Direct to DVD: A Benjamin Cooper/Jeff Ryan/Matt O’Neill triple feature

Approximately every 5 years since 2006, indie director Benjamin Cooper has released a horror film. Since all three were on Amazon Prime and I totally got sucked in by his creature feature Primitive, I decided…BLOG! 

THE BRINK (2006)

For his first horror film, Cooper did the smartest thing an indie director could do…he made it 70 minutes long! Eureka! No damn filler here. This is a simple little supernatural slasher that gets right to the point.

Three college students decide they’re going to complete a machine Thomas Edison was working on before his death that would allow him to talk to the dead. And what better place to build and use such a machine than in a creepy old abandoned house?

This is where adorable actor Jeff Ryan (Death Factory, Creepies) first enters Cooper’s films. Jeff plays the main girl’s ex-boyfriend, a total skeptic who pretty much crashes their invention party. His luscious lips arrive about an hour earlier…

Before long, they get the machine going and drag some ghosts into the real world—including a big dude with an axe, and a woman with a knife.

These pale, rotting baddies look sort of like something out of the Thirt3en Ghosts remake. But they bring on a whole lot more blood.

This tight little indie is fast-paced, atmospheric, and suspenseful, plus we get to see Jeff shirtless.

And the plot to get out of the house alive is pretty crazy, and one you don’t see every day.

Personally, I would have taken an extra 20 minutes if there had been more college kids in the house and a higher body count considering the baddies were creepy and kills were cool. For me, the only downside was a cheesy CGI fire scene.

PRIMITIVE (2011)

The 80s come to the twenty-teens in this rubber costume monster movie, and I loved every minute of it.

Matt O’Neill, Cooper’s other go-to actor, plays a monster designer on a movie set who is fired after fighting with the director. His girlfriend convinces him to go for anger management therapy…with Reggie Bannister of Phantasm fame!

Before he can get very far with Reggie, our main man has to go back home to his small town for a funeral.

His family’s reputation is drudged up, there is conflict with people from his past, and then they start to get picked off one by one in gory ways by some sort of “animal.”

MAKE AMERICAN WHITE TRASH SHUT THE FUCK UP AGAIN.

What it is might be a mystery to local law enforcement, but we get to see the creature constantly. And it is savagely cool…because it looks almost exactly like the hairy beast from “The Crate” in Creepshow.

Along with loads of monster fun, there are jump scares, good old-fashioned blood and guts, and Matt even shows off his ass-ets.

Plus, his best buddy is none other than Jeff Ryan! And he looks even cuter than he did five years ago.

Yes, Jeff. It’s me, your stalker. Don’t be afraid.
I’m just taking innocent stills…of your ass in mid-flight.

EDGAR ALLAN POE’S LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER (2016)

Cooper’s most recent film tackles a challenging adaptation: the last, unfinished work by Edgar Allan Poe. The piece was written as diary entries—and only a few—so it is not known if Poe was intending it to be a novel or short story. This provides plenty of room for interpretation and essentially creation of an entirely original plot.

This film is a period piece that reminds me of the 1960s Poe adaptations starring Vincent Price, which elaborated so much on the author’s works that they were virtually unrecognizable beyond one key plot point.

All the source material offered here was a setup: a man is stranded on a deserted island with a lighthouse. Cooper takes that starting point and runs with it. Matt O’Neill is back as the leading man. His rowboat (WTF?) washes ashore during a storm and a gruff old lighthouse keeper rescues him.

What happened? Where am I? Why am I naked? Why does my ass ache?

The old man insists they are the only two people on the island…even though Matt regularly catches glimpses of a woman.

Believing the old man isn’t being completely honest with him, Matt gets dangerously curious, exploring the island, snooping in places the old man tells him not to, and most crucially, not listening to a really important warning from the old man—never ever let the light in his room burn out at night.

It’s what comes out when the light does go out that teases the more monstrous aspect of the film, and I liked it. EEK! However, the onslaught of ghouls is saved until the final act (my favorite part).

Until then, this is a totally different approach to horror for Cooper, whose other films were loaded with mainstream money shots. The old school slow burn pacing here drops ominous hints of unseen horrors while a supernatural mystery unfolds. The narrative becomes rather surreal, as everything the main character experiences seems to be either encompassed in a nightmare, daydream, hallucination, or possible ghost sighting.

If that style is not your thing, you might not have the patience for this one, but I appreciated seeing Cooper demonstrating versatility, and he definitely delivered the “cool” horror at the end.

Only one other way I could think that he could make the film better…Matt O’Neill and Jeff Ryan stranded on the island alone together. Heh heh.

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JUST SAY NO (but totally say yes to these 2 movies)

Sometimes I just need a hit…of movies about kids doing drugs and then turning into crazed killers! Urge and The Evil In Us were just the fix I needed.

URGE (2016)

This violent thriller stars the likes of disgraced That ‘70s Show alum Danny Masterson, Pierce Brosnan, Ashley Greene of the Twilight films, Alexis Knapp of Pitch Perfect, and Justin Chatwin of Shameless.

A group of privileged white assholes goes to party at a mansion on an island. They hit up a wild club unlike any that exists anymore—man, the sex and debauchery at this place brought me back to the days of raving in the 90s. And I recall it all vividly because I didn’t do drugs. Which means I remember everything you all did that you’ve forgotten, you sick fucks.

Anyway, they want to loosen up, so one of them scores a very unique drug from Pierce Brosnan, who breezes in to easily steal his few scenes in the film.

The drug comes with one warning…one major rule; it can only be taken once. EVER.

But doing it feels soooooo goooooood. What could it hurt doing it one more time?

It hurts everyone and everything. The friends end up having a party loaded with the drug. Pretty soon, people in the house and all over the island are losing control of their inhibitions and giving in to the temptations of sex…and violence.

This isn’t one of those films in which the drug creates drooling savages. Users simply give in to their urge to be hateful for no reason, leading to violence and brutality. It’s kind of like a normal day in the U.S., 2018.

And just when you think this is simply another infected film…there’s an epic twist at the end. If I have any complaints about Urge, it’s that this movie about surrendering to sexual temptations lacks full nudity and has no male nudity! 

THE EVIL IN US (2016)

The opening scene of The Evil In Us is all kinds of messed up. It also establishes an odd back and forth that creates something much bigger than the simple “cabin in the woods” plot this could be.

So about that cabin in the woods plot. A group of friends heads to an isolated island for the 4th of July weekend. Things immediately seem weird—and by things, I mean the guy who boats them over to their cabin on the island.

Unlike the friends in Urge, most of these kids are pretty darn likable. They have a good time around a campfire, one guy gives another a lap dance, and then…

They do drugs.

In the meantime, we are regularly interrupted by subplots involving a police investigation and some sort of sinister science experiment. While it’s a bit distracting, it doesn’t take away from what is to come back at the cabin…

Shit just EXPLODES. This film is the good old snarling, drooling, red-eyed variety of savages. Violence, gore, jump scares, suspense…the final act kicks horror ass if you’re a fan of this type of film. The nonstop action leads right up to a sick twist.

But be warned. The conclusion is devilishly political…

Meanwhile, not only does actor Ian Collins kick ass as the main infected, but he’s a hottie.

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Jennifer just keeps attracting more and more gay guys

A while back, I wrote about the found footage flick To Jennifer and its sequel 2 Jennifer here. To Jennifer is about a guy who takes his friends on a road trip when he concludes that his long distance girlfriend Jennifer is cheating on him. The sequel is about a guy who has been asked by the director of the first film to make a sequel, and insists on finding the perfect “Jennifer” to play the part.

While the first film is about as heterocentric as it gets, 2 Jennifer is way more intriguing because it delves deep into sexual and gender identity. It’s also an incredibly dark and heavy-handed film. So it’s interesting to see the direction the third film in the series takes.

#FromJennifer is more of an oddball, campy black comedy horror. It’s also a standalone film that doesn’t connect back to the other films in any way, not even taking a meta approach as the first sequel did.

Well, there is another Jennifer—the leading lady. She’s a struggling actress who gets fired by a director, is dumped by her boyfriend, and gets canned by her agent, played by Tony Todd (she gets canned by Candyman).

Then she finds out her boyfriend posted their sex video online. Devastated, she decides to get revenge—against all men.

Throughout the course of the film, we have no idea what Jennifer’s evil plan is. We just watch the process unfold. First, she interviews for an assistant, which is when it becomes very clear that this installment has no intention of taking itself seriously. Passing on various rejects, she settles on a guy named Butch, played by Derek Mears, whose numerous horror films include roles as both man and monster. Personally, I think this is Derek’s best, meatiest role yet—he’s a gay dude who has a social disorder and just got dumped by his boyfriend!

As Jennifer’s plan is set in motion, we begin to realize that crazy people always seem to find each other…and that something really bad is destined to happen to the men Jennifer and Butch begin to attract.

They also make a detour so Butch can find some closure with his ex.

Things take a surprisingly gayer turn that is as funny as it is so wrong.

The humorous angle waters down any shock value when the blood begins to flow, but it’s still ridiculously subversive in an old school way.

And Derek Mears portrays one of the most oddly charming and innocent gay psychos I’ve ever seen in a horror flick.

Considering how extreme the finale of the second film was, #FromJennifer is a bit disappointingly restrained in terms of horror payoff. However, I’m loving that the series is continuing to delve unapologetically into edgy gay territory at a time when conservative extremism and liberal oversensitivity are both determined to snuff out the joys exploitative insanity brings to the totally sane.

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Masked bitches, zombies, and mutants

If you stream a lot of horror, chances are the name Uncork’d has become a pretty familiar sight at the beginning of a film. It’s another 21st century company keeping the horror genre alive by releasing numerous indie films. Here’s a look at three of the latest films I’ve check out from Uncork’d.

BAD APPLES (2017)

bad apples cover

You’re starting off with a huge advantage if you set your film on Halloween night. Even better if you have brats in masks going around violently killing people. But narrative thread matters. It really does. Especially if you actually try to have one, seem to know you failed, and then literally slap on a “coda” in which obnoxious characters painstakingly explain to the audience what that narrative thread was.

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was when this Halloween film with artwork proved to be a chore to get through. First off, it is so darkly lit (including daytime scenes) that you can’t see ANYTHING (I’ve lightened the stills from the film for this post). Next, the “plot” simply drops in plot points and then never ties them together.

A couple moves to a small town. He’s a doctor, she’s a teacher. The school principal rides her about her religious affiliation. The exchange proves to be irrelevant.

bad apples pumpklin carve

Two girls in school are wearing Halloween masks that they never take off, which ends them in the principal’s office. Guess who dies first. There goes horror, punishing the righteous. Okay, I’ll give the film a star for that.

bad apples killers

At least the girls had an excuse for being pissed at the principal. From that point on, they seem to just go around killing random people, very few that are actually introduced to the audience.

bad apples neighbor

I was liking the girls’ modus operandi, though. They show up at your door, say “trick or treat” in a creepy voice, and when you don’t answer, they somehow get into your house and kill you.

bad apples kitchen

There’s no sense of exactly what time of night it is as the movie progresses because we see no trick-or-treaters and no one answers when there’s a knock on their door even though it’s Halloween, so the film ends up losing its holiday spirit as it progresses.

And eventually, simply because it has been established that she’s the lead, the teacher is terrorized by them. Meanwhile, at the hospital, there’s this last minute ditch effort to have her husband create some (irrelevant) character development by telling his coworker about their past. Meanwhile, his coworker explains in detail to him, a doctor, what a life alert bracelet is after a patient uses one. I guess it’s meant to let the audience know what a life alert bracelet is, which begs the question, how uninformed do you think your audience is?

bad apples kill

The Halloween spirit returns for one final kill which involves the carving of a jack-o’-lantern. And then we get that coda. WTF? It goes on forever and just gets worse and worse as the dialogue between three annoying girls attempts to explain the plot of the film because the script was incapable of doing so. And don’t expect one last awesome jump scare because it doesn’t happen.

DAWNING OF THE DEAD (2017)

dawning of the dead cover

Brace yourself for one of those moments when I’m a defiant horror asshole. British zombie film Dawning of the Dead seems to be getting trashed around the Internet, with folks especially crying blasphemy over the title cashing in on a George A. Romero classic. To that I say I’d watch this awesome flick over the one crappy flick from Romero’s original trilogy any day. See a thoroughly detailed breakdown of why it’s so crappy here.

Speaking of Dawn of the Dead, if you ask me, Dawning of the Dead could be considered an alternate reality version of that movie. What if the characters in the film had never left the news station building to head to the mall? Why, they would have been trapped inside the building while hordes of zombies tried to get in, of course! Awesome.

dawning of the dead zombies

I mean, you can’t complain about the basic face paint and eye contacts of the zombies here if you think the Romero film with the Smurf-faced zombies is a masterpiece of horror. Dawning’s hardcore zombies have no interest in shopping at the mall—they just relentlessly want to feed. And man, do they ever, in numerous scenes of super gory gut munching.

dawning of the dead eat

Our main girl is a news reporter with a very crucial piece of information about the truth behind the outbreak. Little does she know there’s an agent on his way to the building to make sure she stays quiet (and they’re not even in Trump’s America). Also on the way is her adorable man and his brother, whose fight to get to the station to rescue her provides much of the film’s comic moments.

dawning of the dead boyfriend

That’s right. While there’s a lot of serious stuff going on, this film is also intentionally comic, not like that laughable Romero mess. At first it’s a little jarring that the film feels cheesy—sort of like watching a dubbed 80s Euro horror film—but after a while, you begin to realize the film actually has a sly sense of humor about it between all the blood and guts moments, so that inital b-movie feel actually makes sense.

dawning of the dead face to face

The zombie attack scenes totally kick ass, and there are tons of them. Plus, there’s a group of people in the news station that clashes constantly while trying to survive, and what seem like the usual suspects have some surprises in store as they break the mold of predictable character behaviors.

dawning of the dead cast

On top of that, the main girl slowly develops into a strong, lovable hero as she finds herself and becomes the leader of the survivors during the course of the movie. And the character standing alongside her that she can most depend on is a fellow newscaster—an openly gay man who isn’t “in your face.” He just is. And he is showcased as one of the noblest characters by the end of the film. Yeah, definitely not Trump’s America.

The awesome track “When Death Comes to Town” by Faster Than Bullets closes the movie, and even has a zombie video.

 

THE RIZEN (2017)

rizen cover

I’m a big fan of director Matt Mitchell’s action comedy zombie flick Gangsters, Guns & Zombies. Therefore, I was pretty psyched to discover he was responsible for The Rizen, especially since the artwork looks pretty dang ominous.

Alas, the film is actually about post-World War II military plots and experiments. Period piece and military. Blech. But still, I thought there might be hope for it to hold my interest. It focuses on our female hero and a goofy scientist who are trapped in a secret bunker with no memory of how they got there. As they try to find their way out, they meet other characters that also don’t remember how they got there…and usually end up dead, for there are some sort of mutant savages, which I call “bandage heads,” roaming the halls.

rizen fight

Like Alice from Resident Evil, our main girl kicks monster ass…over and over and over again. It’s quite repetitive, so don’t expect any sense of suspense or fear. There’s a lighthearted, humorous tone to the characters’ interactions with each other and during their battles with the monsters that definitely fits the style I’d expect from the guy behind Gangsters, Guns & Zombies.

rizen leads

However, it doesn’t fit with the more complex plot trying to poke its way through. There are flashbacks as the characters piece together what’s going on, but just when it turn into something bigger, the movie comes to an end. But, if you are getting sucked into the emerging plot, fear not—The Rizen 2 is coming!

rizen gore

As for The Rizen, to me it feels like a hack n’ slash video game. You get an occasional cut scene that strings the action together with a thin storyline, but really the whole point is to continuously kill onslaughts of monsters. Problem is, you don’t get to play here. You just have to watch. And that’s no fun after the novelty of the cool monsters and cool kill sequences wears off.

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Horror anthology overload!

These days there are so many pseudo anthologies simply comprised of a bunch of short films snagged off the Internet that you never know what you’re in for when you find one on a streaming service. Well, I got lucky with this batch, several consisting of longer stories, so let’s get into them.

BEYOND EVIL (aka: Still) (2010)

This anthology from Thailand has four stories of substantial length. Not only are they all worth a watch, but there are cute guys in all of them! The stories stem from an opening New Year’s Eve party segment, in which there’s a notable gay “situation” in the men’s restroom.

Here’s the breakdown:

1st story – This is somewhat of a supernatural romance. A young man is haunted by memories, guilt, and the ghost of his girlfriend, who perished in a fire at a dance club. While the ghost scenes are pretty standard to me, the phenomenal flashback to the horror of the club burning down leaves a lasting impression.

2nd story – Eerie and atmospheric, this is nonetheless a rather generic story about a guy in prison who is haunted by the ghost of another inmate.

3rd story – Managing to elevate itself above the usual creepy ghost girl plot, this one takes place in an apartment building. After a girl is murdered and her body is dumped in the water tank on the roof, the tenants begin to find…stuff in their water. This story is so good I could puke.

4th story – The horror comedy is saved for last. Two young guys pick up a prostitute and unknowingly bring her to a haunted hotel, which leads to gay stuff that pokes fun at Asian crawling girl horror, plenty of laughs, and awesome twists.

CREEPERS (2014)

The four stories and wraparound in Creepers vary in quality in terms of production, but I enjoyed this anthology for both its lower and higher end segments. Stories range from old school gothic to contemporary and quirky.

The wraparound concerns a taxman being told tales when he pays a visit to a horror lover on a dark, stormy night.

1st story – This is a period piece about a man who remarries a year after his wife dies. His new bride is soon being terrorized by visions of his dead wife. While the ghostly appearances aren’t as scary as I might like, the final zinger is dastardly!

2nd story – The mere weirdness of this tale makes it pretty uncomfortable to watch. A guy with emotional problems is still living with his parents, who bring a troubled, female childhood friend of his into the home to live with them. As they rekindle their friendship, things get trippy in a sexual and bloody way. The final frame would have ruined me had I seen this when I was a young horror fan.

3rd story – A low budget doesn’t get in the way of this being a funny little skit, especially if you’re a writer. A man who has just finished what he believes to be his masterpiece is horrified when his computer dies immediately after. A PC repairman offers to save his computer…by resurrecting the ghost that took it to computer heaven.

4th story – This final tale is perhaps my favorite because it hits the horror mark perfectly. A guy rents a room in a big old house with a history of witchcraft, magic, and ventriloquism. Then he begins to hear the landlord talking to what sounds like a little child at night…. EEK! I loved the final minutes of this one.

And of course there’s the wraparound, which has its own little campy horror conclusion as well.

MINUTES PAST MIDNIGHT (2016)

For a film that only runs 98 minutes long, Minutes Past Midnight includes quite an assortment of stories of varying tone and style. Some just go for the good old-fashioned horror, while others are a bit more complex. In total, there are nine tales, with no wraparound:

1 – Short and to the point, this one is a fun and gory twist on the cannibals in the woods plot.

2 – This was a dark one about a messed up kid and the parents trying to protect him, but I can’t say I totally understood it.

3 – A black comedy about a serial killer that wants to fight his urges to kill so he’ll finally be able to date the girl of his dreams.

4 – A gothic period piece that’s either animatronic or CGI animation. The “human” in it looks almost as creepy as the ghoulish creatures he encounters! But seriously, it’s visually stunning and delivers great old school atmosphere.

5 – The gross out comic tale. A dude suffers from “roid” rage…because his itching asshole has teeth!

Dare I say shit gets gory and trashy? The story eventually just segues into a grindhouse trailer for a full-length film version!

6 – Now this is a good old Tales from the Darkside/Tales from the Crypt story. A struggling musician is promised success if he follows the macabre orders depicted in etchings on his apartment floor….

7 – This is a quick nasty about a kid whose favorite cartoon character becomes a reality after his bitchy babysitter sends him to bed.

8 – Like a Stephen King story of childhood horrors coming back to haunt adults, two men make the mistake of returning to an abandoned funhouse they tried to break into as kids, which ended in tragedy.

9 – Finishing strong, this simple, gory comedy has a white trash bear in his undies fighting a Chupacabra in his trailer.

VOLUMES OF BLOOD: HORROR STORIES (2016)

After much confusion, I think I’ve concluded that this film is indeed a companion to the Volumes of Blood anthology I posted about here. I think I even heard a reference to the library from that film in this movie at one point, but I can’t be sure because there were volumes of confusion to contend with.

I believe this film, which runs a soul-killing 2 hours long, is attempting to somehow tie in various stories at different times throughout its running time, but I’m warning you, it is virtually impossible to make sense of what is happening as tales begin to blend together and timelines jump around randomly.

For instance, if you read the description of the film, it suggests that the wraparound has a couple looking at a house with their real estate agent and discovering different tales of terror throughout the house. That didn’t translate at all in the movie since the house-hunters don’t appear until 30 minutes into the film. Plus, it doesn’t seem like they are “experiencing” the stories in any way (say the way John Ritter is telling the house-hunting couple stories in Terror Tract).

What seems to be a more cohesive thread connecting the stories is that a good number of them take place on a holiday or occasion—Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Father’s Day, a birthday, etc. Of course, we already have an anthology film titled Holidays

There are plenty of stories here, some quirky and funny, others gory, and others just downright confusing. Personally, I was mostly feeling the Christmas and Halloween segments because they were loaded with holiday spirit and were both vicious and brutal.

Meanwhile, the real estate agent is a delicious, towering, burly bear. Plus, while it’s hard to make sense of what appears to be an attempt to bring everything full circle and tie it all together, the film ends strong in the sense that it tosses in loads of kills. In fact, the gore effects and the numerous killers in the film are definitely its strengths.

DEADTIME TALES (2018)

Deadtime Tales is somewhat of an oddity in that it runs nearly 2 hours long, has no wraparound, only has 3 stories, and the final one is a drastically edited down and retitled version of the 2003 full-length Halloween haunted attraction slasher Dark Walker! I won’t cover the short edit in this anthology since I blogged about the movie here. However, I must say, I think this is actually a really smart way to salvage some older indie films that got overlooked when they were originally released—especially the ones that needed to be seriously edited down in the first place (I’ve written about plenty of those). Just cut out all the crap, get to the good parts while keeping a coherent story, and slap a trio of them together as an anthology.

Of course, this made me wonder if the other two stories here are also shortened versions of full-length films. While Deadtime Tales is on Amazon Prime, it is not listed on imdb, meaning not even director Dark Walker Danny Draven gets credit for it. However, a movie called Evil Never Sleeps just showed up on Prime, directed by Draven. And after some searching, I discovered it’s actually his 2002 film Deathbed renamed…which was shortened into another story in this collection. Still haven’t figured out what movie the third story might be…but it appears to also be included in a Full Moon anthology called Tales from The Grave, another collection comprised of full-length films that have been edited into shorts.

Since I can quickly say Dark Walker is a goodie as far as Halloween haunted attraction slashers go, let’s get on to the other two stories. To me, they both feel like direct-to-video horror from the late 80s—kind of cheesy, kind of gory, kind of sexy, loads of stupid fun.

1st story – This is the edited version of the film Deathbed. When a couple moves into a new apartment, the wife refurbishes an old bed she finds then begins having nightmares of some freaky dude assaulting a woman.

He quickly becomes more than just part of a dream. For such a simple, old school sleep stalker type story, things get wickedly gory, and the killer is damn creepy. And…the husband’s a hottie.

2nd story – This one reminds me of the days when Full Moon films were creepy and atmospheric but still had that low budget charm. Won’t be surprising if this is also a Draven film, or at least produced by him, because he is part of the Full Moon family.

Female contestants are locked up in an old mansion for a ghost hunting reality show. Shit gets super gory as victims are torn to shreds by a reaper-like specter.

I really like the cheesy 80s vibe of this one.

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I’m sure glad I found this footage

Found footage films rarely impress me. Therefore, I tend to avoid them unless a) the premise sounds slightly more unique than the usual (The Monster Project), or b) I have a reason to watch the film despite it being found footage (Voodoo). Had I known what I was in for with this double feature, I wouldn’t have needed any excuses to check them out.

THE MONSTER PROJECT (2017)

It took almost an hour, but The Monster Project ended up being one of few found footage films that left me saying, “I have to have this film in my collection.” And wouldn’t you fricking know it’s not on DVD or Blu-ray?

The immediate premise is cool. Buddies that make bogus monster hunting videos for a YouTube channel decide to take a new approach—put out an ad seeking people who believe they are real monsters. They rent an abandoned old house in which to conduct the interviews.

But first we get “character development.” Eh. Some of it is necessary (I guess) because it presents one of the main guys as being rather “off.”

There are a few strange occurrences as they try to get their new show off the ground, but none of it is interesting enough to prepare you for what happens once all hell breaks loose at about the 55-minute mark.

It is so worth the wait. Holy monster insanity! I was in screaming heaven! The creatures are hardcore, the footage is fast, frenetic, and damn epic for an indie found footage flick, and there’s a fricking crawlspace scene. Why? WHY?

We even go into crazy exorcism territory. The Monster Project simply doesn’t stop moving for the last 40 minutes. And dammit—people still haven’t learned that you never approach a crying girl standing with her back to you.

VOODOO (2017)

I checked this film out intending to add it to my blog about horror movies featuring an appearance by Ron Jeremy. After watching it, I don’t even understand why the filmmaker felt any need to put him in it for 30 seconds. It’s so beyond the Ron schlock I’ve covered.

This movie is messed up. The story isn’t exactly cohesive from beginning to end, and at times the found footage POV seems to be there without any explanation. But for me, none of that matters, because it just absolutely took me to voodoo hell. SERIOUSLY.

In a way, this is like an indie take on the film Satanic. Considering it was a mainstream flick, I enjoyed that film quite a bit, but Voodoo takes things to a whole different level.

If the occult and the black arts creep you out, the opener will make your skin crawl. Involving an abduction and voodoo sacrifice in a playground, it’s disjointed and surreal in one sense, yet disturbing and very real in another. It also has very little to do with the rest of the film.

We meet a southern girl who comes to L.A. to hang with her friend. This is the part that feels like a simple found footage movie, with them filming everything they do as they party and have fun (and run into Ron Jeremy as himself at a restaurant).

There are occasional strange little occurrences—some quite eerie—suggesting that something really bad is going on with the main girl. She seems normal and innocent, but we learn one thing about her that she says pissed off a supposed voodoo lady back home.

Then it just happens. Out of nowhere the voodoo strikes. Say goodbye to any sense of reality (or any logic of when there is and isn’t a camera filming what’s happening), because within minutes this girl is dragged to a hellish dimension and a nightmare of mental horror torture begins. She is absolutely terrorized and taunted by demonic beings and forced to witness some seriously fucked up shit.

There are some physical attacks that amp up to the most extreme kind by the end of the film, but most of the horror here is in the notion that someone has used magic to damn this girl to an endless onslaught of inescapable, unthinkable, otherworldly horrors. In a weird way, what she experiences and the actress’s nonstop shrieks brought me back to how I felt the first time I watched what Sally goes through at the end of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

 

What makes this so much worse is that this girl seems like a good person, not even at fault for what she’s blamed of doing. There are hints that her past is more complicated than she’s revealing, but none of it is ever clarified. By the freakish final frame, you might not have a clue as to what it all means. However, if my interpretation is correct, you really have to pay attention to what’s happening visually and being said to pick up on it. Even putting the moral implications aside, what gets under your skin is the notion that someone she barely knows could have the power and desire to make her suffer to such extremes.

There’s a part of me that would want to have this film in my collection because it so relentlessly plunges you into such intense horror, but it’s almost too much to take because it never lets you off the hook.

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Is the Devil’s Domain a queer safe space?

Jared Cohn, director of Hold Your Breath, Halloween Pussy Trap Kill Kill, Little Dead Rotting Hood, and the backwoods slasher The Horde simply must keep making movies, because even if I like some less than others, he never does the same thing twice. For me, Devil’s Domain is his best film yet.

It manages to complexly explore queer issues, shines a light on school bullying and the struggles of being a modern teen, delivers wickedly gory slasher elements, and throws in an almost campy she-devil plot. To top it off, the soundtrack rules, with a mix of 80s artists (Gary Numan, Missing Persons, Taco), modern alternative bands (Magic Wands, The Anix, Vowws), and iconic hip hop artists (DMX, Onyx).

 

The character development in the first part of the film packs a punch, giving such a quick glimpse of the shit kids have to contend with that it reminds me of how glad I am that I’m never going to bring a child into this shitty world. Our main girl is a lonely lesbian with an eating disorder, no friends, a bitch of a mother, and a fricking awesome stepdad played by Michael Madsen.

In what amounts to essentially one day of her life, she is tormented in school, betrayed by a friend, and cyberbullied in ways that are ripped right out of the headlines.

And while it might be easy to say that the bullies are total caricatures as they relish the thought that their cruel assaults will push her to suicide, again…this shit is right out of the headlines.

The good news? It’s the devil to the rescue! She lures our main girl in at her darkest moment…over the Internet…and suggests they meet. More terrifying headline reality to remind me why I would never want a kid.

I’m not saying I’d ever sell my soul to the devil, but this Beelzebub bitch is fucking awesome. She’s a hot lesbian with the attitude of a diva porn star. And she can turn into her demonic form at any time. Most importantly, she starts taking down those fucking bullies in super gruesome ways…in between lesbian orgies with the main girl.

This ridiculously entertaining yet meaningful flick could also be read in various ways from a queer perspective. Initially, you sympathize with the lesbian character because everyone is so awful to her. Yet the devil comes along, and she’s a lesbian…who chooses a lesbian as the perfect candidate to take part in her evil game of rape, torture, and mutilation.

So is this suggesting that gay=evil? The devil makes it clear she can take on any form, so it seems pretty obvious to me that she showed up as a hot lesbian because she knew that was the way to seduce a fragile, vulnerable lesbian who has clearly been victimized by everyone. Of course, that means she’s once again a victim…of the devil this time. And boy is she ever by the end of the film, when the devil demonstrates serious gender fluidity with her.

And speaking of gender, the film also features a character all the students in the school call a “she-male.” The character wonderfully challenges the audience, because it is never made clear to us whether he is indeed transgender. Is he perhaps just a gay boy nicknamed based on his attraction to other males? Probably not, because when he goes to enter the male restroom, a male bully stops him and says he needs to use the female bathroom.

A teacher actually stops the bullying and makes it clear that he can use whichever restroom he feels more comfortable entering, which would suggest that he is transgender—and being treated with a lot more respect by the administration than could be said for kids in schools across the country. In fact, most of the adults in the film are noticeably sympathetic and supportive of the victims of bullying in the film. That’s one you won’t see ripped out of the headlines.

It’s also notable that the main girl and the trans kid don’t forge a friendship or seek comfort from each other, instead suffering in their own loneliness.

The devil makes another questionable queer move—she summons the trans kid as the negative element in her takedown of one of the bullies. He appears on command like he’s virtually one of her little minions (like the lesbians at her orgies). But is it really him or is the devil simply working her magic? Either way, it sure comes across as if several LGBTQ identities are responsible for a bunch of breeder deaths before all is said and done.

However, the irony of it all is that the devil’s price for protecting the lesbian ends up being what amounts to the ultimate curse of heteronormativity…

So are the queers the bad guys or getting their just revenge? There are plenty of ways to interpret the queer inclusion in Devil’s Domain, but even if you don’t want to get all deep about that aspect of the film, it’s still a hell of a fun time.

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DIRECT TO STREAM: The low budget urban horror of Chad Hendricks

Director Chad Hendricks’s four films from between 2003 and 2007 recently hit Amazon Prime, so I thought I’d check them all out. Taking on slashers, backwoods horror, zombies, and even a psychological thriller, he most often plays up an urban comedy/blaxploitation throwback angle. The catch is, the dude is white! I found this interview in which he explains near the beginning how he ended up making urban films.

 

While his movies are clearly indie with the expected rough spots, it’s obvious Chad is a fan of and understands the genres he’s taking on, giving me a lot to appreciate here—and a hope that he might continue working on tightening up his filmmaking talent and return to making more horror flix.

KRACKER JACK’D (2003)

Kracker Jack’d is kind of a slasher spoof and sort of a horror comedy, but mostly it’s a low budget urban comedy that finally finds its slasher stride at the end.

While not as funny or well written as 90s urban comedies, it is definitely sort of an homage to them, and even flashes back to the decade with loads of references—the characters reactions to songs from the decade being one of the highlights. Overall, I think the actors are generally funnier than the material they’re delivering most of the time in this one.

The plot involves a bunch of black guys promoting race equality on a college campus when a white dude comes out acting all black and drops the N bomb. The guys beat his ass and leave him for dead.

The movie mostly turns into a goofy house party comedy for a while, with guys attempting to get laid…and occasionally being killed by someone in a hockey mask, complete with killer POV and rip-off Jason sound effects.

For me, the comedy and the slasher elements really come together from the point when a hot guy sings and grooves in a pool in the backyard while waiting for his girl’s return. This couple’s segment actually ends up being quite funny.

However, best sex scene goes to a couple that keeps getting interrupted. You’d swear they were really having sex, because the guy knows how to work those hips. He also has a nice booty, although he only shows half of it.

If you’re going to check out Kracker Jack’d, just be prepared for a long runway before it actually takes off.

INSANE IN THE BRAIN (2007)

 

Chad goes for a total 80s throwback in terms of zombie horror comedy vibe with Insane in the Brain, while loading it with a good dose of 70s bad taste sexploitation.

What better way to open a throwback flick than with zombies crawling out of graves drenched in neon light while groaning, “More brains!”?

That becomes the mantra of the zombies throughout the film—particularly the “main” zombie, who has a noticeably mask-like makeup job.

His first stop is a whorehouse, which immediately kicks off fart humor and explicit sex humor/gore.

The early sex kills set a great horror exploitation tone. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t stick with the premise of the zombies terrorizing the whorehouse.

Instead, the focus turns to a pair of detectives investigating the chaos around town, which gives a good chunk of the film more of a 1970s buddy cop feel. The shtick didn’t hold up for me, and I began to get bored with it.

Which is why I’d argue that the final segment comes way too late, with the detectives assembling a group of the characters together to go into the cemetery at night and kick zombie ass—with the girls as bait!

It’s almost like an unnecessary branching story was dropped into the center of the film, essentially interrupting the all-out “whorehouse under zombie siege” movie this could have been.

NECK OF DA WOODZ (2006)

 

Chad shares the directing duties with two other directors for this film, which could be part of the reason it is a bit uneven in tone. According to imdb, it was shot in 2 days and totally improvised, so that could be a contributing factor as well.

After watching it, I kind of wish there had been a script, because this is a fun backwoods premise for an urban horror, and it would have ironed out the uneven tone that has the film feeling sometimes like a total blaxploitaiton comedy and at others like a serious, disturbing flick.

A group of black buddies experiences truck trouble on a deserted road, so they go to the nearest house for help.

There are a bunch of white chicks in the house, and before long, one of the dudes is in a bedroom fucking one with huge tits. This scene goes on FOREVER, focusing mostly on her huge bouncing tits as all his buddies poke their heads in the door and peep the show.

There’s a drastic shift in tone when racist rednecks with guns bust into the house dropping the N word left and right as they hunt down and kill all the black guys.

The film is essentially very serious, but there are oddly out of place “humorous” moments, like two of the guys hiding in a bathtub and having to endure the sounds and smells of one of the rednecks coming into the bathroom to take a shit.

And because this is clearly a low budget film, there is sadly no gore, plus no thrilling death scenes to really give this a genuine horror film feel. It just seems like a really good plot that wasn’t able to reach its potential due to the experimental approach to making the film.

EVERYTHING MEANS NOTHING (2005)

I won’t really comment much on Everything Means Nothing because it’s out of my realm of enjoyment. Dark and psychotic but not specifically horror, this is Chad’s straight up serious film. It’s also almost entirely dialogue driven, focusing on two characters while exploring them unraveling madness of one of them.

A black dude wakes up to discover he has been abducted and tied up with Christmas lights by some mentally unstable white dude. The film is as frenetic as the white guy as he rants for the entirety of the movie in his fury to get the black dude to understand where he’s coming from.

I never really got where he was coming from. The film regularly jumps to choppy black and white footage of what apparently led the two guys to their current circumstance, but I really didn’t have the patience to follow it.

There is one scene to demonstrate that the white guy is crazy enough to kill, but it just seems like it’s throwing a bone to those looking for some thrills or suspense, because the movie doesn’t really delivery anything like that.

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Bee Sting goes down like honey…so I went back for a taste of Bear Sting

When I watched the 47-minute film Bee Sting I just assumed it was going to be a horror comedy about kids taking on giant bees at a summer camp.

The film is based on a comic book according to imdb, and there’s a reason for the title, but it isn’t about bees…it’s about backwoods cannibals!

This is low budget fun with plenty of humor and the perfect running time. There isn’t a moment wasted in this one, which gets right to the point and keeps moving.

Two high school buddies decide to work at a summer camp, where they immediately get the hots for a couple of twins. When one of the twins is hurt during a baseball game, the boys offer to drive her and her sister to the hospital. But they make a wrong turn that leads them directly into a backwoods cannibal buffet!

This little indie is a blast, and while not everyone in the film is destined to be an actor, there are several standout performances.

The first hillbilly cannibal that offers the kids a ride could be right out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And with his boyish charm and natural delivery, the main kid should really be the hero in more horror comedies.

But my favorite by far is the camp owner, played by David Soulen. Not only is he adorable with a rockin’ bod, but he was born to be a comic actor.

It is incomprehensible that he hasn’t been snatched up or “discovered” for more mainstream projects. Until he is, he can be further appreciated in the Bee Sting sequel…Bear Sting!

I only wish it were as naughty as it sounds….

This pic is so hot aside from…you know…the blood…

Bee Sting 2: Bear Sting picks up right where the first film left off, with the survivors from part one being brought to a hospital to catch us up on what took place in the first film.

A year later, a bunch of kids is holding a vigil at the camp to honor lost friends and family. While they’re busy doing that, the cannibals are back in bloody business. The first act of the film delivers all the kills, and it’s a more brutal excursion than in the first film! There’s still humor tossed in, but the kills are more genuinely vicious rather than going for total spoof.

The spoof comes in next, when the lesbian girlfriend of a victim from the first film comes on the scene. Determined to find out what really happened because the police haven’t been able to, she goes to the one man who lived through it…the camp owner! Yes! David Soulen deservedly moves to the forefront as the leading man in this sequel—making quite an entrance in his tighty-whities! Double yes! But dammit, he never takes his shirt off.

Daddy David is like “DAMN, I got a fine ass.”

The comedy takes over from there as David reorganizes the vigil into a vigilante group!

Things go into montage mode as they train and build weapons for the final showdown with the cannibals in a junkyard.

Props to everyone involved for making one epic low budget battle scene. Screw stunt doubles. The cast gets down and dirty in a massive comic, rough and tumble fight sequence.

It just looks like everyone is having so much fun you can’t help but get swept up in it.

Not to mention, David Soulen is at the top of his comic game. Plus, by the time all is said and done, he grabs a couple of guys by the balls and goes Deliverance on another man’s ass! By the look on that guy’s face, David can masterfully top more than just his comic game…

Diehard horror fans should keep their ears out for an homage to the ending of the original Friday the 13th. Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping my eyes out for a third film.

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Three flicks with more than just a body count to offer

It’s so refreshing when the endless risks I take selecting movies to watch based on poster art and 2-sentence descriptions totally pay off quite nicely. Even better when it happens three times in a week! So here’s what I got out of backwoods slasher My Little Sister, killer occult flick Cursed to Kill, and home invasion flick Lake Alice.

MY LITTLE SISTER (2016)

 

As cliché as My Little Sister may seem, if you’re into the whole backwoods killer/crazed family/torture lair thing, I personally think it’s gritty and grisly enough and goes to enough odd places to keep you entertained without the usual been-there-done-that mainstream horror formula.

The opening torture porn will definitely pull you in, that’s for sure, with boobs, face peeling, gutting…you know, the good stuff.

Next a couple hiking through the woods is immediately faced with some bad signs. Their friends are missing from their campsite. There’s an odd old lady in white acting all hippie happy. And there’s a weirdo with an axe who warns them to leave before “My Little Sister” gets them and rips off their faces.

Instead, they go in their tent and have sex. Sigh.

The moment My Little Sister attacks, shit gets hardcore. The main girl is separated from her man, running for her life through the woods…and then stumbling upon a house that she decides to go inside. Sigh.

All I can say is, this movie gets strange and simply isn’t your usual backwoods slasher. But it sure is dark and vicious. Just the way the killer straps your head to the wall so you can’t move it when he gives you a skin peel… EEK!

 CURSED TO KILL (aka: Patient) (2016)

Drag Me To Hell in a hospital bed?

I don’t know why I think Cursed to Kill has one of the most ridiculous premises ever…or why I found it to be so ridiculously entertaining.

(Un)lucky to get away alive from a cult suicide, this chick ends up in the hospital, where she is visited by an evil old lady from the cult, who curses her.

Let’s just say that the curse pretty much guarantees that anyone who comes to visit her for too long is turned into mincemeat right before her very eyes!

In between visitors coming in and being turned into pâté while the main girl, unable to talk or move, just lays there helpless to stop it, the old lady has a few other tricks up her sleeve to terrorize her and remind her the curse is real.

But honestly, the thrills are in the kills.

LAKE ALICE (2017)

Lake Alice transcends the usual cabin in the woods plot and kept me completely engrossed from start to finish, despite the actual horror not really kicking in until the final act.

Focusing on a young woman who brings her boyfriend to her family’s vacation house in the woods for Christmas to get to know her mother and father, the film and the actors do a great job of showing the very natural interactions between the characters. It also very quickly begins to make you feel uneasy, suspect of everything that’s going on in the town, and suspect of virtually half the cast…even though you have no idea what’s going to go wrong!

It just seems the family has extreme relationships with various locals, from very good to very bad, and we don’t know why. If the film has a fault, it’s that we don’t find out why in most cases, but it does make for some mysterious and tense confrontations that create a great sense of foreboding. The icy, snowy conditions outside add to the chilling atmosphere.

Ominous little hints creep in to suggest trouble is on the way, so when there is at last a knock on the door in the middle of the night, you’re virtually on the edge of your seat. The shit hits the fan within minutes, with a psycho in a hooded snow parka and ski mask causing the family to scatter and hide in terror.

The nonstop chaos that ensues is quite a treat, reminding me of old school thrillers from the late 80s/early 90s, with plenty of little devilish twists along the way.

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