Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet
It’s that time of the year again, when lists like this pop up, so why should I be different? I will republish the rules I have about such lists first:
I have an issue with “Best of” and “Worst of” year-end lists for the following reasons: most are chosen from either those that play in theaters, or viewed on PPV such as Netflix and film channels by the television provider. For me, I like to watch the DIY ones, rather than those theatre-distributed. These tend to have more heart. My list consists of films that I saw in 2016, not necessarily ones that were released in that year.
As for Best and Worst, I never liked those terms; art is just way too subjective, which is why I called them Favorites and Not Favorites. That being said, even the “Not” ones have redeeming qualities, and the fact that they don’t touch me means nothing. I’ve hated films that have won tons of awards, so don’t take anything I say, good or bad, as the law. It’s just opinion, and I welcome you to agree or disagree. It’s all good.
These two lists are alphabetical, rather than ranked.
Directed by Mark W. Curran
Directed by Mark W. Curran
The excellent Sarah Nicklin plays a Californian rent-a-cop security guard that has been assigned to begrudgingly watch over the Mayfield Addiction Clinic over the Memorial Day Weekend. This film is not just about the supernatural (or is it?), but a supernatural thriller (or is it?). See, that’s when a film becomes a thriller, making the watcher wonder. I enjoyed how this careened over a number of genres, such as slasher, doctor experimentation, supernatural, zombie, paranormal, social commentary about family dynamics, psychodrama, crime drama, and straight out horror; and yet, it doesn’t stay in any one stream long enough to overstay it’s welcome, nor pass so fast that it is ignorable. A cameo by NoTLD’s Judith O’Dea also is a bonus.
Bubba the Redneck Werewolf
Directed by Brendan Jackson Rogers
Bubba happily works in a go nowhere job, hangs out at the local saloon to buy the cheapest booze they have, and has an unrequited love for Bobbie Jo, but she’s involved with the town bully. Bubba will do anything to get her back, including making a deal with the Devil, who turns him into the titular wolf-man. The humor here is quite broad and warm-hearted, and definitely geared towards appealing to a certain audience; it’s completely Trumpville, such as equating college students with zombies. Even so, this is quite funny, and it all still comes across as good natured and fun, when not dealing with bodily fluids (and gasses).
Directed by Steve Rudzinski
When Steve Rudzinski puts out a film, the viewer is in for a quality show. Here is the thing about absurdist humor: it can be really, incredibly stupid or it can be way smarter than it appears to be. Fortunately, Rudzinski’s work falls on the side to the latter. The basic premise is that a carousel’s wooden unicorn, Duke, has become sentient after an obnoxious kid abuses it/him. Of course, that means the kid must die. His insufferable sister drags him to a party at her friend’s house, where all comers are fodder for the unicorn from (possibly literally) hell. The gore is kinda (purposefully) cheesy, but man, there is a lot of it, and most of it look incredible for its budget. This is the kind of film that you just say “fuck it” to any semblance of logic and watch it for what it is, without any guilt. Don’t expect anything super deep (or super shallow), and enjoy the references as they fly by.
Directed by Joseph Wartnerchaney
How far would you go for company if you were lonely? Rob Zabrecky plays a man who has a case of OCD, and a bit of a Norman Bates vibe to him. A teenage neighbor ends up dead on his basement floor, and in his own twisted way, he now has a friend of sorts. The whole cast is excellent, with just the right amount of pathos and creep factor to keep the attention sharp. She’s the yin of the physical decay, and he’s the yang of the mental one, balancing nicely as they both slide into a kind of sludge. Really nice SFX match the beautiful way it is lovingly shot, including an occasional artistic edge that enhances rather than overdoes the events. There are a number of really decent jump-scares as well.
Dreaming Purple Neon
Directed by Todd Sheets
Todd Sheets knows how to work the balance between the simplified and the over the top digitalization. There is a hell of a lot packed into this film, which looks way more than its budget suggests. The body count alone is bigger than most overall productions. The focus is on a couple of drug dealers who are after someone who nipped their stash. In a separate story, which you just know is going to link up with the other, poor lovesick Dallas has returned to town, mooning over his lost love Denise. The catalyst of all the action is a demon-worshiping cult in a magical and unending basement, which is also a link to hell. As the film flows on, the level of blood (and other secretions) pours ever more. I was more than pleasantly surprised by how much fun it is. From the first scene, we are pulled in, and even most of the expositions move at a decent pace. Stripped down filmmaking has its place, but when you add a flair to it, it’s the mark of a decent director.
Hank Boyd is Dead
Directed by Sean Melia
In this story with comedic overtones, the action actually starts post-murders, and the death of the killer, the never-seen titular Hank. It’s at that point we meet our protagonist, a struggling actor who is on her first day of work as a caterer. As much as she is the central character, it’s the Boyd family (and acquaintances) that are the real scene grabbers, as each is looney in their own way. Most of the filmmaking is pretty straightforward, which is a compliment these days: There’s a story and they stick to it. That’s not to say it’s not creative, though. The film never lets up, but does not weary the viewer with undo tropes. It is a taut dynamic that doesn’t pander, and doesn’t let go, right to the end.
The Inhabitants: Standard Edition
Directed by the Rasmussen Brothers (Michael and Shawn)
Dan (Michael Reed) and Jessica (Elise Couture Stone) buy a mysterious Salem B&B from a widow who has been sinking into senility. The house was originally owned by a witch who was hanged during the infamous trials. Needless to say, she hasn’t exactly vacated the premises, and pretty soon wifey is under her spell. The premise itself is hardly new; however, the Brothers Rasmussen have taken an old motif and really worked it to the point where I didn’t feel, really?! That is actually saying a lot. Couture is the centerpiece of the film, but Reed is excellent as ever. The house, the lighting, the editing, the acting and the story all work together to create a totally enjoyable ghostie.
Directed by Dustin Wayde Mills
Andrew (Brandon Salkil), thanks to a previous, pre-storyline accident, is in a catatonic state. His sister, Agnes (Joni Durian) takes over as caretaker. Through the story we quickly learn that Andrew has a way of communicating with Agnes… or does he? How much of this is really happening and how much is in her head, is one of the mind games the film plays with the audience. I was impressed by the murders here, which are so well done. It’s not gory, just really effective. Mills has come to master the simple less-is-more style of presentation that I thoroughly enjoy. Yet, despite the simplicity, Mills often uses some quirk that you just don’t expect. A good story, some great visuals, and a finely honed cast and crew make this another peg in Mills’ directorial cap.
Directed by Ari Kirchenbaum
Officer Hancock (Charlene Amoia) gets called to a rich dude’s mansion to find a bunch of bodies and a naked woman forming out of ash, eyes aglow, aka the “evil.” Arresting her, aware that something is obviously afoot, Hancock puts her in a cell next to a couple of humorous snarky drug dealers. In an extended cameo role is the Candyman (1992) himself, Tony Todd, as an imbibing pastor. Then add some risen undead, affected by the ash that’s floating around the town that looks like snow. Along with the meat and ‘taters/blood’n’bones shooting 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. I enjoyed this immensely. Kirchenbaum doesn’t always take the easy or obvious road here. While I would not necessarily call this a comedy, it has some funny moments. It never lets up, it’s rarely predictable, and it kept me interested all the way through. It’s a good watch.
Directed by Debbie Rochon
The main character is Ginny (the ethereal Lynn Lowry), who had aspirations to be a model and actress, but was deemed unworthy in a business demanding perfection. This turned her into an angry, psychopathic cannibal. Moving in next door is a couple (Carmine Capobianco, Troma queen Tiffany Shepis) who have a troubled yet loving marriage. There are some very sharp social commentaries in the themes, such as playing with cultural body image, how mass media dictates “beauty,” and what is commonly known as the male gaze. The kills are masterful, and the gore is plentiful and well done. It builds beautifully in degrees throughout the picture as Ginny goes further off the edge. And with those next door having their own issues, there is a fun time to be had. For a first-time director, the film is actually quite accomplished. Lowry is a gem. Her work here is the best I’ve seen to date. The same could be said about Shepis, who runs the gamut from stressed, to depressed. Rochon did good. Real good.
My Master Satan: 3 Tales of Drug Fueled Violence
Directed by Dakota Bailey
This is an anthology film with three dire and overlapping stories of dealers, criminals, psychopaths and drug users that all meld, which is a nice touch. Completely devoid of any kind of humor, these bleak stories rely more on realities, making it cringeworthy (a good thing) to watch these low-lifers react and take actions that would be shocking to most. The group is so vile, and so heinous, that it’s both hard to imagine wanting to remain in their company, yet you’re grateful for the opportunity to do so in the safe haven of your electronic viewing equipment. There is no lead character per se, and it’s seems more like they’re playing themselves than characters, which is quite the compliment. Shot on VHS, it has a look more of 8mm, with mostly a dull sepia tone, scratches, visual and sound noises, and tied up in some sharp and snappingly harsh edits. Bailey directs the film more like a fly on the wall than as a third person, bringing the viewer in on the action rather than merely viewing it. That was a nice touch, and not always easy to achieve without making it into some sort of lost footage. This makes it not necessarily an easy film to snuggle up to like a typical horror or crime drama release, but I believe that if you give it a chance, you may find yourself drawn into the stories.
Seven Dorms of Death
Directed by Richard Griffin
In the video nasty days of the 1980s, during the cheapie VHS phase of indie filmmaking, there was a different mindset to making a movie. Getting film was much harder, and it was rare for reshoots, and it was realistic policy to employ as much of the processed film that could be used, even if there was an accident, or an anachronism. It is with this premise as a motif that we are introduced to the 1983 Dunwich High School theater troupe, filled with ‘80s cliché characters. There’s lots of H.P. Lovecraft references, a particular metal band mentioned often supposedly to try to connect with teenaged boys (the audience demographic of the time), and some sex and nudity. It would be nearly impossible to categorize all of the intentional mistakes that were put in the film, such as the dead body breathing, or an actor looking for his mark. The whole film is hilarious. The body count is high and the gore is, well, strange. There is a lot of it, but much of it is just plain (and, once again, purposefully) silly. Griffin also finds a way to work in gender/sexuality politics. Taken all together, this is a beautifully hot mess that any fan of the ‘80s fan genre will watch with glee. One can’t help but admire Griffin’s acumen in such an output of films, and his merry band of actors keeps on growing – and coming back – which shows that they know they are dealing with a quality product. And, perhaps by the end, you’ll find yourself using one of its wondrous bon mots: “Fuck you, skeleton!”
Winners Tape All: The Henderson Brothers Story
Directed by Justin Channell
There is a wave of nostalgia in the genre market for the quickie and cheap films that arose during the 1980s. Okay, sometimes C- or D-level. If one were to look back at some of these releases that we enjoyed so much, would we still find them so fascinating? That is the premise of this mockumentary. During that time period, the fictional West Virginia-based Henderson Brothers, Michael (Zane Crosby) and Richard (Josh Lively) made two straight-to-video films, The Curse of Stabberman and Cannibal Swim Club. Now, the Hendersons also have a both charming and creepy uber cheerleader in Henry Jacoby (Chris LaMartina). Mixed in with the talking-head interviews with the brothers and Henry, we see scenes from their two films, with Michael and Richard giving play-by-plays commentary. Not only financial constraints darken the Bros filmmaking, but so do the occasional rise of sibling rivalry. So this particular film also looks like it was made on a dime, but to the better of the result than the hindrance, since that is the look it was going for. I was smirking at the least and laughing at the high-jinx of these three guys (including Henry).
Consumption (aka Live-In Fear)
Directed by Brandon Scullion
Give a group of young people a cabin in the woods in the mountains with an evil spirit that has a cult of followers, and you just know fun is going to be abounded. Well, it should be for the audience, anyway. Instead we get mixes and matches of a bunch of genre stereotypes that brings us a story that is meandering and somewhat shallow in plot. Two Californian couples heading up to a cabin in Utah. In this case, the “Cabin in the Woods” is actually a huge and beautiful complex of townhouse condos linked together. But as happens too often, the two guys come across as douchebags. The two women have their own baggage, but don’t act like privileged macho morons; rather they seem like they’ve been sedated. My biggest problem with the film is that while each of the four main characters interact with each other, they all seem to be in a world of their own, with their own problems, most of which are not addressed. I never understood the motivations of their actions, or what are the attractions between them. The acting is fine and some the film looks decent. What few gore effects there are look well done (all appliance, not digital), though most are shown after the fact. For me, the weakest spot is the writing / storyline. It’s a bit too chaotic and possibly too ambitious for its framework and budget, and yet tells so very little of what is occurring, or why.
Death’s Door (aka The Trap Door)
Directed by Kennedy Goldsby
We meet a bunch of overage teens that get a mysterious and anonymous invitation to attend a party at a maudlin mansion. Most of the dozen or so kids are nothing short of stereotypes of obnoxious characters, such as the pretty mean girl, the virgin guy with bad salon’d hair, the jocks, the chestbeating morons, and the “good girl.” When they get into the mansion, the doors lock, and they naturally panic and turn on each other. Also inhabiting the house are three ghosts. 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 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? Bummed me out, because I wanted to really like this.
The Devil’s Forest
(aka The Devil Complex; The Devil Within)
(aka The Devil Complex; The Devil Within)
Directed by Mark Evans
The Hoia-Baciu Forest is a real place that is known as one of the most haunted forests in the world. This a found footage film about a trio of filmmakers scared in the wood who “were never seen again.” Sound familiar? Right at the front of the film, we’re told they die. Woo-hoo. There is a student, Rachel, and two macho putzes: Tom the interpreter and, Joe. For some reason, they pick the dead of winter, with the forest full of snow, as the time to go venturing, giving the first big whaaaaaaat? moment. Of course the guide runs off, leaving the trio with no map, no food, and a lot of anger and especially angst. So they walk through the snow, and bicker. There’s nothing more exciting that watching people walk through the snow except possibly watching people running through a snowy forest in the dark by the light of the camera, as also occurs. They run the camera the whole time and never mention new batteries. This really is a watered-down winterized retelling of Blair Witch Project.
The Purging Hour (aka Home Video)
Directed by Emmanuel Giorgio Sandoval
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). 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. There is the handsome and muscular father and beautiful mother, their typically over-emotional beautiful teenage daughter and her handsome and model-type boyfriend who is there to help, and a young teen son. Using a single handheld camera, they tape each other incessantly through the most mundane stuff. This includes some personal conversations for which no one in their right mind would have a camera on, making some of the characters kind of unlikeable. Essentially, the first hour is like watching someone else’s home movies. My annoyance, however, is with the little things that make no sense that stands out perhaps because of the slow nature of the film. For example, there is a blackout in the house yet in the kitchen you can see the blue, electric digital clock on the fridge. I totally respect that Sandoval used a largely Latino cast, but considering there are three writers, 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 at the end, however, aren’t enough to save this, unfortunately.