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.

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