CarousHELL (Review)

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CAROUSHELL

THE SETUP

Firstly, “Who brings a taser to a party!?”. I’d just like to say thanks to Co-Writer, Actor and Director, Steve Rudzinski for allowing me early access to an online screener of his Horror/Comedy film “CarousHELL”. CarousHELL is about one particular unicorn named Duke (voiced by Steve Rimpici) whose stationed at the local theme park. On a daily basis Duke has kids jumping on and off of him, hitting him, wiping things on him and he’s finally reached boiling point. Laurie (played by the lovely Se’ Marie) is tasked with babysitting her younger brother Larry, aka “Lunchbox” (Teague Shaw) and it just so happens that he’s the unlucky kid Duke sets his revenge filled sights on. Duke follows Laurie (yes that is a unicorn following a girl haha) and her younger brother to a house party where all hell threatens to break loose. Only a fellow amusement park employee who goes by “Cowboy Cool” (P.J. Gaynard), knows what it takes to stop the unicorn. The film also stars Haley Madison, Chris Proud and Steve Rudzinski himself. A few years back I watched “Everyone Must Die!”, Rudzinski’s micro-budget entry into the slasher sub-genre and I’ll admit, it was a very disappointing experience. Forget for a minute that it was a slasher with little to no actual slashing (at least on-screen), and the acting was terrible, it was really the technical aspects that were so poorly conceived that it bogged down any potential it may have had. To be fair, it was made for under $5,000 so there’s that, not to mention Steve was pretty new to film making at that point. Since then he’s dabbled in everything from Comedy to Action/Adventure and he’s back for another crack at the Horror genre, So how did this one fare?

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THE GOOD

CarousHELL’s script, penned by Rudzinski and Aleen Isley is quite an outlandish one. They’re channeling similar tones to that of a creature feature, B movie you would’ve seen lining the video store shelves in the mid to late 80’s. Now I’ve seen and reviewed just about everything on this site. I’ve done Bunny’s sporting wood (in the form of extravagant erections), Sleepwalking cannibals, Demons of the anus, Zombie beavers, Wolf cops and even Brass teapots that pay out, however, a Killer Carousel Unicorn is a new one, even for me (haha). Those crazy flying sharks that Fin Shepard fights off aren’t seeming so crazy now are they? Anytime we think we’ve seen it all, were inevitably defied and so I commend Steve and Aleen on being the two pushing us this time around. The shooting style in CarousHELL is an even blend of still shots and Steadicam work. Most of the framing is solid and there’s a bunch of tight shot choices, particularly in the second half of the film. The film’s crisp and clear audio track is probably the highlight of the technical aspects. Usually with micro-budget films like this there’s so much inconsistency in room tones and proximity of mics to the actors/actresses, so kudos to this crew for getting it right. A lot of the score just felt like background noise but the carnival themed music was a nice touch and a welcomed addition given the complementary narrative.

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The film opens with narration by Steve Rimpici, as Duke (the unicorn) voices his displeasure for simply being viewed as an object. On a daily basis he’s mistreated by the children that ride him, he can’t take it anymore and he wants out. After hearing Rimpici’s articulation, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the memorable narration from David Evans in the 1993 film “The Sandlot” (a nostalgic favourite of mine), the two sounded very much alike despite the films being the furthest thing from each other. I enjoyed plenty of the script’s specifics, even down to the basics of our lead actress playing a character named “Laurie”. Anytime horror fans hear that name, they automatically associate it with Jamie Lee Curtis’s character in the iconic, John Carpenter film “Halloween”. This Laurie pretty much lives a life (and I use that term loosely) that revolves around social networking, this app and that app and feels the urge to Tweet and Instagram everything that happens. It’s a really humorous plot point relevant in today’s society. At one stage she basically tells her mother that if she doesn’t post she’ll become “slightly less popular” (haha), which is about the total sum of the ramifications. The film only runs 68 minutes (with credits), most of which take place at a house party where we’re introduced to some of the films secondary characters. The two main inclusions being Sarah (played by Haley Madison), the host of the party and her boyfriend, Preston (Chris Proud).

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My favourite parts of the film (killing aside), involved interactions between Laurie and the pizza delivery guy, Joe (played by Rudzinski). The film’s running joke revolves around no one being able to pay Joe for the pizzas. Every time he’s on the verge of getting his money and leaving, something or someone gets in the way. That someone is usually Laurie, displaying an over sexed veneer and physical attraction to Joe in the most obvious of ways, yet like a lot of us guys… he just doesn’t get it. Toward the end of the film there’s a great gag poking fun of the fact that Laurie is using a phone but claims no one has a phone to call for help. In other words, we all have phones but we can get so wrapped up in social networking that we forget there’s these things you can make with them called phone calls…. I know right?! In another instance there’s a humorous scene between rambunctious Preston and Joe, following an altercation with another party goer. Preston is distraught with how his face looks after said altercation and Joe just wants his money, its well-timed and delivered cleverly. In terms of characters and performance, majority of the cast do a decent job in their respective roles. Proud is over the top but entertaining, Marie looks great and balances the film out and Rudzinski has the best comedic timing of the bunch. Steve’s definitely improved over the years and I enjoyed watching him in one of his previous roles in “Scream Park” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/scream-park-review/. Some of the secondary performances in CarousHELL aren’t that great but those characters only have limited screen time.

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Let’s get to the good stuff aye, the violence. There’s a surprising amount of carnage and practical effects work on display in CarousHELL. I don’t know the actual budget for this one but I’d imagine it wouldn’t be much higher than any of Rudzinski’s previous films. On a good note, there’s an early kill less than ten minutes into proceedings. More often than not most of the deaths are fairly ambitious and graphically presented and given the budget, that deserves some praise. As a Slasher and Horror fan, kills and a body count are what most of us are after and that was sorely missed in Steve’s last slasher film. This time around we get plenty more of what’s desired, including a couple of nice prosthetic neck pieces, as well as a cool death involving some wire. The highlights for me were a shock face split and a breakdown using effects that depict melting. As a fan I really appreciate and value the attempt as much as I do the execution. I’m glad that Steve and Co really put in the work with this one to make the action far greater than it had the right to be (given the budget). I’m interested to see what else he’s able to do in the genre.

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THE BAD

CarousHELL, like Rudzinski’s previously mentioned film, suffers again from some poor technical execution but the upside is this time around it doesn’t put as larger damper on things. Most of the camera work is alright but there’s a brief sequence that utilizes shaky cam while a young victim runs from our deranged unicorn. Without a dolly or stabilizers, that type of shooting style comes across as amateurish so I probably would’ve opted for a wide shot or something else. On several occasions during the party scenes, the camera loses focus completely and it becomes quite distracting. Early in the film there’s some inconsistent lighting and some harsh glare during a scene in the car with Laurie and her boyfriend Scott (Chad Bruns). The editing is another one of those aspects that’s difficult to get right, especially in independent film making. There’s no interesting transitions here and some scenes feel like they’re cut too quickly, while others wear out their welcome. I mentioned the memorable carny music earlier but other than that, everything else is so low in the mix that it simply acts as background noise. I don’t recall the house party even having music playing, so I think the soundtrack definitely needed a lively boost.

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I couldn’t get into a lot of the comedy in CarousHELL. I’m a difficult sell when it comes to what the masses usually find funny, even more so when in the Horror/Comedy sub-genre. For example, most people I know love films like “Zombieland” and “Shaun Of The Dead”, whereas I could take em’ or leave em’ and much prefer some of the lesser knowns. With that being said, Laurie’s constant hashtag references were totally lost on me (being a bloke who doesn’t use Instagram or Twitter). Don’t get me wrong, I know what they mean and I chuckled at one or two but that word play continues for almost all of her screen time and it gets old. Then we’ve got the inclusion of the “cheesy pun” every time Duke kills. Now I like a cheesy pun as much as the next slasher fan but it’s a tricky one to navigate. You’ve got iconic films like “Child’s Play” and “Nightmare On Elm St.” that kick started that whole phase but these days it just doesn’t quite work, as is the case with recent films like “Knucklebones” and now CarousHELL. I’m not sure if it’s the style of voice-over and whose doing it or the lines themselves, probably a combination of both but in this film they’re just lame and not even the good kind of lame. Toward the end there’s one of the most awkward and unhealthy sex scenes you’re likely to witness anytime soon. The scene itself and one character’s unicorn fetish is clearly played for laughs but it will depend on your sense of humor as to whether you think the gag actually hits. I thought it was beyond stupid and if I laughed it was just uncomfortably but hey that’s just me.

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I suppose in a movie about a talking Carousel Unicorn with the ability to comprehend thought, I shouldn’t complain about the lacking exposition surrounding Duke and instead just sit back and enjoy the ride, Right? The film doesn’t have an introduction per say, Duke is already Duke by the time the first frame rolls and the origin behind the unicorn is never divulged. Aside from an apparent connection to the mystery Cowboy Cool character, you don’t find out how anything happened in the first place. I enjoyed most of the action sequences in the film but it’s still not without those typical run of the mill kills scattered throughout. There’s also one sequence that fails completely, at least on a visual level. Rudzinski looked to use prosthetics and cheaply made molds wherever he could and I commend that, however, one particular kill involving a pizza cutting tool could have been insanely executed, similar to one or two of the other kills. The implement ends up just rolling back and forth on the actors head for laughs and failing to make an indentation. My only thought was that Steve wanted to keep the actor performing throughout that scene and needed him in the frame. Otherwise why not use a dummy head cast and make a bloody mess of things? In the end that was one of the most disappointing scenes of the film because I had high expectations due to what I’d seen prior.

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Steve Rudzinski’s “CarousHELL” feels like it was made with genuine passion and effort, similar to the b movie schlock that Troma releases. Not only did I enjoy watching a whole new type of villain, I thought the shot choices and framing were neat and the audio track was superb. The addition of some carnival themed music was good and I liked Rimpici’s voice over, even with the shitty puns. There’s a few fun characters and some genuinely good jokes with solid comedic timing, albeit in patches. The performances from Marie, Proud, Madison and Rudzinski are very even, something that’s usually a rarity for the cast of a micro-budget film. The most fun you’ll have here is bound to be with the resourceful practical effects and the respectable body count. Some of the kills are damn gruesome and that’s what I was hoping to see in some of Steve’s future work. I’ve got to be honest and say that some of the technical aspects are still pretty rough around the edges (partly due to budget) but in particular those focus issues which need to be ironed out. The soundtrack needed some more life and the lack of plot details behind Duke make it hard to decipher the film’s rules if there are any. Big chunks of the comedy missed the mark and the sex scene was wacky to say the least. CarousHELL is like a blend between “Killer Pinata” and “Attack Of The Killer Backpacks” and still has its moments. On a personal note, there’s no denying it’s a huge improvement for Steve and I look forward to seeing what else he does down the track.

My rating for “CarousHELL” is 5/10

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