Tag Archives: 2019

CAPSULE: VEROTIKA (2019)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Glenn Danzig

FEATURING: Ashley Wisdom, Rachel Alig, Alice Haig, Scotch Hopkins

PLOT: Three tales of “violent eroti(k)a”: a woman’s albino spider kills when she sleeps, a stripper cuts off women’s faces, and a Countess bathes in blood.

Still from Veroitka (2019)

COMMENTS: I’ve got this crazy theory that heavy metal musicians should not be allowed to make horror movies as vanity projects. Sure, has directed a couple that weren’t totally embarrassing (and many more that were); after that, the field was slim… until Verotika comes along to (hopefully) put the final nail in the headbanger crossover coffin. You may have heard this film is bad. It’s worse than that. Watch it to the end and you’ll be begging for the sweet release of death.

Each of the three segments—adapted from Danzig’s horror comic series of the same name—is introduced by a nondescript goth chick, who’s comelier than the Cryptkeeper but has nowhere near the sense of humor (after gouging out a captive woman’s eyeballs in the opening, the best she can come up with is “Welcome, my darklings, this is Verotika.” Whatever happened to lines like “Welcome to our cornea-copia of horror, my pupils!”?)

The first story, “The Albino Spider of Dajette,” is the “best.” It features a French girl (Wisdom) with eyeballs on her nipples (a la Gothic). She also has an albino spider who turns anthropomorphic whenever she falls asleep and goes out and snaps hooker’s necks. Are these two freaky deformities related? No, it’s just an incredible coincidence that eye-nipple girl also owns a killer dream spider. The spider-man makeup is not bad, but he merely goes around killing random lingerie-clad women when his strawberry-shortcake-haired mistress dozes off at her S&M photoshoots or at the porn theater (where she goes to see a screening of Les Nue sans Visage to try to stay awake). By far, the funniest part is watching Wisdom try to express—well… any emotion—in a stereotypical Pepe le Pew accent. (Lines like “keeler… keeler… you… are a murderair!” are a lot funnier when delivered in a blasé French accent.)

Another plus is that “Albino Spider” is the only segment that has anything resembling a conclusion. If you wanted to stop watching after the first installment, you’d have my blessing. If you wanted to stop watching after the opening credits, even better. But if you soldier on, you’ll see that “Change of Face” is about a stripper who steals the faces of pretty girls with breast implants. It’s the kind of kink a serial killer might get up to in Psycho or Silence of the Lambs, but here, no reason is suggested for her actions. (Beat cop, standing over the bloody corpse of a face-stripped victim: “We’ve got nothing. Zero evidence, which means no leads or motive.” Detective: “There’s your motive. They wanted her face.”) The detective chases her, but she just moves to another gentlemen’s club and changes her stage name from “Mystery Girl” to “Mysteria.” Now, the heat will never catch up to her, and she will continue to de-face harlots for eternity.

After a while, we move on to the final story, “Drukija: Contessa of Blood.” Apparently threats of litigation from Elizabet Báthory’s estate made them change the protagonist’s name, but it’s the familiar old story of a decadent Eastern European noblewoman who buys up the local village virgins and bathes in their blood to keep up her youthful appearance (this was in the days before you could get two-day delivery on Pond’s Rejuveness Anti-Wrinkle cream from Amazon.hu). This Countess also indulges in jugular showers, enlists the help of a wolf, and pulls the beating heart out of a nude girl. She doesn’t, however, follow any kind of plot arc—she starts out bleeding virgins, continues to bleed virgins, and ends up bleeding virgins. None of the locals care, and neither will you.

Birth. Movies. Death. suggested crowd-watching this atrocity on Twitter. As far as I can see, the response was about as enthusiastic as Ashley Wisdom’s line-readings after discovering her best friend has just been killed by an anthropomorphic spider. This isn’t the metalhead horror movie version of The Room, folks. It’ s not even Sharknado. You’ve been warned. Avoid. Avoid. AVOID.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The inexplicable choices and illogical elements give the film a hypnotic vibe. Verotika is a thoroughly baffling work that has to be seen to be believed. And aficionados of movies that are crazy-town banana-pants absolutely should see it.”–Mike McGranaghan, Aisle Seat (festival screening)

CAPSULE: DISAPPEARANCE AT CLIFTON HILL (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Albert Shin

FEATURING: Tuppence Middleton, Hannah Gross, Eric Johnson,

PLOT: Returning home to Niagara Falls after her mother’s death, a woman remembers a childhood incident that haunted her—witnessing a one-eyed boy being abducted in the woods—and decides to investigate.

Still from Disappearance at Clifton Hill (2019)

COMMENTS: Clifton Hill is a tourist trap street in Niagara Falls, Canada. Although a memorable scene in Disappearance at Clifton Hill occurs at Clifton Hill, the titular disappearance doesn’t occur there. Make of that bit of misdirection what you will.

The disappearance we’re concerned with occurs upriver, and about twenty-five years before Abby returns to Niagara Falls after her mother’s death. Abby wants to preserve Rainbow Inn, the old family business which has fallen into disrepair, from being bought up by the Charles Lake corporation; her sister wants to sell and move on with life. Browsing through mom’s old photographs turns up a picture that sparks Abby’s memory of the day she saw the boy abducted, and she begins investigating. Her followups bring her into contact with a podcaster and local historian who operates out of a UFO-shaped cafe and who knows where the bodies aren’t buried, a husband and wife magic act modeled on Siegfried and Roy, and the dashing Charles Lake III. Evidence of what might have happened to the boy builds slowly, while a series of glitchy, tiger-infected dreams that look like bad montages edited on third-generation VHS tapes liven things up (and provide the film’s sole weird moments).

The ultimate mystery has as much to do with Abby’s past, slowly revealed through her interactions with her sister and others, as it does with the disappearance she’s investigating. Abby’s backstory isn’t a twist, exactly; it’s more of a change of focus that turns Disappearance from a thriller into a character study. The movie’s eventual revelations about Abby do, however, illuminate a couple of incidents that might not have made complete sense otherwise (for example, why Abby’s parents never contacted the police after the incident in the woods). The switch of emphasis works; the script slowly (and purposefully) undermines its own narrative.

Full of psychological unease rather than jump scares, Clifton Hill plays well within its budget. Superior writing elevates it from merely a “modest thriller” to a “modest-but-clever thriller.” An ace performance from lead Tuppence Middleton carries the film, aided by an unnerving woodwind and synth score.

In some quarters, much is being made of David Cronenberg‘s small role as a podcaster (first seen in a wetsuit). While Old Croney holds his own against the more established actors, there’s nothing revelatory in his performance. The significance of his presence has more to do with his endorsement of the film, which is a major marketing point for a not-flashy indie that relies on a slow-burn to pull you in.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Shin isn’t shy about laying on quirky details and liberal oddball splashes to make his third film swing from bizarrely entertaining  to dark (helped by an excellent moody score from instrumental group BadBadNotGood).”–Linda Barnard, Original Cin (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE DEATH OF DICK LONG (2019)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Michael Abbott, Jr., Andre Hyland, Sarah Baker, Virginia Newcomb

PLOT: Two dimwitted band members try to cover up the suspicious death of the third member of their trio in a small town.

Still from The Death of Dick Long (2019)

COMMENTS: “Hey… ya’ll mfers wanna get weird?,” asks the eponymous (and still living) Dick Long in the opening scene. The Death of Dick Long does get—sort of—weird, though not in the way you might be expecting from half of the directing duo behind Swiss Army Man. Like the crude joke in the movie’s title, which makes you think you’re headed for a raunchy redneck comedy, the word “weird” is a little bit of misdirection. Though the movie is set in Alabama, the “weird” here is of the species you’d expect to see in a headline beginning with the words “Florida Man…”

Initially submitted as a regional black comedy with subtle situational humor, Death quickly moves to dealing with the consequences of the trio’s “weird” night, which we gather must have involved something more intense than the beer bongs, joints and fireworks we see in the opening montage. At first, Dick’s body (which his bandmates surreptitiously dump at the emergency room door in the wee hours) is unidentified, and the precise cause of death unknown. Zeke and Earl aren’t too good at coverups, but fortunately for them the hometown cops—led by a sheriff with a cane and her friendly lesbian deputy—aren’t too good at solving unexpected crimes, even when the suspects literally hand them clues. The first half settles into a Fargo-esque groove that we’ve seen before, as sleep-deprived Zeke forgets to cover up bloodstains and neither conspirator shows much skill at improvising cover stories under pressure. Then, around the midway point, Dick Long takes its outrageous premise and, unexpectedly, wrings serious drama out of it. This tonal shift was a huge gamble, but it pays off.

The acting, from a string of unfamiliar and semi-familiar faces, is universally strong—actually, close to great. Michael Abbott, Jr. handles the lead with tragicomic aplomb. He doesn’t want the secret to get out, sure, but he’s even more afraid of losing his wife and child, which makes it easy to root for him despite his duplicity. His buddy Earl (Andre Hyland) is a comic foil and kind of a dick, a vapin’ fool whose philosophy of life distills down to a beer and a shrug. Sarah Baker makes you think that someday soon she might grow up to be Alabama’s answer to Marge Gunderson. Virginia Newcomb has a supporting role as Zeke’s wife, but gets a major moment when hubby awkwardly and reluctantly confesses after inconsistencies in his story give him no other choice. The smaller roles are handled with equal ability. Scheinert deserves credit for assembling and guiding this fine ensemble.

The Death of Dick Long put in a token appearance in theaters before showing up on a extras-free DVD and Blu-ray in December. This solo outing for Scheinert does not mean that he’s broken up with directing partner . The Daniels are currently at work on a new project, Everything Everywhere All at Once, described as an “interdimensional action film.” 

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Never remotely as goofy as [Swiss Army Man] but still bizarre in its own way, it’s sort of difficult to believe the film exists. But in a post-Mother and Sorry to Bother You world, perhaps anything can… takes a turn for the weird around the halfway point, and what happens shouldn’t be spoiled…”–Justin Jones, CBR

 

366 UNDERGROUND: SHADOWPLAY (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Tony Pietra Arjuna

FEATURING: Tony Eusoff, Megat Sharizal, Juria Hartmans, Iman Corinne Adrienne, Radhi Khalid

PLOT: Anton Shaw is an unlicensed detective hired to track down a missing college student, but his own traumatic past keeps derailing his investigation.

COMMENTS: Under a glaring neon sign, at the cross-section between pulp-detective and pulp-romance, you will find Tony Arjuna’s Shadowplay—a movie with ambition. Among the themes explored, it primarily focuses on:

  • The effects of childhood trauma
  • The influence of dreams on reality
  • The slipperiness of identity
  • The cross-section between the written word and real life
  • The unreliability of memory

The question then becomes, does Arjuna’s reach exceed his grasp?

The story, as best as one might decipher, involves a would-be private investigator named Anton Shaw (Tony Eusoff), as he minds the shop for his friend and mentor (who is busy with a run of the mill adultery case). To kill the time, Anton reads a “choose your own adventure” novel, one with no author credited and no publishing house mentioned. The phone rings. Does he choose to answer? Turning to page 18, he does so, and thus begins the investigation of a young woman’s disappearance—an investigation that neatly mirrors his own past. His choices in the book are shown in real life, or perhaps vice-versa. For Anton, nothing is made clear until the end—and even then, he may have gotten no further than the chair in his friend’s office.

I’ll say right now that there are problems. The acting quality is very inconsistent, particularly with the female characters. As this is a riff on the “hard-boiled detective” story, there needs must be a femme fatale–several, in the case of Shadowplay. This numerousness is fine, but hearing a sultry dame huskily inquire, “Are you of indigenous descent?” strained even my generous incredulity. Perhaps it’s the script: the story is truly novel (so to speak), but many of the players are stuck with platitudinous lines that even the best actors would have difficulty giving weight to. Also, the scattered nature of the narrative leaves a lot of unhelpful ambiguity.

But, Shadowplay succeeds in two key ways. It’s beautifully shot, with a clever lighting and color scheme that creates a genuinely otherworldly aura. The aerial shots—of a very ’80s-looking Kuala Lumpur—ably define the environment, a nighttime hybrid of neon reality and neon dreams. The soundtrack, also very 1980s, enhances this effect, and by the film’s end I was in one of those pleasantly altered states of contemplation; the movie had transported me from my viewing room to its twilight vision of shadowy luminescence.

Shadowplay is, in all honesty, a very amateur outing, but it does give me hope for Arjuna’s future. He’s got a lock on sound and vision, and if he can just tighten his stories (and find better actors), I’ve no doubt he’ll be making great–and, hopefully, weird–movies in the future.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Shadowplay is halfway there thanks to its aesthetic, I cannot stress enough how beautiful this film is to look at. Arjuna deserves praise for turning Kuala Lumpur into a psychedelic neon dreamland and…the soundtrack is outstanding, but this is where the good ends.” -Husna Anjum, EasternKicks.com (contemporaneous)