American Ghost Story (aka Devil’s Mile) (2014) DVD Review

americanghostAmerican Ghost Story (a.k.a. Devil’s Mile) (2014)

Written & Directed by: Joseph O’Brien

Starring: David Hayter, Maria Del Mar, Casey Hudecki

Out Now from Metrodome

Joseph O’Brien’s feature directing début, this is a low-budget affair that turns a fairly standard gangster/revenge set-up into a genre-bending supernatural nightmare. Three kidnappers are transporting their latest victims; two Japanese girls; intending to deliver them to their boss, the mysterious and much feared Mr. Arkadi. The three of them all seem to be at varying points in the process of a nervous breakdown, and have the sort of group chemistry that could easily see them kill each other over a game of charades. The freeway is taking too long, so one of them suggests taking a shortcut down an unmarked, desolate side road. After a cryptically foreboding warning from a shopkeeper is ignored & the troupe continue on the road it’s unsurprising that everything soon starts to go horribly wrong for all involved.

Many issues are evident from the beginning of this film – jilted scripts & uneven acting make the hardened criminals’ squabbling feel more like siblings fighting over Pokemon cards on a road trip, and daytime scenes are treated with the most appalling grading that makes everything painfully overexposed & bleached out. Thankfully, however, after stumbling through the first act more and more promise starts to creep through, and night time scenes are completely the opposite: giallo-style imagery with high contrast with coloured lights gives the film a stylish appearance; it’s surely no coincidence that the majority of the second and third acts take place at night.

devilsmile1One particular set-piece sets the main events into motion, and despite what is clearly a shoestring budget, O’Brien has created an action-packed & dramatic sequence skilfully. This flair for set-pieces carries throughout the film, albeit visibly restrained by the lack of resources. The main ‘villain’ is lifted directly from every single Asian horror movie you’ve seen, but is put to unique use in this type of storyline and occasionally takes on a far more terrifying form that is only let down by brief glimpses of generally adequately-disguised sub-par effects.

After the awkward first act sets up the characters, the issues with acting and script do subside, leaving room for some unexpectedly deep moments exploring the motivations and histories of the characters. The quality remains patchy however, with the script sometimes becoming a bit of a slog, and the performances sometimes appearing wooden, but there are more than a few moments where it all somehow manages to click into place, and once again in these points it’s clear that O’Brien has potential. The final moments tie up the story in an admittedly unexpected twist, but not one that particularly makes much sense. Containing the level of logic that would be acceptable in a short film, where the sole presentation of an interesting concept is enough, the ‘final reveal’ does not stand up to the scrutiny that a 90 minute feature warrants.

devilsmile3This is not a great movie. Not even a great low-budget movie. But to watch it with a critical eye there are more than enough moments that O’Brien displays great potential with the visuals, the writing, and the whole style of his filmmaking to stop them feeling like happy accidents. Even if this film misses the mark at least as often as it hits, displaying a strong, unique vision (even if it is comprised almost entirely of borrowed concepts like a scrapbook of horror) and no end of ambition I am still very interested to see what he is capable of with a bigger budget.

4/10.

American Ghost Story is available to order from Amazon UK here – http://www.amazon.co.uk/American-Ghost-Story-David-Hayter/dp/B00PY6PD0C/

Frankenstein vs The Mummy (2015) DVD Review

fvsm1Frankenstein vs The Mummy (2015) DVD Review

Written & Directed by: Damien Leone

Starring: Max Rhyser, Ashton Leigh, Boomer Tibbs

Frankenstein vs The Mummy is released in the UK on DVD April 13th 2015 from Image Entertainment

“The mummy of a cursed pharaoh and a reanimated corpse terrorize a medical university. Only an Egyptologist and a college professor, the deranged Dr. Frankenstein, may be able to stop the creatures before it’s too late.”

King Kong vs. Godzilla, Freddy vs. Jason, Alien vs. Predator; just a few of the countless ‘face-off’ movies that have hit screens through cinematic history. But as each of them promises an exciting clash of two beloved characters, almost without fail they are a disappointment to fans of both franchises, and to everyone else for that matter. Here, however we have arguably the two most iconic movie monsters of all time facing off, but the makers are not tied to franchises, allowing them to reinvent the monsters to fit the modern-day setting and to have their own set of rules – could this finally be the ultimate ‘face-off’ event we’ve been waiting for? No.

Running 110 minutes, a great deal of time is dedicated to building up the characters and themes of this story. The unfortunate and somewhat paradoxical reality however is that the themes aren’t developed beyond brief introductions and the characters are beyond two-dimensional, verging on non-existent, resulting in extended scenes of characters saying nothing of interest, supported by a script that is like wading through treacle and acting abilities that that vary from wooden to downright atrocious.

fvsm3The single female character is terribly unfortunate in having all the “female horror character” tropes attributed to her alone: love interest for the male lead, damsel in distress for BOTH monsters, rape victim, and she seems to get slapped to the floor in every second scene.

It seems unfair to pick so harshly at this lack of development, because no one watches a B-Movie like this for characterisation and deep discussion. The trouble is that despite the marketing suggesting so, it doesn’t think it is a B-Movie. Aside from a couple of decent gory scenes and one unexpected visual gag involving the Mummy and a severed facial feature, it’s all so serious, so slow and brooding but with nothing of substance to brood about that it’s as dry and lifeless as a real life Mummy in a museum. Don’t even get the idea that it could be “so-bad-it’s-good”. It’s just bad.

On to what positives I can extract from this test of endurance, the effects are very good – Frankenstein and the Mummy, along with all the gore, are achieved through very effective practical effects. The new designs of the monsters are genuinely creepy and avoid the more corny elements that are easy to fall foul of. An interesting twist is made to the character of Frankenstein at one point, but otherwise the two are reserved for brief scenes of gore and given very little to do in the movie.

fvsm2Now perhaps the most important thing of all is the stand-off. Certainly the name, the cover art & the tagline “The Epic Battle Has Begun” would suggest so. So, for anyone who wants to avoid the turgid surroundings I’ll let you in on a secret: the two monsters first meet at 1 hour & 38 minutes into the movie. The fight is over 3 minutes later. And it’s not a very good fight at all. So the whole raison d’être of this movie feels like an afterthought, like the makers have just ticked a necessary box. Some great effects and a couple of decent kills are all that redeem this film, but they don’t come close to making it feel worthwhile.

2/10

The Twisted Death of a Lonely Madman (2014) DVD Review

14770303938_52d1081ec1_zThe Twisted Death of a Lonely Madman (2014)

Directed By – Will’ Terran

Starring – Stewart O’Reilly, Nicola Posener, Raquel Cassidy

Run Time – 81 minutes

Adam hasn’t left his flat in six months for fear of being attacked. Creating conversational videos of his favourite movie star Starlet Maddinson has kept him just about the right side of sane over that time. Just about. When a straightforward encounter causes Adam’s worst fears to come true, a malevolent psycho begins a campaign of intimidation and intrusion into Adam’s home. As the world shrinks around him and the company of Starlet Maddinson’s image turns on him, reality blurs with nightmare to tear Adam’s private little world apart. – Black Barn Productions

The Twisted Death of a Lonely Madman is a gripping study of agoraphobia & the related issues of anxiety and depression that emerge from Adam’s self-imposed isolation. It was clearly produced on a very tight budget, but the vast majority of this film manages to rise above the constraints this often gives to a film. Anyone who has sat through any number of feature-length no-budget movies at film festivals or the like will know the required mentality where every technical flaw or moment of poor acting can be overlooked, that you can gleam some positives from the sheer fact that they managed to get the film made at all. Twisted Death… does not require this at all. It stands on its own through very finely tuned pacing and a whole host of brilliant ideas.

14956579702_2412e5958c_zTaking place entirely in the confines of Adam’s flat, who is also the only main character and whose bored, deliberately monotone voice provides a narration, this film defies tried & tested ways of keeping an audience entertained for a feature length, but manages it better than many big-budget films with far wider scopes. There isn’t a single scene that feels pointless, or padded out for length; we’re given a half-heartedly optimistic insight into the world Adam has created for himself in his tiny flat, before slowly we get glimpses of the darker side to his solitude and illness. Without stopping him from being relatable, his own paranoia seeping through to the audience as tension is built out of the smallest things. As reality becomes harder to define in Adam’s world, key scenes offer some incredible imagery –one particular scene featuring nothing but his computer was jaw-droppingly intense and I genuinely couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.

Technically this film is impressive too; black and white is often used as an “instant art” attachment by inexperienced film-makers, but here it was clearly considered from the beginning of production, with fantastic use of light and shadows reminding us that even in modern times where Hollywood relies on super-saturated visuals, black and white movies can still be beautiful. Except for in just one scene, the subtle effects are well pulled off, and are very effective in creating a sense of paranoia & providing a handful of genuinely unsettling images. Stewart O’Reilly (as Adam) is the only actor given very much to work with and does a very good job with it, but Nicola Posener (playing Starlet Maddinson) also shows great promise in her brief scenes throughout the film.

14956918355_5434a6f355_zGiven the title of this film, along with the tagline “In The End He Will Die” that clears up any ambiguity there may have been, and the promotional website hewilldie.com, there are no prizes for guessing how this film ends. Spoiling the ending of a film in its promotion is of course an odd deliberate choice, often one consigned to bumbling marketing departments, but here it works to give the movie a certain morbid inevitability, and forces us to ask for the duration of the movie; “how?”. Clues are scattered throughout the movie, but still the final revelations are quite unexpected and shocking, ending what was already an incredibly engrossing, suspenseful film that deals intelligently with the very real issues of mental health alongside the more fantastical nightmarish visuals, on an unpredictable high note.

9/10

For more info click on the following links

http://blackbarnproductions.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/hewilldie

https://twitter.com/BlackBarnPros