Tagged Larry Fessenden

The Mind’s Eye is Bloody Old-Fashioned Fun

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.
Action/Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★★
POSTER
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.
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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 GuestCub), you’ve got yourself a stew, baby!
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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 FaceThe 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.
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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.

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Carnage Park: A Scary Slice of 1970s Americana

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.
Action/Crime/Horror/Thriller

★★★★
POSTER
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Take a Tense Little Ride with Trigger Man

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.
Drama/Thriller

★★★1/2
POSTER 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Psychological Cracks and Shadows of Polanski in Darling

Darling. 2015. Directed & Written by Mickey Keating.
Starring Lauren Ashley Carter, Sean Young, Larry Fessenden, Helen Rogers, John Speredakos, Brian Morvant, & Al-Nisa Petty. Glass Eye Pix/Alexander Groupe.
Unrated. 78 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
POSTER
Mickey Keating is one of my favourite writer-directors over the past few years in indie horror. While the low budget charm of his pictures now and then needs a little boost, most of his work is incredibly engaging because of his willingness to attach a very human element to the themes in which he traffics. His second feature film, Ritual, is what initially drew me to his body of work. That was a great little flick that worked despite any of its flaws. From there he moved on to even bigger dread with the family drama-cum-alien horror Pod – a tight little indie that draws you in then drags you through its terror, including an excellently accomplished alien design that is both eerie and also impressive considering the film’s budget.
This past year Keating released Darling. Shot in gorgeous black-and-white, the film hinges largely on the central performance of Lauren Ashley Carter, whom many fans of independent horror likely remember from Jug Face, a fun, freaky movie in its own right. Using Carter’s talents, the haunting cinematography of Mac Fisken, and his own horrific screenplay, Keating gives us the hypnotic, savage vision of a woman unraveling, the influences of everything from The Shining to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion to Eraserhead shows. But don’t be fooled – any influence on or homage  by Keating is only aesthetic. This is a terrifying psychological horror crafted around Carter’s performance and a screenplay that facilitates a descent into paranoid madness.
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Darling (Lauren Ashley Carter) is a young woman living in New York City. She’s all on her own in the wide city landscape of darkened alleys, crowded streets, neon lights. Soon, she becomes the caretaker for a large, old mansion with a long history of supposedly being haunted. Madame (Sean Young) sets her up with the job, introduces her to the house, and then Darling is left all alone, once more. Except now she’s there with the house, its possible ghostly or demonic presence lurking all around her.
And as the time whittles on, Darling discovers the whispers in the halls follow her outside into the world. When she meets a man at a bar, one whom she recognizes from somewhere, the mansion’s influence begins taking hold. What follows is a dive headlong into the darkness of the human heart, what trauma and mental anguish can do to a person, as Darling fears she may be losing her mind.
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Aside from the obvious black-and-white, the aesthetic of Keating’s film is aided by two major, impressive elements: score and editing.
First, the editing is where I’m reminded of David Lynch’s Eraserhead. It doesn’t rip off anything, but Darling captures pieces of the same mental deterioration Lynch had examined in his 1977 midnight movie classic. With completely different subject matter, editor Valerie Krulfeifer (whose other work includes previous films of Keating; so obviously they work well together) conjures up reflections of Lynch, while not directly taking anything from him. Whereas thematically this movie matches up closely to what Polanski did with Repulsion, the actual atmosphere, to me, feels closer in kin with Eraserhead. The editing helps keep us on edge. Nothing is ever certain for a minute of the film’s runtime, and that’s in big part due to the style of editing. It doesn’t always go a mile a minute, but sometimes it does and that creates the frenetic feeling of being stuck inside Darling’s noggin.
Added to that is both sound design and score. Not all movies get it right, and certainly there are many indie horrors which focus too closely on blood, gore, or exploitation to pay any attention to the aspects that help make a film become beyond mediocre. Composer Giona Ostinelli steeps almost every last moment of Darling in tension. The suspense is incredible, and Ostinelli makes you jump more than Keating and the cinematography together. Even the ringing of a phone becomes something nerve jangling, something that unnerves and throws us off balance. Again, in this way we’re placed directly in the mind of Darling, whose reality isn’t particularly stable. So we’re constantly offset by the score, as well as the sound design. Ostinelli’s music is the sort that burrows beneath your skin and totally keeps you imagining something horrible behind every coming corner. There’s even some nice electronic work steeped into the mix that rears its head now and then, above the uneasy string arrangements and the ominous little piano keys banging around.
But the cinematography – oh, it is gorgeous. Mac Fisken helps Keating achieve a really gorgeous to look at black-and-white picture. Even better, between them both there’s such a beautiful symmetry to many of the shots, it’s hard not to also be reminded of The Shining and Kubrick’s attention to symmetrical shot setups. Moreover, Fisken keeps Carter’s face so perfectly close at many moments, which is another way her perspective becomes the audience’s own, further drawing us into her world of paranoia and terror. There’s this one scene after certain things have happened when Darling’s world is literally turned upside down (as seen in the picture above), it completely captivated my soul; Fisken has the world flipped, the city is upside down, in the black-and-white with a fog in its distance it is one of my favourite shots in any film of recent memory. So beautiful and haunting all at once.
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The main performance from Carter is wonderful, delightfully devilish. We disintegrate alongside her character, feeling our brain wash away with hers, too. More and more with each passing scene her grip on what is real and what is not slowly loosens. We’re never sure exactly what has happened, or what is about to happen either. But best of all, Carter genuinely makes the character’s experience one of horrific nature. Seeing her go through the motions of her own mental breakdown helped along by the idea of being caretaker in a haunted mansion is a scary process. Like Polanski’s protagonist in Repulsion or that of The Witch Who Came From the Sea, the boundaries of reality stretch for Darling, opening wide, as we’re tasked with figuring out exactly what’s really happening. Of course those two films are very different, with completely other end results than this one, but their female leads are all highly reminiscent of one another, in an appropriate way. In these movies, Darling included, women are pushed to the brink by the men in their world, or simply the male-dominated world they inhabit. In addition, the main character in Keating’s film contends with a very present ghost story, so the supernatural is an element that can’t totally be written off. It’s up to the audience in the end to decide whether Darling went crazy on her own. Nevertheless, each step on the journey towards the film’s haunting and violent conclusion is paved by a strong, daring performance from Carter.
Another worthwhile film out of Keating. Darling is a 4-star horror. It has a quiet and creepy essence, which at times flares up in horrific, violent ways. But Keating and his band of merry friends create a truly hypnotizing picture with a solid screenplay, black-and-white visuals that will stick with you for days, and a score to compliment all the various macabre scenes to which there will feel there is no end in sight. Definitely my favourite of Keating’s movies so far. Can’t wait for Carnage Park and more of his work.

The Last Winter: Larry Fessenden’s Fossil Fuel Horrorshow

The Last Winter. 2006. Directed by Larry Fessenden. Screenplay by Fessenden & Robert Leaver.
Starring Ron Perlman, Connie Britton, James Le Gros, Jamie Harrold, Zach Gilford, Kevin Corrigan, Jamie Harrold, Pato Hoffmann, Joanne Shenandoah, Larry Fessenden, and Oscar Miller. Antidote Films/Glass Eye Pix/Zik Zak Kvikmyndir. Rated 18A. 101 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
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It’s no secret I’m a huge Larry Fessenden fan. His collection of films recently hit Blu ray, so I luckily snatched up a copy from eBay at a solid price. The entire 4-disc collection includes his films No TellingHabitWendigo, and of course The Last Winter. Included are a ton of extra bits like music videos and short films Fessenden pulls out of virtual obscurity, as well as the man himself talking us into the pictures, plus the short pieces too. The commentary is great all around, everything about this collection is magic.
The Last Winter is a rare bird. While I’m not huge on certain special effects in this movie, I can’t fault it much more outside those elements. In a day and age where too many people deny climate change, not to mention its impact(s), Fessenden takes the horror genre and weaves a contemporary issue through its cliches and tropes in a unique way. The story, above all else, is what matters. Add to that some solid performances, excellent tension developed by Fessenden’s directorial style, and this is a supremely creepy effort among a ton of post-2000 horror movies which aren’t worth their weight.

American oil company KIC Corporation is drilling in the arctic, constructing an ice road into the Northern Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to find more locations in which they’ll explore for more deposits. At a station ran by corporate shill Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman), a team of environmentalists work side by side with people from KIC. James Hoffman (James Le Gros) and his assistant Elliot Jenkins (Jamie Harrold) are the most recent scientists evaluating the project. When Pollack bumps heads with Hoffman, the latter is taken away from the project permanently; no doubt due to Ed’s pull at KIC. At the same time, young crew member Maxwell McKinder (Zach Gilford) goes missing for a while. Upon his return, he seems distant, disturbed. One night, he wanders out into the wilderness, naked and mentally unstable. The rest of the crew find him dead, eyes only empty sockets. And then, they realize the environment may be starting to take back what they’ve drilled so relentlessly out of its bones.
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Hoffman: “Why do we despise the world that gave us life? Why wouldn’t the world survive us, like any organism survives a virus. The world that we grew up in is changed forever. There is no way home. Is there something beyond science that is happening out here? What if the very thing we were here to pull out of the ground were to rise willinglyconfront us. What would that look like? What if this is the last winter, before the collapse? And hope dies.”

The cinematography is spectacular. So many of the exterior shots in particular, they’re marvelous to look at – from the wide shots of the Arctic Circle, to the helicopter and sweeping crane shots of the camp. Every last sequence in the entire film looks gorgeous, even the dark, shadowy moments. Again, as I said earlier, there are a few shots involving special effects I don’t think come off so great. At the same time, the camerawork itself is all around fascinating. Fessenden has a great eye for unique looking shots, things which catch the eye: crane and helicopter shots, tight and wide angles, the whole spectrum alike. Here, he’s aided by cinematographer G. Magni Ágústsson.
Together with a distinctive look and feel, The Last Winter‘s atmosphere comes across so feverishly in part due to the inclusion of an eerie score by Jeff Grace (Cold in JulyThe House of the Devil, The Roost). Not only is there a quality score, the tone consistently set between that and the visuals, there’s incredible sound design courtesy of Abigail Savage (who many will know well from her turn as Gina Murphy on Orange is the New Black). Everything is creeping, in terms of sound: the wind in the background, the stamp of ghostly hooves across the frozen arctic plains, and later the crashing plane, all the fire which follows and so on. I’m always keeping my ear out for good sound design, as well as score. But there’s something about the background sounds and noise of a film which really elevates a film properly if accomplished well. The sound design can truly make a movie less interesting if the sounds incorporated are annoying or aggravating, instead of compelling and rich, as they certainly are in this film.
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While I could rave on about Ron Perlman, even James Le Gros or Connie Britton, most of what interests me about The Last Winter is the plot and the story. Fessenden creates an ecological horror film out of the fear of global warming/climate change. The character of Pollack (Perlman) represents those stubborn sort who think the tipping point has passed, even if they’re willing to admit the world climate is changing for the worse. His hardheaded nature is the type which got us to this point. But yet in this film, we literally see the evidence climbing up and out of the ground. The living embodiment of nature fighting back against us. I know a lot of viewers may find Fessenden’s themes here heavy handed and obvious. However, I find the presentation makes things so interesting, it’s hard to deny the thematic power at play. Fessenden uses many typical horror genre tropes to explore the sociopolitical issues inherent in the dynamic between those who quest for oil versus those who keep telling us to be wary of our reliance on fossil fuels without worrying (or caring) about the consequences.
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The Last Winter, despite some of its less than stellar computer generated imagery, is a 4 out of 5 star film. For me, it is. Others may be turned away from its environmental message, buried beneath its thrills and its horrific moments. Some might not like other aspects, who knows. But I cannot tear myself away from the grim tone, the compelling cinematography, sound design and writing. Even more than that, the writing helps bring out some timely messages about us, our world, and the future that could come to be eventually. I don’t think it’ll look exactly like this portrait of madness Fessenden illustrates. All the same, I’m inclined to feel we’ve absolutely treated this planet like shit. Some day we might pay for all our transgressions against this world we claim to love.

No Telling: Mary Shelley’s Rural Frankenstein

No Telling. 1991. Directed by Larry Fessenden. Screenplay by Larry Fessenden & Beck Underwood.
Starring Miriam Healy-Louie, Stephen Ramsey, David Van Tieghem, Richard Topol, Ashley Arcement, Robert Brady, Susan Doukas, Ward Burlingham, J.J. Clark, Stanley Taub, Francois Lampietti, and John Van Couvering.
Glass Eye Pix.
Not Rated. 93 minutes.
Horror

★★★★1/2
tumblr_nvscpgAbbS1r1p2eko1_400Larry Fessenden has long been a filmmaker in which I’ve had intense interest. There’s a quality about all his films, no matter how far apart thematically or plot-wise they may be, I’m consistently drawn in by and after every watch, regardless which movie, I usually find his stories on my mind for days.
The first time I saw a Fessenden film was about a decade ago – more like 11 years ago, to be exact. I saw his flick Wendigo on a whim. It was being screened by some group in St. Catharine’s, Ontario where I went to school at the time. There’s a mysterious and eerie air to that movie I couldn’t compare to anything else, at least nothing I’d seen at that point. Not only that, I was going to film school and his filmmaking struck me as such a beautiful, natural process. After seeing more of his work, eventually getting the chance to see Habit, Fessenden became a beacon of light in the indie world. Because his movies, while low budget compared to Hollywood, didn’t feel low budget. He makes use of interesting locations, as well as talented actors to make all the horrific and sometimes completely terrifying aspects of his writing come across.
No Telling is perhaps some of his best work, honestly. Though it isn’t a comment on his skills – he’s always improving, like any true artist.  But I find most interesting here the weight and execution of what he’s getting across in this film. Plus, there’s a lovably indie quality to this film which gives it a subtle, special quality. Certainly Fessenden doesn’t appeal to everyone as it is. At the same time, if any of his movies might divide people it is this one – paced with a wonderfully slow burn, there are some intensely gruesome moments in terms of animals; something a portion of people appear to have trouble with. Either way, be prepared: it’s a great non-conventional horror movie.

Geoffrey and Lillian Gaines (Stephen Ramsey/Miriam Healy-Louie) move into a a house during the summer, out in the countryside. Geoffrey is a scientist. He does top-secret work in his barn where a lab is setup. His artist wife Lillian becomes friendly with an activist named Alex Vine (David Van Tieghem), which becomes more frequent as time goes on.
Soon enough, though, Lillian begins to wonder what it is exactly her husband does out in the laboratory. Some days she barely sees him at all. Others, he’s there yet not really, or he sweats uncontrollably, nervous and awkward around any other people. Once Lillian manages to get into the secretive lab, she sees pictures of dissected animals, she finds one of the old traps, and their relationship begins to crumble.
In the same vein as Mary Shelley and her mad Dr. Frankenstein, Fessenden’s No Telling pits man against nature, man against man, and even woman again man.
12584_1The basic look of this film is actually incredible. Funny enough, the cinematographer David Shaw actually did nothing after this movie, which is a shame. Though, he did operate Steadicam on a film in’95. It’s crazy because one of the first things I enjoyed about No Telling was the look. The Blu ray comes courtesy of the Larry Fessenden Collection, only recently released; also comes with Habit, Wendigo, and the Last Winter, as well as a ton of extras including short films, music videos and lots of commentary. Really this Blu ray collection is a fucking treasure.
No Telling‘s audio and picture are both unbelievably perfect. The exterior shots are something to behold, then there are great contrasted shots of shadowy goodness inside the barn-laboratory and even at times in the house itself. Again, I’m so amazed Shaw didn’t go on to do more work as cinematographer. Between him and Fessenden there is a wealth of beautifully composed shots, interesting camerawork (angles particularly) and an all around nice style.
Fessenden-5Obviously, when you look at this film’s alternate title The Frankenstein Complex, you can easily see – even without doing so – there are roots of this story growing out of Mary Shelley’s original novel Frankenstein. Lots of interesting things happening in this movie, courtesy of the tight screenplay from Fessenden and Beck Underwood. Naturally, this comes out from the young doctor and his experiments. However, the movie takes it further into the idea of man playing god using animals as his subject. You can clearly see how Fessenden feels about animal experimentation; at the same time, he makes a good point for the side of the scientist, as well. As I mentioned earlier, there are a couple particularly savage shots where Geoffrey (Ramsey) is in his barn-lab doing work that might get touchy for anyone sensitive seeing animals in horror movies. But this only serves to create a weird character in Geoffrey, the heinous doctor working out in the isolated farmlands on who knows what sort of mental medical experiments.
The whole film is very heavy in theme. We watch this doctor and his wife sort of spiral into a descent towards a place where life is dark and dangerous. To compliment such darkness, again it’s the camerawork and the style of Fessenden which make it all compelling. One specific shot I can’t stop thinking of comes after Geoffrey puts a few small metal traps out to catch animals around the property – as Lillian is upstairs, the snap of a trap comes in the distance and then a red filter takes over the visuals, slowly cutting and cutting, editing towards shots of a fox (or something similar) baring its teeth, no doubt caught in the trap’s jaws. Very, very effective and such a neat moment. I was caught off-guard, in such a perfect sense. Made my eyes widen and excited me with all its horror. This is only one of the awesome sequences out of this fascinating film.
No-Telling-still-3_283824dc-a267-e511-9442-0ad9f5e1f797_lgThis is one of my favourite Larry Fessenden films. I’ve seen them all now, especially since getting this collection it’s been easy. 4.5 out of 5 stars, none less. No Telling has a ton of spooky horror, but it isn’t conventional like jumpy stuff. Nor is there a lot of the typical sort of reliance on genre tropes. What Fessenden does here is a create a unique and intensely modern story using Mary Shelley as a very basic framework. Too many seem to pass this off as a mere retelling of Frankenstein. It is so much more. Just take a chance and watch this excellent little indie horror. It will compel and disturb you and surprise you even.

The Roost: Ti West’s Zombie Bats Are Coming for You!

The Roost. 2005. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Tom Noonan, Karl Jacob, Vanessa Horneff, Sean Reid, Wil Horneff, Barbara Wilhide, Richard Little, John Speredakos, and Larry Fessenden. Glass Eye Pix.
Unrated. 80 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
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In my recent review of Ti West’s The Innkeepers, I mentioned being a huge fan of him generally. So just keep that in mind. Maybe I’m biased; I still try to be a little objective when considering how others might look at the same film I’m looking at.
I don’t think this is a perfect movie, but it’s honestly one of my favourite horror feature debuts from a filmmaker in the genre. There’s a criminally low rating for this movie on IMDB – though, I personally don’t care about the ratings on any sites, let alone that one. While I spend a fair amount of time on there trying to even out the scores as best I can with my own, what I believe to be decent, ratings, I still don’t give much heed to it overall; mostly it’s a good database. You’ll see a lot of West’s films, most of them, have an underrated presence on IMDB. Because those people are sleeping, man. This guy is one of the greatest in horror today. He moves out from simple concepts, usually incorporating very personal relationships or at least characters who are relatable to an audience, then the horror takes hold. Basically, any horror writer – whether screenwriter or novelist or short story writer, et cetera – would tell you that’s part of what scares them: taking things to a personal level, the bringing on the horror. Many other horror filmmakers, particularly of the indie variety, try to do this, it’s no big secret. I believe, however, Ti West is simply better than the herd at making those types of excellent horror films.
While there’s a ton of old school sensibility in him elsewhere, I think so much of his 1970s/1980s influence comes through with The Roost simply because of the way there’s a frame narrative with the old school horror show on cable access and it leads into the real film itself. Right from then on, it feels like you’re watching an old school horror movie. That gives the movie a different style, something not entirely common these days, and within that I find it all pretty damn charming. Y’know, in that creepy horror charm sort of sense.
the-roost-movie-tom-noonan-horror-hostStarting with a late night horror t.v program on a local cable station, the host (Tom Noonan) introduces us to The Roost, the latest film playing on Cable 13.
A group of friends are on their way to see some friends get married. While heading along the road, they end up stranded. At a lonely farm out in the middle of nowhere, cornfields and the whole nine yards, the lost group end up coming face to face with what lays in the darkness of the farm’s barn.
Inside the old structure there are terrifying creatures of the night. Now, they seem to be waking up, and as night falls they’re looking for something on which to feed.
4503431_l2Something I love is how Ti West does these awesome edits with both visuals and sound. First, we get a SCREAM which happens during a transition from the barn out to the car, where and older woman is waiting for her husband to come back; it’s on the radio, but the way West crosses over to that bit is excellent. For a split second I honestly was waiting for someone to come running, or something. Effective, brief moment. Secondly another comes when the old woman wanders into the dark of the barn, then this sound starts to come that you almost feel is coming out of the shadows, yet it cuts to one of the friends standing behind the now broken down car revving, brake lights shining red in his face, and the sound has actually been the car the whole time. These are little simple bits people often don’t think of, however, when they’re used appropriately to put the audience on a tense edge, waiting for something, anything to happen, it’s a killer move. West uses these in a way other horror filmmakers might use jump scares – instead of frightening us, it simply ratchets up the tension and creates an unsettling, edgy mood.
the roost 2Being his first feature, I think West does a wonderful job creating atmosphere in The Roost. It’s something I find pervades all his films, even when he switched it up most recently in The Sacrament with found footage style. He’s great with setting up tension and executing suspenseful sequences in order to build up that atmosphere, setting an evident tone. Each of his movies have it, which is partly why I think he’s one of those important filmmakers in horror today; more than that, genre filmmaking in general.
Also, there’s a degree of playfulness at times I think is essential in certain horror movies. Creature features being one of them. I always love when a movie featuring killer-somethings (in this case BATS) has a good dose of dark humour. One little scene I love is when one of the guys sneaks up behind the girl, about to scare her, but he stops short as if disappointed she didn’t even turn around like she couldn’t hear him coming; then he lightly taps her, scaring her anyways. It made me cackle for a second. Good bit.
Moreover, the guy is a pretty good writer. In my opinion, anyways. As a fellow writer, I like the way he writes characters because I find them personable. I’ve seen a lot of people say his movies have all these “hipster” characters, this and that, but whatever man. I don’t see that at all. The way I perceive most of his characters is that they’re real people, genuine; not characters in that sense really, rather actual people. Not to sound cheesy. There are a lot of writers capable of doing this, he’s just one. It’s something I love in horror, though, as a believable character in a film is more likely to draw me into their emotions, the plot, and the overall story. Here in The Roost we get those inescapable dynamics of friendship, particularly it’s amplified with the upcoming wedding to which they’re all headed, and even further compounded by the fact the car breaks down and they find themselves stranded out in the middle of nowhere. Probably one thing I dig so much about the script and the writing, I think West sets up a great situation with which he can play around in with the characters before introducing the creatures and the HORROR and the BLOOD!
roostI personally dig the whole vampire bats turning people into zombie-like reanimated corpses. Some online seem to suggest it’s no good. Me, on the other hand, I thought it worked very well. Creepy stuff at times. One scene shows the old woman from early in the movie, now obviously bitten by the bats and taken over, just behind a character in the window. It’s a nice little moment where you dread what may be coming next.
This whole aspect also makes it more than a mere creature feature. The creatures are affecting the humans and then the whole friendship dynamic is tested, as they all try not to succumb to the murderous infectious bats flying all around the farm’s property.
Even better than that, Ti West treats us to a good helping portion of makeup effects. Lots of nice practical work here, as the effects fall in line with everything else old school-feeling about The Roost. Love the blood and gory stuff because it really does feel like an ’80s movie. The effects are good, they just bring me back to the older horror where most everything was practical and we didn’t have to suffer through movies made up of CGI blood and CGI green-screen’d stuff constantly. West does well with taking things back to a more simple time in several ways here, this being one of them.

Finally, I love the narrative framing device of the horror show. Tom Noonan is amazing, as always. Very unsettling and creepy. Simultaneously, he’s hilarious. I didn’t exactly like the end of this part either at the finale, however, the whole thing is good fun. Real nice way to showcase an indie horror adding in this cable access style show.

All in, I think this is definitely a 4 out of 5 star horror movie. While I don’t particularly care for the last shot, and not every actor was the greatest. there’s enough here in Ti West’s feature debut that I can say it’s a solid outing. The writing holds up, as well as the fact he relies on an atmosphere of tension and practical effects to sell the horror.
You can do A LOT worse when it comes to horror, certainly when it comes down to the creature feature sub-genre. This is a great modern creature horror movie. See it if you can; the DVD is pretty damn awesome. Love the look and feel of this film, and dig the horror it dishes out!

Pod: Backwoods Indie Alien Horror with Teeth

Pod. 2015. Directed & Written by Mickey Keating.
Starring Larry Fessenden, Lauren Ashley Carter, Brian Morvant, Dean Cates, John Weselcouch, and Forrest McClain. High Window Films.
Rated R. 76 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★1/2
podv3-681x1024If any of you may have read my reviews before, you might know that I’m a big fan of films which are of a specific genre and still they have the ability to cross over genres. The classic example is Alfred Hitchock’s adaptation of Psycho by Robert Bloch – the way we think the story is all about Marion Crane, but then Norman Bates shows up and the story takes on a different air. Same goes for Proxy, a viscerally intense horror thriller from Zack Parker, which I believe took much inspiration from Hitchcock and his classic horror film and seems to move between genres in a similar fashion.
So, for all its faults, I do like the way Pod starts out with an opening scene that’s very horror-ish, or at least highly suspenseful, then moves for a while into an extremely serious, often dour family drama before coming back to its horror elements.

Pod tells the story of Ed (Dean Cates) and his sister Lyla (Laurence Ashley Carter) who are heading up to a cabin in the winter in order to retrieve their out of control brother Martin (Brian Morvant). He needs an intervention of some sort. When they arrive, though, things are far worse than they’d ever anticipated. Ed is already worried, having received a frantic and terrifying call from Martin.
Once there, Martin tells his siblings he has something trapped in the basement, that there is a “pod”. He reveals scratches all over his body, infected and sore.
But after the worst happens, Ed and Lyla must confront what really is down in the basement. It most certainly is not of this world. Suddenly everything their crazy brother Martin had told them seems to be horrifying true.
IMG_1848I’ve been a huge fan of Larry Fessenden now for a good 14 years probably. I remember I saw his film Wendigo, an eerily low budget psychological horror, on some television channel late at night. Totally floored by it, I sought out anything he’d done before then kept my eyes on him afterwards.
What’s great about Larry is that he’s a fun horror director, while also popping up in the films of others as an actor. I think he likes to take on roles with young filmmakers he finds interesting, or just any filmmakers in general, young or old, he thinks has some talent. So to see him in this film is pretty great. He was in Mickey Keating’s previous directorial effort Ritual, which I’m planning to see soon, so I gather Fessenden must enjoy Keating and his filmmaking to have signed on for another of his films. He isn’t in this one much at all, though, to see him show up a little is enough for me most times.
IMG_1846Then there’s also the talented Lauren Ashley Carter who I’d first seen in The Woman and enjoyed. Then I caught her on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in a decent role. However, it wasn’t until the film Jug Face, which I own and love, that I saw what Carter is really made of. She has great range, as is evidenced by watching her across a couple films.
Here she plays a young woman whose family clearly has issues. She’s an alcoholic, her brother Martin (Brian Morvant) is most obviously a man with drug problems and all sorts of other compounded issues. It’s intriguing to watch her here, as opposed to Jug Face in particular, because this character is even more complex.
I really found the chemistry between Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter) and her brother Ed (Dean Cates) worked very well. The beginning of the film for the first 10-15 minutes is a lot of them, alone together as they travel to give Martin a sort of impromptu intervention. It’s definitely a rocky relationship, though, we’re able to glean a sense of their family, their past, and it doesn’t require a huge amount of expository dialogue. There’s definitely some of it, but we get tons simply from how Ed and Lyla interact with one another. Once Martin actually comes into the picture, there’s plenty more family tension and further dynamics at work.
We get bunches of history about the family, especially Martin. Turns out he did something pretty terrible to a woman named Edith – flashes of a couple Polaroids with a VICIOUS BLOODY injury to her face come up really quick – he thought she was feeding him arsenic, that she was a spy of some sort. So it’s obvious why Ed, and to a lesser extent Lyla, is reluctant to initially believe anything Martin is saying. No matter what horror may come later, at the time it’s certainly relatable and understandable; Martin’s got psychological issues, plus the fact he was in the military and who knows what he truly saw, but it’s affected him in some highly real ways due to delusional thought.
A while later, Ed reveals to Lyla that the woman named Edith was a nurse. Martin tried to essentially rip her face off and escape from the hospital. So again, we see more of why the siblings – mostly Ed as Lyla seems to believe Martin slightly – have a tough time trying to trust anything Martin might say.
This all sets up the drama of the family, but what that serves to do is make all the thriller and horror aspects of the script come out even more intensely, as we’re sort of riding alongside Ed and Lyla listening to the insanity of Martin before – BAM! – everything kicks in.
IMG_1847Loved the style of how the film was shot. Not only that, the sound design and the score helps the suspense and tension of so many scenes. One awesome bit is just before the 30 minute mark, as Martin retells the story of waking up in a government lab; he’s a soldier who’s clearly seen some SHIT. But what I love is the score, the sound design with its crackling fuzzy noises slamming loud with the music at the right intervals, and all the while we’re closing in on the door of the cabin Martin has locked. There are scratches around the door, near the locks, it’s clear something is in there whether brother Ed wants to believe it or not. Definitely creepy style.
This sets up a really great atmosphere, another aspect of what I love about good horrors and thrillers; any films really. If a nice atmosphere and tone can keep up throughout a movie, then there’s a good chance no matter what I’ll walk away with something positive to think and feel about it, even if not every aspect is great. What Pod absolutely has going for it is a tense atmosphere throughout, a dark and sketchy tone.
One amazing, brief shot is after Ed pulls Lyla off to talk in private. There’s an excellent slow motion style shot, as Lyla stares wide-eyed at Martin while heading upstairs; she sees her brother grabbing his head, like a million voices are pounding his brain, and he looks so tortured you can almost feel his pain.
IMG_1845There’s a genuinely shocking moment near the 50 minute mark. I knew Martin was pretty crazy, despite the obvious weird happenings at the cabin, however I couldn’t see what he did coming. Not by a long shot. I don’t want to spoil anything too much, so I won’t say exactly what it was, but be prepared! It’s not vicious, definitely gory though. Mostly it’s just a good, solid shock that puts the final half hour into a really thrilling frame.
Once Ed and Lyla open up the padlocked door in the cabin, I thought the room itself was superbly creepy. It’s cast in this reddish light, there are drawings and doodles everywhere, writing on pages just tacked to every open space on the wall – the set design and anyone who worked on the room sure spent a nice bit of time making the place look like the stronghold of an insane man. We’ve seen this kind of thing before, but the way Keating directs these scenes it’s definitely tense and has a spooky air of mystery.
My most exciting moment, personally, during the film is when we get the first bits in the basement. Ed is walking around with a flashlight, and at first it seems like we’re simply watching an angled shot of him, when in reality it’s a view from the eye of the pod, or whatever it is hiding down there. VERY VERY EFFECTIVE! I loved this moment because it was a nice touch, unexpected and a little unnerving at the same time, too.
IMG_1844I’m not saying that Pod is a perfect movie, not at all. My problem is that when I went online to see what people were saying, so many moviegoers – likely many of whom pirated the film instead of paying for the pleasure – seem to say “Oh it’s like an hour of arguing and screaming”. There is plenty of arguing, definitely some screaming at points, but what did you expect? This is a riveting family drama for the first quarter or so, then it plunges into a mystery thriller before hitting the horror stride full-on within the last half hour. I mean, there’s no real doubt Ed and Martin would be yelling at one another. First of all, Martin’s psychologically damaged, he’s probably taking some drugs, Ed is completely fed up with his brother. Naturally there will be some fighting. So I just can’t agree with anybody saying this is ALL arguing and yelling. It’s not. Plus, this is a horror film and there are intense scenes of – you guessed it – horror. So I don’t see it as totally unrealistic that maybe people would be yelling at certain points. You don’t think you’d be frightened? Not even when a hideous, terrifying creature of some sort is coming up the stairs out of the dark after you? I call bullshit.
IMG_1842 IMG_1843With one whopper of a final 20 minutes, I can’t say that Pod is a bad film. Honestly when I go on IMDB and I see that a good indie horror film, with sci-fi elements, has a low rating like 4.5 (which would equate to about a 2 out of 5 star rating by my site’s terms), I’m consistently amazed at how lame a lot of people rating online have become. What’s so bad about this movie you’ve got to rate it THAT low? The acting isn’t bad. Lauren Ashley Carter does a great job as Lyla, Dean Cates is solid in his role as the caring and serious brother Ed, but can you really deny that Brian Morvant did a terrific job with the character of Martin? If you say he’s no good, I just feel you’re kidding yourself. It was a frenetic performance and it came off well.
I did love the inclusion of Fessenden, at the same time his character and how quick that aspect lurches into the film is one of my only big problems with Pod. I’m fine with the whole angle of someone protecting the pod, or having a part in the pod being there – whatever. The part I cannot abide is how swift that part came on, there’s no real buildup to this scene. I’m not asking to have things spelled out for me, though, there’s no way I can jive with how suddenly Fessenden’s character showed up and what he’s done (I won’t spoil it fully).
Ultimately, I’ve got to say this is a 3.5 out of 5 star film. There’s an intensely horrific final 30 minutes, beginning with a gory throat cut then introducing the alien/pod in the basement, which all ramps up to the creepy and messy finale as Ed faces off against whatever the thing is Martin had been warning him of all along. The effects are KILLER here and I thought the pod/alien design all around was so perfect! The sounds it makes at the end while fighting with Ed are outrageous, I loved it. Unsettling piece of horror with that small sci-fi twist.
See this and absolutely DO NOT pay attention to all the slagging going on over at IMDB and other online sources. People who probably don’t appreciate film are the ones commenting, I see many of them brag they’ve not paid for it in any way and downloaded it for free, so honestly I don’t take people that seriously if they’re not willing to pay for films. Just sours my view on someone’s perspective when they’re robbing filmmakers then shitting all over their movies.
So get a copy legally, watch it, then tell me how you feel. I’m not saying everyone will love it, merely I believe this deserves more attention than the people online are giving it. They’ve clearly not paid attention to the worthy aspects of Mickey Keating’s film because there are likeable elements which I enjoyed a great deal. Nice little indie horror film for a rainy day when you want to get creeped out.

Late Phases is Modern Werewolf Heaven

Late Phases. 2014.  Dir. Adrián 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. Adrián García Bogliano, who previously did the gritty rape-revenge thriller I’ll Never Die Alone, as well as PenumbaHere 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.