Sunday, 27 October 2013

ZOMBIE HUNTER - A review by Paul Worts

Directed by K. King, Starring: Danny Trejo, Martin Copping, Clare Niederpruem, Horror USA, 2013, 88mins, cert 18

Released in the UK on DVD, Blu-ray by Signature on 21st October 2013.

Whilst Danny Trejo tears up the screen in Robert Rodriguez’s MACHETE KILLS, this low-budget CGI zombie fest slinks ashamedly straight-to-DVD/Blu-ray in its shadow. And whilst it’s understandable that Danny’s name and image is writ large across the cover art, I feel compelled to warn all who enter here that Mr Trejo’s screen time is considerably less than you’d be led to expect.
Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a mysterious street drug called ‘Natas’ (yep, spell it backwards in a Johnny ‘Alucard’ stlyee kiddies) has turned the population into purple-blooded zombies. The film opens with three ‘Natas’ users crashed out in a dilapidated sitting room whilst on the TV two newsreaders outline the devastating effects of ‘Natas’. As the female newsreader reads the teleprompter her male co-presenter turns sideways and hurls a hose-like amount of vomit before we’re told one of the side-effects of ‘Natas’ is vomiting (and the manufacturer label on the TV is: ‘Zombisha’ – these are the jokes folks!).

One year later and the world has gone to pot, or rather ‘Natas’, as MAD-MAX-wannabe ‘Hunter’ (Martin Copping – now there’s a CARRY ON surname if ever I saw one) drives through the wasteland wasting ‘eaters’ and constantly splattering purple CGI blood onto the camera in the process. He comes upon a small merry band of survivors led by Danny Trejo’s zombie-slaughtering priest ‘Father Jesús’ (subtlety thy name is not K. King – who co-wrote this with Kurt Knight, presumably because they shared the same initials). No sooner has ‘Hunter’ regained consciousness from a car crash than pole-dancer ‘Fast Lane Debbie’ (pneumatic blonde Jade Regier) is offering him a free horizontal dance; much to the disgust and disappointment of good-girl virgin ‘Alison’ (Clare Niederpruem) whose singled ‘Hunter’ out as the ‘one’.
Our group of survivors (who also include two Hicksville chaps and a veteran ex-pilot) have a plan to escape by plane to an off-shore island to start again. There’s just one problem, they have to cross through the town of Dahmer (wink, wink) which, as it turns out, boasts a chainsaw wielding laughing zombie named ‘Funny Man’. And then there’s some kind of hybrid ‘House of the Dead’ monsters to contend with.

I’m sure none of this nonsense is meant to be taken remotely seriously (at least I hope not) but it really isn’t that funny either. The zombie make-up is uninspiring and the purple CGI gore laughable. The performances are exactly what you’d expect from a script which contains such ‘gems’ as; “He was like a damned Ninja Turtle” and my personal favourite: “I’ve heard stories – you wouldn’t want to hear them - but I’ve heard stories” (a perceptive observation as it turns out).
I’m all for undemanding low-budget gore-fests, but come on guys – if you’re going to include scenes with genre film posters on the wall couldn’t you have come up with something better than OSOMBIE and ORCS? 

This review was originally published on the FRIGHTFEST website.

** (out of 5*)

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

SHE - A SHORT FILM - An interview with Chelsey Burdon and Mark Vessey

One minute these two were watching CURSE OF CHUCKY at FrightFest this year, the next they’re embarking on making a short film with the star: Fiona Dourif! In the middle of their Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds (a modest £3.5k) to make SHE: A SHORT FILM, I caught up with both Chelsey Burdon and Mark Vessey who kindly found the time to submit to my interrogations. Here then, in a She said, He Said about SHE (get it?) format are their separate responses. So, without further ado, here’s your respective ‘starter for 10’...

What previous filmmaking experience have you both had?

Chelsey: I started working on films about 4 years ago. I've been first assistant director, production manager and production assistant on all kinds of projects; features, shorts, music videos. Luckily for me they were almost all horror.  I'd actually focused my degree on stage directing and for a long time was more interested in becoming a theatre director, but as I was offered more and more film roles I guess I got the bug and film has always been a great passion of mine. My first bit of film directing came with my entry to the Shortcuts to Hell competition earlier this year, I was lucky enough to have my entry selected for the anthology which is available on iTunes. 

Mark: I'm a lot more experienced as a writer than I am anything else. I've been writing for as long as I can remember; reviews, short stories, etc. But it's only been this year that I've started writing scripts. I was talking a lot to two friends - who also serve as my biggest inspirations - and one day I just had a ‘eureka’ moment. In a second I realised this is what I wanted to do, this is my true calling. About a week later I'd more-or-less knocked 20 scripts out, in various stages of completion, and I'm not showing any signs of slowing down. I've had a fair bit of experience in actually making movies too. I've been working, on-and-off, on my first short film ENGLISH MARY 3D since January. We've got some incredible stuff shot already. Some big names are involved too. It's going to blow people away.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE - A review by Paul Worts

Directed by Jason Trost, Starring: James Remar, Jason Trost, Lucas Till, Sophie Merkley, Lee Valmassy. Science-fiction, USA, 2011, 78mins, cert 15.

Released in the UK on DVD, Blu-ray and iTunes by Monster Pictures on 14th October 2013.
Four members of a now-defunct superhero team awake to find they’ve been kidnapped by their arch-nemesis Rickshaw and dumped in an unknown town. All have injection scars on their wrists and all but one of them, Charge (Jason Trost), have been stripped of their powers. Rickshaw precedes with his dastardly plan to force the now less-than-fantastic- four into playing deadly games with the stakes being the lives of the town’s inhabitants: and ultimately each other’s...

Never judge a book by its cover; or in this case by its Blu-ray/DVD and poster art. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, there are absolutely no helicopters and no skyscrapers in this film. Hardly surprising, given that the (micro) budget granted to writer, director, co-producer, star and editor Jason Trost was a mere $20,000. This was conditionally offered to Trost on the basis that he would have to write a script – go into pre-production – and finish shooting all within 2 months. The actual shoot itself consisted of 15 days (in the middle of summer with the shortest nights) giving him only 9-10 hours a day.
And the end result? A rather nifty and down-right crafty low-budget gem which is far more enjoyable (given its limited resources) than it has any right to be.

Trost’s screenplay is a paragon of necessity. How do you make a superhero film with no money for elaborate CG effects sequences? Simple: strip them of their powers from page one. It’s a ridiculous conceit and inevitably risks alienating your target audience and incurring the wrath of paying punters.
Pulling the foursome’s strings, ringmaster Rickshaw (James Remar, DEXTER, THE WARRIORS) broadcasts his instructions via portable TV’s strategically placed across town. Tapping into the local CTV network he sits back and gloats as the group are forced into seemingly unwinnable scenarios with the town’s ‘innocents’ strapped to incendiary devices rigged to blow at the touch of Rickshaw’s remote. Tensions and old resentments soon rise to the surface as Cutthroat (Lucas Till), Shadow (Sophie Merkley) and The Wall (Lee Valmassy) find themselves impotent to defeat their enemy and increasingly reliant on Charge (Trost) – who appears to have retained his strength.  

James Remar’s turn as the ‘Jigsaw’-like Rickshaw is infused with gleeful relish as he finally gets to turn the tables on his adversaries. There’s a memorable cameo from Sean Whalen (THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, HATCHET III) as a flame-throwing cannibal Uncle Sam and Nick Principe (CHROMESKULL 1&2) gets to flex his muscles as henchman Sledgesaw in a charmingly ludicrous confrontation on a domestic trampoline.
Jason Trost (HATCHET III, THE FP) acquits himself well delivering his square-jawed dialogue. His comrades do the best they can with underwritten characterisations – although it’s a stretch to imagine them as superheroes when we’re only given a brief monochrome flashback evidencing Shadow’s gift to work with. The script does slyly introduce the heroes’ powers and their origins through almost throwaway dialogue. (Trost is not a big fan of superhero origin movies it seems.)

Our band of avengers troop from one location to the next with a distinct lack of urgency given the stakes they’re playing for, but the pulsing electronic soundtrack by George Holdcroft combined with Amanda Treyz’s ‘scope cinematography panning across deserted night-time streets conjures up an early Carpenter-like vibe.
Of course, necessity is the mother of invention and when the budget won’t stretch to explosions and their potentially gruesome aftermath we get shaky-blurred-cam as a substitute. The camera is less shaky however when it comes to the brief but effective small-scale gore on screen.

So where does that leave us. Well, if you’re looking for a film that’s the complete antithesis of Hollywood’s current obsession with mega-budget superhero flicks then ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE definitely ticks the box. You have to view it within the context of its budget and production limitations, but for all its obvious flaws it cuts its cloth accordingly - and any superhero film that relies on a microwave oven’s timer for its climatic countdown gets a thumbs up from me.

Extras (DVD & Blu-ray) Exclusive Jason Trost Introduction, Cultastrophe pre-show (trailers for: ‘Fantastic Argoman’, ‘Infra-Man’ and Ricos Nachos!), Toronto After Dark Q&A, Trailer and ‘Blood Beasts’ Episodes 1-4 (Jason Trost shorts).

**** (out of 5)

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

MORE THAN HONEY - A review by Isabel Hernandez

Directed by Markus Imhoof, Narrated by John Hurt. Documentary, 2012, Released on DVD and Blu-ray on 21st October 2013 by Eureka!

“My grandfather would probably walk from this property disturbed if he saw the way we keep bees today. He’d think: “My God! You’ve lost your soul...”  ~ John Miller (commercial beekeeper)

Picture if you will, a group of bees methodically and carefully tending to a small structure inside a hive with what appears to be gentle precision. They loom large on the screen and we watch and wonder at their activity. There is no narrative at this point to tell me what they are doing, but I’m mesmerised all the same.  The beautiful music score (Peter Scherer) is soothing and reassuring and I feel like I am privy to some sort of momentous bee event. The result is the birth of a new princess – a future Queen bee - the central focus of a healthy bee colony. Thus we are introduced to Markus Imhoof’s documentary MORE THAN HONEY.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

SMILEY - A review by Paul Worts

Directed by Michael J Gallagher, Starring: Caitlin Gerard, Roger Bart, Keith David, Horror US, 2012, approx. 91mins, cert 15.

Released in UK on DVD by Signature Entertainment on the 14th October 2013.
CANDYMAN meets SCREAM in this cyber-urban legend. Updating the call-his-name-five-times-in-a-mirror tale for the YouTube generation, anonymous users on an internet chat room can call up ‘Smiley’ by typing the phrase: “I did it for the lulz” (plural variant of ‘lol’ apparently) 3 times whilst ‘chatting’. Unlike Candyman however, ‘Smiley’ doesn’t appear behind the typing summoner, but rather behind the chatter at the other end of the webcam. Never mind friend ‘deletion’ on Facebook, this is online execution (for real).

When Ashley (Caitlin Gerard) the new girl on campus, attends a house party and views the result of a ‘Smiley’ internet-chat, it sets in motion a chain of events that will challenge her already fragile state of mind and ultimately force her into confronting ‘Smiley’ face to face.
Speaking of Smiley’s face, he’s so-called due to his sewn up eye sockets and mouth resembling a smiley symbol. Unfortunately, I somehow doubt this tale will leave horror fans smiling by the time the credits roll (and the post-credit tag for those who stick with them).

Director Gallagher throws up a whole heap of jump-scares right from the off which soon become tiresome and numbs the effectiveness of later moments. To be fair there is a potentially interesting premise at the heart of the film, and Smiley’s scarred face is nicely designed (albeit in a sub-Cenobite kind of way). Unfortunately he’s rarely glimpsed for long, and his carnage is half-hearted and uninspiring. Roger Bart (so memorable in HOSTEL 2) plays a professor who delivers ominously sounding but largely meaningless pronouncements on the nature of mankind to destroy itself. Keith David (looking ridiculously good for his 57 years) is wasted as a sceptic cop who refutes Ashley’s accounts of net-slaughter. When the true nature of Smiley is revealed (and it’s none too original at that) it doesn’t really add up. Perhaps even the filmmakers share this view as they don’t stick to this explanation and instead offer a lame add-on which opens a door for a sequel which in all honesty I hope is blocked by firewall software. 
** (out of 5*)

(Originally published on the FrightFest website)

Friday, 4 October 2013

JASON TROST - An interview by Paul Worts

With his latest film ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE finally being released here in the UK on 7th October, I caught up with writer / director / star Jason Trost to get the lowdown on this low-budget gem. (I also just had to ask him about his experience acting in HATCHET III). But before that I asked him to cast his mind back several years to when ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE (ASMD) was but a glimmer on the horizon...

Going back to that time, you were offered $20,000 to make the film and given a ridiculously tight timescale in which to get the film made. Did you even think for one second - this is madness, it's impossible?

Yeah of course I did. But just for a second. I didn't have any more time to think about it if this was going to work. I was in a tough spot. I'd just made The FP and another small test movie. It seemed like neither were going to be released and I was desperate. Film financing is really hard to come by so you really can't turn it down when it falls in your lap.
Did you already have the basic elements of the script in mind - or was it literally a case of starting with a blank sheet of paper?
I had an idea for THE RUNNING MAN with superheroes but that was it. The next week was a mad dash to see how to make that work and flesh it out so we could get into pre production.

One of the aspects I really admired about ASMD was the way you 'cut your cloth accordingly' in terms of your budget. Rather than try to pull off impossibly elaborate CG and special effects sequences you 'tailored' the script to your means, i.e. stripping your heroes of their powers right from the beginning. That must've taken some discipline?

Yeah it was definitely a challenge. And that seems to be the thing most people hate about the movie. Which I don't understand. People always complain about wanting something different and then you give that to them and they hate that too. I don't think low budget movies are conceptualized right from the get go a lot. You can have the best camera in the world but if you have a crappy set with a crappy actor it's still going to look like crap. And I always think you should write for what you know you have, not what you hope you'll have. I can't tell you how many low budget movies I've seen fail because they wrote a 5 million dollar script and tried to make it for 20 bucks. Production value doesn't just show up on the day. Know what you're up against. Know what you have and exploit it smartly.
For ASMD you listed as the writer, director, co-producer, star and editor. Obviously this saves you money but doesn't this place an enormous burden on you personally - or do you actually prefer it that way?

It can be a real pain in the ass but in order to make something like this work you need to have everyone be on the same page. And with a movie like this I couldn't afford to hire people who were on the same page. So long story short, I knew I was free. And in the end I did prefer it. It saved time and money. And if anything failed I could blame myself instead of someone else. Which I'd much rather do.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

DEADLY VIRTUES: LOVE.HONOUR.OBEY (2013) - A review by Paul Worts

“When the pupil is ready to learn, a teacher will appear.”
(Zen proverb).

This psychological thriller for the art-house crowd film opens with our home-‘invader’ calmly letting himself in with a key and removing his shoes. As he softly climbs the stairs he is accompanied by a hint of ominous music and the increasingly vigorous grunting sounds of fornication coming from the upstairs bedroom. Straight away we are presented with contrasting visual cues. On the one hand we have the tropes of a generic horror film; the prowling steadicam following the intruder up the stairs; the unsuspecting victims making love, oblivious to the impending danger. But on the other hand, this is offset by the fact our intruder has a key; and he removes his shoes before ascending the stairs – neither of which are traits psycho-slashers are known for. Nor is their common weapon of choice a finely crafted rope ball fashioned into an instrument for bludgeoning: and an effective one at that.
Director Ate de Jong’s psychological thriller twists the staple genre conventions as finely as the intricate Japanese inspired bondage knots used to bind our married couple. Having been walloped on the head, Tom (Matt Barber) finds himself bound and gagged in the bathtub. His wife, Alison (Megan Maczko) finds herself strung-up in the kitchen. It’s a striking image – as is the intruder played by Edward Akrout, handsome, cultured, and charming - but at the same time unflinching when employing a pair of pliers to remove a finger (or two).

Over the course of a weekend, our grand-inquisitor / marriage-guidance counsellor from hell will explore and exploit Alison and Tom’s relationship, uncover uncomfortable truths and ultimately act as a catalyst for extreme liberation.  
Edward Akrout plays the tightrope role of the hypnotic seducer / torturer beautifully. In a genre film the character would have been a fixed, deluded domestic bogeyman ala Terry O’Quinn’s ‘Jerry Blake’ in Joseph Ruben’s 1987 thriller THE STEPFATHER.

But the combination of Mark Roger’s clever multi-layered screenplay - coupled with director Ate de Jong’s willingness to let the actors performances breath - gives Akrout the chance to bring a more complex reading to the surface. The dynamic between him and Megan Maczko’s ‘Alison’ reminded me at times of the charming (Big Bad Wolf) huntsman’s seduction of Sarah Patterson’s (Little Red Riding Hood) ‘Rosaleen’ in Neil Jordan’s magical 1984 film THE COMPANY OF WOLVES.
Also benefitting from her director’s open approach, US actress Megan Maczko delivers a stunning performance (not to mention a faultless English accent) as ‘Alison’. In some ways her character arc is related (albeit in a far darker context) with that of Phoebe Cates ‘Elizabeth’ in Ate de Jong’s cult comedy DROP DEAD FRED. Both female protagonists are victims of abuse and trapped in dysfunctional situations. Both undergo a journey of enlightenment; Elizabeth through the guidance of imaginary friend ‘Fred’, and Alison through her persuasive intruder. Maczko brings a gamut of facets to the table from naked vulnerability through to her character’s chrysalis into empowerment.

As husband ‘Tom’, Matt Barber spends a considerable length of the film’s running time bound in the bathtub and assaulted in varying ways - both physical and psychological - by the intruder. However, as with so much about this film, ‘Tom’ is far from just a victim and he too emerges as a catalyst as the film’s powder-keg denouement’s ignite to create emotional and psychical carnage.
Zoran Veljkovic ‘scope cinematography enriches the intense contained drama, infusing it with arresting images and a varied visual palette. Almost abstract-like close-ups of a dripping tap, and a pivotal wine-drinking scene played out largely in shadow complement and enhance the narrative. The score whispers menace without resorting to bombastic cues, and melodic phrases hint at redemptive possibilities.

DEADLY HONOURS: LOVE.HONOUR.OBEY is the first film produced by Raindance Raw Talent, the film production arm of the Raindance Film Festival. Financed in part via indigo crowd-funding and made for an incredibly modest budget, the film is a testament to the true spirit of independent filmmaking. Everyone involved in the film; from Director Ate de Jong; writer Mark Rogers; the actors; producer Elliot Grove, and all the team involved in its making should feel justifiably proud.
**** (out of 5)