Saturday, October 31, 2015

Review: A Plague so Pleasant

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

A Plague So Pleasant
Directed by Benjamin Roberds and Jordan Reyes
Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
73 minutes, 2013 / 2015

Zombies are everywhere, let’s face it. I’m not talking about the kind referred to by the de facto female lead, Mia (nerd-cute Eva Boehnke) as people who live their lives unconsciously, I mean there are so many zombie films, television shows and books coming out every year lately, it almost feels like an apocalypse on its own. It’s not often that someone finds a new approach, and this one, I believe, may be one of those rarities.

In the premise, the zombie plague has past, and after 12 hours of zombie shootings, the government figured out that they only go on mad-dash flesh hunts when provoked. Normally, they just roam around and have become more of a nuisance as the living go on with their lives, walking and driving around the slow, meandering dead. The “everyone who dies becomes one” idea is still used, but that they’re generally benign and that they actually prefer oatmeal in these sedate states of being is a nice touch.

Because it is only under threat or harmful actions against them that zombies turn into running flesh eaters for a few hours, it is against the law to hurt or threaten the walking dead. This is where the story of this film starts, when we are introduced to one of the three key players, Todd (Max Moody), a smarmy narcissist with a penchant for violence if he doesn’t get his way, who is talking to his roommate over breakfast. The roomie is the central character, Clay (David Chandler), brother the late boyfriend of the aforementioned Mia. Todd asks Clay if it’s okay if he dates Mia, who is completely hung up on her ex-, Gerry (Gerry Green “as himself,” state the credits), Chandler's brother, now one of the walkers. Mia is more interested in the dead Gerry than the living Todd (I don’t blame her; the former has more of a personality).

David Chandler as Clay
The first act is shot in black and white, and when Clay decides to take matters into his own hands, for the sake of Mia, it sets off a hive-mentaility zombie rampage, and the film then turns to color for the riot; all the better to see the blood, gore, and make-up. Now, this is not the first recent film to use B&W and color to represent different aspects of zombiedom (2007’s Wasting Away comes to mind), but it is exceedingly creative in its use of the ‘chromes and camera work. The story, is especially worth noting as, like I said, this takes a new spin on a very common genre, adding to it rather than taking away from it to the point of being distracting (e.g., I find it annoying when vampires are in daylight…I’m looking right at you, Twilight).

It’s hard to believe that this is the first feature for Benjamin Roberds and Jordan Reyes, because they really do have a good eye for angles, beats/editing, and working with new film actors (well, according to IMDB). Picking Chandler as the lead was a wise choice. He has an everyman look, so it’s easy to believe him in the role, and though some of the actions Clay takes are questionable, most of his motives are not; although I have to ask, really? Todd? For your almost sister-in-law? Mia is a bit of a flake, who would probably have been a hippie in the late ‘60s. She’s a bit of a clouded thinker, though if she lives long enough, would probably be an “earth mother” type. Boehnke plays her as a woman-child, thrilled by life (and death; she knits a cap for Gerry so he won’t be cold), and seems to relish the role. She hops and skips with joy even when surrounded by the dead, and yet as wacked out as she gets sometimes (the description of clouds is worth playing over), Boehnke somehow managed to keep her both likeable and attractive.

As for Moody, I realize his character, Todd, is stilted and on the verge of explosion at all times (and occasionally beyond the verge), but the acting is as stiff as the role. Either this is a great performance or a bad one, it’s hard to tell. Moody is particularly hard to read. I’m hoping this is the goal, because he really comes off as wooden. With one exception, everyone else in the cast is either zombie or zombie (potential) fodder.

I love that they have incorporated both slow and fast zombies in a way that totally makes sense. That was an ingenious touch that added to the mythos, changing juuuuust enough. There is plenty of red stuff, which in liquid form is often too dark and too thick, but I’m not going to quibble about that, because it still looked fine. Most of the make-up effects by Tylar Carver are quite good, some excellent, so considering this is his first listed credit, kudos and a nod to Tylar!

The extras are a bunch of trailers from Wild Eye (always appreciate that, WE) and a couple of under 2-minute promo shorts.

As zombie films go, this one stands out for me. It has a bit of humor, some off-beat characters, some very real ones to me (such as the boss droning and reading the government-issued rules on engaging zombies, sort of like how we were read the “Don’t be sexist” guidelines in one job I had), an imaginative reimagining of an oft-used genre, and for the shot of adrenaline that starts the second act. Even if you see the ending coming, it’s still a well done film, and I am looking forward to more from this Atlanta, GA team.



Monday, October 26, 2015

Review: Scream Machine: Unrated

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

Scream Machine: Unrated
Directed by Walter Ruether III
Deadly Indie Entertainment / World Wide Multi-Media (WWMM)
71 minutes, 2015
Link to purchase on Amazon HERE

Anthology films are sort of like what people say about the weather: Don’t like one story?  Another one will be on soon. Here, you have a serving of five tales to, in the words of the press machine, “make you faint, puke and quite possibly soil your pants.” Now there, my friends, is a slogan from sloganland. Or is that Tromaville?

Lloyd Kaufman
After a hysterical intro by the Troma-tic Lloyd Kaufman, we are introduced to the wraparound story of the earth after 95 percent of its population has been wiped out by an Ebola plague (nice sarcastic albeit dated note). Dr. Fry (Scarlet Fry) in a flimsily made bird mask and a bad Central European accent gives us the lowdown and introduces us to a verbally nasty and literal talking head named…wait for it…Mr. Headly (Executive Producer Paul Hemmes). Fry fires up the projector and introduces them.

First up is “Sledgehammer.” No, nothing to do with Peter Gabriel, this one is about baseball. Perfect timing as the Mets and Cubs head into the World Series. Why this matters, I don’t know, as I’m not a sports fan. But I digress…

Murderous Mr. Met?
The southpaw trying out for a team is known for his 150 mph fastball, referred as the…well, you get it. Prodded into it with not so nice results, he gets signed anyway. In this story the attacker is no surprise, but it doesn’t matter. The acting is wooden, the story is short, and the gore effects are pretty enjoyable (though the blood is a bit too thick and dark, but what the heck). There is a sharp ring of comedy that runs beneath the surface that adds to the fun.

In Anytown, USA, in 1993 (as the title card announces), we are introduced to “Cannibal Pen Pals: The Dahmer Obsession.” A gay man who is married to a fiery black woman (to please his family…obviously they don’t live in Ferguson) has been having a pen pal romance with imprisoned Jeffrey you-know-who, and wants to go to him and have a conjugal visit. Of course, Dahmer wasn’t allowed  visitors due to the horrific nature of his crimes, including having sex with dead corpses, both whole and, as Dr. Herbert West said in Re-Animator (1985), parts. Of course, our nutzoid pal wants to know what it was like so he can join Dahmer in spirit. But one thing we’ve learned from the first story and it looks to be a trend, there is going to be an O. Henry/Twilight Zone twist. This story is somewhat questionable about a number of social  situations (go ahead, call me PC), but it’s definitely more cohesive a story than the first, and equally as off-the-wall.

If you’re into this kinda stuff, I’m going to guess you’ve seen those horror prank videos where some shmuck in a clown outfit chases some stranger in a parking garage with a sledgehammer or chainsaw. I’m waiting to hear about one of those assholes getting their shit kicked. Anyway, the next story, “April Fool’s Party,”  is a similar idea with a twist. A group of four meth heads decide to scare the tweaking dealer of theirs in an elaborate The Purge­-like – you guessed it – April Fool’s joke (my friends know better than to try any AF shit on me, but I digress…). Of course, things don’t go as planned.

You can tell that this bunch of dickheads have no sense of proportion by the bad teeth and red around the eyes (classic meth signs). But what drove me the craziest about this story is that it could have been so much more, and the ending is a bit anticlimactic.  When it ended I had the double thought of “Is that it?” and “did I miss something?” Perhaps being a story about drugs and me being mainly strait-edge means I missed the point of the story, the same way I don’t get Cheech and Chong.

“Septic Shock” tells the shit for brains story of a double cross ending with a man locked into a not-so-empty septic tank by his wife and her lover. Of all the stories, this one is the most artistically done, and we get to see – and somewhat feel – his fear, and revolt at his circumstance. Not sure about the turtle eating celery, perhaps that’s a bit too symbolic and metaphoric for me. Still I was impressed at the direction it went. That being said, it went on a bit too long, but that’s just something subjective, so what the hell do I know!

That's HEADLY,
as in on a Headly of Lettuce
The final, and most coherent story, is “The Deadly Indie Drive-In,” which is actually quite a simple tale, which makes it work so well. A woman on a date at a drive-in theater forgets her medication, and soon starts hallucinating that the person on the screen and the voice coming out of the speaker are talking to her, and telling her to… I’m sure you can figure it out. This was a lot of fun, even if you see the punchline coming.

For me, what makes this so much extra enjoyable is that the woman, Kim Wagner-Hemmes, is the real-life wife of the man with whom she’s on a date, Paul Hemmes, and the person whispering sweet murder in her ear from the screen is Scarlet Fry, the director. This incestuous working bunch seem like they are really having delight doing this, and when it comes right down to it, ain't that the point of the whole excursion in the long run?  

One of the things that I find really special about this film is that there is absolutely nothing supernatural going on, but rather it’s everyone being all too human, especially in the foibles department. Make that deranged, actually, or as the publicity states, “Each [story] featuring the three M's of Horror: Madness, Murder and Mayhem.”

What also makes this work all the more better (as they say colloquially in my neck of Brooklyn), is that just about all the cast is everyday looking people, not model types. Some are chubby and balding and others unconventional to Hollywood standards and expectations; you know, not people you would necessary see in an ad selling Rolexes. I appreciate that. No nudity, but the gore is plentiful and quite decent looking, in an indie micro-budget kind of way.

There’s no way around it, this comes off as a VHS-style cheapie with visions of grandeur and reality based in Quiki-Mart productions. In other words, if you like your horror old-school ‘80s, you might get a kick out of this in a nostalgic, Throwback Thursday kind of way; or you may just be lucky enough to have a low enough sensibility of denial of reality to see beyond the film itself to what they are trying to reminisce: enjoyment.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Review: Hobo With a Trash Can

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

Hobo With a Trash Can
Various Directors; organized by Claire “Fluff” Llewellyn
Bloody Brit Productions
85 minutes, 2015

This is an anthology film with an interesting premise, and I quote: “[E]ach of the participating filmmakers were given a budget of $1 and assigned a specific item of trash to create a short film that ties into the narrative wraparound.” I’ll buy that for a dollar!

Welcome to Retroville (filmed in Chicago), a town that mixes old with new. Someone may put down their cell phone to talk on a dial phone. You get the drift. Into this world wanders our central wraparound story (“Welcome to Retroville,” of course) character, Bo (Christopher Kahler). He is the titular hobo, with a shopping cart full of junk and a premonition that something is terribly wrong in Retroville; perhaps it’s aliens? When he touches certain pieces of garbage, green lights flicker around him and he has visions. These visualizations, natch, are the six short films (and equal length wraparound) that make up the whole collection.

Claire "Fluff" Llewellyn
The first story (“Frying Saucer”) is a sci-fi piece about frying pans that cook bacon to an addicting level, but there’s more than meets the pork behind it. Can newlywed housewife Mindy Goodfellow (Claire “Fluff” Llewellyn) catch on and take action before the world is doomed? In all these short stories, Mindy is the only one who bleeds into the wraparound segments, after Bo is accused of murder by two bumbling coppers.

In other segments we are introduced to some ghosts playing poker in a Chinese restaurant’s back room who are assaulted by yet another spirit (“The Hungry Ghost”), a talking piece of fruit who is intent on taking over the world (“The Apple That Bit Back”), a condom that is more than it seems (“CondomDemned”), a dwarf touting around a paper bag with an appetite (“Grab Bag”), and the one serious piece that feels a bit out of place, and is painful to watch on so many levels (“Dr. Hanger”; pay attention Republicans!), but I would not want it removed.

The humor that flows through most of the film and its pieces runs from really smart to really silly, from well-acted to just plain goofy, and from imaginative to just obvious. Through it all, however, Llewellyn and Kahler (aka Bloody Brit Productions), who edited it all together, did a great job in making each segment have a consistent look (and with added “scratch marks” on the “film element”) and pacing. The tones, both in look and feel, are harmonious, with the exception of “Dr. Hanger,” which, as I said, is sort of like that one segment in a “Saturday Night Live” in the early days when they’d try to do something serious.

There is some serious cheesiness that runs throughout, even with this many directors, and the music is especially hammy, with a Theremin-style electronic noise that reminded me a bit of the soundtrack to Xtro (1983). Note that I’m not saying this is a bad thing; I mean, it’s supposed to be retro in both look and sound, and in that way it succeeds. It actually reminds me of some other compilation films from the ‘70s period, like Can I Do It Till I Need Glasses? (1977).

To be honest, I’m kind of hoping this is just the first in a series. Sure, it’s not the only horror compilation by a long shot, but I like the premise of the $1 and the hobo. I’d like to see Bo come back, because, honestly, Kahler is one of the better actors in the film, and was enjoyable to watch.  I get the feeling that if this became somewhat of a franchise, perhaps the practice of putting these together will help shape it into something that will catch the attention of the indie horror audience it’s aiming to reach.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Review: Flesh for the Inferno

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

Flesh for the Inferno
Produced, directed and edited by Richard Griffin
Scorpio Films Releasing / MVD Visuals
85 minutes, 2015

Director Richard Griffin is a surfer. No, not the board on the water type (as far as I know), but across genres. Nearly all his films are directed at a specific type of “feel.” For example, he’s covered, in no particular order nor a complete list, ‘70s Grindhouse (The Disco Exorcist, 2011), “Born Again” cinema (The Sins of Dracula, 2014), thriller (Normal, 2013), Jesse Franco Eurotrash (Dr. Frankenstein’s Wax Museum of the Hungry Dead, 2013) and Redneck (Creature from the Hillbilly Lagoon, 2005).

For his latest outing, he’s veering into the Italian Giallo subgenre of the likes of Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci (d. 1996). If those names mean nothing to you, well, (a) they are worth checking out, and (b) it will not keep you from enjoying this film; you’ll only miss the shadow of the reference which will not interfere with the story.

In the obligatory prologue staged in 1999, we see a Catholic school led by a pedophilic priest (Steve O’Broin, who does both smoldering and outrageous evil so well; I would love to see him cast against type as a good-guy lead at some point). He is confronted by three of the school’s nuns, who are The Cask of the Amontillado-ized, and in a state anger at being put in this position while doing the Lord’s work, turn from their spiritual husband to the Father of Lies (Aaron Andrade).

Hence we are brought back to the present. The school had been abandoned and is getting ready for a make-over. A rag-tag church group is assigned to clean the place up. I’m assuming they are supposed to be high school teens, but… They are led by Mr. Maupin (the eloquent and sophisticated – no, I’m serious – Michael Thurber; did I miss it, or is he not wearing the ginormous ring he usually sports?). Some of the mixed-gender group is anxious to do some good, and most are reluctant to be there at all, mostly forced by unseen parents. Then there is Noah (Jamie Dufault), the do-gooder who just happens to be there helping out and possible love interest to another character, and the sullen and smoldering official watcher (Sean Leser, who steals nearly every scene he’s in) – don’t call him the caretaker – who is ordered there by the Church against his desire to keep an eye on the kids.

Jamie Lyn Bagley
Most of the characters are more fodder than anything else, with the exception of two. First there is Meredith (Jamie Lyn Bagley), who fiercely religious, self-righteous, homophobic and hateful (I once worked with someone just like that, and Jamie nails the attitude). Then there is the obvious heroine of the piece, the lovely redheaded Kat (Anna Rizzo). All is going relatively well, until one of the kids releases the spirits of the three nuns, Sister Millicent (Monica Saviolakis), Sister Luisa (Tiffany Lee Ferris), and the petite Sister Irene (Samantha Acampora, who has an incredible sense of timing, a very identifiably flinty voice…and lips that just don’t quit). Then literally all hell breaks loose.

The writing by Michael Varrati is crisp, with some underlying black and referential wit, but mostly it’s straight ahead demonic horror. An example of the finger-to-the-side-of-the-nose kind of humor I mean is when religious nut Meredith is spouting off, and Noah sarcastically comments that she’s an “utter delight.” This may be in reference to Jamie’s own uber-religious portrayal in The Sins of Dracula; note that Varrati wrote both films, so I doubt this was coincidental.

Although Griffin hasn’t written this film, his playing with religious tropes, especially the thin line between not just good and evil, but heaven and hell, is a relatively common theme, but one he has hardly exhausted. Also, the mixture of straight and gay is another motif he often pursues, though more lightly touched on here than usual. Speaking of which, where lust definitely plays a part in this story, it is not explored as much as in, say, The Sins of Dracula or The Disco Exorcist, but that is certainly made up for in the film’s style and Italiano-flavored flair.

Sean Leser
I am pleased that there is some new blood (pun intended) as far as acting talent present, and I’m also happy to add that there are also some of what I call “the Griffin Players,” those performers (both in front of the camera and behind the scenes, the latter of whom I’ll get to in a bit) who appear regularly in his films. In no particular order, Dufault plays one of his most natural roles, without some of the theatre-based “tells” that he sometimes has employed, including body language. He comes across as an extremely likeable “everyman.” Likewise, Michael Thurber, who can overact to just the right level when the role calls for it (e.g., the titular roles in both The Sins of Dracula and Frankenstein’s Wax Museum [etc.], and in Future Justice [2014], where he plays a wacked-out version of himself!), also comes across very natural and likeable; it’s common for the Adult Supervisor role to be portrayed as a dick in “Kids in Danger” films, but Thurber is sympathetic, and in a bit of a Bugs Bunny-ish/Groundhog Day-ish (1993) amusing way in one particular scene.

Anna Rizzo
In a co-lead role, Rizzo performs really well holding her own, especially as the tension and bodies build up. She does a masterful painful, almost banshee-level yelp, which helps the story. She has the look of a leading actress (yes, I know the term now is actor), beyond the genre. As for Bagley, as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, she also has a profound sense to timing. You can both hate her character’s homophobia and emotional blindness via a feel of superiority to others, and still care about what is happening to her.
There are also a couple of extended cameos worth talking about. One is by Rich Tretheway as a police officer, and the other is Sarah Nicklin, one of the more outstanding – well, I don’t know if the term Scream Queen is accurate or not, so I’m going to go with Genre Queen. She plays an extremely hot prostitute in the tightest of hooker shorts, and is a very strong comedy relief to start. In real life (i.e., Facebook), director Griffin often calls her his “muse,” and it’s understandable. She always comes across as a smart woman who has a lot of inner strength, and her characters tend to reflect that as well. I do have to admit, though, that when I saw her name in the opening credits, I was wondering if she was going to revive her role as Sister Wrath from Nun of That (2009).

As for the three nuns in this story, well, they could only have been scarier if they had rulers in their hands. The result of their actions throughout is a gorefest that is exquisite, and occasionally cheesy (e.g., the person continually crashing into a door, for example, really does like the effects from a ‘70s Italian film). As for nudity, well, there is none (nun) of that, but there definitely is a pretty hot-under-the-collar scene that is both rawr and ugh at the same time.

At this point, I also need to make a comment about the whole look of the film. Many of Griffin’s films have a kind of auteur look to them, with bright blues and reds splashed across scenes as metaphors (red = hell, or evil anyway, for example). This is mostly from Griffin, but it’s important to give a nod to Assistant Directors (and occasionally actor, though not here) Nat Sylva and Mark Hutchinson, though more importantly to Griffin’s visual right-hand person and cinematographer extraordinaire Jill Poisson, who deserves a nod all her own.

Every time a new Richard Griffin film is released, it’s always a thrill just to wonder what genre he is tackling and honoring next. And I feel privileged to be able to review such fine work by the director, the cast, and the crew. The more films of Griffin’s I watch, the more I feel like this group are friends, even though I’ve never met a lick of ‘em.

Oh, by the way, you can see the reviews of most the Griffin films above by searching this blog.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Review: She Kills

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

She Kills
Written and directed by Ron Bonk
SRS Cinema / Duke Studios
101 minutes, 2015

Poor Sadie (Jennie Russo): she’s an innocent (okay, stupid), virginal, and targeted by a mob of deviants that call themselves The Touchers. On their wedding night at a cheap motel, these bad asses lust for her and want to torment her husband, Edwin (Kirk LaSalle), who is a Brad Majors-type geek.

Virtuous Sadie (Jennie Russo)
Now, how virtuous (dumb) is our heroine? Here’s a typical early-on conversation:
Sadie: I believe in mahogany before marriage.
Edwin: You mean “monogamy.”
Sadie: The Board game?

What’s even worse, though, is that she is cursed by having a…. FIREcrooootch. That Is, a Firecrotch, but said in a sotto voce, with the first part spoken fast and the second part dragged out. What that means is that whoever smells her – er – distinctive lower body fluid, loses control (male or female) and turns into a sex-crazed and violent hyped-up fiend.

Just in case I haven’t done a Nixon and been perfectly clear, in a roundabout way, this is not only a comedy, it is one of those goofy films that are way smarter than it appears. Writer and director Ron Bonk uses the foundation of ‘70s Grindhouse and ‘80s Video Nasties to present a movie that you really, truly need to watch without looking away. It’s easy to miss a lot by casual viewing. While some of the humor is right in your face, there is also a lot of subtleties that are easy to miss, such as the latch to a suitcase breaking apart when opened, or one of my favorites when Sadie does the gearing up for battle to take on the Touchers montage (the first of a few), she takes a pile of white clothes and sews them into her “killing” suit, and the finished product is unexplainably black. Note that I’m not even scratching the surface in that direction.

While Sadie is rightfully the focus of the film as its titular protagonist, it’s worth mentioning the Touchers, whose ridiculous name-jacket is more reminiscent of the Hooligals of the “Newhart” show than, say, the Hells Angels. They are five, well, also dumb as stumps thugs who get their comeuppance in a mystic Day of the Woman (aka I Spit on Your Grave; 1978) meets The Crow (1994) mated with Teeth (2007) and the more recent Killer Rack (2015; reviewed HERE).

After several assaults, including by her pseudo-Chinese father (Mateo Prendergast) and Asian brother Chung Lee III (Matt Mendoza) – just so they can delve into the ‘70s Kung Fu genre, including fake vocal dubs – she seeks out Casparella (Niecy Cerise), a black gypsy friend who explains the curse. Through really bad ‘70s style special effects like you’d see in the likes Galaxina (1980), Sadie becomes a champion of womanhood and the destructor of men. And how does she do this? Well, the best way to explain it is that this film was, according to the credits, “based on the novel She Kills with Her Crotch, by Sir Bertrand Covington.”  

Of course, every one she violently disposes of deserves to die, especially The Touchers. Reggie (Michael Merchant) is the cool dood greaser type daddy-o. It’s he who brings Sadie to the attention of his mates. Then there’s Poodle (Jody Pucello); he’s more Italian or Latino gang stereotype based. The only female of the troupe is Beatrice (Martha Zemsta; either the world’s worst actor, or a phenomenally good one who excels in playing badly), a leather wearer in biker mode, who has a constant cold sore over her lip. Blue (David Royal) is the brainless Hulk-like member – he even says, at some point, “Blue smash” – with the time period anachronistic piercings; Royal plays him as a scary-yet-somehow-sympathetic dolt (nice job).

Dirk (Trey Harrison)
The leader of the gang, and the owner of one of the most amazing and purposefully fakey handlebar moustaches (and so much more) in film history, is Dirk (Trey Harrison, a former Playgirl centerfold of the year). He is the boss in an Eric von Zipper way, and is no smarter than our heroine (though, honestly, only Blue is arguably dumber than anyone in the film), believing that he is all things to all people, and better than the rest (I was almost expecting him to use the Zipperism “You are my idol, but I am my ideal”). His narcissism, of course, leads him down a path of destruction both to others and himself, like I’m giving anything away in this subgenre. Using wide eyes, tilting head, and a voice that has a sort of an exaggerated surfer tone, Trey plays him with a flair of stylizing overacting that gives him a little bit of likeability, even as the main villain (perhaps because he is a bad boy).

Vengeful Sadie
One of the aspects of the film that I like, even with its total nonsense of a story (which, honestly, doesn’t matter much in the enjoyment factor), is it takes a cue from Tarantino’s two Kill Bill films (2003/2004): Bonk is not afraid to shed subgenres from scene to scene, giving some very direct homages down the way. Along with the Euro-Nudie opening, some include the aforementioned revenge and Kung Fu, with more direct reverence to The Crow and a film I’ve always wanted to see, Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973; aka Thriller: en grym film), whose main image is of a woman (Christina Lindberg) in a red outfit and eyepatch (this is the origin of the eyepatch, not the Darryl Hannah character in Kill Bill).

Now, depending on your philosophical epistemology, the viewer may see this as a very pro-woman film, or a very anti-woman film. I’m gonna stick with, Jeez, this was fun. For example, there is a very unrealistic-looking gang rape scene, but every male is wearing belted pants during the sex; Russo is naked, however, with extra hair added on because, well, it’s the “‘70s,” when men were men, and women were unshaven, often anywhere. The men are “in charge” at the beginning, but through actions, that balance changes. Lesbianism is mocked a fair bit, but so is heterosexuality. There is also a multitude of metaphoric synonyms for both male and female body parts, but the latter gets the grand share; for example, in one instance someone says “tuna taco,” and later in the film Sadie self-referentially states: ““There’s a new sheriff in town, and her meat flaps are packing death!” That would have made a great campaign slogan for the picture.

With both story and visuals, this film would probably fall into the category of “cartoon violence.” Everything is just so over the top, it’s hard to take the actions seriously (meant as a positive). Before watching the film, the director tried to warn me that it is out there and extreme. He also didn’t comment on how absolutely squirrelly nuts it was to the point where you can’t help but laugh at just about everything, even the violence. The fight scenes (especially the Kung Fu ones) are sloppy at best (again, purposefully). However, the nunchucks and staff creation alone is worth the watch in this scene.

The film definitely has an overabundance (underabundance?) feel to it, much like the old “Dolemite” sketches they used to do on MadTV a while back. On set “accidents” happen, such as pictures getting knocked off the wall, only for a quick edit to have it back. I remember when films were actually like this because the budget was so small that every piece of negative was needed to be used to make up the expense, even with the errors. With digital, now the oops-factor is more often a matter of timing (e.g., needing to get the shot before the light fades), incompetence of the crew (but still fun for the audience), or in cases like this, to lovingly mock old-school indie films.

The gore is plentiful. Sometimes it’s really silly looking (e.g., really fake looking heads exploding) and most of the time it’s extremely cool, but happily there is lots of it. As for nudity, Russo is naked often (thankfully she’s attractive), and there is a couple of others in another scene, but it’s more the gore than nudity that’s the focus, even with the volume of sex shown.

How much fun is this film? Perhaps this will explain it best: immediately after watching it, I started it at the beginning and watched it again. And both times I was not bored for an instance. There ya go.



Saturday, October 10, 2015

Review: Extreme Metal Retardation

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

Extreme Metal Retardation
Directed by Bill Zebub
Bill Zebub Productions
120 minutes, 2009 / 2012

When he isn’t making comedy/horror films like The Worst Horror Film Ever Made: The Re-Make (2008) and ZombieChrist (2010), New Jersey-based director Bill Zebub makes metal-related documentaries.

Now, his docs are not your typical talking heads’ “What got you into metal?” kind of deal, his questions are from left field and catch the bands off guard, even though they obviously know him from past experiences.

One of the more interesting aspects of this is trying to guess whether the bands are going to get really pissed off at the audacity, or laugh really hard at the moxy. To me, which side the band falls on tells a lot. If you’ve seen any of Zebub’s large canon of work, both fiction and non-, he is an instigator. He likes to get a rise out his audience, but also from whomever he’s talking to at that moment, including his cast and crew. Well, that he uses the word “retardation” in the title shows he is a gladiator against what he deems as PC, which also includes words that are both gender and racially sensitive, and bandy them around. Y’gotta love him or hate him for that.

The original Metal Retardation was first released in 2009, and there have been four in total now. So, I’m going to admit right at the onset that I don’t know crap about death metal or its cousins. I’m first wave punk, and the closest I come is liking bands like Adrenolin OD (saw them play a couple of times in the ‘80s), Chesty Malone and the Slice ‘Em Ups (saw them a few times, too, but more recently) and arguably the Ramones (who I probably saw easily more than a dozen times between 1975 and 1980. So how will I approach this DVD? Well, sort of the same way I handle going to professional sports games, which I apparently know more about through cultural osmosis than enjoy following any particular team. I’ll be looking at it for the surroundings, the tone, the personalities, and how it all falls together.

The joyfully lopsided ride begins with an extended interview with drummer Fenriz, of Darkthrone. It takes place at 2:30 AM when both he and the interviewer are drunk. It’s a fun, rambling mess. I did laugh when he put on some vinyl of “Rock’n’Roll Gas Station.”

There are many bands interviewed here, such as Alestorm, Arch Enemy, Arkona, Borgir, Dimmu, Enslaved, Ensiferum, Enthroned, Huntress, King Diamond, Kreator, Primordial, Septic Flesh, Tyr, and Voivod.

The humor level definitely runs from deft to daft. For example of the former, after someone asks Voivod about their influences, Bill interrupts and asks the band, “How original are questions about your influences?” As for the latter, he asks Sharlee D’Angelo of Arch Enemy, “How important is penis size to a Scandinavian?” In the first case, the band found the question very enjoyable with a knowing laugh, with the second, he seemed kind of confused.

Bebub is helped along the way by a few interviewers such as Layla (if I got the name correct), a metal fan who usually asks some decent questions along the way, but is not afraid to put her own sense in, or to ask questions that has some bands scratching their heads (e.g., about pirates). She is a good yin to Bill’s yang as he handles the camera, because his questions are totally out there, such as asking what someone will wear for Halloween, or inquiring Jill Janus of Huntress if she was ever a man; another good example is when he asks D’Angelo if he’s ever been known to say “I love my Good & Plenty?” What makes ridiculous questions like these so interesting is (a) odds are these bands who have had multiple interviews have never been asked these questions before so do not have set answers, and (b) it completely catches them off-guard, even when they don’t understand the question (for example, the answer to the Good & Plenty one was an honest, “I don’t know; have I?”). D’Angelo says it best when he refers to these innately inane questions as “Zebubisms.”

Though some from the US and Canada, most of the bands interviewed are from Europe, such as Greece, Germany and Russia; most of them, however, are from the Scandinavian Bloc, arguably the epicenter of  Black Metal. Sometimes, because of that, part of the joy of this pure silliness is sometimes there is a language barrier, but the questions are just so out there, that even with that, the band members seem to be having a genuinely good time, and that tends to flow over to the other side of the screen to the viewer.

For the observer watching this, it’s important to have a bit of a thick skin because it seems like Zebub's whole existence, be it in his documentaries to his fiction-based films, is to get a rise out of, well, everyone. This is part of why I have said more than once that I’m guessing he is either a gas to hang out with or a complete asshole (perhaps both). Questions are often in complete bad taste, such as calling something “gay,” referencing swastikas (not the ideology behind it, though), or inviting bands to smack Layla.

It’s a lot of fun, and to take it from another perspective, it would have been easy to have made this all about Zebub in a reign of Zebub, but even though the queries are completely ludicrous, the film still mostly manages to make this about the band’s reactions more than about Zebub’s questions. I’m kinda relieved about that. It also makes for a much more interesting documentary. Sure, he’s part of it rather than impartial (though, of course, there really isn’t anything as objective, no matter what the Ayn Randites believe), but he doesn’t dominate (okay, he occasionally does); he’s more the moat around the medieval castle.

Mixed in with all the interviews is music by many of the bands represented here. Some are live and some are professionally shot band videos. What I especially appreciate is that most are them are complete, rather than just snippets. The one thing I did find a bit disappointing was the lack of credits for the nearly half dozen interviewing personnel in the main feature. .

The extras are an additional, 37-minute single-camera interview with King Diamond of the band – er – King Diamond, and a complete film, reviewed directly below.

Am I converted metal fan after watching nearly 4 hours of the feature and both the extras? No, and yet I still enjoyed the package.

Metalheads: The Good, the Bad and the Evil
70 minutes, 2008
As always, Bill Zebub plays Bill. He’s kind of a one note actor that way, but on the other hand, he plays himself well, probably because he’s playing himself (or some version of it).I’m trying to say this actually in a positive way. He’s kind of a man-child, as if he were mentally stuck at age 15: horny, daring, and obnoxious as all get out.

His girlfriend, Elaine (Emily Thomas) is both charming and abrasive at the same time. A scene where she has taken some acid and is completely paranoid is (or should be) a classic. On the other hand, she’s is nagging Bill because he is perpetually jobless and doesn’t have a car to take her out, or to go on dates. On the third hand, I kinda agree with her; both parties should try being self-sufficient in a relationship.

Bill wants Elaine to marry him; however, tired of Bill’s attitude (and supposed small genitalia, a running joke [?] through his films), Ellaine first hits on Bill’s bestie, Rich (Tom Goodwin). This opens a possible floodgate for her, Meanwhile, Bill has started to hang out with a tough guy with a brilliant New Jersey accent (Carl Williamson, credited only as “”Evil Metalhead”), who is violent, super macho, and thinks being a bully is being a man (I grew up with the disco versions these kinds of guys in my neighborhood of Bensonhurst). In an uncomfortable scene, he gets an underage girl (though the actress, Kathy Rice, is not) drunk and de-virginizes her off-screen. There are lots of scenes of nudity and masturbation by various characters, but not any detailed onscreen sex.

While most of the dialog seemed ad libbed, it was pretty funny and scripted. For example, during a fight with Elaine, Bill yells, “I’m gonna have a girlfriend who doesn’t listen to KISS, like you do, because the only time a metal band should have the word baby in a song is if it’s about killing babies.” Later, the bad dude tries to egg Bill on with, “You’re living with the volume turned down. I’m gonna show you how to crank it up.”

Despite the comedy level of most of the film, it does not end on an upbeat, so be warned. Still worth watching if you’re into a micro-budget, metal focused story.



Unrelated, bonus video:


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Two Real Crime Film Reviews: House on the Hill; My Name is A, By Anonymous

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

The reason I have put these two reviews together is because they both deal with infamous crimes from unlikely killers, one the slovenly serial murder Leonard Lake, and the teenage child murderer, Alyssa Bustamante. They also take different perspectives of the crime, but mix either real or aped images of the criminals involved.

House on the Hill
Directed by Jeffrey Frentzen
itn distribution / North 40 Productions / Options Entertainment / MVD Visual
83 minutes, 2012 / 2014

The story this film is based on is well known and documented. In essence, during a year or so in the mid-1980s, shlubby, bearded and balding 40 year old Leonard Lake and his “soul mate,” also chubby and rumpled Chinese national Charles Ng lived in a rural and deserted area outside San Francisco.

The real Charles and Leonard
In their compound, they built a cell to hold women and a torture chamber attached to the house to, well… It’s estimated by the amount of bones found on the property that they had killed and buried approximately 15 to 25 people, both men and women, straight and gay. This included some entire families. Usually the men and at least two infants were done away with right off, and for the women, it took a lot longer.
Though quite obviously effective, poor Lenny and Chuck never had the pop sensation cool factor of, say, Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer, or John Wayne Gacy. These guys were unattractive inside and out.

Now, nearly everything I’ve learned about Lake and Ng (L and N) is found online on Wikipedia and sites like that (yes, I read them before seeing the film). Apparently, every victim in this film is either given another name as they aren’t included in the list of known victims, are multiple stories concatenated into single people, or are the conjecture of the filmmakers. This includes the two women who are the main focus of the story: first, there is Sonia (Naidra Dawn Thomson), the only victim who lives to tell the tale (indicated early on in the film, as the main action is told in flashback), and Karianna (Shannon Leade), both of whom are drugged at a party and awaken in the bad place. They are kept around by L and N for cleaning, frequent rapes and other physical abuse, and for Sonia to videotape all the mistreatments and demises.

Yes, we get to see quite a bit of brutality, very little sex, and even less nudity, which confused me. Anyway, people are stabbed, drowned, beaten to death, etc. in sort of a parade fashion. We are introduced to a character with a photo of the actresses’ face and a name / date who they supposedly play went missing. Then comes the abuse, with lots of talking in between, threatening, demanding of money, and then death. Why Sonia and Karianna are left to live so long while others are dropped around – make that in front of – them, is not really explained.

Stephen AF Day as Leonard
Actually, there are a few issues I have with director Fretzen’s first time out in a feature. For one thing, he can’t seem to make up his mind if this is a roughie or an art project, as sometimes the camera will just stay on the subject, and other times, we get the odd angles, the filtered lighting, and the switch between color and black and white depending on the time period. For example, there is some artistic albeit sledgehammer symbolism, such as a dripping faucet being a metaphor for a life slipping away.
The actors who play Leonard (Saskatoon-born Stephen A.F. Day) and Charles (Sam Leung) play their roles excellently, but they are, quite frankly, too good looking for the roles. Rather than roly-poly dorks who look harmless, Day and Leung look intense, with Day appearing too young for the role and ruggedly handsome, and Leung seems kind of like a dashing “badboy” hoodlum from a TV show like Buffy. The real killers are much creepier because of the unassuming way they looked.

Sam Leung as Charles (with Erin M. Young)
There are also little anachronistic things like the camcorder that is used is more modern than the correct time period. In 1985, when L and C were captured, I bought my own camcorder that was then top of the line, which was $700 and weighed 7 pounds that rested heavily on the shoulder. The one in the film, if I’m not wrong, is a much smaller s-VHS that was introduced in 1987 (man, I love the Internet!). Also out of sync is that Sonia’s (Thompson’s) back is full of tattoos, and that certainly didn’t become mainstream before 1985.
What drove me most crazy was mixing the history up, such as how they got caught, which is mostly right, but a key point is off (i.e., they were not in the same place). That isn’t that bad by itself, I admit, but it seems to be an issue through a lot of the actual events, rather than the conjecture of the killings we see; as Ng was found guilty of seven deaths because the other bones were not identified, there is more we don’t know about victims than we do, giving the writers ample room to stretch that part to fit the film. Again, I don’t have an issue with that, but dicking around the known parts is what I find…off-putting.

One of the things I really liked about the project is that interspersed through the film is actual footage of Lake, videotaping himself admitting about building the cell room, what he expects from his women / slaves, and this gives us an insight to the real twisted thoughts of this unkempt killer.

While I know I’ve been hard on the film, I would also like to point out, again, this is the director’s first time at the helm. Sure, he and much of the crew and cast have been involved in serial killer films before, such as the Frentzen produced Killer Pickton (2006) and Black Dahlia (2006), but that’s not the same as being in control of the product. It’s good that he has found a niche in the serial killer subgenre, and I look forward to his growth in bringing us more mayhem.

My Name is A, By Anonymous
Written and directed by Shane Ryan
Mad Sin Cinema/ Rainy Day Parade Productions
Wild Eye Releasing
90 Minutes, 2012 / 2014

I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.
        Johnny Cash, “Folsom Prison Blues”

This is certainly not the first film about real life teen thrill killers, nor is it the first to use an artistic frame for it. For example, there was Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), a fictionalized version of the teen Leopold and Loeb murderers, and Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (1994). This is also not the first movie to use a pseudo-documentary (i.e., handheld cameras) to give a realistic feel to the film. However, that also does not mean this film is either repetitive or derivative.

Kate Marsh as Alyssa
The true story is about Alyssa Bustamante (Katie Marsh), a bored 15-year-old girl from a rough background who viciously murdered a 9-year-old girl, Elizabeth (Kaliya Skye). Her story made the headlines around the world in 2009 for two reasons: first, of course, is the shocking brutality of the assault of a young life, and second, that in a technological world, so much of her life over the previous year had been recorded on the ever present cell phones.
If you look up Alyssa on YouTube, you can see a lot of that footage, from which some of the film is based upon (i.e., copied), such as the touching of an electrified cow fence wire (a safeguard system much more intense, I might add, than one for constraining horses), or donning Alice Cooper inspired make-up and pointing a finger-gun to her own head while sticking out her tongue. In a 24-hour televised news world, the original selfies were played on major outlets repeatedly for weeks as her trial was followed as intensely as was Andrea Yates, who drowned her five kids in Texas and found not guilty by insanity, or Casey Anthony, found not guilty of murdering her toddler daughter.

We see the incessant relying on the need to film oneself to make oneself real, whose reality is a mixture of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983: “Television is reality, and reality is less than television”) and Gus Van Sant’s To Die For (1995: “You aren’t really anybody in America if you’re not on TV”). This film also gives breath to a feeling of ennui of its characters: no matter what is happening or how hard life is treating them, there is a feeling of Other that permeates the day-to-day narcissistic filming. These are life issues and possibly cultural mental illnesses that Bustamante had in common with Leonard Lake and Charles Ng, though the body count differed substantially.

There is an interesting mix of self-shot filming (i.e., supposedly shot by the characters of each other) and other times recorded by an unidentified “third person,” mostly likely just meant to be cover shots of both of the main teen actresses, although the hand-held shakiness remains the same.

The real Alyssa
The film follows three concurrent storylines, as it were. The first is Bustamante and The Sidekick (Demi Baumann), and occasionally Alyssa’s brother, as they ramble through their lives, Bustamante bullying her friends and relations in small ways that would eventually explode into self-destruction through the annihilation of another. We don’t realize we can see the state of her mind, as in real life, she came from a family of poverty, violence and substance abuse.
A second story follows The Performer (Teona Donikova), a sad teen who imagines herself in the limelight as a highly stylized singer (we are shown an entire imaginary music video from her mind), rather than the suggested abusive relationship with her dad (no moms are seen in this film). The third follows The Angst (Alex Damiano), who is full of anger both towards the world and herself. We are shown that through her bulimia, her self-derisive selfie-videos (vidfies?), and a monolog aimed at God. We also see in bitter detail the sexually violent relationship she has with her dad.

Of course, all these stories come together at an important story intersection. Hints of the level of personal destruction are shown throughout, and realized in the third act (titled “The Final Chapter”). I have to say, I figured out where the director was going with the ending about 10 minutes before the answer, which is probably around the time the viewer is expected to have that aha moment.

Both these films and all four stories here deal with an either an ideal or a nadir of one, expressed through the ego machine of a cell phone camera and small cameras, as characters perform for themselves and for others. It’s personalities that are more performativity than “real,” often without the participant even realizing how shallow their vision of the world becomes, full of ego and the Self. Running through all is also a banality of evil, instilled by the overwhelming technological desire for both information input and output (feeling the almost addictive need for selfies is an example of both).

As with House on the Hill (see above), there is some speculation and changing of the story to fit the film; it should also be noted that this is “Inspired by the true crime.” During the end credits, Director Shane Ryan does acknowledge that people were blended and liberties were taken. For a piece of cinema that was filmed in four days on $300, and was largely shot by the cast, it does have both a chilling aspect to it (especially the abusive scenes, be it inter- or intrapersonal), mixed with an almost facile feel to the everydayness of some of the actions between the characters. It’s the contrast, in part, that makes this so compelling, and for me more so on a second viewing.

Extras abound on this DVD, running nearly twice as long as the film itself. Along with a deleted scene and some alternative scenes, there are trailers for it and a bunch of other films, such as Portrait of a Milk Carton Girl and Abducted Girl: An American Sex Slave. The highlights though are two different version of the piece, including a 20-minute early cut from 2011 that is mostly without dialog called “The Columbine Effect” (under the directorial pseudonym of Bone Shin) that is mostly confusing if you haven’t seen the full feature, and an hour form of it as well called “Me, Myself and Us.” It’s a completely different cut and order of events (except the ending chronology), and while it’s decent, it’s not up to the full feature, and is rightfully and thankfully in the extras section.

Then there are two earlier short films directed by Ryan. One is the nearly 5-minute effective tribute to Japanese gore from 2011 called “Oni-Gokko” (translated as “Tag”), which could be seen as a tribute to Japanese director Takashi Miike, or possibly the “Guinea Pig” series, with just enough gore and artistic merit to raise some eyebrows. The other short is the 16-minute “Isolation” from 2001. It’s a moody piece mostly in black and white about poor 16 year old Billy (played by Shane Ryan in his directorial debut; I’m guessing a student film). Missing his mom who was murdered when he was younger to the point of depression, we follow him and his thoughts as he walks through a desolate town, possibly bleaker because of his emotional state. You can see a lot of a theme going here if you compare the short with the feature.

Ryan seems to specialize in Kids (1995; I’m certainly not the only one who had this connection as I have since found many reviews comparing them) style films dealing with teens in trouble, including pedophilia, the sex trade and other forms of teensploitation – honestly, none of which I’ve seen, so I won’t comment on them directly – but here he has found a niche of teen murders that works well. This has a very ordinary-everyday Creep Creepersin feel to it (he is thanked in the credits), and is all the more scary for both the actions and lack thereof, and especially for the viewers’ reaction to the mixture of the two.