Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Graveyards of Honor: Graveyard of Honor (1975) and Graveyard of Honor (2002)


Two of the most iconic genre directors to ever come out of Japan are Kinji Fukasaku and Takashi Miike. If you’ve been reading this site for any length of time, you’ll notice that these are two are often discussed and that’s because of two reasons. Firstly, so much of their material is getting brand new English friendly releases from various distribution companies and we like to support these companies along with discussing cult icons. Secondly, they are incredible directors and deserve to have their lengthy careers discussed. For this review, both directors will be discussed because Arrow Video recently put out the Graveyards of Honor boxset that features Fukasaku’s 1970s original and Miike’s 00s remake. Both are classics in their own regard and hopefully, if you haven’t already purchased this set – then this double feature article will prompt a few people to pick it up. It’s a wildly nihilistic and extremely effective dual piece of cinematic genre bliss.


Thursday, November 19, 2020

Burst City (1982)


Director: Gakuryu Ishii – under the name Sogo Ishii

Notable Cast: Michiro Endo, Kansai Eto, Shigeru Izumiya, Akaji Maro, Takanori Jinnai

 

After the release of the Shinya Tsukamoto set by Arrow Video earlier this year, the announcement of the upcoming Blu Ray release of the cult and underground Burst City was compelling. It’s a film I’ve heard referred to a handful of times as one of the most punk pieces of cinema to exist not to mention an early cornerstone of cyberpunk. Although this statement wholly rings true, the punk attitude of the film is also the reason why it’s a film that will only have its established cult audience and not reach individuals beyond that. It’s abrasive, in all the ways one might expect, but its inconsistency of tone and meandering narrative hardly work to drive the more compelling aspects. The energy can be infectious and the audacity of its rebel spirit to dutifully expressed in the style, but Burst City is not nearly the iconic underground work it’s often labeled as in cinema.

 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Lake Michigan Monster (2018)


Director: Ryland Brickson Cole Tews

Notable Cast: Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, Erick West, Beluah Peters, Daniel Long, Wayne Tews

 

Absurdist humor is one of those genres that has largely died out in feature-length film, particularly of the mainstream variety. Occasionally, one will seep through the cracks in indie cinema, but rarely does it find legs with a larger audience and garners a wide release – even on home video. Yet, Arrow Video have graced us with a wide Blu Ray release of Lake Michigan Monster, a film perpetually on the edge of falling from absurdist to pure horrifying surrealism. With style to spare, this little low budget creature feature has such an often perplexingly intense energy that it’s hard not to just join in on the sprint to whatever next level of insanity that the film is spiraling toward.

 

As with so much comedy that leans towards nonsense, Lake Michigan Monster is a film that can be hard to follow if an audience to dedicated to ‘Understanding’ what is going on in the film. It’s a film best taken like the tiny kayak that our protagonists utilize to wade out 6 feet into Lake Michigan to hunt the beast – a launching pad for a descent into madness on plans that have no logic.

 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

NFF Presents For Your Lists Only: Body Horror Month (October 2020)


Producer's Note: Life stuff, both on personal and national scales, has been in the way of editing the episodes as of recently.

A new series is tough, as I define music and the visual look of youtube versions for each new show and that process takes longer than you might think (thus us changing themes a couple of times already)... But! I need to catch up on releases because one episode into the new theme months was maybe not the best time for the world to fall apart. (Facepalm) so it's in that spirit that I'm kicking out Pilot Season, two "alpha" versions of two new shows... forgive the lack of music and zazz... but there will be better versions re-uploaded in the future. -- Sean


Nonetheless, here is the latest episode of NFF Presents - For Your Lists Only, part of the new Season 2 roster, and our hosts, Sean and Matt, tackle their top five 80s body horror practical effects. Enjoy. 


Thursday, November 5, 2020

Come Play (2020)


Director: Jacob Chase

Notable Cast: Azhy Robertson, Gillian Jacobs, John Gallagher Jr, Winslow Fegley, Jayden Marine, Gavin MacIver-Wright

 

One of the more perplexing things that has happened since the re-opening of theaters after the pandemic started was that the films that are getting released truly feel dumped onto screens. Most of the bigger titles have shifted out to 2021 or later and what’s left is a hodgepodge of various genre titles that have been given approximately zero real marketing. Studios and producers are terrified to spend any more money on these titles. This leaves some decent films high and dry to cling onto life in a theatrical setting that might be appropriately labeled as a cinematic graveyard.

 

Come Play falls squarely into this category. In the grand aspect of horror released in 2020, it lands firmly in the middle of the pack, but it’s a decent film that deserves better than the desolate wasteland of attention it has received thus far. Come Play is a Babadook’d spin on Lights Out, if one were to boil it down, but even in that simplistic comparison the film works. With some decent atmospheric scares, a fascinating monster design, and a sold dose of familial heart in its plot, Come Play is a horror flick that may not ultimately be one of the best of the year, but it does work.

 

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Honest Thief (2020)


Director: Mark Williams

Notable Cast: Liam Neeson, Kate Walsh, Jai Courtney, Jeffrey Donovan, Anthony Ramos, Robert Patrick

 

It wouldn’t be another year in film if there wasn’t at least one Liam Neeson anchored action thriller to hit theaters. Still, color me shocked that his latest, Honest Thief, was one of the larger films to make it to theaters after the pandemic has crippled the entire industry for most of the year. While so many action films are either postponed or relegated to VOD premieres, leave it to Liam Neeson and his grumbly charm to power through. Fortunately, this latest entry into the action portion of his career is just charming enough, just exciting enough, and just surprising enough to be one that will definitely appease his fanbase. Honest Thief lacks the pizzazz some of the other films of his tenure, particularly those directed by Collet-Serra, but it’s the kind of straightforward comfort food piece of film that hits all of the right spots when needed.

 

When a legendary thief, Tom (Neeson), meets the woman of his dreams (Walsh) he decides to give up his lifestyle, return the money and try to redeem himself. After his attempt to turn himself and $9 million dollars goes south from a greedy FBI agent (Courtney) who wants to stash the cash for himself, Tom will have to fight to clear his name, save his girlfriend, and cleanse himself of his sins.

 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Lucky (2020)


Director: Natasha Kermani

Notable Cast: Brea Grant, Dhruv Uday Singh, Kausar Mohammed, Kristina Klebe, Chase Williamson, Leith M. Burke, Jesse Merlin

 

When it comes to independent genre cinema, one simply can’t ignore the powerhouse ‘triple threat’ that is Brea Grant. Actress, writer, and director, she’s become such a dynamic and important voice that if you haven’t made note of her – do it now. For the focus of this review, Lucky, she serves as both the lead actress and writer, but what really sets this film aside is her teaming up with Natasha Kermani, the very artistic and stylish director of Imitation Girl. When it comes to bold, thoughtful post-genre cinema, the combination tantalizes. To have them work together on a film like Lucky is almost too good to be true. Yet, as the credits roll on the film during Shudderfest 2020, the combination proves as fascinating as expected. Lucky is a densely message heavy horror thriller, anchored by an incredibly nuanced performance from Brea Grant, that uses its artistic atmosphere, dream-like narrative, and pops of brutal violence to hammer home its themes.

 

Friday, October 30, 2020

May the Devil Take You Too (2020)


Director: Timo Tjahjanto

Notable Cast: Chelsea Islan, Hadijah Shahab, Baskara Mahendra, Widika Sidmore, Lutesha, Arya Vasco, Karina Salim, Shareefa Daanish, Karina Suwandhi, Tri Hariono

 

Hell hath no fury…like Alfie.

 

The energetic and stylish arrival of May the Devil Take You was a pleasant surprise. Timo Tjahjanto delivered on a Sam Raimi influenced Indonesian cabin in the woods film filled with black magic demons and flair, fury, and flamboyant gore. It’s still a film I regularly watch to this day due to its strong balancing of genre elements and incredibly high entertainment value. Naturally, a sequel has lofty expectations to go with it considering the strength of filmmaking in the first. May the Devil Take You Too exceeds those expectations with fervor. The balance between gore, dark humor, atmosphere and style is impeccable. Timo takes his influences to the next level, powering tropes and concepts with a distinctly strong sense of execution and fun, then he impressively grounds it all with a story about the ghosts of trauma and the manifested demons of past sins. May the Devil Take You Too is powerful horror film making that will kick its viewers to the floor with dozens of iconic moments and then vomit demon viscera into their mouths to make sure the experience never fades.

 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Tales from the Hood 3 (2020)


 Directors: Rusty Cundieff, Darin Scott

 

One of the more unlikely franchises to exist is Tales from the Hood. Not that it’s a series that doesn’t deserve one, but the fact that it took 20+ years to get the first sequel to the cult horror anthology film certainly seemed like it came a bit too late. Yet, Tales from the Hood 2 was released straight to home video a couple of years ago and it must have sold well enough to warrant another entry. This brings us to the focus of this review, Tales from the Hood 3, the latest omnibus of horror stories that sees the return of writers and directors Rusty Condieff and Darin Scott. Like the previous sequel, this one is a relatively hit or miss affair and the various stories included range from intriguing to downright strange. Just like the last one too, there is an ambitiousness to the proceedings that often is at war with the budgetary constraints. At times this third entry is quite intriguing, but the ultimate experience is lackluster and muddy.

 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Possessor (2020)


Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Notable Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean

 

When Brandon Cronenberg exploded on the scene with his debut feature-length film, Antiviral, he firmly launched a bright red flare into the night sky. I am here. The Cronenberg name is in good hands. However, the length of time between that film and his latest, Possessor, stated something else. Perhaps the strength of that debut was a fluke? Now that Possessor has found a small, but dedicated theatrical release through Neon and Well Go USA, it becomes apparent that the time between films was worth it. Possessor is an incredible piece of in-depth, harrowing cinema. It’s a film where the intensity of its atmosphere is only matched by its bursts of abrasive violence and stark visuals. Brandon Cronenberg has delivered a modern horror film that matches some of the best work of his father, a true high-water mark, and Possessor is truly a statement film.

 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Fantastic Fest 2020: Bloodthirsty (2020)


Director: Amelia Moses

Notable Cast: Lauren Beatty, Greg Bryk, Katharine King So, Michael Ironside

 

Well, it took a bit longer than expected, but now we have it. Werewolf films are, at least in the opinion of this reviewer, something of a repetitive subgenre. When the execution is there, the films can be a wonderful use of metaphor or representation for social and character-driven elements, but the overall repeated focus of lycanthropy as a physical manifestation of an interior force gets a bit tiresome after a while. When it’s good, boy howdy, is it good, but too often films in the genre are all bark and very little bite. Yet, this is the perfect time in horror cinema to partner the werewolf transformation with character-driven artistry. Bloodthirsty has no qualms in bounding right into it. Fortunately, the execution of the film is remarkably strong with plenty of atmosphere to choke on and the focus on characters makes for an effective watch. It’s a slow film though and its minimal approach to its werewolf elements skirts around delivering on some of its promises. Still, Bloodthirsty is the perfect film for the atmosphere and art driven focus of the current scene.

 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Mile High Horror Film Festival 2020: The Cleansing Hour (2020)


Director: Damien LaVeck

Notable Cast: Ryan Guzman, Kyle Gallner, Alix Angelis, Chris Lew Kum Hoi, Daniel Hoffman-Gill, Emma Holzer

 

Since the release of The Exorcist, the number of exorcism films released has been astounding. The waves of popularity in the genre comes and goes with the tides, but often it’s just a retread of the same concepts, plots, characters, and ideas. Occasionally there are some intriguing slants to the proceedings, such as the weird South Korean exorcism meets Blade hybrid Divine Fury or strong execution to carry it like The Last Exorcism, but often times its simply an exorcise in exorcism that goes through motions. Then, of course, there’s The Cleansing Hour. It’s oddly a film with a meta-layered commentary about the redundancy and familiarity of the tropes where it feeds into its own formula with such an energetic and poppy manner that it comes off as, dare I say, charming. It’s often very familiar, but its strength comes from the chemistry of its characters along with a somewhat scathing observation about the nature of modern streaming entertainment. It’s a highly entertaining ‘demon fucks with people dumb enough to fuck with demons’ flick and it knows to play up the gimmicks with a sly smile even while working through the main points.

 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Jiang Ziya (2020)


Directors: Teng Cheng, Wei Li

Notable Cast: Zheng Xi, Yang Ning, Tute Hameng, Yan Meme, Hi Guanlin, Shan Xin

 

After the immense success of Ne Zha for Beijing Enlight Pictures, the studio was quick to unveil their follow up film, one in the same ‘cinematic universe,’ Jiang Ziya. In fact, the studio must have been so confident in the success of Ne Zha that this second film was meant to be unleashed only 7 months after its predecessor. Unfortunately, there was a, uh, pandemic that occurred, and Jiang Ziya’s February release was pushed back until October 1st for theaters. On the plus side of that, it’s completely and utterly worth the wait. Jiang Ziya is easily one of the best films of the year. Incredible animation imbues a challenging fantasy epic, beating with a heart of gold and told in such a gorgeous manner that I couldn't help but be completely encapsulated in its tale of redemption, deception, and defiance. This Fengshen Cinematic Universe might be one of the cornerstones of animation right now and this film, in particular, cements Beijing Enlight as one of the major players in quality cinema.

 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Mile High Horror Film Festival: Alone (2020)


Director: John Hyams

Notable Cast: Jules Willcox, Marc Menchaca, Anthony Heald

 

As a big fan of John Hyams, particularly after the incredibly underrated Universal Soldier films he crafted to reinvent the franchise as dark, philosophical, ultra-violent works of existential debates, the fact that he would tackle a survival thriller-horror had me all atwitter. With Alone, he strips down the genre to its bare minimum and then perfects it, hammering home the core emotional state of the situation rather than trying to slyly inject an asinine angle on it. Only in the hands of a talented cast with a viscerally subtle director could Alone work as well as it does, but Hyams brings together in an impactful manner that makes it one of the best films of the year.

 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Mile High Horror Film Festival 2020: Unearth (2020)


Directors: John C. Lyons, Dorota Swies

Notable Cast: Allison McAtee, Adrienne Barbeau, Marc Blucas, Brooke Sorenson, Rachel McKeon, PJ Marshall, Monica Wyche, Chad Conley

 

One of the big US premieres of Mile High Horror Film Festival, Unearth is aimed to make some indie horror waves in the community. Following in the steps of one of the popular movements in horror currently, which happens to be the slow burn and atmospheric horror that is often (and irritatingly) referred to as ‘elevated horror,’ there is a sense of message and purpose to the film that ought to ring strongly with those who align with this style. While there is not a lot of information or marketing out for the film at this point, making my usual analysis of the context in this opening paragraph a bit moot, keep the sense of artistic approach that directors Lyons and Swies use in mind as the industry preps to back the film for a bigger release in the future. Unearth is a film dripping with intriguing layers, naturalistic characters, and a wild last 20 minutes that ought to have Lovecraftian fans’ ears burning. On the other hand, it’s also one that takes its sweet, sweet time establishing the characters, plot, and stakes to get there – doubling down on the SLOW in slow burn.

 

FANTASTIC FEST 2020: Queen of Black Magic (2020)


Director: Kimo Stamboel

Notable Cast: Hannah Al Rashid, Ario Bayu, Adhisty Zara, Muzakki Ramdhan, Ari Irham, Ade Firman Hakim, Sheila Dara Aisha, Tanta Ginting, Miller Khan, Imelda Therinne, Salvita Decorte, Giulio Parengkuan, Shenina Cinnamon, Yayu A.W. Unru, Ruth Marini

 

When they announced that Kimo Stamboel’s solo directorial effort, Queen of Black Magic, would be one of the films I had the opportunity to watch at the virtual Fantastic Fest this year, my heart skipped a beat. Quite frankly, it was probably the film I was most eager to see. A loose remake of the 1981 bonkers horror classic, the combination of one of the Mo Brothers and writer (and fantastic director in his own right) Joko Anwar was easily a lethal combination that warrants excitement. To put it bluntly, Queen of Black Magic lives up to the expectations. It’s a raucous cinematic experience, powered by a potent balance of atmospheric tension, gag worthy gore, and effective bent narrative storytelling. For fans of either Kimo’s work, solo or with the Mo Brothers, or Joko Anwar, then Queen of Black Magic cannot be recommended enough.

 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Mile High Horror Film Festival 2020: Slaxx (2020)


Director: Elza Kephart

Notable Cast: Romane Denis, Brett Donahue, Sehar Bhojani, Kenny Wong, Tianna Nori, Erica Anderson, Stephen Bogaert, Jonathan Emond

 

“Small price to pay for an awesome ass.”

 

Having worked as a retail manager for a decade or so, there was immediately an intriguing humorous element to the concept of Slaxx that caught my attention. If you have ever worked in the retail world, why wouldn’t you want to see a horror comedy that satirizes the overwhelming consumerist nature of modern society? I fuckin’ did. This is where Slaxx fits. It’s a low-budget Canadian horror comedy brimming with awkward humor, bursts of gore, and plenty of social commentary for those looking to consume a film of this nature. It’s sharp when it wants to be, charming throughout, and just strange enough in some of its choices to remain memorable beyond the credits.

 

It’s no secret to anyone that follows Blood Brothers that horror comedies are, to put it lightly, not my favorite. Satire, on the other hand, is one of the kinds of comedy that does perk my ears which is what initially drew me to Slaxx. Telling the story of a young woman, Libby, she is the new hire brought on board to complete a floor set for a big brand name clothing company. The problem is that their new line up of jeans just might be bloodthirsty living creatures out to devour the staff. Can the quirky people that work in the store survive the night?

 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Mile High Horror Film Festival 2020: Don't Click (2020)


Director: G-Hey Kim

Notable Cast: Valter Skarsgard, Mark Koufos, Catherine Howard, May Grehan, Samantha Hart, Ry Barrett

 

There is a sense of discovery to watching films at a film festival. Perhaps films that have not been seen before or ones that have completely flown under the radar for the majority of film watchers. Unless you work for one of the major news outlets, more than likely there is going to be a handful of intriguing discoveries made while attending a film festival. Mile High Horror Film Festival is no different. It’s been a handful of years since I had the pleasure of attending this one and while 2020 has certainly made it a wholly unique virtual experience, once again it’s a place to find unique films. Don’t Click is the first of such films. While the film occasionally suffers from its limited budget and other hit or miss elements, it’s also a film that takes a wild swing in trying to combine a plethora of lofty ideas while simultaneously injecting a bit of social commentary into the mix. It’s an intriguing combination that proves to be the perfect kind of film festival discovery.

 

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Fantastic Fest 2020: Action U.S.A. (1989)


Director: John Stewart

Notable Cast: Barri Murphy, Gregory Scott Cummins, William Hubbard Knight, William Smith, Cameron Mitchell, Ross Hagen, Hoke Howell

 

Although I have yet to actually attend a Fantastic Fest in person, I will admit that being able to see some of the films from this iconic film festival from the comfort of my home has been kind of nice. Don’t misunderstand that statement, I am a huge theatrical release supporter and once we get to a point in the pandemic that I feel it is safe for myself and others to go back to festivals I will be there in a heartbeat, but for the time being the ‘virtual festival’ is kind of convenient in regards to seeing the movies. Being able to partake in my first ‘Secret Screening’ at Fantastic Fest 2020 is still fun and the fact that they chose to showcase a new 4K restoration of the relatively unheard and lost action film, Action U.S.A., only deserves a round of applause. While the film will certainly play gangbusters with a crowd, even with a movie audience of 1 (and a couple of choice adult beverages) Action U.S.A. is a damn riot.

 

Black Test Car (1962) / The Black Report (1963)


There are quite a few directors that I’ve always wanted to dig into, but between lack of availability to their films, money, and time, I have yet to really work my way through their filmography. Yasuzo Masumura is absolutely one of those directors. A wild and very diversified filmography makes him a fascinating artist, but most of his material has yet to receive proper releases. Perhaps that will end soon. With a slick duel release of his films, Black Test Car and The Black Report, Arrow Video is making a claim to continue their daunting task of hunting down the great and often forgotten cuts of cult Japanese cinema. Both films come in the same package with the Arrow Blu Ray, so for the sake of consistency with the release, both films will be discussed here as the fantastic double feature it is. They also represent two films in the Daiei ‘Black series’ and perhaps there is hope that Arrow has the rights to the rest of the 11 films in that series. Nonetheless, let’s discuss the two films from this latest release.