Thursday, February 25, 2016

Reviews: Double Killer Party Films: Mansion of Blood; Death’s Door

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

So, the reason I put these two reviews together is that they both deal with getting invitations to deadly parties at mansions, with supernaturally charged results. They also have prologue-stories from quite a time ago, the first is 1925 and the second 1931, respectively.

Mansion of Blood
Directed by Michael Donahue
Tom Cat Films / Covina Hills Pictures / Elusive Entertainment
99 minutes, 2013 / 2015

Stand-up comic Robert Klein used to have a routine dealing with a fake commercial where you could purchase every record that was ever recorded [HERE]. Never mind lions and tigers and bears, for this flick it’s zombies and vampires and demons and werewolves and serial killers and werewolves and ghosts and…

If there is a subgenre you like, you’re sure to find it here in a throw a dart at a board topic. Michael Donahue does two things to excess in the film. One is the genre mashup, and the other is the cameo parade; but more on the latter later.

There’s a party going on at the mysterious Mayhew Mansion, now owned by a sleazy businessman who has a mysterious and cantankerous caretaker (Gary “Buddy Holly” Busey). It’s being catered by possibly the only sane character in the cast (Robert Picardo, the holographic doctor from Star Trek: Voyager) and his nutzoid wife (Bronx-born Lorainne Ziff).

There is going to be a full moon eclipse, which is the reason for the joyous gathering – for most – and strange things are afoot when a late-20s high school senior (you know what I mean) witch-in-the-literal-sense brings back her dead ex-boytoy to see if he had bought a lottery ticket before he died. Yes, if you’re wondering, this is a comedy.

I must say, much of the writing is goofy-smart, with intentionally painful dialog (and acting) such as, “People are dropping like flies, and one by one they’re being murdered…” It is not, however, as just plain bad as are most spoofs, such as the Teen Movie / Scary Movie (well, at least after the first one, which was decent) releases – you know, like Vampires Suck (2010); it’s also not, however, brilliant either. Thankfully, it is somewhat enjoyable.

Let me show my hand by saying the negative thing first, and then go on to the positives from there: there is just too much happening. Employing practically no narrative, it is a bunch of set pieces that seem to be randomly stitched together in a way where it will jump from Scene 1 to Scene 2 to Scene 3 to Scene 2 to Scene 3 to Scene 1 to Scene 4 to… You get my drift? The good thing about this is that it’s hard to predict what is going to happen because most of it seems so arbitrary. There are some exceptions though, such as obviously the mummy (nice make-up job, by the way) is going to come to life – but the conclusion of that bit is pretty enjoyable.

Like any mashup, there is bound to be something to make any genre fan happy. At first, honestly, I didn’t get what was going on, thinking that the director couldn’t make up his mind on a genus, but as it continued I had a mixture of “Aaaaaah” and “Duhhhhh,” and was kind of relieved that there was a point-not-to-have-a-point to the whole thing.

There are certainly more characters than you can shake a stick at, and most of them are pretty superfluous other than fodder for whatever mayhem at the Mayhew residence turns up (oh, and Busey does the Mayhem/Mayhew joke in the film, so it’s not my pun, sorry to say).

Along with Busey and Picardo is a host of names that either may be famous one day, or were in their time. For example, there is Terry Moore, who was not only incredibly gorgeous back when, e.g., have you seen her in Mighty Joe Young (1949)?, but was also mysteriously married to Charles Foster Kan…I mean William Randolph Hearst. Also in the film, at 102, is Carla Laemmle (d. 2014), who is the daughter of Carl Laemmle (d. 1939; if you have to ask who that is, you need to get some horror history background lessons, son).

There are many others with familiar last names who are or could be related to bigger fish, such as Calista Carradine, John Barrymore III, and Katherin Kovin-Pacino (Al’s fourth step-mom).

While I realize this is a spoof, the cliché thing to do, in my opinion, is ham acting. To be the most effective, I believe, is to have every actor do their A-game work, and then have all the goofy things go off around them and have them act like it’s the best script – play against the joke rather than be part it. Now that is powerful and much more effective. Part of the reason gritty shows like Prime Suspect (1991-2006) worked so well is because the norm was on the level of an Agatha Christie slow burner (“Oh, look, someone’s killed Bunny.” “Better put the kettle on and ring the coppers.” “Right-o.”), and it was the juxtaposition that helped make it stand out so firmly.

There is some topless scenes full of inflated boobs (one of the more successful jokes constitutes around this) seemingly bunched together in the center of the story. There is also some decent gore, though arguably not enough for the action.

Another potential drawback to a film with this multitude of cast is that there is not much screen time for any particular one of them, so the chance of any kind of compassion or empathy, even for a sendup comedy – is lost to the flashiness and the skit. It becomes a bit overambitious in its cheesiness, and could lose some viewers that way. Odds are, though, most won’t care and will enjoy the strangeness.

Mainly, I found the film enjoyable. Perhaps not a stream of “badda-boom” jokes, but more on a subtle level that will have you saying, “Oh, I know that reference.” It reminded me of the old Carry On films, with camp leading the way.

Death’s Door (aka The Trap Door)
Written and directed by Kennedy Goldsby
Leomark Studios / Hi Point Studios / Goodness Media
92 minutes, 2011 / 2015

After the prologue, we meet a bunch of overage teens (sound familiar?) who get a mysterious and anonymous invitation to attend a party at a maudlin mansion (supposedly filmed at an actual haunted one). This is a device that, if I remember correctly, was first used by Agatha Christie in And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians or by an even more racist title) in 1939. Since then, it’s been a common trope used to the point of cliché. Hell, there was even a porn version in 1985 called Ten Little Maidens.

Most of the dozen or so kids are nothing short of stereotypes of obnoxious characters, such as the pretty mean girl with a Kristen Bell look (who keeps ending words with that truly annoying “ah” sound, e.g., “no-wah; I don’t want to-wah; Why-yah”), the virgin guy with Harry Styles hair on steroids, the jocks, the chestbeating morons, the “good girl” (a Tara Reid clone), some Latinas and the solo cool Black guy (who, by the way, is also a macho cliché).

Lots of windows...
When they get into the mansion, the doors lock, and they naturally panic and turn on each other. What, no one ever heard to throwing something out a window? These guys obviously don’t give a damn about anything, so that they don’t trash the place at the very least – never mind pounding through doors – doesn’t feel honest for whom these knuckleheads are. How dumb you ask? My favorite line is from the mean girl who says, “I got nothing [sic] against Kendra, I just don’t like that bitch.”

When doors finally do get open occasionally here and there, they open to other rooms that weren’t there before, a device used before more successfully in the film Grave Encounters (2011); similar to that other film, time becomes questionable. There is even a pinching from The Wizard of Gore (1970) and The Wizard of Oz (1939; i.e., seeing events in an hourglass). But, we all know there is bound to be a reason why they are all at the house, and we have to wait until the end until we find out. Unfortunately, even that’s a cop out. And don’t get me started on the one-sided, non-yellowed newspaper clips from 1931, if I really wanted to get picky (you can make two-sided print-out, y’know).

Also inhabiting the house are three ghosts. There is a magician (character actor Obba Babatundé) who died tragically in the prologue and doesn’t do much else, his unfaithful wife who does even less, and a huge black servant with a burned face (played gloweringly by ex-footballer Tommy “Tiny” Lister. He’s the best thing about the film, and the only ghost we see actually physically interact with the kids.

As for most of the rest of the cast, they’re kind of bland characters. Some of the acting is fine, but it’s either so overwrought or underplayed, mixed with highly questionable storytelling and editing, that I kept waiting for someone to start shouting “Game over, maaan! Game over!” in that Dana Carvey voice imitating the guy in Aliens (1986). And yet, even with all the shenanigans going on, hook-ups continue to happen. Whaaaa? During one of the get-togethers, the indoor curtains are strongly blowing in a wind, so does that mean a window is open? Again, throw something the fuck out the window and get out. If someone tried and the windows wouldn’t crack, that would be something, but the writing is just not that great, so no one does. It tells a lot about the film’s zeitgeist.

Some of the gore effects look pretty good, though flashed more than shown (thank goodness for freezeframe). There is not enough of it, however, to balance the dearth of a story. As for nudity, even with the few sex scenes, it’s scarce.

The extras are a music video and a 7-minute “Behind the Scenes” where some cast and crew (including the director) discuss just how creepy it was to be in the house, and how some saw what they think was a ghost or two. Sadly, it was the best part of the DVD.

If it sounds like I’m being hard on the film, well, yes, I am. I love a ghost story more than a slasher film, but this was underwritten, overacted, overedited and left with too many holes. Bummed me out, because I wanted to really like this.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Review: Stomping Ground

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

Stomping Ground
Written, produced and directed by Dan Riesser
Anvil Entertainment / Irrational Films
80 minutes, 2014 / 2016

Ahhh, the Bigfoot subgenre. I reviewed one for this blog called Fear the Forest (2009) and another called – I kid you not – Sexsquatch (2012) The last one was from Australia called Throwback (2013), and now this one is from the wild and woody area around North Carolina.

John Bobek as Ben
Over a holiday visit down South, we meet our central characters, Ben (John Bobek), a ginger from Chicago who works in Social Media, and his girlfriend, Annie (Tarah DeSpain), a Greensboro local whose reputation whose high school nickname starting with the word “Crazy…” She, of course, being computer-phobic, isn’t even on Facebook (is it any shock she does not have a job in Chi-Town?). Opposites attract, I guess, but should they always?

From the start, Ben comes across at first as a bit of an elitist urban-vs.-rural dick who doesn’t cotton well to all the old boyfriends hitting on his gal, but is not enough of a he-man to fight them off. Actually, I respect him for that last part; similarly, she should be more sensitive to him being a “stranger in a strange land” than feeding into his jealousy. I would say the same thing if it was reversed, if one of his citified friends picked on her in the Windy City for being a Country Girl.

Yeah, from in the onset, the story starts off a bit like Straw Dogs (the real one, 1971; wonder if it’s a coincidence that his name is Ben, the name of Dustin Hoffman’s character in 1967’s The Graduate, who would play the lead in Straw Dogs… yeah, probably a stretch and a case of Cultural Overthinkingitis). Leading the redneck side is Paul (Jeramy Blackford), who from the gecko (yeah, I do know the correct word) you wouldn’t trust with a donut and a pickle.

Tarah DeSpain as Annie
One piece of information we learn right off (and it is in the trailer) is that her boyfriend doesn’t know that she is interested in the Bigfoot, and as a teen she and her friends would camp out searching for it; this includes the comedy relief character, Jed (Justin Giddings, doing an occasional scene-stealing turn), who is just as much into it as Annie. I’m assuming that these “hunting trips” included some large amounts of partying from the looks of things.

Of course, our unbelieving intrepid weenie Yankee is taken on a Bigfoot camping search with Annie, some of her friends (aka the fodder), and the outing’s instigator, Paul, who you just know has some devious plan behind all this, and y’get the feeling Ben is not going to like it. At all. But will he grow a pair like Hoffman in Dogs? I’m not promoting machismo masculinist training, I’m just going with the story, donchaknow?

An interesting aspect of films like this, which is actually closer to fact than is usually acknowledged, is that all the yokels call Ben “City Boy,” but when he uses the term “Redneck” after some of their despicable behavior, he gets called out on it. That’s a very Republican sensibility; if I do it, I’m expressing my freedom. If you do it, you are warring on my freedom.” This is both very blatantly and subtly indicated multiple times. I’m not sure which side the director falls on, but I will posit that he is a Greensboro native (mind you, the one time I was in Greensboro, I met some incredibly wonderful people).

For the first half of the film, during the Dogs part, as I refer to it, I was feeling kind of restless, but not necessarily in a good way. The whole “let’s gang up on the stranger” mentality is one I’ve never been casual with, though I understand it’s point to make it uncomfortable; if it was me in that situation, however, rather than be jealous of something that happened years ago, I would laugh Jeff off, especially his intention to steal his ex-fling, Annie. To his face. I’ve done it and it works as long as it’s in a public shared space and everyone around is informed and understands the context; if it’s approached defensively, the Ben position doesn’t have a chance. Besides, if nerdy Ben is that insecure about his relationship with wild-child Annie, he shouldn’t be in the relationship. I mean, he’s probably going to have to go back South again if the relationship is to continue, as her mother lives there. There’s new thing out called The Holidays during the last two months of the year.

The film's original poser
It’s the second half of the picture where the story and interest really starts to pick up, once you get past the portal of the stereotypical pair of hunt’n’ good-ol-boys, who are the slasher film equivalent of the weirdo loner who warns everyone to stay away! That’s about the time we get to finally reach where we all know the general direction of where the story is going, in the form of the beastie.

Ah, yes, the beastie. I’ve seen some really terrible Sasquatch costumes in my time, because it essentially comes down to a person in a suit, after all. Well, I’m happy to say that this one actually looks really good (you can see a couple of flashes of him – I’m assuming it’s a he considering some of his actions – in the trailer and on the poster). I’m even willing to forgive the sole layer of the creature’s foot/boot which is evident at the one-minute mark of the trailer, though it’s much easier to see in the film itself.  The reason is that everything else about the monster and including the body SFX of the victims, looks pretty nice. Not a huge body count, but an effective one.

Despite the nebbishness of Ben, Bobek fleshes him out a bit, and makes him a character you may not like on some level, but you can put yourself in his shoes and feel sorry for him as a bully target. I don’t know if I felt the compadre level with him as he stands up for himself though I supposedly should, but it does take a lot for him to give any credibility. Even after this, I hope Annie dumps him. The cute DeSpain also does well with Annie as the flip side of Ben’s personality. While he is an off-putting in a know-it-all way, Annie is equally annoying in that she doesn’t really seem to give a shit about him as she flirts back with her exes. Again, DeSpain makes her human and not just a mean girl, though I would also like to add that if Annie doesn’t dump Ben, Ben should also ditch her. They are so not right for each other. It’s Blackford’s Paul who seems the most real, though, and I hated his bully character, which is why I thought Blackford stood out so well. Paul is the only member of the triangle that remains true to himself: a conniving bastard.

Of course, there has to (and should be) a cameo of a genre star from the past who can headline. In this case, it’s Theresa Tilly, who plays Annie’s mom in the first couple of scenes (yeah, she’s in the trailer, too). Tilly is better known among us who grew up on VHS as Shelly, one of the not-so-fortunate cabin dwellers in the 1981 classic Evil Dead. Back then, she went by the nom de acting of Sarah York.

While some of the action is predictable, such as the manning up of Ben, there are some nice and different twists and turns, and a chance for a sequel. I say sit through the first half and think of it as the cranking ride up the coaster, and then enjoy the ride down.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Meet the Denovio Family: Caesar and Otto and Fred’s Eerie Interview

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

They’re creepy and they’re goofy…

Caesar is pissed off, not at any single thing or person specifically, he just always thinking – or let’s say believing – that life should be with him at the center, and in control of it. His older half-brother, Otto, isn’t necessarily running on all motors, but is fueled more on emotions than anything else, and has a lot of loss and failures behind him. Together they spar, but they are each other’s yin and yang. Their shared father, lothario Fred, is a huggable, lovable rascal who doesn’t take crap from anyone, but can charm the wallet out of your pocket and you’d be glad. The only thing he can’t control is his sons, but he is joyfully along for the ride to see both how he can help keep some peace in the family, and what he can get out of it.

Caesar and Otto can now be considered part of a film franchise, with director and writer Dave Campfield at the helm. He also plays the anal and the occasionally somewhat sexually ambiguous Caesar. Otto is faced by the slovenly looking Paul Chomicki, who has a natural talent for comedy timing.  Both of these gents grew up in the Commack/Kings Park area of Long Island, and have been friends since teenhood.  Joining the brothers is real-life Disneyland Nurse Scott Aguilar, who has found a way to medicate his acting bug through Caesar and Otto’s dad, Fred. Scott manages to occasionally steal scenes with his natural charm (hey, he doesn’t work for the Magic Kingdom fer nuthin’).

As I was saying, there have been a series of these films, including shorts, such as Caesar and Otto in the House of Dracula (2009) and Caesar and Otto Meet Dracula’s Lawyer (2010), to some features, including (but not all) Caesar and Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre (2009), Caesar and Otto’s Deadly Xmas (2012), and the most recent Caesar and Otto’s Paranormal Halloween (2015). As the series progresses, we are getting to meet some other wonderful recurring characters and actors, as well. The films are available through Wild Eye Releasing and MVD Visual.

Over time, the three main characters have evolved (unlike, say, the Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers, who’s wondrous personas pretty much remained the same throughout their runs), I believe for the better. For that reason, along with the fact that their films are quite funny while remaining in the genre, that I asked the three main actors in this series some questions I was pondering. For honesty’s sake, I asked Campfield for an interview, and he suggested I should include Chomicki and Aguilar, and he was totally right.

Oh, and Campfield has directed (and acted) in other films beyond the Caesar and Otto timeline, including a hysterical one that is quite relevant now: a short called The Perfect Candidate (can be seen HERE).

Now, here are the humans behind the cinematic Denovio clan.

Otto and Caesar
IndieHorrorFilms.BlogSpot (IHF): Let’s start off with some obvious questions and build. How did Dave and Paul get to know each other, and then become friends? I’m assuming, in part, it’s because you grew up 5 miles from each other in the Kings Park/Commack area on Long Island. And how did Scott, who lives in California, come aboard?
Dave Campfield (Caesar): My older brother had a friend named Dan. He was the filmmaking prodigy of the High School that I went to. Dan could take pots, pans, and construction paper and build the cockpit of an airplane. His big effort was a VHS camcorder feature length thriller named The Highest Fear, about a hijacking. One of the stars of that movie was a twelfth grader named Paul Chomicki. I thought he was great and let him know that during one lunch break. We became good friends. I was thirteen and just starting to make my own movies on a camcorder. Paul became my go-to actor.
Paul Chomicki (Otto): He was two grades below me. We lived about 10 minutes from each other. We became friends as we were both into filmmaking and movies in general.
Scott Aguilar (Fred): I'm in Southern California (born and raised a long, long time ago...). There was a newspaper called Dramalogue. It later changed to Backstage West and Backstage East. Now it's just Backstage. It's a newspaper that one can list casting notices. Dave put an ad in and I sent him my photo and acting resume. I met him and Paul. He had a first draft script for our original Caesar and Otto. We've now made 4. It was a take-off on reality TV which was still pretty new. That was 2005 [released in 2007 – RG].

IHF: Where did the concept of Caesar and Otto come from?
Dave: When Paul lived near me, we’d get together a few days a week and work on sketches. It was in that time that the characters of Caesar and Otto emerged in a short movie we made. Eventually Paul moved to Los Angeles, and I, in time, had the idea of expanding the characters into feature films.
Paul: As Dave [said], Caesar and Otto started as a little sketch we did on video. One big difference though is I played Otto as Mentally Challenged. I then acted in a play with Dave and he was kind of inspired by how I played my character, who was a bit lazy and silly.

Caesar and Fred
IHF: Many seem to compare the series to Abbott and Costello or the Three Stooges (I’m guilty of this, as well). Do you see this as a good thing or a hindrance?
Dave: People gravitate toward what they know, so it’s a good thing. I also happen to be a fan of the above mentioned so I’m quite flattered by the comparison. I don’t set out to copy them, as we’re our own distinct characters, but they were certainly an inspiration.
Scott: I think any comparison to well-known comedy teams is an amazing complement. I've always thought we were closer to the Marx Brothers.
Paul: Yes, we are kind of like the Three Stooges, especially with Scott Aguilar as our dad as the third Stooge. Inspired for sure by the Odd Couple as well. I think of Caesar and Otto like Ren and Stimpy, which I was a fan.

IHF: The characters have undergone some transformations since Caesar and Otto, the first film released in 2007. How would you describe them?
Paul: Dave's character of Caesar is certainly more cartoonish in the earlier movies. Otto's character hasn’t really changed too much.
Dave: I used to simply think the bigger the better in terms of performing Caesar. Paul likewise felt so and would spur me on to be bigger! Louder! But at one point I realized I was annoying about 80 percent of the audience and decided to dial it back some.

IHF: There are a lot of genre actors who appear in the films, such as Debbie Rochon, Felissa Rose, Brinke Stevens, Andre Gower, Vern Wells and the late Robert Z’Dar, to name just a very few. How do manage to wrangle such amazing talent?
Dave: Largely through Felissa Rose, who’s been in the producing department of these movies. In the case of Linnea Quigley and Lloyd Kaufman, that was the work of Joe Randazzo (producer as well).

Lloyd Kaufman as grandpa talking to kid Caesar
IHF: Lloyd Kaufman is known for being such a wild card; what was it like to work with him [Caesar and Otto’s Dead Xmas, as Caesar’s maternal grandfather]?
Dave: Easy going, fun and relaxed. I wish I had something juicy for you, but he was just a normal guy as soon as the cameras stopped rolling. He also gave the cast and crew lots of Troma posters and memorabilia, which was great.
Paul: I never met Lloyd Kaufman as we didn't have a scene together.

Dave Campfield, who plays Caesar (and directs the films)
IHF: While so many pictures that spoof major genre tropes, such as A Haunted House (2013) and most of the Scary Movie franchise seems to fall on its face (no matter how money much they make, in my opinion), how is it that the Caesar and Otto films seem so much more accurately biting, even though not bringing in the big bucks (although ought to be) the same ways?
Dave: Well, thank you for that. Clearly those movies are made by people with major talent but often it’s far from the artists’ best work. Though truth be told I did very much enjoy the first Scary Movie [agreed; they do just keep getting worse, though – RG].  In the case of Caesar and Otto... I think what helps is that it’s really focused on the plot as a whole. And the characters: Caesar, Otto, Jerry, Dad, aren’t spoofs of other characters you see in horror. We have our own history, likes, dislikes... Cindy in Scary Movie [2000] is just an exaggerated version of Sid in Scream [1996]. Whereas Caesar and Otto are their own people. You can get more involved with their stories as such. As far as the style of comedy, I have my feelings about the state of horror and I just let the screenplay reflect that. If I made it for a big studio they’d probably tell me to keep it simple, and in turn, I’d probably lose the satirical edge I hope these movies have.
Scott: Between you and I, I think it was lack of publicity and marketing. None of us were involved in that. Dave oversaw it all.
Paul: Caesar and Otto has a much bigger audience out there. We need to find them any way we can. We simply don't get the publicity of a major studio.
IHF: Dave, how do you go about getting ideas for the gags? Do you see other genre films and write notes about things most people don’t notice? Is it a solo input, or do you have feedback from others, like Paul, other actors, the producers, etc.?
Dave: Paul and many of the actors tend of offer their two cents on set. Pretty much the writing process consists of me locking myself away from the world and committing it to paper. Rich Calderon, however, who provides the practical effects and Production Design, probably has the greatest input. He reads the script, lets me know what can and can’t pull off for the budget, and offers some great gag suggestions as well. For the writing on Paranormal, I broke out every haunted house movie I could get my hands on and tried to find parallels in them all. There were plenty.
Scott: Dave usually has the major bits already in the script, but he's always open to ideas. We would always shoot it his way first but always had a chance to try other things.

Paul Chomicki, who plays Otto
IHF: Otto seems to be searching for a specific someone to make him happy, be it a childhood sweetheart [Deadly Xmas] or his mother [Paranormal Halloween], to no success. Comments?
Paul: Otto has had a lot of people abandon him in his youth. He needs Caesar as Caesar needs him.
Dave: Otto’s just a lost soul looking for love... So, you’re right. All though meeting his mother certainly does make him a more complete person.

IHF: Gratuitous, tongue-in-cheeky question: there is always one topless scene in every film. Is this a social commentary on genre films, or is there another point, such as a sneaky way of getting to see someone topless?
Dave: Actually Summer Camp Massacre didn’t showcase any on screen nudity. I was asked to by its executive producer (then the distributor) to include some nudity, and had a good gag lined up for it, but it fell through. So, I plugged that same joke into Deadly Xmas. When Paranormal came along, a collaborator said he knew an actress he thought would be great for the stripper character and said she’s very comfortable with on screen nudity. I just threw my hands up in the hair and said what the hell. In other words, the only film I wanted to have nudity in didn’t, and the other two did. Go figure.
Scott: To be honest I liked the way it was done in Summer Camp because it made fun of the gratuitous T&A in other movies. He did use a bit in Deadly Xmas, and the gag was her boobs were pixelated. I don't think we really needed it in Paranormal Halloween. Same with language. In the first movies we never used four-letter words and it worked as a joke. That also changed.
Paul: There is nudity in the films because it's in my contract. I refuse to do a Caesar and Otto movie without seeing boobs. In our [forthcoming] Spring Break movie there must be three pairs of tits or I walk. [The full title is planned be Caesar and Otto’s Spring Break of the Living Dead – RG.]

IHF: I hope you don’t mean three pair on the same person… Speaking of which, there is a lot of Troma in your films, including acting talent (such as Rochon and Tiffany Shepis; and, of course, Kaufman). How much of an influence was the Troma films on your childhood, and can you give an example or two of how it changed your life (such as particular films, or scenes)?
Paul: I personally was always a fan of Toxic Avenger since my youth, so it was cool Lloyd got in one of our movies.
Dave: Troma was a later discovery in life. My love of comedy horror was forged by The Simpsons Treehouse of Terror episodes and the Abbott and Costello comedy horror installments. But when I did discover Troma, I found a voice that was completely unique and off the wall... and it was my cup of tea (well, a lot of the times at least).

Scott Aguilar, who play Fred
IHF: Scott, you’ve done a lot of medical/nursing work on some major films. Any anecdotes you’d like to share? And how did you make the transition to the front of the camera? You seem very comfortable in the role of Fred.
Scott: You've been peeking at my IMBD page, I see. Yes, I have a pretty mixed resume. I started on stage as an actor in 1970. It wasn't until 1984 when I was studying Theatre at the University of Southern California that I began directing stage shows. At that time I also was introduced to a USC Film School student (Glenn Burton) who was trying to write a stageplay and needed help. We collaborated and I did do it as a stageplay at the University, but we decided it would be better as a screenplay. We wrote it as a romantic comedy and started making rounds in Hollywood trying to sell it. By 1988 we had written three more romantic comedies. One of the professors at the film school liked our stuff and got us a meeting with Henry Winkler (who had just opened a production company at Paramount Studios [Fair Dinkum Productions – RG]). [Winkler] liked our stuff and things were going to move forward. The next morning the Writers Guild of America went on strike; we were not union members. Our scripts were never seen again. I got into V work in 1983. I was on a research team at the USC School of Medicine, working on AIDS (which was brand new). My boss assigned me to work with Jack Klugman and his production team to work up a Quincy M.E. [television program, 1976-83 – RG] script about AIDS. During that same time I was assigned to help a production company called West 57th [a news-focused television program, 1985-1989 – RG] who had a new news magazine TV show. They were doing a story on AIDS. That lasted about half a season. Anyway that how I first got over being a theatre snob and found it was okay to do other things. I received a random call from a guy at Termite Art Production Company [their programs include “Made in America,” 2003-present – RG]. Someone (and I never found out who) had given him my number because he was looking for a medical advisor. They were a contractor for the newly formed Discovery Channel. On more than one occasion an actor wouldn't show up for a shoot and I would step in and be the doctor or whatever. They finally put me on a show as a co-star when we did More Than Human [2003-present – RG]. During that time I was also acting in a lot of student shorts and independent films. The problem with the consultant job was it wasn't steady. I still needed a day job.

IHF: The two main actors of Caesar and Otto are from New York, and yet it is filmed in LA. Why is that, and will that change over time?
Dave: We’ve shot some shorts in NY together. So, ya never know.
Paul: Our shorts are shot in NY and features here [in LA] pretty much. Easier to get our horror movie cameos being shot in LA.
Scott: Pretty much only Dave and JoJo [Josephine Iannece, who was in Paranormal Halloween, and is Dave’s significant other], are in NY anymore. Everyone else, including Paul, live out here in SoCal.

Avi Garp, who gives the film a hand (or two).
IHF: What’s with Avi Garp’s character and the limb removal-and-replacing cha-cha?
Dave: I really enjoyed how Avi played the scenes of his limbs getting pulled off in Summer Camp; so much that I decided to make it a reoccurring gag.
Scott: That was a one-time gag in Summer Camp that got so many laughs it had to come back.

IHF: I really enjoy the “Ask Caesar and Otto Anything” series on YouTube [Example HERE]. It reminds me of the 2000 Year Old Man recordings. What are some of your favorite questions?
Dave: Let me avoid this question as there are so many I literally can’t remember them well enough. We had about 30 questions in the last edition alone. 
Paul: I like the “Ask Caesar and Otto Anything” shorts because the questions are from real fans and not made up by us.

IHF: I understand that the next film you will be working on, Dave, is a more serious one (check out his acting reel HERE). Yet at the end of Paranormal Halloween there is a hint of Caesar and Otto’s Spring Break of the Living Dead. Is this really an idea (I’m hoping), or just a continuation of putting a “coming next” at the end of every Caesar and Otto film?
Dave: I’d like to make it, but at the moment I need to make a movie that’s very person to me (ironically, it’s a horror movie).
Scott: I was talking about a Caesar and Otto Spring Break Alien Abduction, but I think Dave wants to do a zombie one instead.

IHF: I’ve always told new filmmakers / photographers / writers / musicians the same two things when asking how to start: first, volunteer to work on other people’s films to learn what to do and what not to do, and to follow Lemmy’s advice to a singer I know (Dava She Wolf) who wanted to learn guitar, which is ask everyone in the field to teach one thing. The second piece of advice I have is to just do it, and learn as you go (or do both pieces). What advice do you have to get into the field?
Dave: If you’re willing to spend most of your life being financially destitute, just do it. I’ve been at this for years, glad to have met so many wonderful people along the way, but it’s not for the faint of heart. If it means as much to you as it does for me, just do whatever you can. Find your own unique voice, and get involved with as much as you can. And don’t lead with your ego. Even when you don’t like a colleague’s movie, don’t go badmouth them behind their back. It makes you appear petty and vindictive. We’re all artists, and we’re all in it together.
Paul: Working on other people’s films is a good way to learn. Experimentation is key to figure out your own style.

IHF: Anything you’d like to add, such as what you always wanted say to people asking questions and never got the chance?
Scott:  Don't know if it's interesting, but I studied Theatre at USC and Cal State Los Angeles. But with all the TV and film work I was doing I went to Columbia College/Hollywood after I came back from operation Desert Storm and finished my degree in motion picture production.
Dave: I'm all out of anecdotes!
Paul: I love and appreciate our fans. It makes my day to get a good review or a compliment on the movies. Stick with us folks! We love you!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Review: Madness of Many

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet                                                                                                                  

Madness of Many
Written, produced, directed, make-up effects and edited by Kasper Juhl
Hellbound Productions / Unearthed Films / MVD Visual
73 minutes, 2013 / 2016

Danish director Kasper Juhl may be young (b. 1991), but he has a good sense of the camera, as shown by this artistic and abstract treatise on life and pain (which Juhl claims as his own philosophy in the commentary). And while this is neither here nor there as it is not reflected in the film directly, Juhl is also the lead singer of the death metal band Abscission (aka dead, fallen leaves).

Told mostly through soliloquy narration, we meet/meat Victoria White, as she flatly describes a childhood full of sexual assault by her family. But this is only the start of her ordeal, as we are given verbal details that are eventually manifested into the visual. I should note here that although filmed in Scandihoovia, the entire dialog is in English.

Thanks to all of this pain in her life, we quickly find that she is a bit of a nihilist, claiming that she was “born to be exploited by others.” Despite this, she is not ready to end it all, stating she is more afraid of dying than its result. By the way, this is also an idea posited by English writer Henry Fielding in his 1751 novel Amelia, where it is stated “…it is not death, but dying, which is terrible” (yeah, I admit it, I’m a Fielding fan).

After being drugged and subsequently tortured for a year after escaping her parents, she starts to develop multiple personalities to avoid the pain. This is quite cleverly handled by having different actresses playing the same role, in different situations. Body type, face, and even tattoos differentiate Victoria’s shattered lives. Ironically, the man/men (credited as The Shadows) who torture her is/are never given a face (occasionally we see white masks or are blurred and distorted), though she has many.

By using a high level of abstraction, Juhl uses a lot of different devices to play out Victoria’s mind, such as removing or muting the colors to the point of near grayscale or high black and white contrasts. But the point of where artistic merit end and being opaque is a delicate one, and it is a line that is crossed often. Many of the scenes last way too long without promoting the story (what there is of it), such as watching someone putting on eye make-up, or puking up blood (sometimes through the literal hands of a Shadow down a throat, others by self-infliction).

Which brings me to the gore: this film has been compared to A Serbian Film (2010), but it does not come anywhere near that. In fact, American Guinea Pig was much more effective and relentless, and Flowers (2015) handled the art side of personal pain with a bit more flair and was more accessible without losing any of the creativity. When it is applied here, it’s quite effective. I mean, there’s lots of manhandling of the woman/women, such as multiple scenes of choking, but the ultra-violence is kept sparingly until the final act. That being said, even early on, when it’s more intense it works.

As for the psychological torture aspect, honestly, I was more freaked out by the similar themed (i.e., abuse leading to Multiple Personality Disorder) two-part television film Sybil (1975). The whole rising of enlightenment through pain may have some thinking of the recent 50 Shades of Gray, but honestly it reminded me more of The Who’s Tommy (“I’m free!!”).

It could be said that this film is on the sexist side. I mean, we see the female form being tortured, but there is no mention of comeuppance of the males who do the perpetrating. So, do we say that there is a lot of females abused when they are all supposed to be the same one, or is that a cop-out? I don't have an answer for that, but it wasn't comfortable for me in that aspect. 

Juhl explains that he likes slow-paced films, which is good because he has definitely made one. It will take a lot of patience to sit through it, especially in this, the post MTV editing / instant gratification period of cinema. Even the final credit roll by very slow, with no sound through most of it.

There are some nice albeit limited amounts of goodies here in the extras section, such as a long list of Unearthed Films trailers and a decent commentary by Juhl, but if you want to dive in deep, there is also a three-disk version available (including the soundtrack CD and many other features not in the basic DVD package, including some “Making Of” documentaries, a short film by the director, and deleted scenes), of which 1000 were produced. Collectors’ item!

I know I’ve whined a bit about it, but it’s a very strong piece if you have the patience to swim through the philosophizing of good and evil, pain and pleasure, and story and idea, you may connect to it. I’m looking forward to seeing what else is under Juhl’s directorial sheet, but just know with this one, if you’re expecting something relentless it may be a bit of a letdown. For those out there who like a thoughtful piece of torture porn, well…

Unrelated to this DVD bonus:


Friday, February 5, 2016

Review: Live-Evil

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

Written and directed by Ari Kirchenbaum
Simian Tales
95 minutes, 2015

As if working as a cop in a small college town wasn’t bad enough. As if working as a cop in a small college town on Halloween wasn’t enough. As if working as a cop in a small college town on Halloween and two on the FBI’s most wanted drug dealers list were cuffed in the precinct wasn’t enough. As if… okay, I’ll shorten it… all this wasn’t bad enough, thanks to an ancient relic bought by a rich collector, something wicked this way has come. One of the officers refuses to name it in a running gag, just giving it the descriptor, “Evil.”

Charlene Amoia
Officer Hancock (Buffalo native Charlene Amoia, who gives off a kind of Gina Gershon vibe, was a semi-regular waitstaff character on How I Met Your Mother, among many other credits) gets called to rich dude’s mansion to find a bunch of bodies and a naked woman forming out of ash, eyes aglow, aka the previously said “evil.” Arresting her, aware that something is obviously afoot, Hancock puts her in a cell next to the snarky drug dealers.

These dealers could be a film unto themselves. Young, cocky and fearless, they remind me of long-haired versions of Pharma Dude (you know, the dick who raised the cost of the AIDS drug 5000% - I will not glorify him by printing his name). Referred to as simply Mr. Eleven (Ed Ricker) and Mr. Twelve (the mono-named Carter), they are amusing in tune with their situation and have a strong don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. Like other (non-police) characters, there is something off about them, which makes them interesting, even if not likeable. I spent the whole film waiting to see whether they get their comeuppance or not (I’m not telling).

Kind of running the show is Sherriff Pete (Vladimir Kulich, who looks a bit more Norge than Czech, so it makes sense that he played one in 1999’s The 13th Warrior, and The Viking television series). Pete’s a likeable enough guy, but not the sharpest stick in the woods (though heart’s in a good place); it’s actually Hancock who is usually dealing with the pragmatic reality of the moment. She’s been on the force over a decade and she should be running the show, in my opinion.

In an extended cameo role (as all indie films must now produce, it seems) is the Candyman (1992) himself, Tony Todd, as an imbibing pastor. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always good to see him, as he is a class act. Stealing the scenes, however, is a college dean (Tim Ross) who, for those who know academics well, delivers his comic relief lines with just the right amount of red tape and incredulity. He’s hysterical. Also grabbing attention is the tweaking Rosie (Raven Whisnant), in an extremely high-energy, physical performance given with glee.

Then add some risen undead (more on this in a bit), affected by the ash that’s floating around the town that looks like snow, whose intentions are not known for a while, with glowing eyes (which hint towards their… again, I won’t give it away, though I’m sorely tempted to discuss). Everyone keeps calling them zombies, to which Hancock vehemently differs. I understand what she is saying, but I humbly disagree with her for the following reason: in the post-Romero world, risen zombies are flesh eaters out to kill and eat the flesh of the living. If you go back pre-1967, however, zombies meant something different. They were raised from the dead to do a deed or obey a master, not independently and randomly slaughter (I once wrote a blog about it, HERE). So, in current Western culture she is correct, but in the original meaning of the term, she is not. But I’m digressingly nitpicking.

Tony Todd
Breaking the story up into seven chapters are witty title cards, such as “Evil Descending a Staircase,” “Chasing Pete’s Dragon,” and “Kamikaze, Rinse, Repeat.” I’m pointing this out to explain, in part, that this is actually quite a cleverly written work. This is only part of the care given to the thought of this film. Along with the meat and ‘taters shooting (and there is a lot of it) and blood’n’bones (ditto), there is also an ample use of digital effects, from the previously described eye glowing and nearly omnipresent ash floating around, then add in some gunshot wounds, people appearing out of thin air, and other assorted gizmos. But there is also some appliance SFX as well, such as the undead (most of whom look great, by the way), and the “Evil” masks (see the film’s poster, above).

When it comes to being arty, as I’ve said before in other reviews, there is a fine line between being artistic and being opaque, much like poetry or a certain level of fiction. Within that line the viewer gets to see a vision presented by the director that’s above and beyond, and yet the story doesn’t get lost in the adjusting (which is the problem I have with much of the over-produced music since the early ‘80s, but I digress…). Kirchenbaum takes that leap and lands on safe ground, giving this a unique feel, and yet keeps the watcher involved in the story. For example, most of the beginning of the film is in B&W, and then suddenly turns to color 53 minutes in, after the ringing of a ritual bell.

I must say, I enjoyed this immensely. It took me three-quarter through to figure out a key point, and it still kept my interest until after the credits (yes, there’s a bit at the end there). Kirchenbaum doesn’t always take the easy or obvious road here, even though one can see elements of so many other films, such as [REC] (2007), 30 Days of Night (2007; here it’s cops vs. Evil, not vampires), and any one of a million rising dead themes, albeit this time with automatic weapons. The risen dead masks remind me a bit of the aliens in They Live (1988), but again, perhaps I’m assuming too much, because I didn’t care about it as I was having too much fun with the story.  Speaking of which, while I certainly would not necessarily call this a comedy, man it has some funny moments.

From beginning to end, this was an enjoyable film to watch. It never lets up, it’s rarely predictable, and except for a couple of parts that could have used a bit of snipping (e.g., for story pacing, Sherriff Pete takes too long to convince Hancock to get into the police car, even though it’s probably more realistic), and a couple of arguably superfluous characters (the pair of apparently X-Files-inspired FBI agents), it kept me interested all the way through. It’s a good watch.