Thursday, September 30, 2010

Book Review: Halloweenland by Al Sarrantonio

Sinister carnivals. The Lord of the Dead. A strange little girl. A town known as the Halloween capital of the world. And a Halloween that just might be the world’s last. With these intriguing plot points, I couldn’t wait to dig into Halloweenland by Al Sarrantonio. I especially looked forward to reading the book as a kick-off to the Halloween season.

From the back cover:

In Orangefield, Halloween is never normal – and this year will be no exception. For Orangefield is now the home of Halloweenland, a bizarre carnival run by the mysterious Mr. Dickens. No one who sees the carnival doubts that it’s a very strange place, but its real secrets can hardly be imagined.

Orangefield is also the home of Detective Bill Grant, who thinks he’s seen it all. He’s on the trail of an odd little girl, a girl who could hold the end of the universe in her hand. The trail will lead Grant to Ireland, the ancient home of the Lord of the Dead, then back to Orangefield, where, on what may be the last Halloween, the ultimate battle between Life and Death will take place.

Halloweenland is a very fast, very entertaining read. I feel the settings of both Orangefield and Ireland really got me in the spirit of Halloween. I especially liked Orangefield, which seemed to be the kind of town that goes all out for Halloween. We’re talking about jack o’lanterns on every porch, a Pumpkin Festival, creepy abandoned pumpkin patches and so on. Hey, I wouldn’t mind living there!

Al Sarrantonio has given us vivid autumnal imagery with Halloweenland. His words beautifully evoke the spirit of Halloween, which is partly what I was looking for when I picked up the book. You can almost smell the pumpkin spice and burning leaves in the air!

My only complaint was that the book is too short at only 230 pages. The last 70 pages include the short story that eventually became the first part of Halloweenland. Though it boasts a different outcome, the short story is pretty much a repeat of the first chapters of the book. I would have rather Sarrantonio expanded a bit more on certain characters, like the little girl and the carnival owner, instead of including his original short story.

I also thought the setting of Ireland wasn’t explored enough. The characters spent most of the time sight-seeing rather than exploring the roots of Halloween and Samhain. Reflecting back, this was really a wasted opportunity and didn’t even feel necessary in the grander scheme of the story.

However, despite these flaws Halloweenland was a fun and fast read with some great Halloween imagery. I look forward to reading Sarrantonio’s other books in the Orangefield series.

Available on Amazon!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mr. Halloween (2007)

Ugh, where do I even begin with this movie? Since I am absolutely famished for new Halloween horror films every time around this time of year, I’ve decided to scrape the bottom of the barrel with films like Mr. Halloween. However, after sitting through this nearly 2 hour long amateur horror flick, I wish I would have just stuck to the Halloween classics!

Mr. Halloween (played by Edgar Allan Poe lookalike Bill Loomis) is the titular character who every year builds a haunted house for Halloween. Problem is, some people think his props are a little too real…and they are right. Mr. Halloween is butchering kids all over town to use as props in his twisted haunted house. Despite the high number of missing children in the small town, the local cop is ineffectual and doesn’t do anything about the problem. It’s up to a couple of the town’s kids to stop Mr. Halloween…but what if they are next?

Again…ugh. I certainly picked a winner with this one! You know, it didn’t start off so bad. It had the low-budget hallmarks of bad acting, horrible script, amateur FX, etc., but there was some nice fall foliage on display and the geeky characters were kinda likable. However, these “likable” characters quickly showed just how lame-brained they were by sneaking around Mr. Halloween’s house and getting themselves sliced and diced into bloody props. The rest of the characters, including a high school kid with one of the most ridiculous mustaches I’ve ever seen, survive until the next Halloween, but they also make the mistake of poking around where they shouldn’t. The characters had such horrible dialogue and made such stupid mistakes that I didn’t care if they survived. And the “final girl” was one of the most annoying characters I’ve had the displeasure of seeing in a horror flick. The only reason she makes it so far is dumb luck and that she was always around another character that Mr. Halloween conveniently picked off first. All she did the entire film was ask stupid questions, scream and whine.

Oh, and by the way, pay no attention to the artwork on the DVD cover. There is no little girl or stupid clown in this asinine movie. Neither of those images appear anywhere in the film and I’m baffled by their use on the cover! As mentioned above, the killer is an Edgar Allan Poe lookalike and dresses in a blue jumpsuit Michael Myers would be proud of. However, the character is more weird than scary. He never really talks, spends all day strapped to an old electric chair and spends nights tromping around his Halloween props. How stupid do the people in this town have to be to not realize he’s the guy kidnapping their kids?? The lack of logic in this film just boggles the mind…

I had to endure nearly two hours of this agony, but with this review I hope to spare you from watching this irredeemable piece of crap. Yes, it is low-budget and I’m sure the first time filmmakers put a lot of time and effort into this thing…but good intentions and hard work don’t necessarily pay off if you have a script written by what seems like 5-year-olds.

Available from Amazon!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sutures (2009)

A battered woman stumbles out of the wilderness and is admitted into the hospital…once she has been treated Detective Zane (Jason London) visits her to ask about her ordeal. The young woman, named Sienna (Allison Lange), recounts how she and her pre-med friends headed up to an isolated castle for some rest and relaxation. However, a mysterious man in black followed them, and one by one they were kidnapped and taken to a dank underground “hospital” where crazed Doctor Hopkins (Andrew Prine) utilized his new “patients” for experiments as well as harvesting their organs for the black market. However he and his staff treated them, one by one they ended up dead…except for Sienna, who happened to escape.

As Sienna recounts her tale to the Detective, she tells him more about the man in black, whose name was Alexander Tatum (Carlos Lauchu). Alexander should have been a renowned surgeon, but a tragic past and a daughter diagnosed with a rare disease lead him to help Doctor Hopkins in exchange for a possible cure for his sick daughter.

Will Detective Zane get to the bottom of the killings? Will Alexander come after Sienna now that she’s escaped?

Yes, this is another kids-getting-kidnapped-for-their-organs movie like a ton of other “torture porn” flicks out there. And, in my opinion, it’s one of the most boring. I was expecting some nicely done gore and a familiar but entertaining story…however I didn’t really get anything I was hoping for. The movie never really “grabbed” me and I was bored from the first couple of scenes all the way to the end. You don’t know how many times my finger was itching for the fast-forward button!

However, even though I didn’t like the film, let me rattle off some technical strengths it had…First off, it was competently shot thanks to director Tammi Sutton. I thought the lighting was great and the scenes in the underground black market “hospital” were very atmospheric. The acting was also pretty decent; I especially liked the performances from Allison Lange as survivor girl Sienna and Carlos Lauchu as the dark and mysterious Alexander.

These few strengths, however, were not enough to make Sutures a good or enjoyable film. I’ve read positive reviews of the film, all of which left me scratching my head. Did we watch the same film? The film started somewhat strongly enough once it got past the boring bits of showing Sienna and Detective Zane in the hospital. The group of pre-med students was typical, but at least the characters had distinct personalities. Things started getting rocky when attention was averted to Alexander. At first he was an intriguing and mysterious presence, but that mysteriousness was all stripped bare as soon as he killed a gas station attendant. By that time, too much had been shown of the killer and my interest in him waned.

Then, somehow Alexander became like a ninja and was able to infiltrate the castle and soundlessly kidnap the kids one by one. This just seemed implausible to me and was pretty groan-worthy. The action then moved to the underground hospital and started to feel awfully like Hostel. Except that instead of people paying to torture youths, Doctor Hopkins had set up a kind of underground medical school. He had the victims pumped full of exotic diseases and gave them fatal wounds, then challenged his med students to keep them stable. Or he just ripped their organs and breast implants out to sell on the black market. An interesting concept, but it was never developed to its potential. Plus, this storyline diverted attention from the much more interesting Alexander (maybe by “interesting” I just mean hot, ok!), who was demoted from lead killer to the Doctor’s lackey.

With all these intersecting storylines things got convoluted pretty fast. There’s the story of Detective Zane trying to get answers from Sienna, then Alexander’s tragic past flashbacks, then the Doctor’s black market hospital and Sienna’s survival of the hospital. It just tries for too much and while the twist ending tries to tie up loose ends, it just fails. The ending might come as a surprise, but that’s only because it is so ludicrous.

Making things even more confusing was the editing, which jumps from past to present randomly and with little explanation. Look, I don’t need my hand held when watching a film, but the jumpy editing made things hard to follow and the film really should have been more streamlined.

Plus, who the F cast the kids who are supposed to be some of the characters as children in flashbacks?? Did no one notice they were completely different races than the adult characters? It’s called common sense and continuity, people, and the filmmakers failed on both accounts!

All of these problems may have been forgiven had there been any memorable bloodshed in the film, but the gore is all pretty typical. Well-done, but uninteresting. People who have been infected with a disease spew up black bile, limbs are hacked off, organs and implants are cut out, people are shot and so on, but nothing that really stood out to me. Perhaps I’m just a jaded horror viewer, but none of the gore in Sutures grabbed me.

Sutures is a forgettable film that lacks a cohesive narrative and an engaging story. It’s poorly put together and not even the gore scenes are memorable. To me, it was a very bland horror flick with few redeeming qualities. If watching horror flicks about organ harvesting rings is your thing, then by all means have at it. However, if you like your horror original, scary and gruesome, Sutures is not a good match. My body definitely rejected it (nyuck, nyuck!).

Available from Amazon!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Book Review: Vampires Don't Sleep Alone by Elizabeth Barrial and D.H. Altair

How would you like to snag your very own Eric, your very own Bill, or maybe your very own Edward (though BARF on that last choice!)? The cleverly cute Vampires Don’t Sleep Alone: Your Guide to Meeting, Dating and Seducing a Vampire can be your guide to unlocking the secrets to being lucky in love with your very own immortal.

From the back cover:

Passionate and dangerous, the vampire is the ultimate lover. Stalking his prey in the dark of night, he is not easily tamed. But armed with the right skills for seducing a sexy immortal, you can meet, date and ultimately sleep with the vampire of your dreams. Vampires Don’t Sleep Alone provides the vital information you need to take a walk on the dark side and delve into the pulse-pounding world of vampire love and lust!

Let me tell you, if I could have an opportunity to seduce Eric from True Blood…::swoon::…I’d do it in a second! And with the helpful hints from Vampires Don’t Sleep Alone at least now I’d be prepared!

Written like a self-help dating book that assumes vampires are real, it is a very enjoyable, funny and sexy book that covers many different aspects. You can definitely tell the authors have done their homework! First, it gives you an introduction to vampires and basic info on different types (“Nosferatu, Lord Ruthven, or Carmilla: What Sort of Vamp are You Looking For”), their complicated relationships with their makers and addresses the large age difference between most vamps and their human companions (“VILFs: He’s 700 Years Old, and So Are His Hang-ups”). It then moves onto a section on the etiquette of dating a vampire, including chapters on what to wear for your vamp, “The Lucy Westernra Predicament: What to Do if He’s Turning Your Friends”, “The Van Helsing Issue: What to Do When Your Friends Dissaprove” and how to address the issue of his past. The third and final section of the book delves into the romancing and bedding a vampire. It covers subjects like “Shapeshifting: A Form of Roleplay” and “Is Feeding Cheating?”, among other things.

Authors Elizabeth Barrial (co-owner of Black Alchemy Lab) and D.H. Altair (the nom de plume of author and Dark Delicacies proprietor Del Howison) have crafted an amusing and enjoyable read. I especially appreciated the fact that it avoided lovey-dovey Twatlight-like romance. Instead of glittery, emo vampires, Vampires Don’t Sleep Alone emphasized the danger and unpredictability of vampire lovers. Which, hello, is what makes vampires so attractive in the first place!

Darkly witty and seriously sensual, Vampires Don’t Sleep Alone is the perfect book for all vampire fans!

Buy it on Amazon!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bitch Slap (2009)

Bitch Slap is a straight-forward exploitation flick that emulates the grindhouse flicks of the ‘60s and ‘70s. It pretty much has all the exploitative elements you could ask for…oodles of violence, nudity and sex. But let me get more specific…it’s got girl fights, water fights, tons of boob shots, gratuitous slo-mo, strippers, Kevin Sorbo (in a small role), cat fights, girl-on-girl action, nuns, an Asian schoolgirl with a killer yo-yo, a punk thug with Tourette’s, Mohawks, stolen diamonds, explosions, spies and even Lucy Lawless as Mother Superior. Really, what more could you ask for?!

The premise is simple: three women end up in the middle of the desert to steal a bunch of valuable diamonds from an underworld kingpin. As they struggle to find the exact location of the jewels, they get a few surprise visitors and secrets start being revealed as we get a glimpse into their past to see exactly how they ended up in their current predicament.

Full of non-stop action, Bitch Slap is an enjoyable rollercoaster ride of brutal violence interspersed with sexy slo-mo shots of our three girls, strippers and the like. It is also wickedly funny in parts and really wears its inspirations on its colorful sleeve. It is certainly over the top and outrageous, but if you like that sort of thing you’ll love Bitch Slap!

The acting is equally over the top, but it works in the scope of the film! All of the actresses do a fantastic job and I found myself liking them all. Julia Voth played the seemingly innocent Trixie, Erin Cummings played the leader Hel and America Olivo played the tough Camero. The supporting characters were also equally good.

However, an exploitation film isn’t exactly focused on acting, so let’s talk about the action, shall we? Both kinds of action, the sensual and the explody kind, came fast and furious. If people weren’t getting their asses handed to them or getting blown to bits, then they were gettin’ down. Though some of the special effects were done with obvious green screen work (the whole Vegas scene, among countless others), most of the blood and guts work was excellent! And even when it looks fake it just adds to the over-the-top charm of Bitch Slap! I also liked the use of split screen to show both side of the action at all times. And it looked damn cool, too!

I also appreciated the nice little twist at the end…very well done since I didn’t see it coming!! The narrative structure, as it kept jumping further and further back into the past as the film progressed, kinda annoyed me at first but made sense after a while. Kudos to writers Eric Gruendemann and Rick Jacobson (who also directed) for creating such a fun story and for tying everything up at the end.

If you enjoyed films like Grindhouse and Machete, you will no doubt love Bitch Slap! Check it out today!

Available on Amazon!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Book Review: Horror Movie Freak by Don Sumner

Horror Movie Freak is a “gore”-geous guide to essential horror movies that will certainly be a treat for any horror fan, especially with Halloween right around the corner! This beastly book and its glossy, full-colored photos will definitely fit right in on any horror fiend’s bookshelf!

Plus, you know you’re in good hands when the book in question is written by the knowledgeable Don Sumner of! Don has compiled quite an enjoyable book here, full of essential horror films, plus a few fun surprises! The book is broken down by categories, including “Aberrations of Nature”, “Classics” that has sub-sections like Universal Horror, Hammer Horror and Other Classics, “Foreign Horror”, “Psychotics” and so on. Not only does it have essential horror film picks for numerous sub-genres, but it has great sections like “Beginner’s Shelf”, with horror movie recommendations for newbies, “Remake Nation” that discusses horror movie reimagings, a section dedicated to scream queens and even a section that has recommendations for horror flicks to watch on Halloween.

I really dug how the book is organized. Each film is given about a page of space, and in this page Sumner gives a brief synopsis and why the film was chosen to be included in the book. There are also quotes and full color posters and photos from each film. The page layouts are beautiful and eye-catching, making the book a complete package of both brains and beauty!

Though the book covers well-known horror films that most fans have seen, it is still enjoyable to read! I may not agree with all the selections in the book (Dead Silence?! Really?!), but Sumner backs up his choices with eloquent descriptions and explanations. For the most part all of the selections are indeed essential horror viewing and I agree with about 98% of the picks.

Horror Movie Freak is a polished and fun book that is chock full of horror movie info for everyone from seasoned horror fans to genre newbies. Its high quality, both in content and design, makes it a book that is deserving of any horror fan’s bookshelf! Let your Freak flag fly and pick up this stunning book today!

Available on Amazon!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hack-O-Lantern (1988)

In my quest to watch every Halloween-themed horror flick I can get my hands on, I decided to give the obscure Hack-O-Lantern a whirl. This film combines one of my favorite subgenres of horror, satanic cults, with my favorite holiday, Halloween. What could go wrong, right?

The film opens with a young boy named Tommy as he is visited by his friendly grandfather on Halloween. Grandpa gives him his pick of pumpkins as well as an ominous looking pendant. Tommy’s family doesn’t like grandpa visiting his grandson and Tommy’s father goes after good ol’ grandpa to give him a piece of his mind. However, grandpa isn’t as nice as he seems…he’s actually the leader of a satanic cult and they dispatch Tommy’s dear old dad right quick.

The film then jumps ahead several years to the eve of Tommy’s 18th birthday that happens to coincide with Halloween. Grandpa has grand plans for Tommy’s initiation into his satanic cult, but Tommy’s beleaguered mother pleads with him to reconsider. Also concerned for Tommy’s well-being are his younger sister and brother, who is a rookie cop.

With Halloween celebrations in full swing, a robed, Devil-masked killer starts murdering townsfolk. Can Tommy’s family stop him from joining his Grandpa in the Dark Arts or are they already too late?

At least the title got it right…HACK-O-Lantern is an apt title for this painfully silly “horror” movie. Good god, this movie felt like it dragged on and on though it clocked in at under an hour and a half. It had its entertaining parts (more on these later), but overall this is a serious piece of cinematic doody. The first glaring evidence of this was the ridiculous acting from Hy Pyke, who played Grandpa. Are all Satanist leaders this effeminate and non-threatening? And then we have the actor who played Tommy, Gregory Scott Thomas (whom you might recognize as Mac’s father on the hilarious TV show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). Tommy is supposed to be nearing 18 in the film, but Scott Thomas is seriously mis-cast as he looks like a ‘roided out, 30-year-old jock rather than a young teenage follower of Satan.

Then, there are all the wacky and weird scenes throughout the movie. These are the “entertaining” bits I mentioned above. First is a seriously strange dream sequence/metal video that features an exotic voodoo-like dancer (check her out on the flick’s cover above) who, 1.) has multiple arms like a Hindu goddess, and, 2.) shoots horrible-looking lasers out of her eyes that zap the band members. This is a seriously WTF scene, but wait! It gets better…There’s the whole branding scene where nubile young Satan worshippers get their butts branded with a pentagram, another horrendous dime store metal band that screeches during a Halloween party that features random strippers and a five minute sequence of a “comedian” doing stupid impressions…of turkeys. Not to mention the amount of devil’s horns the characters throw around…except instead of the traditional holding up of just pointer and pinky fingers to hail the devil, the characters hold up pinky, pointer AND thumb…which actually means “I love you” in sign language and NOT “hail Satan”. Those silly satanists! Seriously, though, Grandpa, Tommy and other cult members throw the horns around non-stop…so much that you could in fact make a drinking game out of their appearances, taking a shot every time someone flashes the devil’s horns. However, you would probably be sloshed in 20 minutes…but perhaps that would be a better state of mind in which to watch the movie. Maybe if you’re drunk it would at least be kinda enjoyable.

Plus, there is the whole sleazy aspect of the film. We are talking random nudity (and not good nudity, it’s all low-budget ‘80s nudity here!) like the previous stripperella at the party mentioned above, plus a few non-sexy sex scenes. There is also the whole subtext of incest that pops up throughout the film. It is hinted that Tommy is actually the son of his mom and his grandpa. Yup, how ‘bout a big old EWWWWW from the audience, eh? I was half expecting that Tommy put the moves on his mom, but thankfully the film didn’t go down that road!

As for the kills? They were almost an afterthought and the only decent one worth mentioning is when a dude gets a shovel through his noggin. Yes, it is a low-budget film but the kills took a long time coming…too little too late in my opinion. It’s like the film couldn’t decide if it wanted to focus on the masked killer or the satanic cult and it ended up not giving enough attention to either. I also think too much time was spent on Tommy’s family, including his sister, brother and mother, instead of focusing on the supposed main character of the film, Tommy. The only time we saw him was when he was brooding in his room, listening to his crappy metal music and having weird dreams, or slamming the door in his poor mom’s face.

The ending had a nice little twist as to who the killer was, but by then I was really too bored to care. I watched Hack-O-Lantern for some fun Halloween thrills, but found it more of a chore to sit through. A film with a cool name like Hack-O-Lantern deserves to be somewhat entertaining, but this was more like Crap-O-Lantern.

If you are a brave soul, the VHS is available on Amazon!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tormented (2009)

This is a pretty fun “teen scream” type of flick from the U.K. that was pretty entertaining. It’s about a high schooler who is mercilessly picked on by the popular clique until he commits suicide, but returns to pick off his classmates one by bloody one. The film starts with the overall “good girl” and class president-type Justine (Tuppence Middleton) giving the eulogy at Darren Mullet’s (Calvin Dean) funeral. However, she can’t even remember who he was. Soon after, popular dude Alexis (Dimitri Leonidas) asks Justine out and she quickly falls in with the popular clique, who used to harass Darren endlessly. Before long, students start dying grisly deaths and it appears that Darren Mullet has returned from the grave for revenge against those who bullied him.

Tormented has entertaining characters, grisly deaths, ocular horror, a nice revenge story and a surprising ending! It also looks slick and polished and there is a fair assortment of characters (the popular kids, the nerds, the goths, etc.). The tense relationships between cliques are nothing new, but Tormented keeps things interesting with witty dialogue and colorful characters. Even though the characters seem to be stereotypical, writer Stephen Prentice gives each of the characters a distinctive voice and keeps things fun and light.

Offsetting the laughs is the gore…and I gotta say that there are some pretty inventive deaths here! There is plenty of spatter and a high body count in Tormented, and my favorite, most squirm-worthy death scene in one involving ocular horror! Ouch!

The cast all does a fantastic job and director Jon Wright really brings out the best in every single one of them. Wright also gives us a very pretty, very visually stimulating film. Tormented looks great and has that slick look, however it’s not so slick that it detracts from the actual story.

I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed Tormented. It’s a fun flick that I think most horror fans will enjoy. Check out this British film if you get the chance!

Available from Amazon!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Boo (2005)

For years I thought I had already seen this flick, but I guess I just got it mixed up with other haunted asylum movies. I expected the film to suck, but surprisingly it was pretty entertaining. Despite the fact that it treads familiar ground, Boo’s writer/director Anthony C. Ferrante mixes things up with various characters, a chilling setting and plenty of spilled blood.

The film opens on Halloween night, where four friends decide to break into a supposedly haunted abandoned mental hospital. Meanwhile, a brother of a girl who disappeared a week ago seeks the help of a cop and they also enter the mental hospital. Once inside, the evil spirit of the asylum, a patient named Jacob (M. Steven Felty), won’t allow the new inhabitants to leave…alive. He proceeds to kill and then possess the intruders one by one…can anyone escape alive?

First off, I love movies set during Halloween! During the first few scenes, Boo has a couple of festive shots including pumpkins, scarecrows and a girl carving a pumpkin. The film keeps up the spooky spirit when characters enter the haunted asylum. I really thought that the decay and shadowy corners gave the asylum a life all its own and it was nice to see a setting used to its full potential.

Surprisingly, this film also had a lot of bloody set pieces! I was quite impressed with the makeup and special FX, especially since this was an independent production. Can you say exploding possessed corpses? That got your attention, didn’t it?!

However, despite the film’s strong first hour, the conclusion kinda tries to pack too much in and ends up backfiring on itself. There was just too much exposition on the background of Jacob (and a nurse, played by Dee Wallace Stone) and too many dumb character decisions. Until the ending, the film had great pacing, but the last 30 or so minutes just get bogged down with too much information. Another negative is that the acting is, at times, kinda iffy.

Despite the negatives, Boo was still a nice surprise and had a pretty engaging story. Give it a rental this Halloween season!

Available from Amazon!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

M (2010)

M is a low-budget indie movie from Derek Cole and Shane Cole and Masked Films. I didn’t know much about the film before watching it as there wasn’t that much online info on it. However, going into a film blind sometimes works out for the best and actually adds to the enjoyment of the film. Without knowing much I couldn’t really have any expectations of the film and so I went into M as a pretty blank canvas.

The first scene involving torture didn’t really interest me, but as soon as it moved away from that and introduced the other two characters I started to get intrigued. Roy (Stephen Twardokus) is taking time off work to celebrate his and his wife Jessica’s (Sabrina Carmichael) anniversary. However, their romantic celebration is interrupted by a masked man who invades their home, ties them up and slowly tortures them over the next couple excruciating hours and into days.

Meanwhile, the police are trying to track down a killer who has left several victims in his wake while trying to piece together why he has chosen particular victims. As Roy and Jessica’s torment continues, the police get closer and closer to discovering the link between victims…but will they solve the case fast enough to find the couple alive?

M is a very solid indie feature. The first thing that grabbed me was the competently done camera work. The filmmakers use interesting angles and different techniques to keep the viewer engaged in the story. The movie also looked very professional for an indie production. The lighting, direction and cinematography were all very well-done and made me want to keep watching.

For a film that mostly takes place in the small room where the victims were held, M does a fine job at building tension. Sure, there were a few instances where the pace dragged (the beginning got off to a rocky start and a dream sequence seemed out of place), but for the most part it was suspenseful. I also liked the overarching mystery of what linked all the victims together. The explanation why the masked killer was torturing and murdering people was pretty satisfying as well.

Speaking of the killer, I loved the design of his mask! It also helped that he was stoic and never talked. He reminded me of a mix of Jason from Friday the 13th and Michael from Halloween…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I think more could have been done to make him stand out besides his face mask.
The killer did dole out some pretty cringe-worthy torture, though! For a low-budget film I thought the effects were really well-done! Now, there was nothing too complicated here, mostly just lots of blood and a few body parts, but it definitely looked realistic. Various gory scenes included: a man getting a screw drilled through his leg, a woman’s leg getting chopped with a machete with some chunky gore being pulled out of the wound, someone got a spike through a thigh, and so on.

M certainly isn’t a terribly original film, but it is entertaining and does make a nice calling card for the Cole brothers and Masked Films. And it definitely makes me interested to see what they do next!

Visit Masked Films’ Official Site!

iPsycho (2010)

In this short film, Cat Vicious (Kim Santiago) is a nihilistic shock jock who runs a podcast where she is as crude and outspoken as she wants. During her latest show, a creepy caller tells her he is going to make her pay for her callousness on the show. He kidnaps her sidekick, pirates her frequency and seals up the radio station so there is no hope of escape. Can Cat escape or will she be signing off for the last time?

Clocking in at just 15 minutes, iPsycho is an effective and extremely well-made short from filmmaker Chris R. Notarile. We reported on his last short film, One Night Stand and are glad to see his latest with iPsycho.

For a low-budget short (made for about $50!!!!), iPsycho looks fantastic. From the different camera angles to the effective lighting, the film looks highly professional and polished. Plus, the acting is great! I especially enjoyed the feisty character of Cat Vicious as played by Kim Santiago (who also co-wrote the script with director Notarile). I loved her strong personality and the fact that she fought back against her tormentor. All of the other actors, including DeVille Vannik/Chris R. Notarile sharing duties as the killer, Cheryl Alessio as Vicious’ sidekick Debbie Drone and Christopher Piccione as the producer, Soupy, were awesome and really sold their roles. All of the performances came off as very natural and every actor was believable.

Also, despite that the film follows a tried and true slasher formula along the lines of When a Stranger Calls, it still manages to entertain. Again, I think this has a great deal to do with the colorful characters and fantastic performances. However, props must also be given to writers Santiago and Notarile for the engaging dialogue and avoiding stereotypical “damsel in distress” characters. I also liked the unexpected ending that adds a little jolt to the proceedings.

iPsycho is another great short from director Notarile and I eagerly await future endeavors he undertakes! This director shows a lot of promise and I can’t wait to see what he does next! Whatever he does, I hope he decides to work with Santiago again, because the two of them have created something special and particularly engaging with iPsycho.

One of the coolest things about Notarile? He usually releases his short films online, free of charge, for everyone to check out! Check out Blinky Productions’ Official Site!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Hollow (2004)

In preparing for the Halloween season I set off to discover some horror flicks I hadn’t seen that featured or were set during my favorite holiday season. This is how I stumbled across The Hollow, a 2004 straight-to-video flick that stars Backstreet Boy-bander Nick Carter. OK Hollow, that’s already one strike against you, so I hope you can redeem yourself from that unfortunate casting decision!

This teen slasher is based on the classic Washington Irving tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In the film, high schooler Ian Cranston (Kevin Zegers) is new to the town of Sleepy Hollow. He arrives in town around Halloween and quickly joins into the town festivities. The town holds the Headless Horseman legend pretty dear to its heart, so there are plenty of Halloween festivities to celebrate Irving’s creation. To some, however, the legend is all too real…and soon enough, heads start to roll. It turns out that Ian is a descendant of Ichabod Crane and is the only one who can stop the Headless Horseman’s return to Sleepy Hollow.

You know, I was pleasantly surprised at how entertaining The Hollow actually was. It will certainly never win an Oscar and its mostly a forgotten flick, but I’m glad I gave it a looksie. I’m a sucker for anything involving The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, so I think that plus the festive setting of Halloween really sold the film for me.

Yes, it’s a pretty linear story and the few subplots don’t really work (one involving Ian butting heads with his football coach dad, played by none other than Judge Reinhold; another involving Ian hooking up with the lead cheerleader and her boyfriend, played by Nick Carter, getting steamed), but I enjoyed the main story of the Headless Horseman and Ian’s ancestral link to Ichabod Crane (revealed to him by none other than Stacy Keach, really selling his role as the grungy cemetery caretaker). The story certainly isn’t complex, but nonetheless I enjoyed it.

However, there are several negatives to this flick I feel I must address. First of all, I enjoyed how the film was set during Halloween and had people dressed and costume and decorations, but I really felt MORE should have been done to capture the feel of Halloween. The visuals just needed more pumpkins, more orange and black and more decorations! Especially since the town took the holiday so seriously! Secondly, the pacing is a bit slow and the Headless Horseman doesn’t make an appearance until half-way through the flick. And when he does appear he has a silly pumpkin for a head that’s just laughable! I wish they would have kept him a bit more in the shadows and hidden the hideous (not in a good way) costume. Third, WTF is Nick Carter doing acting?! His “white boy trying to do gangsta” persona is just annoying and embarrassing. Really, who in their right mind would cast him? I understand if he had his head lopped off early, but unfortunately he is in the film ’til the bitter end…and we are never treated to his death!! WTF is up with that? He was supposed to be like Paris Hilton in House of Wax...the whole point in watching was to see him meet a gory end, but that’s just not in the cards in The Hollow.

 Speaking of gore, the film really has none. The heads that the Headless Horseman collects look fake, though the decapitation scenes (usually shown from afar) look pretty good. There’s not that much bloodshed here, but overall this didn’t detract too much from my enjoyment of the film.

The Hollow definitely has its problems, but despite these I found the flick to be an enjoyable (though not entirely memorable) time-waster. If you are looking for a mindless flick to get into the Halloween mood but have worn out your Halloween and Trick ‘r Treat DVDs, The Hollow isn’t a terrible choice.

Available from Amazon!

Mirror Mirror (1990)

Mirror Mirror is pretty unknown to most horror fans, but it’s a pretty decent flick nonetheless and boasts stars like Karen Black and Yvonne De Carlo among its cast! I had heard that it was along the lines of Carrie and The Fury, so I decided to give it a try, especially since the lead character is considered a “goth” (I did a piece on goths in horror films over at my personal blog if you feel like taking a look).

Mirror Mirror tells the tale of gothy Megan (Rainbow Harvest), who moves from L.A. to a small town with her mom (Karen Black) after her father’s death. Megan finds an old mirror in her room and insists on keeping it, even though it’s a creepy old thing. She then starts school but runs into the usual gaggle of cheerleaders and jocks who don’t appreciate her funerary attire. She makes friends with good girl Nikki, but the popular kids still make Megan’s life a living hell. Soon, Megan discovers that the mirror gives her powers and she can make things happen to those that ridicule her. Pretty soon her enemies are dying left and right and the mirror’s powers become too powerful for Megan to control. Can Nikki save Megan from the dark side and whatever lives on the other side of the mirror?

Mirror Mirror might share some similarities with Carrie (shy outsider, weird mom, psychic powers, a friend who tries to save the lead, etc.), but it stands on its own quite well. I really enjoyed all the characters and the story; they still felt unique even though they were obviously influenced by other films. Megan was a fun character, though I initially thought she would have more backbone and actually stand up to the annoying popular kids rather than running away and hiding from them. Gotta love her goth look, which looks heavily influenced by Beetlejuice’s Lydia (it doesn’t help that Rainbow Harvest looks a lot like Winona Ryder). I also loved the over-the-top performance by Karen Black as Megan’s unstable mother (good god, that pastel pink lipstick has GOT to go!) and seeing Yvonne De Carlo as an estate dealer who tries to help Megan once she learns the truth of the evil mirror.

Plus, there is quite a high body count, and while the deaths aren’t necessarily gory or bloody, most of them are still pretty neat. Standouts include the shower scalding scene and a garbage disposal death! There are several bloody scenes, including a gushing nose bleed scene and the mirror itself, which regularly oozes blood.

Director Marina Sargenti uses an interesting blue palette for most of the film and sets up varying POV shots that keep the viewer engaged. I especially liked the POV shots of the demon behind the mirror looking out at all those that approached it. The screenplay, written by Annette Cascone and Gina Cascone, also deserves props, especially for its twist ending!

Mirror Mirror is an interesting flick that deserves to be seen by more people. It certainly wears its influences on its sleeve, but it still manages to be intriguing in its own special way. If you are looking for an early ’90s gem, check out Mirror Mirror!

Available from Amazon!
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