Saturday, January 25, 2020

Review: Virus of the Dead


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


Virus of the Dead
Complied by Tony Newton; directed by Matthew Joseph Adams; Gordon Bressack; James Cullen Bressack; Dan Brownlie; Jarrett Furst; Keiron Hollett; Matt Twinski; Benjamin James; Hunter Johnson; Christopher Jolley; Jason Lorah; John T. Mickevich; Mark Alan Miller; Kiko Morah; Tony Newton; John Penney; Shawn C. Phillips; Nick Principe; Timo Rose; Shane Ryan; Emir Skalonia; Steven S. Voorman
Vestra Pictures / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Entertainment
102 minutes, 2018 / 2019

Tony Newton is a Brit who loves to keep his hands in the horror field, including books, poetry, documentaries, fiction films, and so on. For this anthology, he came up with a great idea: he had people involved in the genre create their own little films ranging from short, solo bits, to longer ones with some narrative to them. Then he strung them together to create a worldwide epidemic, and generate the ultimate found footage zombie collection.

The film starts with the “headline” act, “American Virus,” starring and co-written by Katheryn Eastwood. Rather than talking to an empty chair like her dad, she converses with the camera with a snide “fuck you” attitude as she and her cronies are the ones to start the outbreak via injections for… revolution? Disruption of the status quo? I’m not sure, but whatever the reason, it’s bloody, quickly edited, and with lots of motion of the camera. In fact, in some of the clips, there is a risk of motion sickness worse than Cloverfield (2008) or The Blair Witch Project (1999), other times completely steady, sometimes including digital “noise.”

Most of the pieces are filmed on cell phones and laptops, with the files uploaded to Newton. These clips are international, so occasionally there’s another language (with translation), which makes the varied perspectives additionally interesting. More often than not the person on the other end is talking directly to the camera with swings around to show what’s going on near by them, expressing different levels of desperation. Which brings me to my next point.

Some of the pieces are stand-alone, and others are serial. What I mean by that is there are sections that come and go with a single filming. Some of the more interesting ones are those that come back at different times as situations worsen. For example, there is a series of segments with horror actor/vlogger Shawn C. Phillips: in the first, he’s taking the whole thing pretty casually, locked down in his basement with his film collection, figuring he’ll just wait it out. But each time we come back, food and water is running low and eventually there’s no electricity; it gets more and more dire. Another, “Face to Face,” has a couple who are Skyping (FaceTime? We Chat?) while he is in the States and she is in Myanmar (“I panicked,” for those who get the reference). Each time we come back to them – and this really is one of my fave pieces, – the situation goes from “what the hell” to sheer terror, bit by bit.

What comes out in the long run is people trying to adjust into a “new normal” as the world eats itself up, and trying desperately and literally not to be on the menu. This new reality is actually what television shows like “The Walking Dead” and films like ZOO (2019) are about, as much as the zombie apocalypse. Different people react to the situation in various ways, the oddest one being a couple of horror wannabe filmmakers who gleefully film killing zombies for their “epic.” But who is going to watch it “with the world in a grave” as the P.F. Sloan song “Eve of Destruction” posits?

At least the film occasionally deals with camera batteries dying as electricity starts to begin waning, as would happen. It’s a pet peeve of mine in found footage when people film for days on one battery. I have to recharge my phone daily, and I don’t usually use the movie features. And don’t get me started about the energy it takes to upload all these videos that the dying world is posting to a server no one is watching over.

There’s a couple of things that I find interesting, one directly and one larger than the film itself. First, even with a multitude (legion?) of different filmmakers and styles, there generally is a similar pattern, either the characters running around with the camera/cell phone, or with the camera mounted and pointing directly at the person of focus. I’m sure with some, it’s actually taken directly from the laptop camera on the top of the monitor, but no matter what the source, there is a consistency in the pattern of how the film is done. Found footage has become as much a staple of the horror genre as selfies, in general. This is a mixture of both.

What I find most fascinating, though, is the thought behind the need to film oneself, even as the world is dying. As a culture, we have become so inundated by not just the selfie, but the mentality behind it that has us believing we all matter and the world is going to care what we have to say, even if it endangers oneself or those we love (case in point the father who keeps filming his wife and his new spankin’ kid even as the undead are metaphorically breathing down their necks).

If the world is actually in the middle of the Z-Apoc, it’s just a very short matter of time before society as we know it ends, and the means for anyone else to see what you have filmed will be gone with it. That we would feel the need to keep on shooting the video selfie to show everyone / anyone / no one we ever existed is futile. Even if the footage remained beyond your body’s existence, who would have the means to see it? As much as this is a fictional film about zombies, it is also an exercise in just how vain and egocentric we are.

Just go to YouTube and check out videos people make of themselves in confrontations with others in parking lots, stores, fast food restaurants, etc., shouting, “I’m putting this on YouTube!,” hoping for it to go viral. Well, when the Z-Apoc goes literally viral, you and what happens to you is like dust in the wind. As I said, it is this mentality that I find really fascinating about this film, whether purposeful as a sociological study or just an exercise in anthology.

The gore is plentiful throughout, with some pieces being more so than others, most of it looking quite spectacular – my fave was a zombie ripping the skin off someone’s back. Most anthologies are kind of hit and miss, but this one is actually quite good throughout, with very few submissions that didn’t work, such as one where a guy is talking very slowly with the camera just inches from his face; luckily, it’s pretty short.

This is a fine effort that deserves to be added to the zombie canon, and I recommend it as everyone on this film is obviously a fan of the genre, and have contributed their love for it as a bigger body of work.


Monday, January 20, 2020

Review: Before the Night is Over


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


Before the Night is Over
Directed by Richard Griffin
Scorpio Film Releasing / The Reasonable Moving Picture Company
74 minutes, 2020

When I talk to fellow genre reviewers, one name consistently comes up on the top of the directors’ list, and that’s Richard Griffin. His large body of work https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1075618/?ref_=tt_ov_dr covers a large swath of styles and genre categories, which seem to come in waves. There was a horror phase followed by one of broad sexual/sensual comedies. After a couple of years, he has headed back into making a thriller, and I find it hard to control myself getting ready to watch it.

Samatha Acampora, Victoria Paradis, Bruce Church
If I were to break this film down into its most primal descriptors, they would have to be “languid” and “gothic.” Remember when Southern-focused releases like Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) and, well, Frogs (1972) were more common, with big mansions, accents that make y’all wanna hush yo mouth, sugah, and evil doings were hidden by “the scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh / Then the sudden smell of burning flesh” (quote from Abel Meeropol’s 1939 song, “Strange Fruit”).

Like a Bob Fosse dance number, every shot and move made by the cast seems nearly choreographed, with hands and faces in the forefront. This is quite effective for the “languid” part. It also makes for fascinating watching of the actors as they move around the screen, or even if they are sitting still, there is still the precise motion that is almost hypnotic, which works for the “gothic” intonation.

Atmospheric
As for the basic set-up of the story, listen here chile: when we are introduced to petite Samantha Pearl (Samantha Acampora, who is also known as a spirited Rocky Horror Picture Show reenactor), her parents have recently passed on, and she’s been taken in by her aunt, Blanche DeWolfe (Lee Rush), who owns this here bordello that is filled with men, and also caters to men. Similarly in charge is the “prickly” Ms. Olivia (Victoria Paradis, reminding me of the Miss Hardbroom character from the British “The Worst Witch” programme). These are the only three women in the film. Also helping to run the bordello is the intense and towering Ambrose (Bruce Church, who just keeps getting better every time I see him).

Samantha also is having visions that are silent, fuzzy and in slow-mo (again, “languid”), where she can see violent events that have occurred in the house recently. Oh, and did I mention that there is also someone in a cloak and cowl running around hitting customers on the noggin’ with various instruments until they’re on the rainbow bridge with Jeebus? And what’s in her mother’s diary that the aunt is keeping from her, and what’s with the mysterious locked room she’s not allowed to enter? It’s a mystery that’s bound to get ramped up and involve Samantha (again, “gothic”). Well that’s why y’all are here, ain’ it?

Much like Cinderella, Samantha’s role in the “house” is to be the maid. Of course, this gives her access to everything and everyone there, so like the nanny in The Innocents (1961), as we follow her around, we get to learn as she does just what is going on up in here.

Like Griffin’s earlier film, Long Night in a Dead City (2017), the atmosphere and structures around the story are part of it, even the incredibly accurate, stylized and yet ugly wallpaper. There is a persistent mood that runs throughout, giving the actions of the characters more gravitas. There also deserves a nod to John Mosetich’s excellent cinematography and Margaret Wolf production design for the way this is all displayed to us.

This film is a fine summation of a few of Griffin’s earlier works, combining the supernatural (though technically he is not a “horror” director), homages to some of the Masters (see below), and the abundance of the male form in various shapes and sizes. There is a lot of nudity in here in a coin flip of the usual all-women-and-no-men. Penii abound, and yet the story warrants it. If you’re a Neanderthal who is indoctrinated in not being used to this, get the fuck over it. This film is too beautiful to miss.

There is a bit of violence here, but relatively mild with little blood; however, the tension is definitely there as murders are committed and a mysterious presence overhangs the bordello that Samantha tries to get to the source.

It’s easy to see the influences and reflections of earlier classics that I could list, but I don't want to give too much of the story away.

My only complaint is that it’s a relatively short feature. There is much more I would have liked to be flushed out a bit, though I don’t feel cheated at all. Honestly, this is true of most Griffin films; I just want them to keep going. That says a lot about this release, as well.


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Review: The Barn


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


The Barn
Directed by Justin M. Seaman
Nevermore Productions / Scream Team Releasing / MVD Entertainment
98 minutes, 2016 / 2019

If you’re a horror fan, especially of a certain age, you remember how cool the 1980s were for the genre, and appreciate it for what it added to the canon. Special effects (SFX) were mostly appliances rather than digitally added, the latter of which looked really cheesy back then and tended to be reserved for electricity, lasers and supernaturally excites atoms; the paranormal digi appears here as well. The stories didn’t really need to always make sense, the acting wasn’t necessarily of “prime-time” level, and they were just freakin’ fun.

Nostalgia for these kinds of films are becoming more common, almost in response to the high level expected on the theater, television or computer screen: over the years, the gore and body horror have become ever more extreme, clinical and cynical. These can be interesting, but are not “fun” in the same way the ‘80s releases often tended to be, even when they were very bloody.

Lexi Dripps, Will Stout, Mitchell Musolino
Many indie filmmakers today are trying to bring back some of that excitement, such as with this one. The “throwback” aspect of The Barn is in many reviews and especially in the press releases I have read about it. But this one uses a trope that I really enjoy as an indicator of what they are trying to project: after the flashback scene that introduces the story (here taking place in 1959), rather than a title card saying something like “now,” it refers to the era it is trying to posit, in this case, 1989. That’s a cool thing which I appreciate, and the fact that there are no cell phones is also one less thing to worry about as far as being “realistic.” Every film that takes place in the now seems to rely on “we’re out of range” to explain away the phone.

On the Halloween Eve and night when this film mainly takes place, we are introduced to two smart asses who are seniors in a fundamentalist high school, Sam (Mitchell Musolino) and Josh (Will Stout). They butt heads with a conformist parent and especially the ultra-conservative church leader, Ms. Barnhart (get it?), who is played by the Cameo Scream Queen herself, Linnea Quigley.

Candycorn Scarecrow, The Boogeyman, Hallowed Jack
Together with some friends and possible love interests, such as Michelle (Lexi Dripps), who work at the roller rink (did they still exist in 1989?; they didn’t in disco-laden Brooklyn where I grew up), they sneak off for a concert on Halloween night, stopping at a town to get some trick-or-treat sweets for the church to shut them the hell up (oxymoron intended). The audience will know by the (sometimes literal) signs that they are not stopping in a good place, as this is the home of the titular barn.

Sam has rules for Halloween, similarly to Matthew Lillard’s character about horror films in Scream (1996). We get to hear some of them before the end of Act I, when we get to… (dum-dum-dah-dum) the barn. We learn early on that there are three demons who appear when the barn door is knocked, and you say “Trick or Treat” on Halloween. One demon is a scarecrow who eats eyes, another that carves out your skull that has a jack o’lantern head with a really cool flame inside his noggin, and the third is the miner, aka the Boogeyman (played by the film’s director), who uses his sharp nails and pickaxe to do some physical damage.

By letting loose the demons from hell – who seem more human than anything else in their reactions, albeit non-verbally – our intrepid gang have put themselves and a large number of the local town in danger. Luckily this means a high kill kount [sic], mostly via SFX, so there’s some great bloodletting that is fun to watch and cheer. Since we don’t know most of them, and thereby have no emotional attachment, it’s killed-for-kill-sake and lots of “woo-hoo” for the viewer.

For the extras section, there is a full length commentary track with the director and the lead actor, Musolino. It’s quite good as far as telling anecdotes of filming, digging a bit deeper on the meaning, and the epistemology of the story: apparently, this started out as a comic created by Seaman when he was just 8 years old, and this film is his lifelong dream (up to now). This kept it interesting from beginning to end. This is what a commentary track is supposed to be, in the cinematic home release world. Seaman backs up his history with this story by including “All Hallows Eve,” a 5:30-minute student film he made in 2002 that introduced the Boogeyman/miner character (placing himself as the victim).

Linnea Quigley
There are lots of other extras, too, including the film’s two trailers, a commercial for the video game, a music video by Rebel Flesh, four deleted scenes that were both fun to watch and rightfully excised, the Indiegogo Film Pitch (with the first Jason and Cameo Scream King, Ari Lehman, who also briefly appears in the feature), and more.

One of the comments Seaman makes in the commentary is that the acting is quite extraordinary for an indie feature. And you know what, he’s right. Musolino easily carries the picture without losing his boyish, devil-make-care air, and the supporting cast does quite well as – err – well.

From what I understand, the The Barn II sequel is in the works, starting some time this year. I look forward to it. This was an enjoyable film straight through, with few and min lags and just the right length. If you like films like The Gate (1987) and Night of the Creeps (1986), this may be right on your sights.


Friday, January 10, 2020

Review: Lifeform


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


Lifeform
Directed by Max Dementor (aka Brian Schiavo)
Strangewerks Films / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Entertainment
105 minutes, 2019

People being inadvertently changed into monsters through nature or science is hardly new. It isn’t difficult to go even further back than, say, The Hideous Sun Demon (1958) to find this subgenre. A big difference, though, is that in earlier versions, it was usually men that were transformed, but as time passed on, it focused more on women, usually the sexier the better. The obvious notation that will be associated with this release is the Species franchise (beginning in 1995) or its lesser cousin Splice (2009), but it has continued, even as recently as Bite (2015).

As for trying to bring back the dead through science hoping with a result of normalcy has also been present for years; again, the obvious touchstone is the Re-Animator films (starting in 1985). These sub-genres tend to be films I enjoy, so when I saw the trailer for Lifeform, I definitely was hoping to get the chance to see it… And, Ta da!

Social worker Sam(antha) (Virginia Logan) is married to stem cell research scientist Hadrian (Peter Alexandrou). Hadrian and his assistant, Chloe (Kate Britton) are working on a project to help heal by replacing cells. They also have the working-close-together-for-a-long-time hots for each other, and Hadrian (man, that’s a clumsy name; perhaps it is to explain indirectly the actor’s accent) is torn between his love for his wife and his attraction for his assistant. While I don’t respect that as I’ve happily been loyal for over a quarter of a century, this really is quite the fetching cast. But I digress…

When Sam catches the two scientists neckin’, she runs out into the New York City street where she promptly has a brain embolism and collapses on the sidewalk (this is all in the trailer, by-the-by). Natch, Hadrian is in remorse, but is still working with Chloe, and they inject her with some test fluids taken from a jellyfish, of all things. Of course, this leads to transformations, brain eating, and lots of tentacles, but more on that later.

 As time passes, Sam mutates more, sexual tensions rise all the way around, and people drop like flies (yes, there is a decent body count).

The film is beautifully shot in widescreen, and while many of the images are dimly lit, it looks really good; many apply a Sergio Leoni-level close-up so at least parts of the face or forehead are out of camera range. Again, good looking cast, so it’s not a problem, other than on occasion (but not often) it’s a bit hard to define exactly what is going on.

As for the logistics, this is a decent story with some interesting subplots regarding the scientist’s boss and family, even with some holes here and there, but the dialogue is bland and could use some punching up. The same can be said for the fetching participants’ not so fetching wooden acting.

The effects run from looking decent (appliances) to pretty cheesy (digital). One of the creatures even looks like pre-Ray Harryhausen stop motion. Actually, considering the obvious budget constraints this film must have been under, this is some decent work (remember how near the end of the first Evil Dead how fake the clay body looked as things goo’d out of it?). And for those who are into this sort of thing, there is a lot of female nudity, especially from the navel and up. Again, not complaining!

Speaking of the carnal phases of it, there are a lot of subtle fetishes thrown in here along with the bare skin. For example, even though the original cells were from a jellyfish, there is a lot of inspiration from tentacle hentai, and also some B&D thrown in, with various women tied to chairs or chained up. Now one of the reasons for the various monstrous varieties that appear is that the creature (Sam) is a shapeshifter (says the publicity), and as an example, one of the more interesting ones is a cross between a preying mantis and scorpion (and a nod to 1956’s The She Creature).

I do have a few quite silly questions here and there that took me out of the story. For example, there is a monster running loose killing people in Park Slope, Brooklyn; have you even been to Park Slope? Even in the middle of the night, it’s a pretty hopping place, even by the warehouses between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. Also, some shots were obviously filmed on a main Avenue, but it’s like they all appear to be from the same block, if one goes by the scaffolding that seems to nearly always be there. What’s up with that, asks this Brooklyn born and bred boy?

For me, the biggest fault is its length, as it could have easily been edited down to under 90 minutes. But this is only the director’s second feature, and he’s got some learning to do. His first full lengther from 2010, The Shriven, also has similar themes, such as a murderous shapeshifting woman and tentacles (I have only seen the trailer), I say give him a chance. With its flaws, this was still a fun flick.



Monday, January 6, 2020

Review: A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life


Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2020
Images: Lenka Rayn H. / Forward Motion Pictures
Video from the Internet


A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life
Directed by Staten Cousins Roe
Forward Motion Pictures; Arrow Films
81 minutes, 2020

During the whole New Age craze in the 1980s, I dated someone who was really into self-help and personal mysticism (crystals, tarot, etc.). As a cynical punk rocker, I didn’t buy into any of that, which led to a relatively quick break-up. But in that time, I got to be immersed in that type of thinking and came to realize just how much of it is manipulation and stage magic (check out J.Z. Knight channelling Ramtha; hysterical in rear-view mirror looking).

Today, that same mentality has remained, this time with “life coaches” who claim – for an entrance fee or buying a copy of their latest tome of psychobabble – to be able to improve your life. Go to the Self-Help section of the bookstore to find out just what I mean. Personally, I know someone who used to be a punker but is now a self-styled life coach, hiding within himself an Ayn Rand-style right wing narcissism. At this point, this is a good lead-in to this film’s story.

Katie Brayben
We meet Lou (Katie Brayben, made to look a bit frumpy here), who feels spiritually lost. She clings to self-help material to aid her in her day-to-day life, where she works in a shop in Brighton, UK, and lives with a very demanding, demeaning and self-centered mother (Sarah Ball). Very early on it starts to be clear why Lou is so self-deprecating.

At a talk by a mercenary writer/guru in the field, she meets a self-styled self-help coach, Val (Poppy Roe, who is also the director’s muse, who oozes self-confidence and wears bold, bright red lipstick. She is instantly everything Lou wants to be. When Lou gets invited by Val to go on a road trip to visit a self-help icon, Chuck (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), Lou find the courage to leave her home and mom, and jump into the car for the ride along. We are shown in little snatches that this road trip is going to be interesting and a bit bloody.

Poppy Roe
Essentially, this is a twisted dramedy buddy road trip film. Nearly all of this genre tends to be male oriented, so there is obviously going to be some Thelma and Louise (1991) notations in reviews along the way (such as this one just now), but there’s also some Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), along with others that would reveal too much.

It’s easy to see through Val as the story does not try to hide her compulsions, but we are also along for the ride, and that’s the fun. Poe’s almost stoic and assured reading of her is part of the enjoyment for the viewer. She is not smug, she’s just persistent. The slow growth of Lou as she comes out of her shell is also fun to watch, as she starts – well, for lack of a better term – to be woke, both to Val and herself.

The purpose for the road trip becomes clearer as we go along, positing that self-help gurus are no better than televangelists that prey on the weak who are looking for some kind of spiritual cohesiveness, whether it supposedly comes from within or an invisible man-in-the-sky higher power. Val admits she wants to be the best self-help person and is determined to get to the top of the field, with oblivious Lou as her sidekick.

This is a very dark comedy, that’s more “ohhhhh” than jokes, and again, all the better for it. The dead-pan timing of Roe and the spaced-out and abused character worn by Brayben make them suitable as both companions in the story, and working off each other as actors.

Part of what is amusing is that the film mixes showing some self-help tropes (e.g., “be yourself,” “an end is only a new beginning”) and what some may see as some sound advice, and also mixing it with a dose of cinematic reality (there is an oxymoron for ya) to expose just what BS it actually is in the real world. This could have come out as kind of preachy, but it doesn’t thanks to some good writing by Cousins Roe. In some ways he expresses everything I felt when I was dating that person all those years ago, though I never thought of picking up a weapon other than my words.

The film itself is put together in a way that hides the fact that this is the director’s first full length feature. There are subtle, almost subliminal clips thrown in of what’s to come (yes, I frame-by-framed some of it), and there are a few styles of editing thrown in. The blood isn’t overflowing as this is more character driven, and sometimes looks too chocolate-syrup brown, but again, for this release it’s the content of the story that pulls the viewer through, rather than merely acts of violence (though there’s a bit of that, too).

I am so wanting to discuss the truly interesting ending, but I won’t. The good thing about that is that the film makes me want to dissect it, meaning it is making me think. Not many films today do that, especially the mainstream ones that are there mainly for the cash grab (sequel number 18; remake number 6). Sure, there are some ideas here that can be applied to other films (damn, that ending), as I mentioned with Thelma and…the Other Person, but that doesn’t mean the viewer can’t be engaged. Yes, this film is entertaining. I laughed out loud a few times and smirked more than usual.


Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Favorites and Not Favorites for 2019


Favorites and Not Favorites for 2019
Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2019
Images from the Internet

As always, I will republish the rules I have about such lists as these first:

I have an issue with “Best of” and “Worst of” year-end lists for the following reasons: most are chosen from either those that play in theaters. For me, I like to watch the DIY ones, for these tend to have more heart. My list consists of films that I saw and reviewed in 2018, not necessarily ones that were released in that year.

As for Best and Worst, I never liked those terms; art is just way too subjective, which is why I called them Favorites and Not Favorites. That being said, even the “Not” ones have redeeming qualities, and the fact that they don’t touch me means nothing. I have hated films that have won tons of awards, and liked some that other find abhorrent, so don’t take anything I say, good or bad, as the definitive. It’s just opinion, and I welcome you to agree or disagree. It’s all good.

These two lists are alphabetical, rather than ranked (another thing I don’t believe in).

FAVORITES:

The Blood Hunter
Directed by Trevor Styles and Chas Llewellyn
Vampire films are a dime a dozen, and yet even with a low budget, sometimes you get to find one that is not only a decent story, but stretches the boundaries in new ways that add to the legend rather than taking away from it. For our tale here, we meet our pitiful (to start) hero Deckard, a survivor of being in the armed services in the Middle East. Since returning home, his wife left him, his teaching job is gone, his daughter died, and his son is in a wheelchair. It’s no surprise that he is deep into his own cups, i.e., he’s an alcoholic, and dealing with depression He’s even lost his faith (more on that later). But is when the story takes off into a blood and gore-soaked extravaganza. He manages to join a small group of vampire slayers called the Blood Hunters, who seem to shoot up a bunch of vampires but have trouble killing them, or at least this particularly robust, young-looking trio who are reminiscent of The Lost Boys (1987). The Blood Hunters pull the teeth of the vamps, and sell them to the highest bidder for their powers which are achieved if the teeth are ground up and ingested. There are some parts of the story that are predictable, but even within those tropes, the story takes some incredibly interesting turns that you just don’t see coming. There was a lot to enjoy; one reason was the take-no-prisoners approach in that you really never know who is going to die in many cases, both good and bad guys, old and young. Also the gore is way plentiful and most of it looked great, even with the blood being a bit too brownish (much of the film seems to be shot with a yellow- or brown-tined filter). There is an undercurrent of Christianity and faith that runs through the film both in literal and symbolic ways and even though it permeates the entire film in both subtle and explicit ways, it also never deflects or overruns the story. What I also want to point out is that the film is shot beautifully. The area around Billings, MT, is used with nice brushstrokes, especially those around farms. The pacing of the editing is well done, with the action scenes a bit quicker, but not to the music video speed where you can’t make out what the hell just happened. It’s actually used the way many Westerns are, with long, lingering scenes that let the viewer absorb not only the action, but the surroundings, which I always enjoy. Sunlight and shadows, dusk and dawn, all are played out in tones that are warm and lush, without being overly romantic. Just enjoyable handiwork. The directors certainly left the story in a way that it can continue, which leaves me encouraged.
Original full review and trailer HERE 

Clownado
Directed by Todd Sheets
Director Todd Sheets has smashed-up the mash-up by combining Sharknado with the recent clown mania that has culminated in the remake of IT. There are actually many film tropes used throughout Clownado that the aficionado of the genre are able to easily check off, but here is the thing: Sheets takes those and turns them on their heads by de-cliché-ing them and making them his own. Savanna is trying to rob and escape the evil clutches of her abusive husband, Big Ronnie, who owns a run-down traveling circus. Of course this idea goes bad and she knows he is going to kill her. What else to do? Get a gypsy woman to place a curse. Through this action, Ronnie and his clown henchmen become demonized, able to use tornados to travel after her and our quadrant of overaged teenage heroes, who are eventually joined by a couple of tornado hunters. Taking place all in one night, the story is one continuous chase and capture, filled with lots of blood and gore and a very nice body count when all is added up. Not only is the viscera not shied away from (i.e., off-camera), but it’s usually shown in close-up. One of the things I really like about Sheets’ films is that he is not limited by a particular body type. Not everyone is a model who is size 0, or plastic surgery’d to the point where chests are practically immobile from overpacking. Sheets’ cast is filled with people who look like those you might actually meet on line at the bank, eating at the table next to yours, or fighting a gaggle of giggling killer clowns from cyclone space. This is actually a beautifully shot film overall, and Sheets gets some great angles and frame-work, and the story never drags. These nasty clowns are entertaining as hell, and the fodder characters are fun as well and keep the viewer interested.
Original full review and trailer HERE 

The Dark Days of Demetrius
Directed by Dakota Ray
This is the sixth film by Dakota Ray. His specialty is life at the lowest strata of crime in the street. He focuses in on his fictional city of Sunnydale, which is actually a stand-in for his home turf of Denver. This Demetrius (Dakota Ray) is also known as the Live Stream Killer (aka LSK), as we learn from the narration in the first 10 seconds of the film past the prologue and credits. He kills random people and live streams it to millions of his fans who revel in the death and destruction in his wake. Anyone who is familiar with Ray’s work knows it is immediately identifiable as his, as Ray has his own style of filmmaking, which is unique, something you don’t often see these days. While he manages to keep his “auteur” title, this film is actually way different (and similar) as his others. First of all, his editing is tighter, and more importantly, his storytelling has grown. Here, Ray takes a single story that runs throughout its length, though it is still broken up into chapters. His iconic look of using colored filters remains, but mostly he uses a dark blue one here (and occasionally red), almost giving the film an India Ink manga feel, full of close-ups mixed into the action, and a voice-over to let you know what Demetrius is thinking. You rarely hear him speak, but you hear his thoughts in Ray’s unique, deep rumble of a voice. The characters we meet tend to be creepy at best, and scary human monsters at their nastiest. Ray bring out the worst traits of people, and that’s kind of what makes his stories so interesting. Demetrius, like many serial killers, is a self-professed sado-masochistic narcissist. He revels in the power of self, through the killings and his website, often looking at his own reflection through a mirror or his cell phone camera lens. These kinds of murderers are “hungry” for attention, and Demetrius is no different, as his crimes become more violent, and his need for notice grows. He starts to contact the victim’s families to taunt them, and even gets the press involved. A news reporter, Clive becomes involved and begins to lose what’s left of his objectivity. Clive is not beyond trying to save what’s left of his reputation by leading with blood and guts. This used to be called yellow journalism, but now it’s just common news commentary. But Clive’s a bit of a nutcase narcissist himself, and is actually closer aligned to Demetrius’s mindset. As one dips into the reality of situations, there are a couple of questionable actions such as someone peeing on a body. No one would do this, because it would easily give the police a DNA sample. In theory it makes a point of motivation of a character, but the detective story watcher/reader in me saw this as a red flag.  There are some funny moments here, such as Clive writing about the intersection of “6th and Vagina,” which amuses me for two reasons: the first is obvious, and the second is that it doesn’t say what 6th (Avenue? Street?). A couple of more things is that the SFX are practical (as opposed to digital) and pretty good, and most of the music is by death metal band Emperor ov Larvae [sic]. You just know there is a comeuppance coming for some characters, but which ones is not assured until the end, which is a strong point for the film. This is definitely among my faves of his films to date.
Original full review and trailer HERE 

Demon Squad (aka Night Hunters; Full Moon Inc.)
Directed by Thomas Smith
In a new world of who can top whom with gross violence and vivisections, sometimes someone has to step up and say, “Hey, here’s some good entertainment that’s based on the story, rather than being gory.” We are introduced to Nick Moon, a hard-hitting PI (Paranormal Investigator) modeled in the Sam Spade mode of the Noir detective stories. He’s got a smirk a mile long, an odd hat, and can throw an incantation or two for the viewers entertainment and his prey’s detriment. His assistant/Girl Friday is empath Daisy O’Reilly, who gets to see as much action as does Nick – and rightfully so, as she’s an interesting character in her own right. Into their squalid office comes vivacious femme fatale Lilah Fontaine, a rich man’s daughter who hires Moon to find her missing dad. Of course, if you read mystery novels, you know there’s more than meets the eye-candy with Lilah. The world our three main characters inhabit is a normalized mixture of human and demon, though most of the time it’s easy to tell who is which (which is who?) by the make-up. While searching for Lilah’s dad, Moon and company get involved in the search for a mystical power source for a knife of unimaginable power in the right/wrong hands. Of course, every demon and religious order is trying to get a hold of it for whatever means, be it to use it to evil ends or to nullify that from happening. Naturally, all plots merge into a single point in the story. The visuals as quite nice, without there being jump cuts. Brown tones seem to prevail, and a bit of steam punk paraphernalia is certainly present in Moon’s arsenal. Fulmer and Liley have been shown to have a nice platonic chemistry together in earlier Smith films, and continue to do so here. What’s also enjoyable is the level of a-wink-and-a-nod humor that runs throughout the story. For me a large part of what makes this film so much fun is that it’s story based rather than the plot revolving around wounds. While viscera are all well and good, it’s nice to follow a plot that is interesting in its own self.
Original full review and trailer HERE 


Ouija Room (aka Haunting Inside)
Directed by Henrique Couto
The indie filming scene around Dayton, Ohio, is not to be ignored. There is a core of directors and actors that overlap into a powerful and quite interesting clique of artists, such as Henrique Couto and Erin R. Ryan, among others. For this release, director Couto has assembled some of his regulars and also new talent to release a demonic tale involving a Ouija board and the requisite evil spirits. The center of the film is troubled Sylvia (lovely Joni Durian), who has several mental ailings, such as ADHD, agoraphobia, OCD and seems to be somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Durian does a strong job playing a wide range of emotions right from the first scene, which is off-putting until the viewer realizes pretty quickly that she’s not just quirky, but rather disturbed. Her guardianship is in the hands of her brother Sammy, who obviously cares for her, but is on the brink. He buys board games that she likes to play solo. He also does his best to stop her from self-destructive behavior and tries to help her focus on a task. He’s getting to the point of burning out and drinking too much.  Among the stack of games Sammy misguidedly brings home is said Ouija board and malevolent forces are not far behind; especially when the dissonant note music starts on the soundtrack when the board is introduced. Sylvia is obsessed with a desire to make friends (she feels like those she watches on television are “friends”). And it is this that Sylvia’s trio of spirits of the Ouija board manipulate for their own purposes. It’s understandable that Sylvia is attracted to these spirits: they appear caring, tell her truthful dark secrets about others in a blunt manner, and keep reminding her that they are all in the middle of playing “a game.” The purpose of said game is the question the audience will be asking, though it comes across as obvious very soon (hey, it’s a relatively short – but perfect length – film). Dorian’s acting style can be quite jarring here, as she shows the audience Sylvia’s brain trying to process the information of what is happening around her. It took a couple of minutes to get into the vibe of it until her situation is understood, so it works well. Her moments of lucidity under the guidance of the spirits becomes the oddity, which works really well. Most of the rest of the cast is pretty good in their performances; the spirits can be a bit over the top in the acting department here and there, but in the long run it all works together. These spirits, wisely, are very different from not only the principal characters, but among themselves. Also, they are different from most other demons (I’m assuming) you would expect from this sub-genre. They are a little girl obviously played by an adult, a wise-acre wiseguy gambler who also helps Sylvia with recipes in the kitchen, and a punk rocker who wears her hair in a distracting Misfits’ front rattail style. As I said, Couto does not usually dwell in the house of cliché. There are some beautifully shot sequences that are effectively unnerving, such as Sammy’s recurring dreams about Sylvia’s future. This is story- and character-based, and I say it’s all the better for it.
Original full review and trailer HERE 

Purgatory Road
Directed by Mark Savage
These days there are a lot of strange readings of the Bible’s contents, including an “every word is truth” fanatical factiono. Well the main character of this tale makes them look like wusses when it comes to raining God’s punishment on mere mortals. The main focus for this story is Father Vincent. who believes in the literal word and work of punishment as described in the Old Testament. Calling himself a Roman Catholic priest, in fact he has been defrocked by the Church for his fanatical beliefs, fostered by a tragic series of events from his youth.
In other words, Vinnie is a psychotic serial killer feeling justified in his ways, like Dexter, as he delivers what he believes to be God’s punishment on the wicked: salvation through death, via gun, knife, whatever. Helping him reluctantly on his path is his younger brother Michael. He is relentlessly picked on by Vincent as not being as supportive as he would like, even as he aids in chopping up the multitude of bodies. The two travel around a region of Mississippi in a beat up old camper, which has been turned into a traveling “confessional”; and if the Padre does not believe you are repentant, it becomes a bit of an abattoir. Of course, Vincent does not recognize his own foibles, including that of lust. Meanwhile, a sweet and squeaky voiced young thang named Mary Francis is on a murder streak as she is also a psychotic serial killer in her own right. She picks up on the brothers’ vibe and manages to widdle her way into their lives and livelihood by joining the band of blood. She has no hesitation in ending life. She and Vincent couldn’t be more similar, not counting the religious differences. And you know at some point this trio is going to explode into violence among itself through viciousness and double dealings. In that way, it does not disappoint. The moral compass of nearly all the characters is askew, as they make their way through the mire of sin, truth and forgiveness, and lack thereof. With wicked good lighting and angles, this is solidly atmospheric and full of gothic horrors. There is no shying away from the violent nature of the characters, nor their actions. There are some both physical and emotionally squeamish moments throughout, all handled beautifully. The film is sheer brutality from beginning to end, but the story keeps up with it. Never having been a fan of violence for violence sake, I like the story to bring the intensity, rather than the other way around. This one never lets up. This is a top notch film that is full of thrills and terror that is palpable by the characters. The acting is solid, as is the writing and cinematography. It’s a perfect storm in a positive direction.
Original full review and trailer HERE 

A Record of Sweet Murder (aka Aru yasashiki satsujinsha no kiroku)
Directed by Kôji Shiraish
How far would you go for your career? Would you risk life and limb? Is your ego that strong? These are some of the questions that are subtly asked in this film from South Korea (with subtitles). There is a possible supernatural element in this film: an escapee from an asylum, Park, is on a killing spree because he is desperate to raise someone from the dead. He claims the voices in his head from God tells him he needs 27 victims, and so far, he’s up to 25; at that point, even those he killed will be resurrected, though he is not sure how. So, a news reporter, Kim, and her camera dude, Tashiro (the film’s director) accept his invitation for an interview and to make – err – a record of sweet murder. They’re hoping for the best as Soyeon and Sanjoon share a childhood friendship. When the three meet, no doubt it’s fraught and tense with Sanjoon holding assorted weapons. He is waiting on a Japanese couple to show up, and once he’s done away with them, it’s showtime. But – and it’s a big one – things are not as simple as they appear. This couple have their own excitable violent issues, which continues to keep the viewer guessing what will happen next. The tension constantly builds and by the half-way point the ferocity never lets up. Most of the action takes place in a single room of an abandoned apartment building, which gives you the feeling you and they can not escape without some damage being done. It’s brutal with so many twists and turns, so there is little burnout for those of us who enjoy this kind of thing. All the action we see is through the single lens of the camera held by Tashiro. Normally, found footage films bore me, but this takes a different angle in that the entire film is one continuous shot. Needless to say, everything is in real time. Because it’s all in one shot, I wonder about the pragmatics of the film, such as rehearsal and script. Was it mostly adlibbed or strictly written?  While it’s clear Park is quite nuts and will do whatever it takes to achieve his deadly goal, he is also pitiable because it’s not a method he’s comfortable with and it pains him to take lives. At one point he wails, “I can’t do it by myself anymore.” As for the violence itself, it’s the very real process of stabbing, clubbing, choking, etc., and the camera doesn’t lovingly swarm around it, but rather keeps it shocking and uncomfortable.
Original full review and trailer HERE 

Scarecrow County
Directed by John Oak Dalton
Dalton started off strong with directing his first feature, The Girl in the Crawlspace (2018). This release was mostly shot in and around Farmland, Indiana, though filming was done as far as Dayton, Ohio. What I particularly like about the script is that the characters are more fully developed than most indie films, the dialog doesn’t talk down to the audience, and the plot is both simple and nuanced at the same time. Small town librarian Winnie gets ahold of a diary of a gay teen who had died, which leads to a series of events related to that occurrence. Meanwhile, there is the mysterious titular scarecrow that is going around killing people. While you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know these events are related, it’s how it all works out that is the focus of the film. Scarecrows are certainly not new to the horror audience, but Dalton has taken a common trope and played with it enough to make it interesting with the story’s own psychological drama. The film is populated by a large and complex cast, including Winnie’s schizophrenic and agoraphobic cartoonist sister Zoe, whose drawings literally speak to her, Zoe’s promoter with the multicolored hair (Manic Panic?) Marlys, the pent-up angry Prentiss  who has recently returned to town after a two-year service in Afghanistan, and lots of the character’s dads and friends (few moms involved that are living, apparently, despite the female-heavy cast). A way he wisely saves some money on the production is holding off on prosthetics and digital SFX. In other words, as this film is strongly story-oriented, all of the killings are done off-screen. I commend this, even as I like some blood in my meat, but again, if the story holds up as this one does, it becomes almost unnecessary (even if noticeable). The scarecrow looks kind of cool. It’s mostly in the background, and often when a kill is about to happen, it and the area around it are filled with blue smoke and lights. It telegraphs what is going to happen, but honestly, it’s pretty obvious, even with a few good jump scares. Much of the cast of The Girl in the Crawlspace has returned for this new release. The acting is mostly decent, especially among the female leads and the occasional male ones. What compels this film especially to be worth watching – beyond the editing, which is quite good – is the writing. Sure, there are some really cool nuggets, such as the mention of the band the Dead Milkmen, and even some dark humor thrown in here and there. For a second feature, it’s pretty obvious that Dayton can have a solid future in both writing and directing. Let’s support that.
Original full review and trailer HERE 

SheBorg (aka SheBorg Massacre)
Directed by Daniel Armstrong
What cult films often have in common is that they are all silly, but they have a charm, engaging characters, and quotable dialogue. I was surprised to find that this film has all those same qualities. In the prologue we are introduced to the titular cyborg as she escapes from an alien prison ship. Back on earth in a small city in Australia, punk rockers Dylan and bestie Eddie are also in a pickle with authority. Joining up with a wanna be rocker, Rik  and scientist/genius/nerd Velma, our intrepid heroes head out to the local puppy farm for various reasons, and come in contact with the SheBorg and those she has “turned” into her cyborgish followers. Needless to say, mayhem is the order of the day. This film has it all: extreme blood, extreme fisticuffs, and some dialog that will make you howl, such as the one for which this film has been getting noticed, “This isn't a map! It's a blueprint for a Romulan space vagina!” If you have any trouble understanding the accent, the film comes with captions which I found very helpful at times. Even though they are bitter enemies, there is a personality similarity between the SheBorg and Dylan in that they are both into interrupting culture, though on different levels. The ‘Borg is all about Chaos and its destructiveness, while Dylan is into rich girl pseudo-punk Anarchy. Mainly, though, it’s just goofy sci-fi and horror fun. As I said, I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed this film. It was funny, bloody and so over the top that it was entertaining from one end to another. There’s a lot of fighting, and gore. People are covered with blood though nearly the whole thing. The main point is that this is a silly and enormously enjoyable exercise in lunacy and extremity. Aussies are known for that with the likes of Road Warrior and the early films of Peter Jackson. This has been one of my favorite films so far this year, as nonsensical as it was. I can’t really explain it other than to note that after some serious exercisers in horror, it’s nice to see some humorous fun that works, even when it doesn’t always make sense.
Original full review and trailer HERE 

The VelociPastor
Directed by Brendan Steere
A priest who turns into a velociraptor? I’m all in, dude!
It’s important to note that this is not just a version of a werewolf film, it’s actually more. In no particular order, it’s an homage to the amazing bad horror films of the mid-VHS period of the late ‘70s-early ‘80s, before there was CGI (most of the effects are practical, but there is one key digital moment during a flashback sequence in the middle); also it’s as played-straight comedy filled with deliberate errors to emulate the micro-budget VHS features; it’s brilliant in its own goofy way; and there are so many genres thrown in and mixed in a bowl here it’s bound to get your attention, a multitude of styles of movie mayhem from that period you liked. After a tragedy, Father Doug travels to Asia where he comes in possession of an artifact that lets him turn into the titular creature: a very rubberized man-in-a-suit that looks more like a mini-T-Rex. Meanwhile he comes to the acquaintance of forbidden love object and hooker Carol, while gangsters and a Chinese warlord priest with Japanese Ninja guards who speak Korean come sniffin’ around with various agendas. E Who will win the battle for Doug’s soul, as it were? This isn’t the first one of use deliberate measures to show low budget and incompetence, but it’s still a hoot. Here, there are action shots missing with a notice for the CGI to be added later, and when a head is ripped off, it’s pretty intentionally obvious that it’s a store mannequin’s topper. The fight scenes are straight out of the Dolemite school of martial arts. There are other fine moments that had me laughing out loud. The acting, again, is a mix of purposefully hammy and dead serious, and the two leads especially not only excel in this, but really seem to be having a blast playing these roles. Meanwhile there’s lots of blood and cheesy-type gore, enough to make a splatterfest fiend smile, but not necessarily turn off a neophyte fan of the red stuff. One of the strong points of the film is the look and editing. There is a lot of split-screen action that is incredibly well done for a group that is this novice, i.e., haven’t made that many features yet. Beautiful to look at and kept the pace moving along.
Original full review and trailer HERE 

Wretch
Directed by Brian Cunningham
Right from the start, this film hits a number of interesting buttons on many fronts, including psychological, paranormal, a creature feature, and a few hikes in the snowy woods around Louisville, KY. At a party, we are introduced to the three leads, who have been friends for years. The couple is Abby and Caleb, and the third wheel is Riker, who also obviously has a thing for Abby. They are Millennials who like to drink and drug, and are spiritually holding out for something better, be it between each other or through mind-altering substances. One thing they don’t seem to feel assured of is their sense of self-being. This plays a sharp dynamic in the story. With a slow burn and languid pace, we get to know these three and their conflicts between themselves and each other as they cling to the same old ruts and conflicts they seem to be drowning in, rather than to explore new avenues of change. This is where most of the tension of the film arises, but of course, there is so much more. Each of the three is flawed in their own way. Riker is a “morose drunk” who has anger issues dealing with his unrequited passion for Abby as well as living with his mom and sister. For Caleb, I don’t want to go into too many details, but being faithful is not one of his strong suits. As for Abby, she’s lost and confused, and afraid to make big changes even though it’s obvious the reasons she should. The three spend a night in the woods imbibing on a hallucinogenic substance, and Abby claims to see something in the woods, which may have followed her home. Is it real? Is it in her mind? Is it the drugs? That is the direction the film takes. There is a lot of angst in the film, as it digs into the psychology of these three, while still hinting at something more, and it’s actually quite well done. Don’t get me wrong, there is sex, blood and violence, but it’s kept somewhat in check by the story (and rightfully so). The acting by the three leads is well done. This is especially interesting as the film is filled with local Louisville underground theater actors who are relatively unknown outside of their home turf… so far. As for the creature feature aspect, real or not (and I’m not giving any spoilers), it looks pretty cool. We rarely get to see much of it, again for the better. Another stylistic tactic that works for well for the film is that the narrative is not straightforward, but jumps around in its timeline; under Cunningham’s choices and sharp editing, however, the viewer is never lost on where the characters are at any time, even though it seems some wear the same clothes most of it time (gotta love low budgets!). One might consider this a found footage film, but it is quite modified in its approach; yes, there is a lot of handheld cameras by the cast filming the action, which is key to one of the sub-stories, but the single camera is also focused on the trio when they are by themselves, as if someone is filming who is not acknowledged within the story and essentially making the viewer the camera-holder. This style is way more interesting than just the usual found footage fare.
Original full review and trailer HERE 

ZOO
Directed by Antonio Tublin
This zombie apocalypse dramady takes place in London, though it’s origination is from Scandinavia. The world is infected with a virus which turns people into wild flesh eaters (“fast zombies”), but the debate can be later discussed on whether these are technical zombies because we’re not really sure if they are still alive.  We are introduced to very attractive couple John (Ed Speleers, best known for Eragon in 2006 and “Downtown Abby”) and Karen (Zoë Tapper, who has appeared in several British programs such as “Mr. Selfridge” and “Demons,” where she played Mina Harker). When the infection shebang hits the fan, they are in a strained relationship due to not being able to reproduce their beauty to children, so they are stuck in their high-rise apartment waiting for rescue while the world explodes around them. They hunker down with food they’ve stolen from other apartments, and apparently a vast amount of wine and various hard drugs. These tight quarters, of course, force them to refocus their relationship and rebuild their bodies to fight whatever may come through the door, and relearn about each other. The dialogue is witty and there is a strong, dark sense of humor about it all. But while the world turns dark, strangeness also is rising in John and Karen’s haven when a couple from the building that they don’t know (but whose apartment they pillaged) show up at their door asking for help. Reluctantly, they let that other variance of evil in. This second couple see what our heroes have, and plan to do whatever it takes to make it their own, in their version of murder and pillage…but who’s the stronger and willing to risk the most? But this is only one set piece that includes roving gangs, intimate dialogue, and yes, those pesky zombies that are only present in the storyline on occasion, though they are the spine to the entire story. This is personal and claustrophobic as nearly all scenes are shot in their apartment, and as other characters may come and go, John and Karen and their travails and swirling relationship are the focus of the story. There is definitely some violence and blood, but no more than you would see in a gritty crime drama, but because it is so sparse, it also makes it even more effective in a little-is-more way. Sometimes the violence comes as absolutely shocking, other times you’re cheering it on, as this couple delve ever further into a symbiotic unit that focuses on what must be done, while the mayhem also robs them of their social humanity piece by piece. That’s what makes this a smart film, in that the presence of zombies are always felt, but rarely seen, and the story focuses on the cultural breakdown while waiting for that rescue. This is a strong film that wisely refuses to take any one direction of thriller or romance, but manages to have extended periods of both, and they make it work. Of course, the quality of the actors and a strong direction by Tublin also help. If you want a bloodfest, this is not the zombie film you are looking for; if you want a deeper story with some human emotion, well, it’s worth checking out.
Original full review and trailer HERE 


NOT FAVORITES:

Death House
Directed by B Harrison Smith
Usually, I’ll talk about the cameos towards the end of a review, but to mix it up a bit, here are just some of the people involved: Adrienne Barbeau, Michael Berryman, Barbara Crampton, Sid Haig), Kane Hodder, Lloyd Kaufman, Tony Todd, Dee Wallace Stone, Danny Trejo, and supreme-o Scream Queens Debbie Rochon, Brinke Stevens¸ and Tiffany Shepis. Agents Trina Boon and Joe Novak are given a tour into a secret prison where only the most heinous and insane murderers are stored by the government. Employing a Dante reference, it goes down nine levels until it reaches the worst of the worst, and possibly supernatural beings associated with Hell itself. After an incident, all the prisoners are let out to roam. The skels and the agents are working their way down to the lowest level for their own reasons. The results are gruesome at best, walking down long dark tunnels with flashlights at worst. There is a fine mixture of social and religious commentary, and a philosophical bent, rather than merely relying on blood and gore – of which there is plenty. This both works for and against the story, as it tries to be too many things at the same time. The film jumbles around and focuses more on dark hallways and flashlights, basically skipping most floors. One could argue that it might be seen as derivative to do the floor-by-floor bit. As I suspected, most of the cast appears in cameo form, but some are extended, and others are main characters. Honestly, it’s fun picking them out of the crowd, but it also is kind of a waste of talent. Having people like Brinke and Tiffany just standing in the background of a group shot made me sad. There were times I had no idea what was going on, between the dark and the philosophical, and was looking forward to the Smith commentary track, which actually was quite useful in clearing up things a bit, even though I didn’t really need him repeating so much dialog that was onscreen. Am I sorry to have watched this? No, I don’t think that would be an accurate statement. There are things to like about the film, but honestly, considering the firepower of its cast and crew, there are definitely moments that dragged that could have been excised, and replaced with acting rather than standing in the background for some of those onscreen.
Original full review and trailer HERE 

Devil’s Revenge: Special Edition Blu-ray and Soundtrack CD
Directed by Jared Cohn
We meet John (Jason Brooks) as he and a couple of buddies go digging around looking for an ancient Aztec relic. In Kentucky, I’m just sayin’. He is happy to risk his and the others’ lives looking for this thing thanks to brow beating from his dad (Will Shatner), despite the negative affect it has on his wife (Jeri Ryan). The story behind the relic search is a bit convoluted, having something to do with an ancient curse on John’s family back from the days when his family were Spanish conquistadors (what?). It seems John’s little expedition may have deadly effects on some of his crew, but even worse than that it has “woken” something evil. John wisely (sarcasm) takes his family back to the cave, to get the relic and destroy the curse on his family that seems to have never manifested before he went spelunking in the first place. Along with his suddenly supportive wife after years of demanding he give up the search, John takes her along with his teenage kids. The special effects vary widely in their effectiveness. The creatures look cool; however, the explosions and blood look digital and not very well done; when things get blowed up real good, it looks like Battlestar Galactica- era FX. I didn’t mind that too much, but it was a bit distracting from the story. There are definitely some issues I have with the film, one being that it seriously needs some deeper editing. There are just too many shots of people walking through the woods. Also. there are certain scenes that are repeated numerous times, especially flashbacks to the Aztec days. But to me, the weakest point is the writing. For example, there is Shatner showing up near the cave in a golf cart, of all things. Another is the questionable use of a large number of explosive devices inside the cave, without any damage to the cave itself. Besides, would these devices have any effect on Aztec demons who have returned from the grave for so-called revenge? And what’s with the use of the word “Devil” in the title when none of these creatures are actually Satan-related. With Shatner’s character, it seems like the script can’t make up if he’s a good or bad person. He certainly browbeats his son to the point of taking enormous risks, and yet at other times he’s made to look like a loving father.
Original full review and trailer HERE

Kiss Kiss
Directed by Dallas King
Oh, Jeez. I have oft touted that when a film takes a group of different tropes or clichés and mixes them all together, something new and interesting can be sired. But other times, if it doesn’t go deep enough, it becomes plebeian and ho-hum. It also depends on what the tropes are and of what interests they include whether it is on the side of interesting or blasé. In this film you have a military conspiracy to create a better soldier through chemistry. This is hardly anything new. Another here is women-on-women violence and love/sex, from lesbianism to Mixed Martial Arts. In bikinis of course.  In the beginning 20 minutes, we meet four friends who are exotic dancers… excuse me, “ladies” (as one character insists), since we see sensual movements, but no nudity. They get an invite to a wine tasting, which turns into wine drinking, that turns into a cocaine frenzy, and to no one’s surprise, a drug-fueled kidnapping by the military. Y’see, the US military is trying to make stronger and controllable soldiers, so of course they use barely dressed women dancers as their sample group. Say what? Under the control of this drug, they fight other women and, to no surprise, each other, to the death. Here is a reason why I found this annoying: there is no antagonist for nearly any of the actual fights. The women are just punching up each other. If there were an enemy, such as Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, whatever, it would be easy to take sides and the fighting might be fun and give you someone to boo or cheer for; here, it’s just our four friends and a few random women with no backstory – this fantasy was obviously written by men. The writing is quite basic with no great lines or witty plot points; even the double-crosses can be seen coming due to lazy scripting. The filmmaking tries to be arty but looks more like a softcore porn shoot  thanks to the lighting and the editing, and the acting basically consists of anger – even before the drugs are administered – and growling. Also, all the fighting and the sex scenes are filmed the same way, with colorful lights and slo-mo. All the women have silly names, like Kiss, Treasure, Kurious, Fortune, Dream and Promise aka Tia (Aunt?). The bad guy/head of the army program is called Gibson, but at least he is given real dialogue, relatively speaking, other than, “No! Please!” and “Grrrrrrrr” (note that a lion’s growl is added over the sound of the participant’s scream). I came away from the film feeling annoyed more than being filled with ennui (it’s certainly not boring) but maybe I’m too old for its market subject. And I happen to like both a good story and to think – even with a cheesy film – while the action is going on.
Original full review and trailer HERE