Monday, March 31, 2008

Shrooms (2008)

Shrooms, a gem from the Emerald Isle, proves that Ireland can create a creepy horror film. Director Paddy Breathnach knows how to build an imposing atmosphere with misty moors, murky marshes, wispy woods and a haunted house. The film’s only fault may be the script (written by Pearse Elliott), which feels a little derivative of other horror films at times. Still, the stylish direction and spooky scenes more than make up for the lack of originality in the story.

Five American friends travel together to Ireland, where they meet their friend Jake (Jack Huston), who promises them a “trip” of a lifetime. You see, they’ve come to Ireland not only to see Jake, but to camp out in the Celtic countryside and try some magic mushrooms. They drive to an isolated location in the misty woods, where the only other people around are a pair of slobbery backwoods hillbillies (guess they have ‘em in Ireland too!). They set up camp on a beautifully green meadow next to a marsh and go mushroom hunting. Jake warns them about a potentially lethal species of ‘shroom, one that is crowned with a black top (that looks oddly like a nipple). It is said that anyone who survives eating the deadly mushroom suffers strange side effects. These include being able to commune with the dead, see the future, shape-shift or turn into a sadistic, bloodthirsty killer.

Unfortunately, goodie-goodie Tara (Lindsey Haun) didn’t receive the memo and, eager to prove that she can let loose, gobbles up the first mushroom she sees, which just happens to be one of the deadly poisonous ones. After overdosing, she comes to in Jake’s arms (swoon) and he takes her back to camp so she can sleep it off, only she begins having strange, nightmarish dreams.

Meanwhile, everyone else huddles around the campfire, listening to Jake tell the story of the mad monk and his victims who supposedly haunt the woods and the nearby abandoned boarding house. This sadistic monk used to mercilessly beat and kill the children under his care, until one of them decided to take revenge and poisoned the monk’s soup with the black-cap mushrooms. Well, instead of killing him the mushrooms made the monk go absolutely mad and he ended up killing everyone in the boarding house. The house now sits abandoned, but every year missing and even mutilated bodies are reported in the woods.

The next day, Tara swears she keeps seeing shadowy figures and premonitions of her friends’ deaths. When people start to go missing and turn up dead, no one is quite sure if what they are seeing is real or just a really bad trip. Tara tries to convince them that it is all real and that the mad monk is killing them off one by one.

In regards to the story, it isn’t all THAT derivative of other films. Despite the well-trodden premise of a group of young adults stuck in the woods being stalked by an unimaginable evil (sound familiar?) there are quite a few moments of originality throughout the film. I thoroughly enjoyed the “magic mushroom” idea and how I (along with the characters) wasn’t exactly sure what was real and what wasn’t. There was also a touch of black humor in the film…just wait for the hilarious talking cow!! I also enjoyed how writer Pearse Elliott incorporated several different subgenres (the backwoods hillbillies, the ghost story, the psychic/supernatural elements, etc.) while still maintaining a fluid, cohesive story that never felt bogged down or awkward. The pacing was also excellent and kept me glued to my seat until the shocking ending (yes, I really was surprised!).

The characterizations were a little shaky, but the film established who was who (though I still had trouble telling the two brunettes apart) rather quickly and soon after that people began getting butchered so it really didn’t matter too much! The acting also was so-so, but it worked for the film. The real standout was Kristen Bell look-alike Lindsey Haun as Tara. The other actors didn’t stand out (except for hunky Jack Huston, who played Jake) as much, but they all did a competent job overall.

The most striking things about the film, though, were the visuals. Without the spectacularly creepy direction and cinematography, this would not have been the same film. From the herky-jerky movements of the mad monk (much like Samara’s movements in Ringu) moving through the foggy forest to what was hiding in the shadowy depths of the marshes, the film is beautifully unsettling. The blue, green and gray colors used really invoke a sense of isolation, abandonment and coldness.

There isn’t much gore to speak of, but in this film it wasn’t really necessary and I didn’t miss its absence. There is, however, a choice scene that will resonate with male viewers involving an oral amputation. Many of the other gory bits happen off-screen, but it’s a whole lot scarier when left to your own imagination.

Some people will call this film just another run-of-the-mill horror flick, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself watching it and believe that the future will only bring good things from director Breathnach, who is currently working on the interesting sounding Red Mist, about a psychotic coma patient that goes on an out-of-body killing spree.

I highly recommend giving Shrooms a shot…it’s a real trip!

Buy it on Amazon!

Book Review: The Ruins by Scott Smith

Have you ever become so wrapped up in a book that it consumes you, it won’t let you put it down? Upon the conclusion you’re left slack-jawed and worn out. A few days later, you still can’t shake the feeling and the story continues to eat away at you from the inside out?

Well, having finished Scott Smith’s horror novel The Ruins (in preparation for the upcoming film adaptation), I can attest to those very emotions. Like a vine, The Ruins wraps itself around you, slowly at first, then tightening and tightening its hold so that it is near impossible to put down until the very last page.

Things start lazily enough in the book. Couples Jeff and Amy, Eric and Stacy are having one last fling together before they each head off to college. They are enjoying three weeks in Cancun, relaxing on the beach and drinking their cares away. They become friends with a German named Mathias as well as a group of Greeks, who don’t speak any English but go by Spanish names. One day, Mathias tells them about his kid brother, who set off into the jungle to follow a girl he had met to an archeological dig. The two couples, along with “Pablo” from the Greeks, decide to accompany Mathias into the jungle to try and find his brother.

After a long bus and taxi ride, they come to the jungle path they must take. They encounter some indifferent Mayans before eventually finding the ruins. There is no sign of Mathias’ brother or an archeological dig, but the group soon discovers the horrifying truth about the ruins when they remain trapped there.

I haven’t been so taken and enthralled with a book in quite some time, but The Ruins blew me away. Smith writes simply at first, but keeps buffeting the reader with an ominous feeling, one where you know something very bad is coming very soon. When trouble finally arrives, it’s far worse than you ever could have comprehended and it just keeps getting worse!

The characters are likable and relatable; I found a piece of myself reflected in each of their personalities and moods. The way Smith is able to capture both the good, the bad and the ugly in his characters makes them that much more real and “alive.” They each have their faults and make mistakes, but this is what makes them so relatable and their fates all the more horrifying.

The story itself and how it unravels is terrifying and even believable. Who hasn’t had the fear of being lost and trapped in some faraway place with no contact to the outside world and little hope of rescue? Who hasn’t been afraid of strange sounds or things in the dark? Of creepy crawlies? Of not being able to communicate when it means life or death? The characters’ realistic reactions to all these fears are very believable, their choices make sense and you can easily imagine yourself caught in the same situation making the same dreadful decisions.

As for the gore, there is plenty of it! Things get (literally!) under the characters’ skins and there are broken bones, bodies skinned to the bone, self-mutilation, strangulation, regurgitation and a fair amount of blood flow. Certain descriptions in the book had me covering my mouth in disbelief and disgust (in a good way, you know!) all the while feeling as helpless as the victims. I am definitely holding back because I don’t want to give anything away, but horror fiends will not be disappointed!

The Ruins is an emotionally intense experience, a book that manages to coil itself around you and draw you in. If you decide to read it before going to see the upcoming film that releases April 4th you had better set aside a few days, because once you pick it up you’ll find it extremely hard to put down!

Available from Amazon!

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Lost (2008)

Hanging out in the woods one night, Ray Pye (Marc Senter) and his two friends Tim (Alex Frost) and Jennifer (Shay Astar) stumble across two women (one who happens to be Erin Brown, aka Misty Mundae, in the nude) camping. After spying on them for a bit, Ray suggests they “pop” them with his rifle. He notes how exciting shooting rabbits is, but says it would be more thrilling to shoot these two innocent girls. Ray gleefully goes through with his plan, viciously shooting the defenseless girls while his petrified friends go along with it as well as helping Ray cover up the crime. They are as scared of Ray as they are enamored of him.

Four years later, the original detective on the case, Charlie Schilling (Michael Bowen), is still convinced Ray is the killer and keeps a careful watch on the womanizing charmer. Meanwhile, Ray’s despotic rule over his friends slowly crumbles as Detective Schilling applies pressure to him and the group.

The usually slick and smooth Ray finally snaps, going on a merciless shooting rampage and taking several hostages up in an isolated house. Can Detective Schilling find him before more people are brutally killed?

More about a group of lost, disaffected youths than about a budding serial killer, The Lost is Chris Sivertson’s film adaptation of the Jack Ketchum novel of the same name. Initially, I didn’t enjoy the film at all, but a few days after viewing it I found it had grown on me a bit. While I’ve never read this particular Ketchum book, his trademark dark portrayal of suburbia/society is evident in the film.

Ketchum’s trademark nastiness is most evident in the opening scenes as well as in the conclusion. The opening scenes capture Ray’s viciousness as well as his ability to manipulate those around him. While the opening scenes start with a bang (literally), the middle of the film feels more like an after-school special about the dangers of peer pressure, abusive relationships, and drug and alcohol abuse than a horror movie. There’s even a large chunk of the film devoted to Ray “falling in love” (obsessing is more like it) over the sultry Katherine (Robin Sydney). Things quickly feel like they are developing into a teen drama with the added love triangle between Ray, Jennifer and Tim. The horror finally kicks in again at the end, when Ray is wronged one too many times and starts brutally shooting people, but it comes a little too late.

Jack Ketchum himself has praised this adaptation (you can hear him on the DVD’s commentary track), but I just wasn’t completely sold on it. It feels a bit too uneven and I know many horror fans won’t enjoy this film. Blame mustn’t be placed on Sivertson, though, who does a wonderful job with the direction. Though his screenplay might be a bit rough at times, it always feels like Ketchum material, examining the nittiest and grittiest underbelly of society.

The performances from the actors were extremely convincing, though I did want to knock some sense into Tim (Frost) and Jennifer (Astar) for being friends with Ray after all the abuse and threats they suffer. Also, while Marc Senter gives a maniacally charming performance as Ray, at times his portrayal felt a little too forced and over the top. Still, he makes Ray into a good-lookin’, smooth-talkin,’ intense guy and really made me believe people would fall for his charisma.

Fans of Ketchum’s book The Lost will no doubt be impressed by this film, but as for the rest of us…it feels a little lacking. Not even a short cameo by Dee Wallace Stone helped to perk things up. The Lost has intense opening and closing scenes, but the rest of the film is lacking suspense, tension or much else to keep your attention except for a few intense performances.

Still, this movie has “cult film” written all over it and I won’t soon forget it.

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Doomsday (2008)

Neil Marshall is known for scaring the pants off his audience. His previous two films, the frightening The Descent and the suspenseful Dog Soldiers, showed us his skill with the horror genre and both films were acclaimed by critics and fans alike.

Marshall’s third film, Doomsday, is a fast-paced, sci-fi action thriller that is very different from his first two efforts. It shows his diversity as a writer and director and shows he can pull off a high octane, visually arresting and wholeheartedly entertaining post-apocalyptic action thriller.

In the year 2007, a deadly and incurable virus quickly infected most of Scotland. It spread as easily as the common cold and within days thousands upon thousands were infected. Fearing that the virus would spread into England as well as the rest of the world, the government quarantined the “hot zone” by constructing a huge wall around Scotland, leaving hundreds of thousands to die from the so-called “Reaper” virus. For thirty years no one re-entered the quarantined zone, but when the virus resurfaces in London, a military team led by Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) is sent into the former hot zone to try and find survivors and hopefully a cure.

When they arrive in what is left of Glasgow, they discover a large band of cannibalistic marauders who see them as nothing more than dinner or as a way out of the quarantine zone. They also track down a former doctor (Malcolm McDowell) who may have the cure but prefers to live a medieval sort of life in a castle deep in the Scottish Highlands.

Can the team find a cure and make it out of the post-apocalyptic landscape alive? They only have 46 hours and a whole lotta butt-kicking to do before we find out!

Perhaps you’ve read some of the nasty, and I think, unfair, reviews and are hesitant to check out Doomsday…but I’m here to set the record straight and tell you that Doomsday is one hell of a ride that needs to be seen!!

Now, if you go in expecting the claustrophobic tension of The Descent or the sudden scares of Dog Soldiers, you will be let down…but Doomsday is an entirely different movie-going experience than Marshall’s previous two films. This one is loud, brash and in-your-face unapologetic about its influences, like Mad Max, Escape from L.A. and even (to a lesser extent) 28 Days Later. This film is Marshall’s celebration of and homage to the style of films he loves. In fact, if I had to choose one word to describe Doomsday, it would be “celebration,” as opposed to “homage.” I believe this is Marshall’s dream film and after the success of The Descent he was finally able to make it (lucky for us!).

Doomsday is insanely entertaining, from the opening scene of the “Reaper” virus outbreak and the bloody assault at the military blockade to the marauders rowdy arena show and BBQ to the exciting ending car chase! Most surprising was the high level of gore liberally sprinkled throughout the film. Marshall giddily features some gleeful grue, from people suffering the bloody explosive effects of the virus to getting squashed by military vehicles to a cute rabbit getting a little too close to the perimeter wall. And let’s not forget the many scenes of impressive hand-to-hand combat!

Actress Rhona Mitra certainly gets my vote for badass of the year! She is ripped in this movie and kicks the crap out of a lot of guys and gals alike! Her scenes of combat (and there are more than a handful) are impressive. I especially liked when she did battle with a hulking, armor-clad lad nicknamed “The Executioner.” The rest of the cast didn’t quite last nearly as long as she did, but they all did a grand job as well. However brief, it was nice to see some familiar faces from Marshall’s other films thrown into the mix as well.

The direction and cinematography are amazing. Everything going on can be clearly seen, even though use of the “shaky cam” is sometimes used. In the few instances the shaky cam is used, it is used properly and you can clearly tell what is happening, not a small feat when capturing the furious action in this flick. Equally impressive is the overall look of the film. The set and production designs are amazing to behold. The abandoned, decomposing city that nature is slowly taking back is a sight to see as is the punked out, skull festooned marauder arena and the medieval castle where the doctor rules as king. All of these clashing styles create a vivid picture of the different types of societies that have arisen out of the ashes of the “Reaper” virus.

The only complaints I have of the film are the believability of some scenes and several plot holes. There are some instances where things become way over the top and even border on comedy. I believe this was intentional by Marshall to create a larger than life, outrageous picture, but sometimes you can only suspend believability so much. Still, that being my only complaint of the film, I have to say I was thoroughly entertained by Doomsday.

If you are looking for a fun, visually stunning and exciting post-apocalyptic action thriller, Doomsday is your film. If you are looking for another Descent, consider opening yourself up to something new and different from writer/director Neil Marshall that really shows off how versatile he can really be.

Available from Amazon!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Book Review: Into the Cruel Sea by Rich Ristow

The same day I received Rich Ristow’s Into the Cruel Sea I finished it. Once I picked up the novelette, I couldn’t put it down because Ristow’s debut, released by Skullvines Press, is hauntingly engaging.

Seventeen year old Beth lives in the midst of paradise, but things certainly aren’t peachy-keen in her own life. Beth lives at home with her abusive father, meek mother and helpless younger brother on a military base on the balmy island of Bermuda in 1984. A few months prior, her boyfriend Wade butchered his own parents and disappeared without a trace. The only thing he left behind was a pile of clothes on the beach. As Beth mourns him and tries to move on, she is forced to face her violent father on a daily basis. Beth tries to cope by drowning herself in alcohol and drugs but that only dulls her intense anguish, which is both physical and mental.

Lately, Beth has been having intense and realistic dreams about Wade; dreams in which he returns to her a changed man, but not for the better. He has cold, clammy skin, is drenched in saltwater and has gills on the side of his neck! Beth soon realizes that the dreams are real and that Wade wants her to come with him…Into the Cruel Sea.

Like sunlight reflected off a crystal blue ocean, Into the Cruel Sea will dazzle you. Its pacing is just about perfect as it grabs your attention from the stunningly creepy prologue and keeps it until the thrilling ending. Ristow has crafted a fast-paced piece of fiction, but one that doesn’t skimp on characterization.

For such a short novel, the characters are all well-developed to the point where you can sympathize with them. Beth is the epitome of a teenage girl growing up trapped between a rock and a hard place. Ristow’s writing brings her pain and suffering to life and makes us care about Beth. Still, she is no pushover and eventually stands up for herself to make her own decisions. Of course, the novelette is more about this coming of age than anything else. After years of abuse at the hands of her brutal father and being trapped on the island with seemingly no happy future, Beth’s realization that she can leave everything behind is empowering and will have you cheering for her.

As for Wade, he is portrayed as the monster that rises out of the depths of the sea for Beth and as another obstacle to her happiness. Wade is like a zombie Romeo, returning from death to claim his long-lost love. His transformation from an odd boy who hears “voices” to a cold-blooded murderer to a menacing sea creature is as enthralling as it is brutal.

Speaking of brutal, there are some nicely done gore scenes throughout the book. Wade’s hands have turned into vicious webbed claws and his teeth have grown sharper, which just makes it perfect for him to slash people’s skin into strips of flesh. One particular grisly scene describes the aftermath of one of Wade’s attacks:

“He was covered in long gashes. Flaps of flesh hung from his lower jaw, exposing the upper and lower sets of teeth. One of his crushed eyes hung out of its socket.” 

While these scenes of gore are entertaining, they are never empty and we feel empathy toward the victims. Ristow expertly weaves emotion into the horror tale, which only serves to elevate the subtle terror further.

Into the Cruel Sea is as exciting and exhilarating as a dip into startlingly cool water whose depths you can’t quite make out. It’s a refreshing horror story that doesn’t rely on clich├ęs to move the story along. Despite it’s unique and fantastical “mer-man” monster, it still manages to evoke emotion and be believable at the same time. If you’re looking for a quick read from a great new author, check out Into the Cruel Sea by Rich Ristow!

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Automaton Transfusion (2008)

I anxiously awaited the release of the zombie indie flick Automaton Transfusion on DVD because of all the hype surrounding it. Reportedly made for under $30,000, writer/director Steven C. Miller shot the movie in 9 hectic days, with cast and crew putting in 18 hour days. The movie’s premiere was in 2006 at the Screamfest Film Festival in Hollywood, California, but the film wasn’t picked up for distribution until Dimension Extreme bought it and wasn’t released until March 11, 2008.

Miller has said that Automaton Transfusion is a throwback to the frantically shot, bloody 1980’s horror flicks from his youth. While Automaton has even been called “the Holy Grail of ‘true’ independent horror,” it doesn’t stand up to the very films Miller was trying to emulate or even to current like-minded (and like-budgeted) zombie movies.

Two groups of high school seniors are looking forward to a night of partying. The jocks and cheerleaders are all having a party at some isolated house in the middle of nowhere. Among them is cheerleader Jackie (Juliet Reeves), who takes a lot of crap from her preppie friends from dating “stoner” Chris (Garrett Jones). Meanwhile, Chris and his friends Scott (William Howard Bowman) and Tim (Rowan Bousaid) are on their way into the city to see a band. Pretty soon, they notice that there are no other cars on a usually busy road. When they arrive into the city the streets are deserted. It seems that there are no other people around…until they hear a low roar and the sound of stampeding feet coming from around the corner. As hundreds of zombies are suddenly upon them, they run into a bar to seek refuge momentarily.

Back at the party, zombies have also found the group of teens. As Jackie hides in the bathroom, she sees her friends devoured by the bloodthirsty undead. Pretty soon, Chris and friends make it out of the bar and back into town to rescue Jackie. The group decides to head to the high school to find help, but soon discover that the U.S. military is behind the whole zombie outbreak and has been experimenting with the undead for decades in their hometown.

Really, I don’t see what the big deal is with Automaton Transfusion. Sure, it can be a fun zombie flick if you overlook its (many) flaws, but there are PLENTY of other low-budget zombie films that were made for LESS that are much better.

The story (written by Steven C. Miller) is full of plot holes and inconsistencies. This is probably what bugged me the most about this film. For example, in the beginning party-goers are complaining about how far they have to drive to get to the isolated house for the party (which, oddly, is being held at 5:00pm??), but later in the film this house is only a few minutes away from the high school. Also, the instantaneous spread of the zombie infection was never adequately explained either…how did so many people get infected so fast? The fast spread of the zombie disease was not explained adequately and was not believable. I’m usually not nit-picky when it comes to a few plot holes or inconsistencies, but this film was packed with so many of them that you couldn’t NOT notice (or ignore) them. Films, especially low-budget ones, should focus on the story first and foremost. Things within the story should be logical and make sense, which unfortunately isn’t the case in Automaton Transfusion.

As for the cliffhanger ending (supposedly this was only part one of a trilogy), it’ll probably just piss you off and make you want to skip the next two installments instead of looking forward to them.

This is a zombie film, though, and I know you’re thinking, “To hell with the story, what about the gore??” To which I can respond, “IT ROCKED!” One of the few things that the film actually does right is the gore, which just might be enough for some people. The practical SFX applied here work wonders for the film. The most memorable scene (and probably the only thing this film will be remembered for) is an impromptu abortion performed by a member of the undead. There is also an impressive jaw-ripping scene that is sure to curl your toes! The rest of the film features the standard ocular impaling, heads blown off with a shotgun, head bashings, gut munchings and so on.

The gore is excellent, but your view of it might be impeded by the shoddy use of the “shaky cam” technique. I am not anti-shaky cam, but I believe it must be used sparingly or in context with the film (see the fabulous Cloverfield, where this actually worked)! Many times you couldn’t tell what was happening or who was eating who. I think this was used to help hide the low-budget look of the film, but really it just made it seem more amateur than it was. Note to filmmakers: You want your special effects and horrifying story to nauseate the audience – NOT your camerawork!!

On the positive side, most of the actors held their own (except for some cases of PAINFUL overacting). The standout was Garrett Jones as Chris. As opposed to the macho tough guy we usually find in zombie films, Jones brought some much needed emotion to the character of Chris. After a particularly personal loss, he sits in a car at a loss for words until he lets his pain out with a gut-wrenching yell. This was probably the most poignant, powerful scene in the film.

As for the zombies, I thought they did an excellent job with them! These aren’t your typical slow-moving, shambling reanimated dead! These suckers are specially engineered by the military to think and to move extremely quickly. The result is organized groups of zombies that can run your sorry ass down in an instant.
Another positive aspect is the killer hardcore soundtrack for the film. I really enjoyed the tunes, though at times it appeared to be an infomercial for the band Dancefloor Tragedy. The original music, by Jamey Scott, also helped set the chaotic mood throughout the movie.

Still, despite these few positive points I wasn’t too impressed with Automaton Transfusion. Ultimately, I think many fans will be let down by this movie. There are so many other low-budget zombie films (take, for instance, the hilarious and entertaining Die and Let Live) that are infinitely better than Automaton.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, gore-filled zombie movie, Automaton may satisfy your need but it will do so at the costly expense of a solid story and decent camerawork. I’d say to look elsewhere before choosing this disappointing film.

Available from Amazon!

The Devil's Music (2008)

As a horror fan, you are probably well aware that the mainstream loves to point fingers at our genre whenever a tragic, violent act (like a school shooting, etc.) occurs in which the perpetrator happened to own some horror DVDs. The media is quick to assume that those films adversely affected the individual and caused them to act out violently, placing blame squarely on the filmmakers. I also find it pretty insulting when other people label a person as a deviant capable of committing heinous acts just because they happen to enjoy horror movies.

The same misconceptions are often held against people that listen to metal music. Recently, the House of Blues in Anaheim, California (which happens to sit right across from Disneyland) abruptly canceled all their metal shows and banned any future shows with metal bands. Sure, rap and punk bands can still play there, but they didn’t like the type of crowd that the metal shows were drawing, especially with the proximity of the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

The point is, fans of both horror films and metal music face some serious biases and mistaken assumptions from those outside the respective communities. The film The Devil’s Music manages to tackle this issue in regards to each medium, while doing so in an entirely creative, faux rockumentary way.

The film is about Erika Spawn (Victoria Hopkins), lead singer behind the shock-rock band named after her. The band was shooting to stardom with its explicit lyrics and gory stage shows, but it drew ire from many concerned parents and the “moral majority” in England. These people insist that the band is corrupting the youth. Still, despite the controversy surrounding the band, it continued gaining popularity.

Against the gory backdrop of Erika Spawn, we are introduced to sappy crooner Robin Harris (Scott Thomas), who is the complete opposite of Erika Spawn and vied with the band for the top of the charts. Yet, we find out later in the documentary that Harris is inexplicably linked to Erika by a groupie the band takes on tour with them.

One night after a show, this groupie, named Stef Regan (Lucy Dunn) found her way backstage. Erika took a liking to her and brought the young girl on tour. Everyone agreed the teen was a bit strange, but Erika really liked her so she stayed…and would later contribute to Erika’s mysterious disappearance.

The Devil’s Music is shot like a rockumentary and in interview segments we are introduced to Erika’s band mates, the brash Adele Black (Jess-Luisa Flynn) and the mellow ZC (Alan Ronald), as well as the band’s manager Eddie Meachum (Cy Henty) and others. We are shown television spots with Erika as well as concert and backstage footage. We are never told the whole story up front, but rather tension is created by not knowing exactly where the story is going.

I am familiar with Jinx Media and thoroughly enjoyed their last film, KillerKiller, but I believe that The Devil’s Music is even better and really showcases writer/director Pat Higgins’ talents! Everything, from the clever way the film was presented to the stellar acting from all of the actors, was top notch and really shows how far Pat Higgins has come as both a writer and a director.

First, the documentary style of the film is flawless. It’s hard to pull off an effective documentary, but Higgins does indeed succeed with The Devil’s Music! From the opening statements by the band’s manager to the mysterious “shadow footage” played at the end, I was hooked all the way through! The interviews and the concert/backstage footage flowed perfectly together and it really does look like a real rockumentary you might see on FUSE, MTV or VH1!

As for the story, it unfolds in a very effective, yet mysterious manner. When the film first begins, you don’t have the whole story of Erika Spawn and only have an ominous feeling that something is going to befall her. As the film progresses, we are given hints as to Erika’s fate, but it’s not until close to the end where everything is revealed and things take a turn for the violent and supernatural (this IS a horror movie!)! I’ll stop there, because this is a film that works better going in cold, so I don’t want to give too much away!

Another aspect that assists this film in its awesomeness is the acting. Every single one of the actors does a fantastic job and there isn’t a weak one in the bunch. I really enjoyed seeing Cy Henty as the manager as he’s been in other Pat Higgins’ films. Victoria Hopkins was marvelous as Erika Spawn and completely sold me on her character. She was a complete rock star and I don’t doubt for a minute that she could fill arenas with fans. I wish Erika Spawn was a real band that I could go see! Also, Jess-Luisa Flynn was amazing as the smack-talking, rude, “realist” Adele Black. I loved every second she was on-screen! Lucy Dunn was great as groupie Stef Regan. Her performance made you both revile and pity her character.

Like mentioned in the slight diatribe in the first few paragraphs, I enjoyed how the film made you question preconceived notions about certain people (namely people who enjoy a good, bloody show like you or me). Not everyone that wears black, listens to metal or watches horror movies is guaranteed to be dangerous or want to kill others. The film really turns the tables on this silly stereotype for a very satisfying conclusion.
Jinx Media will release The Devil’s Music in the UK on March 30, 2008, but you may also be able to find it making the rounds on the festival circuit. If you are able to catch this film, you’re in for a wickedly thrilling treat!

Available from Amazon!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Interview with "Sweatshop" Writer Ted Geoghegan

We’ve just been given a sneak peak of the new film Sweatshop and it looks like a kick ass, balls-to-the-wall, gory, and above all, FUN horror flick! Writer Ted Geoghegan, who has worked on other horror films like Barricade, 100 Tears, Nikos and Demonium, was gracious enough to talk with us about Sweatshop and his career.

Fatally Yours: Ted, first off, let me tell you that the Sweatshop trailer looks amazing! Can you give our readers a brief description of what the film is all about?

Ted Geoghegan: Thank you! The beauty of that trailer is due to director Stacy Davidson’s amazing eye. He cut that first trailer, and his ability certainly shines through.

Sweatshop is about a bunch of hot, young kids in the industrial scene who break into an old warehouse to set up for an impromptu rave. They fail to realize that the place is home to an enormous, bloodthirsty lunatic… who doesn’t want any company.

FY: What made you want to write this story?

TG: Hilarious fact – I actually first wrote the movie as an adult film! When my initial deal fell through, I kept the script because I loved it and thought it had a lot of character. I retooled it and beefed it up a bit, but never found anyone who wanted to take a stab at it. Then I met Stacy [Davidson, director of Sweatshop].

FY: Haha! What a beginning…How exactly did you and Stacy Davidson, who has worked on visual effects in films like Closet Space and 100 Tears, meet and decide to make Sweatshop together?

TG: Stacy created the digital effects in Closet Space and provided a very subtle CG effect for 100 Tears – on my death scene, natch! We informally met online last year, as Mel House was prepping Closet Space. Stacy had just completed Domain of the Damned and I was fresh off of writing and producing Barricade. We kept in touch and, several months later, we started discussing a collaboration. As soon as Stacy mentioned a bunch of his friends were raver-types, I told him, “I’ve got something you need to read.”

FY: I absolutely love the industrial/gothic/rave culture you’ve built the movie around. Are you yourself a part of that scene or did you just find it appropriate for the film?

TG: It worked for the film. I’m not involved in that scene, but I like it. I think people in that scene are attractive – and I like watching hot people in my movies. It came together really well, and it harkened back to Return of the Living Dead, which featured a similar group of kids from the punk and metal scenes.

FY: Heck ya! Everyone looks very hot! Let’s talk about the great gore that seems prominent throughout the film. What is your favorite death scene in the film?

TG: I can’t give away any deaths, but I already have some favorites. The killer’s weapon, as seen on the film’s poster, is an enormous hammer made out of a 500-pound anvil on a chunk of sewage pipe. It makes for some VERY messy demises.

I can tell you that the majority of the gore FX were handled by Marcus Koch (100 Tears) and Kristi Boul (Domain of the Damned) – and their work is quite literally jaw-dropping. Think about those old Warner Brothers’ cartoons where the giant, oversized Acme anvil drops on someone… now add blood. That’s what we do. Repeatedly.

FY: Can you tell us about the killer, named “the Beast?”

TG: There’s nothing to shed light on, really. He’s huge, he’s spooky, and he crushes people very easily. We’re keeping his story rather ambiguous, as motives tend to lessen the impact of most villains. What you see is what you get – and hopefully what you get is scary.

The Beast is played by Jeremy Sumrall, a first-time actor. He’s a big dude and knows how to use his large frame to really toss people around. He does some really great acting, using only his heavily-costumed body. With no dialogue, this was extremely important to us.

FY: Did you have any specific inspiration/influences for Sweatshop, besides the previously mentioned Return of the Living Dead?

TG: I’ve said this numerous times at conventions, but the motivation behind making Sweatshop was fun. These days, it seems like people get so preoccupied with making movies “hardcore” and “extreme” that they forget to make them fun. The goal of Sweatshop was to make a slasher movie like the films I grew up watching in the 80s… the kind where you scream with delight every time someone gets done in.

FY: Sounds like just what the genre needs! Do you feel your “fun” vision of the story really shines through in Sweatshop? Did everything turn out as you hoped?

TG: Stacy gave the script a pretty major rewrite, but I feel like my story and characters are still dead-on. When Stacy first showed me stills of the main characters, I didn’t know what to say. They were exactly what I’d imagined them looking like. It was almost creepy. I haven’t seen the finished film (Stacy is currently working on the post-production), but I have a lot of faith in this flick. I think it’s really going to impress.

FY: You’ve also written scripts for other films, like Barricade and even the cleverly titled Ghouls Gone Wild! How does your experience with working on Sweatshop compare to working on these other films?

TG: Hah! Ghouls Gone Wild?! Someone’s been scouring my IMDb page.

FY: Oh, you betcha…we dig deeeeep here at Fatally-Yours!

TG: My experience on Sweatshop has been similar to most previous films I’ve written. I write the movie, someone else films it, and I just pray that my vision makes it out alive. Sometimes it does… sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve worked with a lot of foreign filmmakers, which can be a dream or nightmare. I’ve directed from my own script (Ghouls Gone Wild) and the results were fun, albeit a little campy. I guess the only difference between previous films and Sweatshop is the level of trust I’ve put in the cast and crew. I’m completely confident that they are making the best film they possibly can… and that’s all I can ask.

FY: Speaking of working with foreign filmmakers, tell us about your exciting experience of getting hired to write a script for Demonium, a film by German director Andreas Schnaas, before turning 21!

TG: I was really honored to be chosen by Andreas Schnaas to help co-write Demonium (his first English language feature), especially at such a young age. He gave me a lot of freedom with the script and, although the finished film is a far cry from my screenplay, it was still a great experience. I made some money, got my name on a script, and scored a trip to Europe out of it! Although we are somewhat distant when not working on a project together, I owe a lot of what I have to Andreas.

I also met Joe Zaso, Timo Rose, and Elmar Berger on that trip to Europe, all of whom have remained great friends and constant work partners.

FY: Besides writing, can you tell us about your other roles in horror films you’ve worked on? Which was your favorite and why?

TG: I’ve produced several films, which I really enjoy doing. It’s nice to have a little power on a film set without carrying all the stress of a director’s duties on your back. I had an absolute riot getting gutted by a psychotic clown on the set of 100 Tears and would love to grab a few more little acting gigs if they happen my way.

If I had to choose a favorite, it would probably have to be the post-production duties on Ghouls Gone Wild. It was just me and my best friend, locked in an editing studio for twelve hours a week. We taught ourselves how to edit and basically just turned the entire thing into an adventure. It was a blast.

FY: What was the catalyst that kick-started your love for the horror genre?

TG: I used to hate horror films in my youth. It wasn’t until high school, when my earliest childhood friend forced me to watch Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, that I began to love the genre. He sat me down and said, “It’s got Corey Feldman in it. You like Corey Feldman, don’t you?” I nervously sat through the entire thing, but when it was over, I was immediately ready for the next one.

That also probably also explains why the Friday films have remained my favorite series.

FY: Moving on to your other projects, you released a graphic novel called The Isle of Insaw at the age of 18. Is this where you got your start in writing? What inspired you to pursue it as a career?

TG: Hah! Again with info from the IMDb! …Yes, I wrote a graphic novel in ’97. It didn’t go anywhere, but I got to premiere it at the San Diego Comic Con, where I met my first horror celebrities (Reggie Bannister and Brinke Stevens). I’d written for my high school newspaper before that, and tried my hand at a screenplay, but the comic was my first real chance to just totally let loose. The only catch was that the Mormon artist wouldn’t draw the two main characters sharing the same bed, so I occasionally had to improvise the plot.

At that same convention, I met Kevin Smith. I got to spend some time with him and talk to him about filmmaking, which was really inspiring. After that meeting, I knew I wanted to write more, but I didn’t know where to start. So, I said “Screw it” and wrote for myself. It was just a stroke of good luck that anyone ever noticed me.

FY: Looking back, what has been your single most rewarding moment working in the horror community?

TG: Last year, when I was at a party in Ken Foree’s suite in a Chicago hotel. There I was, in this room with Ken, Doug Bradley, and a bunch of other horror stars, just partying and having this totally casual, great time. It was the most surreal, wonderful evening.

FY: Who has been your favorite horror personality that you’ve been able to meet? How did you meet him or her?

TG: Outside of conventions, I’d have to say Thom Mathews. He read a script I wrote back in 2001 called Dry Rot and called me up to say it was one of the best scripts he’d read in ages. I was speechless. Here’s the guy who starred in Return of the Living Dead and Jason Lives… saying my script was awesome. I was floored. He was a real class act, and a huge ego boost.

As for conventions, I’d say I’ve been most excited to meet Friday alumni. It’s the fanboy in me. I try not to gush (and rarely even ask for autographs), but I’m always honored to be in the presence of anyone from my favorite film series. It might sound odd, but I don’t think most of them realize how much they meant to me, growing up. I rewatched those eight films so many times, I felt like I knew them all.

FY: If you could work with anyone in the horror genre today, who would it be and why? What kind of horror film would you make with him or her?

TG: I love b-movie stars. A lot. I always joke that my dream project would be a gory action film that pits Casper van Dien, Dean Cain, and Treat Williams against a masked evil scientist played by Robert Englund.
In all seriousness, I’d make that movie in a heartbeat, but if I was going to set out to create a solid horror film, I’d love to work with Takashi Miike. His movies do my two favorite things – make my skin crawl, and make me cheer.

Oh, and Uwe Boll. Seriously. I’d kill to work with someone that passionate and over-the-top. He’s a great guy, knows what he likes, and does it – to Hell with the consequences!

FY: What is the status on your debut novel, The Sunduster Cycle: Rise of the Blackened Hand?

TG: Wow. More research. I commend your lengthy detective work [FY: I told you we dig deep here…]… and I can’t believe how long this interview is! You just keep crankin’ out the questions! Will anyone care enough about me to read the entire thing?!

FY: They should care, because you’re an awesome guy and I think you have great things ahead of you!

TG: The Sunduster Cycle: Rise of the Blackened Hand is currently being edited. In the coming months, it’s going to be getting some beautiful illustrations from a very talented guy in the comics world. After that, we’ll see what happens. I’m really hoping someone bites and that it will be out by 2009.

FY: Can you tell us what you’ll be working on after Sweatshop is completed?

TG: I will be playing a small role in an upcoming horror/thriller and may be working on the script to a new horror feature. At this point, however, I want to concentrate on Sweatshop as much as possible. I want to help give it the push it needs to succeed and not spread myself too thin.

FY: Is there a release date set for Sweatshop? Will you be making more convention appearances to help promote it?

TG: We don’t have a release date for Sweatshop yet, and probably won’t for quite a while. We’re not even thinking about releases until the film is completed and we’re all happy with the final product. I’ll be hitting up a few more conventions to promote it, but I’m not sure which ones at the moment. The same goes for Stacy Davidson and his Texas crew. We’ll do our best to make sure that every horror fan out there knows about our gory little flick.

FY: Well, that about wraps it up for us…Ted, thanks so much for taking the time to chat. It was a pleasure and you’re a lot of fun! Sweatshop looks great and I can’t wait to see the finished product!

TG: Thank you very much for the interview! It was a lot of fun. We’ll be sure to let you and your readers know when anything new happens with Sweatshop, but in the meantime, check out its official MySpace for the latest details.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Sick House (2008)

Usually I feel a certain dread when approaching a review of a direct-to-DVD flick, especially if it’s a big studio release. Let’s be honest here, most of these releases suck. They get unceremoniously dumped to DVD because there is no way they would fare well in theaters. Most feature the same rehashed plot with some laughable killer who’s returned from the grave to stalk and kill a group of big-breasted women for some flimsy reason.

These kinds of horror movies are the ones that give the genre a bad name and put such a stigma on the “direct-to-DVD” label. Recently, though, direct-to-DVD films seem to be getting better, even the ones from big studios.

How does The Sick House compare? Read on to find out…

An American archaeologist named Anna (Gina Phillips of Jeepers Creepers) is working at a dig in a 17th century plague hospital. During her research, she has encountered stories about a plague doctor who would viciously torture those in his care rather than help them, including children. She has traced the plague doctor to this specific location and is looking for clues to prove his existence. Trouble is, the Department of Public Health has deemed the hospital unsafe due to the threat of contamination by the plague and have slated it for demolition the following day. Anna sneaks into the condemned building that night for a last ditch effort to recover any artifacts linked to the plague doctor. She finds a badly decomposed doll and inadvertently releases the malevolent spirit of the plague doctor.

Meanwhile, four kids seek refuge in the building after they hit something (or someone) with their stolen car. When Anna and the group meet, they realize they are trapped in the building…along with the malicious plague doctor, who begins recreating his vicious killings.

I was extremely surprised at how much I enjoyed The Sick House. I didn’t have high hopes for the film and it certainly wasn’t the best horror film I’ve ever seen, but for an hour and a half I was pleasantly entertained.

First and foremost, credit must be given to the actors for their performances. Gina Phillips really carried the film with her portrayal as the hard-nosed Anna, but the other actors also did a fantastic job as well. Alex Hassell, Kellie Shirley, Andrew Knott and Jack Bailey were all great in their roles as the teens stuck in the hospital. They did not play their characters like the annoying stereotypical teens you see in so many horror flicks; they were actually likable and could actually act!! Shirley and Hassell easily stood out as the strongest, though everyone did a fine job. I can’t forget John Lebar who played the plague doctor and created a very ominous figure!

The story, written by Curtis Radclyffe (who also directed), Romla Walker, Matthew James Wilkinson and Marc Zakian, was a nice spin on the typical ghost or haunting story. The setting and the back story of the plague were brilliant and created a very eerie atmosphere. There were some problems with the script, though. It didn’t quite delve into the plague as much as I hoped, things were a bit confusing at times and the how’s and why’s of the plague doctor’s return were never addressed. The middle of the film was a bit convoluted and things should have been explained better. I did, however, enjoy the ending, which put a nice twist on the story.

The direction by Curtis Radclyffe was decent, but there were just too many times when the lighting was too dark or the camera movement too fast to make out what was happening on screen. Some scenes just left me scratching my head as to what had just happened. Also, the editing was a bit jumpy at times, though I did enjoy the jerky movements of the plague doctor.

For the most part, though, the film was pretty enjoyable! I liked how the plague doctor creatively recreated the deaths of his victims from the plague era with Anna and the teens. One gets slashed across the stomach, another stabbed in the shoulder, one is hanged, another burned alive, etc. The gore in The Sick House wasn’t excessive, but there was plenty of the red, sticky stuff to go around! As for the plague doctor, he was downright scary!! Wearing black robes and a spooky long-beaked bird mask (an outfit typical of doctors at the time to protect them from the plague) and towering over the other characters, he created a startling image. I’m surprised plague doctors haven’t been featured in horror movies more often because they are downright spooky!

Overall, The Sick House was a pleasant addition to the world of direct-to-DVD horror movies. The film has its problems, but for the most part I was able to overlook these and enjoy the film.

Available from Amazon!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Gory Gear: Bite Mark Clothing

Zombies need some killer threads, too, and that’s where UK-based Bite Mark Clothing shambles in. Creeptacular creator Elaine Blakely has created a fun clothing line that both zombies and zombie lovers will die for.

Bite Mark Clothing is the brainchild of Blakely, who designs, prints, packages and mails all the t-shirts herself. All of the tees are limited editions, and come toe-tagged with custom labels that show which limited edition you have received out of 250.

Launched on the ever-so appropriate day of October 31st, 2007, the clothing line is already a hit among horror fans as well as being worn by bands (Blakely announced that the label will exclusively sponsor a few lucky bands, the very first being Autumn Tragedy) and featured in magazine articles (most recently in Revenant Magazine – check out their giveaway for Bite Mark shirts!). Unlike the slow zombies Blakely so loves, Bite Mark Clothing shows no signs of slowing down.

We were tickled blood red by the packages that we received to review for Bite Mark. First off, the packaging was absolutely wicked! This was, hands down, the BEST horror packaging I’ve seen yet! The padded envelopes were black and addressed with custom Bite Mark shipping labels. The other side of the envelope was emblazoned with a red biohazard print and, best of all, bloody hand prints! Suffice to say, I was already drooling before even opening the envelopes!!

Inside, each shirt was lovingly wrapped in blood red tissue paper and sealed with a Bite Mark sticker. With this GORE-geous presentation, I just couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into Bite Mark Clothing’s tees!

And what a tasty, tasty experience it was! The designs are printed on super-soft, super-comfy American Apparel shirts that feel oh-so-good! My favorite shirt of the bunch turned out to be the awesome “Die Happy” tee. It’s a very simple design, but entirely eye-catching. The font is slightly distressed, giving the tee that “worn-in” look (or that I-just-fought-a-horde-of-zombies-now-make-me-a-sandwich look). Die happy today!

Next up is the “I Love Zombies” tee. And who doesn’t love zombies? Let your love be known with this unique this design that re-creates an otherwise common phrase by using a killer font and replacing a cutesy red heart with a real-looking, anatomically correct model. It gives new meaning to the phrase, “I give you my heart!” This shirt will have you ripping out your own heart for a pieces of the action!

So, you wanna be a part of the zombie team? You know you do…and you’ll definitely need the “Bite Mark Jersey” tee to make varsity! This classic tee uses a distressed font on a black t-shirt with a trio of Bite Mark’s trademark skulls smack dab in the middle. Go Team Zombie, go!

The newest edition to the Bite Mark Clothing collection is the “Night Watch” tee, which features the Glasgow (hometown to Blakely and Bite Mark) skyline, just above the bottom seam and text that reads, “While the city sleeps, the dead eat.” The trademark Bite Mark skull is right over your heart, which is, as Blakely puts it, “a fitting place to have Mr Mori (the Bite Mark Skull).”

Besides these four designs, Bite Mark offers several other t-shirts and accessories. For such high-quality and custom designed clothes, the prices are very reasonable, even with shipping taken into account. Not only will Bite Mark Clothing dress you in style, but they’ll do it without burning a hole in your pocket!

Bite Mark Clothing is a labor of ooey, gooey love for Blakely and it shows. Her creations are everything a horror fan could ask for and the extra special steps she takes in packaging and presentation really show how much she cares about Bite Mark’s customers. Her devilish designs are to die for and after a taste of Bite Mark you’ll definitely be craving more…

Visit Bite Mark Clothing’s Online Store and Score Some Gory Gear!
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