“31” – (Movie Review)


By Andrew Buckner
Rating: *** out of *****.

The tenth full-length feature from heavy metal rocker turned writer-director Rob Zombie, 31 (2016), plays it too safely to be anywhere near as effective as the 102 minute undertaking clearly desires to be. Coming recently off of the subtle, restrained and daring The Lords of Salem (2012), Zombie’s latest seems like a jumbled montage; a collection of greatest cinematic hits. Regardless, the grainy, brazen approach of uncountable films from the 70’s is utilized beautifully throughout the presentation. Such is present in nearly all of Zombie’s big screen thrillers. Even though this particular focus has become a familiar staple of his photographic vision, it is a consistently strong point of the production. The gorgeously gritty cinematography from David Daniel makes this aforementioned attribute all the clearer. With some classic tunes fueling the soundtrack, courtesy of Chris Harris, John 5, Bob Marlette and Zombie himself, the illusion of stepping backwards four decades becomes all the more immersive. But, there is a reinstatement of such Zombie tropes as maniacal clowns, road trips, a simple set-up and a Halloween setting. Such restrains the imagination, and overall enjoyment, greatly. We are even awarded the obligatory first act gas station stop, another Zombie and general fear narrative practice, before the terror commences.

What also hurts the labor, and endures as another Zombie custom, is the frequently trite dialogue. The speech hits all the expected expository topics. But, it does it without a shred of thoughtfulness or insight. Such is especially suspect given that the endeavor opens with an appropriate, haunting quote from the German-language auteur, Franz Kafka. Such gives way to what is undoubtedly the highlight of the movie. This is a disarmingly twisted, attention-grabbing address to the audience. Such is via the most fascinating antagonist we uncover, Doom-Head (in an arrestingly berserk portrayal by Richard Brake which gives us one of many glimpses into what this endeavor could’ve been). The sequence is also artistically gripping. Shot in stark black and white, it promises much more than what Zombie ultimately delivers. Though the guttural energy evident herein is fairly unwavering throughout, we can’t help but feel disappointed. This is as the rest of the affair gives us nothing else that garners our interest so ruthlessly.

Yet, the biggest obstacle here is not so much these elements. It is Zombie’s refusal to give his protagonists any dimension. Such is all the more perplexing when he goes out of his way to infuse an extraordinary amount of invention into every one of the myriad villains which dominate his latest project. Moreover, the central characters are treated, in another manner frequently found in the grindhouse fashion Zombie is going for, as no more than possible victims. Though such completes his B-grade, antiquated prospect, it makes it impossible to become fully engaged in what is occurring. Adding to this distraction is Zombie’s difficulty in building and sustaining a continual wall of suspense. The most we get is an incredible idea, image or quick, sadistically gratifying moment of slaughter before the story goes back on itself. From this point it plods along. This is until Zombie’s next stab at trepidation fills the screen.

Zombie chronicles Charly (in a depiction by Sheri Moon Zombie that is watchable but, never harrowing or unique). Alongside four other carnival folk, she is, in an arrangement so quick and vague that it successfully captures the confusion the team five entities must be feeling, kidnapped during the early hours of October 31st, 1976. True to the custom of photoplays like James Wan’s brilliant Saw (2004) and Paul Michael Glaser’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Running Man (1987), those who have been abducted are made to take part in a wicked game. The name of such, which we learn little more about than the fact that it signifies “war”, grips the title. What else we unveil about 31 is that the five unwilling players must survive twelve hours. This is in a desolate building, the ins and outs of which they know nothing about, against an endless landscape of fiends with masks and painted faces. All of which are out to kill them.


The story is routine. Yet, it has a likelihood to be worthwhile. Zombie’s fairly resourceful, yet never bold enough, screenplay has its impressive morsels. But, the arc holds to the basic structure of so many horror exertions beforehand. This can be seen as another of the genre customs Zombie appears so intent on respecting. But, such creates an equally standard pace. This is evident as much of the first half hour rolls by with our leads driving along in a white van. During this era, we cover the essential informal bits, and playful subject matter, noteworthy in far too many slasher efforts of the past. The esteem Zombie parades in such an arena is appreciated at times. Yet, there is too much of an over-reliance on it here. Such is unsatisfactory given the sheer creativity we know Zombie is capable of evoking. His striking, frequently lavish, direction only proves the flare he contains in this area. To its credit, the ending is solid. This is as much in what it tells us as what it leaves unsaid.

All of the actors and actresses we encounter are obviously enjoying their turns. Malcolm McDowell as the eccentric Father Murder, who acts like one of the privileged and powerful French aristocrats in a novel by the Marquis de Sade, is the most proficient and intriguing in this category. Jane Carr as Sister Serpent and Judy Geeson as Sister Dragon follow suit in somewhat similar roles. The more blatantly unhinged representations, such as Pancho Moler as Sick-Head and David Ury as Schizo-Head, fare nearly as well. The victimized Jeff Daniel Phillips as Roscoe Pepper, Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs as Panda Thomas, Meg Foster as Venus Virgo and Kevin Jackson as Levon Wally bring remarkable life to their one-note classifications.

Likewise, the editing by Glenn Garland is spectacular. The art contribution from Kevin Houlihan is certainly eye-catching. Siobhan O’ Brien’s set decoration and Carrie Grace’s costume design are equally stunning. The make-up department, composed of a dozen individuals, is undoubtedly a highpoint. Zombie leans on them throughout, expressly with his antiheros, and they deliver delightfully well. Zak Knight’s special effects are seamless and credible. The optical component of this group, the collective contribution from eleven people, is just as authentic. In terms of sound, stunts and camera usage: the piece is just as operative.

Though this is a mid-level opus, I enjoyed it as a whole. This is despite the fact that it is oddly timid. Such is in the liberal use of gore one would expect from Zombie. Much of this, I presume, would have to do with the several cuts made to the flick. This was done to avoid the NC-17 rating. Maybe if a version with everything intact was offered it would make the endeavor feel more singular, comprehensive and courageous. But, I don’t know if it could completely take away from the commonplace sense which hangs over the proceedings. Being among those who can say they helped crowdfund some of the $1.5 million dollar budgeted epic, I am still full of pride for my involvement in this construction. But, there is also a part of me that cannot deny that this is a stylistic regression for Zombie. He stays unwaveringly in the comfort zone. This is where he provides solely what he believes fans want from his moving tales. It may be pleasing, but it feels like compromise. It is this silent pandering which keeps this merely good exercise from living up to its potential as a great one.


“Shadows Fall” – (Movie Review)


By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

Director Aditya Vishwanath has crafted an unusually successful blend of love spectacle and haunted house narrative with his ingenious feature-length debut, Shadows Fall (2016). Co-written by Raj Jawa and Kuber Kaushik, the ninety minute production takes inspiration from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). It also aligns itself to the works of David Lynch. Vishwanath makes these encouragements continuously apparent. This is with a focus on the themes of marriage, life after death and good in the sway of evil. These were among the focal points of Stoker’s classic text. Vishwanath’s bold, immersive and stylish approach, along with the Jawa and Kaushik’s manner of storytelling, erect an always striking Lynchian parallel. It is one which makes the material jump off the screen. These constituents demand our attention through the duration. What is most stunning is that, while the respect and knowledge of Stoker and Lynch is perceptible, the outcome never comes off as pure imitation. Vishwanath gives us a truly haunting, memorable saga. The Garaj Pictures production can be seen as a far more mature version of what Hollywood often tries to recreate from young adult novels. This is on vastly expanded budgets. The results have only accrued increasing failure and box-office fatigue. But, Vishwanath excels where these exertions fail. This is because the essence of his yarn never feels artificial or pre-calculated. It also genuinely cares for the plight and circumstances of its protagonist.

Likewise, Vishwanath grips his addressees straightaway. This is via his daring, incredibly bravura direction. Such occurs with a brilliant opening five and a half minutes sequence. This segment fuses a sophisticated commencing credit bit with the voices of the two leads, Senka (Dylan Quigg) and Jonas (Jener Dasilva). They offer engaging exposition into their private lives. We ultimately learn of how the two met and the various stages of their relationship. Yet, the truly extraordinary item is that the bit is cut as if the duo are having a nostalgia permeated conversation with one another. This is as images of Senka and Amis in their younger days resonate before our eyes. Such transpires to remarkable significance. It also immediately sets an inventive, ardent air. This is one that showcases a deft balance between the heart-stirring and the heart rendering. Such endures as stalwart once the supernatural terror sections are put into place. This ensues promptly.

Vishwanath tale is led by Senka. She makes a deal with the demon, Amis (in a depiction by Christian Wennberg that efficiently drips with wicked charisma). This is to have some more time with her deceased husband. True to the tradition of similar tales, there is unforeseen consequences. Such finds Senka imprisoned in her home. What is all the more terrifying is that she seems to be caught in a torturous state. This is a purgatory where her most treasured instances with Jonas are measured with the sheer wickedness that Senka willingly welcomed into her life. Worst of all: Jonas appears to be someone completely different from the attentive individual Senka once knew him to be. Ultimately, Senka realizes that the only manner to find out what is going on with Jonas is to further communicate with the fiendish Amis.


It is a gripping, if at its core occasionally familiar, account. The dialogue is a mixture of the mundane and the poetic. To its fault, it is occasionally melodramatic. Regardless, it commonly flourishes as a modernized extension of its motivations. Vishwanath keeps the pace quick. The mood remains intense and captivating. This is without feeling rushed. Moreover, it is never as if the auteurs are ignoring character development to do so. As a matter of fact, such progress is satisfactorily, credibly mixed into the proceedings. The atmosphere is unwavering. This is even in the more theatrical stretches of the chronicle. Such creates a visually and audibly pleasing script. It is one that is made all the more  impressive with its incorporation of several unexpected and enthralling twists. This is despite the fact that it is plagued by a generally routine arc.

The affair is heightened by commanding, alternately vulnerable and fear-inducing performances from Quigg and Dasilva. Additionally, Kinsey Diment as the upbeat, yet intrusive neighbor, Rain, and Talmage Tidwell as her spouse, Wilhelm, offer likable presentations. Marc Carlis as Samuel Collins, Jawa as Doctor and Christopher Gay as Preacher all fare just as wonderfully. Elliott Goldkind provides impassioned, pulse-pounding music. It fits the ambiance well. Vishwanath’s editing is superb. The black and white and color cinematography from Artiom Maskimov is dazzling and gorgeous. Leon Klima’s make-up and Clara Soler’s art category contribution are just as fantastic. Yet, the special effects from Neha Kandpal and the optical component of this arena from Sujeen Nepali and Saurabh Tripathi are infrequently cartoonish. But, they still do little to take spectators out of the immersive experience Vishwanath instills in each frame. Much of this aspect is saved by the pure creation in many of its jolts. A happenstance at sixteen minutes in, involving a single knife in a butcher block spontaneously shifting places, is especially smirk-inducing. An earlier engrossment showcases the coffee in a bulky cup slowly moving by itself. It rises up and crashes onto the table it is sitting upon. From herein, mysterious shapes seem drawn by invisible hands in the fallen liquid. Such flashes, prevalent in the first forty minutes, make the aforementioned detraction petty and easily forgivable in comparison.

“Life can go in many directions. You just have to be sure of the path.” Rain declares this at about the midway point of Vishwanath’s cinematic undertaking. This becomes a thesis proclamation, the cornerstone of the movie articulated. The solid, if a shade predictable, climax re-iterates this spectacularly. We unveil it through the smartly realized and penned classifications pulsating throughout the body of the opus. It adds fresh layers of depth. This is to a fiction that, aside from its previously identified muses, also seems to be also akin to Jerry Zuker’s comically overblown Ghost (1990) as told by Clive Barker. Such assists in the fashioning of a beautifully honed, multi-dimensional marvel. Vishwanath has given his audience a chronicle that mechanizes equally as both drama and an unnerving display of trepidation. Filmed in a mere fifteen days in Los Angeles, California, the exhibition is consistently meditative and alluring. Such is in the manner of the greatest independent photoplays. Vishwanath has provided a grand display of talent. It is one that is both an artistic tour de force and an all- around fascinating endeavor. Various photographic exertions claim to “have a bit of something for everyone”. Shadows Fall is one of the rare entities that lives up to this all inclusive promise. It also executes it with professionalism, skill, and grace. Such marks a mandatory, must-see masterpiece that both high-brow cinephiles and general observers can looking for escapist entertainment can correspondingly delight in.


“Blair Witch” – (Movie Review)


By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***1/2 out of *****.

The imagination is the most terrifying place of all. It generates maniacal boogeymen out of distant sounds; unfathomable nightmares out of obscurity. This is why horror, especially in an optical medium, is most effectually drawn from what is left in the darkness. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez provided brilliant proof of this with their ground-breaking, $60,000 budgeted psychological terror fabrication, The Blair Witch Project (1999). It was a marvel in this artistic department. Such a sensation was propelled by its insistence on letting the slowly unraveling minds of its three central figures, Heather (Heather Donahue), Josh (Joshua Leonard) and Michael (Michael C. Williams), augment this already hypnotic susceptibility. This aspect only accrued as they all found themselves lost in the indistinguishable surroundings of The Black Hills near Burkittsville, Maryland in 1994. To its continued credit, Myrick and Sanchez’s debut presentation was a stroke of genius in its marketing. The same could be said for the rarely used, at least at the time, found footage motif. A web site for the big screen arrangement (http://www.blairwitchproject.com/), which now advertises the new movie, aided in swaying audiences to believe what they were viewing was real. This was with announcements of the leads of the endeavor being declared missing. The sheer authenticity visible in every frame of the 81 minute, Haxan Films construction did little to dissuade this belief.

After uncountable imitators’ dabbled in this sub-genre, fellow cinephiles have been showing fatigue for the gimmick Myrick and Sanchez made so instrumental in contemporary attempts at trepidation. The hurried sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch II (2000), didn’t even try to duplicate Myrick and Sanchez’s triumph. This was most accurate in these previously stated arenas. So after a sixteen year absence, director Adam Wingard and scripter Simon Barett, who have teamed up previously on You’re Next (2011) and The Guest (2014), have successfully given the once dormant series the addition it needed. This is with the third installment in the franchise, Blair Witch (2016).

Wingard and Barett return to the roots of the commencing undertaking. This is by bestowing its evidence with conviction. Such is also unveiled in the gradually unnerving manner we have come to expect. This is in a modus which, parallel to the initial opus, forces patrons’ minds to fill in the blanks. It demands that the viewers become one with what is on-screen. Yet, there is a downfall to the 89 minute picture. This is that the piece isn’t as confident in itself and its spectators. There is significant emphasis on sudden, head-splitting crashing noises. These mechanize better than expected in execution. Regardless, they retrospectively come off as a cheap stab at suspense building. The episode is also watered down by an onslaught of garden variety jump scares. This is especially perceptible in the first half. Such is a sad replacement for the subtle, proficient, psyche-bending shock of The Blair Witch Project. The Lionsgate, Room 101, Snoot and Vertigo Entertainment release, on this occasion financed at $5,000,000, is weighed down by the overwhelming impression projected onto uncountable developments. This is that a lingering feeling of déjà vu hangs over much of what we encounter.

Such is noteworthy in its insistence on reconstructing many of the iconic events from The Blair Witch Project. This transpires repeatedly in its inaugural thirty-five minutes. Likewise, the final twenty-five minutes, though tense and intriguing, showcases the identical destination as Myrick and Sanchez’s tour de force. Such deflates much of the nail-biting and unexpected elements that made the end of the aforesaid effort so genuinely chilling and memorable. In comparison to the sparse several minutes that posed the finale of Myrick and Sanchez’s creation, Wingard’s climax is overblown. But, it never feels that way. It gives us an extended chance to explore this ethereal, haunting, yet simple, setting The Blair Witch Project introduced late in its last act. Though the ultimate fate of our chief players foreseeable from a title card early on, we are constantly permitted to be one with, and undergo, what the protagonists are enduring. Most enthrallingly, it gives us an opportunity to explore these familiar surroundings deeper. This certainly is in its favor. It also benefits Wingard’s affair. This is in becoming simply a pale imitation of a vastly superior model.


These moments are certainly deftly crafted. Such is the case with the notion of time manipulation and disorientation. It allows us to analyze certain sequences in The Blair Witch Project in a different light. Such also brings forth a whole array of fresh inquiries into what exactly is going on. This makes the primarily overwhelming belief that this is as much a carefully packaged remake as it is a supplement easily fade. Such occurs when we see what Wingard and Barett are doing with the material. The several fascinating twists, and the induction of different notions which occur largely in the second act, assist in making for a follow-up that is stronger and bolder than anticipated.

The narrative is admittedly thin. The flick opens with the ill-fated heroine of the foremost venture, Heather, being spied in an online video by her brother, James (James Allen McCune). This exhibits that which closed Myrick and Sanchez’s exercise. Trusting this is a sign that she may still be alive, James rounds up a crew of individuals. They want to document his trip to find his sister. These are Lisa Arlington (Callie Hernandez), Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott). Those responsible for putting the recorded material which heralded this journey on YouTube, Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), eventually meet the group. Soon the presence of the title character is noticeably felt. Our amateur documentarians discover themselves running into the problems which gripped those in Myrick and Sanchez’s outing. This quickly spirals out of control. They frantically utilize the HD cameras, iPads, GoPros and even the drone they brought along (which is pivotal in an unusually frightening instance at about the 2/3 mark involving the climbing of a tree), to capture and understand the increasingly bizarre measures as they unfold. But, it isn’t long before they uncover that their technical prowess is no match for the wickedness they disclose.

All of the enactments are fair and watchable. But, the human entities that populate what we see in Blair Witch are all one-note stereotypes. In modern fashion, they are merely potential victims. They are treated like pawns. All of whom we hardly get to know before The Blair Witch begins her systematic slaughter. None of the everyday realism engraved into the charismatic personalities in Myrick and Sanchez’s classic are evident in any shape or form in Wingard’s undertaking. Their motives are equally rote. Because of this, they are largely predictable. This also hurts the composition. Such is distinguished when the dreadful circumstances begin to unfurl. This is because we don’t care for them above the garden variety genre personality. The dialogue, and the story arc itself, courtesy of Barett trails suit with the average, commonplace excursion into fear. Still, Barett’s screenplay takes chances, issues sufficient innovative thoughts (particularly in the second act), and offers some genuinely surprising twists. In turn, Barett moves the narrative onto its own path respectably.

Wingard’s claustrophobic, immersive behind the camera flare is undoubtedly the impetus of the photoplay. He knows how to erect a startle. Even the most tired ones appear vigorous and novel. There is a wall of intensity he victoriously instructs. It is one which is largely unwavering throughout most of the production. But, unlike Myrick and Sanchez’s contribution in The Blair Witch Project, Wingard makes the proceedings seem a bit too comparatively artificial, false and photographic.

The positive nature of these qualities are all greatly heightened by Robby Baumgartner’s sharp, lush cinematography. Louis Cioffi’s editing is stalwart. That is if you can accept the obvious faults inherent in this section from its primary conceit. Wingard’s music is appropriate and evocative. Kate Marshall’s set decoration, Sheila Hailey’s art direction, Hayley Miller’s make-up and Katia Stano’s costume design all fare as well. The special and visual effects, a combined involvement from a half a dozen personages, are vastly plausible and impressive.

Blair Witch, formerly called The Woods, can be straightforwardly coined: “a true extension of its source material.” It re-introduces much of what we learned prior interestingly enough via casual conversation. This never feels forced. Yet, it expands this data, and the general mythology itself, with further details about the protagonist of the tale. Such will guide those who have not yet experienced Myrick and Sanchez’s masterpiece. This is while operating as a pleasant reminder to those who have seen the arrangement. Those who expect to be as thrilled, and view something as inventive as The Blair Witch Project, may be disappointed. Wingard and company spend too much of the bulk tracing the footsteps of Myrick and Sanchez’s introductory chapter for such an accomplishment to take flight. Moreover, the novelty of the concept has run its course. Yet, those of us who are willing to accept this and overlook these shortcomings should be satisfied. This is in favor of a few beautifully honed jolts and a correspondingly alluring aura of ever-mounting dread. Others may want to simply re-watch the original with the lights off and the volume turned up. In so doing, they can fully recall the full degree of fright they once felt.


“The Neon Dead”- (Movie Review)


By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

Writer-director Torey Haas vividly captures the campy, often excessive, spirit of playful exuberance that fueled the 1980’s with his full-length feature debut, The Neon Dead (2015). Distributed through Wild Eye Releasing and produced through MonsterBuster Entertainment, Haas has crafted a briskly paced, 80 minute delight. This is an unassuming and consistently engaging gem. It is one which incorporates many of the most memorable cinematic attributes of the previously stated bygone decade. The most notable of this is the often impressive, frequently cartoonish, but always enjoyable effects. They run the gambit of different brands of graphic illusions. This is with a range echoing from more practical designs to computer generated imagery. This comes courtesy of Tricia Gaulesky, Lane Force, Fred Grant and the long proven maestro of such visual components himself, Haas.

What is just as triumphant: there is a wonderful balance continuously drawn throughout the exertion. It alternates between deliberately tongue in cheek, and mostly inoffensive, humor and largely same said horror. Such an ambiance impeccably parallels VHS classics like Sam Raimi’s masterpiece, The Evil Dead 2 (1987). John Carpenter’s alien invasion opus, They Live (1988), Dan O’ Bannon’s schlock tour de force, Return of the Living Dead (1985), Stephen Chiodo’s laughter fueled cult model, Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988), and Stuart Gordon’s magnificent H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, The Re-Animator (1985), also come to mind. There are also touches heavily reminiscent of bigger budgeted pictures. For instance, mirrors to Ivan Reitman’s ground-breaking Ghostbusters (1984) and Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982) are reflected throughout the fiction. Nick Lauinger emphasizes Haas’ obvious inspiration. This is with cinematography that is every bit as flashy, colorful and bright as the popular accessories, clothing, music videos and cinema that were so prevalent in the last five years of the 80’s. Similarly, Hsiang-Mieng Wen utilizes heavily rock influenced music. These arrangements fit each segment fabulously. Eric Davis, Katelyn Brammer, Nick Amideo and Haas provide editing that is proficient. Much in the manner of most of the aforementioned accomplishments, these elements are all a brilliant match for the mood of the piece.

The charming characterizations, though intentional stereotypes, can also be taken from various genre appropriate entries from thirty years ago. They are just as suitably cut for any number of John Hughes’ teen angst comedies. Adding to this antiquated appeal is that there is even an amusing battle at about an hour in. It plays like a pleasantly constructed, micro-budget rendition of the light saber battle between Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Darth Vader (David Prowse). This transpired near the iconic finale of The Empire Strikes Back (1980). If you are like me, and have a soft spot in your heart for any or all of these endearing gems, you will absolutely adore The Neon Dead.

Haas tells the tale of a Fairview State University graduate by the name of Allison Hillstead (in an ever-likable performance by Marie Barker). She is searching for a job. After being invited to an interview at noon that day for an assistant manager position at Saucy Jack’s, for which she boldly promises to be there a half hour prior, her immediate future seems certainly promising. That is until an undead woman is spied brushing her blood red hair, much of which comes off with her scalp, in the bathroom of Allison’s household. Fear soon gets the best of her. Trepidation turns to impatience. Such occurs as this otherwise horrifying moment is interrupted by a young Wilderness Scout of America, Ashley Amberson (in a wonderful turn from Josie Levy). Insisting on staying until she can receive a donation from Allison, Ashley unveils Allison’s worried plight. This is when she is informed of, and eventually contacts, a pair of paranormal investigators. These are Desmond (in a winning portrayal by Greg Garrison), a slacker/boy next door type, and the bookish Jake (in a depiction by Dylan Schettina that matches Garrison’s representation in quality and amiability). They are employed at a video rental department inside a local Save More grocery store. After this, Allison and Ashley head back upstairs to see what the so called “zombie” is up to. That is when Desmond and Jake, who quickly abandon their behind the register positions, arrive at Allison’s residence. From herein, the situation turns to an otherworldly battle. This is among the leader of the takeover, Guysmiley, the demonic “sons of Z’athax” and our iodized salt armed band of intrepid human heroes.

The result is an absolute joy for B-movie fans. This is an endlessly, uproariously fun, and never overly graphic (though you may think you have seen more gore than you actually have), experience. Though it is structured conventionally, the economically priced epic can easily be dubbed: “a non-stop the rollercoaster ride”. This certainly mechanizes spectacularly to the favor of the film. This is also thanks to ardent, commanding direction from Haas. The screenplay he erected for this $17,000 budgeted affair avoids the pretention, self-awareness, tired gimmicks and dead seriousness common in modern fare. In turn, we are awarded a plethora of successfully clever jokes. There is also plenty of equally victorious flashes of spirited dread. A concluding scene, which revolves around the “life goes on” ideology, is especially humorous. The dialogue, though familiar, is smartly written and delivered. There is also just enough exposition to be satisfactory. This is without weighing down the general story arc and movement of events. Likewise, such an aspect keeps our leads relatable to a large net of onlookers. Though the undertaking never aims to be outright terrifying, many of the early shots of the creatures veiled in the shadows, their eyes glowing voraciously in the background, are genuinely effective.


But, what is best of all is that Haas doesn’t rely solely on the herculean sense of past longings ever-present within the framework of his narrative. He has a wild array of ideas in store. This he executes with feverish gusto and glee. Furthermore, Haas bucks the long-exhausted traditions and standard expectations of the returning corpse genus at every turn. A running gag concerning who the unholy entities really are can be seen as another sly wink at Haas’ audience in that respect. Comparatively, there is also an extended incidence involving a talking, decapitated head. This portion further proves the fusion of smiles and inventiveness at hand. It all enhances the nostalgia. This is as it evokes fond recollections of a similar manifestation unveiled in the final half of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979).

Though Haas keeps his antagonists limited in number, there are a multitude of smaller roles which make a comparably abundant impression. John Reed as Big Z, Andrew Puckett as Drake Hillstead and Candace Mabry as Belle are all terrific. The other technical angles are just as accomplished. Breanna Thompson’s set decoration and Sean Michael Patton’s costume design beautifully retain the everyday details and cheery aesthetic of the piece. The make-up department, composed of Gaulesky, Jeremy Ledbetter, Christine Nguyen and Kate Northcutt, is both natural and radiant. Haas’ animation and Quyen Tran’s sound are just as awe-inspiring. Brian Hardison and John Holbrook issue masterful art division work. Hardison completes the illusion of stepping into the 80’s with a poster that is as ingenious, fluorescent and eye-catching as the fiendish specters who inhabit the movie itself.

This is pure escapist entertainment. It endures as one of the best “throwback” love letters in recent recollection. Haas showcases a wide knowledge of the era he is sending up. This is from the deceptively low-key opening. Such a sensation endures throughout the presentation. Moreover, the climax is solid. It is also, refreshingly, anything but overblown. Haas even gives us a pleasant bit of information in a post-credits scene that is sure to make your expectations for what is on the horizon blossom. It is also guaranteed to make your overall admiration for the endeavor all the grander.

The brief duration also helps. We leave the photoplay wanting more. This is while admiring the noticeable lack of fat on the celluloid bones of the flick. These are all wise decisions. They all come together to celebrate Haas’ talent, the great new feature he has woven and a period often described as “the neon decade” with precision and heart. Haas has also unquestionably proven that there is still plenty of life left in the often autonomous subject of the recently resurrected. This is the type of offering those of us who often haunted local video stores as often as possible and spent untold hours studying scarce titles often dream about making a comeback. The Neon Dead is reminiscence inducing, independent art. It is the type of moving fabrication you will gladly feel compelled to return to again and again. This is as the years move on and a longing for old-fashioned comforts begins to settle once more into your bones.  Such is the definition of an instant classic!



“Hotel Inferno” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: **** out of *****.

Rarely since Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive (1992) has a silver screen horror reveled in the gory inventiveness of writer-director Giulio De Santi’s third full-length feature, Hotel Inferno (2013). The 77 minute opus of murder and madness largely gains such ingenuity from the conceit of being, as the photoplay’s original tagline read, “The first and only splatter film in ‘first person point of view’.” This was a full two years before Ilya Naishuller used this perspective, so common among video games, successfully in the action romp Hardcore Henry (2015). Though both depictions involve similar protagonists, men trained in lethality who find themselves on personally risky assignments, Hotel Inferno is a completely different experience. It is darker, bolder and more foreboding than Naishuller’s labor. It may not have the sharper veneer of Naishuller’s $2,000,000 budgeted endeavor. Still, this works grandly in its favor. It’s often grainy luster, courtesy of the ambient cinematography of Stefan bergi, adds a continuous sense of claustrophobia and intensity to the proceedings. This highly victorious element of the Necrostorm, Ledick Filmhandel, Wild Eye Releasing and Eclipse distribution is only heightened by De Santi’s brutally stirring direction. Likewise, his script is a well-constructed presentation. The dialogue in this Tunisia, North Africa and Rome, Italy recorded account is minimal. It is also rudimentary and straight to the point. But, this mechanizes to its favor incredibly. The result is an opus that, though occasionally plagued by a sense of routine familiarity, is certainly memorable. This is despite the actuality that it is never overly terrifying.

Furthermore, the story is kept deliberately thin. But, there is a mercilessly taut arc to the application. Such makes these otherwise minor criticisms all the more arbitrary. This is when we realize that these afore-mentioned components are deliberately erected this way. It is done in order to help craft the movie into such a consistently entertaining parade of extreme graphic violence. De Santi also deliberately induces layers of enigma by what he leaves unsaid. This is as true as it is when considering what is directly communicated to De Santi’s spectators. It accomplishes this in savage spades. Such is utilized with attitude in abundance.

The gimmick of De Santi’s production is just as immersive, and used just as imaginatively, as in Naishuller’s later developed undertaking. Both flicks issue a breakneck pace. This is via an immediate jump into their respective optical extravaganzas. It is one that pulls us in as soon as the effort commences. Also paralleled in both Hotel Inferno and Hardcore Henry, the particular head of the fiction remains shadowy throughout. Moreover, the appearance of each specific principal entity is often deliberately hidden.

For example, De Santi provides an early second act instance in his exertion, unveiled at twenty-seven minutes in, which finds his hero unwrapping a bloody bandage. His hands are stretched out in front of a bathroom sink. Yet, his head is cocked down to avoid the mirror. This, we can only presume, is above this basin. Such smaller details showcase the creative flare this decision conjures. It makes it all the easier to see the extended tips of his extremities as being our own. The outcome of this is deft. It gives the production the illusion of being almost interactive. Not only is this stimulating to the eye, but it also enhances the undeniable factor of fun, present throughout, immensely.

Despite this intentional vagueness, we can still sense the urgency behind the central figure of each involvement. On some vastly unspoken level, the bare-bones information we are given is more than satisfactory. This is demonstrated so skillfully that the illusion of becoming one with the lead, sharpened through the ploy at hand, is all the more seamless. Consecutively, we find ourselves thinking, questioning and assessing each situation. This is as the main character must be doing himself. Such is just another signpost of the daring instincts courageously instilled into each affair.

In De Santi’s account, contract killer Frank Zimosa (in a gripping portrayal by Rayner Bourton), checks into a room. This is in the sprawling building referenced in the title. Here he receives instructions, supplied through a pair of experimental glasses, which inform him that he must kill two people. They also have recently checked into the area. Given precise details as how to slaughter this duo, one of whom is a crime boss by the name of Jorge Mistrandia (a sparse, but absorbing, enactment by Michael Howe), he immediately fails to carry out the specific manner of killing. From herein, his rules of delivering death fade away. In turn, so do the once limited instruments he can use to evoke such bloody deeds. But, soon Frank finds out that something unholy and otherworldly is going on amid his surroundings. This is when his mission turns into a living nightmare. It is one that he finds himself struggling to survive at all costs.

This is an intriguing concept. It is one that is benefited by being beautifully, cryptically mounted. The plot unfolds in the fashion of a puzzle: piece by piece. What augments the quality unveiled throughout is the stellar performances. Jessica Carroll as Frank’s Girlfriend, Christian Riva as The Plague Spreader and the Huge Female Henchmen are terrific. This is despite the fact that their roles are as limited in their development as that of Frank. The same sentiment is echoed in the representations of Wilmar Zimosa as Gomorra and Monica Munoz as the Female Serial Killer. Riccardo Valentini as Henchman in Good Health, Bonini Mino as Henchman with Chainsaw and Enrique Sorres as Sacrificial Human carve a lasting impression. This is all the more incredible given the brevity of their individual turns.

The technical details are just as stalwart. Protector 101 and Razzaw’s fierce and combative music delivers a perfect ambiance for De Santi’s cinematic bloodbath. David Borg Lopez and Sigma4’s special, and De Santi, Piranhasoldier and Tintapiatta’s visual, effects are vastly credible. Additionally, the make-up from Mo One is exceptional. The editing is just as phenomenal. De Santi, Piranhasolider, Secret Plant and Tintapiatta’s contribution to the animation department is equally spectacular.

Hotel Inferno begins and ends strongly. This is with eye-catching, repellently gruesome images. These can be seen as attention-garnering bookends. What is unveiled in between is every bit as uncompromising and grimly alluring. De Santi also presents to his audience patrons starting and concluding credit sequences that are indisputably stylish and striking. Similarly, the outdoors arrangements late in the third act are gritty, expertly shot and pulse-pounding. A segment involving an evil cultist drawing satanic figures in a room swarming with flies is one of the most hypnotic items in De Santi’s terror arsenal. Yet, there is a specific rhythm, a repetition to some of the scenes. These suggest a purgatory for Frank. This is amid the earthly hell he finds himself unwittingly drawn into.

Such items, along with the various qualities stated prior, brand this much more than a victorious cry of delight for fellow on-screen carnage fanatics. Much of De Santi’s big screen journey finds a fine balance between violent genre traditions. Yet, one would be hard-pressed to find a moment that doesn’t satisfy, enchant and encapsulate on a primal, visceral level. There also isn’t a second here that doesn’t excite or fail to feel fresh and new. Because of this, De Santi has surpassed the trappings of low-budget trepidation. All the while he simultaneously respects them. He has presented a vigorous ploy for moving picture fear. It is one that may prove to be as longstanding as the concept of found footage was when it initiated its heyday in the late 90’s. The recent announcement of an upcoming sequel, called Hotel Inferno 2: The Cathedral of Pain (2016), makes me all the more eager to see what De Santi has in store.

“Chyanti” – (Short Film Review)


By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.

Director Veemsen Lama and screenwriter Sampada Malla’s thirty minute short (the pre-premiere, work in progress cut of which I was sent via email and base this review upon), “Chyanti” (2016), concludes with the resonant lyric: “It is the hopes that keep us alive.” This is a perfect reiteration of the overall theme of this subtle, emotionally honest and undeniably human work. Such is most perceptible in our protagonist, Ram (in an enactment by Shyam Khadka that is every bit as credible, mature and understated as Lama’s endeavor itself). He is a man who, despite the hardships placed before him, regularly reassures his wife, attributed here simply with the designation of “Mother” (an incredible, alternately wounded and strong portrayal by Babita Tamang) that their personal situation will get better next year. This is when Ram believes the regulatory landscape surrounding his kin will greatly alter in their favor.

It is this idealism amid grueling circumstances which helped make Lama’s prior masterpiece, “Maya” (2015), so endlessly relatable. The consequence of that sixteen minute affair was a harrowing reminder of the transcendence of pure cinema. It also helped make us care all the more for those Lama centered his narrative around. Such also made the overall experience gripping, heart-breaking and soul-stirring. We felt the disappointment of every low-point. In addition, our cores radiated with joy when fate appeared to be favoring the leads. The same is true of “Chyanti”. In many ways, Lama’s latest can be seen as a companion, especially in tone and in contemplation of the many of the subjects addressed, to “Maya”. This is especially accurate when noting the humanity that courses grandly through every frame of both productions.


This is largely thanks to Lama’s aesthetically breathtaking, yet remarkably intimate, behind the camera influence. It is also as much courtesy of an ingenious and genuine script that, much like the aforementioned chronicle, never wavers from its character-oriented emphasis. Malla’s penned construction, from an inspired by factual occurrences story that is credited to Lama himself, is confidently, smartly paced. It rings with authentic dialogue, proceedings and is graced with a highly unpredictable story arc. Also akin to “Maya”, Lama and Malla successfully offers charismatic, yet flawed, down to earth heroes and heroines. All of which are spectacularly realized and cut from the everyday. They are undoubtedly a representation of the reality Lama is obviously striving for throughout this stupendous exertion. Such makes the manufacture as a whole increasingly vivid, tear-jerking and entrancing.

Lama’s tale takes place during The Maoist Revolution. A commencing title card informs the viewer that such an event transpired in the South Asian country of Nepal. This was in the years spanning from 1996-2006. We also learn that this was a civil war. It was one involving the Nepalese government and the Maoist Communist Party. Such a combat left many homeless and took the lives of thousands of individuals. After a minute and a half of beautifully shot arrangements, all of which follow Ram coming home for the festival of Dashain, we witness firsthand the desperate financial situation his flesh and blood find themselves in. A distressing line of dialogue between Ram and Mother tells us that their daughter, Sani (in an exceptional depiction by Sangita Tamang), is about to begin school. Yet, Mother is unable to afford the food for dinner that night. Because of matters such as these, she cannot attain any of the niceties that the other children involved with Sani’s education faculty will be enjoying. This is when Ram and Mother look to selling Sani’s beloved goat, whose name is that of the configuration, to relieve some of this fiscal anxiety. Most of Lama’s undertaking revolves around the manner in which to do this without Sani becoming aware of what is really going on. This heads to an expertly done, sentimentally taxing sequence at twenty-five minutes in. At this point, we see the results of this difficult decision. This is through Sani’s innocent eyes. Such creates a mesmerizing conclusion to a brief photoplay where the word “unforgettable” certainly applies.


Lama peers unafraid to inquire endlessly into complex issues of morality with this riveting endeavor. But, the cornerstone is Lama’s unflinching glimpses into what one man would do to provide for his loved ones. Such focus only heightens the quietly contemplative nature unveiled herein. It captivates us with its daring sensibilities. Lama has, in turn, provided an impeccable blend of intelligence, craftsmanship and sincerity. These are all ingredients Lama fluently distributes to his spectators. What is all the more amazing is that the opus doesn’t weigh itself down in the political aspects of the undertaking.
“Chyanti” is just as dazzling from a technical angle. Ben Winwood musically evokes the low-key demeanor of the presentation. This is with often gentle, but always ear-pleasing and appropriate, orchestration. Arran Green delivers gorgeous cinematography. Uhjwal Dhakal and Eriks Mickevics’ editing is terrific. Michael Ling’s sound is sharp and impressive. Babita Tamang, Khadka and Malla’s costume design is superb. Kaushal Pandit is tremendous. He leaves a lasting imprint with his short-lived turn as a goat seller. Ben Allinson’s visual effects fare just as wondrously. These meticulously erected elements all come together both seamlessly and authentically.

The Javiya Films and 360 Degree Mountain Films release is another confirmation of Lama’s intense talent. His knack for optical storytelling is ever-abundant. The effort is luminously framed throughout. This is in a fashion which infinitely amplifies the exquisiteness at hand. We see this in the jaw-dropping lensing of the natural surroundings of the account. Such is also accurate of the allure inherent in the various layers of the saga itself. This is an astonishingly accomplished demonstration. It is one of the increasingly rare creations that satisfies on all levels. Lama has amended a triumph of invention and honesty. “Chyanti” will undoubtedly please wide-audiences. It just as assuredly continues to establish him as a modern major of the moving picture art form. Because of the sheer magnitude of these achievements, “Chyanti” easily stands among the best featurettes of the year!


*All pictures included herein are the copyright of Javiya Films.

“3 Pantoum Poems By Andrew Buckner”

dreams pic


The day the nameless no one realized
His primary dream would never flower:
Heart wrenched with pain, tears sprang from eyes.
Depression blossomed, overtook where once resided power!

His primary dream would never flower!
Still, he feebly pushed though soil was bare!
Depression blossomed, overtook where once resided power!
The invisible gods made him feel the full force of their despair!

Still, he feebly pushed though soil was bare!
Heart wrenched with pain, tears sprang from eyes.
The invisible gods made him feel the full force of their despair!
The day the nameless no one realized…


patience pic


My patience has run miles!
Now it is threadbare, exhausted.
Kindness pushing through, forced smiles;
Teeth gritted with words unsaid.

Now it is threadbare, exhausted.
The journey continues! No blockades in sight.
Teeth gritted with words unsaid.
Permanent fog! Psyche dims with plight.

The journey continues! No blockades in sight.
Kindness pushing through, forced smiles;
Permanent fog! Psyche dims with plight.
My patience has run miles.


odometer pic


The miles rapidly shift, accelerate!
Yet, the odometer of the senses remains stationary!
Life hangs; just out of reach through the windshield. Fate?
Sculpted potential further insults me.

Yet, the odometer of the senses remains stationary!
But, I am ever-moving, aging, trying!
Sculpted potential further insults me.
She smirks, sneers and promises while lying!

But, I am ever-moving, aging, trying!
Life hangs; just out of reach through the windshield. Fate?
She smirks, sneers and promises while lying!
The miles rapidly shift, accelerate.