Tuesday, October 28, 2014

SEE NO EVIL 2 Delivers Over The Top Slasher Fun

Are there a pair of directors more polarizing in horror right now than the Soska sisters? It often feels like reviews of their work are only tangentially concerned with the finished film and more interested in either defending of discrediting the unique brand of self promotion the twin sisters have carved out for themselves within the horror community.

While I'm not as ardent a defender as most in the Twisted Army, I've yet to be disappointed by their output. If American Mary meandered plot wise in its third act, it still made for a compelling character study and delivered a wonderful ode to the body horror films of Cronenberg. While following up that independent cult movie with a sequel to the critically reviled WWE slasher vehicle See No Evil seemed an odd choice, I was more interested to see what kind of flair the pair could bring to a script not authored by themselves.

It turns out that See No Evil 2 is one of the more pleasant surprises of the straight to video horror releases this season. While it certainly doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to slasher films, some inspired casting choices allow the film to sidestep one of the biggest pitfalls in contemporary horror. The cast of victims lined up to meet their bloody demise at the hands of Jacob Goodnight are by and large easy to like and relate to, making for the increasing rare occurrence where I'm rooting for their safe escape, rather than hoping our antagonist finds a way to strap them gut-chewing, bone-spitting assembly line that makes quick work of the lot of them moments after their introduction.

This is due in large part to the continued pairing of Katharine Isabelle with the Soskas. Here she delivers a performance 180 degrees removed from the taciturn Mary Mason. Her Tamara is hard partying, oversexed serial killer obsessive, and it's a role that allows Isabelle to tap into her comedic side. She's joined by the always welcome Danielle Harris and Kaj-Erik Everson as Amy and Seth, a pair of morgue workers on duty to deal with the recovered body of Goodnight. The pair share decent chemistry in their “will they or won't they” back and forth, and let's face it, it's not all that difficult to develop a bit of a crush on Ms. Harris.

See No Evil 2 takes places in the immediate aftermath of the first film, and the action is confined to the singular location of the morgue. Harris is just about to sign out and enjoy her birthday celebration with friends when Goodnight's corpse and handiwork arrive for their postmortem. When Amy's friends decide to bring the party to her, Goodnight proves to be not so dead after all.

The Soskas bring an edge to the film that's missing in many slasher films nowadays. Whereas many almost prefer the camera to cutaway at the moment of impact, this contains some gleeful and sadistic kill scenes. While there have been a number of wheelchair bound victims in horror films before, I don't think there's been an instance where a paraplegic (Michael Eklund) attempts to crawl away, only to discover his dead legs have been further immobilized by a giant hook buried to the hilt in his calf. There's a physicality to the film and its killer that's often lacking. We can attribute this to the hulking form of the WWE's Kane/Glen Jacobs as the returning villain. Standing close to seven feet tall and weighing a chiseled three hundred pounds, Jacobs has both the ability to manhandle his diminutive counterparts, or to make the near endless supply of medical instruments at his disposal (something hinted at in the excellent opening credits sequence) that much more lethal.*

Overall, See No Evil 2 is a marked improvement over the first installment. While I'd rather see the Soskas move on to bigger things (the announced Painkiller Jane looks like a promising opportunity for a gonzo, ultra violent superhero film), if there is a followup, they've left it in good shape. Fun, loose and filled with crowd pleasing kills, See No Evil 2 Is everything you would want in a modern slasher. 

*When the next inevitable installment of the Friday the 13th series is ready to go, if Derek Mears doesn't return to don the goalie mask, they give Jacobs serious consideration.

November 29th BACKWATER Plays The Somerville Theater

I have a scary feeling we're going to have to widen the seats a little bit as all of us recover from our post-Thanksgiving gluttony turkey fest, but dammit, there's movies to be screened! 

We've got a fantastic feature for your viewing pleasure this November. Chris Schrack's BACK WATER is a terrific example of what you can do with a smart idea and limited means. 

Cass and Mark (Liana Werner-Gray and Justin Tully respectively) are out to enjoy a weekend at the secluded lakeside Cass used to enjoy as a little girl. Their idyllic time away is shattered when they hear a cry for help in the wilderness. Torn over whether to seek them out or leave well enough alone, Mark's good samaritan side kicks in while Cass gives up the ghost early. Separately they encounter a lone fisherman with a suspicious lack of equipment and the town's sheriff that seems to have questionable motives for patrolling the woods. It comes as no surprise then that later in the night Mark and Cass find themselves attacked by and on the run from an unseen assailant. With their car disabled and their supplies strewn about the campsite, the duo are forced to hideout in order to survive the night.

Sounds like something you've seen a thousand times before, right? Wrong. Back Water takes some wild turns from the midpoint on, and Scrack does a terrific job between ramping up your adrenaline and keeping you on the edge of your seat with moments of nailbiting tension. 

As always, we'll have a presentation of short films before the feature, including Stephen Martin's DEAD HEARTS, which isa  fantastic and whimsical little horror comedy that plays out EXACTLY what you believe a Wes Anderson horror movie would.

The night starts at 7Pm in the Somerville Theater Microcinema, next to the Museum of Bad Art. 

November 29th 7pm
Somerville Theater
"Backwater" + short films

Adam Green's DIGGING UP THE MARROW Picked Up By RLJE/Image

We're always excited to hear about new projects from Adam Green. The Holliston Massachusetts homeboy is a fan favorite among the indie horror set because he's a fan first that also happens to make movies that connect with the crowd. While the Hatchet series is light fare that offers a decent comedic, take on the slasher subgenre, it was his low budget thriller Frozen that really caught my eye.

His latest, Digging Up The Marrow looks like a blending  of conventional horror with a documentary that showcases iconic horror artwork. Even, better, RAY WISE has a starring role as a man that says he can prove monsters exist. It sounds like it has a similar tone to J.T Petty's S&Man except it deals with fictional monsters rather than serial killers. 

The film has been picked up by RLJE Image, who continue to push a smarter brand of genre films of late: The Houses That October Built and All Cheerleaders Die! among them.

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 27, 2014 – Image Entertainment, an RLJ Entertainment (NASDAQ: RLJE) brand, has acquired all U.S. rights to the highly anticipated fantasy film DIGGING UP THE MARROW.  Starring, written and directed by Adam Green and inspired by the artwork of artist Alex Pardee, the film stars Ray Wise (Twin Peaks, X-Men First Class), Will Barratt (Frozen), and a roster full of horror genre favorites and iconic artists all appearing as themselves.  Mark Ward, RLJ Entertainment’s Senior Vice President of Acquisitions for the Image brands made the announcement today.

“We’ve had a long, productive working relationship with Adam Green and we are extremely excited to continue to work with him on this film,” said Ward.  “Adam brings an uncanny point-of-view to filmmaking and DIGGING UP THE MARROW is one that fans of genre films will certainly rally around.”

When filmmaker Adam Green receives a package from a strange man (Ray Wise) claiming he can prove that monsters exist, he and his crew are taken on a mysterious, fantastical, and terrifying journey into the shadows deep down under the ground below our feet. DIGGING UP THE MARROW is a documentary-style film that blends reality with fantasy in a way that will leave even the most hardcore skeptics believing in the existence of monsters.  

DIGGING UP THE MARROW is the result of an incredibly rewarding four-year creative collaboration,” said Green. “It's a very unique film that doesn't neatly fit into any specific sub-genre that has come before it.  We've been thrilled by the overwhelmingly positive response that MARROW has received at early screenings.”
The monsters in the film are vividly brought to life by visionary American Artist and Trans-Media-Artistry Pioneer, Alex Pardee.  Pardee has showcased his fine art in galleries around the world; acted as an art director for numerous bands (including 'The Used' and I'n Flames'); worked with film directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright on art-based-marketing campaigns; and provided extensive artwork for director Zack Snyder's "Sucker Punch.  In 2007, Alex co-founded "ZEROFRIENDS," an art and apparel company that he is currently the Creative Director of.
Under Green's ArieScope Pictures, the film was produced by Cory Neal and was financed by Neal and Andrew Mysko's Hacienda Film Co. Kaleidoscope Film Distribution is handling international sales outside of North America, and will be premiering the feature at AFM.

There hasn't been a ton of news , nor even a trailer for the film yet. However, Green did sit down with Frightfest TV's Alan Jones for an in depth interview to discuss how the film came together and how it  is not standard "found footage" fare. You can check it out below: 

Actually there's a need tidbit about Green's next film in the interview regarding a exorcism film he's shooting next based on a script from the Dowdle brothers (The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Devil)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Interview: James Ward Byrkit (Coherence)

It’s the time of year when every horror fan is seeking out their next big fright. Given the meager wide-release openings in theaters this year you will have to do a little digging to find those perfect films. Often these satisfying finds are made for very little money, but have more original ideas than the last ten studio films. My new favorite example of this is COHERENCE. It completely blew away audiences at Fantastic Fest in 2013, and it was still buzzing strong at this year’s fest. I got the chance to talk to Writer/Director of COHERENCE, James Ward Byrkit, about his unique shooting schedule and how he was able to create the best film of the year for nearly no budget.

Note: COHERENCE is the type of film best seen with zero knowledge if the plot. If you have not yet seen it, and anyone tries to tell you about the plot you should stick your fingers in your ears until the offenders go away. Though I did my best to avoid any major spoilers here, you really should watch the film first.

What sparked your initial idea for the film, and how did that get shaped into the final form of COHERENCE?
It all came out of this desire to make a micro-budget movie. I had been working on these big ole’ movies with Gore Verbinski and others and I just could not stop thinking about how invigorating it would be to strip it all down and get back to the purity of working with a story and some actors. I went to Alex [Manugian], who plays Amir in the film, who is a great friend. We were literally standing in my living room and we said, “Wouldn’t it be wild if we looked out the window and we saw a reflection of our own world?” And that was it- that was the start. We got really excited about that because we could just make it in my living room, call up some friends, keep it as pure as possible.

Did you do much research into comets or parallel universes?
We took about a year just plotting out what is the best story, in terms of characters. I wasn’t too worried about trying to make it a science-based piece of science fiction, because The Twilight Zone had proven that there is a whole category of this type of story which doesn’t need explanation. And so the comet felt like a very natural place to start. In so many stories, and even in a couple Twilight Zones, it’s a go-to trope. It’s a short-hand way of saying that something is strange. Audiences who know the genre will get it right away and appreciate the reference. It says this is more magical realism than science fiction- don’t worry about the science. This felt more correct for our story than trying to justify thirty pages of science. But I did read up on comets. And I read about alternate universes and Schrödinger’s Cat. I kept coming across this phrase, “Quantum Decoherence” and I just loved that. It became a bit of an inside joke- calling this really completed film “Coherence.” It had the right absurdity to it.

The second I left the theater I wanted to tell anyone I could find that they need to see this film. But then it occurred to me that the less you know about the film prior to watching it, the better your experience would be. How do you talk about the film to folks who haven’t seen it?
I just tell them it’s a mind-bender. It’s a modern day Twilight Zone. I try not to give away too much. But it is the internet age. Anyone in 20 seconds can go online and find the twists and every spoiler about the movie. You just hope that they control themselves a little bit. Someone actually got angry with me at a screening because I introduced the film as a “puzzle movie.” I didn’t say anything about the science fiction. He was upset because he wanted to just enjoy the film without trying to solve it. It makes you realize exactly how important it is to some people to share the same film experience with others.

The writing in the film is one of the best recent examples of the power of film. For example, when else would an oven mitt cause such terror in the audience and all of the characters? But this power never feels forced. How did you balance this tension on-set, but avoid making it hokey?
The whole goal was to get naturalistic performances, which is why there was no script. If you have a script everyone is just waiting for their lines. I wanted the messiness of real responses in the moment. I wanted them to overlap each other. I wanted them to feel actual confusion with those clues. I wanted them to listen to each other and get frustrated with each other. It was a very organic process. Luckily the actors were having so much fun. They realized after the first night that they were being pulled through a story. They stopped worry about creating the story and just concentrated on being real, present, and in the moment. Luckily I had very smart actors that really knew how to dial in to it. There were no breaks overnight, and we shot over five nights, so they showed up at the set and they were on. That tension is very palpable throughout the whole thing, because there is no safety. You can’t go to your trailer and make a phone call. You are just in it.

Did the actors all know one another before the shoot?
None of them knew each other. I knew them Alex and Hugo [Armstrong] knew each other. But most of them had never met each other. Within five minutes of walking through my door they had to be lovers, and married couples, and old friends. I picked people that I thought could roll with it. The casting was so important. Choosing friends who could be correct- the smug, northern California, white people, yuppie, indie, cast. It was supposed to fool you for the first ten minutes into thinking it would be the type of film you would see at the Tribeca Film Festival, but then it veers into bonkers land.

COHERENCE is coming out amid a renaissance of speculative fiction films. Were you aware that you were joining this boom? Had you seen other micro-budgeted speculative fiction films?
I was not influenced in any way by the market or by what other things were going on in film at the time. I was desperate to tell a feature length story, but I didn’t want to make it just a relationship movie. I wanted something bigger and cosmic and epic. So the natural place to go would be to throw in some universal force, or Twilight Zone component that really expands the mind. It goes beyond “talking about your daughter who is moving out”- not to say those aren’t great sometimes. I was just more interested in the other.

The distribution of this film is a great example of the way that film distribution has been changing. I saw this film at two different festivals (Fantastic Fest 2013 and Boston Sci-Fi Fest 2014) and now it is available for purchase through your website. This has really changed the way that small films like this find an audience. How has this gone for Coherence, and is there a next step?
You know, I’m still learning this myself. I had never directed an independent film before. It has all been steered by my producer Lene Bausager and the guys at Oscilloscope, because they have all done this many times. But they will tell you that it changes every six months. They are watching these changes and they are very savvy. I’m actually really happy with how they decided to put it out there. It seems to connect with exactly the right kind of people, and those people are pretty vocal about it. And just now it is feeling like it will connect with the mainstream audience beyond the nerd. I made this film for movie nerds, for the people who go to Fantastic Fest. [Note: At the time of the interview COHERENCE was ahead of SNOWPIERCER in iTunes sales.] When you are a filmmaker, all you want to do is share it with the people who you think might appreciate it. You know that they are there and you hope that they hear about it. Because if you don’t have the 5o million dollars to force it down people’s throats, and get it on every billboard, or get it on TV, how will they even know about it?

As someone who studies horror I am always looking to pinpoint the source of the fear, the monster. What do you consider this monster in COHERENCE?
That’s a great question, and that’s what Alex and I talked about for a year. What is the “fun”of the movie, and what is the “fun tension” of the movie? For us is came from the fear of the unknown, and the fear of being cut-off from the world. And then this fear that your grasp of reality is not what you think it is. That’s why we have all of these items in the movie that they are trying to keep track of, as proof of their place in the universe. When those items start changing that creates this unknowable fear. There is nothing more scary that vague fear. When you define what you are afraid of it becomes much less scary. If there is some force in the jungle which is attacking your tribe, that is scary as hell. But once you see it and you call it a tiger, that makes it beatable. We tried to keep it an unknowable, an unfathomable fear, as long as we could, and I think that’s the fun of fear in COHERENCE.

You have definitely thought about this!
We have hours and hours of this kind of babble. We really do. The darkness in ourselves, and the tendency for us to project the capability of darkness that we have onto others. That’s really the core theme inside there. Nicholas Brendan’s character really stirs things up because can imagine how violent he would become and therefore he is convinced that the house down the street can become that violent. That’s actually very good logic. In his situation, even though he is being so unreasonable, his logic is good. And that’s why everybody else thinks, “Oh crap! The fact that you have said that means that you are right.” The fact that he has that darkness in him makes it a nightmare, and everyone else now starts projecting the darkness in them.  

My final question, without spoilers: Why glow sticks?
Glow sticks are the equivalent to the barrels in JAWS. We needed something simple and cheap that represented this fractured universe. We stumbled upon them. They look great on film. They were super cheap. But it is this element, a visual element that is not a big special effect that signals something huge. Whenever those barrels appear in JAWS, you don’t need to see the shark.  You know that he is lurking under the water. It is effective to feel a signifier of the scary thing, instead of showing it. 

 COHERENCE is available to purchase here.

Friday, October 24, 2014

In Boston? Spend this week with William Castle at the Brattle Theater!

William Castle is the godfather of schlock and gimmicky film marketing. Though the quality of his films is arguable, the innovation and attention he brought to the horror genre is undeniable. He knew how to pack a crowd in and reveled in the screams of his audiences. Castle was best know for enhancing the cinematic experience by adding elements of the film right into the theater itself. 

We do not typically post about repertoire screenings around Boston (though there are plenty of good ones!), we wanted to let everyone know that starting tonight, Harvard Square's Brattle Theater is running a Castle retrospective, including the gimmicks that accompany each film!

  • 13 GHOSTS featuring Illusion-O! Are you brave enough to face the ghosts on screen? Or do you need a way to hide from these frights? Every theater patron will be given a viewer to either enhance or delete the terrible ghosts you see throughout the film. 
  • THE TINGLER filmed in Percepto! When Vincent Price tells the audience "scream – scream for your lives!" certain seats in the theater are wired to buzz and add extra frights. 
  • HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL will be played in the original Emergo!  A plastic skeleton will fly over the audience during the screening, just as Castle planned.
You can see the full line-up here, as well as read Deirdre's article on 13 GHOSTS here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

OUIJA is bad, and it should feel bad

Ouija (dir. Stiles White)

I have never once in my life been accused of being a ray of sunshine. But even with my often sour disposition, I always try to find the good in any film. Heck, I even enjoyed THE MONKEY’S PAW for what it was. I do this because I love film and I especially love horror film. Even when all of the elements of success are not there, I try to pull out what does work and convey what clearly had good intention. This is why films like OUIJA don’t only disappoint me, they make me angry. 

OUIJA is the kind of film which lacks passion, inspiration, and any shred of respect for the audience. It is exactly the crap that non-genre fans cite when they claim that there are no good horror films anymore, and it angers me that Hollywood studios give these mundanes the evidence to support that assertion. 

There are plenty of spoilers below. I warn you as a courtesy, but a) I would be shocked if you are planning on seeing this film, and b) the predictable plot means that spoilers don’t actually spoil the film. 

First of all, the film was funded by Hasbro Studios and the beginning of it comes across like a commercial for the board game. The young girls playing with the Ouija board spend the first scene explaining the rules of the board, just as if they are reading the game instructions on the back of the box. One character even plainly states later in the film, “C’mon guys, it’s sold in toy store,” thus pointing us directly towards the retail location of the board, in case there is any confusion. I’m actually surprised that there was not a QR code on the screen that lets the audience funnel money directly into the pockets of the toymaker turned horrible movie producer. 

Looking past the sponsors (film funding is a complicated issue, and I can understand that tie-ins can be necessary) the film itself barely makes sense. Characters act illogically and often say one thing but do another. My most noted issues are: 

  • Laine’s (Olivia Cooke, who can actually act, though avoids doing so in this film) boyfriend Trevor (Daren Kagasoff) refers to her father as overbearing as they try to formulate a plan to get away for a weekend together. Within a week her father flies away on business, and it is made clear that his absence is a regular occurrence in the house. Being simultaneously an absentee father and helicopter parent is not possible.
  • Trevor and Laine have zero chemistry on screen. They are called “the perfect couple” by a friend, but we never even see them hold hands, or even each other’s gaze for that matter.
  • After the mysterious suicide of Laine’s best friend Debbie (Shelley Hennig), Debbie’s family leaves town for an undetermined amount of time. The family leaves Laine in charge of watering the plants in the very house where Debbie committed suicide. This conveniently eliminates all of the adults from the film, but makes no logical sense whatsoever.
  • When Laine starts investigating Debbie’s suicide she asks Debbie’s boyfriend if he noticed anything strange in Debbie just before her death. Her boyfriend brushes off the question and makes it seem like it is odd to be asked such a question. This is the boy whose girlfriend committed suicide with zero warning signs. Asking how Debbie was leading up to her death is a completely normal thing to do, and even a boyfriend stuck in denial would know that.

I could look past these distracting issues if there was anything else redeeming in the film, but there really is nothing. The plot barely limps along down a completely uninspired path. The film takes itself way too seriously, and yet is horribly boring for long stretches of time. 

The special effects, when they finally show up, are passable. The CGI is obvious, but there are a couple decent practical effects mixed in. The jump scares were effective on the audience and briefly interrupted their unintended laughter. 

The best parts of the film are the small part given to Lin Shaye (INSIDIOUS, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY) and a cameo by Robyn Lively (the TEEN WITCH herself). Both of these actresses were a welcome sight in the dreariness of Ouija. 

Many bad horror films leave me disappointed. I want to be able to champion them because I can see the glimmer of the filmmaker’s love of horror somewhere in the bad effects and lazy storytelling. But Ouija left me angry. I’m angry that this soulless film gets lumped into my beloved genre, and I’m angry that it is one of the only horror films in theaters this Halloween.We deserve better. 

JOHN WICK: Keanu is back and he is pissed

John Wick (dirs. David Leitch & Chad Stahelski)

Though Hollywood does not seem to be paying much attention, Keanu Reeves has been cornering the market on action films recently. Following up on last year’s MAN OF TAI CHI and 47 RONIN comes this week’s release JOHN WICK. It may be just a mindless shoot ‘em up action film, but hot damn it is really fun to watch. 

The premise of the film is a simple one. John Wick’s wife has recently passed away. He (Reeves, naturally) is heartbroken, though before he begins to imagine his life alone she sends him a gift. She died of a long and painful illness and arranged for John to be posthumously sent a puppy for company. In the sweet hand-written note she says that John needs to love something and to be loved and his car does not count. It is really cute to watch the mourning John bond with this tiny and amazingly adorable beagle puppy. It is obvious that he loved his wife very much, and based on his instant attachment to the dog it is apparent that she knew John well enough to anticipate his needs in this rough time. 

Unfortunately John’s road to emotional recovery is a short one. When a Russian gangster’s son tries to buy John’s car from him at the gas station John’s life begins a tailspin. Refusing to sell him the car, the son finds John’s home and visits in the middle of the night. This spoiled gangster wannabe has his henchmen beat John, steal the car, and he personally kills the sweet baby puppy. Thankfully the film does not focus too much on the violence against the animal or in John’s disposal of it. What the film smartly does is turn its attention to John’s revenge. 

John is no ordinary widower. His reputation precedes him wherever he goes, and with it comes bad omens. John used to be involved in the violent underworld of gangsters and hit man, and with his next mark he has decided to come out of retirement

The rest of the film is a predictable but excellently executed mix of hand to hand combat and bullets flying while the body count piles up. Each new fight scene is perfectly matched in tone with the set, lighting, music, and occasionally weather. The fights are all shot in wider angles so that the action is easy to follow, and you are never left wondering who just got shot by whom. In this regard the film almost feels like a video game; John must kill all of the gangsters in each venue before he is allowed to move to the next. 

One delightful surprise in the film was the creation of the hit man subculture. When John rejoins his old profession it is clear that he was as deep into the criminal underworld as you can imagine. When he reenters this world he takes us on a journey to a hotel where everyone pays in gold coins and everyone is a gun for hire. They have rules and etiquette, and a fascinating loaded history amongst the members. As I was leaving the screening I heard some murmurings that the film should have featured more of the hit man domain. While I concede that it is absolutely the most interesting part of the film, I loved that we did not learn all of the secrets of this world. Hinting at the expansive underbelly was much more fun than spoiling all of its details. 

This is not the type of film that makes you ponder life. The film also has all of the typical shortcomings of early Bond films in terms of the lack of logic in the plot. If you leave the film wondering why the Russian gangsters don’t just shoot John when they have the chance then you are missing the point. You go to e Keanu Reeves action film to watch the blood flow like wine and the bullets fall like snowflakes, and JOHN WICK absolutely delivers this. Asses are kicked and fun is had- What more can you hope for?