Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dead Girls (1990)

Brooke (Ilene B. Singer), the younger sister of Gina – aka Berta Beirut – main songwriter of death-themed manufactured all girls with a boy drummer rock band Deadgirls, is the only survivor of an attempted group suicide inspired by the band’s music (it’s just that bad). Gina, plagued by curious nightmares, decides that the thing to do is to visit her old home, have hilariously dramatic shouting matches with her crazy bigoted aunt and the local preacher who also happens to own a pair of most disturbing eyebrows, and pack up her little sister, an obnoxious nurse any sane person would have fired after five minutes, her bickering band consisting of total weirdoes, and their porn-moustached security guy, to drive off to a cabin in the woods, so that Brooke can get some rest.

Which just might sound like a rather dubious idea even if you ignore the fact that the Deadgirls are also followed by a killer in a skull mask wearing a stylish hat who finds inspiration for his murder weapons in their song lyrics.

Ah, it does take a certain mind set to enjoy the beauty and horror of late 80s/early 90s direct-to-video ultra-cheapo horror that may or may not have been shot on video but certainly looks that way. One really needs to leave useless concepts like good taste out of the picture for ninety minutes or so, learn to respect a film that keeps everyone correctly in frame as technically sound (and enjoy every filmmaking trick that goes beyond this as an example of Art), and roll with amateur acting, a dubious script, and so on and so forth.

If you can’t, yet still watch this stuff, the only thing it’ll ever get you is the opportunity to call perfectly innocent movies “the worst film ever” on the IMDB.

This doesn’t mean there’s no good or bad in direct-to-video horror in this style, but what’s good to one person actually in the market for enjoying this sort of thing at all might still look very bad indeed to another one. Some of us who enjoy this stuff go in for the gore, others for bizarre dialogue, again others for films that break as many rules of filmmaking as humanly possible.

Me, I’ve found joy in every single one of these things, but what can really get me about one of these films is a display of enthusiasm. Which, finally, brings me back to Dennis Devine’s (who is still shooting cheap horror, surprisingly enough) Dead Girls, a cheapo slasher that oozes enthusiasm throughout most of its running time, with nary a second in it that isn’t in the business of having fun – be it with the awesome mixture of naivety and sarcasm about the shock rock business of the first ten minutes or so (including a “Yugoslavian journalist” who dresses like a cliché librarian), the bizarre nature of a band whose members include a heavily armed survivalist gal who’ll philosophize about “the void” as well as karma later on and a brother/sister duo with a heavy incestual vibe, or the absurd yet awesome series of plot twists based on the fact that most everyone in the film is absolutely bonkers the whole thing ends on.

In between, there are strangely likeable acting performances, a handful of killings made by a guy who looks a bit like Rorschach, some impressively awkward sexy times, one of the worst acting portrayals of a mentally disabled man I’ve ever had the joy to see, moments of editing perhaps done with an axe, surprise moments of authentically atmospheric shots or even scenes, dialogue that’s too snarkily funny to be called dumb, and from time to time outbreaks of hysterically dramatic acting of exactly the overdone amateurish type that can truly warm my heart.

I have no idea what more I could ask of a film.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

In short: Babysitter Wanted (2008)

Young catholic Angie Albright (Sarah Thompson) has just left her home town and her mother (Nana Visitor in a tiny cameo) to study art history in a decidedly unglamorous city quite some ways away. There’s obviously a degree of culture shock involved for Angie. However, culture shock just might not be the only reason for the fact that ever since she’s left home she feels as if somebody is watching her, stalking her – at least, the audience sees the shadow of a large man (Monty Bane) lurking around her, and we’re not watching Haute Tension.

Because she’s poor, Angie has to take up work basically the moment she arrives in town. A babysitting gig somewhere in the rural outskirts is just the ticket. And whatever could go wrong when babysitting Sam (Kai Caster), the little son of Violet (Kristen Dalton) and Jim Stanton (Bruce Thomas)? Well, for one, someone might just decide to upgrade from stalking to something more dangerous. But there are also other, more unexpected directions from where death might strike at our heroine.

Jonas Barnes’s and Michael Manasseri’s Babysitter Wanted is a rather ideal Halloween kind of horror movie, with a plot that seems inspired by urban legends and creepypasta – or in the very least shows the same spirit. So this isn’t the deep and thoughtful kind of horror but the sort of thing that mostly wants to create a fun thrill ride of a time for its audience. It does so exceedingly well, too, which is of course the most important point when taking this approach to horror. You don’t want to end up with a film that wants to be fun but doesn’t deliver – unlike with films that aim for depth, there’s no “interesting” for a thrill ride that doesn’t work.

Not being a deep film doesn’t mean it’s a stupid one, though – the directing duo has put quite a bit of love and care into the look and feel of things. There’s a late 70s/early 80s (that is, before neon colours) look to the film, with the appropriate muted yet present colours (unlike the more typical 2008 look of colours so muted a film is nearly colourless) that to my eyes tend to give a film a gritty and real feel. The editing is as tight as it should be in a film effectively using many a traditional trick of suspense and thriller cinema, and the directors build tension quickly and well.

I also found myself very much enjoying the film’s two-third twist. It’s not exactly surprising (except for Angie who doesn’t know she’s in a horror film) but the film handles it and the following scenes with such a disarming sense of sardonic and macabre humour, the twist becomes fun instead of trite. The twist also inspires Bruce Thomas to a performance that finds the sweet spot between the funny and the creepy.

All of this turns what could be an exercise in taking an audience to places it has been before a dozen times and bore it to desperation into a fun, fast, and clever low budget horror film.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Deadly Manor (1990)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

A group of ex-teenagers is planning a nice outdoors vacation at a lake with a quite unpronounceable name, situated, it seems, somewhere in the deep dark woods of New York State.

The friends pick up the shady yet helpful hitchhiker Jack (Clark Tufts). The new-found acquaintance informs them that they have gotten themselves a little lost and are still hours away from their destination. Everybody's getting a bit cranky and stressed out now, and the odious comic relief is beginning to get to them too, so the friends decide to look for a place to hole up in for the night.

After a bit of driving, they do indeed find an old, dark and seemingly abandoned house in the middle of the woods (as you do) and decide to try their luck there.

It's a peculiar place. What must once have been the building's garden is now dominated by a wrecked car that is propped up on a marble slab as if it were some sort of shrine. One of the friends, Helen (Claudia Franjul), is prone to hunches - and would be a clear candidate for being the final girl in most other slashers - and declines categorically to enter the house that frightens her with its "aura of evil". Her friends, not even her boyfriend Tony (Greg Rhodes), don't care much about what she says, so Helen decides to make her way back to the road in the hope to hitch a ride with one of the millions of cars that must be driving around in the woods. That's the last anyone will see of her alive.

The rest of the merry band decides to break into the house through its barn. Inside, the place is even more peculiar than from the outside. In a cellar that connects the barn to the main house are two empty coffins, yet that's still not enough to dissuade the rather dense friends from getting the hell away from there.

The main house isn't any less creepy. Most of its walls are plastered with (frequently nude) photos of a dark-haired woman (Jennifer Delora) in strangely disquieting poses. A little later, the friends find a cupboard full of human scalps.

It also seems as if someone had been living in the house just the day before. Still, they being in a horror film and all, the young people decide to stay the night. It's cold outside after all, and who wants to sleep in a car?

It's not a very good decision. Throughout the night, ever more peculiar things begin to happen. Someone uses the horn of the enshrined car outside, a coffin opens, Tony finds a photo album full of pictures of the neatly posed corpses of bikers and then dreams (but is it a dream?) of having sex with the creepy woman from walls. A masked woman sneaks around. A crack opens in one of the walls. And finally, someone starts to murder the friends.

Deadly Manor is the next to last film in the long and difficult career of Spanish genre film specialist Jose Ramon Larraz (probably best known for the most disturbing of all Lesbian vampire films, Vampyres). At this late point in his career, Larraz had the usual problems of interesting genre filmmakers of his generation in scratching together enough money to realize any movie at all, so making something that could be interpreted as a slasher movie must have sounded like a good idea at that time to him and his producers. Commercially speaking, it wasn't. The film turned out to be a hard sell to distributors and was never widely seen.

It's quite a shame, really, because Larraz does a few interesting thing with the tired slasher movie formula. Of course, getting surprising inside the context of the slasher isn't too difficult a proposition. The sub-genre is so heavily codified, so set in its ways that even the most minimal of variations feels fresh and exciting - at least to someone who has inflicted as many of these films on himself as I have over the years. A film like this one, in which what would be the final girl dies early on, and in which people die in an order that goes quite against slasher rules, feels like a real breath of fresh air.

Larraz also adds neat little flourishes of realism (for a slasher movie), with scenes of body transportation that seem to hint at the director putting a bit of thought into the logistics of his killings.

The logistics of dragging bodies around aren't the only thing Larraz has put a bit more thought into than usual in this sub-genre. I wouldn't go as far as to call the film's characters deep, but where the usual slasher kiddie is just a one-note victim, the characters here show signs of being people. Except for their staying in the house of doom, they even tend to act halfway believably. The acting is quite alright too, and only helps to strengthen this aspect of the film.

Of course, being a bit better thought-through than the typical late-period slasher movie doesn't make a movie that interesting for anyone outside of the genre completist. Surprisingly enough (or not, when you keep the experience of its director in mind), Deadly Manor has a lot more going for it than just that.

Although parts of the film are trying to be a little more believable than usual, the other half of the film, what I'd call its heart, comes from a completely different direction. Larraz, old hand at the slow, slow build-up of atmosphere and the cinema of the weird, seems to have set his mind onto the re-weirdification of the slasher formula. Too many films of the sub-genre are satisfied with just fulfilling the requirements of formula, losing the ability to be truly disquieting in the process and not getting much (by 1990 not even an audience anymore) in exchange. Larraz' film isn't. Instead, the director piles on the strangeness once his characters have left the prosaic world and entered the house, giving his movie a very dream-like/nightmarish mood slasher movies seldom consciously try to evoke. There's something about the way Larraz films his old dark house, branches scratching against windows and the photos that fill the house that puts the film as much into the tradition of the director's older European horror movies as in that of the slasher. One could also argue that the interest in mood before anything else closely connects the film to proto-slasher movies like Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the earliest full-grown slashers like Halloween, and that might well be true.

Still, I think even that part of the American slasher tradition is only a thin veneer of paint put on top of something strange and frightening very much Larraz' own.

This, however, is only Deadly Manor's strength if you want it to be. Go in expecting a quick revue of kills and excitement, and you will probably be terribly disappointed by the film's sedate pacing, and its insistence on creating a mood of the weird more than one of outright horror. But if you give the film a chance at being the more personal creature it is, you can find much to like in it.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

In short: Jeepers Creepers II (2003)

A few days after his happy adventures in Jeepers Creepers, and just a day before the end of his 23-day eating orgy, the Creeper (Jonathan Breck) naps the younger son of of farmer Jack Taggart (Ray Wise). Take note, for Jack’ll build a custom harpoon cannon later on.

But before we get to Jack and his harpoon cannon, we get to witness the monster’s stalking of and attacks on a busload of jocks and three cheerleaders. I can barely tell these people apart, except that some guys are black, one white dude with little pig eyes is a racist and a homophobe, and one of the cheerleaders (Nicki Aycox) develops some clairvoyant powers to take care of exposition duties. There’s a bit of a sidestep into would-be Lord of the Flies territory that doesn’t even manage the standard of early The 100, and a bit of monster fighting until the film devolves/culminates in about half an hour of increasingly silly action sequences featuring Ray “Harpoon Farmer” Wise.

Usually, I’m all for sequels that aren’t exact copies of their originals, and I’m most certainly for them escalating things appropriately. Alas, the second Jeepers Creepers, again directed and – unfortunately - this time around also written by Victor Salva, is the kind of sequel that throws the baby out with the bathwater, completely misunderstanding and ignoring what was good about the first film and mostly doing the opposite. Which leads to a slightly more upmarket SyFy Original movie, and a film I probably would have enjoyed more if it – being a sequel – had not automatically invited direct comparison to the first film.

So where the first Jeepers was a film that used its monster as a mystery with increasingly bizarre powers, whose mixture of the generic and the very strange turns it into something threatening and surprising the sequel treats it as a permanently flying, mugging – Freddy Krueger style wise-cracking can’t be far off – dude in a monster suit off-handedly taking on a busload of non-entities that can replace the first one’s siblings only in number and getting into a harpoon fight with a just as wildly mugging Ray Wise (whom I buy about as much as a farmer as I’d buy myself in the role). Where the first film is actually creepy and clever, this one starts silly and becomes outright stupid early on, culminating in the whole harpoon fight sequence, which has to be seen to be believed.

Now, I’m not saying it’s not fun watching this kind of nonsense – it certainly is, particularly since Salva may not care about recreating anything of the mood of the first film but sure as hell still knows how to shoot a pretty looking picture – it’s just that this sort of nonsense is a terrible sequel to Jeepers Creepers.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Jeepers Creepers (2001)

Siblings Trish (Gina Philips) and Darry (Justin Long) are road-tripping through Florida. After a nasty encounter with a peculiar looking truck, they accidentally witness the shadowy driver (Jonathan Breck) dropping what might very well be a packaged human body into a large pipe beside an abandoned church, driving off again afterwards. Especially Darry is pretty sure the bundle was indeed a human being; he manages to convince Trish to have a look inside.

So down the pipe Darry drops. Below, there’s a serial killer arts and crafts cave, with numerous prepared dead bodies plastered to the ceiling and wells. And the bundle? Well, it does indeed contain a young guy who dies in Darry’s arms. Surprisingly enough, the siblings manage to get away scot free, and – unlike quite a few horror movie characters – the first thing they think about is informing the police. Unfortunately, this unprecedented example of sense won’t save them from a very bad night, for the driver isn’t just your run-of-the-mill serial killer, but a supernatural threat deeply unimpressed by quotidian problems like armed police officers. Worse still, the thing has gotten a nose full of the siblings’ smell, and it very much likes what it smells on one of them.

Victor Salva’s Jeepers Creepers is a long-time personal favourite of mine I’ve somehow (like a lot of long-time personal favourites, actually) never gotten around to writing up. At the time when this came out, the more mainstream parts of horror were still very much doing the whole pseudo-ironic teen slasher thing we can – and do – blame Wes Craven’s Scream for, with lots of films that were very intent on demonstrating their ironic superiority over their own material instead of putting work into improving the things they were feeling so damn superior about. These weren’t happy horror movie fan times for me, I have to admit.

So Jeepers Creepers, a film bathed in love for traditional horror things from the 50s to the 70s that didn’t feel the need to get all ironic about everything and instead delivered a clever, fun, and creepy monster movie while still showing quite a bit of knowledge of the genre it was working in, just not so much of it that it couldn’t move anymore, felt like a breath of fresh (well, appropriately mouldy) air to me. In fact, it still does, particularly since a lot of what Salva does with it is based on a fine eye for detail that has let the film age well. Or rather, standing somewhat outside of what was typical for the genre of its period, Jeepers Creepers has something of a timeless quality to it.

There is, still, quite a bit of genre love on display, it’s just not primarily used as a basis for jokes but seems to spurn the film on to do things a bit better than would be typical, acknowledging things on eye level. So this is a film where the heroine has enough genre knowledge to know that the killer is going to get up again once hit by a car and proceeds to drive over him again and again, but it is one which plays the scene straight instead of just pointing out the trope to the audience yet still using it unchanged.

Apart from this, Salva does many things just right: the sibling squabbles between Trish and Darry actually read as believable instead as annoying and manage to tell us more about the closeness between the two than long, melodramatic “I love you, brother/sister” exchanges would; the monster is creepy, creative and a bit silly, while staying original and unobvious; Florida here feels very Southern Gothic, the kind of place where a random clairvoyant and bodypart-stealing monsters make sense; and the set and production design is beautiful, atmospheric, and feels just right, the film embracing the dream-like and slightly off whole-heartedly.

Which turns Jeepers Creepers into a small classic in my book.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

In short: Invasion of the Undead (2015)

aka The Neon Dead

When Allison (Marie Barker) encounters a zombie in the bathroom of her freshly inherited house, she follows the suggestion of an annoying girl scout to call in paranormal exterminators Desmond (Greg Garrison) and Jake (Dylan Schettina). Given that Desmond and Jake have day jobs in a combined video and grocery store (the USA are weird, and what’s a video store?) you wouldn’t expect them to be all that great at their other job.

But surprisingly enough, zombie number one is quickly dispatched. Unfortunately, Allison’s house has more than just a little zombie problem, for there’s a veritable invasion of the undead serving a demon certainly not called Xanax (it’s Z’athax, actually) who’d really rather like to achieve world domination, and it’s the all the fault of one of Allison’s black magician ancestors. Fortunately, Allison herself is tougher than expected and together with the paranormal investigators (well, one of them, and one paranormal investigator head) she just might be able to save the world. There’s also a “romance” involved, but let’s not talk about that.

Unlike a lot of indie horror comedies that bow before the altar of 80s and early 90s horror, Torey Haas’s Invasion of the Undead generally manages to hit the spot where things aren’t trapped in perpetual wackiness. That isn’t to say the film isn’t silly, but it’s silly in a personable and likeable way that seems to have little interest in being ironic about genre conventions nor in being completely random nor in doing that long drawn-out comedy style based on general awkwardness and a lack of punch lines I honestly don’t get. So, while I found myself not laughing uproariously at everything here, the film did provoke a series of little grins, smiles, and even chuckles, all packed into a very cute little 80s horror tale, the proper blue and red (and a little green) lighting, cheap yet fun special effects and performances that are mostly likeable.

It may sound like a strange sort of praise for a horror comedy, but Invasion is a pretty charming little film, sweet even in its bloodier jokes, and completely lacking in the cynicism more typical of horror comedies. If the film were a teenager, I’d call it a great kid and lend it some horror novels.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

Relationship-troubled couple Michelle (Kate Hodge) and Ryan (William Butler) are driving across the USA, bringing the car of Michelle’s dad to Florida. Right now, they are smack dab in the middle of Nowhere, Texas.

Some time after passing a police investigation digging up a mass grave, they end up at a gas station in the middle of the desert, meet a reasonably friendly and charming cowboy (Viggo Mortensen) and find themselves threatened with a shotgun by the crazy gas station owner (Joe Unger), which drives them to flight on a rather suspect road, chased by someone in a truck who throws a dead dog at them. Then follows a hectic attempt to change one of their car’s tires with only a flashlight for lighting; and a head on collision with the car of the improbable Benny (Ken Foree, hooray). Improbable, because he’s a black survivalist, and an actually decent guy to boot. Be that as it may, this is a very bad place for anyone to crash one’s car, and soon everyone is hunted by good old Leatherface (R.A. Mihailoff) and his new and improved cannibal family. Unpleasantness ensues.

I think Jeff Burr’s sequel to/reboot of  the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre based on a script by David J. Schow (perhaps known to you as the guy who coined the term Splatterpunk, and a pretty fine writer of fiction) is rather unfairly maligned. Of course, this film doesn’t have the visceral punch of Hooper’s original, and it didn’t change (or try to change) the direction of the horror film as a whole, but then, if I’d set the hurdle a genre film has to jump this high, I’d hardly ever get to enjoy one. For a New Line Cinema – “the place where horror franchises go to die” was their motto, I believe - horror sequel this is surprisingly engaging stuff.

I’ve read in various places online (hopefully not all working from the same wrong source) that Schow’s initial concept for the script was to treat the plot as the truth behind the urban legend that then created the Hooper original, which explains why Leatherface here has a new family that sort of but not completely resembles the old one, and why the parallels and nods towards the original play out as they do. It doesn’t explain a starting text scroll that suggests the first film did indeed happen (Schow, the scroll, and I prefer to pretend the Hooper’s second TCM never happened, which is good for everyone’s sanity), but I’d bet that’s just useless studio meddling, particularly since the “truth behind the massacre” idea makes perfect sense if you ignore that scroll. In any case, Schow delivers a playful but generally not campy variation of the original, including some elements that look glaringly late-80s/early 90s horror to my eyes. This works particularly well in the film’s first half or so, somewhat less so – yet still enough - in the finale when things become a bit too late-80s/early 90s action movie to be taken seriously anymore, and not at all in the pretty damn stupid final five minutes. But all in all the plot makes sense, and the film flows.

It does so of course also because Jeff Burr is one of the truly capable journeyman filmmakers of this particular time in the genre, with a nice hand for suspense – and much of Leatherface is focused on suspense and hits thriller beats more than strict horror ones – and the ability and knowledge to shoot relatively generic scenes in ways that aren’t always totally generic and obvious. This may not sound like much of an achievement but it really puts Leatherface miles above most horror sequels of its time. It feels like the work of people with a degree of respect for their audience and the genre they are working in, and that’s not at all something you can expect from any kind of sequel.

If I were in a criticizing mind, I’d remark that the glossy sheen of filmmaking of this time doesn’t jibe too well with the grime the material asks for but I’m not in that kind of mood tonight.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

In short: Sleepwalker (1984)

Well-off siblings Alex (Bill Douglas) and Marion (Heather Page) Britain – subtle, the subtext is not – live and loathe each other in a rather broken home out somewhere in the country. Alex suffers from sleepwalking attacks coupled with violent outbursts, and Marion clearly isn’t a fountain of mental stability either. Tonight, Marion has invited Angela Paradise (Joanna David) – clearly friend of the Victorian adage that women should be seen and not heard and probably not seen either - and her utterly vile upperclass yuppie husband Richard (Nickolas Grace) for dinner and to stay the night. Marion befriended Angela “in the hospital”, and Angela is clearly feeling the need to do Marion some kind of good turn.

Dinner doesn’t go terribly well: Richard might just be the shittiest product of Thatcherite yuppiedom imaginable – with a side-line in homophobia – which makes Alex as a proponent of gentility liberalism quite, quite angry; Marion flirts outrageously with Richard (eww) and uses every opportunity to antagonize her brother with hints at their past the others can only vaguely comprehend; Angela pretends everything’s perfectly alright; and Alex grows increasingly unhinged.

So it’s not much of a surprise the following night will end in a bloodbath.

Saxon Logan’s long lost Sleepwalker is really quite the thing, and nearly as brilliant as its more excitable proponents suggest it to be. Some of the film’s strength is certainly drawn from the conciseness that comes from it being a fifty minute short feature, so there’s no space for filler or time for losing focus, and Logan certainly doesn’t ever lose it.

This is obviously very much a film of its time, mind you, a film that wears (a perfectly appropriate to the times and place) anger on its sleeves and whose politics are generally as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face. But then, some things are better spoken of unsubtly and with great vigour, which Sleepwalker does.

It is rather difficult to dislike a film that starts out as an angry – and sometimes also quite funny – rant at 80s conservatism (under whose children we of course still suffer) with added bits and bobs that remind me of the sub-genre of the giallo that mostly concerns itself with unpleasant rich people being violent and shitty to one another, and ends as a blue-lit slasher that nicely nods in the direction of Dario Argento’s kind of giallo. It’s even more difficult to dislike it when it is note for note so good at all this genre-mixing, providing what could be chaos with aesthetic unity, style and panache.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Past Misdeeds: And God Said To Cain (1970)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

After ten years of forced labour, Gary Hamilton (Klaus Kinski) is pardoned by the state governor. As it goes with protagonists of movies, Gary has been framed for the crime he has supposedly committed, and has not exactly mellowed towards the people responsible for his plight.

So Gary gets into the next stagecoach to return to the little Western town where his troubles began. With him in the coach is Dick Acombar (Antonio Cantafori), a soldier who is just returning home after two years of absence. As destiny (and it is destiny responsible in this particular film, and not luck) will have it, Dick is the son of the main target of Gary's vengeance. Gary gets out of the coach a bit before town, because he still needs to buy a weapon and a horse from the mandatory old blabbermouth, but he asks Dick to tell Acombar that he'll be around for a visit in the evening.

Dick's father (Peter Carsten) has become the head honcho of the town, ruling it with an iron fist and a veritable army of gunmen, yet has somehow been able to hide his rather dubious character from his son. Acombar and those of his henchmen in the know seem rather disturbed when they hear the news of Gary's impending arrival.

Because the patriarch still wants to hide the nature of his affairs from his son (for whom he has great plans including buying him the presidency), he sends his men out into town to kill Gary before Gary can learn the truth of the business between them. That's easier said than done, though. Gary arrives at nightfall, together with a tornado that might just have metaphorical dimensions, and he shows a nearly supernatural ability at hiding and striking at his enemies from the shadows, slowly working his way closer to Acombar throughout the night. Of course, all that racket in town can't help but send a clever young man like Dick searching for explanations.

After my last Spaghetti Western experience with Ferdinando Baldi's clichéd and unfocused Django, Prepare A Coffin!, it is especially nice to stumble onto a film as focused and tight (though not lacking in clichés) as Antonio Margheriti's And God Said To Cain, the product of a director not only in control of his visuals but also one having quite specific ideas about dramatic unity Aristotle-style. Tightness and focus aren't usually words I tend to connect with Margheriti's name, but And God Said To Cain makes it quite obvious that the director could do tight and focussed if he wanted to.

Now, Margheriti is of course one of my special favourites among Italian genre filmmakers, yet I usually tend to praise him for those of his films that live on sheer gleeful silliness and a sense of good fun like his post-Indiana Jones adventure movies or - strangely enough - his jungle action films. One tends to forget that Margheriti was also quite at home in the Gothic horror genre - a part of the cinematic landscape where one won't find much glee - and did in fact produce some very fine films there.

And God Said To Cain is Margheriti's successful attempt at stitching the stylish and elegant head of the Gothic onto the stinking, unwashed and possibly flea-bitten body of the Spaghetti Western, creating a monster made out of ringing church bells, howling wind, shoot-outs and vengeance taken right out of the Old Testament. In a sense, mixing the typically elegant Gothic horror with the typically rude Spaghetti Western shouldn't work, what with the Gothic being a film genre of night and fog and the Spaghetti being one of daylight and too stark sunshine.

Fortunately, Margheriti makes some deft directorial choices, taking the mood (and therefore the night) from the Gothic and the nature of his hero and the way violence works in provoking ever more violence from the Spaghetti. The director also emphasises the common ground of the two genres he is trying to fuse: both can be high on the melodrama (although the Spaghetti Western not always is) and both love to tell stories of vengeance and the way the sins of the father tend to fall back on the sons, as will inevitably happen to Dick Acombar in the end here.

It comes with the vengeance territory that both genres tend to believe in destiny (or the grim god of the Old Testament working through the gun of a film's protagonist) and so like to end on a scene of a cursed building burning down. And God Said To Cain is certainly no exception to this rule, ending a final confrontation in a room full of mirrors (of course also a visual tell of both the Gothic genre and the Spaghetti Western) with a burning villa.

I find it rather interesting how the film utilizes Kinski. Usually, directors employing the man had him do his - loveable and most excellent - Wild Man of Germany shtick, glowering, screaming and jumping up and down like the original, frightening Rumpelstilzchen, but Margheriti somehow convinces Kinski to restrain himself until he becomes a stone-faced, coolly-burning killer who shows his true emotions only through his eyes. Not surprisingly, Kinski is quite brilliant at this, too.

I was also impressed by Margheriti's restraint when it comes to showing the violence happening, often only letting us (and the increasingly panicked bad guys) see the aftermath of Kinski's killings instead of the the executions, letting the audience share something of his victims' fear of their enemy being more than just a normal human being who can be killed like anyone. Only the film's final third shows Kinski's work in more detail, and very consciously begins to show us the sheer physical strain this man must be under, making him possibly even more frightening than he was when he seemed to possess the dubious physical reality of the killer from a slasher movie. After Kinski has become something akin to a force of nature, he slowly becomes human again until he can throw away his gun in the end.

There's a mythical quality about much what happens in the film. It lies in the way in which what would be coincidences in a different world become destiny, in the dark rhythm of the film's editing, in the methodical way Kinski goes about the killing business, the silent fear he awakens in his victims and in the sparseness of information about what betrayal it is Kinski has come to take vengeance for.

This is not all the sort of Spaghetti Western one would expect Margheriti to make - and in fact, his other Spaghettis are much lighter in tone - but it should be an excellent surprise for everyone stumbling onto it.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

In short: The Black Fables (2015)

Original title: As Fábulas Negras

Four kids play and bicker in the jungle. From time to time, they tell each other stories – about the monster from the sewers that munches the fat corrupt mayor’s guts, a werewolf, the curse of a saci, violent shenanigans at a boarding school, and the gruesome, devil-inspired revenge of a betrayed wife. Blood, guts and undetermined bodily fluids flow and splatter.

For various political and cultural reasons, Brazil has always been a particularly difficult country to make horror movies in. There were of course the films of José Mojica Marins (Coffin Joe/Joe de Caixao), but otherwise, genre entries have been few and far between, and the idea of “mainstream horror” as it exists in the US, where big studios involve themselves in the genre (though usually on the cheap compared to everything else they do), seems pretty much unthinkable. So Brazilian horror generally happens independently, on lowest budgets, and probably without much fanfare, making German genre filmmaking look as if it were in a happy place.

One of the more successful – at least in so far as you can actually see his films outside of Brazil – genre filmmakers in the country is Rodrigo Aragão. Aragão is also the lead writer and instigator of this anthology film that brings together himself, Petter Baiestorf, Joel Caetano, Marcelo Castanheira, and the great José Mojica Marins himself for a film with segments based on Brazilian folk tales and dollops of gore.

Marins’s segment about the saci, exorcism, and assorted bizarrery is the film’s highlight. It’s clearly cheap, but it’s also sharp, funny, and strange, cut to the best soundtrack of the anthology and made with the sort of off-handed verve you’d forgive a director of Marins’s age not to have anymore. There is – as with some of the other segments – also still a degree of subversive, angry political subtext to Marins’s piece, a deep distrust of authority carried by the sheer joy of transgressing against the rules of polite, conservative society.
That latter part all of the segments have more or less in common. Unlike many movies featuring the sort of gloopy gore on display here, the blood and guts are not exclusively symbols of nostalgia for the 80s or the mere fulfilment of genre expectations (though they certainly are both of that too) but also a sort of rebellion against the status quo. It’s actually pretty punk rock.

Given that, it actually seems to miss the point to complain about sometimes amateurish acting or the general simplicity of the stories here – this one’s really not at all in the market for being a tasteful bit of filmmaking, but still understands horror as a thing to provoke the polite classes with. The Black Fables does generally good work with that, and it’s the kind of anthology movie where even the worst segment (that would be the werewolf one) has at least on great thing in it (that would be the reverse werewolf transformation).

I found myself enjoying The Black Fables much more than I usually do with gore-heavy movies, perhaps because the gore isn’t pointless posturing as actually part of the point here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

House of Wax (2005)

Movie twins Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) – obvious final girl in any slasher you’d care to imagine – and Nick (Chad Michael Murray) – the bad boy brother who theoretically will turn out to be somewhat misunderstood but is introduced by kicking away a homeless man’s money cup so is still a monumental asshole in my book – and a bunch of their friends including Carly’s boyfriend Wade (Jared Padalecki) – a pretty idiot with mildly pyromaniac tendencies and a love for criminal trespassing – and her best friend Paige (Paris Hilton) – Paris Hilton, so help us god – as well as two other guys who will soon be dead, are on their merry road-tripping way to some big American Football match, or something of that sort. Unfortunately, they decide to take a short-cut that turns into a detour which in turn becomes an impromptu camping trip in exactly the wrong place.

There’s a mysterious stalker visiting their camp in the night, a threatening pick-up driver popping in for a visit, and a huge pit full of dead animals stinking in the vicinity, so things will probably not turn out too well for them. When Wade’s car breaks down, he and Carly follow a hilarious/offensive hillbilly stereotype to the next town – the sort of place not in their GPS system so nothing suspicious going on at all – in search for car parts, while the others drive off to the game (but don’t worry, they’ll come back to die rather sooner than later). Obviously, there’s creepy business in town, and not just in the titular House of Wax - which is quite literally built out of wax. Not many of our teenage heroes will survive the ensuing hours. Hooray.

When looking at remakes of older horror films, the dedicated fan often can’t help but get rather grumpy with a certain tendency to turn everything into a teen slasher. Consequently, I’ve done my time of being grumpy at Jaume Collet-Serra’s House of Wax. However, while the film certainly hits all the mandatory beats of the backwoods teen slasher early-00s style, it’s a different, more complicated and more interesting beast than this suggests.

Collet-Serra is clearly not satisfied with just doing the mandatory stuff, taking his money and riding off to greener pastures. Instead, this teen slasher finds time and space for the grotesque, becomes just plain weird at the slightest opportunity, and displays some macabre ideas I can’t help but think Guillermo del Toro is a bit miffed not having come up with himself.

A house of wax literally made out of wax may sound of dubious believability, but the film uses this for many a macabre aside, an improbable yet awesome finale, building a mood of the strange and the macabre with verve and style while indeed still providing everything expected of it as a teen slasher, including embarrassing moments of sexiness, teen dialogue no teen would ever say, and characters that are mostly unlikeable and certainly annoying.

That last part is – surprisingly enough – no too much of a complaint, though, for even the screenplay by Chad and Carey Hayes does some rather interesting and unexpected stuff: the initial splitting up of the characters actually makes sense, for example, and the film even bothers to come up with something better to solve the cellphone problem than the cellphone dead zone route. There’s also some not completely uninteresting, if not exactly deep, thematic business about good and bad twins (our heroes mirroring the villains here and vice versa), which adds further elements not generally found in teen slashers in quite this way.

The production design is a great example of the gothic-by-byways approach, the acting (ignoring Hilton who could have been much more annoying than she actually is here, too) decent enough for what this is, with Brian Van Holt making an effective villain and Cuthbert and Murray turning into a perfectly good final girl/boy pair. Collet-Serra for his part makes much out of some icky and genuinely bizarre set-pieces and seems to feel just as much at home at the more straightforward suspense bits.

It all adds up to a teenage slasher cash-in film made by people who quite obviously cared about making a good movie, going out of their way to do more than what was strictly necessary for them to do. As such, House of Wax is a genuinely fine horror film certainly located on the less subtle and deep side of the road but quite satisfying nonetheless.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

In short: The Blob (1988)

A meteorite crashes in the vicinity of your proverbial US small town (which is to my utter confusion not portrayed by locations in British Columbia). It’s got a passenger too, in form of a little blob of acidic matter with big ambitions. Soon the blob starts to eat and/or dissolve the local population, growing rather humongous in the process. The only thing standing between small town America and total destruction are Cheerleader Meg (Shawnee Smith) and local bad boy Brian (Kevin Dillon).

To make matters even worse than that, and because this is a film made in the late 80s, there are also (evil, obviously) members of the military industrial complex arriving in town right quick. And you know how those guys are. This isn’t the 50s anymore, after all.

Chuck Russell’s remake of the well-loved and deeply silly 50s monster movie brings everything together 50s monster movies and their 80s grandchildren share, leaves out what doesn’t fit, and adds a whole lot of wonderfully icky, imaginative special effects, as well as the mandatory government conspiracy. Also, slime tentacles. It’s difficult not to admire how Russell’s and Frank Darabont’s script manage to extract all the elements that make the two styles of monster movies fun, mix them, and turn them into an excellent mush of acidic goo.

The resulting film is obviously about as deep as a puddle, but it is a film that knows that puddles are made for jumping into so that things go splash (unless they are slime puddles, which make a different kind of splash altogether), and most of the time, that’s just what it does. It’s pretty much the ideal of what this kind of film is supposed to be, playing things straight while still carrying the knowledge around how silly it is, this way never ending up absurdly po-faced yet also not demonstrating the need to be all ironic and cool about everything. The pacing gets fast and furious quick, and once we’re half into the film, there’s a fun new set piece about every five minutes, with lots of beautiful blobiness, explosions, and picturesque dissolutions of man and animal.

Did I mention how fun this thing it?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

1920 London (2016)

London, in some weird-looking parallel 1920s made out of Bollywood dreams (this is not a complaint). Shivangi (Meera Chopra) lives with her husband Veer (Vishal Karwal) in a palatial estate while he studies law. Both of them are Indian royalty/nobility (don’t ask me which of the two, I’m pro French Revolution), sickeningly in love, and have a chauffeur named George, so things look rather idyllic for them.

However, when some thankful peasants or other send Veer an amulet to praise his awesomeness, he becomes possessed by the evil spirit of a witch (Meenal Kapoor). Quickly, he contorts his body into the most interesting shapes, loses his luscious hair (and wins some worms), and will soon die, for the doctors are of course baffled. And who can blame them?

Shivangi quickly realizes that her husband has been cursed – she’s pretty sure his evil stepmother is the guilty party. She returns home to India to fetch help. Finding the appropriate magician to get rid of a dead witch this strong turns out to be a bit of a problem. In fact, only exorcism specialist Jai (Sharman Joshi) has any chance of succeeding at all. Unfortunately, Jai and Shivangi have a bit of a history: namely a star-crossed love between penniless shepherd and princess that ended when Jai beat up Shivangi’s evil uncle when the bastard tried to rape her, and Shivangi renounced Jai and their love in the ensuing trial, landing him in prison. Needless to say, Jai is initially not terribly keen on helping Shivangi out. But as we all know, exorcists gotta exorcise.

If you go into an Indian horror film with mainstream Bollywood sensibilities like this and expect anything like a “proper” horror movie in the less open sense of the term, you’ll end up sorely disappointed, for Dharmendra Suresh Desai’s film really is a slightly more focused masala piece with supernatural beasties, putting as much emphasis on the melodrama as it does on its witch, possession and so on, though it does leave out the odious comic relief. To me, that’s not a bad thing, at least not in a film that is as enthusiastic about entertaining me (well, its audience) as 1920 London is.

While the horror sequences certainly won’t scare the genre-savvy, the film builds such a wonderful Bollywood gothic place out of its weirdo-20s, actual locations, dubious CGI and general horror light clichés that I found myself rather in love with it for this alone. The film demonstrates ably that there’s aesthetically a lot to be said for looking at something like the 1920s in Britain through the pop-cultural lenses of a different country (even if we ignore the particularly pleasant irony inherent to this country being a former colony of the UK). It is of course about as authentic  as the depictions of India in most western cultural artefacts (read: not at all), but it is also oh so very fun, turning everything larger than life in quite a different way than Western depictions of place and era would. Besides, authenticity is not always terribly interesting in any case.

There are also quite a few perfectly decent suspense sequences in here that are about as frightening as a fun fair ride but are generally creative in their use of clichés, excellently paced, and provided regularly. For you also can’t blame the film for wasting your time once it’s gotten going, its nearly two hours of running time flying by in a series of flashbacks, melodramatic outbreaks, decorative suffering (which Meera Chopra does quite well), and scenes of general spooky action (not always at a distance). Like all good Bollywood films, 1920 London would be ashamed of itself if you were bored for longer than half a minute while watching it.

Adding additional spice to the whole affair is surprisingly tight plotting (not generally a strength of Hindi commercial cinema, mostly, I think, because that sort of thing isn’t actually important to filmmakers and audience in India in general), and some awesomely silly ideas. You will witness a game of peek-a-boo with a possessed, suspenseful chanting of mantras, a lemon chase through a haunted house as well as other fruit and nut based magic, a spiritual knife fight, and lots of awesomeness in between.

So at least for tonight, this is the best film ever made.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Small Repose

Because I'm finally hitting a truly eldritch age tomorrow, and there are rituals to be held for that sort of thing that'll rob me of all powers of calling anything "boringly competent", normal blogging service here will resume on Sunday, October 9th.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

In short: Numb (2015)

Married couple Will (Jamie Bamber) and Dawn (Stefanie von Pfetten) have hit on financial hard times. Travelling to Canada’s north for Will to take up a new job seems like a beam of light but the whole thing vaporises – though Will can’t bring himself to tell Dawn. On the start of their journey home to Vancouver by car, they pick up Lee (Aleks Paunovic) and his sister Cheryl (Marie Avgeropoulos), who’d otherwise probably freeze to death in the bitter cold outside.

Lee is an ex-con and Cheryl is certainly not inexperienced in the shady side of life, so it’s not surprising it’s not exactly love at first sight for these people. Some time later, the travellers pick up someone else, an old man nearly frozen to death. Before they can get him to a hospital, the man dies. Lee and Cheryl check his pockets and find various clues that hint at the hiding place of a bag full of gold, the loot from a robbery the dead guy must have been involved in decades ago. It’s somewhere out in the snowy wilderness. It might be lucrative for everyone involved if they teamed up and grabbed the gold for themselves.

Alas, time is pressing, so our protagonists decide to go on their adventure with little equipment – Lee and Cheryl don’t even have gloves or proper clothing for sub zero temperatures – a decided lack of trust in each other, and only Will’s survival experience.

It sounds like I’m once again summoning up the shadow of boring competence when I describe Jason R. Goode’s survival thriller with phrases like “decent”, “good enough”, or “perfectly watchable”, but this time around, it’s really rather more the shadow of perfectly okay competence, the thing that falls on a film that is never more than competent yet doesn’t bore me.

Goode’s direction isn’t particularly exciting: he uses the snowy landscapes well enough, keeps a degree of tension up, and doesn’t get in his own way. It’s the sort of effort that doesn’t show much personality or style but gets the job at hand done well enough.

The same goes for the acting. Nobody involved is doing particularly riveting work, yet there’s also never anything to complain about; these are professionals being professional actors, no more and no less.
The same again would go for a script that goes through the usual beats a Treasure-of-the-Sierra-Madre-alike hits without embarrassing itself. It’s also just the important bit too polite leading to the impression that the depths at the core of these characters just aren’t all that terribly deep, and delivering its moments of violence and survival in a somewhat too polite manner to really hit.

On the other hand, I never found myself bored watching this, which isn’t something I can say about all films this heavily coming down on the side of competence.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Run and Kill (1993)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

"Fatty" Cheung (Kent Cheng) is not the luckiest of men. He might have a solidly running business selling gas, a doting mother, a loving little daughter and a pretty if costly wife (Lily Lee), but he's bound to lose all of it faster than he could have expected.

When Cheung comes home early on his wedding anniversary, he finds his wife having a bit of adulterous fun with a decidedly thinner and younger man than himself. Cheung is not the kind of man prone to violent outbursts, so he just protests limply that the couple really shouldn't do it in his living room and skitters away to get drunk.

That wasn't Cheung's best idea. When he's so drunk he really doesn't know what he's saying anymore, a girl named Fanny (Esther Kwan) talks him into getting a little payback on his wife. She knows the right man for the job, too.

Said right man is a member of a Vietnamese gang, and - showing the low standard of customer service in the gangster business - for him, a mumbled "she should be dead" by a drunk guy lying puking and crying in the gutter is an assassination order. He takes all of Cheung's cash as an advance payment and gets on his way.
Some time in the morning, Cheung, of course not remembering a thing, stumbles home only to find his wife and her boyfriend still at it. They're not doing it for long anymore, though, because a bunch of Cheung's gang "friends" break into the apartment, rape and kill the wife, kill the boyfriend and leave Cheung alive and ready to be arrested.

The Hong Kong police's Inspector Man (Danny Lee doing a guest stint in his usual role, but strangely abstaining from hitting anyone with a phone book) is sure that there's something fishy about the affair, but he can't prove anything, and Cheung isn't talking, so he lets the man go.

The police will turn out to be the least of Cheung's problems anyway. Turns out that the gang is rather enraged about his being in the apartment when they did the deed. They are even less pleased that Cheung can't pay what he owes them. Blowing up Cheung's gas business seems like a fine way to show that displeasure.

At that point, Cheung decides to go into hiding in a house he owns somewhere in what goes for the country in Hong Kong. As bad luck will have it, he finds it occupied by a gang of mainland Chinese gangsters. Those guys at least aren't too mean to him, though. As a matter of fact, Wah, the youngest of them, eager to distinguish himself as a hard guy like his brother Ching Fung (Simon Yam), even promises to help Cheung out with his problem with the Vietnamese.

Unsurprisingly, Wah's intervention doesn't end too well, leaving some of his colleague's dead, and Wah, Cheung and Fanny in the hands of their enemies. Ching Fung comes slaughtering to the rescue a bit later, but at that point, Wah is nearly dead from torture.

A bit later, he truly is dead, and Ching Fung is very, very angry and also quite insane. This can't end well for Cheung or his family.

Billy Tang has directed quite a few of these ripped-from-the-headlines Hong Kong CAT III crime films with a nasty bend, with Red to Kill probably his best known film. At first, I thought Run and Kill would be one of the more harmless films of its type, with just enough of sex and violence to give it Hong Kong's adult rating, but it turned out that the film's slow and harmless beginning was just Tang's way to produce an adequate drop height.

The further the film goes along the nastier its tone gets. It really isn't the way the violence itself is depicted that gets to you here, it is the nature of the violence itself. What happens to Cheung's daughter Pinky is one of the more shocking things I've ever seen in a film, even for the usually not very friendly world of CAT III cinema.

Much of the film's harsh emotional effect has to do with Tang's immensely tight direction. Apart from an absolutely useless scene with Lee that exposits about plans of the mainland gangsters which will have no import at all on the rest of the movie, Run and Kill wastes no time with scenes that have no importance for the growing sense of doom and desperation that permeates it.

The film is bathed in the typical cold blue of a 90s Hong Kong production, a cold light that is to the film and others of its kind what shadow is to the American noir.

In a sense, the noir seems like an apt comparison for Run and Kill and other of the more ambitious CAT III crime films. Tang's film and Hollywood's noirs share a sense of absurdity, a love of coincidences (or the believe in a malevolent universe) which make bad situations worse. And how noir is the film's basic story about a seemingly happy man losing everything through a mixture of his own stupidity and sheer bad luck?

Of course, there is one thing that divides a CAT III cinema like this and noir quite harshly: it is the way they relate to violence.

Where the Hollywood movies only imply violence and often use their thick shadows to hide it, the Hong Kong films go all out with it, sleazily wallowing in it. Sometimes this is surely out of pure exploitational instinct, but at other times, like in Run and Kill's particular case, I can't shake the feeling that this is very much a difference born out of a more honest nihilism in the Asian films. In a sense, the Hollywood noir wouldn't let go of a concept of morality (in part surely out of reasons of censorship, but only in part), admitting to the darkest sides of humanity and the world itself, yet still judging them as if there were a moral instance to be judged by and hoping as if there were something better to hope for.

CAT III has given up on that. You can't show a father having to watch his little girl burned to death and later running around cradling her charred remains and try to put a moral bend on it,  and Run and Kill never does. The film's nihilism runs much too deep to still put trust into a concept of hope. The still humanist "Look, isn't is sad and terrible?" of the noir has transformed into the simple command to LOOK.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

In short: I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016)

On first look, John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records) is your typical teenage outsider in your typical US small town – socially awkward, with only one actual friend, and rather more interested in weird stuff than his peers. “Weird stuff” in John’s case being serial killers and death.

Unlike most teenage outsiders, though, John is a diagnosed sociopath who has set himself a whole load of rules he follows to be “normal”, and not go around murdering people. Although as the film – and Records – plays him, I’m not sure his therapist isn’t misdiagnosing heavy social anxieties and depression.

Be that as it may, John’s home town is struck by a series of murders, with the victims brutally ripped apart and missing one body part or organ a piece. Looks as if the place has its own serial killer now. John soon finds out the killer is his elderly, friendly neighbour Mister Crowley (Christopher Lloyd). Turns out the man’s not exactly human. Knowing this and doing something about it will turn out to be rather different things for John.

Unfortunately, the film never really explains why a guy who supposedly has no empathy at all for other human beings would feels the need to do something about Crowley at all, giving us a sociopathic central character whose difference Billy O’Brien’s film never really makes enough use of. In fact, the film seems to shy away from ever facing what it says doesn’t go on in its main character full on, and without the therapist character telling us repeatedly, John wouldn’t actually read as a sociopath. This does of course weaken all of the film’s attempts at contrasting Mister Crowley, who does his deeds to a degree out of love, with John who doesn’t do bad things because it says so in the script, and leaves us with a rather more well-worn story of a small town kid discovering his neighbour is a monster.

I really think the film – I don’t know about the novel by Dan Wells this is based on – misses interesting possibilities there. In general, the film’s approach to everything seems a bit too low key to me, be it Crowley’s true nature, John’s interior life, or dramatic tension.

I Am Not a Serial Killer isn’t exactly boring, mind you, it feels more like an attempt at making a horror movie which follows the outside markers of indie dramas about teenagers and forgets about the bit where it needs to actually build tension. Instead it would rather introduce a bunch of characters who won’t have any import on the plot or its characters (for example, why is the girl who has a crush on John even in the movie?).

The film’s approach just seems a bit too harmless for the sort of thing it is supposed to be about, never actually willing to face the abyss and the things this abyss suggests about people head-on. Instead the film dithers on a perfectly competent level without ever committing to anything terribly interesting.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Silenced (2015)

Original title: 경성학교: 사라진 소녀들

Warning: despite this being one of the write-ups where I try to write around various elements of the film, I can’t keep it completely spoiler free.

Korea, 1938, which is to say, right in the middle of the country’s final phase under Japanese occupation. Because she’s suffering from tuberculosis, Joo-ran (Park Bo-yeong) – also going by the assimilated Japanese name of Shizuko – is loaded off by her stepmother at a somewhat curious boarding school that concerns itself primarily – beside side-lines in pro-Japanese propaganda, “discipline”, and stitching – with treating its various ill and/or disenfranchised schoolgirls with injections prepared by the headmistress (Eom Ji-won). There’s also quite an emphasis on physical education, for the most formidable of the girls is bound to go to Tokyo to vaguely defined better things one can’t help but think is a horrible joke on the girls.

Joo-ran is more or less replacing another girl whose Japanese name was also Shizuko, who one day just left without saying goodbye to anyone. The first Shizuko’s two best friends have opposite emotional reactions to Joo-ran: Yeon-deok (Park So-dam) is particularly nice to the emotionally somewhat fragile girl while Yuka – we never learn her real name – (Kong Ye-ji) is as abusive as she can get away with. Joo-ran pretty much falls in love with Yeon-deok. However, things at the boarding school are rather more weird than it first seems. The original Shizuko was only the first girl to just disappear without saying goodbye, so something about the place certainly is not quite as it seems, or rather, even worse than it seems.

What that is, director Lee Hae-yeong’s film leaves open for quite some time, in its first half capably hinting at everything between the horrors of the time it takes place in to ghostly activity to an unreliable narrator. The film uses its time early on for creating the mood of the boarding school, setting up Joo-ran’s relations to her new school mates, bathing everything in a dreamy light that can change to the nightmarish at a moment’s notice. Appropriate to its title, The Silenced is, until an hour or so in, a rather quiet film which at first suggests nothing too fantastical will be going on in it, until it very suddenly gets much louder, much pulpier, and a bit cruder than anyone watching could have expected.

That’s not a bad thing, mind you, for the film works rather hard at preparing its tonal shift, and once it has come, Lee shows the same capability for setting an appropriate (which is to say, pleasantly over the top while never over the budget) tone, until stuff goes down in a way you really didn’t expect at all thirty minutes into the film. And while the film’s bad guys certainly are melodramatic pulp villains at their core, the film doesn’t ignore the somewhat more subtle character work it has done before on the girls, so while the genre shift it takes is certainly not the most obvious way to go, the main characters still feel like the same girls they were before. Only now girls who have been dragged into a rather more painful and excitable world.

Lee’s direction is typical of South Korean genre work: it’s visually slick, knows how to use that slickness to provide a scene with layers of meaning, is very good as misdirecting its audience while playing fair, and still finds room to let the actors do their work. Said actors, or really, actresses, for like most proper horror films made in the last few decades this is concentrated on women, do their respective jobs very well indeed in turn, even though these teenage girls are played by women in their mid-twenties.

So, if you find someone – like not-so-very-past me – doubting that South Korea is still a great source of technically superior genre films that also know how to use that technique for more than showing off, you just might want to point him or her at The Silenced.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

In short: The Grotto (2014)

American Melissa (Camille Montgomery) and her Italian boyfriend Carlo (Mario Rivelli) plan on having a fine time staying at an old seaside villa in Naples that belongs to Carlo’s family. It’s certainly an interesting place, featuring a grotto with some kind of temple in it, an evil boy ghost, and a secret dark history of violence and not quite successful demonic rituals.

Needless to say, Melissa – because it’s never the guy getting possessed in this sort of film, unless it is 1920 London – soon finds herself under demonic attack. Fortunately, Carlo manages to rope in help in form of demonologist Anna De Luca (Shalana Santana). See how I don’t put the word “competent” before demonologist?

For my taste, Giordany Orellana’s The Grotto is placed very much in the awkward middle of low budget horror. It’s too well made on a technical level to be called bad, but it doesn’t feature much exciting or interesting enough to be called good either. As is too often the case with films I watch, we are again in the realm of somewhat boring competence, by definition not a place where excitement dwells.

The acting is generally decent – though some not me might be irritated by the non-native speakers giving their lines in accented English and I certainly wasn’t too fond of ghost boy’s performance – but there’s little interesting for the actors to do; even Melissa’s possession is a rather low key thing with a bit of catatonia followed by a bit of violence, followed by Demonic Butt Sex.

That last element of the finale did raise an eyebrow, though: I don’t think it is well advised to feature a finale that is based on the male lead trying to reach the female lead before the demon going at her from behind is finished with his business, but then, that might just be me.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Three Films Make A Post: In the cruel, ruthless world of country music, she made it the hard way!

Most Likely to Die (2015): Even though the presence of Perez Hilton as an “actor” and Jake Busey as the star power in the cast and a deeply generic sounding set-up don’t exactly promise a world of excitement, I did expect this to be quite a bit better than it actually was because its director Anthony DiBlasi has a track record of making not terribly original but very decent to very good low budget horror films. Well, at least the not terribly original bit still holds, for this is as generic a slasher as you could (not) ask for, with basically nothing happening on screen I’m still going to remember a day after watching it.

DiBlasi’s direction is disinterested, the script yawn-inducing, and the acting goes from pretty damn bad (Hilton) to kinda okay (Heather Morris and Tess Christiansen) to painfully neutral (everyone else). There are some okay effects somewhere in there but honestly, who cares?

There’s Nothing Out There (1991): Of course, it can always be worse. Case in point is Rolfe Kanefsky’s spam in a cabin horror “comedy”. It’s self aware horror of the kind that thinks stating how awful and dumb it is somehow makes it less awful and dumb, and that being crap on purpose will somehow magically transform it into something not crap. After all, it worked for some other films, right? Alas, the bad movie fairy didn’t kiss this one, so we get lots and lots of nudity (Kanefsky looking into the future of his career as softcore director?) – this being a film where a short skinny dipping sequence is directly followed by a shower scene –, a really crap (on purpose yet still CRAP) monster, “funny” dialogue that’ll make your ears bleed, and lots of self-conscious shittiness that lacks the charm that would make it entertaining or the cleverness that’d make it bearable.

The Devil Complex (2016): Rounding out this trio of films I never need to see again is this POV horror outing shot in Romania with Romanian actors directed by a Brit. I do hope everyone planning on watching this likes shots of the backs of people wandering through snowy woods, because that’s what half of this is. As the “woods” parts suggests, this is the traditional would-be Blair Witch Project style of first person horror, just without any focus, mediocre acting, writing that does seem to try to get away from the original a little by going the “the supernatural reveals dark secrets” route but is just too crudely realized to manage anything with it, and disappointing sound design. It drags, it has about 0.5 interesting scenes, and there’s just nothing else to say about this thing.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

In short: Eaters (2015)

A bunch of friends are on a road trip. Somewhere in the loneliest part of New Mexico, they pause at the wrong rest stop. One of the female members of the group doesn’t return form her personal toilet stop. Her friends, particularly her boyfriend, are quick to assume she has been kidnapped by the only other people who were at the rest stop, a quartet of bikers.

So off they go in hot pursuit of the bikers which turns into a Mexican stand-off. Unfortunately, apart from making some armed hairy (or rather adorably bewigged) men really angry, the whole thing comes to nothing for our protagonists, for their friend isn’t loaded into the bikers’ drug transporter.

Further investigation – and an empty gas tank – lead them to a ghost town, which will turn out to be the place their friend was taken to. Unfortunately, it’s populated by a bunch of mute, pillowcase mask-wearing cannibals. To make matters mildly more complicated, the little altercation earlier wasn’t the last our heroes will hear of the bikers either.

The Internet really seems to hate Johnny Tabor’s micro-budget Eaters quite a bit (with the usual bunch of people who clearly don’t watch many movies declaring it to be the worst horror film evah, or something of the sort); me, I found myself enjoying the film more than I expected.

Now, Eaters has some obvious problems: the acting is rough around the edges at best, and often just not terribly good, and its plot certainly is the sort of thing I’ve seen a couple of dozen times before. However, Tabor is a pretty effective director. At the very least, Eaters is better paced than this sort of thing on this sort of budget generally turns out to be, clearly made by someone who realizes that scenes need to have a function in a narrative and should end once that function is fulfilled (unless you’re Jess Franco or somebody else who just doesn’t care about traditional structure at all and turn this into your personal style).

The pacing’s reasonably effective, and the film generally gets a bit of mileage out of feeling like one of the lesser, locally produced grindhouse movies of the 70s, with the desert and the ghost town providing some instant atmosphere, as do the pillowhead-style of the main baddies, the lack of explanation for their existence (or really, of what they actually are apart from cannibals), and direction that usually aims not to be boring.

It’s not the great lost horror masterpiece of 2015 but I think it’s a perfectly decent film.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (1975)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Hard-nosed reporter who never does any reporting Inugami (Sonny Chiba) just happens to be the last of a tribe of werewolves, making him not a ravening beast at the night (and day) of the full moon, but giving him an old-school Wolverine-like self-healing ability as well as superhuman strength and agility on these nights. One non-full moon night, Inugami stumbles over a panicked man running through the city streets screaming something about a tiger and a girl named Miki. Before you can say "Very peculiar, Watson", an invisible force rips the guy to shreds.

That - and the vision of a tiger - is certainly bizarre enough to get Inugami interested. With the help of his journalist colleague and friend Arai, the reporter soon discovers that the victim was once part of a rock band known as the Mobs, four charming guys who raped a singer named Miki Ogata (Nami Etsuko?). They didn't only do the deed for kicks, but also because their yakuza-controlled management asked them to, to "teach Miki a lesson".

Now, Miki is a syphilitic junkie singing in strip bars. She's also not completely sane anymore.

Although he has already had some violent encounters with the yakuza, Inugami feels driven to save Miki, an idea that will cost his friend Arai's life. It looks like there's a connection between what has been done to Miki and the highest strata of Japanese politics, but that turns out to be not very important for the rest of the movie. Unexpectedly, Miki and Inugami are kidnapped by a shady government agency that would very much like to build themselves some super soldiers out of them. Miki is easily controlled through her hatred, but Inugami isn't even to be convinced by a little vivisection.

When the full moon appears in the sky, he's getting rather cross with his captors.

For once, a cult film is nearly as awesome as its title promises. Wolfguy: ER (sorry) is as typical of mid-70s Japanese action cinema as possible, with all the absurdity and sleaze that promises. The film's archetypal Japanese action-cinemaness is not much of a surprise when you realize that it was directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, who had started his career by making a few girl boss movies in some of Toei's various series of the genre, and then gone on to become one of the studio's go-to directors for absurd action films with the Chiba-associated Sister Streetfighter movies, and the Karate Bullfighter etc series with Chiba.

Now, Yamaguchi was never the most stylish or most controlled of directors. His films are often more than a little sloppy and are usually held together through the power of the pure outrageousness of the proceedings in them instead of strong plotting or narrative. Whenever his films get serious, Yamaguchi falters. Fortunately, there is not much that is sane or serious about Wolfguy. Here, Yamaguchi's hectic editing, his rather random love for inappropriate camera angles and his sudden bursts of cleverness come together to form a feverish and slightly hallucinatory feeling whole.

This strange, loudly unreal quality of the film is amplified even further by the randomness of a script that is built in the usual "one scene of dialogue is followed by one scene of action is followed by one scene of nakedness" style and does not at all care about how to connect these scenes sensibly. It is a non-structure that would only lead to tears in a more normal movie, but "normal" just isn't in the cards for this one. As the oh so wonderful, repetitive Japan funk that makes up the score will agree.

Wolfguy is the sort of film where the first sex scene contains blood-licking and verbal approval of Chiba's animalness, the next (nearly)sex with a syphilitic to prove how trustworthy Chiba is, and the last finds our hero explaining how sex with his last-minute love-interest reminds him of his mother and being born. No wonder, with the girl being named after Chiba's mother and all. Of course, the film plays all this as if it were the most obvious and banal love scenes, producing additional friction in the audience's (well, my) brains.

The action scenes are set up in a comparable way, and have an equal love for the bizarre and unexplained. Why does our hero throw coins with lethal precision? And, coming to that, why is the government werewolf (who will die of an allergy to his new werewolf blood) so much hairier than Chiba (who never transforms into anything)? So many questions, and of course most of them are never answered at all. How could they when it is quite clear that the film just makes everything up as it goes along?

That's not a criticism in this particular case, mind you. When a film is so perfectly fixated on the bizarre, there's just no need for it to try and explain too much or to try and make sense. If it did, it would just sabotage its mind-blowing effect, throwing away the purity of its strangeness for something as boring as plot logic. I certainly wouldn't want that.

Then there's Sonny. Chiba is in his prime here, yet not doing much of the more subtle acting he always has been capable of when needed, nor going for his beloved grimacing scenery-chewing and heavy breathing. Instead, Chiba coasts on his particular brand of charisma and cool. It shouldn't work, or should at least come over as rather lazy, yet somehow feels like the appropriate way to handle this particular role, as if the wolfman were a centre of sanity in the insane world of humanity.

The whole affair is based on a manga I'd just love to read, and possibly the sequel to 1973's Okami no Monsho aka Crest of the Beast, but information about both films is difficult to come by and does generally not seem trustworthy to me. It's a shame, really, because I could use more of this particular brand of insanity in my life.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

In short: The Stewardess (2002)

Original title: 非常凶姐

Ken Ma (Sam Lee Chan-Sam) spends his working time as a small time screenwriter and his free time as an improbable pick-up artist. His life becomes rather more interesting when he opts for what he thinks is only a one night stand with air hostess Apple (Lee San-San).

Before he can even blink, he’s Apple’s official boyfriend – and Apple’s not the kind of girl who’ll let her boyfriend run around trying to sleep with other women, or indeed one who’ll stop at anything to control him. In fact, first order of business for her is introducing Ken to her father, triad boss Dragon (Michael Chan Wai-Man), for photos and fingerprinting, so it’s easier to find Ken if he leaves the straight and narrow, and needs a corrective loss of a certain sexual organ ending with “ick”. So clearly, nothing could go wrong with the romance between our sleazy protagonist and his horrid new girlfriend.

Yet things do become even worse than expected when a Japanese woman (Seina Kasugai) who always dresses in red and generally introduces herself ominously as “Yurei, air hostess” steps into Ken’s life and sexes him up right quick (not that there’s any resistance from his side, mind you). Soon, Ken isn’t just in trouble with a violent girlfriend and her penis-cutting dad, but also has to cope with the little fact that “Yurei” is batshit, murderously insane even for a character in this movie.

If Sam Leong Tak-Sam’s horror comedy The Stewardess is anything, it certainly is pretty darn weird. I’m not just talking the sort of comedic weirdness born from a disconnect between Hong Kong concepts of what’s funny and mine that inevitably leads to stuff flying right over my head. Nor do I just talk about the eyebrow-raising more common and garden weirdness of a film that comments on its Chinese protagonist sleeping with a Japanese woman with a fantasy scene that shows him wearing a military uniform and breaking a Japanese World War II style battle flag in two over his knee. Rather, I’m talking about the sort of freeform insanity that can’t help but add some perfectly bizarre flourish to even the most pedestrian of scenes and concepts, of course – this being a Hong Kong film – often leaving all sorts of good and proper taste behind to offend whoever is available – the Japanese, the triads, the mentally ill, Takashi Miike, its own lead actor and everyone else are all fair game for whatever dumb idea Leong and co-writer Rikako Suzuki have in any given moment.

More often than not, Leong presents the general and specific weirdness in a stylish and slick – yet still batshit - manner that makes parts of the film look like the love child of a pretty screwy giallo and young Takashi Miike on one of his milder days. Add to this the outrageous performance by Seina Kasugi, Lam Suet doing his standard triad guy named Fatty thing, and certainly nobody will get bored watching The Stewardess.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

House of Black Wings (2010)

Because her music career and her private life have hit rock bottom because of violent tragedy, bad luck, and bad decisions, rock musician Nicky Tarot (Leah Myette) returns to her home city, where she renames herself into Kate Stone and tries to put the past behind her wholesale. Kate is lent a helping hand by her artist friend Robyn (Katherine Herrera), the only one of her old buddies who still wants anything to do with her.

Robyn has inherited a curious apartment building named Blackwood whose handful of tenants are students and artists, so she provides Kate with an apartment of her own and a job as the place’s super. Robyn lives in the building too, so Kate even has a friendly face around.

Unfortunately, Blackwood is not a good home to nurse one’s grief and one’s guilt in. As soon as she has moved in, Kate is plagued by nightmares, the noise of wings in the walls, and everything else to keep a woman off balance. Worse still, the nightmares soon intersect with Kate’s waking world in various disturbing ways; and Kate might not be the only one living in Blackwood touched in this way. It is as if the house pushes its tenants to create art – art that seems to function as a doorway to drag the artist into the cosmic void.

David Schmidt’s House of Black Wings is as fine an example of micro-budget indie horror, a film that not only feels like a labour of love but also avoids many of the pitfalls this sort of film can so easily stumble into - not necessarily because the people involved are lacking in passion or talent but because they are lacking in experience and funds which very often means a film only has limited opportunities to correct problems and mistakes.

The only typical indie horror problem House of Black Wings shows is a certain slowness in the middle, where it might have lost ten minutes or so, but that’s not a terrible problem for a film to have. It’s also not to be confused with that micro budget thing where scenes go on and on and on for no good reason whatsoever – Schmidt knows when to end scenes, and it is clear he also has a clear picture of why any given scene is part of the narrative. This may sound like a curious thing to praise but just putting scenes into a film without any narrative (or atmospheric) reason for them to be there is a problem you’ll encounter in mainstream horror right now nearly as often as in micro budget films (whose makers at least have better excuses for this particular failing), so Schmidt is actually doing a lot better than many of the rich kids do.

The film’s heart, concerning earnest thoughts about art, guilt and life and their collision with cosmic horror, isn’t anything you’d find in a more mainstream film either. It’s the sort of thing that could become rather pretentious pretty fast, but the way Schmidt film’s plays it, it feels organic and right, the cosmic horror and the inner struggle of the characters working as reflections of each other.

And the cosmic horror is fine indeed. There are of course more than just hints of Lovecraft and other greats of weird fiction running through the movie but this is not a film in the business of putting the correct nerdy mythos reference at the forefront, so there’s a decided lack of Cthulhu cults and Iäs on display. Instead of the most superficial bits and pieces of the weird, House of Black WIngs opts for its spirit, made visible through some very original effects work. Well, and quite a few maggots and worms. The film uses stop motion as well as digital and practical effects, and even includes some shadow puppet work when Kate reads a wonderful expository children’s book, most of it shown in short bursts and flashes and demonstrating a degree of thematic coherence that I wish more films would aim for when presenting the supernatural.

The acting is on the mark too, with Myette (and Herrera to a degree) carrying the film quite capably. The film aims for naturalness in most character interactions, so despite content that would lend itself to stiffness, melodrama, or just all-around gothiness, things never feel that way. These women are portrayed as actual believable women, so their run-in with the Outside gains more weight once it turns their world unnatural.

House of Black Wings really is a wonderful film, full of lovingly created detail like the shadow puppet bit or Robyn’s doll house from hell, and even some expertly realized suspense sequences that make great use out of people crawling between the house’s walls (and what they find there), with some moody locations and a script that’s thoughtful, never confusing the weird with the random.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

In short: Carnosaur 2 (1995)

Communications to a military uranium mine somewhere in the middle of one of the US deserts has broken down. For reasons, time is pressing, so Major Tom McQuade (Cliff DeYoung) can’t wait for appropriate military operatives and decides to go in with what will be our main protagonists. The film is keeping things pretty vague there, but our heroes seem to be some sort of repair crew for hire, wearing black dusters with a little lightning symbol on them. Though nobody in the costume department could decide if the lightning’s supposed to be horizontal or vertical. So yes, this is the first film I’ve seen concerning the adventures of mercenary electricians.

Once our heroes arrive at the mine, scenes from Aliens happen to them, just with dinosaurs replacing the aliens.

As regular readers know (hi, Mum!), I’m rather fond of low budget specialist Louis Morneau’s films. However, this doesn’t mean his Corman production belatedly answering the masses screaming for a sequel to the painful Carnosaur finds my approval, seeing as I’m not quite stupid enough to be part of its core audience. Morneau’s direction isn’t really the problem: he tries his best to make the usual sets look exciting, merrily films around the problems of the special effects until they look downright solid, and does tend to film okay monster attacks, making the whole affair mysteriously look like an actual movie. The true problem is Michael Palmer’s script. It doesn’t so much crib a bit from Cameron’s Aliens but just reproduces complete scenes. Which probably must have sounded like a genius idea given that Aliens is rather good; unfortunately, Carmosaur 2 rips stuff off without any rhyme or reason, without even the tiniest thought given to questions like if a scene makes any sense in the somewhat different context it takes place in. The stuff Palmer comes up with himself neither fits the parts he has ripped off, nor does it make much sense. Just look at the nature of our heroes, the bizarre contortions the film goes through to explain why there’s nobody competent around, and so on, and so forth.

It doesn’t help the film’s case that John Savage just might be the worst Ripley ever, and that its version of Aliens clearly has no use for female characters at all. Even the Italian rip-off industry knew better than this! This – of course – doesn’t mean a boy can’t have a bit of fun with the film but it’s not the good and clean kind of fun to be sure.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Black Mountain Side (2014)

An archaeological camp in the Great White North of Canada has made a discovery that could be much more important than anyone could have expected. Not only do the archaeologists find pottery that looks rather Mesoamerican in style in the completely wrong part of the continent, predating anything culturally probable, but also what might be only the upper part of a mysterious stone structure - a mysterious stone structure dating from a time before humans actually had a settled lifestyle.

Things start to be going off the rails at about the same time when (one supposes eminent) archaeologist Professor Piers Olsen (Michael Dickson) arrives to corroborate the findings up this point. Things start, as they so often do, with a sacrificed cat, see the local helpers of the dig not leave for home but instead wander northwards into an arctic frost they’ll most probably not be able to survive, find all radio contact impossible (it’d be a rather short film otherwise) and deteriorate further until there’s self-mutilation, suicide, murder, and visions of a deep-voiced godhood with a deer head.

As anyone who even vaguely knows me will realize, Nick Szostakiwskyj’s Black Mountain Side pushes a lot of my narrative and thematic buttons, what with it being a film about a bunch of people isolated in a cold place, the cosmicist as well as folkloric bent to its horror, the archaeology angle, and so on, and so forth. Yet still I didn’t really warm to the film (sorry), never really felt much dread or horror watching it. I didn’t end up actively disliking the film but rather with the feeling that it misses a chance or two too many.

Among the film’s main failings is the nearly complete lack of characterisation, with characters so completely interchangeable, I really couldn’t find any reason to remember their names. There are very few discernible character traits on display from anyone apart from stuff like “is the doctor”, making the characters’ increasing mental dislocation feel rather weightless. It’s also difficult to see if someone starts acting particularly strange (apart from visions of deer gods, obviously) when a film doesn’t establish a base line regarding what’s normal for him. And yes, it’s “him”, for there’s not a single female character in the film, which is Lovecraftian in all the wrong ways, and just completely perplexing in a film made in this century.

Szostakiwskyj’s direction style is a bit problematic to my eyes too. Nearly every scene consists of long, static shots by a mostly immobile camera, from time to time – if we’re lucky – perhaps one cut-away to another static shot and then back again. While this sort of thing can add to the tension by giving the impression of the camera throwing a clinically distanced eye on the characters, it does also make a tale slowly told like this one feel even slower. In interior scenes often involving quite a few characters at once, it’s not very interesting to look at either, and rather than increase the tension, it helps deflate it. This effect is made worse in more than a few scenes by a tendency to awkwardly stuff the actors into the frame, positioning them in deeply unnatural ways that’ll really remind everyone watching this is indeed an indie horror movie.

On the other hand, this too distanced direction style does reap some fruits from time to time because most of Black Mountain Side’s violence and strangeness is filmed in the same flat manner, providing it at times with an unexpectedly disquieting effect, and once the camera starts moving, it feels rather surprising and exciting. I’d still argue that making eighty percent of your film look bland so that the remaining twenty of it can be more effective is not a terribly economical way to go.