STAGE FRIGHT REVIEW

[2014] STAGE FRIGHT opens on Broadway with Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver) starring in THE HAUNTING OF THE OPERA. She's the belle of the ball and both the crowd and critics alike swoon over her performance. Backstage, after the show, she's brutally murdered by a masked assailant, leaving her two young children (Camilla and Buddy) orphans. Luckily for them, Kylie's former lover Roger (Meat Loaf), is more than willing to take them in as his own. Flash forward 10 years, and the tragedy has played havoc on everyone involved. Roger now runs a summer youth theater camp and both Camilla (MacDonald) and Buddy (Smith) live on the premises and work in the camp's kitchen. When the annual play is announced as a Kabuki reimagining of THE HAUNTING OF THE OPERA, Camilla is inspired to take over the lead role her deceased mother made so famous. Roger (on the brink of financial ruin), sees this as a great "hook" to get a highly respected critic to see the performance and hopefully land him back on 42nd Street (once again producing headlining shows). However, someone else (who happens to hate show tunes with a passion) has other plans. Once the curtain rises on opening night, the blood begins to flow.

Admittedly, I'm not much of a fan of musicals, let alone horror musicals. I've made failed attempts to watch (and enjoy) many in the past, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (which I adore) really being the only exception to this "rule." So naturally I was a bit trepidacious when sitting down with this "mish-mash" of SCREAM, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, FRIDAY THE 13TH, and GLEE. But, (and to my considerable surprise) for the most part, STAGE FRIGHT swept me away. Unlike other movie musicals where the song and dance numbers always feel a little "shoe horned"; STAGE FRIGHT'S are funny, short, and actually advance the narrative. Many of the jokes are enjoyably subtle and those that aren't (ya know, the blatantly sophomoric bits- accidentally referring to Kabuki as bukaki), elicit a wry grin. The supporting cast of characters, which range from young preteens to adults, are all pretty uniquely sketched and add a ton of nuance to the story. MacDonald is splendid as Camilla, calling to mind one of my favorite (and criminally underused) young actresses, Jess Weixler. She's asked to budget her time between a wide range of emotional states, and she does so magnificently. Certainly STAGE FRIGHT is by no means perfect. However, it's got a ton of heart, is refreshingly pretension free, and boasts a few wonderful 80's slasher inspired gore "gags." It's also not high art, but it is a hell of a lot of fun. And, incidentally, it's been a good while since I've had this kind of fun. [8/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] April 17, 2014

DIRECTOR
Jerome Sable
CAST
Allie MacDonald, Meat Loaf, Douglas Smith

THE BORDERLANDS REVIEW

[2014] In THE BORDERLANDS, a team of Vatican investigators are sent into the British countryside to debunk a supposed "miracle" which has occurred at a centuries old church. Gray is the audio/video tech who arrives early to set up the cameras in both the cottage they'll be staying at and the church they'll be snooping about in. Because there were so many "gaps" in previously attempted footage, the three men (which eventually includes Gray, the mysterious Deacon, and Father Mark) are required to wear camera equipped headsets to capture all of their findings. Once settled, the small group sets out to meet the church's priest, get his take on things, and find a scientific explanation. It's not long before they're all witness to things moving, statues falling, and strange noises echoing throughout the crumbling building. Even with his equipment, Gray is unable to find any logical reason behind the otherworldly events, and (although at odds) Deacon and Mark soon have no choice but to believe. Once a hidden passageway (carved into the side and belly of the cathedral) is unearthed, things go from strange and unexplainable to downright horrific. Seems the structure was built on top of something far older; a place and presence responsible for some truly ghastly events. A place and presence that may soon spell the end of our holy investigative trinity.

Every time I wade into a movie garnering generally positive word of mouth, and come away not caring much for it, I inevitably feel as if there's something wrong with me. And even though my mommy continues to reassure me that I'm perfect in every single way; I can't help feeling a bit confused. The found footage "device" is not the issue here. It's all handled and explained quite well. The acting is spot on, and aside from a few lazy deliveries, is laced with well timed levity and genuine intensity. What ultimately sat so uncomfortably with me, is the plain and simple reality that THE BORDERLANDS is just boring. The script is a derivative conglomeration of several cliches and stories that have been tread and retread too many times to count. The viewer is taken in and out of the same location over and over as the supernatural occurrences slowly crescendo with each visit. First a goblet waddles across an alter, next a crucifix slides down a wall shattering on the floor below, then the distant cries and voices of unseen suffering fills our ears. By the time you get to the money shot, which is surprisingly unique and (incidentally) quite cool: it may be far too late. Likewise, if frequently ineffective jump scares and cliched horror tropes are not your thing, it may be wise just to steer clear. [4/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] April 16, 2014

DIRECTOR
Elliot Goldner
CAST
Gordon Kennedy, Robin Hill, Aiden McArdle

THE HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES REVIEW

[1974] Trespassers beware in THE HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES. Beal Mansion is the most conveniently creepy location Eric Hartman could have stumbled upon for the filming of his upcoming horror movie. Although seemingly perfect in appearance, its violent history proves otherwise. Seven members of the Beal family met their demise in the most unforeseen circumstances, permanently tainting the house and all who may enter. The last resident to expire was a woman who practiced witchcraft, further darkening the tenebrous aura of the home. Despite the revolting past of the estate and expressed concern from Edgar, the cryptic caretaker, hardheaded Eric settles inside with his submissive cast and crew. Using the stories behind each death that occurred within the mansion’s walls as basis for the plot of the film only causes affliction. Perhaps the greatest misstep that Eric takes as a director is permitting the reenactment of witchcraft rituals from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. As a non-believer in the supernatural, he has no fear, but his cast feels apprehensive. Unbeknownst to all, as lead actress Gayle recites passages from the evil publication, she is slowly beckoning a homicidal corpse from its grave.

THE HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES is a dormant volcano of a horror film. The opening credits instill immense excitement; a gloomy hymn accompanies gruesome shots revealing how each member of the Beal family met their untimely death. Naturally, such heaviness early on could lead one to expect some insanely hair-raising scenes of manslaughter, freak accidents, and (most of all) hauntings. Instead, we are forced to swallow a heaping amount of monotonous build-up, topped off with numerous temper tantrums brought to you by Eric, the severely unhinged director. In all fairness, Eric’s animosity towards his team is more amusing than it is loathsome. It isn’t until the last thirty minutes that the accumulation of slightly bizarre happenings finally transitions to more thrilling events, such as gun slaying and the discovery of an actress hanging in a doorway. However, the hype failed miserably at delivering an explosive finale. The very last scene is the only notable one; the start and stop motion of the camera captures a beautiful closing image while ghostly music romanticizes the mood. In conclusion, you’ll likely fall asleep before the zombie wakes up. [3/10] ~Vincenza [@Vincenza15] April 16, 2014

DIRECTOR
Paul Harrison
CAST
John Ireland, Faith Domergue, John Carradine

3096 DAYS REVIEW

[2014] Natascha Kampusch was born in Austria in 1988. In 1998 she was snatched on her way to school by Wolfgang Priklopil. In 2006, after just over eight years (or 3096 days), she escaped. A German film, spoken in English, 3096 DAYS documents those events as bookends to an altogether heartening story of the child who grew to womanhood all the while being physically, mentally, and sexually abused by a madman. Said madman built an elaborate living area deep below his home, hidden behind and underneath concrete, wood, and metal. An intercom system allowing him to listen in on, and communicate with, Natascha. As the days, months, and years roll by the girl is starved, bullied, beaten, and raped. As Wolfgang's whispers of "Obey me... Obey me... Obey me..." echo through the intercom and permanently into her subconscious, she somehow finds a way to survive. As even more time passes, the man takes to her as a "wife," remodeling an upstairs room (actually she does the renovation) and using it as their bedroom. He begins taking her out in public, on skiing trips, to the hardware store, etc. It's this arrogance that eventually does him in. Never once thinking that his "partner" would be able (or willing) to leave, he simply grants Natascha too much freedom, which leads to that fateful day when at the age of 18, she's finally able to step out of his world and into the one she was ripped from over a decade before.

3096 DAYS is a pretty grueling experience to sit through, as it should be I suppose. Reading further into the real Natascha's horrific ordeal only further magnifies the potency of the film. Pidgeon, who plays 10 year old Natascha, gets the film off to an effective start as the poor girl has to act the hell out of some pretty disturbing sequences, which she does quite convincingly. The bridge between young Natascha and present day Natascha is Lindhardt's Wolfgang. He's a man under the thumb of his affluent mother. He doesn't work, yet lives in a pretty nice home and drives a "Beamer." The actor portrays him in emotional beats and bursts, calm and rage that come and go unexpectedly. He's clearly sick, but is so comfortable with this being his "norm," that the viewer is left uneasy throughout. All that said, it's still Campbell-Hughes (as teenage / young adult Natascha) that has the reigns here. The actor lost a ton of weight to play this part, and it's simply grotesque. She alternates between naked, shaved head, shuffling about in over sized men's underwear, and other ghastly incarnations throughout the film's run time. She spends time weeping, giving up, fighting back, and submitting; all in excruciating fashion. The whole time her bones are barely kept at bay by translucent, defeated flesh. It's one of those proverbial powerhouse performances for sure. And although seeing more (or any) of her reacclimation into the outside world would have been welcomed, an eerily matter of fact approach from the director and very nice auditory flourishes leave the audience with a rather stark (and brutal) depiction of the effects of long term captivity and abuse. [8/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] April 15, 2014

DIRECTOR
Sherry Hormann
CAST
Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Thur Lindhardt, Amelia Pidgeon

DEATHWATCH REVIEW

[2002] Psychological warfare is the tragic battle fought in director Michael J. Bassett’s DEATHWATCH. After treacherous combat the prior evening, Private Charlie Shakespeare (Jamie Bell) and his squad in Y-Company come upon an abandoned German enemy’s trench occupied by three frightened French soldiers. Lost and needing to regroup, the men decide to secure the area and establish contact with the home base. They soon discover the trench is empty for reasons separate from the war, and slowly learn they are up against an entirely different enemy…one that ravages the insides of their head. While familiar in its bleak portrayal of the effects of war, Bassett’s feature-length debut remains an under appreciated gem crying out for a cult following. Think SAVING PRIVATE RYAN meets THE SHINING. Bassett cleverly uses the trench as a possessive force casting supernatural occurrences, his ‘Overlook Hotel’, which turns the men of Y-Company into Jack Torrance-like figures. Here’s Johnny!

Despite all the warnings and pleading, the captain and sergeant command the men to stay put. Pvt. Thomas Quinn’s (Andy Serkis) hyper-violent tendencies are amplified. The rest of the squad becomes disillusioned in their position after hearing or seeing various aberrations at night. While none of this action play out uniquely, the comparative films with their universally acclaimed status serving as influential yard sticks, its strong suit is atmosphere that drifts through endless fog and lies in mountains of mud. Bassett actually dug the very trenches seen in the film, self-admittedly obsessed with authenticity and creating a cinematic world. One could put the film on mute and still witness his visual aficionado. Despite minimal character development, Bassett drums up sympathy for his squad under siege in the form of relentless elements – not even the rain cleansing their spirits. It is here, placing us in the damp and darkened trenches alongside this broken band of brothers, where DEATHWATCH comes alive. [8/10] ~Ryan [@ryanismorning] April 14, 2014

DIRECTOR
Michael J. Bassett
CAST
Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Hugo Speer

BORGMAN REVIEW

[2014] We're first introduced to Camiel Borgman as he's flushed out of his underground dwelling in some nondescript, but suitably dense forest. A priest and two men armed with a long metal spike, shotgun, and ax respectfully, are clearly bent on killing the man. After alerting two other "earth dwellers" of the impending trouble, BORGMAN sets out to start anew. Knocking on the front door of super affluent couple Marina and Richard, he's denied a bath and after some bickering, swiftly receives a righteous ass kicking at the hands of the husband. Marina, however, feels an overwhelming sympathy for the poor bum and (behind her husband's back) later allows him a bath, a meal, and temporary housing in their guest home on the edge of their vast property. A mistake, for sure, but just how big of one is not known. As time goes by, Marina, her nanny, and even the three young children fall under Borgman's spell. He's a malevolent enough fellow, except for his propensity to wreak insane amounts of havoc upon all those he crosses, doing anything in his power (along with a small group of underlings) to achieve his ultimate goal. Just what said goal is remains strangely unclear. It does, however, involve lots of poison, a trail of death and psychological destruction, and people floating upside down in the bottom of lakes; heads firmly cemented in old rusted buckets.

A Dutch film laced with black humor, nefarious quirk, and (possibly) a bit of supernatural whimsy; BORGMAN is quite simply the most joyful of confounding and horrifically morbid genre cinema. Having much in common with the tone and tenor of 2009's shamefully under appreciated DOGTOOTH, it's the type of film that's so odd and inexplicable in its narrative, that even when tiny incisions are made on the backs of innocent children, with no real explanation, it all warrants full acceptance by the viewer. We know that they serve as some kind of unifying mark, symbolic or otherwise, but much like the otherworldly hold Borgman has on all those around him, we feel no explanation is necessary. As Marina and Richard's relationship crumbles, violence crescendos, and Borgman's end game becomes scarier and increasingly murky. The performances are all off the proverbial charts which allows much of the inexplicable events to feel oddly appropriate. Direction is taut, and a film that brushes up against a nearly two hour run time, zips along effortlessly. By the time this one ties a rather nihilistic bow on its proceedings, there's nary an explanation to the who, what, or why to dissect. But that's okay, because what you've just witnessed is curious, vile, intense, and genuinely heartening genre filmmaking at its finest. [9/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] April 14, 2014

DIRECTOR
Alex van Warmerdam
CAST
Jan Bijvoet, Hadewych Minis, Jeroen Perceval

AFFLICTED REVIEW

[2014] Suffering from a rare (and life threatening) cluster of arteries and veins (in his brain) that could burst at any moment, Derek is on a mission. Along with his lifelong best friend Clif, he plans a trip around the world. Since Clif is a filmmaker, he has all the equipment necessary to document their adventure. The plan is to make an enriching life experience out of their travels and upload it all, one day at a time, (for friends, family, and total strangers to view) on their newly created blog. However, after Derek hooks up with (and is subsequently attacked by) a woman at a club in France, things quickly turn sour. Suddenly he's the proud new owner of super human speed, strength, and leaping ability. Yet these new found "mutant" powers also come with some significant drawbacks. The guy's no longer able to eat, becomes violently ill when he tries, sleeps all day, and begins to undergo some pretty hideous physical changes. What started off as a strange (but wholly exhilarating) experience for Clif and Derek, eventually turns into something completely different and totally horrific. The men must now race against time to found out what's wrong with the almost monster-like Derek before he hurts himself, or worse yet, someone else.

AFFLICTED is a difficult movie to talk about without giving away the nature of Derek's "affliction." It's rare nowadays to watch trailers and not know everything you're in for. Yet, even after viewing all of this one's promotional footage, I was still taken off guard when we find out exactly what's up with the guy. Taken off guard, and also quite disappointed. What's now coursing through the man's bloodstream is a tried and true monster of traditional horror lore. And no, Derek's not a zombie. That's not to say that there's not a good bit to like here, because there is. Both Prowse and Lee do well by their material; their friendship being both real and believable. And the scenes of Derek doing fantastic things are suitably fantastic. There's more than a few creepy moments, jump scares are handled well, and the effects (gore and otherwise) are splendid. Ample justification is given to keep filming, but found footage the "gimmick" (which allows filming on the cheap) continues to grate on me. You certainly could do a lot worse than AFFLICTED because Prowse and Lee do so much, so well. However, a few glaring bits of lazy writing (it's claimed that Derek can't be killed, but we see early on something that would clearly do the trick, and it's ignored) and it's reliance on an obscenely familiar genre trope, left me pretty deflated in the end. [6/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] April 11, 2014

DIRECTORS
Clif Prowse, Derek Lee
CAST
Clif Prowse, Derek Lee, Baha Rehaz

ABDUCTION OF EDEN

[2013] ABDUCTION OF EDEN is the cinematic retelling of the true story of Chong Kim. If you'd like to read more about her actual ordeal, you can do so [HERE]. Jamie Chung plays Eden (a name given to her by her captures), a nineteen year old Asian American who leads a sheltered life working in her parents' market. A fake ID and a trip to a local dive bar with a friend ends in tragedy when the girl meets a man, agrees to a ride, and disappears. An elaborate sex trade operation (overseen by the remarkably chilling Beau Bridges) is her destination. She is promptly tagged with a tracking anklet, read the rules, and forced to serve her "clients." Over the course of a year, she's able to endear herself to Vaughan (O'Leary), the business' heir apparent, and become his number two. Together they continue to pimp out underage girls, run the day to day operations at the remote stable that houses them, and narrowly escape detection. The woman is of course not a willing partner, her involvement simply being a means to avoid further sexual abuse and get her closer to possible freedom. EDEN tracks this course as well as all of the hideous abuse in between: showcasing one woman's remarkable will to survive and culminating in her eventual escape.

Anchored by a truly empathetic and inspired performance from Chung, EDEN easily rises above the made for TV trappings many of these stories fall into. Bridges (as previously mentioned) is brilliant in his US Marshall turned monster performance (who woulda thunk it?), and O'Leary (that kid from FRAILTY!) brings a conflictingly sympathetic nuance to his turn as Vaughan. Although much of the violence and abuse happens just out of the camera's reach, what Griffiths does choose to show is absolutely bone chilling. The elaborate process and people of the industry are expressed in great detail and it winds up being horrifically fascinating to take such a journey. However, it's always difficult to critique a slightly fictionalized version of such awful actual events as you're never 100% sure exactly where liberties may (or may not) have been taken. What we do know is that what happened to Kim was very real, and is presented here in a very serious, very brutal, and very cinematically appealing way. Whether getting a "behind the curtain" look at the "johns" who pay for their "slaves" services, a rundown dessert home that doubles as a place to care for pregnant "workers" (and later to sell the infants), or witnessing the initial bathing and clinical prep of a soon to be involuntary sex worker; EDEN more than gets its point across. [8/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] April 10, 2014

DIRECTOR
Megan Griffiths
CAST
Jamie Chung, Matt O'Leary, Beau Bridges

RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE REVIEW

[2014] Written and directed by (and starring) Ashley Cahill (as Malcolm), RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE is an ultra low budget mockumentary that plays eerily like an American reboot of 1994's MAN BITES DOG. Just like that gem, the audience follows along as a camera crew films the day to day actions of a mild mannered, light hearted, and sometimes volatile serial killer; the main difference here being the setting (NYC) and Malcom's motivation. The young man is incensed at the current state of his New York City. He longs for the return of the hippie/bohemian lifestyle that pumped the city's blood back in the 60's, 70's, and 80's. In his own warped way he feels as if the only way to return the "Big Apple" to its former greatness lies in his ability to engulf its citizens in a cloud of fear and chaos: leading to a cultural revolution of sorts. And although he shoots, stabs, and strangles his way through a series of gruesome murders, the local media is giving his actions no "play." As he begins to struggle with the point of his "manifesto," and become increasingly detached from the world around him, he begins to loosen his "code" and kill with greater impunity. Soon no one is safe, including his trusted camera crew, not even his friends.

If you've seen Belvaux's afore mentioned serial killer mockumentary MAN BITES DOG (from Belgium), there are significant "been there done that" hurdles to overcome in order to lose yourself in RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE. If you haven't, well, you may be in for quite a treat. Naturally, with something of this ilk, it's important to have a lead that holds your interest. As Malcom, Cahill is magnetic. He plays a native Brit who's called NYC his home for nearly 16 years. He's got that faint accent hanging on which makes his deadpan delivery and warped logic an absolute thrill to digest. Surrounded by a group of "metrosexuals" and the like, on the outside, he lives a life of snobby upper crust idealism and the cast of fine actors embody their characters splendidly. As the narrative plays out and "documentary" filmmaker Bob gets more and more defiant, any second act sagging is immediately abandoned. The kills are fairly brutal (one near the end is particularly emotionally jarring) and the nonchalant manner with which Malcom does his "deeds" and cracks wise are both gripping and entertaining in equal parts. And to its credit, RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE is executed pretty remarkably on every conceivable level. As the pot begins to boil over, ever closer to a TAXI DRIVER like finale, one last twist leaves viewers with a wry (and satisfied) smile. However, a familiarity with (and affection for) that "other" film that shall (now) not be named; prevents it from truly soaring. [7/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] April 9, 2014

DIRECTOR
Ashley Cahill
CAST
Ashley Cahill, Rebecca Dayan, Dominic Ciccodicola 

SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK REVIEW

[1991] SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK…for revenge. Jim Norman moves his wife and son from the busy city of Chicago to his slower paced hometown for a teaching job. After a twenty year hiatus, Jim struggles to cope with the foreign territory of unruly high school kids and the all-too-familiar land of his older brother’s resting place. Jim was only a kid when his brother Wayne’s life was ripped away from him. While on their way to the library, Jim and Wayne were confronted by a group of nasty degenerates. Wayne fought back and was stabbed, then left to die as a train roared through the tunnel in which they were taking a shortcut. The gang failed to escape the train’s path, as well, after Jim snatched their car keys. Jim’s mind was permanently altered by the tragedy, and the surroundings of his childhood home exacerbate the pain of his loss. When a couple of his students are mysteriously murdered, further corroding his sanity, two more students are added to his class just as quickly. Jim immediately realizes his new pupils are the living dead, and part of the gang responsible for his brother’s murder. Determined to even the score, the punks have returned to earth to wipe Jim off the face of it.

SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK is a story drenched in undying grief and tossed in horror. The basis of Jim’s childhood turmoil is explained thoroughly and well. His treacherous flashbacks reiterate the salt being rubbed in aged, but oozing wounds, adding a powerful element of emotional investment. The ghost punks, while dead, give the most amount of life to a movie often on the edge of flat-lining. They are perfect in their presentations as over-the-top “bad boys,” almost reminiscent of the tough guys in THE LOST BOYS and STAND BY ME. The use of special effects is light, but the gang’s transformation from lively jerks into grimy zombies is memorable, without exception. There are a variety of supernatural powers at work that remain unexplained, which ultimately leads to more distracting confusion than peaked interest. For example, Jim develops psychic abilities and accurately predicts the location of a dead body. How? Undoubtedly, SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK feels like the made-for-television movie it truly is, but it’s packed with high tension and seriously grisly images one wouldn’t expect from a low budget motion picture made solely to watch in the living room. While the movie definitely had its moments, my high expectations for this particular Stephen King film adaptation were not reached. [6/10] ~Vincenza [@Vincenza15] April 9, 2014

DIRECTOR
Tom McLoughlin
CAST
Tim Matheson, Robert Rusler, Nicholas Sadler

ELFIE HOPKINS: CANNIBAL HUNTER REVIEW

[2013] After losing her mother in a fluke hunting accident years earlier, Elfie Hopkins lives a miserable life with her now submissive father and his new wife. Obsessed with solving the "mystery" involving her mom, the young woman has transformed herself into a kind of amateur sleuth. Aided by her super intelligent best friend Dylan (who harbors a serious crush for his 'partner'), the two seem to have stumbled upon a new "case." A strange family, The Gammons, have just moved in next door to Elfie. She's convinced there's something sinister about the attractive and affluent couple and their exceedingly peculiar son and daughter. Claiming to be exotic travel agents who send people on dream vacations, The Gammons leave a trail of missing residents behind with each town they set up temporary "shop" in. The trend continues in Elfie and Dylan's sleepy little village, leading the two teenagers to a rather shocking hypothesis: The Grammons aren't just killers, but cannibals of the absolute highest order. With time running out and (of course) no adults willing to believe their crazy tales, the two "detectives" take it upon themselves to save the day and rid their community of the (suspected) flesh eating family.

Having little to no expectations for a particular film sometimes pays off. Hell, when you genuinely have no faith that the thing will be any good, it's quite nice to be knocked on your butt by an enjoyable genre romp. Unfortunately, ELFIE HOPKINS: CANNIBAL HUNTER, is not such a movie. It's problems are numerous and extremely potent in their abilities to bore and aggravate in equal measure. Although it looks lovely, has a rather wonderful soundtrack, and features fine performances by Barnard (Dylan) and Jaime's dad Ray (a great cameo as the town butcher), the rest of the film is a super hot mess. Not only does it take forever to actually "get going," Winstone's (Elfie) constant snarl, idiotic motivations, and ridiculous actions grate on the viewer from the very opening moments. The narrative is wildly uneven with disastrously unfunny comedy, emotional moments of intended pathos that never ring true, and ludicrous character arcs that fall flat and feel forced. Elfie actually comes to realize that the Gammons are cannibals when Dylan reaches by her and she attempts to (in all seriousness) take a bite out of his bare arm, you know, because she's hungry (queue uncontrollable belly laughs). When things really do get intense (the last twenty minutes or so) the only thing that's handled well is the rather inspired practical "gore" effects. Needless to say, it takes a pretty special horror comedy to inspire an audience to go along for the ride and ELFIE HOPKINS is very "not special." [3/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] April 8, 2014

DIRECTOR
Ryan Andrews
CAST
Jaime Winstone, Aneurin Barnard, Rupert Evans

DESECRATION REVIEW

[1999] Hell is indeed a place on Earth in Dante Tomaselli’s DESECRATION. The bare-bones plot involves Bobby (Danny Lopes), a teenager reeling from his mother’s premature death. Subtle incidents loosely tied to him – a nun’s (Christie Sanford) candle that won’t light and a flying model airplane accident – kick off what ultimately erupts into a nightmarish series of events near a church. His grandmother (Irma St. Paule) tries to investigate and warn the pastor before it’s too late. Narrative plays a minimal role while Tomaselli’s primary fascination – mood and atmosphere – come alive on-screen. Dripping with crusty 70s-era imagery ala Italian patron saints of horror Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, DESECRATION is an invitation as much as a homage recalling a vintage decade’s hyper-stylized filmmaking, covering everything in a matted rainbow of blue, pink or purple hazes of smoke.

To his credit, the director’s low-budget feature-length debut contains intriguing set design. While much of the action takes place outside, the church thus feeling underutilized, Tomaselli more than makes it up for it with bedrooms. A wonderful example is Bobby’s room – fostering this metamorphosis into a vine-filled cavern where reality and imagination blur. Another fine moment comes with Sister Madeline in her room involving a pair of scissors. But that’s about where the praise ends and criticism rears its horns. Bless his heart – Tomaselli probably squeezed all he could out of his $150,000 budget, amateur cast, and minimal locations. His fault lies in the “peaks and valleys” feel of DESECRATION. In between all these inviting scenes of color and sound is a lot of dead air – too much dialogue and a lack of support for a cast not up for the task. The standout, Christie Sanford as Sister Madeline, isn’t given much to work with and suffers her fate far too early. Despite all of this intriguing mood and atmosphere, Tomaselli doesn’t conjure up much suspense which usually spells an easy death sentence for any horror film. But as the old saying goes “if at first one doesn’t succeed, try, try again.” Indeed, Tomaselli has made three films since – HORROR, SATAN’S PLAYGROUND, TORTURE CHAMBER – and hopefully refined his skills bubbling just below the surface with bigger productions. As far as horror goes, his name is one to watch out for. [4/10] ~Ryan [@ryanismorning] April 7, 2014

DIRECTOR
Dante Tomaselli
CAST
Irma St. Paule, Christie Sanford, Danny Lopes


SILVER TONGUES REVIEW

[2012] Alex and Rachel are on their honeymoon. After a mid afternoon argument over almost missing their dinner reservation (Alex wanted to 'get busy' one more time, Rachel did not), they arrive at the restaurant. They're soon informed that they did, in fact, lose their table, but graciously the young couple is offered to dine with an older (presumably wiser) husband and wife: Gerry and Joan. Conversation gets kinky, tensions rise, and eventually Rachel angrily forces a "swap" upon her new hubby. Back in their hotel room things get frisky, Gerry and Joan walk out mid coitus, and Alex and Rachel are left silently suffering over what they were about to do. Marriage- shattered. It's all very real and devastating to them, but we soon learn that this is all part of Gerry and Joan's "game." Alex and Rachel are actually not the narrative focus here, merely the film's "jumping off" point. Over the course of a week, the two narcissists go from town to town playing vicious pranks on unsuspecting people, shattering lives (to one degree or another) all for their own twisted satisfaction. However, after a rather violent turn of events, it seems that their world is now the one turned upside down.

SILVER TONGUES is a pretty strange experience. It's akin to the viewer being an embattled fish on the end of a line. You're given just enough slack to think you've secured your escape, only to be helplessly drawn back in, nearer your capture. It's not an altogether enjoyable experience as these "pranks" seem a bit pointless from time to time, but it also makes eventual sense and leaves you feeling a little bit disgusted with yourself for getting "duped." I suppose that's a credit to the writing, because although there are more than a few moments of absolute frustration and sincere disbelief, the dots do all connect and there's nary a thread left untied. And if we're going to pat Arthur on the back for his part, equal praise should be heaped upon Tergesen and Graham. The actors do a fine job with the situations they've been given. SILVER TONGUES gets to a point in the beginning of the third act where you really have no idea if the actors are acting or the people are just "peopling." It's not nearly as meta as it sounds, but the performances are strong enough to string you along. Once the end game is revealed (and the final scene shown) it leaves you with enough "good golly" and "aw shucks" to rethink a good bit of what came before, leaving the viewer either angry, thrilled, or baffled; or some combination of the three. [6/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] April 7, 2014

DIRECTOR
Simon Arthur
CAST
Lee Tergesen, Enid Graham, Tate Ellington

WETLANDS REVIEW

[2014] Helen (Carla Juri) is a mess, in more ways than one. She's a child of divorce who desperately wants her parents to reconcile (even now as an adult), but most grotesquely, and thanks in large part to her mother's lifelong obsession with personal hygiene, she cares very little about cleanliness. I suppose it's not quite that she doesn't care, more like she's enamored by the disgusting effects that a lack of hygiene has on her lady bits. The woman welcomes the opportunity to press her nether regions against filthy public toilet seats, abstains from perfume (instead dabbing her neck with her own vaginal secretions), and rushes through the chore of keeping her body free of unsightly hair. This careless shaving technique is what ultimately leads to a prolonged hospitalization; the result of a nasty anal fissure. There, she falls hard for Robin (Christoph Letkowski), her attending nurse, and hopes against all odds that this catastrophe will result in her parents being at her bedside together: rekindling their long since extinguished romantic flame. Once healed (and ready to be released) Helen takes matters into her own hands to prolong her hospital stay (in absolutely nauseating fashion), leading to fever dreams and hallucinations so uncouth, WETLANDS' audience's intestinal fortitude is more than tested.

WETLANDS, adapted from a novel of the same name, is perhaps one of the most nauseating experiences I've ever had. A seasoned genre film watcher who's witnessed the most vile things that extreme cinema has to offer, there's little that raises my eyebrows. However, this one had the fuzzy critters crawling right off of my face. Part of its hyper-grotesque-ness certainly has to do with the visual representation of the story's pus, blood, and spunk. However, were it not for all the directorial "zip," and especially Juri's straight faced delivery, WETLANDS could have very well come off as pure grade z schlock. As it is, the whole thing turns out to be a poignant coming of age story, a rather depressing snapshot of mental illness, and (oh, yes) a mucus drenched comedy of nearly unbearable proportions. The "romance" between Helen and Robin is very real and very awkward; it also serves to propel the narrative forward when it risks being bogged down in a rather pointless flashback (you'll know when you see it). It goes without saying that Wnendt's ode to stinky orifices is indeed a difficult film to recommend, unless of course you're into geysers of anal discharge splaying across doctors' faces from absurd distances. If you're adventurous and enjoy cinema that attacks your head, heart, and gut in equal measure, this one should fill any gastrointestinal void left by your last cinematically induced "up chuck." [9/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] April 4, 2014

DIRECTOR
David Wnendt
CAST
Carla Juri, Christoph Letkowski, Meret Becker

UNDER THE SKIN REVIEW

[2014] Is it odd that Jonathan Glazer's previous two films are titled SEXY BEAST and BIRTH, considering that his latest effort UNDER THE SKIN, deals specifically with the birth of a sexy beast? Indeed, you're rolling your eyes because the monikers are in no way meant to be connected. Yet as I watched this one unfold, I couldn't help but get that spurious correlation knotted in my noggin. All that ridiculous "dot connecting" aside, Johansson plays Laura (a name only given in the end credits), a being from another world that comes to Earth (more specifically Scotland) and assumes the identity (skin) of a beautiful terrestrial woman. Driving the back roads, picking up lustful men of all types, and followed (on motorcycle) by a male "accomplice," Laura takes the men through the front door of a dilapidated house and into some kind of celestial "black ink pool of death." Looking for a little bit of the old "in and out" the unwitting "johns" are submerged into said ink so as to have their innards harvested and returned to their predator's home world. When one of her victims (who suffers from a humiliating skin disease) stirs an unknown "human" empathy within her, things start to change. Laura begins to seek out the meaning of true emotional and physical connection; setting off a chain of even more terrifying and destructive events.

UNDER THE SKIN is adapted (ever so loosely) from the Michel Faber novel of the same name. That book is essentially satire (almost BAD TASTE-ish) in its harvesting of humans as "fast food" for a far off world narrative. SKIN is pitch black. From the opening scene of Laura's "birth," to the murky fluid that engulfs her prey, to the confrontational and erotic seductions in between; Glazer's piece is utterly overwhelmingly in its ability to confound, terrify, titillate, and unsettle in equal parts. Johansson is a revelation, an emotionless killer with a sole purpose that (initially) is only driven by leaving point A and arriving successfully at point B. Scenes of her picking up men were filmed via a series of hidden cameras, the local males having no idea they would be in a movie until later when releases were presented and signed. This fact in and of itself only adds to the horror and heightens the eager misogyny as the viewer witnesses just how unabashedly brazen the male sex can be when thinking with the wrong "head." Although a fan of his previous two works, Glazer has ventured into territory that's only successfully explored a handful of times each generation (even Kubrick would be envious). From it's very first image to the incredibly suffocating (and shockingly realized) finale, this one is perfectly cast, perfectly "lensed," and perfectly at ease with its complete lack of easily embraceable and traditional narrative. Because of this, and so much more, UNDER THE SKIN is that rare film that (even though audiences may fight against it) unabashedly pulls every part of you into a frighteningly unique and dauntingly unfamiliar pseudo-reality. [10/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] April 3, 2014

DIRECTOR
Jonathan Glazer
CAST
Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay

FILTH REVIEW

[2014] By my count, the fourth cinematic adaptation of an Irvine Welsh novel, FILTH is just that: filthy. A filthy and darkly comedic look at a police officer trying to move up in the ranks but traveling swiftly in the wrong direction. James McAvoy is Bruce Robertson, a man whose wife and child have already tucked tail and run (another casualty of his brazen cocaine and alcohol abuse), leaving the cop in an emotional funk. His hopes of reconciling with his family get a boost in the form of him being assigned a rather high profile murder case; because obviously with a more prestigious position Robertson's other "issues" won't be quite as glaring, right? Needless to say, the vulgar, drug addicted, racist, homophobic, and possibly pedophiliac basket case screws that up as well. So, we resume drain circling as he becomes consumed by his already crippling bipolar disorder. A chance meeting with a vengeful gang further seals "the deal" as hallucinations and atrocities of all manner are witnessed and participated in by a man so far from redemption, one begins to question just what the point of continuing to live (if only to wallow in one's own suffering) such a life would be. And let us not forget that the guy also dresses in his ex wife's clothes in a failed attempt to feel closer to her. Yes, Bruce Robertson is a mess.

Admittedly, I've not familiarized myself with much of McAvoy's work. I am, however, aware that more times than not he plays the "good" guy. Here he's cast grotesquely "against type" and seems to relish in the chance to embrace his disgraceful character's full arc. If you're not familiar with Welsh's written work, you've at least seen TRAINSPOTTING and know that he's able to relay human suffering in the most horrifically strange and awkward ways. FILTH is no exception. Director Baird does a fine job of shedding any inhibitions he may possess as a filmmaker (probably none) and joyfully "goes for broke." His willingness to show more than he doesn't, coupled with McAvoy's total commitment will (more than likely) have you feeling as if you're no longer in familiar (see boring) cinematic territory. A ton of deviant sexual activity and more than enough on screen violence (both bloody and visceral), coupled with Eddie Marsan's fantastic turn as Robertson's second fiddle, are sure to scramble the old grey matter. It's by no means to say that FILTH is not without its potholes (yes potholes, not plot holes), but the whole mess is just so gosh darned unbridled that they become blissfully irrelevant when couple with the bat shit crazy narrative as a whole. [8/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] April 2, 2014

DIRECTOR
Jon S Baird
CAST
James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots


THE NIGHT FLIER REVIEW

[1997] Evil travels by darkness in Stephen King’s THE NIGHT FLIER. Richard Dees is a man hardened by his grueling profession as a star reporter for a sleazy news outlet. While facing the gradual decline of his writing career, a major national news story breaks. A blood-thirsty night flier with a lethal set of beastly canines flies into farm towns and malevolently decimates local residents. At the outset, Richard rejects the shovel for digging into the “dime-a-dozen” story of a vampire and suggests passing the job along to an amateur. Katherine, an inexperienced but highly enthusiastic reporter snatches up the opportunity to exhibit her strengths and establish herself as a serious journalist. Soon after, the body count jumps and Richard follows; with more bloodshed comes more juice, and he needs as much as he can get to propel his career back to the top. As Richard tracks the vampire pilot, Dwight Renfield, he is warned to cease his efforts through notes written in smeared blood. He persists regardless. Meanwhile, Katherine diligently pursues the case in a vicious race against her egotistic colleague. The competitors continue on until one drops out…literally.

Stephen King’s THE NIGHT FLIER is a breath of fresh air after drowning in a vastly contaminated ocean of poorly adapted vampire films. I truly didn’t know what to expect when I bought the movie, but I instantly fell in love with the handsome monster elegantly gracing the front cover. I’m very grateful I did. Both the honest acting and the colorful interactions are impressively true-to-life. Miguel Ferrer plays Richard’s part phenomenally as a tight-fisted hard ass who fights dirty. Julie Entwisle, as headstrong Katherine, also emoted far beyond the often mediocre acting that comes along with horror films from the ‘90s. Ideally, the cape-donning freak gives the gift of gore before the five minute mark hits. Dwight Renfield is as seductive as he is atrocious and horrid. He skillfully builds panic within his victims and mesmerizes them with fear. Jaw-dropping incidences of sheer terror generate unforgettable anxiety, particularly when Richard meets the enigmatic villain in a blackened public bathroom. The ending begins with an eerie scene of zombie-filled Hell, only to transition into an explosion of graphic, unadulterated barbarism that will leave you feeling elated. Severely underrated, this vampire flick is a must-see. [9/10] ~Vincenza [Vincenza15] April 2, 2014

DIRECTOR
Mark Pavia
CAST
Miguel Ferrer, Julie Entwisle, Michael H. Moss

STILL [THE WEB SERIES] EPISODES 1-8 REVIEW

[2014] The small Northwestern town of Sloughtown is the setting for Jonathan Holbrook's web series STILL. The first eight episodes run a combined (give or take) 80 minutes and begin with a quint (and familiar) snapshot of simple, small town life. Citizens go about their business: getting ready for church bake sales, taking care of their kids, and working their middle class jobs. One day, however, a strange/otherworldly sound echoes down from the sky above, confusing and "changing" Sloughtown's residents. Initially reports chalk the event up to scientifically explainable atmospheric "events," but the truth is far scarier. What occurred on that fateful day in that very tiny community (and possibly around the world) has a profound effect. People become ill, begin to convulse, and are soon transformed into zombie like creatures capable of infecting others. Over time, a frightened (but resourceful) band of uninfected come together in the hopes of deducing the cause of the chaos and staying alive long enough to see the end of the infection and the return of "life" as they know it. By the time the dust settles on episode eight, it seems (sadly) that nothing will ever be the same again.

With STILL, Holbrook has crafted, thus far, a pretty timelessly horrific tale of real human fear. And even though, at this point, the "infected" have many zombie like characteristics about them; there's also a fair bit of extraterrestrial shenanigans involved as well. The whole thing plays like an old episode of mid century TWILIGHT ZONE really. Characters are fully realized and possess a very distinct (and nostalgic) "way" about them. The town itself, although obviously not flesh and bone, is a character in and of itself. Much of this is a product of not just the splendid location, but the wonderful cinematography. It's a world (and a people) that has been lovingly crafted and remains fully engaging from start to finish. Make up effects transform mild mannered husbands, wives, and children into the infected quite well (minus an unintentionally and painfully hilarious infected infant scene). And aside from your occasionally uneven acting and poorly emoted dialogue, STILL largely succeeds in telling an interesting (if somewhat derivative) story. Another round of episodes are in the planning stages, which is welcomed, because you'll absolutely care enough to genuinely want to see this arc carried through to fruition. [7/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] April 1, 2014

DIRECTOR
Jonathan Holbrook
CAST
Angela Andrews, Randall Dai, Chloe Holbrook


AN INDIEGOGO CAMPAIGN TO HELP COMPLETE STILL'S REMAINING STORY ARC CAN BE FOUND [HERE]. ALL EIGHT FINISHED EPISODES CAN BE VIEWED (IN FULL) AT THIS LINK AS WELL.

VOYAGE TO AGATIS REVIEW

[2014] A generous invitation turns deadly in director Marian Dora’s VOYAGE TO AGATIS. When that name graces the director’s title, one should come to expect punishing doses of fetishized violence and this film proves no different. We’re introduced to a homemade-like video of a nude woman on a beach being assaulted by an unknown assailant. We watch helplessly as a Glasgow smile is carved into the woman’s cheeks and she is eventually murdered. Next, a cut to couple Rafael (Thomas Goersch) and Isabell (Tatjana Muller) driving in the country who stop at a local hotel and meet Lisa (J. Lisa Dombrowsky). Rafael takes an eerie liking to the young girl, inviting her onto their yacht for a cruise. All is fun-and-games at the start of their trip – the girls taking in some sun, wine flowing by the glass full – when suddenly Rafael’s demeanor changes. He picks on Lisa, throwing her belongings off the boat and incessantly berating her. After several days and nights of added torture, Lisa begins to plot her escape before she succumbs to the couple’s threatening perversions.

VOYAGE TO AGATIS is much like the irony of birth – beauty arriving from pain and bloodshed. Shot on DV over three days in Croatia, peppered with a comforting orchestral soundtrack, Dora’s third film after CANNIBAL and ANGEL’S MELANCHOLY shows a continued affection for fusing art house and exploitation. Unlike his previous efforts, Dora began production without a script or story; rather, starting with only the boat setting. Goersch is well-cast as degrading Rafael, but Muller and Dombrowsky soak up the acting brunt by constantly being abused in the nude. In trying to place all this gratuitousness, I refer back to an old review I did for CANNIBAL: “There are oddly beautiful moments where Dora is trying to say something profound about Man…about society […] however, its message is somewhat overpowered by strong visual interference.” While Dora does nothing to change that stumped sentiment with VOYAGE TO AGATIS, I can’t help but admire the third "voyage" he has charted for extreme audiences. [7/10] ~Ryan [@ryanismorning] March 31, 2014

DIRECTOR
Marian Dora
CAST
Thomas Goersch, Tatjana Muller, Janna Lisa Dombrowsky

I AM MONSTER REVIEW

[2013] It's closing time at a Los Angeles city morgue. Bodies have been tucked away, gloves properly disposed of, and tools of the trade left to sanitize over night. Once the final switch is hit, darkness envelopes the space. However, in just a matter of moments, said darkness is broken. Lights chime back into action and the morbid silence is broken by the startling "clickity-clack" of a woman's high heels stomping along the utilitarian, cement, hallway floor. Enter Vivianne (Lark). She's a beautiful woman draped in latex, carrying a bag of "toys." Entering one of the "theaters," Vivienne disrobes and promptly re-accessorizes with a plastic apron, goggles, and not much else. She's a necrophiliac with only one thing on her mind: getting her "rocks" off. Stopping first at a "Jane Doe," the predator pulls a rather ghastly device from her bag and quite graphically has her way, to, well... Completion. Shockingly, her evening is then interrupted by one of the resident "stiffs." Jason (Cardone), although already sporting the "Y" incision, sits up and begins to engage Vivienne in polite (if not wholly unsettling) conversation. The buxom beauty playfully humors his "advances." Things become rather clear, rather quickly, that by the end of the evening, her "sex life" might never be the same.

If you've ever seen Nacho Cerda's 1994 short AFTERMATH, you have a pretty solid understanding of I AM MONSTER'S germ of an idea. If you haven't, well, there's probably good reason. The difference here is, intentionally or not, Lori Bowen and Shannon Lark have crafted something altogether at odds with the gruesome nature of its core theme. This type of abuse, in this type of place, naturally repulses. However, I AM MONSTER cleverly injects other toxins into its story that serve to dramatically conflict the viewer. This one's funny, and because of the subject matter, uncomfortably so. And if you fancy beautiful woman, it's also unwelcomingly sexy. Bowen and Lark, I believe, have chosen not to bash you about the skull with the sinister actions of one very sick woman, but rather; the two woman alternate tickling and torturing their audience throughout. All of this could have led to a wholly off-putting and uneven work of cinematic poo, but it's doesn't ever achieve such lows. The violation of the corpses is so graphic, the playful seduction of Vivienne's libido- so pungent, and the style and gusto with which MONSTER is presented- so palpably infectious, that there's little choice but to buckle up (feel guilty for laughing at all the right/wrong moments) and enjoy the ride. You'll definitely know almost immediately if this one is "for you," because it fully wallows in its ability to repulse and attract in equal measure. And that, dear readers, is the point. [9/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] March 31, 2014

DIRECTORS
Lori Bowen, Shannon Lark
CAST
Shannon Lark, Adam Cardon, Jeff Dylan Graham

NYMPHOMANIAC: VOL II REVIEW

[2014] Lars von Trier's NYMPHOMANIAC VOL II picks up right where the first left off. Joe (Gainsbourg) is continuing to recount her life to her "caretaker" Seligman (Skarsgarg), all the while the man interjects his thoughts regarding her escapades. Significantly darker in tone, this one focuses on Joe's loss of physical sensation and her attempts (however brutal) to regain them. After having a child with Jerome (LaBeouf), the two enter into domestic cohabitation. It's soon clear that the man cannot satisfy her desires and he suggests she get some "on the side." After all, you can't truly tame a tiger, can you? This choice leads Joe to prioritize this search for fulfillment over all else, quitting her "job" as partner and mother. Now ensconced in a submissive S&M relationship with "K," later employed as a "debt collector" using her power over men as her weapon, eventually seduced by her teenage (and female) "student" in arms, and ultimately betrayed and broken; we're led right back where we started: Seligman finding the battered woman half unconscious in an alley. VOLUME II sees a significant increase in violence, sadness, and both emotional a physical defeat. And it all culminates in a rather shocking and forlorn moment of disgust that propels Joe (somehow) forward into the next chapter of her (already) dubious existence.

VOLUME II shifts gears from Martin to Gainsbourg as the primary representation of Joe. It's initially quite jarring, especially when LaBeouf remains as Jerome. But it also serves to uncomfortably kick off what is a sequence of equally uncomfortable narrative "mile markers." A film like this has an absolute glut of characters (and actors) to digest, some more crucial to the story than others. Perhaps the most powerful performances (and influential people) here are Jamie Bell's stoically abusive K, Mia Goth's spellbinding turn as Joe's young lover P, Gainsbourg and Skarsgard (obviously), and a brief, but brutal, appearance by Michael Pas as "Old Jerome." They're all utterly critical in the profoundly negative ways they effect Joe's arc. As in VOLUME I, there's a bunch of sex, but it's desperate, unfulfilling, mentally and physically violent. Joe's body and mind are broken, sores forming between her legs and upon her psyche. And although often fractured and intentionally disjointed, her recollections take on a runaway train-like focus that has the viewer both dreading and anticipating the film's conclusion. When it all does "wrap" itself up, two things are clear: there's much more on the horizon for the "self diagnosed" nymphomaniac, and we've basically witnessed one of the greatest (and saddest) cinematic depictions of betrayal since Brutus turned on his old pal Caesar. [9/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] March 28, 2014

DIRECTOR
Lars von Trier
CAST
Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Jamie Bell

THE AGGRESSION SCALE REVIEW

[2012] In Steven C Miller's THE AGGRESSION SCALE, Ray Wise plays a mob boss out on bail and awaiting a murder trial. His plan is to gather up the last remaining bit of dirty money he has and get out of the country with his adolescent son. There's one small problem: while he was in the clink, someone made off with his loot. Because of this, he's gathered up his cronies to find the thief, get him his dough, and be on his way. Led by Lloyd (Dana Ashbrook of TWIN PEAKS fame), the men have a list of possible targets, but no definitive suspect. After a few deadly encounters, Lloyd and his muscle (among them Derek Mears and GUMMO'S Jacob Reynolds) arrive at the newly purchased home of Bill and Maggie. Recently married, the two both have kids via previous relationships. Lauren (Therese), a teenager who's handling the move less than joyfully and Owen (Hartwig); Bill's mute son who has a history of violent and unpredictable behaviors. Once Lloyd and his goons realize that this is in fact the place they're supposed to be, a serious amount of hell breaks loose. There's just one minor hiccup in the execution of their plan: no one ever prepared for Owen and what the young man is capable of.

To get a couple of things out of the way: THE AGGRESSION SCALE has nary an original bone within its narrative skeleton. It's a been there, done that exercise in paint by numbers home invasion tropes. And even though it's always a treat to see Mr. Wise in something, he's seriously (and sadly) mailing this one in. Boyd Kestner (as Bill) isn't much better, but fortunately, neither performance is focused on for too long. The real scenery chewing belongs to Ashbrook (who's absolutely fantastic) and Therese and Hartwig. Once things really get rolling and Owen's (HOME ALONE on steroids) traps are set, all three of these performers are thoroughly engaging; especially young Hartwig who emotes the hell out of his dialogue-less duties. Miller also makes everything look good enough, and the run time more than supports AGGRESSION'S breakneck pacing. A pretty generic score doesn't add all that much to the events depicted, but the second half of the film is suitably bloody and there are a few uncomfortable laughs to be had. It's all part and parcel for the story being told here and it succeeds more often than it fails. That being said, a few inexplicable plot holes and its "vanilla" nature certainly don't help AGGRESSION ascend to any lofty heights, but it's more than capable of holding your attention (and even entertaining) on a rainy day stuck inside. [6/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] March 27, 2014

DIRECTOR
Steven C Miller
CAST
Fabianne Therese, Ryan Hartwig, Dana Ashbrook

CHILDREN OF SORROW REVIEW

[2014] Jourdan McClure's CHILDREN OF SORROW opens with a young woman named Ellen agonizing over a letter written by her missing/dead sister. The handwriting is indeed her's, however, not much of the sibling she knew comes through in the note. Ellen is convinced that the lonely, misunderstood, and depressed girl was taken in by a religious cult: brainwashed, abused, and disposed of. In an effort to find out what happened, she contacts the suspected culprit (about 'coming on board') via their website. A website that promises acceptance, love, and family. Cut to "Father Simon" being recorded by his assistant Mary. They've just arrived at their new "compound" and are ready to welcome Simon's latest batch "children." The eleven that arrive (including Ellen) are a mixed bag of misfits desperate for everything that the "preacher" promises. Over more than a month's time we bear witness to an initially blissful existence that slowly begins to change. It's a decent into abuse, masochism, control, and (eventually) self sacrifice. One that each individual navigates in their own way. Once suspicious and fully resistant, Ellen now finds herself in the throws of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual conflict as she nears closer to her own moment of personal reckoning.

It's pretty common knowledge at this point that when you go into a film anchored by Oberst Jr, you're going to be pistol whipped into submission by a jugular grabbing performance. He's once again fierce, horrifying, and effortlessly twisted into the most repulsive of psychological knots.The remarkable thing here is just how intense, believable, and unsettling each and every actor in SORROW turns out to be. There's not a weak link in this cinematic chain. And although the subplot of Ellen and her sister feels unnecessary at times, it comes full circle (and wholly relevant again) during the finale: her submission to Simon's ways being more than a little unnerving. And speaking of Simon, all really is not what it seems with the character. It's really not your standard crazy, deceptive, cult leader nut job thing. We'll just say that the guy's not having everything recorded so the media can understand that his "children" accepted their fate "of their own free will." Because of that fact, the found footage gimmick is anything but one and works flawlessly. Moments of awkward discomfort, implied sexual abuse, brainwashing, masochism, murder, and panic are captured both in and out of frame; yet are always scary as hell. This is a true testament to both the cast and the searing direction of McClure. And even though SORROW is not without its minor narrative hiccups, they are so few and far between that it remains (throughout its entirety) an overwhelmingly engrossing and frightening descent into the mind of a madman and those that come to adopt him as "father." [8/10] ~Conduit [@conduit_speaks] March 26, 2014

DIRECTOR
Jourdan McClure
CAST
Bill Oberst Jr, Hannah Levien, Whitney Nielsen

THE JOHNSONS REVIEW

[1992] Womanhood gets messy in Rudolf van den Berg’s Dutch horror THE JOHNSONS. As Emalee approaches her fourteenth birthday, her sleep is plagued with recurring nightmares. In them, she encounters seven males who brutalize her with molestation and blood baths. Young Emalee struggles to establish a connection between her night terrors and real life, until she acknowledges that her eagerness to menstruate could be to blame. Emalee accompanies her mother, a renowned photographer, on a camping trip for work in hopes of relieving anxiety. During their escapade, Emalee and her mother discover the nightmares are not simple illusions, but dreams come true. Simultaneously, a university professor, Winston Keller, learns of a ritual carried out by the Mahxitu Indians and their god, Xangadix: the evil deity produces seven sons for the purpose of impregnating their sister, who shall then give birth to an apocalyptic progeny. Professor Keller’s background in demonology lands him the daunting task of assisting the FBI in placing septuplet men with a bloodstained history. His research ultimately links Emalee, the ancient myth, and the seven siblings. Professor Keller must release Emalee from the grips of the destructive ceremony before world’s end.

THE JOHNSONS bears tremendous potential that is left unmet. Admirably, the movie is suspenseful as all Hell; there are a multitude of absolutely outlandish, sinister situations which provoke violent nail biting. Emalee’s dream sequences are thoroughly compelling, as the wicked visions are portrayed in a way that the audience can experience uncompromising fear and restraint as strongly as she does. Sickly children with crimson colored hands are haunting as they surround her, trapping her into a corner with no way out. The images of faceless, unclothed men on a baneful mission are chilling to watch as they overpower defenseless, confused Emalee. Special effects, though not always believable, are plentiful and constructive. Godmonster Xangadix’s alien-like appearance, snug inside a giant, transparent egg, is an added sci-fi factor bonus. The inconsistent acting between the different characters and contexts is where the feature falls apart. Some actors seemed sincere in their efforts, while others were far from convincing. We can all appreciate a bit of silliness in horror, but the juxtaposition of serious circumstances against the often laughable performances was disappointing. THE JOHNSONS is a creative and engaging story of ancient-myth-meets-reality told insufficiently through its actors. [6/10] ~Vincenza [@Vincenza15] March 26, 2014

DIRECTOR
Rudolf van den Berg
CAST
Esmée de la Bretonière, Monique van de Ven, Kenneth Herdigein