From Independent Film

RESOLUTION Questions Our Cinematic Participation in Murder

An indie that asks us at times uncomfortable questions about our participation in the process of murder on film.

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The Limits of Friendship: Raw Realism in NASTY BABY

A gay couple & their close friend decide on having a baby together. All their plans are derailed when a momentary act of frustration boils over into something unimaginably worse.

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Some Kind of Hate: A Ghostly, Savage Bullying Tale

Some Kind of Hate. 2015. Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer. Screenplay by Brian DeLeeuw & Mortimer.
Starring Grace Phipps, Spencer Breslin, Andrew Bryniarski, Sierra McCormick, Lexi Atkins, Brando Eaton, Ronen Rubinstein, Maestro Harrell, Noah Segan, Michael Polish, Justin Prentice, & Jasper Polish. Caliber Media Company/Revek Entertainment.
Not Rated. 82 minutes.
Horror

★★★1/2
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Low budget indies can go many ways, from weird and wild, to impressive, to downright pieces of trash. I’ve seen a bunch of reviews saying Some Kind of Hate falls into the last of those categories, not many giving it any praise. And while there are some places where the movie could use a huge tweak, namely some of the acting and parts of the screenplay, this is a decent indie horror. It is at times gory, serving up more than a fair share of blood, and others it comes off as a tense, brutal horror with teeth.
Part of the movie, a large part, plays on the collective knowledge, and for some experience, of bullying. It’s not hard to fall into enjoying this if you’ve been a victim yourself, or even if you’re someone who bullied others in high school then changed years later for the better. The story of Lincoln, our main protagonist, is a tough one at times. Just watching him be pushed to the brink, even those first few minutes of the film is harrowing. But on top of everything else there’s a supernatural aspect to Some Kind of Hate. While director Adam Egypt Mortimer and his writing partner (on this picture) Brian DeLeeuw could take a typical revenge-type route with this story, they instead opt to turn it into an entirely different picture. The savagery ultimately makes things intense, but Ronen Rubinstein does a fantastic job in the central role, and the plot keeps everything pretty damn interesting.
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Lincoln Taggert (Ronen Rubinstein) has been bullied for years, by the people at school who call him a faggot, push him around, and even at home where his father (Andrew Bryniarski) drinks and yells at him for no reason. One day, Lincoln finally steps up and protects himself. Except for the fact he stabs his bully in the face with a fork.
This brings Lincoln to a camp for… wayward teens, such as himself. There he meets a few people, such as Isaac (Spencer Breslin), some of whom seem overly interested in his past. Problem is that the abuse Lincoln suffered only starts all over again when a teen at the camp named Willie (Maestro Harrell) bullies him. It’s as if nothing will ever change for Lincoln. This time, though, there’s someone watching, someone who cares and understands exactly what he’s going through. A girl named Moira (Sierra McCormick) was driven to kill herself there years ago. And after Lincoln summons her still angry spirit to help avenge him, she unleashes hell upon the camp and anyone who falls into her path.
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Even though the budget of the film is small, I love the look. Not simply the choices in direction and cinematography in general, but also how they use anamorphic lenses which gives it a throwback feel. Most of all this aesthetic makes everything seem natural – the daytime sunny scenes feel very light, very beautiful, whereas the darker moments look even more grim. The camera work at times is a little unsteady, yet it works. Because during most scenes there’s a steady and framed flow. Then once Lincoln gets agitated and thrown into a situation where he either must fight or run, the handheld camera comes into play, throwing us off balance and unnerving our senses. This isn’t a film that relies totally on a shaky cam aesthetic, it employs the technique where appropriate. When used correctly, it’s a solid way to express the raging emotions of teenagers, specifically Lincoln in his world of near constant abuse and ridicule.
Added to the look, Some Kind of Hate has a great soundtrack filled with hard metal. More than that, I love the sound design and the score. There’s this ambient, haunting sound floating through certain scenes, which again amplifies into a heavier distorted noise when the stress on Lincoln gets heavier. These are excellent moves that, along with acting, help emphasize how Lincoln loses control. Composer Robert Allaire (I know him from his additional music credits on American Horror Story) does an impressive bit of work, and his score combines with the sound design to create a general air of uneasiness at so many different points. With such good sound design, score, and cinematography, Some Kind of Hate does better things than so many other indie flicks of its type.
Ronen Rubinstein and Sierra McCormick are both excellent here. Can’t say the others are all as good, but these two make up for any shortcomings the film has in the end. Rubinstein is dark and brooding, he truly captures the emotion of a person who’s been beaten down hard by the people around him, even his own family. As the time goes on, he comes out of his shell slightly, goaded by a girl who seems to understand him. There’s a totally different quality to the Lincoln character, which is great because revenge-styled films are usually starkly contrasted; here, Lincoln becomes different, but not completely. He sort of glides in his transition, eventually becoming someone a little different than he was in the beginning. Rubinstein can be loud and boisterous when needed, in those angst-y scenes, then there’s the quiet, subdued nature of Lincoln he brings out in other moments. With McCormick playing the Moira character, their chemistry is unbelievable. And the contrast between Lincoln and Moira is huge, as it turns out. At least once the plot progresses and we come further towards the end. McCormick is filled with anger, she expresses it perfectly without always having to resort to a yell or a scream, though, she certainly does give us those now and then. But it’s her emotive abilities, the way she conveys things with her eyes that give her performance more intensity. She’s able to be both coy and smug, as well as vengeful and nasty. A proper combination of talented actors in McCormick and Rubinstein. I guess Grace Phipps isn’t bad, either. Nothing compared to those two.
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Without hesitation, Some Kind of Hate gets 3&1/2 stars. There are plenty of other similarly styled horrors out there, lower budget indie flicks, which try hard and never hit the mark. Meanwhile, this film has a nice little plot, a couple solid lead actors, and then lots of nasty blood and gore. Even with the gory bits, I’ve seen much more vicious films in that regard. But this one brings it to an acceptable level, one we’d expect with a spirit coming back after her terrible suicide to take vengeance for another fellow victim of bullying. Every element here does well to create an atmospheric horror. There are times I wish the script were tighter, and others I hoped for better acting (nice to see Noah Segan in there even if in a small role; he is a treat, always!). Overall, I’ve seen much worse. It’s refreshing to see revenge switched up now and then from the cliche plotlines we expect. The supernatural stuff adds a twist that I found plenty enjoyable as a lover of horror. Check it out and give it a chance. Don’t listen to all the negatives, judge for yourself.

The Inhabitants: Ghostly Apparitions on a Budget

The Inhabitants. 2015. Directed/Written by Michael & Shawn Rasmussen.
Starring Elise Couture, Michael Reed, India Pearl, Vasilios Asimakos, Danny Bryck, Judith Chaffee, Erica Derrickson, Edmund Donovan, Victoria Nugent, and Rebecca Whitehurst. Lascaux Media/Sinister Siblings Films. Unrated. 90 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★
the-inhabitants-posterA few weeks back, one half of the filmmaker duo the Rasmussen Brothers (writers of John Carpenter’s The Ward) contacted me in regards to their new film The Inhabitants. Now available on VOD, the Rasmussen Bros were kind enough to give me the Vimeo link and password to watch the movie ahead of time. Only now getting around to it – busy man here – I must say, the depressingly low rating on IMDB is exactly that: depressing. Now, to start, I don’t go by what IMDB tells me; it’s a site I use, I rate things on my own scale to try and balance so many of the unfair ratings of decent to good (sometimes to great) films. However, it’s not something I gauge films by, as I leave that to my own sensibilities and taste. There are, yes, certain aspects of film you can objectively look at and say “This is well done” or “This is bad”, yet so much of how we experience any art, film included, is entirely subjective. You’ll never separate yourself entirely from the subjective part of your mind because in all your opinions you’re coming from some place, a location. I always keep that in mind with my reviews and ratings, so should you if you’re reading mine or anyone else’s opinion on a film – I recognize my reviews are from a subjective place.
That being said, The Inhabitants is not a great film. Though, it has some really great aspects. Not breaking any fresh ground particularly, the Rasmussen Bros do create a pretty decent aesthetic from their use of the camera itself to the nice spooky sound design. Perhaps a meatier plot would’ve done the film well – it feels a lot like the skeleton is there, the story itself, just not enough actual plot points other than vague elements through which the characters allowed to walk. Still, I found this indie haunted house-style movie effective in terms of its mood and the generally solid atmosphere of creepiness the filmmakers were able to build from start to finish.
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 2.46.51 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 2.47.07 PMWhen Jessica (Elise Couture) and Dan (Michael Reed) purchase a quaint little bed and breakfast in the New England countryside, it seems like the American Dream – idyllic forest and sprawling landscapes. Then they start to find problems, such as the nagging legend of a witch and the strange occurrences happening throughout the old house.
In the beginning, even the weird moments Jessica experiences aren’t too threatening. Slowly as the couple get acclimated to the bed and breakfast, its surroundings, the nearby Witch Museum, it is painfully clear the house’s own history is much darker, more terrible than any real estate agent would ever be willing to admit.
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 2.46.33 PMWhat I do enjoy about The Inhabitants is the aesthetic overall. The sound design itself adds a wonderful layer of spookiness. There’s no score so much as there are a few small pieces, plus a ton of the sound design in terms of very dark, brooding and destabilizing sounds; it puts you on an edge, even if there’s nothing exactly threatening or sinister happening the at times dark ambient noise in the background makes everything feel uneasy.
Something which makes the sound design better and more effective is how the Rasmussen Bros don’t opt for a bunch of jump scares in order to spook us. Yes, there are some in there, but it’s not a relied upon method the director-writer pair are interested in exploiting. I love a good jump scare, if it’s properly done and doesn’t become a trope within one movie itself; nothing worse than a technique overdone, regardless of what it is in the end. So most of what the Rasmussens are able to create here is a genuinely unnerving mood, with the visuals shot pretty beautifully alongside the sound design’s low, creepy swell.
One of my favourite moments come just barely past the 1-hour mark – Dan has this dream, a terrifying image of Jessica comes to him: she’s breastfeeding a small child, then when he gets closer it appears as some dead corpse-like thing, a skull for a face. It’s so brief that it works wonders for the scare factor! Not even a jump scare so much as it’s a quick little WHOA. Very cool and grim stuff.
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 2.47.54 PMMy only big legitimate problem with The Inhabitants is the plot, as I mentioned earlier. Not that I feel the plot is bad, there just isn’t enough. The bones of the story exist – it isn’t innovative or new, but at least there’s a story in place which could be used to flesh out a scary plot and some decent characterization. Even further, we get bits and pieces of the main characters, who they are, their personalities. Though, I don’t feel as if there’s enough of Jessica or Dan to truly care and become involved in their personal plight. Ultimately, issue being, in all the wandering of the characters – through the darkness of the house, et cetera – the screenplay wanders about a great deal.
The actors do a fairly decent job with their characters – Couture and Reed do a solid job for the most part with the two leads. It’s simply a problem of character. Sure, we get lots of nice stuff happening as the house sort of takes hold over Jessica in particular. There’s even a part earlier when she finds a sonogram, a few little clever lines thrown in without too much overt and talky exposition. However, none of it pays off in the right sense. The characters aren’t dull, I just wish we could’ve gotten more of a sense about who these two were before the plot of the film begins. As it stands, they’re just two people in a haunted house being affected by all its eeriness, like there’s no way to gauge how the effects are running wild on them because all we get really is a look at the post-haunting couple. But I’ve got to make it clear, I think the Rasmussen Bros do well with the characterization and plot present by at least not going hard on the exposition. Too many films, horror specifically, try to heavy hand the dialogue in and let you know EVERY LITTLE THING THAT IS HAPPENING/HAS HAPPENED, and then there’s absolutely no mystery left. At the very least, the screenplay keeps an air of intrigue instead of hamfisting the plot and story down our esophagus. There are pieces which go nowhere, there are also no pieces where I felt a few morsels ought to bed. Overall, I’m just glad that – while too overly vague at times – the writing isn’t completely spoon fed to the viewer, and the writer-director brothers still try to leave some of the legwork to their audio/visual aesthetic.
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 2.49.34 PMI’m not going to be a pessimist about this film and say it’s no good at all; it is good. There are some excellent things happening and I feel, as directors, the Rasmussen Brothers know how to properly create a sense of dread, an atmosphere full of creepy, spooky mood and tone. This is, to me, a 3 out of 5 star film. Definitely could use more work on the plot itself, I would’ve been even more impressed with this independent horror movie if the writer brothers cultivated better characters. Still, the acting wasn’t typically atrocious like a lot of indie horror, and the palpable atmosphere from the first scene right to the last is enough to keep you glued. Plenty of gorgeously dark imagery and the house/the forest is captured visually with such eeriness it’s hard to deny. With a little more work, though, the Rasmussen Brothers are on their way to making really solid horror movies. I hope they’ll keep it up.

THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE: FIRST SEQUENCE – Tom Six’s Post-Modern Depravity

The Human Centipede: First Sequence. 2009. Directed and Written by Tom Six.
Starring Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura, Andreas Leupold, Peter Blankenstein, and Bernd Kostrau. Six Entertainment.
Rated R. 92 minutes.
Horror

★★★1/2
TheHumanCentipedeTo start, I’m a huge horror fan. Maybe a horror buff, if that’s your bag. I don’t know. I just love the genre, and many of its own sub-genres, as well. I’m no stranger to the really gory stuff, whether it be a slasher movie or something else. Most of my favourite horror happens to be the classic stuff – Don’t Look Now, Psycho, and A Bay of Blood. Those are just a few of my top favourite, there are plenty others aside.
So when I first heard about The Human Centipede: First Sequence, I thought it was a disturbing premise from the sounds of the brief synopsis available. Then once the first trailer came out, I knew it was something I’d at least have to see simply for the sake of being a horror completist. I’m not a fan of gratuitously gory horror when it only happens just to have blood and guts in a movie. Though, I do like a good gorefest if there’s some reason and logic behind things.
With The Human Centipede: First Sequence, there isn’t even much gore at all. A bit of blood, nothing serious. So I can’t even try to act like this movie is a big ton of gore thrown in our faces just to have a bit of fun. I genuinely believe writer/director Tom Six does something different and fun (in horror terms – this is by no means a fun watch), especially when you consider how much generic junk horror is flooding the market these days. It’s not like Six’s script is turning the horror genre over on its head. But I don’t think that this film necessarily needs to be lumped in as a bit of “torture porn” (a term I fucking hate and think is stupid) or shock horror. It’s more than that. The shock is there, however, Six allows our own mind to work most of the disgusting and disturbing tricks out. Instead of going all out, Six gives us enough nasty visuals (and they are there – not trying to say they aren’t!) to really work up our inner gross-out, but doesn’t go beyond what some other horrors do simply for a shock effect. Most people can’t get past their own disgust with the idea of the Human Centipede as a concept itself to even treat the rest of the film as a decent horror, in my opinion.

The Human Centipede: First Sequence begins with two American friends, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) who are traveling in Germany. They head out in a car and get stranded along a stretch of road. Walking to try and find help, they stumble across a quaint little house in the country. There, they meet Dr. Josef Heiter (Dieter Laser), former Nazi doctor, who graciously accepts them into his home. The doctor claims to have called a car service, saying they will be there within a half an hour. Soon the girls drop unconscious from the drugs Heiter spiked their drinks with, and he injects them with more from a needle.
When Lindsay and Jenny wake up, they are on medical gurneys and cuffed, unable to move. Another man is present, a truck driver, but Heiter kills him because he’s “not a match“. The doctor finds a new victim, Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura). Eventually, he tells the three captives he plans on making them into a Human Centipede: he will connect them surgically mouth to anus.
After this, the horrific events which follow scar everyone, very literally, as well as psychologically, and nobody walks away unscathed.
8685930.0While Six doesn’t do anything super innovative during the setup to all the chaos and mayhem which follows, at the same time he does not seem to fall into anything too derivative. The initial situation is one we’ve seen so many times before: young people have car trouble, get stranded, get abducted and swept off to a house of horrors. Here, the girls wander out from the road to a nearby house after car troubles; there, they meet Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser). Nothing unfamiliar really. But it’s when the actual plot kicks in that Six avoids being like everything else.
Most of the deterrents concerning The Human Centipede series as a whole is the fundamental and inherent repugnancy of the whole gimmick: (most) people just don’t want to see characters with their mouth sewn onto someone else’s asshole. That’s the bottom line. For all the depraved and twisted and horrific film that’s already in existence out there (I love good gory and fucked up horror but as an example of the terrible stuff I’m going to say… August Underground. Hate that stuff!), the idea behind The Human Centipede movies, that basic concept, is too disgusting for even some big horror fanatics. And you can’t say “You’re a pussy” if someone doesn’t want to see something that’s, not surprisingly, absolutely wretched.
The-Human-Centipede_doctorThe Human Centipede: First Sequence has become one of those films which truly sets the bar on horror. I don’t mean it’s the most disturbing thing out there. Personally, many Takashi Miike films are what disturb me the most (just a couple are AuditionVisitor Q, his segment “Box” from Three Extremes, & his short contribution to Masters of Horror called “Imprint”).
What I mean to say is that Six has given us a film that has somehow almost become mainstream – an idea so strange has attracted even jokes from late night hosts – and yet it divides horror fans. Some might think it’s just shit horror; pardon the pun-iness. However, I feel like it challenges peoples limits. So many horror fans are fine with the random hack n’ slash of Michael and Jason – I’m certainly one. Then on the other hand, they seem to say this stuff is gross, it’s just for shock value. Maybe the other two films in the trilogy are, but I don’t think this one is, at all. I think this is an awesome part of the sub-genre of Nazi horror films. Dr. Josef Heiter (Laser) is a crazed old member of the S.S (not sure if he says that specifically but he did the Heil Hitler enthusiastically back in the latter days of WWII) who experimented on siamese twins, no doubt others – just like dear ole Dr. Josef Mengele. As an extension of that sub-genre, I think it works ridiculously well. I don’t think the script is perfect – I do think the intentions and the horror Six brings are pretty damn good.
Yet for all the fanfare over how visually disturbing the film is or isn’t, I’m on the side that thinks Tom Six actually could’ve been a whole hell of a lot more fierce, honestly. Not saying he’s a slouch; no sir. Six has, with these films, cemented himself as one of the big game names of shock horror. What I’m saying is that, for all the rotten nastiness he gets up to in this movie, I truly believe Six restrained himself. What he does so well is that he uses the idea of the Human Centipede, gives us a few visuals, and lets our mind do most of the work.
Because let’s face it, as far as horror movie gore goes, I don’t think there’s anything ridiculously over-the-top or super disgusting. Honestly. Maybe that’s just because I’ve seen 1,000 horror movies, who knows. Like I said earlier, August Underground, all those (however many there are – 3 maybe?), they are just trash. There’s a premise all right, it’s just trash. Six goes for a bit of a trashy premise, he just doesn’t let the film itself become pure trash.
Still8_Human_Centipede_croppedThere are genuine moments of suspense. When Lindsay first escapes, there is a point you wonder how far she’ll get, but soon it becomes clear Dr. Heiter has the place virtually locked down. I truly felt terror for her, especially when Heiter would taunt her: “You will be the middle piece!” Those bits were truly horrific. I always try and put myself in the place of the characters, right in their shoes; works best for horror, in that sense. While watching these characters, Lindsay specifically, I found my own stomach lurching with anxiety over the thought of being sewn mouth to ass, ass to mouth with two other unwilling victims (like anybody would ever be willing to get this as cosmetic surgery). When Dr. Heiter shoots Lindsay with the dart as she tries to drag Jenny away from the house, I felt downright awful for the girls; then he just steps on her face with this look in his eyes, looking over at the Three Dog grave. Chilling.
It’s once Dr. Heiter starts to prepare and then gets the Centipede in motion that terror really set into me, personally. First, we see him marking away in blue felt tip over the skin of his victims, as if he were a plastic surgeon. Of course, then he starts to remove teeth, and things get sloppy.
When he has them in the yard and he’s trying to get them to be able to “walk”, or crawl, I guess… that whole scene is absolute torture for me psychologically. It’s darkly comic because Heiter is just SO GOD DAMN INSANE, but at the same time I can’t help watching it and being completely gripped with horror.
Even just little moments, like the brief shots/montage of the victims on a surgical table, Dr. Heiter making various creepy faces, then we cut to him in a nice suit and tie, watching as two men put in a new piece of glass in the window he’d previously broken (while chasing Lindsay down). I just imagine how these men have no idea what this crazy fuck has been up to/is still up to, and they’re going about their day, replacing windows, la-tee-dah. Creepshow. Then he surveys his new Centipede as they come to briefly, drugged up and dozy. It is just spectacularly wretched.
I think that’s one of my favourite moments of the whole film – as Dr. Heiter gets the Centipede to “stand up”, it is scary. I mean, it’s really creepy. The way he yells “I DID IT!“, fists clenched in front of him. Then he parades the mirror in front of them, each of the three victims weeping while Dr. Heiter weeps with them; except he does so in joy. God damn. A full-on horrorshow.
thc_still2Most of what’s wrong about The Human Centipede: First Sequence does have to do with Six’s script. It isn’t a terrible piece of writing, not by a long shot. Certainly not when you look at how many small, independent horror films are out there which truly have terribly written scripts. All the same, there are a few moments in the film where I can’t deny the writing is a bit poor, or more so that it’s not thought out properly.
One example being the part where the two detectives, Kranz (Andreas Leupold) and Voller (Peter Blankenstein), show up at Dr. Heiter’s place. Now, I understand Heiter was able to deflect their sudden questions when he drops the dish towel and it has a syringe inside. I just don’t think it was sensible. I mean, the police were already suspicious obviously, they were at his house. Why would he be creeping around with a  dish towel hiding his syringe? If he were diabetic, he’d have no problem whipping out the insulin and shooting up; most diabetics don’t take issue with that, especially if they’re in their own home. I feel like Six grasped at straws here and it was just a cop-out. He could’ve found a better way to go about that piece of the plot, and he went the lazy route. That was one moment I felt came off badly and it affected the rest of the plot. They do show up again, the detectives, I just don’t believe any detective in their right mind would have left that place considering the situation. Alas, such is the case. Doesn’t blow the movie, but it doesn’t help an already mediocre script.
TheHumanCentipedeI think that I can easily say The Human Centipede: First Sequence is actually a 3.5 out of 5 star horror film.
Plenty will disagree and try to pass it off as “torture porn”, shock horror, whatever. But it is not just a film relegated to the realm of gore for the sake of shock value, or anything near that. Because while there is definitely a good deal of gross imagery, a bit of blood, there are so many other, lesser horrors out there which go far beyond what Tom Six did here in terms of visuals. He could’ve easily made this into a Dead Alive-level gorefest, but instead there is at least some restraint on his part; not in premise, in execution.
What impresses me most is the horror itself, the blood and the effects. The Human Centipede itself is a good show of make-up effects. The close-up shots (like the one above) on the three links of the Centipede are something else; really disturbing and gruesome. Yet, as I said, there’s nothing that goes far beyond what other horrors are doing. It’s merely the fact of the premise: people are totally repulsed by it.
Give it a go if you haven’t, and maybe you’ll see it how I do, or maybe you will be far too disgusted by it to even care about having an opinion. Either way, I think Six hits the mark. Though I’m not a fan of the sequel, I’m watching these all back-to-back right now, and I’ve yet to see the third – so, onward and upward!

P.S the last shots of this movie are beyond terrifying to me and they really put the nail in the coffin; great disturbing stuff.

THE PACT: A Family’s Haunted Promise

The Pact. 2012. Directed & Written by Nicholas McCarthy.
Starring Caity Lotz, Casper Van Dien, Mark Steger, Sam Ball, Haley Hudson, Kathleen Rose Perkins,Agnes Brucker, Dakota Bright, and Petra Wright. Preferred Content.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
the-pact-poster01I’ve got to confess, I really have a thing for Nicholas McCarthy’s films. Of course I saw this before Home a.k.a At the Devil’s Door (which I’ve reviewed).
The Pact took me by surprise. There’s nothing here which reinvents the wheel, changing the horror genre. All the same, I feel like there’s good suspense in this movie. There is something to say for having a nicely executed film when it comes to tension.
Personally I enjoy the slowburn film, and The Pact is certainly one of those. McCarthy doesn’t just give it all up quick, revealing everything at once; there are motions to get to where he is headed. There are plenty of comparisons to the cult TV movie Bad Ronald, a classic in its own right, but I don’t feel like there’s anything ripped off here. Similarities at one point in the plot, otherwise it’s nothing to seriously consider for long.

McCarthy’s film is interesting – it weaves aspects of the haunted house sub-genre with very raw, serial killer-esque horror. The fusion is definitely creepy, and I found it a whole lot of fun. I’ve seen it a couple times now since it first came out, I was excited to see it when it had been first announced, and I’m sure I’ll watch it again – watching it once more as I review. There are faults, like a lot of horror out there, there aren’t so many that it ruins anything. One of the better indie horror movies I’ve seen over the last 5 years.
The-Pact-2012-01Nichole Barlow (Agnes Bruckner) goes back home with her daughter Eva (Dakota Bright) for the funeral of her mother. Her sister, Annie (Caity Lotz) hates their mother; it’s clear she was an abusive, possibly insane woman. Annie has too many residual feelings to go back to their old house. Finally, Nichole is able to convince Annie to come home, but when Annie does her sister is suddenly missing. With Nichole up and disappeared, Eva is sent to live with cousin Liz (Kathleen Rose Perkins). However, when Liz vanishes as well, Annie experiences a strange, supernatural event in the childhood home she hates so much.
The police, of course, are involved, but naturally they don’t believe a supernatural entity is causing the disappearances. One cop, Detective Bill Creek (Casper Van Dien) gives Annie the benefit of the doubt after they work past an initially rocky introduction. They go back to the house, looking for clues; Annie finds a hole in the wall, like a peephole, but not too much else. Annie tracks down a girl she knew from high school, Stevie (Haley Hudson), who acts as a ghost medium of sorts. Stevie is brought to Annie’s childhood home, where she channels the spirits – she also cries out “Judas!” over and over in a fit, until her handler Giles (Sam Ball) ushers the girl away, literally beating Annie away from them.
From there, the discoveries Annie begins to uncover are less supernatural, more real, more threatening and violent than she could’ve ever imagined.
vlcsnap-2013-01-06-16h15m59s104SPOILERS AHEAD – Don’t blame me for ruining a film if you’re here mining for clues about it before watching; that’s just fucking nonsense.
There is plenty of debate over whether or not Charles Barlow (Mark Steger), a.k.a Judas, is a ghost. People often cite the fact there is one scene where Dt. Creek visits the Barlow house and his camera catches an apparent ghost on the screen. First of all, there’s no real way you can say for sure that the ghost-like apparition on the camera screen is Judas; it’s a blurry shot. People try to argue about the screen of the lens, the shot of the camera on film, yadda yadda. Look – it could easily be the ghost that’s already established to be in the house: the mother. We shouldn’t have to mull over a part of the film that can easily be explained without getting stuck on a small shot, that seems, to me, fairly obvious in its intention. Sure, it may be a little trick to some, but I don’t think it points to the fact that Judas is a ghost. He is not a ghost, in my opinion. He is a real killer, still alive, and still killing.
haley-hudson-as-stevie-in-the-pact-2012I mean, look at this way – if Judas was a ghost, like the mother was a ghost, they wouldn’t be seen, right? Then why didn’t he just wreak havoc on the several people in the house when Annie brought Stevie over?
Logically if Judas is a real living, breathing person, he’s not going to come up and start trying to attack three people at once. Even with a knife, there’s no guarantee he would make it out of there without at least one of them getting a good punch/kick/something in on him. Judas clearly had to be somewhat intelligent enough to come up with an intricate way of snaking around the house unsuspected, killing people all those years and remaining hidden away from the outside world – so, a smart killer would know when to kill, when not to kill.
Not to mention, Stevie the ghost medium picks up on the mother; she can feel the bad things, the abuse which happened, because she hovers around the closet, which is where so much of the abuse clearly took place at the hands of the mother. Stevie doesn’t say anything that could definitively make the case that Judas is a ghost; it doesn’t seem she comes out with any indications that his is the ghostly presence being felt in the house. Could be I’m wrong, I just don’t see anything pointing directly that way when it comes to her character. A decent indication, in my mind.
Some cite when Annie sees him on the bed in the motel, I believe that’s the scene. That also does not fly. She was having some serious dreams going on, she saw a decapitated woman; don’t forget, she jumped in the air towards the door as it closed and everything froze. I mean, do we really need to start to break down such obvious dream sequences? No. We do not.
The pupil dilation argument will not stand! When a person dies, their pupils dilate immediately. Judas doesn’t have massive pupils, however, we don’t see him immediately after he dies. He lays on the floor, the door opens – we see another reaction shot of Annie – all before the camera zooms in on the dead eyes of Charles. So, we again cannot make a definitive judgement with that information because it doesn’t fully jive. The reason, I believe, that they zoomed in on the eyes is obviously because of the earlier shot of Annie – we clearly see her eyes have heterochromia. It’s visible in other shots, particularly one right near the end when she’s crying, looking in the rearview mirror of her car and wiping off the tears; both different coloured eyes are seen. What does that suggest? Well, as far as I know, heterochromia is an inherited trait, so that would come to suggest that Charles Barlow is simply an uncle – he is Annie’s own father. At least, that’s how I see it anyways. I think others out there have noticed this long before myself.

My bet is on Charles Barlow, the Judas Killer, being very much alive. Not a ghost. That’s also the dichotomous part of what I dig in this movie: one part supernatural entity horror, one part serial killer mystery-thriller. Maybe I’m wrong, and Nicholas McCarthy has this pegged as totally supernatural. Though, I doubt that. If it’s all supernatural, that sort of spoils my fun. I like the bits of ghost stuff we get with the mother – as if the pact she’d made with Judas was so wrong she couldn’t move on to death fully until it was made right – she fought to push her own daughter Annie away, even as a ghost, to try and make up for what happened in that house. It’s a real fun mix, that’s one of The Pact‘s biggest strengths as a genre picture; there’s a crossover between the types of sub-genres throughout the film.
The-PactI thought the acting was pretty damn great, especially when you consider that there are so many indie horror bombs out there saturating the market to the point of overflow.
Particularly, I found the central performance by Caity Lotz as Annie Barlow to be a knockout. She is a great actress. Certain horror films seem to want to delegate the Scream Queen role to women – not all, but a good deal. The Pact doesn’t make the man the saviour – even when Casper Van Dien rears his chiseled head to seemingly lend a helping hand (he only ends up with a slit throat for his trouble) – instead, Annie Barlow is the one who must solve the mystery, who has to confront all the worst that her childhood home has to offer; both supernatural, as well as far too murderously real. Lotz shows a good range of emotion.
This also has a good deal to do with the script. Nicholas McCarthy doesn’t make Annie out as the victim. Instead, she is a tough, maybe even hardheaded woman who won’t take no in her search for the truth as an answer. Mainly I’m just glad McCarthy didn’t make this a typical horror – even if some of the moves are cliched at times. There are predictable elements, but he avoids (most of) the pitfalls.
Also loved Judas – so damn creepy. Mark Steger did such a fucking perfect job embodying this nasty, weird killer. I was just so chilled by his love of murder, the way he moved, the way he looked. When he was crying on the bed in several of those scenes… wow.
My biggest complaint about this one is at the VERY FINAL SHOT when McCarthy cops out, going for this one last sort of freak out – an eye opens wide, peering (seemingly) through a hole in the wall. I’m not even sure what McCarthy wanted it to achieve. Most of all, I think the shot confuses his message. On the director’s commentary, I believe he actually said he regrets choosing this shot and leaving it there, if I’m not mistaken. Too bad he ended up putting it here, it really doesn’t do justice to any part of the film; cheapens the ending when I found it all effective enough. I’ve not yet seen the sequel, and don’t exactly intend to because I thought this was good enough as a standalone film without needing a follow-up.
caity-lotz-as-annie-in-the-pact-2012The Pact is a 4 out of 5 star horror film. I really do love the mix of supernatural and serial killer themes. That being said, I think that’s part of what makes the movie suffer. It’s not Nicholas McCarthy’s fault if people don’t get what the movie is aiming for – except for maybe that dreaded closing shot of the eye; big mistake. I do see that mistake as being a mixed message on the part of McCarthy.
It does not ruin the movie for me. I can’t let something minor like that closing shot totally destroy all the mood and suspense McCarthy setup throughout the entire film. Great horror movie, and again, it’s one of the best indie horror movies I’ve seen in the past 5 years or so. I dig McCarthy, and hope to see more horror from him in the future. He seems to do well with supernatural elements, though, I’d like to see him also try something that’s totally serial killer-centric; those latter parts worked so eerily for The Pact, McCarthy executed them with finesse.
See this if you haven’t yet. Maybe you’ll have a totally different opinion. Either way, I could watch this even more often than I already have because it’s creepy, fun, and a little fresh – despite what some others might have you believe.

WE ARE STILL HERE Channels Fulci

We Are Still Here. 2015. Directed by Ted Geoghegan. Written by Ted Geoghegan & based on a concept by Richard Griffin. Starring Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Lisa Marie, and Larry Fessenden. Dark Sky Films. Unrated. 84 minutes. Horror.

3.5 out of 5 stars
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I’m a big fan of horror, big fan of Barbara Crampton, so naturally I was excited when I heard We Are Still Here would be an old school haunted house style outing with her as a main character. And while it isn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen, it’s a head above most modern horror. Not to mention there are excellent moments of horror and also fun, interesting characters, which help remind us of the 1980s without trying too hard for nostalgia.

Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne (Barbara Crampton) are moving into the countryside of New England to an old house where they plan on starting over. The move is brought on by the death of their teenage son. Unfortunately, once they arrive at the house things begin to get strange. An old couple seem to have more than just genuine interest in them, and the house makes Anne feel as if there are spirits living there, as if she can feel their son within the walls. As the house’s history literally haunts the new tenants, Paul and Anne must figure out how to stop it, or at the least – how to make it out alive.

In general, I thought this was a fairly solid horror effort. The directing is sharp. Ted Geoghegan has done a fine job crafting the film into something partly fresh, partly old, but one that is certainly full of atmosphere and packs a nice little jab in some of the creepier moments.
Immediately I’ll start with the two small pieces of We Are Still Here I did not particularly enjoy.
First, there’s a death that I found beyond tired and played out – I won’t describe it fully, but it comes once the house starts taking victims. A character gets out of the house, into a car, and seemingly away from the evil… only to be surprised down the road, as a ghost is hiding in the backseat. My initial problem is that once the character got out, I thought “okay this is going to go a different way than most other films that use this type of scene”. It went exactly how I expected. That’s fine sometimes, my problem with this is that it sort of tosses the movie’s own ghost logic out the window – if the ghosts can leave the house, why do they need to wait until someone moves in to wake up every 30 years and take souls? This made me wonder.
Second, I didn’t like how the ghosts looked. They were kind of generic, the look wasn’t too terrifying or anything. Maybe that’s the way they needed to look because of the story, I get that. There are just certain films, which aren’t necessarily bad, where the ghosts or monsters [or whatever they are] don’t look scary like they ought to, but again – this look was mostly in part due to how the people died that eventually show up as ghosts, so I can’t exactly fault the effects. I just didn’t find them super effective in the end.
WE-ARE-STILL-HERE_Andrew-Sensenig-and-Barbara-CramptonNow, on to what I did enjoy. The performances were fantastic. You can pretty much bet your ass Barbara Crampton will give a good performance if she’s given a good script. I thought Crampton did a spectacular job ranging between the normal grief we feel and then all those supernatural feelings some get when confronted with death. I thought Crampton and Andrew Sensenig had great chemistry. Sensenig played an excellent character; little bits of his old-fashionedness came out with his remarks about women drivers and all those foolish yet harmless jabs. This really set up the idea that the husband was a much more skeptical type of person, very old-fashioned and set in his ways, which contrasted with Crampton. Then of course there’s the wonderful pairing of Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden as the New Age couple May and Jacob Lewis. They each did well, but Fessenden is always a treat. I love him as a director and even more as an actor – he always has a fun little part to play whether it’s in his own movies, someone else’s, or even on the FX comedy Louie. Marie and Fessenden were perfect as the binary opposite of Crampton and Sensenig. And once the story gets crazier, Fessenden really has a few good scenes to chew apart. Overall, if the acting were bad this film would not have succeeded. However, these four really were great, and the supporting characters were also played nicely.
WE-ARE-STILL-HERE_Larry-FessendenThe best part of We Are Still Here, for me, is the atmosphere and general feel Geoghegan conjures up with a lot of well-crafted cinematography, editing, and tone. Even the final shot of the film, as one character stands in a doorway looking to the basement, reminds me of an older movie. The atmosphere definitely has that retro-feel, but as opposed to other movies which try hard to get that across I think Geoghegan’s is a much more natural feel. The house itself has a lot to do with that, it’s a great little place in the country and there’s an ever-present nostalgia in it; reminds me of a cabin in the rural part of Newfoundland where I’m from, a lot of those places almost feel like houses out of time, stuck in the 1970s and 1980s when they were first built. So I think some of the throwback feel Geoghegan wrings out of the film comes organically.
Another of my favourite parts is how the film centers on an older couple. There are a couple younger characters in the film, but this is almost entirely about the characters of Anne and Paul, and what they were going through after their son’s death. So many modern horrors, even the ones trying to pose as retro, are entirely based on characters who are millenials – I’m one myself, born just after the end of the so-called Generation X – and that is honestly tiring. Young people aren’t the only ones who love horror; plenty of horror fans out there grew up in the ’70s/’80s when horror really had some balls, innovation, and a hell of a lot of ideas. So, I think Geoghegan’s film is great on that level because we get to see a story, while typical, yet instead of a bunch of young people in their late teens/early twenties being killed for 84 minutes we’ve got more of a mature look at something so familiar. It doesn’t offer much new, but does give a different perspective on the haunted house for a generation getting so used to drivel like Paranormal Activity.
we-are-still-here-imageThis is definitely a 3.5 out of 5 star film. It was refreshing to watch. Like I said, it isn’t necessarily a brand new take on the haunted house sub-genre of horror. However – I really enjoyed it. The couple small beefs I had with the movie aren’t enough to ruin the whole experience. Crampton and Sensenig did a solid job together, and Fessenden really livened things up during the middle part of the film. Geoghegan has a knack for creating atmosphere and setting a specific tone, so I hope to see something new from him sooner than later. We Are Still Here is, for all its faults, one of the better haunted house films to come along in the last decade. I can confidently say that, even with the problems I had. Check it out on VOD, or if it’s in theatre anywhere near you get out and take the chance. I don’t think you’ll regret spending the time to watch it, and you might find a creep or two just for you lurking in there somewhere.

CHEAP THRILLS in a Bleak Economy

Cheap Thrills. 2014.  Dir. E.L Katz.
Starring Pat Healy, Sara Paxton, Ethan Embry, and David Koechner. Pacific Northwest Pictures. Rated 14A. 88 minutes.
Comedy/Crime/Drama

★★★★1/2
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Cheap Thrills begins as Craig (Pat Healy) loses his low paying job. On top of that, he and his wife, as well as their new baby, are on the verge of being evicted from their property. After losing his job Craig heads to a bar for a few drinks. He ends up running into an old friend from high school, Vince (Ethan Embry), and the two catch up. They also come into contact with Colin (David Koechner) and his young wife Violet (Sara Paxton) who begin a friendly little game of wagers for big money. Seemingly the answer to both Craig and Vince’s problems, the two down-and-out old buddies go along with the childish little games Colin comes up with for cold, hard cash. Eventually, however, the games get darker, and more sinister. At first it begins with Craig getting knocked out by a bouncer, but soon it ends up with he and Vince breaking into houses. The evening gets crazier until the two former friends start wearing thin on one another, each of them becoming more aggressive with the other as the challenges get more intense, and they soon begin to regret what they’re willing to do just for money.

I think the two big performances here are most definitely from Ethan Embry and Pat Healy, both of whom I really enjoy in other movies. Embry plays a great character – at first you really find him fun and a bit wild, but eventually you start to see what kind of guy he really is and it is not nice. Embry really gets into it. I’ve been a fan of his since the show Brotherhood specifically, and he does very well with dark material, or at least characters who have some sort of darkness in them; great actor. Healy does a fine job, as well, playing Craig. The evolution of his character from beginning to end is wonderful. In the beginning, he is a truly meek individual, but by the end (especially the last shot which may be my favourite of the entire film) he really comes out the other side as a bad ass dude.
cheapthrills2There are a couple really laugh out loud moments in Cheap Thrills and I think one of those is absolutely when Craig has the incident with his finger. I don’t want to ruin anything more than I already have, but this is just absolutely priceless. Between the way Vince acts, how Craig reacts to the finger incident, and Colin screaming “fuck yeah motherfucker” – it’s all just way too damn funny. I laughed my ass off during that scene.

While most of the comedy is quite dark, this is the sort of comedy I really love the most personally. There’s something really great when filmmakers can capture the hilarity behind grim situations. E.L Katz really could have done this as an outright horror movie, and believe me there are a few moments worthy of horror in here (maybe this could be called a psychological horror in some respects). Instead he keeps this a real dark comedy with dramatic elements and certainly a good dose of crime. I think the driving force behind Cheap Thrills has two significant parts: the friendship between Craig and Vince, as well as the overall competition in which they engage. Everyone can probably think of someone they might have a relationship with from high school similar to Craig and Vince – maybe not as contemptuous, but definitely someone you may not have as great of a relationship with in the present as you did in the past, and one that may cause tension. This just cranks those types of relationships up another notch. Combined with the fact these guys are desperate enough in their current life situations to go in on an increasingly dangerous and twisted game, this makes for great drama.

cheapthrillsI think the whole game for money with Colin and Violet really works as a modern tale about greed. Although this is mainly meant as a great and thrilling dark comedy, it really does work on deeper levels. Similar to the recent film 13 Sins, Katz does a great job telling a story that relates to our modern society – a society filled to the absolute brim with people who will do anything they can, aside from work for an honest living, to make as much money as possible in as little amount of time as possible. The increasingly sick nature of the things Colin suggest for Craig and Vince to do is really unsettling. One part I really thought was a little funny but also sad, in regards to the game itself, is when they’re dared to eat a dead dog – they tie in the end and Vince asks Craig to open his mouth to prove his finished, to which his friend replies maniacally “I’m finished“, opening his mouth with an “ahh” noise to verify. It makes you chuckle while also feeling disgusted with these two guys. And it only gets worse.
cheapthrillsbd720_01_01_12_00006This is absolutely a 4.5 out of 5 star film. To be honest, while he wasn’t bad at all, I think David Koechner was a weak link for Cheap Thrills. If someone else had played this character I may have been more intrigued. He did not do bad whatsoever, I just didn’t really get into his performance specifically. I suppose he served his purpose well enough. The whole movie is just great, though, and his performance didn’t at all take away from it in any real significant sense. I cannot recommend this film enough. Ever since I first saw this I’ve been raving to others about how great of a movie experience this provides. A lot of fun. Albeit, a bit of sick fun along the way, but totally worth the ride. Two amazing central performances and a lot of gritty, dark laughs make this a must-see film. One of the best releases in 2014 my way. I hope others will enjoy it as much as myself.

SUMMER OF BLOOD: Unlikeable Hipster Vampires

Summer of Blood. 2014. Directed & Written by Onur Tukel.
Starring Onur Tukel, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Vanna Pilgrim, Jason Selvig, and Melodie Sisk. Dark Sky Films. Not Rated. 86 minutes.
Comedy/Horror

★★1/2

SUMMER_OF_BLOOD_poster_1-thumb-600x900-107753Erik Sparrow, played by writer and director Onur Tukel, seems to have a stable life – he has a nice job, he lives in a decent place in a good city, and he’s also got the love of a good woman. However, Erik is also very unaware of how much of an idiot he really is, and takes everything in his whole life for granted. Especially Jody (Anna Margaret Hollyman). She proposes to Erik, but he opts not to say ‘yes’. This turns into an awkward night where they run into an old male friend of Jody, named Jason, and Erik really makes an ass out of himself. She goes off with Jason and Erik is left alone. He goes out and tries to find someone else, but unfortunately for Erik nobody wants anyone remotely like him – he is arrogant, ignorant, pessimistic, and is terrible at having sex. All this changes after one fateful night when Erik ends up meeting a vampire who, of course, turns him into one with a bite. After this encounter Erik suddenly becomes a very different man: he is cool and sort of interesting, optimistic, and he can have sex for hours and hours on end. Although these new changes in his life provide lots of excitement, Erik still needs to feed. Hilarity and horror ensue.
SUMMER-OF-BLOOD-620x400While I did think there’s a lot of refreshing and genuinely hilarious stuff going on in Summer of Blood, I almost couldn’t overcome my dislike for the character of Erik. I know he isn’t mean to be likable. Part of the whole plot is wrapped up in the fact Erik is a really despicable sort of dude. I like plenty of characters who are meant to be jerks, but there’s something about this guy I really didn’t enjoy. Whatsoever. There are a lot of wonderful comedic moments in this film. Because of Erik, though, they didn’t come off as well as they possible might have had the character been better.
Summer-of-Blood-Bloody-740x493My biggest problem is evident near the beginning in one of the first scenes – Erik encounters a man with a bad neck wound (whom we’re lead to assume later was a victim of a vampire also), and basically watches him bleed out forever instead of actually getting help, or trying to get help. Now – part of this scene is meant to be funny, and it is – I just think it went too far. I wasn’t offended – nothing offends me. I believe this is simply bad writing. It was funny at first, and grim, but it is far too unbelievable. This Erik character is a real douchebag. Regardless, no one, except for psychopaths, would let a man bleed out in the alleyway so ignorantly.
Summer-of-Blood-670-x-443Yes, the character of Erik is ignorant, but this ignorance plays out much better in other scenes than it did with this moment. It only continues on throughout because Erik time and time again proves how unlikable he is, I just think there’s a big suspension of disbelief required to get into this guy. Obviously we suspend disbelief to get into a story about vampires – this much is clear. Not everything is meant to require such a suspension. I’m willing to go real far for horror, and especially horror comedies, I just don’t think this is a particularly well-written film.

That brings me to my next point – the film wobbles all over the place a little too much for my taste. I really love genre-bending films.  Summer of Blood is just a bit misguided. After the finale of the film, I found myself a little disappointed. While I was truly digging this movie’s take on vampirism, and how they really took a fresh look at an extremely tired subject (we all know vampire films are played out), the ending really felt like Tukel didn’t know where to really go with the whole subject. I feel like there’s a certain amount of satire aimed towards the vampire sub-genre, but at the same time there’s not enough to really ‘say anything’. Not that I’m looking for a profound statement, I just felt as if the whole film was going somewhere, and along the way Tukel sort of lost the map. There were really great bits and pieces. As a whole, though, the script feels like a hugely disjointed work of horror-comedy.
Summer-of-Blood-C-670-x-443I think this film is about a 2.5 out of 5 stars. It wasn’t amazing, but also nowhere near being the worst. I really respect Onur Tukel for trying to do something different with vampires, as opposed to trying to really mess with vampirism itself (there are far too many films out there trying to force in twists to fundamentally change vampires). That being said, my respect for his attempts at innovation don’t make this a real great film or anything. It’s a mediocre indie. Though, I did laugh at a few bits fairly hard. There are a nice couple gory moments, as well, and I really enjoyed those scenes. I’ve seen some others say this movie is a “mess of ideas” which come together – I respectfully disagree. I did enjoy portions of the film, but mostly, as I mentioned, things seemed out of place, messy, and it made the finished product feel sloppy. A good effort on the whole. Just not something I’m likely to ever watch again.