Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Review: Brackenmore

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Directed by Chris Kemble and JP Davidson
Caragh Lake Films; Upstream Films; MVD Visual
72 minutes, 2016 / 2018

When I was in grade school, I had a teacher who posited that if our room was sealed off from the one next door, after 100 years or so it would probably be hard for the two classes to understand each other. I didn’t know what she was talking about then, but it stuck with me, and has resonated to me throughout my life.

That is sort of the premise of films like this and, say, The Wicker Man (1973) and Jug Face (2013), where remote villages come to have different gods that call on sacrifice and odd worship. For this film, it’s the isolated Irish titular town, where people mysteriously and regularly show up sneaking around in white death masks and stereotypically cultish long robes with cowls. No one ever does mention the Old Ones, though.

nto this peculiarity comes lovely Kate (Sophie Hopkins), who is summoned from London because her uncle has passed away, leaving her his modest estate (okay, small house) in town. She was born there, and is told to be his only living relative after she survived a car crash in her youth that killed her parents (i.e., the films prologue).

Everyone is acting oddly around her giving off a “what’ca doin’ in these here parts, stranger?” vibe. It’s pretty easy to figure out that the game is afoot, especially thanks to those masked folks showing up on the story’s periphery, circling ever closer. The lodging house in which she is staying and the lawyer handing the real estate in the late uncle’s will are, in the words of a friend of mine about this kind of thing, just not.

She gets cozy with a local named Tom (DJ McGrath), who shows her around town, unbeknownst to her hubby Allyn (Joe Kennard) back in London Town. While there are other people in the town, essentially Tom, the boarding house couple and the lawyer are just about all we meet in talking roles for the locals. We also don’t get to see too much of the town proper, as it seem to focus mostly on the indoors, other than the front of the houses on which the story focuses and a bit of the wooded area around the lake.

Events start to ramp up on this idyllic spot as someone in a mask and, yes, a cape with a cowl, attacks Kate, but she proves resourceful in what feels like a better way than most films that have women just be blade-fodder. Of course, the local constabulary accuses her of a night gone wrong, what with the attacker being a local and she being a…

It’s hard to tell in the story, and I liked this, whether certain actions are meant to scare her off into leaving, acts of retaliation of local vs. foreigner, or forcing her to stay. I guessed right, by the way.

There are little and subtle things that caught my eye though. For example, in the lawyer’s office there is a binder on a self behind Kate that has, in handwritten letters, 1916. This is an important date in relatively modern Irish history being the same year as Éirí Amach na Cásca, also known as the Easter Rising. No wonder the cop was critical about someone from London.

Along the way, there are hints about what is happening, such as a radio station going wild in the prologue, but mostly the story follows a line that feels familiar, with some elements that have been seen before in these kinds of genre films, even as far back as some Hammer Films,

The film is beautifully shot, and Hopkins is certainly easy on the eyes; she reminds me a bit of Kiera Knightly (if the latter were attractive), being lean of form and a strong chin. Smartly, the film goes for the tight, near claustrophobic closeness of the village, making it seem even smaller than it probably is (filmed in County Cork), especially since we are focused on a particular group of people. Of course, it also is a good way to keep the budget down (which I respect).

There are definitely some clichés here and there, and the big reveal of a specific person is a duh moment, but there are others you may not see coming, so I guess it’s still a “win.” While the ending is enjoyable, it also is a bit unclear. Call me crazy, but it feels like at one time this was a slightly different story, and they edited certain parts out (might explain there being two directors?). For example, during its filming, the working title was Banshee: Beyond the Lake, and there is even a Banshee listed in the IMDB credits, but I don’t remember seeing one. I enjoy Banshee stories, and I was puzzled. Perhaps in the sequel (which I would happily watch if there is one), or in a Director’s Cut version? I’m not sure. But what I am positive of is that I would have liked to have heard a commentary track that might answer some of my questions. Again, perhaps the Director’s Cut version at some point will do this. Meanwhile, the only extra available on this DVD is the chapter breaks.

The cast is all great, with Hopkins being outstanding by expressing a large range of emotions, and the accents don’t be doin’ no harm, either. There aren’t too many bloody scenes, but when it’s there, it’s a cornucopia of the red goo. A couple of other really good SFX appear here and there from Pitch Black Films, as well. Despite it all and because of the acting and cinematography¸ I’m happy I had the chance to see this, though I’m still scratching my head just a bit.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Review: True Love Ways

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

True Love Ways
Directed by Mathieu Seiler
Grand Hotel Pictures; Klusfilm Berlin;
ARRI Film and TV Services; Synergetic Distribution; MVD Visual
95 minutes, 2015

Germany is familiar with cinema of the strange in the past few decades. Just look at the likes of the extremely other-there Nekromantic (1987), or even Run Lola Run (1998) as examples.

Anna Hausburg and Kai Michael Muller
For this film, named after a Buddy Holly posthumous rock’n’roll romantic classic from 1960 (which we hear more than once in the film), it opens on the strained relationship between our heroine, Séverine (the lovely Anna Hausburg) and her boyfriend Tom (Kai Michael Müller), with the former telling the latter that she doesn’t love him, but rather has given her heart to someone of whom that she dreamed; to me, his reactions says a lot about why she needs to dump his ass.

Speaking of reactions, the first couple of acts of the film are set at a very languid pace, like being on a rowboat meandering down a river, with little dialog, as Séverine sits in a park watching people, spending the night by herself, or driving down the road chewing both her hair and gum with the camera mainly focused on her face. Within those times, however, there are some disturbing moments of her wondering, “okay, who should I trust?” This paranoia also is placed on the audience by some creepy goings-on that I will very lightly touch on to not give too much away.

Muller and David C. Bunners
At a bar, after Séverine chucks Tom outta da co-joint for a few days, he goes to a bar where he meets Chef (David C. Bunners), who suggests that he will kidnap Séverine and then Tom would come to the rescue and be her “Tarzan.” With other events that happen in the meanwhile, during the ebb and flow of the day mentioned above, the audience can’t help wonder if this is part of a larger event.

About half way through the film, the pieces of some of the events that happened before and why the Chef is so interested in Séverine start to become clearer. And yes, it’s even creepier than you’d expect. We get to figure it out the same time as her, and that’s when the film shifts gears into overdrive. Yet, and this is where I find the film is playing with us, there are still moments of long silence and little movement, that in the heightened state of tension and adrenaline, are nail-biting thriller moments. Again, you know Séverine is feeling the same. It’s really well written that the audience gets to not just sympathize, but empathize, because you’re feeling a bit of what she is experiencing (without us being in real danger).

While definitely a sharp (and occasionally darkly humorous) thriller, some have referred to this as a kunstfilm (art film), and not just because it’s in black-and-white. It’s the pacing, the way the music works with the film beyond jump scares, but it’s not obnoxiously so. In other words, most art films try so hard to be ar-tay, that they become obtuse and confusing. There is none of that here. There are also few weird angles, other than multiple long close-ups of Séverine’s face.

The good news is that Hausburg is talented enough that with the extreme close-ups and lack of dialogue, it still is easy to read the broad emotional range she expresses (i.e., no “Blue Steel” vs. “Magnum”).

As always, the bad guys underestimate Séverine; while she’s no hired assassin like in the predictable and ordinary Final Girl (2015), she is extremely resourceful and works her way through situations (which we get to watch, step by step by facial expression).

The one cliché that is easy to predict in the film regards a tavern owner. I actually said, out loud as soon as she walked into the bar, “Oh, really?! C’mon!” But in a film that’s over 90 minutes, I can forgive it considering how much else is going on.

What really drove me crazy is the Tom character. Hero? Villian? No matter, he’s an asshole, that’s for sure. I’m not going to go into details, but like the male protagonist in Run Lola Run, I have no respect for him.

Sometimes arty films can be especially bloody, such as with Nekromantik, or Miike’s Audition (1999), and while it’s not overly done or in super-graphic detail like many Euro-body horror releases, there is definitely a spurting of the stuff. That being said, there will be a contingent with whom I agree to some level, who will argue that the males are killed pretty quickly, but it’s the women who receive the brunt of the brutality.

Okay, I know I’ve made a couple of complaints, and they seem valid to me, but overall this is quite the stunning picture. Sure, not necessarily a date flick (depending on your companion, of course), but it really is a beautiful piece of cinema, and much of that is directly is in the lap of Hausburg and her mighty-fine acting. My fear is that it will be remade in the Western Hemisphere, and the Séverine character will be played by someone like Chloë Grace Moretz or Abigail Breslin (who’s IMDB’s bio laughingly states is one of the “most sought after actors of her generation”), who cannot really do the heavy lifting acting that would be necessary to match Hausburg.

The only extra on this DVD is the chapters; the captions are imprinted onto the film.

Séverine certainly lives up to her name. Loving her would be severe, and threatening her would be even more so, judging by the actions here. She’s a bit nuts, but borderline enough that you’d have to be intimate with her to see just how around the bend she is. Part of the explanation and what is interesting on a few levels is that the ending is both a WTF and an Ohhhh-I-see moment. You certainly don’t see that occur much anymore.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Review: Hollow Creek

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Hollow Creek (aka Haunting in Hollow Creek)
Written, produced, directed by Guisela Moro
Newfoundland Films; First Edge Films;
Cinematic Motion Pictures; FilmRise; MVD Visual
116 minutes, 2016

I love it when I get to see a horror film written and directed by a woman; in this case it’s Latina actor Guisela Moro. She takes a number of different subgenres and mashes them into an expansive story that lasts nearly two hours (usually a long time for an indie flick), which I will now discuss without giving away too many details, of course.

Steve Daron and Guisela Moro
We are introduced to married horror writer Blake Blackmore (dashing Steve Daron, who continually has a Sonny Crockett-type 5 o’clock shadow) and his mistress, Angelica (the lovely Moro), as they head out to a cabin retreat in a not largely populated small town in rural West Virginia (hillbilly genre). It seems some young boys have gone missing recently in the area, but our protagonists are more focused on their work and – err – play.

But it’s very shortly into the story (which is why, in part, I bring it up) that other supernatural happenings start to crop up in the house (haunted house genre) that are somewhat subtle to them, but are used well for jump scare type shock value to the audience. There is also the bit about the trio of missing boys and the investigation into finding them (“Criminal Minds-type genre). They all interplay together well into a comprehensive story with a touch of the supernatural without being overwhelmed by it.

In the first act, the ghostly stuff is well timed because in the beginning there are some dialogue-heavy moments of exposition that drag a bit due to some forced language, such as the over use of the endearing-babble word “babe.” But they are interrupted by those nice scares that livens thing up quite a bit.

Earleen Carey and Alyn Damay
The questions that arose for me were concerning the film’s intentions. Is it a good ghost or a bad ghost? Are the cops the good guys or the bad guys? The only two things that are a given pretty much right from the onset is that Blake and Angie are the side of light, and Leonard (Alyn Darnay) and Margaret Cunnings (Earleen Carey) are the in the dark region. As it’s given away quite early on (and even in the trailer) that it’s the latter, rednecky farm couple who are behind the kidnappings, But again, what are the reasons and intentions for the sinister duo to be carrying out what they are doing? That is part of what kept my interest.

Here is the thing about small towns: they can amazingly rally up behind you, or give a strong cold shoulder if you are (gabba gabba) not one of “them,” meaning if they turn their back on you, it can be isolating. I’ve been through small towns in West Virginia, and other than the Dixie flags a-flyin’, I got along with everyone I met, even as a stranger, but if I had taken an action that was disapproved of by the group by breaking a code of honor, that situation might have turned into something else. When Angie suddenly disappears, Blake gets a taste of this from the locals as he gets blamed for her going poof! in the rainy night in the court of public opinion, thanks to a sensationalist-driven local media (as we were taught, “If it bleeds, it leads”).

When the second act starts, after Angie vanishes from the town (but not from the story), is when the tale really starts to build momentum. While the film centers on the kidnapping story as its core, it manages to not overuse the ghost or hillbilly aspects of it; rather, Moro wisely plies the other two as aspects of the whole story, which actually helps make it stronger. Yeah, there are some gothic cliché’s, such as a child’s baseball mysteriously and nosily dropping down the stairs, which has been a standard ever since The Changeling in 1980; however, the orb is key to the story, so in this case it’s not just a ghostly announcement of presence.

Do I really need to say who this is?
The big cameo, of course, is Burt Reynolds, who shows up for one decent scene with Daron, and a brief one later on. Now, Daron has announced that Reynolds is one of his acting idols, and the writing credits state that Daron is “collaborating writer.” My guess is he wrote the scene with Reynolds, which just consists of the two of them. I will further posit that while the film was shot in West Virginia, the scene with the frail, then 80-year-old Bandit, was filmed in Florida where Reynolds lives. The second scene just shows the back of the heads of the cops, so I’m guessing all his scenes were added in after the principal shooting. I would say that it is a cool thing.

The one big hole to me is that there is a rifle hidden in the closet where Blake is staying. This makes no sense, as the cops think he is responsible for Angie’s disappearance, wouldn’t they have found the rifle in searching the house? It’s not like it was hidden somewhere, it’s right on the shelf at the top of the closet. I’m just going to put it up to a rookie writing mistake, and mosey on.

The cast is really strong here. Both Moro and Daron carry their roles well, Carey plays woundedly cracked just a tad overboard (though her character, well, actually is), and Darnay definitely steals his scenes as the always seething patriarch of the kept clan. He has this way of moving his mouth as a sign of annoyance (you can see it in the trailer) that says so much about Leonard.

Once past the initial “Hey, babe” scenes, the film turns into a really taut, well-written thriller. Even if one edited out all of the supernatural aspects, the tension would still be on high, and that’s great. Having it in, though, is a boost as a way to take it to another level to apprehension. Plus, the way the film was shot, with the effective lighting (including being able to see the action at night) and slower editing, brings a strong and satisfying end result. I look forward to seeing more of Moro’s work as actor, writer and director. Brava.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Review: The Rise and Fall of an American Scumbag

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

The Rise and Fall of an American Scumbag
Written, cinematography, directed and edited by Dakota Bailey
R.A. Productions
38 minutes, 2018

Here is the generalized truth about evil people: they do not realize they are terrible citizens. Those who bomb abortion clinics, marched in Charlottesville, the person coming into your home and stealing your goods to sell for drugs? They rationalize that the ends justify their means, or that they are doing what they believe is necessary, or they just think that you are the evil one for letting women vote, letting darker skinned people into the country, or not bending down to idolize whomever they idolize in however way they idolize their idol (more on this later). This includes the Westboro Baptist Church, the mufti of wherever calling for jihad, or even what has become known as the Taylor Swift Army.

Dakota Bailey
Lower class whites in poor neighborhoods and ghettos, the drug addicted, murderous, lecherous, down and out folk who will do anything to not live, but merely survive, are the focus of director and actor Dakota Bailey’s stories and lens. He calls himself an auteur, and he certainly is one of the few who could actually be covered by that term in its truer and literal sense. Not counting his short films, this is his fourth full length release made with non-pro actors who know how to get the job done. Sometimes I wonder where the stories start and the people end. And in Bailey’s stories, a lot of people “end.”

This is a sequel to American Scumbags, released in 2016 (reviewed by me HERE). It brings back some of the characters who actually managed to survive the first blood-splattered collection of three intertwining stories. The remainders are mostly a viscous nutjob control freak named Billy (Darien Fawkes), and Johnny (director Bailey), a hitman who kills for his drug needs.

Once again we visit the still ironically named city of Sunnydale (filmed in Denver), where it seems like it may be the location of a Dante-eske Purgatory or even the other place. The five interlocking stories could be the overlapping rings of Hell and each member lives in their own mind-world, often connected by cell phone more than the physical; they are often in motion through foot, wheelchair or pick-up truck, and hats and wigs often seem of play an indirect part in separating the head from the space they occupy, as a shield or barrier.

Darien Fawkes
While Bailey’s films have all followed the auteur’s path, including title cards and persons descriptors (e.g., “Billy: Sadistic Sociopath”) in a similar font, monochrome tinting of the visuals, and using friends as the characters. However, he still finds room to grow. For example, in this release, we often hear what characters are thinking, which is a much better touch than just hearing them speak on cell phones to gather what is their motivation. Bailey’s editing skill is also improving; with more fluid scenes and less jump cuts, making the film’s pacing easier and less jarring, allowing us to focus on the content more than the form.

There is also a lot of both Christian and Satanic imagery, in both blatant and subtle forms. For example, there is a “666” written inside a file cabinet drawer or a Devil graffiti, but there is also the Novena candles that line the sides of the road (my fave is one of Jesus holding two guns in his folded arms), or Christmas decorations, many of which get mashed. However, this is the first Bailey release I can remember where Satan himself doesn’t make an appearance directly.

Marla Rose
So, what I’m saying is that there are two ways one can look at this specific aspect of how the film looks at religion: one is that it is totally against the totalitarianism of the Religious Right (or, as I once heard it called, Political Christianity) and how that helps destroy societies. The other is from the perspective of a hyper-Christian, who probably sees that being a non-Christian leads to drugs, murder and Satanism. I’m quite sure this leans towards the former, but the latter should be acknowledged. If you read my reviews regularly, you know where I stand (just ask).

The main character of the film is the aforementioned Billy, who is also the most interesting to me. Fawkes’ drawl, missing front teef, knee-length black coat and black hat make him both hateful and interesting at the same time. He’s out to score some money by any means necessary, and drugs for his very cute girlfriend, Candy (Marla Rose). Mind you, this is pretty much the norm as nearly everyone is seen doing some kind of substance abuse throughout. Bailey is also drug-addled as a hitman on his way up, and his vicious no-compromise dealer is Pat (Alaskan Cinder). Other characters float in and out of these stories, but most either are blown away or do the slaying, though they are key turning points in the storyline. As none of these are “professional” actors, the level of skill is variant, but some such as Fawkes definitely hold their own.

One lesson learned from this film is if you are going to be a drug dealer (and I am certainly not recommending that as I’m pretty strait-edge), don’t also be a user because it clouds your judgment; of course, being a dealer is not a great judge of judgment either. Another lesson to be had is taking heroin and thinking it’s cocaine is not a good thing.

Alaskan Cinder
The five chapters are kind of superfluous as the stories are so intertwined they flow as one narrative, but I like that it’s broken up that way, with titles like “Drugged Up & Dead to the World,” “Ghosts of Addiction,” and “The American Dream is a Fucking Lie.” Yeah, it’s quite nihilistic, but that’s the world Bailey is putting under the microscope. Many of the “larger” films focus on the crime world, but Bailey’s releases feel like you’re right there. Also, while most mainstream films tend to present this types as characters as African-American, Latino or some other form of Other, Bailey uses White actors that put it right in your neighborhood. That’s one of the things I like about his films, and each gets better stylistically and story-wise.

The music is loud and blaring, by the hardcore death metal Skullcrack, which fits the film well. It may be a bit on the short side, but there is no padding whatsoever, so you get as much action in this amount of time as in most 80-90 minutes releases.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Review: Inoperable

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Directed by Christopher Lawrence Chapman
Zorya Films / Millman Productions
85 minutes, 2018

It’s wonderful how Danielle Harris turned a cutesy television acting career (for example, I first noted her as a regular on the 2000-2002 show That’s Life, where she played someone named Plum) into becoming one of the top of the current scream queens. Sure even back then she was doing a horror turn now and again, but it’s in the indie horrors that she really took off and reach her fan base.

The reason I bring this up is the very diminutive in stature but equally big in style Harris is the star of this new straight to DVD/VoD film. She plays Amy in this play on the repeating Groundhog Day theme from hell that also has just a shade of Grave Encounters (especially the sequel). Mixing the events of a day stuck in the middle of a traffic jam with continually waking up in a hospital of the damned, she slowly starts to put pieces together. An interesting aspect that extrapolates from the now-classic Bill Murray comedy is that every time Amy awakens-like-the-Force, while there are some repetitions, the scenarios change drastically, such as either not being seen by those around her to her being attacked by them. We (and she) quickly learn that the staff running the place has no compulsion on using scalpels, drugs or electro-shock “therapy.”

With each reoccurrence, the violence gets more severe (and usually in close-up), either to her or those she views around her. As all this is happening, the well-chosen and  presciently named Hurricane Sybil is looming in on her locus, centered in Tampa Bay, Florida. One constant is the blonde woman who wanders the hall sloooowly (Crystal Cordero), popping in and out at will.
In one incarnation, she meets two people: a cop, Ryan (Jeff Denton), and the dressed to the nines Jen (Katie Keene). They are also part of the repetition on the side of the prey, as well as giving Amy some chance to work out what is going on (and for the audience as exposition, as well). They suspect that there are a series of timelines that are being affected by the hurricane having done something to an army base experiment. Honestly, it’s not very clear and seems farfetched, but so what. It’s what is going on in this story that is germane more than why.

To keep if further interesting, the time shifting progressively happens faster each time, so there is no reason to feel the same-old-same-old, even with the repetition. Speaking of the temporal, I was wondering either when this story was actually filmed, or perhaps when it was supposed to take place. For example, Amy has a flip phone, the computers are all desktop and the monitors are cathode tubed with the big backs. Honestly, the flat screen televisions in the hall that keep us all updated about the hurricane’s location feels a bit achromatic to the rest of the technology, even if their images look more analog signal than HD digital.

All these different time scenarios give the chance to present the audience with increasing levels and reasons for gore since characters can be sliced and diced more than once, so that’s not a bad thing, right? And why is all this happening? Aye, that’s the question of the day, ain’it?

This film plays with one of my favorite devices of speculating how much is in the mind and how much is in the reality of the characters. From early on, I had a theory of what was going on, and the reasons for it. I was 90 percent wrong, I’m happy to say, and that says a lot about the film.

Of course the cast is strong, as most of its players have a long list of credits. But there are some other aspects of the film worth noting. For example, the camera and dolly work is superb, and of special note is the editing. Working in the repetitions by seamlessly cutting out the recurring actions though editing is a good way to support of the story without annoying the audience. There is also a lot of motion in the physical sense as well, as we watch Amy do a lot of running down long hospital hallways. I was exhausted just watching her.

The gore is thick and rich throughout, including (but not exclusively) by use of needles, surgical saws, and scalpels. There is a lot of body cutting (etc.) that definitely falls sort of torture porn but can probably be considered body horror. Add the psychological twists and turns and it’s a pretty full package.

Image result for inoperable keeneThere is also a very subtle and dark humor that occasionally pops up, such as a comment Amy makes upon waking up for the umpteenth time (I’m not going to give it away). There were a couple of moments here and there, though, where I thought the film lagged a bit, mostly around phone calls. Mostly, though, it’s a pretty taut thriller and the cast is certainly up for that. Harris and Keene (most of the time saddled with some horrendous shoes) are up for the task, and both have their moments to shine, throughout.

What really keeps this film from being like any other time looper is that every time it happens there are some repetitions (especially around those damned phone calls), but as I said, the story changes enough each time that even though there are familiarities, it morphs enough to keep the suspense going.

There are also the rare plot holes, and certainly I have a few questions (though most of them I can’t ask here without giving away too much), but one of the nice things about this kind of story is that because of the overlapping and forever shifting timelines, it’s easy to lose and explain away the holes in the different directions.

That being said, this is only the director’s second feature (the first being non-genre), and he handles it exceedingly well for such a complex story. That’s pretty exciting.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Review: Inbred Redneck Vampires

Text © Richard Gary/Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Inbred Redneck Vampires (aka Bloodsucking Redneck Vampires)
Directed by Edward Hegg and Joe Sherlock
Sub Rosa Studios / MVD Visual
77 minutes, 2004 / 2010

Inbred Redneck Vampires actually began its life in 2004 under the title Bloodsucking Redneck Vampires. Huge difference, hunh?

I’m wondering if there is a future lawsuit in the making from this production, as here is the basic plot: a female vampire decides to raise an army of vampires to wipe out a threat. Did that Eclipse anyone else’s mind?

Well, although the basic storyline pastiche is the same, that is where the similarity ends, and this film is a throwback to those drive-in flicks that rarely made it up north (except perhaps at one of those theaters that was the glory of 42nd Street at Times Square, in New York, now gentrified into oblivion. But I digress…), but did so well in the Deep South, though they were usually about truckers and moonshine, rather than vampires.

This film really is a hoot. There are two plots going on, which of course will converge by the end. While the [Transylvanian?] vampire countess Catherine (Felicia Pandolfi) and her oh-so-not-smart servant / familiar (Warren E.E.B.) work on their plans to (wait for it, Pinky) take over the world, the little town of Backwash (filmed in Winlock, WA), where beer and Dixie flags are common, is slowly transformed during the height of the annual Tripe Days Festival.

This is no 2000 Maniacs, but more a dumbed down Dukes of Hazzard, and I mean that in a positive way. The protagonists of the story is the Poissier (pronounced ‘pisser”) family of Ma (Carrie Davis), sexy daughter Eva (Lindsey Hope), and dumb-as-dirt Lil’ Junior (Rob Merickel). Oh, and there’s Pa who is always off somewhere “tryin’ to read” something. Lil’ Junior (which sounds like a name from The Sopranos, even though it predates it) has a friend, little person Cletus (Bill Bradford), who is rude, crude, and always at full volume, but compared to Lil’, he’s Einstein.

Into this house comes very - er – cosmopolitan French interior designer, Jean-Claude Les Eaux (Scott Shanks), who is shocked by the state of the room he is supposed to redecorate (seems Ma won a contest from a bull inseminating magazine), which is, of course, the bathroom. Along the way, this Parisian poisson out of eau slowly but surely comes to an understanding of the town and its folks, just as they begin to “turn” into Catherine’s intended army.

But it seems Lil’ Junior ain’t the only one with the porch lights on and no one home, as, well, I don’t want to give it away. It actually is smart in its own silly way. For example, the local house of worship is the Church of St. Festus the Tipsy.

The acting is a bit, well, local theater, but the cast give it their all, and they seem to be having a lot of fun, which in turn comes across to the viewer. As with just about all indie films of this type, one has to put their reality check into a closet with Jean-Claude, and enjoy the ride. The script is actually quite witty in spots, when it’s not trying to out coarse Porky's-type material. In fact, there’s more “gross out” than gore, but I would also like to add that there was more than one time I actually had a good laugh. Intentionally.

This isn’t Scorsese (but these days is Scorsese Scorsese?), but it’s not Ed Wood, either. This is a romp, and should be seen as such. People in the south will either see this as an extension of some of the – er – southsploitation films of the ‘60s and ‘70s, or will be highly offended. Either way, we up north can laugh, and hope they’ll join in.

There is a full film commentary, lots of trailers, an amusing and relatively extensive behind-the-scenes featurette, and a decent blooper reel.

This review was originally published in

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Reviews: Short Films for February 2018

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet
Poster can be made larger by clicking on them
Reviews are in alphabetical order, not by ranking

American Virus
Directed by Shane Ryan
Mad Sin Cinema
5:39 minutes, 2015
Short but effective, this transgressive film shows a group of home-grown biological terrorists who release a zombie virus, only to find it literally bites back. Co-written and starring director Ryan and Kathryn Eastwood (yes, the chair-talker’s daughter), it’s done cinéma vérité (rather than it’s ugly stepchild found footage, though there is some of that here, too), following their – err – followers and they roam around the city spreading the disease through injection into homeless people. Its second act is very bloody (as the image attached can verify), and Eastwood, who is both attractive and looks like she can take any of the women on “GLOW,” is a solid force as she mocks the audience. Terrorism isn’t just bombs, this posits, it’s so much more; as the title implies, though, is the real virus the disease or rather is it the people who release it? A really nice release that will just flow by quicker than the virus shoots through the dropper’s neck.
Trailer HERE

Directed by Shayne Ryan
Mad Sin Cinema
13:05 minutes, 2017
This film is an interesting experiment into late ‘80s style exploitation cinema with colorful pastel lettering that looks spray painted, which makes sense as it takes place in 1989. Without dialog (and with possibly the chance of a sequel which would not surprise me from the exceedingly prolific Ryan), we follow the before, during and after of a missile that brings a virus to California. We see this through the eyes of a 10 year old girl who shoots 8mm film of what she is witnessing (I wonder who will be alive to process it, but I digress…). She is strong, and trains herself in martial arts, and we get to see some of that action over electronic-ish 1980s style music that sounds like it could be from Rocky. To me, most of the impressions given feel more ‘70s than near 1990 (roller skating, arcades, big clothes, etc.), but it definitely is a beautiful portrait of some longer time gone that I’m willing to admit. It’s pretty easy to follow what the action is despite lacking dialogue, though a series of title cards for different time aspects helps. My fave part, though – and this is me being a media theorist – is the bloopers reel during the credits where Ryan shows how hard it is to shoot a period piece without the achromatic cell phone popping up everywhere. This is true; I recently went to a local (to me) Zombie Walk, and out of 100 pictures, only 15 didn’t have a cell phone it in somewhere. I also enjoyed how Ryan trips from one subgenre to another. This film feels a bit silly, but in a good way, like it was a child making it; I’m assuming that’s the point considering the age of the protagonist filmmaker. Also makes me thing of the mode of something like the Spy Kids franchise.

The Halloween Girl
Written and directed by Richard T. Wilson
Mad Shelley Films
18:52 minutes, 2015
I’m a little late on the draw with this one as I lost track of it for a while. I’m glad I had the chance to see this in its original incarnation, which I’ll explain later. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a horror film per se, but it does have a demanding ghost and a Halloween theme, some intense moments, and certainly a heart at its center. In the story, Luke (Nicholas Zoto) is a lonely kid with a sad, alcoholic mom (Christine Parker) who’s recently lost her job (because of her drinkin’?). In the playground, Luke meets and befriends the older and titular Charlotte (Catherine Kustra), whom he refers to as “The Halloween Girl” because of the colors of the clothes she’s wearing. It’s pretty obvious on some level who she is, but yet there still remain some nice surprises in store. It’s beautifully shot, with some nice angles, lighting, and moments that vary between Hallmark and Horror. It makes an enjoyable viewing. Meanwhile, as I was elsewhere, Charlotte has been spun off into the hit horror Web series, “Under the Flowers,” which is about to begin its second season. I think I may check that out, if this is the direction it’s heading.
Trailer for “Under the Flowers” HERE

Directed by Richard Powell
Fatal Pictures / Red Sneakers Media
13:58 minutes, 2015
Just because a picture takes us on a track that doesn’t conclude in that preconceived direction tends make it better rather than not. This intense tale from Ontario introduces us to a dad with a secret (Robert Nolan) and his barely teenage son (Mateo D’Avino), who travel a distance to meet up with his old college buddy (scream king Bill Oberst Jr.). They share a secret that of course I won’t share, but it’s creepy and it’s green. The first half could have been about any number of social ills plaguing the West these days, but this delves into something deeper, darker, and yes, greener. Everyone does a decent job, but it’s Oberst, who is a naturalistic actor of the highest level, that manages to keep the camera and viewer’s eye. The best way I can think of to describe his character is as follows: as someone once said to me about someone else in real life (as opposed to reel life), he’s just… not. But again, it’s also not what you might be expecting, either. This is a beautifully shot piece that feels a bit claustrophobic at times, which only adds to the chill factor. The Butcher Shop did a great job with the SFX, and there is some fine editing work here, as well. Worth seeking out.
Trailer HERE:

In Darkest Slumber
Directed by JT Seaton
Cat Scare Films
4:30 minutes, 2016

For hundreds of years, many of us grew up with Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which in its pure form were often horrific (and many of which have been turned into genre films). And every once in a while, such as with the likes of Roald Dahl, there will be additions to the canon. Which brings us to this modern fairy tale of a comatose woman (the up and coming Samantha Acampora) who is dogged by a flamboyant evil spirit in modified clown – or possibly harlequin, as that is more trickster – make-up (Jonathan Grout). [As a sidebar, Acampora would make a great petite-yet-sexy Harley Quinn.]. With a flourish language written by the also quickly up-and-coming Michael Varrati, we get a great story and a moral at the end that is true to the Fairy Tale genre. The narration is by the legendary Lynn Lowry. The film has a bit of an ethereal feel to it, as the camera and editing flow a bit like a river, and nice plays with lighting. At less than five minutes, it’s quite the satisfying excursion in Girl Power!

Love Is Dead
Written and directed by Jerry Smith
Sickening Pictures / Dexahlia Productions
10:50 minutes, 2016
As the song says, “Love hurts / love scars…” We learn the truth of that from the two protagonists of the film after a prelude of Peter (porn actor Aaron Thompson) talking to his shrink (genre-regular Ruben Pla, who tends to play doctors in films like Contracted and Insidious). In flashback – and in the shower – we meet the naked and tat-covered Peter, and his equally tatted and naked wife, Mara (Joana Angel, also a porn star, though she is pushing into more mainstream genre-style films). It is obviously not a joyous moment, which leads to further unhappiness. While this is not classically a horror film, the tension is strong. Sometimes it’s a bit hard to make out what the sobbing Mara is saying, but the point is understood. This is Jerry Smith’s second film (both shorts), though is he known more for his writing about genre films¸ so it’s great that he’s actually participating now. He manages to get some decent shots in what is obviously a cramped space, and the story is short enough not to lose the viewer. Yeah, I found the sheer volume of tats a bit distracting, expecting Ray Bradbury or Rod Steiger to show up any second (not really, considering they’re both dead, but hopefully you get my point). It’s a well-made short, and worth the view, depressing as it is.

The Minions
Directed by Jeremiah Kipp
Lauren Rayner Productions
11:17 minutes, 2014
Not to be confused with the Pixar characters which are every-witch-where [sic; pun intended], the title here focuses on William (the veeeery tall Lucas Hassel), who is caught in a bind. He hears Abigail (Lauren Fox) chastising him for getting involved with two “witches’ minions,” the very drunk Katrina (Robin Rose Singer) and her friend Sarah (Cristina Dokos), who is trying to get her home safely. The film plays one of my favorite film thriller motifs of what is real and what is imagined. The film mostly takes place on a dark New York (and Brooklyn) street, with nearly all the color drained out of it, giving it a faint, wan hue to match the mood perfectly. As William becomes more besotted and entranced, events evolve suddenly and sharply. This is a lovely film that plays games with both the characters and the audience.
Film HERE:

Oni-Gokko (Tag)
Written, edited and directed by Shane Ryan
Mad Sin Cinema
8:13 minutes, 2011
Director Ryan takes on J-Horror in this languid yet skeevy story – told in Japanese – about two sisters, Miki (Eri Akita) and Aki (Mariko Miyamitsu, aka Mariko Wordell), who once played a game of tag that did not end well. How much is a ghost story and how much is a guilt story is left up to the viewer. Razors are one of my ewww points, and it’s put well to use (even if not in close-up). Despite some screechy dialogue between the siblings, the pace is slow with long shots of the birthday suited duo. Even though short, it takes some patience to take it all in. A nice, neo-arty excursion, and I’m glad Ryan took the chance.

Directed by Jeremiah Kipp
Action Media Productions
15:54 minutes, 2014
Even though this film is a few years old, it’s even timelier now when doctors are either overprescribing or removing opioids like Fentanyl due to its addictiveness, leaving some in constant pain, suffering both from withdrawals and the original pain for which the drugs were given in the first place. For this film, through flashbacks we learn about two romantically involved scientists (Thomas Mendolla and the cute Kelly Rae LeGault in an obvious wig) who genetically design a small crab-like creature that, when imbedded in the spine, lives off pain while releasing endorphins. Of course, this being a genre film, there are unforeseen consequences. In a nice touch, it’s not just the effects on the host, but those who are attracted to it. This is solid body horror, but despite its physical harshness, it’s not what I call a squishy, making it palpable, on some levels, to a more general horror audience. It’s well done; the pacing is solid with a nice build-up.

Directed by Marc Cartwright
Glass Cabin Films
0:15 minutes, 2016
Yeah, sweet and very short. And yet, for its exceedingly brief time on the screen, it actually works as a narrative. Sure, there are no deep philosophical meanderings, nor any kind of subplots and exposition, but there is a bam! If you’ve ever found a hair in your food, this may do more than just gross you out. I don’t want to give anything away because, hey, you’ll get there in a quarter of a minute anyway. Baker Chase Powell, who has a kind of Zac Efron vibe, does well in conveying emotion without words and without much time. This is a really fun watch, and even if you hate it (though I don’t know why one would), shit, it’s 15 seconds of your life. Give it a try.