Monday, May 20, 2019

Review: Old Man of the Rooks

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

Old Man of the Rooks
Directed by:
Chapter 1: Rachel Miller
Chapter 2: Jizabell Anat
Chapter 3: Steven Goransky
Chapter 4: A’Shaela Abdon
Chapter 5: Chris Martino
Chapter 6: Eli Montgomery, Kathy Simmons
Chapter 7: Jakin Shaw, Justin Little
Chapter 8: Julianna Johnson
Chapter 9: Matt Pitchford
Chapter 10: Brandon Woodward
Chapter 11: Eric E. Poe, Stephen Gilliam
Chapter 12: Nikki Wilder
Wages of Cine
99 minutes, 2018
Being a collective can be a challenge. When more than one person chooses do to different chapters of the same story, sometimes it works out great, sometimes not so much. For example, Stephen King and Peter Straub switched off on chapters for their 1983 novel, The Talisman; while it was arguably not a critics’ choice, I actually liked it, despite the tones of the writers being so different.
A closer metaphor to this release is telling stories around a campfire, where everybody adds their own part, and the next person has to continue from that point. Sure, there are going to be some gaps in the story and a few inconsistencies, but there is also refreshing new thoughts that take the story in ways you may not have expected.
For this film, it is serialized into 12 chapters, each section written and directed by a total of 15 people. To be honest, watching it on VoD without having a DVD, I don’t know when a chapter begins or ends, but honestly it felt mostly consistent, which is a beautiful thing. [Note that I later realized you can find all 12 chapters on YouTube.]
The center of the story is the titular man in the rook, or in this case, the supernatural killer in the scarecrow outfit. He’s a Scottish guy named Gordon (Joseph Zuchowski), brogue and all, who is killed in a jealous rage. His soul goes into a sack-cloth garbed scarecrow thanks to a bird-like witch named Ravenna (Jizabell Anat), who now controls his spirit. Ravenna looks like she was dressed from a Halloween or party store (not a complaint), with a bird mask, small black wings, and talons. Not for nuthin’, my cat’s name is Ravena, who is dreaming next to me as I write this. Humorously, the witch’s name is pronounced differently by various people (Rah-VEE-nah, RAH-veh-nah, etc. But I digress…
The story is interesting if sometimes hard to follow exactly, full of jealousy, rage, revenge, supernatural noodling, ghosts, and some decent gore. This could definitely be considered a stylized slasher film and there actually is an extremely high body count here, with the first death being my favorite (won’t give it away). There are no redeemable characters really other than Bobby (Eric E. Poe) and his niece, Tori (Caroline Grant), who get caught up in the goings on, sometimes to their extreme detriment.
The acting is sometimes on the level of community theater (again, not a complaint), but the same actors stay through the whole story, even if the motives of their actions change from writer to writer, keeping the viewer in suspense more than confusion. One character may seem good in one chapter and bad in another, and vice-versa. This is part of the fun. For me, the most solid of the batch is Susan Willis, who plays Deb, a housewife who is at the center of a lot of the action and seems to have the most screen time.
What’s also good fun (at least for me) is that the person who is the killer/scarecrow changes quite often as souls are dumped and replaced by other dead people. This is both WTF, and seems to work well with the serialized story.
Sometimes the coming backstabbing and scheming can be seen before the action, but with so many directors and writers, there are also plenty of moments where the viewer is guaranteed to be surprised about some turns of events.
Unlike most of the releases these days, these actors all look like they could be your neighbors, with realistic body types and a wide range of age groups. This made me happy.
 I’m not sure if this type of serialized story is a one-shot idea, or will become part of a trend from Wages of Cine, but it is an interesting concept. This go at it is quite successful, with an enjoyable central plot and peripheral storylines that are all over the map, keeping this viewer unsure and wanting more.
Yes, there are moments where I was a bit baffled, but honestly, that was part of the fun for me. Most of it is cleared up by the end, anyway (the last chapter must have been the hardest to write and direct, bringing together all the thoughts of the others to clean it all up for our passive end of the screen.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Review: Walking Tall

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

Walking Tall
Directed by Kevin Bray
20 Century Fox / MGM / MVD Marquee Collection
86 minutes, 2004 / 2018

I like Dwayne Johnson as an actor. He’s versatile with good chops in many genres, including action, drama, and even his comic timing is top notch. But this remake of the 1973 film of the same title (though the characters’ names change here) does not star Dwayne Johnson; rather, it is wrestling superstar The Rock. Yes, there is a difference, and it all comes down to money, i.e., who is doing the financing.

The real Buford Pusser
This film is based also on the life of Buford Pusser (d. 1974) though more glitzy than the original in which stoic-yet-slow-burn Joe Don Baker played him as a man finally fed up and seeking revenge, as his town is turned into a Pottersville, if you will, and his wife is killed by the mob. Here, The Rock plays him as Chris Vaughn, a U.S. Army Special Forces Sergeant with combat training, who is highly skilled in the art of killing. And he certainly does plenty of it here.
Many of the key scenes are redone from the ’73 release, which is somewhat more accurate to Buford’s real life, but here liberties are definitely taken (e.g., Vaughn is unmarried). Actually I don’t have a problem with the re-vision of the original story, as that’s common practice in cinema history. It’s the level of the amping of testosterone in a video game world that I find, well, kinda meh. Back in Tennessee when the real story happened, one could possibly get away with the things that Buford did, never mind the mob. I can’t really imagine Vaughn in then-modern 2004 sneaking out of getting jail time. All the mob had to do is donate minimal money to a right-wing cause, and as we’ve seen in real life, people will follow blindly.

The Rock, Johnny Knoxville
See, this here version was produced by Vince McMahon, head of the wrestling association that The Rock is affiliated with, so it’s going to amp up the machismo and violence because they want to market their product (i.e., The Rock). What they ended up with was a film that basically has no character, no sense of proportion, and in which women are there to be mainly strippers and hookers, with zero personalities. His new girlfriend (Ashley Scott) is a pole dancer/call girl who works for the casino, and spends much of her screen time in red bra and panties.
As in the wrestling ring, it’s essentially mano-a-mano as The Rock goes against ex-friend and now drug dealer/casino owner Jay (seemingly perpetual villain Neal McDonough). Rounding out the group is the “comic relief” of The Rock’s sidekick, played by the ever annoying Johnny Knoxville.

Neal McDonough
Everyone gets the crap beaten out of them at some point or another, but you know who will prevail in an apparently never ending string of fights between The Rock and any number of Jay’s henchmen. And who will be the final victor? Follow the funding.

The bonus material, which I honestly did not watch, includes subtitles, an audio commentary by The Rock, and another one with the Director, Film Editor and Director of Photography, a “Fight the Good Fight” stunts featurette, deleted scenes, blooper reel, an alternate ending, a photo gallery, and the original theatrical trailer.

I don’t mind films with fighting. The Kung Fu craze of the ‘70s and ‘80s was fun and I still get a kick (pun not intended) out of those. Imaginative ones like Die Hard and Fight Club prove that it can be quite interesting, but this is just a bunch of nothing set pieces that are there to serve the purpose of promoting a product (again, The Rock), rather than telling a story. The film did well, financially, and helped The Rock become Dwayne Johnson, out of the banner of the wrestling venue. So in the long run that’s a good thing, right?


Friday, May 10, 2019

Review: Maniac: Limited Edition 3 Blu-ray/CD disc set

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

Directed by William Lustig
Magnum Motion Pictures / Blue Underground / Red Shirt Pictures / MVD Visual
87 minutes, 1981 /2010 / 2018
There are certain people who just look like their signature roles, whether it fits their personality or not. Sly Stallone was so popular in Rocky because he looked and sounded the part, even though he is quite intelligent. Vincent Schiavelli (d. 2005), the angry subway car spirit in Ghost (1990) similarly was so memorable because his face fit that role. For Maniac, we get the underrated Joe Spinell (d. 1989) in the portrayal of his lifetime that will always be associated with him as a badge of honor.
Spinell plays Frank Zito, an artist who grew up with an abusive mother, and now has issues with women in that he feels compelled to do them brutal harm. Being schizophrenic a la Norman Bates, he hears his mother’s voice even though she’s passed on, but normally his bicameral mind as far as we the audience hear it, it’s his own. He argues with himself that he doesn’t want to be doing these gruesome murders, but he comprehends it as being obliged, or to be punished.
As for the kills, well they are so beautifully done by Tom Savini, and so severe that Savini himself believes he went a bit too far. Perhaps that may be somewhat true in the American market by 1981 standards, but not today’s world of torture and body mutilation releases. Savini, who was a medic in a war zone, was familiar with how the body works in bloodletting situations, and used that to become the top of his field of blood and gore at that time.
A chunk of the money that was used to make the film came from the director, who made some pretty pesos in the adult industry, giving him the opportunity to cast extras from that genre. Some are easily recognizable to those of that generation, such as Sharon Mitchell and Abigail Clayton (billed as Gail Lawrence).
There are actually three stars in the film. Of course, there’s Spinell; as the female lead is the beautiful British actress Caroline Munro who plays a photographer, having gotten the role through her producer husband at the time that came up with the largest chunk of backing cash. While Munro is totally fine in the role and lovely to look at, it’s hard to imagine her photographer character being attracted to Brooklynite and shlubby Frank. She is so beyond his league. Of course, the discussion is whether she is actually gay or bi-, and theirs is only a friendship to her.
The third star of the film is the city of New York at that time, when subways were graffiti bound, the street lights were dimmer, and the skyline was as beautiful as ever. Like Taxi Driver (1976) and They Might Be Giants (1971), the simmering city is intricately connected to the actions and becomes its own character.
The film has pretty much aged okay, though in moments it feels kind of hackney as far as the story goes. The kills, however, are as stunning today as they were back then, and for that alone is worth the watch, especially in this restored 4K presentation, taken from a recently uncovered 16mm original camera negative. Lustig is known for making crime films that were on the odd side of the B-film scale, such as Vigilante (1982) and the Maniac Cop trilogy (1988-93), but this may be his finest work, overall. He was 24 years old at the time.
This three-disc set is just loaded with extras, which I will get to now. It is a mixture of new material and some from a previous, non-HD re-release from 2010. The first thing I want to talk about is the languages and captions. There are multiple languages available: English, Spanish, French, Italian and German. Captions can be in English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Swedish, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Thai, but as I only speak one (not counting Brooklynese, in which much of the film is dripping wet), I went for the English.
For the first Blu-ray disc, there are two audio commentaries. The first is with producer/director William Lustig and producer Andrew W. Garroni. It’s actually nearly perfect in that they tell stories about the production, the actors, the distribution, the guerilla filmmaking, and how it was a joint contribution between everyone. There is no idle banter, it’s all relevant to the making of the film, and they keep it going. For the second Audio Commentary, again with Producer/Director Lustig, we get to hear Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini, Editor Lorenzo Marinelli, and Joe Spinell's Assistant (friend) Luke Walter. There is a little bit of repetition from the first commentary, but enough new stuff to keep it nearly as interesting, though there are some gaps of quiet here and there. Most importantly, though, they almost never talk over each other, giving us a chance to hear what everyone is saying. The voices are so different (i.e., level of New York accents) that it’s easy to identify who is who, a problem I often have with multiple person commentaries. Besides, it was enjoyable watching Savini talk about his head blowing up real good.
Disc one finished with seven theatrical trailers, nine TV spots and four radio spots. Disc two is broken down into three categories starting with Featurettes, most of which are from the 2010 rerelease, though some are brand new. It begins with the 19 minute “Maniac Outtakes.” The footage is not only of interest, but is overdubbed by a commentary by director Lustig. I like seeing the old footage of New York, such as 42nd Street. Following is “Returning to the Scene of the Crime with William Lustig.” For 8 minutes, Lustig discusses the differences between the shoot locations in 1979 and now. The videos comparing of then and now shots is fascinating.
“Anna and the Killer with Caroline Munro,” covers her career from before Maniac and into the film in 13 minutes. “The Death Dealer with Tom Savini,” is an interview with the Special Make-Up Effects Artist, who has always been a great conversationalist, so his stories are fun for the entire 12 minutes. “Dark Notes with Jay Chattaway” discusses composing of the eerie, yet beautiful background music for 12 minutes.
I was looking forward to the 11 minute “Maniac Men - Interview with Songwriters Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky,” who are questioned by Lustig. The rumor had been going around that the song “Maniac” from Flashdance was originally supposed to be in Maniac, with different lyrics {“He’s a maniac… / And he’ll nail your cat to the door”), as Sembello was a horror fan. This lively interview clears it up once and for all. The star of Maniac, Spinell (d. 1989), was known as a party animal, even being married to a porn star for a while, appearing in major films like The Godfather and Rocky, but he was also a horror fan. Naturally, there should be a featurette documentary on his life, as there is here with “The Joe Spinell Story.” This is a special production from 2001 that covers Spinelli’s life and has lots of good stories told by some heavy hitters, such as Jason Miller (d. 2001), Robert Forester, and of course the director of Maniac, Lustig. For 49 minutes, we are regaled on what it was like to know Spinell, and depending on the period of his too brief life and how inebriated he was as the time, it could be heaven or hell.
The last featurette in this section is an 8-minute “Mr. Robbie: Maniac 2 Promo Reel.” This was supposed to be a sequel to the first Maniac with a different director, but was not completed due to Spinell’s death at age 52. It’s grainy but looks a bit wack, though the gore looks good.
In the publicity section, there’s “Paul Wunder,” an 18 minute radio interview with Lustig, Spinell and Munro on WBAI-NY. The sound quality varies widely, but still interesting. Then “William Lustig on ‘Movie Madness,’” a cable access show in black and white that’s a bit more interesting as various people phone in and ask some wild questions for 47 minutes. I miss Manhattan Cable Access, and this is a good reason why. Lasting about 1 minute we see a brief interview with “Joe Spinell at Cannes.” What’s more fun is the 13-minute “Joe Spinell on ‘The Joe Franklin Show’,” in 1981. If you grew up in New York and watched Franklin, you know what you’re dealing with. Franklin (d. 2015) is a cult figure that bands like the Ramones and the Dictators hung out with as well as Broadway actors, ventriloquists and psychics.
“Caroline Munro TV Interview” is with NBC New York’s Chuck Scarborough and the awful Katie Kelly (worst film reviewer ever; d. 2018) in New York at 3 minutes. Of course, next up is “Barf Bag Review Policy,” Kelly’s on-air review of Maniac. Man, this woman is terrible at her job, and not just because she pans the film. She generally had really bad taste, and in 2 minutes she disses the film and says absolutely nothing. The 23 minute “Grindhouse Film Festival Q&A,” which was shot recently enough to mention the Elliot Spitzer scandal, features Lustig, producer Garroni and actress/doctor Sharon Mitchell. They discuss the film (duh) and working with Spinell. Good stuff. This section ends with a 120+ Still and Poster Gallery of film shots, behind the scenes, and, well, posters.
Next section is “Controversy.” I knew this was going to be fun and shrill, and I will comment more on that near the end of the review. It is broken down into sections, the first being “Los Angeles,” where we see newscasts against the film in 1981 on “Channel 7 News” (Ann Martin), “Channel 11 News” (Judi Bloom), and “NBC Tomorrow Coast to Coast” (Rona Barrett).
For “Chicago,” we see a newscast by Gene Siskel (d. 1999) on CBS News. He hated the movie, so what he says is no surprise, referring to it as part of a “women in danger films.” In “Philadelphia,” there are reports from Channel 10 News, two from Channel 3 News, and Channel 6 Action News. Under the banner of the “Newsbeat” television show, we have “Violent Movies” (13 minutes) and “Movie Violence” (21 minutes; the titles made me laugh), which discusses the “effect” of violence in films on its audience.
The next two actually took me by surprise as we watch Al Goldstein (d. 2013) rant and rave against violent films and mutilates a sex doll on his cable access show, “Midnight Blue.” I thought he was a First Amendment proponent, and the fact that Maniac has porn actresses throughout should have been a positive for him, considering the nature of the show. Last in this section is titled “Gallery of Outrage,” which shows pull-out quotes from reviews that are, well let’s say unfavorable. This includes a letter from the film board of the Philippines, turning it down for distribution.
The last two bonuses are big ones. First there is a full CD of the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Jay Chattaway. Lastly, there is a nicely written and designed thick booklet with a new essay by Michael Gingold, former Editor-in-Chief of Fangoria Magazine.
There have been a lot of charges of sexism against Maniac, as Zito is what is now called an incel, and strikes back at women who he identifies with his malevolent deceased mother. But some of the most violent kills in the film, which include garrotting and a shot gun shooting, are done to men, as well.
Either way, the film was considered quite successful for an indie release. Its budget was estimated at $350,000, and earned more than $6 million in the US, alone. The fact that it’s still being rereleased almost 40 years later shows its power. And with literally hours of extras, this one is of particular interest; yes, I sat through all of it; it took about a week.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Review: The Puppet Monster Massacre

Text © Richard Gary / FFanzeen, 2011
Images from the Internet

The Puppet Monster Massacre
Written, puppeteerd, edited, executive produced, and directed by Dustin Mills
MVD Visual, 2010/2011
70 minutes, USD $14.95

There is a sub-sub-genre of puppet-charactered horror and exploitation films that goes back a few years. Some titles include Mad Monster Party (okay, that one was rated G), Peter Jackson’s early Meet the Feebles, parts of Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated (reviewed in an earlier blog), the all-out hardcore Let My Puppets Come, and now this new splatterfest. These are hardly Puppetoons you would show along with Frosty the Snowman to the kiddies.

With tongue in cheek (and hand in felt) writ large, Dustin Mills does an homage to the early plethora of cheesy video-era horror flicks; this one takes place in 1985. Some of the puppets, which look similar in style to the Henson variety, were created by Dustin’s mother, with varied and imaginative looks. It’s not just the gore (of which there is plenty, some of it CGI splatter), the nudity or the sex, it’s the writing that that truly makes this something worth seeking out...other than the novelty of an all puppet exploitation film, of course.

The central theme is that the evil scientist Dr. Wolfgang Wagner (voiced by Steve Rimpieri) and his sidekick penguin, Mr. Squiggums (aka, the comic relief), has built himself a monster parasite that he plans to feed through inviting some town teens to come stay at his house under the premise that if they spend the night, they get… one million dollars.

The first teen (and main character) is Charlie (Ethan Holey), who is afraid of his own shadow, especially compared to his apparently loony World War II hero grandpa (supposedly, grandpa kicked Adolph in his Hitlers…actually – and I doubt this would make Final Jeopardy – the German leader actually only had one testicle, FYI); shame Grandpa (Bart Flynn) couldn’t have been in the movie more as he is so much fun (the crusty and vulgar old man film stereotype that Alan Arkin has embodied so well), though he is actually in the film just the right amount for the story. However, Charlie wants to restore the family honor by reopening the family dollar store (what, you’re looking for sense in a horror puppet movie? What is wrong with you?).

Also invited is Gwen (Jessica Daniels), the hoodie-wearing girl Charlie has been in love with since kindergarten and is now his best/only friend, but is afraid to ask out. We all know where that relationship is heading (some cliché’s remain true), if you’ve ever seen any of a thousand Sixteen Candles kinds of flicks. She comes across smarter, braver and more logical than him, but remains unassuming.

Third is Raimi (an obvious tribute, voiced by Mills), an Elmo-colored film geek/freak who talks in quotes and references. He is buck-toothed, has what I’m assuming are pimples (though they could be blotches; they move from one side of his face to another in different scenes), and has a Wolowitz kind of relationship with his mother (also unseen here). Actually, his oversexed, under-experienced annoying nature is also similar to the Big Bang Theory character, but is hardly a rip-off.

The fourth invitee is a bald tough guy named Iggy (of course) with a too-thick Cockney accent and lots of piercings, who is obviously monster fodder (ah, but will he have a comeuppance? Or is that a comeupuppetance?). Iggy (also Bart Flynn) brings his uninvited gothic, mohawked girlfriend, Mona (portrayed by Mills’ real-life girlfriend, Erica Kisseberth; also the voice of Raimi’s mom), who supplies the “nudity” in a couple of occasions. She is tough as nails and has more than a larcenous streak to her.

The five show up at the Rocky Horror-inspired house, turrets and all, of course on a rainy Friday night. Plot-wise, what happens from then is highly clichéd, but there are moments of lunacy equivalent to the Bugs Bunny cartoon where a horse is walking in the middle of the air who states, as Bugs flies by in Superman style, “A rabbit? Up here?” There are bunny farts (actually there are a lot of farts from numerous characters) and, well, isn’t bunny farts enough? But there is more.

It’s all very amusing, and I can understand why this won the 2011 Motor City Nightmares Film Festival’s Best Animal Film award. In the end credits, Mills lists some who inspired him to make films, such as Guilliamo Del Toro (imagination), Kevin Smith (zippy dialog and lower-level humor situations; even in Smith’s best film, Dogma, there’s a shit demon, or “poopy-boy,” as Muse/Selma Hyack calls it), Robert Rodriguez (action pacing and editing; his Planet Terror is a joy to watch for that), the aforementioned Peter Jackson (certainly not for his Lord of the Rings work, but rather his also excellent early films), and Jim Henson (well, that’s kinda obvious, doncha think?). Bugs Bunny (hey, bunnies run through the film, so why not this review?) and/or Scooby Doo can be added in such scenes as when Raimi and the monster duck around each other in varied directions.

There are two commentaries, one by Mills alone, and one by him and assistant director Brandon Salkil. While Mills mentions that he feels the one both of them is better, in actuality, they are both excellent. In either/or, he details how the film cost $3500 (for copyrights, camera, computer, software, felt), and goes on to explain that “An average day of filming was two Jackasses [Mills and Salkil] in my living room with a green screen and bunch of puppets.” Two of the characters are portrayed by professional (i.e., as Mills explains, they’ve done it for money before) voice actors: Rimperi and Flynn; they emailed in their readings, and Mills has never actually met them at the time of the commentary).

Mills goes on to explain why he made the film, his plans for the future, scene by scene his finest and least favorite (a certain CGI shot) moments, and the experience as a whole. He does a better job than most in keeping in the moment on both tracks, which is appreciative as so many other commentaries are wastes of time (including by one of his inspirations, Kevin Smith). There are also two short examples of monster styles that were not used, the second not too bad.

You really have to be of a certain type to like this kind of film, and I’m fortunate that I am, because I had a lot of fun watching the whole she-bang, and listening to all of the two commentaries. Whether there is a sequel or not (there is a typical ‘80s-style hint of it at the end), I hope these guys keep going. Texas Puppet Massacre? Last Puppet on the Left? Night of the Puppet Dead? Puppetzilla (Mills mentions that he has a thing for giant monster films)? It! Puppet From Beyond Space? The Puppet of Gore? Incredibly Strange Puppets Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Marionettes? Okay, I’ll stop now while you order this film…

This review was originally published HERE

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Review: Malignant

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Written and directed by Brian Avenet-Bradley
Moderncine / Avenet Images Productions / Black Butterflies / MVD Visual
89 minutes, 2013 / 2015

Here’s the thing: as much as I like horror and gore, medical stories make me antsy going in because I have three Achilles’ heels, with one being scalpels, the second is needles, and the third is anything having to do with the eyes (have you seen Luis Bunuel’s 1929 Un Chien Andalou [An Andalusian Dog])? Stories about insane doctors, especially genre films, tend to dwell into these, and all three cases are true here. But I soldier on…

Allex (Gary Cairns) is in his 30s, and his life has turned to shit. Seven months earlier his beloved wife died of cancer, he is in a dead-end cubical job with a mean boss, and he’s become a depressed and desperate alcoholic. The Man (Brad Dourif), who is never identified by name, offers a solution to which Allex may (or may not) have agreed to, but it will definitely change his life forever.

A self-described “scientist,” The Man (rather than “The Doctor” or “The Technologist”) is a sociopath who believes he’s doing good for the world, much in the way Jigsaw rationalized what he was doing to people was to help point out their flaws to society in Saw (2004). But The Man’s methods lay closer to Stephen King’s short story “Quitter’s Inc.” (from his 1978 collection Night Shift), whereas any measure is worthwhile for the final outcome.

As Allex and The Man figuratively dance around getting Allex off of his dependence on the sauce, it becomes like a whirlpool, spiraling down in more complex rings of violence, mind control, and punishment. And there’s that huge hypodermic with a thick and even longer needle (shudder).

Cairns is very suited as an everyman, in a Ryan Gosling kind of way, and he brings his character to the table. He plays the tension well, and the calm determination of retribution feels natural. Dourif, as always, is superb. After years of seeing him playing crazy and weird psycho- and sociopaths in films like The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002, as Wormtongue) and Dune (1984, as Piter De Vries) – and let us not forget and bow down that he is the only one to date who has ever voiced the world’s favorite murderous and foul mouthed doll, Chucky – it’s interesting to see how well he plays normal crazy, with dialog that isn’t squeezed between cackling and cracking wise. He certainly lives up to the legend, and shows that he can genuinely act, rather than ham.

And here is an interesting career note for Dourif: his first credited role was as Billy Babbit in the classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), where he was abused as a mental patient, and now he’s the one abusing mentally challenged “patients.” Should we call him Brad Ratchett? Even back in ’75, if you watch One Flew, Dourif is a standout.

From the very first shots of the film, I thought perhaps the story would follow along the lines of the Richard Matheson short story “Button, Button” from 1970, but I was happier with the way this played out instead.

Well written and deftly paced, the tension does nothing but build until its harsh ending. The conclusion did leave some open questions to me, but that did not deter from a story that will definitely keep the viewer riveted, or if you’re like me, even when I had to occasionally turn away because of the three things discussed in the first paragraph (you wanna call me a mama’s boy, you go right ahead; just like everyone has a price, everybody also has a weakness).

The only two extras are the trailer (which arguably gives away too much) and 38-minute making of documentary called “Surgery for the Soul,” which kept my interest throughout.

If you enjoy medical mayhem, or a compelling story that goes beyond the needles and occasional gore, this is still worth it. It’s definitely a dark film, but an adrenaline one that will keep you glued.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Review: Ouija Death Trap

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

Ouija Death Trap (aka Spirits)
Directed by Todd Sheets
Extreme Entertainment / Jackalope Media / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Entertainment
74 minutes, 2014 / 2018

Back in the 2010s, director Todd Sheets had a health scare that put him out of commission for a few years. He’s been back for a while now, and I personally think his newer films are better than ever. This found footager was one of his early “return” releases. While I’m not a found footage fan, I am one of Sheets, and decided to give it a try.

Dakota Lassen, Raven Reed, Jessica Hopkins
tarting life under the title Spirits, the new name is reflective of supernatural goings on, of course. For our story, high schooler Raven (Raven Reed) has an internship at ShadowView Manor (great name), which has a reputation for being haunted. So, natch, she and her school pal friends – Jessica (Jessica Hopkins), Kota (Dakota Lassen) and William (William Christopher Epperson) – sneak into the office complex building, each with a camera to explore.

Like many films where there are a group heading out to a mysterious place, there is the older guy to fill in the back story, in this case the janitor (John O’Hara, looking and playing very different and almost unrecognizable from Sheets’ later film, Clownado). He’s kind of creepy in his telling of how the building used to be a brothel and how a priest came in and killed everyone; in fact, this is a de facto sequel to Sheets’ House of Forbidden Secrets (2014), and if I am right, it even takes place in the same structure (which I recognized from the earlier film).

John O'Hara
One of the positives about this is the high school kids actually look like high school kids. No thirty year olds pretending to be seniors. I’m grateful for that, because when it’s actors who are older playing younger, I find it distracting – and annoying.
So our intrepid quartet meets the janitor, and then starts to roam around the joint, and sure enough strange things begin to happen. People pop in and out, dolls and furniture move by themselves, and before long, our intrepid ghost hunters are terrified, jumping from floor to floor on the elevator (there’s three storeys, according to the buttons). Then they start getting dragged off somewhere by some mysterious beings, the spookiest of which is a girl who looks to be around their own age.

As I said, I’m not a big fan of the found footage genre, and this definitely has a bit of the best and worst of that. For the worst part, it’s the running around with the cameras in the dark, which is really annoying to view. Also, we get glimpses of things that scare them, and they react before we get the chance to see what terrified them in the first place; the oft response, “Are you fucking kidding me?!” does not answer what they are screaming about. They spend most of their time screaming at the top of their lungs. They’re afraid, I get it, but the screech level gets to ya after a while, y’know?

Jessica Hopkins, William Christopher Epperson 
As for the best of, thankfully Sheets works that well, with doors opening by themselves, or releasing hiding spirits; and things moving on their own are creepy. Sure, you know every time the elevator door opens, there’s a chance that there may be something supernatural to meet them, and sometimes there is but not always (another smart move), so it keeps the audience on their toes, as well. For me, the scariest thing in horror films is a closed door that’s about to be opened.
Another nice touch is that this appears to be happening in real time, so the events are in the less than 90 minutes time frame. This gives it a bit of a framework, though I’m not sure who was supposed to have edited the four simultaneous cameos (Sheets edited the film). What I also liked is that while this may be a sequel, it also works as a standalone, so you don’t need to know the previous film at all, House of Forbidden Secrets, even though I strongly recommend it as it is quite enjoyable.

The actors definitely come across as honestly scared, which is nice. According to the ending credits, they didn’t know what they were facing when they agreed to film it so they were genuinely frightened. This may be true or not, but it was effective in the screaming and whining. This was also all of their first films.

I realize I’m all over the map about this, whether I liked it or not, but that’s okay. For a genre that tends to bore me, Sheets managed to keep my attention until about 50 minutes in, when I started to weary a bit of the running and screeching. However, it became more interesting close to the end, so I was able to snap back into the story. I’m grateful for that.

The only extras are some Wild Eye Releasing trailers, which are always fun. Meanwhile, Sheets keeps getting better, and I certainly look forward to seeing a lot more of his upcoming films. And while you're at it, especially check out his werewolf release, Bonehill Road.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Review: American Nightmares

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

American Nightmares (aka Mr. Malevolent)
Written and directed by Rusty Cundieff and Darin Scott
Patriot Pictures / Moonstone Entertainment / MVD Visual
90 minutes, 2018 / 2019

For those of us who were fans of EC Comics, television shows like “Tales From the Crypt” and films such as Creepshow (1982), this is a compilation that can fit right alongside those cheesy doodles of fun.

Rather than a few films cobbled together by varied directors, here we have only two, who are also responsible for the cult hit Tales From the Hood (1995) and the more recent Tales From the Hood 2 (2018). For this new film, along with the horror, it also focuses on racial relations in Trump’s America, among other modern social-political aspects. There are eight stories in total, not counting the wraparound, and all have a twist of the knife at the end, be it literal or figurative.

In the wrap story, we meet two computer geeks in their (I’m assuming basement) man cave, who are obsessed with the darker side of the Web, focusing on nekkid women. Their screens are interrupted by a top hatted dandy called Mr. Malevolent, and his mostly silent psychic pal (a scenery-chewing Danny Trejo and Nichelle Nichols, respectively, in extended cameo roles that were probably filmed in a single day). They force these two Millennials (as they are called here) to watch a series of stories, each being vicious, and all leading up to the inevitable that is no surprise, but remains enjoyable.

Guest stars aplenty roll through the shorts, filmed especially for this collection. Many of these have roots in other tales. For example, we start off with “Mates,” where a woman who has a stalker ex-boyfriend meets her ideal companion. One cannot watch and not make a connection to “Westworld.” It’s kind of silly, but still kind of satisfying.

“The Prosecutor” takes a more political turn as Jay Mohr (remember him? He used to be onSaturday Night Live,” and was married to a then stunning, pre-plastic surgery enhanced Nikki Cox) plays a lawyer with political ambitions who will not let the innocence of those he’s persecuted/prosecuted stand in his way. It’s a bit The Tell-Tale Heart meets Rudy Giuliani, as the ex-New York Mayor did pretty much the same thing by charging anyone of color of a multiple of crimes, to get the arrest numbers up to make his own District Attorney cred go up as a “crime fighter.”

There’s very little subtly in “White Flight”; well, there is no subtly and certainly no question of where the story is going as we view a reflection of a post-Charlottesville racist America. For “The Samaritan,” we get to meet our second ex-“SNL” actor in Chris Kittan. Nothing screams now like a killer clown these days as we are inundated with IT references (well, especially if you’re a horror genre fan). But this is also a tale about human trafficking, and I believe that is how it fits into this collection.

There is nothing elusive in “Hate Radio,” where we meet an Alex Jones type of screaming right wing nut; there is even a direct Trump photo reference as he spews gender hatred to his audience. But you know it’s not going to end well for him in a very imaginative way.

For “The Healer,” we are introduced to one of my own personal pet peeves, the Televangelist Faith Healer who is hustling snake oil in the name of Jeebus. But that’s before he meets a crazed fanatic in Clarence Williams III (Link from the original “Mod Squad” lookin’ a bit like Sam Jackson in 2000’s Unbreakable). Borrowing liberally, this is kind of a more extreme Resurrection (1980) and a fun story that is one of my faves of the batch.

“Thy Will Be Done” presents a pro-life trio who kidnap a woman who wants an abortion after a rape; they are intent in forcing her to have the child, and show that it’s the human monster that is most evil, often done in the name of religious beliefs.

These are mostly stories of comeuppance, in the most twisted ways, reflecting an America that is wallowing in hatred and anger over religion, power, and Other (e.g., People of Color). In that way, it is certainly more leaning towards EC Comics with adult themes. It is, however, not quite as stylized as, say, Creepshow (remember the weird angles and primary colored lights?).

The gore level is kept at kind of a cartoon level by using digital SFX rather than appliances, and sometimes it looks really good, but mostly it looks like what it is. But this really is a comic book as much as a film, so it works out okay in the long run.

The stories are divided between the two directors, and there are some decent shots and editing done, though it feels rushed at times, with some of the tales taking a day or two to shoot (my assumption). Filled with cameos, that’s how shorts tend to run these days.

Some of the acting is over the top as if being maniacal is called for to express horror. Well, this is also a dark comedy, so in some ways that’s accurate, I guess. As for the stories, many of the twists can be figured out in the first few minutes, especially the wraparound last one, but it’s still a fun ride. And the fact that the film uses a large share of African-American/Latino actors puts it in better stead from this Libtard.

The main extras are a batch of trailers, and chapters that wisely go by story.