Monthly Archives: June 2013

Crash Discussion: Episode 6, Mad Scientist Movie Mayhem

PodcastimageFrom the 1930s to today, the mad scientist subgenre has captivated moviegoers, regardless of farfetched storytelling. Billy Crash and Jonny Numb explore the truly mad from the mundane, investigate the subgenres themes, and discuss why mad scientist films may make a big comeback.

Listen in, and leave us your review on iTunes!

Crash Analysis: PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! (1962)

Fifty years later, I can’t foresee a different outcome

How bad does a good man have to become to save his family?

Okay you freaky dreamers. Forget the Zombipocalypse. That shit ain’t happenin’. Total     panic-in-year-zero-movie-poster-1962-Sodahead-1020541353  nuclear devastation? Not likely, but it could get ugly. Asteroid hit, or maybe the caldera in Yellowstone will blow? Possibly. If anything, now that our itty-bitty planet has over seven billion humans, Mother Nature’s most likely to cull the herd but unleashing a deadly virus. However, in 1962, the “Big Red Scare” still lingered, and fear kept us and them, and everyone else, in line. But what if the Eagle and the Bear had gotten into a minimal nuclear exchange? This is the item in question in a Jay Simms and John Morton screenplay, based on Simms story, and directed by the star himself, Ray Milland.

But the nuclear exchange only serves as the catalyst for Harry Baldwin (Milland) and his family (including son, Rick played by teen heartthrob Frankie Avalon), as they try to survive in a country when panic reigns supreme, and where there’s no safe haven.

After leaving Los Angeles, Harry’s in the midst of taking his family on a vacation when the city’s nuked. Once Harry and company learn that an attack ravaged several cities, the stoic, mild-mannered father turns into a human machine driven by logic. For Harry it’s simple: We’re under attack, our home’s gone, and we have to survive. His matter-of-fact nature helps his family navigate a new world where being neighborly can leave one open to getting killed – even if his wife, Ann (Jean Hagen) still clings like a neophyte to goodness and positive human behavior. Harry takes his family on an adventure to fight to see another day – at all costs.

As the story progresses, as stakes rise, Harry, our man of action, must make quick and often harsh decisions.

***** SPOILER ALERT *****

In one scene, Harry and Rick square off against two unarmed cretins. The problem is they’ll undoubtedly go after Harry’s family. What to do? As I watched the scene unfold, I remember saying, “Shoot them.” After all, the movie became a game of Scruples, or a quick presentation of choices. Harry always seemed to have at least two options, and I wonder how many people did the same thing I was doing: Contemplating my own course of action. With the scumbags sitting in their chairs, Harry just looked at the twentysomethings and shot them down. Ice cold? Murder? Or practical reasoning and common sense planning in a continually disintegrating situation?

***** SPOILER FINISHED *****

PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! presents the story in a “What would you do?” way, and it’s hard to ignore. At first, I thought the movie would be laughable, if not silly, and it quickly became a suspenseful and thought provoking thriller – because it could happen today. That’s right. If Hollywood wants to remake this one, the story will hold up. The only thing that needs to change is the costumes and cars, and that’s it.

In the movie, the nation that launched the attack is never mentioned, though it had to be the Soviets, and its Eastern Bloc sacrificial colonies. Although China also had nuclear weapons at the time, they could have reached the west coast, but not much more. In any event, PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! not only makes us ponder about what we’d do in such a shituation – but asks if we’re prepared for it.

In 1977, New York City had a major blackout. Granted, good people stood tall and helped others, but the looting was outrageous. We’ve heard of rapes in the Superdome when families did their best to hide out from Hurricane Katrina, among other horrific tragedies. After the Rodney King police brutality decision, Los Angeles went up in flames. However, after two separate tsunamis struck parts of Southeast Asia, and Japan a couple of years later, I don’t recall hearing or seeing anything about violence against others. After 9/11, the crime rate dropped in Manhattan.

What the hell will happen if we’re nuked, or if that caldera blows under Yellowstone, or if an asteroid rocks our world for real? I have a feeling, if it comes to what people deem as an “Earth ending event,” then it’s going to get real ugly – especially if government services and emergency responses are slow or unavailable (as with the blackout or the Katrina debacle. As for the LA Riots, that was a powder keg ready to erupt – and it did).

Regardless, as individuals, if the bottom fails out, and it comes down to survival, we’ll have to react quickly to protect life and property, as well as the lives of loved ones. No doubt, the result won’t be pretty, and I hope we’ll never have to find out.

In PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! the end leaves us wondering what will come next, and if things can ever be the same. As for the characters, the family can become closer and more loving than ever, or PTSD, guilt, and other psychological milieu could rip them apart. We don’t know. But again, Simms and Milland didn’t want us to leave the theatre without thinking about that one as well. And no matter how much discussion, it’s hard to say a damn thing without being tested under such calamity.

In this vein, there are many other “end of world” movies exploring similar themes, and though one can choose from virtually any of the nearly 700 zombie movies, the best may be LAST NIGHT (Canada, 1998) from Don McKellar. It’s not a horror, but David Cronenberg’s in the film.

Sleep with one eye open…

3 out of 5 stars

(Photo from Sodahead.)

Crash Discussion: Episode 5, Director’s Cuts: Friend or Foe?

Billy Crash and Jonny Numb are back with “The Last Knock” to discuss the good and bad about DVDs, from director’s cuts to special editions – and what DVDs mean to Hollywood profits.

Crash Analysis: THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (Italy/USA, 1964) – My 1,500th Horror Movie

Isolation and hopelessness leads to suicide by vampire

Waiting to die

Writer Richard Matheson thought the Grand Guignol, Vincent Price was miscast for the   the-last-man-on-earth-movie-poster-1964-1020144093 role of Dr. Robert Morgan, but the actor captured the essence of a man with truly nothing to live for, which mirrored his role as THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER’s (1960) patriarch.

This classic tale “I am Legend” tale from Matheson, who has been writing stories and scripts for nearly sixty years, including many beloved “The Twilight Zone” episodes, and much more, deals with isolation like few films do.

What THE LAST MAN ON EARTH brings us is, supposedly, the only man left alive on our little blue ball after a virus turns people into a bizarro vampire-zombie hybrid – they’re slow and hungry for blood, but have intelligence. And we enter the story three years after the fact to find Morgan in his decrepit home, counting down the days. He has coffee and orange juice, then he’s off to stake any vamps he can find in the city around him, and hurls their bodies into a fiery pit, once dug long ago to burn victims who had perished from the plague. Morgan, as one can imagine, is forlorn and mentally destitute. After all, he’s lost everyone and everything to the plague. There’s nothing left – except that internal fire for survival. But the days are taking its toll, and that fire has become a fading coal.

Morgan’s biggest mistake is residing in the same home he once shared with his wife and daughter. Granted, one may want such a daily reminder, as if a last bastion to normalcy and comfort, but after time, the longing for a past that will never return must tear down the psychological walls. And it’s not as if the Morgan household looks like it once did. The house is a shambles, and Morgan sleeps on the couch on the first floor. Debris blocks the stairs to the second – and thinly boarded windows keep him a hair’s breath away from the vampires that taunt him each night – including old friends like, Ben Cortman (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart).

Cortman once worked with Morgan at a local lab, where a dedicated team struggled like mad to find a cure. Interestingly, as bodies fell and society collapsed, none of the scientists tried to see how their own blood stood up to the virus. If they had done so, they would have discovered Morgan’s immunity, and could have created antibodies to save the planet.

***** SPOILER ALERT *****

Morgan ultimately discovers that he’s not alone, however, and soon meets up with a human-vampire half-breed, Ruth Collins (Franca Bettoia). Morgan saves her from slipping into full vampirism by sharing his blood – but her friends, all male it seems, don’t want to hear about a possible cure. Instead, the hunter becomes the hunted, and the men go after Morgan to bring him down for good. Otherwise, the good doctor might stake them while they’re sleeping. Why it took them three years to launch an attack against one man is beyond logic.

Regardless, Morgan’s had it, and stands tall, calling the group “Freaks!” before they take him out with bullets and iron spears. Sure, he could’ve fought better, even smarter, but what’s the point? No one had answered his daily radio calls, and one can take so much fear and loneliness. In effect, this was the suicide he couldn’t pull off himself. Morgan had to go down fighting, maybe as Morgan wish he had long ago.

After all, if Morgan had really wanted to live, he would’ve setup camp somewhere other than his homestead. He had the pick of office buildings to live higher up for protection (even though he’d have to climb stairs). He could’ve created an impenetrable compound and lived in luxury. Instead, he lived in dirt and squalor, as if punishing himself for not saving his family and the world. Talk about survivor’s guilt.

***** END OF SPOILER *****

The disease, however, is interesting. At first, people feel run down, then they go blind, then they die, only to rise up, and see again. Why the blindness? Is it to avoid visually witnessing their demise? Talk about a sick and cold-hearted disease. One can’t imagine the fear, especially when one knows what’s coming next. Horrific for certain.

Director Ubaldo Ragona did a pretty decent job, considering this was his third film out of four (and one is a documentary). Giorgio Giovannini’s set design was fine, but there was many a missed opportunity in presenting a world of true dystopia. For instance, the grass had been cut – everywhere. And no, Morgan didn’t roll around on a riding mower as he hunted vamps during the day. Additionally, Morgan even found a dead human or two on the streets. After three years, they would not have been so pristine.

Matheson’s disturbing tale of pure loneliness in the face of calamity has been retold since, most famously in 1971 with Charlton Heston in THE OMEGA MAN, which seems to be the best received, and most loved, of the trio. The third, is the extremely disappointing I AM LEGEND (2007) with Will Smith. The first act amazed, the second faltered, and the final sequence was as hokey and ill conceived as it was ludicrous.

For all its faults, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH is strong, and the black-and-white film adds to the drab factor that reigns supreme to showcase Dr. Morgan’s plight. Vincent Price delivers a solid and tortured performance, though not as strong as it could have been. However, the movie relies on the notion of being the sole survivor of an entire species, that’s enough to give any socially connected person chills.

What is your favorite of the notable threesome?

2.5 out of 5 stars

(Photo from Movie Poster Shop.)

Crash Discussion: Episode 4: Most Over-rated Horror Movies

PodcastimageIn “The Most Over-rated Horror Movies,” co-hosts Billy Crash and Jonny Numb dive into blasphemous territory, and knock some renowned horrors from their respective pedestals – with complete explanations, of course. Crash and Numb also ponder the unique horror conglomeration that is THE ABCs OF DEATH.

Crash Reports: What I’ve Learned from Watching 1,500 Horror Movies – and it ain’t Pretty

My 1,500th horror movie is 1964’s THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, starring Vincent Price –      727698_skeletonman_poster review forthcoming (it was a double feature disc with 1962’s PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! and that review is on its way as well). But before I could begin to write anything about either movie, I caught the abysmal television feature SKELETON MAN (2004) with “The Walking Dead” star, Michael Rooker, and “what the hell happened to my career,” Casper Van Dien.

Out of these 1,500 horror movies, roughly 85 are amazing, 100 more or so are worthwhile, and the rest is pure, unadulterated shit. Whether low budget or big budget, the bulk of horrors are trash, and only add to the typical refrain that the genre is a low-brow joke for the masses.

As a writer, my main concern when finishing a project, whether a short story, novel, or screenplay is that my work is garbage. I want to tell a good story inhabited by interesting characters, and I want to entertain. I want to avoid cliché, hyperbole, and beating the audience over the head with theme. But before I send anything out to contests, producers, and publishers, I call upon people I love, trust, and admire – solid storytellers in their own right – who won’t sling bullshit and pat me on the head. I want unabashed criticism. I want to know what doesn’t work, what I missed, and what I need to change. After all, when one writes, that person is in a vacuum of their own making, and sometimes, we simply can’t see problems and plot holes.

I’ve been a long-standing member of the New Jersey Screenwriter’s Group (my greatest commitment to anything, in fact), and have enjoyed table reads of many scripts. The feedback has been invaluable, has helped me improve as a writer, and thanks to the group’s recommendations, I have won several contests, or came in as a top finisher. This has led to interest from Hollywood studios as well as independent producers. Yes, that validation is as amazing as it is reassuring, but I still want to make certain that the story I’ve loved writing is worth showing to others. Otherwise, why write at all.

Thankfully, I usually know when a story sucks. In my youth, I hadn’t a clue, but as I learned more about craft, I improved when it came to self-story-analysis. Yet when considering all the godawful movies I’ve seen, I wonder how these poorly constructed tales, with bad acting, bad directing, bad lighting – and bad everything – came to fruition.

Although the name of the movie escapes me, because it was completely forgettable, a writer/director took a second mortgage on his home to bring his project to light. Talk about a waste of money, time, and effort. Sure, I salute the man for making his own movie, and almost giving up everything in the process. To do so takes money and commitment like few artistic projects, especially due to the intense amount of collaboration, equipment, insurance, and what have you. A movie, like Napoleon’s army, moves on its stomach. Cast and crew need to be professional to nail down each scene, even though we know it doesn’t always work out that way. And many more need to make certain the miracle of film comes to screen, or goes direct to video at least.

So, I’ll pick on SKELETON MAN, instead of mentioning the other dreadful pieces of trash that deserve to be consigned to oblivion (that will be a future post). Hell, I’ve seen shit that makes an Ed Wood movie look like genius. I’m serious. Anyway, here’s what happened in this poorly directed monstrosity from Johnny Martin, who should stick to what he does best: stunt work – and he’s damned good at it. The movie is based on a Frederick Bailey script about a hodge-podge military group (comprised of the anti-terrorist unit, Delta Force), as they track a skeleton man on horseback, like a poor man’s grim reaper, who can materialize out of thin air and kill with abandon. Why? Who cares. There’s minor gore and explosions – lots of explosions – and enough slow motion footage to make you want to flay your own flesh. Some of the acting’s bad, some of it’s decent, but you can tell that Casper just wanted to kill himself to escape the catastrophe. In fact, I can’t recall what happened to his character – he may have walked, or run, off the set. (Get a better agent, Casper. Please!)

It seems like the script was written in three days, with virtually no character development or feasible storyline. Anyone who has been in boot camp for a week would know that these idiot characters wouldn’t rate as canon fodder. For military professionals, they have no tactical abilities or strategies. Even the sniper expert can’t hit the side of a continent, and she uses a submachine gun instead of an actual sniper rifle. The unit is ill-prepared, poorly skilled, and couldn’t capture a child on crutches let alone a supernatural bloodthirsty lunatic. (Bring in Private Cooper and company from 2002’s DOG SOLDIERS (UK), and this nightmare would’ve been wrapped up in fifteen minutes). The camera work is bad, the editing sloppy at times, the costumes are hit and miss, and the skeleton man’s duds look like they were rented from a Party City bin of leftovers.

What a piece of shit.

So how the hell on Earth did this thing get made? Maybe a producer had an idea, an available crew, and did give Bailey a few days to “come up with something.” Who knows. But it’s done. And people’s real names are on it. Some probably said with pride, “Hey, look what I did! I’m in a movie!” and never thought of the consequences from a horrendous stinker. Maybe this is why Martin has never directed another thing.

But I hate when independent filmmakers make a movie and are so damn delusional about the end result. Few have the wherewithal of Eduardo Sanchez (THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and ALTERED), Lance Weiler (THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA), Oren Peli (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY), Paul Solet (GRACE), and Tony Brownrigg (RED VICTORIA) to pull off a quality film with little cash and resources.

In the same vein, as a writer, I have seen many other scribes who have absolutely no clue that they can’t write at all. None. Hell, I’ve met “writers” I wouldn’t trust to write a grocery list. And before you think I’m arrogant, please note that I wonder about this of me as well. Many write, share, and submit with a smile, never knowing that their “work” should be burned, buried, and blanked out for eternity. I have boxes full of failed attempts at storytelling. But these so-called writers crank out shit like mad, and to them it’s always pure gold. Always. It’s as if they’ve never read a book before. They haven’t got a damned hint of how much they are embarrassing themselves.

I see many filmmakers do the same thing. And I often wonder if some of these third-rate people at the helm have ever watched a damned movie, especially a quality film.

At the New Jersey Film School, owner/instructor Chris Messineo has written thirteen shorts and directed sixteen as well for Off Stage Films. When I asked him why he wasn’t working on a feature, he said, “Because I haven’t filmed a perfect short yet.” And his production company and school are both repeat award winners, and rightfully so.

Chris represents the kind of artist I love – not the ones that put themselves down and self-deprecate ad nauseum, but the ones that want to tell a solid story and entertain the brain. The ones who want to continue to learn about craft. The ones who can criticize their own work, and dive back in to make it better, or put that lesson to the test in their next venture. They strive for great art, regardless of genre or available finances.

Messineo’s Advanced Film Class shot my short TOO MANY PREDATORS. The student crew busted their asses, never griped, and I have no doubt all will go on to bigger and better things. The actresses and our special effects makeup artist were equally fabulous. The movie is not perfect, but what the student crew did amazed me, and everyone put in a combined 100 hours into what amounts to a three-and-a-half minute short. We all learned from the experience, and we will all improve from the exercise – but too many in moviemaking and writing never seem to advance from the knowledge they should have absorbed.

Yes, movies take a lot of effort, and every time you watch one you are witness to a small miracle. So why do professionals in the industry, as well as intelligent independents turn out drek by the truckload? Your guess is as good as mine. But nothing boggles my mind more, or pisses me off more, than seeing someone who just doesn’t get it. How can you not know that you’re making shit? It’s shameful.

As for horror filmmakers that churn out cheap garbage, I’ve heard some in the past say stuff like this: “It’s just a horror movie. Fans’ll love it!” No, we probably won’t. At least those among us who give a damn. Therefore, the trash you ultimately deliver to the masses will only earn you the embarrassment and humiliation you deserve – though with your lack of introspection, you’ll probably just think everyone’s an idiot. Or that they’re jealous of you. Or that they don’t “get it.”

Now that I’m moving forward to 2,000 movies, I have no doubt 450 will be a complete waste of my time. But I want to thank those fifty or so directors, writers, cinematographers, editors, etc., as well as the actors, for the decent and spectacular features that will put those other morons and their tripe to shame.

Whew. I feel better now.

(SKELETON MAN photo from Uverseonline.)

Crash Analysis Support Team: Kid In Play (Part II) – Guest Post from R. S. Brzoska

Like any artist, it’s worthwhile for a horror writer considering using the child-in-peril   15-Andrew-Miller-Kazan-The-Cube  trope to think roundly about both what his/her audience expects and what the story’s needs are. How far are you willing to go? How comfortable are you with going there?

As hinted at in part one, child harm is a huge cultural and psychological taboo. The very idea induces anxiety in most people. Take a look at the train station shoot-out in Brian DePalma’s great The Untouchables:

UNTOUCHABLES-Train Station Shoot-out

Here, DePalma adds an extra layer of suspense to an already tense scene through the simple addition of a child in a carriage. Note how never once, in the midst of all the carnage, does DePalma let the audience lose track of the carriage—even with all the gunfire, the pram wheels on the stairs can be heard clunking metronomically in the background throughout the scene. We even see a bullet pass through the stroller, only to be granted some relief a few seconds later with a cut to the still-intact infant inside. That relief is short-lived, however, as we’re only reminded by that bullet how mortally serious the situation is.

The scene is executed perfectly and the child-in-peril trope is used to excellent effect. After being put through the wringer, the audience is allowed to breathe easier at scene’s end. The baby is safe, the good guys win. But isn’t it weird that we feel this sort of anxiety over ninety seconds of a baby carriage bouncing down the stairs, yet we don’t quite feel the same way about films like The Hunger Games[i], A Nightmare on Elm Street, or Friday the 13th—which also feature children-in-peril?

Why is that? Well, there are two concepts at work here and both are central to dramatic horror: Innocence and Agency.

Let’s start with Innocence, which we can define (as per Dictionary.com, thank you very much) as any combination of these applicable qualities: Absence of Sin, Naivety, Lack of Guile, A Dearth of Knowledge or Undertstanding, Guiltlessness. Innocence is important dramatically because, by and large, people want to see bad people get punished and good people rewarded. In short, we like to see victims deserve their fate in horror movies as they so often don’t in real life. We also tend to feel unconsciously and preternaturally protective of The Innocent. And young children are the very embodiment of Innocence in all its facets. The quality of Innocence is why the virgin always seems to live in slasher films and why it feels so satisfying to watch (SPOILER ALERT) the character of Kazan walk away unscathed in 1997’s Cube.

The other side to the same metaphorical coin is Agency, which we can define simply as the ability to make moral decisions and act independently. Part of the fun of watching horror movies comes from watching people fight back against a malevolent force. Or at least be able to flee from it. In a nutshell, Agency means characters are at least somewhat responsible for their fate.

What we find is that the properties of Agency and Innocence tend to be to some degree inversely proportional. A character with a high degree of Agency tends to lack perceived Innocence while the most Innocent characters tend to lack a high degree of Agency.[ii] Infants and small children tend to lack Agency and are therefore Innocent and vulnerable. Your standard teenager, however, has a high degree of Agency, just like an adult. Our protective instincts aren’t engaged. Hence, we squirm mightily through a ninety-second carriage scene, but eat popcorn through ninety minutes of teen carnage.

Then, of course, there are the in-betweeners. The kids like Glen, Al, and Terry in 1987’s The Gate, or Regan in The Exorcist or Cole in The Sixth Sense. Kids between the ages of eight and fourteen, who are in many ways naïve to the world, yet have the capacity to be intelligent actors therein. The can be knowledgeable but have a limited capacity to act on that knowledge. Or they can be naifish, with enough ability to impulsively act to imperil themselves or others. They are complex and ambiguous in ways adults cannot be. They can also engage our protective instinct to some degree.

The end result is that we end up with three broad but essential categories when it comes to child characters:

  1. Those with a high degree of Innocence/low degree of Agency (infants, small children, the mentally/physically disabled).
  2. Those with a high degree of Agency/mixed degrees of Innocence (Late teens).
  3. Those with some degree of Agency/some degree of Innocence (children roughly between the ages of eight and fourteen, the mentally/physically disabled).

Each of these categories can fulfill a base dramatic need or the author or screenwriter. Each has its pros and its cons. We’ll look at those in more detail next.


[i] I want to take a moment here and acknowledge the weird genius of The Hunger Games (and, by association, Japan’s Battle Royale) and the way it squirmily induces its audience to root for child-murder by way of rooting for Katniss.

[ii] This can include not only small children, but the mentally and/or physically disabled as well. The example that jumps immediately to mind would be the character of Jakob Trimble from the 2011 film Scalene.

(Photo of Kazan from CUBE by Logsoku.com.)

Crash Discussion: Episode 3, Horror Discomfort Foods

In “Horror Discomfort Food,” co-hosts Billy Crash and Jonny Numb explore their favorite “go to” horror movies, such as PRINCE OF DARKNESS, THE SHINING, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, THE THING, and much more. They also explore a common denominator as to why these horrors hold sway over their collective psyches…

Crash Analysis Support Team: Lake Mungo (2008) – Guest Post from Writer/Director Paul Williams

LAKE MUNGO (an unfortunate title, I concur) is a 2008 “documentary” from Australia,    lake_mungo_after_dark_poster1   written and directed by Joel Anderson. It tells the tale of Alice Palmer (Talia Zucker), a sixteen year-old girl who dies while on vacation with her family, by drowning in Lake Mungo. Her remaining family is father, Russell (David Pledger, an Australian Richard Gere), mother, June (Rosie Traynor), and younger brother, Mathew (Martin Sharpe).

Soon after Alice’s death, a series of strange and inexplicable events occur in the Palmer family universe. These are all (conveniently) captured in photos or video, a conceit agreed upon by all involved in “found footage” and mockumentary movies. However, these first photos and videos that surface provide the film’s creepiest moments. If viewed alone with the lights off in the middle of the night as I did, and not in the afternoon with your buddies while texting your girlfriend, they are genuinely scary.

Without spoiling too much, a series of story twists occur, and this becomes my biggest criticism. While these reveals maintains the movie’s main theme of grief, it lessens the impact of later developments and renders future scares impotent, all at the detriment of the overall movie. It’s an unfortunate miscalculation by Anderson.

Eventually, secrets of Alice’s past come to light. This is not uncommon after the sudden and premature death of someone. (Minor example: After my dad died, we discovered his real middle name was actually “Cornelius” and it wasn’t just a joke nickname given to him by his brothers and sisters, as he had forever reported. I feel ya on that one, pop.) Suffice it to say, Alice’s secret isn’t that her middle name is Cornelius; she is involved in something a sixteen year-old girl should not be, and while aspects of it are left ambiguous, it clearly affected her.

All these events lead the story back to the central setting of many of the film’s unfortunate events: you guessed it, Lake Mungo, a dry lake that includes the dam Alice drowned in. Her cellphone has been located and includes video footage she captured shortly before her death. Perhaps the build-up to all this is too much, but when this footage is finally revealed, it didn’t have the impact on me that, I’m guessing, it wanted to. The idea is scarier than the reality, in this instance.

Anderson sets the mood and atmosphere of the film right from the beginning, and does it well, maintaining an unsettling, surreal, dream-like state, and you never feel quite comfortable while watching. It’s very effective. Assisting in this is the cinematography of John Brawley, who beautifully shoots the rural and suburban parts of Australia, and the music of Dai Paterson and Fernando Corona accompanies the spooky images perfectly.

As previously mentioned, LAKE MUNGO’s central theme of grief becomes obvious early on, more specifically, how each remaining member of the Palmer family grieves for Alice in his or her own way, which can range from weird to desperate, but is always sad. You really feel the absence caused by her death.

Giving authenticity to this “documentary” is the fine acting. I believed everyone involved, and a lot of people are interviewed: grandparents, co-workers, police officers, Crocodile Dundee, school-mates, friends, etc. (Just kidding about C.D.)

The movie can be accused of having a slow pace, and at some points it does, but at only 89 minutes, Anderson provides enough twists, turns, and creeps along the way to hold your attention. I enjoyed the slow burn. Fans of gore or jump-scares will be disappointed; the film has none.

Released (probably somewhat out of place) in the U.S. in 2010 as part of the After Dark Horrorfest 4, the movie garnered enough attention that a U.S. production company planned to remake (and ruin) it in 2009, but to date, I have not seen any more information on that (fingers crossed).

Also, make sure to stay tuned in during the ending credits.

Despite these few flaws, I believe writer/director Joel Anderson accomplishes what he set out to do with LAKE MUNGO. I can’t deny, the film stayed with me for a long time, and I can’t say that about many films.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Paul Williams is an award winning screenwriter and director. You can find his short film STABLE (which recently appeared in the New Jersey International Film Festival) on this site (see it to the right under “Crash Files”), and his latest venture, CHANCE ENCOUNTER (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mcGnpSHCiY&feature=youtube_gdata_player), which was selected for the 2013 Garden State Film Festival.

(Photo from Shockya.)