(RBG FILMS/CLUMSY TIGER PRODUCTIONS/LOADED IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT (85 minutes; Unrated); 2020)
Without a doubt, this is one of the silliest movies I have ever seen. HAWK AND REV: VAMPIRE SLAYERS aims to be a kind of cross between DUMB AND DUMBER and THE LOST BOYS, in that it focuses on two very dim-witted friends, Hawk (Ryan Barton-Grimley) and Rev, his vegan-hippie space cadet counterpart (Ari Schneider) who are sure their town of Santa Muerte, California is being plagued by vampires. They wisecrack about everything, assemble a plan to take on the bloodsuckers that may or may not include the eye patch-wearing tough guy Jasper (Richard Gayler), and find time to parody other, better-known films such as FROM DUSK TILL DAWN. In fact, when former security guard Hawk tries to make a point about predictability to his clueless friend, he rattles off a long list of quotes from classic movies that Rev shows unblinking ignorance of. It’s a preposterous scene, and yet, it did sort of make me chuckle. So did a brief chat about how yes, you can still rent DVDs in some places, and seeing a trio of punk rockers mistaken for vamps (one of whom is a black leather covered gimp in an homage to Tarantino’s PULP FICTION… silent, but shown eating popcorn in one scene). The low-budget movie eases into its absurdity at first, with most of the budget apparently spent on some gory scenes that are over the top a la Monty Python. But by the final half hour, it simply goes all in on complete and total idiocy that, if you’re in the mood for it, will possibly give you giggle fits. The film is like an ego project for some college students making their magnum opus, probably stoned for most of the production. Weirdly, though, the acting is decent in a self-indulgent way, and Barton-Grimley is no newcomer. He’s been in the business for years, and I recognize him from one or two TV projects I can’t recall the names of. He’s obviously having a great time here, sending up every cliche in the world of vampire and crime investigation type films. The two leads are joined by a female writer named Theo (Jana Savage), who comes across as though she were doing little more than helping a couple of pals. And a bit of extreme gore in that last half hour will make college students chuckle, perhaps, but likely won’t be of much interest to anyone else.
HAWK AND REV: VAMPIRE SLAYERS (Ari Schneider, Jana Savage, Ryan Barton-Grimley) (publicity still)
I thought at first of including some of the more comical lines of dialogue in this review, and decided against it. The pace of this film is frenetic, and it wears its willful stupidity proudly, honestly wanting to be a throwback to the ‘80s on almost every level. There is an audience for this kind of movie, just as there was for DUMB AND DUMBER, although that one was art compared to the slim production values of this thing. And yet, its gleeful dedication to a brainless aesthetic is admirable. I DID actually laugh a few times, and once I realized that nothing serious was going to happen and the “stakes” (pun intended) would remain low, I could appreciate the lack of pretension here and the high number of ridiculous scenes. But forget all about stuff you’ve seen before like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER if you watch this. That Joss Whedon show is like MASTERPIECE THEATRE compared to Hawk and Rev’s exploits. Describing the plot beyond what I’ve already said is pointless. These “vampire slayers” are just wanna-be’s, lug-headed friends whose main purpose is to send up a couple of time-worn genres. They do that moderately well at times, but any expectations at all for this film beyond indulging in some extreme silliness, are likely to result in head shaking and exhaustion. And yikes, it looks like a sequel dealing with werewolves is out there. You gotta be howling mad to make a franchise out of this stuff.
(GLOBAL DIGITAL RELEASING (78 minutes; Unrated); 2020)
If a movie primarily consists of talking, and mostly features just two or three characters, a few things are essential. First, those characters should be distinctive and somewhat charismatic. Second, the thematic material covered should be compelling and fresh in some way. Third, the film needs to be shot and lit effectively. The little indie film TWO WAYS TO GO WEST gets about 50% of each of those categories down effectively. It looks good; everything is pretty sharp and clear, and the many, MANY closeups of the three leads help us get to know them and form at least some kind of opinion.
TWO WAYS TO GO WEST (Drew Kenney, Paul Gennaro, James Liddell) (publicity still)
Those characters, Gavin (James Liddell, who also wrote and produced the film), Marty (Paul Gennaro) and Shane (Drew Kenney) portray old school chums who have loads of problems and are not too happy with each other for most of this movie. Gavin is a struggling addict who’s made some movies; one of these gets some attention early on in a discussion and we even see a poster for that film, a nice touch. Marty is the most organized and proactive of the trio; he’s trying to put a small bachelor party together for Shane but finds himself appalled by the behavior of his two chums. Shane has a fiancé that he’s struggling to commit to. Gavin is sort of involved with a Las Vegas dancer named Addison (Levy Tran), who is from the Philippines, is covered with tattoos, but seems to have the most common sense of all of them. So about those three essentials: the characters are “sort of” distinctive, and certainly physically appealing and masculine, but they don’t reveal much depth. They say a lot of abrasive things to each other over and over (“What’s wrong with you?” is a recurring line, and “You always take everything much harder than everyone else” is a charge leveled at Gavin), express disapproval, and talk about women – a LOT. Gavin is fighting the drug thing with only partial success. We don’t necessarily get much insight about his habit, but we DO see that he’s giving it his best shot not to go under. Shane tends to be selective in what he shares, and it’s revealed that he slept with someone important to Gavin in the past. There is some bad blood. Marty is really disappointed in his pals, to say the least, and has little faith that they will ever be there for HIM, in ways that he tries to express.
TWO WAYS TO GO WEST ( James Liddell, Paul Gennaro, Drew Kenney) (publicity still)
So about that “thematic material” I mentioned? Well, “flawed male bonding” is the biggest take-away (including disappointed expectations of old friends), with the way relationships with women can impact things through the years. And also, cinematically speaking, the tensions, laughter and nostalgic asides that emerge in intimate, sustained conversation with those you think you know best. There are some believable dynamics and fast-moving discourse in this film, but it also gets tedious at times. You wait for a big revelation that doesn’t really come. By the time the film leaves the dark apartment where most of its “plot” takes place, and you get to see Marty in an actual diner talking to a sympathetic waitress who has a darkly funny story to tell (this story gives the film its name), the effect is oddly refreshing and memorable. And it helps set up a final conversation between the three friends that does have something to say about the passing of time, the possibility for change, and the ability of those we care about to face up to mistakes.
The film doesn’t quite earn any big emotions, and none of the three leads seems like someone compelling enough to imagine being old friends with (although they all try pretty hard to create real-life multi-dimensional chums convincingly). But as a talkie type film, it’s at least above average, and both the movie and its stars look plenty sharp, even if the emotional content goes flat at times. TWO WAYS TO GO WEST is directed by Ryan Brookhart, who does enough with his camera and perspective to make me think he’s got a promising future in character-driven films. He’s also chosen excellent country songs (including a couple by Suzanne Santo) to begin and end his little opus.
(BARNHART FILMS/SABOTAGE FILM GROUP (85 minutes; Unrated); 2019)
Some cities are known for unique landmarks: We have the Gateway Arch in Saint Louis, San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge and its rich cultural history. Some cities have incredible skylines like Chicago and New York, or are hubs of vitality or historical significance. But poor Flint, Michigan? Not so much. This sad sack of a town first had to deal with GM pulling its factories out and decimating the employment situation, something Michael Moore covered in his documentary, ROGER AND ME. And not long after that? Well, there was kind of a water problem. You know, the color, the toxic nature of it, the corrupt state governor Rick Snyder refusing to do shit for years, people dying, that kind of thing. Talk about a raw deal! This was more like a raw SEWAGE deal, literally and metaphorically, as Flint residents kept asking questions about what was happening to their children and why no one would give them answers about the water crisis in their little city. It’s the difficult subject of a fine documentary by David Barnhart, FLINT: THE POISONING OF AN AMERICAN CITY. Choose your beverage carefully when you watch this thing.
FLINT: THE POISONING OF AN AMERICAN CITY (Screen Shot)
“The system here is telling you that you aren’t worth anything,” says one of the besieged local residents interviewed for the movie. “This isn’t supposed to be happening in America.” No, it sure isn’t. In accumulating detail, we hear from residents about how the closing of GM plants set in motion a horrible sequence of events for this industrial burgh. It depended heavily on GM for jobs and its significance in the scheme of things. “The plants were really the heart and soul of growth and development in Flint,” an African-American local sadly tells us, surveying one of many bleak landscapes left behind. “I don’t know that we’ll ever get back to that. When they started moving out, that took a toll on the city.” We get to hear all about how crucial water was for the auto industry, but the water was never the same after the industry departed. Phosphates and other pollutants accumulated in the water, and already aging pipes began deteriorating at an alarming rate. One horror after another occurs: 22 million gallons of crap poured into the main river in just two days, rising lead levels, a marked decrease in fertility for the locals (and rising fetal deaths), etcetera. GM had to shut off Flint’s water supply due to the dangerous acidity of the water and the corrosion in the pipes. And in numerous scenes from C-Span and other outlets featuring outraged officials challenging Governor Snyder among others, we get to hear about the cost-cutting measures that worsened the situation, and the attempts to sidestep accountability for how bad things kept getting. Snyder does not come off too well in this documentary. Surprise, surprise… Distinguished Democrat Elijah Cummings (who died not long after this film wrapped) is shown getting increasingly angry about the awful quagmire that enveloped Flint and he doesn’t mince words. “This is a community of people rendered invisible in a thousand ways. It’s environmental racism!”” he shouts.
The sense of futility among Flint’s residents is a thematic through-line here, though many of them keep trying to raise the issue to anyone who will listen, and a female pastor in the town is quoted frequently. We’re giving specific stats about the lead content in the water, how the water pipes had a “protective scale” that failed due to cost cutting, and the increasingly ill health suffered by residents, thought to result in perhaps 119 deaths. And if you’re not outraged enough, you get to learn about how Nestle was pumping water out of Michigan for its own profit, a development that made the news more than once. You can truly lose it watching some of this awfulness, and the film wants to make sure you get the point. Poor people (mostly of color) were the primary victims of this mess, and Snyder and other inept politicians may have thought the matter wouldn’t rise to the level of a national scandal. But they were wrong. The publicity grew so intense that steps had to be taken, although they weren’t enough. It’s important to note that Lansing, a nearby city, took preventive steps to replace similarly faulty pipes, at great expense. And we hear a sobering stat that “5300 US cities were found to have overly dangerous levels of lead in their water.” Visually we see numerous vacant landscapes, deteriorating buildings, and children in school attempting to lead normal lives, despite the impossibility. You can only feel awful at the fate of these families, and despite a few corrective measures eventually being taken, the problems remain. Talk about a bitter lesson about what can happen in America when greed and indifference hold sway over the health and needs of minorities.
FLINT: THE POISONING OF AN AMERICAN CITY (Screen Shot)
This is not a fun film, but writer/director Barnhart has really put a searing indictment of the problem together, with help from skilled editor Scott Lansing. We don’t always get such an informative, powerful movie when a crisis such as this occurs. It makes you wonder about all the controversial things that go on that are simply swept under the rug or factually squelched before the media and caring officials can take action. The significance of FLINT: THE POISONING OF AN AMERICAN CITY goes well beyond stirring your sympathies for some unlucky people in the industrial north. It’s an awful true-life tale of the perils of capitalism, the crucial (and often ignored) need for corporate regulation, and the way helpless communities are often victimized by cynical politicians. I doubt you’ll laugh even once watching this despairing portrait of the downside of America, but you’ll learn an awful lot. And you may hesitate even more about drinking your own tap water. To think that something as essential and basic as water could be a major problem for an entire US city, well, that’s hard to stomach.
Zombie minimalism. I doubt it will become a THING, as most audience members probably WANT to see oozing-faced members of the undead fraternity, ravenous for fresh flesh and single-minded of purpose. There is nothing discrete or casual about the way zombies behave (not that there is a rulebook on such), but director Jesse Thomas Cook (THE HOARD, SEPTIC MAN) deserves a spot on some future panel discussing the zombie cinema genre, which DEADSIGHT, after two years of industry machinations, is now a part of. It seems like Cook and his two stars, Adam Seybold and Liv Collins, are pretty familiar with zombie and plague movie lore, and mostly decided NOT to follow in the footsteps of George Romero, Danny Boyle, et al. They took their own restrained path, somewhat admirably. Cook, Seybold and Collins (who also co-wrote the script) gamely try to tell a suspenseful story in an idiom which has been done to death on both the big and small screen. Seybold plays an injured everyman, Ben Neilson, who has just had a tough eye operation, resulting in seriously impaired vision. He’s hoping to get back to his family soon, but something is terribly wrong. Ben is clearly at a disadvantage when it comes to skulking dead dudes who keep showing up hoping to snack on him. His only ally is a pregnant police officer who crosses his path, Mara Madigan (Liv Collins), taking it moment by moment in what is now a rural “zombieland.” The two must team up simply to survive.
PART TWO: THE INTERVIEW
“For me the attraction of making a movie like this, is that you’re not really making a ‘zombie movie,'” said Adam Seybold, during a recent phoner, of portraying Ben with both vulnerability and determination. “I’m playing a regular person who is blind, trying to get back to my family. And I meet a woman who is trying to survive WITH me. That’s what we’re doing. All you can do is play the moment to moment truth of what is happening. There are only so many ways to show a zombie outbreak. In terms of explaining where they come from, we don’t really do that. Viewers are smart about that. There just happen to be zombies. It’s better to just let the story happen and use zombies as a backdrop.”
Oh, they’re a bit more than a backdrop. Poor Ben never knows when he is gonna hear erratic footsteps behind him, and have to fend off another attack. Mara has the firepower, however, and Ben wants her close by at all times, especially when he learns she is pregnant.
“Liv was actually pregnant during the shoot,” he revealed. She was exhausted much of the time. But she was such a trooper. I’d say, ‘You should be at home resting instead of running around with a double-barreled shotgun!”
ADAM SEYBOLD in CREEP NATION (publicity still)
The two have an easy rapport on screen, despite the rather minimal dialogue. They previously appeared in CREEP NATION together, which Seybold described as a “PSYCHO for the modern age.” In DEADSIGHT, they often spent rainy, cold days on set trying to crack jokes and keep each other grounded.
“She’s one of my favorite co-stars,” he said. “We’ve worked together a couple of times. It makes those transitions (from off-camera waiting to ACTION) easier. Some actors save it all for the camera. But Liv and I are chatty by nature, so we’d try to crack each other up between scenes. It makes such a difference when you are comfortable with someone, and you can trust each other.”
How did Seybold prepare for such a challenging shoot? After all, he has gauze wrapped around his eyes for most of the film, and there are scenes of him attempting to make his way up steep hills or maneuver through the rooms of an unfamiliar house. Seems dangerous!
ADAM SEYBOLD with JORDAN HAYES in EXIT HUMANITY (publicity still)
“As much as possible I tried to limit how much I could see,” he said. “Unless there were obvious safety issues. I’m sure there’s hours of outtakes Jesse has where I am wandering out of the shot or something. But when your eyes are closed, you’re not really acting anymore. You might be truly in danger. I think that’s why we make horror films. It takes you to that edge. Sometimes it’s miserable while you’re IN it, the frustration of not being able to see. But I chose that situation ‘cause it does take you beyond the limit. My day job is a writer, and I don’t have those concerns. My biggest decision is, am I gonna have tea or coffee?”
I commented on the surprisingly minimal action for a zombie movie, and the rather austere look of the film. Did Seybold sense it was going that way when they were shooting? “I haven’t actually seen the finished film yet,” he responded. “We shot it two years ago. I think that initially, Jesse told me, they had something a little more comedic in mind when they conceived it. That was the vibe before Liv and I. But based on our skill set, it was the way we acted together that changed the movie. Stemming from the vulnerability of these two people. So I guess the acting and direction ended up becoming more naturalistic.”
While films such as DAWN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIELAND seemed to take pleasure in featuring gorey closeups of the dead either having flesh fiestas or getting blown to smithereens, DEADSIGHT avoids that kind of thing for the most part. Yet it is still suspenseful, and the zombies are in some ways even more believable as a result.
ADAM SEYBOLD in EJECTA (publicity still)
“They are what makes the movie,” agreed Seybold. “If the zombies don’t work, the whole thing falls apart. It’s a credit to the tone that it worked so well.” An early scene of a “transitioning” woman confronting Officer Madigan near her police car is rather unsettling; you don’t know what to expect, and Collins plays it that way. But creepier still are shadowy figures showing up a distance from Ben and starting to shuffle towards him. This sort of thing is almost never good in horror movies. And having Ben be virtually blind is an undeniably interesting touch. But whatever DEADSIGHT’s strengths, it’s unclear if audiences will discover such a “subtle” tale of the undead.
“That’s out of my control,” said Seybold. “I don’t know about niche. I’ve done enough things now where I play the game of how things will be received. You can’t write a hit on purpose, or by accident. It’s been two years since we shot the movie. It exists in a time when I was with those people. I had a great time working on the movie. Those people are my friends, like brothers and sisters. And that’ll be true, whatever the outcome.”
PART THREE: THE REVIEW
(RLJE FILMS/RAVEN BANNER/FORESIGHT FEATURES (82 minutes; Unrated); 2019)
I’m a fan of minimalism, I gotta admit. And when you’re talking about a cinematic genre as inherently goreworthy and unhinged as zombie horror, it’s admirable if a director does NOT aim to out gross-out the likes of DAWN OF THE DEAD, 28 WEEKS LATER, WORLD WAR Z, TV shows such as THE WALKING DEAD, et cetera. Honestly, the restraint shown by director Jesse Thomas Cook in lensing this modest production was the first thing I admired.
DEADSIGHT (Adam Seybold) (publicity still)
The film opens with a partially blind man, Ben (Adam Seybold), awakening in a hospital disoriented about where he is and what the hell is going on, a story element borrowed from Danny Boyle’s classic 28 DAYS LATER. Ben’s eyes are covered in gauze wrap, and he knows enough to put drops in them periodically, but everything is quite blurry. And rather than staying put, Ben decides to wander around and see what he can suss out from his surroundings. This is not a wise choice, as periodically a shadowy figure will appear behind him or come out of nowhere, and these of course are the undead. Weirdly, they often take their time in stalking and trying to dine on Ben, which tends to give him opportunities to hide or whack the living shit out of them with his little walker weapon. Ben seems a little too bold and clever for this story, and I found it hard to believe he could just walk up hills and locate empty houses as easily as he did having very little of his eyesight to aid him. But I don’t fault Seybold as an actor; he’s reasonably effective, and not overly emotional in his portrayal.
DEADSIGHT (Liv Collins) (publicity still)
It’s a lonely journey for Ben until a female… and rather pregnant police officer named Mara Madigan (Liv Collins) crosses paths with him. Mara has had a few zombie encounters of her own, and it’s probably best that we don’t get much exposition of how this particular apocalypse came about and why Mara ended up the lone officer on her force, pretending to do her job when the only sensible pursuit is terminating these ugly zombies with extreme prejudice. There is an interesting scene early on where Mara confronts a female almost-zombie, and it’s almost poignant. Somehow the hapless officer allows the transitioning undead missy to get in her squad car and drive off. That struck me as ludicrous… wouldn’t she have shot the fuck out of her before she could get in the vehicle? And how far can you get as a soon-to-be-undead citizen, already drooling and covered with oozing sores, behind the wheel of a car? These questions are not answered; Officer Madigan continues rather calmly on foot, and reaches Ben just in time to blast a hungry fiend before it could snack on the hapless sight no-seer. Whatever tension that remains at this point comes from the cautious relationship between Ben and Mara, which is underplayed and not as well scripted as it ought to be. Still, the actors are watchable and grounded in this peculiar reality. There are no dumb speeches, and thankfully, no romance. But the two do care about each other, and Ben shows plenty of compassion upon learning that Mara is preggers.
DEADSIGHT (Jessica Vano) (publicity still)
Each zombie kill is distinct, and there are no scenes of hordes of ravenous undead descending upon our heroes, as is usually typical of these films. It’s actually a fairly quiet drama overall, with little or no excess gore. And I want to say that the cinematography is a bit better than you might expect. That is thanks to a guy named Jeff Maher, who films the empty, half forested landscape (probably the eastern US) with a disarmingly pastoral sweep, making you notice the trees and the winding rural roads at all times, so that when a creepy figure emerges from a roadside in the background, it has maximum dramatic effect. Also the film pays attention to how many bullets Officer Madigan has in her gun, a detail I appreciated. And the script counts Collins as a co-writer and producer, so bully for her for committing to every aspect of this movie. I give it points for underplaying what is normally the type of horror that absolutely goes for broke in the gore and/or black comedy department (as ZOMBIELAND did). The music score is restrained, the action is selective, and I admire the fact that very little is explained.
DEADSIGHT (Adam Seybold, Liv Collins) (publicity still)
This ends up being a minimal two-character drama overall, and I can’t name another zombie movie you can say that about. It’s pretty suspenseful, and I was not bored by DEADSIGHT, which I sort of expected to be. It’s made with attitude and an understanding of its cinematic template, while seeming determined to avoid most of the cliches of the genre. Sure, it has a few screws loose, and I would have written a few more soul-sharing conversations for the two leads, but DEADSIGHT moves briskly and economically through its contribution to a genre that would seemingly have little new territory to explore. And that’s a “dead sight” more than you have a right to ask for.
The flick is available on DVD, Digital HD and Video-On-Demand beginning Tuesday, July 2.
(ITN DISTRIBUTION/FRIGHT TECK PICTURES/DAGGER 3 MEDIA (104 minutes; Unrated); 2019)
I want to say something straight off the bat. B movies or even Grade “Z” movies should NOT be weighted against big budget or “major” films when they’re evaluated. It’s not fair. There are different tiers to moviemaking, and a low-budget production with unknown actors is NOT in competition with “regular” movies that get wide distribution. Or even a Netflix offering. Such films should be seen as what they are, lower-tier offerings that are either entertaining or NOT. And let them exist on that level for better or worse, while recognizing that they may still stink, or not. We NEED these films, and they can launch the careers of talented people sometimes. Enough said.
AMERICAN POLTERGEIST: THE CURSE OF LILITH RATCHET (KateLynn E Newberry, Rob Jaeger, Brianna Burke) (publicity still)
So, this low-budget horror film, AMERICAN POLTERGEIST: THE CURSE OF LILITH RATCHET came my way, and it survived two immediate tests for me as a viewer. First, it is entertaining. And, being a horror film, it’s actually rather suspenseful. It has some scares, and doesn’t always quite do what you might think. So I give it points for that. The titular Lilith Ratchet was an ill-fated woman who suffered losses during the Civil War (including her head) and vowed revenge for her suffering, via a series of chanted phrases which, if invoked along with her name, will cause hellish torments for those doing the chanting. When an antique shop owner sells the supposedly “shrunken head” of poor ol’ Lilith in a mysterious box many years later (the buyers are two curious young women, Alice Crow and her friend Lauren), a disturbing series of events begin to unfold, especially after Alice (KateLynn E Newberry) and Lauren (Brianna Burke) approach a paranormal radio show host named Hunter Perry (Rob Jaeger), whose show “Beyond the Veil” is immensely popular with the locals. The girls want to know more about this “thing” they bought, and Hunter sees an opportunity to get serious attention if he arranges for a “chanting game” to be done live in a local watering hole on Halloween. The kids can just toss Lilith around, say those phrases, keep pouring drinks, and see what kind of merriment results. I mean, what are the odds that the demonic spirit of Lilith Ratchet (Crissy Kolarik) would suddenly return and start inflicting nasty mayhem on all these fun-loving youngsters? Well, there wouldn’t be a movie if she didn’t, right?
AMERICAN POLTERGEIST: THE CURSE OF LILITH RATCHET (Crissy Kolarik) (publicity still)
Lilith is not your garden variety 19th century spinster, let it be said. She has terrible teeth frozen in a murderous grin, beady eyes bent on watching you take your last breath, and black, long, curving fingernails just perfect for slicing through youthful flesh. To paraphrase the Terminator, “she can’t be reasoned with, she can’t be bargained with, and she will not STOP until you are dead.” Hunter thought he was just gonna get some ratings for his podcast, and poor Alice and Lauren, while clearly spooked by disturbing visions and understandable apprehension, try to go along with the proceedings semi-enthusiastically. Nate, Lauren’s boyfriend (George Tutie), is not happy about the big “Beyond the Veil” fiesta and leaves the proceedings early. You can probably guess what happens to him. This Lilith gal, though a little too pleased with herself for her demonic ways, has an agenda, and unless the somewhat smug Mister Perry can suss out what to do, Ratchet will NOT bury the hatchet. It’s best not to get too attached to any of the characters in this film, to say the least. While most of the acting is simply functional, Newberry puts some real energy into her role as Alice and has you believing some of this craziness is really happening. She’s a gifted actress with a slew of credits as it turns out. Jaeger has a kind of generic charisma, and Burke acts like she’s at least trying. As for the nasty Ms Ratchet, her makeup designer deserves as much credit as the actress, although being singularly demonic for over 90 minutes has gotta take some concentration. The guy putting this vision on screen in its totality, however, is writer/director Eddie Lengyel, who has a good sense of pacing and a clear understanding of common horror movie tropes… the jump scare, the build-up, the power of an evil face, et cetera. Although everything in the movie is something we’ve seen before, Lengvel knows the formula well. Certain things are kind of ridiculous: the shrunken head itself, the ludicrous scene where Hunter evades Lilith by hiding in a bathroom stall with the door not even fully closed (I mean, come on… if you’re a demon and you’ve shown your ability to float in and out of EVERY physical space, how would a BATHROOM stall flummox you when you’re victim hunting?), the supposedly “crowded” party which seems to boast no more than a few dozen participants. I also was annoyed at the lack of genuine emotion shown when various characters found out their significant other had bought it. I can’t elaborate without giving stuff away, but come on… you’re gonna cry and be in anguish if your loved one is now history at the hands of a demonic old woman, right? There are a couple of exceptions to this complaint, thankfully.
All this said, there is something admirably purposeful about …THE CURSE OF LILITH RATCHET. It keeps moving, it has a fairly riveting nasty at the center, and it uses music well (some of that supplied by Timothy Smith). And at least a few of the actors rise to the occasion. The biggest “curse” I find in movies like this is usually that they are boring and show stupid people behaving stupidly. I was not bored watching the film, and I didn’t groan that much watching these characters. So hey, let’s give this little fright flick its due. But Eddie, my boy, I don’t think Lilith could really be called a “poltergeist.” Look up the definition. This vengeful bitch belongs in another category; she doesn’t just move objects around. She does some serious slicin’ and dicin’, and in case you decide to do a sequel (there is a hint of that), lose the “p” word. Just a thought…
If I had to come up with one word to describe THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM, it would probably be “stylish.” However, that isn’t the way reviews work, so… let’s get to it, shall we? The film, based on the Peter Ackroyd novel, THE TRIAL OF ELIZABETH CREE (also known asDAN LEO AND THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM), is a tightly woven murder mystery set in the Limehouse district of 1880 London. At the time, Limehouse was a dark and gritty place and, geographically, not too far from Jack the Ripper’s Whitechapel haunts of 1888. Thanks to the attention to detail by director Juan Carlos Medina, cinematographer Simon Dennis, set decorator Pilar Foy and all of the other talented individuals on the other side of the camera, the seediness and rather tawdry look and feel of the sets (especially the music hall, where much of the movie takes place) are as important to the plot as any single character.
THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth) (photo courtesy: NICOLA DOVE)
That plot unfolds from the end, with a music hall dramatization of the murder trial of Lizzie Cree, an abused and neglected child who has grown up to be an abused and neglected young woman. Amid a frenzy of savage murders perpetrated by a sadistic slasher dubbed the Golem, Lizzie is accused of murdering her husband, John, a failed author, aspiring playwright and primary suspect for the Goelm’s grizzly work. The public, fascinated and horrified by the Golem murders, demands answers and an end to the madness; faced with the possibility of failure, the high-ranking Scotland Yard official handling the case passes the assignment off to Inspector John Kildare, a senior detective with “problems” of his own. With Kildare installed as the fall-guy, the Yard’s hierarchy sees a chance to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak: If Kildare fails to stop the killings, the top brass can save themselves a personal humiliation by laying the blame squarely at the feet of a man they don’t like and want to be rid of. And, why don’t they like Kildare? He is one of THOSE fellows – the Inspector is gay, something not well tolerated in the nineteenth century. By extension, Kildare also inherits the Cree murder case, which leads to a kind of father/daughter relationship with Lizzie. Believing her husband to be the murderous fiend terrorizing Limehouse, the Inspector seeks to prove John guilty in an effort to free Lizzie on a self-defense plea.
THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (Daniel Mays, Maria Valverde, Bill Nighy) (photo courtesy: NICK WALL)
As the tale continues to be told with a glance backwards, we are introduced to several characters essential to the Cree’s story, including Dan Leo, a flamboyant music hall performer and stage “narrator”; a stage director and calming presence for the music hall troupe called “Uncle”; aerialist and sexual focal point of the group, Aveline Ortega; and, in flashback fashion, perhaps the person most pivotal to Lizzie’s current woes, her mother. In the 1995 novel, Ackroyd populated his story with several historical figures; Jane Goldman’s script retains three of those luminaries for the film version, to stunning effectiveness: George Gissing, the troubled author whose first novel, WORKERS IN THE DAWN, was published in 1880; Karl Marx, the father of modern Socialism and Communism; and the aforementioned Leo. It is never an easy task to weave real personalities into a work of fiction, but the creative team responsible for THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM have peopled the story with an entire cast of realistically believable characters that the trio of Leo, Gissing and Marx fit right into the surrounding landscape. All three lived in London during the time of THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM, with both Marx and Gissing appearing on the suspect list (and in Kildare’s reimagining of the grizzly killings).
THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (María Valverde, Sam Reid, Douglas Booth, Olivia Cooke, Eddie Marsan) (photo courtesy: NICOLA DOVE)
While I fairly well had sussed out who the killer was early into the film, I found myself second-guessing my theories – changing my mind several times as Inspector Kildare and his equally astute assistant investigator, Officer George Flood, interviewed Lizzie and her music hall compatriots and unearthed new leads. Yet, the story is so well done that, when the identity of the Golem is finally revealed, you aren’t disappointed in the least. This is a movie and a story that works so well on so many levels. At the beginning of this review, I told you about the artistic and stylistic beauty of the sets… to that beauty, we can definitely add the work of costume designer, Claire Anderson, whose slightly modern take on the wardrobes of Victorian Londoners is every bit as important to the look of THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM as anything else. Of course, any film is ultimately based on the talents of the people on the screen and this one is stacked with actors perfect for their roles, even if one is actually a replacement for another beloved performer. Olivia Cooke (ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL and the BATES MOTEL television series) is devastatingly vulnerable as Lizzie Cree, while Sam Reid is suitably smarmy as her fame-seeking husband, John; as both business man/mentor and over-the-top stage performer, Douglas Booth (JUPITER ASCENDING, as well as Reid’s co-star in THE RIOT CLUB), shines in the pivotal role of Dan Leo; Spanish beauty Maria Valverde sizzles as Aveline Ortega; in fact, each member of the supporting cast shines brightly and each is given their moment in the spotlight, including Eddie Marsan (Uncle), Keeley Forsyth and Amelia Crouch (as Lizzie’s mother and a younger Lizzie in a couple of frightening sequences that give the viewer important insight into the character) and Daniel Mays (as the rather uptight but totally professional – and loyal – George Flood). As brilliant as these cast members are, I’m not sure that this flick would have risen to the heights to which I have elevated it if it were not for the presence of Bill Nighy (Davy Jones in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, Minister Rufus Scrimgeour in HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART ONE and a ton of video games and animated stuff over the last decade or so) as Inspector John Kildare; with Nighy’s understated performance, Kildare is thoughtful, vulnerable and, though set-upon (and set to fail), determined to get at the truth. Nighy was a last minute replacement for Alan Rickman, who was forced to pull out of the project due to illness (the film is dedicated to Rickman, who passed away in 2016).
THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (Olivia Cooke, Bill Nighy) (photo courtesy: NICK WALL)
Obviously, to divulge too many of the intricacies of the plot would be akin to telling your kids that the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist (remember how that turned out for Dwayne Johnson in THAT movie?), so I’m just going to tell you that THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM is worth your attention and, even if you think you have things figured out in the first twenty minutes, you won’t see the end coming. Just getting to the end is a thrilling, chilling ride through the dark underbelly of late nineteenth century London. Anyone who has ever explored, examined or theorized over the case of Jack the Ripper will certainly recognize the similarities here… that was Ackroyd’s intent with his novel. The fact that the film incorporates several of the tropes common to modern police procedural and crime scene investigation fiction keeps things fresh and allows us to play armchair detective, all the while rooting for Lizzie and Kildare; the fact that both of the main characters are fundamentally flawed (but, then, aren’t we all?) keeps us intrigued and totally invested in the story’s outcome. As always, there are certain scenes, as well as the generally violent theme of the movie that some may find objectionable and, as such, I would probably advise parents of children thirteen or younger to steer clear of THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM while the kids are around… though I’m sure that they could possibly see far worse on an episode of LAW AND ORDER: SVU.
Back in September, I was just back from the theater, having seen EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS. My immediate thoughts were that the film was truly an amazing ride and that director Ron Howard did a fabulous job with all of the archival film footage; cleaned and restored for the big screen, I was definitely taken back to the height of Beatlemania. After the end credits rolled, the audience was treated to a near-thirty minute segment of the Beatles’ 1965 Shea Stadium concert (almost the entire show), which was awesome… with a crisp new “remaster,” it was like being in the front row with that screaming, rabid New York crowd. Unfortunately, that piece of history didn’t make it to the DVD/Blu-Ray releases, as it was used as an “incentive” to get butts in theater seats. Oh, well… maybe someday! The film (and the bonus feature) made me realize, again, how much I miss both John and George; it really was a wonderful night of Rock ‘n’ Roll with, as Ringo said, “The biggest band in the land.”
EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (George Harrison, RIngo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, circa 1964) (uncredited photo)
So, by this time, who doesn’t know the story of the Beatles’ humble beginnings? Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last six decades, here’s the Cliff Notes version: Paul McCartney meets John Lennon, joins his band, bringing George Harrison along for the ride; then, here comes Ringo Starr, John and Paul start writing songs together, Brian Epstein becomes their manager, the lads meet George Martin, who works with them, molding their sound in the studio… yeah, yeah, yeah! As a lifelong fan of the Fab Four, I still came away amazed by this fabulous new documentary. Seeing and feeling just how wonderful the Beatles and their music were and continue to be today makes me realize just how much they still mean to me, forty years after they went their separate ways. The narrative of EIGHT DAYS A WEEK is presented through, not only vintage interviews of the Liverpudlians, but recent remembrances from Paul and Ringo, plus various other musicians, composers and celebrities. However, the real “star” is the concert footage and the mania surrounding the mop tops. It’s great reliving how the Beatles literally took control of popular culture in the 1960s; one of the things that I enjoyed seeing was how hard Ringo was playing back in the very early live days, displaying an almost punkish verve at times.
EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, RIngo Starr, Washington DC 1964) (photo courtesy: APPLE CORPS)
Personal fan-boy histrionics aside, what sets THIS Beatles documentary above others – first and foremost – is the unbelievable quality of the film itself: Not only the concert footage, but the manic press conferences and even the boys simply caught relaxing, is so clear and crisp that it really just staggers you. It was worth it to hear new concert footage with clean, crisp sound, highlighting how truly hard they rocked… especially Lennon tearing up now-classics like “Twist and Shout” and “Dizzy, Miss Lizzy.” Celebrated fans as disparate as Whoopi Goldberg, Elvis Costello and Sigourney Weaver relate just how hard they fell for the Beatles… Yes, everything from THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW to the Hollywood Bowl performance to their huge world tours and all of the madness that followed, but also because they were funny and talented, met the right people at the right time (manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin would become the two most important people in their professional lives) and had a ton of belief in themselves and in their art. The Fab Four were always ready and more than willing to push the envelope. After seeing this movie, it’s very easy to see how and why these celebrities and, indeed, the world fell in love with them and why that love is still going strong over fifty years later.
EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (a 14 year old Sigourney Weaver at the Hollywood Bowl in 1964) (uncredited photo)
To be sure, the Beatles released an astonishing number of great, hit songs and huge, groundbreaking albums between 1962-1970… a mere eight years. It’s still hard to believe! EIGHT DAYS A WEEK tells their story quite well and, seeing it initially in the theater, on the big screen, was a huge benefit (in particular, the restored Shea Stadium footage, with all the madness and screaming, was stunning). The film is nothing short of phenomenal; Howard and his crew did a superb job of presenting another – often overlooked – part of the Beatles’ huge world wide success, aside from the string of hits and the intense madness that surrounded them everywhere they went. Quite frankly, watching them deal with the insanity going on around them all the time, it amazes me how they remained so grounded. That Shea Stadium show in August, 1965 before 56,000 people was a game changer, setting up a future for arena and stadium rock shows; that performance took Rock and Roll music to heights never before (and seldom after) imagined.
EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr at Shea Stadium, 1965) (uncredited photo)
Historically, one of the real turning points for the band was when they rejected George Martin’s idea of wanting them to only do other people’s songs; they wanted to write their own music and, so… away they went. The Lennon/McCartney hit-making machine was rolling and wouldn’t stop until outside business affairs jammed the gears. Still, by the time they decided to quit touring in 1966 to focus their creative output into studio work, they were just starting to hit their peak, releasing a string of masterpieces starting with RUBBER SOUL and REVOLVER. Recent interviews with Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney and archival clips of George Harrison and John Lennon, commenting on and explaining things along the way, really adds to the story and to the enjoyment of this documentary. The film flows very well.
EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: THE TOURING YEARS (Ringo Starr, Ron Howard, Paul McCartney) (photo courtesy: STUDIOCANAL)
I have been a Beatles fan since their first appearance on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW, solidified by seeing A HARD DAY’S NIGHT in the theater and they are still as wonderful, their music still honest and positive and still touching new generations of listeners and fans… over fifty years later. As Sigourney Weaver said in the movie, “It was this sense of world music. We were all loving them, all over the world.” The joy of the Beatles’ music is, we can all have our favorite song and our favorite album; from 1962 to 1970, they made music for the ages and, indeed, this film is a must see for fans of all ages. A big “Thank you!” to Ron Howard for bringing us a new look at a very well-known story. He did a fantastic job with this movie, with a little help from some friends… John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Every generation needs its “Scream Queen,” a pretty young lady destined to be set-upon by various creeps, ghouls, monsters and demonic beings in horrific movie after horrific movie. Katie Keene is working very hard at being this generation’s version of the frightened survivor of such horrendous happenings, appearing in a slew of horror flicks including LOST LAKE, UNION FURNACE, the new CLOWNTOWN and the upcoming hospital torture film, INOPERABLE. In a recent interview, Katie discussed her craft, her favorite Halloween memories, her very real case of coulrophobia and her INOPERABLE co-star, the reigning Queen of Scream, Danielle Harris. Strap in, boys and girls… Katie Keene is an up-and-coming talent who is really gonna play on your fears.
THE MULE: Okay… first things first, give us a quick synopsis of CLOWNTOWN and tell us a little bit about your character, Jill.
KATIE KEENE: So… CLOWNTOWN… a little killer clown action for you. A couple of friends go to see a concert, they kinda get lost along the way and end up in this really small town full of killer clowns. Jill is a friend that’s going with the rest of her buddies. You know, couples date. And, she gets stuck with the rest of her buddies in this terrible town… of killer clowns.
THE MULE: You do a lot and I mean… a LOT of screaming in this film. Did you ever lose your voice during your oxygen-depleting, throat-mangling, near-operatic performance?
KATIE: My big screaming scene in CLOWNTOWN, that was a tough one. I have a space that I go to and I sit in this space on set. I’m there way before we’re filming, sitting at that tree, just zoning in… I just kind of sit in the environment and… sorta let that get to me emotionally and, buddy, when I’m directed to scream and to not stop screaming, that’s what I do. I just bring everything I’ve got. I give everything my little body can give. And, when I do it, I’m physically exhausted after but… I never lose my voice. So, that’s kinda cool.
THE MULE: So, you’re physically exhausted, but that must take an emotional toll on you, as well.
KATIE: Absolutely… it does. It’s really a lot of work. I’ve made a couple of horror movies and horror movies are hard to make. They take a lot out of you emotionally. There’s so much screaming, there’s so much high emotion and, when you’re in high emotion like that every day for a month or however long, it works on you… it works on your body, it takes a toll on you. My body is literally giving everything I can to the role. That’s what I love to do.
THE MULE: You mentioned that you’ve been in a couple of horror movies before CLOWNTOWN. So, what really frightens you?
KATIE: Well, that would be those filthy clowns! Clowns are my biggest fear in all the world and when they had… When I took this role, I didn’t know it was about killer clowns. When Tommy, the director, asked, “Oh, you want to be in a movie?” So, yeah… after I booked the role, I was so excited and then he said, “But, we have to let you know… it’s about killer clowns!” I was so taken aback and was a little speechless because I have a legit fear of them. As a young girl… I suffer from terrible nightmares and ever since I was a young girl, I dream about clowns. I’m SO scared of them. It’s crazy to be thirty years old and be afraid of clowns, you know. That’s a real fear that I have and it took me a minute to really check in with myself to see if this was something I could do and I was just like, “You know what? It could be the greatest acting I’ve ever done ’cause I’m not gonna be acting… I’m really going to be scared!”
THE MULE: Oh, yeah… you gotta watch out for those killer clowns! I don’t trust any of them!
Katie Keene on the set of CLOWNTOWN (uncredited photo)
KATIE: Oh, no! Gosh, aren’t they just so terrifying?
THE MULE: So, aside from CLOWNTOWN, what’s coming up for you next?
KATIE: After this movie, actually with some of the same producers, I was… on another horror film called INOPERABLE. We’re finished filming now, but that’s my newest film coming up on the horizon. And that’s just now having a trailer come out and starting to get a little buzz from that. Then, continuing my day-to-day actor life here in LA, you know, auditioning for all kinds of different things day-to-day and working on the craft and seeing what you can land next. It’s kinda nice, ’cause I’ve got a couple films that are coming out around the same time. It’s really cool, especially with the Showmi and the Netflix. You know, I’ve got a couple movies on a couple of different things and people see the trailer for CLOWNTOWN and they go, “Oh, I’ve been a fan since LOST LAKE” or “I’ve been a fan since UNION FURNACE” or a couple other horror films I did… they’re starting to come out around the same time. It’s great for my career; people recognize me from a couple other very small independent horror films. It’s just so cool to be recognized, that people are watching some of these films. It’s just great!
THE MULE: Oh, absolutely. Now, INOPERABLE… I have seen the trailer for that one and, yeah… I guess that’s another thing that can be kinda creepy… hospitals.
KATIE: Absolutely. That hospital we filmed in WAS creepy. It was not a very fun hospital. It’s so neat what scares people… that’s what so fun about horror films – it’s like, there’s so many things you can make scary, you know, you can just play on peoples fears. I know,,, the fear of clowns is very common. There are so many people. And, fear of hospitals… people are scared of hospitals and there are just so many… so much opportunity to play off the fear of real people but… can I just say, it’s really fun!
THE MULE: Yeah, it is. I mean… people love to be scared.
Katie Keene is terrorized and tortured in LOST LAKE (publcity still)
KATIE: Yeah, they love to be scared! You know what? I like to be scared. Halloween is my favorite holiday. The scary haunted houses, they scare me. I mean, I know they’re actors… I used to act in them but, now, that’s what scares me – going to haunted houses. Horror films these days, I’m very critical. It’s very hard for me to find a scary movie that really scares me. I’m always like, “Bring it on! Bring me everything you got!”
THE MULE: I’m less than an hour away from Saint Louis and there are some really good haunted houses there. I’m talking world class haunted houses.
KATIE: Oh, absolutely! And, people will drive from all over to go to the real good ones. It’s crazy! It’s such an interesting thing that people just love to get the shit scared out of them!
THE MULE: You mentioned Halloween. It’s probably everybody’s favorite holiday… well, Christmas is up there, too. But, anyway, what is your favorite Halloween memory?
KATIE: Oh, wow… I’ve just got so many. You know, the Halloween I really liked, I was working in a haunted house; it was a couple years back. It was the Hollywood Haunted Hayride… I don’t know if you’re familiar with it but, they do big haunted houses here in LA. I was working that for Halloween one year and we just had a ball! It was just so much fun. That’s the most recent one that really sticks out in my mind. I always try to do something crazy for Halloween. A lot of Halloweens these days, I’m working. As a child, growing up, we always would dress up and trick or treat and then, when I got a little older, then started the pranks. I was always running around in camouflage, me and my buddies from school… we were big pranksters. So, every Halloween, everybody was going to get egged or pranked in some way. I had a lot of fun on Halloween growing up… always trying to scare people. I’ve got so many good Halloween memories.
THE MULE: Cool. I was just going to get back to INOPERABLE again. What is it like to work with Danielle Harris? She’s kind of a queen of the scream movies.
KATIE: Danielle… yeah, she sure is. Danielle was so great, such a big help to me, such a good friend to me, such a good mentor. She’s been working since she was three years old and now she’s kinda the big scream queen, you know, with HALLOWEEN. That’s what she does. We were so in awe… it’s always really neat when you grew up watching someone on television and then, a few years later, down the road, there you are working with them in a movie. A known movie. It’s always so great. She was just so very informative, she’s very professional. I love to watch her work, I love to watch her act and to hear her ideas and her thoughts. It was just so professional; you could just tell she’s been doing it her whole life. It was just great to see. We have a similar… She gave me a lot of great advice for my own career. She did a lot of horror films; I’m kinda… in that way, as well… doing a lot of horror films. She gave me great advice and had only nice things to say about my acting. She was like a friend and a mentor, too. I just loved her. She was amazing to work wth, so professional, so good at what she does… it’s second nature to her. It’s so cool to see people work that way, She’s a love, a friend of mine to this day. I really appreciate that. Just a lovely lady.
THE MULE: Awesome. We will be looking for that one and CLOWNTOWN is coming up soon. Thanks for the time and maybe we’ll talk again around the time INOPERABLE is released.
(MILLMAN PRODUCTIONS/STEEL HOUSE PRODUCTIONS/ZORYA FILMS (85 minutes; Unrated); 2016)
This could very well be the first current events, topical horror movie ever made. It is released in the midst of a “Creepy Clown Mania” that has overtaken small towns from coast to coast; in many in rural areas, there are (mostly unsubstantiated) reports about children being menaced and stalked by people dressed as clowns. Personally, I think it’s all a magnificently choreographed – if terribly misguided (think Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS) – promotional stunt… maybe one intended to prepare audiences for CLOWNTOWN. Be that as it may, the Tom Nagel/Jeff Miller hack and slash is, actually, “Inspired by true events.” Apparently, October 2014 saw numerous armed people in Bakersfield, California dressed as clowns, scaring the populace at-large. I guess I missed that newscast… or, just maybe, living here in the middle of the country, I’m kinda used to seeing armed clowns at the corner store and at the family diner down the street. (Before a large contingent of angry townsfolk come after me with torches and pitchforks… that was a joke! Sheesh… why so serious?) Some of the situations our hapless heroes find themselves in call for a major suspension of reality on the part of the viewer, much like great hack ‘n’ slash movies of the past, like FRIDAY THE 13TH. That doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable for what it is: A Halloween movie meant to scare the crap out of you.
CLOWNTOWN (David H Greathouse) (publicity still)
CLOWNTOWN begins – as most such stories do – with a preamble, a foreshadowing of the impending violence. A pretty blond babysitter (I would identify her as “Interchangeable Blond Rack 247,” but that would be demeaning and chauvinistic, so I won’t… the actress’ name is Kaitlyn Sapp, by the way) and her two charges enjoy a final swim before the kiddies’ bedtime; a foreboding mention of the sitter’s predecessor and random shots of clown-related knick-knacks inevitably lead to the… well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it? Fast forward fifteen years as four friends (played by Brian Nagel, Lauren Elise Compton, Katie Keene and Andrew Staton), on a road trip through Southern Ohio to a concert in Columbus, pull into a roadside diner to ask directions and use the facilities. A pair of workers (director Tom Nagel and Jeff Denton) sit at a window booth, one wanting to be on his way home and bemoaning the slow, leisurely manner of his friend’s eating style; remember them… they’ll be back later. Also adding to the (weird) local flavor is the county sheriff (Christopher Lawrence Chapman) and a leering old dude with lewd intentions (don’t worry about him, though, as he ends up dead in the next scene).
CLOWNTOWN (Chris Hahn, Lauren Elise Compton, Brian Nagel) (publicity still)
With directions for a shortcut offered by the Sheriff, the revelers are on their way. On the road once more, Mike (Staton) asks his girlfriend to locate the nearest gas station, but Jill (Keene) discovers her phone is missing. Sarah (Compton) calls Jill’s number in hopes of locating it; a male voice answers the call and directs the group to the nearby town of Clinton, promising to meet them there with the phone. The town seems deserted as the four head to the designated meeting place; after several frustrating hours spent waiting, the decision is made to abandon the phone for the time being and get back on the road to Columbus. The group returns to their vehicle only to find that it has been tampered with and won’t start; as the hood is closed, they finally see another person, a menacing looking man dressed as a clown and wielding a machete. The man disappears as Brad (Nagel) and the others approach. Desperate to be on their way, they begin searching for additional signs of life in the town and eventually run into Billy and Dylan, the two homeward bound workers from the diner, who have just had their own encounter with a clown. As notes are compared, the clowns return and Billy is… well, let’s just say that things quickly degenerate from that point. Heading into a suitably foreboding junkyard, the quintet is quickly reduced to a quartet as Jill is caught lagging behind the others; the hotheaded Mike is ready to confront the murderous clown horde, but is held at bay by the levelheaded leadership of Dylan (Denton).
CLOWNTOWN (Chris Hahn, David H Greathouse, Ryan Pilz) (publicity still)
That works out so well for the harried remnants of the little group that they find themselves surrounded, cowering in the husk of an old Winnebago until a grizzled citizen-in-hiding comes to their rescue – a variation on the whole “Follow me if you want to live” theme. Frank (Greg Violand) comes across as a stereotypical homeless psychotic, but once our heroes regroup in an abandoned warehouse, the truth about why he is the way he is comes to light. It seems that Clinton was once a thriving railroad stop, until a horrendous train wreck ruined the economy and turned the village into a virtual ghost town where the clowns imposed their own style of marshall law on the remaining citizens. Frank concludes the story by emphasizing, “Clowns own this town now.” Dylan says, “I heard rumors of clowns in this town, but I thought it was just bullshit to scare people. I heard it all started with some crazy, messed up family.” Looking away, Frank replies, “I don’t know nothin’ about that.” Which, of course, means… the clowns have discovered their hiding place and are on the hunt again. The sad thing about the whole predicament is highlighted at about the forty-four minute mark of the film, when Sarah tells Brad that she doesn’t really like Country music, anyway – had she made that fact known way back before the original foursome set out for Columbus, they would be safe at home, not running for their lives from a gang of homicidal Bozos (the killer crew are played by David H Greathouse, Ryan Pilz, Alan Tuskes, Beki Ingram and former WWE/WCW/ECW wrestler, Chris Hahn). But, then, what fun would that be for us?
So, anyway… with Frank and his new friends once again on the run, the clowns begin to exhibit certain preternatural – if not supernatural – abilities: Heightened agility, strength, speed and a high tolerance for pain among them. It’s also around this point in the flick that we finally get a glimpse of Jill’s fate; she isn’t dead, but she is being held captive at the clowns’ “compound.” The fact that she is still alive actually came as a bit of a surprise to me, even though the actual body count throughout the entire movie is startlingly low for one of this genre. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of gruesome scenes to keep today’s horror fan watching, just not a lot of people dying. After escaping from the clowns (and doing damage to at least one), Frank gives the others directions to find Jill, but along the way, they are set upon once more, as Brad is separated from Sarah and Mike. Now, well after dark, Brad sees lights on in a house; entering the home, he finds a woman (Maryann Nagel… that’s right, this low budget screamer is a family affair, with many a Nagel and Uncle Greg Voiland involved, either behind or in front of the cameras) with screws looser than Frank’s and, upon seeing a familiar picture on the mantle, begins to put things together. Meanwhile, Mike and Sarah are captured as they try to get help and removed to the clowns’ sanctuary. There really aren’t a lot of surprises left by this point, but getting to the end of the story is still a lot of fun… in a “brain-disengaged” sort of way. As I mentioned at the top of this review, CLOWNTOWN ain’t Shakespeare; it’s just good, cheap fun meant to scare the bejeezus out of you around Halloween time. Having said that, I must congratulate the writers for the humorous deaths of a pair of clownsin the last few minutes of the movie. For those who are interested in such things, the movie features a very HALLOWEEN-esque soundtrack. As far as parental warnings, there are more than a few very violent scenes, some implied bondage and one topless babysitter… kinda mild for a horror film nowadays, actually.
CLOWNTOWN is coming to DVD and Video-On-Demand on October 4, 2016… just in time for Halloween and your “Creepy Clown” or “Scream Queen” festivities.
The much anticipated thriller from filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar makes its DVD and Blu-Ray – as well as digital and On-Demand platforms – debut on May 10, 2106. The film is set in 1990, as a Minnesota youth, Angela (Emma Watson), accuses her father of sexually abusing her as a child. Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) investigates the girl’s allegations and becomes embroiled in tales of repressed memories and Satanic rituals. The palette of this movie is suitably dark and, like Amenabar’s genre-hopping classic, THE OTHERS, the twists and turns here keep you guessing. The plot features elements of horror, crime drama and psychological thriller all rolled into one, as first Angela, then her father begin to remember a past that may or may not be real. Hawke is at his brooding best as Detective Kenner, while the rest of the formidable cast (including David Thewlis) are swept along in his vortex. Watson is doing her best to move past her HARRY POTTER character, as she chooses roles that are far edgier than the sweet Hermione Granger. Just watching the trailer, I’m not sure this will earn her any new fans (or convince her longtime fans that she is anyone other than Hermione). Time… and a full viewing of REGRESSION… will tell.
(HAMMER FILMS/UNIVERSAL PICTURES/WARNER HOME VIDEO (82 minutes; Unrated); 1958/2013)
The power of atmosphere can not be overstated. The act of becoming immersed in a movie is one of the most rewarding and genuine aspects that one can experience whilst viewing a film. Director Terence Fisher realized this to the fullest when helming HORROR OF DRACULA (known simply as DRACULA outside of the US) in 1958, and it’s outcome paid off immensely, with critics and fans alike set to sing the film’s accolades for decades to come.
Following the path tread by it’s predecessor, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the film possesses all of the signature Hammerisms that would prove to be the British production company’s lasting calling cards, IE: vivid color, eroticism, action and a quirky sense of British discernment. These attributes, combined with career defining performances from Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, propel the body of work to a preeminent level that very few vampire films have managed to reach. The set design, provided by one Bernard Robinson, is nothing short of breathtaking. Gothic and lavish, Mister Robinson walked a razor thin line between aesthetic beauty and the overwhelmingly grandiose. The artistry and tastefulness in which these pieces were created has, with no doubt, gone on to influence many present day films, not limited to THE OTHERS, THE WOMAN IN BLACK and CRIMSON PEAK.
HORROR OF DRACULA (Melissa Stribling, Christopher Lee) (publicity still)
On the negative side, the film falls prey to a fair amount of melodramatic excess, mostly in the form of overacted sequences from Melissa Stribling. And, while wholly majestic, the score can at times feel a bit forceful and overpowering. Altogether, HORROR OF DRACULA is a seminal horror film that should be able to find a home in any genre fan’s collection. It’s stylish and elegant imagery allow it to retain it’s place among the best the vampire sub genre has to offer.
4 FILM FAVORITES, DVD cover (WARNER HOME VIDEO)
HORROR OF DRACULA is currently available as part of a budget-priced DVD collection from Warner Home Video called FOUR FILM FAVORITES: DRACULAS, alongsideDRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA and DRACULA, AD 1972; these and most of the Hammer Studios horror films show up occasionally on the Turner Classic Movie channel (usually during October, as part of their Halloween celebration), as well as being available digitally.