Monday, September 26, 2016

RIP, Hershell Gordon Lewis

Text by Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Live image (c) Robert Barry Francos, FFanzeen Productions, 2016

Lewis, at a Chiller Theatre Con in New Jersey, early 1990s (pic: RBF)

The great cheese and gore director, as well as Direct Marketing maven Hershall Gordon Lewis has now passed on, well into his 80s. If you are not sure who he is, or have never seen one of his films, well, you're lagging. This is especially true if you are a genre fan.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Review: CarousHELL

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

Written and directed by Steve Rudzinski
Silver Spotlight
70 minutes / 2016
The film can be pre-ordered HERE. 

Steve Rudzinski is certainly not the most prolific of directors, but when he puts out a film, be it more serious (though still having some humor; e.g., Everyone Must Die!, from 2012, reviewed HERE) or even more hysterically absurd (e.g., Captain Z and the Terror of Leviathan, 2014, reviewed HERE), the viewer is in for a quality show. Here is the thing about absurdist humor: it can be really, incredibly stupid (e.g., anything by Seth Rogan), or it can be way smarter than it appears to be (e.g., anything my Monty Python), sometimes by mocking the genre’s own familiar tropes. Fortunately, Rudzinski’s work falls on the side to the latter.

Se Marie
Here is the basic premise: a carousel’s wooden unicorn, Duke, becomes sentient (or “wakes up” as they call it here) after an obnoxious kid, Larry (Teague Shaw) wipes some snot on its snout and kicks it a few times. Of course, that means the kid must die. His insufferable “#hotbitch” (her words) sister, Laurie (Sé Marie) drags him to a party at her friend’s house, where all comers, likeable or not, are fodder for the unicorn from (possibly literally) hell.

The film is so goofy, and yet remains consistently hysterical. I’m not talking about a couple of scenes here and there, I mean straight through. But pay attention for all the references. While you really wanna punch out this little bratty kid and his big even brattier (is that even a word?!) sister, but the people at the party are as much fun to watch as the arcing story. One of the running gags is a variation of the whole “Bronie movement (male fans of My Little Pony, as in Bro/pony), focused around…well, you should have figured that out by now.

We, the audience, hear Duke’s both inner (thought) and outer (oral) “voice,” and his comments are as snide and pun filled as a certain red and green sweater-wearing dream killer. Other people can hear it, too, as the trailer below shows. Yeah, there’s a lot of profanity, and there is more than a few “bitch” references, but Steve Rimpici does a fun job of it, as he’s done in other voice roles. While there is little subtlety, and certainly no pity towards Duke, there is absolutely many reasons to laugh at both the wooden horse’s (I mean unicorn’s) words, and even – believe it or not – actions: his “hiding” scenes towards the end had me rolling.

Steve Rudzinski
As with many of Rudzinski’s films, there are self-referential moments to his previous films, such as a bottle of Captain Z’s Totally Accurate Pirate Wine, or the off-hand mention of his Web series, SuperTask Force One. Also, Rudzinski uses the film not just to get his ideas across, but also as an acting vehicle for himself, not as the main character but a supportive-yet-pivotal role. His style tends to learn towards the Edgar Kennedy school of slow-burn-to-righteous-explosion. Rudzinski’s skill is pretty varied, as he’s shown in previous films, but this method is among my favorites.

There is not much nudity in the film, most of which is a response to one sleazy character’s (Chris Proud) cry of “show me your [pick a word for female breasts] for a beaded necklace” at the party. That being said, there is definitely one scene with the elfin cute pierced and tatted Haley Madison that goes beyond what you may expect even from an indie…or perhaps not, all things considered.

Haley Madison
The gore, however, is another story. Some of it is kinda (purposefully) cheesy, but man, there is a lot of it, and most of it look incredible for its budget. Duke seems to have access to any one of a number of deadly weapons, from throwing stars to machetes, which draws a very funny throwaway panicked line from the Pizza Boy (Rudzinski). I actually had to pause the film to laugh, as not to miss anything. Come to think of it, there was more than once I stop to rewind just a bit to either see or hear a bit again because it was (a) WTF, (b) so beautifully done, (c) to laugh, or (d) any combination. It should also be noted that there is a very large body count, so those into this kind of film should find that fun, as I did.

CarousHELL doesn’t answer a lot of question, which I think is fine (such as how this magic horse… I mean unicorn, came to be). This is the kind of film that you just say “fuck it” and watch it for what it is, without any guilt. If you actually sat down to mull over it, there could be a lot of questions that need to be answered, but the genre overrides the need for queries.

Cowboy Cool, aka PJ Gaynard
One of the more bizarre characters is Cowboy Cool (PJ Gaynard), who not only swaggers in a John Wayne style, but never removes his huge, mascot mask covered head. He seems to have the only gun that can kill Duke (who is, I suppose, ironically and purposely branded after Wayne’ nickname?). I think my fave characters are, however, the icky siblings Pierre (Josh Miller) and Margot (Sarah Brunner), who have the worst French accents possible (it sounds more German, actually). They are just so obnoxious, playing on the Francophone stereotype.

Rudzinski is a bit of a meat and taters kinda director. You’re not going to see many weird artistic flairs, which personally I find can be really tiring, especially for this genre. He has a message, and he gets to it. That’s a large part of the appeal. He takes the micro-budget that he has and makes the most out of it. But at the same time, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic in that it’s not all shot in one place, but rather in some nice locations, including, yes, an amusement park (the same one from 2015’s Scream Park [Conneaut Lake Park, PA], in which Rudzinski acts but not directs)? Oops, there goes those questions again… [The director responds: "It's not the same park. Conneaut was too far away and now multiple movies have shot there. So we went to an even smaller park in Southwest PA called Wildwood Highlands, which is more of a go-kart/putt-putt/arcade with a few rides. But it was Western themed so it worked beautifully.]

Rudzinski tends to make a film or two every year for the past few years, but his quality has never dipped below extreme fun. His characters tend to be not necessarily the same high school stereotypes you usually find, and he goes through a lot of them. He also manages to find actors who are well suited for their roles (for example, Marie just aces hers), so I’ve seen most of the last batch, and have never been disappointed. That says a lot, considering he works in the Pittsburgh area (I kid…). Seriously, this comedy is worth a view on many levels for genre fans. Just don’t expect anything super deep (or super shallow), and enjoy the references as they fly by. Grab a bag of popcorn and have a blast.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Review: The Purging Hour

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

The Purging Hour (aka Home Video)
Directed by Emmanuel Giorgio Sandoval
Vicious Apple Productions / Ruthless Films / MVD Visual
80 minutes, 2015 / 2016

Naming a film to jump on the success of another that is unrelated is hardly new, especially since the 1980s. Even recently, how many have started with A Haunting in…? It’s no real stretch to guess the theme implied here, or where the name comes from. Actually, if the film holds up, I don’t care what it’s called. But we shall see, eh wot?

In retrospect, despite the name, they seem to try and go a bit more for the style of Paranormal Activity (2007) in that it takes until the last 20 minutes for anything to be of interest, but also keep with the incessant handheld found footage of The Blair Witch Project (1999). It seems like any time the wording at the beginning starts with something like “They were never seen again,” I have found it’s better to… run away!!!

We meet an attractive Latina family who have moved to some mountain resort town in California. This is their first day there and everything is already unpacked and pretty tidy (has anybody on this film ever moved before?). There is the handsome and muscular father, Bruce (Steve Jacques) and beautiful mother (Sophia Louisa), their typically emotional beautiful teenage daughter, Kacie (Alana Chester) and her handsome and model-type boyfriend Mark (Tomas Decurgez) who is there to help, and a young teen son Manny (David Mendoza).

Using a single handheld camera, they tape each other incessantly through the most mundane stuff (cooking burgers on the grill, sitting around the kitchen, and like that). This includes some personal conversations forwhich no one in their right mind would have a camera on (or remain married for long in real life), making some of the characters kind of unlikeable (especially Bruce), which I am going to assume was not the intention of the writers or director.

Intercut in the first two-thirds of the film are interviews with friends, family, and locals, including the sheriff and mayor of this town. Unlike Blair Witch however, these people definitely are actors, not just local non-actors ad libbing. Some are convinced that the family was killed by one of its members, others that it was some outsider (hence the hinting of the movie’s title), and those that are sure it’s something supernatural (conspiracy theorist types).

I’ve seen lots of these kinds of films before, so I found myself looking at backgrounds as much as the characters, such as “Is there something on that hillside?” or “Is that door handle about to turn?” or “Is there a reflection in that mirror?” But no, most of it is just the family being a family, having family conversations (and arguments), living family lives. And yet, there is very little exposition about the characters. You get some idea of their nature, but not the motivation behind it. For example, pretty-boy boyfriend says “I like to draw so maybe I’ll be an architect.” Hunh? Sadly, I know people like that, but that doesn’t explain why he’s so aimless (commentary on his generation, perhaps?). So essentially, the first hour is like watching someone else’s home movies. Wooo-hoooooo.

My annoyance, however, is with the little things that make no sense. Usually I can avoid a couple of anachronisms or errors, but these seem to be a confusion that stands out perhaps because of the slow nature of the film, which makes it stand out more. For example, there is a blackout in the house (all lighting used is off the camera), and yet in the kitchen you can see the blue, electric digital clock on the fridge. Another is the mention that this happened “several years” ago, and yet the key to the car is one of those recent square ones that pop out like a switchblade, and cell phones are spoken of once though never seen; attractive teenage daughter without a cell phone every five minutes? Wow. And does this outage affect any of the other surrounding houses, which don’t really seem that far away. If the car won’t start, run to one of the houses if their lights are on… or even if they’re not.

The one that confuses me the most is that the footage starts with the usually VHS kind of PLAY wording-on-blue-screen and there is a lot of video-style stereotypical “noise” of lines and fading in and out, and the like; however, it’s clearly a camera not a camcorder, and with all the other modern extemporania, such as the aforementioned car keys, it just doesn’t make sense.

I totally respect that Sandoval did a “Robert Rodriguez” and used a largely Latino cast, and mostly they are good at what they do, but considering there are three writers and I’m sure tons of ad libs, there really is no plot, nor narrative, which is what brings this release to a standstill from the get-go. A couple of good bloody scenes and a nice touch and the end, however, aren’t enough to save this, I’m truly sad to say.

If you look at my history of reviewing, I champion indie filmmaking (hell, it’s in the title), but I am also honest (well, what is truthful to me). That being said, Sandoval was about 23 when he made this film. Yeah, he won a district award at high school for a short he directed, so perhaps there is promise there. If perchance he reads this, I am hoping he takes this as sincere criticism, not snarkiness. Let’s consider this film an exercise, and hope that he learns the techniques he needs to make the next one a killer.