Monday, May 28, 2012

DVD Review: Claustrofobia

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

Directed by Bobby Boermans
DaSilva Films / Seminal Films, 2011
94 minutes, USD $19.95

Online kostenloos oorspronkelijk bevrijd in Nederland… oh, sorry… originally released in the Netherlands online for free, this film is now being released on DVD. It’s in Dutch, with the option of turning on English captions.

Perhaps it is the Dutch cultural sensibility that has added a dimension that has seems to be missing from many European genre films of late, which has relied so heavily on graphic torture porn (such as with A Serbian Film [2010], where the term is taken more literally) of late. With a possibility of a wider general audience, the sex and explicit gore is kept down to a (relative) minimum, and instead, there is a much stronger reliance on the thriller aspect, for which the film surely benefits. If you’ll pardon the touchstones I use often, this is closer to Argento than Fulci, or Scorsese to Carpenter.

The opening is a prologue scene that will come to fruition much later in the story in a partially obvious way. This device has been used in umpteen horror (especially slasher) films since at least Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), but whatever, it’s only the first few minutes. From there it’s “now” and we follow a failing veterinarian student / failing actress named Eva (Carolien Spoor), as she moves into a new apartment building filled with mystery and bizarre people (and, as far as I can tell, no means of financial support; but I digress…). As it says on the DVD box, she goes out partying with a friend, and after, finds herself chained to a table in a room that looks like it could be out of the Saw franchise.

One of the more interesting aspects of the way this film plays out is that we find out who the bad guy is behind the gas mask pretty early on, so that is not a distraction, leaving the action to keep our attention rather than the who-done-it. I approve (though for TV murder mysteries, I still like to try to guess). And how he fits into the bigger picture is pretty easy to figure out, despite all the red herrings. Somehow, again, this is okay because this is more of a story than a character study.

I should digress again here and posit that one of the problems with this picture is the lack of character development. By the end, you kinda understand why the bad guy (played by Dragan Bakema; I won’t tell you who he plays to keep the first five minutes of suspense going) is doing this, and it is certainly one of the more interesting and creepy twists. While I admire the sheer gumption and smarts – and also some sheer incredibly stupid moves – of Eva, the viewer has no clue where she gets her resourcefulness, or what is her illness (diabetes?). More expositorier back-story is needed for her.

Then there is the cop, Danny (the Thor-looking Thijs Romer). His presence in the film and motivation for, say, not cluing in HQ about his moves, is left completely open. Now there is talk early on about Eva naming a lab rat Dino after her ex-. Could that be Danny? I was feeling a bit of claustrophobia about the rationale of the central pro- and an-tagonists.

Despite this drawback, the actors play their parts full on, without any scenery chewing. The three main players have a long history both in Dutch cinema and television serials (with the three co-playing in many of these productions, as well).

There certainly is a lot of suspense, making up for the minimal gore and sex (other than a brief, gratuitous shower scene). Most of the film takes place in three apartments and a secret room, but there still seems like a lot of movement. Plus, there is a decent body count for that little space,.

And then there are the bones to pick (and this paragraph may contain minor spoilers): for example, how does a medical student afford all the equipment used? And how does one get into medical school after being locked away in an institution for a period of time? When Eva escapes the handcuffs and knocks him out, why doesn’t she cuff him in, rather than just running so he can chase her again? These are just some of some of the questions that rise up once in a while, though honestly, these kinds of holes are not earthshaking, just a bit of an “Argggh!” While they did grab my attention in the moment, the story kept me pretty rapt.

Actually, the only thing I found truly annoying was an aspect of the ending. Rather than taking a shot towards poetic justice, a theme in the film to begin with, the conclusion was a tad of a cop-out for me.

Okay, so I’ve complained a bit here and there, but really, I would like to emphasize that this is actually quite a well-made film, especially for a director’s first full-length feature (he also has three shorts to his credit). Though there is a lack of gore, this is still pretty violent (much like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which actually had very little blood), so if you’re looking for a Law & Order-level murder story, this is not for you; if you like a good story, however, and do not flinch at some squeamish material, definitely go for it.

Whether you’re from Utrecht (the Netherlands) or from New Utrecht (Brooklyn), this is a fine release. As I said earlier, this thriller is story-focused, so prepare for a good ride. And watch for the contextually unintentionally humorous PSA at the end.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

DVD Review: The Museum of Wonders

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

The Museum of Wonders
Directed by Domiziano Cristopharo
Elite Entertainment, 2010
99 minutes, USD $19.95

”Gabba gabba
We accept you
We accept you
One of us”
– “Pinhead,” by The Ramones

They say it’s not what you have, but rather what you do with it. Thus is the case with this Italian film (with English subtitles). The story has been executed before with varying degrees of success. Let’s see if the plot sounds familiar to you:

A carnival (or in this case, the said Museum of Wonders) is run by a little person (in this case, with Achondroplasia, or Disproportionate dwarfism), who falls for a villainous woman who believes him to be rich, and so marries him. Meanwhile, she’s have a run with the strongman. At the wedding celebration she is welcomed into the group and in a drunken rage, insults everyone. Then it’s the carnies’ turn to dole out a hard comeuppance.

The first time (that I know of), it was Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), a movie so notorious that it was banned for decades, screened only at special showing until the 1960s, usually at either arthouses or drive-ins. It was then remade as the horrendous She-Freak (1967, produced by schlock-meister David Friedman). Now, the latest variation has come to the surface.

Nearly a sequel – f not a parallel – story to director Domiziano Cristopharo’s English-language House of Flesh Mannequins (2009), a theme of a dark room with glassed in people is a recurring locale.
What made the 1932 version so shocking, which is true to this day, is that real “freaks” were used, meaning pinheads, the legless Johnny Eck, and an actual Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, joined at the hip (among others). In the 1967 one, the freaks were more on the level of the bearded lady and a skeleton man. For this updated telling, while there is a little person and guy with a withered leg, the unusual amassed company is more made up of those with body modifications, such as multiple tattoos, piercings, and internal inserts (e.g., forehead horns, arm lumps); there is also an amazing sword swallower (who also appears to be the only one of the troupe who is a Yank).

Unlike the previous versions of this story, which were either a gritty noir story or silly ‘60s exploitation, this film has a different aim: it is going to straight-on dream-like reality, filled with philosophical and often obtuse language. Considering how beautifully it is shot and edited, its ambitious reach is hardly surprising. In the deleted scenes, we find that this is the ramblings (or dream) of a homeless drunk man who waxes poetic (sort of like the introduction to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, or perhaps Lemmy Kilmister’s bookending in Troma’s Tromeo and Juliet [1996]?).
 Here is an example of a “Greek chorus”-type of meta narrative that runs throughout the film:

Everything changes dear gentlemen. Everything gets older at the sound of your words. Except for the eyes. They will always be compelled to tell the truth. A truth without palms. Always suspended on a veil of lies. Where life comes true. And where it leaves its fear. Like the hug of a shy clown. A tear for every fragment of infinite won’t be enough. Poor people.

Yes, this leans more towards Fellini or Bergman than Browning or something produced by Friedman. Truthfully, having seen Cristopharo’s previous film, while I wasn’t expecting something on the level of, say, Bloodsucking Redneck Vampires (2004), neither was I expecting something this far up the abstraction ladder. This is nearly poetry, though it left me feeling more like Purgatorio than Inferno (hey, what kin I yell yaz, I’m smart). This is not necessarily the fare I want to spend my Saturday afternoons watching, but it did make a nice change from the joyous inanities of Planet of the Vampire Women and Gums, in which this film fell in the middle of my viewing pile.

Cristopharo gets some fine work from his actors, especially his three leads: Fabiano Lioi as the little person, Marcel; the stately (and model-thin) Valentina Mio as his to-be punished wife (Mio is not mentioned in the film’s imdb site; I wonder what she did to offend the crew), Salome; and Francesco Venditti as the muscular Sansone (I’m guessing that’s Italian for Samson). It should also be noted that in a fantasy sequence, Maria Grazia Cucinotta plays Marcel’s grandmother.

There are three extras on the DVD, all of them of decent lengths, relatively. There is a deleted scene section which is worth viewing, a gag/blooper reel that is okay (but not translated), and a live performance by fire-eater and sword-swallower extraordinaire, Scott “Murrugun” Nelson, who also appears in the film as the sole American.

With a high-end pension for cinematography, writing and direction (and I should mention the wonderful soundtrack, make-up, costumes, sets and lighting, all of which are outstanding), it should be no surprise to anyone that this has won a few festival awards.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Interview with Brooklyn independent horror film director Sean Weathers

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

In David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981), the title-afflicted character of Benjamin Pierce (Robert Silverberg) was “rehabilitated by art.” Similarly, one could say the same thing about Sean Weathers, an independent t filmmaker from the Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-Sty) area of Brooklyn, who uses the neighborhood as both an influence and his palate to paint gritty urban stories.

Born in Guyana in 1980, his family moved to New York when he was a very young age, where Sean became involved in various nefarious gang-related activities. Somehow, he managed to claw his way out of the real violence into one of a cinematic nature, with the help of his camera.

At 16 years old, in 1996, he brought his first finished full-length product, to fruition, a horror film called House of the Damned. Currently, he has six films available from his Full Circle Filmworks, which have recently been released (or rereleased): they are also available at MVD. My previous reviews of the five I have seen can be found [HERE] and [HERE]. They All Must Die! has been nominated for Best Taboo Erotica DVD at the 2012 TLA Cult Awards (also it's was also No. 1 on their site in DVD sales!). The full list of his released films is as follows:
House of the Damned (1996)
They All Must Die! (1998)
Lust for Vengeance (2001)
The Unfinished Works of Sean Weathers (2004)
Hookers in Revolt (2006)
The Big Trade Off (2012)

A lifelong fan of various horror and exploitation genera, each of Sean’s films fits into a different sub-genre (blaxploitation, Italian giallo, etc.), showing that he is knowledgeable about the kinds of films he shoots.

The following questions, asked and answered by email, are meant to be both informative, and with a strong sense of humor at the same time.

 You were 16 when you made your first (released) film [House of the Damned, (1996)]. Had you been making shorter films before this?
Yes. As a troubled youth, when I was in gangs I had stolen a camera and after I decided that lifestyle wasn’t for me, I used that camera to shoot my friends and different documentary-styled experimental films before I would go on to shoot House of the Damned.
Have you had any formal training in film since you started making films?
I worked on a few documentary-typed projects before high school when I realized that I wanted to get into movies. After high school, I bypassed college and went the self-taught, out of pocket route. However, Aswad did go to film school.

How did you meet Aswad Issa and George Lopez (who worked on many of Sean’s films)? Is it difficult to maintain both a friendship and working relationship with them?

Aswad and I first started working together when he agreed to be my cinematographer for House of the Damned. Because of his previous experience in film and that being my first movie, I looked to him for a lot of advice. This eventually led to us collaborating on each others films, creatively. Our relationship can be stormy at times because we are two different, creative minds. However, our mutual respect and love of film has kept our working relationship and friendship going through the last 15 years. I met George on the set of House of the Damned through Aswad. George’s involvement was primarily when we needed a second cinematographer on set.

How do you think you’ve grown as a filmmaker from
House of the Damned until now?
When I first started out, I was just trying to do outrageous things in my films, such as a rapping zombie, longest rape scene ever, most realistic sex and drug scenes. Now, I’m more focused on the story I’m telling and developing and the characters I’m telling it with rather than the shock value.

How satisfied are you looking at
House of the Damned now, and is there anything you would do differently if you filmed it presently?
In regards to what we see in front of the camera, there would definitely have been more nudity and gore. In terms of the technical aspect, it’s Murphy’s Law on set, “what can go wrong will go wrong.” So I would’ve definitely spent more time in pre-production planning scenes and shots out better and rehearsed more with the actors. During production, I would have done less takes. Part of my trademark as a director today is minimal takes. Also in post-production for this film, I spent months searching for editors and working with editors that didn’t pay off for me at all. To date, I’ve edited all of my films.

What progress do you see from
House of the Damned to Lust for Vengeance to Hookers in Revolt?
They’re all very different movies content-wise and I leave it up to the viewers to decide which is more entertaining. For me, I can only look at progress made from the technical side of things, more locations, better acting, more polished scripts, more fleshed-out characters, better equipment, etc.

If you had a larger budget, what would you do differently as a filmmaker?
I work with a skeleton crew with all of my productions, with 1 to 2 crew members on most shooting days. With a larger budget, I would get more hands on deck and a full crew. In addition, I would get better actors, sets, locations, equipment, etc.

What medium did you use for
House of the Damned, and what do you use now?
For my first few films, I used a Cannon GL1, which was broadcast-quality at the time but a far cry from today’s technology. Currently, I use the Panasonic DVC Pro HD, which shoots High Def footage at 24 frames per second for a more film-like quality.

Most of your filming has been done in Brooklyn and occasionally in Manhattan. Are you thinking about widening your scope?

Brooklyn, as a borough, is bigger, more diverse and more populated than a lot cities [Brooklyn has been called “the third-and-a-half largest city in the U.S. – RG]. As much shooting as I’ve done here and as many locations that I’ve used, I barely scratched the surface. As for Manhattan, I’ve shot in many historical sites, but even with that borough, there are still many locations I have yet to use. If you took my films out of the city, they wouldn’t be the same films.

Do you bring anything from being from Brooklyn into your films, other than locales?
Myself. Simply surviving to this age is something I never thought I’d do because almost everyone I grew up with is either dead or doing life in prison. I was in and out of gangs since I was 12 years old. I saw things happen that most people only read about in the newspapers or see on the 10 o’clock news; watching someone get shot right in front of me, getting hooked on drugs, constantly getting into fights, almost killing someone, free-basing, using needles, and falling victim to just about every trap there is for a young, single-parent black kid in the inner-city. Those experiences I had in my younger days permeate through my scripts, my directing style, and my acting.

How do you audition your actors? I can generally tell within the first few seconds of meeting an actor whether they’re right for what I’m looking for or not. If I see someone that interests me, I try to find out more about them to see if it’s worth doing a follow-up. It’s more about the look and the personality rather than how well someone can do a cold reading.

Who of your actors would you Kill? Fuck? Marry? And why? [the first three are questions Sean asked one of his female actors in the extras for House of the Damned - RG] I would kill all of them, skull-fuck their corpses, and marry myself.

Good save! What actor(s) would you like to work with, e.g., appear in your films?
Certainly if I have the right size paycheck, I can get any actor I want. Listen, if Megan Fox, Scarlett Johansson, or any of those young, hot famous actresses in Hollywood were willing to do a nude, blazing love scene of course I would have them in my film... yesterday!

Are there any other films around currently that you like?

Of course, I’m a big fan of films. Without being more specific, it would be impossible for me to just start naming them.

How do you distribute your films?
I currently have a deal that started in October 2011, with MVD (Music Video Distributors). Currently for sale are House of the Damned, Lust for Vengeance, Hookers in Revolt, They All Must Die, and The Unfinished Works of Sean Weathers.

Do you attend horror conventions? 

 I have yet to do the convention circuit but it is something I look forward to doing in the near future.

How do you pay for the films?

Do your films play at festivals?

I have yet to enter any of my films into a festival.

How has the reaction been to your films from the public? Critics?
Most fans and consumers love my films because they’re pretty much straight-forward and I give people what I say I’m giving them so they’re not disappointed when they get it. In regards to critics, it’s been a mixed bag. Some critics appreciate my non-traditional storytelling with its dark themes, social commentary, bleak and cynical outlook on humanity and ambiguous endings, while others do not understand it. The one major reaction that I’ve gotten in person to one of my films was the screening to They All Must Die!. It was screened at a local bar in Manhattan to a mixed crowd of whites, blacks, men, and women. People were offended before the rape scene even took place. At the end of the film, when the thugs got away with the rape, it was like the reading of the OJ Simpson verdict. Some of the black people started applauding and this lead to several fights breaking out, the cops coming on the scene and multiple arrests. Three years before getting my deal with MVD I was dropped from my previous distribution company once they got a look at They All Must Die!, one executive even said to me, it is one of the most “disturbing, depraved, and disgusting films ever made.”

What is it about horror films that you find so attractive?
Most people are superstitious whether it be religion, karma, Scientology, voodoo, aliens or ghosts. So believing in the supernatural and loving horror films is easy. However, even for us non-believers, I feel we have all had moments of doubt where fear has sunken in and taken over our better judgment, and we’ve thought we’ve seen a ghost or something other-worldly. For me, the best horror films are the psychological ones that blur the line between reality and fantasy.

How about Giallo?
It’s an interesting sub-genre that has a lot of elements that I love. Lust for Vengeance, styled after Gialli, is the first and only true Giallo film ever made in the U.S. to date. It combines murder, eroticism, nudity, mystery, and whodunits, with stylish visuals. I locked myself in a room for over a month watching over 100 Italian thrillers for inspiration for this film. The predominant themes are complex murder mysteries that emphasized stylish visuals, techno scores, the whodunit element, violence, gore, and large amounts of melodrama via Italy's long standing tradition of opera drama. They also generally include liberal amounts of nudity and sex.

How do you feel about exploitation films in general? (Note: meant as a genre, not “exploitive.”)I love them. The thing I love about exploitation films is that they are straight to the point. Whether they’re exploiting taboo subjects, popular movie trends, or pop-culture movements, they’re pretty straight-forward in that they tell you what they’re giving you and then they give it to you.

Who is your favorite director(s)?
There are so many directors I love. However, if I did have to single a few out, they would be Stanley Kubrick, Orson Welles, Andrei Tarkovsky, Sergei Eisenstein and of course Aswad Issa.

Mario Bava or Dario Argento?

Lucio Fulci?

He made films for over 40 years and I would love to do the same.

As a liberal (small "l"), it’s actually hard for me to ask this question without white guilt, but here goes: How does race factor into your vision of your films? It doesn’t, unless it’s vital to the story-line, as in They All Must Die!. All of the characters on screen in the film are based on real people I knew growing up; real situations that happened, real feelings and emotions. Back then, black people in the inner city felt that whites had taken everything from them and all they had left was the ghetto. It didn’t matter if the white people who entered the ghetto were a part of interracial dating, coming to buy drugs, or even teachers that taught in local schools. They all got it in the end if they overstayed their welcome, or said or did the wrong thing to the wrong person. The only white people that made it out safe were the cops... The only reason for that was because they were armed and stayed in groups.

How do you go about writing the music for the films?
Honestly, it just comes to me.

Who is your greatest musical inspiration?
Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach.

Do you play any instruments other than electronic keyboards?

In House of the Damned, the main character makes a snide remark about rap. Are you a fan?
A moderate fan, I actually knew Biggie Smalls. He grew up in Bed-Stuy, not too far from me. I listened to him freestyle a few times. I tried to talk him into doing some music for one of my soundtracks and do a cameo in They All Must Die!, in the scene in which my other rapper friend, Illa [Glenn "Illa" Skeete appears in a number of Weathers' films - RG], buys drugs. However, his people wouldn’t let him do it... at least, that’s what he told me. Then he died the next year and I took it pretty hard.

How much of Goblin [Dario Argento’s band] is an influence on you?
They never really had any influence on me. I’ve heard them play before and they’re pretty good though.

Which aspects of filmmaking do you like best (feel free to put in order of importance, and explain why)?: writing, filming, directing, and composing the score.
Putting them in order from most important, I’d say No. 1 is filming because ultimately the footage you shoot is the movie you’re gonna make. No 2 is directing. Even though in my more recent films, I have been acting in virtually every scene and doing less on-set directing, the job of a director as a whole is the most important job. No. 3 is writing. It’s hard to have a good film without a good foundation and the script is the foundation for every film. Lastly, it’s writing the score. I feel the music is an incredibly important aspect of putting a film together. The only reason I would put this at No. 4 is because most of my films don’t have scores. I chose to go with no music at all for They All Must Die!, and in my four most recent films, I used actual songs.

House of the Damned, why didn’t you show what happened in the basement, other than Liz and her boyfriend’s reaction?
A) I couldn’t afford to show a monster on my budget. B) I wanted to be as mysterious as possible as to what was actually chasing them and C) I was inspired by a similar scene in Evil Dead.
Why is They All Must Die! indicated as an “unauthorized” film?
Legal reasons.

Why does it have no credit at the beginning or the end?
The impact that this film has had on my personal and professional life, I would not put on anyone else. The stress and hardship I’ve had to endure over the last 13 years with my personal and professional life, I wouldn’t put on anyone. So yes, this film has no “credits,” only blame...and I deserve all of it.

Was Spike Lee any influence on this film, as it has a bit of a Do the Right Thing vibe to it?
No. Although we do tackle similar themes in our respective films, I believe we go about it in very different ways.

You said that you like to use very few takes. Was the attack scene in They All Must Die! filmed in a single take?
No. I do minimum takes for several reasons. One of them being, that if you can get ahead of schedule you can allocate more time for the scenes you build your movie up to. So for the rape scene I did take my time.

How does Illa feel about his junk being briefly shown in the rape scene?
I think you may be confusing some of the actors [this is true – RG], which is understandable since there were no credits in the film. But Illa only had a brief cameo in which he bought drugs. The actor that did flash his junk requested that his junk be flashed to add realism to the scene and a sense that anything can happen.

What message were you trying to give with the quick clips of southern racial killings that are interspersed through the film?
The message is up for interpretation. I think one of the most detrimental things a filmmaker can do is tell a viewer how they should interpret their film.

Is the violence against the woman justified by the images of abuse of blacks by whites?
In my eyes no; however even though I’m the filmmaker I’m still only one opinion. But, I could see why some people would view it that way.

There is no likeable character in the movie, especially the men (including the landlord). Do you think this could be seen as a negative stereotype, even if they are based on people you knew?
It’s up to the viewer to find if they see anything likable in the characters. But, the characters are very likable to each other. The thugs are life-long friends and the landlord and his wife, despite breaking up during the course of the film, were happily married.
Back to Lust for Vengeance, why did you name the character after Michael Richards, and what did you feel after his outburst? It’s actually a tribute to Michael Myers, the last name was made up. In regards to Richards’ outburst, I saw it and I wasn’t offended; it was just two guys yelling at each other.

In some of the scenes in Lust for Vengeance,, it seems like the killer was played by a smaller, female (such as on the back cover of the DVD) than the actor who played the Richards character? Am I imagining this?
Although the actor that played the killer was hardly in the movie, no he did not have a stand-in. He was only substituted by using P.O.V. shots.

Why do we not see Lisa’s demise?
Because she wasn’t killed. Although Michael wanted his revenge and wanted them all dead, he rationalized killing them based on their behavior. From him stalking them, he judged that they didn’t deserve to live. However, he simply couldn’t justify killing Lisa.

How much of the fooling around with the linear story line was influenced by Pulp Fiction?
None. The first cut of the film was linear. However, at the screening I realized that the sex scenes and death scenes took the viewers off guard because they all happened during the last third of the film. I simply needed a way to spread them out. Therefore, I adapted the “sequence approach.”

Putney Swope… discuss.
The name comes from the 1969 film. The only scene the character appears in is the scene in which Beth has sex with him in exchange for drugs. We see this after Beth uses the drugs in a flashback.

In The Unfinished Works of Sean Weathers, of the three film parts, why start with what you and Issa consider a dud [as is stated in the commentary]?
Because I would hate for that movie to be the last one someone saw.

How comfortable are you shooting sex scenes of other people? Or of yourself, as in Hookers in Revolt?
My approach is what ever is required for the character is required. As an actor or a director, the last thing on my mind is comfort level; I’m just trying to get the scene right.

I know this is a silly question, but I really want to know: in “The Erotic Adventures of Samson and Delilah” section of The Unfinished Works of Sean Weathers, why do all the men have short hair? Isn’t the point of the whole seduction of Samson about the hair?
The point of Samson was he gave into weakness and exposed the secret to his powers. From there, it was a story about redemption. The bible is filled with references to the “sun god” and therefore the strength of my Samson was the rays of the sun and not his hair.

In the same film, the clips from “Gangz vs. Cults” looks like a really interesting premise. Are you thinking about revisiting this story for a future film?
It’s hard to say. I love the concept, it’s one of my favorites. However, it’s unlikely at this point... But you never know.

Illa’s persona, who is in the gang half of the title “GvC,” is named Cult Snake. Isn’t that confusing, even if it is a great character name.
It is a little confusing because it’s just a few scenes from a very elaborate script. To clarify things, Glenn “Illa” Skeete plays Jamal, the character who has his wife stolen by the cult. Buddy Love plays "O.G. Killa" Snake. I believe he calls himself “Cult Killa” Snake while boasting.

I notice that when you have couplings in your films, it’s black men and black women, black men and white women, but no white men with black women. Is this purposeful? Subconscious?
No. There was going to be a white actor and black actress love scene in “Escape from Bloodbath Island” had I finished it.

After hearing your commentary about the filming of that, I’m guessing you won’t be returning to film at Floyd Bennett Field…
I might, but it would have to be a shoot where field audio isn’t that important to me. But, I’m still haunted in my nightmares to this day about those grown men playing with those damn toy airplanes.

And am I correct that the lesbian scene from “Escape from Bloodbath Island” is what appears out of context in Lust for Vengeance?
Yes, you are correct “homie.”                                                    

Actually, there are lesbian scenes in a lot of your films. What's the fascination?
Maybe it’s a hood thing or maybe it’s a New York thing. I don’t know, it’s not really something that I view as out of the ordinary.

In Lust for Vengeance, was there a purpose connected to the plot for the lesbian scene told in the Jennifer segment?
Lust for Vengeance
is a visceral film. With the sex and drugs, there is a message that I’m trying to send through the characters to the viewers.

There is also a near-lesbian scene in House of the Damned. Care to elaborate?
That scene involved the lead actress, Valerie, and the supporting actress Kendra. Towards the end of the movie, after Kendra was killed she comes back as a zombie and to defeat her Valerie locks her in a closet. Therefore, putting her back “in the closet.”

In Hookers in Revolt, the character you play is named Gene Simmons. Named after the bassist of KISS? If so, are you a fan of the band?
No, my character is not named after him, but I am a fan of the band.

Is it me, or is there less nudity during the sex scenes of Hookers than in your previous films?
Yes, I tried to make Hookers more “mainstream” and toned down the sex and racism purposely in that film.

From your scenes, it’s obvious you’re quite buffed. How often do you work out?
Quite often; it’s not easy but when you’re going to put yourself in front of the camera, you need to keep up that image.

Which has been your favorite film to date? Favorite scene?
It’s hard to say because my favorites are my more recent HD films, The Trade Off, Tortured by Regret, Scumbag Hustler, and Ace Jackson is a Dead Man. These films, I’ve already finished principle photography on but have been delayed because of the re-release of my older films with my new distribution deal. It’s hard to judge these films since none of them have a final cut to them and they haven’t been screened. In regards to the films that are currently on DVD, my favorite film would be Hookers in Revolt because it is the most polished and my favorite scene would be the rape scene in They All Must Die! because of the intensity, emotion, and realism.

How did you break away from the violence of your youth, and what influence do you think it has with the tolerance towards violence in your films?
I abandoned the gang lifestyle when I started playing organized sports. I started to get a feeling of purpose and responsibility. I began setting goals and the gang lifestyle didn't fit me anymore. Honestly, I don't know the influence this had on the tolerance of violence.
Are your films done “guerilla” style, or do you get permits from the city?
I’m the guy that directed They All Must Die!, Do you think I care about my own safety? Guerrilla style.

What are you working on now?
 Right now, I’m about to release a DVD of short films called, Something Strange. Shortly after, I will then be releasing an erotic drama called, The Trade Off, that was shot in HD. Later this year, I will be going into production again, for the first time in over 2 years, for the murder mystery A Deadly Affair.

Favorites: fast zombies or slow zombies?
Fast. For the record, I was the first one to ever shoot fast zombies with House of the Damned in ‘96.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

DVD Review: Planet of the Vampire Women

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

Planet of the Vampire Women
Directed by Darin Wood           
Seminal Films, 2011                            
95 minutes, USD $19.95   

This film reminds me of three overlapping horror and sci-fi sub-genres. The first is from the 1950’s low-budget B-line films that used laughable props and minimal sets. Some classic examples are Queen of Outer Space (1958) and Cat-Women of the Moon (1953).

The second is more of a ‘70s and ‘80s post-VHS intro of then-smoldering fantasy, like Galaxina (1980) or the British obscurity Spaced Out (1981). This was mostly fall-out from the post-Star Wars (1977) success ride-the-wave glut. These last two made John-Boy’s Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) and the original Battlestar Galactica (1978) look like Titanic (1997).

The last is from the millennium period, when a series of women-based films, often with lesbian fantasy sub-themes (though mostly watched my teen males), that took traditional storylines and changed them to fit the format, such as The Vampire’s Seduction (1998) or The Lord of the G-Strings: The Femaleship of the String (many of which starred the likes of the lovely Tina Krause and Misty Mundae).

Planet of the Vampire Women is a pleasant and quite rightfully ridiculous throwback to that style that looks like some of the cheaper sets on the first season of Star Trek, where boulders were easily identified as paper mache, clothing was tight, and creatures were either puppets or people in hairy suits. Welcome back!

You may ask yourself, “How cheap is cheap?” Well, for example, the film opens in a casino / strip joint (of course), and the liquor (opium rum) bottles are written in a strange language… in magic marker. Yep.

Our heroes, as it were, are space pirates (no, the loveable kind, not Somalian), led by Capt. Miranda Richards (Paquita Estrada; for some reason has her listed in two films from 1934 and 1933!). Her crew robs the casino (a scene of blood and boobs, as I wrote in my notes) in a set piece that’s a tad too long, and then they tear out of there via their spaceship, which is maneuvered by a steering wheel. Did I mention the word cheap? Oh, and I don’t want to forget the bobble hula girl on the dashboard. As they zoom off, Richards officially states, “Captain’s log, star date…whatever.” I love a film that doesn’t take itself seriously, and had lots of nods to its time-binding predecessors.

All is well and good until a mysterious face in a cloud shoots a lightning bolt into the good captain’s eyes, turning her into the first of said vampires (around the 24 minute mark). This does not bode well for the rest of the crew, which includes: Astrid Covair (Stephanie Hyden), a smarter-than-she-looks “pleasure clone” who can change into any raunchy outfit (and does often) or to anyone, with a twist of her body that would make Samantha Stevens proud (one of her best lines is “I read a lot between fucking and sucking!”); the driver is Ginger Maldonado (Liesel Hanson, who ironically plays Liesel on the TV show Galen), the hardcore Tank Girl type; Pepper Vance (Ashley Marino) plays the drugged out scout; and the only male on board, Automatic Jones (Keith Letl), who is part android and most likely a nod to the various “robots” in the Alien franchise. Chasing them – and eventually joining in, of course – is lawman and Cuba Gooding Jr. lookalike, Val Falco (Jawara Duncan). You know he’s a cop because he has flashing red lights on his sunglasses; he also has one of the better recurring lines: “Now look, I’m not saying what we saw were vampires…all I’m saying is there was some kind of undead creature that was sucking the blood out of the living and shot lightning out of their eyes…”

They are all forced to land on a hostile planet filled with electrical storms and blowing dust (another Alien [1979] reference?), where they encounter – in part – a paper mache dinosaur (wisely only seen in short spurts) and digital space bugs that look like the zomBEES from auteur filmmaker Bill Zebub’s The Worst Horror Film Ever Made (2008).

Of course, this all end up back at the stripping casino (obviously shot at the same time as the opening scene) for the final battle between good and evil, living and undead.

Shot at Black Cat Studios in Sacramento, strangely, the entire film is one chapter on the DVD, so the viewer has to fast forward to wherever they left off.

Look, it is impossible to watch a film like this with the same mindset of, say, Lord of the Rings (2001) or even Me, Myself and Irene (2000). When you get down to this level, it’s a completely different semantic environment, and the rather than expecting the best and taking away points, the viewer must expect the worst and add from there. Using this paradigm, this film was sheer stupid, obnoxious, and a ton of fun. This isn’t a cinema discussion group material to discuss how it reflects to Kant, but rather you should get some bodies in the same room, turn it on, and party. You’ll groan, you’ll hoot, you’ll point out all the continuity errors and how amateurish the sets and creatures truly are. You might even be the one to say, “Man, I could do it better than that.” But most likely you won’t; rather you’ll have to settle and kvetch while getting a lot of amusement seeing this.

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

DVD Review: Gums

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

Directed by Robert J. Kaplan        
Sinful Mermaid, 1976 / 2012
66 minutes, USD $24.95

If you look at the works of recent low-to-nil budget auteurs that use high-end video for their releases, it’s interesting to look back at some of the film releases that were actually shot on celluloid, rather than digi.

For a while, in its golden age of the 1970s, porn was a haven for the quickie film (as well as a training school for up-and-coming major directors). Back then, rather than a collection of shorts set pieces strung together as it is now, there was a story, even if it was threadbare or nonsensical.

That brings us to Gums, a semi-ambitious homage to the then-recent Spielberg hit, Jaws (1975). Rather than a shark, though, it’s a “Great White Mermaid” (or, spermus gobbulous) that is gulping people down (men and women), in more ways than one.

During a time when the industry was still located mainly in New York City (before becoming almost completely Los Angeles-centric in the ‘80s), so the fact that this albatross was filmed both in Long Island (NY) and Florida is quite a memorable note. It’s just a shame it did not live up to its possibilities. Why? Oh, the reasons are many. And while most of these may be a surefire must-to-avoid, it’s so bizarre in its way that it’s almost worth seeing just for all the things wrong with it.

Let’s start at the top. The director, Robert Kaplan, must have been stoned out of his mind because he handed in a product that had some excellent reasons to succeed, and trashed them all. Now, let’s get to the story and cast.

As the titular (pun intended) evil mermaid, is Terri Hall (d. 2007). She is completely nude in every shot, with the exception of a tiara, some bluish make-up that covers the top half of her face, and an occasional shell-strung belly chain. Her entire oeuvre is to swim around (sometimes in the ocean, and when at “home” under the sea, it’s obviously in a pool), including doing underwater cartwheels. When on solid ground (apparently mermaids not only have two legs, but can breathe in both water and air), she’s dancing, with Hall putting her classical training to use.

The hero of the piece is Sherriff Rooster Coxswain Jr. III (yep, you read that correctly), with Paul Styles playing the Brody role. With his thick New York accent and dazed look, it’s no surprise that this is Styles only film credit. Even the film crew recognized this, and I’ll get to that a bit later. Meanwhile, when the sheriff isn’t doing the wife (Rachel McCallister, aka Crystal Sync; she was also in the classic Bloodsucking Freaks [1976], FYI), he’s screwing a blow-up doll he shares with…

…Filling in for the scientist role as Seymour “Sigh” Smegma is Dryfuss-look-a-like Richard Lair. Who, you ask? Well, in “the industry” he was better known as Richard Bolla, or just R Bolla. Under his real name, Robert Kerman (from Bensonhurst!), he is a trained actor who got into the industry to survive, and later became a big star in Italian cinema, including seminal genre films like Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Cannibal Ferox (1981). But for this film, he pretty much walks through his role, obviously ad-libbing and recognizing it for the WTF that it is.

The last main character is actually quite the shocker. Filling in the Quint role is monologist and “stand-up tragedy” comedian Brother Theodore (Gottlieb; d. 2001), as Captain Carl Clitoris. Through most of the film he is either dressed entirely in an SS uniform (riding crop included) or biker leather, all the more interesting when one realizes that he was a survivor of Dachau. Brother Theodore was quite the phenomenon in New York City at one time, having a one-man show for a large number of years in which he berated the audience for attending, and being at the core of the transgression theater movement. His many appearances on David Letterman are legendary, and worth checking into. To have him appear in a non-sexual role (mostly) here in full force alone makes this worth watching, as he sputters and curses, eyes rolling in his head.

Along with Jaws, there is also a strong Blazing Saddles (1976) feel through this, with people answering all at once for example.

So this mermaid comes to the town of Great Head (sigh) and the three intrepid idiots (along with the gay Deputy Dick, played by Ras Kean) are out to get her. Apparently, when she’s done with her (male) victims, all that’s left of them is their pecker (represented by a rubber dildo, side seam intact). This makes no sense to me, since if this is what she latches onto, why is it the only thing not ingested?

I am assuming this was a hardcore picture when it came out, but perhaps there were two versions of it. In this one, all the sex scenes are either edited so there is no visible penetration or mouth-on-johnson seen, but most of the time the image is blocked by some graphic, be a crude drawing of a plate of mussels, a lobster, or a sign that says something like “U.S. Government Grade ‘A’ Pork” or “Kosher for Passover.” They look period rather than added on in the current version, which is why the wonder of a double release.

To add even more weirdness, on the boat near the end of the film, there is a memo across the screen (in similar graphic form) that states “Get rid of the Sheriff, even a puppet can ACT better than him!!!” And from then on, you got it, he’s replaced by a marionette puppet, with larger than proportion dildo genitalia. Before long, all three of the main male characters are also puppets, which the mermaid orally attacks.

As a final topping, the song over the final credits is a “Mack the Knife” sounding “Thar She Blows,” which is just terrible, though it should be noted that it was written by Bard Fiedel, who would later go on to score the likes of The Terminator, True Lies, and Johnny Mnemonic! Oy.

The extra is three B&W loops of various women undressing, looking like they are from either the ’50s or ‘60s.

So, yeah, I thought it was a bad film, you’re most likely to think it’s a bad film….heck, even the film crew thought it was a bad movie. But the question is, is it worth seeing? I reservedly say yes, just for the ?!?!?!?! factor alone. Just go in knowing what you’re getting into, and that there is certainly no self-satisfaction potential involved.