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.
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.
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.
BY BLAINE MCLARENHorror has been skirting around religion (pretty heavily) over the past 10 or 15 years. Most get pretty bogged down in the world of demons and devils and I think its time to admit that most viewers are burned out on these low concept The Exorcist rip-offs This subgenre is well-worn territory, exhausted even. The Binding is a religious horror film, but is more accurately a biblical thriller of sorts. What I mean by this, is that it focuses on a particularly difficult story from the Old Testament and contextualizes itself in modern days. (Believe it or not) Adapting a story about faith and child sacrifice does not make for light watching on a Friday night, but does serve as a unique concept for a horror film.
The Binding begins with David and Sarah (Max Adler and Amy Gumenick), a young couple who has just had a baby and they are celebrating the child’s baptism. When David (a minister and recovering alcoholic) begins having strange visions he thinks is from God, Sarah is forced to decide how to protect both herself and their daughter.
If you are not familiar with the story from the Bible, it is referred to as The Binding of Isaac. This is the story of how God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, then allowed an Angel to intervene and tell Abraham that it was just a test of faith. It goes without saying that this is heavy stuff and the film does a great job of exploring these themes and the modern theology applied to this story. It balances faith in a way that plays heavily towards suspense, but never strays from its ultimate question; How far are you willing to go to prove your faith? Unfortunately that’s the only thing that really works. The movie is slow paced and relies heavily on dialogue, which is the film’s weakest link. A lot of the lines are very unnatural and feel incredibly forced, coming across unnatural and distracting. The direction is very capable and I do hope to see more from Gus Krieger, but this film is far too long and jilted throughout the middle of the film. What I can say is that the ending is very effective and powerful, leaving the viewer with a good taste in their mouth. This does not excuse the script, but does show potential for future projects from the crew. The Binding is currently available on DVD and VOD.
A few years back I saw a trailer for a creative little feature call “Invasion of the Undead” and I was struck by its throwback style and low budget charm. The trailer was a barrage of neon colors and 8 bit nostalgia that instantly got me pumped for its release. Unfortunately I missed its Atlanta premiere, but I continued to keep up with its progress, saw it on Vimeo and I was surprised when news of the film went silent. Cut to a year later and the Monsterbuster Entertainment Facebook page finally announced a release date and a new (and better, if you ask me) title, The Neon Dead! This prompted me to dig up an old DVD copy and revisit this fantastic indie gem.
The story is about a young, unemployed woman named Allison (Marie Baker) who inherits a haunted property from her grandmother. Once she stumbles across one of the Undead, she (with help from a girl scout) calls on a duo of slacker type paranormal investigators (played by Greg Garrison and Dylan Schettina). Once the hapless duo arrive, they encounter something much older and more dangerous than either of them could ever imagine.
I’ve watched this film multiple times now and I am repeatedly impressed by the quality and care put into The Neon Dead. The lighting and sets are spectacular, giving the film a dreamy vibe that is infinitely watchable. The special effects are over the top and unique, offering a new mythology and cast of villains brought to life on a minimum budget. The decision to swap gore for a fluorescent lightshow of violence is a choice that a much lesser director would not have made. The only place where The Neon Dead lacks is the dialogue early in the film. Some of the writing can feel a little stiff, but the actors are likeable enough to forgive these awkward moments. So if you are worn out on gore heavy zombie flick and found footage retreads, I suggest checking out this charming low budget joy ride. The Neon Dead is currently available on DVD and VOD.
There has never been a more aptly titled and timed film than the most recent entry in The Purge series. The U.S. is currently suffering through a real “Election Year”, enduring our way through two power hungry assholes that don’t seem that far off from the film’s fictional “new founding fathers”. The concept of an annual purge has been a pretty high concept idea from the beginning, but I don’t think the creators had any idea of what they were starting. The series had a pretty rocky start, but really found its footing with the release of its sequel “The Purge: Anarchy”. This film took us into the streets and became an ultra violent homage to films like The Warriors and other action/exploitation films of the 70s and 80s. The streets seemed as dangerous as you would imagine, allowing for some very interesting set pieces that were more than satisfying. What I never expected was the introduction of a not-so-subtle message of class warfare. We followed the lower class this time and we were tossed into a gritty world of survival that showed the true nature of why The Purge (actually) exists. The big question going into this follow up (at least,for me) was “Is this going to just be Anarchy all over again or will this build on this concept and offer something new?” and I am glad to say it did!
The story picks up two years after the events of “Anarchy” and we are reintroduced to Leo, our unlikely hero from the last film. He is currently working as bodyguard for a controversial senator who is currently running for president. Her entire platform is built around outlawing The Purge and restoring the lower classes of this alternate America. As you can imagine, this prompts the New Founding Fathers to attack her, setting off a series of events where our protagonists end up back on the city streets on Purge night. From here we meet a slew of good guys and baddies hunting and surviving on the streets of Washington D.C.
The biggest difference with this film is the shift in tone. This time around, the writing is much tighter and allows for more humor and humanity. The comic relief is subtle and does not take away from the tension. The streets feel even more dangerous this time around and the bad guys are even worse than before. Some of the actors may be a little too exaggerated for some movie goers, but I feel their bigger than life performances fit this film perfectly. The overall vibe has more in common with classic blacksploitaion films and this is (once again) because of the excellent script they are working with. The only thing that can be grating is this series’ obsession with its “white crusaders”. The events seem to be constantly surrounding Senator Roan and her every action seems out of place in this world. She is given a compelling backstory, but every word from her mouth seems phony and incredibly cringe-worthy. That aside, The Purge: Election Year is better than it has any right to be and I will be ready to fork over my next fifteen bucks when the inevitable sequel is released. The Purge: Election Year is currently playing in theaters everywhere.
James Bell is as avant-garde as it comes. He is a one man show who has been steadily making movies for the last few years. 2015’s Tantrum made my top 15 list and I was excited to see how he would follow up such a perfect film. Luckily for me, the king of low-fi did not disappoint. Nutsack is as bizarre as I had hoped for and Mr. Bell has continued his reign as a master of DIY filmmaking.
The story starts with a man waking up from a strange nightmare of murder and then continuing his bleak, aimless existence. He spends his day wandering, trying to find a job. While in the city he finds that the world has gone to shit and people are dying everywhere he goes. In the aftermath of these deaths he finds pages to a strange and satanic book that may hold the secrets he needs.
As straight forward as the synopsis may sound, it is far from simple. James Bell continues to make obtuse and difficult films that blur the line between art-house and good old fashioned nastiness. The camerawork in this film may be his best by far and the acting is on par with his earlier works. I understand that some viewers may be turned off by the aggressive nihilism on display, but I urge people to embrace this kind of filmmaking. After only 4 films into James Bell’s career, I can honestly say that he is one of the most unique and exciting directors around. I don’t mean in the world of horror or low budget, I mean in film (period). Nutsack Part 1: Lucifer’s Cosmonauts is currently available on DVD and can be purchased at https://www.storenvy.com/stores/538368-very-fine-crap-videos
****THIS IS AN UPDATE TO THE ORIGINAL REVIEW THAT I POSTED BACK IN APRIL****
Back in 2011 there were a lot of throwback movies flooding the market of indie horror. Most of them were full of digital damage and parading under the moniker of “Grindhouse”. Some of them were good, but most of them were pretty bad and thought they could hide their inexperience by force-feeding a nostalgia that most of us never experienced. Amongst these generic titles was a little movie called “Dear God No!” It was a return to something that was (almost) fetishistic in its approach to authenticity. Director James Bickert opt to shoot the flick on 16mm film and delivered a slick, but endearingly flawed film about bikers and booze. Five years later we are finally being treated to a sequel and I couldn’t be happier to be revisiting this gang of sadistic bikers from hell and the mayhem they cause.
The story picks up right after the last film with our antiheroes, The Impalers. They have been brought back from the dead and are being employed by the doctor that they once terrified and tried to kill. They are addicted to a reanimation serum that helps them survive, making the boys slaves to the Doctor and his Austrian cohort, Klaus (played by the one and only Laurence Harvey). The past wrongs made by the gang seem to have caught up with them unleashing an army of hitmen, rival gangs and unspeakable creatures their way. Now they must keep it together, survive and try to have a little fun while they do it.
“Frankenstein Created Bikers” is the best kind of sequel, deciding to take the kitchen sink approach rather than just retreading what we enjoyed the first time around. Mr. Bickert amps up the gore and nudity to disarming levels, while still offering a smarter and more polished film than the last. Nothing feels cheap in this movie (except human life) and the choice to shoot in 35mm only adds to the slick production value. Jett Bryant returns as the leader of The Impalers and holds his own in a film full of great actors. His natural charm and charisma plays out well, giving the audience a guy to get behind. As polished as this film is they never lose sight at what it is, it is a sleazy biker flick with greasy dudes and naked chicks with machine guns. Make no bones about it, this is a 125 minute epic of exploitation and excess! I Cannot stress how fun this flick is and urge you to check it out for yourself. Frankenstein Created Bikers is currently only playing film festivals, but I will update as availability is announced.
Dave Parker (AKA Mr Parka) has been dabbling in filmmaking over the last few years. After some great performances in movies (such as Headless and Applecart) he has decided to step into the director’s chair with a new anthology film called Slimy Little Bastards. This film is a love letter to some of my favorite movies; the little monster sub genre. It is a brand of horror that exists in its own world of silly effects and (mostly) crass humor that appeals to the inner fourteen year old in us all. Slimy Little Bastards is a confident, no budget debut that has the charm of a much older film. It is pretty rough around the edges, but makes up for it in fun and a very DIY attitude.
The film opens with its eccentric Curator talking about his “collection” to a man whose car has broken down nearby. He tells three stories to the man, all linking back to these bottles of fluorescent sludge that are on display. The first is “Organic Shit”, a tale of a green blob forming in a man’s garbage disposal. Next is “Brain Busters”, where a young lady is prescribed a mysterious drug to deal with her mental illness. Lastly is “The Crusties” and this is the ultimate send up to Ghoulies. Pitting a group of flatulent role players against a gang of little monsters.
Ultimately this is a collection of shorts, but the oddly fun wrap around ties it all together nicely. If you are familiar with Dustin Mills’ films, you will recognize a lot of faces. The acting is pretty good and it feels like everyone is having a blast making the movie. There are some flaws, but most are minor technical issues. Sound and lighting is a little off, but this is a debut and I am sure that these issues will get better as Mr Parker keeps making films. What works the best is the pacing. The vignettes never overstay their welcome and the whole film clocks in at only 66 minutes. Overall, this is a fun send up to shot-on-video, rental store-era fun that is worth picking up and watching with your friends. Slimy Little Bastards is currently available on DVD at Amazon.com
Every year there is that one indie release that really grabs me. That movie that strikes an emotional chord, that feels both cinematic and intimate. In 2014 it was Found, last year it was Androgynym and this year it is Jason Koch’s Pig Pen. This film is a masterful example of “true to life” horror, telling a grim story of poverty and the toils of boyhood. This departure from traditional horror is refreshing and really shows the signs of a maturing artist who is not interested in being kept to one genre. Pig Pen is a moving, but intensely ugly film that is just as much a thriller as it is a coming-of-age tale.
The story follows a thirteen year old boy who has recently been kicked out of his home by his mother’s maniacal boyfriend. We see him trying to survive the harsh world of inner-city Baltimore. He is forced to shoplift for food and find a way back home to protect his mother. What unfolds is a voyage of vagrancy and revenge that will ultimately end in blood (lots of blood).
Jason Koch really shines as a director in this film. Even when scenes seem meandering they serve a purpose that feels much larger than the movie itself. He took a risk, hiring his son (Lucas Koch) in the lead, but manages to get an incredibly honest performance that you rarely see in young actors. As great as Lucas’ performance is, Nicolette Le Faye is the one who really gets to show her range. Her role is so nuanced and has to portray kindness in a grisly world she cannot handle on her own. I would go into more detail, but I would hate to ruin some of her scenes that appear late in the film. What I can say, is that I am excited to see her take more serious roles and look forward to seeing more in the future. My only complaint was the end of the film. It bookends the story, but felt a little too unambiguous. Upon rewatching, I am happy to say that I now understand why Mr. Koch had to end it this way. This movie is not meant to be an easy viewing and is intended to challenge its audience. With all that said, I can honestly say that Pig Pen is the first great movie of 2016! Pig Pen will be released on DVD soon and is currently on the Film Festival circuit.