Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Thaw (2009)

The threat of global warming is an issue few are ignorant on, but which many still seem to ignore. The melting ice caps, changes in climate and extinction of species definitely point to a troubling future, but it seems that few have done anything to cut back on their environmental impact on the Earth (don’t worry, I’m not going to start preaching at you).

Now, whether you believe in global warming or not, it still falls to logic that all our pollution from various industries must be affecting the environment in some way, or, at the very least, that natural resources are becoming more and more limited as more and more people inhabit our world. You can’t really argue that this doesn’t pose a strain on our environment, but still many of us (including me) have a tendency to turn a blind eye to the destruction of our planet.

Throughout history there have been instances where disease, natural disasters and other catastrophes happen that result in a large percentage of the human population being thinned. Do you ever wonder what the next chaotic event will be? Do you ever wonder if Mother Nature will finally do something to protect herself and lash out at the human population? Well, The Thaw poses that frightening question and answers it with a pretty scary conclusion.

A renowned eco-scientist, Dr. David Kruipen (Val Kilmer) is in remote northern Canada researching the effects of global warming. He and his team uncover the preserved remains of a woolly mammoth, but soon discover that the mammoth is also harboring a deadly 20,000 year-old parasite that quickly infects them.

Meanwhile, a group of three students and Kruipen’s daughter Evelyn (Martha MacIsaac, from The Last House on the Left remake) are on their way up to the research facility. When they arrive via helicopter, they discover the research facility deserted…except for a decaying corpse of a polar bear.

They soon discover that the nasty little parasites are inside the polar bear and lay eggs inside of their victims. Sure enough, they start getting bitten by the parasites, but that’s not all. After the bugs lay eggs inside their hosts, they eat their way from the inside out. The group must find a way to stop the bug’s spread, before they are unleashed upon the world.

The Thaw is a realistic horror film that seems especially relevant in these turbulent times. I like my horror films to be pertinent and socially conscious, and The Thaw fit the bill perfectly. Of course, even those that prefer blood and guts over social commentary will also be pleasantly surprised by the tension-filled The Thaw.

In addition to the relevant story, the pacing of the film is very fast. From the opening scenes of a nasty bug extraction to Dr. Kruipen’s videotaped confessions to a grisly scene of amputation and the nasty bug infestations, my eyes were glued to the screen for the entire running time. The action was tense, and except for a few poor decisions by the characters, everything felt very realistic. The characters were also refreshing and didn’t feature the usual dumb teens. Evelyn was a wonderful final girl who took charge almost immediately and seemed to have more common sense and scientific knowledge than the students. The students were a bit grating at times, but overall their characters’ reactions felt realistic…even if some of their decisions were poor.

As for the actors, most of them did a commendable job, especially Martha MacIsaac as Evelyn. She came off as a spoiled brat in the beginning, but really showed some intense leadership skills as the film progressed. I also have to point out Viv Leacock, who played Bart the helicopter pilot, for his even and brave portrayal…even during and after a nasty amputation. Val Kilmer must also be mentioned here, even if he was only in a third of the film. He played the Doctor very convincingly, with an eerie, unsettling calmness that really forewarned of the calamity that would follow in his wake.

The special effects were the real standouts of the film, though. From the parasites burrowing and squirming into flesh to the mushy egg sacs to the freshly-hatched young devouring their hosts and so on, I was left with the heebie jeebies! Nothing is completely over-the-top, but the gruesome scenes carry with them a sense of reality, like something is possible and could happen…if we aren’t careful. The film reminded me of a mix of Cabin Fever, The Ruins and The Last Winter.

The Thaw is a film that creeps under your skin and squirms there, tickling your mind with its social conscious stance as well as its gruesome set pieces. It reminds us that Mother Nature can only take so much before she reveals her most shocking secrets to us…secrets that could spell humanity’s demise.

Order it on Amazon!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Devil's Nightmare (1971)

Another little seen Satanic film from 1971 is The Devil’s Nightmare (La Plus Longue Nuit du Diable) aka Castle of Death aka Nightmare of Terror aka Succubus, etc., etc. Usually only familiar in Euro-sleaze or Euro-horror circles, The Devil’s Nightmare is a surprisingly entertaining flick dripping with gothic atmosphere and surreal scenes.

The film begins during WWII, where the Baron’s wife is giving birth. Upon learning that the babe is a girl and that his wife died in childbirth, he stabs the baby to death. Quite a shocking opening from a 1970’s film!

We then jump ahead a few years, where a reporter is interviewing the Baron in his dark and dreary castle about his family’s past. He seems to think his family is cursed, having made a pact with the Devil centuries ago that states the oldest daughter of each generation must serve the devil by becoming a succubus (and explaining the earlier scene where he killed his daughter). After this illuminating interview, the reporter makes the mistake of tarrying too long taking photographs of the castle and meets a grisly end. We then meet a group of travelers who are forced to take refuge in the Baron’s castle after becoming lost and taking directions from a creepy, corpse-like man. Each of these seven travelers is supposed to represent one of the Seven Deadly Sins (Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and Pride), though some are easier to distinguish than others.

That night, they are introduced to a mysterious visitor (played by stunning redhead Erika Blanc, known for her sleazy Euro-horror roles in films like The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and Kill, Baby… Kill!), who begins to lead each traveler down the road of temptation! Turns out she is a succubus and lures the sinners to their damnation with their specific vices. The only one who doesn’t fall under her decadent-but-deadly spell is the lone priest in the group, but can he stop her and the Devil before all their souls are damned to Hell?

While the story, written by Jean Brismée (who also directed) and Pierre-Claude Garnier, seems like a pretty straightforward allegory inspired by medieval morality tales, it also features a surprising and clever twist ending. I definitely didn’t see the ending coming, and when it actually happened it threw me for a loop! Quite the wicked little surprise that shows you should never make a deal with the Devil! Besides the ending, the story is kept lively by the colorful and sinful characters, keeping the audience rooting for their deaths! There is the annoying married couple, with the sleazy husband who covets other women (Envy) and the distrustful yet rich wife (Greed), a nymphomaniac brunette (Lust), a lazy blonde (Sloth), a holier-than-thou priest (Pride), a cranky old man (Wrath) and a hungry tour guide (Gluttony).

There isn’t much gore to speak of, but some of the ways the travelers are done away with are pretty amusing. The glutton of the group eats himself to death and chokes on poisoned wine (and the close-ups of him stuffing his greasy mouth are probably the most disturbing of the movie) while a greedy woman drowns in a mound of gold. Other kill scenes make little sense and don’t seem to tie into the specific person’s sin (like the Sloth woman dying from snakebite while she sleeps). Still, the scenes of the succubus stalking her prey, with her sunken cheekbones and ghoulish makeup, are always entertaining.

I also enjoyed the Baron’s creepy gothic castle that looked like it was transplanted straight from Transylvania. With its intricate stonework, gaudy Baroque furnishings and rich red drapes, Dracula would have felt right at home! Of course, Satan’s succubus considered it pretty comfy as well.

My only complaints were that the film drags a bit too much in certain parts, especially during some drawn-out lesbian scenes that go on for way too long. Maybe certain guys will enjoy them, but the soft-focus, girl-on-girl action did nothing for me, especially with the ridiculous paisley decorating scheme and the horrible ‘70s music lurking in the background. I also wished that some of the deaths tied more into each traveler’s particular sin instead of running out of ideas halfway through the film and having them die in seemingly random ways.

Though The Devil’s Nightmare certainly has its faults, I was still surprised by the entertainment value it offered. This film isn’t for everyone, but those that appreciate classic Euro-horror will most likely get a kick out of it. If you haven’t seen it, it at least deserves one viewing! It would be a sin not to see it!

Order it on Amazon!

The Brotherhood of Satan (1971)

In this little-seen and underrated Satanic flick, elderly residents of a isolated town have taken to snatching children and turning them into followers of Satan. Once they’ve collected enough children, a ritual will be held to transpose the senior citizens souls into the bodies of the kids, giving them renewed life!

Meanwhile, Ben (Charles Bateman), his girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri) and his daughter K.T. (Geri Reischl) are on their way to grandmother’s house when they happen upon a horrible accident and drive to the nearest town for help. Unfortunately, it’s the same Satanic town mentioned above and there they are met with hysterical townsfolk. They drive away, but car trouble forces them back into town. Once back in, a supernatural force keeps them and the rest of the townsfolk trapped. Seems that the senior citizen Satanists need one more child to perform their Black Mass, and that child is K.T. Will Ben save his daughter and the town before it’s too late and the small fry of Satan are unleashed?

The Brotherhood of Satan certainly has a convoluted and confusing way of unfolding its narrative, but as the pieces come together you are drawn further and further into the story. Besides its weird narrative structure, the film also boasts some odd scenes including a toy tank turning into a real tank and crushing a car and a dancing doll that causes the death of some parents, among others. The real highlight of the film for me was the Satan-worshipping party the seniors had. It was just like a potluck, except upon entry each person pledged their allegiance to Satan and one of their own was tried for allowing her grandson to be baptized. When she was deemed guilty, the ferocity and rage her brethren had towards her was truly frightening. There are also clever ideas used throughout the movie, including children’s toys as the instruments of murder (I don’t want to speak too much on this lest I give anything away, but toys come to (larger than) life to exact murder on parents).

Though the film is very PG-ish and lacks much blood and/or gore, the use of weird camera angles, an evocative score, creepy kids, the colorful visuals and the disorienting narrative really help give it a nightmarish, disturbing quality. Director Bernard McEveety and writers L.Q. Jones (who also stars as the town’s sheriff), Sean MacGregor and William Welch did an excellent job with the film, and I can’t understand why it hasn’t gotten more recognition over the years. It certainly isn’t perfect (especially with the confusing narrative structure), but it certainly deserves another look from horror fans.

If you are looking for a quirky ‘70s Satanic movie, The Brotherhood of Satan is one that should not be overlooked. With shades of Rosemary’s Baby and Race with the Devil, it really deserves a bigger audience!

Order it on Amazon!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Offspring (2009)

I had highly anticipated seeing Offspring, another film adapted from a Jack Ketchum novel with the script actually being written by Ketchum (he also makes a small cameo appearance in the film). The other two recent films that were adapted from Ketchum’s work, The Lost and The Girl Next Door, were both disturbing and extreme, so I was really looking forward to what they did with Offspring. Unfortunately, I was left luke-warm with this film and feel it is the weakest Ketchum adaptation to screen to date.

Offspring has a relatively straight-forward plot…a small New England town and its rural-dwelling residents are terrorized by a group of feral cannibals that are descendants from a lighthouse keeper that went missing with his family in the 1800’s. They’ve been living in the wild on the coast of northern New England and Canada and eating human flesh ever since.

This being a Ketchum-based story you can expect all the usual nasty and uncomfortable violence aimed at women and children, and this film has it in spades. Babies and children get slaughtered, women get brutalized and most of the men end up as gory slabs of meat. There’s lots of gore and blood on display, but it’s never so over-the-top that it becomes memorable. In fact, the only real gory bits that were memorable included the opening scene where a drunken mother stumbles back to her home after a night out to find her babysitter and baby butchered by the group of the feral kids and another scene where a captive woman is “eaten out” in a horrifying way. Maybe I’m just jaded, but while the violence was non-stop it didn’t really resonate with me.

Obviously, this film has its moments of shocking violence (we are dealing with feral cannibals here), made even more disturbing when it’s aimed at or perpetrated by children, but this dark tone is (unintentionally) lightened by the ridiculous look of the cannibal family. From their bushy hair to their ridiculous rags that made them look more like they were emulating the Lost Boys from Disney’s Peter Pan rather than frightening flesh-eating kids. Big points off for making the villains more silly than scary.

Despite the silliness of the costumes, there was one actress whose commanding presence was very frightening, and that was Pollyanna McIntosh. She played the matriarch of the cannibals and her snarling commands and brutal force were probably the scariest of the entire film. It was definitely nice to see such a vicious female villain for once! While the other actors all did a decent job, McIntosh was the real standout. I also appreciated that the female victims were actually resourceful and fought back against their cannibalistic captors instead of just weeping in a corner.

Director Andrew van den Houten did a great job evoking that atmosphere of the isolated and deserted New England coastline. There were a lot of aerial shots of the rocky coastline and desolate forests to show just how a freaky-looking cannibal family and its decedents could survive without detection. I also thought the evocative and sparse score, by Ryan Shore, was absolutely stunning and really made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. If anything in the film created a foreboding atmosphere, it was Shore’s score.

Sadly, there aren’t many scares in the film, just a lot of gory cannibal scenes that quickly get repetitive. Sure, Ketchum throws in an estranged asshole husband into the mix and the ineffectual police, but the real focus is always on the cannibals vs. the innocent family. It just wasn’t enough for a full-length movie and the premise starts to feel stretched thin towards the end. The “psychos-in-the-woods” bit has been done to death, and this is just a slight variation on the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Wrong Turn, etc. formula. There just isn’t enough originality and uniqueness to the story considering all the past and present inbred/hillbilly/backwoods cannibal movies.

Offspring has its flaws and definitely isn’t for those seeking something completely unique. Rather, it is recommended for Ketchum fans who want to see his work adapted to the screen and to those that would like to see taboos of children killing/children getting killed broken. Regular horror fans may be bored at the repetitive nature of the film and gorehounds will be disappointed by lack of memorable kills (though there are plenty of blood and body parts flung around).

Order it on Amazon!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Paranormal Activity (2009)

So, I finally got to see the movie everyone’s been talking about, Paranormal Activity. I saw it in a packed theater Wednesday night and tried to go in as unbiased as possible. I had just seen the previews and stayed away from reading many reviews. Now, I realize that the hype for the film is HUGE, but I tried to approach it with little or no expectations, which, by the way, is hard to do when it’s proclaimed one of the “scariest movies of all time”!

Now, I realize I might be beaten with sticks over this statement since everyone out there seems to be raving about Paranormal Activity, but at the end of the night I was disappointed. I enjoyed it, yes, but I didn’t love it and certainly didn’t think it was that scary. And I had so wanted to be scared…

The movie starts with no credits and no intro, just a title card thanking the families of Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston and the San Diego Police Department before jumping into the “found” home footage of the couple. It opens on Micah (Micah Sloat) playing around with his new video camera before his wife Katie (Katie Featherston) gets home. When she gets there, he tells her that they can finally document all the paranormal activity that has started occurring, like weird noises, lights flickering, whispering, scratching and thumping.

Katie seems hesitant to talk about the haunting, and confesses it has been happening since she was eight years old and that the entity follows her whenever she moves. Micah doesn’t take the situation too seriously, but is determined to capture some paranormal activity on their camera. He films everything and even sets the camera on a tripod when they sleep.

Sure enough, unexplainable things begin happening and soon this paranormal activity just gets worse.
Paranormal Activity is the kind of film I would recommend for the casual horror viewer. You know, the type who sees an occasional horror film or two in the theater but isn’t a hardcore fanatic like most of us. Not used to the usual horror tricks, the casual horror viewer will definitely be freaked out by this film. I heard one such viewer say behind us in the theater, “Why is this film so scary?” Well, that’s easy…it’s because it preys on your fear of the unknown and wisely keeps the entity unseen. I really enjoyed the subtle approach Paranormal Activity took in the scare department – it really is the unseen and unknown that’s freaky! And yet, I didn’t get adequately scared during the film’s duration. A bit unnerved and in awe during certain parts, but not that heart-pounding fear that I was hoping for.

Now, perhaps I didn’t get scared because of the repetitive narrative structure of the film. It always starts with the couple filming themselves during the day, then at night while they sleep and something freaky would happen (subtly at first, but escalating to become more intense), then discussing it in the morning and at night it starts all over again. The pacing is a little on the slow side, too, which left me checking the time while watching the movie. Any suspense that had been building would be lost during the slowly paced scenes. Plus, skeptical Micah would throw in lots of humorous lines (surprisingly, this movie is really funny!) that would dissipate any tension that had started to build. I really wish more “oh-shit” moments had been thrown in – like certain ones including an old picture in the attic and a Ouija board.

Despite the repetitive nature of the film, I did like the actual story and the direction it took (this isn’t your typical haunting!). I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t way much more, but I will say that there were several instances (the footprints, the standing by the bed) that were effectively creepy. Plus, the whole explanation of what was going on and the ending was pretty damn near perfect. Again, I just wish there had been more of those eerie instances in the film.

As for the rest of the film – the acting, the direction, etc. – it was all fantastic. The two leads did an amazing job portraying a couple and their interactions with each other were completely natural. Also, the direction, by Oren Peli, was amazing. I’m not sure if he actually gave the camera to the actors and said “Go with it” or if they had more stringent blocking to follow, but whatever he did worked. The home video footage looked incredibly authentic and all the different angles looked like they had been shot by the one camera. Perfectly brilliant way to shoot a paranormal movie!

So, as you can probably tell, I’m torn on Paranormal Activity. There are some things I loved about it (the story, the acting, the direction and some of the creepy bits) but some things just didn’t work for me (the repetitive editing, not enough scares). I really wish the hype around the flick hadn’t been so huge, because honestly, even though I tried to go in with no expectations, the hype got to me and I expected to see something that was gonna scare my skirt off. Disappointingly, my skirt stayed firmly on.

However, if you do plan on seeing this movie, do it in a theater full of people! This is a surefire way to get the most bang out of your buck, because the reactions from some people in the crowd are priceless! And since I didn’t find it exactly scary on the big screen, there is no way in Hell that this will be scary on the small screen. This film is one that MUST be seen on the big screen to do it any justice.

Paranormal Activity is enjoyable, but you won’t soil your undies over it. It’s no Blair Witch but it still makes for a fun movie-watching experience. Just don’t believe the hype!

Buy it on Amazon!

Splatter Movie (2008)

Many people don’t know all the hard work it goes into making an independent film. Tight schedules, limited resources, limited time and, worst of all, low budgets. There is a lot of love and passion that must go into making an independent horror movie, because even after facing all those challenges, you don’t know if there will even be an audience that wants to see it! So, when I popped in Splatter Movie: The Director’s Cut, an independent movie within a movie within a movie and so on, I was intrigued to see how much it showed of the filmmaking process…and the story itself is pretty ingenious.

In Splatter Movie, director Amy Lee Parker (played by real-life director Amy Lynn Best) is setting up to shoot her latest indie horror film at Hundred Acres Manor, a vast Halloween haunt that boasts dozens of different creepy walk-throughs. A documentary crew is following her around to capture all the behind-the-scenes mayhem so they can put it on the DVD’s special features. As for the film she’s shooting, it’s about a group of filmmakers and actors going into a supposedly haunted attraction to shoot a movie…only a killer is picking them off one by one. In a case of life imitating art imitating life that is exactly what happens to Parker and her crew. Someone wearing the killer’s costume is going around actually butchering people!

Splatter Movie: The Director’s Cut is an inventive piece of indie cinema and for the most part it was a very enjoyable ride! Writer Mike Watt and director Amy Lynn Best have been writing and directing independent films with their Happy Cloud Pictures imprint for a long time now, and Splatter Movie just shows they are still on the top of their game! My main praise for the film stems from its inventive “movie within a movie within a movie, etc.” structure. It seemed that everything in the film echoed reality, from the actors names that were either the same or very close to their real names to scenes that mirrored scenes they were shooting for their film. It really makes my head spin to think about it! Kudos to Watt for such a clever premise!

I also loved how the documentary-style look of the film made you feel like you were right there with the cast and crew, going through all the trials and tribulations of making a low-budget movie. The behind-the-scenes stuff, from the makeup/special FX applications to following the bitchy assistant director around to watching a scene being filmed, was way fun and really gives you a better understanding of the challenges of making a low budget film.

There were also some amazing cameos from some familiar faces within the indie horror community. Besides Amy Lynn Best, whom many people are familiar with, we get Tom Sullivan, playing himself, who worked on The Evil Dead trilogy, scream queens Debbie Rochon and Elske McCain and many other recognizable faces. Everyone is basically playing themselves, so it’s hard to credit anyone with giving a fantastic performance, but I really loved watching Debbie Rochon every time she came on screen! And her big rape scene within the movie within the movie was absolutely hilarious (I know that sounds callous, but if you watch the movie you’ll totally understand…they totally flip your expectations upside down).

Yet, despite all the positives there were still a few drawbacks to the film, namely, the length of it. The behind-the-scenes chatter went on a bit too long and I would have liked to see more of the actual killer sooner. Though the kills were nice, with the appropriate amount of blood and gore, I felt they were too short. I found myself fast-forwarding through the more boring scenes within the film (like the copious lesbian scenes…one would have sufficed if it was needed at all) to get to the REAL action. The film definitely started dragging after about 45 minutes and the ending took way too long to wrap up (though I did appreciate the surprise reveal of the killer!). A little bit more cutting and editing and Splatter Movie would have been much more enjoyable to sit through.

The positives of the film outweigh the negatives, though, and overall I really found myself enjoying Splatter Movie. If you are an indie horror fan I think you will too!

Order it on Amazon!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Seventh Moon (2009)

Eduardo Sánchez returns to direct his third film after co-helming The Blair Witch Project and directing his under-appreciated Altered. Like his previous films, Seventh Moon keeps the cast small and the action psychologically intense, creating an atmospheric film. Yet, Seventh Moon is probably my least favorite of Sánchez’s projects, hampered by unnecessary shaky cam and too much repetition.

Newlyweds Melissa (Amy Smart) and Yul (Tim Chiou) are honeymooning in Yul’s home country, China, during Hungry Ghost month. Every seventh moon on the seventh month the gates between the living and the dead open and the dead are free to roam the earth. Chinese leave offerings for the dead so they won’t enter their homes and play evil tricks on the. Melissa and Yul happily go along with the traditions, but don’t believe in the ancient legends. They have their driver, Ping (Dennis Chan), drive them to a destination in the country, but Ping gets lost and must wander to a nearby village to ask for directions. When he doesn’t come back, Melissa and Yul go looking for him, but find only live animal offerings tied up in the village’s courtyard. None of the villagers will open their doors and Yul can’t quite make out what they keep chanting. Sufficiently spooked, Yul and Melissa head back to the car and try to drive away, but after something dashes across the dirt road, they crash the car and must continue on foot as the spirits of the dead close in on them.

From the get-go Seventh Moon failed to really grab me. From Yul and Melissa taking part in the rituals and burning offerings in the city to when they ended up in the desolate countryside I just never got fully invested in the story or the characters. I appreciated that the writers, Jamie Nash and Eduardo Sánchez, tried something new and didn’t stick with a traditional Western horror story but I just didn’t enjoy how the story was executed.

First of all, the unnecessary shaky cam got really annoying really fast. Its use made sense in The Blair Witch Project, but I was baffled by its use here. Does Sánchez really want to be known as “that guy” who uses unnecessary shaky cam in all his films? I understand using it to put the audience “in the moment”, but its use here just distracted me from the actual story and took me out of the story rather than making me feel a part of it. Plus, there were several frustrating scenes where you couldn’t see what was going on. Perhaps this was the intent of the filmmaker in order to make it spookier, but to me it just made the film more frustrating to watch.

Second, the story was rather undeveloped and the film is basically just one big chase scene. Melissa and Yul flee from the ghosts, hide somewhere, the ghosts discover them, they run again, hide again and start the whole process over…and over…and over. Gets really boring really fast. And, of course, the whole “don’t trust country-folk” moral of the story is itself pretty generic.

As for the good, I really enjoyed Amy Smart’s performance as Melissa. Despite all her screaming, she was definitely the one in charge and kept a level head throughout the whole ordeal. Unlike some horror heroines, she didn’t just sit there and sob and rely on the guy to save her. Instead, she was the leader, crafted the plans and in the end faced off with the ghosts herself. Kudos to Nash and Sánchez for creating a strong female lead! We need more of these kick ass heroines in horror movies!

I also thought that the last scene in the film (despite the shaky cam used) was pretty damn heart-stopping, as Melissa is chased by what looks like hundreds of ghosts (you can see this in the trailer below, so, no, I’m not spoiling anything!). The ghosts themselves were pretty eerie, and Sánchez wisely kept them out of focus for the main bulk of the film. Their design was simple, but, boy, was it ever effective! I’ve got to give special FX company Spectral Motion props for making Asian ghosts scary again!

Still, despite the positives, the repetitive scenes and shaky cam movements spoiled Seventh Moon for me. A mediocre effort from Sánchez that stands in sharp contrast to his far superior earlier films.

Order it on Amazon!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mad Monster Party (1967)

Looking for something ooky and spooky to watch this Halloween? Look no further than the kooky Mad Monster Party! Created by the same folks that brought you stop-motion animation Christmas specials like Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Mad Monster Party is a howling good time for the whole freaky family!

After finding the secret of life, Baron Von Frankenstein (voiced by Boris Karloff) has finally discovered the secret of destruction (“I, Baron von Frankenstein, master of the secret of creation, have now mastered the secret of destruction”)and is inviting all his favorite monsters to his castle for a celebration! He also plans to announce that he is retiring and bequeathing all his secrets to his (gasp!) human heir, the clueless Felix Flanken (voiced by Allen Swift, who also voiced most of the monsters). The Baron’s assistant, lovely redheaded Francesca (voiced by Gale Garnett), doesn’t take too kindly to the news. She and the other monsters, including Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and his Mate (voiced by Phyllis Diller), The Wolf Man, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, The Hunchback, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and so on, plan on taking Felix out before he inherits the Baron’s secrets!

Mad Monster Party is a mad, mad, mad little movie that is a joy to watch around Halloween! With newly restored editions, I really think they should play this on television around Halloween just like they play all of the other stop-animation movies around Christmas! It’s got some spiffy musical numbers, lots of adult humor and overall just looks amazing!

The character design is amazing, especially considering how many monsters are running around. Besides those mentioned above, there is also the hilarious Chef Mafia Machiavelli (“Here we have the antipasto – black widows pickled in their own poison, smoked lizards and snakes, and marinated mice.”), Yetch, the creepy, Peter Lorre-inspired servant (Yetch: “It’s me, your Don Juan.” Francesca: “I Don Juan to look at you”.), a groovy skeleton band called Little Tibia and the Fibulas (“It’s the mummy!”) and, of course, the uninvited It that crashes the party later in the film!

The scope of the film is very ambitious, and seems much bigger than other Rankin/Bass productions like The Year Without Santa Claus or Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer. The setting of Baron Von Frankenstein’s towering castle, with its crocodile-filled lagoon and man-eating flora and fauna, is absolutely stunning and really invokes nostalgic feelings from childhood, especially when accompanied by the stop-motion animation! This is definitely one for the spooky kid in all of us!

If you are looking for some light-hearted fare this October, Mad Monster Party is one classic film to check out! Even though they slip some decidedly adult humor in there, it is still suitable for young tots, too! Anyone looking to regain some Halloween spirit should definitely watch Mad Monster Party – it never fails to put me in a kooky mood!

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Book Review: Murderland Part 1 - H8 by Garrett Cook

Imagine a future where killing is legal and fashion is dictated by famous serial killers like Jack the Ripper, Gacy, Bundy, etc. and serial killers are celebrities, obsessed over by fans. “Reap Chic” dominates, and Reap kids dress to emulate their favorite serial killers, from Victorian garb for Jack the Ripper to clown suits for Gacy. Serial killers are called “psychopomps” and their kills are celebrated. Cafes and bars serve food like “The Sharon Tate” and the “Mary Kelly” and are decorated with serial killer letters, artwork and blood, much to the delight of most of the population.

This is the sickening future envisioned by Garrett Cook in his slim-yet-no-less-satisfying novella, Murderland Part 1 – H8. In Murderland, serial killers are rock stars, complete with groupies and their own merchandise. Yet, one moves amongst them undetected…and his name is Jeremy Jenkins. Jeremy is sickened by the behavior of most “psychopomps”, especially since he too is a killer…but one that kills with purpose. He is convinced that beings from another dimension are turning women into breeding machines…so he has to kill as many women as he can before they are impregnated by the “Dark Ones”. Jeremy just might be the most successful “psychopomp” out there, but he doesn’t seek celebrity…he just wants to save the world from the “Dark Ones”. Yet, as Jeremy finds himself running into more and more psychopomps, he is driven to kill these worthless “entertainers” as well.

Murderland is a very inventive and dark novella from Garrett Cook. From chapter to chapter it moves from first person to third person…and we also learn there is something else inside Jeremy controlling or guiding his actions. Cook has truly created a memorable world in Murderland. The Reap subculture is intriguing and seems entirely plausible, especially today when people already revere some serial killers (like the huge following behind Charles Manson). I loved Cook’s descriptions of all the crazy Reap kids and their different costumes, from the “Whitechapel whores” (Victorian) to the “Bundy girls” (prim college co-eds) and everyone in-between.

I also loved the progression of the character of Jeremy. Whether viewing him from his own perspective or an outside perspective I could never truly tell if he was just batshit insane or if there really was “Dark Ones” invading the world as he believed. This ambiguity just made the novel even more exciting and kept me on my toes. Also, while he acted like a monster when he killed the “impregnated” women, I actually enjoyed it when he went after the (in)famous serial killers who pissed him off. I also thought he was a very clever killer – killing his victims in different ways, leaving different signatures, etc. I had mixed feelings for Jeremy at the beginning of the novel, but he quickly grew on me and by the book’s end I couldn’t wait to read more about him!

Cook has written a very fast-paced, engaging novella with Murderland Part 1- H8. It ends with a real cliffhanger, and I can’t wait to read the next installment to see what happens next!

Order it on Amazon!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Book Review: The Werewolf's Guide to Life - A Manual for the Newly Bitten

Lycanthrope lovers rejoice! The new Werewolf’s Guide to Life: A Manual For the Newly Bitten, by Ritch Duncan and Bob Powers, is a quirky, fun and informative “how to” book that horror fans can really sink their claws into!

This manual-style book is written specifically for people who have been bitten by a werewolf and shows step by step not only how to survive, but also thrive as a lycanthrope. Check out the book’s description:

Have you been attacked by a wolflike creature in the last thirty days? Was it after the sun had set and under a full moon? If you answered yes to both of these questions, there’s a very good chance that you were bitten by a werewolf. You now have less than a month before the full moon returns and with it your first transformation into a savage, bloodthirsty beast.

-Werewolves are real.

-The majority of lycanthropes who do not have access to this book die during or shortly after their first transformations, generally due to heart failure, gunshot wounds, exposure, drowning or suicide.

-Hollywood horror movies are NOT to be used as guides to living as a werewolf. Their goal is not to educate but to entertain. As a result, they are largely ignorant of the realities of the conditions.

-Ignorance creates monsters; lycanthropy does not.

-You are not a monster.

The Werewolf’s Guide to Life cuts through the fiction and guides you through your first transformation and beyond, offering indispensable advice on how to tell if you’re really a werewolf, postattack etiquette, breaking the news to your spouse, avoiding government abduction, and how to not just survive but thrive. You cannot afford to not read this book. Your very life depends on it.

The Werewolf’s Guide to Life is a tongue-in-cheek romp that discusses living with lycanthropy. Besides what the description discusses, the book also covers issues such as different werewolf body types (The Big Bad Wolf, The Pug, The Papa Bear and The Lionthrope), tips on your first transformation (take off all rings, including your wedding ring, bring extra clothes, etc.) and even a handy food guide estimating how much food you will need the three nights out of the month when you’re a werewolf. It also explains hairy subjects like dealing with vampires (or, “the effeminate undead” as the authors call them!) and other werewolves, proper restraint systems, building a safe room, romance, health and avoiding doctors, government, police, werewolf hunters and “fur chasers” (people obsessed with werewolves). It even discusses the science behind lycanthropy and why and how it occurs!

Authors Ritch Duncan and Bob Powers have written a very fun (at least for non-lycs; for lycanthropes this is serious business) tome that runs in the vein of horror how-to’s like The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks! The book is an engaging read and very quickly paced, which means you can probably get through it in a few sittings. This is infinitely practical for new lycanthropes that need all the vital information they can get before their next transformation! It also boasts lots of quirky humor, not to mention the vast array of information it covers! If you have a werewolf question, it’s probably answered in The Werewolf’s Guide to Life!

Besides the informative manual-style of the book, it also features some amusing side notes, including “Famous Lycs Through Time” that includes a side box every 20 pages or so featuring people like social activist Rosa Parks, artist Norman Rockwell, comedienne Minnie Pearl, explorer Sir Francis Drake and many more! The book is also beautifully illustrated by Emily Flake, featuring pictures and diagrams that perfectly punctuate the items discussed by the authors.

The Werewolf’s Guide to Life: A Manual For the Newly Bitten is a devilishly delightful read that will have you howling with joy! Not only is it a vital read for lycanthropes out there, but also provides plenty of hair-raising fun for non-lycs as well!

Pick up your copy before the next full moon!

Order your copy on Amazon!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Interview with Indie Filmmaker Jeremy Sumrall

Last time we heard from Jeremy Sumrall, he was filming the phenomenal Sweatshop and terrorizing the set as the killer of the film, “The Beast”. This time around, Sumrall has stepped behind the camera and just finished production on Possum Walk, a film he both wrote and directed.

We got the chance to chat with Sumrall about his role in Sweatshop and his directorial debut with Possum Walk, as well as what he learned from his fellow “Texas Blood” filmmakers and his opinion on the current state of horror!

Fatally Yours: Jeremy, can you tell us about your upcoming film, Possum Walk?

Jeremy Sumrall: Possum Walk is the name of this small southern town where everyone knows everyone. In this town is a young virgin girl named “Faith Carpenter”, who’s grown up in this very narrow-minded, judgmental town. Her whole life she’s had fear, ignorance, and disdain crammed down her throat – all in the name of religion. However, her life is completely turned upside down when she learns she’s pregnant. She begins having nightmarish visions that she believes to be the work of a demonic entity, or perhaps even the baby itself. Her father – the local Baptist preacher – has a few demons of his own and tries to control her life with an iron grip. Meanwhile, there’s a sadistic serial killer running around town sexually abusing and murdering the young women of the town – but not necessarily in that order!

Fatally Yours: Sounds delightfully demented! Possum Walk is your first time directing. What inspired you to direct your own film? 

Jeremy Sumrall: Pure insanity, or maybe masochism! (laughs) But, seriously, I was on the set of Sweatshop one night, and Stacy Davidson (director) and I were talking about movies and what-not. He told me I should throw my hat into the ring and try to direct some time. His actual words were “If you can sit at a monitor, and yell ‘Action! … Cut!’, then you can be a director!” I sort of laughed it off at the time, but a few weeks later, I was on the set of Sway, and Josh Vargas (director) told me almost the exact same thing. Naturally, it’s not THAT easy!! But, I got to thinking about it, and I’ve always been a writer, so I thought I might give it a try. I’ve written probably a dozen screenplays in various stages of “un-finished-ness”, so I just needed a swift kick in the ass to actually get something worth putting to film.

Fatally Yours: Speaking of being a writer, you wrote the screenplay for Possum Walk. Where did the idea for the film come from? 

Jeremy Sumrall: I grew up in a town of less than 900 people. I mean, really, my graduating class had less than 50 people in it. So, having grown up in that type of environment, I learned pretty early on that everybody knew everybody, and that everybody knew everybody’s business. It was pretty difficult to walk down the street in my hometown without running into someone I knew. So, for anyone to have any sort of secret in a small town requires a fair amount of sneaking around and trickery. That sort of small town vibe of “no secrets” really laid the groundwork for the script.

Being that the town I’m from is a fairly religious town, I remember growing up having religion pummeled into my skull on a daily basis, and how judgmental everyone was while being able to hide behind the shield of religion. It pissed me off. It still does.

But, that was just the beginning of the story. A very young family member of mine had a pregnancy scare, and everyone around her started throwing around the two “A-words” – abortion and adoption – without really stopping to consider her feelings. So, that got me to thinking about small town life and how everyone knows what’s best for you, even if you don’t. So, from that, I thought of a religious girl who was a virgin who wound up pregnant, and what that might do to her and the town. From initial thought to a completed rough draft only took a week. Of course, subsequent rewrites took me a couple of months, though.

Fatally Yours: What is the cast of actors like in Possum Walk

Jeremy Sumrall: Two words: FUCKING AMAZING!! The first two people I went after were my good friend Victoria Lane, and local Texas hero Parrish Randall. I’ve known Victoria for nearly seven years, and I’ve watched her career from afar ever since we met (she lives in Los Angeles, and I live in Texas, naturally). She’s a very beautiful woman, and an amazing actress. She’s really studied the craft. She was the first person I ever showed the script to, and I was nervous as hell about doing so. I had never really shown anyone my work, let alone someone who does this sort of stuff for a living. Thankfully, she responded very well to the script, and was flattered I wrote the role of “Abigail” specifically with her in mind.

Parrish was a natural fit as Faith’s father “Brother William Carpenter”. He’s played a scumbag in so many movies now, people almost think he is that scumbaggy in real life, but the truth is he’s one of the sweetest guys I’ve ever met. He has a genuine love and affection for the genre and for movies in general. And, I don’t think Parrish has really been given the opportunity to show a different side to his acting. He’s usually the villainous rapist, or escaped convict. He’s never really played a father. And, Brother William is by no means a saint – he does some downright despicable things in this movie – but he genuinely loves his daughter, no matter how misguided he may be. Parrish pulled this role off effortlessly, and I’m very fortunate to have worked with him.

For Faith, I knew I needed someone who could pull off being sweet and innocent, shy and demure, and possess a near angelic – almost cherubic – beauty about her, as well as pull off some very dark, dramatic moments. We probably searched longer trying to find Faith than any other character. Thankfully, during our Austin auditions, Robert Luke (my cinematographer) came across this young lady by the name of Maggie Conwell. I’ll admit that I was skeptical at first, because her headshot didn’t look like “Faith” to me. But, Robert pushed me hard and told me to look at her audition footage. Within five seconds, I knew she was Faith! It’s ridiculous how good she is! There were moments on set where I’d be watching Maggie on a monitor and forget to call “Cut” because I was too emotionally wrapped up in the scene, because she’s that damn good! Robert and I actually had a conversation one night about one particularly emotional scene between Maggie and Parrish, and how it was almost like we were eavesdropping on a family argument, and afterwards, we both felt like we needed a few moments to collect ourselves.

Faith’s love interest is this guy by the name of Joe Don, and I kinda consider him the “James Dean” of the movie. He’s the new guy in town, he’s rough around the edges, but he has a good heart. Joe Don is played by Tyler Tackett, who has amazing acting chops.  The guy is less than 20 years old, but I swear he’s an old soul. We click on a lot of levels, so I don’t actually think of him being such a young guy. He’s younger than my niece, but he comes across much more mature. His portrayal of Joe Don is pretty critical to the movie’s success. There are some scenes between Joe Don and Brother William that are just insane. Tyler has big things ahead for him. Huge.

The rest of my cast is phenomenal as well. There’s Gracie – played by Keli Wolfe – who is the local outcast; a sort of gothy-punker chick, but not the “real” kind. We’ve sorta dubbed Gracie the “Wal-mart Goth” – the kinda chick who dresses outlandish just to stick out and draw attention to herself, but, naturally, she’s quite shy when the doors are closed. There’s Lizz – played by Jessica Jecker, who, as a first time actor, really blew us all away! – who is the quiet counterpart to Gracie. Lizz is also Gracie’s secret girlfriend. These two characters are really conflicted between the love they have for one another, and the judgment they would face if they were to come out publicly. Jessica and Keli really played amazingly off of one another. You really get the sense that these two girls have a beautiful love. It’s not exploitative. Then there’s Mark and Stephanie – played by Chris Warren (director of IMAGO) and Danielle Jones (who is also in Sweatshop).  They’re like the football player/cheerleader couple that everyone knows that dated all throughout high school, and they’re gonna wind up married with nine kids. Their scenes together are just phenomenal. This core group of characters really feels like they’ve been friends since they were kindergartners.

The other actors are amazing, too. Sheriff Wilcox – played by Tim Taylor – is just a hilarious character. He’s the local bumbling cop whose most exciting day probably consists of a farmer’s chickens getting loose. So, naturally, when a serial killer starts bumping off the locals, he sees it as his chance to shine! Dr. Thompson – played by Andrew Sensenig – is the nurturing physician who sees to Faith like her father can’t. He takes care of her when she begins having her “spells” – moments when she has her nightmarish visions or when she passes out. And then there’s Wynona and Cassie – two sisters who have some of the funniest bits of the movie, without ever being on screen at the same time! Wynona is played by Kristen Hall (who can be seen in our teaser trailer), and Cassie is played by Jennifer Peebles. These two have amazing comedic timing, and they certainly kept all of us behind the scenes in stitches! And, I can’t forget about Cassie’s new husband, Jake – played by executive producer Burton Bailey. I swear we literally have tons of footage of the “white trash newlyweds” because they just kept bouncing stuff off one another, and we just had to see where they were going! Their dialogue was usually all of two lines on a page, but they’d riff for several minutes at a time. Sometimes it was too difficult to call “Cut’, so I’d just hide from the camera and crack up laughing!

Fatally Yours: Since this was your first time writing and directing your own film, can you tell us about the filmmaking experience and any obstacles/triumphs you and the production experienced? 

Jeremy Sumrall: Believe me, there’s a lot! First of all, just making a movie is a feat in and of itself. It’s an everyday battle to make things happen. Even though we were only shooting on weekends, due to our day jobs, we were still talking to one another almost every day, making sure locations were secure for the following weekend’s shoot, organizing props, building sets, etc. The list is a mile long. A lot of people think movie making is this glamorous thing, and it’s nothing but fun, but the truth is much, much darker. Yes, at the end of the day, we are playing “pretend”, but there’s a lot of hard work and money being put into this thing. I couldn’t do it alone, that’s for sure. So, I just want to make sure everyone understands that it took a collective effort on everyone’s parts – from executive producer, down to production assistant – to pull this movie out of our asses. I have to give recognition to my wonderful production team, rounded out by producers Brandy Eastman and Matthew Ash, who really kept the wheels turning when I felt like I was going to crack. Matthew also really stepped up on the special effects side of things when our primary artist Kristi Boul had to miss several shoots. Kristi and Matthew really pulled off some amazing effects together, though!

That being said, there are a couple of incidents that stick out in my mind as being particular obstacles to overcome. The first one that pops into my mind is the weekend we had to shoot the wedding and church sequences. We needed about 40 or 50 extras to portray church-goers, and we had people travelling from several hours away to be a part of our film. My assistant director was going to be tied up for most of the day, so we had to work with a man down. All of this insanity was spinning all around us, and the day before we were scheduled to shoot at the church we had secured, we get a phone call.  “The septic pipes burst, and sprayed the interior of the church.” We went into overdrive!! Thankfully, Parrish knows damn near everyone in Groesbeck, so he made some calls, and by the end of the day, we had a secured location. I got on the phone to everyone I had invited, gave them the updated directions, sent out emails to those I couldn’t call, etc.  And then, the next morning, just before extras began to arrive, we realized that the church we were telling people to go to was NOT the correct one! So, we had to call everyone back up and correct the directions, etc. By the end of the day, though, we had amazing footage, and we had pulled off one of the coolest scenes of the movie.

Fatally Yours: What makes Possum Walk special and stand out from other horror films?

Jeremy Sumrall: First off, this isn’t a typical backwoods-redneck-inbred-hillbilly-cannibal film. And, I didn’t go with the typical slasher formula and send a bunch of stereotypical teenagers off into the woods, into an area they’re woefully ignorant about, and then drop a supernatural killer into their midst. There’s also not a killer who was wronged years ago and is back for revenge. Possum Walk is very much about a group of kids who’ve grown up their entire lives together, and their struggles to deal with staying in their hometown, despite the desire to leave. So, the relationships in this movie are much stronger than in a lot of horror movies. However, Possum Walk does have some of the trappings of other genres within horror, just because I’m heavily influenced by slashers and occult movies, but it’s really a very dark, dramatic movie with horrific things going on around it, with a little bit of humor to spice things up. Yes, there’s tons of sex and violence, because I enjoy those things in my horror movies, but there’s a very human element as well. The relationship between Faith and Brother William is a very tenuous one, and it’s really the thing that holds the movie together. We could easily remove all of the horror elements and still have a very compelling, dark, dramatic movie.

Fatally Yours: After Possum Walk, do you think you’ll direct again? 

Jeremy Sumrall: Absolutely!  I’m actually working on a couple of different scripts at the moment. First up, there’s ISO (pronounced “Eye-Sew”) which is very different from Possum Walk. It’s a very claustrophobic, twisted tale, about a young woman who is being tormented by something outside of her apartment. She hasn’t set foot outside of her apartment in years, but there’s a presence threatening to come in and destroy her if she doesn’t now. It’s my take on Hitchcock-meets-Clive Barker. We’re hoping to begin filming on that one in mid-late Spring 2010. It’s a very small cast of characters, with minimal locations.

Beyond that, I’m working on a very over-the-top script called Mouthful of Dirt, which is a Mad Max-meets-Evil Dead 2-meets-Kill-Bill story. It’s stylistically very different from either ISO or Possum Walk. It’s a bizarre tale about a guy called “Dirt”, who is searching for the man who slaughtered his family. It’s sort of a post-apocalyptic Robin Hood. It’s very in-your-face, sarcastic, and – shall we say – gooey! Lots of explosions and decapitations and little kids being killed. Very anti-PC. Very wrong on many levels. Plus, it features a bisexual vampire stripper nun with a wicked gun collection, a schizophrenic porn star who talks to her boobs, and a gay-guy-who’s-not-really-gay soap opera star who wants to be a heavy metal singer!

Fatally Yours: Wow! Those sound like projects to look forward to! As you mentioned earlier, your first experience with an indie production was Stacy Davidson’s Sweatshop, where you played the killer named “The Beast”. What knowledge did you gain from that experience that helped you on the set of Possum Walk

Jeremy Sumrall: Patience, patience, patience! I think first and foremost, I learned that no matter how “in control” you are as director, you’re never fully “in control”. Sometimes, you just have to let things happen as they’re going to happen. No matter how much planning you do, sometimes you’re just going to have to find a solution by pulling it out of your ass. A lot of things go awry on movie sets. That’s just the nature of the business. And you do what you can to keep your cool, even if you lose it sometimes. Stress gets to everyone from top to bottom. The important thing you have to remember is that you’re all in it together, and you have to try and not take things personally. People are going to yell. People are going to argue. And you just have to swallow it, and deal with it as a professional as much as possible. At the end of the day, you’re making a fucking movie! How cool is that?!?!

Fatally Yours: I just saw Sweatshop, and I was just blown away by your intimidating performance! Yet, you also gave the character emotion through body language since the audience never sees his face. Since this performance was so successful, do you have any plans to continue acting? Or reprise your role as “The Beast”?

Jeremy Sumrall: First off, THANK YOU!! It means a lot to me that my role was appreciated! “The Beast” was a lot of fun to play! I grew up on slasher films, and Jason Voorhees is my favorite of the lot, so being offered the chance to play this faceless, utterly brutal killer was a dream come true. I actually had the chance to sit and briefly talk with Derek Mears at a con a while back, and he and I bonded over playing killers in a slasher flick. That was a surreal moment! I’m grateful to Stacy Davidson and Ted Geoghegan for giving me the opportunity.  I tried my best to be as menacing as possible with my movements and really give “The Beast” a nasty temper. There were moments on set where I would start growling at the other cast members just to try and get them to jump. It usually worked!

After Sweatshop wrapped, I did get the chance to appear in a couple of cameo roles in Sway and [Mel House’s] Walking Distance, but I don’t really see myself doing a ton of acting in the future. I’ve always enjoyed the behind the scenes action more than anything. I’ve been a writer since I was very, very young, so my first love is the writing, the creating. I’m probably happiest when I first come up with a new movie idea. Of course, that’s not to say that I wouldn’t act again, given the right role.  I just don’t see myself actively pursuing that in the near future.

That being said, I’d love the chance to don “The Beast’s” sweaty-ass-stinky coveralls again!! And, as I understand it, screeners are being sent out as we speak to potential distributors, so maybe I’ll get the chance sooner rather than later if Sweatshop winds up being as successful as we all hope it to be! I also have my own ideas for a script for a Sweatshop 2 if it ever comes to fruition. We’ll just have to see if the powers-that-be would allow me to take a crack at it!!

Fatally Yours: It seems like Texas is a hotbed of talent these days – from yourself to Mel House to Stacy Davidson to Parrish Randall to Josh Vargas and so on – it must be really great to have such a wonderful support system when making indie films! Did you get any pointers from any of these guys while making Possum Walk?

Jeremy Sumrall: Yeah, I’ve learned that filmmaking sort of makes you part of this twisted, inbred, mutant family. Once you’re in, you’re in for life, ya know? Meeting all of these guys at conventions, like the guys you mentioned, as well as Wayne Slaten (director of Backroad), Abel Berry (director of Spoils and Kodie), and Marcus Koch (director of 100 Tears), I really feel like I “belong” for the first time in a very long time. We’re this geeky bunch of film nerds who genuinely love the medium and cackle like banshees when the red stuff starts to flow!

When it comes to Possum Walk, though, in the beginning I always just kind of blindly assumed that we’d make it with no budget whatsoever, with whatever props I could wrangle myself, with a few of our mutual friends to act in it. As time went on, however, I realized I had a pretty unique script that could turn into a very amazing movie given the proper treatment. So, I started to look at this as a movie that could really stand out, and sort of separate us from the pack. Maybe it was my ego talking, but I really wanted to sort of stay outside of my “comfort zone” with this movie. I could have easily cast every actor from Sweatshop, or Walking Distance, or Sway, etc. I really did my best to sort of do this on my own, and I think it’s paid off. Yes, there’s a familiar face or two in Possum Walk that you’ve seen in Mel’s or Stacy’s movies, but there’s a number of people that none of us had ever worked with, let alone met before.

That’s not to say that I didn’t receive a great deal of help and support from those guys.  Anytime I was feeling a bit uneasy about a scene, or worried about an actor, a location, etc., I just texted Mel or Stacy or Parrish and asked for their advice. And, thankfully, because Marcus was in town working on IMAGO, he was able to help out with a few effects ideas. Being an inexperienced director, you have to surround yourself with people you trust, and they’ve all been down these roads before, so having their ear to chew on really made things go a lot smoother than if I had done things completely on my own.

The best advice I got was from Vargas, though: “Just bend over, grab your ankles, take a deep breath, and don’t tense up. It’ll be over soon!” (laughs) Sorry, Josh! Had to bust your balls a little! Vargas is kind of our whipping boy down here!!

Fatally Yours: Indie horror seems the only “true horror” left within the genre and where fans can find the thrills and chills they crave as opposed to the mediocre or downright horrible studio horror being pumped out by studios. What do you think of this and the overall current state of horror?

Jeremy Sumrall: Honestly, a lot of people gripe about the studio system – and I’m including myself here – but the truth of the matter is that no matter how much bitching and complaining and grousing we all do, they’re just not going to listen. If you don’t go see their big studio horror flick, nine other kids will go in your place. It’s capitalism at its finest.

I’ll probably catch a lot of flack for this, but fuck it. “Indie” does NOT equal “good”, much like “studio” does NOT equal “shitty”. There’s just as many shitty indie flicks as there are shitty studio flicks. And I’ve seen my fair share of shitty indie movies. It just seems like the studio pictures are shittier because we’re pummeled with their presence 24-7. My advice to any real horror fan is to go see the good ones – or buy the good ones, whatever. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If they enjoyed it, have them pass the word along to someone else. If they didn’t enjoy it, it doesn’t make them a shitty person; I promise you that.

If you see a terrible movie, don’t watch it again. Bitching about it on the internet doesn’t make it a true statement. I do my best to keep my opinions to myself unless asked directly, because honestly, who gives a rat’s ass what anyone else thinks? Just because Joe Schmoe told me that Rob Zombie’s Halloween was a shitty flick doesn’t make it a shitty flick. I’d rather watch it and form an opinion myself. And speaking of that, I actually enjoyed RZ’s Halloween! I haven’t watched the sequel, though. Oh, and Zombie Strippers was a steaming hunk of monkey shit. That was a shitty indie flick.  But, that’s my humble opinion. It just happens to be the correct one!  (laughs)

But seriously, if anyone is pissed off at the state of horror these days, they should fucking do something about it! Go write a script that blows everyone away, go raise the money to fund it, buy or rent a camera or hire a DP, and direct the fucking thing! I did!

Fatally Yours: Haha! I actually LIKED Zombie Strippers and thought it was a riot! So that totally proves your point about everyone’s opinion being different! Anywho, when can we expect to see a completed Possum Walk?

Jeremy Sumrall: Robert [Luke] is editing it as we speak, and I imagine I’ll be seeing a very rough cut in a couple of weeks. After that, we’ll go over it piece by piece by piece and flesh out another edit, and then we’ll do pickups, and whatnot. Hopefully we’ll have our composer soon, and if that all pans out, that should be a hoot and a half. So, I’d say our finished product should be ready sometime early next year. I’m not sure what we’ll do yet about a premiere screening, but as soon as we know, we’ll make the proper announcements.

Fatally Yours: Do you have any plans for distributions, festivals, a DVD release, etc.?

Jeremy Sumrall: We’re eyeing a couple of festivals for next year, but beyond that, it’s really sort of up in the air. I’d prefer to do this movie right and release it through a distributor rather than releasing it ourselves, but we’ll do what we have to do.

I will say that our intention is to have a presence at a number of higher profile horror conventions next year, including Texas Frightmare Weekend in Dallas in May. I’ve been to every TFW since the beginning, and it just gets bigger and better every single year.  Loyd [Cryer - founder of the festival] and his crew really know how to treat the indie filmmakers and make no distinction between the “little guys” and the “bigger names”. Every year he has a “Texas Frightmaker” panel and allows us Texas filmmakers to show off what we’ve been working on. We showed the first Possum Walk teaser trailer during that panel this past year, and the response was overwhelmingly positive, so I’m sure we’ll cram a bit of Possum Walk down everyone’s throats at next year’s TFW!

Fatally Yours: What’s next for you, Jeremy, and what else do you want to do in the future?

Jeremy Sumrall: Well, while working on Possum Walk, I’ve met some amazing people.  Recently, Keli Wolfe and I have formed a collective known as Sick Bastard Brainchild Entertainment.  This is sort of an offshoot of my own Bloodbrick Pictures and will be used to develop new scripts for us to either shoot ourselves, or shop around to other filmmakers.  The first project for Sick Bastard Brainchild Entertainment is ISO, which I discussed earlier.  We’ve also got several other projects in the works as well, including a story idea from Tyler Tackett.  I’ll be tackling that script after ISO and Mouthful of Dirt.

Bloodbrick Pictures is also looking to expand its scope, and we’re looking for other projects to throw our support behind.  I’ve actually been conversing with a filmmaker – whom I’ve dubbed “KILLian” –from the Boston area about producing a script she’s writing. It’s called Oak Grove, and it’s a dark psychological thriller, so it’s not strictly a horror movie per se. It’s about a grisly public murder that was caught on tape, which shocks a quiet suburb. The residents continue to be murdered in these horrific and brazen ways, and the lead detective has his work cut out for him. It’s pretty heavy stuff, really, and I can’t wait to see what KILLian comes up with!

Fatally Yours: Thanks so much for chatting, Jeremy! Can’t wait for Possum Walk!

Jeremy Sumrall: Thanks for having me again! And thanks for supporting good indie horror!!

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sick Girl (2009)

Sick Girl is an independent production that I eagerly looked forward to seeing. I mean, how can you go wrong with a twisted and disturbing story who’s synopsis describes the crazy lead character as someone who “wants to f**k her older brother, protect her younger brother and torture everyone else out in her barn”?!

I was looking forward to a brutal characterization of a take-no-prisoners female character, but when I finally got around to seeing this flick I was pretty let down. It features plenty of disturbing and shocking imagery, but that’s pretty much all the film offered and therefore was devoid of any depth or real reason for even being made.

In Sick Girl, Izzy (Leslie Andrews) is left to care for her little brother Kevin (Charlie Trepany) after her older brother leaves to fight in the war overseas. Their parents passed away many years prior and the only adult in Izzy and Kevin’s life is big biker Barney (John McGarr), who looks after Kevin while Izzy is off terrorizing people. And terrorize she does – she blows away a random bunch of Catholic schoolgirls on a bus, teaches her brother’s bullies a lesson and even castrates a random dude. She’s got her own little torture barn out behind her house, where she brings victims she wants to get a little more intimate with. Yup, Izzy is a sadistic killer, but neither Kevin nor Barney has any idea about her crazy, murderous streak.

The film felt like it was made solely for shock’s worth, but hardcore horror fans won’t really be fazed by most of the violence in Sick Girl and more mainstream audiences won’t pick it up in the first place. It just feels like an unbalanced, pointless exercise in “shock cinema” that ultimately fails in the end.

The acting ranged from mediocre to pretty competent. I thought Charlie Trepany (as little brother Kevin) and John McGarr (as gentle giant Barney) did a consistently good job with their characters, but I can’t decide if I liked or loathed Leslie Andrews’ acting as Izzy. At times it felt like she was more wooden than an actor in a school play, but other times her far-away stare and sudden violence felt very real. Or was it the character that was really that disjointed? Either way, I am torn on Andrews’ performance.

I will say that I enjoyed the gritty, natural look of the film. The rural atmosphere, with its rolling fields and red barns, was a nice break from the urban atmosphere of most “disturbed killer” movies. The stark, empty setting complemented the emptiness and loneliness of Izzy’s character. Director Eben McGarr (who also wrote the film) perfectly captured the washed-out, naturally lit look of ‘70s exploitation flicks.

So, the film looks pretty, but what is it trying to say? That life’s not fair? That some of us just can’t handle the stresses of life and snap? The message definitely isn’t clear, and in fact the lead character of Izzy isn’t even sympathetic. Izzy is so f’ed up that you don’t feel sorry for her, and in fact, begin feeling sorry for her intended victims, even though they themselves are far from innocent. In fact, in her barn Izzy has tied up a horny teen, a bitchy schoolgirl and a sadistic bully. Her punishments for these predators turned prey include castration, rape with a handmade strap-on and allowing a starved rat to eat someone’s face off (while they are still alive). You end up feeling sorrier for these victims than for Izzy. And is she just trying to protect her family or does her violence extend to anyone and everyone? These guidelines are never really set up, so by the time the disturbing conclusion rolls around, you really don’t feel anything at all. There is no emotional impact, and I for one was glad the movie was finally over and that I never had to watch it again.

I love a good, shocking movie, especially when so many play it safe. What makes shocking cinema so good, though, are the underlying themes and ideas that really make you think long after you’ve seen the films and been bombarded with their disturbing imagery. Unfortunately, Sick Girl fails to accomplish this and just shows disturbing imagery for the shock value and nothing more. Which, to me, made it a displeasure to watch and very forgettable upon its conclusion. Sorry, Sick Girl, but I just wish someone had put you out of your misery before I watched you.

Order it on Amazon!

Book Review: Dunraven Road by Caroline Barnard Smith

I really wasn’t sure what to expect with Dunraven Road, the debut novel from Caroline Barnard Smith. The back cover had a very vague description that didn’t incite my interest too much, and to be honest I just expected it to be another poorly written vampire novel.

On the contrary,I found Dunraven Road to be an engaging, fast-paced story that focused on human characters addicted to a blood-like drug called “red”, featured a vampiric cult and vampires that were both menacing and entrancing. Though the novel features several flaws, overall I found it a worthwhile read and a promising debut from Smith.

Dunraven Road is about a group of friends in a small English town begin experimenting with a strange but alluring drug called red and revere a vampiric deity called Lilitu. When their arrogant leader Zach decides to build a cult around the drug and Lilitu, staging lavish parties in an abandoned church, the friends find themselves in danger of losing themselves to the sweet allure of the red…as well as losing their lives to real vampires that move undetected among the drug-crazed cult.

As Zach drowns himself in red and loses himself in his powerful new role as leader to the drug-addled cult kids and partiers, one of the original group of friends, Sapphire, who is deeply in love with him, realizes she has special psychic powers and has disturbing visions of what the vampires have planned. With the help of Paul, a lovesick artist and several “good” vampires who’ve sworn off drinking blood, can Sapphire stop the invasion of vampires before they slaughter the smorgasbord of red partiers?

Though the book might be construed as a bit generic, filled with scenes of lavish parties, seduction and beautiful vampiric creatures, it is surprisingly very engaging and lures you in with the story Smith spins. The vampires may have some stereotypical attributes (being beautiful, loving blood), but Smith blurs the lines between the vampires and the druggies addicted to red. Instead of the vampires being the humans’ implements for destruction, the humans destroy themselves with the red drug and their own blood-letting rituals. Quite a nice twist, I thought. Also, the book forgoes all the usual nonsense of garlic, stakes, sunlight, mirrors, etc. as ways to deter/kill/identify vampires. Despite their beauty, the vampires in Dunraven Road blended right in with the humans and there were several startling reveals of people actually turning out to be vampiric entities.

As for the human characters who take center stage for most of the book, unfortunately they are a rather unlikable group. Most are hopeless addicts, womanizers, cheaters, thieves, killers or doormats. Also, it takes a while for anyone to be identified as the lead character in the book. Obviously, Sapphire is the main character towards the book’s end, but I wish Smith had spent more time developing her character from the first few pages instead of wasting time describing vamp attacks on the elderly (a plot point that never really goes anywhere and remains underdeveloped) or fawning over Zach’s wicked ways. Zach is talked about so much in the beginning that it appears as if he is the lead character, but after the vampires arrive he is no longer in charge and we see he is just a pawn in their game. And even though Sapphire becomes the heroine, through most of the book she is portrayed as weak and completely at Zach’s beck and call. In fact, most of the female characters in Dunraven Road act as if they are slaves to their male counterparts…even the evil vampire Gwyneth seems to solely rely on her sexual seduction skills and looks to get what she wants. This is disappointing, particularly because the author is a woman and I expected much more strong female characters from her.

Despite the lackluster and unlikable characters, the story itself is nonetheless engaging. I like how the vampires were different and weren’t susceptible to garlic, stakes, etc. I also enjoyed how there were two different vampire lifestyles – those that drank blood and those that abstained (vegan vampires – intriguing!!). There were also several twists and turns throughout the book that kept things interesting. I thought the inclusion of the “red” drug and how it tied back to the vampires was clever and inventive.

The writing style by Smith was clean, crisp and unobtrusive. Without any awkward sentences or clunky paragraphs to trip over, reading Dunraven Road was a breeze. The story was also very quickly paced and genuinely engaging (despite the poorly developed characters) so that you wanted to keep reading. Like the characters, though, there were some parts of the story that could have used a little re-drafting. For example, with the so-called “vamp attacks” going around you would think the authorities in such a small town would notice the wild parties Zach threw in his church or at least the influx of partiers and strange people coming to the town. Yet no mention is ever made of the authorities or any townspeople suspecting anything.

Dunraven Road is a shaky debut for Caroline Barnard Smith. It lacks a likable, focal main character to root for and has several plot holes, but it is also very well-written and engaging. Still, Smith is a promising writer and I look forward to what she does next…as long as she features some strong female characters in her next work!

Dunraven Road is available through Immanion Press.

Buy it on Amazon!
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