SOUVENIRS OF A HITCHHIKER (SHORT FILM)

BY BLAINE MCLAREN

Luke Ramer and (his company)West 2nd Productions have been pouring out a lot of interesting content over the past few years.  They have made 2 short features, a web series and now “Souvenirs of a Hitchhiker”.  This film is a short found footage film that was originally to be included in an anthology.  As these projects tend to do, the anthology fell apart.  Instead of just letting the movie sit, Mr. Ramer decided to let it loose on YouTube for free.  Lucky for us, its a pretty great little film!

The film opens with a young woman who is hitchhiking across the Northeast and taping her adventures.  Soon she is picked up by an odd guy, who is may or may not be a good Samaritan.  Once he convinces her to stay at his home, things take a turn for the worse and no one is who they seem to be.

This is another home run from this gang of no-budget filmmakers and I am happy to see them continuing to try new things.  Most of the acting is fairly good and seems to improve as the movie progresses.  Luke Ramer really shines when he is building suspense and the found footage aesthetic gives him a great opportunity to show off his chops.  I enjoyed that the camerawork (itself) feels more handheld, then completely found footage.  It reminds you that this is a movie and does not insult your intelligence or pretend that it is real.  I cannot recommend this film enough and I think that it is only a matter of time before Luke Ramer becomes a household name among horror fans.  Souvenirs of a Hitchhiker can be watched below for free.  Please support his other films and projects at https://www.facebook.com/west2ndproductionsPA/

THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK (2016)

BY BLAINE MCLAREN

Joel Potrykus has been an interesting director over these past few years.  Both Ape and Buzzard were amazing exercises in nihilism, adding a new layer to the well worn territory of “slacker” films.  The Alchemist Cookbook is no exception and manages to do more with even less.  All of Porykus’ films have been small, but this flick boasts a cast of two, with a couple adorable cameos from some animals who play major parts in the film.  Most of what is on screen would be pretty boring if it was in the hands of a less skilled artist, but the casting and perspective makes for a fantastic depiction of the banality of solitude.

The story is very simple. A guy in his twenties named Sean (Ty Hickson) has moved to the woods to live the life of an alchemist.  He is trying to shift base metals to gold and is not afraid to turn to darker forces to achieve his goal.  His only companions are his cat and his friend Cortez (Amari Cheatom), who brings him supplies.  Once he makes a wager, these dark forces come to collect and they want what he has promised.

The description sounds more action packed than what the film actually offers.  Most of the “demonic” is off screen and portrayed brilliantly with top-shelf sound design.  Deep bellows rattle from the woods and the actors really sell what may or may not be out there.  The camera feels very natural and makes monotonous tasks seem reviting and even watching our protagonist eat a bag of doritos (in real time) feel cinematic.  Its very hard to describe this director’s work, but his style will either intrigue you or bore you to death.  I fall in the first category and cannot wait for more work from this truly unique voice in the world of independent cinema.  THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK is currently available on VOD.

[usr 4]

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016)

BY BLAINE MCLAREN

I will be the first to admit that I chuckled when I first heard Universal was making a sequel to the Board Game based movie, Ouija.  The first film wasn’t my thing and I never bothered checking it out. Most of the trailers for the first film looked like it was geared for much younger viewers, so I just decided to skip it.  Once the trailers emerged for Origin of Evil I was surprised by the quality and more impressed by the Director attached, Mike Flanagan (Absentia, Oculus).  I have seen most of his films and neither of his features connected with me, but I could tell that he had the potential for a great film inside him.  Who would have ever thought that great film would be Ouija: Origin of Evil?

It starts in Los Angeles in the mid 1960’s and we meet the Zander family.  A recently widowed mother and her 2 daughters who run a bogus psychic business that relies on clever gags and theatrics to sell its authenticity.  Once they decide to add a new prop (the titular Ouija Board), it awakens a strange ability in the youngest daughter.  When it first starts it seems like a blessing, but quickly turns sinister and places the family in grave danger.

It seems odd to be praising this film. I did not expect much, but I was humbled to go to a screening (with other cynical bastards) with snarky comments and come out completely jazzed.  The scares are a plenty, but the greatest achievement is the way it is made.  The film could have been a lot of things, but Flanagan was skilled enough to make an old fashioned ghost story and breathe new life into it.  Mike Flanagan draws you in with fantastic mechanics and camera work, then envelops you into the life of this family turned on its head with grief.  Ouija: Origin of Evil is a masterclass in elevating your source material into something great and original.  The acting is solid all around and the script is fine.  In all honesty, the story itself is derivative but you won’t care once you are sucked into the film.  There are only a few instances (one long scene of exposition towards the end) where the story gets in the way, but (once again) it is forgivable.  I know a lot of jaded horror fans are never going to give it a chance, but the few who are not “too school for school” will be able to have a great theatrical experience just in time for Halloween!  Ouija: Origin of Evil opens wide in theaters 10/21.

[usr 4.5]

 

 

THE GREASY STRANGLER (2016)

BY BLAINE MCLAREN

There are very few films as aptly titled as The Greasy Strangler.  This films oozes with unpleasant humor, bizarre vignettes and drawn out scenes emphasizing an older man’s penis.    It takes some time to adjust to the drawn out scenes and SOV acting choices, but once it clicked with me it went from revolting to oddly endearing.   I use the word endearing because beyond all of the disgust, it is the story about two outsiders who need each other more than either will ever admit.  All of this sounds pretty gross (and it is!), but it helps to create an unforgettable comedy that could be one of my favorite films of the year.

The story revolves around Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) and Big Brayden (Sky Elobar) who are a father/son duo.  They lead a co dependent life where Ronnie lets Brayden live with him for free if he cooks only extra greasy meals for him.  They spend their time discussing grease and fat, only taking breaks to fart and call one another “Bullshit Artists” (a phrase used at least 50 times in the film).  Their dynamic seems to be working until Brayden meets a women named Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo).  This new relationship throws a wrench in their day to day life and could be causing more “greasy” stranglings in the neighborhood and the grossest love triangle in the history of film, maybe the world.

What’s most impressive about The Greasy Strangler is how well the film is actually made.  Scenes are shot well and the absurd characters make perfect sense within this gonzo universe created by Director Jim Hosking.  The casting is insane and they all give fantastic performances, especially Brayden.  He serves as the heart of this vile story, taking his abuse on the chin.  Every time Ronnie mentions him “crapping on the bed”, he shrugs it off and continues to care for his father.  The gore only adds to the surreal comedy.  All of the violence is played for laughs and never comes across mean-spirited.  Faces implode with punches and eyes pop out of socket when people are chocked, giving it a cartoon-like quality to it all.  I’m not really sure who this film is made for, but I am just happy it was made.  Hats off to Spectrevision and hope they continue to take chances on films like this.  The Greasy Strangler is currently available on VOD.

[usr 4.5]