Wednesday, September 10, 2014

DVD Review: Savages Crossing

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

Savages Crossing
Directed by Kevin Dobson
Winnah Films
Jingai Films
84 minutes, 2011

I’m surprised they didn’t use the Sly & the Family Stone song: “It’s a fam’ly affair…”

The film is co-written by husband and wife team John Jarratt and Cody Jarratt. It stars John and his son (from a previous), Charlie. It’s produced by Winnah Films, an Aussie production house owned by John. Oh, and did I mention that John is also known as the killer in the classic Outback thriller / slasher that quickly rose to fame called Wolf Creek (2005)? Supposedly he doesn’t like horror films, but his association with them is definitely strong.

But as far as families go, let’s not stop there. The central focus is on another father / mother / son combo. John Garratt plays a dad who is just out of a lock-down rehab after seven months where he was incarcerated against his will for his many vices (alcohol, prescription drugs, gambling, and anger management). His wife (Angela Punch-McGregor) is on the run for fear of her life, along with their university age son, Damien (Charlie Jarratt).

In the words of Noah, “It’s gonna rain,” and pour it does, leaving this trio stranded at an isolated gas station / restaurant at, yep, Savages Crossing [side note: I am not comfortable with this name, as I think it refers to the indigenous people of Queensland, Australia, where it is filmed; perhaps my sensitivities have been raised since the whole “Redskins,” etc., names have been under scrutiny of late.] Add in a couple of young women on a road trip (Sacha Horler, Rebecca Smart), the cowboy owner of the station and farm around it (Craig McLachlan) , and restaurant manager / cook / wait staff (the fetching Jessica Napier, who I doubt is any relation to Charles Napier of Russ Meyer fame), and obvious future love interest.  Then there is the crooked cop with nefarious motives (Chris Haywood).

The basic premise of a group of strangers trapped in an isolated location such as a restaurant, with a murder (or more) is hardly new. Who is on the side of “good” and who is on the side of “bad” is always in doubt, and that’s part of the paradigm as well. The question is, what do the Jarratts do with it that makes it their own?

I’ll be honest, I didn’t find many surprises in this as nearly everything is telegraphed. There is a mild twist at the end, of course, and it’s not the most brilliant, but I will say it is effective. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of suspense that is managed to be brought to the table of this oft told tale.

For me the biggest suspense, however, deals with a topic brought up by Carol J. Clover in her brilliant book, Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (1993). This film proves part of her theory, that in slasher movies, the men are, well, stupid, especially the “heroes.” You knock the bad guy out, you don’t just leave them you asshole, you tie them up, especially after they’ve proven they are not afraid to kill anyone. Especially when… well, I don’t want to give too much away. In another scenario, a couple being hunted hides in a place that not only has only one door (in the direction of the person hunting them), but it has a wall made of chicken wire (in the direction of the person hunting them).  Damn. That’s just a couple of examples.

The acting ranges on a wide scale. Being his first role, Charlie has a bit of training to do. However, both Horler and Jarratt senior act the pants off the rest, especially in a key scene they have together in the third act.

The only extras at two trailers, including one for this film.

The monster(s) in this film is the human kind, but it wears many skins and styles. It’s a good film with some mild blood and no nudity, so while you may not want to choose to watch it with your elderly auntie, it’s pretty safe for most.
Trailer: HERE

Friday, September 5, 2014

DVD Reviews: Two Mockumentaries: The Lost Realities of Hog Caller, and TIGHT

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

These exploitations seem to go together for a number of reasons. First of all, they’re supposed documentaries about real bands that are not your average run of the mill groups. Second, they both came out around the same time. Third, they are both award winners of dubious prizes. Finally, the odds at success for the bands are a bit farfetched. Other than that, these two groups are worlds apart, as are the styles of the film. And enjoyment levels.

The Lost Realities of Hog Caller
Written, directed and edited by Tom Richards
TPR Productions
Wild Eye Releasing
85 minutes, 2011

This “found footage” mockumentary about a grindocre duo called Hog Caller is a nearly psychedelic ride into the backwoods of Middletown, PA, home of Three Mile Island, and apparently Osama bin Laden. Who knew?

With just a little too much fondness for pig heads and David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), this real (?) band of two lunatics live out in the woods. A local television reporter, Skip Jenkins, is doing a piece on “Where Are Hog Caller,” and has apparently bought a box of video (yes, VHS) tape home Hog Caller movies, and we watch them interspersed with Skip, and a whole mess of messed up crap.

Words used to describe this on the box include “Repugnant” and “Sickest,” and yeah, it is that. Lots of pig bodies and disembodied heads with flies flying around them are shown in various stages of decay. One little one is dressed in a bonnet and hauled around as if it was a baby, on a playground swing or getting ice cream by one of the Callers.

There is also something about a guy in a bad rubber George W. Bush mask (actually supposed to be Bush) giving money to a way-too-short guy dressed in Arab garb with a very fake beard (an obviously blond dude), who has a shooting camp just outside of town where the targets have pictures of Jesus and Mary in the middle of them. Yep, it’s designed to offend more than succeeds in being funny. I wasn’t offended, and didn’t find it funny, either. Just too obvious. Osama is taken out by one of the Callers who is out huntin’.

Everyone here has only this film to their credit, but I’m pretty sure that’s because most people use fake names that one could call Moe’s Bar with, such as Phil Morehole, Stinky Puscadero, Brenda Paxil, Emily Zoloft, Sandy Seroplex, and Suzy Jihad.

Lots of drug mention/use, lots of alcohol, lots of fast editing, many dead animals, and little of anything else, such as story (again, the Eraserhead homage). But the problem with the film isn’t that it’s “repugnant” and gross, which it is at times, the biggest issue I have with it is actually the same one I had with Eraserhead: it’s pointless. I don’t mind weirdness, and I don’t mind psychotropic filmmaking, but at least keep it interesting.

I’m not sure if Hog Caller is an actual group, but for the purposes of this film, they are the duo of Tom Richards (bass and vocals, aka the Dirtfarmer, aka the director of this film) and Steve O’Donnell (guitar, aka Vomitrocious). The instruments and vocals are fed through a synthesizer to make it into noise. They call it grindcore. Okay. There are also a lot of real animal carcasses (mostly pigs). The gore that is shown as bodies are chopped up toward the end, are obviously some of the animal parts from the animal butcher shop where the rest of the carcasses are bought.

Extras are the trailer and a making of documentary.

All in all, I found this more annoying than disturbing, and equally boring as gross. I am annoyed because I feel like I just watched two guys masturbating for 84 minutes in their own ego.

Written and directed by Shaun Donnelly
Mind Engine Productions
Wild Eye Releasing
114 minutes, 201X
The band (left to right in picture above:
Tuesday Cross: bass
Alicia Andrews: drum
Monica Mayhem: vox
Bree Olson: manager
Layla Labelle: guitar

I have seen this described as both a documentary and a mockumentary, and that’s just on the same DVD cover! And yet, they both feel accurate.

Porn actress Bree Olson tries her hand in “reality” filming. Mixing the biz she knows and the idea first fomented through the Monkees, she enlists four of her colleagues to form an all-girl pornstar rock band. Most of the women knew their craft musical before (albeit somewhat limited), and in Micky Dolenz fashion, Alicia Andrews learned to play the drums just before joining in the group.

From there, it starts to feel like most other reality shows. The four women are put up in a house together so tension can both build through familiarity (remember, pornstars tend to be grown on body image and ego) and induced situations. Here, they have five days from forming to their first performance. The first piece of armor scratching comes when Monica Mayhem wants to rehearse (i.e., sing) no more than three hours a day to save her voice. This is actually not far off standard, but it causes a supposed ruffle in the band while the other three bond without her. What I would have done is sing the three hours, but stay with the band while they rehearse to form a collective, rather than stay home. We don’t see where the decision not to be there comes from, be it from Monica or the producer(s) (Olson).

During that first gig, where Tight are told they are going on first rather than headlining (well, duh, they’ve only been together for five days, and the now-headliner is fellow pornstar and more established awful pop singer, Brittaney Starr), it feels like a planned set-up to see their reactions. During the gig, Monica tells the bassist, Tuesday Cross, to flash her ass, which she does. They then show an insert of an interview with guitarist Layla Labelle (and her lovely Montreal accent) rightfully saying, when up on stage they should separate the band from the porn. This is thrown out the window as by the second show Monica is shown singing topless.

There is a lot of nudity and sex (sometimes from porn shoots especially, and a supposedly spontaneous scenes that seem way too…convenient with a camera going a foot in front of the action) from everyone involved. The sex is all hard softcore, i.e., no male body parts shown, but does not shy away from it or give any indication that is it faked). Which brings me to this topic: this is not a horror film, so why is it on this blog? Well, for a number of reasons, but specifically because this is not limited only to blood and gore, but also to exploitation and sexploitation as well, and this definitely fits into those two categories, especially since it is an indie production. True, I had to look just about everybody up to find information on them, but hey, it’s all in the line of duty, right?

So, speaking of formulated situations to get reaction, Olson brings her sex-obsessed and Ichabod Crane-like cousin Joel as Assistant Manager. He’s a creepy guy who likes to see Olson on-location filming sex scenes while eating sardines from a can with his fingers, who is brought into the producing of Tight’s first music video. Naturally, Olson goes and leaves the guy (real or a written character, I’m not sure) there to foster more angst among the group. This just feels too fabricated and planned, but at the same time it’s like an accident where you can’t avert your eyes. If you decide to see this, I guarantee you will utter, out loud, “ewwww.”

Brittaney Starr, in a totally see through top and looking a bit worn, shows up at a rehearsal tells Tight they sound “rusty.” Again, this feels like Starr and Olson planned this to rattle the women for the camera.

An ill-fated tour to Denver strands the ladies with lots of misadventures and a solo bubble rub in a tub (again, does not feel spontaneous). To make some money, of course there’s some porn filming. Shouldn’t Bree, as their manager, send them some cash? I’m beginning to wonder if there is a more hardcore version of this planned? Will I see it? Nah, but I’m curious to know if I’m right. For me, that’s one of the biggest issues about the video is that all the sex is so unspontaneous, and most of the situations they are put in feel scripted. There are some moments that feel real, like Layla being mad at Tuesday for whipping her with her studded belt buckle when Tuesday is wasted. It is almost like she doesn’t know how to express her anger because it feels real. A lot of the other anger that is expressed, though, I don’t know if it’s normal band-on-tour-tight quarters kind of stuff, or triggered by things that we don’t see, or there is someone off-camera saying, “Okay, you and you fight this time.” The line between real and script is sometimes easy to see, and sometimes not as much.

Lots of mayhem (pun unintended) as the ladies drink and slug it out both figuratively and literally, leading up to a record producer hearing them play on day 37. What happens then, you’ll have to see, but it’s pretty clear.

But, you are probably asking, this is about an all-woman pornstar rock band. How are they? Well, I have certainly seen a lot – and I mean a lot worse over the years. The playing is rudimentary, the songs are kinda repetitive, the vocals are okay, and, well, they’re not bad though not great. Considering we follow them together for the mere 37 days of this shoot, and they have their first live gig within the first week, it’s actually pretty impressive. I don’t think they could go anywhere on just being a rock band, without the gimmick of their other life, but yeah, they’re decent.

The closest I have come to the reality of this is seeing Penthouse Pet of the Year Cheryl Rixon front a band in the early 1980s or so. That was pretty good, but she was helped along by her co-Australian bandmate, who used to be in the Easybeats (“Friday on My Mind”). Tight don’t have that option (that we see).

There are lots of cool extras including many deleted scenes which are enjoyable, a couple of music videos, photo shoots, multiple trailers for both this film and the wonderful Wild Eye Releasing, and so much more.

So, this m/d/ocumentary smacks of reality TV, including the incidental music and pacing, but it sure beats out some of the other fakes, such as Honey Crap Crap and Duck Shit, whatever they’re called.

Monday, September 1, 2014

DVD Reviews: Double Feature From Hell: Hellinger, Holy Terror

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


A nice two-films-on-one-DVD release by Massimiliano Cherci titled Double Feature From Hell, whose Troma patronage is evident (even though the deal with Troma Distribution fell through). Both these films use a theme of horror and religion, not surprisingly Roman Catholicism is the foci as it is the part of the background of its Italy-born director. It is inevitable that there will be comparisons with the 1980s style of Giallo, but I am saying too much here. Read on… if you dare…

Directed by Massimiliano Cherci
Rounds Entertainment
SGL Entertainment
MVD Visual
90 minutes, 1997 / 2014

Most people are going to look at this film, rereleased after nearly two decades, and say, Oh, a throwback from the 1980s “video nasties” that were so prevalent in that era. Well, they wouldn’t actually be wrong, but I would take it a step further, and point out that it still has that gory fun and swiss cheese storyline that we usually love from the likes of Troma.

A Roman Catholic priest decides he wants to start his own religion and see heaven before he gets there. After a supposed pact with the devil to do this, he becomes….Hellinger (a play on the mixture of Hellraiser and Dillinger?). They never really explain the name: just one of the swiss cheese holes. Meanwhile, he is haunting a young woman, Melissa Moran (the lovely Shannah Betz, aka Shana Betz, aka Shana Sosin, aka…), whose abusive father Hellinger killed by evisceration and pulling out his eyes right in front of her when she was just a schoolgirl. Apparently, Hellinger has a thing for eyes. But Melissa as an adult is both tough as nails and still that scared little girl.  

The third main character is Melissa’s cousin, the silly named Kendall Ransom (long haired, bearded and full body tattooed Artie Richard). He’s a cross between Chuck Norris and Snake Plisskin (as a coincidence, this film was made in 1997, the same year Escape From New York [1981] was supposed to have taken place). Now I realize that the even relatively modern horror cinema of the 1990s needed to have some kind of male action hero to look up to, but I have to say, Ransom is a totally superfluous character. He basically fails in everything he tries, other than getting us Hellinger’s backstory in a longwinded talking head exposition. In a Carol J. Clover moment, he can’t even save the heroine. Girl power!

For what it’s worth, this is actually a fun film straight through, even though it’s not a great piece of cinema. The no digi effects gore is plentiful if cheesy (especially the ending), the acting on the most part equally questionable (though Betz comes off – er – best), and as I said, there are plenty of plotline holes, but it will keep your attention, along with giving some unintended laughs here and there, which is always fun.

Cherci (who also has a recurring cameo role) borrows a lot from a very interesting time of filmmaking. For example, he was obviously influenced by Italian Giallo, especially Dario Argento, and arguably Leo Fulci (this film reminded me of his 1982’s The New York Ripper and 1980’s City of the Living Dead).  There is also a pimp character that smacked of Harvey Keitel’s role in Taxi Driver (1976).  However, in a somewhat prescient way, he also has the title character repeatedly call Melissa, “my preciousssss,” is a throaty hiss.

Let’s talk a bit about the Hellinger character. He is borrowed a lot from the Pinhead lead of Hellraiser (1987), and there are even the occasional hanging and swinging chains here and there.  Bald and pancake faced film security maven Wayne Petrucelli plays (okay, overplays) him as a cranky, slow talking, nearly immobile evil character who is not the way he is for the reasons the legend states, trying for audience sympathy at the last moment, though it’s hard to feel that. He’s both villain and Melissa’s protector, as he snarls and sibilant “S” lisps out his dialog. He truly will make you appreciate Doug Bradley’s equally stoic turn (if you have to ask who Bradley is, you may be reading the wrong blog; at least look him up).

In another swiss cheese hole, Hellinger keeps telling her he “loves” her and wants him to join him in eternity, but it is never really explained why (unless I missed it in all the exposition). I mean, the first time she sees him she’s a little kid, so that makes it even creepier. Why is she his “precious”?

For a low budget film, despite my own crankiness, this was quite enjoyable, that is once you get past all the question marks, and the mysterians. Between the graininess of the image, the grittiness of the characters, there’s blood and sex (and yes, nudity), and a film worth viewing if you enjoy indie horror, especially in the Giallo and ‘80s genres.

Holy Terror
Directed by Massimiliano Cherci
Rounds Entertainment
SGL Entertainment
MVD Visual
55 minutes, 2002 / 2014

A possessed nun (played by the ironically Biblically named Katy Moses) needs souls to keep feeding on. Somehow, even though she never speaks a word, she manages to have a real estate agent that periodically (okay, often) rent out her house to young couples for that purpose. Mayhem eventually occurs.

The couple in this case is the beautiful and blonde Julie (Beverly Lynne) and her equally beautiful and blond hubby, David (Charlie Lubiniecki, who amusingly now goes by David Charlie). To celebrate they bring four of their friends, two women and another married couple, over for a housewarming party. By the end, you know very well that few will leave.

All the women are pretty, and the two men are just so gay. Now, I’m not saying this in a negative way, I just mean the actors are very obviously, well, gay. Hell, one even has earrings in both ears. My gaydar went through the freakin’ roof. They are decent actors, but it was distracting. The only remaining real characters other than some brief appearances, is the real estate agent, Kane (Michael Brazier, who also co-produced the film with Cherci), and of course, the nun.  

Stylistically, Cherci has obviously grown since Hellinger, but the story just does not get off the ground at all (it’s his story, but the screenplay was written by Fratelli DiNotte. It’s 45 minutes before anything really happens, and most of it is off-screen, even when it happens right then. For example, you see the arm come down to strike with a crucifix, but you don’t see the hit, just the after-effect.

The writing is just terrible, honestly. One character is showering and she is soon covered in blood, shocked by it all of course. Then she calming walks into the other room and jokes about it with her friends. Another person vomits solid blood for a full minute, and then calmly wipes the john, checks herself in the mirror, and walks out the door. I get freaked out if it’s just puke, never mind blood, and she’s blasé about it all.

The most egregious thing, however, is the fact that this film never gets off the ground. Even when the action sets into gear after a really long wait, it’s anti-climactic because we really don’t get to care about anyone, and the action level is so muted.

Most of the cast has a history of sex horror films. Well, the women anyway, and for the men, the credits are limited at best. As for Moses (aka the nun), this is her only appearance on official record (i.e., IMDB). The acting is actually much better than in Hellinger, and most of the cast more attractive (except for Shanna Betz, who would fit in well here), but sadly it’s all in vain because, as one of the women say in this film, “So far this party has been very uneventful.” I couldn’t say it better than this self-referential gem.

So, even though this film has high quality filmmaking and acting, Hellinger is the reason to get this metaphysical twosome.
Trailer for Hellinger:
Trailer for Holy Terror: