Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Review: Hidden Horror

All film fanatics know the exquisite frustration of whole-heartedly loving a flick that no one else seems to know exists.  How the hell has no one else heard of your beloved, unappreciated masterpiece?  On the other hand, there are few geeky pleasures quite like leading someone into a dark new corner of the garden of cinematic delights and showing them their possible new favorite movie.  That’s what a hundred and one of the top writers documenting the horror genre today (with one MAJOR exception, ahem!) have done with Hidden Horror.   It’s like perusing the horror section of a video store in the days of yore with your weird, horror obsessed friend pointing out the gems.

Being both a diehard horror junkie and the holder of a (pretty much useless) degree in film studies, I have read far more than my fair share of film criticism.  To be honest, the vast majority of these books suck like Vincent Gallo promised them that it would be their breakout role.  That’s why it makes me extra happy to report that Dr. AC and his cohorts did damn near everything right with Hidden Horror.  It’s a collection of essays highlighting some lesser known fright flicks that the writers think deserve more respect and a wider audience.  I like that the roster of contributors is so deep and widely varied.  The amount of different styles, voices, and perspectives keeps the reading fresh throughout.  All of the writing is quality, and the enthusiasm these folks have for the genre bleeds through every word.  Hidden Horror even contains entries from 3 What Halloween Means To Me alumni; John Squires, Freddie Young, and Jude Felton.  Cellmates represent!

Although with any list like this you’re going to find a few that don’t exactly fit your definition of obscure (TREMORS?  Really?), for the most part the movie selection is top notch.  Everything from groundbreaking flicks like Coffin Joe’s At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul and HG Lewis’s protosplatter classic The Gore Gore Girls to VHS era favorites like Razorback and extreme foreign shockers like Ichi the Killer get equal time and love.  I’m also happy that the majority of the films, while not widely seen, are fairly easily available.  Too many “horror you haven’t seen” lists miss the whole point and get all kinds of snobby listing movies you can’t get your hands on. 

The cake from the launch party.  How cool is that?
The finished physical package of the book itself deserves a mention.  Most independent horror books look the part.  They’re cheaply put together and often badly edited.  Not so with Hidden Horror.  It’s a class production all the way; from the killer cover by Brett Harrison to the appealing, photo laden layout.  One of my biggest sticking points with small press books lately is the sheer amount of spelling and grammatical errors.  It’s like people forget that this is the final product they intend to represent them as a writer/publisher.  For this Grammar Nazi, that’s a deal breaker.  It may seem like a small thing, but I’m two thirds of the way through this book and have yet to find a typo.  Aaron Christensen is excellent in the role of editor.  Well done, sir!

 There’s something else I dig about this book; and I warn you, we may be veering into TMI territory here.  Hidden Horror currently occupies the highest place of honor a book can hold in my house… the back of the toilet.  On a recent hibachi excursion, some friends and I were discussing how the age of the smartphone has all but done away with the time honored tradition of bathroom reading.  We also discussed what makes a good addition to a lavatory library, and Hidden Horror exemplifies what I look for in what I lovingly call a “dump book.”  Each entry is self-contained and runs about three pages; a perfect length to stimulate your mind when you’re not going anywhere for a couple of minutes.  When talking about books, I constantly hear “I just don’t have time to read as much as I’d like to.”  Well, if you’re too busy to consume the whole book in a couple of sittings, fear not!  Prolong the fun and ensure that your next 101 times upon the throne will be both entertaining and educational.

Any book that lists Alucarda, In a Glass Cage, and Company of Wolves together is an indispensable tome as far as I’m concerned. No matter how well versed you think you are, you will leave this book with titles to track down. Hell, even I came away with an updated "must see" list.  Hidden Horrors stabs you with 101 of the best obscure horror needles so you can skip the bloody haystack, and it deserves a place in every cinephile’s library.  Nathan says check it out.

Hidden Horror is available here... AMAZON
...and here... BARNES & NOBLE
... and here... KITLEY'S KRYPT

Son Of Celluloid's Video Interview With Fred Vogel

It was getting close to midnight on a cold Sunday night in February.  The madness that was Days of the Dead Atlanta 2014 was over.  Most of the celebrities were on their planes home and the unconventional conventionalists had returned to their lairs to sleep off their buzzes and gush over the treasures they purchased.  Those of us left at the hotel were brutally tired.  The walking dead weren't all on TV that evening.  I can't speak for everyone, but I was in that weird space where you're simultaneously hung over from the previous three nights and still drunk from that day.  It was at this bleary-eyed witching hour that one of the coolest events of the weekend occurred.  
I had been trying to get together with Fred Vogel, who I refer to as the Patron Saint of the Underground, for an interview all weekend.  He was busy as hell, as was I, so the calm after the storm proved to be the right time to sit down for a chat.  If I need to explain who he is, then report to Remedial Independent Horror101 on the double.  Few people embody the SOC battle cry of "SUPPORT INDEPENDENT HORROR" like him.  Fred (along with his lovely wife Shelby), is the mastermind behind TOETAG Inc.  He's been spreading the sickness for almost a decade and a half with movies like Redsin Tower, Sella Turcica, Maskhead, Murder Collection, and the infamous August Underground trilogy.  
The original plan was to chop this interview up and incorporate it into episoides of The Son Of Celluloid Show, but since the show is taking so long and this interview is too good to hack up (although that would be kinda fitting), I decided to go ahead and put it out there.  My only regret is turning the camera off.  Once the official interview was over, he hung out and shot the shit for about an hour, all of which was a golden education in the world of indie horror.  Talking to Fred was a true pleasure, and I think you'll dig the video.


For all of your TOETAG Needs, go to

Monday, March 17, 2014

Interview: ArME/Lust Director Keith Voigt Jr.

One of the coolest things about the 2014 edition of Days of the Dead Atlanta last month was the increasing presence of the underground.  I got to screen some of my favorites at the Son of Celluloid event, I hung out with standard bearers like Jason Hoover from Jabb Pictures and Fred and Shelby Vogel of TOETAG, and I was fortunate enough to meet some of the fresh, new talents who are poised to carry the indie horror banner into the future.  One of those filmmakers ready to make their mark on the genre is Keith Voigt Jr.

His first DVD release is currently available from TOETAG’s website and store.  It features two excellent shorts, ArME and Lust.  ArME tells the story of Daniel, a recently discharged Iraq veteran.  He returns from war a changed man, and reassimilating into society may be more than he can handle as his mind and relationships spiral out of control.  Lust is a story of unrequited love.  Can Lily cope with her feelings, or will her obsession consume both her and the object of her affestion?  Both shorts feature some fantastic acting, good gore effects, and thought provoking stories.  The DVD comes packed with commentaries, a bonus short, and plenty of other goodies for only 10 bucks.  Hell, you’d spend more than that going to see the newest derivative, vapid crap Hollywood has shat into your local multiplex.  What are you waiting for?  Follow that link at the bottom of the post and get your own copy or pick one up when Keith and/or TOETAG invades a horror convention near you.  Nathan says check it out.

In the meantime, I’ve invited Keith to drop some knowledge on the Cellmates about his films, sex, gore, his directing process, and wielding automatic weapons on city streets.  Enjoy!

SOC: For the readers who aren’t familiar with you, please introduce yourself.

KVJ: My name is Keith Voigt Jr. and I am independent filmmaker.  My short films ArME and LUST were released by TOETAG INC. and I love Chinese food!

SOC: What was it that first piqued your interest in making horror films?

KVJ: I had always loved horror films.  I remember as a child I would sneakily watch them in the middle of the night.  Stuff like Friday the 13th and The Shining.  As I got older my love for the genre only grew.  I started watching more and more and seeking out pretty much any horror movie I could get my hands on. When I started making little skits on tape in 8th grade naturally I started making little horror films, mostly involving serial killers, and I have just expanded from there.

SOC: When did you discover the world of underground, independent horror?

KVJ: Well as I kept watching these movies I started to seek out more extreme stuff.  Like at the video store I would try to find the most extreme “R” rating or the craziest cover.  If a film said “Unrated” it was like a holy f**king grail.  But I didn’t really find out about the scene that I am in now until I was 16.  A guy at a video store I used to frequent told me about Cinema Wasteland and it sounded awesome so I went. I had a blast.  Then I met the TOETAG crew and the rest is history.

SOC: The use of extreme sex and gore can be very controversial in horror circles, and both ArME and Lust include some pretty graphic scenes.   What do you think the role of this kind of imagery is in telling a story, and is there an aspect of “shock for shock’s sake” in your work?

KV J: I think sex is a natural thing and shouldn’t be shied away from.  If I am making a realistic film (which most of my movies are) then I want to use realistic sex.  It has a huge role in my stories. The reason the sex scene in ArME is so graphic is because I am telling my audience “LOOK, she is sexy, these people are f**king, that’s her pussy, this should be awesome…but our main character is so f**ked up he doesn’t care”.  So it all has a definite meaning behind it and message that it is sending.  As far as shock for shock’s sake, I would say that LUST has a little of that but not ArME.  I was a little younger when I made LUST and I needed to get my foot in the door, so there was a little of that “what’s the most f**ked up thing I can think of” attitude.

SOC:  Do you ever have trouble finding actors/actresses willing to do some of the more extreme things in your flicks?

KVJ: Luckily I have not had any trouble.  The people that I get to be naked really believe in what we are doing and know that it’s all imperative to the story.  They are also comfortable with their bodies.  If I can give any advice it’s just not to be a f**king creep about it. Just be honest.

SOC: ArME and Lust are both very character driven.  With films that hinge so much on the lead performance, do you take a more active role in developing the character or rely on the actors to come up with their interpretation?

KVJ: I work very hard with the lead actors to come up with the kind of character I want.  I do give them free range to create certain parts of their characters and by the middle of production they usually know what their character would do better than I would.  I am an actor’s director.  Rather than focus all my attention on lighting or other production aspects I like to spend a lot more time with the actors making sure that we get the best performance possible.  I mean, I do light and sometimes I am even the cinematographer, but the performance comes first for me.

SOC: In Lust, the character of Lily can really be interpreted as both monster and victim of herself.  Which do you see her as?

KVJ: I see her as a little of both, but more a victim.  She has been so overcome with lust that she can’t control what she is doing.  I find that sad.  Some people are weak minded, but for someone to do what she did she must have some deep rooted problems.

SOC: You said in the commentary on ArME that at least one military veteran consulted on the film.  Have you shown the completed flick to any vets and what was their reaction?

KVJ: Yeah I have shown the film to a couple of veterans and have gotten very positive feedback!  I was worried about that.  I totally respect every brave soldier out there.  I just disagree with the war.  When I was in pre-production on the film I talked to an Army Soldier and a Marine.  They told me some horrific stuff, and I tried to keep it as truthful and respectful as I could within the horror film structure.

SOC: One of the special features on the DVD is a short called Sandwich, but there’s no information about making it/when it was made/etc.  Could you give us a little background on that one?

KVJ: Sandwich was a crazy idea I got one day while hanging out with my fiancĂ©e.  It was made after LUST and ArME.  It was very fun to make and I was excited to show it to the world.  It can also be seen for free on our youtube page.  As far as an explanation of the movie, I will never tell.

SOC: Both Lust and ArME have horrific stories that are firmly rooted in reality and very personal, but Sandwich is pretty out there.  Do you enjoy doing the more bizarre concepts or do the other two represent more of your direction moving forward?

KVJ: I do enjoy the bizarre but I prefer the more real dramatic stuff.  I would say ArME and LUST represent the direction I am heading in, but you never know. Just like with Sandwich,  I can throw my audience a curveball every now and again.

SOC: ArME is a much more expressionistic film in terms of lighting and editing whereas Lust is more naturalistic.  Was this just a representation of your growth as a filmmaker or was the difference intentional based on the nature of the stories?

KVJ: I would say a little of both. With ArME I really wanted to show how our lighting has improved so I wanted to do cool things with that, but at the same time the structure of each film is completely different.  LUST follows a much more narrative structure with a clear point A and point B whereas ArME is sort of built up of micro scenes.  Instead of focusing on the scene as a whole I focus on little moments, so it also changed a bit with the nature of the stories.

SOC:  What’s your favorite guerrilla filmmaking “I can’t believe we just pulled that off” moment?

KVJ: Probably in ArME when we were on the streets with real illegal automatic weapons. We had cases of guns lying around and it was very intense.  I was worried that we were going to get arrested because we had no permits and we didn’t let anyone know, so when we wrapped I was so excited that we actually got that.  And when it was all edited together I was even more excited.  It’s a chilling scene.

SOC: Do you see short films as smaller features or is the short an art form all its own?

KVJ: I see it as an art form all on its own. You know what you need to move the story along and they are usually fast paced. I love making shorts. There is a real science to making short films.

SOC:  How did you hook up with the TOETAG crew, who are distributing ArME/Lust?

KVJ: As I was saying above I was a 16 year old kid at Cinema Wasteland. I had heard of August Underground’s Mordum and I bought it there and met the crew. When I watched it I knew that these guys were the real deal. I kept going back to Wasteland and formed a friendship with them, which has only grown in time.  Fred Vogel told me to go to college and make some movies, and I listened. When I got out of college he was very proud of me and I showed him the movies. He loved the shorts so one day I got the balls to ask him if he wanted to release them.  He said yes. TOETAG supports every independent filmmaker.  I owe them the world. We are all a family. I am glad that I did ask them to release my shorts because I have opened the doors for other filmmakers to do the same and I can’t wait to see what TOETAG puts out next.

SOC:  Have you decided on your next project yet?

KVJ: Yes I have.  It’s a feature called Haze Period, and it’s a new take on a drug movie with horror elements.  It reflects young contemporary drug culture. We will have an Indiegogo campaign up soon to raise the final bit of money we need to start shooting. It will be my best work yet.

SOC: Any last words?

KVJ: Thank you for having me and asking some brilliant questions. I hope everyone had as much fun reading as I had writing.

ArME/Lust is available HERE.

It will also be available at HorrorHound Weekend (Cincinnati, OH March 21-23), Cinema Wasteland (Strongsville, OH April 4-6) and Days of the Dead (Indianapolis, IN June 27-29).

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Vincent Price's Forgotten TV Appearance... With Pat Robertson?

In January of 1984 I watched a tv special called Don't Ask Me, Ask God with my parents.  Apparently I wasn't alone.  It won the Neilson, drew 16 million viewers, and set a record as the most viewed religious program of all time.  It  featured stars like Michael J. Fox, Ben Vereen, Tony Danza, Ned Beatty, Steve Allen, and Norman Fell.  The whole thing was hosted by Broadway actress Anita Gillette and everyone's favorite fundamentalist wackjob, Pat Robertson.  It was based on a Gallop Poll from 1981 which asked people "If you could ask God one question, what would it be?" 
You know how little snippets of things you saw as a child will stick with you?  Well, a certain segment regarding the question "Why is there evil in the world" never left my mind, and it very well may have been the first thing I watched that really scared me.  You know how those memories often don't jive with what was actually on the screen?  Yeah, that's the case here.  There was a reenactment of a scene from a Mummy movie.  I remember it being terrifying.  Little 3 year old SOC was freaked the hell out.  Recently I decided to go searching for that TV special.  I eventually found it, and when I rewatched it I realized that the scene that left such an impression on me was completely played for comedy.  Hey, I was 3.  Give me a break.  That wasn't the real surprise, however.  Who did I find narrating that now-not-so-horrifying scene and waxing poetic on the nature of evil?  None other than the man who would later become my favorite actor of all time, Vincent Price.  Perhaps it was that incredible voice that actually sent those icy chills up my spine all those years ago.  
What kinda shocks me is that, with the huge fan base that Mr. Price has, I've never seen this appearance mentioned.  Am I the only one who remembers it?  Surely the meeting of two of the most entertaining madmen of the modern age is more memorable than that.  You know, one who unleashed monsters, murder, and mayhem and one who blames hurricanes on abortion and earthquakes on "pacts with the devil."  Dr. Phibes and Mr. 700 Club are an odd pair, but they're both in this program.  They don't actually share the screen, but perhaps that's for the best.  Who knows what natural disasters might have been unleashed if the Almighty had seen his chosen nutcase cavorting with the master of the macabre?
I think this bizarre chapter in Price's legendary career needs to be seen, so here it is in all of its cheesy,  80's-rific glory.  Oh, and for the record, I edited out a video package that featured concentration camp footage and real baby seal clubbing.  How did they get away with showing that on prime time basic cable anyway?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Review: 7th Day

We seem to be experiencing a bit of a renaissance as far as serial killer flicks go.  After a long period of very few interesting human monsters, a trio of impressive movies has surfaced.  Jason Hoover’s I Am No One blew me away, The Sleaze Box’s Amerikan Holokaust threw a new wrinkle into the tried and true formula, and Jason Koch’s 7th Day brings us an engaging, darkly comic look into the mind of a madman.  It’s a splatter flick wrapped in a character study, and I’m happy to report that it works on both counts.
Synopsis: A pervert, murderer, and hopeless romantic, Allen Dean (Mark Sanders) is on a seven day journey to discovery his real true love. He is torn between Denise the waitress he believes he loves and his first true love, murder. Director Jason Koch adds a surreal tone to this violent tale seen through the eyes of a serial killer. We delve into Allen's life and thoughts as he prepares for what he believes to be his destiny, impending fame. A story of creation and destruction, cold and gritty with a touch morbid humor. More than a retelling of the modern serial killing mythology, 7th DAY examines every man's existence as Allen emulates what he thinks is normal behavior.
As we watch the events of a week in the life of a serial killer unfold, Allen (portrayed with pitch perfect awkwardness by Mark Sanders) provides us with a running commentary of his life.   The brilliance of the screenplay lies in the growing divergence between real life and Allen’s image of himself, his existence, and his purpose.  We see what’s actually going on in his world, but hearing him talk us through these scenes through his eyes paints a great picture of what it means to see reality through a lens of psychosis.  In his mind, everything he’s doing makes perfect sense.  Seeing him from a naturalized view while delving into his psyche makes him very real.  This isn’t the usual romanticized cinematic maniac.  This is a sicko you can actually picture existing in your town. 
That disparity between reality and… um, his reality is also where the humor shines through.  Oh yes! Don’t let all this talk of slaughter and mayhem fool you.  There are parts of this film that are laugh out loud funny in a pitch black way.  Then again, maybe I just have a f**ked up sense of humor.
The real strength of the film, and any serial killer flick really, is how human and scarily relatable Koch makes Allen.  Yes, he’s a psycho.  Hopefully none of us share his propensity for murder, but on a certain level it’s a story of a man dealing with mundane problems in his own way.  Who amongst us has never deluded ourselves into believing that we might have a chance with someone who’s out of our league?  Who can’t understand wondering if your neighbor might know something about you that you wish they didn’t?  Hell, I’d be willing to bet that more of us have had the particular near heart attack of talking to the cops while having something to hide than haven’t.  Sure, it might have come in the form of going through a roadblock with a bag of weed in your glove box instead of Johnny Law coming knocking when you have a corpse in the house, but to an extent his anxieties are the same as our own.  The fact of how uncomfortably close this character we see as repulsive and depraved comes to being relatable is the most frightening thing about 7th Day.
The cinematography and editing deserve a mention.  The camera work is fluid without resorting to the wobble-cam that infests so many independent flicks these days.  Stephen Rubac (cinematographer) shows quite a knack for interesting shot composition.  Much of the film seems to have been shot hand held, but the shot remains steady.  This is especially appreciated during the murder sequences, where lesser filmmakers would employ a lot of amateurish camera tricks.  These guys have the good sense to give us a good look at what’s going on and let the action speak for itself.
As far as the gore, it’s top notch as expected.  That’s one of the things I love about effects artists like Mr. Koch stepping into the role of director.  More often than not, they make sure that the effects are up to snuff.  The gooey parts are all practical, there’s plenty of them, and they look great. The necrophilia, cannibalism, and gory dismemberment on dosplay may be a little much for the unadventurous, but the gorehounds will leave happy.
Random Thought #1: Probably my favorite thing in the flick is a character that functions as a physical manifestation of Allen’s delusions of grandeur.  A lot of people have seen fit to describe this character in their reviews.  These folks need a swift kick to whatever genitalia they happen to possess, because it’s much too brilliant a piece of business to spoil.
Random Thought #2: Has anyone else noticed the recent rise in people shitting themselves in movies?  When did that become a thing?
Random Thought #3: I wanna see Michael Brecher in more stuff.
If this recent spate of killer serial killer films is an indication of the direction the subgenre is headed, I’m all for it.  If 7th Day, Jason Koch’s first feature, is an indication of what we can expect when he takes to the director’s chair, I’m all for that too. The combination of good gore, effective writing, and solid acting again proves to be a potent cocktail.   7th Day takes you on a hell of a trip, displaying the extreme violence mankind is capable of while showing you that the sick mind of a killer is a little more like yours than you’re willing to admit.  Nathan says check it out.
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