“Demon Hunter” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***1/2 out of *****.

Demon Hunter (2016), the feature debut of co-writer and director Zoe Kavanagh, effortlessly shifts between riveting Underworld (2003) style action and genuinely atmospheric horror. These gear changes happen spontaneously. They also arrive at generally unpredictable intervals. This is noteworthy throughout the brisk and efficient 85-minute runtime. But, they blend together seamlessly. In turn, these elements create a sleek and largely diverting endeavor. This is even if Kavangh’s otherwise sturdy exercise gives way to an all-too-familiar battle of opposing forces finale. Such an expected conclusion seems to defy the unique structure and storytelling that is evident beforehand. Nevertheless, the afore-mentioned qualities are stalwart enough to overcome such obstacles.

In a plot that is honed from a tried and true setup, Kavangh follows the heroine of the tale, Taryn Barker (in a captivating depiction from Niamh Hogan). Barker is still seeking answers to and suffering from the rape and murder of her pre-teen sister, Annabelle (in a stellar representation from Aisli Moran). This transpired seven years earlier. In the originating stages of the arrangement, Barker is brought into questioning. This interrogation, overseen by Detective Ray Beckett (in a solid depiction from Alan Talbot), involves a decapitated man. It is one who Barker claims was an unholy fiend. In so doing, Beckett soon realizes this is the same individual he promised he would find and incarcerate. This was in a failed attempt to bring Barker justice. When Barker warns Beckett of a brute by the name of Falstaff (in a wickedly terrific representation from Michael Parle), who is accused of trying to steal Barker’s soul, the stakes rise. It isn’t long before Falstaff makes Beckett’s dealings personal. From herein, the duo become bent on breaking up a malevolent cult. These worshippers of Satan are intent on unleashing an ancient menace on the world.

This is a solid foundation for an outing of this ilk. Kavanagh punctuates this attribute with a guidance of the piece that is claustrophobic and eye-popping. Her meticulously paced screenplay, which was co-penned by Tony Flynn, develops the archetypical characters of the account in a satisfactory manner. The structure, especially in the early moments, is alluring. This is as Kavanagh readily alternates between past and present situations. The dialogue is appropriately straight-forward. Still, it is suitably delivered by the cast.

Furthermore, the musical contribution from Scott Tobin is an overall success. This is even if it is initially off-putting in the pulse-pounding and claustrophobic opening sequences. The retro effects are charming. Luca Rocchini’s cinematography is brooding and immersive. The previously undeclared depictions, including Nic Furlong as Barnes and Saorla Wright as Jess, are just as victorious.

Correspondingly, Kavanagh has crafted an exciting bit of escapist entertainment. Those who enjoyed Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil (2002-2017) series, or any related video game to film adaptation, should also be able to appreciate Kavanagh’s latest labor. It is both visceral and visually appealing. The often gory exertion is also full of nail-biting delights. Though we have seen it all before, it is still a tough, taut and well-made entry. Audiences craving a good midnight movie should be more than satisfied.

(Unrated). Contains adult content, profanity and violence.

Demon Hunter will be available on digital and Video on Demand platforms August 15th, 2017.

“The Neon Dead”- (Movie Review)

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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.

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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!

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“KillerSaurus” – (Movie Review)

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

Near the mid-way point of writer-director Steve Lawson’s unapologetically entertaining, science-fiction/ horror undertaking, KillerSaurus (2015), Jed Bailey (in an amusing and ruggedly charismatic portrayal by Kenton Hall) dryly quips: “What do they got in there, King Kong?” As is well known, the quote originates from the iconic Chaos Theory-minded mathematician, Dr. Ian Malcolm. Such an immortal bit was previously delivered through Jeff Goldblum’s brilliant enactment of the eccentric personality. This was in Steven Spielberg’s timeless rendition of Michael Chrichton’s best-selling masterpiece, Jurassic Park (1993). Such a line, though obviously recycled, brought me an ever-broadening smile. This is because I am one of the legion who continues to look at Spielberg’s feature, and dinosaurs in general, as enduring personal favorites. To me, they remain an unbroken link to the merriment and wonder of childhood. This quality alone propelled my enthusiasm for Lawson’s already striking photoplay. Yet, the relentlessly smoky, dark and playfully foreboding tone, refreshingly etched characterizations and the sparse, but mostly striking, uncredited effects are far more reminiscent of an entirely different moviemaking endeavor. This is legendary craftsman Roger Corman’s enchanting camp classic, an adaptation of a 1984 novel by Harry Adam Knight (whose real name is John Raymond Brosnan), Carnosaur (1993).

Regardless of the way it attaches itself to these past nostalgias, lofty ambition and imaginative inklings are clearly visible. This further punctuates the highly charming, made for the drive-in sensibility that pulsates throughout. Likewise, much of the banter, especially when describing the creation of a Tyrannosaurus Rex with the aid of a 3-D printer, is fascinating. The specifics which accompany this particular invention, spread throughout the labor largely via Professor Peterson (a watchable enactment by Steven Dolton which captures all the attributes of the modernized ‘mad scientist’ persona splendidly), are equally gripping. They triumph at filling in the backstory gaps in an intriguing fashion. It is done in a manner which, simultaneously, isn’t extraneous. Also, it doesn’t bog down the continually smooth pace.

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Additionally, these notions, especially the formation of the carnivore itself, are also clever. Much in the same vein, they are intellectually stimulating theories to ponder. This comes off as highly comparable to Jurassic Park in another arena. This is to that of billionaire John Hammond’s own personal modus of bringing to life these long extinct beasts. The use of frogs is existent in Lawson, Chrichton and Spielberg’s fabrications. Still, the number never fully relies on this parallel to enthrall audiences. Lawson has gleefully utilized these conversant elements to build an alternately meditative and engaging opus. It is one which is distinctly its own entity. Such a sensation broadens in a certain moment where information about the final vision concerning  Professor Peterson’s menace is unveiled. A late third act issued fact about this creature brings this impression especially forward. This data mirrors the terrific fourth installment in the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World (2015). Such a recollection arises when we find out that the resurrected relic is being planned to be used as a war weapon. This is courtesy of a mysterious governmental organization. We eventually learn that they are funding Professor Peterson’s project.

Lawson commences the narrative of his sixth cinematic venture with a tense, attention-garnering and technically impressive on all avenues ten-minute opener. During this sequence, tragedy befalls Professor Peterson’s secret research facility. This is when the above-mentioned fossil reptile slaughters many of the members of the area of “The Center”. After a skillfully designed, and spectacularly visual acknowledgements scene, we move forward in time. From this point, we uncover that our protagonist, Kayleigh Ma (in a finely wrought and multi-dimensional depiction by Helen Crevel), has been forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement. This is concerning the horrific dealings in Peterson’s building. Frustrated, she hesitantly goes back to the place of the initial bloodshed alongside blogger Bailey. Soon the two are drawn back into the life Ma was forced to not discuss. From herein, concealed intentions are exposed. Just as terribly, the vicious creature proves to be as much of a ravenous threat as beforehand. Inevitably, a fight for survival ensues. This is as both the sixty-five million year old fiend and the association that is backing Professor Peterson makes their presence increasingly known.

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Though the plot seems fashioned from the same related sources as it winks at in both sights and dissertation, the Creativ Solutions production and Wild Eye Releasing and 88 Films distribution never seems that way. This is because Lawson has given us a late-night delight. It is one which has a balance of wit and will. This is despite its obvious financial restraints. The composition also wisely subscribes to a proven adage. This is that the act of making your audience wait to see the beast shall increase effectiveness and unease. Such an approach summons the ideology behind another Spielberg tour de force: Jaws (1975). As a matter of fact, we do not see the Tyrannosaurus Rex in full until forty-four of its seventy-four minutes have passed. Yet, the elusions to the ferocious mammal generates an ominous ambiance. It helps us anticipate the visage of the upper-Cretaceous Period giant all the more. When we finally do view the ancient terror, it only enhances the impact enormously. Such appearances are kept to a minimum. Proving these tested guidelines of similar exertions correct, this elevates the interest and investment in what is accruing on-screen. Best of all, it shapes the intensity perceived within into an ever-palpable and taunt construction.

This bareness is riveting for most of the sit-through. Such is especially true when the minimalism present is issued in relation to the limited personalities in the tale itself. It also is just as accurate in consideration of the few locations used. This makes the piece all the more claustrophobic and resourceful. Even the small scale and infrequent action segments, which are both nail-biting and inventive in their own right, carry a charm that any measure of overwrought, multi-million dollar spectacles will never know. For example, there is a late second act passage involving Bailey being locked in a room with the villainous theropod. This is a deft illustration of how impeccably these components combine in such instances. In retrospect, Lawson’s effort is a masterclass in this avenue. This is until this strength of the slight is interjected to concoct an abrupt, and relatively, limp finale. Such an incident occurs at sixty-eight minutes in. It, rather cleverly in hindsight, intends to elude to what happens solely through a single item of speech. This is provided as a replacement to showcasing these motions.

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Still, the arrangement remains stalwart as a whole. This is shaped tremendously by the assistance of the likable, high-caliber turns from everyone involved. Julian Boote as Andrews, Adam Collins as Sergeant, Vicki Glover as Amy and Marc Hamill as Laser Technician all offer credible, proficient representations. They bring life to individuals that could’ve easily become genre stock. Lawson’s crisp, clean and immersive cinematography, editing, camera work and sound contribution are spectacular. His direction and writing are equally sharp and stylish. Furthermore, Alex Young’s original score is thrilling. It perfectly complements the material. Kevin McLeod’s end montage music fares just as well.

Though the story arc is as familiar as the twists which are found within, Lawson has delivered a superior B- gem. There is a welcome and appropriately retro feel to the the proceedings. Such an impression remains unwavering. This is even when modern touches, such as the flashes of various explosions spied in the climax, are visibly computer generated. These minor glitches are easy to forgive. It is because KillerSaurus is consistently fun. The account never gives into being too self-aware. In the tradition of the best entries of its ilk, it is somber in mood yet, doesn’t take itself too seriously. Even if the culminating result isn’t as close to Spielberg as it would like to be, there is an abundance of ingenuity and talent operating on various levels throughout. Such makes Lawson’s exertion a magnificent case of all that can be completed without fiscal excess. It is also an exhibition of what can be instituted when deprived of an overabundance of special effects and gore to substitute excellence. Of the catalogue of accomplishments Lawson derives, this is the most necessary and incredible of them all.

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