Attack of the Killer Shrews (2016) Review

rsz_ks1Attack of the Killer Shrews (2016)

Director: Ken Consentino

Starring: Bill Kennedy, Elizabeth Houlihan, Jonathon Rogers, Cheryl Szymczak, Marcus Ganci-Rotella

The DVD is $12 plus shipping and can be found at 

“A movie about hope, redemption and ice cream.”

So, what do you do with a $2000 movie budget? If you’re smart you realize your limitations and you make a terrible version of an already legendarily bad movie The Killer Shrews. Last seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Attack of the Killer Shrews, is, if anything worse than the original. But fear not! It’s all in the name of comedy. This slapstick reimagining of a movie about giant killer shrews (originally played by dogs dressed in mops) stays close to the absurdity of the original, tosses out any attempt to be serious and just runs with it. The dialogue, the sound effects, even the introduction by Lloyd Kaufman of Toxic Avenger fame, all serve to create a parody of bad films that’s just a parody but is also a bad low-budget film itself.

There are almost too many delightful things going on on-screen to list, but I’m going to give you a few of them. The sets are terrible, the props are terrible, the gunfire is bad CGI, the police boat is a jet ski with cardboard bits glued on, the nuclear missile is made of tape, cardboard and paint, and that’s just a short list. Not a scene goes by where purposefully bad things aren’t happening. Honestly there almost aren’t words for this film. But again, here are a few, funny, terrible, cheap, and hilarious.

rsz_ks2So, what’s the actual plot? Well, a scientist cooks up some giant killer shrews in his lab and they escape. The shrews terrorize various denizens of the town including Professor Perry, his diner guests, starlet Fiona Rae, literary agent Lewis and his girlfriend Cassandra. Sherriff Blake saves the day, sort of, but only after a lot of running and screaming. Now, if you all remember the original film you are probably hoping the shrews are dogs wearing mops again. Unfortunately they aren’t. BUT they are spectacularly cheap props and sometimes a person in a gorilla suit from the Halloween Store.

There are a ton of laughs to be had in this movie, both with it, and at its expense, but it’s worth watching, especially with other people. I watched it alone and found the second half dragging, which would have been alleviated by a having some friends to laugh at it with. The foley also deserves special mention for the cartoon sound effects added in. The rest of the sound, including the dialogue is hit or miss. Which is unfortunate as some of the jokes would have been even better if they had been audible. And a special, special mention for the opening credits which are, again, hilariously bad stop-motion animation and comprise a more or less accurate summary of the film.

And. the last burning question, What is Lloyd Kaufman doing in this film? Well, he introduces Attack of the Killer Shrews, and bonus, stay until after the credits, he appears again to wrap things up. According to IMBD the real reason he was there is that he was in town. It would be very interesting to see what filmmaker Ken Cosentino could do with a budget, considering he accomplished a minor miracle of comedy with $2000. Maybe one day we will get to find out.

rsz_ks3Kudos for: “What the fuck is that thing?” (the actual thing, and no it’s not a shrew)

Lesson learned: When in doubt, squeaky toy SFX


Vampyres (2015) Review

vampyres1Vampyres (2015)

Director: Victor Matellano

Starring: Marta Flich, Almundena Leon, Christian Stamm, Veronica Polo, Anthony Rotsa

Out NOW on UK DVD from Soda Pictures

“Life is so short. Especially yours.”

Two vampires, Fran (Marta Flich) and Miriam (Almudena Leon) waylay drivers on a stretch of empty forest road and take them home for sex followed by a little light massacring. That’s pretty much the whole plot. And before you ask (or in the event you have seen the original) yes, the two vampires make-out with each other and their victims in blood-soaked nude scenes. The latest pick-up is Ted (Christian Stamm), a bland middle-aged man who looks like a cut-rate Liam Neeson. He is apparently tasty enough to keep around for more than one meal. There is also a secondary plot about three friends camping in the woods near the vampire’s house that really has nothing to do with anything.

File this one under “Good movies that didn’t need to be remade.” The original 1974 Vampyres was a lavish, opulent, brooding, gothic sex thriller. Set in a gorgeous British country home, featuring autumnal woods and touched with misty mornings and fall leaves, the entire production dripped atmosphere. Despite its flaws, especially that of the tired trope of the lesbians dying at the end, it stands as a vampire film to be reckoned with. A yard stick by which all lesbian vampire films will be held up to, and sadly, most of them will also be found wanting.

vampyres2If the original film’s watchword was ‘decadence’, the Vampyre’s watchword was ‘budget’. Gone is the stately English country home straight from a gothic novel. Gone are the fantastically scintillating 1970s costumes. Gone is a coherent plot and dialogue that isn’t a garbled mess. Everything in Vampyres 2015 is cheap, and small, and nigh incoherent. The music drowns out the dialogue (some of which was lifted verbatim from the original), and even if it had been audible it was delivered with such thick accents, the director would have been better off simply making the film in Spanish (and who knows- there may be a slightly better version in Spanish out there somewhere) and giving us subtitles, because at least then I would have known what the actors were saying. It may even have improved their lacklustre acting, to make the film in their native language. Thought to be fair it’s a pretty international production, so that might not have worked.

Usually remakes (as terrible as they often are) at the very least throw more money at the production than the original. Vampyres is by far cheaper looking than the original (which was not an expensive film to begin with). The house the two vampires are squatting in as a rundown farmhouse in the Spanish countryside, much of the place is bereft of furniture and atmosphere. The costumes are another place corners were cut. Fran and Miriam have two outfits each. A black cocktail dress and cape ensemble, and a peach negligee with a false corset that frankly looks like it came out of a catalogue of Amy Brown inspired fairy dresses.

vampyres3There really isn’t much compelling about the film. Well, aside from lots of breasts. Well, at least a few pairs of breasts. Most of them will be Fran and Miriam’s. Nudity however, can only get you so far in a movie. Especially one in which there is supposed to be a plot.

But the plot is a mish-mash. Some of it is the original film, then there is the bit with the three campers who really don’t have much to do aside from discuss a book they found, their college crushes, and then finally too get picked off at the end. There is also a guy with a scythe! Who does nothing and is literally credited as “Man with Scythe” in the film credits. My guess is he was a very literal and ham-fisted personification of death.

Then there’s Caroline Munro who plays a cryptic inn keeper and spouts nonsensical lines for no reason other than poor writing. Last but not least, the burning question- did this movie “bury its gays?” Well… one of them. In an absurd turn of events Ted shoots one of the vampires (I’m going to say Fran again) with a crossbow. However the other one get away and turns the girl camper Harriet (Veronica Polo).

vampyres4If you’re interested in Vampyres (or for that matter vampires) I HIGHLY recommend skipping this film and going straight to the 1974 version. The story is better, the production values are better, the costumes, the acting, the setting, everything is flat out better in the old movie. Vampyres accomplished pretty much what all remakes in the history cinema have managed to do: be worse than the original.

Kudos for: “Man with Scythe”

Lesson learned: Don’t remake good movies


The Haunting of Mary aka Mary Loss of Soul (2014) Review

hom1The Haunting of Mary aka Mary Loss of Soul (2014)

Director: Jennifer B. White

Starring: Kaylee Bryant, Jose Zuniga, Catherine Black, Anne Bex

Out on UK DVD October 24th 2016 from High Fliers Films

If I’d met you like a week ago I’d have thought you were crazy.”

After going missing in the woods, Mary Solis (Kaylee Bryant) comes back with missing hours and a changed personality. Once a vibrant young woman with aspirations to dance ballet she’s a shell of her former self. Then a strange ghostly figure begins to haunt the Solis family. Mary’s parents scramble for answers as the haunting grows more violent and the mysteries stack up. Turns out Mary’s soul is AWOL after witnessing a horrific crime.

Sometimes a movie just hits a sweet spot and you like it for no explicable reason. Mary Loss of Soul is one of those movies. At least for me. Yes the effects are minimal and not very good. The acting is just shy of being good enough for television. But the plot is solid. The characters act in reasonable and logical ways that make them believable human beings. A rarity in horror films. The Solis family is a close knit happy clan worth rooting for. And yes, I am heaping praise on what boils down to a mediocre, slightly cheesy, paranormal suspense drama. There’s no gore. No real scares. Nothing that would put this in the realm of horror movie. It is in fact the second most adorable film I’ve reviewed thus far. The first one being Ruby Strangelove Young Witch. Mary is a family friendly paranormal, which for some is a recommendation to run away. But for some reason this film touched my blackened little heart.

Mary Loss of Soul 1The Solis family has a great rapport and the actors do a good job. Everyone is acting to the best of their abilities and no one phones in a performance. A couple of times the performance borders on overacting but doesn’t quite cross the line. There was a particularly cosy moment in the beginning where Mary and her mother Gina start talking in fake British accents to each other. It’s the sort of goofy thing mothers and daughters do and it rings true. It’s also nice to see a loving sibling relationship. Mary and her little sister Sophia (Anne Bex) genuinely like each other and want to protect each other.

However, Mary is not without flaws. There is a lot of deus ex machina at play. Gina Solis (Catherine Black) meets Irish healer Trice (Emma Gruttaudaria) at exactly the right time dispensing with the need for the character to go out and find a shaman. Every plot point comes along in much the same way. The “villain” in the movie is introduced so late as to take all the mystery out of the crime. And the actual crime that caused Mary’s traumatic soulectomy is secondary to everything else in the film including Mary’s pet finches. The few scares the film goes for aren’t really scary. They do add to the tension, so at least they aren’t entirely wasted.

The effects are worthy of note only because Mary’s disembodied soul looks like a ghost from a bad SyFy Channel original. The rest of the practical effects boil down to some make-up to make Mary look pale and some poorly applied bruising to her dad’s face. The weakest actor is surprisingly not little sister Sophia, but Mary’s goth best friend.

Mary Loss of Soul 2Would I recommend this movie to everyone? No not to everyone. Horror fans looking for actual scares will want to go elsewhere. If you’d like to watch a ghost story with your kids give it a shot.

Kudos for: Harry Potter quoting Karate Mom
Lesson Learned: Bird metaphors are the best metaphors


The UKHS Writers Christmas Horrors – ‘Black Christmas’ (1974)

Netflix Roulette Random YouTube Yuletide

In honor of the holidays Netflix Roulette has undergone a magical transformation! Rather than Netflix I went to the dark side and let You Tube decide which festive horror I should watch.

The UKHS Writers Christmas Horrors

Title: Black Christmas

Year: 1974

Director: Bob Clark

Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon,

IMDb rating: 7.2/10

Seen it before: No

First Impressions: Didn’t Bob Clark direct A Christmas Story? Yes. Yes he did… Something about Christmas seems to just say “slasher movie” in the USA, I have no idea why. Anyway, holy crap! Real actors are in this! Also YouTube has the entire film, so it wins! I pulled it from the search “Christmas Horror Movies” which yielded not as many as one would think.

The Verdict: It’s a darn decent slasher film. Though I would say the R rating is for language more than gore, sex or nudity(of which there isn’t any). I think Clark spent the budget on getting actors rather than fake blood. Which is actually fine.

A sorority house is menaced by weird and obscene phone calls at the start of winter break. Meanwhile a crazed killer is on the loose and happens to be hanging out in their attic. Hint: The calls are coming from inside the house! And I have to pause to mention that tracing calls in 1974 was an ordeal! Wow. It’s kind of worth watching that scene alone. Black Christmas has a pretty basic set-up and the execution is similarly basic. But what it may lack in creativity it makes up for in acting chops and clarity. It also never reveals the killer. Which is welcome change of pace. The audience is spared the often terrible and psychologically inaccurate origin story that most of these films spit out.

Acting-wise the stand out was Margot Kidder, who I have never particularly liked…until now! She plays sorority sister Barb who has a bad attitude and a acid tongue. She plays the most likeable unlikable character in the film. At one point Barb gets a little boy drunk on champagne during a charity event. But damn it all she is hilarious. Olivia Hussey plays Jess, who is having boyfriend troubles and is the sole survivor of the night’s terror. Also entertaining is the drunken house-mother Mrs. Mac(Marian Waldman)who hides bottles of straight sherry (which are literally labeled Straight Sherry as if that were the brand name) hidden around the sorority house. Although since it IS a sorority house I would expect the booze to be pretty unregulated, so why she had to sneak her drink is beyond me.

Sadly most of the killings are off screen or shot so that the gore isn’t seen. And this includes a death by glass unicorn that I for one would have liked to watch. What really sets Black Christmas slightly above other slashers is the care that was taken with the script and casting. It’s not amazing. It’s not my favorite. I only have one favorite slasher movie anyway (it being not my preferred subgenre.) But this was an enjoyable Christmas romp on the dark side and well worth adding to your grisly holiday watching.

Rating: 7/10

Aaaaaaaah! (2015) Review

Aaaaaaaah! posterAaaaaaaah! (2015)

Director: Steve Oram

Starring: Lucy Honigman, Julian Barratt, Holli Dempsey, Noel Fielding, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Tom Meeten, Toyah Willcox.

Aaaaaaaah! Is a hard film to process and at times to watch. On the surface it’s a sort of comedy, but I didn’t find it that funny. The director likens it to Romeo and Juliet meets Planet of the Apes. Another reviewer compares it to John Water’s Pink Flamingoes which was actually my first thought even though I haven’t seen Pink Flamingoes. But I have heard of Pink Flamingoes and the infamous eating of the doggie poop scene. Eating dog shit is about the only line Aaaaaaaah! doesn’t cross. There is, violence, masturbation, nudity, cannibalism, people pooping, people peeing, vomit and stabbings.

Those are all the reasons I didn’t like it on top of the pacing. However those are exactly the reasons I recommended Aaaaaaaah! to a friend on Facebook and sincerely think he’ll get a real kick out of it.

Aaaaaaaah! 1The premise of Aaaaaaaah! is basically ‘what if people acted like monkeys but the modern world remained unchanged’. All the dialogue is made of gestures, grunts, howls and guttural noises. And to its credit the film is perfectly understandable.

The plot revolves around a young woman (Honigman) stuck in a domestic situation she doesn’t like and breaks out of it by hooking up with a marauding dominant male, played by Oram, who shows up at a house party thrown by, her housemate/mother’s boyfriend? (I don’t know, the social dynamics are very different than humans in this film which is actually an excellent bit of worldbuilding on Oram’s part.) Honigman’s father, the former dominant male of the household (Barratt) has been forced out by his younger rival (Rhind-Tutt) and lives in the garden.

Aaaaaaaah! 2The film is not long, but the actual set-up for the plot eats at least twenty minutes of screen time. Nearly the first half of the film simply established the separate lives of Honigman’s and Oram’s characters. Oram mourns his late wife by pissing on her photograph while tended by his subordinate male sidekick Meeten. Meanwhile Honigman and her hilarious gal-pal played by Holli Dempsey, have their own misadventures. At long last Honigman and Oram meet, fall in love, romp through a house they broke into and come into violent conflict with Rhind-Tutt.

Better reviewers than I have given Aaaaaaaah! glowing and far more intelligent reviews than I could hope to manage. All I can say is this; I did not likes this movie. I found myself wondering what simian behavior is really like and whether Oram just watched a couple of documentaries on monkeys and called it good, or if consulted some experts. Either way the world he’s put on screen is unsettling, unique, complete and not for everyone. Fans of body horror will like Aaaaaaaah! Anyone not wigged out characters taking a shit on the kitchen floor or cannibalism will like Aaaaaaaah! Some of the favorable comparisons that other critics drew were Lars Von Trier, John Waters, and a film called Themroc.

Aaaaaaaah! 3If you like, and have heard of, any of the above you will probably enjoy Aaaaaaaah! However, it’s a film most people will either love or hate and I while I appreciate Aaaaaaaah! I don’t like it.

Kudos for: Oooh ook aaah eek.

Lesson learned: Aah ah ooh ack ook.


Che Gilson’s Netflix Roulette #7 – Tales From The Crypt: Ritual (2002)

Ritual PosterJoin Che as she plays Netflix Roulette and watches a randomly selected horror film. Will it be awesome? Will it be torture? What horrors await?? Find out every month with Netflix Roulette!

Title: Tales From The Crypt: Ritual

Year: 2002

Director: Avi Nesher

Starring: Jennifer Grey, Craig Sheffer, Daniel Lapaine, Kristen Wilson, Tim Curry

Netflix Rating: 3.3

Seen it before: No

First Impressions: Well, it has a pretty high Netflix rating so it might be good? One can hope… And I haven’t seen Jennifer Grey in forever! Last thing I remember her in was a TV show called “It’s Like You Know” and she played herself. It was also after she had the nose job and didn’t look like herself anymore. And Tales From the Crypt movies can be hit/miss. Demon Knight is a favorite of mine, I saw it in theaters (as a double feature with Roman Polanski’s “Death and the Maiden”). But I digress. Let’s see if this good or not!

Ritual 1The Verdict: I hate movies that present themselves as being supernatural and then aren’t. This is what Ritual does. It starts off as a zombie voodoo (Obeah in this case) horror movie and by the end it’s just a murder mystery. And in between it’s just freaking long. And since it is a murder mystery I can’t even talk about the plot much without spoiling who the killer is.

Ritual is a long sit with tons of characters. A seemingly endless cast to keep track of. Characters appear in one or two scenes, then disappear for long periods of time only to pop up when needed most. Or they die.

So, the plot. Jennifer Grey plays Dr. Alice Dodgson who gets her license suspended for two years. In need of work she find a job taking care of the wealthy and ill Wesley Claiborne (Lapaine) in Jamaica. A murder mystery unfolds under the guise of voodoo shenanigans and in the end it turns out to be a painfully typical plot of land deals, money, inheritance, and double crosses. There is an especially despicable ending for the main “villain” which absolutely pissed me off. It’s supposed to be poetic justice but it’s gross and unnecessary.

ritual 2The bones of the film were sound. The performances excellent. Jennifer Grey is talented and so is the rest of the cast. Tim Curry is his usual sleazy villain, charming and a bit gross. No one turns in anything less than a great performance.

Strangely absent from the Netflix version of Ritual is the introduction from The Crypt Keeper. Which was a surprising omission. Though I’m not too upset, because I can’t take the terrible puns Cryptie dishes out.

There is some abysmal CGI effects that stand out. But on the whole the movie is solid. It’s just boring. There are too many things going on. Too many characters to keep track of. And it’s NOT a horror movie. It is a straight up mystery/noir. Is it wrong I found the most distracting thing in the entire movie Jennifer Grey’s six pack abs? Holy hell! Does she live at the gym?? Oh, and she’s lost none of her Dirty Dancing moves either.

ritual1345Maybe if my expectations had been different. Or the pacing had been better I would recommend this one. But it’s just too far on the lower end of mediocre. I wasn’t angry I watched, but I found myself frequently wishing it was shorter.

Rating: 4/10

Marshland (2014) Review

Marshland posterMarshland (La Isla Minima) 2014

Director: Alberto Rodriguez

Starring: Javier Gutierrez, Raul Arevalo, Maria Varod, Perico Cervantes, Jesus Corroza

Limited UK Cinema Release from Aug 7th

UK DVD Release 14th September from Altitude Films

“That’s my knife.”

1980 Spain is the backdrop for the gritty police procedural Marshland. Gorgeously shot and tightly plotted this is a film to watch and savor. Dark, brutal and intriguingly political, Marshland is probably best appreciated by those with some knowledge of Spain’s history. I admit I had to pause the movie to go read Spain’s wiki page before returning to the film. Spain 1980 was a time of transition and some upheaval. Only a few years after the death of the dictator Franco and two years from the completion of the new Bourbon restoration. The sins of Franco’s era still loom large and the democracy is still fragile. Still with me? Let’s proceed to the review, I promise this pays off.

Two police officers, politically vocal Pedro (Arevelo) and the older sanguine Juan (Gutierrez) arrive in (according to the synopsis) Spain’s deep south, where two girls have gone missing. Pedro landed such an out-of-the-way assignment because he wrote a letter to the newspaper criticizing an (army?) General. He’s vocally democratic and his convictions have landed him what is basically a water logged middle-of-nowhere. Less is known about Juan, though as the movie unfolds his shady past as part of Franco’s Gestapo (the movie’s words not mine- I know next to nothing about Spain and am sorry for it) is revealed to Pedro. Juan is dying of what is probably prostate cancer and he’s just trying to keep his head down and do his job until the end comes.

Marshland 1The case of the two missing girls becomes a murder investigation when their bodies are found in the marshes. Then the murder investigation morphs into a hunt for a serial killer as Pedro and Juan discover more victims who also ‘disappeared’ and turned up dead. Though most of those deaths were written off as accidents or suicide. Complicating the investigation are the small town’s secrets, cruelty, and corruption.

Juan and Pedro carry on in the face of drug dealers, politics, and dishonesty. They don’t like each other very much, a situation which isn’t remedied by the end. Pedro is tightlipped and serious. Juan, charming and occasionally brutal. Apparently the police in 1980 Spain could do just about ANYTHING they wanted. Marshland in a noir film of the highest caliber. The brooding nature of the subject matter is enhanced by the beauty of the cinematography and the desolation of the setting. The sundrenched empty marshes give way to pockets of agriculture and humanity, but they are a wild place. Unnavigable without a guide and full of short-cuts and secrets. The rich birdlife of the marshes are used as a metaphor for Juan’s impending death and a reminder of his past.

The performances are amazing. The entire production is topnotch and fans of detective shows will want to watch this one. There is not a lot of gore, one user on IMDb compared it to Se7en, but Marshland is nowhere near as over-the-top. But it is restrained and richly nuanced. I would class it more with all the unrelentingly Swedish/Norwegian crime dramas and their imports like “The Killing” (in the US).

Marshland 3I’m not 100% sure on this, but Spain seems to be having a bit of a film renaissance lately. Putting out taught and riveting thrillers and horror , no matter what your stance on REC3… Add this one to your “watch list”.

Kudos for: OMG! Birds!!

Lesson learned: Learn more about Spain.


Che Gilson’s Netflix Roulette – #3 Vile (2011)

Join Che as she plays Netflix Roulette and watches a randomly selected horror film. Will it be awesome? Will it be torture? What horrors await?? Find out every month with Netflix Roulette!

Vile movie posterTitle: Vile

Year: 2011

Director: Taylor Sheridan

Netflix Rating: 3.3

Seen it before: No

First Impressions: It looks like a rip-off of Saw. At the very least an attempt to cash on the torture porn fad. Not my favourite thing. At least it’s short.

The Verdict: Well, it wasn’t too bad. Which is the good news. It’s a pretty standard “strangers locked up together” with the fun twist of them having to torture each other in order to be freed. Mysterious people are making high potency drugs from the brain chemicals released during torture and the group of eight has to fill a quota or something will happen. No one knows what though. The group of eight starts off torturing one guy who one girl insists knows what is going on. She tortures him a lot and only the intervention of the others (and I think he passed out? I forgot already) puts a stop to it. They then come up with a plan to share the torture load so they can each contribute an even percentage of dopamine to the endeavour. Which would work if they weren’t total idiots and fell apart with infighting.

Vile 1I honestly didn’t bother to learn the characters names. But there is a core group of four friends on their way home from camping who get kidnapped and locked up with the rest of the cast. And OMG! shout out to the lady on the instructional video! You are awesome! And I would totally watch a movie just about you.

A couple things really bothered me about the movie. Number one, was how damn BAD they are at torture. Is it wrong to watch torture porn and think “I could do it better”? It really highlights why torture needs to be left to the professionals. They manage combine ineffectual with maiming. Neither of which torture needs to be.

Vile 2The second problem with the movie is: Don’t make a torture porn if you can’t afford the special effects. Seriously. A lot of the actual torture was off screen, conveniently blocked, or at one point, they cut to black! CUT TO BLACK. And all you hear are the screams of the one character who most deserved to be horrifically tortured on screen. As I said, this isn’t my favourite genre, but dammit, if I’m going to watch it I want some money shots. I’ve seen worse (or rather better) torture in historical dramas. The injury special effects are pretty mediocre too. Again, I’m guessing budget. But I don’t know for sure. Third degree burns are hard to pull off. Even second degree. No one gets the blisters right…

Vile 3There’s kind of a twist at the end. Which is the twist all these movies have. Well, OK, one of two twists all these movies have. It’s not really a surprising film. Nothing will blow your mind. But it’s not terrible. The acting is solid. Though there is so much crying from the ladies! Arg! I mean I’m not going to say I wouldn’t cry. But at some point, I don’t know why NO writer of slashers has ever said, let’s give the women some dignity. I mean at the very least they could have a guy cry, because sorry, pain is pain. And the threat of torture (especially really clumsy torture) is threat of torture. I just want the ladies to nerve up and get tortured without crying so much. Is that too much to ask?

And as this review has taken a weird, weird turn I probably need to shut up now.

Rating: 5/10

Star Leaf (2015) Review

starleaf1Star Leaf (2015)

Director: Richard Cranor

Starring: Julian Gavilanes, Tyler Trerise, Russell Hodgkinson, Shelby Truax, Richard Cranor

Available to order now from –

“Welcome to the garden of Weeden motherfuckers!”

High school friends Tim (Trerise) and James (Gavilanes) served together in Afghanistan as Marine snipers. Tim has since left the service to pursue life as a hippy, while James remains in the core and struggles with PTSD. They get together for what is supposed to be a surf weekend with Tim’s Twilight obsessed girlfriend Martha (Truax) in tow. Instead Tim hijacks the trip for a much better one. They pay a visit to Seth “Guardrail” Slaughter (Hodgkins) and obtain a map to mystical grove of marijuana that has otherworldly origins.

Partaking of the Star Leaf comes with a few caveats. The first rule of Star Leaf is, no pictures, no GPS and no taking clippings. Smoke as much as you want while there, but when you leave, destroy the map and no free samples. Immediately Martha breaks the ‘no-pictures please’ rule with a couple selfies and Tim decides to help himself to some clippings. This unleashes a strange turn of events in a movie that was already half drug trip to begin with.

starleaf2A whacky but workable combination of sci-fi, drugs, and thrills, Star Leaf delivers on its trippy premise with skill and humor. More comedy than horror, it makes for some darn good watching. One of the joys of the film is the snappy dialogue delivered by excellent actors. Gavilanes gives a great performance as the moody and damaged James who’s PTSD forms the crux of the plot. Trerise’s Tim is a funny, likeable ass who has buried his war time trauma with a thin veneer of Eastern mysticism and drugs. Guardrail, the aging hippy biker, played expertly by Hodgkins, brings both skill and warmth to his performance.

The single failing of Star Leaf is a soundtrack so loud the dialogue is hard to hear in places. But it’s a small quibble. Everything other element, direction, cinematography and editing, is pretty outstanding. The effects… well, the mediocre digital animation used for everything from gunshots to explosions is forgiveable in light of Star Leaf’s many positives.

Star Leaf, might, just MIGHT, be a cult classic in the making. The drugs, the hallucinogenic trips, the ‘did that really happen’ plot hovers somewhere between “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle” with not all together unpleasant side effects.

starleaf3Warning: Users will experience weird forest ranger Dave played excellently by director Cranor, a rapacious moose, a lot of Twilight references, lens flares, randy and dangerous aliens, laughter, and a few plot twists.

Kudos for: The “Additional marijuana consulting” credit.

Lesson learned: Don’t turn your back on a Moose.



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Psychotic Asylum aka Psychotic (2012) Review

psydvdPsychotic Asylum (AKA Psychotic) 2012

Director: Johnny Johnson

Starring:  Jenna Verdicchio, Steve Hope Wynne, Kristina Dargelyte

UK DVD release July 13th from High Fliers Films.

“Electric shock treatments draining power again.”

Dr. Helen Kingsford (Virdicchio) is working through her last rounds at an old mental hospital which is being closed in favor of a new facility. Only three patients remain and a handful of guards. The office party send off of the old wing is brutally interrupted by one crazy guard who lets out the remaining three patients. Or something close to that. BUT that’s not really the plot. Dr. Kingsford is set on a game of cat and mouse in an effort to evade crazy guard Thomas Reid (Wynne) and his psychotic minions as the patients take over the barely staffed asylum.

psy1Kingsford must join forces with one of the psychos, run for her life, and save a little girl living in the bowels of the asylum who helps them escape certain death. AND that’s not all! There’s an experimental (??) machine in the hospital which turns the troubled and sadistic Reid into a maniac. It also turns his eyes black, and that of another patient. No real explanation is given about the machine. None for the kid living in the asylum. Is she homeless? Did someone leave her? Confused? You aren’t the only one.

Psychotic makes a lot of leaps, both in terms jumpy edits that don’t help clarify the action and logic. Events happen with only the thinnest connection between each other. The strange machine that makes people crazy has no introduction, no explanation, and is only used once.

The special effects are an uneven mixed bag of practical and digital. And neither of them are used very well. One notable digital misfire is use of digital effects for a character getting their throat slit. Which is one of the simplest of all practical effects. A lot of the actual woundings take place off camera, cutting back to the results. It’s not a particularly gory film.

psy3It sounds like Psychotic might be terrible. But it isn’t. The actors commitment is commendable. The only drag is the little kid Chloe (Rosie Cochrane). Everyone else is acting their hearts out, to the point of some amusing scenery chewing. Everyone is giving their all to a rather mediocre thriller with a whacked out plot. Steve Hope Wynne, with his growling portrayal of the broken and dangerous Reid is particularly good. He seems to be so angry he can barely open his mouth .

Kudos for: WTF crazy making machine.

Final lesson: Quit working in asylums. No really. Just stop it.