Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Brain Dead (2010)

Sometimes you just want to shut your brain off, grab a few beers and have a few laughs with some buddies…and that’s where a flick like Brain Dead comes in. I’ve been anticipating Brain Dead ever since I heard Kevin Tenney (Night of the Demons) was attached. However, when I saw the trailer it looked pretty bad, so I put off watching it until now. Big mistake, because I actually had a great time with this low-budget flick!

A small meteor falls to Earth and lands smack dab in the middle of a fisherman’s head in Hicksville, USA. However, inside the meteor is an alien parasite, which looks a lot like a black slug, and it immediately takes over the fisherman’s body and goes in search of brains. The invasion has begun!

Nearby, a bunch of different people (two convicts on the run, two lost hikers, a televangelist and his sweet little follower, etc.) all converge on an abandoned cabin in a convenient plot twist (hey, most movies have ‘em). Their personalities clash, but soon they find themselves banding together to fight the alien/zombie-hybrid threat.

Before I get started with this review, you’ll note the alien slug isn’t anything new – we’ve seen it in films like Night of the Creeps and Slither. I noted this too as the film started, but really, it didn’t make a lick of difference because I still enjoyed the flick! Yes, the plot may be simple and it may have been done before, but it is all in the execution, which Tenney pulls off brilliantly.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled review…

If I had to pick one word to describe Brain Dead, it would be fun…or maybe bloody…or boobilicious…is bloodyboobiliciousfun a word? Well, it should be, because that’s exactly what Brain Dead is! It has over the top gore, tons of lady bumps for the fellas and plenty of rip-roaring lines (Character 1: “I’ve been shot!” Character 2: “Is it bad?” Character 2: “Have you ever been shot when it was good??”).

The characters, though plenty are disposable, are all pretty likable or at least interesting. I’m glad the film didn’t stick with the formula of horny teens in the woods, because the varied characters make things much more interesting. Plus, characters you assume would make it to the end actually become alien fodder, so you are kept on your toes! Thanks to writer Dale Gelineau for keeping things interesting!

The film also keeps its tongue firmly in cheek and doesn’t mind winking at the camera. The fun banter between characters and the over-the-top gore means the film never takes itself so seriously and neither should you!

Speaking of the gore, it is the star of the show. People are split in half, brains get ripped out, heads get blown off and the squirmy alien slugs get busy invading their hosts’ bodies. For a low-budget flick, the effects (with the exception of a few shoddy CGI shots) are pretty impressive.

Brain Dead is one heck of a fun movie. Don’t let the trailer fool you, for the actual film is an enjoyable way to unwind after a long day. Just grab some brews, grab some friends and get ready for plenty of boobs, blood and alien slime.

Available from Amazon!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Eyes Beyond (2010)

Two brothers share the same house. One day they invite their next door neighbors over for a house warming dinner. What the neighbors don’t realize is that everything is not as it seems with the brothers and they soon find themselves in a game of ultimate humiliation and degradation. They’re at the mercy of their captors and the only thing that can release them from the nightmare is death – or is it?

When I first started watching this short 26-minute film, I figured it would be another boring torture flick. The two brothers do some pretty nasty things to their guests, but no matter how shocking the torture was, I just couldn’t seem to get into the film. Luckily, things get interesting pretty quick and any assumptions I had about the plot got turned topsy-turvy.

The film is best seen going in blind and I don’t want to give too much away, but I must mention that the filmmakers aim in making the film was to bring awareness to mental illness. In fact, the film is very personal to writer/director/producer/actor Daniel Reininghaus, as he himself deals with bi-polar disorder. He wanted to create this film to not only bring awareness to mental illness, but to also reach out to others with mental illness that could relate with the character(s).

Speaking of the characters, all of the actors did a superb job portraying them. Daniel Reininghaus was especially brilliant as Gabrielle, one of the two brothers who tortures the neighbors. I loved his character arch and the many surprises that are unveiled. All of the other actors did a fantastic job as well, not an easy thing to boast in an independent film, especially considering each character’s multi-faceted development.

As I mentioned before, there is a fair amount of gruesome torture at the beginning of the film. Ears and fingers are cut off, people are beaten and raped and other violence is meted out to the unfortunate neighbors. For a low-budget picture, the quality was impressive! Even for a seasoned horror fan like me there were instances where I was cringing.

Also impressive for an independent short was the overall high quality of the picture. The film looked professional without looking too slick. I also appreciated that there was an important message embedded in the film and that it aspired to do more than to just show bloody torture. Writer/director/producer Daniel Reininghaus and his cast and crew should be commended for tackling such a personal project and succeeding brilliantly.

Eyes Beyond is a very dark psychological film that is as disturbing as it is enlightening. Not only will horror fans be pleased by this hallucinogenic journey, but those that suffer mental illness will also appreciate its message of awareness. From the harrowing performances to the gruesome torture to the surprising twists and overall message, Eyes Beyond is a short film that shouldn’t be missed.

Visit the Official Site!

Night of the Demons (2010)

Having experienced so many bad remakes, I was expecting the worst from Adam Gierasch’s Night of the Demons remake. I thought it would be a cheap rip-off, filled with pointless gore and tons of gratuitous T&A. I was expecting to be bored and possibly pissed while watching the film because although Kevin Tenney’s original isn’t the greatest horror movie ever made, it’s still a ton of fun and is a classic in its own right.

So color me surprised when I sat down to watch the flick and it was actually GOOD! I was first grabbed by the great holiday vibe of the film. It opens with a shot of the French Quarter in New Orleans on Halloween night and zooms through the costumed crowds before focusing on trick or treaters, pumpkins and the spooky mansion where all hell will soon break loose. And the decorations! Let’s just say the set design was impeccable in creating the perfect Halloween atmosphere!

Before I get ahead of myself, the plot is as follows:

On Halloween night, a group of twenty-somethings hoping to party the night away get trapped in an old, supposedly cursed mansion and unwittingly release demons who hope to possess and ultimately kill them.

Yup, it’s pretty close to the original story, but the remake actually takes the time to develop both the story and the characters more. It also explains the demons and how they came to be trapped in the house and what their intentions are in possessing the characters. I loved the backstory on the mansion and the setting of New Orleans. The story even manages to mix in some voodoo, hoodoo and black magic into its proceedings.

Not only was the story engaging, but the characters were also likable! I loved the party-girl twist they gave Angela (played by Shannon Elizabeth) and how each of the characters was more developed than in the original. They each had complicated relationships that added to the intensity of the film. Plus, the cast of mostly-recognizable faces (Edward Furlong, Monica Keena, Bobbi Sue Luther, etc.) did a fantastic job! There are even small cameos by genre-favorites Tiffany Shepis and Linnea Quigley (who starred in the original).

Once again, I absolutely adored the set design. The Halloween party at the abandoned mansion was amazing-looking, the costumes were great, and the killer soundtrack featuring Type O Negative, Zombie Girl, 45 Grave, Creature Feature, etc., added even more atmosphere. In fact, I realllllly wish they would release a Night of the Demons soundtrack because it would make a great backdrop to my own Halloween party!

The fun party atmosphere doesn’t last long, because the cops break up the party and only a small group remains…and it is they who inadvertently release the demons. And once that happens, all hell breaks loose! Speaking of the demons, their makeup was pretty impressive. I liked how each of the demons looked different as well. The only “look” I didn’t really dig was Angela’s – on her I actually prefer the original makeup. Besides the cool makeup FX, there are also plenty of creepy moments in the film, like when the demons crawl on the ceiling in a long, dark corridor and a demon reaches out of the darkness to snatch one of the characters. And, before you ask, yes, the infamous “lipstick scene” is alive and well in the remake, with its own new spin!

Going back to the story, writers Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch did a fantastic job explaining the backstory of the mansion, its earlier inhabitants and the demons. I appreciated the mix of voodoo, hoodoo and black magic used in the story, but also appreciated how the survivors used tools around the house to fend off the demons. I thought this detail was very clever of the writers and in the story it works extremely well.

With all that said and done, I must say that Night of the Demons is one of the most fun fright flicks I’ve seen all year. It’s not your typical, dumbed-down horror flick remake, but rather a new take on an old favorite. It is so entertaining, clever and just plain fun that I dare say it even surpasses the original!

Last year horror fans found a new Halloween horror classic with the release of Trick ‘r Treat; this year Night of the Demons is the new Halloween classic!

Buy it on Amazon!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Candy (2010)

Candy is a short film that is just a perfect bite-sized treat for Halloween! Directed by Sage Hall and written by Jesse Kozel and Jenny Beres (all of which who star in the film), this short six minute film is visually stunning, mixing themes from noir, horror and even avant garde.

Set on Halloween night, it seems that Candy (Sage Hall) has created quite a spread of Halloween sweets for her son, Marcus (Jesse Kozel). Marcus is kind of a mama’s boy, though he seems fed up with Candy’s overbearing nature. Marcus has invited a “date” over, which irks Candy. However, to get back at her son she befriends the girl (Jenny Beres)…only, she doesn’t like the girl’s mouthy attitude and things soon get out of hand…

This is a beautiful and artistically made film! The black and white visuals really pop, especially with the use of Halloween decorations. It visuals really give it a retro feel, much like the vintage-inspired poster above. I also think the June Cleaver-like Candy character adds to its ‘50s style charm. However, it’s not all sweet…this short definitely has some bite to it!

I adored the conniving and evil character of Candy. Sage Hall played her perfectly, without going over the top. Plus the nice little open-ended twist at the end was great! Jesse Kozel also did a commendable job playing the loser Marcus and Jenny Beres was good as Marcus’ foul-mouthed date.

I also must mention the music, done by Abnorml Injustice, which was extremely atmospheric and added to the wonderful feel of the film. The music and visuals complemented each other superbly!

Considering this is a low-budget short film, I am amazed at the care that went into the details of the score, the set design, even the costumes! The filmmakers must truly be commended for making such a fun and breathtaking short!

Director Sage Hall has created a truly memorable Halloween-themed short film that’s visually striking, has a wonderful cast (herself included) and appears extremely polished and professional. No tricks here, this sweet treat is exactly what you want dropped into your Halloween bag!

Book Review: Grave Humor by M.T. Coffin

I love frequenting cemeteries. They are so peaceful, so beautiful and so…funny? If you’ve ever taken the time to read headstones, you know exactly what I mean. There are some pretty amusing epitaphs and unfortunate names that grace the tombstones of cemeteries out there. And now you don’t even have to step foot in a cemetery to get a good laugh out of them!

The new book Grave Humor: A Photo Tour of Funny, Ironic and Ridiculous Tombstones by M.T. Coffin is a creepy-cute book that will tickle your funny bone! It’ll delight you with its witty jokes, quirky gothic illustrations and funny photos!

Check out the official description:

People act like being dead is so serious.

But if you’ve spent any time in a cemetery, you know a lot of those dearly departed have to be rolling over in their graves – with laughter. This collection of ironic, comic and just plain ridiculous tombstones proves that it’s possible to have a sense of humor about kicking the bucket. Just be careful you don’t laugh yourself to death.

Who says death is a serious subject? From amusing epitaphs (“I knew this would happen”) to comical burials (the Maxwell-House plot), this irreverent anthology of cemetery humor proves there is humor even in death. This book celebrates the lighter side of death through photos capturing amusing and ironic monuments to the dearly departed.

Sections include: “The Last Laugh: Funny Epitaphs”; “True to Form: Snapshots of Humorous and Oddly Designed Headstones”; “Dumm and Dummer: Rib-Tickling Eternal Pairings”; and “Die Laughing: Monuments to Utterly Unfortunate Names”. Readers will get even more laughs from the irreverent captions and illustrations.

This book is perfect for the morbidly inclined, taphophiles, goths, or those that like to poke a little fun at Death. I also think it’s a perfect book to purchase for Halloween! Grave Humor’s bold, eye-catching design will certainly make for a conversation starter among guests…just make sure they don’t die of laughter!

Buy it on Amazon!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Make-Out with Violence (2010)

Zombie movies are usually brainless (ahem, pardon the pun) but fun romps in the horror world. However, lately many have become disenchanted by the subgenre, usually forgoing seeing a zombie film with the assumption that it’ll be like all the rest, with nothing new or interesting to contribute. For most films, these assumptions would be correct. However, the zombie film Make-Out with Violence is an entirely different animal and takes the zombie film to amazing emotional depths.

Make-Out with Violence tells the story of twin brothers Patrick (Eric Lehning) and Carol Darling (Cody DeVos), newly graduated from high school and struggling to come to terms with the mysterious disappearance of their friend, the bright and beautiful Wendy Hearst. When a drive through the countryside surrounding their posh suburban community leads to the discovery of Wendy’s mysteriously animated corpse, the boys secretly transport the zombie Wendy to an empty house in hopes of somehow bringing her back to life. As the sweltering summer pushes on, they must maintain the appearance of normalcy for their friends and family as they search for ways to revive the Wendy they once knew, or, failing that, to satisfy their own quests for love amongst the living and the dead.

Make-Out with Violence feels more of like a drama rather than a horror film, and in fact focuses more on the trauma of growing up instead of inundating us with blood, guts and hordes of zombies. In fact, there is only one zombie in the movie, the lovely in life and death Wendy, and there are only a few instances where she is really scary. In fact, most of the time she just lays there, staring at nothing with her glazed-over eyes (until she tries to move, and then her jerky movements will send shivers up your spine).

You might be thinking that the plot line of teens keeping a pretty girl zombie as a “pet” sounds an awful lot like Deadgirl, which is what I thought before viewing the film. However, Make-Out with Violence takes an entirely different route than Deadgirl. The boys don’t ever sexually exploit the living corpse, but instead take careful care of her and try to get her to do normal things, like sit at a dinner table and eat some birthday cake. Instead of being shocking, vulgar and offensive like Deadgirl, Make-Out with Violence is a much more subtle film on the loss of innocence and growing up, with no less traumatizing results.

I also thought that all the actors did an amazing job. You really believed what they were going through and came to relate to them, especially through their unrequited loves. Eric Lehning and Cody DeVos were the standouts as the Darling twins. They expressed so many different emotions as their characters went through so much. Special mention must also be made of Brett Miller, who played the twins younger brother Beetle. For his young age, he was very impressive! Leah High was commendable as Addy, the twins long-time friend and Carol’s love interest. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the lovely Shellie Marie Shartzer, who played Wendy. Though she is silent and still most of the movie, she does an excellent job conveying the hopelessness of her situation and just how truly changed she is from when she was alive.

This is the first feature film from the Deagol Brothers, which I never would have guessed from watching Make-Out with Violence because it looks so stunning and polished. The visuals perfectly captured the bittersweet feeling of summertime, from singing cicadas to melty milkshakes. The melancholy feel and dreamy-like visuals reminded me of the film The Virgin Suicides, which also explored death and the malaise of summertime.

Make-Out with Violence isn’t for everyone, and if you go into it expecting a regular, run-of-the-mill zombie flick you’ll probably be disappointed. However, if you don’t mind introspective and intelligent films that are beautifully haunting and heartfelt, you just might want to cozy up with Make-Out with Violence.

Available from Amazon!

2:22 (2009)

2:22 is the new short film from Abyssmal Productions, written and directed by Steven Shea and produced by Tim Anderson. The short had its world premiere at the prestigious Stiges Film Festival in Spain and also screened at Screamfest Film Festival in L.A. as well as dozens of other festivals last year, and it looks like after securing distribution it will gain an even bigger audience now!

This seven minute short was shot in a whirlwind three days and spent three weeks in post-production before being rushed out for the fall festival run last year. The filmmakers’s are extremely proud of their cast and crew, and extremely excited to see their vision come to cinematic life.

A disclaimer before continuing: I’ve known fellow horror critic Tim Anderson for quite some time and was very eager to check out 2:22 after hearing so much about it before, during and after its production. Make no mistake, though, even though I am acquainted with Anderson I certainly won’t sugar-coat my review.

Here is the film’s official synopsis:

After an incredible night out with her girlfriends, Vickie Palmer (Tara Lightfoot) is wrenched from her peaceful slumber and cast mercilessly into a world spinning out of control.

Writhing half naked on the cold porcelain tile of her bathroom floor, Vickie desperately tries to piece together the tragic turn of events that has twisted her once carefree life into a nightmare of pain and suffering.

But when she discovers the truth, will it be too late to save her from eternal damnation?

After watching the short, I can tell you I was not disappointed or let down! The first thing I noticed about the film was its high quality. Most independent films, short or feature-length, usually look like they’ve been shot on a camcorder from the ‘80s. This poor quality doesn’t hurt my opinion of the film if the story is good enough…but it usually isn’t. So, it was nice to see a short film look spiffy for once!

It didn’t disappoint with the story either…from the first scene I was completely engrossed in Vickie’s story. She wakes up at 2:22 AM, hollering her head off, and rushes to throw up some fairly chunky blood…yeesh, what a hangover! As she tries to alleviate her pain by praying to the porcelain god, we are shown what really happened hours before, when she was carelessly dancing the night away at a club. Minute by intriguing minute we learn what has caused this waking nightmare for Vickie. There were so many red herrings to cause of Vickie’s malady that by the time the finale rolled around I was genuinely surprised (and delighted) at the twist at the end!

I also must mention what a great job the actors did…Tara Lightfoot as Vickie was the obvious standout (and I’m sure all you guys will appreciate her nekkidness throughout the short), and she really gave Vickie the perfect balance of sexiness, desperation and strength. Though the other actors didn’t really have any lines (but then again, neither did Tara, unless you count screaming), they did a great job conveying emotions through body language.

2:22 is a short film full of sexiness, seduction and surprises. Not only does it have an intriguing storyline, but it also has a professional polish that seems rare for short indie films. 2:22 is a masterfully crafted short film that grips you by the jugular and doesn’t let go!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Halloween Music Mix 2010: 13 Alternative Halloween Songs

You know those Halloween songs that come out on those cheap-o comps and crowd the check-out counters of Halloween stores? You know, the ones that are filled with the usual holiday standards of “Monster Mash” or “Thriller”?

Aren’t you sick to death of hearing these, year in and year out? I mean, these overplayed songs are almost becoming as bad as Christmas carols! It’s not that I don’t love the old classics, but I think it is high time people got some fresh blood circulating through their iPods!

So, like in 2008 when I listed 13 Songs to Haunt your Halloween, I present to you a whole new list of alternative Halloween songs.

1.) “Halloween in Heaven” – Type O Negative (available on Dead Again)

“The dead they got that morbid beat
It goes deo deo
They dance upon decaying feet
With their black toes, oh no
Heaven, limbo, and hell
Purgatory oh well, oh well
Halloween in heaven
It’s Christmas in hell
Halloween in heaven
Oh well, oh well”

2.) “When You’re Evil” – Voltaire (available on The Devil’s Bris)

“And it’s so easy when you’re evil
This is the life, you see
The Devil tips his hat to me
I do it all because I’m evil
And I do it all for free
Your tears are all the pay I’ll ever need”

3.) “Orange and Black” – God Module (available on Let’s Go Dark)

“All the leaves have died
All the faces on the pumpkins come to life.
He’s coming home tonight.
There’s no where in the world that you can h…ide.
From the shape hiding in the closet.
The monster under your bed.
There’s no way that you can stop this.
It’s Halloween and you’re dead.

4.) “Night in the Lonesome October” – Calabrese (available on Traveling Vampire Show)

“Like a bat in flight
Mortals go to hell
We’re already dead
Hypno eyes will turn
Virgin minds will burn
Taste of blood tonight”

5.) “Trick or Treat” – Nekromantix (available on Return of the Loving Dead)

“Trick, Trick, Trick or Treat
Open up your door and give me what I need
Thrill kill Halloween I’ll show you something
That you’ve never seen”

6.) “Michael” – Son of Sam (available on Songs From The Earth)

“I’ve been waiting patiently for this day to arrive and
I have spoken not a single word,
Now hand to hand my voice shall be heard
No Michael, not this time,
I’ve been waiting for oh so long, oh so long”

7.) “Spook City USA” – Misfits

“See the ghosts as you drive past graveyards
Spook City U.S.A.
Deathly souls in American graveyards
Spook City U.S.A.
Here is where I’ll die for sure”

8.)  “The Halloween Dance” – Reverend Horton Heat (available on Halloween Hootenanny)

“You do the step with the Psycho knife
You push a shopping cart like a Stepford wife
You stoop like a hunchback of Notre Dame
Now you’re doing the Halloween dance”

9.) “Autumn” – Bella Morte (available on Where Shadows Lie)

“When summer fades to silence
When winter’s still a dream
And solemn sleep to you is blind again
And the Autumn comes with amber eyes
Pale as the night
To enthrall your soul”

10.) “No Costume, No Candy” – Swingin’ Neckbreakers (available on Halloween Hootenanny)

“Trick or Treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat
No costume, no candy”

11.) “A Minute to Midnight” – God Module (Magic in My Heart Is Dead)

“I want to hang you on the wall like a Halloween mask
Do the things to you that you’re afraid to ask for
I knew you in the leaves and the pumpkins and the trees
Down on your knees in the cemetery”

12.) “October Skies” – Glis (available on Nemesis)

“As rain falls from October skies
I chase on into the night
Haunted by visions of past lives
As rain falls from October skies”

13.) “Kiss the Blade (Motherf*cker 667 Mix)” – Combichrist (available on Kiss The Blade)

“A glint of steel
In the night in the night
Darkness will arise
Behind a mask
A godless child
A force that never dies”

Monday, October 18, 2010

10 Unknown, Little-Seen or Just Plain Bad Halloween Movies

If you’re like me and most other Halloween fiends, you’ve already cycled through all your favorite Halloween movies and are looking for something new to watch this Halloween.

Well, you’re in luck because I’ve compiled a list of films below that are unknown, little-seen or just plain bad. Hey, beggars can’t be choosers, right?!

1.) The Hollow – Starring Backstreet Boy-er Nick Carter, this flick set on Halloween night pits a descendant of Ichabod Crane against the Headless Horseman himself. It has a nice backdrop of a New England autumn and a haunted hayride attraction. It might not be the best movie ever, but it has some recognizable faces and an actually half-way decent storyline.

Buy it on Amazon!

2.) Boo – Set in a supposedly haunted asylum on Halloween night, Boo has a great Halloween atmosphere going! The asylum is appropriately creepy and the plot has plenty of twists and turns. Though the movie gets a bit convoluted in the end, it’s still a pretty decent effort!

Buy it on Amazon!

3.) Dark Night of the Scarecrow – This made for TV movie was finally released this past September and I couldn’t have been more glad! A mentally handicapped man is accused of harming a young girl (though he actually saved her) and a lynch mob kills him while he is disguised as a scarecrow. Soon after, the members of the lynch mob start seeing a mysterious scarecrow. One by one they start dying and the remaining men think the wrongfully accused man has come back for revenge.

Buy it on Amazon!

4.) Pumpkin Karver – This movie is pretty much your typical slasher, but I love the fact that its set in a pumpkin patch during a big Halloween party!

Buy it on Amazon!

5.) Hack-O-Lantern – Ok, this movie is pretty bad. The 80s-style small town party, complete with horrible comedian, stripper and awful “metal” band is at least fun to laugh at. The story revolves around a satanic cult, lead by the main character’s grandpa, who are trying to initiate him into their cult on Halloween night.

Buy it on Amazon!

6.) Mr. Halloween – This is an extremely low-budget movie that should be your very last resort on this list…it’s just that awful. Unless you like really bad movies or are just a glutton for punishment, AVOID this! A killer in a small town is kidnapping teens and using them in his haunted house display. Sounds cool, but it’s executed so poorly that it’s not worth sitting through. It does have some nice fall foliage, though.

Buy it on Amazon!

7.) Hallow’s End – Here’s another flick set in a haunted house-type amusement. A fraternity sets up their annual haunted house maze in an old warehouse. When an old spellbook is found, forces are unleashed that turn all the “fake” scare very real. This is another cool concept for a movie that almost succeeds, but the low budget gets in the way of its greatness. I do have to commend it for its cool location, though. Plus, it’s no where near as bad as Mr. Halloween.

Buy it on Amazon!

8.) Mad Monster Party – Want something a little bit lighter? How about this Rankin-Bass stop-motion production from 1967? It’s perfectly ooky without being too spooky!

Buy it on Amazon!

9.) Transylvania Television – I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention TVTV, or Transylvania Television, a puppet show for grown-ups. It’s about a bunch of misfit monsters trying to run a television station. It’s absolutely delightful and even more of a pleasure to watch around Halloween!

Order seasons 1 and 2 on the official website!

10.) It’s My Party and I’ll Die If I Want To – This low-budget picture is actually one that gets it right! A Halloween/birthday bash at a supposedly haunted house turns gruesome when the spirits really do come out to play! It’s a lot of fun, a lot of gore, and even has a cameo by Tom Savini in it!

Buy it on Amazon!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hallow's End (2003)

Here is another Halloween-themed film plumbed from the depths of Netflix that I decided to give a looksie. You see, I’m on a quest to watch as many Halloween-related horror flicks as possible, no matter how crappy they may be! After having to sit through titles like Mr. Halloween, I wasn’t expecting much with Hallow’s End. In some respects, it was as awful as I expected, but I was surprised that there were instances where I actually enjoyed the film.

Do you remember the Halloween episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Simpsons where the characters become whatever costume they are dressed up as on Halloween night? Hallow’s End is like that, only it is set in a haunted attraction with a higher ratio of terrifying creatures like vampires, zombies and monsters!

Ok, I really have to say I dug the haunted attraction (appropriately called “Hallow’s End”) where the film was set. It was a bare bones haunt (well, what do you expect when frat boys execute it?), but the atmosphere was still Halloween-y. There were lots of great shots of the haunt, the actors of the haunt and patrons in costume and so on, all of which I enjoyed.

However, the film took forever to get going. The first half shows the frat brothers and their girlfriends setting up the haunt (and in the process finding a mysterious spell book that sets everything in motion), but there is too much annoying fighting between the two main male leads. The horrible acting doesn’t really help either. Instead of focusing on the stupid squabbles between characters, I wish the film spent more time on the backstory of the location (the opening scenes show a bunch of Satanists performing a ritual, but the film doesn’t really expand on this confusing intro) and the spell book. There is also a character named Pumpkin Jack that has a large part in the story, but appears on-screen for less than 10 minutes. I found myself wondering more about him than any of the other characters. As for the two main male leads (the good guy vs. the bad guy), they were both unlikable. The “good” guy is wimpy and never defends himself or those around him while the “bad” guy is just a stereotypical asshole and one-dimensional. The fact that both of them have girlfriends in the film is pretty unbelievable.

The real action doesn’t kick in until the last 20 or so minutes of the movie as people start turning into their costumes. We get vampires, zombies, serial killers, etc. and there are some pretty fun scenes here. Nothing too gory or shocking (this is low-budget, after all), but nonetheless entertaining! It doesn’t quite make up for the slow pacing of the beginning of the movie, but at least its interesting and the concept, though half-assed and not developed enough, is pretty original and not your typical slasher.

If you are a Halloween nut, you’ll appreciate the spook house location of Hallow’s End. It’s a low-budget film, but it actually looks quite well-done, especially the sets in the haunt. However, it has some glaring issues, mainly the pacing, acting and storyline. If you are looking for a Halloween-themed movie to watch and have exhausted all the regular Halloween flicks, Hallow’s End might be worth a look, at least for a rental. It certainly isn’t the worst, but it’s far from the best.

Available from Amazon!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Book Review: Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues edited by Loren Rhoads

You might recognize the name Morbid Curiosity, as it was a nonfiction magazine from 1997 to 2006 that has quite a cult following. Though the magazine has been defunct for some years now, its popularity has never really waned…and because of that editor Loren Rhoads compiled some of the best true stories featured in the magazine’s pages and put them in this delightfully dark book!

True Stories of the Unsavory, Unwise, Unorthodox, and Unusual…with that description on the front cover titillating me, I couldn’t wait to explore Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues as soon as I received it. In fact, it wasn’t relegated to my tottering stack of books needing review, but immediately was set by my favorite reading spot. My fingers were itching all day to pick up the book, and when I was finally able I flipped through the pages with gusto!

Here’s the synopsis from the back of the book:

For ten years, Morbid Curiosity was a one-of-a-kind underground magazine that gained a devoted following for its celebration of absurd, grotesque, and unusual tales – all true – submitted from contributors around the country and across the world. Loren Rhoads, creator and editor of the magazine, has compiled some of her favorite stories from all ten issues in this sometimes shocking, occasionally gruesome, always fascinating anthology.

This quirky book is filled with tales from ordinary people – who just happen to have eccentric, peculiar interests. Ranging from the outrageous (attending a Black Mass, fishing bodies out of San Francisco Bay, making fake snuff films) to the more “mundane” (visiting a torture museum, tracking real vampires through San Francisco), this curiously enjoyable collection of stories, complete with illustrations and informative asides, will entertain and haunt readers long after the final page is turned.

I don’t know what draws me to the morbid, the unusual, the weird or the downright offensive. I like to think it is mere curiosity, but I’m sure there’s also a darker nature at work here. The same dark nature that we all share, in varying degrees, that causes us to slow down when passing a horrible car accident.

The experience of reading Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues is also like rubbernecking; you know you shouldn’t be so interested, but you can’t help staring (or in this case, reading). You get sucked into the whole peculiar experience, whether it’s reading about loss of innocence, weird customs, grave-robbing, surviving a bomb explosion, hanging out with sanguinarians, necrophilia, assisted suicide, etc. It’s a very voyeuristic experience as you are given a glimpse into ordinary people’s lives that take an extraordinary turn.

The novel is nicely balanced in tone – the stories range from scary (“Lock it Behind You,” “This Is a Very Old Scar”), heartbreaking (“Killing Max”, “A Night in the House of Dr. Moreau), depressing (“Souvenir of Hell”), gross (“DIY Urology”) and shocking (“Holiday in Genoa”), but all are fascinating. My personal favorite stories included “The Keeper of the Shop” by Jill Tracy, a bittersweet tale about the mysteries of life; “Going into Tombs” by Hugues Leblanc about exploring and photographing the interiors of old mausoleums; “Feed” by Katrina James, about vampires in San Francisco; “Halloween Hell” by Mary Ann Stein, about managing a Halloween super-store; and “Blood Gags” by Frank Burch, about making fake snuff films.

Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues is a collection of the strange, the shocking and the sinister, but at the same time the stories are all so personal that they are also heartfelt and heartwrenching. These stories go beyond mere voyeurism, as through them you take a journey with the authors themselves to some very dark places. Like the authors, you won’t emerge unscathed, but perhaps you’ll have a deeper understanding of the dark side of the human psyche, including your own.

Buy it on Amazon!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Dark Night of the Scarecrow, a 1981 made-for-TV movie, has finally been released on DVD! This film has been called one of the best made-for-TV movies, so I set out to see how it has held up over the years. I was also excited to check it out since it takes place around Halloween!

The film is about harmless simpleton Bubba (played by the recognizable Larry Drake), whose closest friend is a young girl named Marylee (Tonya Crowe). Though Bubba is in his 30′s, he still has the mind of a child. Though he is perfectly harmless, a few local yokels, including mailman Otis Hazelrigg (Charles Durning), perceive him as a threat. When Marylee is attacked by a dog, the men assume Bubba harmed her and form a lynch mob to hunt him down. Bubba hides in a field dressed and trussed up like a scarecrow. The ignorant men find him anyway and shoot him. Soon after, they find out Bubba didn’t hurt Marylee but actually saved her life from the dog. They go to trial, but are acquitted of all murder charges when they plead self-defense.

Soon after, all four of the men see a scarecrow that looks eerily similar to the one Bubba was dressed up as when they killed him. At first, they believe that Bubba’s mother or the District Attorney or even Marylee is out to avenge Bubba’s death. But as they each begin suffering unfortunate “accidents”, they start to believe Bubba is back from the grave.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a very well-done film, especially considering since it was made for television! This release has been cleaned up and looks stunning – thanks VCI Entertainment! I really wasn’t expecting much going into this film, but I was really pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed the “revenge” aspect of the film. No matter who was doing the avenging, whether it be the District Attorney, Bubba’s mama, Marylee or Bubba himself, it was just satisfying to see the four hateful men get what they deserved!

I suppose I was expecting a slasher-esque storyline with a killer scarecrow slicing its way through a small rural town, but thankfully Dark Night of the Scarecrow avoided this. Instead, it really focused on the unlikable, greedy and ignorant murderers. As mentioned above, it sure was nice to see them become paranoid, then scared, then eventually meet their end!

Since the film was made-for-TV (and aired on the CBS channel, no less!) there really isn’t any blood or gore to speak of. Those looking for a bloody slasher had better look elsewhere! However, it doesn’t need gore to be a good movie and therefore succeeds in other areas. For one, I loved the Southern Gothic feel of the film. The scarecrow costume was definitely creepy and the scenes where it is stalking the local yokels were appropriately tense. I also loved that it was set during Halloween. A few scenes are set at a Halloween party with revelers in costumes and the climax is set in a pumpkin patch, making this movie perfect to watch this time of year!

The story, written by J.D. Feigelson, was engaging and I was enthralled the whole way through. There wasn’t a minute where I was bored, despite the slightly slower pace of the film. In addition, the characters were well fleshed out (every single one of the actors did a fantastic job with their characters) and I liked the variety of characters Feigelson gave us. The direction was also well done by Frank De Felitta (best well-known for being the author of Audrey Rose) and never once did it feel like I was watching just a made-for-TV movie. Instead, the film had a very cinematic feel and no doubt could have been released in theaters and made a pretty penny!

Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a Southern-fried creep-fest that’s a fun treat this autumn! It is one of the few “killer scarecrow” movies I’ve seen that is actually GOOD and worth seeing more than once. This film will definitely become a Halloween staple in my house and I look forward to the tradition of watching it every fall.

Available on Amazon!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Walking Distance (2010)

Ever since I first saw Mel House’s Closet Space a few years ago, I’ve eagerly anticipated his next project. Though Closet Space had its flaws, its story was engaging and despite its low budget it had rather impressive special FX. The unique story and effects work made Closet Space a memorable viewing experience and really made me sit up and take notice of “Texas Blood” filmmaker Mel House.

Now, a couple years later, House has completed Walking Distance, a film I’ve been eagerly anticipating since I first heard about it. Like Closet Space, House has written and directed the film, as well as picking up a slew of other duties (producing, editing, etc. – even making a cameo in the film). Would House be as successful with Walking Distance as he was with Closet Space? Read on to find out!

The plot to Walking Distance is very complex and so ambitious it’s hard to describe in detail without taking up a few pages. So, I’ll just give you the official synopsis, found on the Walking Distance website:

“An idyllic, small, self-sufficient community. On the surface, it seems like the perfect neighborhood. Everything you could possibly need is within walking distance. But…the pastoral exterior conceals a dark past and an even darker secret. As a group of individuals – each with their own ties and agendas with the town and each other-converges on the enclave, strange things begin to happen. Very strange things. Strange enough to test – and then break – the very fabric of reality itself.

Walking Distance really shows Mel House’s growth as a filmmaker. Technically, it looks absolutely fantastic. It still has a slightly low-budget look, but it’s much slicker and professional-looking than Closet Space. It also has a much larger cast with recognizable names (Adrienne King, Debbie Rochon, Reggie Bannister, Shannon Lark, Peyton Wetzel, Katie Featherston) and a more complex storyline.

This complex storyline is the film’s one big flaw. House tries to cram so many different backstories, so much character development, so many ideas into the nearly two-hour-long film that I felt a bit overwhelmed. This is a commendable flaw, however. I’d much rather a film attempt more character and story development than none at all! Still, there were so many ideas crammed into Walking Distance that you don’t really get a chance to take a breath, so to speak. I feel like some of the characters didn’t have any real purpose (the activists, for example), because towards they end they just ended up dying anyway. And the multitude of characters robbed me a chance of really rooting for anyone.

Despite the film being overcrowded with ideas, overall it was a positive experience. The acting was quite good from all involved and it was a pleasure seeing familiar faces! For example, we get Reggie Bannister as a pedophile, Adrienne King as an executive for an evil corporation, Debbie Rochon as an abusive mother, Shannon Lark as an activist against the evil corporation and even Katie Featherston (Paranormal Activity) as the lead’s girlfriend. Speaking of the lead, Denton Blane Everett did a fantastic job in his role of Cole Gray. In fact, I can’t really say there was one bad actor in the large cast, quite an achievement for a low-budget film!

Also impressive were the special FX, again handled by Marcus Koch of Oddtopsy FX. There are liquefied remains, people on fire, people melting into each other – pretty much the stuff of nightmares! And it all looks fantastic. My favorite scene is one in which the characters of  are sitting naked in a bathtub full of blood and their skin is sticking and melting together. Very impressive and freaky stuff here! Not to mention the main monsters in the film, who are people that look like they’ve been to Hell and back, complete with black, charred skin that is still on fire in parts. These mysterious entities appear and disappear, leaving a trail of liquefied bodies (or in some cases, no bodies) in their wake. These creatures look very creepy and when their existence is explained, it all makes sense!

Lastly, we have the fantastic story. Though it is crammed full of ideas, making it beneficial to watch the film more than once to fully absorb them all, the story is extremely unique. I love the different avenues of horror Mel House likes to explore and Walking Distance is no different. This is definitely an intelligent horror film and the kind of quality film that horror fans deserve!

Walking Distance is a huge step for indie filmmaker Mel House…it shows his amazing growth as a filmmaker and reaffirms my belief that he is definitely one of the top indie filmmakers to watch!

Walking Distance is making the festival rounds right now, so for more info on screenings and its DVD release, please visit its Official Site!
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