“Demon Hunter” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bonejangles” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Bonejangles (2016), the second full-length feature from director Brett DeJager, is the perfect midnight movie. It is campy, creepy, uproarious and outrageously entertaining. The affair is also lightning paced and energetic from the get-go. The script, from Keith Melcher, vastly enhances the lean seventy-seven-minute project. This is with clever, tongue-in-cheek dialogue. Melcher also incorporates an abundance of equally witty parallels to time-tested slasher franchises. The most notable of these involves Bonejangles’ father, Edgar Sr. (in a phenomenal turn from Reggie Bannister). It is glimpsed solely in flashback. This early bit oversees Edgar Sr. motivating our engagingly engineered antagonist to kill. The primary reason to do so is one repeated, memorably hilarious line. Such a segment easily calls to mind the legendary slasher, Jason Voorhees, being similarly roused by his mother, Pamela (Betsy Palmer), in the Friday the 13th series. Such winks at the audience only amplify the fun factor DeJager’s triumphant horror/comedy produces immeasurably.

What also assists matters is that the movie ingeniously finds a way to respect the clichés of its sub-genre. This is while giving us a plot that is assuredly amusing and strikingly original; a perfect pulpit for a film of this ilk. It concerns a gathering of police officers. They are transporting our title villain to an asylum. Upon doing so, they find themselves in a town that is simultaneously cursed and being taken over by the living dead. Quickly hatching a plan to rid said municipality of their zombie problem, the cops unleash their once captive madman onto the surrounding area. This results in a wildly enjoyable ride; a side-splitting, in all senses of the word, tour de force.

Lesser efforts would’ve used this intriguing evil vs. evil concept to craft a parade of violence that runs the entirety of the picture. Though DeJager’s effort will assuredly please those who like to indulge in cinematic bloodshed, the labor one-ups this excellent narrative backdrop by going in several wholly unpredictable places. This is most evident in the second and third acts. More specifically, when a certain ominous, plot-serving character is introduced. The aforesaid section also proves the captivating and inventive means of exposition DeJager’s photoplay conjures. This is when dealing with a situation as that which was previously addressed.

Besides opening with one of the most terrifying and attention-garnering instances in the picture and concluding on an equally well-done note, DeJager’s undertaking is graced with incredible performances. Everyone involved takes the wide range of serious to comic on-screen personalities to entertaining extremes. Elissa Dowling is especially good as the no-nonsense Rowena. Additionally, the cinematography from Shaun O’ Connell is illustrious. It amplifies the seamless mood of the exertion beautifully. Ben Gersch’s special effects make-up and DeJager’s wardrobe work are just as spectacular. When combined with imaginative bouts of slaughter and central figures that rise above their deliberate familiarity through sheer prowess and charisma, BoneJangles emerges as an a uniquely effective B-movie. DeJager has crafted an all-around winner.

Bonejangles will be unleashed on Video on Demand July 18th, 2017 through Wild Eye Releasing.

(Unrated). Contains graphic violence, adult language and nudity.

“The Neon Dead”- (Movie Review)

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

Writer-director Torey Haas vividly captures the campy, often excessive, spirit of playful exuberance that fueled the 1980’s with his full-length feature debut, The Neon Dead (2015). Distributed through Wild Eye Releasing and produced through MonsterBuster Entertainment, Haas has crafted a briskly paced, 80 minute delight. This is an unassuming and consistently engaging gem. It is one which incorporates many of the most memorable cinematic attributes of the previously stated bygone decade. The most notable of this is the often impressive, frequently cartoonish, but always enjoyable effects. They run the gambit of different brands of graphic illusions. This is with a range echoing from more practical designs to computer generated imagery. This comes courtesy of Tricia Gaulesky, Lane Force, Fred Grant and the long proven maestro of such visual components himself, Haas.

What is just as triumphant: there is a wonderful balance continuously drawn throughout the exertion. It alternates between deliberately tongue in cheek, and mostly inoffensive, humor and largely same said horror. Such an ambiance impeccably parallels VHS classics like Sam Raimi’s masterpiece, The Evil Dead 2 (1987). John Carpenter’s alien invasion opus, They Live (1988), Dan O’ Bannon’s schlock tour de force, Return of the Living Dead (1985), Stephen Chiodo’s laughter fueled cult model, Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988), and Stuart Gordon’s magnificent H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, The Re-Animator (1985), also come to mind. There are also touches heavily reminiscent of bigger budgeted pictures. For instance, mirrors to Ivan Reitman’s ground-breaking Ghostbusters (1984) and Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982) are reflected throughout the fiction. Nick Lauinger emphasizes Haas’ obvious inspiration. This is with cinematography that is every bit as flashy, colorful and bright as the popular accessories, clothing, music videos and cinema that were so prevalent in the last five years of the 80’s. Similarly, Hsiang-Mieng Wen utilizes heavily rock influenced music. These arrangements fit each segment fabulously. Eric Davis, Katelyn Brammer, Nick Amideo and Haas provide editing that is proficient. Much in the manner of most of the aforementioned accomplishments, these elements are all a brilliant match for the mood of the piece.

The charming characterizations, though intentional stereotypes, can also be taken from various genre appropriate entries from thirty years ago. They are just as suitably cut for any number of John Hughes’ teen angst comedies. Adding to this antiquated appeal is that there is even an amusing battle at about an hour in. It plays like a pleasantly constructed, micro-budget rendition of the light saber battle between Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Darth Vader (David Prowse). This transpired near the iconic finale of The Empire Strikes Back (1980). If you are like me, and have a soft spot in your heart for any or all of these endearing gems, you will absolutely adore The Neon Dead.

Haas tells the tale of a Fairview State University graduate by the name of Allison Hillstead (in an ever-likable performance by Marie Barker). She is searching for a job. After being invited to an interview at noon that day for an assistant manager position at Saucy Jack’s, for which she boldly promises to be there a half hour prior, her immediate future seems certainly promising. That is until an undead woman is spied brushing her blood red hair, much of which comes off with her scalp, in the bathroom of Allison’s household. Fear soon gets the best of her. Trepidation turns to impatience. Such occurs as this otherwise horrifying moment is interrupted by a young Wilderness Scout of America, Ashley Amberson (in a wonderful turn from Josie Levy). Insisting on staying until she can receive a donation from Allison, Ashley unveils Allison’s worried plight. This is when she is informed of, and eventually contacts, a pair of paranormal investigators. These are Desmond (in a winning portrayal by Greg Garrison), a slacker/boy next door type, and the bookish Jake (in a depiction by Dylan Schettina that matches Garrison’s representation in quality and amiability). They are employed at a video rental department inside a local Save More grocery store. After this, Allison and Ashley head back upstairs to see what the so called “zombie” is up to. That is when Desmond and Jake, who quickly abandon their behind the register positions, arrive at Allison’s residence. From herein, the situation turns to an otherworldly battle. This is among the leader of the takeover, Guysmiley, the demonic “sons of Z’athax” and our iodized salt armed band of intrepid human heroes.

The result is an absolute joy for B-movie fans. This is an endlessly, uproariously fun, and never overly graphic (though you may think you have seen more gore than you actually have), experience. Though it is structured conventionally, the economically priced epic can easily be dubbed: “a non-stop the rollercoaster ride”. This certainly mechanizes spectacularly to the favor of the film. This is also thanks to ardent, commanding direction from Haas. The screenplay he erected for this $17,000 budgeted affair avoids the pretention, self-awareness, tired gimmicks and dead seriousness common in modern fare. In turn, we are awarded a plethora of successfully clever jokes. There is also plenty of equally victorious flashes of spirited dread. A concluding scene, which revolves around the “life goes on” ideology, is especially humorous. The dialogue, though familiar, is smartly written and delivered. There is also just enough exposition to be satisfactory. This is without weighing down the general story arc and movement of events. Likewise, such an aspect keeps our leads relatable to a large net of onlookers. Though the undertaking never aims to be outright terrifying, many of the early shots of the creatures veiled in the shadows, their eyes glowing voraciously in the background, are genuinely effective.

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But, what is best of all is that Haas doesn’t rely solely on the herculean sense of past longings ever-present within the framework of his narrative. He has a wild array of ideas in store. This he executes with feverish gusto and glee. Furthermore, Haas bucks the long-exhausted traditions and standard expectations of the returning corpse genus at every turn. A running gag concerning who the unholy entities really are can be seen as another sly wink at Haas’ audience in that respect. Comparatively, there is also an extended incidence involving a talking, decapitated head. This portion further proves the fusion of smiles and inventiveness at hand. It all enhances the nostalgia. This is as it evokes fond recollections of a similar manifestation unveiled in the final half of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979).

Though Haas keeps his antagonists limited in number, there are a multitude of smaller roles which make a comparably abundant impression. John Reed as Big Z, Andrew Puckett as Drake Hillstead and Candace Mabry as Belle are all terrific. The other technical angles are just as accomplished. Breanna Thompson’s set decoration and Sean Michael Patton’s costume design beautifully retain the everyday details and cheery aesthetic of the piece. The make-up department, composed of Gaulesky, Jeremy Ledbetter, Christine Nguyen and Kate Northcutt, is both natural and radiant. Haas’ animation and Quyen Tran’s sound are just as awe-inspiring. Brian Hardison and John Holbrook issue masterful art division work. Hardison completes the illusion of stepping into the 80’s with a poster that is as ingenious, fluorescent and eye-catching as the fiendish specters who inhabit the movie itself.

This is pure escapist entertainment. It endures as one of the best “throwback” love letters in recent recollection. Haas showcases a wide knowledge of the era he is sending up. This is from the deceptively low-key opening. Such a sensation endures throughout the presentation. Moreover, the climax is solid. It is also, refreshingly, anything but overblown. Haas even gives us a pleasant bit of information in a post-credits scene that is sure to make your expectations for what is on the horizon blossom. It is also guaranteed to make your overall admiration for the endeavor all the grander.

The brief duration also helps. We leave the photoplay wanting more. This is while admiring the noticeable lack of fat on the celluloid bones of the flick. These are all wise decisions. They all come together to celebrate Haas’ talent, the great new feature he has woven and a period often described as “the neon decade” with precision and heart. Haas has also unquestionably proven that there is still plenty of life left in the often autonomous subject of the recently resurrected. This is the type of offering those of us who often haunted local video stores as often as possible and spent untold hours studying scarce titles often dream about making a comeback. The Neon Dead is reminiscence inducing, independent art. It is the type of moving fabrication you will gladly feel compelled to return to again and again. This is as the years move on and a longing for old-fashioned comforts begins to settle once more into your bones.  Such is the definition of an instant classic!

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