Thursday, June 25, 2015

Review: Blood Slaughter Massacre

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Blood Slaughter Massacre
Directed and edited by Manny Seranno
Mass Grave Pictures / Devarez Films
Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
113 minutes / 2013 / 2015

One subgenre of the recent trend of slasher films is homage to the “video nasties” of the 1980s, when video was king and horror and porn were the top renters. Most do a decent job, but it’s rare that anyone gets it this accurate. It’s obtuse (he’s killing them why?), with a large body count of mostly teenage girls (think Slumber Party Massacre [1982]), a masked and silent killer of some girth who likes to pose in hallways, and cops with issues.

Smartly, the introductory murder(s) scene (you think I may be giving too much away? Have you ever seen the genre before?) takes place around 1974 in a town called Havenwood (a perfect ‘80s film locale name), so that way the “10 years later” main story could actually take place in the ‘80s rather than just referencing it. With the exception of some small LED CSI­-style flashlights, the sets are excruciatingly accurate, which is also wonderful.

Matt W. Cody
For the main part of the story, we meet Shaft-style leather jacket-wearing, 5-O’Clock shadowed, alcoholic detective James Fincher (Matt W. Cody, who looks familiar though I don’t recognize any of his credits from IMDB), recently separated from his wife (Melissa Roth, who does a convincingly great job in the role), and daughter. Fincher had been injured as a beat cop by the killer 10 years before, and now he’s an on-and-off the wagon drunk. His partner is Cobb (Byron M. Howard) who sticks by his pal, but has a secret, natch. And the head cop is angry at them, of course.

Now, this next part is both good, and creepy in real life: the actresses who play the teen girls are supposed to be 15, and for once most actually look the part, even though (as the director states in the commentary) they are all in their 20s. What’s disturbing is that most of them appear topless if not nude, including some sex scenes, so it’s sort of ”barely legal” stuff for which I was not comfortable. On a lighter note, but just as seriously curious, that they managed to find this many young actresses without tattoos is admirable, unless they removed them digitally. [I have been informed by the director that only one female cast member had a tattoo and it was physically covered with make-up. I love the Internet... - RG]

That brings us to the next point: as far as I can tell, being an “’80s film,” the effects appear to be all appliances, with no digi, which is what I like to see. Digital effects are fine, but I like the physical challenge of carnage. Just take a look at Carpenter’s version of The Thing (1982); it’s a stunning piece of work without any CGI. There’s a lot of gore here with that ‘80s syrupy kind of blood, and enough spray and blades to make Tom Savini say, “You welcome.” The film also stays true to the look of the ‘80s with just enough fuzzy images to imply VHS – especially with the blurry red-lettered credits at the end – to make it cheesy, fun, and respectful at the same time.

Danielle Lenore, Carmela Hayslett-Grillo
The two teen female leads are also wonderfully cliché (i.e., modelled on the period). The focus of the clown masked killers attack at the party is Danielle (Danielle Lenore), the “Jamie Lee Curtis” of the film, if you will. She’s the shy girl who you know is gonna get “(wo)man-up” by the end, as these things tend to follow. Her best friend, the tough and hot girl with the heart of gold, is Carla (Carmela Hayslett-Grillo) in the “Rose McGowan” (Scream) sidekick position. If anyone survives the night (most of the film takes place in a single day rotation) of the blood slaughter massacre (the more I say that title, the less sense it makes, but still is a totally wicked-cool name), it’s going to be one of these two.

While the soundtrack is new, they did well in getting that piano-plinking sound for the anticipatory moments (e.g., “let’s go check out that strange noise…”), and gathered a bunch of long-hair rock songs that so fit into the ‘80s motif that you’ll swear you’ve heard it – or something like it – before. Again, excellently executed (pun intended).

No matter how I describe any one element of the story (including the ending, which I will not give away), you’re seen it before if you are a fan of the genre, and that’s part of both the point and the charm of the film. And yet, there are some nice unexpected twists and turns. This is one of the rare releases that if I saw it without any previous knowledge, I would have said it were from that period. It’s that bad, which is a very high compliment coming from where and what I’m trying to say.

There are a stack of extras, some successful, some not. There is a Behind the Scenes featurette (not), some extended and deleted scenes (mostly not) and some fake trailers that inspired this film and music video (successful). There is also a nice commentary track with the director, the cinematographer Louis Cortes, and SFX / make-up / AD Lindsay Serrano.

This is definitely a hoot for a Throw-Back-Thursday, or a Saturday Night get-together for some laughs, some memories of videos-gone-by, or just a chance to see a three-second cameo by director James Balsamo. No matter what the reason, if you’re a VHS horror junkie from or of the period, this’ll hit the ahhhh spot.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Review: Meet Me There

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Meet Me There
Cinematography, edited and directed by Lex Lybrand
SGL Entertainment / Greenless Studios / MVD Visual
93 minutes / 2014

Most horror films have an opening scene, usually before the credits, be it Michael as a child killing his parents, or Drew answering the phone while making popcorn, and that is also true here. This one starts a bit like Trains, Planes and Automobiles (1987), but when we watch two men travel to, and arrive in the town of Sheol (translated as “place of the dead,” or in the Greek New Testament, “Hades”; man, I love the Internet), Oklahoma, what happens there is certainly not what I expected. Off to a great start!

Post-credits, we meet the multi-inked and obviously in love cohabitating young couple Ada (Lisa Friedrich, who looks like a much cuter Kristen Stewart at 6-feet tall, in her first IMDB listed role) and lucky bastard / out of his league Calvin (Michael Foulk, who is obviously less than 6-foot), who are having trouble with intimacy – well, she is anyway; he’s just frustrated. Searching for answers to why she’s so prickly about getting personal, they leave Texas to her home town – yep, Sheol – where they encounter many strange people, including her religiously zealous coked-out aunt (Jill Thompson, of Scary Grandmother “fame,” with a face full of scabs) and imposing Preacher Woodward (Dustin Runnels, better known to the world as the WWE’s Goldust).

This is a town full of death, of course, as all horror film low-population loci are, and this one is presided by demise of both mysterious and by multiple means. Its forms of sacrifice by self and others is shown in its violence, and surrender, and sometimes both. And literally, what happens in Sheol stays in Sheol.

Lex Lybrand, Michael Foulk, Dustin "Goldust" Runnels, Lisa Friedrich
While this film could have been tailored by around 15 minutes or so, it’s actually well put together. Lybrand both directs and shoots the film with good pacing and beautiful lighting, giving more of a natural feel than most releases that wallow in stark primary colors. Sure, the night scene has the mandatory bluish hue, as it probably should, and dream sequences (or are they?) are in black and white, but the rest feels natural. The actors are lit in ways that make them look like real people rather than mannequins, and even in the dark-of-night scenes, the viewer can make out what is happening, rather than it being murky.
As for the script, while yes there can be some snipping as I said (e.g., the multiple stories during the car ride), the characters have a pretty realistic relationship, and don’t act “stupid” in dangerous situations (e.g., “A masked killer is hunting us…let’s stay in the house and run upstairs!”), but rather know when it’s time to get the hell out. Whether that helps them out or not, at least they have a better plan than most. Thanks to writer Brandon Stroud for that, who collected the supposedly true stories and/or dreams of Destiny Talley.

The actors, both lead and secondary, tend to get the job done well. The majority of the emotions feel real, and they react how you might imagine you’d expect someone in that situation to react, rather than just being mindlessly “Yaaaaaaah!” with arms akimbo or super-macho.

This film has been selected for quite a few festivals, and that is hardly a surprise to me. It has a velvety feel, some dream-like visuals without being overly esoteric, and a finish that is worth discussing among friends if you decide to pick this for a movie night. Nice nudity and some minimal gore (what I call CSI-level), so I wouldn’t recommend it to kids, but adults who are a bit sensitive may enjoy it, too.

The three listed extras are the trailer and individual interviews with Runnels (3:30) and Jill Thompson (5:30). While I understand that they are the “names” here, I would also liked to have seen a talking head of the leads, Foulk and especially Friedrich, this being her first film. There is also an unlisted commentary track by the director, which gives a lot of key information about the making of the film from a personal and technical standpoint, and some stories about the cast and writers. Most importantly, he gives some motivation for why in certain scenes.

Lastly, for all the professional wrestling fans (how many are you are disappointed about how the UFC is taking over? Show of hands?), there are a lot of lucha libre wrestlers who are not only one of the leads, but in secondary roles (commentary will clue you in). Also Stroud runs a wrestling blog and apparently Thompson is a huge fan of the art of the mat, so there is also that element.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Review: Mandingo Sex Addict

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet
Mandingo Sex Addict
Directed by Sean Weathers
Full Circle Filmworks
87 minutes / 2015

Tracy Spencer (Sean Weathers) is a bit of a nerdy guy: a part-time sports writer who has a strong belief in Jesus. He’s in love with Felicia (Catalina Dias), who has just left an abusive long-term relationship and is not ready to just jump into one with Tracy yet.

In a sad state, Tracy runs into the now grown-up sister of a school chum, leading them to form the creature with two backs and smoke something out of a pipe, like many good Christians would do (especially if they’re Republican, apparently, but I digress…). She nonchalantly tells him about the suicide of someone close to him that happened a few years back. He hits the bottle, depressed because everything is going bad for him. There’s even a poster of Edvard Munch’s The Scream in the bedroom to reflect his attitude. Luckily, this narcissist has a bestie, Nick (Weather’s regular onscreen sidekick Waliek Crandall); unfortunately, the double dog is trying to make moves on Felicia.

Anyway, she has a change of heart and being the guilty Christian he is, Tracy tells her the truth about his fling, so she rejects him. These events start him on a downward spiral that leads to the title of the film.

Tracy is both similar and polar opposites of Weathers’ last few roles in Scumbag Hustler and Ace Jackson is a Dead Man. The other characters were full of false bravado fueled by addiction, but Tracy is more of a conservative cliché who cries and whines often, with glasses and Andy Williams-style sweaters (scarily, the gray one is almost exactly like one I own), but with sliding down the razor blade of his titular sex addiction, he de-evolves into a crazed, shell of himself.

Like many of Weathers’ films, there is a the introduction of a bit of a larger social aspect, such as one of Tracy’s friends, Brent (Kevin J. Williams) having distaste for Nick’s use of the N-word. However, this same character has no problem referring to women by the B-word, so I’m not sure if the message is just not use the N-word, or the hypocrisy and sexism. Kinda works looking at it both ways.

Speaking of which, obviously from the title, there is a lot of sex, all involving Weathers’ character. Sean is not afraid to show his nads, ass or anything else as he beds woman after woman. And, adding a bit of sexism myself, they are stacked, Jack. Cleavage aplenty and nudity overflowing as body parts and appendages swing wild. This is easily Weathers’ best looking female co-stars to date; acting levels vary, however, but that can be said historically across the board in any low budget genre.

Also amid the high drama, there is also quite a bit of humor, such as when the character Crayon (?!?) Jackson (Adonis Williams) goes into full gangsta mode and threatens Tracy (e.g., if the viewer takes a shot for every time he uses “dawg,” they’d possibly die of alcohol poisoning).

Using guerilla-style filming around New York City and Brooklyn during winter, it’s nice to see Coney Island, and especially the Narrows between Ceasar’s Bay [sic] and the Verrazano Bridge, very close to where I grew up. Aswad Issa also keeps getting better with the camera, so a special nod to him.

The ending is a bit abrupt, but actually it’s probably how it should end; no, I won’t go into details, but I can see debates about it down the line between film geeks like myself, which is a wonderful thing. The only unsatisfying piece is the incomplete credits (e.g., the cast and characters), and that’s pretty minor in the scheme of things.

Definitely a strong release for Sean Weathers, and from what I understand he is going to be putting further Blaxploitation / exploitation / softcore sexploitation films aside for a while for some straight-up horror. That should be fun, too!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Review: Porn Shoot Massacre

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Porn Shoot Massacre: Unrated Edition
Directed by Corbin Timbrook
Lost Empire / MVD Visual
87 minutes, 2009

The ripped Ramones of Shelly Martinez
I am totally offended by this film for two reasons. No, not for the subject matter, but because the first victim is wearing a Ramones tee. The Ramones make me happy, and not associated with murder! And what’s even worse, the shirt is cut up for “sexy” purposes, with the arms ripped off and the neck cut into a vee, making the cleavage more exposed. Why would anyone do that to a poor, defenseless Ramones shirt? Didn’t the band go through enough shit?!

Anyway, enough with the digression, let’s get to the film. After the death of said first porn star (actress / wrestler / body builder Shelly Martinez) before the opening credits but after the intro full-frontal shower scene, we are taken to the set of a mysterious porn shoot in some factory with faulty lighting and hidden cameras in the hallways. Yeah, if the title doesn’t give you some hint of the action to follow, certainly the set will.

Robert Ambrose as Malfini
The women are being paid $10,000 to appear in this mystery porn shoot, being directed by the equally cryptic and somewhat flamboyant Malfini (Robert Ambrose); the name is close to “Malfeasance,” which is the “willful and intentional action that injures a party” (thank you Internet), especially by one in charge. In Italian, the “I” at the end of a word is plural (if it ended with “o” it would be singular). Therefore, the name if wrongdoing against many. He also is wearing an incredibly fake looking wig, moustache and beard, and large, blue-tinted glasses. Ruuuuun!!!!

Along with two camera jerks and a decent clip-board guy (Nick Machado, arguably giving the most credibly performance here), there is the killer, Brute (Dirk Vader). Okay, I need to digress again here for a moment. Some of the people in this film are actual porn pros, and many have this listed as their only screen credit. I’m going to venture a supposition here that many of those involved with the production, both in front and behind the camera, are not using their real (or stage) names. I mean, my sincere apologies if I’m wrong, but Dirk Vader?

The Fetish Queen and the Good Person
Getting back to the story, the porn actresses start arriving one or two at a time, depending on what is expected of them, include the nice one, the prima donna fetish queen, and the dominatrix. They help add to the heap of the body count. Now, it’s not just the women who are being snuffed off, it also includes the male actors who are generally non-descript, other than Tiny (Richard Little), the dwarf.

By the time the heroine comes into the story in act three, there are a whole lot of, well, I see dead porn people… Halie is also an actress in the field, portrayed by the most attractive looking of the cast, and most plausible player, Shirley Harper, so be afraid Halie, be very afraid; even though she wasn’t originally cast in this shoot, since she could use the money… As indicated, she is the smart one, though in a time of stress she asks someone equally screwed (pun not intended), “What should I do?!

And who is behind all the mayhem and murder? Not who you’d expect, though it makes (semi-)sense, especially as we face a presidential election based more on ideologies than law.

Dirk Vader (snicker) as Brute
While better than I thought it would be, I have some issues with the film. For example, while I like the ampleness of the actresses, the level of obvious silicone (or saline, leave me alone) is high; there’s probably enough here to seal in an apartment building worth of windows. I’m happy to say the filmmakers didn’t discriminate by gender, but the women definitely got the gorier deaths; however, yes, there is blood aplenty, you never actually see object touch flesh, most of it happening just beyond the camera frame. You do get so see a disembodied hand and eye (looks like they got the body pieces from a Halloween store), among other things.

The story is convoluted and tries on occasion to be too many places at the same time (Look! The film set! Look! People walking down the corridor! Look! A murder happening! Now we’ll just cut back and forth between them all!). Sometimes all the bits work hard to distract from the fun stuff – be it death or sex – but as I said, for such a low budget film, they did well.

You know it’s pretty decent (pun intended) when the absolute worst part of the film is the music. Not some funky “wah-wah,” but electronica seemingly stuck on repeat every couple of bars. I really wanted a switch to leave on the dialog, such as it is, as turn off the music. Horrendous stuff.

Also, why was Brute masked? If the point is to just kill, no one can identify him; we were told why Leatherface, Michael and Jason wore theirs. But the last question I have, is why is this unrated? Yes there is lots of nudity, (no male, though), and nothing more than a hint of a lesbian scene (i.e., two nude women kissing and fondling each other), but really, there is only an R rating worth. Is there a hardcore version that exists, and that was supposed to be the Unrated one?

So, lots of boobs, lots of blood, lots of bad acting, a strange storyline and characters, and some terrible music. And yet, it was still better than I expected. Hunh. Whatcha know!


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Reviews: Short Horror Films

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

The Horrors of AutoCorrect
Written, edited and directed by Alex DiVincenzo
Grimbridge Productions
5:43 minutes, 2014
Talk about yer short and sweet! Reminiscent of the opening of the first Scream franchise film, obnoxious teen Jenny (Jaquelyn Fabian) is at home watching a public domain Corman film, when the phone rings, leading to a humorous interaction with a masked serial killer (Nick Principe), who is standing outside her door. Though he seems a bit of a grammarian (“I don’t know, can you?”), he’s tortured by the both his cellphone’s AutoCorrect and Jenny’s sense of mean girl privilege. Beautifully shot by Jill Poisson (who shoots most of Richard Griffin’s films), the mood is kept going, and it’s hard not to laugh at both the texts (we’ve all been there, am I right?) and the texture of the moods. This is such a nice, enjoyable piece; it was a pleasure to sit through it a few times. Worth checking out.

Lights Out
Directed by David Sandberg
2:41 minutes, 2014
I’ve probably watched this a couple of dozen times now over the past few months. Such an excellently shot, dialog-free and claustrophobic boo! A woman (Lotta Losten) is alone in her apartment, or is she? Flicking lights she sees shadows, and there is obviously something in the dark. Filmed with just the right use of contrast and shadow, it is creepy as all get out, and the fear pays off.

They Stole the Pope’s Blood / Los Pantalones contra Dracula
Directed by Richard Griffin
Scorpio Film Releasing
5:48 minutes, 2014
If you’ve seen the fake coming attractions with a Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez film, these two trailers will make a bit more sense. It’s a mixture of a film that will never be made that combines a number of genres, and from beginning to end is hysterically funny. Many of the Griffin regulars are here (Jamie Dufault with a moustache!!!), and this is slick as can be, but in a good way. Not sure if it’s purposeful or not, but it seems to have been filmed with no sound and dubbed after, which actually works for its utter silliness, though especially with the second, Mexicano wrestling mash-up. Is it anti-Catholic? Perhaps, but not in a way to be taken seriously. It’s more schizophrenic than anti-religion. There are some themes that were present in other Griffin features, such as the Latino exorcist in The Sins of Dracula, but this really is a total stand-alone short that bears watching not once, but many times. It’s a gem. 

Directed by Preston Corbell, Chelsea Corbell
Demented Gnome Productions
18 minutes, 2014
Without dialog, we are taken on a trip through a remote part of Wimberley, Texas (<40 miles outside Austin) – which looks remarkably like the area near Pittsburgh in the opening of Night of the Living Dead – as we approach the house where some murders took place 20 years before by a hatchet-wielding man in a gas mask. We are told this in a text scroll at the opening.

Entirely shot as a POV, the short follows the protagonist as he explores the deserted house where the crimes played out. Yellow tape crosses the room where the past events happened, and we follow the person (whom we never see) doing the exploring. It is mostly all in a single shot as we see creepy dolls on display, rotted floor and walls, rusted appliances, and dimly lit hallways.

Here’s the thing: I have actually done something like this. With a friend, we went exploring local ghost (i.e., deserted) towns where the houses looked remarkably like this one, and it really is a fascinating thing to do, though illegal and occasionally dangerous (again, rotted flooring and walls). I see it as the modern version of spelunking, so I can relate entirely to the protagonist as she (Chelsea Corbell) walks around the spooky house taking pictures. There are a few good moments that you could easily miss if you’re not paying attention, so keep your eyes on the screen.

This probably could have been shortened a bit, but its execution is handled well as an indie with probably a budget of, well, nuthin’. It did keep my attention throughout due to my own deserted house fixation, but even so, it’s worth a watch.