Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Review: Hollow Creek

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Hollow Creek (aka Haunting in Hollow Creek)
Written, produced, directed by Guisela Moro
Newfoundland Films; First Edge Films;
Cinematic Motion Pictures; FilmRise; MVD Visual
116 minutes, 2016

I love it when I get to see a horror film written and directed by a woman; in this case it’s Latina actor Guisela Moro. She takes a number of different subgenres and mashes them into an expansive story that lasts nearly two hours (usually a long time for an indie flick), which I will now discuss without giving away too many details, of course.

Steve Daron and Guisela Moro
We are introduced to married horror writer Blake Blackmore (dashing Steve Daron, who continually has a Sonny Crockett-type 5 o’clock shadow) and his mistress, Angelica (the lovely Moro), as they head out to a cabin retreat in a not largely populated small town in rural West Virginia (hillbilly genre). It seems some young boys have gone missing recently in the area, but our protagonists are more focused on their work and – err – play.

But it’s very shortly into the story (which is why, in part, I bring it up) that other supernatural happenings start to crop up in the house (haunted house genre) that are somewhat subtle to them, but are used well for jump scare type shock value to the audience. There is also the bit about the trio of missing boys and the investigation into finding them (“Criminal Minds-type genre). They all interplay together well into a comprehensive story with a touch of the supernatural without being overwhelmed by it.

In the first act, the ghostly stuff is well timed because in the beginning there are some dialogue-heavy moments of exposition that drag a bit due to some forced language, such as the over use of the endearing-babble word “babe.” But they are interrupted by those nice scares that livens thing up quite a bit.

Sharon Bleau and Alyn Damay
The questions that arose for me were concerning the film’s intentions. Is it a good ghost or a bad ghost? Are the cops the good guys or the bad guys? The only two things that are a given pretty much right from the onset is that Blake and Angie are the side of light, and Leonard (Alyn Darnay) and Nancy Cunnings (Sharon Bleau) are the in the dark region. As it’s given away quite early on (and even in the trailer) that it’s the latter, rednecky farm couple who are behind the kidnappings, But again, what are the reasons and intentions for the sinister duo to be carrying out what they are doing? That is part of what kept my interest.

Here is the thing about small towns: they can amazingly rally up behind you, or give a strong cold shoulder if you are (gabba gabba) not one of “them,” meaning if they turn their back on you, it can be isolating. I’ve been through small towns in West Virginia, and other than the Dixie flags a-flyin’, I got along with everyone I met, even as a stranger, but if I had taken an action that was disapproved of by the group by breaking a code of honor, that situation might have turned into something else. When Angie suddenly disappears, Blake gets a taste of this from the locals as he gets blamed for her going poof! in the rainy night in the court of public opinion, thanks to a sensationalist-driven local media (as we were taught, “If it bleeds, it leads”).

When the second act starts, after Angie vanishes from the town (but not from the story), is when the tale really starts to build momentum. While the film centers on the kidnapping story as its core, it manages to not overuse the ghost or hillbilly aspects of it; rather, Moro wisely plies the other two as aspects of the whole story, which actually helps make it stronger. Yeah, there are some gothic cliché’s, such as a child’s baseball mysteriously and nosily dropping down the stairs, which has been a standard ever since The Changeling in 1980; however, the orb is key to the story, so in this case it’s not just a ghostly announcement of presence.

Do I really need to say who this is?
The big cameo, of course, is Burt Reynolds, who shows up for one decent scene with Daron, and a brief one later on. Now, Daron has announced that Reynolds is one of his acting idols, and the writing credits state that Daron is “collaborating writer.” My guess is he wrote the scene with Reynolds, which just consists of the two of them. I will further posit that while the film was shot in West Virginia, the scene with the frail, then 80-year-old Bandit, was filmed in Florida where Reynolds lives. The second scene just shows the back of the heads of the cops, so I’m guessing all his scenes were added in after the principal shooting. I would say that it is a cool thing.

The one big hole to me is that there is a rifle hidden in the closet where Blake is staying. This makes no sense, as the cops think he is responsible for Angie’s disappearance, wouldn’t they have found the rifle in searching the house? It’s not like it was hidden somewhere, it’s right on the shelf at the top of the closet. I’m just going to put it up to a rookie writing mistake, and mosey on.

The cast is really strong here. Both Moro and Daron carry their roles well, Bleau plays woundedly cracked just a tad overboard (though her character, well, actually is), and Darnay definitely steals his scenes as the always seething patriarch of the kept clan. He has this way of moving his mouth as a sign of annoyance (you can see it in the trailer) that says so much about Leonard.

Once past the initial “Hey, babe” scenes, the film turns into a really taut, well-written thriller. Even if one edited out all of the supernatural aspects, the tension would still be on high, and that’s great. Having it in, though, is a boost as a way to take it to another level to apprehension. Plus, the way the film was shot, with the effective lighting (including being able to see the action at night) and slower editing, brings a strong and satisfying end result. I look forward to seeing more of Moro’s work as actor, writer and director. Brava.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Review: The Rise and Fall of an American Scumbag

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

The Rise and Fall of an American Scumbag
Written, cinematography, directed and edited by Dakota Bailey
R.A. Productions
38 minutes, 2018

Here is the generalized truth about evil people: they do not realize they are terrible citizens. Those who bomb abortion clinics, marched in Charlottesville, the person coming into your home and stealing your goods to sell for drugs? They rationalize that the ends justify their means, or that they are doing what they believe is necessary, or they just think that you are the evil one for letting women vote, letting darker skinned people into the country, or not bending down to idolize whomever they idolize in however way they idolize their idol (more on this later). This includes the Westboro Baptist Church, the mufti of wherever calling for jihad, or even what has become known as the Taylor Swift Army.

Dakota Bailey
Lower class whites in poor neighborhoods and ghettos, the drug addicted, murderous, lecherous, down and out folk who will do anything to not live, but merely survive, are the focus of director and actor Dakota Bailey’s stories and lens. He calls himself an auteur, and he certainly is one of the few who could actually be covered by that term in its truer and literal sense. Not counting his short films, this is his fourth full length release made with non-pro actors who know how to get the job done. Sometimes I wonder where the stories start and the people end. And in Bailey’s stories, a lot of people “end.”

This is a sequel to American Scumbags, released in 2016 (reviewed by me HERE). It brings back some of the characters who actually managed to survive the first blood-splattered collection of three intertwining stories. The remainders are mostly a viscous nutjob control freak named Billy (Darien Fawkes), and Johnny (director Bailey), a hitman who kills for his drug needs.

Once again we visit the still ironically named city of Sunnydale (filmed in Denver), where it seems like it may be the location of a Dante-eske Purgatory or even the other place. The five interlocking stories could be the overlapping rings of Hell and each member lives in their own mind-world, often connected by cell phone more than the physical; they are often in motion through foot, wheelchair or pick-up truck, and hats and wigs often seem of play an indirect part in separating the head from the space they occupy, as a shield or barrier.

Darien Fawkes
While Bailey’s films have all followed the auteur’s path, including title cards and persons descriptors (e.g., “Billy: Sadistic Sociopath”) in a similar font, monochrome tinting of the visuals, and using friends as the characters. However, he still finds room to grow. For example, in this release, we often hear what characters are thinking, which is a much better touch than just hearing them speak on cell phones to gather what is their motivation. Bailey’s editing skill is also improving; with more fluid scenes and less jump cuts, making the film’s pacing easier and less jarring, allowing us to focus on the content more than the form.

There is also a lot of both Christian and Satanic imagery, in both blatant and subtle forms. For example, there is a “666” written inside a file cabinet drawer or a Devil graffiti, but there is also the Novena candles that line the sides of the road (my fave is one of Jesus holding two guns in his folded arms), or Christmas decorations, many of which get mashed. However, this is the first Bailey release I can remember where Satan himself doesn’t make an appearance directly.

Marla Rose
So, what I’m saying is that there are two ways one can look at this specific aspect of how the film looks at religion: one is that it is totally against the totalitarianism of the Religious Right (or, as I once heard it called, Political Christianity) and how that helps destroy societies. The other is from the perspective of a hyper-Christian, who probably sees that being a non-Christian leads to drugs, murder and Satanism. I’m quite sure this leans towards the former, but the latter should be acknowledged. If you read my reviews regularly, you know where I stand (just ask).

The main character of the film is the aforementioned Billy, who is also the most interesting to me. Fawkes’ drawl, missing front teef, knee-length black coat and black hat make him both hateful and interesting at the same time. He’s out to score some money by any means necessary, and drugs for his very cute girlfriend, Candy (Marla Rose). Mind you, this is pretty much the norm as nearly everyone is seen doing some kind of substance abuse throughout. Bailey is also drug-addled as a hitman on his way up, and his vicious no-compromise dealer is Pat (Alaskan Cinder). Other characters float in and out of these stories, but most either are blown away or do the slaying, though they are key turning points in the storyline. As none of these are “professional” actors, the level of skill is variant, but some such as Fawkes definitely hold their own.

One lesson learned from this film is if you are going to be a drug dealer (and I am certainly not recommending that as I’m pretty strait-edge), don’t also be a user because it clouds your judgment; of course, being a dealer is not a great judge of judgment either. Another lesson to be had is taking heroin and thinking it’s cocaine is not a good thing.

Alaskan Cinder
The five chapters are kind of superfluous as the stories are so intertwined they flow as one narrative, but I like that it’s broken up that way, with titles like “Drugged Up & Dead to the World,” “Ghosts of Addiction,” and “The American Dream is a Fucking Lie.” Yeah, it’s quite nihilistic, but that’s the world Bailey is putting under the microscope. Many of the “larger” films focus on the crime world, but Bailey’s releases feel like you’re right there. Also, while most mainstream films tend to present this types as characters as African-American, Latino or some other form of Other, Bailey uses White actors that put it right in your neighborhood. That’s one of the things I like about his films, and each gets better stylistically and story-wise.

The music is loud and blaring, by the hardcore death metal Skullcrack, which fits the film well. It may be a bit on the short side, but there is no padding whatsoever, so you get as much action in this amount of time as in most 80-90 minutes releases.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Review: Inoperable

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Directed by Christopher Lawrence Chapman
Zorya Films / Millman Productions
85 minutes, 2018

It’s wonderful how Danielle Harris turned a cutesy television acting career (for example, I first noted her as a regular on the 2000-2002 show That’s Life, where she played someone named Plum) into becoming one of the top of the current scream queens. Sure even back then she was doing a horror turn now and again, but it’s in the indie horrors that she really took off and reach her fan base.

The reason I bring this up is the very diminutive in stature but equally big in style Harris is the star of this new straight to DVD/VoD film. She plays Amy in this play on the repeating Groundhog Day theme from hell that also has just a shade of Grave Encounters (especially the sequel). Mixing the events of a day stuck in the middle of a traffic jam with continually waking up in a hospital of the damned, she slowly starts to put pieces together. An interesting aspect that extrapolates from the now-classic Bill Murray comedy is that every time Amy awakens-like-the-Force, while there are some repetitions, the scenarios change drastically, such as either not being seen by those around her to her being attacked by them. We (and she) quickly learn that the staff running the place has no compulsion on using scalpels, drugs or electro-shock “therapy.”

With each reoccurrence, the violence gets more severe (and usually in close-up), either to her or those she views around her. As all this is happening, the well-chosen and  presciently named Hurricane Sybil is looming in on her locus, centered in Tampa Bay, Florida. One constant is the blonde woman who wanders the hall sloooowly (Crystal Cordero), popping in and out at will.
In one incarnation, she meets two people: a cop, Ryan (Jeff Denton), and the dressed to the nines Jen (Katie Keene). They are also part of the repetition on the side of the prey, as well as giving Amy some chance to work out what is going on (and for the audience as exposition, as well). They suspect that there are a series of timelines that are being affected by the hurricane having done something to an army base experiment. Honestly, it’s not very clear and seems farfetched, but so what. It’s what is going on in this story that is germane more than why.

To keep if further interesting, the time shifting progressively happens faster each time, so there is no reason to feel the same-old-same-old, even with the repetition. Speaking of the temporal, I was wondering either when this story was actually filmed, or perhaps when it was supposed to take place. For example, Amy has a flip phone, the computers are all desktop and the monitors are cathode tubed with the big backs. Honestly, the flat screen televisions in the hall that keep us all updated about the hurricane’s location feels a bit achromatic to the rest of the technology, even if their images look more analog signal than HD digital.

All these different time scenarios give the chance to present the audience with increasing levels and reasons for gore since characters can be sliced and diced more than once, so that’s not a bad thing, right? And why is all this happening? Aye, that’s the question of the day, ain’it?

This film plays with one of my favorite devices of speculating how much is in the mind and how much is in the reality of the characters. From early on, I had a theory of what was going on, and the reasons for it. I was 90 percent wrong, I’m happy to say, and that says a lot about the film.

Of course the cast is strong, as most of its players have a long list of credits. But there are some other aspects of the film worth noting. For example, the camera and dolly work is superb, and of special note is the editing. Working in the repetitions by seamlessly cutting out the recurring actions though editing is a good way to support of the story without annoying the audience. There is also a lot of motion in the physical sense as well, as we watch Amy do a lot of running down long hospital hallways. I was exhausted just watching her.

The gore is thick and rich throughout, including (but not exclusively) by use of needles, surgical saws, and scalpels. There is a lot of body cutting (etc.) that definitely falls sort of torture porn but can probably be considered body horror. Add the psychological twists and turns and it’s a pretty full package.

Image result for inoperable keeneThere is also a very subtle and dark humor that occasionally pops up, such as a comment Amy makes upon waking up for the umpteenth time (I’m not going to give it away). There were a couple of moments here and there, though, where I thought the film lagged a bit, mostly around phone calls. Mostly, though, it’s a pretty taut thriller and the cast is certainly up for that. Harris and Keene (most of the time saddled with some horrendous shoes) are up for the task, and both have their moments to shine, throughout.

What really keeps this film from being like any other time looper is that every time it happens there are some repetitions (especially around those damned phone calls), but as I said, the story changes enough each time that even though there are familiarities, it morphs enough to keep the suspense going.

There are also the rare plot holes, and certainly I have a few questions (though most of them I can’t ask here without giving away too much), but one of the nice things about this kind of story is that because of the overlapping and forever shifting timelines, it’s easy to lose and explain away the holes in the different directions.

That being said, this is only the director’s second feature (the first being non-genre), and he handles it exceedingly well for such a complex story. That’s pretty exciting.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Review: Inbred Redneck Vampires

Text © Richard Gary/Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Inbred Redneck Vampires (aka Bloodsucking Redneck Vampires)
Directed by Edward Hegg and Joe Sherlock
Sub Rosa Studios / MVD Visual
77 minutes, 2004 / 2010

Inbred Redneck Vampires actually began its life in 2004 under the title Bloodsucking Redneck Vampires. Huge difference, hunh?

I’m wondering if there is a future lawsuit in the making from this production, as here is the basic plot: a female vampire decides to raise an army of vampires to wipe out a threat. Did that Eclipse anyone else’s mind?

Well, although the basic storyline pastiche is the same, that is where the similarity ends, and this film is a throwback to those drive-in flicks that rarely made it up north (except perhaps at one of those theaters that was the glory of 42nd Street at Times Square, in New York, now gentrified into oblivion. But I digress…), but did so well in the Deep South, though they were usually about truckers and moonshine, rather than vampires.

This film really is a hoot. There are two plots going on, which of course will converge by the end. While the [Transylvanian?] vampire countess Catherine (Felicia Pandolfi) and her oh-so-not-smart servant / familiar (Warren E.E.B.) work on their plans to (wait for it, Pinky) take over the world, the little town of Backwash (filmed in Winlock, WA), where beer and Dixie flags are common, is slowly transformed during the height of the annual Tripe Days Festival.

This is no 2000 Maniacs, but more a dumbed down Dukes of Hazzard, and I mean that in a positive way. The protagonists of the story is the Poissier (pronounced ‘pisser”) family of Ma (Carrie Davis), sexy daughter Eva (Lindsey Hope), and dumb-as-dirt Lil’ Junior (Rob Merickel). Oh, and there’s Pa who is always off somewhere “tryin’ to read” something. Lil’ Junior (which sounds like a name from The Sopranos, even though it predates it) has a friend, little person Cletus (Bill Bradford), who is rude, crude, and always at full volume, but compared to Lil’, he’s Einstein.

Into this house comes very - er – cosmopolitan French interior designer, Jean-Claude Les Eaux (Scott Shanks), who is shocked by the state of the room he is supposed to redecorate (seems Ma won a contest from a bull inseminating magazine), which is, of course, the bathroom. Along the way, this Parisian poisson out of eau slowly but surely comes to an understanding of the town and its folks, just as they begin to “turn” into Catherine’s intended army.

But it seems Lil’ Junior ain’t the only one with the porch lights on and no one home, as, well, I don’t want to give it away. It actually is smart in its own silly way. For example, the local house of worship is the Church of St. Festus the Tipsy.

The acting is a bit, well, local theater, but the cast give it their all, and they seem to be having a lot of fun, which in turn comes across to the viewer. As with just about all indie films of this type, one has to put their reality check into a closet with Jean-Claude, and enjoy the ride. The script is actually quite witty in spots, when it’s not trying to out coarse Porky's-type material. In fact, there’s more “gross out” than gore, but I would also like to add that there was more than one time I actually had a good laugh. Intentionally.

This isn’t Scorsese (but these days is Scorsese Scorsese?), but it’s not Ed Wood, either. This is a romp, and should be seen as such. People in the south will either see this as an extension of some of the – er – southsploitation films of the ‘60s and ‘70s, or will be highly offended. Either way, we up north can laugh, and hope they’ll join in.

There is a full film commentary, lots of trailers, an amusing and relatively extensive behind-the-scenes featurette, and a decent blooper reel.

This review was originally published in FFanzeen.blogspot.com

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Reviews: Short Films for February 2018

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet
Poster can be made larger by clicking on them
Reviews are in alphabetical order, not by ranking

American Virus
Directed by Shane Ryan
Mad Sin Cinema
5:39 minutes, 2015
Short but effective, this transgressive film shows a group of home-grown biological terrorists who release a zombie virus, only to find it literally bites back. Co-written and starring director Ryan and Kathryn Eastwood (yes, the chair-talker’s daughter), it’s done cinéma vérité (rather than it’s ugly stepchild found footage, though there is some of that here, too), following their – err – followers and they roam around the city spreading the disease through injection into homeless people. Its second act is very bloody (as the image attached can verify), and Eastwood, who is both attractive and looks like she can take any of the women on “GLOW,” is a solid force as she mocks the audience. Terrorism isn’t just bombs, this posits, it’s so much more; as the title implies, though, is the real virus the disease or rather is it the people who release it? A really nice release that will just flow by quicker than the virus shoots through the dropper’s neck.
Trailer HERE

Directed by Shayne Ryan
Mad Sin Cinema
13:05 minutes, 2017
This film is an interesting experiment into late ‘80s style exploitation cinema with colorful pastel lettering that looks spray painted, which makes sense as it takes place in 1989. Without dialog (and with possibly the chance of a sequel which would not surprise me from the exceedingly prolific Ryan), we follow the before, during and after of a missile that brings a virus to California. We see this through the eyes of a 10 year old girl who shoots 8mm film of what she is witnessing (I wonder who will be alive to process it, but I digress…). She is strong, and trains herself in martial arts, and we get to see some of that action over electronic-ish 1980s style music that sounds like it could be from Rocky. To me, most of the impressions given feel more ‘70s than near 1990 (roller skating, arcades, big clothes, etc.), but it definitely is a beautiful portrait of some longer time gone that I’m willing to admit. It’s pretty easy to follow what the action is despite lacking dialogue, though a series of title cards for different time aspects helps. My fave part, though – and this is me being a media theorist – is the bloopers reel during the credits where Ryan shows how hard it is to shoot a period piece without the achromatic cell phone popping up everywhere. This is true; I recently went to a local (to me) Zombie Walk, and out of 100 pictures, only 15 didn’t have a cell phone it in somewhere. I also enjoyed how Ryan trips from one subgenre to another. This film feels a bit silly, but in a good way, like it was a child making it; I’m assuming that’s the point considering the age of the protagonist filmmaker. Also makes me thing of the mode of something like the Spy Kids franchise.

The Halloween Girl
Written and directed by Richard T. Wilson
Mad Shelley Films
18:52 minutes, 2015
I’m a little late on the draw with this one as I lost track of it for a while. I’m glad I had the chance to see this in its original incarnation, which I’ll explain later. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a horror film per se, but it does have a demanding ghost and a Halloween theme, some intense moments, and certainly a heart at its center. In the story, Luke (Nicholas Zoto) is a lonely kid with a sad, alcoholic mom (Christine Parker) who’s recently lost her job (because of her drinkin’?). In the playground, Luke meets and befriends the older and titular Charlotte (Catherine Kustra), whom he refers to as “The Halloween Girl” because of the colors of the clothes she’s wearing. It’s pretty obvious on some level who she is, but yet there still remain some nice surprises in store. It’s beautifully shot, with some nice angles, lighting, and moments that vary between Hallmark and Horror. It makes an enjoyable viewing. Meanwhile, as I was elsewhere, Charlotte has been spun off into the hit horror Web series, “Under the Flowers,” which is about to begin its second season. I think I may check that out, if this is the direction it’s heading.
Trailer for “Under the Flowers” HERE

Directed by Richard Powell
Fatal Pictures / Red Sneakers Media
13:58 minutes, 2015
Just because a picture takes us on a track that doesn’t conclude in that preconceived direction tends make it better rather than not. This intense tale from Ontario introduces us to a dad with a secret (Robert Nolan) and his barely teenage son (Mateo D’Avino), who travel a distance to meet up with his old college buddy (scream king Bill Oberst Jr.). They share a secret that of course I won’t share, but it’s creepy and it’s green. The first half could have been about any number of social ills plaguing the West these days, but this delves into something deeper, darker, and yes, greener. Everyone does a decent job, but it’s Oberst, who is a naturalistic actor of the highest level, that manages to keep the camera and viewer’s eye. The best way I can think of to describe his character is as follows: as someone once said to me about someone else in real life (as opposed to reel life), he’s just… not. But again, it’s also not what you might be expecting, either. This is a beautifully shot piece that feels a bit claustrophobic at times, which only adds to the chill factor. The Butcher Shop did a great job with the SFX, and there is some fine editing work here, as well. Worth seeking out.
Trailer HERE:

In Darkest Slumber
Directed by JT Seaton
Cat Scare Films
4:30 minutes, 2016

For hundreds of years, many of us grew up with Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which in its pure form were often horrific (and many of which have been turned into genre films). And every once in a while, such as with the likes of Roald Dahl, there will be additions to the canon. Which brings us to this modern fairy tale of a comatose woman (the up and coming Samantha Acampora) who is dogged by a flamboyant evil spirit in modified clown – or possibly harlequin, as that is more trickster – make-up (Jonathan Grout). [As a sidebar, Acampora would make a great petite-yet-sexy Harley Quinn.]. With a flourish language written by the also quickly up-and-coming Michael Varrati, we get a great story and a moral at the end that is true to the Fairy Tale genre. The narration is by the legendary Lynn Lowry. The film has a bit of an ethereal feel to it, as the camera and editing flow a bit like a river, and nice plays with lighting. At less than five minutes, it’s quite the satisfying excursion in Girl Power!

Love Is Dead
Written and directed by Jerry Smith
Sickening Pictures / Dexahlia Productions
10:50 minutes, 2016
As the song says, “Love hurts / love scars…” We learn the truth of that from the two protagonists of the film after a prelude of Peter (porn actor Aaron Thompson) talking to his shrink (genre-regular Ruben Pla, who tends to play doctors in films like Contracted and Insidious). In flashback – and in the shower – we meet the naked and tat-covered Peter, and his equally tatted and naked wife, Mara (Joana Angel, also a porn star, though she is pushing into more mainstream genre-style films). It is obviously not a joyous moment, which leads to further unhappiness. While this is not classically a horror film, the tension is strong. Sometimes it’s a bit hard to make out what the sobbing Mara is saying, but the point is understood. This is Jerry Smith’s second film (both shorts), though is he known more for his writing about genre films¸ so it’s great that he’s actually participating now. He manages to get some decent shots in what is obviously a cramped space, and the story is short enough not to lose the viewer. Yeah, I found the sheer volume of tats a bit distracting, expecting Ray Bradbury or Rod Steiger to show up any second (not really, considering they’re both dead, but hopefully you get my point). It’s a well-made short, and worth the view, depressing as it is.

The Minions
Directed by Jeremiah Kipp
Lauren Rayner Productions
11:17 minutes, 2014
Not to be confused with the Pixar characters which are every-witch-where [sic; pun intended], the title here focuses on William (the veeeery tall Lucas Hassel), who is caught in a bind. He hears Abigail (Lauren Fox) chastising him for getting involved with two “witches’ minions,” the very drunk Katrina (Robin Rose Singer) and her friend Sarah (Cristina Dokos), who is trying to get her home safely. The film plays one of my favorite film thriller motifs of what is real and what is imagined. The film mostly takes place on a dark New York (and Brooklyn) street, with nearly all the color drained out of it, giving it a faint, wan hue to match the mood perfectly. As William becomes more besotted and entranced, events evolve suddenly and sharply. This is a lovely film that plays games with both the characters and the audience.
Film HERE:

Oni-Gokko (Tag)
Written, edited and directed by Shane Ryan
Mad Sin Cinema
8:13 minutes, 2011
Director Ryan takes on J-Horror in this languid yet skeevy story – told in Japanese – about two sisters, Miki (Eri Akita) and Aki (Mariko Miyamitsu, aka Mariko Wordell), who once played a game of tag that did not end well. How much is a ghost story and how much is a guilt story is left up to the viewer. Razors are one of my ewww points, and it’s put well to use (even if not in close-up). Despite some screechy dialogue between the siblings, the pace is slow with long shots of the birthday suited duo. Even though short, it takes some patience to take it all in. A nice, neo-arty excursion, and I’m glad Ryan took the chance.

Directed by Jeremiah Kipp
Action Media Productions
15:54 minutes, 2014
Even though this film is a few years old, it’s even timelier now when doctors are either overprescribing or removing opioids like Fentanyl due to its addictiveness, leaving some in constant pain, suffering both from withdrawals and the original pain for which the drugs were given in the first place. For this film, through flashbacks we learn about two romantically involved scientists (Thomas Mendolla and the cute Kelly Rae LeGault in an obvious wig) who genetically design a small crab-like creature that, when imbedded in the spine, lives off pain while releasing endorphins. Of course, this being a genre film, there are unforeseen consequences. In a nice touch, it’s not just the effects on the host, but those who are attracted to it. This is solid body horror, but despite its physical harshness, it’s not what I call a squishy, making it palpable, on some levels, to a more general horror audience. It’s well done; the pacing is solid with a nice build-up.

Directed by Marc Cartwright
Glass Cabin Films
0:15 minutes, 2016
Yeah, sweet and very short. And yet, for its exceedingly brief time on the screen, it actually works as a narrative. Sure, there are no deep philosophical meanderings, nor any kind of subplots and exposition, but there is a bam! If you’ve ever found a hair in your food, this may do more than just gross you out. I don’t want to give anything away because, hey, you’ll get there in a quarter of a minute anyway. Baker Chase Powell, who has a kind of Zac Efron vibe, does well in conveying emotion without words and without much time. This is a really fun watch, and even if you hate it (though I don’t know why one would), shit, it’s 15 seconds of your life. Give it a try.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Review: Living Among Us

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Living Among Us
Written and directed by Brian A. Metcalf
Red Compass Media / Vision Films
87 minutes, 2018

Wow, a combination of ancient vampire lore and the more modern found footage format, mixed with the sensationalistic news feeding frenzy combine into a perfect storm of culture clashes that cover both the temporal (centuries) and spacial (a big house).

A trio of shock video journalists (two seasoned, one newbie) who model themselves more after sensationalism than, say, CNN, have an assignment to do a story about a clan ofvampires, that old tradition that until now has kept in the cover of literal darkness, but is now claiming their own rights to exist in the open as persecuted citizens of the social contract.

One of the old sayings about vampires that I used to hear a lot (but can’t remember where, oddly enough) is that the Vampire’s strongest power is the lack of people believing in them. This film wisely takes that and turns it on its head, on the level of Blade (1998) and the whole “people are food” mentality.

I remember seeing Man Bites Dog (1992), a Belgian film about a news crew following a serial killer, and over time becoming not only complicit, but eventually actually joining in on the action (e.g., helping in the disposing of bodies). As a student of media theory, this is an interesting concept that is partially in play here as some of our subject vamps start acting out. However, it is only the start of the uptick of intensity and interest to the viewer. This release mixes this premise a bit with an recent and unfairly obscure Irish film called Do You Recognise Me? (2017; my review HERE),  in which a similar film crew is invited into a mysterious group for nefarious reasons.

Our protagonists are on-screen unkempt reporter Mike (Thomas Ian Nicholas), his assistant Carrie (Jordan Hinson) and the new kid on the block with the ever running camera, Benny (Hunter Gomez). He’s the odd stick  as the enthusiastic teammate in a comfortable team. Basically, Benny is here in the story to (a) film everything, whether it’s known to those he is capturing  or on the down-low (while sticking to many of the vampire traditional strengths and weaknesses, sometimes in spectacular fashion, they can be filmed and seen in mirrors), and (b) to be told by Mike to “turn that damn camera off” multiple times; wait, aren’t they lower-end journalists? I would think he would insist on the camera staying on, but what do I know.

The focus of their documentary is a “family” (no real – er – blood relations) of neck biters, led by patriarch/leader Samuel (John Heard in one of his last roles as he died in 2017, and this film is rightfully dedicated to his memory; he was the dad in the Home Alone franchise). The matriarch is Elleanor (Esmé Bianco, who many will recognize as Ros from “Game of Thrones”). The other two are the “teens” (well, they’re actually older, including the actors being closer to 40 than 30): the outgoing and sociopathic “bad boy” Blake (Andrew Keegan) who is a cross between the ‘50s juvenile delinquent and Tony Manero, and the creepy and mostly silent Selvin (Chad Todhunter). They are the equivalent of the Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) character in Blade who are tired of being in the social background. Later coming to the party is Samuel (William Sadler), the Sectional Leader of the Vampire Awareness campaign, and his companions who are the equivalent of Dracula’s trio of “wives.”

With the understanding that some of these vampires are hundreds of years old, it seems like the male characters are either Mike Pence-like prudish and older or nutsoid and hyper younger men (physically), and only beautiful women. Are there no elderly or fat women (or men) vampires? Just a curiosity query.

Now how does this fare as far as a found footage feature goes? Well, there are some of the clichés such as running around the dark by the camera lights and the camera's annoying and unrealistic visual noise, but at least the batteries are explained. That being said, despite the overuse of this genre, they add enough interesting aspects, such as vampires, a couple of nice jump scares, and some decent use of the footage in the third act that actually gives it a pretty good turn. Thank you, Mr. Metcalf.

Considering the history of this cast, it should come as no surprise that the acting is above par. Many of the players have worked together before on televisions shows such as Party of Five, so the give-and-take feels natural. Heard seems a bit stiff physically even though his acting is smooth, but considering that he was about to have back surgery, that’s no surprise, and I give solid respect. British born Bianco also does well in an almost gliding way as she shimmers through her scenes with a touch of the class of the gentry, and disdain for the common reporters, while trying to put up a façade of pleasantry. 

Keegan and Todhunter play weird and wild effectively, and Nicholas does well going from arrogant to uncomfortable to…well, so on. Gomez doesn’t really get to so as much, especially since we only see him briefly as he is usually behind the camera (though we do get to hear his voice).

As far as the gore and nudity, it’s held in somewhat in check so while there is not a lot of it – more of the former than the latter, though – it’s effective because it’s not expected. The last act, as should be, is more intense; while anyone who has seen their fair share of found footage flicks can kind of guess where it’s all going to end up, the route there is a fun ride so don’t let that hinder your decision to watch. And be sure to read the scrawl under the newscaster (a cameo by the director) at the end. Made me smile.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Reviews: The Violent Years; Anatomy of a Psycho

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

The Violent Years (aka Teenage Girl Gang)
Directed by William Morgan; written by Ed Wood, Jr.
AGFA / Something Weird Video / MVD Visual
65 minutes, 1956 / 2017

I’m happy to say I originally saw this one in the theater. No, not when it came out, I’m not that old. I either saw it at an Ed Wood, Jr. respective at the Thalia Theater in New York City, back in the ‘80s, or, it could have been at the World’s Worst Film Festival, run by the Medved Brothers, but I can’t remember.

Ed Wood, Jr. (d. 1978) gets most of the credit for this film because of the name value, but he was only the writer. The direction is flatly in the hands of William Morgan. Before this, he made mostly B-Westerns, and this was his last one before he died in 1964.

There’s two ways (at least) to look that this film: what it is and what it means; in other words, the film itself, and the message it was infused to give in the context of its history. I’ll start with the easy one, which is first.

This film gets a lot of flak for being a piece of bad cinema. I’m not going to argue with that per se, but there’s a lot of different ways to look at that, as well. To be fair, this is actually no better or worse than most of the b-films that were coming out since the 1940s, especially the cheap and fast ones during wartime. Like most of those, this too was a propaganda film, but I’ll get more into that later.

Jean Moorehead
The basic premise of the film is the non-rise of a girl gang that robs (mostly gas stations), assaults people, and whose members are just angry at life. The foursome is led by Paula (attractive Jean Moorehead, who was the October 1955 Playboy Bunny of the month; Hershell Gordon Lewis would do the same with June 1963 Playmate Connie Mason in his 1963 Blood Feast, but I digress…). Each of the four is given names that are easily masculinized, which they call each other as nicknames, for the filmmakers to subtly indicate to the audience they are not being “womanly”: Paula/Paul, Geraldine/Jerry, Georgia/George, and Phyllis/Phil (no Ringo, though).

The acting overall, yes, is quite wooden, but there are some nice moments, such as when Paula sneers to the wasp-waited Sheila (Lee Constant), their link to the underworld, “I killed a policeman tonight. Yeah, a cop” (it’s in the trailer, below). But mostly, it’s high drama acting where everything is either under- or over-stated. Again, that’s very typical of the period films of this nature. The worst acting, though is the judge (stalwart b-film western actor I. Stanford Jolley), who either looks like he is saying his lines with his eyes closed, or reading the script below him; though the court bailiff who flubs his one line gets honorable mention.

The Girl Gang
Also typical of b-films, this one is just merely over an hour in length. In a time when it was common practice to have double features, the longer the films the less turnover of customers, so they tended to be quick.

Overall, the writing is okay, most of the story is told in flashback, though admittedly clunky. The revitalized print is really good, but nothing could save the many overused studio stock footage b-rolls of the police cars screaming down the streets with sirens blaring.

As for the sociological aspect of the film, well, there is a lot to unbox. Most of the juvenile delinquent films from the ‘50s were geared to two different audiences. First to the parents as a scare tactic (such as the evening newscast in New York City that for decades started with “It’s10 PM. Do you know where your children are!?”).  With the rise of rock and roll, and all the media hysteria that went with it, films like these were used to scare parents about their teens, and also give them a message: pay attention to your kids or they will go bad. Here they imply that because the mother is more interested in things outside the home (in this case charity work, but it could be seen as any employment), it will lead to ignoring the children who will go wrong without direct and constant supervision. That is just one of the subliminal messages meant for the audience.

It could be noted that all the characters here (other than gonif queen Sheila) are middle class, with Paula coming from wealthy parents. The message of stay home with your children seems geared towards white, middle class and upper. It’s as if the lower classes were expected to be lost causes, so the subtext is “these are the children of the future, not those others, so watch your social status or we will lose our advantage!”
The other side of the directed audience is teens, who were coming to be recognized as a marketable demographic in the late ‘50s (that, too, came with rock and roll record purchasing) with some spendable income. Films like this wallowed in cheesy, establishment versions of rock and roll music (very toned down boogie-woogie with lots of sax). This and the teen crime element made it an interesting topic for the young, but it was also a warning to them to stay on the straight-and-narrow. The film opens with some “good citizenship” notes on a blackboard that the main characters walk by (as they are introduced with name title cards), and scoff.

This was the middle period of the Cold War, between McCarthyism and the Bay of Pigs, but the fear was still intense. The fear was palpable back then, so in films like this, they tried to connect the rising imagined JD problem with Communist influence. Here, Sheila hires the ladies to wreck the school, and subtly adds, “And don’t worry if a few (American) flags get destroyed in the process. Let’s just say it’s part of a well-organized foreign plan” (again, check out the trailer).  

And then there’s the ever-present fear of S-E-X before marriage. Or, as they show here, will lead to multiple unwanted consequences (don’t want to give too much away).
The theme of the film is, literally, “so what?,” which is said numerous times. If this film was made today, I wonder if they would have used Anti-Nowhere League as a theme song

This is a really nicely cleaned up print, so great job AGFA and Something Weird Video.

The extras are some grainy (8mm? 16mm?) footage that Wood shot in one day for a film that was never made called Hellborn. Even in those 8 minutes, you can see the difference between his style and, say, the main feature’s. Though seeing Wood in his drag persona is always a pleasure. Some of this b-roll was used in a couple of his other films. There is also the trailer for The Violent Years, but also added is a collection of other youth in trouble films, mostly from Europe, and almost all have the same catch phrase: “Never before has a film been so frank about sex!”
While The Violent Years would have been a great double feature with Switchblade Sisters (1975), it is probably more appropriate to have the following as the second film:

Anatomy of a Psycho
Directed by Brooke L. Peters (aka Boris Petroff)
75 minutes, 1961 / 2017
First, the reason this one is included with main feature is that Ed Wood, Jr. added to the screenplay, under the pen name Larry Lee, so it kinda makes sense.

While the other film deals with saying “no” to society and its norms, this movie deals with more of a psychological aspect, with a criminally insane Juvenile Delinquent. There is a difference between being anti-social and being a sociopath, and that’s where this film has its feet.

A murderous criminal is sent to the gas chamber as the film begins. But the story revolves more about the aftermath of his actions than on him, since he’s smoked less than five minute into the story.

Ronnie Burns and Pamela Lincoln
His normal sister, Pat (the cute and toothsome Pamela Lincoln, who had appeared as Vinnie Price’s wife in The Tingler in 1959), is trying to get over the social shame of having her brother be a murderer. But she’s in love with Mickey (Ronnie Burns, the real-life adopted son of George Burns and Gracie Allen), and her aim is to have a normal life with him.

Their other brother, Chet (Darrell Howe) is another story, and is the titular character. He can’t stand that his brother was executed, and decides to decimate anyone who aided in the arrest. He’s not the Arch Hall, Jr. screaming freak of 1963’s The Sadist, but more the type of tall guy who leans over you with a cigarette dangling in his mouth and idly holding a switchblade. He has his manic moments, especially by the end, but mostly he’ll non-chalantly start a fire, for example. It’s a slow build.

Darrell Howe
Other than a lot of smoking by a lot of characters, one would think the film would be focusing on Chet, but it seems like Mickey is oddly the central character (definitely the biggest name of the cast), as he is arrested for a murder actually perpetrated by…well, you know.

Unlike, say, The Violent Years, his film is not used as a propaganda tool to scare people into doing or being something that society expects, it’s more a straight-out crime that could have easily played on television on one of the many cop shows that were on at the time. Part of the reason for that, I believe, is that the three siblings come from a lower class stratum, so are not seen as socially relevant; though Pat is marrying into supposed respectability, before he is arrested.

While overall it’s a pretty silly film, and Chet is both scary and laughable (at times), in the social context of the time, it is still good escapism. It’s right as a second feature, as it’s not good enough a story to be A-line, but I didn’t feel sorry watching it, any more than spending an evening with a CSI: Whatever or NCIS: Wherever. It doesn’t need to be brilliant to be an enjoyable time killer.