Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Burrowers (2009)

Decent horror-western films are hard to come by, though it seems the two genres would go together so well. Think of the desolate Wild West and how something horrific could stalk wayward cowboys or pioneers on such a lonely frontier. The wide open spaces, with no one around to help for hundreds of miles, could indeed turn ominous with the proper story. The history of the West itself is filled with stories of missing wagon trains, ghosts, ghost towns and strange creatures, not to mention the numerous Native American myths.

It really bums me out that there aren’t more horror-Western films, but luckily writer/director J.T. Petty (who gave us the amazingly subtle, but no less disturbing, Soft for Digging) has managed to craft this kind of menacing story with The Burrowers, recently released on DVD on April 21st, 2009 from Lionsgate.

Life in the Dakota Territories in 1879 isn’t easy. The few pioneers that rough it out there have to overcome the lack of civilization, harsh climate and the threat of Indian raids. Yet settlers experience a certain freedom in the Wild West…like Irish immigrant Coffey (Karl Geary), who fled the oppression of back East to start a new life on the frontier. He is even planning on asking for his sweetheart’s hand in marriage. Only, when he goes to visit her one morning, he finds four of her family dead and her, along with five others, missing. An Indian raid is the first explanation given for the brutal scene, and a posse, including experienced frontiersmen John Clay (Clancy Brown), Will Parcher (William Mapother), Coffey and a young teen hoping to become a man, is formed to hunt them down. They are soon joined by the cavalry, lead by the nasty Henry Victor (Doug Hutchison), who likes to belitte his cook and ex-slave Callaghan (Sean Patrick Thomas) and viciously torture Indians for information. The one brave they do catch can only warn them of “the burrowers”…and as people start disappearing into the night, pulled down into darkness by these “burrowers”, the group discovers that they are the ones being hunted and not by any Indians, either! They soon realize that the real enemy stalks them from deep within the earth and that what they face is far more terrifying than death.

The Burrowers delivers a beautifully menacing horror film and shows exactly why a Western setting works so well in the horror genre. The expansive plains evoke a melancholy loneliness during the day, but at night they achieve a more sinister feel. Just what are the long prairie grasses and dark shadows beyond the campfire hiding? What are the strange noises coming from the dark? This wonderful setting, coupled with cinematographer Phil Parnet’s panoramic views of the West during the day and claustrophobic shots at night, creates a tension-filled and frightening film that shouldn’t be missed.

Writer/director J.T. Perry doesn’t just let the scenery speak for itself, though. The story is also an extremely well-crafted monster tale that doesn’t sacrifice sophistication for scares. Perry wisely keeps the monsters in the dark for most of the film, teasing us with their strange sounds and small glimpses of the beasts. An enormous amount of tension is created by doing this, especially during the night-time scenes in which the monsters circle a camp of the posse.

Perry also includes the obligatory social commentary about white men abusing the natives, but also shows how distrustful the Native Americans were of white men. This adds some more tension to the story and the distrustful feelings of both the white men and Native Americans feel very accurate.

The stellar cast of actors also does a fine job of creating tension, whether between themselves, the natives or what lurks underground. Doug Hutchison (Punisher: War Zone, Lost) was great as the villainous Henry Victor, complete with a mustache that curled at the ends. Clancy Brown (Carnivale, Lost), William Mapother (Lost, Prison Break) and Karl Geary were all wonderful as the “good guys,” bewildered by what “the burrowers” truly are but determined to push on and find the missing victims. Everyone was believable in their role, not the easiest thing to pull off in a period piece, and evoked the proper emotions, whether it was to loathe or love their character.

The film isn’t a gorefest but there are several nicely bloodied scenes that delivered. The creep-factor was more intense in this film than the gore, and the creatures and just what they did to their prey really got under my skin. The creature effects, by Robert Hall (who is making quite a name for himself in horror – check out his recent Laid to Rest film), were pretty awesome and downright creepy. Some people have complained of the “look” of the creatures, but I definitely have no complaints. Everything from their movements to their maws to the sounds they made sent shivers up my spine!

The Burrowers is what I like to call “high-end horror.” It’s a more sophisticated, more nuanced film that doesn’t rely on cheap scares or stereotypical characters like some throw-away horror films. It has a menacing feel and a tense atmosphere that slowly build until the abrupt finale, where you can finally let your breath out! It is also one of the few horror films that has capitalized on a Western setting, which in turn makes it an even more eerie and frightening film!

This is definitely one of the best horror-Westerns ever made, and so far one of the best films of 2009! Go see it!

Available from Amazon!

Alien Raiders (2008)

I really, really want to review this movie…but since I couldn’t see most of it I really don’t know how!

Let me explain…apparently Alien Raiders didn’t have enough of a budget for LIGHTING and so everything was in the dark, making it impossible to see what was happening on-screen! Now, I’m all for dark shadows and dark scenes within a film that help ratchet up the suspense, but this was just ridiculous. I couldn’t even see the special effects (which I finally got to see in all their gory glory in the special features) they used and couldn’t quite tell who ate it (or was getting eaten) throughout the film.

The more I think about it, the angrier I get, because if Alien Raiders had used some decent lighting, it would have been an excellent horror film that’s a mix of The Thing, The Mist and Intruder. Unfortunately, the lack of decent lighting is so glaring that it takes away from the film’s finer points.

As a small-town supermarket closes up for the night, the remaining group of clerks and customers suddenly find themselves in the middle of a hostage situation as a group of black-clad, gun-totting intruders start killing people for seemingly no reason. Except that the intruders seem to believe that something alien is in the store…something that is hiding within a human host…something that needs to be destroyed before it is set loose upon the world.

Now, isn’t that a fresh idea for a horror film? Sure, it’s a bit derivative of The Thing, where director Ben Rock got his inspiration from, but it certainly has its own original storyline, written by David Simkins with the screenplay by Julia Fair. It definitely feels a lot fresher and more tightly wound than most mainstream horror movies released today. I also like how the story immediately throws you into a chaotic hostage situation and you don’t know what is going on or who the intruders are or what their purpose is. This intro really grabs you by the throat and gives you a good shake. Then, unfortunately, the action moves to the back of the supermarket, where there is no good lighting and everything gets lost in the dark. The story is still strong as it unfolds, but we just can’t SEE it!

The movie has its nice gory bits, but without proper lighting they are pretty much lost on the audience. Even the “king” makeup, which is impressive when we see it in full light in the special features, is lost in the darkness of the film. There are so many great lighting techniques that could have been used, especially utilizing the eerie glow of freezer and produce lights, but they are merely used to create atmosphere instead us being used to light the action.  As it stands, most of the gore effects are indiscernible from the shadows, which really is a pity after you see what a great job was done with the effects in the special features.

I can’t stress enough that had the lighting been decent, this film could have been one of the better films of the year! Everything else – acting, directing, etc. – is excellent. Though there aren’t really any recognizable faces in the cast,  every one of the actors did an excellent job. The direction by Rock is also pretty solid, though the use of shaky-cam is a bit overdone, especially when combined with the darkness of most of the shots.

While the film has an atrocious title (and dorky cover) that makes it sound (and look) like another crappy Sci-Fi Channel movie (they definitely should have stuck with their original title of Supermarket!), I was surprised at its engaging and tense storyline. Nevertheless, it was disappointing to see such a promising film be ruined by bad lighting.

Available from Amazon!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gothkill (2009)

It always seems that horror movies featuring Goths almost always get them wrong to make it almost embarrassing to watch. I mean, not all Goths sit around moping and cutting themselves, thank you very much! Even worse is when Goths are used as a punchline than more as an actual character. Luckily, Gothkill, an entertaining horror comedy, doesn’t fall into either trap, but instead pokes fun at the Goth community as a whole…with a humor that both Goths and “normals” can appreciate!

Centuries ago, Nicholas Dread (fire breathing performance artist Flambeaux) was burned at the stake after daring to stick up for accused witches against his church superiors. Then and there Dread made a pact with the Devil…once he had collected 100,000 corrupt souls on Earth, he would be able to rule his own kingdom in Hell.

Century after century Dread roamed the Earth slaughtering sinners, getting ever closer and closer to his goal of 100,000 collected souls. In present day, authorities eventually catch up to him after he slaughters a group of his followers and he is executed. He was supposed to be raised again by his high priestess to collect just a few more souls, but she was killed and the incantation to bring him back fell into the wrong, bumbling hands…

Meanwhile, Kate (Eve Blackwater) and Annie (Erica Giovinazzo) are two naive college kids looking for a good time. They are invited to the exclusive Goth club Scorpion Society, where elite Goths dress in their finest leather and PVC to party and get spanked. The two girls are drugged and a ritual is performed to induct them into the Society, but the Society’s clueless leader conjures up Dread himself, who possesses Annie’s body and decides that the Society is ripe with rotten souls ready to be reaped…

Can a group of Goths and wannabes hold their own against true evil? Or will they all be joining Dread in Hell?

Gothkill is a rollicking good time and offers plenty of blood, boobs and bondage for the Goth in all of us…

First off, the story, written by JJ Connelly (who also directed), is well-constructed and doesn’t leave any gaping plot holes, which is often the case with lower-budget pictures. Obvious time was taken to properly develop the story and the characters it contains. I loved the backstory of Dread and how we actually got to see him in the past. His character development to the story was very important, and Connelly excelled at this. The other main characters, Kate and Annie, where well-rounded out as well.

The acting from the main characters was amazing, with Flambeaux as Dread being the absolute standout. His performance was enjoyably over-the-top and he commands your attention with every frame he occupies. Any other actor might have played the part too over-the-top, but Flambeaux reigns it in just enough so his performance doesn’t deteriorate into parody. I also loved his dialogue and how it was delivered (“You people want to see something evil? I’ll show you fucking evil!”). The other actors did quite well, too. Erica Giovinazzo was fantastic as both innocent Annie and possessed Annie. Even Mistress Juliya from FUSE makes a memorable appearance as one of Dread’s demon minions.

The dark humor in the film pokes fun at “individualistic” Goths, who all pretty much dress/act the same. While the Goth community is one I most closely relate to, I think it’s silly how individuality is admired…but only if you conform to the “Goth” way of dressing/acting/etc (I’ll admit that I have a tendency to fall into this trap as well). Gothkill does a good job of poking fun at this and other Goth conventions that both Goths and “normies” can both relate to and chuckle at.

I also loved the overall look of the Scorpion Society. It’s a dank and dark club where even I would feel at home. The art direction, by Kirk Larsen, merits mention because of the importance of ambiance and atmosphere in the Goth club setting of the film. Everything from the patrons’ black leather outfits to the dim lighting to the industrial-style DJ booth looked authentic and nothing seemed out of place. Kudos to Larsen for creating such a realistic setting that at the same time set the sinister mood of the film. I also must mention the kick-ass music as well that helped create a gothic/industrial club atmosphere; lots of bumping EBM and industrial tracks here!

The gore here is pretty dang impressive, especially towards the end when Annie/Dread goes on a rampage through the club with a very large, wicked-looking blade. People are slaughtered left and right, with bright arterial sprays of blood splattering everywhere. One death scene in particular, where an unlucky guys gets a knife shoved through his skull and out his mouth, was particularly well-done and memorable!

Gothkill is a short 75 minute film, but it is so enjoyable that the only fault I could find is that it wasn’t longer! You won’t want to miss this exploitative piece of genre cinema!

Available from Amazon!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Laid to Rest (2009)

The horror genre is littered with horrible, direct-to-DVD slasher flicks that are seemingly released every week. While a few good ones can be found, these are far and in-between. Though I had heard a good buzz around Laid to Rest, I still approached the film with caution, because who knows in what camp it might land?

Laid to Rest is the new slasher movie written and directed by Robert Hall, most known for his special effects makeup. The only other film he has written and directed was 2004′s indie darling Lightening Bug. Still, I was willing to give Laid to Rest a chance, especially with the spiffy-looking killer I saw in the trailer!

A girl (Bobbi Sue Luther) wakes up in a coffin with no recollection of how she got there or even what her name is. After breaking out of her “dead box” (she has a problem remembering the correct words for objects, too) she comes face-to-face with her would-be killer, a man with a bald head and a chrome skull mask for a face who videotapes his victims from a hand-held camera mounted to his shoulder. The girl escapes and is picked up by a local named Tucker (Kevin Gage). Yet, “Chrome Skull” (Nick Principe) is determined to hunt her down and will brutally kill anyone that gets in his way.

Laid to Rest certainly doesn’t try to reinvent the slasher genre, but it definitely succeeds in creating an above-average and very entertaining horror flick. It is one of the most entertaining slasher films I’ve seen in a long time and it actually manages to feel fresh despite its derivative nature.Though the film itself is basically one big chase scene, director Hall keeps things interesting by giving us likable characters, a menacing killer and “the girl’s” mysterious past to unravel. There are also plenty of nasty surprises Chrome Skull has for his victims and lots, and I mean LOTS, of awesome gore effects.

With Hall’s background in special FX, could you really expect anything less than stellar gore? The inventive kill scenes are some of the goriest I’ve seen yet this year! There are plenty of crushed skulls, stabbings, chopped up corpses, torture, etc., etc. to make even the most hardcore gorehound sit up and take notice! And the spectacular river of blood that cascades from all this carnage certainly doesn’t disappoint either! The effects in this film are far and above some of the best and most unique I’ve seen in quite some time…and that is really saying something!

The story, written by Hall, is almost equally impressive in regards that that it feels more original and more developed than most DTV horror flicks. I enjoyed the whole mystery of who “the girl” really was and where she came from, the killer’s background (given very briefly on a police website one of the characters looks up) and the fact that Hall tried to do something different that just having your stereotypical teen characters get knocked off one by one. He actually had “the girl” fight back and other characters be equally resourceful. Still, there were some problems with the script…like why every single car didn’t have enough gas to get them the heck outta Dodge, why none of the characters had phones and why the characters didn’t try to hoof it out of there on foot. And why did it take the police, who were only 100 miles away (roughly an hour and a half), all night to reach them? I guess the killer really knew how to pick the perfect hideout spot!

However, the direction on the other hand was fantastic! Everything was crystal clear and there was a definite lack of murkiness you usually get with slasher flicks filmed at night where you really can’t see what’s going on. In Laid to Rest you could see every horrifying detail, from the half-rotted and hacked apart bodies in coffins that Chrome Skull kept to each and every sudden kill scene where blood just covered the entire shot! Robert Hall really has an eye for direction and should continue pursuing it.

The acting was overall pretty good and I though Kevin Gage was the real standout as Tucker. He really makes his character believable and likable. Bobbi Sue Luther also did a fantastic job as the “final girl” and wasn’t just there for eye candy. She really gave a strong performance and didn’t let her character sit back and be the “damsel-in-distress.” There were also many familiar faces that popped up (if only for a few moments), including Lena Heady and Thomas Dekker (who are both in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), Johnathon Schaech and Sean Whalen.

While the film has its problems, I still found myself enjoying Laid to Rest. It certainly doesn’t break any new ground, but it is definitely an enjoyable slasher flick that is head and shoulders above most DTV horror films.

Available from Amazon!

Hallows Eve: Slaughter on Second Street (2008)

Any horror film that has any kind of word in its title relating to Halloween immediately grabs my attention. Good Halloween horror flicks are surprisingly hard to come by, so I was looking forward to checking out low-budget flick Hallow’s Eve: Slaughter on Second Street. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t have anything to really do with Halloween or its history, instead it is just set at a haunted house attraction around October 31st. Something that small doesn’t necessarily ruin the film, but the poor direction, bad acting and under-developed, dull story certainly make this indie flick a chore to sit through.

A reputedly haunted horror attraction in a small town is closed down after some “accidents” make the landowner a little leery. It’s just a few days before Halloween, and the owner of the attraction is determined to make some money whether the attraction is closed to the public or not, so he hires a team of ghost hunters to see if the building really is haunted. Throw in a few more bumbling characters and they all get locked in for the night. Sure enough, people soon start keeling over and its up to the remaining survivors to find out who or what the killer is.

When the main inspiration for a film  is Scooby Doo, you know you have a problem. Everything, from the characters names, way of dressing, demeanor, etc., to the hokey reveal of the killer seemed like they were paying homage to a Scooby Doo episode. I mean, this just went too far and made the film even cornier than it already was. Instead of focusing on a cartoon, why not focus on the season of Halloween and add some atmosphere that way?!

If this film needed anything (besides a decent story, that is), it was some atmosphere. The building where the (lack of) action took place didn’t look anything like a haunted attraction, unless a successful haunted attraction in a small town consists of a bunch of skeletons strewn about a room. The film didn’t evoke any kind of creepy atmosphere when THAT should have been its strong point. Any film that is set around October should have a very strong Halloween vibe, but Hallows Eve had no such atmosphere going for it.

Furthermore, there were some really awkward camera angles used throughout filming. Either they didn’t have much room to shoot or someone didn’t know how to aim a camera properly. Either way, they should have learned to work with what they had, instead of showing closeups of chins! The camera work also did nothing to create any kind of tension. You could tell a “scare” was coming a mile away (hey look, the lights have gone out again…time for someone to die!) and there was nothing shocking or anything to make you jump, even a little, over the course of the entire film.

As for the special FX, you could tell that with a low budget they tried their best…but most of the gore gags just weren’t shocking enough to illicit any kind of response from me except for, “eh” (and that was for the most decent ones). We don’t see anything new here, with the usual stabbings, impalements, disembowelments, etc. I really wish the kills had been more inventive or at least more eye-catching to keep my attention.

Speaking of kills, this film really needed some better actors who could actually react when someone died. When any of the characters discovered one of their friends butchered, they were just like, “eh, so what do we do now?” Their reactions were so preposterously indifferent that I just wanted to reach through the screen and slap them! For heavens sake, show some shock, sadness, panic, anger…anything!! Most of the actors were this monotone throughout the majority of the film as well, whether they were the ones being killed or the ones discovering the kills. I can’t entirely blame the actors, though, because the dialogue was so atrocious! I can allow for the corniness of some of the jokes, but the rest of the dialogue felt archaic and unbelievable.

The BIGGEST problem this film had, though, after its many flaws we just discussed, was the story, written by director P.J. Starks and Rodney Newton. From the opening scenes where people are seemingly getting butchered for no reason to the end where the “evil” continues, we are never quite sure what is going on. The film really could have used some sort of establishing storyline to set the whole film up or offered a more in-depth history of the “haunted” building. Even the wrap-up after the uncloaking of the “killer” felt sloppy and vague. There also needed to be some serious editing, where many pointless scenes or scenes that ran on too long ought have been left on the cutting room floor. These pointless scenes just bogged the film down further and made it a real snoozefest.

Hallows Eve: Slaughter on Second Street is a very poorly constructed film that is almost entirely composed of problems instead of offering any kind of entertainment. Besides its misleading title and having little to do with the actual holiday of Hallow’s Eve, it has a sloppy story, bad acting, lackluster effects and becomes almost a parody of itself as it borrows so heavily from Scooby Doo cartoons. In my opinion, horror films should really aspire to be more than just silly homages to cartoons that feature stoner dogs.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Experiments in Terror 3 (2008)

Experiments in Terror 3 is a collection of horror shorts covering a wide variety of time periods and sub-genres. From silent slapstick to avant guarde, there are six shorts (plus one extra) and within these is something for anyone looking for something slightly off-kilter than the usual horror-fare.

The short films in Experiments in Terror 3 are on the surreal, hallucinogenic side, offering glimpses into the dark unknown and into the very blackened heart of evil. Let me introduce you to each of the six short films contained in the collection…

First is the clever The Psychotic Odyssey of Richard Chase by Carey Burtt. Made in 1999, the film utilizes Barbie-type dolls, stuffed animals and sets made out of construction paper to tell the true story of cannibal-killer Richard Chase, “the Vampire of Sacramento”, who believed he needed to drink blood to stay alive and killed many people (and animals) to sustain his “need”. The way Burtt decided to tell the story with dolls instead of actors was really effective. It was creepy the way the innocence of toys was used to tell the story of such a twisted individual as Chase. I really got a kick out of this inventive short!

Next is Satan Claus, a nightmarish fairy tale created by cult director J.X. Williams in 1975. The short is told in a very surreal way and tells the story of a young boy who is left alone on Christmas Eve by his neglectful parents and summons “Satan Claus”. This hallucinogenic orgy may only be three minutes long, but it is nonetheless one of my favorites of this collection. Williams made this short, cobbled together from other films, to get back at a theater owner he worked for and who owed him money. When he didn’t pay up, Williams showed Satan Claus before a children’s film and many angry patrons demanded the theater owner refund them for the “traumatizing” experience! Everything from the washed-out appearance of the film to Satan’s otherworldly Hell and even his garish appearance reminded me of a Rob Zombie music video in the best possible way!

An excerpt from the full-length feature film Loma Lynda is next, titled “The Red Door”. This is a nasty, grim scene that shows an evil old scumbag belittling and then raping a young woman before her alter-ego gets revenge. Shot in HD, this film looked professional and slick. The disturbing subject matter along with the dark characters reminded me of a David Lynch film. I especially liked the odd music used as well as the blacked out eyes of the girl’s alter ego. Though this was one nasty piece of work, I can’t wait to see the full-length film from filmmaker Jason Bognacki (it is currently still playing in film festivals, but should be released on DVD soon).

In Ben Rivers’ Terror!, he deconstructs the horror genre by splicing together countless scenes from different horror movies like Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Burning, The Beyond, Halloween, Zombi and many more to show the genre conventions of horror. He follows the structures and clichés of horror films, showing similar scenes from different movies and how they all add up to the big, messy finale. Though the beginning is a bit slow and repetitive as Rivers shows all the similar “set-up” scenes used again and again in horror, this really makes the viewer take a hard look at our favorite genre and understand why we love it so, even if it is sometimes predictable. Besides, you’ll have a ton of fun playing “Name that Horror Movie” with each clip shown and the bloody finale is well worth the wait!

After the first four stellar shorts, the remaining two are a bit of a letdown. Born of the Wind is a cheap 1961 film about a scientist that falls in love with a mummy princess he has resurrected, but its slow pace and amateur production make it hard to sit through. Then there is 2007′s Manuelle Labor, another silent film that tries to mimic the style of ’20s vaudeville. The story, about a sister that gives birth to a pair of hands, just feels like its trying too hard to be cutesy and artsy and comes off just plain boring.

There is also an extra short in the “Extras” portion of the disc, entitled It Gets Worse. It too is shot like a silent film, but features plenty of lowbrow gags to overcome its slow pace.

All in all, Experiments in Terror 3 is a fine collection of varied styles of horror. It has something for everyone, and though my favorites included the first four films, I’m sure that even the silent films will find some fans! It is usually very difficult for horror fans to find such a diverse collection of shorts, but Provocateur Pictures has indeed assembled some shorts that are definitely worth your time!

Available from Amazon!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Skeleton Crew (2009)

At first glance the Finnish horror film Skeleton Crew, being released through Lightening Media in July 2009, looks to be like just another “torture porn” flick. Upon watching it, though, you might be pleasantly surprised to discover that it has an entertaining story and some campy wit to elevate it above the typical brainless hack-and-slash films.

In the 1970′s in a backwoods mental institution, a doctor began filming himself and his staff torturing patients. They lit them on fire, cut off appendages, stabbed them, hit them with mallets, sawed them…pretty much anything you can think of. The doctor really got into making his snuff films and even started going by the name of “The Auteur”. He was eventually captured by the police, but to this day his complete collection of snuff films was never found.

Now, a film crew has returned to the same mental institution to shoot a horror film about the doctor’s exploits. One day, they discover The Auteur’s macabre screening room and his complete films. The director of the film becomes obsessed with The Auteur’s films and demands more and more realism from his actors. When they don’t give him the realism he wants, he decides that the only way to make a good film is to incite REAL reactions from his cast and crew…by torturing and killing them on-screen!

This really was a surprising film! It had me engaged from the opening scenes, which were actually a film-within-a-film, through to the campy but no less brutal “director’s cut” of the film! There are so many funny, witty lines (“I hate overacting”) that I was wholly entertained throughout the entire film. The characters were also well-developed and anyone who has had any experience in film can relate to the bitching and moaning the cast and crew do behind the scenes! There’s the stereotypical “experienced” actor who insists on giving an over-the-top performance despite the director’s insistence to tone it down, the actress who sleeps with the director for a shot at a bigger role, the constant battle between the boom operator and the lighting guy, etc. This film is just right on and funny about so many situations that occur when filming a movie!

The story was written by Tero Molin (who also co-directed) and Teemu Molin and not only do they deliver a witty, self-aware script, but they also manage to keep the pace moving swiftly along. There were no lulls or boring bits in the film, which is really a credit to the writers. Both the dialogue and the action kept the film going at a steady speed. They also had some pretty inventive ways to dispatch the victims, so kudos to them for making the death scenes feel inventive and fresh!

The film is low-budget, but the direction by Tommi Lepola and Tero Molin is fantastic and you soon forget you are watching an indie film. They used the dank, dark mental institution to their every advantage and created a very foreboding, labyrinth-like setting. The dark, crumbling walls are menacing from the first scene and the fortress-like building is imposing. They made the mental institution a character itself!

The actors, for the most part, do a wonderful job. I really loved how most of them played their “actors” in the film they were shooting and how differently they acted when they were out of character. I really thought David Yoken was fantastic as Bruce, the “experienced” actor of the group who still insisted on giving an over-the-top, Vincent Price-style performance! Steve Porter was also wonderful as the director. When he turned into The Auteur he delivered some great lines that, had it not been for his stellar performance, could have been overly corny. His deliver ensured they were just campy enough to wink at the audience!

As for the gore, well, the film definitely delivers. There are some definitely shocking moments in the film and some great death scenes. My personal favorite involved hot stage/film lights being used to burn someone to death! There were many other excellent death scenes that won’t soon be forgotten, like amputation, death-by-drill, bludgeoning with a baseball bat studded with nails, and on and on!

Skeleton Crew is a fun, entertaining and gory film that definitely caught me by surprise! This Finnish film is definitely worth a look when it is released in July!

Available from Amazon!

Book Review: Garbage Man by Joseph D'Lacey

Joseph D’Lacey follows up his stunning debut novel Meat with an equally aware new horror novel, Garbage Man! This time around, instead of focusing on people’s blind faith and ignorance as to where their food comes from like in Meat, D’Lacey addresses people’s wastefulness and what happens to all the trash that is so irresponsibly disposed of.

As Meat was, Garbage Man is an eye-opening experience that asks relevant but difficult questions. Garbage Man further establishes D’Lacey as one of the most socially aware and most important horror writers of our time!

The town of Shreve is most well-known for its gigantic landfill. Every day more waste is heaped upon the already bulging area, with the denizens never really questioning where their waste will go once the landfill has reached max capacity nor really caring that they are poisoning the ground and surrounding countryside.

Mason Brand, once a famous photographer but now a reclusive hermit living in Shreve, hears “the calling.” Where once before he ignored it, this time he will heed the call and help usher in a new age as a new type of creature is born from people’s unwanted trash. This creature is fashioned from bits of rusty pipes, old appliances, scraps of rag and bone, garbage bags, food wrappers and anything and everything else that was put in the landfill. With Brand’s help, this creature and its brethren seek to rise up from the wastefulness of humans and establish a new order…

Eco-horror is poised to be the next big thing, and I believe that D’Lacey is at the forefront of such and important and frightening sub-genre. If you think about it, now is the perfect time for this sub-genre to emerge, with the crisis of global warming, devastating droughts, increased hurricane and tornado activity, mass pollution, extinction of animals, deforestation and on and on. Everyone should be concerned with these issues that hit close to home. I think that eco-horror and socially relevant horror novels like Garbage Man could make a big difference. Hell, D’Lacey’s Meat novel made me go vegan and I’ve no doubt that Garbage Man will make me take a closer look at my consumption and what I throw away.

I really admire D’Lacey for incorporating such tough issues into horror novels. Without being “preachy” he makes his readers question actions as seemingly mundane as what you eat and what you throw away. As you read his novels, a self-realization will take over that will make you question your own actions and how they effect your environment and the world at large, as well as how they effect yourself. D’Lacey is never forceful in his views, instead letting you come to your own big “ah-ha!” moment.

Garbage Man is no exception, with D’Lacey writing some very powerful prose. The novel is also extremely entertaining, creeping under your skin with the description of the “Garbage Man” and his slithering yet awkward brothers and sisters in the first stages of their lives. From otherworldly and weird these garbage creatures quickly turn menacing as they begin to grow and pose more a threat to Shreve.

The novel kind of feels like it is in two parts…one is the story of the citizens of Shreve, including Mason Brand, while the second part tells of the birth of the garbage monsters and their attack on the town. The characters are extremely well-developed, but I will say that maybe too much time is spent on the human characters as opposed to the creatures. I would have liked to see more creatures early on. Also, some of the characters’ secrets that are revealed in the first part of the book are never really brought up again…I was expecting their “secrets” (like a father that is a pedophile and a mother that has an affair with a much younger boy) that had been buried in the landfill were going to somehow resurface to haunt and torment them once the creatures were released. Unfortunately, they aren’t really touched upon again.

Other than that, Garbage Man was another stunning work from Joseph D’Lacey and a book that I could barely put down! It was a real page turner and really makes you think, just what if Mother Nature gets tired of our trashing her and decides to cleanse the planet…?

Better start recycling…

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cannibal Flesh Riot! (2007)

Gris Grimly is well-known as an artist of the macabre, lending his creepy creativeness to gothic tales like Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness and Edgar Allen Poe’s Tales of Death and Dementia, The Dangerous Alphabet, Boris and Bella and many, many more books. His art is striking, immediately recognizable and gruesomely gorgeous for fans with an inkling for the darker side of life.

Now Gris Grimly has taken on another medium – film. His 34 minute short film Cannibal Flesh Riot!, which he wrote, directed and produced, is just as much a fiendish feast for the eyes as his artwork is. Cannibal Flesh Riot! is a love letter from Grimly to old, black and white horror films and will have you falling in love all over again with Grimly.

After a very charming introduction by Gris Grimly himself explaining exactly what “ghouls” are (they are definitely different from your standard zombie or vampire), the film opens with a police investigation of a very unusual illegal exhumation at the local cemetery. The lieutenant (played by fellow amazing artist D.W. Frydendall) is baffled as to why there a fresh corpse exhumed from his grave and left above ground while his final resting place has been filled in with dirt again…just who or WHAT is buried in the dead man’s place?

We then cut back to the previous night, where we meet lanky Stash and hunchbacked Hub. Stash and Hub are centuries-old ghouls who eat the flesh of the dead…but they prefer fresh meat, so they are on the prowl for a freshly interned corpse. As they stalk through the cemetery they discuss important topics such as how to properly season a corpse, the plethora of condiments (relish is “pickle vomit” according to Stash), how to deal with nosy authorities and why humans dress up their food to make it look like people in order to make it appetizing (like the California Raisins or the McDonald’s characters).

As the ghouls start digging up a grave for their dinner, they get a very unexpected and unwelcome surprise…

Cannibal Flesh Riot! evokes the feel of our beloved, black and white B-horror movies. It is filmed in grainy black and white with added scratches and dirt that really adds to the creeptastic atmosphere. There are even moments when stop-motion animation is used and within this film it works extremely well, only adding to the overall, old-school horror feel of Cannibal Flesh Riot!

The look of the film is a mix between Tim Burton visuals and old gothic horror films. Some scenes are even reminiscent of German expressionist films, complete with exaggerated and askew angles. The film also feels like old horror TV shows like The Vampira Show with bats on strings flying across the screen. The cemetery, with its crumbling, crooked headstones is just pure gothic horror goodness!

The story, written by Grimly, is extremely engaging and you get quite connected to the characters of Stash and Hub. It’s towards the end that you remember that these two ghouls are bloodthirsty villains out for dead human flesh! Even then, I was still rooting for them! I loved the witty banter between them and the characters themselves are quirky and endlessly entertaining. Grimly’s story (along with the visuals) just put a big smile on my face throughout the entire film!

David Backus as Stash and Dustin Loreque as Hub are just fantastic as the ghouls. I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the two characters. They both give rabble-rousing performances that really make the film. Without their amazing acting some of the dialogue could have come off sounding too over-the-top and campy, but Backus and Loreque fully immerse themselves in their characters and make their dialogue believable and entertaining!

The special effects used were also pretty cool…the last sequence when Stash and Hub are “surprised” by something is filmed entirely in stop-motion, but it is damn impressive! It reminded me of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects on Jason and the Argonauts, especially with a scene involving a skeleton! The stop-motion animation is done extremely well and fits perfectly into the atmosphere of the film.

Also adding to the already spooky atmosphere of the film is the amazing score by Hola Ghost. The slowly-building, ominous score really complements the creeping fog, hooting owls and hanging moss of the cemetery. It adds so much to the film and Hola Ghost should really be commended for crafting such a creeping menace of a score!

I just cannot speak highly enough of Cannibal Flesh Riot! After its success, I sincerely hope Gris Grimly will pursue more film projects (his next film project is entitled Gris Grimly’s Wounded Embark of the Lovesick Mind). I know that I can’t wait to re-watch (and re-watch and re-watch) this film, as well as sharing its genius with my friends.

If you are a horror fan that appreciates the classics, it is almost guaranteed that you will adore Cannibal Flesh Riot! as mush as I did! Cannibal Flesh Riot! is like horror film comfort food…it is familiar, satisfying and you’ll come back to it for seconds (and thirds…and fourths…)!

Just hold the relish, please…

Buy on Amazon!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dead Snow (2008)

We all know the great threat zombies pose…their large hordes of shamblers are no match for just a few survivors in most cases. Yet, these shamblers are slow and don’t really possess cognitive thinking…all they are thinking about is their next serving of brains.

So wouldn’t it be a whole lot scarier if the zombies in question were military trained with the ability to be organized? And not just that, but super-evil Nazi zombies?! Plus, these zombies are wicked fast, sneaking up on their targets and slicing their necks open with rusty blades or even climbing trees to go after their prey.

These Nazi zombies aren’t just after brains or flesh either…they are searching for their long-lost Nazi gold and revenge against the villagers that stole it from them.

This is the basic premise of Norway’s Dead Snow, a rolicking zombie tale of a group of medical students who head up to the snow-covered mountains for an Easter ski vacation at their friend’s remote cabin. They don’t realized that this remote region has a dark, bloody history. In World War II, the Nazis had a stronghold nearby and made the neighboring villagers’ lives hell. The Nazis amassed a fortune in gold by stealing from the villagers and killing anyone who stood in their way. One day, the villagers finally decided to fight back. They killed as many Nazis as they could and drove the survivors back into the mountains, where they supposedly froze to death. Now, years later the group of 20-somethings has awoken the Nazi zombies who are very eager to regain their lost riches and seek revenge by killing anyone in sight…

Dead Snow is a film that is full of fun, infectious energy! Its comedy isn’t as obvious as I expected, but the balance between slapstick and splatterfest is near perfect! Though the film treads familiar horror ground (a fact that the characters even poke fun at), it has enough manic energy to propel itself forward and never once does it feel stale or too familiar.

The story, while simple and borrowing from many other horror flicks, is well-constructed and there is enough going on so that the viewer doesn’t lose interest. I liked how writers Tommy Wirkola (who also directed) and Stig Frode Henriksen split up the characters and didn’t leave them all stuck in the cabin while the Nazis besieged them. One went searching for his missing girlfriend and encountered the Nazi zombies’ headquarters in a cave, a few others made a mad dash for the car while others distracted the zombies and still others were sure-fire zombie-fodder. All this action and different locations really kept the film moving at a fast clip.

I felt that the character development was a bit lacking. I couldn’t really tell the characters apart and didn’t quite know who was dating who, who was single, etc. Since most of the characters end up as zombie snacks this wasn’t THAT big of a deal, but it did cause some frustration in the beginning of the movie. As for the actors, I thought they all did a fantastic job, whether they were playing it straight or campy.

Another thing that bothered me a bit was that it is never quite explained how the Nazi soldiers came back to life (and why they were so full of fresh, flowing, red blood if they had frozen to death 60 or so years ago!). Still, I let this slide because the rest of the film is just so darn enjoyable!!

As for the gore, you just can’t go wrong with heads getting crushed like ripe watermelons, self-amputation and self-cauterization, limbs getting ripped off, arterial blood sprays against white snow, a snow mobile bisecting a zombie, a zombie bisecting a human, intestines being used as rope and so on. Dead Snow is an extremely satisfying bloodbath! And the special effects makeup the zombies wear looks great! They look like proper evil undead Nazis, complete with rotting faces and dried-up, crusty skin.

Dead Snow is a crowd-pleasing zombie flick that is a perfect mix of slapstick and splatterfest! While it has a few flaws, these are easily overlooked in light of its exhilarating energy. It is definitely a must-see for zombie fans and will leave you with a big grin on your face after experiencing it.

All Heil Dead Snow!

Buy it on Amazon!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Deadlands 2: Trapped (2008)

In 2006 filmmaker Gary Ugarek’s low-budget, little-zombie-film-that-could, Deadlands: The Rising, was unleashed upon the horror community. I (along with many other critics) raved about this indie zombie film, calling it “impressive” and “unrelenting”.  So you can imagine my excitement at the prospect of watching the sequel, Deadlands 2: Trapped!

In Deadlands 2: Trapped, the government’s secret bio-weapon experiment is about to be unleashed on the unsuspecting citizens of a small Maryland town. Dr. Robert Mitchell (played by Jim Krut, the “helicopter zombie” in the original Dawn of the Dead) believes that the weapon he has developed will create the perfect army, one that never tires and never quits. Meanwhile, as nighttime drops on the small town people are going about their usual business – going to the movies, meeting friends for drinks, etc. They have no idea that the military is quarantining their entire town. Soon, the bio-weapon is released, turning 90% of the town’s population into fast-moving zombies. A group of survivors holes up in the town’s movie theater while they try to form a plan of escape. Can they get through the zombies and out of the town before the experiment ominously concludes at 6am?

Though it seems that every other indie horror film is about zombies, Deadlands 2 is anything but generic. It stands out from the shambling crowds by putting the viewer directly into the action and making you feel like you are right there with the survivors. This immediacy, along with great pacing, good character development and some wicked special FX, make for one fun thrill ride!

The film’s story is very well-crafted and moves at a very fast pace. While Deadlands: The Rising took some time to get started, Deadlands 2 is a take-no-prisoners whirlwind of zombie action! Even so, it doesn’t forsake character development and actually takes the time to make the characters relatable.

The character development of the film, courtesy of writer/director Gary Ugarek, really helps add to the in-the-moment feel of the film. In a short amount of time we feel that we know the characters, which allows us to cheer the good guys and boo the bad ones. The actors did a great job (for the most part) conveying their characters in a realistic manner. They were able to bring their characters to life and really make us care about them.

There are lots of improvements over the original in regards to the overall look of the film. The film looks much more polished and professional, which is amazing considering the budget was around a measly $6,000. The nitty-gritty indie feel is still there, but this time around more care was taken in setting up camera shots, giving it a very professional sheen.

The special FX and makeup even look better, especially the bite and trauma wounds. The fast-moving zombies look amazing as well. Though some people might prefer the traditional shambling zombies, I think the fast ones are appropriate in the context of the story. Plus, they are quite startling and scary!

Adding to the scary, frenetic atmosphere is a chilling score by Gary Ugarek. This really helps set an ominous mood throughout the film, complementing the action that happens on-screen.

Deadlands 2: Trapped shows steady improvement over Deadlands: The Rising and is one fast-paced and entertaining zombie flick! Deadlands 2: Trapped is one indie zombie flick that couldn’t come higher recommended. In fact, check out both Deadlands: The Rising and Deadlands 2: Trapped…they are both destined to become cult classics!

I can’t wait for Deadlands 3

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Jean Claude The Gumming Zombie (2009)

If you’re a zombie fan, you’ve no doubt asked yourself how a zombie could survive if he or she had no teeth. How would they be able to rip apart their prey without some sharp canines? How would they be able to chomp down on some delectable brains without teeth? Well, the short low-budget film Jean Claude The Gumming Zombie seeks to find out how a poor, toothless zombie could survive the apocalypse. It’s too bad it does so in such a dull way.

Jean Claude is a French zombie that can’t eat flesh because he doesn’t have teeth. He does around gumming people because he can’t bite. A ’50′s, Leave-It-To-Beaver type freaky family feels sorry for Jean Claude and take him into their home as a pet. Soon, Dad is collecting fresh body parts for him, Mom is making him “nummy” human blood shakes and young Timmy is taking him to show and tell.

I really thought this would be a fun, kitschy zombie short along the lines of the great Fido. Unfortunately, it has an inconsistent storyline with no clear plot, which makes watching this film more annoying than entertaining. The story never has a place to go, instead jumping from one tedious tableau to another. None of the gags were ever very funny, and had me rolling my eyes or checking my watch rather than inciting a giggle or even a smile. This is obviously supposed to be a horror comedy but the “jokes” were tiresome and have already been done in other movies much better.

While lack of a cohesive, interesting story is a major issue, there were many other problems with the film. One of the most glaring besides the lack of story was the use of “green screen” throughout the movie. The main actors’ performances were captured first in front of a “green screen” and then the background of these scenes (mostly city streets and shuffling zombies) was added in later. Ugh, this looked absolutely horrible and distracted a lot from the film (not that there was much going on to be distracted from). I don’t know if this was done due to budgetary constraints or maybe because of aesthetic/artistic preference (if that is the case, someone needs their eyes checked!), but using an actual location where all the actors, both zombie and human, were shot at the same time would have certainly benefited the film much more than the grainy and fuzzy background. Also baffling was the use of CGI for a quick scene where a grandmother is cooking some breakfast. They actually chose to use CGI for the fire on the stove and the smoke coming off the pan. Again, this looked horrible and I don’t have a clue why the filmmakers chose to do this for such a trivial scene when they could have just simply filming the actual flame and smoke. And WTF was up with that fart cloud at the end of the film when the dad was performing black magic (one of his screwed up spells is cause of the zombies, apparently)?? Seriously, I did not get what the hell that cloud CGI was supposed to be…

The only positives in this short film were the performances from some of the actors. Kyle Znamenak was amazing as Jean Claude, both as the zombie and as his pre-zombie persona. As a zombie, he was perfect as the sad, shuffling and meloncholy Jean Claude. As his former self he was completely different – young, virile and sexy! Another standout performance came from one of the youngest actors in the film, Matthew Hemminger as Timmy. He was extremely natural on-screen, charming us even when he is repeatedly stabbing Jean Claude in the leg for entertainment. I was less enthused about the over-the-top acting from Joseph O’Brien and Patricia Valestin as the parents, but I think the script might be to blame for their overzealous performances.

As far as indie zombie flicks go, this film was hard to sit through and you can do much better. Jean Claude The Gumming Zombie just lacks cohesion and a solid storyline to make it any good. Add to that the horrible effects and lame gags and it becomes a chore to sit through, even when it is a short. I hate to bash independent filmmakers because I know all the hard work that goes into making a film on a shoestring budget, but Jean Claude The Gumming Zombie is just a bad, unfunny version of Fido.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Vinyan (2008)

My interest was piqued by Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz’s disturbing 2004 film Calvaire, so I was very excited to watch his latest work, Vinyan. Du Welz co-wrote Vinyan with Olly Blackburn (director and co-writer of Donkey Punch) and also directed the surreal film. Vinyan has a very different feel than Calvaire, but at the same time it utilizes the same stunning cinematography by Benoit Debie and carries with it a very dark tone. Vinyan is a decidedly more subdued affair and doesn’t quite have the punch that Calvaire has, but it does capture a very dark journey that ends in madness.

Six months after losing their young child to a tsunami, shell-shocked couple Jeanne (Emmanuelle Beart) and Paul (Rufus Sewell) see a documentary on orphaned children living in the jungles of Burma. Jeanne is startled to see who she believes is their son in the footage and convinces Paul to go on a dangerous odyssey to Burma to find their little boy. They enlist the help of sketchy Thaksin Gao (Petch Osathanugrah), some kind of pirate or trafficker, to cross the border into Burma by boat. As they enter the dark jungle, Paul believes that Gao is just milking them for all they are worth, but Jeanne is completely convinced that their child is still alive and won’t let anything or anyone get in her way to find him.

I can’t help but compare Vinyan to Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness. The characters of Jeanne and Paul are on the same type of journey into the “heart of darkness.” Vinyan has the same foreboding, dark and brooding tone as the book. Like the book, Vinyan becomes less about the destination of the characters and more about their journey there and how it changes them and makes them go mad.

Helping create and really sell this dark journey is Du Welz’s direction and especially cinematographer Benoit Debie’s use of shadows to create an other-worldly and ominous atmosphere. Every frame seems to drip with foreboding that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the story, which may put you to sleep in the middle of the film. I felt that the opening scenes were very strong and was intrigued when Paul and Jeanne first took off to find their son, but the middle of the film is dull (hmmm…sounds like the problem writer Blackburn also had with Donkey Punch!). Basically, we watch Paul and Jeanne move from village to village looking for their son, with Gao always promising that their son is at the next village (yet charging them more money to get them there). This repetition gets old fast. Luckily, the last part of the film makes up for it and a shocking finale will leave you speechless.

Also, you are never quite sure what is real and what is imagined. I’ll chalk it up to artistic license but some things are never explained and they ended up baffling me. I suppose it added to the surreal atmosphere of the film, but I wish things could have been a bit more concrete.

The thing about Vinyan is that it is more like a subtle, art film than a straight-up horror flick. Since it moves languidly up until the last quarter of the film, it is definitely not for everyone. It is a very visual and lush film, but really could have used some extra oomph or at least editing in the middle when the story starts to get bogged down.

Available from Amazon!

Donkey Punch (2008)

With a name like Donkey Punch that references a vile sex act, you’d expect this film to shock, offend and be controversial at least. Yet, when I watched this flick I found it much more boring than ballsy.

Three women named Kim (Jaime Winstone), Lisa (Sian Breckin)  and Tammi (Nichola Burley) are vacationing in Spain so that Tam can get over her cheating ex. After hitting the bars, they meet three guys named Marcus (Jay Taylor), Bluey (Tom Burke) and Josh (Julian Morris) who convince the girls to come have a drink on their luxury yacht. Once on board, they meet Sean (Robert Boulter) and learn that the boys are the crew of the yacht. Nonetheless, the girls decide to stay and indulge in some drinking, drugs and debauchery.

The group takes the yacht onto the high seas for a bit more privacy and take hits of Ecstasy and crack. They begin talking about kinky sex acts and Bluey tells them of the infamous “donkey punch”.

After a dip in the ocean three guys and two girls head below decks for some action while Tam and Sean strike up a conversation on the main deck. Downstairs, things heat up but go wrong fast as the “donkey punch” is tried but results in a girl’s broken neck.

Panic and paranoia ensue, as the guys want to dump the dead body overboard but the girls want to report the crime to the police. Pretty soon everyone is turning against each other and the situation spirals out of control as it becomes apparent it is kill-or-be-killed.

After all the hype surrounding Donkey Punch (despite the fact that it bombed in its native England), I was pretty psyched to see it. I have to say, though, that I was pretty disappointed. It isn’t necessarily a bad movie, but it does get repetitive fast and it is a bit of a bore, not to mention it lacks the shock value I was expecting.

First of all, none of the characters get any proper development, so I didn’t care about the lot of them. At the beginning of the film, it is alluded who the “final girl” is, but the film doesn’t focus on her character enough and she ends up just being another character with no real personality. The actors do an okay job in their roles, but nothing too spectacular as they aren’t given much to work with by writers Olly Blackburn (who also directed) and David Bloom.

Secondly, the story was poorly developed. I liked how it built up slowly to the “donkey punch” scene, but after that the storyline just got messy. One minute the characters were headed to shore, the next they are headed to international waters and the next they change their minds again and decide to stay put. I understand the confusion that would occur after a tragedy, but this wishy-washiness just didn’t feel genuine. It seemed like the writers were struggling more with the story’s direction instead of the characters actually grappling with their choices. Also, while it was interesting to see the character’s interactions and how they turned on one another, the story felt lacking and got to be repetitive. It just seemed that people did the same things over and over again, like yelling at each other or trying to hide/escape the ship but getting found every time. There just wasn’t enough story to fill the hour and a half running time.

On the plus side, the kill scenes were almost always surprising. They came seemingly out of nowhere and really made me sit up and take notice. Too bad the rest of the film was a snooze. The implements of death themselves weren’t too inventive (knives, flares, etc.), but they caused enough damage! The best scene was where someone is dispatched by a boat propeller – but it happens when you least expect it! The gore and special FX in this specific scene were amazing as well. The gore in the rest of the film is decent, but doesn’t deliver a major blood bath.

Donkey Punch is a decent time-waster, but it doesn’t live up to the hype. It’s not the taboo-smashing, shocking horror flick I was expecting, but rather a psychological look at the break-down of a group of people that has no where to run (literally) to escape a tragedy. Good for a rental, just don’t expect to be knocked off your feet by Donkey Punch.

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Red Door (2008)

Red Door is a vividly surreal portrait of Hell from writer/director David Pike. This short 34-minute film is full of symbolism but allows the viewer to come to his or her own conclusions about just what and/or where the Red Door leads to.

We meet lead character Todd (Bilal Mir) at 9am as he settles into his drab office. From his briefcase he takes out a folder and a voice recorder, placing them on his sparse desk. His office is boring and colorless except for a blood-red door that seems out of place and even has a large padlock on it. Shortly after, Todd receives a phone call telling him to stay put because there are bombings and some sort of catastrophe outside.

Todd unquestioningly stays put and we flashback to how he got this job in the first place. We also learn that his wife was murdered and he turned to drinking to numb the pain. At his old job he almost burned the office building down because he fell asleep with a cigarette in his mouth. He tells the HR rep named Charlotte (played by Tiffany Shepis) he isn’t quite sure how he escaped the fire. Despite his “history,” Todd is hired, though he has to sign a contract in blood and Charlotte suddenly turns into a leering demon covered in blood.

We come back into the present as Todd records his mundane actions and deep thoughts onto his voice recorder. Stuck in his office, Todd is determined to find out just what is behind the red door once and for all, whether it be darkness or salvation.

Red Door is a stunning-looking film that is just drenched in color symbolism, from the nameplates on the characters’ desks to the colors of their offices. Director David Pike is serious about putting meaning behind everything used in the film and says Red Door is a film where every shot, every line, and every object has meaning.” The scenes are very simple and don’t include much except for the characters and a few pieces of furniture, but the sparse atmosphere makes you wonder what exactly is going on because there is obviously more than meets the eye. Red Door is a simple yet complex film all in one.

Some people might not like the film’s ambiguous ending, but it does give the viewer a chance to actually decide for themselves what they just saw. Was Todd already dead? Did he exist in Purgatory or was he already in Hell? What happened to his wife? Was he the murderer? Who really was Charlotte? And why did Todd have to “protect” his office? All of this is basically left up to the viewer to decide, and while some people may not be satisfied by this, it works.

A stunning film debut from writer/director David Pike, Red Door is one that should be opened and embraced by genre fans.

Visit Red Door’s Official Site!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Perkins 14 (2009)

Out of all the new After Dark Horrorfest DVD’s released this April, I was actually looking forward to Perkins 14. Perkins 14 is a collaborative effort from the horror community and Writers submitted ideas, audition tapes were submitted and fans could pick what they thought was the best of the best. Eventually, a winning story and cast were chosen. This community effort is something I’m sure we will be seeing a lot more of and it is a very interesting concept. As for how well it works, well, that may be another story…

Ten years ago, 14 kids from Stone Cove disappeared, including police office Dwayne Hopper’s (Patrick O’Kane) young son. When Ronald Perkins (Richard Brake) is locked up in jail for a traffic violation, Hopper begins to suspect he is the “Stone Cove Killer” that abducted his son and 13 others. After investigating and searching Perkins’ property, Hopper is certain he is the perpetrator and in a fit of rage kills him…but Hopper doesn’t realize that the children are still alive or that Perkins brainwashed the children and pumped them full of drugs, turning them into slathering, fast and bloodthirsty monsters that swarm upon the town and begin killing anyone in sight.

You have to admit, the story of brainwashed kids descending upon a town like locusts and killing every single last person as revenge for their “master” sounds pretty awesome! Unfortunately, Perkins 14 approaches this story all wrong. Instead of focusing on Perkins and his brood, it focuses on Officer Hopper and his family, including his wife who is cheating on him and his teenage daughter who is trying to get with a much older rocker (ewwww) played by ex-Misfits vocalist Michale Graves. I really could have cared less about the dysfunctional Hoppers – I wanted to see just how Perkins brainwashed the kids and trained them to kill, especially since he did it all from the confines of his basement.

Unfortunately, Perkins gets offed in the first part of the movie. He is inherently more interesting than any of the other characters and played brilliantly by Richard Brake (as probably the best performance in the film), yet we have to watch the boring Hoppers as they hole themselves up in the police station as the 14 kids wreak havoc in Stone Cove. We get a small glimpse of Perkins’ motivations (which are also interesting) for brainwashing the kids, but it certainly wasn’t enough for me! I wanted more explanation and actually wanted to see Perkins’ past and how he brainwashed the kids.

As you can see, the real problem with the film is the screenplay, written by Lane Shadgett who has no other screenwriting experience listed on (though it looks like he’ll be adapting Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park for the screen…yikes!). The story has plenty of plot holes and things that need clearing up, but its whole focus on the Hoppers is just too narrow of a scope when there are so many other more interesting things that are going on. Also, the dialogue is atrocious! When a group of teenagers were speaking, my mouth was agape in shock at the clichéd and fake way they were speaking! Most of the dialogue is awkward and comes across as stilted or out of place. For example, in one of the most inopportune moments, Hopper’s wife tries to bring up the matter of her infidelity. Lady, your husband probably doesn’t want to talk about it when there are PHP-pumped kids, one of them that used to be your son, that could break through the door any minute!

Things get a bit more fun and bloody when the 14 are let loose and begin to kill anyone in sight, but their movements and flesh-eating were a bit too zombie-like for my liking. They are supposed to kill because that is what they are trained to do, but not sit there and munch on someone’s arm! It’s not like Perkins could have trained them to like the taste of human flesh and by the looks of their strong, muscular frames they certainly weren’t starving! Despite this, I thought the gore was very well done. We get a nice scene of ocular horror that pays homage to Fulci’s Zombi 2 movie and the kids look absolutely amazing in their filthy rags and pale, sore-infested faces.

I also thought the direction by Craig Singer (who previously did After Dark’s Dark Ride) was decent, though some scenes were so dark you couldn’t really tell what was going on. By looking at the wicked cool poster I thought the direction would be a bit more stylish, but it’s pretty bland point-and-shoot with no fancy tricks. Still, overall it works for the film, I just wish some of the darker scenes were lit a bit better.

With a better script (and better screenwriter) I think Perkins 14 could have been a much more entertaining story, but as it stands it is a pretty messy attempt at a horror movie. I believe that collaborations like this from horror fans can work, but only if the right professionals are chosen to adapt it to the screen. It’s not a horrible movie by any means, but nonetheless it is more disappointing and frustrating than it is entertaining.

Available from Amazon!

Good Boy (2009)

Filmmaker Patrick Roddy follows up his dark, surreal short Mercy with the feature-length Good Boy. Good Boy starts with down-on-his-luck dreamer Max (Josh Marcantel) working a dead-end job in a dead-end Louisiana town. He dreams of moving out west, but lack of funds and his old truck that always breaks down prevents him from fulfilling that dream.

That is, until one night when he decides he’s had enough, steals cash from his employer and hits the road. The next day, his truck breaks down in the middle of nowhere and heads to the nearest house. Inside, he finds a girl chained up, but before he can help her captor, named Harley (Gary Shannon) returns. He witnesses Harley beat the girl into a pulp, but Harley’s other “pet,” named Princess (Hilary Bronwyn Gayle), sees Max. When Harley and Princess finally leave, Max tries calling the cops, but in this small Southern town word travels fast and soon Max finds himself in a cat and mouse game with Harley.

Good Boy is a stunning film and reinforces my belief that director Patrick Roddy is destined for great things! First off, Good Boy effectively captures the essence of the South. Remember the film Black Snake Moan? How it just oozed that Southern feel? That is exactly how Good Boy makes you feel. Also helping to evoke that feeling is the fantastic music used throughout the film. Mournful and soulful music in the style of country, blues and jazz capture the sorrow and hopelessness, as well as the never-going-to-give-up spirit of the lead character, Max.

Director Patrick Roddy also uses the wide-open landscape of the country to evoke feelings of loneliness, wistfulness, awe, etc. Cinematographer Jorge L. Urbina captures the run-down, expansive and eerily beautiful Louisiana backroads but also creates claustrophobia within the close, indoor scenes. Each shot, either expansive or claustrophobic, was crafted by both director and cinematographer with attention to detail and turned out beautifully! This film has such a polished, professional looking sheen that it looks like it was made for millions of dollars instead of its low budget! The cinematography itself could tell the story, without dialogue, and still be effective.

In fact, not much dialogue is used throughout the film, with writer Ken Henderson giving the actors room to stretch and really use their expressions and body movement to show emotion. I really enjoyed how the film had its quiet moments and didn’t feel the need to rely on useless chit-chat. Instead, Henderson made sure that the dialogue spoken was purposeful and used effectively.

Henderson also did a wonderful job of developing the characters. I liked how slightly odd they all were and reminded me of characters you’d see in a David Lynch or Coen Brothers film. He also created the perfect pace and tension throughout the story, with the direction and actors also contributing to the nice flow of the film.

The actors all did a fine job and should be proud to be part of such a fantastic film. Josh Marcantel really stood out and gave an electrifying performance as Max. He didn’t need dialogue to express how he felt, but showed it through his eyes and body language. He drew you into the story and kept you glued to the screen while you rooted him on. Also, Gary Shannon (who was also the lead in Mercy) plays one evil bastard and makes it look good! I loved how his character of Harley was so different from his character in Mercy. It just showed a whole new side of Shannon and proves his versatility. We also get to see Tiffany Shepis in a small role, which is always a pleasure!

Good Boy is an amazing effort by all involved, and though it at first appears to be a quiet film, once the action kicks in it shows itself to have quite the vicious streak! There is quite a bit of violence including fights, murders, car chases, sex, betrayal and so on in this film, which juxtaposes nicely with the beautiful cinematography. This psychological thriller plays out very nicely and I, for one, couldn’t take my eyes off the screen!

Good Boy is another success for director Patrick Roddy and really makes me excited to see what the future holds for him! If you can find this film playing at a festival or available for purchase, SEE IT! You’ll be happy you did!

For more info, visit Patrick Roddy’s Official Site!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Book Review: Eternal Vigilance 2 - The Death of Illusions by Gabrielle Faust

In Gabrielle Faust’s second installment of her cybergoth vampire series Eternal Vigilance, she builds upon main vampire-savior Tynan’s story and the plight of the world as the evil Tyst organization prepares to usher a horrifying vampire god named the Vicinus into the world. Tynan must battle against and defeat the Tyst’s advanced technology as well as facing the Vicinus in its own realm before it is birthed by the Tyst’s Queen and unleashed upon the world to wreak chaos and destruction.

Tynan must also deal with the weight that being the savior of the world places on his shoulders and taking orders from his Immortal Elders as well as the rebel leaders of the Phuree. He also wonders at the relationship between himself and the Tyst Queen Moria, whom he rescued from the Tyst fortress when he was just supposed to end her life and that of the Vicinus inside her.

As the time quickly approaches for the Vicinus to tear into this world, can Tynan defeat the vampire god that was responsible for creating his kind before the world is lost to chaos?

As with her first Eternal Vigilance novel, Faust has woven a gorgeously gothic tapestry that glimmers with pieces of cyberpunk placed into the fabric of the story. This mix of old and new, crumbling and glittering, creates a very exciting backdrop to the story. It really does feel like a whole new world, from the underground tunnels where hackers live to evade the Tyst’s advanced tracking systems to an old cave that used to be a tourist destination where Tynan hides Moria to the castle the Immortals reside in to the Tyst fortress.

I also enjoyed how Faust could now put more action and battles into this book. As the previous book established all the characters, the second book is all about fighting the Tyst and the Vicinus instead of just planning for these battles. Though more time is committed to these exciting battles, Faust still manages to keep her characterizations strong. Of course we get to see reoccurring characters from the first novel, but we are also introduced to a few new characters, including Queen Moria. Faust continues to make things interesting by complicating the relationship between Tynan and Moria and throwing some twists and turns to other relationships within the novel. There are quite a few surprises in Eternal Vigilance 2: The Death of Illusions!

Faust continues to use an elegant, almost elevated, way of speaking that we saw in the first book. There are times when this penchant for the dramatic becomes overly pretentious, but this captures the formal way of speaking that Tynan is used to and really helps to show us his character.

My only real complaint was with a few misspelled words, especially the incorrect use of the word “until.” In the novel it is spelled “till,” instead of the correct way of ” ’til.” This misspelling is a big pet peeve of mine (almost as bad as spelling “grisly” like “grizzly” – god, that annoys me!), so it stuck out a lot and detracted from my overall enjoyment of the novel.

Nonetheless, Eternal Vigilance 2: The Death of Illusions is a wonderful addition to the Eternal Vigilance series. The characters are so likable and intriguing that I just can’t wait until the next in the series to see what happens to them all!

Screw Twilight! Eternal Vigilance is the vampire series everyone should be reading!

Buy it on Amazon!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Book Review: The Good Humor Man by Andrew Fox

In 2041, the government, or what’s left of it, has banned all fatty foods, making a pound of real chocolate worth more than a kilo of cocaine on the black market. Groups of Good Humor Men, government-sanctioned vigilantes, patrol the country and destroy any illegal contraband foodstuffs they find. Meanwhile, shady nutraceutical company MannaSantos controls the market with genetically engineered foods, but people and animals are still wasting away from a mysterious, quick-spreading disease that is a result of a MannaSantos experiment gone horribly wrong.

Only Dr. Louis Shmalzberg, a fallen Good Humor Man and plastic surgeon, begins to uncover the evil behind MannasSantos and holds the key to humanity’s salvation – in the form of Elvis’ liposuctioned belly fat from a surgery his famous plastic surgeon father performed. Yet, Dr. Shmalzberg must travel across the country, getting entangled with an assassin who wants the Elvis fat for a foreign dignitary, a cult evangelizing anorexia, clones from MannasSantos, a voodoo queen, hit-men dressed as Elvi and a woman addicted to liposuction, to hunt down the preserved Elvis fat.

Will Dr. Shmalzberg track down the Elvis before he is captured, killed or before it becomes too late for humanity?

The Good Humor Man is an amazing novel that tackles serious issues like obesity, nutrition, genetically engineered food, the agricultural business, body image and many, many other important topics in a very entertaining, darkly humorous way. In the tradition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, The Good Humor Man makes us question just where we are headed as a nation and what we can do to prevent author Andrew Fox’s vision.

We all know that America as a country is F-A-T. We are one of the most obese countries in the world and in September 2008, the World Health Organization named the United States as #9 in a list of the most obese countries, with 74.1% of adults, or 237 million Americans, being overweight. So, what if all fatty foods were outlawed in the U.S.? What if a huge agribusiness like MannasSantos took over and made genetically engineered foods like “Leanie Lean” meats for the masses? Sure, the nation’s overall health would probably improve and people would lose weight, but at what cost? What if some genetically engineered experiment went awry and millions of people and animals began to waste away? This is the kind of catastrophe Dr. Shmalzberg must deal with in The Good Humor Man, but the threat of this happening in real life is definitely a possibility. Which is why the book is so engrossing and entertaining. It may be fiction, but author Andrew Fox weaves enough facts and “what if’s” about the possibility of this really happening to the U.S. to completely capture the reader’s attention.

Fox also captures the reader’s attention by giving them a wild ride with The Good Humor Man. Though he puts Dr. Shmalzberg into impossible after impossible scenario, you can’t help but keep reading to see just how he’ll get out of his next scrape! Fox deftly writes the character of Shmalzberg, along with the multitude of other colorful characters, so that they are all believable.

The book is also extremely fast-paced, though it took me a few chapters to really get into it. As soon as Shmalzberg hits the road in search of the Elvis, though, I was hooked. Shmalzberg deals with so many different characters, settings and predicaments on his journey that at times I felt too much was crammed into the book, but Fox somehow makes it work and continues to entertain the whole way through.

My only complaint was towards the end when the book did begin to drag, weighted down by too many old characters that decided to pop up for one last showdown with Shmalzberg. I felt that the ending was drawn out and could have been pared down for a smoother ending.

Other than that minor issue, The Good Humor Man is a very satisfying read that gives you plenty of food for thought!

Available from Amazon!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...