All posts by El Rob Hubbard

366 UNDERGROUND: RAGE (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Chris Witherspoon

FEATURING: Rick Crawford, Audrey Walker, Chris Witherspoon, Jo Black-Jacob, Richard Topping

PLOT: Dennis Twist (Crawford), an English professor/failed novelist who lives in the suburbs with

his wife Crystal (Walker) goes into Portland for a day to break off a clandestine relationship with his girlfriend, who has an ex-boyfriend just out of prison. A chance encounter with a motorcyclist quickly evolves into a twisted game of cat-and-mouse, and eventually escalates into rape and murder.

COMMENTS: Rage has gotten quite a bit of praise in various festivals over the year, and I’ll admit that it’s quite above average in the type of film that it is. That said, my own reaction to it is a bit less charitable—I feel that it would’ve worked much better as a half hour short, as far as twisting up the suspense level.  At feature length, what is meant to be building suspense just turns into tedious padding, once the set-up is established. There’s also (in my opinion) a fatal misstep in tone at the climax, where a character’s rape that is meant to be ugly and uncomfortable is immediately followed up by a gory murder which is played for laughs. It sort of undermines the ending — which, to me, didn’t come off as shocking as it was meant to be.

Rage worked for a lot of people, many of whom threw out comparisons to Steven Spielberg’s Duel. I wouldn’t go quite THAT far—for me, it worked for about 30 minutes, but the remaining 55 were unnecessary.

Rage official Facebook page

Rage trailer

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…really, really good—a tight, taut indie thriller with enough action, suspense and intrigue to fill three movies and an honest energy that makes you forgive its minibudget limitations… (The biker, incidentally, is essayed by Witherspoon himself. Think Darth Vader meets Ghost Rider meets the “Living Dead” from PSYCHOMANIA.)”–Chris Alexander, Fangoria (contemporaneous)

366 UNDERGROUND: THE LOS ANGELES RIPPER (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Craig McIntyre

FEATURING: Randy Tobin, Celeste Martinez, Devanny Pinn, Ava Rose, Nekromistress, Chase Monroe, Marna K., Brandon Engstrom

PLOT:  The tagline sums it up best: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer meets Van Nuys Blvd.
Still from The Los Angeles RipperDrug dealer Grahm has a side hobby of picking up women and brutally killing them. Kristy is fresh off the train from Ohio to take part in the L.A. scene. Their paths will eventually cross.

COMMENTS: Give this one points for its skeezy atmosphere and for Randy Tobin’s performance as the title killer.  Looking like a low rent Jay Mohr channeling early Nic Cage, Tobin is completely believable as a modern day Jack The Ripper, prowling about the city in his van.

It aims for a sort of ‘you-are-there’ semi-documentary quality, as it alternates between Grahm’s killings and Kristy’s arrival and life in L.A., their meeting and his obsession over her, which ends up exactly where you think its going.  The film is successful in that aspect.  It grabs onto the grindhouse vibe without any obvious self-consciousness about it (although the last third of the film, where the two main characters end up in an isolated desert hideaway, may have you thinking of similar events in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).  There’s not a lot of character development, but in this case, that may not be a hindrance.  Where the film comes up a bit Still from The Los Angeles Rippershort is in the technical department, with annoying camerawork and overbearing music being two strong flaws almost impossible to ignore.  Most early reviewers have commented on the ‘satirical’ bits of the film—I didn’t notice anything ‘satirical’ here, unless the term has been altered to now specify awkward line readings and some idiosyncratic, but effective, editing choices.

It could be better, but it’s a pretty decent straightforward ‘Modern Grindhouse’ movie.  A “limited edition” DVD release is planned soon.

Trivia: Director Craig McIntyre worked in the makeup/special effects unit on Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 3.

The Los Angeles Ripper Facebook page

The Los Angeles Ripper MySpace page

DISCLAIMER: A copy of this film was provided by the production company for review.

366 UNDERGROUND: VIXEN HIGHWAY 2006: IT CAME FROM URANUS (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Tony Watt

FEATURING: Tony Watt, Vivita, Amabelle Singson, James Taggart, John Ervin, Angela Faulkner

PLOT:  I’m not really sure…  see below.

COMMENTS:  I’m not at all being snarky in regards to being completely unable to wrangle out an explanation of the plot of Vixen Highway 2006: It Came from Uranus.  As far as I can gather, after multiple watchings, there are several strands of story involving (a) the escape of three female prisoners, (b) a female cop/bounty hunter, Divine Otaku (Amabelle Singson) who’s dispatched to capture the fugitives, all of whom have a fixation on (c) Rock legend Bobby Barzell, who’s waiting for a liver transplant to save his life and his ass from (d) Osiris (Tony Watt), an Alien Overlord who struck a bargain with Barzell for fame, money and sex in exchange for Barzell’s soul, and now who’s en route to Earth to collect.

Still from Vixen Highway 2006: It Came from Uranus (2010)Even more confusing is finding out that this film is an homage/reboot/requel to 2001’s Vixen Highway, written & directed by John Ervin (who co-wrote VH 2006), which apparently is a more straightforward version of the above storyline (probably without the alien overlord, I suspect).

Vixen Highway 2006: It Came from Uranus is a lo-budget, meth-fueled cousin of the NBK (Natural Born Killers) Aesthetic.  This movie starts at the level of overkill, and then goes balls out turning everything up to 11.  Everything is Too Much: too much on the sound fx, which goes way past cartoonish; the visual tricks, such as wipes, transitions, split screens—I think that all of the plug-ins of the editing program were used at least twice; the homaging and references, which are so thick, it’s like the filmmakers just poured everything from every grindhouse/exploitation/cult/faux-blaxploitation/mondo movie they liked into the pot; and IT’S TWO AND A HALF HOURS LONG!!

Still from Vixen Highway 2006: It Came from Uranus (2010)Some may see these as good things, I realize.  Frankenpimp (the director’s previous film) suffers from the same problems, only worse since it’s THREE HOURS LONG!!!  VH:2006 at least has that tiny, tiny bit of restraint… But Too Much for Way Too Long feels like you’re being mentally bludgeoned if you try to take it all in at one sitting.  The only way I got through both films was to take a little at a time—20-30 minute screenings.  The best way to experience the films may be in the background at a party, where you sample the film in bits and pieces and you’re not hammered relentlessly by the constant overkill, and not bothered by the slow movement (or lack of movement) of the narrative.

Tony Watt’s website

DISCLAIMER: A copy of this film was provided by the production company for review.

366 UNDERGROUND: FRANKIE IN BLUNDERLAND (2011)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Thea Martin, Brett Hundley, David Reynolds, John Karyus, Karen Sartorio, Vincent Cusimano, Tom Devlin, Damon Packard, Evan Stone,

PLOT:  Everyone hates Frank. Especially his wife Katie and his best frienemy Tommy Spioch, who asked to crash on their couch two years ago and never left.  Tommy spends most of his time lusting after Katie who seems to hate him just as much as she hates Frank. Frank’s existence is stupid.  After two possibly accidental homicides, two kidnappings and a visit from a talking spider, Frankie’s world is turned upside down as he drifts through Blunderland searching for his missing wife.

COMMENTS:  The second feature from Caleb Emerson (Die, You Zobie Bastards!), Frankie in Blunderland shows a modicum of restraint compared to the previous film—it’s a bit more structured than the ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ approach of Bastards, yet it pumps up the surrealism.

Scripted by Marta Estirado (who appears in the film and died shortly after principal shooting was finished), Blunderland plays as a post-modern L.A. hipster bounce on Lewis Carroll’s well known tale, and possibly “The Odyssey” as well.  Aramis Sartorio (The Gruesome Death of Tommy Pistol) plays Frank, a loser who’s not so loveable, and who, truth be told, is probably his own main problem.  Despite everything, Frankie still believes that things can only get better, even after two possible murders, and the kidnapping of his wife, which leads him to wander the Blunderland landscape (AKA L.A.) looking for her and encountering various other misfits and oddkins such as a hobo prophet (John Karyus), a Mormon missionary who may actually be a space alien ( John Christopher Morton), lesbian robots, oracle spiders (Debbie Rochon), and just plain slackers all of whom either help or hinder his search for Katie.

Blunderland would make be a good double-bill companion with Tommy Pistol, in that both are absurdist looks at life in The City of Angles (and they share some of the same actors).  It’s a good candidate for The List mainly for its visual style and cast of crazy characters, but also because it’s an anti Rom-Com that’s actually successful and doesn’t cop out at the end.


Aramis Sartario and screenwriter Marta Estirado (R.I.P.)

Official Site /Facebook

366 UNDERGROUND – RACE WAR: THE REMAKE (2011)

366 Underground is an occasional feature that looks at the weird world of contemporary low- and micro-budget cinema, the underbelly of independent film.

DIRECTED BY: Tom Martino

FEATURING: Howard Calvert, Jamelle Kent, Matt Rogers, Kerryn Ledet, Danny McCarty, Joe Grisaffi

PLOT: Baking Soda & G.E.D., a pair of misguided drug dealers, find themselves out of

Still from Race War: The Remake (2011)

customers when a new group of traffickers invade their hood with an alien form of smack. With only their friend “Kreech Da Black Kreecha from a Lagoon” at their side, the two crack heads—armed and ready—must fight their way back to the top.

COMMENTS: When I first saw the poster for Race War: The Remake, my first thought was that it was probably going to be the best part of the movie… your opinion may well vary.  But, if your taste runs towards Tromaesque spectacle and you have an ample supply of beer and bongloads to get you through the running time, then this will definitely make your weekend!

There’s some talent floating around in this bowl: Calvert and Kent make a decent pair of stoner badass heroes (with Calvert radiating a Rudy Ray Moore vibe), and the effects are decent.  Most of the other cast members hide under masks or disguises so embarrassment is not an issue here. What works against the film is mostly the past 30 years or so of Troma-type grossout humor and movies that a good portion of the audience has been exposed to.  There’s nothing new here. Which, if you’re calling your film Race War, means that a good opportunity has largely been wasted.  There’s still room for some biting racial comedy with no limits to step up and become the modern day equivalent of a Blazing Saddles or even a Darktown Strutters.

But this ain’t it.  At best, this is a group of friends screwing around on several weekends to make a party film… which, for some, ain’t bad, if there’s enough alcohol and weed around.  For others, it’s more like, ‘been there, done that”.

DWN Productions – Official site