“Undertaker” (2021) – Short Film Review

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****

“Undertaker” (2021), from director Chris Esper, is a masterful meditation on the inherent need for mankind to understand life. It also concerns the confusion that arises as we attempt to comprehend our wants, desires, and surroundings. The ten-minute short film also focuses in on how fleeting our time is on Earth. This is cleverly illustrated in the piece through several efficient and effective sequences that range from the commonplace (the search for a perfect cup of coffee) to the transformative (uncovering a key romantic relationship). Furthermore, the account can also be viewed as a singular glimpse of the world that may arise after death.

As is the core component of a great number of works by Esper, the universal relatability in these themes, as well as the compassionate and upfront manner with which they are addressed, is emotionally compelling from the first frame to the last. The same can be said of the brilliantly handled symbolism inherent in the project. Because of this connection, onlookers effortlessly comprehend the mentality of the lead of the exercise, referred to as only The Undertaker (rendered in a terrific, quietly layered, and mature portrayal by Dustin Teuber).  The gorgeous black and white cinematography from Colin Munson adds an air of nostalgia to the narrative. It beautifully compliments these qualities as well as its noirish demeanor.

The deceptively simple story, which involves a man realizing that everything around him is not what it he believes it to be, is given superb depth via the wonderfully penned, intimate yet ambitious screenplay by Kris Salvi. The script is especially striking in demonstrating sharp dialogue. Such speech capably teases the fundamental mystery The Undertaker is attempting to unlock about himself and his environment. This is without ever being wholly direct. Such measures add a heightened sense of elegant poetry to the proceedings that is simultaneously theatrical and organic. In an equally successful decision in this arena, the characters are also cryptic.

The excursion also triumphs in terms of its secondary roles. Justin Thibault is memorable in his brief turn, which occurs in the engaging opening segments, as Passenger. Salvi is equally good in the understated, yet gloriously poignant, final scene as The Driver. Teddy Pryor as The Identical, Michael Lepore as Waiter, and Jen Drummond as Customer also make a considerably indelible impression.

From a technical angle, the undertaking is also outstanding. The stylish, yet nuanced and thoughtful, direction from Esper is a highlight. His editing is also proficient. The music from Steven Lanning-Cafaro is appropriately gentle and spellbinding. It captures the spirit of the development with tremendous grace. Moreover, the score is used both delicately and sparingly. Such a method punctuates the underlying sentiment of certain instances. This is without taking away from the immersive value of the construction. Continually, the production design from Gabrielle Rosson and sound from Ryan Collins and Jay Sheehan is just as remarkable.

Playing like a condensed, yet still wildly inventive and timelessly relevant, episode of The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), “Undertaker” is a confidently paced, smartly structured, and unforgettable example of cinematic art. The dreamlike drama once again showcases Esper as an incredible talent who consistently crafts top-tier material. His latest venture is another unique, intelligent, breathtaking, powerful, and refined achievement that will assuredly resonate with spectators of all degrees. Extraordinary on all fronts and endlessly absorbing, it is at the top of the list of my favorite short films of the year.

The Archivist (2021) – Movie Review

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****.

The Archivist (2021), the debut feature from director Eric Hand, is a glorious tribute to the distinct storytelling mechanics, characterizations, and vibrant, eye-popping style of the grindhouse motion pictures of the 1960’s–1970’s. The 109-minute creation beautifully mirrors this most cinematic of eras through its emotionally compelling, moody, and evocative music from White Noise Generator. The aforementioned time frame is also brilliantly reflected in the stunning cinematography from Hand. It is also seen in the remarkable performances, namely Emmett Corbin as Colonel Boaz and Jennifer Giles as Mother/Agent Pope, from everyone involved in the production.

This quality is immediately evident in the superb depiction from Hand as the lead of the narrative, Agent Caulder Benson. Hand’s enactment of Benson masterfully models that of Clint Eastwood as The Man With no Name in Sergio Leone’s brilliant Dollar Trilogy. This trio of western classics included A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966). What also heightens this parallel is that The Archivist was shot on restored 35mm Techniscope Arriflex cameras and lenses. These were also used in the recording of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. When Hand’s effort gradually aligns itself to a series of events one would associate with the previously stated Leone/Eastwood collaborations, it naturally fits the loving homage the movie mesmerizingly crafts.

Utilizing the book burning and governmental control elements of Ray Bradbury’s tour de force, Fahrenheit 451 (1953), alongside other timeless bits of science-fiction, human horror, and fantasy, Hand, who also successfully portrays Lazarus, tells the tale of Benson: a violent man whose been given the title position by an oppressive administration. Taking place in 2070, the exercise concerns Benson destroying historical remnants which are considered forbidden. In so doing, he finds out that these items seem to have a strange power over him. Filled with sudden questions and concerns about the world around him, he steals a muscle car from the 1970’s. He then heads out into the chaos of the post-apocalyptic landscape around him. Pursued by an ominous sheriff and in constant danger of the bizarre individuals he encounters, Benson searches for answers. This is while trying to escape his own past.

Reportedly made for $800,000, The Archivist is an ambitious, layered marvel of independent filmmaking. The screenplay, co-authored by Bo Gardner and Hand, is filled with tough, organic, occasionally quippy, yet often thoughtful and poetic dialogue. Such speech, along with the on-screen personalities who speak them, fit perfectly with the ambiance of a Leone/Eastwood work from nearly six decades ago. Such a design signifies that the primary personalities that dominate the piece remain enigmatic throughout the duration of the project. Regardless, this general lack of development doesn’t hinder the proceedings.

What also further strengthens the endeavor is the exceptional visual effects from Michael Crigler and Zach Hunter. They also illuminate the 1970’s veneer of the attempt. Moreover, the editing from D. Prescott Noel and Tom Marotta, makeup from Paul Moody, and set decoration by Kendall Moody are first-rate. The art direction from Ed Amantia and stunts are just as finely honed.   

Opening with an exciting, no-nonsense first act and concluding with an engrossing and quietly moving finale, The Archivist is smart, accomplished, tonally flawless, and consistently captivating entertainment. It is guaranteed to thrill both cinephiles and casual viewers alike. The action scenes are retro excellence. They are intimate and never overdone. Continually, they are also enthralling and deftly constructed. The excursion moves at a confident pace. It is never too rushed or too slow. This is ideal for the material. Hand’s undertaking incorporates social commentary into the plot just as smoothly as it does its high-level of audience involvement. In turn, The Archivist is one of the most impressive photoplays I have seen all year. It is a true fabrication of celluloid art. Particularly, one that will prove to be as enduring as the legendary ventures from which it takes such fervent notes.

The Archivist will be available via Vimeo on Demand Christmas, 2021. Blu-rays for it can be found at http://thearchivistmovie.com/.

31 Underappreciated Horror Gems in 31 Days (2021 Edition)

By Andrew Buckner

The following is a list of thirty-one terrific lesser-known and/or underappreciated horror films. All of which deserve to be more often celebrated. There is one title reserved for each day in October. This is with at least one entry per decade from 1920-2020. The varied genre features included herein are arranged in order of the earliest year of release to the most recent. When two or more movies share the same year, they are placed in alphabetical order.

This article will be the first of a yearly set of such itemizations. Thirty-one different terror pictures, all of which are similarly underpraised, will be included every October in each accruing piece. These works will also follow the rules specifically laid-out in the first paragraph concerning the decades of 1920-2020. Each respective exercise in this series will be published at AWordofDreams.com by the middle of the previously mentioned month.

Without further hesitation, here are the selections for 2021.

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Director: Rupert Julian.

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock.

Freaks (1932)

Director: Tod Browning.

I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

Director: Jacques Tourneur.

Isle of the Dead (1945)

Director: Mark Robson.

Them! (1954)

Director: Gordon Douglas.

Horror of Dracula (1958)

Director: Terence Fisher.

The Tingler (1959)

Director: William Castle.

Black Sunday (1960)

Director: Mario Bava.

Kwaidan (1964)

Director: Masaki Kobayashi.

Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

Director: Paolo Cavara.

The Devils (1971)

Director: Ken Russell.

It’s Alive (1974)

Director: Larry Cohen.

Martin (1976)

Director: George A. Romero.

House (1977)

Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi.

Humanoids from the Deep (1980)

Directors: Barbara Peeters, Jimmy T. Murakami.

Inferno (1980)

Director: Dario Argento.

Motel Hell (1980)

Director: Kevin Connor.

Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror (1981)

Director: Andrea Bianchi.

The Entity (1982)

Director: Sidney J. Furie.

Santa Sangre (1989)

Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Tetsou: The Iron Man (1989)

Director: Shin’ya Tsukamoto.

Dead Alive (1992)

Director: Peter Jackson.

Ghostwatch (1992)

Director: Lesley Manning.

The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

Director: Guillermo del Toro.

Teeth (2007)

Director: Mitchell Lichtenstein.

Pontypool (2008)

Director: Bruce McDonald.

mother! (2016)

Director: Darren Aronofsky.

The Wolf House (2018)

Directors: Joaquin Cocina, Cristobal Leon.

Tennessee Gothic (2019)

Director: Jeff Wedding.

Sister Tempest (2020)

Director: Joe Badon.

The 50 Best Horror Films of 2021 (So Far)

By Andrew Buckner

In the spirit of the Halloween season, I have compiled a list of the fifty best horror films that have come out so far this year.

Note: The criteria used for the feature films included in this list is an official release date, whether direct to streaming or theatrical, in 2021.

50. Teddy

Directors: Ludovic Boukherma, Zoran Boukherma.

49. Bad Candy

Directors: Scott B. Hansen, Desiree Connell.

48. Like Dogs

Director: Randy Van Dyke.

47. It Came from Below

Director: Dan Allen.

46. An Unquiet Grave

Director: Terence Kray.

45. Superdeep

Director: Arseny Syuhin.

44. Stay Out of the Attic

Director: Jerren Lauder.

43. Slaxx

Director: Elza Kephart.

42. Caveat

Director: Damian McCarthy.

41. Shadow in the Cloud

Director: Roseanne Liang.

40. Séance

Director: Simon Barrett.

39. Willy’s Wonderland

Director: Kevin Lewis.

38. Son

Director: Ivan Kavanagh.

37. Lucky

Director: Natasha Kermani.

36. Superhost

Director: Brandon Christensen.

35. The Last Matinee

Director: Maximiliano Conteni.

34. The Power

Director: Corinna Faith.

33. The Old Ways

Director: Christopher Alender.

32. The Swarm

Director: Just Philippot.

31. A Classic Horror Story

Directors: Roberto De Feo, Paolo Strippoli.

30. Separation

Director: William Brent Bell.

29. No One Gets Out Alive

Director: Santiago Menghini.

28. Werewolves Within

Director: Josh Ruben.

27. Don’t Breathe 2

Director: Rodo Sayagues.

26. Vicious Fun

Director: Cody Calahan.

25. Honeydew

Director: Devereux Milburn.

24. The Night House

Director: David Bruckner.

23. Benny Loves You

Director: Karl Holt.

22. Chompy and the Girls

Director: Skye Braband.

21. Nightbooks

Director: David Yarovesky.

20. Violation

Directors: Madeline Sims-Fewer, Dusty Mancinelli.

19. Fear Street: Part One – 1994

Director: Leigh Janiak.

18. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Director: Michael Chaves.

17. Jakob’s Wife

Director: Travis Stevens.

16. Psycho Goreman

Director: Steven Kostanski.

15. Saint Maud

Director: Rose Glass.

14. V/H/S/94

Directors: Simon Barrett, Steven Kostanski, Chloe Okuno, Ryan Prows, Jennifer Reeder, Timo Tjahjanto.

13. We Need to Do Something

Director: Sean King O’Grady.

12. Candyman

Director: Nia DaCosta.

11. The Girl Who Got Away

Director: Michael Morrissey.

10. Malignant

Director: James Wan.    

9. Censor

Director: Prano Bailey-Bond.

8. In the Earth

Director: Ben Wheatley.

7. I Blame Society

Director: Gillian Wallace Horvat.

6. The Boy Behind the Door

Director: David Charbonier, Justin Powell.

5. A Quiet Place II

Director: John Krasinski.

4. Sator

Director: Jordan Graham.

 3. Climate of the Hunter

 Director: Mickey Reese.

 2. Dementer

 Director: Chad Crawford Kinkle.

1. The Amusement Park

Director: George A. Romero.