Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: Badass Monster Killer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Review: The Acid Sorcerer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 10, 2017

Review: Curse of the Crimson Altar

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

Curse of the Crimson Altar [aka The Crimson Cult]
Directed by Vernon Sewell
Cheezy Films / MVD Video
87 minutes, 1968 / 2017

In my life, I have been a member of three cinema-related fan clubs: for Pamela Franklin, Peter Cushing, and William Henry Pratt. Who was that last one, you ask? Well, when he started acting in 1919, he changed his name to Boris Karloff.

Karloff had quite the illustrious career thanks in part to the ego of Bela Lugosi, but that’s not what this review is about. Despite that profession, as with many genre actors of b-films from the studio years, his golden age was not quite filled with gems. With the exception of Peter Bogdanovich’s stunning Targets (1968, the same year as this one), Karloff arguably hadn’t made a standout film in quite a while, and that would be true until his demise in 1969 (although his pictures were being released until 1971).

Boris Karloff, Mark Eden, Virginia Wetherell
This British flick, now rereleased by the wonderfully relentless Cheezy Films, was originally put out by Tigon British Film Productions; the US version of The Cult of the Crimson Altar [TCotCA] was release two years later as The Crimson Cult by American International Pictures (AIP); I saw it at the Thalia revival house in the mid-‘70s with Targets. Honestly, I don’t remember it at all. Tigon was no Hammer Studios; it did, however, produce some cult classics, such as 1968’s Witchfinder General and 1971’s The Blood on Satan’s Claw. And yet, TCotCA had four major horror stars, namely Karloff (born in England, then moved to Canada), Christopher Lee (d. 2015), Michael Gough (d. 2011), and the enchanting Barbara Steele.

The film is certainly a child of its time: Britain was post-Sgt. Pepper’s, and psychedelia was certainly on the mind of the public, if only in its infancy of hippie-dom. As with most youth cultures, since movies are written by adults catering to a young demographic, this is more how the writers probably imagined the scary times that were a-changin’ at its highest peak, trying to appeal to teens and young adults, yet scare the middle aged parents and up who were curious to find what all the noise in the papers and telly was all about. The motorcycle gang films of the period just before this used the same formula.

Christopher Lee
For example, early on in TCotCA, there is a wild party (though “the boys were wearing ties,” as the Shangri-Las sang in “Sophisticated Boom Boom”) with lots of drinking (drugs are assumed, considering the relatively strict film permission laws), half naked women in bikinis and underwear dousing themselves with alcohol while the guys drink the run-off, or having paint stripes across nearly bare boobs, and all the wild, chaotic laughter over formulaic and forgettable music. A standout moment is when two couples play “chicken” in the main room with the women on the dudes’ shoulders, attacking each other with paint brushes. It made me tense as I kept thinking, “Watch out for that chandelier!” (yeah, I’m gettin’ old…).

There is, however, a nice-yet-subtle self-referential humor, such as the following dialog:
Female lead: It’s like a house in an old horror film.
Male lead: I know what you mean; it’s like Boris Karloff is going to pop up at any moment.

As for the story, there is an introductory scene about a certain character who’s more felt than seen going forward in the story, while we meet an evil supernatural being in a low-cut blouse named Lavinia Morely (the Barbara Steele), the “Black Witch of Greymarshe” (but her skin is blue, not black nor grey…never mind). You can tell she’s beyond human because her voice is so highly reverberated, it’s hard to make out what she’s saying-aying-aying-aying.
Barbara Steele
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the UK, Robert Manning (then-television actor Mark Eden, who gets equal billing) is wondering whatever became of his brother Peter, so he goes in search for him, winding up at a strange and isolated manor, where he runs into said party. In the wings are the owner (Christopher Lee), and his slow-but-faithful man-servant, Elder (Michael Gough). The party is run by his deep voiced and skin-tight clothed niece, Eve (Virginia Wetherell, who has an Angelique Pettyjohn-type appeal).

 Karloff the Great makes his entrance in a wheelchair (he suffered from severe arthritis in his later years) as Professor John Marsh, in order to catch Manning – and the audience – up with the history of Lavinia, or as we critics like to call it, the exposition. He explains the party is to celebrate Lavinia, as the participants march through the woods in a scene that is reminiscent in hindsight (as this came first) to The Wicker Man (1973). Lee was also in that one, and actually both roles are similar. It’s also interesting to see both Karloff and Lee together, considering they played some of the same icon horror creatures, Frankenstein’s monster and the Mummy (although Karloff was Im-Ho-Tep, and Lee was Kharis…yes, I knew that from memory, and yes, I’m showing off).

I could go into a whole rant about the subtle yet rampant sexism that goes on, though it was common enough in that time period. Beyond the party scene where many of the women are nearly naked (to be fair, there are a few skimpily clad men, as well) and the sacrifices are all female, there’s a moment when Marsh is dishing out a rare brandy and states, “Completely wasted on women” (even though it’s Manning who it proves to be unappreciative of the high-end hooch). But it’s important to note that it’s not just then: when marching through the woods in the ceremony with torches, the party revelers chant “Burn the witch! Burn the witch!” which has the exact tone of the more modern “Lock her up! Lock her up!”

Michael Gough
The thing about the main male protagonist, Manning (aka “Bob”), is that he is an absolute boor and brute. I found him totally unlikeable. When he isn’t insulting his hosts and the local traditions (which the audience accepts, I’m positing, because of the assumption they are evil, and that makes it okay) or trying to get Eve in the sack by grabbing and kissing her in unsolicited fashion, he just clamors around like a buffoon. For example, he’s warned to leave by someone, and then doesn’t, but that’s to be expected. However, he tells everyone which person told him that without anyone even asking. What an ass. Bull in a china closet, he is. I kept wishing him harm, but that would make the film way too short.

Considering the age of the film, it’s a decent copy, though it’s hard to tell if it’s from a negative or a video. Cheezy Films has once again managed to find a version that is watchable of a somewhat fun film, relatively speaking for its time period and b-level. What should be a considered a big bonus is that they found the original British version, which is somewhat different than the American release (for example, the British government detested violence like the US government was scared about nudity, so there was more of the latter there than the former).

There are few surprises and an amazingly small body count. While it doesn’t live up to what Hammer produced, this is certainly worthwhile a watch if merely for the historical document of who was involved onscreen. Thankfully, even with an obnoxious protagonist, the story is still decent enough (and is certainly, in rear-view mirror viewing, dated). It’s a hoot, anyway, and is an enjoyable night’s screening.

The only extras are chapters and a few similar-period British horror trailers.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: Bloodsucker’s Handbook

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

Bloodsucker’s Handbook [aka Enchiridion]
Written, shot, directed and edited by Mark Beal
Trenchfoot Productions / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
81 minutes, 2012 / 2017

Just to get it outta da way, an Enchiridion (the original name of the film) is the Latin term for a primer, or handbook. Personally, changing the title to its present name was a wise choice. “Bloodsucker” is bound to come up in a genre keyword search more than that. Hell, I have a Master’s and had to look it up.
Cory W. Ahre
The story, which takes place at the end of the 1960s, is essentially broken up into two segments. At the first, it’s almost like a joke: “A guy walks into a bar…” Here we are introduced to the main protagonist, a campus minister (priest) named Father Gregory (Cory W. Ahre, who looks a lot like Kyle Mooney from “Saturday Night Live”). He’s a bit slovenly, wearing an oversized gray suit jacket over his collar and black shirt, and his hair is shoulder length and a bit scraggly. He also smokes and drinks, so you know he’s going to be conflicted about whatever is coming his way; after all, this is a genre film. Did you see The Exorcist? But I digress…

A mysterious Federal government agent enlists him to talk to a prisoner, the titular bloodsucker named simply Condu (Jeremy Herrera) – perhaps meaning “conduction,” for the passing along of an evil current? He has apparently been writing the “handbook” of the history of vampires in Latin (why not Romanian?), starting of course with good ol’ Vlad the Impaler (aka Vlad Dracul). There is a question of whether or not Condu actual is Vlad. Gregory is also asked to translate the book.

As a sorta sidebar, Vampire teeth seem to fall into two categories: there are the classic large incisors a la Dracula, and then the Nosferatu-ish extended and sharp two front teeth. This film plays with both. While Condu’s lean towards the Nosferatu (though all uppers seem to be big and sharp), other children of the night have the more Dracula-like choppers. Mixing it up seems like a smart way to handle that.

As for the other vampire tropes, well the story wants to keep with the legend, but bends the rules just a bit. For example, crosses, sunlight, holy water, dirt from graves, and blood-drinking of course, all are employed. However, what they leave off is that vampires are shape-shifters, and can turn into animals such as wolves or bats, or even mist. Of course, that would not work with this story as Condu is chained up in some dark room, so that’s conveniently (and rightfully) left out.

Gregory and Condu seem to hit it off, as we see them in cat-and-mouse dialogues that actually are quite interesting and decently written. While the acting is questionable at times (more on that later), the story manages to hold the film together, along with the other… stuff.

Jeremy Hererra
This interaction leads to the second half of the film where Condu is out has escaped, and the hunter-hunted takes the storyline beyond the verbal into the physical, as Condu tries to get his book back and Gregory searches for the mysterious Edie (Jessica Bell). She is seemingly an ex-girlfriend, though the Father seems to have conflicting issues between religion and lust.

As polar opposite stories like to point out, well as conflict we also see that both Gregory and Condu have some similar issues, mainly with drinking, as one sucks at hard alcohol, the other the sticky red liquid of life. Both have a strong desire towards their fluids, but they also have a kind of detachment to it, as well – even though Condu is probably more self-honest about the need.

What I meant earlier by stuff is the framework of the film. Mark Beal makes some interesting artistic choices that take it to another level. For example, the second half is almost a noir mystery, with a wild jazz score and a private eye named Valentine. And here is only part of why I said stuff: Valentine is a stop-motion dog puppet (literally) in a jacket. He is a “loyal” – err – puppet (figuratively) of the Gregory side. On the Condu end, there is a stop-motion puppet baboon (both nicely created by Richard Svennson).

Animals play a big part in the film. For example, many of the bars that are visited either are named for them (especially birds), but also have them inside the establishments, such as a flamingo. Then there is the whole subplot about toad licking (which we get to witness), reminding me of a Mason Williams poem. This is all part of a surrealism that crops up regularly.

Now, most of the time surrealism is used, it is so symbolic that its meaning can get lost. For this film, well, sure you could ask why a dog or baboon, but generally speaking the surrealism doesn’t get so far out there that it become opaque, for which I’m grateful. Other examples include using stop-motion dolls to play out Vlad’s history, or the use of angles and jump cuts to make it just a bit jarring at times. The use of lighting is really interesting and stands out in a good way. Yes, it’s a bit distracting, but it also raises the film to a higher plane. It’s this feature, as well as the story, that rises above the acting issues I was discussing earlier. But even that over-the-top-ness seems to work for this because of the sporadic surreal nature. That being said, even with all the issues, Ahre comes across as likeable, and Herrera makes a compelling foil, nicely working with the large teeth rather than tripping over them (impressive for a first film, I might add).

Extras include about 8 minutes of some meh bloopers and a feature-length commentary track. Normally I would whine if there are many speakers on a single one, and here there are the director, four key players and a crew member. But everyone seems to be respectful of others so there is no taking over and showboating, and even better is that not only are there interesting anecdotes about the filming, we get to hear what the actors thought was happening. Better still, we get to hear the director/writer discuss his own ideas. In a film like this, that can be crucial in helping to fill in story blanks (I had a couple that were satisfied).

Filmed in Bryan-College Station, Texas (about 90 miles north of Houston), we see both the sunny and darker sides (alleys, etc.) of the area, representing both Gregory and Condu, relatively speaking. While this is an obviously micro-budget film, and it certainly has its issues, I do have to say it kept my interest throughout. A pleasant surprise, I really enjoyed it quite a bit, especially the interplay between its two lead characters. Worth checking out on a rainy weekend.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Review: American Mummy (3D)

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

American Mummy (3D) [aka Aztec Blood]
Directed by Charles Pinion
TX-2 Productions / Fusion / Inferential Pictures
Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
82 minutes, 2014 / 2017

I have absolutely no doubt that this film, originally titled Aztec Blood a few short years ago, is being rereleased under its new title because of the re-tick of The Mummy series with the diminutive Tom Cruise. If he find out, will he dance in his undies to “We take those old films off the shelf / Rename them to promote ourselves…”?

Tezcalipoca mask
Honestly, I have no problem with any indie, low-budget film doing that (though it may be irksome if a major did it). The possible problem I do see with this, though, is part of me is wondering if it smacks of appropriation. This is supposed to be about finding a remanence of an Aztec culture, a civilization pretty much wiped out through European intrusion in the 16th century (I suggest reading James Michener’s excellent and massive centuries-spanning 1992 tome, Mexico). In this case it’s regarding a god named Tezcalipoca and of… well, I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be the mummy of Tezzy himself or one of his priests The latter would actually make more sense considering Tezzy was one of the four creators of the world; it’s nice they made a film about him rather than the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl, another of the four who gets way more coverage.

Suzeiy Block
Anyway, this film should be noted as one of the few I’ve seen to have two prologues that set up the story, which is, essentially that an archeological class from Monroe College (thank goodness they didn’t use the overdone Miskatonic name) is out in the desert somewhere on a excavation, which I’m assuming a Southwestern state considering the film’s title), after a couple of students come across said mummy. The dig is led by the totally inept Professor Jensen (Suzeiy Block), so it’s a good thing she’s cute; had a boss like that once, but I digress…

Of course, there’s that one student – in films like this anyway – that has an ulterior motive: Carmen (Esther Cantana) is trying to raise the mummy using an ancient Aztec book of the dead. At this point it may be worth noting that there are a bunch of themes used from other films, such as the cabin in the woods/camping in deserted areas tropes, of course the mummy series, and mostly the Evil Dead (1981). Another to add on could be the viral zombie mini-apocalypse, or even Bava’s Demons (1985) and [*Rec] (2007). One could argue for The Thing (1982), but I would disagree due to lack of shape-shifting.

Erin Condry
I will applaud that they do try to build up some context through exposition of the characters, rather than them being merely fodder. Yet it’s still tough to feel deep sympathy, never mind empathy, for most of the characters, though I did for at least one named Connie (Erin Condry, who I’m pretty sure I’ve seen elsewhere in a genre pic that’s not listed on IMDB).

That’s not to say there isn’t a certainly level of accuracy about the characters. I mean, I’ve been to a few academic conferences, and there is a lot of hooking up and abuse of substances that goes on in that world, never mind in the middle of nowhere. In films like this, I’m happy to say that leads to a lot of nudity, though most of the sex is implied. They even manage to have a shower scene in the middle of a desert. For that alone, they get some extra points. Thankfully, it’s an attractive cast.

As Dylan said, “The line it is drawn / The curse it is cast,” and you know that one-by-one the demon fever (or whatever it is) will spread through the group via blood and green tongues. The effects are pretty nice, with lots of blood and even some unbelievable bits look pretty good. It seems most of the SFX are appliances rather than computer generated, and that’s another check mark in the plus column.

Esther Cantana and her green tongue
The acting isn’t necessarily stellar throughout, but there are some fine moments and decent characterizations, though some are a bit over the top; an example is the seemingly unnecessarily thickly-accented Dr. Lobachevsky (Greg Salman, who is also a producer on the film). I could never find a reason why he was Russian in the story, or what his true purpose was to the story as a Russian, as opposed to a scientist of any other nationality.

One aspect I find interesting is the actual lack of motion of the titular character, other than some limb wiggling. As a side note, I think calling it an “American” mummy when the mummy-proper dates back before the Europeans even came to the New World is presumptuous and a bit settler colonialization (or, as I up it at the beginning, appropriation; this is the same mentality that uses the term American Indian, rather than First Nations, as do the Canadians). Getting back to the point, it does sort of leave it open to the interpretation of the viewer whether it’s some kind of genre viral infection (such as was true(r) with the Tomb of King Tut’s “curse”), or the actual mummy having some mystical power raised by the fanatical student and her sycophant.

There are definitely a few holes in the story, the biggest perhaps is why Carmen was so determined to raise the mummy – or his curse, anyway. In other films, such as various Universal Monsters’ version of the Mummy, at least we were told that the person performing the rite was part of a cult following of the person/god/mummy. Well, even from early on, it’s obvious she’s eager to find the thingy, so that’s something.

There are a bunch of extras that come along with this Blu-ray, such as both a 2-D and 3-D version, some minor and quick outtakes and behind the scenes that don’t really add up to much, and a couple of different generations of the trailer. Being a Wild Eye Releasing – err – release, there are also a bunch of other trailers.

This film isn’t brilliant, but it’s certainly enjoyable, and the second half certainly is bloody and has a decent body count. Plus, there is a lot of decent research on Tezcalipoca and Aztec sacrificial procedurals that make it even more interesting. It did keep me pretty entertained all the way through.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Review: Child Eater

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

Child Eater
Directed by Erlingur Thoroddsen
Wheelhouse Creative / Blue Fox Entertainment /
Black Stork Productions / MVD Visual
82 minutes, 2016

One of the strongest held of the original no-nos of cinema was that you do not harm a child, even with Hitchcock blowing up a kid and a bus in one of his British-era films. Well, certainly those years are gone, especially since the nasties of the 1980s. Even so, it’s still a subject that is uncomfortable with many, and of course that works out well for a genre film.

This is the grounds on which this story’s seeds are sown, and expressed through the seemingly mandatory prologue at the start of most horror films. This one, taking place 25 years before the main story, is a bit more unsettling than most, and better for it; but it does set you up to know that you are not about to see the average slasher or murderous spirit.

Based on a 14-minute short film in 2013 by the same director, with the same basic plot, similar artwork, and the same lead actress, this new version is more fleshed out – its a shame they didn’t add it to the extras on this DVD. You can see it HERE, but I recommend seeing it after the feature. 

The legend in the small town of Widow’s Peak (filmed in, Catskill, NY) is that there was a crazy man, Robert Bowery (Jason Martin) who had macular degeneration and ate people’s eyes because he believed it would keep him from going blind, but he was especially attracted to those of youngsters because “the fresher the better”. Now it is quarter of a century later since the last attack, and that same victim from the prologue has announced to the coppers “He’s awake,” giving this a kind of Jeepers Creepers creature premise.

Cait Bliss
The heroine of the story is Helen (Cait Bliss, who has a kind of Lisa Gerritsen appeal, and is originally from Catskill), who is in the mid-20s. She’s forced to babysit by her police chief dad for a widower who has recently bought the old man’s house for himself and pre-teen son. It’s pretty easy to put the pieces together about the shell of what’s going to happen, so the question is can Helen come to the rescue? Can she convince Ginger (that last Bowery victim), who has never truly recovered mentally, to help her? I am not going to say much more than that as far as storyline goes.

Even with pushing the envelope of the number of shots of roaming around in the dark with flashlights – both indoors and out – it rarely gets to the point of being too long to get tiresome. But the thing that is most important is simply that this really is a creepy-ass film. The pace is great, the plot not completely predictable, and yet the story does leave the viewer with a few questions (perhaps to be answered with a sequel that can actually be an origin prequel?).

Though shot in Upstate New York, about 100 miles north of New York City, the director is Icelandic, which means sensibilities are a titch different than what we would expect from someone from the West, which I’m guessing is where some the surprise twists and turns originate from, being more of a European-ish/Scandinavian-ish sensibility. This, I’m sure may have to do with the different aspects of dark that surround the film. For example, the actual image is pretty dark (just look at the cropped screenshots included), though the cinematography by John Wakayama Carey is spot on so you can see everything you’re supposed to, which is not an easy feat in that light (he also shot the short, but he did not shoot the deputy). But the film is also dark in a more esoteric way in that, hey, it’s a story about someone/something that eats children’s eyes and then kills them, and also eats their bodies (as well as adults).

Jason Martin
There is also a metaphysical aspect to Bowery in the same kind of Michael/Jason way in which he is more than merely human and hard to put to rest (just look at the image on the box). Which brings me to the SFX. Bowery’s make-up is really well done, by Fiona Tyson (who also works on the shows “Vinyl” and “Gotham,” and also did the original short, but did not do the dep...okay, I'll stop now), who should be commended, as well. The gore shows up intermittently but frequently, and always looks damn good.

One of the extras is a 16 minute “Deleted Scenes” series that are nicely explained via title cards. Most were rightfully taken out, and a couple I believe could have stayed, but there is not any fluff. I recommend watching it because in a couple of instances it will explain some questions that may arise (such as why Helen’s hand is covered with blood in a shot in the third act). Then there is a full-length audio commentary with the director, and two main leads, Bliss and Martin. About half of it is joking around, but the other half makes it worth sitting through. For me, the big problem was the sound: Bliss is clear and near the microphone, but Martin and Thoroddsen are harder to hear, especially towards the beginning, even with the sound at full volume.

This film could have been corny and clich├ęd, based on tropes that have been around for decades, but Thoroddsen manages to take a relatively fresh approach. That makes this enjoyable to watch, and its mood and motif may help make that chill go up and down your spine. You won’t be able to – err – take your eyes off it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Review: Shelter for the Bloodstained Soul

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

Shelter for the Bloodstained Soul
Written, directed and edited by Nicholas Wagner
77 minutes, 2016
Free HERE or HERE 

A while back, I saw Nicholas Wagner’s 50-minute film called The Holy Sound (2013; reviewed HERE), which dealt with an object in a cave that had an effect on both libido and aggression, which its characters found to be a quasi-religious experience.

Malcolm Mills
Many of those same themes are present in this release. After a very brief prologue that makes more sense as the film unspools, somewhere in the Deep South we meet redheaded singer and junkie Harvey (Maggie Williams) picking up the stranded and creepy Addison (Malcolm Mills), whose car bit the dust. Add into the mix Harvey’s pal, dealer, and habitual spitter Tex (Reed DeLisle), and we are on our way.

Addison talks a lot of religion goo, but it soon becomes clear that it’s not Jeebus at the center of it (this will drive the Trump-lovin’ Southerners bonkers, I’m sure). Addison smokes this pipe and suddenly the area fills with smoke (or mist, I suppose) and a mysterious and lovely woman appears, who is apparently an angel without a body. And what does she need (this is all in the film’s description, so no spoiler alert)? The burned bodies of people who are involved with sex, but without love (i.e., pure lust, one of the seven deadlies) is what is used as either food or sacrifice, I'm not sure, but either works for me.

Needless to say, Addison is just the start of the cult as he gets both Harvey and Tex smokin’ (which apparently deadens the effects of other drugs), and they become bloodthirsty killers to help raise Cain… I mean the goddess/angel. Into the mix comes redheaded (this is a theme of both films) Cammy (Elena Delia), the self-professed town tramp, who completes the fourth.

From there, the cult is pretty much a unit, but unlike many killer kult films, they aren’t zombie-like in robes chanting and dancing naked around a fire, i.e., they still do drugs and smoke butts a lot. Without any job, I’m not quite sure how they can afford that, but I digress… They all have their personality foibles and remain “human” within their goal to free the dark angel. Things intensify and there are definitely some power struggles among the group, who mostly seemed pretty incompetent in their lives before all this started.

This is as much about human personalities, the past effecting the present, and philosophical meanderings, as much as a blood cult aimed at killing and the raising of this woman into flesh. Throughout the film, there is a lot of dialog (with some action), as nearly all the characters have deep thoughts that sometimes come out as philosophy, and other times sounding like greeting cards. Sitting around a fire, sitting around a beach, or sitting in a bar, the dialog seems to flow more than jab, even when doled out by the oft angry and spitting Tex.

Elena Delia
It makes sense that a lot of this film takes place near the shore, because the tone and pace of it is like sitting on the beach, watching the waves ebb and flow. It’s sort of languid and steady, but there is still the power of even the smallest motion of the water to destroy, wear down, or to change the shape of its environment. Each action in the film has a direct reaction some other time.

The editing, also done by Wagner, is… cautious. This film, even though it’s a murderous one with a decent body count, is not jarring (other than in certain, unexpected moments, such as a gratuitous kill), but nearly everything happens at a set pace throughout. This is also reflected in the languorous music that dapples like the water throughout, or the use of muted colors to show perhaps the dulling of the senses via chemical substances, or the drugged and washed out lives the characters are living.

It’s pretty obvious things are not going to end well for most, as they tend to do in these kinds of tales, but the whole “the more things change the more they stay the same” touch that runs during the course of the film is a nice touch, which I really enjoyed.

Despite the hint of promiscuity, there isn’t a whole lot of it on the screen, and again while the numbers of people who violently shed their mortal coil is relatively decent, the blood and gore is kept to a minimum. There are, however, decent application effects towards the end without being ridiculously hammy and gory.

If you’re expecting something like a Rob Zombie film where a murderous group hijinks it up while blowing people away, this is definitely not for you. However, if you also like stories to have a brain, and you have the patience to wait it out for the 77 minutes for a conclusion that is not ordinary, you may be pleasantly surprised by this sleeper.