Tuesday, December 25, 2012

DVD Review: Bloody Christmas

Text © Richard Gary/Indie Horror Films, 2012
Images from the Internet

Bloody Christmas
Directed, produced and written by Michael Shershenovich                 
90 minutes, 2012    

Christmas horror is not a new genre. It arguably goes back to the kid-friendly likes of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (1966) or even possibly How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). However, it wasn’t until the 1970s and into slasher craze of the ‘80s that we started to see Tales from the Crypt (1972; the “All Though the House” segment), Black Christmas (1974), Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974), Christmas Evil (1980), To All a Good Night (1980), Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), Santa Claws (1996), and yes, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000). This is a new dip in the Christmas horror pool list, but does it get candy or coal in its dripping stocking?

The main theme of the film is the loss of Christmas spirit, and the result of it. A priest, Father Michael (Robert Youngren, who has played a lot of religious leaders in his career) laments that no one is coming to his church’s Christmas service, including his staff. Rich Tague (Steve Montague, who ironically has played Hitler more than once, including a film called Ultrachrist! [2003]), the film’s main focus, is a down-on-his-luck ex-action film actor who has just been fired as a store Santa (by a character played by the director), the check cashing place won’t touch his last payment, and he’s just received an eviction notice on his trailer for back rent. His anger and frustration slowly builds in him as we see flashes of his fantasies of killing those who offend him or his sensibilities.

Meanwhile, someone is killing people in the area of Binghamton, NY, including the son of Gaylen (Geretta Geretta, who looks a lot like Donna Summers; she was in the 1985 Lamberto Bava classic, Demons, which many feel had been remade as [*Rec] in 2007). Her first scene, which opens the film, is totally out of context and a waste. The police, led by the extremely underused Detective Steinman (Robert Arensen, who has practically made a career playing cops), believes it could be a serial killer.

The killer’s identity is not really a surprise at all, but that’s okay, all things considered, as this is a thriller, not a mystery, after all. The rough edge that runs throughout, though, is that first-time director Michael Shershenovich is still in the growing pains of filmmaking. For example, the digi-camera is nearly always handheld, making for some shaky viewing (though nowhere as bad as, say, Cloverfield). There are also some rough zooms and too many mid-close-ups, rather than alternating between full- and close shots. Also, he doesn’t always get the best out of his actors. It’s as though he rarely reshoots a scene, no matter how much the dialog gets trampled. But the most egregious sin is the total lack of pacing. For a slasher pic, it’s slow and plodding, with very little action and too much pointless dialog that doesn’t really add to the story. And don’t get me started on the weak fight scene that is at the climax of the picture.e There T

The gore level is pretty small and amateurish looking, with the exception of the last gunshot, which looked great. There is no sex, but a nice nude shower scene by the incredibly named (and built) Nova Lox. Like most of the rest of the younger women in the film, she has multiple ink and piercings.

Throughout the entire picture, there is a less-than-subtle pro-Christ in Christmas message, as characters comment about commercialism, the true meaning of the holiday, and the like. Yet characters have paper (Halloween) skeletons on the wall. It’s a bit too all over the place.

Extras include interviews with some cast members, a couple of nothing deleted scenes, and a the film’s trailers.

I don’t believe Shershenovich should take this too much to heart, but use the experience and criticism to make better films. My suggestion is to take on a crew who is more experienced, and can help him along. The best way to learn is to do.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

DVD Review: Mark of the Devil

Text © Richard Gary/Indie Horror Films, 2013
Images from the Internet
Mark of the Devil: Yack Pack
Directed by Michael Armstrong
Cheezy Flicks Entertainment
96 minutes, 1970 / 2006 / 2012

This German film, originally known as Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält, is a classic in early torture porn. Obviously modeled after the increasingly sexualized Hammer Films of the time, it incorporated the ethos of the graphic violence of likes of Hershell Gordon Lewis.

Taking place in some European country - supposedly England, I believe, considering one of the characters played by Herbert Lom (d. 2012), is named Lord Chamberlain - it takes place around the 17th Century, a time of witch hunters (a role both Vincent Price and Peter Cushing played for Hammer).

Reggie Nalder
The small town that is the focal point of the film is under the thumb of the despotic local hunter, who uses his power to get what he wants, be it money, power, or sex. He needs to keep this control because he is one ugly dude. Named Albino, which strangely he is not, he has a face that was ravaged by fire (in real life) channeled by the underrated Reggie Nalder, (d. 1991), who made a career playing the heavy.

While Albino is supposed to follow Church law and have indictments and trials before the torture and executions, he just takes what he wants, and then burns anyone who he wants out of the way in an auto da fe (look it up). But his power comes under scrutiny with the arrival of said Lord Chamberlain, the governing Church-appointed witch hunter, as well as his student and an underling (who has as much morals as Albino).
Udo Kier

The student and hero of the piece, Christian (of course), is played by now-cult actor, Udo Kier, who would rise to fame just a few short years later as the star of such classics of bad cinema, Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (1973) and Andy Warhol’s Dracula (1974). He looks much younger in this film; he was quite handsome in the two latter releases, but his blue eyes and baby face are stunningly handsome. I’m not attracted, I’m jealous.

Olivera Katarina
Catching the fancy of Albino and Christian is Vanessa, played by the very heavingly-buxomed, and actually not as pretty as Kier, the Serbian actor Olivera Katarina (last name credited as Vuco here). When Albino can’t have her, she’s declared a witch, and love-interest Christian is out to save her.

The secondary plot, which has some historical truth to it from what I remember, is that the Church gave the landed gentry who opposed the high taxes or balked at oppressive religious laws a choice: turn over their money and land to the Church, or be tortured and condemned to be killed and the Church would get their holdings anyway. That is Chamberlain’s purpose, apparently, which is a turn because at first you are led to believe that he is a savior, rather than an every worse criminal than what we are introduced to in the beginning. Whether he is out for himself or as a direct edict from the Vatican is something unexplained). This is also part of why the US Constitution has a separation of Church and State (the first government to ever do so).

It is sort of like the 1975 James Clavell novel Shogun, where the reader is introduced to the local government which has power of life and death, and then as you work your way through the society with the main occidental character, you find that they were just minuscule in reality to the larger hierarchy. The Church of those times was like that, with those in charge with absolute power (i.e., as Lord John Acton correctly posited in 1887, “…absolute power corrupts absolutely), and yet there were those more powerful above them.

I believe that while this is true, it is especially accurate when embodied by a religious order, who can justify it in their own minds as God makes right. The nastiest person I ever met was a born-again Christian who firmly believe that God wanted her to have what she wanted by any means necessary, even if it meant stabbing co-workers she didn’t like in the back (as she tried and failed with me; I guess God wanted her so bad, He had her join Him in her mid-20s via cancer – note that I believe if there is a God, there is no gender involved, so I’m just using her terminology). The Judeo-Christian West believes that Muslims are alone in their “God is Great” jihads, but Christianity (and Judaism in pre-Roman times) was just as fierce and cruel. There is a lot of injustice in the Bible, for example. Comedian Jackie Mason once stated that according to the Bible, the punishment is the same for adultery and eating non-Kosher food, to which he quipped, “I tried them both and don’t see the comparison.”

There is plenty of torture laid out for the viewer here (which is shown in the trailer, and why it is not included, as I don’t want this to be an “adult” site), including tar and feathering, burning at the stake, various mechanisms designed purely for cruelty (e.g., the thumbscrew), and in the most infamous scene, the removal of a tongue by pincers. The thing rarely talked about is that every one of the implements used is based on reality. The whole Church R&D team of that era was focused on finding ways to help the sinner confess and find God through the most gruesome means. Many are shown here. In college, I did a paper on the Spanish Inquisition, which no one unexpected, and many of the tools shown here are mentioned in detail in books about the period.

And with all this going on, there is an incredulous sappy love story that happens with gooey and tinny music played over and over as a lover’s theme, in typical European films of the time.

This is an absolute benchmark for what would become a genre that includes the likes of Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975), Thriller – A Cruel Picture (1973), the whole Italian giallo (e.g., the zombie films by Fulci, and demon ones by Lamberto Bava), the abovementioned Warhol pix, and even continuing to today with the likes of the Saw and Hostel franchises, and A Serbian Film (2010). If you enjoy the genre, then this is a must for you.

There is one complaint I do have, and that’s more about the company that puts this out. Don’t get me wrong, Cheezy Flicks Entertainment re-releases some amazing period exploitative films, and I have never been sorry to see anything they’ve released. I mean, even this one actually has a replica vomit bag that was distributed when it was first released (kudos to Cheezy). However, I often find that my player had trouble reading the discs, and it tends to skip, much as it does with DVD-R recordings. I’m not sure if they’re going the cheap route or what, but it is annoying to have to keep going back to see the parts that were skipped, or to get the digital noise and stalling as the player tries to make sense of it all.

There are some cool extras here, including some retro-trailers and intermission ads that are on many of the Cheezy releases.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

DVD Review: The Color Out of Space

Text © Richard Gary/Indie Horror Films, 2012
Images from the Internet

The Color Out of Space
Directed and screenplay by Huan Yu                  
Brink Vision                                      
86 minutes, 2010 / 2012    

This is hardly the first adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s well-known 1927 short story of a meteorite hitting the earth, and the evil effects it has on a household (or community, depending on the version). Just off the top of my head, there’s Die Monster Die (1965) with Boris Karloff and Nick Adams, The Curse (1987) with Claude Akins and Wil Wheaton, and arguably the Stephen King episode of Creepshow (1982).

This version is also known as Die Farbe, or “The Color,” because this is a German production, though early parts are filmed in English, and the rest, which takes place in the Germany countryside, is in Deutsche with English subtitles.

The previous versions were generally really bad, cheesy horror films (i.e., fun), but this one has an arty-indie feel to it (i.e., not pretentious), to which the number of world-wide festival winning and nominations bend. It’s filmed in black and white, except for when the “color” appears, drenching specific objects in a purplish-pink hue.

It has been way too many years since I’ve read the original story to speak to its accuracy, so I am going to take this film on its own story merits.

In present time, a scientist who was an American soldier stationed in rural Germany at the end of Dubya-Dubya Duce, goes back there and disappears. His son investigates in the small town in which he had been, and is told by a local (and we see in a series of long and detailed flashback) how a meteorite landed in the village even before the war. The stone, however, starts to disappear / evaporate.

Soon, all the fruit in the area start to grow Monsanto size, with a weird aftertaste. Hit the hardest is the farm on which the space rock landed. Everything starts to die, the mom goes mad, everyone gets sick, and slowly the family starts to melt into lavender droplets.

Over time, this effect would have a lasting influence that… well, I’m going to stop there, because the film is worth seeing, and I don’t want to give it all away. The effects, both physical and graphic are worth seeing. The look of the film is astonishingly crisp, thanks to a home-made camera (apparently called the DRAKE) that evidently makes HD looks like 55mm film stock. While the movie is nearly completely humorless (sans a scene where a German native mocks an American’s grammar), it is also uses the contrast of light and dark to its utmost, and the digital effects are sometimes quite understated, and others a bit shocking.

The extras has a couple of the film’s trailers, the availability of subtitles in many languages, a “lost” scene, a 22-minute day-by-day making-of featurette (in German with subtitles), and a fascinating 6-1/2 minute special effects explanation that shows how they used layers of mattes so effectively. The under 7-minute “Science Horror” short is the one to really watch, as it explains a bit of the subtle ending, and tells about how Lovecraft’s story about an alien parasite has some scientific lineage.

There is little gore (certainly no more than an episode of Bones or CSI), and certainly no sex, just a good story that will keep you at attention. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

DVD Review: Exit 101: Halloween Party Massacre

Text © Richard Gary/Indie Horror Films, 2012
Images from the Internet
Exit 101: Halloween Party Massacre
Directed by Doug Cole                
World Wide Multi-Media (WWMM)                       
105 minutes, 2011 / 2012  

Sometimes a thematic cultural trend can get tiresome pretty fast, especially when it seems like it’s everywhere. But for some reason, no matter how corny or commonplace it gets, there’s something still appealing about a zombie movie, be it viral, radiation, braaaains, other fleshy bits, or just walking-and-decomposing corpses.

But the place where it is popping up the most, and is largely and lovingly touted, is in independent cinema. Lots of gore and make-up effects raise the possibility of a happy crew and cast. Whether overrun in the city or deep in the woods, a chompin’ cadaver is always welcome.

This indie film’s title place is real, making it a bit different right off the bat. Down in Cordele (renamed Lakeshear for the film), Georgia, at Exit 101 off highway 75, is the town attraction: a 15-foot Titan 1 missile frame. This is the focal point of the film, the hub where the action emanates.

We meet a group of (too old to really be) high school students whose hangout is at the missile’s site, where apparently in 1969, a failed secret military formula was hidden in the projectile. Of course, our noble drawling clique finds it a few days before Halloween, and on a dare, the green fluid is downed by intrepid Caleb (Joseph Lavender, who also wrote and produced the film).

The bunch of bananas includes the power couple of the cute dumb girl Stacey (Kasey Stewart) and the football player Blake (Dennis Proulx) who is a bit of a bully, the cool goth/punk girl Erica (the smokin’ Raina Ashley Strickland), the weird-nerd Colin (Sebastian Gruber), the hip token black guy Reggie (Devin Ray), the plain girl Sarah (Cassandra Johnson, who is married to Lavender in the real world) who is secretly in love with Caleb (i.e., she’s the heroine), and then there’s Caleb, who’s the slacker.

As Caleb slowly “turns” over the days, between blinding headaches for which he doesn’t think to see a doctor, he starts to eat raw packaged chopped meat and doing in a wayward pizza delivery boy as a bite, for starters.

Did I mention that this is a comedy? Thankfully not on the bad pun level of, say, ThanksKilling (2009), but rather more of a humor flavor throughout. Parts of this film was incredibly effective. There is one great scene, for example, where some rednecks meet pizza boy and things turn nasty. The three actors playing the back woods trailer trash just nail it.

Of course, our likable yet not overly bright group and the growing number of zombies are destined to converge at the big high school costume party in the woods, where blood, gore and humor come to a head.

The mentioned gristle is mostly fine, with an occasionally too thick blood to look real, but it’s excusable considering how much works well.

The extras are a gag reel that’s amusing in some parts (especially the rednecks ad-libing). The making-of doc is occasionally interesting. As for the commentary, it’s director Cole and writer Lavender. They vary from fascinating when they are on topic of the production information to a tad talking over each other. The only real annoyance is that Cole is too close to the mic so you can hear him breathing through his nose, and Lavender is occasionally too far from the mic, so he’s hard to hear.

But it’s the film that the important thing, and luckily that is well done and worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

DVD Review: Johnny Dickie’s Slaughter Tales

Text © Richard Gary/Indie Horror Films, 2013
Images from the Internet

Johnny Dickie’s Slaughter Tales
Directed by Johnny Dickie             
Briarwood Entertainment / Libra Verde Media               
91 minutes, 2012    

You may not know this, but in the late 1960s to mid-1980s, in the pre-video days when film was expensive, some of the better known directors of the time got their experience and hands-on training by making porno films. Yep, the industry hired students from NYU and UCLA film schools who were inexpensive to use and in need of practice, plus cash to pay for the university. For anyone in their younger years back then, there was always 8mm and Super 8 film, which was incredibly hard to work with, as I found out in the couple of movies I tried to make with a friend.

This changed a bit with video and the camcorder, but tapes were still hard to edit, needing a linear editing bay which was expensive. Of course, now with the digital age and most new computers having relatively advanced editing programs, it is not surprising to find that more and more are making films independently to various successes, such as Bill Zebub, Creep Creepersin, Dustin Mills and Sean Weathers.

Nearly fifteen-year-old Johnny Dick uses a digi-cam to shoot his stories, and then transferred it to VHS to give it a true grainy texture to produce a first-time full-length feature. Is it good? Nah. Is it fun? Oh, yeah, if you can just set your mind to remember that it’s a film by a kid in middle school.

As a framework, Johnny, who also stars in the film, steals a videotape with the same name as this one from a store (one of the only parts outside his house other than a brief rooftop scene). Despite a ghostly warning, he decides to watch the tape anyway. While this is not a new concept, from Ringu (1998) to the new release V/H/S (2012), it’s certainly underused more than, say, the found tape subgenre that is so overdone.

We watch with Johnny as different stories unfold, all of them starring, well, Johnny. There are a couple of other actors here and there, but he’s in the large majority. Between the anthology, the viewer sees Johnny commenting on what a piece of shit the videotape is, and in fact, at one point, he even wears a tee-shirt that says “This movie is terrible.”

Mostly there is nothing drastically original or shocking in the film other than watching a teen constantly cursing and talking repeatedly about “skin mags.” And yet, of the three or four of the other actors, most who also multi-role, Johnny is actually the best one.

Part of the fun is that often for props, he uses severed limbs you buy in a store at Halloween, or just obviously molded clay (not sure if it’s PlayDoh or the real deal). There is also some cool pixilated animation with worm-like creatures that work pretty well. Remember, Raimi did the same thing at the end of Evil Dead (1981). Lest I forget, there’s the old Alka Seltzer as rabid-mouth trick that is always effective.

Oh, and mucho kudos on a very fun cameo by Toxie’s dad at the end! Oh, stay tuned for the scenes through the final credit, if you made it that far.

As a side note, I want to say that I really enjoyed the cramped and sometimes messy space in which the film was recorded (i.e., Johnny’s parents’ place). There is media everywhere, from rows and rows of books and DVDs, and lots of shelves of LPs. Ah, I could nearly smell the vinyl… And then there is the changing length of Johnny’s hair throughout (it took two years to shoot this). At one point towards the end you can actually see the shadow of the camera and tripod. I’m just sayin’.

If I was to make any fatherly advice to Johnny about a change, it would be to get some kind of help with the dialog. For example, if I made a drinking game out of every time he said “Oh my fucking God,” I would be lifeless from alcohol poisoning. Hell, Jerry Lee Lewis would be dead of it. But the second conversation between Johnny and the tape’s spirit in the bathroom is hysterical. More like that, please.

But my biggest piece of suggestion would be to keep going. Continue making films, because this experience will probably prove to be invaluable. One learns through crap and adversity, to partially paraphrase philosopher Johnny Dewey. I would like to add that I also hope that rather than release a flood of films, he will do them carefully one by one, because thinking about the productions are as important as the filming itself.  

Extra include 2 trailers for this film (one without the “camcorder effect,” which is truthfully much better, though I understand the idea Johnny was trying to posit. There is also a couple of minutes long behind the scenes called ”Making an American Nightmare” that shows a couple of scenes being filmed, and an 11-minute featurette titled “The Effects of Slaughter Tales.” This is an interesting sort-of how-to for new filmmakers. Yes, there is also a full-length commentary with Johnny and a couple of friends who discuss the filming in surprising detail, despite the goofy tone, so I can suggest a listen.

Listen, this truly is a case of Buyer Beware. It’s a film made by a kid mostly in his living room. If you’re willing to accept that, and know what you’re getting, you may be surprised by how much you laugh. I look forward to seeing more of Johnny’s output as he grows both physically and aesthetically.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Review: Bloody Bloody Bible Camp

Text © Richard Gary/Indie Horror Films, 2012
Images from the Internet

Bloody Bloody Bible Camp
Directed by Vito Trabucco             
Bosko Group                                    
90 minutes, 2012    

So, you may ask, just how irreverent is this group in the woods slasher spoof? Well, if you need more information than just the title, the assembly visiting the Happy Day Bible Camp are from St. Judas Catholic Church. And if that doesn’t get ya yet, a very snarky Jesus is played by… wait for it… Ron Jeremy.

As the extended opening credits roll by bit by bit, we meet the first set of ill-fated horndogs coming to share the weekend with beer, sex and the savior in 1977. The body count in just this segment, as they meet insane killer (obviously a guy in a nun’s outfit and a mask), Sister Mary Chopper (Tim Sullivan), is larger than most serious films of this nature, but are equally as gruesome, via various sharp objects (my favorite being the crucifix with the knife on the end).

The ’77 scenes are smartly funny, with one oaf commenting how Star Wars is going to bomb, another discusses the death of Elvis, and everyone is wearing loud-colored polyester. But mostly it’s heavenly profane in language and deed. For example, one woman states, “It would be only Christian of us, good girls of us, to have sex with guys who have penises like Jesus.” That is not a misquote. Another, splayed and ready for rear entry, states lustily, “Backdoor’s always open for Jesus, baby.”  Oh, and someone with a guitar sings a folk ditty that includes the lyrics, “If the devil don’t like this / he can lick my nutsack.”

I wrote down a whole bunch of the lines from this part, but on second thought, I don’t want to stomp on all of them, better if you see it for yourself. And all this is, remember, just the credits.

As the main story begins in 1984, a new set of fodder heads off (pun intended) in a yellow bus to the Happy Day Bible Camp (filmed in Big Bear, California). They are led by the sexual-orientation questioning Father Cummings (yes, sometimes the puns get that obvious), played by horror film stalwart, Reggie Bannister, who rose to fame in the Phantasm (1979) franchise. He also co-produced the film.

Along with him is the obvious bunch of mid-to-late-twenty-year-old teens, including the punk girl Jessie (Deborah Venegas), the dumb blonde, Britany (Jessie Sonneborn), the fat and mentally challenged Timmy (Christopher Raff), the possibly closeted bully/jock Tad (Matthew Aiden), the horny-yet-inexperienced Vance (Troy Guthrie), and the sole survivor of the ’77 attack, Millie (Ivet Corvea). Also along for the ride is another member of the clergy, Brother Zeke (Jay Fields), who is also not adverse to a jump in the sack).

Of course, before they get to the place, they have to stop off at the store so they can be warned by one of the locals (yep, every cliché), who is annoyed by the “goddamn Christians” (more on this later).

There are some particular moments that stand out for me, such as a… well, I’m not sure if it’s a rip-off or a rip-on Blazing Saddles’ (1974) “Whip this out” moment. And I certainly smiled when one character firmly states, “Someone’s going to H-E-L. That’s Hell.”  What made me laugh about this is not the misspelling, but that they explain it to the audience in case they missed it.

It is pretty obvious which character is Sister Mary Chopper; this film obviously does not feel a need for subtly, which is fine by me. I’m not here to watch Monk or The Mentalist, where the viewer tries to work out the mystery, but rather a spoof. While not as slick (i.e., lower budget) as, say, the Scary Movie (2000) satire series, it is successful in its own right that I laughed though a lot of it, while “oh no, they didn’t”-ing in others. The main problem with this film is that it straddles between a satire and a broad comedy, seemly not really sure on which side to focus. But I have to say, on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most annoying, it is somewhere around a 1.5, so no harm, lots of foul fun.

There are multiple good death effects and blood, with some causes being sharp objects or bricks dropped on heads. My favorite one, though, is when one character is nailed to a door frame exactly like the mom at the end of the film Carrie (1976). Hey, spoofs usually riff off other films, and this one does it well.

I’m sure there will be those who say this release is part of the “War on Catholics / Christianity.” Yes, I will agree that this film slams some of the ills of the modern Church, such as one male character being tapped on the shoulder, to which he joyfully says, “What, Father, again?” The Catholic Church especially has opened itself up to specific cultural ridicule for the way it has handled certain situations (e.g., I remember being in Canada in the late 1980s and there was an article that investigated that a large number of the priests and brothers on Newfoundland were transferred there after hidden scandals involving pedophilia).

But honestly, I believe (pun intended) that this crew was going for shock value, rather than trying to make a point. How I imagine the writing sessions is something like: “Is that offensive? Yeah, throw it in!” Besides, there is always going to be somebody offended about something. I remember nearly getting into a fistfight with some tool because he insisted that the titular character in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (1979) was supposed to be Jesus; I commented that JC appears in the film so how can Brian be Him? That’s when he threatened to take me outside and deck me.  No telling what he thought of Saved! (2004).

While this film does occasionally become a bit too broad for its own good, as a whole, it is definitely a mucho grande fun excursion into, well, one character puts it best: “That’s, like, blasphemy or something!”

There are some enjoyable extras, such as “The Making of a Massacre” (13 minutes), a production photo slide show, and some trailers. Two less successful ones are the dull 12-minute long “Bloody Bloody Special Effects” that shows two talking head guys discussing the SFX in a static manner (go figure), and the feature-length commentary is so overcrowded with director, cast and crew, that there is no coherency, no way to tell who is saying what, and is basically a muddled mess. This film is worth getting on its own, fortunately, so go do that, my child. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

DVD Review: Zombie Babies

Text © Richard Gary/Indie Horror Films, 2012
Images from the Internet

Zombie Babies
Directed and screenplay by Eamon Hardiman              
Independent Entertainment           
112 minutes, 2011 / 2012  

Okay, with a name like Zombie Babies, y’just know this is not only going to be a comedy, but one of a broad nature. And yes, there is no subtly here.

I’m not quite sure when the story is supposed to take place, but I’m guessing around the time Roe vs. Wade had just passed in 1973. This sets up the premise where redneck “discount late-term abortionist” ($10 per) Dr. Burt Fleming and his less-than-able-and-not-too-bright assistant Teddy decide to fight against legit docs performing the deed, and decide to have a “Abort-a-Thon” and use the old Jewish vaudeville joke punchline, “Volume!” They send out invites to couples to visit their decrepit building, once a hotel and casino, to have their wombs vacated in a party atmosphere.

Four dysfunctional couples accept the offer. Most of the actors who play the roles have an amazing amount of credit behind them (and upcoming), most in the sexploitation horror genre (the kind of stuff in which the underrated Misty Mundae would appear; if you know who I mean, you know the genre I refer). Needless to say, though I will anyway, there are lots and lots of tats on both genders, and a number of body piercings present. In no particular order the couples are:

There is hooker supreme Capri (Desiree Saetia) and her boyfriend, pimp, and Thurston Howell III wannabe - right down to the cap and accent - Reggie (Ford Austin, who has had quite the career, having been in every genre from Happy Days [1978] and a semi-regular in Night Court [1985], to the likes of Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven [2011] and Aliens vs. A-Holes [2012]), who perhaps is named after Reggie Mantle from the Archie comics. Austin doesn’t seem to take this too – er – seriously, in that he seems like he doesn’t want to be there, and is less memorable for it. Saetia, who also chews the scenery in her role, comes off a bit better, having a nice tour-de-force performance about half-way through the film.

Another is the weighty and sweating Lewis (Shawn Phillips), who somehow managed to knock up knock-out redhead Veronica (Ruby Larocca). Of course, she treats him like a doormat, and he is desperate enough to accept that role. Phillips plays the role with just amount of whine to make him both pitiable and annoying, definite a hard and fine-line to project without delving into one way or another. He actually has a number of credits in the genre, such as Girls Gone Dead (2012) and Blood Orgy at Beaver Lake (2012). As for Larocca, well, she’s actually been in a number of films I’ve already reviewed, such as Bill Zebub’s Zombiechrist (2010), and some of the voices on the animated Where the Dead Go to Die (2012; HERE).  She was also in one of my favorite titled films that I’ve seen, The Lord of the G-String:The Femaleship of the String (2003). She is also frequently in films with Mundae. It’s not surprising her credit list is incredibly long, as she seems fearless, as well as tattooed. As with much of the cast, she also has a history of writing, producing, and directing within the genre. This may be a silly film with bizarre characters, but these are some smart-as-whips actors.

The third grouping is manipulative baseball groupie Jami Lynn (Missy Dawn) and professional athlete Jackson (Dean Stark). Perhaps by coincidence, both these paired actors have the least amount of credits to their name: Stark has this as his only listing, and Missy’s menu is three films, all by this director. Stark, despite being a bit diminutive for a pro baseball player, nails the character’s vain and aggressive behavior, even if it’s a bit stereotypical jock (and I have found many jocks in my life have this same attitude, so this is not a criticism). The wonderfully moniker’s Missy is way taller than him, and gives the right edge to someone who expected more than the Jackson character can give. However, she is also the most willing to hit the sack than of the others.

The last, and most central of the ensemble, is loser tee-shirt entrepreneur Kevin (Trent McKelvin, a pseudonym for the director, Eamon Hardiman), and the nagging (don’t really blame her; she just wants someone reliable) yet adorable Leah (Kaylee Williams). Of course Kevin is a bit of a hero while still being a zero – directors can give themselves that role – while Kaylee comes across as the most naturally accomplished and natural actor of the troupe.

And, despite the low budget and genre, this cast is actually quite strong, if goofy as all get out. Even when the occasional scenery chewing occurs, especially by the good doctor (I’ll get to that in a minute), it’s so much freakin’ fun that you just don’t care.

The – er – good Dr. Burt is played waaaaaay over the top with much glee by Brian Gunnoe, who, like most of the cast, has appeared in previous Hardiman films (including the Porkchop slasher franchise). Gunnoe portrays him with southern hillbilly aplomb, dressed in a white tee covered by a red… well, it’s either a robe or smoking jacket, I’m not sure. Though he plays a mean blues acoustic guitar, he’s not necessarily someone you would want to trust with as delicate an operation as this one, especially since he performs the procedure using the cheap type of white hangers dry cleaners give out, not even the more solid, copper-colored ones.

Meanwhile, Roy Cobb plays Teddy rightfully understatedly. Again, it would be easy to make him a complete and annoying moron, but he comes across as more dazed than deranged. That makes the character more dangerous because he’s misleading. Teddy also wears a fez, for some reason, and a white, sleeveless tee-shirt with nothing over it, with his belly hanging out under the shirt.

Oh, and did I mention that Dr. Burt was well over 100 years old (not looking a day over 40), thanks to some mystery moonshiney type of concoction that he mixes in the basement, next to the bloody pile of excavated fetuses? That’s where the story goes… hell, it’s already so joyfully off-the-wall that by the time the formula starts bringing the fetuses to murderous life, you’ve already said goodbye to any sense of levels of credibility. And rightfully so, because, well, I mean, hell, you’re watching a film called Zombie Babies.

When the fetuses become zombified, they’re not necessarily flesh eaters in the (now) classic zombie sense as much as revengeful mutilators out to kill their parents (and others) in revenge. How the parents recognize the fetuses as their own, and vice-versa, of course, is a head scratcher in itself.

The revitalized babies are way too big to be merely fetuses, even late term, and they sometimes look a bit like some of the main characters of Full Moon Studio’s Puppetmaster (1989). Two different types of puppets are obviously used, one with the hand up the back and sticks to move the arms (like most Muppets), and other times marionettes. In true DIY, indie, low budget mode, there are some joyfully sloppy moments, where the strings are digitally edited out, but the scene is also zapped, so you see some white lines where the strings were before. And in one case, you can easily see the shadow of the hands holding the sticks, while the sticks themselves were clumsily taken out. And don’t get me started on the green-screen debacle of when the couples arrive on the grounds of the abortion casino. While in a big budget film this would be terrible, in this film it’s all part of the joyous fun and woo-hoo lets-make-a-movie mode. If this was trying to be a serious film, even indie, I would be annoyed by it. But this is the kind of film you have your friends over for, to watch and yell at the screen, so it becomes part of the fun.

By far the funniest part of the film is actually a semi-serious conversation on white-on-black violence. Part of what makes it a hoot is the out-of-context-ness with the rest of the dialog, which includes the very quotable “We gonna kill us some fuckin’ babies!”

The gore level is pretty high, including garroting and beheading via umbilical cord, a hysterical gauntlet of flying zombie babies/fetuses, and of course, what would this film be without the classic baby in a blender gag?

I can see both sides of the abortion debate using this film, though probably not up there on their attention plane, as proving their point (as was done with Juno). The anti-abortionists can point out that, “See, them baybehs is ahlave. ‘N look how disgustin’ them abortionists aw, y’all! (sorry, I have to do it in a Southern accent. If I may digress, as I am wont, comedian Steve Landesberg [RIP 2010] – aka “Dietrich” on Barney Miller – once said that Southerners aren’t necessarily more racist than those in the North, it just sounds so much better to say, “hayng hym”).

As for the pro-choice, well, in a similar vein, the use of coathangers and the disgusting unlicensed abortionists also can be used as symbols of why the procedure needs to be legal (the side on which I am strongly learning, FYI).

With its high level of amateurishness (if that’s even a word… well Microsoft Word recognizes it so it must be), zany levels of gore and ridiculous plot that seems to be written during a bender, shit, I had a lot of fun from beginning to end. This just flies by between the gore effects, the gross-outs (don’t get me started on how Reggie kicks it), the ample amount of exposed and colored flesh and plot holes that are harder to put together than finding who committed the JonBeney Ramsey murder (sorry, again; I just recently rewatched ThanksKilling). What plot holes? Well, for one of thousands, the fact that just hours after having the abortion, nearly all the couples connubially combine with their significant other.

You can just tell the actors are having fun. Just that so many of them have appeared in a few other films by Hardiman shows that we are viewing a good time that extends beyond the set. Will this offend? Let me repeat slowly for ya: Z-o-m-b-i-e B-a-b-i-e-s. Get some of them buddies together and have fun talking back to the screen.

Friday, October 5, 2012

DVD Review: Terror of Dracula

Text © Richard Gary/Indie Horror Films, 2012
Images from the Internet
Terror of Dracula
Directed by Anthony DP Mann     
World Wide Multi-Media (WWMM)                      
100 minutes, 2012  

In the DIY world, if someone won’t do it for you, take it into your own hands. Can’t get a gig? Get some bands, hire a hall and equipment, and put on your own showcase. Can’t get a record deal, even from the indies? Put it out yourself. Fixated on 19th Century literature and want to make a film about Sherlock Holmes or Count Dracula? Get some likeminded friends together who need some exposure and, as they say in Canada, get ‘er done.

Oh, I may have forgotten to mention that Terror of Dracula is a Canadian film, based in the lovely (seriously) granite-capital of Kingston, Ontario, a “place I know right well” (to quote the song “Leaving of Liverpool”).

So, Anthony DP Mann, along with Bill Bossert, wrote a screenplay supposedly meant to be accurate to the original 1897 Bram Stoker novel, and then Mann added himself to the main role, and also directed the film, such as he had done with his previous two films, Sherlock Holmes and the Shadow Watchers and Canucla (aka Dracula in Canada). I have not seen these others yet, but would be willing.

As the moving picture show begins, we are presented with title cards, explaining that this release predates most the others, including the Hammer Films, and it has been restored. This is a nice touch, as this was obviously shot on digi, and just released this year. Not a complaint though; just the opposite, as it was appreciated.

With the help of the city’s local Theatre Five troupe (whom I had seen perform a few times in the late 1980s). Actually, I got excited when I saw that Dr. Seward, who runs the institution that houses Renfield, and is the father of the Count’s first on-land British victim, Lucy, is played by Dick Miller. However, it was not the Dick Miller. Oh, well, unlife goes on. Apparently, none of the other cast members have any film credits other than either this, or Mann’s previous Sherlock release.

Oh, there’s lots of other unintentionally amusing bits – and again, this is not meant as a dig, just the eye of a viewer of many indie films – such as the cell where Renfield is kept at the institution is obviously the same we Jonathan Harker’s bedroom at Castle D.

A reason I was hot to watch this film is because of its reputed loyalty to the book, one I’ve read a number of times. It really is nearly impossible, as the novel takes place in various forms of correspondence, after the fact (for example, a paraphrase may be something like, “Oh, what a horrible series of events occurred last evening, and here is why…”). Like all other retellings before this one (while Hammer was especially bad for loyalty to the original, they were usually great films), there is – and has to be – quite a bit of original input by Mann and Weil… I mean Bossert, including the unsurprising yet fun ending.

One disappointing aspects of this film is the slow pacing. In a stilted verbal manner or through chewing of scenery to express angst, the cast plays this like a stage drama, with overwrought tones and non-literal handwringing, in part due to way the cast reads the 19th Century-ish dialog, a trap that most period pieces fall into. This is not helped by the extreme and claustrophobic close-ups that are the core of nearly every scene. It’s sort of like when you watch a filmed concert, and they focus on the strumming hand rather than both that and the one playing the chords. I kept wanting more visual information that just when eyebrows are lifted. I was almost expecting the actors to turn around too fast as hit their nose on the camera (yes, Mel Brooks did perfect that).

Another is how dreadfully serious they seem to be taking the production. Truly, a low budget and a newbie cast is much better serving the audience if there seems to be some sense of camaraderie with those on- and off-screen. Sure, the tale of Dracula and his ilk deals with evil beings out to suck the world dry in high drama fashion, but even in the original novel, one could argue that Renfield and his insistence on entomophagy was a comic thread on some level. The Hammer Films versions also had moments of dark humor. Mix together the dead (pun intended) seriousness and the stilted language and acting, you end up with a product that is self-important and pretentious, even if that is not what was meant as the outcome. I’m just sayin’…

Mann plays the titular character either with static intensity or overdrawn – er – intensity. The beard looks okay, but there is no explanation of why it turns from white in Transylvania to dark in Kingst… I mean England.

While I’m at it, there were a few parts in the book that are terrific, but were left out here, I’m sure due to financial constraints, so I’m not blaming, I’m just noticing. An example is the terror aboard the Demeter, the ship that brings ol’ Drac and his many boxes filled with native soil to the UK. In the book, it is a very palpable set piece, and it is even well done in the original Nosferatu (1922), though I do have to admit it is barely shown in the more famous Lugosi-led Dracula (1930).

The rest of the cast also meanders over stilted language and emotions, as I’ve indicated above, although Angela Scott fares well as Lucy, with minimal ham-foolery. It would have been easy to do the dying character as a Camille, with arms amok, but she stays true. However, the three women who play the “wives” of the Count are jaw-droopingly overdone performances. To be fair, this is actually a hard part to play, because there’s three of them vying for notice always in the same scene, and again, there’s an overwrought level to them; even in the book, as they cower from their “master” and bound after their prey (a baby), so perhaps I’m being too hard on them.

I respect what Mann is trying to do, but perhaps he is doing too much. He needs a cinematographer who knows how to back the hell up, a dialog coach (especially if he continues to film costume dramas), and an AD who will have the balls to tell him that he needs to either ramp a scene up, or clamp it down.

Note that this film has been getting a lot of really good notices, so I may be one of the few who had some difficulty with it. The only extras on the disc are two versions of the trailer, so if you watch the VoD version, you won’t miss much. Perhaps check it out for yourself. See it… for your mother’s sake.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

DVD Review: The Scar Crow

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2012
Images from the Internet
The Scar Crow
Written and directed by Andy Thompson and Pete Benson                
Gaia Media / Dead on Arrival Digital / Jingai                 
83 minutes, 2009 / 2012    

Well this is a just-miss Hammer-esk film that is a bit of a mixture of early-1970s and mid-‘80s clichés. The story of three fetching witches (Prim, Proper, and Vanessa Tanner) enacting a bloody plan to escape a curse by their lecherous (and non-warlock?) dad and move on after 300 years could have been right out of the mind of those who wrote the Karnstein Trilogy (look it up HERE) rather than written by co-directors Andy Thompson and Pete Benson).

Let me start with the good stuff, coz that’s the kinda guy/fan I am. The film looks beautiful, is shot well, and edited strongly (if sometimes confusing of the action, especially in dim-lit scenes). People fading in and out are certainly nice touches and the sense of atmosphere works incredibly well; also soundly done is a scene where the audience can see the post-carnage effects in a room, but some of the characters who are enchanted cannot. The British countryside and the farm have just the right feeling of isolation, creepiness and loneliness to show the emotions of the sisters, without needing dialog to explain, though the words and actions are there.

The shimming light of fire rather than electricity, for example, is used without much loss to the image (i.e., too dark to see), and the color saturation is nicely tuned (fire tends to make things too yellow or red).

As the viewer is taken back and forth between the origin story centuries ago that weaves through modern times, it is never confusing, and they tie together in a solid knot that is the center of the story.

Ah, yes, the story. Actually, it is a really decent tale that is poorly told (as you can see, I’m starting on the problem parts now). While the acting is mostly either over- or underdone, which I will get to shortly, it is the co-screenwriting by the directors where is the most troubling.

But first, let us catch up a bit on the story. You got the three enticing witch sisters who cannot leave the farm until the curse is lifted (they are both bodily solid and spatially fluid, depending on the circumstance, which is actually a nice touch), and then there are the four macho insurance salesmen (is that an oxymoron, or are they just trying to mock a cliché?) copping out on a mean-spirited office team-building weekend (I would quit the job before going through this ridiculous and physically rigorous nonsense; most office workers could not do what is expected in the film, and beside, many insurance sellers these days are women, and there is nary a true representation in the group. But, as usual, I digress…). Running out on the exercises (rightfully), they come across the rural farm with the witches, to become fodder, as expected.

Man, I hated these four guys. They are every macho jock moron bar bully you ever met. We are also never given a chance to really feel pity for them, because, with one exception, there is no background story given about them, and absolutely no character development. All they do is drink (excessively), talk about how they’re going to score with the three women (disproportionately), and goad and fight with each other, calling their supposed good buddies “twats” over and over. The dislike I felt for them, including the supposedly sympathetic one who is more than willing to cheat on his girlfriend, was palpable. There were a couple of times there where I just said to the screen, “Oh, c’mon, kill the asshole already.”

There is also no shock value in here. When one of the four twats (as I now will call them) stops for a potty break in a field, there’s no doubt as to what is going to happen. Even the ending is no surprise, if you’ve seen any horror film in the last 30 years.

 But the biggest annoyance for me was the questions that went through my mind about the plot holes. For example (and I’ll only give two here), if the witches are planning to use these twats for their great escape, why would they let them go to the town pub and mix with the locals, including the cliché wise-but-not-taken-seriously-by-anyone older guy (bar owner, here) who warns them to leave? And why, when they are seducing one of the twats, who is tied to the bedposts, would two of the sisters undress over him and start kissing each other?  I mean, gratuitous lesbian incest, really?

As for the cast, well, most of the acting, as I said, was either too subdued or too scenery chewing. For example, the witches are supposed to be 300 years old and isolated (are you trying to tell me that no one else has been on that farm in all that time for them to do what they need to escape?; obviously, there are more than two questions…), but they sure do seem to know a lot about Twenty-first Century mores for women from the Eighteenth Century, including stripping at the drop of a corset. When they speak, they sound stilted in their language, like a high schooler trying to do Shakespeare, rather than have it flow naturally. This is especially true, sadly, for the most film-credited actor in the cast, redheaded Marysia Kay (as the eldest, Vanessa). Her line reading is atrocious here (I haven’t seen her in anything else, so I don’t know if it’s endemic for her, or she just didn’t care about this mess). The other two sisters, busty and beautiful Gabrielle Douglas (middle child Proper) and the cute and more reticent Anna Tolputt (youngest Prim, short for Primrose), fare a bit better, but are caught in a maelstrom of clunky writing.

As for the twats, well, mostly they seem interchangeable. Their characters were so vacant and transparent, and their portrayers so bland, that half the time I couldn’t remember who was whom. In fact, I’m not even going to bother with them, other than the supposedly sympathetic anti-hero (?) Dez, played by Kevyn (really?) Connett (who looks remarkably like Canadian comedian Shaun Majumder). While his acting probably comes the closest to being best among the troupe (possibly why he is the lead male role), he is also hampered by a ham-fisted script.

Now the all important gore-factor: I read a review that claimed it was not up to par, but actually, I thought the blood-to-kill quotient was quite good, and with one exception of a very obvious prosthetic in a corn field, was pleased with the various body parts strewn about in various scenes. It is amusing to me that a similar gag employed here – a hand reaching through a body to lift out a heart – was also used almost identically in a more recent film, Zombie A-Hole, reviewed recently on this blog by moi. Oh, sidebar here: I actually was annoyed that the character who had his heart removed above, along with other internal organs, was still alive to view all this happening way beyond the point of even suspension of disbelief. Again, poor writing/direction.
I realize this is a first film by Benson and Thompson, so I’m going to cut them some slack. After all, as much as I loved them, the similar could be said about some of the early works of masters like Chronenberg, Waters, Hooper, and yes, even Romero. I’ll keep my fingers crossed, even though they’ve only worked on one film since this was filmed in 2009. Perhaps we can get them to direct something they have not written, or have edited by someone else, where their strengths will all come together, because if they can match their content with their visuals, they may become a force worth noting.

Bonus clip: