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The Call of Charlie (2016) Short Film Review

rsz_cog1The Call of Charlie (Short 2016)

Director: Nick Spooner
Writers: Guy Benoit, John Simpson
Starring: Evan Arnold, Bradley Bundlie and Sven Holmberg
Runtime: 13min
Synopsis (from IMDb): “A trendy Los Angeles couple fixes up an Ancient Evil Deity From Beneath The Sea on a blind date.”

The Call of Charlie (TCoC) is an ambitious horror-comedy, namely because horror-comedies usually never seem to get the balance right. As a result I believe anybody attempting this is being ambitious from the outset. So before we go any further into the depths of TCoC don’t be alarmed, this tight rope has been walked across perfectly.

This suburban couple are awaiting their dinner guest Charlie (Sven Holmberg), sporting fantastic makeup effects. Charlie arrives and his striking physical features seem all but ignored by his hosts. Some old friends stumble on by and some awkward situational, visual humour ensues. More than just a one hit visual gag, the escalation of the antics is well paced and thought out, considering this very brief runtime, all the bases were covered. This made for a refreshing, light hearted yet still dark reimagining of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu. With a tight runtime, every gag is gracefully executed leading to a satisfying conclusion which leaves us itching for more.

rsz_cog3For a short film and horror debut for Spooner, this production oozes style, substance and quality. This combination is a rare feat for a short film, not to mention for a horror-comedy. I would hope the feedback for this project would encourage Spooner to continue down the path and we will all put our hands together and pray this wasn’t a one hit wonder. At 13min there is no excuse not to watch this if you’re even half curious about horror.

Verdict: A call worth answering

9.5/10

Listen to my chat with Nick Spooner about The Call of Charlie and lots more on The Bazaar Cast:
https://soundcloud.com/thefearmerchant/e012-nick-spooner

Romeo’s Distress (2016) Review

rsz_romeo_official_poster_1_copy_copyRomeo’s Distress (2016)

Director: Jeff Frumess
Writer: Jeff Frumess
Stars: Nick Bohun, Alex Echevarria and Jeff Frumess
Runtime: 82min

Synopsis (from IMDb): “”Romeo’s Distress” is a Weird, Shakespearean, Gothic, Horror-Thriller that tells a story of a boy name James, his unrequited love for a girl named Jane, and her father’s sadistic (yet dutiful) response to it all.”

Heralded as zero budget film making, I just had to have a look at what a $2,500 can get you for a full feature film. Budget aside, we need to have a look at this film on its merits and not rest on the backstory and production to maybe give some leeway.

Romeo’s Distress follows the life of James (Anthony Malchar), a dorky young man, with an unhealthy obsession and a forbidden love for a girl named Jane (Kimberely A. Peterson). In comparison to James, Jane is knockout gorgeous and the problem here is she has no idea who James is. A clichéd plot no doubt but the presentation makes for an interesting watch.

The story is told in smatterings of flashbacks and panicked present day goings on. James’ time inside and outside his home is stressful to watch, his only relief is stalking the unsuspecting Jane and taking unsolicited candid photo’s. But this sort of carry on comes with a price! I don’t want to go into to much more detail as the plot unravels nicely and isn’t just another cookie cutter story about star-crossed lovers.

rsz_screen_shot_2014-09-08_at_102727_amTechnically, the whole thing is put together surprising well, acting is on point and performances are both engaging and entertaining. All considered, if you are fan of independent film then Romeo’s Distress is a master class in shoestring filmmaking. If you’d like to hear the whole story of how this was achieved, check out my chat with Jeff Frumess himself below.

Verdict: Success from Distress
7/10

Interview here with Jeff Frumess on The Bazaar | The Fear Merchant Podcast
https://soundcloud.com/thefearmerchant/e009-jeff-frumess

Tethered (2017) Short Film Review

rsz_tethered_teaser_poster_officialTethered (Short 2017)

Director: Daniel Robinette
Writers: Jeff Cox, Daniel Robinette
Stars: Jared Cook, Grace Mumm and Kayla Stuhr
Runtime: 12min

Synopsis (from IMDb): “Abandoned by his mother, Solomon is left to live in isolation while abiding by three rules. Having grown accustomed to his routine, he begins to realize the rules may be a hindrance to a life-changing discovery.”

Tethered is the next short by the talented team over at 4 Leagues Media. Following up from Drawn to Fear (2016) and The Time Will Come (2016) (which I’ve previously reviewed both favourably). Don’t be alarmed there is no bias here, I must uphold my critical integrity!

As mentioned above in the brief synopsis Tethered follows a boy named Solomon. He lives out in the wilderness and must hunt and trap to survive in the harsh conditions. He is guided by three rules bestowed to him by his mother. He physically tethers himself to the cabin, (he is of fixed abode!) so he doesn’t wander and get lost, given his ailments and the condition that he is in. These are all subtly uncovered over the course of the early stages of the film.
For a 12min film, it seemed fairly fleshed out, more than most short films of this duration. The pacing was spot on for the story that was being told. I’ve come to know the style of filmmaking. If I watched blindly I believe I would be able to guess and say “yes, this is a Robinette I’m watching.”

rsz_tethered_tapeWhere I felt this short lost its footing was for the climax scene. Thematically it felt out of character with the rest of the film. I have had the opportunity to discuss this with Dan after the fact and my suspicions were confirmed with him as to why certain narrative decisions were made. But I will let you, the potential viewer, to make up your own mind.

I’ve been told I was the first outsider to have laid eyes on Tethered and what a pretty sight indeed. From a purely technical standpoint, the film cannot be faulted. The acting, cinematography, the location and basically everything that fills the screen oozes character, detail and style. The story was captivating and I was sucked right into the world in which Solomon inhabits. Years of backstory conveyed by both visual and audio cues. This is a testament again to the continued quality 4 Leagues Media manages to produce. For me it has been 3/3 that have knocked it out of the park in this very competitive arena of short films.

rsz_tethered_solomonVerdict: Not the end of Robinette’s tether

8.8/10

Listen to my chat with Dan Robinette below on The Bazaar Cast:
https://soundcloud.com/thefearmerchant/e001-daniel-robinette-writerdirector

Palette of the Improbable: Tales of Horror & Darkness by Steve Vasquez – Book Review

rsz_51tshpgfpulPalette of the Improbable: Tales of Horror & Darkness by Steve Vasquez – Book Review

Available HERE

Totalling seven stories, Palette of the Improbable (PotI) plays host to a number of (as you may have guessed) improbable stories and scenarios. These range from deals with The Devil, paranormal hauntings and time travel. It really is a mixed bag where we end up with varying degrees of success. The overarching theme that binds it all together is the improbability that these stories might take place in the real world, and that is very much the case for the most part. However, in blatant contradiction to what I just said; three of the total seven stories I could very well imagine may have happened at some point in time, in some guise, somewhere in the world. But this only adds to both the horror and tragedy conveyed in these particular stories (“God Works in Mysterious Ways”, “Good Night, Sleep Tight” and “A Hand Is a Terrible Thing to Waste”).

If we can define “palette” as the range of colours available to an artist. Here we must transform colours to words. If words, like colours, are combined to create the finished product; we are left with a narrow range. To this collections fault it contains one too many cliches which take away from the occasional brilliance that lurks just beneath the surface. Before we go any further, let me just say, if you’re looking for a quick read with smatterings of horror and darker themes, PotI is worth picking up. Let me make that clear. However, the execution of some of the stories leaves a lot to be desired. I think it is also worth mentioning, there also seemed to be a trend of suspicion towards women. This is particularly evident in some of the earlier stories we are presented with. Whether this was intentional or not, is not known to me at this point in time, but it did jump out at me and I’m not exactly a chest thumping feminist.

I found myself on the fence for the most part while reading these stories. There were a few glimmers of great writing only to become dull again when the next cliche rolled around. “Through the Wormhole Darkly” for example, contained some great detail and background knowledge in some areas but then contained some anachronisms which undercut some great moments. Maybe some greater care is needed to tidy up these small issues for future stories from Vasquez, which I strongly encourage him to continue. The variety of stories was great, you never knew where the next one would take you and that shows a versatility from Vasquez to his credit. There was a familiarity to the stories, but then again there is to most stories in this day and age.

Maybe feeling more like a pulp novel than anything else. I would still recommend PotI for a quick read (under an hour in total). Being overall a bit rough around the edges, there is certainly room for improvement and some of these stories could definitely be fleshed out a bit more (I’m looking at you “Good Night, Sleep Tight”). There is a creepy opener and a light hearted close. I wanted to keep this review brief as I don’t want to ruin any of this compelling little stories.

The take home message is give this short story collection a chance, despite its flaws.

6/10

The Last Testament of Thomas Griffith by Martin Adil-Smith – Book Review

tgThe Last Testament of Thomas Griffith – A Review

The Last Testament of Thomas Griffith (TLTOTG) is a short story set in the universe of The Spirals of Danu by Martin Adil-Smith.

Following the Small’s Lighthouse incident of 1801, as the title suggests this is the last testament of Thomas Griffith to his wife before his descent into madness. For those of you unfamiliar with this story, two lighthouse keepers on St David’s Peninsula, Wales , Thomas Griffith and Thomas Howell. Curiously however, Howell was a love rival for Griffith’s wife. During a terrible storm, when no relief could reach them, in a freak accident Thomas Howell managed to fall, hit his head and die (so the story goes). After Howell’s untimely death Griffith maintained it was an accident with no mal intent. Normal protocol was if someone had died in the lighthouse to throw the body overboard lest you wanted to cosy up to a bloated rotting corpse in the pale moonlight.

Griffith for whatever reason, be it out of guilt or the beginnings of his madness, tied Howell’s body up outside so that maybe he could be examined to determine he wasn’t murdered once the relief team could reach them. It was the worst storm in a number of years, supplies were plenty but morale was low.

Adil-Smith’s take on this tale takes us down a darker more sinister road altogether. He attempts to fill in the gaps between when Howell’s died and the days leading up to the relief crew’s arrival. They, finding Griffith as a bumbling wreck. Written as a diary entry; a last will and testament. Brief in its presentation, yet chilling all the same. If ever there was a piece to give you a taste of the wider universe of The Spirals of Danu it’s TLTOTG. The story teased me just enough to want more, to uncover the secrets of the world. That is a testament (pun intended) to Adil-Smith’s wordcraft. Luckily for me there is a series already out there for me to sink my teeth into. If you’re into dark fantasy, the strange and the occult you may enjoy this short story. I look forward to picking up the rest of The Spirals of Danu to see if the quality continues!
If you’d like to hear myself and Martin discuss this short (among other things) follow the link below to listen to my conversation with him.

Verdict: 8/10

Find Martin below:

To Buy “The Last Testament of Thomas Griffith” –
a-fwd.com/asin=B01M9C67PK
Website – spiralsofdanu.com/
Facebook – www.facebook.com/SpiralsOfDanu/
Twitter – twitter.com/SpiralsOfDanu

The Time Will Come (2016) Short Film Review

twc1The Time Will Come (Short 2016)

Director: Daniel Robinette
Writers: Jeff Cox, Daniel Robinette
Stars: Drew Matthews, Brett David Stelter
Runtime: 12min

Synopsis (from IMDb): “A tale of two people. One carries the burden of loss with the potential for retribution while the other seems to possess an uncanny ability of insight. A dark journey of self-reflection begins when their paths cross.”

The Time Will Come is the third title released from Dan Robinette the talented 4 Leagues Media. Departing slightly from their grounding in horror; in Dan’s own words this is their arthouse short.

We follow two men tangentially until they cross paths. One man, Kevin (Drew Matthews) we learn is suffering great grief, the other (Brett David Stelter) a vagabond of sorts who just so happens upon Kevin en route to has heavy laden destination. The bulk of the short is set in the car following the two’s conversation. It’s this exchange fleshes out the story and motivations of these characters, building to a nice climax. This short goes on to explore darker more relatable themes than the previous Drawn to Fear. The Time Will Come is yet another bite sized treat from this very talented team. Everyone who has experienced loss or heartbreak will get something out of this film.

twc2With bite sized films comes bite sized commentary lest I run the risk of ruining the experience for any potential viewers out there. The Time Will Come is masterfully crafted with a very high production value for such a simplistic set up. Acting was engaging and most importantly believable. The plot is nothing we haven’t seen before but its execution is where it shines as the character’s chemistry is fantastic. 4 Leagues are building up their demo reel and I feel are ready to tackle a feature début. Go seek this out if you’ve been on the edge of the short film rabbit hole and dive right in. Twelve minutes is something you’ll never regret losing!

Verdict: The Time Is Now

8/10

Cocks from Outer Space by Richard Little – Book Review

cfosCocks from Outer Space by Richard Little -a review

Buy it now: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cocks-Outer-Space-Richard-Little-ebook/dp/B01IAA3CDI

A tale of courage, betrayal, pride and penises! (bizarro fiction)

On the surface, one might be quick to dismiss this book based solely on the title, never mind the cover (which is exactly as you’d expect ) but the story itself is not at all what I expected. Roughly speaking the story is split into three parts. Our main protagonist is One-Eyed Snake, an anthropomorphised two foot tall penis; joined by his regimental buddies Chode, Big Black and Japseye. Once you get over the initial absurdity of both the names of the characters and their physical form you begin to have fun. The Penii as they are known live in Cockland, the Penii are the warrior class and the Flaccids are the commoners. The Assholes are the sworn enemies of the Cocks and their leader is naturally: Shitler. There is an initial battle of the Hershey Highway where the team chase down Shitler. On the other side of the river of piss; The Uryne, is the Cuntry the home of the Pussies (yes please bare with this).

In the battle of the Hershey Highway which makes up the main part of what I will call Act 1. There are undertones of tribalism, xenophobia, racism, elitism, colonialism behind the absurd premise and plenty of puns and toilet humour. Because, I think at the end of the day it isn’t obviously supposed to be serious but whether it was intended or not, if you strip away the silliness there’s some real moral messages to be found here. Like Animal Farm only with giant cocks! (That’s a free one for the blurb Mr. Little) We get to laugh along at the ridiculous puns and imagery which the author gets to unleash upon us under the pseudonym Richard Little (not too hard to work out that play on words either). For the likes of me not writing this review under a pseudonym I have to stand tall and chalk it down, that yes, I’ve read a book named Cocks from Outer Space.

The next stage of the story involves humans landing on planet Genitalia and giving everyone STI’s, this leads to a trip to Earth to look for a cure, a forbidden romance, a giant cock; Cockzilla and a civil war. This story has it all, racing along puns blazing. I would say this book is best suited for teenagers, a demographic who find toilet humour hilarious (I know I did). I could honestly see this as a live action series or ending up on Adult Swim. It is a bit of a lengthy read but good fun in the end. As my first bizarro fiction, it has opened my eyes to this interesting subgenre.

Verdict: 6.9

You can find Richard Little on Twitter @fromouterspace3

Mr. Little has also very graciously offered 5 eBook copies of the book up for grabs.
The first 5 people to email me will get a copy of the book with a catch:
Subject Line: I want Cock
Body: You must tell me why you deserve a Cock From Outer Space
Email me at: [email protected]
Happy Hunting!

Ashley’s Tale by Mike Duke – Book Review

asht1Ashley’s Tale by Mike Duke – Book Review

Available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Ashleys-Tale-Mike-Duke-ebook/dp/B017FOE77U/

Ashley’s Tale is an exhilarating novella, a tale of loss, endurance and the power of will.

We are introduced to Ashley, straight in the thick of an encounter with an as of yet unnamed assailant. She is threatened with both physical and sexual violence. We soon learn she is being held captive in a large workshop type area, belittled by her captor, made to feel worthless and weak. As the reader the escalation of the torment and violence has us at a state of unease. What is this man’s objective? What did Ashley do to deserve this?

This man knows everything about her yet she knows nothing about him, he even knows to bring up the dark depths of her past, the horrors of uncle Tim. With this revelation he straps her into a harness and leaves her with a choice; rape or a beating. Ashley chooses the latter, a harrowing scene but it doesn’t last long. This poor woman her fate in the hands of a mad man.

The man has his own motivations, he wants to train Ashley, to prepare her so she can challenge him; he loves a strong woman. This goes on for some time and we eventually learn his name; Jake. He teaches her to kill pigs, and to hunt and how to survive in the wild. With each day she learns and grows stronger, her burning desire to kill this man also grows by the hour. On a few occasions Ashley almost got her wish, but she is not quite there yet. Where will this journey of self discovery lead her?

Ashley’s Tale is a well rounded story, it mixes elements of psychological thriller, self help and spots of erotic fiction (confused boner naturally, I think that was the point). The intrigue is there and we are really behind Ashley is her endeavours to escape her captivity. Jake however, unveils his humanity over time, who really is the bad guy? Touches on themes of early childhood abuse, self empowerment andrevenge, it really is a whirlwind of a ride.

As it so happens, Mike Duke has since written a prequel story “Ashley’s Tale: Making Jake” (available here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01GDHHOFM) and as of yet unreleased sequel “Ashley’s Tale: The Initiation”

If you’re into suspenseful thrillers you should really check out Ashley’s Tale, it’s a quick read that’s worth your time.

Verdict: 7.5/10

The Cleansing Hour (2016) Short Film Review

tch1The Cleansing Hour (Short 2016)

Director: Damien LeVeck
Writer: Aaron Horwitz
Stars: Sam Jaeger, Heather Morris, Neil Grayston
Runtime: 19min

Synopsis (from iMDb): “Two failed filmmakers have found success running a webcast that streams LIVE exorcisms. However, every episode is an elaborately staged hoax, created to dupe their global audience.”

The Cleansing Hour is a brief horror comedy that will surely wet your appitite for more. Following a production team as they set up for the next episode of their now world acclaimed web series “The

Cleasning Hour” where exorcisms are performed by the big headed Father Lance (Sam Jaeger), a man who its hard to tell whether he is actually a priest along for the ride or an actor loving the new found fame of the series, he must keep up appearances for the show if recognised in public.

He isn’t all too pleased that Drew (Neil Grayston) the production guy has brought in a new sound guy (Jonny Radtke). Tonight’s subject is a familiar face for those of you who have watched the hit TV shot Glee, Heather (Heather Morris) she is delighted to be on the show and is over enthused to finally meet the celebrity exorcist.

tch2As the countdown to the show is underway we get a glimpse of different audience members from around the world getting ready to watch their weekly dose of The Cleansing Hour which is a nice twist and really gives the sense that this is indeed a global phenomena.

As the cameras start rolling and the actors set the scene all is not right in the studio, lights begin to flicker, props going off early. Little things here and there, until it really starts to ramp up.

Without going into too much more detail as the second half of the film is definitely the best half. Juggling horror clichés and tropes with a humorous edge, crafted superbly. The director certainly knows and wants you to know, he is borrowing from the classics. Shot brilliantly with a crisp clean finish, with great pacing, dialogue, set design, costumes, props, acting, music, everything is melded almost perfectly for such a short film. There is even room for twists and turns in there too that make for fantastic viewing.

tch3When I finished watching The Cleansing Hour, I was truly satisfied with what I had just witnessed, so often shorts feel incomplete or just not quiet hitting their mark, The cleansing Hour hits it out of the park compared to its running mates I’ve seen this year. As close to a perfect horror short as you’re going to get, my highest rated short to date!

Verdict: Near Perfect Horror Short

9.9/10

Neon (2016) Short Film Review

neonsfNeon (Short 2016)

Director: Mark J. Blackman
Writer: Mark J. Blackman
Stars: Joe Absolom, Kerry Bennett and Bill Hutchens
Runtime: 15min

Synopsis (from IMDb): “An man who is forbidden by a higher power from pursuing a life of love and happiness attempts to end his life, to spare the woman he loves from her own life of heartbreak.”

A stylish whirlwind adventure set in London, Neon follows Mary (Kerry Bennett) who receives a phone call from a gravely voiced unknown man (Joe Absolom). They have met online but the man informs her that he must stay away and that they are forbidden to meet. His employers would not be happy if they were to connect.

neonsf1With a buzzy electric score setting the tone for this gritty neon electric dream of a short. It is implied that Mary’s contact is a man caught up with the wrong crowd and has had Mary under surveillance for unknown reasons. He is condemned man, we are lead to believe, as two burly men are in hot pursuit looking for his whereabouts. Mary though, is not giving up that easily, she is eager to squeeze an explanation from Elias but gets nowhere with this mysterious man. Scatterings of flashbacks provide us with enough information to piece together the twos relationship (that’s all I’ll say on that.)

All is not as it seems and there is more to Elias than meets the eye, as the goon squad closes in on him, we get a peek into what is really going on. There is great acting on show here with fantastic filmography, very stylish with great popping colours, worthy to the moniker Neon. Mark and the crew have really produced a great short. Stylistically, Neon is in the vein of a condensed and more blistering paced version of Drive (2007) and more recently The Neon Demon (2016). Ryan Gosling as the driver has less dialogue than Joe Absolom’s Elias has in a full feature (joke).

neonsf2If you’re looking for a quick short with plenty of both style and substance, Neon is the film for you. Plenty of twists and turns with a solid narrative, all in a bite sized 15 minutes.

Verdict: Solid Stylistic Thriller

8.8/10