“Shadows Fall” – (Movie Review)

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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.

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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.

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“Blair Witch” – (Movie Review)

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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.

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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.

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“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.

“Exorcist: The Fallen” – (Movie Review)

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

Exorcist: The Fallen (2014), the debut feature from writer-director Garrett Benach, opens, after a stimulating glimpse of scripture from 1 Peter 5:8, with a sequence which signifies the various observations ever-present in its scant eighty-one minute runtime. In this segment, Father David (in a stalwart performance by David Withers) initially confronts the manipulated Victoria Martin (in a commanding turn by Tara Marie Kirk which blends the vulnerable and manic elements of such a role impressively). The internal struggle Victoria is having with the biblical Book of Revelation entity, Abaddon, is present early on. It is also beautifully, hauntingly portrayed. As the sight progresses, she becomes wide-eyed and spasms, with blood dripping down her mouth. In these later expanses of the division, Victoria’s appearance calls to the similarly overtaken Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) in William Friedkin’s unparalleled, The Exorcist (1973). When Victoria speaks the initially innocent and, eventually, raspy and vulgar tones she elucidates also mirrors Regan’s mannerisms in Friedkin’s ground-breaker. It does this tremendously. Such is issued in a sharp display of Shawn Willis’ technically proficient sound. It almost makes us briefly forget that Benach’s application is only affiliated with Friedkin’s composition in content. The same is true of its deceptively comparable title.

The two minute and ten second prologue, glimpsed around the conclusion, is uncommonly effective. It sets the stage for another example of the classic battle between the earthly and the otherworldly fabulously. Yet, one cannot deny the overwhelming familiarity which hangs over the proceedings. This is undoubtedly brought upon by the flux of correspondingly themed efforts which have come to fruition in the forty plus years since the release of Friedkin’s tour de force. It can also be seen in the general design of the story arc. Yet, it still entertains. Benach’s piece resonates with B-movie charm. The Wild Eye Releasing distribution and Garrett Benach Films manufacture is an admirable spectacle. It pulls great punches without an over reliance on gore. Such is also in line with its treatment of overdone shock motifs.

Originally titled Victoria’s Exorcism, Benach’s tale follows the title lead and her family. After playing with an Ouija board one night with a group of friends, Victoria begins to act strangely. This is captured in a passage, seen at fifteen minutes in, which showcases Benach’s knack for making discussions between individuals simultaneously intimate and intense. The portion is also an incredible example of how Benach weaves suspenseful tropes, such as the circumstance itself, into a configuration that feels fresh. As the narrative progresses, Victoria finds herself sleepwalking at night. The next morning, she has no recollection of the event. Further along, she unveils a strange figure, in another terrifically concocted bit, through her window. It is not much longer until Abaddon takes hold. Victoria’s brother, Glen (in a representation by Rollyn Stafford that is proficient throughout), experiences these happenings upfront. After failing to get Victoria to believe her own actions, he is the one who summons help. This is where Father David enters. Soon the duo begin their battle for both Victoria’s physical state and her immortal soul.

This leads to an engaging third act. It is more traditionally driven than that spied in the near hour beforehand. Regardless, it never defies what was so meticulously erected prior. This is by never going overboard with its paranormal situations. Instead, it finds a comforting balance between its alternating emphasis on theology, domestic interests and the pivotal terror aspects. This section respects the small scale, largely subtle scares and ominous, foreboding atmosphere Benach has deliberately crafted. There is also a consistent focus on how these abhorrent proceedings strengthen Victoria’s non-religious family. It also provides some intriguing, contemplative morsels of conversation between the Martins. This dramatic cornerstone, essential in accounts such as these, mechanizes to enhance the investment of its spectators luminously. Such emotive intensity in this arena helps make the final ten minutes especially riveting. This particular strength also finds Victoria contemplating the consequences of her actions. The aforementioned prompt occurs right before the credits roll. Such a post-tragedy look back from the formerly controlled is highly infrequent in related productions. Because of this climactic bout of meditativeness, Benach leaves his audiences on a high note. This is with several concluding scenes that are easily among the highlights of the endeavor.

However, the human renderings in Benach’s otherwise solid screenplay are largely genre stock. This is most visible in Victoria’s friends. Such is especially clear in the originating stretches. Not to mention, Victoria herself is given sparse exposition. What we do learn in this respect is largely of the garden variety genus. This attribute is also just as remarkable in the dialogue, motivations and situations that arrive before Abaddon’s inevitable entrance. Still, we find those we are surrounded with on-screen relatable and compelling. This is because these fictional personalities are expertly performed. Justin Hall as Mark Russell, Petra Boyd as Victoria’s mother, Susan, and Todd A. Robinson as Victoria’s father, John, fare phenomenally. Tom Slater as Joey Prentice, Theresa Park as Kristen Gario and Tony Teach as Martin Lamos deliver. This is with equal doses charisma and power in their individual depictions. The same can be said for Benach’s high-caliber interpretation of Robert Fox. Justys Spencer as Young Emily and Raegyn Spencer as Young Victoria are brilliant in their fleeting parts.

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Benach’s direction is taunt. It is also consistently striking. With the accompaniment of Michael Weiss’ appropriately shadowy cinematography, Benach’s aptitude to stage an arrangement dripping with a rugged atmosphere of dismay is ever-apparent. There is even a dazzling reverie segment at forty minutes in. This part, with its eye-catching use of the color palette to add artistry and accrue sheer terror, immediately calls to mind Italian Giallo maestro, Dario Argento. It’s a bold bit that lasts approximately thirty seconds. Nevertheless, it leaves an indelible impression. This is the showiest exhibition of Benach’s talent found in this feature. Hitherto, his capabilities in this arena are visible throughout. Best of all, he builds his fright tactics organically. Rarely are we given a cheap jolt. This is as much courtesy of Benach’s behind the camera work as it is his deft scripting facilities.

Contributing to the technical impact at hand is Torrey Richard’s pulse-pounding and successfully dread inducing music. Damien Brooksbank gives us impressive special effects. They certainly augment the realism Benach is striving to project with this photoplay. Shawn Willis’ sound is sharp and terrific. It punctuates the hints of trepidation in the attempt all the more. Carrie Brandon’s animation is superb. Meg Gamez provides wardrobes that are magnificent. This quality boosts the everyday charm of our antagonist and those who surround her beautifully. Gamez’s art direction and Benach’s editing are also tremendous. They instantly grab our attention with their acclaim worthy merit. This distinction is carried unblemished throughout.

Benach’s Portland, Oregon shot opus is a gripping, worthwhile entry in its particular field. The sum of Exorcist: The Fallen is comparable in scope, pace and build-up to Ole Bornedal’s The Possession (2012). One can likewise find numerous parallels to Oren Peli’s original Paranormal Activity (2007). Benach’s stab at evoking alarm lacks the ground-breaking approach of Jordan Galland’s excellent comic fear composition, Ava’s Possessions (2015). The same can be said when aligning Benach’s affair with Daniel Stamm’s well-done found footage release, The Last Exorcism (2010). Benach doesn’t hit the visual pinnacle of Mikael Hafstrom’s criminally underrated, The Rite (2011). But, there is a contemporary gothic approach to the endeavor that is timeless. Most importantly, Benach genuinely cares for his heroine. Because of this, patrons will find themselves doing the same. We are with Victoria and her grief-stricken kin every painful step of the way. In a world where such traits are often given a cold shoulder in exchange for upping the ante on cheap shock, Benach’s labor rises far above the competition because of this concern. We are acquainted with all that transpires herein. But, the pieces of the puzzle are fascinating. Moreover, they fit grandly into place. These are all signs that both Benach and unholy proprietorship stories such as these will continue to thrive and enjoy the wonderfully long cinematic life remaining ahead of them.

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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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“Model Hunger” – (Movie Review)

 

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

Model Hunger (2016), the eighty-four minute full-length directorial feature debut from veteran actress Debbie Rochon, is cinematic madness. This is true in the gleefully off the rails tone Rochon so wonderfully presents. Such brilliantly intertwines the dark comedy of John Waters with the detailed splatter of an early tour de force from director Peter Jackson. There is also more than a touch of Troma Entertainment head, Lloyd Kaufmann. Ironically, the previously stated low-budget craftsman, and related company, Rochon has starred in more than a few films for. There is also a clear inspiration from the Italian maestros of terror, Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento, stylistically perceivable herein.

Such a component is also strikingly evident in Lynn Lowry’s vivid, increasingly unhinged performance. Lowry ever-intriguingly portrays the lead murderess with a deceptively gentle southern exterior, Ginny Reilly. But, one of the most remarkable feats Rochon and screenwriter James Morgart evoke is the delicate balance of adult humor and occasionally tongue-in-cheek, but largely serious, horror. The two complement one another throughout. Most remarkably, they are often orchestrated in the same sequence. Such only heightens the sensation of continually mounting lunacy which accompanies Reilly’s mannerisms. This is made all the more observable as the meritoriously made movie runs towards its sinisterly smirk-inducing climax. In addition, the effortless command Rochon and Morgart have over the material run far beyond the victorious interchanges and juggling of atmosphere and categorical shifts.

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Rochon and Morgart begin the tale by following a pair of Spartans cheerleaders, Katie and Missy (Samantha Hoy and Lisa Dee, who both give determined renditions of the stereotypical genre teen), to Reilly’s door. In a narrative shift reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), the focus for the rest of the affair turns suddenly away from these potential heroines. After several minutes we find ourselves unexpectedly following the villanious protagonist, and cannibal, Reilly. Embittered from the rejection she has received from the business which was supposed to welcome her with open arms, she enacts violent revenge on those who might’ve passed the modeling industry’s rigorous standards. Reilly’s secret doings, most of which involve inflicting pain upon her victims before killing them in her basement, are threatened when Sal Lombardo (an enactment by Carmine Capobianco that is commanding and proficient) and Debbie (an exhibition by Tiffany Shepis that is ever-engaging) arrive in the community. Slowly, suspicions arise. As the high body count of this presentation rises, this mutual misgiving only accumulates.

The story itself, perfect for a grindhouse undertaking such as this, has been done in various manners beforehand. Regardless, the structure Rochon and Morgart evoke is so unique, wholly original and unpredictable that such a criticism is decidedly minor. Moreover, the pace is breakneck. Reilly’s good natured façade is broken early. This is signaled as the bloodbath imparts at a mere eleven minutes in. Afterward, the progression of such terrifying instances rarely wavers. This is as the chronicle continually twists and builds upon itself. All the while, we are given just enough exposition into Reilly and Debbie to care for the both of them. This is considering the personal faults the fiction makes clearly visible throughout. This is done without breaking up the interestingly mounted arc and general movement of the plot.

We are given two key flashback sequences of exposition. One can be found around the twenty-five minute mark. The other is arises a little over an hour into the production. Both are well done. They sting with the disapproval of body shaming, as well as the equally odious idea of beauty and parental disapproval, which has leaves many so acrimonious. Still, the photoplay doesn’t weigh itself down with its social conscious. This is an entertaining, old-school, late-night fright flick. It simply uses this as a window into understanding the various psychosis that the labor concentrates upon. Such is also utilized as a potential key into the obsessions, a product of the aforementioned delirium, the depiction is concerned with unveiling.

It is mirrored through a program, which always seems to be about to air, called Suzi’s Secret. The show is played for laughs. It also triumphantly generates them. Regardless, it also potently and powerfully brings forth through the aforementioned modus. This item reinforces how the strict guidelines of appearance affects, not only some of those present in the fiction, but society as a whole. Such is another of the many remarkable feats this terrifically conceived opus naturally pulls off.

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Similarly, Rochon’s behind the camera work is edgy and claustrophobic. Likewise, Morgart’s script is excellent. It provides the perfect celluloid playground for the players who inhabit the roles Morgart has penned to have wild fun with their turns. This is something everyone involved certainly notices and brings forth tenfold. To its further credit, the script also cracks with witty dialogue and characterizations. The piece walks the fine line between believability and the incredible. Despite this, it never breaks away from either. What is just as striking is Morgart’s clever and intelligent use of the age-old voice-over trope. Such narration comes from Reilly. This element is used in a manner that often reminded me of many of the nasty tidbits Margaret White would spout at her most overzealous in Stephen King’s classic novel, Carrie (1974). It also mechanizes expertly to augment the sense of Reilly’s perspective which radiates stalwartly throughout the picture. The incorporation of Michael Winters (a depiction by the continually fantastic Michael Thurber which matches Lowry’s portrayal in eccentricity and sheer bravura), as an initially pesky and almost voyeuristic neighborhood resident, adds to the bizarre intrigue transcendent through every frame. Simultaneously, the deaths are increasingly elaborate and imaginative. There is a torturous segment in the finale involving a virginal, “Restorationist” youth that is especially cringe-worthy. This particular section is as taunt, suspenseful and fantastically engineered as they come.

The New York shot and Wild Eye Releasing distributed account also sports an original score from Harry Manfredini, who is known for his legendary theme for Friday the 13th (1980). He gives us an illuminating, almost visceral orchestration. It resonates spellbindingly. The composition is frantic, complex and undoubtedly masterful. It, in the tradition of the greatest musical numbers in moving picture history, almost seems to jump right out of the framework and into our minds. Comparably, Wolfgang Meyer’s cinematography is grim and gritty. It gorgeously enhances the resonate mood of the endeavor. The same can be said for the smooth display of editing Darryl Leblanc provides. Relatedly, the sound, art, camera, costume and make-up department deliver in their respective fields spectacularly. Rochon’s exertion is impeccably cast by Richard Egbert. Suzi Lorraine, as the guffaw-inducing personality credited as TV Show Host Suzi, issues an endearing, standout demonstration. Additionally, David Marancik as Officer Jason O’ Bannon, Robert Bozek as Reginald Burke and Bette Cassatt as Chloe are phenomenal. This B-grade gem also showcases impressive special effects by Rod Durrick, Leblanc, Paul Mafuz and Ingrid Okola. The visual aspect of such a constituent, also constructed by Leblanc, is just as extraordinary.

With 246 acting gigs under her belt over a thirty-four year span, Rochon is more than acquainted with what makes audiences scream in both consternation and joy. She is also just as familiar with the inner-workings of the big screen itself. This is more than perceivable at any given interval of Model Hunger. Rochon has gifted her spectators, fans new and old, with a perpetually solid and dazzling addition to her ever-expanding catalogue. The photoplay is brutal, darkly comic, tightly-knit, thoughtful and engaging in equal strides. It is also more than willing to plentifully offer what viewers have come to commonly expect in the category of revulsion. It is rare that we get such a captivating combination of all these arrangements. Such is especially accurate of a gore drenched midnight movie. What is just as infrequent is for someone to prove their operative abilities on both sides of the lens so stirringly. Rochon, who remains a marvelous and ever-evolving talent, does just that and more. This is a winner. It will more than delight those who are left famished from the current trend of limp, anemic entries filling theaters as of late. Feed your appetite for a slickly erected and professionally made journey into insanity. See this delightfully morbid configuration at all costs.

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“The Amityville Terror” – (Movie Review)

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

It has been nearly thirty-nine years since Jay Anson’s #1 best-seller, The Amityville Horror, first captivated audiences with its initial September 13th, 1977 release. In much the same vein, the original, same titled entry in the cinematic series, spawned by Anson’s endlessly fascinating and re-readable tome, has just celebrated its thirty-seventh anniversary. On July 27th, 1979, director Stuart Rosenberg and screenwriter Sandor Stern gave us a faithful, now classic adaptation of Anson’s supposedly true haunted house saga. As time accrued, various theatrical and straight to video sequels, one blasphemously awful remake in 2005 and uncountable documentaries appeared later on. The most notable of which was My Amityville Horror, which starred Daniel Lutz himself, from 2012. What started with George and Kathleen Lutz’s 28 day combat with the ethereal, and ran from December 18th of 1975 to January 14th of 1976, is still an unwavering pop culture phenomenon.

Recently, the purportedly evil Dutch Colonial house located at 112 Ocean Avenue formed the backdrop of the opening sequence of writer and director James Wan’s brilliant follow-up, The Conjuring 2 (2016). In the aforementioned span, there has also been a number of low-budget items cashing in on the Amityville name. This is often with little or no relationship to the source material. Nonsensical, derivative features such as Amityville: Vanishing Point (2016), as well as the deplorable The Amityville Playhouse (2015), used the name of the town in Long Beach, New York as its only remarkable selling point. The Amityville Legacy (2016) was equally insipid. Nevertheless, it attempted to join itself, via a cursed antique toy monkey, to the preface of the primary narrative. At least the Dustin Ferguson and Mike Johnson directed and penned exertion had the good sense to incorporate a creative concept. Most importantly, it only lasted a meager sixty-six minutes.

Among this seemingly unyielding wave of related monikers is the August 2nd unveiled The Amityville Terror (2016). Luckily, this induction shares more of the hallmark qualities of the former than the latter. By simply doing so, it towers above its varied competition. This is, simply, because it possesses more of the sense of old-fashioned horror movie fun which made the inceptive Amityville pictures so memorable than the bulk of its predecessors. This is even if, in its brisk eighty-four minute duration, there is hardly anything here that the most timid genre fan would honestly assess as ‘new’ or ‘genuinely terrifying’. However, the tepid shocks are smartly fashioned. Even wiser is its restraint. This is especially visible in its minimalistic use of the, sadly, all too common jump scare tactic.

Regardless, the composition offers standard, plot serving archetypes. The same criticism can be liberally applied to the dialogue and routine situations. But, these are, for the most part, likably and believably delivered. There is a smooth authenticity here. It earns extra points, at least for this nostalgia admiring fright addict, in its ability to parallel itself so stalwartly to the overall feel of a garden variety terror flick from twenty to thirty years ago.

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With a reported budget of $500,000, the AZ Films Studios, Uncork’d Entertainment, Master Key and Marquis Productions undertaking focuses in on a family moving to a new home. In an arc cut from almost any other modern day tale of this ilk, the kin all too gradually finds out that a malicious spirit is attached to and refusing to leave the residence without a fight. With this rises the inevitable sequences of the well-concealed information of the violent past. All of this is done in as much of a carbon copy modus as you would expect. This time around, the unknown tragedy involves a youth named Jimmie Oberest. It becomes known that he once drowned his baby sister in a tub of acid. But, as can be surmised long beforehand, this pivotal data comes when the presence inside the Amityville home is at its most menacing and inescapable. Soon our antagonists find out that the townspeople are also untrustworthy themselves. They want to keep the once close-knit ancestry there for their own mysterious reasons. It’s a thin account. But, it is just enough to keep us enthralled while getting us from one wraithlike incident to another. This is true even considering the familiarity of all the ingredients at play.

In retrospect, the whole fiction itself traces in its own way around what transpired in The Amityville Horror. There is a quick build-up of supernatural events in the first act. We are intriguingly thrown into the middle of a paranormal manifestation when the labor commences. This is mixed with the human focus in the mid-section. All of this makes these previously stated components all the more evident. Such actions, simultaneously, creates a pace that starts out intriguingly. The opus as a whole is often sluggish. This is a common impression director Michael Angelo and screenwriter Amanda Barton hand their spectators. This is before the energetic, satisfactory climax of the photoplay. It is an odd, but not entirely unpleasant, way of structuring the composition.

Also augmenting the connection to the initial account, is the murderous backstory. We are also witness to the father, this time named Mike (in an authentic, intriguing and rounded performance by Bobby Emprechtinger), and his slowly diminishing grasp on reality. This draws a continued equivalence to both the Amityville franchise and the ardent tropes of similarly nail-biting exhibitions of celluloid. Such a comparison also provides us with an intriguingly orchestrated death at nearly an hour. This also is a product arising from Mike’s increasingly unbalanced condition.

The tone is also more competently issued and serious than most current Amityville endeavors. Further assisting matters is that there are also slight nods to Stanley Kubrick’s epic adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining (1980). This gravitates during an early happenstance involving a bath tub. Correspondingly, there is an equally obvious collation to be drawn from a smirk-inducing moment where a demonic face peers through a fractured door. Such occurs within the amusing and engaging final twenty minutes. These slight winks at its spectators undoubtedly heightens the enjoyable nature of the material. This climactic segment also calls to mind Sam Raimi’s splatter masterpiece, The Evil Dead (1981). Such is observable in its impressive, 80’s appropriate effects. These are courtesy of Frederique Barrera. It is also exhibited in the general sense of chaos in this section.

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Angelo and Barton’s exertion, both of whom arrange skillful but indecipherable work in their separate departments, lingers a beat too long on the character-oriented emphasis of the middle forty-five minutes. This is while giving us exposition, such as an all too tired and Young Adult genre worthy flirtatious friendship between our heroine, Hailey (Nicole Tompkins in a wonderful, vulnerable enactment) and Brett (Trevor Stines in an exceptional depiction). This section can easily be deemed as commonplace as the leads themselves. Yet, there is undoubted chemistry among Tompkins and Stines. It certainly elevates the frequent scenes they are in together. More than anything, it amends us, amid an otherwise non-relatable gathering, someone to frankly care and root for.

This inclusion also instills a nice balance between the human and the spectral. Even though there is nothing new about those we encounter on-screen, the aforesaid personalities come off as well fleshed out. They are entities that we know well. In turn, we find ourselves caring more than a little about. Needless to say, this is an absorbing, well-made watch. It is one which is, unfortunately, cut short by a concluding epilogue that stands as the most predictable aspect in Angelo and Barton’s arsenal. The final credits constituent, complete with newspapers proclaiming the horrifying matters that we learned of in the undergoing, is uniformly rote.

Scripter Barton is effectively creepy as Mike’s sister, Shae. Lai-Ling Bernstein as Jenny, Phillip Day as William and David Cranston, Cher Hubscher as Sally and Kim Nielsen as Jessica all exude phenomenal showcases in their respective roles. Likewise, Tony Kaye as the sexually obsessed Delilah, Priscilla Emprechtinger as Claire and Sarah Lieving as Mrs. Taylor fare just as well. They all round out a certainly capable cast of varied individuals. The variety of the small town dispositions herein never becomes uniquely molded. Yet, the talent behind them makes them both fresh and charismatic. Ultimately, this diverse nature evokes one of the strongest points herein.

Darren Morze’s music is atmospheric and solid all around. Michael S. Ojeda’s editing and cinematography is sharp and masterfully constructed. Larae Mychel and LaRae Wilson’s costume design is superb. These elements enhance the credibility at hand indefinitely. The sound and make-up departments offer splendid contributions to the quality of the piece. Stephen Krystek, who is credited with the poster art viewable above, does beautifully in his particular artistic field.

With Blumhouse Productions’ long delayed Amityville: The Awakening now scheduled for January of 2017 and other efforts such as Amityville High (2016) and Amityville: No Escape (2016) vowing for ticket buyers’ attention in the near future, it’s hard to tell if The Amityville Terror can hold its standing as one of the better, albeit non-cannon, installments in the on-going series. Despite this, I can state with certainty that this is a comfortably exhilarating popcorn venture. Though it may not merit multiple glances, it is well worth a look. It doesn’t come anywhere near the daring darkness of the criminally underrated sequel, Amityville II: The Possession (1982). Also, the movie is not as rampant with its mystic goings on as Amityville: It’s About Time (1992). Yet, it remains a welcome addition to the cycle. The result is a minor, but charming foray into subtle trepidation. It is strengthened by its ardor for, as well as the manner in which it embraces and makes the most of, its B-show trappings. For someone who whose personal interest is immediately thwarted to any ghostly account the trusted Amityville name, this is more than reason enough to recommend what Angelo and Barton have erected.

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“The B.C. Butcher” – (Movie Review)

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

The B.C. Butcher (2016), the fifty-one minute debut feature from then seventeen year old co-writer and director Kansas Bowling (who appears here as one of several on-screen models), operates as a winning homage to the distinctly tongue-in-cheek nature of the American cinema of the 1960’s. Billed as “the first prehistoric slasher”, the labor captures splendidly much of the spirit of the popular American International Pictures’ seven Beach Party movies. This financially stalwart series ran from 1963 to 1965. There is also more than a dash of inspiration derived from the Raquel Welch starring and Don Chaffey directed dinosaurs and ancient humans remake, One Million Years B.C. (1965) Bowling’s attempt also captures the wildly inaccurate nature of the previously stated production terrifically.

Much in line with Chaffey’s film, the girls of The B.C. Butcher are visibly wearing lipstick and other forms of make-up. These details are spectacularly done. They arrive courtesy of Jason Adcock. He is also credited with summoning the appearance of the flick’s monster. The creature himself, played admirably by Dwayne Johnson, is smirk-inducing. This is in its uncanny similarity to Leatherface from Tobe Hooper’s timeless horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Continuing the above stated comparison, the females of The B.C. Butcher are adorned in what can best be described as “Paleolithic chic”. This is a mixture of what we have come to expect of antediluvian dress with a semi-modern sensibility. Not only does this summon to the psyche the aspects mentioned earlier, but also makes one think of Michael Chapman’s failed adaption of Jean M. Auel’s novel, Clan of the Cave Bear (1986). This only adds to the heavy nostalgia Bowling’s opus elicits.

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As can be expected from the originally addressed parallel, we are lent an exuberantly cheery, decade appropriate opening title arrangement. It is beautifully orchestrated. Moreover, it uses the pleasant din of “Alley Oop”, performed by the Hollywood Argyles and penned by D. Frazier, as a wonderful modus of setting the campy and largely old-fashioned tone of the entire composition. True to form, there is also an unexpected musical performance. As is often the case with such interludes, it adds nothing to the story. Yet, it still far accelerates the fun factor of the material. With The B.C. Butcher, this comes shortly into the third act. It is a performance of the catchy track “Nobody Likes You” by The Ugly Kids (authored by A. Tijeria). Complete with watermelons mechanizing as guitars and drums, this is just like a concert item one might see from a live-action visualization of The Flintstones (1960-66). Such makes the results of this energetic, several minute depiction all the more inventive and highly endearing. What could’ve easily been filler comes off as one of the more memorable passages in the affair.

Keeping true to its obvious inspiration, the gore is, with the exception of an originating section where the main ladies of the tale are seen eating innards, nearly non-existent. For fellow Troma Entertainment fanatics this may come as a letdown. The unimaginatively executed deaths we spy here may evoke an analogous sense of disappointment. This is excluding an intentionally hilarious skit involving a woman being thrown into a hole. Such is juxtaposed with alternating shots of both a real and faux snake attacking the individual. But Bowling, who shows incredible behind the camera flare (especially considering her age), and executive producer Lloyd Kaufman know exactly what they are doing. These aforesaid faults still follow the notion of what one may logically see in a construction from fifty years ago. Such is especially true in the conception, effects, pace and general veneer of Bowling’s narrative. In turn, the undertaking comes off as both a knowing and ardent letter to a bygone era. It is one constructed, and made all the more intriguing, by its slight modern touches.

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Despite the initial shortcomings, these traits endure as a mirror of the obvious inspirations for The B.C. Butcher. Just as charmingly, Bowling has issued an enterprise that noticeably incorporates the hallmarks of a Troma epic. This is most evident in the dialogue and performances. All of which are delivered with an ‘in on the joke’ B-show wit. These qualities are also visible in one of the most victoriously humorous sequences herein. It is a flashback to the relationship between Rex (in a strong, appropriate for the material enactment by Kato Kailin where the above attributes certainly apply) and the heroine of our tale, Neandra (in a heroic yet, vulnerable turn from Leilani Fideler that is phenomenal. It is uniquely well-rounded and wholly watchable). This particular moment comes at about fifteen minutes in. It works so well because of how the whole segment operates as one successful parody of such stereotypically overdone instances usually found in film. Kailin’s depiction here, which makes all the lines he is handed come off like a rambling stand-up comic in the most effective manner possible, is what makes this strangely well-executed bit so successful. It’s intriguing, to say the least, notion of romance is equally guffaw-inducing. The laugh factor here is almost duplicated in a montage. It utilizes narrator Kadeem Hardison’s smooth narration as ambiance to create a gleeful opening scene. Such is one which cleverly comes off like a shakily recorded, though this may be intentional, trailer for the photoplay we are about to view.

Bowling, along with fellow screenwriter Kenzie Givens, chronicles Neandra’s management of a tribe of cavewomen. These include the blind prophetess Bamba (Devyn Leah), Poppy (Molly Elizabeth Ring) and Anaconda (Natasha Halevi). As you can tell, some of the slyest gags in the composition arise from a lot of of the characters’ names. After a within community sacrifice, the title fiend begins to pick of Neandra’s clan one by one. Ignoring Bamba’s prophecies of impending doom, the collective finds themselves forced into an attempt to unravel the mystery of those who have gone missing. Eventually Neandra and the angry, murderous and correspondingly despairing cave-dwelling giant, who has been thinning out Neandra’s followers, find themselves facing off against one another. Yet, their parallels to one another run deeper than they may ever know. It is a plot that is admittedly sparse, but has never feels that way. Moreover, it takes the largely replicated Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980)-like psycho on the loose elements, so often recycled, and incorporates them in a time and location never before seen. Such makes these well-worn components feel refreshingly new.

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The proficient script by Bowling and Givens is smarter than may be immediately perceptible. It is also well-structured and endlessly amusing. Tomoaki Iwakura, Aaron Meister and Richard Samuels provides sleek, vibrant and alluring cinematography. Robby DeFrain’s editing is brilliant. William Preston Bowling, Nathan Lowe and Joel Steven administer sharp displays of sound. Florent Clavel’s music department contribution helps elevate the entirety. This is with a mixture of pop and rock tunes which embody the upbeat essence of the exertion deftly. The soundtrack here is the perfect ambiance to the visuals Bowling and company have crafted. Additionally, the rest of the cast, with Miranda Robin as Dina and Rodney Bigenheimer as himself, are as cheerily active as the depictions of the leads.

Though Bowling lingers too long on the search for the individuals who have disappeared, the piece as a whole is undeniably, consistently impressive. The finale is fitting, but wonderfully underplayed. It represents another extension of remarkable ability for Bowling’s endeavor to turn dramatic tropes into comic gold. This item mechanizes incredibly well to the benefit of the product as a whole. Yet, Bowling’s immense talent, visible in her accomplished and stylish direction and literary participation unveiled within, is undeniable. This factor is illuminated in every winning wink at the audience her luminous composition exudes. It is further exposed in every purely enjoyable frame in this delightful, gleefully low-budget popcorn venture. Bowling assuredly has a bright future ahead of her. The B.C. Butcher, complimented in various means by its brief length, is many cuts above the genre competition.

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“Trinity” – (Movie Review)

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

Trinity (2016), the outstanding eighty-three minute feature debut from writer and director, Skip Shea, is what is most properly described as a “Lynchian nightmare”. It is an endlessly eerie and effortlessly unsettling endeavor; a journey through the psyche that perfectly blurs what is real and what is imagined. Such is conveyed with quiet, underplayed power. This is through the medium of Shea’s imaginative, genuinely eye-popping and undeniably haunting images. Such punctuates its grimly poetic, highly symbolic underpinnings masterfully. In turn, this attribute only greatly enhances its grand effect.

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What is just as remarkable is the distinct rhythm to these phantasmagorias throughout. What makes this detail all the more spectacular is that they are frequently wrapped around intelligent, scholarly conversations. These concern art, religion, Italian proverbs, scripture and the quoting of renowned minds from the past. This gives the piece, released through Racconti Romani Produzioni and Wicked Bird Media, an increasingly intellectual atmosphere. It blends masterfully with the surreal marvels and insights Shea often summons. This detail is utilized incredibly well with the various themes woven into the narrative. It also helps us see our surroundings as Michael is: as a curious but somewhat naïve youth. Shea also focuses with tremendous and intense results on the lingering psychology and aftermath of such events on the victim. This gives us a window into our traumatized lead, Michael (in a courageous, always-watchable and magnificently realized performance by Sean Carmichael). It also acts as a delicate balance between the human and the horrific aspects of this wonderfully challenging work of cinema.

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Shea tells a true tale. It focuses in on Michael meeting up with Father Tom (in an enactment by David Graziano that is occasionally vulnerably, often domineering, bold and appropriately creepy) at a coffee shop in New England. Father Tom sexually mistreated Michael, who is now an artist, as a boy. With this awkward, and unexpected, confrontation, the sentiments Michael repressed and tried to keep at bay unveil. Almost immediately, these feelings come again to the forefront. As he later journeys through three churches, an engrossing representation of Michael’s cerebral venture as a whole, Michael comprehends still and remembers the hold Father Tom had on him. It is projected regularly on-screen with chill-inducing power. With this impression, Shea builds the bulk of a picture as a terrifying meditation on the lasting hurt and ever-building torment Father Tom has caused. As we, the audience, move deeper into Michael’s brain the harder it becomes to judge what is accruing now and what has happened before. Than we begin to ponder an equally horrific thought: what if it is, in some fashion or another, beginning to transpire all over again?

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It is this emotive impetus which Shea uses brilliantly throughout the film. Not only does this get us to know the character, and those which surround him, exceptionally well but, it creates a terrific imprint of Michael’s singular perspective. Similarly, this component keeps our fascination mounting through the entirety. This sensation of stepping inside the life and deliberations of our protagonist is echoed with a Kubrickian aesthetic habitually through the affair. This is immediately noticeable in the opening moments. Here, we see several well-executed sequences of Michael going about his daily routine. This is as the classic guise of Michael’s voice as narrator offers Michael’s exclusive commentary on casual subjects. One of these is what winter is like where he resides. In the commencing minutes where this occurs, we are drawn in by Michael’s everyday likability. We are just as mesmerized by the natural tranquility and beauty, complete with gorgeous shots of the luminous veneer of piled snow on the ground, which is made all the more hypnotic by Nolan Yee’s gorgeous cinematography. But, when the concluding instances align themselves to these serene commencing bits, it is held in a far darker, more brooding respect. It is in these near-final seconds that we realize just how phenomenally Shea has let us explore the battered recesses of Michael’s inner-workings. Such also lends another bit of the repetition of reflective snapshots so prevalent herein. All of this is evidence of Shea’s stylistic bravado. Furthermore, it is proof of his absolute command of form present in every challenging frame found within this spellbinding tour de force.

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Shea keeps the pace even and appropriate through the duration. His screenplay is just as impressive and meditative as his ground-breaking and taunt direction. He gives us believable dialogue, motivations and a realistic platform for his gradually rug-pulling, horror show feat. Despite the aforementioned recurrence of some visions, all we encounter always comes off as fresh and new. In fact, this return makes the sum of Shea’s vehicle all the more like an ever-turning melody in a ghastly, but beautifully engineered, song; a ballad of one man’s tragic childhood circumstances being brought back to light. Such an illusion is made all the more potent by the remarkably funereal music courtesy of Steven Lanning-Cafaro. This particular item courses further effective dread through the soundtrack.

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Lynn Lowry is great as Michael’s Mother. Jennifer Gjulameti fares just as Michael’s Spirit Guide. Diana Porter as Sam, Maria Natapov as Maria, Anthony Ambrosino as Nick and Susan T. Travers as Susan are all transcendent in their respective roles. The same can be said for the rest of the cast. Likewise, Shea’s editing is splendidly issued. Phil ‘Skippy’ Adams, Diane Pimentel and Jessica O’ Brien lend a seamless make-up contribution. The sound department produces crisp, solid work. Adams’ special effects are just as seamless and mightily impressive.

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Shea’s feature is personal, painful and punishing. It is also intimate and sincere. This is the type of undertaking that mechanizes spectacularly on all levels. In the process, it successfully brings to the surface a multitude of sentiments. From learning Michael so deeply as this raw, unflinching experience moves along, we undergo the same gambit of emotions as Michael himself. This is proof of the movie’s triumph centrally as a drama. Visually, technically and expressively, this demands spectators’ time, reflection and attention. Trinity is fulfilling on all levels. Though it undoubtedly challengers its viewers, it is in the best way imaginable. Such makes the results of this incredible opus of real-life terror all the more potent, immediate and necessary. This is moving art as an example of individual examination and catharsis at its most memorable. Shea has crafted an absolute masterpiece.

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“Blood! Sugar! Sid! Ace!” – (Movie Review)

 

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

Blood! Sugar! Sid! Ace! (2012), the exuberantly experimental seventy-three minute debut feature from director Mike Messier, is a riveting example of cinema as an extension of the stage. It is also an exceptional exhibition of the power of minimalism on-screen. This tightly wrought, meticulously paced and carefully fashioned opus arranges only the four title personalities in a mesmerizingly abyss-like room. Such is an element that is an impeccable symbol for this tale. It is one which describes the creative process, in its own nature, splendidly. This is handled in a manner that tells us that the events we are witnessing are taking place within the mind of author Sid (a powerful and captivating performance by Lawrence O’ Leary) himself. The claustrophobic chamber where this entire labor love unfolds is darkened to the point that we can only see what is immediately in front of us. This refreshing sparseness is punctuated by keeping the limit of props to a few chairs and a typewriter. Such is with the exception of one eye-popping scene. This particular segment is an enactment of what occurs inside the play itself which Sid is laboring away at throughout the production. It has been given the heading of “Blasphemer”. This portion showcases a colorful opposition to the hauntingly alluring black and white cinematography, courtesy of Tim Labonte, visible throughout this spectacular opus. Furthermore, Labonte’s editing is equally crisp, seamless and impressive throughout. These mechanisms makes the spell Messier’s successful attempt puts on its observers all the more wholly immersive and remarkable.

Messier documents the self-detesting Sid. He is at a place in his career where he is established, yet not well known enough to hire folks to etch his masterpieces for him. This he states in one frank and potent mid-production moment. He communicates with three fictional characters. The aforementioned entities he has brought to existence through the process of penning his most recent composition. These individuals are: Blood! (a well-honed performance by Jamie Tennille), Sugar! (in a rounded and magnificent turn from Stacey Forbes Iwanicki) and a variation of Sid!’s younger self, Ace! (a terrific representation from Adam Buxbaum). The bulk of the endeavor gets its introspective nature from focusing in on the many arguments, agreements and contemplative discussions all of those involved have with one another. Fantasy and reality get wonderfully blurred here. This as some of the bits seem to elude to bits that could either be from the story Sid is bringing to fruition. They also victoriously operate as well as a glimpse into Sid’s own existence and delusions. Messier configures these components in a manner that also leaves the onlookers to wonder if maybe what occurs herein could be a result of all these ingredients mixed together as one solitary agent. Enigmas such as these make the sum of this enterprise all the more striking.

Adding to the literary qualities already visibly sewn into the fabric of the narrative is four titled sections that occur at differing intervals throughout the presentation. There is one reserved for each person Messier presents us. They appear like chapters in Sid’s grand chronicle of auteurship. Blood!’s bit starts the proceedings with “The Salt in My Wounds.” Sugar! has a turn entitled: “The Girl I Never Met”. Sid!’s is dubbed: “My Broken Mirror”. Ace!’s is saved for the climactic instances of the endeavor. It has the moniker of “My Second Chance”. The aforementioned personage also has a lengthy, but undeniably rousing, monologue near the finale. This is a transcendent illustration of all the attributes which make those who dominate Messier’s undertaking stand out as unique, conflicted personalities. It also signifies Messier’s own intentions.

These come across on-screen in a self-referential nature. We see this most expressly when Sid addresses the watchers, much in the manner of Shakespeare, and says, “This is my attempt at a low-budget, character-driven, psychological drama.” This is noted in quips such as, “I am not a prophet. I’m a filmmaker!” Such adds far more depth to an already profound and envy-inducing display. We also sense how the opinions, primarily that of Sid, appear to be connected to Messier’s own sentiments. This attachment is foreseeable in the fact that Messier himself, whose behind the lens approach here is stunning and natural throughout, said the piece started as an “inspired compilation of my past poems, un-produced plays and unfinished screenplays.”

Yet, the effort, released through A man and His Camera and Stand Still Pictures, never feels constrained by the sparse materials Messier utilizes. In fact, it makes the sum of this tour de force all the more daring, liberating and hypnotic. This is as much a product of the honest, yet respectable to the theatrical roots of the piece as it is Messier’s brilliantly constructed and endlessly layered script. Assisting matters is the rhythmic, eloquent, often cryptic and introspective dialogue Messier delivers to his cast. This trait rings with an undeniable poetry. It heightens this same stirring sensibility which reverberates from all of the picture’s various technical and thematic angles. Moreover, it never gives into repeating itself in conversation or situation, as an affair which uses so little to state so much may be apt to do. Instead, every sequence is staggeringly, breathtakingly new. This is true in both the subject matter. It is just as noticeable in the personal revelations, which seem to arrive quickly and unexpectedly, it hands out to its awe-struck spectators.

What also joins stalwartly to the exertion’s credit is that Messier is unafraid to paint all of the intriguing entities he builds here as flawed. Moreover, it opens with a piece that draws us immediately into the private world of Sid and his creations. Such is executed through a pitch perfect collection of expository monologues from all involved. It ends on an equally meditative note. The commencing and concluding credits arrangements, which involve Sid’s typewriter, are imaginatively woven and appropriately low-key. They also fit the atmosphere of this reflective spectacle, with slight splashes of effective humor to pepper the proceedings, tremendously well.

Lawrence O’ Leary and Nathanael Tronerud’s music is spectacular and similarly form fitting. Stephanie Carey, Bonnie Griffin, Candice Laviree and Payal Patel provide superb make-up. Graphic designer AJ Paglia contributes solidly to the art department. William Boroteck and Labonte, who is also credited as a camera operator, orchestrate wonderful demonstrations of sound. The production design from Horacio Lertora and Melissa Mastrangelo is wonderful. It all equates a grand example of craftsmanship that makes the product all the more admirable. These essentials mix together with glorious results.

Blood! Sugar! Sid! Ace! is meant to challenge and confront its audience. It also has passages of astounding vulnerability. Messier has given us an artistic triumph. Yet, we are consistently blown-away by the dimension, scope despite its limitations and variety at hand. This will also prove undeniably relatable to those of us who find ourselves taking up the same torch Sid does here endlessly. Such occurs as we sit down at our own personal instruments of writing. From here, we push ourselves through the often beautiful and equally painful struggle to produce quality material. Besides being a work for those who make stanzas and prose their life’s calling, this is a silver screen journey for fans of art house wonders, authors and fellow motion-picture creators. It is also intended for those of us who appreciate the performance form brought to a fresh medium. Yet, one would be hard pressed not to find something about any of these personalities Messier has erected that do not ring true to a wide-ranging group with interests of unimaginable range. Of all the things Blood! Sugar! Sid! Ace! brilliantly accomplishes, this may be one of its most massive victories. There’s imagination, experience, as well as genuine heart here. In a narrative landscape where antagonists leave the forefront and genuine ground-breaking too often gets tossed aside for cartoonish effects. In these cases we receive the equivalent of two hours of multi-million dollar explosions. The frequency with which this transpires makes an exertion like this is all the more welcome. Messier has evoked a tour de force; a reminder of why we find ourselves returning to the movies. There is a catharsis connecting Messier to the viewer which, sadly, is often given the cold shoulder nowadays. Such makes this all the more immediate, necessary and mandatory for the serious-minded photoplay patron.

You can be informed about the character of Blood! here.

You can learn about the character of Sugar! here.

You can find out about Sid! here.

Information regarding Ace! is here.

Blood! Sugar! Sid! Ace! will be screening at The Arctic Playhouse in Rhode Island on July 16th, 2016 at 8 p.m. You can buy tickets for the screening here.