Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: The Collection

The Collection (shot in Atlanta) was a sponsor of the Buried Alive Film Fest this year.  In fact, one of the festival organizers worked on the flick.  Coincidentally, the trailer for The Collection was shown before each block of programming.  I have a hunch that these facts may be related.  During a smoke break in the indie goodness, the question “why the hell would anyone release a major horror movie at the end of November” was brought up.  With a few notable exceptions, November isn’t known for its horror releases.  During that conversation, however, it occurred to me that this is the PERFECT time for a movie like The Collection.  Think about it.  Everyone just had to deal with their families at Thanksgiving.  Everyone is about to have to deal with their families again at Christmas.  What evokes more homicidal rage than a family get together?  Damn near nothing, that’s what!  With so many people fantasizing about slaying the in-laws, a little vicarious wholesale slaughter just might be what the family therapist ordered.  The question is…is it any good?
Synopsis: When Elena is talked into attending an underground warehouse party with her friends, she finds herself caught in a nightmarish trap where the revelers are mowed, sliced and crushed to death by a macabre series of contraptions operated by a masked psychopath. When the grisly massacre is over, Elena is the only survivor. But before she can escape, she is locked in a trunk and transported to an unknown location.  Fortunately for Elena, one man - Arkin - knows exactly where she’s headed, having just escaped from there with his life and sanity barely intact. Going back is the last thing on Arkin’s mind, but Elena’s wealthy father hires a crack team of mercenaries to force Arkin to lead them to the killer’s lair. But even these hardened warriors are not prepared for what they encounter: an abandoned hotel-turned-torture-chamber, rigged with deadly traps and filled with mangled corpses. Can Arkin and the team get to Elena before she too becomes part of his gruesome "collection"?
The star of this film, and its biggest strength, is the hotel that serves as The Collector’s lair.  This place is a masterpiece.  It’s HH Holmes’ (or Triple H as his friends knew him) deepest, darkest, sickest, wettest dream.  All the credit in the world goes to everyone involved in its creation, from the production designer to the set dressers to the art department.  I loved how it didn’t have a single motif that dominated the expansive compound.  Almost every room had a different look; some clinical, some decrepit, some dungeon like, some almost beautiful, and all depraved.  It’s part Suspiria dance academy, part Hostel torture palace, part Home Alone obstacle course gone horribly wrong, part Texas Chainsaw Massacre style gallery of WTF, and part deathtrap a la, well, The Collector.  The multiple color and lighting schemes work together perfectly to make this house of horrors seem like a nightmare-scape come to life.  I could go on and on about the creep-out paradise the majority of this flick takes place in, but there are only so many ways I can espouse just how much ass it kicks.  The last time I dug a house in a horror flick this much was the House on Horror Hill remake, and anyone who knows me can tell you how much I loved that house.  The set design is worth the price of admission by itself.
If only a fraction of that excellence shown in the production design had bled over into the screenplay.  Man, this flick was poorly written.  Not the dialog, but the actual story.  There are plot holes that you could fit Tarantino’s ego through, and leaps of logic that (insert today’s equivalent of Michael Jordan here since I don’t know shit about sports) couldn’t pull off.  The lack of attention to detail is amazing.  Let me give you an example.  This isn’t a spoiler, since we all saw that cool “combine harvester blade in the nightclub” gimmick in the trailer.  A character escapes becoming just more gore on the dance floor (yes, that’s a Casket Creatures reference) by falling down.  Yep, he falls down and the thing misses him while it takes off everyone else’s head.  Obviously this contraption is moving from one end of the room to the other at noggin level.  Why did no one else duck?  Even the dumbest character could put two and two together.  If you’re gonna have hundreds of people die by a single device in your flick, don’t make said device so easily avoidable.  It raises too many believability questions.  What if there were midgets getting down in there?  The Collector seems like too thorough of a guy to overlook a possibility like that. 
I know that might seem like a nitpicky thing to point out, but most of the REALLY big “what the hell is going on here” story gaffes are major plot points, so I’m gonna leave those for you to facepalm at on your own.  The main offender throughout the film is the character of Arkin.  He makes some decisions and does some stuff that contradicts things he did minutes prior, are completely out of character for him, and downright make absolutely no sense.  He does have one shining moment of brilliance.  It’s a truly novel bit, plus it leads to an extremely well executed moment of comic relief.  Most of the time, however, a case could be made for the character being either schizophrenic or sub-Gump level stupid.  I wish I could explain more, but I’m treading dangerously close to spoiler territory here. 
All of the reviews I read before seeing the flick mentioned the gore.  In fact, they gushed about the gore.  I will say that there is certainly a lot of the red stuff sprayed about.  It was enough to make an old couple walk out five minutes into the screening I was at.  My cinematic bloodlust, however, is unquenchable; and by this grue aficionado’s standards, the gore was both awesome and awful.  The Collection excels at showing us the aftermath of the violence.  The bodies we see are nice and meaty.  The eponymous collection is a sight to behold.  The piles of nastiness in the basement and the results of the club massacre are impressive.  The wounds we see that have been inflicted by knives and meathooks are pretty gnarly.  There are some nice slit throats.  The problem is, the actual moment of impact is almost always CGI…and we don’t even get a good look at that.   One of the main things I loved about The Collector was the nasty practical effects.  There are a few good ones in this flick, but the reliance on CGI for the big stuff is disappointing.  I think the scope of the flick may have outpaced the budget in some ways, leading to all of the bad CGI splatter.  Had they let the club combine chew through some physical heads instead of having actor’s craniums explode into a cloud of animated red mist, that opening sequence might have been one of the greatest cinematic bloodbaths of all time.  I weep for what could have been.
Another thing that ruins the violent moments is the way they’re shot.  For the majority of the movie, the cinematography and camera work is pretty damn good.  Then, when it’s time to get violent, the camera starts shaking to the point that you can barely tell what’s going on.  I’m beginning to get a little worried about this epidemic that seems to afflicting almost every cameraman from Hollywood on down to the indies.  The condition, as far as I know, doesn’t have an official name, so I’m gonna dub it ASSSSS.  That stands for Action Sequence Sudden Seizure Shaking Syndrome.    Melvin Van Peebles would definitely approve of that anagram.  If you don’t get that reference, you’re obviously a racist.  Anyway, no one else seems to even notice ASSSSS, so I’ll make ASSSSS awareness my cause.  Do none of the rest of you care about these poor cameramen?  Is no one else concerned?  Can’t we organize a telethon or something?
  The acting is passable all around, with Emma Fitzpatrick being the real standout.  She is the best “final girl” type heroine to come down the pike in some time.  Far too often horror heroines are scared and helpless and then suddenly shift into killer badass mode on a dime.  That’s what we call “sloppy character development” boys and girls.  Thankfully, Miss Fitzpatrick melds the two and avoids the “out of nowhere” character shift.  She gives us a believable performance where she is determined to get out of her dire situation and is willing to fight but always remembers to be scared shitless.  It’s a very nuanced approach to the archetype, and I’d be willing to bet that she spent some time studying Jamie Lee’s Halloween performance in preparation for this role.  Josh Stewart as Arkin and Randall Archer as The Collector deliver, but the rest of the cast portrays characters that are so one note or underdeveloped that it’s hard to really say much about their effectiveness in the roles.
I think that the problem here is that Dunston and Melton decided bigger was better, when it was the intimacy of The Collector that made it work.  The traps were things that you could make in your basement.  That made it that much more chilling.  There is some of that here, but mainly The Collector is making things that Jigsaw couldn’t even manage.  The intense one-on-one cat and mouse struggle between Arkin and The Collector in the first movie is replaced here by a bunch of cookie cutter mercenaries going in Aliens style.  If you’re gonna do that, why not get a bunch of washed up action stars to fill those roles and call it The Collectibles?  I’d go see that.  All in all, The Collection is definitely a step down from The Collector.  Not surprising from the writing team that ran the Saw franchise into the ground.  That being said, The Collection is definitely the grandest Guignol we’ve seen in American theaters in a while.  If you can turn your brain off, there are some thrills to be had from some good gory set pieces, a classic leading lady, and that phenomenal set.  There are also some sly giallo references for those paying attention, The Argento Hotel being the most obvious.  Actually, go see it just for the hotel. It’s that cool.  One severed thumb up.  Nathan says check it out.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review: Strip Mahjong: Battle Royale

This review first appeared at

It’s the kind of question that every reviewer of the dark, demented, and sleazy side of cinema loves to hear; “Would you be interested in reviewing Strip Mahjong: Battle Royale?  Um, yes please!  Then the thought enters your mind…how could an entire movie about a tile game work?  Movies based around card games rarely maintain my interest.  Then it dawns on you… hot topless Japanese chicks! That explains everything.  At least, that’s how my thought process went.  Oh Japan, bizarre frolics through bad taste like this one are why I love you so much.
Synopsis: LET THE ULTIMATE SEXY DEATH GAME BEGIN! A handful of mysterious Japanese women take part in a deranged web show that makes them strip off their clothes when they lose a round of Mahjong. When there is nothing left to hide, the losers’ secrets are revealed and the nubile contestants must take their punishment. Can anyone survive, or keep their clothes on, in the dangerous game of STRIP MAHJONG: BATTLE ROYALE? Gleefully adding a risqué, wry twist to an ancient game of strategy, this erotic thriller delivers voyeuristic thrills with the friskiness of Seventies "sexploitation" flicks, providing titillating, strange and kinky gameplay at every turn!
I wanted to enjoy this movie more than I did.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t dig it nearly as much as I thought I would with that title and premise.  I guess I thought that the actual Mahjong would be used as more of a backdrop to a story.  Actually, the mahjong IS the story.  I didn’t actually time it, but I’ll say approximately 63% of the running time is spent with the ladies around a table playing the titular tile game.  Yes, I just pulled that number straight out of my ass.  Anyway, these scenes drag, especially if you don’t know how to play mahjong.  It’s like watching one of those poker TV shows, but having absolutely no idea what the rules of poker are.  Hell, I know how to play poker, and the only time I’ve ever actually been able to watch it on TV for more than a minute are the times when I catch Jennifer Tilly playing.  The boobs make it tolerable, and the same principle is at play in Strip Mahjong.  See kids? That’s what we call a segueway.  As the game proceeds, the girls get nakeder and nakeder (shut up, it is too a word), so in theory these scenes should get less tedious.  In the end, even the pretty Asian tatas can only make these scenes so interesting.  Of course, there are probably some hardcore mahjong fanatics out there for whom this is their wettest dream come to life on screen.  What do I know?
The scenes where the girls are taken to the cell for interrogation and torture are fun.  It’s sleazy as hell, and it’s so over the top and goofy that you can’t take it even remotely seriously.  For those with overly delicate sensibilities, the misogynistic bent might give you something to get your knickers in a gnarl over.  However, if a scene of some goofball in a loincloth and sparkly over-sized bow tie tearing at a chained woman’s bra with those cheap plastic robot pincher arms sounds like something that would tickle your funny bone; then congratulations, you’re the perfect audience for this movie.
The flick is obviously low budget, but the budgetary constrictions aren’t a detriment at all.  It’s set up like an underground gameshow, and the limited sets work perfectly with that motif.  It was a smart move on the part of the producers.  Too often movies reach too far beyond their cash flow and end up looking cheap as a result.  This one looks cheap, but it’s supposed to.  Like I said, smart.
The players are fairly uninteresting characters, with predictable “secrets,” but the actresses play them effectively enough.  They’re all also quite easy on the eyes and spend most of the movie half naked, so I will fully admit that my judgment may be a little clouded as far as they’re concerned.  The most interesting character is the host, Mc Kato.  I really couldn’t tell you the actor’s name unfortunately, since the credits just list the cast and don’t say who played who, but he’s great.  He does some Jigsaw-like moralizing, but with the histrionics of a Japanese game show host.  It’s a truly odd character, and one I’d like to revisit in a different movie.  Then there is the female host.  This woman had the most annoying voice of all time.  Yes, of all time.  I may get accused of racism here, because it was that stereotypical shrill Asian female voice, but honestly, that voice would have grated my brain no matter what inflections it had.  She was just painful to listen to.  At least they had the good sense to get her out of her clothes at some point.
With a premise as thin as a lethal game of Strip Mahjong, 77 minutes was just the right amount of time for this flick not to overstay its welcome.  It’s not as full-tilt-gonzo-crazy as, say, Robo-Geisha or Mutant Girl Squad, but it has enough sleazy weirdness to make it a good addition to the current Japanese exploitation cycle.  If they had added some gore, this might have been downright awesome.  As it stands now, it slows down too much during the game sequences and feels like it stops just short of the kind of depravity needed to make it essential viewing.  You can’t be too hard on a movie that delivers exactly what it promises though.  Strip Mahjong: Battle Royale promises mahjong and tits, and it delivers both in spades.  Well played.   One severed thumb up.  Nathan says check it out.

Review: Dead Season

This review first appeared at

Zombies are my favorite horror movie monster.  There, I said it.  My first horror flick was Night of the Living Dead, so those cannibalistic undead shamblers are always gonna have a special place in my heart.  That being said, I can absolutely understand the zombie backlash that seems to be growing among the horror community.  Zombies are the flavor of the moment.  Hell, there’s even a top rated mainstream TV show.  It’s the same problem slashers ran into during the late 80’s.  During the waning days of golden age of the slasher flick, everyone with a camera, a mask, and some red tinted Karo was making a slasher flick.  Like a umpteenth generation VHS, these copies of a copy of a copy were often low quality and hard to watch.  Replace the mask and Karo with a bunch of friends and a little greasepaint, and that’s where we are with zombies at the moment.  The question when confronted with a new zombie movie had become “does it offer anything new or different.”  Sadly, that answer is almost never “yes,” and it’s the same story with Dead Season.  Like those late wave slasher flicks, however, if you love the genre, there is still enjoyment to be had from even a tired rehash if it’s good.
Synopsis: When a worldwide viral outbreak leads to a plague of zombies, two survivors flee the chaos of America to a remote island, hoping for a chance to start a new life. What they find is unrelenting horror. Beyond the hordes of the flesh-hungry undead, the other people already on the island force the pair into a fight-or-die battle amongst themselves. Armed only with crude weapons, they must descend to savagery and cutthroat tactics just to make it through each day.
The synopsis goes on from there, but I honestly couldn’t quote this next part without making sure you know that this part is not in my words; Packed with cutting-edge action and insane gore, Dead Season is a riveting new spin on the zombie genre.  Um, no.  There isn’t anything cutting edge going on here.  In fact, the only two sparks of originality in the whole flick are two small details, although admittedly those two details are pretty damn cool.  The zombies are referred to as biters.  I don’t remember hearing that term before, and I like it.  Second, Elvis’s (yes, the main male character is named Elvis) weapon of choice is a sledgehammer.  That’s one you don’t see very often.  Other than that, there’s not a lot in this flick that we haven’t seen over and over.  Tropical island zombies (Zombie, Zombie Holocaust), footage of a scientist dissecting the dead to learn their secrets (Day of the Dead), a quest to a fabled safe zone (about 1000 other zombie flicks.)  The character of Kurt Conrad, the leader of the survivalists, is a perfect mesh of Captain Rhodes from Day of the Dead and The Governor from The Walking Dead.  ***SPOILER ALERT***  They even use the “survivor couple uses code names and reveal their real manes in a touching moment at the end” motif from Zombieland.   *** End Spoilers***
The complete lack of originality doesn’t mean that it’s a bad flick, however.  Dead Season has a lot going for it.  For the most part, the acting is very good.  Our 2 leads, Scott Peat as Elvis and Marissa Merrill as Tweeter, are believable and sympathetic.  Marissa Merrill, a relative newcomer, was especially good.  She kinda has a Milla Jovovich tough girl thing going on.  James C Burns as Kurt Conrad had the perfect commanding screen presence to pull off the role.  Interesting story; when he first  came on screen, my friend said “It’s the guy from Prison Break” at the exact same moment that I said “It’s the guy from Dinocroc vs. Supergator.”  I’m not sure exactly what that says about me.  Anyway, the supporting cast is just kindof there.  Corsica Wilson especially just looks like a deer in the headlights as Conrad’s daughter.  That’s ok though, because the three central performances are strong enough to carry the flick as far as acting goes.
One of the banes of low budget zombie existence is bad CGI and subpar makeup.  Dead Season has neither of these.  Yes, I did notice an “added in post” blood splat or two, but for the most part the effects and makeup are practical.  It’s so refreshing to see latex being ripped in a zombie flick again.  The effects are gooey, gross, generally well done, and one of my favorite features of the movie.
I both loved and hated the look of Dead Season.  I don’t know what kind of cameras this flick was shot with, but the picture looks great.  The color tones are perfect.  It definitely has that digital look, but I applaud the filmmakers for not breaking out the mountain of filters too many indie horror flicks put themselves through these days.  The island location is excellent too.  There are some beautiful, lush landscapes to take in.  There is one location that appears to be an old fort or mission or something.  Visually, that spot is breathtaking.  I wish it had gotten more screen time.  So, what do you do to ruin great picture quality and gorgeous scenery?  Shake the damn camera like a meth-head hurting for a fix, that’s how!
I had actually thought recently that maybe I should stop bitching so much about third-person shaky cam since it seems like I’m the only one that it really bothers.  Then I watched this movie, and I am recommitted to being the lone voice crying out in the wilderness.  The camera bobs and weaves constantly, but nowhere is it more infuriating than in the action sequences.  I am not exaggerating at all when I say that the camera shakes so bad that there are times when you have absolutely no idea what is going on.  Yes, its that bad.  It’s a shame too, because, as I mentioned, the zombies and gore look good.  Why not let us get a good gander at them?  For the love of cinema, get these people some medication for their Restless Cameraman Syndrome!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of other story issues here.  At one point Elvis has to do something distasteful for the survival of the group.  While it is a major plot point, I wish this part of the story had been focused on more, as it presents a very interesting dichotomy between the living and the undead.  The climax of the film is…well…a bit anticlimactic.  Those final moments fizzle.  The most quizzical issue of all is that, for the entire movie, the zombies are of the shuffling variety.  Then, near the end, with no explanation, we suddenly have two 28 Days Later style sprinting zoms.  What the hell was that about?
Dead Season isn’t bringing anything novel to the flesh eating party, If you are a hardcore zombie fan who hasn’t tired of the genre, however, you could do a whole lot worse.  They need to work out some story kinks and hold the goddamn camera still, but this flick has more brains than your average direct to DVD zom-offering.  Some very good acting, the welcome change of practical effects, and an engaging if familiar story make this one of the most watchable of the current cinematic undead glut.  It seems there’s still some life left in the corpse yet.  A little more than one severed thumb up, but not quite one and a half.  Nathan says check it out.

Friday, November 16, 2012

What Halloween Means To Me Bonus Features: Daniel Beckman

We're gonna wind up the What Halloween Means To Me bonus features with the one and only (thank Cthulhu!) Daniel Beckman.  Daniel is one of the core members of the SOC family.  He’s been one of my biggest supporters since the beginning, and he was/is one of the members of the infamous EC3.  He was there for the the "Christmas Day Serbian Film" incident.  Hell, he’s even the man responsible for coining the term “Cellmate.”  You should thank him; you readers were almost called “Cellulites.”  Yeah, I figured you'd like his idea better.  Anyway, while the future of EC3 may be very uncertain, what is certain is that Daniel will always be a part of SOC in one way or another.  So, what does Halloween mean to you bitch?

“Halloween.  My dark Christmas (too emo?).  It stands as the only holiday that I get excited about these days.  I still hold out hope that every creature that has ever frightened me may in fact be real.  A vampire (pale, not sparkly) may attack on any given evening, ghosts may haunt me, or (fingers crossed) the zombie apocalypse will level society and reset everyone’s credit scores.  All of these occurrences are at least 6 times more likely in October.  Halloween stands as most kid's first look at the dark side.  Millions of children roaming the streets with demons, sluts, and corpses.  It's beautiful!  Some of us love it and never let it go.  Halloween night is the one night a year anyone can be someone or something they are not, or perhaps finally be themselves.  There are no rules.  Be careful though; those rules come back the next day.”

348 days ‘til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween.  348 days ‘til Halloween, Silver Shamrock.

Buried Alive Film Fest Recap: Day 2

Day two at the Buried Alive Film Fest offered a block of shorts, a block of local shorts, a great feature, and the 5th Anniversary of Splatter Cinema featuring an uncut 35mm print of Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria.  As far as the shorts go, the festival was a little top heavy, with most of the award winners playing on day 1.  There were definitely gems on day 2, including one whose audio alone gave me chills and another visit from our buddy, Lobster Spaceman.  As far as the features, Nailbiter delivered and Suspiria was, well…Suspiria.  As I said in my day 1 recap, if one of these flicks sounds like something that would tickle your boat (or is that float your fancy?), then hunt them down online.  A lot of them you can watch in their entirety for free.  Also, this seems like a good place to sound the SOC battle cry…SUPPORT INDEPENDENT HORROR!  There.  Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I present…

Day 2

The Shorts:

Between Friends - Two friends learn that some secrets must stay buried.  This intimate little horror flick was well acted, well paced, and well shot.  Both ladies put in good performances, and the tension never relented until the ending, which elicited one of those evil conspiratorial laughs from the crowd.  Good stuff.

Hike - Hike is about what can happen when you go into the woods.  The third of the “shaky cam forest” flicks at the festival this year, and the second one that I really didn’t dig at all.  One problem that short films often fall into is having a plot that feels like a scene from a movie instead of a complete story.  At the end of hike you’re left with a “that’s it?” feeling.  They did make good use of the woodland shooting location though.  Oh, and while I’m not usually a stickler for realism in my movie violence, I’m sick of seeing people tear someone’s tongue out.  That’s just not possible.  Cut it out.

Ethereal Chrysalis – repeat – See Day 1 HERE for my review.

Silence - A married couple in their bedroom. Something unexpected will disturb their connubial peace. A brief reinterpretation of the homonymous poem by Edgar Allan Poe.  This one had a very nice atmosphere and some really good ideas, but the suspense never really took hold, and the twist was pretty obvious.  There were moments when I thought “ok, now we’re getting somewhere, and then it was back to the lead actor making faces at the camera again.  Not bad, not good, not much.

Un Jour Sang – Winner:  Earf**k Award.  She’s not free. Still, in her distant, haughty, sublime perfection, she’s everything. Intolerable. He has no alternative : Destroy her, ruin her, profane her, cut her into shapeless and painful pieces and squash them in a dustbin. This story is not new. Let’s tell it differently…  I’ve got a confession to make; I always thought “Best Sound Design” was a lame ass Oscar.  Imagine my surprise, then, when I found myself lobbying for Buried Alive to give an award for sound design. We promptly christened it the “Earf**k Award.”  Anyway, while we watch a man and a woman separately get ready to go out, we hear an encounter between a captive woman and her torturer.  It’s rare in a horror movie to hear great voice acting, but this was just plain brilliant.  The audio track is harrowing, and I couldn’t even understand a word of it.  While I had to read the subtitles to get the actual words, the sheer emotion and bloodcurdling realism of the exchange literally gave me goosebumps.  Outstanding.

Him Indoors – Winner: Best Actor (Reece Shearsmith).  Gregory Brewster is a serial killer, only problem is, he’s agoraphobic! Facing an impending eviction from his family home, Gregory has a plan that will save him from being subjected to the one thing he’s terrified of… the outside world. Things don’t quite go to plan however, when a surprise visit from his new neighbor finds him in a very awkward situation.  This comedic short succeeds in large part due to the acting.  Reece Shearsmith earned every bit of his best actor award as a slightly snarkier Norman Bates type of character.  After seeing Offspring and The Woman, it was kinda off to hear Pollyanna McIntosh speak.  She did great however.  The dialog is sharp, with some good horror references thrown in, and I really liked the ending.  Someone’s Rondo Hatton Award even makes a cameo appearance.  I’m gonna have me one of those someday.

Crowscare - Tasked with watching over a creepy house while the owners are away on vacation, pretty coed May finds herself dealing with both a deranged murderer AND a living scarecrow!  My only issue with this one is that at times it was tough to tell if they were going for funny or scary.  It ended up being both in some spots and, sadly, neither in others.  Aside from a very inconsistent tone, I thought it was shot well, the score was decent, and I really dug the design of the scarecrow.  The filmmakers even had the scarecrow in attendance at the screening in full costume.  Big time bonus points for the ballyhoo guys!

Travel Size - Three ounces of pure terror!  I had to check to be sure, but this is from the same director of Wet Dream On Elm Street from last year, and it’s the same kind of short joke involving a toy of a horror icon.  Once again I found the joke pretty funny, but once again I have a bone to pick with director Andrew Shearer.  Andrew is the master of the “almost” titty shot, which makes him my natural enemy.  Just show some nudity already, especially when your actresses are that well endowed.  Yeah, I admit it, I’m a boob loving horror perv and I don’t like being teased like that.  If you’re gonna be sleazy, be sleazy.

Mae of the Dead - A one-night stand during the zombie apocalypse.  The Good: Both of the actresses did an excellent job with what they were given.  The Bad: What they were given.  This was 5 minutes worth of story stretched into 20.  The pace was absolutely glacial.  Like I said, both actresses were excellent, but they needed more to do, or snappier dialog, or more action, or something.  The “scratching on the bathroom door” scene was goddamn interminable.  I’d like to see these gals and their onscreen chemistry again, but with a story next time.

The Transmission – repeat – See Day 1 HERE for my review.

Decapoda Shock – repeat – It was just as good the fourth time around.  LONG LIVE LOBSTER SPACEMAN!  See Day 1 HERE for my review.

Nailbiter - Finding themselves trapped in the basement of an abandoned roadside house by the storm outside, a mother and her three daughters soon discover that they are not alone and they have sought refuge in the worst place imaginable.  I already did a full review of Nailbiter a few months ago, so I’m not gonna go into a lot of detail here.  If you want a full analysis, go HERE.  In short, this is a damn good flick.  The CGI effects of the storm look better than what you see in Hollywood blockbusters (yes, I just praised a flick’s CGI), the monster design was excellent, Grandma was a hoot, the suspense was built well, and the lighting deserves special mention.  My only real complaint was that we never got a really good look at the monsters; but it feels like the first movie out of a series, so maybe next time.  While a few audience members thought it got a little slow in the middle, just about everyone I talked to had good things to say.  Buried Alive alum Patrick Rea’s first feature is an old school slow burn horror tale that delivers.

Suspiria – I’m still kinda miffed that we couldn’t vote for this one in the best feature category.  I thought it was pretty good.  I like this Dario kid’s style.  He’s got a bright future ahead of him.

The Breakdown:
Two Severed Thumbs Up: Un Jour Sang, Suspiria (duh!)
One and a half Severed Thumbs Up: Him Indoors, Nailbiter
One Severed Thumb Up: Between Friends, Crowscare
One half Severed Thumb Up: Silence, Travel Size
One Severed Thumb Down: Hike, Mae of the Dead

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Buried Alive Film Fest Recap: Day 1

Last weekend, the beautiful and historic Plaza Theatre played host to Atlanta’s premiere showcase of independent horror and psychotronic cinema, The Buried Alive Film Festival.  This year, yours truly was one of the judges, so I saw everything in advance, but sitting in a dark theater for two days watching hours and hours of fright flicks with a flask of whiskey and a bucket of popcorn is my idea of heaven, so that’s exactly what I did.  What gave me a horror-d on, and what didn’t quite measure up?  Well, before I break it all down for you, I have three things to say.  First, if one of these sounds like your cup of blood, then by all means, google it.  Some of these can be viewed online, some have trailers online, and almost all of them have sites where you can find screenings.  Second, right after Halloween next year, keep an eye on SOC (or HERE) for all of the details on how you can join me in scary silver screen paradise.  Third, as always… SUPPORT INDEPENDENT HORROR!  Now, on with the flicks.


The Shorts:

The Window Into Time – When a scientist is asked by an old classmate to recreate a substance described in an ancient manuscript, there are bizarre and dire consequences.  This Lovecraftian story of science meeting mysticism has a lot going for it.  It was well acted, and the animated elements were interesting, sometimes reminding me of a Tool video.  The story is entirely told in voice-over, which is fine by me because it is a cool story, but if you aren’t going to have any dialog then you should keep things moving a bit quicker than this flick did.  It could have been trimmed by 2-3 minutes and been much more effective.  As it stands, I dug this creepy slow burn flick, but thought it burned just a little too slow.

The Timeslip – A businessman crosses a busy city street … and suddenly finds himself trapped in another time.  Gone are the buildings, cars and people.  In their place is a never-ending forest and an unknown danger.  You know, Buried Alive almost could have had an entire programming block dedicated to “shaky-cam footage of people running through the woods” movies.  Unfortunately, I didn’t dig this one.  It was half over before anything happened.  It’s a guy walking through the woods, then the “menace” shows up, and it’s a guy running through the woods.  I spent the whole time waiting for something big to occur, but the payoff never came.  The cameraman REALLY needs to lay off of the caffeine or cocaine or whatever is giving him the shakes.  That one shot of the businessman in the rain with his briefcase did make me laugh really hard though.

Doppleganger/Idle Worship – I put these two together since they were made by the same filmmaker (Theo Pingarelli), and share the same style and thematic elements.  In both a skeleton arises and begins searching for others like him (Doppleganger) and something to worship (Idle Worship), with both searches ending in calamity.  I loved these.  I could watch a whole series of “The Misadventures of Skeleton Guy” shorts.  Nothing is ever spoken, but the music conveys everything you need to know.  Skeleton Guy (he doesn’t have a name, that’s just what I dubbed him) is a remarkable creation.  It’s hard to give a character emotion and evoke empathy for them without having them speak, but he doesn’t even have the benefit of facial expressions.  Yet, such emotion is conveyed through his movements that you immediately identify with this simple skeleton figure.  That speaks to Pingaelli’s skill as an animator.  I hope to see more in this series, which is a sentiment I heard echoed by many in attendance.

The Transmission – While a storm rages outside and Henry drinks his bottle of absinthe, he receives a television transmission – from his dead wife.  The first of the locally made shorts to be shown, The Transmission was also the best of the Atlanta offerings.  Visually, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  It melds actual Super 8 footage with high-def to create a nice dream-like feel. The acting is good, and the nods to classic horror flicks are an added bonus.  It has some comedic elements, but they never overpower the spooky atmosphere.  The only thing I didn’t dig was the incredible amount of grain, which may or may not have been added.  It was distracting.  There was a Q and A with the director at the festival, and his explanation of how some of the effects were done on such a low budget really impressed me.

Decapoda Shock – Winner: The Mind-F**k Award.  An astronaut returns to Earth after a fatal accident on a distant planet. When he discovers he has been the victim of a sinister plot, he decides to take vengeance on those responsible for the death of his family.  This short was the talk of the festival.  The Atlanta horror scene has a new folk hero in Lobster Spaceman.  Again, that’s not the character’s actual name, but it’s what he was referred to as by most of the attendees.  This flick fuses absurdity, humor, horror/sci-fi tropes, social commentary, animated sequences, and enough pure “that the f**k am I watching” to absolutely blow your mind.  The audience roared with laughter, and erupted in cheers and applause as the credits rolled both times it showed.  There’s a reason why Lobster Spaceman is front and center on the festival shirts.  The two Buried Alive screenings were the third and fourth time I’ve watched it and I was equally psyched every time.  Apparently Spanish director Javier Chillon has another short out there, and it just jumped to the top of my “stuff to track down” list.

Game – Winner:  Best Horror Short and Best Actress (Andrea Lee Norwood).  In a chase through the woods, these hillbillies have no idea what kind of woman they are hunting down.  From the great white north comes the second “shaky cam in the woods” flick.  The difference between this one and the other two…this one is awesome.  It’s well acted, features a really good creature design and makeup, and has a great ending.  The scenery is beautiful too.  About halfway through, there is a cool twist that struck me as very EC comics style, and that’s never a bad thing.  A really fun short, despite the cameraman’s Parkinson’s.  Pay attention through the credits, you’ll be glad you did.

Torturous – Winner: Best Comedy Short.  A case of mistaken identity brings a career counselor into the world of a professional torture artist.  It’s no secret that when it comes to comedy, I’m a very picky man.  People send a ton of bad indie horror comedy.  Most of it is of the goofy/silly/sophomoric variety.  Don’t get me wrong, that can be done well, but it’s not usually my thing.  That’s why it was so refreshing to see a smart, well written, character and dialog driven comedy that made me laugh throughout.  The way this flick plays with the conventions of torture flicks is razor sharp.  Speaking of sharp, there’s a little nicely done gore too.  Great stuff.  It contained my favorite line of the festival; “I’m the drill guy, not the meathook guy!”

The Raven - December 1959: Poe, a young writer, has locked himself inside his seedy Hollywood motel room. Astray in his projected memories, he gets a visit from a dark bird named, Nevermore. This flick had some really nifty stuff going on visually, especially near the end, and the central performance was good; but for the love of Poe, give The Raven a rest.  We all know the poem, and The Simpsons already did it better than we’ll probably ever see again.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore Poe, but The Raven is just plain overused.  As I said, there were some cool visual touches here, but I think we should call a moratorium on The Raven until someone can offer up something truly unique instead of the thousandth variation on a guy yelling at a bird.

Ethereal Crysalis - Enter the multidimensional maze of the Ethereal Chrysalis, where the doors of perception become the annihilation of all rational thoughts. This was the runner up for the Mindf**k Award.  As I told some people at the festival, this is the kind of flick I can see my friends and I taking hallucinogens, watching repeatedly, and arguing for hours about what it means.  This is a visual feast of bizarreness, from the evil flying french fry to the bugman thing to…um…I’m not sure what a lot of that was honestly.  It might be the best representation of dream logic on screen I’ve ever seen.  It takes a LOT to get me to call a flick weird, but this one was freakin’ weird.

The Features –

Abed – Winner: Best Feature Maggie lost her husband, Quint, during the early days of the living dead plague. She now lives a life of quiet horror and desperation, for her mother-in-law will do anything to help the family adjust to this new world… even the unspeakable.  At this point, if you can show me something involving zombies that I haven’t seen before, I’m a happy guy.  When you do it with this kind of intensity and humanity, I’m enthralled.   I’ll go ahead and tell you now that you aren’t prepared for where this one is going.  It’s pretty damn hardcore, but it’s done with a gravitas that makes it as mentally and emotionally extreme as it is visually and thematically.  The acting was great, especially Vicki Deshaw-Fairman as Mama.  The zombie makeup looks phenomenal as well.  I’ll put it this way; normally the Plaza horror crowd is pretty raucous.  As this one played, however, there was stunned silence, which was only broken by a little nervous laughter and a girl behind me repeatedly saying in a disgusted voice “this movie is SICK!”  I loved this movie.  It’s currently making the festival rounds, so if you see it showing near you, trust me, see it!

Manborg - A soldier, brought back to life as a cyborg, fights alongside a band of adventurers against demon hordes in a dystopian future.  From Astron 6, the sick bastards that brought you Father’s Day, comes this hilarious post apocalyptic sci-fi/ horror/ action hybrid.  There is nothing about this flick that isn’t ridiculous.  It’s so over the top that you have no choice but to just go with it.  The effects are spectacular and awful at the same time.  Then, when you realize that it was made for less than $2,000, it becomes one of the most impressive feats you’ve ever seen.  The whole thing is played with that straight faced “yeah, this is cheesy as hell, and we know that, but we’re sure as hell not gonna wink-wink-nudge-nudge at you” comedic style.  It’s the dumbest, most entertaining thing I’ve seen in a long time.  I don’t know if the visuals would play as well on a TV as they did on the big screen, but Manborg is most definitely worth a look.  Incidentally, “You Dick” in the Manborg voice might have been the most repeated line of the festival.  It’s accompanied by a faux trailer for Bio-Cop, which I REALLY want to see as a feature.

The Breakdown –
Two Severed Thumbs Up –Doppleganger/Idle Worship, Decapoda Shock, Torturous, Abed, Manborg
One and a half Severed Thumbs Up – The Transmission, Game
One Severed Thumb Up – Ethereal Crysalis, The Window Into Time
One half Severed Thumb Up – The Raven
One severed thumb down – The Timeslip

What Halloween Means To Me Special Features: R.S. "Corpsy" Rhine

Next up on the What Halloween Means To Me: Special Features list is Corpsy, aka R.S.  Rhine.  There isn’t a whole lot he hasn’t done in the world of horror publishing.  He’s an award winning fiction writer and the creator and writer of a popular series of comics, but I know him best as the dead-itor in chief of Girls and Corpses magazine.  You can check it out HERE.  It’s a great magazine filled with humor, interviews with industry notables like Sid Haig and Laurence Harvey, great art and reviews, and best of all…beautiful women posing with rotten corpses!  Does it get any better than that?  Mr. Rhine also, by the way, has fantastic taste in jewelry.  So what do you say we pick Corpsy’s brain and find out what Halloween Means To Him.  Actually, just for the hell of it, I think I’m gonna bust out a little Cryptkeeper on this one…”Corpsy is going to turn hack the pages of his die-ary and share some of his macabre memories with you boils and ghouls.  It’s a rotten retrospective of Samhain sentiment he likes to call Halloween Hell Night…

“I always remember Halloween as a time to get into trouble. It was a night of mayhem and vandalism that included egging, toilet papering trees and shaving cream shootouts. Yes, shaving cream. My merry band of neighborhood mischief-makers would steal the aerosol nozzles off of our dad's workbench spray-paint cans and stick them on top of shaving cream cans so you could squirt them with a creamy vengeance, as far as ten yards.  We would all meet in the middle of the street like high noon at midnight and shoot it out. I had even made a makeshift holster so I could have two cans of shaving cream at the ready. The other tradition I would do each year with my buddies was to set up a Halloween crash site.  We would make a dummy by stuffing newspapers into a pair of jeans, t-shirt and tennis shoes and then take a bicycle (back then my Schwinn Stingray) and lay it on its side next to a storm drain.  We would make it look like some hapless kid had been killed in a head-on with a car which had driven away -- leaving the victim's body in the gutter. I guess it was my early fascination with corpses. We always got a laugh as a driver would spot the crash site, their car skidding to a stop as they leaped out to investigate -- and the expression on their faces when they realized they had been pranked.  I guess we didn't realize that we were creating drivers who might someday drive past our real body in the street, letting us slowly bleed to death. I grew up back in the early 70's when it was still safe to roam house-to-house and neighbors had not yet figured out how to put razor blades in apples and needles in candy bars. The days of the pathetic mall Halloween was over a decade in the future. And our neighbors really put out all the goodies too! You could fill up several grocery bags with candy and open your own store. It was a great time to be a kid... or a corpse.”

348 days ‘til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween.  348 days ‘til Halloween.  Silver Shamrock.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What Halloween Means To Me bonus Features: Annabelle Lecter

Today we’re gonna hear from Annabelle Lecter.  Annabelle is a phenomenal artist.  Hit her up on Facebook and you can see some of her art, including the amazing top hat she painted for Neal Jones of Without Your Head.  Speaking of Without Your Head, she is the sometimes co-host of the WYH Horror Radio, which, in my ever so humble opinion, is most definitely in the upper echelon of horror podcasts.  For a while, she also co-hosted Dinner and a Movie with Neal.  We’ll see if that show makes a comeback.  I know I’d like to see it.  Anyway, continuing on with the international flavor from yesterday, Annabelle spent this Halloween in Japan. Ms. Lecter, would you please tell us a little about Halloween in Japan and your recollections and feelings about All Hallow’s Eve back home…

“This is my first year away from the United States for the Halloween season in my life. Although Japan does celebrate this holiday, it is nothing like home. So what does Halloween mean to me? Well, let me tell you what I miss.
I miss the smell of autumn leaves, their crisp sound and feel against my feet and ankles as I intentionally walk through them when they build up on sidewalks and lawns. I miss their beauty as they turn from green to reds, yellows, oranges into browns and grays.
I miss seeing decorations popping up in home windows, knowing that there is some small kinship with all others who celebrate this time. I miss yards with witches crashing into trees, the variety of prop gravestones, and of course those very special houses that make serious time and money investments with props and displays. I miss orange lights in bushes and trees, candle bags, lit pumpkins.
Pumpkins – yes, I miss them; whether they are classy Martha Stewart, cheap Wal-Mart cut-outs, or Savini worthy artistic masterpieces. I like the funny seed-vomiting pumpkins as well as the ones obviously cut by children. And I miss carving them; the pressure of knives not meant for the work sawing in and out, attempting to stay controlled. Scooping wet seeds and pumpkin guts, scraping down the inside with a big metal spoon… I can smell that faint scent now as if I was back home carving and watching an old horror flick while drinking an apple cider.
The foods – forget the candy, I love cider (hot or cold), cider donuts, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin coffee, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cheesecake.
I love the warm sunny days and sweater-cold nights. I love feeling chill looking up at the night sky and wondering what phase the moon will be on Halloween night.
It’s my time of year for listening to Type O Negative, remembering long ago days with friends – many fond memories of falls and Halloweens long gone.
Setting the table with cute Halloween tablecloths and putting up decorations I have collected over time.
Finding costumes I would wear as normal clothing and decorations I would use in my house year round.
Seeing ghost tours in town. Store fronts decorated, employees dressed up.
Listening to old ghost story recordings, watching horror movies even more than normal. Watching old Halloween specials like It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and Garfield’s Halloween Adventure. Seeing my favorite youtube videos Jack Chop and Life and Death of a Pumpkin, and playing Cat Bowling.
Going to local fall events like apple farm harvest festivals, corn mazes, pumpkin picking at the farm, and going to fairs.
Back in ye’ olde days I went to ManRay, a goth & fetish friendly club in Cambridge, MA who always put on a great event. No one can do beautiful Halloween dress like goth and fetish people – the mix of beauty and oddity is exquisite. Alas, ManRay died and I have not had company to attend any other similar events.
And of course, the main event – Halloween. In my local area, Halloween is not always celebrated on Halloween night itself, so I often luck out and I am able to see costumed kids walking around town with their bags and sacks and plastic pumpkins full of treats. One town here in particular lines the main streets with candle bags, and what a pleasure it is to see all of the adorable kids having so much fun like I did when I was just a little Lecter. It’s so nice seeing this tradition of community continue on – really the ONLY holiday of it’s kind where the real celebration comes from being neighborly.
The one neighborhood I tend to frequent is Salem, Massachusetts. I love Salem on Halloween – so many people dressed and all of the silly witch castles and fright tours in full swing. There are street shows and a small carnival, and it’s just a giant messy mix of innocence and debauchery all in one little space of the small downtown. There are even the Christians with sandwich boards warning everyone of their impending damnation, but I don’t mind. All is well and good on that night.
My favorite year was when several friends and I all dressed as evil clowns with one demonic Ringmaster. I had one of those plastic pumpkins and filled it with candy and handed it out throughout the night to random children and adults alike. I’ve dressed classy and cheap, childish and a creep – and I love that about Halloween. You can be anything, play any part, just feel it inside and it’s yours for the taking. On that one day, in that one place, you can be offensive or innocent and people will love it just because you gave a damn to try.
Dear gods, I am really enjoying Japan but it is killing me that I don’t have any of this – my favorite season, my favorite holiday. Live it up for me, wish I was there.”
350 days ‘til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween.  350 days ‘til Halloween.  Silver Shamrock.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What Halloween Means to Me Bonus Features: Ingo Holtorf and Chaitanya Reddy

Hello Cellmates!  I hope you all had a killer Halloween and have slept off those hangovers.  I hope yours was as amazing as mine.  Halloween that is, not the hangover.  Anyway, I have to admit, Son of Celluloid is a little miffed at the moment.  After that crazy Halloween season I took a week and a half to recover and attend the Buried Alive Film Fest (reviews coming soon), and when I stop to look around, suddenly everyone thinks it’s Christmas time.  Sucks to your Xmas, I’m not done with Halloween yet!  Since you guys seemed to dig the What Halloween Means To Me event so much, I say it's time for the deleted scenes from the countdown.  I promised 31 entries, and dammit, I meant it.  I’ve got some entries that either came in late, were a victim of panic stricken rescheduling on my part, or just didn’t fit in for whatever reason.  Today we have a double feature of international Cellmates.  They both tell a sad story of Halloween not being a big deal to the general populace where they are, but they’ve both got the spirit, and that’s what counts.

First up is Ingo Holtorf.  I refer to this guy by the nickname “German Cellmate #1.”  Ingo is awesome, sending me movies, helping me finally get my hands on Cannibal and even a Crimson Ghosts Patch, and being an overall great guy and supporter of SOC. He’s got his own blog, Helford667 Movie Reviews and More, which mainly focuses on action flicks.  I highly recommend you go check it out HERE.  So Ingo, tell us your story…
“Hello there Cellmates. I was asked to contribute to SOCs Halloween theme “What Halloween means to me.”  I’m not such a hardcore horror geek like most of you, but here it goes:
Since I live in Germany, things are a bit different around here. And although we adopted Halloween in a way (especially the retail industry), it isn’t the same as in the USA.
If I had the money and would be a little more outgoing, I’d probably take part in one of the Halloween parties that sure take place somewhere around here during the time of Halloween, but that’s not the case.
But the kids do take the opportunity to go around the neighborhood to trick or treat, something I did too when I was little.  So I’d say it’s more a kid’s event than anything else. A few years ago, I totally didn’t think about it and was surprised by kids ringing my doorbell. I really didn’t have much to give them, but I tried to collect everything that remotely resembled candy. I also had to really be careful how much to give to every single one, ‘cuz of my limited stash. Very embarrassing indeed. So, the next year I made sure to have enough candy. Though the number of kids ringing the doorbell varies, it’s always nice to open the door to those kids; some are singing songs for you, some even serve you a little horror poem. Really cute to say the least. Of course, one feels obliged to watch a horror movie…or two…or three, but it really isn’t as deeply rooted here as it is in the States.
I’d love to go out as Freddy Krueger - with a kickass mask, some serious glove, and the sweater and all - but we are in a crisis, and I’m one of the affected. Maybe some other year in the future. The traditional German Fasching (carnival) is set in February each year, so that would be another chance of masking up. Halloween really is a cultural import from the USA that got adopted to a certain degree, so I would be lying if I said it means all that much to me. I am not as much of a horror geek as most of you. But I do like the tradition, no doubt about it. Hope you all celebrate it with dedication and fun (don’t drink & drive)!”

So, the Trick or Treating kids sing songs and recite horror poems?  That actually sounds pretty damn cool.  Anyway, next up we’ve got Chaitanya Reddy checking in all the way from India.  Chaitanya is a maniac.  In fact, he’s a two-time champion MANIAC!  For the last two years I’ve been involved in the HALLOWEEN HORROR MOVIE MARATHON MADNESS, a race to watch as many horror flicks as possible with certain elements.  For the last two years Chaitanya has posted insane numbers and easily won the contest.  It hasn’t even been close.  The dude isn’t human.  He sleeps even less than me!  I knew someone THAT dedicated (and obviously completely out of his f’n mind) had to be a part of What Halloween Means To Me.  Then, he told a story I couldn’t believe about how he discovered Halloween in the first place.  Chaitanya, Ingo, and Maynard Morrissey (back on day 9) all expressed similar desires to experience an American style Halloween one day, so to all of you guys, if you ever find yourselves stateside in October, I extend the invitation to come join in Son of Celluloid’s Halloween Adventure.  So Chait, take it away…

“This is the first time I’m writing to contribute for a bog & I’m quite elated to do this since it’s Nathan’s blog, which I personally adore and read almost everything on it. About me; I’m a 21-year-old movie freak from India, a "horror starved nation" as I always call it. Watching movies, which started as a hobby from my teens, transformed into a passion & a madness now in my early 20`s. I watch everything from 3 hour-long family dramas to the so-called torture-porn, with a soft spot for Horror movies.
’Til 2009, "HALLOWEEN" was just a name I knew from various Michael Myers movies and loads of cartoons I used to watch as a kid. I assumed it as a day of kids getting lots of candy, people putting on costumes, and partying hard. I started learning about Halloween slowly from the time I landed on Facebook. I’ve never had or made a Halloween costume nor carved a Pumpkin, which I would certainly love to do in the coming years, but I do celebrate fact, the whole October… by watching a shit load of Horror movies (thanks to HALLOWEEN MADNESS). And when I say a "shit-load," I mean something near a 100 or even 200. I participate in a movie watching contest and relish the taste of watching horror movies for 30 days. I do save the Halloween classics for the final day, which totally gives me a feeling of being at a virtual party. Furthermore, I’ve already started my marathon this year; and looking at the number and the type of movies lined up, I must say it is going to be the best October to date.  I totally hope my anticipation turns into a reality. Well, adding anything more about myself would make this an auto-biography, so on a quick note I would like to thank Mr. Son of Celluloid for providing some space on his wonderful blog and for the fellow Cellmates…Happy October and Happy Halloween!  Cheers.”

351 days ‘til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween.  351 days ‘til Halloween.  Silver Shamrock!
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