Besetment (review)

BESETMENT

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Uncork’d Entertainment for sending me a press release screener of the new Horror/Thriller film “Besetment”, Written and Directed by Brad Douglas. Besetment follows unemployed and down on her luck, Amanda Millard (played by Abby Wathen). Struggling with home life and her detached, alcoholic mother (Lindsae Klein), Amanda jumps at an offer of a hotel job in a small town in Oregon. The soft, kind owner, Mildred Colvin (played by Marlyn Mason) welcomes her with open arms, but all is not quite as it seems in the town of Mitchell. The film also stars Michael Meyer, Max Gutfreund, Douglas Rowe, Greg James, Hannah Barefoot and Sonya Davis. It’s always a nice surprise when I open my email to find a screener link that’s been sent to me for review, most of the time I’m doing the chasing so this was a nice change of pace. I hadn’t heard of Douglas prior to this film, or for that matter anything about Besetment (despite him having made a couple of other things). I’ve got a lot of Uncork’d film content, some of which has been quite impressive, So where does Besetment fit in that mix?

THE GOOD

The first thing that stuck out to me was the quaint little town that Brad chose to be the primary location of the film. I’ve never been to Oregon but ever since Twin Peak’s (and more accurately), David Lynch’s humorous citing of Bend, I’ve had an interest in the place. Now I’ll assume “Mitchell” is a fictional name, but any who, the timber exteriors of the towns various establishments, the old signage and the dirt roads are just a few things that help illustrate the place being somewhat frozen in time. There were shades of Andy Palmer’s “Badlands of Kain” about Besetment and it’s town of Mitchell and I enjoyed that *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/badlands-of-kain-review/. Presented in a stylized neon light format, the films credits and understated forewarning of events is something rarely seen in a low-budget independent horror feature and I dug it. There’s a sentimental, 80’s inspired synth theme that complements the introduction and reminded me of several pieces of music in Adam Wingard’s “The Guest”. Although the film is quite synth heavy, there’s a couple of raw acoustic guitar pieces to accompany the more dramatic moments. Brad’s DP (director of photography), Chuck Greenwood handles the cinematography nicely. Everything is framed neatly and he opts for simple establishing shots to set the tone early, from there, gentle panning and wide shots are among the highlights. A couple of slick aerial shots of the town and its surroundings, along with Amanda driving in her car, help raise the overall production value. The audio levels are smooth and the soft lighting a clear contrast to an ever-growing instability. At just 76 minutes, Besetment never has a chance to wear out its welcome and that’s a wonderful thing. I can only hope that if nothing else, Douglas’s film becomes a cornerstone for fellow film makers to gauge their run time and pacing from because it often suffers in their work. You want to keep the viewer interested and if you try to stall, the more likely they’ll be to look for imperfections, lapses in continuity and other similar things to take issue with.

Brad’s cast were certainly a breath of fresh air and I quickly realized that none of the names were familiar to me (an indie horror aficionado), so I’m always interested to watch new actors/actresses. Abby’s a big part of the reason the film works. Amanda is a likeable young woman, but more importantly than that she’s a relatable one (we all know what it’s like to lack direction in life). Her performance was even and she delivered what was emotionally required for the role. The surprise packet here is definitely Marlyn Mason though. Dare I say it, but it’s rare to find an older actress in the genre these days who actually has the ability to sell you on a character. A big part of why Mason steals the show  is due to Douglas’s clever writing and if I’m honest she puts Betsy Palmer (of Friday The 13th) to absolute shame. Outwardly, Mildred is the nice old lady next door. She brings you cool lemonade when you’re playing in the street, feeds you if you’re hungry, hell, she probably even attends bingo night (although I’m not sure that exists in this town). There’s nothing off kilter about her and that usually makes for a tricky balancing act for a writer, how much to give up and when to give it up. Ti West’s “The House Of The Devil” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/the-house-of-the-devil-review/ is as superb as it is because of how well he handled the family and their emergence. Same goes for Douglas with the Colvins. Meyer plays Billy, Mildred’s adult son who still lives with her. I think Meyer plays it fairly safe, though the character is a little cliché and he probably didn’t want to risk over doing it. The police (James and Barefoot) and fellow townspeople (Gutfreund and Rowe) are mostly secondary characters with limited screen time but each are believable enough in their respective roles. Besetment has some brief action sequences with practical effects but the bulk of it plays as more of a thriller than a slasher. With that said, there’s some nice plot twists thrown in for good measure.

THE BAD

From a technical point of view Besetment is extremely well presented. Aside from a couple of minor lapses in camera focus and a rather visible prosthetic piece that can be seen during the climax, there’s not too much to complain about. Most of the dialogue and interactions feel authentic but there’s a couple of bungled lines where the phrasing isn’t quite right. Mildred says to Amanda at one point, “Come and sign the paper forms” which just doesn’t sound right, obviously it should be “paperwork” instead. In the same vein, Amanda’s friend Brittany (Davis) says to her, “That will go down like a shit balloon” (or something to that effect). I’ve heard the saying “go down like a lead balloon” but the phrasing here just sounds wrong. The premise sets itself in motion pretty organically but I couldn’t help thinking surely Amanda would ask about some of the specifics of the job before just accepting it. In the beginning it’s revealed that she’s not really qualified for much, so I suppose there’s that argument. Though when you’re in a small town a ways from home, you’d think you’d want to know what’s really involved, so I found that a little convenient. There’s a few other details in the writing that I didn’t really care for, such as the structure of Amanda’s communication with Brad, the local cafe chef. Following the twosome’s first stiff encounter, which sees Amanda less than impressed with his advances, they’ve all of a sudden got a little thing developing. It felt as if no time had passed and a scene was missing in order to segue into that connection in a smoother way. The inner workings of the relationship between Mildred and Billy went further than I’d expected as well and it was perhaps a little heavy-handed (one scene comes to mind, no pun intended haha). I predicted some of Billy’s decision-making early on in regard to the situation and the final sequence of the film just felt shoehorned in to satisfy slasher fans, particularly those of sequels.

I went into Besetment knowing very little about it and in the end was pleasantly surprised with the result. It feels like a combination of Stephen King’s film adaption of “Misery” and Jim Lane’s independent film “Betrothed” with a touch of “Psycho” about it. I love the small town vibe and the pacing in regard to its character development and reveals. It’s well shot, sounds great and the score is a good mix of synth and acoustic ballads. The performances are solid and Douglas keeps his footing in a number of different genres as the film plays out. There’s a couple of minor technical issues, some patchy dialogue and a number of specifics I could take or leave, most notably the ending. Those things aside, Besetment is a thoroughly enjoyable and fast paced film that I can definitely recommend to fans of a good quick Horror/Thriller. It’s due to be released on VOD on June 6th and DVD in September. Check out the trailer below!

My rating for “Besetment” is 6.5/10

Zombie Pirates (Review)

ZOMBIE PIRATES

THE SETUP

This is a review of the Region 1 (U.S Import) DVD of “Zombie Pirates”, Written and Directed by Steve Sessions (Dead Clowns and Shriek Of The Sasquatch!). Zombie Pirates is a micro-budget horror film about Linda (played by the lovely Sarah French), a dangerous young woman whose got herself in hot water over a crime. Soon after, a mysterious older gentleman named Grant (J.C Pennylegion) arrives at her doorstep to inform her he has proof of her wrong doing. The two strike a deal regarding ancient fortunes of a once infamous local buccaneer, Captain Lassard (Eric Spudic). Linda must deliver five human sacrifices to a neighboring ghost ship in order to gain the coveted treasure or face the wrath of the zombie pirates. The film also stars Denman Powers, Dawn DuVurger and Lucien Eisenach. Zombie Pirates isn’t my first foray into the works of DIY (do it yourself) micro-budget film maker, Steve Sessions. I remember seeing his film “Sinister” four or five years ago and I’ll be honest, it was a downright mess. It didn’t help that I had little interest in its witchcraft themes, but even still, from a film making point of view it was a tough watch. A few years have gone by since then, so let’s see how far Sessions has come in that time.

THE GOOD

Let’s throw it out there straight away save any confusion, Zombie Pirates is certainly a micro-budget film (if you didn’t already know that). In fact, I don’t think funding has increased at all over the years for “This Is Not A Dream Productions” (Steve’s company), as is often the case in the world of independent film making. Still, you’re either one of those types that makes it happen with what you’ve got or you forego it altogether with fears of delivering an inferior product. I don’t know who was responsible for the artwork on Zombie Pirates but it looks great, the hand drawn design of lead actress Sarah French is representational. One of the strongest aspects here is Steve’s script, and probably because it deviates from the familiar trend of a cliché zombie outbreak. This particular setup injects a welcomed element of crime, something that’s never really been explored in any of the zombie content that’s out there. Most of the technical positions don’t have crew members credited on the official IMDB page, so I’ll assume Sessions did most of it himself. The camera work is okay considering the equipment probably wasn’t of the highest quality, but the framing needed a bit of work. There’s plenty of decent establishing shots that help sell the seaside locale and some solid POV shots (point of view) that lead into a death sequence. The audio levels were surprisingly good and that’s a tricky thing to get right on such a low-budget. Sessions scores all his own films and did a nice job of this one. The opening theme utilizes sounds of a whaling synth, and later there’s a unique piece of flute music which brings to mind a similar tune in 1997’s, “Anaconda”. Extra bass is applied in the mix when the ghost ship appears, that was a nice touch.

Steve’s script definitely isn’t lacking exposition regarding the origins of Captain Lassard. Early in the film Grant gives Linda what can only be described as a sermon, going into all sorts of specifics about how and why the ancient treasure exists etc. I think with a title such as this one, more people than not aren’t going to place much importance on how and why the films scenario came to be. I’m usually a stickler for details and looking to see if things are explained properly, but even I found it difficult to care much about the semantics and was much more about the conflict. The performances are about what you’d expect in a micro-budget film, some passable, and some not as much. J.C’s historian like approach fits his mysterious character, not to mention he looks the part as well. Powers as the Detective, gets his fair share of dialogue but his interactions with French often feel rigid. French is left to carry the film and although she’s serviceable, I’ve seen her do better work. On the effects front, there’s a few cuts to shots of a practical pirate ship and I’m stumped as to how they were done. One would have to assume it was with miniatures, either way it’s a real highlight. Say what you want about cheap costumes, but in the case of Zombie Pirates they actually look alright with a careful course of lighting. On a down note, it’s almost a 35 minute wait before we get to see them. I have to commend Sessions for getting a limb or two made for the film, as well as a practically fashioned head. He even threw a few maggots in with the blood, it’s not much in the way of gore but it counts for something (or should).

THE BAD

I’ll start with the biggest issue and it’s the 91 minute running time. An hour and a half is your average film length, which is fine, but your average film is made with some actual funding behind it. Unfortunately when you make a low-budget film, that’s rarely the case and it’s where you can get yourself into trouble. The counter can often be the enemy, and in the case of Zombie Pirates this is true. There’s so much excessive fat that could’ve been trimmed off or tightened up to make this a far better film than it is. Several dialogue free scenes are simply repeated for the sake of it, with a few new shots thrown in but nothing to drive the plot forward. The ideal running time for a film of this nature should be 60 to 65 minutes, no more. Like any micro budget film, there’s plenty of issues with this one. The worst attribute is probably the harsh lighting in a number of the internal shots at Linda’s house. Sessions needed to pull back the brightness levels, there’s glaring white light in both shots of Linda in the bathroom and lounge, even the scene in Grant’s motel room looks rather rough. Several transitions aren’t that smooth and some shots are just unnecessary. For some reason blurry water and the ocean are continually shown, so to is a repetitive sequence of Linda driving the boat out to the ghost ship. The sound clips on occasion and the foley isn’t the best, most notably during Karen’s (DuVurger) second phone conversation with Linda. It sounds like she’s talking through a two-way radio (haha). Other sounds of impact hits and body thuds don’t match, and in one scene sounds cuts off prematurely with three or four seconds of footage still remaining. During the last act there’s a constant droning sound in the background, one that I’m guessing represents a ship coming into port, either way it’s grating. Steve’s score is almost continuous from start to finish and it does get a little tedious, but on the other hand, the rare times the score is absent, it’s all too bland. I enjoyed the brief practical effects shown but the handful of CG blood spurts look amateur.

So many of the continuity related issues in Zombie Pirates were avoidable with a little more time and attention to detail spent in the edit. Most of the time it’s as simple as a tweak here or there, the aftermath of the first death is confirmation of that. One of Linda’s unlucky male victims is supposed to have been beaten to death, only problem is that we see a close up of him and there’s no visible marks to help sell that to the audience. It’ll be hard enough for the viewer to buy that he was killed from just a few hits, so at least get some makeup out and bruise the face up a little, throw in some blood and just make an effort. Don’t have your characters reference things with physical means if you can’t or don’t intend on showing them. I understand that budgetary constraints can come into play, but there’s a scene where the Detective shows Linda photos proving he knows more about her case than first thought. That writing choice doesn’t hold any weight because the image is only fleetingly shown and it’s so fuzzy you can’t make out what it is anyway. In another scene there’s a death via knife. Now it’s clearly a plastic knife, no real qualms with that. I figure there was no money for molds and prosthetics and such, but give the fans more blood, blood is cheap and it raises the overall production value. Toward the end of the film there’s a piece of dialogue that makes next to no sense, but made me laugh all the same. The Detective says to Linda “There might be a back way out”. I’d say that considering the house is Linda’s she would know that. I’d be lying if I said that Powers performance didn’t bug me, it was more that there was just no sense of urgency about the situation. Even when he becomes aware of the true motive behind Linda’s killings, see’s it up close and personal (yes the pirates), he still doesn’t have that human reaction, that moment of bemusement.

I think I’ve had Zombie Pirates sitting in my collection since 2014, so it was nice to finally get around to watching it. Sessions hadn’t set the bar real high for me but I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw, though the result could’ve easily been a lot better. It feels like a cross between “Zombie Lake” and “The Blind Dead”, only made on even less of a budget than those B movies. I dug the artwork, along with Steve’s script that welcomes a new setup I haven’t seen in the zombie sub-genre thus far. Some of the camera work is alright, the audio surprisingly clean and the score much better than you’d think. There’s plenty of dialogue laying out the origin of the pirates (if that floats your boat) and Sarah French does a decent job of carrying the film. The best aspects are those gorgeous shots of the ghost ship and the zombie pirates themselves. There’s a couple of prosthetics and a bit of the red stuff, but don’t expect much considering this was probably only made for $2,000- $3,000 (at a guess). The biggest hindrance to the re-watch ability factor of Zombie Pirates is the overly long running time. This thing needed to be cut by 25 to 30 minutes in order to tidy the dispensable up. There’s sub-par lighting, editing and foley at different points throughout the film and sometimes they all converge in the one spot. A few things were required to make this more professional. A once over the script to fix some of the dialogue, attention to detail in giving the most in regard to makeup, and just more blood in general. My advice here would be for Steve to do a re-cut, trim the fat and add some more Zombie action and you’d have a very watchable product. As it stands, Zombie Pirates is probably one for the hardcore fans but most others are going to struggle to see it through.

My rating of “Zombie Pirates” is 3.5/10

The Twisted Doll (Review)

THE TWISTED DOLL

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Andrew de Burgh for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 8 minute, Horror/Mystery short “The Twisted Doll”. Through a mutual friend, Pooja (played by lovely Bollywood actress, Elisha Kriis) and Jack (Isaac Anderson) are paired, but all is not as convenient as it seems when hidden agendas come to the surface. The film also stars Raksha Colaco. It wasn’t all that long ago that I inquired about Burgh’s previous short film “Just One Drink”, but I wasn’t able to watch it at the time as it was busy doing the festival rounds. So with that in mind, I was surprised to get an email from Andrew about his self-described, Christopher Nolan (The Prestige) meets George Melies (A Trip To The Moon) inspired short, The Twisted Doll.

THE GOOD

I believe The Twisted Doll is Burgh’s fourth short film, but this is of course my first venture into his work. I was intrigued when he mentioned Nolan and Melies as influences for the film. I can only imagine he was talking about Nolan’s early Mystery/Thriller, “Following”. Which if memory serves me correct, he shot back in his days of university. The obviously matching black and white presentation is only part of it, I can see an air about the aforementioned film in terms of the way Pooja develops that relationship with her mark. George Melies was perhaps the first notable film maker of the 20th century, with some of his early silent films recognized as where the birth of cinema truly began. In a round about way Bluebeard came to mind while watching this one, though it may have just been the fact that both are silent films, I’m not sure. Being a silent film, the music and score are usually paramount. I was pleased to hear some heavy synth pumping through those opening minutes, very 70’s/80’s in style. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a sucker for the black and white format (when it’s done right and justified) and combining that with the element of silence is daring to say the least, especially in this day and age. Elisha has that seductive appeal about her, she’s an incredibly beautiful women. I like the subtleties in her facial expressions which timely suggest the things to come.

THE BAD

Initially the black and white production was enough to get me in but I wasn’t a huge fan of the cinematography style. There’s a number of shots that weren’t framed as well as they could have been (just a personal preference) and a more cinematic approach probably would have raised the production value. I noticed a line of dialogue between Pooja and Jack that didn’t make a lot of sense. She mentions something about a form of yoga and a Hindi god (I think it was?), to which he’s confused on the meaning of and replies with “I was up really early for work” or something along those lines, it was clunky. The climax of the short isn’t all that unexpected, and due to the absent dialogue audio (intended) I’m not sure it carries the desired weight.

The Twisted Doll definitely has an experimental appeal about it and that makes for a solid introduction to Andrew de Burgh as another up and coming filmmaker. I respect his boldness to name those artists that inspired the film (too many are worried about public perception) and I do like the additions of the black and white and silence. The music drove it and Pooja makes for a captivating protagonist. From a technical stand point I can’t fault the way the film was shot, but I’d have preferred some more diverse shot choices and omitting those odd angles. Andrew’s script is fairly straight forward, so without an audio track I don’t think it quite hits home as hard come the resolution. All that said, cinephiles will find plenty to like here and if you enjoy your mystery’s short and snappy, keep an eye out for this one soon! Check out the trailer below!

My rating for “The Twisted Doll” is 6.5/10

Pool Party Massacre (Review)

POOL PARTY MASSACRE

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Floating Eye Films and Writer/Director, Drew Marvick for allowing me early access to an online screener of his Horror/Slasher film “Pool Party Massacre”. Blair Winthorpe (played by first timer Kristin Noel McKusick) and her friend, Nancy (played by the lovely Margaux Neme) are planning a pool party at her house while her parents are away for the weekend. She also invites fellow young socialites, Tiffany (the gorgeous Alexis Adams), Jasmine (Destiny Faith Nelson), Brittany (Crystal Stoney) and Kelly (played by Jenifer Marvick). A relaxing summer day by the pool quickly takes a nasty turn when a mysterious killer starts murdering the group one by one. The film also stars Nick Byer, Mark Justice, LeeAnna Vamp and Drew Marvick. I first heard about Pool Party Massacre around six months ago and ever since then I’ve been anticipating the release date. It’s almost here (I believe it’s close to shipping), but I’ve been fortunate enough to network a little bit with Drew and got a screener of the film a little earlier than expected. All I knew about it was that it had a rad poster and people were going to get massacred during a pool party! What more do I need to know? It’s a slasher….

THE GOOD

I quite liked the original poster art for Pool Party Massacre but the latest version looks really cool too. Extremely vibrant colors and eye-catching lettering are bound to assist in the marketing of this micro-budget slasher flick. It’s evident in almost every facet of the film that Marvick’s long been a fan of the genre and its subsequent sub genres. This isn’t a guy that thought “Hey, I’ll just try to cash in with an homage to slashers of the 80’s”, he’s  put a lot of time and effort into this debut feature-length film and it shows. Drew’s a student of what I call “Horror 101” and that usually means a film of this nature should consist of the three key aspects, Nudity, Sex and Violence (the first two normally follow each other but the third isn’t always done to great effect). Within 5 minutes of the opening frame, there’s a death alluded to followed by an on-screen kill. The intro credits are great, they’re presented like an old-school Sega video game with complementary synth sounds. According to the post credits the film was shot in Marvick’s house, and if that is the case I’m extremely jealous. What a gorgeous house. I think the location is a huge part of what kept me involved with the film, something rarely said by anyone about a slasher film (haha). I believe Pool Party Massacre was made for just an estimated $7,000, but you wouldn’t know it because the production value is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen, taking into account the budget. The film opens with some really nice still shots during a scene between Mrs Stevens (played by Vamp) and the pool boy (Cameron Lee Vamp). With seemingly very little experience, DP Brian Mills shot the sharpest looking film a first time director could hope for. All the shot choices are wonderful and the framing looks crisp. We get the obligatory slow motion shot of the “girls squad” walking in full, which is played for laughs. Early on Marvick sets the bar high from a visual standpoint, utilizing nice focus pulls, some tracking of the unseen killer and then tops it all off with a tight overhead shot of a victim and a close look at the implement used for the kill. There’s also enough POV (point of view) camera work in here for fans of that particular stalking device from the 80’s.

While I’m still on the technical aspects, I thought the audio track and foley were both good. The sounds matched all the impact hits and that’s a tricky thing to get right in low-budget film making. Rob Sholty’s color grading is bright and dynamic and among the best I’ve seen in any slasher film. Scenes internally look just as good as the externals and the crew battled the natural light very well. The score was somewhat of a mixed bag but I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for the 8-bit synth stuff. The music doesn’t ever become overpowering which is good, and I did like the casual quirky synth and bass notes when the killer was due to appear. Let’s get to the meat and bones of it all shall we? (pardon the pun) You want to know about the horror and the comedy. There’s no doubting that the eye candy is on display in Pool Party Massacre. All of the girls have their own style and they’re a good-looking group of women. Vamp is the first one on-screen and she looks as sexy as ever, but my personal favorites were Alexis Adams and Margaux Neme. My intrigue with Adams actually has nothing to do with her previous adult film career (of which I honestly didn’t even know about prior to seeing the film), it’s more about her confidence with acting and how she carries herself. It obviously helps that she’s got a lovely face and a nice body too. As for Neme, whose of an Hispanic background, she’s just delightful and really one of the only mature characters in Marvick’s film. She’s absolutely gorgeous and I liked her character from the moment I saw her. Kristin reminded me a lot of fellow actress, Brittany Snow and I think she gave the best performance in the film (even more important considering she’s the main character). Her comedic timing was spot on and the facial expressions were priceless. It was a stereotypical character she played but she did a rare thing and carried it well and made it work. Nelson and Stoney play two more of Blair’s snobby and dimwitted “friends”, they were decent as well. Stoney’s got a great figure and looks the best in a bikini and Nelson was tested with a shower scene involving some nudity. She’s the only other actress to take her clothes off aside from Adams, her curves are very nice and kudos to Destiny for putting herself out there.

It’s the women that dominate the screen time and that’s a good thing to see. Most of the male characters here are secondary ones (a rarity) and I like that Drew was willing to employ that into his writing. Each of the performances are pretty good if you take into account the limited experience of the cast. Some of the comedic scenes were a lot of fun, the humor in the opening scene comes to mind. It was carried out mostly due to a contrast between metal music and porn music (for lack of a better word) and some clever edits. A clearly clueless pool boy has his headphones in, blasting out metal as the sexy neighbor attempts to entice him by rubbing ice on her body and hinting at him in a suggestive way. Scenes like that are funnier to me than any of the low-brow toilet humor gags that followed. Clay (Byer) was a character I initially thought was a crack up. He arrives at the party with his brother Troy (played by Justice), looking like Larry Wilson from Weekend At Bernies and trying to hit on each of the girls. He looks a lot older than them so Drew threw in a few age related gags that were also pretty funny. Okay, so onto the good stuff. I mean it’s called Pool Party Massacre so I’ll get to the killing hey? The elaborate set pieces you might be used to seeing in bigger budget slasher films aren’t really on display in this indie. Now that’s not to say there isn’t on-screen carnage, it’s just that you can only do so much with limited funding. The most positive thing Marvick did was introduce a killer that uses an array of weapons, because after all, variety is the spice of life. The blood flow is strong and all done practically, also, the body count is sizeable and several of the kills are pretty inventive. I particularly enjoyed the two involving a hammer and the other with what looked like a hedge trimmer. Some prosthetic pieces would have only further added to the entertainment, but I know sometimes there are limitations.

THE BAD

Like all low-budget undertakings, there’s a learning curve and not everything goes swimmingly. Marvick’s film has some patches of obvious ADR (additional dialogue recording) intertwined with the on set audio, which is sort of par for the course on a small independent shoot, but given this takes place in primarily one location with little noise from outside distractions, I wouldn’t have thought it was needed. The only time the score felt a little heavy-handed was during a spate of dialogue between Blair and Danny (I think it was?), I think it could have been pulled back in the mix. In hindsight, I would’ve loved to have seen Drew get “Pool Party” from The Aquabats into the film’s soundtrack as well. There’s a handful of small continuity issues scattered throughout the film, some standing out more than others. The color and consistency of the blood changes a few times, usually looking better in the aftermath and more pink and watery during the kills themselves. Blood is a tough one to get one hundred percent right and it needed some more work. The pool that’s being cleaned in the beginning probably could have had some more debris put in it to make the cleaning of it more believable. During the same scene there’s an establishing shot showing an empty backyard and a clean pool, yet seconds later Mrs Stevens is sunbathing poolside with no actual lead in. Drew could have had her exit a sliding glass door and walk over to the beach chair just to help keep the continuity in order. In a later scene, Nancy runs back into the same room she originally left after an altercation, you’d think she’d remember not to go back in there (although that could be an inside joke poking fun of the horror movie clichés, and there’s every chance it was). Neme can also be seen breaking character and almost laughing during the scene that precedes that one. I thought the dialogue in the second half was grounded more in comedy than horror and it didn’t really work for mine. The writing becomes a bit crude for my taste, going a little far sexually for the overall tone of the movie. The girls are guilty of some unnecessary excessive profanity, particularly Tiffany (although that falls on the writing). A couple of scenes start off funny but become tedious fast. Clay’s “Ferris Bueller” theory takes up what feels like five or six minutes of screen time and the masturbation scene was just awkward (probably the intention though). Clay became too much for me in the end and I wanted to see him swiftly dealt with.

I have no idea how many films I’ve watched or reviewed now with the word “massacre” in them, let’s just say it’s a lot. Drew Marvick’s, Pool Party Massacre was clearly made with a lot of love, and for the most part the appropriate amount of attention to detail. As much as I’m a sucker for the nostalgic aesthetics of the 80’s, I’m very pleased to see Drew release an extremely polished product that drives high production value and makes fellow genre filmmakers raise their game. It feels like a cross between 1982’s ” The Slumber Party Massacre” and Joe Hendrick’s more recent “Ditch Day Massacre”, only better. Marvick knows and understands the need for those three key components that make a successful slasher and he handles them each pretty well. The opening credits are fun, the synth is energetic and the color grading is expertly crafted. My favourite aspect has to be Brian Mills cinematography. I’m making an early call in saying this will be the best shot independent horror movie of 2017. Take note fellow filmmakers, this is how you frame shots properly, this is how you pull focus and transition between them smoothly. That being said, it helps that the house and yard look beautiful as well, location location people. The comedy works best when Kristin and Alexis are on-screen, but the remainder of the girls have their moments and so to does Nick Byer. In fact, the acting all around is fairly consistent. If it’s nudity and violence you’re after, Pool Party Massacre delivers in spades (side note, I think a spade is actually one of the only weapons that doesn’t get used!). The kills are mostly on-screen and the crimson gushes steadily, all while the film plays out on the smallest of budgets. Sure, there’s the odd continuity and technical related issue, as well as a sizeable chunk of dialogue that I didn’t care for. Certain jokes come off as plain awkward and not funny, but this is still a freaking stellar effort by Drew, his cast and crew. Pool Party Massacre has heart and if you enjoy low-budget affairs and you’re a slasher fan, look no further! Below is the official trailer and website where you can pre-order the film so do it and support the little guy!

http://poolpartymassacre.com/

My rating for “Pool Party Massacre” is 7/10

Tethered (Review)

TETHERED

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Co-Writer and Director, Daniel Robinette for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 12 minute, Horror/Drama short “Tethered”. Solomon (played by Jared Cook) is a young boy living a life in isolation after being abandoned by his mother. All he has guiding him is a daily routine centered around three specific rules, the most important of which is to never detach from the rope he’s tethered to. What happens when curiosity causes him to wander further than ever before? The film also stars Kayla Stuhr, with voice acting from Grace Mumm. Tethered is Daniel’s fourth short film but this is my first review of his work.

THE GOOD

Daniel and Co have written an interesting and engaging script that fittingly suits the short film medium. The rules of the world are divulged immediately, via a pre-recorded audio taping that Solomon listens to on a daily basis. I liked that aspect and that it was introduced right off the bat to help you understand the boys environment. Tethered taps into that element of curiosity we all have about the unknown (how we fear death for example). Not only does Robinette instill that in his protagonist, he takes the audience along for the ride and in turn makes the viewer curious about the direction the film is headed. This was shot in a glorious and beautiful heavily wooded area in North Carolina, which is one of my favourite parts about it. DP, Aaron Sorgius has worked on each of Daniel’s shorts and I can see why, the guy has a wonderful eye (two even). There’s really sharp close-ups, along with cinematic wide shots and fantastic aerial ones to boot. The high production value is clear from the outset, and only made clearer with a stunning jib-shot (crane) over a picturesque lake in the forest. Jeremy Tassone’s edit works superbly given the amount of quick cuts that were used, a technique I don’t normally love. The bass driven score is yet another facet that impresses. There’s also some really nice deep cello as the short heads towards its climax. Cook is the only person on the screen for a majority of the quick run time and he does well.

THE BAD

I went back and forth on whether Solomon was supposed to be visually impaired or not. I think he was but on a couple of occasions he appeared more aware than one would expect, especially once he really ventures out into the woods, that part was a little unclear at times. If I’m honest, I didn’t love the resolution. My preference would’ve been for the story to go another way, something a little more impactful.

Tethered made for a great introduction to Daniel’s work. It was quite reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan’s underrated masterpiece, “The Village”. The script deals with emotions like loneliness, curiosity and fear and presents them in such a way that is completely relatable for an audience. The cinematography is perhaps the best I’ve seen thus far in 2017, the editing was sharp and Matt Vucic’s score really helped build an eerie atmosphere for the full duration. I wasn’t quite sold on a couple of the specifics and I would’ve liked to have seen it go in a different direction come the climax, but I’m not quite sure what that would be. In the end, Tethered is simply a must see and I rate it right up there with the best shorts of the year along with Alex Gibson’s, “Match” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/match-review-2/.

My rating for “Tethered” is 8.5/10

Match (Review)

MATCH

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to iByte Films and both Writer, RJ Ortiz and Director, Alex Gibson for allowing me early access to an online screener of their 9 minute Horror/Thriller short “Match”. A regular night at the bar for old buddies David and Gabe (played by Alex Zuko and J. Benedict Larmore), takes a more sinister turn when they realize Russia might not be the only country experiencing strange events. The film also stars Virginia Newcomb (Peacock) and Eric Michael White. Not too long ago I had the chance to watch Alex’s previous short films “Stranger In My Mirror” and “Holidaze” (the latter coincidentally directed by Ortiz), both of which were quite well made considering their micro-budgets. Gibson clearly has a keen interest in a number of genres, and that makes for a great foundation with which to work from.

THE GOOD

Writing a synopsis for a short film can be tricky, because on one hand you want to inform readers on what they’re in for, at least to a certain extent, but not so much so that you ruin any of the film’s key unknowns. Ortiz’s script is definitely an astute one, its focus seemingly on a singular insignificant match and how that fits into the world of the story. Is it simply that once it’s gone David will finally quit smoking? Or is this a cautionary tale of sorts, about being prepared for the unknown? For most of its quick running time you’re never fully aware of what you’re actually watching, and in this case that’s a good thing. I thought the framing was precise and all the cinematography clean. High production value on display despite just an estimated budget of $1,600. There’s nice tight cuts and edits, along with a crisp audio track making dialogue distinct. The score is used to good effect, with its rumbling low-end bass depicting a clear shift in tone. In addition, there’s a nice piano ballad that gently builds toward the end. From the outset, it’s obvious that Zuko and Newcomb have a real natural chemistry together. She plays Ashley, David’s partner, and together it’s the two who are trying to quit their ugly habit. Both Zuko and Larmore handle their scene well too.

THE BAD

There’s only one thing missing in Match and that’s Gabe having the opportunity to call David and let him in on whatever he’d just been privy to, instead, opting against it. To be fair, it seemed as if the phones had started having connection problems. That said, I still thought he might have tried.

It’s great to see Gibson continuing to make more shorts and it’s hard to believe that Match is RJ’s first writing credit. I had no idea what to expect and I was enthralled by the numerous avenues this could have potentially taken, yet pleased where it settled on. The technical aspects are all well conceived, the music fits and the performances set a high standard for other fellow independent actors. Match is Alex’s best work yet, and I look forward to seeing many more of these types of shorts!

My rating for “Match” is 9/10

The Wicked One (Review)

THE WICKED ONE

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to start off by saying thank you to Andy Palmer of Petri Entertainment for allowing me early access to an online screener of “The Wicked One”, a Horror/Slasher film Co-Written/Directed by Tory Jones. The Wicked One follows a five-some made up of two couples and a friend, headed by Alex (played by Katie Stewart) and Adam (Dale Miller) who plan a weekend away to the country for a Halloween inspired concert. Along with couple, Quinton and Kris (played by Adam Atherton and Jessica Bloom) and fifth wheel, Olivia (Sonya Delormier), the group find themselves being hunted by a recently escaped serial killer who goes by the name “The Wicked One” (played by Jack Norman). The film also stars Cheyenne Gordon, Deb Perkins and James Tackett. I thought I’d reach out to Petri Entertainment after having seen and reviewed a couple of Palmer’s films in “Badlands Of Kain” and “The Funhouse Massacre”, two really good quality films *see reviews* https://adamthemoviegod.com/badlands-of-kain-review/ and https://adamthemoviegod.com/the-funhouse-massacre-review/.                                          It’s great to see Andy not only making films but distributing them as well.                   Thanks go to Tory Jones as well.

THE GOOD

You don’t have to look all that far to see that Director, Tory Jones is first and foremost a fan of the slasher sub-genre, particularly some of those films from the early 80’s. Filmmakers don’t usually opt to shoot this kind of film unless they are big fans of the genre. These days originality is pretty much all but unattainable (unless you’re the extremely creative type), so the next best thing to do is to at least attempt to pay homage to the kinds of films you’re imitating. I like the look of the Wicked One mask but that’s probably because I’ve seen it before. It’s essentially a mash-up of the villain’s mask from David Ryan Keith’s “The Redwood Massacre” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/the-redwood-massacre-review/ and the killer in Rene Perez’s, “Playing With Dolls” (films which were both made prior to this). Now that’s all just semantics really, it’s not enough to put me off the film but nonetheless, I’ve seen it before and I’ll no doubt see it again. Along with having a small role in the film, Roman Jossart was the DP. I remember Jossart from “Don’t Fuck In The Woods” but I had no idea he had the technical know-how in his skill set. Most of the framing looks good and some of the camera techniques are quite impressive given this is a low-budget affair. The primary location is a lovely, heavily wooded area and the film opens with a nice tracking shot as Colin comes up and out of the cellar. Later, there’s another reverse tracking shot as he chases a girl through an area of the asylum that’s under construction. In addition, a high to low panning shot is used outside the asylum and my favourite sequence employs three or four superbly smooth shots of a man in an antique store.

The music was a bit hit and miss for me but like most things, its subjective. The live band used in the film are called “Vintage Voodoo”, they’re essentially a Rock band that sound like something from the 80’s or early 90’s. I preferred the fusion sounding synth score to the band, though even that was a little one-dimensional and didn’t manage to elevate the  suspense level. Some of Tory’s little nods to several classic slasher flicks added a nice touch. Characters and location names are taken from past films and there was even a tip of the hat to Ryan Nicholson’s “Gutterballs”, with the inclusion of a party-goer that dons a bowling ball bag atop his head. Jones script reveals a sufficient amount of exposition surrounding Colin (aka The Wicked One) and the inner workings of his mind, but it’s mostly through the writing, not visually. He’s said to have heard voices and that’s the reason for the murders, regrettably the viewer doesn’t get much more than that thin pointer. The performances are fairly standard for this type of affair but I still liked seeing Stewart and Miller pair up again, the two previously acted in a short I reviewed called “Hazard” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/hazard-review-2/. Atherton supplies a bit of comedic relief and Bloom is serviceable, although she’s given very little to work with. Gordon plays Travis, Alex’s brother. Most of the internal drama stems from their rocky relationship. I respect the writing surrounding Olivia’s character arc, because in the beginning she’s somewhat of an unknown, whereas you feel like you know pretty much all there is to know about the others. There’s a decent body count on display and some solid practical blood spray during most of the kills. On the downside, several of the deaths occur off-screen and there’s no real prosthetics or gags to speak of, which is rare for a slasher these days. Keep in mind that this is a low-budget independent film, that said, at the very least it needed more blood spray.

THE BAD

A lot of my complaints with The Wicked One are technical related ones, but there’s also personal preferences with the content too. The cinematography is not without fault. On more than one occasion it seems as if Jossart is trying to find the desired distance for the shot mid-frame, and then just eventually settles on an over the shoulder shot. That option is used numerous times throughout the film, there’s also a bit of uneven camera work in the scene that reveals Trevor sitting in the graveyard. Those inconsistencies only stand out because everything else is so well shot. The film begins with a brief section of home video footage, static tape lines and on-screen data to accompany it. The whole thing feels rather unnecessary considering it transitions straight into modern footage shortly there after. Though that may have just been Jones showing his appreciation for the days of VHS and SOV (shot on video). What follows is the first death in the film, which I must say was a little lack-lustre. I mean you never really lead with a standout death (for the most part), but this one looks as if the effects team hadn’t quite worked out their blood coloring and consistency before shooting, so the result doesn’t hit the mark. Audio, Lighting and Music are all suspect at different stages throughout the film. The external scenes have fairly consistent audio but the dialogue sequences inside the asylum, either hiss or echo and you can’t always make out what the characters are saying. There’s a cool “Jaws” esq, three note piano piece used in part of the film, but it leads into a scene that isn’t remotely suspenseful, yet an earlier scene that could have used it doesn’t. Then there’s another eerie piano score that bleeds over into a dialogue scene between Alex and Olivia, where once again nothing is really happening. The lighting is probably the most disappointing aspect of the film. Most of the color appears washed out (which may have been the intention) and from scene to scene the quality of light changes. There’s such a contrast, with shots outside looking considerably better than anything inside. The diner scene is far too dark and so is the asylum content, so much so that you can’t always see the actors faces. The various wide shots utilizing yellow inside the barn, look fantastic. It’s a pity the same can’t be said about all those close-ups during the romance between Quinton and Kris. That part of the film doesn’t look as if it was lit at all, nothing in the shot draws you in because it’s all murky.

I know we’re all inspired by something, but it pays to breathe some of your own creativity into your writing (I’m not saying that’s easy). I understand that it’s a difficult thing to do, especially if you’re exposed to a lot of films, but if there’s not even a trace of it then what you end up with is just a rehash of formulaic clichés. Slasher fans aren’t usually that hard to please (well most of us) but when Jones unfortunately lifts enough of a scene from Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” to raise a red flag, it’s hard for a reviewer to ignore it. Other questionable particulars occur, such as a muzzle like contraption covering Colin’s face, (Hannibal Lector eat your heart out) then his placed in an asylum/institute of which you just know he’s just going to break out of. Then head of the facility, Sybil Shaw (Perkins) walks us through the dangerous criminals they house, throw in a trio of hapless and childish security guards making bets and you’ve got yourself a scene from Halloween (more or less). Come to think of it, “The Funhouse Massacre” begins in almost the same fashion (though it had to be that way for the origin of the story to work). The dialogue between said guards during those scenes is predictable and immature, fortunately it gets a little better as the story picks up with Alex and Co. Speaking of dialogue, Perkins is guilty of momentarily pausing a few times during her early scenes, as if she’s thinking about her lines prior to actually saying them. There’s more than a handful of specifics here that don’t add up either. For example, Sybil claims that the facility holds all the worst serial killers from around the world, yet we’re told that Colin only killed five people. I’m not sure if that classifies the worst of the worst but okay, I can swallow that part. So these guys are dangerous then? The most dangerous psychopaths you can get, right? Well okay then, one might ask why the rooms clearly have wooden doors attached to them. It probably wasn’t a great decision to show those four or five wooden doors being opened by guards for guests to take a gander inside, especially because the other prisoners have no real bearing on Colin escaping (he would have anyways). Bringing me to my next question, How was he able to get free from the restraints in the first place? I guess the same way Michael Myers did. You don’t actually get to see Colin escape, it’s one of those times they conveniently cut to an irrelevant conversation instead, and later return to the old body switcharoo. I would’ve loved a more realistic approach in order to move that part of the story forward. It’s also established quite early on that Adam comes from a military background, though when it comes to his combat skills you wouldn’t know it. He’s less than useless. He gets his ass beat numerous times by The Wicked One, so I’m not sure about that one.

I’ve been highly anticipating the release of The Wicked One since following it from its pre-production phase through to the re-shoot. It’s nice to see it finally come top fruition. Tory’s love for the iconic slasher film is ever-present with this ambitious attempt, so I give him some credit. I do like the mask and that the antagonist has a reliable past grounded in reality. A sizeable amount of the cinematography looks great and these guys are only going to continue to improve. Some of the synth score fits the mold and there’s some solid practical blood and gore effects that look good. The performances do range a bit but everyone is serviceable given the amount of experience and the budget constraints that go along with that. It’s unfortunate that a lot of the technical aspects weren’t carried out as well as they could have been. The score needed a lot of restructuring and editing, the audio must have been a constant battle and the lighting just simply isn’t adequate, at times barely even present. A lot of those imperfections can often be chalked up to budget and time constraints but the failed inner workings of the script were certainly preventable. I had difficulty looking past the holes in the specifics and some of those sequences that almost border plagiarism. More practical effects and excessive graphic kills would’ve been a welcomed distraction, but I understand that’s not always possible. Hardcore slasher fans might be able to find something in here that I couldn’t, so be sure to check out the trailer below. You can also pre-order the film here if you’re interested: https://www.amazon.com/Wicked-One/dp/B06WPBNMWC/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1492429666&sr=1-2&keywords=the+wicked+one

My rating for “The Wicked One” is 4/10