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

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.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Review: Mind Melters: A Collection of Short Films

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

Mind Melters: A Collection of Short Films
Directed by James Balsamo
Acid Bath Productions / Tortured Soul Productions
90 minutes, 2019

Life is a journey, even for a horror auteur with a bad case of the puns. This release is a record of director / writer / musician / actor / etcetera James Balsamo’s passage. Like most other indie instigator / troublemakers, he started by creating short films that gained him some skills to create his feature films, many of which are reviewed on this blog.

And, like many others, the earlier the films, the more crudely made they are, many apparently in VHS or early digital format that is blurry and distorted; but that’s okay. Yes, I use the word auteur often with certain directors, and James Balsamo (JB) fits the description well. Sure, there are a number of mostly horror and comedy genres, but there are also police shoot-‘em-ups, commercials (real and fake), trailers (ditto), and so forth. In fact, there are 32 shorts here, ranging from about a minute long to about 15 minutes.

Of course, some are more successful than others, but as I said, you can see the growth from quick set pieces with distracting jump cuts to scenes that flow much better later on. This is normal in the process of learning any craft.

Taking them out of context (i.e., the order they are presented), I will combine comments with notes I took while watching this 90-minute collection. I’m not going to include all the shorts in the review for length.

At the beginning, we are given a number of trailers, such as the “Snake Women of the ssssSS,” a different and much earlier vision of “I Spill Your Guts” than JB’s 2012 feature (this one is particularly VHS-type blurry), the animated opening to “Cool as Hell II: The Quest for God’s Bong” from 2017, “Boonies” (particularly bad jump cuts here in this very early work), the digitally damaged “I Spill Your Guts 2,” “Hell for Rent” and the sword and fantasy “Cruller: Donut Defendor” [sic]. It isn’t until just over 17 minutes in that the actual short films start.

Frank Mullen
The first is the ridiculously titled “Gory Tits,” a somewhat inconsistent nonsense with a witch with uncomfortable looking contact lenses, a sex ring run by some fake Asians, and a serial killer (the ever demure Frank Mullen); Genovesa Rossi steals her scenes, here. I enjoyed the sheer experimentality of “[Classified],” which is in B&W and set in an asylum. JB sees version of the ape/diver from Robot Monster (1953)-meets-the skull-faced creature from Killer Waves (2016). It is reminiscent of silent comedies mixed with the disturbing Un Chien Andalou (1929) and perhaps a bit of Eraserhead (1977).

The thing about a lot of these shorts is that with many, there is no beginning or ending, just a couple of set pieces that may or may not make sense whether in or out of context, and yet are still enjoyable. For example, there an untitled piece with JB playing three parts, including a very funny stoner, an Andrew Dice Clay kinda guy called Wolf, and his wife Debbie (seen from the knees down). Wolf has this interesting monologue riff set to scat music that sounds like Beat poetry of the early ‘60s. Of course, Stoner guy sounds like late ‘60s.

There’s also a series of commercials scattered throughout, such as a short almost Japanese-style mock ad with Linnea Quigley (if you have to ask who that is, you’re in the wrong genre), a couple of real come-ons for James Balsamo’s Big Book of Bad Jokes and James Balsamo’s 100 Bad Joke Book, and a fake set of record collections for James Balsamo’s Crude Christmas, Vol 1 and 2 with songs like “Oh Christmas Pee”; JB proudly announces “over 1 copy sold.”

One of the centerpieces is the serial “Death Cycle,” an ongoing multi-part story which starts off as kind of a Dirty Harry (JB) vs. a Nazi drug gang, but continuing parts focus much more on the gang, which is good because that’s where the interesting characters are. JB would play coppers in latter films of his, so it’s good. Also sequentialized “Romancing the Stoner,” a number of short clips of JB doing stand-up comedy in New York clubs.

While “Party Crasher” is a bit of a WTF about a killer robot badger, there are some pieces that work really well, such as “It Came from the Microwave” which is a spoof of the Zuni doll segment of Trilogy of Terror (1975). Two among my faves were an untitled piece about a woman in emotional pain, and the results from that (not a comedy), and “PMZ Hollywood,” an animated television segment on a former child star turned werewolf that’s pretty damn funny.

Over the years, while JB’s style has grown (even if his humor is still stuck in Middle School), there are some consistencies that frequently tend to show up, such as, in no particular order, Nazis, nudity, death metal, pot/stoners, and cameos by actors and musicians.

Now, there’s a couple of thoughts about this kind of overview of his history, and I’m not sure what is better: should it all be jumbled up like this, or should we have been presented with it in chronological order, to keep track of the growth. Y’know what, it really does not matter. I’m just glad JB released this material. Like I said, it’s a bit of stuff and nonsense, but it’s definitely enjoyable all the way through, even with some of the tripping over trying to find his style and there sometimes not being a beginning, a middle or an end to a particular short.

With all the growth, JB still stays JB, and for that I’m grateful.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Review: Meat for Satan’s Icebox

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

Meat for Satan’s Icebox
Directed by David Silvio
Kiss of Death Productions / Troma Team Videos
103 minutes, 2004
George Romero famously said that his …of the Living Dead franchise was not about zombies, but rather about the culture into which the zombies were thrust. For example, the focus of his Night of… (1968) was about racism, and Dawn of… (1978) concerned consumerism. On some scale, Meat… could be looked at in this perspective.
The locus of this film is on cannibalism, but the main clique who perpetrates these heinous acts is also corporate cannibals, eating away at the telecom industry to ingest it into their own system. Director Silvio delves into Hershell Gordon Lewis (d. 2016) territory to achieve that point.
Crystal Aura
Cindy (Crystal Aura, aka Crystalann Jones) is a Catholic High School girl in trouble. She lives in a town named Satan’s Place (filmed in Romero’s back yard, Pittsburgh, PA), she saw her mom, Janet (Tiffany Apan), killed in front of her the year before, her boyfriend dumped her for blonde bimbo Amber (Angie Azur), and she’s in a drunken relationship with her professor dad (Tony Clemente) that rivals Mackenzie Phillips. The only person who will give her the time of day is new classmate Christian (Dennis M. Kusluch II, who looks a bit like Tab Hunter); it is ironically noted in the film of the irony between his name and where he lives. Cindy is also the focus of a lusty older nun (Kathy Bothem) and a tribe of forest cannibals reminiscent of The Hills Have Eyes (1977).

Christian has to be one of the worst male heroes in cinematic history: he gets physically beaten by just about everyone in the film, but of course the question is will he rise to the occasion by the end? I’m not going to give you a head start with the answer, but it may not be what you expect.
As this was originally connected to Troma Films, it is hardly surprising that Uncle Lloyd Kaufman does his specialty, and has a creepy cameo, stealing his scene. And speaking of screen absorption, the lead villain of the piece (and there are many bad guys) is head cannibal honcho, Cassandra (Diana Silvio, who is the co-writer whose name is credited first, Assistant Director, and married to the Director). She’s a sexy MILF with cleavage to spare, and has no qualms diving right into her story.
This tale, as with David and Diana’s films to come such as Fetish Girls Die Laughing (2012) and Babes in Psycholand (2019; both reviewed on this blog site), rely heavily on the fetish subgenre. Here, we are presented with the likes of tickling, feet, girl-on-girl fighting, peeing, older men/younger woman, sexual asphyxiation, cattle prods, and chloroform.
There is a delicious (pun intended) sense of humour that runs throughout the film, such as puns and snarky dialogue, but my favorite by far is Sherriff Hogg and his sister being played by the same actor (Al Torcaso), who seems to relish it. Perhaps I should add cross-dressing to the list of fetishes above?
One complaint I can see coming across about this film is that nearly all the victims are female, with few exceptions. However, being the brainchild of Diana Silvio, might this be excused? Would she be called a gender traitor by Second Wave feminists? My answer to that is… whatever. I get annoyed at releases that are exceedingly misogynistic, but this film is open to what it actually is, as are the rest of Silvio’s work: it’s a fetish-fest from beginning to end, and makes no bones about it (this time, pun unintended), and I respect that.
Diana Silvio on the left
There is no nudity (though hints of it), implied sex, and lots and lots of gore. The squishy moments are also what happens to the gore, among other bodily fluids, which just feeds (there goes that pun again) into the release’s sub-genre.

 The tone reminds me quite a bit of the female gang films of the late 1950s, such as The Violent Years (1954). It’s definitely a negative feel as the characters are all shady in one way or another, even the heroine (though Christian is the least so, but he’s “new to town”).
The thing about fetish films, even if one is covering a wide swath of obsessions, is that there tends to be a particular audience that is attracted to the form. None of my own fetishes are covered here (I’m a proud wuss), but I still enjoyed the oddness of the film because, well, I like odd films, especially those on minuscule budgets. I guess one could imply that was my fetish.
The film reminded me of what is said in the play Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, “The history of the world, my sweet… / is who gets eaten and who gets to eat.”

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Review: Don’t Look

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

Don’t Look
Directed by Luciana Faulhaber
Enuff Productions / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Entertainment
71 minutes, 2018 / 2019

Let me start off by acknowledging that I made a lot of notes watching this, so bear with me. It’s gonna be coming from both sides of the fence.

Let’s start with some cool stuff. First of all, it’s rare that the lead actor, Luciana Faulhaber, is also the director. And the fact that she’s a relatively young Latina is all the better. This is her first feature and relatively speaking she does a great job. I definitely had some issues with the first half, but in the long run, well done.

Filmed in Plowville, Pennsylvania, the standard prologue sets up the ending, but we don’t really get why for a long time, which is also quite unusual, and for which I’m grateful. When the story proper starts, we meet five friends who are on their way for a vacay in what was once one of their parents’ house, before the whole prologue thing. There are two relatively new couples and the gay guy. I’m happy to say that they do not pretend to be teens, but man, they sure do act like they are. They are supposedly in their early 20s, but physically that is still hard to buy.

My biggest issue with the first half of the film is that there is no single likeable character for the longest time. I believe a big rookie (and sometime seasoned) mistake is thinking the audience will react positively when an annoying character gets it, but there’s more emotion and connection in killing a likeable person than the douche; it feels more personal thereby making a better story. For example, the one guy I thought was sensible ends up being an idiot, too: a female characters is covered in blood and she just saw a body, and he’s not believing her (he can see the blood on her clothes and face), telling her to calm down and ignoring her by not taking it seriously.

Speaking of plot, with the exception of Nicole (Lindsay Eshelman, who was actually born in Plowville), whose backstory is loosely shown in the prologue, there is no interest to explain who these people are, how the know each other (unless I missed it during the car ride sequence at the opening), or what they do when they aren’t going to the cabin of someone where people were killed in the prologue. Also, again with Nicole, why would she go back to that place?

It’s easy to tell early on that Lorena (Faulhaber) is the man character, and this film is the debut director’s showcase for herself. If you’re wondering, no, that’s not a criticism. I see it all the time and it makes total sense to me. Lorena has the most screen time, close-ups, and widest emotional range. As a director (with Eshelman as producer), another wise choice is to have the central cast mostly made up of Latinos and an African American; the token white dude is the biggest douche of the batch, expressing white privilege left and right.

Another questionable scene for me is when one of the first couples goes off to some shed to, well, have sex. It’s great that we get to see some male nudity first before female (yay, women directors), including a couple of sly peeks at the peck. For me, what was weird though, was it is in a shed with halved pork meat hanging around the barn; she touches the pork, but no one in their right mind would do that with unknown meat, especially pork, which infamously smells bad when left in the open. This does lead into what I believe is a homage to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

This brings us to two interesting characters that use and live near said shed, hillbillies Kelley (Jarrod Robbins) and busty Sherri Baby (Hailey Helsick; named perhaps after Sheri Moon Zombie?). While they are attention-grabbing, they’re a bit over the top and cliché with highly violent and sexual overtones.

Okay, here’s a question that is meant in a non-critical way: when did killers start wearing baby masks? Was it The Purge (2013)? The Strangers (2008)? Thanks to some red herrings, the killer’s identity was not as easy a pick as I expected. This was a really fine direction to go. This was just one of the good choices Faulhaber makes.

The first half of the film, as is typical these days espically when they include the road trip as character introduction, takes a while to get a fire under it. At about the halfway point when one of our intrepid quintet starts going all Rambo and loading up, the pace picks up and the rest of the film becomes… better. The pace picks up and the excitement level rises. If you are not interested in any character per se but want some action, you can start it here.

The only extras are the trailer and a literally just-over-a-minute “Making Of” that’s kinda bizarre and pointless.

All-in-all, it does look like they had fun making it, which comes across to the audience.