Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Review: M.O.M. (Mothers of Monsters)

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2020
Images from the Internet

M.O.M. (Mothers of Monsters)
Directed by Tucia Lyman
Indie Rights Movies / Aha Productions
99 minutes, 2020

The following statement comes with a caveat: films like The Blair Witch Project (1999) ruined the found footage genre for me, in most cases. It has come across as a cheap way to tell a story by either letting the actors be the filmmakers, or the use of mounted cameras, which takes it away from a human touch (sort of like a scan-it-yourself aisle in a supermarket). But, every once in a while, someone still manages to make it right. Hence, this exception.

We live in a world full of reflection through a camera, be it selfies or someone trying to make some kind of record of an incident (e.g., check out public meltdown videos on YouTube). Either way it is based on ego, such as believing the event is important, a way to point a finger of blame away from oneself to another (for example, the 1983 book And I Don’t Want to Live This Life, by Nancy Spungen’s mom, Deborah), or a deep-seated fear that compels one want to make sure your story is told. This film falls into all three of these categories.

Melinda Page Hamilton
The mother in question is Abby (Melinda Page Hamilton). Her teenage son, Jacob (Bailey Edwards), has a history of acting out in violent ways that Abby refers to as “Monster Time,” such as randomly dropping bricks off high buildings without looking to see if anyone is below. With a way of charming psychoanalysts that most true psychopaths have, he has managed to skirt his way around the legal system. This worries Abby because, in part, as she states early on, “Remember what happened to the Boy who Cried Wolf; he was eaten by the fucking wolf.”

The found footage aspect is either Abby recording herself on a cell phone to tell her side of the story, videos made by others such as Jacob’s friends, or the hidden cameras Abby has placed throughout the house. We get to view them, not necessarily in chronological order, thereby giving us a bit of perspective on Jacob to show that it’s possibly not just a puberty/hormone thing.

One of the brilliant aspects of this thriller is the question of absolutes. Jacob can be an outright shit, but so can Abby. The question is left hanging for quite a while whether Jacob is insanely violent, or is his mom over-vigilant – such as lack of respect of his privacy – due to aspects such as her over-drinking wine-goggles, or Adderall pills she sneaks from Jacob (or both).

One important way of looking at this is through a modern lens, both literally and figuratively. On the literal side, the tone of the film puts it clearly in the canon alongside the likes of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) with the mood of intra-family fear of threats of violence that keep escalating. Though in color, this is clearly a Noir piece with modern technology of cells, Skype and Spy Cams added in.

Bailey Edwards
As for the figurative, despite its gothic throwback mood, it’s placed in a modern situation, where teenagers are inundated with not just said technology, but the psychological damage of living in a post-Columbine era of increasingly frequent mass shootings, a fascination with Nazis, casual Anti-Semitism, and public spectacles of events like Charlottesville, all of which play into the story in some form or another.

Most indie films have some questionable acting, but every person here puts in a solid performance. Edwards is strong as he seems to flip back and forth between a normal kid and one that you are really not too sure about (I certainly would not want my daughter to date Jacob, but would understand why she might be attracted to him). But as the lynchpin, Hamilton’s portrayal of Abby is Class-A work, and would be deserving of Festival wins at the least. Her past experiences in the likes of numerous television series such as Messiah, How to Get Away with Murder, Mad Men and Big Love come through spectacularly. There is also a very short cameo by Ed Asner, for some added star power.

Lately, I have been feeling more and more as though those who write a film should not direct them because it helps to have a third party do some editing (Hereditary and Midsommar come to mind). However, Tucia Lyman balances the two like a champ, and makes me have second thoughts about that. Before this piece of psychological cinema, her directorial experience was a couple of documentaries and a few episodes of a television series about “real” ghosts, though you’d never know that this was her feature debut.

There are some scenes that are unexpected and downright shocking (again, figuratively and literally), with some squeamish bits, but mostly this is a psychological thriller. The game of “who is the crazy one” is played out in sharp detail, and there are lots of twists and turns to keep the viewer entertained from the first shot to the last.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Review: Mommy: 25th Anniversary Widescreen Double Fe

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2020
Images from the Internet

This is a nice set. Presented along three discs are the main feature, Mommy, and the sequel Mommy’s Day. The first disc is the two films on Blu-ray, the second is the same two on DVD, and the third, a DVD, is the extras. And there are a lot, but more on that later.

While not directly linked to the 1956 film The Bad Seed that shot child actor Patty McCormack to temporary stardom (though she has acted consistently through the years, I’m happy to say), many people consider these to be unofficial sequels of the character of the film if she had grown up and become a mother herself. Director Max Alan Collins, more known as a writer of a multitude of books often in the dark and detective genres, has not public denied that, either, as far as I can tell.

Directed by Max Allan Collins
M.A.C. Productions / VCI Home Video / MVD Entertainment
89 minutes, 1995 / 2019

Truthfully, I haven’t seen Mommy since I rented it out from my local Video Video (that was the store’s name) emporium back in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, when it first came out in VHS. What did I think of it then? I barely remember it; I was renting out so much and it didn’t reach the replay heights of the likes of any directed by Stuart Gordon. At the time, I did not yet know who was Max Allan Collins.

I have always wondered if somewhere this was inspired (or vice-versa) by the John Waters’ film, Serial Mom (1994), which also deals with a mother who is out on a killing spree without guilt through righteous indignation, though with a bit more humor and camp. Either way, they are both interesting bookends of the same state of homicidal mind.

Taking place in the real town of Muscatine, Iowa (the director’s birthplace), the madre in question (Brooklyn-born Patty McCormack) is upset that her daughter, Jessica Ann (Rachel Lemieux) – who narrates the film – is not picked for an award as Outstanding Student in the local school. She’s upset that it has gone to a child of Mexican background. While the whole film is not socially weaponized, this particular incident of racial politics sticks out a bit as Mommy comes across as a raging racist, rather than just an upset mother. Jessica Ann doesn’t really care, but will the apple fall far from the tree? That is kind of where the film seems to be heading, but whether or not that’s true, well, you’ll have to see for yourselves, now, woncha?

Of course, Mommy’s reaction to the above incident leads to a very unfortunate series of events that affects her, her family such as her sister Beth (Brinke Stevens in a strong, supporting role), and the police detective on her trail, Lt. March (Jason Miller, an amazing actor, mailing it in for this one; d. 2001). In supporting cameo roles are the likes of Majel Barrett (d. 2008) between all her Star Trek duties and mystery writer Mickey Spillane (d. 2006).

Through it all, Mommy keeps her wits – well definitely with a bit of icy hostility – as she nonchalantly excuses the events of her own causing. This is beautifully summed up in her comment to Jessica Ann after a murder, “A little unpleasantness is not going to stand in the way of good nutrition!”

Collins uses his screenplay to both give a nod to both the original Bad Seed film, and the novel it was based on. For example, the police lieutenant March is obviously a shout out to the novel’s author, William March. Also, in the book and film, the titular character kills for a nod in scholastic achievement; here it’s the Outstanding Student award, while previously it was over a medal for perfect penmanship.

Also, in the original story, it’s the apartment’s maintenance man who catches on to what is going on and pays the price for it, and now it’s the school janitor, Miss Jones (Sarah Jane Miller) who pushes the right buttons at the wrong time.

While this isn’t classic and great cinema, it is a strong low-budget feature and that is obvious. It was also an early outing for Collins. For what it is, it’s more a character study with some thriller thrown in than just a shoot-em-up slasher kind of thing. The body count isn’t huge, but you understand the motivation behind each one, which makes up for that.

McCormack is wonderful in her role, playing both panic and icy at the same time (not easy), gnashing her teeth behind dark red lipstick with glee. This was a collaboration between her Bad Seed character and the adult Mommy. Clearly Jessica Ann is going to need a lot of therapy to get over all this mess. And, luckily, there is a sequel.

Mommy 2: Mommy’s Day
Directed by Max Allan Collins
M.A.C. Productions / VCI Home Video / MVD Entertainment
88 minutes, 1997 / 2019

The sequel was released just a couple of years later, largely with the same cast, sometimes in different roles. For example, the three female leads, Mommy (McCormack) – still no first name given – Jessica Ann (Lemieux) and Beth (Stevens) are the same. However, the janitor Sarah Jane Miller returns as her own conniving sister, and the late Michael Cornelison, who played the dubious love interest for Mommy in the first, is a totally different character here, again in a wannabe relationship with Mommy.

There has been some growth since the first release, both in style and in the literal sense. First the latter: Jessica Ann is older and into her early teens with braces. She’s also developing a teen attitude and is a bit of a mean girl. I’m sure it’s supposed to imply she’s her mother’s daughter. Her Aunt Beth, who was so sweet in the original, is now quite forceful and snarky in her taking care of Jessica Ann, perhaps showing some things run in a family? This is leading the viewer in directions I am not going to discuss as it is a key plot point, but I was expecting someone to start singing “Lucy Harper took an ax…”

Adding to the cast is Paul Peterson (where’s Shelley Fabares singing “Mommy Angel”?!) as Beth’s husband and the person who wrote the tell-all book about the Mommy murders. With this mix of the new and the old, Mommy’s Day actually turns out to be a better picture than the first. Collins has now had some experience with filmmaking under his belt, there is less reliance (even ancillary) on The Bad Seed, and everyone seems more comfortable working with each other. Yes, there is still some self-referential stuff going on, such as Mommy saying, “Don’t you know the sequel is never as good as the original?!,” though in a different context, this is played more for a wink and grin than anything else.

While in need of some shortening and editing – especially a ridiculous death row prison segment near the beginning – the writing is a bit tighter than in the first release. Here there is some actual tension, and the inclusion of a Jerry Springer/Sally Jesse Raphael-type audience participation talk show that goes from bad to worse in a bang works really well in the story, especially for the timeframe.

The bloodletting is a bit more, and there are hints of (female) nudity – even an obligatory shower scene which rose to prominence around then – shows more bits (though nothing complete).

This sequel is definitely more fleshed out in personalities and plot devices, but I would honestly say to watch the original Mommy before watching the second. And then, maybe, throw in some Serial Mom after for an additional hoot.

Disc 3 Extras
Of course, if it needs a separate disc, you know there will be extras abound.

The start is from a 1995 “Entertainment Tonight” episode (3 minutes) where the premiere of the film is discussed by Leonard Martin (what, no Siskel and Ebert? Joe Bob Briggs?). Basically, the theme is that there is even film life in Iowa. Interviews include with director Collins and star McCormack.

After the Mommy original trailer is the “Mommy Bloopers” (17 minutes), which is just what you would expect, but in this case, it really shows that the cast and crew were both having fun, worked in a collaborative fashion, and got along. Many other bloopers reels I have seen of late tend to show the same takes over and over until tedium sets in for the viewer. Here, there are some duplicates, but nothing that is wearying. A cool collection.

A “Mommy PBS Documentary” (8 min.) follows, which essentially is very similar to the Entertainment Tonight one, namely “the film shot in Iowa.” There is a bit more context on Collins’ role as writer and director, but it’s still fun to watch the backstage fervor.

Mommy's Day: Patty McCormack Interviewed by Max Allan Collins” (17 min.) is from 1996. It starts off strong with McCormack discussing and dissecting her Bad Seed character and the title role. She also talks a bit about her history in the theater and television back in the 1950s. It’s a good talk and you get to know her as an actor a bit better. Would have liked to have heard more about being from Brooklyn, but I have my own personal reasons for that.

Last up is “Conversations with Interesting Characters: The Making of the movie Mommy - A Documentary by J. Rigler” (29 min.). I’ll be honest, I have no idea who J. Rigler is, but he does a pretty good job in getting the idea of the “Making of” project. He interviews the cast and crew members, including ones you wouldn’t necessarily expect, but of course focuses mainly on director Collins and James Hoffmann, Collins’ best friend since fourth grade, who was Executive Producer the flick. It’s informative and fun, though I still would love to hear why Collins replaced the original director of the film, which is mentioned in passing a few times in a few of the extras, but never really brought to light other than “artistic differences.”

Monday, February 10, 2020

Review: Get Gone

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2020
Images from the Internet

Get Gone
Directed by Michael Thomas Daniel
Future Proof Films / Sweet Nelly Productions / Phoenix Worldwide Entertainment / Cleopatra Entertainment / MVD Entertainment
91 minutes, 2019 / 2020

Back in the late 19th Century, a family known as the Black Donnelleys moved from Ireland to Ontario, living off the land. The problem was that the property they cleared and farmed did not belong to them. They just figured since no one was taking care of it except them, they would get the squatters rights deed since the landlords were not around. They found out the hard way that this was not the case, which led to a bloody “war” between them, and the owners and local government, leading to numerous deaths. Yes, this really did happen.

What does this have to do with Get Gone? Well, the premise is somewhat similar. Here, the Maxwell family has lived on a farm for three decades and now the local government and the Mining Company that owns the land wants to frack it. This sets up another bloody and revenge-filled confrontation.

Lin Shaye
For the Maxwells, there’s Mama (horror stalwart-of-late Lin Shaye in a full, non-cameo role, who is better known as the backbone of the Insidious franchise) and Daddy Don (underrated character actor Robert Miano), the huge Patton (Weston Cage Coppola… gee, I wonder if he’s related to any other actors/directors…), and mentally challenged film cover boy Apple (Bailey Coppola), who likes to wear masks. Y’see, the water they’ve been a-drinkin’ has been affected by the drilling in the area over the years, and they’ve all gone a bit plumb loco. The sons have a genetic mutation that makes their skin look like they’ve been slathered in Zinc Oxide. Then there’s Pug (Joel Macha). In general, think more of the siblings in Spider Baby (1967) than the buffoons of the classic Mother’s Day (1980).

Robert Miano
Between the family and the Mining Conglomerate is the de facto hero of the film, local ranger Rico (Rico E. Anderson), who sympathizes with the family, but is legally obligated to the Company.

But there is another complication added to the mix: a group of podcasters who produce shows about revealing the truth behind other podcasters’ faking of murder and supernatural goings on are on a camping trip that is supposed to be for team building (how can a podcast channel afford that, I wonder). Led by the zealous Rocks and Roots guide, they wander into the Oregon woods (around Cascade Locks, where it is filmed) and run straight between the squatters and the Mining Company, both of which have blood on their minds and hands. Luckily, most of the podcasters are superfluous and shallow characters – not to mention unlikeable Brett Kavanaugh-types – and make part of a nice body count.

Weston Cage Coppola
References abound from other films, with the likes of the obvious The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), though one could easily add House of 1,000 Corpses (2003) without the weirdness, or correlate the Marshalls with the feral family from The Hills Have Eyes (1977), but there is a significant different in tone and especially the purpose of their homicidal tendencies. Another trope that is used here is one that is in too many films to mention, the local who warns the team building group off, only this time he’s a drunk, and no one pays any attention to him.

The acting level is varied, but sufficient, with some good moments and clumsy ones, much of which could also be said about the dialogue. One thing I liked, though, is that it takes to task the overuse of sexist language and behavior that is oft present in genre releases, and other verbal negative ticks such as something being “so gay.” So, back to the acting, most do fine, though Cage Coppola goes from pretty good hulking villain to ridiculous wide eyes crazy that’s laughable (like his dad, Nic).

Bailey Coppola
A consistency with all these groups as units, it’s a local vs. stranger dichotomy. Essentially it is the former fighting against the latter two, be it the family, the Corporation, or the reluctant campers, though for the team building group it’s more a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time led by the wrong team leader who brings them to camp on questionable private land. Why this triggers such violence I’m not sure, but perhaps it literally could be in the water.

Rico E. Anderson
This is definitely low budget, and the obvious way to tell is that there is no gore to speak of, hardly any blood, and no nudity.

The DVD extras are minimal, being chapters, a bunch of Cleopatra Entertainment trailers (mostly of films that have been reviewed on this blog) including this one, and a nice and large stills gallery that is mostly behind-the-scenes shots with a few being taken directly from the film itself.

If you wonder about the origin of the title, “get gone,” it is something that is said numerous times by Cage Coppola’s character. The reviews on IMDB are consistently either “It’s the best” (10 out of 10) or “It’s the worst” (1 or 2 out of 10). The polarization is enough of a red flag. Truthfully, it’s neither. While not a film that will probably be considered a future classic, I’m certain, it does do the job. Neither brilliant nor all that bad, it kept my attention even with the exploitation of overused tropes that the filmmakers probably hope will be recognized by the audience; this is a common rookie directorial mistake but oft forgivable if not egregious, which it is not, here.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Review: Ever After (EndZeit)

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2020
Images from the Internet

Ever After (aka EndZeit)
Directed by Carolina Hellsgård
ARTE / Das Kleine Fernsehspiel (ZDF) / Grown Up Films /
Juno Films / MVD Entertainment
90 minutes, 2018 / 2020

You say you’re looking for something lighthearted with zombies along the lines of Zombieland (2009)? Man, you’ve come to the wrong Blu-ray. However, if you’re looking for a deeply serious Euro-centric post-Z-Apoc universe where everything is dire, well, have I got the film for you!

When the film opens, the Z-Apoc happened two years previously, and in Germany, there are only two barricaded cities left. In one (Weimer), that I think of as Republican, the zombies are shot on site with zero tolerance. In the second (Jena), which I envision as Democrat, they are working hard to find a cure. We start off in the former, and meet our central character, (dyed) redhead Vivi (pop and soul singer Gro Swantje Kohlhof), who suffers from severe PTSD from an experience as the munching pandemic virus took a bite into humanity. We see it in snatches of flashback. She’s withdrawn and nearly child-like.

Gro Swantje Kohlhof and Maja Lehrer
She manages to get out of Republicanville and meet up with fellow ex-pat Eva (Maja Lehrer), who is also running away after an incident. Eva is the opposite of Vivi in that she’s hard as nails and not exactly cuddly. They both decide to try to make it to the Democrat land by cutting through the Black Forest.

Along the way, Vivi befriends an older, mother-figure type (Tryne Dyrholm, who played the title role in 2017’s Nico, 1988). She’s a philosophical flower child who sees what is happening around the globe in a specific purpose as part of the natural world. Of course, we don’t really know what set off the Z-Apoc, whether natural or man-made, but it is all part of what nature is, according to her (I’ll leave most of her philosophizing for when you see it).

For this adventure, the zombies are fast, growl like beasts as their only verbal communication, and of course are ruthlessly vicious with no sense of their previous personhood. Like sharks, they’re mindless machines lookin’ for a snack of gristle and gore. An odd thing about that is even though there are some cringe-worthy moments, this is definitely not Fulci-like. It is more story-driven, so there is a dependence on character development rather than focused on shots of viscera.

There is also a philosophy that runs throughout, and that is to ponder what our place is in a world in which society as we know it is no longer strong enough to support us. Everyone seems to be searching for an answer to that, either directly or unconsciously.

In other words, while the zombies are fast, the storytelling mostly is not. There are thrilling moments where it’s do-or-die with Vivi and Eva against either single snackers or a group of them (or, horde, as the case may be).

Although essentially a three-person film, this is mostly Vivi’s story, and we basically see it through her eyes. It’s a world that is both harsh and beautiful as she mentions that one can see the stars again.

Despite the zombies roaming around snackin’, this is a very slow-moving film that makes Hereditary (2018) look like Mad Max: The Road Warrior (1981). This isn’t something you just pop in for a quick fun ride on a Saturday afternoon in your mom’s basement, this is a piece of cinema that is quite serious and deep, albeit that it keeps up the tension. I enjoyed it a lot, but it took some thinkin’ work to get through it all.

In German with subtitles, this picture is essentially a three-person piece, and except for the flesh eaters, all the main characters and most of the secondary ones are female. Director Carolina Hellsgård presents a bleak world yet filled with beauty, as I said, and takes us on a physical and philosophical journey that needs to be taken one step at a time.

The extras are chapters, sound choices, and two versions of the trailer: the original German and English. My one real complaint about the film is that although I’m happy to have the subtitles, they are pure white and small, and hard to read more than I would like, especially with a film this deep in its dialogue. Plus Vivi wears a white top and if the subtitles are superimposed on them, it’s damn near impossible to make out.

I’m not surprised this has won some festival prizes as this is the kind of film the serious viewers are itching for, rather than some found footage goofball release. With patience and thought, it’s worth a gander.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Review: Famine

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2020
Images from the Internet

Famine (aka Detention Night and Stupid Teens Must Die!)
Directed by Ryan Nicholson (d. 2019)
Gruesome Twosome Studios / New Image Entertainment / Unearthed Films / MVD Entertainment
77 minutes, 2011 / 2019

Boy, I haven’t seen a good slasher comedy in… well, too long. If you have any doubts about this one, it’s original title is “Stupid Teens Must Die!” (as opposed to Kids Go to the Woods…Kids Get Dead, 2009; reviewed elsewhere in this blog, or another film called Stupid Teenagers Must Die, 2006; this one I have not yet seen). I’m not quite sure why it was briefly changed to Detention Night at some point as that is so not accurate to the story.

Christine Wallace, Michelle Sabiene
If you have any doubts that this Canadian release is a comedy, it takes place in the Sloppy Secondary School. And what exactly is a “Famine?” Many institutions, especially religious ones) have charities for the poor, where the students do not eat for a day, and much like marathons, they get donations if they last the whole time (or as we used to call it, Yom Kippur). This is supposed to help the students empathize with the poor by helping them understand what it is like to be hungry. Of course, odds are they will never really know starvation, and there is a difference. Anyway, I’m on a soapbox, so let’s get back to the film.

Five years after a tragic accident during a Famine – shown in a flashback, rather than a prologue, go figure! – the students at this high school are once again setting foot on a slippery slope, and are paying the price for it.

Christopher Lomas
Our central character (don’t quite know if I would call her or anyone else here a heroine/hero), is cute Jenny (Christine Wallace), who is runway model tall and thin, and throwin’ a lot of cleavage (thank you). She’s the one non-stereotypical character in that she’s obviously the sweet girl, but man he gets hyper-angry at the drop of a corn dog, and then is sweet again a second later. Definitely in need of some mood stabilizers. All the others who attend the school are either women dressed in high heels and ripped “Famine” tee shirts to expose – or give hints of – body parts, or men who are annoyingly macho without looking at all machismo (irony noted, mister director). For example, the main male lead, Nick (Christopher Lomas), looks a bit like a scrawny Matthew McConaughey, but with big and crooked teeth.

The Famine has been revived by sexy new volunteer teacher Miss Vickers (Michelle Sabiene), who looks about 5 years older than the actors playing the students. This is all under the supervision of the literal German Nazi principal (Glenn Hoffmann), riffing off Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove (etc., 1964) and others that I’m blanking on at the moment.

The Nailer
As the night wears on, someone is killing the participating students while wearing the oversized team mascot costume known as… wait for it… The Nailer. As you can tell, the humor in this comedy is quite broad, being closer to the outlandish style of National Lampoon’s Class Reunion (1982) than the homage-centric Scary Movie franchise (started in 2000). This film is definitely crass and brassy, and especially overly profane. An example of an insult is Jenny angrily throwing, “Why don’t you remove the dildo so all the stupid can run out?!” The F-word, the B-word and/or C-word are in nearly every sentence, and loses its shock value pretty fast.

Now, when it comes to the gore, well, that’s amazing. It looks good, it’s gooey as all get out, and over the top; the blood is way more than there would be in reality, which made me smile. In fact, we are introduced to lots of different bodily fluids, especially those from below the waist, making themselves known throughout. Everything is bigly and in excess here, with nearly all the people being overly sexualized, with men who have obviously never heard of MeToo and women in their clothing and movements (e.g., it seems like Jenny is always bending over, giving a downblouse shot for the camera).

The question is, of course, is this good cinema? the answer for me was mixed. I mean, as it was filmed in Canada, when Jenny very naturally says “aboot” in a sentence, well, that definitely made me laugh, even though unintentional. My biggest problem with it is it fights between being trying hard to be subtly amusing while at the same time being big and broad. Sometimes it works really well, others not as much. It’s going to be hit and miss, depending on your sense of humor style. If you liked the National Lampoon oeuvre, you may like this. If you’re interested in a higher level of it, such as Shaun of the Dead (2004), you may be more like me and find it a mixed bag. Perhaps you just need to be stoned to really enjoy it.

For me, the weakest point was the acting. And that is not to say these are bad actors, in any kind of way. What I’m saying is that rather than playing it straight and let the humor shine through in juxtaposition, which is the way I believe it should be to be most effective, they use what I call the John Lithgow sitcom acting style: Lithgow is an amazing actor, but I could barely watch him on Third Rock from the Sun (no matter how many Emmy’s he won for the role), where everything was too exaggerated.

The extras are a half-dozen trailers (including this one) – all of films I’ve now reviewed – chapters, and stills. For the latter, they are nearly all behind the scenes shots for 4:05 with a change every 3 seconds, and no soundtrack.

I am hoping you are not getting the impression this is a bad film, because it’s not. What I am trying to say is that it may depend on your sense of humor to determine how much you like it. I say watch it twice: one stoned and once… not. Make up your own opinion. Me, I’m straight-edge, and accept it for what it is.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Review: Virus of the Dead

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2020
Images from the Internet

Virus of the Dead
Complied by Tony Newton; directed by Matthew Joseph Adams; Gordon Bressack; James Cullen Bressack; Dan Brownlie; Jarrett Furst; Keiron Hollett; Matt Twinski; Benjamin James; Hunter Johnson; Christopher Jolley; Jason Lorah; John T. Mickevich; Mark Alan Miller; Kiko Morah; Tony Newton; John Penney; Shawn C. Phillips; Nick Principe; Timo Rose; Shane Ryan; Emir Skalonia; Steven S. Voorman
Vestra Pictures / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Entertainment
102 minutes, 2018 / 2019

Tony Newton is a Brit who loves to keep his hands in the horror field, including books, poetry, documentaries, fiction films, and so on. For this anthology, he came up with a great idea: he had people involved in the genre create their own little films ranging from short, solo bits, to longer ones with some narrative to them. Then he strung them together to create a worldwide epidemic, and generate the ultimate found footage zombie collection.

The film starts with the “headline” act, “American Virus,” starring and co-written by Katheryn Eastwood. Rather than talking to an empty chair like her dad, she converses with the camera with a snide “fuck you” attitude as she and her cronies are the ones to start the outbreak via injections for… revolution? Disruption of the status quo? I’m not sure, but whatever the reason, it’s bloody, quickly edited, and with lots of motion of the camera. In fact, in some of the clips, there is a risk of motion sickness worse than Cloverfield (2008) or The Blair Witch Project (1999), other times completely steady, sometimes including digital “noise.”

Most of the pieces are filmed on cell phones and laptops, with the files uploaded to Newton. These clips are international, so occasionally there’s another language (with translation), which makes the varied perspectives additionally interesting. More often than not the person on the other end is talking directly to the camera with swings around to show what’s going on near by them, expressing different levels of desperation. Which brings me to my next point.

Some of the pieces are stand-alone, and others are serial. What I mean by that is there are sections that come and go with a single filming. Some of the more interesting ones are those that come back at different times as situations worsen. For example, there is a series of segments with horror actor/vlogger Shawn C. Phillips: in the first, he’s taking the whole thing pretty casually, locked down in his basement with his film collection, figuring he’ll just wait it out. But each time we come back, food and water is running low and eventually there’s no electricity; it gets more and more dire. Another, “Face to Face,” has a couple who are Skyping (FaceTime? We Chat?) while he is in the States and she is in Myanmar (“I panicked,” for those who get the reference). Each time we come back to them – and this really is one of my fave pieces, – the situation goes from “what the hell” to sheer terror, bit by bit.

What comes out in the long run is people trying to adjust into a “new normal” as the world eats itself up, and trying desperately and literally not to be on the menu. This new reality is actually what television shows like “The Walking Dead” and films like ZOO (2019) are about, as much as the zombie apocalypse. Different people react to the situation in various ways, the oddest one being a couple of horror wannabe filmmakers who gleefully film killing zombies for their “epic.” But who is going to watch it “with the world in a grave” as the P.F. Sloan song “Eve of Destruction” posits?

At least the film occasionally deals with camera batteries dying as electricity starts to begin waning, as would happen. It’s a pet peeve of mine in found footage when people film for days on one battery. I have to recharge my phone daily, and I don’t usually use the movie features. And don’t get me started about the energy it takes to upload all these videos that the dying world is posting to a server no one is watching over.

There’s a couple of things that I find interesting, one directly and one larger than the film itself. First, even with a multitude (legion?) of different filmmakers and styles, there generally is a similar pattern, either the characters running around with the camera/cell phone, or with the camera mounted and pointing directly at the person of focus. I’m sure with some, it’s actually taken directly from the laptop camera on the top of the monitor, but no matter what the source, there is a consistency in the pattern of how the film is done. Found footage has become as much a staple of the horror genre as selfies, in general. This is a mixture of both.

What I find most fascinating, though, is the thought behind the need to film oneself, even as the world is dying. As a culture, we have become so inundated by not just the selfie, but the mentality behind it that has us believing we all matter and the world is going to care what we have to say, even if it endangers oneself or those we love (case in point the father who keeps filming his wife and his new spankin’ kid even as the undead are metaphorically breathing down their necks).

If the world is actually in the middle of the Z-Apoc, it’s just a very short matter of time before society as we know it ends, and the means for anyone else to see what you have filmed will be gone with it. That we would feel the need to keep on shooting the video selfie to show everyone / anyone / no one we ever existed is futile. Even if the footage remained beyond your body’s existence, who would have the means to see it? As much as this is a fictional film about zombies, it is also an exercise in just how vain and egocentric we are.

Just go to YouTube and check out videos people make of themselves in confrontations with others in parking lots, stores, fast food restaurants, etc., shouting, “I’m putting this on YouTube!,” hoping for it to go viral. Well, when the Z-Apoc goes literally viral, you and what happens to you is like dust in the wind. As I said, it is this mentality that I find really fascinating about this film, whether purposeful as a sociological study or just an exercise in anthology.

The gore is plentiful throughout, with some pieces being more so than others, most of it looking quite spectacular – my fave was a zombie ripping the skin off someone’s back. Most anthologies are kind of hit and miss, but this one is actually quite good throughout, with very few submissions that didn’t work, such as one where a guy is talking very slowly with the camera just inches from his face; luckily, it’s pretty short.

This is a fine effort that deserves to be added to the zombie canon, and I recommend it as everyone on this film is obviously a fan of the genre, and have contributed their love for it as a bigger body of work.