Friday, January 15, 2021

Review: Witch Hunters

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2021
Images from the Internet

Witch Hunters (aka Witch Hunt)
Directed by Richard Chandler
Boston Film Family; Gravitas Ventures
74 minutes, 2016 / 2020
www.bostonfilmfamily.com/

This film started its brief and succinct life a few years ago under the title Witch Hunt, at 53 minutes in length. A few additional shots over the years and now it is the full length Witch Hunters. And that concludes the history lesson part of this review.

 There are multiple substories going on here that will, of course, merge at some point. First, there’s the brother and sister witch hunters (shades of 2013’s Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters) from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who wear Hells Angels-type leather jackets that denote their profession: Dominic Damarus (director Richard “Rick” Chandler, who played Hansel in James Balsamo’s The Litch in 2018) and mute Morrigan Ramsey (Carver Riot). They slaughter – usually via knives – witches.

Richard Chandler and Carver Riot

Second, there is the coven of said witches, led by a literally bloodthirsty piece of work (Lilith Astaroth, from the metal band Sorrowseed, who was in Nun of That and the recent Blood Pi), who is not given a name. This is more the traditional film coven, like you may see in Suspiria (1977), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), or The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973), rather than the cutsie ones of The Craft (1996), for example. They huddle over their victims and sacrifice them…yes, using knives.

The third follows a priest and failed exorcist, Father James Costello (Graham King). He’s having an existential crisis, questioning his faith and his once suppressed gay sexuality. He is one mixed up dude. Lastly, there is Sheriff Tormada (Tony Ramos Wright), possibly named after Torquemada, who devised the worst of the Spanish Inquisition (as Mel Brooks said in 1981’s History of the World, Part I, “You can’t talk him outta anything!”); after all, the original tag line for the film is “The Inquisition Returns.” He is a murderous hedonist, riding on his power trip and will take down whomever he likes, just for the momentary thrill of it.

Lilith Astrogoth and her Cult

Religion as supernatural has really become almost a sub-genre of late. I am not talking about the general possession type which has been a staple topic since The Exorcist (1973), but rather evil in religious forms, such as The Nun (2018), Beyond Hell (2020), or Red Letters (2020). Here we delve into the Satanic, more than, say, Satan proper. All of these tropes have been used multiple times in previous films, but combining them all successfully creates something new-ish. The question is whether or not it is successful, of course.

Every character suffers from affliction of at least a few of the seven deadly sins, especially those of the flesh. There is a lot of cleavage, nudity, and sex of various forms with numerous participants of either or both genders. For some reason, I find that the films out of New England, specifically between Boston (the environs where this was filmed) and Providence, RI, especially, have been recently focusing more on pan-sexual play, which I think is great. There is as much LGBTQ+ lust here as straight, as it should be. While that is refreshing, it’s definitely more sexual than sensual, as it’s more a meeting of bodies than hearts. There is also a lot of blood, with little gristle, which is also nice. Most of the SFX appears to be practical, rather than digital.

Graham King
What we are presented with is a series of set pieces, where storylines and characters sometimes overlaps like a Venn Diagram. While it loses some on story narration fluidity, what is positive about it is that not all the action is displaced into sections, such as nothing happening in the first act (usually about 20-30 minutes), little in the second act (about 40 minutes), and then crammed into the third act (the rest of the remaining time). Here, the sex, drugs and violence are nicely dispersed throughout. I can live with that.

In this story, the women are pure, be they good or evil; they know who they are and are consistent. The men, however, are contradictions, behaving in ways that betray (or believe it to be so) what they represent.

And when all the stories truly converge near the end, as they are wont to do in multi-line plots, the question of who will live to kill again and who will die to – err – not, is pretty well done, as the viewer is not totally sure who will come out on top. After all, in most straight, big budgeters, the flawed always fall, but in genre films, that is a gray area, thankfully.

For me, I can live with the questionably narrative storyline, seeing each set piece on its own as well as part of the zeitgeist, helped by the editing and cinematography. The “quality” of the image degrades a bit in the darker scenes, but that is common with some cameras (to paraphrase, “the fault…lies within the equipment, not in the director”).

That being said, the weakest point here is the acting, which is often wooden, or over-emoted. Some actors fare pretty well, but one in particular – and I won’t name names – was sincerely off the mark into overacting.

This may sound strange, but I feel like I was underserved on Father Costello’s story. The IMDB Storyline makes it sound like he was the central focus, but of the main characters – and there are at least five – his is one that feels like there could be a lot more. Perhaps a prequel, if not a sequel? I would watch that. Meanwhile, make sure you sit through the credits for this one.

 



Sunday, January 10, 2021

A Brief interview with Actor Anna Rizzo

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2021
Images from the Internet

A Brief Interview with Actor Anna Rizzo

www.annarizzo.net/

In the decade of her career so far, Anna Rizzo has managed to show a wide range of characters, from comedy (Fairfield Follies, 2018), to deep drama (Moments from a Sidewalk, 2016), to classics (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2017), to television and web-series work (“Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” 2019; “The Realm,” 2015, respectively), and definitely a few in the horror genre, including her most recent release, Blood Pi (2020). Being quite prolific, she also have some other films due out this year in post-production.

Part of the Rhode Island film collective, a much more active group than you might imagine, she has also spread her wings to other parts of the country for roles, and is a musician, too boot (not to be confused with another musician with the same name, though).

Personally, I’ve been a fan since Seven Dorms of Death (2015). I sent her a list of questions, and she was gracious enough to answer back. You can find other, role-specific interviews with her on YouTube. My questions are more random.


Indie Horror Films: I’m happy to be able to give you the second degree (a shade lighter than a third degree).
Anna Rizzo: Happy to be second degreed!

 


IHF: I guess the place to start is with a simple query: what brought you to acting?
Anna: I did plays ever since I was a little kid, but usually because the plays I had access to would involve a decent amount of singing, which was the real draw to me at the time. I was a very shy and introverted kid who was always reading in the corner rather than talking to people, but I liked to sing. The high school I went to had a respected and competitive theatre program. The first semester of my freshman year my parents convinced me to audition for the school's production of The Importance of Being Earnest (even though there was no singing), saying “you have to pay your dues and audition multiple times before they're going to cast you in a musical. You won't get in this time, but they will start to get to know you that way.” So I went in, figuring nothing would happen, and ended up cast as Gwendolyn. And I absolutely loved it. I fell completely in love with acting and never looked back.

 


IHF: Do you have a favorite role, so far?
Anna: It's so hard to pick because, honestly, I fall in love with every character I get to play while I'm preparing the role. Getting to know who they are, what makes them tick, then finding that within myself – how could you not love each one after all that? The closest I could come to picking would probably be Tara in On the Seventh Date (2016), because she came to me at a time when I was living through something remarkably similar – knowing exactly what my heart wanted but being too scared to own it. But she had the ability to take bold action and speak what she wanted. She might be the closest to a favorite because working on that story and getting to deeply know her taught me a lot. It helped me find those parts of her that I admired in me.

 


IHF: Being in the Rhode Island area, you’ve done a lot of films with director Richard Griffin. Any stories of the films or working with him?
Anna: So many! The reason I've worked with Richard Griffin so many times is because he is such an incredible creative, whose enthusiasm and love of filmmaking spreads to everyone who steps foot on his sets. Every single film he does, he invites you into this incredible world he is creating, and as an actor that is such a gift. I've seen him create everything from post-apocalyptic bomb shelters, to haunted abandoned catholic schools, to magical woods in colonial America to raucous romantic comedies, and everything in between. I think one story which beautifully encapsulates Richard Griffin magic in its element, was the first day of shooting Seven Dorms of Death. We were filming in a closed-down, beautiful old theater in the middle of January, shooting 8-10 pages with most of the cast that day. And there was no heat in the building. In January. But he and the crew bundled themselves up and got to work. They lit the whole thing, all while letting us actors stay bundled up and warm as long as possible, and they did amazing work. But it was still freezing. And all of us actors were shivering through our lines with our noses looking more and more like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer each take. And yet, even through those conditions, it was still so much fun. Everyone's spirits were high because Richard always finds amazing people to be a part of his team. But at the end of the day, Richard made the tough decision to scrap location, and therefore the day, because it was too much to battle against the cold for the rest of the shoot. For those not familiar with filmmaking, scrapping a day of shooting and changing locations is a big deal and I don't know too many other filmmakers that could have kept a production on schedule after that. But not only did he keep it on schedule, he found us a new theater to shoot in (pretty much overnight) that worked even better, and he shot a visually beautiful, hilarious movie that was an absolute joy to work on. Because that is what he does – he comes in with such a clear vision of the film he wants to make, that no upset knocks him out of the game. Things that would sink another production, he rises above and uses his creativity and vast experience to find an even better solution and makes the whole film better for it. You cannot stop him when he wants to make a film!

 


IHF: Your range is quite large, from comedy to deep drama and horror. Do you have a preference?
Anna: My preference is all of the above! I love working on things that make me laugh and making other people laugh. And then I also love working on things that make me feel deeply and move other people to feel something. I think we try to crack each other up in the most tense and difficult circumstances in order to survive them, and the funniest moments are often infused with life-or-death stakes at the time they happen.

 


IHF: In Blood Pi, you play a psycho so well. Did you have a model to base it on?
Anna: Thank you! And yes, actually. I had an up-close experience with a sociopath, and the characteristic that really haunted me afterwards was that reptilian stare. I did a lot of reading around the psychology of antisocial personality disorder to try to make sense of what I had witnessed. And then years later when Jordan (Pacheco, the director) first approached me with the Blood Pi script, I instantly knew exactly who Amber was. And I was so excited to see a female role like this. I didn't want Amber to be two-dimensional, so entering into her world was a lot of figuring out what drives her and what her own weird sense of justice/punishment was, because I think she feels deeply justified in her actions.

 


IHF: Congrats on your role on “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.” What was that experience like, and how did it compare to working on indie features?
Anna: Thank you! That was an amazing experience. The “Law and Order” set is massive in terms of how many people work in each department, and they are truly a well-oiled machine. They built that entire dance studio I shot my scene in that morning and then as soon as we were done shooting, in a matter of minutes, had dismantled the whole thing to begin building another set in that same space. That level of organized teamwork was incredible. The first day I was on set was actually their first day of their 21st season and everyone was returning from the break between seasons. It was so cool to see how bonded everyone was, sharing stories of what they had each done with their time off, asking about each other's families, etc. What I love about indie filmmaking is the camaraderie and bond you form when working together and it was so cool to see that even on this massive set with so many people; they still had that bond.

 


IHF: You seemed to flourish in the role of Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. How was the experience of playing such an infamous Shakespearean character?

Anna: It was so much fun! I would have been massively intimidated, but earlier that year, I played Desdemona in a production of Othello that fellow Richard Griffin actor, Aaron Andrade, directed and starred in. So having just performed another Shakespeare play right before Midsummer helped boost my confidence that I could even do it! Also, Richard did several rehearsals before we got on set, which was such a gift because we had time to play and experiment together. By the time we arrived on set, the words and the cadencing were deeply in my bones, so I could forget about them and just live in the moment as Titania. But the real cherry on top was that Richard and the crew built the whole fairy woods on the stage of the Barker Playhouse [in Providence, RI; it is America’s oldest continually run little theater – Ed.] and each actor had the most incredible hair, make-up, and wardrobe to totally transform us. And that process of physically transforming and then stepping into this magical world they had created was exhilarating.

 


IHF: I know you were a composer for the film Moments From a Sidewalk. Are you planning to further your fingers into the area of film music, or the use of your singing ability in films?

Anna: I would absolutely love to play more characters who sing and play music! It was so much fun to incorporate that side of my creativity into Sarah's character in Moments From a Sidewalk. I loved taking songs that I had written and were personal and meaningful to me, and then adapt them for Sarah.

 


IHF: While I enjoy watching you work on the screen, have you thought about working behind the camera, perhaps in directing, writing, or producing?
Anna: I am pretty sure I will experiment at some point, but honestly, the level of skill and talent that goes into directing, writing, and producing is intimidating and I deeply respect the people who do those jobs. They truly each do hold a production up.

 

IHF: Thank you so much for your time. It was a pleasure getting to ask you these questions, and I look forward to seeing your upcoming roles.
Anna: Thank you so much! It was a pleasure!

* * *

To contact Anna Rizzo for future endeavors on the screen or stage, here is her information:
arizzo@alumni.berklee.edu
www.annarizzo.net

New York Agent:
Take 3 Talent Agency

1411 Broadway, 16th Floor

New York, NY 10018
(646) 289-3915

New England Agent:
Andrew Wilson Agency
(617) 701-6400

 

 

 



Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Two Different Horror Shorts Based on the Same Idea

Text by Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2021
Images from YouTube

Both these fun, comedic films, which were made independent of each other, have the same premise: a strong, young woman is trying to sleep, calmly placating a demon or creature under her bed with humorous undertones. Both films are linked below.

In Bed Demon, which was released in 2013, is 4:32 minutes in length, and is directed by Henrique Couto, and stars Erin R. Ryan as the bed denizen and the director voicing the mysterious creature, Bedemon.

For Under the Bed, the best I can tell is when it was uploaded to YouTube in 2018, and it is 4:37 minutes. Although there are about two dozen films with the same name on IMDB, this one is not listed. It was directed by Ben Greco, and stars Natalie Trainor. There is no credit for the demon's voice, but I am just going to assume it's also the director.

Another thing both films have in come is toothbrushing. Now that's horrifying...





Friday, January 1, 2021

Favorites and Not Favorites for 2020

Favorites and Not Favorites for 2020

 Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2021
Images from the Internet


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


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 2020, not necessarily ones that were originally 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).

These are condensed reviews. The link to the full, original review is at the bottom of each listing.

Favorites:

Before the Night is Over
Directed by Richard Griffin
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. As for the basic set-up of the story, listen here chile: when we are introduced to petite Samantha Pearl, her parents have recently passed on, and she’s been taken in by her aunt, Blanche DeWolfe, who owns this here bordello that is filled with men, and also caters to men. Similarly in charge is the “prickly” Ms. Olivia. These are the only three women in the film. Also helping to run the bordello is the intense and towering Ambrose. 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 as we follow her around, we get to learn as she does just what is going on up in here. 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. This film is a fine combining of the supernatural, and the abundance of the male form in various shapes and sizes. There is a lot of nudity; penii abound, and yet the story warrants it. If you’re a Neanderthal who is indoctrinated in not being used to this, get 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. As with of most Griffin films; I just want them to keep going. That says a lot about this release, as well.
Full review and trailer HERE


Ever After (aka EndZeit)
Directed by Carolina Hellsgård
If you’re looking for a deeply serious Euro-centric post-Z-Apoc universe where everything is dire, well, have I got the film for you! When the film opens, the Z-Apoc happened two years previously, and in Germany, there are only two barricaded cities left. We meet our central character, (dyed) redhead Vivi (pop and soul singer Gro Swantje Kohlhof), who suffers from severe PTSD from an experience as the munching pandemic virus took a bite into humanity. We see it in snatches of flashbacks. She’s withdrawn and nearly child-like. She manages to meet up with Eva, who is also running away after an incident. Eva is the opposite of Vivi in that she’s hard as nails and not exactly cuddly. They both decide to try to make it to the other city by cutting through the Black Forest. For this adventure, the zombies are fast, growl like beasts as their only verbal communication, and of course are ruthlessly vicious with no sense of their previous personhood. Like sharks, they’re mindless machines lookin’ for a snack of gristle and gore. An odd thing about that is even though there are some cringe-worthy moments, this is definitely not Fulci-like. It is more story-driven, so there is a dependence on character development rather than focused on shots of viscera. There is also a philosophy that runs throughout, and that is to ponder what our place is in a world in which society as we know it is no longer strong enough to support us. Everyone seems to be searching for an answer to that, either directly or unconsciously. This is mostly Vivi’s story, and we basically see it through her eyes. It’s a world that is both harsh and beautiful as she mentions that one can see the stars again. I enjoyed it a lot, but it took some thinkin’ work to get through it all. In German with subtitles, and except for the flesh eaters, all the main characters and most of the secondary ones are female. Director Carolina Hellsgård presents a bleak world yet filled with beauty, as I said, and takes us on a physical and philosophical journey that needs to be taken one step at a time.
Full review and trailer HERE

 

Housewife Alien vs. Gay Zombie
Directed by Andreas Samuelson
Sometimes, ya need to make a focused, driven movie. 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. HAGZ, for short, is by far one of the silliest films I’ve seen recently. Newlywed couple Ken and his dick (pun not intended) of a platinum blond be-wigged partner Rob 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, 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, to resurrect her dead sister Ruth, bad teeth and all, using some Alien DNA, 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 and a Dirty Harry type copper with a heart of lead, Detective Sheridan. 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. 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. 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), and even a wink at The Evil Dead (1981). The cast is amazingly huge and most of the actors, especially the key ones, wear some kind of hair accessories, be it wigs, huge 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 fast and furious, 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.
Full review and trailer HERE

 

M.O.M. (Mothers of Monsters)
Directed by Tucia Lyman
We live in a world full of reflection through a camera, be it selfies or someone trying to make some kind of record of an incident (e.g., a public meltdown). Either way it is based on ego, such as believing the event is important, a way to point a finger of blame away from oneself to another, or a deep-seated fear that compels one want to make sure your story is told. This film falls into all three of these categories. The mother in question is Abby. Her teenage son, Jacob, has a history of acting out in violent ways that Abby refers to as “Monster Time,” such as randomly dropping bricks off high buildings without looking to see if anyone is below. With a way of charming psychoanalysts that most true psychopaths have, he has managed to skirt his way around the legal system. The found footage aspect is either Abby recording herself on a cell phone to tell her side of the story, videos made by others such as Jacob’s friends, or the hidden cameras Abby has placed throughout the house. We get to view them, not necessarily in chronological order, thereby giving us a bit of perspective on Jacob to show that it’s possibly not just a puberty/hormone thing. One of the brilliant aspects of this thriller is the question of absolutes. Jacob can be an outright shit, but so can Abby. The question is left hanging for quite a while whether Jacob is insanely violent, or is his mom over-vigilant – such as lack of respect of his privacy – due to aspects such as her substance abuses. Though in color, this is clearly a Noir piece with modern technology of cells, Skype and Spy Cams added in. As for the figurative, despite its gothic throwback mood, it’s placed in a modern situation, where teenagers are inundated with not just said technology, but the psychological damage of living in a post-Columbine era of increasingly frequent mass shootings, a fascination with Nazis, casual Anti-Semitism, and public spectacles of events like Charlottesville, all of which play into the story in some form or another. Every person here puts in a solid performance. There is also a very short cameo by Ed Asner, for some added star power. There are some scenes that are unexpected and downright shocking (again, figuratively and literally), with some squeamish bits, but mostly this is a psychological thriller. The game of “who is the crazy one” is played out in sharp detail, and there are lots of twists and turns to keep the viewer entertained from the first shot to the last.
Full review and trailer HERE

 

A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life
Directed by Staten Cousins Roe
“Life coaches” 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. We meet Lou, 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. 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, 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, 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. 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, and that’s the fun. Val’s almost stoic and assured personality 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. This is a very dark comedy, all the better for it. 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. 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). Yes, this film is entertaining. I laughed out loud a few times and smirked more than usual.
Full review and trailer HERE

 

The Supers (aka The Supers!)
Directed by Yolanda Torres
Recently, comic book superhero films have been mega-gigantic, CGI-driven extravaganzas, with a cast of thousands, a cost of multi-millions, and scenes of destruction left and right. It’s only been recently that some of the lesser characters have been getting some screen time, with the likes of the Suicide Squad, or Guardians of the Galaxy.  Well, let me take a step back here, because the indie films have been busy in that department for years, with varying success (story-wise, not financially). Actually, I find the minor releases more interesting than the mainstream superstars, because usually they are shown as more “human.” That is where The Supers comes in. We are introduced into a world where both DC and Marvel characters exist and mutant powers are somewhat culturally normalized, though we never meet them, of course, thanks to copyright laws. Among those who we do encounter are our three leads, who all live in the City of Justice: first, there is Paul, the Atomic Avenger, whose power is Telekinesis (he can move things or people with his mind, or pop them out and then in where he wants) but suffers from a severe fear of the dark; Tyler, the Restoress, has the power to heal but is OCD and has a fear of germs; and then there is Stan Kirby (great name that’s a mix of combo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, which is – err – Marvelous) who is Pulseman, and whose power is EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) and has debilitating claustrophobia. Heading it off is Dark Ness, who can use mental control but has narcolepsy, and whose costume looks a bit like Darth Vader’s (or perhaps Dark Helmet’s, from 1986’s Spaceballs), who has dreams of being a supervillain instead. Her lone henchman is a security guard named Frank, one of my two favorite characters in the film for some reason. The essential premise is that this threesome’s minor powers are overshadowed by their weaknesses, so their Superhero licenses are rescinded, and they are forced to take the most menial of jobs (e.g., telemarketer), which even with that they struggle for various reasons. But, of course, there is an assignment given to them by the superhero Powers That Be through Bob, to join together and retrieve a stolen object that is important to those Powers. Are they up for the task? We find out starting with the Second Act of the film. This is both a simple story and a complex one, because of the human element. The characters are all likeable, even Dark Ness and Frank. Everyone is trying to live their lives with all its foibles, and yet most still do some good in the world. This mix of simple comic book-level story with a tendency not to talk down to its audience or complex characters gives the viewer a pointed new look at a (especially recently) well-used theme of superheroes. There is a very sharp and dark sense of humor and self-awareness that flows through the veins of the story, without it being – dare I say it – too comic book-ish. Even with the comic book framework of “cells” that separate scenes, this is more story and heart than bang-bang (though there is some of that, as well).
Full review and trailer HERE

 

To Your Last Death (aka Malevolent)
Directed by Jason Axinn
Animation sure has changed since I was a kinder. With computer animation, it opened up a whole new world to what was possible. The animation here looks a bit like a cross between anime (e.g., Akira) and Britain’s 2000AD comic line (they do Judge Dredd). It is minimalist when it comes to movement, but that gives it more of a comic book look, which I really liked. Some of the backgrounds tend to be pretty amazingly detailed here. The storyline is basic, but with some unusual twists that elevate it quite a bit. An evil billionaire arms manufacturer, Cyrus (voice of the Ray Wise), who is a cross between Donald Trump and Lex Luthor, calls his four estranged adult children in for a meeting. There’s the hero of the story, Miriam, who has gone the charity route for peace in diametric philosophy from Cyrus and has had mental issues in the past, Ethan, an aspiring musician into sexual asphyxiation, Kelsey that has a sad life of a trophy wife to Cyrus’s biggest rival, and Colin, a mini-version of Cyrus’s business ethics, but is rejected by dear ol’ dad because he’s gay. Perhaps inspired by the short story or films, “The Most Dangerous Game,” hired mercenaries – one voiced by Bill Moseley – turns this shindig into a battle royale in a life or death struggle. The implements used sometimes are reminiscent of the later Saw franchise, where the victim is asked to complete a horrendous task. But there is a whole ‘nother layer added to the story. Some interplanetary gamblers are betting on who will live and who will die. Like the gods in Clash of the Titans (1981), they sit around a table and watch the goings on below. The busty being running the room is the Gamemaster. She can manipulate time and influence the players. It’s kind of like a video game gone gore. Yes, there is a lot of blood and gore in this one (and one bit of nudity), and even for animation, it looks pretty decent. And to give a “Star Trek” opening-like voice over in a nicely done though over emoted cameo is none other than William Shatner, himself. I quite liked this film, from the comic book-style animation to the quirkiness of the story, in which time is played with; director Axinn makes it feel fresh by not just repeating, but mixing up the storyline. Because of these time shifts, people are killed and/or they aren’t, or die multiple deaths. And all of them in different means of disposal. The unpredictability is part of what makes this even more intriguing. The whole gameplaying with these super-being gamblers was a nice touch. Of course, the Gamemaster pops in and out frequently throughout to work her malevolent magic, which enhances the story, because it is hard to really predict what’s going to happen next. Given the ending, this can be a franchise and the gamblers face new murderous stories to play the game. I am so okay with that.
Full review and trailer HERE

We Still Say Grace
Directed by Brad Helmink and John Rauschelbach
Nothing is scarier to me than a human who believes they are backed by God and therefore are among the righteous, and have the duty to obey what they consider what God has “spoken” to them. The great Bruce Davison plays Harold, the “spirited” super-Christian patriarch of his family. This quartet includes his wife, Betty, devoted older teenager Sarah, and the protagonist of the story, younger and unsure Maggie. They live in an isolated farm house that looks like it is always filled with either smoke (candles?) or dust. This is a close knit family… very knit. Essentially, they are a four-person cult. Like Jim Jones, Harold believes that his calling includes at some point poisoning his family, supposedly to prove their trust in their bloodthirsty god (must be Old Testament). While Betty is obedient but hesitant, Sarah is ready, and Maggie is questioning and scared. Things are about to take a turn for the even stranger with the arrival of three dudes of varied ethnicities whose car has blown a couple of tires down the road from our story locus. They approach the house without realizing the insanity inside, and the unclear and present danger to their bodies and souls. Our little miss Maggie sees the trio – Fisher, Randy, and the Biblically named yet profane Luke  – as a possible means of escaping an early dirt bed.  Now, as for the guys who are on their road-trip-across-the-country summer before college, well, for a couple of them, I need to ask, who raised these kids? When someone invites you into their house, even if you don’t believe what they believe, you show some respect. Harold comes across as quite a benign, God-lovin’ man, who won’t tolerate drink (other than Sabbath wine) such as beer, and bristles at cursing, which he considers non-Christian. And you don’t wanna be non-Christian around this guy. Davison plays him to the hilt, with, at first, some befuddlement and seemingly kindness and then a deep anger towards these strangers who invade his sacred space (the farm) that has repercussions with what he views as his minion (i.e., his family), coz the Bible and God told him so. While the tension slowly builds although always present like a steady beat, around the halfway point, the fanaticism ramps up and hits the fan. The entire cast is stellar, and Arianne Zucker as Betty definitely deserves a notice. She plays her role to nuanced perfection. It is also worth noting that even with the action being sporadic, the tension is, as I said, always present. It is beautifully written with lots of surprises and a few legitimate jump scares. There is little blood other than a couple of scenes, but a few of the deaths are sometimes traumatic and somewhat unpredictable (with a few exceptions). Also noteworthy is the imagery, such as the stilted and musty air and the sepia filter tones used indoors, and sometimes it’s just glorious. This is an incredibly well-done film.

Full review and trailer HERE 

Not Favorites:

Mermaid Isle
Directed by Jason Mills
Evil mermaids seem to be a bit trendy relatively recently, but the kind, female tail flopper from the 1980s are long gone as washed-out tropes. These mermaids, as in The Odyssey, are up to no good. The set-up is simple though painful: four friends head off to a deserted island for fun and recreation. Annoyingly needy and insecure Toby is in love with cute Amy and wants to use this getaway to ask her to marry him, but she’s not “there” yet as they started dating recently. Along for the ride is Toby’s bland pal Roy, and Amy’s goth friend Shelly. If I may digress here for a second, why are goth characters in these kinds of films sooooo annoyingly bleak, sarcastic and downers? So stereotypical. I can’t even imagine Amy or any of them putting up with Shelly’s shitty ‘tude. When Shelly is bitten by something (in clear, exceedingly shallow water, I might add), that’s when the trouble begins. Bad horror film decisions are made left and right. They know to stay out of the water, so what do they do? Walk through the water. When their friend is hurt, do they head for the boat? Of course not. No sign of a cell phone from these 20-somethings? Hmmmm. If this is supposed to take place pre-phone era, then I missed that cue.  Transformation from human to mermaid is rare in story, though here we only get to see the before and after. And to keep the title accurate, it seems only women get bit and change, with males just getting off’d. So, I guess there are no interest in Mermen? The biggest problem for me, beyond the weak acting is that the story is only about 30 minutes long, with the rest being atmospheric shots of the beautiful landscape. The film could use some serious rewriting and video editing, such as the long, silent walk through the woods at the beginning. Much could have been excised and this could have been a pretty damn decent short. As a 30-minute release, this could have been a real tight story, but it takes too much time dealing with exposition and scenery, and unnecessary and distracting “mood,” that the film self-implodes and self-deflates.
Full review and trailer HERE

 

Pit Stop (aka Acid Pit Stop)
Directed by Jason Wright
In this British release, we meet two mid-twenties mates, stoner Paul, and practical joker / wise guy Lucio, who is a bit of an asshole. Paul has just broken up with his girlfriend Anita, and to cheer him up, Lucio is taking him to a party / rave that he organized for just that purpose. Meanwhile, we meet two other mates, diminutive Anita, Paul’s ex, and Shailene and her bouncing cleavage. Anita has just broken up with her boyfriend Paul, and to cheer her up, Shailene is taking her to the same party / rave. The problems start when the car of the latter two literally run into the back of the former two on a less than busy road, so now they have to share a car. But first, Paul and Lucio stop off at a dealer’s house to pick up some – er – refreshments in the form of an experimental designer drug for which they don’t quite understand the dosage level. Before long, the drug turns the party goers into starker blood-hungry and slow-moving zombies. As the violence gets wilder, our four intrepid… schmucks?... hide out in the bathroom and have a discussion. Not that you can tell much of what they are saying; the sound quality of the film is absolutely atrocious, once the rave in in play. The accents don’t help, either. Meanwhile, our four blokes are laughing it up, not taking this all too seriously, while trying to figure out a way out. On some level, this is a comedy, I gather, from certain moments, as it gets goofier as the film plays on. Or maybe it thinks it is funnier than it actually is, though there are moments that certainly made me smile. The level of gore is decent, but far less graphic than one might expect. Bloody parts look a bit stringy and rubbery, but there is lots of blood. The final act begins with the arrival of a gangster, his body guards, and some Hai Karate after-shave (I kid you not). Who will survive? Who will come back from the dead? Who will care? Considering the loss of life of their friends and acquaintances, the foursome don’t seem overly upset about that part. The acting is generally over-done by just about everyone. Was this a good film? Generally, not really, but to be fair, there is a lot I lost in so much of the dialog being so badly recorded. Generally, I like zombie comedies, but this one either went over my head or out of my ass, I’m not sure.
Full review and trailer HERE

 

Verotika
Directed by Glenn Danzig
Heavy music and horror films have always had a symbiotic relationship. This is especially true with independent films of the genre, who oft times use metal or punk for their soundtracks. Metal star Rob Zombie took it a step further and started writing and directing. Now enter Glenn Danzig, vocalist of heavy punk bands The Misfits, Samhain and Danzig. But he also has his own decade-old comic book imprint of erotic EC Comics-style short horror stories from which these tales are adapted, likewise by the name of Verotika. Critics have been harsh with this film, to say the least. Right off the start, we are introduced to our host, Morella, as she performs a violent act on a chained woman. It’s a bit overdone, but most horror host(ess) bits historically tend to be like that. The first story is “The Albino Spider of Dajette,” which I am assuming is supposed to take place in France, considering the attempt at accents. Poor Dajette has eyes instead of nipples on her ponderous bosoms, which freaks guys out. Her tears after being rejected by some abusive guy change a white, cartoonish-CGI spider into a six-armed man who kills for her by reading her subconscious. Oddly, he kills women, rather than the doods that abuse her. This is a world where women are prostitutes and men are machismo morons. The editing is kind of choppy, and the line reading stunningly wooden, but the downfall for me is the pretentiousness of the dialog. It tries to elevate itself into some kind of lyrical poetry or art, but falls flat, right from the beginning. The story not only makes little sense, but has no explanations It’s a rocky start. Then we’re off with “Change of Face,” the second story. A mysterious and scarred dancer has a predilection for killing women and stealing their faces… then wearing them… while stripping… wearing a schmata to cover her face. Wait, what? The last story is “Drukija: Countess of Blood,” freely based on the true story of Countess Bathory. Drukija has a thing for virgins in the Middle Ages ‘hood of Hungary. I realize that odds are Danzig was going for a Hammer Films look in this segment, but he doesn’t quite achieve that, as he tends to “linger” a bit too long. Shots of Drukija bathing in a peasant girl’s blood, both of them starkers, stays longer than a relative at Thanksgiving, letting tedium build. This story actually does not really have a plot, but is a series of set pieces to show women bled, eviscerated and chopped up. Even the torturous level of gore in 1970’s Mark of the Devil at least had a narrative to justify its actions, such as it was. Perhaps what Danzig should have done is start off with some meat-and-taters films to get his hands dirty and figure out what he wants and what he is doing, even if there is some artistic ambience thrown in to elevate it a bit, and then experiment with a goal in mind that is achievable at an earned level of experience. Perhaps his life of fame and right wing conspiracy posturing has given him the confidence that is beyond his skills. The biggest problem, in my opinion, is that he both wrote and directed the film, and with the kind of ego he’s been known to postulate, he may not be inclined to listen to others because he knows what he wants. With a lack of experience in filmmaking, more often than not it is important to have a middle person between the writing and the directing for editorial purposes. I’m hoping when a sequel comes out, and it should, there will be more cohesion.
Full review and trailer HERE