Beyond The Gates (2016) Review

rsz_1rsz_btg1Beyond the Gates (2016)

Director: Jackson Stewart

Starring: Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, Brea Grant, Barbara Crampton

Out now on UK DVD

“Most of this junk just blends together”

Estranged brothers Gordon (Skipper) and John (Williamson) reunite when they have to close up their father’s video rental store because their father has been missing for seven months. In the back office they find a VCR board game called Beyond the Gates. Gordon takes it back to his father’s house where he’s staying and along with his fiancé Margot (Grant) and John, they decide to play the game. Surprise, surprise, Beyond the Gates has them trapped in a deadly game. The stakes, no less than their lives.

A lot of movies, and a lot of horror movies in particular, set out with the premise of “a deadly game that must be played to completion”. It’s not exactly an original concept, and it has been done better in other films. Beyond the Gates has a few charms but they can’t make up for slow pacing a mediocre script and modest acting. The film rides high on the recent wave of nostalgia that is sweeping films and horror right now. This is the third or fourth attempt at an 80s throwback I’ve seen and it’s not the strongest entry. Beyond leans a little heavily on viewers fondly remembering the days of video rental stores and knowing what a VCR game is. The film then has to explain what a VCR game is because even if you grew up with a VCR, the games where a niche market. Maybe not the strongest premise for a movie, when it has to be explained even to people as old as I am.

rsz_beyond_the_gates_1Premise aside Beyond the Gates is a mixed bag. The pace is slow. The board game is played out over days instead of forcing the characters to play through all at once. The game itself is overly easy, the clues dull. A lot of time is wasted in conversation as the characters flip back and forth, alternately trying to quit the game and progress. The film feels a lot longer than its lean run time of 84 minutes. The build up to actually playing the game is long as well. First we have to meet Gordon and John, then Gordon’s fiancé Margot, then John’s gross redneck friend Hank (Justin Welborn), THEN we have to establish the relationships and antagonisms between all of these characters. THEN they start the game. THEN people start dying.

What the film was actually good at, was not the horror aspects, or the VCR game shtick. It was actually an interesting film about estranged brothers with a troubled past and uneasy relationship mending fences. I actually felt the same way watching Beyond the Gates as I did watching The Innkeepers, which was a great romantic comedy and a terrible horror movie. Beyond the Gates was a good family drama about reconciliation and a pretty mediocre horror film.

But, the horror wasn’t all bad. There were a lot of practical effects used for gruesome death scenes that were pretty entertaining. However that’s about the best that can be said for the horror side of things. Unfortunately amusing death scenes don’t make up for the slow pace.

rsz_beyond_the_gates_2Kudos for: Gordon’s nerdy hipster vibe

Lesson learned: It takes more than a synth soundtrack to cash in on nostalgia.

6/10

The Mind’s Eye (2015) Review

me1THE MIND’S EYE (2015)

Starring Graham Skipper, Lauren Ashley Carter and John Speredakos

Written & Directed by Joe Begos

UK DVD Release 6th Feb 2017 from High Fliers Films!!

“Zack Connors and Rachel Meadows were born with incredible psychokinetic capabilities. When word of their supernatural talents gets out, they find themselves the prisoners of Michael Slovak, a deranged doctor intent on harvesting their powers. After a daring escape, they are free from his sinister institution, but the doctor will stop at nothing to track them down so that he may continue to siphon their gifts for his own use”.

Retro horror is such a prevalent thing now it’s may as well be classed as it’s own sub genre. It Follows was an excellent minimalist Carpenter throwback, Turbo Kid was loads of 8-Bit soft rock fun and Stranger Things has combined elements of everything that we love about 80’s sci-fi horror to create one of the most purely enjoyable TV shows in recent years. There is a generation of filmmakers at the moment that are successfully paying homage to the films of their childhood, while also managing to express their own voices. Jim Mickle, Adam Wingard, Ti West are just some. And now we can add Joe Begos to that list.

me3The Mind’s Eye has such an attention to detail that it could actually be the most authentically 80’s style horror we’ve had so far. From the Fiedel/Carpenter-esque score by Steve Moore (listening to it as I write), to the beautifully animated title design, the flick oozes VHS gem. But it goes further than the style. The substance also feels dug up from a simpler time, with its use of telekinesis, it’s road trip/chase structure, and its shady government conspiracy types. It all combines as if a Cronenberg, Carpenter and a young James Cameron collaborated on an Eric Red script. Which is awesome!

The cast is like a who’s who of indie horror. Begos brings back Skipper from Almost Human as Zack, and he creates a very badass slacker character who thinks on his feet and can stain like a motherfucker to get the best out of his abilities. The prolific Lauren Ashley Carter continues her rise to Queen of all Scream Queens as Rachel, who is anything but a damsel in distress, like a mind-bending Sarah Connor. Both leads are credibly earthy, convincingly “normal” compared to the usual Hollywood stereotypes and all the more likeable for it. Speredakos has heaps of fun hamming it up as über villain Slovak, too. Add in Noah Segan, Larry Fessenden and Jeremy Gardner and it’s a horror geek get together.

me2Begos direction has improved greatly since Almost Human too. His framing of the action sequences, and work with the actors, is all so, so confident. I must mention the aggressive sound FX and editing as well, which immerse you more than any $100mil budget could do. (Special shout out to the sex scene brilliantly intercut with Slovak’s injection, just ballsy and beautiful). The practical gore FX are just a joy to behold too, and by the bucketload when they come. Believe me, every character gets bloody here.

If there’s a fault, it’s a fairly common one I find in indie films these days, and probably not an issue for most. But it’s the constant use of handheld. I miss the smooth, composed shots of the 80’s. But time and budget are probably many a filmmakers issue in achieving that distinctive look these days. But it’s a minor quibble, and if it’s the price of giving filmmakers like Begos the freedom to tell the stories they want their way then who cares.

me4With strong performances, lashings of style and a brutally efficient script, The Mind’s Eye is another fantastic midnight movie from an immensely talented filmmaker. All we need now is an onslaught of even lower budget straight to DVD sequels that get progressively (but lovably) worse to really transport is back to the 80’s. Stick this one right in your own mind’s eye immediately!

9/10

The Mind’s Eye (2015) Review

mindseyeeeeeThe Mind’s Eye (2015)

Dir: Joe Begos

Starring: Graham Skipper, Lauren Ashley Carter, John Speredakos, Larry Fessenden.

UK Première Feb 26th 2016 at FrightFest Glasgow

Plot: When a number of people start to exhibit psychokinetic powers, several research facilities start taking an interest in these individuals. Dr Slovak (Speredakos) runs one of these facilities studying psychokinesis. Zack (Skipper), a telekinetic individual ends up in Slovak’s facility while looking for his girlfriend, Rachel (Carter). Slovak does have Rachel under his care and refuses to let Zack see her, and performing horrific experiments on both of them. When Zack manages to escape Slovak, he decides to save Rachel and inflict his bloody revenge on Slovak.

The second feature of director, Joe Begos, who returned to FrightFest Glasgow for the première. His first feature Almost Human also premièred at FrightFest Glasgow back in 2014. Begos brings us a tale that shares a kinship with David Cronenberg’s Scanners. Scanners is infamous for it’s telekinetic head explosion scene, and The Mind’s Eye takes that and runs with it. While Scanners whet our appetite for gruesome telekinetic violence, The Mind’s Eye provides a banquet.

mindseye2Set in the simpler time of the 1990s, The Mind’s Eye manages to capture the style of the psychokinesis sub-genre, a sub-genre that really hasn’t been used much since then. This also means that the film doesn’t address technological changes, such as mobile phones and the internet, things that would probably be focused on in a film set today. It keeps the film streamlined, taking the audience along for the ride without distracting from the spectacle.

As previously mentioned, the psychokinesis sub-genre hasn’t really been used in a long time and when it has been, it’s either been used for comedic effect like in the South Park episode, Cartmen’s Incredible Gift, or it’s a little cheesy looking, like in the remake of Carrie. It’s difficult to make the body language for psychokinesis look good without looking like some kind of X-Men character. The Mind’s Eye manages to do it through the use of it’s actors and it’s practical effects. The lead actor, Graham Skipper, was cast due to his ability to bug out his eyes and bulge his veins and Begos wrote the role for him. Speredakos also manages to unleash his psychokinetic fury but it helps that he has been transformed with make up effects to make it look like the power is running through him. Speredakos plays the villain, Slovak, tremendously. He’s a power-hungry maniac and it’s so easy to hate him which is the mark of a great villain.

mindseye3We had the great fortune of sitting down with Joe Begos before the première at FrightFest (stay tuned to UK Horror Scene for that interview) and it was exciting to hear Begos talk about the film and it’s clear just how much passion he has for it and for film making in general. I couldn’t wait to see The Mind’s Eye after hearing him speak about it. He’s definitely a director to look out for, especially if you love indie Sci-fi horrors.

8/10

Almost Human (2013) DVD Review

AHUMAN 001ALMOST HUMAN (2013) DVD

Directed By: Joe Begos

Written By: Joe Begos

Starring: Graham Skipper, Josh Ethier, Vanessa Leigh, Susan T. Travers

UK Certification: 18

RRP: £12.99

Running Time: 76 minutes

Distributor: Metrodome Group

UK Release Date: 4th August 2014

The Dude Designs lead me to Almost Human when he linked to an article where his poster of the film was hailed as one of the best of 2013 by Bloody Disgusting. It’s such an amazing poster too as it evokes that rose-tinted period of 80s video store awesomeness where almost every film just looked so cool thanks to an array of vibrant painted sleeves. Whereas now when I walk into work I just pass a litany of generic clones that all blend into a universal vibe of ‘meh’.

Needless to say with The Dude’s artwork supporting the films brief theatrical run in the US as well as the DVD and Blu-ray release, it comes as no surprise to find that Metrodome have dumped it for, yup… another generic sleeve. Gripes aside though, it was hard not to be excited about watching Almost Human – box art issues or not, especially as Joe Begos decided to make his feature film debut as an appreciative nod to 80s filmmaking complete with the euphoric sight of practical SFX.AHUMAN 003

The film begins on October 13th, 1987 as we meet a distressed Seth Hampton (Skipper) driving to his friend Mark Fisher’s (Ethier) house. He tells Mark that their friend Rob has been taken and that ‘they’ were chasing after him too. A blue light exploded in front of him he says, making an ear-piercing noise. “Mark, it’s here” – whispers Seth, as any desire to go out and find their friend stalls as this unexplained entity is now shadowing Mark’s house. Mark grabs his shotgun, but as things begin to intensify with the high pitched sound reaching unbearable levels he staggers to his front door in a zombified state, opens it and disappears.

Fast-forward a couple of years and a pair of hunters are making their way through the woods when up ahead they spot the naked body of a man who they presume to be dead. As they approach the torso they notice he’s covered in a white goo, and as they inch forward for a closer inspection this supposed corpse springs to life and lets out a deafening screech. We the viewer immediately recognise the person as Mark – but for the hunters they just want to defend themselves against this crazed being and without hesitation aim a bullet at his head. It makes little difference – Mark exhibits a possessed like state and swiftly dispatches the two huntsmen before continuing his rampage as he makes his way home.

With the roots of Almost Human being cemented in those heady days of VHS 80s goodness, it’s pleasing that the influences that Joe Begos drew upon can’t be pinpointed to a specific film – and herein lies its success. The film is simply a homage to the era, indeed if I was to have stumbled upon a tape of this today I’d be forgiven for thinking its production date was 1987. The cool thing about this is that Begos hasn’t done it by scratching the print and other predictable devices. Instead by attached a pumping synth score to the movie as well as shooting it to give an uncanny 16mm vibe, the aesthetic of the movie is more subtle than sledgehammer.

AHUMAN 002With his beard and beany, Josh Ethier comes across like a demented John Grant in the role of Mark, and he’s truly intimidating. Meanwhile Graham Skipper as Seth delivers his frenzied panic with aplomb, with an easy transition to self-preserving rage as he fights to protect Mark’s former girlfriend Jen (Leigh) from her former beau. The practical effects are just a joy to behold with (as Begos admits) quite complex make-up being undertaken, but it all comes off just beautifully. Admittedly the running time for the movie is a little lean (68 minutes minus credits) but with this the film zips along at a great pace with no room for padding or redundant exposition. Almost Human is an excellent film an serves to demonstrate the level of craft that all young filmmakers should aspire to.

If only we got the cool edition those pesky Americans did…

7.5 out of 10

AHUMAN 004Extras:
Gone is the wealth of supplementary material from the Stateside release – we just have a 13 minute Frightfest Q&A hosted by Paul McEvoy

*We’ve relegated the UK box art for Almost Human to right to the bottom of the review here in a fist pumping protest movement!