Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Review: Bonehill Road

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

Bonehill Road
Written, directed and edited by Todd Sheets
Extreme Entertainment / Eclipse Video /
Fuzzy Puppy Filmworx / Lycanthrope Motion Pictures / MVD Entertainment
89 minutes, 2017

After a health hiatus, long-haired director Todd Sheets came back stronger than ever with the likes of House of Forbidden Secrets  (2013) and Dreaming Purple Neon  (2016). Now he’s dipped his toe into the waters of the even shaggier werewolf genre.

I haven’t seen many decent lycan films since Ginger Snaps (2000), though there have been the occasional ones like Sheep Skin  (2013) and Bubba the Redneck Werewolf (2014). No, I do not count the Twilight series as werewolf films, nor decent (though the first Underworld [2003] was okay).

My theory for the reason why werewolf releases are far and in-between is the cost of either the costumes or making digi versions. Most are full body suits, which tend to be cumbersome, or if digitized, take a full team to make it look good.

For this film, Sheets takes an interesting approach, asking us to question which is worse, the big bad trio of wolves outside the door, or the human monster inside with the knife and sadistic attitude. That is the predicament in which Todd has placed his main characters.

Anna Rojas-Plumberg and Eli DeGeer
Emily (Eli DeGeer) and her teenage daughter Eden (Anna Rojas-Plumberg) are on the run from one human monster, an abusive husband (Aaron Brazier, who has some great tats on his forearms, including Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Monster and Johnny Rotten Lydon). When their car is toast, in part due to the hairy trio, they wind up in a house with serial killer Coen (Douglas Epps) and his hostages, Tina (Millie Milan), Lucy (Dilynn Fawn Harvey), and Suzy (an extended cameo by Linnea Quigley).

Between our furry friends outside and the less hairy one inside, there is a lot of damage that happens to everyone involved, leading to tons of carnage and gore. Luckily, both of those are Sheets’ specialities, and so is a touch of nudity for which Harvey amply lends a – err – hand in that department.

Douglas Epps
While presented more as a werewolf flick, there is equally, if not more so, the dichotomy of what happens inside the house with the human monster as with the beasties without. That’s part of what makes this so interesting, rather than being just the dangers of a straightforward supernatural or shaggy human creature.

Also at the heart of the whole visual is that all of the effects and wolfie-poos are practical SFX rather than digital. Sure, the wolves kinda appear as people in full body costumes, but they actually look really good most of the time. The masks are also easily identifiable individually, so you know which is which. You can tell a lot of effort was placed into the costumes, which made me smile. As for the gore, other than sometimes the occasional innards looking a bit like pasta, the effects are quite well done. Sheets tends to show the carnage in extreme close-up, which is both fun for the viewer and I’m sure makes it easier for the filmmaker to use body doubles (which is totally forgivable if it works, which it does in this case).

Linnea Quigley (on the right)
Most of the acting is quite powerful. Other than the occasional over-emoting, such as Epps sporadic high-pitched maniacal laugh, the cast – including Epps – is pretty solid. As the two leads, Plumberg and especially DeGeer hold their own as strong women who are put in extraordinary circumstances. Even Quigley, who on occasion has had trouble with her boundaries (under- or overacting, as do her contemporaries, Brinke S. and Michelle B.), nails it here.

Generally speaking, there tends to be two types of werewolf films: the first is when the bearer of the curse becomes an out of control animal, such as in An American Werewolf in London (1981); the other is where they keep their wits and just like to screw with their prey, no matter what the form, like in The Howling (also 1981). This one falls into the latter category. While the werewolves, who were able to break through doors and rip a tire to shreds with a swipe of its claws, apparently could not seem to break through the windows of the house, even when banging on the glass – when I saw this, I said an audible, “Hunh?” – it was then pointed out to me by Sheets that the monsters were playing "cat and mouse" with the occupants. That makes a lot more sense to me.

IThe rest of the film looks great, with sharp editing and visuals. There is nothing really fancy here, no “artistic flares,” which suits me just fine. A meat and ‘taters creature feature is just what the witch doctor ordered for this Halloween.

If I had a wish, it would be the occasional dark humor here and there, but you know what, that’s my own thing and not the film’s fault. There are some nods, though, such as Quigley’s tee, a character named after Stephen Biro from Unearthed Films, another for Rolfe Kanefsky who recently directed The Black Room, and one called Tucker Woolf  

Of course, watch after the credits as an epilogue has become as nearly omnipresent as a prologue. As werewolfian cinema goes, this is pretty impressive and another positive notch on Sheets’ cinematic rap – err – sheet.

Trailer is HERE

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Review: Murder Made Easy

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

Murder Made Easy
Directed by David Palamaro
No-Money Enterprises / Lock and Key Films
76 minutes, 2017

I found it kind of humorous, for a number of reasons, that part of the story in the film sprung from a previous play production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, in which many of the characters performed together a few years earlier.

First of all, the whole film production reads like a play. It’s heavy in dialogue, mostly takes place in a single room, and the pacing of the whole thing could easily be mounted on a stage. As far as Christie goes, this also feels very Frank Capra-esk in the way the words are spoken in a quick and light patter. This murder mystery has been compared to the game Clue, but I definitely believe that it’s more the source material of the dining room murder mystery that they have in common rather than the end piece.

In a theatrical way, there are title cards announcing the various acts, and there’s even an intermission (albeit brief), which helps keep track of just where the viewer is in the process, and also giving us some point of reference about both the story and the food.

Did I mention the food yet? There’s plenty of it as we watch course after course being consumed, each one unique and all looking very tempting – and occasionally healthy.

This is a very dark comedy. How dark is it, I can hear Ed McMahon asking in my head? If this film were chocolate, it would be 90% cacao or more. Of course, that is definitely part of its charm. Like most murder mysteries – again, let’s use Christie as an example – there are a lot of characters most foul, and even more important, there is double-crosses upon double-crosses.

Jessica Graham
In the story, Joan Chandler’s (Jessica Graham, who is also one of the film’s producers and published author of a non-fiction book on good sex) husband Neil (Neal?) has been dead for a year. Not happy with the way her husband was treated by his friends, she and mutual pal Michael (Christopher Soren Kelly) decide to take matters into their own hands, and make things right by… well, the title is more than just a hint.

Each of the guests, who arrive in serial fashion, are acquaintances of Neil, who have either worked at the Theater Department of the local university, and have all performed as a troupe in one of his productions. Guests are an amusing yet annoyingly self-righteous vegan (Emilia Richeson), a self-quoting psychobabbling passive-aggressive author (Sheila Cutchlow, who also is actually a published author), a not-too-bright wannabe documentary filmmaker (Daniel Ahearn), and a co-professor (Edmund Lupinski). Gifting each of their dinner companions with objects that were Neil’s that reflect just why the widow feels slighted on his behalf, it isn’t long before things get pretty tense.

Jessica Graham and Christopher Soren Kelly
The cast is really tight, like they’ve been doing this particular piece for a while. Solid professionalism. While there are some standout performances, there is not a weak moment in the acting, from opening scene to close. That being said, it feels like the camera loves Graham and either keeps gravitating to, or lingering on her. Luckily, Graham can handle it, as she says so much with a snide smile, a frown, or a subtle shift in mood. Kelly is the yin to her yang, a ball of kinetic energy to her nuances. They spin around each other like a double helix, boosting each other’s characters.

Of course, though it needs not to be said if you are at all familiar with the style, little is as it seems. There is a lot of smoke and mirrors, as there should be in this kind of story, and I recommend giving yourself enough time to watch it twice, to catch all the – err – clues you may have missed (I would say the same about some of the more extensive Christie pieces).

In case I haven’t made it clear, this is a strong and solid piece of work. The writing is crisp and sharp as a razor, which never takes the easy way out, even by the end (which, of course, I will not give away… no spoiler alerts). Considering the confined space, the camera does not feel claustrophobic, which is quite the accomplishment in itself.

With the large amount of bodies piling up in corners of the house, there actually is very little blood, and the violence is often blocked by the way the shots are – err – blocked by the director.

For a set piece with a lot of dialog and extremely lengthy shots (i.e., less editing), there is also enough of a high energy level to transfer to the viewer so it doesn’t seem as static as it actually is onscreen. While I tend of find Christie a bit tedious, the pace remains fluid rather than stodgy even though this is kind of modeled after that paradigm, so I was riveted by what was unfolding before me. This is an example of good filmmaking.

The only negative I can say about this movie is that I can almost guarantee you’re gonna be hungry, and for something more substantial than fast food. Like this film, which is a fine vintage, quality stands out.

Trailer is HERE.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Review: Strapped for Danger

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

Strapped for Danger
Directed and edited by Richard Griffin
Scorpio Films Releasing
73 minutes, 2017

So, here’s the thing: I have some film reviews to catch up on, and am even in the middle of one I am enjoying, but I was just given the opportunity to see this newest Richard Griffin film, and my writing world fucking came to a halt. Despite Griffin’s tendency to be extremely prolific by averaging two to three films a year up to this point, for those of us who revel in indies, this is an event to be taken seriously, no matter how ludicrous the premise of the film. As far as the ridiculousness level goes, well, check out the trailer below. Needless to say, I am chomping at the bit, as it were, in a non-S&M innuendo way.

Playwright Duncan Pflaster has come up with a script that sort of crosses a host of genres such as Ocean’s 11 (et al.) and Thelma and Louise (1991) group crime dramady, male stripper and drag queen love stories like Magic Mike (2012) and To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995), in addition to the wild frat houses of Animal House (1978), and then tossed the whole thing over the rainbow of any sense of sanity. But does it all work? Let you know when I’m done…

The basic premise is as follows: Some male strippers rob the club in which they dance, kidnap a copper, and hide out in an accomplice’s ex-fraternity, which happens to be during pledge hell week. While this takes place in Boston, it could be any college as in that city you can just about throw a Trojan and hit one.

Anthony Gaudette
We meet non-exclusive strippers and lovers Joey (Anthony Gaudette) who is the ringleader, and Matt (Diego Guevara), and their pan-sexual-yet-semi-closeted always-in-sunglasses friend Chuck (Dan Mauro) at the Bigg Club, where they work. And apparently where they rob, when they take off with the joint’s money, the customer’s clothes and wallets, and a kidnapped police officer named – of course – Rod (C. Gerlad Murdy).

With Rod’s partner Elaine (Anna Rizzo) in hot (in more ways than one) pursuit, you know it’s all circling around to a confrontation of a possible South-of-the-Border-named-stand-off (see the film to get the joke).

Unlike, say, Magic Mike, the love focus of the story is not boy-meets-girl, but boys-screw-boys, and there are a lot of male genitalia on display. Luckily, I don’t have that cultural thing that many straight guys have where they are put off by others’ peni because they are under the belief it will make others think they are gay. Body parts are body parts, and there’s always Sarah Reed’s nudity in the film to keep anyone else hopefully contented. But the male nipples and naughty bits, as it were, far outnumber the female. 

Diego Guevara
Which brings me to a point that I find quite interesting: as I mentioned Thelma and Louise above, this film is sort of the reverse side of it (and many other “chick flicks” – a term I’m not always comfortable with, by the way), where it’s the men who are the dashing anti-heroes, and the women are those who are obnoxious and overbearing. Please note that I find the idea of this quite amusing. This is the flip of a much more common thread of women good/men bad motif

There is a nice mixture of insane love, real love, and just rubbing against each other to cause sparks. As he has done in previous films such as The Sins of Dracula (2014), Griffin shows straight sex as boring and missionary, but male-with-male as much more exciting. But what makes this all work, honestly, is the level of humor employed. Pflaster’s writing is sharp as a tack, and I found myself laughing often. There’s no great Dickensian comeuppance, though I’m sure they could figure out a way to make that into a suitable innuendo as they do often in the story. However, there are many revelations and a few surprises in store. And my favorite line may actually be an ad lib, spoken by Rizzo, who demands, “What in the raging shits is this?” in a kind of updated Dorothy Parker query.

Speaking of which, let me discuss the cast a bit. Anthony Gaudette can be seen as the – err – straight man, as it were, as he is the one in charge, and he feeds the comic lines to others more than he takes them on himself. In the ‘60s, his character would probably have a name like Colt Steele. With dashing good looks in a pre-chub Ben Affleck kind of way, his has a good handle on who his character is about. Guevara, on the other hand, looks like a cute puppy with a biting wit and some killer dance moves. He makes Matt loveable, yet sharp, and Guevara has the ability to play to both sides well. The chemistry between the two is a large part of what makes this film work so well.

Sarah Reed and Dan Mauro
As for the two main female characters, Rizzo plays a classically hard-boiled, tabacca-chewin’ police officer who feels the unrequited nth degree for her abducted partner. She plays it a bit over the top, which is actually nice to see because she usually plays her parts very subtly and nuanced. As I’ve seen her do some quite serious and heavy roles, it’s nice to see her take a comic, anger-fueled character that if the genders were reversed, might be played by someone like Jack Nicolson or (and this is a stretch) Edgar Kennedy. The lead villain is the hyper-sexualized (i.e., the frat slut) Beverly, handled well by Sarah Reed. With a snort to punctuate the end of each sentence and a Lawng Eyeland-ish accent reminiscent of the Lina Lamont character from 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain and a personality reminiscent of Nancy Spungen, it’s hard to like her (which is the point, of course), yet you can certainly understand what the Chuck character sees in her, as she can be cute beneath the sneer.

Another funny side character is the person running a WonderSpa in one scene, played with gusto by Lee Rush, who only has a few lines and makes the most of it. During that one set piece, Samantha Accampora does a wonderful and silent Sam Peckinpaw-ish slow motion bit. The most sympathetic female character is a lonely quickie mart worker Carol, portrayed by Hannah Heckman-McKenna. I wanted to give her a reassuring hug after her scene.

Anna Rizzo and Johnny Sederquist
But the title of Scene Goniff Supreme by far is Johnny Sederquist’s turn as drag queen Piñata Debris, who makes every scene she is in his own. Even with enough face paint to make Lucille Ball seem bald and the exquisite Lady Bunny possibly blush, Sederquist makes Debris seem both ridiculous and a bit sympatric in a balls-out bitchy way (pun intended). He nails the drag queen persona, I am assuming in part because he actually does drag from time to time. Yeah, I’m a Sederquist fan.

There are the occasional weird moments, like a college student at the frat house calling the library the “lie-berry,” but it’s also part of the film’s charm, actually. But I want to make sure to make a comment on John Mosetich’s cinematography. Some of the shots are stunningly beautiful, such as one of a close-up of Guevara staring at the camera as flower petals fall in slow motion. That was just one of the moments where I verbally said, “wow.”

I haven’t delved much into the story because I don’t want to prejudice the viewer. There is so much that can be discussed that would give away too much of the story, and more importantly the fun. It really is a hysterically funny film going to places that most viewers rarely see. While taking wide swaths with its story direction, it’s actually a very tight film with few locations (as is common with indies). I can’t wait to hear the commentary track once it comes out on DVD. And fans of Griffin films are bound to enjoy a particular cameo that I am sworn to secrecy about. While I’m at it, be sure to watch after the credits.

Compared to most films that deal with the male-on-male milieu, this makes The Rocky Horror Picture Show look like Patton. If it’s not too much of an oxymoron, you might say that this film is a gay comedy that has very broad humor. But you don’t need to be either one to enjoy it, just be glad it’s not in 3D, sit back, and prepare to laugh.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Review: The Short Films of Dakota Bailey 2014-2015

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

The Short Films of Dakota Bailey 2014-2015
Written, produced, directed and edited by Dakota Bailey
R.A. Productions
About 30 minutes, 2017

If you are familiar with any of the trilogies of filmmaker Dakota Bailey’s work, you know his subgenre of super gritty and grainy life of the denizens of the lowest of low, consisting of nothing but serial killers, drug sellers and addicts, prostitutes and generally people with whom you would not want to be on the same street as, never mind the same room.

Like most auteurs, Bailey started small with short films as he developed his style that remains pretty unique, as there is no one I can think of who presents characters and situations so socially corrupt with a fly on the wall creepy feeling, and yet makes them feel alive and fearsome. These three shorts have now been released in a collection as a companion to his features.

As the director explains: “While these short films are not masterpieces, they are important because this is where our filmmaking style originated, and these shorts provided us with a template to build off of. Without these shorts, films like The Acid Sorcerer [2017, reviewed HERE], American Scumbags [2016, reviewed HERE] or My Master Satan: 3 Tales of Drug Fueled Violence [2016, reviewed HERE] may not have existed."

As most of his features are three intertwining tales, it only makes sense that this release is comprised of three of his shorts. The consistency of his characters, even if he considers some of his films in the horror genre and others not, makes this for an enjoyable WTF viewing (in a good way). I’ve enjoyed all of the Bailey films I have watched, even though they could practically all run together and it would still work. I have watched the growth from his first film right to his latest. He also shows that if someone wants to just pick up a camera and start filming, it can be done, much in the way so many people heard the gritty guitar of Johnny Thunders and wanted to start a band.

Scumbags: A Day in the Life of a Drug Dealer
8:08 minutes, 2014
Despite it being Bailey’s first film, so many of the footprints that would appear in his features are already there, such as the insertion of character description and story bit title cards, and the travelog footage of drug dealer Marshall (Matt Marshall) driving around giving way too much information about his crimes away on a cell phone (hey, Marshall, that’s illegal!) which also works for passing along exposition to the viewer.  There is an inconsistent sound quality as most of it is recorded straight onto the camera as it is shot al(though the reliability of it will improve with time and future films). In this story, Marshall wants to do away with ex-high school friend and partner, and now rival dealer, the heroin addicted Johnny (Bailey, already sporting his trademark knee-length short pants). The film, which is in mostly black and white, is short, and yet covers some nice ground as bullets fly and vapes are vaped. The pace is a bit meandering at times, yet there is still quite a bit of action in this short amount of footage. It’s a bit on the rough side, as it is most first films, but it’s also easy to see the kernel of what is to come. I am certainly enjoying watching the progression of a style that Bailey has since made great use of over the past couple of years.

Satan’s Coming for You
19:37 minutes, 2015
The longest film on this set, it appears to be a collection of outtakes and additional footage from one of Bailey’s other films, My Master Satan. Then again, in a chicken and egg paradigm, perhaps this was filmed first, and it was used to make up one of the three stories from Master. Again, in black and white with some color, especially during an acid trip, this is a loose yet somewhat coherent story about the revenge for Bubba (again Matt Marshall) and Alister (Bailey) against the person who was having the affair with Bubba’s since-deceased wife. With body exhuming from a cemetery and a bit of blowtorch behavior, Bubba and Alister go on said acid trip and meet up with Satan. From there on in it’s the two friends working through the kinks of getting away with literal murder.

I Spread Hate Like Herpes
2:12 minutes, 2015
This is a short-yet-not-sweet uncompleted fictionalized documentary starring “BK” (Brian Knapp). In its two scenes, BK discusses his own psychopathic behavior (while driving of coruse, since this is a Dakota Bailey film, and it’s a given someone will do that). There is no direction, no point, just a camera pointed at BK as he riffs. What I’m not sure of and wonder about is whether this is going to be part of a whole film on this character, if the footage is going to be included into a future Bailey feature, or was this just some goofing around that was too good not to do something with it. Too short to be boring and just long enough for head scratching, it makes a nice coda to the rest of the shorts.  

Trailer for one short is HERE.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Review: Navy SEALS v Demons

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

Navy SEALS v Demons
Directed by Jeffrey Reyes
AK Waters Productions / Echosworld Entertainment / MVD Visual
85 minutes, 2017

I have to admit that I was completely intrigued by the title, before even becoming aware of Navy SEALS vs. Zombies (2015). They share producers, a member of the writing team and one actor (playing different roles), but they’re pretty independent of each other, it seems (though I could be wrong).

The title indicates that this could be really bad, or so bad it’s good. I’m hoping for at least the latter, quite honestly. A good action horror film was due to come over my threshold. I’ve seen a bit of both genres lately, but let’s see how it works combined. The disc is going in the Blu-ray player now.

Deep in the heart of the Texas Bible Belt, there is a small town in Jack County which is being overrun by five motorcycle-riding demons. They are intent on gaining the virgin blood of a dozen early teen girls (a social commentary on the sexual proclivity of older teens, even in the Religious South perhaps?) so they can enter a church and get…well, I’m not sure. I’ll explain later.

Mikel Vega
These nasty demons with putty on their face are easily killing males left and right via disembowelling, and taking the girls, because even shot guns don’t work against them. What’s a spy-in-the-sky government to do? Why use a cliché and find a down-in-his-booze-due-to-tragedy ex-Navy SEAL to clean up the matter, along with two of his buddies.

Of course he first says piss off because that’s the way these storylines work. The snobby Navy recruiter wants him to go down there because the demons are going after Mexicans, and locally no one cares: “Down there another dead illegal alien isn’t news.” Even the Navy doesn’t really give a damn, he claims, but they don’t want demon-kind to spread. Again, social commentary? Considering the director is Latino, this would make sense, and I applaud it.

The trio of ex-SEALS ride into town incognito as a motorcycle gang. Wait. Whaaa? Sure, that’s not going to attract any attention in a heavily armed, police-based zone. In a cool twist, instead of the old guy who works the gas station warning the teens to stay away, it’s a young guy at the gas bar waring the older guys to vamoose. I enjoyed that.

Before the guys meet the demons, of course there is the mandatory bar fight with the local Latino motorcycle gang, so they can become allies. After that…

Liana Mendoza
Well, enough with the plot, let me get to the zeitgeist. Overall, I had some issues with this film. For example, the female lead (Liana Mendoza) gets to do an uncomfortable and gratuitous strip scene at a bar. All things considered, it is the only thing close to nudity in the film, and it just doesn’t work. Mendoza is certainly attractive, but her comments before and the strip itself feels… unsexy. Again, this is no reflection of Mendoza; it’s the film’s presentation.

Part of the reason for this is the extremely cumbersome editing throughout. There are many jump cuts, inconsistencies of image (e.g., someone picks up a cigarette, and the next angle her arms are down)¸and too many sharp jumps between locations. Considering how dark the images often are (I significantly brightened up the screenshot pictures included), this makes coherency an issue.

The sound also tends to go in and out a bit, and some parts are hard to make out, hence my not being sure why the demons wanted to get into the church, and how that would “spread” the demons. Or perhaps they said it and I zoned out? That happened on my end a couple of times here and there.

A strong feature is the three main characters. Reyes is a sharpshooter who served in the Middle East, so he does have experience that certainly lends a bit of texture to the characters. The central and tragic boozy Seal is played by Mikal Vega, who was a military badass in real life, having 22 years of service in Special Operations. Oh, and he’s freakin’ huge, man. His is the only character that any back story. Even so, like most of the others in the film, he is still under-written.

And there lies the biggest issue of the film, namely the writing. For a large cast, there really isn’t that big a (on-screen) body count; also there are just a couple of fights and a vacuum of action. This is a problem for an action film. For example, nearly everyone rides motorcycles, but the only ones who wear helmets are…the demons?!

Another annoyance is that while our three heroes and the bikers battle the demons face on, the scene keeps cutting away to a team in some far off location watching what happens in Texas from a satellite. How they see inside the buildings is something I haven’t quite figured out, and honestly, those interjected parts just feels like padding that was added after the fact.

Lead Demon
We never really get a good look at the demons as the views are dark, and also distorted by digi tricks. What one does see is…okay. However, there are a couple of decent gore scenes, mostly gastrointestinal, but far between.

I have an issue with the final battle, which I’m not going to give away, but it all seemed too easy. And the finale was kind of telegraphed more than once during the last act of the story.

Lastly, it’s kind of odd that it’s Blu-ray, and yet an extra other than sound and chapters is nowhere to be seen. How demonic! Though truthfully, I don’t know if I could have sat through a commentary track and many other Behind the Scenes featurettes.

All that being said, I would actually like to see Reyes focus more on some straightforward action films that aren’t filled with clichés that have been done to death already. He seems capable, despite my whining. I think he just needs a better script, and an film splicer/editor with some eye for narrative. Go get ‘em Reyes, I’ll be waiting!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Review: The Black Room

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

The Black Room
Written and directed by Rolfe Kanefsky
Cleopatra Entertainment / The Goods / Casual Productions / MVD Visual
91 minutes, 2017

There are actually a number of films called The Black Room, dating back to one with Boris Karloff in 1935, but each has its own flavor, and this one delves into more of an erotic and satanic Hammer-esque realm. A few decades ago, the male lead would probably have been played by Ralph Bates.

It’s been a long time since I saw one as spicy as this one. It’s sort of a cross between the semi-classics The Entity and The Incubus (both 1982) and the gateway-to-hell-is-in-the-basement subgenre, and then something you might have seen on Cinemax in its day. That being said, it’s not exactly in the softcore realm, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the inevitable prologue, we meet an older woman (Lin Shaye) and her nightie-clad granddaughter, who have retired to separate bedrooms; but there is evil afoot as one is sensually stimulated and the other one gets angry (I’ll let you guess which). A nice choice is that the scene actually goes beyond where you would think it might, giving a fuller ride than just a set-up; although yes, it is exposition in its way, or at least a whetting of the audience’s – err – appetite for what’s to – err – come.

Lukas Hassel and Natasha Henstridge
In most cases, the next scene where the new couple moves in usually takes place decades later, but here it is a mere two years, which is a lot more realistic (that is realistic in a genre sense). In a brief cameo, the ever-cool and grossly underrated ex-Tromette Tiffany Shepis plays the real estate agent who sells the demon house to married couple Paul (Lukas Hassel) and Jennifer (Natasha Henstridge).

It’s not long before they’re unintentionally playing footsie, as it were, with Incubi and Succubae. Lights flash, cameras do a tilt-and-twirl, and, well, you know. Gotta say Henstridge is still quite the looker, and so is Hassel. I’m sure there are going to be a lot of both women and men who are going to be paying attention to his often shirtless physique.

As there usually is in this kind of film, since the two main characters need to go on for a while in the story, numerous peripheral characters fall prey one by one to the increasing number of demon denizens, including trades people, friends and relations. By the end, there is quite the – err – satisfying body count number. The story isn’t deep, but please, did you expect or even want it to be. It’s quite enjoyable and most of the fine points are – err – touched upon, such as gore, SFX and sex.

Now, I’m been kidding the film with all the innuendos, but truthfully it’s a fun film to watch. It never really gets a chance to sag in the story thanks to some sharp editing, decent lighting, and a fetching cast. And the story does hold up throughout, without wearing out its welcome. It’s just sensual enough to keep the eyes on the screen, and yet not enough to bludgeon anyone to the point of numbness and being overdone. The pace builds, especially in the second half as it should, and nowhere in the continuum did I ever to the point wanting to say, “C’mon already, lets pick up the pace!” For example, as I’ve stated before, I get really annoyed when someone is searching through a house or factory with a light, and it goes on and on to the point where even when the jump scare happens, I’m too bored to care. This never treads the water long enough to do that. I’m grateful.

One question I do have, which is kind of a mundane one but for some reason it stuck out because this happens occasionally in the haunted house milieu: Henstridge and Hassel move into the already furnished house. They are not exactly, well, a young couple. While I’m not sure how long their characters have been together, but surely they must own something either together or from previously by this age (both leads are in their 40s). In the real world, of course, I realize that this way the film crew can use the leased house without disturbing anything of the real owners, but for some reason it stuck with me.

There is, naturally, a high and exaggerated (and enjoyable) level of both sexuality and sensuality, but oddly, cautious nudity. With one exception, an occasional breast makes an appearance here and there, though we often get to see Hassel with his shirt off or open. It’s almost like the director was obsessed with his six-pack. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Arthur Brown is the "God of Hellfire!"
I will say the acting is top notch. No one in the main cast gives a bad performance, and there are some interesting cameos, such as the aforementioned Shepis, genre stalwart Shaye (who has been in a ton of films like A Nightmare on Elm Street right through the Insidious franchise),and two pivotal musicians who play a part in the background story: Al Jourgensen of the band Ministry, and I’m happy to say Arthur Brown (as in The Crazy World of Arthur Brown… we even get to hear a bit of a re-recorded “Fire,” a song I’ve loved since the first time I heard it); I recognized the make-up he wore here as being the same as he used in the ‘60s during his height of fame. There are also the likes of model/actor Dominique Swain, and bubbling under actors such as Nick Principe, Elissa Dowling, and Michael Reed, most of whom you’ve probably seen a few times but never really knew it (yet).
Speaking of Ministry, there’s Jennifer’s diminutive sister, Karen (Augie Duke, who is a full foot shorter than her co-star, Hassel). When we meet her, she is supposedly punked out, with a buttons and a patch on her bag by British band GBH. However, her make-up is completely goth (or emo, depending on how you look at it). Of course, she’s snarky. Later on, she wears a tee of the Industrial Metal group Ministry as a nighty. She’s musically all over the map; again, I realize this has nuthin’ to do with nuthin’, but still…

The gore is decent looking and smartly not overdone. The sets, especially near the end, was decent, though looked a bit late ‘60s or ‘70s-ish, like a Star Trek planet. Still, it was fun and lots to look at, which is impressive on a small budget. I also enjoyed that many of the demons are seen merely through their red hands, another brilliant (seriously) budget saver.

As for the extras, as this is a Blu-ray, there are lots to choose from, such as numerous extended and deleted scenes. This is why I commented about good editing. While these were enjoyable to sit through independently, some were a bit wordy, and were right to go, but I easily sat through all of them without a problem. There is also a short Behind the Scenes piece that focuses on a particular scene near the end. The Blooper Reel is not very long, but enough to be entertaining. It certainly looked like they all got along. Add on both a Storyboards and Slide Show featurette, for some more behind the process moments. Of course, all this stuff should be watched after viewing the film. For example, part of what makes the storyboards so interesting is to see the differences between it and the story, such as the icon used to trap the demon. I’m also happy to say that the slide show is by a photographer between scenes and of SFX tests, rather than just freeze-frames of the film, as is often used.

The weakest point of the entire package, however, is the commentary track. Featuring the director, Henstridge, Duke and producer Esther Goodstein, there are some nuggets in there, but as with too many people with egos talking, they consistently make comments over each other so it’s hard to make out what’s being said. But even worse, someone will actually interrupt an anecdote to make their own unrelated remarks way too often. You won’t miss much by skipping this.

However, the film proper is worth the view. It’s fun, well written and acted, and keeps a good pace. Yes, it’s also sensual (for both genders, which is a nice touch), but not to the level of the old EI Entertainment stuff (with the likes of Tina Krause and Erin Brown, known then as Misty Mundae). Definitely worth checking out.