Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Blades (1989)

How did this little Troma movie pass under my radar for so many years? I mean, killer lawnmowers tend to attract attention but I don’t recall ever hearing about Blades, which, while it sounds like an ice skating movie is actually about a killer machine mowing down golfers at the Tall Grass Country Club.

When I stumbled upon this movie in my Netflix “watch instantly” queue, I just couldn’t pass it up! How could I resist a movie whose tagline is: “Golf – A Game of Hooks, Slices and … Slaughter”? Well, I couldn’t resist and settled in to watch this wacky and entertaining B-movie.

A series of gruesome murders is taking place at the prestigious Tall Grass Country Club. Golfers are being dismembered left and right, but with a live televised golf tournament coming up the owner refuses to shut the place down. Resident golf pros Roy (Robert North) and Kelly (Victoria Scott) set out to stop the murders, but are shocked to find that the culprit is an evil lawnmower out for blood. Can the pair of golf pros stop the killer machine before it mows down anymore unsuspecting golfers?

Blades is certainly not the perfect B-movie; for a Troma film it feels pretty restrained and lacks the outrageousness of most of their films. It also tends to drag in some places and the finale feels a bit stretched out. For a satire/parody it doesn’t quite go far enough and the laughs are far and in between (though I really liked the special ops caddies). However, I found myself enjoying the zany film, with its crazy ‘80s country club attire (think Lacoste polos, pastel- or neon-colored visors and high-waisted jeans…oh wait, I guess golf fashion really hasn’t changed!), random humor and its flesh-hungry killer machine (that looked more of like a combine rather than a lawnmower).

Even the two leads didn’t bug me (though they were a little bland) and Robert North and Victoria Scott did a good job in their roles as the resident golf pros Roy and Kelly. The rest of the cast was pretty hammy (intentionally, as this is supposed to be a parody of slasher flicks) and served their roles well (I especially liked William Towner as the country club owner Norman Osgood – “It’s on TV!!”).

Blades even has a sort of Caddyshack-like feel to some of their humorous scenes, and I half expected Bill Murray to pop up to defend his golf course against the ravages of a rogue lawnmower. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it Caddyshack for horror lovers”, as I’m sure some reviewers have, but with the golf course setting and its zany humor it’s hard not to make the comparison. In reality, director Thomas R. Rondinella intended it to be a Jaws spoof, replacing the ocean with a golf course and the shark with a lawnmower. Yes, it’s pretty silly but it is also pretty entertaining as well! I especially liked the POV shots of the lawnmower stalking its victims through the grass and the fact that the leads got trapped on a broken-down van down by the river in the middle of the course by the lawnmower just like the people were trapped on a sinking boat at the end of Jaws.

Still, I felt the comedy in Blades was a little too restrained. With that you’d think they’d amp up the splatter, but besides a few shredded legs and various bloody body parts strewn about the golf course there’s hardly any gore in the film. Even a scene where a young caddy gets “eaten” and large sprays of blood arc out of the woods doesn’t satisfy because the blood looks so fake.

Sometimes you just have to take a chance on a film, and while Blades certainly isn’t a Tromasterpiece it still managed to entertain me. If you like your films a little bit silly and can appreciate the humor in a bunch of golfers running for their lives from a killer lawnmower, do yourself a favor and check out Blades.

Available (only on VHS) from Amazon!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Peacock (2010)

John Skillpa (Cillian Murphy) is a timid, socially-awkward bank clerk living in tiny Peacock, Nebraska who prefers to keep to himself. This might have to do with John’s secret: he has another personality no one knows about, a woman named Emma, who each morning does his chores and cooks for him before he starts his day. However, everything changes when a train derails into Skillpa’s backyard, exposing Emma to the curious neighbors, who assume “her” to be John’s wife. As John struggles to maintain control over his other personality as well as keep up the façade that she is his wife, his already disturbed psyche becomes further unbalanced.

Peacock is an above-average thriller, but I’ll tell you right now it definitely won’t be for everyone. It’s a slow, subtle character-study about a man with a fractured psyche that plays more of like a drama than a thriller (though it’s pretty darn suspenseful!). If you aren’t put off by languidly paced films, however, Peacock is an intensely psychological experience that I definitely found to be worth my while, despite its flaws.

The best thing about the film is no doubt Cillian Murphy’s amazing performances as both John and Emma. These are two completely separate people, with distinctly different ways of talking, walking and different personalities and facial tics, but Murphy makes them both believable and I even starting thinking of them as two separate people instead of one man. How Murphy didn’t receive more accolades for his performance is beyond me, because he is purely brilliant in this film.

Rounding out the cast are several other famous faces – Ellen Page, Susan Sarandon, Bill Pullman, Josh Lucas, Keith Carradine. Not even against these accomplished actors is Murphy’s performance diminished, though the other actors do a fine job as well. Page played the role of a desperate young mother, Carradine and Sarandon played the wealthy mayor and his wife, Lucas the town cop and Pullman the annoying boss at the bank. While each character adds another layer of complexity to the story, some of these extraneous characters felt like they weren’t really vital to the story. Perhaps the connection between some of these characters and John/Emma never really meshed for me, but something was a bit lacking in their development.

Nevertheless, the best parts of the film were when John/Emma went behind the others’ back to interact with the townsfolk. When Emma would approve something (like a political rally in the backyard), John would find out later and just lose it! John was so out-of-control that you came to prefer Emma’s cool-headed way of approaching problems, even if she was manipulative and calculating. As she slowly took over more and more of John’s life and became the more dominant personality, John really begins to panic and this unbalance creates a lot of tension and suspense.

Now, a lot of people have commented that it’s not at all believable that the townspeople couldn’t tell that John/Emma were the same person, and while watching the movie I tended to agree. However, looking back I realized that if Murphy’s performance was so convincing to me, I suppose it would also work on the townspeople. Plus, the two separate personalities had completely different ways of moving and speaking. However, I still think it would have been more believable if writers Michael Lander (who also directed) and Ryan Roy had just made Emma John’s sister or cousin. At least that way it would explain the striking resemblance between the two!

Despite this, I found myself getting sucked into the twisted, dreary story. Besides the fantastic performances, director Michael Lander creates a somber, post-Dustbowl era (the movie could be set anywhere from the 1930’s to the 1950’s) atmosphere. The film itself is beautifully filmed and its dark tones create a melancholy, ominous tone. Even the obligatory backstory of John being an abused little boy or the previously mentioned flaws didn’t really sully the hauntingly filmed movie.

Peacock doesn’t work all the time, but if you are looking for a sophisticated, tense psychological film it is worth checking out!

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fugue (2010)

After viewing director Barbara Stepansky’s film tense psychological film Hurt last winter, I was excited to check out her newest effort, Fugue, which promised another psychological storyline, only this one included the possibility of the supernatural.

Fugue’s premise is based upon a rare disorder called a fugue state or dissociative fugue, which according to Wikipedia is “characterized by reversible amnesia for personal identity, including the memories, personality and other identifying characteristics of individuality. The state is usually short-lived (hours to days), but can last months or longer.”

Fugue begins with Charlotte (Abigail Mittel) moving into a new house with her older, college professor boyfriend Howard (Richard Gunn). Charlotte has just suffered an accident that is barely hinted at, but that’s okay because she and Howard are trying for a baby and seem happy for their new start. However, it’s not long before Charlotte begins to sense a malevolent presence in the house and begins seeing visions of a threatening black-haired woman. She comes to suspect that something horrible happened in the house, and is determined to find out what…but at what cost?

I wasn’t as impressed with Fugue as I was with Hurt, but that doesn’t mean it was necessarily a bad movie. On the contrary, it boasted a story with plenty of twists and turns, excellent acting and even a few disconcerting scares.

The story’s details felt unique, even if the whole “is she crazy or isn’t she” angle seems overplayed. Luckily, writer Matt Harry balances out these clichés with plenty of surprises. In fact, I enjoyed how Fugue messed with your head, and just when you thought you had it all figured out it threw you for a loop and took the story in an entirely different direction. However, the story also tended to drag in places and didn’t quite grab my attention from the start. The film’s saving graces were its unexpected twists and turns as well as a bloody finale, which turned it from typical psychological thriller to something much more engrossing.

Also superb were the performances by all involved, but especially Abigail Mittel as Charlotte. Mittel made her character believable and likable (perhaps even when she shouldn’t have been), and I found myself rooting for her the whole time. I also thought Richard Gunn did a fine job as her boyfriend, who patiently endured or tried to explain away Charlotte’s ghostly visions.

The direction by Stepansky really captured the claustrophobic feel of the house and surrounding garden terraces. It made you feel boxed in and trapped, adding even more tension to the film. While the film was more a thriller than anything else, Stepansky included several nice scares and disturbing scenes. The ghost haunting Charlotte looked marvelous with a few simple effects of blurring out her eyes and mouth. Plus, the action scenes near the end really wake the film up and were filmed in such a way that they really put you in the moment.

My biggest complaint of the film probably won’t affect its official release at all, but I think it’s worth mentioning that the audio levels were absolutely awful and I couldn’t understand about half of the dialogue. Why you ask? Throughout the ENTIRE film there is an annoying music track that drowns out the dialogue. The constant music ruins the mood of the film instead of enhancing it. The film would have greatly benefited from less music and more silence, or at least have balanced audio levels. One minute I was cranking up the audio to hear dialogue, the next turning it wayyyy down so I wouldn’t have to hear the repetitive music. I think the fugue that Charlotte plays on the piano and keeps humming would have sufficed for music as opposed to the tiresome score used throughout the film. I hope this is an issue they resolve before released Fugue to the public, because this grating annoyance made it difficult to sit through.

Despite that and a few pacing problems, Fugue was a low-key indie thriller that kept me on my toes with its twists and turns. If you happen to see it at a film festival and enjoy slow-burning thrillers don’t pass it up!

For more info, visit Fugue’s Official Site!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Golden Earrings (2010)

Golden Earrings is the debut feature-length film from first-time filmmaker Marion Kerr. I had been looking forward to Golden Earrings ever since I heard that it would be screening at Dances with Films Festival this June. As a strong supporter of seeing more women in horror, especially behind the camera, I was pleased as punch to see that Kerr not only handled both writing and directing duties in the film, but also starred in it! That is the kind of hardworking filmmaker I like to see in indie films! Not only that, but the film is very well done!

One night, a group of L.A. friends gather in an apartment to send off their friend Sara (played by writer/director Marion Kerr). Sara is heading to her parents’ house for the weekend after having a nasty fight with her boyfriend. Her best friend and roommate, Ronnie (Julia Marchese), is especially concerned for Sara, but everyone convinces her Sara is fine and not to worry. Sara leaves and Ronnie along with friends Fay (Lauren Mora), Julian (John T. Woods), Jack (Teddy Goldsmith) and Alex (Anthony Dimaano) continue to hang out.

Later that evening, Ronnie convinces everyone to mess around with a Ouija board, but they appear to make contact with a spirit that died that very evening in a car crash named S-A-R…well, Ronnie chucks the Ouija board before the spirit can finish spelling, but you get the idea. Everyone is understandably upset, most of all Ronnie, who insists that someone is playing a trick and kicks everyone out after they deny any involvement.

The next day, Sara’s mother calls saying Sara never showed up at home and can’t be reached on her cell. Over the next few days, Sara’s friends are fraught with worry, wondering what could have happened. Hit hardest is Ronnie, who slowly comes undone when she considers the possibility that Sara might be gone forever.

Eventually Ronnie starts to experience supernatural elements in the apartment. An old record plays in Sara’s room, objects move, doors close, drawers open…all signifying to Ronnie that Sara has returned to the apartment.

Golden Earrings is more of a drama/thriller film than straight-up horror, but it is a very nuanced, “grown-up” film. Watching it, it’s hard to believe that this is Kerr’s first film since everything is so tight and focused. It looks absolutely fantastic and immediately sucked me into its story.

The first things that really struck me were the stellar acting and writing. When we first meet the group of friends the dialogue is playful and witty, really drawing us into the story and making us care for the characters. Additionally, this engaging writing is coupled with some amazingly realistic performances by all involved. THESE are the kind of actors indie productions should strive to use! Each and every one of the actors was very natural, very believable and very likable. Of extra special mention is Julia Marchese as Ronnie. She gives an awe-inspiring performance as Ronnie. Her character not only faces jealousy, love, loss, alienation, loneliness and guilt, but she also faces being haunted and friends who simply doubt her and blame her “visions” on her ego. Marchese lets all these tumultuous emotions and experiences express themselves in her body language and facial expressions, but has the ability to reign them in, resulting in a nuanced performance instead of one that’s over the top. Her performance is subtle, but so good that you can see her character’s cracks and manic energy just starting to surface in the beginning of the film. When her emotions let loose it is an intense experience, resulting in a lot of suspense for the rest of the film.

I also enjoyed the film’s story. Even though Kerr opens the film with a dialogue-heavy scene and nothing much happens for the first 30 minutes, I was still enthralled by the likable characters and clever dialogue. Good writing really goes a long way, remember that indie filmmakers! Once the film picks up steam, Kerr adds some surprising twists and turns that not only make sense but also add even more depth to the film. The film may start off as straightforward, but the ending certainly threw me for a loop!

I also appreciated how Kerr kept it simple effects-wise. The haunting scenes were appropriately creepy without having to resort to cheap gimmicks, tons of fake-looking CGI or cheesy special FX makeup that would have taken away from the sophisticated feel of the story. Keeping it simple certainly proved effective and added to the overall “grown-up” feel of this psychological thriller.

My only tiny complaint is that some of the camerawork is a bit amateurish. This only happens in the first few scenes of the film, though, when some shots are a little wobbly, but thankfully doesn’t happen for most of the film. I also thought the name of the film was a bit mystifying (unless I missed something in the film alluding to the significance of “golden earrings”…anyone want to enlighten me?). However, neither of these small quibbles affected my overall enjoyment of the intense experience that was Marion Kerr’s Golden Earrings.

This is how indie filmmaking SHOULD be done!

Visit Golden Earrings’ Official Site!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Shock (1977)

Shock was legendary director Mario Bava’s final film before his death. That right there should be enough reason to get anyone to check this film out, but luckily it’s also a fine film that lives up to its title!

Shock is about a family – Dora (Daria Nicolodi), her son Marco (David Colin Jr.) and new husband Bruno (John Steiner) – who move into the old house Dora shared with her first husband/baby-daddy Carlo (Nicola Salerno). It seems that dear old Carlo was an unstable piano player and died under mysterious circumstances, leaving Dora very traumatized. When Dora and her new family settles into the house, strange things start to occur – furniture moves of its own free will, Dora suffers intense nightmares and little Marco starts to behave rather oddly. Is the move back to the house causing Dora to go a little mad or has Carlo come back from the grave to torment his ex-wife?

Surprisingly, I had never seen Shock before (I don’t know how it slipped by me since I’m a huge Bava fan!), but I’m so very glad I finally got around to watching it because Shock was everything I was hoping it to be! It is full of creepiness, scares, and yes, even shocks!

I loved how it blended the is-she-crazy-or-isn’t-she storyline along with the supernatural/haunted house theme AND the creepy kid bit. Not only that, but it blended these different sub-genres successfully. The film flowed smoothly and all these different storylines fit together very well.

There were also some truly memorable scenes, including one where a rotting hand strokes Dora’s cheek as she sleeps, some disturbing sexual advances young Marco makes towards his mommy, a nice scare involving a rotting hand bursting through the grass, razors hidden between piano keys, a basement that leaks blood and so on. The evocative score also helped build a sense of dread, as did the forebodingly dark lighting throughout the film. Even when the action is set outside a dreary pallor hangs over the film, echoing Dora’s fragile state.

The action was primarily focused on Dora and Marco (hubby Bruno is a pilot, so he was usually away for days at a time), which in the hands of lesser director might get boring In Shock this is certainly not the case and my eyes were glued to the screen watching as Dora spiraled into a hysterical state and things became progressively worse in the household. It also really kept me guessing and the conclusion, which is carefully hinted at, was extremely satisfying, ending on a decidedly downbeat tone. Acknowledgement should also be given to actors Daria Nicolodi (a fan favorite in Italian/Euro horror), David Colin Jr. and John Steiner. Had there performances not been up to par they really would have dragged the film down, but luckily they were all at the top of their game. Nicolodi and Colin Jr. must especially be recognized since, as mentioned above, they were the main focus of the film. Nicolodi was excellent as the caring but unstable mother and Colin Jr. was downright creepy (and a little bit sleazy) as the young son. Really impressive acting from Colin Jr., especially considering his young age!

Shock kind of lacks Bava’s visual flair from earlier films, but that doesn’t make it any less effective. As a modern haunted house/ghost story the austere visuals work quite well and I think any kind of flashy visuals would have taken away from the story. Plus, there are plenty of memorable scenes (those mentioned above, as well as many more) without the need for Bava’s typical gothic and/or over the top stylings.

Shock may not be Mario Bava’s most sophisticated work, but it definitely is a film that creates a sense of creeping uneasiness that is extremely effective. And you just can’t go wrong with flying razors and a kid possessed by his own dad putting the moves on his mom!

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Killer Must Kill Again (1975)

Expecting another typical giallo, I was surprised to find how sadistic The Killer Must Kill Again really was. This is definitely not your standard Italian giallo, but something much more sinister and disturbing.

It begins with Giorgio (George Hilton) being nagged by his crazy, but rich, wife Norma (Tere Velázquez). Going out for a drive, Giorgio witnesses a serial killer (Michel Antoine) dumping a body, so he then blackmails the killer and hires him to kill his bitchy wife, making it look like a kidnapping so her rich daddy will pay the ransom.

Well, during the kidnapping/murder things go awry as two kids (Alessio Orano and Cristina Galbó) steal the serial killer’s car…with the body of Norma in the trunk. The serial killer then tracks the two kids down to a seaside town where he indulges in some sadistic revenge.

I wouldn’t call The Killer Must Kill Again a giallo, but rather a mean-spirited and violent crime thriller. First off, we know who the killer is all along, so we don’t have the standard giallo whodunit. Secondly, the killer is only after the two kids, so all other victims are people that get in his way. However, the film is just as suspenseful besides these facts and does a wonderful job at ratcheting up the tension while we anxiously wait for the killer to catch up to the two oblivious teens.

While we wait for the killer to arrive, we begin to feel closer to the two teens, making what subsequently happens to them (especially the innocent character that Cristina Galbó plays) all the more hard to watch. When the killer arrives, he finds the virginal girl all alone in an abandoned house (her loverboy is off getting busy with a slutty local, played by Femi Benussi, but annoyingly dubbed – almost to the point where I wanted her to hurry up and die). The killer brutally rapes her in a very uncomfortable and shocking scene that cuts back and forth between the chilling rape and her boyfriend getting it on with the other woman. You are simultaneously disgusted and titillated by the two different scenes, making for a very awkward viewing experience. Kudos to director Luigi Cozzi for making us feel such dissonance with this scene!

Besides the character development that makes us feel for the victims, I thought the actors also did a wonderful job. The real standout was Michel Antoine (aka Antoine Saint-John) as the killer. Not only were his cold, chiseled features scary, but his silent demeanor was also menacing. Without his stoic performance the film might have fallen apart, but he owned his role as a sociopath. The other actors were equally good, though George Hilton faded into the background when the killer/kids storyline took precedence. I especially liked Cristina Galbó as one of the kids – she brought such innocence to the role! I also thought the handsome Alessio Orano did a great job as the sleazeball boyfriend.

Though the likable kids suffer thoroughly at the hands of the killer, their outcome is not as expected. I also liked the tidy wrap-up at the end of Giorgio’s storyline, but after witnessing such disturbing violence I had hoped the ending would have a bit more resonance. While The Killer Must Kill Again has its fair share of nasty brutality (especially towards women), its ending was a bit too “happy” for me. It is a solid film, but probably one I’ll only watch once. Take that to mean what you will…

Available from Amazon!

Night of the Hunted (1980)

I love Jean Rollin films – usually. Their dreamy imagery contrasted against shocking violence usually makes for a memorable viewing experience (see The Grapes of Death, The Living Dead Girl, etc.). Even the French director’s more subtle and “tame” films, like The Iron Rose) have a certain charm that I find irresistible. However, today I’m sad to report that I’ve found a Rollin film I just couldn’t get into – Night of the Hunted. While it still boasts Rollin’s signature style (the usual gratuitous nudity and gore), I found Hunted to be a disappointing, boring effort.

Elisabeth (porn actress Brigitte Lahaie) stumbles out of the woods onto a darkened road to escape…something. Young Robert (Vincent Gardère) drives by and picks up the disoriented beauty, who has lost her memory and can’t remember what she is running from or even who she is. Robert takes her back to his apartment in Paris, the obligatory “bow-chikka-bow-bow” happens (in a very long scene, I might add) and the next morning Robert leaves her there and goes to work. A man claiming to be Elisabeth’s doctor and his assistant kidnap her and take her back to a hospital housed in a towering skyscraper where she joins other zombie-like people who’ve lost their memories. Elisabeth vows to escape with Robert’s help, but in the meantime other patients start lashing out, with murders and lots of awkward sex occurring.

Sigh. This movie is more like a bad softcore porno than anything else, with not much attention given to other parts of the story. I was extremely bored during most of the film, even fast forwarding through much of it since nothing really happens. Elisabeth and other patients wander around aimlessly, have nervous breakdowns about not remembering anything, are raped by the staff (and one sleazy janitor in particular who has a painfully weird/uncomfortable rape scene) and are experimented on by the doctor running the hospital.

Gone is Rollins’ stylish imagery and replaced by a cold, institutionalized setting. Not even the gore is eye-popping since it is set in such a bland place. Sure, there is tons of nudity (full-frontal, both male and female), but the unattractive cast make it a chore to sit through and the sex feels vanilla, especially for a Rollin’s flick. The film just feels too sterile and constrained by its setting to ever achieve anything truly great and gets bogged down by a lackluster story and slow pace.

Not one of Jean Rollin’s best efforts, Night of the Hunted is only recommended for hardcore Rollin fans…and even then with trepidation.

Available from Amazon!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Interview with Goth-Industrial Band God Module

Don’t ever change
I like it spooky
Zombies eating brains
I like it spooky
Serial killers
And the insane
I like it spooky
Angry ghosts
Rattling chains
I like it spooky

-”Spooky” by God Module off their Let’s Go Dark album

How can any self-respecting spooky kid resist those lyrics? It’s like a horror-lovers’ anthem! Not to mention that a wicked sample of Trash (Linnea Quigley) from Return of the Living Dead appears throughout the track asking “Do you ever fantasize about being killed? Do you ever wonder about all the different ways Of dying…you know, violently?” as well as her famous “I like it spooky” line.

This song is not only representative of all the horror fiends out there, but it also shows what the goth-industrial/harsh EBM band God Module is all about. Founded by Jasyn Bangert (vocals, synth, programming), God Module also consists of fellow horror-lovers Byron C. Miller (vocals, live keyboards) and Courtney Bangert (vocals, live keyboards), and all three like it spooky!

As the creepy creators of “spooky dance music”, God Module has released the albums Artificial, Perception EP, Empath, Victims Among Friends EP, Viscera, Let’s Go Dark and recently released their new album The Magic in my Heart is Dead.

God Module has been one of my favorite bands for quite a long time, and it certainly was a pleasure to have the opportunity to chat with members Jasyn and Byron about crazy tour stories, their favorite horror movies and what is next for the band!

Fatally Yours: Welcome Jasyn and Byron! I’m very excited to have the opportunity to interview one of my favorite bands! 

Tell me, before God Module, what musical experience did you have?

Jasyn Bangert: When I was 14 I started playing drums. No formal training at all other than music class in middle school. I just played along to records like Misfits Walk Among Us and Ramones Rocket to Russia over and over again until I could play them. I was in an assortment of attempts at punk and death rock bands off and on while in high school but they never really worked out for too long. My interests in gothic and synth pop music brought me to be exposed to industrial bands. After hearing 242, Leather Strip, and Skinny Puppy I had no choice, I pawned my drum kit and bought an old shitty Alesis drum machine and set out to learn how to make electronic music and find out what the fuck MIDI meant.

Fatally Yours: Jasyn, you released God Module’s first album, Artificial, in 2000 before Byron and Courtney were in the band. How did the dynamic change after they joined the band in 2002? And Byron, how was your experience with joining the band?

Jasyn Bangert: Originally God Module was collaboration between one of my high school friends Andrew Ramirez and myself. At the time we met we both were really into Belgian new beat, techno and Ambient music. Looking back on those times its hilarious how little we knew about making a CD when we created “Artificial”. The stories of how we recorded our vocals on that release would scare most people who have a clue what they are doing musically. Sadly, people change and our friendship ended, as did his time being a part of God Module. Courtney had actually always been in the band since the first CD. I am very drawn to ideas of duality and the addition of clean, female vocals to my effected vocals was always part of the plan. With my music, lyrics and vocals I always try to exist somewhere in between good and evil, light and dark. I think the female vocal tracks really help to do that. Byron joined God Module after Andrew left due to my need for another live member. We have grown as a live band together since then and I feel Byron has really matured as a performer from where he was when we started. He also contributes vocals in the studio from time to time, as well as handling half the vocal duties live.

Byron C. Miller: I joined the band right around the completion of the Perception EP. I knew Jasyn wanted do something a little different with the next album Empath, and that we shared a great love for Horror in film and literature, and how well the genre can be used to explore, just as much as entertain. It only seemed natural that Jasyn would want to use horror as a backdrop and have always pushed for it in the music. Come to find out Jasyn was thinking the same way.  My overall experience in God Module is an evolution in live performance. The music and themes convey very powerful emotions and I always strive to really give an intense physical interpretation on the stage. I also do what I can behind the scenes to contribute to the albums by writing some lyrics, contributing vocals, finding many of the samples, and in general sitting there with Jasyn as he’s putting the song together and making suggestions.

Fatally Yours: Can you tell us about your main influences/inspirations when performing and/or writing material? 

Jasyn Bangert: When it comes to mood and imagery I am very inspired by artistic imaginaries such as Clive Barker, David Lynch, H.P. Lovecraft, Joel-Peter Witkin and Mike Mignola to name a few. I find myself drawn to these people because they seem to touch on places and experiences that “normal” people cannot begin to comprehend with their art. It’s not just personal or expressive but it is otherworldly at times. Performing live I think that my stage persona is very unique in the type of music we make. I don’t try to emulate anyone else when I am onstage.  I use my physical stature to become a reflection of the music I create. In doing so, I take a very animalistic, intimidating, monstrous approach to my stage persona.

Byron C. Miller: In performing live I strive to completely transform into something inhuman, evil.

Fatally Yours: Many of your songs are influenced by horror movies and it is obvious you are all big fans of horror. What are some of your favorite horror movies?

Jasyn Bangert: Some of my favorite horror films are: Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its sequel, Phantasm, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Halloween, Clive  Barker’s Hellraiser 1 and  2, Lord of Illusions, Stewart Gordon’s Reanimator films, Dagon, From Beyond, Return of the Living Dead 1, 2, and 3, Pumpkinhead, Trick R Treat, The Resurrected, etc., etc. I am also an insane Jason Voorhees fan, so I love all the Friday the 13th movies but, Part 6: Jason Lives is my favorite, followed closely by Part 7.

Byron C. Miller: I have many favorites for many different reasons, here’s a taste: Dust Devil, John Carpenter’s Halloween, The ThingNight of the Creeps, Dawn of the Dead (‘78), Return of the Living Dead, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (‘78), Near Dark, Fright NightThe Haunting (‘63), The Exorcist, Re-Animator, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (‘86).

Fatally Yours: Was there any specific moments and/or events that made you the horror fans you are today?

Jasyn Bangert: When I was really young I saw the trailer or TV spot for Phantasm somewhere and I became obsessed with seeing it.  I bugged my Mom constantly, every day trying to get her to take me to see this movie. From a very young age, I couldn’t wait for Saturdays so I could watch Creature Feature on Channel 50 in Detroit, where I grew up, in the suburbs. So it wasn’t that I had never seen a scary movie,  I just  had never seen anything other than what was shown on TV, which was mainly older Hammer or Universal films with the occasional 50’s B monster movie thrown in. So I think my mom finally gave in and took me to the movie in hopes that it would scare the shit out of me and I would shut up…and it did, I couldn’t walk past a mirror for a long time without expecting the tall man to jump out and grab me. Rather than turning me against being scared of things, it did the total opposite. I loved that feeling even more than ever and that is still going till this day.

Byron C. Miller: I attribute a lot of it to growing up for half of my childhood in Owensboro, KY. It’s a small town with plenty of legends and ghost stories, and my Grandma on my Dad’s side would always tell me of these stories and I could never get enough. Her house at the time was haunted and located on a hill next to an abandoned cemetery. Sometimes it’s like I was a kid in a horror movie and I loved every moment; I love to be scared! The late night horror host Sammy Terry was my hero, and Halloween was always my favorite holiday. I would even build haunted mazes in my room and have the neighborhood kids go through them. I suppose it’s just in my blood.

Fatally Yours: On the subject of horror, could you give our readers examples of your songs that directly relate to the genre and what inspired you to write them? 

Jasyn Bangert: From the beginning, God Module has been directly tied to horror in the sense of the majority of the themes I use in my song writing are in one way or another connected to the genre. Even our first CD, Artificial, which many people place in the sci-fi category is mainly based around ideas I got from movies like Aliens, Event Horizon, and Cube. After that CD, the title track on the Perception EP is based in the paranormal and uses ideas like telekinesis and ESP to express other more personal matters hidden in the words. This has become very synonymous with my work with God Module. I take extremely personal thoughts and feelings that I need to expel from my own self. I just use very dark imagery through words to get these things out of me. So while a song that seems like it is about the end times of the world (“Skeptical”), evolving into a fish person in Innsmouth (“Forseen”), or murder and rape (“Lucid”), they just might really be about very different aspects of my personality at their core. Then there are songs that are more obviously inspired by specific horror films I love like: “Your True Face” (Nightbreed), “Orange and Black” (John Carpenter’s Halloween), and “Brains” (my favorite zombie films like Return of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, etc., etc.).

Byron C. Miller: The song “Spooky” had an interesting evolution. Jasyn and I had always wanted to sample Trash and Suicide from Return of the Living Dead. When Jasyn sampled the “I like it spooky” line I started thinking of what the lyrics to such a song would be. I left a voicemail one day with the phrase “Don’t ever change I like it spooky.” This was a message to everyone that’s a little different to always be themselves. It was an anthem for everyone, and for myself as at the time I had just gotten out of a relationship that made me feel like I couldn’t always be myself. Jasyn liked it and thought that it could be the basis for a song that was not only a message, but also a fun tribute all things Horror that we enjoy. It would be like a trip through a haunted house. He then wrote the first verse, I wrote the second verse and the rest is history. I like that despite it’s more tongue in cheek approach, “Spooky”, like all God Module songs, is about much more than what it appears on the surface.

Fatally Yours: On your many tours, what has been your most memorable concert experience? 

Jasyn Bangert: There have been many. One of my Favorites was when we toured with the Mexican EBM band Hocico as part of the Out Of Line festival throughout Germany. At the time I was such a fan boy of Erk and Racso’s music that it was unreal to be driving around Europe on a bus performing with them every night. Sitting on the side of the stage watching Hocico every night after our set was over is something I will always remember as being fucking amazing. Also a lot of the early shows we did with my good friend Alex Matheu’s band Negative Format are very special to me.

Byron C. Miller: It’s a tie. Playing the WGT festival in Germany, performing for about 5,000 people was amazing and so much fun. However I don’t feel that I had reached my full potential at the time, and in a way that show and its success helped give me the strength to finally become the performer I always knew I could be. So the tie is with performing at DAS BUNKER in Los Angeles. The last two shows (this might be considered a threeway tie…) were just great. Such emotion and power from the crowd, and something overall about that venue just really makes me come alive. I love it!

Fatally Yours: Do you have any favorite venues/cities you just love to play?

Jasyn Bangert: Das Bunker in Los Angeles because the crowd is always fucking crazy! Sadisco* in Arizona is really cool too. When we first played there they asked me if I had a choice which movie would I want to play a concert in and of course I said The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2..because who wouldn’t? So when we got there they had turned the club into a rendition of the underground world beneath the old the Texas Battleland amusement park the Sawyer family lived in. Bones, Christmas lights and body parts were everywhere. They even had one room set up like the dinner scene. Then of course playing bigger festivals like Wave Gothic Treffen, Kinetik, Infest etc are always really fun. Not only is it nice to play in front of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people but getting to see and perform with many bands we are fans of or friends with or both is awesome.

Byron C. Miller: Los Angeles, San Antonio, Montreal, Mexico City, Leipzig – Germany

Fatally Yours: If you could pick any bands that you would want to tour with, who would they be and why?

Jasyn Bangert: I would have to say I would need a time machine to get the full effect out of this question. With that said the incarnation of the Misfits when the line up consisted of Doyle, Glenn Danzig, Jerry Only and Robo. Their music has been such a huge inspiration on so many aspects of my life. I would even settle for the opening spot for Danzig on tour for their first record. Runners up include touring with The Cure for Disintegration on the Prayer Tour, Christian Death for Only Theater of Pain, Skinny Puppy for Too Dark Park, Front 242 for Front By Front and Marilyn Manson for Antichrist Superstar.

Byron C. Miller:  Calabrese, it would be fun to tour with a great Death Rock band. GhoulTown for the same reason as Calabrese. Imperative Reaction, because they’re awesome and it would be lots of fun to hit the road with our friends Ted and Clint and the gang, and we’ve been talking about it forever, time to do it!

Fatally Yours: Oh yes please! Those would be great tours! So, tell us about your new EP, The Magic in My Heart Is Dead which is out now!

Jasyn Bangert: The new EP is based around 4 new God Module songs that after finishing I felt were strong enough to be released as their own entity and not part of the next CD:

“The Magic In My Heart Is Dead”: This songs title, which is also the title of the EP, comes from the name of a painting done by my good friend Ashley Kitchens. I was inspired by her work to write a song that I planned on using as the instrumental opening for our upcoming shows. I ended up simply speaking the words – “The Magic in My Heart is Dead” – on the song and I really liked the way it turned out. The title of her painting really appealed to me at the time. There were things I was dealing with in my personal life that had left me feeling as if parts of me had in fact died. I see this song as a funeral march of sorts. Mourning the loss of a very important person in my life and also as chance to become stronger from my own loss.

“Skeptical”: Is about the doubt, anger and fear I experienced after losing a very important person in my life. There were times when I felt like I was not sure I would ever be able to get over what I was feeling. Of course at times like these people are quick to tell you how these feelings will pass and in time they do. But this song is not about that, rather it is about me expressing my desire to be nothing like these people who can easily accept such things and move on. While I believe everything that does not kill us does make us stronger, I will never accept the belief that things happen “for a reason” or that any part of being born, growing old and dying is fair or just. There are many magical things to experience in life but at the same time no matter what your belief or faith is, you have to accept that we are brought into life to lose it and everything else we find while we are alive. That is how we are made and how the cycle of life works. And it’s really catchy and you can dance to it!

“Art”: In this song I used metaphors such as film and my nightmares to express some very intense emotional problems I was experiencing when writing the song. These are far too personal to detail here but let’s just say the lyrics “I’m breaking, I’m falling apart, all for the sake of my art” in this case were very true
“A Minute to Midnight”: Is a dark, twisted Halloween song about spooky sex and depravity. Right now I think it is close to being my favorite God Mod song I have ever done. While it’s nowhere near the most complicated or meaningful song I have written, I love the fact that it’s really deceiving in that at its core it is written simply as a pop song but at the same time it’s very perverted and kinda fucked up…well depending what you’re into I guess.

I also did a cover of the Gary Numan song “Me! I Disconnect from You”. It has been one of my favorite songs for over the last 20 years and i have always wanted to break it apart and recreate it in my own image so to speak. There are also remixes by some amazing artists and I did a more club oriented remix of our song “Spooky”. To sum it up, people can expect a crazy, fucked up ride through the haunted and sometimes deranged chambers of my brain. That every once in a while will show them that there might be a light at the end of their own fucked up tunnel. The trick is that I try to make the things hiding in the dark so appealing that they will lose all interest in ever wanting to leave.

Fatally Yours: What kind of touring have you done or do you plan to do for the new EP? 

Jasyn Bangert: We just finished a 24 date US tour in support of the EP. Overall it was an amazing success. We played some really big shows and a couple very small shows but they all were really fun. In June this tour will continue with 4 shows in Mexico followed by 3 shows in South America. Also we are already planning our next tour in support of the new CD that I am working on now.

Fatally Yours: What kind of hardware/software do you use to create your music?

Jasyn Bangert:  My current studio is based around my PC running Cubase 4. I use far too many software synths, samplers and insert effects to name them all. Hardware wise I have a Korg MS2000B, Access Virus B, EMU Audity 200 and X-treme Lead 1 all hooked up into my mixer for the new CD.

Fatally Yours: I love all the movie samples you use within your songs. Do you find a sample and build a song around it or do you search for samples to fit into song after it has already been written? 

Jasyn Bangert: Sometimes a scene in a film or television show will just stick out right away and I will know I have to use it in a song. Other times I just use what I or Byron has collected recently where they seem to fit when the time comes. Usually I try to do this after the lyrics have been written if I am using something I didn’t already have planned for a particular song.

Byron C. Miller: I find a great deal of the samples and it’s usually a process of me going through a number of films I love and going to scenes where I remember something interesting being said, and then if it seems like it could work for something I sample it. Then I give Jasyn all of these samples and he goes through them when it’s time to add one to a song. Sometimes him or I will be watching something and be like “man we have to sample that!” Or Jasyn will occasionally give me a certain thing to search for like someone talking about the end of the world, or someone talking about fucking and eating somebody.

Fatally Yours: Byron, I was surprised to learn you made a vampire film not too long ago called Night. Can you tell us what that experience was like?

Byron C. Miller: I’ve been writing scripts and making short horror films since middle school, so it was a great feeling of accomplishment to Write, Produce, Direct, Shoot, and Edit a feature length motion picture for under 7grand and get distribution for it. It was a lot of hard work and a huge learning experience, and I loved every single minute.

Fatally Yours: I hear that many industrial bands also contributed to the soundtrack and that Jasyn actually did the soundtrack for Night. Byron, can you tell us what it was like putting together the music for the film?

Byron C. Miller: It was really just working with Jasyn, explaining what each scene meant to me to give him as much insight as possible for him to create the music for the film. As far as the bands go, some were on Sector 9 Studios, the record label then owned by Jasyn and Alex Matheu (Negative Format), the rest were on our European label Out Of Line. So we had an idea of the bands and some of the songs we wanted and once we had permission we simply began plugging in the songs where they worked best.

Fatally Yours: Byron has also directed several God Module videos. Do you plan to direct more and make more films, Byron?

Byron C. Miller: As far as the videos go, yes I certainly hope to do more. We talk about new videos constantly, and I’ve probably had 5 ideas for songs for each release. It’s just that sometimes we get too busy with other things, and the videos go to the background.

Fatally Yours: Jasyn, you scored Byron’s film Night. How did that experience differ from writing music for God Module?

Jasyn Bangert: It was very different from writing for God Module of course but at the same time it was something I have always wanted to do. Night was a very early version of the work I hope to be able to do in the future and it was a very good learning experience. I want my style to fall somewhere in-between the simple and ultra effective electronics of early John Carpenter film scores and the unsettling beauty of the work that Angelo Badelamenti has done with David Lynch. I think music and sound add just as much to a film as the imagery if done correctly.

Fatally Yours: Where do you see God Module going in the next few years? What are each of your plans and goals for the band?

Jasyn Bangert: After a few years of not being as active as I would have liked to be I am very happy with the current direction of the band. We just finished our first US tour in quite a while and it was very well received. The new EP has gotten great reactions from fans and critics and I think the next CD will take us even closer to where we are supposed to be within the realms of music we exist in and beyond! I plan to keep pushing God Mod everywhere possible in the next couple years and exposing my music to people who should already know about it but don’t. I think we have the ability to crossover and appeal to many different scenes if given the chance. I want people to find out that not all good hard, dark music has to be metal.

Byron C. Miller: My goal is to help make it bigger, starting with our recent tour it’s time to really push things to a whole new level. A new world of gods and monsters.

Fatally Yours: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Jasyn Bangert: Thank you for your support of my music and long live the HORROR!

Byron C. Miller: Stay evil.

Buy the new album on Amazon!

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Book Review: The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer

Every month I wade through a glut of zombie novels, some of them good, some so-so and some downright awful. From my towering books-to-review stack I recently chose Amelia Beamer’s The Loving Dead to check out. It sounded intriguing enough as a group of regular twentysomethings find themselves at the epicenter of a sexual transmitted zombie virus in San Francisco.

From the back cover:

Kate and Michael, twenty-something housemates working at the same Trader Joe’s supermarket, are thoroughly screwed when people start turning into zombies at their house party in the Oakland hills. The zombie plague is a sexually transmitted disease, turning its victims into shambling, horny, voracious killers after an incubation period where they become increasingly promiscuous. Thrust into extremes by the unfolding tragedy, Kate and Michael are forced to confront the decisions they’ve made, and their fears of commitment, while trying to say alive. Michael convinces Kate to meet him in the one place in the Bay Area that’s likely to be safe and secure from the zombie hordes: Alcatraz. But can they stay human long enough?

It took me a while to get into The Loving Dead, I think perhaps because of the first-person perspective that kept switching between Kate and Michael. However, about 50 pages in I fell into the flow of the novel and started to enjoy it. If you are from California, you will definitely enjoy the references to Trader Joe’s (I love this grocery store!) and readers familiar with the Bay Area will appreciate all the landmarks mentioned in the novel (The Coliseum, Alcatraz, Golden Gate, etc.). These details definitely added to my enjoyment of the book. However, just because you aren’t from California doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate The Loving Dead. Besides its witty and plentiful pop culture references (iPhone apps, Twitter, BoingBoing, Indiana Jones, blogs), it’s got sex, violence, romance, zombies and plenty of nail-biting action! Plus, it has an amazing conclusion that I definitely didn’t see coming.

Most importantly, though, it does something different with zombies. Making the zombie virus sexually transmitted was a brilliant move on Beamer’s part and really makes the novel stand apart from every other zombie book out there. This is a great social commentary on today’s generation – hordes of slobbering, horny twentysomethings not giving a damn about consequences for their sexual actions. Not to mention that we get to read about sleazy zombies who want to hump you just as bad as they want to eat you.

The Loving Dead is Amelia Beamer’s debut novel and I’m excited to report that this is one of the “good” zombie novels I’ve read this past month. Despite a shaky opening I found myself thoroughly enjoying the unique storyline and loving the new approach to the zombie virus.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to cuddle up with a zombie, look no further than the kinky The Loving Dead. It’s a hip and twisted new zombie novel that’ll have you all tied up!

Available from Amazon!

Bunny Lake is Missing (1965)

In this stylish and tense ‘60s British mystery, young mother Ann (Carol Lynley) has just moved to London to be with her brother Steven (Keir Dullea). Her young daughter, Bunny, goes missing after Ann drops her off at her first day of school, but no one even remembers seeing the child. Steven is overprotective of Ann and immediately blames the school, but when the police become involved Detective Newhouse (Laurence Olivier) can’t seem to find any evidence to show that Bunny ever existed.

I’d heard of Bunny Lake is Missing on and off for years, but never checked it out before now. I’m not sure why I waited this long, because it’s a fantastically tense and well-done thriller that still holds up to this day!

The audience is continually held in suspense because we’re never quite sure whether Bunny is real and missing or if she is just a product of Ann’s imagination. Director Otto Preminger does a fantastic job of keeping us in rapt attention as Ann tries to retrace her steps to prove that Bunny is very much a real person. The mystery is heightened by the shadowy black-and-white that gives it a noir feel and the stunning chiaroscuro photography (I especially love the sinister and suspenseful sequence at a doll shop that changes everything!). All in all, the film is beautifully filmed and additionally gives us a nice peek at ‘60s London.

The acting by Carol Lynley as Ann is brilliant. She is continually standing up for herself, asserting that she isn’t crazy and that Bunny really does exist, but she does this with just a shred of doubt so that the audience isn’t quite sure it can trust her. Keir Dullea was also great as the concerned brother who wanted to blame everyone but Ann. He had great intensity in the role and it was hard to take my eyes off him whenever he was in a scene! The legendary Laurence Olivier did a serviceable job as the detective, but this character didn’t seem like much of a challenge for him and his performance feels phoned in. That’s okay, though, as the real star of the show is Lynley and all her frenetic and frustrated energy as Ann!

Now, I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone, but it’s a doozy! I certainly didn’t see it coming, though as it gets nearer to the conclusion it becomes a vague possibility. The reveal is perfectly timed so when it does happen you are left momentarily shocked and then immensely satisfied. The ideal way to end a film, no?

I was surprised watching Bunny Lake because of how tense and intense of a film it is – especially since before watching I’d heard claims of its campiness. However, I found no evidence of camp, but just a straightforward thriller that kept me on my toes. Though it is regarded as a cult classic, I believe Bunny Lake is Missing deserves a much wider audience and would fit in nicely with other classic psychological horror.

If you are into classic horror mysteries with plenty of twists and turns, I highly recommend checking out Bunny Lake is Missing, an underrated psychological thriller.

Available on Amazon!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Book Review: Valley of the Dead by Kim Paffenroth

What if Dante’s Inferno was based on truth? What if in his life Dante faced such insurmountable horror that he wrote it all down but had to pass it off as fiction because it was just too unbelievable?

Well, that is the premise behind Kim Paffenroth’s new novel, Valley of the Dead.

From the back cover:

Working from Dante’s Inferno to draw out the reality behind the fantasy, author Kim Paffenroth unfolds the horrifying true events that led Dante to fictionalize the account of his lost years…

For seventeen years of his life, the exact whereabouts of the medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri are unknown to modern scholars. It is known that during this time he traveled as an exile across Europe, working on his epic poem, The Divine Comedy. In his masterpiece he describes a journey through the three realms of the afterlife. The most famous of its three volumes, Inferno, describes Hell.

During his lost wanderings, Dante stumbled upon an infestation of the living dead. The unspeakable acts he witnessed – cannibalism, live burnings, evisceration, crucifixion and dozens more – became the basis of all the horrors described in Inferno. Afraid to be labeled a madman, Dante made the terrors he experienced into a more ‘believable’ account of an otherworldly adventure filled with demons and mythological monsters.
But at last, the real story can be told.

This may sound like another piece of classic literature being updated to include monsters like zombies (see Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, its sequel and a ton of other reconstituted classics), but Valley of the Dead is different. First off, it doesn’t take the original text and warp it to fit the author’s goal. Instead, VotD is an entirely original work, and the only text used from the original epic Inferno are a few lines before each chapter. Author Kim Paffenroth delivers another original, stunning and exciting novel that weaves an epic journey through a zombie-infested landscape with philosophical leanings. Through his story, Paffenroth perfectly captures the sheer ruthlessness of the human race as well as showing their compassion.

The cruelties that the living humans inflict not only on the zombies but on each other are truly shocking. It seems that with each new page Paffenroth has Dante encounter some truly horrific stuff – an army slaughtering innocent men, women and children, rape, cannibalism, witch burnings and many more evil acts besides all the zombie slaughtering going on. However, contrasted against the chaos and depravity are the virtuous lead characters of Dante, soldier Radovan, pregnant peasant Bogdana and monk Adam.

I am not intimately familiar with Dante’s Inferno, so I can’t really say what scenes in Paffenroth’s book take their cue from the classic poem, but the scenes in VotD are truly horrific and quite hellish! I really enjoyed how Paffenroth created such a vivid picture of the surrounding countryside Dante and his companions must traverse to escape the zombies. It starts off with green fields and lush forests, but as they are forced to escape higher and higher into the mountains the landscape becomes more desolate and otherworldly…and yet it seems the undead dwell there nonetheless. Despite the hopeless evil that seems to surround Dante and his friends, they grimly continue on in hopes of escaping the zombies and I was rooting for them the whole way.

As in his previous novels (Dying to Live and its sequel), Paffenroth’s character development is extremely strong. We care for each and every one of the main characters and through their journey really understand who they are and what they stand for. This makes the horrors they must face all the more cringe-worthy and terrifying for the reader. The characters seem to always be in constant danger, whether from the undead, the approaching army and from the strangers they encounter. This creates a tension that makes the book hard to put down! And when the characters do have to stand their ground and fight (which they do plenty of times in the book) we are treated to suspenseful battles.

However, to balance out all the action is the somber tone that permeates the story. Like in Inferno, Dante laments the horrors occurring around him and is disheartened by all the violence. While it isn’t quite Hell in VotD, it’s damn close! The tone reflects this and is more thoughtful, pensive and philosophical. I think this restrained, downbeat tone works beautifully within the confines of the story and perfectly matches the appalling actions that Dante and his friends are witness to.

Valley of the Dead is another stunning novel from Kim Paffenroth that mixes philosophical meanderings with gruesome zombie action and a creative re-telling of Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s inspiration for his most famous work, Inferno. Any fans of intelligent and sophisticated zombie stories will no doubt enjoy VotD!

Available from Amazon!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Home Movie (2008)

Home video cameras offer families a chance to capture precious moments, whether it’s in the backyard, on vacations, during holidays or just everyday life. Home videos are usually meant to capture the best of times, but sometimes they can also capture the worst. Usually this footage ends up on America’s Funniest Home Videos or, but what if home videos showed something truly disturbing, like every parent’s worst nightmare that their kids are not the sweet and innocent children they thought they were raising but instead sick and twisted little bastards? What if a family’s home videos revealed the extent of their children’s sadistic nature?

This is the basic premise of Home Movie, which uses “found footage” to document one family’s desperation as they watch their creepy kids commit unspeakable horrors, all through the lens of the family camcorder. I hadn’t heard anything about Home Movie before watching it and wasn’t expecting much, but it delivers a truly sinister and disturbing story.

The film shows us the Poe family, comprised of dad David, mom Clare, and siblings Jack and Emily. They’ve just moved to an isolated house in the country and also bought a brand spankin’ new video camera to record their adventures (well, according to David…Clare originally bought the camera for her psychology practice). They seem like a normal loving family…except their kids, twins Emily and Jack, are pretty creepy. They don’t say much and just stare into the video camera with empty expressions. And then there’s an instance where David gets hit with a baseball…which could be construed as an accident, until Jack starts throwing rocks (“Turn the camera off…He’s throwing rocks at me”). The kids’ bratty behavior begins to escalate and goes from petulant (throwing rocks, behaving badly at dinner) to downright shocking (crucifying the family pet on Christmas). Clare recommends counseling/medication and tapes her sessions with the troublesome twosome. She also begins to suspect that David is abusing them and causing them to lash out. However, David, a Lutheran minister, thinks the kids are possessed by evil spirits and believes an exorcism is in order. Through all this, the twins’ progressively violent and shocking behavior only seems to be getting worse…are they being abused? Are they possessed? Or are they just burgeoning sociopaths?

I am really surprised that this film hasn’t been given more attention, because it’s a fine flick. Writer/director Christopher Denham creates a chilling story and shocking visuals. The children are just creepy to begin with (kudos to child actors Amber Joy Williams and Austin Williams for their convincing performances), but Denham creates so much tension by giving us a voyeuristic view of the Poe household. We feel as if we are a fly on the wall while watching the horrific events unfold.

Also, Denham uses the home video footage wisely, so it appears realistic and believable (which is much harder than it looks). For example, the parents are always saying “shut that camera off!” when something bad happens. The footage that is shown comes off as very natural and is never forced. Every disturbing detail is captured and there are plenty of shocks throughout the film as well as a twisted ending. The story builds subtly, but the intensity levels keep rising with each new “incident” the family experiences. It takes a little patience to get through the first part of the film, but the tension keeps mounting and mounting until you just can’t look away.  I also enjoyed how the story explored many different explanations for the children’s behavior. Are they being abused? Are they demon possessed? Is something evil in the house influencing them? Are they just pure evil? These different possibilities kept me on my toes and on the edge of my seat.

Considering there were only four characters in the film and the action was always focused on them, the actors all did a phenomenal job. As mentioned previously, real-life siblings Amber Joy and Austin Williams did a very convincing job of portraying evil children. The film could have easily gone campy if they gave over the top performances, but they played it very subtly, which ended up making their characters VERY unsettling. Props must also be given to director Denham for really getting these stellar performances out of child actors. Adrian Pasdar and Cady McClain were equally brilliant as the befuddled parents. Their performances came off as very natural and completely believable. You could really feel their frustration, confusion and fear through their performances and couldn’t help but sympathize with them.

This is a rare independent film whose atmosphere and psychological terror deliver unrelenting dread, tension and suspense. Home Movie is an underrated film that deserves more attention from horror fans and is one of the best “found footage” or “faux documentary” indies to rock my world. You should definitely check it out…

Buy it on Amazon!

Squirm (1976)

Killer worms…yup, you read that right. That is pretty much the premise of Squirm, a B-movie from writer/director Jeff Lieberman (Just Before Dawn, Satan’s Little Helper, Blue Sunshine). While this is no doubt one of Lieberman’s worst horror films, it still holds a certain campy charm and should be viewed at least once for its over-the-top and silly story.

From the opening scenes of extreme close-ups of worms screaming (yup…screeching their little tails off!!), you know you’ve entered campy territory! We are then introduced to the main characters after a huge storm has hit their backwater Southern town. They don’t know it yet, but lightening from the storm fried all the worms in the vicinity and made them angry little buggers hungry for flesh! Meanwhile, a city slicker named Mick (Don Scardino) arrives in town to visit his girlfriend Geri (Patricia Pearcy). Mick and Geri keep stumbling over dead bodies, stripped down to the bone, and Mick is determined to solve this strange mystery. He suspects his girlfriend’s next door neighbor, Roger (R.A. Dow) who just so happen to run a worm farm, and starts nosing around for evidence or clues. The townspeople don’t take too kindly to this outsider, so when he discovers that killer worms are behind the murders, no one believes him. It’s up to Mick and Geri to find a way to stop the flesh-eating worms, but will they be able to make it out alive?

Make no mistake, Squirm is an awful movie, but it’s also one of those so-bad-it’s-good flicks that make for a fun viewing experience if watched within the proper state of mind.

Let’s get all the bad elements out of the way – first of all, the acting is atrocious! The actors play the Southern characters completely over the top and, good God, their accents are awful! None of the actors (save for the guy who plays the Sheriff) were Southern and their terribly twangy and grating “accents” can attest to that! Besides the accents, most of the characters were just annoying and I didn’t care whether they lived or became worm food.

Secondly, the plot has lots of unbelievable elements (a dude from New York is really gonna come alllllll the way to a backwoods Southern town to slum it with a small-town girl? Really???) not to mention the silly premise of electricity turning worms deadly.  ‘Nuff said.

Third, the pacing during the first part of the film is off and nothing much happens until 45 minutes or so in…the first part where Mick runs around looking for clues feels more like a Scooby Doo plotline than anything else, and gets pretty boring.

Despite all these problems, a certain charm worms (I couldn’t resist) its way into the film. A surprising scene involving worms burrowing into someone’s face is pretty shocking and the scenes of a massive army of glistening, squirming worms invading a house are impressive and cringe-worthy.

This was one of director Jeff Lieberman’s earlier films and despite its campiness (intentional or unintentional) I am glad that he went on to film more straight-faced horror like the underrated Just Before Dawn as well as other “outrageous” horror films like Satan’s Little Helper. While Squirm isn’t his best work, it is still pretty gosh darn entertaining!

Go ahead and open this can of worms (sorry…had to be done!)!

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

After.Life (2010)

Christina Ricci naked.

That seems to be the film’s only selling point, at least according to most reviews of this film. However, its actual storyline is pretty intriguing and this film has a lot more going for it that Ms. Ricci’s nudity.

After being involved in a car accident, Anna (Christina Ricci), wakes up in a funeral home where the sole proprietor Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson) tells her she is now dead as he prepares her body for burial. Though Anna still feels very much alive,  Eliot tells her he has a special gift to speak with the dead and is there to help her make the transition to her afterlife. Anna’s distraught boyfriend Paul (Justin Long) comes to believe that the funeral director is hiding something and that Anna could still be very much alive. He has just a few days until her funeral to get to the bottom of Anna’s demise, but he may already be too late as Anna comes to accept her fate.

Besides all the fanboys going gaga over the nudity, there is a lot more to After.Life than T&A. It is a much more complex and intriguing film than others have given it credit for and definitely deserves a look.

Director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo (who also co-wrote the film with Paul Vosloo and Jakub Korolczuk) crafts a beautifully subtle film about appreciating one’s life before the inevitability of death. The first thing that really grabbed me was the color symbolism used throughout the film. The color red, the color of blood and of life and vitality, is used predominately. Before her accident, Anna has frequent nosebleeds and has her hair dyed red, both blood and dye shown swirling down the drain. Also, the clinical white interior of the funeral “preparation room” and the autumnal world outside symbolize the transition from life to death, the “preparation room” acting as a sort of purgatory while the changing seasons outside show the cycle of life. I don’t mean to get all analytical on you, though, so let’s get back to what works about After.Life!

Besides the symbolism surrounding the visuals, director Wojitowicz-Vosloo also infuses the story with mystery, and we as the audience are never quite sure of each of the character’s culpability or innocence. Is Anna really dead or is Eliot some sick psycho? The answers are neither clear-cut nor easy, which makes After.Life a much more satisfying and complex film.

Also, the actors all do a fabulous job in their roles. I especially loved Liam Neeson as Eliot Deacon, the creepy funeral director. He played the part with equal parts menace and charm, never letting Anna or the audience know if he could be trusted or not. Christina Ricci also gives a remarkable performance as the unhappy Anna. There are parts of the film where she is naked, but I felt the direction made the nudity feel cold and clinical, never erotic. Plus, the nudity never distracted from Ricci’s strong performance as the confused Anna. Justin Long also appears as Anna’s distraught boyfriend and gives quite a solid performance.

With all these positives going for the film you might think After.Life was without flaw, but that isn’t the case. Its slow pace certainly won’t work for everyone, and the film tends to drag a bit in the middle. It doesn’t feature visceral action, instead opting for psychological drama. Very little blood is spilled in the film as the psychological terror of being dead is explored instead. However, I thoroughly enjoyed how After.Life explored themes of life and death and what comes after. It kept me guessing up until the end, and with no clear-cut answers it stayed with me long after I had finished viewing it.

Available from Amazon!
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