Sunday, September 20, 2020

Reviews: Horror Shorts for September 2020

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

 

Horror Shorts for September 2020

 


Atrophy
Directed by Cindy Stenberg
Swedish Ghost Lovers; Embretsen Productions
17:29 minutes, 2019

This is kind of a Swedish version of a cabin in the woods tale. Freja (Katja Lindgren Anttila) is starting a new position as a personal live-in caretaker for Alma (Isabel Camacho). Alma is wheelchair bound and can only blink her eyes to indicate “yes” or “no.” It is just the two of them in the house where they use candlelight (nice camera work there) at night. But mysterious things are afoot (which I will not divulge) and Freja is living more in fear with each passing day. Stenberg does well to keep up the tension among the mundanity of living with someone who cannot really respond. The pacing, the feeling, the dread are all palpable as the tale unfolds, even if you figure out the ending beforehand, it just looks so beautiful you will be riveted to the screen. I’m definitely becoming a Stenberg believer.
Film is HERE

 


Deranged Foxhole (aka Deranged Foxhole Deduction)
Directed by Dave Sweeney
Gold Productions
16:12 minutes, 2019

There’s a line in The Producers where Zero Mostel’s character turns to a statue and says, “They come here…they all come here! How do they find me!?” That is the problem facing sweaty and slovenly lunatic Johnny (John Cavavanico) as people keep coming to his apartment door and disappear into the bedroom one-by-one. A police detective (Nicholas Garafolo) from the local precinct is sent to investigate where it turns into a life and death struggle. The ending, which I will not give away, is straight out of either “The Twilight Zone” or Creepshow (depending on your age). There is definitely a sense of dark humor that follows the story and there are some really bad choices made by some of the characters, but the plot is engaging throughout. The acting is a bit over the top at time, and I found it to be quite fun. And ya gotta love the Bayonne accents (what, no Sinatra on the radio?). This is totally gonzo and a blast.
Film is HERE

 


The Dreamcatcher
Directed by Cindy Stenberg
Swedish Ghost Lovers
11:08 minutes, 2020

Young teen Nova (Ebba Ärlebo) is given a dreamcatcher to place above her bed, but a young male (of course) friend takes it upon himself to shake it, letting all the nightmare’s loose. The bits of the story are somewhat common tropes for shorts, but director Stenberg makes Nova such a likeable character, that you still hope for the best for her. The story is engaging, and really well shot (though hand-held). It’s in Swedish with subtitles, and it’s worth the view. It’s moody, atmospheric, and the music hits just the right tension notes. The costumes are definitely low-budget, but the idea is what makes this successful. Trevlig. Now I’m gonna go and have a krumkake and watch the next one.
Film is HERE.

Eden
Directed by Bobby Coston
Upper Stage Media; Don’t Wait Create; ISS
5:55 minutes, 2019

It’s the middle of the night in Arlington, TX, and three young men are on their way from (I’m guessing a bar) to their car. It’s a quite night and no one is on the streets, except Eden, a fine looking woman. Have the men met their match that night? This is a mostly talking piece until the action picks up, but retains its level of interest throughout. It’s not very deep, but it’s also not vacuous, so it keeps its level of fun pretty high, lulling you in. What is the outcome is somewhat predictable, but the route is an enjoyable ride and there are some nice surprises. A good watch.
Film is HERE

 


Home Movies
Directed by Dylan Clark
5:31 minutes, 2020

I am really enjoying the artistic output arising from the pandemic. Tight-knit groups or families are rising up and putting out art like crazy. What else is there to do if you have the filmmaking bug, right? In this short and sweet tale, a woman finds an old camera with an S-VHS tape in it that contains images of her when she was but a wee yoot. But there is something sinister on the tape, which seems to be manifesting itself in the real world. There are some well-worn tropes here, but Clark and clan work it together to make it cohesive and not seem the same old-same old. On shorts, my attention span is even shorter, but this kept my interest right through. Great job.
Film is HERE

 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Review: Chills Down Your Spine

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

 


Chills Down Your Spine
Directed by Matthew Kister
Dead Lantern Pictures; Popejoy Productions
170 minutes, 2020

www.deadlanternpictures.com

When is a sequel not a sequel? Well, when it can stand alone without seeing the first release, then it can be seen as a sequel or not. Such is the case with this anthology. And when is an anthology not an anthology? Stop asking questions, already, and let me write this review, okay?!?!

This film is a pretty basic set-up as you watch it, but explaining it is another thing. It’s in three parts that switch back and forth, the first two being the bookends (yes, this one has two-two-two bookends in one!). The thirds are the 10 tales of terror (i.e., horror shorts, or the anthology proper).

 

Steve Eaton and Megan Garcia

In the first film, Shivers Down Your Spine (2015), Jeff (Steve Eaton) asks a red-haired and tattooed genie, Sabiah (Megan Garcia) to tell him stories. Note that I have not seen this release as of yet, but the theme of the film continues with not one, but two sexy genies. This time, Jeff rubs the lamp (keep it clean now) and Sabiah’s lookalike-but-blonde sister, Mahktoonah (also Megan Garcia) – shades of “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie”; did you know both TV lookalikes were created by the same writer? But I digress…) – that Jeff hooks up with as he rubs the wrong (yes, lookalike) lamp. They set out on a “Road Trip” (inspired by The Odyssey, so you know there’s a Cyclops a-comin’, as it’s the one consistency in any story based on the Greek classic, and the other “C” characters, Circe and Cassandra), and while driving, tell each other stories.

Meanwhile, Sabiah has been risen by a masked serial killer who mumbles and grumbles his words (honestly, I can barely make out what he’s saying), using his wish to bind the poor genie. She uses the time to delay by telling him stories (now this is more like One Thousand and One Nights, which is fitting for the genie theme) in the segment titled “C’mon Baby Light My Flame.” Of course, both genies are relatively topless through the bookends. These two bits also recur throughout the film, especially “Road Trip,” as we see variations of different segments of the original’s set pieces.

So, what you have essentially, is three people telling stories. The first one is “The Devil’s Corkscrew,” which is a tale within a tale within a tale. A western which uses the Nebraska vastness to it’s advantage, we meet a group of people who have stolen some gold and are trying to make it to their chosen location, while a dark and mysterious gunman hunts them down. Needless to say, the internal fighting between them is as bad as the stranger that’s searching for them. The unexpected ending was actually nicely done. I also like that they did a regular Western without trying to go for the overdone Spaghetti Western style.

Playing around with genres (an anthology is the perfect way to do that), next is “Isabelle Returns,” an animated story (the work of W. Leitzel) of the raising of a malevolent dead spirit. It’s short and sweet, but very satisfactory. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of it.

For “The Ditch,” it’s a very basic, nearly “Children of the Corn” theme (no kids here) mixed with a bit of Lovecraft and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It’s pretty basic with three characters who meet in various stages along a less-traveled dirt road surrounded by cornfields. There might be a surprise or two here and there for the viewer, but this minimalist tale has a nice though easy to see coming twist ending.

Relying on a bit of giallo stylings, “Bed and Breakfast” uses stark, primary colors and tilted angles to set off a mood, as a young woman arrives as said B&B in the middle of a rainstorm. It also has an Agatha Christie feel to it, as it seems to be placed in that time period. Rather than meeting up with Rocky and doing the “Time Warp,” she meets the butler, who is kind a generous, in a stiff way. There is a lot of nakedocity in this one (no, I’m not making judgments), as this is also styled after the classic “Nudie Cuties” of the 1950s and ‘60s (e.g., Hershell Gordon Lewis and Harrison Marks). There’s also a feel of Tales from the Crypt, with at least three really nice make-up effects.

 


You may have noticed the time length of this film, which hovers close to three hours. Normally, I would whine about most films longer than 90 minutes, but in an “Intermission” segment at the halfway point, the genie-to-be in the third anthology film (to be made) called Tingles Down Your Spine, reiterates what the director states, and in this case I agree; Kister says, “Hey, we’re gonna give people as much content value for their money as we possibly can, and oh, by the way, there is no requirement that anybody has to watch a horror anthology straight thru in one shot.” The intermission is kind of like “MST 3000,” as not only they comment of the film so far, but also they talk directly to the audience (there is also a fourth wall break about nudity early on in “Road Trip” that made me laugh).

Starting the second half is “Hysteria!” Well, right off the back that had me hysterical is that the house front here is the same as in the “Bed and Breakfast” story. Yeah, I do pay attention… This is a comic mixture of a murder mystery, a burlesque troupe, ghosts, and a ventriloquist doll. It’s goofy as hell, and I felt the weakest of the stories. I understand there was supposed to be a “Scooby-Doo” feel to this, but maybe because I’m not a fan of that, I missed the tone.

Settling down for some non-humor (though there is a dark streak deep in there), “Blood Model” presents us with an art class with a nude model as its subject. One of the students is a wacko who is fixated on the model, while others in the class try to cozy up to her. The dance around her by the students is the key motion of the story, but like any good horror tale, but the ending is solid gold, Jerry, it’s gold! It takes a bit to get there, but it’s worth the wait. For some reason it made me feel like it could be a segment of “Trilogy of Terror” (hey, Karen Black did some nudity).

 


To mix it up a bit, the penultimate story is “The Whirlpool of Night,” which takes a few genres, puts them in a blender and stirs. The predominant one is the black-and-white noir of a crime syndicate, as a private investigator must steal a necklace from a secure location and return it to repay a debt to an all-female mob. This leads to another genre of an action film as she is hunted by a masked assassin leading to shootouts and hand-to-hand fighting (which definitely shows the film’s budgetary restraints). As for the third of the mash-ups, I won’t give it away because it’s completely unexpected and fits in so beautifully.

 


The final story (but not the wrap-up) is “The Calling of Things Beyond,” which is the most Lovecraftian of them all. A cursed play (now there is a well-polished trope) written by a mysterious Alister Crowley type leads to an almost psychedelic happening. It’s both intriguing, weird and a bit silly, all at the same time.

As the two bookends collide in a pretty funny, almost Keystone Kops way, the film sets up for the next anthology. If it is as much of a blast as this one, it will be worth the wait (perhaps in 2022?). One thing noteworthy is that at nearly three hours, there is no big cameo star showing up; that alone is pretty impressive. Don’t let the length intimidate you, it’s worth watching it, even if it’s in bits here and there. That’s the glory of anthologies.


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Review: Housewife Alien vs Gay Zombie

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

 

Housewife Alien vs. Gay Zombie
Directed by Andreas Samuelson
Zoombie Pictures
96 minutes, 2017

www.facebook.com/hagzfilm

https://vimeo.com/ondemand/hagz www.amazon.com/gp/video/detail/B08F4Z1THH/ref=atv_dp_share_cu_r

Sometimes, ya need to make a focused, driven movie – even if it’s a comedy – and bring home a message (even if it’s just joy). Other times, you just gotta say fuck it. Horror films with a gay center seem to lean towards the latter, and this Swedish (in English) release goes above and beyond; it is camp from Campville.

This film, affectionately known as HAGZ for short, is by far the silliest film I’ve seen since Australian sci-fi mash-up SheBorg! (2016); but before you stop here, know that it was one of my favorite films that I saw last year because of the sheer and utter WTF­-ness of it. So, keep reading…

Hector Lopez

Newlywed couple Ken (Hector Lopez) and his dick (pun not intended) of a platinum blond be-wigged partner Rob (director Samuelson) have moved into a new house that is still full of the previous owner’s possession, including an old and mysterious book. Hector is afraid because the local legend is that the person before turned into a zombie (so why would you move in? Oh, wait, logic… never mind).

That takes care of the “Gay Zombie” part; as for the other, Catherine (Sanna Wallin), who dresses like she just stepped out of an episode of “I Love Lucy,” is given the opportunity through a head in a suitcase with glowing eyes (Elin Hallberg), to resurrect her dead sister Ruth (Anna Walman), bad teeth and all, using some Alien DNA (musta gotten it from Trump’s medical advisor), turning Ruth into a murderous alien-creature serial killer.

And yet, the film has barely started. I’ve already left out so much that has happened, including a ludicrous superhero named Zebraman (Erik Nilsson) and a Dirty Harry type copper with a heart of lead, Detective Sheridan (Anna Modén). It’s like there is (purposefully) 40 lbs. of material in a 20 lbs. bag (or should that be kilos?). There is so much to unpack!

The two titular main storylines are separate at first and of course, at some point combine, though it feels nominally, which actually works to the stories’ advantage. Would have been interesting if the alien housewife were a lesbian, but there are other (non-alien) sisters of Lesbos throughout, as well.

Anna Walman

I don’t know if I would refer to this as a “gay film,” but it is definitely at the core and there are some love scenes (well, scenes of people having sex), but it certainly has a message, which I believe is a good one: no matter who one is attracted to, there will be good people and there will be the shits. But enough pontificating.

For me, as much as the action is fun, and I will get to that, it’s the dialogue that really makes the film for me. It is just dripping with puns, such as my favorite one when a criminal is captured and someone says, “They’re giving him the chair,” as the cops give him a wooden chair to sit on. This is worthy of Spaceballs (1987) and the line that they’re “combing the desert.” It was quite often I found myself giving a loud, verbal laugh.

Also, sometimes its not what is being said but rather implied, such as when the Police Chief (who has huge, bushy eyebrows) literally grumbles with non-words because it’s such a trope, really, who needs them, right? The film liberally uses clichés to make it’s points, or just to give a nod to other genre classics. For example, there’s the use of a talking plant that’s reminiscent of The Little Shop of Horrors (1986), a refrigerator scene that’s right out of Repo Man (1984), the sheer over-the-top drama of telenovelas, a very quick dig at the found footage format of shaky cameras, and even a wink at The Evil Dead (1981). One scene even makes fun of the handyman scenario oft employed in gay – and straight – porn. Another stylist choice is that, for most of the opus’ run time, there are added “scratches” to the image to look like it was taken from an old negative.

Elin Hallberg, Sanna Wallin

The cast is amazingly huge – did they use all of Stockholm in this? – and the acting ranges are in the shrieking scale, or what I call the Drag Queen Mating Call. The dialogue is either shouted or grumbled, or in a John Lithgow sit-com reading (did he really win awards for that overcooked ham-style in “Third Rock from the Sun”?). Most of the actors, especially the key ones, wear some kind of hair accessories, be it wigs, the aforementioned eyebrows, and generally ludicrous (I’m guessing Drag influenced) make-up. This goes for the gore make-up as well: it’s a bit over the top, though a couple of scenes are really nicely done, such as the last zombie attack.

In other words, there is absolutely no subtlety to the humor here, just a cosmic, comedic sledgehammer, but it hurts so good. The funny bits are so fast and furious, I may watch this again to see what I missed, because what I did catch was effective and made me laugh. There is so much happening that these are almost set pieces all strung together, but at the same time does not lose the thread of the story in its own reflection.

Honestly, this film may not be for everyone; if you’re homophobic because the Bible tells you so, if you don’t like gratuitous violence, or you need a serious picture with a more linear narrative step carefully. However, if you are like me and enjoy silliness for silliness sake, and yet like a smart undertone with great references to genre films (drinking game, perhaps?), then, as I did, you may enjoy the hell out of this and have a good laugh.


Saturday, September 5, 2020

Review: Red Letters

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

 

Red Letters
Directed by Jim Klock
Code 3 Films; Terror Films
86 minutes, 2020
www.terrorfilms.com

Lately, I have been on a few Theists vs. Atheists boards, which are always interesting. This actually fits in well for this release, in which the two lead characters are on either side of this issue.

Retired homicide detective turned PI Jim Knowles (the film’s director, Jim Klock), who helps the police with “dark” murders, and also retired Professor of Theology and Knowles’ friend and reluctant occasional partner Mike Gaston (Mike Capozzi) – no need to explain which is the believer and which is not – are hired by the police to investigate the strange disappearance of a deputy investigating a burglary (at exactly 3 AM on November 1, the day after Halloween, which is, of course, the Catholic-based All Saints Day; personally, I think it would have been cooler to be at 3:33, but that’s just my own musing that has nothing to do with nothing). But this is fiction placed in a particular subgenre of horror, so it "obvious" who, in this story, is "right." That’s just a given. But let’s go on and start the film…

Jim Klock and Mike Capozzi

This story follows a perspective I really like, in that after the Deputy’s disappearance, we mainly follow the two lead characters for a day, so we learn about events as they do. For me, this is a smart way to keep us knowing just what they know, and to work on the case with them, as it were.

Unlike many films, indie or mainstream, this is well written in that the characters are quite human rather than mere stereotypes. For example, the partner of the deputy that disappears discusses his guilt about being afraid of going after the officer. This is a very realistic touch, which softens the character and makes him sympathetic rather than being just a coward. Or is there more? That’s a question that is consistent throughout the film, as it rightfully should be in any police procedural, as well as one in the Satanic subgenre especially (since he is the Prince of Lies, as it were).

So, what is the philosophy of the film: is it pro- or anti-God/Satan? Well, that’s pretty easy to figure out, if you’ve seen The Exorcist and The Omen (I am going to assume that’s a yes). And is it preachy about it? And is there a Right-Wing slant to the film, as Knowles jacket has a “Blues Lives Matter” American flag patch on his jacket? Well, more about all that later.

Meanwhile, did I mention that Gaston has visions when he touches objects? It’s no wonder he’s a believer, and he’s certain Satan is a-foot. Or is it a-hoof? But no one sees and hears as much as a homeless man named Robin (Robin F. Baker), who is a prophet in touch with the Lord that we are introduced to at the start of Act 2, which drowns a bit in dialogue about matters Holy.

The visions help show that, of course, things aren’t always as they appear, and good Christians can be called into question as they show a dark side. But is that out of some long-term sinister belief system or fear? These are all questions to lead the viewer on the journey to the truth within the film’s boundaries. Sometimes beliefs are shown in subtle ways, such as Knowles being a non-believer and the only smoker in the story, showing he doesn’t care about the world by repeatedly littering with the butts, even when there is a garbage can right there (sorry, personal pet smoking peeve).

The first couple of Acts are a bit slow and paced, and could use some editing, though there are a couple of decent jump scares. But as is natural in genre cinema, it isn’t until the third Act that things really start hopping.


The film is pretty well acted, and considering the vast amount of dialog, such as the extended soliloquy of Robin at a diner, it is held up by Baker’s acting chops. The body count is relatively low as is the blood flow, but the tension in the last Act (as opposed to the Bible’s “Acts”) works well to keep up a bit of tension.

And is it preachy? Well, yeah, a bit, but not to the level where I felt like I was being beaten over the head like those ridiculous Left Behind releases. There are lots of Bible quotes and a letter from Paul discussed, and I assume Klock, who also wrote the film, is a believer, because his character (who does not have faith) states at one point, “I don’t believe in the Man upstairs.” Most atheists or agnostics would respond, “I don’t see any proof of a Man upstairs” instead, leaving the burden of proof on the believer. The end title card actually answers the question of preaching, though.

The photography is pretty straightforward most of the time, with one and two person shots, with lots of headshots. But somewhat often, a lovely time lapse or overhead of a beautiful forest can take the viewer by surprise by its beauty, considering it was shot near Atlantic City, NJ (I promise you, this Brooklyn boy will not mock NJ here).

Overall, it’s a decent film that’s nice to look at and a respectable cast that is only hindered by the amount of talking in ratio-to-action. I haven’t seen Klock’s other four films, so I don’t know if the religiosity is a trend or a one-off, but I’d certainly be willing to see more, even as an agnostic non-Christian myself who doesn’t mind a bit of Gods and Devils in his viewing stories. But remember, there are over 3000 gods out there, and this is taking only one of the Christian perspectives, which means all the others are “wrong.” That’s hubris, but with good cinema, I’ll let it stand.

You can find the film exclusively, for now, at the Kings of Horror site on You Tube.


Monday, August 31, 2020

The Short Films of Marc Cartwright

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

The Short Films of Marc Cartwright

Sloven
Directed by Marc Cartwright
Glass Cabin Films
6:40 minutes; 2015
What would you do if you came home and allegedly your roommate made a mess of the apartment on Halloween, smoked your weed, and drank your drank? This is what Steve (Baker Chase Powell) is facing, getting ready (with one of the silliest, least-work costumes I’ve seen in a while; just my style… one year I taped a 6-inch “0” on my chest and went as part of a binomial system… got honorary mention, I kid you know, but I digress…) to meet his girlfriend at a holiday party. The film floats along on a bit of tension, and then there’s the jump scare. Reminds me a little of the work of David F. Sandberg, who also ventures in this arena (though I don’t think either director is feeding off the other). This reminds me also of Cartwrights 15-second film “Savor” (see below). Essentially a one-person (plus two voices) piece that is effective and fun. It’s also just the right length for what it is, to build the tension and then explode it.
Full film:

Vexed
Directed by Marc Cartwright
Glass Cabin Films
12:59 minutes; 2016
Leah (Nosheen Phoenix) is in a situation many of us can understand. She loves horror films, but her boyfriend Nick (Baker Chase Powell, who also wrote this) is more into checking his Instagram and comedies. That’s all well and good until he starts living in a nightmare of doppelgangers, demons and malevolent happenings in their apartment or possible multiverses. Cartwright’s direction gets us seeing what Nick sees (and misses) is appropriately creepy, and at the same time tense. What would you do if you were suddenly trapped in a horror film, either being a horror fan or not? Would you hide under the covers or go check out the sounds? The editing here is sharp and there is also an underlying sense of humor (such as, in the middle of a crisis, wondering why your partner changed their phone password). This is an award winning short, and it’s certainly no surprise to me, as it’s taut, tense and has a self-referential nod to horror films that is spot on.
Full film:

Savor
Directed by Marc Cartwright
Glass Cabin Films
0:15 minutes; 2016
Reviewed HERE

We Die Alone
Directed by Marc Cartwright
Glass Cabin Films; GMG Pictures
23:43 minutes; 2019
Aiden (Baker Chase Powell), is desperate. He is hyper-shy and timid, and lives in a fantasy world of dating and wants to“make a connection,” but keeps ghosting people he meets online. His older co-worker Elaine (soap opera star Ashley Jones) is desperate. She’s lonely and tired of being treated badly by men; she has affections for Aiden, but there is the age difference. Moving across the hall from Aiden is Chelsea (Samantha Boscarino), who is also desperate, moving from place to place to escape from her past. What happens when a potential sociopath meets a woman who is living on the edge of her life? That’s the direction of the film, which has so many curves and unexpected twists to keep any thriller fan on the edge of their seat. Incredibly well made and acted, each of the characters brings to the story elements that form an eddy of tension with the viewer sitting on the edge, waiting to just drop into the abyss. Through it all, thanks to us hearing their inner thoughts and action narrations, we can feel sympathy for them even as they do things that are shocking and abhorrent. Well done.
Trailer:


 

 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Review: Sinful


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


Sinful
Directed by Rich Mallery
CineRidge Entertainment; Cinema Epoch; Napalm Love Productions
75 minutes, 2020
www.madsincinema.com

For a pandemic, the gay community is the one to look for when it comes to dealing with it day to day. Their experience with AIDS has – er – grandfathered them (sorry about that term) into being years ahead of most. While sure, it more directly killed gay men, it was their lesbian sisters who often were the caregivers, so they still experienced that loss first-hand.

Why bring this up for this review? Two reasons: first, the film is based on the occurrences around a newly-married lesbian couple, Salem (Nicole D’Angelo) and Remy (Christine Lo), and that it was filmed in the middle of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a lot of art that has come out of the isolation the disease has brought, and cinema is certainly included.

A pandemic calls for a small cast, and this one consists of a trio, including the two mentioned above and a mysterious masked man (Chris Spinelli) who shows up on occasion, and disappears just as fast. These three actors have been working on films together for a while now (e.g., Choke and Acrylic), so they are comfortable around each other and feeding off the other’s energy. This is important in creating cinematic synergy.

Salem and Remy are recently married and on the run from a bloody, “horrific” (as the film’s descriptor states on IMDB) crime, waiting in a house for some new identification to beat it on the lam. But their paranoia is deep and their distrust for anyone, including each other on occasion, tends to get the better of them. This is especially true with high-strung Remy, who is on the verge of a breakdown (or appears to be), while Salem is trying to hold it all together and be solid, but even she is having the heebie-jeebies (wishing she were at CBGBs?).

The film is essentially a character study of these two women, and how they are either coping – or trying to – with various levels of success. The tables often change and the dance around each other and their situation ebbs and flows.

This is a psychological drama more than a “horror thriller,” though there are hints to support both classifications. Sure, they might be in a multi-dimensional space where things repeat or change, it may all be in their increasingly paranoid minds, or perhaps this house is like a The Twilight Zone episode and they actually are in purgatory (hell?). It’s often left up to the viewer to decide.

Nearly everything is sparse, from the walls to the hallways, to the fact that you can’t see out the windows, giving the film a bit of claustrophobia and paranoia to the viewer as well. The skewed angles also throw us off a bit as I try to put it together with the two protagonists. And what’s with the pop-up man in a mask? The personification of guilt? Well, I am certainly not going to tell you.

As I said, the two leads play off of each other’s energies really well. Lo may get a bit shrill at times as Remy tries to sort out what she’s doing and what is happening, and D’Angelo does well to show emotion on her face as Salem is torn between her love for Remy, not wanting to get caught, and trying to find patience while the new IDs are out there somewhere. While Chris Spinelli doesn’t do much other than stand around in a mask, I have seen him in other works recently, and I have no question the man can act.

The film is emotionally draining, between the pent up fear of the characters, the shifting of the plot line to match the tilting of the camera angles, and even the complexity of the story against the starkness of the setting. We are thrust into a situation of panic, fear, and varying levels of trust, and we just have to hold on for the ride.

It is a well-scripted story, the acting is at times breathtaking, and the direction by Rich Mallery shows a sense of style that makes me want to see more.

The film is available on various media platforms, and will soon be available on Blu-ray.


Thursday, August 20, 2020

Review: Irrational Fear


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


Irrational Fear
Directed by Hunter Johnson
Slasher Studios; LAHorror.com; Terror Films
98 minutes, 2017 / 2020

Unless someone has a true phobia (aka an irrational fear), rather than just a normal one, even if it is only perceived rather than real, it’s hard to understand the torment that it can play with the everyday living of a normal life. I’m afraid of bees, but if one is on the other side of the window, I don’t freak out and can get close (unless it’s on me or buzzing near my ear). I have a fear, but not an irrational one. This film examines the more extreme form, where it feels like a matter of life or death.

One of my biggest fears is a film taking a really long time to spin its wheels before the action really starts. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but in this case, it’s a full half hour of exposition before the story actually gets anywhere (not counting the mandatory prologue where a woman wearing a Freddy K-style striped sweater reacts to her fear of being laughed at). As a side note here, the opening credits look great.

Charles Chudabala and Baker Chase Powell
Diminutive college psychology professor Dr. Sanders (Charles Chudabala) is the big man on the project presented, and he and his graduate student / assistant, Zach (Baker Chase Powell, who was also great in 2019’s Dolemite is My Name) takes a group of – phobia-ites? – to a lake house at Crivitz, Wisconsin, to do research into curing phobias; but not a cabin in the woods, as you can see the neighboring homes in the distance when they pull up. The group of six (not counting the Doc and Zach) are an odd bunch, including the lovely Taylor (Leah Wiseman) who doesn’t like being touched; child-like germaphobe Jake (Kaleb Shorey) and his anger-prone father with a tooth fixation, Nat (Tom McCarthy); high school jock Cameron (Mathias Blake) who is afraid of “choking” during his games; Kelly (Jennifer Nagle aka horror hostess Malvolia, the Queen of Screams) who is self-conscious about her self-appearance; and bad-tempered alcoholic Helen (Cati Glidewell), suffering from a fear of water… you know the lake right outside back is going to come into being a factor. In other words, there is a nice opportunity for a large body count, and that’s important, am I right? Who out there has a fear of seeing a horror film with a low kill rate?

Leah Wiseman
It’s told right off the bat (so I’m not giving anything away) that Taylor and Zach have a history having grown up a few houses apart, and that this is a group that is angry and, naturally, scared to open up. Hence, phobias. The collection of personalities kind of reminds me of Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House (and it’s subsequent 1963 film, The Haunting) where a scientist gathers some people together who have had strange psychic phenomenon events occur around them into a haunted house to see what happens.

People being tortured by their own fears is hardly a new premise, and has been done a few times before, but because they talk about common fears (times ten), it’s something many in the audience can identify with; thankfully it’s not the cliché tropes like spiders and snakes. Here, wisely, the fears are about more common things like germs, water and being touched. So of course, these dreads are just the lynchpin to the story for when a supernatural element is introduced, somehow reminding me of Thir13en Ghosts (the 2001 version; the posters are even similar, and Wiseman has a Shannon Elizabeth vibe).

There is definitely also an element of Evil Dead (1981) as people start to disappear, one by one. Sure, no one comes back as demons, but the way “spirits” influence what happens around them, indicates there’s malevolence about. Sometimes we see the action, other times it’s off camera (budget constraints is my guess), but as things fall apart, the doctor tries mightily to keep shit together while others are freaking out. Personally, I would be with the latter group, and in fact, would be outta there. Go to one of the houses down the block, call a cab, order it to the local police, and “buh-bye.”

Cati Glidewell
The film wisely plays around with who is good and who is bad, though it’s pretty obvious from the outset if you are familiar with these kinds of things. Still, events and reasons are not what one expects (well, for me, anyway), and for that I’m happy as I love when a story line catches me by surprise; even if I know who did it, the reason why is usually where the big a-ha­ moments come in.

There is no gore in the film, but it gets a bit bloody at times, and all the SFX are practical, rather than digital. And in the out there department of nothing to do with nothing, though I am not sure of its significance, I found it interesting that there is a minor theme of strings of lights that are placed around rooms, both at the house and even in Taylor’s room at home (if the filmmakers want to say in the comments, I’d appreciate it). But that’s neither here nor there.

Despite the slight nod to Friday the 13th (1980), the end is manic and a bit over the top, if not a bit predictable, but it’s hyper fun, and that is the end point for which a film should be going. The story seems to be pulling in a couple of different directions in a form of distraction to what is really happening, but even with it’s slightly amateurish feel, and a couple of lags here and there that could have been cut, it really is a diamond in the rough, and I kinda like that.