Tag Archives: 3.5 stars

QUARRIES (2017) by Billy Crash

You know those pathetic horror films, usually slashers, where the unsuspecting victims get the best of their antagonists only to beat up on them before freaking out and running away so the guy can get up again and hunt them down?

This isn’t one of those.

Directed and co-written by Nils Taylor, Quarries brings together a group of women on a two-week sojourn through New England’s mountainous wooded region. Posed to learn more about themselves, or to divorce themselves from the stress of life, Jean (Sarah Mornell) the experience backpacker and leader of the group, is matched only by Joy (Joy McElveen) and her former military service. The women are the strongest and most capable, while the remaining five are clearly inexperienced and may not realize how hard Mother Nature can be.

Although an ensemble, the narrative focuses on Kat (Nicole Marie Johnson, who co-wrote the script), a woman escaping from an abusive relationship who bears its most recent physical wounds. Unlike the others, she came late to the party and failed to undergo her two-days of mandatory wilderness training.

What the women have to face in Quarries is far worse than what the woods can throw at them because where Mother Nature is indiscriminate, someone sets their sites on targeting the group.

It’s easy to say we’ve seen this movie time and time again. From The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes to I Spit On Your Grave and the Wrong Turn franchise, as well as last year’s Carnage Park and, most evidently, The Descent, the idea of backwoods mayhem at the hands of man – or even mutants – has provided us with a sub-genre of the slasher realm. Films from Sweden, France, and Spain have also explored this “traveler beware” vein.

One can easily argue the strength of some of these movies, but at times we really don’t get a chance to know the characters, and many are “red shirts,” such as the wayward college students in almost any slasher. Due to the emotional disconnect, many viewers can’t wait to see who gets killed and how creative their deaths are going to be since these stock characters of jock, bully, manipulator, and more, are simply disposable – except for the stock “Final Girl.”

Again, Quarries offers a different take by establishing a heavy dose of realism and character depth that ramps up the suspense and leaves us concerned about those being hunted instead of cheering when they might go down.

Quarries is low budget venture, and we know how those can go. Quite often, someone has an idea that falls under the slasher, supernatural, or ultra-cheap found footage umbrella, and they crank it out. Hell, anyone can these days thanks to easy access to low cost equipment and software. Most so-called filmmakers, however, have no business shooting a birthday party for a little kid. Quarries has made clear that little money doesn’t mean a sacrifice in quality.

Regardless of budget, Nils Taylor and company made certain to do everything right. First and foremost, there are no bad actors. Each person “brings it” and delivers a definitive performance worthy of an audience’s investment as they all undergo a series of emotions in their test of survival. Johnson proves to be a formidable lead actress right away, and Carrie Finklea shines as Wren, the young women who has let her own trials and tribulations seemingly get the best of her in self-destructive fashion. None of the characters are stock, and even if they share some attributes to the tried and true, each women shares a different side of themselves when the environment changes instead of falling back on what seems to be their character’s sole foundation. And like most of us who give up some information about ourselves only to leave a bit of mystery behind in our wake, the characters do so as well in genuine fashion.

John Woodside’s cinematography is often amazing, keeping the action tight with close-ups and medium shots, and only pulling the camera back to establish distance. And the view of the Appalachians is not only stunning, but shows us the dichotomy of how isolated our protagonists are in such a vast region. A solid musical score that enhances the visuals and the action in Quarries instead of distracting us from them comes from more than capable composer Isaias Garcia. David Jacox and David C. Keith deliver the all-important editing, and Cody Davis, the stunt choreographer as well as an actor in the film, keeps the fight scenes hard, bold, and relentless. All of this is thanks to Nils Taylor for directing this cinematic excursion so damn well.

One can allude to this group of seven as the Seven Samurai or the American retelling as The Magnificent Seven, but the former didn’t choose the fight and had no training to combat attackers. They are every day women going through all the emotions and stresses that most of us do, yet they were all put in a position where they had to stand up or perish, which certainly outweighs 9 to 5 drudgery, money trouble, and family issues.

My former Kearny High School psychology teacher in New Jersey once said in class, “Anyone can kill. It’s just that not everyone has been in a situation where they’ve had to kill.” And in Quarries, the women may just have to do that to survive. This doesn’t mean morality is thrust by the wayside, but when “kill or be killed” is the mantra, one had best stand tall and fight with abandon, or it will be the last mistake one ever makes. Even if one does go down, the old saying “better to die on your feet than live on your knees” takes on a whole new meaning.

Keep in mind that Quarries is not a “feminist women getting back at misogynist men” tale, but a group of women simply fighting predators to live another day. To get on with their lives. To know their true strength, and to understand that they can now handle any stressor that comes their way because they’ve faced the ultimate battle. This is a rite of passage few of us get to endure. Whether male or female, we can live vicariously through their venture and experience such a gauntlet. But for most of us, we’ll still wonder if we can pass the test.

Don’t miss the interview with QuarriesNils Taylor, Nicole Marie Johnson, and Laura Small of D!amond Cutter Films, and Melanie Wise of the Artemis Women In Action Film Festival. And visit the Quarries‘ site.

Billy Crash (aka William D. Prystauk) loves great in depth characters and storytelling in horror, and likes to see heads roll, but if you kill a dog on screen he’ll cry like a baby. Billy co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on TwitterLinkedInIMDbAmazon, and his professional website.

(Photo of Dog Soldiers Buffy from Dog Soldiers Wikia.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: KRAMPUS (2015)

The Last Knock

Yes, it does matter if you’ve been naughty or nice, but we’re not talking about getting coal in your stocking for being a jerkface meanyhead. In this case, it’s all about Krampus, the anti-Santa, and what happens to a little kid when he loses faith in the holiday and the man in the big red suit. Learn about the Austrian origins of Krampus, how the legend has been twisted through time, and if this feature is worth a holiday horror viewing.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS go to: @FriscoKidTX @dkarner @RonGizmo @palkodesigns @wilkravitz @TheresaSnyder19 @AmandaBergloff @MichaelSDoyle @biancabradey @RiverCityOtter @RealJillyG @MelanieMcCurdie @AnnThraxx @theadman40 @madmanmendez @DawnHillDesigns @Talk2Cleo @NylaVox @mariaolsen66 @RiversofGrue @FacultyofHorror @KrampusMovie


Crash Analysis: GRABBERS (UK/Ireland, 2012)

Grab it  – Before it Grabs You!

The UK’s best horror/comedy – take that SHAUN OF THE DEAD!

Upon a recommendation, from artist/teacher/Polish movie poster collector, Douglas McCambridge, I rented Jon Wright’s grabbers_ver6_xlgGRABBERS. From the posters it was clear I’d be in for a comedy creature feature, and I certainly needed a brain break from life, so I tossed it in and sat back. Little did I know the ride would be so entertaining that my troubles would be laughed away.

In GRABBERS, the lovely and polished Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley) is a Garda coming to a small Irish island to fill in for a couple of weeks. She soon meets up with her alcoholic partner, Ciaran O’Shea (Robert Coyle), and learns that much doesn’t happen on the fishing island. Until a storm comes in and brings with it a monster from outer space hellbent to feed on anything big – like humans. But Lisa never realized that the only way to save the island’s inhabitants would be to get as drunk as her partner.

Beautifully shot, thanks to Trevor Forrest, we’re ensconced in a small town environment without the usual tropes. Locals don’t give Garda Nolan the stink eye, and she doesn’t act too much like a fish out of water – just a cop that needs to take it down a notch. In Kevin Lehane’s well crafted script, characters are as idiosyncratic as one would hope without going into ludicrous territory. We can relate for certain, and laugh along with the islanders as they try to determine what the hell is snatching people from their homes, ships, and the pub.

The pace in GRABBERS is pretty quick, and once again, tropes be damned. Sure, Nolan and O’Shea have a hard time believing a town drunk about a sea monster, but in short order, everyone’s on the same page and searching for answers. Of course, due to a coming storm, they’re on their own, but they do understand that they have one weapon working in their favor: A drunk human makes the beast vomit. This idea came about during a hike Lehane once took. To keep mosquitoes at bay, he turned to alcohol. Ta da. GRABBERS was spawned, and in short order, he had backers and the whole production was in motion.

In the fishing village, the few in the know want to keep panic to a minimum, so they invite the locals to the pub for free drinks. Sure, Lehane played off of the Irish stereotype, but he’s from Cork and it’s all in good fun, so leave him the hell alone. While everyone’s getting drunk – but not too drunk, one hopes – the monster makes it move…

Yes, CGI abounds because a guy in a suit certainly wouldn’t cut it, but as director Jon Wright said, the special effects have come such a long way, he wasn’t afraid of giving it a go. Paddy Eason, the visual effects supervisor, and his fabulous team, did one hell of a great job in bringing the beast to life. In fact, some of the effects are downright awesome.

The balance of horror and humor is spot on. Unlike SHAUN OF THE DEAD (UK/France/USA, 2004), which bored the hell out of me, GRABBERS kept me in the perfect state of mind to enjoy every frame. Admittedly, at times I wish the movie had been serious, but with alcohol proving to be the bane of the creature’s existence, a more dramatic angle would have failed. Lehane chose the right path, and with Wright’s directing and an excellent cast and crew, the stars aligned. Some may know Wright from his comedy/horror TORMENTED (UK, 2009). That film had much potential but ultimately failed due to some jarring edits, far too many scene changes, and an often questionable storyline. But the director certainly grew from that mess and delivered a solid sea shanty.

Can our Garda heroes save the day? Will the small fishing village live to see another dawn – or another sequel? You’ll have to indulge in GRABBERS to find out. So if you like laughs with your decapitating monsters, give this feature a shot – of single malt Irish whiskey, that is. Thanks for the sorely needed entertainment therapy, cast and crew. I’ll definitely have another round, and I’m buyin’ Doug…

3.5 out of 5 stars

(Photo from Imp Awards.)

Crash Analysis Support Team: EVIDENCE (2012) Guest Post from Paul J. Williams

A frustratingly interesting experience.

(Minor spoilers ahead.)

EVIDENCE is a 2012 found-footage horror film directed by Howie Askins from a screenplay written by Ryan McCoy, who also stars as our amateur camera operator.

The set-up is a familiar found-footage trope: a quartet of attractive yuppies trek out toevidence_movie_poster the wilds and inexplicably disappear, leaving behind their video footage to later be found for our enjoyment, yet still oftentimes fails to leave any resolution. The group we travel out with this time is Ryan (Ryan McCoy), who’s filming Brett (Brett Rosenberg), and their two girlfriends, Abi (Abigail Richie), the shapely blonde, and Ashley (Ashley Bracken), the shorter brunette, covering all the bases for the younger-male-heterosexual audience. (And I don’t know why found-footage film-makers continue to use the actors’ real names as their characters’ names. For authenticity’s sake, I know, but in this day and age, give the audience more credit, please.

Whereas THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, [REC], CLOVERFIELD, et al. provide valid reasons for our cameraman/woman to be recording every single thing that happens, EVIDENCE’s script is a little lazier with the reason we’re seeing this footage: This is Brett’s first time camping and his buddy Ryan wants to document the experience. It should be noted Brett is probably a thirty year-old man.

We quickly travel out, via an R.V., to the beautiful mountain ranges of California. EVIDENCE learns from, in my humble opinion, the sins of a majority of found-footage movies: making us wait an eternity for something, anything, to happen. It’s only fifteen minutes in that we’re provided with our first scare, a daytime occurrence, too, that is very effective.

Prior to this first scare, and continuing on after, are the requisite arguments and dissention among our group. Some of the first act is uncomfortably close to BLAIR WITCH, but after viewing the film, I wondered if this was by design and they were just toying with the audience. Questionable acting skills and fair writing make these arguments feel very manufactured and unnatural. Some casting choices pulled me out of the film, too, which is always unfortunate, but especially when you’re passing off the movie as “real”. The group is visited in the night by a creepy vagrant-type. With his bright white teeth and chiseled features, this jumped out to me as clearly a handsome actor bummed up for the scene.

Once we get rolling, though, the movie is very enjoyable. There are plenty of jump scares and satisfyingly vague creatures that hunt them. One sequence reveals a creature on the R.V.’s reverse camera charging at the vehicle and it’s very creepy and well done.

Ultimately, the movie comes down to the third act, and it delivers, just not in the way I thought, or hoped. I was enjoying the glimpses and jump-scares in moderation. The finale offers creatures, government/military goons, blood, I don’t know what the fuck that was, zombies, gore; it’s all there and makes you yell out, “Holy shit!”. Yeah, there’s a complete shift in tone, pacing, and even genre to a point, but Askin’s direction and editing make for a non-stop, first-person shooter-esque experience. His skills are really on display here. We all know going in that we’re not about to witness the next “Wuthering Heights” or “Casablanca”. It’s a fun seventy-eight minute escape.

In a 2012 interview with the U.K.’s Daily Record, writer/actor Ryan McCoy states, “In January 2010, Paranormal Activity had just come out on DVD. I bought it, watched it and thought they had done so much in the set-up but somehow lost it at the end…I started thinking I could do a found-footage movie. However, my goal was to make it bigger with a last act no-one had seen before.”

Mission accomplished, my friend.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Paul J. Williams is a multi-award-winning screenwriter, producer, and director. He is also a decorated law enforcement officer of over seventeen years, having served as a Federal Agent and Police Officer in Newark, N.J.

(Photo from Zombots.)

Crash Analysis Support Team: YOU’RE NEXT (2011) – Guest Post from Jonny Numb

YOU’RE NEXT (2011)

[94 minutes. R. Director: Adam Wingard]

YOU’RE NEXT begins under dubious circumstances, recycling slasher-film clichés with youre_next_ver2_xlgprecious little innovation: a schlubby guy (Larry Fessenden) fucks his girlfriend (who wears a distinct look of dissatisfaction) before walking to the kitchen for a snack. It’s not spoiling anything to say that this pre-title sequence goes exactly how you’d expect: the guy winds up dead, with the girl to follow. On the stereo, “Looking for the Magic” plays on repeat (a motif that will recur – with varying degrees of irony – over the course of the film).

But, as will be revealed over the course of the film, even this deceptively frivolous throwaway of a sequence has its place. Working from a clever script by Simon Barrett, director Adam Wingard (THE ABC’S OF DEATH) creates a horrifying experience of relentless tension and nasty surprises.

Like most current genre cinema, it traffics in well-established tropes to invent a notable gloss on the modern slasher. And on those terms, YOU’RE NEXT comes awfully close to an extreme-horror makeover.

Whereas films like HALLOWEEN, THE STRANGERS, and THE PURGE used masked villains as the ultimate representation of anonymity and blood-chilling amorality, the animal facades that adorn the assailants’ faces in YOU’RE NEXT juxtapose a children’s storybook quality against homicidal rage. It’s a contrast that works exceedingly well.

It’s appropriate, then, that the plot centers around adult children gathering at a palatial summer estate to celebrate their parents’ anniversary. To underline the atmosphere of impending doom, the film begins with long shots of desolate dirt roads and sprawling fields in the dead of winter. The interactions between the children hint at unresolved sibling rivalries and psychological wounds that never truly healed in adulthood; the way the parents acknowledge this is through unspoken regret communicated via wincing body language. Like most family functions, Barrett’s dialog shows a keen ear for awkward conversation and how the introduction of non-relations can make such situations even more uncomfortable.

Again, it’s pretty damn clever that the turning point of YOU’RE NEXT occurs during a chaotic dinnertime argument.

While the score brilliantly recalls the collaborations between John Carpenter and Alan Howarth (full of pulsing synths), the film doesn’t come off as a deliberate by-product of any particular filmmaking era. While some plot elements (dad has made out big on his retirement) recollect simple-minded B-movies of the 1950s and ‘60s, the violence is indicative of the gritty, boundary-pushing ‘70s (think LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT cranked up a few decibels), and some understated humor indicates the meta horror-comedies of the 1990s and beyond. That being said, YOU’RE NEXT always feels firmly rooted in the present, and seldom feels like less than its own individualistic beast – indeed, the film is so fast and furious that it rarely pauses to wink at the audience, instead favoring the adrenalin-soaked thrill of the hunt.

The cast retains a fitting authenticity, creating familial relations through a lack of familiar faces (RE-ANIMATOR Barbara Crampton notwithstanding), to the point where their inevitable demises carry an impact both visceral and emotional. Granted, while Barrett’s script puts the more disposable characters through clichéd situations, the “fight-or-flight” mentality driving such actions inspires sympathy instead of bad laughs. And when Final Girl Erin (Aussie beauty Sharni Vinson) is left to her own devices, it’s because she’s a genuinely strong character… not because she’s just had enough dumb luck to stay alive that long.

3.5 out of 5

Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) is co-host of THE LAST KNOCK podcast. Find his movie reviews at: http://numbviews.livejournal.com. Twitter: @JonnyNumb.

(Photo from Imp Awards.)

Crash Analysis: THE RUINS (USA/Germany/Australia, 2008)

Far from cliché 

A triumph?

THE RUINS is based upon the novel by Bruce B. Smith, who also wrote the screenplay. The Ruins movie poster onesheetThe beginning offered the usual, hackneyed fair: four American college students on a trip to Mexico. Snooze. Thankfully, I hung on, and witnessed one great dramatic tale of foreboding.

Our college quatro are gearing up to go home when a German traveler, Mathias (Joe Anderson), mentions that his brother and several people are working at a remote archaeological dig. Enraptured by the rare opportunity, the students head out to THE RUINS.

Up until this point, the story seemed cliché laden, but some elements were different from the start. The group is comprised of two heterosexual couples, but none of them fell to the trappings of stock character malaise. No dumb jocks, no geeks, no arrogant beauty. Simply four bright young people ready to engage something a bit more thrilling than a resort and endless alcoholic beverages.

The students soon find themselves at the base of a Mayan pyramid with vegetation covering most of the ruin. However, when they near the structure, they’re met with armed locals who keep themselves at a distance. The Spanish speaking villagers yell at the tourists, but all is for naught since none of the travelers know the language. This leads to a tension filled scene where our group is forced up onto the pyramid to escape the local wrath. In an instant, the conventions of horror entrap the group: isolation, limited if any cell phone usage, little food and water, fears regarding self-preservation, and a sense of impending doom.

The group is led by medical student, Jeff (Jonathan Tucker), who’s logic and pragmatism keeps them all grounded – as much as one can since the pangs of fear are overwhelming. Eric (Shawn Ashmore) reluctantly follows, as well as Stacy (Laura Ramsey), and Amy, played by the ever wonderful Jena Malone.

Director Carter Smith, no relation to the screenwriter/author, brings us a strong, emotional tale that takes place in mostly daylight hours. Under the hot Mexican sun, the group must be aware of water intake as they try to determine a way out. Yet, they have no clue why the locals are bloodthirsty, why they won’t come up after them – and why the archaeological team is dead. In THE RUINS, the one item that may save the tourists is a shaft leading into the heart of the pyramid, where a fully functioning cell phone rings on occasion. Can they get to it?

The pyramid represents a tower, and as imagery goes, one only has to think of the old biblical tale of the Tower of Babel. Builders of that structure had hoped to reach their god up in Heaven, only to be smitten with many languages so they could not understand each other. Building stopped. The movie mirrors the story in two forms: Our college students can’t comprehend the locals, and their privileged lives may make them seem as if they are above the uneducated and poor villagers. Though the students don’t bark that they are better or smarter, the symbolism is clear, though in this case, whatever deity they believe in has no intention of rescuing them from their predicament. For all that privilege and money, two artificial gods of their own, they are trapped. They’ll have to make it on their own or die trying.

Interestingly, with their only hope seemingly being that cell phone at the bottom of a dark shaft, they must lower themselves to gain possible egress. But the uncanny, the element of Robin Wood’s “otherness” surrounds them. The “other” is multifold as well. Besides the “monster” they must face, the thing which must be rejected and annihilated, the villagers also represent that “other” – the natives who cannot be trusted since they are unlike the foreigners. In this case, the students represent the “other” to the villagers. And what follows is a story of attrition and despair.

Carter Smith does a great job in keeping the story moving, and none of the actors fall short of emotion, which is largely a fear driven response to uncanny stimuli. Director of Photography, Darius Khondji, relies on natural light to keep the production grounded, and even in the dark scenes of the shaft, one knows exactly what is happening at all times. Jason Baird’s prosthetic effects are absolutely mind-blowing, and his creation leads to several cringe-worthy scenes. Best of all is Bruce B. Smith’s nice twist and imagery that delivers a cautionary tale about curiosity, as well as self-assuredness.

In the end, desperation leads to action, and one should be grateful that of the three endings Carter Smith had shot, he chose the very best one for THE RUINS. We’re left with that element of the “other” hinting that there is more to come, and one can only imagine where that might lead.

If you are looking for a dramatic horror that offers something a bit different, THE RUINS should prove worthy. Granted, the movie is not perfect (questionable German accents, and a slow pace on occasion), but this should keep your mind churning long after the credits roll.

3.5 out of 5 stars

(Photo from Collider.)

Crash Analysis: THE KILLING GENE (UK, 2007)

If you liked SEVEN…

A couple of nice turns for the serial killer subgenre…

Though more of a crime/thriller, there’s enough gore and disturbing elements to shove posterthis movie into the horror vein, and it is labeled as such. I hadn’t heard of THE KILLING GENE until I began looking at more work from the amazing Melissa George (30 DAYS OF NIGHT, TRIANGLE). And as soon as I realized the equally fabulous Stellan Skarsgard (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO series, INSOMNIA) also played the lead, it was my first no-brainer in a long damn time.

THE KILLING GENE script comes from the pen of Clive Bradley, best known for his television work, especially with “Waking the Dead,” and he delivers a gritty, noir tale that’s free and wide open. Director Tom Shankland (THE CHILDREN, and the forthcoming DARK CORNERS) brings the film to light, though there may be less than a handful of minutes where the sun almost shines. Regardless, Shankland lets his actors dive head first into their characters, and few are likable. All seem dirty, tainted by the grime of the eternally dark streets that they roam. In less than ten minutes of viewing, I wanted to take a shower and rub my skin off with pumice stone.

In this ugly tale of torture and murder, Eddie Argo (Skarsgard) and Helen Westcott (George) are on the trail of a serial killer with one twisted agenda of revenge. And as for revenge tales, this is one of the most interesting and disturbing premises I’ve seen in a long, damn time. But never fear, it’s not a slow and tedious police procedural, and we don’t have to worry about meddling officials or slow courtroom banter. The cast is small, the city vast, and the visceral mayhem is up close and personal.

Sure, the acting’s solid, and Morton Soborg’s (VALHALLA RISING, THE GIFT) cinematography truly captures the graininess of the nasty and unremorseful streets, but through all the tumult and suspense, there are problems. As with most movies of this ilk, our gruff cops seem to keep a blind eye to all things legal. As far as they’re concerned, they’re princes of the city, allowed to roam every avenue, and they can equally ignore “the book” to get shit done for the greater good. At times, things happened in the film that throws police procedure way out the window. I’m sorry, but if gang members start whipping out guns right and left, cops would be hauling their asses in jail, not turn away and leave them to their own devices. Furthermore, the most successful gangs keep things on the down low as much as possible, and wouldn’t risk such stupid and blatant exposure. There’s just too much of the over-the-top “movie reality” versus “reality” that cheapens the movie. Additionally, though a UK production, the city is supposedly New York. Though modern in scope, it seems to capture the rough and tumble streets of the eighties and early nineties more than anything else. It’s hard to buy into how sick the streets are in the narrative considering that the bulk of New York seems to be an offshoot of Disneyland nowadays.

As for those little twists and turns, I’d love to mention them, but that would sink the film for you. Suffice to say, both turns were well executed and long over due in the genre. Though they may not surprise ever viewer, they both serve as a relief from the hackneyed formula.

THE KILLING GENE would make a great double bill with SEVEN. Even though the latter does have its farfetched moments, it still has the edge over Shankland’s modern noir. Even so, if you’re looking for a crime thriller that’s hard hitting without an apology, this is the one you need to check out.

Let me know what you think…

3.5 out of 5 stars

(Photo from Bloody Disgusting)

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.)

Crash Analysis: DARK SKIES (2013)

Family nightmare of interstellar proportions

A solid surprise

Over time, alien visitation or abduction movies see to come out of the blue, so to speak.     dark_skies_ver5 Sure, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) and ET – THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982), may have collected the oohs and ahhs of audiences worldwide, but I’ll take XTRO (1983), ALTERED (2006), and even COMMUNION (1989) any day for the real horror splendor of it all. Sorry, we’re not dealing with alien invasion here, just those small party visits to keep things intimate and personal, and uncanny.

DARK SKIES (2013) is the latest horror/sci-fi that forces us once again to acknowledge that our homes are not sanctuaries, and when it comes to the Universe, we may only be a big fish in a very small pond if not a puddle. Hit-or-miss writer/director, Scott Stewart got it right this time with a surefire winner for those who like that extra chill with their sci-fi.

The tractor beam is set upon the Barrett family, who collectively mirror the average struggling American family. Lacey (Keri Russell) and husband Daniel (Josh Hamilton), have two young boys (Dakota Goyo and Kadan Rockett), and a façade of a happy home. Jesse’s (Goyo) starting to spread his tween wings, Sammy’s (Rockett) an inquisitive little kid, Daniel’s desperate for work and lovemaking after a layoff (and butts heads with Jesse quite often), and Lacey’s the mom trying to keep the ship afloat as she hopes real estate will fill the family bank account. But when strange things start to happen in the homestead, think POLTERGEIST (1982) here, the family must accept the highly improbable, and stick together to keep world traveling wolves at bay.

Granted, the foundation for the tale isn’t that different from many we’ve seen in the past, but Stewart’s excellent dialogue brings a breath of authenticity that many movies of this ilk lack. With that comes some wonderful character development, and very relatable story lines and subplots. Together, Russell and Hamilton become one phenomenal team with believable chemistry, and push-and-pull Goyo may as well be their offspring. That threesome carries the film, though Russel and Hamilton truly delivered on a grand scale by nailing just about every emotion known to humankind.

To enhance the ominous feel and element of foreboding, even in the daylight, David Boyd’s exceptional cinematography delivers the atmosphere. Then again, most science fiction and horror fans have seen his work on “The Walking Dead” and “Firefly”, among others. His shots are crisp and definitive, and even in the darkness, no detail is lost on the viewer – and Boyd accomplishes this without presenting a sterile look.

DARK SKIES brings the suspense early, and keeps the tension brewing throughout – whether something strange is afoot, or even in a simple family bout. What Stewart captures is that horrific feeling that we can’t control a damn thing in our lives. The Barretts are screwed with finances, the mortgage, and any bill in general – much like many in America, and around the globe. Then their one son hangs out with a questionable character, the other needs hand holding, and when things go off the rails, even a little bit, the Barrett’s friends and neighbors are gone, and the family becomes their own island in judgmental suburbia. Lacey and Daniel must now fight on their own – and the only fight they have left is the equivalent of a suicide mission.

Yet seeing the Barrett’s world shrink until they are but a lonely speck ripe for the picking, really amped up the scares and suspense. DARK SKIES truly became more claustrophobic as time marched on as Freud’s “uncanny” continued to come right at them. We not only witness a family struggling against far more intelligent dark sources, but working overtime to keep their minds sharp in a world that shut them out.

For a PG-13 rating, I wasn’t expecting much, but Stewart delivered a solid and impressive tale. If more PG-13 horrors are as well crafted as DARK SKIES, many won’t cringe about the rating. The only other PG-13 horror to have any weight and merit is the exhilarating THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) – and we’ll have to wait and see if WORLD WAR Z (USA/Malta, 2013) doesn’t fall short.

This is definitely worth a rental, and conversation afterwards. Admittedly, I didn’t care for the completely non-sensical idea of branding in the film (you’ll see), but that wasn’t nearly enough to bring the house down.

With Stuart’s successful “Defiance” pilot, and this feature, those bad days may just be behind him. I doubt we’ll see another LEGION (2010) from him, and look forward to his next venture.

3.5 out of 5 stars

(Photo from Imp Awards)

Crash Analysis: DEMON UNDER GLASS (2002)

Great addition to the vampire mythos 

Scientists capture a vampire for study

Seems that Jon Cunningham’s first feature comes under some scrutiny for falling short of the mark, but don’t let that discourage you from taking a bite. The director co-wrote this wonderful script with Deborah Warner. It’s clear from the beginning the pair hoped to create an intelligent genre film, and they succeeded.

A serial killer nicknamed Vlad (Simon Molinar), murders and drains the blood from his prostitute victims. Law enforcement sets a trap, and undercover officer, Detective Gwen Taylor (Denise Alessandria Hurd), reels in the unsuspecting killer. But his strength is almost insurmountable, and he takes out two of the team before he’s delivered to a secure hospital facility for scientific study.

The film, though shot poorly on early digital, is definitely a low budget, B-horror, but Cunningham and company did a fantastic job in doing their damnedest to make us forget about the movie’s shortcomings. Other than the visual quality, some weak acting from minor characters, and excruciatingly lame music from Gottfried Neumeister (this was his only score for a feature film), the rest of the movie rises to the dramatic occasion.

Jason Carter portrays Simon Molinar, the thousand year old vampire caught in a government trap with Dr. William Bassett (Jack Donner) as his overlord handler. Molinar, and his stern, British looks, have appeared in many television and film projects, and veteran character actor, Donner has been active in film since the early sixties. Both men step up in grand fashion, along with the remarkable Garett Maggart as Dr. Joe McKay, to ride the twilight between the philosophical notions of good and evil, predator and prey, and how far science should go when it comes to experimentation. The best part about DEMON UNDER GLASS, one of the best horror titles to come along in years, is that the filmmakers raise the questions, and do not interfere with their own musings. One can easily see a resemblance to the philosophy laden THE ADDICTION (1995) by Abel Ferrara.

Besides the excellent efforts of Maggart, Carter and Donner, classically trained Hurd, as well as veteran David Jean Thomas as a grieving father, and ever helpful nurse, Jean St. James, bring their best. Fans of Kira Reed will certainly not be disappointed by her extended scene with Carter.

The strongest element of the movie, beyond the noteworthy queries, is the scientific and methodical approach to research, as if vampire Molinar is a simple lab rat. Rarely in any movie do talking head scenes offer much to the viewer, but the strong dialogue, and subsequent delivery proves captivating. Even better, Molinar, the doctors and every other character have a path to take where their own ethos drives them – much like the character’s in the fantastic, dramatic horror GRACE (2009). The moral underpinnings cause some characters to act, while others freeze, and others simply want to retreat and reflect. This last bit does lead to a couple questionable scenes in the film, though it’s hard to determine an alternative as to where Cunningham and Warner should have taken the narrative. Regardless, we are left contemplating who is good, bad or otherwise, making it a joy to have a horror that stimulates gray matter. Granted, the tale could have penetrated deeper, but the overall effort is much appreciated.

Cunningham either reshot the film with Carter, Maggart and Reed in 2010 as VAMPIRE, due to the aforementioned shortcomings, or this was simply a re-release for the UK market. Locating any copy in any form, however, has been impossible.

DEMON UNDER GLASS is a far cry from perfect, but cast and crew gave it their best. Not only is it definitely worth a viewing, but vampire fans might want this one for their collection because of its intrigue and nuance.

3.5 out of 5 stars