Sunday, September 10, 2017

Anthology Reviews: Two by Patrick Rea – Charlotte; Monster X

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

I put these reviews together for two reasons. First, they are both anthologies of short films with a wraparound story, “directed” by Steven Rea. Just for the record, the quote marks are not meant as any kind of jibe, but rather because Rea put the collection together, which is a mixture of his own films and others.

Each of the stories is an independently released horror short that has been compiled into the collection. Actually, I approve of this method of getting (a) a showcase for one’s own films (i.e., Rea’s), and (b) a way to present other creators’ work as well. I’ve always enjoyed short films, so this is a nice little production to catch some I may have missed. Okay, definitely have missed, as so many shorts are thrown up on video channels like YouTube and Vimeo these days. Again, not a complaint, it’s just hard to see the forest for the trees.

All the directors are listed in the credits at top of each review, and I will indicate which next to the title with the initials. As these collections both came out in 2017, and honestly it doesn’t matter to me which was released first, I’m reviewing them in alphabetical order.

Another commonality across both is that the only extra is chapter breaks.


Charlotte
Directed by Patrick Rea, Colin Campbell, Corey Norman, Calvin Main, John Edward Lee, April Wright
Ruthless Studios / Synergetic Films / MVD Visual
84 minutes, 2017

I have no doubt in my mind that this collection, and possibly the wraparound, was inspired by the recent popularity of evil doll films, especially the Annabelle franchise. Of course it goes back further to the likes of the infamous Talking Tina “Living Doll” episode on The Twilight Zone, and a number of projects on the big and small screen about evil, self-contained ventriloquist dummies (whether real or imagined).

“Raggedy Damned” (PR) is the title of the bookends and wraparound thread/threat, which presents an obnoxious Millennial babysitter who is bound (off-screen) by a mad and cracked-faced silent dolly (looking nothing like the cool DVD cover art, FYI), who forces her to watch the shorts we also get to view. Between each one, we flash back to her to see… well, I’m not tellin’.

 “Counter Parts” (PR: 2014) is the first tale about identical sisters who are not exactly compatible, though similar in more ways than just looks. They are fierce, determined, and especially egocentric. Nasty pieces of work. Somyia Finley does a nice turn as the sibs with whom you definitely would not want to be associated, never mind romantically involved. After a tragic turn, they use wile and some black mojo to cure and curse. It’s an effective tale with an O. Henry-ish twist at the end. Also a tale with a sinister surprise is “Dollface” (CC: 2011), regarding the titular, strange woman. She and her companion have a woman locked up in their storage area. Then our heroine, whose boyfriend has been slashed, tries to rescue her before the aforementioned duo come back. With an obvious-yet-enjoyable throwback to a “The Twilight Zone” episode called “The Howling Man,” it is effective and fun, if a bit obvious and silly (in a good way).

If you’re into toe-choppin’ closet trolls (I’m just back from Norway, so trolls are currently an interest), then “Tickle” (CN: 2014) may be of interest. A babysitter tells a brat a tale about the toe-takin’ Tic Tac (“not the breath mint,” she explains), something she made up on the spot. But of course it’s a mind-over-manifestation thing. A bit long, but still enjoyable. The gore effects are really nicely done, and worth a mention.

In a creepy and minimalist story with effective SFX to back it up, “Good Evening” (CM: 2016) is about a man who invites demons to come join him for supper. With a twist reminiscent of Stephen King’s story, “Survivor Type,” it’s short and neat sweetmeat. It’s dark (as in lighting and tone), but that only add to the atmosphere in this two-character moody release. The bizarre yet humorously subtle battle royale of “Get Off My Porch” (PR: 2010) is about a guy and his interactions with some overly perky tween Adventure Girls, who are selling cookies. It’s a really fun story with pretty poison people forcing their way into the greater culture through some mysterious chocolate treats. The kids in this are great, as is the rest of the cast. Again, it’s a bit goofy, but honestly the better for it. If it had been done seriously, it probably would not have been as effective.

While the story above is full of whimsy, the follow-up is “The Judas Cradle” (JEL: 2011) is dead-on serious. A woman finds herself in a basement with a recently beaten man who is tied of a chair. A third catalyst character is played by the director, as a man who is there to facilitate and instigate vigilantism, in order for her to confront a shocking event in her past that ties her to the bruised guy. Lee is a bit over the top, but the other two plays their roles right on the line. It’s a good “what would you do in this situation?” conversation starter.
                                              
In an even more seemingly direct linkage to Talking Tina, “My BFF” (AW: 2015) replaces TT with Samantha, a dolly that shows up on the doorstep, as it were, of a young girl who of course immediately falls in love with it in a heteronormative way (I’m not being critical here, just observant). The mom, in Telly Savalas mode, is a bit of a meanie and doesn’t like the doll. Obviously, the feeling is mutual with obvious-yet-enjoyably-satisfying results.

“Howl of a Good Time” (PR: 2015) is ludicrous, audacious and just plain goofy. Again, despite all that, it’s quite satisfying and well made. A young girl sneaks into a horror film festival where all the audience are werewolves. Hints are given early on, and it’s really not that difficult to figure that part out, but the twist ending will make you say, “what?!” and guarantee to make you snortle a little bit with glee at its audacity.

There are a lot of elements and themes of this film that overlap, such as characters watching television (usually some non-copyright film like 1968’s Night of the Living Dead), some kind of doll (which makes sense), something or someone strange at the door, or babysitters.

As anthologies go in general, it’s a wise selection meandering between humor and straight horror, even with a wraparound that is pretty obvious from near the beginning. I like Rea’s choices, and also his filmmaking style on its own.

Charlotte trailer HERE
                                                 

Monster X
Directed by Patrick Rea, Daniel Iske, Sean van Leijenhorst, Jaysen Buterin
Ruthless Studios / MVD Visual
75 minutes, 2017

As with the previous film, this one is also a compilation with a wraparound. Interestingly, the connecting piece is from a series called The Dead Hour, and it’s from the second season titled “Fright Fest” (DI: 2011). It’s an appropriate one, as a couple goes on a first date to a horror festival featuring a multiplex in which different genres play in each theater, such as werewolves, zombies and Asian ethereal women (think The Ring or The Grudge). In each, what is happening on the screen seeps into their reality, as they jump from theater to theater. This segmentation makes it perfect to slot around the other shorts.

First up is “Banshee” (SvL: 2014), which is based on Irish myth, though this is filmed near Prague, the locus of the director. This 20-minute opus tells of a woman whose alkie husband has died, involving the titular creature, who is either a warning of death or an instrument of it, depending on who you ask (both are referred in the story through exposition). It’s beautifully shot with just the right amount of tension and even a nice jump scare or two. Eva Larvoire particularly stands out as the heroine, showing great ranges of emotional distress. Nicely done.

Speaking of film festivals, “Howl of a Good Time” is duplicated here, so I won’t repeat myself. Still enjoyable the second time around, though, so you should know that. Both this and the next short, “Now That You’re Dead” (PR: 2009) were directed by Rea, which shows that he actually knows his way around a script and direction. I have no idea what he’s like for a feature length release, but he packs quite a punch into a short, such as this one. Mix a cocktail of a tale of marital infidelity, double-, triple- and so on crosses, and then use a vampire spoon to stir it all up. There is just enough humor in it to keep you smiling, but not enough to take the – err – bite out of the storyline. The three key characters are all likeable in an unlikeable, anti-hero way. No matter who wins, if anyone does (I’m not telling), and more importantly who loses (ditto), the story is successful. That’s decent filmmaking.

The last presentation, “Don’t Let the Light In” (JB: 2015), is short tale of a new babysitter who is summoned to watch a very strange kid that sort of reminds me of a Mini-Me version of the man-boy Stuart character from MadTV (played by Michael McDonald). The story itself is somewhat predictable, though thanks to its length not being too drawn out, it keeps the viewer’s interest (well, this one anyway). Personally, I would have liked more of an explanation of the title. Then again, I’m a bit confused about why it’s Monster X when it really should be Monster V. But I digress…

As with the film above, there are some common threads that run through this one, such as the Horror Film Fest being more than it seems, or an occurrence of classic and iconic (is that redundant?) creatures like werewolves, zombies and vampires, to name just a few.

Some of these shorts have won awards, and it’s easy to see why, but honestly I really appreciated Rea’s because they had just the right amount of humor mixed in with the horror. One of the cool things Rea does here is interrupt a short to throw in a bit of the wraparound. I can’t imagine what the other filmmaker felt about it, but I thought it was a cool thing to do, and something you don’t see very often when dealing with other artists; a director might do it to his own short, but to someone else’s? Yeah, that’s ballsy, for one last time, in a good way.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Review: Diamond Cartel

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


Diamond Cartel
Directed by Salamat Mukkammed-Ali
Cleopatra Entertainment / Shoreline Entertainment / BES QARU Films / MVD Visual
77 minutes, 2016 / 2017

It’s always nice to occasionally get the chance to review a straight-out action flick, especially if there’s some chop-chop added in. But first some very quick background… Mukkammed-Ali is from Kazakhstan, part of the former Soviet Bloc. He started out as lead singer of a Kazakh rock band called Enoch, and then segued his way into television production, and then finally into film.

His first film, from 2015, was called The Whole World at Their Feet. This was then re-edited and is now being shown in the West as Diamond Cartel, a much more palatable name for a violence-focused part of the world (ours).

Armand Assante
One aspect that makes this stand out is the sheer star power behind it in front of the camera, with the likes of Armand Assante, Peter O’Toole (his last film as he passed in 2013; here he looks feeble and older than his 81 years), Michael Masden, Bolo Yeung (aka “Chinese Hercules,” who has aged phenomenally well for his 70 years), ex-basketballer Tommy Lister, and Don “The Dragon” Wilson, among others. All but two are basically cameos, but still. Assante is one that lasts throughout the feature.
                                                                                            
Nearly all of the dialog is dubbed into English, including the English speaking actors, but actually it is usually done quite well in the foreign-to-English actors, though sometimes dodgy in the English-to-English, such as Masden and Assante. Lister is given a bit of a stereotypical “Black slang” voice, which feels odd on so many levels (I almost expected him to say, “Yo mama!”).

The plot is both simple and complex. An international criminal named Mussa (Assante, often wearing a jacket with bare chest underneath, ironically appears and sounds a bit like Sylvester Stallone, as they played brothers in 1995’s Judge Dredd). He’s ready to pay $30 million for the Star of East diamond, in US$10,000 bills, no less.

Kadygash Mukkamedzhanova
After double- and triple-crosses, young lovers Aliya (Karlygash Mukkamedzhanova) and Ruslan (Aleksey Frandetti, dropping a young Keanu Reeves vibe complete with whoa-period hairstyle) are on the run from both ruthless sides of the diamond sale equation, having absconded with the diamond and the cash, as they drive through Kazakhstan with the others in pursuit. But it’s Nurlan Altaev as enforcer Arman, who is a childhood friend of the two runaways and is now one of the parties chasing them, that steals the film in his cool clothes and mostly stoic stance; he plays his emotions very subtly here.

The story is a bit convoluted, and the dialogue is quite overwrought, but all-in-all, it was pretty enjoyable. There is lots of primary references throughout the film, such as Scarface (1983), I, Claudius (1976), Sergio Leone westerns, and a subtle nod to Bruce Lee’s The Way of the Dragon (aka Return of the Dragon,1971), but especially True Romance (1993).

Nurlan Altaev
There is a lot of action going on including some martial arts, but mostly it’s gun play of various calibers, with people getting blown up good, real good, from a variety of weapons. Most of the blood and gore is digital, and it certainly looks digi, but there is a fair amount that is unexpected, pretty graphic, and made me smile.

The physical artistry of the film is nicely handled, such as the camerawork, the lighting, the editing, and the framing of shots. There are also some nice visual, digital effects used to warp the image at times, or change hues. But I do have a multi-fold complaint and that is mainly with the sound. There is a segment in which the sound is reverbed and hard to make out, and even though the dubbing is well handled relatively speaking, the tone of the dialog is flattened so everyone sounds like they’re at the same level, whether close to the camera or not. This took me a bit out of the story, especially the echoing segment.

Most the acting is pretty typical for Asian dramas: lots of wide eyes showing emotion, or cool-as-ice anger. Aleksey and especially Mukkamedzhanova fall into the former, and Altaev excels in the later. O’Toole looks like he’s just barely conscious about what is going on around him, but the over-acting award definitely goes to Assante who looks like he is trying to top Pacino at his most manic as Tony Montana. Often it comes across as clownish, but part of that may be the overdubbing of his voice, which at the very least contributes quite a bit.

Even when holding back, a lot of the high drama acting of most of the characters is kind of like horses straining at the rein, but again, that’s pretty common in many Asian action films. This story plays more like something out of China or Japan than from Soviet influences that I’ve seen elsewhere, which tends to be more towards the understated.

There is a nice and varied soundtrack that runs through, from metal and punk, to noise and more soothing, background type stuff. Some of the bands included are Christian Death and Anti-Nowhere League (Animal was actually quite nice when I met him in the ‘80s, but so what, I digress…).

The extras are a noisy kind of black metal/rap-ish thingy by DMX and Blackburner, a 2:43 slideshow of clips, and the trailer. Oh, and chapter breaks, of course.

So, you may be asking yourself if this worth the investment of your time? Well, if you like crime and/or action films, yeah, it is. There are at least two nice shoot-em-up set scenes and some cool car chases and crashes. But the real violence is held for the guns, which is done kind of imaginatively, even though shooting from a motorcycle sailing overhead has been done to – err – death.

Not as gritty as some of the Japanese crime dramas, but there is a level of glee that you can share with the action. In other words, if you don’t cringe at Assante’s emoting, then you most certainly will get a good contact buzz off whatever it is he seems to be on.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Review: Lust of the Vampire Girls

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


Lust of the Vampire Girls
Produced and directed by Matt Johnson
Some Hero Productions / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
77 minutes, 2014 / 2017
As with everything else, there are multiple levels of cinema: the big budget and the lower end. This was also true of the Euro-trash films of the late ‘60s into the late ‘80s. For every Dario Argento there was a Jesse Franco. This release models itself more after the latter than the former.

There certainly is a trend over the past few years to mostly honor and sometimes lovingly mock these now classics, be it the ones that were so-good-it’s-good or the so-bad-it’s-good. Most of these, though filmed before its fame, came to prominence in the Western Hemisphere with the rise of (i.e., a quick need for new product) video stores during the 1980s.

Most of the more recent batch of “throwback” style to Euro-horror is over the top in dialogue, in reading by actors and in style, such as purposefully putting in extremely obvious errors like the sound boom in the shot, or a crew member being in the background. A superb example of this is Richard Griffin’s recent Seven Dorms of Death.

While Lust of the Vampire Girls [LothVG] also does a lot of that, it does it a bit more subtly, so it actually looks like errors, rather than a nod-nod-wink-wink shared with the knowing audience. As I will describe later, it actually took me a while to catch on that this is what they were doing, so kudos to the production team.

Victor Medina and Amy Savannah
The basic story is that Pretty Girl (Amy Savannah) and Man (Victor Medina), as they are billed in the credits, are having a fight. She wants to go to a party, and in a very douchey and controlling way, he refuses, insisting she should be happy spending her time just with him. She goes anyway, and apparently her “friends,” all of whom wear party masks, are a cult led by a Romanian Nazi named Gunter (Dave Nilson) who worked beside Mengele in the camps. While there, Gunter invented a serum that turns women into snarling (there is a lot of snarling) vampires who do not age. The drug only works on women, but Dr. Gunter is still working on it.

Pretty Girl is kidnapped by the group, and Man goes to rescue her, in a passive-aggressive manner (“I’m here risking my neck for her tedious ass”). Meanwhile, Man falls for one of the more sentimental vampire women, Lead Vamp Girl (Ashely Eliza Parker).

Ashley Eliza Parker
One of the many interesting choices made by the director is to have one of the camp’s growling, nightgown clad (very Hammer Films style) vampires be African-American; note that I use that specific term because even though they were supposed to become vamps while in a Polish concentration camp, this was filmed in Utah. Don’t remember hearing much about people of color in the camps. But I digress…

The film takes place somewhere in the late-1960s or very early ‘70s, considering the cell phones, typewriters, and magazine covers (e.g., Look magazine from 1986…yes, I do my research). There are some anachronisms, though, such as a nose piercing or modern artistic tattoos on the backs and wrists of more than one character.

Now, when I started watching this, I thought perhaps they were trying too hard to get the feel of the style, with bad acting and one lead character that is a creep and another that is too – err – girly, but about a third of the way through, I had a realization that changed my mindset and actually made this film make more logical and additionally fun. Now, I’m not sure this is intentional, but simply put, I was comparing it to the likes of Italian releases by Argento or even Franco, but in actuality it makes more sense to see the likeness in the even lesser B-versions, if you will, such as Spanish/Mexican films starring Paul Naschy. Not as low as the Luchador ones with, say, Santo or Mil Mascaras, but yet not quite classic giallo.

One thing that is consistent with Italian giallo, though, is the humming and stepping-on-nerve soundtrack, which is more like an electronic pulse. There are also some intentional errors (again, I’m assuming), such as occasional shots that are actually in reverse (is there a reference for that for which I don’t remember?). Then there is the time padding of other clips, such as long and drawn out bits of said snarling vampire women, or someone walking through the woods.

Dave Nilson
Relying on the macho/feminine ethos of films from the period this is supposed to take place (i.e., when it is supposed to be shot), the gendered roles are heightened and exaggerated in hyper-sexualized ways: think of Jane Fonda in 1968’s Barbarella or Steve McQueen in…well, just about anything).

For example, Man comes home to an empty apartment and complains that Pretty Girl has smoked a joint while at the same time he came drunk and carrying a bottle. Then he smokes the last of her joint! He’s very controlling, not wanting her to see her friends. It’s hard to like him: he’s clearly unfaithful and ambivalent about rescuing her. He also falls for Lead Vamp Girl way too quickly. She’s unlike the other vampires in that she’s sweet, needs a man to love her, and is a bit too clingy and needy, unlike that damn Pretty Girl who has a mind of very own and wants something beyond the company of Man. The nerve! Damn those feminists (yeah, this is sarcasm on my part, and arguably on the film’s, as well).

The bad guy, Gunther, has a haram of vampire women that he created with his formula, like a Nazi Superfly; that is devotion-wise, rather than prostitution, though the vampire women definitely show their cleavage and beauty with their flowing nightgowns, as mentioned earlier.

The extras are a bunch of Wildeye Releasing trailers (always fun), including for this film, and a 4+ minute short showing how LofVG’s storyboard translates into the film. Not very deep, but fun.

My uptightness as the film unspooled was because of my own blindness. LotVG is so close to what it’s trying to reflect, that it took me a while to realize what it was doing. That is not the fault of the director, but of my own subjectivity. That is the reason I started it over after about 15 minutes, to watch again with a new set of eyes, as it were. I smiled a lot more, and it was much more of an enjoyable experience. Fans of either Euro- or Mexi-horror are bound to find much to like, especially if you are familiar with the paradigm Johnson used to build his story.



Saturday, August 5, 2017

Review: Grindhouse Gutmunchers


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


Grindhouse Gutmunchers
Deadly Indie Entertainment / World Wide Multi-Media (WWMM) / MVD Visual
150 minutes, 2017

This double-DVD set contains two repackaged anthology films, including two bonus movies, from the pro-KISS and Alice Cooper, liberal-antagonizing Scarlet Fry (this liberal reviewer still likes him, even though disagrees often), who owns and runs the World Wide Multi-Media (WWMM) organization that puts out some amazing and oft overlooked releases. In other words, there is a heeeeell of a lot to see here.

But first this message: there are varying levels to cinema, with the top of the chain being the multi-million dollar sagas, and at the bottom some kid with a camera filming his friends. Scarlet’s work, especially the earlier stuff shot on VHS, is closer to the former than the latter. And yet…no, wait now… and yet, his output is so much fun that it really doesn’t matter in the long run. Personally, I would rather see one of these relatively amateurish anthology collections than, say, any of the Paranormal Activity films, or some of the same old rehashing of older films again and again. There is quite a bit of originality here, through the cheesy effects, corny jokes, and the occasional questionable acting skills. But I’ll delve into all that in a bit more detail as we go along.

DISC ONE:

Scarlet Fry’s Junkfood Horrorfest                                                      
Directed by Brian Crow and Walter Ruether (aka Scarlet Fry)
Chained to the Wall Productions / Chemical Burn Entertainment
75 minutes, 2007
From the brief opening segment, which is not technically part of either the wraparound or the six stories that make up the main body of the film, we are introduced to a stoned out drug dealer sitting by a dumpster, who is approached by a woman who demands him to give her some dope. He gives her a bag and she gives him a warning that it better be the real thing. What it turns out to be is the video tape that is Junkfood Horrorfest. What makes this even more special, I’m sure especially to Fry, is that the junkie is played by Calico Cooper, the talented and attractive offspring of the infamous Alice. This is quite the coup for Fry, and certainly a thrill for us.

We are then introduced to the wraparound, hosted by Scarlet Fry who uses his own name (stage name anyway) – as a hillbilly kidnapper with a partial leather facemask (assuming human). Every anthology film of Fry’s/Ruether’s has himself, sometimes with others, as some form of host to introduce the tales in Tales from the Crypt fashion (though comics have been doing it since at least the late ‘40s, of course). It’s filled with puns and groaners, as it should be, and I’m cool wid it.

Before I start on the stories, I have to say that even though it was shot on video (I’m guessing sVHS), it has a very clean and nearly digital look that made me happy, too… well, on my television anyway, which still has a cathode tube… don’t judge me; rather, send me bucks to get a newer one!
                                                           
Scarlet Fry hosting
As with the other films on these discs, I won’t go into great detail because these stories are about 10 minutes each so that my going into great depths would reveal too much of the shenanigans. However, I will pick out some standouts.

There are some stories that are merely there, it seems, as an excuse to show some appliance effects, more than dependent on an actual narrative, such as “The Bloodthirsty Butcher” and “The Devil Made Me Do It” (with the very cute Sasha Lightstone). In many, the acting is quite borderline, some of it even terrible, but there are shining moments, such as the psychological study with Fry doing a solo in “Wasted Life.” I can see some people may see this particular non-action filled piece as the weak link in the film, but I thought it was among the strongest for just that reason. Fry does a great job in stoicism (yes, that’s a compliment).

A couple of the stories, the aforementioned “Wasted Life” and the trippy-albeit-obvious-ending “The Solution,” (which I enjoyed), as with a surprising number of other short horror films, have little to no dialog. This can be viewed as a good thing, as some of the dialog can be cheesy, and others downright (purposefully, I’m sure) offensive. For example, there is the totally nonsensical (and my least favorite) “Griptape Spank,” where a gay man pays a trio of skater duuuudes to hit his thonged ass with their boards, hence the title. One of the duuuudes is afraid of being thought of as enjoying it too much. The “F” words are thrown around a lot (no, I mean “fag” and “faggot” – and “gay,” as in “that’s so gay,” while we’re at it). Even in 2007, using these terms is of questionable taste (what, me PC?). I also believe that is the point of the story, to be offensive, so in context I guess it’s acceptable? I just believe that many people viewing this may actually share the sentiments espoused, rather than thinking about it. Truth is, even if the term wasn’t used, it’s still not among what I would call the best of stories.

Considering the age of the film and the assumption of its (lack of) budget, the effects look really decent, most of the time. Yeah, there’s some fakey looking stuff, but much of it looks beyond its budget, such as with (again) “Wasted Life,” and the final piece that was added on later in an amusing way (i.e., the sixth tale), “Love is Blind,” which is one of the better written bits, though not the best acted (Danielle Fisher definitely comes out the better through most of it).
                                    
As an early film, there has to be some forgiveness, especially considering the constraints of budget and acting (for most of the cast, this is their only credit listed). Believe me, I've seen much, much worse from people who have had more filmmaking experience than Fry at this point in his career. In all, it’s a good introduction to his work and this DVD(s) collection. Oh, and stick around after the credits for some cool outtakes.

Scarlet Fry’s Horrorama
Directed by Walter Ruether (aka Scarlet Fry)
Black Mass Entertainment / Pegasus Productions
27 minutes, 1989

Going back even further in time is this collection made when Fry was a mere 19 years of age. There are five tales shot on VHS, although that is pretty obvious from the visual video noise.

Once again (though this predates the feature above), Fry hosts our viewing under his own name in a gruesome Lon Chaney London After Midnight-ish outfit with nicely designed and disgusting teeth (especially when he eats in them).

Considering his age at the time, this release actually looks better than it may sound in my description. Yeah, it’s amateurish, grainy (again, VHS), and the story are not too deep which is reflected in the acting ability, but it has heart and some laughs (it is considered a comedy).

For example, “Manwich” and “Kiss Kiss Me New Wave Zombie” don’t really have proper stories, just set pieces, though the effects look decent (except for the wigs which have an ‘80s hair band level of poofiness). For “A Day in the Park,” an abusive tool finds a gun in the park and puts it to questionable use (“when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail” syndrome?).

The twist in the opening – and best – sequence of “In the Sack” is a hoot. Llana Lloyd (who also wrote this, I believe) is in Rhonda Fleming territory while waiting for her date, a putz who purses his lips (now it would be called duck face) and keeps popping his collar. The acting here is atrocious from all involved, but it’s still satisfying. The last piece, “R.I.P. Rest in Peace” is another subliminally (or perhaps pretty blatant) anti-gay screed as a leather-clad motorcycle hoppin’ woman (well she dresses like it, anyway) in Captain Sensible “Wot” mode is woken from her sleep by her effeminate hubby (also played by Fry) who is ineffectively trying to chop a log.

Thing is, ya gotta start somewhere, and this definitely shows some promise that was pushed forward. I’m glad Fry has kept making films, because you can certainly see some growth along the way. This is also what makes the collection fun, as you can see the trajectory of his career so far.

The last film presented on the first DVD is a somewhat fuzzy rerelease of the public domain cult horror classic from 1962, Carnival of Souls. Definitely worth watching, even if it’s to see that, yeah, even back then sometimes the acting and filmmaking are not up to A-level speed, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a benchmark. The intro and outro of the dreamy CoS is presented as a television program called “Scarlet Fry’s Cinemacabre, with three horror hosts making snarky comments and bad puns, led by Fry again, in a costume that looks more Boy George than horror (though for some of us, it’s a negligible difference).

Also added on are a few trailers for the films on this DVD.

DISC TWO:

Scream Machine: Unrated
Directed by Walter Ruether III
Deadly Indie Entertainment / World Wide Multi-Media (WWMM)
71 minutes, 2015
The main feature of the second disk has already been reviewed by me during its pre-DVD release, HERE

But there are also some nice extras on the disc that were not included when I saw it the first time (yes, I watched it again). There are also two different trailers for Scream Machine, but the smile-maker for me is a five-minute outtake compilation of Lloyd Kaufman trying to get through a promo for the film. It’s hysterical.

It takes a particular mindset to watch films of this caliber, and I know most of the people who are reading this are just of that ilk, so sit back and enjoy. Yeah, there will be some “WTF” and mocking comments, but that’s part of the fun, and more than likely there will be some amusement and certainly some on-screen disembowelments for all to enjoy.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: WTF!

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

WTF!
Directed by Peter Herro
Midnight Releasing / Cthulhu Productions           
75 minutes, 2017

This film has just been released on VoD today (August 1, 2017), which makes sense since it’s definitely summer fare. To sum it up and categorize it in a single descriptor that is to be further deconstructed, it’s a cabin-in-the-woods-slasher flick.

In my humble opinion, what the twin-subgenres needs to be anywhere interesting, considering the umpteenth version of it, is some form of originality mixed into the formula. Right from the start, they begin well with an obvious nod to the godfather (godlessfather? godlessmother?) of all cabin in the woods films, The Evil Dead (1981). Got my attention, for shizzle (yeah, I’m that old). Not to mention the nudity in the first 30 seconds. Maybe a great start.

There is the mandatory – albeit brief – flashback bit, but there also seems to be a flashforward to the future piece at the beginning, as well. Ever more interesting.

As we get into the meat-and-gravy of the core story, we meet a couple of… I want to say overage college students? A pool party is raging, and we are introduced to the mostly male doofuses that are also obligatory, including the king of the cameos Shawn C. Phillips and (of all people) Perez Hilton. Is he still alive? A decade ago or so he was omnipresent. Now, well, this is the first time I’ve seen anything associated with him in a very long time. I don't have anything against or for him, just an interesting choice for a semi-celeb walk-on. Anyway, yeah, the guys are your typical genre skuzballs whose choice of topics are sex (here, one says, “You still haven’t done anal? That’s Jesus’ favorite!”), being drunk, hitting on women (even Donnie, the gay character played by Hilton, hits on the “hot chick”), and drugs – in this case pot. A bit too cliché, methinks.

Callie Ott
Into the party walks the queen of the group, Bonnie (Andrea Hunt in full Paris Hilton mode (”Those oldies but goodies remind me of you-ah-ooo…”). Meanwhile, Bonnie’s best friend and the protagonist of the story (aka The Good Girl) is Rachel (Callie Ott), who was The Last Girl after a bunch of her friends were slaughtered by a serial killer three years earlier. We get to see short clips from then strewn through the film. Perhaps eventually to be a prequel? Hey, this is all on the film’s description; I won’t give away anything that is not already avowed by the production team itself. And now, Rachel and her band of…jocks and Rich-Girl friends are heading to a cabin in the woods to party.

Some of the other cliché characters include The Stoner Jacob (Benjamin Norris, who is actually quite good in the role), the ambiguously and possibly gay Bevan (Adam Foster), and the Mean Girl, Lisa (Sarah Agor). Rachel’s boyfriend Sam (Johnny James Fiore) joins in, just in case she has (in her own truly clever wording) “a spring breakdown.” What could possibly go wrong, right? In total, the group includes four doods and three chicks (as opposed to four men and three women).

Even after the obligatory old guy at the gas station warns them to stay away, they go on ahead. If I were rich, I would love to just own a lone gas station in the middle of nowhere so when people ask for directions, I could say, “I’d turn back ifn ah wuz you.” But I digress… Instead, they head on to the cabin where they continue to act like complete asses. When Rachel thanks them for being supportive, one guy responds with “Show us your tits!”

Now I have to say, for a cabin, this is certainly a huge step up from the rustic ones you usually see in these kinds of films. Perhaps it is a mile in the woods, with no Wi-Fi or hardly any phone signal, but it’s huge, modern and has most of the amenities, having been owned by Jacob’s uncle, before he…well….

About half way through the film, the gristle starts to fly as these dum-dums get picked off one by one. Now, I want to be clear, while I feel justified to be mocking these characters, I do not want to give the impression that this film is lacking for entertainment value. Rather, there is a lot going on, some of it amusingly self-reflexive of the genre, which is a good thing. For example, while a lot of the dialog is – pun intended – WTF, it has a nice snarky tone, and some lines that are definitely quotable, such as, “C’mon, my balls are like fuckin’ Smurfs right now!” And if one were to make a drinking game of every time someone says, “Are you serious?!” in some form or another, you’d be plastered by the end.

What I get out of this is that rather than falling into merely formulaic characters, director Peter Herro is acknowledging the stereotypes that perpetuate this kind of film. What leads me to believe that is a number of things, such as two women having a pillow fight at a motel (seen through the window during a pan shot), and one character doing that added vowel at the end of sentences when annoyed, such as “You should dump him-muh!” and “I don’t know-wah!”

Then again, this is the director’s first film, so perhaps he’s being careful, rather than striking out with too much originality, i.e., playing it a bit on the safe side? I’m hoping to find out at some point. If there is any real flaw to the film, specifically the script, it’s that there is way too much talking during the first half of the film, especially before the killing starts. Parts of the party scene at the very beginning were painful in their over-sexualized tones. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all the nudity, it’s the constant hitting on by the men and the relentless ridiculing by the women. It goes beyond stereotype into drooling. But that’s easily solved with script editing in the next film; I’m hoping there is more for the director as this shows a large promise of things to come.

The acting is quite well done, especially Ott and Norris (as I said earlier), though everyone hits the mark with a decent reading and timing. The picture certainly looks great, with some sharp photography and editing. The gore is not abundant, and doesn’t need to be, but more important is that it looks good.

As for the ending, yeah, I figured it out pretty quickly, though there was a specific twist I did not see until near the end. Actually both guessing correctly and not getting it made me happy. Be sure to stick around for the credits and follow the art, as it continues the story.

Lastly, and this is my own snarky humor that’s neither here nor there, and it’s meant for a laugh, shouldn’t it be WTF? rather than WTF! If it were me, I’d take the easy way out with WTF?!

If you’re a slasher fan, I sincerely believe that you won’t be disappointed. There is just enough humor and tension – and even at least one jump scare – that make a viewing worth seeking out.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: Thorn

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet
                         
Thorn [aka Legacy of Thorn]
Photographed, written, directed, edited, etc., by MJ Dixon
Mycho Entertainment Group / Wildeye Releasing / MVD Video
97 minutes, 2016 / 2017

Although the more human Leatherface pretty much began the thread of masked killers with sharp objects in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), it was kicked into high gear with the Michael Myers / Halloween (1978) and Jason Voorhees / Friday the 13th (1980) one-two punch of the additional supernatural nature of the hulking killing machines. While not yet cliché, the theme of the Thorn character is also certainly not exactly new. But then again, I truly believe it’s time we had a fresh franchise, doncha think?!

The original character of Thorn was from 2009; he showed up again in Slasher House in 2012. I have yet to see those first two releases, but this comes across as a remake/reboot by its creator. There are a couple of differences I already know about, and it’s probably a good idea to start fresh. Someday, though, I would like to see the original to compare. For example, in the first, Thorn was the concealed character’s family name; now perhaps it refers to the mucho grande machetes he carries.

The story is set in Avondale, a relatively new village in a suburb of industrial England (filmed around Greater Manchester). The film is broke up into two segments, which intercut between each other throughout. One is the modern Leap Year of 2012 (when it was filmed), and the other takes place the previous one, four years earlier in 2008. What is extremely well done is that the present one is chronological, but the previous is shown in reverse order, so it starts with the end of the day, and goes back to the beginning of it. I thought was well written/done is that you don’t lose track of either, and the viewer knows which is which. Bravo.

Thorn is a huge, brute of a man with an arm full of tribal stripe-style tattoos, dressed in tight leather (it must have been hell for Richard Holloran, who portrays him). The mask is interesting with a metallic sheen, and more so the two enormous machetes he carries crossed on his back, though most of the time at least one is in his hand. With superhuman strength (more on that later), he can easily chop a human into bits, though a mid-section stab from front or back seems to be the preferred choice.

The high school into which he enters – nay, saunters, as he has a very confident swagger – to obliterate anyone in his path is full of bullies/mean girls, cheerleaders, nerds and the cool Black guy (Paris Rivers). However, it doesn’t seem to be infested by any supervision. The only adult seen (not counting Thorn, that is) is the janitor, and he’s part of a bigger, cult happening (shades of the Wicker Man, Batman!). Perhaps the teachers and admin are in on it, but it’s never really explained. More on that, later, too.

Jade Wallis
Thorn’s focus is on one of the cheerleaders, Jessica. While he kills anyone who gets in the way of reaching her, he also seems to go out of his way to build a substantial body count. Jess is definitely a flawed human (as are all of us) in a film locus. An odd mix of ego and fear, gets to scream and cower a lot, needing – or demanding – help from others, which doesn’t end well for them. Local actor Jade Wallis does a decent job of it, though occasionally shrilly; but then again, I’m willing to bet someone in that position, being faced with an immortal with superhuman strength and twin machetes, just might be a bit shrill. I’m just sayin’. Jane Haselhurst, who plays her frenemy, Alice, does a nice turn, as well. Actually, the whole cast mostly does a decent job of it.

One factor I enjoyed was watching the difference between the characters in the 2009 sequences compared to the later 2012 ones. Some personalities are completely different, even in body language and tone.  

There are some issues with the film: the biggest one, for example, is that there are some conversational parts that go on way longer than they need be, past their point of usefulness to the plot. This would have been a very tight thrill-ride 80 minutes, but considering the action-to-talking ratio, this is better than most, and its concentrated in just a few scenes here and there.

Also, there are some plot holes, such as the why does this mask have so much power and where does it come from. Why only on Leap Year day. When – and why – did it all start? There are hints that the story will go on (having a title card saying “Thorn will return in” another film is a strong indicator, along with how, to some extent. What is the cult that it seems much of the town’s power class seems to be in on? As with many films of this nature, the first one introduces the evil character, and the sequel(s) tell the backstory in more detail.

There is a lot of blood (much spewing from the mouth) with little gore (juicy bits), and the SFX are largely applications, with some digi stuff thrown in to beef (pun unintended) it up. A couple of nude scenes mostly from the back, ample cleavage and braless tees add to the viewing, but nothing for the women as the men stay clad (and remain mostly clods).

Make sure you stay past the credits for a Marvel-like bit at the end. The extras are a standard-albeit-interesting 22-minute Making Of which includes backstage footage and interviews of the cast shot by the cast, and two different trailers for the film.

With the imperfections in place (hey, I had issues with both the original Halloween and Friday the 13th, too), I have to say this was still a fun film that goes what it sets out to do, create a new and enjoyable killing semi-human killing machine that can become a new – err – legacy to enjoy. I do recommend it.