Monday, February 25, 2013

2 DVD Reviews: The Dark Dealer, RepliGator

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

Whacked Movies is a label with a double entendre name that specializes in reissuing cheesy, straight-to-VHS indie films from the 1980s and ‘90s. And for that I salute them by reviewing two of them. Other than these films being released a year apart, there are other factors that group them. One is that Wynn Winberg co-directed the first, and produced the second, and both have actor Rocky Patterson. The other is that both were filmed in Texas.


The Dark Dealer
Directed by Tom Alexander and Wynn Winberg                       
85 minutes, 1995 / 2013
Whacked Movies

Mostly during the 1970 through 1990s, one of the common themes of horror films was the anthology, perhaps kicked into high gear by the EC Comics-inspired Tales from the Crypt (1972), and continued with the likes of Campfire Tales (1997), and Snoop Dog’s Hood of Horror (2006). Heck, I recently saw a film that uses this device called Johnny Dickie’s Slaughter Tales (2012), directed by a 15-year-old. The way it works is there are some standalone stories that may be connected in some way by an overarching framework. Sometimes it is just someone telling the story, or in this case of this film, there is a link via a mysterious room at the entrance of (death?) (hell?) where one plays a round of poker with, yes, the sarcastic and unsympathetic Dark Dealer (Mark Fickert)

Although this Texas-filmed – er – film was produced in the early-to-mid 1990s, there is a whole lot of ‘80s going on, from the tight dresses to the very, very, very big hair. And much like the direct to VHS of the period, the acting is generally not very good. There are some who shine a bit, like Gordon Fox as a milquetoast basement apartment dweller, and there are some that stand out in their audacity, such as Rocky Patterson as Pete, a collections enforcer for the mob, or Jeff English as Cracker, a wise-cracking drug dealer.

There are three stories. I won’t go into too much and give a lot away, because even though you can see it coming, I still don’t want to ruin it. One story deals with two lower-echelon gangsters hiding out in an apartment, terrorizing the meek occupant. Another focuses on a scummy entertainment lawyer who tries to steal a dead man’s music. The third has some poor young schmuck forced into breaking into a pharmaceutical company to steal drugs with his substance abuser girlfriend and her hyper dealer.

This is everything we used to love about the genre, when scouring the aisles of the local video store before the major chains ran them into the ground (neh, neh, Blockbuster, where are ya stores now?). The stories are outrageous but totally enjoyable, the gore is laughable (though a split body is well done), and the special effects pretty decent for the time period, which are both person-in-rubber suit, and digital. There is a computer in one scene where you can tell they were just starting to get to graphics; gotta love older technology, and appreciate how much has changed in such a short time.

Another aspect of the genre that this film uses extensively is the way it is lit. Dark rooms mean the use of primary color lighting. Creepshow (1982) used this a lot, for example. Splays of green, blue, and especially red fill the screen to indicate emotions, like fear, in the visual paradigm of the way music is often used.

Two of the short films, “KSS-X” (the bookended wraparound) and “Cellar Space,” were directed by Tom Alexander, while the "Blues in the Night” segment was directed by Wynn Winberg (who produced RepliGator [1996], also released on Whacked Films), though the film flows seamlessly. While both Alexander and Winberg have been active in the film business for many years; this is their only listed directing credit.

So, if you want a fun, empty calorie stuffer, this is a perfect way to spend a rainy evening, or just to veg out and have a giggle or a few.


Directed by Bret McCormick       
Whacked Movies
84 minutes, 1996 / 2013

“It is a silly place.”
- King Arthur, in
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Oh, where to even start on this film… Let’s begin with the basic premise. In a secret government laboratory hidden in deep in the desert, a bunch of feuding scientists create a replicator (i.e., transporter) that is combined with a brainwashing software which turns males into luscious females who are programmed with “rampant nymphomania,” but when they have orgasms, they turn into upright human alligators (hence the film title).

Yes, this is a comedy, at the most base level possible, but it doesn’t really try to be anything else, which is why it succeeds, such as it is. For example, some of the characters include Dr. Kildare (played by the original Leatherface, Gunnar Hansen), Dr. Goodbody (scream queen Brinke Stevens, in a later shot scene shown twice!), Dr. Stanley Oliver (get it? Stan and Ollie…), Colonel Sanders, General Mills, Colonel Sergeant, Pvt. Lapdance, and Pvt. Poontang. You see what I’m saying.

Now, this is not to say this is lacking in entertainment. Actually, I found this more enjoyable than most of the output of anything associated with Seth Rogan, the Wilson Brothers (Owen and Luke), or especially Adam Sandler. This film is more like Porky’s (1982) meets The Lord of the G-Strings: The Femaleship of the String (2003): outrageous humor mixed with lots of nudity (though sex is discussed constantly, almost none is shown).

Dr. Oliver, played by Keith Kjomes, who is about the size of Oliver Hardy but with less hair, is also the writer of all this. He wisely wrote himself the best lines, and ends up with the hottest woman.

Speaking of smoldering females, nearly all seem to be in a constant state of being topless, or in provocative clothing, include the stunning TJ Myers, and a few others who are not listed in the credits, such as those who play the female version of West, and Pvt. Bruno. Of course being nearly undressed more often than not is the whole point, ainnit?

Most of the acting is so atrocious the cast seem to be in what I call John Lithgow sit-com mode (I don’t care how many Emmy’s he’s won, he was terrible on 3rd Rock from the Sun). Okay, maybe not always that bad, but everyone seems to acting like a kid in a candy store, having a lot of fun filming this, especially the antagonist, Randy Clower (who plays Dr. Fields). In a 7-minute interview on one of the two extras, the director discusses how he was influenced by Roger Corman. I can see it, as far as low budget goes, but he seems to emulate the Cormen of the 1970s and ‘80s (e.g., Candy Stripe Nurses, Galaxy of Terror) rather than of the early ‘60s. Again, I don’t mean this as a bad thing, just an observation.  

This film is so ludicrous, so fun, it’s also a must see if you’re a fan of the genre. You won’t know whether to laugh, groan at the audacity or just say out loud, “What the fuck was that?” Perhaps the right choice is all of the above.

This is definitely a low budget gem in its own weird and twisted way. The digital special effects are laughable now, but at the time were pretty keen, such as laser blasts, people/gators exploding into green digital drops, and machinery that is now laughably antiquated.  As for the gators (which are actually closer to crocodiles, with wider and shorter snouts, though I agree that “RepliGator” sound better than “RepliCrock”), it’s obviously rubber masks (it is explained more in the “Making of” second extra feature) and hands that look somewhat cheesy, and yet also cool. People are attacked by the creatures and bitten, but rather than being killed, they turn into stereotypically swishy straight-imagining-of-gay zombies (though one transsexual character is shown in a somewhat gentler light)..

One of the things I like most about the film is, and I repeat, that it never, ever, ever tries to be more than what it is: a six-day shoot of epic lack of proportions, and the audience is all the better for it. No pretending that it’s a James Cameron sci-fi epic, or even a mid-budget Kristin Wiig comedy, this is solid juvenile, masculinist envisioning that culminates in what could be the wit-level of an hour-and-a-half fart joke. You may find it amusing, you may find it irritating, or you may find it highly offensive (and it is from beginning to end), but you will not be bored.


Full movie VOD:

Friday, February 15, 2013

VOD Indie Short Review: Masked

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2013
Free link to complete film below review
Images from the Internet

Directed, by Alex Williams                                    
25 minutes, 2012             
Random Axe Entertainment

More of a thriller than horror, we watch as a wanna-be writer is brought in for questioning regarding a masked intruder to who has been stalking him after someone had used a cudgel on his wife.

Through a series of flashbacks interweaved with the present, Alex Luna (Luis Rodriguez, who is also the co-producer) is first confused when talking to a police therapist (Lisa Armosino-Morris), and we watch as he deteriorates when confronted with the possible truth of evidence that he may be more than he appears. Even the last name, Luna, signifies “loony” or mystery, subtly connoting that there is something more, something hidden.

This is a nicely shot short, with muted tones and minimal movement, except for those involving around the masked man, which leads to chases, fights, and threats. But even in those more static moments, such as Alex talking to the police, his wife Maggie (the lovely Emmy Frevele), his best friend Dylan (Oscar Garza), or his son Julien (Osvalso Garcia), a level of tension is always present, both leaving us to question what is happening, and also leading the action towards its not-so-obvious conclusion. It took me a good minute before the truth is revealed to figure it out, which says a lot for the film, when I can usually figure out most mysteries pretty early on in the story.

Director Williams does well with his low budget and digi-cam, getting some nice performances out of his actors (most with nary other credits listed), and pulls the most he can from the minimalism of the story, making them both work for him. He is also aided with some strong editing, so the story can jump time frames coherently; and this with short of a film, that helps make it that much more compelling. With a mixture of muted lighting of Alex’s darkened house and yard, and the bright florescence of the police station (and yet retaining that industrialized office dankness feel), we watch the story unfold, as Alex begins to question his own sanity.

It’s a strong film with minimal blood (mostly post-action), relying largely on the story and acting to bring the conclusion to fruition. Every second will keep you interested and guessing, and for a relatively new director, that makes for an enjoyable turn.

This film is to be released in April, and the link to the film will be added then. Meanwhile, here is the preview, which is also worth seeing.

Monday, February 11, 2013

VOD Indie Short Review: 2 Hours

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2013
Free link to view complete film below review
Images from the Internet

2 Hours
Directed, shot and cut by Michael Ballif                                      
26 minutes, 2012    

Apparently, from the time one is bitten by a zombie, it takes two hours for the virus to course through the victims system until succumbing and then becoming one. This is the premise of this totally serious zombie genre short that is nothing short of beautifully done.

While feeling guilty about the death of his girlfriend (Brooke Hemsath, who recurs in guilt- and feverish-flashback fashion) the Survivor (Josh Merrill, who also wrote the piece) goes through forests and ruined cities hoping to find a group of other survivors before becoming zombie feeder fodder. Problem is, he has been bit, and has just two hours to find the group and hope they have a cure.

There are some interesting dual aspects to this film. One is that the zombies are both slow and fast. They stumble around looking for victims, but when one is spotted, man, can they run. They’re a bit clumsy on their feet, but they will run you down.

Another duality is the fluidity of that sometimes the film is seamlessly shot as third person, and other times in first person, even looking a bit like a shooter video game.

While the Survivor (as he is named in the credits) silently  and desperately searches for the others while avoiding marauding flesh eaters (more Romero-esk all organ diners, rather than just the cliché brains), we hear his thoughts as the virus slowly but surely starts nibbling at his rationale.

While his deterioration is what makes the core of the film, the visuals are actually quite impressive, with beautiful as well as ugly landscapes, wonderful make-up and gore effects, and for once hand-held camerawork that doesn’t make you want to barf like the Survivor.

Considering the low-budget, small crew, two-year filming timeframe, and all shot on a $500 Canon T2i DSLR, I’m still not surprised this is sopping up Festival awards left and right. Not only do I recommend this, you can watch it just by clicking on the link below. Scary to think what Ballif could do with an actual budget. Kudos, dude.
And be sure you stick around after the credits...

Saturday, February 2, 2013

DVD Review: Abolition

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

Directed by Mike Klassen
Abolition films / R-Squared Films
82 minutes, 2010 / 2012

As much as the word “abolition” ( the overthrow of something) sounds similar to “absolution,” so this film jiggles with the line(s) between good and evil.

Even with a somewhat high gross (e.g., vomit) and gore quotient - even though most of it is after the fact, such as brains splattered on the sidewalk after a jump - this is a very story-based project. Unlike the usual Biblical-themed action thrillers like The Seventh Sign (1988), End of Days (1999), Bless the Child (2000) or Constantine (2005), the pace here is more of a build than a burst, as it should be. One of the positive side-effects here of it being done that way is that it definitely makes the viewer work harder on the coming events. With most films, many times I’d say,”Oh, this is going to happen at some point,” and it does, but this more lured me in with bits of info, keeping my attention.

I’m certainly not going to give away much, because it’s rare that a film works this well, especially for a first-time director such as Mike Klassen. There are a couple of moves that felt a bit amateurish, such as the obvious use of a wide-angle lens to indicate things being out of sorts, but that is how one learns. If the viewer sees the film as a whole, it’s quite impressive. Even with the occasional plot hole, it plays out so well. Again, you look at some directors like Cronenberg, Hooper, Craven, Carpenter, and the like, their early films also had questionable moments of mire, sometimes more than here.

One of the things that impressed me the most is that this film has its own feel, that certain vibe and look. There is also a level of subtly that works towards the grand reveal. When dealing with a storyline with no comic relief, all the elements need to work together as not to feel oppressive; this one walks that line successfully.

Klassen should also be acknowledged for some of the talent he has chosen for his leads, especially Andrew Roth as Joshua, an recently unemployed building superintendent who is trying to figure out why whenever he helps people, bad things seem to happen, especially in Sybil (1976)-type blackout moments. Roth is gaunt, intense, and has total movie-star appeal. He’s so much better an actor than many of those making so much more, such as Adam Sandler, the Wilson brothers (Owen and Luke), and Vince Vaughn. It’s not surprising he’s been in over 40 films, though he still needs the right vehicle to get recognized).

The female lead is Mia, played by Elissa Dowling, definitely an indie film demi-goddess). She seems to pick many quirky roles, usually in the horror genre, such as in Creep Creepersin’s Peeping Blog (2011) [Reviewed HERE] or Bloody Bloody Bible Camp (2012) [Reviewed HERE]. Whether a sex comedy or an intense story, she is always fun to watch; plus, she has impeccable timing whatever the genre. Yeah, I’m a fan.

Matthew is a pivotal character, a bitter man who gave up the priesthood for family, only to also lose them (named after the first book of the New Testament, I’m sure), played by Reggie Bannister. Bannister will forever be associated with the Phantasm (1979) series (yes, he still has the ponytail), but over time has proven himself to be more than just that. Matthew takes in the homeless Joshua, a relationship that is bound to change over time and a decisive puzzle piece to the overall story arc. While Bannister does have a tendency to do a bit of curtain biting, he is also extremely effective in this role as he eventually goes all Renfield. Oh, as a side note, Reggie also starred in the aforementioned Bloody Bloody Bible Camp.

As I said, the question here is who good or other, and what acts are positive or perhaps something more sinister? One of the underlying issues in the film that is well handled is the desperation and loneliness of the down-and-out, be it through substance abuse, poverty, physical and verbal abuse, suicide, prostitution, homelessness, or any combination above. While on paper it may sound like this film is trying to achieve too much, it all works together, albeit in a bleak way. But it is that despair that drives home the central theme of the story leading to its… well, check it out. It may not be the feel good movie of the year, but it will certainly keep you guessing and interested.

  The only extra is the trailer. For this one, I would have loved a commentary, but as the great stage director Roger De Bris said in 1968, quell dommage...