Empire of The B’s – The Dave Jay Interview by Dave Wain

CB 001EMPIRE OF THE ‘B’S – DAVE JAY INTERVIEW

BY DAVE WAIN

 

DW: Dave, thanks so much for taking the time out for this interview. First things first, there aren’t enough superlatives to describe just how much I enjoyed reading this book. From a personal point of view my first encounter with Charles Band was renting Robot Jox on VHS as an impressionable 14 year old in 1991, and since then I’ve been obsessed. How did you begin to fall under his spell?

 

DJ: “Well, I take it from that question that I’m a little older than you, as my first notable encounter with the films of Charlie Band was thanks to EIV’s VHS release of Ragewar in 1984, when I must have been 13. I randomly rented out the tape to watch on a Friday night with my long-suffering friend, Spencer, who spent 70-odd minutes staring into the middle-distance while sighing loudly and shifting from buttock to buttock. I, on the other hand, was enthralled – there was something about the ramshackle ambition of Ragewar that really appealed to me, and I ended up watching it a couple more times before reluctantly returning it to the video store. There and then, I decided upon tracking down as many films by this Charles Band chap as possible. Now, today that would mean no more than pressing a few keys to find his page on IMDb. However, back in 1984 you had to be made of sterner stuff: I spent many an hour at my local ‘Mr. Video’ scanning the cover of every movie they had in the hope I would find Band’s name on there somewhere, anywhere!

 

The following year, I noticed there was a double-bill of Ghoulies and Trancers playing at a nearby fleapit cinema. So I again dragged along Spencer (poor Spencer) who spent the entire three hours tutting under his breath and nicking lemon sherbets from the foyer pick-n-mix. As for me, it was a done deal – I was a Charles Band fan for life.”

 

CB 005DW: How did the collaborative nature of the book develop? Can you tell us a little about its inception?

 

DJ: “Back in 2001, I put together a very scrappy-looking website solely dedicated to Band’s Empire output. It was nothing to write home about but was one of the very few Band-related sites on the web at that time. Through that, writer Torsten Dewi got in touch to say that he was considering putting together a book on Band, at that time intending to cover the entirety of his career. I initially signed up to the project as a researcher, but Torsten was busy writing screenplays for the likes of the Sci-Fi Channel and producer Harry Alan Towers (he wrote a great script for a proposed remake of Jess Franco’s 99 Women, which was greenlit by Towers but which unfortunately fell apart just prior to shooting).

 

During this time, Torsten encouraged me to contribute towards the book as a writer and once handed the baton I ran with it, tracking down the directors, producers, actors, etc. I’d grown up watching and admiring. This in turn led on to what would become a real journey for me: meeting David Schmoeller in Paris as Tourist Trap and Crawlspace were being screened at the Cinematheque Francaise in 2007; discovering that director Peter Manoogian had moved to the UK and spending almost five hours interviewing him at the Charing Cross Hotel, not only about his Empire and Full Moon experiences, but also his work on the likes of Humanoids from the Deep, The Slayer and The Howling, not to mention his father’s mentoring of Martin Scorsese; and spending time chatting with Tim Thomerson on the phone about Jack Deth, Richard Pryor, Robert Altman and, most surprisingly, his love of old UK crime thrillers and Stanley Baker in particular. Then there are the phonecalls with Band himself, discussing his remarkable upbringing and subsequent career. As a genuine b-movie fanboy, they’re all memories that’ll remain firmly lodged in my brain.

 

Additionally, John Klyza (producer of Sleepaway Camp IV) wrote a wonderful, detailed chapter about the rise and fall of Band’s Wizard Video and Cold Fusion founder Nathan Shumate also came on board, writing extensively about the likes of Band’s Moonbeam Company and his doomed association with J.R. Bookwalter’s Tempe Entertainment. Unfortunately, the book was growing at such an exponential rate that at some point we had to cut it in half, concentrating firstly on Band’s ‘70s/’80s output, and then on to the Full Moon years. Thus, Nathan’s contribution to the first book is minimal. But there’s plenty more to come!”

 

DW: One of the things that struck me in the book is that despite it being written from the point of view of a fan, you have retained a notable level of critical analysis – in fact you’re fairly damning about some of the Empire titles, especially those by Tim Kincaid!

 

DJ: “How could I not be? I’m passionate about Empire’s catalogue, but not blind to its occasional inadequacies. I truly feel that certain movies such as The Caller and Enemy Territory deserve more respect from the cult community than they currently receive, and I’m hoping that my championing of such titles will get a few more people to sit down and actually watch them. But I don’t think those people would take me seriously were I also to be defending the likes of Kincaid’s The Occultist or Gorman Bechard’s wretched Cemetery High (which might just be the single worst film that Band released during the Empire era).”

 

5.1.2DW: Having been a close follower of Charlie’s career purely in an online capacity, it’s a common occurrence to run across his detractors. The book though is surprisingly light on negativity with regard to his business practices, with the only criticism being from the long-standing rift with Brian Yuzna (Re-Animator producer) and Jefery Levy, who felt he was due some Ghoulies money. It seems that in actual fact Charlie is very highly respected, do you think this is the case? Do you also think that any animosity is just simply a natural fallout of the low budget world of movie making?

 

DJ: “Well, Gorman Bechard also stated in no uncertain terms that he’d like to cut up Charlie’s face with a broken beer bottle! So I guess there’s no love lost there. But I didn’t lead the interviewees in any way, shape or form. I just tried to remain an unbiased listener. Had the likes of David Schmoeller, Ted Nicolaou, Stuart Gordon, Peter Manoogian or Albert Pyun had anything overwhelmingly negative to say about Band, I would have kept it in the book. But their most common criticisms were not necessarily financial, more that they found the Empire (and Full Moon) way of making movies rather restrictive from a creative point of view.

 

From what little I’ve read, Roger Corman may well be the personification of best business practice in the b-movie world. I’ve never heard a word said against him in that area. But if so, he was definitely in the minority. A lot of these companies (FVI, Trans-World, Cannon et al) were robbing Peter to pay Paul just in order to survive from year to year. And Band himself was often short-changed during the 1970s when he released his own films through the likes of Brandon Chase and Irwin Yablans. There was bound to be some fallout from such a situation, and I don’t shy away from making mention of it. But really, my main focus was the films, not the deals that begat them.”

 

DW: The people interviewed for the book are all so engaging, but did you find anyone who was reluctant to reminisce on their days working for Empire? Who was the most difficult to track down?

 

DJ: “The biggest omission from the book has to be John Beuchler. I approached him at least twice about being interviewed but he just didn’t seem interested. A real shame. But out of those I did manage to pin down, Tim Felix AKA Tim Kincaid was easily the most reluctant. I approached him very respectfully and, being a gay man myself, was not about to make judgements about his gay porn roots as some writers have. But he was not forthcoming in any way, and answered many a seemingly innocuous question with a terse ‘no comment’. Luckily, SPFX guru Ed French was far more lucid about his own work on the likes of Breeders, Robot Holocaust and Mutant Hunt. He proved to be both humorous and extremely informative, which saved the day.”

 

CB 007DW: How did you feel watching Charlie’s recent vidcast and seeing him with your book in his hands? It must have been quite surreal after spending so many years on the project!

 

DJ: “Funny you should say that, as that’s the exact message I sent to Charles Band when he asked me if I’d seen the vidcast. I e-mailed back saying that it was surreal – partly because there he was holding my book in his hands and mentioning me by name, partly because said same book had been a looooong time coming, and mostly because 13 year-old me would have been pissing himself with disbelief! Those long hours spent scrutinising VHS covers in Mr. Video when I should have been out trying to get laid had been of some use after all. Who would’ve thought?”

 

DW: He seemed quite relaxed about the contents of the book which does have a notable amount of criticism in it – be it his overly ambitious “2000 films by the year 2000” agenda, the Dinocitta purchase that ultimately caused Empire’s collapse or the sheer ineptitude of some of the films. Was he quite reluctant to contribute to the project?

 

DJ: “Not at all. Charlie’s actually got a good sense of humour and good sense of self (if you doubt it, watch William Butler’s Gingerdead Man 2, which playfully rips into Band’s Full Moon ethos with abandon, much in the same way that Joe Dante and Allan Arkush satirised Corman in Hollywood Boulevard). Brother Richard and producer Maurice Smith (Spasms) kindly recommended me to Charlie, basically assuring him that I’m not just some random nutcase who wants to track him down! After that, he was relaxed, open and only concerned that the book represents the way that things actually were during the ‘70s and ‘80s, both the ups and the downs. Mention is made of the effect that his father Albert’s death had on him. I wanted to make this book personal – not uncritical but hopefully fair. He read through the finished manuscript and made suggestions for two very minor changes (as they were admittedly no more than slightly bitchy hearsay). The rest was left untouched.”

 

DW: The detail that is provided for some of these films is astonishing, along with the trivia, stills and interview snippets – especially as some of them are notoriously difficult to track down. Which was the most difficult film to locate?

 

DJ: “None of the movies were difficult to locate, bar one. Band’s first foray into film, Last Foxtrot in Burbank, remains lost to the elements. Charlie himself hasn’t retained a copy and film archivists the world over have yet to uncover a print. It has become the holy grail of the Band universe.”

 

CB 008DW: As a fan I’d imagine that having such in-depth knowledge about Charlie’s films meant that you had a certain familiarity with his filmography. Was there anything you discovered along the way though that surprised you in regard to its quality? (From a personal perspective, a friend leant me an HD transfer of Albert Pyun’s Vicious Lips last year and I was agog at how good it was – AND how good it looked).

 

DJ: “I’ve watched Band’s ‘70s and ‘80s oeuvre constantly over the years, so there were no major surprises. Vicious Lips is a strange beast but does look amazing considering it was shot for only $80,000 (with Pyun later shooting pick-ups on the set of Cannon’s Dangerously Close). Mansion of the Doomed has aged particularly well – a real shame that distributor Brandon Chase is currently making the rights so overpriced that no DVD label can afford to give it a decent release. And obviously TerrorVision has gained a legion of new fans by being such a concise encapsulation of 1980s excess. A genuine time capsule.”

 

DW: It’s baffling to me how Charlie isn’t afforded the level of respect or even notoriety given to Roger Corman or perhaps Lloyd Kaufman. Even a cursory glance at his IMDb page (inaccurate movie database as you refer to it!) there’s an absence of a photo, minimal biography and a forum that has seen only two threads started in two years. How do you think film historians / film aficionados will look back on the career of Charles Band?

 

DJ: “For me, that’s a real bone of contention. Whatever your view of his legacy, I can assure you that Charles Band LOVES movies, whereas I’m not convinced that Lloyd Kaufman sees them as much more than a means to an end – the end, of course, being his bank balance. To me, Kaufman patronises his audience, in effect stating, “I make shit because you like shit and don’t know any better.” There’s no genuine passion for the world that he inhabits, he’s just goofing off at our expense. However, I’m hoping that people are finally coming round to the fact that Empire Pictures, while not perfect, at least encapsulated a time when b-movies dearly wished to directly contend with major-studio product. They were, with the odd exception, made with care and ambition. They weren’t afraid to dream. There’s talk of a Band biography being written soon (I’m not in a position to say by whom, as it’s not my place), so I’m hoping that Empire of the ‘B’s is but the first in a long line of books that will give time and space to a man who deserves a little light shone on what has been an amazing 40-year career. Lord knows, we don’t need yet another book on Corman.”

 

DW: Any plans for a sequel to focus on 1989 onwards and Full Moon Pictures?! How do you view this next phase of Charlie’s career?

 

DJ: “As I mentioned earlier, we do plan on bringing out a Full Moon volume at some point. Originally, this book was meant to cover his entire filmography, so there’s a shedload of unused research, reviews and interviews waiting in the wings. The only difficulty I see is that Band’s ‘70s/’80s career encapsulated four or five companies (if including his video arms) and only 65-odd films. We were able to approach each title individually in the book and it was relatively easy to keep a handle on. By contrast, the Full Moon catalogue is currently running close to 250 films, with a near-maddening succession of sub-labels having been started up and swiftly abandoned since 1989. So we’re going to have to approach the material in a more generalised way while also attempting to do the subject justice.”

 

CB 009DW: Is it true that you’ll be contributing to Delirium magazine, Full Moon’s new bi-monthly publication?

 

DJ: “Well, I’ll be contributing to the first issue in the form of a Tourist Trap retrospective (adapted and expanded from the book). I’d definitely be willing to contribute to further issues, but haven’t yet been approached to do so.”

 

DW: Finally, what are your top 5 Empire Pictures releases?

 

DJ: “This obviously shifts from week to week, but right now it’d have to include The Caller, Enemy Territory, From Beyond, Walking the Edge. And Trancers, always Trancers.”

 

Empire of The B’s: The Mad Movie World of Charles Band by Dave Jay – Book Review

CB 001EMPIRE OF THE B’s: THE MAD MOVIE WORLD OF CHARLES BAND

Author: Dave Jay

UK RRP: £21.95

Pages: 377

Publisher: Hemlock Film

Charles Band – the 62 year old mogul with a 40 year career in the movies has managed to attain iconic status within the niche area of low budget genre filmmaking, yet outside of that circle – particularly in somewhere like the United Kingdom, he is barely known. Indeed, a straw poll in my little world of the movie rental store yielded further proof of that assertion, even amongst the more leftfield film fans. However, a quick walk to the 100+ strong section which carries his films soon gives way to child-like realisation from those people with cries of “He made Ghoulies?!… Trancers!… Re-Animator!… Galactic Gigolo!”. Ok, I maybe exaggerated the last one, but fact of the matter is everyone knows his films but few people know the man.

One person who has had an impressive level of access to Charlie is the British author Dave Jay, who over the last ten years or so alongside collaborators Torsten Dewi and Nathan Shumate has worked relentlessly to create Empire of the B’s. To fit all of Charlie’s career into one book soon became a logistical impossibility (he’s produced over 260 films) for Jay and his colleagues, so it was decided to focus on the start of his career before then moving on to perhaps his most well regarded period of creativity – Empire Pictures.

The book begins with a great introduction from Stuart Gordon (Dolls, Re-Animator) who tells of meeting Charlie for the first time and being a little daunted by this young guy who when eavesdropping could only be heard to be speaking in Italian, yet when finally meeting him became instantly intoxicated by his enthusiasm and charisma. This is followed by a further introduction from Dave Jay who sets out the path the book will take, as well as underlining some key aspects about Charles Band such as how much of a pioneer he was (and still is) as well as the crazy way his movies were green-lit – “here’s the poster, now go make the film”.

CB 002Chapter one deals with Charles Band Productions covering the period 1975-1983 which details Band’s sharp learning curve as well as the situations that gave him the determination to set up his own company. Jay manages to extract from Charlie an impressive level of honesty as he admits his naivety during this period along with questioning the quality of some of his own work. Even so, these eight years still produced a number of cool films like Laserblast (1977) which critic Leonard Maltin awarded 2.5 stars – the same as that year’s Oscar winner Amadeus! There was also the excellent Tourist Trap (1978), The Alchemist (1981) in which the late Robert Ginty suggests “they’d have been better off burning it than releasing it” and also Parasite (1983) which featured a young Demi Moore. Each of Band’s films here is given a couple of pages of in-depth analysis along with rare production stills and an incredible amount of trivia which for some of the titles is staggering due to their rarity. Added to this we have interviews interspersed between the films with some notable Band collaborators who offer some great insight into Charlie’s working practices.

As we progress to chapter two we find the bulk of the work as its devoted entirely to the fabled Empire Pictures. Taking in the years 1984 – 1989 it oversees the lifecycle of this ambitious company, their move to Rome and purchase of the legendary Dinocitta studios, their production of 48 films (Band frequently states “2000 films by the year 2000”) as well as their decline and eventual collapse. The early years of Empire were full of ambition and reading the book you find yourself wincing at the lack of measured and sensible decision making. That said though it’s impossible not to punch the air with a “Go Charlie!” as you learn about Ghoulies (1985) and its cinema success through to the company ending failure of Robot Jox (1989) which was Empire’s biggest investment. Despite knowing what happened to Empire by ’89 and seeing all the warning signs laid out, it’s so difficult not to be caught up of Charlie’s wave of irrepressible enthusiasm.

CB 003The scale of this chapter I found to be quite daunting, especially considering the number of films involved and at times the sheer mediocrity that was produced, but credit to the author though as it is kept tightly edited and packed with fascinating stories. Take Transmutations (1985), coming from a Clive Barker screenplay the writer bemoaned the fact that the finished picture only retained seven lines from his original script! Jay also manages to dig up a review of the film by none other than Neil Gaiman, and offers excellent analysis of the film himself. There’s a great section on the criminally underrated Troll (1985), “the quintessential Band flick of the 80s” which revolved around a boy called Harry Potter fighting off denizens of a magical world under the tutelage of a white witch. Ring a bell? While this chapter is a perfect introduction to the uninitiated, it also offers plenty for the hardcore Band fans such as a running joke on the justifiably awful Tim Kincaid films, as well as the funniest line in the book from Jay when discussing David DeCoteau’s longevity with the company. After a screening of Dreamaniac (1986) Charlie held up ten fingers and shouted “10 picture deal!” – “its nine more fingers that I would have been flipping at DeCoteau after suffering through this ham-fisted fiasco” writes Jay. After watching all six Brotherhood movies, I’m inclined to agree with the author.

The end of Empire is easy to predict with hindsight, and as you read through the films of 1988 with things gradually beginning to unravel it comes as no surprise to see its collapse. Credit to Charlie though, he certainly doesn’t go out with a whimper, with the stop-motion spectacular Robot Jox (1989) being the company’s most expensive film and featuring some jaw-dropping work from the late great David Allen. Following on from the end of Empire, the book takes a look the company’s unproduced work with the aid of the brilliant Jeff Burr and takes The Vault as an example of a project that didn’t see the light of day despite having all the pawns in place. Chapter four meanwhile is an insightful look at Wizard Video by John Klyza. The company ran from 1981-1987 and John begins with the vitally important notion that Charles Band ushered in an era in home entertainment that was way ahead of its time. He anticipated a cult market that today has been fully embraced by labels such as Arrow Video and Scream Factory, with Blue Underground before them. It’s a relatively short piece, but still manages to encapsulate the importance of the label, the titles it sought to acquire (often the exact opposite of what Charlie would make himself) and also the eventual decline. The book ends with a brilliant afterword from the screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner who manages in barely a couple of hundred words to ‘get’ Charles Band, and as Dave Jay concludes “it offers a better closure to the book that I could ever hope to provide”.

CB 004I must admit I approached Empire of the B’s with a fair degree of caution. I’ve been a Charles Band fanatic for over twenty years and have noted frequently not only the lack of information on Band but also just how hard some of the films are to track down. Many of the Empire Pictures films are yet to make it to DVD never mind blu-ray so the challenge of the task in hand to me seemed fraught with complications and dead ends. Over a period of ten years though, Dave Jay and his co-authors have somehow managed to compile a meticulously detailed encyclopaedic tome of 14 years of Charles Band films. By speaking to Charlie himself as well as numerous key players in the Empire days, Jay creates a vivid picture of a pioneer at work in his prime.

There’s been a misguided opinion circling for years that’s often questioned the ethics of Charles Band as well as his reputation, so in turn I expected this ‘warts and all’ account to feature a litany of former collaborators with less than complimentary recollections. Granted there are a couple, but where this book really succeeds is in its portrayal of someone with boundless enthusiasm, passion and charisma who seems well respected by his former colleagues yet for some reason isn’t afforded anywhere near the respect and plaudits that his achievements deserve. Dave Jay’s book goes some way in correcting that, and by doing so puts the spotlight on one of the most prolific producers of our time.

9 out of 10

You can purchase the book HERE from Hemlock Books

Machete Kills (2013) BluRay Review

mk1Machete Kills (2013) blu ray review

out Feb 17th (Lionsgate)

 

Director: Robert Rodriguez

 

Starring: Danny Trejo, Amber Heard, Sofia Vergara, Michelle Rodriguez plus loads more famous actors

 

Plot: Machete (Trejo) returns to seek vengeance on those who have done some horrible deed. Machete and Sartana (Jessica Alba) try to stop a Mexican drug cartel from buying weapons from the US military. Discovering what appears to be a WMD, Sartana is blasted with a laser gun by a masked man, who promptly runs away when the US police arrive. Machete is wrongly arrested for Sartana’s death but is eventually given a ‘free pass’ by the President of the United States (played by ‘Carlos Estevez’ in his big screen ‘debut’). The Prez wants Machete to help stop a man named Mendez (Demain Bichir) who has a nuclear missile that he will fire if the US government don’t assist in stopping all the drug cartels. If Machete does this, he will be granted American citizenship, no questions asked (“None of that hand on bible bullshit” to quote the president). And so Machete goes on another bonkers, all out, action adventure that doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘restraint’…

For those who ‘get’ the charm of Machete Cortez this movie will be an absolute joy. For those that don’t, you may enjoy the countless scantily clad women (or not even that). Machete Kills is one hell of a ride either way.

mk2It starts on a hilarious note with a ‘preview’ for a future Machete sequel titled, rather amusingly, ‘Machete Kills Again…in Space’. Many consider a film franchise having a sequel set in space to be a sign that the producers or studio of said franchise have ran out of ideas. Leprechaun in Space, Critters 4, Jason X and Hellraiser: Bloodline all fall into this trap. But with the Machete character ‘jumping the shark’ is part of the lure and going into space seems like a perfect match for Trejo’s role. The ‘trailer’ features plenty of jokes that will have many laughing within seconds. The best being the announcement that a shoddy looking robot named Bleep will be played by ‘Justin Bieber’. Bleep is promptly destroyed by Machete.

The film itself is not afraid to hold back as it’s often flimsy plot is supported (or greatly enhanced to some) by the usual gore and over-the-top kills. One man has his intestines ripped out of his stomach by Machete and flung into the spinning rotor blades of a helicopter. This causes the rest of his guts to be whipped out of him and wrapped around the blades, yanking him into them and the hapless guy is splattered to pieces. Vergara (of Modern Family fame) is a whorehouse owner named Desdemona who is one of the many trying to kill Machete. She often attempts this by firing knives and bullets from her breasts thanks to her various deadly bra’s. Later she fires from a strap-on gun by thrusting her crotch.

Speaking of breasts, the many shapely women, who wear very little, all fall over themselves to try to have sex with Machete. Miss San Antonio (Heard) gladly jumps on him for a good time which prompts text to flash on-screen advising viewers to put on their 3D glasses (obviously none of the movie is in 3D). Heard, as the beauty queen with a dark side, is stunning with her long flowing blonde hair and pout. Vergara will have many staring at her boobs for the already mentioned reasons (although some viewers would have looked anyway as they are hard to miss). Vanessa Hudgens, of High School Musical fame, is more eye candy. Lady Gaga is also in the movie but her involvement is kept to a minimum, thankfully.

mk3The end of Machete Kills feels as if Robert Rodriguez is trying to see how bonkers he can take his creation. The site of Machete riding a nuclear weapon feels like it is some sort of phallic symbolism that is to illustrate that Machete has a massive penis and is therefore extremely manly and cool (as if this movie and its original can’t make it any clearer that Machete does indeed have a big trouser snake due to his woman shagging, bad guy killing ways). The end also takes the viewer back to ‘Machete Kills Again…in Space’ which must mean Rodriguez feels its ready to take the cliché one step further.

Over the top mindless violence, one-dimensional stereotypes and bimbo women all in one movie that actually works despite its un-PC feel. Yet isn’t that the whole point of a Machete film?

8 out of 10.

Extras include a brief message from ‘Carlos Estevez’, a brief feature on Robert Rodriguez and interviews with various cast and crew members.

Symphony in Blood Red aka Come una Crisalide (2010) Review PLUS an interview with director Luigi Pastore

sib1Symphony in Blood Red aka Come una Crisalide (2010)

A new breed of Italian violence. Winner of four awards at the Italian Tenebria Film Festival, including for best director and best screenplay, the film benefits from the input of multiple genre legends such as Antonio Tentori (A Cat in the Brain, Dracula 3-D) who helped co-write the screenplay with Pastore as well as starring in the film, meanwhile the special effects were completed by Sergio Stivaletti (The Church, The Wax Mask, The Card Player, Mother of Tears) and a portion of the soundtrack by former Goblin member Claudio Simonetti (Deep Red, Tenebrae, Sleepless amongst others) and his metal/rock band Daemonia, which for the metal fans around also features Titta Tani (ex-Necrophagia) with their input really helping to elevate the impact of the scenes.

Symphony in Blood Red is a bleak, pessimistic take on the horror-thriller genre, if you are looking for a traditional giallo circa 1971 (amateur detective or police procedural) then you are out of luck, for while deeply influenced by that era Pastore has played with the conventions and introduced an innovative take on the genre, something Argento tried to do but backed out of, with the character of Alfredo Grossi (played by Thomas Kretschmann) in The Stendhal Syndrome.

Opening with a straight up homage and quote from the immediate beginning of Argento’s Tenebrae, a director who Pastore openly states as a major influence, we see a blood-stained woman stumbling away from the camera before being introduced properly into the film with first a POV shot of a (presumed) girlfriend stating she is leaving our lead character for another man, and then in the next scene his psychiatrist seemingly abandons him by stating she recommends he should go into a clinic. These personal rejections appear too much too handle and provide the catalyst for an ill mind to snap, or rather develop into that of a revengeful killer.

sib2Within under eight minutes we know the killer has committed two murders, one in front of us, but there is a sadness too behind his actions, which is beautifully conveyed, in part due to the camera shadowing the killer throughout the film as opposed to a traditional protagonist (such as an amateur detective) and so as a viewer we are not only made to feel complicit in the murders, as voyeurs as we watch, but also we gain an insight into his loneliness, as we begin to feel sympathy and pity for both his life and actions while flashback scenes further enforce these feelings through the depiction of his cruel childhood.

Initially the murderer killed for revenge but soon cannot control the change in his mental state, as he becomes an indiscriminate monster against his will with the true tragedy being his realisation nearer the end as he spots a final chance at redemption with the beautiful Lisa, someone who at last may give the killer some hope and reason in life.

The murders in this film are a thing of beauty, as overseen by Stivaletti including one memorable scene involving the murder of a priest (a traditional giallo priest it must be said, if you have read Koven’s book; ‘La dolce morte: Vernacular cinema and the Italian giallo film) and this murder really symbolises the start of the killers transformation from avenger to monster, although it is a later killing that steals the show displaying the juxtaposition of torture set to happy, childlike carnival music.

Symphony in Blood Red is quite a serious film, in the sense that it never plays for (ironic) laughs or absurdity as some horrors are prone to mistakenly do and as a result it is able to not only maintain but also build on the gloomy almost nihilistic feel without diffusion or breaking the illusion of the bitter world created by Pastore and Tentori.

One must also praise the characterisation of the killer, who sometimes come across as ridiculous in this genre, but the scriptwriting is of a high standard with subtle scenes leading the viewer to build a full picture of the desolate and empty life of the killer.

Featuring brutal violence, beautiful women and a pessimistic outlook make this a similar yet different Italian horror film, letting the killer be the story teller as opposed to simply the odd scene from his point of view, Pastore’s knowledge and love of the genre and film in general shines through but equally does his creativity and personality.

sib3Clocking in a tight 74-minutes (it says approx. 80 but I don’t really count credits), this film does not overstay its welcome and due to the relatively short duration it needs to be focussed and thankfully the makers have achieved that without sacrificing brutality or emotion.

There is so much to recommend about this film which belies its lower budget and limited distribution. You can purchase the film from Lu Pa films at http://www.lupafilm.com/dvd.html

I also had the pleasure of catching up with the director, Luigi Pastore to ask a few questions about the film, the Italian scene and his influences.

UKHS: How is the Italian scene at the moment? In your opinion can it ever get back to its earlier glory?

L: Unfortunately, today the Italian productions are concerned only with comedy. Nobody is interested in producing a thriller or horror movie. Only independent productions manage to keep the genre alive

UKHS: You’re love of Argento is well documented. Growing up what were your favourite films and biggest influences?

L: Dario Argento’s movies have been very important to my choice of making the films. I love them all, because I love an artist in his entirety. You cannot love only a few works by Caravaggio, for example, but all his works are very important. But if I have to choose only some films, sure I put at the top The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, Suspiria, Tenebre, Opera.

sib4UKHS: Are you happy with the reception that the film received on release and do you see it as helping to encourage the release of further Italian horror/thrillers?

L: Yes, I’m very glad that my first film is appreciated. I am aware of having made a small film, but I did it really from the heart. Of course I still want to do another thriller, but I will endeavour to make it even better.

UKHS: For your debut film you managed to work with three iconic stars of the Italian film industry. How did that come about and what was it like?

L: I have been very lucky. It was a great privilege to work with them, but also a great responsibility. I could not afford to do a lousy job.

UKHS: Furthermore in the fantastic documentary included on the film disc you feature footage from Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi and Luigi Cozzi amongst others, did you know them prior to the film and has their support helped raise the profile of Symphony in Blood Red?

L: Yes, I know all these artists for a long time. We are very good friends and we have often worked together on other projects. In addition, they are always guests at the Italian Horror Fest City of Neptune, the festival that I do in the summer like organizer and artistic director.

UKHS: One thing that impressed me was how well written the part of the killer was, did you find it difficult to convey his mental state and why are we led to feel some sympathy or pity for him?

L: Because he is actually a victim. He is the victim from the beginning, since he was born, since he was abandoned by his mother. I think that for a person must be really terrible to discover that he had been abandoned by his birth.

UKHS: Abandonment as much as rejection appears to be a trigger for the initial killing, why did you choose these feelings and was it in anyway cathartic for you or Antonio?

L: I was inspired by a true story actually happened. Then in the script we have also added pedophilia to make the character even more dramatic. Abandonment is the key of his madness.

sib5UKHS: We never clearly see the killers face, why is that?

L: It was my chosen style from the beginning. I never wanted to see the face of the protagonist, because I think that evil has no face.

UKHS: Does his final love interest (Lisa) offer him a final chance at redemption or is he a lost cause at that moment and beyond saving?

L: Love is the most important feeling of all our lives. Love is able to defeat the fears and loneliness. But it can also become dangerous when is not reciprocated. Then, it can become obsession.

UKHS: Nearer the end the killer appears haunted by his actions, is that remorse or simply the effect of his mind?

L: It is the awareness of being now come to an end. He wants to be stopped, as it often happens for many serial killers.

UKHS: What is next for you? Are you currently working on any projects?

L: Yes, I am preparing my second film another thriller really scary.

You can find out about Luigi’s second film, A Tear Painted in Black, and contribute to the crowdfunding campaign at: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/a-tear-painted-in-black

Night Train To Terror (1985) Review

nttt1NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR 1985

Dir. John Carr, Phillip Marshak, Tom McGowan, Jay Schlossenberg-Cohen, and Gregg C. Talas

Imagine you are on a train, it’s the dead of night, but it’s not dead quiet.
Instead, there is a group of young people with perms and teased hair, dressed in headbands, leg warmers, and off the shoulder sweaters. You’d swear they were going to the gym.

But then the synth-driven pop rock starts, the kids start dancing, and a young man who undoubtedly was named the best “vocalist” in his high school’s lip sync contest after his pyrotechnic rendition of Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend” (dance moves included) begins to, er, sing:
Daddy’s in the dining room
Sorting though the news.
Mama’s at the shopping mall
Buying new shoes.
Everybody’s got something to do
Everybody but you.
C’mon and dance with me, dance with me
Dance with me, dance with me
Everybody’s got something to do
Everybody but you.

In a second passenger car, God and the Devil sit at a glowing table and debate free will and temptation, and whether it is better for humanity to live righteous and find eternal salvation, or live in sin and find eternal damnation.It is almost midnight. The train will crash at dawn, killing everyone aboard. To pass the time, and see who is correct in their theological debate, the Big G and Satan look out into the starry night and beyond to watch three tales of terror unfold.

Our first segment tells us of Harry, a man who likes cars, women and booze. He and his new bride have been in a car crash on their wedding night, killing her and finding him laid up in a sanitarium, receiving shock treatment. Harry is then put under hypnosis by the head doctor and sent out into the community to drug women and bring them back to the sanitarium, where they end up nude and strapped to a bed, Harry even goes so far as to slip a drug into the communion wine of the woman next to him at church.
What sordid business is really going on at the sanitarium? And can Harry break the chains of his hypnotic servitude and redeem himself?

nttt2Our second segment tells us of Greta, a young musician from a small town who has come to the big city. To support her piano playing, she works at a carnival. After selling popcorn to a man, George, who stuffs dollar bills down her shirt, Greta agrees to go home with him. George ends up getting Greta to “act” in historical pornographic films. One evening, a med student named Glenn sees Greta in a stag film while stopping by his fraternity house for a beer, and he falls in love with her.

Glenn finds Greta at a club, they start to date, and have fun at the carnival—until George sees then there. No one walks out on George.Still holding a strange power over Greta, George decides to exact his revenge by inviting the couple to The Death Club—an evil society run by George and his business partner, The Contessa …

In our third segment, we meet Claire, a highly-respected surgeon, devout Catholic and wife to a Nobel prize wining husband.She is startled awake by a nightmare about Nazis at a party where the orchestra is killed by a especially sinister officer.

Cut to an elderly Jewish man who sees the same sinister officer on TV, looking the same age as he did during wartime, and pledges to kill the Nazi who killed his family years ago. Against his neighbour’s advice, the old man goes to his foe’s apartment, pistol in hand, and is promptly killed.The next day, his corpse ends up on the autopsy table of Claire, who determined he was the victim of blunt force trauma. In addition to his concentration camp tattoo, she notices he has a much more recent marking which he must have received at his time of death: the number 666 burned into his chest.

Meanwhile, Claire’s husband has published a book called “God Is Dead,” and is threatened by a zealot, also bearing a 666 mark, who tells him he is going to Hell.
What follows is a whirlwind of disco and satin baseball jackets, claymation demons squishing claymation humans, and much fuss over a box made of wood from the True Cross into which the heart of the Devil must be placed.

This is a nasty little anthology film packed with sadistic violence, blood and gore, and an astounding amount of female nudity, and at times even boasts decent special effects, including a charming but deadly stop motion Tanzanian winged beetle and an electrocution, Russian roulette-style.

Yes, the acting ranges from merely passable to downright awful. Yes, the film seems rushed, like there was no time for more than two takes per scene. Yes, there is a clunky, voice-over narration at points in each sequence. Yes, we have to hear the same band sing the same song between each story segment (although one time there is slow-motion, white boy break dancing).

nttt3But as should be evident from the synopses above, the real joy of NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR is its unpredictable and downright bizarre story segments. It’s truly chaotic. It’s a mess. I am a lover of horror anthology films as it is, but I found NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR to be a delightful surprise. I actually had a smile on my face as I repeated several times, “What the hell is going on here?” and “How could the next segment possibly top this one?”
I even enjoyed the unexpectedly serious debate between God and the Devil.

More than anything, it seems the filmmakers were having a blast paying homage to Amicus and other purveyors of portmanteaus while also trying to make a quick buck, throwing every exploitative element they ever wanted into one anthology film.

It’s no DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS, but it’s great fun nonetheless.

6/10

Meet Me There: The Lex Lybrand Interview by Matty Budrewicz

mmt1Meet Me There:
Director Lex Lybrand Gives the Lowdown On His Compelling New Indie

The internet is a strange and wonderful place. It’s one giant electronic mass of information, opinion and- best of all- nudie ladies. Whilst I tend to have a love/hate relationship with the bloody thing, every once in a while I find myself becoming obsessed by something on the ol’ world wide web. And when I say ‘obsessed’, I mean TOTALLY CONSUMED BY. Case in point? The trailer for Meet Me There, a new independent American horror flick from Austin-based up-n’-coming filmmaker Lex Lybrand.

Beautifully sombre and uniquely uncomfortable, the eerily seductive two minute teaser (check it out at the bottom of this article) immediately piqued my interest when it surfaced online last week. Following a frenzied couple of days endlessly watching and re-watching it, studying and analysing the hypnotic and fragmented images, I decided to go straight to the source of my latest genre kick and get the skinny on this awesome-looking shocker straight from the director himself. Let’s be clear here, people: I’m tipping Meet Me There to be one of the great Stateside indies of the year.

“I appreciate your enthusiasm- it’s great! I hope we don’t let you down!” Lybrand LOL’s after I fire an email over to him. “I’m very happy with what we’ve made. One of the best compliments I’ve received so far is in the way of ‘this is basically an art film set in a horror universe’.”

So what on earth is Meet Me There about? “It’s about a couple, Ada and Calvin, dealing with sexual dysfunction in their long-term relationship,” Lybrand explains. “When Ada has trouble being intimate and physical with Calvin, their therapist suggests that she may be repressing past trauma. When Ada reveals that she has actually blacked out most of her childhood memories, the couple decide to take a road trip to her home town in rural Oklahoma to see if they can get to the root of her issues. And, like any good tale of Backwoods, USA, Meet Me There is filled with odd characters, strange imagery, ominous voices and druids having a ritual sacrifice orgy party in the forest!”

mmt2Understandably, comparisons to Robin Hardy’s seminal classic The Wicker Man have already begun to surface from those lucky enough to have seen the films rough cut. “I’ve never seen it, but its been brought up more than once,” says Lybrand. “That’s good right?”

Interestingly, Lybrand seems to be one of the few American indie auteurs working within the horror genre without an intertextual knowledge of it. “I do enjoy a good horror film but I’m not a connoisseur or anything like that,” he says. “Like, with comics – I love comics but I don’t actively read or collect them so I don’t feel like I’ve really earned the badge of ‘fan’. I have seen all of the mainstream horror staples but as soon as somebody gets obscure with a reference, I’m lost! That said, I’m often pleasantly surprised when a super-horror-fan friend will pop in a VHS of something that I “have to see right now!”. I’m forever thankful to my Aunt Sandy for exposing me to Dr. Giggles and the Leprechaun in a home video double feature. I think she also first exposed me to Mallrats and Clerks so maybe that’s why there’s so much swearing in my horror flick!”

So being a near blank canvas when it comes to terror-film lore, convention and referential arsey-ness must be incredibly freeing for a director looking to make his mark, right? “As far as how that affects me as a filmmaker working in that genre, I think that it was very freeing, yes. I’m the type of person that wants to distance himself as far as possible from similar things to what I’m making at the time. I love baseball movies but when I was making my first feature Summer League, I made a point not to expose myself to that at the time,” Lybrand says. “I think letting my fandom sneak in through my subconscious is a lot better than overtly throwing references at the audience, which is way too common these days. I think, anyway. Likewise, if something is literally not in my subconscious because I’ve never even seen it, it’s really cool when somebody watches a cut of the film and says “wow, this is a lot like ____”. Especially if it’s meant as a compliment!”

Lybrand goes on to explain the genesis of Meet Me There and how he came to be attached to it- through a mutual love of wrestling, no less! “The town of Sheol, Oklahoma- where the film is set- doesn’t exist, but it is based on the real small town that co-writer Destiny Talley grew up in. Destiny has shared her childhood nightmares with her boyfriend, Brandon Stroud, for years and eventually we all just decided that it would- and should- make a really interesting movie. So, with very minimal need for convincing, Brandon transformed a lifetime of stories into a linear screenplay.”

mmt4“I’ve been good friends with Brandon and Destiny since moving to Austin in 2010,” he continues. “Brandon and I are both big fans of the often underrated medium of storytelling known as pro wrestling. I first became aware of him through his WWE review column on Uproxx.com, and soon after that I was producing his podcast, sharing vegan dinners with him and Destiny on double-dates, and now we’re both working for up-and-coming local independent wrestling company, Inspire Pro Wrestling.”

Indeed it was this love for grappling that led Lybrand to casting one of the sports most legendary superstars in a lead role: Dustin Runnels, aka the towering and bizarre bruiser Goldust. “The hardest part about finding an audience for my first film was convincing people that they wanted to see a film full of unknowns. We had some really great break-out performances but without an established name at the top of our cast list, it was a really tough sell for festivals and distributors. So we knew that we wanted to do as much as we could to improve our situation with this film,” the director explains.

“I have always thought that wrestling gets a bad wrap in terms of recognising dramatic storytelling, when it happens. Sure, it’s dumb and goofy but it’s also deep, involving and well-executed. Not always though and not even a majority of the time, but when it works right there’s nothing better. Dustin is just one of those guys that does both sides of the dynamic really well. His Goldust character is a combination of depth and goofiness that really just shouldn’t work- but it does because Dustin’s got tremendous range.” So it must’ve been fascinating seeing how Runnels switches from one type of performance in his wrestling, which is effectively a muscular pantomime, to a more straight ahead dramatic role then? “I don’t necessarily see his role in Meet Me There as switching gears,” Lybrand answers. “I guess I’ve always seen his dramatic chops, even when it’s coming from behind a couple of layers of facepaint.”

The helmer is also full of praise for the rest of his cast, specifically his two leads Lisa Friedrich and Micheal Foulk who play Ada and Calvin, respectively. “Lisa and Micheal have been good friends for at least a few years now. I’m not sure how long they’ve known each other but it’s longer than I’ve known them individually. They’re both stand-up comics that have toured and worked together through some improv/comedy theaters in Texas and New Orleans and I know them through some mutual friends at Austin/NOLA’s The New Movement Theater. Lisa was actually approached by our writer Brandon before I even signed onto the film. She was an easy sell to me and I think people are going to like what she brings to the film- she really shines. Micheal is somebody that I had never seen in a dramatic role but I trusted that his real-life chemistry with Lisa would show through on the screen. Eerily, they look very similar to the real-life couple that inspired them, Destiny and Brandon.”

Whilst a horror film with such a strong sexual bent would usually send many a lesser actor running a mile, Lybrand insists that was not the case with Friedrich and Foulk. “Well, as for the more intimate and challenging themes and scenes in the film, they were very brave. There’s some very real stuff going on in Meet Me There, relationship wise.”

mmt3Satisfied with everything I’d learnt and chomping at the bit now more than ever, I fired Lybrand over one final question: Just when, exactly, will Meet Me There be getting released? And, more importantly, when can us Brits expect to see it? “We should be having our first festival screening sometime in March or April here in the US,” he says. “We spent next to nothing on this thing. The term ‘microbudget’ costs too much for us to even describe how much we spent on it! I’m very happy with what we produced and I think that if we had an extra one hundred thousand dollars the film would easily look and feel the same, but we just don’t have the budget to send it to every festival we’d like to be considered for. So, right now, we’re most interested in fielding invitations to screen. We’ve already booked one early April but I can’t officially announce when or where until we hear back from a couple more key festivals. I think fans of Dustin might be able to figure it out, though!” Lybrand teases.

“Summer League just got picked up by a distributor and, with that being my first, I’m going to use that as my pilot program to see how I like it. Details on that release schedule won’t be available until March but if it’s any indication for what will be on the way for Meet Me There, then it’s safe to say that the film will be very easy to find in the UK. Hopefully later this year. I’ve never been to the UK, sadly- but I’d be more than willing to bring my film along on my first trip over!”

You hear that, Blighty festival bigwigs? Get this guy and Meet Me There booked pronto!
************************

 

[youtube=www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGr4ujtXc_o]
For the latest Meet Me There updates, visit the films official website at www.meetmetheremovie.com
or Greenless Studios at www.greenless.com
Special thanks to Becki and, of course, Lex Lybrand.
For more ramblings, follow Matty Budrewicz on twitter: @mattybudrewicz

 

An interview with director Drew Cullingham by Dave Wain

DREW 001Drew Cullingham is well on his way to gaining a notable reputation for creating challenging cinema. His new film The Devil’s Bargain was shot using an innovative pinhole technique along with the ambitious storyline of an impending apocalypse. I caught up with Drew to quiz him on his new picture, his career, as well as life behind the camera

 

I really enjoyed The Devil’s Bargain for many reasons. Firstly its ambition – the era, the impending apocalypse, but secondly – and conversely, its simplicity. How do you feel it turned out?

I’m happy with it. In some ways the simplicity is deceptive, because the editing and grading process was far from straightforward and a lot of work (and the impressive talents of sound designer, JD Evans) went into creating the soundscape behind it all. The main remit was to get a real ‘retro’ feeling look and an almost hyper-naturalistic soundscape, and I hope we achieved that.

 

The pinhole technique seemed to require a lot of effort to make it work. Was there any point during shooting where you thought about reconsidering using it?

It wasn’t so much the effort. In fact it simplifies the camera to the extreme. There’s no need for focus pulling or lens changes, so everything is much faster and more organic to shoot, which is certainly an aid to letting actors really get into things. The biggest issue with the pinhole is the amount of light it needs to even register a picture! There was, however, no point in which we reconsidered. It is a character all to itself, and very much a part of the style of the film.

 

DEVIL 001The shooting schedule for The Devil’s Bargain is something else! 4 days? 24 hours? How difficult was this to achieve?

This was largely down to the pinhole again. When there was sufficient light we could move very fast with virtually no time between set-ups. The notion behind that, amongst other things, was to really let the actors dive into the scenes and let them play out in long takes, with the camera effortlessly moving around them. It’s great for performance, and it meant we needed only the smallest of crews. Very organic. On the flip side, if even a little cloud decided to slip in front of the sun, we had to wait it out, which can get frustrating. On the whole we were fortunate with the weather! Given the time pressures, we were also fortunate enough to have all the locations within a few minutes walk of each other – so we were literally shooting every available sunny minute of those days.

 

The Devil’s Bargain is released straight onto VOD, but you’ve experienced the ‘traditional route’ before with the release of Umbrage: The First Vampire through Left Films. How enjoyable was the process of releasing your own work into the UK marketplace?

Time will tell! I have faith that, with the internet being what it is, a film can find its audience there. I won’t say this way is right for every film, and I have been fortunate enough to have Umbrage: The First Vampire sit on shelves here and in North America (where Lionsgate put it out as ‘A Vampire’s Tale’). People do tend to have an attachment to physical products, but more and more I think we are learning to consume films, as music, in a digital one. At the moment there’s room for both.

 

DREW 003You’ve directed four films now – how would you assess the state / health of the British horror scene?

It would be so easy to bemoan the state of the British horror scene, if not the state of the UK film industry in general. We definitely have the talent, but whether it’s the seduction of foreign shores or just that filmmakers don’t get enough opportunities here it does seem that many of our best talents end up being behind non-British films. That said, I think we’re definitely on an upward curve.

 

59 British horror movies managed to get a release in 2013, either by DVD, VOD or a short cinema run. What is your preferred method of distribution, or do all avenues have their advantages?

I think it partly depends on the film. All have their advantages. But then you only have to look at what they did with ‘A Field in England’, a cross platform release, to see that all these methods have their own merits. The important thing is to not necessarily see one as better than another. The way we are consuming films is changing. Some people want to watch a film on their tablet on the way to work. Others want the thrill of the cinema. Others still want the comfort of their ‘home cinema’. I think it’s just a matter of giving people what they want and just making films available at all levels.

 

DEVIL 002Presumably its harder and harder to get a DVD release. I spoke to Left Films recently, and despite a great catalogue that includes Umbrage as well as Stag Night of the Dead and Blood Car, they say they’re on hiatus simply due to the state of the market. Is there anything small distributors can do to reinvigorate the home entertainment market?

Blood Car’s a hoot isn’t it?! Loved it. It’s tough out there. Small distributors felt the pinch of the recession even more keenly than the filmmakers. It’s not even that it’s necessarily harder to get a DVD release, though by extension it certainly is – I think it’s more to do with the increase in VOD and online distribution. The smaller films that would normally be picked up by smaller outfits will increasingly find a more natural home elsewhere. It’s especially tough here in the UK, with far fewer retail opportunities than say the US. The prime real estate here in terms of shelf space is supermarkets, and what little space is left there after the chart-toppers is keenly sought after.

 

My day job is that I run one of the last UK independent video stores – and in recent years have found a new generation somewhat cynical about micro-budget horror. It seems some sections of the audience are conditioned to multi-million dollar generic horror films and unwilling to embrace independent features. With your ambitious approach though and the ingenuity you use in your projects, you must retain a confidence that you can tempt people away from Paranormal Activity 7 and the like?

It’s funny isn’t it, considering the first Paranormal Activity was shot in seven days on a shoestring budget and waited a couple of years before Paramount picked it up. And since then there’s been several modestly budgeted horrors that have done well, like Insidious. But yes, there will always be people who don’t want to look beyond the generic safe popcorn fare that litters the multiplexes. Again though, I think with the rise of the internet, and the facilities for getting films out there, any film can find its audience – and I’m confident there are more than enough discerning film-lovers out there that want something a little different.

 

The Devil’s Bargain is released on VOD on January 17th at distrify.com and facebook.com/TheDevilsBargain

 

The Devil’s Bargain (2013) Download Review

 

DEVIL 001THE DEVIL’S BARGAIN (2013) Download

 

Review by: Dave Wain

 

Stars: Jonnie Hurn, Dan Burman, Chloe Farnworth

 

Written by: Drew Cullingham, Ian Manson (story)

 

UK Certification: Not yet certified

 

Download Price: £3.99

 

Runtime: 77 minutes

 

Directed by: Drew Cullingham

 

Harbouring a taste for British horror, I was introduced to Drew Cullingham when I watched his ambitious vampire film with a western lilt – Umbrage: The First Vampire. Though not perfect, it exhibited enough originality for it to be of some interest to a horror dweeb such as myself, and coupled with the informative extras laden DVD it was certainly a keeper to be filed in the ever expanding section of ‘shows potential’.

 

For his latest feature The Devil’s Bargain, Cullingham seems intent on pushing the envelope of ambition and inventiveness even further as he presents a film shot using an experimental ‘pinhole’ technique which indeed provides it with a unique look. Shot over four days, the film is set it 1974 and observes the lives of Adi (Jonnie Hurn) and Ange (Chloe Farnworth). We begin with the whirr of home movie footage as we learn of the tragic death that befell Adi and Ange’s son, tragically killed in a William Tell orientated childhood prank gone wrong.

 

DEVIL 002With Earth about to be obliterated by an asteroid hurtling towards it, our haunted couple decide to head into the country to live out the planet’s final days in the location their son was conceived with the hope of finding some solace. As the pair rekindle their affinity with the picturesque location, their contentedness is punctuated occasionally marital tensions coming to the fore such as each other’s role within the relationship. All the time however, the nagging idea that they’re being followed seems apparent with the pleasing soft pinhole focus being interspersed with the stark black and white stills of a photographer’s camera.

 

Indeed, during some post-coital reflection Adi spots Luca (Dan Burman) lurking in the bushes taking pictures. He challenges him, but eventually with Ange professing that “nobody should have to face the end alone” they decide to spend the final few hours of humanity in each other’s company. Luca seems initially to be a free spirited soul with ideas rooted in artistic expression, but as they spend more time together secrets come to the fore, and the impending apocalypse becomes an afterthought compared to the new challenge that they are faced with.

 

The Devil’s Bargain is a film that defies pigeonholing into a specific genre. Part drama, part psychological nightmare, all set in the wake of a pending apocalypse. It’s an ambitious idea, but despite this the film seems grounded in a resolute simplicity which in my opinion is the driving force behind its success. Cullingham’s debut feature was often criticised for struggling to reach the heights of his aspirations, here though is the perfect example of how a filmmaker develops and manages to retain their ability to put their ambition onscreen whilst at the same time preventing themselves from overstretching.

 

DEVIL 003The pinhole technique works successfully, particularly in the respect of the glowing orange sky that manages to be a continual reminder of the imminent doom. Elsewhere it gives us soft images with muted colours that fit perfectly with the mid-70s setting of the picture. In a year that gave us A Field in England – a memorable British feature set in the countryside and filled with madness and chaotic forces, who’d have thought that by the year’s end we’d have another, and from a similarly inventive English filmmaker.

 

7 out of 10

 

 

 

A version of this review was published on screenjabber.com

 

Scavengers (2013) DVD Review

scav1Scavengers (2013)

Dir – Travis Zariwny

Starring – Roark Critchlow, Louise Linton, Sean Patrick Flanery, Jeremy London.

Release UK – January 27th 2014 from Image Entertainment on DVD & BluRay.

 

A group of space scavengers headed by Wake (Roark Critchlow) scour the universe for wrecks and crashes , on one of their searches they come across a piece of highly advanced alien technology. The technology known as the Chaos Generator is also wanted by a rival scavenger crew headed by Captain Jekel (Sean Patrick Flanery) and they are tracking Wake’s ship as Jekel knows that the Chaos Generator is made up from 3 pieces and he is determined to re-unite them .

 

So what ensues is a chase through space with Drekel obsessed to catch the Wake and capture the Chaos Generator. There is a back story with Drekel and Wake but unfortunately there is very little character development so this is only really touched on and we never really know just why there is so much hatred.

 

Scavengers is a hugely ambitious film that really tries to push the boundaries in low-budget sci-fi, but unfortunately after seeing a film such as Gravity then the CGI looks pretty dodgy . However as a stand alone film the effects are really very good and there are parts like when a crew member explodes that actually look remarkable.

 

The sound effects are OK , but when the ship fires it’s exterior guns it sounds like a machine gun in a vacuum or hollow tunnel.

 

scav2The acting on the whole is pretty good and Sean Patrick Flanery just rages as Captain Drekel, he over acts in every scene and it made the film far more enjoyable. Also sci-fi journeyman Roark Critchlow gives a great performance as Wake and the late addition of Jeremy London is a cracking choice as for the few minutes he is on screen he is fantastic.

 

The storyline for Scavengers is a fairly basic premise, but I feel that if they had tried to be as ambitious with the story as they are with the effects and settings then it would have pushed Scavengers over the top into almost parody mode. Scavengers knows what it is and does it very well.

 

Another thing that really made me smile was the incessant use of ‘space speak’. So whenever there was a plot key or a slow moment then someone would come out with a classic line , like “ The nasty steamer cloud should last long enough for us to punch in the co-ordinates for an escape” (or something like that).

 

scav3Anyway there is plenty of faults with Scavengers but I personally really quite enjoyed it, the exterior shots are laughable but the interior shots work really well and some of the effects are top-drawer. The story ticks along nicely but could have done with more structure and development. But if you are a fan of low-budget space adventure films and women in vests (I am on both counts) then Scavengers may just have something for you.

 

A real surprise and an enjoyable one to boot 6.5/10

Scavengers is available from Jan 27th 2014 and you can buy it HERE , and it is also available on BluRay !

Eurohorror Spotlight #1: Cold Prey (Norway, 2006)

cp1Eurohorror Spotlight #1: Cold Prey (Norway, 2006)

aka Fritt Vilt

Director: Roar Uthaug

Starring: Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Rolf Kristian Larsen, Tomas Elf Larsen

Following the modest success of Dutch Horror Spotlight on UKHS, James Simpson decided to take a look at horror movies from other European countries for Eurohorror Spotlight. The first review in the series is Norwegian slasher flick Cold Prey.

It is the mid 70’s and a young boy, with a distinctive birthmark on his face, is seen running across a snowy landscape. He is being chased by someone who forces him down a drop in the ground and proceeds to bury him in snow. The film then moves forward 30 years…

‘Present day’ and a group of teens are travelling to the snowy mountains for a snowboarding trip. They take in the stunning views as they begin their fun which ends quickly when one of them falls and seriously hurts his leg. The friends decide they have to get help for him and seek out refuge in a nearby hotel.

When they arrive it is clear it has been abandoned for some time but they set up camp there. However it seems they are not alone as a large, masked man with a pickaxe begins to stalk them…

cp2Cold Prey is a great movie. It does go for the usual slasher flick clichés but does them very well and this is what makes it a good film. Many horror’s do the ‘obvious’ and fail but it is refreshing when a film attempts them and exceeds.

The setting, initially the snowy mountains then the hotel, lend itself to the developments on-screen. Seeing the group of friends trekking across the terrain, into isolation, establishes that they are heading out to place that will be difficult to escape. Inside the abandoned hotel there are countless empty rooms, long dark corridors and chances for individuals to leave the group (which always leads to them being killed). It brings to mind Kubrick’s The Shining with scenes of women running from room to room screaming as the killer follows them.

The young cast are believable actors that all play their roles well. Berdal, who plays lead female Jannicke, is a stand out and has gone on to appear in non-Norwegian films such as Chernobyl Diaries and the upcoming Hercules (starring The Rock). Some cast members have appeared in well-known Norwegian productions such as TV series Lilyhammer and monster movie Troll Hunter.

Gore and blood isn’t used in Cold Prey much but it doesn’t detract from the impact of when the killer does corner his victims and stabs at them with a pickaxe. The usual ‘Who is the killer?’ question plays an important part of the story that may catch some viewers by surprise by those who know their horror films may not be so easy to swerve.

cp3Ticking all the boxes in the slasher movie handbook makes Cold Prey a film that won’t offer much new but what is does do is carried out very well and will make for an entertaining time. With two sequels available its worth seeing.

8 out of 10

Available on DVD from Amazon UK with English subtitles.