Sunday, July 5, 2020

Review: The Evil Rises


Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2020
Images from the Internet


The Evil Rises
Directed by Daniel Florenzano
Florenzano Films; Terror Films
85 minutes, 2018

It amazes me how many genre films are based on some really stupid people who make really, really stupid decisions. For example, at a beach party (yes, bikinis abound, natch), a couple discover a statue peaking out of the sand that has some strange powder inside it.

Of course, one of them, Willie (Julian De La Mora), knows the entire history of this statue from a lecture he attended months ago. Say what? Anyway, most of them take the powder from the statue, put it in their beer, and swig away. I can just hear in my head, “Amber says whaaaaat?” None of that makes any sense, but if it sets up the rest of the story (as this is only the first few minutes), so be it.

Michael Glauser and Bailey La Flam
The powder turns the beach blanket bingo into a splatterfest as our California campers turn into mindless zombies controlled by… well, gimme a minute to get there. They kill each other off until there are only three: Claudia (Bailey La Flam), her boyfriend Sebastian (Michael Glauser), and Willie (the “intellectual” third-wheel). The killing raises, out of the sand, the… American Indian? Aztec?... spirit, Callas (Erik Cram), who controls them. Of course, Callas speaks perfect English, as most aboriginals did 666 years ago (yeah, that’s the timeline given, even though it’s more than 100 years before Columbus set foot anywhere near the Americas, and nearly 200 years before the Spaniards landed in California), and is killed by colonists who are dressed like the Puritans, who never left the East Coast. Since Callas is played by a colonialist actor; would this be considered cultural appropriation? I’m not sure. What is surprising to me is that the film is loaded with Latino/Latina actors, and they didn’t find one for Callas? Anyway, this is still in the first ten minutes; the credits haven’t even finished yet.

Now the sole purpose of this trio is to find the blood of 50+ people to raise Callas (no, not Charlie, RIP) to this dimension to begin his malevolent reign (hence the evil rising). Junkies, party animals, and all others are welcome to be obliterated as either flesh eating zombies or victims thereof.

La Flam and Alec Lobato
Of course, if you have evil, you must have good. On the side of humanity is a police detective, David Jones (not of the Monkees nor David Bowie; played by Joe Paulson, who actually holds up best in the acting department), Chazz the pizza delivery guy (Alec Lobato), and the local scammer priest (e.g., uses the tithe money to go on vacations), Father O’Malley (Ed Hollingsworth), who’s brogue comes and goes at will. Yeah, he’s on the side of “good.” Social commentary, anyone?

There are lots of moments that could have been excised to keep the pace going, such as the conversation between Chazz and a 911 operator. Do they or we need to hear that he thinks “the girl is smokin’ hot”?; good way to get a hang-up from the EMTs.

There is a huge cast in this film, which for its budget, in and of itself is impressive. Even some porn performers make their faces known. My favorite character is a super scary looking macho guy whose girlfriend is on a lease, who ends up being a scared little boy. This character, though completely underdeveloped, still made me smile the most. Truth of the matter is, all the roles are pretty undefined as far as personalities go, never mind back history of any kind. But the meat and potaters [sic] of the film is not so much the details, but the extraneous stuff: substance abuse, violence and gore, and of course, the flashing of boobs, which bob up on occasion (nothing of the male action).

As for the violence and gore, well, that looks rather good and enjoyable, without overdoing it (though a literal pool of blood looks a bit like water with coloring). Stabbings, biting, machetes are all instruments, among others, used to dispatch victims. For me, a weak spot was the final party scene, where there was room to focus more on the action than the story, but they let the story get in the way. This is probably due to budget constraints.

Is it a great movie? No. Is it a good movie? Well, it’s decent and entertaining, but there are places it could have been cut, and others where it could have been plumped up, as I noted. Of the two villain leads, Claudia comes off the best and the nastiest, while Sebastian is kind of… there, and kind of superfluous. This is the writing though, not the fault of Glauser.

I didn’t feel like it was a waste of time to watch it, but I don’t really feel a need to see it again, though I’d like to see La Flam and Paulson in more films.

To finish off in the digression department, the pizza place in the film, City Pizza, is a real San Diego shop that “specializes in New York style thin crust pizza.” That also made me smile. And miss New York style thin crust pizza.  The film crew did well to advertise the company within the film, and I hope they got some decent free pizza out of it.



Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Review: A Drunk Scorpion Will Sting Itself to Death


Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2020
Images from the Internet


A Drunk Scorpion Will Sting Itself to Death
Directed by Denton True
A Hard Work and True Storys Production
76 minutes, 2029

My home town of Brooklyn is represented in Denton True’s sophomore film, though honestly, it’s not a Brooklyn I recognize from the middle class Bensonhurst from which I come. The title of the film may sound like an Italian giallo film from the 1980s, but it is solid local drug denizen territory.

As with his first film, American Male (2018), which I have not seen, True both directs and stars as its main character; in this new one, he’s Dean, a drug addict who is trying to get himself clean. Note that he was played a junkie in the first film, so there seems to be a motif going on here.

Denton True
Hanging out with his crew on a rooftop along Broadway in Williamsburg near the EL (you can see the old domed Williamsburg Savings Bank on Driggs in the background), including somewhat girlfriend Diana (Eva Maria Wojcik), and getting higher than the building elevation, he ODs and falls off the roof, breaking his nose, and with a prominent black eye. This isn’t a band of brothers (and sisters), they are bonded by what they smoke, which is a tenuous and untrusting connection at best.

Through a confrontation on a train, he meets Maria (Chanel Mack), dressed in red as she is one of right-wing Curtis Sliwa’s group of subway vigilantes, The Guardian Angels. It’s appropriate as its apparent there will be some sort of relationship between them as he tries to get straight, becoming his personal guardian angel in more ways than one.

Perhaps it’s real life, but there is an extremely liberal use of the word “Fuck” throughout the entire run time. I’m not offended by the word in any way, but eventually it starts to become distracting, and the dialog gets lost in it. As a metaphor, remember when Rocky was fighting the Russian dude, and he just kept wailing away at one spot until the bigger and stronger guy starts to wince? It’s kind of like that. It’s not the word itself, but the constant contextualizing of it. Eventually, it’s all you hear, and the dialog gets lost in the flood of any one word or expression, such as “like,” “y’know” or “dude”; I actually heard someone say “Dude, this dude doesn’t know, dude,” on the streets of Berlin.

Chanel Mack
There are some interesting twists and turns here that make this more than just a “get-straight” narrative, and brings it right back to the American giallo. The thing I know about getting clean, even being straight-edged, is that one of the hardest things to getting free of drugs (and alcohol) is the friends you keep. Part of any 12 Step Program is to stay away from those who use. Well, thanks to Maria, Dean finds a more permanent way to do that, that is actually pretty hardcore for what you may be expecting for this kind of film.

While the relationship between Dean and Maria is hazy other than sponsor and roommates, it is clear there is some twisted version of caring between Dean and Diana, who has a different vision of her future, much like The Days of Wine and Roses (1962), where one partner wants to get out and the other doesn’t. But can Dean actually do it? He definitely shows some ambivalence, but this is more a destitute lifestyle paradigm shift rather than just paying to go to rehab, which is new and different from Dean’s life up to that point and has been for at least a decade.

Brooklyn, for this story, is not exactly shown in the best light, with littered, wet streets, that is more reminiscent of Taxi Driver (1976) than the glorification of the city in, say, They Might Be Giants (1971). But considering the texture and tone of the film and it’s subject matter, it is quite appropriate.

The sound quality, like Dean’s thought processes, can be a bit chaotic. As there is an attempt towards clarity, the dialog is often matched with dogs barking, people talking, being on the subway, or just street noise as many scenes take us along walks among Brooklyn’s streets. The soundtrack is as muddled as Dean’s brain trying to function.

True’s filmmaking style is reminiscent of John Cassavetes (d. 1989), with a nearly documentary style, lots of close-ups, and a tendency to go in and out of focus momentarily here and there. But this style works well both for the story, for the characters, and for Dean’s thought processes. The big mystery is if can he succeed with so much violence in his wake.


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Review: Verotika (3-disc Blu-ray/DVD/CD Soundtrack set)


Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2020
Images from the Internet


Verotika
Directed by Glenn Danzig
Dark Risen Pictures; UFO Pictures; Cleopatra Entertainment; MVD Entertainment
90 minutes, 2019 / 2020
www.mvdentertainment.com

Heavy music and horror films have always had a symbiotic relationship. This is especially true with independent films of the genre, who oft times use metal or punk for their soundtracks. Metal star Rob Zombie took it a step further and started writing and directing, and has built up quite the canon now of more than half a dozen of his own films, mostly on the Firefly family and revamping the franchise of the classic Halloween.

Now enter Glenn Danzig, vocalist of heavy punk bands The Misfits, Samhain and Danzig (and who officially becomes a senior citizen this year). But he also has his own decade-old comic book imprint of erotic EC Comics-style short horror stories from which these tales are adapted, likewise by the name of Verotika, which is the background work for his directorial debut with this release. It’s exciting news.

Kayden Kross
Critics have been harsh with this film, to say the least, but I am going in open minded. Sometimes the heart is bigger than the end result, but to me, that’s also a part of it. Most reviewers tend to look at all releases on the same level, but I keep my expectations on what is accomplished more than what is missed. Here we go.

Right off the start, we are introduced to our host, Morella (Kayden Kross), with upside-down Iron Crosses on her cheeks, as she performs a violent act on a chained woman that I’m sure was meant to invoke an iconic scene from Fulci’s Zombie (1979). It’s a bit overdone, but most horror host(ess) bits historically tend to be like that, from the likes of Elvira and Zacherle; they have more cheese than a Whole Foods store.

Ashley Wisdom and Scotch Hopkins
The first story is “The Albino Spider of Dajette,” which I am assuming is supposed to take place in France, considering the attempt at accents. Poor Dajette (fluffed-lipped Ashely Wisdom) has eyes instead of nipples on her ponderous bosoms, which freaks guys out. Her tears after being rejected by some abusive guy change a white, cartoonish-CGI spider into a six-armed man (Scotch Hopkins) who kills for her by reading her subconscious. Oddly, he kills women, rather than the doods that abuse her. This is a world where women are prostitutes and men are machismo morons. There’s lots of Creepshow (1982) kinds of primary color lighting, and close-ups of faces. The editing is kind of choppy, and the line reading stunningly wooden, but the downfall for me is the pretentiousness of the dialog. It tries to elevate itself into some kind of lyrical poetry or art, but falls flat, right from the beginning.

The story not only makes little sense, but has no explanations. I mean, how did a particular group (I don’t want to give away too much) know that the spider man with six arms was “the neckbreaker” murderer, and why were they fascinated by Dajette’s eye/boobs, but not that the guy had six arms? I actually have so many more questions, but I can’t ask them here without giving away too much. It’s a rocky start.

Rachel Alig (with knife)
After a very brief visit with Morella, we’re off with “Change of Face,” the second story. Loosely an homage to the French film from 1960, Eyes Without a Face (or perhaps even more laxly with 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre?), a mysterious and scarred dancer (Rachel Alig) has a predilection for killing women and stealing their faces… then wearing them… while stripping… wearing a schmata to cover her face. Wait, what? Now, I’m not a strip club denizen, but being the featured dancer and having three people in the audience does not seem like a good career move. But that’s just me, I guess…

Alice Tate
The last story is “Drukija: Countess of Blood,” freely based on the true story of Countess Bathory (also the source for other films, like 1971’s Countess Dracula, with the late, great Ingrid Pitt [d. 2010]). Drukija (Alice Tate, who has a really interesting look and outfit to die for, in a cosplay scenario) has a thing for virgins in the Middle Ages ‘hood of Hungary; of course, if you know the Bathory story, it’s not for nurturing but rather “bathing.”

I realize that odds are Danzig was going for a Hammer Films look in this segment, but he doesn’t quite achieve that, as he tends to “linger” a bit too long. Shots of Drukija bathing in a peasant girl’s blood, both of them starkers, stays longer than a relative at Thanksgiving, letting tedium build (much like the dancers in the previous “Change of Face”), which is not for what scenes like this are intended.

This story actually does not really have a plot, but is a series of set pieces to show women bled, eviscerated and chopped up. Even the torturous level of gore in 1970’s Mark of the Devil at least had a narrative to justify its actions, such as it was.

Perhaps what Danzig should have done is start off with some meat-and-taters films to get his hands dirty and figure out what he wants and what he is doing, even if there is some artistic ambience thrown in to elevate it a bit, and then experiment with a goal in mind that is achievable at an earned level of experience. Perhaps his life of fame and right wing conspiracy posturing has given him the confidence that is beyond his skills.

It’s easy to cry “sexist” when seeing this, even though the main character of each of the three stories and its wraparound is female. But so are nearly all of the victims. The men are just there to make the rest of us look like drooling, sex-obsessed maroons.  Naturally, there is a scene in a strip club (which looks like a music video stuck in to expand the time without really adding much to the story, as with the insertion shots in 1979’s Caligula), a porno theater, and a fetish modeling shoot (with a 35mm film camera as its recording medium?).

Perhaps the problem is actually me, that I’m no longer a super-horny and hormone-ridden teen (or young adult), and I want to get to the meat of the matter (pun intended) of the story and the mayhem that it entails, rather than just hanging out watching near-nekkid people rubbing themselves on poles like DJ Trump does to flags. Both are pointless to the situations at hand.

Part of the issue may be that Danzig tends to use severely augmented hardcore adult actors of varying acting talent; being that Danzig is a fan of David Cronenberg, who used Marilyn Chambers in Rabid (1977), that may be the paradigm he used (and gives him a reason to hang out with them in fanboy form).

The biggest problem, though, in my opinion, is that he both wrote and directed the film, and with the kind of ego he’s been known to postulate, he may not be inclined to listen to others because he knows what he wants. With a lack of experience in filmmaking, more often than not it is important to have a middle person between the writing and the directing for editorial purposes. I have said this before in other reviews, and I stand by it. The editing is also on the choppy side, with a few continuity issues; but that’s somewhat easier to forgive with a relative newbie to feature films, rather than his experience with his own music videos. I’m hoping when a sequel comes out, and it should, there will be more cohesion.

This box set comes with three discs: a Blu-ray and DVD of the film and extras, and a really nice metal-based soundtrack CD (see listing below).

CD Listing:
Danzig: Eyes Ripping Fire
Ministry: Dancing Madly Backwards on a Sea of Air
Jyrki 69: Close Your Eyes
Vile a Sin: Crimson Lust
Fantôme: Je Suis a Toi
Pink Velvet: Allez Prenons Un Autre Verre
Kore Rozzik: Can't Stop Won't Stop
Switchblade Symphony: Gutter Glitter
Vile a Sin: The Return
Studio 69: Il Est Juste la


Saturday, June 20, 2020

Short Film Reviews for June 2020


Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2020
Images from the Internet

Cardio
Directed by Petr Cerny
The Black Company
2:58 minutes, 2020
This Czech-originated short is actually a pretty compelling story for its brief amount of time. Even with subtitles, you don’t really need to read along, just follow it’s to-the-point story of a person who works (runs?) a warehouse, and is stalked by hooded figures after closing time, as they chase him down. The image flickers in and out like a heartbeat, as the tension for this poor schlub picks up. Are they robbers, creatures of the night, or perhaps something even more sinister? It passes as fast as a – er – heartbeat, but may leave you satisfied as it did me. Great things about really short films is that you don’t need a build-up, just get to the meat-n-taters, and that is exactly what goes on here.
Film available HERE 

Into the Mud
Directed by Pablo S. Pastor
10:16 minutes, 2016
The film opens up with a quite naked Maria Forqué in an isolated forest, injured and laying on some plastic like a victim of a serial killer. She takes off, and for the majority of the film, she is hunted by Ramôn G. del Pomar. But as it is with most genre films, events are not necessarily as it seems and, while I had an idea of the basic premise twist, I was not expecting what arose in the ending, which turned out to be quite satisfying. There is no real dialogue, so the fact that it was filmed in Spain should not deter you as there are no subtitles. The action is pretty shallow so there’s not much thinking needed by the viewer; it’s an enjoyable tenth of an hour. I say watch it twice, and see the clues to the ending you missed along the way. There’s a good chance you’ll end up with a smile on your face, and Forqué is quite – er – a catch.
Full film HERE 


MIRЯOЯ
Directed by Simone Miccinilli
Mitch and Co. Productions
4:59 minutes, 2016
The mirror, as a magical doorway to a demon world is hardly fresh. It wasn’t new when Carpenter used it as a theme in Prince of Darkness (1987). But this Italian film senza dialogue plays with it without missing too many of the associated tropes. Massimo Bulgarelli has a new wardrobe that has the titular mirror on the front. He starts seeing Sara Canino in it, but not in real life. He gets understandably scared. While holding a hammer, will he do a Tommy and smash the mirror before whatever it is gets out of hand? Worth watching. Director Miccinilli has made a few shorts since this one, but this was his first (and not listed on IMDB at the time of this writing for some reason). When you’re done watching it, click on the production company name at the bottom and see some more well-made shorts.
Full film HERE 

Not Alone in Here
Directed by David Sandberg
6:17 minutes, 2020
Director David Sandberg and his muse, Lotta Losten, have established a style that is at the very least consistent through all their films. A woman is alone, and there is something inhuman in a semi-human form that is preying on her. This is the first film I’ve seen by Sandberg with some dialog (in narration form), and it will be the third that I have reviewed for this blog. It is effective for two reasons: the first is that there is a bit of dark humor interspersed throughout. The second is that there is usually a decent jump scare involved. Well, here there are more than one. You would think the same theme would get tiresome, but the duo seem to keep on working it better each time, even though their first now infamous short I watched, Lights Out, has a couple of tropes that have become nearly iconic. Oh, and there’s a fun “Making of” video on YouTube, as well.
Full film HERE 

Zoë Rising
Directed by Paul Rachman
6:01 minutes, 2014
For those not in the know, Zoë Tamerlis (Lund) was the star of such genre gems as Ms. 45 (1981) and co-screenwriter for films like The Bad Lieutenant (1992). Tragically, this magical and beautiful actor died at a young age in 1999 as a result of years of drug usage, just as her career was beginning to truly take off. This film is a love letter to her, though the principal character is Zoë’s mom, sculpture Barbara Lekberg, who died in 2018. Truly, this is about both of them, but focuses on Zoë’s childhood. We see some of her diaries, and bits of her work, both in film clips and photos. Her elderly mom talks of Zoë with some regret, wishing she could have stopped her daughter from getting involved in the film industry, but one cannot keep the creative mind from exploring. It’s a sweet, sentimental piece, and Tamerlis and genre fans can find some affection here.
Film available HERE 

Zoë XO
Directed by Paul Rachman
6:22 minutes, 2004
While Rachman’s second film that focused on genre actor/writer Zoë Tamerlis (Lund), her mother and early years (see review above), this earlier one is more about her later period and death through the eyes of her (separated) husband, Robert Lund. The viewer gets to sit shotgun in Lund’s car as he drives around (I am assuming New York considering the flashing neon lights) and talks about different phases of her personality, their life together and her relationship beyond when she moved to Paris (where she passed about a year later). While Robert remains on screen, he is overlapped with images of Zoë, in both film clips and stills. Again, it’s a sentimental piece that doesn’t focus on her career as much as Zoë Rising, but does give an insight into the person who inhabited the role and wrote genre screenplays beyond.
Full film HERE 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Review: Master Pieces


Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2020
Images from the Internet


Master Pieces
Directed by Christian Twiste and Geoffrey Ciani
Bayview Entertainment; TMA Releasing
86 minutes, 2020

“Is this the real life / Is this just fantasy” – Bohemian Rhapsody/Queen

As the sun comes around and hangs in the sky longer and later, with flowers blossoming and the birds singing, what could be a better time to review a film based around… Yuletide!

Christian Twiste
This film takes an interesting premise, in that the main character is actually the director (Christian Twiste) playing a somewhat warped version (one would hope) of himself, with Twiste’s real wife (Lisa Gouilan) as his recently-wed reel-spouse.

In the story, Twiste is quite – er – twisted. And exceptionally delusional. He’s seeing and hearing things, indicated quite early on, and is certainly mentally imbalanced with what appears to be a touch of schizophrenia. Being recently married and out of work certainly do not help the situation.

As the film proper (post-prologue) begins, we find Twiste watching his favorite psycho-babble cable radio show, featuring Dr. Brenda Dobbs (Tesia Nicoli). He’s fixated on her, and is both desperate to get to talk to her (shades of 1982’s The King of Comedy), and is somewhat convinced she’s talking directly to him.

The world seems to be trying to vex him at every turn, such as faucets that turn on by themselves, or a mysterious collection agency that sends a video on CD of Twiste in the bath. It’s not hard to figure out pretty early on that, like in American Psycho (2000; Twiste does have a bit of a Christian Bale look to him… or maybe that’s everyone named Christian?) – although here, Twiste is on the opposite end of the social strata from Patrick Bateman – much of this is in his noggin rather than the real world. Twenty minutes in, however, I realized it could also be a gaslighting situation, as well. Don’t worry, I won’t give it away. I would like to note that the bathtub video mimicking his real life is a nice touch.

Lisa Gouilan
As an aside, whoever’s townhouse this was filmed in, man, there are a lot of stairs. I’m just sayin’. And though (the real) Twiste is livin’ in Jersey, he certainly has not lost his Staten Island accent; that really made me smile and happy, missing hearing the area inflection of my youth (though for me it was more Bensonhurst, but I digress…).

As with the original The Terminator (1984), many of the victims are in similar situations as Sarah Connor in that they are doomed because of similar names or looks of a that person on whom Twiste is actually lashing out. This was also an interesting idea.

There are some smart choices that are made, such as the shift between the running taps at night and the transition shot in the kitchen the following day. That is simply fine, and it seems these guys work well putting these almost humorous finger-to-side-of-nose slices together. Having Gouilan seen mostly in shadow, out-of-focus, or partially face-blocked (like the neighbor, Wilson, in the TV show “Home Improvement”) is another subtle and interesting artistic touch that works.

Tesia Nicoli
The film has a (purposeful) very 1980s indie feel to it, with miniscule budget (explained in the next paragraph) with only practical SFX rather than digital; while it is not super bloody, it’s still highly effective. There is a lot more to the story than the murders, and there is a relatively decent body count, but focuses more on twisted Twiste as we follow his actions and thoughts, i.e., he’s in just about every scene, except for those with the police detective (Ryan MacNamara), whose “sidekick,” as it were, is the disembodied voice over the scanner of co-director/co-writer Geoffrey Ciani.

As I said, the acting is quite… over-the-top a lot of the time, especially with Twiste and some of the minor “service people” (aka, the additional body count), but I really liked Twiste’s caricature of himself (at least I hope it is). And despite some plot questions, the story is engaging. There are a few plot turns that I would love to discuss, but won’t because it would be too far into spoiler alert territory. That being said, I do believe some editing to whittle it down a bit could be done, such as the initial tap dripping scene which goes on a little too long and ends up being more distracting than its purpose intends.

Ryan MacNamara
As for the whole Christmas theme, it’s mostly in the off-beat versions of common Christmas Carols on the soundtrack that connect it to the holiday, not directly to the story itself… other than possibly because that time of year can have a negative affect on those with mental health issues. I am grateful that is the full extent, honestly, because, as a non-believer, Xmas-themed films tend not to do much for me. If you took out the carols, it could be any time in the winter without changing any of the story itself.

Apparently, both Twiste and Ciani were recently married (not to each other) and unemployed, and so decided to do this film as a joint project to creatively spend the time. The end result is a film that is bit amateurish, with some continuity and editing issues, and somewhat choppy acting here and there, but I have to admit that, in this case, is part of what I like about the film. It’s not trying to be a superstar mega-monster picture, but a small, heartfelt work to stretch some artistic muscle rather than stagnating. I respect that a lot.

There is at least a couple of subtle shots at Trump and that mindset that made me giggle. A dark humor runs throughout the feature, giving it an umph. Now that we are between “waves” of Covid 19 and many of us are also shuttered and unemployed, maybe that could be an impetus for either a sequel or another totally different film. That would be nice.

And not fer nuthin’, the chef hat cracked me up, every time.


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Review: What the Waters Left Behind


Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2020
Images from the Internet


What the Waters Left Behind (aka Los Olivados)
Directed by Luciano Onetti and Nicolàs Onetti
Cine Argentino; Instituto Nacional de Cine Y Arts Audiovisuales;
Onetti Brothers Productions; Black Mandala Films;
Rusty Robot; Unearthed Films; MVD Entertainment
100 minutes, 2017 / 2020
www.mvdentertainment.com

In remote Argentina, there was a popular tourist town called Villa Epecuén, just off Laguna Especuén, which has a high salt content like the Dead Sea; it was thus touted as a health resort. In 1985, a dam busted and the town was flooded out. When the waters receded a bit in the mid-2000, what was left were ruins that were white, coated with salt. It was uninhabitable (though a singular elderly person actually still lives in the very real place).

Epecuén is the focal point of the imagined story, as a film crew of seven decides to go gech it out and make a documentary of the place. If anyone follows stories like this, from the fantastical Creepozoids (1987) to the more recent The Chernobyl Diaries (2012), you know there is no good that is going to come from this exercise, such as for our gaggle of genre gauchos.

In part of the prologue, we actually get to see some nice aerial drone images of, well, what the waters let behind of the original town, followed by a brief but bloody confrontation. Did I mention this film is distributed by Stephen “American Guinea Pig” Biro’s imprint, Unearth Films, so you know there is going to be a bloodbath involved; if that’s your thing, keep reading.

This could quite easily have been just one more Found Footage style release, considering our troupe is making a documentary, but thankfully the Onetti brothers decided to make a narrative film, with a few through-camera-style shots here and there.

Agustin Pardella, Victoria Maurette, Paula Brasca, Luciano Onetti,
Victorio D 'Alessandro, Paula Sartor, and Damián Dreizik 
 
We get to learn a little about the group on the road trip to the site in an old-style VW Van, such as Nacho (Victorio D 'Alessandro), the boom buy and driver being a frat boy type, the director Vasco (Damián Dreizik), who amusingly is wearing a Francesca tee-shirt, giving a nod to the Onetti Brothers' previous 215 film; reviewed HERE)  is a surly older guy, model-esque Vicky (Paula Sartor) is his sexy and too-young-for-him girlfriend (and her small poodle, Kiki), the camera woman Erica (Paula Brasca, wearing a blue Ramones teee), the AD Diego (Augustin Pardella), and Carla (Victoria Maurette), who is a suriver of the initial flood when she was just a wee one. She gives them (i.e., us) a bit of personal exposition to where we are bound. Then there is the mysterious Señor X (Gustavo Garzón), who alppears with a rifle; is he one of the good guys or in with the evil clan? Historically, in other films of this nature, this typical genre characgter can go either way. Oh, do I need to say that the film is in Spanish, with English subtitles?  Oh, wait... too late.

What I found impressive is that the location is actually at Epecuén, so we get to see quite a bit of the town, or what is left of it. Fascinating stuff. Speaking of which, in the first act we get to see some very nice Latina and Latino bods, flexing their youth such as in a bikini and shirtless. To paraphrase the Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis, Come-along a-baby, there's a whole lot of sexual tension goin' on... including one I did not see coming. The cigarettes are not the only thing that's smokin'. 

Rather than a leather face, the native miscreants seem to lean more towards the type of masks worn in The Road Warrior (1981; aka Mad Max 2). Cattle skulls appear to be the màscara du jour. With the slightly washed out and desolate local images, this could almost be seen as a post-apocalyptic world (because in this locus, it is).

While the story really picks up around the half-way point, the Onetti Bros manage to keep things hopping along the way, between the tension with some locals, the visuals, and the characters, so there is little time to be restless even though the ultra-violence is mostly in the second half. If this were the 1970s, the Ramones could come and save the day like that ridiculous KISS movie from 1978, but this was filmed in the late 2010s, and it was too late for the Ramones (RIP) and many of the film’s characters by then.

Yeah, the film is brutal, but there are two ways to look at it. For the average viewer who is used to “CSI” level of gore, this is quite shocking. For fans of films like the Hostel (2005) series and later versions of the Saw (2004) franchise, this is enjoyable and comparable, but not as a gore-fest as some of the other torture porn styles that Unearthed usually distributes (though I am saying this is still right up their alley) along the level of the likes of Audition (1999) or Bouquet of Guts and Gore (2014: reviewed HERE). 

That being said, sometimes the way the film cuts away just when something is about to happen, I wonder if there is a different edit of the film floating around somewhere that doesn’t occasionally (not always) skirts the issue for which most of the gorehounds are sniffin’ around. But don’t be deterred, there are still lots and lots of brutally violent and blood-soaked body parts to be seen and tasted.

Of course, the big, $64,000 question, is by the end will it be a mass slaughter of the innocents, or will there be a comeuppance; perhaps a mixture of both? I ain’t tellin’ since that’s a major part of the fun of these kinds of things.

Even from the trailer, it’s easy to see some of the foundations the filmmakers dipped their own toes into, such as the mini-van along the dusty road of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), or the hungry, hungry hippo actions of the towns inhabitants, like The Hills Have Eyes (1977; note that for both of these sources, I refer to the originals). And let’s not forget the utter bleakness and frenzy of Wolf Creek (2005) and the Wrong Turn (2003- ) franchise. If you want to push it, you could even add in Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (for this, I refer to the original play, not the limp film version). One character could even be straight out of Mother’s Day (1980), though I don’t know if she’s “a very a sick woman” physically, but mentally is another story.

What made me smile is that even though I figured out a key plot point early on, the way it was presented (meaning the timing) took me by surprise. This was an excellent choice by the Onettis. That is why, despite all its reliance on earlier and classic canon, the film still works and can keep the viewer entertained.

And stick around for the credits and afterwards for some amazing real news footage of the flood from, I'm guessing, the 1990s.