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Oculus - R April 13, 2014  
Resolution - Unrated RESOLUTION (2012) independent
WRITTEN BY: Justin Benson
DIRECTED BY: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
FEATURING: Peter Cilella, Vinny Curran, Zahn McClarnon, Bill Oberst Jr., Kurt David Anderson, Emily Montague
TAGS: genre-bender; puzzler, drama, mystery, occult, horror

PLOT: In this tense micro-budget thriller, a young man tries to bring his friend back to reality, only to find that "reality" is not just open to interpretation, but malleable and ever-changing. In fact, the pair's reality might not even be their own.

COMMENTS: In spite of some worn cliches -mysterious found footage, missing researchers, and a mystic medicine cabin obligatorily set on an Indian reservation, with Resolution, independent writer/director Justin Benson brings us a breath of fresh air. The film is technically adept on its small budget, and presents a real genre-bender of a plot. Resolution builds slowly as a crime drama, becomes a psychological suspension, then morphs into a puzzler riddled with paradoxes. It releases in a brief climax of occult horror.

In the story, yuppie Michael (Peter Cilella) travels to a remote squatters' shack, where his addict friend Chris (Vinny Curran), bristling with firearms and contraband, has holed up, resolved to kill himself with drugs. Michael restrains Chris, and forces him to withdraw "cold-turkey" over the course of a week.

A progression of weirdos make the scene. Chris's low-life cohorts (Kurt David Anderson and Kyler Meacham) drop in, demanding drugs. A tightly-wired Native American property owner (Zahn McClarnon) and his menacing gang show up to evict the occupants. A scheming real estate developer (Josh Higgins) creeps in, mistaking Michael and Chris for the deed-holders, and a doomsday religious cult is engaging in shenanigans a little too nearby for comfort.

Michael strives to maintain control over the situation to buy enough time to get Chris straightened out, and back to civilization and rehab. Despite the threat posed by oddball interlopers, the real tension is yet to come.

Someone...or some THING is watching -and recording everything Michael and Chris do. But how? The surveillance indicates a presence that looms closer and closer, yet Michael can't detect the observer.

Looking for clues, Micheal discovers strange footage shot by a missing anthropology team, then locates a laconic neighbor, Bryon (Bill Oberst Jr.), with an uncomfortably unorthodox existential philosophy. From here the story plunges into perplexing paradoxes. Chris's sleazy drug buddies and the landowner converge for a showdown. Mind-bending events knock Mike and Chris away from objective reality and any sense of control over their destinies.

Resolution is talky, but intriguing. The long-winded plot is better suited for an hour short. Aside from establishing an initial setting and circumstances, the first half of the film doesn't bear vital relation to the engaging concepts of the second. It's still pretty good. Unsettling developments keep us watching. Plot twists reveal a honeycomb of passages down which to venture. Rather than choose one of them and proceed, the filmmakers offer a twisted experience based on the fact that these alternate routes exist.

Part of the fun of Resolution is thinking about the various possibilities and what they mean. In our minds, we DO pursue them, trying to predict the outcome, but just when we think we know what's going to happen, Resolution throws us a new twist. Throughout it all ripples a nerve-jarring undercurrent of menace, indeterminate, and incipient. Mike and Chris's safe return to the outside world is increasingly unfeasible.

There's some subtle cinematic artistry in Resolution which reinforces the exposition. In the scene in which Michael is conversing with Byron, Byron discusses his views about narrative and story. As he explains to Michael, Byron holds a mirror. At first, the mirror is angled so that Micheal's reflection blends with Byron's face. The effect is to project Byron and Micheal as melded together, depicting a dual entity. But Michael cannot see it. Only we can see it.

Byron angles the mirror so that we see another mirror on the wall behind Michael, producing the illusion of endless repetition. It illustrates the concept of how a painter records a scene. There is the scene, and the painter painting it. But there is a larger scene. For us to see the painter painting the scene, there must be another painter, painting the painter painting the scene... and so on to infinity. This is a pivotal moment in the film. Resolution carries distinct, though not fully developed sub-themes about the evolution and structure of folklore, myth and story, and these are tied into the paradoxes.

Filmed in a half-completed lodge under construction, illuminated by hook lamps, and without background music, intimate camerawork increases a sense of realism, almost like seeing a documentary. The technique is effective because Resolution turns out to be all about deconstruction and the plastic nature of reality. By the time we realize this, we've accepted the actuality of what's transpired, only to have the drop sheet yanked out from under our feet.
April 12, 2014  
Stoker - R STOKER (2013)
WRITTEN BY: Wentworth Miller
DIRECTED BY: Chan-wook Park
FEATURING: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode
TAGS: psycho-thriller, mystery

PLOT: Upon her father's untimely death, a morose teen forms an uneasy alliance with her enigmatically sinister uncle, who is at once adversarial, controlling, and incestuously supportive.

COMMENTS: A thriller about psychopaths and sick agendas, Stoker's title summons connotations of the Dracula author. With its Gothic romance novel visual design, a moody anti-heroine right out of the Twilight craze, and a shower masturbation montage borrowing visual cues from Psycho, Stoker presumes to deliver a power-punch of stormy atmosphere and unsettling, offbeat storytelling. Provocative and lurid, artfully photographed, that atmosphere is indeed present in Stoker, as is its departure from the beaten path of mainstream studio fare.

The picture pulls its knock-out upper-cut however, by betraying a derivative (though not over-worn) story and a not-so-novel revelation of its mystery. The plot is essentially Hitchcock's Shadow Of A Doubt (1943), but this is a good one, full of potential for delightful and interesting variations, such as the wickedly disturbing 1966 Let's Kill Uncle with Mary Badham of To Kill A Mockingbird fame.

In Stoker, troubled India (Mia Wasikowska) reminds us of Wednesday from The Addam's Family. Wealthy, privileged, doted on, but misfit, morbid, and sporting a damningly annoying overbearing of sophisticated, anti-social charm, India is grudgingly and minimally cooperative. She's resentful, and seething with some inner grievances, but we're never made privy to what they are. There's a good and evil struggle within her, offset by a chronic, clear desire to be elsewhere. But rather than take action to affect change, she grumpily goes through the motions, while internally swimming against the current.

In East Of Eden, Cal Trask (James Dean) beguiles us by revealing an inner turmoil and a jagged chasm of obviously anguished, and likely twisted emotions. The feelings never have to be explained. It's sufficient that Cal's facial expressions betray them. Our imaginations run wild to fill in the rest. Similarly in Stoker, with her obviously charred soul, India is virtually a plot element unto herself, and the most intriguing one in the film. As with the old inmates' adage, family expectations and social constraints may imprison her, but in her mind she's free, and "they" can't take that away from her.

Or can they? India is stewing in repressed passions but we don't know what they are. Nor will we, for while we eventually receive simple explanation for the root cause of her condition, Stoker never explores the deep, murky waters of that bottomless pool personality behind India's ink-well black eyes.

There's a lot of masquerade in Stoker. While there's obviously more to India than we can fathom, and we want to know all about her, there's also more to her uncanny, disingenuous paternal Uncle Charles (Matthew Goode), and upon meeting him, neither we, nor India, are so sure we want to take a sounding. Charles makes the scene following the funeral for India's father whose very untimely death occurred in an equally unlikely accident.

Despite being extroverted and ingratiating, there's something just not right about Uncle Charley. He exudes a facade of Mormon-esque, overly enthused, positive cheer which nearly overshadows a subtle undercurrent of ruthless self-service. But maybe that's just India's cynical outlook rubbing off on us. Either way, Uncle Charley's here to stay, and after inviting himself as permanent house guest, he begins brazenly courting India's bereaved, yet bored and impulsive, emotionally vulnerable mother (Nicole Kidman). Vanquishing from the household all who might oppose him, such as the loyal housekeeper (Peg Allen) and India's suspicious great aunt (Jacki Weaver), we can only assume he's after the family fortune, but disturbingly, he seems to have deeper designs. These include India's very corpus corporis and mens mentis, as she openly defies Uncle Charley's attempts at domination until he discovers a way to manipulate India's, um, unusual susceptibilities.

At first resentful of Charles's intrusion. and put in an adversarial relationship with her mother who seems to be completely malleable to his will, India becomes jealous, but soon begins to bond with Charles. India's a gloomy, stifled little sexpot and she secretly craves the attention. The trio form a dangerous triangle, which sweeps them in a churning cat-and-mouse-play set of rapids toward the tumultuous falls of total bedlam. This is where Stoker shows its potential to become something original, to reveal fascinating, horrible things, to surprise us, and make us wonder, to keep us guessing on the edges of our seats.

It doesn't.

What could be a captivating web of competing, ulterior motives and petulant scheming never materializes. What could be an engrossing character portrait of India slams flat. We never get that coveted insight into India's motivations, how she sees the world or why she sees it that way. India is simply toxic and contrary with little explanation until the end, at which point she defies her own cunning nature and selects, in lieu of more interesting, profitable, and clever options, an irrational, self-destructive course of action.

Even so, Stoker is still pretty good. It's a satisfying change of pace from the patronizingly conventional and downright silly horror releases lately issuing from Tinseltown like effluent from a landfill, and most Gothic thriller fans will want to see it.

South Korean director Chan-wook Park is best known to fans of the weird for his bizarre, gory cult movies such as Oldboy from The Vengeance Trilogy. With Stoker, he makes his mainstream, US debut. To do so requires that he "sell-out" a little to the conventions of Hollywood marketing, and I suspect this is why he didn't tamper with co-producer, Wentworth Miller's script, even though its deficiencies beg to be tweaked. Stoker more or less works for non-discriminating audiences who can be dazzled by a bit of flash without being driven to look deeper. Park's penchant for the absurd and the gory is still subtly evident. Importantly, Stoker demonstrates Park's trustworthiness to competently direct conventional cinema. With Nicole Kidman on board, and an appeal to the current Twilight-style popular trend, Stoker will, we hope, allow the director to establish himself on the big-budget launching pad from which we anticipate more intriguing work to soar off in the future.
April 11, 2014  
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (Nightmare) - Unrated DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (1973 and 2010)
WRITTEN BY: Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins (2010), from, the 1973 script by Nigel McKeand
DIRECTED BY: John Newland (1973); Troy Nixey (2010)
FEATURING: Kim Darby, Tamara De Treaux, William Demarest, Pedro Armendariz Jr., Robert Cleaves (1973)
Bailee Madison, Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Jack Thompson, Garry McDonald, Alan Dale, Julia Blake (2010)
TAGS: mystery, haunted house, demons
RATING (2010 version): 5 PINTS OF BLOOD
RATING (1973 version): 8 PINTS OF BLOOD
PLOT: Upon the breaking of a seal in a long disused basement, tiny devils escape and seek to murder the house occupants.

COMMENTS: If you're looking for scary movies to watch on Halloween, the Screaming Room has two for you this week which fit the bill very nicely! Guillermo del Torro (CRONOS [1993]; MIMIC [1997]; SPLICE [2009]) has written an update of DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, a 1970's horror movie which achieved cult status. It's well-produced, bold, loud, visually spectacular, and worth seeing, although it loses some of the essence of what made the original so good. For purists, the first version is also available, newly digitally remastered. The two films nicely compliment each other.

The late 1960's and early 1970's brought a number of high quality, made for TV network horror pictures, especially those produced for ABC Movie Of The Week. Considering they were made for television and aired during family hour, these efforts are original and imaginative. What's more, they're actually scary. The movies had a lot of atmosphere, the characters died awfully, and the stories didn't always have the happy endings so requisite today.

Examples include films such as PICTURE MOMMY DEAD (1966), DAUGHTER OF THE MIND (1969), HOW AWFUL ABOUT ALLEN (1970), SEE NO EVIL (1971), THE STONE TAPE ( 1972), THE EYES OF CHARLES SAND (1972), ALL THE KIND STRANGERS (1974), and DON'T GO TO SLEEP (1982). Asserting what a profound impression it made on him, filmmaker Guillermo del Torro felt compelled to reinterpret the 1973 TV movie DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. .

In the original, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, Kim Darby (Mattie in the first TRUE GRIT [1969]) plays yuppie homemaker Sally Farnham, who's plagued by demons she unwittingly unleashes from an ash pit underneath a sealed-up basement fireplace. With major plot elements repeated a year later in The Exorcist, and makeup characterizations which reappeared in the PUPPET MASTER films, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK provides chills and Freudian undertones unexpected in a family hour TV movie of the time period.

As the goblins' maliciousness becomes increasingly aggressive, Sally's behavior grows correspondingly erratic; her friends and power-attorney husband are convinced she's gone mad. The little ones want Sally body and soul. After assaulting a naked Sally in the shower with a straight razor, they ineptly kill her decorator by mistake, leaving Sally as the suspect. When her distracted husband leaves town on business, Sally's left alone with her demons -literally. She finds herself in a bind when the demented Lilliputians tie her up Gulliver style, and drag her short-skirted, quivering, moaning form to the cellar for God-knows-what.

Artfully filmed in shadow and light, the premise works better than you might think. It's one that must be handled skillfully lest it become funny for the wrong reasons, with a silliness akin to the Evil Monkey hiding in Chris Griffin's closet in the animated TV sitcom, Family Guy. Writer Nigel McKeand (in whose McKnight-Hill style Victorian home DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK was filmed) and director John Newland pull it off almost as frighteningly as Stephen Spielberg executed a nearly identical premise a year earlier in the chilling and shocking 1972 made-for-television, SOMETHING EVIL.

In the 2010 DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, as would be expected in anything authored by Guillermo del Torro, the elements are enhanced and grotesquely larger than life. The manor is huge and Gothic, the small amount of violence is bloody, and the pit under the basement fireplace becomes a bottomless chasm to hell. The film begins with a backstory which is only alluded to in the original. Sadly, del Torro drops the ball later in the film by trying to explain too much with his characteristic love of mixing myth with "history." The haunted mansion's original patriarch is enslaved to the goblins, and our first encounter with him has him yanking out his maid's molars and feeding them to subterranean demons as an offering.

Despite it's R rating (there's no nudity), DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (2010) is a kid's movie. In this new version, Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison) is a taciturn, pouting little girl who moves to a mammoth country estate with her recently divorced dad (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Katie Holmes). Imposing sets and dreamlike cinematography are right out of a demented Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. This child's eye view technique is typical of del Torro. The optical footprint of DON'T BE AFRAID is what most distinguishes it. It's overdone, but visually spectacular in exactly the sort of way you would expect a big budget haunted house yarn for kids to be.

There's artistic use of visual continuity. The elaborate latticework of Sally's headboard compliments the brass screens of the air vents and the artfully carved antique benches on the manor's grounds. With camera angles such as one in which Sally finds herself standing in a ring of toadstools, and another in which her face is framed by a tangle of vines, the implication is clear: Sally is webbed in.

Like the perpetually foreboding and gloomy skies overheard, the mansion's cathedral-sized interiors are almost always cast in shadow. Akin to catacombs, duct work entwines its way through the walls. Creaking and groaning like a giant bellows with its myriad of ornamental grated heat ducts leading to an abysmal, possessed basement incinerator, the very edifice itself seems complicit in what is to transpire.

And what transpires is that Sally is either very naughty, or has the IQ of a stringbean, because after the demons in the sealed-up basement incinerator whisper some very nasty, sick things to her in their hoarse croaks, she of course unbolts the damn thing and lets them out. Slowly, sardonically, all hell breaks loose in the Hurst household.

Sally's phantasms embark on a malevolent series of destructive endeavors, for which Sally gets the blame, widening an already tense divide between Sally and her elders. As a result, Sally perversely attempts to bond with the goblins out of frustration. The plan backfires, and a child psychologist makes the scene as the situation spirals horribly out of control. The little entities really want to kill Sally. She's trapped in the mansion with them, and nobody will believe her. Sally will have to scheme her own salvation.

You'll see some stock conventions in this 2010 version which will remind you of frivolous, campy movies which were likely inspired by the 1973 original: Greminlins, Ghoulies, Beasties, The Puppet Master franchise, etc. The plethora of films about tiny hellraisers in our collective memory tames the fright factor in Guillermo del Torro's version. That's a shame because there's nothing lighthearted about the DON'T BE AFRAID movies. They're deathly serious and the premise works.

In the re-make, thanks to 21st century technology, the demons are impressive and scary, They get a lot more camera time than in the original. Sometimes less is more however. The goblin chill factor in the second film contrasts with the way the original cultivated our fear. In that one we caught for the most part, only fleeting glances out of the corners of our eyes, of the darting poltergeists. The known is never as frightening as the unknown.

Which version of this story is the best? Both have their merits. The 2010 release has a contemporary feel and it's family-friendly. It's a big-screen extravaganza. The 1973 DON'T BE AFRAID is more intimate and is aimed at grown-ups. Despite the impressive special effects in the remake, the 1973 film's economy of sensation makes it the more sophisticated effort.

In the 2010 film, Del Torro does a clever job of expounding upon the plot elements and story essence of its predecessor, making it bolder and more colorful. While this second DON'T BE AFRAID is solidly in the horror genre, with lots of loud, malevolent action, the first film is more subtle, features some genuine chills, and achieves its horror agenda by building an atmosphere of slowly mounting dread. The 1973 DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK has just been digitally remastered on DVD.

Both DON'T BE AFRAID movies make a good Halloween package, but if you're trying to decide between one or the other, here's a final thought: When the studios redo a solid film, they often rearrange some of the details, such as who does what, and what happens to whom. This keeps the updated version from being a predictable duplicate. It also tends to weaken the story. The writers usually got it right the first time.
April 11, 2014  
The Seventh Victim - Unrated

WRITTEN BY: Charles O'Neal and DeWitt Bodeen
DIRECTED BY: Mark Robson
FEATURING: Kim Hunter, Tom Conway, Jean Brooks, Isabel Jewell, Evelyn Brent, Erford Gage, Ben Bard, and Hugh Beaumont
TAGS: noir, occult,
PLOT: A woman tries to locate her missing sister who has vanished under sinister circumstances.

COMMENTS: The Seventh Victim is eerie without being violent or explicit. The film creates a tensely pernicious, balefully enshrouding atmosphere of dread. Relying on the power of allusion, insinuation, and the visual presentation of rich, black mattes, The Seventh Victim's singular story and guileless treatment of verboten subject matter sets it apart from modern movies when compared to current methods of creating horror.

When Mary Gibson (Hunter) ventures to Manhattan in search of her missing sister Jacquelin (Brooks), she enters a foreboding world of corruption, poison, mental illness, knife-wielding assassins, murder and suicide. It seems that dear ol' sis stopped paying Mary's tuition, and so Mary, bright and full of hope sets out to determine her whereabouts. But none of Jacquelin's friends have seen her.

We see her though. Jacqueline is striking and somber under her jet black hair and sharply planed bangs. Quiet, watchful, morose, her captivating visage thrusts onto the screen like a stiletto with her grave countenance and almost funereal presence.

Mary locates and enters her sister's apartment. She finds it unfurnished except for a hangman's noose suspended over a chair. It's not an encouraging development. Worse, Mary discovers that without asking for payment, Jacqueline signed over her successful salon and cosmetic business to a -well, shall we say to an assertive, independent woman with whom she had an evidently rather chummy association. Being made in the 1940's the film declines to further explore the exact nature of that relationship. But is seems there is a locked room at the cosmetics facility and Mary wants to know what's in it.

In trying to find out, Mary runs into a couple of private detectives who are looking for Jacqueline too, one of whom issues a warning and one of whom winds up dead. Before you can say, 'speak of the devil,' a shady doctor (Conway) shows up who knows all about Jacquelin, but isn't saying much. He's scared of something. Something unspeakable. And he knows that "sinister" means "left," but he sure isn't keeping to the right.

In addition to the doctor, there are some mysterious professional types in the area of Jacqueline's last known whereabouts. They all know each other, knew Jacqueline and are aware of something else. But what? They sure are tight lipped. Just what is everyone so afraid to talk about? And why do they all dress to the nines, some of them in black, to meet in a dimly lit apartment late at night?

The Seventh Victim is a spooky film noir made with wonderful use of black and white film's deep range of subdued tones. The cinematography creates a veritable study in angular shadows, gritty textures and plush charcoal, chocolate tints. Basement cafes grace the screen with low angle lighting. Street lamps' luminescent oases punctuate a sheet-like viscous velvet of gloom.

Distinctive about the The Seventh Victim are it's dark atmosphere, even for a noir, and its refusal to conform to Hays Commission requirements in its frank, unconventional treatment of a variety of morbidly taboo material. An eerie shower scene precedes Robert Bloch's 1959 novel Psycho, and there are some hints at subversive feminism. Even the film score ends on a minor key. All of this is pretty racy for 1943, making The Seventh Victim a unique, precursor to the noir genre.


The character of Dr. Judd appears again in Val Lewton's Cat People. Actress Jean Brooks was thought to be quietly married at one point to Erich von Stroheim. Despite a couple of principle roles, stardom eluded her. Brooks's unique presence was never adequately exploited by Hollywood. The thespian's later years are as enigmatic as some of her characters. Fading into the billowing silver mists of off-screen obscurity, Jean Brooks's after-cinema life is shrouded in mystery and alcoholism. Her premature 1963 death in Costa Rica was overshadowed by the Kennedy assassination, and went unrecorded in Hollywood.

April 11, 2014  
London Voodoo - Unrated LONDON VOODOO (Independent, 2004)
FEATURING: Doug Cockle, Sara Stewart, Michael Nyqvist
Trisha Mortimer, Sven-Bertil Taube, Vonda Barnes
Steve O'Halloran, Roy Borrett, Carmen Abela
TAGS: Voodoo!

PLOT: Voodoo is alive and fashionable in Westminster! A dead Voodoo priestess snatches the body of a yuppie housewife, then sets her sights on the husband in this novel, swank supernatural chiller.

COMMENTS: Engaging, to-the-point cinematography, Steven Severin's moody score, and a fresh, pensive story make London Voodoo an arty choice for the thinking horror patron. It's brooding, yet suspenseful, with good timing and a quick pace. This is writer/director Robert Patten's first of two independent feature efforts. Patten achieves a good balance between credible horror and reality that doesn't insult our intelligence.

Business executive Lincoln Mathers (Doug Cockel) and his wife Sarah (Sara Stewart), move to a posh London town house. It's everything they could want. Quaint, chic, and historic, with a pair of century-old corpses in the basement. Of course, the moldy cadavers aren't a selling point. Sarah discovers them during renovations. That's normal for an old historic house, right? Except maybe for the eyes-rolled-up-in-the-back-of-her-head seizure Sarah endures when she tampers with them

Buried with the bodies are oddball religious artifacts. Sarah's damned curious. Her latest hobby is local historical research, and she wants to solve the cadaver mystery. Doug is overwhelmed with a new high-salaried, 16 hour-a-day, executive position. He wants Sarah out of his hair so he leaves her to it.

Makes sense.

Sarah's hobby turns out to be ... well, consuming. The cellar dwellers aren't actually dead, they just smell that way. They're an evil Voodoo priestess and her lover, slain by her prior followers. The un-dead duo decide that existing in their decaying, de-animated bodies under the basement floor is a bit boring. The priestess condemns Sarah's sumptuous body for a soul transfer, and she's taking possession now!

Before you can say, "that old black magic," Sarah's mere presence sours milk and rots fruit.. She finds deep joy in collecting bits of Doug's skin and hair. Sarah prowls the flat like a puma in heat. clad in BDSM lingerie, nipples erect, an obsessive, determined look in her eye. When Doug postpones sex to read a prospectus sent home by the boss, Sarah rips off the cover page, stuffs it between her legs, then crams it in his mouth while cursing in Creole.

The friendly neighborhood Voodoo sect wants to help, but Doug dismisses them as crackpots. ( Not that they're any stranger than the way Sarah's been acting.) Doug's too distracted with his soul sucking finance job to do more than write off Sarah's shenanigans as a midlife crisis. But as Sarah transforms into an undulating, deviant, sexually insatiable vixen, family politics grow awkward.

That local Voodoo cult has a solution, if Doug will only listen. It's not a pleasant treatment option to say the least, but Doug had better wise up because the Voodoo vixen and her dead lover think Doug's man-flesh is just what the witch doctor ordered.

Viewers may remember movie composer Steven Severin from Siouxsie and the Banshees and Sara Stewart as Martha Wayne in Batman Begins.

Fans of the genre seeking other intelligent entries of the same quality as London Voodoo might also enjoy Don't Look Now (1973), The Serpent and The Rainbow (1988), and True Believer (1989).
April 11, 2014  
MindFlesh - Unrated MINDFLESH (Independent, 2008)
WRITTEN BY: Robert Pratten based upon the novelby William Scheinman
DIRECTED BY: Robert Pratten
FEATURING: Peter Bramhill, Carole Derrien, Christopher Fairbank, Roy Borrett, Steven Burrell, Isabella Jade Fane, Lucy Liemann, Clare Routh GENRE: HORROR/SCI-FI
TAGS: fantasy; aliens; nudity; rape; 100 Weird!

PLOT: A troubled man with a dark secret unwittingly summons from another dimension, an alien nymphomaniac. She just may represent a race of gods, and they're none too happy about her latest tryst.

COMMENTS: Wow! Mindflesh threw me for a loop and really knocked me back in my seat! Discovering a prize like this in a media slurry of mainstream mediocrity is like running across the fabled Star of India in a trash heap.

Slick, fresh, Mindflesh is a bizarre horror yarn about sexual obsession, body disassociation, and morbid metamorphoses. Independent writer/director Robert Patten outdoes himself, making an extreme departure from his first feature length effort, London Voodoo (reviewed below.) Mindflesh is a surreal shocker. It's sexy, grotesque, and provocative. It's a crazy, jarring ride through alternative consciousness, through the chilling, the macabre, the uncanny, and the wantonly perverse. Patten has accomplished the nearly impossible task of visually translating to the screen in a sensible manner, William Scheinman's quirky, metaphysical novel, White Light, replete with all of its dreamlike nuances, grim foreboding atmosphere, and otherworldly Ick! factor.

What transpires in Mindflesh isn't presented via corny, over-simplified exposition, yet we manage to achieve an intuitive grasp of the phenomena that unfolds. The result is a movie that challenges us with its imaginative concepts, yet is not hard to understand.

Chris (Peter Bramhill) lives after dark, quiet, solitary, driving a mini-cab through the swirling night fog along the damp asphalt traverses of darkened London. Dimmed neon signs, empty boulevards, abandoned parking lots, the lonely, sleeping city is his domain. Issuing from the receivers in his cab is the distracted soundtrack to his nocturnal patrolling, a mottled, perpetual backdrop of scratchy radio traffic -dispatch messages, police reports, weather bulletins, and static. It's a world alien to that which most of us are accustomed.

Chris finds out just how alien it can be.

He may have some special sensitivity. Chris is haunted by murky half-memories of something awful from years ago. Increasingly, he suffers from terrifying dreams and hallucinations. From a book, he encounters the hypothesis that trauma warps our plane of existence, creating holes in the fabric of space time through which various phenomena cross between parallel worlds.

Chris's suppressed angst, unmet inner need, wistfulness, and loneliness radiate from him like an aura. By chance, it catches the notice of an enigmatic stranger with a similar perceptive gift.

During his travels through the urban twilight, in shadows, out of the corner of his eye, in his rear-view mirrors -is it a trick of the light? - Chris gets mysterious glimpses of an apparition, a woman (Carole Derrien ), solitary, resolute, watching him.

Her appearance is accompanied by electromagnetic disturbances. His automobile compass spins wildly. Radio transmissions warp and undulate, becoming unintelligible. When Chris approaches the mystery woman, she vanishes into a smoke trail, shimmering out of sight in a spiral of mist.

Chris desires her absolutely. An inter-planar transcendence takes place. The woman achieves a physical manifestation, acquiring form out of thin air. Has Chris willed her into this world, or has she willed herself here, entwining with our plane of existence in order to entwine with Chris?

She flickers in and out of earthly reality, until In an example of utter Pygmalionism gone awry she materializes from the skeleton up. Organs fill in the gaps, skin follows. Slick with lymph and blood, basking in the presence of Chris's humanity, she finalizes like a caterpillar transforming in the chrysalis.

She is a quantum Goddess; sex incarnate, saturated, oozing, seething with desire. She and Chris engage in a ghastly, slimy, ethereal coupling, an obscene union of heaving, illicit, inter-species sex. In her amorous frenzy, the Goddess trashes Chris's apartment, seducing him tirelessly, repeatedly, transforming him into a quivering lump of catatonia. She pulls him into her alien universe and he undergoes a bodily transformation into her peculiar native anatomy.

Problematically, some very frightful aliens make the scene. They have heavy grievances about Goddess leaving her plane for the earthly realm. They're willing to do some very nasty things to get her back.!

Chris is burdened with the job of returning her, and sheer hell awaits him if he falters. To achieve his salvation, Chris must discover how the Goddess is linked to a sinister episode in his deliberately obfuscated past.

But how?

Mindflesh is colorful and wonderfully twisted. Arban Ornelas's score effectively reinforces its vivid imagery and seamlessly blends the film's segue-ways. Patten's striking cinematic technique is captivating and compelling. His transitions between scenes, the way he melds flashbacks, dreams, and hallucinatory experiences artfully conveys their meaning in a manner that's concise and logically accessible to the audience.

Mindflesh is almost a 10 Pints Of Blood horror film. It just misses the bullseye. Chris's Achilles heel is right out of a famous Greek tragedy. The effect is melodramatic. More surprisingly, in the otherwise sound screenplay, there are a couple of easily avoidable logical flaws which occur later in the story, We try to overlook these incongruities because they pale in comparison to the movie's sensationally striking visual and imaginative elements. For a horror movie, Mindflesh is in the top tier, sporting visual effects and horror styling reminiscent of Altered States, Videodrome, Hellraiser, Possession (1981), Species, and Splice.
April 11, 2014  
Devil Seed (The Devil in Me) - R THE DEVIL IN ME (2012) independent
WRITTEN BY: Geoff Hart and Greg A. Sager
DIRECTED BY: Greg A. Sager
FEATURING: Michelle Argyris, Shantelle Canzanese, Vanessa Broze, Kevin Jake Walker, Wayne Conroy, Danielle White
TAGS: rape, lesbianism, sodomy

PLOT: A young man's joy at being reunited with his sweetheart turns to horror when a demon possesses her, then rapes her, leaving him to take the blame.

COMMENTS: When Alex (Michelle Argyris) moves in with friend Jessica (Shantelle Canzanese), they visit a psychic on a lark. The medium unwittingly summons an old demon who's been around the burning bush a few times. The hoary one takes a liking to Alex's quivering, nubile form and possess her.

Domestic matters turn weird when Alex finds she has an oddball aura which affects household objects and electronics. She soon experiences bodily transformations which include bruises and contusions for which Alex's two-timing boyfriend Brian (Kevin Jake Walker) takes the blame. A little hell-raising in Alex and Jessica's college pad isn't enough for the demon however. Beelzebub has amorous designs on Jessica as well, and wants Alex to mother his Satanic spawn. Three -make that four -is a crowd, and Brian, Alex, Jessica and the demon find themselves in a sticky wicket of a love triangle which only a seasoned succubus sleuth can unravel.

While The Devil In Me doesn't bring any striking new angles to the familiar theme of demonic possession, it's not a cheap attempt to replicate The Exorcist, as are several recent films. The movie is derivative of a number of occult movies From The Omen to Poltergeist, to Rosemary's Baby, but there are no cheap CGI effects or silly Camp. The Devil In Me is a serious independent effort with an original story and some memorable moments. It may not break new ground in the genre, but it's a solid, worthwhile watch for occult fans.
April 11, 2014  
City of Industry - R A criminal hunts down the getaway driver who betrayed his crew in this no-nonsense, engrossing crime thriller.

I avoided this film for years as I am bored with crime movies about low-functioning punks. But I was wrong about this film. I didn't realize Hutton and Keitel are in it. You'll also see an uncredited Elliot Gould. None of these actors make bad movies. All give good performances.

City Of Industry is gritty and well-paced, the punks are high-functioning, and ti contains a couple of minor twists I didn't see coming. Most importantly, this movie is more or less believable, the dialogue isn't corny, the action isn't unrealistic, and the story doesn't insult your intelligence. It held my attention and I was pleasantly surprised.
April 6, 2014  
Terri - R Cute movie with likeable Jonah Hill clone, Jacob Wysocki, about an awkward, overweight non-conformist and his relationship with his understanding principal and chief advocate (John C. Reilly), his interactions with his dysfunctional friends and family, and his dysfunctional interface with the straight world at large.

Terri is more of a darkly comic, bittersweet ballad than a film with a decisive progression from Point A to Point B; nothing is resolved, and Terri neither receives particularly sound advice, nor gains any meaningful epiphanies into how to make life easier for himself.

Despite this, we do get the impression by the movie's end that Terri has at least stepped onto the long path to self-actualization. The film takes a cue from A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969), repeating that story's poignant message that the world isn't going to come to an end just because you fail to meet mainstream society's expectations, and that it's OK to be who you are.
April 4, 2014  
Pontypool - PG Please! Someone get me some cranberry sauce for this awful turkey! April 4, 2014  
Enemy - R April 3, 2014  
Under the Skin - R March 31, 2014  
Thanatomorphose - Unrated THANATOMORPHOSE (2012) independent
FEATURING: Émile Beaudry, Eryka Cantieri, Roch-Denis Gagnon, Simon Laperrière, Pat Lemaire, Karine Picard, Kayden Rose, David Tousignant
TAGS: body metamorphosis, sodomy

PLOT: In this low-key, avante-garde shocker, a young woman struggles to cope with a hemorrhagic flux which turns her into a living corpse.

COMMENTS: Wow! so disgusting! Thanatomorphose takes its title from a French word for visible post-mortem decay. In the film, Laura (Kayden Rose) is a slacker, wannabe artist who lives an otherwise quiet existence, accented by a few parties with her 20-something acquaintances, and rough sex with her misogynist boyfriend.

With no clear cause, Laura slowly succumbs to some dreadful, Ebola-like condition which begins with mysterious bruises. Before long, her fingernails come off, her teeth loosen, and she's upchucking and urinating blood. Inexplicably, (though perhaps a degree of mental derangement is a symptom of her mysterious malady) she resists seeking medical treatment.

Instead, Laura prefers to isolate herself in her tiny apartment as the disease runs it course. She's subject to frightful nightmares, visual disturbances and hallucinations. Laura's boyfriend and another suitor don't seem particularly alarmed by her transformation, choosing instead to take advantage of her as a sexual receptacle instead of rushing her to the emergency room.

Thanatomorphose's plot is nearly non-existent; we follow the course of Laura's collapse and her transformation into a living, rotting corpse. Laura bounces and jiggles about her apartment, usually full-frontally nude.

Laura makes eggs and bacon, Laura goes uses the toilet. Laura masturbates, even as her body is literally falling apart. Despite a storyline that is linear in the extreme, Thanatomorphose is captivating. The utterly bizarre nature of Laura's ordeal is so puzzling and out of this world that her metamorphosis into a still-animated cadaver, complete with squirming maggots, is somehow engrossing. Perhaps it's the film's direct, almost quietly pensive presentation. While much of what we see suggests ideas about our intimate relationships with our own bodies, those ideas must come from inside us, as the film makes little philosophical headway on these themes.

Thanatomorphose is reminiscent of efforts such as The Fly (1986), Contracted (2013, reviewed here several weeks ago) in which a woman is similarly devoured by a rotting disease. Thanatomorphose's morbid physiological theme also brings to mind to the artful French body disassociation film, Dans ma peau (aka In My Skin, 2002), in which a woman hallucinates disembodiment of her limbs as she slowly consumes herself, and to the necrophilia shocker, Deadgirl (2008) in which two teens discover an undead mental patient strapped to a gurney, and use her as a sex slave.

Thanatamorphose takes the horror of David Cronenberg style, gruesome body metamorphosis, isolates it, and distills it into the focal point of an entire film. Well executed claustrophobic cinematography, and the cloistered, dark interiors of Laura's tiny flat intimately draw us into her decadent odyssey. There's no humor, no camp, and no comic relief. While odd and experimental, Thanatamorphose more or less holds together and sustains itself. The filmmakers pull off their bare-bones premise with macabre style, good timing and editing, and some spectacularly gruesome makeup effects. The Ick! factor is through the roof on this one!
March 16, 2014  
My Little Eye - R MY LITTLE EYE (2012) UK/ independent
WRITTEN BY: David Hilton and James Watkins
FEATURING: Sean Cw Johnson, Kris Lemche, Stephen O'Reilly, Laura Regan, Jennifer Sky, Bradley Cooper, Nick Mennell
TAGS: thriller, mystery, horror

PLOT: Five contestants live on a reality webcast in a remote mansion, but when everything starts to go horribly wrong, is it by accident or design?

COMMENTS: Wait! I know what you're thinking! This movie is actually quite good! It's not a stupid teen slasher or a reality show! OK, actually it's about a reality show -like the TV game show, Big Brother, in which contestants are confined to a specially designed house, cut off from the outside world as in Bio-Dome. In My Little Eye however, the house is a decrepit, Gothic country estate, and it's really way the hell out in the snow-bound middle of nowhere.

My Little Eye was shot way back in 2002, but it never made it to US screens. Viewer feedback indicates that Big Brother fans don't like this film. It doesn't depict a reality with which they're comfortable.

It does however, make for a pretty good horror movie. The appeal to My Little Eye is in our trying to guess a step ahead of the action. As in similar films which begin with the same basic premise - a group of people brought together by an outside entity for an unknown purpose -Cube (1998), Saw (2004), The Killing Room (2009), Exam (2010), Open Grave (2014 -reviewed last month) -tension builds as ensuing plot points suggest and then eliminate numerous macabre possibilities.

In My Little Eye, the obligatory five stereotypical characters enter a contest. The players are credible at least; and not too unlikable. They're the ditsy, Generation X types you expect. The contest? Spend 6 months together isolated in a country manor for 1 million dollars. If anyone gives up and leaves, nobody collects.

What are the odds that they will win?

(Turning down lights, holding flashlight under chin.) What are the odds that the producers are up to something?

The later proposition might indeed be correct, or at least, that's what we start to wonder. The film's effective, brief intro bypasses corny exposition, and after the first three minutes, the film picks up the story a couple of weeks from the show's conclusion. The contestants are now jaded, bored, and planning how to spend the money.

Then the heat goes out and the food deliveries cease. A saferoom which is supposed to be camera-free turns out to be fully wired for sight and sound. The weekly supply drop-off consists of booze and a loaded handgun. What could go wrong with that idea? We're about to find out as a cloud of suspicion and paranoia descends upon the group like a Baby Ruth candy bar sinking to the bottom of a punch bowl.

Who is watching this reality show? If we knew, we might be able to discern answers. In the meantime, the voyeuristic camera angles make us feel complicit. There's something sinister about these cameras which seem almost to stalk the inhabitants, capturing their most intimate moments in both light and dark, even in the bathrooms.

My Little Eye isn't one of those pieces which is presented on surveillance cam as a cheap gimmick. The film looks and flows like any good movie. The camera work is skillful, with creative use of fixed positions to suggest that what we see is only that which the web cameras see. This is enhanced by actual surveillance camera computer screens with green time stamps, zooming in, employing night vision, etc. Minimal use of these shots creates atmosphere without being distracting.

Due to the filmmakers' good sense of style, the effect is eerie rather than annoying. The feeling is that we witness what we would see if we were peeping in windows -which in effect we are, because we've become the audience of the broadcast. Or have we?

We behold a rapid breakdown of the show's arrangement into a treacherous bog of hostility with fatal undertones. There's no control or supervision from the outside world. The players are given no guidance for handling troubling developments.

To the contrary, the stage is set to encourage a total loss of the social contract. My Little Eye's suspense is centered in the fact that neither we nor the participants can glean where all this is going. What are the true intentions of the show's producers? Is there someone else on the property? Is the house haunted? There is something more going on than just the contest. The producers read our thoughts, acknowledging and dismissing each possibility in turn. What the devil then, is the point of all this?

If the reality show concept is familiar, then My Little Eye's story takes a novel twist. The devil is in the details. If the contestants are willing to be stripped of all privacy -essentially dehumanized and probed, in an increasingly threatening situation, then what kind of people are watching?
March 16, 2014  
Jug Face - R JUG FACE (2013) Independent
FEATURING: Sean Bridgers, Lauren Ashley Carter, Kaitlin Cullum, Larry Fessenden, David Greathouse, Katie Groshong, Scott Hodges, Alex Maizus, Daniel Manche, Chip Ramsey
TAGS: hoodoo

PLOT: A young woman faces a moral dilemma when she is targeted by a mysterious, bloodthirsty entity

COMMENTS: With shadings of Pumpkinhead (1988), Rawhead Rex (1986), and Population 436 (2006), Jug Face is an updating of Shirley Jackson's short story, The Lottery. Creative nuances and good timing keep things interesting, giving it a unique feel.

Despite a colorful theme of human sacrifice, Jug Face is no camp-fest. While set in the Appalachian backwoods, the film is free of insulting clichés and cartoon stereotypes. Quick hints and flashes of carnage make the gruesome goings-on good and scary, instead of sophomorically transforming the story into a gory makeup effects smorgasbord.

Refreshingly for a horror film, there's no stilted exposition. Less is more, and enough information is conveyed by the characters' actions that we get the gist of the situation, which is all we need. Any extra would make the story silly and the filmmakers understand this.

And what is conveyed in Jug Face is that in the deep hills, there's a small cluster of inhabitants who maintain an insular, intact community since the time of their pioneer ancestors. Back in those days, a gurgling, blood-filled pit in the middle of the woods kept the crops from failing, healed their smallpox, and kept calamity at bay.

The locals have paid tribute to it ever since. Sadly, it's a hungry little pit. The spirit who inhabits it has developed a hankering for human flesh. These days the only calamity is the tantrum the pit throws if it doesn't get its fill, so the followers see that it does. When the pit entrances a local potter to make a jug with a particular resident's face on it, it's sacrifice time. The backwoodsmen hasten to bring the chosen neighbor to the chopping block so they can receive the pit's continued protection.

But what good is the protection if it means anyone can die, not from pox or famine, but from being sacrificed? Not much, according to young Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) who decides to defy tradition upon discovering that she's the star of the latest blood-letting.

Her decision to resist however, causes all manner of mayhem as the hungry spirit in the pit reaches out for alternative flesh -abducting neighbors at random and dragging them kicking and screaming to its subterranean abode, leaving bloody trails of entrails and dismembered limbs along the way.

Jug Face is fun and fresh. There's no belabored dialogue, or melodrama in Jug Face. Every scene contributes to the whole and moves the story along

Jug Face doesn't offer any great revelations. There's no twist ending, but the denouement spares us a Tinseltown-mandated "happy" resolution. When the credits roll you'll realize you've enjoyed a simple and straightforward, but effective horror story.
March 16, 2014  
Contracted - Unrated CONTRACTED (2013) independent
FEATURING: Najarra Townsend, Caroline Williams, Alice Macdonald, Katie Stegeman, Matt Mercer, Charley Koontz, Simon Barrett, Ruben Pla
TAGS: drama, sci-fi, cannibalism, rape

PLOT:A young woman's already strained relationships are stressed to the max as recombinant DNA changes her into a monster.

COMMENTS: With credits such as Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear (2013), Madison County (2011), and Roadside (2013), filmmaker Eric England is fast establishing himself as a credible horror writer/director. Contracted is his latest effort and it's fresh, saucy, and provocative. Contracted will appeal to fans of films about troubled femme loners, such as May (2002), Alyce Kills (2011), and Neighbor (2009), as well as to aficionados of gruesome bodily transfiguration flicks such as The Fly (1986), and the 2002 French shocker, Dans ma peau.

In this stylish but unpretentious, straightforward horror thriller, Najarra Townsend plays Samantha, a troubled young woman with a sketchy past and an uncertain future. Sam has a thankless waitressing gig in a pretentious restaurant, and is trying to win a scholarship to a trade school. Her goals are complicated by personal strife.

Sam's girlfriend Nikki (Katie Stegeman) is dumping her, she has a tenuous home relationship with her mother (Caroline Williams), and an uneasy alliance with her acquaintances, who are more interested in using Sam than seeing her as a person. Worse, Samantha is a recovering drug addict, so when her life goes awry, those around her assume she's merely relapsed.

And boy do things go awry. After a controversial sexual encounter with a shadowy necrophiliac embalmer who drugs her at a party (David Gomez), Sam's body begins undergoing really weird changes. Bad weird.

Sam's malady starts with some nasty personal bleeding and progresses to uniquely alien changes in her irises. Sam begins a grotesque metamorphosis that smacks of recombinant DNA not of this Earth! Sam needs serious professional help, but it eludes her. She's unwilling to confess the dreadfully personal nature of her symptoms and their origin.

Sam receives little support from those nearest to her. They're all so self-engaged in their own insular scenes, that they view Sam as being someone to use or react to, rather than being someone to engage. Even Sam reacts rather than acts.

Like Sam herself, everyone around her is in a state of denial fueled by their own superficiality. Denial is a sub-theme of Contracted. Sam cringes from medical intervention, even though its unpleasantness pales in comparison to her symptoms. Disguising her disease under makeup and sunglasses, determined to lead a normal life despite her infirmity, she ignores her terrible transformation in favor of priorities centered around her job, failing relationships, and her desire to maintain her trendiness.

Sam's doctor, probably the most inept physician since the era of bodily humors, can't believe what's happening to Sam. Even the authorities realize something's up, but when they try to locate the subject who's spreading the disease, Sam's best friend Alice doesn't report Sam's encounter with him. Instead she rats Sam out to Sam's girlfriend, Nikki (Katie Stegeman) who's more disgusted with the fact that Sam had sex with a man, than she is alarmed by Sam's dreadfully degenerating condition. Even Sam's frustrated suitor (Chris Candy) is so anxious to have sex with her that Sam is able, with a bit of subterfuge, to keep him from noticing that her body is rotting. Throughout Sam's grisly decline, her naive mom just thinks Sam needs motivational intervention

Nobody listens to Sam, and in fact, she doesn't offer to tell them much in the first place. It seems absurd, but given the glib narcissism of the characters involved, it's clear that everyone's vapid obsessions with the superficial elements of their lives take priority over Sam's living death. Self-absorbed, destitute of humanism, they're all in for a big surprise. Sam can only take so much, and the disease within her is squirming like a toad, and swelling up like a sun-drenched cherry tomato bursting with ripeness.

Or putrescence.

Sam is set to explode and when she does everyone had better get out of the way.
March 16, 2014  
Open Grave - R OPEN GRAVE (2013) independent
WRITTEN BY: Chris Borey and Eddie Borey
DIRECTED BY: Gonzalo López-Gallego
FEATURING: Sharlto Copley, oseph Morgan, Thomas Kretschmann, Erin Richards, Josie Ho, Max Wrottesley, Kati Dombi
TAGS: mystery, psychological thriller, sci-fi

PLOT: Six strangers find themselves in a remote location, with a lot of dead bodies around, and no memory of who they are or how they got there.

COMMENTS: When a man, John, (Sharlto Copley) awakens in a deep concrete pit full of dead bodies, matters look grim, but a stranger throws him a rope enabling his escape. Wandering through the night, he locates a country manor, its occupants; the woman who rescued him, and four others. The tentative refuge offers a tenuous sanctuary at best.

Suspected of knowing more than he admits, John's greeting is hostile. The trouble is, John doesn't remember who he is -or even at this point, that his name is John. He's in kindred company in that regard. Everyone else is suffering from same acute memory loss. The quintet's members don't know who they are, where they are, or how they wound up in the house. Some reconnoitering uncovers deep trouble in the heavily wooded countryside. The entourage discovers bodies -a lot of them, a crazy woman chained in a shed, and the presence of surveillance cameras. Someone is watching them, but who, and why?

Inevitably, group paranoia descends upon the party, cloistering them like a clinging funeral shroud. The woman who rescued John knows something, but she's mute and doesn't understand English. Ties to the outside world are cut-off, and it's possible at least one member of the group is a conspirator.

The participants uncover clues as they scout their remote surroundings for answers, and a means of escape. Getting out proves impossible as it becomes apparent that there are much greater dangers at large. The rapid approach of an impending doom forces all involved to confront mounting indications that they are key players in calamity which has connected their pasts. Cryptic signs warn that something is coming -something huge and awful, and to survive it, they must pull together and discover the common denominator which holds the key to their deliverance.

With Open Grave, Apollo 18 director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego manages to deliver a well thought-out, tense thriller. The film begins with shadings of movies about people finding themselves trapped in enigmatic dilemmas, such as Saw (2004), Exam (2009), and Killing Room (2009), then becomes one in which the captives seem caught in some kind of morbid reality show, as in My Little Eye (2002), and Four Boxes (2008). Open Grave doesn't go in either of these directions.

As it evolves in its own unique direction, the premise naturally leads to rapid second guessing and speculation on both our part and that of the characters. Everyone's a suspect and their personalities clash amid fits of self doubt, misinterpretation of facts, and mutual suspicion. Continual, unexpected developments and twists keep us all off balance. While the plot's initial build-up promises something bigger than what we get, as the evidence gels, additional suspense is created by a race against time and the seeming hopelessness of the situation. There's enough complexity to keep things interesting, but not so much that the idea becomes silly, or bogged down in convolutions. Strong casting and the filmmakers' effective sense of timing carry the idea through and make Open Grave on of the better horror thrillers of 2013.
March 16, 2014  
Yellowbrickroad - R YELLOWBRICKROAD (2010) independent
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY: Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton
FEATURING: Cassidy Freeman, Anessa Ramsey, Laura Heisler, Lee Wilkof, Clark Freeman, Michael Laurino, Alex Draper, Tara Giordano, Sam Elmore
TAGS: mystery, puzzler, occult

PLOT: A small entourage of pseudo-anthropologists encounters disorientation, bedlam and horror on the trail of an historic mass disappearance.

COMMENTS: A fortnight ago I discussed the independent puzzler, Resolution (2012). It's plodding and pensive, but delivers on its clever high concept with a disturbing climax. Akin to Resolution, the glibly cyber-entitled Yellowbrickroad follows a like formula and offers a similar experience. It's enigmatic, and saves all of its open-ended answers for its lurid finale. While Yellowbrickroad has fewer puzzler paradoxes than Resolution, first time feature film writer-directors, Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton do a pretty good job considering their half mil micro-budget, incorporating intriguing and colorful elements of mystery, and a couple of relevantly mesmerizing characters.

In Yellowbrickroad, several young academics set out to re-chart a rural New England zone inexplicably reopened and declassified after an unsolved mass exodus emptied a nearby town 70 years in the past. And, you guessed, it, everyone disappeared in them thar hills. Except for their intestines, that is.

OK, not just their intestines. Other parts were found too, but not nearly enough to account for everyone. Some of the emigrants, intestines and all, just...well they just vanished, it we get the general idea.

Or do we?

Because except for several token nods to the 1939 classic, The Wizard Of Oz, Yellowbrickroad's enigma is so perplexing that we mostly forget to question several pretty far-fetched plot holes. Such as why people in the town where everyone disappeared a generation ago are so tight-lipped. If everyone left, presumably today's residents aren't the descendents, and so have no stake in the matter.

But that's OK, because something so unspeakable pervades the locale that just maybe it has a hold on everyone who is afraid to talk about it. One thing's for sure: when a group of 20-somethings venture into the spooky, spooky hills in search of a macabre mystery, we can predict that...well, let's just say, "we knew there'd be death!" A lot of it.

To its credit however, Yellowbrickroad avoids typical deep woods "Boo!" and splatter clichés, instead building on the wilderness atmosphere inherent in being disoriented in a labyrinthine forest. As the team's equipment fails, so do their minds, and the fact-seeking sleuths succumb to bedlam and violence. Time and space mean something different here, and all the while, period music from the era of the disappearance inexplicably wafts across the landscape. The trekkers can't determine it's source -or the way back. The path, nicknamed the "Yellow Brick Road" since its original followers departed from a local theater playing The Wizard Of Oz, held then, as today, some kind of symbolic "way out."

Or not.

For the woods have swallowed our crew of intrepid explorers, their navigational aids won't work, and there seems to be no way off the trail. Reminiscent of an old fable about suicide, in which those who killed themselves were presumed to be dissatisfied with reality, and wound up sentenced to increasingly topsy-turvy, contrary worlds each time they attempted escape, the Yellow Brick Road in Yellowbrickroad obviously leads to some much weirder reality with the grim caveat of "be careful what you wish for."

Like the aforementioned Resolution, or the engrossing but talky, independent sci-fi thriller, Primer (2004), Yellowbrickroad is a niche film. It takes is dialogue-saturated time delivering us to the sensational payoff. All three vehicles would be more effective as half-hour shorts.

Yellowbrickroad offers some gruesome, blackly comedic skullduggery along the way, however and there's one forceful, enigmatic hint for what is to come: an unsettling sound effect that everyone will instantly recognize, but absolutely not be able to place. Until the ending that is, which slaps you with a sickening epitome of recognition, and of course, this adds to the shock value, making the journey worth the time, even if one has to hasten the hiking pace via judicious use of the Fast Forward button.
March 16, 2014  
One Dark Night - PG This is the best of the sorority pledge spending initiation night in a mausoleum movies. I seem to recall hearing an anecdote about damage being done to Hollywood Mausoleum resulting from the filming that was concealed just in time for a celebrity funeral, but I can't find the source now. Anyway, not a bad 80's spook film. Nothing ingenious, but a few innovative and memorable moments. March 13, 2014  
I Declare War - Unrated March 11, 2014  
American Mary - R AMERICAN MARY (2012) WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY: Jen and Sylvia Soska FEATURING: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk, David Lovgren, Paula Lindberg, Clay St. Thomas GENRE: Non-Supernatural HORROR, THRILLER TAGS: rape, gore RATING: 5 PINTS OF BLOOD PLOT: A disenfranchised med student embarks on an underground body modification business, encountering an appalling succession of deviants along the way, and exacting revenge on her faculty mentor as well as all who try to stop her. COMMENTS: Here's a bit of mildly creative cinema that doesn't fit the "general audience" mold, from Jen and Sylvia, the Soska Twins, who have brought us Dead Hooker In A Trunk (2009) and some memorable shorts. With American Mary, they release a simple but serious effort that's entertaining, doesn't insult your intelligence, and is suitably macabre, disturbing, and grisly for the horror genre. Blood-soaked and dripping with sardonic acumen, American Mary establishes a tenebrous mood, thick and dark as mercurial orange surgical goo smeared on skin marked for incision. In American Mary, the dour, two-dimensional, yet charismatic namesake is aptly portrayed by well-cast, Canadian horror movie icon Katherine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) a competent, perhaps talented actress who despite a plethora of television roles is disappointingly underrepresented in cinema. Its a joy to see her on the big screen again. Isabelle's performance is engrossing enough to maintain our attention despite the fact that American Mary's plot, while fun, is so simplistic as to border on being a morbid ballad. Isabelle plays a medical student whose financial obstacles prove to be a serious distraction to her studies, despite her natural talent for surgery. After an appalling incident which finds her at the mercy of depraved faculty wielding complete control over her student in good standing status, Mary drops out. An accidental encounter while exploring alternate income options in "adult venues," draws Mary into the seamy underworld of off-the-record doctoring -the kind that wanted criminals require. Her work is so competent that it leads to a questionably distinctive career in performing radically unconscionable procedures for extreme body modification enthusiasts, the sort whose abjectly perverted requests cannot be met by even the most unscrupulously "legitimate" medical practitioners. As Mary's clandestine business attracts a parade of increasingly insane clients from a secret Internet community, she finds herself inexorably drawn into a maelstrom of decadent criminality. She matches wits with an annoyingly persistent detective and metes out surgical retribution against her one-time faculty mentor, as well as those on the trail of his mysterious disappearance. American Mary doesn't cover innovative new ground. It can't be accused of being overly pensive, nor will it plague us with deep brooding over abstract concepts when we exit the theater. The writers take a bit of artistic license with the factual realities of surgery, yet the film avoids becoming a mindless splatter-fest. American Mary non-judgmentally lampoons our thriving cultural craze for ghastly plastic surgery and self-mutilation. In the film, the fad indicts itself in a way that's eerily funny and entertaining. Isabelle's presentation of Mary's taciturn yet articulate, wry, blackly comedic personality combines with an uncanny succession of bizarre social-fringe characters, darkly colorful settings, and some shocking story points, to produce a viewable and entertaining horror encounter. The film is a cult-worthy effort for all the right reasons. It's offbeat and refreshingly free of the sort of corny camp characteristic of movies which try too hard to realize the distinction. While American Mary proffers up a lot of black humor, its comic side is subtle and unpretentiously droll. This preserves its sinister atmosphere in a way that keeps the story genuine and credible, in turn, setting up American Mary's abruptly unexpected ending in its proper context. February 12, 2014  
Nymphomaniac: Volume I - Unrated Slurp! February 4, 2014  
Nymphomaniac: Volume II - Unrated February 4, 2014  
The Slender Man - Unrated amateurish "found footage" horse crap. February 2, 2014