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.

 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Random Acts of Violence (2020)


Director: Jay Baruchel

Notable Cast: Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Jay Baruchel, Niamh Wilson, Simon Northwood

 

The boom of comedian type actors, writers, and filmmakers making the leap into horror lately is fascinating. Not that the change-up of genre is shocking, in so many ways comedy and horror have an incredible number of elements in common, but that’s more or less for a fully separate discussion. What makes it fascinating is that the industry is not only making the connections between the two, but it – in some regards – is fully embracing it. Between the rise of Jordan Peele as one of the faces of modern horror to the combination of David Gordon Green and Danny McBride on Halloween ’18, the combination has proven to be successful in quality and in the box office.

 

Perhaps this is why it was a bit shocking to see Jay Baruchel’s sophomore effort not garner more attention. Random Acts of Violence, also written by the long time Seth Rogan gang collaborator, sees the actor/writer/director strut into the slasher genre with a modern sense of style in spades. Telling the story of a comic book author Todd (Jesse Williams) who is struggling to write the last chapter of his slasher comic Slasherman, he takes his boo, his manager, and an intern on the road to promote the comic while desperately trying to come up with an ending to the series. When a real slasher killer, the inspiration for the comic, starts to follow them on the road and recreating the kills from the comic, the group and Todd will have to reckon with reality, fiction, and how the two eventual collide in bloody ways.

 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Honeymoon Phase (2020)


Directed by: Phillip G. Carroll, Jr

Notable cast: François Chau, Tara Westwood, Chloe Carroll, Jim Schubin

 

Why is it we are so happy early in a relationship, and why doesn’t feeling last? That’s the question that starts The Honeymoon Phase, and although it doesn’t necessarily persist through the film thematically, it does stand as an interesting launching point for a slow burn sci-fi thriller. There is a persistent, uneasy feeling throughout the movie making it clear there is more beneath the surface, though the film is mostly careful and glacial with revelations, the threatening aura feels laid bare early.

 

Tom and Eve (Jim Schubin and Chloe Carroll) are a young couple going through some financial difficulties, especially since Tom is a writer with a years-long case of writer’s block. Eve discovers a study offering fifty thousand dollars to newlyweds to stay in a home together for thirty days. Seeming simple enough, they decide to pretend to be married for the money. Everything seems to be going along well early, save a bit of uncharacteristic aggressive passion from Tom, until one-night Eve sees Julie, another test subject she met earlier, frantically pounding at her door begging to be rescued from her husband. The door won’t open and Eve is forced to watch as Julie’s husband attacks her and drags away the body. Even worse, no one believes that it happened. Even the security footage betrays Eve as she begins to think that maybe she’s under threat as well.

 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Unhinged (2020)

Directed by: Derrick Borte

Notable cast: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Jimmi Simpson, Gabriel Bateman

 

There is a tendency in film where disaffected men forgotten by society rebel and make some grand statement that boils down to “I am here,” usually while spouting some sort of nihilist street philosophy. Some of our greatest films are in this mold, from Scorsese classics Taxi Driver and The Last King Of Comedy, to their strange love child Joker and everything in between, this is a reasonably well-tread trail. It’s not a bad thing, but the tendency towards making these disaffected men the protagonist created a certain personality of moviegoer that has had the effect of changing these characters into cultural heroes instead of the portrayal of tragedy that they’re supposed to be. More simply? Tyler Durden is a bad guy. Plain and simple. He’s a domestic terrorist and an emotionally manipulative sociopath. To say nothing of the aforementioned Joker. Both enjoy a weird cultural hero status that’s always sat weirdly with me. I think it’s the protagonist that’s the issue in this case, in the sense that these character studies tend to follow the character being studied. Unhinged takes a different and exciting angle with that character type by shifting the focus to the victim of insane, unhealthy rage.

 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Peninsula (2020)


Director: Yeon Sang-ho

Notable Cast: Gang Dong-won, Lee Jung-hyun, Lee Re, Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-jae, Koo Kyo-hwan, Kim Do-yoon, Lee Ye-won, Jang So-yeon, Moon Woo-jin

 

In 2016, South Korea fired one hell of a shot into the arm of zombie cinema. That shot was Yeon Sang-ho’s horror with heart film, Train to Busan. A loose sequel to his animated zombie flick, Seoul Station, Train to Busan came out with a bang. Immediately it was making lists for best zombie films, best modern horror films, and best films PERIOD for the year and the decade. I was a big fan myself and its international success only laid the groundwork to spawn a sequel. Fast forward to four years later and the follow-up, also directed by Yeon Sang-ho, has now been unleashed in theaters. Peninsula, or as it has been stylized for the US release Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula which I refuse to use as its title, is quite the fascinating next chapter of this series. It’s a high-octane shotgun blast of an action flick with a loose heist narrative based in the world of Train to Busan and, while mileage may vary for audiences going in, it never, ever, ever ceases to entertain.  

 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Gamera: The Complete Collection (2020) [Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, Gamera the Brave]

Growing up in a Godzilla household, there was always the mindset that Gamera was just a Big G knock off. The flying, fire eating turtle certainly came out in the wake of Godzilla stomping through the Japanese box office, but for much of the Western cult film fans Gamera was seen as a joke. Godzilla’s first film received a Criterion release, but Gamera’s first film was mostly known because of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yet, just in my lifetime, there has been a resurgence in viewing Gamera as its own merits and as a series with its own themes and tropes. There was certainly help from the strength of the 90s reboot trilogy, but even the original run has had a revitalization worthy of revisiting.

To give even more power to this reclamation of everyone’s favorite jetpack kaiju, Arrow Video has amassed a massive new collection of all 12 of Gamera’s films. With the original run of 8 films, the 90s trilogy, and the final film – Gamera the Brave from 2006, this collection features them all. This series of reviews for the set will go briefly through each entry and then recap at the end thoughts and opinions on the set itself. Considering the number of films included, this series of articles will definitely be as massive as Gamera but will serve as a guide to all the films.

Horrible Imaginings Film Festival: The Return (2020)


Directed by: BJ Verot

Notable cast: Richard Harmon, Echo Porisky, Marina Stephenson, Sara Thompson


Haunted house movies are one of the, if not the, oldest and most venerated sub-genres in the entirety of horror. From The Amityville Horror to Poltergeist, House On Haunted Hill to Paranormal Activity and everywhere in between. The hardest part of one of these movies at this point is doing anything even remotely interesting with them. The trouble with being the original effects genre is that you literally have to reinvent the wheel over and over again in order for it to be effective. Or, more simply, when you see someone looking in a bathroom mirror, you know the next beat is going to be some horrid specter staring out of the mirror as soon as the room vacates. Some of these scares are so completely ubiquitous you can see some variation at the haunted house your neighbor down the block throws together every year. It’s the reason The Return comes as such a pleasant surprise. It feels like a legitimately fresh take and marks an exceptionally auspicious feature film debut for Canadian director BJ Verot.

 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Horrible Imaginings Film Festival: Luz: the Flower of Evil (2020)


Directed by: Juan Diego Escobar Alzate

Notable cast: Conrado Osorio, Andrea Esquival, Yuri Vargas, Sharon Guzman

 

There is a dreamlike quality to Luz: The Flower of Evil that many films aspire to and never quite achieve. In the effortless fashion of a David Lynch or Jodorowsky, Luz creates a world with internal, consistent logic that is both horribly familiar and terrifyingly alien. Every frame of it looks like an oil painting, like a sort of perverse lost Norman Rockwell “Hidden Columbian Religious Cult” collection. It’s almost hard to even call Luz a horror movie in a modern sense of the term, as it owes more to something like the original Wicker Man or The Holy Mountain than anything even close to a slasher movie. It means that it evokes a different kind of horror, something existential.

 

Friday, September 4, 2020

Horrible Imaginings Film Festival: Dead (2020)


Directed by: Hayden J Weal

Notable cast: Tom Sainsbury, Hayden J Weal, Jennifer Ward-Leland

 

Horror and comedy work well together because of a similar sense of pace and revelation. A dependence on surprise. They, whoever “they” are, even say that laughter is actually a type of expression of fear, our minds reacting to unexpected stimulation. A common route is the inherent violence of slapstick or an extreme childish humor, an effort to offset what’s happening on screen. New Zealand horror comedy Dead goes a different way, with light, character-based and situational comedy. It’s a refreshing mood and an interesting take on the otherwise fairly well-tread territory.

 

Marbles (writer Tom Sainsbury) is a low energy stoner making ends meet as a spirit medium, helping people’s loved ones communicate any final messages and pass on. This is presented immediately and factually, as Marbles takes a mysterious injection that grants the ability, and the film admirably wastes no time on any kind of dull subplot doubting his power. After one such session, he finds himself stalked by the ghost of an uptight cop, Tagg (Director Hayden J Weal, Love And Time Travel) who demands Marbles solve his murder, the seventh in a serial murder spree. After Marbles’ mother indicates she’s selling the house he grew up in, a home with memories tied to his recently departed father, he decides to help Tagg in hopes of reward, enough to buy his home outright.