Monday, September 30, 2019

Documentary Review: VHS Nasty

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

VHS Nasty (aka VHS Nasty: VHS Lives 3)
Directed by Tony Newton
Shlock Films / Vestra Pictures
95 minutes, 2019

I’m on a bunch of horror Facebook groups where I mostly keep good company; it seems, however, that the holy trinity of big obsessions of modern horror fandom is Freddy, Jason and Michael. Maybe Chucky playing the cameo as the baby Jesus and Pennywise as the nanny, as well. While I will not poo-poo on anyone’s tastes, and I actually quite like those films, too, compared to some of the stuff that was coming out on VHS in the 1980s, it pales in comparison. Mother’s Day, Cannibal Holocaust, Faces of Death, I Spit on Your Grave, and any of several Italian cinema releases, were all beyond the realm of WTF at the time.

In America, we had passed through the days of the Hays Office, a gatekeeping film industry body that set strict guidelines on what can and cannot be seen or said onscreen. It ended in the late 1960s, when the Rating System was started. Everything exploded in the ‘70s and took hold into the VHS period of the ‘80s, as the pendulum swung the other way. Meanwhile, in England, where this documentary originates, there were some restrictions, but nothing as harsh or consistent (Hollywood was the main output for cinema, so the focus was stronger there) until the advent of VHS, where control of the British film viewing was taken away from theaters by marketers and video stores. The film industry and government were not pleased.

The British government set up a censorship board against what was deemed as “video nasties,” or films this august group of older women decided the rest of the populace should not see, as they considered them too violent, sexually explicit, or sexually violent. If I may digress for a sec, the different between gatekeeping and censorship is that the former is set up within an industry to police it (the Hays Office; the Ratings Board), while censorship is from an outside organization (e.g., church groups, government); either way, the control is usually over-enforced.

This film focuses on the effect of British “nasties” on modern day filmmakers who were exposed to these pariahs in their youth, including the likes of Jim Towns, Jason Figgis, Shawn C. Phillips, Domiziano Christopharo, Tony Newton (the director of this release) – all of whom have had work that has been reviewed on this blog – as well as many others. The biggest name to contribute here, even though he is also an indie director, is the irrepressible Lloyd Kaufman (who only lends his voice). This international group of talking heads discuss what it was like to be a fan and try to get hold of this illicit merchandise, and its effect on them. Note that all of them are involved in the independent side of filmmaking, where all the truly interesting releases are now coming from (in my opinion), much as the nasties were back in the day. For example, one of the banned films from back then in England (but not the States) is Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a touchstone to many of the people interviewed.

There is a bit of repetition as these monster menches discuss their memories of watching these delights, and it is quite fascinating. What also drew my attention was looking behind them at their collections, some with mixed media (VHS, DVD, Blu-ray), masks, posters and other film memorabilia. This is the kind of trivia I find fascinating along with the main subject matter being discussed.

I also found it quite relatively beguiling the various levels to which some agreed on some censorship in certain cases. Child abuse, of course, is a given, but one, for example, says he can see more censorship leaning towards the human slasher than the fantasy of Evil Dead (yes, that was also on the nasties list thanks to a certain tree branch). On one hand, I can understand the general difference between human monsters vs. zombies and creatures; but where would you fit in supernatural unkillable killing machines in a human form doing unsupernatural murders (again, Jason, Michael and their ilk). This could be an interesting debate.

Also, while some are opposed to any censorship, others believe it’s okay to put a sticker on the box (this would be more classic gatekeeping than censorship), like the PMRC wanted to do to music around this time in the States. With films though, if you listed “necrophilia” on the sticker, as one person interviewed suggests be done, that is kind of a spoiler to what goes on in the film; and as someone else points out, for others it would just make it more enticing to watch or own.

Because of the illegality of renting these nasties, it created a black market of bootleg versions of the films of various and dubious qualities, and many a fan was turned on to the horror genre not quite making out what was on the screen thanks to murky visuals. I remember even the legit copies of VHS not exactly being clear due to the medium itself. Add fifth generation copies, and yikes.

One of my favorite parts of this was each relating their favorite films, why that was so, and what was too much for them, if anything. That is not to say there is still that level of video nasties out there, such as much of the catalog of extreme video labels like Unearthed.

Someone in this film mentions that when censorship is employed, eventually whatever they are trying to repress becomes the norm. While I believe that to be an oversimplification, on some level it’s true that it becomes more widely accepted in the long run.

Others interviewed include Dustin Ferguson, Peter Goddard, producer John West, Nathan Hill, Gary Smart, Christopher Griffiths, Jimmie Gonzalez, Richard Mogg (with fake blood on his face), Mathew Fisher, and Richard Chandler. It’s definitely a boy’s club, sadly, with the exception of actress Julie Anne, who appears right near the end. I wish there would have been more women involved, as they are quickly becoming a large part of what used to be a male dominated fan base.

As for added visuals, there are short clips from a smattering of the trailers mentioned in the documentary (Don’t Look in the Basement, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc.), some artistically altered stills from said pix, and some decent editing (i.e., the interview clips are not long, but fortunately they don’t zip by as if they were for someone with the attention span of a flea, either). There is also a low background sound of reels feeding into a projector and some VHS visual “noise” added to the images.

My only two complaints are that the descriptive cards for each person are only shown once, and with my memory, it would have been a help to repeat them at some point; the other, as I said before, is that there needs to be more women interviewed, as women are fully integrated into the horror genre, I’m happy to say.

This film is actually part of a trilogy (so far) that includes Newton’s tome, VHS Nasty: The Essential Guide Book to Video Nasties, and also his Horror Movie Poetry book related to these films. I would like to see it expand to a fourth, perhaps as a documentary about the filmmakers, cast and crew of the nasties themselves. They’re dropping like flies as time passes (Romero in 2017, Craven in 2015, Fulci in 1996, etc.), so this is a good time to do it. Meanwhile, this documentary of their influences is still a milestone.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Review: The VelociPastor

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

The VelociPastor
Directed by Brendan Steere
Cyfuno Ventures / Hollow Tree Films / Laika Come Home /
Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Entertainment
75 minutes, 2018

I’ll be honest with ya, as I always am… I try to review things in the order I get them, but as soon as I saw this, I put all others aside and threw this on the player. Some films project that they are so bad that they grab your attention and say, “Oh, you’re gonna wanna see this” to me. A priest who turns into a velociraptor? I’m all in, dude!

It’s important to note that this is not just a version of a werewolf film, it’s actually more. In no particular order, it’s an homage to the amazing bad horror films of the mid-VHS period of the late ‘70s-early ‘80s, before there was CGI (most of the effects are practical, but there is one key digital moment during a flashback sequence in the middle); also it’s as played-straight comedy filled deliberate errors to emulate the micro-budget VHS features; it’s brilliant in its own goofy way; and there are so many genres thrown in and mixed in a bowl here it’s bound to get your attention, a multitude of styles of movie mayhem from that period you liked.

Greg Cohan
So, let’s break it down a bit, first with what’s going on, in the most surface of ways as I don’t want to ruin any of it for you. After a tragedy, Father Doug Jones (buffed-out Greg Cohan) travels to Asia where he comes in possession of an artifact that lets him turn into the titular creature: a very rubberized man-in-a-suit that looks more like a mini-T-Rex. Meanwhile he comes to the acquaintance of forbidden love object and hooker Carol (Alyssa Kempinski, who has some killer cheek bones), while gangsters and a Chinese warlord priest with Japanese Ninja guards who speak Korean come sniffin’ around with various agendas. Then in Family Guy fashion, there’s those flashback memories of family and war. Who will win the battle for Doug’s soul, as it were?

Okay, now for the framework of the film. This isn’t the first one of use deliberate measures to show low budget and incompetence (Richard Griffin’s Seven Dorms of Death [2015] comes to the top of my head), but it’s still a hoot. Here, there are action shots missing with a notice for the CGI to be added later, and when a head is ripped off, it’s pretty obvious (i.e., intentionally) that it’s a store mannequin’s topper. The fight scenes are straight out of the Dolemite school of martial arts. There are other fine moments that had me laughing out loud, but I’ll leave that as a bonus when you see it.

Alyssa Kepinski
The acting, again, is a mix of purposefully hammy and dead serious, and the two leads especially not only excel in this (it’s actually harder for a good actor to pretend to be bad, than the other way around), but really seem to be having a blast playing these roles. Meanwhile there’s lots of blood and cheesy-type gore, enough to make a splatterfest fiend smile, but not necessarily turn off a neophyte fan of the red stuff.

There are some decent extras here, including an amusing nearly 9-minute gag reel, the film’s trailer (along with a bunch of others), captions that can be a bit on the quick side, and at the Texas Fightmare 2019 Festival Midnight Screening Q&A hosted by Matt D. (representing Wild Eye) that lasts over 28 minutes. Usually the sound quality for these festivals is terrible, but this one wasn’t too bad, I’m happy to say. Present are the director, Cohan and producer Jesse Gouldsbury. The group were amusing, telling great stories and explaining the genesis of the film (originally a school project of the director’s) with humor straight across.

Then there is the film commentary, which I was looking forward to hearing; it is also Steere, Cohan and Gouldsbury. Sometimes it’s a bit hard to tell who is talking, but most of what they are saying is fun and relevant (though there’s a bit of dross, such as discussing the food they are eating while recording the commentary). There is a bit of overlap from the festival Q&A, but that is common and forgivable. Mostly it’s enjoyable, and it’s pretty obvious these guys get along. I do wish that Kempinski was in on it, too; I think hearing a female perspective would have enriched the experience, but I don’t want it to sound like I’m complaining, because I’m not.

One of the strong points of the film is the look and editing. There is a lot of split-screen action that is incredibly well done for a group that is this novice, i.e., haven’t made that many features yet. Steere discusses how time-consuming certain scenes were, and I believe it. Beautiful to look at and kept the pace moving along.

My favorite scene in the film is towards the end, involving the Ninjas during an emotional moment, but I won’t give it away. There is talk in the commentary about a sequel in the works. If that’s so, I am so up for it. It’s actually quite difficult to purposefully make a “bad” film and have it shine like this hybrid horror / action / kung fu flick.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Review: The 27 Club

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

The 27 Club
Directed by Patrick Fogarty
Cleopatra Entertainment / MVD Entertainment
97 minutes, 2019

Though I am not a musician, I still remember the feeling of relief on my 28th birthday, knowing I didn’t become a member of what has become known as the “27 Club.” This seems to be the terminal age for a lot of people in the music biz, including Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Brian Jones, blues musician Robert Johnson, Canned Heat’s Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, the Grateful Dead’s Pigpen, Big Star’s Chris Bell, D. Boon of the Minutemen, Kristen Pfaff of Hole, and so many others. In most of these cases, it’s a matter of meeting the Master through misadventure (drugs, suicide, car accidents, etc.).

Maddisyn Carter
The main thing about this film and others like it, is that you know exactly where it is taking us, and whom it is going to affect; the big question and what keeps us watching is the how the final comeuppance will arrive. Hey, it’s in the title, and the big hint is given in the first act. We just need to stick around for the ride to get to the conclusion of the deal with the… devil? Demon?

The question(s) behind the film, of course, is oft asked: how far are you willing to go to achieve your goals, and do the ends justify the means? For many it’s quite an easy question. For me, well, not so much.

The main protagonist in the film is Jason (Derrick Denicola), a music lover and student who is writing a paper for teacher, Professor Crawford (the Todd Rundgren), who gives odd vibes right from the start. Jason is convinced that the so-called 27 Club has something behind it, and when Quinn Scott (Travis Grant) of the band Saturn’s Return, the latest rock star in the film’s prologue to join the list, he is even more determined to find the answer. So much so, in fact, he wears a Saturn’s Return tee shirt through at least the first half of the film over several days.

Todd Rundgren on the left
As a brief aside, Jason has some cool stuff on the walls of his room, including album covers by the likes of the Damned, Iggy and the Stooges (Raw Power), and of course Todd Rundgren. Now my theory is that Jason is being influenced by Prof. Crawford because in a record store scene reminiscent of High Fidelity (2000), Crawford suggests the same Damned and Iggy albums to a patron who is interested in an Everclear colored vinyl. But Crawford/Rundgren is so cool, he’s actually wearing a tee from the West Coast post-punk industrial noise band Chrome; I still have my Chrome LPs, FYI.

Somehow, Jason manages to hook up with the sister of his best friend’s (Zack Kozlow) girlfriend, an aspiring singer named Lily (Maddisyn Carter), who is a mess on so many level (personality, indulgences, etc.) though lovely to espy. Lily has a strong desire to make it in the biz, but will she go above and beyond, as it were, to kick start her career rather than sabagoogee it?

In smaller roles, it’s nice to see actors Nick Principe as a massive crony to a mad Satanist, and as a news reporter, Kelly Erin Decker, who stole every scene in which she appeared in during Halloween Pussy Trap Kill Kill! (2017).

Derrick Denicola
All the actors involved here hit the marks without having to rely on histrionics (in other words, they can act), which is probably a good thing especially since there isn’t a character here that is totally likeable, even the main two. I’ve mentioned Lily, but Jason is no cotton candy either; he may be just as focused on his goal of finishing his paper as Lily is with her career, but he does some pretty skeevy things in his own right, such has filming himself having sex without telling his partner. But it’s not just these two as no one seems to have any sense of boundaries or be aware of personal space. I find no fault on the writers of this film, though, as having been involved with the world of musicians, this tends to be true as a general rule.

One of the interesting ideas about this film is having other, more infamous members of the 27 club speak in between scenes hidden mostly in the shadows, such as Jimi, Janis, Jim, Kurt and Robert Johnson. This is a cool idea as a concept, but for some reason it doesn’t really work too well, I’m truly sorry to say. This may be because what they say gets lost in the echo/reverb, and does not really translate or contribute to the story. Perhaps if what they said related to what was happening to our main characters at the time it would be a better fit, but it remains as an interesting concept.

The extras are two brief (about 2 minutes) interviews with the two leads, Denicola and Carter. There is also a photo slideshow which are just some screen grabs, the trailer, and a bunch of other coming attractions from the Cleopatra label, many films I have seen and enjoyed. That being said, this is a three-disc set, the first two each being a Blu-ray and DVD version of the film (which is also available in single disc, as well). The third is the soundtrack CD, with bands such as Geri-X, VV and the Void, Die Klute, the Anix, and of course Todd Rundgren (featuring Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross). This should not be surprising as Cleopatra has a music wing, and I’m willing to bet most of these bands are on their label. Personally, as a music snob myself, I was not impressed by most of it, but my tastes remain with proto- and first wave punk.

Despite the predictability of the ending, the story was told well by some decent writing and acting, and kept my interest. Nice way to spend an afternoon with some tortured souls.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Review: Tabernacle 101

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

Tabernacle 101
Directed by Colm O’Murchu
International Film Base / Indie Rights
98 minutes, 2019

There is an increasing level of religious fanaticism in the world. No matter what the religion, the belief is that if one doesn’t believe what they do, they are considered Others (outsiders) who deserve at most death, at least to be kicked out of the country. The US, Canada, and most of the Middle East are all either run by hyper-religious characters or they are in the serious running. And that is scary as fuck to me, as someone who does not hold religion in any realistic regard.

David Hov
That disbelief is what drives our main protagonist, Frank (David Hov). He and his pal / cameraman Clint (Leon Kowalski) run an atheist vlog debunking psychics, ghosts, and yes, God. This includes the wonderfully angular-toned Meredith (Mikaela Franco), whose look seems to be based on Diamanda Galas, and displays some real knowledge, but she has a warning for our hero about the following: Frank’s scientist girlfriend and co-atheist vlogger, Sarah (the lovely Elly Clapin), is experimenting on ending death. Of course, Frank wants to experience the process to prove there is no God, and Meredith cautions him to ixnay to the xperimentnay. Sarah also puts the kibosh on it. But, as in real life, men just don’t listen to women who are wiser than them.

So of course, it’s Halloween night that the reluctant Sarah puts Frank through the Flatliners (1990) type of experiment in front of the vlog camera and crew during a live broadcast. You know it’s not going to end well in the long run obviously, or there would be no film. When Frank is in the astral plane, it starts a competition for his – well, let’s say soul – between the light and the dark forces that will have worldwide implications. And that’s as far as the story as I’m willing to tell.

Mikaela Franco
There is a nice strong plot at the base of the events with some weirdness and Harry Potter type stuff floating about it, obviously wanting this to be a franchise, or possibly a television series. It definitely has its moments of darkness, but the upbeat electronic music and positive mysticism that seems to start out with the healing powers of Resurrection (1980) and goes off into the X-Men level of strengths, such as telekinesis, projection, and others.

Despite butting heads, you know Frank and Meredith are going to join forces (figured that out about 20 seconds into their first meeting) to fight the – err – forces of evil, but the big question is (and I will not answer it, you’ll have to see it) will they succeed? Meredith, we learn, has a bit more up her sleeve than we know at the onset when they are on opposite sides. But even as allies, try to get the guy to listen to a woman when she gives him warnings. Toxic masculinity at it’s finest.

Elly Clapin
What raises questions to me is what side of the story the writer falls on; in other words, is this a pro-Christian/religious take, or just a cinematic telling of the possibilities of the supernatural? There are some slight indications of the former, such as shadows that produce crosses, be it a streetlight, or my favorite is when Clint’s shadow intersects a horizontal line, producing said cross at his introduction to the story.

The category I would describe this film would be Dark Fantasy, which tends to be a bit black and white as far as good and evil goes. Either you are or you ain’t, though switching from one to the other is a viable choice (think Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader); there’s just no gray area in between.

This works both for and against the storyline here. On the positive, it’s easier to like the characters that dwell in the light (especially with that inspirational synth music behind them), as there are few conflicts other than those working on Frank. The other side is a bit of predictability which is inevitable. While I pretty much guessed the outcome, the ride was interesting, especially with some nice double-crosses along the way.

A demon
One of the aspects I really liked about this particular story is the updating of the powers to include modern technology, especially computers and cell phones, as the transmission of controls. These are indeed the modern magic wands that transform, with coding being the updated version of spells. With every technology, as social theorist Neil Postman stated in 1993, we have a Faustian Bargain with our electronic equipment, each containing both the good and equally bad (or, as John Culkin said in 1967, “We shape our tools and, thereafter, our tools shape us”).

Let’s call this a thriller, because I would not necessarily call this “horror” despite the presence of demons and beings of light/goodness; as I said this is a darker version of a lot of the shows you may see on cable. There’s no blood other than a couple of cuts here and there, and most of the tension relies more on the story than the visuals, which are often quite stunning thanks to some nice camerawork. Let me add that the Aussie countryside mixed with camera drones gives us a beautiful view. But even beyond that, the film is shot well, and the editing is nicely done.

As for the acting, there is a bit of ham boning here and there, and straight out of “The Manny,” it seems like scenes were produced for Hov to be shirtless and show off his pecs, but the end result is a film that a fan of sorcery can watch without having to cover their eyes to avoid seeing some body bits flinging around with red internal gravy shooting out.

While the story can get a bit convoluted at times, it’s mostly a straightforward tale of the clash of good and evil, and it can be family-friendly depending on the clan, of course.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Review: The Dark Days of Demetrius

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

The Dark Days of Demetrius
Directed by Dakota Ray
R.A. Productions
60 minutes, 2019

Despite the title sounding like a 1960s Sword and Sorcery genre release from Italy (you know, like Demetrius and the Gladiators or something like that), rather this is the sixth film by Dakota Ray. His specialty is life at the lowest strata of crime in the street. And rather than being Italiano, he focuses in on his fictional city of Sunnydale, which is actually a stand-in for his home turf of Denver.

Dakota Ray
This Demetrius (Dakota Ray) is also known as the Live Stream Killer (aka LSK), as we learn from the narration in the first 10 seconds of the film past the prologue and credits. He kills random people and live streams it to millions of his fans who revel in the death and destruction in his wake.

Anyone who is familiar with Ray’s work knows it is immediately identifiable as his, as Ray has his own style of filmmaking, which is unique, something you don’t often see these days. While he manages to keep his “auteur” title, this film is actually way different (and similar) as his others.

First of all, his editing is tighter, and more importantly, his storytelling has grown. In previous releases, most of which have been reviewed on this blog, it usually involves a number of short stories all woven together into a tapestry of human horror, involving murder, drugs and Satan. Here, Ray takes a single story that runs throughout its length, though it is still broken up into chapters.

Fred Epstein
His iconic look of using colored filters remains, but mostly he uses a dark blue one here (and occasionally red), almost giving the film an India Ink manga feel, full of close-ups mixed into the action, and a voice-over to let you know what Demetrius is thinking. You rarely hear him speak, but you hear his thoughts in Ray’s unique, deep rumble of a voice.

Some odd things remain the same, such as occasionally focusing on bugs and roadkill, and Ray’s tendency to wear shorts. There is also a lot of traveling shots in a car through the city, especially underpasses and bridges, and the characters we meet tend to be creepy at best, and scary human monsters at their nastiest. Ray bring out the worst traits of people, and that’s kind of what makes his stories so interesting.

Demetrius, like many serial killers, is a self-professed sado-masochistic narcissist. He revels in the power of self, through the killings and his website, often looking at his own reflection through a mirror or his cell phone camera lens. These kinds of murderers are “hungry” for attention, and Demetrius is no different, as his crimes become more violent, and his need for notice grows. He starts to contact the victim’s families to taunt them, and even gets the press involved.

Lilith Frost
Here’s where the story twists into a Man Bites Dog (1992) situation in the “Media Manipulation: The Devil’s Work” chapter that occurs when a news reporter, Clive (Fred Epstein) becomes involved and begins to lose what’s left of his objectivity (not that there really is such a thing as everything is subjective). Clive’s background (again heard more through narration than vocalization) is a sharp commentary on today’s news, rightly stating that people are more interested in sensationalism than professional newscasting, and Clive is not beyond trying to save what’s left of his reputation by leading with blood and guts. This used to be called yellow journalism, but now it’s just common news commentary. But Clive’s a bit of a nutcase narcissist himself, and is actually closer aligned to Demetrius’s mindset.

The two other characters are yet another serial killer that gets involved with Clive and his website, Baphomet (S. Donatello, aka Sebastian Oake, who is also a producer of the film), who wears a goat-head mask, and Bunny (Lilith Frost), a victim of Demetrius. Frost gives a very brave performance as not only is she nude, she is bound spread-eagled with everything open and exposed.

S. Donatello
As one dips into the reality of situations, there are a couple of questionable actions  such as someone peeing on a body. No one would do this, because it would easily give the police a DNA sample. In theory it makes a point of motivation of a character, but the detective story watcher/reader in me saw this as a red flag; on a distraction scale of one to ten in the story though, it’s probably a three.

There are some funny moments here, and I’m not sure if they are intentional or not, such as Clive writing about the intersection of “6th and Vagina,” which amuses me for two reasons: the first is obvious, and the second is that it doesn’t say what 6th (Avenue? Street? Way? Boulevard?).

A couple of more things is that the SFX are practical (as opposed to digital) and pretty good, and most of the music is by death metal band Emperor ov Larvae [sic].

You just know there is a comeuppance coming for some characters, but which ones is not assured until the end, which is a strong point for the film.

Breaking down the plot from three intertwining stories into a single one benefits Ray’s release, and lets the focus on the four main characters interact in a way that is more narrative, yet retains the free-flowing form that one associates with a Ray release. This is definitely among my faves of his films to date.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Reviews: House of the Damned; Lust for Vengeance

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

The reason these two reviews are grouped together is that they are both made by auteur Sean Weathers, who is based in Brooklyn, New York. He started making films in the genres he liked at a young age, usually with the assistance of producer Aswad Issa and cinematographer George Lopez.

House of the Damned: 15th Anniversary Edition
Written and directed by Sean Weathers
Full Circle Filmworks
72 minutes, 1996 / 2011

This is the 15-year rerelease of indie filmmaker Sean Weather’s first film. Shot in glorious black and white, and mostly in Brooklyn; it doesn’t get very deep, but it’s built on an imaginative foundation.

Here’s the basic diggity (and I’m not giving away anything that’s not on either the box or common literature about the film): Liz (Valerie Alexander) comes home after her dad’s murder in his own house. Living there is her youthful-looking mother, Emily (Monica Williams) and grandfather. They both have a secret that Liz is about to find out before the end of the night, which happens to be her 21st birthday. Four friends (aka the fodder) help her celebrate, and while they all meet their fate in sometimes ghastly, other times questionable ways, Liz is actually the target of the whole affair, and so naturally is the only one that delays that doom.

There is a lot packed into the film, including witchcraft, slasher elements, zombies (the voodoo-forced-to-obey kind, not the braaaaaains ones), all with a haunted house feel. In many ways, this is a very successful film, especially considering it’s a first one by this collective, though one may say it arguably tries to cover too much. I don’t have a complaint with that, though, since Weathers doesn’t attempt to overlap genre types often enough to make it confusing. Heck, there is even a bit of nudity and a hint of lesbianism, as well as a moment of bad rapping (purposeful, I believe, considering a comment by Liz at one point).

I’m not sure what element he was using, be it VHS or s-VHS (I’m guessing one of those by the age of the film), but the black-and-white is highly grainy, and the handheld camera looks it. Still, there is a consistent tone throughout which holds up even after all this time and changes in technology (e.g., if this was some form of videotape, then odds are it was cut on editing bay equipment, rather than on a computer, which is much more time consuming and laborious).

There are a few holes here and there that are common with both indie and especially first-time writer/directors which are kind of blatant. For example, when one of the friends is done in while in the basement, we see the reaction of Liz and her erstwhile rapper boyfriend as they stand in the doorway, but we never see what they saw (the moment in is the trailer, below).

But the biggest flaw for me is the lighting, or lack thereof. The scenes on the roof and in the basement, for example, are creepy for certain, and in that they’re effective, but sometimes the shots are so dark that we’re left not being certain at what we’re seeing.

It is important to remember that writer / director Sean Weathers was 16 when he made this film, not actually something that is well-publicized, but his IMDB bio states he was born in 1980. For someone that young age, this is a pretty complex feature with lots of elements. I’m guessing many of the actors are among the same age group, and good on them for that.

It’s obvious what some of the roots of this film are, such as the Evil Dead and The Return of the Living Dead series. Weathers is evidently a fan of the genre, and that he wants to create his own and give back is a beautiful thing.

As far as I know, none of Weathers’ films, including this one, went the theater route, but rather direct to home market. This was actually quite smart maneuvering on his part, especially if he hit the horror convention circuit. Bet they did really well locally at the neighborhood video stores that were prevalent at the time.

The extras include some of his subsequent trailers, such as this one and the film below, and others like Hookers in Revolt (2006). There are also outtakes and clips from his The Unfinished Works of Sean Weathers (2004).

There are two interesting featurettes also included. One is a present-day interview with the lead actress, Valerie Alexander, who discusses what the shooting experience was like, filmed by an unseen interviewer (a self-deprecating Weathers). Some of the questions are just plain worthless, such as querying which male cast members would she “marry, fuck, or kill” The more interesting bits were actual anecdotes about the filming. The second short takes the viewer back to the house in the present, and starting from top to bottom, Weathers discusses the shooting with the camera person. The basement part is as creepy as the film, so that’s effective.

Lust for Vengeance: 10th Anniversary Explicit Edition
Written and directed by Sean Weathers
Full Circle Filmworks
85 minutes, 2001 / 2011

The director, Sean Weathers, watched over 100 Giallo films before he made this picture. What’s a Giallo? He explains in a title card at the beginning: Giallo is the name for a distinct set of Italian thrillers from the 60’s [sic] that combined crime, murder, eroticism, nudity, mystery and whodunits, with stylish visuals.

Weathers had come a long way in the five years from his first release, above. He seems more assured about his direction, and the narrative is complex, yet cleaner. Ah, yes, the storyline.

Five women who have been friends since childhood are being picked off, one by one, possibly by a male acquaintance from their junior high days named Michael Richards (I am assuming that he was named for the “Kramer” actor, ironically half a decade before his racist rant) who had, after some false accusations, accosted one of them and was sent away to the sanitarium. The story of the events that surround these women meeting their fate is told to us, as described in another early title card, in five separate chapters (averaging about 13 minutes), in non-linear order. Helpfully, though, we are told the order by each chapter’s title card, such as “Anna (4).” If this sounds confusing, it’s actually not while watching the film, which is kudos to Weathers. There is very little suspense on who is the killer, though he is dressed in black leather with a motorcycle helmet with dark visor (what confused me is the person in disguise who kills Stephanie (2) looks to be female…).

Each of these women has a vice, be it drugs, bulimia, or sexual addiction, and we get to see it all in detail. While not stated, I am assuming that their relationship with this guy from their past who was seen leaving the first killing (victim’s name is Jennifer Lopez!), according to a police detective who questions the women a few times, has affected them to the point where they do these self-abusive behaviors as an escape from the memory.

Using grainy video to emulate 16mm, I am again assuming, the camera often floats around the actors (who are fully nude at some point or another, including women and most of the men), in a very Mario Bava way. While there are few sharp zooms and super close-ups of eyes, as is common in Giallo (especially Dario Argento), Weathers does an interesting thing with the film’s hue: whether the film is in black and white or color, there are extreme tints used so the image is either red, yellow, blue, green, orange, or others, varying from scene to scene. This was a really nice touch.

As with the previous film, there is a dark sense of humor, such as a character here named being Putney Swope (if you haven’t seen the film by that name, you really need to do so; not only is it smart and hilarious, it has a similar feel to Weathers’ and was directed by Robert Downey Sr.). Another is when a character is being held by the killer with his hand over her mouth, and a roommate walks right by shielding her eyes because she thinks the noise she’s hearing is her pal having sex.

Many of the actors in this film are non-pro, with this or other Weathers’ films as their only credits, but they all do relatively well for their experience at the time, and the nature of the film (i.e., a low budget indie). However, they all bravely are willing to simulate (I’m assuming, once again) sex or at least be naked as they wind their way through their first cinematic endeavor in most cases.

Weathers makes a few missteps, which is common in the genre. A key one is that we never see Lisa (5), the last on the murderer’s list, done in. Does she survive? This is unclear. And why is someone who is smitten with Stephanie killed, other than being a clingy creep? I believe perhaps he was in her apartment (as he’s smelling a female’s underwear at the time), but if so, how did the killer get him out? Another is a gratuitous lesbian scene on a beach between two characters in the Jennifer section that have nothing I can tell to do with the actual storyline. One minute they’re complaining about their boyfriends, and the next they’re nude and, well… The biggest bug in my bonnet, though, is that I would have liked to have had more detail about Richards and his motivations.

The extras are similar to the first film above, with trailers for Weathers’ films, and clips of outtakes of various projects. In one section are more title cards, this time with trivia about the making of the film. There is also an interview with Weathers on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the few location shots in the film outside of apartments. Here he discusses the film’s progress, but I would have liked to have had a more thorough commentary track, as well. Weathers is a remarkable guy with interesting ideas, and his work process seems to be something worth hearing.

While I figured out the final shot of the film about 20 minutes in, this was still a fun ride to see where it was going, and how it got there. As a low budget indie goes, sure there is more that ‘Weathers and crew can do to improve, but all things considered – especially comparison to some other films of this nature in the genres he’s hooked into – it shows so much promise. With all sincerity, I would love to see what Weathers could do with some real mentor guidance and bigger bucks backing him up. That could prove his real mettle or his downfall. It would be nice if someone gave him the chance to find out. Meanwhile, I will pay respects to Weather’s Full Circle Filmworks, whose slogan is “Stickin’ it to the man 24/7.”