Friday, January 29, 2010

Celebrate Women in Horror Month

Women who love horror are more numerous than ever, and our voices have been growing continuously stronger in the horror community. It’s time for the horror community and society in general to realize the many talents of women within the industry and for women themselves to celebrate their many accomplishments and their love of horror! To celebrate all women who love horror, Fatally-Yours is featuring an interview series this February exclusively featuring women who are making an impact in the horror industry!

The amazing Hannah Neurotica of Ax Wound Zine first proposed the idea of a Women in Horror Recognition Month and decided that February would be an appropriate time to honor all women who love horror. You can get an idea of what the Women in Horror Month entails over at Women in Horror Month’s official website.

Being a woman in horror myself, I was absolutely thrilled and excited by Hannah’s brilliant idea. Why shouldn’t there be a month dedicated to recognizing and bringing awareness to women in horror? Women in horror are more than just “scream queens” (though hard-working and ambitious scream queens are to be admired as well). Women in horror do everything from directing, producing, acting, writing, reporting, blogging and so on, not to mention the women horror fans that love the genre as much as males (if not more). Women in horror come in all shapes and sizes and their beliefs run from feminist to traditionalist, but one thing they all share in common is their love of horror films!

So, during the month of February we here at Fatally-Yours will be posting interviews with a variety of women in horror – from authors to journalists to makeup and special FX artists to actresses to directors to producers to musicians and so on! Our goal is to show the horror community (and beyond) that women are very much involved with the horror industry and to inspire other women to get involved. We want to show just how important horror is to women and how women can contribute different ideas and perspectives to the horror genre. Each day we will feature multiple interviews with different women in horror and we sincerely hope you will join us in celebrating these amazing women in horror!

Women in Horror Interviewed:
Filmmaker and Actress Brooke Lemke
Actress and Filmmaker Rena Riffel
Filmmaker Amy Lynn Best
Wicked Apple Jewelry Artist Lin Pyatt
Fatally-Yours Founder Sarah Jahier
Filmmaker Lis Fies
Horror Journalist Jamie Jenkins aka Maven
Producer Debbie Brubaker
Actress and Filmmaker Kimberly Amato
Actress Michelle Tomlinson
Author, Actress and Performer Barbie Wilde
Author Skyler White
Filmmaker Maude Michaud
Rusty Eye Drummer Miss Randall
Photographer Paula Burr
Filmmaker J.A. Steel
Actress Melissa Bacelar
Horror Journalist Molly Celaschi
Publisher Jessie Lilley
Filmmaker Lisa Hammer
Artist and Comic Book Author Dame Darcy
Final Girl Blogger Staci Ponder
Filmmaker Reyna Young
Torture Couture Creator Graciela Martell
Central Valley Horror Club Founder Kaci Hansen
Author Sarah Langan
Actress Tara Cardinal
Indie Producer Nikki Wall
Horror Journalist Jovanka Vuckovic
Fascination with Fear Blogger Christine Hadden
Gruesome Details Blogger Nicole Raymond
Actress Raine Brown
Writer/Actress/Filmmaker Maureen “Mo” Whelan
Producer Nicole Williams
Actress and Shriekfest Film Festival Founder Denise Gossett
Actress Bianca Barnett
Filmmaker Sherezada Kent
Author and Actress Axelle Carolyn
Wildclaw Theatre’s Anne Adams
Costume Designer/Makeup Artist Aly Greaves
Horror Journalist Elaine Lamkin
Ravenous Romance Editor Lori Perkins
Cannibal Hollywood Blogger Nia Edwards-Behi
Filmmaker Sarah MacDonald
Author Louise Bohmer
Dread Central’s Debi Moore
Filmmaker/Pretty-Scary Founder Heidi Martinuzzi
Filmmaker Monica Puller
Filmmaker Emily Hagins
Journalist Staci Layne Wilson
Filmmaker/Actress Rachel Grubb
Filmmaker Paula Haifley
Chainsaw Mafia Founder Shannon Lark
Actress Zoe Daelman Chlanda
Horror Reviewer Kristin Grasso Theckston
Director Barbara Stepansky
Actress Manoush
Spooky Brew Blogger Maryanne Schultz
Horror Review Kelsey Zukowski
Filmmaker Tommy Brunswick
Gore Gore Dancer Reviews Blogger Aleata Illusion
Horror Journalist Heather Wixson
Actress Devanny Pinn
Day of the Woman Blogger Brittney-Jade Colangelo
Actress Felissa Rose
Filmmaker Michelle Fatale
Dollar Bin Horror Blogger Rhonda Kachur (aka Rhonny Reaper)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Open Graves (2010)

You would think that after so many horror movies, characters would know not to accept gifts/directions/help from creepy locals – especially if the local treated you like a stupid tourist one minute but is overly friendly and generous the next. Well, the dense characters in Open Graves have either never seen a horror movie or are just plain dumb, because they have no problem accepting a cursed board game from a local, even when it’s under suspicious circumstances.

You see, the game, entitled Mamba, is an ancient game made by priests out of the skin and body parts of a condemned witch. Anyone who plays it is subject to the game’s fickle cards, so if you die in the game you die in real life. The winner, though, will have the ability to have his or her wish granted. Of course, the characters don’t exactly know this when they decide to play the game one drunken night, but when they start dropping like flies, they realize that the game is causing their untimely deaths. Then it’s a race against time to try and beat the game…and ultimately cheat death.

I have to give it to Lionsgate, the premise of Open Graves sounded pretty solid on paper and the first few minutes, featuring the torture of the condemned witch and the creation of the Mamba game, had me hooked. From there, though, everything went south…fast. One of the biggest affronts was the “development” (or lack thereof) of the characters. They were basically portrayed as vapid, stupid people who only cared about getting laid, getting drunk and getting high. I know the studio is trying to skew to teen audiences, but c’mon! Just once I’d like to see one of these types of films feature smart, savvy characters. Also, the characters were supposed to be “international surfers” (the film is set in Spain) but never once did I see any surfing going on. I don’t know why writers Bruce A. Taylor and Roderick Taylor decided to stick that into the story, but it was another completely pointless shtick among many other plots holes, like the fact that the game was written in English when it had its origins in the Spanish Inquisition or the lame subplot featuring a desperate detective hunting down the game.

My enjoyment of the film just plummeted after the dumbed-down characters were introduced and I begin to notice all the plot holes. My interest deteriorated even more when I witnessed the poor execution by director Álvaro de Armiñán. Nothing in the direction stood out as making this film memorable. The most memorable thing about it was how close the kill scenes were to the Final Destination films. You know the set up – character enters a room/area where there are a bunch of objects made to look threatening, but the thing that kills him or her comes out of nowhere (like snakes dropping out of the sky…who the hell thought that was a clever idea?). Yup, Open Graves was chock full of these annoying scenes, and since they are so familiar, there was no chance of suspense or scares.

Speaking of the kill scenes, the final straw to this awful film was the horrible CGI they used for the truly ridiculous kills. For example, ridiculousness meets bad CGI animals when one guy gets pushed off a cliff by a firefly (I kid you not – and the firefly is kinda like the mascot for the Mamba game and it reappears throughout the film) and then is eaten by blood-thirsty crabs. Another example would be when another character has black mamba snakes drop out of the sky(!) and chase him through a lumberyard before he succumbs to their venom. Then there is the big “twist” of a finale, which again, is just ludicrous and features CGI on-par with a SyFy release (hey, what-do-you-know, Open Graves WAS released on SyFy!) that just makes you role your eyes and shout to the heavens “WHY?” The only outstanding death in the whole film was when a girl met her end in a fiery car crash and tried to crawl out while her whole body was a mass of charred skin still on fire. Nonetheless, this scene doesn’t make up for the atrociousness of the rest of the film.

Not even a phoned-in performance from Eliza Dushku makes this worth a look. Keep Open Graves closed and let this film rest in peace.

Order it on Amazon!

Insatiable (2009)

Scott Perry’s silent short film Insatiable offers up a quick and satisfying vampire tale in under 30 minutes. Yup, I said “silent” film, as the story is told completely without dialogue…not an easy feat for a director or his actors, but Perry and his talented cast pull it off!

Insatiable tells the tale of a serial killer (Mike Lane) who is obsessed with vampires and uses fake fangs to kills his victims and then drains their blood for later use. Though he has had many victims, his distant wife (Zoe Daelman Chlanda) really has no idea what is going on with him. When he meets an enigmatic stranger (Raine Brown), things start to change for the vampire wannabe and his wife begins to suspect his dark secret.

For a low-budget indie, Insatiable looks great with balanced parts of grit and polish. It has an Expressionist feel that gives it a timeless air. One of my favorite scenes is a creepy dream sequence that looks like an old horror film from the 1920′s. The killer’s victims are all covered with translucent sheets (echoing the plastic sheets he used to cover them when he killed them) as they watch him attack the mysterious woman on a stage. The music accompanying this sequence is haunting and perfectly sets the eerie atmosphere.

Though the rest of the film doesn’t feature many scares (though the last bit is gory), it is still gripping and thrilling. It just has that mysterious aura about it that kept me interested. Plus, all of the actors give amazing performances that really sell the film. Considering they had to use just their movements and facial expressions to convey emotion, they did a phenomenal job. I loved everyone’s performance, to Mike Lane’s brooding, obsessed serial killer, to Zoe Daelman Chlanda as the concerned wife to Raine Brown as the mysterious woman with a few tricks up her sleeve!

As mentioned above, the film isn’t all that gory and instead focuses on the eerie atmosphere of the story. The blood-letting that is shown works well within the context and I found the special FX to be well done. A little gore goes a long way in this horror short!

Insatiable gives us a little taste as to what filmmaker Scott Perry is capable of, and let me tell you, after this I’m hungry for more!

Check out Insatiable’s Official Site!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

President's Day (2010)

You know what I think? That you can never have enough holiday-themed horror movies! So I eagerly looked forward to watching President’s Day! An added bonus is that it’s helmed by filmmaker Chris LaMartina, whose previous films, Book of Lore and Grave Mistakes, we raved about. LaMartina continues his winning streak with President’s Day, a fun indie film that’s a throwback to classic ’80s slashers!

The plot is pretty simple: A killer dressed like Abraham Lincoln is murdering high schoolers who are running for student council. Barry (Bennie Mack McCay IV) joins the race to get closer to new student and fellow candidate Joanna (Lizzy Denning), but finds himself embroiled in a mystery where everyone is a suspect, including snotty popular girl Chelsea (Nicolette Faye), the sleazy janitor (Lee Armstrong) and Officer Kennedy (Ryan Thomas). Can Barry figure out who the killer is before its his turn to get axed?

Chris LaMartina (who directed and co-wrote) again proves that he is a major talent to watch with President’s Day! First off, the film looks fantastic – it has excellent lighting, interesting shots and overall looks extremely professional. It definitely takes skill and talent to make an independent feature, and it’s safe to say LaMartina has both in spades! This is one filmmaker that you actually want to see more from!

Secondly, the story, written by LaMartina and Jimmy George, is simple but throws enough red herrings throughout (that are actually believable) to keep you on your toes. When the final reveal comes as to the killer’s identity, I was actually surprised! And it wasn’t some random character, either, but actually made logical sense! I also enjoyed how each of the characters was developed just enough, and while some of them were stereotypes of high school students, this actually worked with the comedic aspects of the film. I especially liked one particular scene that shows all the stereotypes when Barry is trying to get some information from the students…it definitely made me giggle!

The comedy in the film is never overpowering, though, and there are plenty of horrific kills throughout the film! I was impressed with the films high body count – A LOT of people, kids, and even pets get killed! I especially liked the death of a jock involving a trophy and another one involving a goth girl getting an eye gouged out! The film doesn’t discriminate against the crippled either…the first kill features a wheelchair-bound candidate getting axed! My only complaint is that the kills were a bit anti-climactic and were pretty quick.

Still, that is a tiny complaint in comparison to how I felt about the high quality of the film. Even the acting, usually one of the weakest points for an indie production, blew me away! Every single actor was phenomenal and I couldn’t pick a bad performance out of the bunch! This wasn’t a simple production with just a few lead characters, either, but required the talents of numerous actors, both lead, supporting and extras. I was impressed by the talent of the large cast and the ability of LaMartina to really direct all the actors so that they gave the best possible performances.

President’s Day is a fun throwback film that is well-made, well-acted and just a joy to watch! This again proves that indie filmmaker Chris LaMartina is one talent to watch!

President’s Day will premiere at the Charles Theater in Baltimore on (what else) President’s Day, February 15th, 2010.

For more info, visit President’s Day on Facebook and Twitter!

Vindication (2010)

In Bart Mastronardi’s debut feature film, Vindication,the theme of all-consuming guilt is explored by the lead character of Nicholas (Keith Fraser), a troubled and depressed young art student. After a failed suicide attempt, the lines between reality and fantasy begin to blur and madness overtakes Nicholas. As he tries to conquer his guilt and discover who he really is, this path leads him on a murderous and bloody journey of self-discovery.

Vindication is a very creative indie effort and has some pretty effective scenes, but it is not without flaws. One of its most glaring flaws is the running length, which is far too long, especially in regards to the nightmarish, languid way the narrative is constructed. Many of the film’s scenes feel drawn out, repetitive and unnecessary. Plus, it took its sweet time getting to the meat of the story after Nicholas’ attempted suicide.  Character development is important, but it shouldn’t be done to the extent where the audience loses interest in the actual story! When the film finally got around to the horrific part of the story, it lingered too long on unnecessary characters (like the bickering couple at the masked rave) or drew out scenes that should have lasted a few seconds or minutes. I think if this had been condensed into a short film it would have been much more effective, because as a feature length the film just doesn’t work, especially since I spent most of my time watching the clock instead of the movie.

The story and the way it was portrayed was pretty clever, but the script is cluttered with Shakespearean-inspired speech and quotations. At first I enjoyed this device, but by the end of the film I had grown tired of it. Like a play, the film is very dramatic, over-the-top and theatrical, reminding me of a classical Greek tragedy. Mastronardi uses lots of symbolism throughout the film, but like the dramatic Shakespearean-isms it sometimes comes on too strong. Mastronardi also utilizes some very interesting characters throughout, and while I enjoyed most of them (the blind seer, Nicholas’ personal demon, Nicholas himself) some of them just appeared (or disappeared) with no apparent explanation. Again, the story is in need of some serious editing to straighten out its more convoluted points.

Despite its flaws, I enjoyed the artistic and philosophical nature of Vindication. At its best, it reminded me of the superior indie films The Psychomanteum and Mercy, both which feature the same surreal atmosphere of Vindication. It has some nice photography, even though at times shots aren’t as clear as they should be. Still, it’s a well-composed film that shows some creative use of camera angles, especially for it being Mastronardi’s first feature.

Another one of the film’s strengths lies in the actors, especially the lead of Nicholas as played by Keith Fraser. Fraser really makes us care for his troubled character, even when he starts hacking up his buddies and random strangers. Through Fraser’s performance we feel Nicholas’ pain and really feel where he’s coming from (especially during the scene where he confronts his dickwad of a father, played viciously by Jerry Murdock). I also enjoyed performances by Zoe Daelman Chlanda as Nicholas’ dead mother, Cassandra, and Alan Rowe Kelly as Urbane, the blind seer (both references to Greek mythology). I also loved the small cameo by Raine Brown and Joe Zaso as an expectant couple. The performance that stole the show, though, was whoever played the demon throughout the film. I believe it was filmmaker Bart Mastronardi, but I’m not positive. Whoever it was, though, did a fantastic job at creating an eerie and unforgettable character!

Vindication may have its flaws and its avant garde feel may not be for everyone, but there is no denying that it is an ambitious project that is worth a look for fans of more psychological, artsy films.

Vindication will be released by R Squared Films in April 2010.

Visit Vindication on Myspace, Facebook and its Official Site!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

7 Days (2010)

7 Days (aka Les 7 Jours du talion) just had its world premiere at 2010’s Sundance Festival and this torture thriller opened to a lot of buzz. I wasn’t expecting much with this film, perhaps just a more artsy version of Saw, but 7 Days explores much more emotional depths with its gritty and melancholy look at vengeance.

Surgeon Bruno Hamel (Claude Legault) and wife Sylvie (Fanny Mallette) have a strong, loving relationship and a cute young daughter named Jasmine (Rose-Marie Coallier). One afternoon, Jasmine goes out to distribute invitations to her upcoming birthday party but never returns home. The frantic parents and police search the nearby neighborhood and soon find the brutalized body of Jasmine, who has been raped and killed. The police soon track down the alleged rapist and killer, Anthony Lemaire (Martin Dubreuil), who has a long rap sheet of sexual offences. Bruno is not satisfied with what the police have in store for Lemaire and after a carefully orchestrated plan kidnaps Lemaire as he is transported by police and takes him to a remote cabin. Bruno tortures Lemaire for the seven days that lead up to the date that would have been his daughter’s ninth birthday. As he slowly wrenches the life out of Lemaire, the police, led by Detective Hervé Mercure (Rémy Girard) who has experienced his own family tragedy, try to stop Bruno from becoming the monster he is trying to kill.

7 Days is certainly an affecting piece of cinema, one that will certainly leave viewers stunned and shaken up. It is not, as I first assumed, Saw for the art crowd. First off, it has a stark and cold gray color palette that sets the somber and grim mood of the film and makes it heartbreakingly beautiful. The direction by Daniel Grou is unsettling and unwavering in its look. For example, there is a truly disturbing shot of the lifeless Jasmine that lingers over every spot of blood and every speck of dirt on her brutalized and broken body. It is one of the most horrifying images of a murdered child I’ve ever seen in a film and it makes the viewer terribly angry and hopelessly sad all at once. Grou also lets the camera linger on the tortured body of Lemaire as well as a dead carcass of a deer, and while some shots are drawn out too long (and frustratingly indulgent), for the most part the demented direction of Grou fits the melancholy mood of the story perfectly.

The story, adapted for the screen by Patrick Senécal and based on his book, is certainly nothing new (a parent who will sacrifice everything to see that the murderer and/or rapist of their family member is appropriately punished), but it is the emotional turmoil of the story that kept me watching. The more and more Bruno tortures Lemaire the more and more he himself is turning into the monster he is so desperately trying to punish. Some of the torture is so harsh (sledgehammer to the knee, whipped with chains, a surgery where Lemaire can feel it all even though he is paralyzed, etc.) that I sometimes found myself starting to sympathize with Lemaire, even though he was a pedophile, rapist and murderer. This conflict is also echoed in Bruno, who begins to struggle with the idea of killing Lemaire. Writer Senécal really makes us think about what is right and what is wrong or if there is just gray area that is better left to one’s own interpretation. And, gosh darn it, I like a film that challenges me to think!

The actor who plays Bruno, Claude Legault, does an awe-inspiring job of portraying the conflict mentioned above. The inner turmoil he faces is brought to light by Legault’s subtle but strong performance. I must also commend Fanny Mallette for playing the heartbroken mother, Sylvie. She did a wonderful job of playing the mourning parent who was still strong when her husband abducted the killer and she had to face the police by herself.

As for the film being billed a “torture thriller”, don’t confuse that with the term I so loathe, “torture porn”. 7 Days is not about being exploitative at all, but rather examining the complex emotions and actions of a victim-turned-potential-killer. It is heavy on the emotional drama, which definitely won’t please some horror fans. As mentioned before, gorehounds looking for a cheap thrill will probably be disappointed. 7 Days aims much higher than your standard exploitative horror film and while I like a challenging horror film, some people simply don’t and will be put off by the film’s art house themes. However, if you are looking for a thought-provoking and cringe-inducing film 7 Days may be right up your alley!

And guess what? You can catch 7 Days on video-on-demand as part of the Sundance Selects VOD rollout! Check your local cable provider for availability.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Familiar (2009)

In this quirky short film, Sam (Torrance Combs) is a vampire’s assistant, or familiar. At first, he thought it was his dream job, but his boss, the vampire Bolivar (Paul Hubbard), is a real nightmare! From disposing of bodies to taking care of the bosses’ finances to bathing his dead body, Sam pretty much does all of the vampire’s menial and disgusting tasks, getting little back for his loyal service. As he says, “I wanted to meet Dracula and I ended up serving Danny Bonaduce with fangs.” Sam sticks with the horrible job with hopes that Bolivar will eventually make him into a vampire as well, but when Sam finds out the truth about vampires and his position all bets are off.

The Familiar is a hilarious short film from writer and director Kody Zimmermann, full of quotable lines, great performances and is just an overall fun experience. Zimmermann wrote the film after a horrible experience as a personal assistant to a Hollywood actor. After that experience, Zimmermann became interested in what Renfield’s point of view might have been in Dracula as well as addressing how countless underpaid and underappreciated assistants feel every day. Keeping that in mind, Zimmermann decided to helm the unforgettable Familiar short.

With a quick wit, perfect comic timing and clever cultural quips (Sam asks, “Do all vampires know jujitsu so they can fight Buffy and Blade?”), Zimmermann’s script is whip smart. This is his first writing credit on, but I sure hope he writes something else because his immense talent shouldn’t go to waste! If his humor peppered TV shows and more films the world would be a better place!

His direction isn’t shoddy either, and The Familiar looks pretty damn amazing taking into consideration its small budget. We aren’t talking anything fancy here, but it still looks great and doesn’t have that low-budget look that haunts most indie films. Even the special effects that are peppered throughout the film look professional. My favorite would have to be an impressive staking of a vampire and the subsequent burning by sunlight. The fact that the film is low budget AND a short film makes it all that much more impressive.

The two leading actors, Torrance Combs and Paul Hubbard who play Sam and the vampire Bolivar, respectively, do a fine job as well. Their stellar acting also makes the film seem like it’s got a much bigger budget. And it wasn’t just the two leads that were great, it was also the supporting actors who gave strong performances, among them Jason Harder who played a vampire slayer and Art Ritching who played, as Sam calls him, “the vamp equivalent to the Godfather”.

My only complaint about the short is that it isn’t longer. Zimmermann has said that the only reason that The Familiar was made into a short was because of monetary constraints, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that one day this will be made into a full-length feature because I think it would be a smash hit and has the potential to be the funniest horror film since Shaun of the Dead! In fact, The Familiar does for vampires what Shaun of the Dead did for zombies.

Become a fan on Facebook!
Visit The Familiar on Myspace!
Visit The Familiar’s Official Site!

Denizen (2010)

You know, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a truly atrocious indie film, but Denizen has broken my winning streak. Denizen, the third feature from action-oriented filmmaker J.A. Steel (The Third Society, Salvation), was filmed in nine days in Steel’s guerilla style filmmaking on film and 24p video. That’s all fine and dandy, but the film looks dated, the narrative is convoluted and the film has major pacing problems, not to mention the film’s horrendous acting and several technical issues.

Now, I understand all the hard work that goes into making a film on a low budget and how some sacrifices in quality have to be made, but the problems with Denizen don’t necessarily stem from the budget and could have been easily fixed. For example, the story could have been tightened up, unnecessary scenes could have been removed or edited and more attention should have been paid to the pacing of the film. It’s a pity the film isn’t better, because there are glimmers of greatness in Denizen…they just never seem to break the surface.

Peace gets shattered in a small town when a mysterious creature starts to leave a bloody trail. The last hope for the residents to fight the terror and prevent the destruction by military forces rests on the courage and the resourcefulness of a small group of scientists.

Drawing on her experience in her first feature film, The Third Society, Steel brings back a tough motorcycle riding main character in form of Sierra Deacon. It is Deacon’s team, consisting of Dexter Maines (Ben Bayless) and Dallas Murphy (Jody Mullins), that has to save the town from the creature. After several deaths, a special Army Unit, led by General Jernigan (Glen Jensen), is called in to contain the creature, or if necessary, destroy the town. It is a race against time to stop the creature and prevent the town from being destroyed.

What makes the film nigh unwatchable? Denizen is a mish-mash of choppy scenes, unnecessarily dialogue, painful acting, a drawn-out and meandering storyline, poor effects, undeveloped characters and a myriad of technical problems like the many static camera angles that made me think I was watching a poorly-acted community theater production. There is so much wrong with this film that future filmmakers should watch it to see what NOT to do when making a film…this is definitely a Z-grade horror flick.

On the plus side, a major highlight of the film was watching J.A. Steel’s kick ass character of Sierra Deacon. Her gruffness and take-charge attitude made it hard to take my eyes off of her! Plus, her character has a nice twist that is one of the only cool things that happens in the flick (and its idea of the “monster within” really should have been developed more). J.A. might not be cut out for filmmaking, but she was the only decent actress in the entire production! Her performance was pretty much the only pleasurable thing about watching Denizen. 

I wholeheartedly support indie filmmaking, especially when helmed by a woman director, but I can’t sugarcoat the fact that this film is just downright awful. I may support indie filmmaking and women filmmakers, but only when the movie is actually worth championing!

Visit Denizen’s Myspace!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Flicker (2009)

“When all hope is lost, there’s always a flicker.”

This is the basic premise behind the independent horror film, Flicker, for when there is the tiniest bit of hope there is a possibility of a way out from any horrific ordeal.

Of course, the film’s other tagline is “Keep your friends close and your enemy’s shovel”, which shows some of the dark humor that is injected into an otherwise depraved and hallucinagenic journey of survival against the odds.

Flicker is about a weekend camping trip to a small mountain town that goes horribly awry. Pretty (Katy Houska) and her boyfriend Jack (Babak Tafti) wake up in the middle of the night to discover that their friends are missing and have only left behind a bloodied tent. Their horrific journey leads them to discover maniacal cops, homicidal locals and an unforgiving landscape – all which stack the odds against their survival. Somehow, though, Pretty must find a way to cope with the terrifying elements surrounding her and figure out a way to escape the twisted situation.

Flicker is an extremely interesting indie film that stands apart from typical “survival horror” films because of several artistic and creative aspects its story is infused with. First off is the Grand Guignol way the film and Pretty’s mind are introduced. The opening scene features a demon-like announcer, called Pixie (played magnificently by Courtney Bell) on a stage. Her malevolent presence seems to inhabit Pretty’s mind and dreams and her exaggerated painted mouth, makeup and movements make her appear very threatening. Later in the film, Pretty dreams that Pixie is cutting her in half with a massive whirling saw on stage. These scenes give the film a much more whimsical, yet no less menacing, feel. These Lynchian touches really make Flicker stand head and shoulders above most indie horror flicks.

Also on the positive side are all the amazing performances given in Flicker. Kudos to director and writer Aaron Hendren for getting the actors to give it their all! Katy Houska is perfect as Pretty, who starts off as a normal girl but after her harrowing ordeal starts to fray at the edges until she triumphantly is reborn as an ass-kicking machine (and kudos for the actress for shaving her head for part of the role!)! Houska gives a very strong, commanding performance. As mentioned above, I adored Courtney Bell’s performance as the malicious Pixie. Also on the villain side, Kevin R. Elder gave a very eerie performance as the sadistic and sociopathic cop Buck. All of the members of the weirdo family that kidnapped and tortured people by putting them in an itty bitty wood box were phenomenal as well! In fact, there wasn’t one bad performance in the entire film, something a low budget film should be commended on! Plus, you can tell that the cast involved had a lot of fun making the film. There is an adorable lip synch reel that runs through the end credits with most of the cast bloodied up and singing along to the closing song – it’s hilarious and just makes you love the film even more!

For a low-budget film, Flicker looks pretty damn great. Hendren has a great directorial style that really pulls you into the story and his writing makes you care about the characters. The overall look of the film is very crisp, clean and professional and looks close to theatrical quality. There are some truly gorgeous shots of the forest, lake and surrounding countryside. I also loved the grain and color used and even the special FX look realistic and seamless.

My only complaint with the film is that it had a few pacing problems. I think it needed more padding and more going on in the middle, because things got repetitive with watching Pretty stumble through the woods. I also thought that the Pixie character should have been utilized a bit more towards the middle and end, because her character kind of just drops away with no explanation. I also thought the inclusion of another victim, Misty, was unnecessary and most of the action should have focused on Pretty, her boyfriend and their two friends instead of introducing other victims.

However, besides these few flaws I wholeheartedly enjoyed Flicker and loved its odd, hallucinogenic feel. I especially appreciated that filmmaker Aaron Hendren did something different with the whole “survival horror” subgenre and didn’t give us just another Texas Chainsaw Massacre retread. Flicker comes highly recommended!

For more info on Flicker, visit Egg Murders Productions Official Site!

Contact (2009)

In this gorgeous and grim short film from director Jeremiah Kipp, two lovers (played masterfully by Zoe Daelman Chlanda and Robb Leigh Davis) score a drug from an underpass drug dealer and have an unpleasant and increasingly horrific trip back at their apartment.

From eerie opening scenes showing an older couple setting the table and waiting for a guest (I never thought setting a table could be so creepy!) to a beautifully framed shot of the couple as viewed through a window, Contact oozes sinister style.

From the beginning, it’s apparent the lead characters are going to be taking a strange journey, a la Alice in Wonderland. The drug dealer, played by B-movie cult figure Alan Rowe Kelly (who also produced), reminded me a bit of the Mad Hatter and the whimsical, old-fashioned bottles the drugs were stored in reminded me of the “Drink Me” bottles Alice encounters in the Lewis Carroll story.

There is a sense of foreboding and unease throughout the short, which only builds when the couple takes the drug. Dialogue is very limited, creating an even more surreal atmosphere, which is further developed with the freaky visuals of faces melding together and then stretching apart. The direction by Jeremiah Kipp and cinematography by Dominick Sivilli is stunning. The movie is filmed in black and white, giving it an artistic look, and Kipp creates a claustrophobic, paranoid atmosphere of confusion and vulnerability.

Besides the beauty of the visuals and the tension they create, the actors should also be commended for their terrific performances. As mentioned earlier, there is hardly any dialogue, so it’s up to the actors to portray their emotions and what they are going through solely through body language and facial expressions. Zoe Daelman Chlanda gives an absolutely amazing performance, filled with horror and vulnerability, and commands her screen time.

Contact is a stunningly sinister short film that is probably one of the best anti-drug films I’ve seen! It perfectly captures the horror of being trapped in a trip and the repercussions of drug use on family members. Reach out and make Contact today!

Watch the film on!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Diagnosis: Death (2009)

The big selling point of Diagnosis: Death is that it features the trio from cult comedy show Flight of the Conchords (Bret McKenzie, Rhys Darby and Jemaine Clement) but fans of the show shouldn’t get too excited…each are only in the film for less than a few scenes and none of them play pivotal characters.

Perhaps a better selling point for horror fans is that the official synopsis compares it to Peter Jackson’s early films like Dead Alive and Bad Taste…too bad Diagnosis: Death doesn’t remotely live up to this comparison. Perhaps a more precise title of the film would have been Diagnosis: Zzzzzzzzz, because it nearly put me to sleep.

Teacher Andre (Raybon Kan) and student Juliet (Jessica Grace Smith), both with terminal disease, are both undergoing experimental treatments at a drug-testing facility, lead by the Nurse Ratchet-type Nurse Margaret Bates (Suze Tye). A side effect of the drug is hallucinations, but when both Andre and Juliet start experiencing the same sinister visions of a horrific double murder that may have occurred at the facility, they decide to get to the bottom of the mystery…even if it threatens their lives.

Diagnosis: Death does have its moments of laugh-out-loud quirky humor, but that is the only part of the film that actually rings true. The horrific elements of the film fall severely short, complete with stereotypical Ju-On/Grudge-type scares (a creepy kid, suicide/murder, watery footprints, etc.) and horrendously rendered “ghosts” (including a ridiculously out-of-place scene where ghostly skeletons are boning…ok, that scene alone might be worth a rental). I will say there are some disturbing scenes, including a hanged woman and said creepy kid hiding under a desk, but they were too far apart and the rest of the film dragged.

The film felt unbalanced and at times it felt like I was watching two different movies – a comedy on one hand and a B-horror film on the other – and it just didn’t feel like the elements of horror and comedy ever melded together to create a cohesive film. It’s a pity that the pacing and storyline were so off, because the actors all did a good job. The film is based in New Zealand, and I believe most of the actors are from there. Raybon kan and Jessica Grace Smith were great in their roles, though their age differences made things a bit awkward at times. I especially enjoyed Suze Tye’s performance as the no-nonsense Nurse Bates. And, of course, The Flight of the Conchords guys all did a great job in their brief performances…but seriously, we are talking mere minutes of screen time, so don’t get too excited.

Despite a few positives, Diagnosis: Death arrives DOA and unfortunately can’t be resuscitated with even the quirkiest of humor. Unless you wanna see a couple of wispy, CGI skeletons doing it doggy style, steer clear!

Buy it on Amazon!

Interview with The Vault of Horror's Brian Solomon

Brian Solomon is the keeper of The Vault of Horror in his increasingly limited spare time. He has somehow found a way to make a living writing and editing for the past dozen years – seven of which were spent penning articles about screaming men in singlets for WWE. Born and bred in the Brooklyn neighborhood where they filmed Saturday Night Fever, these days he lives the life of Henry Hill at the end of Goodfellas, in the state of Connecticut–the geographic equivalent of the Overlook Hotel. Joining him in the existential wasteland is a concerned wife who tolerates his zombie obsession to varying degrees, a 7-year-old daughter who ponders the existence of spirits, and a 5-year-old son whose favorite movie is The Host.

Fatally Yours: When and how did you first become interested in the horror genre?

Brian Solomon: I was raised in what I like to refer to as a “golden age” of TV syndication. As a kid, on a weekend afternoon, the NYC syndicated channels would constantly have classic Universal and Hammer flicks, plus awesome retro and cult horror from the ‘50s and ‘60s. It was a great time to be a kid, getting exposed to stuff you never would have been exposed to otherwise. Entertainment options are much more plentiful now, and genres are more ghettoized into specific channels, so it’s harder for young kids to get into it the way I did. But that’s definitely what first piqued my interest.

Fatally Yours: What is the one horror film or book that most profoundly affected you?

Brian Solomon: I had been familiar with Universal and Hammer as a little kid, but the single movie that literally made me into an absolute horror fanatic overnight, and was my introduction to “modern” horror, was The Return of the Living Dead. My parents were big horror-heads in the early days of VHS, and this was one of the flicks I always heard them raving about. I rented it secretly when I was about 12, and watched it about three times in a row. I was absolutely fascinated with it—and horrified! As a pre-teen boy, I naturally missed all the irony and humor and took it all seriously. ROTLD was my gateway horror movie. Next came Evil Dead, followed by Romero, and the rest is history.

Fatally Yours: How and when did you decide to start writing about horror and how did your blog, The Vault of Horror, come about? 

Brian Solomon: I had been a magazine writer for WWE for seven years, and got to write about something for which I had great passion at the time, which was the pro wrestling business. In that role, I also had a vast audience and got a ton of feedback on what I had to say. Once I left there in 2007, I had basically burnt out on wrestling, and wanted to write about something else that had always greatly interested me. I was intrigued by how a blog could allow you to create your own platform, without having to depend on a boss or anything (of course this also meant there would be no money in it, unfortunately!). I also missed interacting with readers, and knew a blog would help me do that, too. Horror was something about which I felt supremely confident about writing—plus, it helped that at the time my real-life job had me writing the most boring, dry stories imaginable. I needed an outlet!

Fatally Yours: What sets your blog apart from other horror sites?

Brian Solomon: I don’t think this is as much the case now as when I first started, but at the time, I wanted to combine enthusiastic fanboy-ness with legit professional writing cred. Blogs catch a bad rap for being unprofessional, or written by non-writers, and while I think that’s very unfair, I wanted to bring a dozen years of professional writing experience to the table, in addition to an undying love of the genre. That said, there are a ton of quality horror blogs out there now. I like to think The Vault of Horror has an appeal because it stays kind of general, drawing on the entire spectrum of horror history for its content. You get a little of everything.

Fatally Yours: What advice would you give to aspiring horror bloggers? 

Brian Solomon: Remember that when you put yourself out there in this format, you’re now a writer. It may be just a hobby, but you’re putting your work out there for people to read, so unless you’re just doing a journal-style blog, you need to give your readers a reason to want to keep coming back. Never forget your audience—write for them, not yourself. Don’t make the blog about yourself, although it is important to create an online personality as well.

Fatally Yours: If you could cast your own horror movie, which actors/actresses would you cast, in what roles, and why? Who would you choose to write and direct the film?

Brian Solomon: I always wanted to see a horror film from Martin Scorsese, and now it looks like that’s what we’ll be getting with Shutter Island, although I suppose that’s being categorized more as a “thriller”. I’d love to see what his manic, kinetic sensibilities could do if let loose on the horror genre. He’s tried out so many other genres, why not that? I’m also very interested in seeing what certain actors and actresses you don’t ordinarily associate with horror can do, people with the right chops, that is. I thought Robin Williams was very good in One Hour Photo, and I think he’s got the kind of wild energy that could make him great in straight-up horror. Tom Hanks would be another one—can you imagine that? A sinister Tom Hanks? People call him the modern-day Jimmy Stewart, but look at how menacing Stewart was in Vertigo!

Fatally Yours: In your opinion, what constitutes a good horror review?

Brian Solomon: If you’re going to accept screeners and do reviews, do not, I repeat, do not be afraid to give a bad review if you think something stinks. Be honest, your readers will respect you for it. You are not the friend of these studios and movie marketers, and you’re not beholden to them. Bloggers are journalists. Don’t be a sycophant—but also don’t be outrageously, childishly negative in a review. Both are equally unprofessional. A good horror review is balanced, honest and informed. Call it like you see it.

Fatally Yours: What are your thoughts on the modern horror climate? 

Brian Solomon: I think all this torture porn and emphasis on torture in general in recent years has been showing me I’m getting older. I can’t handle it like I used to. Movies like Hostel really bother me, and it was troubling me that it seemed horror was heading down that path. I was always as much a gorehound as anyone else, but for some reason, maybe it was having kids or just getting more life experience in general, I found myself more alienated by the cold nihilism of some of what I was seeing. I felt that horror was losing its sense of fun—which, as odd as it may sound, it really has always had to a certain varying degree over the decades. I lean more toward supernatural horror these days than dwelling on reality-based movies about things that “could really happen”. I’m not an ironic college kid anymore. I like the escapism. I don’t want to picture my loved ones getting hacked to pieces.

Fatally Yours: Why do you think sex and violence are so intertwined in the horror genre? How often would you say that nudity and sex scenes are actually relevant to the story in a horror film? 

Brian Solomon: There’s been a strange comeback recently of gratuitous nudity and sex in horror, just as there has been with explicit violence. Horror movies scaled back a bit in the 1990s, but now it’s swung back the other way. There’s been this quasi-nostalgia movement, about longing to go back to the grindhouse aesthetic, and as a result we’ve been getting a lot of exploitative stuff lately. Sometimes that can be admittedly fascinating in its own right, but not when it gets overdone by every hack and his mother. As far as the intertwining of sex and violence, the genre has always been fixated on that. Our culture was in a completely different place at the time, but I’d say that movies like Dracula and Frankenstein are deeply concerned with that blend, just as The Devil’s Rejects is. Horror deals with our dirty little secrets, which is partly why I think it gets so stigmatized—it brings to light aspects of ourselves that some people prefer not to think about.

Fatally Yours: Horror films, though popular, are mostly viewed as subversive movies that, according to some, are only a step above pornography. For horror fans, it’s sometimes hard to convince others that the genre is much more than blood & boobs. How would you convince someone that the genre has much more depth and to give it a try?

Brian Solomon: The bad rap on horror has mainly to do with the fact that it’s primary focus is more often on making you feel, just as much as making you think—usually more so. This is why comedy also gets short shrift in comparison to drama, and why sci-fi tends to be more “respectable” than horror—it’s more cerebral than visceral. It’s hard to sway someone who’s diametrically and philosophically opposed to that very notion. But I’d say the best way to open people up is to show them movies that go against the stereotype they have in their minds. Don’t show them Jason mindlessly chopping up fornicating teenagers. Show them Romero exploring social allegories via zombies. Show them a mastermind like Hitchcock using symbolism to explore complex psychological themes. Get them to rethink what they think they know about horror. Then you can transition them to the fornicating teenagers…

Fatally Yours: Is there any kind of horror film you find difficult to watch or refuse to watch? 

Brian Solomon: Like I got into a bit earlier, I’d have to go with a lot of the torture-based stuff that’s been all the rage over the past few years. I can watch something like Texas Chainsaw Massacre any day of the week, but show me something like Hostel and I’m sorry, but I’m checking out. There are some people who gravitate to horror mainly because they have a deep need to pruriently watch people be hurt. I’m not one of those. I adore TCM because it’s artfully made and has something to say. I can’t sit through a movie that is basically made for the purpose of titillating me through simulated violence, then wrapped in some vague, lame social pretext to somehow rationalize it. The ending of The Strangers is a good example. I actually enjoyed that movie, ‘til the end. We’re shown the two protagonists, trapped in a room with their assailants, no hope for escape, as they’re slowly killed. Why are you showing me this? What dramatic purpose does it serve? It’s not to build suspense, because they aren’t saved, and there’s no hope that they will be. It’s just there to satisfy a need to watch people be tortured. It shows contempt for the characters on the part of the filmmaker—and contempt for the audience, as well.

Fatally Yours: Where do you think the horror genre is going in the coming years?

Brian Solomon: That’s so hard to say. One thing I have noticed is that foreign horror, meaning outside the United States, is becoming more of a force than ever before. Some of the absolute best horror movies I’ve seen in recent years have been foreign language films. I have a feeling this is going to continue to an even greater degree. I also think we’re seeing another golden age of direct-to-video horror like what happened with the VHS boom of the ‘80s. Distributors like Lions Gate and IFC are putting out tons of stuff – lots of it inevitably awful, but there’s also a lot of great stuff in there, as well.

Fatally Yours: What horror films are you most looking forward to in 2010?

Brian Solomon: I’m excited about things like The Wolfman, Survival of the Dead, The Walking Dead TV series. Also, Shutter Island, as I touched on before. Interestingly, I’d say I’m looking forward to The Walking Dead more than any actual film this year, because I’ve always wanted to see a quality zombie TV series, and that comic book seemed to me to be the perfect source material. As for movies, I’d say The Wolfman still has me the most fascinated. There’s been so much drama surrounding it, and although I cant help but lose some hope regarding its quality, I still can’t help but also be extremely curious to see it.

Fatally Yours: What people in horror do you look up to and admire?

Brian Solomon: As someone who’s worked in magazines, and even ran one for a time, I have tremendous respect for Jovanka Vukovic and what she did with Rue Morgue. Especially as a woman in the field – believe me, I’ve seen the attitudes towards women in the magazine industry, it makes Mad Men look feminist. And to actually get to that position and have that kind of power in a male-dominated category is quite a feat. I admire someone like Max Brooks, who could have easily made a living being “Mel Brooks’ son”, instead embracing a topic he was passionate about and almost single-handedly spawning a sub-genre of zombie fiction. I admire George Romero for sticking to his guns and making movies the way he wants to make them, for avoiding the studio system as much as is still humanly possible, even in a day and age when so much has changed from when he first got into the business.

Fatally Yours: What are some of your current horror favorites in film, literature, video games, etc.? 

Brian Solomon: The most terrifying new film I’ve seen since starting The Vault of Horror has been [REC]. In terms of quality, the best has been Let the Right One In. I’d call that one of the best movies of the decade – of any genre. In the past year, Grace, Drag Me to Hell and Deadgirl are standouts for me. I also consider Moon to be psychological horror in part, and that one completely blew me away last year as well. In literature, I was impressed with Breathers, although I’m not sure it quite lived up to its prodigious hype. I’m reading something right now called The Werewolf’s Guide to Life, which is a lot of fun. There’s also a comic series out now called North 40 that is head and shoulders above a lot of the lackluster horror comics out there. I’m not much of a video game guy, so I can’t really comment on that, although if you consider Godzilla to be horror, then I will say that Godzilla Unleashed is a pretty kick-ass bit of interactive entertainment. I enjoy recreating the Megalon/Jet Jaguar battle from Godzilla vs. Megalon with my son…

Fatally Yours: What are your favorite horror films and books of all time? 

Brian Solomon: The original Dawn of the Dead is my all-time favorite horror film. Beyond that, I’d have to rank LTROI [Let the Right One In], ROTLD [Return of the Living Dead], the original TCM, Nosferatu, Bride of Frankenstein, Psycho, Dead Alive, The Evil Dead, Suspiria, The Shining, The Exorcist and Alien on that list as well, among so many others. But most people would agree on most of those, anyway. More off the beaten path, I’d go with The House by the Cemetery, the original Haunting, the Fredric March Jekyll & Hyde, Kiss of the Vampire. And of course, all civilized humans can agree on Shaun of the Dead.

With books, I’m definitely an Anne Rice defender. In her heyday, she was a much finer prose stylist than Stephen King could ever hope to be. The Vampire Lestat is her best. I’m also a big Dan Simmons fan, both of his horror and sci-fi stuff. I devoured World War Z in about six days, so that’s another one. Naturally Poe, with my all-time favorite being The Tell-Tale Heart. And in the past couple of years, I’ve gotten a much deeper appreciation for Lovecraft. The man practically invented horror as we know it.

Fatally Yours: Who are your favorite scream queens and kings of horror?

Brian Solomon: Vincent Price, Vincent Price, and Vincent Price. The man could literally do no wrong – I would watch him read stereo instructions. He relished his roles so much, and it always showed. At the same time, he always had fun with it, and was somehow able to balance the horror and the histrionic, tongue-in-cheek hamminess. He’s pure bliss to watch, I especially love his later stuff like Dr. Phibes and Theatre of Blood. Dwight Frye is extremely overrated and literally stole Dracula out from under Bela Lugosi. Anyone who reads the Vault knows of my obsession with Linnea Quigley, which also goes back to my ROTLD obsession. She was the epitome of the ‘80s horror vixen, how could you not be in lust with her? Plus, Hammer always had a knack for casting the most outrageously gorgeous women—it’s such a product of the swingin’ mod ‘60s in Britain, I love it.

Fatally Yours: What horror film do you think is highly overrated?

Brian Solomon: I have never been able to understand the utter adoration of Friday the 13th that seems often to be the underlying pillar of so much of horror fandom. Completely derivative, utterly unimaginative, cynical, puritanical, the antithesis of frightening. I enjoy the original, even if that’s also a blatant rip-off of Halloween, but once Jason comes into the mix, it’s just such a terrific bore. One methodical kill after another, with no rhyme or reason, strung together to allow the audience to watch really annoying people die. It doesn’t even try to scare you or make you care.

Fatally Yours: When you aren’t immersed in horror, what do you do to pay the bills?

Brian Solomon: I can honestly say that blogging has helped lead to things in my actual career—so hang in there, kids! I was a writer/editor/marketer based primarily in the print world, but thanks to all the web acumen I’ve accumulated via blogging and social networking, I’m actually getting paid now to build and run a website. It’s the web presence of a magazine publishing company, basically the online version of their print periodicals. It’s been fun and challenging actually creating something from the ground up like this, and keeping it running smoothly. Helps me still feel creative. Funny thing is, the sites are actually based on WordPress templates, so it’s almost like I’m getting paid to blog! Sort of.

Fatally Yours: What are your goals for yourself within the horror genre? What can we expect from The Vault of Horror in 2010?

Brian Solomon: Honestly, this thing has come a lot further than I ever even imagined it would! I’m grateful that the Vault has accumulated a strong readership, and that people seem to actually be enjoying what I put out there. I’d love to see the traffic continue to grow, and the online presence to widen even further, so that maybe one day it could even become a website to rival the “big boys” – hell, I’m not against luring some juicy advertisers in, I have no problem merging art and commerce, as long as it’s done right! I’m in the midst of putting together the 2nd annual Cyber Horror Awards, the only horror movie awards voted on by the online horror writing community, which I expect to be a lot broader in scope than it was last year. I’ve also been doing a lot with connecting with other blogs, and doing my part to foster a kind of community in the horror blogosphere, so I hope to do even more of that. It’s a crazy, interconnected web of writers and readers out there, and I love being a part of it.

Visit The Vault of Horror…if you dare!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book Review: The Death Panel - Murder, Mayhem and Madness edited by Cheryl Mullenax

Comet Press follows up its fantastic short story collection Vile Things: Extreme Deviations of Horror with The Death Panel: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. Like Vile Things, The Death Panel is edited by Cheryl Mullenax and she definitely knows how to pick ‘em! The Death Panel is chock full of vicious, ultra-violent and hardboiled short stories from authors Randy Chandler, Tim Curran, John Everson, Brandon Ford, Kelly M. Hudson, David James Keaton, Scott Nicholson, Tom Piccirilli, Zach Sherwood, David Tallerman, Fred Venturini, Erik Williams and Simon Wood.

The collection starts with a bang with Randy Chandler’s Lipstick Swastika, a story with a ‘40s noir feel about a hotel security guard that suspects a buxom German blonde to be an escaped Nazi war criminal. The story is full of smoky rooms, irresistible broads, hard men and steamy sex contrasted against explosive violence.

The violence continues with Blood Sacrifices & The Catatonic Kid by Tom Piccirilli. This is about an older gentleman in a mental institution and the “The Catatonic Kid,” who one day snaps and escapes the institution, leaving a bloody wake behind him. Things aren’t always what they appear though, and the story features a you-will-never-see-it-coming twist!

One of the most imaginative of the stories is Kelly M. Hudson’s What Makes An Angel Cry, which creates a world where angels run Queens and Satan runs Brooklyn and the two sides are always fighting like rival gangs while humans try to steer clear. I really enjoyed this one, just for the sheer whimsy and creativity of the author, but there is also plenty of bloody fighting in it for the gorehounds out there. Hudson really develops the main character, a human named Billy who runs a bar, and the story has a gruff, New Yorker feel to it that just rang true.

In Brandon Ford’s disturbing tale The Neighbor, he keeps us on our toes as a trailer park wife suspects her neighbor may be a serial killer. This is a nitty-gritty tale that ratcheted up the suspense and kept surprising me with its many twists and turns.

The hits keep on coming with The Name Game by Scott Nicholson, about a snitch that loses his new identity only and the only way out from the mobsters he’s running from.

Next is one of my favorites, Fly by Night by Tim Curran, about some criminals who picked the wrong truck to hijack…and now must pay a very pissed creature of the night with their lives.

My absolute favorite of the collection, though, is Fred Venturini’s Detail. Precise and perfect, this short story had me by the short hairs. It’s about a car detailer that cleans up after people’s “accidents” and is known for being discreet, yet he keeps evidence against his clients in case he ever needs it. A fiber here, a blood sample there, all stored in a safe and carefully filed for potential future use. When he falls in love with a client who had been cheating on her husband, though, things take a tragic turn. Just like the stories title, it’s all about the details in this one and Venturini fits them together beautifully.

Parental Guidance by Simon Wood is about the perfect all-American family, the Barnes, and father Preston Barnes’ secret and extreme method of keeping his kids in check. Rindelstein’s Monsters by David Tallerman is a murder mystery filled with supernatural beasts confined to a mental institution. The Hooker in the Backseat by Erik Williams is about a grim father/son reunion after the son gets out of prison for covering for his pop.

The most shocking story of the collection is John Everson’s The Mouth, about a prostitute whose mouth is a vagina and whose vagina is a mouth. Apparently it gets pretty confusing for a john and he sticks it in the wrong place and impregnates her neck. Things don’t end well…

Nine Cops Killed for a Goldfish Cracker by David James Keaton is a surreal urban tale about a junkie trying to pay rent on time but having to face innumerous obstacles. I loved the inventive writing style of this one, but it’s definitely not for everyone.

Zach Sherwood’s Board the House Up end the collection with an uneasy story about a cop on suspension that decides to check out a burglary in progress but finds something much more horrifying than robbers.

There is not one bad story contained between the pages of The Death Panel: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness. I eagerly read the noir-tinged and hard-boiled stories of crime, violence and horror and eagerly await Comet Press’ next release, because they and editor Cheryl Mullenax are really making a name for themselves in the horror community!

Buy it on Amazon!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sauna (2008)

I’ve always loved period horror films, especially those that features rich history and superstitious folklore come to life. Period horror films are few and far between so, when I first heard about the Finnish film Sauna, set at the end of the 1500’s, I was excited to check it out. I will say the name threw me off a bit, which to me sounded more like a been-there, done-that J-horror than anything else. Yet, when I popped the DVD I was immediately taken in by the eerie atmosphere of Sauna as I let the film chill me to the bone.

Sauna is set in 1595 at the end of a war between Russian and Sweden. A new border between the nations is being mapped out in the far reaches of northern border by a group of Russian soldiers and two Swedish brothers, the hot-headed soldier Eerik (Ville Virtanen) and the more cerebral and sensitive Knut (Tommi Eronen).

One night, Eerik and Knut seek refuge in a local peasant’s home belonging to a father and daughter, but after discovering some religious iconography pointing to the father’s Russian loyalties, Eerik kills the father. Knut tries to protect the daughter from Eerik’s violence by locking her in a shed. As they rejoin the group of Russian soldiers and continue their trek across the dismally gray landscape, Knut begins to see the peasant girl following them. Eerik tells him to snap out of it and confesses he never let the girl out of the shed and left her to die.

As the eerie images of the peasant girl continue to haunt Knut, the group presses on until they come across a village in the middle of a misty swamp. The village is uncharted on the map, so the group decides to stay there to decide whether the village goes to the Russians or the Swedes. Yet, there is something very unsettling about the village and its inhabitants. The weirdness seems to stem from the half-submerged sauna that sits apart from the village. In folklore, saunas are supposed to cleanse you of your sins, but this particular sauna seems to force people to face their sins.

Sauna is a very deliberately paced and cerebral film that asks more questions than it answers. If you are looking for a ghost story filled with jump scares, look elsewhere, because Sauna is a much more of a thinking person’s horror film with many layers and subtexts. It raises many questions about guilt and redemption, salvation and repentance and at what cost can sins be cleansed. While these philosophical questions (and many more) are raised, the film never really seeks to answer them and instead leaves them up to the viewer to decide. The film is very ambiguous and it’s left open for interpretation by the viewer. Personally, I enjoyed the open-endedness of coming to your own conclusions that director Antti-Jussi Annila and writer Iiro Küttner offered the audience and how the consequences that the characters suffered really got you thinking.

I also loved the heavy, ominous atmosphere that Sauna offered. Throughout the entire film there is a palatable uneasiness that creeps up on you. Through the bleak cinematography (lots of gray skies, leafless trees, muddied water, dead grasses, etc.) and several eerie events like the appearance of the peasant girl to Knut as well as several dead villagers that scratched out their own eyes (reminding me of the Bible passage in Matthew 18:9 – “And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”) and the stark and sinister sauna itself, the film builds tension and unsettles the viewer.

It is this eerie atmosphere where Sauna succeeds the most. Some horror fans might not appreciate its deliberate pacing, but I thought the slowly building suspense was well worth it! And the film’s final frightening images sent shockwaves through my system! Director Antti-Jussi Annila and writer Iiro Küttner, along with the amazing cast, have truly delivered an artistic, emotional and grim horror film, and while it is not for everyone, those who appreciate more cerebral horror films will no doubt enjoy Sauna.

Buy it on Amazon!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Book Review: The Best of Joe R. Lansdale

Even if you don’t think you’ve ever heard of Joe R. Lansdale, I bet you have. Have you seen Bubba Ho-Tep? Or perhaps watched the Masters of Horror episode Incident On and Off a Mountain Road? Well, both of those were adapted (pretty faithfully, I might add) from Lansdale stories. The witty, outrageous and unforgettable dialogue from Bubba Ho-Tep is pure Lansdale while the heart-stopping action in Incident shows he can build a terrifying story.

I was fortunate enough to receive an early review copy of The Best of Joe R. Lansdale, due out March 2010, which collects many of Lansdale’s most acclaimed, weird and wondrous stories! The collection features sixteen of Lansdale’s short stories, including the previously mentioned Bubba Ho-Tep, Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, as well as Mad Dog Summer (my personal favorite from this particular collection), Godzilla’s Twelve Step Program, the non-fiction Hell Through a Windshield and many more odd and outrageous stories!

Lansdale’s writing style ranges from shocking to sentimental, but always surprises with its down-home style and wicked wit. All of the stories contained in this collection are well worth reading. Lansdale’s outlaw-style writing, complete with colorful characters and provocative settings, pops from the pages and makes you eagerly beg for more remarkable tales. This is Texan storytelling at its best – rude, crude and offensive! His stories have a tall tale feel to them, and though they contain many unpleasant circumstances and characters there is also an underlying sentimentality to them. They are both sweet and sour, but leave the reader satisfied in the end.

My favorite story in the collection is Mad Dog Summer, about a young boy in backwoods 1930’s East Texas who finds himself caught up in a sinister and grisly murder mystery. The story is built around the legend of the Goat Man, who legend says roams the woods and preys upon wayward folk. This story sent chills up my spine, especially as told from the point of view of a young boy. The frightening images of the Goat Man standing on the edge of the woods pretty much made me want to dive under the covers. It also deals with issues of racism, harsh (in)justice, intolerance, growing up and learning to do the right thing no matter what. These themes and the well-drawn characters as well as the details that Lansdale incorporates into the story really pulled me in. I truly did not want to put this story down and had to read it from beginning to end!

The strength of Lansdale’s stories rest squarely on the shoulders of his colorful characters, who are usually piss-full of vinegar and colorful language. They mainly hail from the hearty backwoods of Texas or other rural places, living hard lives and encountering many strange creatures, including zombies, mummies and even albino mules. Lansdale breathes spectacular life into these characters as he has them encounter some truly extraordinary experiences. And then there is just the pure and unbridled imagination of Lansdale – where else can you find a crotchety old Elvis stuck in a convalescent home with a black JFK or Godzilla on the road to recovery from his propensity to destroy things? There is nothing in horror literature like the characters in a Joe Lansdale story, that’s for sure!

The Best of Joe R. Lansdale is a must-have book for the lover of the weird, the champion of the bizarre and the fan of the outrageous. If you are looking for a unique experience that will leave you equal parts stunned and nostalgic, frightened and amused, look no further than the “high priest of Texan weirdness” himself, Joe Lansdale.

In Lansdale’s own infamous words, “Come on in – the weirdness is fine.”

Order it on Amazon!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Interview with The Night Gallery's Robert Brown

The Night Gallery - Photo by Suzy Bellew

Tucked away in the burgeoning Artist’s Village in Santa Ana, California The Night Gallery is a must-stop shop for dark art in Orange County.

The Night Gallery specializes in the dark, the macabre and the controversial. It has a decadently dark aesthetic that I fell in love with the first time I waltzed through its doors. When I stepped through its threshold, I felt like I had come home.

Works of art by Voltaire, Gris Grimly, Kristopher Sapp, Eric Pigors, R.H. Phister and many more graced the walls while custom made couches and a coffin coffee table offered respite and a chance to let all the gallery’s offerings soak in. One armoire held beautiful works of ceramic art while another displayed unique jewelry. Works of metal art, including frames, dioramas and intricate custom pieces were tastefully arrayed. I tell you, it was love at first bite, errr, sight!

After being so enthralled, I knew I had to meet the gallery owner, who happened to be the very friendly and informed Robert Brown. Besides owning a wonderful gallery and showcasing some truly show-stopping works of art, Robert is also an artist. All of the pristine ceramic art and most of the intricate metal art I had seen was made by Robert! Being so impressed with his gallery and artwork, I just knew I had to pick Robert’s brain, especially since The Night Gallery is right in my backyard! Careful, Robert, I may just move in!

Fatally Yours: When did you become interested in art?

Robert Brown: I have always been interested in art. I started by drawing pictures of cars and monsters when I was really little. I also tried to duplicate the sets of my favorite horror movies such as Frankenstein’s lab as a child.

I was busy drawing and painting all through my school years and took any art classes that were offered.

Fatally Yours: Do you have formal schooling or are you self-taught?

Robert Brown: My major is in art, and have taken a variety of studio art classes ranging from mixed media to ceramics. My interest in metal work and welding came during the time I worked in my brother’s auto body shop.

Fatally Yours: What draws you to the darker aesthetic? 

Robert Brown: It goes back to my childhood and love of Halloween. My friends and I used to go all out for Halloween as kids. We would create our own mask and facial prosthetics to try to really scare people. I would also spend a lot of time watching old horror and sci-fi movies.

Robert Brown

Fatally Yours: Orange County isn’t necessarily known for its dark art scene. What drew you to open a gallery here? 

Robert Brown: I found out through a friend that there was an Art Walk in Santa Ana. At that point in time, I was completely unaware of any art scene in Orange County other than Laguna, which was not my cup of tea at all.

While at the Santa Ana Art Walk my wife and I saw a sign for new lofts that would soon go up for sale. We put our name on the waiting list and reserved a spot. About a year later we were moving in and setting up the gallery. We wanted something different, and Santa Ana offered that with its emerging and experimental artist’s culture. Santa Ana’s Artists Village has been very welcoming to our gallery and the work we display.

Fatally Yours: Have you ever had visitors to your gallery be shocked at the content displayed? Any fainters or people that ran screaming into the night?

Robert Brown: Funny you should ask…I try to watch the expressions of customers as they come through the door. We have had a few customers who come in and many times walk right back out with very distraught looks on their faces. Some people even appear to be angry? But for me, that is what makes it all worthwhile. If an art piece gets some sort of reaction out of people, the artist has done his job. Art should evoke some sort of emotion whether positive or negative.

Fatally Yours: Tell us about the wonderful artists you have featured in your gallery.

Robert Brown: Some of our regularly featured artists are Rochelle Phister, Krys Sapp, Eric Pigors (AKA Toxictoons), and many others. Rochelle is an amazing artist who works with oils. Her pieces almost seem translucent, and her skill is just over the top. Krys Sapp makes amazing mixed media pieces that really get great reactions out of people. Eric Pigors creates some very clever monster cartoon art that has been seen all over.

Fatally Yours: You yourself are an accomplished artist. What drew you to the ceramic arts? 

Robert Brown: My love for ceramics came during my collage days. I also like three-dimensional work, and I love the pliability of clay. I also discovered the Raku glaze/firing technique during this time. Raku is a very unpredictable technique. You never know what colors you will get until the piece is finished. That is what I love about it.

Outdoor art sculpture by Robert Brown

Fatally Yours: You are also an amazing metal sculptor. What drew you to that medium?

Robert Brown: Metal is very different than ceramic in that it is a very forgiving material. It is also more predictable that clay, and I love being able to create large pieces.

Fatally Yours: Which art form is more challenging to you, ceramics or metal?

Robert Brown: The two are so different.  Metal would be the most challenging for me because there is still so much more I need to learn about welding and building techniques.

Fatally Yours: Do you have a process you go through when creating art or is it more free form?

Robert Brown: Sometimes I have a clearly outlined plan that I follow, but I would say for the most part that the medium can really determine the outcome of a particular piece.

I am very right-brained. I really hate measuring and finding correct angles so much that many times I avoid it. I have to see the problem I am trying to solve in front of me in order to find the correct angle or measurement. In other words I struggle with math and geometry, which I feel, is not necessarily a bad thing. It is this bizarre handicap that I have to work around, but many times I find some really cool solutions that contribute to a piece.

Fatally Yours: How long does it typically take you to create your Raku ceramics? What about your metal sculptures? 

Robert Brown: Other than drying time, ceramics came be a fairly fast-paced medium. A small piece can take maybe an hour to create, but 3-4 weeks in drying time.

Metal is much more instantaneous. It all depends on the size and complexity of the piece.

Fatally Yours: What are your favorite pieces of art you’ve created?

Robert Brown: I have a few that pieces that were kind of breakthrough pieces for me.

First I would say, a seven-foot high metal grandfather clock I made about four years ago.

The second would be a piece entitled “Saint Vigilo”. It was a themed piece I had for a show at The Congregation of the Forgotten Saints. It is a large metal shadow box. There are a number of complex curves and angles that I had to work through to finish it.

The third piece would be my most recent piece I made for Rado watches of Switzerland. It is a large metal and velvet sculpture that also had a series of unconventional problems that I had to overcome.

I have discovered that art involves a lot of problem solving. This type of thinking is what hones an artist.

Robert Brown's Santa Alquimia (St. Alchemy)

Fatally Yours: What are your favorite pieces of art from other artists?

Robert Brown: Krys Sapp had a shadow box piece of the Virgin Mary that I will always remember. He used lots of velvet and found objects together to create this otherly world motif.

Jeremy Cross has had a number of controversial religious themed works that I have really enjoyed too.

Fatally Yours: What inspires and influences both your artistic work as well as the overall aesthetic of your gallery?

Robert Brown: People have asked my before, “What is your muse?” but I really can’t give them a firm answer. Design, style and line are what drive me. Again, it is being there in the midst of working with the material that influences the piece. Getting into the artistic “zone” and just allowing that to work from within you, this is what inspires me. I will be out working in my studio, loosing track of time, forgetting to eat, when my wife has to reel me back in to reality.

My wife, Tamera, is the one who really put the gallery together. She has an amazing eye for interior design.

Fatally Yours: If you could perfect any other artistic medium what would it be and why?

Robert Brown: Stone, I suppose. I like the permanence of rock.

Fatally Yours: What other dark art galleries do you like to frequent?

Robert Brown: Congregation of the Forgotten Saints in Hollywood, Dark Delicacies [Burbank], La Luz de Jesus [Hollywood], and I have yet to go to Hyaena [Burbank] because our openings are usually on the same night.

Fatally Yours: Who are your current favorite artists?

Robert Brown: I have always liked the artists of the Dada movement. I like how they took common objects and incorporated them into making political and social statements in their work. The whole Art Deco movement has also influenced my work. So to answer your questions more directly, I would say some of my favorite arts are Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, George Grosz, Paul Soldner, Andy Warhol, and many others.

Robert Brown's The Nephilim

Fatally Yours: You currently have artwork from noteworthy artists such as Voltaire and Gris Grimly in your gallery, among others. How did you obtain their works?

Robert Brown: Krys Sapp has been a good friend and excellent connection for meeting  artists. He is the one who introduced me Voltaire, and Gris Grimly, as well as many of the artists in the gallery. We are Gris Grimly’s Orange County retailer for his originals and prints.

Fatally Yours: What kind of art and/or aesthetic are you looking for to display at The Night Gallery? Do you have any rules or guidelines you follow when scrutinizing art that an artist would like to show in your gallery?

Robert Brown: Artwork doesn’t necessarily have to be “dark” in order to be displayed at Night Gallery. Sometimes work will be chosen because it is controversial. The work must not only be outside the norm but must show artistic proficiency.

Fatally Yours: Do you or your gallery have any shows/events coming up?

Robert Brown: The next show will be Saturday, February 6th from 7:00-10:00pm which coincides with the Santa Ana Art Walk. We have a big event being planned for the spring of 2010. Cam Rakam and I are working together on this art show and concert. Details can be found in January on the Night Gallery website.

Fatally Yours: When you aren’t creating art or running The Night Gallery, what do you like to do?

Robert Brown: I am kind of a car guy. That is where I first began welding, and I have a couple of antique cars.

I also like just hanging out in Downtown Santa Ana.

Fatally Yours: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask, so what are your favorite horror films and books? 

Robert Brown: Some of my favorite horror movies are Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, Nosferatu, Vampir, Night of the Living Dead, Carnival of Souls, Dawn of the Dead, and 28 Days Later. My favorites are the early silent films, but I still love a good zombie film too.

As far as books, the typical Poe books, Paradise Lost, and the Iliad.

Fatally Yours: Thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you, Robert! You have a truly unique gallery and I wish you all the best!

Visit The Night Gallery’s Official Site!
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