Joe R. Lansdale is the Mark Twain of genre fiction. I can’t think of a more thoroughly American horror writer, with the possible exception of Ambrose Bierce. But for all Bierce’s brilliance, his vision was sharply defined by unwavering misanthropy and cynicism. Lansdale, like Twain, has range. He’s done horror, crime fiction, Westerns, comics, and non-fiction, with an emotional spectrum running from fear to humor to pathos. Poe and Lovecraft largely called back to the British horror tradition. Stephen King draws reliably and convincingly from his upbringing in small-town Maine, but Lansdale’s writing is East Texas.
All Hail the Popcorn King,Hansi Oppenheimer’s new documentary, gives the viewer a decidedly low-budget hour with Lansdale. Largely made up of interviews with Lansdale and his friends, family, and fellow artists, it feels more like a home movie than a polished studio production—which is the perfect way to experience his world. Popcorn King features a brief biographical sketch, an introduction to some of its subject’s more famous and influential writing, and some other key influences on Lansdale as a person—politics, martial arts, and of course, East Texas.
He’s a decidedly likable subject. Articulate but unpretentious, principled but nonjudgmental, folksy but authentic, listening to Lansdale feels like being at the local bar, listening to an old-fashioned raconteur holding court. He’s the kind of guy you’d want to go fishing with, taking in all that wisdom over a cooler of beers and a can of nightcrawlers. I could happily have watched for another hour and a half.
Which is where Popcorn King’s greatest strength paradoxically becomes its only significant flaw. It sometimes feels like Oppenheimer tries to squeeze too much into the film’s short runtime. While it’s interesting to learn more about Lansdale’s upbringing, as a writer I wanted to hear more of his thoughts on his own work, on the genres he’s chosen to write, and on his philosophy towards storytelling in general. We hear about the greatest hits (the Hap & Leonard series, Bubba Ho-tep, etc.), but I wanted to get more into the weeds. If you came to Popcorn King knowing nothing about Joe R. Lansdale, you would come away liking him, but perhaps not seeing what makes him so unique as a writer.
And that might not be a fair criticism. Oppenheimer’s documentary is clearly a labor of love, which she not only directed but wrote, shot, and produced. I can only hope she gets the chance to re-explore Lansdale’s life and singular genius in a longer form.
Homewrecker, the new movie directed by Zach Gayne and released by Uncork’d Entertainment, is a modern and stylish psychological thriller. The story is based around Michelle, an engaged woman with some hesitations, played by Alex Essoe (Starry Eyed, Doctor Sleep). Michelle is befriended by an older woman who invites her home after a shared exercise class. The visit soon turns into a cat and mouse game where secrets are revealed, and violence ensues.
The older woman, Linda, is embodied thrillingly by Precious Chong (Pearl Harbor, L.A. Confidential). Precious Chong is a joy to watch. Even though the other actors bring it to the table, Precious serves it up. Playing an aging, lonely woman stuck in a colorful 1980s past, she is captivating, unsettling, and even funny. There were times during the film when I felt like I’ve known real people like her. Where both actors shine were the moments when subtle red flags were raised, and social norms dictated politeness.
Linda becomes increasingly more dominating and manipulative, using those social norms against Michelle in the vein of Funny Games by Michael Haneke. Although not as taut a film as the grim Funny Games, Homewrecker is in some ways an easier watch. It is much more colorful overall and at times laugh-out-loud funny. Although there are moments of situational and character-based humor, the humor also holds an underlying darkness and an unsettling quality.
Throughout the film there is a casual, conversational acting style. Handheld camera movement and placement compliments the naturalistic acting and creates an air of voyeurism. There is a realism and real world feel that really compliments the story. The modern minimalistic soundtrack accentuates this as well. If you like psychological thrillers, if you like character-based horror, if you’re a fan of dark humor, this is the film for you.
Greetings, sports fans! Time for a confession. When I’m not hacking up bodies in the lab or working on ways to resurrect them, I do like to occasionally kick back and relax with athletic competition. Traditional “sports ball” games don’t engage me that much, but when it comes to the grunt and groan antics of professional wrestling, I’ve been a long time fan.
I go quite a ways back, to the days of Mad Dog Vachon, the Crusher and Verne Gagne, from a time before pro wrestling became the corporate past-time it is today. I remember seeing Verne Gagne pull the mask off Dr. X (the wrestler, not the fiend played by Lionel Atwill in the 1930s) in a smoke-filled high school gym when I was barely old enough to wear pants and I was hooked for life. I miss the good old days when the secrets of wrestling were hidden deeper than the location of a Mafia graveyard, but I’ve kept up with the times and enjoy modern versions of the grappling game like AEW and MLW.
Therefore, my interest was considerably piqued when I heard of Wrestlemassacre, a wrestling-themed horror film featuring some actual grappling stars. To be sure, this is not the first wrestling horror movie…the film Wrestlemaniac featuring famed luchador Rey Mysterio as a masked killer was surprisingly effective…but for sure there are not a ton of grappling gorefests around.
Nobody should expect high art when “lowbrow” entertainment like horror and pro wrestling collide, but Wrestlemassacre winds up being even trashier and sleazier than I anticipated. Consider the first few minutes of the movie, where a monstrous killer in full wrestling gear chases a fully nude woman through the forest and quite literally rips her face off in a scene that already had my jaw dropping. To cut to the chase, Wrestlemassacre is a work of total trash that looks like it was shot over the course of a booze-soaked weekend in the vicinity of Handsome Jimmy Valiant’s training camp.
This one has the main attributes required for a grade-Z psychotronic outing: gratuitous sex and nudity, extreme gore, horrid acting and a lack of logic. So, if those are the things you are looking for, you have found them.
The film in many ways can be considered a bargain-basement, wrestling-themed version of Joker. A meek, low-functioning schmuck is tormented beyond endurance until he snaps and goes on a bloody rampage. Somehow Joker wound up winning an Academy Award; Wrestlemassacre makes the average Troma offering look like a Criterion Collection candidate. The storyline is old and tired, but the thing about “worm turns” revenge movies is that they almost always work on a primal level. If you liked seeing Travis Bickle and Arthur Fleck wreak bloody vengeance, you’ll probably enjoy seeing Randy the lawn worker run amuck here.
The direction here is so flat and the acting for the most part so incompetent that you will almost certainly need some kind of chemical enhancement to make it through the flick. I’ve been watching bad films for a long time and there are some performances here that rank among the most abysmal I’ve seen. I had low expectations going into this, but those depths were surpassed.
However, wrestling fans will get a kick out of seeing some old-time favorites here. Handsome Jimmy Valiant aka The Boogie Woogie Man plays a fairly important part and it’s fun spotting old-timers like Tony Atlas, The Sandman, Nikolai Volkoff and Manny Fernandez pop up (although Volkoff’s “performance” is one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen). I think some of the other cast members are local wrestlers or students at Valiant’s training camp. There are a couple of action scenes featuring wrestling moves that are pretty exciting, if you’re a fan.
Well, let’s lace up the boots and hit the ring…
We are first introduced to young layabout Owen and his girlfriend Becky. Owen is in deep, deep trouble as he owes local cowboy “midget” crime lord Mr. Valentine (I kid you not) a sum he cannot repay. Valentine’s extremely foul-mouthed and sleazy lieutenant Jackie has a laundry list of terrible things he will do to Owen and Becky if the money is not forthcoming. Once this scenario is set up, we then learn that hulking, simple-minded lawn worker Randy is working on Owen’s property.
Randy is the hero/villain of Wrestlemassacre. He’s played by Richie Acevedo, who had an actual ring career as The Cuban Assassin (not the most famous one, though…there’s been many Cuban Assassins throughout the years). Physically, Richie is perfect for the part as he looks like a shorter, stockier version of wrestling legend Bruiser Brody. As an actor, well, he tries his best. Basically, Randy is another version of a “Lenny” character, referring back to the idiot farmworker in Of Mice and Men. Randy’s main function in life seems to be a human pinata for others to beat and tear down. He’s insulted at almost every turn. His only pleasures in life are watching pro wrestling and a strange evangelist with a dreadful toupee.
Everything seems to go wrong for poor Randy. After secretly watching one client’s wife taking a shower and then getting the hell beat out of him by her wrathful husband, Randy is informed that he no longer has a job at the lawn service company. The owner of the lawn company is “Mr. Hogan,” drolly played by Rick Jermain, who delivers one of the few good performances here. A lot of characters have wrestling names like Hogan, Vince, Brutus, etc. After his firing, Randy decides to risk it all and try for a career as a wrestler. He enlists at Boogie’s Wrestling Camp.
Boogie is legendary rassler Jimmy Valiant, who pours on the coal as a ruthless taskmaster. This scene takes place at Valiant’s actual wrestling school and probably in front of one of his actual classes. Wow, I would love to spend time checking out the old school wrestling photos and memorabilia that festoon this place. When Boogie asks for a volunteer, Randy enthusiastically steps into the ring…only to be humiliated by Boogie and laughed at by the class. It’s almost more than a man can bear.
The final straw comes when Randy speaks to his dad, a former wrestler played by the great Russian heel Nikolai Volkoff. This is one of the saddest scenes I’ve ever seen, as it is obvious that Volkoff is a very sick man and in no condition to act. To see the former strongman, who could turn an apple into applesauce just by closing his fist, reduced to this state is very hard to see and in fact, Volkoff passed away shortly after completing the movie. At any rate, his character gives son Randy a humiliating tongue-lashing, which finally pushes the poor slob over the edge. He strangles his Dad and is transformed into a murderous “wrestlemaniac.”
Now the gore begins to flow and believe me, it’s about as crazy and over the top as any slasher I’ve ever seen. Dressed in full grappling gear, Randy goes about getting even with everyone who’s ever put him down. He rips off faces, pulls out guts, tears off heads and in one particularly goofy scene, uses a weed whacker to turn a guy’s face into marinara. What’s funny about Randy’s rampage is that wrestling moves and holds that would be obviously brutal if applied full force are now actually applied for real, resulting in gruesome mayhem. Randy also makes his own “championship belt” by stitching together the faces of his victims…an absurd but cool visual.
While Randy is on his path of vengeance, Owen and Becky are being terrorized by Mr. Valentine, Jackie, and a crew of thugs. They had a couple of guests over during this house invasion who are unfortunately now part of the nastiness. This is a good place to mention that the woman playing Torie has got to be one of the most miserable actresses to ever grace the silver screen. I’m talking Ed Wood—Orgy of the Dead—levels of incompetence here.
Well, Randy definitely has a thing for Becky and makes his way to Owen’s place. This is where the wrestlemassacre of the title really takes place. Joining the mayhem is Becky’s tough and studly brother Shawn, played by former WWE star Rene Dupree. Dupree comes across as one of the best actors in the film, even pulling off an explicit sex scene.
The movie winds up in a bloody cluster as psycho Randy, gun-toting Shawn and Valentine and his goons all collide and go at each other until the expected nonsensical ending. A demon manages to join the fun, looking like he grabbed a mask off the clearance rack at Spirit Halloween.
Not much to say about Wrestlemassacre except it winds up even goofier and more mindless than my description may lead you to believe. But one thing I’ll say for it: It’s not dull. Wrestling fans will get a special kick out of it. There are actually some pretty good fight scenes, particularly Randy’s confrontation with Jackie. I’m not familiar with Jimmy Flame, who plays the nasty henchman, but he must be wrestling on some indie circuit as he matches up real well with Mr. Acevedo. Wish I could say the same about Shawn’s dust-up with Randy. Given Dupree’s skill, that fight should have been a slobberknocker, as good old J.R. might say. But it’s so dark and poorly filmed that it disappoints.
There’s a strong cult of wrestling fans who go for underground “death matches” where guys get slammed onto thumbtacks and broken glass and they cut each other up with weapons. That’s the target audience of Wrestlemassacre and they are welcome to it. With better direction and acting, this movie could have been further up the food chain. As it is, this is the raw meat of both horror and wrestling.
What happens when you’re a gig driver and you pick up a fare that’s in the middle of a life-and-death battle with demons? The new release from Uncork’d Entertainment, director Glenn Payne’s Driven asks and answers that very same question. Starring Casey Dillard and Richard Speight, Jr., Driven is a fun mix of tension, action, and humor.
This film uses the same convention that’s successfully employed in Jim Jarmusch’s 1991 film A Night on Earth. The Jarmusch film features several rides inside city taxi cabs all on the same night. Driven also uses a paid car service, in this case an Uber-type business called “Ferry.” All the action takes place within the same car on the same night. This convention works well to aid the film’s humor as well as the normal-man-in-unusual-circumstances aspect. The action all takes place outside the world of the protagonist, at times, literally, right outside the window.
In Driven, the everyman archetype is represented by Casey Dillard’s portrayal of the Ferry driver. Dillard is also the screenwriter, which is not surprising, as it’s obvious that she deeply understands this character. This is the first time I’ve ever seen her in a film, and I hope to see her in future roles.
I enjoy Richard Speight, Jr. quite a bit as The Trickster character on the long-running television series Supernatural. In Driven he plays a troubled and terse man during a crisis. Driven does have a demon-hunting horror and humor mix that is reminiscent of Supernatural. Speight has quite a different role, however, and it’s nice to see him here as the lead.
The humor in Driven is cute and light, juxtaposing nicely with the horror elements. Although at times I wished the film went a little deeper into the relationship between the two main characters, the characters’ backstories, and the demons, but ultimately that’s not what this film is about.
Driven is an at times funny, at times scary, night-in-the-life-of, gig-driving, demon-hunting, all-around entertaining movie.
The receptionist in a police precinct lobby blindly goes about his work when an obviously injured woman enters. She stares at him for several minutes; he does not look up. She haltingly, agonizingly walks toward a vending machine, buys a can of soda, drinks it.
She eases her way back toward the door, looks again at the receptionist.
“Is this how you want to live your life? Is this what you want?” she asks.
The receptionist, without looking up, dismissively raises a hand, pauses, finally looks at the woman and says, “Yes.”
She repeats herself, this time more forcefully as the sound echoes and intensifies.
Boom, cut to the title sequence.
So goes the opening scene in Luz, the feature-length (barely) directorial debut of Tilman Singer, a German filmmaker/writer whose work here earned considerable buzz on the festival circuit.
That opening is so tedious, so threadbare as to make one wonder if this is about to be a giant waste of time. Yet, the grainy footage (16mm) is so moody it’s almost hypnotic. That, viewers soon discover, is Singer’s magic.
Luz is the title character, a cab driver who wears a baseball cap backwards and whose personality seems as subdued as that of a snail. But her backstory, we’ll soon learn, is anything but mundane.
After that opening scene, Tilman shifts his focus to a bar where an attractive, flirtatious woman named Nora strikes up a conversation with an intense man — Dr. Rossini, a psychologist — who slowly warms to a story that makes little sense initially. She talks of meeting Luz in school in Chile and of a ritual performed that summoned a demon. That demon, she says, wants Luz back.
Nora (Julia Riedler) then lures the doctor to a restroom where after what appears to be a sex act, she gives him a kiss, imparting a glowing menace into his horrified, gaping mouth.
Later, we’re taken back to the police station, where Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) is about to place Luz under hypnosis. Also present are a couple of detectives, one of whom is in a sound booth recording the interrogation. It’s now clear Luz wrecked her cab, injuring herself and evidently killing Nora. The two had met again by chance in Germany.
Under hypnosis, Luz begins to relive those events, miming her driving and encounters with others. The miming soon becomes a reality that threatens all of those in the room.
Luz is an amazing if at times confusing bit of work from Tilman, who eschews convention at every turn. The movie, just 70 minutes in length and subtitled, plays out in parallel scenes, with mismatched time sequences and dialogue — spoken at times in English, German and Spanish — that requires work to follow. The title character, magnificently played by Luana Velis, builds from misunderstood to misanthrope. She occasionally utters a profane version of the Lord’s Prayer for reasons unknown … until known.
As good as Velis and her castmates are, this is all about Tilman, who appears to be one part Cronenburg, one part Argento, one part Lynch but who is wholly an original. His spartan sets, hazy footage and, most especially, atmospheric synth sounds give this a feel unlike any other.
This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. As horror movies go, this isn’t scary or easily understood. Perhaps the best word to describe it is unnerving. Luz is a bit like watching paint peel, but it’s mesmerizing as those falling flakes give way to something unexpected.
Like many of you, I’ve been looking for some decent, satisfying horror to watch during these crazy times. The horror offerings on many of the streaming platforms have been tame for the most part. I haven’t seen anything new that’s blown my mind or made me excited. This makes me a sad Barb.
However, after watching the trailer for a film called The Luring (2019), I became hopeful that a viewing of this movie might help to turn things around. Was it successful in fulfilling my hopes or was I left wishing that I had done nearly anything else with the hour and a half I spent watching this movie? Hang with me for a few and find out.
The Luring is the first full-length feature written and directed by Christopher Wells. This film was one of the more anticipated entries of the 2019 Panic Fest film festival as it was making its worldwide premiere at this event. Since I was not an attendee at Panic Fest, I was curious to see what I missed out on because I’d heard a lot of positive things from the folks who were able to see it on the big screen. Unfortunately, after watching The Luring for myself, I was left wondering if I’d watched the same film that everyone had been raving about.
Essentially, The Luring doesn’t live up to the hype. Aside from a couple of disturbing twists, the film doesn’t deliver anything that I haven’t already seen before. The plot is that Vermont is a fucked up area and that New York City is THE best place on Earth to be. Well, not really, but we hear something similar being said several times throughout the movie by the main characters. The actual plot of this film is generally about a traumatic event that happened to a child attending the 10th birthday party of Garrett, the protagonist.
We’re introduced to an adult Garrett (Rick Irwin) in a meeting with his doctor where they’re talking about the past happenings at his parents’ Vermont vacation house where his 10th birthday party took place. Garrett doesn’t remember much about Vermont, or what happened there, but he does recall his folks placing him in an institution shortly after the unfortunate incident occurred. The doctor diagnoses Garrett as having dissociative amnesia caused by experiencing such a traumatic event. So, Garrett decides to return to the house in Vermont to see if it triggers his memory.
Naturally, he brings his girlfriend, Claire (Michaela Sprague), along for companionship. Actually, that’s only partly true because we learn that Garrett’s “excited” to return to the house to meet up with some mystery person (Molly Fahey) who’s reached out to him on social media and has informed him that she can help him with his memory mission.
Now, I don’t know if this movie is supposed to be an intentional love letter to Stephen King, but The Luring borrows heavily from The Shining (1980), as well as a couple of other King works. For instance, once Garrett meets the masked mystery woman who helped lure him back to Vermont, he begins his Jack Torrance inspired downward spiral and does Jack Torrance-type things. Hell, even the Vermont house has an Overlook feel to it. There are also a couple of other elements within this film that you may find very familiar, including a red balloon and a weird giant clown creature. Also, if you do decide to give The Luring a watch, pay attention to the realtor and let me who he reminds you of.
I should tell you that while this isn’t a gore-packed film, there are a couple of disturbing scenes of child endangerment and worse. One of these scenes happens once the identity of the mystery woman is revealed, and we see what actually happened at Garrett’s birthday party all those years ago. The other scene is something ala Pet Sematary (1989), so nothing more to say about that. Anyway, in wrapping this up, The Luring is a movie for fans of horror/psychological thrillers.
The Luring debuts on demand June 16, 2020. If you’d like to learn more about this film, you can check out the official Facebook page or find it on IMDB.
Why on Earth would anybody mess around with a Ouija board? Judging from the awful results of using one seen in dozens of movies and TV shows over the years, you’d have to be a few McNuggets shy of a Happy Meal to try contacting the spirits by means of Ouija. Seriously, can you name me one example of a happy result from using a witchboard?
Now we can add one more movie to the long list of Ouija-oriented horror flicks. Directed by John R. Walker, Ouijageist is an extremely low budget film from Britain detailing the latest wretched result of playing around with undead forces. No doubt this one is heavily influenced by 2014’s Ouija, the last well-known film on this subject. Does it offer anything new in this highly specialized subgenre?
Not even for a minute. This is by all standards a predictable and unoriginal film that virtually embodies the word “average.” Now there are a few things this little escapade has going for it, but these little touches aren’t enough to elevate it to the “must see” category. Putting together a film from scratch is far from easy and the difficulties are not to be lightly dismissed, but there’s really an avalanche of these direct-to-streaming horrors and you’ve got to do something different or off the wall to break through. Ouijageist simply does not do this.
The basic plot of almost all “Ouija” movies can be summed up simply in one sentence: people (almost always young people) find an old Ouija board, use it and suffer from terrible things. So it is here. Of all the movies with this plot, 1986’s Witchboard did the best job of running with the concept.
Ouijageist does have an intriguing beginning sequence, with a man running through a remote forest. He’s running from something or someone, but what, we can’t clearly see. We find out that he is in the Swiss Alps. He stumbles into a lonely farmhouse and sees a dead body that he recognizes. He also finds an old wooden case, which is making some appalling mumbles and whispers that sound rather like the intro to SLAYER’s “Hell Awaits.” We’ll be hearing a lot more of that before this is over. While this is going on, the soundtrack is going full blast with some really cool analog synth music, like something John Carpenter or Fabio Frizzi might cook up. To tell the truth, this retro synth soundtrack is one of the movie’s strongest assets.
The man picks up the case and heads off into the forest. Finally, he buries the case beneath branches and debris and then lays back and laughs maniacally as we see the shadow of a pursuing figure….
This is one hell of a way to kick off the movie, but it may also be the strongest part of the film. Well, Ouijageist is certainly not the only movie to start with a bang and then peter out…
The scene switches to contemporary Britain. Young single mother India Harper (Lois Wilkinson) has just moved into a beautiful new flat with her young baby Emily in tow. It’s established right away that India is struggling to make ends meet, so how she is able to afford the spacious two-level apartment with a large garden is unknown…maybe another mystery of the supernatural? I have to say that Lois Wilkinson makes for a slightly different horror heroine. Although not ugly, she is by no means the typical knockout starlet and this is one of the aspects of Ouijageist that I like. The role is somewhat cliched, but she gives it her best and helps to make the movie watchable.
While exploring the lush garden around the apartment, India, her mum Karen and girlfriend Becca find a wooden box buried in the debris. It’s an old Ouija board, also known as a witchboard. And it’s also the very same board that the man in the early scenes was burying in Switzerland. The apartment landlord Laurie (Roger Shepherd) doesn’t know what to make of it but says it’s a great antique.
It doesn’t take long for India and Becca to start playing around with the Ouija board. And true to all other Ouija-oriented films, horrible things start to happen. Becca takes a tumble down the stairs, baby Emily almost drowns in the bathtub while the door to the bathroom mysteriously locks itself, and finally the handyman hired to clean the roof gutters falls and suffers a bloody death. This last scene, involving an evil garden hose and a ladder of very modest height, comes across as being pretty ridiculous.
Under questioning, Laurie reveals that the apartment’s previous tenants have also suffered from terrible experiences. The flat has a reputation as being “cursed.” India is slow to believe it, but when she has a lunch with her drug-dealing ex-boyfriend and Emily’s father Paul, there’s no longer any doubt. In another goofy scene, Paul drinks scalding hot coffee, screams and then roars at India while becoming a kind of zombie before running out the door. All this in the middle of a cafe, where the other patrons are somewhat put off, to say the least.
The accumulation of weird happenings leads India and her friends to seek the advice of the local bishop, who turns out to be a garrulous old chap who spends quite a bit of his time talking about the Poltergeist movies. The whole scene with this rather fatuous man of the cloth results in very little concrete strategy, although he does definitely seem to endorse the idea of demons.
Laurie and India try to get answers from the witchboard itself in a séance, but nothing happens. “The spirits aren’t going to give any answers tonight,” sighs Laurie. Which of course means that action is about to pick up, which it does the minute India is left alone. She suddenly gets assaulted and chased by a series of zombies, who are all previous victims of the Ouija board. The zombie makeup is quite acceptable for a low budget film, but there is something lacking about the flat way the zombie attacks are filmed.
The last ten or 15 minutes bring us a delirious rush of action as India is literally chased across town by the spirits of the dead. I know it’s a quiet suburban neighborhood, but you’d think at some point she would run across a cop, a passerby or a drunk. Everything culminates in a final confrontation at the graveyard, where India gets to summon up her inner “Ash” and go all Bruce Campbell on the ghouls.
Ouijageist emerges as a pretty insignificant film, almost hardly worthy of notice. It doesn’t reach the heights of badness where it crosses the threshold to being really entertaining, although the scene in the coffee shop and the one with the garden hose come close. There are small victories like Lois Wilkinson’s performance as India, the appealing synth soundtrack and the decent zombie make-up. But the whole affair is so predictable, including the “wicked” finish, that you have the feeling that the entire movie was written and directed by an algorithm.
I’m guessing the folks that got together and shot this had an absolute blast. It’s unfortunate that viewers won’t share that feeling. You don’t need the help of spirits to figure out Ouijageist is just another horror movie among many in the digital age.
Girls Just Wanna Have Blood, written and directed by Anthony Catanese, is the type of film that you’d expect to see screening around 4:15am at a local exploitation horror film fest. That’s not a knock on these sorts of films, but if you are expecting anything other than tasteless teenage humor focusing mostly on tits and ass, you have wandered into the wrong movie theater.
The film starts off with a bang, as our trio of vampire gals lures a cashier to his bloody demise before the opening credits roll. I’ve always been of the opinion that vampire blowjobs are a creative death not used nearly enough in horror films. Trish (Destyne Marshai), April (Penny Praline) and Stacy (Gigi Gustin) are the type of blood-sucking freaks that the indie horror world tends to root for. Unfortunately, in this feature-length film that would have done much better as a short film, you kind of look forward to them meeting the business end of a wooden stake. If only the hero of the movie didn’t have a face that was so damn punchable.
Jessica (Amanda Renee) is an honest teenaged girl tasked with watching over her baby brother, all while hoping to get out of town once high school is over. As if her trailer trash upbringing and the stress of high school weren’t enough, she’s also being trailed by our blood-thirsty gang. When Jessica finally succumbs to the pressure of joining the immortal children of the night, the blood-draining and partying ramps up several notches.
Of course, you can’t have vampires without an adversary. The vampire hunter of the film looks like your stereotypical creepy neighborhood dad, but with an awkward Russian accent and an even worse haircut. The worst part of this character is his name, Boris Von Yelsing. He’s hell-bent on putting an end to the vampiric outbreak in small town America but he has to hope the druggies and bikers lurking around town don’t get to the girls first.
I really appreciated the grindhouse vibes and heavy rock soundtrack throughout the film. A nice Dio reference by an actor wearing perhaps the greatest mullet wig in the history of cinema put it over the top. It was a fun film with a lot of enthusiasm. If The Craft were directed by Harmony Korine, you might get Girls Just Wanna Have Blood. In doing some research after watching the film, I learned that a lot of scenes were shot at local businesses in exchange for product placement or business shout-outs. The creative team behind the camera deserves major kudos for this. There are no excuses when it comes to making an independent horror film guerilla style and this team made the best of their financial restraints and managed to sew together a relatively thorough story.
Catanese has several low-budget horror flicks under his belt. He’s written a large chunk of his directorial efforts, too. While that’s the dream of a lot of filmmakers, it’s this reviewer’s opinion that future projects would do well to get a different voice in the room. Catanese is clearly a devout horror fan and he’s got the wild imagination you want to see in indie flicks. I feel as if his scripts could use a thorough once-over before the camera starts to roll. A well-written script can always mask shortcomings in the budget and acting departments. A shaky script can only magnify these issues.
With an almost non-existent budget and amateurs across the board on the cast and crew, Girls Just Wanna Have Blood never pretends to be what it isn’t. There are no attempts to make us really like any of the characters. It’s the drug-hazy, loud and vibrantly colored fever dream you’d expect with a title like this. A wise rock-n-roll howler once wailed, “If you want blood, you got it.” This movie has plenty of it and deserves a pair of devil’s horns for its efforts. But you may want to wait for that all-night movie marathon to check this one out.
Evil Little Things, directed by Matt Green, is an independent anthology film all about creepy dolls. While it’s a lower budget genre film, this new release from Uncork’d Entertainment has enough well-done elements to rise above some of its peers.
Technically, there are three main stories including the wrap around. However, the wrap around really feels like two stories in one. All the stories center around unsettlingly eerie dolls that may or may not be alive, or perhaps undead. The first part of the wrap around, is the story of a mom and stepdad who are tired of answering the frightened calls of the mother’s young son. The stepdad is played by Zach Galligan of Gremlins and Waxwork fame. I always enjoy seeing him in a film and this time was no different, however limited his screen time may be. The second part of the wrap around story is that of a doll maker played by Geoff McKnight. He tells the stories of the eerie-looking dolls that he is working on to the mother and child who visit the store where he works.
The next two segments of the movie are, you guessed it, the doll maker’s stories. The first one centers around a leprechaun fable, a family, and one very creepy doll that may or may not be, in fact, a leprechaun. The tone of this one is realistic and serious. This one lagged a bit as it was setting up the story via serious conversations. However, there is a big pay off when the action, involving an evil leprechaun doll, finally starts.
My favorite story of the anthology revolves around a doll collector and con girl with a damaged doll that she cares just a little too much about. This story has a taste of weird and camp to it that I loved. Set at a convention, there are costumes, more dolls, and a bit of situational humor. There’s an element of “is this happening or are the people going crazy?” vibe to it. It also has a creepy and emotionally possessive doll perfectly voiced by one of the script’s writers, Yasmin Bakhtiari.
Although the low budget elements are detectable, Evil Little Things has some great things going for it. The engaging actors, the story itself, and the very creepy looking dolls all stand out. All the stories are written by Yasmin Bakhtiari and Nancy Knight, which helps to give the film a more cohesive feel. I enjoyed Evil Little Things. If you are a fan of genre films, creepy dolls, and anthologies, then check this one out.
We can’t get to the movie — Cry Havoc — until we address the elephant in the room. That elephant is the late Charles Bronson, the rugged he-man of the Death Wish movies and so many others in the ’60s (The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen), ’70s (Hard Times, Breakheart Pass) and ’80s (10 To Midnight, The Evil That Men Do).
Bronson was no matinee idol; his rugged, ragged face looked like he shaved with coarse sandpaper. Still, back then, his name was synonymous with action, and his name could carry a picture.
But that was then. Bronson died in 2003 at the age of 81. So far as we know, he’s still dead — not walking around with the Whisperers near Arlington or haunting some Hollywood film set.
Which brings us at last to Cry Havoc, the just-released Rene Perez film that stars Hungarian-born Robert Bronzi (his real last name is Kovacs) as a police detective searching for an estranged daughter whose bad fortune has her in the clutches of a serial killer (Havoc, played menacingly by J.D. Angstadt), who is a byproduct of a rich, sick, snuff film entrepreneur known as The Voyeur (Richard Tyson).
Now, full disclosure: Perez previously helmed a picture called Death Kiss, which also starred Bronzi and Tyson. This is a sequel of sorts, but I never saw Death Kiss. This is my first exposure both to Bronzi and Perez. So, when I say Bronzi IS Bronson, you have to take my word for it. He’s more than a doppelganger; he could be That Guy reincarnated. Apart from the looks and the clothing (bell bottoms, wide-collar shirt, black leather jacket straight out of the ’80s), Bronzi’s voice — probably dubbed — is identical, not that he’s given many lines.
So what you have here is a jaw-dropping cinematic experience that has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the movie. Perhaps we should address that.
As your low-budget gore porn flicks go, Cry Havoc is a gem, if flawed. It opens in a burned-out California forest with a battered girl — the detective’s daughter, we find out later — awaking to find herself chained to a sleeping Havoc, who has a kind of Leatherface/Jason look and persona, with filthy heavy clothing and a poorly stitched mask of sorts that’s covered in barbed wire. The girl is an aspiring actress who had been lured to The Voyeur’s compound to audition for a purported reality TV series.
Turns out she’s not alone. Several other girls have found their way into Havoc’s clutches, whose vicious murder methods are caught by The Voyeur’s gazillion video cameras and then distributed as “performance art” to the kind of people willing to pay for a look at breasts, blood and unimaginable brutality.
And when we say brutality, we mean saws, sledgehammers, drills, axes and the resultant body parts strewn hither and yon. If you like your entrails fresh, you’ve come to the right place.
The gore here is on par with the Saw and Hostel franchises, so don’t say you haven’t been warned.
But we digress. Ellen (Emily Sweet), an ambitious TV reporter, thinks she’s lucked into the scoop of all scoops when The Voyeur agrees to an interview. She shows up at the compound escorted by a lawyerly woman who represents the interviewee. Before she gains entrance, members of the compound’s well-armed militia, strip her of her phone, her tablet … her journalistic integrity for that matter. She’s forced to don new clothing then is ushered in to see The Voyeur. She promptly insults him by correctly eschewing his “performance art” terminology for the correct label, snuff films.
If you can’t see what’s coming next, you’re not paying attention. Ellen is on the run. She fortuitously stumbles upon the detective, who’s been lurking in the woods staking out the compound while hoping to find his daughter. Gun battles ensue (and it’s comical just how bad the shooting is from the machine gun-toting militia). More gore ensues. An ending (of sorts) ensues.
How can we wrap this up without spoiling anything? Well, for starters, we can say Bronzi/Bronson makes a great hero. He’s no savior, but he’s fun to watch. His acting skills, while limited, are sufficient for the part. In that sense, he’s on par with Sweet, who’s performance as Ellen is uneven but passable. Tyson, who’s had much better roles in films like Three O’Clock High,Kindergarten Cop and The Visitation, makes the most of his material here.
But what makes this work isn’t the acting or the dialogue; it’s the atmosphere. Perez keeps the lights on for most of the gore, so there are some jump jolts to go along with the stomach-churning scenes. The cinematography is eerily appropriate; the music fair to middlin’.
Yet somehow, taken in its entirety, this is a movie that grabs your attention and holds you till the end. The Bronson connection helps, of course, because it’s hard to take your eyes off of Bronzi. But Cry Havoc has just enough inventiveness and pace to make it 90 minutes well spent.