Sunday, May 29, 2016

Review: Dangerous Men

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

Dangerous Men
Directed (and everything else) by John S. Rad
Sima Sim International
Drafthouse Films / MVD Visual
80 minutes, 2005 / 2016

There is a place in the heart for certain people like myself when it comes to really bad films. I grew up with the likes of those directed by Ed Wood Jr., The Cape Canaveral Monsters (1960), and Robot Monster (1953), all of which could be seen on television. In the 1980s, with the advent of VHS cheapies and television shows like Elvira’s Move Macabre (1981-85) and Rhonda Sheer’s USA Up All Night (1989), another layer of bad films was leveled on an audience that either enjoyed the experience or just didn’t get it.

Now there is a new generation of bad cinema that has come to light with the medium of digital filmmaking, giving us some pretty awful releases, like The Room (2003), which have achieved cult status and are regular screened for adoring fans.

This film is a bit different. Even though it was officially released in 2005, it was shot on film with Rad’s own money over 22 years (starting in 1984), which would certainly explain the jumpiness of the story, what there is of it. It has gained fame over the years since 2007, finally being released digitally to the public now. Sadly, the director, a Persian named Jahangir Salehi Yenganehrad who self-penned himself John Rad, died in 2007, never seeing its success.

Melody Wiggins as Mina
Perhaps because it took over two decades to make, it’s no surprise that a character that is central to one part is not the focus of another. This happens a lot in here. In the first half, it’s sort of a revenge narrative as a cute and petite woman, Mira (Melody Wiggins, who is a physician now), whose fiancée is murdered by a couple of bikers, sets off on a Ms. 45 / I Spit on Your Grave man-killing spree. The second half is more about the fiancée’s brother, a police detective who is also out to bring down some bikers; evil motorcyclers are the largest percentage of “dangerous men” in the film, though not the only ones. The gang is led by an almost albino surfer-type dude, known as – wait for it – Black Pepper (Brian Jenkins, an actual surfing teacher; d. 2013).

The very end is both a head scratcher and guaranteed to make you do one of those confused-dog-head-tilting-to-the-side motions. Not that goals aren’t narratively necessarily completed, but…hunh? One of the things I find interesting is how Rad manages to squeeze in some unconnected Iranian aspects to the film, such as the wife of one of the main characters being Persian (the first face the audience sees), and the inexplicableness of having an actual belly dancer (Roohi) at a particularly odd moment.

Brian Jenkins as Black Pepper
The acting is pretty inconsistent. For example, sometimes Wiggins is spot on emotionally, and others her emoting is terrifyingly unintentionally amusing, which makes it all the more disturbing. For example, before her first kill, you can see her face is full of rage, but it was more disturbing than anything else. But when she smiles, she brightens up the scene. Some of the other actors are just terrible: the bartender at the biker bar, the woman playing darts (who has a large role than just that), Jenkins, for example. It’s actually the bikers that come across as most genuine. And for once, they’re more realistic as bikers than, say, the romanticized versions by Marlon Brando or Peter Fonda, or even Jack Nicholson.

Also, there isn’t any gore, really, though some blood. Considering the number of stabbings and shooting, as there is a nice sized body count, there is relatively just a smidgen of blood. But nudity is another story. There’s plenty of female bodies shown (and a few close-ups of the belly dancer’s upper torso shaking), including one full frontal, and even some male nudity from the rear, not to mention an obvious genital grab. Certainly enough to keep it interesting for everybody.

John S. Rad
The extras include some of this and other film’s trailers (including Ms. 45), a 30-min documentary called “That’s So John Rad,” a road trip about searching for things John Rad and ends up with interviewing his daughter and grandkids; a 10-minute interview with the Director of Cinematography of all 22 years named Pater Palian (also Iranian); and a local access television show called “Queer Edge” where the loquacious and stupefying John Rad is interviewed sorta-kinda by the host and Sandra Burnhart. There is also a full-length commentary by genre authors Zach Carlson and Bryan Connolly. Most of it is good, as they tend to discuss what you are seeing more than behind the scenes goings-on. The only negative really is that the sound of the film is turned on too high and sometimes interferes with what they’re saying (though I’ll take that over when the film soundtrack is completely turned off on commentaries).There is also a really nice booklet included, with a reprint of a 2006 interview with Rad from the LA Weekly.

A reason this film is so honored, considering it really is a terribly made albeit extremely entertaining one, is because it is a prime example of (a) never giving up dream, and (b) a pure example of DIY workmanship. Sure it’s rough around the edges (and the middle, and the sides…), but you can see the dedication, sweat, personal money and in the case of the wrecking of his daughter’s car, personal property, in every frame. It could be considered an anti-masterpiece.

Just like there is the “Outsider” genre of music, meaning untalented musicians who believe so much that they are creating important music (e.g., Wildman Fischer, Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Drake) that it actually gives the songs credibility, this is also true of Outsider cinema (such as Richard Kern and most of the Transgressive subgenre). It goes beyond the “so bad that it’s good,” to the level of “so bad that’s it’s just bad, and thereby it’s so good.”

Honestly, I would only recommend it for those with an understanding of this kind of thing, and you may be surprised how many there are considering it tends to sell out some shows by those in the know. If you are one of those, you may believe that it can give even the classic Outsider film The World Greatest Sinner (1962) a run for its money.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Review: From Beneath

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

From Beneath
Written and directed by David Doucette
Midnight Releasing / Retaliation Films / MVD Visual
82 minutes, 2012

Eddie Murphy was correct in Delirious (1983): some people just don’t know when to “get the fuck out,” even when it’s not because of ghosts.

After a nicely done and creepy opening prologue, we meet young and in love couple Sam (Lauren Watson) and Jason (Jamie Temple), who are on their way to her sister’s family’s house in the woods. In real life, this is fun, in a horror movie, it only leads to trouble.

Lauren Watson
When they get there, the relations are missing, and the couple go for a swim on a hot day in a cool pond. Again, normally fine, but in cinema world, watch out. He gets either bit by something and now has a wormy thingy get inside his calf. Over the next 24 hours, it gets infected and worse. And they never do not the area around the house. In the real world, we recently found a tick attached to my wife’s side, so we went to Emerg at the local hospital to get it taken off cleanly. Not this couple, no, they stay because it is dark outside and they don’t want to get lost. With that and complications that follow, I would have been out the door and taken the chance on the road. But, again, some people never know when to leave. By the time they do, more than a day later, the car is disabled, natch. .

You and I know it’s only going to get worse over time, and it progresses quickly, but they still don’t leave as whatever it is from the water starts taking over Jason; apparently, it only takes over males from the storyline. What, is it because women are actually more logical and less macho, so whatever it is, is attracted to stubbornness?

While only taking place over a few short days that we never see them eat anything, the film time seems a bit longer, as this is essentially is a two-person story. After a year-long relationship, he is still stereotypically commitment-phobic, and yet she stays with him, even during his decent into…whatever it is inside of him making him become.

As always, I’m not going to give too much of the story away, but its conclusion is basically a train track leading in a single direction. And the coda doesn’t really make much sense, as there is no intimacy between the couple in the time we know them. You want details? See the film.

Most of the movie is filmed well, with a some cinematic themes that recur, such as zooming in during a series of jarring shots with each one a bit closer than the previous: bam-bam-bam (not sure if I’m explaining this well). It’s effective and not overdone, thankfully. Perhaps because much of it is shot at night in low light or a florescent light is used, or perhaps for effect, the image tends to be heavily on a yellowish hue side. Nothing wrong with that, just sayin’. One nice aspect is how the sound is split, with the two main characters mainly heard in either the left or right channel.

The creature SFX is okay, though shown extremely sparingly (budgetary, I am going to suppose), and the make-up effects are mostly good. The sores look extremely well done, yet the vein lines that emanate from the wounds look like, well, make-up.

The acting is…decent (Watson fares much better than Temple), though it’s the writing that is a bit on the weak side, honestly. It’s hard to feel empathy for the characters, though not for anything they do or don’t do, and that’s where the story line is lacking. It’s a conundrum of being both wordy (i.e., dialogue heavy) without investing the viewer into it (well, this one, anyway). Part of that is due to the characters stay past the point of reality. There are just too many times when credulity is past, jumping the shark past the willingness of suspension of disbelief tipping point.

The extras are a 13-minute meh gag reel called “A Peek Between the Takes” that mainly focuses on the errors behind the camera more than in front, a too-long at (23 minutes) one-camera interview with the Director, Doucette, and producer (and seems like co-director) Ashe Morrison, two trailers, and some other company trailers as well. Rather than the interview part, listen to the audio commentary track with both Doucette and Morrison, which is a bit more interesting.

Did I enjoy the experience. Yeah, it was a fun 82 minutes. It’s important to note that it’s the director’s first feature, and often those are the “learning moments” releases. Remember, even Francis Ford Coppola started with Dementia 13 (1963). Perhaps his next will be that much better!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Review: Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg

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

Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg
AKA Helga, la louve de Stilberg
Directed by Alain Garnier (AKA Patrice Rhomm)
Eurocine / MVD Visual
93 minutes, 1978 / 2016

Of all the strange exploitation subgenres that have arisen (e.g., girl gangs, women forced into a life of crime), one of the weirdest and most violent towards them is the girl-in-prison one. While there are such films that predate modern exploitation/sexploitation, it came to popularity in the late ‘50s after the birth of rock’n’roll brought the fear of a world of juvenile delinquents, and showed the degradation of the sex. That being said, the bar was upped a notch in the ‘70s with the popularizing of the next level up, women in prison camps. They had lovely titles like The Big Bird Cage (1972), Love Camp 7 (1969), and the most infamous being Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975), which led to a series with essentially the same character played by the powerful Amazonian screen presence of Dyanne Thorne.

The formula for the genre is exceedingly similar: women get physically and mentally abused (men get tortured and/or emasculated), and at the end, usually with the outside help of men, the prisoners rise up and kill their tormentors. If you’re familiar with this kind of film, I am really not giving anything away. Even if you are not, it’s pretty obvious early on.

Malisa Longa is Helga
Taking place in a South American dictatorship, this is actually a French production, with Patrice Rhomm at the helm, using the pseudonym Alain Garnier; he directed genre films under a few different names during the 1970s. The hand is played heavily from the start, as the country’s dictator condescendingly proclaims to redheaded Helga (Italian actress Malisa Longo) that she is a woman, so naturally she doesn’t understand politics (ironically I am watching this as the Hillary/Bernie race narrows down). He is also massaged by the only other woman in the room, who is also the only Black person present, as he smokes his stogie (no, his cigar...Jeez!).

But then again, Helga is administered to in a full frontal shower (she is nude often). But her male lover is a Che-looking wannabe. The love scenes are solid soft-core porn, and are shot like the Euro style of the harder version, replete with cheesy music consisting mostly of horns. No surprise as Rhomm also did some hardcore directing under the name Homer Bingo (kid you not).

The locus moves to the castle/camp for political prisoners at about 15 minutes in, and all the captives are not only women, but quite lovely, of course. It is there that the brutality begins with a kind of nondescript rape scene where the woman tries to fight off the attacker by mostly keeping her arms stretched out to her sides and throws her head back and forth.. She later complains to her compadres, who blame her for it (can you tell this was directed by a man?), that they are being forced to “let those stinking swine make love to us.” Whaaaaaa?

One of the women has a dubbed thick (fake sounding) New York accent: “Shut yer trap! You beddah not tawk,” she says in a high-pitched, nasal voice. Later one, the one black woman of the group will show to have a very deep, Southern accent, y’all. Their “uniforms” are overcoats with nothing underneath, and knee-high leather boots, some with high heels, obviously all the better for doing hard labor. Helga also has a set series of clothing, such as a thin blue bathrobe, and a combo silk red top and tight leather pants. Sure there is sometimes a random lingerie item, but it’s pretty steady.

Patrizia Gori as Elisabeth
Joining the crew is the redheaded daughter of the rebel leader, Elisabeth (the lovely Patrizia Gori), who naturally is surly and you know is going to lead an uprising, if her character lives that long (I’m not saying).

There definitely are some questionable moments of illogic, such as when we see a guard pacing in front of the six feet of caged door to the room where the (naked) prisoners sleep, yet one walks over to another bed to ask about Elisabeth, who has been selected by Helga as her new lover. Where is the guard in all this? It’s not like he has much to do other than watch for movement. Also, while this is supposed to be the subtropical South American back-territory, it’s obviously European woods, and castle (supposedly built by a French landowner). This is typical of these films, where you have to suspend a few gold coin of disbelief, but then again, noticing these kinds of things are part of the fun.

After a gang rape and thrashing, Elisabeth quickly falls for one of the guards (Richard Allen, aka French adult actor Richard Lemieuvre), who is a friend of her father. A relationship develops quickly and sends Helga into jealous rage.

Compared to Ilsa, Helga is hardly as fearsome, as she is often talked back to by her soldiers, lovers, and even prisoners. Longo is attractive, yes, but she is not as intimidating a presence as the wild-eyed Thorne. Sure there are whippings (clothed), manacles, and some rapes (all but one off-sceen), but the sheer torture porn and castrations of Ilsa are not present (nor is Uschi Digard, but I digress…).

I won’t press the point about the ending, which is left on a curious freeze-frame, but it had me truly laughing that it lasted for about two minutes, while theatrical Wurlitzer music swirled. Talk about a dichotomy!

After the film, wait a bit as there are some deleted scenes from the original print, mostly due to either restrictions by censors or just bad quality negatives. The only other extra is the film in its original French (which I did not watch).

As these kinds of films go, while harsh to the naïve viewer, compared to many of its subgenre mates, it’s actually quite mild. The Linda Blair 1974 television film Born Innocent was more shocking. Yeah, this is vile and violent, but in a matter of degrees, it’s not as hardcore as many of the others.

But was it fun to watch? Well, honestly, rape scenarios have never been a fave, though quite prevalent in this oeuvre to justify the actions of the last act, but as a whole, this was a good viewing. As this is the first time this film has been released on DVD in North America, adding this to the canon is the historically right thing to do, as well.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Review: Earthrise

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

Written and directed by Glenn Payne
Dead Leaf Productions / MVD Visual
90 minutes, 2014 / 2016

To be honest, I don’t watch much mainstream television, but I did see the pilot of a program called “The 100” where a group of teens who grew up on a giant spaceship are sent down to an abandoned Earth as punishment, and have adventures, often horrific. Despite this, however, it was more soap opera than sci-fi, with terrible writing and not exactly outstanding acting.

This film is a minimalist version (i.e., micro-budget) of a similar story, but taking only the journey itself as its motif. At some previous point in history, Mars was colonized by the Earth, and everyone left the Earth (as far as we know; there is little in backstory). Now, three 30-year-olds are chosen to go back and join previous trios to help rescue the planet, with a load of cargo, some Mars stuff like ores, and a lot of questions to them, as Earth is a mystery as far as our travelers go.

Greg Earnest
Marshall (Greg Earnest) is a family man with an expectant wife at home on Mars, and definitely a macho man who does push-ups for stress, a need to deem himself as a “leader” and inflicted with some masculinist bullshit (haven’t they figured that out by whatever year this is supposed to be?). In today’s world, he would be a Republican.

Vivian (Casey Dillard) is a more feminist model, being strong and caring, but focused. Last is the more emotionally fragile Dawn (Meaghin Burke), who comes from the same district as Vivian; if I read the subtext correctly, she and Vivian are lovers. In addition, as Just neither here nor there informational FYI, in real life Burke is married to Earnest.

Casey Dillard
There are various timelines used and intertwined. The first is before the mission, in the form of the stated application videos; that’s probably not the correct term for their time, but as all futuristic sci-fi is really about the present, I’ll go with it; it looks like they’re sitting in front of a camera, answering questions. The another timeline is soon after takeoff, and another is further along the long journey from Mars to Earth, which will take a whole week. A week! To get from Mars to Earth! In actuality, if they could do this in a week, there’d probably be weekly shuttles. The distance is 249 million miles, which means they would have to average 1.5 million miles an hour. But I digress… Sometimes it’s a bit confusing to distinguish which is which time zone, so there are clever ways they keep the viewer in on it, be it a limp or a head Band-Aid. That was a good choice.

While this is more of a psychological study, there is still a sinister element, in that thanks to some of the cargo, three astronauts are having very vivid hallucinations, usually playing on their fears of the loneliness of their situation, ego, creatures, or fear of something going wrong with the ship in the middle of nowhere.

Meaghin Burke
I understand the suspension of disbelief, and I’m okay with that, especially when confined to a micro-budget. That being said, there are a few things that made me go “hummm.” For example, those audition videos. If the population was limited and living under a dome, especially in a time in the future that was supposed to be that advanced, odds are the government would probably be much stricter, and there would probably not be any aspect of the applicants’ lives the government would not know about. The NSA now is keeping tabs on the multitudes through communications systems, and there are CCTV cameras in abundance. Imagine in a confined space where any disruptive action could cause a hole in the dome and instant death for everyone. There would be extreme monitoring, and lack of democratic ideals, most likely. The Mars-based government is not discussed at all, though the project coordinators seems devious and creepy.

For me, my interest was strong in the duality of technology. For example, one of the characters has an actual book and the other two tease her for not using digital (I find it hard to believe that books would be permitted on whatever spacecraft took the population that far, when digital books are no weight). Also, considering the advancement of the future, the only computers we see are what look like mini-iPads. Yes, characters say “close lights” rather than physically turning them off, but there doesn’t seem to be much technology around, other than a computerized voice giving information, usually as a background or in times of danger (“Warning Will Robinson! Warning!”).

There are a lot of questions I have, and actually I think not having them answered is the correct thing. For example, how large is the colony on Mars, a smaller planet than Earth; what kind of government is there; how many people have gone back to Earth before them and how many people are now on our planet (obviously more than a few). As for the condition of the Earth that they are reaching? Not gonna give a clue, but my imagination went wild while watching, which is good.

The acting is actually quite good for an indie film of this calibre, and I was bemused at the occasional slipping in of Southern accents – they all do it – as this was filmed in West Point and Tupelo, Mississippi.

While there are other flashes of characters, mostly through tapes of people who have supposedly gone before them (I worked for large corporations, and I am suspicious of all official company communicates, quite honestly), basically this is a three-person story (and some hallucinogenic ones), and it holds together well. It is not as much an action packed Star Wars-level kind of thing, but there is some well-paced moments, more along the timing of something like Alien (actually, I found the first Alien kind of slow moving, with the occasional excellent moments).

The extras are a decent commentary with director Payne and actor Dillard (who lets her accent ease in more) and the film’s trailer. Payne comments that there are more featurettes at the Facebook page.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Review: Sheep Skin

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

Sheep Skin
Written and directed by Kurtis M. Spieler
Unearthed Films / Invasive Image / MVD Visual
79 minutes, 2013 / 2016

So I guessed the ending in about three minutes. Happily, I was wrong, even though I still like my idea, I’m glad they went in a different direction. That’s a good sign about this Boston-based production.

What I especially like about the film is the dichotomy of what makes a monster. Is the possibility that a man is a werewolf and slicing-and-dicing people (mostly women, it seems), a person who is a womanizer to the level of workplace harassment, or the people who are convinced someone is a creature and then goes about abusing that individual?

Let me back up and do some ‘splainin’. Todd (Laurence Mullaney) is a middle management douche office drone who is not exactly dedicated to his wife Nicole (Jamie Lyn Bagley) or two kids, but is more of a philanderer as is evidenced by the creepy opening scene. He gets no stars for sympathy at this point, though that’s also questionable at any time.

He is kidnapped by a punk rock band (!?) and brought to a closed warehouse. How can you tell they’re a punk rock band? The leader wears a leather jacket over a black hoodie, a studded belt, and one of those ‘70s-‘80s swinging chain things hanging from his belt to his pants pocket. It isn’t until near the very end that we find out actually they are a singing group, when they try to talk to a security guard and they say they have the band’s equipment set up.

The hoodied ringleader of this little excursion is Schafer (Michael Schantz). He knows Todd from high school days, and in a previous full moon his younger sis was butchered by what seems like a large animal. She was having an affair with Todd, and now Schafer is convinced that Todd is the wolfman in sheep’s clothing.

Helping Schafer out is his band, the Brutalizers, including unpredictable and impetuously hotheaded and violent Boston Clive (named for his accent; Zach Gillette), the scared and out of his league Marcus (Bryan Manley Davis), and Schafer’s girlfriend and lead singer, Dylan (Ria Burns-Wilder, who is also the singer for the band In Rod in real life). With most of them, even though they are the “bad guys,” they garner a lot of sympathy, especially Marcus and Schafer (okay, so let’s call them anti-heroes),

The warehouse set, filled with a chair and clear plastic dropcloths, looks more like it could be from American Guinea Pig (2014), A Serbian Film (2010), or perhaps even Reservoir Dogs (1992), for which there is a certain kinship of elements. Its simplicity helps the viewer concentrate more on the story than on the surroundings, which is a nice change. It’s also roomy enough to give both a feeling of claustrophobia and yet a false sense of freedom, without restricting the crew to a corner.

If you’re worried about me giving anything way, rest assured I’m not one to offer much towards spoiler alerts, even when I want to discuss them badly. Suffice it to say that things go unanticipatedly bumpily, as they tend to do in any film where there one group holds a person or persons hostage.

Most of this film is more of a psychological thriller, as alliances dally, fear and anger is a constant on both sides of the action, and as I said, the viewer begins to wonder who is the true monster(s). Rest assured all will be known. Without giving away anything, the ending reminded me a bit of a story from an old Eerie or Creepy magazine with a similar story ending, which often relied on a Richard Matheson-esque twist.

Most of the acting in the film is quite good. I’ve said in previous blogs that I am a fan of Bagley, who has a good sense of line reading and a keen way of expressing “Are you outta yer fuckin’ mind?” sentiments. Her role is more of an extended cameo, but she makes her scenes stand out. Mullaney does an excellent job as the focus of this group of amateur vigilantes, making the audience wonder whether to hate him or pity him, but he definitely makes it hard, because whether this band of outlaws is right or wrong, Todd’s a tool.

The standout for me, though, was Schantz. As the situation spirals further and further out of control, the intensity he projects come off as real, rather than cartoonishly over the top, even when the action is extreme. Nice job.

The effects are… well, here is where I don’t want to give anything away. The blood and gore look great, and it does please. That they use appliances rather than digital is a nice touch and earns bonus points. Let’s leave it at that for now.

The music by Yuppicide is excellent, of course, but the standout for me was the music over the final credits by the Dick Punchers, in actuality Ria Burns-Wilder and her band, In Rod. They do a hysterical song called “The Dick Punchers’ Anthem” that is straight out of old school punk, and is guaranteed to make you both gird your loins and laugh throughout (e.g., “If you eat my falafel / I’ll punch you in the dick… / Oi! Oi! Oi!”).

Lots of extras are included, such as a decent director’s commentary (also one of the executive producers, Nicholas Papazoglou, who unfortunately is hard to hear as he’s not close enough to the mic), a deleted/trimmed scene that I’m glad they too out because it gives too much information, “Tearing Back the Skin: A Look at the Making of Sheep Skin” which is 11-minute featurette about the SFX and is interesting, and the 12 minute 2007 short with the same name on which the film is based (also by Spieler; only Mullaney appears in both, in the same role) that is worth the watch. Also included is a second version of the film, but this time in Black and White, including an intro by Spieler to explain why. The only thing missing is the usually included long list of trailers of Unearthed Films, but probably due to lack of space considering how much is already included.

This is a meat and potatoes kind of film that is well written and shot on a shoestring budget, a decent cast, and well pace and put together. To be honest, I felt a bit impatient watching it through to the end because I wanted to know if my guess at the ending was correct. When I realized I was wrong, I sat down and watched it again (yes, this time in monochrome), and then I heard the commentary, which is only available in the color version. After spending over three hours in this film and its extras, it was still enjoyable.