Saturday, April 25, 2015

Review: Auteur

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Auteur
Cinematography and directed by George Cameron Romero
MVD Visual / Benetone Hillin Entertainment
75 minutes, 2014
www.mvdvisual.com

If you were an infamous and exacting horror director, how far would you go to make a scene successful? Would you give in to the mystic black arts to get your cast “motivated”? This is just one of the questions that is raised by this film by Cameron Romero, proving genes run deep (just ask Jason Reitman, Brandon Cronenberg or Jennifer Lynch). To get past it since I already brought it up, there is a second-long homage to Cameron’s dad in a video store shelf panning shot (shown twice, but that’s okay).

Ian Hutton
A found footage in documentary style, Romero mixes these to a mostly successful level, giving a nice twist to the subgenres. The plot is that film auteur (a cinematic version of, say, Phil Spector, who makes everything he or she directs their own, hence the auteur/author descriptor) named Charlie Buckwald (Ian Hutton) who has made an exorcism film called Demonic, and then disappeared with the only DVD of the completed film.

BJ Hendricks
The head of the studio sends his impulsive and not-to-bright ne’er-do-well son, Jack Humphries (BJ Hendricks, who inexplicable has Southern accent considering Jack grew up in Hollywood), to find Charlie and retrieve the lost film. In that framework, Jack is an unsuccessful filmmaker himself (can’t even get a break from his studio head dad, for example). How incompetent is Jack? After following around Charlie and then losing him, he asked the camera guy what he should do next (in my opinion that was a smart bit of insightful writing).

With elements of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998) and Lamberto Bava’s Demoni (1985), we are given a strong hint pretty early on that things don’t go well for Jackie-boy (if it weren’t so close to the beginning, I wouldn’t mention it). Thanks to a provided clue that is no mystery at all who sent it though it dumbfounds Jack (as in “he don’t know Jack shit”), he tracks down the very edgy and neurotic / paranoid Buckwald (Hutton does focused director and nutzoid both pretty well and manages to make them both believable). The reason why the sender didn’t go to get the DVD unaided is questionable; yes, I understand the familial relationships (this comment will make more sense when you see the film), but it doesn’t jibe with the ending.

Much of the story is kind of predictable, I admit, but it was still an enjoyable ride nonetheless. Part of this is due to the high quality of acting, much stronger than most indie films and certainly better than the early works of, well, any of the daddies listed above.

Madeline Merritt
Top credit is given to name actor Tom Sizemore, obviously being a gentleman and helping a bro (i.e., a crew member; probably a Romero) out. He plays a version of himself (at least I hope it’s a “version”), having been an actor in the film-with-a-film Demonic and giving snarky and insulting answers while interviewed at a bar. With a voice that sounds like three miles of gravel road, he belittles poor Jack, questions his manhood, and is definitely a hostile witness. It also sounds like his dialogue was ad libbed, and if that’s so, it’s hysterically funny if not painful for the mistreatment of Jack. His screed against the number of deaths associated with the film and how it’s a lie, like the conspiracy theories surrounding The Exorcist (1973) show the actor’s/character’s need for ego dominance.

The lead actress of Demonic is Kate Rivers (the fetching Madeline Merritt). Her role in the whole Jack-meets-Charlie scenario is quite blatant, but Merritt’s strong acting (better than Kate’s) keeps the character interesting. From ingénue to seductress, she fits the part well. Also noteworthy are secondary characters Bruce Chaplin (Matt Mercer) and Allison Marx (Eli Jane), the latter of who explains, “on camera” that anyone who goes looking for info about what happened on the set “ends up in the dirt.”

Eli Jane
Watching Jack’s work post-editing, it’s easy to see why he’s unsuccessful. Though familiar with some of the filmmaking equipment Charlie has horded in his family home owned by his late parents (tell me again why he was hard to find?), he doesn’t really show much knowledge of how they are used. Romero, on the other hand, obviously grew up on sets and around the art of cinema magic, and it seems like he is at ease with the ways to make a story work, even one with holes that took three writers. Don’t get me wrong, the film is well crafted around dialog and scenery, there just needs to be more cohesion to the story. That there are two scenes in the film in which one includes two-camera editing rather than the one, hand-held camera of Jack’s, and another where the camera is obviously handheld, but the camera guy is no longer there for a private conversation.

As I’ve said a number of times before, when you look back at some of the early works of some auteur genre directors, yes, including daddy, there have been questionable moments in both acting and directing, but here, Romero puts together a really solid cast, keeps the interest going even with the issues in the story, and to me that shows quite a bit of potential. Romero has a half dozen or so films competed including this one (his latest to date), and hopefully he has the opportunity to keep stretching out.

 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Two Reviews: End Game; Dark Wake

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

The reason I placed these reviews together is that these crime genre dramas are the first two features directed by Bruce Koehler, who works out of Romero-town, aka Pittsburgh. There is also a strong overlap of supporting crew. Note that I reviewed them in the opposite order they were released.


 End Game
Produced, shot, edited and directed by Bruce Koehler
North Shore Pictures / z-Diet-3 Productions
93 minutes, 2009
www.northshore-pictures.com

Wow. While I don’t usually do this, I happened to read the “reviews” by IMDB visitors, and I have rarely seen such a scathing series of comments as for this film. It got my hopes up. I’ve always said I’d rather see a film that has 0 stars than 4, because they tend to be more interesting. I joyfully hit Ø.

I have to say, in all honesty, those people do have some valid points. The acting is pretty bad, for example, but for this crime / police and serial killer cat and mouse genre, even more than horror, this is pretty par for the course, which means I have seen a lot worse (e.g., Rise of the Black Bat [2012]; reviewed HERE).  The viewer needs to jump in feet first, meaning that you have to know that it’s not going to be A-level, but even looking at it like that, when it comes to crime even good actors tend to chew the scenery in major films (for example, look at Brad Pitt in Burn after Reading [2008] or any Batman film prior to [and arguably including] Christian Bale). This is especially true in many Noir, like anything written by Mickey Spillane. So despite the over-reaction acting from this cast with little film experience – even though some would go on to some major credits later – it’s better than average.

Another complaint stated is that the camera work tends to be stilted and stiff. Again, common in this genre more than horror, especially the indies that tend to use a single camera. Honestly, I thought Koehler did some nice work here and there, such as the opening shot that swings up the side of the cheap hotel from the sign to the villain silhouetted in a window. My big issue is with the tendency towards terrible continuity. For example, a crime scene photographer is seen holding a camera up, it cuts to a wider shot and the camera is by his side, and then a third angle he’s holding it at chest level. And don’t even get me started on his using an old twin-lens Leica with a replaceable flashbulb. What is this, 1940?

For me, the big cliché is the lighting, which tends to be very stark splashes of primary colors that look like it could be from the original “Batman” television series (1966) or Creepshow (1982). In this case I found it a bit distracting.

That all being said, the film was somewhat better than what those reviewers said, even though they were right on points. I mean, this is the Ramones, not ELP; it’s down and dirty, inexpensive and stark, and considering the very large cast, it is meat and ‘taters. Again, if you’re looking for Se7en [1995] or The Usual Suspects [1995], you’re looking at the wrong financing and demographics.

Professional wrestler Kurt Angle plays Brad Mayfield, a narcissistic, charmingly sociopathic serial killer who likes to strangle his female partners as he has sex with them, but proves that he will also do it after. A master of disguise, despite his enormous bulk (I laughed when one character referred to him as “that fat guy”), he manages to elude police often while even being in their presence. For example, he pretends to be a police officer to get any information a recently off’d girlfriend might have mentioned in a diary or scrapbook, to put off the police. That being said, he never uses gloved and he certainly left enough DNA on/in the corpse for him not to worry about that. I’m glad the cops figure that out pretty fast, and so it’s a search to find him, rather than a “who-done-it.” Angle, in one of his first acting roles playing someone other than himself, seems to really be having fun here, with flashing blue eyes and a somewhat handsome face that, well, also looks a bit like it is right out of a Dick Tracy cartoon strip thanks in part to his jutting jaw. Oh, and did I mention he goes shirtless to show off his muscles almost as much as he is dressed?

On his trail is a copper, Det. Burke, played with furred brow by the also muscular Eric Wright. He always seems to be in the middle of an Edgar Kennedy-worthy slow burn while he ignores his family (a Noir standard) and can only think about the case. That is when he’s not emotionally cheating on his shrill wife (Asbury Lake, who sometimes goes by the name Lake Asbury, I kid you not) with the female lead in this film, that I will be getting to shortly. Though he has lots of screen time, Burke doesn’t really seem to have much of a personality, other than consternation, but that’s okay, he’s frustrated by how Mayfield is owning him.

As the lead female, “Survivor” survivor (the youngest to date) and reality television star Jenna Morasca plays stripper-who-wants-to-go-legit Carol Peterlake. Morasca swings from being decent as an actress to wooden, seemingly depending on the inflection needed. The whinier the tone, the worse it gets. And Carol is a complainer. The question here, of course, is will her character – er – survive this film?

This leads me to a point that actually does get under my skin: all the women are bitchy. Ann, the detective’s wife, comes across as nasty – surely to justify Burke’s affection for Carol – but if one has their “ears on,” she’s actually just unsatisfied with the life that she’s been dealt specifically by Burke. I mean, he comes in at 1 AM stinkin’ of booze, he’s gone for more hours than not to leave her to raise their daughter and take care of everything domestic (this isn’t the ‘50s, y’know). In her shoes, bored and lonely, I would be bitchy, too. But Burke’s new locus of interest, Carol, really isn’t much better. It seems all she does is rail: “I thought you were going to have a detective on my door!” or “Stripping pays my rent. If I don’t strip I can’t pay it!” One character calls her “materialistic” (even though he later asks her to become the lead dancer in his troupe), but she really does need to the pay rent. It’s the whiney tone, as I mentioned before, that is the fingernails on the blackboard to me. Just would like to add that while there is no nudity in the film, even in the stripping routines, there is some very nice and ample cleavage shown off by Morasca in a scene towards the end.

There are some really nice and subtle touches here, such as you see a character duck out in the background in a flash during a distraction that you may not notice unless you’re paying attention, or with a bed in the background, you may note that someone has moved, setting up the next set of events. These are some really nice flourishes that showed some thought went into it.

As for the ending, well, I only had it partially right, so that’s good. The only extra, however, is the trailer.

So was it as terrible as those reviews? Not by a long shot. Was it a great film? No, but it was fun in its oeuvre. It’s gritty, it’s appropriate for its genre, and it didn’t bore me, so we’re good.

 
Dark Wake
Directed, photographed and edited by Bruce Koehler
North Shore Pictures / z-Diet-3 Productions
88 minutes, 2008
www.northshore-pictures.com

What we learn from being introduced to Pittsburgh police detective Jake Dalton (Gary Horner), after a brief 1959 prologue, is that he’s a hard drinkin’, electric blues lovin’ (soundtrack by the Blues Junkies), hard-nosed, heavily armed, tired of life, single guy (the gun and switchblade unprotected on the nightstand is the clue).

He’s called onto a series of mysterious murders of people bound and thrown in the river(s) that run through the city. Jake is partnered with Max Ross (Irish actor Brendan McCormack, aka Vardis Egen in Game of Thrones, though here he looks very different than in Thrones, and he has an Aussie accent; perhaps it’s easier for him to do that than a Pittsburgh one?), who is also hard-hitting, boozing, etc., but he’s a bit more tender, a minor-bit of the humorous hue, and the butt of the jokes by Jake and his ex-cop dad.

While a bit convoluted, the winding story of these killings that somehow having a common thread of an elderly nun, Sister Mary (Ina Block), spins out through the large cast of victims and possible suspects, including some quite close to home for our burnished policeman.

The mostly male cast is strong and the acting is either good for the leads, or quite amusingly bad for some of the secondary ones, but it all works together. The film also has a bit of a ‘70s feel being just post Noir, and yet not quite ‘80s-unpurposefully goofy. The city is practically a character in itself, with beautiful river views and waterfronts, and slummy back alleys and bars.

Yes, the acting is not top notch, but that’s nothing unexpected for fans of low-budget genre films. What I find to be a thorn in the paw here that the script needs some serious trimming, and be edited down to an hour to make this a more-than-decent release. There are too many scenes of people sitting around and talking that have nothing to do with anything, including character development.

There are a few interesting action scenes, and the visuals are shot pretty well if starkly, but all the sitting around and drinking mucho cans of Iron City Beer (was ICB a sponsor, or was it just a nod to a local brew?) with angst tones isn’t really exposition, it’s a commercial.

After a couple of decent red herrings, the story of revenge comes across as a conservative leaning against late-term abortions (not legal in 1959 and not legal now), and can be arguably be considered a pro-life document of sorts, with a possible anti-Catholic feel; sort of an anti-Call the Midwife, I guess. It doesn’t come across as preachy, but it absolutely if subtly makes a statement.

For a first film, in this specific genre (i.e., crime sans Noir), Koehler makes some steps in the right direction, but needs better support in the production. As a note, he now has six features under his belt listed on IMDB.

 

Monday, April 13, 2015

"Street Trash" producer Frank Farel interviewed 1987

Text by Richard Gary, 2015
Image from Videowave, 1987

Street Trash is a semi-classic low budget indie horror film from the 1980s. The plot revolved around people drinking a cheap booze reminiscent of Thunderbird called Viper that was found sealed inside the wall of a liquor store. Problem is, when people drank it, it affected them badly, from melting to blowing up real good.

I was present for the shooting of this interview on a Cable Access show called Videowave. As the shows get digitized, they are generously making clips available for the public. So, from March 1987, here is Farel discussing is yet-to-be-released film. The trailer for the film is beneath the clip, followed by a free link to the whole film.

 
 
 
 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Review: Accidental Incest

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Accidental Incest
Directed by Richard Griffin
Scorpio Film Releasing
102 minutes, 2014 / 2015
www.mvdvisual.com 

Richard Griffin is a trans director. No, no, what I mean is that he readily and easily moves among various genres and sub-genres. And although he has remained somewhat auteur, he rarely keeps his feet on solid cinematic ground. For that, we, the viewers, are lucky. That I'm reviewing two of his films in two separate blogs in a row rather than combining them says something.

For the most recent, Accidental Incest, Griffin and writer / collaborator Lenny Schwartz (an award winning playwright!) delve into the broad bedroom sex farce. It’s quite extreme, but probably no more risqué than, say the absurdist budoir comedies of Tudor-period France, or Chaucer’s the “The Wife of Bath” in its Medieval days. That is to say, this is fuckin’ risqué, Jack!

When we first meet our two self-proclaimed douchebag anti-hero protagonists, they are performing acts of narcissistic revelry, for which they must pay in some form or another. They are unhappy with their life situations, but not necessarily with their lifestyle choices, which would fit in well in any sex(y)-addict group. After each survives a near-death experience and meet some cool and attractive guardian angels, and then their marriages finally dissolve with a bang not a whimper, they find each other in a seedy hotel hallway. It is lust and love at first sight. But there is a problem they eventually learn, which the title makes obvious.

On the relatively masculine side of the equation, there is Milton (a nice, Jewish boy we learn), played with wide aplomb by Johnny Sederquist. He makes the Sean character from the television show Psych look like a mellow dude. Whatever the gender, whatever the drug, whatever the experience, he is there, and ready-willing-and-able. You can just tell Sederquist is having a blast in this role, and embraces his character wholeheartedly. He sort of reminded me of a living emoticon, with all emotions in the extreme, eyes always fiery happy, excitedly surprised, or even when sad.

The Yin to his Yang is Kendra, with Elyssa Baldassarri embodying her wild and crazy ways with abandon. Comfortable in her birthday suit (as was much of the cast), her zaftig form looks lovely on the screen (again, as was much of the cast). Baldassarri, who is playing her first leading feature-length role, is an attention grabber (in a good way), wearing Kendra’s thoughts and emotions on her face, looking seamless and organic, which tends to be troublesome for some when playing comedy this broadly.

One of the aspects of this film that I found refreshing in so many ways is there are a number of twists and turns that I just did not see coming, bringing huge smiles to my face. In other words there are a number of WTF moments, but it still works in this case because, like having all those clothes on Gilligan’s Island, you learn to accept the unexpected as it comes, even as it surprises you outta your skivvies.

As always, and to no surprise, however, is Griffin’s way with the look of the film. While giving a nod to photographer Jill Poisson (also for her work on many other Griffin’s releases), the pace of the film never lets up, and that is due in part to Griffin’s editing. It really is a joy ride (in this case be it roller coaster or Tilt-a-Whirl) that never lets up.
While the two leads are both interesting and fetching, there is a very large cast that is very generous with their talents and bodies throughout. For example, Jose Guns Alves, who tends to play tough characters from ghetto-style exorcising priests to soldiers, acts against form as “The Anxious Man” (as the credits list him), showing a humorous and non-threatening side, despite the murderous actions of his character. Also against type is the usually loveable Jamie Dufault, who is perhaps a bit too comfortable looking being a sociopathic …well, I won’t give it away. And the lovely Tonya Free was spot on as a conflicted love interest for one of the menagerie of crazies we get to meet.

Filmed guerilla-style through Rhode Island, home of Scorpio Releasing, there is still lots of set pieces where there are little, imaginative touches, such as the use of framed album sleeve covers on the walls. I noted Frank Zappa, Roxy Music (Country Life), Tom Robinson Band (Power in the Darkness); Josie Cotton (rare 12” single of “Johnny Are You Queer”; I have this one), and Soft Cell. Also the choice of using both black and white and color is a strong choice for a purposefully powerful albeit comedic film.

In James Clavell’s Shogun (the novel from 1975, not the Richard Chamberlain tele-film), the reader is introduced to Japanese society, showing local lords to be powerful with control of life and death of the peasants, and yet by the time we get deep into the story, we realize that the lower lords are nothing compared to those above them. Why bring this up? Well, when we meet Milton and Kendra in their solo openings, we are presented (among others) M/F anal sex, adultery and affairs with druggies in Mexican prisons, and it’s shocking. But as the story progresses, much like Clavell’s book, we find these two to possibly be arguably the sanest people in the story. Power-crazy Christians, people locked up and treated like dogs, an obsession with a strange choice in a film star, and soooo much more are just part of an ever increasing insanity level.

The original name of this film was Accidental Incest: The Musical (a wonderful extension). While not a full-fledged musical in this version (perhaps a future Anniversary re-release?), in three different occasions, a character bursts into song, including a hysterical rap by God (Aaron Andrade, in a cool, polar opposite role from his turn as a hyper-soldier in 2014’s Future Justice). And Jesse Dufault, who was spectacular as NuWave in 2014’s Sins of Dracula, has already proven he has a decent voice.

Two quick notes: be sure to catch director Griffin doing a silent Hitchcockian cameo as a bar patron about an hour in, and there is a throwaway joke at Adam Sandler’s expense that almost made me want to say, “Oh, snap!” (but I didn’t; I’m not cool like that). Oh, and did I mention that there is a lot of nudity from various genders including full frontals and full – er – backals?

If you were to chart Griffin’s films on an X-Y axis, with his slasher-comedy Murder University (2012) being the median, this film would be as far to the side of outrageous comedy as the dead serious and excellent Normal (2013) would be on the opposite spectrum. I’m not sure that makes sense, but it works for me.

While mostly true for the male characters, there is nothing stopping the swapping of genders as a point of desire. Even with the occasional Seth Rogan-esk slur, such as “fudgepacker,” it’s generally acknowledged that people are sexual beings. However, I believe there does need to be some equal line-crossing on the female side; I’m not one of those who get off on watching lesbianism, but it’s only fair to make it even, doncha think?

And with that last paragraph in mind, I have a fantasy that this film would play in every single screen in Indiana, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Texas (at least), with mandatory viewing from the locals. Then I’d like to see Bobby Jindal, Mike Pence and Ted Cruz have to act out some of its scenes (I’m thinking the one’s with Kevin Killavey as Tool). That would be as much exquisite fun as this film.


* * *
Postscript in May 2016, as I had reviewed the VoD version and acquired the DVD later:

I finally had the opportunity to check out the commentary track, which is filled with about a half dozen people, such as the two leads, the director, the writer, and the producer. Other an an occasional overmoduation (i.e., a buzz) when they all laugh at the same time, it was quite an interesting conversation full of information, as well as stories. Everyone was respectful and not over-talking each other, thankfully. Enjoyable from beginning to end. 

As a personal note, it was great that the director referenced this very review (through quote, but not by name, which is totally fine with me) about Johnny at the almost 6-minute mark. Thanks, Richard!


Saturday, April 4, 2015

DVD Review: The Killer 4 Pack: The Day of the Dead; Jezebeth; Carnage: the Legend of Quiltface; Hellweek: Grindhouse Edition

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2014
Images from the Internet

The Killer 4 Pack
SGL Entertainment
358 minutes, 2014
www.SGLentertainment.com
www.mvdvisual.com

SGL Entertainment is a relatively new releasing company that has purchased a few dozen films, and is now releasing them. They also are starting their own franchise called Jezebeth, the first of which is included in this collection.

The Day of the Dead
[aka El dia los muertos]
Directed by Ricardo Islas
Alpha Studios
106 minutes, 2007
www.thedayofthedeadmovie.com
Not to be confused with the George Romero …of the Dead franchise, the title here refers to the November 2nd Latino holiday, where the dead walk the earth. This is certainly a good film to start off this collection. It has a professional look, it has depth, and it has a message. Actually, a number of them.

Venezuelan-born director Ricardo Islas shot the film in Chicago and Joliet (about 45 miles apart), focusing in on a gang of five (three males, two females) who get their kicks by brutally killing homeless women. This isn’t a “wilding” kind of thing where people are picked randomly, they are methodical, smart, and “take their time,” as a coroner says. Also, most of them are white.

Their newest sights are on an illegal Mexican woman, Ana (Rosa Isela Frausto), who is desperate for work as a domestic, to get money to go home as she does not like the big city. When they focus in on her, well, you know it will end badly.

Islas takes his time with the story. We get to meet the characters, to get some degree of history of Ana, so when things go wrong, we feel a degree of loss, unlike most slashers where everyone is there merely to meet their end, and their deaths are only considered collateral damage. Here, even as the death metal blares and the perpetrators are reveling in their bloodlust, some pity is felt for Ana. We also feel for the lead detective in the case who is going solo lobo, the lovely Carla (Christina De Leon); she gets in a bit over her head.

The film has a gritty urban feel, reminiscent of majors like The French Connection (1971) or Death Wish (1974). Streets are dirty, alleys have stagnant water, and buildings are brick blockhouses, giving us a Taxi Driver (1976) tour. It feels like the ‘70s all over again. And each of the three acts is almost their own genre. For example, the first is a bit like a slasher film, the middle a detective story, and the final, well, let’s just say it’s a revenge story. Each has elements that overlap the others, so the feel is organic (unlike, say, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 [2003] and Kill Bill: Vol. 2 [2004], which are completely different genre styles).

The one fault I could pick on is that someone breaks a pair of handcuffs on a piece of stone. Not just the chain, the whole thing falls off at once. That would not work with tungsten steel, the material ‘cuffs are made of these days. But hey, if that’s it, we’re in good shape, y’knowhadimsayin’?

Not just a crime drama, and not just a horror film, not just a revenge tale, Islas also has some social commentary mixed in on both a blatant and subtle level. Filmed during the incompetent GW Bush years, there is discussion of illegal immigration and the effect on those immigrants (Bush’s “reuniting families” speech is shown for the farce it is), white power and privilege, how uncommonly high the assault and rape statistics for women are in the Latino community, and the lack of city, state and federal funding to help through community centers. But he doesn’t just go the easy and too common road of Evil = Whites, as two of the murderous group are women of color (one is a bi-asthmatic), even though the three males are white and racist (yet the white leader is in a relationship with the Asian woman).

One would think with so much going on, both blatant and subtle, from violence to social messages, this would be a mess or at least too preachy. In the hands of other directors, this could be a strong possibility, but here, Islas handles it with a level of mastery, despite the low-albeit-not-micro budget.

Jezebeth
Directed by Damien Dante
The Phoenix Group / Satania 666 Films
SGL Entertainment / R-Squared Films

80 minutes, 2008-2011
www.jezebeth.com
It’s an interesting premise from the start: a young woman from a questionable past worships the devil, invokes a demon possibly with the same name as her (though a male voice is used), and becomes a Goth, death metal guitar wiz, sadist vampire.

This film is the centerfold of this collection, as it is not only directed by the owner of SGL Entertainment, but there is also a sequel with two more in the works after that, a comic book, a record deal, etc. That’s some pretty big plans.

Quite beautiful to look at, with a mix of black & white and color, intense editing, weird angles, and loud music, in fact, much of it feels like a series of death metal music videos, with some story in between. Song by bands like Slam Bang, Grigori 3 and Supermercado feature heavily, along with others. There are also some musicians playing themselves, such as drummer Gregg Potter – who tours with the Buddy Rich Band even though he looks like he’s in the Chesterfield Kings – and Wolf McKinney. Pin-up model Baby D. Frost makes an appearance as herself as well.

Okay, I’m digressing, so let’s get back to the film: Jezebeth lives in a house with a group of women, most of who hate her and want her out, and one who is her S&M slave. They all dress in black, have dark hair, and pale skin. Jezebeth, played by the toothsome and attractive Bree Michaels, often wears full-face white make-up and black lipstick. Did I mention Goth before? What holds these women to this place is unclear, and how they make a living is unmentioned. It’s hinted that they grew up together, but only a suggestion. It’s a mystery left as such. It certainly can’t be a religious affiliation, though one is indicated as being a devout Christian, because they curse like a motherfucker (yes, including the Christian).

This truly is Goth heaven (pun intended), touching on many of the principles of the subculture, some mentioned above in the first paragraph of this review. There’s lots of lace, black matt clothing, cemeteries, blood, death, demons, and vampires. But suddenly, and gratuitously, there’s a long scene in a Chicago strip club for absolutely no reason, as we watch five dancers do their thing with a pole. Hunh? Is stripping Goth? That’s a new one for me.

As for said vampires, there are two, and apparently they are unbothered by the sunlight, not even needing sunglasses. Sure, this isn’t the first film to use that premise, but I thought Goth was kind of 19th Century based (hence the “Gothic”), when vampire fiction became popular. Musing aside, it’s an observation, not a criticism.

As films go, as a whole it’s a pretty picture. Sure the black and white is blue tinted and probably should have been more effective as sepia, but it’s still has a flair to it. As far as story and acting goes, it’s a mess. There is no coherency, no character development (including Jezebeth), and no need for half of the visuals (e.g., the lengthy clips of people standing around as music plays).

Sure, one may think, oh, maybe it will be explained in the next film, since this is a pre-planned franchise. Well, considering Jezebeth is played by a different actress in all three films listed, and the second one is a Mexican-Western-Motorcycle glom called Jezebeth 2: Hour of the Gun (scheduled to be released this year; trailer HERE), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENIdXB05D_g I’m going to doubt clarity is the focus as much as marketing.

I’m going to guess that I’ll probably never receive another SGL release after this.

Carnage: The Legend of Quiltface
[aka Carnage Road]
Story, produced and directed by Massimiliano Cerchi
Rounds Entertainment
70 minutes, 2000
www.roundsent.com
Starting with the standard genre set-up to introduce us to our killer, a guy in a mask and onesie with a machete, we meet a couple out in the desert near Las Vegas which is obvious since the woman is wearing a t-shirt that says as much. She’s a tough woman with tats, and while he plays horny, he also comes across as a bit, well, fey. Nevertheless, as is par, they get it on (to porn-type music), so they die in a nicely done scene, though the camera is purposefully albeit unnecessarily shaky.

Shot on video (pre-HD), this is honest in not trying to look like film; perhaps at the time the technology had not caught up to that, or was not yet affordable as it is now with MacPro. It does have a nice, clear look, though, and I’ll happily give it that.

All the classic kids-in-the-elements (woods, caves, or in this case, dessert) tropes are here. The comic relief who gives the back story, the old guy (who can sometimes also be the back story teller), the tall (albeit very thin in this case) masked killer with the big knife who seems to be able to not be seen by the protagonists when standing up in a clear field, usually with the shoulders back, feet spread apart a bit, and the hand with the knife held out at a 40 degree angle. And where does it say that is it necessary for women to trip when running away? Of course, my big question is, if you get the better of a killer for a moment, why not pick up a rock and smash the fuckin’ guy’s head in, rather than run away?

In this version, rather than campers, we have four not-too-bright college students who are out in the desert taking photos (film camera) for an extra credit class assignment. All the shots they take, essentially, are of themselves smiling and posing next to each other, like every other damn shot you see. If I was their prof, I would fail them, whether they survive or not. Not even landscape or close-ups of desert foliage – I mean, the desert is a beautiful place, and lord knows this film could have been about 10 minutes shorter if some of the walking / running through the dirt roads was trimmed – instead of them just standing together and smiling. I was waiting for the modern, ever-present “v” sign.

How smart is this group? They are to spend the day in the desert – dropped off in the morning to be picked up in the evening – without taking any water, any sunscreen (the women are in shorts), or any food. All they have is one camera bag and the camera. Period. Shit, they deserve to die just to project the human race from them reproducing.

So, there is the lead, very pretty, super-blonde couple, Robert and Linda (Dean Paul and Molanee Dawn). When she’s not whining, she seems nice. Cute, anyway. Dean Paul, who has an assumption that he’s the “leader” of the group, is a sniveling, domineering bully, and yes, whiny. Along for the ride are two classmates. One is the whiny and kvetchingly spoiled Amy (Melissa Brown) who is vain and thick, and would rather look in the mirror and whine than be there. And last is super-nerd Mike (Sean Wing, who has gone on to have quite the relatively successful career since this), who is presented more like Rainman than merely geek (i.e., the pre-Big Bang Theory stereotype).

Now that I’m through being whiny myself, there are actually positive things to say about this film. For one thing, it has some really good humor it in. No, I mean purposeful laughs. For example, the character of The Driver, as played by Mack Hail, is a hysterical scene-stealer from the moment he comes on to the screen to the time he leaves. There are also quite a few throwaway lines that I had to back up to make sure I heard right because they were so humorous.

For a film that’s made with a single camera, it’s put together quite well. Yeah, there’s the occasional sound galumphs here and there, but it also causes a change in the theme of the action. Ever since Sergei Eisenstein, who during the silent era said that editing = motion, there have been quick cuts; but with one camera, it takes a bit more work to keep up some kind of pace with long, static shots. Cerchi makes it work, thanks to the efforts of the editor, Ed Polonia, of the infamous Polonia Brothers.

Quitface’s mask appears a bit more like rubber than human leather, but it still looks great when you finally get to see it close, made up of stitched faces. There is minimal nudity and some blood, but emotions are actually a bit more realistic than in most films. At the end, Paul, who sounds like a screeching weasel through nearly the entire third act, is believably scared. When he’s hit on the head, even though there is hardly any blood when the head actually bleeds like a motherfucker in real life, he acts woozy, stumbles along, and looks exhausted, rather than unrealistically shaking it off and carrying on. Kudos for that.

Cerchi (and the Polonius Brothers, for that matter) make micro-budget films, and even if the stories can be a bit cliché, they retain a level of fun that still make it worthwhile to sit on the couch with some buds and Buds, and have a hoot. But make sure you listen to those throwaway jokes. They’re worth the attention.

Hellweek: Grindhouse Edition
Directed by Eddie Lengyel
Fright Teck Pictures
102 minutes, 2009
Don’t let this film get confused with the 1981 Linda Blair classic of bad cinema, Hell Night, even though the premises are pretty similar: Pledge night at a frat, but rather than going to a haunted house to roam around in the dark for most of the film, here it’s a frat party that goes to a supposedly haunted abandoned warehouse (probably for clothing, because there is a sign leaning against the wall for Perry Ellis). Evil things wearing masks, as we learn early on, are afoot there.

The central character, who from early on you hope is going to die a slow and glorious death, is JJ (overacted by Rob Jaeger), president of the frat which I believe is never named. Throughout the movie people repeatedly call him an asshole, and he is. Thing is, if he isn’t in the scene, people are talking about him. I mean, he’s blond, he calls people “nigga” and “faggot,” and he cheats on his girlfriend Cara (the very comely Karen Fox) while she’s in the same house. Wadda douche.

Despite a couple of really nice, digital deaths early on, this film takes a really – no, I mean really long time to get its gore groove on after the initial metal-on-flesh. Some of the women go to a psychic who warms them of cheating (yep, JJ) and peril. Then there’s a stretched out party scene where we get to know a little about some of the characters that are fodder-to-be, and yet we still are given no reason to care about them.

One thing this filmmaker does that I genuinely find amusing is that he sometimes addresses odd things people in the audience might say, such as one character stating, “We just went down the stairs and now we’re going up?!”

While no subsequent kill is as good as the first batch, our supernatural villains do not want to be disturbed, and of course, nothing annoys supernatural villains more than frat shenanigans. Actually, considering some of this batch, I don’t blame ‘em.

The film itself has an interesting look, with pockmarks and discoloration like it was shot on film and left underwater for a few days. Sometimes it looks great, sometimes it’s a hindrance, but either way it’s a nice touch. Also there are scenes that are kind of dark, or happen too fast (flash of seeing a disembodied head, for example), but there is also come nicely done creative editing otherwise.

If the film had lost the entire 20 minute frat party scene at the end of the first act, it would have not been any loss. If the bickering between Cara and Hayley (the equally cute Michelene Pancoe) was not such a repeated focal point, that would have been okay, too. Cara had enough trouble dealing with JJ, so who needs the extra angst?

In total, it’s not a great film, but it definitely has its glorious moments.

Day of Dead

 
Jezebeth

Quiltface

Hellweek