“Art of the Dead” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Art of the Dead (2019), from writer-director Rolfe Kanefsky, is a surreal, wildly entertaining and wickedly inventive work of cinematic horror. It ranks among the best genre pictures of the year. As was the case in earlier Kanefsky productions, such as The Black Room (2017), there are touches of movie masters Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci (such as one gloriously gooey occasion near the midway mark where an image of a slug oozes slime) and Mario Bava. These are unmistakably located throughout the ninety-seven minute project. There is also a first act death scene involving overdrinking that lovingly calls to mind a moment one might see in a feature from Troma Entertainment. Such examples showcase that Kanefsky is clearly inspired. His ability to evoke memories obtained from so many sources is commendable. It increases the varied and effortlessly enjoyable nature of the proceedings.

What is just as gripping is Kanefsky’s theme of the art world. In particular, the artist being underappreciated by his or her audience. This is displayed effectively in the eye-opening and attention-garnering six-minute opening segment. There is also a concentration on the hindrance of critics through the eye of said artist. Such an emphasis adds layers of insight to the proceedings. These gently sewn bits help make the work evermore resonate.

The efficiently paced effort is further propelled to excellence by its engaging plot. It involves a family, the Wilsons, who, unbeknownst to its tragic past, are slowly taken over by the Sinsation Collection. These are an assembly of beautifully rendered paintings that revolve around the seven deadly sins. In so doing, the clan begin to enact the transgressions depicted in the canvases. This is as the handspun portraits individually speak to the members of the kin and use them as pawns in their wicked bidding.

From a narrative perspective, Kanefsky’s latest also benefits from a solid and intense third act. It weaves its various plot threads into a spectacularly sinister and satisfying climax. The concluding sequence is intriguing and ominous. It offers the perfect punctuation point for the material. The sections of backstory found in the first sixty minutes mechanize just as well. It serves as engaging exposition. The handling of this attribute adds to the wonderfully bizarre and unpredictable atmosphere of the undertaking.

Kanefsky’s script, from a story by Michael and Sonny Mahal, has the right amount of character focus, development and content. The dialogue is believable and enjoyable. Furthermore, it is brought richly to life by a game cast. Every actor and actress involved with the development delivers with a fantastic performance. Jessica Morris as Gina Wilson, Lukas Hasssel as Dylan Wilson, Richard Grieco as Douglas Winter, Tania Fox as Tiffany Roberts and Tara Reid as Tess Barryman are especially good.

The exercise is just as stalwart from a technical standpoint. The cinematography from Michael Su is colorful and striking. It increases the imaginative and hypnotic essence of the exercise. This can also be said of the smartly utilized visual effects. They were supervised by Clint Carney. Christopher Farrell’s music is moody and masterful. The costume design by Monique Marie Long, editing by Jay Woelfel and the collective contribution from the makeup department is also astounding. These characteristics are all wonder-inducing highlights of this gloriously grim gem.

In turn, Kanefsky has crafted a brilliant genre outing. The venture is ambitious and thoughtful. It can also be quite graphic at times. The subtle moments of terror are instrumented just as phenomenally as the more daring, aggressive instances of fear. Much as he had done prior, Kanefsky draws from a large catalogue of genre-related elements. This will assuredly be a source of endless appeal and admiration to fellow fans of fright flicks of all varieties. What is just as exemplary is how well he wields them into a memorable composition. It is one that is wholly his own. Regardless of the familiarity of some of the items in Kanefky’s arsenal, there is never a sense of anything in the endeavor being overdone. Best of all, there is also not a dull second in sight. For these reasons, Art of the Dead is a must-see this Halloween season. It is guaranteed to satisfy.

“The Black Room” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Taking cues from The Entity (1982), Insidious (2010), Wishmaster (1997) and The Evil Dead (1981), prolific writer-director Rolfe Kanefsky’s The Black Room (2016) is stylish, tense, captivating and fun; an instant classic. The project tells the tale of a married couple who discover a demon that thrives on sexual repression and desire. Such an unholy entity threatens to destroy the lives of the once happy duo. This is almost immediately upon their arrival in their new home.

In so doing, Kanefsky instills a plethora of inventive ideas. They greatly enhance the occasionally formulaic mechanics of the plot. The endeavor also benefits from solid, character-oriented writing. Kanefsky also sports an undeniable capacity for visually stunning direction. Such a trait is wonderfully reminiscent of Dario Argento. The often gooey 1980’s influenced special effects, which come courtesy of Eric Chase and Vincent J. Guastini, only augment the joyously retro feel. Such pulsates ardently through every frame of the proceedings. Correspondingly, Savant’s booming, nail-biting and grimly gorgeous music compliments Kyle Stryker’s same said cinematography brilliantly.

Furthermore, Lin Shaye as Miss Black and Tiffany Shepis as Monica, a real estate agent, shine in their brief turns. Natasha Henstridge as our heroine, Jennifer, makes for a compellingly vulnerable counterpart. This is in relation to her possessed husband, Paul (in a bulls-eye turn from Lukas Hassel). Such is especially true once his increasingly eccentric behavior kicks in near the end of the first act.

In turn, Kanefsky has created a smartly paced, joyously successful horror outing. It is one erected from the most endearing qualities of the genre. Admittedly, the creature in the basement scenario is the most charming element in this respective arsenal. Best of all, the ninety-four minute picture commences with an extended opening segment that is impressive on all accounts. From herein, this largely unpredictable presentation only continues its enjoyably atmospheric and imaginative streak. The rousing, blood-soaked climax and post-end credit scene can be viewed as one magnificent, elongated final wink at the audience. Such results in an all-around superbly done and satisfying venture. Kanefsky has delivered one of the best cinematic terrors of the year. The mysteries of The Black Room are well-worth seeking out.

(Unrated). Contains graphic violence, sexuality, adult themes and nudity.

Now available on video on demand.