Thursday, August 29, 2013

Short film review: Night of the Krampus

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

Night of the Krampus
Written, edited and directed by Thomas Smith
Fighting Owl Films
26:24 minutes, 2013

Despite the hot temperature out there today, September is just a couple of days away and soon all the Christmas paraphernalia will be omnipresent. So why not discuss a film about the dark side of Santa, as it were?

Y’see, according to some actual legends out of the Alps area, the Krampus is a hairy, horned, long-tongued, coven-hoofed demon that is the negative side of Santa, punishing bad children to various degrees (from giving coal to eating them, depending on local lore), sometimes traveling with Santa, other times solo. [As an unrelated side note, I was thinking a melding of Santa and Krampus may produce the clown from IT… but I digress…]

There have been a number of Krampus presentations over the past few years, and Thomas Smith takes a fresh look at it through the eyes of his stalwart center characters from his film from 2010, The Night Shift. As a reminder, Rue Morgan, who died in the 1920s, is a ghost caretaker who protects a cemetery from evil through the graciousness of the mysterious “management” who run the graveyard build on an inter-dimensional rift. Dressed like Butch from the Little Rascals, and carrying a big revolver, he is the heroic character. Played by Khristian Fulmer, he’s a cinematic stereotypical jazz-era man’s man while being easily likeable. This is due entirely on Khristian’s role playing, making Rue into a charmer rather than being smarmy, thanks to his line readings. His companion is sharp-tongued (as it were) Herbie West (get it?), an armless and legless skeleton that Rue carries in his backpack, who expresses less than subtle hints of being Jewish, voiced well by Soren Odom.

Claire Rennfield and Rue Morgan are on the case
The last (but not least) of the troupe is the only one of the three still living, Claire Rennfield, played by Erin Lilley. She is the go-between for the residents of the cemetery and management. She also fits the “Rupert Giles” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) role, up on most of the supernatural shenanigans through a book called the Phenomicon. And she’s going to need it on this new case for our bi-worldly detectives.

Apparently, some nasty kids (about tween years) around a cul-de-sac have gone missing around the holiday season, and management, believing it not to be of a natural cause, permit Rue and Herbie off the grounds – under the guardianship of Claire, of course. It isn’t long – and I mean what seems like an hour – before they’re smack dab in the middle. Well, after all, this is a short film.

I have to say I really like these three characters, and the actors have been in quite a few films together with director Smith, so they just seem very comfortable with each other. The dialog is usually snappy, and they all wear it like a leather glove. Sure, there isn’t time for character development in such a short piece, but thanks to some quick exposition – or if seen after The Night Shift – that’s enough.

Like many small films (this one cost about $5,000, through public fundraising), much of the crew wear many hats. For example, Erin also does quite a bit of the make-up for those natural and super-, including a terrific job on the Krampus (Brendon Cooke). Plus, I am willing to bet that she helps with the storyline and dialogue in an unofficial manner. Khristian supervises and choreographs the fight scenes, of which there is a long one between… well, I won’t give it away. Soren is more of a Renaissance man: not only does he voice Herbie, but he is director of photography, does the music, and handles some lighting.

There are still some growing pains here and there on a nit-pick level, such as one of the child actors always smiling (my guess due to being new on camera), and the apparent need to verbalize the obvious. An example of this is when Claire finds something in a back yard; she holds it up and announces it as “soot,” even though we just saw the same kind of smudge a few minutes before.

But the important thing is that this is a patter comedy that probably would have even played well in the theaters in the 40s, with Bob Hope in the lead. There are some nice tense moments, but generally this is solid PG. After some of the stuff I’ve seen lately, that is a nice relief.

I do want to add that I hope these likeable characters are continued. Heck, I’d love to see this as a weekly television show. It has its chills, and yet is stylized in a pleasing way. Having seen a few films of Smith’s, both full-length and shorts, he definitely has a style, and it is one I enjoy.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Short film review: Night Terrors

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

Night Terrors
Written, co-produced, FX artist, camera operator and directed by Felix Alvarez
Odd Jobs Productions
Lost Cosmonaut Productions
9:11 minutes, 2012 / 2013

You certainly gain a lot of bang for your lack of buck on this free short film, available on the Website listed above. It may be under 10 minutes, but you get creature effects, blood, nudity, and lots of digital gore. But let me back up a bit.

We first meet the lovely central character, listed only as the Woman (Krystal Lynn Hedrick) as she’s jogging through a park, the camera affectionately caressing her bit by bit as she bounces along. There is also the scary guy watching her, making lewd faces. You know he’s foreboding because his dark hair is stereotypically slicked back, and he has black circles around his eyes. Essentially, he looks like he stepped out of the film Equinox (1970), or a goth band.

The film is mostly silent, relying on body movement and expression, with rare exception. The best allowance of dialog is while we watch a scene from a film the woman sees on television, called Bloody Mary, which is short, sweet and bloody. Here is where we get the first taste of the heavy use of digital gore.

I promise I won’t delve into the story much, but it’s a totally enjoyable nearly 10 minutes. Yes, there is a strong reliance on cliché, such as the abovementioned greasiness, and the creature make-up is, well, you can see it in the poster, and I can think of three other films off the top of my head that used a very similar style. But for this budget, I have to say it not only looks good, but it “moves” on the villain’s (Izzy Martinez) face well. Special nods to the way they digitally made his mouth enlarge when he is snarling, reminding me a bit of Grave Encounters (2011).

There is definitely a large Latino contingent on this piece, from both behind and in front of the camera, which is not only great, but hardly surprising considering it was essentially put together by the Alvarez brothers, Felix, Alex and Victor (well, I am assuming they are kin). I’ve always liked that about Robert Rodriguez, for example.

Being so short and having two parts to it (the main thread and Bloody Mary), I almost get the feeling that this short is going to be either used to get funding to create it into a longer piece, or reshot once the finances are in place. Either way, I hope this was a good learning experience for the Alvarezes, and they use what they’ve learned to further their work. But no matter what happens going forward, this is worth the viewing.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

DVD Review: Fear the Forest

Text © Richard Gary / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet


Fear the Forest: Unrated Edition
Written, produced and directed by Mathew Bora
Radiant Pictures
110 minutes, 2009 / 2013

One of the aspects I love about independent horror films, more than any other genre, is when you say “Boy, this is a bad film,” it does not mean avoid it. That being said, boy, this is a bad film.

Shot like a crisp version of VHS-type of video, rather than digitized to look like film, the writing is atrocious, the creature looks like a gorilla suit, and the acting is more wooden than the Pennsylvania/New Jersey border Mountains in which it is filmed. And yet…

Years after a series of killings by a rumored Bigfoot (which we see in the extended prologue), and the aftermath of a bunch of yahoo hunters (going huntin’ rather than hunting, as a comedian once made the distinction) try to earn the $2.5 million (really?) bounty on the creature, a group of five overage college students (I’m guessing) and a dog decide to go to those very woods to camp out. They are led by Matt (director Matthew Bora), who looks about 10 years older than everyone else, to the area via canoe. We know they are being watched by someone or something by the orange-hued POV camera.

Ah, these mid-twenties teens...
Needless to say, they fall prey to the creature – I’m not telling you anything you don’t know already, right? Not that most of them are of any great loss. Most of the three guys are just, well, stooopid. They make the Tony Manero crowd look like they stepped out of Big Bang Theory.  They disrespect their girlfriends, act like buffoons among themselves, and make you want the Bigfoot to kill them just to get rid of them. For example, one of the women finds some human bones, and they laugh at her, rather than checking it out themselves. Yeah, I want these clowns to have my back.

And how stupid is this group? No one brings a cellphone. Really? Even in 2009, the thought of someone in their teens or early twenties not having a cell phone seems so unrealistic to the point of unreliability. Another proof of the questionable writing? The number of days in the woods keeps jumping by two. They go up there, and the next sign says “Day 3,” then “Day 5,” followed by “Day 7,” etc.

Anna Kendrick
And when some of the group is on the run, they meet up with a couple of backwoods guys, including one named Bubba.  Near the Catskills? Really? The main character, Barbara (Anna Kendrick), despite being a blackbelt, is manhandled often before semi-fighting back, when she should easily have kicked their machismo-sans-masculinity asses. And Barbara’s father, the New York State governor, takes nine days to send a rescue crew? And what happened to the dog? And then there’s over-the-top Kyle…

What I find amazing is the sheer size of the cast, including extras. There must be dozens of hunters, bit players, families, reporters, radio DJs, government staff, party guests, gratuitous mean girls, and so on. The budget for this film, according to IMDB, is approximately $500,000. I don’t see it. Even with the huge cast, renting a camera, hiring the music and having a British company (!?!) design the creature, I have to wonder where all the money went.

Let’s talk about the gritty now. When it comes to blood and gore, well, there is a little blood, but nothing big, and certainly no body innards. There is one quick topless flash, but that’s it. As for the big, expensive monster costume from overseas, well, I think Matthew got ripped off. There are plenty of effects artists in the States, not to mention in New York alone, that could have done a much better job, even with the animatronic head. Mostly, it looks like a ‘50s creature features man-in-a-suit more than a terrifying beast. So why is it the “unrated” version? Is there a rated version? Must be PG-13, or a very soft R, as it is

There are some cool extras here, the major one being a 50-minute making of documentary that folds in interviews with the director, crew and some of the cast, and how the creature was created from thought to actuality, among many other topics. It remains interesting throughout it’s time. Then there is the deleted scenes, which includes the bloopers, and the trailer, along with a few other bits.

Now, to answer the first paragraph, do I think you should go see it? Hell, yeah. While not so-bad-it’s-good, there is definitely a fun spirit to the film that would make a nice evening with the buds over some popcorn. Just don’t choke while you are amused by it all.

I have not seen any of Matthew Bora’s other work, but I get the feeling that he is possibly “up and coming” as he claims on his bio, and I think with the right people guiding and mentoring him, he might get somewhere.