From November 2014

Feed the Gods Leaves Everyone Hungry

Feed the Gods. 2014. Dir. Braden Croft.
Starring Shawn Roberts, Emily Tennant, Britt Irvin, Tyler Johnston, and Aleks Paunovic. Compound B.
Unrated. 84 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★1/2

There are times I’ll admit I am fooled by an interesting title. When I first heard of Feed the Gods I’ve got to say, I was absolutely hooked. Just by the title alone. So I waited, and finally it came to VOD. I wasn’t particularly aware this film had anything to do with Bigfoot, or a Bigfoot type legendary creature, until the poster art showed up. Maybe I’m not in the loop (I know I’m not in the loop – that’s called a joke), but going by the description I basically imagined a sort of strange backwoods cult. It made me think of something similar to Jug Face, which is a great modern backwoods horror. However, this is nothing like that great film. Unfortunately, I can’t really say much positive about Feed the Gods.

feed-the-godsThe premise of the film isn’t a bad one. Two brothers, who don’t really like one another, decide to seek out their birth parents after the death of their adopted mother. It brings them to a mountain-woods town. The locals are a bit strange, a bit quirky. And also there’s the running legend about a Bigfoot creature in the forest. They call it The Wild Man. The Wild Man takes people, they say. Not a bad setup.

I’m not really saying the plot isn’t great because I was really intrigued by what might happen. It’s just that there wasn’t any fear.
Usually Bigfoot freaks me out. Some recent sasquatch centric movies I’ve enjoyed and found creepy are Willow Creek, and most recently the brilliantly executed Exists by found footage master Eduardo Sanchez. Feed the Gods aims to be a really unique movie in the Bigfoot filmography, but fails.
feed-the-gods-3The acting wasn’t awful, at least not to a point where I cringed; though one or two times at the beginning I did wince slightly. Regardless, a few times I actually chuckled at a bit of the humour weaved in. The biggest problem Feed the Gods suffers from is a lack of any real dread, no suspense or tension. They aim to give that backwoods feeling of terror. The town in which the main characters end up almost has a feeling similar to when the boys first show up in Deliverance to try and find someone to drive their vehicle; they wander into such a funny yet creepy, eerie place with the kid and his banjo. I almost expected a scene close to it, but they didn’t go too hamfisted here. Yet there wasn’t enough of anything.

Feed the Gods is a confused film a lot of its running time. There are points, as I said, where I did laugh, but those were essentially in part because of one of the brothers who worked as comic relief. Even at the end, I didn’t expect it to end. Things came to a close so abruptly.  I felt like there was going to be a bit more resolution. Not because I need it – I love when a film, horror especially, can leave things either ambiguous or just plain depressing even – but because it felt as if the film was moving towards some resolution. I’m not saying it’s meant to be a good one. The finale really blew things.
On that note, I did not dig the monster in this film. Near the end there’s a really bad shot. Kudos to the filmmakers for going with their own sort of unique look. Wasn’t my thing. I didn’t find it too frightening, at all. That also had to do with the entire film. A sense of dread and fear comes along with a sasquatch type creature lurking in the woods. Unfortunately for Feed the Gods, and me I guess, I did not have that at all here. So when there’s some real screen time for this creature it just didn’t affect me much. As opposed to a film like Sanchez’s Exists, which in my opinion had one of the best Bigfoots on film. Period. This film did right by not going for too many shots of the creature head-on, however, when they do go for it the creature only disappoints.
Feed-The-Gods-photo11-620x248All in all this is just a rough film. I respect trying to take a new look at the whole Bigfoot idea, and sort of zooming in on a more local legend aspect, but this does not work. The writing isn’t especially good. Not that I’d consider it horrible – I love the story itself. The plot wound up coming across boring when it could’ve been so much more with increased suspense and tension. The acting isn’t awful. It’s wooden, though, and this helps nothing. I did enjoy the older brother, played by Shawn Roberts; he was funny at times, others he was believable. Most of the other characters were either overplayed or just poorly done. He seemed like the only one with an actual personality.

Also, another little thing I didn’t like was the trailer – it is badly cut. I know the difference because I’ve watched the film, but I know a couple people already who’ve mentioned to me they assumed the three main characters were brothers and sister. That’s because the trailer is cut in the beginning with a line from Will (Roberts) stating “we want to go find mom and dad”, or something similar. There’s nothing else in the trailer to indicate the girl of the trio is not a relative; she’s in fact the girlfriend of Will’s younger brother. Nothing to get upset over. You discover quick enough once turning on the film they’re in a relationship together. This is an instance of pure laziness. Careless and sloppy to have a shoddy trailer, which has clearly confused more than a couple people after starting to watch this. It doesn’t ruin anything, but it sort of makes you wonder why they’d cut a trailer that way. The least they could’ve done is make sure the trailer was tight. Because the writing isn’t, and it falls apart basically after the premise gets into place.
feed-the-gods-1I can only give this 1.5 stars out of 5.
I don’t mean to hate on the film. Like I mentioned, I really loved the whole setup. There was a lot of promise in the story for the film, but unfortunately this didn’t extend into the plot and any of the rest of the film. You can’t even really call this a horror, as far as I’m concerned. I would mostly throw this into the category of a dark thriller.

I always try to give Bigfoot movies some breathing room, so to speak, because it isn’t easy to effectively do one right. I can’t extend much courtesy to Feed the Gods. It really let me down in the end. I didn’t even initially realize this was a film concerning Bigfoot. Once I realized it was, though, I got excited. Recently I saw Late Phases, which really came off as a great modern werewolf horror, and as far as werewolves go it’s hard for me to find a movie with their kind in it I really love; I loved that one, and it really did good for the genre in a fresh way. I hoped then that Feed the Gods might be capable of doing the same sort of thing with Bigfoot. I hoped in vain. That being said, I would like to see Braden Croft write and direct another feature because he has great ideas floating around.
Check this out if you have some time to kill, but don’t expect much, and don’t waste your money if there’s something else looking more promising in the VOD queue.

Nightcrawler & the Vulture-like News Media

Nightcrawler. 2014. Directed & Written by Dan Gilroy.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, and Riz Ahmed. Elevation Pictures.
Rated 14A. 117 minutes.
Crime/Thriller

★★★★★

Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is a bit of an unusual film. First off, Gilroy has never directed a feature film, or anything else to my knowledge. His start came with screenwriting. The only particularly worthy bit of writing Gilroy has the credit for would be an interesting 2006 film called The Fall. Other than that his screenplays have mostly been for box office fodder like Real Steel or more recently The Bourne Legacy. Yet out of nowhere Gilroy both writes and directs a small film like this.
With not only Jake Gyllenhaal but also veterans such as Rene Russo and Bill Paxton. I say small because this film only had a budget of $8-million. Believe it or not that is actually small compared to most movies you see at the theatre. Compared with the $125-million budget of Gilroy’s previous screenwriting venture The Bourne Legacy an $8-million film is an indie. However, what Nightcrawler lacks in budget it makes up for in heart and storytelling.
nightcrawler-jake-gyllenhaal1-600x400 Gyllenhaal is a tour-de-force in Nightcrawler. His character, Lou Bloom, is a wayward young man. The first we see Lou it is in the early dark of night on the edge of the city. He has a trunk full of stripped copper wire, and is currently in the process of cutting out a section of chain link fence. A security guard confronts him. He claims being lost. After decking the guard, and stealing his watch, Lou visits a construction site where he proceeds to auction off the fence and wire. Right away the message is clear: Lou is a scavenger. Through mere coincidence he ends up witnessing a brutal car crash. As two police officers try rescuing the injured driver, Lou watches a guerilla television crew trying to get exclusive, gruesome footage of the accident. Lou asks a member of the crew (Paxton) if he could get a job, but is shooed away.
On the morning news the following day, Lou sees the same footage he witnessed being taped the previous night, and is in awe. It brings a smile to his haunted looking face. This chance encounter leads to a new obsession Lou sets his sights on.

Essentially, the film is a look at modern society. Gyllenhaal plays a seriously motivated and possibly (no, definitely) very unstable young go-getter who only wants to find something at which he can be successful; something at which he can excel. I believe Gilroy is attempting to present a look at not only how the media is a cutthroat and vicious business, but how we as modern viewers are also demanding more and more of this extreme footage. We, as much as we may hate it or try and deny it, are a part, a big part, of the process. No longer are news channels simply a NASDAQ scroll on the bottom of the screen while reporters talk about elections and local events, global news, the like. Today the news is almost like a horror film reel at times from images of war to school shootings to all sorts of awful, terrible stuff.
Lou Bloom represents the younger generations today and how we widely hold the view that anything can be a career. Even in this case, where Lou risks his own safety and the safety of those around him to get even 60-seconds of footage to auction off at the highest price for different television networks competing against each other. In a day and age where the grotesqueness of reality television dominates ratings it isn’t hard to imagine there are already plenty of Lou Blooms already out there exploiting car crashes and victims of gun violence (et cetera) for money.
Point being: Nightcrawler is highly relevant to the day and age its been released, no doubt it will probably come to be – unfortunately – even more relevant as the role of the media and technology in media changes over the years ahead.
Night-crawler Most reviews of Nightcrawler have been positive. I cannot disagree at all. It is a cracking good film. Technology aside, it reminds me of a movie we could very well have seen in the late 1950s or 1960s. It’s like a creepy noir-ish style thriller. Gyllenhaal himself is worth the price of admission. He physically embodies the character of Lou; the way he walks and talks all frame him as a ghoul, out in the night to find dead bodies and other nasty business, or even dig up the damn graves if he has to – whatever it takes. It’s really remarkable to see the young kid from Donnie Darko continually choose challenging, unique roles now that he’s older.
Another thing I particularly liked about this film is the lack of a forced in love story. Gilroy utilizes Rene Russo, playing a television network executive, here as a strong female character who is both complicated and flawed. He does not write her as a typical love interest so common in a lot of other mainstream films. Although there are a few sexually charged moments between Gyllenhaal and Russo, the film never falls prey to pushing anything in our faces, and stops very short; the plot never gets bogged down with unnecessary love scenes of any kind. It’s refreshing to me.

I can’t help giving this a full 5 star recommendation. Though I often try to avoid nitpicking a film to death because it ruins the fun, I’m definitely capable of admitting when a movie is not the greatest. Even if it’s one I personally enjoy. But there is nothing about Nightcrawler I can pick apart. It’s a great film with a tight script, beautiful camerawork, and a genuinely starmaker performance from Jake Gyllnehaal. Get out and see this. Now.

For another stellar review of Nightcrawler, see Thy Critic Man’s review here.

Claire Denis Proves They’re All Bastards

Les Salauds (English title: Bastards). 2013. Dir. Claire Denis. Screenplay by Denis & Jean-Pol Fargeau.
Starring Vincent Lindon and Chiara Mastroianni. Wild Bunch.
Unrated. 100 minutes.
Drama

★★★★1/2

les_salauds_xlgMarco (Lindon) is a sailor. A well-known one at that. He’s long cut off any ties with his family. After his brother-in-law commits suicide, Marco’s sister asks him to come help take care of the man who is responsible- a man named Edouard Laporte (who looks creepily like the last pope, the scary German one). So Marco gets an apartment in the city to start investigating things himself. Soon, he begins having a sexual relationship with Laporte’s wife (Mastroianni). Not long after this the real doozy events start piling up.

First is the shocking revelation Marco discovers from his niece’s doctor: her vagina is so badly damaged they need to do reconstructive surgery on it in the near future to have any chance at repairing it. I hesitate to say anything further. Shortly after, Marco thinks he has the truth. Unfortunately for him, and his niece, things are not at all what they seem. For those who’ve experienced the work of Claire Denis before now, Bastards pretty much sits right on par with her most disturbing, unnerving work. Though Trouble Every Day is my favourite film of hers personally, this one comes into the top few numbers.
Denis focuses many of her films around violence, however, it’s not often she indulges the imagery in full force. Much of the imagery she chooses to use, while disturbing, is usually subtle, subdued. Denis understands the less is sometimes more. Certainly, when dealing with rape, and particularly here in Bastards a really vile sort (if you can imagine categorizing such a thing by its level of heinousness), it’s easier to let the audience conjure up their own, often more personal, images of these things. That eats at the core of an audience more than anything, even if they don’t realize it themselves. Denis does this in Bastards.
les-salauds-07-08-2013-6-g In particular, one specific image dominates the entire film. It happens just before the 45-minute mark, as Marco is shown around what looks to be an apparent backwoods porn studio of sorts, which caters to people who like to ‘do their own thing’. First, we’re treated to some horribly candid shots – cumshots. Denis lingers on Marco as he eyes the filth in thie place. Then, on the floor, Marco sees something. Something which I, on the first viewing, had to rewind just to see. I couldn’t believe it. I knew, knowing Denis and her work, this would probably end up being disturbing, or shocking in some sort of way. But I was definitely surprised, and sufficiently disturbed, once I saw what Marco saw himself. I won’t reveal it – let’s just say, he leaves with more knowledge and more anger than when he’d walked in there. Also, it calls to mind the novel Sanctuary by William Faulkner.
There’s another moment when Marco’s niece runs away from the hospital that really gets me. It isn’t graphic so much as it’s there, present, in your face, while Denis shows it to us in shadowy darkness, as if to say “imagine what else you can’t see right now”. We get glimpses of the niece and her vicious injuries, but only in tiny snapshots, barely enough to really register. Maybe that’s a good thing. The story is not for everyone. It’s not graphic visually, but once you put the pieces together behind the plot you really bite your fist a bit. And not in a good way. It will make you cringe. I feel I’m desensitized, mainly that’s as far as horror imagery goes. When it comes to subject matter there are still things which really bother me. For instance, rape, and even worse the rape of a minor. There are tough bits in here. Then of course the finale really blows your top off. And not in a good way.
Bastards 1 The final shot is beautiful, dark, disturbing, and Denis sets it to a Tindersticks cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Put Your Love In Me” – this will haunt me to the end of my days. The song itself is haunting, but coupled with the images Denis shows while it plays, just long enough before the credits eventually cut in to roll, this is absolutely crushing. It is amazing. Yet a terribly powerful moment that really had an effect on me. The way it’s shot, the music, what’s actually happening in the scene – remarkable. Possibly my favourite part, although highly unsettling, in the entire film. Denis is a master of her craft.

If you’re not into disturbing subject matter, if you can’t enjoy a plot laden with both sex and some graphic themes centered on sexual violence, then I suggest you take a pass on Denis’ Bastards. This is a challenging film. There are even bits you might feel a little conflicted towards. Marco’s relationship with Laporte’s wife gets into some very deep and murky territory at points. The ending of the film got to me, I must say. For me, the film was wonderful.
I dig the way Denis approaches tough subject matter. I also admire her talent as a director. There are very beautiful shots here amongst all of the misery in Bastards. It isn’t all a pit of despair. Not only that, but Denis always manages to find a good performance. From the likes of Beatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo to her regular work with Alex Descas (here as the doctor to Marco’s niece), there is always great work in her films. Here, Vincent Lindon really does a phenomenal job as the male lead. He is a bit mysterious, even dangerous. He’s got a bit of dirty side to him. Nowhere near as dirty as the people he investigates during his own little trip into the underworld, in search of whoever it was that hurt his niece. His performance really carries a film that could easily be dragged down by its intense and disturbing subject matter.
1173177_Bastards_directed_by_Claire_DenisAll in all I have to give this film a 4.5 out of 5 stars. It’s a fantastic, yet grim, work by Claire Denis. She continues to make challenging films. Most of her work is not easy, and maybe not totally accessible. But when you sit through one of them and really absorb things, they get under your skin. Denis has caused many nights of wondering for me, particularly with her film Trouble Every Day, as I mentioned earlier being my favourite work of hers. Bastards is almost neck and neck with that one. Hard to choose between. Very different, but also both very amazing pieces of work. The only reason I don’t give Bastards a full 5 star rating is because I wish there was a little more SOMETHING to it. I’m not sure what that something is, but I just know there’s a tiny little bit of something, whatever it may be, missing from this film. Not that it detracts from the rest of it. I was just left wanting more at the end. Not in a way that excited me, but a small disappointment, as if I’d been waiting for one other thing to leap out at me. Regardless of that, I think Bastards is well worth watching. Not only is it challenging, it’s just a well-written and well-acted film. Denis’ films are all visually interesting, no matter what their subject. This is no exception to that rule. If you’re ready for something fairly dark and stormy some night, pick up a copy of Bastards, and you won’t regret it even if the story is tough to chew at times.

But one thing’s for certain – don’t count on the ending to cheer you up and band-aid those emotional cuts and bruises. It’ll only beat you up some more.

Frankenstein: Fun But Less Penetrating Shelley

Frankenstein. 1931. Dir.  James Whale. Screenplay by Garrett Fort & Francis Edward Faragoh.
Starring Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles, and Boris Karloff. Universal Pictures.
Unrated. 70 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★★ (Film)
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)

For my review of the excellent sequel, 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein, click here.

I won’t bore anyone by recounting the plot of Frankenstein because, not to sound snobbish or anything, if you haven’t seen it by now then that’s ridiculous. This really is one of the classic horrors of the film world. Regardless, everyone knows the story of Frankenstein because it’s one of those tales that really stood the test of time; in fact when Mary Shelley wrote the book it was ahead of its time. And if you haven’t seen it you’ve probably seen some other work which had its primary influence developed due to Shelley’s novel.
Poster - Frankenstein_01That being said the film is excellent. My personal problem with this version of Frankenstein is mainly a subjective thing. I try not to negatively judge the film adaptation of a novel of which I’m a fan. It isn’t fair. Film and novels are two entirely separate universes. While reading a novel you have no choice but to use your imagination, guided by the words of an author. However, while watching a film you’re essentially subjected to the imagination of the filmmakers. You have no choice but to shut off your imagination, for the most part (depending on what sort of film you’re watching – avant garde film, for instance, usually requires the imagination to be in full gear). Either way, I can’t help but feel as if James Whale’s adaptation of the Shelly novel missed out on some spectacular opportunities.
Clive, Colin (Frankenstein)_01Now, of course, this was made in 1931. Though at the time I’m sure it was a lot of money, the film only cost a little over $250,000 to make (it would go on to make $12-million in domestic box office and who knows how much in video sales, and continues to make). I can forgive them to a certain extent for not fully going along with the entire story. There’s also the fact portions of Shelley’s novel are written in epistolary pieces, which frame the story; letters to and from characters. These, which occur right at the beginning of Frankenstein, are set on an expedition near the North Pole. My first thought as to why the screenwriters (the credits for the writing are actually a mess, as far as I’m concerned) decided not to start the film the way in which the novel begins is because maybe they felt audiences at the time might not respond to Henry Frankenstein (another change I just didn’t like) the same way. In the novel, we meet Victor Frankenstein through the eyes of Captain Robert Walton (who is writing the letters); he is near the North Pole, in the freezing cold, disturbed, lost, all sorts of a mess. Before he recounts the story of his terror-filled life, we already know he has suffered the consequences of whatever he’s done. I just feel as if the novel’s opening works perfectly for the characters. But of course, Henry Frankenstein is quite a different sort than Victor.

The monster looks great for 1931. Not to mention Boris Karloff does an incredible job of acting as Frankenstein’s monster. The performance isn’t overdone. Some of the subtleties in Karloff’s Monster are amazing. The first time we actually see him it’s brilliance. Everything moves so slow. And of course there’s the famous scene of the Monster befriending a little girl; you almost well up with fear beforehand, wondering exactly what will happen, and the Monster goes right ahead subverting our expectations. Until things go a little bit too far. It’s a really wonderful moment.
However, all that being said, I still prefer the descriptions of the monster in Shelley’s novel to the visualization in film. You can’t simply pass that off as this being done in 1931, either. It’s not the problem. They simply toned it down. Yes, that has to do with audiences in 1931, but that didn’t totally limit them. The make-up effects didn’t have to be terribly gruesome. I just imagine Frankenstein’s monster looking less like a man in a lot of regards. Karloff looks great, and actually does appear creepy a lot of times, mostly in his facial expressions. But the Monster in the novel is far more terrifying. I know, again, this is a very subjective line of critiquing. Whale’s film did a fine job enough with the horror, but that there were a lot of other opportunities he could have mined to really horrify audiences. I can only imagine seeing this at the time – I would’ve shit myself. Still, this movie does a great job even today of being highly creepy. There are just a lot of missed chances I wish Whale had taken.
Annex - Karloff, Boris (Frankenstein)_04Aside from my problems with the translation into film, it’s still a classic, as I mentioned in the beginning. The iconic status of Frankenstein’s Monster is unparalleled. He is parodied in countless other films and television shows (I think of, more recently, a skit on Chappelle’s Show involving African-Americanized versions of Frankenstein’s monster, as well as the Mummy and the Wolf-Man). The core of the story about Frankenstein and his Monster has been used in various other novels, films, and so on; the idea of playing god, making a man, et cetera. It is something that endures on and on. It’ll continue to do so, as every Halloween you no doubt see at least one kid walking around with a Frankenstein’s Monster costume on (although everybody mistakenly calls the Monster Frankenstein when really he has no name, and is Frankenstein’s Monster… but whatever). It’s one of those tales we cannot forget. And film adaptations help these novels extend their lives further into new generations.
Annex - Karloff, Boris (Frankenstein)_NRFPT_04The Blu ray release by Universal Pictures is absolutely magnificent. The picture was digitally restored, and it’s shocking how great the film looks in such beautiful high definition. I’d seen Frankenstein countless times before. Once I watched this I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not only is the picture worth the price, but there are a bunch of really interesting special features. One such extra is a short film called Boo! which is a comedy lampooning Universal’s own horrors such as The Cat Creeps and Frankenstein, as well as their own Dracula; however, instead of using footage from their own version they used the German Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens. It’s actually a riot. You can imagine this being done today, honestly. A few jokes about cosmetic surgery and congress, a couple more using quick reverse-fast forward sequences, and hilarity ensues.

Other extras include a fun little bit called Monster Tracks: basically at various points throughout the film bits of trivia will pop up on the screen. For instance, there are some fun pieces concerning the scene where Frankenstein ‘plays’ with the girl by the lake (such as how Whale wanted Karloff to throw the girl in insisting “You see it’s all part of the ritual”). Furthermore, you’ve got some little documentaries & featurettes like “Karloff: The Gentle Monster” (including interviews with everyone from several Karloff biographers to the likes of Joe Dante, Ramsey Campbell and Richard Gordon) and “The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster”. These are some awesome little bits to fill in the release. We got a lot of great insight behind the film itself, as well as its star, the Monster himself Boris Karloff.

As a film, I give Whale’s Frankenstein a 4 out of 5. It’s classic, it’s amazing, yes, but I really do feel they missed opportunities here. If they were able to adapt Shelley’s actual novel they should have used some of the best bits, which unfortunately they did not. It doesn’t ruin the film at all. Look at this as a much more subjective review than I would normally do. I only do it this way because the novel is an absolute masterpiece. Some say different, that it’s overrated. So wrong. It’s near perfect as a horror novel can be.
The Blu ray release gets a flawless 5 out of 5 star rating. How can it not? The picture alone is enough to justify buying the Blu ray. I can’t get over it. Everything looks so wonderful for a film that was done over 80 years ago now. Plus, all the features included on Universal’s restored version are a blast. You can spend hours going through this disc just to get through all the wonderful material they’ve added.
Annex - Karloff, Boris (Frankenstein)_06I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t seen this film, please, go do it. Especially if you’re a horror fan, or consider yourself a horror buff. Your viewing isn’t done until you’ve seen this. And also, if you have yet to read the novel, go get a copy. Shelley is an absolute master. A really wonderful read. And just like a film, it will grip you, and shock you at times. One of my all-time favourites.

Late Phases is Modern Werewolf Heaven

Late Phases. 2014.  Dir. Adriån García Bogliano. Screenplay by Eric Stolze.
Starring Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, and Lance Guest. Dark Sky Films/Glass Eye Pix.
Not Rated. 95 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★

Werewolf movies are a real hit or miss for me. That being said, I love a good werewolf flick. If it’s done right. The problem with creature features in general is the presentation of the monster itself. People want to say it’s shown too much, not enough, too soon, too late. So many complaints. Honestly, I could care less how long the monster is onscreen. Though I care about two things: as long as it looks decent, and as long as the rest of the film holds up its end. Late Phases is a particularly interesting character piece. Of course it all revolves around the werewolf. It’s the catalyst for the events in the film.
But the whole story really revolves around Ambrose (Damici).
late-phases-1024x425Ambrose moves into a new neighbourhood, into a new home. His son (played by a favourite of mine, Ethan Embry) tries to help him settle, but his father is a bit of a surly war veteran, retired from the United States Armed Forces; he served during the Vietnam war. On the first night in his new place, Ambrose experiences some strange events. Next door is a lot of noise. Banging on the door.  Followed later by screams, a loud crashing, terrible sounds. Something kills the lady next door. Then it bursts its way into his home, killing his service dog. Ambrose is left with his bloody canine friend in his arms, but alive.

Something seems to be plaguing the community. The werewolf of course could not fully be identified by Ambrose. He is blind. This is what heightens the plot of Late Phases from a simple creature feature to a werewolf horror containing a character study.
Also, while I do enjoy certain werewolf films focusing on a person becoming the monster, it’s excellent that Late Phases opts to instead take on the perspective of an outsider. It really works to have Damici’s character as a blind man. The heightened sense of smell he sorts of develops (nothing inhuman, simply an army man whose whole professional life perhaps has been spent relying on his abilities to pay attention to more detail than the average man, and now blind uses it as a means of retaining some sort of control over his life) almost puts him in the same league as the werewolf; he has an animalistic side, coupled with the war veteran in him.LATE-PHASES-e1416377111432 Damici himself does an excellent job as Ambrose. Not only does Damici nail the movements of a blind man (at least as far as I can tell), he really gets into this character. We’ve seen the ‘wounded war veteran’ a hundred times; some performances are great, others very typical or even boring. The Vietnam vet in particular has been done to death. Everything from the 1980s horror-comedy House to one of my favourite films of all-time, featuring Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken both playing fantastic roles, The Deer Hunter. However, Damici manages to not go all the typical routes. His blindness is a part of that, but really he keeps it subdued. He isn’t the typical binge drinking or depressed type of person. Ambrose is most certainly a cynical and mostly hopeless, in terms of his outlook on life, yet he isn’t a man without purpose. And once his dog is killed by the werewolf, he knows something is not right. He can tell. This particular event gives him more purpose. Damici plays Ambrose in a subtle fashion, which really helps Late Phases elevate itself from just a creature feature to something more.

There are some other little treats as far as acting goes in this film. Ever since I first saw Manhunter I thought Tom Noonan was perfect for horror. He is fascinatingly creepy, and a wonderful actor. Here he plays a priest who gets close (or as close as anybody can get) to Ambrose. Even more, Larry Fessenden shows up, right off the bat even, in a few scenes as a man trying to sell a headstone to Ambrose. All around everyone does a great job, too. Even Fessenden in his brief part.
As I mentioned before, Ethan Embry is an actor I really enjoy. He has this sort of energy about it which really lends itself to dark roles in horror and thrillers, or even just a very black comedy like his recent film Cheap Thrills. He does a good job playing son Will to Damici’s Ambrose. They give off that troubled relationship quite easily. A great pairing here. One scene I really enjoyed comes when Ambrose nearly shoots Will after believing him to be an intruder initially. This gives way to some real serious father-son drama for a few moments. Really tense.
LATEPHASESREVFEATThe cinematography is also pretty awesome. AdriĂĄn GarcĂ­a Bogliano, who previously did the gritty rape-revenge thriller I’ll Never Die Alone, as well as Penumba, Here Comes the Devil, and the segment “B is for Bigfoot” in The ABCs of Death, really knows how to draw out creepy imagery. There are times when it’s very subtle, like the acting in Late Phases, while at others it can be very striking. The beginning of the film opens with a real bang. It isn’t long until we’re treated to a look at the monster. Leading up to this there are a couple shadowy shots, but Bogliano doesn’t pull any punches. There are some good little bloody bits. There are also a few quieter moments, such as Ambrose sitting in the dark of the shadows; he slowly pulls back into the black, disappearing. There’s enough balance between outright horror and restraint to make this a creature feature, but also put it in the category of being a slow burn. Bogliano works on the characters and then brings out shades of horror from time to time.

Then in the last 25 minutes we’re treated to a transformation. Yes, you do get to see a man become a werewolf here. Even if his perspective is not the chief point-of-view throughout the film. And this transformation scene is really awesome. The effects were pretty great, and definitely old school. It helped that the whole thing didn’t look like a CGI-fest because that’s often what takes me out of a good film. The creature doesn’t have to be perfect, but if we’re going to have a good look at it, as we do a few times throughout Late Phases and particularly during the finale, it has to look at least decent. And CGI just can’t cut it in that sense. At least for me. I like to see at least some use of practical make-up effects when it comes to werewolves. I don’t know, maybe that’s silly of me – who knows. It helps make horror specifically look better if the effects are done in practical fashion. CGI takes the life out of it. It doesn’t have to be every bit practical, but the more lifeless and computer-ish things look the more the humanity comes out of it. I know we’re talking about a movie concerning werewolves. There just still needs to be some sort of way to emotionally connect people to a horror film, if it’s going to be a great one. And once the effects, essentially the “pay offs”, become more and more fake there’s less and less connection on the part of the audience. In my opinion. Late Phases succeeds by having a pretty creepy werewolf design.
Screen-shot-2014-10-23-at-2.01.34-PM-620x400Overall I’d have to say Late Phases is a near flawless addition to the werewolf sub-genre of horror films. A great central performance by Nick Damici. The film is basically a character study dropped into the framework of a werewolf horror. It works because Damici is a talented actor. Late Phases also knocks it out of the park as a creature feature style flick. Especially in the finale. You’ll really get a kick out of Damici’s battle with the werewolf. It really pays its dues as a werewolf movie at the end when we get to see a little more of the creature (plus extra wildness I’d not anticipated & of course I will not spoil) and there are balls-out sequences to really get excited about.
This a 5 out of 5 star film for me. It completely subverted my expectations. I thought for awhile I knew where things were going, but then the movie took a different path. I can’t often say that these days about too many films.

Movies like this one, as well as the recent indie Starry Eyes, are the reason why I pay less and less attention to the ‘horror’ bullshit pulling in hundreds of millions at the box office, and keep more of an eye on independent horror, and any smaller films willing to take chances instead of sticking with a moneymaking formula or whatever is the trend of today.
See this now! It’s available on VOD. Support it. We need more horror like this in a market inundated with shit.

Jug Face is a Fever Dream of Religious Backwoods America

Jug Face. 2013. Directed & Written by Chad Crawford Kinkle.
Starring Sean Bridgers, Lauren Ashley Carter, Kaitlin Cullum, Sean Young, and Larry Fessenden. Modern Distributors.
Rated R. 81 minutes.
Horror

★★★★ (Film)
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)

When I’d first heard the premise of Jug Face I absolutely knew I wanted to see it. Then of course I realized both Sean Bridgers and Larry Fessenden were set to be in the film – I was hooked. I’ve always been a fan of Fessenden in particular as a filmmaker, however, he can also be a treat in front of the camera. Bridgers came to my attention first through Deadwood, and of course more recently I’ve enjoyed his work in The Woman which also included one of the stars of this film I haven’t seen much of: Lauren Ashley Carter. These three in particular, along with a couple others (such as Sean Young whom I’ve enjoyed before in Blade Runner and Wall Street), really do a great job acting here. One of the pitfalls in many horrors, whether they be older or more modern, is that they’re often not well acted. Sometimes, if they plot is strong enough and the writing is tight, a horror can get by without stellar acting. However, if the plot or writing can’t cut the mustard so to speak then a horror really has to really on some decent, or better, acting to draw people in. If not it’s all for bust. Well Chad Crawford Kinkle’s Jug Face is packed with both great acting and tight writing.
jug_faceThe story is a peculiar and unique one, which is something I loved right off the bat about Jug Face.
A young girl named Ada (Carter), pregnant with her brother’s child, lives in a backwoods town where a pit is worshipped as a healing power for the whole community. In turn, one of the locals Dawai (Bridgers) is spoken to by the pit and told who is to be sacrificed. He then creates a face jug for each person. This person is given to the pit. One day, however, Ada finds a jug with her face on it, so she hides it. And this is the plot of Jug Face.
It is a fresh perspective on horror. It isn’t the typical backwoods slasher or “cannibals in the woods” type trope in the genre. This is a great way to use the backwoods setting and create something new to give to the world of horror. In my personal opinion, Kinkle has a great talent for the strange.

For the most part I enjoyed the whole film from start to finish. I only had problems with one part of the plot. I don’t want to ruin anything, so I’ll just say that it’s a little more than we need in terms of the supernatural – if the film didn’t have this little added part, nothing would have suffered. The pit itself is enough for the film. It’s mysterious to a certain extent. But this part (I’ll say it involves a ghost) just sort of feels forced. Ada, as a character, could have gone through the motions she does without Kinkle having to resort to a ghost as motivation. I love the character of Ada, and maybe I’m giving her too much credit, but I feel like she would have decided to do what she does without being lead by a ghost. It felt maybe a bit too expository to have the ghostly aspect in there. Though it doesn’t ruin anything. Kinkle still tells a fascinatingly weird tale.
capture_004_13102013_144121As for the Blu ray release, I am highly pleased. The picture, of course, is absolutely fantastic. There are some wonderful shots in this film that ought to be enjoyed in the highest definition. It’s really a visual treat. The special features for Jug Face also surpassed my expectations. Not only is there a great little documentary feature titled “The Story of Jug Face” which runs about half an hour (includes cast and crew interviews and some behind-the-scenes filmmaking stuff that I loved!), it also came with Kinkle’s short film Organ Grinder. This little horror short, clocking in just past the six-minute mark, is a real shocker. I loved every single second. It’s about a woman whose mother is killed, after which she seduces a man possessed by a demon for purposes uncertain. We do find out her purpose near the end. What a great little horror. I highly recommend seeking it out. It makes this Blu ray release really worth it. Such a great addition to the film. You get to see Kinkle’s sensibilities in the short film coupled with those of Jug Face, and this provides a bit more insight into him as a filmmaker. Great stuff.
jugface4As a film, I have to give Jug Face a 4 out of 5 stars. It is a great movie with some interesting performances. In particular, Bridgers really does a fantastic job with the character of Dawai. Carter also does great work, as a flawed female character who is interesting, as well as strong. However, the movie is tripped up a little with the ghost stuff.  It would have benefitted to cut that stuff out, and leave the film’s supernatural aspects to the pit, its mysterious powers, the cult-like community. All that worked. That being said, once again, this does not ruin anything. It’s merely a part of Jug Face I don’t particularly care for. Other than that, it’s amazing.

For the Blu ray release this is absolutely 5 stars. A wonderful documentary, which includes Kinkle himself talking about how he came up with the story and other bits and pieces about the process of making the film itself. Also, the fact Organ Grinder is on here makes this a must have Blu ray.
jugface3If you like unique horror, this indie film is worth your time. Kinkle has a great eye for horror. His story is fresh, and doesn’t get bogged down with a lot of the typical trash in the backwoods horror sub-genre. I highly recommend it. You won’t be disappointed if you’re into something a little different and outside the run of the mill.

Dario Argento’s Deep Red: Vibrant Blood & Mystery

Profondo Rosso/Deep Red.  1975.  Dir. Dario Argento.  Starring David Hemmings, Macha Meril, Dario Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia, Giuliana Calandra, Glauco Mauri, Clara Calamai, and Piero Mazzinghi.  Rizzoli Film.  18+.  126 minutes.

★★★★★ (Film)
★★★★★ (Blue Underground Blu ray release)

Not having seen every single one of Dario Argento’s films, but many, I can’t necessarily compare Profondo Rosso (English title: Deep Red) to everything else he has done. However, so far among the films of his I have seen, this has to be my favourite.
deep-red
Profondo Rosso follows Marcus Daly (Hemmings) after he witnesses the bloody murder of a psychic (Meril) from the street. I hesitate to say too much else for fear of ruining things. It’s a great, twisted story. The creepy child’s song which becomes the killer’s cue will stick with you long after the credits roll. The story is great. There a plenty of red herrings along the way, plenty of dark alleys with which to trouble yourself. There are a lot of giallo films out there which meander too much. Argento himself is guilty of this from time to time with certain films of his. However, in Profondo Rosso I find the story is really tight, and Argento successfully weaves a creepy tale.

The look of the film is great, as are most Argento pieces. In particular, a typical ‘eyes in the dark’ scene becomes even creepier, and very different here with much attention to the colours. Argento seems to deal over and over with amazing colour schemes. Here, there is a lot of red and black.
Deep Red 1The death scenes are genius. On the Blue Underground Blu ray release, Bernardino Zapponi relates how he and Argento would come up with relatable ways for people to die. For instance, Zapponi comments on how most people do not & never will know how it feels to be shot by a gun, but everyone has at one time burned themselves with hot water, and this is how we get one of the deaths in Profondo Rosso. Similar is the idea of everyone having banged themselves off the corner of a piece of furniture roughly at one time or another forming yet another death in the film.
Deep Red - Marc & HelgaThe exchanges between David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi are classic. The script Zapponi and Argento wrote is superb, and definitely one of the better written giallos I’ve seen.
The acting itself is marvelous. Hemmings was a talented actor.  Currently I’m about to watch him in Blow-Up, as well (for the first time). Daria Nicolodi fits right in with an Argento film, which is why she turns up in many of his later works like the spectacularly weird Phenomena, as well as Tenebre, Opera, and others. She also appears in the underrated Shock, directed by master of all that is horror – the legendary Mario Bava.

It helps a horror-thriller when the actors can be spot on, so as to give it a legitimacy many horror genre films seriously lack. Especially nowadays, as remakes are more common (some are okay while most are generally, though I do hate to generalize in most cases, uninspired), and the teen-slasher genre has ran amok.
deepred4All in all a 5 out of 5 – both for the movie itself, as well as this particular Blu ray release.
In terms of the film on its own, I wish the individual who played the murderer had been someone different. I would say more, but risk spoiling too much. In any case, it certainly doesn’t ruin the film at all.  Just nitpicking, which I try to stay away from usually.
Highly recommended film. Especially for those just beginning an interest in giallo films, or Dario Argento himself. It’s a strange film, yet still one of the few least strange of Argento’s films, in my opinion. It is a little more accessible than some others if only because of the plot. Not to say this is simple. I just think it’s a good starting point for those wanting to explore his work. Regardless of how you come to watch it, there is lots to love. You not only get a beautifully disturbing film, it has an amazing soundtrack. Courtesy of Goblin. Argento and Goblin together are like gravy with turkey and potatoes – it just works, all the time.
Watch this as soon as you get the chance. You will not regret it.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is Celluloid Terror

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.  1974.  Dir.  Tobe Hooper.  Starring Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partain, Wiliam Vail, Teri McMinn, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, and Gunnar Hansen.  Vortex.  18+.  83 minutes.

★★★★★

Between a mix of Tobe Hooper’s raw filmmaking style, and my ability to empathize fairly well, I was absolutely shaken when I first saw The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It’s the reason why horror filmmakers are perpetually fascinated by that same recurring plot of “murderous cannibal family lives in the woods and kills people off who wander into their home”. It’s one of the reasons I love horror films in general.  It influenced, and continues to influence, a number of generations of horror fans and filmmakers alike.texas1z.png I remember my mother, who isn’t a stranger to horror (she read most of Stephen King’s work when I was growing up and passed all the books of his she owned onto me), telling me about the first time she watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and said it’d terrified her; quote unquote, the scariest thing ever. Of course, being a young male and thinking my mom couldn’t possibly offer me any insight on the horror genre, I went ahead and watched it anyways.
Needless to say, my mom has a fairly accurate opinion about what a scary film is. The first time I saw the movie is forever imprinted in my brain.

There’s something never right even from the very start of TCM, as we get the cringe-worthy sound accompanying the camera flashes while viewing macabre images. Then of course it kicks up a notch after the gang we’re going on a trip with along the Texas highway picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be far beyond stable. Hooper works in a lot of suspense, and an absolutely unparalleled air of dread before finally letting Leatherface loose for the first time. I remember first watching this when I was 12 years old (I was only born in 1985, so it would have been around ’97 somewhere), surely not supposed to be according to my parents. When Leatherface first blows through that door with that shriek of his, attacking the unsuspecting victim, I was absolutely terrified.
The-Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre-75Even 20 years or so after first scaring audiences in the mid-seventies, it was still working its magical horror on people on my sorry ass. Today, I can still throw it on and be shocked when first meeting Grandpa; the scene where they try to get him to take some of her blood is at once horrifying, and also darkly comic. After all the years of desensitizing myself with horror of all kinds, I can still find a creepy thrill from TCM.
I put myself in the shoes of these people- imagine encountering something like Leatherface. You’d be petrified. The whole family are disturbing characters in their own right, and they bring some black comedy to such a wild horror film. Hooper’s raw way of filming TCM brought a whole new element to the idea of horror, and people for years to come (and still continuing on into the foreseeable future) would try emulating its feel, but nothing can ever top it for the gritty terror it induces.
You can pretend all you want, but if Leatherface burst out from some shut-up door in an old house where you were looking around, you’d not only be terrified, you would most likely die. Along with letting loose most bodily functions. Isn’t that terrifying enough? Hooper didn’t have to add much to make this terrifying for me except the script itself, and the performances that came out of it. I feel a lot of it, if not all, was very natural, and very much how I would imagine people might really react.
THE-TEXAS-CHAIN-SAW-MASSACRE-1974-450x252All in all, this movie gets a full 5-star rating. Hands down. One of the best, and continually most frightening horror films I have yet to see. It always makes me wonder when I am deep in the woods camping somewhere, or hiking, if there really may be people out there living in a big creepy house, killing whoever they can manage to get through their doors. Any film that lingers in your mind, making you wonder the impossible is a solid film to me.
I also love how Hooper was partly inspired by the tales he heard of the infamous Ed Gein, whom always played Muse to some of other very famous horror icons including Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, as well as the iconic mommy’s boy Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho; Gein used to make things out of skin, including a ‘woman suit’ he apparently used to put on and howl at the moon. You can clearly see where the inspiration for dear ole Leatherface came from while peering into the dark world of Gein. Not that he was like Leatherface much more than at face value (get it – face?), or any of the other characters, but there are bits and pieces of Gein littered throughout them. The most outrageous, of course, are here in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and I love every last second of it.