Tuesday, December 29, 2020

NFF Presents For Your Lists Only: We Wish You A Scary Christmas - Top 2020 Horror (December 2020)


Matt and Sean run down the best horror and horror adjacent movies of the year! Of course, arguments ensue because it's the holidays and family must fight. Hear Matt butcher a Crypt Keeper voice! Will Sean try to give Matt a stroke with one of his choices? Not to mention, they debate if the year 2020 is actually the best horror film of the year. Tune in!






Sunday, December 20, 2020

Pitch Black (2000)


Director: David Twohy

Notable Cast: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, Keith David, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Claudia Black, Rhiana Griffith, John Moore, Simon Burke

 

Vin Diesel’s career has certainly had its ups and downs and, quite frankly, most of his key franchises feel like roller coasters of quality as they careen around attempting to find their footing. One of those happens to be the Riddick series which saw itself soar so high, the sun melted its wings, and it quickly crashed to the ground to become a passion project series for the divisive actor. It’s origins in Pitch Black, the little-film-that-could, are still impressive though. It’s a tight, ambitious, and effective piece of science fiction horror that still holds up. The latest 4K release of the film, courtesy of our friends at Arrow Video, is a welcome upgrade to the previous Blu Ray in my collection that sports not only a slew of the various original and new features, but a gorgeous transfer that maximizes one of the key aspects of its visual style.

 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

NFF Presents Good, Bad, Weird, Wild: Here Comes Santa Claus...RUN! [Bad Santa Films] (December 2020)


Some Santas have rosy red cheeks and big bellies that jiggle like jelly… others shoot innocent people on garbage day and play curling (the devil’s sport). Guess which ones Sean and Matt are discussing?

Do you wanna hear Matt and Sean agree for once? How about if we both choose a film for the 'bad' category that has a die-hard cult following? Is curling really Satan's sport? What are the origins of holiday horror? To find out, you have to tune in! Check out our episode on Bad Santas!








Thursday, December 10, 2020

No Franchise Fatigue: Leo Getz An NFF Holiday Special! (December 2020) [Lethal Weapon]


Matt and Sean spend the twelve days of Christmas talking about the action classic franchise, Lethal Weapon. Topics include Richard Donner, Mel Gibson doing some Tom Cruise running, sharks on boats, Matt has an existential crisis trying to research Lethal Weapon 4, and Sean attempts to explain who the actor is that plays a random thug in an armored car. 







Monday, December 7, 2020

The Deeper You Dig (2019)


Directors: John Adams, Toby Poser

Notable Cast: John Adams, Toby Poser, Zelda Adams, Shawn Wilson, Joan Poser

 

One of the great problems to have when attending a film festival is that often a person can burn themselves out watching new films. As I said, a great problem. During my time at the Telluride Horror Show in 2019, I was privy to see The Deeper You Dig, an ambitious little indie horror flick made on a shoestring budget by, in essence, one family. Between the burnout and the lack of sleep, I didn’t feel fully comfortable at the time doing a full review for the film. Fortunately, the wait to see it again wasn’t long. Our good friends over at Arrow Video picked up the film for distribution and with the snazzy new Blu Ray in tow, I was ready to dig deeper into The Deeper You Dig.

 

Yea, I’m glad I waited to review this with fresh eyes.

 

Sunday, December 6, 2020

He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefe Collection - The Hooked Generation (1968) and The Psychedelic Priest (1971)


Although I don’t claim to be a particular fan of the microbudget horror, fantasy, and science fiction films of this era – as I am most certainly reminded regularly from my reviews on Herschell Gordon Lewis’ films here on the site, but part of me was excited to dig into this latest box set dedicated to the strange works of director William Grefe. All of these films were new to me and each disc of the set will be covered in a series of articles here on the site – which reviews the films on each disc. So, hop in your swamp boat with me, buckle in, and let’s take a dive into the works of Grefe in this gorgeous new release from Arrow Video, He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefe Collection!


Here is disc two: The Hooked Generation and The Psychedelic Priest.

 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Warning from Space (1956)


Director: Koji Shima

Notable Cast: Keizo Kawasaki, Toyomi Karita, Bin Yagisawa, Shozo Nanbu, Bontaro Miake, Mieko Nagai

 

It’s no secret that WWII changed cinema and how audiences reacted to it. There are a small mountain of books, articles, and authors that really dig into the boom of creature features and science fiction that erupted throughout the 1950s and 1960s, so that will not be the intention of this review to explore those facets beyond this introduction. It is a trend and approach to genre filmmaking that becomes important to this article, focused on the film Warning from Space, the 1956 Japanese science fiction romp from Daiei Studios. 

 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

No Franchise Fatigue: Candyman'd Yams! (November 2020) [Candyman Franchise]


After a small mental health hiatus (the editor drove across the country! Literally East to West!!) we squeak into the end of November with a sweet treat! The Candyman franchise.








Friday, November 27, 2020

He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefe Collection - Sting of Death (1966) and Death Curse of Tartu (1966)


Although I don’t claim to be a particular fan of the microbudget horror, fantasy, and science fiction films of this era – as I am most certainly reminded regularly from my reviews on Herschell Gordon Lewis’ films here on the site, but part of me was excited to dig into this latest box set dedicated to the strange works of director William Grefe. All of these films were new to me and each disc of the set will be covered in a series of articles here on the site – which reviews the films on each disc. So, hop in your swamp boat with me, buckle in, and let’s take a dive into the works of Grefe in this gorgeous new release from Arrow Video, He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefe Collection!

Here is disc one: Sting of Death and Death Curse of Tartu.


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.

 

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: Fran├žois 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.

 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Red Peony Gambler 7: Here to Kill You (1971)


Director: Tai Kato

Notable Cast: Junko Fuji, Koji Tsuruta

 

As we reach the final stretch in reviewing the films in the main Red Peony Gambler series, it’s fascinating to see how each entry takes the basic formula, themes, and characters and then adds just enough individualistic pizzazz to set them apart from one another. Even if I was binge-watching them all in a row, there is a sense that many of the entries would pop due to these small and often unique tones. With that in mind and the general roller coaster ride that goes with the quality of the films (most are solid with just nuanced shifts of effectiveness to their storytelling,) the seventh entry of the series, Red Peony Gambler 7: Here to Kill You, is a shockingly impressive entry. The story is impressively relevant to this day, there are plenty of key sequences to appreciate, and there is an emotional journey in Oryu’s story that makes it one of the more poignant entries. It’s not without its flaws, but for fans, this one easily stands out as one of the franchises best.

 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Horrible Imaginings Film Festival: The Brain That Wouldn't Die (2020)


Directed by: Derek Carl

Notable Cast: Rachael Perrell Fosket, Patrick D. Green, David Withers, Robert Blanche

 

Remakes are a tricky business at the best of times. You have to respect the original material, and try to put a spin on it to justify retreading the territory. That second part is more vital than it may appear on the surface, and luckily we have Gus Van Sant’s Psycho as shorthand that spares further explanation. The genre of the fifties and sixties sci-fi horror has been a fertile ground for remakes with its combination of earnest (if over the top) acting, high concept (if silly) stories, and low budget cheesy special effects. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die was certainly ripe for a new take, and freshman director Derek Carl puts his passion for the original on display in a satire on the era that maintains the existential dread Inherent to the concept.

 

Monday, August 31, 2020

The New Mutants (2020)


Directed by: Josh Boone

Notable cast: Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Alice Braga, Charlie Heaton

 

The New Mutants is one of those movies that people thought was cursed. Not in the sense of Poltergeist, but in the “finished but maybe never released” sense. The House Of 1000 Corpses, John Dies At The End, Roger Forman’s Fantastic Four kind of way. Two of those three came out eventually, and as of this week, it’s three out of four. A troubled production, reshoots far after principal photography, and the Disney buyout of Fox were all major factors at play here. None of this has any particular ultimate bearing on the quality of the movie. But any reviewer would be remiss not to mention it. That combined with the roller coaster flying off the rails feeling that is the year 2020 makes this movie a wild release. A theatrical only release when some major markets still aren’t allowing open theaters? (Full disclosure, I live in one such market, and saw this film at a drive-in). But how does it stack up as an adaptation of a beloved series, and more simply as a movie?

 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Black Rainbow (1989)


Director: Mike Hodges

Notable Cast: Rosanna Arquette, Jason Robards, Tom Hulce, Mark Joy, Ron Rosenthal

 

“We steal if we touch tomorrow. It’s God’s.”

 

Quite frankly, when Arrow Video announced that they would be releasing a new Blu Ray release of Black Rainbow, I had very little expectations. Arrow has recently been tipping their hat in the direction of the slightly supernatural dramatic thriller, in particular, their release of Apprentice to Murder works as a perfect double feature with this one, and it’s something of a lost genre that deserves a bit more attention. Black Rainbow is a film that ably slides through the various elements of genre, delivering on just enough dramatic heft, thematic commentary, character study elements, and an assassination plot to be a thoroughly enjoyable film with just enough layers to mark its audience. It’s never a film that defines itself as the most stylish or most intense, but it’s subtlety in its depths and strength in its small moments make it an overlooked diamond film from the late 80s.

 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Zombie for Sale (2020)


Director: Lee Min-jae

Notable Cast: Jung Jae-young, Kim Nam-gil, Uhm Ji-won, Lee Soo-kyung, Jung Ga-ram, Park In-hwan, Shin Jung-geun, Oh Eui-shik, Goo Bon-woong

Also Known As: The Odd Family: Zombie for Sale

 

Now that South Korea has solidified themselves as a place that delivers some fantastic zombie films, including the recently released Peninsula which is raking in some serious dough at the foreign box office, it only makes sense that a western distribution company would grab a zombie comedy (zom com) to capitalize on the boom. The subject for this review is Zombie for Sale and the distribution company in question would be Arrow Video. Now, as a preface to this review, I should mention that I am not the biggest fan of comedies, nor am I the biggest fan of zombie films. Thus, a zom com is not the kind of cinematic experience that I necessarily look forward to. Just go look at my review for Yummy from a couple of months ago. Yet, as soon as Zombie for Sale started marching through its familial caricatures, silly set up, and eventual eruption into zombie chaos, the film revealed itself as fully engaged with its material and charm oozing out of most sequences.

 

Through the charming execution of its broadly painted concept, Zombie for Sale is able to navigate so many of the usual tropes and pitfalls of the genre-bending style. The film is firmly rooted in its comedy first, a tactic that allows the story and narrative, about a questionably shady family who stumble onto a zombie wandering around their small town, to establish its characters and quirky setting. While the initial zombie appears immediately in the narrative and plot, the manner that he stumbles around, being chased by a dog for a large portion of the opening sequences, or haphazardly trying to kill people with little success, is fully played for comedic bits. The tactic works though since the cast and crew seem fully dedicated to selling the tensely humorous relationships for the family and the little world that they live in. Highlights of this portion of the film, prior to their discovery and attempts to capitalize on their newfound zombie and his powers, is all through their banter and interaction. Right down to how the film has one character explain zombies to his father by having him watch clips from another South Korean zombie flick, Train to Busan.




The horror of the film rarely rears its head until the final act, when the full out zombie apocalypse starts to spread, and even then the film is more focused on the dramatic impact of the family trying to survive and find a way out than it does on the horror set-pieces. There are some entertaining moments to the rising action of the film, but horror fans will probably not find a ton to love as the film focuses on its other genres. When it is aiming for horror and tension, it’s mostly the zombie basics of being swarmed and the potential of being devoured. Due to its strong direction, some great cinematography, and entertaining performances, Zombie for Sale gets away with far more than it should have in these regards. It's notable though that the comedy comes first, second, third, and the horror comes fourth. It's not inherently a terrible choice, particularly since the comedy and performances carry so much weight, but it's something to be aware of for people walking into this film for the first time. 

 

As with so many of Arrow’s releases, Zombie for Sale is a fairly stacked release in terms of features. The full list is below and for anyone interested in South Korean cinema, zombies, or comedies, then this release comes highly recommended. The most valuable feature I found was the fun video essay by Pierce Conran for his analysis on satire in South Korean cinema which adds a glorious layer to the film for multiple rewatches.

 

Ultimately, Zombie for Sale is a film utterly powered by charm and strong execution of its silliness and social commentary while using the zombie formula to explore its themes and ideas. There is very little true horror to the viewing experience which is something to note for fans looking for that perfectly balanced zom com, but it’s not a deal-breaker thanks to its strong sense of visual punch, entertaining set pieces, and relentlessly firing banter and jokes. Truthfully, while not a perfect film, Zombie for Sale is the best zombie comedy since Shaun of the Dead, just for the sheer energetic outpour of its style, tone, and delivery. It’s highly recommended.

 


ARROW VIDEO FEATURES: 

High-Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

Original uncompressed Stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD MA options

Newly-translated English subtitles

Brand new audio commentary with filmmakers and critics Sam Ashurst and Dan Martin

Q&A with director Lee Min-jae from a 2019 screening at Asian Pop-Up Cinema in Chicago, moderated by film critic and author Darcy Paquet

Eat Together, Kill Together: The Family-in-Peril Comedy - brand new video essay by critic and producer Pierce Conran exploring Korea's unique social satires

Making-Of Featurette

Behind-the-Scenes footage

Original Trailer

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Mike Lee-Graham

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector's booklet featuring new writing by Josh Hurtado



Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Gamera: The Complete Collection (2020) [Gamera Vs Jiger, Gamera Vs Zigra, Gamera: Super Monster]

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 life time, 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 amount of films included, this series of articles will definitely be as massive as Gamera, but will serve as a guide to all the films.

 

Relic (2020)

Directed by: Natalie Erika James

Notable cast: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote. Jeremy Stanford

 

I've said before, both briefly in writing and many times broadly in my life, that the reason I love horror as a genre more than any other is that it's the only genre that can tell any kind of story. This is for a few reasons, it and comedy share pacing concepts, and it shares drama's allegorical abilities. It shares action's spectacle and still brings a flavor uniquely its own. It's why the genre ranges from titles like Gingerdead Man to The Silence Of The Lambs. I have always felt, however, that it's greatest strength narratively (there are psychological benefits to enjoying horror as well, as it's a safe space to explore the darker emotions of life) is that of metaphor. By exploring the horror that's generally popular at any given time you can see what society at large was afraid of. Relic uses horror as a lens to explore some of the most fundamental fears that exist, and I think that feat alone makes it worth viewing.