Sunday, September 10, 2017

Anthology Reviews: Two by Patrick Rea – Charlotte; Monster X

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

I put these reviews together for two reasons. First, they are both anthologies of short films with a wraparound story, “directed” by Steven Rea. Just for the record, the quote marks are not meant as any kind of jibe, but rather because Rea put the collection together, which is a mixture of his own films and others.

Each of the stories is an independently released horror short that has been compiled into the collection. Actually, I approve of this method of getting (a) a showcase for one’s own films (i.e., Rea’s), and (b) a way to present other creators’ work as well. I’ve always enjoyed short films, so this is a nice little production to catch some I may have missed. Okay, definitely have missed, as so many shorts are thrown up on video channels like YouTube and Vimeo these days. Again, not a complaint, it’s just hard to see the forest for the trees.

All the directors are listed in the credits at top of each review, and I will indicate which next to the title with the initials. As these collections both came out in 2017, and honestly it doesn’t matter to me which was released first, I’m reviewing them in alphabetical order.

Another commonality across both is that the only extra is chapter breaks.

Directed by Patrick Rea, Colin Campbell, Corey Norman, Calvin Main, John Edward Lee, April Wright
Ruthless Studios / Synergetic Films / MVD Visual
84 minutes, 2017

I have no doubt in my mind that this collection, and possibly the wraparound, was inspired by the recent popularity of evil doll films, especially the Annabelle franchise. Of course it goes back further to the likes of the infamous Talking Tina “Living Doll” episode on The Twilight Zone, and a number of projects on the big and small screen about evil, self-contained ventriloquist dummies (whether real or imagined).

“Raggedy Damned” (PR) is the title of the bookends and wraparound thread/threat, which presents an obnoxious Millennial babysitter who is bound (off-screen) by a mad and cracked-faced silent dolly (looking nothing like the cool DVD cover art, FYI), who forces her to watch the shorts we also get to view. Between each one, we flash back to her to see… well, I’m not tellin’.

 “Counter Parts” (PR: 2014) is the first tale about identical sisters who are not exactly compatible, though similar in more ways than just looks. They are fierce, determined, and especially egocentric. Nasty pieces of work. Somyia Finley does a nice turn as the sibs with whom you definitely would not want to be associated, never mind romantically involved. After a tragic turn, they use wile and some black mojo to cure and curse. It’s an effective tale with an O. Henry-ish twist at the end. Also a tale with a sinister surprise is “Dollface” (CC: 2011), regarding the titular, strange woman. She and her companion have a woman locked up in their storage area. Then our heroine, whose boyfriend has been slashed, tries to rescue her before the aforementioned duo come back. With an obvious-yet-enjoyable throwback to a “The Twilight Zone” episode called “The Howling Man,” it is effective and fun, if a bit obvious and silly (in a good way).

If you’re into toe-choppin’ closet trolls (I’m just back from Norway, so trolls are currently an interest), then “Tickle” (CN: 2014) may be of interest. A babysitter tells a brat a tale about the toe-takin’ Tic Tac (“not the breath mint,” she explains), something she made up on the spot. But of course it’s a mind-over-manifestation thing. A bit long, but still enjoyable. The gore effects are really nicely done, and worth a mention.

In a creepy and minimalist story with effective SFX to back it up, “Good Evening” (CM: 2016) is about a man who invites demons to come join him for supper. With a twist reminiscent of Stephen King’s story, “Survivor Type,” it’s short and neat sweetmeat. It’s dark (as in lighting and tone), but that only add to the atmosphere in this two-character moody release. The bizarre yet humorously subtle battle royale of “Get Off My Porch” (PR: 2010) is about a guy and his interactions with some overly perky tween Adventure Girls, who are selling cookies. It’s a really fun story with pretty poison people forcing their way into the greater culture through some mysterious chocolate treats. The kids in this are great, as is the rest of the cast. Again, it’s a bit goofy, but honestly the better for it. If it had been done seriously, it probably would not have been as effective.

While the story above is full of whimsy, the follow-up is “The Judas Cradle” (JEL: 2011) is dead-on serious. A woman finds herself in a basement with a recently beaten man who is tied of a chair. A third catalyst character is played by the director, as a man who is there to facilitate and instigate vigilantism, in order for her to confront a shocking event in her past that ties her to the bruised guy. Lee is a bit over the top, but the other two plays their roles right on the line. It’s a good “what would you do in this situation?” conversation starter.
In an even more seemingly direct linkage to Talking Tina, “My BFF” (AW: 2015) replaces TT with Samantha, a dolly that shows up on the doorstep, as it were, of a young girl who of course immediately falls in love with it in a heteronormative way (I’m not being critical here, just observant). The mom, in Telly Savalas mode, is a bit of a meanie and doesn’t like the doll. Obviously, the feeling is mutual with obvious-yet-enjoyably-satisfying results.

“Howl of a Good Time” (PR: 2015) is ludicrous, audacious and just plain goofy. Again, despite all that, it’s quite satisfying and well made. A young girl sneaks into a horror film festival where all the audience are werewolves. Hints are given early on, and it’s really not that difficult to figure that part out, but the twist ending will make you say, “what?!” and guarantee to make you snortle a little bit with glee at its audacity.

There are a lot of elements and themes of this film that overlap, such as characters watching television (usually some non-copyright film like 1968’s Night of the Living Dead), some kind of doll (which makes sense), something or someone strange at the door, or babysitters.

As anthologies go in general, it’s a wise selection meandering between humor and straight horror, even with a wraparound that is pretty obvious from near the beginning. I like Rea’s choices, and also his filmmaking style on its own.

Charlotte trailer HERE

Monster X
Directed by Patrick Rea, Daniel Iske, Sean van Leijenhorst, Jaysen Buterin
Ruthless Studios / MVD Visual
75 minutes, 2017

As with the previous film, this one is also a compilation with a wraparound. Interestingly, the connecting piece is from a series called The Dead Hour, and it’s from the second season titled “Fright Fest” (DI: 2011). It’s an appropriate one, as a couple goes on a first date to a horror festival featuring a multiplex in which different genres play in each theater, such as werewolves, zombies and Asian ethereal women (think The Ring or The Grudge). In each, what is happening on the screen seeps into their reality, as they jump from theater to theater. This segmentation makes it perfect to slot around the other shorts.

First up is “Banshee” (SvL: 2014), which is based on Irish myth, though this is filmed near Prague, the locus of the director. This 20-minute opus tells of a woman whose alkie husband has died, involving the titular creature, who is either a warning of death or an instrument of it, depending on who you ask (both are referred in the story through exposition). It’s beautifully shot with just the right amount of tension and even a nice jump scare or two. Eva Larvoire particularly stands out as the heroine, showing great ranges of emotional distress. Nicely done.

Speaking of film festivals, “Howl of a Good Time” is duplicated here, so I won’t repeat myself. Still enjoyable the second time around, though, so you should know that. Both this and the next short, “Now That You’re Dead” (PR: 2009) were directed by Rea, which shows that he actually knows his way around a script and direction. I have no idea what he’s like for a feature length release, but he packs quite a punch into a short, such as this one. Mix a cocktail of a tale of marital infidelity, double-, triple- and so on crosses, and then use a vampire spoon to stir it all up. There is just enough humor in it to keep you smiling, but not enough to take the – err – bite out of the storyline. The three key characters are all likeable in an unlikeable, anti-hero way. No matter who wins, if anyone does (I’m not telling), and more importantly who loses (ditto), the story is successful. That’s decent filmmaking.

The last presentation, “Don’t Let the Light In” (JB: 2015), is short tale of a new babysitter who is summoned to watch a very strange kid that sort of reminds me of a Mini-Me version of the man-boy Stuart character from MadTV (played by Michael McDonald). The story itself is somewhat predictable, though thanks to its length not being too drawn out, it keeps the viewer’s interest (well, this one anyway). Personally, I would have liked more of an explanation of the title. Then again, I’m a bit confused about why it’s Monster X when it really should be Monster V. But I digress…

As with the film above, there are some common threads that run through this one, such as the Horror Film Fest being more than it seems, or an occurrence of classic and iconic (is that redundant?) creatures like werewolves, zombies and vampires, to name just a few.

Some of these shorts have won awards, and it’s easy to see why, but honestly I really appreciated Rea’s because they had just the right amount of humor mixed in with the horror. One of the cool things Rea does here is interrupt a short to throw in a bit of the wraparound. I can’t imagine what the other filmmaker felt about it, but I thought it was a cool thing to do, and something you don’t see very often when dealing with other artists; a director might do it to his own short, but to someone else’s? Yeah, that’s ballsy, for one last time, in a good way.

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