Condado Macabro aka Massacre County (Review)




Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Co-Directors, Andre de Campos Mello and Marcos DeBrito (who also wrote the screenplay) for giving me access to an online screener of their 2015 Horror/Mystery film, “Condado Macabro” aka “Massacre County”. Massacre County is a Brazilian made horror film that follows the aftermath of a series of murders that recently occurred in a mansion by the forest. Inside an interrogation room, traveling street clown, Cangco (played by Francisco Gaspar) attempts to plead his innocence to key investigator, Moreira (Paulo Vespucio). With blood stained hands and a hazy memory, Cangco must convince the authorities that someone or something else was in the house that night. The film also stars Bia Gallo, Leonardo Miggiorin, Rafael Raposo, Larissa Queiroz, Fernando de Paula, Marcela Moura and Olivia de Brito. The language spoken in   the film is Portuguese but the screener contains hard-coded English subtitles.


Right off the bat, Mello and DeBrito informed me that Condado Macabro was somewhat of a homegrown love letter to American horror films, that and they were attempting to fuse it with their own sense of humor. The film primarily centers on five young adults. Siblings, Theo and Mari (played by Miggiorin and Queiroz), their friends, Lena and Beto (Gallo and Raposo) and last but not least, fifth wheel, Vanessa (Brito). Naturally, being a horror film, these individuals make up the genre of stereotypes required for a weekend getaway to a private mansion. Theo is your shy, oblivious and less than protective brother. Mari is the level-headed, beautiful and confident one that keeps the group uniform. Lena, the promiscuous popular girl, and Beto, the not so smooth, douche bag jock. I suppose I shouldn’t forget Vanessa (even though the group always does). She’s a heavier girl with a questionable taste in music, and unfortunately precariously positioned in the middle of two potential pairings for most of the film. I know a lot of people are sick of seeing the same elements and sets of rules applied to the slasher genre, but there’s a reason they’re there. It’s a formula that’s worked for so long and it gives its hardcore fan base what they expect.

Mello’s camera work is fairly solid considering the films small budget. Most of the framing looks nice and there’s a couple of effective tracking shots throughout. My favourite sequence of shots are at the beginning of the film. There’s a great one of Lena in her underwear lying on the bed, followed by a series of sharp quick cuts as she grabs her belongings and leaves the house. The in-car shots were done quite well too. Roger Lima’s music structure doesn’t always work but it’s at its best when the carnival style music cues during scenes between Cangaco and his sidekick, 8-Ball (played by Paula). Some of the pop rock music the group plays on their IPod sounds alright as well. Overall, the acting is okay. About what you’d expect from a low-budget slasher film with non-English actors. I thought Bia and Francisco delivered two of the better performances in the film, though it helps that Gallo is easy on the eyes (especially that booty of hers). Mello and DeBrito have obviously seen their fair share of horror content, namely Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and don’t shy away from eluding (often through dialogue) to what keeps fans of the genre entertained. Beto even mentions “The Devils Rejects” and “Nekromantik” in relation to how graphic things have to be in order for him to really enjoy it. The first bit of gore comes just 20 minutes into the film and it involves a pig. It looks quite graphic and bloody (so here’s hoping it wasn’t a real pig). There’s a sizeable amount of practical blood spray during the climax of the film and a commendable decapitation a bit earlier.


Massacre County has quite a long running time for a movie of this nature, too long. It clocks in at just over 110 minutes and could have quite easily had 20 minutes trimmed off of it and not lost anything. Big chunks of the subtitles don’t translate as well as they could, a lot of the phrasing is out of sequence (probably to be expected from a foreign film). The attempted humor didn’t appeal to me at all, it mostly consists of immature sexual innuendo and these “kids” are clearly too old to be acting the way they do. In fairness to Mello and DeBrito, they did say that the comedy might not translate as well to English audiences. The washed out color grading looks to have been molded on that of the aforementioned Texas Chainsaw Massacre, to boot. Specifics such as that, on such a small budget, usually only hinder the quality of the overall product. Most of the internal scenes, particularly at night, look better than anything shot during the day time. The broken film reel filter and static marks that they use to transition in the edit don’t really fit the design of the film and just loom as convenient. Even with the film boasting a heap of practical effects in the latter part, the CG manufactured blood when present, looks really patchy. Picking up a hitch hiker (albeit a street clown this time), the sowing of dead skin, wielding of a chainsaw and a bloody girl on the street are just a few examples of things on display in Massacre County that come straight out of either the original TCM or the 03′ remake. I don’t mind a nod here and there but it’s got to be done right and in this case I don’t think it warranted it.

Some of the finer points of the script and continuity in regard to characters actions could have used some editing. Theo and Beto present as best friends, but personality wise they’re about as different as you can get. Theo’s more reserved, quieter and far more mature (reminds me of myself) and Beto acts like a 15-year-old trapped in an adult’s body. He’s constantly talking about sex, hitting on two out of three girls at every chance and basically making a complete fool of himself. Theo doesn’t seem at all phased by Beto’s sleazy advances on his sister, Mari. I didn’t really believe that they could actually be friends because they’re so different. There’s a couple of continuity issues both of which involve Lena in action scenes. At one stage she thwarts an assault from Cangaco and kicks him numerous times, unfortunately there’s no force in her movement and it comes off looking visibly staged. Toward the end of the film, one of the property owners (without spoilers) is shown sneaking up on Lena, whose facing side on in a small dwelling with no other doors. We see the owner approach her front on, yet when Lena looks up the owner’s not there, and then suddenly lunges at her from the side, it doesn’t make any sense logistically. In the second half of the film, DeBrito chose to revisit a handful of previous sequences from in an around the house, only now showing them from different characters points of view that we didn’t know existed. On one hand, I give him credit for trying to introduce something new to the narrative, but in this case the entire pacing ends up suffering because of it. The most disappointing thing about Massacre County is that fans have to wait over an hour to see their first kill (and it’s off-screen), and another fifteen minutes on top of that to finally see one shown in detail.

I believe that Condado Macabro, aka Massacre County is my first foray into South American horror. Andre and Marcos were upfront about their passion for the genre and the intent behind their film. The characters and location were intentionally established with the parameters of your conventional horror film in mind, and that’s bound to give viewers a clear picture of what they’re in for. The camera work, audio track and music were all serviceable given the crews limited amount of experience. The acting wasn’t bad, I certainly enjoyed watching Bia Gallo and Larissa Queiroz in all their glory, and the two sets of antagonists and different points of view were refreshing in a way, though they do drag the momentum down. There are a number of kills utilizing practical blood and gore but the drawback is that you’ve got to wade through a lot of fluff to get there. The subtitles are irregular, the comedy juvenile and the coloring and editing somewhat amateurish. There’s a handful of continuity issues, which isn’t uncommon, and the movie is a little too  influenced by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The overly long running time and stale progress of getting to the killing that most fans want from the outset, hurts the re-watch ability factor of Massacre County. I still think that hardcore fans of the genre might enjoy this one and let’s be honest, how often do you get to see a Brazilian horror film? Check out the trailer below!

My rating for “Condado Macabro” is 5/10

The Quacky Slasher (Review)




Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Peter McKeirnon for allowing me access to an online screener of his 35 minute Horror/Comedy short, “The Quacky Slasher”. The Quacky Slasher tells the story of Michael Quackers (played by Andrew Butterworth), a patient whose spent the last 20 years in a psychiatric facility after having been traumatized as a child. He breaks out of the facility and decides that it’s time to rid the local town of its criminal underbelly, led by Mr Mozzarella (Neil Gallagher). Michael will have to deal with seedy store owners, a peculiar hitman and a pair of overly jovial detectives. The film also stars Michael Hagen, Jayne Kinsella, Jacqueline Mercer, Andy Coffey and Ian Finney.


I only recently saw an article and trailer pop up on (my go to for most things horror related) for this zany Horror/Comedy coming to us from the UK. With its extremely eye-catching and colorful poster art, and the fun (albeit cliché) tagline, how could you not want to venture into this bizarre world of McKeirnon’s. The horror portion of the synopsis probably sounds familiar, and so it should. Everything from the name Michael, and the facility he inhabits, through to the jumpsuit and kitchen knife he wields, it’s all Carpenter’s iconic killer Michael Myers, only sporting a duck mask instead. Peter makes no apologies for paying homage to 1978’s “Halloween”, and he does so in such an obvious way (those details mentioned aside), e.g, the Myers mask on the shelf in the store. On a separate note, the comedic writing here relays a love of quintessential British comedy of years gone by. McKiernon’s cinematography is really clean and superbly framed, raising the production value of Quacky Slasher immensely. The film opens with a series of grand aerial shots, something unheard of in a film with a budget of under $1,500. Following those, there’s a nice tracking sequence as we see bodies strewn across the floors of a housing facility. The audio track is smooth and the 80’s inspired, synth and bass pumping score really gives the film extra life.

The Quacky Slasher presents with several different chapters, each introduced with a clever and entertaining anecdote in writing. My favourite is “Some time between 3:00 and 3:01” (haha) but the others are amusing too. Peter’s script plays far more as a comedy than a horror, and although I’d have preferred the latter, most of the humor does work. Think Edgar Wright’s, “Hot Fuzz” when it comes to our dogged detective pairing and then 90’s TV comedy, “Keeping Up Appearances” during the scenes where Michael’s mother (also played by Gallagher) answers questions from police. The delivery is contrasting, because while it’s quite over the top, the material is actually rather dry. Mrs Quackers (who can be seen in the image below), along with the two detectives, are definitely the funniest parts about The Quacky Slasher. Gallagher actually plays three roles in the film, the concerned “cockney” mother being the best of the bunch. He dons a long wig, a pipe and some extremely crooked teeth that see him talking like he’s got gigantic dentures in, it’s hilarious. There’s a straight forward but priceless line said to her son that goes something like “You’re just a mental in a duck mask”. The opening sequence with creepy store owner, Farraday (Finney) is good for a laugh and once the banter between Detectives, Dampsy and Mantelpiece (Kinsella and Mercer) begins, it gets even better. McKiernon utilizes some practical blood spray amidst a couple of the kills and even generates a decapitation, notwithstanding the lack of punch.


On the technical front there was really just the one inconsistency that I noticed. It’s evident in the first frame of the bar scene that when Johannson (played by Michael Hagen) is seated, there’s a really odd split screen type of shadow across part of his face (though it might have just been a glitch in the screener though). There’s a couple of sections of feeble and unnecessarily crass dialogue between Mr Mozzarella, Johansson and the somewhat simple man with Tourette’s Syndrome (again, played by Gallagher). If I’m honest, the trio of Johansson, The Wet Dream and the simple man, were characters that all partially spoilt this living up to its maximum potential. Peter wrote these three off-beat characters, none of which were really essential to the narrative and wore thin rather quickly. First you’ve got, Johansson, Mozzarella’s right hand man. Unfortunately Hagen delivers his lines like he’s doing a Russian impersonation of Sean Connery, and frankly it gets annoying. There’s a scene with him and Mozzarella standing by a river talking about the hatred/fear of ducks for about five minutes (at least that’s what I think it was I sort of tuned out). Then Andy Coffey plays The Wet Dream, who is a hitman of sorts sent to kill Michael Quackers. No doubt Coffey is just playing it as it’s written but as the character experiences what can only be described as spikes of internal dialogue/noise, he proceeds to convey that by making orgasm sounds and it’s extremely cringe worthy and awkward. Gallagher’s small part as an inflicted simple man felt a little redundant as well. As I stated earlier, I was hoping to see more impactful kills and further practical blood and gore effects, but I can acknowledge Peter’s budget limitations here.

Those of you who’ve been following for a while would know by now that The Quacky Slasher is just the type of craziness I usually go in for. I’m glad I stumbled across this quirky Horror/Comedy from UK film maker, Peter McKiernon. The artwork and tagline are great and I love the intent behind the film’s horror element. If you’re a fan of John Carpenter’s iconic film you’ll find plenty of nods to indulge in, and if you like your dry comedy I can guarantee plenty of laughs. The camera work, audio levels and score are all really well-conceived given the budget limitations. A majority of the performances are solid and the film is at its most entertaining when Kinsella and Mercer are riffing off of each other and Gallagher is putting on a show as Mrs Quackers. There’s some blood spray and a decent body count but the film exhibits far more comedy than horror. Not all the dialogue works though, and I personally didn’t enjoy those three characters I mentioned earlier or the respective performances. Despite a couple of inconsistencies and those inferior characters occupying more screen time than warranted, The Quacky Slasher comes from the right place and remains a really fun short film that definitely calls for a bloodier sequel. Keep an eye out for this soon and check out the trailer below!

My rating for “The Quacky Slasher” is 7/10

Scarecrowd (Review)




Bought to us from SRS Cinema and Melting Pictures, comes “Scarecrowd”, the debut feature film from Writer/Director, George Nevada. Scarecrowd is a part American, part Italian, Horror/Sci-Fi film about a local farmer named Tony Maio (played by Fabrizio Occhipinti), who mysteriously transforms into a demented mutant following a meteoroid crashing to earth. He disguises himself as a scarecrow and begins to rid earth of its humanity. The film also stars Gabrielle Bergere, Antony Ferry, Ruby Miller, Karen Lynn Widdoss, Frances Williams, Danny Willis and Raphael Willis.


I stumbled across the IMDB page for “Scarecrowd” (formerly known as The Musk) a while back and after having networked with Antony Coia, who composed the films score, I jumped at pre-ordering the Blu Ray from the guys at I’m a huge advocate for low-budget and independent film making and it’s websites like the aforementioned who are releasing this type of content, so make sure you support them. I really like the Scarecrowd poster art and the Giallo inspired, psychedelic opening credits to the film. With a multitude of diverse influences, Nevada throws caution to the wind by engineering means with which to include said connections, even if the film doesn’t really call for it. The grindhouse element is present through Nevada employing a constant flickering and popping of the image. The exploitation on display with the way he lingers on female nudity, the voyeuristic component of the shower scenes comes to mind. The camera work is generally pretty good, a lot of simple still shots that coincide with the films small budget. Some of the low angle framing works nicely and there’s the odd highlight in editing, most notably when a young man’s bike headlight fades out and turns to a shot of the moon. A big portion of the film takes place at night and most of it was lit atmospherically. Coia’s heavy reliance on ambient synth in the mix complements Scarecrowd’s trace of 80’s nostalgia.

While the look of our newly modified farmer isn’t exactly original, calling to mind villains of films like “Scarecrows”, “The Redwood Massacre” and “Husk” (just to name a few), he’s still well conceived. Nevada does right by his core audience with the subsequent rules of Horror 101 by introducing an early kill and some nudity as well. Given the films short running time, the body count is relatively high and the blood flows adequately throughout. Most of the kills do occur on-screen and when they’re boasting their practical effects it’s usually resourceful. The tearing of flesh from the face of one unfortunate park-goer is probably the standout kill, though Nevada does attempt a decapitation, albeit it looks so-so. I have to commend George on his commitment to the visual effects side of the story. There’s a handful of scenes in space and others involving the crashing comet and its after effects, which generally look better than what you’d expect from a $40,000 film. The digital compositing is one of the hardest things to get right and even though some of it does look pretty cheesy, its ambitious all the same. There’s a hodgepodge of ideas at play in Scarecrowd but I’ll admit that the Psycho inspired shower scene was a good bit of fun. I say it’s inspired by, but let’s be honest, everything from the torn curtain, to the girls reaction and the crimson water gushing down the drain, it’s Hitch’s iconic scene straight up lifted, only void of suspense.


Like just about all low-budget films from first time filmmakers, Scarecrowd has plenty of technical issues and things that reek sub-standard. Some of the framing looks a little tight and uneven at times, only further compounded by some horribly bright and colorful filters that are used on several occasions as we watch from Tony’s point of view. The indisputable ADR (additional dialogue recording) that goes back and forth between actors, appears present in just about all the dialogue sequences (which fortunately are few and far between). The reaction times from those actors are quite poor, either that or the mix is just horribly off. A lot of the foley effects are problematic and seldom do they even match the desired action. E.g, Machete piercing skin sounds more like someone punching a bulky item. Despite the better than expected CG in early parts of the film, the digital blood was atrocious and some of the worst that I’ve seen in recent times. What makes matters even worse is that it wasn’t necessary. The practical gore wasn’t anything special but they used it during most of the films kills, so why not in all of it? Rig up some tubing and spray it back at the actor instead of editing trickling blood onto the lens. At one stage there’s even a CG car that a couple are sitting in, Why would you use a CG car for that!? At least I think it was CG, either that or someone did something very strange with the lighting and backdrop in post. This group of rather raw actors seemed determined to deliver their lines like those in a 50’s B movie and I really didn’t like it (as much as I like 50’s B movies). When you combine the delivery with the clashing ADR, you end up with a bunch of lowly performances right across the board. I did enjoy sections of Coia’s score but there’s also some very random blues music thrown in that really doesn’t fit.

Despite the speedy 77 minute run time, the pacing still seems sluggish, and if not for multiple scenes that run twice as long as they needed to, I very much doubt Nevada would’ve had enough content to warrant a full length film. There’s two repeated sequences of shots, one as Tony watches a young woman through the window and the other displays the women from the neck up as the water rolls down her. Later, horses are shown in an around a stable for what feels like five minutes, followed by a stable hand who sweeps hay and cleans up, I’m not sure what the point was of any of that. In the beginning of the film there’s a deceptively lengthy shot of a beautiful young girl frolicking through the cane fields, it’s pretty lame in all honesty. You’re sort of led to believe that someone is chasing her, though unlikely based on the way she’s dawdling along. Long story short, eventually something other than fooling around with her boyfriend happens, but with a hollow scream and a lack-lustre first kill, it’s somewhat of an uninspiring start to proceedings. Other specifics such as characters never running away from Tony with any sense of urgency tended to annoy me (unless of course you’re implying comedy), so to did a lot of the complete randomness within the film. There’s way too much patchwork in Scarecrowd that the movie loses all sense of its tone. From the graphic novel captions so far removed from the slasher sub-genre, to the bizarre science fiction sub-plot involving the entity wanting to re-populate its own planet with human seed. It all seems redundant to what is ultimately a revenge fueled slasher film about a simple downtrodden man. Cryptic other worldly narration, baffling salutes to The Wizard Of Oz and a random muscular camper playing Queen on a harmonica are just a few more examples of the obscurity in Scarecrowd, I ask again, Why? What drove all these ideas?

Scarecrowd is an extremely ambitious low-budget undertaking from a first time film maker in George Nevada, and although it wasn’t entirely what I expected or wanted, I have to commend the effort. It’s a hard film to categorize but it feels like a mix of the straight to video “Scarecrow” from 2002 and the popular 80’s film “Pumpkinhead”. I think there’s a few too many techniques on display here but the film works best with its grindhouse presentation. The camera work is solid, the lighting is nicely conveyed and the odd creative cut, if nothing else, makes for an interesting edit. Tony’s look and attitude as a killer works in the confines of a slasher flick and there is a high body count for those who get bored rather easily. The vfx aren’t too bad and a couple of sequences are pretty entertaining, especially when the practical effects are on display. Far too many of the technical aspects are well below par though and therefore become a burden to the end result. The colorful filters are amateurish, the ADR stands out like crazy, and chunks of CG blood and visuals are bordering cringe worthy. Unfortunately I couldn’t get behind any of the performances and the film continues to run over its previously established ground on more than one occasion. The mishmash of random events and character quirks took me right out of the film, and for that reason it’s not something I’d really recommend to fans of the slasher genre. That said, If you do like a mix of the bat shit crazies within your horror, you might find something here that I couldn’t.

My rating for “Scarecrowd” is 4/10

The Killing Ground (Review)




Coming to us from the wonderful people at IFC Midnight is the debut feature-length Horror/Thriller “Killing Ground”, Written and Directed by Damien Power. Killing Ground sees young adult couple, Sam and Ian (played by Harriet Dyer and Ian Meadows) take a weekend camping trip off the beaten path in the Australian bush land. Shortly after arriving, the duo notice a tent and remnants from fellow hikers have been left, unknowingly they stumble onto the scene of a crime and now must try to survive the weekend. The film also stars Aaron Pedersen (Mystery Road), Aaron Glenane (Drift), Tiarnie Coupland, Maya Stange and Liam and Riley Parkes.


Killing Ground is most certainly at home with its backcountry roots, Powers clearly inspired by the likes of John Boorman (Deliverance) and to a greater extent, fellow Aussie film maker, Greg Mclean (Wolf Creek). KG is not so much your typical revenge soaked thriller (as good as they are) as it is, raw survival story. We’re introduced to a fairly down to earth couple in Sam and Ian, mid transit, on route to a secluded camping spot for the weekend. He’s a doctor and she’s a publisher of sorts (at least that’s what I gathered). Upon advice from German (Pedersen), a local who Sam engages with outside the pub (aka bar), the couple change their destination specifics for the promise of more picturesque surroundings. It’s a decision that proves to be more costly than first thought. Right off the bat, audiences are bound to be drawn into this beautiful and tucked away location, the sand and gorgeous little lake further highlight its appeal. DP, Simon Chapman (who worked on The Devil’s Candy and Cut Snake) gives Killing Ground a cinematic and sharp-looking production value. There’s an abundance of nice establishing shots, well placed tracking and panning and everything is framed expertly. My favourite sequence is an effective long take of Sam trekking along a path while heading back to the car, in the background you can see a little figure walking and stumbling and it’s quite unnerving. Leah Curtis’s score is another facet of Killing Ground that I really enjoyed. It begins with some rural panache, the orchestral theme comparable to that of a Western or something out of Jeff Nichols, “Mud”. It progresses with slick sounding strings and bass as the films tension level ratchets up a notch. Curtis adopts a lot of that big sweeping violin you’d usually hear in something like “Game Of Thrones”, but it works surprisingly well here.

The determining success of Powers film, rests in big part on the shoulders of our two leads in Dyer and Meadows. A seemingly trivial car ride game between the two, where Sam tries to get Ian to connect the bones (for lack of a better term), helps set up the natural chemistry between the two right from the start. Being a Doctor, he’s able to correct her with his tongue in cheek approach and it’s a rare light moment in the 87 minute run time. I’m usually quite cynical when it comes to Australian films and their performances, because I just don’t think we make a lot of great content. A lot of talent has come out of this country, and most of it never sticks around (and for good reason). Dyer and Meadows both deliver even and enjoyable performances, as to do the villains and the trio of actors led by Coupland, that play another family who are on their own camping trip. The way in which Powers sustains subtly with his villains (well for most of the duration anyways), makes for a real change of pace for the genre. We’re used to seeing the overt and manic actions of desperate and psychotic killers, there’s never any build up or real grounding to it. With the duo of German and Chook (played by Pedersen and Glenane respectively) being your everyday country Aussies (within reason), it makes the situation they enter into even more barbaric and horrifying then say Mick Taylor’s of “Wolf Creek”. Killing Ground is definitely a slow-burn thriller, and while not layered with action, it is presented in an original structure. I’ve got to give credit where it’s due regarding Damien’s crossing of timelines and the two separate character group arcs. Even though I’m not necessarily sold on it altogether, I respect it. However, I do think it might throw some viewers for a loop. It’s worth mentioning that there are some brief on-screen kills and one really impressive car stunt toward the end of Killing Ground.


Killing Ground’s audio track is the one technical aspect that could have used some work (keep in mind this is a review of a screener though). Dialogue is a little hard to hear in spots, most notably during a short scene where German and Chook talk to a couple of girls in the pub. Once you add loud music to the mix, extras and background noise it makes it hard. Sections of the foley either sound like they’ve been mixed with excessive reverb or the effect itself doesn’t match the action. Dog barking, car doors, and a number of other sounds seem to echo, that and characters feet squish as they walk in the scrub or down a path, it just doesn’t sound quite right. Most of the film takes place during the day and that’s a wise creative decision for logistical reasons, but a lot of the night scenes are almost too dark and you can’t always see what’s in the frame. The films continuity is mostly in tact, and considering the irregular timeline, that surprises me. That being said, one character does mention that Christmas was only four days prior, yet on the same night they’re ringing in the new year (the 29th). Shortly into proceedings Ian carries out the most lifeless proposal to Sam that I think I’ve ever seen (haha), it isn’t technically an issue, it’s more about him and just lame. I found a couple of the characters reactions just weren’t realistic. For example, Chook and Ian head off at one point to try to get some help for young Ollie and later stumble across some bodies. Surely if you’re Ian and you haven’t seen a single other soul since you arrived, you ask the question of Chook? Or at the very least approach him with some trepidation, Right? Speaking of Chook, there’s a rather lengthy moment during a hunt with German where he shows signs of having a conscience and not wanting to act on whatever urges he has. In the greater scheme of things, it’s fleeting and quickly stamped out. We haven’t seen anything up to that point to support a moment of clarity, he’s a pretty unsympathetic kind of guy so I found it hard to believe that he’d have that capacity (plus he’s no brains trust).

Damien Powers debut feature-length, Killing Ground is a fittingly tense piece of Aussie outback thriller. Tapping into equally as harsher landscapes as in the aforementioned “Wolf Creek” and blending elements of criminally underrated films like Haneke’s “Funny Games” and to a greater extent, Koldo Serra’s 2006 “The Backwoods”, makes this an all to real game of cat and mouse. The location is lovely, as is the sharp cinematography, both a perfect contrast to the vicious nature of what goes on in these woods. The score is wonderfully composed and on quite a grand scale, in turn, becoming much more impactful than your by the book thrillers. The protagonists are likeable and relatable and the villains aren’t written so plainly. Each of the performances were stronger than I thought they’d be and there were some tense scenes throughout. The writing is generally pretty solid and I think I’m warming to Powers narrative structure (although it might take another viewing to be sold on it). The sound wasn’t the best, so here’s hoping the audio track is a little better on the hard copy. Some of the night scenes lack a bit of clarity, and like most films, there’s the odd continuity fault and the characters don’t always react how you’d want them to. In the end, Powers manages to rise above the expectations of Australian film making, usually described as serviceable at best, to give us one of the best independent films to come out of the country in the last five years. Keep an eye out for Killing Ground which comes to cinemas nationwide, August 24th.

My rating for “Killing Ground” is 7/10

The Ice Cream Truck (Review)




Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Judrina Kymantas and Uncork’d Entertainment for allowing me access to an online screener of the Horror/Slasher film “The Ice Cream Truck”, Written and Directed by Megan Freels Johnston. The Ice Cream Truck centers around young wife and mother, Mary (played by Deanna Russo of Rest Stop) who moves back to her suburban hometown in LA. With her husband on the road for work, kids in tow, she agrees to go ahead and start setting up the new home early. Shortly after arriving she’s introduced to a nosy trio of mothers, headed by Jessica (Hilary Barraford), she encounters strange delivery men and Max (played by John Redlinger), a younger man from the neighborhood. Life in the burbs is not quite how Mary remembered it, that and there’s something not right about the local ice cream truck and the creepy man who drives it. The film also stars Emil Johnson, Sam Schweikert, Bailey Anne Borders (Raze) and Jeff Daniel Phillips (31 and The Lords Of Salem). I’ve followed the developments of The Ice Cream Truck since it’s inception and I’m glad to see it’s finally been completed.

Geez… neighbors can be nosy


It’s evident right from the beginning of The Ice Cream Truck, in which the quiet, picturesque serenity of small town suburbia is established, that Johnston’s scoop of the slasher cone is clearly inspired by similar films from the 80’s and 90’s. The original one sheet (which can be seen above) looks superior to that of the latest artwork, hence I’m hoping it’s the official cover art. With the classic central image and eye-catching pink font and bordering, it really has that 80’s vibe down pat. DP, Stephen Tringali’s extensive work on short films has certainly held him in good stead for shooting feature lengths. The cinematography in The Ice Cream Truck is simple but effective, everything is well shot and nicely framed (likely in 4k). Tringali makes use of some brief and gentle panning, as well as a particularly smart aerial shot, hovering over the lifeless bodies of a young adult couple. This gorgeous and vibrant part of Los Angeles lends itself to a high quality image, that and the warm color grading really lifts the production value on what is likely a modest, low-budget film (I’d wager to bet). During the day, the streets have that feeling of being almost too quiet, the neighborhood too perfect like something out of “The Stepford Wives”. At night, the lane and its luminous street lights give off the same sinister vibe that Elm St did for Nancy Thompson in Wes Craven’s iconic film “The Nightmare On Elm St”. With sizeable chunks of the film taking place outdoors, it’s nice to hear a consistently clear audio track. Michael Boateng’s energetic and superbly composed synth score is perhaps my favourite thing about The Ice Cream Truck. He gauges a similar atmosphere to what was created in films like “Maniac” and “The Funhouse”, keeping things moody with the bass but pumping the odd keyboard spike. Like most of us, I’m sure Megan has seen plenty of films in the genre. Influences from filmmakers like Dario Argento can’t be denied when you watch scenes like Mary in front of the mirror, head in frame, bathed in purple and pink lighting, synth slowly building in the mix, I love that kind of stuff.

Mary prepping herself for a late night rendezvous (Suspiria eat your heart out)

I feel like I’m saying it with every new actor that I’m introduced to, but Jesus everyone looks like someone else these days (haha). Deanna Russo is a beautiful young woman, a cross between actresses Olivia Wilde and Summer Glau. Her performance is probably the best of the bunch, and those who’ve ever had an identity crisis or felt lost, wondering where they fit in, should be able to relate to Mary (at least on some level). I was interested to see how Jeff Daniel Phillips fit into the film, and although he’s not given much screen time, he was aptly cast as an intimidating delivery man and did it well. The trio of mature ladies (played by Barraford, Lisa Ann Walter and LaTeace Towns-Cuellar) that live in the street embody that Stepford Wives element I spoke of earlier. They’re a little to eager to engage with Mary, but at the same time quietly compete against and judge her. Christina’s (Walter) eighteen year old son, Max, takes an interest in Mary after sensing her reservations to engage with the nosy neighbors. Mary may be well into her 30’s but she’s young at heart and that acts as the catalyst for her internal conflict and moral dilemma as the film wears on. Redlinger, who looks like Dominic Monahan crossed with my buddy Gabriel Lee, turns in a serviceable performance, albeit a little inconsistent at times. I liked the fresh casting of Norwegian born, Emil Johnson as the Ice Cream Man. He doesn’t look like your obvious villain, and while not necessarily scary, for all intents and purposes it works in the confines of the films aesthetics. Given the amount of time Johnson spent in different countries around the world, I think his American accent was spot on. There’s not a big body count on display in The Ice Cream Truck but the practical blood looks good and there’s a couple of thrilling kills involving a scooper and a knife.

Can I interest you in a cone, a cup or a shake?


As I said, The Ice Cream Truck is a slick and polished looking independent film, but unfortunately it ends up becoming more of an attempt at an emotionally weighty expression on ideals rather than staying the course of a conventional slasher film. Hardcore fans of the genre will probably be caught off guard, but for those who like a more well-rounded dramatic arc, you’ll probably end up appreciating Johnston’s writing. The hardest pill for me to swallow here is John Redlinger attempting to pass for an eighteen year old. Now I’ll admit, I don’t know how old John is, and sure, the guys a bit of a baby face but if Mary supposed to be in her 30’s (which Russo is) then surely Max has to be pushing thirty as well. It’s revealed in the first act that he’s just graduated and is getting ready to head off to college but I just couldn’t look past that detail once the interactions developed between him and Mary. The companionship between the two just feels like a juvenile stretch and it’s only further highlighted by some of Mary’s reactions to his advances. It just feels awkward when it shouldn’t, especially when it wasn’t a necessity to have Redlinger playing a character that age. The film is not without the odd continuity glitch, most notably when Max’s friend Nick (Schweikert), visits Brie (Dana Gaier) and brings her an ice cream. Before she can even open the door to see what it is she joyfully says “Oh for me!”, like she knows what it’s going to be, making me think that take was done numerous times.

Mary gets more than she bargained for.

It would have been an interesting creation to see The Ice Cream Truck set in the 50’s instead of modern-day. The man, himself, seems about as far removed from modern times as you can get, plus the husband and wife and suburbia dynamics were totally different in that era and it might have made for some interesting humor as well, just a thought. The film only runs 87 minutes but still feels a little sluggish, a number of shots linger longer than they need to. There was a missed opportunity to get up close and personal with the ice cream man, which I think would’ve been a good addition. He uses a victims bathroom at one point, presumably to clean up, but the camera is pulled back at a distance in the hallway. Up until then he hadn’t had time to revel in his mayhem, probably due to location or his surroundings, but I think that moment would have been beneficial for an insight into his mindset. A tight shot in on his face comes to mind in order to see his eyes and the facial expression (or lack there of), Does he have a dialogue with himself? How does he wash his hands? something, anything to give us so he’s not just a carbon copy killer. While the first kill is an on-screen and practical death, it doesn’t come until 25 minutes into the film. When you’re working in the horror genre (or more appropriately the slasher sub-genre) you’re wise to follow the fundamentals, the primary of which is to have a death inside that first 10-15 minute window to get viewers locked in. Johnston had a chance in the remainder of the film to make up for that missing element, but sadly I don’t think there was enough action or adequate variation in the kills and the effects.

Megan Johnston’s second feature film, The Ice Cream Truck isn’t quite what I expected. It feels like a blend of the 90’s Slasher/Comedy “Ice Scream” and the aforementioned “The Stepford Wives” by way of TV’s “Desperate Housewives”. I love the cinematography and the brightness of the image, along with the idyllic suburb setting that takes me back to the slashers of the 80’s. With so many filmmakers traits thrown into the mix, Boateng’s pulsating synth score ends up being one of the best this year and the lighting is another wonderful aspect too. Russo is lovely and delivers a really solid performance, as to, do most of the supporting players. Some of the kills are good fun and there’s practical blood on display. I’ll be the first to admit that I thought I was in for something a little more violent and run of the mill than what I got though. I couldn’t look past the casting of Redlinger, or more accurately, the age he was supposed to be playing. Either Johnston’s writing needed to change or that casting decision, one of the two in order for the Mary/Max development to be even remotely believed. The film does have a few continuity problems and it lags in places. I can’t help but think some opportunities were missed when it came to the ice cream man himself, not to mention the body count could have been larger and the deaths more dynamic. In the end it seemed more about Mary’s cross-road in life and her identity crisis rather than the slashing most fans will be asking for. The Ice Cream Truck is still a reasonably fun time and I can say it’s worth a watch if you’re a fan of these types of films. Keep an eye out for the film on VOD, August 18th and check out the trailer below.

My rating for “The Ice Cream Truck” is 5.5/10

Cage Dive (Review)




Last weekend I attended the Adelaide leg of the Monster Fest Travelling Sideshow, a film festival dedicated to screening independent films in theaters that you may otherwise never see them in. I booked two screenings, one was to 78/52, an informative and entertaining documentary on the infamous shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece “Psycho”, the other was to Gerald Rascionato’s debut feature-length Drama/Thriller, “Cage Dive” (not sure where the Open Water title comes from, probably a distributor request). Cage Dive is a South Australian made shark film about three Americans on vacation, who are looking to put together a crazy audition tape for an extreme reality TV show. Brothers, Jeff and Josh Miller (played by Joel Hogan and Josh Potthoff) along with Jeff’s girlfriend, Megan (Megan Peta Hill), decide to take part in a cage dive at Port Lincoln, only to find themselves stranded in the shark infested waters. The film also stars Pete Valley, Mark Fell and Christopher Callen.


Lately there’s been a real resurgence in the shark sub-genre, with impressive entries like Johannes Roberts “47 Metres Down” and the wider identified “The Shallows”. I’ve always been a pretty big fan of the genre, everything from the cheesy SyFy channel B movies like “Sharknado” and “Sand Sharks” (just to name a couple) all the way through to the bigger budget films previously mentioned. I think “Bait” is the latest Aussie shark film and that came out back in 2012. While not the greatest film in the genre, it did have a well established story and colorful characters, not to mention, it delivered on the kills and the gore which is what fans want. Rascionato’s script plays things surprisingly straight, there’s not a lot more to it than the survival aspect and I think that’s perhaps why it’s garnering more attention from fans and critics than most of these films do. Think of “127 Hours” or the far lesser known “Scenic Route”, only it’s set in water. I would have said 2010’s “Buried” but man… that’d be an insult given how mind numbingly boring that film was. Cage Dive manages to tap into that base line fear we all have (or at least I do) about being in a life or death situation. The film is nicely paced, and both the sharks and the stock footage are well-edited and far better than most films in the genre. The image below is of a superb visual fx sequence in what is ultimately a low-budget film. Color me impressed.

The cinematography in Cage Dive is surprisingly good given the audience is meant to be watching found footage from the trios trip. There’s only a small dose of shaky cam and even when things do go south during the dive, nothing feels harsh. I think this is the first time in the shark sub-genre that I’ve seen a first person approach used instead of the conventional method, it no doubt helps put you in these guys shoes. Budget may have been the sole reason for shooting it like that, but either way, it works. Most of the movie takes place during the day but I was interested to see how Gerald would go transitioning with the situation once nightfall came. Utilizing minimal night vision, he’s able to show us enough of what’s going on in order to help maintain tension in the group. There’s not a lot of action in Cage Dive, but when it does rear its fin (see what I did there) the attacks are swift and violent and might just have you questioning how they pulled this all off practically. Our three leads, none of whom have a lot of experience, end up turning in pretty solid performances. Each are perhaps a little reserved at times throughout the film, but personally I’d rather see that than clear over acting. I think Pete Valley, who plays cousin Greg, probably has the most raw ability of anyone in the film and makes his limited screen time really count.


The Newton Brothers score is probably the one creative aspect of Cage Dive that slightly underwhelmed, which is a surprise to me because they’ve scored a lot of really good films such as, Mike Flanagan’s “Hush” *see review* and Wayne Kramer’s, “Pawn Shop Chronicles” *see review* The score is okay but it doesn’t necessarily further the viewing experience like some of their other arrangements have. Overall I was pleased with the quality of the audio track, considering ninety percent of the film takes place outside or in water. My only complaint is that on occasion the dialogue is muffled while the characters are in the water. I figure it’s because microphones and equipment are being protected and were covered in plastic. There are a few flat spots in the acting, and if you’ve got a good ear you’ll be able to pick the irregularities in their American accents. Writing the core characters as American was probably smart though on Rascionato’s part, especially from a marketing point of view, but in hindsight, it wasn’t an essential detail. I enjoyed most of the films specifics, right up until the flare incident. I understand that tensions run high, personalities clash, but it really wasn’t necessary and I think you’d be a lot more diligent about your resources and how you use them in that situation. In addition, there’s some offbeat dark comedy between the brothers shortly after that transpires and it took me out of the film momentarily.

I first heard about Cage Dive almost a year ago, and after discovering it was locally made, I wanted to check it out. Rascionato’s debut feature-length film combines the survival element of fellow Aussie thriller, “The Reef” with the dramatic undertones of the aforementioned “Bait”, resulting in a realistic and terrifying setting to a shark film. It’s well shot, nicely paced and the shark footage looks superb, as do the touches of vfx work. Even though I didn’t warm to the characters all that much, I still enjoyed the performances and most of the stories developments. The soundtrack isn’t anything to write home about and the attempted humor sort of comes out of left field. There’s a few disparities with the accents and certain decision-making, but the latter probably partly due to the heightened situation the trio find themselves in. Cage Dive is a better paced and more entertaining film than “The Reef” and it’s another positive entry into the shark sub-genre of Horror/Thriller. Keep an eye out soon for an official release date from Lionsgate and check out the trailer below!

My rating for “Cage Dive” is 7/10

Cat’s Cradle (Review)




Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Actor/Writer, Tawny Sorensen for allowing me early access to an online screener of her 15 minute, Drama short “Cat’s Cradle”, Directed by David Spaltro. Cat’s Cradle focuses on young adult couple, Amy and Jim (played by Sorensen and Nabil Vinas) who’ve been luckless so far in their attempt to conceive. With Jim’s regimented nights for the two always pre planned, a crisis of self-identification arises along with certain truths that threaten the couple’s core foundation. It doesn’t happen all that often, but every now and again I open my email to find random screeners that have been sent in for review, as was the case with Tawny’s debut short.


The plot synopsis for Cat”s Cradle is fairly thin and in this case that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised with some of the topics and themes on display in Tawny’s writing. The film looks to open a line of communication on that exact thing, communication, particularly between couples and partners. The dynamics of the man woman relationship in modern society have changed significantly over the years, so much so that many things go unsaid during the development of relationships, crucial things that end up being a problem later in life. Sorensen analyses sex, and where it fits into married life once children enter the fold, as well as looking at the severity in the responsibility required when you bring a child into the world. These are all relevant topics for discussion and make for an interesting narrative (even if you’re like me, single with no kids). The film is nicely framed and well shot, the audio levels are crisp too. The soundtrack is lively, utilizing some really smooth reggae guitar at the beginning and sweet blues notes later in proceedings. Both, Sorenson and Vinas (who I must say closely resembles fellow actor Jeremy Piven) have solid chemistry together and their dialogue flows organically.


There’s not a lot to pick at in the short 15 minute running time, but there were a couple of momentary focus issues during the back and forth between Amy and Jim. Some of the background music (which is low in the mix anyway) didn’t really seem to fit, tonally speaking, especially as the argument escalated. Tawny’s commentary on the state of the world right now and what it means to bring someone into it, is a good thing. It only further highlights the issues we have with population and our ever dwindling resources, but it is perhaps a little heavy-handed during the monologue.

Cat’s Cradle is an engaging, thought-provoking and important Drama from first-timer, Tawny Sorensen. It’s well shot, most of the soundtrack shines through brightly and each of the performances command your attention. It has a couple of minor issues but you’ve got to look hard at them and ideally you’ll be drawn into the discussion, making your own judgements of the situation and where you’d stand if put in a similar position. In a perfect world this film is shown to new couples and people thinking about starting a family. As a whole, people don’t truly have a grasp of the seriousness of it all and this film could help with that. At the very least, this should open the discussion for us all.

My rating for “Cat’s Cradle” is 8.5/10