Friday, May 25, 2018

Review: Habit

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

Directed by Simeon Halligan
Not a Number / Tin Hat Productions / Blue Diamond Pictures
96 minutes, 2017 / 2018

Manchester, England, England / Across the Atlantic Sea… It’s a town known for, among other things, melancholia, producing such music as the Smiths and Joy Division / New Order (none of whom show up in the soundtrack, thankfully). Not exactly a cheery lot. So it makes sense that it would be the locale for a somber film of blood, guts and… well, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Elliot James Langridge
Based on the novel by Stephen McGeagh, we are introduced to slacker Michael (Elliot James Langridge) who meets Lee (Jessica Barden, the big name in the cast due to her work on the 2017 Brit series “The End of the F***ing World”) on the way to an employment agency. Late at underdressed in a gray hoodie, he’s a bit seedy, and she’s excitable, in a way reminiscent of the Melanie Griffith character in Something Wild (1986), without the extreme and exaggerated danger level, though she seems more stable as time goes on. Before the scene is over and less than 10 minutes into the film, she’s talked her way into moving in with him and his toe-jam pickin’ roommate, Dig (Andrew Ellis); think of the Rhys Ifans character from Nodding Hill (1999), though without the charm. Personally, I would have asked for some ID to see her age; Barden is mid-‘20s, but can easily pass for close to underage, wildish or not. Why take the chance, eh? Anyway, I digress…

Jessica Barden
To thank him for the arrangement, Lee gets him a job at her Uncle Ian’s (William Ash) – err – massage parlour working the door security. It isn’t long before he discovers the big secret of the place, though it isn’t that hard to figure out, even if you just watch the trailer or see the attached publicity photos. It’s also not a new theme these days, with the likes of the “Santa Clarita Diet” (2017-ongoing) and especially Raw (2016).

The film builds nicely, one foot in front of the other, as we delve ever deeper into Michael’s old (through dreams and flashback) and new life. Lee hints early on that she knows that he’s ”different,” and being a genre film, you know something wicked this way comes in wrappings of a woman with a child-like face. A similar technique is used in real life to drag life stragglers into cults, and this one is a doozy.

Roxanne Pallett
There is a bit of competition hinted at between Lee and one of the women at the parlor, the very hot Alex (Roxanne Pallett, sporting a very ‘60s Carnaby Street vibe; think Julie Christie), who is somewhat the antithesis of Lee (cute-sexy vs. hooker-sexy). Also caught up in the whole thing is Michael’s confused and OCD sister with some PSTD issues, Mand (cute Sally Carman, currently on “Coronation Street”).

Nearly everything the audience learns about events is parallel to when Michael becomes aware. This is a nice touch, as is the predictability factor, which is a mixed bag. For example, there is one death that is expected, some unexpected, and honestly one I thought I saw coming that didn’t happen (no spoiler alerts).

The cast is certainly not acting newbies, all having long histories in British productions, especially telly series. Most have been in similar shows from time to time, and I’m going to assume that many of them know each other from this work, as the British market – especially up north in Manchester – is probably limited to some extent. What I’m trying to say, is that the cast is stellar, playing nuanced performances that give credibility to the characters, no matter how outlandish the activities involved.

Sally Carman
The film also looks stunning. Camera work, lighting, and cinematographic framing are offset by a somewhat languid editing that draws the viewer in, rather than lingering too long to the point of distraction. It also reminds me a bit of Long Night in a Dead City, which was filmed around the same time in New England. Know that the accents here are thick as fleas and twice as chewy.

On some level this can be considered an organized crime genre, but there is way too much of body parts and moistness for this to be just your average crime caper. Also, it’s too controlled to be considered a slasher film, either. But know there is a nice body count, and a lot of body jus.

The ending is left wide open, I suppose for the possibility of a sequel, which I will also gladly eat up. The average film viewer may not want to have a meal before watching this, but if you’re a genre junkie like me, you’ll relish this over some White Castle (what’s the British equivalent?) and a cuppa… red wine.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Review: Trophy Heads

Text © Richard Gary / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet, unless indicated

Trophy Heads                                           
Produced and directed by Charles Band
Full Moon / MVD Video
87 minutes / 2014

In general, I don’t believe that genre fan would really argue that the films from Full Moon Entertainment – and Charles Bands’ in particular – are as cheesy as they come. This has been true since the VCR revolution in the early 1980s. Silly scripts, sometimes questionable acting and amateurish effects not only dominated throughout the Full Moon catalog, but fuck, does Band know how to direct or produce films that make all of that work so well. The Puppet Master, Trancers and Subspecies series alone would be perfect examples, but then add in the likes of Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988), The Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (1989), and so many others; it’s not just a bunch of crazy films, but rather a canon of so-bad-it’s-good cinema that every horror aficionado should know.

I’ll be honest with you, I’ve seen most of the golden age Full Moon catalog from essentially the late ‘70s through the early ‘90s (yes, on VHS), renting them with glee as they came out. Not all of them were keen to me (e.g., Castle Freak [1995], by one of my fave directors, Stewart Gordon, who… sorry, I’m jumping the gun, so more on this later), but I would not miss out on my chances to experience them because they were so much fun. As I’m writing this, even more Full Moon films keep coming to mind, such as Meridian (1990).

Adam Noble Roberts
Anyway, I couldn’t help but smile and digress at this point, so let’s get back to the film at hand. Like the first Scream (1996), this is an incredibly self-referential a-nod’s-as-good-as-a-wink-to-a-blind-bat release, with a half-dozen of the ‘80s and ‘90s Scream Queens [SQ] playing some version of themselves in the present, being held captive by a basement-living nerd looney loser named Max (Adam Noble Roberts), and his over-indulgent, enabling, and equally crazy mom (the great Maria Olsen).

Max is concerned that the Queens of the movies he loves (Full Moon features are mentioned and shown, of course, such as Creepozoids; 1987) will be forgotten as they age, and insanely feels it’s his personal mission to capture them, and mount their heads so they will be forever remembered. Early on in the film, two of the SQ royalty get kidnapped: Linnea Quigley (here, Sister Quigley as she has bathed herself in the blood of Christ), and the seriously intelligent and deep voiced Brinke Stevens, as well as Lisa (Irena Murphy, who spends most of her time in the film topless). They are caged in Max and Mom’s basement, as the actresses’ own videos play, as well as the opening SQ’s death, Darcy DeMoss.

Michelle Bauer
Max and Mom have the SQs recreate a scene from one of their own films, no matter how poorly and inaccurate (a comment on the original films’ lack of aptitude?) and then uses that as a means to – err – immortalize them, in their own fashion. It’s actually weirdly and effectively creepy in that it’s not the characters that “die,” but these fictionalized versions of themselves. Some of the other SQs include the still lovely Michelle Bauer (always one of my faves in my own fanboy days), Denice Duff and later-SQ, Jacqueline Lovell.

These were the SQs of my youth, as it were, and Band is wise to find a way get them not only to have some new performances, but he also gets to promote his own Full Moon line, as most of these SQs were in his films, such as Head of the Family (1996) and some of the others mentioned above. Definitely a win-win situation for all involved, I would hope. Even the smaller roles are up and coming SQs in Full Moon flicks like the Evil Bong franchise (I’m not making that up).

Yes, there are also some stunning prerequisite cameos throughout the film. The one that will get a lot of notice is director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator [1985], From Beyond [1986]) who plays a particularly obnoxious Harvey Weinstein-ish creepy version of himself (well, I hope it’s a version…), Carel Struycken (Lurch in the 1990’s Addams Family reboot) and the still lovely Kristen DeBell (Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy from 1976; Meatballs in 1979). Another Full Moon director of cult classics, David DeCoteau, has a brief bit as well.

These versions of the cast come across as humorously vain and often self-centered, be it unapologetically self-motivated on one side of the spectrum, to overly religiously fanatical and trying to share Jeebus with the world on the other. Now, I’ve actually had the opportunity to meet some of them in my life (mostly at Chiller Theatre Cons; see pics below), and they came across as friendly to both their fans and each other. These cartoonish adaptations is more feeding to an audience who imagines that they are like their characters, than what these actresses have brought to the screen, not to mention a generation of teen boys.

Maria Olsen
Max and his mom are actually quite fun characters, and both actors fulfill their roles with glee, which transfers to the screen. Both actors have just the right amount of twitches and reactions that enhance the characters while both mocking them, and making them somewhat pitiable. Max is as much a cartoon stereotype of a fanboy as these SQs are to their on-screen personas as presented here. And it’s pretty obvious that Max is not playing with a full deck, as he has quite intense conversations with the post-decapitated and stuffed heads. And we hear not only them chide Max, but have conversations with each other.

Oh, did I happen to mention that this is a comedy? While I complained a bit about the writing of the earlier fare, this one is actually quite smart while still being just a bit goofy. It’s definitely a step up in that way, especially the dialogue. There are definitely some serious moments, but even those can be taken with a beer, if one is so inclined (I never drink…alcohol).
Each of the deaths is quite different and shot well. And what’s more this is extremely entertaining, whether you’ve seen the originals or not, or whether you’ve heard of the cast or not (though shame on you if you haven’t learned your horror history).

There are some weird moments that make no sense to me, such as Mom wearing white to drag a bloody body, or one SC actually pushing Max, and then rather than fighting and taking away the weapon, keeps on running. Yeah, this doesn’t make logic, but again, it’s a Full Moon feature, so yaz takez what yaz getz, and have fun with it.

Brinke Stevens
(pic by RBF)
One important thing that Full Moon brought to the home market video is that they were among the first to add “extras” to the ends of the VHS, usually in the form of a documentary called the “Videozone.” It should come as no surprise and a pleasant reward that they continue the trend with this film’s own “Videozone”; they even use the same opening graffix (but the digital noise cleaned up and it’s been updated a bit). For 10:16, this is an enjoyable Making Of featurette with most of the main characters discussing working on the set, talks with the director, and with each other. The 22-minute “Uncut Footage” is less interesting behind-the-shooting, including rehearsals, and conversations among Band and some of the SQs, among others.

Linnea Quigley(pic by RBF)
Next up is a “Submit Your Head” feature shows what I believe are some of the backers’ heads treated the same way as the SQs in the bloody, green frame for 2:52. Note that while they are shown one by one here, they are presented in groups at the end of the feature. Along with Audio Options (stereo and Dolby Surround), there are 8 trailers of classic Full Moon features, many among those mentioned in the film, as well as the one for this film.

Last up (though second on the list of extras options) is the full length commentary, consisting of the director Charles Band, and stars Brinke Stevens, Darcy DeMoss and Jacqueline Lowell. Between them actually just watching the film, they definitely tell some great anecdotes about their lives, the shoot, and little pieces of details that make the factoids fun (such as info about a particular mask Max wears).

Michelle Bauer(pic by RBF)
An argument could be made that the victims are all Scream Queens and not Kings, but let’s face it, yeah, it’s sexist as hell, but the these films in the ‘80s were geared towards horny teen boys who would obsess over the female rather than the male. I mean, during the “Videozone” and commentary, Band consistently refers to these actresses as “the girls,” which I found to be…uncomfortable. Good thing he made such an enjoyable movie.

If the film feels episodic, it should come as no surprise as this release started out as a 5-segment web series, but it folds together quite well, and the fact that here are distinct acts works for the film rather than against it, helping to keep the attention of the viewer without having that jump cut feeling. While I may have my issues with some of the gender aspects, as I said, the end result is an enjoyable and well-written piece.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: Him

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

Him (aka The Devil’s Warehouse)
Directed by Luis Rodriguez
Wownow Entertainment / Delinquent Films / Blue Diamond Pictures / MVD Visual
85 minutes, 2016 / 2018

Two quick aside musings before I delve in, and that is regarding the relationship between the film and the 2017 release of Stephen King’s IT, which was popular in the cinema recently, not to mention a cultural phenomenon; no, not with the story, but the zeitgeist of it all. This is mostly presumption on my part in that I don’t really know the facts one way or the other, but I’m a-gonna take a stab (pun intended) at it.

This film was originally released in 2016 as The Devil’s Warehouse, before the re-adaptation of the King novel. Rather, I believe Him’s creation was more a combination of the popularity of the likes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre franchise, and perhaps even a bit of Captain Spaulding in the Rob Zombie House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005) releases, mixed together with all the online videos of weird evil clown sightings all over the U.S.

That being said, I have total belief that the rerelease of this film in 2018, and especially the way it is retitled as Him, is completed related to the popularity of last year’s It. And, y’know what, I don’t have a problem with a reissue jumping on the wagon of a remake, and believe it to be a smart marketing move. Indie films truly need what help they can get!

Presenting a mostly Latino cast (felicitaciones!), the film’s prologue centers around a gringo businessman named Pearson (Paul Westbrook, who also wrote the music), who is definitely not having a good stretch. His home and car are being repossessed, and he’s losing his warehouse, where employees are leaving in droves anyway because of strange noises and laughs heard in darkened corners. In a second prologue that takes place a year later – and two months before the main story – two buxom young women showing mucho grande cleavage as often as possible (thank you) keep finding a Ouija board at the beach (?!). I’m not quite sure what this has to do with the main story, but there ya go.

One thing we quickly learn is that the focus of the haunting of the warehouse is, yes, a clown from (I guess, literally) hell, but this could have been as much based on the Annabelle (2014) franchise as the King book/film(s), due to an army of mysterious dolls that pop in and out, and not to mention a nod to Grave Encounters 2 (2012).

In the main part of the tale, six “paranormal investigators” – purely amateurs, I’m guessing, from their lack of scientific equipment, other than flashlights; though one is perhaps psychic – split evenly between men and women, break into the now long-deserted warehouse, where the sun never shines, but the hand-held LCD lights do. In other words, the film is literally dark, and sometimes hard to see, other than the bouncy spotlights.

Now, I know that the director has made a number of films, both shorts and full-length features over the past decade or so, but this truly looks, feels and practically tastes like a college class film. It may be because the cast has so few credits, but much of the acting is woodenly sketchy too often, and the writing is clumsy (“we’re paranormal in-VES-tigators!” is said more than once).

This sextet are anxious to see anything paranormal (a word that comes up very often), daring whatever spirits are there to make themselves known, but the second a doll shows up, they’re all scared shitless one moment, angry the next, and ready to blame each other for disappearances at the drop of a suggestion of anything actually happening. Yet, when they find a pool of blood after someone goes absent, they discuss what’s going on rather than trying to get the hell outta there. Their reactions are just too inconsistent.

Speaking of blood, etc., there is more cleavage than gore (again, thank you, even though no nudity, even with a shower scene); in fact, there is no real anything happening as far as contact other than grabbing. I’m not sure what this was rated, but I’m guessing PG-13 at best. Georgie’s stump in the opening act of IT has more viscera than anything here. And the languid pace, the darkness, the questionable editing (such as the group describing a body being dragged as it happens, before we get to see it, seemingly added in later), the stilted dialog, and the acting all work at not enticing its audience (i.e., in this case, me). There isn’t even a good jump scare. The clown does look cool, though; however, it does not resemble the box cover at all, which is actually fine as I like them both.

For me the biggest problem though is that I have no idea why the dolls, why the young evil girl, why the clown, etc. There are too many either unanswered or unclarified reasons for the events we are witnessing. In other words, it’s too abstract for clarity.

Now, this could have easily have been a found footage flick, but thankfully, the director chose another direction. For that, I am grateful. The attractive cast is also a plus.

The only extra is the chapter breakdowns, which are text with no images. Speaking of images, the last shot of the clown in the film looks like it was taken from somewhere in the middle, and strategically placed by the distribution company near the end so it can be the last image before the title of the film, again cementing the “we put this out to cash in on the new blockbuster.” But, you know what? Once again, I’m fine with it.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Review: Delusion

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

Written, produced and directed by Christopher Di Nunzio
Creepy Kid Productions
85 minutes, 2016

Here is the truth: I watched this film last year, and wrote a review. Computers being computers, the Word file became corrupted, and the critique went bye-bye. I needed some time to regather before I watched the film again, and as life happens, I forgot about it. Well, one year and two weeks later, I gave it a second viewing. I’m glad I watched it again, because I caught things I missed the first time, having had time to process.

Technically, as the director informed me, Delusion is a “psychological thriller,” and while I don’t belabor the notion, I believe that’s an incomplete statement. There is also a metaphysical level that either takes it beyond the thriller concept, or perhaps is concurrent to it, but either way, it’s something that I like. Thrillers can be fun, and adding the supernatural to it definitely bumps it up a notch.

David Graziano
The plot is like a Buddy Holly song: on first listen, it’s a simple ditty that’s fun to sing along with, but then, when you dig a bit deeper, you see that the chord structures and rhythms are a bit more complex than you first realized; “Maybe Baby” is the example on my mind right now. Like that tune, our protagonist, Frank Parrillo (David Graziano), seems like a simple man (meaning uncomplex; he’s a software developer who telecommutes). He is middle-aged and lonely since his adored wife Isabella (Carlyne Fournier) had died mysteriously three years before. Then, a letter from her unexpectedly arrives in the mail, as he explains to his caring nephew, Tommy (Justin Thibault). Before her passing, he was a typical Eastern Massachusetts (Carver, about 45 miles south of Boston, though the film is shot in a 50 radius of Boston) lug who dismissed Isabella’s suggestions on serenity, but now he’s following her lead post-mortem, mediating and taking life as it comes.

Jami Tennille
He drops into a storefront psychic named Lavinia (Irina Peligrad) on a whim and she warns him of an evil surrounding him. Around this time, he meets a mysterious and scarred man named Grayson (Kris Salvi), and a beautiful (and age appropriate, I’m happy to say) woman who seems to be sashaying everywhere he is, named Mary (Jami Tennille). It’s no question these two are the nastiness Lavinia foretold. How can you tell? Not only do they smoke a lot, but they both draw on the cigarettes really hard. He tends to talk in riddles, and she essentially starts the conversation with “So, you want to fuck me?” Both turn up (at different times) unexpectedly in his home.

Okay, that’s about as much of the plot as I’m gonna give. Mixed in with the madness, there are flashbacks to conversations with his wife, leading up to some missing plot points, and contrasting with his relationship with Mary in the same way Tommy is the anti-Grayson. And that the spirit of Isabella is popping in and out is weighing in on Frank.

Irina Peligrad
Being “psychological,” the big question to ask is how much of this is meta-reality, and how much of it is in Frank’s noggin, considering he’s taking pills because of a breakdown at some point earlier. Plus, in a literary way, one can see the whole devil/angel-shoulder metaphor here, with Mary on one side, Isabella on the other, with Grayson and Lavinia trying to turn him one way or the other.

Despite the languid pace of the story and dialog, and the occasional arty nature of the visuals – and yes, dialog – the film actually is able to keep attention. There’s even a little bit of blood spilt here and there, again, sometimes real and sometimes metaphorical in a dream. Even with all the angles and the coloration of many of the shots, the level of abstraction is rarely high enough to be obtuse (other than occasionally with Grayson’s verbiage).

Kris Salvi
The film also begs the question just who is the titular delusional one? And just what is either delusion or is merely something beyond the knowing? In other words, like that Buddy Holly song, there are different levels to the film in which it can be viewed, but I do believe the deeper the viewer seeks the more satisfaction there is to be had.

Considering the relatively diminutive central cast members (with many smaller parts), there is a decent amount of mayhem to be seen, and even a bit of viscera thrown in to keep it even more interesting. While the few moments of gore are not necessary to the story in the long run, it certainly makes it satisfying for what is unfolding.

Carlyne Fournier and David Graziano
Most of the acting in the film is very “non-acting” and natural feeling, and it took me a while especially to get used to Graziano’s laissez-faire style of going with the flow, but it actually is more of an accomplished build-up of a character. There felt like real affection and chemistry between Graziano and Fournier, which helped the story. Personally, I thought Salvi was trying too hard, and actually would have been more effective to be looser rather than tenser, considering he’s the malevolent Loki or devil figure… or perhaps he’s actually a warning angel; I guess it’s up for interpretation.

The fact that it is debatable for discussion on who is good and evil, and who is delusional – and I would go as far as to say what the definition of delusion in this context is – shows a sharpness of the story and writing. The way the film is shot and the effects added to it (again, the occasional odd angles and hues), I would posit, puts the viewer into the possible delusional position as well.

If you’re looking for a slice-'em-up, even with minimal gore here, this is not for you. If you would like to take a break from that mindless splatter, or just want to think about what you’re looking at, this is a nice little micro-budget indie that stretches itself to fit that bill.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Review: Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated

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

Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated
Curated by Mike Schneider, directed by George Romero
Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
101 minutes, 2009

Julie Andrews could have sung, if her tastes were more similar to mine, “music and horror and comics and White Castle / These are a few of my favorite things.” Okay, so the first and last of those are not the focus of this review, but the middle two are, with joyous abandon.

The assumption here is that if you’re reading this review, you’ve seen George Romero’s groundbreaking 1968 zombie classic, Night of the Living Dead, most likely more than once, if not more than 10. It’s familiar, comfortable, and still a pleasure with its angular neo-Germanic Expressionism, and black and white images. Remember the first time you saw it? I have a clear memory of cutting high school in the early ‘70s and going by myself to the Walker Theater in Bensonhurst (now a Mandees store). It was a double Halloween bill, but I have no memory of what the first piece of crap was, though I certainly remember the three hood wannabes behind me who kept kicking my chair between loud, open-mouth breathing (in just a couple of years they would probably be wearing polyester and medallions, and hanging out at 2001 Odyssey Disco). By the time NOTLD was over, as the second feature, we were all sitting together.

That was the first time I viewed it, but hardly the last. There have been a number of remakes, even by the same team, but none have – or can – live up to the original. But like the zombies, it keeps rising up again and again.

Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated takes a new twist on a now old concept. Previously there have been reissues of films where the dialog has been replaced by something totally different, such as Woody Allen’s spectacular What’s Up Tiger Lily? (1966), and serials from the ‘40s being given the treatment by Firesign Theater. Well, Reanimated takes the opposite approach in two directions: first, they use the actual soundtrack and change the image, and second, this is totally respectful and not a spoof at all (though there are moments of humor, such as one zombie looking a bit like GW Bush).

Here is the concept: Mike Schneider sent out word over the ‘Net via horror Websites to artists for their input to animate the film by any means necessary. With contributions of over 150 individual pieces, he took this work and connected it to the original film. There are still images and animated sections, including line drawing, EC-style comics, Ren & Stimpy type caricatures, claymation, Barbie dolls, computer game styles (including Grand Theft Auto and SIMS), stop-motion photography, puppets, and even a few Ferbies thrown into the mix. While this sounds like a hodgepodge from hell, it actually works fantastically, possibly creating a new subgenre.

For the still pix, the camera rolls over them giving some sense of motion, and there is hardly a moment where your attention is drawn away (no pun intended). The contributed work is all over the map, some of it quite conceptual and abstract, while others are obviously adapted from the actual film frames (a good example of this is the multiple shots of the same frame of Bill Hinzman, the first zombie seen in the opening cemetery scene – he’s coming to get Barbara – at the car window). All these images and styles are put together like a series of museum pieces (which is possibly why Schneider lists himself as “curator”), but in a constant flow.

This is all done for the love of the art and the film, as those who contributed were not paid to do so, but each is given full credit at the end, and often in the bonus features. Speaking of which, this release is chock full of extras, including animated shorts, great obscure trailers (for Wild Eye films), extended unused scenes, an introduction by horror host Count Gore De Vol, a panel from a horror conference with many of those involved with this project, and two very interesting commentary tracks. The first one deals with the film and this version of it in an almost philosophical bent without being anywhere pretentious (the “art” of the art, zombie cinema, etc.), and the second is how it all came to be in this film, and how the production team created the final outcome). I sat through both without being bored at all.

If Reanimated is successful, perhaps there are other public domain films that can be given this treatment. Of course, it would need to be one that has an audience that has seen it numerous times, enough to get what is going on at any particular time… which brings me to one minor quibble about this release. I would have loved an option to be able to turn on the original version of the film in a smaller window, perhaps in a corner, to compare them. But hey, what the hell, it’s a brilliant concept that is put together in a cohesive albeit jumpy way as it goes from style to style, but it is never distracting to the story.

This is a true homage to a classic piece of cinema.

This review was originally published in

Monday, April 30, 2018

Review: Twilight People

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

Twilight People
Directed by Eddie Romero
VCI Entertainment / MVD Visual
81 minutes, 1972 / 2018

I have two converging thoughts about this release in a general way, before I get into specifics. The first is that I remember in the early-to-mid-1970s when there was a host of Philippines-shot films that were showing up in the theaters, though I was too young at the time to realize they were mostly directed by the same guy, Eddie Romero, including Women in Chains (1973, also known as Black Mama, White Mama). Most of his output at that time were about people being held against their will (either convicts or kidnap victims), and them being tortured and/or turned into some kind of monster, such as animal or zombie.

My second thought is about handsome actor John Ashley. He started out mostly in shirtless in a bunch of beach and gangster films in the early 1960s, and ended up making numerous horror films… wait for it… in the Philippines. And yes, for Eddie Romero, such as Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1968), Beast of Blood (1970), Beast of the Yellow Night (1971; I remember cutting out of school to go see it), and this one, each directed by, yep, Eddie Romero. These even helped create a sub-genre called the Blood Island Films.

Now, while these films get accolades now, and Romero has won lots of awards (especially from the Philippines), the truth of the matter is most from this period and genre are cheesy messes; but the good side of the coin is that is also part of what makes them such a joy to watch. It is one solid WTF moment after another, be it story, make-up effects, acting, and so on. But I’ll get more into detail as I go along.

Sporting Tom Jones-level sideburns, soldier of fortune, adventurer and man-about-town Matt Farrell (Ashley; d. 1997) – who is repeatedly called by his last name throughout – is kidnapped while SCUBA diving by blond Robert-Shaw-in-From Russia With Love-wannabe Steinman (Jan Merlin, who perennially played bad guys, especially in Westerns) and the luscious but icy looking brunette Neva (Pat Woodell, who played Bobby Jo in “Petticoat Junction”; d. 2015). The man behind the plot is Dr. Gordon (Charles Macaulay, better known as Landru to “Star Trek” fans, and Dracula in Blacula; d. 1991).

Okay, so now that is out of the way, Farrell is brought to Dr. Gordon’s island fortress (where did he get the money?), to which Farrell presciently asks, “What is this circus?” It’s a good question because the good doctor wants to help science and humanity by combining humans with animals. If it sounds like HG Well’s The Island of Dr. Moreau (enjoyable book, by the way), you wouldn’t be the first to agree, and I would not either; hell it says it right on the back cover of this edition. But to add to the mix, I would say it also seems to rely some on 1958’s She Demons, also set on an island with a doctor playing havoc with the human form (mostly female, of course).

Pat Woodell and Pam Grier
Unlike those other two, however, this film really can’t seem to make up its mind to its genre, exactly. Okay, it is a horror, especially the Mad Scientist type, but at some point it’s a war film and a bit of a Western. There’s also some humor thrown in here and there, but I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not; either way, I’ll take it. And enjoy it.

Most of the humor lies in the transformed creatures, including a panther woman (an early role for the great Pam Grier), an ape man (Kim Ramos), a real bat man who steals his scenes (Tony Gosalvez), and a surprisingly touching romance between an antelope man (Ken Metcalfe) and wolf woman (Mona Morena). Oh did I mention that these two aren’t the only romance that develops in the plot? Of course, in a post-James Bond world it will come as no surprise. Near the end, though, is a nice twist.

There is actually a large albeit subtle level of sensuality/sexuality that surprised me a bit, even for its time period (Hammer Films was releasing cleavage-fests by then). There’s a (clothed) love scene, an almost rape, some formidable d├ęcolletage by Grier, a tight tee, Woodell is always in full makeup even in the jungle all night, and there is even some strong suggestion about mano-a-mano-amor. Of course, the only rolling-on-the-ground hand-to-hand combat is between two females (girl fight!): panther woman and wolf woman, who you might say were at it like – err – cats and dogs.

Wolf Woman and Antelope Man in love
So there is a ridiculousness level to the film, such as the make-up (by Tony Arteida), sometimes the acting, guns with never-ending amounts of bullets, the animal sounds on the soundtrack that are dubbed to supposedly be “dialogue” by our (mostly) friendly humanimals (even though they never match up to anything), and lots of story holes. What I mean by the latter is that things happen that are never explained (wait, you had the drop on him…), or the editing is confusing, and the whole finale is a “Hunh? You’re ending it here?”

It might be wise here to let you know that while there isn't a large amount of gore, there is some nice bloodletting, though the blood is a really bright shade of red. Being humanimals, there is a lot of throat-tearing.

The basic extras are the theatrical and TV trailers, but there is also a 58:40 minute interview with the director, Eddie Romero (d. 2013), that a bit dated as it looks like it was transferred from a VHS). It’s a single camera focused on the director as he answers off-screen questions about how he got into the film industry, discusses Filipino cinema history, and supplies anecdotes about his own films. He’s personable and it’s interesting; that being said, it’s a tad long, albeit historically important.

Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na Bat Man
Also included is a full-length commentary by film historian David Del Valle and low-budget genre director David Decoteau. Luckily, there are English subtitles available, so you can watch the film with the commentary and still follow the story. Their conversation is more film history, both horror and Filipino, than about this film directly, but I still recommend watching the feature first without the comments, and then listening to it to avoid distraction to either. It’s a bit dry, but I’m used to academic kind of lectures and certainly find film history interesting, but I would understand if it wasn’t everyone’s cuppa. While it definitely is thought-provoking from a film nerd point of view, and they discuss Filipino cinema in detail as well as the numerous actors, they don’t address the two key plot questions I have, which I won’t give away here.

Oh, and did I mention the package comes with both a 2K format Blu-ray and a DVD? This has definitely been cleaned up, and the picture quality is stunning in both.

My biggest question about this film though, is simply this: is it Twilight People or THE Twilight People. I have seen it both ways. Either way, it’s a hooterville-and-half.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Review: Pretty Fine Things

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

Pretty Fine Things
Written, cinematography, directed and edited by Ryan Scott Weber
Weber Pictures Co. / Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
100 minutes, 2016 / 2017

While sometimes made-up places can have decent names, or even just something like Smallville, but for me, I’m a fan of maps. I especially love when not only are real places used – especially rural ones – but also have great names like Bernardsville, New Jersey. Yep, that’s where this Podunk takes place. It’s only about 45 miles west of Hoboken, somewhere between Routes 78 and 80. I’ve passed the sign for Bernardsville many times on my way to either Pennsylvania or back to Brooklyn, though have never stopped off there. It’s also where this slasher release was shot.

Lynn Lowry
Outside this relatively small burg is where some of the fictional Banner family resides. Papa Banner (Ralph Cobert) is going blind and senile, missing his past-on wife (the always amazing Lynn Lowry, in essentially an extended cameo), who we see in flashbacks and dreams. They have three sons, and right off the bat we already know that the one who lives with dad, Walter (Brooklyn’s own Joe Parascand), is a bit off; I don’t think I’m giving much away as less than five minutes in he’s involved with dispatching Heather (the very cute Krista Robelle) after she has a fight with her boyfriend, Jay (Jesse Stier, whose face hair volume seems to changes from scene to scene).

Joe Parascand
After the prologue, we meet three late-20s-looking college students from Worchester, MA: the blonde virgin Hayden (Emelia Brawn) who gets constantly teased by her friends, Wendy the redhead (Lauren Renahan), and Ashley the Latina brunette (also cute Camila Perez). They rent a house from Walter to have a Halloween party. The many guests – aka, the body count – arrive, as do Walter’s two equally serial killing and mother-obsessed brothers, Thomas (Patrick Devaney) and James (Adam Ginsberg), who are they to create the body count. Their aim is to delete sinners from the world, and have women to “substitute” for mommy dearest to dear old senile and near blind dad.

Added to the mix are two police detectives investigating the recent string of missing women, Jake (director Weber) and his partner/love-interest Jennifer (Kristin Accardi), and their Captain (Christopher J. Murphy), who for some reason looks more Texan than Jerseyite, right down to the Stetson…and yet has a map of Italy on his wall (I’m sure it belongs to whosever space they were using).

Ryan Scott Weber
This is just the basic set up. As you can see, there are a lot of elements going on at the same time in this very ambitious screenplay. The story jumps around each of the three groups – the Banner family, the women/party, and the police – in quick order, circling around until they all collide together. While all of this is going on, we get to know a little back-story, which is welcomed and tends to be missing from most films, so thanks for that!

Being the modern world, most of these kinds of films that involve the slaughter of many (some men, mostly women), you know there has to be a twist, and is partially indicated early on when one of the women comments on the weirdness of Walter, and the response from another is, “We are a little creepy, ourselves.” While this is more than just a subtle reference to a line from The Craft, it is potentially a good thing. But also like contemporary horror cinema, especially indie releases, the action takes quite a while to start. There is some minor bloodletting to whet the appetite, but the real action kicks in after the expository about an hour in, when the Halloween party begins.

Camila Perez
Which brings us to the gore: we don’t see much in the first hour, even with some killings, but when the party starts is when it really kicks off. Michael Anthony Scardillo does a bang-up job with it, nearly all appliance SFX, when we see it. What I mean is that a lot of the violence to bodies is done through clothing, such as stabbings, but every once in a while, we get to see some viscera and bloodletting, and it looks really good. As for nudity? Well, we get to see a lot of cleavage and bras, but no naughty bits, even with a shower scene (still in underwear). Well, the cast is attractive, so I’ll move on after the following comment: there are a lot of tattoos on nearly everybody, including at least one full chest-plate. “Ouchies!”

The weak sides of the film are as follows: there really needs to be some editing done to bring this puppy down to at most 90 minutes. There are definitely superfluous moments that could be done away with without losing any of the story (I’ll get to the actual “Deleted Scenes” extra in a mo). Most of the acting is quite decent, such as by Parascand who steals nearly every scene he is in (his close-mouth smile is just the right level of eerie), and Perez is a close second, though there are some characters that are pretty wooden and only there for the body count (in the party scene, so it’s actually a positive, right?). Lastly, the writing is a bit shaky in sporadic parts, though I will say there is a nice and subtle humor that shows up throughout here and there, especially with the coppers, to balance it all out.

Lauren Renahan and  Emieia Brawn
On the positive, I was mucho grande impressed that there were at least three unexpected twists in the last 20 minutes, which I’m not going to hint at in any way. There is also an interesting use of color tinting throughout, which isn’t as subtle as it could have been, but still works. The camerawork is also quite good, using unusual angles and through objects in a way that doesn’t come across as all artsy, but still stands out.

The extras include a 10:05 blooper reel that was okay, but did not really bring anything major to the cast to indicate friendship or amusement to the viewer (well, this one anyway). The three female leads are friends in real life, but you don’t really get that here. But blooper reels tend to be overrated, in my opinion. Next is a 27:28 “Behind the Scenes” collection that is narrated by Jay Kay, host of “The Horror Happens Radio Show.” Rather than just watching shots being set up (which I find boring), Kay wisely interviews the seven key players, and some of the production crew. It’s a bit long, but most of it is interesting. The cheesy music behind it gets to be a bit much, but I think I’m nit-picking there.

This is followed by a 9:44 “Deleted Scenes” which also includes some extended ones, and an interesting alternative ending. In all, I feel like they made the right choice to put these here, rather than leave them in the film. Still, it was good to see these after watching the film. Of course, being a Wild Eye Releasing – err – release, there are a half-dozen trailers for other indies, mostly with a theme that I won’t say as it sheds a light on a spoiler alert. I really like Wild Eye’s stuff.

The main extra, which comes first but I saved for last (in both review and participating in) is the full-length commentary. Thankfully, it’s only Weber and Parascand so there is hardly any talking over or bravado, just stories about filming, both about the ideas behind it and anecdotes about the shoot, and it’s an easy listen that doesn’t get boring.

This is essentially a story about playing with the perception of who is “good” and who is “bad.” You can tell this is an mico-budgeter, but Weber does a great job in showing what can be done with very little, and make it look big.