Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Xmas Horror Shorts: Reviews for 2019


      Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2019
Images from the Internet


Christmas Presence
Directed by Henrique Couto
New Dynamic
5:15 minutes, 2015
You’ll see Couto’s name crop up a couple of times in these reviews. Taking the trope of a babysitting job gone bad, Couto moves it in an interesting Holiday direction. The babysitter (perky Julia Gomez) gets a last minute gig thanks to a friend being sick (Alia Gabrielle Eckhardt). The house is owned by some holiday fanatics (including Erin R. Ryan) and everything is a-glitter, but as Julia’s character states, “One of these things is not like the other.” Creepiness ensues until the last gotcha second. Both Gomez and Eckhardt were in Couto’s feature Amityville: No Escape (in both cases, it’s a never the train shall meet situation for these two actors; the review can be found on this blog), but the film plays out well. And it’s always good to see Ryan, even if it’s for a brief cameo role. This is a fun story with a couple of good jump scares.
Full film HERE: 


Humbug
Directed by Justin Lee and Matt Thiesen
Glorious Internet / SiniSisters Productions
6:58 minutes, 2016
This is a dark comedy that I can, on some level, relate. A horror film loving Seasonal skeptic (Jessee Foudray) is a goth who has no problem self-cutting for her art. Her neighbor (Milly Sanders, who also wrote the screenplay), on the other hand is as wholesome as, well, the Christmas season… to a point. When Ms. Goth goes over to complain about the loud and cheerful Carols coming through the wall, things turn humorously dark in a way that made me laugh. The part I identify with is the “humbug” mentality (I have nothing against Christmas, but I detest the greedy Xmas Season). And yet, this non-rosy cheer made me smile. Parts of this came as a surprise, though the very end – albeit perfect for the story – is not hard to figure out, and yet still enjoy.
Full film HERE: 


I’ll Be Alone for Christmas
Directed by Ryan Shovey
Carpenter Hill Productions
6:57 minutes, 2015
There is almost no spoken dialogue in the film, though we get to see the messages a woman (Victoria Reynoso) types into the social media sphere via her cell phone, and the responses. She’s all alone on Christmas, except for said phone and a bottle of wine (man, there is a lot of drinking in Xmas films). She’s “lonely AF” as she tells her friend, and she even tries to make a hook up on “Tinder.” But something mysterious is willing to share her Holiday with her, and you know it’s not going to end well. It’s beautifully shot in widescreen, making the character’s loneliness and feeling of isolation seem even more palpable. The last shot is a bit of an overused trope, but the entirety of the story is dark and creepy, for which the Xmas Spirit is intended (in my world).
Full film HERE: 


Stirring
Directed by Henrique Couto
New Dynamic
3:41 minutes, 2018
This film is short and sweet. Joni Durian is a woman on her own who buys a tree from a lot. But there is more – err – stirring than even a mouse. This is a mostly non-verbal, one human show, but Durian carries it all the way. The film lends itself a bit to the first Creepshow (1982) in both lighting and certain shots (I’m thinking of one of the more infamous segments in particular). As I said, this is the second short of Couto’s to show up here, and yes, I am a fan, but I did not seek it out, I just searched “Christmas Horror Shorts” and two of his came up. In the words of Ed Grimley, I feel like I’ve gone down on Christmas morning and found an entire fort, you know.” There are no really big surprises here, but it’s fun. And Durian is always enjoyable to watch as she has such an expressive face. Who needs dialogue?
Full film HERE: 


Friday, December 20, 2019

Review: 10/31


Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2019
Images from the Internet


10/31
Compiled by Rocky Gray; directed by Brett DeJager, Rocky Gray, Zane Hershberger, Johnny Holt, Justin M. Seaman
MVD Entertainment
93 minutes, 2015 / 2019

If you are like me, Halloween is in your heart no matter what the time of year. While the film is dated for the last day of October, even in the deep of the Xmas season, horror will prevail.

Malvolia: The Queen of Screams
It’s nice to cozy up to the player and watch an anthology film as the snow flies and the temps drop. This particular comp of shorts deal with that hap-happiest time of the year, when the pumpkins are showing, and ghosts will be roving all filled with good scares. Okay, I’m getting away with myself.

The wraparound story, which is only briefly at the beginning and the end, is presented by real web horror hostess Malvolia: the Queen of Screams (Jennifer Nagle) with her “Malvolia’s Halloween Monster Marathon.” Warning, cleavage abounds.

The first story is “The Old Hag,” directed by Justin M. Seaman, which is based on the Urban Legend that mixes the horror of an old crone out to steal your life essence, and the psychology of Night Paralysis, where you are unable to move in the middle of the night, even though you are conscious of what is happening around you. For this tale of nocturnal terror, two newbie filmmakers are commissioned to make a commercial for Montgomery Mansion, a great gothic Bed & Breakfast whose address could be 1313 Mockingbird Lane – I want to live there. The first hint that something is amiss is when the owner informs our two unsuspecting guys that locals refer to it as “the gingerbread house.” Soon, one of them starts seeing things, such as an old woman in white, that the others do not. There are some really decent jump scares here and there, and also a healthy sense of dark humor throughout. You’ll know the outcome, but the ride there and the aftermath is worth waiting to see.

Next up is “Trespassers,” directed by Zane Hershberger, which mixes a couple of different genres in ways that I did not expect (bonus!). A couple are out on their first date on, yes, Halloween. After a horror film at a local cinema, she aggressively decides what’s next. He’s as nerdy as she is outrageous, as is posited by her blue hair (shades of 1986’s Something Wild). She takes him to a deserted farm where a family in the 1950s came to a bloody end, and there is a scarecrow left behind. Our girl decides to figure out – as the Cramps sang about so long ago – what’s behind the mask. We are presented mysterious shadows and a conclusion that you may not see coming, though I have to say that this couple has zero chemistry and obviously could never last, as if that were an option. There is an added element at the end was worth the wait. There is also a nice nod to George A. Romero in one of the names, but I ain’t a-gonna tell ya, because it would ruin the surprise.

The third story, by John Holt, is “Killing the Dance,” a throwback to 1980s slashers that, if I read the signs right, actually takes place at that time. A young woman is given care of her young nephew on her last day at work at a roller disco (what a senseless fad that rightfully disappeared pretty damn quick). She’s in the process of breaking up with her douche of a boyfriend though he doesn’t know it yet, and now someone has brought a razor onto the disco floor. This short is very stylistically shot, with lots of literal smoke and literary mirrors. It’s not hard to tell who the killer is about halfway through, and yet there are some aspects the viewer may not see ahead of time. I wish the ending was explained a bit more (I’ll give no more detail than that), but it’s conclusion is brutal and abrupt. It’s fun, but at times intentionally silly in the way slashers could be in the ‘80s.

Then there’s Brett DeJager’s “The Halloween Blizzard of 1991.” It’s the strangest so far of all the stories and so different than the others. While taking place on Halloween, there is also a Christmas element to it that is beyond creepy. There’s evil elfin children trick or treating, Santa himself making an appearance, and some nice slice-and-dice to add it all up. I didn’t know what the fuck was going on half the time, but enjoyed it nonetheless; go figure. The acting in this one is wooden at best, and the visual tone is filtered towards ecru and almost looks like it was shot in 1991 with a VHS. It’s successful in many ways, even if I’m scratching my head about some aspects. It almost seems like the revenge of 12/25 over the popularity of 10/31.

“The Samhain Slasher” by Rocky Gray is up for the last short. It’s a bit of a mash-up, but the main focus is on said slasher, out to release some red on… do I need to say it at this point? There is a bit of possession, Ouija spiritualism, dream sequences and so much more thrown in if a guy (guys?) with a machete roaming around a-hackin’ and a-slashin’ isn’t enough for you. Gray has a nice way of telling a tale; because there are so many variations going on, it makes sense that scenes would sway into others, rather than the standard cut of shot to shot. The gore is prolific and looks good, though not overly done, and the different genres definitely keep the viewer off one’s feet of expectations. A really good short.

There are no extras and there is a truly annoying synth soundtrack that runs throughout most of these, but the stories are well written and shot, and that is the meat of the matter, innit? Each of the shorts is about the same length, so that divides the time quite well, and it’s also time worth spent.



Sunday, December 15, 2019

Review: Nightwish


Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2019
Images from the Internet


Nightwish
Directed by Bruce R. Cook
Channel Communications / Wild Street Pictures / ZIV International /
Unearthed Films Classics / MVD Visual
95 minutes, 1990 / 2019

During the latter hey-day of the VHS glut of rushed cinema, when original ideas were starting to drain off, a theme developed of adding as much as possible into a single film, to appeal to the widest spectrum of the fan-base (the demographic usually being adolescent-to-mid-20s aged males). This film is a fine example of let’s throw the spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.

Jack Starratt
The basic premise is hardly new, even for the late 1980s when this was filmed. Mendele, a professor of the paranormal (Jack Starratt, who to me will forever be Gabby Johnson in Blazing Saddles) that we eventually get to add the word “mad” before his title, has assembled four graduate students for an experiment to draw out a demon entity [séance genre] at a disreputable and remote abandoned farmhouse [cabin in the woods genre].

Of course, a weird and usually bearded professorial type gathering people together for a séance that brings evil to the forefront is hardly a new idea, going back at least to The Haunting (1963) and The Legend of Hell House (1973), based on books by Shirley Jackson and Richard Matheson, respectively. In fact, it is a motif that is even used to this day, though in modern cinema a Ouija board is usually used. Just go to IMDB and search the word Ouija.

Alisha Das
For this film, all that’s needed is some concentration by him and the students, because as the professor says, the evil is present in the house itself (again, a theme in The Haunting and Hell House). It isn’t long before spookies come a-callin’. He warns them that, “It has the power to instill paranoia… I want you all to watch each other very closely for irrational behavior.” One of the students shockingly replies, “Are you saying we may not be able to trust each other?” Yeah, this is directly out of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982); there may not be shift-changing per se, but the entity supposedly produces hallucinations, so it amounts to the same “who can you trust” vibe. It apparently feeds off fear (too numerous references to mention, including the recent IT two-parter).

Elizabeth Kaitan
When we first meet the four students in the lab, they are using a sensory deprivation tank (that has a glass window!) to see if they can dream their own deaths. This is a nice way to get some wet and see-through tee-shirts into the picture (again, demographics). Not that I’m complaining, mind you. The scholars are the cool kid – you can tell by the salmon-colored shirt – Jack (Clayton Rohner), the nice girl, Donna (1980’s scream queen Elizabeth Kaitan), the over-confident assistant/suck-up to the professor, Bill (Arthur Cybulski), and the lusty Kim (the lovely and toothsome Alisha Das). Joining the mix to drive them to the farm is the aggressively macho and toxic masculinity-filled Dean (Brian Thompson), who Bugs Bunny might have posited being “obviously a barbell boy.”

Seance
Before long, cheesy (though then quite state-of-the-art) ectoplasm snakes are threading through the air and aliens are using bodies to propagate bugs (American cockroaches, aka waterbugs… the smaller versions are German cockroaches, but I digress…). This truly is a mixed bag of genres.

Speaking of effects, while there are some proto-digital SFX (e.g., physically drawn on the original negatives), there is also quite a decent collection of practical gore set pieces, such as loss of body parts and the pulsating alien insect larvae on the bodies). For its timeframe and budget, there definitely is relatively a number of unexpected “wet” spots as far as slime and blood are concerned.

Brian Thompson
You can always tell when (an?) (the?) entity is around because of the green light that is employed by the filmmakers, be it on a dog, a person, a car, whatever is available to move the story along and produce a body count.

The acting is rather good here, albeit sometimes a bit over the top. And speaking of tops, there is a very nice solo sex scene induced by the demon spirit [The Entity, 1982; Trick or Treat, 1986]; once again as a reminder, demographics.

There are a few digital extras on the disc, such as the 4K digital transfer, Unearthed Films trailers (all of which have been reviewed on this blog!), and a full-length commentary by soft-spoken producer Paul White and Unearthed chairperson Stephen Biro. Biro does well keeping White answering questions, despite some gaps of silence. White is occasionally hard to hear (turn up that volume, kids!), and he even acknowledges that more than once, but most of what he says is relevant to the film, so it’s worth a listen.

...Because this is how all Graduate Students dress
The two non-digital extras are a “Limited Edition alternative slipcover” (for the Blu-ray), and a really nice multi-paged glossy booklet about the film, cast and director, with color pictures.

Despite the reasoning at the end, this film is definitely a lot of fun, even though it suffers a bit from not being able to make up its mind about a direction. Still, I enjoyed it quite a bit, as it brought back memories of that time period when VHS was king, there was a video store on what seemed like every corner, and there was so much from which to choose.

Oh, did I mention there are also flesh-eating zombies thrown into the mix …?



Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Review: Amityville: No Escape

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2019
Images from the Internet


Amityville: No Escape
Directed by Henrique Couto
New Dynamic / Camp Motion Pictures
80 minutes, 2016

Waynesville, OH, where this was shot, is a far cry from the Long Island-based Amityville, NY (approximately 666 miles away, actually), where the original Amityville novel and film took place. I’ve been through Amityville any number of times, usually along the Sunrise Highway or Merrick Avenue (Route 27A), and it’s remarkably suburban. Its parks are completely manicured and filled with baseball diamonds. Quite boring, actually.

The Amityville of this story, however, is on the edge of a deep, dark woods, opening up the possibility of a found footage wonderland filled with mystery, spirits and evil. This concept is way more fun than its reality, even though as with most found footage this is supposedly “based on the real tapes,” so let’s stick with this one, whatcha say?

Josh Miller and Joni Durian
Actually, the mild contrast of the reality of the Atlantic oceanside community with close neighbors and the fictional woods-based town is quite amusing, as there are wild animals and people with shotguns walking around in the No Escape version.

But there are also added juxtapositions within the story itself that enhance the mood and breaks up the walking-in-the-woods-by-camera-light syndrome. The timeframe is split into two groups. The first is of a woman, Lina (Julia Gomez) who moves into the house, and is preparing to send a VHS diary to her husband who is overseas in the military. She starts off perky, and as events occur that are straight out of Poltergeist (1982) and the Paranormal franchise, she gets affected by the strange goings on. If you can get past her annoying constant verbal “ummm” type ticks, her scenes are pretty effective.

Michael William Ralston and Alia Gabrielle Eckhardt
The other segment take place in the “now” (2016) as a group of friends decide to do a project to record themselves to see what “scares” them. And where better than Amityville; though a meta comment by a one character is essentially the confusion of why go there when there are haunted houses where they are. The core of the group is George (Josh Miller), who has “daddy issues,” his lovely and adoring girlfriend Sarah (Joni Durian), his snarky sister Elizabeth (Allison Egan), their vegan New Age pal Lisa (Alia Gabrielle Eckhardt, who also did the make-up FX), and the bearded pervy camera guy, Simon (Michael William Ralston).

Another flip is that the Lina sections are nearly all inside the house (with an occasional bit in the backyard), and the group is almost always in the woods except for a The Blair Witch Project (1999) moment indoors the supposed house. This is all very clever writing to not only break up the way the found footage is presented, but to be both claustrophobic and yet… not.

Allison Egan (right)
Is the film scary? Well, I think creepy is a better way of putting it. A spooky child that tends to appear and disappear is a nice way of playing with that, though I would have liked some kind of back story about her (i.e., I don’t remember her from the original Amityville story, though I do remember the pig face in the window).

There is no gore, but a nice amount of blood, and a surprising quantity of female nudity. I’m not complaining, mind you. One of the good things is that most of the effects are practical and make-up based.

The acting is well done, and a lot comes across as natural, even if a character is annoying, which is a bonus. For example, Miller’s “George” is often a demanding dick, which is polar opposite of the pathetic schlub he played so well in Couto’s 2016 comedy Nothing Good Ever Happens. Same with Durian, who is super-hyper in Couto’s 2019 Ouija Room, but here is more subtle and subdued (mostly). Even Gomez, with her “umm” tic, shows a range well, going from giddiness to abject fear.

Much of the cast is part of a collective in the Dayton area that shows up often in both Couto films and that of Dustin Mills, though some of the obvious usual actors seem to be missing here (who were probably busy with Mills). But that’s okay, since everyone did well.

Julia Gomez
While I won’t give away the ending (never do), there is an interesting twist that’s a bit of a head scratcher and a conversation starter for the viewer(s) that I respect.

Getting back to the use of the found footage trope, what I liked about this film more than most others in the sub-genre is that while people may be walking in the woods with camera lights (how do they keep their batteries charged?), there is little running through the dark, which I find really annoying. Walking isn’t as bad on the eyes and stomach.

The copy of this film I reviewed was an online screener, but it is now available in Blu-ray.

Despite being very prolific and genre-jumping, Couto has once again shown that he knows his way around a film, and I look forward to seeing more of his output. And check out his numerous podcasts, which can be found linked on his Facebook page.


Thursday, December 5, 2019

Reviews: Two More by Creep Creepersin: he; Peeping Blog

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2011
Live image © Robert Barry Francos
Cover images from the Internet


As promised in an earlier blog, here are a couple more of Creep Creepersin’s indie, shot-on-digicam full-length releases. He is fast becoming one of my favorite DIY directors, showing an artistic side to his releases. The reason I put these two reviews together is for a number of reasons: they both co-star Ariauna Albright (who RBF met in the early 1990s at a Chiller Theatre show in Rutherford, NJ) and Creep, himself, is the main actor. In both, they are unnamed. These are more psychological in nature than most of Creep’s works, and if fact, Peeping Blog could easily be considered as he’s sequel.



he
Written, produced, directed by Creep Creepersin
MVD Visual
70 minutes, 2009 / 2011
www.creepersinfilms.com
www.MVDvisual.com


”…and drop a smile passing in the hall
But there’s no laughs left ‘cause we laughed them all
And we laughed them all in a very short time…”
- Paul Simon

“You oughta scratch from the human race
You are a waste of a name
A waste of time and a waste of space
You’ve only one claim to fame:
I don’t like you.”
- Stiff Little Fingers


For the opening of the “Making Of” short, director (etc.) Creep Creepersin states, “I don’t remember really writing it or doing it; I just remember we decided we were going to make a movie, and we made the movie.” From the detail given by him during the commentary, however, that is obviously not the case, but rather is Creep playing mind games in a film full of mental questions.

This is the third film of Creepersin’s I’ve seen in a row. While it’s one of his early full-length efforts, it’s also among his best. he is a tight psychological drama about an unnamed man and his ever increasing descent into mental illness.

When we first meet “he” (as the character is listed in the credits; apparently it is always lower case), played by Creepersin himself, he’s just gotten out of bed as we watch him bring his very crunchy feet into the shower, while still wearing his glasses. This is to symbolize, I’m assuming, his tenuous connection to what’s really going on in the world though he does his best to see it.

His long-suffering wife (listed in the credits as “the wife”), both touchingly and scarily played by scream queen Ariauna Albright, comes to the bathroom door in a thick leopard print robe open over a black, cleavage-exposing bra that she wears for most of the film. She is obviously unhappy and dour in her life, especially the one she shares with him. Wait, is that a kitchen knife in her hands?

As the credits roll over yet another Creepersin breakfast eating scene (is he obsessed with this meal and tooth brushing, or what?), we start to see how the cracks in the relationship are imbedded, as he obliviously drinks his coffee with long, loud slurps, and mashes the food into his mouth. Not a turn-on for her (or us), as we watch her winch at every sound and action. We also shortly learn that she wants a baby, and holds him responsible for her lack of progeny (despite neither having ever been tested). It becomes explicitly clear quite quickly that they both are having psychological problems. It almost seems like she has a form of severe depression, or PTSD.

After believing the wife has a kitchen knife early on, it become increasingly clear that he’s becoming delusional. For example, after being out of work for an undisclosed period of time (though the impression is it’s been quite the while), he receives a letter that to him says “Proceed,” in big, handwritten letters, but when she reads the same paper (i.e., the real world), it’s a job offer. The viewer gets the distinct impression that he is not exactly excited about it.

Along with these little bits of weirdness, he starts envisioning a hit man (Matt Turek) after him, (supposedly hired by his wife who, as we see, gets the idea from doing crossword puzzles; question is, is the puzzle his delusion, or hers?), two business men who hide in the house, a silent watcher with a thick head scarf over her face, a radio dj that talks directly to him in his car, and a couple of times he even sees himself laughing at him and taking physical control of a situation. His most frequent vision is a woman (Malina Germanova) who speaks only in Russian (with English subtitles, but he understands her and answers in English) and will only answer questions, between demanding he run out and buy her cigarettes. It is during this exchange that the viewer starts to realize the extent of his damage, as he keeps pleadingly asking her, “What am I supposed to do?” And then, of course, he’s convinced he’s being watched, in one of the few funny dialog moments that leads into a tense scene.

There are goofy moments here and there that could easily be snipped, such as he singing a nonsensical vagina-referenced song during an extended, unedited close-up shot of him driving for those cigarettes. This reminds me of a similar shot of the Doug character in Ding Dong Dead; it’s definitely the same car, too, by the “grey” alien figurehead on the dashboard.

Speaking of Creepersin-isms, there are some stylistic choices that are reminiscent of his excellent Frankenstein film here, such as someone talking another language with subtitles (in F, it was the voice played backwards) or just nonsense (as an open box does here) without any reference, but in both cases, the protagonist understanding and responding normally. I actually like this gimmick, but hope he doesn’t overdo it in the future. And as for the filming itself, Gary Griffith does an outstanding job of cinematography (or as it is put in the credits here, “shot, edit and manipulation”).
Creepersin does well to elicit the right emotions from the audience, and though he does a bit of scenery chewing here and there, his inexperience as an actor works for him as the clueless and frightened “he.” Albright absolutely shines as his long-suffering wife, her own anger and resentment usually held just below the surface. Despite the minimal dialog through the film, she is clear in her state of anxiety through her face and body motions. She really should be doing larger films (this being said though this is sadly the first of her in action I’ve seen, despite her long list of indie horror flicks).

Ariauna Albright in the early 1990s
(photo © Robert Barry Francos)
There is an interesting 13.5 minute short on the “making of,” with Creep, Turek, and Griffith, who tell anecdotes of the filming. But the most attention-grabbing for me, in a bemused way, was how both Turek and Griffith say Creep’s real name, which is overdubbed by Creep himself saying, in a deep and creaky voice, “Creeeeep.” Of course, it’s easy enough to lip read that they’re actually saying [CREEEEEP]. There are also trailers to some of Creep’s releases.

In the solo director’s commentary, Creep describes in loving detail how the house used for this shoot was not only his home at the time, with his wife/producer Nikki Wall (who also plays one of the voices, as she did in Frankenstein) and their kids, but it’s where he grew up in Cypress, California. The house was also used in Ding Dong Dead and Peeper Blog (they have since moved to Burbank). It takes place at Christmas time (or, as “the wife” insists in the film for an unexplained reason, Xmas), and actually was filmed in December 2008, after a three-week pre-production, yet the house is full of Creepersin’s family horror memorabilia, making it look more like Halloween; this isn’t a complaint, just an amused observation…heck, I’ve had my share of posters, imitation skulls and monster models on my shelves during my day.

Creep goes on to point out continuity errors that would most likely be missed, like while he’s standing outside observing his neighbor’s (real) Christm…Xmas decorations, comparing it to his own, the audience can see the silhouette of his son in the upstairs window watching the filming. I love the humanity of that kind of thing, when a director not only admits to the flaws in his own films, but actually embraces them, as he should. It was also brave of Creep to admit that, “Watching it was harder than making it.”




Peeping Blog
Written and directed by Creep Creepersin
MVD Visual,
75 minutes; 2011
www.creepersinfilms.com
www.MVDvisual.com  


Let me start off by congratulating Creep for this film winning a Jury Award at the 2010 Polly Staffle Grindhouse Fest (aka Pollygrind), in Las Vegas.

That being said, lets discuss the film…

Didja ever see the Family Guy where Peter wins the Golden Ticket and runs home, tripping on the sidewalk in front of his house, and he sits there for a good minute or two holding his knee in pain, going “Oooo, ahhh”? Well, if you found that tiresome, you may want to hesitate before viewing this. Personally, I found that particular scene hysterical, even after numerous viewings.

After a brief intro where the unnamed protagonist (whom I shall refer to as the Peeper) creates a stalker blog site online (looks like Blogger to me, home of this very review), we are introduced to a scene that is one continuous shot that lasts for nearly 20 minutes. Filmed on digicam in the Peeper’s car (from the alien head on the dashboard, it’s obviously Creep’s car in real life, which was also used in he and Ding Dong Dead mounted on the dashboard, it follows another car (probably also belonging to the Creepersin clan, judging by the pirate skull head decal on the back window; perhaps Nikki Wall’s?) into a mini-mall full of chain stores. We then sit and watch the stalker’s prey (I’ll call her the Peepee…er, let’s make that Peeped), played by Ariauna Albright. She stops into a shop (won’t say the name, only that it is probably a Seattle First-Nations’ word for “bitter coffee”) and we watch while she sits at an outside table as she drinks her cup and talks to someone outside the camera range (perhaps a real-life fan?). After finishing the drink, she walks back to her car and we follow her out of the lot. Through all this, the only sound is the Peeper’s breathing and some minor ambient noise filtering through the car window.

That is one of the cool aspects of this film, that all the audience gets to see and hear is what the Peeper sees and hears through the very camera he’s using to stalk (hey, saves on having a camera and sound crew, too; this must be one of his lowest budget efforts yet).

The next extended shot is of the Peeper cooking what looks like either a hot pocket or burrito in a nuker (aka microwave oven), and we watch him eat it in extreme close-up (lifting a home-made full-face mask to do so). Yes, once again, a Creeper film where we get to watch someone eat a meal by themselves. He’s consistent, I must say, though I’m grateful we don’t watch anyone brush his or her teeth again. The following shot is as the Peeper hides behind a coat rack and the Peeped walks into a very white-motifed living room. She also nukes her food and eats it alone, perhaps a commentary on their mutual loneliness? A lot of Creepersin’s characters are lonely, even when they are with someone (such as in he or Creep Creepersin's Frankenstein). It’s then that the audience becomes aware that the plate she is using has the same design as the one he used, and he’s inside her apartment. How he got there is unexplained, and why she can’t see him standing behind a coat rack even though she walks directly past it a number of times is, I guess, a suspension of disbelief. Meanwhile, he watches her sit on the couch in front of the television while eating. When she steps out of the room, he runs out to smell her knee-high boot, and then runs back to behind the coat rack.

After a phone call, the Peeped leaves and the masked Peeper walks around the apartment and into her bedroom, opening drawers, smelling intimate objects, and laying down on her bed. He’s in his usual spot when she arrives back, but she is not alone. Her sister (I’ll call her Sister, played by indie scream queen Elissa Dowling), who has just had a big fight with her boyfriend, is with her. Sister is invited to stay while the Peeped goes out to work.

When the Sister steps out for a ciggy-butt, the Peeper walks around the apartment, putting down the camera to smell the Sister’s jacket. And, of course, the Sister comes back sooner than the Peeper expects. At that moment, things pick up more than a notch. Also, this is the point where I stop describing the plot (didn’t think I’d tell ya the whole story now, didja?).

If I had to describe this film in single words, what comes to mind is “dreary” and “humorless.” In fact, this is the least pleasing Creepersin release I’ve seen to date. With minimal editing, dialog, or any pleasantry whatsoever, it is a difficult show to watch, and it is all one chapter on the DVD, so you cannot jump to another scene. While not torture porn per se, such as the Saw or Hostel films, the violence of misogyny, both internalized and acted upon, makes this more than uncomfortable and claustrophobic. By putting the audience inside the camera with him, we are equally peeping voyeurs as well. For this reason, I think this is my least favorite of Creepersin’s work that I’ve seen to date. I’m not saying it’s badly done, and cinema violence is not something that I’ve shied away from in the past, but I was prickly watching this to its conclusion. Perhaps that’s the point? If so, then it is effective, and therefore not a bad film, just uneasy.

During an interview on the extras, Creep comments that Ariauna wanted to do a project where she was victimized because during all the years of her making indie horror films, she’s never been in that situation. Apparently, there was no script (despite Ariauna wanting one) to Peeping Blog, all of the dialog being spontaneous. Creepersin also goes to great lengths to show that the mask worn by the Peeper is not the same one worn by the imaginary he in he. Making masks, by the way, is one of Creepersin’s hobbies, he explains in a different film’s commentary.

Other than the trailer, another bonus feature is a 21-minute behind the scenes – err – documentary? Ariauna and Elissa lounge around the living room between shooting, and Ariauna comments on the hardness of a dildo she is smacked with in the film by the Peeper. That takes up a couple of minutes, and the rest of it is a very shaky camera following Ariauna around a Ralph’s supermarket (she even looks directly into it and smiles at one point as she passes by). Most of the image, however, is of the shelves, the ceiling, or Creeper’s thumb over the lens. Not the most exciting footage. Then they both get into their respective cars, and we watch as Ariauna sits in hers for a while (well, actually, we get to see the back of her car; is that the sound of Creeper’s real impatience I hear during this?), and then takes off. While the camera follows her out of the lot, she makes a left and the car with the camera makes a right. We follow along a few blocks until we get to the house Creepersin grew up in, where they filmed both he and Ding Dong Dead.

While this feels like a one-day project from inception to completion, it is at the least effective, even though I was turned off by the ending. And yet, I still look forward to more work by Creepersin.

These two reviews were previously published HERE.



Saturday, November 30, 2019

Review: The Witching Season


Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2019
Images from the Internet


The Witching Season
Compiled by Michael Ballif; directed by Michael Ballif and James Morris
The Witching Season Films / MVD Entertainment
83 minutes, 2015 / 2019

Witching Season Films is a Utah-based collective, apparently with Michael Ballif at its head. They release short films into the YouTube universe, much in the way of Alter or Screamfest. With Witching Season, however, it’s not just the numerous releases of films that are good, but rather those put out by that collective. Gotta respect that

This release is a compilation of five of their films, each of high quality work. Because it is a somewhat insular group, there are some themes that tend to run though them, but more on that later. However, I will concede early on that the one obvious motif is that all of them take place around or on Halloween.

The first story is called “Killer on the Loose,” directed by Michael Ballif, which lasts for 14:57 minutes. In this tale, a woman is chased through the woods by a mysterious man in – I kid you not – a hockey mask. It is obviously not Jason since this guy has kind of a slim build, but he does carry one of those machetes. She runs into a house where Night of the Living Dead (1968; the last scene of the chase from the cemetery… I love public domain) is on the tube though no one seems to be around. Mirroring NotLD, the woman goes up the stairs of the secluded small house, shot with similar angles. Nice touch. There is an interesting conclusion to this one that may come as a surprise because wisely Ballif does not give us too much information too early. Kudos for that.

The 17:22 minute “Princess,” directed by James Morris, takes some familiar topes and gives us a few surprises. A woman and her young daughter have just moved into a new house. Left behind in the basement from the previous owner is a box of stuffed animals, including the titular Princess, a weird looking rabbit doll. Of course, the cushie has an agenda of its own and puts the mom and the kid through their paces. It’s nice to see a strong, young character here in the daughter, rather than merely a scared little girl. She’s gonna be fierce. But, of course, there is a surprise ending, as these films seem to have, that is both amusing and creepy. It’s well done.

“Not Alone,” directed by Morris, is a 9:25-minute delve into sci-fi horror. A man is home alone at night and after the bright lights through the window that was used in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), something shift-changing and wicked this way comes from “somewhere else.” While basically an alien abduction film, it’s definitely filled with horror images, playing with shadows and perceptions. While only a single person is in the short, it nicely builds up tension until the final “ah-ha” moment.

At 31:34, “They Live Inside Us” is by far the longest of the short films, directed by Ballif. The theme is hauntings where recurrence of events plays out over and over. A writer sneaks into a supposedly haunted house to use the energy to write a great horror story. He has a list of “movie monsters” (tropes; including the flying spaghetti monster, which made me laugh). As he tries different scenarios using these stale ideas, we get to see them play out. I’m not sure if this is a commentary on the overuse of these themes, the proliferation of sequels and remakes, or the fact that the audience has been beaten down into not seeing anything new; the possibility of an IT Part 3, is currently in the news, for example. For myself, I’m a bit confused on one of the issues presented here, which I will not delve into too deeply to ruin anything, but I’m not sure about anachronisms (dial phone vs computer, for example), or if this is part of the replay or someone getting caught up in it [as a side note, I write this while home sick, so I may know the answer if I were more healthy…]. Either way, the story ends up being satisfactory.

Last up is “Is That You?” at 11:14 minutes and directed by Morris. I’ve seen lots of similar shorts, and they can be great for a good jump scare. In this one, a teenage daughter is home on Halloween night thanks to a broken foot. Her mom is quite the Halloween buff and really into it, though she has no patience for those who come to her door without really trying in the costume department. The daughter is cell phone-connected to her friend (hence the title) who has no time for her now that she’s dating a guy that makes our heroine crinkle up her face at the thought of it. Again, playing with shadows, there is an evil in the air which comes to a [rec*] (2007) moment.

All these films are consistently well made and rely on what the company dubs as “nostalgia,” meaning they present new version of old tropes. I usually don’t have a problem with that, and the professionalism here really needs to be noted and respected.

Some of the regular themes that crop up is running or walking at night with flashlights. For most of the stories, except the last one, Halloween is more of a background to the events, than the main focus. Most of these tales also have a television blaring at some point. That being said, one of the charming things about these are because they come from the same filming family, as it were, there is some interesting overlaps in minor ways, mostly on television as other stories are mentioned.

Since this is a web series, as well as a compilation, I appreciate that there is no wrap-around story, but the films are presented as individual tidbits. That was enjoyable, as well.