The Best and Worst Films of 2016

By Andrew Buckner

From war themed presentations, to awe-inspiring documentaries, horror pictures and magical family enactments, it has been a good year for movies. But, as we know, not every motion picture can be a gem. That is why A Word of Dreams is here to present my list of the thirty best feature films of 2016. I have also included his ten least enjoyed cinematic works from the past three hundred and sixty-five days. Please note that each feature is accompanied by the name of the director of the piece. Enjoy!

THE THIRTY BEST FILMS OF 2015

1. HACKSAW RIDGE (MEL GIBSON)
2. SILENCE (MARTIN SCORSESE)
3. ARRIVAL (DENNIS VILLENEUVE)
4. A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (RICHARD GRIFFIN)
5. THE NEON DEMON (NICOLAS WINDING REFN)
6. THE EYES OF MY MOTHER (NICOLAS PESCE)
7. NUTS! (PENNY LANE)
8. THE B.F.G. (STEVEN SPIELBERG)
9. DELUSION (CHRISTOPHER DI NUNZIO)
10. TRINITY (SKIP SHEA)
11. LILITH’S AWAKENING (MONICA DEMES)
12. TOUCH GLOVES (FELIPE JORGE)
13. HELL OR HIGH WATER (DAVID MACKENZIE)
14. SNOWDEN (OLIVER STONE)
15. LO AND BEHOLD, REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD (WERNER HERZOG)
16. INTO THE INFERNO (WERNER HERZOG)
17. MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (JEFF NICHOLS)
18. BEFORE THE FLOOD (FISHER STEVENS)
19. THE WITCH (ROBERT EGGERS)
20. THE CONJURING 2 (JAMES WAN)
21. UNEARTHED & UNTOLD: THE PATH TO PET SEMATARY (JOHN CAMPOPIANO, JUSTIN WHITE)
22. KRISHA (TREY EDWARD SCHULTS)
23. A MAN CALLED OVE (HANNES HOLM)
24. FREE STATE OF JONES (GARY ROSS)
25. DON’T BREATHE (FEDE ALVAREZ)
26. SULLY (CLINT EASTWOOD)
27. SING STREET (JOHN CARNEY)
28.LA LA LAND (DAMIEN CHAZELLE)
29.THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE (ANDRE OVERDAL)
30.THE NEON DEAD (TOREY HAAS)

RUNNER-UP:

UNDER THE SHADOW (BABAK ANVARI)

MY 10 LEAST FAVORITE MOVIES OF 2016

1. GODS OF EGYPT (ALEX PROYAS)
2. MOTHER’S DAY (GARRY MARSHALL)
3. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES (BURR STEERS)
4. AMITYVILLE: VANISHING POINT (DYLAN GREENBERG)
5. MORGAN (LUKE SCOTT)
6. THE FOREST (JASON ZADA)
7. YOGA HOSERS (KEVIN SMITH)
8. THE SEA OF TREES (GUS VAN SANT)
9. THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY (LOUIS LETTERIER)
10. 13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI (MICHAEL BAY)

RUNNERS-UP:

LIGHTS OUT (DAVID F. SANDBERG)
MECHANIC: RESURRECTION (DENNIS GANSEL)

“Pitchfork” – (Movie Review)

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

In Pitchfork (2017), the ninety-four-minute full-length feature debut from director and co-writer Glenn Douglas Packard, great strides are taken to align the title entity to the notorious razor gloved killer from Wes Craven’s seminal classic Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Freddy Krueger. This is most evident in a beautifully realized moment near the half hour mark. Here Packard’s antagonist pauses, visibly relishing the adrenaline rush of hunting his next victim, at the top of a flight of basement steps. His shadowy frame is unmistakably reminiscent of that of Craven’s creation. The parallel is further complete as Packard’s fiend holds the murderous farm tool of his moniker to his right side. This is much as Krueger did when stalking uncountable teens in the aforementioned series. There is also a third act instant where Packard’s uniquely designed antagonist splays his instrument of death against a set of boards as he slowly walks by. Such a measure causes sparks to fly from the place of impact. This was another common Krueger taunting action. Such an instant happened several times throughout the eight (or nine if you count the inane 2010 remake) exertions in the Craven commenced franchise.

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Episodes such as these only enhance the consistently high amusement value of Packard’s Clare and Houghton Lake, Michigan recorded construction. Likewise, Packard and accompanying co-producer Darryl F. Gariglio deliver a solidly wrought screenplay. It is structured, characterized and paced much in the manner of the pantheon of prior efforts in the slasher sub-genre. Furthermore, Gariglio captures every one of the various tropes established in these cinematic undertakings. Given that this is a source of pride for fellow fanatics of these types of tales, this trait comes off as knowing and respectful to the foundation laid down by these past horror entries. This also adds to the lively, playful fun inherent in the first hour. When the picture takes on an ever darker, almost sadistic tone in the concluding section, it seems to be sending-up an entirely different classification of terror opus. This is that of the so called “torture porn” productions. These were given mainstream popularity in the early 2000’s. Such occurred with the arrival of James Wan’s genre-redefining Saw (2004) and Eli Roth’s imitative Hostel (2005).

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Still, this late segment succeeds just as well as what came beforehand. This is because it provides Packard plenty of opportunities to showcase his aptitude for providing extended sequences of prolonged intensity. For example, the events encapsulating the final twenty minutes are a masterclass in this arena. Packard wrings claustrophobia from a situation that is as tried and true as much of what came prior. This is as much a testament to the caliber and commitment of the performances as it is Packard’s own work. For example, Daniel Wilkinson is terrific as the murderous antagonist (also referred to as Ben Holister Jr.). His portrayal is, common to the modern fright film, based more on movement and demeanor than articulation. This is a long proven and effective means of conveying the antihero in these types of undertakings. It also makes the proceedings more enjoyable. This is as it calls to mind another iconic terror show entity: Jason Voorhees. Similarly, the rest of the cast is just as captivating. Brian Raetz as our lead, Hunter Killian, Lindsey Nicole as Clare, Ryan Moore as Matt and Celina Beach as Lenox deliver vibrant, watchable enactments. The same can be said for Nicole Dambro as Flo, Keith Wabb as Rocky, Sheila Leason as Janelle and Vibhu Raghave as Gordon. Rachel Carter as Judy Holister (or “Ma”) and Andrew Dawe Collins as Ben Holister Sr. (or “Pa”) present gritty, unflinching portrayals in their respective turns. Like the rest of the players, Carter and Collins are relishing their depictions. The evident fun these two are with their particularly ravenous illustrations only magnifies that illuminated on-screen.

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Packard chronicles Hunter facing his parents for the first time after telling them a long held personal secret. Nervous about such an encounter after divulging such highly personal information, he organizes a group of close friends. Their mission is to arise from New York to the farm where he was raised. Seeing this as a chance to party, Hunter’s close accomplices turn his mother and father’s barn into a celebration of music and conversation. But, this happiness soon fades. What our thrill seeking, care free spirits didn’t count on is the fiend connected to the bygone days of our central youngsters. He has come to turn the laughter and joy into bloodshed.

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The plot is kept deliberately straight-forward and simple. Yet, it is perfect for a vehicle such as what Packard has expertly crafted here. The dialogue retains this same attribute. The collection of scenes that erect the get-together in the outbuilding are undeniably well-done. They project the merriment our protagonists are elucidating ingeniously. A dance number which transpires herein is where this radiant joy is most significant. But, Pitchfork succeeds in a category pivotal to this specific brand of photoplay. This is in its plethora of imaginative kills. Best of all, they do not need a heavy reliance on gore to be considered striking. A double slaughter near the halfway point is especially creative. It also stunningly balances its alternately playful and brutal tone. The opening five-minute segment is especially attention-garnering. Not only does it start things off brilliantly, but it also is a tremendous showcase of Rey Gutierrez’s moody, gloriously fashioned cinematography. A riveting, intimate shot which seems as if the camera is quickly moving through the fields in this early section is definitive proof of such a statement. Additionally, Gutierrez and Kristin Gerhart issue editing that is sharp and stalwart. Christie Beau’s original music is phenomenal. It is atmospheric and haunting in equal measure. J. Cullen Humphreys’ set decoration and Veronica Porras’ wardrobe department contribution adds to the everyday authenticity apparent throughout the labor. Danielle Montini, Timothy Montoya, Cassie Packard, David Root, Emily Sigler and Carrie Stalk create a camera and electrical team whose wonderful, proficient input guides every frame. Tim Alward, Patrick Busby, Michael Capuano, Evan Menak and Harryson Thevenin evoke masterful sound. Moreover, Joshua Romeo’s various stunts are proficiently and credibly executed. The result is easy to admire endeavor. It is one that is as naturally likable as the personalities we follow in the affair.

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Distributed through Uncork’d Entertainment, Pitchfork ascribes to be among the ranks of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th series. In so doing, it proves itself as more than worthy. Though it holds a bit too closely to the traditions of former offerings of its ilk to be a true groundbreaker, the enjoyment inherent throughout never wavers. This is a decidedly old-fashioned voyage into fear. It is one that is devoid of much of the gimmicks or unyielding seriousness present in far too many modern attempts at trepidation. This factor alone makes the application recommendation worthy. But, it is remarkable on both a technical level. Everyone involved does spectacularly with their individual tasks. Likewise, it ends with a smirk-inducing note. It is one which cryptically hints at all the details of the tale left to be told. This is while simultaneously forcing us to reanalyze everything we thought we knew previously. It is a perfect set-up for a sequel; an unspoken promise I hope Packard and crew make good upon. As it is, this is a fantastic inauguration to a franchise that promises to be described in the same manner. This stands as an incredible reminder of what made me initially admire celluloid shock. More than anything, it gloriously exhibits the timelessness of these items. In turn, it also validates how they retain their enduring appeal. Packard has unleashed an instant classic; an outstanding new boogeyman to haunt the dreams of a generation.

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“Hand In Hand”- (Short Film Review)

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

“Hand In Hand” (2016), a six minute and fifty second short from producer-director Haley McHatton and writer Kris Salvi, is definitive proof of the high-level of dramatic tension that can still be derived from a classic thriller set-up. This design is that of an unhinged man, Mike (in an unflinching and captivating portrayal from Justin Thibault). The account finds him kidnapping his former lover, Anthony (in a gripping and ever-watchable enactment from Salvi), in a jealous rage. After doing so, Mike takes Anthony out into the most abandoned regions of the nearby woods. With a gun pointed at Mike’s head, Anthony commands him to dig his own grave. Such morphs into a fascinating, argumentative speech between the duo. This inevitably unveils pent-up emotions. With these once concealed sentiments also comes a flurry of secrets and suspicions. All of which are rivetingly administered to the audience. This is in a manner that is as cryptic as it is nail-biting. In this discourse, Anthony sees signs of potential weakness in Mike. Anthony senses this feebleness as a chance to take the upper-hand. In so doing, Anthony may have a potential chance to get out of the situation. This is with his life intact.

Such twisty, expository banter forms the pushing force of the chronicle. Credibly and powerfully issued, this item proves to be one of the most suspenseful and enthralling components in its cinematic catalogue. It also showcases how well-delivered lines, which balance unforced character development and gradually tease motivations, can be ruthlessly engaging. This is far more so than the splashy, big budget special effects and overblown action sequences that may be incorporated in a lesser effort of this ilk as a substitute for craftsmanship. A splendidly piqued attribute such as this adds an accruing element of surprise to what could’ve easily been an all too straightforward narrative. Such arrives via Salvi’s gritty, meticulously manufactured and tautly paced script. It is also a courtesy of McHatton’s masterful, wisely uncluttered and focused handling of the material.

These potent articles have an augmented luster. This is when mixed with Mitch Severt’s spectacular cinematography. Severt exposes a bravura capacity to catch the multitude of shades, primarily the dark reds and gentle yellows illuminated from the fallen leaves glimpsed in the backdrop of the exertion. Such transpires in an undeniably immersive, eye-catching and gorgeous fashion. Other natural structures casually spied in the area fare just as wonderfully. For instance, the endless rows of sinewy trees, which also can be viewed as a perfect symbol of the general seclusion of the location, visibly looming behind Mike and Anthony at most moments. Yet, Severt’s work, as beautiful as it is, never defies the no-nonsense, white knuckle atmosphere which is unwaveringly orchestrated throughout the fabrication. Such is certainly a feat worthy of praise. The piece is further enhanced by the proficient and sharp editing from the team of Steve Polakiewicz, Carlo Barbieri and McHatton. Kyle Joyce’s audio is herculean. Jeremy Arruda’s brilliant, Ennio Morricone-esque piano driven score, which sweepingly echoes through the stylish and splendidly erected concluding acknowledgments, splendidly exhibits the technical prowess at hand.

Likewise, the plot, perfect for a single location and extended solo scene undertaking such as this, grips us from Anthony’s attention-garnering, opening quip to Mike. This is: “I guess you didn’t think it  would go down like this, huh? Keep walking”. From herein, the interest and intensity amplifies continuously with each respective frame. Such gives way to a climax that is foreseeable. Yet, it is so well-engineered and resonant that it is easy to look past such comparatively miniscule details. All of this is propelled by authentic, well-etched leads. Our protagonist, Anthony, and antagonist, Mike, are amended great dimension and depth. Consequently, they avoid becoming mere genre archetypes at every turn. Based on the staggering strength of the depictions of these personas, we find ourselves readily seeing and understanding both the measures and reasoning behind the pair we follow on- screen. Such is as much a testament to Salvi’s impactful authorship as it is the same said performances themselves.

The result of this official selection of The Massachusetts Independent Film Festival, and Hatt On Productions presentation, is pure magic. It is a violent tale. Yet, it doesn’t rely solely on its inherent ferocity to weave or sell the fiction. Such is as refreshing as it is rare. Moreover, the exercise organically and competently builds the intrigue of its story. This can also be stated when considering the sly unfurling of events as well as brisk runtime of the endeavor. Such is elucidated without ever overreaching in its successful attempts to convey its message. This is also accurate when pondering its ability to fluently generate intensity. Additionally, the vehicle is slick. This is without ever being so glossy in appearance as to betray the believability it calmly evokes. It is just as smart in its execution. There is a plethora of intelligent creative choices and obvious skill for making fiction demonstrated here. Because of this, “Hand In Hand” serves as an absolute bulls-eye. McHatton, Salvi and crew have constructed an awe-inspiring triumph of simultaneous entertainment value and moving picture dexterity. It is one that fellow bystanders are guaranteed to admire and reflect upon long after their sit down with the arrangement is complete.

“Kinnari”- (Short Film Review)

 

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

Writer-director Christopher Di Nunzio’s four minute and forty-three second short film, “Kinnari” (2016), is a powerful, gripping and abstractly eloquent meditation on the harsh, yet wondrous, journey of life into death. The latter of which is occasionally referred to throughout the affair itself as “the great nothingness”. Di Nunzio’s composition is just as adamantly concerned with how the boundaries of these two oft addressed subjects intermingle. It is as apt to ponder how these opening and closing portions of our being are frequently blurred. This is especially true when spied through a retrospective lens. Particularly, the viewpoint of a man who may be mentally peering at such sights amid his final moments. Such is illustrated as a dream-like trek to enlightenment. This overtakes the bulk of the narrative. It is sewn with a plethora of poetic wisdoms and long pined over inquiries. In turn, Di Nunzio provides an adventure of self-discovery. It is one which is steered by time cemented perspective and experience. A knowingly anti-corporate and media outlook, the basis of an enthralling monologue around the one minute mark, pushes such perceptions to tremendous effect. This emanates intriguingly from our ruggedly engaging narrator and lead, David (in a brilliant, unflinching and always watchable enactment from David Graziano). These traits he has acquired during his singular voyage through the planes of existence.

Such is perpetuated by a fateful meeting. This takes place in a stark and gorgeously realized instance near the mid-way point. It involves the rediscovery of the title entity (in a portrayal by Jamie Joshi which is quietly striking and consistently mesmerizing). She is the crucial persona in David’s illumination. Her name also shares that of a topically proper noun, largely used to describe a half-human and half-horse or half-bird hybrid, in Buddhist mythology. This is of an archetypical lover. Such is consistent with the story Di Nunzio paints. The same can be articulated for the paradigms that are encountered upon her arrival.

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Our hero describes her as a “goddess”. In a manner befitting to such consecrated figures, David moves with Kinnari through a surreal landscape. These are a collection of beautifully structured, yet appropriately earthly, set-ups. They all hypnotically personify the stages of David’s physical span. As she pulls him deeper into this realm, the sum becomes progressively complex, abstract and cerebral. A staggeringly staged, near-climactic arrangement oversees David shadowing Kinnari up a winding, ostensibly endless flight of steps. Such personifies both the photographic and demonstrative core of the entire effort.

Additionally, there is a character to audience discourse which builds the foundation of the project. Such is triumphantly carried on throughout. This is a whispery, yet friendly, source of personal development. It victoriously aids in conveying a well-rounded glimpse into the inner-workings of our protagonist. Such heightens the intimacy, honesty and profundity at hand immensely.

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Likewise, this fascinating plotline is given meticulous, pensive craftsmanship. Such is via Di Nunzio’s smartly paced screenplay (supervised by Christine Perla). His dialogue cracks with ingenuity, credibility and mature observations. It is also remarkably introspective. All the while, it comes across as deceptively casual. Such is much in the way of a stream of spoken conscious. Given the general format of the article, this approach is undeniably operative. This stands as an obvious signpost of Di Nunzio’s outstanding capacity for authorship. It is just as much a marker of recognition for the natural relatability inherent in Graziano’s outstanding delivery of his interchanges. Such qualities align themselves in the spectacular custom Di Nunzio displayed with the modern noir, A Life Not to Follow (2015). It was also at the at the forefront of his avant-garde horror invention Delusion (2016). In both cases, Di Nunzio scripted as well as served as administrator.

Much in line with these prior presentations, the story is smartly and smoothly paced. It is guided by Di Nunzio’s Lynchian sensibility for haunting, yet memorable and alluring, imagery. Correspondingly, the entirety of the exertion is slickly designed. This is so easily evident that even early, close-up shots of David’s coffee seem to be a mirror image of the bleak places in his soul. There are other relatively commonplace segments, such as a bit involving David walking on a presumably abandoned train track with a brick wall of graffiti looming closely behind him, that appear just as much like a grim visage. Such aspects appear as if they are taken directly from a waking nightmare. This is only amplified by Di Nunzio’s masterful framing. Such fashions an undeniably arresting style. It is one which makes the labor even more immersive and remarkable.

Such appeal is also punctuated by Di Nunzio’s seamless editing. His gently used, yet incredibly melodic and mood-setting, music also aids this factor outstandingly. Similarly, Nolan Yee’s cinematography, offered in the standard 16:9 HD aspect ratio, is somberly atmospheric. It is also elegant and thematically apt. Christopher Hallock’s astonishing assistant camera contribution is fabulous. Such augments the phenomenal nature of Di Nunzio’s expertly staged sequences. This is in terms of their stark believability and dazzlingly skillful construction. The culmination of these attributes make the sheer artistry which resonates through every frame of this Somerville, Massachusetts recorded drama increasingly palpable.

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Di Nunzio issues a somber, intellectual tone that never once wavers throughout the duration. What establishes this atmosphere so immediately is the implementation of a monochrome title card. It is held on-screen for seven seconds. A single, thunderous chord is distantly heard in the background. The simplicity of this arrangement is the first of the many wise decisions and courageous moves Di Nunzio orchestrates. The final credits scene, proceeded by David’s harrowing realization that “Only me and beauty exist”, succeeds in the same arenas as those discussed above. These two sections evoke perfect bookends for the tale this item uncompromisingly and attractively tells. Moreover, Di Nunzio has an instinctive knack for what is to be glimpsed as well as left away from the eyes of onlookers. Such makes the proceedings progressively captivating. It is also proficient and enigmatic. The outcome of which makes the chain of events as unpredictable as they are perpetually enchanting.

Such creates an arc for that account which is impeccable. It is akin to a cinematic puzzle. Di Nunzio has gifted his spectators with a tour de force on all fronts. This Creepy Kid Productions release soars as an exhibition of temperament, moving picture bravura and intellectual yarn-spinning. It is also a standout performance piece for Di Nunzio’s recurrent collaborator, Graziano, as well as newcomer Joshi. Di Nunzio’s latest further astounds with the questions it poses as well as the answers it commands us to form. This is a rare work of celluloid prowess. It is one that will unveil new wonders and insights with each accruing sit through. Di Nunzio has formed an absolute bulls-eye; one of the best configurations of its type I have witnessed all year.

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“Strawberry Lane” – (Short Film Review)

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

“Strawberry Lane” (2016), the outstanding and enigmatic twenty-three minute and fifteen second debut from writer-directors Jeremy Arruda and Aaron Babcock, is thematically and visually designed to unnerve. Arruda and Babcock have created a living nightmare on celluloid. This is via a collection of sinisterly striking images. All of which, even down to the otherwise simplistic visage of the child’s doll and ventriloquist’s dummy casually spied in the second half, are guaranteed to linger in the subconscious long after they are viewed. The upshot of these brilliantly delivered constituents is undoubtedly an extension of horror in its purest sense. We, the audience, are continually made to feel uncomfortable, apprehensive and alarmed. Yet, we are wholly engaged and intrigued throughout. This is by the notions and scenarios that are unfolding. Likewise, those that could potentially be right around the corner. In an era where most related yarns are more than content to go the safe route, with jump scares and routine motions galore, Arruda and Babcock give us a presentation of credible, sobering and unwavering darkness. It is one that is anything but predictable. The unsettling quote from American serial killer Albert Fish glimpsed in the opening moments set the clinical atmosphere and violent chain of events which are to follow quickly and proficiently.

Adding to the tonal ingenuity at hand, this wonderfully creepy concoction derives heavy inspiration from avant-garde maestro David Lynch, most notably Eraserhead (1977), as well as the chairman of many controversial comedies, John Waters. The eerily erected commencing and closing credits, made increasingly incredible and unflinchingly bizarre by the deliberately old-fashioned music from Arruda, make this point sharply evident. Such augments an endlessly intense, marvelously macabre impression. It is one which pulsates proudly through every frame of the proceedings. Such beautifully mirrors the exploitation features of the 1970’s. This is with Tobe Hooper’s quintessential masterpiece, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), frequently coming to the forefront. Yet, the anti-heroes that pose as our leads are appropriately repulsive, menacing and impossibly mesmerizing. Such is in the tradition of the best cinematic villains. The duo of murderers who form this uncommon “love story”, as it is declared in the sub-title of the depiction, Harry Meyland (in a performance by Kris Salvi that is terrific) and Billy (in an enactment by Justin Thibault that is just as accomplished as that of Salvi) summon a certain parallel to Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill. Such iconic entities were found in Jonathan Demme’s Best Picture Academy Award- winning  The Silence of the Lambs (1991). These aforesaid mirrors to the past also provide an undercurrent of nostalgia to the piece. Such makes the overall feel of the labor akin to watching a long-lost classic for the first time.

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All of this is punctuated, memorably and appropriately, by an extended, ardently gut-wrenching and impressive finale. Such readily calls to mind the oft banned invention of fright, Nekromantik (1987), from German auteur Jorg Buttgereit. The combination of these influences results in an artistically satisfying and courageous endeavor. Such is especially true when considering that these sights are set within the haunting, gorgeously gritty cinematography conducted by Babcock. This is also an undeniably potent display of the behind the lens capabilities Arruda and Babcock encompass. Their tough, taut and meticulously paced script, co-authored by Dave Orten, compliments these attributes splendidly. Arruda and Babcock utilize a uniquely fashioned, boldly constructed narrative. It is one that wisely leaves as much to the captivated psyche to ponder as it paints explicitly blood red. The team craft sparsely delivered, but authentic, dialogue. Such casts a painstaking eye for believability in all details of the effort. The plot, which contains just a touch of pulp, is gripping. Such makes the undertaking seamless; a deft exhibition of raw, uncompromising aptitude.

Arruda and Babcock chronicle an unexpected conflict that erupts with the introverted transvestite Harry Meyland. He is a psychotic maniac. More specifically, one who abducts and slaughters the women of the local Magdalene Escort Service. This act is made more dangerous by the fact that it is where he is employed. All the while, the near demonic sounding voice of his mother (exceptionally issued by Arruda) guides him along. Yet, he encounters a grave challenge. This is as Billy, who delights in the same fatal indulgences, takes Harry’s work into his own hands. What starts as a competition between Harry and Billy soon evolves into a strange affinity; one that is as strangely absorbing and twisted as the fiction itself.

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The composition also benefits from other various components that are just as attention-garnering. Crystal Correa is phenomenal as Trisha. Geneve Lanouette is just as astounding in her turn as The Captive Woman. Carlo Barbieri III, Arruda and Kristen McNulty play Masked Figure 1-3 respectively. Their presence is unforgettable. They are seen fleetingly in an assembly of surprising instances which are heavily reminiscent of Bryan Bertino’s criminally underrated The Strangers (2008). Such apparently random illustrations hypnotically reinforce the brute, jarring strength of the visuals herein. A death sequence that transpires in the beginning minutes, worthy of Hitchcock in conception and delivery, only reaffirm this trait. Such is greatly enhanced by the slickly constructed editing Arruda and Babcock invoke.

Shot over the course of two years, this Zeta Wave Productions release is guaranteed to be a new favorite of fellow genre addicts. More importantly, it signifies the arrival of a tremendous pair of filmmakers. Both of whom have an obvious admiration for and wide-reaching knowledge of the history of moving picture terror. Best of all, they are equally versed in how to evoke fear and confidently, expertly project it on-screen. “Strawberry Lane” confirms this at every turn. The outcome of this is an astonishing tour de force; a brief affair that is far more satisfying, evocative and in-depth than most full-length exertions. That only offers further proof of their photographic command. Because of this, I greatly anticipate what gruesome marvels Arruda and Babcock bring to life in upcoming collaborations.

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“Trouser Snake” – (Short Film Review)

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

Trouser Snake (2016), the third short film from director and co-writer Alex DiVincenzo (2014’s “The Horrors of AutoCorrect” and 2016’s “Cybershock 1999”), plays as if the overblown “science” and informatory threats fashioned as lesson learning which made Refer Madness (1936) such a cult gem were repackaged as a deliberately uproarious 1950’s style creature feature. This is with the subject diverting from the purportedly “violent” dangers of marijuana. Such was the case illustrated to great comedic effect in the abovementioned Louis Gasnier directed and Arthur Hoerl penned presentation. DiVincenzo makes literal the idea of the “monster” that rises from the male anatomy. This is when said individual is confronted with an apparently unanticipated hormonal and sexual control. It is one which augments the naïve confusion of the teenage years. Such becomes the plight of our perplexed protagonist, Thomas (in a spot-on portrayal by Alexander Gauthier). All of this surfaces consequently to an extended bout of making out in a car with Thomas’ girlfriend, Lucy (in a phenomenal turn from Jamie Lyn Bagley). Such ensues at that notorious place in celluloid where such events always seem to stem from: Lover’s Lane.

DiVincenzo employs a variety of wildly triumphant jokes that pinpoint the outdated nature of Thomas’ gullibility. Most noteworthy of which is a brilliant sequence at nearly three minutes into DiVincenzo’s four minute and forty-nine second undertaking. This is from what can be perceived as a modern perspective. Such is derived during a family dinner. In this episode, Thomas tries to have an open discussion with his family concerning his current plunge into adulthood. It is at this point his much younger sibling, credited simply as “Sister” (in a terrific depiction by Morgan Walsh), says in a matter of fact manner: “Even I know about the birds and the bees, Thomas.”

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This gag is undoubtedly amusing. Yet, it is a number involving the sudden slanting of a table that comes immediately after Sister’s words that is the centerpiece of the entire segment. Such also endures as one of the most successfully hilarious instances visible throughout the runtime. Another thematically linked highlight arrives both before and prior to a spectacularly issued, black and white post-credits sequence. This latter stated item concludes with the announcement, which I sincerely hope DiVincenzo makes good upon, that the “Trouser Snake will return in ‘Bride of Trouser Snake’ “. These already mentioned guffaws are exceedingly clever. They are also among the best uses of the amorous parallel DiVincenzo utilizes with the presence of the antagonistic fiend of this enterprise spied throughout this Grimbridge Productions release. Such instances are as cringe-worthy as they are, in various usages of the term, climactic.

Made for a mere $100, DiVincenzo’s invention is boosted by another outstanding, gleefully tongue-in-cheek performance. This is from Michael Thurber. He enacts Thomas’ specialist, Dr. Mason. Thurber bends the character in the ways of many associated clinicians from both the decade and genre DiVincenzo models his tour de force after. Such is orchestrated both readily and engagingly. He delivers exposition, most of which the audience is already informed of, with a merry, knowing wink to his unseen spectators all along. Such makes the scenes he is in sing with a heightened layer of underlying wit. This matches the tone of the piece beautifully. William DeCoff as Thomas’ father, Hugo, and Monica Saviolakis as Thomas’ mother, Joy, also offer similarly astounding depictions. The result is a herculean effort that is made incredible by the stalwart essence of those on-screen.

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The brief affair is also graced with an appropriately cheery, splendidly done veneer. The look of the endeavor is like that of a classic, monochrome motion picture. Particularly, one that was colorized before being broadcast on late night cable television. Such cinematography, courtesy of Jill Poisson and DiVincenzo, further enhances the B-movie correspondence DiVincenzo proudly strives for throughout the exertion. DiVincenzo’s editing, script (co-authored by James Cilano) and general guidance of the project is sharp and masterful. The story is conservative, but fulfilling, in its construction. Such transpires as DiVincenzo and Cilano tell the tale through several connected sequences. These are often exited and quickly returned to at seemingly random intervals. Such fleshes out the saga as satisfactorily as any full-length fiction. It also provides a non-linear, artistic streak to the proceedings. Such intensifies the well-rounded sum of the attempt. The same can be spoken of Cilano’s musical influence. Such is an endlessly enjoyable mixture of antiquated terror and melodrama. Furthermore, Adam Parchesky’s sound is tremendous. Jordan Pacheco’s puppeteering of the title entity, and other effects, are skillfully orchestrated. Like all the other technical elements we encounter in DiVincenzo’s latest, with gaffer John Mosetich and his leadership of the proficient camera and electric work chiefly among them, these articles jump out at us and demand our attention.

But, what is most charming of all is how easy it is to see droves of youth lining up to see “Trouser Snake”, and its promised sequel, as part of a weekend double feature at the drive-in. When reflecting upon the epoch the account is set in, the illusion cast by this ardent homage is smirk-inducing and complete. This is nostalgia of the best variety. It stays true to the trappings, the general arc and stereotypes of related outings. Still, it wins us over. This is, primarily, with the obvious affinity for the early Roger Corman/ Ed Wood Jr. brand of cinema DiVincenzo has attached to his narrative. With the support of an intriguingly designed beast, a wonderful and apt cast, a fluent pace and an entertainment level that never wavers: DiVincenzo has crafted a genuine knockout.

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