Friday, July 31, 2015

Review: Malignant


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

Malignant
Written and directed by Brian Avenet-Bradley
Moderncine / Avenet Images Productions / Black Butterflies / MVD Visual
89 minutes, 2013 / 2015
www.malignantmovie.com
www.moderncine.com
www.mvdvisual.com

Here’s the thing: as much as I like horror and gore, medical stories make me antsy going in because I have three Achilles’ heels, with one being scalpels, the second is needles, and the third is anything having to do with the eyes (have you seen Luis Bunuel’s 1929 Un Chien Andalou [An Andalusian Dog])? Stories about insane doctors, especially genre films, tend to dwell into these, and all three cases are true here. But I soldier on…

Allex (Gary Cairns) is in his 30s, and his life has turned to shit. Seven months earlier his beloved wife died of cancer, he is in a dead-end cubical job with a mean boss, and he’s become a depressed and desperate alcoholic. The Man (Brad Dourif), who is never identified by name, offers a solution to which Allex may (or may not) have agreed to, but it will definitely change his life forever.

A self-described “scientist,” The Man (rather than “The Doctor” or “The Technologist”) is a sociopath who believes he’s doing good for the world, much in the way Jigsaw rationalized what he was doing to people was to help point out their flaws to society in Saw (2004). But The Man’s methods lay closer to Stephen King’s short story “Quitter’s Inc.” (from his 1978 collection Night Shift), whereas any measure is worthwhile for the final outcome.

As Allex and The Man figuratively dance around getting Allex off of his dependence on the sauce, it becomes like a whirlpool, spiraling down in more complex rings of violence, mind control, and punishment. And there’s that huge hypodermic with a thick and even longer needle (shudder).

Cairns is very suited as an everyman, in a Ryan Gosling kind of way, and he brings his character to the table. He plays the tension well, and the calm determination of retribution feels natural. Dourif, as always, is superb. After years of seeing him playing crazy and weird psycho- and sociopaths in films like The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002, as Wormtongue) and Dune (1984, as Piter De Vries) – and let us not forget and bow down that he is the only one who has ever voiced the world’s favorite murderous and foul mouthed doll, Chucky – it’s interesting to see how well he plays normal crazy, with dialog that isn’t squeezed between cackling and cracking wise. He certainly lives up to the legend, and shows that he can genuinely act, rather than ham.

And here is an interesting career note for Dourif: his first credited role was as Billy Babbit in the classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), where he was abused as a mental patient, and now he’s the one abusing mentally challenged “patients.” Should we call him Brad Ratchett? Even back in ’75, if you watch One Flew, Dourif is a standout.

From the very first shots of the film, I thought perhaps the story would follow along the lines of the Richard Matheson short story “Button, Button” from 1970, but I was happier with the way this played out instead.

Well written and deftly paced, the tension does nothing but build until its harsh ending. The conclusion did leave some open questions to me, but that did not deter from a story that will definitely keep the viewer riveted, or if you’re like me, even when I had to occasionally turn away because of the three things discussed in the first paragraph (you wanna call me a mama’s boy, you go right ahead; just like everyone has a price, everybody also has a weakness).

The only two extras are the trailer (which arguably gives away too much) and 38-minute making of documentary called “Surgery for the Soul,” which kept my interest throughout.

If you enjoy medical mayhem, or a compelling story that goes beyond the needles and occasional gore, this is still worth it. It’s definitely a dark film, but an adrenaline one that will keep you glued.
 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Review: Future Justice

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

Future Justice
Directed and edited by Richard Griffin
Scorpio Films Releasing
83 minutes / 2014
www.facebook.com/futurejustice
www.mvdvisual.com
https://vimeo.com/ondemand/futurejusticemovie 

Before the new Disneyfied Star Wars comes our way, I’m glad that trans-genre maven Richard Griffin is getting a chance to stretch his sci-fi director’s legs. Now, I believe this is his first time with footprints in this space-time continuum, but hey, there’s a whole universe to expand into, right?

Nathaniel Sylva
This film was written by its lead actor, Nathaniel Sylva, who plays criminal Python Diamond (really?), a cross between Kurt Russell’s Snake Plisskin (Escape from New York, 1981) and Vin Diesel’s Richard Riddick (Pitch Black, 2000). He’s a dangerous insurgent responsible for killing swathes of people, who is being sent back to Earth for trial after 5 years of being cryogenically frozen in a prison near Saturn.  While Sylva doesn't have the over-the-top adrenaline machismo of Russell or Diesel, he does a more than capable job in the role, especially supported by this fine cast.

Considering what happened in those other bad-boy films, you know this isn’t going to end well for most of the soldiers in this transport crew, some of whom have a history with Python… Okay, I need to call him Diamond; Python sounds too… you know. What I would like to know is why they would unfreeze him before the four month trip back to Earth, rather than when they actually got there, if he’s so dangerous (not to mention the taxing of food supplies, waste, air, etc.). Anyhoo…

Steven O'Broin
When they get to Earth, it seems World War III (or something similar) has happened, and the East Coast of the U.S. is toast. On the West, it’s more militia law (though they refer to themselves as “pirates”). The malevolent and sadistic (of course) guy is charge is the strong-jawed Gazeebo (Steven O’Broin playing evil well). It’s important to realize that some in this gang have strange, post-Apocalypse names, such as Gazeebo’s right (and left?) hands, Rag and Tag. See, even after all the carnage, people still have a sense of humor.

Our valiant crew manages to hit upon a group of less than a dozen scientists who are living in the basement of a business complex, to see what they can do about the entire world being literally infertile, thanks to the radiation. Also among the group in nearly an extended cameo is Michael Thurber, hysterically (both literally and figuratively) playing a Norma Desmond version of himself, much as Bill Murray did in Zombieland (2009), or James Van Der Beek in Don’t Trust the B- in Apartment 23 (2012-2013).

Set desgin
Army and scientists vs. the militia and rag tag gang. Okay, that’s not giving away too much, is it? Now, let’s get down to some nitty gritty:

The in-space sets look pretty exceptional for the budget most of the time, and the CGI is applause worthy, again, for what it is. The computer screens and images, especially, are impressive. Back on earth, well, it’s more meat and potatoes, as a deserted brick building (filmed in Pawtucket, RI) and debris filled yard works perfectly for the story, with no extra computer graphic mumbo-jumbo exteriors needed. The military’s guns look present day, so does that mean they’re antiques here? I mean, during the real life U.S. Gulf Wars, soldiers were complaining about how their equipment was decades old. There are also some guns that shoot lasers, but unless I’m mistaken, they are held by the bad guys. Speaking of which, despite the relatively modern technology, the most accurate weapon used seems to be Gazeebo’s dart gun with exploding arrows.


Elyssa Baldassarri and Aaron Andrade
Like the mainstream films, apparently everyone is a bad aim, even in the future. I mean, think of Arnie or Sly standing in the middle of a field shooting at the multitude of bad guys with them shooting back, and hardly anyone gets shot. Yeah, some die, but most shots seem to just… miss. Not being critical, just observant, because you don’t wanna kill off everyone too fast or yaz don’t have a film, am I right? But don’t think that all the battles are waffles; there are some really well played-out fire fights, especially as time goes on, and a body count is itching to get started.

Despite all the hoopla and anger spewed, there is also a very sharp sense of humor that underflows, if you know how to look for it. For example, Diamond’s bulletproof vest has, written on the back in marker, “Careful, contents under pressure.” Another great line is said by Gazeebo (who definitely has some of the best dialog): “Yeah, right. Pull the other one, it plays Chopin.”

Anna Rizzo
While I would have liked a bit more background to some of the characters, like why Gazeebo wears a Civil War Union hat – made even more bizarre that he has a somewhat Southern accent – there is some indications of motive, such as why the head soldier, Uxbridge (appropriately hot-headedly played by Aaron Andrade to the point of being a controlling asshole who can’t see past his own status) hates Diamond so much. However, I would like to know why other characters, such as one of the survivors, Wren (Rich Tretheway, who puts in one of the best and most subtle performances in the film) sees Diamond as “a rock star,” as questioned by one of the soldiers/medic, Glass (the always welcome and expressive Elyssa Baldassarri, who has one of the best moments towards the end).  It is understandable that in any film with as many roles as this one, a writer and/or director must focus on some key people or the story gets swamped. Perhaps I’ve read too much Leon Uris in my life; but I digress…

Rich Tretheway
True, there are some well-worn themes here, there are also moments of emotion brought to the front by the action, which I place firmly in the workings of the director, Griffin, who has not let me down yet.  For example, when a particular character is killed off, I felt an “aww!” twinge. That’s good directing.

Then when you add in the unexpected Toxic Avenger component, well, things just go from the pot to the fire, and I was smiiiiiiiiling.

The extras include the trailer, a 2010 short created for a contest titled "Mutants of the Apocalypse" that is a bunch of goofy fun (including a device that would be used more fully fleshed out - pun intended - and just as effectively in Griffin's 2014 Frankenstein's [Wax Museum of the] Hungry Dead), and a commentary with the director, cinematographer, and most of the cast. While it's a large group, mostly those who talk do so when their scene is up. Lots of good stories and "making of" information, and thankfully it's well controlled rather than a mass mess. Sometimes it's hard to tell who is saying what, but mostly it's pretty clear and worth a listen. My only gripe is that it seems like there is only one mic, so some are easier to hear than others.

Overall the film has more of an indie/low-budget Battle Beyond the Stars (1981) meets Creepozoids (1986) feel to it than, say, Star Wars (1977) meets *batteries not included (1987), it’s arguably the better for it. 
 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Review: Above Us Lives Evil

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

 
Above Us Lives Evil [aka They Came From the Attic]
Written and directed by Jason Mills
Sector 5 Films / Chemical Burn Entertainment /
Reality Entertainment / Gravitas Ventures / Mills Pictures

World Wide Multi Media
75 minutes, 2009
www.Sector5films.net

 
Can you get spookier than Delta, British Columbia? Well, probably, but they make some interesting work with the place that is home to the Vancouver landfill. Obviously, a Canadian production, the second largest country in the world successfully makes this film feel claustrophobic by focusing in on a house, the lawn around it, and the mysterious woods just beyond.
 
In a preamble that seems kind of superfluous considering the rest of the story, which could have still been successful without it (though every piece of publicity mentions it), a young boy is run over, and the guilt hovers over his family, the Hoopers, who was supposed to be watching out for the boy. Those that remain are the boy’s tween twin brother, Ben (Leon Bourikos), his teenage older sister Jen (Nicola Elbro), and his parents Richard (Robert L. Duncan) and Susan (Marina Seretis).
 
Robert is a workaholic who ignores his family and drags them along according to his work needs (4 houses in 2 years). At one point early on and they travel from house 3 to house 4, Jen says, “It’s taking forever to get there,” and then we learn it’s merely an hour away. For Canada, that’s the same neighborhood, practically. Oh, sorry, I should say neighbourhood. They move to the new house which, well duh, has something(s) in the attic, indicated by the film’s original name, They Came from the Attic.
 
Despite a somewhat annoying first half in spite of a couple of good moments, it starts to pick up around halfway. Y’see, the Hooper parents have gone to a work function that will last all night, and Jen has invited her dick of a boyfriend to drive all the way over. Asshole that he is, he bets that he will finally bed her with a bunch of his mates who secretly follow to make sure. Why? Easy: body count.
 
If you turn off your brain, the second half is a lot of fun with creatures chasing and chomping on, well, nearly any- and everyone. Because they can’t take the light, all the interesting scenes occur at night, and being shot pre-HD, some of the scenes can get a bit murky at times.
 
An annoying aspect is that the first time you’re introduced to anyone, there is a jump scare introduction (people come out of left field, as it were). In the beginning, it happens three times in a row in relatively short progression, and by the third I was getting irritated. It happens a couple more times in the film, and I found myself saying, to the screen snarkily, “Enough!” I’m going to chalk it up to it being director Mills’ first feature.
 
There are also some smile-inducing moments as well, if you catch them, such as a creature getting his photo taken accidentally (on film!), and then we see the development envelope has the “Mills Pictures” logo. If that is the only reason to have mentioned film rather than digital, it was worth it.
 
Without even complaining about the obvious voice overdubs and one place where someone talks and no sound at all comes out (oops, too late!), what I found disturbing was the many holes in the story. For example, and this is the only one I’m going to choose, there is a mostly annoying (purposefully) family living close by, and even though no one has lived in the residence that is the locus of the story for years, the creatures go for animals rather than the people next door, who only come into danger when there is plenty of human food around. This Newfie family (judging by the patriarch’s accent) knows what is going on there, but still chooses to stay there: “Hey honey, there’s a bunch of cannibalistic creatures next door who need to feed at night, so let’s go roaming around one by one, okay?” No local teens have used the empty house to have beer parties, or gone there on dares (or hook-ups)? Canadians are nice (usually), but I’ve been in deserted houses in the middle of flippin’ nowhere, and the ever present cans of Labatt shows the place is known to local kids.
 
And even though Canada is never mentioned once in the film, it’s kind of easy to tell, as we hear people say things like “Check out the hoouse,” “There’s something in the house, mum,” and at least one says the infamous and nefarious, “eh?” (the Northern version of “yknowwhadimsayin?”).
 
As these kinds of films go, it was actually a bit of a pleasant ride once it finally decided to get past the exposition and build-up. Decent body count, no nudity, and some blood, but the creatures actually look pretty good, especially the close-up of the one outside the closet door (it’s in one of the trailers below). This is a fun film to watch in a group more than to analyze in detail, so grab some friends and a flat on a Sat, and feast.
 
Oh, one last P.S., this film only goes to show one thing I have felt all my life: never trust a house that has a staircase with no railing. No good can come of it.
 

 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Review: Camp Massacre

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

Camp Massacre
Directed by Jim O’Rear and Daniel Emery Taylor
Deviant Pictures / itn distribution / MVD Visual
129 minutes, 2014 / 2015
www.mvdvisual.com

Slasher spoofs range from the good (such as Bloody Bloody Bible Camp [2012]) to the bad (A Haunted House [2013]). This one, originally released under the title Fat Chance? Well…

After the seemingly mandatory opening killing during a mandatory full-nude shower scene, we are presented with a behind the scenes story (not found footage, gratefully) of a reality television show called “In for a Pound,” where the winner of $1 million will be whomever loses the most weight in the month of shooting.

Among the group is a few Redneck bullies (one well played by co-director Daniel Emery Taylor – which is not surprising as it was filmed in Marion, ‘Bama), an exceedingly offensive gay stereotype, a jumpsuit wearing paisan from Jersey (Soprano’s reference, I’m pretty sure), an old white rapper self- branded as Two Ton, a Marilyn Mason-type goth named Darc Ness, a Latino who doesn’t speak Ingles, and the nice and shy guy who writes poetry named Jeremy (Nick Huntsman in his first film role, a great horror actor name if I ever heard one). He has a crush on the show’s inadequate nurse, Stefani (Megan Hunt), and she just may be warming up to him – or not – or…

Among the others surrounding this gaggle-plus-three of bears (you heard me) is the sadistic exercise coach (G. Larry Butler, a kingpin in manga voice-overs), an equally sadistic “babysitter” to make sure the contestants stay in line (professional wrestler Al Snow), the also equally sadistic food nazi, Arthur (David Coffin), the also sadistic power hungry host, Warren (co-director Jim O’Rear, in the first role I have ever seen anyone vaping), a New Agey Dr. Phil-modelled doctor, James (Carl Donovan), and the one sane and somewhat professional person on the entire crew, the producer Natalie (Ava Cronin).

Oh, and the masked killer is a wonder, and possibly the funniest thing in the film. Diminutive, with an apron on (food kind, not industrial), and for a mask a bucket from a chicken shack that has two small holes cut out for the eyes.

Using what I call the James Balsamo School of Cameo (meant totally as a compliment), the top liners of the film who are actual “names” are all in it for brief periods, probably available for the day. In this case it’s ex-porn star Bree Olson of Human Centipede III (2015), the above mentioned Snow, Scott Tepperman of the Ghost Hunters International cable show (which I’ve never seen), and classic genre actor Dick Warlock. But that’s not fair, in this case, because most of the cast has a huge screen credit list (though most of them are sort of One Day Shooting appearances, as well).

The idea of the film works well as an homage to the genre, and Independent Film Quarterly’s quote on the back of the DVD box, “It’s The Biggest Loser meets Friday the 13th” is actually quite accurate, but much of the humor falls flat in its reach for the gross (partially melted chocolate bars under man-boobs and a slab of human crap-in-the-face for example). But the SFX, which is appliance rather than digital, is superb. Lots of blood, guts, gore and mayhem, and the using various weapons is amazingly effective.

Also impressive is that I did not figure out who was the killer beforehand, which is rare. I made a guess (though I wasn’t sure why), and was completely off. Kudos on that. Plus there is a fight scene with Snow that is funny and feels somewhat partially improvisational. What drove me crazy, though, was sometimes it seemed the humor outweighed (pun unintended) the reason we are there. For example, the blade of the machete that the killer uses is not only way too thick and looks plastic, but at one point, the killer actually grabs the damn thing by the blade. Purposeful? One would hope.

There are three major issues I had with the film. First of all, there are way too many dialog scenes that do nothing to further the story, and trimming them would have easily cut 20 minutes off the film length. For example, when the two romantic leads yak it up discussing each other rather than the events, it was repetitive and went on too long. Also, the obligatory opening with Olson and two others sitting on hotel beds discussing what to do with the evening just goes oooooooooon; I said to the television, in a British accent of course, “C’mon, move it along, there’s nothing here to see here.”

Speaking of the opening, my second point, other than having Olson there and her do a full frontal nude shower scene, it added nothing to the story, or at the very least was not well explained, other than a reference in the film’s coda (if the directors want to tell me what I’m missing, please feel free in the comment section; and why the scabs?).

For me, the biggest contention in the film, and this is true for many low budget genre flicks, is the bad and overacting is over the wall. Yes, I understand Lithgow did it and got a ton of awards for it on Third Rock from the Sun, but as much as I respect him for his work, I hated what he did in that show. Here, again considering the large volume of credits some of the actors have, I wonder if either there was a lack of commitment, purposeful scenery chewing to add to the “humor” or lack of competency. That being said, there was one standout in the film by a mile, and that was Ava Cronin. Her timing was mostly spot on, and you really got the feeling she was pissed off. When she spits out a line, I bought it. Yeah, there was some facial mugging towards the end, but mostly her scenes were the highlights for me.

So, it’s a mixed bag. The film was shot well, the gore effects (especially in the opening) were totally enjoyable, the sound was really good, the choice of music was enjoyable (my mind has erased the one rap song), the editing cohesive albeit a tad long, as I said, and the lighting was just right so it was easy to see what was going on at night; and then there is everything else I whined about previously. If you know what you’re going in for, though, you may actually find some of the faults charming.

To be fair, I would like to acknowledge that it did win Best Horror at the Dark Zone Film Festival, and was official selections at the Alabama Phoenix Festival, Marble City Comic Con, and the Creative Con.

Take it this next comment or leave it, and I understand why you would, but for a reality show, there really was a lack of cameras around. In fact, it’s only there in one scene. But that’s just me… Other than that and the DVD having no extras except the trailer, the only thing really missing is the Rodney Dangerfield jokes: “He’s so fat, when he sits around the house, he sits around the house. He weighed himself on one of those talking scales and it said, ‘One at a time, please.’ He’s so big, he has his own area code.” Thank you and good night. Try the veal!

 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Review: Takashi Miike's The Happiness of the Katakuris

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

 
The Happiness of the Katakuris (aka Katakuri-ke no kofuku)
Directed by Takashi Miike
Shochiku / Arrow Video / MVD Visual
113 minutes, 2001 / 2015
www.mvdvisual.com

Japanese director Takashi Miike (pronounced Mee-KAY) is no stranger to extreme cinema, having started with direct-to-video (you read right) films that mainly focused on violent underworld and cop-and-robbers themes, such as the Dead or Alive series. In the West, he is more known as the person who created such icky-fests are Ichi The Killer (2001), the creepy “Box” segment of 3…Extremes (2004), and most notably the graphic and horrific Audition (1999).

So, of course, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a…musical? Oh, but not just any musical, that is certain. A mixture of the love of family, death-death-and-more-death, horror, crime, comedy, dancing, and a snappy soundtrack; yes, we’re off to a Miike off-kilter special treat.


"We're a happy family / We're a happy family /
We're a happy family / Me, mom and daddy"
We are introduced to the six-member Katakuri family through the very young daughter, Yurie (Tamaki Miyazaki, in her only film credit), who is full of hope and contentment. Her mom, Shizue (the cute Naomi Nishida) is a single mother after a brief marriage (it is explained that she “falls in and out of love too easily”), Shizue’s brother, Masayuki (Shinji Takeda) is an ex-con recently out of prison but has a good heart, their parents who are laid-off shoe salesman Al Bund… I mean Masao (Kenji Sawada) and lovingly doting wife Terue (Keiko Matsuzaka), and Yurie’s great grandfather, Ojisan Jinpei (the then-80-year-old Tetsuro Tanba), who was a World War II soldier and still has an amazingly good pitching arm. There’s also a cute little mutt, Poochi. The whole clan moved out to the countryside to try and make a go at a Bed and Breakfast called the White Lovers’ Guesthouse, but are waiting for patrons to finally show up. The problems begin when they do eventually come. And go.
 
Through no fault of the Katakuri tribe, the customers rarely seem to last a night without meeting their maker by different means. Since the family doesn’t want to ruin their reputation before they have the chance to be successful, they must figure out what to do with the growing pile of bodies.

To add to the problems, Shizue has fallen for a con man in a Western Naval uniform named Richado, or Richard in the translation (Kiyoshiro Imawano), who claims to be the illegitimate son of the Queen of England’s half-sister. Through all this craziness, there is even crazinerness (yeah, I know it’s not a real word, lighten up) singing and dancing.

This film is a bit of a legend in Japan, less so outside, because its cast at the time is off the hook as far as character actors known in the Islands country. For example, at the time, Imawano was the largest native rock star who occasionally acted. It would be like when David Bowie did Labyrinth (1986). Sawada, on the other hand, is one of the original rock’n’rollers in Japan, and on some level is known as the “Elvis of Japan” (except he can act). The rest of the cast, including the second and tertiary level, are easily identified character actors (Miike refers to Nishida, for example, as the “Meg Ryan of Japan”). Many have become known through Miike’s previous prolific and prestigious work, but most have come into their own through various work.


Original Sound of Music-like Poster
Even though there are references here to The Sound of Music, including the design and font used on the poster, this is certainly not a Julie Andrews lightweight megalith, but is very dark and humorous at the same time. For example, in Miike fashion, some the characters include a sumo wrestler and his obviously underage uniformed schoolgirl girlfriend, an TV announcer who has a bug climb into his nose, violence, zombies of a sort, and as I said, a nice body count. And did I mention the Claymation yet?
 
At the odd moment throughout the film, such as the enjoyable yet WTF opening sequence, suddenly everything and everyone turns to pixilated Claymation for part of the scene. You just never see it coming, but it’s hard not to enjoy it. It’s handled quite imaginatively, and it’s always easy to tell which characters are which, even though they are in clay.

There are certainly some Asian tones to the film that some Westerners may get, but not to the level of those in the East. For example, one of the musical numbers is very stylized in a music video way, set to a karaoke mode so the audience can sing along (if you can read Japanese, of course). As I experienced last year in China, karaoke is a big thing, and rather than being in a bar with everyone in the audience observing, one would rent a small room for private parties of a dozen or so people, drink and sing along to music videos on a screen, with the words highlighted underneath rather than just having the lyrics alone. It’s a socially fascinating thing to experience for a Westerner, but kind of common for the middle classes.

Another aspect that Western audiences may not get used to right away, even if they notice, is that there are some long, static shots rather than quick editing. Sergei Eisenstein may be correct that editing = action, as MTV videos promoted decades later, but Miike looks at it differently, and succeeds in still getting the action on high without cutting around quickly. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some effective jump-inducing scares here and there.

This shot in Kyoto film is actually a remake of another dark (sans music and dancing) Korean film, The Quiet Family (Choyonghan kajok) from 1998, but Miike definitely changes up the story enough to make it his own. It’s an exciting, sometimes experiential yet mostly a cohesive and comprehensive release.

While I won’t delve into it here, as usual Miike’s ending is a bit evasive, and I have my own theory of what happened that isn’t necessarily the filmmaker’s (and is just as fantastical as his), but I guess that’s my problem, right? Normally a “smiley” emoticon would go here.

Tons of extras abound on the DVD. There are a couple of trailers for this film, a 5:30 short on the Claymation process, an interesting 30 minute Making of documentary that includes interviews with the cast, a 24-minute analytical look at Miike’s career filled with clips made in 2015 called “Pimps, Dogs and Agitators” by academic critic Tom Mes, and a separate series mostly archival interviews – and one from 2015 – with most of the main cast members ranging less than 10 minutes each, though the latest one with Miike is 38 minutes (for honesty’s sake, it’s the only extra I didn’t watch all the way through).

Mes also does one of two commentary tracks giving the viewer a detailed-filled and precise look at this film. Most of his references are lost on me as I have only seen a few of Miike’s multitude of output, and Mes is kind of monotone, but it still kept my interest throughout. The second track is Miike and actor/film critic (and first guest of the B&B) Tokitoshi Shiota discussing the film. There are two versions available of this last track, one is in Japanese with English subtitles, and one is translated into English. Normally I would go for the original, but since I wanted to still follow the story through subtitles, I went for the translation one. There was a bit too much kibitzing, but there was still enough information about the making of the film for me to not give up and have fun with it.

Beyond all the events that happen to this family, the core of the film is actually quite sweet, a treatise about what is happiness. This is a bit of classic film in Japan, and it’s easy to see why. You certainly will not be bored, especially since it isn’t a typical and formulaic story or production.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Review: A Black Heart in White Hell

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

A Black Heart in White Hell
Written, directed, edited and scored by Dustin Wayde Mills
Cumpleshack Films / Dustin Mills Productions (DMP)
32 minutes, 2015
DVD available HERE
VoD available HERE:

Western culture’s idea of Heaven and Hell is actually a relatively new concept. Oh, sure, there has almost always been a vision of the afterlife, be it hangin’ out with Ra or Osiris. However, while Heaven being a place of beauty and Hell of torment may have been sparked by the likes of the Bible that hinted at it, what we know of it comes from both later literature (such as Dante’s Inferno and Paradisio [both 1472], and John Milton’s Paradise Lost [1667]) and art (numerous paintings in the Renaissance especially were quite graphic; check out the gruesome work of Hieronymus Bosch [d. 1516]).

In our present time, Heaven and Hell have become more of a concept, with the punishment becoming honed specifically for the person to be penalized. A couple of examples of this include an amazing Richard Matheson story from the original Twilight Zone in 1960, Paul Simon selling his soul to the Devil and being stuck on an elevator for eternity as Elevator Music versions of his songs play on a 1980s Saturday Night Live, and even The Devil in Miss Jones (1973), where a virgin who commits suicide learns through multiple and varied experiences to need sex, and then is denied orgasms.

In a similar beginning to Miss Jones, at the start of this film we meet the multi-inked main character, identified only as The Woman (Reagan Root), who gets into a tub and grabs a gun after writing on the mirror, in blood (not saying whose) “Not Sorry.” As this is the slogan for the film, I don’t believe I’m revealing much. Well, the trailer will tell the story up to here, anyway.

She awakes in the room which is completely covered in white that is the locus of the rest of the film. All that’s there is an old computer monitor (with the cathode tube, which I’m guessing Dustin wisely got in a garage sale for real cheap), a couch and a garbage container.

I don’t usually do this, but due to the complexity of the story and the shortness of the film, there will be some spoilers in only the next paragraph. This is something I almost never do, so please forgive me, or just skip to after the picture.

The Black Heart of the title is reference to the woman due to her cold naturedly killing three dudes in graphic mode with various weapons, though it’s never explained why she did them in. I can live with that in a film of this length. That she has to apply those same weapons on herself I’m assuming is part of the punishment.

SPOILER FINISHED
Mills started his career doing weird comedies like Puppet Monster Massacre (2010) and Zombie A-Hole (2012), and then did the extremely serious and excellent Skinless (2013; all three reviewed elsewhere on this and another blog). In the last couple of years, his films have turned ever darker, delving into extreme images on line with the likes of Audition (1999) with titles such as Kill That Bitch (2014), Her Name Was Torment (2014) and The Hornet’s Sting and the Hell It’s Caused (2014). I have not had the opportunity to see those later ones, as of yet. But one thing is definitely clear: Mills’ output has been vastly improving. I mean, his skill as a filmmaker was actually better than most right out of the gate, but his artistic turns here using the sharp and highly contrast black and white, with no dialog other than a clip from the public domain and appropriate Betty Boop cartoon, “Minnie the Moocher (1932; the entire short is available on the DVD among the numerous extras) are quite effective in setting the mood and the action.

Like most auteur genre directors, Mills has his tropes, which tend to crop up in his films regularly. Here you can find lots of blood, gore, nudity, and the occasional creepy and wondrous sock-and-latex-sourced monster puppets (he discusses the makings of these on his Facebook page, so again, not really giving too much info).

Two of his most common regulars also appear here, but rather than themes, they are people, namely Brandon Salkil (dude, you realize that you die in just about all of your friend’s films, right?), and actor/reviewer/director (I look forward to seeing his directorial review, Slimy Little Bastards) Dave Parka, who vlogs under the name MrParka. I’m a fan of Brandon from Zombie A-Hole Days as he is, in my opinion, the new Bruce Campbell (well, additional Campbell); Parker, a more recent Mills addition, shows that he is really improving in his acting chops, as he give a solid, albeit short performance here. Root also does an solid job holding up this movie as its central character, doing well in putting subtleties of emotion – or lack of them when necessary – still managing to make her somewhat pitiable by the end.

One of the aspects I also like about Mills’ work is the subtle way he uses themes we’re all familiar with, and incorporates them in a way that gives them a new twist so they come out as original. For example, there is the aforementioned Miss Jones opening, and also present is a bit of Groundhog Day (1993) and the Donald Sutherland version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).

Mills gets a lot of his 30 minutes, that is both extremely simplistic in its presentation (much like Buddy Holly’s music, it is actually more detailed on closer observation), and complex in its messaging. I like the way Mills works, his trove of cast and crew members, and the way he uses latex and wool, in a fine mix of appliances and digital.

The extras on the DVD (not of Video on Demand) are plentiful, as I said, including the aforementioned Betty Boop cartoon, two original short films at 10 minutes per, and an audio commentary.

If you like some of the greasy and gooey, the monsters and the pain, then this will make a good introduction to check out and get you to jump on the Dustin Wayde Mills train, because as usual, he’ll take you on a helluva ride!

Trailer HERE 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Horror Shorts Reviews for July 2015

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

The Name I Know
Written and directed by Preston Corbell
6:29 / 2015
www.Facebook.com/thenameIknow  
This isn’t about the horror from without, but the more terrifying one from within. The viewer helplessly observes as an unnamed man (Preston Corbell) is buried under the weight of his profound depression, as he contemplates his next – or possibly last – step. For such a short film, there is some graphic gore as we not only hear his thoughts in emotionless monotone through a distorting echo, but also watch the world as he sees it. Both nicely done yet disturbing, you feel for this person, without any real back story, just his moment of pain. Beautifully photographed in color and B&W in a way that reminds me of the scene of The Graduate (1967) where Mrs. Robinson slides down the wall at the top of the stairs, it’s bleak, and the space around the character gives into the feeling of loneliness. Beautiful and intense. It is currently running occasionally on Indie Horror TV (IHTV).

Don’t Play
Concept and directed by Vicky (aka Vekky)
Jaaini Arts
4:44 / 2015
Filmed in the forests of India (though it looks like it could have been anywhere), a lone photographer (Satish Premalatha) does what I’ve done a thousand times: walked through the woods and taken pictures of what I find interesting. But what he finds is something else. Seemingly inspired by some of the popular Japanese / Korean horror films of the past couple of decades, something is stalking the photographer. Even given an idea of what is the end result if you’ve seen Ju-On (2002) / The Grudge (2004) or the like, this is a very nice and modern twist to the story that is quite effective. Beautifully shot, there is both a feeling of space and enclosure at the same time, and enjoyable from beginning to end.

Daddy
Directed by Lee Boxleitner
Blue House Productions
3:43 / 2015
A young daughter wakes up her dad. Happens every day, right? But it’s the most mundane events that can become the most terrifying, as well. This non-complex, simple premise is the core of a film that may actually make you jump. Incredibly well acted by the small cast, shot in one room, and basically two angles, and yet so much can be read into what you see happen. The cinematic equivalent of a “postcard novel,” it is also a stunningly good piece of micro-short work.

 
2AM: The Smiling Man
Directed by Michael Evans
Go For Broke Pictures
4:08 / 2013
Just imagine you’re walking home late at night through a suburban neighborhood, the air is just a bit chilly, and you notice a man a ways off down the street, by himself, with a strange grin and dancing sinisterly. What do you do? More importantly what will he do?  These questions are what is behind the mystery of these two strangers. This is an extremely unnerving short, mostly for the mystery behind it and the creepiness of the Smiling Man. You won’t know whether to wince, to jump or to laugh. This film is very effective for its mood, its two-person cast, and for managing to take a simple premise and make it work for its full 4 minutes without getting to the “C’mon already!” stage. Even the lighting is ordinary, easy to see thanks to the streetlights. But that doesn’t take anything away from the unsettling feeling you get throughout. Really enjoyable.


Crash Site: It Came From the VCR, Episode 1
Directed by Richard Griffin
Scorpio Film Releasing / Cut Rate Motion Pictures
19:30 / 2013
For some reason I really can’t fathom that this comedic film has gotten some strongly negative reviews. I know it’s one of the director’s favorites of his work, and I can see why. Sure it’s goofy, but I’ve seen such terrible crap on the big screen (can anyone say Bridesmaids (2011), or nearly anything with Seth Rogan, Adam Sandler, or most of the middle-to-later period SNL-alums.  But I digress...). After a spaceship lands and attacks a couple during the omnipresent “opening scene,” we are introduced to the main characters, three men and three women, in the woods, camping out. The “7th wheel” is Johnny, a green dude with three nobs on his forehead. Naturally, most of these amusingly dunderheads think it’s because he’s, well, European (perhaps, they ponder, from a BLOC country, like LEGOLAND?). I don’t think I’m giving away anything when I say that not only is Johnny an alien, but he has come for the men as sex slaves (as a proud Ally, I have never heard the term “power bottom” before).

Jamie Lyn Bagley steals most the film with her quips and sarcastic line reading, e.g., “Yeah, he’s gay, that’s the problem.” Also, Michael Thurber’s almost apologetic inserts as the character of the “producer” of the film, the way Woody Allen did in What’s Up Tiger Lily (1966), or William Castle with House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Tingler’s (1959) trailers, are hysterical. As Johnny, Johnny Sederquist chews the drapes, the trees, and anything he gets his hands on, which is actually appropriate for an alien role. That is, it’s no more or less broad than John Lithgow’s hammingly [sic] Emmy-winning role in 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996-2001).

Coincidentally, I watched this the same day the Supreme Court green lit gay marriage, so I was – er – primed. From what I understand, many critics felt this film was gay bashing, which I am assuming is a result of people being “turned” gay, but as Richard Griffin perplexedly told me, many associated with the film are gay, so that never even occurred to them. I believe that those who are feeling that are being overly sensitive and reactionary, and not watching an enjoyable comedy about mores, and using and then turning the kids-in-the-wood tropes with a comic twist. Yeah, I recommend this, and take it for what it is: a fun and campy romp.