Monsterfest 2019 (Blog) Just keep repeating, it’s only monster fest!

Well, it was a busy weekend in little ole Adelaide, with the Supanova Comic-Con and Gaming event going on at the same time as Monster Fest 2019 – a movie festival for the more adventurous movie-goers. Not to mention, Halloween was only five days ago and I saw a lot of costumes while I was out and about… so apparently, we’ve now adopted that holiday here in Australia (news to me!). Though if we’re being real, it’s really just a reason for people to throw a party and get stuck into the bevies (like they needed another reason to). I balanced my weekend out though and attended both events. I ate some really nutritious food *sarcasm*, paid for multiple carparks several times over, and spent way too much money on seeing seven films, meeting actors, and further adding to the memorabilia collection – thoroughly enjoyed myself all the same though! Here’s how it played out.

Richard Brake (left), Sheri Moon Zombie (middle) and Bill Moseley (right) in “3 From Hell”

My four day long festival weekend began on Thursday night at the Australian premiere of “3 From Hell”, the final installment in controversial filmmaker/musician, Rob Zombie’s “Reject” trilogy that started way back in 2003 with “House Of 1000 Corpses”, a film that I never really cared much for. It wasn’t until two years later and the release of the sequel “The Devil’s Rejects” that I really started paying attention to Zombie as a filmmaker. His body of work can only be described as a mixed bag. At one end of the spectrum lies an impressive remake of John Carpenter’s infamous 1978 slasher film “Halloween”, but at the other, you’ll find the alarmingly inept likes of “31”. It pains me to say that this third entry will, unfortunately, be found at the latter end of that spectrum and what’s more, is now the bookends of the series are left so-so. 3 From Hell gets a couple of things right, namely the acknowledgment but bittersweet send-off of Captain Spaulding (a character made infamous by the late and great Sid Haig R.I.P). The inclusion of the talented Richard Brake as Otis’s brother Winslow serves as a welcomed addition, it’s just a shame he never really got to take point. Some of the music choices are cool, and of course, it wouldn’t be a Rob Zombie film without plenty of mayhem, most of which looks serviceable and is conceived using practical fx. The first act is the most interesting aspect of the film, as we watch the three dealing with life on the inside.

The biggest problem with 3 From Hell is that it’s simply a complete rehash of The Devils Rejects, a superior film in every way, shape, and form. Again, Zombie opts for the easy out, choosing to shoot almost everything entirely handheld and the results are less than impressive (did he learn nothing from the travesty that was 31). David Daniel’s cinematography is out of focus on almost all tightly framed shots (maybe intentional?) and boy does he love a whip pan (you could make a drinking game out of that edit) and an over-abundance of slow-motion walking scenes as well. This might just be Zombie’s worst script in regards to the dialogue, and you’d have thought it’d be hard for him to outdo himself in that respect (look to 31). These interactions and conversations are just utter garbage. They’re crass for shock value sake and do nothing to develop the narrative or the respective character arcs. I’m one of the few who chooses to believe that Sheri Moon can actually act, sadly it can’t often be said when it comes to the projects she’s collaborated on with her husband. She tries her best here but it gets old really fast. It’s very in your face, ham-fisted, and often borders on irritating – though she’s not the only one. By far and away it’s the lack of credibility that prevents 3 From Hell becoming anything of note though. The number of times law enforcement is mentioned in the film yet never actually seen is truly mind-boggling. If these three are the most wanted criminals in the US (which they are) wouldn’t you’d think that they might encounter, I don’t know……a cop/s at some point? The first hour or more takes place in the US before the Mexico switch-up comes, so where the hell was all this law enforcement supposedly hot on their tails?!! Needless to say, things weren’t off to a great start.

Harriet Davies (left) and Airlie Dodds (right) in “The Furies”

I had to kill a little time before heading into the screening of Tony D’Aquino’s Aussie homegrown debut feature “The Furies” at 9:30. I knew it was a sort of Horror/Slasher love letter to genre films of the ’80s but had no preconceived notions about what I was in for, and ultimately, I was surprised in the best possible way. It wound up feeling like a mix of “Battle Royale” and “Berkshire County”. The first thing that really stood out was that those involved in making this film really gave a shit. From the evenness of the production value and consistency of performance, through to the practical fx work and the referencing of genre tropes, it’s got all that attention to detail that often gets left by the wayside in this specific sub-genre where plenty just opt to phone it in. I hope to see a lot more from DP, Garry Richards because he’s got a great eye. There are a plethora of great camera movements and tight transitions going on in The Furies and I particularly liked the willingness to go wide in order to convey the isolation of the vast and harsh terrain. The music is synth-based and suspenseful in all the right places, and both the production design and art direction really help set the scene. The quality of the acting was another facet that kind of snuck up on me, I wasn’t aware we had such good local talent. I remember seeing Airlie in “Killing Ground” and she’s rather impressive again here, but it’s the inclusion of Linda Ngo (Top Of The Lake) and Taylor Ferguson (Glitch), that elevates the film. Whilst I wasn’t completely on board with the lack of clarity within how the film wrapped up, the action and practical fx won me over and made up for that shortcoming. A number of the kills are quite graphic and each showcase the high quality of the practical blood and gore. The use of animal masks has becomes quite common, but here it felt more like an homage to the various horror icons rather than a creative specific. I left The Furies at the end of Thursday night very satisfied with what I had witnessed.

Fred Williamson (left), William Sadler, Stephen Lang (centre), Sierra McCormick, and Tom Williamson (right) in “VFW”

Friday Night rolled around pretty quickly and I headed off to my 9:15 session of “VFW”, one of two recent films (the other being titled Bliss) from young and artful Writer/Director, Joe Begos (The Mind’s Eye). With a script penned by first-time writers Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle, VFW hit me square in the eyes with its gorgeous neon-draped color pallette, old-school high octane action, and blood-soaked practical fx. I was onboard this unapologetic 80’s homage to action from the moment the video game esq red font prelude appeared on the screen (like something straight out of Escape From New York or Class Of 1999), informing us of the ever-growing decline and destruction of the world at the hands of a new psychedelic and deadly drug. One can’t deny that VFW is pretty light on story and rarely offers up more than a glossing over of character exposition, that said, you can identify with the lifelong bond these men in their twilight years have shared. First and foremost, in addition to Begos, kudos should go to casting agent David Guglielmo for his ability to take such a gamble on a cast made up primarily of older actors in what has sadly become a young person’s industry. VFW may very well be one of the last times we see an ensemble of older generation actors of this caliber in a film as gritty as this one. Stephen Lang has really branched out in a wonderful way in recent years and as for William Sadler, he just continues on his merry way. At 81 years old, it’s great to still see Fred Williamson working, a man who originally made his name in Blaxploitation films of the 70s’. The cast is rounded out with the likes of Martin Kove (The Karate Kid) and David Patrick Kelly (Twin Peaks), as well as an infusion of youth in the form of Sierra McCormick, Tom Williamson, and Travis Hammer. Cinematographer, Mike Testin employs Steadicam done right, Josh Ethier’s edit comes together nicely, and Steve Moore’s glorious combination of 80’s and 90’s synth tones drives the atmosphere sublimely. Sometimes the film feels unsure of its tone but it never loses its energy, as is evident in the countless fight sequences that are well supported by some very graphic and in your face practical fx. It’s a travesty that there were only six people in the screening of this film… including me.

Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots in “Vivarium”

There was one thing I was skeptical about going into Saturday night’s session of “Vivarium”, a Mystery/Sci-fi film from Lorcan Finnegan, and that was simply subjecting myself to yet another film involving Jesse Eisenberg… I’m sorry, I just don’t rate the guy – I never have. Be that as it may, I tried to put him out of my mind and instead soldiered on with a clean slate. Something about the premise of a couple who get lost in a maze of identical houses while looking in Yonder, a new development, appealed to me. Perhaps it was the eerieness behind those similar aesthetics that could be likened to something out of a Tim Burton film that had me intrigued, who knows? Anywho, boy oh boy was this a truly weird cinematic experience and one that I walked out of unsure how I felt about it. I’ve no doubt there’s a lot of symbolism in here regarding the life cycle of us human beings and how and where we fit in the greater scheme of life on earth, but I have no qualms in saying that wherever those nuggets were, they were buried in rubble – much like the drudge Tom attempts to dig his way through over the course of the 97 minute runtime. It’s somewhat of a unique film visually though, and both Eisenberg and Poots are very good in their roles of Tom and Gemma – so to Eanna Hardwicke and Jonathan Aris who give subtly unnerving performances. If you asked me what Vivarium was really about though, I don’t think I’d be able to tell you. Partway through the film, Tom and Gemma are tasked with caring for a newborn child, though he turns out to be anything but a normal child when after a relatively short period of time he’s all of a sudden eight or nine years old. Before the third act rolls around, the boy has developed into a grown man (who looks to be in his 20’s) despite the couple not appearing to have aged while stuck in Yonder (so not sure on how the place really works). The boy’s days are filled with mimicking different voices and sounds, eating breakfast and screeching like a banshee if it’s not made just right, watching TV (on which constantly plays static-like imagery that I guess he understands), and curiously observing his “parents”. The movie gets even stranger after the boy becomes a man and begins to leave the house. It gets the best of mother Gemma which leads to a perplexing chase sequence as he opens the earth’s core up and it sends them both careening off in directions they shouldn’t be able to go. As the narrative comes full circle so do the lives of the three primary characters. Days later I’m still at a loss with Vivarium and I think it’s going to take another viewing before I make a call one way or the other on it.

Alyssa Sutherland and Nathan Phillips in “Blood Vessel”

The first session of three that I attended on the final day of Monster Fest was for “Blood Vessel”, another homegrown Horror/Thriller feature from Co-Writer/Director, Justin Dix (Crawlspace). It was a 4pm start, and I was thoroughly looking forward to this one as it looked to boast high production value and a “Ghost Ship” Esq premise by way of ancient vampires. Sky Davies cinematography and Brian Cachia’s score were a couple of things that jumped out at me immediately, so to the ship itself, shrouded in the dark of the night (I’d imagine mostly due to budget constraints). Once onboard, the handful of characters, all of which appear to be of different nationalities (not sure on the likelihood of that happening but hey) and from different walks of life, come together in order to survive – except that they don’t really come together. My biggest issue with Blood Vessel is the way in which these characters go about occupying and navigating the space that they’re in. There are no level heads among the group (the closest being played by Robert Taylor), no attempt at a united front and no game plan, which seemed like a fair stretch in credibility given they’ve boarded a Nazi ship and strength in numbers would likely be key. The first thing you would do in that situation would be to familiarize yourself with the surroundings. Secondly, you’d check the ship immediately for crew members and other people, following that you’d be searching for any necessary resources. Unfortunately, this misguided group of individuals doesn’t do any of those things until it’s way too late. I understand it’s a movie but that aspect of it took me out of the experience somewhat. The film is also inconsistent in its tone at times, though the special fx makeup is quite impressive and the reds and blues in the lighting add a certain sense of style to proceedings. The film wasn’t quite as violent as I hoped it would be and the shapeshifting hallmark is used in the same tired fashion it has been in the past. I expected a little more from Blood Vessel and what I got was just alright.

Stephen McHattie and Elijah Wood in “Come To Daddy”

After absolutely destroying an Aussie version of a “hoagie” from just down the road at the establishment Route 66, I doubled back for a 6:30 screening of Ant Timpson’s directorial debut “Come To Daddy”, a rather unique, quirky and dark Crime/Comedy in the vein of works from the Coen brothers. I’m always pretty eager for anything new that Elijah Wood appears in, mostly due to the fact that much like the misunderstood Shia LaBeouf, Wood simply doesn’t give a shit about what people expect of him in the wake of Peter Jackson’s “Lord Of The Rings” Trilogy. Writer, Toby Harvard who wrote the screenplay for the batshit crazy “The Greasy Strangler”, opts for a little more subtly and realism this second time around (it wouldn’t be hard haha). The story basically revolves around Wood’s character, Norval Greenwood (what a name!) and his reunion with his estranged father Gordon (played brilliantly by McHattie). The first act shows the pair awkwardly trying to connect, almost hoping to earn the respect of the other by constantly one-upping each other – it’s funny but suspenseful and one particular highlight comes in the form of anecdotes about Elton John. It’s not until the second act and the appearance of a mystery man named Jethro that the film takes a sharp left turn and sends Norval down a slippery slope. Daniel Katz’s cinematography was some of the sharpest on display over the weekend and Karl Steven’s impressive score ran the gamut of tones and themes. Both Elijah and Stephen have great chemistry and their dialogue-driven interactions really hold your interest in the early stage. In addition, the twist was something I really didn’t see coming and a couple of the violent moments are bound to sneak up on unsuspecting viewers. A few of the jokes didn’t land and something was lost in translation with the way the climax unfolded, but all in all, it was quite a fun film.

Madeleine Arthur in “Color Out Of Space”

The last session at Monster Fest was an 8:30 screening of Richard Stanley’s (Hardware) full-blown H.P Lovecraft Sci-Fi/Horror film, “Color Out Of Space”. After doing a little digging over the last few days, I discovered that the general consensus is that Color Out Of Space was the best film of the festival – I don’t see it. Hell, maybe it’s just that I was a little rundown from attending two long events on both the Saturday and Sunday, or could it be that I’m just simply not well enough versed with the works of HP Lovecraft and the sort of body horror sub-genre that his work encompasses? I don’t really know? What I do know is that this one had the makings of a great film but the individual pieces don’t come together to form a coherent puzzle. Hey, maybe they’re not supposed to? Color Out Of Space is about as thin on actual story as its star Nic Cage is on hair these days. As far as I could tell, it goes something like this. A small town, or a house to be more accurate (because we never see a town) is hit by an asteroid that begins discharging beautiful pink light (or energy) and eventually, all hell breaks loose. It’s quite a well-shot film, the lighting is effective, and the practical fx work is fittingly gooey once Stanley goes all out – “From Beyond” and “The Void” both come to mind. Young Madeleine as “Lavinia” is clearly the standout among the cast, but ultimately I just didn’t care about the characters or what story there was. Bless his soul because he’s really trying, but Nicholas Cage just can’t seem to shake the “meme” persona his career has been reduced to. Color Out Of Space wasn’t supposed to be funny as far as I could tell, yet I laughed and cringed more over lamas, vegetables being aggressively thrown in the trash, and Cage’s acting more than I was ever feeling on tenterhooks, Did I miss something? The Cage rage moments are one thing but even his dramatic moments were poor and laughable. I couldn’t find any clarity within the events that unfolded either, as far as I could tell it was some type of foreign lifeform doing it. Pillars that were established in the beginning (such as Lavinia’s Wiccan practice) essentially become moot points. It’s implied that Theresa (Joely Richardson), the mother, has been ill, yet that story thread is never explored and Cage’s character Nathan doesn’t bat an eyelid once signs of mutation begin. This meatless array of pretty imagery reminded me of Cage’s 2009 film “Knowing”, just without the worthwhile story.

All in all, though, it was a great weekend and I’m looking forward to hopefully attending more sessions at next years festival, I highly recommend it to those looking for something a little different in their movie-going experience.