Zombie Beast Of The Confederacy (Review)

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ZOMBIE BEAST OF THE CONFEDERACY

THE SETUP

Zombie Beast Of The Confederacy is a Micro-budget Horror film from Wild Boar Films, it’s Written and Directed by Diamond Troy Justice (who I’ve been given the impression is a wrestler at least part-time) and stars Justice himself, Bad Bubba Brewer and a bunch of other independent actors. The story goes, that in 1863 Confederate President, Jefferson Davis sent a dangerous chemical virus to Gettysburg to help in the fight but it, along with the soldiers, vanished into the hills of the county. It’s now 2016, the virus and plenty of the undead, have risen to fight once again and it’s up to just three local men to stop the virus from spreading before it’s too late. A company called “World Wide Multi Media” are distributing this one and I purchased it from Amazon.com. Now I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve been caught out on several occasions with inferior products released through WWMM. “Milfs Vs Zombies”, “Season In Hell: Evil Farmhouse Torture” and “The Experiment Who’s Watching You” are just a few of their previous releases. They’re not exactly known for releasing high quality films but in the past I’ve bought a couple of decent films in Mike O’Mahony’s low-budget affairs, “Deadly Detour” and “Sloppy The Psychotic”, so you win some you lose some *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/sloppy-the-psychotic-review/.

THE GOOD

N/A.

THE BAD

Okay, here goes nothing. So right off the bat, it’s not a positive sign when you pick up the DVD and no one has actually been credited on the front cover (which in fairness to me I could have only known once it arrived). Of the countless films I’ve watched in my time, I think this is the first time I’ve encountered something like that. The only conclusion I can draw is that each person involved with the film doesn’t want to be shown as having been involved with it. The lead actors are not credited, the producers/finance (if there was any) are not listed and most importantly the Writer/Director isn’t credited either. Even once the films credits begin to roll, it’s apparent that several of the cast members have been credited with nicknames and only some listed with their actual names. After noticing this irregularity, I thought I’d dig a little deeper into the film but it that’s difficult to do because it turns out there’s no official IMDB page for it either. Any film, big or small, you can find it on the international movie database, so I’m stumped. The site is there for that very reason, as well as to better inform people about the film. It wasn’t until after I watched it that I checked for a trailer and YouTube does actually have one, so there’s that (and now I’m annoyed I didn’t know that before hand).

The DVD also comes with three quotes from online reviews, one on the front and two on the back. “Awesome Mag” say Zombie Beast Of The Confederacy is “Weird, Gory Schlock. Fun As Hell”. In addition to some sharp look stills on the back, there are two more summaries, one from “Extreme DVD”  that says “So badly homegrown, it’s great!” and another from “Deadly Indie Drive In” saying the film is “Downright Apocalyptic”. Okay, bear in mind I can’t say this with absolute certainty because after all, the world-wide web is an infinite database of information but I really don’t believe any of these websites or reviews actually exist. On the other hand, if they do exist then I sincerely apologize to everyone involved with the film for not doing a more thorough research. I figured after entering each website into the google search engine and browsing the first five or so page results and finding nothing, that it was a pretty safe bet that these sites and reviews were fake. Everyone’s taste is different and I’m not saying these quotes are fake just because I thought they couldn’t be any further from the truth. I do ask the question though, Why don’t they show up when you search them? This is a brand new film, there should be reviews for it, right? It’s bad enough that the running time is listed as 80 minutes when it’s actually 107 minutes but I draw the line at fake reviews and if that is the case, they have no respect for the buyer and therefore I have no respect for the filmmaker.

Onto the film itself. Zombie Beast Of The Confederacy opens with stock footage and gun shots playing over sloppy credits, displayed with different colored fonts. We then get given a small monologue about the events of 1863, which is essentially the exact same synopsis on the back of the DVD. Following that, is an introduction to some military man who reads off mission parameters, as he points to monitors that consist of a couple of really poorly placed photos and a giant map of the world, when I’m sure we’re supposed to just be looking at a small county (haha I’m not sure why that’s there). Enter a whole bunch of stereotypical redneck characters who are poorly portrayed by an amateur cast. From a technical point of view the film is an absolute mess. Big chunks of dialogue are completely out of sync, there’s no sound bed or impact foley for any of the action sequences and the score continually fades in an out. I don’t expect a lot from a filmmaker working with no money but the worst mistake you can make is to not even try. Troy’s camera has to be worse than my $80, DXG 5.0 Megapixel handheld one. The shots are either out of focus or atrociously framed, characters heads are out of the frame or the height of the shot is around people’s midriff, not to mention all the editing is glitchy as well. Most of my readers know me well enough and know that I’m always looking for positives in film, so if it’s done well I can dig thrills even on as cheap of a budget as this. Take Richard Mogg’s micro-budget work on “Massage Parlor Of Death” and “Bigfoot Ate My Boyfriend”, they’ve both got heart and good intentions unlike this one.

The digital effects are by far in a way the worst part of Zombie Beast Of The Confederacy. I don’t know the actual budget for this film but I imagine it couldn’t have been more than $1,000 and if it is, I feel sorry for these guys. Logical thinking should tell you that you probably want to limit the amount of digital effects in a film of this nature. Nope, these guys decide they’re going to go all out, with what must have been 25 to 30 vfx shots just in the short amount of time I watched for. There must have been countless lengthy sessions in “Paint”, creating drawn on blood, fire and fake weapon flashes. I can’t actually fathom why you’d choose digital effects, or for that matter any effects, for a film with such a small amount of money and think you’d be able to produce something people would want to see. I’ll be honest with you, this film ran 107 minutes and I lasted all of 14 minutes and 12 seconds, this from the guy that will watch just about anything. I know some readers will probably say I’m not in a position to give a fair and honest critique because I only watched a very brief portion of the film, hell maybe they’re right. Though maybe, just maybe, that should tell you all you need to know about Zombie Beast Of The Confederacy.

My rating for “Zombie Beast Of The Confederacy” is 0/10

31 (Review)

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THE SETUP

“It’s time to play 31”. Violence has been the cornerstone of the Horror genre for as long as I can remember. Today there’s many sub-genres within horror, most of which contain violent themes but even before we specifically started categorizing films, there’s been violence in cinema. Back in the early 30’s there were films like James Whale’s, “The Invisible Man” and “Frankenstein” that illustrated a fair share of violence (given the times). Since then we’ve seen the birth of the iconic “Slasher” and its subsequent rejuvenation, in addition to graphic works like “Cannibal Holocaust” and “Salo 120 Days Of Sodom”, all the way through to a new wave of extreme horror that’s coming out of Asia and Europe. Takashi Miike’s “Audition” and “Ichi the Killer” initiated what would eventually become known as “torture porn”, ultimately leading us all the way to the farfetched works of Olaf Ittenbach (Dard Divorce and No Reason) and Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police and Mutant Girls Squad), both Directors of exaggerated movies coined as “Splatter films”. As we’ve all evolved and grown (well most of us), so has the genre and its hardcore fans ongoing appetite for violence. For the most part, my love for the genre lies more in the behind the scenes phase, I take interest in the creative process as much as I do the end result. I don’t advocate violence simply for shock value. Showcasing the talent of special fx artists, via realistic practical effects isn’t violence for violence sake (at least not in my mind). Some of the most extreme films, such as the appalling “A Serbian Film” or aforementioned “Cannibal Holocaust”, have no real reason to exist other than to shock and disgust. They essentially have no redeeming qualities, they’re not art, they’re not meaningful and they’re most certainly not entertaining (if you find them entertaining I suggest you seek professional help).

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This brings me to 31, the latest Horror film from Musician turned Filmmaker, Rob Zombie. Here’s a guy that up until 2003, only had experience shooting music videos until he came crashing onto the scene with “House Of 1000 Corpses”, a film about a backwater family of sadistic killers (I still haven’t seen it yet). Since then, he’s made four more feature-length films, most notably a stellar remake of John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, “Halloween” and 31 is his fifth effort. I’ve seen all of his films excluding his first and there’s no doubt that each have been a startling experience in their own right and making that sort of impact is a big part of succeeding in the genre. 31 is about five traveling carnival workers who are kidnapped, held hostage in a compound of sorts and forced to play a life or death game called 31. The goal of which is to survive 12 hours against a group of sadistic clowns. The carnie’s consist of motherly figure, Venus (played by Meg Foster of “Lords Of Salem” Zombie’s previous film), free-spirited, Charly (Sheri Moon Zombie), Roscoe (Jeff Daniel Phillips), Panda (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) and Levon (Kevin Jackson). The film also stars Richard Brake, Pancho Moler, David Ury, Lew Temple and Malcolm McDowell.

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THE GOOD

Let’s begin with the obvious shall we? The poster art. It’s a great layout and design that will undoubtedly change when the film hits DVD and Blu Ray, unfortunately these types of one sheets don’t stick around long. One might compare aspects of 31’s premise to that of Leigh Whannell/ James Wan’s “Saw” franchise. They’d be right in terms of the game style and set amount of time for events to play out in but this is a tonally completely different. What I mean by that is simply this, Rob Zombie films have a certain harshness about them, he’s a pulls no punches kind of guy and if you’re a hardcore horror fan that’ll please you and you have to respect that even if you’re not a fan of his. The very opening sequence of the film is one of my favorites, it’s in Black and White which is extremely effective. A slender man in the distance steps out of the light and into the shadows, the constant sound of dripping water echoes, as he makes his way down a dark and dingy basement corridor to address the camera (and in turn the viewer). From there, “Doom-Head” (played by Richard Brake of “Ray Donovan”) explains to the audience what’s about to take place, what you’re going to witness and why you’re going to witness it. It’s a disturbing introduction that showcases a hate filled monologue, some great makeup and really good foley to kick the film into gear.

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The opening credits reveal that the movie is set in 1976, on display are some trendy Polaroids of the traveling carnival group doing their thing, being young and wild and free. I dig the 70’s aesthetic when it’s done well, look at films like Tarantino’s, “Death Proof” and Mickey Keating’s pulsating Suspense/Thriller, “Carnage Park” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/carnage-park-review/. Zombie’s worked inside the parameters of the 70’s before, so his approach to the color palette here is much the same as it was in “The Devils Reject” and even the Halloween reboot. Washed out saturation and gritty detailing are what make this one feel like a 70’s exploitation flick. Scenes with the group in transit feel directly lifted from Tobe Hooper’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, minus them picking up a hitchhiker (which actually almost happens haha). Apart from the opening scenes, the highlight in a cinematic sense is a series of fantastic aerial shots over grimy and decayed bathroom stalls, eventually landing on a frightened Charly. As I said earlier, the foley all sounds great, as does the horn and tornado sound warnings used to commence the game. There’s a stylish, 1920’s piece of blues/jazz music toward the beginning and when the suspense picks up, the rest is a bass and synth pumping soundtrack. The detail in set design is yet another well conceived element of 31. You have to admire Zombie’s extravagant set pieces, he’s been doing it for years and you can’t say these aspects of the production value take a backseat when he’s driving because they don’t.

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A lot of the cast is made up of Zombie’s regulars, most notably his wife Sheri Moon as well as Meg Foster, Jeff Daniel Phillips (both from Lords Of Salem) and the infamous Malcolm McDowell. I think as much as he likes working and reuniting with old friends, he’s all about the right look for his characters. I know fans were complaining that Bill Moseley (who plays Otis in The Devils Rejects) wasn’t cast as Doom-Head or at least one of the other psychotic clowns. I’m not saying Moseley wouldn’t have fit the part but everyone was chosen for a specific reason. For example, both Jacobs and Jackson have that 70’s feel about them, I bought them as carnie members even with their uneven performances. Phillips sports those extra long side burns that flow into a gnarly mustache and beard… very 70’s. As for Meg Foster, she looks like she’s done it hard and that goes hand in hand with her character of Venus. Sheri Moon is a rarity in the sense that she’s got a sort of natural beauty about her (not often seen in this film) but she can play the promiscuous, foul-mouthed trashy girl well too. The supporting cast members have their moments but overall they lack consistency, however, there’s a couple of memorable performances in 31 and they come from Richard Brake and of course the accomplished Malcolm McDowell. Brake’s controlled aggression in regard to the portrayal of Doom-Head, makes him completely unpredictable. The peeling white makeup, greasy hair and distinctive teeth are unnerving in their own right but add Richard’s gaunt body type and it really makes that character. McDowell plays the master of games “Father Murder”. He dons aristocrat garb better suited to a revolutionary war picture but it’s still neat all the same. He’s got wonderful diction and he’s had a flair for the theatrics ever since Kubrick’s, “Clockwork Orange”, so this suits him perfectly. It’s great to see Tracy Walter in a small cameo again, that guy should just buy a convenience store or a mechanics garage because he’s always playing characters with those kind of roles (haha).

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The most common question surrounding 31 is, How violent is it? Zombie came right out and said that this was his most violent film to date but I’m not sure I’d agree with that. Based on what I’ve seen, The Devils Rejects still holds that honor. Now that’s not to say 31 doesn’t have its fair share of carnage. There’s five other clowns roaming the warehouse besides Doom-head. A chainsaw wielding, brother duo called Schizo-Head and Psycho-Head (played by Ury and Temple), a crazy couple in Death-Head and Sex-Head (Torsten Voges and Elizabeth Daily) and a little maniac that goes by Sick-Head (Moler). Each of these villains enter one at a time and do their best to kill our five players and you just know Doom-Head is going to re-enter the fold at some point. You have to wait a little longer than expected for the good stuff, which can be a bit of a drag but gore hounds will still be pretty impressed. All the effects are practical and look quite good, the addition of the chainsaw in the clown sub-genre has been long overdue. Other than Marcus Koch’s “100 Tears”, I don’t recall seeing another clown film involving a chainsaw. There’s another couple of impressive kills in which a spiked bat is used and a couple of throats are slit. Due to the hype surrounding the film and everything that it promised, I can’t help but feel a little let down in terms of the delivery and what was offered up with on-screen kills.

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THE BAD

Let’s talk about the biggest issues with 31, the shooting style, lighting and of course that dialogue. Just because this is gritty and brutal in content doesn’t mean Zombie has to make it hard on the eyes. This is such a difficult watch in terms of the film making process. There’s a healthy (or more accurately, unhealthy) dose of carnage, or so it would seem but the shooting style lacks any kind of control. One can only think that everything is so rapidly edited in order to mask the lack of actual on-screen violence that Zombie initially promised us. It’s disappointing that there’s no graphic kills until almost half way through, to be fair, I heard that Rob went through a lot of cuts to actually get a license for a theatrical release. It begs the question, for someone who has a reputation for doing as he pleases, why is he suddenly worrying about the appropriate cut for a theatrical release. 31 was a mostly crowd funded project and I know theaters are where you get a return on your money but if he’s really about making a truly visceral film then show it to audiences how it was intended to be shown. In several of the stills above you can see some effective mood lighting, unfortunately that all goes south in the actual film. This is by far Zombie’s worst lit film, so much so that it completely distracts you from what’s happening on-screen. There’s some circular colored lights reflecting on and off the lens during the chainsaw sequences, followed by what feels like five or ten minutes of horrendously intense strobe flickers toward the end of the film.

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Zombie’s dialogue, at least in any of his original work, has always been rather crude and I suppose that’s par for the course with the kinds of horror films he makes. However, the writing in 31 is unbelievably juvenile and crass and that’s not just coming from our villains mouths. We get it, these clowns are bad people and for the most part they have no redeeming qualities but what’s with our so-called protagonists? A majority of the dialogue is just trash that plays as filler until the violence hits. The conversations that take place in the camper were difficult to make out and there’s no subtitles for the small portion of foreign dialogue throughout the film. I found a lot of the linguistic riffing quite offensive (and I’m not easily offended) and it will no doubt be seen as demeaning toward women, especially when there’s sexual content being spouted off by the brother duo at an alarming rate. I think I speak for us all when I say we could have done without the extra nightmare scene involving Schizo-Head and Psych-Head because it’s just more of the same sleazy junk being spewed out. Audiences might be disgusted with what they hear but they won’t be scared by these clowns because they just talk way too much and it negates any tension that could have been created. If I’ve learnt anything from Horror it’s usually that less is more (in terms of the suspense). Our cast playing carnies are only given a bare bones arc to work with, which I’m sure was Zombie’s intention but what you’re left with in the end are characters you can’t invest in because you haven’t learnt to care about them.

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If you can get past the shoddy presentation and cheap talk you’ll still be witness to some forced acting and uncomfortable innuendo, the gas station sequence involving Phillips and Daily’s characters comes to mind (similar to The Devils Rejects). The kidnapping sequence begins so hurriedly that you can’t make out where the striped men come from or how they’re able to gather everyone together so quickly. Not to mention the action can’t be seen properly because the scene is way too dark. Then there are problems with the finer points of the plot development as well. You’ve got three characters led by McDowell’s “Father Murder”, who are overseeing the game and make announcements while re-adjusting their wagers on who might win the game. Somehow they seem to know everything that’s happening in the game at any given time, yet it’s the 70’s so there’s no technological advancements available. There doesn’t appear to be any surveillance, we don’t see them monitoring anything and they don’t receive any phone calls in regard to the events of the game, So how do they know what’s going on? My biggest gripe is that you’ve got Sick-Head dressed as a Nazi, being played by a Chilean actor, yet for some reason he speaks in Spanish. Then you’ve got Death-Head, who appears to be speaking German but he’s dressed like a transvestite and not a Nazi like he should have been, it’s all back to front and I’m not sure what Zombie was thinking. The part that really had me scratching my head is the complete absence of the mandatory freak out moment. You know what I’m talking about, that moment in any given Horror film when the individual or group finds themselves in a life or death situation and they lose their shit like a shit collector with amnesia (a quote from Dane Cook). Each one of our protagonists adjusts to the severity of the situation without a moments trepidation. There’s no struggle, no breaking down, it’s just suddenly they have it in them to kill and to do so without hesitation (for the most part anyways). A true horror fan loves to watch the process of those ordinary characters do something extraordinary and rise above and beyond in the face of certain death and 31 just doesn’t have that. There’s an effective ending to the film that I was genuinely impressed by but it’s somewhat negated due to the unnecessary twist that follows.

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I’ve been eagerly anticipating Rob Zombie’s, 31 for over 12 months and with that comes a lot of expectation, especially when he promised so much. There’s no ifs, buts or maybe’s, 31 is an unapologetic, nihilistic, no holds barred, mean-spirited film from a Director who likes to push boundaries. Let’s ignore for a second that Billy Pon’s, “Circus Of The Dead” which also centers on a carnival of clowns and features a disturbing leader (played by Bill Oberst Jr.), was probably committed to screen long before the idea for 31 even entered Zombie’s twisted head, *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/circus-of-the-dead-review/. So with that in mind, I dug the 70’s aesthetic and the limited cinematic camera work, most notably the chilling introduction and Brake’s first appearance. Most of the music works and the sound effects are unbelievably sharp, Zombie’s usual attention to detail in the set design is a positive. Performance wise, McDowell and Brake are leaps and bounds ahead of the supporting cast, I suppose Sheri does her bit too. There’s a steady blood flow and a good variety of kills but unfortunately some terrible editing and shaky camera work ruin most of what’s presented to us. There’s no sugar-coating it, the gritty shooting style and hyperactive lighting are just plain bad and the worst I’ve seen from any of Rob Zombie’s film. The dialogue is tasteless and empty, whether that be chit-chat among the group of carnies or threats from the clowns. The characters arcs completely lack individuality and some of the specifics in the plot development don’t add up. The big thing for hardcore fans is that the violence an on-screen havoc don’t live up to expectations. For all its hype, 31 is probably Zombie’s weakest film and I don’t think I’ve been this disappointed in a Horror film for a long time. I suggest fans keep an eye out for Damien Leone’s upcoming film “Terrifier”, it’s another clown film promising bigger and better things…. maybe you’ll have more luck with that.

My rating for “31” is 5/10

Zombiehagen (Review)

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ZOMBIEHAGEN

THE SETUP

Firstly I’d just like to say thank you to Danish Writer/Director, Jonas Ussing for allowing me early access to an online screener of his debut short film, “Zombiehagen”. Zombiehagen is a 24 minute long, Horror/Action film that centers on two young adults who’ve survived the zombie apocalypse. Helten (played by Casper Sloth) and Heltinden (Simone Lykke) (not sure why their names are so similar, random coincidence) cross paths at an abandoned football stadium that’s being used to contain the remaining undead (well most of them). From there, the two join forces and take refuge at Helten’s family home. The film also stars Elias Munk, Jeanne Eva Jepsen and Finn Nyborg Nielsen. During my weekly movie browsing online, I stumbled upon a write-up/review for Zombiehagen at DreadCentral.com. They’re usually a reliable source for all things horror related and had good things to say about this one and fortunately Jonas was kind enough to share his film with Adamthemoviegod.

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THE GOOD

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of zombie related content, whether that be in TV, Film or  Gaming. It’s a sub-genre of Horror that I’ve always been quite critical of and if I’m honest, other than Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of George Romero’s, “Dawn Of The Dead”, I can’t recall many other zombie films (non comedy-wise) that I’ve actually liked (yes I’m looking at you World War Z, you sucked). Lately the ideas and creativity behind these sorts of films have dried up but then something comes along like Zombiehagen and flicks that switch back on and suddenly there’s light again, albeit in a pressure filled 24 minutes and not your typical feature-length running time. Sure, Zombiehagen treads over familiar landscapes (no I don’t mean Copenhagen if you’ve been haha), it follows that similar narrative in countless other post apocalyptic films and I don’t think the intent was necessarily to spring viewers with anything fresh. With that being said, Ussing’s script is a compelling one even with the very minimal dialogue prior to its final act. The cinematography is quite impressive, there’s a series of wide establishing shots of a deserted Copenhagen to start proceedings. We’re immediately introduced to a cross-bow wielding hunter, eventually revealed to be Heltinden. The fantastic tracking shots that mimic her movements as she makes her way across the city, are extremely cinematic and not what you’d expect from an independent film estimated to cost just over $20,000 (AUD).

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The attention to detail in the set dressings and more importantly the visual effects, give this a high quality production value. The CG mapping is consistently good, showcasing backgrounds that blend in well with the environment that’s being depicted. I couldn’t get my head around the logistics of the stadium scene until I actually realized how it was carried out, so kudos to the vfx team. Sets are dressed well with abandoned cars, scattered debris and decaying bodies as well. The score is another great feature in Zombiehagen. There’s a suspenseful theme in the beginning that utilizes Bass and Horn and a more Dramatic section later that’s led with Violin and Cello, some of it felt like music from any Brian De Palma film (Body Double and Carrie), I dug it. The zombie makeup looks good and it’s evenly applied to all the extras and although there aren’t many practical effects,  the highlight is a kill involving an arrow. Now being Americanized, I couldn’t help but notice lead actor, Casper Sloth bares a striking resemblance to Hollywood’s pretty boy, Zac Efron (although Sloth is much better at his craft) and Simone Lykke is a dead ringer for Actress, Jessica Biel. Casper and Simone have good chemistry and you can sympathize with both of their characters plights (perhaps one more so than the other). The performances are both very good and I was particularly impressed and surprised by the final scene in the film.

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THE BAD

The only technical detail that wasn’t to my liking was some of the darker, post production color saturation in the scenes at the stadium. As far as plot holes go, I found it a little farfetched that Helten was able to identify the specifics of something that was missing from the notice boards. Unless you have an eidetic memory I can’t see how you’d remember one very small section of information on all those boards (which can be seen in the above image). In fairness to the writing, there’s no time frame placed on the events so who knows how long he’s been looking at those boards for. The only instance where there’s some questionable decision-making is when Heltindin decides to call out in the stadium full of zombies… not smart love, not smart at all (haha). I know she’s trying to reach a conclusion in regards to her situation but that’s probably not the right way to go about it. I think that scene could have played out with her accidentally drawing attention to herself rather than just yelling out.

Zombiehagen is a wonderful and effective Horror short from a new Danish film maker in Jonas Ussing. I knew from the opening cinematic establishing shots and the larger than life orchestral score, that this was going to be high quality stuff. The cinematography is sharp, the set design thorough and the visual effects seamlessly blended into the final cut. The music is key and the makeup effects top it all off. The film needs those good performances and that punchy impactful ending to help stand out from its competition and it does. If not for a couple of small details in the writing this would be the definition of perfect. As it stands, Zombiehagen is without a doubt the best short that I’ve seen in the genre and if you’re smart you’d take this over just about any feature-length Zombie flick. Congratulations Jonas!

My rating for “Zombiehagen” is 8.5/10

Der Bunker (Review)

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DER BUNKER

THE SETUP

Firstly I’d just like to say thanks to International Distributor, Artsploitation Films for sending me a Blu Ray copy of Nikias Chryssos’s film “Der Bunker” for reviewing purposes. Der Bunker is a German film that mixes Horror/Drama and Black Comedy in the most peculiar of ways (is there any other way?). A man referred to only as “Student” (played by Pit Bukowski), takes up an offer to lodge in the bunker of a countryside mansion owned by a tight-knit, oddball couple (David Scheller and Oona von Maydell) and their 8-year-old son Klaus (played by Daniel Fripan). The Student aims to focus on his physics research, something that proves harder and harder to do with the families constant in-house distractions. Now I don’t get the opportunity to see a lot of European cinema and not because I don’t want to, its mainly due to the fact that it isn’t well promoted on our side of the world. I stumbled across the IMDb page for Der Bunker and thought it sounded like a bizarre film and therefore I had to see it, if for no other reason than to just experience that bizarre-ness.

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THE GOOD

On the technical side of things Der Bunker is an extremely polished product, as are most  of the films coming out of Europe. Nikias DP (director of photography), Matthias Reisser does a fantastic job of the cinematography, everything is neatly confined with a majority of the film taking place inside the families bunker. In the beginning there’s some impressive wide shots of the snow-covered landscape, as the “Student” treks through the heavy field to approach the home. Once inside, the remainder of the camera work is smooth and the shot choices are smart. Most of the editing is strong but a scene involving the mother’s conversation with the mysterious “Heinrich”, is abruptly entered into and pulled out of even quicker (losing sight of whatever it was attempting to convey in the first place). The audio levels are clear and the English subtitles are well presented. I liked the lighting, especially in the kitchen where a lot of the scenes occur. The approach to the lighting had the feel of a stage play but then during scenes in the student’s bunk room, things were much darker in order to depict his isolation (much like any Cronenberg film). Toward the end there’s some use of Red and Green lighting and that works well too. The music is quite contrasting depending on the scene. It trades between conventional classical compositions and ominous synth and bass, with a clever use of heightened sound.

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The tone of Chryssos’s script is really quite difficult to put your finger on and I think that was probably his intention. From the opening dinner table scene through to the unusually stark ending, you’re not entirely sure what to make of it all, if anything. There’s most certainly a story here but how much of it translates will depend on the individual and what you’re hoping to see happen with this family. Der Bunker is an eccentric, art house influenced, coming of age story about two parents who are having trouble loosening their grip on a developmentally stunted son. There’s awkward dancing and a random musical number performed by Klaus and plenty of other random things to distract you but at its core, Der Bunker is about a boy trying to learn the capital cities (yes it’s true haha.. well sort of). Klaus claims to be 8 years old but looks to be around 25 (surely we’re not supposed to ignore that) and he’s clearly progressing at a snail’s pace, which doesn’t please mother and father so they punish him and eventually convince the “Student” to tutor the boy as a sort of payback for boarding. On any given day in the life of this bizarre family, the father reads aloud some of the least funny German themed jokes you could hear, the mother confides in Heinrich (a spirit of sorts) while mapping out the best course of action for Klaus’s studies and Klaus himself attends daily classes taught by the “Student”. For whatever reason the Student finds himself drawn to the family and in particular Klaus, so much so that it interferes with his work on the Higgs particle theory (theoretical physics).

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Based upon the ending of the film I’m not entirely convinced Klaus was even their son but I think that’s still open to interpretation and I’m not spoiling anything by saying so. Some of the dialogue was quite amusing and evoked a few chuckles here and there, although its hard to know if laughter is the appropriate reaction for some of these interactions (I suppose it doesn’t matter). There’s a line of dialogue where the father says to the Student “If you ever need help I’ve got diplomas too” (in relation to the specific physics the student is working on haha). On another occasion the mother is physically distressed and leaves the dinner table. Following her exit, the Student tries to lend his sympathy while the father simply explains it with, “You don’t know what its like to be a woman”. There’s several examples of quirky dialogue throughout the film which helps makes up for some of the stale interactions. The strongest aspect of the film is the performances from all four actors. For all intents and purposes this is a one location, minimal characters type of experimental feature and that’s not an easy thing to carry. Each member of the cast has to do something uncomfortable at some point but its Fripan and Maydell who’ve got some of the most awkward scenes to carry out. There’s something serious to be said about the psychological effects from domineering parental control. It doesn’t even have to be physical abuse that causes problems, with this kind of under development, it’s cerebral.

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THE BAD

As is the case with most films, the likes and dislikes in regard to entertainment value are personal opinion but Der Bunker doesn’t have many obvious flaws. The glaring one has to be the age of Actor, Daniel Fripan (who I believe is about 30) and he’s portraying an 8-year-old boy (at least in mental capacity), so one might argue how ridiculous that seems but I think Der Bunker knows it’s quite absurd and in turn, that’s par for the course. The film doesn’t lack for awkwardness either and therefore it’s not the type of movie you’d recommend to a group of friends to watch. Bold sex scenes and the usual vulgar profanity pale in comparison to the visceral surprise of Klaus’s feeding customs. I can handle most things but I draw the line at on-screen breast-feeding (yes it does happen and multiple times), especially for a 30-year-old man (even if he supposed to be 8, that would be weird enough). I wondered if the Student almost saw the mother as somewhat of a muse. From the moment things begin to escalate between the two, he’s able to make in roads into his research where beforehand it remained stagnant. I think the story warranted deeper insight into the parental characters habits and in general just more exposition. Personally I saw the “being” of Heinrich as a psychological manifestation of the mothers fear of letting go, of letting her son out into the big wide world once and for all. Similar themes around the fear of parenting were touched on in “Eraserhead”, David Lynch’s surreal nightmare from the 70’s and that’s also my take on this one.

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If nothing else Der Bunker is a truly unique viewing experience. In a world full of derivative works it certainly deserves some accolades. It has an irregular narrative that can be likened to Harmony Korine’s, “Gummo” with a touch of the twisted family dynamics of “Dogtooth”, a Greek film from 2009 ( and another truly strange experience). The cinematography and audio are impressive and the lighting along with the score, give the film plenty of life. There’s some entertaining interactions and the film’s healthy dose of darkly comedic moments keep it moving along nicely. The performances are solid and the story simple at its core. I’m sure there’s probably a lot more detail in these characters that could have been explored. I’d rather have seen more of that than been confronted with extended uncomfortable moments (e.g the breast-feeding scenes). With Nikias choosing not to explore the themes to greater lengths, I can’t help but think this one might have better suited the “short” medium. In the end it all comes back to personal taste (like most things). Unfortunately most of the people I know aren’t going to get behind a film like this but I like to support film in general and it can’t be denied that this is a well made, art house  film. I have to look at this from an entertainment point of view as much as anything else though and on that front, it’s probably not going to be for most people. Check out the trailer below if you’re intrigued!

My rating for “Der Bunker” is 5/10

Mermelada (Review)

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MERMELADA

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thanks to Co-Writer/Director and Actor, Jose Mellinas for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 12 minute Horror/Thriller short, “Mermelada”. Mermelada is a Spanish made POV film (point of view) about a YouTube sensation by the name of Javitronicks (played by Mellinas himself). He’s tasked with interviewing a man named Eugenio (Albert Anguera whose also a Co-Writer) who claims to know sensitive information about the disappearance of a young woman. This marks just Jose’s second writing credit and it’s his directorial debut. The short was shot for a mere 100 euros. Lately I’ve been fortunate enough to have reviewed a bunch of really cool projects coming out of Spain and that’s how Jose got onto me, so a quick thanks to his fellow European filmmakers in Pablo Pastor and Sergio Morcillo for the networking.

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THE GOOD

I spent the first five or six minutes of Mellina’s short trying to establish where the story was coming from and going to and what it all might really be about. An introduction that sees Javi (for short) conducting one on one interviews with locals in the street, looking for their reactions to having seen a viral video of sorts. Cryptic reactions to a popular video that’s never directly shown to the viewer makes for quite an odd start but an interesting one all the same. Yes, Mermelada technically falls into the Horror genre but not in the conventional sense. A narrative that appears to be about a notorious blogger/expert in legends, takes a very different turn upon its climax. The audio levels are nice and clear and most of the footage is decently shot. Fans of the found footage approach know what to expect from  but those who are new to it can rest easy because this one keeps everything fairly stable (movement wise). The acting was competent although the material didn’t call for any scene stealing moments. The last few minutes were the highlight and I didn’t see the particular revelation coming.

THE BAD

The most distracting thing on display here is the speed with which the subtitles are presented. I understand these guys talk at their own pace but seeing as though I don’t speak Spanish I have to pay close attention to the subtitles. Problem is that I’m trying to watch everything in the frame at the same time and that’s problematic. For reviewing purposes you’d benefit from at least a second viewing of Mermelada. Some of the editing is rather choppy and there’s one or two sequences that are so small they probably could have been cut. On top of that, some of the lighting inside Eugenio’s house is fairly inconsistent. The only plot hole I found was in the time-lapse regarding Eugenio’s dash into the basement and his sudden rise to the up stairs of the house. We see him go down the stairs, so if he was in the basement how did he get back up two levels so quickly? I hoped there’d be an additional scene showing what the original video was that sparked Javi’s investigation.

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Mermelada is an interesting short that would fit the bill for something like the VHS franchise *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/vhs2-review/. I really wasn’t sure the direction this one was heading and I think in this case that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. The audio and camera work were good, as was the acting but it’s the specific angle taken in the climax that makes it worth a watch. The subtitles and dialogue comes at you like rapid fire and both the editing and lighting needed some work (keep in mind this was shot for less than $150 Australian Dollars). I think Jose missed an opportunity to let the audience in on part of the secret and the continuity issue surrounding Eugenio’s movements both let this one down a bit. In the end he’s still got a solid little film that should help you kill 12 minutes of your day, so keep an eye out for this one!

My rating for “Mermelada” is 5.5/10

You’re Gonna Die Tonight (Review)

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YOU’RE GONNA TO DIE TONIGHT

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Director, Sergio Morcillo for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 13 minute Horror short, “You’re Gonna Die Tonight”. You’re Gonna Die Tonight is about a young woman named Victoria (played by Monica Aragon), who after an intense night out, decides to take a relaxing bath before bed. A phone call from a stranger sparks what will eventually become the worst night of her life. The film also stars Antonio Zancada, Francisco Reyes and Rafa Casette. Recently I reviewed another Spanish made short film, Pablo Pastor’s “Into The Mud” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/into-the-mud-review/. Sergio (who knows Pablo) was kind enough to get in touch with me about reviewing the latest in his chain of short films.

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THE GOOD

Early on in discussion, Sergio made his influences known. You’re Gonna Die Tonight, clearly inspired by films like Wes Craven’s genre reinventing, “Scream” as well as John Carpenter’s, “Halloween”. I love the Slasher genre and its formulaic approach that we’ve all come to know and love. Morcillo’s short picks up with a clearly disheveled Victoria, as she stumbles her way toward the front door of her house. It’s here where the audience are likely to have their suspicions about events that may have occurred during her wild night out on the town. Sergio promptly engages with his audience, showcasing loud audio levels and a great score that’s reminiscent of something from “Friday The 13th”. The cinematography is quite nice and all the framing length is consistent. The highlight for me was the gorgeous aerial shot that sees Victoria in the bath tub preparing for a bit of a release. If memory serves me correctly, the mood lighting during that scene was also particularly effective. The passage ways and different rooms are well-lit too, back-lit with red and yellow shades. 13 minutes doesn’t give you the opportunity to really hammer the action home but there’s still one or two sequences, both of which utilize some decent practical blood and gore effects.

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THE BAD

There’s a couple of minor technical issues with dialogue delivery. Although the film was shot in Spain, all the characters speak in English (albeit inconsistently conveyed). There are Spanish subtitles attached (obviously for the Spanish crowd) that become a little distracting to an English ear, especially when you’re trying hard to focus on what the characters are saying but find yourself reading the screen. I think most Horror fans would prefer to see this short presented in Spanish, although I understand the need to “Americanize” it for marketing purposes. There’s one scene in question for its rapid editing style and it highlights some specifics from Victoria’s night out. Given what we saw and her actions after the flashback, it didn’t seem like something that you’d call to mind for stimulation purposes (haha, each to his/her own I suppose). I would have liked that scene displayed in a different way. The mask that the mystery caller dons is definitely “bondage material” and creepy, unfortunately a black version of it was used previously in Marcus Dunstan’s underrated film “The Collector”, as well as the lesser known, “Cornered!”. Two scenes in Morcillo’s film were unclear to me (although that could be something he plans to address in a full length feature). Countless photos with people’s names and details on them can be seen in a dark room (for photography) in the house (or at least it seemed like a dark room). I don’t know what relevance that scene had, Were they potential victims or people who were already victims, or neither? I don’t really know. Secondly, the hazy details surrounding the ending, I think I deciphered the mystery behind a couple of those secondary characters but I’m not one hundred percent sure.

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You’re Gonna Die Tonight is my first venture into Spanish film maker Sergio Morcillo’s work and it was a pretty decent one at that. I like the poster, the premise and the 80’s inspired “slasher” title. Most of the technical aspects are well conceived, from the loud volume and the unnerving score, through to the Giallo esq lighting and the sharp cinematography, it’s all of a really high standard. The couple of action sequences were enjoyable and I commend Sergio’s effort to clue the audience in on certain evidence early, even if it doesn’t necessarily translate by the end. I’d rather have seen the film presented entirely in Spanish and a couple of the scenes within it approached from a different angle. The mask works but it’s too much like The Collector’s mask (a favourite of mine) which took me out of the film a bit. Some of the details toward the end could have been clearer, however, I’ll assume those elements would be further explored in a full length feature (which I’m all for seeing). Congratulations to Sergio on his latest short and be sure to keep an eye out for the official release date soon!

My rating for “You’re Gonna Die Tonight” is 6/10

Secret Santa (Review)

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SECRET SANTA

THE SETUP

Firstly I’d just like to say thank you to Reel Phobia Productions and Writer/Director, Mike McMurran for allowing me access to an online screener of his debut feature-length film, “Secret Santa”. Secret Santa is an 80’s inspired, Christmas themed, Horror/Slasher film about a group of college students who throw a small impromptu party to celebrate the holiday season. Olivia (played by the lovely Nicole Kawalez, in her first appearance) organizes a fun exchange of presents among the friends but the findings are quite puzzling and lead the group to believe someone out there has their own nasty agenda. The film also stars Annette Wozniak (of Chad Archibald’s “Bite”), Keegan Chambers, Geoff Almond, Brent Baird, Tony Nash and Matthew Chisholm. I didn’t intend on reviewing a series of Christmas Horror movies seeing as though it’s not Christmas but it seems I’ve got my hands on a few lately, so I thought why not? I remember hearing a few things about McMurran’s, Secret Santa from the boys on YouTube at “Bloodbath and Beyond”, so here goes nothing.

THE GOOD

I’ll be the first to admit, it doesn’t take a lot to get me interested in this kind of film. A lot of movie-goers and critics are a little more selective about what they watch but me, the promise of a masked killer, interesting albeit cliché’ characters and plenty of kills is really all I want from the Slasher sub-genre. Secret Santa while set in present day, is still a clear-cut throwback to the slashers of the 80’s. Films like “Black Christmas” and “Christmas Evil” are just a couple of the countless holiday themed entries inspiring this. McMurran’s method toward his visuals is an obvious nod to the SOV (shot on video) era of film making. The static and spotty style of Secret Santa will remind you of an old bootleg V/H/S tape, the only difference being that this film was clearly shot with good equipment (unlike years gone by). The color grading is really vibrant and in a way probably negates the desired effect that someone like Richard Mogg goes for in his films (Massage Parlor Of Death and Bigfoot Ate My Boyfriend). Maybe it’s just that Mike is like me and enjoys the best of both worlds, plus with a first film it’s important to have as high of a production value as possible. Secret Santa employs some ADR here and there (additional dialogue recording) but all the audio levels are nice and clear. A similar thing can be said for the foley, particularly the sounds of some of the weapons as they’re being tested out.

The soundtrack isn’t anything special but what would an 80’s style Slasher be without the complementary synth? Most of it sounds alright and some of the heightened zany synth noises, combined with the smooth editing, really help convey the intended tone. The best technical aspect here is certainly the cinematography, McMurran is extremely proficient in giving audiences plenty of variety. Secret Santa begins with some really gentle panning and later, there’s a lot of effective focus shots that really drive the high production value. This is one of the first times I’ve seen a low-budget filmmaker refrain from going handheld and jerky during its action sequences. There’s a real attention to detail in keeping Secret Santa looking professional, a nice little nod to Bob Clark’s “Black Christmas” is the only obvious tip of the hat. We see several POV shots of someone peering through the windows of the house (straight out of the aforementioned film). All of the framing is solid and I particularly like the deep focus shots on the masked killer, as he or she is wrapping presents for the group. The film has its comedic moments dispersed amidst all the carnage, some of the lines working better than others. The five or six core characters aren’t exactly well-rounded in terms of their arcs but I respect McMurran’s simple approach with presenting each of them as a stereotype of Horror 101, e.g, the jock, the stoner, the princess, the slut and the final girl.

The group of young adults decide to have a little celebration for the end of the college year. Naive, Nicole (played by Wozniak, a dead ringer for Amber Tamblyn), straight-laced Olivia (Kawalez) and promiscuous Carissa (Chambers) all share the house that the party takes place in. Nicole presents herself as quite innocent, yet her interesting after school activity and dynamics of relationship with boyfriend, Bryan (Brent Baird) prove otherwise. Olivia’s been keeping a secret from her friends and chooses the night of the party to reveal it, then there’s Carissa, the wild one who seems to get caught up in everybody else’s drama. Fifth wheeling it is student slacker and hyper-active, Dwayne (played by a bald Geoff Almond). Almond reminds me a lot of “3rd Rock From The Sun’s”, French Stewart. Dwayne does the least amount of work to get by but he’s got a convenient drug habit helping him cram for exams. Much to my surprise, Secret Santa had very consistent acting given the rather inexperienced cast. All three of our lead girls are gorgeous and they hit all the right notes for the intended tone. My favourite being Keegan Chambers, who rocks a pair of denim shorts with stockings that scream all kinds of sexy. As I said, Annette is a dead ringer for Amber Tamblyn and she definitely gets the most out of her comedic timing. Baird does a pretty good job in his role as Bryan and Almond’s mostly there for comedic relief. His shining moment is a scene that involves an awkward conversation with the Carissa character.

Let’s get to the good stuff now, Shall we? You want to know what Secret Santa offers in the killing department don’t you? McMurran takes the old school approach we all know and love, with everything being done with practical blood and gore effects and it’s nothing if not ambitious with the execution. The opening kill comes less than five minutes into proceedings and believe me, it’s quite a violent one. There’s a couple of potential stand outs for the best kill, one utilizes a nice neck piece and the other involves a weapon no one bargained on getting used. Even with a handful of routine kills (probably due to budget limitations), McMurran still gives the audience consistent blood flow at every opportunity, especially toward the ending. A couple of sequences, specifically one in a bathroom, make a hell of a lot of mess. I was actually surprised by the ending of this one and the revelations that come with it. Up until that point I had noted a few plot holes here and there (or what I thought were plot holes) but I was glad to be proven wrong once the film came full circle.

THE BAD

There’s a couple of minor technical glitches in Secret Santa which are quite common in most independent and low-budget films. The audio in the very opening scene between Carissa and one of her other housemates was slightly out of sync. With this being a throwback to 80’s slashers (in which out of sync audio was often done deliberately), you can’t be completely sure that it wasn’t the intention, although if that was the case it probably would have remained that way for the entire duration of the film. An unnecessarily lame visual effect is used during a conversation between Dwayne and Nicole, in order to depict Dwayne’s drug related trip. A handful of scenes inside the house during the first act are really quiet and have no atmosphere due to the lack of score. A majority of the film is scored pretty well but those scenes definitely required some form of music because there’s not even any room noise, everything’s just dead. There’s only one or two small continuity issues, the main one during an interaction between Carissa and Olivia. There’s a knock at the door while the two are finishing up a conversation, Carissa can’t be bothered getting up so she screams out to Olivia to get the door but she’s just been in the same room. In the next frame Olivia is seen approaching the door as though she’s come from a different room. The other issue is surrounding the killer/s movements around what is a pretty small house and being able to sneak around it undetected. I’m not going to get hung up on that though because slasher films have always operated under similar flawed guidelines.

Tony Nash who plays Professor Ramsey, was the only person I felt was perhaps a little miscast in terms of looking the part. Nash seems quite young and unlikely to be a professor but that’s not to say he doesn’t do a decent job in the role. The weakest specific in McMurran’s screenplay is the motive behind the series of killings. Once again though, Secret Santa being what it is (a throwback to old school slashers), it may just be Mike’s take on the nonsensical motives killers in these types of films often have, after all, he makes no apologies for coming at sections of this film with a comedic approach (spoiler: all the sex toys would tell you that haha). My personal preference would have been a legitimate and believable motive but hey, each to their own. Being a small cast with minimal locations type of deal, there’s a bit of a lull for twenty minutes or so where the inclusion of a couple more kills would have been a great addition. That being said, I understand most of those creative decisions come down to whether there’s enough funding and enough time.

Secret Santa is a sharp and snappy, 75 minute feature-length debut from Writer/Director, Mike McMurran. The script is equal parts slasher film and teen comedy (relatively speaking) and it hits mostly the right notes. It reminded me of films like Todd Nunes, “All Through The House” and Michael Hall’s, “Kids Get Dead 2: Kids Get Deader”, with just a touch of “Porky’s” added to the mix. The audio levels and foley are bright, as is the color grading. The sincere attempt to make this aesthetically comparable with an 80’s bootleg V/H/S is fun but probably lost on most if you don’t get the intention. The impressive cinematography is definitely the focal point and some of the best work I’ve seen (if not the best), given the budget. There’s enough fresh perspective there while still winking at slasher’s from the 80’s era, particularly “Black Christmas”. The characters all make for a fun watch (lovely eye candy aside) and the standard of acting was refreshing for a genre that often sees most phoning it in. I commend Mike on delivering plenty of blood and gore for the hardcore fans and a couple of really memorable kills, even with the limited funds. I definitely had to reach in order to find a handful of fairly nit picky issues, so other than that dubious motive and me wanting to see even more killing than I got, slasher fans will find it hard to fault Secret Santa. This is the best holiday themed movie I’ve seen this year and Producers/Investors out there would be wise to back the next film from Mike McMurran. Money is the only thing stopping this guy from making a name for himself in the Horror genre, so keep an eye out for Secret Santa this December!

My rating for “Secret Santa” is 7.5/10