stripping at the drop of a corset. When they speak, they sound stilted in their language, like a high schooler trying to do Shakespeare, rather than have it flow naturally. This is especially true, sadly, for the most film-credited actor in the cast, redheaded Marysia Kay (as the eldest, Vanessa). Her line reading is atrocious here (I haven’t seen her in anything else, so I don’t know if it’s endemic for her, or she just didn’t care about this mess). The other two sisters, busty and beautiful Gabrielle Douglas (middle child Proper) and the cute and more reticent Anna Tolputt (youngest Prim, short for Primrose), fare a bit better, but are caught in a maelstrom of clunky writing.

As for the twats, well, mostly they seem interchangeable. Their characters were so vacant and transparent, and their portrayers so bland, that half the time I couldn’t remember who was whom. In fact, I’m not even going to bother with them, other than the supposedly sympathetic anti-hero (?) Dez, played by Kevyn (really?) Connett (who looks remarkably like Canadian comedian Shaun Majumder). While his acting probably comes the closest to being best among the troupe (possibly why he is the lead male role), he is also hampered by a ham-fisted script.

Now the all important gore-factor: I read a review that claimed it was not up to par, but actually, I thought the blood-to-kill quotient was quite good, and with one exception of a very obvious prosthetic in a corn field, was pleased with the various body parts strewn about in various scenes. It is amusing to me that a similar gag employed here – a hand reaching through a body to lift out a heart – was also used almost identically in a more recent film, Zombie A-Hole, reviewed recently on this blog by moi. Oh, sidebar here: I actually was annoyed that the character who had his heart removed above, along with other internal organs, was still alive to view all this happening way beyond the point of even suspension of disbelief. Again, poor writing/direction.
                                          
I realize this is a first film by Benson and Thompson, so I’m going to cut them some slack. After all, as much as I loved them, the similar could be said about some of the early works of masters like Chronenberg, Waters, Hooper, and yes, even Romero. I’ll keep my fingers crossed, even though they’ve only worked on one film since this was filmed in 2009. Perhaps we can get them to direct something they have not written, or have edited by someone else, where their strengths will all come together, because if they can match their content with their visuals, they may become a force worth noting.
                                                                      


Bonus clip:


Friday, September 7, 2012

DVD Review: Zombie A-Hole

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Blog, 2012
Images from the Internet

Zombie A-Hole
Written and directed by Dustin W. Mills
108 minutes, 2012  

Is this one of the best names of a film recently, or what? You really do know exactly what you’re getting, and this certainly won’t disappoint. After a summer of blockbuster films costing in the hundreds of millions of dollar to make, my interest was keenly kept with a central cast of three or four, and a $3,000 budget. Shot on a single Cannon 60D DSLR and made to look like film with wear marks and all, there’s no wimpy vampires, shirtless werewolves or annoyingly monotone women. No, we get a fashionable, mobster-natty zombie.

As is clearly and succinctly explained in the film, there are four kinds of zombie. The last one is the least used, which is an undead – or infected – person possessed by a demon. Hey, it’s posited in the opening scene, so I don’t believe I’m giving much away here; this cause for zombism has been mostly used in foreign films such as the Night of the Demons cycle (1988-1997), the original [*Rec] film franchise (2007-20012), though in the States there is the Evil Dead series (1981-1992). So there aren’t multitudes of flesh eaters crawling through the woods or cities ready to eat your brains. Rather, a serial killer who dies, comes back as said a-hole demon, and goes around killing identical twin women. The undead Pollux is himself a twin, the latter of whom, Castor, is searching for his brother to end the reign of terror.

And why twins? Two reasons (pun not intended). First, in this story, the demon can gain power to unlock the gates of you-know-where if he absorbs the energy from the twins he kills due to their higher psychic abilities to communicate with each other (yeah, I know, it’s kind of weak, but original). But the real reason is explained by Mills himself in the hilarious commentary: half the number of actors and twice the number of kills, as he gets to do in each one twice. Brilliant, in its own way.

One of the seemingly unwritten rules of this film is that the murdered twins are all women, each pair lives together, and one has to be murdered while the other is taking a bath or shower so the audience gets to see some nudity; Roger Corman would certainly be proud. As Dustin also points out, there are many different body shapes here, not just the standard thin with big boobs. Though a large amount of the female cast is apparently multiply tattooed.

Let’s get down to the gritty. First there’s Frank Fulchi (nice nod to the Italian goremeister), played with country-aplomb and religious fervor by Josh Eal. This religiousness is shown when he get angry when women cuss, but doesn’t seem to mind when men do it. Yep, that sounds about right. As we head into the election where the Tea Party rhetoric sounds just as hypocritical, the timing is ideal for this subtle (less than subtle if intended) dig against that mentality (and I use that word loosely), though I don’t believe that was necessarily where Mills was going. Played with a cowboy hat, square jaw, and lots of macho enthusiasm, Eal does a fine job of presenting a type that is familiar to horror films (e.g., Woody Harrelson in Zombieland [2009]). This is Eal’s only listed credit. His acting is kind of one note, but honestly, that is what the character dictates, so good on him for staying the course.

The female lead is Mercy (Jessica Daniels), who, during her first meeting with the title zombie, loses her twin sister Mary, as well as an eye, which we see yanked out very slowly (but not slo-mo), the optic nerve streeeeetching… Mercy doesn’t take crap from anyone, not even Pollux, and even though she loses the peeper (giving her that cool, Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973) look, she is ready for battle the next time they meet. Daniels is believable because I know she can certainly kick my ass. Of course, to show she’s tough, the film has her smoking stogies like Clint “Empty Chair” Eastwood. The anger she feels is more palpable than the others, but her character is sort of secondary for most of the story, which is a shame. Daniels has one other credit, as the voice of Gwen in Dustin Mills’ first film, the also wonderfully titled The Puppet Monster Massacre (2011) [my review HERE].  

As Castor, Brandon Salkil plays him with a mixture of lantern-jaw nerd who is able to read the - I mean, an - ancient book of the Necromicon, and an unsure monster hunter who looks like he’s about to pee his pants some of the time; or at least burst into tears. Salkil has two other film credits, including the character Wilson in the aforementioned The Puppet Monster Massacre.

In a dual role (as I said, twins), Salkil also portrays the title monster like he stepped out of Sin City (2005), full of noir machismo and a good use of body language since his face is a mask and cannot move face muscles much. With the élan of a dancer, Pollux is the exact opposite of Castor, and Salkil does well to separate the two completely in body and spirit. While sometimes his performance feels the most forced, at other times, it seems the most natural.

Essentially, this is a road trip buddy film, with Frank and Castor driving in a car and getting to know one another. The story mostly jumps back and forth between them and Pollux doing is de-twinning. Note that there is plenty of action and gore.
                  
Speaking of blood and guts, lets get to the gristle and talk about (well, I will anyway; not expecting much of a spontaneous dialog, y'know) the SFX. Some of it looks pretty good, though you really can notice the digitization. For example, when someone’s head gets pushed on a spike, you can see the layers, especially if you’re like me and you slo-mo the action. But with an $8,000 budget, what do you expect, Titanic? Some of the effects, honestly, are laughable, and this is part of the enjoyment. For example, when zombie Pollux spews out some The Fly-type sputum to melt flesh, it’s obviously Silly-String. And pulled flesh is pieces of ropey, rubbery goo, apparently called nerdies in the business. The a-hole also has retractable intestines, apparently, that can grab like tentacles (in fact, the subject of Mills’ next film is tentacle related), but looks like ropes (i.e., too stiff and not membraney enough). Then again, there are some moments that are great, such as when the zombie reaches up through a bed and the hand goes through a (twin’s) body, holding up the heart. This looked superb. Similarly, with a very brief moment where a face is ripped in half off the skull. But don’t make me go into the whole Energy Beam Welder thingy.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “This is the director of The Puppet Monster Massacre, are there any puppets? Well, class, to answer that, let me state that by far, the silliest moment is when Pollux pees (red, so I’m assuming blood) in the woods, and a slew of skeletal creatures come out. In actuality, this are a Halloween skeleton you can buy to put on your lawn. Mills fixed it up with pop-out white eyes and a couple of other thingies, and then just replicated it digitally to make it into multitudes. It looks bad and fakey, though Mills rightfully states in the commentary, “You can’t pretend it’s Schindler’s List.”

That being said, the other puppet is some kind of chained wizened creature in a small box that turns on with a skeleton key (side-note: in an early scene, Frank drops the key, but has it moments later without bending down… I’m guessing there is a small part deleted there?), that is one of the more imaginative and interesting ideas in the film (and there are some good ones here). Named Selwyn, after the baby in the classic Dead Alive (1992), it is superbly voiced by Eugene Flynn.

There are only two extras on the disk, one being the trailer, and the other is a noteworthy commentary by director Dustin Mills and the title character actor, Brandon Salkil. Goofy at times, there is also a lot of information about both the production and the plot that makes it worthwhile.

What happens in the story? Well, suffice it to say the film proves Carol Clover’s seminal book, Men, Women and Chainsaws (1992) to be correct. Let’s leave it at that, other than there is supposedly a sequel down the road that I’m looking forward to watching.

Meanwhile, there is an interesting interview with director Dustin Mills on another site HERE


Monday, September 3, 2012

DVD Review: Where the Dead Go to Die

Text © Richard Gary/Indie Horror Films, 2012
Images from the Internet
Where the Dead Go to Die
Written, directed and animated by Jimmy Screamerclauz
Unearthed Films
96 minutes, 2011
Unearthedfilms.com
MVDvisual.com

Let me state, right off the top, that this is a great title for a film.

As a culture, we are all becoming more aware of motion capture in films, thanks to the likes of that Tom Hanks Christmas polar crap, and even Lord of the G-Strings…oh, wait, that’s different film… Anyway, my point is, everyone has come to think of it as a timely and expensive project, suitable only for the “big guns” of major studios (or at least a production with a decent budget).

However, with the help of some friends and an Xbox 360 Motion Capture, using Cinema 4D and importing Poser, Screamerclauz filmed and then edited it on Adobe Premiere. He has successfully shown that it is indeed doable with this dark trio of inter-related tales, titled “Tainted Milk,” “Liquid Dreams,” and “The Masks That the Monsters Wear.” Each takes place in a small town, showing a group of friends’ lives at various stages from children to adulthood, but not necessarily in chronological order.

The axis of the story is an evil(?)/godly(?) dog with glowing red eyes that can talk in a whispery, stuttering voice (somewhat like the pooch in Davy and Goliath), named Labby (to remind you of Lassie, though it is not a collie breed). Then there is his “owner” Tommy (Timmy) and something possibly malevolent in the well (as in “Timmy fell in the well!”). Some of the other characters are Johnny and Sophia. They have to deal with Labby, questionable parents (one voiced by the Linnea Quigley), and strange black-clad cyclopeses called “shadow people.”

The film is quite stunning to see, with nudity, sex, blood and gore, and a swirl of tentacles and eyes that appear often. The storylines are quite confusing and, honestly, half the time I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but I enjoyed the ride anyway. I strongly recommend watching the solo commentary by Screamerclauz afterwards. Now, I have to warn you, he is an annoying and whiny pain in the ass (“I didn’t know what I was doing,” “I don’t know what to say,” etc.), but he does help the story along somewhat to explain that this is that person from another story at a different time, for example. Note, though, that there is a lot more technical talk, for those into that, than story explanation. I almost wanted two tracks, one for the story and one for the technical, but Screamerclauz seemed to be having trouble with just the one, even ending it abruptly before the film ends.

Some of the interesting comments include him stating that he thought the film was funny rather than disturbing (actually, he says that more than once), and that “I just like wild things on the screen. I like flies, too.” Personally, I think he was stoned outta his mind when he recorded the track; and do I remember him actually lighting one up, or is that a dream?...

The music that flows nearly throughout is loud speedcore thrash, and most of the time it helps underscore the visuals, though occasionally I thought, okay, enough. Hey, I’m not expecting Peter, Paul and Mary, but it seems like every indie is using some speed metal in their films these days. It’s becoming unimaginative, unlike the rest of the visuals.

Despite all my whining, I think Screamerclauz has a lot to be proud of, since this really does look really great, despite the jerkiness of some of the movement. Truly, I think it would be terrific if he continued doing it, but I would also wish to add the caveat of wanting someone else work with him, to help edit his ideas more coherently.

While I don’t imbibe, myself, and also do not recommend or suggest it for others, I’m guessing this is a stoner’s dream (nightmare?).