Friday, March 30, 2007

Interview with Filmmaker Dave Reda

Dave Reda is a long-time horror fan that directed and starred in the nip/tuck independent horror film Bit Parts that’s been getting rave reviews (like mine HERE!). Bit Parts is a fantastic horror film that has the perfect mix of humor and horror. I highly recommend checking the film out!

And now for the interview:

Fatally Yours: Welcome, Dave, and thanks for doing this interview! Can you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about Bit Parts?

Dave Reda: Sure, my name is Dave Reda and I grew up in San Jose, Ca. I started out mainly as an actor leading up to a few national commercials and then moved to L.A. I started my own sketch comedy show, "Click This!” here, and refined my craft directing, producing, and acting all at once. We ran for 3 years until I pulled my troupe together to make the film Bit Parts. Being a major horror fan as well, I wanted to make a horror film that could really happen, something that might scare me.
Bit Parts is the story of an L.A. plastic surgeon who goes crazy out of guilt and remorse for wrecking his daughter’s face in an auto accident he caused. He then decides to pose as an L.A. casting director and seek out the perfect replacement parts off young starlets new in town. He holds auditions seeking the perfect eyes, nose, lips…

How and why did you decide to do Bit Parts? What drew you to this story?

Being a huge horror fan I approached my writer Jon Rosenberg about doing a horror script that could really happen in today’s world but not kill us in budget. Luckily, Jon had just finished writing a zombie script for his director friend Frank Coraci, (Director of Click, The Waterboy, Around the World In 80 Days...etc) where money was no object. It put him in the perfect mind set to write a film still strong in story but LOW in budget for me. A script that could utilize everything we had in our arsenal, but wouldn't kill us in costly details...

The film is very professional-looking. Did you have any previous directing experience before Bit Parts?

I had directed some plays early on in my career and small stuff, but my show gave me a hard 3 year crash course in film making. Since we mocked so many different types of movies, commercials and T.V. shows all at once, I had to learn how to pull off each style truthfully or the sketch would fail. This along with being raised on Hitchcock, Romero, Hooper, and Raimi’s films did a lot to put me on the path I am on today…

You started out in comedy, specifically with a comedy troupe and a sketch TV show. Why did you decide to make the jump to low-budget horror?

We had won a couple of film festivals with “Click This,” but no one knew what to do with a T.V. show. I pitched the show to the vice presidents of two major networks, but both were a little too scared to take a chance on an unknown troupe. At this point I realized my troupe and I needed to change and grow or die. Being such a huge horror fan and with Jon Rosenberg being a huge horror fan, it was the next logical step for us…

How was the film financed? How hard was it to get the project funded?

The film was funded mainly through independent investors and our own pockets. Our executive producer on the film was Karl Schweitzer, my best friend since childhood. When I approached Karl with the idea he was excited because he had been wanting do a project like this with me for a long time. When your best friend puts that kind of faith and money into you, it puts a huge fire under you to not fail.

Bit Parts has some very funny, subversive comedy that reminded me of the humor in Re-Animator and Evil Dead. How did you and writer Jon Rosenberg balance the horror and humor in the film?

It was actually pretty hard for us to hide our comedic side for the film, we are both such huge fans of those films and others like Shaun of the Dead. Jon is such a great writer, he was really able to capture a creepy vibe with this underlying sense of dark humor and horror with the film. We spent a lot of time going over the story and adding more and more, the story really lent itself to anywhere we wanted to go…

All of the actors were great in the film. How did you find them and what was the auditioning process like?

Some actors came from “Click This!”, others we got from Backstage West and online submissions. In the film actors audition in an abandoned warehouse, and to see if life would imitate art a little we held auditions in my friends recently closed down costume store. We put paper up on all the windows and thanks to a recent rain, the roof was leaking down into the store here and there a little. It's funny, just like the film the actors didn't even think twice about it.

Was the part of Bobby written specifically for you?

Yes, Bobby was written with me in mind for sure but in a lot of ways we are very different. Since I was directing and with Jon’s trust I was able to improv some of my stuff and give the part a little more of me at times and that was a lot of fun.

How hard was it to direct AND act in Bit Parts?

Rough! Having little time and money made playback not always an option, so I had to direct a lot of the time from in front of the camera. I had to have a lot of trust in myself that I would give the best performance I could too, and that can shake you up a lot. Luckily I had talented actors to work with, and my own troupe, which eased pressures a lot.

The gore and special effects in Bit Parts were great! How did you manage such great FX with a low budget?

The actor that plays Detective Giallo in the film is my long time friend Peter Redman. Pete owns a costume store in the city of Orange, this was huge for us because we got all the blood, latex, make up, and even some custumes we needed for free. With an independent film, it’s the little things that can kill you, and it’s the wonderful friends and connections you have that can save you!!

At first glance, Bit Parts looks much like French horror classic Eyes Without a Face. Was this film an inspiration to Bit Parts? What other films (horror or otherwise) inspired your film and why?

Believe it or not, neither Jon nor I had seen Eyes Without A Face prior to filming, but have since. I think it’s quite a compliment to be compared to that film, so I am happy with that. So many films have inspired Jon and I, and are the hugest reason we are where we are today. I am a huge fan of Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez, they are like independent film fore-fathers. These guys are quite an inspiration to film makers everywhere because they are proof the dream can work if you work for it. Also, any film from Hitchcock, Argento, Sam Raimi, Tobe Hooper, George Romero. I was a child of the 80’s and was lucky enough to have a video store across the street where I grew up. I was in there everyday renting movies, learning everything I could gleam everyday.

Bit Parts contains a great social commentary on the dangers of the booming plastic surgery business, especially here in Southern California where young girls receive plastic surgery even before they are fully developed! What are your personal thoughts on people who go under the knife for purely cosmetic reasons?

I think it’s really sad when you have little girls who are 16 under going surgery and alterations and they aren’t even done growing yet. Along with trying to make our horror film we definitely were trying to make a strong statement about how scary important beauty is in this town…Worth dying for...???

Your film is available at major retailers, including Borders, Virgin Megastore, Blockbuster and Rasputin as well as online through and Netflix. How did you manage to secure such wide distribution? Do you have any advice for other low-budget filmmakers looking to get their films in retail outlets?

I knew from the beginning that what format we chose to shoot on would have a direct effect on getting a distribution deal but kill us on cost. Even though HD and Mini-DV is easier and cheaper to work with than film, unless you have made a masterpiece, your film will be limited in its options. Making the film the best I could on film secured us a distribution deal through Koch Entertainment and Cinema Epoch. Their faith in us and our film is huge, and they are the reason we are in so many stores. Can’t thank them enough for that kind of support for a little independent horror film.
Now, after all this I am not saying you should only shoot on film, you have to do the best with what you have. Mini-DV, and HD are a great way to teach yourself the art of film making before you go out and kill yourself with film costs. Not to mention, HD is becoming more accepted as a film format all the time and justified correctly in your film could be your way in! Also, I would say never give up no matter how long it takes. It’s a lonely rough road that will test your metal the whole journey, but it’s all worth it if you believe in it and can keep going. By the end of the road you will also know if film making is truly for you or not!!

What are your plans for the future? Do you have any other projects in the works?

We do have some new ideas and plans in the works, but right now I am doing everything I can to get the word out on Bit Parts. Since we are a small film we have to do most of the promoting ourselves which is monopolizing all my time right now. As long as I have the opportunity to feed my horror side and comedic side through my films, I will be fine.

Thanks so much for your time, Dave! We highly recommend Bit Parts and hope to see more of your work in the future! Anything else you’d like to add?

It's so important to support independent film. I believe the horror fan of today is a lot more diverse and a lot smarter than Hollywood gives them credit for. It's through the independent film and film makers that will focus on story and not just gore. This will force a change for all to follow…I am very excited to announce we are doing a MySpace contest with the Horror-Fanatics where one lucky winner will win a special severed body part! This will be a really fun contest and we appreciate the Horror-Fanatics greatly…Thanks so much for the interview and all the wonderful support. I wish you all the best…Also, please visit our website at

Support a great independent horror movie! Buy Bit Parts on Amazon!

Interview with Director Jimmy Hemphill

In 2006 I saw a spectacular film called Bad Reputation (review) and tried to spread the word on this fantastic indie film! By the end of 2006, I was still so impressed with the film that it ended up on my 10 Best Horror Films of 2006 list.

Filmmaker Jimmy Hemphill has created an engaging, entertaining and intelligent film that works on many different levels. Being a woman, especially one involved in the genre, Bad Reputation spoke to me personally and made me question deeper than I ever had the double standards that exist between females and males. Even for those who don't want to get "deep," it still offers a very entertaining rape-revenge story set in high school.

Hemphill both wrote and directed the film, and since it deals with issues from a woman's perspective, it is amazing how Hemphill "gets it." He is one of my favorite independent filmmakers at the moment, solely based on his work in Bad Reputation, and I hope to see much more of his work. It was a real treat to interview him.

If you can, check out the Bad Reputation screening in New York coming up. Follow the link at the bottom of the page for extra info! I urge everyone to check out this great film - it's definitely worth it!

Fatally Yours: Jimmy, thank you so much for doing this interview! I love Bad Reputation and definitely think you’ve got a great career ahead of you.

Jimmy Hemphill: Thanks so much!

Can you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about Bad Reputation?

I have two lives, as a filmmaker and journalist based in Los Angeles. It’s kind of like the poster for that movie ANGEL—“High school honor student by day, Hollywood hooker by night.” By day I’m a film critic for AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER magazine and the website, and by night I’m an indie horror filmmaker.

BAD REPUTATION is a thriller in the somewhat disreputable but, in my mind anyway, socially complex subgenre of rape-revenge movies. It tells the story of Michelle, a girl who is sexually assaulted and then publicly humiliated at school before turning the tables on her tormentors and killing them off one by one. I wrote the movie after years of trying to get other scripts made and having no luck. I just wanted to do something I could shoot fast and cheap. Of course, the thing went about 500% over budget and took several years to complete, so that shows how much I knew about independent filmmaking going in.

Did you have any directing or writing experience before this film?

Nothing that remotely prepared me for this. I had written some for-hire exploitation stuff, and made shorts in film school, but that was all apprentice work. Six years of film school, first at Columbia College and then at USC, gave me a head start, but from a practical point of view I don’t know if there’s any way to learn how to make a feature without just doing it.

When did you begin shooting the film and how long did it take to complete (including post production)?

I shudder to say that we shot the film in the summer of 2004 and didn’t really finish it until September of 2006. An early version played at film festivals in 2005, but my producer Christopher Landers and I continued working on the movie and fine-tuning it until our September 2006 showing at Shriekfest.

How hard was it to make this film on a low-budget? Can you tell us any problems that the production faced?

There’s one great thing about making a film on a low budget, and that’s that you get to make the movie you want to make. You don’t have the financial risk that exists on a studio film, so you don’t have to make silly compromises to try to soften the characters or pander to the dumbest people in the audience. Everything else about low-budget filmmaking sucks. The hardest thing is that everyone on the movie has to do multiple jobs, and it’s easy to get spread too thin. You can lose perspective on what’s truly important when you’re responsible for both the performances and the catering. You also don’t have money to pay anybody, which is why the film took so long to complete—we were all working on it around day jobs, so it was a very slow process. 

What inspired you to write and direct a rape-revenge tale?

It really started with the impulse to make a movie about this whole mythology of the high school slut that exists in America, which I find very odd—but very fascinating at the same time. As a teenager I never understood the double standard that says a guy isn’t cool if he doesn’t get laid a lot, and a girl isn’t cool if she does. I still don’t understand it, frankly, and even if I wasn’t morally repulsed by the idea of denigrating a woman by calling her a slut, I don’t get why the label generally has nothing to do with how much the target actually sleeps around. In some cases, as you can read about in Emily White’s book FAST GIRLS, girls are actually branded sluts after they’re raped, a horrific idea that was the genesis of BAD REPUTATION.

Why did you decide to set it in high school?

High school is just such an emotional pressure cooker that I figured all the stuff about labeling and gossip would work better there than if the characters were older. Plus there have been so many great rape-revenge movies with adult women—movies like EXTREMITIES, LIPSTICK, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, etc.—that I would have just been repeating what had been done before if I went that way.

This film is very woman-focused. How did you put yourself in a woman’s shoes, so to speak, to know what lead character Michelle would feel?

Part of it comes from research, and part of it comes from just tapping into the feelings Michelle has that are universal—isolation, humiliation, anger, etc. Also, to give credit where credit is due, a lot of the dimension in the role comes from Angelique’s performance. But mostly it’s just that I love women and relate to women and always have. I like writing female characters a lot more than I like writing men, though I’ve never really analyzed why. And maybe it’s better that I don’t.

I noticed that Carol Clover’s Men, Women and Chainsaws (a seminal book on gender and horror films) appeared in your film. Was this book a big influence on Bad Reputation?

It was the biggest influence, by far. MEN, WOMEN AND CHAINSAWS is one of my two favorite books of film criticism of all time (the other one is Robin Wood’s HOLLYWOOD FROM VIETNAM TO REAGAN), and I think it’s the definitive volume on contemporary horror in general and the role of women in horror in particular. There’s a chapter in that book called GETTING EVEN that focuses on rape-revenge movies, and basically I wrote BAD REPUTATION with the idea that I wanted it to be the kind of movie that would be featured and praised in that chapter! I wrote Dr. Clover a letter and she and her publisher gave me permission to use the book in the film, but I don’t know if she’s seen BAD REPUTATION yet or what she thought of it. Truly, I’m terrified to ask because I would be heartbroken if she hated it.

The actors all do a great job in the film. How did you find them and what was the auditioning process like?

I placed an ad in Backstage West and actors came in and auditioned. If you live in LA and you have a little patience it isn’t too tough to find great actors. I can never understand why so many low-budget horror films have terrible performances given the talent that’s out there. My theory is that maybe it has more to do with bad writing that the actors can’t make realistic than it does with a lack of ability in the cast.

Angelique Hennessey is by far the star of Bad Reputation, though the rest of the cast does a great job as well. How did you two meet and what made you cast her in Michelle’s part?

Angelique auditioned for a different part, one of the bad girls, and she was great. But I kind of had my eye on Kristina Lauren for that part, and I was having a really tough time casting Michelle. Then by chance I was seeing the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake with one of my producers, T.W. Porrill, and we ran into Angelique in line. When we saw her hanging out with her friends and acting naturally we realized that maybe she would make a good Michelle—I had been too closed-minded to think of her that way before because she was so good being a bitch at the audition. We called her in to read for Michelle and she nailed it.

There are some very clever nods to other movies in your film, from teen flick She’s All That to Friday the 13th. What was your intention with referencing these films within your movie?

I think teenagers relate to each other by talking about pop culture, because they don’t have enough life experience to communicate in other ways. This is something I think Cameron Crowe expressed beautifully in that iconic image of John Cusack holding the boom box in SAY ANYTHING: the character didn’t have the vocabulary or maturity to articulate what he was feeling, so he let the song do it for him. In my movie it’s not music but movies and TV that the characters refer to. When Michelle says the line about wanting a condom because she’s a “safety girl,” that’s obviously from PRETTY WOMAN, because I figured that entering this world of sexuality Michelle would imitate what she had seen and heard in popular films on the subject. I also figured when she starts killing people she’d probably just imitate what she’d seen in slasher films—where else is she going to learn how to do it?

What films inspired you to make Bad Reputation?

There were so, so many. This was my first movie, so I was kind of insanely influenced by every film I ever loved. Some of the influences are obvious, like TERROR TRAIN, but I was just as inspired by non-horror teen films and grown-up romantic comedies. The talkiness of the script probably comes from my love of James L. Brooks and Ron Shelton movies—not that I’ll ever write dialogue one-tenth as good as theirs, but I was going for a certain kind of ironic wit in the writing that would be fun for the actors to play. And of course CARRIE and LIPSTICK were massive influences, as was THE ACCUSED in the staging of the gang rape itself.

What is your favorite memory or experience from Bad Reputation?

We shot the last scene of the movie on the last day of shooting, and I had put it off until then because I really wanted the actors to be ready for it. I knew that if Angelique and Danielle Noble couldn’t pull it off, I’d be in big trouble and the movie wouldn’t work. I was also nervous because two other horror filmmakers, Todd Ocvirk and Patrick Gleason, were visiting the set that day and I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of two directors I admire. Anyway, we shot the scene, which is a very emotional one, and when I said cut there was dead silence in the room—everyone was clearly very affected by what Angelique and Danielle had done, and I knew we had a great scene.

Bad Reputation contains some great social commentary. What message (or messages) did you hope to get across to the viewer?

Hopefully the movie operates on multiple levels. If a group of teenagers rent it during a slumber party and just enjoy it as a fun revenge picture, that’s fine with me. But people who want to dissect it the way that I dissect Wes Craven and John Carpenter movies will hopefully see that it’s a movie about sexual double standards, and how in this country we still apply labels to people that have nothing to do with reality and everything to do with fear and prejudice. I have no idea why in this day and age the idea of a sexually liberated woman is still terrifying and dangerous to so many people, but obviously it is—if it wasn’t, criminal defense lawyers wouldn’t be able to use the “she was asking for it” argument so successfully whenever a rape victim has any kind of sexual history.

How do you feel about the recent crop of “torture porn” horror flicks (like Hostel, Live Feed, the Saw series) that focus more on gross-out blood ‘n’ guts than actually being scary?

Well, for me the genre of horror is large enough to include many different types of films with many different purposes and effects. While my favorite movies are the ones that incorporate genuine suspense and psychology, like THE DESCENT, I loved HOSTEL and TURISTAS and thought they were extremely unsettling. In their own way they’re just as substantive as 1970’s landmarks like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, which in their day were slammed for being mindlessly sadistic the same way that today’s torture films are. I don’t know that the SAW series—which I love—has any real point beyond just cleverly manipulating the audience, but HOSTEL and TURISTAS definitely tap into our fear that as Americans we are losing ground economically, militarily, and politically in the wake of 9/11 and the problems in Iraq. Unfortunately I do think you’re going to see a lot of filmmakers less intelligent than Eli Roth and John Stockwell ripping those movies off and making films that have no point beyond grossing the audience out, and a little of that goes a long way.

What are your plans for the future? Do you have any other projects in the works?

Right now I’m putting the finishing touches on the BAD REPUTATION DVD and getting ready to go to its European premiere at the Weekend of Fear in Germany. Promoting an independent film is a full time job in and of itself, but I am writing in what little spare time I have and have a few different ideas for what I’d like to do as my next film. One’s a giallo set in the world of sororities that gives me a chance to expand on some of the ideas relating to gender and sex that were raised in BAD REPUTATION, and another’s an action movie that reinvents the buddy cop genre as a romantic comedy—kind of a cross between 48HRS. and ADAM’S RIB. I’ve also got a ghost story that I’ve been tinkering with on and off for what seems like forever. Basically, my hope is to have all three of these scripts cranked out by the time BAD REP comes out on DVD and then make whichever one I can get the backing for.

Bad Reputation has already won awards. What are your plans for it in the future – more festivals, distribution deals, etc?

As I mentioned, we’ll be at the Weekend of Fear in Germany in April, then on May 14 the film will be showing at the Pioneer Theater in New York as part of their Monday horror series. Then I’m hoping we can get a little limited theatrical play in Los Angeles, before Maverick Entertainment releases the film on DVD later this year.

Jimmy, thank you so much for this opportunity to interview you. It’s been a real pleasure! Bad Reputation is on my top 10 list of best films of 2006, so I really look forward to what you do next!

Thanks for the interview! I’m a big fan of your site, so this is a real honor.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Death Row (2006)

Some of my favorite horror movies are those set in long-abandoned, haunted buildings. Whether it’s an asylum, prison, mine shaft or house, as long as it has an infamous history and is supposedly haunted I’m all in. Session 9 is a great example of such a movie (and, in fact, is one of my favorites!) while Death Tunnel is an example of how such a spooky place can go to horrible misuse with the wrong script. Death Row had a lot of promise with the great location of an abandoned prison, but after a few creative sparks it fizzles out.

A group of young documentary filmmakers are making a film on the notorious Isla de la Roca Penitentiary, which lies dormant after an inmate and guard massacre closed its doors for good. After interviewing an old prison guard (Stacey Keach) from his hospital bed who only tells them half of what really happened, they set off for the supposedly haunted island prison. What they don’t know is that a group of jewel thieves have already holed up inside. Strange things start occurring as members of the two groups are bloodily killed. Can the two groups band together and try and escape the haunted prison?

Judging from the fact that Jake Busey was in this, I wasn’t expecting anything along the lines of Session 9. This being another “haunted prison” movie (hilariously enough, film’s original title was Haunted Prison) I was perhaps expecting copious amount of TG&A, a term I’ve coined for tits, gore and ass. Oddly enough (or perhaps because this was a made-for-cable movie), Death Row doesn’t feature T&A, but it is pretty heavy on the Gore with a capital G. Though there are some pretty neat death scenes, they weren’t enough to hold my interest in this film, which was a real snoozefest complete with bad acting, poor scripting and pretty cheesy effects.

Unlike Session 9 or Death Tunnel, Death Row was not filmed in a real-life haunted place, but it is set in a fictional prison that has quite the history of death. The penitentiary is one spooky place, but the film doesn’t take advantage of that fact. The film hardly sets up any atmosphere and doesn’t thrill or scare. I felt like so much more could have been done with such a great setting, but it failed to deliver any solid creeps.

The cast is pretty interchangeable and identifiable only by race, sex or stereotype. You’ve got the spicy Latina, daddy’s little rich girl, the wimp, the jock, the black guy and so on. The characters weren’t developed at all and I didn’t really care what happened to them. The only character who stood out was Marco, the leader of the thieves, and that’s only because he was played by Jake Busey. While the acting wasn’t atrocious, it still wasn’t good enough to garner any praise; most of the time the actors are either overacting or giving unbelievable performances.

The cast’s shaky performances could probably be blamed on the weak script that featured a wispy-thin plot and silly dialogue. I did think that combining two different groups in a haunted place was a cool idea, but it just wasn’t handled too well in Death Row. Where’s the friction and confrontation between the groups? Where’s the actual emotion when some of their best friends die? Also, the ending was laugh-out-loud ludicrous and the “twist” came out of nowhere. A little more build up and explanation would have been nice, just for things to actually make sense.

One aspect that the film does excel at is the gore. There are some pretty wicked scenes, from the opener which shows us what happened during the inmate and guard massacre to the first kill where a guy’s flesh gets forced through a heavy steel gate to an equally nasty kill involving a body getting chopped in two by a ceiling fan. The two groups combined have a total of eleven people, so there are plenty opportunities for the vengeful ghosts to exact their bloody revenge.

Speaking of the ghosts, I thought making them all blurry and wavy looked very cheesy. Their makeup looked great, though, and I would have loved to see them without the blurriness. They had the potential to be scary, but making them look like they were enveloped in flames made me laugh out loud. Other special effects, like the CGI fire, were pretty hokey as well. I wish things had been kept more straightforward and realistic in the FX department.

While Death Row is a film I didn’t enjoy, it could be entertaining as a brainless flick to watch with a few friends over some beers (make that many beers for me). I have to say, this might be the goriest Sci-Fi Original release I’ve seen! I dug the death scenes, but I had to suffer through the rest of the film just to get to them. Not even a cameo by Danny Trejo as a priest could save this flick for me.

Buy Death Row!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Skin Crawl (2007)

Skin Crawl tells the tale of the Warbeck sisters, who 300 years ago were persecuted by corrupt town officials. When their younger sister is taken from them, raped repeatedly and killed, her sisters swear revenge on all those that would harm their family in the present and future. Fast forward to present day where married couple Margaret (Debbie Rochon) and Howard (Kevin G. Shinnick) are having some trouble with their relationship. Before Margaret heads to work, she tells Howard they need to “talk.” All the passion has gone out of their marriage and Margaret thinks Howard is having an affair. Margaret is right…as soon as she leaves Howard calls up Sadie (Julian Wells), whom he has been secretly seeing. Howard tells Sadie he thinks Margaret is going to divorce him, leaving him nothing of her vast wealth. Sadie comes up with the ingenious plan to have Margaret killed so Howard gets the money. Howard commits to the plan and has Margaret brutally murdered while he gets in a little hanky panky with Sadie. From there, we get to see how everything happened through different characters’ perspectives. First we follow Margaret on the fateful day of her death, then Howard, then Sadie and even the two hired guys that kill Margaret. After a few twists and turns the Warbeck curse takes effect to punish those who murdered Margaret, a descendent of the Warbeck witches!

I wasn’t expecting much from this Shock-O-Rama release. Low-budget tales about witches usually just turn out to be an excuse to showcase breasts bursting from corsets and a group of busty babes bent over a cauldron, which just isn’t my cup of tea. Luckily, Skin Crawl was nothing like this and was actually a great film! The story hardly focused on the witch-aspect at all, which I was grateful for. Instead, it really focused on the days leading up to and the day of Margaret’s murder. The film goes back in time and repeats scenes (mostly in fast forward so the audience isn’t bored) from a different character’s perspective. This way we get a new spin on each character and their motivations, desires and secrets. It is a great technique that gives each of the characters more depth and makes the events much more horrifying.

The acting in the film is wonderful as well. Debbie Rochon plays the defeated and sad wife who just wants to save her marriage with a lot of emotion and realism. She really pushes herself in the role of Margaret and gets out of her comfort zone. When Margaret is murdered, you really feel for her character which is always a sign of an excellent actor. Though Kevin G. Shinnick doesn’t necessarily look like someone who would be married to a beautiful woman like Margaret, his malicious intent becomes apparent as the film progresses. Julian Wells plays Sadie with evil glee and was a pleasure to watch on screen. Look for cameos by Misty Mundae and Ruby Larocca as well!

As writer and director, Justin Wingenfeld does a great job with his first feature project. He really has an eye for directing the action within a shot and the talent to write a story that holds it all together. Wingenfeld succeeds in creating a suspenseful, intriguing film that only gets better as it goes on. Even though budgetary constraints hampered some aspects of the film (the beginning comes to mind), Wingenfeld still manages to create an entirely enjoyable film!

Skin Crawl’s ending is something to be reckoned with as those who have hurt Margaret are punished by something that has risen from the grave. Loads of maggots and cockroaches follow in the wake of this dead thing. Sadie’s demise in particular is quite a sight to behold! We also get to see Rochon playing something she never has before! I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so you’ll just have to watch and find out for yourself! Kudos must go to Wingenfeld for crafting such an entertaining and gripping ending.

The extras on the disc include an enjoyable featurette called “Under Your Skin” which features interviews with Debbie Rochon, writer/director Justin Wingenfeld and more. It was great to hear Rochon and Wingenfeld talk about the experience of making this film! Also included are trailers for other Shock-O-Rama films and a commentary track featuring Wingenfeld and producer Michael Raso.

Skin Crawl is a highly enjoyable low-budget film that’s got betrayal, murder, revenge, double-cross and plenty of bloody bugs!! It comes highly recommended from yours truly.

Available on Amazon!

Sublime (2007)

I hate hospitals. Their smell, the sterile, clinical feeling, and the sadness that pervades them and their food – it all creeps me out. People go to hospitals because they are sick, they are not healthy or they are close to dying. You go to a hospital when you’re in pain and it’s there you are your most vulnerable. Not to mention that a million things can go wrong when you are under someone else’s care…you can be given the wrong medication, put through the wrong surgery and so on. Sublime only heightens my loathing of hospitals…

After his 40th birthday, George (Thomas Cavanagh) is scheduled for a routine colonoscopy at the hospital. After coming out of surgery, George realizes something is horribly wrong. There is an incision in his side and he’s in more pain that he should be in. When the doctor finally arrives it is revealed that an error was made and instead of a colonoscopy he received a surgery meant to stop sweaty palms. While George is in the hospital until everything is worked out, he begins to notice strange things. First of all, the patient next to him is murdered by a red bow tie wearing black man named Mandingo (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs). Secondly, something is not right with the East Wing of the hospital either, which has been abandoned for a long time. His nurse, Zoe (Katherine Cunningham-Eves), tries to help him solve what is going on while his family begins to worry about his erratic behavior. As if those things weren’t enough to worry about, the doctors tell George that other infections have developed in his body. Can George figure out what is happening before it is too late?

Sublime was an interesting film, though I felt it lagged in certain spots. Certainly the most interesting thing about it was the socio-political statement(s) it made. The none-too-subtle points of view touched on everything from “white man’s guilt” and racism to the American healthcare and insurance systems to mass consumption and consumerism. It is chock full of metaphors, symbolism and messages on a whole mess of different subjects. While I feel like they tried to cover too much, I also understand why this was necessary as they are trying to show George’s many different fears and worries.

This is a very thoughtful, slow-paced film that explores George’s predicament through a kind of morphine haze. Things may be urgent, but the film still moves at a languid pace. George himself is also very groggy throughout the film, giving it the feel of a waking nightmare. The lack of action will frustrate some viewers and even I got itchy for the fast forward button at times. I do feel that things could have been made more interesting and moved a bit more quickly to hold my attention better.

The acting is all solid, though like the film’s tone, the acting is, for the most part, subdued. Thomas Cavanagh (George) plays the middle-aged, upper class, white-bread lead as an empty shell. He thinks wealth will make him and his wife happy, but realizes through his hospital stay that material things cannot bring fulfillment. I thought he played his part very well and echoed the sentiments of a generation that feel empty and are looking for fulfillment (and love) in all the wrong places. Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs gave a commanding performance as Mandingo, the black nurse that terrorizes George. He was creepy and compelling at the same time. His performance was definitely one of the best in the film, especially toward the end.

Speaking of the end, it features a cringe-worthy scene involving garden shears and pinky toes. The film’s focus is not on gore, though, and there are only one or two scenes that might make you wince a little. Still, we get to see a lot of incisions, stitched-up cuts, blood and even a necrotic leg.

If you are looking for a different kind of horror film, one that has plenty of social commentary and moves a little slower than most while still packing a punch, I suggest checking out Sublime. If you have a short attention span and want brainless fun, skip this one, because it’ll have you thinking during and after the film!

Available on Amazon!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Satan's Playground (2005)

Satan’s Playground is an incoherent mess that only piqued my interest when I saw that it starred Felissa Rose and Edwin Neal. Those two names alone should get any horror fan’s attention…and those two names suckered me into watching this awful film.

A family is driving through New Jersey’s Pine Barrens on a trip when their car breaks down. Making up the loud Jersey bunch are married couple Donna (Felissa Rose, of Sleepaway Camp glory) and Frank (Salvatore Paul Piro), their autistic son Sean (Danny Lopes), Donna’s recently divorced sister Paula (Ellen Sandweiss of Evil Dead) and her infant son Anthony. Paula and Sean are already freaking out after hearing something that sounded like the flapping of wings over the car. Donna also begins hearing the flapping, and begs Frank to stay in the car. Frank brushes off her pleas and heads into the woods to look for some help. As night falls, he stumbles upon a decrepit house that is inhabited by the ancient Mrs. Leeds (Irma St. Paule) and her two mute, grown-up children, Judy (Christie Sanford) and Boy (Edwin Neal of Texas Chain Saw Massacre fame). Mrs. Leeds warns Frank of the Satanists and the Jersey Devil that lurk in the woods before hitting him over the head with a mallet. One by one, the rest of the characters leave the car and encounter Mrs. Leeds and her crazy clan. Will anyone survive the insane Leeds family and, if they do, will they survive the Jersey Devil that haunts the woods?

Writer and director Dante Tomaselli is obviously a horror movie fan; it is just too bad that he can’t actualize his love of the genre into an original movie of his own. Satan’s Playground is a slapdash production that combines itty bits and pieces of greater horror movies that’ll give you a sense of déjà vu and leave you thinking, “Hey! That’s just like in…” The film borrows heavily from horror films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Evil Dead and Race with the Devil and even attempts the nightmarish quality of Italian horror films. All of its attempts to imitate fall flat as it lacks the atmosphere, the creepiness, the stylishness, the scares or the FUN of the previously mentioned movies. It is a big, boring mess…which is sad to say since Tomaselli is so enthusiastic about the genre.

The plot (what little there is) is weak, thin and can’t stand on its own. It introduces too many villains (the Satanists, the Leeds and the Jersey Devil) and halfway through decides to leave the Satanists completely out of the rest of the film. There is never enough development on the Jersey Devil, either. Other characters drop out of the story without any kind of explanation while others are introduced only to go nowhere. The main characters aren’t fully developed and come off as pretty stupid and obnoxious. There are way too many plot holes and improbabilities to form an even slightly coherent plot. I’m a fan of the horror genre, so of course I suspend belief on a regular basis, but some occurrences in this particular movie were just way too ridiculous for me. Satan’s Playground left me rolling my eyes and screaming expletives at the screen…I even considered physically assaulting the TV, but thought better of this when I realized that then I wouldn’t be able to watch good, legitimate movies if I did bash it in.

I found it very sad to see Felissa Rose and Edwin Neal acting in such a horrible film. They do what they can with their roles, but they don’t have much to work with. It was a pleasure to see Ellen Sandweiss of Evil Dead fame again, though I wish she was on screen more (though perhaps not in this film). She, along with Rose and Neal, deserve much better than this messy time-waster. Irma St. Paule and Christie Sanford also do a commendable job with the drivel they are given playing creepy Mrs. Leeds and even creepier Judy Leeds, respectively.

To those who might say I don’t “get it” obviously have different views on what makes a good movie. A good movie to me means that it must be entertaining and hold my attention. It must have the appropriate amount of character and story development. It doesn’t need to be flashy or stylish (unless the plot dictates as such) but it does need to be competently filmed. Out of those very basic requirements that are a start for making a film “good” for me, Satan’s Playground has zilch. Its “nightmarish” atmosphere which is so often cited was lost on me. If I wanted to watch scenes of an unseen force flying through the woods I would watch the first ten minutes of Evil Dead on repeat for an hour and a half. Satan’s Playground did not have any spooky atmosphere going on, not as far as I’m concerned. Comparing Tomaselli’s work to an Argento or Bava movie (as some have done) is a great disservice to those masters, whose stylish and suspenseful films are far superior to this one.

There are those that actually enjoy this movie, which leaves me scratching my head in disbelief and saying a big ol’ “Wha’?!” I’m starting to think that I saw a wrong cut or we watched an entirely different movie. I don’t see how anyone can enjoy this pointless, horrible film, though fans of Tomaselli’s earlier flicks Horror and Desecration (I’ve heard that Satan’s Playground is the most coherent and best one out of the three…I have a feeling I would completely hate his other two endeavors) might want to check this film out. Tomaselli does have heart though, and I am still looking forward to his next film, The Ocean. As for Satan's Playground, I highly advise you steer clear!

Available on Amazon!

Interview with "Slayer" Filmmaker Ed Peduzzi

Ed Peduzzi is the writer, director, director of photography, actor, editor (and took on many other jobs) for his impressive no-budget film Slayer (review). Slayer is a nontraditional vampire tale that features many remarkable action scenes and some amazing effects, all held together with a serious, thoughtful and dramatic tone.

Slayer was recently finished after Ed spent most of his college career working on the film and is now available on DVD. Slayer really blew me away and Ed Peduzzi is quite the impressive young filmmaker. I highly encourage you check out this film, which Mr. Peduzzi himself calls, “a low budget guerrilla war film with vampire-like creatures.”

Fatally Yours: Ed, thank you so much for doing this interview. I absolutely loved Slayer.

Ed Peduzzi: Thanks.

How did you come up for the idea for this film? What inspired you to make it?

I knew I wanted to make another no-budget feature by the time I would turn 21, (I made my first when I was 17) so while in college I pretty much waited until some idea came along that would stick. I made a lot of Naked Gun-style short films in college, and one of them titled "Vampires on Campus" which was kind of a mock movie trailer that seemed to get a very positive response from people. After a while the idea mixed with ideas I had for a serious drama that I had no hope of shooting for budget reasons, and I ended up with the early outlines for Slayer, which was a much more dramatic/serious/realistic take on what had started as a campy genre short film.

The acting in the film is one of the things that makes Slayer so enjoyable. Why did you decide to play Eric? How did you find the other actors to star in the film and what was the auditioning process like?

Since I was in collage at the time (hoping to make this a student film, although Slayer ended up having nothing to do with the school) I only auditioned college students, to make my cast as accessible as possible. I held auditions for the semester prior to senior year, when we spent 9 months shooting around the actor's schedules. At first I tried to audition actors, but there were 2 unavoidable problems. First, they generally had big egos, something that can bring production on a no-budget film to a stop when you have 2 or more large acting egos on set at once. Second, they couldn't act at all, everything was projected too loudly, as if they were on stage, and even minor rolls were over acted as if they were the star, it was just sad. So I went about finding people with little to no ego, people who wouldn't necessarily complain at every setback. Also, you don't need to be an actor to act. Actors are capable of acting like other people, and whether or not they're convincing is up to their talent. So I looked for anyone who fit the ego bill who could read dialogue as normally as possible, just being themselves, and most people I found could pull this off easily. That meant my job was to find people who most resembled the characters I wanted them to play, and then ask them to read dialogue as if they were just talking to someone. Almost all the actors I ended up finding had little to no experience acting, and all ended up having little to no ego, with one exception. I ended up playing Eric out of desperation. With first semester of my senior year starting, there were still 2 parts not yet cast, that of the main baddie "Sam", and the timid "Eric". I must've offered Eric's role to everyone I walked past by the end of the previous semester, and I always got the same response, "Sounds cool, but I just don't have the time." I couldn't really hold it against anyone, Eric's part meant being on set almost every day of filming, no other actor had to deal with that. About 2 weeks before principle photography began, I just gave up. At that point I knew that even if I found someone willing to do it, I wouldn't have enough time to test their reliability. And that was the most important trait I looked for next to lack of ego. So I buckled down and did it myself, which became a pain for a number of reasons. Since I was the DP, I did all the camera work for every frame I wasn't in, and set up every frame I was in, handing the camera off to whomever was available, which was usually Nate Adams who played Cid.

The action sequences in Slayer are extremely realistic and very impressive. Did the actors have to go through any kind of special training for the fight scenes?

There wouldn't of been any need to train anyone. Except for a particular fight with a bat (you know the one I'm talking about but I won't give away why it's different here) all the fights are quick since we tried to keep things real. This meant no Matrix style choreography. I pretty much improvised all of our fighting as we went, including the bat fight. The only thing I had to train myself to do is get used to shooting with the intent of adding various effects, be they matte shots, rotoscope shots, or CGI.

The locations in Slayer were great. How did you find the locations and what did you have to do to secure them? Did you need special permission or special permits?

There were no permits required since all but one location was actually on campus. I went to a very small college in the rural area of Massachusetts, so even though each location was on campus they were a stone's throw away from one or two other locations used in the movie. Truth is if we were to turn the camera 60 degrees during most scenes, you would see a college campus. Looking back, it's surprising that we were able to milk all those locals out of barely a square mile. Making sure every scene's look wasn't repetitive in a Blair Witch sorta way was a big concern. The hardest location to find was the slayer's hideout. In the script it was a run down shack in the middle of the woods, and we found a few options, all of which were shot down by their landlords. Eventually I bit the bullet and had no choice but to use the mod that I was living in on campus. We didn't have many dorms there, so 2/3 of students lived in varying styles of modular housing. I lived with 7 other people in one, and it basically became the set for the slayers. We shot most of our interiors there during the month long January term when no one was around, and what little we shot there during the normal semesters was fortunately easy going since none of my mod mates really used the living area there, many of them ended up with cameos in the film, or as production assistants when their interest in the project led them to helping out. The room in which the slayers play Mario Kart was actually my room, a 2 story loft which ended up as a principle set piece. I slept upstairs (just as Clint is seen doing in the movie) and then filmed downstairs. In some of the shots just outside the hideout, in which the hideout is visible, the neighboring buildings/campus had to be digitally removed and replaced with trees and grass a number of times. The only locations not shot in Massachusetts were a few small pickup shots done in my hometown of Manhattan. These were intercut close ups of objects and such, and the only full scene was the fight on the roof (the one with the pipe).

Slayer has many impressive shots, like when the camera follows a knife thrown into the air and back down into someone's hand, and when a car plows down a few vamps, not to mention the fight scenes. How did you achieve these particular shots?

The knife shots were all CGI for the knife, with actors pretending it was there. Shots like the car impacts and bat impacts and various other impacts were an old technique called rotoscoping, the only new slant is it's now digital rotoscoping. Basically it means that each actor/object is filmed separately and then digitally matte lines are cut around them frame by frame, when all your layers are cut out they can be composited together to form one shot. It's a lot like photo shop work, except you have to do it to every frame. It's a technique that I rarely see used in Hollywood, kind of puzzling since it's very cheap, but more importantly unlike CGI which can be added whenever, you need to shoot with this in mind for it to work. Since I did all of the effects and rotoscoping on the film I got very used to shooting for the intended result.

How much time was spent in pre-production, shooting the film and in post-production?

Well, preproduction would be a gray area, since there was the initial first short, and then various outlines for a while, maybe a year. Then the script slowly went from first to fifth draft over the next 3 years, although that wasn't a full time occupation until my second semester junior year. That's when I started auditioning and finding locals. Shooting went for the 2 semesters, including the January term in between, so a total of 9 months. Then there were a few pickups done later in August. Tiny pickups, sometimes only a shot or two, went on throughout all of post production, sometimes to change or add stuff that was originally cut from the film.

Post went of FOREVER. Let me put it this way, I was 21 when we started shooting, I turned 24 two months after post was finished, ugh. By the time we were finished shooting the film was already a 77 minute work print. I had done a lot of editing/effects/color work during those 9 months since shooting around the actors schedule game me a lot of time for post. Although there was still plenty left. Part of the reason post took so long is because I moved twice, and constantly burnt out, often taking 2 week lazy sessions on couches watching my friends Buffy DVDs or whatever was around to take my mind off work. Sound was finally finished late January of '07.

One of the most interesting aspects of your film was the debunking of the typical vampire myth – your vampires can go out in sunlight, aren't affected by crosses, garlic or holy water and aren't the typical suave, slick-dressing vamps. Why did you decide to debunk the regular vampire myth and go with something different?

Much of it was for budget purposes. If our RIP's (our version of vamps) couldn't go out during the day, then we would have half the film or more filmed during night shoots. Not only would this make filming hell on earth for our actors, all of which would have classes the next day, but it would have meant lighting at night, which would have been hell for me. Lighting at night would have required equipment we didn't have, and time we didn't have. As far as the rest goes, I wanted to make things realistic, so I dropped everything but the need for blood, and the aging gig. That way we could keep the fighting and victimization of the "enemy" realistic as well.

Is there anything you want the audience to walk away with after they have watched your film?

Yes, a wish to buy the DVD, since I'm broke. But in all seriousness, I just want people to acknowledge the lack of gray area in most films, a gray area that in a way desensitizes people to violence. I wanted the "bad guys" to look sad and pathetic when they were about to die, as opposed to the evil then dead scenario that usually plays out in these kind of movies. I didn't want the violence to feel “cool.” I wanted it to feel sadly necessary. I hope that gets through to the audience.

What is next for Slayer? Has it made rounds at horror festivals/conventions yet? Do you plan on securing a distributor?

We've gone to a few festivals so far with many more we intend to hit this year. The first horror fest we'll hit is the Indy Horror Film Fest. (
As far as distribution is concerned, I'll take what I can get. Like I said, I'm broke, so if an honest deal comes along, I'll take it. (and I can't stress "honest" enough I've already had to turn down 2 offers because they wanted my soul) I've signed a few small deals so far, although non have taken effect yet. And are unlikely to get me all that much.

Where can people buy a copy of Slayer?

Slayer should be available at in a month or so, but until then it's currently available at and for 10 bucks.

Do you have any plans for making another film in the near future?

Yes and no. I've done 2 no-budget features so far, and if I live to be 100 I'll have done 2 no-budget features by then. So what I'm saying is yes I plan on doing more films, but only if I'm getting paid. So if you like Slayer, buy it, and tell your friends to, that way I can move back out of my parents apartment and make more films for you good folks!

Thanks again, Ed and we wish the best of luck to you and Slayer.

Thank you.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Hatchet Jack (2007)

Hatchet Jack is a low-budget film written by Justin Sago and directed by Eddie Mahalick. It follows the popular horror template of a group of young people being stalked in the woods by a killer, but it still manages to feel fresh! The myth of Hatchet Jack coupled with the beautiful location of rural West Virginia and great editing make for one enjoyable flick! It's been a while since I've been so completely sucked into a low-budget film, but Hatchet Jack managed to hold my attention in its entirety.

The film begins with a special news bulletin stating that the remains of four young people who had been missing for several years had been found scattered about the woods of West Virginia. It then focuses on a group of deer hunters who are having a few beers at a bar before heading out into the woods. The bartender (played by director Eddie Mahalick) warns them to beware of Hatchet Jack and tells them the story of the four friends whose bodies have just been found. From there, the movie goes back in time to the fateful day where those four friends headed out to the West Virginian woods. Brian (Aaron Bernard), Nicky (Rebecca Hartley), Mike (Mike Valley) and Lori (Shayna Hickman) leave Pittsburgh and are ready to party in the woods. Lori has just broken up with her stalker-like boyfriend and is feeling a little down and the rest of the gang are intent on her having a good time. Once they get into the countryside, they stop off to stock up on beer and have quite the funny encounter with the hick working the store. Soon, they are hiking through the woods, giving "No Trespassing" signs nary a second thought. Brian is obsessed with showing them spots where Hatchet Jack supposedly killed his victims and he tells them Jack's traumatic and gory history. The kids come upon many foreboding signs but continue on their merry way. Night soon falls and they find out that Hatchet Jack is real...

Hatchet Jack is a highly enjoyable film even though it does follow a very familiar plot. I would say that this low-budget endeavor is much better than most big-budget Hollywood horror films that feature a group of kids in danger in the middle of nowhere. The way it sets up the story with the hunters in the bar and then going back in time helps to build dread and raises the tension. We already know what happens the the four friends, but we somehow hope they'll still get out of there alive. Plus, we actually DO care for the characters as they are just a regular bunch of young guys and gals we can relate to. They aren't overly stupid or obnoxious, but real and believable.

This is a low-budget film, so sometimes the acting is a little shaky, but overall it is very believable and realistic. The hunters in the bar all act like actual hunters in a bar would act (this being a low-budget film, some of them probably are actual hunters!) and the four friends act appropriately too. There is an air of realism that surrounds each performance, like the actors weren't acting but just being themselves. All the performances felt very natural, with only a few instances of lines feeling forced.

I loved how the film featured flashes of each character's death superimposed over the beginning of their trip into the woods. These flashes are so quick that it's blink and you'll miss 'em, but they help to build an ever imposing dread as the film progressive. These flashes are not overused (thank goodness!) but used just enough to give you a jolt in an otherwise serene scene. I also enjoyed how we were given flashes of Hatchet Jack's life, from his dysfunctional childhood into his blood-soaked adulthood.

The location of backwoods West Virginia was stunning and frightening at the same time. The kids have a couple of run-ins with local color, and none of them are pretty. The beautiful location combined with the knowledge that a killer is hiding somewhere in the woods created a very tense atmosphere, even though not very much action happens until the very end of the film.

The only thing that disappointed me in the film was the lack of action in the last few scenes. Everything happened so abruptly that I don't feel that I got the full impact of the killings. As for gore, though, it was great! We get to see stomachs slashed, intestines pulled out, rail spikes through hands and lots of hatchet axings. It was great stuff, I just wish we had seen more of the terror each individual character goes through.

Hatchet Jack is a great low-budget film that I cannot recommend enough! A creepy atmosphere, an imposing killer and a group of kids ripe for the killing all make for a great flick! It doesn't rely on cheap or exploitative tricks to get your attention, but instead takes likable characters and places them in peril, which creates for some great gut-wrenching tension!

Carnal (2007)

Carnal is an Argentinean film that takes a very realistic approach to the subject of vampires (think Romero’s Martin) and succeeds in building a very suspenseful, richly atmospheric film.

Patricio (Guido Krolevetski) and Eduardo (Federico Benzenzette) take a break from a big project they are working on to go grab some pizza. Being new to the Buenos Aires neighborhood, they soon get lost and end up meeting two women who invite them back to their place. Patricio is excited at the opportunity of getting laid, even though he has a fiancé, but Eduardo just wants to get back to the project.

Nonetheless, Patricio convinces Eduardo to come along to the women’s house. Once there, the guys notice some odd things – they see the women lugging around heavy bags, the fridge is full of plastic baggies with a red substance in them and the women won’t eat or drink with them. The guys just brush these strange occurrences off and focus on having a good time. Before long, though, they find themselves in the midst of a world of vampirism, dead bodies, harvested organs and torture.

This low-budget feature from Argentina takes a very plain, realistic approach to vampires. Don’t expect any high-flying hijinks a la Underworld or Blade; this film is low on the action but filled with dread and atmosphere. Its lack of action in no way harms the film, but its focus on the slowly-building dread actually enriches it.

From the acting, you would never be able to guess this is a low-budget film. Each of the actors does a wonderful job at conveying each character. Mara Said and Alexia Zamparo play the vampires as, funny as this might sound, humanly as possible. I appreciated how the vampires were realistically portrayed and how the filmmaker didn’t feel the need to dress the women in bondage gear and parade their blood-soaked bosoms about. They just looked like normal women. The other actors, Benzenzette and Krolevetski, also did a fantastic job with their characters with performances that felt very natural and believable.

While the story is very straight-forward and simple, writer and director Fabian Forte creates an atmosphere of ever-growing dread as the film progresses. It reaches its climax when the two men are separated, drugged and paralyzed, and stuffed into a closet chock full of other dead schmoes. The rest of the film is pretty chilling and tense as we get a peek into the organ black market.

The pacing is pretty slow in this film, especially the first 45 minutes, and I’ll admit that even I got a little antsy for the film to get going. Still, the atmosphere is well-worth the wait, as dread slowly begins to creep up your spine. Most of the film is filmed in one location, the women’s labyrinth-like house, and it’s amazing to see how much tension can be experienced from this one setting.

The film is very grainy, but this only adds to the experience and I wouldn’t want it cleaned up at all. Most importantly, the audio is very clean and the subtitles are easy to read. The film does have an English dubbed track, but I didn’t even bother checking it out. Stick to the Spanish language track and read the English subtitles for the full experience.

As for the gore, it is nicely done, even with the small budget the film had. There is a lot of slicing and dicing, a fair amount of blood-letting and plenty of dead bodies! Gorehounds, don’t look for an all out flesh-feast here, because the gore is limited. Still, it was enough to tickle my fancy.

Carnal is a nitty-gritty look into the world of vampires that could be living just next door to you. Next time you see someone with a fridge full of blood baggies don’t stick around to find out what’s in ‘em!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Wilderness (2006)

Wilderness combines the clever booby traps of Saw, the isolated location and race for survival of Battle Royale, a slasher AND revenge-style story and buckets of gore sure to please any gorehound. These elements come together and create a highly entertaining film!

A group of male juvenile offenders is sent to an uninhabited island to be taught a lesson after one of their jail mates commits suicide after incessant bullying. The boys find ominous Blair Witch-like talismans in the wood and stumble upon another campsite…that turns out to belong to a group of female offenders who have been sent there with their warden for similar rehabilitation. Still, who do the talismans belong to and why do they feel like they are being watched? Soon, they all discover they are being stalked by a crossbow wielding killer and his pack of vicious dogs. The two groups must band together to survive, but as the killer hunts them down, the young criminals quickly begin to turn on one another. Can the group survive booby traps, the pack of dogs, the killer and each other and get off the island?

I didn’t have high hopes going into this film and really thought it was just going to be a big exploitative mess. Wow, was I wrong! Everything, from the acting to the cinematography to the character and story development, was great! I especially enjoyed how each character was slowly revealed through their actions as the film progressed. When the film starts, we know very little about each offender’s history and reason for being imprisoned. As the story unfolds, it is revealed how violent each character actually is and how dangerous the characters are to each other. Though it is pretty obvious who is hunting the kids, it does not take away from the overall enjoyment of the movie. The killer is a master at camouflaging himself in the wilderness of the island and is often right under the kids’ noses without them even realizing it. The instances where he just pops out of nowhere in full special-ops garb are truly startling and creepy.

Speaking of creepy, some of the booby traps the killer sets are very inventive and reminded me a lot of the Saw movies. Incendiary devices, bear traps, trip wires and more are all cleverly used by the killer. He also uses his trusty crossbow (sometimes with flaming arrows, other times with just plain, pointy ones) as well as his attack dogs, which he can control with just a whistle to rip out the throat of whomever he wishes. The gore here is very intense and bloody. People’s limbs are torn off, people are ripped apart by dogs, decapitated, lit on fire and skewered by the killer’s arrows, among other tortures. The inventiveness of the death scenes is impressive, especially for a film that hasn’t gotten that much attention here or in its native Britain.

Visually, this film is beautiful, with aerial shots of the rocky coast and heavily forested island. There is no flashy camera work here, just solid, fast-paced action shots that actually show us what is happening. The story is basically that of a slasher – a group of young teens is isolated from grown-ups and help while a killer with a vendetta against them kills them one by one. Mix the slasher concept with some survivalist elements, add a healthy dose of character development that makes the kids criminals, drop them on an English island and you’ve got Wilderness!

Wilderness is great fun, especially when I was expecting a trashy survivalist movie and instead saw something that is almost on par with other great films coming out of the UK like The Descent and Dog Soldiers. I highly suggest you check this film out! I don’t know what there’s not to love!

Available from Amazon!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006)

Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film is just like the book by Adam Rockoff it was based on – fun, entertaining, interesting and a must for all horror fans! I cannot stress how much horror fans will love this film!!

Going to Pieces is a documentary that focuses on the delightful sub-genre of horror, slasher films. It explores early films in the ‘60s like Peeping Tom and Psycho and ‘70s films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Last House on the Left that paved the way for slasher films, which exploded on the scene when Halloween hit theaters in 1978. Halloween gained so much popularity that it soon became a template for other slashers, which soon flooded movie screens across the country. Going to Pieces shows the golden age of slashers in the ‘80s and how eventually the public became disenchanted with the genre in the late ‘80s and into the early ‘90s. That is, until the genre was reinvented and re-energized with Craven’s Scream and continued to evolve with new films such as House of 1000 Corpses, Hostel, Saw, The Devil’s Rejects, etc. Through film clips, still photos, behind-the-scenes and interviews with both the greats of the genre and the more obscure participants, Going to Pieces is pure, unadulterated joy to watch!

The archival footage of classic, obscure and controversial slasher films was a treat to see, as well as interviews with directors Wes Craven, Amy Holden Jones, John Carpenter, Sean Cunningham, Rob Zombie, special effects masters Stan Winston and Tom Savini, actors Felissa Rose and Betsy Palmer, and many, many more familiar (and not so familiar) faces all talking about their craft and love for horror.

Through interviews and footage, the documentary also delves into the socio-political implications of slasher films, including how Vietnam, the Reagan administration, a society of mass consumption and other turmoil in America influenced horror films. Archival footage of parents’ outrage at the killer Santa flick Silent Night, Deadly Night and a classic Siskel and Ebert show that decries and belittles horror films as misogynistic, sick and nasty are also included. I love this in-depth look at horror films, because, like it or not (I’m looking at you, Siskel and Ebert!), horror films usually mirror the fears of a particular time and place in society. These how’s and why’s of horror reveal that the genre goes much deeper than just hacking and slashing barely clothed co-eds. This aspect of Going to Pieces reminded me of another great horror documentary, American Nightmare, which explores more of the historical turbulence that gave rise to so many horror films in the ‘70s and onwards.

The interviewees offer some great commentary on their films and what went on behind the scenes, before and after a film was made. You can tell each of them has a real passion for the horror genre and it is so cool to see that spark in their eyes when talking about it. Each and every one of them has great viewpoints and most are pretty humorous! Check out what Rob Zombie has to say about the titles he chose for his films!

One small warning – the documentary does give away some big plot points and endings to several horror films, so if you haven’t seen many slashers I suggest you catch up with your viewing before checking out Going to Pieces. Other than that, I have no other complaints with this documentary…it’s pretty much drool-worthy for fellow horror fans!

If you are a fan of horror, you will dig this documentary and I highly recommend you pick it up. It’s a fun, entertaining and nostalgic look back (and a hopeful look forward) at the slasher film.

DVD available on Amazon!

Also, check out the book the documentary is based on, available from Amazon!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

KatieBird: Certifiable Crazy Person (2005)

Imagine that at 16 years old you find out your father is a serial killer. Your father has been torturing and killing people in the red shed in the backyard since before you were born. Now, imagine that instead of screaming your head off and running, you follow in your daddy’s footsteps to kidnap, maim, torture and kill…this is the premise of KatieBird: Certifiable Crazy Person.

After her daddy’s funeral, KatieBird (Helene Udy) and her shrink/lover (Todd Gordon) return to her dimly lit apartment. KatieBird is distraught over her father’s death, and wants only the undivided attention of the Doctor. She wants to explain to him her close, loving relationship with her father, and the secret they both shared. Her therapist thinks he’s heard it all before and wants her to just let it all go. He knows that her father was a serial killer and that it profoundly affected KatieBird, but he believes she can move on and put it behind her. He is bashed over the head with a vase, chained up to the bed, repeatedly raped and slowly tortured as KatieBird forces him to listen.

Young KatieBird (Nicole Jarvis) grows up with just her father (Lee Perkins), who won’t let her go near a certain red shed until he deems her ready. Father and daughter share a loving relationship, the father being patient with KatieBird while KatieBird abides by his rules. When KatieBird (Taylor M. Dooley) hits the teen years, she is heartbroken over a boy she is crushing on when he goes out with someone else. With this realization that the world can be a cruel place, Daddy decides she is ready to begin her education in serial killing. He lets her enter the shed and she sees what he’s been up to all these years. Filled with wonderment, KatieBird continues the family legacy of killing by quickly learning the ropes from her father. Her first victim is Kevin, the boy who shunned her for another girl. KatieBird lures him into an orchard with the promise of a little hanky panky. She stalks him before jumping out completely naked, trusty hammer in hand. After making him strip, bashing him in the knee with the hammer and otherwise humiliating the boy, KatieBird has Daddy help her take Kevin back to the red shed. Daddy gives her a whole chest of goodies to experiment with – the claw hammer, a saw, a pair of pliers and a handy little dentistry device that keeps a mouth wide open. A whole lotta teeth-pullin’ goes down, as well as a good use of a saw. Through the process of her first kill, KatieBird also discovers the pleasures of pain. In present day, KatieBird is continuing her sadomasochistic preferences for killing on the Doctor as she explains to him her beginnings as a serial killer.

A psychological look into the origins of a serial killer, KatieBird tells an original, intense story but I still have mixed feelings about the film. On one hand, it is original, stylish, well-acted and directed and is disturbing and unsettling. On the other hand, I believe it has been over-hyped, has a story that is stretched far too thin, needs better editing, better pacing and has an overpowering and annoying soundtrack.

As for the good, KatieBird definitely proves that women can be just as scary as men in the role of the villain. I love seeing horror movies in which a woman character defies the damsel-in-distress stereotype. We need more serial killer movies like this that show women can be just as vicious, crazy, calm and horrifying as men can be. KatieBird loves the power over her male victims and forces them to have sex, burns them with cigarettes, mutilates them and tries to find the truth they are hiding from.

The three females that play KatieBird in three different stages in life do a fantastic job, with special mention going to Taylor Dooley, who plays the teen KatieBird. Her expressive range of emotion portrays the blossoming killer perfectly. Dooley gives KatieBird awe, curiosity and a sense of wonderment at killing that gave me the chills! Lee Perkins, who plays the father, was also very impressive. The sense of calm and purpose that he evoked made me both fear and like the guy!

One thing I must mention is the style of the film, where each scene is fragmented by frames. I found this to be pretty stylish and a good metaphor for the mental collapse and splintering of KatieBird’s psyche, but because it is used throughout the entire movie it does get a little annoying and loses impact. Many people find the frames downright distracting, but they did not ruin the entire movie for me and actual infused more flair into the film.

The cinematography is also worth mentioning for its stylishness and beauty. The horror of the scene in the orchard is beset by the beautiful fall foliage in the background. Alternately, the red shed is lit with harsh fluorescent lighting, giving everything a dark, grim feeling. The adult KatieBird’s apartment is dark and dingy, also giving it a foreboding feeling. The torture scenes are shot in close-up, focusing on the terror of the individual and on the pleasure of KatieBird. The cinematography reflects the film’s unsettling atmosphere.

Now, for the bad…the film has a pretty shaky start, which left me wondering when the actual horror would start. The first thirty minutes felt like forever to me and were extremely slowly pacing. Some other parts of the film have pretty shoddy pacing as well, and I felt some scenes needed to be trimmed down.

The story itself seemed stretched thin over the 100 minute run-time. There just wasn’t enough there to fill the time, so many scenes seem unnecessarily long. I really wish they had shown more of KatieBird’s teenage years, but perhaps that will come with the possible sequel.

The real caveat that almost ruined the film for me was the score! Every scene contains the intrusive and in many places inappropriate score. It is overkill and overpowers too much of the dialogue. A movie’s score or soundtrack should complement it, not drown it in a mess of weird growling and metallic sounds. It really took away from the atmosphere, something which music is supposed to heighten!

Though KatieBird: Certifiable Crazy Person has its flaws, it still had me glued to the screen. There is no denying that it packs a wallop and is one of the most disturbing, vicious and unnerving films I’ve seen. It gives me hope that more women will be cast in ballsy roles like the character KatieBird.

Available on Amazon!

The Other (1972)

Set in idyllic 1935 Connecticut, The Other follows young twins Niles and Holland as they run about their small farm fishing, playing in the apple cellar, harassing the old lady down the lane and caring for their heartsick mother. Niles is the “good son.” He reads to his mother, spends time with his grandmother and is always hesitant to become involved in Holland’s schemes. Holland, on the other hand, sneaks around and enjoys playing tricks on people…tricks that soon turn deadly. When a series of accidents befall those that have irked Holland, Niles becomes suspicious of his twin. Is there something even more sinister going on, though? Niles carries around an old tin that holds an old ring and a severed finger. Who do these belong to? Is Niles really the evil one?

The story, with its many sub-plots and different relationships between characters, is very well-developed. I loved the time and location – the 1930s in rural Connecticut – that make the film a visual treat to watch. There is even a nifty carnival scene that features a freak show! The main thing that drives the film is the story, though, and it is a disturbing one, especially towards the end.

The acting is superb, with special note going to the two twins that played Niles (Chris Udvarnoky) and Holland (Martin Udvarnoky). The two blonde-haired, blue-eyed boys do a wonderful job of conveying both good (Niles) and evil (Holland). For being so young (probably around seven or eight) they do a spectacular job of conveying many emotions. The rest of the more seasoned cast shines as well…John Ritter even has a small role as a member of the family!

I really enjoyed this movie, even though it starts off pretty slow. Once it gets going, though, it sweeps you up into the mystery. I, for one, couldn’t look away once the film got going.

Made in 1972 and directed by Robert Mulligan, The Other still stands today as an entertaining and creepy psychological thriller. The finale of the film, featuring a defenseless baby, a barrel full of water and the evil twin is one that must be seen!

Available on Amazon!

Evil (aka To Kako) (2005)

Evil (or To Kako in its native Greek) is the “zombie flick from Greece” that was recently released. I love zombie flicks, so I scrambled to check this out as soon as I could. Usually, no matter if a zombie movie is good or bad, I at least enjoy killing an hour and a half in front of the tube. Sadly, though, Evil was a big disappointment and I actually found myself doing chores around the house rather than watching it.

A cave is discovered by a group of men who are working on some sort of construction job. They explore the cave and something attacks them. Nonetheless, they are all back in the city by nightfall, not remembering what happened, how they got out of the cave or even how they got home. One by one, the men start turning into zombies. One is in a nightclub full of people when he turns, another is at a very crowded soccer match and others are with their families or other places around the city. Once the biting begins, it doesn’t let up! Anyone who is bit (or partially eaten, with their brain still intact) immediately turns into a zombie. A small group of survivors bands together to try and escape the quickly growing zombie horde. Can they get to safety before the zombies get to them?

This movie just drags and is almost too action-y for it’s own good. What makes other zombie films like Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Zombie and even 28 Days Later work is the character development, where we get to know and care for the characters. Evil’s pitfall is that it focuses too much on the action sequences (and the survivors running and running through the streets again and again) and doesn’t take time to develop the characters. It tries to as different characters “bond” in different ways, but never succeeds in forming a bond between the audience and the characters.

Evil does have some wicked flesh-tearing and eating sequences that were pretty cool, but nothing I haven’t seen before. There are many decapitations and bashing of brains, even an eye-gouging scene or two, which are all pretty neat but nothing new. The acting in the film is fine, as is the camera work and direction – no complaints in those departments.

Evil is partly comedic and it has its moments. It doesn’t go as far out as Dead Alive or even Shaun of the Dead, but the little bits of humor were enjoyable. There are some nonsensical comedic moments (how about when one of the women goes all kung-fu zombie-killing pro?) that just didn’t seem to mesh with the rest of the film’s tone. I think Evil should have either gone all out with the comedy or toned it down a notch because certain parts just don’t feel like part of the same movie.

The one thing that irritated me above all else, though, was the audio. The audio track is wayyyyy too low, but the music track is obnoxiously loud. I had to keep turning the volume up to hear the characters speaking only to have to turn it down when the music kicked in. I hate poor audio in a film, and this might be the main reason I didn’t enjoy the film as much as I would have otherwise.

It should be mentioned that this was shot on a shoestring budget and it still manages to look great for an independent film. Still, while the gore and action sequences are done well for a film with a small budget, it lacks a well-rounded story. If only there had been a few more elements to keep my attention during the film I might not have been so bored. I just couldn’t get into this film, even though I love zombie flicks! I’m sure there are those of you out there that will get a kick out of this self-proclaimed “first Greek zombie movie” but I sure didn’t.

Available on Amazon!
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