Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review: Dreaming Purple Neon

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

Dreaming Purple Neon
Written, filmed, directed and edited by Todd Sheets
Extreme Entertainment / MVD Entertainment
111 minutes, 2016

Fanzine publishers know it. Self-recorded musicians know it. So do indie film producers and directors. It is the knowledge and experience that sometimes you just have to go all in: take out the credit card, empty the bank account, fuel your dream and take a shot. It’s about putting into reality what you visualize in your head.

Thus is the micro-budget Dreaming Purple Neon, which went from Todd Sheets’ wallet to being available on VoD since Halloween of 2016. The thing is, experience has shown me that when it comes to indie…well, anything, some people know how to make the best of their finances by stripping down as much as possible (single room, minimal number of actors, shot in their own houses, for example). Others try to overdo it, making up for what can’t be afforded to be made up for more readily in digital post-production. Then there are the Todd Sheets of the world, who know how to work the balance between the simplified and the over the top digitalization.

Man, I don’t know how they did it with such a small budget, but there is a hell of a lot packed into this film, which looks way more than its budget suggests. Sure the acting is somewhat questionable (as with many indies), but the sheer size of the cast is amazing. The body count alone is bigger than most productions. Sure there is a lot of digitalization in the last 5 minutes (which looks great, by the way), but most of the gore – and there is a hell (pun intended) of a lot of it – is appliances and real liquid (as opposed to digital spray).

I’m kind of jumping ahead of myself here, but let’s get back to basics, namely the plot. There is a new recreational drug on the market called, of course, Purple Neon. But its root is even more nefarious and diabolical than just greed, which we also see in abundance. The focus is on a couple of drug dealers (while I’m not happy that they are Black, which can be interpreted by us PCers as stereotypical, they are not the only actors of color, so I’ll let it slide) in Kansas City, who are after someone who nipped their stash. [Postnote from Todd Sheets: "Ricky (Farr) was a manager at a chain store and he had a dream of playing that character, so I kind of tailored it to him, and Antwoine (Steele) has worked with me for 25 years and he wanted the part of Ray Ray to prepare for a similar role in a script he has been writing for a few years that I am going to produce for him."]

The dentist, the drug enforcer, the best friend
and the love interests
In a separate story, which you just know is going to link up with the other, poor lovesick Dallas (Jeremy Edwards) has returned to town, mooning over his lost love Denise (Eli DeGeer). I’m assumed he’s named Dallas because he wears a wide-brimmed hat, which is weird considering he’s from KC (though the name of the town is never mentioned). Anyway, with the help of his bestie, Chris (Grant Conrad), he’s out to see how she’s doing.

The catalyst of all the action, or the fork in the road of where the stories converge, is a demon-worshiping cult in a magical and unending basement that reminds me of a theme from Grave Encounters (2011), which is a link to hell. There are some other homages as well, to the likes of Hostel (2005), Demons (1985), and even arguably Goldfinger (1964), but nothing that really feels like a rip-off.

Even with the rubbery looking internal organs (there’s one intestine that looks like it was used a few times), the gore effects look pretty decent, and I’ll always go for appliance over digital. Lots of blood and gnawing and tearing with teeth give it a smile-inducing factor (for me). As the film flows on, the level of blood (and other secretions) pours even more.

Usually, I posit that indie films that are over 90 minutes really need to do some editing to keep interest keen. Now, at 111 minutes, this film could arguably use some trimming, but to be honest, it went by pretty fast as the pace of the film – especially the second half – is pretty consistently on a fast track.

Just for the heck of it,
a publicity shot of Millie Milan
Points of contention? Well, as I said, some of the acting is not very strong, and the two romantic leads are lacking in the chemistry department, but I like that most of the cast look like everyday people as opposed to prom queens/kings (one of the exceptions being the sultry Millie Milan, whose character is key to bringing all the storylines together). There is also one plot question which baffles me, and I’ll try to say this without giving away anything substantial: when a character leaves behind some drugs, why not keep the guns, considering the situation? Now, if that’s the worst I can come up with, well, this film is more than just leaning into the positive side.

I didn’t know what to expect walking into this release, but I was more than pleasantly surprised by how much fun it is. From the first scene, which always has to have a bit of violence in it to bring in the modern, jaded audience, we are pulled in, and even most of the expositions move at a decent pace.

The sets are interesting, as well. It’s obvious the scenes in the Dentist’s office (said DDS, played by Nick Randol, is possibly my fave character: unassumingly nerdy – despite the numerous tats – with the heart of a warrior) is an actual location, as the real dentist’s name is still on the door; I Googled it, which is how I knew it was in Missouri. The basement sets are cool and dark, but with decent lighting so you can see the action. The editing is sharp, with the occasional extreme-close-up that hides the ultra-violence, but again, overall it is very well done.

Other than a couple of moments here and there of “hunh?” dialogue, most of the storyline works well together, bringing it to a satisfying conclusion (watch past the credits for some eggs). The pace, as I said, is just right, which makes the few weaknesses here and there less egregious and forgivable.

There’s a fine line here walking the artiness of the whole gizmigollogy that still maintains its meat’n’taters horror base, which is where I like to go. Yeah, stripped down has its place, but when you add a flair to it, especially when dealing with a single camera, it’s the mark of a decent director.

If this is the kind of output Sheets can manage with a micro-budget, with some decent funding I bet he could open up the seams even more, and give a great bloodletting story that would soak your socks.

Link to trailer: HERE

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Review: The Hospital 2

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

The Hospital 2
Written, produced and directed by Jim O’Rear and Daniel Emery Taylor
Deviant Pictures / itn distribution / MVD Visual
120 minutes, 2015

In full confession mode, I have not seen the first The Hospital (2013), so I am going to be reviewing this mostly as a standalone. I did see one of the directors’ earlier works, Camp Massacre (2014; aka Fat Chance, reviewed HERE), which was occasionally problematic, but on the whole a lot of fun. I have high hopes for this one. Okay, that being said, now for the viewing.
* * *
Okay, I’m about a third of the way in. You may ask why I’m doing this in segments? Well, the film is two hours long, and with all that’s going on, honestly, I need to watch it in segments.

Betsy Rue
The prologue is apparently the ending of the first film. Two characters escaped the carnage, Skye (Betsy Rue replacing Robyn Shute) and Beth (Constance Medrano), and if you’ve seen Friday the 13th Part II (1981) or Halloween 2 (1981) and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), you can guess that at some point worlds are going to recollide.

This one picks up five years later (even though there’s only two years between films).The hospital in question this time isn’t some abandoned place, it’s a modern facility for treating women who have been abused. In this case, however, it’s run by Alan (co-director O’Rear), from the first film, and a new character, his daughter Samantha (Megan Emerick). They use the patients as victims to load up to a Black Net sex‘n’snuff show, which sets up a few stylized pieces for activities of torment, resulting in sexual force and death. That is, when they aren’t busy with their own joint copulations. Yeah, you read that right.

Doing his own thing is Alan’s accomplice, Stanley (co-director Taylor), who has normally liked necrophilia, but is coming around to a bit of warmth in his victims. This story seems like it was springboarded from the amoral collective of House of a Thousand Corpses (2003) / The Devil’s Rejects (2005). While the earlier Hospital had more of a mystic element with ghosts and demons, but here it’s all human monsters.

Jim O\Rear
So as you can see, this film is a bit of a nihilistic endeavor, without as much of the humor of Camp Massacre. There are a number of issues I’m having already, and here is just one of them: the way I imagine the writing session going is that the co-writers had a list of things that would piss people off, and then put a check next to them as they are included. Previous reviews I’ve read of Hospital (trying to catch up a bit on the previous plot) discussed how misogynistic the direction of the story is, and I agree. Men are done away with pretty quickly, but the women’s pain – in the form of torture and rape – play all the way out. Even if they don’t show a lot of the action (i.e., torture), which is blocked by either a body part, or is happening just below the camera frame, it’s the uni-direction of gender that I found the most disturbing.

There is a lot of torture porn out there now, from the detailed (such as both the Japanese and American Guinea Pig series, A Serbian Film, the Hostel and Saw franchises, etc.) to the less so (pick most slasher films), but most of them deal with both men and women being abused. Here, it’s purely females who get the truly nasty stuff thrown at them (or in them), with one exception.

Daniel Emery Taylor
Part of the reason for the length of the film, which seems kind of excessive at two hours, is that it can be looked at as actually Parts 2 and 3, and there are two overlapping but different storylines. The first half is mainly the family shenanigans, and the other is picking up the pieces from the first film. The time is nearly evenly split in half, with the second being more personal than …1000 Corpses. A family comes under attack by our troupe of snuffers, including Debbie Rochon, who surely must be aimed towards some kind of record of being in the most films. Usually she does cameos (or extended ones), but it’s always best when she gets to play at least a semi-central character, to show off her acting chops (and she’s got ‘em, boy; if I may digress, check out my review of her directorial debut HERE). This is also her first topless scene I’ve seen in quite a long time (love the Anarchy A tat on her shoulder!), though, to be fair, O’Rear takes it a step further with an erect penis. It’s good to be the ki – I mean, director!

One of the interesting points for me is the sheer and literal weight of many of the cast, and their lack of inhibitions to nudity. I’m not a chubby chaser, but as a culture where skinny is not considered thin enough, it’s great that the casting included more post-fast-food-world realistic sized humans rather than only media-inspired “beauty.” Kudos for that.

Megan Emerick
The problem with the length isn’t that the film drags, because most the pacing is fine with some bits that can definitely be excised (such as the entire preacher scene, which has no story advancement), but rather that it’s overload until the point of it being too much. Well, for many, I’m sure it’s already excessive, but for the fan or those of us who review this stuff, it becomes a level of impatience for a conclusion, whether the villains get away with it or are all or partly blown away (I’m not saying which is occurs here). I’ve talked before about the tedium of having people walk through a house, usually with just a flashlight, avoiding a ghost or killer, and the scene lasts too long to keep the tension. That’s what I’m positing here. 

How insane is this film? Well, here is the description of the film on IMDB: A mentally sick and illness two guys and one woman are running a shelter for women how got assaulted by their husbands. Basically as the events go on the place looks shelter but in reality it's where sick behavior and illness minds perform their acts [sic]. I baffled about why they let that stand as their official depiction.

Hopefully here is a hypothetical question: you’re locked in a room, and you know someone is going to kill you. Slowly and painfully. Do you sit down and sweat it out, or search the room for a weapon of any kind? Just askin’.

I would like to add that there are also quite a few positives about the film. For example, for what it is, most of the acting is decent. The shining stars are the two directors, though. Sure, most of Taylor’s character is smoldering anger, but O’Rear really seems natural, like he’s embracing the part, which is possibly the scariest thing about this. The other end of it is real-life reality show psychic investigator (and crew member) Scott Tepperman, who play a fictional version of himself, and is the comedy relief, though the biggest laugh is at his acting drunk here; I don’t know what his show is like as I’ve never seen it).

Despite the occasional oops! moments, such as one victim breathing (twice!) after she has been killed, the film looks pretty decent. Lots of nudity and the gore is plentiful, even if you never really see any direct object touch flesh, and it definitely has its icky moments, mostly involving body fluids and a drilldo.

After the trailer, first up in the extras is a 23-minute, five-part Video Diary. There’s nothing deep or meaningful, but it was quite a bit of fun, showing the backstage antics of the crew who seem to genuinely get along. And, of course, off-script Rochon is as always a hoot, thanks to her sharp improv film experience. When a release is particularly gruesome and the cast gels, sometimes getting some steam off is a joy to watch. A new part was based on approximately every two days of the 10-day shoot.

Next up is a 6:34-minute Blooper and Outtakes Reel, which is typical, but because of the way the cast interacts, it comes across as enjoyable, rather than just them saying the missed line damn it! Rue especially comes across as proving that she’s game for the action. Last up is the 13-minute “Kentworthy Featurette,” a more serious, historical piece by O’Rear about the century-and-a-half old haunted Hall which fills in for the film’s Home for Abused Women, in Marion, Alabama. A tour of the place is given by its owner and her friend, which is dry but interesting, despite the cheesy music.

The film’s finale is actually quite satisfying, surprisingly enough. Whether this is the end or beginning of the franchise is difficult to say, but I’m hoping that these guys go back to some comedy horror rather than nasties for nastiness sake, because they tend to be a bit more fun to watch. Would I recommend this? That depends on the genre of the person, rather than a general yes or no. Will I watch this again? It would probably be safe to say fat chance.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Review: Francesca

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

Francesca: Limited Collector's Edition
Written and directed by Luciano Onetti
Guante Negro Films / Unearthed Films / MVD Visual
80 minutes, 2015 / 2016

The advent of VHS spawned an entire industry of VHS-based films that would have never been seen by a large audience, but rather relegated to areas like Times Square or art cinemas that were usually in the seedier parts of towns. These releases tended to be geared towards the cheap, the rushed and violent. American cinema in this area had a boom in both the sexploitation and horror, as these were the biggest sellers at Video Stores, but in places like Italy, the genre turned towards what’s commonly known as Giallo, murder mysteries that specialized in both gore and close-ups (sometimes even zooming close-ups!). The word Giallo, literally translated as “yellow,” is named for a style of populist fiction that started after WWII, which tended to have yellow covers.

Enough time has passed now that this period is looked upon (and rightfully so) with a strong pang of nostalgia by many, especially after the bombardment of high-powered franchised blockbusters. The films from earlier period didn’t always make sense, but they had heart (both figuratively and literally in many cases). Over the past few years, it has become cool to model the style of Giallo films, with various levels of success. In fact, I might ponder that there are more indie films adopting the style in honor of it, than there were to begin with in the day.

Francesca is one of those. Made just a couple of years ago, it is modelled after the Italian style. But unlike most, this is actually in Italian with English subtitles, although it was filmed in Argentina. But here’s an interesting thing that it almost seems as though the film was shot silently, and then all sound, including the voices, were dubbed in after. It’s obvious they are mouthing Italian, but it also seems like a bad dub at the same time, with all the actors’ voices dubbed by Luis Vazano and Silvina Grippaldi. It’s an interesting concept, which I’m not sure if it was intended, or purposeful. Considering the budgetary constraints, it’s forgivable, and gives the film an interesting touch.

The premise is that Francesca, a  psychopathic child, had apparently been kidnapped 15 years earlier, and now, similar to Se7en, people who are deemed “sinful” via Dante’s Inferno, are popping up dead with some Inferno reference nearby. The connection to Francesca is that her dad is a Dante expert. Two police detectives are kinda defective figuring out the mystery and are on the verge of losing their jobs. Will they catch the killer? Will the killer catch them?

The film is steeped in the motif of Giallo, loyal to its look, as if the world was based on the likes of Dario Argento. There are weird camera angles, an odd sort of off-coloring with an occasionally reddish filter, and the film is made to look VHS grainy. Also, there are lots of indicators of the time period, such as typewriters, a film camera, a slide projector, and the wardrobe. This all works together well, and there are actually some incredibly beautiful shots such as a bird flying in slo-mo and just the right composition to make it artful. The ending is also somewhat satisfying, with just the right couple of red herrings. But overall, the film itself is a bit wanting.

A confused copper
The reason for this is that the acting is kind of wooden, the kills are shown mostly off-screen, and the direction is at a tepid pace, even though there is a nice body count. Part of the problem is that there is a dearth of dialog, so the audience is left to fill in just what the cops are up to (it’s around the police that the writing is the weakest), and this never quite shapes up much.

In some ways, however, the film is successful in that is respectful to the genre, and they hit a lot of the right notes for the time. However, it is perhaps a bit too focused on what it is trying to be rather than bringing enough originality to the process. It’s sort of like when someone covers someone else’s song, but they do it exactly like the original. To me, the biggest error, though, is that they released this in Italian, towards that tribute. Considering it was filmed in Latin America, I believe if they had left it in Spanish, the overdubbing would have matched closer, and it would have brought that much more of the Ornetti brothers’ influence into the mix, and been less distracting from the story.

The soundtrack, which is included as a CD in the Limited Collector’s Edition, is a fun listen. The music is also on point, with a ‘80s sound that has just the right touch of dissonant electronica.

As for the film’s extras, first up is a 14:20 minute Behind the Scenes featurette that covers a wide range of topics, such as make-up, anecdotes about filming, locales, and yes the dubbing process, by using a mix of off-stage shooting and production stills. Next is a Deleted Scene, which is an alternative opening at 3:24. It was decent and good to see, but they made the right choice in the one they picked.

I was looking forward to seeing the 19:47 Interview one with the director, Luciano Onetti and the producer, Nicolas Onetti. The brothers also co-wrote the film together. While not as deep as I was hoping it would be, the brothers discuss the film from some interesting aspects. Nicolas goes on a bit about the premieres and awards; Luciano discusses the more interesting connections between this film and their first, Sonno Profondo (Deep Sleep) from 2013. He also indicates they are part of an intended trilogy.

The penultimate is a 2:01 “Hidden Scene,” which is what is shown after the end credits. Last is a bunch of trailers for Unearthed Films, including this one. Oh, but did I say that was all? No, for the Limited Collection Edition, there are the three-discs of a soundtrack CD, a DVD and a Blu-Ray, plus a very nice package with inserts and the like.

I do respect that this was an ambitious work by the brothers Onetti, and on some levels, it actually is quite the nice job. Personally, I believe they could use some outside editing (don’t look at me) to help them punch up some of the looser material. Either way, I look forward to seeing Sonno Profondo, and whatever comes next.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Review: Bubba the Redneck Werewolf

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

Bubba the Redneck Werewolf
Directed by Brendan Jackson Rogers
And You Films / Two Rubbing Nickels / MVD Visual
80 minutes, 2014 / 2016

Southern humor has been the subject of film fodder for decades, at first sequestered in the Drive-In circuit, but breaking out into the mainstream in the mid-sixties, with Smokey and the Bandit stoking the fires to big box office.

Most films with a Southern fried bent tend to be political dramas, murder mysteries, or balls-out/boobs-out yee-haw broad comedies. From the title, I’m going to assume you realize that this film doesn’t fall into the “political” or “detective” range. After all, one of the first images you see is a sign that states, “Beware of dawg,” in front of the Barkham Asylum Dawg Pound. While I was totally impressed with that pun, that does tell you which kind of swamp you’re putting your steel-toed shoes into. It should be noted, at this point, that this is based on a comic book series that originated in the 1990s, which would explain a lot.

Filmed in Deland, FL, about halfway between Daytona Beach and Orlando, the story all takes place in Broken Taint, Florida, part of Cracker County, where the drawl is deeper than the thoughts. Which brings me to our hero, the shlubby, balding and thick as a stump Bubba (pre-werewolf Chris Stephens), who works in a go nowhere job (happily), hangs out at the local saloon to buy the cheapest booze they have, and has an unrequited love for Bobbie Jo (Malone Thomas). But she’s involved with town bully, Dangerous Dwight (David Santiago), a man who proudly knows how to cut arm holes in his shirts.

Bubba will do anything to get her back, including making a deal with the Devil (excellently played by Mitch Hyman, also the comic book’s creator), who turns him into the titular wolf-man (post-wolf Fred Lass). Now, this isn’t a Lawrence Talbot full moon kinda werewolf, but rather one who is in the skin, as it were, permanently. Is he scared? Is he evil? Does he terrorize the town? Hell, most people think it’s pre-wolf Bubba with a beard. Ironically, the only one who doesn’t recognize him is Bobbie Jo! And now that the Devil’s in town, he’s going to make due.

The humor here is quite broad, and definitely geared towards a certain audience; it’s completely Trumpville, as equating college students with zombies, and Bubba makes a meal out of a “liberal Democrat” (off-screen) as a throwaway punchline. Even so, this is quite funny. I’m sure there’s a joke or two I didn’t get as a New York liberal Democrat, but all of it still comes across as good natured and fun. Speaking of which, make sure you read all the posted signs that appear often throughout the film, even if you have to freeze-frame, or rewind a bit.

Some of the cast comes across as locals of where it was filmed, and many parts are the actors’ only IMBD listing. Either this is a relatively fresh cast, or they are using pseudonyms due to the title. Even so, the acting is quite at the right level (though the one really over-the-top is humorously done by the director himself). In a broad comedy, however, this is a given, so I had no problem with any of it. It should also be noted that some of the cast was also some of the crew. It all part of the tight-knit world of indie filmmaking that I love so much.

This whole creature feature is not really scary, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to young’uns for the following reason: while there is no nudity, there is a lot of innuendo, and plenty of blood and gore. Sure most of the splatter is highly digital looking, but it is still effective, and that doesn’t count some of the more gruesome appliance effects, which look really good. The gore aspect is not surprising considering it was written by Stephen Biro, who directed the intense American additions to the Guinea Pig series. Of course, however, this being a broad comedy in the modern period, there are the fart jokes, the vomit jokes, the drool jokes, and the ones involving (dog) shit. Again, appropriate for the genre.

What about the werewolf, you may ask; how did he look? Quite decent actually, in a non-threatening way. Wouldn’t want to meet him in a back good, but in this context, he’s a happy camper to be around, as long as you don’t try to mess with him. The make-up was designed for the actor, who manages to show emotion through it, which is a compliment to Lass. The overall appliance is okay, but he makes the most of it.

The humor is broad enough that it can incorporate other nods, such as one to Abbott & Costello, which fell a bit flat to me. But at the same time, when not dealing with bodily fluids (and gasses), the humor is quite warm and works well, usually.

I have to give a nod to the music by the Blast-Offs. Their stuff is a mix of rockabilly, old time country, and those “Hot Rod Lincoln” kinds of talk-songs with a doot-doot-doot backbeat.

For extras, and there are lots, so let’s start with the 16:08-minute “From Page to Screen: the Making of Bubba the Redneck Werewolf.” It’s the usual mix of on-set interviews, behind the scene b-roll, and covers several topics, including the stage from comic onward, the make-up, the music, some great anecdotes, and reactions by the cast/crew. It was all so very well done so that I enjoyed it throughout the length.

Next is a sweet and neat 2:39 minute Blooper Reel, and a 3:03-minute Deleted Scenes. While I agree with all of the snips, I’m glad they put this in. Doesn’t add anything to the story, but still sets some nice moods.

Lastly, there’s the Make-up Process featurette at 2:37, which is b-roll played over some of the Blast-Offs material, the title song video again by the Blast-Offs that is made up of a mix of behind the scenes b-roll and film clips, and the trailer.

I would like to add one final thought, and no disrespect is meant for anyone, but if I was a fictional character living a fictional life in this fictional town, and I would have walked into the bar where most of the action takes place, my choice would have been to cozy up to the bartender, Jamie Sue (Sara Humbert). Just sayin’.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Review: Halloween Spookies

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

Halloween Spookies
Directed and edited by Dave Parker and Dustin Wayde Mills
65 minutes, 2016

Dave Parker, aka MrParker, has earned a reputation as a film collector / vlogging reviewer, and now he’s moving well into writing and directing for his second release, under the tutelage of a master of the micro-budget genre, filmmaker and puppet creator Dustin Wayde Mills. They’ve been friends for years, along with stalwart actor / writer Brandon Salkil, working and playing together into a cohesive unit.

After a nicely done first-person intro that goes from day to day-for-night to a cool model house, we meet two witches (Joni Durian and Haley Madison, who was great recently in CarousHELL [2016]). In order to keep our protagonist to stay until a potion is ready, we get the three stories in this anthology.

First up is “The Babysitter,” a play on the bad guy in the house theme, but also takes from the news of weird people dressing like clowns to scare others. It’s kinda goofy, in a good way, and we certainly get a result of what could probably happen in real life. The two kids in the story are excellent, as is B.J. Colangelo in the titular role. She ain’t no Mary Poppins, that’s as sure as the kids aren’t the Banks children, either. For a story geared for the young’ns, there is an effective level of suspense for everyone.

The second tale, like the first, is directed by Mills, who happily goes back to what he built his early films on, which is a peculiar level of ironic humor. Here, he takes on the black-and-white tale of some schulb (Mills’ regular go-to actor, Salkil, the writer of this piece) who is visited by “The Messenger,” a ‘50s leather jacket-wearing Juvenile Delinquent spirit played with fervor by Parker. The gross-out level is high here in a kid-friendly-yet-icky way. What stood out for me is that both actors played against their own type. Salkil tends to play – well, yes, schlubs (not counting Skinless) or raving maniacs, but here he is more subtle, showing some more depth than usual (knew he had it inim). Parker, who tends to play more constrained characters, plays his role appropriately over the top in a way that is broader than I’ve seen him before, showing he’s got some chops that go beyond his online film reviews as MrParka. The story has a good youth message about not giving up and persevering, no matter what comes knocking in the middle of the night.

The main piece, though, is the third tale, “The Familiars,” is written and directed by Parker, who also plays a pizza delivery guy. So, one of these two not-to-bright comic nerd guys (kind that still live at home way past their due) decides he wants to join the local gang, The Cruising Bruisers. But as one of the two notes, “They don’t even ride!” Now, this gang is, well, beyond dunces. There’s the leader (Salkil in full jagged-up mode), a metal-head who only says “Metal” and makes the two-fingered sign named Devil Horns (Mills), and one who amusedly only speaks in very poor Spanish, named Macho (Aaron Anthony). Calling these guys idiots would be an insult to idiots.

The two doofus dweebs perform an incantation from a book similar to the one in Evil Dead, except that this one looks like it has the image of the demon from Mills’ Easter Casket (2013) on it. Mills got his start making horror films dealing with puppets, and he contributes his skill to Parker’s vision by creating three demons right out of Ghoulies (1984), one of which looks really cool (the cat), and two others that are more leaning towards the Paper-Mache, but hey, still good-if-not-better than the Ghoulies’ rubber models.

With a nod to the Three Stooges – or as Macho might say, “La Tres Estupidos” – the tiny creatures go on a rampage of killing, with a decent amount of a body count considering the age-level for the film. At half an hour, this is the longest bit, and a good companion piece to the other two (and witchy wraparound, of course). This particular story is a bit more violent and raucous than the others, but nothing that can’t be shown on television uncut (or hasn’t been of late), with possibly one exception, which involves the mentioning of a succubus. Now, even Bugs Bunny used to have a touch of adult humor it in (sexy cross-dressing Bugs or Elmer, as an example), but those days are questionable now. I mean, violence has always been more accepted by mainstream media than, well, (read as sotto voce) S-E-X, or in this case, being implied.

I would say the age level for this film is arguably over 10, when one considers the gross-out level (albeit mild), the demon killings, the use of the word “crap” throughout (the strongest cuss word here), and that one character has a cigarette (always unlit) usually dangling from his lip; that being said, I remember the media uproar on television in the 1980s when a child character said something like “bite me” to her bothersome brother. It’s a new world, folks, and thanks to streaming services, kids are more accustomed to things we didn’t see as a youth (which makes me think of Neil Postman’s 1982 treatise, The Disappearance of Childhood, but I won’t get all theoretical on ya).

This is an enjoyable release, and I’ve seen lots of good words about it around the Interwebitivity, and rightfully so. It’s funny on many levels, from goofy and slapstick to “oh, yeah” connections that you’ll get even if the kids won’t. It’s fun, it’s free, and it’s worth a view for children of aaaaall ages. C’mon, whatcha gotta lose?

Friday, October 28, 2016

Review: Die and Let Live: 10th Anniversary Edition

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

Die and Let Live: 10th Anniversary Edition
(aka Zombi 9)
Directed and edited by Justin Channell
Heretic Films I IWC Films
75 minutes, 2006 / 2016

To celebrate the release of their recent – er – release, Winners Tape All: The Story of the Henderson Brothers (reviewed by me, HERE), director Justin Channell and his two writers / stars, Josh Lively and Zane Crosby, have just re-dropped their zombie comedy film from a decade ago.

Zombie comedies were timely when this first came out, soon on the heels of Shaun of the Dead (2004), yet before the likes of Ah! Zombies!! (aka Wasting Away, 2007), Zombieland (2009) and Bong of the Dead (2011). This shows they were ahead of the game without even realizing it!

This crew specializes in “back yard” filmmaking, where they shoot micro-budget features, and this is actually a loving and yet enjoyably demented. It’s a bit amateurish, and yet they managed to keep it interesting, without losing any of the cheese.

Right from the beginning “prologue” scene, you know you are in for a decent film with bad acting and lots of zombies and blood, for which we are shown relatively plenty for the buck. And while this is an aside in a way, I’m impressed they got the rights to songs by the likes of Canadian ska group The Planet Smashers (I’m especially fond of their “Fabricated,” but I digress…) and Big D and the Kids Table, along with so much other fun music on the soundtrack. My fave cut here, though, was the inane “Fanny Pack,” by Rappy McRapperson (I kid you not). Anyway…

The two main protagonists are life-long pals Benny Rodriguez (Lively) and grammar nazi – which involve some great running gag bits – Scotty Smalls (Crosby), who are reminiscent of characters from Clerks (1994), but with a punk rock vibe rather than hipster. Benny has a very cute girlfriend, Liz (Ashley Goddard) but also has a crush on redheaded Stephanie (Sarah Bauer), who seems to date losers. As they say in the film, Benny’s definitely thinking with the wrong head. Perhaps a good theme, considering the film, would be Loudon Wainwright III’s “Unrequited Love to the Nth Degree.” Meanwhile, her over-jealous and body-modified musician boyfriend Andrew (Jonas Dixon) is cheating on her. As all this is going on, there’s a zombie apocalypse on the verge thanks to a leak at some nearby secret lab. And this is only 7 minutes in.

Written by the director and the two leads (as well as ad libs from the rest of the cast, for which the credits acknowledge), those writing sessions seem like they must have been a hoot and a half. And that arsine, juvenile humor translates into the story quite effectively. Hey, to be clear, the company name, IWC Films, is for the acronym “Idiots With Cameras,” and they take their silliness seriously.

Yeah, it’s micro-budget, yeah the acting is occasionally (okay, usually) not top notch – even though Lively and Smalls seem quite natural as though they seem to be pretty much playing themselves (I’m assuming, as I don’t know the gents, but I’m going by the “Making Of” featurette) – and yeah, there are the occasional continuity quirks, but the end result is a film that is, well, funny in a way that Clerks was meant to be but never quite achieved, in my opinion (I was never a fan of the film; to me the only watchable Kevin Smith is Dogma [1999], but again, I digress…).

The thing about this is that what I believe makes it so enjoyable is the fact that they don’t seem to take themselves too seriously, and that they were out to have a good time making this. At least that’s what comes across, and it improves the viewing. If they had been as serious as some other micro-budgets, such as the overrated and drippy nosed The Blair Witch Project (1999), this would be excruciating, painful rather than incredibly funny.

The trio’s latest film, Winner Tape All, is indirectly about the process of filming this very kind of film, and I’m pretty sure is shot around the very same pool. Even though there is a decade separating these two releases, there are some consistencies, such as a bro code of honor, and the sense that “a nod’s as good as a wink to a blind bat.” In other words, they are not going to shy away from anything that’s non-PC.

Being a zombie apocalypse film of sorts, there is a lot of blood and latex, which looks more cheesy than real, but it still works in the context of what the film is focusing towards, which is unabashed amateurism; this works in their favor, rather than against. Again, if they would have tried to do this seriously, it would not work at all. And, that it seems to be modelled somewhat on the paradigm of “I saw Clerks and I can do it too!”

The cast is full of odd characters, and what I like is it isn’t the same cliché bunch of “high school students.” Zack Boyce is a hysterical scene stealer as the exuberant Todd, and make sure you listen to his throwaway lines; filmmaker Henrique Couto (pre-moustache, who I am guessing is wearing his own clothes during the shoot) does a great job as a television director who is friends with our two lovable misfits. Honestly, I kept looking for other filmmakers from their area of West Virginia up to Western Pennsylvania, such as these guys, Couto, Dustin Mills and Steve Rudzinski (who is thanked in the credits). Someone should do a documentary about this group of West Virginia-thru-Westylvanian genre filmmakers.

For the mandatory cameo, there is Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman, who plays a gonzo journalist named – I kid you not – Floyd Faukman. Then the wonderful Debbie Rochon in kinda on hand as a disembodied voice on ta phone, but her tone is totally recognizable.

I was particularly amused about a bit concerning PF Flyers sneakers, and smiled when they quoted the commercial about “running faster and jumping higher.” During the early punk days of the mid-‘70s, most of us wore either PF Flyers or Keds. Good enough for the Ramones, good enough for us.

The film is snarky, there’s no getting around that, and there is quite a bit of that non-PC humor, but the point of films like this is to be just shocking enough to show “look how cool we are, we can break the PC,” yet not get steeped in it by having other things be over-the-top outrageous as well.

Extras abound, such as the 58-minute Blooper reel, which feels a bit long, but definitely shows the camaraderie within the cast and crew (many of whom overlap). It also shows they certainly picked the right shots for the actual release. Same is true, choice-wise, with the 4-minute Alternate Takes and almost 3-minute Deleted Scenes. For the 40-minute “Behind the Scenes,” which is mostly the cast and crew acting silly, it is way more than I needed to see, but again, it’s clear that their friendships go beyond just working together.

This is definitely a bro film, with most of the males being somewhat loveable tools, but the women, as attractive as many of them are, appear as either fantasy images, stereotypically liking the one who treats them like crap, or they are fickle. To put it another way, in an alternate dimension, this probably would have starred Seth Rogan as Rodriguez and Jonah Hill as Smalls. Now, while I’m not a fan of those two actors (especially in films where they appear together), I actually mean this as a compliment, as this is actually funny, despite its low-budget, early-career flaws. Hell, it’s from 10 years ago, and we’re more evolved now, aren’t we? Well, Winners Tape All shows that these guys have grown for the better, but this is still a hoot to watch in the basement with the buds.
* * *
Post-review note from the Director, Justin Channell (thank you!): 
Judging by the PF Flyers paragraph, I think you might have missed that most of the third act is actually an elaborate homage to the '90s family film The Sandlot [1993]. The characters are all named after the kids in the movie and since the movie is about the kids trying to get a signed baseball from a huge dog on the other side of the fence, we swapped it with pizzas and zombies. Just for the record, I actually hadn't seen The Sandlot until very early in the brainstorming stage. I had actually pitched a subplot where side characters order a pizza, a zombie kills the delivery guy, so they order a pizza from another place and it continues until their yard is filled with zombie pizza guys. Zane just said, "Why not just have them try to get the pizza and it's just like The Sandlot?" and they made me watch it and it all spiralled out from there.I liked the idea because the characters were guys who weren't bright and when they're in over the heads have to step up to save the day, the only experiences they have to reference are from movies. The Forrest Gump [1994] flashback was meant to really drive that home. There was also a flashback in the script that was written as a soapbox derby race that was the ending from Cool Runnings [1993], but we didn't have enough money.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Review: The Inhabitants

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

The Inhabitants: Standard Edition
Written and directed by the Rasmussen Brothers (Michael and Shawn)
Lascaux Media / Sinister Siblings Films /
Film Rise / MVD Visual
90 minutes, 2015 / 2016

I love when a title has a cool double or even triple entendre to it. As an example, this one works quite well, and I’ll get to that in a sec.

Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, who apparently like to be known as “The writers of John Carpenter’s The Ward” (2010),” also wrote and directed this one, the second feature for which they sat in the main chair(s). The outcome is a different vision when you can make the whole film you write, so this gives them some freedom of self-expression.
This was filmed at the Noyes-Parris House (built in 1669), somewhere in a wooded suburban area of Wayland, MA, approximately 30 miles due west from Salem. The Heritage Home, which doubles for the March Carriage B&B here, actually has an historical, sinister connection to the infamous witch trials, giving some credibility to the look and tone of the film.

Elise Couture Stone
Into the picture come Dan (Michael Reed) and Jessica (Elise Couture Stone), a young couple who buy the mysterious B&B from its previous owner (Judith Chaffee), a widow who has been sinking into senility. Pretty early on – enough towards the beginning I don’t feel like I’ve giving away anything – we learn that the house was originally owned by a woman named Lydia (India Pearl), a witch who was hanged in – yep – 1669. Needless to say, she hasn’t exactly vacated the premises, and has found ways to create a family writ large.

If you watch the trailer, which gives away too much of the story, pretty soon you know wifey is under Lydia’s spell; this spells (pun intended) trouble for just about anyone and everyone. So, this brings me to the point I mentioned earlier about the entendre: are the Inhabitants the earthly ones living in the house, the supernatural ones lingering (as the band Sparks might sing), or the supernatural one inside the living one? Gotta say, whichever way, it works.

India Pearl
The premise itself is hardly new, and I even predicted most of the ending about a third of the way through: been there, seen that. That being said, and this is a big however, the Brothers Rasmussen have taken an old motif and really worked it like kneading a raisin challah. The end result is quite delicious, even if you’ve eaten that kind before.
There are some really nice jump scares, but that is due to both the surprise and a lot to the make-up, which is really top notch Lydia and the others look just plain free-kaaay, with the wide, white eyes. Again, I’ve seen this so many times before, but the look and lighting works so well together to make it pop. I admit freely that ghost stories have always been my favorites; spookies + body count = happiness, for me. That does not mean that all of this genre are good, but this one certainly is better than most I’ve seen recently.

Michael Reed
The acting is also quality work. For example, Reed has never disappointed, even in outrageous roles (e.g., The Disco Exorcist [2011]). If I recall correctly, he may be using his own jacket because I could have sworn I’ve seen the (faux) fur-color thing before. But I digress… Here, as the husband who is trying to work out what the hell is happening to his life-partner while still trying to maintain his own space in the house, he comes across as both strong and flawed. Couture is the centerpiece of the film, as the wife who is dealing with a supernatural assault. She gets to play the role in two modes, being a loving wife for the first half, and then nearly as a somnambulist as she is influenced by the evil being living in her home. As the evil Lydia, the lovely Pearl dons the fright make-up and goes full throttle as the wicked witch of Wayland. Her scenes are short, but she makes her presence (pun intended) known to the viewer.

My complaint about the film, as I stated before, is that the trailer gives away too much, so I recommend seeing the film instead. But that note is a minor chord, as the film really is a fun watch, from beginning to end. While there is little character development, you do get the impression that the couple love each other, and you feel the ominousness almost from the gecko (yes, I know it’s “get-go”). Plus the effects are also enjoyable; the blood is not plentiful (and rightfully so for the story), and also seems to have the right consistency, i.e., doesn’t ooze like chocolate syrup.

The house, the lighting, the editing, the acting and the story all work together to create a totally enjoyable ghostie. By “Standard Version,” as this release is called, I am assuming means that it is CD rather than Blu-Ray, and perhaps has less extras, but that’s okay, as it still packs quite a punch.

Part of the reason why this is such a fun flick, as I’ve mentioned before, is the pacing of the film. What I mean by that is the Bros. don’t fall into the trap that many do: normally, I really hate the whole walking cautiously through the dark house / basement / cellar / woods / scenes with a flashlight (or candle, depending on the film), in what feels like an endless padding of time. The suspense is kept in play because it’s done in short segments. Also, it’s not so dark that all you can see is whatever the light falls upon, nor is it a shaky camera, for once; thank you for that. Makes me forgive you for (please read the rest of the sentence in a Maxwell Smart voice) the old moving-the-bathroom-cabinet-mirror-and-suddenly-the-ghost-is -behind-the-person trick.  

Other than chapters, the only extras are two different types of sound and subtitles (always appreciated).

This is one of the better indie films I’ve seen this year. The Rasmussens have taken some tired and tried ideas and actually improved them to the point where I didn’t feel, really?! That is actually saying a lot. Go and check it out. A great Halloween watch.