Friday, August 22, 2014

DVD Review: Camp Blood First Slaughter

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



Camp Blood First Slaughter
Written and directed by Mark Polonia
Sterling Entertainment
Polonia Bros Entertainment
MVD Visual
78 minutes, 2014

Recently, I reviewed another Polonia film, Empire of the Apes [HERE], the film they made before this one, and I wonder how they got so much better in one film?

There are similarities, though: To begin, both films are based on other people’s franchises, in this case it being Brad Sykes’s killer clown in the woods Camp Blood trilogy, which I haven’t seen. Well, this one doesn’t continue it as much as kick it in the ass, which is part of what makes it fun. And then, like most other killer in mask camp films, this one takes place in the woods, much as did Empire.

What I like about this film is that Polonia takes the basic maniac in the woods story and mixes it up a bit. All the clichés of the genre are there, including the weird old guy warning them to leave which they of course ignore, and Polonia even combines it with the found footage phenomena that everyone seems to be jumping on over the past few years since Blair Witch Project (1999).

Sometimes when you have an indie film, because the Hollywood rules don’t always count and the training is more hands-on, directors can get away with more because the lines are more fluid. This happens right off the bat here. Did not see that first killing coming at all, and it was very impressive.

After a standard prologue where the woman belittles the man who gets killed before she does, as is also par as the story is a class of high schoolers – for once most of whom look like they actually could be that age or close – are sent into the woods by their teacher (Cindy Wheeler) to investigate (and film) what really happened. The point is to prove or disprove if there even is a Blood Lake killer clown with a machete hacking people. Okay, yes, same MO (i.e., mask and a onesey) as Jason and same locale as Jason and same weapon as Jason. I get it other reviewers, so let’s move on.

So three females and two males camp out, and then run their cameras constantly through the day. And night. With no outlets to recharge the cameras. It’s the modern equivalent of a Western where the six-shooter never runs out of bullets, I suppose. I know I have to charge mine about every two hours of usage. Again, the rules of micro-budget are different, that is apparent.

Talk around the campfire with one of them trying to scare the others with stories? Check. False scares (such as someone surprising someone in the dark)? Check. A real scare as the killer shows up after the false scare? Check.

Now, while a lot of this is frankly following the playbook, there is also an undercurrent element which has, well, if not originality, then definitely a shake-up of the standard. There is some playing with time, you definitely get a preview of what is going to happen to our hapless students, and of course, what are left are the video cameras, including the one worn by the killer on the side of its mask. And the ending is actually a bit of a surprise.

While this isn’t the greatest of films, it’s miles above the Empire of the Apes (the one Polonia did before this one!). The gore is a cheesy a mix of digital and appliance. Despite being a bit hackneyed, such as using a machete with part of the blade cut out to look like it’s chopping through a body part, it’s still a fun ride to watch. The digital blood spatter is, however, just bad. There most of the other reviews I’ve read have it right; fakest I’ve seen since Empire, which was even way more fakey.

Again, micro-budgets produce interesting vibes, and sometimes even the most ridiculous become… well, not credible, but acceptable-though-noticeable. For example, when one teen is getting her head chopped off, and blood is pouring from her mouth (they must have gone through a lot of blood capsules in this film as everyone bleeds profusely from the mouth), she appears to be laughing as she’s coughing up blood. It actually made me smile, and she was one of my favorite characters.

Now to some quickies: You can tell when the POV is the killer’s other than the students because you can hear the heavy breathing, like it was the end of a marathon; I kept saying, dude, you need to work out more and do some cardio. Every couple of minutes you see the screen scrambled with a szzhzhzhz sound, like interference, to remind the viewer that it is supposed to be watching video after the fact. I know my digi camera never does that, but okay. I figured out the killer pretty fast, dismissed it, and then remembered at the end as was right; however, it’s not that obvious and it may surprise you. It seems that every victim picked up the wooden Camp Blood sign just before they become ex-teens. Again, no nudity or even the suggestion of it (though an affair is rumoured). Other than chapter choices, there are no extras on this.

Some of the Polonia stock players make appearances, such as Jeff Kirkendall (also a genre filmmaker) as the loony warning them away, Ken Van Sant as the sheriff that finds the cameras, and punk rock drummer (yes, I will always use that descriptor because it is cool) Steve Diasparra as the Mayor (and one other role). Most of the other cast have either this as their only credit, or just a couple or few others with Polonia or Kirkendall.

Yeah, the acting and dialog are somewhat stilted, but the message comes across without the viewer having to use the mind too much, and sometimes that’s all one needs, right? The film is a decent length, being not too long, but with enough time to tell the story, which is obviously written for a sequel.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

DVD Review: Empire of the Apes

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


Empire of the Apes
Written and directed by Mark Polonia
Sterling Entertainment
Polonia Bros Entertainment
MVD Visual
80 minutes, 2013

Uff da.

Over the past few years, Polonia and his siblings have made a name for themselves in the indie horror world apparently by sheer volume. He has directed over thirty films since 1986, though becoming much more prolific since the millennium, averaging two or three releases per year. And yet, this is the first of his I’ve seen, so I will only go by this one.

Let’s get right to the premise, which is an obvious combination of The Planet of the Apes franchise through the decades, Larry Buchanan’s Mistress of the Apes (1979), and Ken Dixon’s Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity (1987). Most have their roots or ideals in the early 1980s horror/sci-fi glut that emerged with the VHS market. I’m nearly surprised there wasn’t a cameo here by the likes of Brinke Stevens, Linnea Quigley or Michelle Bauer.

But the cast is small and most have but few credits (nearly all with Polonia). Told mostly in flashback, three comely women wearing little are prisoners on a spaceship and about to be sold to another planet as pleasure servants. They don’t really like each other much, but manage to work together to escape and steal a space pod, landing on a planet inhabited by about half a dozen talking male apes (English, of course), led by the ambitious and cruel Korg (Ken Van Sant), wearing a headpiece-hat-thingie that looks like medieval kings wore. On the other end of the spectrum is the erstwhile ape hero, Trask (Jeff Kirkendall), who wears a tan overcoat! With a hood! It’s sort of right wing vs. left, if you want to get a tad deep about it.

Speaking of the apes, their masks are obviously rubber, with a loose jaw for when they are talking. And despite that they are on a planet far, far away, even though it’s odd they speak English, it’s the phrases they use that throw me. For example, one references the planet as a “Garden of Eden.” Old Testament on chimp planet? Wha? Another time what is spouted is, “This way, you merry mother grabbers!” Eh? Lots of anachronistic language is flung like poo at us, though no cuss words. Of course, this is also part of the charm, and besides, it may show up on TV that way. Uncut.

The lead human villain is the head of the prison ship, Captain Zantor (played by shaved-head punk rock drummer Steve Diasparra). On a slightly different and deeper level, there is actually very little difference between leader Korg and leader Zantor, which I am sure is part of the point. They are conniving, ambitious, greedy, and backstabbing. Which will win? Well, that’s given away pretty early, unfortunately, as this is – as I stated earlier – a flashback.

As for our three anti-heroines, there’s the somewhat leader and toothsome Dane (Danielle Donahue), the biker babe type Theel (Elizabeth V. Costanzo), and the “innocent” Jada (Marie DeLorenzo, who rocks a sort of Drew Barrymore look). Despite the theme of the film, they actually take second banana (couldn’t resist) to both Korg and Zantor. But they are all three attractive, and all dressed in some form of flesh-showing Lycra.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about why we watch this stuff, in part. Even though there are lots of bare arms, legs and bellies, there is absolutely zero nudity here, not even a hint. Hasn’t anyone given Polonia the handbook? There is practically no blood, never mind gore. Polonia needs to contact and hire DMP (Dustin Mills Productions), one of the best in the micro-budget trade, to get his splatter on. And as for SFX, well, other than some rubber masks, a couple of interesting looking spears, and some miniature space crafts, nearly all of the effects are cheap digi ones that look like it was done on a free software you can download from the ‘net. We’re talking Ed Wood level effects, if there was digi-FX back then.

I respect what the Polonia Brothers are doing, don’t get me wrong, please. They do get a story going, and even manage to make it lead towards a sequel even though the whole ending here is a WTF moment. The kindest and truest thing I can say about this film is it really is a loyal nod to the 1980s VHS schlock that so many of us like. Even though I thought the pace was a bit slow, the dialog stunted, the acting deplorable, the setting silly (mowed grass?!), and huge plot holes (really, the captain of the prison ship would  go after three prisoners on an unknown planet? Alone?), I would still rather see something like this than sit in a theater and watch most Hollywood digital disasters (for example, the excruciatingly painful on so many levels Transformers franchise).

So even with its many faults, I say a small bravo, and look forward (though on a lower scale) to the next in the Apes series.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

DVD Review: Mara

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


Directed by Jacob Kondrup, Fredrik Hedberg, and Åke Gustafsson
Filmkon©ept Scandinavia
MVD Visual
77 minutes, 2013

The Swedes make some interesting and surprising creepy films. For example the title of Mara can be translated as either a succubus, a spirit who brings mishaps, or as a name it means “bitter” (as does Miriam, Mary or Marie).

Mara has a basic plot theme which can be found in films from the late ‘70s on: told in flashback, a group of friends (here its three women, two dudes) go to a desolate country farm house in which a murder took place years before that was witnessed by the protagonist, Jenny (Angelica Jansson); her mother stabbed her father multiple times in a jealous rage. Of course, mom has been released from the asylum, and people are dying. You’re probably saying, “Been there, seen that.”

Ah, but we’re talking about Scandinavian cinema, where there is a lot of smoke and mirrors, along with a sense of cinemafantastique. For a while I figured out the story, but then realized, no, I didn’t. That was a pleasant surprise. I did not see the second reveal at all. Yes, there are multiple reveals, resulting in a very interesting picture.

I know I have recently complained about how walking around a house in the dark with tense music for some length of time can turn anxiety into impatience, but the directors do a splendid job at keeping your attention throughout multiple, “what was that noise/shadow/figure?” sequences.

Most of the cast is fodder for nudity and body count, of course, as some things shall not go rewritten, but it doesn’t matter because there are only two key figures to the story: the first is the creepy mom (Mia Möller) who shows up in sequences that are reminiscent of Boris Karloff in Mario Bava’s 1963 I tre volti della paura (aka Black Sabbath). The other, of course, is the lead of Jenny. It’s hard to believe this is Jansson’s first role because she grabs it and plays full tilt. I’m sure it helps that the film is in her native Swedish (with English subtitles), but she gives a stellar performance, full of nuance and body language, from surprised to bored to, well, terror. Plus she is an incredibly attractive woman who has… huge tracks of land, and the director puts her in clothes that play that off well without making it only a cleavage-fest. That’s left for the other actors (though Jansson does get a chance to appear with ample bosom showing as well, early on during a dinner scene).

The look of the film, with its bluish colors and artistic flair – especially the dream and remembrance sequences – reminds me a bit of the Giallo cinema of the 1970 and ‘80s, such as the aforementioned Bava and Dario Argento, without all the strange angles and extreme zooming close-ups. After all, this is mean-what-you-say-say-what-you-mean Lutheran Sweden, not the pomp and circumstance Roman Catholic Italy. Even spectacle is more subtle up there. But gore? That’s another story. There is a long history of shock cinema coming from Sweden since the 1960s, enough to literally fill a book [HERE].

While an enjoyable film from beginning to end, it is not perfect. For example, one of the questions I have, and this isn’t just this one but in general: When something is a flashback, why do they include scenes with dialog where the person telling the story is not present? How would she know what was discussed, especially if they were talking about her and it’s a family secret? Okay, perhaps that is nitpicking, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong, does it?

There have been a lot of films of late from the European Theatre that have just dove head first into the muck and mire of gore, shock and, well, more gore. Here, however, they have taken a step back and kept the blood (most of it “after” the act), but put the suspense and terror to the front. Doing this, they have denied none of the artistic license of shadows moving, smart editing, spooky lighting and solid acting.

But this is Jansson’s picture, and a good one to start her portfolio (and as of this writing it remains her only credit in IMDB). She doesn’t let her beauty stand in the way of giving a strong performance where she must grimace, look confused, and terrified; then there’s the obligatory shower scene, of course. I’m hoping she’s given more chances than modeling in fashion and men’s mags.

There are some nice extras included. The first is a 75 minute day-by-day shooting diary for the seven-day gig. One nice thing is they show you how they set up the shot, and then they actually show you the scene, so you can see what they are talking about (don’t forget to turn on the English captions for the extras). What’s also enjoyable is you get to see some more, well, body parts. Third, one occurance that is on this extra that isn’t in the film as much is Angelica’s bright smile.

The second is a four-minute piece of Hedberg meeting Angelica for the first time to see if she is right for the part. This is followed by a brief phone conversation (while driving!) with one of the other directors on how it felt like a positive experience. Obviously, it all worked out.

Of course there’s the trailer for the film, and a three-minute in-house video interview with Jansson dressed in total model mode at the test screening, discussing her experience. She is definitely bright (a degree in Environmental Science!), and she says though she won’t chase roles, she would be happy to do another. Good. She also posits that the film turned out better than she expected. Amen, sister.