Sunday, December 29, 2013

DVD Review: Jug Face

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

Jug Face
Written and directed by Chad Crawford Kinkle. 
81 minutes, 2013

This film has had quite a number of festival selections, won some awards, and is listed on quite a number of Top 10 lists of the year. I can certainly understand that, as the acting is superb, the direction well handled, the tension palpable and the story is engaging through most of it. But for some reason it left me cold.

In the deep backwoods of Tennessee, there is an ancient creature living in a relatively shallow hole in the ground (called “the pit”) that has a few inches of water in it that trades good health in exchange for a sacrifice of its choosing, in a relationship similar to the Morlocks and Eloi. Whoever’s face appears on a potter’s jug (inspired by the unnamed being), they must have their throat cut and the blood spills down into the hole, satisfying the bloodlust until the next jug face.

We meet Amy (Lauren Ashely Carter, looking younger than her years), who is a teenager in trouble in many ways, including an affair with someone close to her, a friendship with a much older man (the potter, played excellently by Sean Bridges with just the right amount of pathos and innocence), promised to a rotund and boring neighbor nearer to her age, is pregnant (it says it right on the box, so I’m not giving anything away) in a society that demands virginity, and now she had found out she’s the next jug face. To make matters worse, if that’s possible, she’s stolen the jug before anyone sees it, causing death in her wake.

Because the thing in “the pit wants what it wants,” the community will do whatever it takes to keep it satisfied, due to its “taking” others until its chosen wants are met. On top of that, those who die by its hand that have not been chosen are cursed to wander the woods for eternity.

This sounds like it could be a hoot, but it fails in my opinion. Why? For many reasons, not all of which I will tell because of giving away too much, but here are some thoughts. The tentacle being, which we only see in extremely quick edits and blurs of motion – to keep the suspense, I’m sure, but c’mon – is supposed to be a religion of sorts, perhaps being an analogy of the fanaticism of those who follow Jeebus, in some way. Well, with the exception of what was written and rewritten and transcribed and rewritten and transcribed, religion is based solely on faith that something had happened a long time ago, can happen now, or will happen at a later point. The being in the hole, however, is now and visceral, its effects immediate and destruction by its figurative hands a real consequence. This is not religion, because there is no faith in the unknown. It’s desires are made known and you damn well better obey.

Due to this, I wonder why this community is committed to keeping its number small. I mean, the more who live there, the better the odds of survival. If you live in a community of 20 and every couple of years someone has to go, well, I don’t like the odds. Why they don’t all leave is another question. Is it a matter of “my land, my honor”? Screw that. If there was a creature living on my block that demanded that someone from the block has to be fed to it, well, I’m not staying in that neighborhood, never mind the city. It defies logic to me.

Everyone in the area treats every day like its normal. I’d be shitting bricks wondering if it was me, my partner, or my kids who were next. In a community that small, I would be heartbroken if anyone was chosen. These people are poor as dirt, Amy’s father sells moonshine to store owner in town to make any money.

Perhaps I’m reading this wrong. Maybe it’s not about religion, but politics. I mean, poor people – especially in the deep south, it seems – tend to vote against their own best interests (i.e., Republican) so maybe it makes sense they would stay around, even if it means the possibility of self-harm. That could be why I was so frustrated by the relationships in the film.

There are some decent gore applications, including a dismembered hand here, an unconnected intestine there, and especially some throat slicing, but much of the action is a whirl of motion and editing that leaves much of the actual attacks as wanting, for me.

Lastly, I found the ending to be unsatisfying, and an easy out. I’m not going to say what it is, but surely there could have been a more going against the grain, rather than… well, what it is.

As a side note, I think it’s cool that the central character’s parents are played by Larry Fessennden and a frumpy looking Sean Young, who also played the parents of the central character in the 2005 film, Headspace (reviewed HERE).

As for the extras, there is an interesting albeit standard “making of” documentary that lasts for 30 minutes so you get to hear the origins and meet the cast / crew, the trailer, and a short written and directed by Kinkle called “Organ Grinder.” That was fun, even in its six-minute length.

Pay attention to what I say, or listen to the others, it’s all good. I have no ego in this, as it’s not my film. Considering that more have liked it than I have, it may be worth your checking it out. Actually, listen to no one and make your own choices, unlike the people in this film.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

DVD Review: Caesar and Otto’s Deadly Xmas

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


Caesar & Otto’s Deadly Xmas
Directed by David Campfield        
4ourth Horizon Cinema               
83 minutes, 2012 / 2013

This film has been compared to the Three Stooges and Abbott & Costello, but it really is a bit closer to the Dumb and Dumber franchise. Not a judgment call, I’m just sayin’.

Caesar DeNovio (director David Campfield) and his half-brother Otto (Paul Chomicki) live together in a squalid apartment, the former wanting to be an actor in the worst way (which he is), and latter is, well, a slovenly man who always has a 2-day beard stubble (and not in the Miami Vice kind of way). Between the two of them, their IQs are probably double digits. Mind you, I grew up in Bensonhurst, so I’m familiar with the type.

It seems that Caesar has an obsessive fear of Mr. Coca-Cola….I mean Santa. His grandpa (played by Troma kingpin Lloyd Kaufman) played some mind games with him when he was just a tyke, and he’s been terrorized since. Of course, he gets hired to play the man in the red suit. What to do, what to do… And now there’s a disgruntled Santa (Deron Miller), whose name is Damien, of course, who is out to kill Santas, and has his sights on you-know-who. This all involves an evil company named Xmas, so naturally, this is a [fill in name of this film].

Yes, there are lots of Christmas themed horror films since the likes of 1946’s It’s a Wonderful Life (yeah, it’s a horror: a ghost scares a man into believing he’s never being born, including his young brother drowning), but an evil Santa with an ax seems to be a key plot turn. Also like Abbott and Costello, this is part of a series of both features and shorts with the same characters. This film is the only part of the collection I’ve seen other than the trailers, so I will stick with this one.

Caesar (David Campfield) and Otto (Paul Chomicki)
This is similar to many two-man buddy pix over the years, actually. Caesar is thin like Norton, Abbott and Laurel, and Otto is a large man, like Kramden, Costello and Hardy. Otto is childlike and dumb, like Norton, Costello and Laurel, and Caesar is a self-imposed leader who not as smart as he actually thinks he is, like Kramden, Costello and Hardy. Caesar is fey like Costello, Laurel and one could argue, like Norton. You see, they’re sort of playing against types, where the small one is the obnoxious one, and the heavy one is the goof. Saying that, you could also say that Caesar is similar to Lewis (could almost be his son…or perhaps Eddie Deezen), though Otto is nowhere like Martin.

The one flaw with this film, or should I say the characters, is that even though Caesar resembles all these bullies, the others are still lovable. Caesar is shrill and uncompromising. The others had a heart under their gruffness, but not as much Caesar. Otto is definitely a more loveable-yet-unrequited guy, yet he’s so ultra-Oscar Madison in the unkempt department, that he doesn’t necessarily seem like someone you’d want to hang with. Hopefully, as time goes on, this will evolve. Even Bugs Bunny was obnoxious in some of his earlier films (“Ain’t I a stinker?”), before being whitewashed in the late ‘50s.

One of the joys about this film is the myriad of cameos that run throughout. I’ve already mentioned Kaufman, and then there’s Linnea Quigley as an agent to gets to revive an infamous scene in one of her earliest films, Brinke Stevens reprises a role from an earlier Caesar and Otto release, Joe Estevez makes a hysterical appearance as himself, sorta, the amazing Debbie Rochon shows up for a quick comic turn as a clueless emergency operator, and even Felissa Rose, the main character of 1983’s Sleepaway Camp, has a bewigged and unrecognizable romp. Oh, and Robert Z’Dar appears (uncredited) during the funny end credits (stick around for ‘em).

Another reason to watch is the sheer volume of references to other films in the genre. While I consider myself a horror maven, I admit that I lean more towards the monster / alien / supernatural area than the slasher, so I am grateful for director Campfield’s commentary, where he points many of them out. I recognized all the films he mentioned, though I haven’t seen many of them since the ‘80s.

This is a comedy of the most base, child-like, gross, pandering type, but in the context of the film, most of it works, and I laughed through the film. Some of it is Adam Sandler level, but in this case it is funny (don’t think I ever even cracked a smile on a Sandler disaster). There’s a lot of low-budget self-references which are hysterical, such as the use of incredibly obvious blue-screen, which makes some of the comments made all the funnier. The blood and violence is cartoonish, making it somewhat palpable, such as a guy who keeps having his arms cut off and surgically reattached (similar to a character he played in an earlier film). Then Caesar is always beating up Otto (to the point of annoyance), surely a reference (homage?) to the Three Stooges, whose shorts are also a good indicator of the humor. The female lead, Summer Furguson, looks realistic, like she could have come from next door, which is always refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, there are some incredibly beautiful women here¸ too, and even a requisite topless shot for a second.

An amusingly confusing thing is that while the film takes place in Bakersfield, California (I’m sure there’s a joke in that alone, that I am missing), including flashbacks to childhood, many of the characters have (purposeful) Long Island accents. Another of the many bizarre choices Campfield makes that gives this a unique edge while borrowing from so much.

Lots of cool extras come with the DVD, including all the Caesar and Otto trailers and some from Wild Eye Releasing, which have been reviewed here. There are also a Behind the Scenes Featurette, some alternative takes, and a couple of short films: “Otto’s First Job” and “Pigzilla.” Included as well is an excellent short called “The Perfect Candidate,” where Joe Estevez (again, playing a version of himself) is picked by a cabal to run for president (since his brother played one). Again D’zar shows up, this time credited. It really is quite funny. There are two commentaries just for this short.

For the main feature, there are three – count ‘em, three – commentaries. I listened to the first one with Campfield, but I honestly just did not have time to watch the other two, one with the producer, and the other with the cast. While I enjoyed the film, it’s rare that any film deserves this much of a time commitment. Perhaps at some time I will be able to get to them.

At the end of the film, they announce the next one, Caesar and Otto’s Paranormal Halloween (though it's not even listed on IMDB yet). I’m looking forward to it. So, if you get the chance, check out the Websites listed above because you really don’t even need to wait until next holiday season to enjoy it. And remember, when you order it, to keep the X in Xmas.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

DVD Review: Eyes of the Woods

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

Eyes of the Woods: Unrated Special Edition
Directed by Darrin Reed, F. Miguel Valenti and Mark Villalobos (latter for special edition)
Central Film Company
Fade to Black: Films       
79 minutes, 2008 / 2013

During 1547, at the Puritan settlement of Knobs Creek (73 years before the first historical Puritan settlement in 1620) in an undisclosed location (though filmed in the Zaca Lake area in California), a father grieving for his dead young daughter turns away from God and makes a pact the devil. The end result is he is turned into a flesh-eating demon that kills off the whole town.

Flash forward to “now” and we see a group of five 30-year-old college students who are out for a camping expedition, and of course stumble upon said locale and creature.

Mostly, this is not a great film, honestly, with nearly no character definition other than one obnoxious dude and a stoner goth-ish gal (she wears black lipstick). Everyone else is exceedingly vanilla, and the viewer is not invited to like or care about any of them. This is the biggest flaw of many of the kids-go-to-woods-kids-get-dead genre.

There is an interesting use of a plot trick that would later be employed by 2011’s Grave Encounters, where the territory keeps changing – one minute there’s a lake and then it’s not there, for example – throwing our annoying group for a loop as they can’t find their way out of the woods / fields / meadows / leas. They wander around for literally days with no food, no water, and apparently not much of an appetite. Heck, they don’t even get dirty, even though after the first night, they don’t even have a tent and sleep on the ground.

And for most of those days, nothing happens. Well, at least involving them. There is a topless woman wearing only underwear and covered in blood walking around in a trance-like state that is never explained, and a couple of other campers who are lost that find the inevitable and oblivious bad ending. But mostly it’s wandering and complaining, wandering and complaining. I was sorely tempted to hit that chapter skip button, but I didn’t. Someone reward me.

But, and this is a big but, as bad as the center section is, the first and last 20 minutes is worth watching. The extended “origin” story is exceedingly well handled (though the acting is wooden, and the men’s costumes laughable), the creature looks great in these sections (not as much in the middle), the gore is top notch (again, in the bookends), and the editing bright and brisk without being too flashy. I would happily watch that sequence again.

Also, the ending act, where the demon finally decides to go all Jeepers Creepers on them, almost looks like it’s from a different film. Even the stock looks different, with the middle being grainy (possibly video), and the beginning and end looking digital.

Like the saying “there are known unknowns” (originally said by the traitor, Rumsfeld), the ending is a bit of a surprise, but not really. You know something’s coming, and you have an idea what, so that even when you’re not sure, you are still sure enough to know when to expect it, if you follow horror films in the last 20 years.

So, if you manage to get your hands on this DVD, don’t just toss it. Watch the beginning until we meet our modern troupe, and then skip to the one hour mark and start watching again. Don’t, however, go to the chapter list, because it will ruin what little surprise there is (really? You show the ending in the chapter list? Duuuuuude!).

There are no extras. Boy, I’d hate to see the regular edition to this film if this is the special one.


Friday, November 15, 2013

DVD Review: Sanguivorous (Kyuketsu)

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

Sanguivorous (aka Kyuketsu)
Directed, edited and music by Naoki Yoshimoto                       
Tidepoint Pictures
Rain Trail Pictures
Stavros Films                                
56 minutes,2009 / 2013

Literally translated, the title of the film is to feed off the blood of the living, usually referring to parasites and certain bats; here, it is merely shortened to “sucking blood.” That works, too.

It is not surprising to me they shortened the definition, because the film runs just over 56 minutes. It’s on that borderline that makes it more of a featurette, which works well on the festival circuit rather than a cineplex. But this will probably never play as a first liner except at conventions, fests and possibly art theaters.

Sangafanga, as I’ve been calling it, is a Japanese vampire film that is over-burdened with an art aesthetic that is both beautiful and cumbersome. Much like films such as Where the Dead Go to Die (2012, reviewed HERE) or Profane (2012; reviewed HERE), the director, Naoki Yoshimoto, has a more ambitious vision that he wants to put to digital celluloid, as it were.

Ayumi Kakizawa
Mixing black & white, color, muted color, and digital film effects, Yoshimoto brings us into a world that is usually dark, both in tone and vision (or, if you will, figuratively and literally), as we are introduced to the only four characters. First there is a young woman played by Ayumi Kakizawa, who is haunted by weird visions, strange feelings, and general anxiety. Her thin-cut side-burned (hipster?) boyfriend, embodied by Mutsuko Yoshinaga, reads a text that borrows from the Bram Stoker idea that a ship with a coffin containing a many-hundred year-old vampire came ashore onto Japan centuries before, and the heirs of its contents still have the vampire blood floating around waiting until it is aroused (the film’s term, i.e., lose your virginity and…). Joining in is an older couple (her parents?), played by Masaya Adachi, who has the prerequisite Asian long, white fingernails, and the striking, muscular and bald Ko Murobushi, who looks like he was imagined from a manga comic (Ko is a leading avant-garde butoh dancer in his “day” job).

The story is kind of murky for a number of reasons. First, there is barely any dialog, other than exposition, so most of the storytelling relies on visuals and sounds. The main reason, however, is its artistic bent. Mostly filmed in black and white, it is often digitally treated to look like the Nosferatu period (1922), or scratchy, or with just a hint of color. Occasionally there may be one object in vibrant color, such as a red kimono, and more rare, a shot entirely in vivid color, such as a field of yellow flowers.

Ko Murobushi
Even with the blending of visuals, arty editing, unusual angles, extraneous close-ups of objects, and all the other modern methods to make it look older, there is definitely a beauty to the film. The way characters move, and how they are presented speak as much as the sparse dialog. Sure, you really do need some patience in this post-MTV/Transformers world, because this mostly moves at a snail’s pace, while still managing to fill the senses with unusual imagery.

While there is some blood, and some wicked looking teeth, I would hardly call this a gory film by any stretch of the imagination. Most of the shock value comes from the use of sound, be it a sudden loud noise, a piece of dissonant music, or just silence. Yoshimoto, who plays the piano on some of this, ties it all together to make it work, even if it is unconventional.

Speaking of Yoshimoto, there is a 10-minute or so making of short where the relatively young director talks about how the film came to be, mixed with some short interviews with Kakizawa and Murobushi. His solid grasp of English makes it coherent and helps to explain a bit of what is going on in the film.

The other extra is an additional short film called Nowhere, which is also around10 minutes. It definitely has a similar auteur feel to Sangafanga, in which a man stumbles into a deserted factory and screams a few times, before walking out an meeting someone on the road. Again, there is no dialog other than the repeated yelling, and we a presented with a switching of color and B&W. I believe it is about a post-apocalyptic world, but I am not sure. It did win a prize for digital short at a festival, and that is hardly surprising.

To recap: the film is esoteric (perhaps not as much as, say, Dog Star Man (1962, by the way overrated Stan Brakhage) and intentionally obscure, but it is also a beautiful piece of art with horror as it heart. I’m leavin’ it all up to yo-oo-oo, as the song says.


Monday, November 11, 2013

DVD Review: Murder University

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


Murder University
Directed by Richard Griffin
Scorpio Rising                  
96 minutes, 2012 / 2013

 Okay, I’m going to admit it. Richard Griffin is becoming one of my favorite indie horror directors. He has covered many different sub-genres in his films such as The Disco Exorcist (2011) and the stunning Exhumed (2011), and now this one, which is homage to ‘80s slasher movies. Of course, the comparisons are inevitable with the Scream franchise, but I’m not going there; I don’t really feel a need to do that because the Wes Craven film had a budget of about $15 million, and this was shot for a mere $6,000, and yet accomplishes so much.

This picture follows many of the formulaic cliché’s that crop up in these kinds of films, but it is rarely done as well, in this tongue-in-cheek way. For example, there is the obligatory “prolog” that sets up future events. This takes place in 1983, at a college in Massachusetts (though was filmed in Rhode Island, as is most of Griffin’s releases). Most of the time, the rest of the film is in “the present,” but this one is set just a year later, with anyone hardly caring about the ghastly events that took place on the campus of “Murder U’ (i.e., “murder you”). Apparently there is a devil masked (and hooded cloaks, of course) group using sharp objects such as axes and knives to create some serious damage.

But let me back up a bit for a moment to make a comment on that opening sequence.  Did not see the surprise coming; I let out a big laugh and a wow, which is quite the statement after having seen slashers since Joan Crawford’s Strait-Jacket! (1964). This moment alone tells you that you are not going to see a standard, run-of-the-mill chop-em-up.

The story is written by Lenny Schwartz with flair towards both the gruesome and the funny bone. Most of the comedy is not played for broad laughs, but rather it’s done smartly and on occasion, such as a running joke with the main character’s mother. My favorite though, and this was extremely subtle, was the password for getting into a frat party by saying a password to a redneck (wearing a Stars and Bars toga) at the door, which is a line from James Brown’s “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

But the writing is only one of the pillars that make this a strong and multiple (festival related) award-winning film. Another is the look of it. The picture is HD and clear, including the night scenes. The use of RGB colors for the lighting, especially in the night and forest locales is beautiful, giving it a nice ‘80s Creepshow (1982) feel, but with a clearer and sharper image, and applied subtly (there’s that word again) rather than garishly, as most use it.

The next pillar is the acting. Griffin tends to use many of the same folks in multiple releases, and this seems wise (though I miss the team of Reed and Nicklin). Many of the cast come from the New England the-yay-tah crowd, so they know how to nail a scene quickly and accurately. Yes, there is a bit stage overplaying here and there, but it seems less as time and films go on. The three main characters are strong in both writing and presention.

Michael Thurber
Griffin stalwart Michael Thurber is solid, period. Sure, he was a bit goofy in The Disco Exorcist, but his Exhumed performance was a nuanced tour de force. Here, he plays the aggressive, loner, verbally vulgar police detective Forresster with a deeply buried soft spot. From what I understand, this slovenly character, who wears a Columbo-type overcoat, is far from Thurber’s real personality (he wore a tux to the film’s premier, for example), but his naturalistic acting ability makes the detective come alive.

Samantha Acampora
His daughter and co-sleuth, Meg, whose mother had been killed by the demon-masked killers when she was a wee lassie, is portrayed by the very fetching Samantha Acampora. With those lips and doe eyes, man, I would have had such a crush on her in college. Luckily, she’s a naturalistic actor, and takes the kind of female-lead-yet-support role as if she were part of that personality, which is falling in love with the central character, Josh.

Jamie Dufault
I know I’ve seen Jamie Dufault, somewhere, but I cannot remember where. However, here he takes the lead. Though obviously diminutive (most characters tower over him), he creatively works both the shy-virgin and passive-aggressive sides of his character with conviction.  Josh is a shy lad with a sad secret who is starting college (like much of his classmates, he’s obviously older than the part he’s playing, but that’s pretty endemic in the genre, so I’ll move on).  He is a wide (blue) eyed youth who leans towards sweater vests (there is some kind a running motif where many characters wear horizontal striped shirts, including a Freddy Kruger colored one worn by Meg) and deer-in-headlight reactions. But you know there is an itch tugging inside him (again, the genre). One thing I found interesting, and this really has nothing to do with anything per se, but Jamie has a couple of interesting “tells,” where he will either turn his head or lick his lips as the excitement level is ramping up, or a key comment is about to be spoken.

There is also an exceedingly large support cast (all the better for sizable body count), and I need to comment here. Again from a theater background, they run from the average looking to the attractive (e.g., Elyssa Baldasssarri and Tonya Free). Plus there are a number of outstanding basically secondary or even tertiary characters which stand out, such as Sean Sullivan as a leather jacketed insane thug, and especially Aaron Peaslee as a tool DJ, Juicy K. Thunder (who, in a throwaway line, mentions his college radio show called “Morning Mishegas”); check out his dancing in the DJ booth in the background at a gay strip club (where Forresster frequents for – er – coffee). You may not notice him at first, but if you do, he’ll steal the scene. Oh, and there is also a police investigator who looks alarmingly like (but is not) disgraced ex-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.

Griffin has quickly developed into a decent filmmaker. His shots inside a particular modernistic building are a good example. He uses the frosted glass stair landings in a way to show movement that is quite lovely, and the first time we see Josh walking through the building, the stairs and floors almost look like an MC Escher drawing.

Along with the remarkably large body count, there is also a fair number of gore scenes (without being “gore porn”) which are sometimes amusing, but most times well done. The only effect that gave me pause was a scalping that looks good for the effect itself, but it almost looks like the knife isn’t really touching either the head or the scalp. Otherwise, every other effect, from different levels of beheadings with a knife to more subdued killings (such as using shadows, or in one case, showing someone at knee level). What is also nice is that these killers are not gender specific. In other words, it’s not just females that are hacked, but rather everyone within range, including some guy getting an ax (the weapon of choice here), well, let’s just say sharp edge up.

The extras include some trailers (including two of Griffin’s I mentioned here) from Wild Eye Releasing and a deleted scene. There are also two commentaries. One of them includes a number of the cast (excluding the two male leads) which occasionally gets overwhelming trying to tell who talking, though it’s still worth a listen because they do manage to put out a lot of information. The other track is the director and writer, which is more interesting, though I suggest listening to both if that interests you.

It’s nice to see a horror film with humor that doesn’t rely on Adam Sandler-level toilet jokes, but rather is quite intelligent, along with some twists and turns that have some originality to them. And besides Thurber’s perfect nuances, Dufault has a delicious sense of timing, and can spit out dialog that is clear and emotive/empathetic. There are lots of surprises here, but one that isn’t is the consistency of Griffin’s output, as all his films have a shine on ‘em. I look forward to seeing the projects that came after this, including Dr. Frankenstein’s Wax Museum of the Hungry Dead and especially Normal.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

VoD Review: Pelt

Text (c) Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2013
Images from the Internet


Written and directed by Rowan Spiers-Floyd
11:04, 2012

A lot can be said in a film this short, especially under a skillfull hand.  Director and writer Rowan Spiers-Floyd accomplishes this goal in just over 11 minutes and three key actors. True, this is a student film (and an award-winning one at that), but it shows a masterful eye on many levels.

Self-described as a “dark fairy tale,” the story takes place in the period of the expansion of the West. We are presented with a mysterious tale of greed, fear and cowardliness.  In a wilderness fort, two men go a-huntin’ for, well, pelts on a winter’s day. The setting and effect of the film is enhanced by its locale, Fort Clatsop at the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park, located in Astoria, Oregon.  Seen in mostly medium shots, it has a nearly claustrophobic feel, even though much of it was filmed outdoors. The lighting and the mood is key, and Spiers-Floyd uses it to its utmost.  Whether you find the story scary or not, it’s shadowy and strange atmosphere is effective.

Davis, Newman and Eastwood
During their expedition, the two come across an animal carcass. When Fredrick (Jeffree Newman) asks Rufus (Adam Elliot Davis) if he can keep the pelt so he can afford to marry Rose (Jennifer Eastwood), the woman Rufus also desires, well, it doesn’t go well for the requestor.  Okay, let me digress here and posit that what I am stating here is in the description, so I’m not being a “spoiler.”

This is where the film takes a turn for the strange.  First Nations/Native American tales tell of creatures in the woods called a skinwalker (sometimes identified as a windigo), who were known for being able to take on other appearances. The creature is never named in the story, nor even explained, but that doesn’t matter; what is important is the flow of events that follow.

Spiers-Floyd is certainly helped by his actors, who do not either under- or overplay their roles despite the dramatic and supernatural undertones.  I also acknowledge and like the double-entrendre of the title.

The film looks beautiful, with crisp shots thanks to Page Stephenson, and clean editing that seems to take classic lengths of time rather than the staccato post-MTV method. It gives you a chance to read and feel the subject’s emotions, without telling you what you are supposed to get out of it.

I look forward to Spiers-Floyd’s output. If this is a beginning BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) project, just think what he may be able to do with a budget and the ability to work on something full-length.    

The video can be found free HERE

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

DVD Reviews: The Bloody Ape; Blitzkrieg: Escape From Stalag 69

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

These two films were both directed by Kevin J. Crocker.                            

The Bloody Ape
(aka Son of Sweetback vs. Kong)
Directed by Keith J. Crocker          
Wild Eye Releasing                        
77 minutes, 1998 / 2009

The director, Keith J. Crocker, is well known around the exploitation film scene. In his younger days, he used to publish the fanzine Exploitation Journal, and I still have a couple of copies. He knew his stuff, so it only makes sense for him to direct a film. You might say it was inevitable.

Despite being shot in the early ‘90s, he used grainy, past-expiration-date stock Super 8 film to give it that appropriate ‘70s stock look, which works like a charm. Gathering friends and family together, he made this movie. On the surface, this is a bit of a skidmark; however, apparently my opinion on this has changed dramatically. But let me continue.

Picking up where Roger Corman kinda-sorta left off with his Poe films, this is an – er – adaption of Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, where a sideshow barker releases an ape named Gorto to enact revenge on those who have mistreated him. But rather than being attractred by the chimes of a charm bracelet, this bloody ape is after supposedly exotic banana (or, in some cases, banana scented soap!), given by said Sideshow Bob, or in this case Lampini (Paul Richici).

This shmendrick the-not-so-magnificent is fed up. He’s been cheated by car repair shops, ripped off by a rabbi, and rejected by his girlfriend (Arlene Hanson, looking like she just stepped out of The Sopranos). His boiling point reached, his answer is a guy in a – well, decent gorilla suit for the almost nil budget.

Shot in parts of Long Island near Hempstead, the local accent is thick and heavy, making Joe Dellesandro sound cultured. When fellow LohnGylndeh (Commack) Rosie O’Donnell was still doing stand-up, she once said that no one would have taken Albert Einstein seriously if he had a New York accent. Well, these characters are no Einstein, but her point is made valid here. As a Bensonhurst boy, I can relate.

With one exception, there is no character here that is likeable, such as: the garage mechanic, (Larry Koster, who actually worked in the station in his scene) is a racist who hates everyone and bullies his way through his job (Latinos, American-Americans, Jews, you name it); the Rabbi tries to sell glass for diamonds – note that this is the second film I have seen recently where the payas was connected by a band over the head like rabbit ears – in a painfully stereotypical anti-Semitic manner with a terribly fake Hassidic accent; and the bigoted police officer, LoBianco (George Reis – who also plays Gorto most of the time – wearing incredibly fake costume store facial hair), the lead officer in charge of investigating the murders. convinced that when people are seeing an ape, that it’s actually a black guy.

The film borrows from a lot of other exploitation classics, such as 1968’s Night of the Living Dead (for example, the black hero’s character is named Duane Jones), 1969’s Night of the Bloody Apes, and 1980’s Night of the Demon (thanks to Horrorpedia for that last lead), showing that Crocker knows his stuff. He’s sort of like Tarantino without the filmmaking gene.

The gorilla rampage is a bit silly, actually, murdering women by slashing with a knife, disemboweling, while naked in the shower, or doin’ ‘em doggy style (most of those topless who are killed – i.e., nearly every female – were local strippers). There are a few men ripped apart, too. The gore is appropriately fake for the style they were going for, so it’s effective, I guess. And did I mention the ape drives a car (taking it from Crocker’s real-life then-fiancee) down a busy street without anyone noticing?

Yeah, this is a terrible film, and yet so earnest. The dialog is dreadful, the acting mostly non-existant, and the direction apeshit, but it is still amazing to watch in its dreadfulness. I’m not sure if the nearly first half which is mostly talking and no ape presence is more interesting for the WTF moments, or the second half that has lots of ape and more WTF moments.

I was a bit disturbed by the xenophobic anger by many of the characters and was turned off by that for a while, but during the lengthy featurette of 2008 interviews with the (male) cast and crew, and during the commentary, Crocker explains that the point of the nasty characters is that everyone in the film is miscommunicating and lacks the skill to relate. This actually makes sense to me, though he could be bullshittin’ about it.

There are plenty of extras thrown in, such as a commentary by the three main hubs of the film (Crocker, Reis and Richichi),the aforementioned featurette, a short and moody film by Crocker, lots of artwork and stills, and a couple of Crocker trailers (including this one).

Worth watching? That’s a tough one. If you have the tolerance to sit through the first 15 minutes and it keeps your interest, well, yeah. But if you’re used to mainstream cinema with no patience for Outsider status, just keep walkin’.


 Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69 – Special SS Edition
Produced, written and directed by Keith J. Crocker                   
Wild Eye Releasing                        
135 minutes, 2008 / 2009

The death camp torture sub-genre has been around since at least the ‘60s, be it taking place in South America, Soviet Russia, or Nazi Germany. Some examples include SS Experiment Love Camp (1969), The Big Doll House (1971), The Big Bird Cage (1972), and Terminal Island (1973). Even the majors got a bit involved with The Night Porter (1974), and to some extent, Paradise Road (1997). However, the 800 lb. gorilla of this genre is the Ilsa series (Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS in 1975, Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks in 1976, Ilsa: The Wicked Warden [aka Greta the Mad Butcher] in 1977, and Ilsa: The Tigress of Siberia, also in ’77, all starring the lovely and bodacious Dyanne Thorne as the titular character).

So for his second (and so far last) full length feature, Keith Crocker bravely tackled this torture porn style. It was a brave choice, no matter what the outcome. And how did he fare? Well, this is no Spielberg, but then again, it’s not even early Romero. However, it is far more advanced than his previous effort of a decade earlier, The Bloody Ape. Thankfully he uses a better camera and in most cases, a better cast. Oh, and much more attractive women than the literal Long Island strippers from the last film.

The basic premise of this sub-genre, in a grossly generalized way, is that the (pick a nationality) in charge inflict cruelty on prisoners, mostly women but not only, and at some point they revolt and kill most of their abusers in escaping. Feel free to let me know if I’ve missed anything there.

We meet Helmut Shultz (Charles Esser) hiding in Argentina in 1955. After escaping from the Mossad, he goes to a catholic church and confesses the sins of the past to a priest, played by The Bloody Ape’s lead, Paul Richici, unintentionally funny due to a thick New York inflection. Actually, Esser’s German accent is pretty amusing as well, as with most of the cast, to be fair).

In flashbacks we see that he was kommandant of the titled Stalag, helped by his corpulent sidekick Wolfgang (Steve Montague, who has appeared in other auteur films such as Bloody Christmas [reviewed HERE] and I Spill Your Guts, also filmed on Long Island [reviewed HERE], both in 2012), and co-run with Helmut’s lustful redheaded sister (in an equally emotionally immature Ilsa mode), Gordana Jenell, who strangely has a mild Eastern European accent (for the story; in real life, Jenell was born in Montenegro). Perhaps Crocker was figuring his audience would assume an accent is an accent? I rib rather than rub in.

Meanwhile, Helmut, an emotional man-child mad doctor-wannabe, has been doing experiments and has created a hybrid human/ape man – wait, didn’t the Nazis want to promote a superior race rather than a lower, base one? – that we never see (except in the deleted clips). For the time being, his co-ed camp gives lots of reasons for abuse of both genders.

Tatiyana Kot
The main hero of the story is Natasha, played by the extremely lovely and often full monty’d Tatyana Kot (the actor was born in Siberia!). She is a Russian freedom fighter who was captured after shooting Nazis in the woods with a machine gun, while wearing only boots, and is consequently tortured by those running the camp – and a visiting Japanese soldier – before leading the required revolt.

During both the worthwhile commentary and making of documentary/interviews, Crocker clearly states that this film is not torture porn, but rather he is trying to make the audience feel the visceral pain of the characters, be it the rack, bamboo under fingernails, castration (two of them!), and the application of what looks like a taser. I believe him and admire his conviction, but let’s face the reality here. The audience that is going to be watching this kind of film is not the Drop Dead Diva type, or even Grey’s Anatomy. Rather, they are out for a body count and not trying to save the whales, as it were. Mind you, I remember Sam Peckinpah (d. 1984) saying the same thing about his films, but what do you think of when you watch The Wild Bunch (1969)? Exactly. I am certainly not denigrating Crocker or his creed in any kind of way, as I truly feel what he believes, but I also know the demographics.

Another thing Crocker states, which I admire, is that he actually does manage to use these horrific actions as a platform to showcase the abuses of both the Nazi and Stalinist eras as a reminder of those regimes. There are lots of anachronistic moments that one needs to get through, some of which addressed in the commentary, which I thought was brave, but the point about the those time periods is presented with just a shade of lecturing, similarly to the way Romero did about consumerism in Dawn of the Dead (1979).

As with Crocker’s previous release, this one was filmed on Long Island, in both the counties of Suffolk and the western Nassau locale of Smithtown. Thanks to the area’s war reenactment groups, the cast is flushed out with soldiers in real uniforms, and there are lots of authentic WWII memorabilia floating around (though I wonder about some of the reversed swastikas). Shooting the film guerilla-style on the grounds of a closed asylum helps give the right feel of desolation needed for the story.

Again, there are a lot of extras included here, including commentary with Crocker, Kot, and others, a making of cleverly titled “Nazis Over Nassau,” the original short that Crocker made that inspired this full-length release titled “Schindler’s Lust,” stills, outtakes, trailers, and more.

If I had one real complaint about this film is that it is too long, at over two hours. From what I understand, it is already significantly cut from its pre-edit stage, but there is definitely more that could have gone, including the rest of the mostly-excised ape-man subplot, the whole bit with the mustached, hippie-like guard that wants to send a complaint to the higher-ups about the abuses, and quite a few Tarantino-eqse dialogs that went on way too long.

I’ve seen quite a bit of these type genre films (such as those listed at the beginning), and truthfully, it’s not one of my favorite styles – I’m more into straight horror than the human monster – but all things considered, this one is effective and gets the job done with a touch of humor, empathy and better cast and effects. If you like this stuff, I would happily offer this up and a choice.

The trailer from The Bloody Ape was taken down from YouTube; you can find it HERE.