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 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]

THE BINDING (2015)

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.

[usr 2]

THE NEON DEAD (2015)

BY BLAINE MCLAREN

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.

[usr 4]

CHAOS A.D. (2016)

BY BLAINE McLARENThe good folks at Sleaze Box have been working overtime to bring us some of the best no-budget exploitation films since bursting on to the scene with Amerikan Holokaust a few years back.  As rough-around-the-edges as that first movie was, there was something unique and fantastically DIY about their vision.  Chris Woods and company have been putting out a lot of titles and each release has shown a progression in craft, but (thank God) not lost that charm and grittiness that I have come to love.  Their name says it all. These are sleazy, fun exploitation films that make Florida seem even more dangerous than any twenty-four hour news cycle could ever imagine.  They wear their influences on their sleeves, but they are not pulling from your typical pool of influential movie directors. Directors like Bruno Mattei and Todd Sheets have made major impressions on these guys and it shows up in a glorious way.  Their most recent effort, Chaos A.D., is no exception.  We are treated again to an ultra-violent world of naked ladies, over the top gore and way too much of actor Bob Glazier’s anatomy.

 

The story takes place on Halloween night and we are introduced to a housewife, a brother and sister and a hooker loving politician.  Each of our central characters are kidnapped by a gang of viciously perverse weirdos that are ready to celebrate the night with torture and murder.  Once our protagonists are forced into their world, its a non-stop game of blood thirsty cat and mouse.

Having seen all of Sleaze Box’s releases this film is a big leap in production and sets.  Most of their films have been pretty minimalists, but they seem to go out of their way to mix things up this time around.  Also, Chris Woods spends more time developing characters and establishing who these folks are.  Ashley Lynn Caputo really shines as a housewife with a secret and I cannot believe how well she plays her role.  Both her and Bob Glazier steal every scene they are in, not to mention giving brave (nudity filled) performances.  Overall, the acting is pretty great.  Most of these actors have worked with Sleaze Box before and seem to have a level of comfort that is rarely seen in no-budget filmmaking.  My only complaint is very minor.  The runtime is a little longer than expected, but luckily it doesn’t feel too padded.  I just prefer these types of movies to be shorter and more briskly paced.  Besides running a little long, this is another great “gore and gals” roughie that lives up to its provocative title.  This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for the few who dig this kind of unapologetically filthy filmakking will love the shit out of Chaos A.D.  The film has not been released yet, but is currenly available to pre-order at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/chaos-a-d#/

[usr 4]

 

THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR (2016)

BY BLAINE MCLAREN

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.

[usr 4]

 

Nutsack Part 1: Lucifer’s Cosmonauts (2016)

By: Blaine McLaren

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

[usr 4]

 

FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS (2016 BURIED ALIVE FILM FESTIVAL)

BY BLAINE MCLAREN

****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.

[usr 5]

 

SLIMY LITTLE BASTARDS (2015)

 

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

3.5/5 STARS

PIG PEN (2016 Days of the Dead 48 Hour Independent Film Festival)

 

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.

5/5 STARS