Saturday, November 30, 2019

Review: The Witching Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 25, 2019

Review: Killer Nun

Text (c) Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2019
Images from the Internet

Killer Nun (aka La monja homicida)
Directed by Giulio Berruti
Cinesud / Arrow Films / MVD Entertainment
88 minutes, 1979 (etc.) / 2019

Was it inevitable? It seems like there was a period of time where the A-list actors of the Golden and Silver Age of Cinema were getting old, and their careers were in freefall. The result was them taking desperation jobs, i.e., horror films.

Think about it: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) had Joan Crawford and Bette Davis; The Nanny (1965) had Davis and Trog (1970) had Crawford; Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964) starred Davis and Olivia De Havilland.

Anita Ekberg
This was also true in the “foreign market,” as shown with Swedish actress Anita Ekberg in La monja homicida, or as it was known in the Western Hemisphere, Killer Nun. Ekberg had a long career in Italian cinema, including being in such first rate fare as Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960).

There is a discussion among critics and academics on whether or not this film fits into the nunsploitation subgenre because it does not necessarily meet the sheer audacity (B and D, torture, sexual exploitation) that many in the category flaunt, but in my opinion, it’s close enough to meet the standards.

Ekberg plays Sister Gertrude, a seasoned nun who has recently gone through a surgical procedure to remove a brain tumor. It has left her convinced that she is still sick, and also addicted to morphine. These make her take unusual chances, such as stealing and random sex with strangers. Oh, you just know the Catholic Church loved this release, especially from the home country of the Vatican.

Paola Morra
Sister G works in a sanatorium that is reminiscent of Vittorio De Sica’s A Brief Vacation (1973), where people go to get cured. It is full of nuns and nurses in similar roles. But unlike what De Sica’s presented, this is closer to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) with a bunch of men and women who are just a bit out of it (e.g., sexist womanizers, elitists, deranged), and Ekberg is a bit of a stern Nurse Ratched, even as her world spirals out of control. The nun Sister G shares her room with, Sister Mathieu (lovely and toothsome Paola Morra, a model in real life who apparently had to be nude in some of her scenes), is also in love with the bad Sister.

Things seem to blow up a bit when a handsome new doctor arrives, played by Warhol associate Joe Dellesandro. In both the Italian and English versions his thick New York accent is dubbed over, keeping down the spectacle of his “brogue” that he brought to the likes of Eurotrash releases  Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) and Blood for Dracula (1974). He is also kind of wasted here as his character is never given a chance to develop and he goes by looks alone. He barely gets to – err – take a walk on the wild side (he’s mentioned in the Lou Reed song, if you don’t get the reference).

Lou Castel and Alice Gherardi
The centerpiece, of course, is Ekberg (d. 2015), who was a big star at the time, even though her career was on the decline. She performs demented quite well, with closeups of her eyes fluttering and her lips quivering. The Theremin playing at her moments of crisis also help to let us know she’s having an “episode.”

Along with borderline nunsploitation, there is also a dip into the giallo genre, as there as murders galore at the home, with lots of solid red herrings to throw the viewer off the trail (I had two suspects, but it became pretty obvious early on which of those was correct). Meanwhile there are lots of killings, and some are them are quite gruesome, including one with pins that delves into near-Lucio Fulci territory.

There are quite a few extras, including both the English dubbed version of the film and the original Italiano release with English subtitles. I’m going to recommend watching the Italian, if only just for the film’s ending, which is different with each other (a textual “what happened next” coda, as this actually is based on a true story in Belgium just a few years before filming).

Paola Morra and Joe Dellesandro
Most of the other extras are in Italian with English subtitles, unless indicated. Largely these are also new for this release. The first up is “Our Mother of Hell,” a 52-minute interview with director Giulio Berruti. He explains the process of getting to work on the film and how thanks to pressure on the film industry from the Church, he could no longer get funding and had to work as an editor afterwards (he directed only two films, this one being the second). He holds nothing back, and it is quite interesting.

“Cut and Sound” is a 20-minute interview with editor and sound department head Mario Giacco, which is okay. Similarly, is the 24-minute interview called “Starry Eyes” with actress Ileana Fraja, who doesn’t really have that big a role, though one scene is pivotal; she discusses her whole career, beyond the film.

There are two English (both British) extras, including the 30-minute “Beyond Convent Walls: The Killer Nun and Nunsploitation.” This is a deep introspection on this film and the history of nunsploitation. Fascinating stuff. The other is a full commentary by film critics Adrian J. Smith and David Flint. It’s not as deep as it could have been and they certainly seem to enjoy their contributions, but it’s still worth the watch.

The last two are the Italian and International trailers, and an Image Gallery of stills, posters, lobby cards and video boxes.

While not as over the top as many nunsploitation releases or even Italian giallo of the time, there is still enough of off-kilter behavior and gory gooiness to keep the attention of fans of those genres. Know that you may feel a need to genuflect and say a few “Hail Marys” afterwards to cleanse your palate.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Review: Devil’s Revenge

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

Devil’s Revenge: Special Edition Blu-ray and Soundtrack CD
Directed by Jared Cohn
Cleopatra Entertainment / MVD Entertainment
88 minutes, 2019

There are certain activities that I will never put on a bucket list, including skydiving, downhill skiing, and spelunking. If you don’t know what the last thing is, it’s crawling into caves, like they did in The Descent (2005); note that this opinion predates that film.

Jason Brooks
We meet John (Jason Brooks) as he and a couple of buddies go digging around looking for an ancient Aztec relic. In Kentucky, I’m just sayin’. He is happy to risk his and the others’ lives looking for this thing thanks to brow beating from his dad (Will Shatner, in a brief, scene chewing cameo), despite the negative affect it has on his wife (Jeri Ryan, still lookin’ good!). The story behind the relic search is a bit convoluted, having something to do with an ancient curse on John’s family back from the days when his family were Spanish conquistadors (Shatner? Latino?).

It seems John’s little expedition may have deadly effects on some of his crew, but even worse than that it has “woken” something evil, that essentially looks like some people dressed like Aztecs and wearing demon masks. Aztec artifacts and the dangers therein were also handled in American Mummy (2014).

Soon John is either being visited by evil Aztec spirits or he is hallucinating a la The Oxbow Incident, but some more people end up eviscerated and John wisely (sarcasm) takes his family back to the cave, to get the relic and destroy the curse on his family that seems to have never manifested before he went spelunking in the first place. Thanks, dad!

Jeri Ryan
Along with his suddenly supportive wife after years of demanding he give up the search, John takes her along with his teenage kids, Dana (Ciara Harris, aka the Yellow costume in the recent Power Rangers Super Megaforce in 2015) and Eric (Robert Scott Wilson, who spend a few years on “Days of Our Lives”), both playing well-younger than their years.

 I would like to point out that I am a fan of the director, and in fact had a mini-Jared Cohn Halloween Eve with some friends, with Halloween Pussy Trap Kill Kill (2017) and Devil’s Domain (2016), both reviewed on this blog at some point.

The special effects vary widely in their effectiveness. The creatures look cool, especially the head honcho when he is howling in profile (is he the devil to whom the title refers?). However, the explosions and blood look digital and not very well done; when things get blowed up real good, it looks like Battlestar Galactica- era FX. I didn’t mind that too much, but it was a bit distracting from the story.

William Shatner
There are definitely some issues I have with the film, one being that it seriously needs some deeper editing. There are just too many shots of people walking through the woods, usually between the car (or camper) and the cave, especially when the family is winding their way back to the cavern. We get it, it’s far. Also. there are certain scenes that are repeated numerous times, especially flashbacks to the Aztec days.

But to me, the weakest point is the writing by Maurice Hurley (d. 2015), who was head writer for the first season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and creator of the Borg storyline. For example, there is Shatner showing up near the cave in a golf cart, of all things. Another is the questionable use of a large number of explosive devices inside the cave, without any damage to the cave itself; surely there would be a cave-in from the percussion of such volatile materials (not to mention the echo effect). Besides, would these devices have any effect on Aztec demons who have returned from the grave for so-called revenge? And what’s with the use of the word “Devil” in the title when none of these creatures are actually Satan (Tezcatlipoca, the Aztec god of evil, is not mentioned)?

Aztec demon
The last thing I would like to quibble about is Shatner’s character. It seems like the script can’t make up if he’s a good or bad person. He certainly browbeats his son to the point of taking enormous risks, and yet at other times he’s made to look like a loving father. Personally, I wanted to seriously smack the dad, or at least send him to the Forbidden Zone of the initial Superman films (yes, I know, wrong franchise). For what it’s worth, Shatner also co-produced and co-wrote the film, though the latter I’m assuming is acknowledging his going off-script and winging it.

The digital extras from the Blu-ray include the trailer, a bunch of other Cleopatra Entertainment trailers, and a 4:20 slideshow of mostly behind-the-scene stills that is among the better slideshows I’ve seen; there are some great shots of the Aztec creatures/demons that give more detail on what they look like. Also included is a second disc of the soundtrack, which sounds decent. Last, the slipcover has four-paneled artwork.

For those into trivia, there is lots of Star Trek people floating around here: of course there’s Shatner; next up is Ryan, infamous as ex-Borg-ite Seven of Nine in “Star Trek: Voyager”; and Brooks has a bit part in 2009’s Star Trek reboot. Last is the writer, mentioned above. Here, you might say the crew has gone to inner space, rather than outer space

Friday, November 15, 2019

Review: The Dark Side of the Moon

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

The Dark Side of the Moon
Directed by DJ Webster
Wildstreet Pictures / Unearthed Films / MVD Entertainment
87 minutes, 1990 / 2019

There was a period of time where science fiction and horror crossed genres, and it was great. The Alien franchise, Galaxy of Terror (1981), and so many others fed off the success of previous films, and once the majors found the hits, the smaller studios and indies grabbed their boards and rode the dollar waves. If this sounds cynical, well, I mean it that way only about ten percent. I actually like some of the smaller films as much as the ones budgeted at a gazillion dollars.

That being said, here is this release. If Star Wars (1977) was A-list and Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) was B-level, then this is very competent C-cinema. Then add to it the ilk of demonic possession like The Exorcist (1973) and the questioning of identity such as John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), and you’re a bit closer to this mash-up.

Will Bledsoe
Taking place in the far off space travel future of 2022 (wait…what?!), a cargo ship meets up with The 18th Discovery space shuttle, another NASA (non-commercial) craft from decades before, which had splashed down and crashed, disappearing into the Bermuda Triangle (also known as the Devil’s Triangle). And like so many other films, there is something aboard this abnormality that is not only evil, it’s Satanic. That’s right, not a monster, this is a possessive spirit that migrates from body to body, capturing the person’s soul along the way if they are a non-believer in the Christian god.

It’s a bit over the top (paraphrase: “The second you questioned the existence of God, you were mine!”), our good shipping crew was in peril, as the song says. But let’s backtrack to that a bit. The humans in question is a sextet of a repair crew sent to fix an orbital nuclear weapon (Space Force?!) but their spaceship malfunctions and ends up heading towards the surface of the dark side of the moon. That’s when they run into the errant shuttle and the fun begins. Well, for us viewers, natch, not for them. Also, in the “crew” is the robot system, based on a mixture of HAL and possibly the cyborg “Ash” character in Alien (1979). But in this case, the computer is shaped like a sexy female named Lesli (British actress Camilla More), who sits in a chair the entire time and wears a tight leather top that shows off some deep cleavage. Siri never looked this good.

Camilla More
The two “heroes” of the film are the Commander, Giles (Will Bledsoe), and the nice, Jewish [implied] doctor, Dreyfuss (Alan Blumenfeld). Giles is the strong-jawed type who will put himself in peril for others, and Dreyfuss is more of the laid-back… well, let’s just say he’s somewhere between schmuck and mensch, mostly to the former. Most of his dialog in the first half is “I don’t know.” So, it’s pretty obvious as some point he’s going to rise to the occasion when the need arrives in the third act. Oy. Another two actors that had other fame are Robert Sampson, who played the Dean/Megan’s dad in Re-Animator (1985), and Joe Turkel, instantly recognizable as bartender Lloyd in The Shining (1980).

Like in Alien (a touchstone in most of these kinds of films), the crew gets picked off one by one, but that’s obvious. And like The Thing (ditto), no one knows who has the evil within, so anyone who is alone at any particular time is suspect and paranoia = suspense for the viewer. All the check marks are there, and the first-time feature director (known for making music videos, such as Til Tuesday’s iconic “Voices Carry” and religious nut Amy Grant’s “Baby Baby”) uses it well, infusing darkness and shadow to keep you off kilter).

Alan Blumenfeld
The sets look great, considering this wasn’t a huge budget megafilm. Some of the explosion effects are kind of cheesy, but so were the ones in the original Battlestar Galactica (1978). Other than that, it’s what you could imagine a corporate repair ship might look like (i.e., one the administration would not care about – other than budgetary – because it’s a job they would never do), with dingy walls and dark corridors (again, see the Nostromo in Alien).

What is adorable, for lack of a better word, is the technology presented. This was filmed pre-Internet, and the computers used are obviously cathode-backed. Even the keyboards look antiquated, and the onscreen images are 8-bit at best (think first generation Tetris). Of course, there was no way a minor budget film could experiment much visually considering CGI was in its extreme infancy and would be highly cost inefficient.

Joe Turkel
The physical effects are practical, especially the bloody ones – and there are a few of them – other than those pesky explosions. Mostly we see a lot of snake-eyes, going back to the biblical serpent in the garden is one way to look at it.

Considering the director’s past with Amy Grant, I am assuming that there is a religious message here, to believe in the Christian god in order to (try and) defeat Satan. Or perhaps he’s arguing against that by Giles’ attitude. Honestly, I’m not sure.

So, let’s get to the extras, most of them are Q&A interviews led by Jay Kay, and then I will get back to discussing the film. First up is Alan Blumenfeld (40 min.). It’s a bit long, but mostly interesting as the discussion is centered around Alan’s career in general, and this film in particular. It’s not very deep, but enjoyable. The problem is with the sound, as the volume of Jay Kay’s mic keeps dipping; it’s Alan’s answers that are more central, so that’s okay albeit a bit annoying. Next up is FX artist R. Christopher Biggs (35 min.), who has done so much in genre films that I’m just gonna recommend looking him up on IMDB for his career list. Most of what he talks about his how rough the shoot was for the SFX crew, which kept my attention, but it was also cool hearing him talk about his work on other films such as the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Then there is the interview with stuntman Chuck Borden (21 min.), who only worked on the film for one day; honestly, this one was a bit dry, but I muddled through.

Wendy MacDonals
For the commentary we get producer Paul White and Unearthed Films’ head the Stephen Biro. Again, Biro is the Q in the Q&A, though he does add a bunch of information as well. It’s not the most exciting commentary track but filled with good bits anyway.

The last digital extras are the Budget Breakdown (1 min.), which I’ve never seen on a extras list before that I can remember, and a Stills Gallery (mostly screen shots and posters; 2 min), and there’s a very nice and thick color booklet in the case cover filled with facts and pictures.

Two points of interest before I bust outta here: first, this is the first screenplay for the writing team of Carey W. Hayes and Chad Hayes, who would eventually find fame with the likes of The Conjuring (2013). The other is that this film is very similar in storyline to Event Horizon (1996), and I wonder about the connection.

As sci-fi horror goes, this is a really good example of what was being created on a regular basis back in those days of following the audience, and somehow as hokey as this sometimes is (Satan! In Space!), it manages to work.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Review: Doll Factory

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

Doll Factory
Directed by Stephen Wolfe
Fan Fiction Cinema / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Entertainment
90 minutes, 2014 / 2019

The way I see it, in a gross generalization kind of way, there are three types of dolls movies. The first – and one of the oldest – is where a lap dummy has a life of its own, usually in the mind of the ventriloquist (but not always). The second is where the doll is haunted, as seen in the Annabelle franchise. Then there is the third where the doll either comes to life, such as with the old “Talking Tina” episode of “The Twilight Zone” (“Living Doll”; 1963), the Zanti Warrior episode of Trilogy of Terror (1975), Stuart Gordon’s Dolls (1987), and the Puppetmaster series (starting in 1987). This comedy falls into the latter category.

After a prologue of previous events, as is typical of these kinds of things, we meet a group of friends at a Halloween party in modern times. Nearly everyone – well, especially the men – are real dicks (pun both intended and not intended), just screaming of male toxicity. This is displayed in macho posturing, not listening to advice (or anything else) especially from women, hyper-sexualizing everything, bullying, etc. Some characters, all I could think was “boy, I hope you die by the end.”

Nicole Elliott, Andy Palmer, Justin Herman
The lead couple are Kay (hyper-cute Nicole Elliott) and her boyfriend/scuzbucket Mark (Justin Herman). Along with two other couples, Allison (Tracy Collins) and Miguel (Milo Rubi), and Erika (Jade Warren) and horndog Blake (Will Allday), plus Derek (Eric Schneider), the third wheel (why is it that there is always one odd guy or gal in these groups? Oh, well, more fodder for the splatter, I guess) they decide to ditch the shindig after Ian (Nasir Villanueva), Kay’s equally macho moroon ex-, and his hostile crew shows up and gets into a fight with Mark.

They head out to the old doll factory and perform some ritual from a book, which raises the cracked baby dolls into a murderous and gore-hungry group (to our delight, of course). Soon the rubber reprobates are roaming the town seeking victims/souls for their “master” (a hysterical turn by Patrick Sane); Kay and Mark rustle up Kay’s nerdy gamer bro Melvin (Andy Palmer) to help fight them off. Also joining the good guys is the redneck sheriff (Chris Fender) and an older African-American grump, Darius (Boo Gay, who steals all his scenes), who were introduced in the 1976 prologue.

Like the first Scary Movie (2000), this film borders on the ridiculous, but that is also a large part of its charm. Let me put it this way: remember when Popeye would mumble and then one day you paid attention and realized what he was saying was hysterical? Similarly, the dolls are straight-up Freddy Kruger wiseacres, and what they are speaking through their high pitched and silly voices is pretty funny, even if you have to listen to it very carefully. The dolls themselves obviously move via strings, and I’m not sure exactly how many there are in the story compared to how many were made (I’m guessing by the sheer number of them, their number were digitally enhanced). There is a fine mix of digital and practical SFX, and it actually all works well; some of the effects look damn good, and others a little goofy.

Of course, you know there’s going to be a showdown between our intrepid group of five who are to stand up to the legion of devil dolls, and the Master (I write this before I know for certain, as I’m about two-thirds through the film at this point).

Other than the men being complete assholes and most of the women not that smart, the writing is actually quite intelligent in its goofiness, if you’re willing to dig a bit and pay attention between the beer and chips you’re probably eating while watching this, because that is the correct fare for this kind of film. It’s definitely one that you’ll be laughing and talking about while it’s on, but I caution you to perhaps back up once in a while and listen to the dialogue. Man, I wish there were subtitles, which would have made it a lot easier to make out what the dolls were chattering about.

There are certain scenes that I definitely laughed out loud, such as one of the dolls partying with a couple of stoners (reminiscent of the similar pseudo-Ghostface scene in Scary Movie), or the re-introduction of Darius, who is wearing a stuck-on Santa beard and wig.

The first extra is a “Making of Documentary” (29 min.), which is a mix of interviews with the crew and some cast, and describes the beginning of the concept on through. It’s varied with lots of behind the scenes footage that are enjoyable. Next is the “Gag Reel” (7 min.), and like most of these things, there are some funny flubs. Then there is the “Concept Trailer” (2 min.) which is basically an exercise in both practicing for the shoot and a way to get some funding. It’s certainly a bit rough as far as concept goes with different actors, but still amusing to compare with the feature to see how far they came. There are also a few Wild Eye Releasing trailers.

For the full length commentary, it’s the director, Palmer (who is also an executive producer, as well as playing Melvin), and Herman (who portrays the male lead of Mark). Sometimes it is a bit hard to tell who is saying what, but that’s okay. The conversation is a bit stilted, and rarely deep. If you play this you won’t necessarily be wasting your time, but if you skipped it, I don’t believe you’ll miss a whole lot.

The only real regret I have, as I said before, is that there were no captions, so it was easy to miss some of the doll dialogue; when listening to a commentary track, it certainly makes it easier to follow along. But that’s a piffle in the scheme of things.

My fear is that a lot of people are just going to see this as a goofy excuse of a comedy, but, again, I think it’s worth paying attention to what’s happening. It’s not just a silly film about killer baby dolls, but rather a comedy that is quite funny, even if its (mostly male) characters are a bit annoying. I’m hoping there will be a sequel in there somewhere at some time, as is somewhat hinted in a classic trope way.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Review: ThanksKilling

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

Directed by Jordan Downey
MVD Visual
66 minutes, 2009 / 2011

According to the commentary track with director Downey and co-writer Kevin Stewart, the purpose of this $3,500 film, shot in 11 days back while they were both in college, was not to make a horror film per se, but by aiming towards the “so bad it’s good” (SBIG) category, rather make it a comedy with horror elements. It is true that when one goes for SBIG, usually horror is the genre on which to point.

From the box alone, you know the territory is going to be no-prisoners: make the viewer laugh at any expense, no matter how low, no matter how silly, no matter how forced. And have they achieved their goal of making a comedy and the worst horror film ever made? Well, yes and no. Let’s discuss…

As promised on the box, the first shot in the film is of a naked breast, apparently that of a healthy and hefty pilgrim running topless through the woods, played in cameo by older adult star Wanda Lust (nee Shelia Hansen). She is fleeing something raised by the Indians (this film is intentionally not PC, so I won’t bother with the terms Native Americans or First Nations) to kill the Pilgrims on the first Thanksgiving. Let’s stop there a moment and ponder. Totally realizing that there is an abnormally large need for suspension of disbelief, let me say that if this had happened, we certainly wouldn’t be celebrating the holiday, would we? But as far as stretching credulity goes, this is one of the minor ones, relatively speaking. Again, though, that’s part of the point. It’s important to keep remembering that, going forward.

After the pilgrim prologue, we meet five high school students (okay, there goes that credulity thing again in my head…easy now, brain, this is just the beginning of the ride) who are going to be both heroes and victims of… well, it’s pretty obvious from the box, so I don’t think I’m revealing anything by saying it’s the killer turkey, imaginatively named Turkie (if they really wanted it to be scary, it could have been named Tofuerkie). I must say right now that for a killer puppet turkey, Turkie looks pretty good. Kudos guys. Perhaps they could pair up with the makers of The Puppet Monster Massacre, as both these films are sequel bound? Or perhaps even Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead? But I digress…

So, the teens are totally (and purposefully, according to the commentary track, which I highly recommend if you’re going to watch this… ha, bet you thought I was going to say “turkey”!) cinematic clichés, including Johnny, the jock with a heart of gold (Lance Predmore), his goofy hick pal, Billy (Aaron-Ringhiser-Carlson, doing his best Tyler Labine impression), Billy’s nerd hanger-on Darren (Ryan Francis, who in “real life” is the drummer of the female-fronted Ohio punk band Overated , as Huge Euge), good girl Kristen (Lindsey Anderson, whose only previous notation was in Troma’s Terror Firmer, 10 years before this), and bad girl Ali (Natasha Cordova, in full John-Lithgow-sitcom-overacting style, coming closest to what the commentary states they wanted).

The five set off on Thanksgiving break (yeah, I know and the writers acknowledge in the commentary) to go camping. Of course, they run into said Turkie in the woods, who was resurrected by the pee of the dog owned by a hermit named Oscar (as in “the Grouch,” played well by General Bastard, who is the singer of his own punk-garage band). 

Of course, this meeting of late-twenty-year-old teens and Turkie turns into a battle that takes it back to town, where Turkie does away with a bunch of townsfolk, including relatives as well as some of the main cast. While Kristen’s dad, the town sheriff (Chuck Lamb, who has made a mini-career out of playing dead bodies in films and television), may have the fakest looking moustache in recent cinema memory (though it works for his character, and I’d like to say Lamb did well in his rare speaking role), probably the goofiest moment is when Turkie disguises himself as the sheriff by putting on a hat and a plastic Groucho glasses / nose / moustache, so not even his daughter can tell them apart. It is one of the few moments that I actually laughed out loud, in sheer audacity. Well played, Jordan Downey.

One of the two most infamous scenes, though, is Turkie disguised as a woman, and then getting picked up as a hitchhiker who is obviously aroused, thinking he’s a (human) girl. Let’s just say it doesn’t end well, especially for the audience. The other is when Turkie has his way with someone (“You’ve been stuffed,” he states after), though it should be noted that it was done safely (at the scene is found an extra small condom, gravy flavored).

As with Freddie Kruger, Turkie gets a whole bunch of groaner puns to state at specific times that, yes, I have to admit, are memorable and I’m sure repeatable at some time or another in life (though, I can’t think of anything needing a “Gobble-Gobble Motherfucker,” except for it’s own sake; hey, it’s even on the box).

So, is this the worst movie ever made? No, of course not, because it doesn’t take itself seriously, and tries too hard. For a film to be truly bad, it has to be done straight, such as Plan Nine From Outer Space, Cape Canaveral Monsters, or Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. But again, even as an acknowledged bad film, such as Bill Zebub’s The Worst Horror Film Ever Made, there is more a sense of either general goofiness or laziness than planned direction. That’s what is wrong with films like Epic Movie or Date Movie, in that they try too hard in a way that Fonzie kept trying so to keep his cool that he actually wasn’t.

The viewer has to be careful how to approach a film that intentionally tries to be bad. For example, I watched this the first time with a group of people who are a bit older (i.e., around my age), and even though they knew they were in for something bizarre (they did read the box, after all), they found it kind of silly more than anything else. I must admit, I appreciated it more after listening to the commentary by the director and writer (shame there were no captions because it would have been great to do both). Obviously, the demographic the film is aiming for is high school to college kids who either like inanity for inanity’s sake (hey, I’ve been there), or the alcohol and weed stoners who will laugh at a fart joke.

For me, the film definitely had its moments, and I was glad to watch it a second time by myself and actually see it (as opposed to in a talk-back crowd), and then, dare I say it, a third with the commentary. Waste of time? Sure. Sorry I saw it? No. While it may not have been the worst movie (I’m with Elaine about the film The English Patient, a book I thoroughly enjoyed, though), nor even a great comedy, it was a fun way to waste an afternoon.

Meanwhile, I’ve got my bag of popcorn ready for the nuker when the sequel (with a budget of $100,000) comes around.

This film was originally reviewed HERE