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.