HOUSEBOUND

(XLRATOR MEDIA/SEMI-PROFESSIONAL PICTURES (111 minutes/Unrated); 2014)

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So, you know those cute, little (occasionally out-of-context) blips in movie advertising that say “Wicked fun!” or some such exclamated proclamation exhorting you to spend money on whatever movie they’re hyping? Well, that one is mine… “Wicked fun!” and, the publicity people handling the horror/comedy flick HOUSEBOUND are more than welcome to add it to the ever-growing list of expletives regarding said flick. But, just like all of those other quotes about all of those other movies, that’s just one phrase plucked from an entire review about the film… I don’t think that the guy from TIME or ROLLING STONE could get away with a review that said simply, “Heart-stopping thrills!” or “Madcap murder and mayhem!,” although I would definitely go see whatever film the latter was tagging. But, I digress (regress?). Likewise, my review would have to be something a bit more substantial than “Wicked fun!,” even if that capsule statement sums up the matter rather effectively.

HOUSEBOUND (Glen-Paul Waru and Morgana O'Reilly) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

HOUSEBOUND (Glen-Paul Waru and Morgana O’Reilly) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

After a string of bad decisions (the last one involving an attempt to purloin an ATM or, at the very least, the funds located within), Kylie Bucknell (sardonically portrayed by Morgana O’Reilly) is placed under house arrest. Here’s the catch: The house the judge remands her to for the next eight months is a musty old place occupied by her ditzy mother, Miriam, and befuddled step-father, Graeme… a place she hasn’t visited for a few years because, well, that’s where her ditzy mother, Miriam, can be found. Miriam (the gloriously over-the-top Rima Te Wiata) flits about the house and around Kylie like a hyperactive squirrel on speed (just let that imagery soak in for a bit), glad to have her errant child back home and continually fretting over her well-being; Graeme (a delightfully somnabulistic Ross Harper) just stands back, hoping that he is well out of the line of fire. Glen-Paul Waru appears as the bumbling tech specialist Amos, who is responsible for activating Kylie’s ankle monitor and running her to ground when the alarm goes off. Regarding said monitor, Miriam notes, “It’s such high tech, isn’t it? Aren’t you lucky, Kylie, having all that fancy technology on your foot?” You can understand why Kylie would rather have spent the eight months in a prison cell.

HOUSEBOUND (Morgana O'Reilly, Rima Te Wiata and Ross Harper) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

HOUSEBOUND (Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata and Ross Harper) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

Strange happenings are afoot in the house, as various electronic devices go haywire and electrical wiring and outlets are causing major disruptions to the trio’s way of life. Miriam, in typical fashion, is convinced that the house is haunted; Kylie, in typical fashion, is convinced her mother is insane. When a power outage sends Kylie to the basement to check for a blown fuse, a noise has her believing that someone has broken into the house; when she is grabbed by a skeletal hand, she is definitely starting to come around to her mother’s way of thinking. As it turns out, the incident damages the monitor, eliciting a visit from Amos, who is definitely down with the thought that a spirit or other-worldly entity may be causing the electrical problems at Casa Bucknell. Things get weirder as Kylie begins to dig into the history of the familial abode, discovering that, at one time, it was a “halfway house” for wayward teens (rather like a younger version of Kylie herself) and the scene of a brutal murder. As she becomes more immersed in the mystery, her court ordered therapist (Cameron Rhodes) shows up for their first session. Kylie, uncharacteristically, starts to open up to Dennis, the analyst and, naturally, the recurrence of unexplained activity heightens. From this point forward, the scares and the laughs come fast and furious, leading to a completely implausible ending that is as satisfying as any haunted house movie in recent memory.

HOUSEBOUND (Rima Te Wiata and Morgana O'Reilly) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

HOUSEBOUND (Rima Te Wiata and Morgana O’Reilly) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

First time director (and scriptwriter) Gerard Johnstone has taken a pretty stale premise and given it a new car shine, with witty dialogue, an ingenious twist and brilliantly gloomy lighting. The chills are quite convincing; the relationship between Kylie and Miriam is, alternately, hilarious and very touching; the underlying mystery is as much fun to unravel as an episode of CASTLE or BONES. Of course, all of these, along with a great cast, make HOUSEBOUND wicked fun. (I bet you thought I’d forgotten that one, huh?)


THE DEVIL INCARNATE

(DVD and Digital; IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/RAVEN BANNER FILMS (76 minutes/Unrated); 2014)

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Do you guys remember a time when all of the bad things, scary things, dead things and evil things – pretty much all types of bad mojo – in movies were never really seen, just kind of implied? Those types of flicks tended to be scarier than the “leave nothing to the imagination” school of film-making that has controlled the movie screens since THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in 1974. While THE DEVIL INCARNATE does have a couple of fairly graphic scenes, it is still, basically, a throwback to those horror and thriller movies that forced you to use your imagination. The individual’s imagination can be far more nightmare-inducing than watching that nightmare played out right in front of your eyes; that’s what makes those old treasures and, by extension, THE DEVIL INCARNATE, so much fun to watch.

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Graci Carli) (publicity still)

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Graci Carli) (publicity still)

First time director L Gustavo Cooper (a military brat turned pro skateboarder turned producer of films about pro skateboarding) has given us a tense, violently psychotic mash-up of ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST, with liberal doses of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT thrown in for good measure. The story focuses on newlyweds Trevor and Holly (Rod Luzzi and Graci Carli), on their honeymoon in Florida and videotaping the experience as a keepsake. Most of the movie is of the “found footage” variety, taking the videographer’s perspective, which makes the remainder of the scenes that much more effective. Tiring of to many hours on the road, Holly convinces Trevor to take a detour for a little sight-seeing adventure. They end up in a shabby, out-of-the-way little town where they are frightened by an apparent street junkie (Walter J Colson) who begins to babble about monsters and all types of misfortune ahead for the couple; he scares Holly, evoking the name of a local mystic – a fortune teller with immense dark powers. When Holly asks how to find the woman, the man says to “just follow the spirit.” Trevor laughs off the experience, certain that the guy was sending them to someone who paid him to deliver customers to her door.

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Barbara Van Fleet) (publicity still)

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Barbara Van Fleet) (publicity still)

Undeterred, Holly is more determined than ever to visit the fortune teller (Barbara Van Fleet). After wandering about, not knowing their destination, their car dies… right in front of – you guessed it – the mystic’s house. The woman is bat-crap crazy and begins to scream and shriek in an unknown tongue, sending Holly fleeing out of the house. Trevor follows, holding an innocuous looking amulet he was examining as his bride ran out of the back room. The wild woman (witch, spiritualist, voodoo priestess… whatever) chases them outside with a dire warning about what has taken up residency in Holly’s womb. Following a harrowing health scare, Holly’s pregnancy is confirmed. The newlyweds arrive at their final destination: Trevor’s family home. With Trevor a few months away from fatherhood and his sister, Marissa (played to the hilt, with a wink and a grin by Emily Rogers), a few months away from college, the Davidsons have made the homestead a wedding present to the couple. Marissa, a snarky teenager with a penchant for the melodramatic and dark clothing (and, yes, I realize that I just described ninety-nine percent of America’s teenage population), becomes the linchpin of the narrative as she is given the responsibility of video-taping the planned baby shower and the events leading up to it. She discovers the forgotten amulet in a box of items destined for the attic for storage and, thinking it looks cool (and unwanted), she keeps it. Many of Marissa’s suspicions, fears and fantasies are brought to light through video chats with her friend (an even snarkier teen played by Bailee Bennett). She reluctantly confesses her attraction to her brother’s wife; she has secretly been videoing her dressing, bathing, having sex with Trevor.

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (publicity still)

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (publicity still)

As the pregnancy progresses, Holly‘s physical health and mental stability begin to decline. She begins keeping to herself, missing meals and avoiding Trevor’s family. Marissa begins to notice the erratic behavior, which escalates at the baby shower: Holly is captured on camera grabbing her father-in-law’s crotch, then attacks her estranged aunt with a porcelain doll the woman brought as a gift. The next day, though they weren’t completely finished packing up their belongings, Trevor’s parents make a hasty exit, leaving Marissa behind to help out. Speaking with her friend, Marissa tells of the odd behavior; as the friend begins question her about Holly’s past, she realizes that she really doesn’t know anything about her. Once more playing the voyeuristic videographer, filming Holly soaking in the tub, Marissa is discovered. Rather than being upset, Holly seduces her but suddenly begins to intone the same weird phrases as the old mystic. The following day, Holly drives Marissa to check out a college. She begins asking her about her family, her maiden name and where she grew up, but when she shows Holly that she has repaired the broken porcelain doll, Holly begins acting strange – trance-like – and tries to push Marissa out of the car while moving at over a hundred miles an hour.

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Emily Rogers and Rod Luzzi) (publicity still)

THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Emily Rogers and Rod Luzzi) (publicity still)

With the new-found information, Marissa’s video chat friend delves a bit deeper into Holly’s past, discovering that she had been abused and raped in a foster home; she also finds a cryptic reference to the amulet. Things happen rather quickly from that point and telling you more wouldn’t be prudent. Suffice to say that the open-ended finish leaves a lot to the imagination… some would say, it leaves a lot of questions unanswered but, for me, that’s the beauty and the horror of the film. While it is unrated, I would be reticent to allow anyone under the age of sixteen or so to watch THE DEVIL INCARNATE. It is, however, a great way to spend an hour and fifteen minutes on a dark and stormy night… if you’ve got the stomach for such fare.


WEREWOLF RISING

(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/RUTHLESS PICTURES (79 minutes; Unrated); 2014)

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As werewolf movies go, WEREWOLF RISING is certainly… something. I’m not really sure what it is. It’s not horrible, it’s not totally unwatchable, it’s just… I don’t know… rather low on the werewolf quotient (almost to the point of being werewolf free) and kinda schizophrenic, as to the type of movie it’s meant to be. It would appear that one of two things are happening here: Writer/director BC Furtney accidentally mixed the scripts to three different movies together or, a lot of the holes in plot and story occurred because the script was pared down due to budget constraints (but, then, I’m just not sure if this kind of flick has an audience that would sit through the extra hour or so it woulda taken to untangle this beast. That seems highly unlikely). So, since it is what it is and that’s all we’ve got, let’s look at the good and the bad of this film, shall we?

WEREWOLF RISING (Danielle Lozeau) (publicity still)

WEREWOLF RISING (Danielle Lozeau) (publicity still)

The opening sequence is probably the best five minutes of the entire movie, though it is not glitch free. An evil looking guy (Bill Oberst, Junior as Rhett) is threatening bad things to a young woman. He has just escaped from prison, kidnapped her and forced her to drive him to the middle of nowhere (actually, the middle of the Arkansas hills), where he intends to rape and kill her. Evil looking Rhett is interrupted by a noise in the underbrush, goes to check it out and is attacked by a giant beast (a beast that looks like some type of hybrid wolf/bat thing). The shredded and bloodied Rhett comes to just in time to see his intended victim’s throat torn out by the creature. It plays well and sets a tone for the rest of the film that is never achieved again. There are some cool moments when we’re actually watching through the werewolf’s eyes, a kind of red ultraviolet lens thing. That’s particularly effective as the animal turns its attention to the girl (unfortunately, the effect isn’t used consistently in the rest of the flick). Speaking of the girl, she does have a name: Christina (played by Danielle Lozeau); we know this because at one point, she whimpers her name as though Rhett has asked her to tell him. Problem is, as convincing as her terrorized reply is, he didn’t ask. Considering some of the other problems that we’ll get into, that’s a small one, but one that bugs the crap outta me.

WEREWOLF RISING (Bill Oberst, Junior) (publicity still)

WEREWOLF RISING (Bill Oberst, Junior) (publicity still)

After that grand opening, a tool used, I assume, for the express purpose of introducing the two main villains of the piece, werewolf prime (more about that one later) and Rhett. The movie proper begins with the heroine of the story, Emma (the exceptionally not-too-awful Melissa Carnell), delivering a soliloquy in the form of a phone conversation (we only hear her end of what is obviously a double-ended communication) intended to act as exposition, as she explains where she is (the place she grew up) and why she’s there (to get away from the “city life” which, as it’s wont to do, has driven her to drink; she has driven to the place of her birth to… not drink) and who she plans to meet there (her father’s old drinking buddy, Wayne). Carnell fluctuates between a very believable delivery to one fraught with melodrama to a kinda somnambulist drone. Guess which one works best. As Emma wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city (Boston, in this case), she has definitely come to the right place. Her little home in the hills is (in the vernacular) “a fer piece” from any type of civilization and, as a bonus, surrounded by hundreds of acres of woods. What could possibly go wrong, right? Weeeeelllll…

WEREWOLF RISING (Melissa Carnell) (publicity still)

WEREWOLF RISING (Melissa Carnell) (publicity still)

It seems that when Rhett escaped from prison he took his cellmate, Johnny Lee (Matt Copko), with him. Johnny Lee, apparently a two time loser (once for the ridiculous name and twice for a wooden – oh, heck, let’s be honest… a leaden personality), shows up at Emma’s back door and, inconceivably, wheedles his way into her heart even though she protests from her porch, from across a pond, from the back of a four-wheeler… you get the idea. It’s mere coincidence that he is related to Wayne (Brian Berry in a bone-chillingly awful performance). Once Wayne hears that his nephew is in the neighborhood, he arms Emma with a gun big enough to dislocate both of her shoulders with the kickback.

WEREWOLF RISING (Melissa Carnell and Matt Copko) (publicity still)

WEREWOLF RISING (Melissa Carnell and Matt Copko) (publicity still)

Johnny Lee has taken up residence in an abandoned church, where he takes Emma on his… her… someone’s… four-wheeler, and where plans are made to meet later, after Emma hosts Uncle Wayne for a late dinner. Two things happen in the interim: Wayne, who hasn’t given up the drink, attempts to stick his tongue down Emma’s throat (dessert?) and Johnny Lee is sliced and diced by the beast. After Emma tosses Wayne out, she heads for the rendezvous with Johnny Lee, only to find him tattered and moaning on the floor. He refuses to go to the hospital (escaped felon, remember?). So, what’s a girl to do? Why, take him home to nurse him back to health, of course. By the next night, Wayne is doing his drunken troll drive-by and Johnny Lee is craving raw meat and the great outdoors. Johnny Lee takes off for the woods out back just as Wayne and Rhett show up out front. Emma, now at the front door and armed, recognizes Rhett as the evil guy that’s been chasing her through her dreams of late. After disarming Emma, Wayne turns the weapon on Rhett. Shots are fired, blood splatters, Wayne gets his comeuppance and Emma crawls to the safety of… a bottle of vodka she finds in the closet she’s using as a hiding place.

WEREWOLF RISING (Melissa Carnell) (publicity still)

WEREWOLF RISING (Melissa Carnell) (publicity still)

If that doesn’t seem weird enough, things start getting truly bizarre. As Emma hightails it through the woods, she runs into a lone woman who likes wolves… a lot! Well, not really wolves… wolf, singular. And, she does not want to share. You’ve gotta pay close attention here, as everything starts to make sense (or, at least as much sense as this flick ever will). The woman, Beatrix (Irena Murphy, who eventually shows just how talented she is by going full-frontal), knows Rhett and Emma’s father. The campfire party is for one (or both) of them and, as usually happens in such cases, bad things are afoot. That’s all I’m sayin’; I ain’t sayin’ no more. Except this: If it’s true that the camera adds ten pounds, then I’m guessing that Carnell and Copko must go about fifteen pounds… between them. I’m sure that I’ve seen skeletal remains that weigh more than these two. So, anyway, aside from the convoluted backstories, grade D acting skills by at least three of the five principals and a cheesy looking monster, at the end of the day, WEREWOLF RISING is more watchable than a lot of like-minded horror fare. It’s kind of an okay way to kill an hour and twenty minutes.


FOUND.

(XLRATOR MEDIA/FORBIDDEN FILMS (103 minutes/Unrated); produced 2012, released 2014)

FOUND

My brother keeps a human head in his closet.” When a movie begins with a line like that, you just know that you’re in for a laugh riot… or, one of the most deeply disturbing stories you’re ever likely to see. FOUND. is based on a novella by Todd Rigney, the coming of age, innocence lost story of seventh grader Marty, who discovers that his older brother is a serial killer. As Marty narrates, we learn that, maybe, the creepiest aspect of the whole thing is that brother Steve is the only person in Marty’s life who really cares about him and looks out for him. Well… there is one other thing that kinda came out of the blue and hit me like a hammer, not “creepy” in the strictest sense of the word, but unsettling, nonetheless. More about that later, though.

FOUND. (photo courtesy of: XLRATOR MEDIA)

FOUND. (photo courtesy of: XLRATOR MEDIA)

Marty (portrayed by Gavin Brown) is pretty much your standard issue twelve year old, into comic books and horror movies. He’s quiet and unassertive, not yet into girls. All of these things are like beacons to the school bully, a bigger kid who has problems with authority (and pretty much everybody that doesn’t bow down or cower in fear when he confronts them) and may have been held back a year or two due to his disciplinary problems. The first time we get a look at Marcus (belligerently played by Eddie Jackson), he flips off the teacher and is shocked – shocked, I tell you! – that she has the audacity to punish him. The scenario sets up a confrontation between Marty and Marcus and, later, Marty and his best friend, David (Alex Kogin). Both scenes add to Marty’s misery, alienating him even more. The episode with David quickly devolves as he aggressively starts to verbally abuse Marty during a sleepover. Marty finds himself questioning his life and wondering if he could do what Steve does, wondering if all of the abuse will make him a killer, too. Once Steve (Ethan Philbeck) discovers that his brother knows what he does late at night, even that relationship begins to fray.

FOUND. (Gavin Brown) (photo courtesy of: XLRATOR MEDIA)

FOUND. (Gavin Brown) (photo courtesy of: XLRATOR MEDIA)

There is a scene between the brothers that is emotional and heart-warming and, oddly enough, the scene that introduces a reason for Steve’s actions. Marty asks him, “Why?” and it’s then that we learn the murders are racially motivated. It’s not exactly out of the blue, because the kids’ father uses a racial epithet early on in the story but, still, it just seems a little… gratuitous. After that bombshell, Steve makes it known that if Marty tells their father or anyone else, he would take care of them. “What about me?” asks Marty. “I would never hurt you, Marty.” As the story progresses, we are also privy to the brothers’ home life, why Steve does what he does and why Marty is the sensitive, quiet one. From that point forward, FOUND. spirals toward one of the most brutally disturbing endings ever put on film.

FOUND. (Gavin Brown) (photo courtesy of: XLRATOR MEDIA)

FOUND. (Gavin Brown) (photo courtesy of: XLRATOR MEDIA)

Marty’s love of horror movies is exploited in the sleepover scene with David, as the two borrow a couple of… shall we call them “art house” movies? One is called HEADLESS, apparently the impetus – surprise, surprise – for Steve’s murderous proclivities; the other, DEEP DWELLERS, comes off as a schlocky monster movie with (intentionally) bad acting. Neither is particularly well-done, but then that’s the whole point; these “movies-within-the-movie” are there, more than anything, to move the plot along. As unbelievably gory (and borderline unwatchable) as HEADLESS is, it’s almost like a bad car wreck: You just can’t look away. There are full versions of both of these “movies” as part of the special features.

FOUND. (Ethan Philbeck) (photo courtesy of: XLRATOR MEDIA)

FOUND. (Ethan Philbeck) (photo courtesy of: XLRATOR MEDIA)

This movie (and the HEADLESS short, in particular) is not for the weak-at-heart or the easily offended and, it definitely isn’t intended for anyone under the age of, say, seventeen (yeah, kids, it really is that graphic!). However, anyone older than that who enjoy their horror flicks more on the psychological tip (and you aren’t one of those delicate types that are easily upset with sexually graphic gore), FOUND. is, ultimately, one of the best genre entries you’re likely to see this year. But… be warned: “Stuff like this can really warp a person.”


AFTERMATH

(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/EASTLAKE FILMS/LIGHTWAVE ENTERTAINMENT (92 minutes/Unrated); produced 2012, released 2014)

AFTERMATH

While not perfect, AFTERMATH is still a brilliant examination of the human condition, a world teetering on the brink of elimination. This is more than just another apocalyptic zombie movie, it’s a character study of nine disparate souls, brought together after a well-orchestrated terrorist attack levels every major city, military installation and government facility in the United States; the attacks also target the USA’s allies and, of course, there are retaliatory strikes, leaving the entire planet a cesspool of nuclear destruction and fallout. As with any good tale of the apocalypse, things start as they should… at the end. Things very quickly move to “One month earlier,” where we meet a doctor named Hunter (played by CJ Thomason, we never really know if it’s his first or last name), on a walking tour somewhere in Texas. The first blast hits just as he meets a vehicle with a young woman (Christine Kelly) and her young charge (brother, student, baby-sittee?).

AFTERMATH (Edward Furlong; CJ Thomason; Ross Britz) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

AFTERMATH (Edward Furlong; CJ Thomason; Ross Britz) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

There’s plenty of science to go along with the (very realistic) fiction, as the car dies because all of the electronic components are fried and, as the second blast occurs, the boy turns toward it and basically burns out his retinas. Hunter quickly rallies the troops as the search begins for, first, a vehicle with a diesel engine, then, supplies and a place to wait out the radiation and nuclear fallout; the doctor says that the refugees have approximately ten hours before the radiation settles. Along the way, they pick up another traveler (Monica Keena) and, four hours in, are greeted by a frightened youth with a very big gun. Hunter is shot before he can convey the urgency of the situation.

AFTERMATH (Monica Keena and Andre Royo) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

AFTERMATH (Monica Keena and Andre Royo) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

Just at the ten hour mark, the quartet comes upon a house, knowing that this must be the place they wait out the devastation. Again, Hunter is met with resistance, another gun in his face. The outcome involvesfar less blood, as the doc disarms the would-be killer. We soon find that Brad (Edward Furlong in a brilliantly unhinged role) and his pregnant wife (Jessie Rusu) are at the house of their neighbor, Jonathan (Ross Britz) and his diabetic uncle, for the same reason that Hunter and the others stopped: It’s the only house for miles around with a cellar. More science as Hunter tells the others what they need in the cellar and what they can expect to happen before they can leave the shelter of their new home, a period of at least 30 days.

AFTERMATH (Christine Kelly) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

AFTERMATH (Christine Kelly) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

As the characters wait for the fallout to dissipate, a very real sense of claustrophobia sets in (for the characters and audience, alike) and we – to paraphrase THE REAL WORLD – find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. By this time, the film has taken on a cinema verite aspect, a la THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, to great effect. The final member of the “family,” a friend of Jonathan named Rob (Andre Royo) makes his way to the house to check on his comic-reading and role-playingbuddy, only to be shot in the wrist. The pair share a few moments that are quite poignant, including Rob volunteering to go outside to bury the uncle and, later, the two discussing which Green Lantern is the best, ending the discussion with the Lantern’s oath. Jonathan and Rob aren’t the only ones with those emotional, human moments, though. Everyone is devastated by the death of the uncle, the first of their group to go; Brad, in particular, is riding a roller coaster of emotions, worrying about his wife and unborn child.

AFTERMATH: infected (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

AFTERMATH: infected (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

Having never been in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, I can’t say for sure, but the emotions and circumstances seem impressively real… which, of course, was the intent of writer Christian McDonald and director Peter Engert. AFTERMATH (which was originally titled REMNANTS) may not be a primer to prepare you for a nuclear holocaust, but it does make you think about how close we are on any given day to this kind of annihilation. Obviously, not everyone in the cellar survives and, the final BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID fight-to-freedom scenario against what appears to be an infectedfamily of homicidal lunatics (or, maybe, they’re a motorcycle gang who are only interested in how much damage they can inflict on others) really tells the story of man’s desire for survival against any odds. There aren’t a lot of zombies here (in fact, Hunter refers to them as being “infected” by the radiation and fallout), just nuclear-charged emotions. And, for me, that’s more than enough to recommend this flick.


VARSITY BLOOD

(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/DAVED PRODUCTIONS/FLASHBACK FILMS (86 minutes/Unrated); 2014)

VARSITY BLOOD

What a strange little film this one is! VARSITY BLOOD is part slasher flick, part PORKY’S style teenage hijinks (with far fewer yucks) and ALL genre farce. While there’s stuff to like about this movie, it has definite problems, chief among them the cardboard acting performances from the majority of the cast (most of the kids and all of the adults). We’ll hit on the other major problem with this one a little later in the review but, first, let’s set the scene for VARSITY BLOOD, shall we?

VARSITY BLOOD (Kiarra Hogan, Natalie Peyton, Elle LaMont, Elyse Bigler and Lexi Giovagnol) (publicity still)

VARSITY BLOOD (Kiarra Hogan, Natalie Peyton, Elle LaMont, Elyse Bigler and Lexi Giovagnol) (publicity still)

The movie starts – as all good slasher movies should – with a bunch of jocks terrorizing the school mascot and a gaggle of cheerleader being mean to each other and even nastier to those they deem beneath them, which is most of the student body and all of the faculty. These kids are “Warriors,” so the mascot is in Native American dress and carries a tomahawk, a bow and arrows; the big paper mache head the kid has to wear (part Indian war paint, part demented gorilla clown) is enough to give you nightmares, if the snotty cheer squad hasn’t already. Of course, it’s Halloween… it’s always Halloween, right? The bad stuff that leads to THIS bad stuff happened the previous Halloween; apparently, the Warriors only play football on Halloween night, regardless of what day of the week it happens to fall on. There was, of course, underage drinking; tomfoolery was definitely afoot. As the testosterone and alcohol fueled players tossed the football around – in a ritualistic and time-honored chest-thumping pageantry performed to get the female of the species to “ooh” and “aah” and giggle into their hand – the cheerleaders, in like-minded plumage-preening pageantry, were attempting a dangerous pyramid stunt. As is often the case (particularly in the scripted reality of movies and television), a football toss goes awry and a pyramid crumbles, leaving the principal‘s daughter (who quite conveniently, as head cheerleader, was atop the pyramid) in an irrevocable state of… death. She was dead; kaput; bereft of life, she would stunt no more. The kid who threw the errant pigskin suffers serious mental deficiencies (in a blank-eyed, non-verbal kind of way) and is placed in a facility for serious mental deficiency sufferers.

VARSITY BLOOD (Blair Jackson, Lexi Giovagnoli, Melody Herron and Peyton Wood) (publicity still)

VARSITY BLOOD (Blair Jackson, Lexi Giovagnoli, Melody Herron and Peyton Wood) (publicity still)

Fast forward to this Halloween and a pep rally for the big game. The principal scowls at the players and the cheerleaders and, as he recounts the awesomeness of his defunct offspring, the mascot draws an arrow, nocks it and let’s fly. The intended target? The principal? One of his bubba-like tormentors? The head cheerleader? Of course not! That would be too easy, wouldn’t it? He shoots high above the gym floor, hitting a large cache of orange and black (school colors, don’t you know) confetti. Post-game plans are made to sneak off to a – wait for it! – an abandoned farmhouse deep in the woods, for a little drinking and even more poking and prodding of the opposite sex. The new/chaste girl, Hannah (Lexi Giovagnoli, one of a couple of fairly decent actors, in – unfortunatelya fairly interchangeable role), is forbidden to go but, then, we all knew that she would, right? The token (sorry, but there’s no better term for the character) black cheerleader (and daughter of the unimaginably clueless sheriff) bemoans the fact that she will be the only one without a hookup because the town falls pitifully short on its “brothers” quotient. Other goofy moments that add to the farcical homage to ’80s slasher flicks: The word “chaps” is used by one of the kids to describe the other males in the group; three members of the party are snorting cocaine (is that even a thing anymore?); when the first party-goer is murdered not fifteen feet from the others, do the geniuses take the four steps to their vehicles to get the heck out of there? Of course not! They run into the abandoned house, light a bunch of candles and kerosene lamps and cover all the windows… because nothing says, “Ain’t no one here!,” better than sheets on a window. In a spectacular demonstration of calm-under-pressure, they do somehow manage to secure all of the beer and coke… but, you know, just to take the edge off. By the way, this is probably as good a time as any to confirm the suspicions of such comedians as Chris Rock and the great, sorely missed Patrice O’Neal: That first dead camper was – Duh! Duh! Duh! – the token black cheerleader. And I was really rooting for her, too! Talk about a twist ending, huh? The only black kid in a hundred miles is the one to outsmart the murderer and survives the decapitations, bisections by truck, pitchforkings and toilet drownings to appear in the inevitable sequel. Ohhhh… wait! Yeah, it’s probably best that she died, ’cause if she HAD survived, she woulda moved to someplace safe. Like Detroit. Then, who would the sequel focus on?

VARSITY BLOOD (Wesley Scott, Elyse Bigler, Kiarra Hogan, Lexi Giovagnoli, Blair Jackson, Melody Herron and Peyton Wood) (publicity still)

VARSITY BLOOD (Wesley Scott, Elyse Bigler, Kiarra Hogan, Lexi Giovagnoli, Blair Jackson, Melody Herron and Peyton Wood) (publicity still)

So, anyway, even though there are no Muffys, Buffys or Biffs in VARSITY BLOOD, there is a Blaine and a Bubba, the latter of which is comatose for much of the movie, then he gets hit on the head and loses consciousness. Thankfully, he comes to just in time to save the… Oops! Sorry, Bubba. You really shouldn’t be sneaking up on chaste cheerleaders who are armed with big butcher knives, trying not to be victim number… whatever of a killer in a mascot costume. Man, this slasher has it good! His victims are picking themselves off!

VARSITY BLOOD (Natalie Peyton) (publicity still)

VARSITY BLOOD (Natalie Peyton) (publicity still)

The sheriff finally gets a clue – actually two clues: First, the kid from last Halloween has escaped from the institution where he has been housed since the principal’s daughter was killed and, second, an old lady called in a complaint about young’uns harassing her (one of the girls escapes and tries to get help, knocking on the lady’s door). The sheriff pulls up to the abandoned house, hears the kids yelling for help because there’s a crazy killer picking them off one at a time and replies, in true adult-in-a-slasher-movie fashion, something that amounts to, “Yeah… okay… I don’t have time to worry about that now… where’s my little girl?” At which point, the killer speaks: “Right here, sheriff. Under my feet!” A great line that would have sounded way more menacing if the actor delivering it was even half way good. Or, as has been speculated elsewhere, maybe these performances are purposely lousy, adding to the ’80s cheese-factor. I’ll leave that one up to you to decide after watching VARSITY BLOOD yourself. So, let’s recap, shall we? There are, by my count, at least seven possible choices for slasher du jour, including the principal’s daughter (I never count out the dead people in one of these things… Jason Voorhees, anyone?). Pretty much everyone you’d expect to die (and a few others, just for good measure), does. And, finally, after the reveal of the slasher’s identity (a real bait and switch, but one I’d actually thought of and dismissed as too much of a stretch), there are still some bodies – alive or otherwise – unaccounted for, virtually guaranteeing a sequel.

VARSITY BLOOD (publicity still)

VARSITY BLOOD (publicity still)

As far as slasher movies go, VARSITY BLOOD is definitely one. How good of one, again, I’ll leave up to you. I mentioned earlier that I had one more major complaint about this flick. Here it is: When the sun goes down and the lights are off (or, in most cases, nonexistent) this is one dark movie! Now, I’m not talking about gloomy, spooky, Gothicy dark; I’m talking full-on can’t see your hands in front of your face dark. I thought it may have been the settings on my TV, so I turned the brightness all the way up and, though it helped a bit, most of the killings and pretty much everything that happens in and around the old farmhouse are fairly well blacked out. It looks like writer/director Jake Helgren was intent on using only “natural” lighting, ie: The moon, the candles, the campfire. Maybe you’ll have better luck with the brightness control than I did… if you’ve got the guts to watch this one all the way through. You can take that last statement any way you like; I am not here to judge you (only the movies you watch).


COMIC BOOK FIRSTS: VAMPIRELLA

(Edited by Bill Parente; Don Glut, Forrest J Ackerman, Tom Sutton, Frank Frazetta, Billy Graham, and others; WARREN PUBLISHING; September, 1969)

Vampirella 1 cover

In 1969, the world was in flux; it seemed that every day saw some type of major change. Comic books, reflecting those changes, were trying new things just to keep pace. Warren Publishing, the home of horror anthology black and white magazine sized comics CREEPY and EERIE, decided that the sexual revolution was the perfect time and backdrop to introduce a sexy new character, an inhabitant of a planet called Draculon, where blood flows like water… in short, a planet of vampires. I was just short of my eleventh birthday when VAMPIRELLA #1 hit the magazine racks. I was big into comic books and horror stuff and… well… I mean… look at that cover! Of course, I was gonna buy the thing! But, was the rest of the world really ready for a sci-fi vampiric BARBARELLA knock-off? Again, I say, “Look at that cover!” The original series ran for 112 issues, so… yeah, I think that the world was ready for VAMPIRELLA. So, aside from the amazing Frank Frazetta painting on the cover (have I mentioned that cover?), was this thing worth my hard-earned (well, hard-begged for, actually) four bits? Uh… yeah!

VAMPIRELLA #1 ("Vampirella of Draculon" written by FORREST J ACKERMAN, art by TOM SUTTON)

VAMPIRELLA #1 (“Vampirella of Draculon” written by FORREST J ACKERMAN, art by TOM SUTTON)

From front to back, you’ve got some fun horror/thriller/sci-fi type stories, in the same anthology fashion as CREEPY and EERIE – the title character only appears in one actual story and as hostess for the rest of the book. Editor Bill Parente joins Frank Frazetta (who contributes a pen and ink Vampirella… “Vampi” to her friends… that’s every bit as cool as his cover painting) with a welcome from our hostess: “Hi, there! Welcome to the coolest girl-meets-ghoul mag on the market!” Vampi creator (with Trina Robbins) Forrest J Ackerman writes the first tale, “Vampirella of Draculon,” which ostensibly works as an origin for the girl from Draculon. The story is rather short, as such things go – a mere seven pages. The art is provided by Tom Sutton, who’s work is… an acquired taste, to say the least. Actually, to be fair, Sutton became a favorite in the early ’70s with his work on GHOST RIDER, DOCTOR STRANGE, Morbius, the Living Vampire in VAMPIRE TALES and more at Marvel. There’s a whole lot of story and exposition in these seven pages, trying to jam (maybe) too much set-up for Vampi’s arrival on Earth in the next issue.

VAMPIRELLA #1 ("Death Boat" written by DON GLUT, art by BILLY GRAHAM)

VAMPIRELLA #1 (“Death Boat” written by DON GLUT, art by BILLY GRAHAM)

Death Boat” is the first of five (!) stories scripted by Don Glut. It’s a vampire story with a twist, illustrated by the wildly talented Billy Graham (who had a hand in creating LUKE CAGE, HERO FOR HIRE for Marvel Comics). The “shock” ending is a little contrived, but I did mention that Billy Graham drew the thing, right? The next two tales (also by Glut and also featuring twist endings) feature two more of my all-time favorite comics artists: Reed Crandall and Neal Adams.

VAMPIRELLA #1 ("Two Silver Bullets" written by DON GLUT, art by REED CRANDALL)

VAMPIRELLA #1 (“Two Silver Bullets” written by DON GLUT, art by REED CRANDALL)

Two Silver Bullets” is a different take on the “loupe garou” legend. The premise is set in the first panel of the story, as a Canadian trapper’s daughter is attacked by a wolf… a werewolf. Crandall’s artwork has a great woodcut style that was tailor-made for the black and white medium of Warren’s magazines. Throughout his Warren career, some of his best works were those based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. By the time VAMPIRELLA #1 hit the stands, Reed had been drawing comics for almost 30 years. That experience definitely shows through the pages of “Two Silver Bullets.”

VAMPIRELLA #1 ("Goddess From the Sea" written by DON GLUT, art by NEAL ADAMS)

VAMPIRELLA #1 (“Goddess From the Sea” written by DON GLUT, art by NEAL ADAMS)

The breadth and power of Neal Adams’ art is certainly on display with “Goddess From the Sea,” more so as the pencil-work is unadorned by the usual India ink “finishes” that comic book readers are accustomed to seeing. The morals to this odd little mermaid story are simple: “Beauty’s only skin deep.” and “You should watch what you wish for… you may just get it!”

VAMPIRELLA #1 ("Last Act: October" written by DON GLUT, art by MIKE ROYER)

VAMPIRELLA #1 (“Last Act: October” written by DON GLUT, art by MIKE ROYER)

Before he became THE inker for Jack Kirby at DC, Mike Royer produced some very nice pages for Warren, including “Last Act: October” in this issue. It’s a tale of revenge, a witch’s curse and the supernatural powers that are unleashed on All Hallow’s Eve. There’s another trick ending here, but it actually works fairly well this time around. “Spaced Out Girls” is a rather bland science-fiction story with artwork by Tony Tallarico (though some sites I’ve visited credit penciller Bill Fraccio with Tallarico inking). The results are… interesting. Writer Nicola Cuti bookends Don Glut’s five scripts with “Room Full of Changes.” The story is strangely confusing… something about a murderous room or some such… but I’ve always liked the unique style of artist Ernie Colon. So there you have it. The stories work better than half the time and the art, for the most part, is off the chart good.

VAMPIRELLA ARCHIVES VOLUME ONE utilizes the original VAMPIRELLA #1 cover painting by FRANK FRAZETTA

VAMPIRELLA ARCHIVES VOLUME ONE utilizes the original VAMPIRELLA #1 cover painting by FRANK FRAZETTA

VAMPIRELLA #1 has been reprinted – in part or in whole – several times over the ensuing 45 years, the most recent as part of Dynamite Entertainment’s VAMPIRELLA ARCHIVES VOLUME ONE in 2010. The huge (380 pages plus) hardcover features the first seven issues of the original Warren magazine, with additional stories by the likes of: writers Doug Moench and the legendary Gardner F Fox and artists Jeff Jones, Jack Sparling, Dan Adkins and Frank Bolle, among others. For more info on the VAMPIRELLA ARCHIVES series and other Vampi related books, check out www.dynamite.com.


FROM A DARK PLACE: THE PAUL HOUGH INTERVIEW

PART 1: AN INTRODUCTION

The Human Race

The son of director John Hough, Paul Hough, like his father, has a rather dark palette from which he works. This rather frightening visionary focus has given life to some of the most depressing (and bloodiest) world views in the past decade plus. From the plight of a suicidal amputee in the music video, “The Enemy,” by Fozzy to the brutal reality of extreme backyard wrestling in THE BACKYARD to the new movie, THE HUMAN RACE, Paul has taken the universal themes of suffering and man’s inhumanity to man to new heights. Yet, in all of this pain and misery (and exploding heads), there is a subtle beauty that focuses on some of the more enjoyable aspects of the human condition. These aspects – unquestioning friendship, love, hope, belief in a higher calling, religion in all of its varying forms (Muslim, Christian, et cetera) – tend to make the grotesquerie more palatable… even enjoyable.

The school, the house, and the prison are safe. Follow the arrows, or you will die. Stay on the path, or you will die. If you are lapped twice, you will die. Do not touch the grass, or you will die. Race… or die.” That is the startlingly simple premise of THE HUMAN RACE. Eighty people, all who were unlucky enough to be occupying the same city block, are struck by a blinding white light (was it God? A priest, who is seen offering comfort to a homeless – junkie? – woman believes that they are in Purgatory) and transported to an undisclosed area and given the instructions above. Through two flashback vignettes, we meet three of the 80, survivors of their own personal hells: Veronica (Brianna Lauren Jackson), a young woman who has lost her family to a particularly aggressive form of cancer only to find out that she, too, has been stricken. She curses God for his cruelty. Flash forward to her doctor’s office where Veronica is told that her cancer is in total remission. She looks to the heavens and gives thanks, only to find herself a part of this macabre race; Eddie and Justin (Eddie McGee and Paul McCarthy-Boyington), two soldiers who meet for the first time on an Afghan field of battle. Eddie has, basically, been blown apart, his left leg is gone and Justin is determined to save him. Justin drags Eddie into a cave and using his own body, covers him to keep him warm until they can be rescued. Back in civilian life, they both work with underprivileged or disabled youth. Other “racers” include a pair of deaf friends (Trista Robinson and T Arthur Cottam), a Tour de France bicyclist (played by Cinderella drummer Fred Coury), a pregnant woman, the priest and homeless woman mentioned earlier, a Korean War (?) Marine vet with a walker, three vicious BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD types, a self-absorbed, Better-Than-Thou yuppie type, a young girl and her little brother… in other words, people from every walk of life, representing every facet of the social, racial, political and religious spectrum. Any more information than what I’ve already given would ruin the movie for you; let’s just say that, “THE HUMAN RACE takes more twists and turns than I thought possible for a film of this kind, especially one that runs less than 90 minutes.” The plot, script, acting and visuals all work together perfectly to present a stunningly moving look at the foibles and fallacies that make up the human condition. The following interview with writer/director/producer Paul Hough offers insights into his career, his journey to make this movie and the film itself.

PART 2: AN INTERVIEW

Director Paul Hough (uncredited photo)

Director Paul Hough (uncredited photo)

THE MULE: Hey, Paul, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about your new project.

PAUL: You’re welcome, Darren, it’s a pleasure.

THE MULE: So, let’s start at the beginning. Your father is famed director, John Hough, who had a penchant for the gruesomely horrible… maybe the only person to ever work for both the legendary Hammer Studios and Disney. How has his work influenced you, particularly in the making of this brutal new film, THE HUMAN RACE?

PAUL: My dad has a career that doesn’t focus on one particular genre but got those Disney films because of the horror movies he made. Disney wanted someone who could bring something dark to Disney. He taught me early on to make sure I said something when making a film, to have a point of view. Not necessarily overtly but to bring something that was me to it. He taught me also to try and make everything as interesting as possible when shooting and taught me how to cover things from the best and most unique angles.

THE MULE: This isn’t – so to speak – your first rodeo, but it is your first feature length, scripted endeavor. Can you give us the breakdown of your short films and the extreme wrestling documentary, THE BACKYARD?

PAUL: I did a short called THE ANGEL, which can be found on YouTube with Eddie McGee and Celine Tien (both from THE HUMAN RACE) and did a music video, also with Eddie, for Chris Jericho’s band, Fozzy (called “Enemy” – also online). In that, you can see quick glimpses of Fred Coury and Luke Y Thompson, who also appear in THE HUMAN RACE. I met Luke after he wrote a good review of THE BACKYARD (he is a film critic, currently working for THE VILLAGE VOICE). THE BACKYARD was about kids who wrestle in their backyards, using weapons such as barbed-wire baseball bats, staple guns and nails. The documentary focused also on their parents, who were more than often supportive and were high school teachers, principals, doctors and nurses.

THE BACKYARD poster

THE BACKYARD poster

THE MULE: THE BACKYARD is every bit as violent and as bloody as THE HUMAN RACE, but everything was real. Did that make things harder for you, knowing that these guys were really hurting themselves and each other? Did their brutality, in any way, affect the way you approached THE HUMAN RACE?

PAUL: It didn’t really make it hard because I wasn’t the one getting hurt. And they were going to be doing this whether I was there or not. While I was shocked at a lot of what I saw, I found it an amazing sub-culture which I enjoyed being immersed in. There was an incident in Modesto which was scary because these really tough guys (presumably from a gang) had seen some of the kids fighting in the street and lighting each other on fire – and were super unhappy about it. It was very unexpected and there was a lot of tension. I thought it could have got really ugly – but, luckily didn’t. And there was another incident in England, where a 15 year old blades and cuts himself with a razor blade. He wouldn’t stop bleeding as I’m doing the interview and it was hard then, as to whether I should keep filming – but I did, since there were other adults off-camera who attended to the situation. It’s funny – in THE HUMAN RACE, there is a lot of blood. And in THE BACKYARD there was a lot of blood. And the reality is, when I see someone bleed, it makes me ill. I hate the sight of blood in real life. But I was comfortable with the blood in THE HUMAN RACE because I knew it was movie blood, and comfortable with the blood in THE BACKYARD because it, too, seemed like movie blood to me because I was watching it from behind a camera.

THE MULE: You wear many hats for this project: Producer, director, writer… I understand that you even had a hand in the visual effects end of things. Do you have a favorite part of the creative process? How does writing for yourself differ from writing a script for another producer or director?

PAUL: I wore many hats out of necessity – not out of desire. If I had my choice, I would only direct. Maybe write and direct – but my main focus is on taking a compelling story and making it happen on camera. Unfortunately, due to circumstances, I had to produce this, edit this, do FX for this. I had to write something that was practical enough for me to shoot. When writing for someone else or for a budget, I think you have more freedom.

THE HUMAN RACE (Brianna Lauren Jackson) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Brianna Lauren Jackson) (publicity still)

THE MULE: The title of the movie works on – at least – three different levels. The first two are quite obvious from the beginning; the third is revealed in the final 15 or 20 minutes of the film, with a twist ending that kicked the whole thing up a notch for me. Without giving anything away, when you came up with the idea, did you start with one level and find that the others played well into what you wanted to say, or was it a simple case of coming up with a great play on words for the title and working from there?

PAUL: I started with the ending of the movie before anything else – and the knowledge that I wanted Eddie McGee in it. I think the idea of running then came next since I love to torture Eddie in everything we do together – and what better than to put him (a guy with one leg) into a marathon-type race. The title of the movie came then, as I was writing other aspects of the movie and just fit perfectly.

THE MULE: Aside from the obvious horror/sci-fi aspects of the film, there are also several underlying themes that are woven into the fabric of THE HUMAN RACE: Religion is a big one; racial and economic divides; sex, I guess, is unavoidable in any circumstance. Was the purpose of introducing these themes to draw the audience away from the larger theme, allowing for a greater impact at the end of the movie?

PAUL: A lot of the movie is from the characters’ points of views and you don’t really know where you are – along with them. They are people from all walks of life who express their different views. Certainly, because of the blinding white light it gave a path to introduce Christianity. Once I had that in – I wanted somewhat balance by introducing a Muslim. Overall, however, all of these themes and the conflict of these themes is both a reflection and representation of the human race and the struggles it has with itself.

Side note: one of my favorite critical reviews of the movie is this one: www.myhorribleidea.com/the-human-race-2013

THE HUMAN RACE (Gabriel Cullen) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Gabriel Cullen) (publicity still)

THE MULE: Making this movie was a very slow process. Can you take us through the various stages and give us a little insight into why it took so long to complete?

PAUL: It took over four years to make. We started to shoot for seven days, then stopped due to lack of money. A few months later, I saved up some more money, so we could shoot for two more days. Then we’d shut down again until I could raise more money – so months would go by until we could shoot for a few more days. I’d never recommend to someone they shoot a movie this way but… it was the only way I could get this movie done.

THE MULE: Given the time lapses between shooting, was it hard for you to maintain continuity? Most of the cast are adults, which may cause some small problems (weight change and the like), but there are two children who play small but important roles. How did you handle those growth spurts and physical changes that kids go through?

PAUL: The kids’ stuff wasn’t a problem at all – all of their stuff was shot at the same time. But otherwise, it was difficult, but I made all the actors responsible for their own continuity. There is one scene, however, that I had to shoot before I lost a location and Eddie’s hair was super short compared to the rest of the movie, so I had to shoot it from a super low angle just to disguise his haircut. It’s weird having to make choices like that – but when you’re making a movie you can’t anticipate or plan everything and have to adapt as you go along.

THE MULE: The set-up for the first death was ingenious. It was one of many unexpected swerves throughout the movie. It was so unexpected that I have to ask: Was it planned from the start or did other factors – scheduling and budget issues, perhaps – cause a change in direction?

PAUL: No, this was planned. I wanted a character that you really like – and then kill her off – in the same way Hitchcock killed off Janet Leigh in PSYCHO.

THE MULE: Obviously, with 80 people forced to participate in this “event,” you couldn’t possibly flesh out the character of each and every one but, the several that were more than just extras all seemingly had a back story, allowing the audience to identify each with a label: Hero, Villain, Victim. How did your vision of each main character play into the casting? Did any one audition cause you to rethink any of those roles and adjust the script accordingly?

PAUL: One of my favorite characters in the original script was a huge guy called the Blob. I just couldn’t find someone large enough for this role – and then when I did find an actor who was close – right before filming, he (inexplicably for the movie) went on a diet and… didn’t look like a Blob anymore. His part then got cut from the movie when he no showed on a particular day. That was incredibly frustrating but, again, is something I just had to deal with. I wrote the movie around a lot of actors I actually already knew and some were friends who started off as extras and then got promoted into bigger roles as the movie went along.

THE HUMAN RACE (Fred Coury and Paul McCarthy-Boyington) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Fred Coury and Paul McCarthy-Boyington) (publicity still)

THE MULE: One of the primary characters is played by Fred Coury. Even though you’ve worked with musicians before, on videos by the bands Pitbull Daycare and Fozzy (the latter also featured Eddie McGee), Fred is more out-front in an acting capacity here. How was he to work with? Was this his first acting gig?

PAUL: He was actually fantastic to work with – and a really amazing actor. Being a rock star, he has a great confidence that shows through on screen. After the shoot, he told me he had quit acting but I hope one day he’ll return to it.

THE MULE: You worked with Eddie McGee and Celine Tien, one of the youngsters, previously on the short, THE ANGEL. Were their parts for this movie written with them in mind or was it just a lucky coincidence that they both ended up in the cast?

PAUL: Both written with them in mind. In THE ANGEL, the Grandma was Celine’s real Grandma. In THE HUMAN RACE, her brother character is actually her real brother. I hadn’t seen her for a few years s,o while I wrote the role for her in mind – I still needed to audition her. Originally, there was only one kid in the script – but when she came to the audition, she turned up with her brother – who I thought was fantastic – so I made the role two kids rather than one.

THE MULE: Honestly, I wasn’t familiar with Eddie McGee, but when I found out that he was a cast member of the game show BIG BROTHER during its first season, I didn’t hold out much hope for this movie. I’m happy to say that I was wrong. The guy’s got chops… leading actor, action/adventure/sci-fi/horror chops. How did you become acquainted with Eddie and, based on a few things that I’ve read elsewhere, how did he become the “go-to” guy on your projects?

PAUL: Yeah, his being on BIG BROTHER has not been a good thing for his acting career. The only good thing is that he didn’t become a “reality star” per se – since his season happened before the whole reality boom. I’m hoping, going forward, that he’ll become Eddie McGee from THE HUMAN RACE and that his BIG BROTHER past will become that – a thing of the past. I met him while I was looking for a double-leg amputee for the Fozzy video. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to do the role – since most people found the character I wanted (ie: a disabled suicidal person) not suited for them. Eddie shared the same philosophy and beliefs of myself and taped an audition for me. He got the role and… I hope to work with him now on everything I do. He is an amazing actor and we’ve gone through a lot together. When you find someone as good and as brilliant as he – then he does certainly become your “go-to” guy.

THE HUMAN RACE (Trista Robinson) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Trista Robinson) (publicity still)

THE MULE: Speaking of projects, what’s next up for Paul Hough? In a bit of a spoiler, THE HUMAN RACE left itself open for a sequel. Will there be one?

PAUL: I’d love to do a follow up to THE HUMAN RACE and already have a script written – but it will depend on how successful this film is first. I’m off to Korea in a month, working on a new dark thriller which I hope will be my next project…

The film debuts in limited theatrical release and on Video-On-Demand and iTunes on June 13, 2014. Comparisons to the apocalyptic Japanese bloodbath, BATTLE ROYALE and the Young Adult book/film series, THE HUNGER GAMES (among others) are unavoidable but, THE HUMAN RACE is, in my humble opinion, not to be missed.


WAY OF THE WICKED

(MATT KELLY FILMS/ODYSSEY MEDIA/IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT (92 minutes/Unrated); 2014)

way-of-the-wicked-dvd-cover-24-428x600

Director Kevin Carraway’s WAY OF THE WICKED is a supernatural thriller, kind of a cross between THE OMEN and SCANNERS; WAY OF THE WICKED is a tale of obsession, with a priest (Christian Slater, in a small, but pivotal role) trying to stop a troubled youth he believes to be the spawn of Satan (a kid named Robbie – played to the brooding hilt by Jake Croker – recently returned to the town he grew up in and just wanting to be left alone by the arrogant, judgmental popular kids); WAY OF THE WICKED is a study in teenage societal mores, somewhere between LORD OF THE FLIES and MEAN GIRLS; WAY OF THE WICKED is a love story, like TWILIGHT without the shiny vampires, out-sized werewolves and cloying sentimentality; most of all, though, WAY OF THE WICKED is a movie about a father’s love for his daughter (Robbie’s best… make that, only… friend from his middle school days, current snob and property of the Big Man On Campus). The father (Vinnie Jones), a police detective trying to overcome the guilt he feels over his wife’s death, has become doting and overprotective of his daughter, Heather (Emily Tennant). This, of course, leads to Heather rebelling as only a 16 year old can: sneaking out of the house late at night, getting drunk, lying about everything and, generally, acting like she’s better than everyone else. Until Robbie drives back into her life and challenges the status quo at the school, Heather is content to snub her nose at the peons, make fun of all the losers and be treated like chattel by the King of Asses, Greg (Aren Buchholz).

WAY OF THE WICKED (Emily Tennant and Aren Buccholz) (publicity still)

WAY OF THE WICKED (Emily Tennant and Aren Buccholz) (publicity still)

Heather’s posse begins treating Robbie poorly for having the unmitigated audacity to speak to Greg’s woman and bad things start happening to the stooges. Father Henry, skulking in the shrubbery, has seen enough and contacts Detective Elliott to relate his fears regarding Robbie’s Satanic parentage. Elliott, of course, dismisses the cleric and his theories, having suffered a crisis of faith when his wife died and… well… the guy just sounds nuts! That, however, doesn’t stop him from confronting the beleaguered youth, who he sees as a moral threat and a bad influence for his little girl. Weird things continue to take place, including the ultimate comeuppance of uber-tool Greg, giving credence to the priest’s theory and pause to the detective. All the while, we are made aware that there’s more than one person with a secret to keep in the sleepy, out of the way little town. There are more than enough surprises and twists to keep the plot fresh and the story interesting (though, at one point, I did suspect what the outcome would be, only to be turned in a completely different direction by another swerve). Of course, as in all supernatural movies worth their salt, the climax takes place in a cemetery.

WAY OF THE WICKED (Christian Slater) (publicity still)

WAY OF THE WICKED (Christian Slater) (publicity still)

The relationships, particularly John and Heather Elliott, as well as Heather and Robbie (their story is fleshed out nicely through flashbacks), fuel the story more than the supernatural aspects and add a certain amount of believability to the plot. If Jones seems to be a little over the top in his overbearing attitude toward the daughter, I’m willing to give him a bit of a pass. I mean, he’s not exactly a cute and cuddly kind of guy and that deep, sandpaper-raw voice doesn’t lend itself well to syrupy dialogue, so I accept the compromises he makes to bring the story to life. Croker, as the ultimate outsider, reminds me of a younger version of Slater (both in his brooding demeanor and his physical appearance). The intensity that he brings to the role of Robbie can only be described as “smoldering.” Unfortunately, Slater and Croker only share one scene in the movie and, even then, the characters really don’t interact.

WAY OF THE WICKED (Vinnie Jones and Jake Croker) (publicity still)

WAY OF THE WICKED (Vinnie Jones and Jake Croker) (publicity still)

So, to wrap things up with a nice big bow and without blowing the whole thing by relating any more of the story or plot twists, what can we take away from WAY OF THE WICKED? Well, you don’t have to be a fan of supernatural or horror movies to like this one, although the violence could be a turn-off: While there are great, loving relationships and a good deal of emphasis is placed on a rather ROMEO AND JULIET type love story, you should probably keep the kiddies away from it. The story may not be new, but it is very well done and features enough twists (as well as some fine acting) to make it worth checking out. It’s available pretty much everywhere on both DVD and Blu-Ray; digital copies are also available.


LOCKER 13

(BROTHERS’ INK PRODUCTIONS/ARC ENTERTAINMENT (103 minutes/Rated R); 2014)

Locker 13 KA 15-1

LOCKER 13 is good. It’s not the “Greatest Movie Ever Made” (that would be 1985’s RUSTLER’S RHAPSODY starring Tom Berenger… don’t argue… I’m a professional… you know I’m right!) but, it starts with an interesting premise and each of the NIGHT GALLERY style vignettes builds the tension via sharp right turns (and, in some cases, a complete reversal) in the plot (plots?), keeping the viewer guessing and invested in the story (if not the occasionally seedy characters). That’s quite a feat. Add in the creepy, horror/thriller elements that – like all of the best movies of the ilk – are more implied than actually seen (very little blood and mayhem and no creepy-eyed little kids crabwalking on ceilings) and you’ve got a nifty little film. It may not break any box office (limited US release was March 28, 2014) or sales records (DVD releases exactly one month later), but it’s cult status is virtually guaranteed!

LOCKER 13 ( Jon Gries and Jason Spisak) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

LOCKER 13 ( Jon Gries and Jason Spisak) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

The movie starts with a beautifully shot exterior scene, apparently of an Old West town. As it becomes obvious that we’re actually looking at an Old West theme park, we’re introduced to the principals: Skip, a new nightshift janitor and ex-convict (played by Jason Spisak) and Archie, his philosophical supervisor (Jon Gries). As Archie takes Skip on a tour of the park, he recounts stories regarding various items the two come across on their rounds.

LOCKER 13 ( Ricky Schroder andTatyana Ali) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

LOCKER 13 ( Ricky Schroder andTatyana Ali) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

An old pair of boxing gloves are oddly out of place in a church pew and, when Skip asks about them, Archie’s tales begin. “Down and Out” follows a washed-up fighter (Ricky Schroder) who’s looking for one more shot at the big time. He gets his shot, leaving a path of death and destruction in his wake. Is his success (and notoriety) due to those old, borrowed gloves? The always beautiful Tatyana Ali is the girlfriend/moral compass of the story.

LOCKER 13 ( Bart Johnson andDavid Huddleston) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

LOCKER 13 ( Bart Johnson and David Huddleston) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

Booger from the REVENGE OF THE NERDS franchise (Curtis Armstrong, who most recently has had a recurring role as the Angel, Metatron, in SUPERNATURAL) presents an acquaintance for initiation into a seemingly innocuous organization, “The Benevolent Byzantine Order of the Nobles of the Enigmatic Oracle.” Death, mayhem and blood sacrifices are all, apparently, part of the ceremony… or is it all a joke and, if so, who is the joke aimed at? The great character actor David Huddleston plays an integral role.

LOCKER 13 ( Alexander Polinsky) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

LOCKER 13 ( Alexander Polinsky) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

In an odd act of the “pay it forward” maxim, a suicidal man (Alexander Polinsky) is coached by a stranger (Jason Marsden, who also produced the fourth segment and may be best remembered for his portrayal of Nelson on FULL HOUSE) who intimates that he prefers a more spectacular ending than the boring dive from a rooftop. Everybody needs help, but what kind of help is thihs member of “The Suicide Club” offering?

LOCKER 13 (Krista Allen) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

LOCKER 13 (Krista Allen) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

Have you ever wondered how those mystery writers are able to think up such believable stories? In “The Author,” a philandering husband and a contract murder make for a great mystery novel: was it the wife, the girlfriend or the private secretary? The one with the best confession goes free but, like all good murder stories, this one has a twist ending.

Another twist brings us to the final episode, “The Other Side,” in which the janitor Skip takes the lead. It all ties in with Archie’s stories about futures and probabilities and making the right decisions in your life. It may have you asking, “Can you see the real me?”

There are psychological twists and turns throughout the 103 minutes (that’s an hour and 43 minutes for those who are too lazy to do the math) of the film which is very reminiscent of Rod Serling’s TWILIGHT ZONE and previously mentioned NIGHT GALLERY series. I must admit to being suckered by a couple of the twist endings, making the edge-of-your-seat experience that much more enjoyable. A note of interest: The first three stories were actually released as short between 2007-2011 (or there-abouts) but work exceptionally well within the framework of the over-all anthology style of LOCKER 13.