Monday, December 31, 2018

Favorites and Not Favorites for 2018

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

As always, I will republish the rules I have about such lists as these first:

I have an issue with “Best of” and “Worst of” year-end lists for the following reasons: most are chosen from either those that play in theaters. For me, I like to watch the DIY ones, for these tend to have more heart. My list consists of films that I saw and reviewed in 2018, not necessarily ones that were released in that year.

As for Best and Worst, I never liked those terms; art is just way too subjective, which is why I called them Favorites and Not Favorites. That being said, even the “Not” ones have redeeming qualities, and the fact that they don’t touch me means nothing. I have hated films that have won tons of awards, and liked some that other find abhorrent, so don’t take anything I say, good or bad, as the definitive. It’s just opinion, and I welcome you to agree or disagree. It’s all good.

These two lists are alphabetical, rather than ranked (another thing in which I don't believe). Also, these are abbreviated versions of the original reviews. Links to the original and full blogs are at the bottom of each.

FAVORITES:

American Antichrist
Written, cinematography, directed and edited by Dakota Ray
It’s always interesting to get a view into the creepy, nihilistic underworld vision of Dakota Ray. None of his characters are likeable; they are all human monsters in their own way, and it presents a Denver perspective of street trash that most people will (hopefully) never truly encounter in this intimate detail. But again, that’s also what makes Ray’s work also so compelling. In this, his most moody piece to date, we meet a delusional serial killer named “Smoke” (Ray) who thinks he’s god; however, through an accidental drug overdose, dies and is buried. But as the narration by him states, “Evil never dies, it just grows stronger.” Needless to say he returns from the dead (after three days, I’m assuming) as The Antichrist, of the film’s title. There is a lot of mixing of good/evil – God/Devil, which I find interesting. It’s always easy to tell a Ray film because he has developed his own style, which is rare these days. He uses monochrome filters in primary colors, title cards to separate segments that overlap in the stories anyway, non-populist religious symbolisms, highway underpass walkways, and blasts of death metal. But with each passing film, he has honed his camera’s eye to be a bit more artistic without losing the grip of presenting human suffering, either by their own hands or to others. His editing is worth noting as well; for what I am assuming is a single-camera shoot, he manages to use the footage to show motion and even more important, agitation, aggression, and transgression. As for the cast, it is filled with non-professional actors who are friends of the director, and rather than being stilted and wooden, in most cases Ray manages to get them to be more natural, sort of playing to themselves. If you’re tired of seeing the same old kinds of films, and want to stick your toes into something that’s avant-garde enough to be artistic and open ended, but not so opaque that you get lost in the miasma of arty masturbation, it may be time to try one of Ray’s films.
Original full review HERE 

Code Name: Dynastud
Directed and edited by Richard Griffin
Honestly, even before watching this sci-fi tinged “gay romp” (as Mel Brooks may have put it), I have been looking forward to giving it a viewing. In a post-Trump presidency world of 2024 when this film takes place, that religious power madness has reached its pinnacle, outlawing homosexuality. While our titular alien-induced super-powered character of Dynastud is introduced through a near perfect James Bond-ish opening and credits that had me in stitches, the story proper seems to revolve more around the pure of heart and noble Bart, who finds himself in a pickle when forced to marry Patty (the only female main character who ironically steals some scenes away from the dudes) by her father, the murderous and gay-hating Senator Hightower. That being said, there are three arcs to this story: in no particular order there is the Bart and Patty conundrum, a buddy travel, and an overlapping grand quest. Of course, there is full frontal male shots (though less than I expected) and a lot of sex, focused natch on M-M. One scene recognizes the female side of the equation, though more in a stereotypical but hopefully non-offensive way (plaid shirts, ultra-Liberal, etc.). The same stereotyping could be said about Canada and especially Canadians in later scenes, that is non-offensive and, honestly, really funny, eh?s This is a film that is silly, but far from stoopid [sic]. The cannon fire over the bow is both subtle and not as much so (such as a fight with the Mecha-Trump robot). Griffin switches back and forth from “a nod’s as good as a wink to a blind bat” subtle to a sledgehammer to bring his points around, and they all work into the story, mostly without being preachy (pun intended).
Original full review HERE 

The Girl in the Crawlspace
Written and directed by John Oak Dalton
When we approach the story for TGitC, the horrific events of Jill are in the past, and she has escaped from the Crawlspace Killer after 7 years of captivity. Now, to paraphrase the Dusty Springfield song, “She just don’t know what to do with herself” thanks to a heavy and understandable dose of PTSD This is the spine of the story, but actually, Jill isn’t even the central character. More than a “horror film,” this is an intense, tight psychological drama focusing more on Kristin/Kitty, a psychologist who had moved from this same small town to Hollywood, and has now come back after inheriting the family home. She has set up a therapy practice based on the families of the serial killer’s victims, who were mostly young boys and Jill. Kristin has brought along the other main focus of the film, her husband Johnny; he’s a douche nozzle that either can’t or won’t grasp what is socially acceptable living in a small town. This is a sharply written and directed first feature, and it bodes well for possibilities of the shapes of things to come. Dalton plays with the experience for the viewer, keeping the viewer off balance with red herrings and working the psycho-trauma tropes that we fans are so used to, and adding something new all the time. At least four times I thought I figured out the ending, and three times I was wrong, but my errors were also addressed within the storyline. How cool. There is also a bit of social commentary that doesn’t hit you over the head with self-righteousness, but rather keeps it in the public eye. For example, there is a slight focus on the fragility of Mexican migrant workers and how they can easily be exploited, as they have been; it’s ironic talking about taking kids from families and then the government starts to do it to reinforce the notion. The weak point to me in the film’s story is the fluidity of lack of patient/doctor (psychologist) confidentiality. However, in cinematic poetic license, I understand talking to someone onscreen is the equivalent to telling the audience what a character is thinking. I love it when a film surprises me in its subtly among the mind games. There is no gore and very little blood, an implied body count, a generally attractive cast, and an ending that is quite satisfying.
Original full review HERE 

Habit
Directed by Simeon Halligan
Based on the novel by Stephen McGeagh, in Manchester, England, we are introduced to slacker Michael who meets Lee on the way to an employment agency. Less than 10 minutes into the film, she’s talked her way into moving in with him. To thank him for the arrangement, Lee gets him a job at her Uncle Ian’s– err – massage parlour working the door security. It isn’t long before he discovers the big secret of the place, though it isn’t that hard to figure out, even if you just watch the trailer. The film builds nicely, one foot in front of the other, as we delve ever deeper into Michael’s old (through dreams and flashback) and new life. Lee hints early on that she knows that he’s ”different,” and being a genre film, you know something wicked this way comes in wrappings of a woman with a child-like face. Nearly everything the audience learns about events is parallel to when Michael becomes aware. This is a nice touch. The film looks stunning. Camera work, lighting, and cinematographic framing are offset by a somewhat languid editing that draws the viewer in, rather than lingering too long to the point of distraction. On some level this can be considered an organized crime genre, but there is way too much of body parts and moistness for this to be just your average crime caper. Also, it’s too controlled to be considered a slasher film, either. But know there is a nice body count, and a lot of body jus.
Original full review HERE 

Housesitters
Directed by Jason Coffman
This horror comedy that is partially shot on iPhone is short at just over an hour, but I happily watched it twice in a row. In the story, some friends put a video out on the ‘Net that they are looking for a job as a housesitter. Of course the house that comes their way is nice, has a platinum card for ordering food… and, oh yeah a Little Bastard of a demon’s familiar. At the core of the story are two friends, who riff off each other so well that the actors playing them get a writing credit, and rightfully so. While the situation is supernatural and their reactions are hardly what would happen in the real world, the pace and tone of their comments feels like these guys actually are friends. This is a first feature film for Jason Coffman, and I certainly hope it’s not the last. There’s a lot to unpack, including demon possession, a small body count, the undead, a house with boundaries, time travel, and a whole bunch of smart-assitude that had me laughing. The film is presented in two parts of “Invocation of the Demon God,” as “Episode 7” and “Episode 8.” I have no idea what that means, but I know I want to see more. It’s separated by an animated short that…well, you have to see it. Don’t get me wrong, this is silly-ass shit, and perhaps the reason there is so much cannabis inhalation is because they’re feigning to a stoner audience, but it didn’t have to be, in my opinion; it stands up on its own weirdness and attitude. The acting is a layer of goofy with a natural relationship between the women, and a bit of skewed feminism thrown in at a subtle level. What makes me sad about this film, and I’m being serious about this, is that I wanted more. The ending is a bit up in the air and left me with some questions, but what I wanted was the story not to end because I was enjoying it so much.
Original full review HERE 

Lost Child (aka Tatterdemalion)
Directed by Ramaa Mosley
Have to say, I really like many of the local legend subgenre releases. This one is about a life-draining spirit that comes in the form of a child called the Tatterdemalion (translated as a person in tattered clothing, or being dilapidated). This film actually began titled with the name of the creature, but they were wise enough to change it to its present, more accessible one. Here, we meet redheaded Fern, who has come home to said Ozarks after nearly a decade to look for her brother, bringing with her a strain of PTSD from multiple tours of combat. While ramblin’ about looking for her kin, she stumbles into a kid named Cecil roaming around the woods by his own self, and takes him in. One of the things I like about the film, that you really don’t know what’s going on between suspicion, fear and reality. Meanwhile, Fern has been fading and weakening, having trouble sleeping and eating. Anyway, like most psychological or supernatural dramas, whatever this turns out of be, it has a pretty slow build, so the viewer gets some perspective about the people and the area, though a bit of patience is needed as an uneasy bond builds between Cecil and Fern. Luckily, it’s beautifully shot with hues that are of earth tones, nice angles, and the camera isn’t afraid to linger on a shot for more than five seconds, as with most modern releases; usually the bigger the budget, the less space between edits. As slow a start as the film kicks off on, it gradually builds, and the entire third act is an incredible thriller that comes as a surprise due to its step-by-step building of events and personae. If you’ve started the story, give it the time. There’s no jump scares, no viscera, but there is violence and hardship coming to a very satisfying conclusion. This is definitely from a female perspective, of a female character in a male society, but even with all the political and social standings it presents, it never takes away from the story nor does it hit the viewer over the head. It’s all subtle and emphasizes the points of the story rather than distracts from them.
Original full review HERE 

Red Krokodil: Director’s Cut
Directed and cinematography by Domiziano Cristopharo
I saw the first two films that Domiziano Cristopharo directed, House of Flesh Mannequins (2009) and The Museum of Wonders (2010). Desomorphine is a real opioid drug that originated in the US in the early 1930s and is now made and used recreationally in Russia, Produced in this way, it’s made of corrosive materials mixed with Codeine from over the counter products, and is nicknamed “krokodil” due to the blistering skin around injection sites. At a snail’s pace, we meet Him. He’s a mess on so many levels, spiritually and physically. His clothes (when he’s wearing them) are filthy, including dark stains on the bottom of his untidy whiteys, there is what looks like mold everywhere, he is unwashed and unkempt, and is missing his two front teef. We watch much of what happens to him, as he repeatedly gives himself shots from the same needle, goes through withdrawals until the next injection, and segments of overseeing him fitfully sleeping. The viewer gets the feeling of claustrophobia as he moves around his small room. Because of his drug addled mental state, we get to share what he sees, be it a giant Bunny Man or a bandage swathed Monster, who are the only other characters in the film, albeit in brief snatches. The only dialog we hear other than grunts and groans is Him’s inner thoughts, which are usually a mixture of stories of his, a description of his dream visions, or philosophizing about his hallucinations. Him is convinced he lives in a post-apocalyptic world, and perhaps he is, which would explain the lack of people in part, but he never ventures from his hovel. How much of it is in his mind and what reality is mostly up to the viewer. Despite all the grossness of picking at the wearing down of the flesh, this is definitely in the category of art film. Sure, you may not see it on IFC due to its visual content, but philosophically and stylistically, it would actually be quite comfortable there. Most of the time the color is drained out of the image we see, as it is missing from Him’s life; it’s only when we see him roaming around in nature (again, nude), do we see a natural hue of any time. The sharp contrast is alarming, and shows the levels to which Him has sunken – again, both spiritually and physically. This is not exactly what one might call the feel good movie of the year, but it is a poetic and disarming – and sometimes visually stunning – vision of what I would imagine being desperately addicted to something that harsh to the body (I’m pretty straight-edge). I’m still trying to figure out, visually speaking, if the film went too far, or if it didn’t go far enough. That’s part of what makes this such as interesting piece, though patience is definitely needed as you follow Him on his path, painful minute by painful hour.
Original full review HERE 
 
True Love Ways
Directed by Mathieu Seiler
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. This film opens on the strained relationship between our heroine, Séverine and her boyfriend Tom, 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. 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. After Séverine chucks Tom outta da co-joint for a few days, he goes to a bar where he meets Chef, who suggests that he will kidnap Séverine and then Tom would come to the rescue and be her “Tarzan.” 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. 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. As always, the bad guys underestimate Séverine; she is extremely resourceful and works her way through situations. Sometimes arty films can be especially bloody, 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. 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.
Original full review HERE 
 
NOT FAVORITES:

The Jurassic Dead (aka Z/Rex: The Jurassic Dead; Zombiesaurus)
Directed by Milko Davis; with Thomas Martwick
I kinda get it. I mean, there’s a whole subgenre of inane-yet-fun dinosaur flicks, especially involving the king/queen of them all, the T-Rex. First off, the cover makes it look like a T-Rex, but it’s actually more T-Rex shape in velociraptor size. Nearly all the film is 3D Modelling, animation and green screen technology. Some of it actually looks really good, and some, well, not as much. Still, I’m impressed with the work that must have gone into it, and am willing to bet a lot of it was done on home computers using modelling software. After the prologue, we are introduced to two groups of people who encounter each other on the road to… well, we all know where they are going to end up, don’t we. The first is two couples: nerds and stoners Sadie and Cameron, and Sadie’s bleach blonde cheerleader sister Roxanne and her football player b/f and macho moron Gunnar; Gunnar likes to say the word “Bro” in as many sentences as he can. Yeah, they’re all stereotypes, but the good thing is that the viewer doesn’t really need much exposition about the characters. The other SUV contains 5 right wing militia. There’s the lone female Cuchilla, the redneck and racist Spivey, the cop wannabe Swat, the sole person of color, Stick, and the bullish and muscular leader of the pack, Duque (Andy Haman, the IFBB Pro Champion Bodybuilder in his screen debut and doing a bang-up, comic book Sgt. Rock-ish performance). There is even a shot of the five of them walking side by side, in slo-mo, Tarrantino/Reservoir Dogs (1992) style, which has become a trope used often in many films. Then of course there is the dino, who is injected with some green glowing liquid that brings him back to life (reminiscent of the goo from 1985’s Re-Animator). He’s cool looking and moves a bit clumsily though not too bad, and has a temper… oh, and glowing green (or, when angry, red) eyes. He is unkillable and a zombie. When he (I’m assuming it’s a “he”) kills someone, they also come back as glowingly green-eyed zombies. While all this is going on, a mad professor is planning to explode his chemicals all over the world, creating an earth of zombies, again I am assuming, under his command. I’m not sure if this qualifies or is meant to be an actual comedy, but definitely a dramedy. There are lots of parts that are snarky, especially the swipes at the gun lobby / alt right mentality of the furious five. I did have some issues with the film in the fact that there is no logic or sometimes a lack of consistency within the story. For example, an object falls from the sky, causing a pulse that kills all the electricity in the area, including cars, phones, etc., and yet a helicopter works. In another example, the doors are solid steel, and yet bullets shatter it into small pieces. With all the flaws, this kind of works, though it really is silly and nonsensical in a lot of ways.
Original full review HERE 

The Toybox
Directed by Tom Nagel
Wow, I haven’t seen Denise Richards or Micha Barton in quite a while. That’s not to say they haven’t been working, it’s more that they haven’t crossed my indie-focused radar. The titular toybox in question is an old (it has a cassette player!) Recreational Vehicle (RV), or motorhome, that’s been purchased by a family patriarch He bought it o take his family out on a trip apparently to the middle of the desert to see some cave paintings, but more specifically to bring them together after the passing of the matriarch. Twenty minutes in, and there are some cool hints of mysterious things to come, such as the radio tuning itself to a version of the classic lamenting folk song, “In the Pines,” and a window with a mind of its own. Clearly there are elements here beyond the human and into supernatural otherness. I’m glad. One of the things about genre films, especially ghost stories, that tend to be noteworthy is the disconnect with how fast things are either dismissed or ignored right after a really creepy event. There are a few moments like that in this film, such as a sink full of blood and hair one moment and clean the next instant, in one case. Something like that would not get a response of “I have a bad feeling about this;” I would be freaking the hell out. The sensibilities of the film are more mainstream than most indies, and the high-power cast belies that. But there are also some questionable moments that made me cringe that had nothing to do with the story proper, such as Jennifer saying to Steve, “It’s your job to keep the family safe.” This is a bit heteronormative, and confusing to me. There are definitely some serious issues with the behavior of some of the characters. Food and water goes bad overnight, but no one really seems to fret, even though they are in the middle of the desert. No water, but no one seems to be sweating and everyone’s hair stays shiny and luxurious. Overall, the film’s issue is more in the writing than presentation, such as no truly likeable character with whom to identify (everyone’s personality is a bit too flinty), plot questions, and choices made by the characters, such as the timing of a deep, emotional family discussion that seems oddly placed in the story and throwing off the pacing. On the other hand, as I said, it looks lovely and is certainly okay for a Saturday afternoon distraction, has some nicely disturbing otherworldly characters, more than expected blood and mayhem, and has a post-1980s feel to it that is after the VHS explosion of cheese, but before the overwhelming detail of the Hostel/Saw physical torture.
Original full review HERE

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Review: Blessed Are the Children

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


Blessed Are the Children
Written, produced and directed by Chris Moore
CWM Entertainment / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Entertainment
98 minutes, 2016 / 2018
www.facebook.com/childrenareblessed
www.wildeyereleasing.com
www.mvdb2b.com

Drive by a hospital at the right time and you’ll probably see a group of “pro-life” protesters with posters of dead babies and maybe even signs indicating eternal damnation for those who use any services by the likes of Planned Parenthood. Those people are delusional and can be dangerous. In our story here, there are guys in red jackets and odd baby masks who are… well, let’s say haunting the story. One carries a sign that states “God Hates You,” so you know the type.


Kaley Ball
Meanwhile, Traci (Kaley Ball), who has zero taste in men (we meet her physically abusive ex-fiancé and current self-centered tool), finds herself in the family way, and decides to go and get this taken care of with the help of her two besties and roommates, 26-year-old virgin Erin (cute Arian Thigpen) and lesbian Mandy (Keni Bounds), both of whom are key players in the story.

The trio are followed by these anti-abortion fanatics who apparently also find abominations in fornication and homosexuality, so everyone is up for grabs. Or, in this case, stabs, as long and sharp objects seem to be the murder object du jour.

The baby masked killers never speak and seemingly not to be seen unless they want. Religious fanatical killers or supernatural religious fanatical killers? We find out by the end. Perfect film for a Christmas morning, as this is not as far-fetched a story as one might think when one considered those who bomb health clinics, or murder doctors and nurses, all of which happens in real life.

While the film focuses on the three main characters, there are enough peripheral ones (boyfriends, etc.) to make this a nice and gruesome mostly appliance filled SFX gore fest. As I said, lots of vorpal blades going snicker-snack, through and through. The SFX is excellent with just the right amount of gore and yet not too clinical.


Arian Thigpen
To add to the fun, there are lots of cultural references, some of which are now obscure, such as one of the trio calling another a “Sugarbaker” after a rant. This always adds to the fun, in my opinion. Also, the director gives himself an indirect Hickcockian cameo, which works out well as he seems to use more than one of Alfred’s methods of surprise (that I won’t give away). Let’s just say the character name Mandy Crane is kind of a clue of influence.

Acting-wise, the cast does okay, with some fine moments here and there. Especially noteworthy to me were those bits with Erin and Steve (Michael Kinslow), which is the closest to comedy relief as comes here. Nearly the entire cast will be coming back in Chris Moore’s next film (which I am hoping to see), Triggered, due out in 2019.


Keni Bounds
The extras are bountiful for a DVD, such as the 0:39 “Extended Ending.” It’s just second long, but I can see how both work, and I’m assuming it was a tough choice by the director. Next is called “Just a Dream” at 2:13, which is a superfluous deleted scene, as is the 6:20 “Prologue.” While some of the latter’s themes are incorporated into the main feature with different characters, it’s worth a watch post-screening thanks to some nice SFX.

Then there is the official “Deleted Scenes” collection at 32:58, nearly all of which was right to take out, though the occasional different takes on a murder, for example, kept me from losing interest. The “Gag Reel” is 13:04 filled mostly with short bits that are humorous, but not really noteworthy. There are also three trailers, which is kind of short for a Wild Eye Releasing – err – release, but enjoyable; one of the trio is for this film.

Then there is the Director’s Commentary, which I looked forward to hearing after seeing the film (never, ever listen to the commentary before seeing the feature in normal mode!), and in this case, rightfully so as Moore spins his takes on particular scenes, anecdotes, and nothing too technical (other than tech geeks, who I respect wholeheartedly, I don’t care what kind of camera or film ratio is used). I want to know motivation and stories about the filming. Moore isn’t afraid to admit that there are certain parts of the piece he’s ambivalent about, for example. Worth a watch if you like the behind the scene stories and which bit was influenced from what film (though not the ones I mentioned earlier, which seems pretty obvious, but perhaps it was more subliminal?).

Believe it or not, this is not the first aborted baby revenge pic I’ve had the pleasure to review. The first was an over-the-top broad comedy from 2012 called Zombie Babies (reviewed HERE). But I digress…

 
 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Review: Inner Demon

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

Inner Demon (Unrated Version)
Written and directed by Ursula Dabrowsky
Demon Girl Productions / South Australian Film Corporation / Saylavee Productions / Terror Films / MVD Entertainment
84 minutes, 2014 / 2018
www.mvdb2b.com

This South Australian film has won a bunch of awards, and I can certainly see why. Anyone familiar with horror from Down Under, such as 2005’s Wolf Creek, knows that the genre tends to lean towards the darker side of events, be it human or supernatural.


Sarah Jeavons
Within the first few minutes of this release, the tension if ramped up and stays at high gear throughout. But first we meet two sisters, teenage Sam (Sarah Jeavons) babysitting her younger sis (Scarlett Hocking) when they are kidnapped by a serial killing couple, Karl (Andreas Sobik) and Denise (Kerry Reid).
With Sam in the trunk and thanks to some smart resourcefulness (such as always keeping her weapon close at hand rather than leaving it behind after using it, even when falling short in the follow-through), she escapes into the woods. Note that this is in the description on the box, etc., so I’m not really giving away any spoilers here). It’s when she believes she has found a safe haven (though my fellow genre fans will know better… and again, printed on the box), of course, she’s gone into the lion’s den without Daniel.

I’ve professed before that sometimes when tension is overused, rather than keeping up the adrenaline, it tends to become wearisome after a minute or two. Dabrowsky skillfully manages to make every moment count, and rarely winds down the volume of tension, yet continually keeps it interesting.


Andreass Sobik
The main focus of the film is more the human monsters in the serial killer forms of the reluctant Denise and cold-hearted Karl, who seems to kill out of need more than any real personal satisfaction, as he never seems to be happy about his actions – but also does not want to stop. Both Sobik and Reid are totally believable in their roles, and Sobik portrays an ideal and soulless human monster that cannot control his own inner demons (figuratively speaking).
Of course, the film is focused more on Sam, even when she’s rendered relatively helpless (nope, not giving it away). Jeavons does a bang-up job, and even with the camera often focused on her white tee cleavage, her acting skill shines through.

There definitely are some squishy flesh moments (one in particular hard to watch for me), so the application SFX (didn’t notice any bloody CGI) was effective. It’s not a huge cast with essentially five main characters, including a neighbor, scraggly haired Wayne (Todd Telford) who I’m pretty sure is having an affair with Denise, but it’s more implied (red dress) than spoken. Or perhaps Denise is looking for a way out. Again, it’s left kind of open. Anyway, my point is the onscreen kill factor is relatively low, but incredibly well done.

By the time the supernatural element shows up in the last act, well, I felt that was the weakest element of the film as it felt like it was almost unnecessary. The human serial killers story would have actually have been sufficient with some tooling with the story. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good supernatural or even creature feature (not the latter, here), but it almost felt like when the cake is excellent, and there’s too much icing added on to it. Note that this is a personal thought, and I respect this film a lot. Just seemed almost out of place for me.

The accents are thick as black flies, and at times muttered, so I highly recommend turning on the captioning while you’re watching. Speaking of which, the extras involved how you want the sound, captioning, chapters, and three label trailers (including for this film).


Kerry Reid
While Aussie cinema can be dark (even comedies like Muriel’s Wedding), I have found that (as a gross generalization) women directors have a slightly different eye, and approach a subject in a more subtle way than many male directors who seem to like to use the sledgehammer style. For example, the volume of gore is not outrageously used, so when it is, it’s highly more effective. Don’t get me wrong, as I said, there are some nasty, squishy scenes here, but it’s presented sparingly in a very effective manner.
So, to sum up: dark film, great acting, scary human characters, and a bit of the supernatural towards the end that will either feel right or out of place, depending on your perspective. As the director stated for the Etheria Film Night website: “Horror audiences are so bored with most of the horror films that come out because they are so predictable. I know I am, so I decided to take liberties with the narrative, push the boundaries, experiment, and come up with something different. But this means the audience has to work at understanding what is happening. It’s a risk, but one I decided was worth taking in order to offer horror fans a fresh perspective.”

My only real “has to work at understanding” question is the how of the supernatural. That being said, this is a strong piece of cinema, and I have no problems recommending it to genre fans.

 

 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Review: American Antichrist

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

American Antichrist
Written, cinematography, directed and edited by Dakota Ray
RA Productions
50 minutes, 2018
 
It’s always interesting to get a view into the creepy, nihilistic underworld vision of Dakota Ray. None of his characters are likeable; they are all human monsters in their own way, and it presents a Denver perspective of street trash that most people will (hopefully) never truly encounter in this intimate detail. But again, that’s also what makes Ray’s work also so compelling.
 
Dakota Ray
In this, his most moody piece to date, we meet a delusional serial killer named “Smoke” (Ray) who thinks he’s god; however, through an accidental drug overdose, dies and is buried. But as the narration by him states, “Evil never dies, it just grows stronger.” Needless to say he returns from the dead (after three days, I’m assuming) as The Antichrist, of the film’s title. There is a lot of mixing of good/evil – God/Devil, which I find interesting.
 
It’s always easy to tell a Ray film because he has developed his own style, which is rare these days. He uses monochrome filters in primary colors, title cards to separate segments that overlap in the stories anyway, non-populist religious symbolisms, highway underpass walkways, and blasts of death metal. But with each passing film, he has honed his camera’s eye to be a bit more artistic without losing the grip of presenting human suffering, either by their own hands or to others. His editing is worth noting as well; for what I am assuming is a single-camera shoot, he manages to use the footage to show motion and even more important, agitation, aggression, and transgression.
 
Another auteurism of Ray’s that I have come to appreciate is that there is more audio commentary to show the inner thoughts of the characters than actual dialog, which shows an even darker side of the skel mentality. Mostly it’s Smoke at the beginning, but then we get introduced to other characters, each one like someone we pass on the street every day, yet their inner thoughts are exposed to us, and we hear what we cannot see: the dark side of human nature, and that’s part of what makes Ray’s films so fascinating, story-wise.
 
There is very little when it comes to back stories; we just meet these people as they are, and it’s scary for me because if you’re as straight as I am (a no smoking, no drugs, no hard booze nerd), it’s an exposure to a world that, well, as I’ve said in an earlier review of a Ray film, I’d rather be a fly on the wall, as it were, than actually present in the company of any of these characters.
 
Meg Lacie Brown
As usual, it’s not a huge cast, but the characters are quite defined, and each shares their own thoughts with the viewer. There’s Crystal, a desperate drug addict who is willing to do nearly anything (Meg Lacie Brown), a drug dealer/addict named Chris who is into rough sex and snuff films (Nick Benning), Sid (Damien Rimmon) who makes said films, and Benjamin (a for once clean-shaven L.B., aka Larry Bay, one of my fave Ray regulars), a hooded religiousnik who stands on corners preaching against sins and is getting messages from…God? Satan? He takes his crusade to a whole ‘nother level.
 
One of the odd things about this film is that characters rarely interact with each other, with the exception of Crystal. Most seem to be in their own world of decay and despair, not to mention delusion. There were two that I was hoping would cross paths as they are both so opposite, yet alike in their fashion. Perhaps a sequel? I would be up for that.
 
As for the cast, it is filled with non-professional actors who are friends of the director, and rather than being stilted and wooden, in most cases Ray manages to get them to be more natural, sort of playing to themselves – though I honestly hope that the characters don’t represent the personalities of the actors in real life; that would be… sad? scary? As a person who hung out at CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City in the second half of the ‘70s, I’ve seen some strong addictive personalities, and while I admire the musicianship of some, the lifestyle is one of desperation, looking for that next hit of…anything.
 
Nick Benning
Ray has stated (on IMDB) that he considers himself an artist more than a filmmaker, and I can understand why. With each film, he gets stronger. What I would like to see is more of the background story to some of Ray’s characters to understand further motivation of how and why, for example, Smoke became a serial killer other than being drug induced, even if it’s as thoughts narrations overlaid on the soundtrack.
 
If you’re tired of seeing the same old kinds of films, and want to stick your toes into something that’s avant-garde enough to be artistic and open ended, but not so opaque that you get lost in the miasma of arty masturbation, it may be time to try one of Ray’s films.
 
And Ray, thanks for the shout out in the “Thank you” section at the end!
 
 

Monday, December 10, 2018

Review: Code Name: Dynastud

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

Code Name: Dynastud
Directed and edited by Richard Griffin
Scorpio Film Releasing / Reasonable Moving Picture Company Productions
95 minutes, 2018
www.facebook.com/dynastud/

First, as a disclaimer, I feel compelled to state that I watch this film as a straight man but who is an ally. Working across the street from the Stonewall in my youth opened my eyes to a lot of unintentional internal prejudices I didn’t realize I had, and have worked on since. Anyway, here we go.

If I may be so presumptuous, there seems to be three great arches in director Richard Griffin’s filmmaking career. The first was the early learning curve where he got his feet wet, with releases such as Raving Maniacs and Seepage! (aka Creature From the Hillbilly Lagoon; both 2005). The second arch began around the time of Beyond the Dunwich Horror and Nun of That (both 2008), where Griffin developed into a solid and prolific director that specialized mostly in making films that reflected / honored a bunch of different styles (giallo, ‘80s Eurotrash, Christian films, etc.), most of which were comedies, but mixed in were some amazing serious ones as well (such as Exhumed in 2011 and Normal in 2013). During this period he came to the attention and gained the respect of numerous film critics and bloggers such as myself. It was here that he developed a loose group of regular actors that helped support his output.

Recently, Richard began his third (so far) arch starting with Strapped for Danger (2017), which is catering to gay, raunchy comedies. Again, this is supported by some new regulars, such as Anthony Gaudette and Michael Varrati (also an amazing screenwriter). Honestly, even before watching this sci-fi tinged “gay romp” (as Mel Brooks may have put it), I have been looking forward to giving it a viewing. Pressing start now…

Since Ronald Reagan first let in the Religious Right to the political arena, there has been an increasing amount of “Bible over Constitution” on the GOP side. And in a post-Trump presidency world of 2024 when this film takes place, that religious power madness has reached its pinnacle, outlawing homosexuality. At the present time, this hardly seems like a far-fetched idea when considering our closeted Vice President and at least one Senator Graham Cracker (both allegedly).


Derek Lauendeau, Anthony Gaudette, Mark Garner
While our titular alien-induced super-powered character of Dynastud (Gaudette) is introduced through a near perfect James Bond-ish opening and credits that had me in stitches, the story proper seems to revolve more around the pure of heart and noble Bart (Derek Laurendeau), who finds himself in a pickle when forced to marry Patty (Candace Sampson, the only female main character who ironically steals some scenes away from the dudes) by her father, the murderous and gay-hating Senator Hightower (played with glee by Bruce Church, who looks like he’s having a blast in the role).
That being said, there are, again, three arcs to this story: in no particular order there is the Bart and Patty conundrum, a buddy travel theme (think Trains, Planes and Automobiles), and an overlapping grand quest (such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy). At this point, I am not including the underlying political messaging throughout, which I will get to later.


Candace Sampson
Also worth mentioning are two secondary characters who are sort of the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the story, Vargas (Aaron Andrade) and Sam (Dan Mauro), two police officers resurrected from Griffin’s earlier Seven Dorms of Death, who are ordered to find our intrepid heroes Bart and Dynastud. What they find instead are cameos by Griffin regulars and some revelations that of course I will not divulge. I may have said too much already…
There are a lot of subtle nuances throughout the film, such as quotes from the notoriously camp Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and The Blues Brothers (1978) – and I’m supposing there are also some I missed.

Of course, there is full frontal male shots (though less than I expected; I seem to remember more in Griffin’s last film, Strapped For Danger) and a lot of sex, focused natch on M-M. One scene recognizes the female side of the equation, though more in a stereotypical but hopefully non-offensive way (plaid shirts, ultra-Liberal, etc.). The same stereotyping could be said about Canada and especially Canadians in later scenes, that is non-offensive and, honestly, really funny, eh?


Bruce Church
Griffin being Griffin, he also hysterically has the whole film overdubbed like those kung fu flicks in ways that are both obvious – such as Vargas’ British lilt and two that I particularly liked, “drag queen” Lee Van Queef (Jordan Pacheco) and a Canadian hostess (Samantha Acampora); others less noticeable.
At a time like the present where NAFTA is scrapped in favor of a tariff war by the government, it seems appropriate to have a whole Canadian/maple syrup sub-plot – okay, perhaps it doesn’t make sense, but it works in the story – as the last act of the film is bat-shit WTF sci-fi as we are introduced to the kung fu master Bruce Li (Mark Andrew Garner) to kinda tie everything together and perhaps lead to a film sequel.

While not as over-the-top as Seven Dorms of Death (a fave of mine), this is a film that is silly, but far from stoopid [sic]. The cannon fire over the bow is both subtle and not as much so (such as Li’s fight with the Mecha-Trump robot that looks like it came out of a 1940s serial like The Monster and the Ape).

More than a hypocritical “War on Christmas” (which doesn’t exist except as a distraction, of course), there truly is a War on LGBTQ(etc.) Rights, and this film pushes that button. I’m a firm believer that one can get more notice using humor than fear, and Griffin raises a rally cry that there truly is danger afoot with an ultra-“religious” (most would say Christian, but I find it to be true across all the ultra-orthodox of beliefs) base. Griffin switches from “a nod’s as good as a wink to a blind bat” subtle to a sledgehammer to bring his points around, and they all work into the story, mostly without being preachy (pun intended).

Meanwhile, be sure to watch beyond the credits, and pay attention to the Justin Trudeau life-sized cut-out in the background. Gay or straight, as an audience member, there is a lot to see, a lot to think about, and most importantly, plenty of good laughs.