Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Notebooks Not Meant For You

I'm going to take a small break from my convention reviews even though I'm about done with them. I just have three more left, but I want to get my posts here into double digits for the month. With just a few days left, I figure I will get that out of the way then knock out the last few convention reviews. I have a couple of book reviews for you all. Killer's Diary by Brian Pinkerton is a book I just finished yesterday, so I thought I would get it reviewed first since it is still fresh in my mind.

Ellen Gordon is sitting in her favorite coffee shop getting her morning coffee down her before heading off to work at a bookstore. As she gets ready to leave, she notices a red notebook sitting on a chair that is tucked away. Waiting a bit to see if anyone claims it, she eventually takes it. She intends to give it to the employees in case the owner comes looking for it, but after reading a little bit of it, Ellen becomes curious. Instead of turning it in, she takes it home with her. She returns to the coffee shop each morning in hope of finding the author but doesn't have any luck at first. The deeper she gets in the notebook, the more she connects with the person who wrote it. He gets into his own abused childhood, which awakens her own past. After a few days, she sees someone at the coffee shop writing in a notebook like the one she found. Coming up with an excuse to talk to him, she gets close and discovers that the handwriting is the same! Charles strikes up a conversation with Ellen and they exchange phone numbers. They end up having a complicated relationship, and Ellen doesn't know if or how to bring up the notebook. To make matters worse, there is a killer stalking the neighborhood, and Ellen begins to wonder if Charles might just be the killer.

This isn't Brian Pinkerton's first novel, but it happens to be the first time I have read anything by him. In this novel at least, Pinkerton keeps his writing pretty simple. I can tell author Jonathon Janz is an English teacher because now and then I come across a word I don't know. Not that it bothers me, as I enjoy figuring out what those words mean. Anyway, I thought the story for Killer's Diary was pretty cool. I liked the overall story and the twist ending. To be honest, here, I'm not really sure what to talk about in this review. This is a book that everything depends on you not knowing much going into it. Pinkerton does a pretty good job of leading the reader in the direction he wants you to go the whole time.

There aren't a lot of characters in Killer's Diary. There is Ellen, our main character, Charles, Peg and Ellen's boss. Peg works with Ellen, along with a few others but we don't get to know them much outside of Peg. Ellen's boss isn't really a major character either, but she shows up more than the other minor characters. Pinkerton gives us a good history and backstory to Ellen and touches on Peg's just a bit as well. Ellen's backstory comes a lot quicker than I was expecting it to. Instead of drawing it out some, spreading it out over the course of the story, it is told mostly all at once. Pinkerton also does a good job of bringing some of those problems from Ellen's past into the present at some unexpected times. As for Charles, it is hard to say how much we truly know about him and his past. While the diary Ellen finds is written by Charles, it is hinted at that not everything is true. It is unclear how much is true and how much isn't. As for the killer, maybe we learn about him...or maybe not.

While I liked the story, there was some frustrating decisions and logic at times. Ellen suspects Charles is the killer based on what she read in the notebook, and sometimes by how he behaves. She mostly keeps this to herself, though, but does talk to another character after a while. I know this stuff isn't actually proof of anything, but would you really keep quiet about it the more things seemingly fall into place with what you think is going on? Another thing was that Ellen finds some things Charles has lied about...and then proceeds to set up a date with him! The most frustrating thing for me was when Peg comes up with this plan to swap notebooks without Charles knowing about it. It was a sound plan, don't get me wrong, until he looks in it and finds nothing written in it. Do you really think he wouldn't know who just took his notebook??

Though Pinkerton does his best to keep things interesting, the story does have a dragged out feel to it. The book is just over two hundred pages but still feels a bit long at times. On the flip side, Pinkerton waits until nearly the last page to reveal who the killer is. I think there was like six pages left at that point. The ending is exciting as well, which made up for other things a bit. Even though I finished this book quicker than I thought I would, it still didn't grab me as much as I thought it would. Killer's Diary is a good book, but it wasn't one of the greats. I figure this is a good book for those who aren't into horror a whole lot. Killer's Diary comes across way more as a thriller, which is fine with me really. It gets slightly graphic when exploring the kills, but nothing real bad. Probably the best, and longest kill talked about, is when where the killer has the woman's parents listen over the phone. That was pretty messed up.

Killer's Diary could be worth checking out if it sounds interesting to you. Being a somewhat short book, it probably won't take too long to get through. How much you enjoy it will probably depend on how much you get behind Ellen and how well you are able to ignore certain things. If nothing else, Killer's Diary has made me curious to see if Brian Pinkerton's other books are more of the same, or if he crosses over to the horrific side of things.
3 out of 5 Maybe I should start a diary

Monday, September 26, 2016

Bikers Doing Anything They Want Part Two

I'm getting closer to having my convention screening reviews done. I just have three more to go after this one. The problem I get into is that the longer it takes, the harder it gets to get the review done. I'm doing my best, though. The last two films from Saturday was Peelers, my favorite film from that weekend, and Frankenstein Created Bikers (2016). This is writer/director James Bickert's follow-up film to Dear God No! Funny thing, while I was looking at Bicket's IMDb page, I discovered that he directed a film I have all but forgotten about, Dumpster Baby. You have come a long way since then James.

Jett (Jett Bryant) have been resurrected from the grave, but not they are addicted to the substance that gave their lives back. In order to get what they need, they have to do whatever Klaus (Laurence R, Harvey) and Dr. Marco (Paul McComiskey) wants from them. What they want is the creature, kind of like a Bigfoot, and women so they can try to transplant a head from one to the other. Candy (Ellie Church) ends up being one of the women to get captured, but she ends up doing her best to escape. Edna (Madeline Brumby) is out to find and kill Jett and his biker gang. She isn't the only one, though. There is also another biker gang and of course gun toting strippers as well.

I actually got to talk to James Bickert for a short time and he is a pretty cool guy. Good natured for sure at the very least. Frankenstein Created Bikers was screened back in March but I didn't bother to review it at that time. This was just because only the first half hour was screened, so I didn't get to watch the entire film. To my surprise, I actually remembered most of it. Before I go any further, I will say that I know I managed to fall asleep during this screening and I'm sure I missed parts of it because of that. They screened Dear God No! and then they screened this film, which started around 11:30pm I think. It is over two hours in length, along with an hour commute. I was already feeling tired from a late night on Friday, along with pain pills, so I'm actually surprised I managed to watch any of it at all. As I said in my last review, this is a movie I will be watching again. If what I feel about the movie changes, I might just edit this review and go from there. What I did see it reminded me a lot of Dear God No! even though this is a completely different story. If you have watched and liked the first movie then you will likely like this one as well. Jett and his gang don't terrorize people like they did in the first movie, except at the start of the movie but not to the same extent. That doesn't mean that Bickert doesn't push things like he did in the first film, though. I don't want to say that things get offensive really, but it gets close at times. As Bickert said, if you thought the other film was wild, this one gets, even more, wild...or something like that anyway. Personally, I didn't think this one was as wild, but it is still out there. There are still some wild things to be found here, so be on the lookout for them. In truth, I was just interested in watching Frankenstein Created Bikers because of Ellie Church. I have watched must of the films she has been in, and it put me three up on Cattleworks. Well...two up since he has watched one I have yet to catch.

There are some pretty gory moments in this film. The one I remember the most was a head being smashed. The effects have an odd way of being bad but good at the same time. I guess that is what makes films like this on so enjoyable, though. The acting was well done. Ellie Church was pretty good here but was somewhat limited to just going from one bad place to another and screaming a lot. It was cool to see Laurence R. Harvey in another horror film. I enjoyed him more here than in the last film I watched him in, even though he did well in it. Jett Bryant does well in his role once again. To be honest, I wouldn't care how is acting comes across since he just looks so much like the part demands. Perfect casting once again.

One of the characters I really liked in Frankenstein Created Bikers was Val, played by Tristan Risk. I believe she was in the first movie as well. She mostly just went around blowing up cops while they are in their cars, but I just really enjoyed her character this time around. I know this isn't the greatest review ever and I will likely change it once I watch this film again. I was really hoping that I could get the DVD or Blu and go home to watch it when I could so I could get some sleep. It isn't out yet, they are hoping it will be out by next month. As it is, I know the crowd there was into the film, as they would wake me up reacting to something. I'm positive that if you enjoyed the first movie then will feel the same about this one as well. I may have been half asleep during the screening, but I still enjoyed it.
3 out of 5 I still need to find a Nixon mask

Friday, September 23, 2016

Knowing Yoga Can Be A Good Thing

I;m a little disappointed with myself. It has been nearly two weeks since the convention, and I'm only half way through my reviews. Granted things haven't been going my way lately, but I should be further along with these. Anyway, I got a couple of reviews done over at my other blog. I watched Blair Witch last weekend and got that review up at last, and got the review for All I Need done as well. That was the first screening I went to on Saturday. There was a gap between screenings after that one and Yoga Hosers (2016), so I went to the Fright Night panel and got an autograph from Amanda Bearse while I was at it. I grabbed a bit to eat and then headed over for Yoga Hosers.

Colleen Colette (Lily-Rose Depp) and Colleen McKenzie (Harley Quinn Smith) are best friends that do a whole lot together. They have their own band, They hang out at each other's houses all the time. They work at the same store, where they often close up so they can get the band together to practice. One day they are visited by Guy LaPointe (Johnny Depp) and they are told that people are turning up dead in their hometown. Around this time, the girls are also invited to a senior party, which is a big deal since they are only sophomores. They can't make it to the party, though, as they end up having to work. They call the guys that invited them and get them to move the party to them, which they don't really do. Instead, the double Colleen's find something that is trying to take over their town and possibly all of Canada. They will have to use all their yoga skills to beat it.

Yoga Hosers is writer/director Kevin Smith's second film in his True North Trilogy. The first film was Tusk, which I have yet to watch. I didn't know that before going to this screening. Before the screening, I ran into a friend I had not seen in a long time. He asked if I had watched Yoga Hosers and told me it was probably his new favorite Kevin Smith film. With that in mind, I headed off to watch this movie. Sadly for me, with everything that was going on at the time, I started to feel very tired while watching it. I'm positive I dozed off at times, which can be said for the next film I will review here as well. Not getting much sleep the night before, add in some pain pills, and it started to get hard to stay awake. Keep that in mind because I actually thought the double Colleen's were sisters, not best friends. Yoga Hosers and Frankenstein Created Bikers are two films I want to watch again sometime, hopefully, when I am more awake.

While some plot points might have been confusing to me because I was dozing or just zoning out, it was still a fun film. Like so many other films I have already reviewed from the convention, Yoga Hosers manages to be a comedy more than a horror film. There are some crazy things that happen, especially in the last act, which I guess could be placed in the horror genre if you really wanted to push it. There are some pretty funny lines, as well as a well-timed line from one of Smith's first films. The start of the film could also be pretty funny in places, as we get the girls thoughts on each person in the film in something like a profile. The best one for me was making fun of their drummer for being an older guy in a teen girl band. Some of the excuses they come up with for closing the store are just classic. Things get rather weird when The Bratzis show up, which all are played by Kevin Smith. As it turns out, the Nazi's were a big part of their little town back in the day. The Bratzis are something that someone who still dreams of Nazi power has created. It does manage to get a little out there at times. Yoga Hosers is supposed to tie into Tusk with some of the same characters appearing in both. If you have watched Tusk, maybe you can see some of the same names popping up here. I have to give Kevin Smith some credit here for having two teen girls in the lead roles and not turning into a teen romance. I didn't find it as funny as some did. I don't know if that was from missing the joke while I was out of it or the humor just not hitting with me. Could have been a little of both really.

I don't recall too much for effects outside of The Bratzis. They were given a kind of weird effect when they died. You can see this in the trailer if you want to, but I personally feel that the trailer gives just a bit too much away, so be warned. The Bratzis are kind of cool and kind of annoying at the same time. The acting was pretty good. I enjoyed both Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith in the lead roles. I have no idea how much they put themselves into the characters, but you can easily tell that they are best friends in real life. They have a great interaction with each other. In case you haven't figured it out, they are the daughters of Johnny Depp and Kevin Smith. Johnny Depp was his usual great self. With the makeup, it is hard to tell it is him actually. Adam Brody plays the part of the drummer. Justin Long shows up as the yoga instructor. Stan Lee has a pretty funny cameo appearance. Haley Joel Osment also shows up. And of course, Jason Mewes has a part of a cop this time around.

The longer that the final scene played out, where the double Colleen's do battle...again, I was starting to grow tired of the film. Again, this could have just been because of how I was feeling at the time. Pain pills tend to make me feel sleepy even when I'm told they won't have that affect on me. I sure would like to watch this one again someday to see if I still feel the same way about it. As it is, I did find it funny in places, but not as much as I thought I would. If you are a Kevin Smith fan, I would suggest giving this one a try. In some ways, it heralds back to his film Clerks, which is my favorite film by him so far. It seems to have had a run in the theaters, but I'm wondering if that was just in Canada so far. I don't know why it would be hitting the festival circuits here if it had a run in the theaters already. Worth checking out I think if you haven't already caught it somewhere.
3 out of 5 I don't think I will give up my job to work as a clerk

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Stranger The Better

I'm doing my best to get reviews caught up this weekend. I should have had my last review done Friday night, but I went to sleep and didn't feel like wrapping it up once I woke up. I was almost done with it so figured it wouldn't take long to get it done in the morning. It has been a rough week with finding out about a kidney stone and losing my favorite cat. I just haven't been in much of a mood to write, as I'm sure you all understand. I did get my review for Plank Face done and jumped over here to get started on the last movie screening for Friday night at the convention. This was the midnight screening of Night Of Something Strange (2016).

Cornelius (Wayne W. Johnson) is a nasty guy willing to have sex with a corpse. Too bad he doesn't read the toe tag first, as the woman died from a still active and unknown STD. It turns him into something like a zombie and his soul purpose now is to spread the STD. Enter a group of teens on their way to a beach for spring break. They manage to cross path with Cornelius and one of the girls (Toni Ann Gambale) gets infected, but not enough to change her very quickly. This causes to Cornelius to follow them. They all end up at a motel where there is a secret going on.

Night Of Something Strange ended winning the award for Best Special Effects. I'm not sure who all from this film was there, but I know the guy that did the effects was there (I think it was him anyway) to accept the award. If a title ever fits a move perfectly, it was this one because this was one strange film. Directed by Jonathan Straiton, this one might get a little too weird by the end of it. Straiton and the many writers go all out for this comedy/horror film. The whole horror movie based on an STD has been done before and seems to be gaining in popularity. Straiton changes things up a little bit by having the STD becoming a living thing, with tentacles even. Night Of Something Strange was a great selection for a midnight showing. HorrorHound likes to pick movies that are over-the-top for these late night screenings, and this movie certainly fit the bill. The folks behind this film certainly did their best to gross and weird. From trying to use a dirty toilet, one so bad that I think most people would rather do their business outside, to having sex with a guy when the other guy thinks it's a woman. While there were certainly a lot of eww's being said throughout the screening, there were also a lot of laughs. I don't know that anyone would be scared by this movie, but there are plenty of gross-out moments to be found. For most of these moments, though, you can't help but laugh along with it. The comedy worked very well here for me. They presented some funny moments as well as some funny situations. Some of the funniest scenes for me is when one of the guys finds out his girlfriend is more than likely cheating on him. The stuff he thinks of doing, which is done in a dream kind of way for us, was very funny. As I said above, things started to get a bit too weird by the end of the film. Or perhaps it was just starting to wear out its welcome by then. Being the midnight showing, I was starting to crash as well, so it could just have been a combination of things to where I was starting to lose interest in the film. No matter what, though I had a lot of fun watching this one, and I'm looking forward to watching it again someday.

Since it won the best effects award, I don't feel I need to stress the effects much. It just wasn't the special effects that should be stressed, but also the makeup. Each character that gets the STD turns into the undead. I didn't really see them that way until towards the end of the film. This is what was causing me to lose interest actually. A normal character would kill an undead character, but not really. The undead characters just kept coming back to life. Anyway, the plus side to the undead characters was the makeup. They were done very well and the makeup makes the story more convincing as well. Add in the acting it came close to a perfect film. I enjoyed the acting by pretty much everyone. No one really stood out as a favorite, but perhaps Toni Ann Gambale came close to that. A few others in the movie are: Trey Harrison and Rebecca C, Kasek I believe ended up being the lead actors, Michael Merchant, Nicola Fiore and John Walsh.

One thing that seems to bother some is the way rape scenes are depicted in Night Of Something Strange. I don't want to say that they are done in a light-hearted way, but at the same time, they aren't done in a very serious way either. I wouldn't expect them to be, to be honest, given the tone of the overall movie. Personally it didn't bother me, but apparently, it has bothered some people. Night Of Something Strange was a pretty fun movie. It still had some problems, but overall I enjoyed it a lot. Maybe best watched with a lot of people looking to have a good laugh with a horror movie, but I think most people will still enjoy it while watching it alone. Like many of the other films shown at the convention, I have no idea if it is actually out yet or when it might be out. If you are looking for a fun, sometimes silly movie, then this one is for you.
4 out of 5 I sure hope tentacles don't come out of my private area!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Headless Guest Review: Cattleworks

A while back I mailed out a bunch of Headless dvds for everyone who entered a giveaway that I had done for the movie. I asked around to see who would want to do a guest review for it, and I had a few takers. One was Cattleworks, who has his own blog, or is it blogs? Either way, he agreed to write for me! It took him forever a long time, but he finished it up. Here are his thoughts on the film.

FOLLOWING YOUR SKULL-FACED MUSE

HEADLESS: THE UNCENSORED DIRECTOR’S CUT ( (2015, Written by Nathan Erdel, based on a character and supporting characters by Todd Rigney, directed by Arthur Cullipher; with Shane Beasley, Kelsey Carlisle, Ellie Church, Dave Parker, Jennifer Lee, Haley Madison, Brian Williams, Matt Keeley, Emily McGee, Jessica Schroeder and Kaden Miller as “Skull Boy”)

Right off, let me give a big shout-out and thank you to Mermaid Heather, horror movie reviewer extraordinaire here and as a regular contributor to Top Horror Movie Blog, too. A long time internet pal (like, a decade, more or less)(cripes!) Heather was totally responsible for hooking me up with a DVD of HEADLESS, a slasher movie that was making the film festival rounds when she first picked it up last summer.

A few other lucky Mermaid Heather fans got the HEADLESS DVD as well, and Heather asked if they wouldn’t mind offering a review of the film in return. Well, here’s my review, and in typical Cattleworks calendar-denying fashion, “only” a year (almost) after I started it!
By the way, at the same time I’m experimenting a little bit about how I go about doing a movie review, so hopefully it won’t be too horrible a reading experience for you. Yes, Heather, I’m using your blog as a guinea pig, MWAH-HAHAHA!

PLOT SYNOPSIS:

HEADLESS is another homage to the “grindhouse film” era (the 70s-80s) a la, well, GRINDHOUSE, the double-feature love letter to that “genre” from filmmakers Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Although in this case, instead of a double feature and three faux trailers, HEADLESS offers us one film and one trailer. But I wasn’t even expecting the one trailer. As the film starts, we are immediately shown a “Coming Attractions” snipe,* and then we see a trailer for another horror movie, a bizarre thing called WOLF BABY. Although brief and to the point, writer/director David E.W. Pruett’s trailer is pretty fun. Meanwhile, whereas the two features in GRINDHOUSE embraced some of the more outrageous plotting extremes of films from that era (especially Rodriguez’s PLANET TERROR), the main film of HEADLESS itself seems genuinely inspired by the darker horror films of the 70s, the kind of perverse, “this-is-entertainment?” film you would expect to see in a theater with a sticky floor and patrons of questionable character. Something more like director William Lustig’s MANIAC (1980).**

The plot to HEADLESS is fairly straightforward. We’re introduced to a nameless killer; we don’t know his real name and even as a serial killer, he seems to have no name or even appear to be on any public radar and is simply called “the Killer” in the credits. We see him finding his victims — primarily women — killing them, and then, doing even more to them after they’re dead. But we also see glimpses of his life alone and, through flashbacks, we see several of the events he experienced as a child and as a teenager at the hands of his mother and sister and how they led him to be the vicious predator he is in adulthood. Between these two perspectives of his life, we have a dark and troubling character study that represents two arguably different appraisals of his life: one that could be presented by a prosecuting lawyer (his adult life as a killer), and the other that could be presented by the defense (his childhood of constant abuse).

In addition, the film also offers snapshots of life at a local rollerskating rink and its small staff of two women and a sleazy boss. These scenes are in sharp contrast to the grisly and explicit scenes with the Killer. In fact, life at the rollerskating rink is rather mundane and filled with the women’s discussions of domestic melodrama. But as the movie continues, it’s apparent that it’s just a matter of time before both stories are going to intersect.

ANALYSIS:

When HEADLESS formally begins, we are thrown right into it and disorientingly so. Set in 1978, the first image we see seems to be of an open warehouse or factory. I don’t know what it actually is, but we’re inside looking out and up from the ground towards the sky. Soon we see a tall, long-haired, male figure at a distance walking towards us along the uneven outline of the ground which makes up the black bottom quarter of the screen. Silhouetted, the man looks to be carrying a machete in one hand and a bowling ball bag in the other. After stopping, even posing in this moodily composed opening shot, the film’s title is superimposed briefly above him in the cold grey sky. Afterwards, the man turns, walks off screen and the camera smoothly, mechanically descends straight down into the black landscape until the screen is all black and the opening credits begin one by one with the names of the cast. But we are suddenly assaulted by the image of a screaming woman. We also see a tall man in dark clothes and wearing a filthy rubber skull mask that covers his whole head, revealing only his eyes and an opening for his mouth. This is the Killer and without any explanation — hell, it’s still during the opening credit sequence! — we are subjected to a rapid, fractured highlight reel of his brutal handiwork (Decapitation! Eye removal with a spoon! Really gross eye consumption!) which includes the perverse intimacy he has with his dismembered victims Head necrophilia! Bathing in blood!) all rubbed into our face (barely metaphorically) from the get-go. It’s a jarring and effective tonal re-adjustment from the WOLF BABY trailer we just watched only minutes before and enjoyed. It is definitely disorienting, not only in terms of mood, but because it’s almost like we walked into the movie and missed the beginning. Not only does this set the dark, violent, and even unhealthy tone for the rest of the film, it also gives us a crash course in who this killer is in terms of his m.o. 

After this “prologue,” the film continues and we witness the dilapidated location (and recurring crime scene?) where our killer (played by Shane Beasley) seems to live. He sleeps on the floor of  the kitchen in an open cage, the kind designed for a large dog. As he dreams, various nightmarish images flash by, an apparent combination of past murders and some genuine surreal nightmare scenes (for instance, we see a quick glimpse of a naked woman with bleach-white skin, but her face is featureless, completely smooth like an egg, except for the very full, red lips of her mouth). When he abruptly awakes, we finally get a good look at his face, and facially, he’s an exhausted looking shell of a man and if what we’ve seen of his life so far, if this is indeed his daily routine, it’s no wonder he looks worn down. He drags himself up to a sitting position in the cage and then, off in the room he sees a strange figure. A shirtless boy in jeans, bare-foot, and with a white skull for a head; indeed, it’s Skull Boy (Kaden Miller), who will be a regular hallucination our killer sees. Silent except for occasional short “clackings” of his teeth for emphasis, Skull Boy points to the door. Not only is he a hallucination, he’s our killer’s taskmaster. Wearily, our maniac gets to his feet, grabs his rubber mask off the table, and follows SB.

As the film progresses, two separate narratives develop.

The first narrative is a character study of the Killer himself, which is additionally divided into two perspectives of his life: as an adult in the present and his growing up in the past. The present day scenes show the Killer finding women and attacking them, dismembering them, decapitating them and, ultimately, sexually violating dismembered parts of their corpses. The cruel homicides offer not only an enthusiastically grisly and explicitly sick entertainment for the gorehounds in the audience (this is said as an observation, not as a judgment of the filmmakers or audience. Just clarifyin’!), but it also shows how the imagined Skull Boy is always nearby and how the Killer seems to wait on the “child’s” permission to act sometimes. Skull Boy not only pushes him to kill, but also seems to indicate what specific atrocities to perform on the victims, sometimes vetoing desires the Killer clearly has. It’s a weird relationship “they” have. Meanwhile, the flashback scenes offer us a more sympathetic side to the Killer through his past, in that this is before his life of evil, a sort of origin story. The past is still disturbing to watch, although now the pre-Killer is a victim at the hands of his mother and his sister. 

In the present, while he looks exhausted living alone and subjected to nightmares when he sleeps in a cage, we see how much more animated and alive he is when he wears the skull mask and tortures/sexually abuses and murders his victims, his eyes particularly full of life as he revels in his specific deranged activities and he also engages with his victims silently but distinctly through eye-contact. 

In the past, the flashbacks of him as a child and teen (Kaden Miller again and Matt Keeley, respectively), he appears to have been abused 24/7 at the hands of his mother (Emily McGee). We learn through his mother resentfully talking at the boy (and the Killer’s character never talks whether younger or as adult, unless you count his adult cries of emotional anguish as dialogue, which I’m not) that she was abandoned by his father because “he didn’t want to raise a monster.” Interestingly, though the “monster” label is used by the mother, we really don’t see evidence of that being exhibited by the young boy himself (other than him playing with the head of his sister’s doll he apparently broke off). But it’s clear that the mother deeply resents the kid even existing. He also has a sister (Olivia Arnold as a child and Jessica Schroeder as a teenager), his only apparent daily peer. Was she a step-daughter? Why isn’t she blamed as well for the father’s abandonment? Whatever, both mother and daughter gang up in mistreating the boy outright, physically and psychologically. In fact, the cage he sleeps in as an adult seems to have been his main living quarters growing up. Through these flashbacks and surreal dreams, we see his life now and how he came to be. On a side-note, I think the filmmakers’ intent was to show a boy who may have been actually mentally disturbed to a small degree and then pushed over the edge by astonishing daily abuse at the hands of his mother and sister, but from what they actually show, you wonder what kind of upbringing the mother had that she would use her son as a such a blatant scapegoat for her personal disappointments and misery, let alone enlist her young daughter to participate in the abuse as well. This woman already had issues. If the son genuinely was disturbed, maybe the apple didn’t fall far from a twisted, maternal tree.
But, that’s a whole other movie!

The second narrative concerns itself with the small staff at a disco-ball equipped roller-skating rink (a great period location, by the way). The boss is a long-haired, authentically and unapologetically portrayed sleazebag named Slick Vic (Brian Williams), but our focus is on his workers, Jess (Kelsey Carlisle) and Betsy (Ellie Church). We first see Jess coming in late to work and getting shit from Slick Vic. He has no patience for her sob stories about her personal life with her unhelpful boyfriend, Pete, and Slick Vic tells her that if she’s going to be late again, be prepared to find another job or put out. Ew. Betsy is sympathetic to Jess’ plight in that she listens to her and agrees that their boss is a pig, but she’s convinced that Jess needs to dump Pete because he’s an unappreciative waste of space, affection and room and board. Jess agrees except “she loves Pete.” Oh, Jess…

Ellie Church’s Betsy is funny but not necessarily likable. In fact, she’s really a genuine bitch, sometimes playing her bitchiness for laughs when talking with Jess, but other times, just being really bitchy. So, her likability is debatable, but what makes her more immediately sympathetic to the audience is her blunt wisecracks of Jess’ significant other. You can’t help but agree with Betsy’s barely contained impatience when she listens to Jess’ interminable misery at the hands of her boyfriend. 

A quick aside: speaking of actress Ellie Church, I saw HEADLESS several months before I fortuitously saw director Jessica Cameron’s MANIA at the local Buffalo Niagara Film Festival in April and which I believe may still be making the film festival circuit (maybe?), and while trying to finish this review, I re-watched large sections of HEADLESS again. Being able to compare Ellie Church’s performances in both films, I’m impressed by the distinctly different characterizations Church gives Betsy in HEADLESS and the character of Mel in MANIA. As Mel, Church is sympathetic but haplessly ill-equipped as she descends into a terrible whirlpool of circumstances brought on by her mentally imbalanced lover (played by Tristan Risk). Watching her play Betsy again in HEADLESS, I’m impressed by the contrast between Church’s two performances. 

The scenes at the roller-skating rink are almost perversely mundane in their depiction of the women and the airing of Jess’ pathetic personal dramas. But I’m not criticizing the performances, because Carlisle and Church do convincing portrayals as Jess and Betsy, but I wish Jess’ character was more fully critical in her assessment of her loser boyfriend, and by “fully critical” I specifically mean dumping his ass. In her scenes with Pete (Dave Parker), the boyfriend as full-of-himself artiste/leech (he’s in a band), you can tell she’s on the verge of getting to that point, just not fast enough for our tastes.

I think the contrast is deliberate, a slow burn approach to developing suspense, because eventually the audience is expecting the Killer to cross paths with one or all of the staff at the rink. It’s just a matter of how and when?

Meanwhile, one of the fascinating aspects of HEADLESS deals with the film’s origins behind-the-scenes. In 2012, there was a horror film called FOUND, directed by Scott Shirmer who also co-wrote it with Todd Rigney, based on a novel by Rigney. I have not seen this film but the trailer is on the HEADLESS DVD and it looks really great. In FOUND, a boy discovers that his brother may be a serial killer and one of the brother’s sources of homicidal inspiration is a slasher film on VHS called HEADLESS. So, if I’m understanding the chronology correctly, the original concept of HEADLESS actually began as a (fictional) film that was referenced within another horror film, FOUND. It looks like scenes of the fictional HEADLESS were filmed to be shown in FOUND (and I believe that’s the footage we see during the opening credits of HEADLESS the feature film) and actor Shane Beasley played the Killer in these scenes as well. In addition, HEADLESS director Arthur Cullipher and actor Beasley also worked on FOUND doing SFX and other crew duties. Eventually they (and the rest of their film group) decided to fully realize this idea of a film into an actual feature, mounting a successful crowdfunding campaign to raise the money to do so.

CONCLUSIONS:

For the most part I favor a lot of the creative choices in this film, foremost being the grim and brutal nature of its depiction of slasher genre elements. The homicides are indulgently explicit not only in execution (heh, sorry!) of the SFX but also in the gritty, grimy, “retro” spirit in which they’re filmed. 
Besides the extensive practical effects which are on full display (not just quick glimpses), like severed limbs, heads, removed eyes, etc., there are some neat and impressive set-pieces. The special effects backgrounds of the director, lead actor, and film crew are imaginatively on display as we see the Killer’s exterior life (he chases a victim (Jennifer Lee as an unfortunate hitchhiker. A cautionary tale!) is chased into a pit of naked corpses) and his interior life (his bizarre, obsessive sexual fantasies with the faceless Dream Woman (Jennifer Lee again), feverish imaginings like a tree with human eyeballs for “fruit”).  

There are other neat visual touches, too. Like the Bergmanesque framing of the Killer and Skull Boy walking outlined against the sky dragging a victim behind them along the ground (specifically, I’m reminded of THE SEVENTH SEAL). Also, the whole opening credit sequence: first showing the title against a moodily composed tableau with the silhouetted killer, the mechanical descent into darkness, the jarring crash course of past executions and sickening, lurid corpse desecrations. 
So, for the most part, as a horror film, a retro-horror film and a creative challenge (making a fully realized film based on an idea of a movie referenced in another movie, if that makes sense), I give HEADLESS high marks.

I’m also impressed by some of the “inappropriately” risky depths they went to film parts of the story. For instance, the sexually violent dynamics of the killings, the explicit aspects of the necrophilia (it’s not genuinely pornographic, but it’s not just a mere suggestion, either), the use of young actors doing questionable activities in service of the plot (most prominently, Kaden Miller plays both the imaginary Skull Boy and also the younger version of the killer during the flashbacks, and some of the gross things he does while in the cage. But the (apparently) teenage actors in the flashbacks are subjected to some eye-brow raising activity as well. Ah! Sicko horror movies!). And speaking of Skull Boy, I wonder if his character appeared in FOUND or was a character in Todd Rigney’s novel. If not, if SB was actually created as part of the realization of the full film HEADLESS by writer Nathan Erdel and director Cullipher, that’s a pretty cool invention.

And kudos to those members of the cast for subjecting themselves to all sorts of misery to film this thing, too. Not only partial or full nudity but in addition, all the trappings of fake blood, latex, etc. and usually while being murdered and/or provocatively tortured in extreme, uncomfortable and prolonged ways (like “Punk Chick” Haley Madison, for instance). 

If I were to criticize the filmmakers, it’s actually during the ultimate resolution of the Killer in the film’s story. I won’t give away any specifics, but the Killer seems to complete a personal character arc (at least, from his deranged perspective) and visually, his final act to himself makes complete sense. My only question is: why does it happen at that moment? Thinking about it, it would seem the last victims we see him with would be particularly significant to him then, that they had to be some sort of catalyst to inmate his final act upon himself. If that was indeed the case, I didn’t catch what it was that distinguished them to be so. To be honest, during the film, all the Killer’s victims seemed to be purely arbitrary choices for him. Aside from being women (primarily), they seemed to simply be at the wrong place at the wrong time. But if there was more choice involved with his picking his final victims in the movie, and that choice specifically motivated him to move forward to the next step in his “personal journey,” well, it was lost on me. For instance, if he sees a connection between these victims and his mother or sister, it’s not readily apparent why he does so, although if you look closely he seems to have outfitted one of the victim’s in his mother’s last dress. But, again, if there’s a connection he sees in these victims to his past, I don’t think it’s actually evident. To me, visually, WHAT the Killer does at the end to himself makes sense thematically, but emotionally I didn’t feel the movie explained WHY he did it THEN, if that makes sense without me saying anything too revealing. If you’re completely confused, well, I guess you’ll have to check the film out yourself! But, if that connection had been made, or if it was there and I missed it, well, if that connection was made clearer then, I think this last act would have made much more impact.

Also, earlier in the film, Betsy has a near run-in with the Killer. One could argue that this establishes some sort of fascination with her by him, but if so, it’s an idea that’s not really developed. It almost seems like “something else going on” in hindsight.

Anyway, I think the film is strongest when it’s playing as a character study of the Killer. Although the scenes with Jess and Betsy are also good, I don’t think they quite connect enough with the Killer segments of the film to be fully compelling. Because of this, the film is more a collection of strong and memorable parts but doesn’t quite work emotionally as a total film when its over. 
Maybe my questions will be answered in the DVD commentary. I’ll have to check it out.
Meanwhile, I picked up FOUND as well, so I’m looking forward to seeing how this “forgotten slasher of 1978” figured into that story-line originally. 

Thanks again to Mermaid Heather for the DVD and thanks for her saintly patience waiting for this damn review in exchange (and my apologies). By the way, readers should also check out what Heather thinks of HEADLESS and FOUND since she reviewed them both and also the two other guest reviews of HEADLESS.

And finally, to all you genuinely and cruelly jilted single parents out there, PLEASE don’t take out your abandonment issues on your offspring (male or female)...

*Snipe (definition courtesy of Wikipedia): “Any material before the feature presentation other than a trailer. ‘Welcome to our theater,’ courtesy trailers ("no smoking, littering, talking"), promotions for the snack bar, and ‘daters’, that announce the date for an upcoming show, are the most common kinds of snipes.”

** Confession: this is based on what little I’ve read about MANIAC, because I have not actually seen it. Specifically, my knowledge of this sick movie (haha!) comes from two essays: by Cody Goodfellow, “Mine Now Forever: The Ugly Reality of MANIAC” and David L. Tamarind, “Murder, Misogyny and Mommy Complexes”. Tamarind’s essay also discusses another possible film influence/inspiration for HEADLESS (at least in tone), the grim and brutal DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE (1980). Both essays appear in the superior (and possibly difficult to find) horror anthology Butcher Knives & Body Counts (or BNBC (sic)), a wide ranging collection of essays on slasher films edited by Vince A. Liaguno that I can’t recommend enough.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Fighting For Your Life In L.A.

Day one at the convention found me watching the movie Fun With Hackley: Axe Murderer for the second screening of the day. After that screening, there was a special screening for the first episode of the new Fox series: Exorcist. I'm not actually going to review it, but it was actually pretty good. It does seem to tie into the movies, at least the first one, but I'm not sure how much it will do so just yet. The third film for day one turned out to be a movie called Parasites (2016). Based off the title alone, I wasn't expecting it to be about homeless people, but the title does make sense now that I look back on it.

Marshal (Sean Samuels) and a couple of his friends are traveling through L.A. on their way to college. They get a little lost after taking a detour. Being guys, they refuse to ask for directions and find themselves in the part of town you don't want to be in. After getting a flat tire, and finding out it was done on purpose, they run into Wilco (Robert Miano) and his gang of homeless folks. They have a chip on their shoulder and beat up the three guys. When they try to escape, Wilco kills them all, which the others don't really approve of, but go along with it. While getting rid of the bodies, one lady decides to take Marshal's clothes, but he isn't dead. He gets away without any clothes and heads off into the city with Wilco and his gang in pursuit.

Writer/director Chad Ferrin was on hand to introduce his film. As Parasites started, I was wondering if it had started in the wrong place. We meet the three guys as they are driving around L.A. right away. There wasn't any real build up or getting to know the characters much. I guess it didn't matter too much since Marshal was the last guy standing out of his friends anyway. Parasites is, more or less, one long chase scene. I was actually getting a little annoyed by it for two reasons. The first was that for a black man, Marshal sure as hell couldn't run. Marshal appeared to be running fast, but couldn't outrun a dog that wasn't running at full speed and a guy that looked twice his age at least. The other thing was that I kept thinking to myself how hard is it to lose those you can outrun and barely encounter anyone else other than those that are after you? While those things took away from the film a bit for me, Ferrin still manages to keep the story interesting. This was mainly by having Marshal more than willing to fight back or even kill those that are trying to do the same to him. Marshal didn't go looking for a fight but was happy to do so when he had to. It was a nice change of pace instead of having the victim always on the run, even though he sort of was, or turn the tables and become the hunter. Another fault I had with the film was some late new characters. It didn't bother me at first but became an unneeded small plot. Parasites has many interesting characters in it, but the main plot tends to get sidetracked at times. The ending was very good, though. It reminded me of the ending of a classic horror film, but at the same time, it is still an ending that speaks of the times today, especially in L.A. This might get people talking about more than just the film itself.

The effects are pretty good. Things get bloody at times, but nothing real crazy. One effect, involving a metal poll, is slightly ruined in the credits. It was a quick shot in the film, but you can see it slightly better in the credits and can easily tell the metal poll went between the actor's arm and body. Even so, the effects are well done here. The acting was also well done. Sean Samuels does a good job in the lead role and even offers up some nudity. On a quick side note, there seemed to be a lot of films at this convention that offered male nudity. Robert Miano pulls off his character very well. Slightly crazy but pretty smart at the same time. Joseph Pilato shows up in this film as well. I'm sure many a horror fan will remember him from Dawn Of The Dead. Carson Nicely, Tim Halpin, and Suzanne Summer Ferry also have parts.

The ending of the movie came as a nice surprise. There were some reactions from the people watching it when this happened, which I barely noticed since I was a bit shocked myself. While I did enjoy Parasites, it was the ending that helped push it above other films like it. I wouldn't say it is a great film, but it is still a fun watch. Parasites turned out better than I thought it was going to considering the fast start that just throws you right into things. I can't say I have even been out on the streets of L.A. late at night or early in the morning, so maybe there aren't many people out and about. I just found it strange that Marshal couldn't find anyone and kept running into the people trying to find him. I would assume the homeless people knew the city better than him, but still. I managed to get into the film more than I thought, so there is that. Parasites is worth checking into if it sounds like a film for you.
3 out of 5 I'm sure I would get all kinds of help running around naked

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Getting Blood Isn't Always A Good Thing

I have a lot of catching up to do now. Including this review, I have thirteen reviews to catch up with. I managed to catch every screening for movies I had yet to see at the convention, and I finished the book I had been reading while there as well. I will get to the book review once I get through all the screenings. As I usually do, I will split the reviews between here and my other blog, so I will be posting links as I go back and forth. First up Friday night was the film Aaron's Blood (2016), which ended up winning an award for Best Feature Film. I thought for sure another film would win it, but I think it was disqualified because someone from HorrorHound was in it.

Aaron (James Martinez) is a single dad trying to raise his son Tate (Trevor Stovall). Things are challenging for Tate as he suffers from hemophilia. He enjoys playing basketball and wants to join the team, but Aaron is against that, as he figures it is too risky for Tate getting hurt. A boy at school, who sometimes picks on Tate, trips Tate up and Tate hits a trash can. Tate ends up in the hospital where he is given blood to replace what he lost. After a bad dream where Aaron finds Tate to be missing, he finds out that Tate is better now and ready to go home. As the days go by, Tate discovers that something is changing. His reflexes are faster, he can move quicker and the sun is giving him a bad burn. Earl (Michael Chieffo) shows up to kill Tate, believing that Tate is turning into a vampire. Aaron stops him and finds out that there could be a way to change Tate back if he can figure out where the infected blood came from.

Writer/director Tommy Stovall and Trevor Stovall were on hand for the screening. Aaron's Blood was an interesting film. It wasn't my favorite of the movies I watched, but it was a nice surprise to see it win the best feature award all the same. Aaron's Blood reminded me a little bit of Let The Right One In, but it was also a lot different from it. The only things the two have in common are vampires and a young kid that is one. I rather enjoyed the story being presented here. It is different enough to stand out I thought. I'm sure this isn't the first time this type of story has been told, but I can't really think of any that I have watched so far. It was nice to see a film where the father is into his son's life and trying hard to protect him. Single parents don't always get enough love in horror films. Tate us a little confusing. He isn;t embarrassing the changes, but he isn't really fighting them either. It is a fine line and one that was hard to judge, because while he doesn't use his new "powers" much, he doesn't seem all that afraid to use them. Tate also refuses to kill someone, even though the person probably deserves it in his eyes. While I liked Stovall's acting overall, it also made it hard to figure out what his character thought about the changes taking place. This made the story a little frustrating. I was also a little frustrated with Aaron. I get he is trying to save his son's life, but he is barely around while doing that. He is asking questions about what it means to be a vampire and I'm thinking his son should be hearing all this just in case returning him to a human doesn't work. He also does some pretty stupid stuff like pulling a gun on someone he suspects is a vampire when there was an easier way to find out. This backfires on him at the wrong time, which made up for it somewhat. The film has a slight low budget feel to it, but nothing real noticeable.

The effects were pretty good. When Tate uses his extra fast reflexes, that looks a little off. It wasn't used often, though. Aaron's Blood is a little gory in places with some nice effects to go with it. Like a head getting cut off or a cut bleeding pretty good. There is also a gun shot that didn't make a lot of sense to me since a character was behind the person getting shot and the blood splatter ended up to the side of the character. The character behind the person should have been shot as well, but whatever. The acting was okay. While Trevor Stovall got a nomination for his acting, personally I thought it could have been better. As I said, I did like it, but it was so understated that it made it hard to figure out what the character was thinking or going through at times. Rounding out the cast was Farah White and David Castellvi.

I have to give Aaron's Blood a little credit because it did manage to throw me off as to who the vampire that turns Tate actually is. I don't want to say that it is a twist really, but the story does a good job at keeping you looking one way just to prove you wrong. I may not have thought that Aaron's Blood was the best the convention had to offer, but it is still a very good movie. It plays with what we know about vampires a little bit but mostly keeps the same rules as other vampire movies. If you are looking for a vampire movie that is a little different, you might consider giving this one a try. I'm not sure when it will be released if it hasn't been already, but be on the lookout for it all the same.
3 out of 5 Maybe I will get as lucky as Tate