Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Review: MOMO: The Missouri Monster


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


MOMO: The Missouri Monster
Directed by Seth Breedlove
Small Town Monsters
82 minutes, 2019

The Mothman of Point Pleasant; the Beast of Whitehall; the Flatwoods Monster; the Bray Road Beast; the Thunderbirds… These, among others, have two commonalities. First of all, they are local monsters like Bigfoot that have people talking about after sightings in regional woods or in the skies. The other is that each is represented in a film by Seth Breedlove.

His latest focus is the Missouri Monster known as Momo, a tall and hairy creature with glowing bug eyes. Oh, and three toes, did I mention that? Supposedly it was seen in the woods scaring the local populace of the riverfront town of Louisiana, MO at Marzolf Hill, in 1972. As the name of Breedlove’s film company states, they are interested in Small Town Monsters, and focus on that. I’m all in as cryptozoology is something akin to oral culture as film recordings tend to be rare of these beasties.

But Breedlove takes it a step further and gives the viewer not just a documentary, but a hybrid of documentary and a recently shot narrative that supposed to be from a 1975 cheesy film about the topic at hand. Y’know that film supposedly of Bigfoot walking through the forest that is obviously fake? It’s kinda like that, but with more fun and cheapness thrown in. It’s the kind of film you may have watched on VHS back in the day, with its grainy look and man-in-hairy-suit motif, but more on that later.

Lyle Blackburn
In other words, in it’s interesting style where there are three layers to this: first, we are presented with a “reality television show” called “Blackburn’s Cryptid Casefiles,” where a the host, Lyle Blackburn (playing himself, a real Bigfoot and other exotic creatures expert, writer and musician from Texas) is the wraparound story segueing into other layers as Lyle is shot from several angles though he mostly seems to be looking away from the camera while only looking at one of them. The second is the imaginary 1975 film, and the third is the documentary part where the “real” story lies. This is an appealing meta-look at the events at hand. It gives the director some freedom to “exaggerate” the narrative to make it less “talking heads” and overly dramatize the events.

Out of nowhere though, about halfway through, a new element is added, namely UFOs. Okay, maybe not flying saucers, but definitely lights in the skies that occurred the same time, which the filmmakers of the 1975 film and Blackburn’s show connect them into a creature that comes from the sky via these floating luminaries.

I’d like to break this down into two sections, namely the “1975 film” and the documentary parts. For the “previously unreleased film,” Breedlove takes his – err – love of exploitation cinema and presents us with a really cheesily amusing creature (aka the guy in the hairy suit, played by Ken Rose, who musta been sweating like crazy in that abominable thing… see what I did there?) and an absurd, over-the-top story with some really (purposefully I’m assuming) wooden acting that was quite common in those days in the indie film market (and quite often even today, and not just as an homage as is this one).

This fantastical film breaks up the talking heads of the documentary and keeps the story moving along and, as I said before, it especially works because of that. Also, anyone who lived through those early VHS days and are fans of these kinds of things will be joyous about it. For most of this part, the camera has a filter on it do give it that worn, speckled film look, though other parts don’t, and it looks a bit odd being that digital clear rather than cheap film fuzzy. But actually, I’m grateful too much attention wasn’t focused in that way because I remember how hard it was to see night scenes back in the day, and the viewer can make out what is happening here. For that, I’m grateful.

As for the documentary part, there are interviews with a half dozen or so residents of Louisiana at the time (senior citizens now), some of whom scoff at the story while still reliving it for the camera, and others who realize the importance in local history. Their stories are fun and interesting, and just the right touch of cynical in some cases. What was missing was a living member of the Harrison family that is the focus of much of the sightings to talk about what happened to them, or at least an explanation of why they were not on camera in the form of Blackburn’s retelling. Personally, if I was part of the government of the town, I would put up a monument or billboard, and use it as a tourist attraction because there are more people into cryptozoology than one might guess (Area 51, is an example).

Bigfoot stories, even those who may have come from the skies and have three toes, are fun. The fear of big hairy beasties living in the woods – even those who haven’t been seen in 40 years or so – is as palpable as, say, sharks or killer insects. This is true even though Momo never actually hurt anyone.

Breedlove has hit a different formula for his retelling of local legends, and the stories are improved by that. I’m not sure if this will become more standardized for him, or a one-off, but I certainly enjoy what I’ve seen of his series about creatures that may or may not exist in local legends. Hopefully, that will go on.





Thursday, August 15, 2019

Review: HI-Death (Unrated)


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


HI-Death: Unrated
Directed by Anthony Catanese; Amanda Payton; Tim Ritter; Todd Sheet; Brad Sykes
Nightfall Pictures / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Entertainment
111 minutes, 2018

The anthology film HI-8: Horror Independent Eight (2013) was a bit of a success, so it’s not surprising that a sequel would be underway… And here it is!

With five different directors and shorts cobbled together, we are presented a collection with some of the better-known indie film directors, like Todd Sheets and Tim Ritter. The name of the film is a nice word play: the “HI” part is an acronym for “Horror Independent.” The first HI-8 was low-rez, shot on video shorts, but this one is in High Def(inition), so it ends up as HI-Death. Smart.

The wraparound story, directed by Brad Sykes, has two women (Kristen Adams and Kate Durocher) visiting Los Angeles who opt to take a film hop to a batch of horror short films playing around the city, and thereby seeing the locales along the way. One is more reluctant but goes along for the every increasingly disturbing views.

In the first short, “Death Has a Conscious,” we have an artsy, nearly psychedelic view of a young woman who is obviously a junkie, living life on the edge no matter what the circumstances. We follow her around as she does her thing, and when she goes too far, we meet the titular boneyard creature who after centuries of taking people to shuffle off their mortal coil, is despondent about his position and discusses it at length with the soul he takes and the viewing audience (i.e., us). Lots of masks and rumination abound. It’s a good story and director Anthony Catanese presents it in a palatable fashion with bright primary colors and close-ups in his 12 minutes.

Following this is cult low-key director Tim Ritter’s “Dealers of Death.” Ritter is kind of like the American Jesse Franco in that his work is filled with bizarreness, questionable acting and some decent effects. The story, however, I found quite interesting, focusing on a junkie (he even wears a shirt that proclaims the descriptor right on it) named Marty (Todd Martin) who is also a collector of serial killer memorabilia. He is obsessed with this as much as the drugs, for which he will do anything to obtain, including ripping off his own dealer, Rockoff (Thomas Kindler, playing a character that seems to be right out of a Dakota Ray film) to pay for it. There are some nice twists and turns it in as Rockoff confronts Marty and his girlfriend Pamela (Trish Erickson-Martin). I won’t give away the punchline, but it was a well-deserved comeuppance, even though the short felt a bit longer than needed at 25 minutes.

Next up is “Night Drop,” directed by Amanda Payton. It is short at 11 minutes, but sweet on tension. Trevor (Christopher Preyer), a new employee at a video store (wait…what?), is locking up for the first time when a mysterious DVD in a red case shows up. There is no doubt that there is an influence of Ringu/The Ring running through this (watch it and you die!), but Payton does a really decent job of keeping up the apprehension level all the way through, so kudos on that. Some of the characters that come in and out are a bit over the top, such as a nutzo homeless person (Dylan Thomas… no, not the poet!), but it’s easily forgivable filler and produces a nice jump scare. So far, it’s been my fave piece, but usually the best is held for last, so I reserve my judgement for now.

Taking place in Hollywood, it only makes sense that at least one of the stories deals with the film industry (not counting the end-user of the previous tale). For that we are given Sykes’ “Cold Read,” a 19-minute look at the audition process. Nervous Julianna (Fabiana Formica) is late for her read for a part. The director (Jay Sosnicki) and his assistant (Julia Vally, who reminds me of Abigail Hawk from “Blue Bloods”) are not sympathetic to the process. What was enjoyable for me was thinking that they show both sides of the audition process, namely what it is like to deal with a difficult director and crew, and what the director and crew must do to deal with difficult actors. Sykes’ manages to keep the creepiness going throughout with a good story with a nice twist ending.

The last and most esoteric story at 18 minutes is “The Muse,” which is hinted at in the wraparound story via marquees and the like. It is directed by cult classic director Todd Sheets, who brings along many of his regulars, who are always nice to see as they work so well together. By far the goriest and nudity-laden of the batch, Sheets presents to us a painter (Nick Randol) and his demon muse Darkness (Eve Smith), as well as bringing us into the HP Lovecraft universe. It’s a dark tale, for sure, but it satisfies.

For extras, there are a bunch of trailers: the Teaser, the Official, the Original, and the one for the first of this franchise, Hi-8. Next up is a 17-minute “Anatomy of a Scream: The Making of COLD READ.” It’s mostly watching the crew filming the scenes, and there is nothing gained or lost by watching it. It is interesting to see the volume of people they could put in a small room and still make an effective film.
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There are two commentary tracks, one of which is with Brad Sykes and some of his crew discussing how the idea of the anthology came together, how they shot his segment and the wraparound, and the way the film was “gathered” from the other directors. There is also some discussion about each of the filmmakers. The other track are the directors and some crew of each individual short, who go through their tracks on the making of the film, anecdotes, etc. Todd Sheets, a master of this kind of thing, gives the most effective and fluid talk of the batch.

As an anthology film by multiple directors/writers, this is generally better than many others I’ve seen in that the consistency of the quality of the stories being pretty engrossing. Many are arty, but don’t fall into the oblique and cryptic. Nearly across the board, they tend to lean towards the use of primary colors for emotion (see Creepshow [1982] as an example). Also, in most of them, the acting is stronger than usual in shorts. HI-Death is a good way to continue – if not step up – with the franchise, and I look forward to it continuing.



Saturday, August 10, 2019

Review: A Record of Sweet Murder

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


A Record of Sweet Murder (aka Aru yasashiki satsujinsha no kiroku)
Directed by Kôji Shiraish
Nikkatsu / Zoa Films / Unearthed Films / MVD Visual
86 minutes, 2014 / 2019

How far would you go for your career? Would you risk life and limb? Is your ego that strong?

These are some of the questions that are subtly asked in this film from South Korea (in Korean and Japanese, with subtitles). While less personal than the Irish release, Do You Recognise Me?” (2015) there is actually an overlap in asking those same questions.

The big difference is there is a possible supernatural element in this film. An escapee from an asylum, Park Sanjoon (Je-wook Yeon), is on a killing spree because he is desperate to raise someone from the dead. He claims the voices in his head from God tells him he needs 27 victims, and so far, he’s up to 25; at that point, even those he killed will be resurrected, though he is not sure how. So, a news reporter, Kim Soyeon (Klobbi Kim) and her camera dude, Tashiro (Kôji Shiraish, the film’s director) accept his invitation for an interview and to make – err – a record of sweet murder. Personally, I’m not sure I’d accept the invitation, no matter how much possible glory there might be at the end. But they’re hoping for the best as Soyeon and Sanjoon share a childhood friendship.

When the three meet, no doubt it’s fraught and tense with Sanjoon holding a knife and other assorted weapons. He is waiting on a Japanese couple to show up, and once he’s done away with them, it’s showtime. But – and it’s a big one – things are not as simple as they appear. This couple have their own excitable violent issues (and one of them, Ryôtarô Yonemura, seems to have an issue with overacting), which continues to keep the viewer guessing what will happen next.

The tension constantly builds and by the half-way point the ferocity never lets up. Most of the action takes place in a single room of an abandoned apartment building, which gives you the feeling you and they can not escape without some damage being done. I won’t go into detail about that, but it’s definitely brutal with so many twists and turns, there is little burnout for those of us who enjoy this kind of thing.

All the action we see is through the single lens of the camera held by Tashiro. Normally, found footage films bore me, but this takes a different angle in that the entire film is one continuous shot; not like Hitchcock’s Rope which had to have subtle breaks because of how much film a canister could hold, but in a digital world, this is possible. Needless to say, everything is in real time.

Because it’s all in one shot, I wonder about the pragmatics of the film, such as rehearsal and script. Was it mostly adlibbed or strictly written? These are the kinds of thoughts films like this bring to mind to those of us who study cinema rather than as a casual viewer.

Most of the acting is quite good, but Je-wook Yeon is the standout by far (Tsukasa Aoi does a pretty good job of it in a very physical and primordial role). While it’s clear he’s quite nuts and will do whatever it takes to achieve his deadly goal, he is also pitiable because it’s not a method he’s comfortable with and it pains him to take lives. At one point he wails, “I can’t do it by myself anymore.”

As for the violence itself, it’s not on the level of something like Audition where it’s more torture porn than story; here it’s the very real process of stabbing, clubbing, choking, etc., and the camera doesn’t lovingly swarm around it, but rather keeps it shocking and uncomfortable (though I’m betting there are those who might wish it was the other way around).

This is being put out by Stephen Biro’s company, Unearthed, that has been releasing some interesting Asian films such as the Guinea Pig Series and others like Brutal (2018) from Japan. Their catalog has been consistently fierce and yet with quality. A Record of Sweet Murder is a great addition to their canon.



Monday, August 5, 2019

Review: A Serbian Film (Srpski Film)

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

A Serbian Film: Unrated Version
Produced and directed by Srdjan Spasojevic
Invincible Pictures / MVD Visual
103 minutes, 2010
Invinciblepictures.com
Serbianfilmmovie.com
MVDvisual.com

”It’s dangerous, Max…it’s more – how can I say – more political than that… It has something you don’t have, Max. It has a philosophy, and that’s what makes it dangerous.”
– Marsha, in Videodrome

David Cronenberg’s Videodrome should almost be a prerequisite for watching this film from the former Yugoslavia. They both deal with the issue of violence through media with a political bent. But Videodrome only brushes where Srpski Film takes off.

We are introduced to retired porn star Milos (Srdjan Todorovic), whose specialties were having a bit of a violent streak and being fatigueless. But now he has a (understanding) wife, Marija (Jelena Gavrilovic) and a six-year-old son. He is struggling to not only survive financially, but part of him misses the action, though he won’t admit it to himself.

Asked to come back for just one film by an ex-co-star, Lejla (Katarina Zutic), he is hesitant, but the promise of a big paycheck and “the itch” calls him. With Marija’s blessing, he meets with the director, Vulkmir (Sergei Trifunovic), who states that he wants Milos to just be himself, and so refuses to let him know what the film is about. Reluctantly, Milos agrees. And you just know it’s not going to end well.

Now, the North American audience has spent years watching graphically violent and disturbing films like Wolf Creek, and the Hostel and Saw franchises. This genre has come to been labeled by the term “torture porn.” Well, A Serbian Film pushes the scale ever further toward the latter. The most graphically and disturbing scene that comes to mind in previous films I have seen is the fire extinguisher incident from Irreversible, but parts of this one if not beat it, come thisclose.

Slowly but surely, through his own dark nature and a bit of an injected “sex drug” (a comment on Viagra or Calais?), Milos doesn’t just lose whatever is left of his moral compass, he becomes the pawn in a game that is completely out of his control as he suffers blackouts, only to find out later through videos and flashbacks just what kind of sick actions he’s been in the middle of performing.

No, I won’t go into detail, but there is a point to it all. Truthfully, I’m not aware of much Serbian history or politics, so a great deal of the context is stripped away leaving mostly the violence and sex (sometimes graphic, landing somewhere between softcore and hardcore in various degrees, including an erect penis, though I’m assuming it is a prosthetic, considering the length), without the point of a good deal of it.

I do get some of it, though, such as when Milos is wandering around Belgrade in a sex-drug-induced fog, and seeing all different forms of acceptable sexually suggestiveness, such as lingerie billboards, and magazines at a deli.

But it is pretty obvious that the film has, as posited at the beginning, a philosophy. It’s not simply violence for violence sake, especially when viewed in the Serbian historical perspective, but as I said, the message is hazy to one (e.g., me) unfamiliar with the background.

On YouTube, you can find lots of videos of people watchg the film, the most I've seen since the infamous two women and the cup reactions.

How far can one man go into the depths of his own depravity? And who is there to push him over that line? And to what purpose? The answer lay at the end of the film, but it’s not a pretty picture, both figuratively and literally, and as I said and which is pretty obvious, it does not end well for many. Does art imitate life/politics?

Does politics/life imitate art? Where does art begin and politics end, and vice versa? These are chicken-and-egg questions that the film addresses. Whether they answer it or not seems unimportant since, as one philosophy states, the question is as – if not more – important than the question.

This review was originally published HERE


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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Review: Dark Sister


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


Dark Sister (aka Sororal)
Directed by Sam Barrett
Nakatomi Pictures / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Entertainment
96 minutes, 2014 / 2019
www.facebook.com/sororal

As I said recently, sometimes you just want some cheesy flick, but at other times, you may want a more thoughtful piece, like this one.

This particular Australian (Perth, to be precise) release was originally named Sororal, meaning “sisterly”; Dark Sister is a much better and easier to remember title for us in the West who had public education. Wise move.

Amanda Woodhams
We are introduced early on to “troubled artist” Cassie (Amanda Woodhams), who paints wild images from her dreams, which we learn early on are actually visions of real murders, always from the killer’s perspective, even though each vision is a different killer. And yet, of course, they are all somehow connected.

Rather than being kind of a straightforward story, the director, Sam Barrett seems to have taken notes on early David Cronenberg, mixing science, emotion and psychic abilities (where to begin… The Brood and especiallly Scanners is a good start).

He also uses quite a bit of primary colors in his lighting, giving this a Dario Argento-ish giallo feel that makes the high-emotion more palpable. This has been a bit overused lately, but it is actually quite effective here, as are the extreme close-ups.

Most of the film goes at a slower pace with long shots, but occasionally uses Russ Meyers’ style of micro-editing in certain spots to keep up the energy. Barrett focuses some on the mundane, which is a drawback to some of the modern slash-and-burn velocity films that are drawing attention spans to nil, but I feel he uses it wisely as this is not just another slasher film, but more of a surrealistic approach to cinema. This is no surprise to me considering the Australian cinema history (The Last Wave, Picnic at Hanging Rock, etc.… it can’t all be the high-octane level of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior). There also is a high employment of the fisheye lens.

While Cassie’s visions are violent, and there is a fair amount of blood flowing, there is no gore, which makes it viewable to most audiences except the exceptionally squeamish. There’s more violence and gore on most television crime shows, which has made life a lot easier to watch these kinds of films with the family.

Megan Palinkas
There are a lot of Greek mythology names from The Iliad, such as Hector (fighter), Cassandra (psychic), Diana (goddess of hunting) and Apollo (sun god), which is highly abstractedly to do with the storyline. It’s a cool idea, but you need to watch the whole film to kind of get the connection, though even if you don’t, it can be seen as just a clever device; in other words, if you make the link or not will not affect the story for the viewer.

As for the accents, I have seen other Australian films where I had trouble making out what they were saying, but this is pretty clear; that being said, there is also a caption option on the DVD which I employed, and that helped here and there more for my own hearing issues than accents.

The female characters are way more interesting that the males. Cassie is a strong woman under duress, and her best friend Kelly (Megan Palinkas under a ridiculously large wig reminiscent of somewhere between Dolly Parton and Farrah Fawcett), a flawed human for certain, is compelling. This is also true of Cassie’s monotone-speaking psychologist, Dr. Sosa (Nicola Bartlett). The three male leads, including Kelly’s fiancée Trent (Liam Graham), are kind of whatever (though Jeremy Levi’s Hector does come off the best of them). It’s not the acting, which is fine all the way around, but rather the male characters tend to be boring meat puppets.

Liam Graham
While I don’t remember it being discussed in the film, I want to talk a bit about the fashions and décor (too much HGTV on my family’s part, perhaps). This looks like it was ripped from the late ‘70s disco phase. The clothes are full of tight checkered pants and colorful polyester shirts, and even the furniture is totally retro. There are no cell phones or computers, and even the recording devices are reel-to-reel. Definitely a further homage to the Italian giallo ethic. Either way, it looks way cool.

The extras are the captioning and the trailers, including for this film and a couple of other Wild Eye releases. Then there is the director’s commentary, which I’m actually looking forward to (yes, I tend to write the review proper before the extras, not to be overly influenced). Barrett is joined by Christopher DeGroot, who did the music to the film. Needless to say, there is a strong focus on the soundtrack, but mixed in there are a lot of stories about the making of the film. I was looking more for the meaning behind the story; there is some, which proved to be quite helpful in little touches, but I would have liked more about the overarching plot than the amount we are fed about the music (said the reviewer that used to run a punk 'zine...).

This is a thoughtful piece, both in inception and to mull about afterwards. If that’s your pace, it’s a nice addition. If you want a turbo-fueled slash-a-thon, there’s a new Chucky / IT / Annabelle / etc. movie out.




Sunday, July 28, 2019

Review: Cool as Hell 2: The Quest for God’s Bong


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


Cool as Hell 2: The Quest for God’s Bong
Directed by James Balsamo
Acid Bath Productions
90 minutes, 2019

I once heard Johnny Cash sing a song that basically went, “Everybody loves a nut / the whole world loves a weirdo / Brains are in a rut, but / Everybody loves a nut.” How did he know there would be a James Balsamo? And I really do mean this in the kindest of ways.

Michael Berryman
As a filmmaker, Balsamo is quite prolific, but even so, this is his first sequel, based on the original film from 2013. Even before we re-meet the two main characters, Rich (Balsamo) and Benny (Dan E. Danger), we are fed a fake trailer, and are introduced to the devil in the form of a hysterical cameo by the Michael Berryman.

While this is a sequel, it is actually quite different than most of Balsamo’s previous work. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re looking for puns, drugs and nudity, you have come to the right place. It’s more the narrative structure to which I am referring. With the possible exception of Mind Melters: A Collection of Short Films which I reviewed recently on this blog, there has been a somewhat linear storyline in Balsamo’s work with some weirdness thrown in. Here, it’s more of the opposite: a cobbling of short bits with the thinnest of cohesiveness. Am I complaining? Absolutely not. Despite this abolition from the relative norm, this comes as no surprise to me. Lemme ‘splain…

Balsamo’s life lately has been on a higher speed gear. He’s making appearances in his (and other people’s) films, he’s going to conventions where he can get some great cameos by musicians and genre actors (this is definitely one of his constants in his relatively later releases) – as well as to make to make some cash selling his films there – and he (and his bro) recently moved coasts, from Long Island, NY to sunny California. It’s no surprise that time for continuity quality control would be moved a bit to the wayside. Rent’s gotta be payed Jack, and we happily get to smirk at the work that comes out of that.

Melody Peng
Let me digress a bit and say that bongs, in and of themselves, have become a bit of a horror trope of late, with the likes of Bong of the Dead (2011) and the numerous Evil Bong franchise (you read right). It’s gotten to the point where, and this is true, someone came to me recently and complained that no potential employer would answer her emails, which was bongmistress69@ (etc.). Stoners – of which I’m not – be it Bill and Ted, Cheech and Chong, or in this case Rich and Benny, are stumbling their way into the movie watchers’ hearts and buzzed out minds. On reflection, it might also explain the way this release is all over the map.

The story, such as is it is, finds Benny in hell watching television for most of the film, as he’s forced to see programing (or real life?) that presents people dying in the oddest of ways (I’ll give away one: guy tries to clean out his ears with his electric toothbrush), whether intentional or not. Rich is feeling guilty and is trying to bring Benny back with the help of demons Az (Billy Walsh) and Raa (Pat Shea); question is are they helping or hindering, or just enabling. You decide.

Carmine Capobiano, JB, Debbie Rochon
Along the way, Rich picks up a new girlfriend (Melody Peng) and gets insulted or punched by a string of cameo-appearing semi-famous people (Bumblefoot, Michael St. Michaels, for example… there are plenty of others). This second part is consistent with the first Cool as Hell release as well.

Some of the cameos are definitely off the cuff, such as the confusing (due to fuzzy sound) yet amusing scene with two people I admire, Carmine Capobianco and the effervescent Debbie Rochon. Others, you can actually watch the person’s eyes move along with the text as they face the camera. 

JB, Linnea Quigley
Also amusing. Here’s a cool as hell drinking game (or taking a bong hit): pick either ad lib or scripted, and whenever a cameo happens, you drink or drag if your opinion is it’s one of those two. Then there is Frank Mullen (vocalist of the Long Island-based ex-death metal band, Suffocation) reviving his rage and cursing infused character in a cameo, who feels like a mix of both.

Holding the story somewhat together is Rick’s voiceover narrative, usually accompanied visually by landscapes filmed from out of a plane window. It’s an interesting concept, and I’ll go with it, especially since there’s a lot of it, and sometimes it’s the only explanation for what we have just watched, or sets up what we are about to see (or both).

So, by the end, where does all this bring us? To both the usual Balsamo and the unusual Balsamo, which oddly enough meets on either end. Despite the irregular format of snippets tied into a story, we also get exactly what one would expect from one of his films, and that’s a mish mash of masks, boobs, blood, and bonkers humor.

And yes, we do get to hook up again with the blue and yellow booger (puppet) named Booghar.



Thursday, July 25, 2019

Review: Exorcism of the Dead


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

Exorcism of the Dead
Directed by John Migliore
Survival Zombie Films / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Entertainment
84 minutes, 2014 / 2019

Possession films, be it demons or dolls (or both), are the genre du jour, it seems. Of course, the pure exorcism films started with the granddaddy of them all, The Exorcist (1973), which led to a plethora of others such as Beyond the Door (1974).

Over the past decade, it has kicked in again, and there are a large number of exorcism-focused films that have been flocking to theaters and straight to video-on-demand: The Haunting of This, The Possession of That, and not to mention the mainstream Annabelles and Insidiouses. The recent culmination for me came with Stephen Biro’s ultra-violent but smart The Song of Solomon (2018).

That does not mean I’m moving on; I still like the genre, so when I saw this Hamilton, Ontario release, I knew I wanted in. The $5000 CAD (about $3700 USD) budget enticed me even more. Indie really is fun.

Sarah Swerid
There are some standard tropes here like the priest, Father Abuna (Nick Biskupek) with possibly a secret that we must wait to find out if that’s true or not…okay, it’s mentioned on the box and in all the press for the film. But here is a newish twist: the main subject, Candice (Sarah Swerid) might actually already be dead, but being brought back in snatches by whatever malevolent force possesses her body. That’s a nice kink in the cliché.

I have learned from other exorcism films that priests that fail to release the demon / spirit / devil / entity from the host wind up in hell. Now, I don’t believe in any of this stuff in real life, so I just go with the ride.

There are some pretty good choices made in the picture, such as the bad spirit being able to body jump to cause more damage and, more importantly, create a higher body count beyond the four main characters. Wait, I’ve only mentioned the main two, haven’t I? There is also Candice’s caretakers, her mom Eunice (Afrikaner / Canadian Deborah Jayne Reilly Smith) and her Uncle Philip (Rich Piatkowski).

There’s lots of other elements thrown into the story that personally I didn’t see coming, including infanticide, a (hinted at) heavenly ghost, the use of pepper (yes, the spice)… and the possibility of a zombie apocalypse? While there are plenty of clichés, there are also some nice new touches, and I appreciate that. Low budget can definitely equal necessary new directions.

While some of the acting is kind of either wooden or over the top, Swerid does a decent job. Lots of shouting and eyebrow arching acting from the rest of the main cast; this is pretty typical in films that are shot quickly (for example, the 45 minutes Swerid is on camera was completed in two days… thanks for the info IMDB). The SFX varies from some very good wounds to a final demon make-up that is a tad over-done. But for the budget? Impressive.

Nick Biskupek
The “Behind the Scenes” extra is a brief 3:00 slide show of pictures taken onset, including cast and crew. Even briefer is the “Strange Events” segment at just over 2:00, where they try and claim things like “light orbs” on pictures (light refractions off the lens), or that a cat (Mr. Jinx) went wakka-wakka during an exorcism sequence. It was very amusing, and I smiled all the way through it. Then there are some trailers in the extras section.

The first but not least extra is the director’s commentary track, which he shares with actor/producer Smith, Music director Mike Trebilcock, and Mr. Jinx. They are very respectful and do not talk over each other (not counting the cat), which is a major positive in my book. Also, there is lots of talk about particular scenes that I did not catch that were interesting (such as the possible sexual orientation of characters), little tidbits like the significance of objects in the scene, and of course there are lots of production notes. There’s a bit of self-congratulatory on the work among them, but I can get past that with the other information. It’s a relatively straightforward commentary, but honestly, that’s what I like.

As exorcism films go, this one may not be overly scary or bloody, but the storyline is interesting and kept my interest throughout. In a well-worn sub-genre, that’s a nice touch of the spirit.



Saturday, July 20, 2019

Review: Kiss Kiss


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


Kiss Kiss
Directed by Dallas King
Red Rabbit Pictures / Cleopatra Entertainment / MVD Entertainment
99 minutes, 2019

Oh, Jeez.

I have oft touted that when a film takes a group of different tropes or clichés and mixes them all together, something new and interesting can be sired. But other times, if it doesn’t go deep enough, it becomes plebeian and ho-hum. That being said, it also depends on what the tropes are and of what interests they include whether it is on the side of interesting or blasé.

Take this film for example. You have a military conspiracy to create a better soldier through chemistry. This is hardly anything new, going back as far off the top of my head to Captain America. Another here is women-on-women violence and love/sex, from lesbianism to Mixed Martial Arts. In bikinis of course. In the real world, there’s the women’s football league where they play the game in underwear; this is a similar idea and I am willing to bet influenced this story. Now, MMA is after my time. I used to love boxing and wrestling (I’m old enough to say I was a huge Bruno Sammartino [d. 2018] and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini fan), and I’ve seen a few MMA matches on the telly, but I’ve kinda grown out of it.

Natasha Hopkins
In the first act of the film (i.e., the beginning 20 minutes) we meet four friends who are exotic dancers… excuse me, “ladies” (as one character insists), since we see sensual movements, but no nudity. They get an invite to a wine tasting, which turns into wine drinking (have the writers never been to a wine tasting, where you sniff and sip but don’t swallow?), which turns into a cocaine frenzy, and to no one’s surprise, a drug-fueled kidnapping by the military.

Y’see, the US military is trying to make stronger and controllable soldiers, so of course they use barely dressed women dancers as their sample group. Say what? Under the control of this drug, they fight other women and, to no surprise, each other, to the death.

Here is a reason why I found this annoying: there is no antagonist for nearly any of the actual fights. The women are just punching up each other. If there were an enemy, such as Russians, Chinese, Koreans, Syrians, whatever, it would be easy to take sides and the fighting might be fun and give you someone to boo or cheer for; here, it’s just our four friends and a few random women with no backstory – not that there’s much of that for anyone other than two of our heroines who are lovers; not inclusive to either each other or gender, as this fantasy was written by men (same issue I had with 1997’s Chasing Amy).

The writing is quite basic with no great lines or witty plot lines; even the double-crosses can be seen coming due to lazy scripting. The filmmaking tries to be arty but looks more like a Cinemax softcore porn shoot (told ya I was old) thanks to the lighting and the editing, and the acting basically consists of anger – even before the drugs are administered – and growling. Also, all the fighting and the sex scenes are filmed the same way, with colorful lights and slo-mo. Many shots of the action and the onlookers looks like it could have been lifted directly out of the hardcore sex film Café Flesh (1982).

Tamra Dae
All the women have silly names, like Kiss (star of the film, Natasha Hopkins), Treasure, Kurious, Fortune, Dream and Promise aka Tia (Aunt?). Yeah, the bad guy/head of the army program is mostly just called Gibson (Robert Wagner playing a stereotype), but at least he is given real dialogue, relatively speaking, other than, “No! Please!” and “Grrrrrrrr” (note that a lion’s growl is added over the sound of the participant’s scream).

With a mild spoiler alert here, to give you an example of the attitude of the film which is obviously geared towards teen boys and incels, we are presented a male character who has no trouble or punishment for abusing these women by making them fight to the death, but it is only until he is responsible for the death of another male does he get some comeuppance. Ugh.

Lots of extras come with this DVD. The first up is “The Origin Story: An Homage to ‘Alice in Wonderland’” (13:05): At the beginning, director King explains how he equates the characters and events comparing it to “Alice,” and it somewhat makes sense in a very loose way, but then he says, “The theme of this film is about women’s independence.” What?!?! By having them literally shackled and forced to fight to the death? Where is this, Alabama? Anyway, most of the rest of this featurette is about how the film came about and the envisioning of each character, and is somewhat interesting, even if its ideology is kind of twisted around.

Robert Wagner
Next, “The Kiss Style: Lights, Make-up and More,” is just about that, though mostly about make-up, which is understandable considering each woman wears her own style of war paint
(appropriation? I won’t go there now). At least this is short (5:48). More interesting considering the nature of the film as it makes sense, “It’s Fight Night: Choreography in Action,” is a bit longer than the others (18:36). This is quite satisfying in that way in that the director and choreographer describe how each fighter is different. Again, no problem with the fights per se, it’s the motivation behind it that irked me. Then there is “Confessions of a Director: Director’s Chair Perspective” (8:11). This is kind of a Making Of, except the whole focus – even the interviews with the crew – is about the director. Whatever, it comes across as a mass ego piece.

The seven brief Deleted Scenes were right to be excised. They are mostly under a minute and don’t really add anything to the story. The Dossier and Stills choicer gives the contact info for the cast and crew, and 3:05 of stills of the cast and film, over music. We are also given the trailer and a bunch of other cool Cleopatra coming attractions.

Of course, the centerpiece is the commentaries. The first one is with the Director King and actor/Producer Wagner. They discuss each scene in some detail as they turn up and yet manage not to get too deep about what they meant by the particular shot, and other anecdotes (“That horse barn was really there, we didn’t build it”). There is a second commentary by King and the Director of Photography, but I’m just burned out by this and my interest is on my next review. That tells you something about this film.

I came away from the film feeling annoyed more than being filled with ennui (it’s certainly not boring) but maybe I’m too old for its market subject. And I happen to like both a good story and to think – even with a cheesy film – while the action is going on.