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February 27, 2012

FMWL Indie Spotlight - Skew

(2011, Dir. by Seve Schelenz.)

The crowd of folks who believe the ending makes the movie probably won't like Skew too much.  In their minds, this will probably go down the same path as most of the found footage horror movies we've seen in the last several years.  Yes, naysayers - this is one of those movies. 

There are times when the people who love it when everything's wrapped up in a nice neat package are right, and I'll gladly admit that the found footage formula can turn stale pretty quickly.  But I don't think that the movie I'm going to talk about today - Skew - is a misfire that you should avoid.

The set up is simple. Three friends - one whiny dude, one guy who likes to act tough, and one girl (who is obviously sensible and sensitive, since she's a girl in a horror movie) - head out on an excessively long road trip, which will lead to bickering, sexual tension, and odd encounters.  Oh, and - since this is a horror movie - creepy stuff.

That creepy stuff is the key to any one of these films, and Skew doesn't disappoint.  The plot starts slowly, establishing the three characters, but a couple of things become evident quickly.  First of all, people are dying wherever the trio go.  Secondly, the whiny sensitive guy behind the camera is really attached to his camera.  Probably too attached, and his friends have started to notice.  But when we start seeing the things that he sees, we start to understand why he's so attached to that camera.

Though we've seen plenty of found footage films with similar set ups, I'm pretty sure there's not another horror movie that plays with the viewer the same way Skew does.  His perspective, as you might guess from the title, becomes altered - and only the audience can see what he does.  That adds to the tension between his character - who refuses to appear on camera - and the couple he's traveling with.  Some of the acting by the male leads is a little off throughout the conflict, but it wasn't enough to distract me from the odd events that were unfolding onscreen.

Most importantly, the escalating events of Skew kept escalating my interest in the film as it went on.  There was no early peak, nor was there a lull before one big event.  Skew found plenty of unique ways to advance its story, and it's the originality of the script that kept me fascinated in these characters and their journey.  By the time the final half hour rolled around, I found myself doing the things I'd expect to do when I watch an effective chiller.  I was checking the corner of the screen. I was preparing for every time a character changes their view.  Basically, I had all my defense shields active.

And yet, Skew found ways to get to me. And it all led up to a provocative ending that kept me thinking long after the credits rolled.  I won't bother with going into the ending - because a) it'd spoil most of the film, obviously; and b) I'm not sure I understand it well enough to talk about it.  But I'm interested in seeing it happen again - and that's all I can ask for from a film like this.

Skew will certainly gain some detractors because it's not drawn in bright colors and spelled out neatly.  But I think it works, and - if you're someone who wants to see a horror movie with a few chills that keeps your brain running - I say you could do a whole lot worse than Skew.  Kudos to producer/writer/director Seve Schelenz and his whole cast and crew, because they've managed to create something fresh in a subgenre that often loses its way. 

And the best part of all - Skew is on that crazy Instant Netflix thing you all love right freakin' now.  In the meantime, you can check out the trailer on YouTube - but you're better off skipping the trailer and just seeing it fresh - read as: no spoilers! - like I did.  Take a chance on it. Skew just might change your perspective.

February 25, 2012

Midnight Movie of the Week #112 - From Dusk Till Dawn

The majority of discussions about From Dusk Till Dawn probably start with what can only be described as "the shift".  The shift occurs about half way through the film, and is primarily attributed to the fact that both director Robert Rodriguez and director Quentin Tarantino had their hands all over the production.  Each of the dudes only had two films under their belt at the time, but their trademarks (like Rodriguez' use of Mexicans and Tarantino's foot worship) are evident throughout the film - both before and after the shift.
The shift I keep referring to is that moment when the movie goes from what it is to what it wants to be.  A lot of people have speculated that Tarantino oversaw the first half of the film - which resembles his previous two "guys in suits commit crimes" films of the early '90s - and Rodriguez took over for the blood-soaked, up-tempo second half of the film, in which (I suppose I should say "spoiler alert", but 16 years have passed, dudes) the whole movie becomes a vampire infested siege pictures.  (And you all know The Mike LOVES siege movies.  Seriously, there's nothing better than a good "hanker down and take on waves of bad muddafuggahs" flick.)  I'm not sure how much I believe that the shift was orchestrated in that manner - my money's on the two dudes working together throughout the picture - but it's an interesting way to look at what some could argue is actually an anthology film.
The bigger thing to consider about the shift is how it actually works.  A vocal section of those who talk about the shift just hate the heck out of the split.  They say the movie was so good for the first half and not as interesting in the second.  Or, they say that the second half was so cool and gory and fun, and the first half took to long to get there.  There are people who don't like the film for other reasons - maybe some hate Juliette Lewis as much as I do, maybe some are mad the vampires don't sparkle, maybe there are even some who can't get over how creepy the vampire version of Quentin Tarantino looks - but I choose to ignore them.  Because my theory is that everything boils down to the shift.
Did I mention that the post-shift segment of the film occurs here?
I gotta admit that, even though the second half has water pistols filled with holy water and crossbows and George Clooney making a stakehammer (it's like a jackhammer with a stake on it, which is AWESOME), I'm slightly partial to the pre-shift segment of the film.  A lot of that is due to the awesome opening sequence, which establishes the criminal side of Clooney and Tarantino's characters while pitting them against a Texas Ranger and a liquor store clerk who is played fantastically by a young John Hawkes, who's awesome in a lot of things.  (Random tangent: The ranger, played by Michael Parks, dies in this scene - but goes on to appear in two more Tarantino/Rodriguez films. The Tarantino 'verse is one crazy, scary, interconnected logjam of dead people.)  It's one of the better opening scenes on film in my book, and it always has me ready for From Dusk Till Dawn's wild ride as soon as the first curse word is uttered and the first drops of blood are splattered.
BTW, remember that time when Clooney was just "That guy from ER"?  Yeah, me too.  Doesn't that seem weird in retrospect?  The thing is, I have some pretty vivid memories of it being weird when I saw Clooney - who I'd known as a dude on some snooty drama I'd never watch - in From Dusk Till Dawn in 1996.  From that opening scene through the final shots, Clooney is the alpha male of the movie, complete with gigantic full-arm tribal tattoo and suit jacket with undershirt and greasy hair.  I do recall this being one of those moments when I thought there might be something more to this actor, and I think it's safe to say he's proved himself a few times since.  The rest of the lead cast has mixed results - Harvey Keitel doesn't get enough good material, but plays the calm character well, Tarantino's better off on the other side of the camera, and Juliette Lewis is still the most annoying thing EVER - but the supporting cast provides a lot of help, with fun turns by genre favorites like Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, Tom Savini and "The Hammer" Fred Williamson (who gives my favorite performance in the film).  Oh yeah, and Salma Hayak's here too (by my count, at least 6 members of the cast have been nominated for Oscars!), but I won't explain why. I'll let a picture do the talking.  You're welcome.
(BTW, despite her picture on the back of Mill Creeks' budget blu-ray of the film, Monica Bellucci is NOT in this film.  Mill Creek fail.)
I think that a lot of people expect more than they get from From Dusk Till Dawn, but I've always dug the film as a whole, the shift and all.  It's clear that Tarantino and Rodriguez are having fun, and there's a visible balance between their styles.  The film isn't allowed to turn into a 150 minute epic with Rodriguez at the helm, and the dialogue has a fantastic punch due to Tarantino's own skills.  The script also throws in a few fun twists on vampire lore, and the comments on vampire cinema is a small gift to horror fans in lieu of many scares.  Gore is also used as a substitute for chills, but there's a playful nature to it - particularly when The Hammer gets to use his mitts on some vampire strippers and an oversized Mexican bloodsucker.
I think it could have been a great crime movie or a decent vampire movie.  Some people think it could have been a action-packed vampire movie but was a boring crime movie.  Some people think other things too.  Dramatic shifts in tone do that to people.  But, for me, it all boils down to From Dusk Till Dawn being a blast to watch.  I can deal with the shift when everything else in the film is so much fun.  Thanks to all the talented folks involved (not to mention a fantastic soundtrack), From Dusk Till Dawn and I always get along - even if it is a little bipolar.

February 20, 2012

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

(2012, Dir. by Neveldine/Taylor.)

In a sequel almost nobody - save Nic Cage and some dudes at Marvel who like money - wanted, Johnny Blaze returns to the big screen for another fiery ride.  This time it's called Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and it's a sequel that wants nothing to do with its big budget predecessor.  It brings back Cage - mostly because Cage is the biggest Ghost Rider fan alive AND likes money because he has to pay for his burial pyramid - but cuts all other ties to Mark Steven Johnson's bland film.

This time the skullfire-on-wheels action is framed by the duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who previously brought their hyperactive flair to the Crank films and the muddled, yet strangely captivating Gamer (don't hate, I dig it!).   The filmmakers left their mark on those films by featuring "balls-to-the-wall" action that feature no restraint, which made nudity, blood, random psychedelic cutscenes, and other acts of depravity the norm in their worlds.  A lot of people didn't like that about them, but I thought it was a blast - their films are basically video games that were filmed instead of rendered - which makes it slightly frustrating when you realize that Ghost Rider 2 has been edited down for a PG-13 rating.

Without the ability to go all the way, Neveldine/Taylor's film feels a little neutered.  It's particularly baffling too, as this is the second film released under the Marvel Knights banner that previously accompanied the uberviolent, R-rated Punisher: War Zone - a film that featured more arterial spray than most horror movies made in the new millennium.  This Marvel Knights production features a lot more dark moments than the first film did, but there are moments when the film cuts away from what could have been a brutal moment.  Perhaps the studio was worried that the first film pandered to children - which is a strange truth despite the devil-based plot - but I don't think this sequel will sell as well to the young crowd.

There's certainly more grit to this film, as the Rider looks a bit darker and a lot less cartoon-y than he did in the 2007 film.  The action takes on a supernatural tone again - especially when that Ciaran Hinds dude turns one of the bad guys into a creepy undead thing who's supposed to find a kid that might become the Antichrist - and there's plenty of night time battling with the flaming headed antihero doing his thing.  Oh yeah, and you get to see Ghost Rider urinating a stream of flame - if you're in to that kind of thing.

If there's a reason to see Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, it's certainly the star.  A lot of people are down on the overdramatic Mr. Cage, but he's pretty much my favorite thing Hollywood could do to any movie.  Heck, I once kind of defended that piece of excrement Wicker Man remake because of Cage's overacting.  Truthfully, I was a little disappointed by the lack of Cage Rage in this film.  There was one glorious mid-film scene that allowed Cage to go fully crazy, but there weren't enough moments like it.  In fact, I kinda thought the film was a little backward - the early part of the film featured a lot of Rider and not enough Cage, while the final scenes feature a ton of subdued Cage and not enough Rider.

With the directors' hands tied and Cage somewhat restrained, the whole movie just seems kinda pointless.  It was a fun ride - I'll watch it again before I watch the first Ghost Rider film again - but it doesn't have much going for it outside of the good-looking Eastern European setting and a decent cast (Idris Elba is a fun addition in a pivotal side role, and Violante Placido is nice to look at).  I'm not sure if it will please fans of the comic - I know next to nothing about Ghost Rider, except that Cage loves him - but it's little more than a passable diversion in what is generally blockbuster cinema's offseason.  You shouldn't waste your money on a 3D ticket price, but if you're interested you might have fun with the film as a rental if you really dig Cage Rage.  Even then, you're probably better off watching the more violent and more ballistic Drive Angry anyway.

February 19, 2012

Supremely Cheesy Cinema, Vol. 10: Don't Open Till Christmas

There are a lot of horror movies in which the killer disguises themselves as (or, in the case of Bill Goldberg, actually IS!) Santa Claus.  But, as far as I can tell, Don't Open Till Christmas is the one and only '80s slasher film that revolves around a killer who targets people who are dressed as St. Nick.  Plus, the movie's set in London, which immediately makes me think of the awesome Kinks song....
...which is, for lack of a less redundant word, awesome.
Directed by and starring Edmund Purdom, the British dude who apparently was a real actor but who we horror fans all know and love from Pieces, Don't Open Till Christmas is a unique slasher treat that stays away from the standard cliches most people would associate with the subgenre.  There are no campers or even teenagers, and the main "young" characters seem more like something out of a late Hammer Film (like Dracula A.D. 1972) than a Friday the 13th film - though I'm probably being racist by saying that just because they're British folk.  Meanwhile Purdom - who is pretty much the William Regal of '80s horror cinema (this comment is also probably racist, but hey, we won the war, we can say mean stuff about Brits!) - headlines the police investigation, and a bunch of Santas get offed in interesting ways.
From the start you kind of get the feeling that Don't Open Till Christmas might have some issues, particularly when a title card during the opening credits says that "Additional Scenes Were Written & Directed By Al McGoohan".  No disrespect to Mr. McGoohan is intended, but the warning flag goes up pretty quickly when you get the feeling that a movie has been through rewrites and reshoots.  There are some rather abrupt shifts and transitions during the film, which bounces from plot point to random Santa killing to plot point many times, but everything is framed well with a charming '80s synthetic soundtrack and fun actors like Purdom and Mark Jones getting to Pleasence (Yes, I'm using Donald's last name as a verb) it up a bit.  Also sufficiently hammy is Alan Lake as the ominous reporter on the case, whose performance is even creepier when you learn that the actor, who was terminally ill with a brain tumor, killed himself a couple of months before the film's release.
Amidst all the odd plot twists and strange settings for kills - a mid film "dungeon" sequence is particularly macabre - are some excellent visuals and a fantastic look at the masked face of our killer.  Purdom isn't the only thing that ties the film to Pieces, nor is the fact that this film's producers also worked on that slasher film.  Like that cheesy slasher, Don't Open Till Christmas also ties the killer's motives into a traumatic childhood event, which is fleshed out in a final act twist that wraps up things pretty nicely.  Unfortunately, the killer doesn't keep his creepy mask throughout the whole film - the tension takes a hit when the identity of the killer is revealed rather early, though it's pretty easy to guess - but the unhinged actor keeps the film going during the final act despite this.
Though it feels like there are two films going on at once - one featuring the slashing of Father Christmas in public and bizarre locales, one featuring the mystery behind the killer - there's a ridiculous charm to this unpredictable slasher.  After all, any film which randomly features a glitter haired, '80s-styled, Caroline Munro showing up to sing and dance is well worth my time, and probably yours too.  This isn't quite like Pieces - there's a little more sense to the plot and a little less overacting (Nothing can reach the overacting heights of the infamous Bastard scene) - but it's sure to please fans of '80s flavored sleaze regardless.
Then again, there is one question that might dominate your mind as Don't Open Till Christmas powers through its 86 minutes.  We know a) that a killer is on the loose; b) that the killer is public knowledge and well-covered in the press; and c) that the killer kills people who dress as Santa.  So...even though it's days till Christmas (you didn't really think this movie was set in June, did you?) - WHY DOESN'T ANYONE STOP DRESSING UP AS SANTA CLAUS?  Nude models, drunks, carnival workers - these obviously aren't the smartest people in the UK (I'm sure that honor is reserved for my British Midnight Warriors, naturally) - all fall victim for simple reasons: because they dress as Santa.  Which makes this basically the only slasher movie ever where running around naked and having sex while drinking and doing drugs would INCREASE your chances of survival.  
So yeah, that question still bugs me, but hey - it wouldn't be supremely cheesy and awesome without a little nonsense.  So check out Don't Open Till Christmas, and keep the Santa suit in the closet. It's for your own good.

February 16, 2012

Midnight Movie of the Week #111 - The Lost Boys

Sometimes in life, you have to grow up and be mature about things.  For me, tonight is one of those moments.  Because, despite all of the will in my body pushing me toward a certain topic, I've decided that I won't only talk about Tim Cappello, the oily sax man, while talking about The Lost Boys.  It's tough.  When you've got something as Earth-shattering, mind-numbingly-awesome, and omnipresently-powerful as the oily sax man in your movie, it's hard for people to not only talk about it.  Heck, sometimes I forget what The Lost Boys is actually about.  I just know it's the movie with the oily sax man. I mean, seriously, just look at him.
Now look at him again.
Do you see what I mean?  No? OK, let's go to the tape.  SEE???

OK, now that that's out of my system (Wait....I STILL BELIEVE!!!!!  OK, now it's out of my system), let's talk about the rest of The Lost Boys, which is probably the most treasured piece of '80s pop culture mixed with horror known to man.  The teen-based vampire tale - which does not, thankfully, feature sparkling or emo depressed girls - is one of those movies that my entire generation just knows.  Like, if The Lost Boys stopped over and said it needed to borrow a cup of sugar, every dude or dudette aged 25-35 would invite it in and shoot the breeze for hours before sending it home with a freshly baked batch of snickerdoodles AND a cup of sugar.
Produced by Richard Donner and directed by Joel Schumacher - who is probably the most unfairly hated director of all-time, but that's a different story for another day (HINT: Burton's Batman movies sucked too!) - The Lost Boys takes us into the awesome world of Santa Carla, California, which local graffiti-ists have dubbed "The Murder Capitol of the World".  When we arrive, we learn that the town is full of Oceanside fun that includes carnivals, wicked neon video stores, and - of course - a rocking saxophone man.  But, as we learn immediately, there's also something awful in town.
Enter "The Frog Brothers", played by Jamison Newlander and the great Corey Feldman, who warn young Sam - played by the other Corey, Corey Haim - about the vampires that plague the town.  It's kind of a weird idea - especially when you realize that the Frogs don't seem to know anything about the identity of the vampires, who flaunt themselves pretty blatantly to my eyes - but I'm willing to give these pre-teen vampire hunters the benefit of the doubt.  After all, one might just think the group of vamps - led by future TV super-icon Keifer Sutherland - is a bunch of kids dressed in ridiculous clothes.
Thankfully we have Sam's older brother, Michael (Jason Patric, son of The Exorcist's Jason Miller!), a moody teenager who is drawn to a girl (Jami Gertz, who was what we call "80s hot") who is drawn to the four ridiculously clothed dudes, who happen to be vampires.  The result is a battle between those who want to hold on to their humanity and those who do not; a battle that plays off of vampire lore well throughout the film.
It's not entirely a young person's movie, however, with a budding romance between the local video store owner played by Edward Herrmann and Sam & Mike's mother played by Dianne Wiest.  There's also the boys' grandpa, played by Barnard Hughes, who is perhaps my favorite thing about the film.  Grandpa's final line in the film is one of the greatest things ever said in a horror film, a final line that I won't dare spoil for the ignorant or deaf fools who haven't yet truly experienced The Lost Boys.
Then again, if you haven't experienced The Lost Boys yet, you may be completely hopeless.  I had a video store employee tell me recently that he hates any movie made before 1990, which probably means he has no soul.  And if you're old enough to know The Lost Boys and haven't experienced it yet....well, I apologize for the abuse you've endured.
I don't need to sit here and talk about The Lost Boys.  As hair rockers Extreme would say, The Lost Boys is worth more than words.  But I couldn't keep this series of movies I love going on and on and on and not end up talking about just how cool The Lost Boys is.  Not was, IS. Those poor teenagers today have no idea what they're missing when they look at the neutered vampire films of this generation.  There truly is nothing - no film, no television show, no kids playing in their backyards - that is quite like The Lost Boys, a one-of-a-kind piece of horror history that should never be ignored by anyone.  Ever.
I have to add one serious thing, since I didn't say anything serious (or maybe I did?) during this whole rant about how awesome The Lost Boys is.  I badly...and I mean BADLY...want to visit the video store Ed Herrmann runs in this flick.  Seriously, it's beautiful.  Those big box Warner Brothers VHS tapes all over the walls, the wall of TVs, the weird neon TV shapes hanging all over, even the fact that the classics and adult films are randomly on the same wall....I just love all of it.  If I had a time machine, I would be in this store first.  Then maybe I'd hit up The Ice Bowl and after that meet Kim Novak on the set of Vertigo.  But first: the video store from The Lost Boys.  Yup.

February 15, 2012

FMWL Indie Spotlight - February 2012 Horror Shorts Roundup

I get a lot of requests to promote everything from indie films to dating sites (Seriously? Seriously.) here at FMWL, and one of the things I struggle to mention enough are indie horror short films.  So, I thought it would be a good time to talk about a few short indie horror films that have been thrown my way recently.  Below are my thoughts on five independent horror shorts that have come my way lately, which I think represent an interesting cross section of horror goodness.

House Call
Dir. by Erik L. Wilson.

It's a classic tale of lust gone wrong in House Call, which follows a young woman who commits a criminal act to get away from an apparently failed relationship.  Unfortunately, she doesn't account for her ex's mother - who has some witchy talents. This happens to lead to some surprising events on the night of the young woman's anniversary, including a healthy dose of revenge from beyond the grave.

At about 18 minutes, House Call manages to provide several twists and turns, all filmed professionally and looking great.  The film also boasts some terrific special effects, particularly when bloodshed starts to occur late in the film.  I wasn't as wild about the acting, particularly from Aimee Bello and Michael Shepard Jordan as the soon-to-be-unhappy couple, but the film isn't hurt too badly by their amateur performances.  The lasting images of the film are certainly Janet Gawrys' turn as the mother, which is pretty spooky and effective.

House Call is currently on a festival run, but you can learn more about Wilson's film by hitting up the project's Facebook page, and can view the trailer HERE.

Dir. by Andre Welsh.

Created by, written by, and starring Nate Golon, Briefcase is a brief (haha!) experiment, the 6 minute journey of a man who finds a mysterious briefcase and has his life turned upside down.  The use of the case - whose contents are unseen - will no doubt make plenty of nerds think about Pulp Fiction, but any comparisons to Quentin Tarantino's masterwork probably should end there.

The film takes on the role of a chase picture for most of its length, with Golon's character evading a series of pursuers until the film reaches the end of its story.  The ending is a fun little twist - one that's quite unexpected - complete with a tease of future exploits that ends the film on a different note.

Briefcase is just a little taste of what Golon and company could have up their sleeves, but it's a neat diversion.  And, best of all, you all can watch it on YouTube whenever you like.  You can also follow the production in the standard places, at its Facebook page and Twitter account.

Dir. by Luther Bhogal-Jones.

There's a healthy helping of things that go bump in the night inside of Creak, a five minute short film by the folks at Sincerely, Psychopath Productions.  The brief tale introduces a couple who hears a noise in the middle of the night, then follows as they go through that wonderful horror film procedure of checking the house for abnormal entities.

Creak offers an incredibly simple perspective - lights turn on, lights turn off, maybe you see something, maybe you don't - before wrapping up under the five minute mark.  This is the kind of horror framing that I absolutely love, because the viewer is on edge every time the characters near a light switch.  What is revealed during the film is less important than the act of creating tension, which the filmmakers do here with flair.

Creak is also available online, so feel free to go check it (and the one lady's cool Minilla t-shirt!) out now.  And hit up that link to Sincerely, Psychopath that I posted above for more info.

Dir. by Bill Palmer.

Anything related to John Carpenter or Stephen King is bound to get my attention, so I was most intrigued by the idea behind Bill Palmer's Vicki, a spoof of the Carpenter directed King adaptation Christine.  This version follows a nerd turned cool dude - at least, by '80s standards - played by Adam Conger, who buys a beat up car that seems to have a mind of its own. 

Unlike the original Christine, Vicki is a firmly tongue-in-cheek spoof that takes plenty of shots at the '80s.  The 15 minute film is full of references to horror of that decade through clothing (The Monster Squad and Big Trouble in Little China are represented) and music (You want the oily sax man song from The Lost Boys? YOU'VE GOT IT!), but it doesn't overstay its welcome.  The lighthearted film is effective thanks to the countless jabs at the source material and the over-the-top performances, led by Conger's sleazy turn in the lead.

Vicki is available online, so head over and check out this neon flavored plate of '80s goodness today!

Dir. by Richard Powell.

Diabolical monologues are the in thing in Familiar, produced by Zach Green and Fatal Pictures.  This 23 minute terror takes us into the mind of a husband, played by Robert Nolan, whose disgust for his family life and his average wife is vocalized repeatedly by a sinister inner voice.  Nolan is extremely convincing in the role, and the character quickly becomes a captivating vision of a mind gone bad.

Everything is not exactly as it seems as Familiar moves into its final act (it's weird to think that a 23 minute film can have acts, but the director and writers have crafted their brief story incredibly well) and the final revelation is a neat (and gory!) surprise.  The special effects are incredibly impressive, as are the production values throughout the film.  When you put together the high-end production, the fantastic lead performance, and the witty and intelligent script, you might just find yourself incredibly impressed by what Familiar does in such a short amount of time.  I certainly was.

For more on Familiar, make sure to check out Fatal Pictures on Facebook, and check out the teaser for the film here.

February 13, 2012


(2012, Dir. by Josh Trank.)

When I start talking about Chronicle, I should first point out that the film is blatantly aimed toward a teenage audience.  While teen fiction comes with some negative connotations lately - especially teen fiction that's filmed in gray and rainy Washington state - a lot of Chronicle's teen qualities are good things. It would be easy to dress up this movie even more for teen audiences, but I really think the characters in Chronicle react to their predicament in a manner that's pretty realistic compared to most modern teenagers on screen.

The film follows the path of three teenagers - one a charismatic candidate for class president; one a brooding, bullied loner; one a good-looking "normal" guy with eyes on a good-looking "normal" girl - who encounter a strange phenomenon outside a rave and suddenly realize they have telekinetic powers and maybe even the ability to fly.  The three form a bond based on their gift (or is it an affliction?), but things can only stay happy for so long.  If there's no conflict, there's no movie.

Speaking of the existence of the movie, Chronicle has been inexplicably made as a "found footage" film. The story is that angry young Andrew is filming everything because he's been bullied by everyone from his alcoholic father to the drug dealers down the street and the tough guys at school.  Oh, and the "normal" girl is actually a blogger who films everything too, which means we get multiple angles on the action from all over the film's universe.  But, really, there's no good reason at all for the film to be filmed in this manner, and the gimmick only takes away from what could have been, especially when we learn that Andrew can conveniently control the camera and its perspective with his mind.  (I'm not sure if he edited the movie with his mind too, but if he did he liked to cut for random intervals of seconds to minutes within a scene.)

Back to the conflict: Director Josh Trank and writer Max (son of John) Landis really want the viewer to buy into Andrew's plight.  The character has obviously been a victim most of his life, and they want us to believe that this tortured soul is a Frankenstein's monster-esque victim in this teenage world.  The character is allowed control of the film and plays up the fact that he's stronger than all of his oppressors as things roll toward the final act.  But the film's presentation of his inner turmoil - including multiple references to famous philosophers and a ham-fisted monologue about apex predators - falls flat most of the time.  The relationship between Andrew and his "normal" cousin (I keep putting "normal" in quotations, because I'm using the Hollywood definition that allows an underwear model lookin' dude to be "normal" in his film's setting) is a bit more effective at selling the difference between Andrew and other kids, but the film rolls to its conclusion too quickly and doesn't give this relationship enough time to bloom.

It's all kind of sad that the film's conflict is so disjointed, because Chronicle's strength is definitely its teenage world.  The performers are pretty natural in the roles, particularly Alex Russell as that "normal" dude and Michael B. Jordan (of Friday Night Lights! Texas Forever!) as the cool dude.  Dane DeHaan isn't bad as Andrew, but I think the film's presentation of the character makes it a little harder for me to really appreciate him in the role.  Part of me thinks it's the script's fault, but part of me thinks the actor takes "I'm gonna be as angry as a '90s grunge music video" too seriously.  (Hey, the movie's set in Seattle, so maybe he's on to something.)

The easy thing to say about Chronicle is that it's a superhero film for the Twilight crowd, but I don't think that's a fair statement.  As much as I've nitpicked the movie so far, I liked most of what Chronicle had to offer.  The teenage world blends well with some simple special effects and decent actors, and the script has a few turns that keep us thinking as the plot moves forward.  I wish a few things were handled differently, but it's a neat little action movie when it's not trying to hard to be a statement on bullying and human nature.  Look, I know bullying is a real thing and is way important, but Chronicle could've pumped the brakes a few times and had more fun with its premise.  The tone is about the only thing that holds this one back from becoming a major early year sci-fi surprise.

February 12, 2012


(2011, Dir. by Trent Haaga.)

Dismemberment takes center stage in Chop, a horror comedy that riffs on Saw and films of its sort with a lot of success.  A cat-and-mouse game between a man who's out for revenge and a man who did him wrong is nothing new to horror fans, but the methods Chop uses to tell that story are more successful than I expected.

Will Keenan (credited here as Billy Bakshi) stars as Lance, an ex-drug addict who's married and seemingly happy, whose privacy is invaded after a mysterious stranger picks him up on the side of the road after his car breaks down.  The nameless man (played by Timothy Muskatell) quickly reveals to Lance that Lance's wife is having an explicit affair with his brother, and forces Lance to choose who he would rather kill.  The unhinged husband eventually chooses to spare his wife's life, putting an ax into his brother's skull.  The stranger tells him that he must go forward as nothing ever happened, particularly with his unfaithful wife, or he will provide the police with evidence that would condemn Lance for the murder.

The plot sounds ridiculous there, and it only becomes more ridiculous as the film moves on.  Lance doesn't hold up his end of the bargain very well, which means the stranger begins to take things from Lance.  This allows for two things: 1) Keenan freaking out in an over-the-top performance that would make Nicolas Cage proud, and 2) Lots of brutal violence that keeps the film firmly in horror movie territory and doesn't let the film devolve into something like one of those Epic/Disaster/Superhero/Scary Movie films.

Muskatell is wonderfully dry opposite Keenan's manic performance, which makes this the odd outlier in which the victim is less human than their antagonist.  The characters who come in and out of the film alongside them add varying amounts of comedy to the film, but these two men are front and center in almost every scene.  I called it a cat-and-mouse game earlier, but that's probably an unfair statement when I consider just how dopey Lance is compared to the stranger's calmly vicious mindset.

Chop is the directorial debut of veteran no-budget horror star Trent Haaga, who keeps the film looking polished while the actors have fun with Adam Minarovich's quirky script.  The turns the film takes through its second half keep things interesting, though I did find the change in setting that occurs about halfway through the film changed the tone a little too much.  The switch was necessary - the plot had kind of outgrown itself when the change occurs, but I think I wanted a little more of the stalker's game that the beginning of the film had to offer.

Quibbles aside, I really found myself having fun with Chop.  The actors sell the comedy well - Keenan's grandiose performance is the kind of humor I absolutely love - and the violence keeps us groaning and laughing the same way it did in films like Hobo With a Shotgun.  It's a fantastic little spoof of torture porn tricks and gimmicks (leading up to a final minute reveal that I'm still not sure I liked), but I think it stands alone as a horror comedy hit too.  This is a pleasant surprise that I'm betting I'll revisit sooner than later for a few gruesome laughs.

February 11, 2012

FMWL's "Support Indie Horror Fiction and Films, Win a Dead Hooker" DVD Giveaway!

When From Midnight, With Love first happened, it was supposed to be my way to ramble about the films throughout the history of genre cinema that I love.  It still is, but there's been an excellent side effect that came with writing about horror - I've become acquainted with some really cool people who do some really cool things in the horror 'verse.

But it's certainly not fair if I'm the only one here who's acquainted with these cool folks and their cool projects.  So, I want to give you a chance to get to know them too.  And, as an added incentive for you all...we're gonna give one reader who supports these projects a special prize.
Before we get to that prize (which you can probably guess from the title if you've read FMWL for a while), let's talk about three awesome things you should know about in the horror world.

Mad House Magazine
I spend a lot of time promoting independent horror films here, but it's worth noting that horror fiction is not a dead art.  And loyal Midnight Warrior Jose - formerly of From Beyond Depraved, currently of Mephisto's Castle, always of awesomeness - has a new project up his sleeve that demands your attention.  In his own words, here's what you need to know about Mad House Magazine!


Do you crave classic horror stories? Do you love the musty smell of a paperback anthology containing vintage horror? Stories about creepy old houses, aristocratic vampires, Lovecraftian creatures, and tales of psychological spooks?

We wanted to send a shout out to all interested parties who would want to submit pieces in this vein to MAD HOUSE, new digital magazine that’s eager to hear the terrifying tales that all you storytellers have to share. In addition to fiction, we're open for nonfiction, poetry, and artwork.

If you pine after the Universal and Hammer horror films and worship authors like Poe, M.R. James, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, and many others, then MAD HOUSE is the monster mag for you!

The official deadline for any and all submissions for our premiere issue is MAY 5TH, 2012. We are planning on releasing the anthology in time for the Halloween season and need to have all materials at the ready by the above timeline. Don’t miss out on your chance!

At this time we cannot offer payment to our contributors. We're putting this magazine together for the pure fun of it and out of our love for all that is classic horror. We hope to someday offer monetary compensation for the great work that we’re provided with. In the meantime it is our desire to simply put together a loving publication that we can all share with other terror-loving friends.

We prefer that your submission is in Word document format, 12 point Times New Roman, single-spaced.
Stories can reach up to a 7,000 word maximum. Maximum word count for articles is 5,000 words.
Attach it to your email and make sure you include the piece's title and your name in the subject line.
We will request short bios upon acceptance of your piece(s).
Address all submissions to madhousemag [at] yahoo [dot] com.

MAD HOUSE will require the non-exclusive right to use submissions in our free online edition and any possible PDF editions. First world electronic rights revert back to the creators three months after publication in MAD HOUSE. Reprints are more than welcome. We only ask that creators notify us of previous appearances of their work and credit MAD HOUSE for future publication of their accepted piece.

Check out our blog for more information. Be careful as you traverse through MAD HOUSE and always keep your hands at the level of your eyes! You never know who you may run into.


 I can't say enough about this young man's passion for horror in all its formats, and I strongly urge anyone with a love for horror or a talent for writing to give Mad House Magazine a chance.

Last October I got the chance to review an intelligent little pandemic horror film - think Contagion meets The Signal - called Ashes.  And, it's with great pleasure that I report that the folks over at Osiris Entertainment released the film worldwide on DVD last Tuesday.  I wasn't head over heels in love with the film when I first saw it, but it's grown on me with time and I think you darn sure should check it out.  I'm not sure if it's on the giant web-based rental and streaming site yet, but I do know you can pick up the DVD at Amazon right about now. 

Yeah, I've talked about Absentia a lot.  Heck it was in the top three of my best of 2011 list.  But there's more news on the Absentia front that you need to know, particularly that a) the film is now available for rent on VOD services like Amazon and ITunes, and b) the film will be out on DVD for everyone on March 13th.  I can't recommend it enough - which is part of why I'm still talking about it - so make sure you keep your eyes out for it!
Now....about that giveaway!
Why am I sitting here pimping this stuff? Is it because I'm too nice? Is it because I think I'll get attention by promoting it? NO.  It's because I get excited about good horror, and I want to see these people and their projects succeed.  One such success story is Dead Hooker in a Trunk, which recently hit DVD.  I reviewed the movie more than 18 months ago - which is like 47 years in blogger terms - and yet, it's still relevant to horror today.  And that excites the heck out of me.   And I want to feel that excitement about these projects too.

Some folks in a certain program like to say that "we keep what we have by giving it away".  So...I'm gonna give some one who reads this post and supports these three awesome horror projects a free DVD copy of Dead Hooker in A Trunk
If you want to win this piece of grindhouse-y goodness, here's all I ask of you. 
  • Go to Facebook.  "Like" the pages for Mad House Magazine, Ashes, and Absentia. (I promise I won't cyber stalk you, but I will be watching the total number of likes on each page, and I darn sure better see the numbers going up!)
  • Leave a comment below with a name and contact info, letting me know you want in the drawing for a free copy of DHIAT.
  • Want to have your name in the drawing twice so you can double your chances of winning? "Like" FMWL on Facebook, and leave a comment on the wall letting us know that you support great indie and print horror! 
I'm confident you all could love these projects on your own, but that doesn't mean I won't push you in their direction.  So go forth and find out why I love them, then come back here (or meet us on Facebook!) by Midnight CST on Friday 2/17 to get yourself entered in the drawing for a free DVD copy of Dead Hooker in a Trunk!

February 9, 2012

Midnight Movie of the Week #110 - Experiment In Terror

There's an old saying, which I think was first spoken by Bugs Bunny (I may be wrong about that) that says "Be the change you want to see in the world".  It's a wicked cool idea, in theory.  You want people to be nicer to you? Be nicer to them.  You want people to recycle better? Show them how?  It's a lead by example kind of thing, reminding us all that we have power within us to change the lives of others.
There's a flip side to that idea, the yang to its yin, that can be used for other means.  In the sports world, coaches call it "imposing your will" on others.  After all, if the change you want to see in the world is the opposite of what others want to see, you have to fight against their will to meet your needs.  And that's the struggle at the heart of Experiment in Terror, a 1962 thriller with an aggressor who's ahead of his time psychologically. 
The film opens with a simple sequence that sets the tone for the next two hours.  An attractive female San Francisco bank employee - played by Lee Remick - returns home one night, only to be surprised by a man who is hiding in her garage.  This man uses the shadows to his advantage, taking physical control of the young woman from behind and holding her as a hostage in her own home while he tells her just how dangerous he is to her and her teenage sister.  We can't see the man yet either, all we know is that he's got a deep voice and a problem with his breathing that creates a sinister wheezing throughout the scene.  But we can tell that he's getting the effect he desires from his victim, mostly because Remick's bright eyes become wider and wider with fear as the scene goes on.
What follows is two hours of Ms. Remick looking defeated and abused - all because this man brought his will into her home and shook her from the norms of her calm existence.  Some might expect the actress to oversell this fear, but I really do think there's a natural truth to her response to this attack and the ongoing relationship with this insistent man - who even ends up surprising her in a women's restroom! - throughout the film.  This man is truly imposing his will upon the woman. Some might argue that he really hasn't done anything that meets movie standards of violence to her for much of the film - he doesn't sexually threaten her or pull a weapon on her - but the people behind the movie knew that they didn't need to sensationalize the assailant to justify this woman's fear.
The catch, as you might have expected from his voice, is that this attacker is not a powerful man.  In fact, he's a frail man who struggles with crippling asthma.  A telling seen near the half hour mark of the film shows him struggling to deal with his affliction as he wakes up in the morning.  After a coughing fit that gives the camera a chance to show his thin frame, the man immediately goes to the phone and calls up his victim, threatening her once more about the $100,000 he wants her to steal from her bank.  It's a key look at the mental state of this character, because it reveals to the viewer that he's not a physical monster.  He's just a man who thinks he can control a woman by sounding tough.
The film doesn't go all the way to empowering this woman as she deals with her assailant - she relies heavily on the FBI, led by an agent played by one of my favorite actors of all-time, Glenn Ford - but the moments when she takes control away from her antagonist are very welcome.  After his attempts to meet the woman at a local club are thwarted (unintentionally) by an everyday sleazeball who picks her up, she reacts with a loud anger to his telephonic threats.  These moments are a blueprint for how the situation can be best dealt with, because the viewer realizes that this man's only power comes from his ability to act strong and bully others (including his past victims and a on-and-off girlfriend who gets caught up in the plot) around.
The film is directed with flair by Blake Edwards, a well known comedic director who fills this thriller with shades of Hitchcock.  The black and white photography accentuates the plot perfectly - I don't believe there's a way that the opening sequence in the garage could have possibly worked in color - and Edwards uses the city of San Francisco as a beautiful backdrop to the plot.  Perhaps the experiment runs a little long - the scenes involving the FBI and the subplots about the villain's identity feel like filler at times during the two-hour film - but the sequences between Remick and her assailant (played with terrific creepiness by Ross Martin of TV's Wild Wild West) are more than enough reason to see this well-framed thriller. 
It's always been common for films to portray women as terrified, but there are few thrillers that go as far to make that fear seem justified as Experiment in Terror does.  The psychological trappings of the film go a long way toward elevating this otherwise standard thriller, long before actresses like Angelina Jolie and Jodie Foster took on dark roles to show their ability to stand up to bullying men.  I wish Experiment in Terror had taken a little bit more of a feminist standpoint - I love "Glenn Ford is here to save the day" movies, yet this one could have given Remick a little more of an edge - but the example it shows of men trying to scare women sets a great example for future thrillers.  I think we could all learn a little from the fantastic conflict at the center of Experiment in Terror.