Tag Archives: Horror

CAPSULE: DRY BLOOD (2017)

DIRECTED BY: Kelton Jones

FEATURING: Clint Carney, Jaymie Valentine, Kelton Jones

PLOT: As Brian navigates his way through withdrawal from drugs and alcohol in a semi-secluded cabin, he may or may not be killing people.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It would have taken a far worse script (as it stands, it hits “Competent Soap Opera” level) or far more inspired acting (see previous parentheses; where’s Nicolas Cage when you need him?) to turn this into something of interest for us. Dry Blood is either a missed opportunity for a serious allegory on substance abuse, or a missed opportunity for mad-jack violent ambiguity.

COMMENTS: I typically avoid doing research on new releases, preferring to make my remarks based solely on the film’s merits. Somehow, though, I discovered that Dry Blood garnered a lot of awards. A whole lot of them. Would I say that Dry Blood deserved those Best Writer/Picture/Director/ and Actor awards? Oh no. Ohhh deary me, no. Unfortunately this movie isn’t that good. More unfortunately, it isn’t quite bad enough, either.

Brian (Clint Carney, who is to Nicolas Cage what James Belushi is to John Belushi) wakes up hung-over in his car and leaves a message for his ex-girlfriend to come and help him to sober up in his mountain cabin. Strung out on pills—primarily; we also see problems with alcohol, cocaine, and references to more injectable varieties of distractors—he keeps seeing glimpses of corpses, standing and otherwise, around his cozy abode. A local sheriff (Kelton Jones) keeps popping into his life uninvited, typically delivering a line of non sequitur dialogue (“Do you know where I could score any dope?”) before stating, “I didn’t say anything”. Brian’s ex-girlfriend, Anna (Jaymie Valentine), finally shows up and the duo morphs into a trio as the plot builds toward its inevitable mental collapse where we lose all ability to judge what’s real and what isn’t.

That in mind, Dry Blood does two things well. First, there’s the unreliable narration. Everything is viewed from Brian’s perspective, and he is obviously a troubled man. He becomes increasingly aware of this, but his heightened grasp on whether or not something is real somehow works to our disadvantage. Dead woman in the shower? Probably not there. Strange hair ribbons around key props (drug baggy, rusted knife)? Probably put there by Brian—for reasons unexplored. The arrival of his ex-girlfriend (not to be confused with the fourth main character, his ex-wife) should give us a greater grip on the proceedings, but she just muddies the water with platitudes and stilted delivery.

As for the second thing, it’s this film’s only true saving grace. Kelton Jones should really think about pursuing a career specializing in creepy cop characters. The sheriff seems plucked straight from the nightmare version of Super Troopers (Broken Lizard, if you’re reading, get on that right now). Whether he’s fondling his revolver during a “friendly conversation” or pulling over poor Brian “just to say good morning,” he’s a hoot. But he’s the film’s only hoot.

Which is a shame, because this movie could have been a fascinating depiction of the addiction-recovery cycle. Dry Blood begins and ends with Brian leaving different messages for Anna about wanting to sober up. Unfortunately, it over-plays its horror-hand and hitches its wagon (to mix metaphors for a moment) fully to standard genre gore-play. Brian never learns from his mistakes; having watched this movie on the heels of Odissea della Morte, it would appear that I never learn from mine.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“As you’d expect, the nature of the ghosts becomes more ambiguous as the film progresses, but the results are less of a clever attempt to mess with the viewer’s head or convey a filmic portrait of drug-addled mania and more just bafflingly incomprehensible.”–Sol Harris, Starburst (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: BLOOD PARADISE (2018)

DIRECTED BY: Patrick von Barkenberg

FEATURING: Andréa Winter, Rolf Brunnström, Christer Cavallius

PLOT: A bestselling crime author goes to a Swedish farm to try to kick start her creative juices for a new book; naturally, murder ensues.

Still from Blood Paradise (2018)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The scattered reports of “weirdness” lurking in this erotic thriller seem to be greatly exaggerated.

COMMENTS: Blood Paradise may be a horror film about an American woman vacationing in a remote part of Sweden, but Midsommar it ain’t. Robin Roberts (Winter) is a bestselling author of potboilers who’s photogenic enough to sell copies based on her author portrait alone. But her last book, “Return to Blood Paradise,” was savaged by critics as “vile” and “abusive.” The poor notices don’t seem to bother her too much; she spends her days drinking wine and smoking cigars poolside in-between trips to the boudoir for light bondage games and toe-sucking with her beefcake cabana boy (played by director von Barkenberg). But her agent nags her into taking a retreat to a remote Swedish airbnb on a farm with no wifi to remove distractions and churn her creative juices, and that’s where the trouble begins.

A jumpy fanboy Uber driver takes her to the farm, run by a crusty old Swede and his silent sister, with a creepy shirtless farmhand also hanging around. Soon enough, everyone is peeping on everyone else—lots of hidden male eyes spy on Robin when she skinny dips, but she also watches the farmer while he stealthily checks a locked shed and catches glimpses of a mysterious character with long stringy hair. The script tries to build suspense out of these few scraps, introducing more characters/suspects like the driver’s jealous wife, and for a while Blood Paradise has the feel of a low-key giallo. The mystery is revealed early in the third act, however, and the movie turns into a gruesome game of cat and mouse between victim and killer, with farm implements used to sever body parts.

Blood Paradise plays, more than anything, like a calling card for lead Andréa Winter, who is only competent as an actress but who has movie star looks and a fiery sex appeal stoked by her eagerness to frequently disrobe. In an earlier age, I could see her becoming an exploitation or softcore star or a major scream queen. There may be a place for her in modern low budget films; she can bring an aura of class to trash, if that’s what a project needs. Blood Paradise is almost entirely a joint venture between Winter and von Barkenberg, who appear to be an offscreen couple as well. He directed, she produced and composed the score, they co-wrote the script and both act in it, and they each appear in just about every credit, from editing to camerawork.

The Artsploitation Blu-ray has four deleted scenes. Despite a running time of just over 80 minutes, all of these were wisely cut, with the possible exception of “Blood Sex Dream,” which I think they chickened out on. There are also two von Barkenberg-directed music videos.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…there is no lack of bizarreness in Blood Paradise… Patrick von Barkenberg’s debut film is worthwhile, even if its for the pure “WTF” factor. Are you looking for a hilariously erotic thriller comedy? Have you never heard of all those things together? Sit down and let the weirdness of Blood Paradise wash over you.”–EJ Moreno, Flickering Myth

CAPSULE: 1BR (2019)

DIRECTED BY: David Marmor

FEATURING: Nicole Bloom, Taylor Nichols, Giles Matthey, Celeste Sully, Clayton Hoff

PLOT: Sarah’s a newcomer to LA with shaky job prospects and no friends; after being accepted into an apartment complex, she finds out too late just how close-knit the community there actually is.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This is a psychological thriller/horror movie about the dangers of community, which is a unique angle. However, the creepy unease that ensues isn’t anything we haven’t seen before (though typically in less-worthy examples).

COMMENTS: There is a lot to be said for making a good “genre” picture: a familiar story told well with a novel twist is hard to find. I am not insulting David Marmor and his crew when I say that 1BR is a story I’ve seen before—I’ve made it my business and pleasure to watch countless movies—because Marmor’s take on this particular story was ceaselessly well presented and kept me hooked from start to finish as I wondered how Sarah (Nicole Bloom), an imperiled newcomer to LA, would play her hand. In fact, of the five movies I watched the day I sat at 1BR‘s press screening, it’s the only title that I can presently recall.

Sarah is a young costume designer who is adrift in life, literally and metaphorically. Having recently left home and gone to LA, she has no real job prospects, no friends, and no home. She finds a job, of sorts: temping at a law firm. She gets a friend, of sorts: a vibrant co-worker named Lisa (a sassy Celeste Sully). She finds a home. Her initial joy at being accepted into an exclusive apartment complex, stuffed to the gills with apparent-neighborliness, turns into undefined ill-ease. What are those strange thumping noises at night? Who is writing threatening notes about her forbidden pet (her cat named “Giles”)? And what is it that’s so disconcerting about the two bulges on her flat-room wall? We know something is about to go wrong—and things go very wrong for young Sarah.

Plenty of psychological horror explores the fear of darkness and the dangers of isolation. 1BR swaps those for an unsettling hyper-illumination as it explores the even greater dangers of community. This group of smiling, happy people she’s ended up with are close-knit to the point of annihilating their individuality. Of the tenets practiced by the tenants, one struck me firmly. Though based on some West Coast cult figures, I was reminded of nothing so much as Maoist-era “struggle sessions.” This criticism of the group’s certainty of its correctness running against the individual’s shouldering of blame was pitch-perfect: there are prices for cohesion that are far too high.

I’ve had an interesting time discussing 1BR with other reviewers and I think I’ve done a fair job dissuading them of their initial dismissiveness. It would be overwhelming and ultimately unsatisfying, as well as impossible, if every movie we saw was Completely New. 1BR captures the suffocation of the coercive integration of a fully free individual into a monolithic social unit. Would-be social messiahs like Charles D. Ellerby (who devised the community’s creed) would do well to realize two things: you are never “always right,” and it takes all sorts to make a world. Ending on a note of very cautious optimism, Marmor’s debut gives us just enough hope that we can escape the doom of INGSOC-esque terror. We’d just better be prepared to run like hell.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Marmor’s feature debut, which takes a new arrival to Hollywood and puts her in an apartment complex whose residents have scary plans for her, is a cousin of Rosemary’s Baby in which the occult is replaced by mere brainwashing and the eerie glamour of Central Park luxury decomposes into the generic architecture of a Los Angeles starter apartment.” -John DeFore, The Hollywood Report (festival screening)

CAPSULE: DANIEL ISN’T REAL (2019)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Miles Robbins, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sasha Lane, Chukwudi Iwuji, Mary Stuart Masterson

PLOT: Escaping an unpleasant encounter between his parents, young Luke instead witnesses the aftermath of a mass murder; immediately following, his friend Daniel manifests.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTDaniel Isn’t Real‘s beautiful visual style, that at times evokes techno-metal Suspiria, is put to the service of an engaging story about the connection between demonic possession and mental illness. Despite the advent of hundreds of Apocrypha slots, however, Daniel Isn’t Real hews much more closely to distorted horror than the insanity we’d prefer.

COMMENTS: As rip-offs go, Daniel Isn’t Real is a mighty fine one. I use that phrase without its negative connotations; as the director himself explained after the movie, it is important for filmmakers to be able to rip off what’s come before. They can grow when what starts as an explicit homage becomes something new. Adam Mortimer is growing as a director, and there ‘s no shame in him acknowledging his influences. He began as a music video director, a background that served him well for the dreamlike nature of this movie.

At its core, Daniel Isn’t Real is the story of a troubled young artist on the cusp of schizophrenia. Luke (Miles Robbins) acquired the mysterious friend named Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger) during his childhood. Now Daniel, once locked in an otherworldly, fortress-like dollhouse for having pushed young Luke to try to kill his mother, appears again. He shows up at just the right time, it seems, helping Luke to navigate college life, giving him advice and support, and, in one amusing scene, even helping him to cheat on a math test. However, Daniel begins resenting Luke’s control and seeks to take control of Luke’s body. As for Luke, he experiences the cost of following the lead of a wholly uninhibited, and violent, part of of himself.

Mortimer described the visual aesthetic of the film—particularly Daniel’s world—as “ultraviolet.” It’s a handy term, despite the fact that that “color” is technically in the invisible part of the spectrum. Daniel’s unreal purple lighting cues reinforce the character’s underlying menace (which is established well by Patrick Schwarzenegger’s channeling ‘s American Psycho-yuppie). This contrast between the soft and gentle illumination of Luke’s world and Daniel’s underworld is the primary motif that helps the audience differentiate visually what they’re experiencing in the narrative. Luke’s real world goes drab and sickens into an amber palette as his grip on his own mind and body disintegrates.

The main joy I found in Daniel Isn’t Real comes from its early depiction of the relationship between the two sides of Luke. (Or, the movie suggests, the relationship between Luke and this mystical entity that has entered his psyche.) Their playful relationship as young boys is reminiscent of experiences of those who were outcasts growing up. Tying the dangers of mental trauma to the metaphor of demonic possession makes it clear that, as much as we may find comfort in the manifestation of our “stronger” side, our insecurities are the signposts of what keeps us anchored to those around us. By skating on the edge of psychological horror and supernatural horror, Adam Mortimer performs a neat hat trick that kept me gripped right through the final fantastical showdown.

You can also listen to our interview with director Aama Egypt Mortimer.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a mind-bendingly freaky psychological horrorshow that crawls disconcertingly into your head and stays in there, gnawing away, long after the credits fade… Echoes of the creeping, dissociative paranoia of Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant-era Polanski run throughout the film, but Daniel Isn’t Real is very much its own distinct fever dream of chimerical unease. Highly recommended.”–Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle (festival screening)

 

CAPSULE: 8 (2019)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Harold Holscher

FEATURING: Tshamano Sebe, Keita Luna, Inge Beckmann, Chris April

PLOT: A father’s desperation opens him to a demon, dooming him to gather souls; carrying the remnants of his departed daughter in a sack, he is compelled to collect one final payment.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST8 is a beautiful film that combines elements of South African folklore with Victorian-style scares. As an atypical example of of the horror genre, its only weirdness is how impressively accessible Holscher makes the exotic supernaturality feel onscreen.

COMMENTS: The creative mind has long held a fascination for me, and my experiences at Fantasia have allowed me to casually research this phenomenon. Mingling with dozens of filmmakers over the years, I am always pleased to see the energy they have and their defiance against the odds. This holds particularly true when it comes to new directors presenting their full-blown visions to the world for the first time. It was with this in mind that I approached Harold Hölscher’s debut feature, 8. I spoke with the writer/director before its international premiere, and felt his energy; I felt this same energy in the theater last night.

Lazarus (Tshamano Sebe) bears his heavy spiritual burden in a very literal way in the form of a large leather sack that accompanies him wherever he travels. This weight pins him to the holy ground where he is forced to roam: a plantation on which the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest. He is a shaman, formerly a healer, and has paid a terrible price for the privilege of carrying his load. When he befriends the new owners of the plantation, he shares his spiritual knowledge with Mary (Keita Luna), the plucky young niece of the previous owner’s descendants. As their bond strengthens, Lazarus’ bond with his own daughter frays—but the demon that possesses her and the father demands Mary’s soul.

I anticipated that this movie would amaze me, so I mean it as no criticism that it “merely” met my expectations. Among the things it has going for it is that is features two character archetypes I always enjoy. The first is personified by Mary’s character. She’s an unflappable, inquisitive girl who always seeks knowledge and lets nothing frighten her if it’s new and amazing. Lazarus embodies the second archetype I cannot get enough of: the burdened wise man, tortured but calm. I don’t exaggerate when I say that Tshamano Sebe’s performance carries the film. While there would be no story without Lazarus, there could be no Lazarus without Sebe. He is alternately powerful and peaceful, often within the same scene. Lazarus’ ritual of extracting souls from the dying, despite its grim purpose, feels wholly natural, and strangely believable.

A lurking criticism I heard from others about the film was that it was perhaps “too mainstream.” There is merit to that sentiment, but I am disinclined to view it as a handicap. By framing something as exotic as the folklore and spiritualistic rites of pre-colonial South Africa in a familiar way, Harold Holscher can share its wondrousness with that many more people. At the same time, he has proven that, despite being a neophyte, he has the narrative and technical skills to succeed in the world of cinematic storytelling. I am certain that 8, his freshman piece, will open doors for him, and I look forward to following this storyteller’s career.

Also see our audio interview with director Harold Holshcer.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a mesmerizing film, one where everyone on screen works to steal the viewer away to a place filled with trauma.” -Brendan Frye, CGM (festival screening)

CAPSULE: LOOK WHAT’S HAPPENED TO ROSEMARY’S BABY (1976)

DIRECTED BY: Sam O’Steen

FEATURING: Stephen McHattie, , , Patty Duke, Broderick Crawford

PLOT: Picking up where the slightly more famous original left off, we join young Adrian/Andrew as his mother takes him from his Devil-cult overseers across the country; reaching manhood, the hour of reckoning approaches when the world may see the rebirth of Satan.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTLook What’s Happened… is utterly ridiculous, to be sure, but with nothing more than the inherent camp to be found in a ’70s made-for-TV movie (and one that’s a sequel to an established classic, at that), it is “merely” an amusing, benign curio for those lucky enough to find it.

COMMENTS: In case you were wondering, that pantomime fellow behind the hippie chicks in the still is the young man conceived and born in Roman Polanski‘s more famous Rosemary’s Baby. The actor on the stage strutting his stuff is none other than this Fantasia’s special guest, Stephen McHattie, in one of his earliest onscreen appearances. McHattie introduced the movie—still mostly unseen and unknown after all these years—at the 2019 special screening at the Fantasia Film Festival. Let me tell you the story.

Roman and Minnie Castevet make for somewhat inept guardians, as they allow Rosemary to escape with young Andrew (born Adrian, and now age eight) into the world. A violent storm picks up when they leave the Satanic cultist’s lair, and they take refuge in a small storefront used as a synagogue. Rosemary feels that the boy is being sought out, and demands that the assembled Jewish men “Pray! Pray! Pray!” in an attempt to block the probing psychic eye of Minnie Castevet (whose parallels with a stereotypical Jewish grandmother border on the “uncanny”). Rosemary gets dumped somewhere in Nevada after her boy nearly kills some kids for teasing him, and is shuffled off onto a bus… with no driver(!!!). Andrew/Adrian is raised by a hooker in a a gimmicky “Castle Casino.” And… my goodness, I’m feeling like an idiot relaying this plot. Some later highlights: a self-driving car, a big black cake with a pentagram of birthday candles, a hospital for the criminally insane, and much, much more.

The screening was made even more special by the inclusion of mid-’70s advertisements spliced into the feature (including one for the bitchin’ roadster that Adrian drives around pointlessly). It was also preceded by McHattie’s film debut, “Star Spangled Banner”, an antiwar short that won a prize at Cannes back in 1970 (?). It impressed me greatly—I appreciated the irony of a young Canadian actor standing in for a doomed US soldier. With the titular song played in the background (as covered by The Grass Roots, a late 1960s folk-rock band), a young GI runs from enemy fire while quick clips of home, youth, love, and innocence are interspliced with his panic. Hokey-sounding, to be sure, but strangely moving to watch. I just wish I could find it again.

But it was not a night for politics: it was a night for the audience, along with one of Canada’s veteran character actors, to see an impressively awful movie together for the first time. McHattie quipped afterwards, “That looks like it was two-hundred years old.” For all its crumminess, there was an earnestness to Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby, and at the very least, McHattie’s career survived the hit. He’s been in more than 200 roles since.

WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:

“Connoisseurs of bad movies will likely find this misconceived project a worthwhile hunt, especially given its strange period details (imagining Adrien as a ‘60s hippie rocker despite the ‘70s setting) and the manner in which the story pushes a plot along through sequences that can generously be called anti-horror. “–Nick Allen, RogerEbert.com

Q & A AUDIO