This edition features stills from Larry Fessenden's new movie, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, and Hannibal homages to Kubrick.
C.H. Newell chats with filmmaker Larry Fessenden about his new film, DEPRAVED, Mary Shelley, the state of America, and more.
The newest film from Larry Fessenden is a fresh take on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein that takes aim at our violent patriarchal culture.
Mickey Keating's PSYCHOPATHS tells a series of short narratives about people driven to kill. A nasty, stylised piece of work.
The Mind’s Eye. 2016. Directed & Written by Joe Begos.
Starring Graham Skipper, Lauren Ashley Carter, John Speredakos, Larry Fessenden, Noah Segan, Matt Mercer, Michael A. LoCicero, Jeremy Gardner, Patrick M. Walsh, Brian Morvant, Josh Ethier, Susan T. Travers, & Chuck Doherty. Channel 83 Films/Site B.
Not Rated. 87 minutes.
Not sure how everybody else felt about it, but I loved the debut feature Almost Human from Joe Begos – it was on one of my favourite lists after being released in Canada finally. He proved to have a knack and a love for old school filmmaking, as well as the science fiction and horror pictures of a few decades ago. In that first film, Begos channelled a Fire in the Sky vibe into his own brand of retro horror with a fresh, exciting story. The Mind’s Eye bears its obvious Cronenbergian influence particularly right on its sleeve. Yet there’s so much more to it.
I knew just from the trailer that Begos was hugely influenced by Scanners. Not that he copies Cronenberg. Not at all. There’s a more personal, emotional plot that serves as foundation for The Mind’s Eye, as opposed to Scanners. Begos is focusing less on a metaphorical psychokinesis, much more on the action and horror elements. The pacing does most of that job, keeping us edgy the entire time. Again, after his fantastic debut, Begos proves that you can go over-the-top and still keep things satisfying. His science fiction-horror cocktail is better than the mere label of a throwback film, or any of the buzzword headlines you may read. It’s not perfect. However, it is everything the awful Scanners sequels could have been. Perhaps when Begos first saw it, this story began to brew in his mind, bit by bit. Until years later he’d fleshed out this entirely new tale of psychokinetic power and those who seek to control it. With Graham Skipper (also the star of Begos’ previous effort) and the ever wonderful Lauren Ashley Carter as the two main characters with psychokinetic powers, on the run from a doctor gone mad, the story sells itself through interesting performances and a load of practical, bloody goodness.
In his previous movie, Begos didn’t really have much action outside of some gunshots and frantic behaviour – not a bad thing. Mostly, it was straight up horror and sci-fi crossed together. Here we get to see him go for a different type of atmosphere. On one hand, Almost Human was great; it required different storytelling, a slow build of terror after the initial scene involving some alien craziness. On the other hand, The Mind’s Eye plunges into an action-oriented plot. As I mentioned, the pacing keeps everything pretty wild. We move along fast, as the main plot kicks in real quick. Essentially this is a road movie crossed with the sci-fi and horror elements in heaps. Or rather you could see it as a chase movie: a series of confrontational events stretching out over this insanely tense cat-and-mouse game between Zack and Rachel (Graham Skipper & Lauren Ashley Carter) and the doctor who tried to use them as guinea pigs, Dr. Michael Slovak (John Speredakos). Of course there are sections of the story where we slow down, get a bit of character development. The awesome motherfucker that is Larry Fessenden plays Zack’s father, Mike Connors, so there are more than just the main characters to find interest in. These brief reprieves in the chaotic pace of the action are just long enough to make us feel settled. Before Begos rattles us down the drain again and into the rabbit hole. A great place to be with a filmmaker who so admires the age of practical effects, as opposed to one totally dominated by CGI and jump scares.
THE EXPLODED HEAD! THE FUCKING EXPLODED HEAD!
Can we talk about it?
I mean, that sequence came not at all as a surprise. And behold, a savage, perfectly executed practical effect. Better still, I love the moment before that when Rachel is holding the guy up in the air – with her mind – and then POP! Just properly accomplished all around. You combine wild practical effects, good doses of bloody mess, a truly enjoyable score from Steve Moore (The Guest, Cub), you’ve got yourself a stew, baby!
I have to say that while I loved Skipper in the other Begos film, he wasn’t always as strong as he could have been, or needed to be either. Still, I loved his performance because you can see the genuine effort in some actors. In the role of Zack you can literally see the maturity of his acting coming into being. That’s not a bullshit line to throw out there; it’s a genuine observation. For instance, the scene where he and Rachel sit together and he tells her about his mother, his performance reaches the perfect pitch. He is so believably real it makes the character grow all the more quickly, in the best sort of way. If you weren’t rooted in his story emotionally yet, this scene should cement that.
Oh, and Carter? She’s phenomenal, as usual. Most recently, her turn as a damaged woman on the verge of a breakdown in Mickey Keating’s Darling blew me away. But back to Jug Face, The Woman, even her one episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, she is fairly consistent in her quality as an actor. Each character carries their own vulnerability yet are vastly different. As Rachel Meadows, she is another damaged character and this time with more than enough power to take whatever revenge she deems necessary. I like that Carter keeps what seems to be her inherent sweetness while simultaneously being capable of being a strong, determined woman – Rachel’s only in distress as much as Zack, so in a sense they both enable one another in certain ways. This also lets them each be a fully developed character, rather than simply a half of one whole. Carter’s charisma as a bit of a bad ass gets to come out here, which is lots of fun to watch.
A 4-star action romp across science fiction-horror territory. Begos may not have won everyone over with his first feature – he had me sold – but I just can’t believe that The Mind’s Eye won’t impress. It is exciting and fun above all else. The story isn’t overly innovative. Instead, Begos makes it feel fresh, intriguing. Because he takes the Scanners influence, all that love of the ’80s and early ’90s filmmaking, then moulds it into a tightly knit ball of tension and weirdness, in great ways. I’m not sold on the whole cast, although Skipper and Carter are so excellent. What I dig most is how the heart of the film beats loud and proud. Begos never pulls any punches, giving us exactly what we expect in such a way that isn’t boring or expected in the slightest. If you can’t have fun as a horror (or sci-fi or both) fan, then I’m not sure what to tell you. It never needed to be perfect. Part of the appeal of the ’80s and the early ’90s felt like things didn’t have to be totally polished, pristine like porcelain. Personally, I dig my movies with a bit of girt, in every sense. I’d like to think Begos understands that. At least that’s how he makes it feel. The Mind’s Eye gives its all with a ton of adrenaline and blood-soaked spirit.
Carnage Park. 2016. Directed & Written by Mickey Keating.
Starring Ashley Bell, Pat Healy, James Landry Hébert, Michael Villar, Bob Bancroft, Larry Fessenden, Andy Greene, Alan Ruck, Graham Skipper, & Darby Stanchfield. Diablo Entertainment.
Unrated. 90 minutes.
Ever since seeing Ritual, I’ve been hooked on Mickey Keating. His directing and writing are a sight for sore eyes in the world of indie cinema. These days there are lots of talented people coming out of the independent scene. But Keating has an old school sensibility, a practical effects-driven manner of taking on horror specifically. The way he directs has a wonderfully rock n’ roll-style feel. The atmosphere of his movies is always wildly palpable, no matter what the ultimate main genre. Most recently Keating wowed me with Darling; a trip down the rabbit hole of guilt, murder, shame, and more.
Carnage Park does not come with anything overly original. It’s the way in which Keating gives the material over to us that’s exciting. Best of all, like Darling and its Roman Polanski vibes, this movie – via Keating admittedly – is fashioned after the Sam Peckinpah, machismo-filled 1970s films about dangerous men running wild on the fringe with guns and knives and big steel balls. At the same time, the movie switches genres, transforming from action-thriller into something more horror oriented as the various characters collide out in the eponymous park.
The opening sequence, while deranged in its own right even in comparison to what comes later, is a lot of fun. It has an energy that kicks the story off right. We get a taste of Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy) right off the bat, then it switches into us spending time with Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hébert), his soon to be dispatched buddy Lenny, and the kidnapped Vivian (Ashley Bell) in the trunk of Joe’s car. Keating keeps the pacing solid, moving fast. Everything gets really interesting then once the different characters come together, and the movie shifts gears.
Isolation is the key here. Under the cinematography of Mac Fisken the desert looks like a gaping, open wound, a vast and dry sore in the earth. Watching Vivian try to make her way through the large lot of privately owned land is akin to somebody wandering a giant hedge maze, but instead of any hedges it’s all sand, shrubs, rundown billboards, so on. The isolated hills in between which Vivian finds herself lost are so huge and far reaching that it’s impressive the way Fisken and Keating create a claustrophobic sense of that isolation. Like The Thing or any similarly remote set script, Carnage Park takes us out into the open while simultaneously bringing us deeper into our own minds, into the head of Vivian who’s faced with outrunning a maniac in the vast desert.
What I love is that this story Keating draws out, the characters and their respective plots, is all a disturbing little slice of Americana from the late ’70s. The unstable Army veteran at the centre of it all, Wyatt, has so clearly been affected negatively by the war. Meanwhile, his brother is the local sheriff, whose ideas about his brother seem pretty clear despite what he tells himself, and especially despite anything he admits to knowing. Within these two characters there’s wrapped a whole bunch of socioeconomic significance, as we consider everything from the dishonesty of those charged with serving and protecting, to the right of land owners in America (in certain states) to shoot anyone that comes onto their property, to the concept of all those men coming back from Vietnam, devastated emotionally and mentally, not receiving any proper care other than some cash and a pat on the back. Instead of a simple setup of a madman with no backstory there’s the fact Wyatt has been psychologically traumatised in the war, which sort of ups the ante on the usual scenario. Watching the various, hideous bits of American life unfold out across the sprawling hills on Wyatt’s property is a tense nightmare that’s hard to predict re: where it may head next.
The performances really help sell the whole thing. Bell does a nice enough job with her character, especially considering all the back and forth moments we see, going from being Scorpion Joe’s hostage to being at the fingertips of a demented ex-soldier, to the shocking scene where she stabs the wrong person than who she intended. She does well showing us the breakdown this woman experiences while going through the most trying day of her life. But best of all, Pat Healy – the god damn man, as far as indie movies are concerned. He’s been in lots of stuff, though never better than when working on something daring, something small, things like Cheap Thrills and The Innkeepers, among more. As Wyatt, we see him become a truly scary individual. At first you almost don’t know if he’s going to be some kind of anti-hero, the sort we’d expect out of a neo-noir-Western hybrid like this becomes now and then. Then when it’s becoming clear that Wyatt is the big evil in the situation there’s a feeling you start to get each time his eerie, smiling face comes into the frame that tells you: this guy is bad, bad, bad news. This is a great role, one that might end up as a load of generic garbage were it left to a less talented actor. Rather, Healy gives us lots to enjoy, as he touches all corners of the spectrum, creeping about, charming a little, and above all else terrifying his victims.
I do prefer other Keating films about this one. However, Carnage Park is a good time; through and through. The performances are one thing. The adrenaline pumping pace is what kept me glued. I can sit through all sorts of films, but a great effort usually has me consistently stuck to each scene, wondering where exactly things are about to move. Not once did I know for sure where the plot might go, or which characters would go on to survive. The ending didn’t totally eclipse me in any way. Still, it is a fantastic finish to a nicely executed bit of indie cinema. Whereas other filmmakers could have gone in vastly different directions throughout, Keating sticks to his old school style, his simple though beautiful way of directing. This way nothing strays too deep into familiar territory so as to bore the viewer. Ultimately, the cat-and-mouse thriller that frames the entire film is jammed full with suspense and the tension you’ll feel is like a chokehold. Keating takes you into the darkness fully, never once really letting you go. Take the ride, even more so if you dig his other directorial efforts. This one is yet another top notch instance of his talents.
Trigger Man. 2007. Directed, Edited, & Written by Ti West.
Starring Reggie Cunningham, Ray Sullivan, Sean Reid, Heather Robb, James Felix McKenney, Seth Abrams, & Larry Fessenden.
KINO International/Glass Eye Pix/Scareflix/CCR Productions.
Unrated. 80 minutes.
This is a slightly unusual film out of Ti West’s filmography. He is a great director, in my opinion. You either dig him, or you don’t; no middle ground. And that’s fine, if everybody liked the same thing we’d be a boring lot of humans. For those of us who enjoy West and his brand of horror, Trigger Man comes as a surprise. I remember listening to an interview he did talking about how this film sort of came up on a whim. He wrote a script, brought it to Larry Fessenden, and then they had time to shoot it, so a real indie shoot came about. Ultra low budget. Almost rogue-style filmmaking.
Apart from the visual feel and the actual use of digital rather shooting on film, West looks at a more dramatic thriller angle than anything horror. Sure, the horror of humanity comes out. That’s a huge element. Most of his movies, aside from recently with The Sacrament, tend to go for classic horror elements while he does his best to subvert expectations, keeping with the spirit of indie film. Trigger Man works because it doesn’t necessarily try to change anything. It works by building up an atmosphere of dread, each scene slowly, steadily amping up the feeling that at any moment a horrible event is about to take place. True to what later became signature to his personal directorial style, West slow burns through his plot before reaching a nicely executed finale. Then if the terror isn’t enough for you concerning real people and their sometimes hideous actions in this raw look at a story that’s not unbelievable in the slightest, maybe I’m weak. Maybe I should hang up the ole horror hat.
Nah. I dig this one. It isn’t near perfect. However, West makes me sweat enough throughout this sparse flick that I can’t help watching it now and then. It’s a tough one to find on DVD, but luckily I picked it up last year. I’ll always support West’s films and I can admit when there are faults. I refuse to not acknowledge a solid low budget thriller when it’s in front of my face. You shouldn’t expect his best, though don’t sell West short here.
This movie was never intended to be on a grand scale. West had the time and wanted to make something with a very minimalist take, so instead of opting to shoot on film (as he usually does) he went digital. The entire film is much different from any of his other work, even his early feature The Roost. With a handheld and kinetic style, West uses this feel to create as much tension possible. If anything, this is a nice exercise in suspense. You can judge this for being low budget and all that, but it wasn’t ever meant to be anything more. Larry Fessenden, a mentor of West’s in the industry, gave him about $10K to make it. They found some nice locations, kept the cast to a bare minimum. West had a small story that worked for the basic needs. Nobody’s expecting a reinvention of the genre. Part of me enjoys Trigger Man because West isn’t exactly swinging for the fences, as he so often does with his other brilliant features. Here, he does his best at cultivating a specific mood of tension that worms its way through the short 80 minute runtime. Many might not find the finale rewarding. I do. The tension pays off in an excellent way and I find it properly horrifying. Along the way we’re treated to a couple smatterings of blood, one particularly chunky, gross practical effect honestly looks real. I found that one unsettling, in the best kind of horror way.
Ultimately, I don’t know if there’s even a lick of truth to the concept that West claims this is inspired by a true story. If so, I’d love to see what the real scenario was, how it played out, what exactly went down the whole time. But forgetting all that this is still a real-feeling situation. These guys essentially wander into the path of something over which they have no control. Then it’s a sort of city dweller v. backwoods story that descends into utter nastiness. Part of the ultra-realism is the sound design by Graham Reznick. When these guys are out in the midst of the forest, near the river, running for their lives, we get the feeling of being right next to them, as the river rushes and their voices carry. Some likely find that annoying, which I totally understand. To me, these elements only add to the extremely raw atmosphere. There’s also not so much a score as there is this wonderfully ambient noise from Jeff Grace . At times that does morph into something more musical in terms of short pieces that accompany specific moments. Still, the best parts Grace offers up are these brutish shrieks and hypnotizing swirls of sound that wrap you up then rattle you; almost representative of the mental processes going on in someone’s head were they in such a life threatening, insane situation as these guys. Everything is minimal. The story is contained. The blood is gruesome when it comes, but only comes in a couple little bursts. The camera work consists of digital handheld shooting, nothing fancy; only once or twice do we get shots that are motionless, everything else keeps the chaotic pace by wavering and keeping on the move with the characters, zooming from the landscape to their faces and expressions of fear. The music is kept down to a handful of places where it’s nearly perfect. Through and through, Trigger Man is a utilitarian production that if anything knows how to use its bare necessities and structures itself accordingly.
You’ll either dig it a bit, or find it unappealing. There’s really nothing halfway about Trigger Man. Similar to the way people seem to feel about its director. Personally, Ti West is someone I find incredibly talented. He and I are close in age, so part of my affinity for his work has to do with the fact many of the movies he seems to admire and have grown up watching are the same ones as myself. Because of that they reflect in his own work, in turn capturing my attention. Not only that, though. West is simply a great director. He makes interesting choices, as well as the fact he’s an interesting writer. Preferring to take things slow, his films are sometimes categorized as being boring. A word I’ll never use in reference to any of his features. But to each their own. For me, he’s a fascinating artist that often takes a genre story we know and brings his unique vision to a story in order to freshen things up. Trigger Man doesn’t necessarily liven the survival thriller sub-genre. It does excite and keep you on edge, or at least it does for me. Give this one the chance, it’s a taut piece of work. Ignore the flaws and get past the handheld stuff. West is a scary guy, no matter if he’s working within the walls of a haunted hotel, dealing with vampire bats that turn people into the living dead, or wandering the forest with people running for their lives. It’s all spooky.