Monday, November 30, 2015

Review: 3:33 AM: The Witching Hour

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

3:33 AM: The Witching Hour
Written and directed by Daniel Falicki
Rotomation Pictures / Sector5 Films
Chemical Burn / World Wide Multi Media
139 minutes, 2014
www.Sector5films.net
www.mvdvisual.com

This is the second film I’ve reviewed by director Daniel Falicki (and have one more in the queue), and I’m actually quite impressed. He has shown some artistic flair in Awaken the Devil (2014; aka The Anti-American) and I was looking forward to view this epic horror comedy and see a new side to the man.

For this one, John Spinelli (Matthew J. Dennis) is basically a good guy who got into a bad situation with substances, and ended up being arrested, but that’s all backstory. Where we pick up is John being released and sent to a halfway house full of weirdos, including the uptight proprietor, Ethel Kranski (a humorously uptight Marly Green; “Your silence indicates consent! Do you understand?!”) and the kindly nun, Sister Mary (Sheri Beth Dusek, who is also a producer and co-writer), taking care of the spiritual side. Others include two brothers named Robert and Bob who drink a lot of their homemade beer and a couple into Cosplay and gaming, to name a few. The small town locale of events is called Rapid Falls, and I’m guessing it’s supposed to be Iowa due to a 515 area code shown on a television

Matthew J. Dennis as John Spinelli
In the outside world, his girlfriend Ruby (Liz Nolan) is not pleased with him and his legally forced upon him job as a bag boy at a supermarket (though it looks like the location is actually a liquor store, but I digress…), where the name on his apron is misspelled “Jon,” which introduces some other bizarre characters. Somehow, you get the feeling worlds are going to collide, Jerry.

Next to the halfway house is an century-long abandoned abode, which always has a mysterious mist around it that no one seems to notice. And at 3:33 AM, there is some mysterious light flashing action going on across the way, which leads to gruesome murders (off-screen) in which people have limbs removed (and in one case, the person had been beaten to death with their own arm; nice touch, no pun intended).

Is there any reason to think our chooch of a hero is not the one who is going to get blamed? There is a police detective on his trail, but we know there is something more sinister going on. Hell (again, no pun intended), this is a flippin’ horror film, after all. What I especially appreciate is that there is a lot of assumptions (just shy of red herrings) the viewer (okay, me) can make for certain reasons I won’t go into, so no spoilers, but the film doesn’t lead where you expect. I’m grateful for that. There are some loose ends (e.g., why did this mystery pick John?), but overall it’s a pretty fun ride.

The performances are actually quite well done. Despite the occasional scenery chewing, the leads – including Dennis, Nolan and Chris Kotcher as Father Stark – do an excellent job at it. This is especially true of Dennis, despite moments of madness, shouting and going a bit off the rail (because of the events in the story), but generally he’s sympathetic and believable, even when he’s being a stronzo to others.

Part of what makes this a fun film is not just the acting, but some of the dialog. Sure, there is the (racist/xenophobic) comic relief of a character titled Sgt. Shithead (Jason Roth, whose performance was very powerful in Awaken the Devil), but there’s lot to listen to if you pay attention. This is considered a comedy, but many times the humor is very subtle, such as playing with names or lines you could easily miss if not pay any mind.

For me, the one flaw was the length. Two hours and 18 minutes was just too long to keep the attention totally focused. If it was tightened to a reasonable 90 minutes or so, I can see this being even more betterer, and it was pretty good as it is. A few scenes lagged that could have been tightened (e.g., while everyone was waiting for the 3:33 AM time), but I’m glad I saw it anyway, and would recommend it.

 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review: Bloody Indulgent

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

Bloody Indulgent (aka The Bloody Indulgent)
Written and directed by Ken Roht
Tree of Shade / Orphean Circus
Chemical Burn /World Wide Multi Media
90 minutes, 2014 / 2015
www.Chemicalburn.com
www.mvdvisual.com

Let me just put this out there for the moment for you to sink your teeth into: a vampire musical with sex and gore and zombies galore.

This certainly isn’t the first horror musical. First one I can think of is Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies (1964), but there’s also the likes of Phantom of the Paradise (1974) and if you want to go that far, The Phantom of the Opera (2004). There’s probably more, and feel free to add them in the comment section below, but at this time of night that’s all I got. However, is it a coincidence that all of them were made in a year ending in “4”? I think not!!!

Kevin Richardson
So getting back to the review: Todd (Brandon Heitcamp), the “hero” of the story, has just been turned into a vampire against his will by his supposed friend (aka doucebag) Burt (Kevin Richardson, the tall goateed soprano guy from the Backstreet Boys, or as I like to call them, zzzzz). Needless to say, does he dump the vamp? No, they both go to their favorite low-end strip club where Todd’s girlfriend, Connie (Diva Muffin Zappa…yep, Frank’s baby girl) is a very bad stripper (and singer). She gets pissed that Todd is now a dark walker and in a fit of anger turns the crowd against Burt with a “Kill the Vampire” song. When it ends, Burt sings in that Ted Neely high-pitched rock way that brings everyone back to his side, just in time for Todd to bite Connie, who likes being a neck sucker. The comic, emcee and club owner, Sid (star of a multitude of A-grade daytime soaps, Brian Gaskill), get bit by Burt and dies, and that raises an army of strippers to seek revenge, let by Sid’s girlfriend/stripper, Dori (the very cute Laura Martin in a huge, awful ‘80s rock wig).

To hide out, Burt and Todd hightail it to a photo shoot at Candyland where the photographer Clare (joy to watch, scene stealing Sharon Ferguson) is also a drug dealer. Apparently, Burt not only indulges in blood, but he’s a bit of a connoisseur of addictive powders (reminds me of the British character from the fun 2003-04 cable show Dead Like Me).

Todd, in the back
This comedy musical is enjoyable, but completely insane. It definitely has that “some people will find this a camp classic” written all over it. So, let’s look at different aspects of it.

First of all, the music by Paul Goldowitz ranges from really good angry rock songs, to very, very lame Broadway incidental songs. The singing also ranges from decent, such as Richardson’s upper register high-pitched rock notes to, well, you might want to hold your ears when Diva is – er – singing.

Surprising to me, Richardson holds his own. If you haven’t guessed, boy bands are not my thing (though I did come up with the perfect 1990s boy group cover band name: 98o ‘N the Backstreet Boys Sync; it makes more sense if you read it aloud), but he definitely was in control of the action as a force, which both not expected by me, and I was grateful because he really center the action. On the other hand, it should be noted that for me the big flaw in the film is that Burt really isn’t that likeable. For the antagonist, you either want him completely heinous or an anti-hero. Here, Burt is just a big asshole.


Connie (Zappa) and her zombie pals
Every single character here is just plain nuts, from the vampire zombie Connie to the vampire hunter and his wife, to the strippers and their very gay backup dancers. Even the somewhat normal characters, such as the two other zombies, Todd, the photo shoot lackey, and Sid’s vengeful girlfriend, really are certifiable.
 
I mentioned the word camp before, and it really does apply to this, and not just to the extreme sissyboys and the brother and sister played by the same actor, but the whole stripper vs. vampire in a musical milieu is right up there as a retahded (as they say in Boston) cousin of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1976); and I get the feeling, in part, that is not lost on the makers of the project.

Taking place essentially in a 24 hour period, the pacing is brisk and never slows down. This is largely thanks to the off-beat, drug-addled, gory humor. And as bad as she is a vocalist, Zappa really is a lynch-pin to the comedy of the film, with good timing and acting. This leads to another comedic turn by two cognizant, flesh-eating zombies, who are a very nice touch, and have some great dialog readings.


Angry strippers and backup dancers
The camp sort of nullifies the stereotypical gay aspects and even the “Damn, now that I’m a vampire, that means I’m bisexual” whine that crops up occasionally. The four gay characters (said male dancers and two models at the photo shoot) are over-the-top girlymen. However, there is a strong misogyny running through this. Once you get past the strong “kill the vampire” strippers/hookers, they tend to be either bitches (the office manager for Clare), or sex objects (Clare’s assistant) and models who are stoned and dressed in 18 Century Paris couture and powdered wigs. Not counting Bert, there are some women who are over the top batshit crazy, such as Clare, Connie, and one of the strippers, Coco (Tracey A. Leigh), who loses her mind when she gets a hold of a pistol. Some might say they are strong characters, but others may raise an eyebrow.
 
So yes, this is a silly musical that I actually watched three times because it’s also funny in its sheer audacity and ridiculousness. There is also decently looking blood galore throughout. Take that as you wish.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUGJrHj6TTQ

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Review: Bill Huckstabelle – Serial Rapist

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

Bill Huckstabelle: Serial Rapist
Written, directed and edited by Jerry Landi
Fiona Studios / Amuck Duck Films
56 minutes, 2015
www.Vimeo.com/

Since even before the days of Hostel (2005), the Roughie genre (pre-Sexploitation) has been coming back. Early versions of the style from the 1960s, for example, include Scum of the Earth (1963) and Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965). It’s the kind of film that feminists (rightfully) were up in arms about. It has resurged with the likes of the Japanese Guinea Pig series, or indies by those such as Dustin Mills (e.g., Her Name Was Torment [2014] and Applecart [2015], though to be fair, both genders are the objects in his releases).

Director Jerry Landi, known for his Blood Marsh Krackoon (2014), is back; his latest deals with, well, you-know-who, if you couldn’t tell by the name of the films. Y’know what is the difference between “Based on a true story/incident” and “Ripped from the headlines”? The former is predicated on something you’ve probably never heard of before, and the second has a foundation in someone or something infamous. Y\know what the two of them have in common? At least 95 percent bullshit. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, just the truth (pun intended). The major divergence with the second is you have a better chance to recognize the real bits, such as here.

Landi takes “America’s Dad” head on, albeit in a near completely fictionalized version of one of the most beloved / reviled actors in recent history. Although fictionalized, it does well to also make some fine points about the entire event, such as denial and blaming the victim (“it was so many years ago, why now?” as a co-worker recently said to me, about origin story). Throughout the review I will refer to the real person as Cos, and the fictitious one as Bill, just to keep them straight.

Having formed a friendship with director/actor Sean Weathers, Landi directs him in the first feature that Weathers stars in but has not directed. I was looking forward to seeing someone else lead point for Sean’s actions at least once to see some acting stretches.

Rather than the early 1960s, the back part of the story here takes place in 1990, so when they catch up to “now,” rather than being in his 80s, Bill is only in his supposed ‘50s (Sean looks way too young for that, being 35, but this is given as a compliment). The unfunny standup comedy routine (intentionally?; personally, I found the Cos stuff from his early career, before the revelations, hysterical) of Bill reflects back to Cos, with monsters and Skinny Vinny, both referencing a bit about Od Weird Harold. There is even a veiled indication of Cos’s first television show, I-Spy (1965-1968).

After the black and white flashback, we brought to the present, where Bill hosts a program called Kids Say the Dumbest Things, a not very hidden reference to the Cos’s own remake of Art Linkletter’s Kids Say the Darndest Things (1998-2000). Never saw the Cos version of the show, so I can’t speak to its accuracy. Bill’s show and endorsements, however, are in jeopardy thanks to the hounding by daytime television show host Cindy Marie (Weathers’ regular Sybelle Silverphoenix, giving the strongest performance I have seen her do so far). She has even interviews some of his alleged victims, such as the self-lip-lickin’ Casey (Sara Rosenberg).

Sybelle Silverphoenix
Bill is supported in public by his long-suffering wife, Leeanna (b-movie regular Erika Smith, playing a white version of Cos’s wife, Cam…let’s stop there) and his manager Schlomo Rosenberg (Landi regular and scene stealer Sal Amore); he is also helped in his evil, hidden side by sidekick Louie (Brian Martin) and the occasional others.

One of the references in the film is the Bill sit-com, “Safe at Home,” where he teaches his son about responsibility using fake money (a bit taken directly from the first episode of “The You-Know-Who Show”). But despite that, there is a lot of mixing up of timelines by changing the order of events, which is not a complaint in any kind of way, just an observation. But there are also some interesting little bits here and there, such as some anti-religious statements (not that I’m a fan of organized religion), and a negative mention of Kim Jong Un, my guess is to possibly raise The Interview (2014) level-reactions and publicity. Nice try, even if it ends as only a commentary on those events.

The following comment has nothing to do with anything, but this is filmed in the New York area, most likely Landi’s home turf of the Bronx, and Weathers’ locus of Brooklyn (Silverphoenix is also from da Bronx), and some of the accents are beautifully thick (I say that without sarcasm) as can be, especially Amore’s. Having grown up in Bensonhurst, with a Bronx-bred dad, it made me feel at home.

There is one thing regarding this film about which I felt a bit uncomfortable. In Weathers’ films, women are often mistreated, but there is either retribution, such as with They All Must Die (1998), or his own characters are treated more harshly in the long run, like in Act Jackson is a Dead Man (2015) or Scumbag Hustler (2014). It is the violence against women that is on display here, be it via beating, skinning, etc., that feels unbalanced. Even during the many rape scenes, the women are naked and the men are fully clothed. Heck, Weathers has been shown a propensity to be naked to show off the muscles at the drop of a lens cap in his own films, but that does not happen here. This one-sidedness is, to me, the biggest drawback of the film.

Brian Martin and Sean Weathers in the titular role
As the film proceeds and veers ever further from the latest reports on our 24-hour news cycle about Cos, by the end it’s (hopefully; who knows what really happened with Cos) completely over the top, and that is actually a somewhat good thing, because it helps with the “not based on any real or living person…” disclaimer thingie that goes at the end of every film.

The extras are the trailer, a 13-minute unrated “Making Of” that is a mix of gag reel, deleted scenes, and behind the camera stuff, and a really good 8-minute film called Rex Baily by Landi about a has-been and bitter baseball player, who signs autographs in a bar in the Bronx for a living (made me think of Mickey Mantle on many levels).

Honestly, this is not the most shocking film name I can think of off the top of my head – that would go to Bill Zubub’s similarly titled Jesus Christ: Serial Rapist (2004) – but this is definitely up there in the Troma-level Whaaaaaaaaah? class. It’s also pretty brave, if you think about it, because Cos could pos – er – I mean possibly find offense and do a law action (not saying the sue word, but cease and desist do come to mind).

If you like serial killer films or just human monsters in general, this might interest you. There is a lot of female nudity and violence, some decent acting, and a nice level of bang for the production buck. Den dere are doze axcents…

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqP_8XIKaaA

Friday, November 20, 2015

Review: Childen of a Darker Dawn

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

Children of a Darker Dawn
Written, produced, directed and edited by Jason Figgis
October Eleven Pictures / Pop Twist Entertainment / A Man in Green Tub Productions
106 minutes, 2012 / 2013
www.mvdvisuals.com

In our mediated culture, we have bared lots of cinematic diseases that cause the apocalypse of modern civilization, but most of them tend to be followed by zombies. For this film, it’s a different, possibly more realistic, and dreadfully dower future.

Set in Ireland, a new viral plague has hit the world where adults are susceptible. They start by becoming irrational and psychotic, or sometimes it’s like a form of violent Alzheimer’s. Soon, organs shut down, and they die. The children are left over to fend for themselves in this new humanity.

Fran (Emily Forster) and Evie (Catherine Wrigglesworth)
The main focus of the story, taking place nine months later, is two siblings, and their journey. There’s the older sister, Evie (Catherine Wrigglesworth), who is in her mid-late teens, and her younger ‘tween sister, Fran (Emily Forster). After the death of their parents, they take off on foot, keeping themselves company and reading from The Railway Children to try to obtain some semblance of home / normality, such as it is.

Before long, they run into a bunch of other teens, who do not treat them well; the viewer also gets to know them as well. One of the more interesting aspects of the film is the flashbacks of many of the major characters and the moments of their parents’ decay to keep us up on their motivations in the present.

It’s a very smart story, reminding me of a similar themed, bleak book I had finished reading recently(without implying they copy each other, because they don’t) called PostApoc, by Canadian Liz Worth. The reason I bring it up is because I believe that the topic is triggered by two factors: one is the absolute insane rise to power of genetic mutations with companies like Monsanto messing around with genes of plants and arguably animals, and also said zombie apocalypse movies and television shows that may make one think about “what would happen in the real world if…”

This film never shies away from the experience, nor takes the easy road from beginning to end, showing a new world order in a similar way that the British film Threads did in 1984 (ahead of its time, for sure), in the latter case being the struggle in post-nuclear Sheffield. If you’re looking for humor, you’ve come in the direction.

For this film, there are hierarchies and cliques of teens that would make Mean Girls (2004) look like a support group, and even a collective of cannibal kids trying to survive, posing both the philosophical and pragmatic question of what does one do for food after all the packaged and canned foodstuff is gone in a post-farm-knowledgeable society?

Beautifully shot, mostly in what appears to be abandoned homes, the color saturation is drained, giving it a gray tone, and the flashbacks are even barer, with a sepia hue that keeps just a bit of color left.

The acting is all top notch, especially Forster as the volatile Fran. She’s had just enough of the quibbling, struggling and unnecessary pissing contests. She just wants to go back to the way things were, while riddled with nightmares about her parents. But part of her anger is knowing that is not possible.

Is this film right for you? Well, it does have its problems and questions, as well. For example, what I kept wondering through the whole film is: a lot of these characters appear to be in their late teens, or possibly early 20s. Does that mean the plague has passed, or at some point will all these people die when they reach a certain, unspecified age? It’s not explained, but I’m guessing that is in part because none of the characters know.

The problem, for me, is that there is just too much damn repetitive talking that doesn’t progress the story, which takes the power out of the events. If the dialog was tightened up, this could have been a good 80 minute film, but they just keep on. For example, when the sisters walk into the headquarters of the mean teen group, the conversation that goes around carries on much longer than necessary.

The two extras are the trailer and a short about the making of the music video connected to the film which leads to said video. By the way, here’s a little secret you may not realize: if there is no dialog in a trailer, odds are they’re trying to hide that it’s not in American English; it’s a trick going back to the 1960s, at least. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, it’s just a thing. Oh, and the company that made this is October Eleven Pictures, which is the date when Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army killed 3,500 in the Irish town of Wexford in 1649.

This is a powerful film, and it the lack of having a direction in which to live by the characters actually feels accurate in the situation. It’s definitely a view of a darker dawn, and if you’re up for that, this could be your – er – meat.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review: Skumbagz

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

Skumbagz (aka $kumbagz)
Written, directed and edited by John Miller
The Sleaze Box / Icon Film Studios Company
72 minutes / 2015
http://inconfilmstudios.com
www.thesleazebox.com

In a sick and twisted way, one could almost look at this as a retelling of Candide (check to see if Voltaire is turning over in his grave yet, because I’ve only just started).

Diminutive, tattooed and toothily cute 25-year-old Stephanie (played by the aptly named Krystal Pixie Adams, aka fetish model Pixie VonBat) is bullied by her parents (real life couple M. Catherine Wynkoop and Joel Wynkoop, the latter being the infamous co-lead star of Tim Ritter’s 1995 classic, Creep), but no more than herself. She looks in the mirror before going to her burger flipping job and states, “You are one ugly bitch, Stephanie.” The problem is her parents want her to have a better life with goals (what bastards!), but she’s a slacker who essentially lives in the moment, and just can’t seem to think past her present involvement. This also means she cannot see consequences.

Her middle-aged burger boss, Mr. Estevez (Herb Kowalski in a wig and fake eyebrows that kinda look like they were made out of shag carpet) is disappointed in her because she gives services the staff orally, but not him. He humorously tries to impress her by bragging, “I started as a stockboy and worked my way all the way up to Assistant Night Manager. I make $12.50 an hour now, y’know what I mean?” It’s moments like these that make one realize that this is actually a very, very dark dramedy.

Without going into very much detail, after being (allegedly) “Bill Cosby’d,” she ends up being hooked out to druggies and drunkies by some older, biker guy named Reo (Joe Makowski), who spouts lines like “You have to look life in the face, and life’s an ugly motherfucker, let me tell you!” He is a low-lifer, an addict, and the member of a three-man criminal ring, along with Samir (Bob Glazier) and Mookie (Jules Sceiro), who make him look like mastermind Lex Luthor.

There is a scene with the three of them that I’m sure was going for a Tarantino-esque moment, with a long tirade around a table about the sex lives of the presidents since Ronnie “I single-handedly ruined America by handing it over to the religious skumbagz” Reagan. How this scene ends, well, you’ll have to see it, but it comes to a natural conclusion in its context (and when you watch it, don’t say you were surprised, even if you were amused).

Krystal Pixie Adams and John Miller
Through all these demeaning men (feminists should be righteously angered by most of this), there is only one (anti)hero with the whaaaaat? name of 6’9 (the film’s director, John Miller), a “nice” guy who sells drugs and yes, pimps out our little Steph, replacing his previous call-girl (Ashley Lynn Caputo, whose character died so gruesomely in American Guinea Pig in 2014). But is willing to share the proceeds (shown in a shopping montage where he has final say over what she buys) and not beat her, so he must be considered caring.

This leads to a rivalry with a black gang (if this is Florida – even if it is Tampa – where are all the Latinos? Just askin’…) expressed in part through arguably the longest twerking-while-having-cash-flung-around montage in cinema history.

While all this is happening, Steph tends to whine, but keep believing it’s the best it can be at the moment (hence, Candide; you can stop spinning now, Francois-Marie). I’m not sure if this film is promoting that it’s worth it to work a regular job or it’s not; in other words, in this situation, I’m not sure of its philosophy, but it’s an interesting journey for Stephanie and the viewer.

If you were to gather the average IQ of all the people Steph meets (and arguably herself) after she leaves home, it might come out to a double-digit number. But, sometimes these are the people who vote Republica… I mean share our world too, right?

The film has an interesting Creepshow (1982) lighting, with stark primary colors that wash the scenes, such as blue, red, yellow, and green. Many of the shots are medium, though the intoxication ones are usually close-up (and angular; a bit cliché but still works), and the sex scenes are either a bit further back, as it’s better to see more body parts, or very close up, to see...details.

Speaking of which, is there a lot of female nudity (no male), including a hardcore girl-on-girl oral one involving Pixie (who smiles directly at the camera/director as if to give the breaking the fourth wall okay) and equally tattooed Niecy Nice. This was a surprise, as was Nice’s intimate masturbatory poking. As for the blood and gore, there’s much of it, though except for one brain splattered scene, it looks like not much attention was paid to it, which is okay, because this is a crime drama, not a slasher film.

Another interesting and unexpected addition was a couple of fantasy scenes (at least I think at least one of them was in the first act) that added to the flavor of the film. The music is a bit schizophrenic, but I’m sure that’s meant as different groups having sounds that signify their own space, such as the Reo scenes having old-tyme Americana songs (think of 2000’s O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and the gang members possessing a rap background, including songs by one of the actors, George “T-geezy” Streets.

As for the acting, well, it’s what’s to be expected sometimes of micro-budget indie films. Sometimes you have to look more to the action and the zeitgeist of the entire story, rather than the players participating. It was hardly in the category of the worst I’ve seen (e.g., there’s no looking to the side for the card readings like in most airings of “Saturday Night Live”), but it does have a bit of an amateur level to it.

All in all, there’s enough to recommend, and stuff you need to be a genre fan to really get a kick out of it. I fall into the latter category, and found multiple things to like, but it’s tempered by a couple of scenes that could have been cut down further (such as the aforementioned Twerking montage… actually, there were possibly too many montages in general). But I did enjoy the film, and that’s sayin’ something.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Review: The Death of April

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

The Death of April
Written and directed by Rubin Rodriguez
Mojo Creative Group / itn distribution
86 minutes, 2012 / 2015
www.itn distribution.com
www.mojogroup.tv
www.facebook.com/deathofapril
www.mvdvisual.com

After college, Meagan Mullen (Katarina Hughes) moves from her family in California to Bayonne, NJ (isn’t that punishment enough?) for a teaching job. And then there is something other-worldly going on in her apartment.

Mixing documentary style (“based on a true story…”) and found footage, we learn right from the start that something has happened to Meagan, as she is referred to in past tense, so there is no spoiler alert there. Her mom (Stephanie Domini), dad (Travis Peters) and law school student older brother (Adam Lowder), among others, reminisce about what a wonder kid she was, and beautiful person she turned out to be, while we see real VHS home video clips and photos of Hughes as she was growing up. This is a really nice touch.

Katarina Hughes as Meagan Mullen
Being a child of modern technological and mediated culture, Meagan is constantly video selfie-ing herself as a record to send home, which is a lovely thought, but man, the ego is tremendous. Is there anyone who actually needs to have this much of their life recorded?

But, of course, there’s the mysterious goings on, such as a door in the background opening and closing by itself behind her, or a strange shadow that crosses over the camera. Didn’t anyone else (i.e., family and friends) watch them? No matter what happens she stays there; I kept thinking of the Eddie Murphy routine from Delirious (1983) where he talks about white people staying in haunted places. Why didn’t someone tell her to get the fuck out? While spending half the time whining about sounds keeping her away or clothes that have been pulled out of drawers and end up on the floor, she claims she’s happy there, as well.

As you may have guessed by this point, this borrows liberally from the Paranormal films. What that means, of course, is that while Meagan or anyone else is in front of the camera, you’re not looking at them, you’re looking behind to see if any spookiness is slinking by. After a while, that stops though, as there is a “tell” (a poker term; look it up) where there is some “noise” on the image, sort of like digital static, just before something occurs (most of the time). As Michael Palin said in Monty Python, “Oh! What a giveaway!”

Perhaps on some level, Meagan brought this all on herself; it seems she would play with an Ouija board trying to conjure spirits at some point (pre-Jersey), and it is possible the spirits or poltergeist followed her, is one of the implications. After all, Meagan does a couple of strange things even before moving to Jersey, such as standing in the back yard during a rain staring at nothing.

One thing that kept sticking in my mind is that everyone keeps going on and on about how wonderful, open, cheerful, positive, etc., Meagan was, and I kept thinking that this is defensive behavior, because it was just too over the top, in a “the lady doth protest too much” (Hamlet, FYI) way. But I’m not even halfway through the film yet, so we’ll see, eh wot?

The entity in question is a riddle. Is it said poltergeist, is it the ghost of April (Paulina Grochala, who was also the lead character in a short film by Rodriquez called Faust, which is also centered around an Ouija board) who was murdered in the apartment before Meagan moved in, or is it possibly a demon as one character (Amy Rutledge) posits? April’s murder becomes an obsession for Meagan. Wisely for the story, there are a lot of open questions at the end, rather than sewing it up nicely, for which I’m grateful.

The film relies more on spooky happenings than on anything else, and while there is a scene with some blood, this is hardly what one could call a gorefest. If you’re looking for some exposed body parts, well, that’s completely out of the question. What you will see is some decent acting, an okay story that would be better suited at an hour rather than full feature length (but then again, I feel that way about most movies I review), and some nice jump scares. What you won’t find is anything related to the DVD cover image other than the aforementioned Ouija board. Oh, and the only extra is the trailer (as seen below).

This is totally a digression, but I once owned an Ouija board. At some point it unnerved me so much, I took an axe to it, and threw it in three different garbage containers around the neighborhood. Did not like the mojo.

As far as recommendations go, yeah, if you liked the Paranormal films, or enjoy stories of possession or supernatural events or things that literally go bump in the night, you might be pleasantly surprised.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWJwSBFf8yE

 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Review: Caesar and Otto’s Paranormal Halloween

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

Caesar and Otto’s Paranormal Halloween
Written, produced, directed and edited by Dave Campfield
Fourth Horizon Cinema / R and Productions / Wild Eye Releasing
89 minutes, 2015
www.CaesarAndOtto.com
www.WildEyeReleasing.com
www.mvdvisual.com

This is not your father’s Caesar and Otto. Let me ‘splain.

The Caesar and Otto franchise is like the Abbott and Costello collection (and I certainly am not the first to make that comparison) in that they are a series of films about the same two characters; here, they are half-brothers who share a dad, and have a deeply conflicted love-like-hate relationship.

Caesar (Dave Campfield) and Otto (Paul Chomicki)
In previous films, Caesar and Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre (2009) or Caesar and Otto’s Deadly Xmas (2012), Caesar Denovio (Dave Campfield) was pretty unlikeable, kind of like Stinky Davis (a pre-Three Stooges Joe Besser) character from the “The Abbot and Costello Show(1952). The character also had a weird, halting, annoying voice. Well, here’s the change: Caesar has matured – a bit – and some of what made him so criticized has been taken away. He’s not as one-dimensional and shallow, he’s not as mysteriously girlish (despite the opening sequence), and he’s definitely not as mean. Don’t get me wrong, Caesar’s not a guy you necessarily want to hang out with, but Campfield has done a spectacular job revisioning him as a fuller, more realistic character, and occasionally likeable, which makes it easier to identify with him without taking away what makes Caesar Caesar. Oh, and that voice is mostly gone. From the commentary, that also works well with/for Campfield.

Less is changed about Otto Denovio’s (Pau Chomicki) slovenly demeanor, but he is also softened a bit. He was always likeable, but here he becomes more of a big, smelly (wash that orange shirt already!) teddy bear, still looking for love, or for this film, his long-lost, thought-to-be-dead mommy (Beverly Randolph, one of the leads in 1985’s The Return of the Living Dead). One thing that hasn’t changed I’m happy to say is that Otto’s voice, or rather his Lon’Gyland (aka Long Island) accent, is still front and center.

With many horror comedy films, you can view this as just plain silly, but if you are wise to the ways of indie spoof horror, you will recognize just how smart a film it actually is; definitely the strongest of the series to-date. I may be giving away too much too early, but I enjoyed all of this film.

One of the smartest things about the premise, which I’ll get to shortly, is that Campfield breaks down the fourth wall to make many meta comments, such as the fact that in most of the Paranormal Activity franchise, nothing happens, until the very end, the rest being dull. But the meta part is the indication that like reality television, the found footage subgenre is actually a sneaky way to make inexpensive films with little crew (e.g., no camera people because it’s either the actors who are doing the shooting, or the cameras are just mounted on walls), yet tend to bring in decent bucks.

Another finger to the side of the nose is the in-jokes that follow through all of the CandO films, such as Avi K. Garg’s Police Chief character getting seriously hurt but being okay, and losing limbs that are just resewn on again and agan (his “Oh, come on!” line reading is hysterical; oh, and shhh, check out the Easter Egg commentary by him). Additionally, there is the main villain, the nearly Satanic Jerry (Ken MacFarlane) and his minion, Roberta (Samantha Barrios), who return from previous CandO excursions. Also, CandO themselves have some shticks they repeat, such as jumping out of a moving car when mad (it’s a humorous bit).

JamieLee Ackerman
The plot is, well, bizarrely fun and a bit all over the place, as is almost always true in spoof comedies because there is so many references (more on that later). Our hapless bros and their scene-stealing father, Fred (Scott Aguilar) take a job housesitting for Jerry’s mysterious mansion for the season, where lots of weird and Ooo-WEE-oo (hear that as played by a Theremin) paranormal activity seems to be happening. There are also two servants, one a lovely lass gardener named Gilda (Josephine Iannece, aka JoJo, aka Campfield’s real-life girlfriend), and the other a quiet and kind of scary chef, Kyla (JamieLee Ackerman, posessing a lovely Irish lilt), who always seems to be carrying something sharp. Next door to the abode are a couple of high IQ’d retired Playboy bunnies, Jamie (Troma queen Tiffany Shepis) and Judy (Stef Barkley).

Like most of the CandO franchise, it always feels like it’s a mix of horror and a kind of twisted 1930’s farce in that the action and the dialog happen really fast (thus I recommend more than a single viewing since I had noticed things all the times I watched it). It’s important to pay attention, because things come and go so quickly around here. This is true of the especially subtle bits, such as someone getting slapped and the sound is off-sync’d, or words and hints that are written in the background with magnetic letters.

Some of the references are pretty obvious (Halloween [a mix of 1978 and 2007], Paranormal Activity [2007], The Shining [1980], etc.), but picking out some of the hopelessly obscure ones are also fun. For example, and I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, the half-circle openings on the porch reflect nicely on the “eyes” of the house in The Amityville Horror (1979), also referenced within the story. Adding a clip from the Campfield short Piggyzilla may also reference the pig seen in the window of the original Amityville. Perhaps I am overreaching?

Brinke Stevens and Brinke Stevens (check your pants)
Every opportunity is taken to inject some humor with a nod and a wink, such as some title cards; for example a church called Our Lady of Low Production Values. Most of the dialog is filled with nuggets: Jerry mentions that previous caretakers at his house went crazy from isolation (sound familiar?), but when we see the house, it’s just on a suburban street. Or there is a brief commercial for stronger deadbolt locks, reflecting on an earlier, funny gag. Another throwaway bit, again about previous housesitters, is mentioning “that guy who resembled James Brolin and tried to kill his whole family, and then married Yentl.” Then, as the Fred tells Otto, “…Your mother died a couple of years before you were born.” Did I mention that two grave diggers are named Lenny and George (no mention of rabbits, though)?

There is also a very sly bit with an exorcist priest named Fr. Jason Steiger, named after two horror priest actors, Jason Miller (d. 2001) of 1973’s The Exorcist and Rod Steiger (d. 2002) of The Amityville Horror (joyfully played by CandO regular Deron Miller), where he’s turn over to the “Vatican Police” by a fellow priest named Jude (John Thomassen) for $30. These lines are spoken so fast, it’s easy to miss some of these gems. And if you think I have said too much, I have barely put my paddle to the water.

Maximo "Frank" Sorrentino and Felissa Rose
An additional gem is the maaaaaany cameos that show up frequently. To name drop just a few, there is the ever lovin’ Debbie Rochon (too many great films to credit just one), Andre Gower (lead kid in The Monster Squad [1987]), Sean Whalen (Twister [1996]), Vern Wells (the main mohawked villain of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior [1981]), Brinke Stevens who is one of foremost scream queens of the modern VHS-and-beyond era (as a twin wallet-stealing ghost; again, too many credits to pick), and Paul Guay (creator and co-writer of 1987’s Liar, Liar). In a really nice and thoughtful placement as a media-minded married couple who deal with psychic interactions, are Maximo “Frank” Sorrentino (of the TV show “The Sorrentinos,” and brother of “Jersey Shore’s” “The Situation” Sorrentino) and  Felissa Rose (actor / producer of indie films). Why is this so exquisite? Because they were both together in the early slasher classic Sleepaway Camp (1983); Rose was the lead.

There is some well-done gore (e.g., head smashed under a car wheel) as well as some cheesy stuff (a mannequin head, for example, in a fantasy sequence). For nudity, as is consistent with a CandO film, there is a single acknowledgedly gratuitous topless generic scene (in Deadly Xmas, it was in a shower, here it’s at a strip club). Doesn’t matter, it’s the story that still keeps you in your seat.

Now, let’s talk about some of the extras on this loaded disk. First, there is an interesting commentary with Campfield, Iannece and Ackerman. A second commentary has a number of cast and crew, including Chomicki and Aguilar; it gets a bit hectic telling who’s who, and there is some talking over each other, but there’s lots of good info, as well. The viewer also gets a short Blooper Reel, a Facebook promo video with Campfield and Ackerman, a really nice tribute to the late cult actor Robert Z’Dar (d. 2015), a 50+-minute on-set audio podcast interview with Campfield and cast members (including Rochon), and the complete “Son of Piggyzilla Trilogy (commentary available), which lasts 6 minutes. Of course, this being a part of Wild Eye Releasing, there are a number of cool trailers, some of which I’ve had the pleasure to review.

For everything I whined like a little bitch about the last film, that’s how much I liked this one. It is a really good laugh, a well-researched film, and an attention keeper – especially for those genre geeks – from the first second to the last. There have been plenty of horror spoofs, such as the Scary Movie franchise, A Haunted House (2013; the sequel was in 2014) and Vampire’s Suck (2010), with the exception of the first Scary Movie (2000), they all fall to the wayside in comparison.

So make sure you stick around for the final credits, as always with a CandO film, and I’m looking forward to the reported next film in the franchise, Caesar and Otto’s Spring Break of the Living Dead.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Review: Slimy Little Bastards

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet
 
Slimy Little Bastards
Written and directed by Dave Parker
66 minutes, 2015
 
I’ve never met Dave Parker, haven’t even had a real conversation with him online. However, I am still impressed by his progress in the genre. He started out (and continues in this capacity) as a video review vlogger under the name of MrParka (yes, one word, and worth checking out). Then he started acting (e.g., Bath Salt Zombies [2013] and Headless [2015]), and now he’s directed his first – er – filmella… so what do you call a film that is longer than a “short” but shorter than a feature? I just adopted the “novella” to film terms. No big whoop.
 
Anyway, for his first shot at fictional directing (he also directed a documentary short), it only makes sense that (a) it’s in the horror genre, and (b) he has people around him he’s been working with for a while, such as director/actor/SFX maven/puppeteer Mills, and actors Erin R. Ryan and Brandon Salkil. Wise move, m’man.
 
So, if you have watched hundreds of indie horror films every year, seeing some of the best and the worst, and you decided to hop on the wagon yourself, what would you decide to choose as your topic? Cleverly, Parker chose the anthology.
 
Brandon Salkil
The three stories have a wrap-around in the basement of a mysterious man in a red cape (Cary Ewell look-alike Salkil). He receives a shipment of three vials with, well, slimy things (looks like Jell-O). Y’see, he’s a collector of “rare creatures,” such as the (puppet) Nippler, who is somewhat reminiscent of the Scred puppet from early Saturday Night Live. He tells these tales to a gun-toting mysterious man (Keith Voight Jr.) who claiming his car broke down. Salkil chews more scenery than the slimy bastards munch on humans, but actually, that’s the role, and Salkil kills it with a humorous turn. I’ve seen him do some serious stuff (e.g., Skinless [2013]) and the man can act. Here, he ahcts!
 
First up is “Organic Shit,” about a shy, hungry man (Jeremy Ryan) who doesn’t talk and moves very precisely (autistic?). His apartment (I am going to assume its Parkers’ in real life as it is filled with DVDs; it is used in all three stories), after coming back from I’m presuming work, he has some strange green stuff coming out of his drain. He contacts the maintenance man (Mills) with a very funny and fake Russian?/Polish? accent. If you’ve seen the Blob, you may get some idea of the germination of this story. However, even with a few actual jump scares, it ends quite humorously (don’t worry, I won’t give it away), and definitely not how I expected.
 
Erin R. Ryan
The second tale is of the blue Jell-O, called “Brain Busters.” Poor Sandy (the underrated Erin R. Ryan) is going through a period of depression, thanks in part to a previous childhood bully (Salkil) and guilt-inducing mother (Melinda Parker…Dave’s mom?). She is under the care of a psychologist (Mills) who gives her an experimental psychotropic medication to put in her ear. Of course, the effects are not what are expected.
 
While this story also has humor, it is also a lot more dramatic and definitely more artistically shot than the previous one. Usually, the way many anthologies work, is they put a decent one to start, the weakest in the middle, and the best for last. Well, that’s not true here, nearly completely because of Ryan (I am a self-admitted fan from her previous work). She takes what could be a silly tale and turns it into an emotional one on a level you might not expect. My analogy is she’s like someone who takes a temp job and then just works the hell out of it and impresses everyone.
 
Also, as I said, Parker shows some bolder artistic moves, using stylish editing, some accurate casting and more thoughtful storytelling in general, even with something as goofy as this creature is, apparently.
 
Dave Parker (aka MrParka)
“The Crusties” is the third and longest piece. After meeting a crusty (pun intended) construction worker named Walter (MrParka) who accidentally eats some green goop that somehow got on his sandwich at a work site, we are introduced to a bunch of his friends, including most of the cast (sans Erin) playing themselves; they all meet to play a game of D&D (is that still a thing anymore?). There is a lot of scatological humor in this episode, and the one about gas station nachos had me laughing (and, bringing back specific, unpleasant memories). So while the guys are playing the game, in walks Walter who immediate hits the water closet, and squirts out more of the green goo, which turn into said juggalo Crusties creatures bent on killing our out-of-their-league – er – heroes.
 
Okay, I’m going to come out and say it, but please stick around. This story is stupid as shit (pun, again, intended), but honestly, I believe it was supposed to be. What I mean is, generally, you get to see some of the cast and crew having a blast together, and that transmits out to the audience, if you’re open minded to it. I do believe if you’re watching this, there is a good chance you’re in that fortunate frame of mind.
 
The Crusties
Much of the gore in the film is seen pretty often, albeit a bit cartoonish, with occasional bits being beautiful, such as the ear gag in “The Crusties.” The make-up and slime in the wraparound were mostly by Brandon’s (hey big guy, how youse doin’?!) spouse, Sherriah Salkil, also part of the Mills merry collective, and the puppets were created by Jeremy Ryan, which are as fakey looking as possible. In fact, it is to the point where I believe that it was supposed to be that way, for comic effect, leaning towards the Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) level (e.g., the floating “Crustie”). If that’s so, I consider that a success.
 
Making films can be like poetry or masturbation: it should be done for oneself, but except in the case of the latter, it’s one’s personal passion put out to the public. It’s important to know about the source as much as it is for the source to understand their audience. And this is definitely geared towards the Dustin Mills audience (and beyond-yond-yond [if this was audio, there would be an echo effect there]), especially since Mills has recently delved into the darker side of the Torment subgenre. This is a good way to reach The Puppet Monster Massacre (2010) audience that may have been felt left behind, but still like the Mills group.
 
Okay, I understand that Parker is not Mills, but it’s essentially the same body with a different head. I’m sure Mills was there helping along, and rightfully so… I would want someone with experience in my corner; when Young Frankenstein (1974) was created, for example, there were segments actually directed by Gene Wilder under Mel Brooks’ direction, to prepare him for helming The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975). It’s all good.
 
Most of the cast is also most of the crew, as is common in micro-budget filming (the cost is listed as $1000, and I’ll bet most of that went to supplies for creating the puppets and gore, and largely for the cast’s food), and for a first time out, Parker was in good hands. The end result is something that is goofy, ridiculous, funny, and mostly an end product to be proud of, in my opinion. I’m looking forward to your next excursion, MrParka!