Sunday, January 5, 2014

Review: Easter Casket

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films Blog, 2014
Images from the Internet


Easter Casket
Directed, shot, edited and scored by Dustin Wayde Mills
Dustin Mills Productions
80 minutes, 2013

Holidays are definitely horror fodder. Just off the top of my head there is New Year's Evil (1980), Valentine (2001), ThanksKilling (2009), and of course the entire Halloween franchise. Christmas is practically a subgenre that is especially potent with the likes of Silent Night Deadly Night (1984), Santa’s Slay (2005), Bloody Christmas (2012) and Caesar and Otto’s Deadly Xmas (2012).

Now Easter gets the focus of director and writer Dustin Wayde Mills. In his premise, the Easter Bunny is named Tammuz, based on a god older than the West’s construct, who is angered by the Catholic religion now planning to do away with anything that doesn’t have to do with the Resurrection directly, including peeps, the bunny, and chocolate. He is smokin’ mad and out to take down God and his churches (especially Catholic). Is this part of the “War on Catholics” that’s in the news (especially around Christmas)? Probably not, any more than the one film by Kevin Smith I can tolerate, Dogma (1999), which is excellent.

The bunny isn’t some warm, fuzzy creature, but is rather a nasty little puppet voiced with pseudo-Bronx-dialect aplomb by the director. Anyone familiar with Mills knows that puppets make appearances in one form or another in all his pictures, and there are plenty here. The pink, bug-eyed creature with the sharp front teeth is a master at the one liner, as is many other villains, such as Freddy and fellow holiday puppet creature, Turkie (from the aforementioned ThanksKilling series).

I have a theory about this film, and if I’m wrong, I welcome Dustin to tell me so. Know that I mean this complementary: It seems to me that Easter Casket is an 80-minute experiment. What I mean by that is there is a whole medley of techniques being used almost to see if they work or not. For example, there is motion capture, green screen, and animation that are on a whole new level from what I’ve seen in a Mills film before. While some of it works better than others (for example, some of the green screen looks like, well, green screen), but even I know that growth comes from experience, and if Mills is going to try new things to improve his craft, why not do it in a feature that we can all enjoy? And this really is a fun film from beginning to end. My only complaint, and this is minor, is that at the very beginning and the very end, it’s really hard to make out what Tammuz is saying, be it the echo of the church or slowed down to the point of “say what?”

Josh Eal
There is a lot of borrowing from other sources here. Think of films like Constantine (2005), Lost Souls (2000) or End of Days (1999), where a warrior goes to battle with the devil of some sort or another, and you get the mood of it Martial Arts expert Josh Eal does a bang-up job as the stoic church soldier leading the crusade, sent by the mega-Pope (voice actor supreme Steve Rimpici), in a floating head reminiscent of God in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). Then of course there are the many references to Bugs Bunny (my idol when I was growing up). There are a couple of nods to Xtro (1983), right down to the sound effects, Eal’s suit and armor reminiscent of the later Lost in Space (1998), and an ending act right out of Mills’ own Puppet Monster Massacre (2010). Even killer rabbits are not unfamiliar, with the likes of MP and the Holy Grail (“Jesus Christ, that rabbit is dynamite!”) and Night of the Lepus (1972)

Errin R. Ryan
As the female lead, Erin R. Ryan shows she is game, and why she is a solid contender up-and-coming scream queen. She’s strong and fierce, cute as a button with strong jaw and toothsome smile, and may I say in the least creepy way possible, a slammin’ body, which we get to see often and thoroughly. She definitely rocks the Catholic schoolgirl uniform (not one of my fantasies, but nevertheless…). Ryan manages to take her role, and apply various emotions effectively, from strong to frail, taking what could have been a gratuitous part and making something out of it. This is the second film in which I’ve seen her (2013’s The Ballad of Skinless Pete, also by Mills), and look forward to more.

There is a bit of heavy-handedness about penis-obsessed priests (Jason Crowe and Mills), but as a non-Catholic, I found it quite humorous. In fact, this really is quite the funny and fun film. Even when it tries perhaps a tad too hard, it still works, especially if my “film as exercise” premise is correct.

In case you’re wondering, there is a lot of gore – both digi and appliance – and nudity, all enjoyable (though I wonder about the motivation behind the heavily tattooed nun stripping).

Due to seeing this as a screener rather than on DVD, I wonder about the commentary. Mills always does a decent one, and with so much envelope stretching of techniques, I would have loved to have heard his thoughts and ideas.

No, this isn’t a perfect film, but I have learned over the years, indie or major, there is no such thing, and to be sincerely honest, I enjoyed this more than some of the blockbusters that have come up recently. It is worth checking out for its humor, its audacity, and its technological strivings. Kudos, Dustin.


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