Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Review: Shelter for the Bloodstained Soul

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Shelter for the Bloodstained Soul
Written, directed and edited by Nicholas Wagner
77 minutes, 2016
Free HERE or HERE 

A while back, I saw Nicholas Wagner’s 50-minute film called The Holy Sound (2013; reviewed HERE), which dealt with an object in a cave that had an effect on both libido and aggression, which its characters found to be a quasi-religious experience.

Malcolm Mills
Many of those same themes are present in this release. After a very brief prologue that makes more sense as the film unspools, somewhere in the Deep South we meet redheaded singer and junkie Harvey (Maggie Williams) picking up the stranded and creepy Addison (Malcolm Mills), whose car bit the dust. Add into the mix Harvey’s pal, dealer, and habitual spitter Tex (Reed DeLisle), and we are on our way.

Addison talks a lot of religion goo, but it soon becomes clear that it’s not Jeebus at the center of it (this will drive the Trump-lovin’ Southerners bonkers, I’m sure). Addison smokes this pipe and suddenly the area fills with smoke (or mist, I suppose) and a mysterious and lovely woman appears, who is apparently an angel without a body. And what does she need (this is all in the film’s description, so no spoiler alert)? The burned bodies of people who are involved with sex, but without love (i.e., pure lust, one of the seven deadlies) is what is used as either food or sacrifice, I'm not sure, but either works for me.

Needless to say, Addison is just the start of the cult as he gets both Harvey and Tex smokin’ (which apparently deadens the effects of other drugs), and they become bloodthirsty killers to help raise Cain… I mean the goddess/angel. Into the mix comes redheaded (this is a theme of both films) Cammy (Elena Delia), the self-professed town tramp, who completes the fourth.

From there, the cult is pretty much a unit, but unlike many killer kult films, they aren’t zombie-like in robes chanting and dancing naked around a fire, i.e., they still do drugs and smoke butts a lot. Without any job, I’m not quite sure how they can afford that, but I digress… They all have their personality foibles and remain “human” within their goal to free the dark angel. Things intensify and there are definitely some power struggles among the group, who mostly seemed pretty incompetent in their lives before all this started.

This is as much about human personalities, the past effecting the present, and philosophical meanderings, as much as a blood cult aimed at killing and the raising of this woman into flesh. Throughout the film, there is a lot of dialog (with some action), as nearly all the characters have deep thoughts that sometimes come out as philosophy, and other times sounding like greeting cards. Sitting around a fire, sitting around a beach, or sitting in a bar, the dialog seems to flow more than jab, even when doled out by the oft angry and spitting Tex.

Elena Delia
It makes sense that a lot of this film takes place near the shore, because the tone and pace of it is like sitting on the beach, watching the waves ebb and flow. It’s sort of languid and steady, but there is still the power of even the smallest motion of the water to destroy, wear down, or to change the shape of its environment. Each action in the film has a direct reaction some other time.

The editing, also done by Wagner, is… cautious. This film, even though it’s a murderous one with a decent body count, is not jarring (other than in certain, unexpected moments, such as a gratuitous kill), but nearly everything happens at a set pace throughout. This is also reflected in the languorous music that dapples like the water throughout, or the use of muted colors to show perhaps the dulling of the senses via chemical substances, or the drugged and washed out lives the characters are living.

It’s pretty obvious things are not going to end well for most, as they tend to do in these kinds of tales, but the whole “the more things change the more they stay the same” touch that runs during the course of the film is a nice touch, which I really enjoyed.

Despite the hint of promiscuity, there isn’t a whole lot of it on the screen, and again while the numbers of people who violently shed their mortal coil is relatively decent, the blood and gore is kept to a minimum. There are, however, decent application effects towards the end without being ridiculously hammy and gory.

If you’re expecting something like a Rob Zombie film where a murderous group hijinks it up while blowing people away, this is definitely not for you. However, if you also like stories to have a brain, and you have the patience to wait it out for the 77 minutes for a conclusion that is not ordinary, you may be pleasantly surprised by this sleeper.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review: Fairfield Follies

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Fairfield Follies
Written, produced, directed and edited by Laura Pepper
Peppered Productions
100 minutes / 2017

The summer sun is almost at full apex, so what better time to review a new film about a Christmas pageant in the fictional town of Fairfield? The writer / director / producer / actor Laura Pepper has been on my radar for a couple of years now, though I have yet to see any of the short films she has released. Might as well start on a larger scale (set?) with her directorial feature debut, right? This certainly does not pertain to a horror film, per se, but it’s indie and off kilter enough to qualify for this blog.
Susanne Colle
There have been enough behind-the-scenes-of-a-play comedies to create its own genre, from the relatively recent Waiting for Guffman (1997) to the less recent A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595; as a side note, some of the cast here, as well the director, also appeared in a recent film version of the Shakespeare play, reviewed HERE), so there is always room for another, as it’s a motif that has obviously not yet wrung dry.

In this Fairfield, the local Christmas Pageant has been run by the elderly Mrs. Whitelove (Mary DeBerry), who “passes the baton” onto a newcomer, Ms. Evans (Susanne Colle). There are two ways you know the change is going to be a big one: first, the specification of the differences between Mrs. and Ms. (old vs. new), and second that the former lives up to her name by doing a Blazing Saddles in the first two minutes of this picture.

Cardryell Truss
Evans’ plan is to use the opportunity to update the tradition by being PC and including all belief systems and holidays (Chanukah, Kwanzaa, etc.). The problem is that everyone in the cast and crew has a bit of their own ingrained – err – uncomfortabilities, which come out the more they are suppressed. Yes, this is a non-PC show about trying to be diverse. A direct example of it is the inclusion of a Big House parolee by the wonderful name of Leon Leonne (played by the equally unusually named Cardryell Truss).

To add to all the tsuris, the cast are behaving like little kids, with petty spats, jealousies, overheated libidos, and bullying (e.g., one character complains to his mom over the phone, “They tell me I overact, and no one will sit with me during lunch!”). Trying to deal with them, Evans has to treat them like a naughty grade school class, even having a “shame stool” in a corner (what, no conical hats? I kid…). More trouble follows as Evans repeatedly gets sick or food poisoning, keeping her from rehearsals; a piece of dialog spouted by the hyper-Christian Assistant Director, Wally (John Campbell), is a hint of why this is happening. The end result isn’t hard to guess when it gets close.

Let’s turn to some of the technical aspects of the film. For me, it’s kind of strange knowing that the fabulous J. Poisson is the cinematographer as this is different from anything I’ve ever seen her do, specifically most of her other work that’s passed before me had harsh, primary colors that reflected the mood of the scenes. Here, it’s quite harshly…white. Well, considering the context of the story, perhaps that is reflecting the mood of many of the characters. It’s nice to note that despite the… well, to paraphrase Carmen Ghia in the original The Producers, “White, white, white is the color of the walls,” yet the image isn’t washed out, nor are the colors of the costumes either lost in it, nor is it blinding. That shows good work, in my opinion.

This is supposed to be a commentary on Community Theater in a well-off – err – community, so the onstage emoting is geared towards overacting, but as this is a spoof, it goes on quite a bit pretty much throughout. I’ve seen many of the actors in other roles, and I’ve seen that they can indeed act rather than ahhct, so that is why I am assuming it’s purposeful. Anna Rizzo, for example, has proven herself to be quite the serious performer when need be elsewhere, in the likes of Moments from a Sidewalk (2016) or Long Night in a Dead City (2017).

Johnny Sederquist
The characters are just, well, silly. But this is a silly film that is making an important statement, and it works because of its outrageousness rather than in spite of it. That being said, while many of these people are head scratchers to this viewer, most of whom are certainly not the usual clich├ęs one tends to see in independent, and especially micro-budget release, so that’s a success in my book. I do have to say that my two favorite characters are in the third act, being two Asian women (Laura Mok, Jaclyn Kelly Go) in the audience who are a Greek Chorus to both the pageant and the situations around it.

Having been filmed in the later part of 2014, there are quite a few comments that could have been about the 2016 presidential election and the basket of deplorables (i.e., racists, religious fanatics) that follow the beliefs that are mocked in this film. It is incredibly timely, giving more strength to the subplots.

Director / Writer Laura Pepper
Now comes the $64,000 Question: is it funny? Actually, it’s extremely humorous. Even the cringe worthy moments (e.g., racist or religion-based statements spouted by some characters) are quite good. I was surprised by how many times I caught myself laughing, or snorting. There are so many moments that just work. For example, Evans’ is a lonely woman and so there is a strong “cat” subtext going on in her house, including her doorbell and phone sounding like a strange, mechanical meow. There are a lot of hysterical bits, like the effeminate costume director, Jeremy (the excellent as always Johnny Sederquist), whose eyes light up with ideas when he mentions that Mother Mary (whom he confuses with Mary Magdalene) is the “Dearest Mommy.” Or the film’s director showing up in a recurring, mostly silent delivery person role (speaking of which, make sure you watch past the credits). The look she gives Evans the first time they meet, as a director’s nod to a director, is subtle but enjoyable.

It’s pretty obvious that this is a first feature for a director, as there are definitely some issues with the film as a whole, many of them technical. For example, there is an inconsistency with the sound. In some scenes, there is a sharp echo of ambient room noise; yet, in other scenes, the voices sound flat, I’m assuming dubbed in later. But hey, nearly every filmmaker has a learning curve. I’m sure it will improve as she (hopefully) continues on. Overall, this was a very successful outing, and I look forward to a long career for Peppered Productions.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: Long Night in a Dead City

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Long Night in a Dead City
Directed and edited by Richard Griffin
Scorpio Films Releasing
75 minutes / 2017

When I got my hot little hands on this film, written by Lenny Schwartz from a story by its director, Richard Griffin, I imagined myself in a smoking jacket in a comfy chair, with a cigar in one hand and a glass of sherry in the other, to celebrate what I am looking forward to being an enjoyable experience. The reality is me sitting in front of the computer which is firmly on my lap, with my cats occasionally walking across my belly. As I don’t drink or smoke, I have a cup of Bengal Spice tea by my side as I sit on a couch. Y’know what, doesn’t matter, the point is I’m thrilled. Yeah, there’s no bias here.

Thing is, this is not my first time to the Richard Griffin rodeo; that is, to watch one of his multi-genre multitude of productions, and they have never disappointed. Not even come close. Other genre reviewers I’ve talked to also hold him in high regard, so for now at least, I’m gonna shut up, close the curtains, and put this puppy on play.

Aidan Laliberte
This is a strange, ethereal and episodic story of Daniel (Aidan Laliberte), who awakens in an alley on New Year’s Eve, beaten and bruised. He begins a quest to find his brother Charlie (Anthony Gaudette), which brings him into contact with various characters in an ugly side of a city full of back streets, litter, snow and steam. Each set piece is skewed in its own quirky way.

The shadow side of Voltaire’s Candide, Daniel wanders into others’ lives, and vice versa, with something quite off about all of it. Mannequins, a possible serial killer, and a sultry bartender (Anna Rizzo) who knows his name in a tavern where everyone is photo-still, is just the start of some of those who will make this dead city night interesting, albeit bizarre.

In some scenarios, Daniel is the protagonist, in others he is an observer, as sort of a solo Greek Chorus in a modern day tragedy. In all, though, there is an either explicit or implicit invitation, spoken or not, for him to join, and to stay in that moment, in that place. A mysterious woman, Holly (fetching Griffin newcomer Sarah Reed), takes the place of both companion and Dante-esque guide.

So, essentially, this is a two-person story, with one recurring brother character. Many who appear in cameo in the set pieces are Griffin regulars, like Johnny Sederquist, Laura Pepper, and Casey Wright, who show up in brief moments, with others such Aaron Andrade and Bruce Church in more pivotal, yet short bursts. Laliberte and Reed make wonderful additions to the Griffin pantheon of his recurring troupe.

 It doesn’t feel like I am giving much away by saying there are other films with similar concepts, such as Jacob’s Ladder (1990) or the granddaddy of this sub-genre, Carnival of Souls (1962), but this takes a different path that’s worth the walk. The fact that Daniel repeatedly passes a Dead End street sign is no coincidence, and of course there is the title of the film.

A non-human character is the twangy guitar of Mark Cutler, whose score underlines the drama throughout most of the film. Its almost Western motif adds to the mood as the camera moves at a slow, languid and deliberate pace that matches the mood of the moment, and Daniel’s motions, like a walking sleep. There is an occasional use of either a selfie stick or a camera on Daniel’s belt that effectively gives it a personal feel, though I hope it’s not something that will crop up too much more in future films.

As with many Griffin releases, there is a heavy reliance on a primary color lighting scheme that further demarks emotions or state of being of the characters. Another aspect to the theme of the story is the editing, handled by Griffin. Despite the long and loving shots, there are also some parts of quick editing, and one truly enjoyable one of Daniel and Andrade’s car. Honestly, it does not seem like it was an easy film to piece together, but it looks great.

Sarah Reed
Many of Griffin’s films deal with heaven, hell, and other variations of what happens next, especially in the likes of Normal (2013), Accidental Incest (2014), The Sins of Dracula (2014) and Nun of That (2008). Griffin continues to take a different view of that aspect of life and death, which makes for a further interesting vision that one may not expect, keeping the viewer’s interest. Even if you have an idea of where the storyline is going, the ride there is still going to be from a perspective you probably would not have thought of, giving new blood to a not-so-new concept.

While a little less steeped in gender/body politic than usual for his later films, Griffin still manages to keep us guessing about direction of the story by giving some fresh ideas about choices of what is next for our protagonists. Part of the mystery is more of how and why they got to the moment they are in, and what becomes of them next.

There is definitely a feeling of surrealism, but not to the point where it’s so obliquely opaque in the events that it loses direction, even though it’s quite a bit over the map. It kind of makes sense that there is a scene where the characters take some acid, because this is a bit of a head trip anyway.

By the end, many explanations are divulged, and yet there is still room for interpretation. That is good filmmaking. Chalk yet another one on the plus side for Griffin. He shows he is far above average for low-budget filmmakers, making the most out of what he is given, and yet he continues to grow in scope. And, as always, I eagerly anticipate his next release.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Review: Beyond the Woods

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Beyond the Woods
Written and directed by Sean Breathmach
EGO Productions / Superego
82 minutes, 2016

I could be wrong, but I’m thinking that the name of this Irish film is a play on the tile Into the Woods, just further so. If that is the case, I like the pun. After all, the Grimm Faerie Tales were actually mostly horror stories, were they not?

Anyway, if you don’t mind a gross generalization perhaps unfairly based on a limited group, this is the second Irish genre film I’ve seen in the past bit, and they both have one thing in common. Like Don’t You Recognise Me? [2015], the story is taken off a relatively generic formula, and then follows through into its own direction. The other was a tale of revenge, whereas this one is based on the cabin in the woods trope.

Irene Kelleher
Here, rather than a wood shack, it is a very lovely two-story stone house of an age that may predate the US that is the locus of a gathering of seven friends: three couples and an odd wheel who was recently dumped. They decide to get away from it all to this place that was once a vacation home to one of their parents. Their plan is to spend it relaxing, dishing dirt, and quite a bit of the raising of the wrist and imbibing with some other fine substances to alter the mind.

Shortly before they even get there, we learn that a large sinkhole has opened down the way, which releases the bitter smell of sulphur across the countryside. Now, in a genre film, burning sulphur is never a good sign. Before long, of course, they are not alone. There is a figure who looks like he’s covered in tree bark (or dung/mud, it’s hard to tell), and you know he’s up to no good because, again…genre film.

We are told early on, indirectly, just what is behind the hole, the smell and the evil that is in the air the first night when we see a digital clock turn from 5:56 to 666 (no colon) and back. And it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen, as the minions of Ole Slew Foot are lurking. Even though we only get to see one demon, that’s surely enough to turn things from a good mood release weekend to one of damnation and death. Again, it is a genre film.

The big bad dude in the cape and hoodie looks like he has bark attached to his body. Though I’m not really sure about that, as we see him mostly in shadow (a smart move, honestly), it would make sense to me, as Ireland is known for its greenery and nature.

Mark Griffin
Using the mirror-doesn’t-reflect-reality paradigm, we know that the intensity is growing. Tensions begin to rise between the friends and unexpected connections occur to further stress their bonds. What we are left to wonder – again, the right choice – is whether this deep-level angst is normal for this group dynamics, or is it the ever-more pervasive influence of whatever is in the woods.

The tension that builds does so pretty slowly, but not enough to lose the interest of wondering where this will take the viewer. Sure there’s a hint of The Evil Dead and even a bit from Stephen King’s short story, “You Know They’ve Got a Hell of a Band,” as well as other sources, but there is a definite different feel. For example, these are not teens, so the conversation isn’t just wondering about getting laid or telling ghost stories. There is also an avoidance of other stereotypes, like the old guy warning the group, or the jock, the nerd and the homely girl who becomes lovely as a soon as she takes off her glasses, I’m happy and grateful to say. These are adults with adult foibles, and I respect that and enjoy the maturity of what the director is accomplishing (i.e., teens aren’t the only ones that have to worry).

Stripped back in the story and effects, surely due to budget limitations, we don’t lose anything because of that. While most of the action does happen at the rising of the moon, there are mysterious things about even during the day. As time goes on during the weekend, actions continue to ramp up until the third act of desperation and death for… well, you’ll just hafta find out, woncha?

Ruth Hayes
The cast, for once, is populated by professional actors of a higher caliber, so we get some decent playing, and yet not so much experience where there is sleepwalking through the parts. As far as I can tell, as I’m not that up on Irish actors, there are also no cameos by slumming bigger named players past their prime, or cult genre name performers. Happily, his works for the zeitgeist of the whole she-bang.

That being said, the camera does lovingly tend to focus on the diminutive and dimple-deep Irene Kelleher, who indirectly comes out as the “star,” but each character gets their shot, much as a band that has everyone do a solo to show their chops.

While sex is involved at some point, there is no pressing of the flesh seen, and the blood and gore is kept to a minimum; when it is applied, however, it  however, is kept to a minimum,. t, there is no pressing of the flesh seen, and the blood and gore is kept to a minimum, when iis quite effective. Some of the scenes are a bit on the dark side, but not so much you can’t follow the action, so I’m okay with it.

While this certainly isn’t a perfect film – for example, if a creature can kill with a mere touch, why would he pick up an ax? – all things considered, it is a well done production that takes what we know and mixes it into a new-ish recipe. Worth checking out.