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The Best Episode of "NIGHT GALLERY" You Never Saw...
Already an award-winning film, director Anthony G. Sumner's lyrical and haunting BY HER HAND, SHE DRAWS YOU DOWN took its Dallas debut bow at the Blood Bath 2 Film Festival, to an attentive and very appreciative audience already sated by a steady diet of cinematic gore and grue.
The artistry and care that went into making this film is more than apparent, and absolutely a welcome breath of fresh air. It's also a huge testament to the talents of not only director Sumner, but multi-hyphenate indie wonder-dervish Alan Rowe Kelly, whose mere stamp on a project seems to raise its profile and caliber so much more than with practically anyone else in the indie horror realm. Here, Kelly co-produces with Sumner, who wrote the screenplay based on Douglas Smith's acclaimed short story.
The retro-but-recent feel gives it that "NIGHT GALLERY-ish" vibe that primes you with this kind of semi-anticipation: if Rod Serling had stepped out onto the pier in the opening shots to introduce the story, I don't think anyone would've been the least bit surprised. (It would've been quite a feat to pull off, though!) As it is, no setup is needed. The images, beautifully lensed by Sumner and Bart Mastronardi, and the acting are effective enough all on their own.
This is the story of Cath (exquisite Zoe Daelman Chlanda) and Joe (Jerry Murdock), a couple brought together by destiny and by a needful hunger. Cath is a vampire of sorts, very reminiscent of Catherine Deneuve's tragic immortal, Miriam, in Tony Scott's THE HUNGER. But where Miriam fed on human blood, Cath feeds on human energy via a ritual that involves sketching an eerily lifelike portrait of her victims, that enables her to then drain their essence into herself, slaking her hunger for at least a little while longer.
It's not clear exactly how their relationship came to be, but Joe is her protector and conscience of sorts, and obviously very much in love with her, but not with what she has to do to survive...even if he is complicit in the horror that results from it. As BY HER HAND unfolds, there is conflict between them as Cath dares to cross a certain moral line that she promised Joe she never would...but her need to feed has other plans. And that is one of the great things about the story and the way it's told. It's all about the relationship and the strain placed upon it by Joe's co-dependency on her, and Cath playing that card to get what she wants, what she needs. The energy vampirism could be replaced by drugs, alcohol, sex addiction, whatever...and the core of the story would still hold up well.
The conflict between them reaches critical mass, when what seems like an off-hand comment alerts Joe to the fact that they have now gone beyond the point of no return...that nothing is off-limits anymore to satisfy Cath's hunger for "food," regardless of who has to die to feed her. The agonizing decision Joe has to make leads to a tragic but inevitable ending.
Longtime Alan Rowe Kelly associates, Zoe Chlanda and Jerry Murdock have proved their versatility time and time again, handling everything from humor to horror with an almost scary ease. Though they have worked together before, the roles they portrayed were never quite this intimate. Zoe keeps her portrayal of Zoe tightly contained when other actors might've gone for histrionics, and her chilling moments of resigned stillness allow Jerry to use his potent combination of masculinity and vulnerability to convey Joe's dilemma. How do you let go of the one person you feel it's impossible to live without? In his own way, he is as addicted to Cath as she is to her 'drug.'
It's also a credit to Jerry's talent that he wears his unrequited love for Cath and the torment of her duality like a second skin. We never really see him break down and cry to express what he feels, but it's not necessary. The face and the eyes say it all.
BY HER HAND is a near-textbook example of subtlety that is missing in so many genre films today, and yet it's never yawn-inducingly boring, and avoids all the pitfalls that turned many of the original NIGHT GALLERY'S episodes into near unintentional farces.
Which is why I restate my bottom-line opinion: it stands as the best episode of that beloved series that you never saw. I do hope that Alan will see fit somehow to reassemble this same team to do more work of this caliber. I've no doubt that the results will still be as exceptional.
Psychic Experiment (2010)
A Multi-Story "HOUSE" That Towers Over The Screen...
First and foremost, no matter how ambitious they are or how wide-ranging, Mel House is fascinated by ideas. He's not afraid to show it, and not afraid to spend some quality time exploring those concepts. This is not a man for whom 'babes, boobs and blood' are the staples of genre filmmaking, (and when you have a beautiful, talented and intelligent spouse like his frequent repertory player, Melanie Donahoo, they'd sure as hell better not be.) For Mel, it's always been about putting meat on the bones of the story, before ripping it off the bodies of his cast.
And herein is where WALKING DISTANCE'S greatest strength lies, along with its "Achilles heel." This is a cornucopia, a visual and visceral smörgåsbord of ideas... A film that not only merits, but probably DEMANDS repeat viewings before you can actually take it all in. Which may have been part of the plan from jump, but for an average fanboy for whom the height of intellectual cinematic bliss is watching SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE for the umpteenth time, WALKING DISTANCE is the equivalent of asking someone whose favorite author is R.L. Stine, to briefly describe the joys of reading Marcel Proust.
Though the opening sequence is something right out of Dante Alligheri-meets-Salvador Dali on a crack bender, it settles into a tale of what seems like two completely separate individuals: research scientist Cole Grey (Denton Blane Everett) and convicted pedophile Joseph Webber (PHANTASM alum Reggie Bannister, knocking the hell out of typecasting in a vastly different role). Dr. Grey has recently been hired by a nameless corporation that runs and sponsors a self-contained, peaceful, storybook little community, whose inhabitants live and work at the hub of the enclave, known only as "The Facility." Everything is situated for maximum efficiency and convenience - always within "walking distance" of wherever anyone needs to go.
But this is not "Wisteria Lane", folks. More like "HYSTERIA Lane," and then some. There is corruption of all kinds simmering under the surface. Corruption of the land and of resources - much of it deliberate, and even a gross corruption of the very minds and bodies of the people themselves. And all of this yet for Dr. Grey to discover, as he is escorted onto the premises by his new boss, the Facility's leader, Louise Strack, played with panache by "FRIDAY THE 13TH" vet Adrienne King, who returns to acting in this meaty role, her first since taking down Pamela Voorhees (and then being taken out by her son in return.)
On the other hand, recently released sex offender Webber, unable to find residence anywhere else that he won't be beaten up, harassed and otherwise ostracized, has been given what basically amounts to free housing in the Facility's community. Usually the motivation for such an arrangement would indicate something along the lines of blackmail or some sort of cover-up, but the reasons behind assisting Webber is anything but humanitarian. In fact, it's about as diabolical and arcane as anything you could find in a Lovecraft or Ellison story.
And in-between the two men, interconnecting them in various ways are the cast of characters who will all play their parts in bringing Grey and Webber together, bringing the true motivation and machinations of the Facility to startling, horrific light, and to reveal the most frightening truth of all about the tranquil-appearing little compound - the corner store is not the only thing within "walking distance." So is are the very depths of Hell itself.
As Cole, Everett is everything a Cronenberg fan could wish the controversial Stephen Lack had been in SCANNERS. (And it's safe to say that just as in his previous film, CLOSET SPACE, a strong Cronenbergian vibe runs through every pore of DISTANCE.) And Bannister finds just the right note to make you angry at yourself for having pity on the pitiful, pathetic mess who is Joseph Webber, who comes to realize that not only has he lost control of his impulses to commit his horrible crimes, but also of his very mind, used and manipulated by others for unimaginable evil.
Behind them is a large, dependable cast that includes Melanie Donahoo and James LaMarr (CLOSET SPACE), Shannon Lark (BLOOD BATH 2 Film Festival Best Actor in a Short for LIP STICK), indie horror genre icon Debbie Rochon in one of the most standout roles as Cole Grey's mother, James Furey (KODIE, EXHIBIT 7-A), Katie Featherston (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY) and jaw-dropping performances by character vets Glenn Morshower ("24") and Kathy Lamkin (THE Texas CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake), whom you will never think of in quite the same way again.
It's like a new, sprawling tale by Stephen King with its interwoven plot and character threads (just like those pesky signature House Tentacles!), and all the hints and outright revelations of corporate malfeasance, chemical dumping, mass murder, tele-and-psychokinetic manipulation, intimations here and there of the laws of physics being obliterated, if not outright mutated by pure evil (echoes of Carpenter's PRINCE OF DARKNESS, anyone?) But instead of King, Mel House is at the helm this time around, meaning you have no idea where things are going until they get there, and you may have to brace yourself for what you're going to find, since you never know what that might be.
So, in a nutshell, I still recommend WALKING DISTANCE, even if it might be a film that contains too many ideas to absorb in one viewing. The last film I saw that I could say that about was INCEPTION. Which is company I think that Mel should be damn proud he's keeping, especially in a world where intelligent design and rational thought are rapidly being discarded for creationism and a tainted kind of "magical realism." Come to think of it...very much like some of what happens in the movie. What's the frequency, Mel? Are you trying to tell us something?
The Super (2010)
Grindhouse Comes Roaring Back...With A VENGEANCE!
When filmmakers love to make movies, and they really love the genre they're working in, it is apparent from the very first frame to the last. You don't have to question it, you don't have to analyze it very deeply. It's there. Period. It's like the old sayings about both pornography and art: "I don't know exactly what it is, but I'll know it when I see it."
THE SUPER is the grindhouse-infused labor of love from New York indie filmmakers Evan Makrogiannis and Brian Weaver, and there's no mistaking from the word "go" that this writing/directing team cut their B-cinema teeth on all the gritty, grimy classics of the Seventies - most definitely William Lustig's controversial masterpiece MANIAC, but also the work of everyone from Lucio Fulci, Frank Hennenlotter and Gary Sherman, to Alfred Sole and Abel Ferrara. Weaver and Makrogiannis followed the trail of bloody breadcrumbs left to them by their predecessors, and they've used it to take the audience by the hand and lead them to a cottage of carnage, the likes of which hasn't been seen since directors like David Schmoeller and Charles Band first picked up a camera.
Another first premiere at Dallas' Blood Bath 2 Film Festival, this was probably the initial introduction of these gents to many, and it won't soon be forgotten (the Festival's Best Feature Film prize is overwhelming proof of that.) The terrifying, tawdry and ultimately tragic tale unfolds as we are introduced to George (the amazing Demitri Kallas), the super of the title to the rundown tenement somewhere in the city that he owns and somehow keeps together. This immigrant jack-of-all-trades, who is also a Vietnam vet, appears congenial and friendly on the outside...the kind of character who certainly wouldn't be unwelcome even in the fantasy confines of a place like Sesame Street. But underneath that sweet, hard-working facade lies the jagged shards of a shattered soul, fractured by the scars of war, the loss of many of the only people who understood and helped him - his war buddies, and the pressures of an ever-changing world he is finding it harder and harder to understand, let alone fit into.
One of the few bright spots left in his life is his wife, Maureen, beautifully played by genre veteran Lynn Lowry, (THE CRAZIES and I DRINK YOUR BLOOD). As a beacon of light, she alone helps to chase away the dark shadows, at least for a time. Until that darkness encroaches in its most compelling and most overpowering of forms: a darkly seductive, menacing tenant named Olga (a star turn by indie staple Manoush), who is in turn attracted to the darkness she senses lurks within George, and helps to draw it out of him in twisted and terrifying ways that will effect and explode within the lives of everyone they come in touch with...meaning just about everyone in the building.
Dark, brooding and as industrial-strength vicious as the best of anything the Seventies had to offer, THE SUPER is not for the faint of heart. Even so-called jaded, hard-case grindhouse fans may find themselves temporarily taken aback. Which is even more proof that the hard work that Weaver and Makrogiannis poured into this movie is eclipsed only by the level of their talent. These guys know exactly what the hell they're doing and how to do it.
And it shows especially in the casting. Kallas and Manoush are rare indie finds, and the chemistry they spark on-screen together electrifies every scene they share. They are easily slasher horror's answer to Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett...if old Nellie were more into leather, whips and chains, rather than making human pot pies.
The "innocent antagonists" side isn't as well represented, but in classic form, you learn just enough about them to care before they wind up on the business end of George and Olga's "new friendship." The standouts, of course, are mostly the more unpleasant characters: Tony Bava, the racist, narcissistic bodybuilding meathead of a tenant (Bill McLaughlin); a detective named Sardusky (Ron Braunstein), so soul-deep despicable, he could make Vic Mackey look like Mother Teresa, and the comic relief which arrives in the form of the completely-off "Franny The Tranny" (the unforgettable Brandon Slagle). Rounding off the "victim's corner" are Edgar Moye and Ruby La Rocca as an attractive interracial yuppie couple you just know aren't bound for "happily ever after"; Kathryn Zarwiski as a tenant who's just unlucky enough to be around when George has a REALLY bad day, and in an all-too brief cameo, indie goddess Raine Brown, whose unfortunate fate practically introduces the picture.
If you fondly remember the old days of Times Square, when taking a stroll through could mean taking your life in your hands, and the theaters that showed the greatest of the genre movies of that period (when they weren't showing porno of every stripe imaginable), either your name is Quentin Tarantino, or you were actually there. In any case, you have the day to look forward to, when you can catch THE SUPER at a festival near you, or (fortune being kind) pop it into your DVD player when it becomes available. (Squishy theater seats and sticky floors not included.)
Films produced with micro-budgets and little to no time at all can produce pretty unpredictable results, usually on the very good or the very, VERY bad side. I am happy to report that director Marcus Koch's psychodrama FELL, well, "falls" into the former category rather than the latter, thanks to a strong cast led with a gut-wrenching performance by his lead actor, Jeff Dylan Graham.
Premiered here in the States at the second annual Blood Bath Film Festival in Dallas, Graham (who also snagged the Festival's Best Actor prize, and deservedly so) portrays a deeply troubled young man named Bill, who at the beginning of the film is grappling with the aftermath of a relationship gone very, VERY wrong. We have all been there, of course, but hopefully not to the level of agony and encroaching madness that 'Our Hero' is unfortunate enough to be experiencing. And to make matters worse, other than the steadfast presence of his best bud, Derrik (Kristian Day), Bill has to weather the storm of his depression, anger and stress dealing with his "problem" pretty much alone. And that's not even the half of it.
The influence of filmmakers like Darren Aronofsky and Roman Polanski is pretty apparent here (with nods especially to REPULSION and to some extent, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM). But Koch's sure hand at the helm and the strong support from both Day and Katie Walters as Bill's girlfriend help to make FELL a remarkable little indie effort in its own right.
But what makes it work is really Graham's performance as its centerpiece. Bill could have very easily just been one more sobby, whiny, sad-sack, emo slacker/loser who would eventually get on your last nerve. But Graham mines the role for every ounce of vulnerability and pathos he can wring from it, and thank GAWD for that...otherwise it would've been an hour-plus of sheer cinematic torture that no audience in their right mind would suffer sitting through.
Here's hoping that Koch and Graham will become the indie answer to 'Scorsese/DiCaprio' and team up for many more projects to come.
Do I Look Fat? (2005)
Documentary Takes A Closer Look At Gay "Taboo" Subjects
Not one single social group reveres and objectifies the Male Body Beautiful more than the GLBT community, and there are several documentaries that go into the subject to varying degrees. None, however, approach it with quite the tack that DO I LOOK FAT? takes, which is to look hard (if not nearly hard enough) at the Taboos That Dare Not Speak Their Names: body dysmorphia, anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders, and how these maladies affect and decimate the gay community-at-large, resulting in everything from depression, self-mutilation, alcoholism, domestic abuse, AIDS infection rates, you name it.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC this is not, which is probably why this doc hasn't received the attention or exposure it truly deserves. I had never heard a thing about myself, before I received an invitation from a friend to attend a screening and a discussion group afterward, which was very informative and enlightening...maybe even more so than the documentary itself.
Which leads me to probably the one complaint I have about it: that the way it roots itself into one location (San Francisco) dilutes the power of its message somewhat, since it opens the door to the possibility of alienating or leaving cold those viewers who are not familiar with or have no investment in the SF/Castro scene or its GLBT community.
Other than that, the interviews with subjects from different backgrounds, age groups and nationalities, combined with retro stock footage from the Fifties and beyond delivers a simple yet powerful message about a universal truth that faces anyone concerned about their weight and their dietary habits...whether you are a "gym god" or someone who has struggled with weight your entire life. It's never about what you're eating, but ALWAYS about "WHAT'S eating YOU."
A documentary I would highly recommend for its educational value, to GLBT people, and also to those who are GLBT-friendly. You'll be surprised at what you might learn from seeing this.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
Heavenly Hype, Earthbound Execution
Now that the considerable hullabaloo has died down around this flick, I figured this was the perfect time to finally see it. Like its predecessor, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, the bombastic campaign that was used to roll this movie out was a marvel of hyperbole that the late, great schlockmeister showman William Castle would've loved. He had the P.T. Barnum-method of selling movies almost down to a science, understanding instinctively that as long as you have a gimmick and great pitch-line to sell it with, what did it matter if the film was crap?
And the producers of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, along with writer/director Oren Peli have done absolutely NOTHING to prove him wrong. The film itself is neither as horrible as some people have made it out to be, nor is it "THE MOST TERRIFYING MOVIE EVER MADE." There are much better films made with even lower budgets that can rightfully lay claim to that title.
But in Peli's defense, even though the premise is nothing new, (think of this as a much more 'up-close-and-personal' version of an episode of the Discovery Channel series A HAUNTING), he does err on the side of subtlety and understatement in the movie's more effective moments, where any other director would've opted for a maelstrom of CG effects and a thunderous soundtrack to beat the audience into the desired response. The greatest problem lies in the moments in-between the supernatural incidents, when the characters' responses to the extraordinary circumstances can leave you scratching your head in wonderment and more than a little skepticism.
Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat - and that's pronounced "MEE-kah" and not "MYE-kah", BTW) are experiencing some strange occurrences in their house as the film begins. Micah, a baby of the "techno-generation" through and through, has bought an expensive camera along with all the latest trimmings to try and capture these incidents, and couldn't be happier about getting to play with his new toys. Katie, on the other hand, couldn't be less enthusiastic, or more put out about Micah's connecting more with his gadgets and less with her sense of growing unease and distress. See, this is not her first time at this particular rodeo. Seems that there's an eerie history of this whole "things-that-go-BUMP- in-the-night" problem in her family background, and though little things have happened that reflected this in their nearly three-year relationship, the incidents have never been as bad as they've gotten when we meet them. And of course, things are about to go from bad to a whole lot worse.
As I mentioned before, the problem is not with the sequences where "things" happen...doors move, bangs and creaks emerge from the walls at unexpected times, objects in the house get moved to places where they weren't before, amongst other things. The biggest obstacle is in the way the characters are written as a couple. Katie fares a lot better than Micah on the sympathy front - she doesn't understand how or why the phenomenon has followed her for so long, and just wants to find a way to stop it or at the very least, make it all go away. Micah, on the other hand, is just about completely oblivious to the glaring fact that he's facing forces that can't be taken care of by simply yelling them down or pointing a night-vision lens at them. As much as my dislike for his character grew by leaps and bounds, Micah Sloat the actor did a great job in capturing the self-centeredness and immaturity.
I won't go into the complete "WTF" moments that take the audience out of the spell of genuine terror the movie is attempting to weave, but you'll know them for sure when you see them. And by the time it reaches what is pretty much the expected denouement, you might be left feeling the sentiment expressed in the old Peggy Lee song: "Is That All There Is?"
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY gamely tries to apply classic tropes of otherworldly tales of spookery to our very post-modern, gadget-obsessed world, but for this viewer, it ultimately misses the mark. For egg-sized goosebumps, at least for my taste, you still can't beat classic films like the original version of THE HAUNTING or even THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE.
True Beauty (2009)
Vicarious, Vacuous, Vapid Vanity....
Sorry, I had to do it...I will probably never get the chance to give a lot of the words in the 'V' category this kind of a workout again...
They are apt descriptors for the reality-show twelve-car-pileup that is TRUE BEAUTY. A show that gives the rest of us "ugly Americanos" the chance to sit back and revel in the irony, that yes, all the beautiful people who gave you hell through grade school, high school, college and maybe even now where you work or live - they have flatter stomachs, bigger boobs, brawnier biceps, fabulous faces that cameras make love to, and will never stop reminding you of it every chance they get. But the majority of them also have so little brain power, it's a wonder how their parents ever let them out of the house. Amoebas look like Einstein's progeny next to these dim bulbs.
The show's biggest Achilles' heel is that the same thing can be said equally for the featured judges. This most recent season saw the addition of QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY'S Carson Kressley, "Mrs. Howard Stern" (I can't even remember her name, so that's what I call her), and of course, the faux-fabulousness of "head judge" Vanessa Minnillo.
I rather enjoyed the "let's-rewind-the-car-crash-scene-again" nastiness of the first season, wondering all the while if the concept would catch on, and how in the hell the producers of this frothy summertime slop would pull it off for a second season. I needn't have concerned myself...disguising the competition as the "Face of Vegas" contest was a no-brainer...as were quite a few of the contestants this time around. After all, TRUE BEAUTY features GOOD- LOOKING people, not SMART ones. Otherwise, there would be no show.
The only thing more endlessly amusing than watching these people "try to be fly" is observing the panel of judges who pronounce over them, and supposedly come up with the "challenges" that will reveal whether or not the players-in-question are equally possessed of the kind of inward attractiveness that matches their gorgeous outsides. In other words: A SOUL. Really? Is it feasible or even fair for already vacuous (there's that word again!) celebrity fame-whores to assess the humanity of those who are - at least to some degree - their peers? Isn't that kind of like chronic alcoholics being given the task to test other drunks for their sobriety?
But, back on track here. I wish I could quit reality shows altogether, or at least limit myself to a diet of the somewhat 'classier' varieties, like THE AMAZING RACE.
But watching telegenic atrocities like TRUE BEAUTY is just too much damned FUN! Kind of like eating a pound of M&M's in one sitting - except without the guilt, the bloated feeling and the hour spent on the treadmill working them off that follows.
The only question I have is this: Is the very existence of this show a way for executive producer Ashton Kutcher to pull the "Ultimate PUNK'D prank" on co-executive producer....TYRA BANKS? Yes, she's behind this mess, too!
The mind wonders...and wanders...
No One Here Gets Out Alive...
Texas Frightmare Weekend is the best place I could ever imagine to be able to screen some of the best work on display from the young, hard-charging up-and-comers in the the thriving field of independent horror. Last year, I was wowed in equal parts by Robert Hall's impressive hard-core gorefest, LAID TO REST, and the epic struggle of Good Vs. Evil (or Evil Vs. REALLY Evil) in Stacy Davidson's microbudget epic thriller, DOMAIN OF THE DAMNED, which looked, sounded and played better than 2/3rds of the bigger budget Hollywood-made pieces of crap that had the audacity to classify themselves as "horror films".
The mark of a great filmmaker is seeing how they raise the bar for themselves with the efforts that follow their previous work. Looking forward to the future offerings of both Hall and Davidson, I was pleased to see that Mr. D. was first out of the gate this year with his sophomore feature, SWEATSHOP. I am happy to report to fans of true, out-and-out, balls- to-the-wall mayhem, that the director of DOMAIN has delivered in spades, giving us everything we'd hoped for and nothing we expected.
The movie bucks the trend right out of the gate when it establishes its premise. As enjoyable as a great part of the series is, the Friday THE 13TH franchise does defy logic in more ways than one (how many groups of kids would have to be butchered at Camp Crystal Lake, before the authorities simply closed it and razed the place to the ground?), asking audiences to suspend their disbelief roughly the height of Mount Everest.
SWEATSHOP, though it hardly tries to reinvent the wheel in this respect, does NOT suffer from this problem. The scenario is still kept pretty simple: a rave promoter and her friends, all involved in that lifestyle, do what ravers do best: find an old abandoned warehouse, break in and set up a party in order to score some quick and easy cash and party down at the same time.
Their mistake? Not asking permission of the previous tenant. Who never left. Who isn't happy with their intrusion, and who walks not so softly, and carries the biggest freakin' stick you have ever seen in life. And actually, it's not a stick. It's a pipe...with an anvil attached to the end. No, that is not a typo, either.
When you witness what this character, known only as The Beast (Jeremy Sumrall) does with this brutally improvised implement, you will never think of the phrase "getting hammered" in quite the same way again. In the same F13 tradition that was well-established as that series progressed, there are few likable characters to root for here, and the ones that do have your empathy or sympathies? Don't get too attached to them.
Having said that, plenty of time is still taken to establish the dysfunctional dynamic between the friends, including Charlie, the organizer (Ashley Kay), DJ Enyx (Naika Malveaux), slovenly equipment handler Wade (Brent Himes, making Larry The Cable Guy look as cultured as Basil Rathbone by comparison) and his put-upon assistant, Kenny (Vincent Guerrero), amongst others. All of which makes little difference as it turns out, once The Beast begins to decimate the group in a fashion not seen since grindhouse ruled the drive-ins and the dilapidated urban movie palaces back in the Seventies.
Which brings us to the most impressive thing about SWEATSHOP: the technical aspects. Lighting, camera-work, sound design...everything is on point here, and it makes you wonder how in the hell Davidson and crew managed to pull it off, and make this look as good - or better than - a watered-down, PG-13 piece of dreck from a major studio. And that goes double for the FX work. Though the death sequences are far from pleasant, this is a whole different animal than the 'gore-ture porn' offered by series like SAW and HOSTEL. Kristi Boul, Marcus Koch and Mike Oliver are not beneath giving The Beast multiple and cruelly creative ways of dispatching his victims, but the monster seems to be as much about his business as he is about dealing out unimaginable suffering. He wants to teach these interlopers a lesson they'll never forget, and does so with a vengeance that YOU'LL never forget.
And then there's that ending. If you're the kind of horror fan who loves to rewind the prom scene in CARRIE and watch it several times, you cannot miss SWEATSHOP'S hell-bent-for-leather conclusion.
When it comes to a well-done indie horror entry served up straight, no chaser, Stacy Davidson and company have delivered, firing on all cylinders with this one. So strap in and prepare for a bloody, terrifying ride.
And don't forget to thank them for putting the "hard-R" back into "hoRRoR" again.
"Baby Jane" Without The Camp
L&O: SVU is pretty much consistent when it comes to solid writing and getting really good performances from its cast and the revolving roster of guest stars, but this episode really hits it out of the park. The promos made as much as possible out of the appearance of THE BLIND SIDE'S Quinton Aaron, and his character does indeed play an important role in the story. But R&B singer Jill Scott, whom I've never seen act until now, had me wanting to climb into my TV set and THROTTLE HER! I haven't seen PRECIOUS, but I think her performance in this is probably every bit as good as Mo'Nique's will be when I do. Here, Scott plays the bitter, angry and physically abusive sister of a former opera diva (the equally stunning Lisa Arrindell Anderson) stricken with a particularly cruel and aggressive form of MS, who besides being abused, has now also been raped.
If you don't wince with horror at certain scenes in this one, check your pulse for signs of life. Where WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? mined its take on a toxic sibling relationship for shock and camp value, "Disabled" takes the subject seriously, not pulling away from the indignities and the cruelty that disabled, chronically ill and handicapped people must face every day, more often than not at the hands of loved ones.
Not to take anything away from Quinton, who is perfectly fine as Scott's sympathetic son, but it's Scott herself and Anderson who truly deserve the kudos, receiving solid support from the cast regulars. Another outstanding episode.
Dreams with Sharp Teeth (2008)
The Man, The Myth, The Misanthrope...
If you are, or ever have been, an avid reader of fiction, especially the SF/Fantasy genre, you can probably recall at least one author whose work was so vivid, potent and visceral, it changed the way you looked at everything - not just reading, or writing, but your entire world view - for the rest of your life. I recall that very moment well: I wasn't even into my teens yet, when I picked up a copy of DEATHBIRD STORIES and read "The Whimper Of Whipped Dogs." Whatever sense of true naiveté I had gasped its last breath that day, when I read the last page of that story.
Not necessarily a bad thing, either. So when I heard about this documentary all these years later, I had to know if the man responsible for that story and that book, was every bit as cynical, angry, vitriolic, nihilistic and insanely brilliant as the reputation that preceded him. I can now verify: he is that and so, so much more.
Perhaps it's most telling that at the opening of DREAMS WITH SHARP TEETH, we are introduced to Harlan through the eyes, perception and quicksilver wit of one of the author's closest, long-time friends: Robin Williams. Harlan is at his calmest (if the word can be applied to him) and most amiable when he is in the company of like-minded, intelligent and especially famous people, many of whom chime in here to help tell his story: Neil Gaiman, Ron Moore, Dan Simmons and his own fifth wife, Susan among them (and she gets not nearly enough screen time, more's the pity.)
Through rare home movie footage, recited excerpts of his work, various rants, tirades, anecdotes and reveries, we get a sense of who the man is apart from the author, and it's certainly a complex, perplexing, funny and often times very sad picture. For long-time fans, it will be a validation of everything you've heard over these many years since he began writing pulp paperbacks under a pseudonym barely out of his teens.
If you're not a fan or haven't read a single thing by him, I would suggest you pick up an anthology like DANGEROUS VISIONS or even just a story or two if possible. That way, he'll look a lot less like just one more short, angry old man screaming "YOU KIDS GET THE F*** OFF MY LAWN!!!"