Sunday, August 31, 2014

Thoughts On Turning Five: I Love You Guys

We just turned five years old.

It's tempting to write a long winded post humble bragging right now, because there are few things that I'm more proud of than the work turned in on this site.

The reality is this site would not exist, nor be close to 1,100 posts strong without the continued work the amazing writers and friends that keep this going when my attention gets turned elsewhere. So thanks and much love to Dede, Andrea, Mike and Charlie (whose first post should be up this week) for making sure this thing doesn't die. Thanks to Chris Hallock for anchoring this site for the first three plus years of its existence and from keeping me from losing my mind on many occasions.

Thanks to the filmmakers who have entrusted us with reviewing their work. I've always approached the job from that of a fan than of a critic, and even when I've hated a movie, I've always tried to respect the effort, time and commitment that goes in to the process. We've been lucky enough to meet some incredible talents over the past five years, and to call some of them friends. I've been fortunate enough to see my friends, including some of our writers, make the step from critic to artist, and their work inspires me like no other. Here's to having my own work savaged by the horrorsphere in the near future.

Finally, thanks to anyone that has ever read this site, shared a post, left a comment or come to one of our monthly screening events. We like to think that we've carved out our own niche by championing the best independent genre efforts of the past five years, films like The Battery, Dawning, Resolution, American Mary and so many others, but that would not matter an iota if you weren't here to read our words.

What do the next five years have in store? I have no idea. I'd love to add a multimedia component to the site, wether it be a podcast or video journal. I'd love to hire a dedicated book reviewer. I believe the city of Boston, as rich as it is in film festivals right now, could stand to host a dedicated weekend of the best indie horror on the planet each year. I'd also like to add four more hours to the day to achieve those things, so far now, we'll just take it one post, one paragraph and one word at a time.


Thanks again everybody.  
Mike

CAM2CAM: Cyber Horror By Way Of Scooby Doo



On the heels of the premiere of The Den, IFC Midnight has released similarly themed CAM2CAM on VOD platforms. Along with Fantasia favorite Cybernatural, the trio of movies examine the continued breaking down of our online anonymity and how that leads to real world dangers. CAM2CAM explores the seedier side of the internet with its focus on cam models and paying for the privilege of sex behind the assumed safety of a keyboard and monitor.

CAM2CAM begins in true slasher movie fashion, where a comely young woman is enjoying a chat session online and engaging in a drawn out striptease. When the conversation begins to trigger alarm bells in her head, she finds herself unable to untangle herself from the conversation and her suddenly violent admirer. The opening scene closely resembles that of Scream with the keyboard and “LOL speak” replacing the tense phone game of cat and mouse and less self reflexiveness. As these things tend to go, events take a turn for the deadly, and soon our lovely model is the latest victim of a twisted serial killer.

A month later another lovely young woman moves into the victim's apartment, and it becomes clear in short order that she has more on her agenda than showing off her wares for sex starved businessmen lonely and desperate for any companionship money can buy. It's at about this point the film goes hopelessly off the rails. Director Joel Soisson desperately wants to craft a thriller in the vein of Hitchcock, but he's not up to the task. Instead of subtle misdirection and logical twists that make sense upon reflection, CAM2CAM bludgeons the viewer over the head with pulpy dialogue, characters whose motivations lack any rational reason while also randomly dropping seemingly important characters out of the story just when they might start to take a turn for the interesting. The film desperately wants you to believe that Jade Tailor's Lucy is a Machiavellian genius able to twist anyone around her finger with a few kinds words and a sexy smile, but the lines she is given are so jaw droppingly cheesy you can't believe anyone would see her as more than an empty headed sexpot.


In the end, the interesting premise of CAM2CAM falls victim to vanilla characters and a few twists to many. To be sure, there's rich territory to be mined from examining our loss of privacy and identity to the virtual realm, and in the coming years, I'm sure someone will hit the concept out of the park. Unfortunately, this effort comes up far short. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

We Present: EVANGELINE September 13th at the Somervile Theater



This September we're bringing a trilogy of terror to the Somerville Theater in the form of a cautionary tale for returning students and a pair of twisted short films.
First up, we have the hotly anticipated latest feature from Vancouver filmmaker Karen LAM:EVANGELINE. Lam draws inspiration from supernatural revenge thrillers such as The Crow while upping the horror quotient and creating multiple moments of intense dread and terror. As she's demonstrated multiple times in her award winning short film work, Lam has an amazing flair for visuals and details, and Evageline is simply one of the most gorgeous independent efforts you'll feast your eyes on this year. The story:
“IF I SHOULD DIE BEFORE I WAKE…
Evangeline (Kat de Lieva) has left her sheltered upbringing to reinvent herself in college. As she begins to break out of her shell, she attracts the attention of a sociopathic fraternity leader (Richard Harmon) and his two cohorts. Beaten and left for dead, Evangeline finds herself trapped in a supernatural nightmare, where she is caught between salvation and vengeance. But to save herself, Evangeline discovers she must make the most horrifying choice of all…
We're also proud to present a pair of short films. Keeping with the Canadian theme we are excited to present the latest short from the demented mind of Izabel Grondin The Table. This is one of the more twisted efforts I've come across all year, and I knew moments after it ended we had to bring it to Boston. We are also hosting a screening of Rhode Island native Farrah Rose's short The Atrocity Shoppe. Ms. Rose will be on hand to introduce her film.
As always, we're in the basement of the Somerville Theater. We'll have announcements for future screenings at that time, and trust us, there are some DOOSIES coming up!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

LIVE: The Latest Battle Royale Ripoffs



To say that LIVE steals from Battle Royale is underselling it. LIVE takes so much from its predecessor, it's more like it has taken the film hostage, given the S.W.A.T team its list of demands and has absconded with a king's ransom of untraceable cash with a helicopter and made its way to a remote island where there's no extradition. The idea of a group of strangers battling to the death is nothing new. From low budget fare like Human Race to modern blockbuster The Hunger Games, other titles have aped the Battle Royale, but they've at least attempted to put their own spin on the formula. LIVE, well, I'm not sure if it is just shameless or poorly made.

LIVE follows Naoto, a young kid that frankly, is a bit of an asshole. After running out on his mom and fucking off at work, he receives a package and a cellphone from a mysterious party. A phone call and video reveals that Naoto's mom has been kidnapped, and unless Naoto wins a “death race” she will be executed. The clues to the race are contained in the novel Naoto received, a young adult novel titled LIVE, in which Naoto shares the same name as the books protagonist. Soon the young prick is racing to the convention center along with a few dozen other scared and confused participants. They're off to the races, needing to secure they're uniforms before trying to find the cache of unique weapons that will give them a leg up on one another.

The biggest issue with LIVE is tonally, it has no idea what it wants to me. Yes, stop me if you've heard me make that complaint about Japanese genre cinema before, but this might be the most egregious example yet. The first third of the film plays straight forward. If anything, it runs the risk of taking itself too seriously. Yet somewhere around the thirty minute mark, the whole thing devolves into a Benny Hill level of slapstick and ass ogling. The saving grace of the film is the sheer ludicrous nature of the weapons the participants get their hands on. From women wielding chainsaws on each arm, to bikes equipped with machine guns, to twin crossbow wielding assassins on roller blades, LIVE manages to be stupid, but never boring.


To sum up Live in one sentence: “It's Battle Royale, except it's incredibly dumb.” Stripped of any social commentary, pathos, or compelling characters that give you a reason to watch, Live provides a handful of entertaining gags, but little else of merit.  

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Fantasia Roundup: The House at the End of Time (La Casa del Fin de los Tiempos)


Written and Directed by Alejandro Hidalgo

There are times when a film throws you a curve ball. And no, I’m not talking any of the M. Night Shyamalan schlock here. I’m talking an Oldboy or Audition level of, “Holy hell. I didn’t see that coming.” The House at the End of Time falls (thank Cthullu) into the latter category.

The film starts in grand tradition, dropping you in the middle of the action for a good old jump-scare horror show… at least, for a time.

Dulce (Ruddy Rodriguez) is a woman on the verge – declining economic status, unemployed, lay-about husband and rascally boys who run the street like ruffians. Living in a crumbling government-supplied house, no matter how hauntingly beautiful it may be, doesn’t help her mental state – she has to chant prayers just to get herself into the basement. Her pre-teen boys have troubles of their own – a crush on the same girl causes more than a little brotherly in-fighting. When one such fight keeps them out late one night, Dulce has had enough – the boys are sent to their rooms without supper, doors locked. She and her husband fight, and he storms out to the bar, leaving Dulce in a quiet house.  

And that’s when she hears a knock on her bedroom door.

Things get wild from here – and if you can believe it, then they take a sharp left turn into crazytown. The core story is fun, engaging and even brain bending in some of its more brilliant moments. It unfolds neatly, the plot well structured and well executed for the kind of twists and turns it slides around. For all its enjoyable insanity, the story has moments of being its own worst enemy. All the pieces fit together, but not all of them are necessary – a good 15 minute subplot involving Dulce’s sons drags you out of the plot into a nostalgic childhood romp through the streets of Venezuela. While the side story is not without it’s merits, its overall distracting from the core of the film, taking time out of what is otherwise a clever, spooky tale.

This spookiness extends beyond the tale itself and into truly creeptastic set – the house they live in, with its strange architecture, twisting levels and dark depths. As Dulce and her children flee room to room from their faceless tormentors, the convoluted layout lends it’s own sinister character to the fray, sheltering and threatening them at turns. It’s own backstory is fascinating – dios mio, I wish they’d gone into it even more – just brushed upon in the movie as a brief cover of masonic culture and beliefs. Combined with a well-practiced sense of suspense and the eerily atmospheric cinematography, the house completes the trifecta needed for a truly chilling experience.

Creepy, clever and packed with jump scares The House at the End of Time serves up all you could want from the typical supernatural horror film. Throw in the mind-altering plot twists and even with extraneous subplots, this film proves to be more creative and inventive than your usual ghost story. An excellent addition from Venezuela that proves Latino’s know how to make a horror film that’s not your abuelita’s fantasma pelicula. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Indie Fright Flick PIECES OF TALENT Now Available On Special Edition DVD

If there's one thing I know from running a monthly movie night, it's that horror directors are a weird bunch. It's true and now Joe Stauffer's Pieces of Talent is available just so you pull back the curtain a bit and see just how demented movie making can get. In an increasng rarity during this time of VOD and streaming video, the DVD comes with asecond disc with over an hour of bonus material. 

Synopsis? Synopsis:

Set in the small coastal town of Bright Leaf, North Carolina, Pieces of Talent centers around Charlotte, a disillusioned aspiring actress that can barely get by. Charlotte catches a break when seemingly chance circumstances put her in contact with a local filmmaker, David Long. David and Charlotte form a quick friendship that leads to Charlotte landing the starring role in David’s newest project. David quickly becomes obsessed with Charlotte and begins building his bloody masterpiece. David is a happily obsessed individual willing to do whatever it takes to make “true art.” He utilizes his charm and skills to make something dark and deranged seem utterly beautiful and loving.

For more information and to purchase Pieces of Talent, visit the film's official website atPiecesOfTalent.com. Pieces of Talent can also be found on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

A neat bit of triva regarding the film: the special effects were created by Tony Rosen, the man responsible for creating the Annabel doll in The Conjuring. 

The two disc DVD is available for  $17.99. Use the code "horror" and save an additional $2

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Fantasia Roundup: DYS-



There's a long standing tradition in Canadian horror of combining psychological breakdowns with extreme body horror. Perhaps no one exemplifies this more than the great David Croenenberg. Now a new generation of directors, weaned on his masterpieces of the 70's and 80's, are carrying the banner and putting their own stamp on the genre. From the Soska Twins (American Mary), Eric Falardeau (Thanatomorphose) to Cronenberg's son Brandon (Antiviral) a slew of young visionaries are depicting the decline of the mind through the decay of the flesh. You can add to that list Quebec's Maude Michaud, whose feature debut DYS- made its world premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival, taking home the prize for best Canadian film.

DYS- traps an unhappily married couple Eva (Shannon Lark) and Sam (Alex Goldrich) together in their apartment during an unprecedented flu pandemic. With Eva's bags already symbolically packed and set by the entrance, the couple must find ways to endure not only the health scare but the close proximity of one another. With the situation outside the doors worsening amidst reports that the infected are turning into bloodthirsty cannibals, the situation within the apartment worsens as long unspoken animosity deepens and crystallizes into paranoia.

The choice to show Eva and Sam at the height of their relationship's disintegration is the best choice of the film. From the opening moments where the camera cuts from a framed photo of the couple during happier times to Lark's blank, miserable expression as she stares forlornly at the ceiling fan, Michaud hammers home the duo's unhappiness. Eva finds herself in the throes of depression as while Sam seems adamant to ignore their issues, seemingly punctuating every sentence with “Everything is okay. Everything is going to be just fine.” These are two people ill equipped to deal with a severe crisis, and the claustrophobic nature of their dilemma makes for the perfect storm for escalating violence as a sort of release valve for the tension. Even the intermittent flashbacks of happier times all contain seeds of future discontent.

I've found Ms. Lark to be a dynamic performer in the past, and Dys- is no exception, although her role is unlike anything else I've seen her in. Eva is a former in demand commercial and fetish model reduced to seeking out office work as her modeling opportunities dry up. Everyone close to her handles her with kid's gloves, cutting her off whenever she attempts to voice the anxieties gnawing at her insides with reassurance that “everything is going to be okay. ” Reminders of her glory days as a bondage model adorn the apartment walls, a constant reminder of better times with Sam, who acted as her photographer. Now Sam has replaced Eva with a new model, crippling her self esteem and hurtling the couple towards tragedy. Resignation is a new look for Lark compared to the tough as nails women she's portrayed in the past, but it's one she wears well.




My primary criticism of the film is the compressed time line. In Dys- Sam and Eva seemingly go from trapped in their apartment one night to bat shit bonkers the next morning. We view the majority of events through Eva's eyes, and as she becomes more unmoored from reality Sam's condition declines even more rapidly. Dys- has a hallucinogenic, ambiguous quality I was not expecting going in to the film. If you are expecting a standard “let's bunker down against the impending zombie threat” movie, you might be stunned to experience something altogether different. While I like the idea of playing against expectations, Dys- would benefit from a more gradual descent into madness.

What lifts Dys- is a third act where things hit peak madness. The source of discontent between the couple is revealed in gruesome, up close fashion and when the two are forced to confront it head on. Michaud knows how to do violence of the up close and personal variety and some of the actions of Dys- are very personal and find creative and disgusting ways to render the flesh, with Sam and Eva dealing with their relationship problems in creative and blood thirsty ways. It's not gore for gore's sake. The actions make sense within the realm of the world Dys- creates.


It's difficult to say Dys- is a film that you will enjoy, but it's one that fans of transgressive horror will appreciate. It's a work that has no qualms with making the viewer uncomfortable, it refuses to spoon feed answers and it never tries to white wash or justify the often terrible and spiteful actions of its protagonists. It is certainly not fare for the lighthearted but it is a damn impressive debut feature from Ms. Michaud, a young woman we have been impressed by for years via her short films and documentary work.  

Friday, August 8, 2014

INTO THE STORM: Well, at least they included a fire tornado




Into The Storm (dir. Steven Quale)
INTO THE STORM would be a perfectly solid made-for-TV movie, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how it got a theatrical release. While the film functions well and does not make any terrible missteps, it feels like it is going through the motions of being a natural disaster thriller rather than actually thrilling the audience. 

The film follows a series of tornadoes as they tear across a town during the course of a single day. The plot plays out from various townsfolk’s points of view and a storm chasing documentary crew.
I have no basic problem with found-footage films, especially in horror films. It can help you identify better with the victims by giving you no choice but to see the situation through their eyes. INTO THE STORM attempts to be shot entirely with found footage, but it is spends an unnecessary amount of time explaining why there are cameras firmly planted into many character’s hands. Yes, there is a crew filming a documentary on tornadoes, but we did not need an extended tour of their tank-like vehicle along with descriptions of all of the different cameras mounted on the brig. The two young brothers in the film each have two separate reasons for their camera addiction: while they are both in the video club and in the midst of taping a video yearbook, the younger brother is filming the high school graduation and the older brother is helping his crush with a video application for a summer internship. It’s as if the film goes out of its way to prove that there is a reason for it being found-footage, rather than just owning the format confidently. 

Another aspect of the film that falls flat is the obvious character motivations. The father of the two brothers is a hard ass who never shows much affection. Within the first few moments of on-screen interaction with his sons, both of them say that they know they can never live up to their father’s impossible standards. The documentary crew is on the verge of having their funding cut off, and their meteorologist misses her daughter. All of these motivations are told to the audience, occasionally through directly telling the camera as a part of an interview. We are not left to piece anything together on our own. I am used to having plot points spelled out to me, but the lack of trust in the audience ends up coming across as lazy storytelling.

Even with these issues, INTO THE STORM does deliver some decent storm chasing. Though it takes nearly half of the film to encounter a twister (not counting the inexplicable first scene which shows a tornado getting a car full of teenagers late at night, as if tornadoes were slashes stalking their prey), when the storms finally do touch down the filmmaker takes a step back from the plot and lets the action of the storm takeover. As promised in the trailer, there is a tornado of fire, and it is awesome. The strength of the film really comes through as soon as the film surrenders to the storms. No one who seeks out this film does so to see the superficial family drama or half-baked characters- you go to see films like this to watch destruction and mayhem. By the end of the film I stopped caring about who survived, or even what their names are, and just let the fun of the CGI tornadoes take over my cinematic experience. 

INTO THE STORM is not a terrible way to spend 90 minutes, but it is better suited to catch the second half when you wander into it on TV on Saturday morning, rather than spending money to see it at a theater. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

NSFW Red Band EVIL FEED trailer Serves Up B Movie Gore

Let me reiterate that this trailer is in NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM safe for work!

The upcoming horror/action/comedy hybrid Evil Feed looks like a cheesy, gory fun night at the movies. The folks at the Long Pig restaurant have come up with some killer cuisine, making for a dining experience unlike anything else in the world. Throw in a sprinkling yakuza gangsters, a dash of cage fighting, a dollop of gratuitous T&A and some over the top gore, including a gnarly face peeling and you have all the ingredients of a modern day grindhouse flick. I have to say, I'm not sure why one would serve up MMA fighters as a meal. I'd imagine they'd be tough and stringy.

Evil Feed hits multiple VOD platforms August 25th, just in time for your end of summer BBQ.

Fantasia Review: BAG BOY LOVER BOY






It's the rare film that tickles my intellectual funny bone and leaves me running for the shower in order to scrub off the grime that it feels like is coating my skin (I wish there was a good meme for Ruxin of The League yelling “Forever Unclean!” just so I could post it here. Yet that's the duality of Andre Torres' Bag Boy, Lover Boy, a terrific film that played this past Fantasia Fest. It's a true work of exploitation cinema, yet it never feels cheap. It also features a breakout performance from its star Jon Watcher.

To describe Albert (Watcher) as “challenged” might be an insult to anyone afflicted with special needs. He can barely handle the one job he can land, slinging hot dogs on a corner food stand to all the vagrants and drunkards that stumble his way in the late hours of the night. He lives in a one room windowless concrete walled apartment that is barely large enough to allow lay a twin mattress on the floor. His walls are covered with X-rated centerfolds and he lives off the day old leftovers from the hot dog stand. A chance encounter with Ivan, a fashion and avant garde photographer exposes Albert to a new world while exploiting his handicap. Ivan's bread and butter is unsettling degradation and death fetish photos, featuring gorgeous models bloodied up and stripped of their clothing and their dignity. However, since Ivan's work is so acclaimed and sought after, the pay and exposure is fantastic, and he has agencies lining up to work with him. Ivan looks at Albert's moon faced blank expression and sees dollar signs. He lures Albert in with the promise of good pay, the chance to ogle and touch beautiful girls far above his weight class and the chance to learn how to take photos and become famous on his own. It's soon clear to everyone but Albert that he's nothing more than a joke, an oddities side show to be exploited, laughed at and dismissed before moving on to the next weird thing.

What no one realizes is how enraptured Albert is by the process and how he sees it as a way to woo a down and out young woman who has shown Albert kindness in the past. Through a series of events Ivan winds up in Italy on assignment, and he accidentally leaves Albert in possession of the studio's keys. Soon Albert is bringing prostitutes and junkies back to the studio, pantomiming the abusive venom he's heard Ivan spit at his models while duplicating the off putting photo shoots. Unfortunately, Albert''s mental faculties prevent him from separating fiction from reality, and he is quickly accumulating a body count consisting of the city's transients.

Bag Boy Lover Boy dishes out a searing take down of the New York art scene, especially during the opening half of the film. The artifice of Ivan's work is exposed the ridiculous nature of his art. The art community is depicted as an exploitative and back stabbing industry where one will climb over the still warm bodies of others to get ahead. As Ivan states, the goal of creating art isn't to add more beauty to the world, but to achieve a level of success and notoriety that one can “snort coke off two naked models' tits!” Meanwhile, models spout off their idea of having integrity while stripped naked, covered in viscera and modeling a pig snout. It's an ugly, cartoonish world.

Watcher completely absorbs himself in the role of Albert, and the character is one of the more difficult and unnerving ones to follow over the course of a film. Albert is a man with no moral compass. He lacks the mental capacity to process the world around him and can only mimic what he sees in a sort of warped fun house mirror reflection. He lives in a world that spits him on to the street with no one to look after him or take his best interests into consideration, yet he is so simple minded no one ever considers exposing him to this violent and sexually charged world to threatening. This isn't something I often notice, but the wardrobe choices for Watcher's character are spot on. Consisting of cargo shorts, a striped, brightly colored polo shirt with a backpack slung over his shoulder, Albert resembles the world most overgrown kindergartner, made all the more creepy with the appearance of perpetual five o'clock stubble and slack jawed expression. As Ivan, Theodore Bouloukos plays a flip side of the character spectrum, as a complete predator and snake oil salesman. He sizes everyone up in terms of what their dollar value might be, yet despite his myriad of flaws he manages some oily charm. Bouloukos injects camp into his role and delivers a healthy dose of gallows humor into the film, especially during his final pre-credits scene.

Credit Torres for making New York feel like an active participant in the depravity that occurs. It's been a long time since the heyday of Maniac and Ms. 45 when the city felt like a haven for a all sorts of scum and villainy. Modern times New York City is often depicted as a sterile, family friendly environment where the biggest danger is getting run over by a bearded hipster careening through the streets on his fixed gear. Torres manages to dig deep into the underbelly of the city. He's not afraid to show it as a litter infested hellhole that swallows people whole, where you can walk by someone pissing on a graffiti covered wall and not bat an eye. Albert lives in a city where rats gnawing on strewn about trash, where junkies make no attempts to hide their tract marks while nodding off in the streets and where happy hookers are out and about looking for their next score. For the first time in a long time, New York feels like a dangerous place.


Bag Boy Lover Boy is one of my highlights from this year's past Fantasia festival. It's a true and daring piece of underground cinema that is bold, unafraid to take risks and unafraid to visit some dark places. It's not for everyone, but the niche audience lucky enough to find this film will sing its praises for years to come.