Tag Archives: 4 stars


The Last Knock

It’s hard to believe that the oppressive creepfest, The Eyes of My Mother is the feature film debut of writer/director Nicholas Pesce. Using black-and-white digital photography to capture the mood, we follow Francisca (Kika Magalhaes and Olivia Bond) on her coming of age journey that goes horribly wrong. The Eyes of My Mother is a dramatic horror of unsettling proportions, and we’ll go behind the story to bring you the story…

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@thenickpesce @evepaludan @kicksindamix @GuyRicketts @MagnetReleasing @MissDeAnnah @willbrill @cultmetalflix @ClaraJWong @MelanieMcCurdie @paulnazak @machinemeannow @RealJillyG @Barry_Cinematic @AmandaBergloff @palkodesigns @InnerGhosts @LianeMoonRaven @HellInSpace @NathanStrack @ThomasOtterman @Kent_Harper @FriscoKidTX @LoudGreenBird @dixiefairy @RonGizmo

Crash Analysis Support Team: MARTYRS and the Systematic Torture of the Horror Remake – Guest Post from Jonny Numb

maxresdefault[2008. 99 minutes. Unrated. Director: Pascal Laugier]

[2016. 86 minutes. Unrated. Directors: Kevin & Michael Goetz]

*** This review contains SPOILERS for both films ***

Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs was a lot of things, albeit in a deceptive manner: blunt, brutal murders that seem nihilistic and unprovoked take on greater resonance late in the game; characters in the throes of psychosis are later revealed to be sane (or, at the very least, not uninformed in their actions); and scenes of systematic physical destruction are not executed without an underlying purpose. It was a film icy in its aesthetics, finding unexpected warmth in highly dubious characters that the viewer does not necessarily associate with until it is well on its downslope. As a cultural marker, it fit well within the surge of French horrors that defined a couple impressive years in the late 2000s, to say nothing of its inversion of the roles and responsibilities of women in regard to a genre that – to put it kindly – often seems confused as to what comprises a strong female character.

All that being said, we rotate back around to the eternal question: to remake or not to remake?

We’ve reached not only a saturation point with what producers will consider for the remake treatment, but an impasse where the meta implications of retreading old material is a rabbit-trail into an unanswerable void. I no longer question the rationales that drives the remake machine – I just react to the news accordingly, and watch at my own risk. I think the argument of a remake “ruining” the original is the hyperbolic flavor of many apocalypse-predicting critics, while the reality is actually much simpler: there is nothing in any remake (not even Psycho or Funny Games) that could render the individual films completely indistinguishable from one another.

And Martyrs is no exception. The rumors rumbled around for a while (initially – and unsurprisingly – at the Dimension Films meat grinder), but – like that long-mooted Hellraiser remake that got tossed around like a hot potato – never seemed to gain traction. Horror fans posited the notion that an English-language version of one of the most punishing, authentically brutal, and straight-faced horror films of the millennium could result in nothing more than a compromised, watered-down product.

If we’re being truthful, though, remakes like The Last House On the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and Maniac have not only retained faithfulness to their forebears, but maintained – if not exceeded – their levels of violence (and, survey says, are mostly well-regarded among genre fans these days).

For its part, Martyrs 2016 maintains a grim tone that doesn’t flinch from the extremes of its characters’ actions, which is admirable. While the emotional consistency of the performances can be dodgy from scene to scene, I can’t deny that certain moments of suffering got under my skin in a manner not unlike Laugier’s original. Where the film is lacking is in its pacing, production design, and plot execution. Scenes that flowed with a hypnotizing, effortless power in Laugier’s film have been rendered clunky and overly explanatory here.

As before, the film begins with Lucie (played as an adult by the superhero-named Troian Bellisario) escaping from a white tent in a seedy warehouse where she’s been physically abused. Taken in by an orphanage, she slowly warms to the friendly advances of Anna (Bailey Noble as an adult), despite suffering PTSD and an unshakable sense of wanting vengeance on her tormentors. Flash forward a decade, and an idyllic breakfast (in what appears to be California wine country) becomes a blood bath as Lucie murders an entire family. When she informs Anna – understandably horrified by her friend’s actions – the duo becomes implicated in something far greater than covering up a crime scene and dealing with the resulting moral and legal fallout.

On THE LAST KNOCK podcast, Crash Palace site-runner Bill Prystauk summarized Laugier’s Martyrs thusly: “it’s torture porn with a philosophy.” And therein lies what separates it from the empty HOSTEL films, or the increasingly ridiculous (and hypocritical) treatises on “the value of life” doled out by Jigsaw throughout the SAW series. The film served a smorgasbord of abuse and very literal bodily destruction that found transcendence – and an odd redemption – in its quest to uncover the answer to that unknowable question of what happens after we die.

Unfortunately, the Goetz Brothers’ Martyrs is wonky on a variety of fronts. Running a scarce 86 minutes, the storytelling feels impatient, and there simply isn’t enough time to feel tremendously for the characters and their situation. While the performances of Bellisario and Noble are, well, noble, the former lacks the overtly unlikable coldness of Mylene Jampanoi, and the latter falls into hysteria before undergoing a less-than-believable transformation into a badass in the third act. The filmmakers also miscalculate in the decision to incorporate an imprisoned little girl (Caitlin Carmichael) as a bit of connective tissue to Lucie’s tormented past. Clearly intended to raise the stakes, this thread follows a standard arc that guarantees her safety in the end.

And in a story as thematically heavy as this, the remake loses the existential enormity of Laugier’s thesis, ultimately going through the motions and holding the viewer’s hand through rickety dialog and bad-guy performances that mistake inexpression for menace. The underlining and bolding of intent doesn’t get more transparent than, “It isn’t torture when it’s for a higher purpose.”

The most interesting divergence between the two films is the Goetz’s insistence on incorporating a religious subtext into the proceedings. Their use of crucifixion imagery is persistent and heavy-handed, resulting in more eye-rolling than insight. Whereas the creepy Madame (Catherine Begin) offers a tidy dismissal of religious intent during her compelling “modus operandi” speech to Anna (Morjana Alaoui) in Laugier’s film, there is a certain amount of logic to switching from the secular to the spiritual for the American take on the material. The use of religion as a narrative and thematic device could have deepened the remake’s interpretation of the material in a unique, fresh way – not to mention its potential to explore the hot-button fundamentalism that runs rampant worldwide. Instead, it becomes a surface-level bit of difference for difference’s sake. (Though in all fairness, it doesn’t fall into the same parodic silliness that damned Neil LaBute’s remake of The Wicker Man.)

Insofar as the films’ aesthetic qualities are concerned, this new version is crippled by a low-budget feel. The family massacre at the beginning has considerably less impact, stifled by corner-cutting CGI; and while the torture scenes have their share of jaw-loosening passages, there is a truncated quality to the carnage on display – which, in the case of the film’s ultimate point, robs it of an essential, visceral suffering. Furthermore, the mysterious, scarred-and-chained tormentor that pursues Lucie from childhood to her ultimate fate has been transformed from a frightening J-Horror specter to an oversimplified version of a bug-eyed witch.

While Mark L. Smith’s (The Revenant) script reshuffles the order of events and incorporates a few more speaking roles (including a priest complicit with the cult’s actions), the most curious alteration to the original Martyrs is its handling of the Lucie/Anna relationship. Laugier’s film was a ride of sharp, unexpected turns; none more surprising than the exit of Lucie at the beginning of the third act, and the escalation of Anna as the film’s true protagonist. Here, the Goetz’s maintain a buddy-movie dynamic up until the climax, which would be poignant if it weren’t so unpersuasive in its execution. (The suggestion that, by virtue of their own shared experience growing up in an orphanage – not the same shared trauma – qualifies Anna to join Lucie as a white-eyed member of The Beyond rings false, and comes across as a concession on the filmmakers’ behalf to make the final blow less despairing, which is its own despairing cop-out.)

Appraising remakes can be frustrating, and the task of comparison is often thankless. Something like Martyrs is especially difficult, since there are passages of assured filmmaking, serviceable performances, and a clinical – albeit shallow – devotion to the facets that gave Laugier’s film such a signature, sledgehammer impact. Where it falls short is the crucial connection required between tone and aesthetic to make an essential imprint…proving that some things just can’t be replicated.

Martyrs (2008): 4 out of 5 stars

Martyrs (2016): 2.5 out of 5 stars

Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) measures his life in coffee spoons, and writes reviews once every couple years at numbviews.livejournal.com. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast, and can be found on Twitter and Letterboxd @JonnyNumb.

(Martyrs 2008 photo via YouTube.)

Crash Analysis: CRAWL OR DIE (2014)

Panic Time

A phobia-inducing nightmare

I was sold on CRAWL OR DIE nine months ago when I saw the trailer – the best one I’dcrawl-or-die-poster seen in twenty years. Granted, a trailer is a promise that you are going to see something worthwhile and entertaining. As we know, all too often, filmmakers fail to deliver on that promise, but not Oklahoma Ward.

A military unit is on a single-minded mission: protect the package, and get it to safety. Sounds simple, right? But in CRAWL OR DIE, it’s far from easy. Right from the beginning, we find ourselves running for our lives as the group does its best to stave off slaughter from an unseen attacker. To do so, they must go underground into the unknown, and that’s the least of their worries.

What Oklahoma Ward does best is he keeps the audience right in the action with close-up and sometimes extreme close-up camera work. This creates one of the most intimate and oppressive sci-fi horrors. We not only feel the claustrophobia the characters endure, we experience this firsthand as if we’re stuck with them. I have no problem with tight spaces, but while immersing myself in CRAWL OR DIE, I realized my breathing became labored. Twice, I gasped for air. I soon realized I needed a therapist on speed dial, with a chiropractor at the ready, as well as the promise of a hot shower to carry off the dirt and sweat.

The film stars Nicole Alonso as Tank, and what she endured while filming must have left her with dozens of bruises from crawling through one tight space into another one that was even tighter and dirtier. At times, with her gasping and near panic, I wondered if she was acting or feeling the constraint and near hopelessness of her character.

Most films suffer the second act doldrums, but this is truly where the film shines, because fear and trepidation rain down aplenty. It’s easy to watch the characters struggle, to hear them gulp for air and sweat, but there’s no doubt many in the audience will ask if they could handle such an experience.

CRAWL OR DIE could have easily been a shoot ‘em up horror, but writer/director Oklahoma Ward chose to keep us nearly trapped in ultra-close quarters, evoking what any great horror film should do – fear and suspense. The camera angles, editing, and ambient sounds add to the thematic tone. We watch and become crushed under the weight of earth and metal, under the pressure from being trapped below ground, barely able to move while something hunts us with abandon. If that isn’t enough, Tank and company (including the great filmmaker/actor David P. Baker as Sniper) must endure other hardships: lack of food, water, and medical supplies, and low ammunition, and absolutely no roadmap. They are underground, on their own, with only one option: CRAWL OR DIE.

Isolation hasn’t worked this well since 2010’s BURIED (Spain/USA/France), where we watch Ryan Reynolds wallow in a box for ninety minutes. But CRAWL OR DIE graces us with a feeling of hope, which ramps the tension and suspense because we don’t want to see it fall apart. Sure, any of the characters could have taken themselves out due to fear, but what if there is light at the end of tunnel? Maybe this is why Tank pushed on even when she knew the odds were steadfast against her.

The music is minimal, and oftentimes non-existent, and its absence only adds to the oppressive feeling. The lighting is perfect, creating little pockets of possibility in the tight knit abyss thanks to Craig Chartier and Oklahoma Ward. And for a low budget film, the special effects are wonderful.

Dive into CRAWL OR DIE just like the characters and go for the ride. An experience that will plague you long after the credits roll.

In the meantime as you wait for CRAWL OR DIE to arrive in the mail, get yourself ready with THE LAST KNOCK interview of director Oklahoma Ward and star Nicole Alonso right here: http://crashpalaceproductions.com/2013/11/13/crash-discussions-interview-crawl-bitch-crawl-director-oklahoma-ward-star-nicole-alonso/

Definitely don’t miss the most phobia-inducing horror since FINAL DESTINATION’s (USA/Canada, 2000). But where that movie left you off the hook after the first act, CRAWL OR DIE will bury you.

4 out of 5 stars


(Photo from Starburst Magazine.)

Crash Analysis: NURSE 3D (2013)

Your 1960’s Smut Cover Made Real

If you haven’t seen the enticing posters or heard the notorious whispers, Douglas E4AFFC69ACCF-2646
Aarniokoski’s NURSE 3D is the horror movie you should watch if like some sex-laced spice with your carnage. See it now. Um, nurse’s orders…

The film stars the amazing Paz de la Huerta (translation: Orchard Peace. How cool of a name is that?), the woman who gained attention thanks to Gaspar Noé’s ENTER THE VOID (2009). As nurse Abby Russell, she rocks the role with enough confidence and drive to take over the planet. And in Zaldy’s retro-fetish nurse outfit, she exudes sex with every tantalizing step.

Regardless of what you may have heard, this is not a soft porn flick, but a quirky fantasy horror as if Aarniokoski and co-writer Doug Loughery had lifted the idea from a 1960’s smut cover – you know, the lurid paperbacks full of ridiculous purple prose that the American government had tried without success to shut down. Sonsabitches. NURSE 3D involves Nurse Abby’s tale of maybe not so twisted justice against cheating husbands and unappreciative boyfriends. To keep with the noir take the film conjures, we even get witty narration from de la Huerta, which matches the equally witty dialogue. But her simple world of destroying adulterous men is upended by ingénue nurse, Danni (Katrina Bowden), when she enters the hospital, and here lies the crux of the tale: Abby’s goal is to take down slimy men, but her real adversary may be the hot blonde she wants to get oh so close to.

Aarniokoski delivers on all fronts with a killer tale interwoven with quirky characters and their never-ending exchanges, including Judd Nelson as an abuse-of-power surgeon, the stand her ground Niecy Nash, Boris Kodjoe as the detective who doesn’t play, Corbin Bleu as the stand up EMT, and even Kathleen Turner as the head nurse (with no Jessica Rabbit costume in sight). Even Katrina Bowden has the opportunity to take what would otherwise be a stock character of goody-two-shoes sensibility and turn her into someone vibrant and almost as unforgiving as the conniving and holier than thou Nurse Abby.

Although the film’s tone is in opposition to his dystopian THE DAY, Aarniokoski proves that he can create one Hell of a tale that delivers high quality to audiences. A comedic tone does weave its way through the film, which borders on funny but never stupid. Otherwise, NURSE 3D is fast, fun and often relentless in its butchery, which should satisfy the gore hound crowd. In addition, the practical and makeup effects are spot-on.

The only negative is that Aarniokoski shot the film in 3D. This means the CGI effects, once squashed to 2D, look abysmal as it does for most films (remember the PIRANHA remake and those silly fish?). Yes, this is a major distraction – and disappointment. However, the great outweighs the ridiculous, and NURSE 3D reigns supreme.

The rumor, thanks to Paz de la Huerta’s Twitter comment, “RT if u want a Sequel to Nurse 3D” is that a sequel may be in the works. Only time will tell, but even the great people at http://www.horror-movies.ca/ are trying to stir the bedpan, and that’s a fabulous thing. My only hope is that Aarniokoski will leave the 3D gimmick behind and move forward with de la Huerta at her sexy and bloody best.

4 out of 5 stars

(Photo from Myetshin.)

Crash Analysis: LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW (2013)

An excellent surprise…

A fearless actor carries a dramatic horror

In 2002, Colin Farrell agreed to play the part of Stu in Joel Schumacher’s PHONE urlBOOTH. Apparently, other more renowned actors (for the time) turned down the role because the majority of the film rested upon that character’s shoulders. However, in 2010, Rodrigo Cortés intense thriller, BURIED, had Ryan Reynolds boarded up in a coffin – and that’s all we see for 95 minutes. Talk about carrying a film! Now, we see that triumph again in the short dramatic horror, LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW (2013) where actor Owen McCuen stands tall for 25 minutes.

Written by Kyle Schiffert, who co-directed with Ryan Fox, LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW follows Joe (McCuen) who resides in eastern-Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley during the spread of a zombie virus. The problem: Joe may be infected and has but hours to live.

PHONE BOOTH had ancillary characters an action, but BURIED had to rely on Reynolds and the suspense surrounding claustrophobia and asphyxiation.

LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW offers something different. Yes, the suspense is certainly there, but this is also a character study that may have more resonance than the aforementioned features. After all, Stu’s a jerk, and Reynolds’ character has no control over his circumstances. Joe, however, has options as he moves ever closer to that time where he’s either turned or remains a fully functioning part of humanity.

His wife and child are safe at another location. It’s just Joe, a beer, an empty house – and a ton of thoughts. It’s as if he’s stuck at the doctor’s office waiting for life or death test results. Joe combats the boredom by maintaining an active mind. He doesn’t talk to himself, but the voiceover narration keeps us aware of what’s happening, and why Joe feels the way he does. But this is far from “telling” in lieu of “showing.” Joe’s simply occupying his brain so he doesn’t have to think too much. It’s not that he’ll just lose a family and a life, but there’s the strong possibility that he’ll become “the other” – the outsider that must be destroyed. He could completely lose himself as a person, and never find his way back. To die is one thing, to become the hated undead is another.

The look of LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW matches Joe’s mood. The colors are washed out, at times monochromatic (think 2011’s THE DAY). These muted tones are reminiscent of a moribund world – the world Joe sees himself fading into. Moreover, as the film progresses to its ultimate conclusion, Joe’s narration fades along with the color. The countdown to whether he’ll remain human or turned into a walker is palpable – and with something so vital on Joe’s mind, there’s probably nothing but a steady buzz in his ears.

Owen McCuen delivers Joe to us as the nice guy at work we’d probably go to lunch with head-shot_22213_1327073816on occasion. He’s not violent or pushy, just a responsible man doing the nine to five so his family can have food, clothing, and shelter. Hell, he’s a “regular guy” otherwise he wouldn’t be named Joe. In this sense, he’s the anti-hero – the average person forced to stand tall in an extraordinary situation even though they really don’t want to. And don’t think you’ll see a stiff actor sighing and crying for a half-hour. McCuen delivers a fabulous performance with subtle body language, those “little things” that separate genuine actors from those who don’t know any better. His performance is strong, compelling, and ultimately impressive. And his actions can conjure the occasional snicker from the audience or even the coming of tears.

With the look and acting squared away, Kyle Steele’s music is the exclamation point for atmosphere. The score is haunting and often serves as something lurking in the background to keep us unnerved.

If LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW has any issues, they consist of one panning shot where the camera seemed to start and stop in increments. And the other is the titles. Courier may be the international font of choice for screenplays, but that doesn’t mean we need to see it on the screen. Additionally, the colors used in the titles are too bold and bright, failing to match the boldness of the film. Both are easy fixes.

Right now, LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW is making its way through the festival circuit. This means you won’t be able to view the short in a public venue for the time being. However, you can see the trailer here: http://www.ttbop.com/like-theres-no-tomorrow.html and even purchase a digital copy or a deluxe DVD if you so desire.

Owen McCuen is currently working with the Time to Back Out Productions’ team of Schiffert and Fox on their latest venture, the feature thriller DESOLATION, which is in post-production.

Don’t miss this excellent short film. And definitely remember Owen McCuen’s name. I have no doubt we’ll be hearing more of him in the future.

4 out of 5 stars

(Poster photo from Kickstarter. Owen McCuen photo from Stage32.)

Crash Anaylsis: BIG ASS SPIDER (2013)

A Big Ass Blast!

Horror/comedy at its creature-feature best

Mike Mendez, the man behind the often overlooked THE GRAVEDANCERS (2006), maxresdefaultwhich is one of the best of the “Films to Die For” series, brings us BIG ASS SPIDER a horror/comedy of immense, eight-legged proportions.

Alex Mathis (Greg Grunberg) is an exterminator who just can’t seem to enjoy his day off. After helping out an old lady in need of pest removal, he’s bitten by a brown recluse spider and ends up in the emergency room. But he’s better off than the dead guy who just rolled in – which leads to the spawning of a very special arachnid. And this is just the beginning of our hero’s quest as he sets out to save Los Angeles and win the day.

While watching BIG ASS SPIDER my wife, Ally said she hadn’t heard me laugh that loud in a long damn time. That’s because Gregory Gieras nailed the idiosyncratic dialogue and brought the comedy in fantastic ways. Better still, there was a laugh a minute.

Grunberg delivers as the snarky, sarcastic side commentary guy who’s neither a wimp nor a wallflower. He comes fully loaded with the confidence to be the man of the hour, and regardless of obstacles, presses on. His “Mexican Robin” sidekick is the equally awesome Lombardo Boyer who plays Jose Ramos – the security guard devoid of the stereotypical rent-a-cop trappings. Together, this two-man crew is out to prove to the military that an exterminator, with his trusted partner, can bring down a spider monster without launching sidewinders from fighters in the city of angels. But Major Braxton Tanner, played straight by the always amazing Ray Wise, which creates its own level of hilarity (think Slim Pickens in DR. STRANGELOVE), won’t take orders from a blue collar like Alex. Even his number one, Lieutenant Karly Brandt (Clare Kramer) pays little heed to any of Alex’s pleas or demands – because she’s cocked, and locked, and ready to rock.

And this is the best thing about BIG ASS SPIDER – no weak-minded characters. All of them are strong and ready for action, which leads to conflict because all comers think they have the best solution to their monster-sized dilemma. It was especially wonderful to see a strong female character in Lt. Brandt that didn’t need to be “transformed” to face up to the challenge. Even Jose stepped up into his role as if he refused to play second fiddle.

The only weak spot some have noted is the CGI. It seems as if all the money went into the spider, and the rest is akin to something from the Syfy Channel. But the low budget CGI actually caters to the comedy, as if a nod of nostalgia to the cheesy B-movie monster films of the fifties.

The comedy is fabulous and the horror is more about a BIG ASS SPIDER than gore or jump scares. Even so, Mike Mendez’s movie is a non-stop entertaining treat and highly recommended. In fact, I’d love to see a triple feature with BIG ASS SPIDER, SLITHER, and GRABBERS. Now that would be a creature-feature frenzy of epic proportions.

4 out of 5 stars

(Photo from You Tube.)

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Crash Analysis: FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY (Netherlands/USA/Czech Republic, 2013)

They’re Alive!

Action/sci-fi/horror coolness…

Before Richard Raaphorst’s FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY made it to screens, stills of the doctor’s creations hit Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Those killer images captured one’s frankensteins_army_xlgimagination, like collector cards from another era. After all, it wasn’t hard to not be hooked by the tremendous Steampunk like images – as if that bratty kid from TOY STORY had grown up and really got to work on monstrous manifestations.

It’s the end of World War II and a group of Soviet soldiers are deep into German territory. But this mission must be special because an officer films the band’s every step with color film – a hard thing to come by in the day. And that makes the regulars skittish, especially when they come across a village with a secret that brings the story of Viktor Frankenstein to reality.

What Raaphorst brings us is a World War II fantasy of stellar proportions with enough conflict to rival any serious drama. Beyond that, it’s hard to watch FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY and not wonder what the hell will happen next. Once the soldiers leave “the big one” behind and enter the surreal nightmare world that seems to be a conspiratorial fabrication between Salvador Dali and Hieronymous Bosch, we’re truly in no man’s land. It’s cold, dark, gritty, and you can smell the grease of what becomes the equivalent of a funhouse incorporated by reanimated cyborgs.

Bart Beekman’s cinematography is spot on fabulous, and Jindrich’s Kocí’s production design will amaze. The two join forces to bring the audience a compelling labyrinth of steel and concrete that only adds to the creepiness – especially when one of Viktor’s (Karel Roden) monsters can jump out, jump down, or jump in to tear someone apart at any given moment.

Yes, it sounds like a gorehound’s dream, or a horror video game for the brainless. Not at all. As Viktor states, “My father said men will be more efficient if they have hammers and screwdrivers instead of fingers.” And this leads to one of the films most thematic elements. Near the end of World War II, the Nazi regime was desperate. After all, the so-called “superior” Arayan race was losing to a bunch of worthless Slavs, Brits, Americans, and other lesser cretins. Hitler’s henchman and his elite SS couldn’t do the job. They failed as men as well as a self-imposed pure, chosen race. And what does Viktor use to fill the void and pick up the slack? The dead mixed with machine, a menagerie of death dealing mayhem to turn the tide.

But we’re in the middle of nowhere and Viktor doesn’t seem to have a rock steady Igor by his side. This is a madman, like Hitler, with blinders on, ready to go full steam ahead. Where Hitler had an ideal, a final solution, and a desire for an opera house in every city, Viktor wants life-sized toys to wreck havoc as if he were a villain from a lost James Bond movie. This is FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, not the fuhrer’s, and Viktor could care less about political rhetoric or desire.

What’s in it for Viktor? Who the hell knows. That’s what. He’s a man with a talent and he’s delivering the mechanized material that will unleash chaos. Maybe he’s Batman’s Joker, the man without a plan who just wants to watch the world burn.

Raaphorst brought to the screen a blast of a film that should have been doomed. Yes, as an art director, he’s served on the phenomenal World War II drama BLACK BOOK (Netherlands, 2006), the ill-fated horror, SLAUGHTER NIGHT (Belgium/Netherlands, 2006), and he even worked with Stuart Gordon on DAGON (Spain, 2001), among others. But the concern for potential doom comes from the fact that FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY stemmed from the minds of four writers. Normally, only three writers maximum receive credit, and they are usually the final three to work on the script, and not all at the same time. Mary Shelley gets credit for the characters, but “story” credits go to the director and Miguel Tejada-Flores, who is also listed as a “writer” along with Chris W. Mitchell. One would think the end result from so many heads coming together would be a Frankenstein monster of failure, but Tejada-Flores has been a notable writer since his REVENGE OF THE NERDS screenplay became a hit in 1984, and SCREAMERS (Canada/USA/Japan, 1995) has many a Philip K. Dick and Dan O’Bannon fan. Mitchell may not have Tejada-Flores’s pedigree, but like Raaphorst, he’s no stranger to collaboration.

Film is a collaborate process, and Raaphorst proves that he loves the collective creativity it takes to make a film. I can see him, along with Tejada-Flores and Mitchell having a blast like little boys as, like Viktor, they create their action-based masterpiece. All three, along with the teenage vision of Shelley, bring us a fullblown tale of monsters and Victorian era like macabre that’s as exciting and as fast-paced as any other action film.

Sure, you have to throw reality out the window: Everyone speaks English instead of their respective Russian or German, and I have no doubt this was influenced by American co-production interests because, sadly, US audiences have a collective aversion to “reading” movies. And the color film quality is stellar. If we’re supposed to believe the images of FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY were from found footage, the film should be far less crisp. I actually searched for Soviet World War II color film footage and came up with only photographs.

Richard Raaphorst’s creature designs will have one’s head spinning. And one can imagine comic books, video games, and sequels stemming from what he’s developed. In this sense, Raaphorst himself is Viktor Frankenstein – and that’s a great thing for those of us who want to enjoy a wild ride with endless possibilities.

Indulge in the fun, wit, and chaos of FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY. It’s a definite keeper for any collection. And I certainly hope the team is working on a killer sequel – because I want more. Much more. I guess you can say Raaphorst created a monster…

4 out of 5 stars.

(Photo from Imp Awards.)

Crash Analysis: JUG FACE (2013)

2013’s Best Horror

Killer premise, killer themes…

I’d given up on 2013. Other than the superior and atmospheric remake of MANIAC, the jug_face_ver2_xlgsurprisingly far better than expected DARK SKIES, and the coolness of FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, the year was pretty bleak for horror. After all, the EVIL DEAD reboot lacked character, THE CONJURING was an over-rated cliché ridden tale, and MAMA was devoid of substance. Even worse, the mega-hit WORLD WAR Z was so family friendly, the zombies left their victims with glorified love bites. Aww…

Then, I received this DVD for preparation of my THE LAST KNOCK end of the year show with Jonny Numb. We hadn’t heard of Chad Crawford Kinkle’s JUG FACE, but as soon as the credits started to roll, we knew we had something special: Larry Fessenden, Sean Young, Lauren Ashley Carter, and Sean Bridgers made up the acting stronghold. More greatness came with Lucky McKee, director of MAY (2002) and THE WOMAN (2011), as producer. Most captivating was the music of Sean Spillane: a droning, alternative rhythm reminiscent of something Angelo Badalamenti might create if he had post punk rock sentimentality. The movie grew from there.

JUG FACE tells the story of Ada (Carter), a young woman growing up in a backwoods community in Tennessee. But her life’s in danger due to the trappings of an otherworldly pit, and she must escape.

Normally, when one hears “backwoods” and “Tennessee,” assumptions of crazed and stupid rednecks may arise, but Kinkle avoids the tropes and pitfalls of such ludicrous over-generalization. Sustin (Fessenden) is not only Ada’s attentive father, but a sensitive community leader. And those in the village seem to respect each other in a mutual manner. Due to his pottery making talents, the slow Dawai (Bridgers), who may have a form of Asperger’s Syndrome, is left to his own devices.

The pit, however, sits at the heart of the community, and it is the uncanny force that holds sway over all who reside in the village. A feminine vessel, the pit is vagina-like in its red clay and blood enriched bottom. The mother from the bowels of the earth that gives birth and takes life. A mother to be feared and respected, but never really loved.

The role of the feminine in JUG FACE is quite strong. Yes, the community has a traditional male leader, and even Ada’s mother, Loriss (Young) advises her daughter to follow her man. But Loriss maintains a strong, matter-of-fact presence in the community, and treats her children as if she is the supreme ruler of their collective domain. Ada, however, incorporates many of the same trappings of her mother: independence and not one to bow down, though Ada is more passive-aggressive. The difference between mother and daughter is this: Where Loriss has a strong sense of community, Ada is selfish. Thus begins the young woman’s journey in JUG FACE.

Chris Heinrich’s exemplary cinematography enhances the world created by production designer Kelly Anne Ross. One of the most profound images is that of jug maker Dawai in his shack. The place is bare bones and dark, yet light comes through the walls from little holes. The rays shine down on Dawai as he crafts, as if he’s receiving word from a god in a sparkling Universe. In this case, a female deity no doubt since he produces clay jugs, another feminine vessel. But he doesn’t just create jugs to haul moonshine. At times, he may be called to the pit to extract its red clay to prepare a “jug face,” which will undoubtedly change the face of the village.

As Dawai, Bridgers is absolutely remarkable, which is in direct contrast to his role as the psychopath father in THE WOMAN. Bridgers loses himself in the role as a Zen-like figure with an emotional attachment that ultimately effects the lives of others. Fessenden, Young, and Carter also immerse themselves into their respective roles, which leaves us with a wonderful, dramatic horror whose imagery creates depth and substance.

Kinkle moves JUG FACE along at a steady and revealing pace with rhythmic precision. Better still, he makes one care for characters that we never really get a chance to know, which is a feat unto itself. Quite often, background characters are so forgettable they are like redshirts in a STAR TREK movie, but not with Kinkle at the helm.

JUG FACE is loaded with surprises, and there is much to be amazed by as the mystery unravels. The only problem with the film, if there is one, is the notion of “the shunned,” which could have been incorporated in a less supernatural manner. The film was creepy enough with a stationary pit having so much power over its “herd.”

Regardless, JUG FACE resonates, and one can only imagine what the first-time director will bring us next. Therefore, don’t fall victim to the over-hype for the mundane. Take the road never before traveled and indulge in a unique horror tale that will follow you for days.

4 out of 5 stars.

(Photo from Imp Awards.)

Crash Analysis: RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (Finland/Norway/France/Sweden, 2010)

The Best Holiday Horror of All Time

One strong story from start to Finnish…

I had put off RARE EXPORTS long enough. After all, Christmas horrors are usually rare_exports_official_poster_ennothing but slashtastic misadventures, and I wasn’t in the mood for another run of the mill tale about a wingnut in a Santa suit wielding an ax instead of a candy cane. Well, this film from writer/director Jalmari Helander (with some writing help from Petri Jokiranta and Sami Parkkinean – as well as his brother, Juuso who had worked on the idea), is one of the most intriguing foundations for a movie to come along in quite some time.

No, RARE EXPORTS is not a gorefest, but the suspense is palpable when a mining company working on the Russo-Finnish border locates what might be Father Christmas and decides to blast him out of the mountain. This turns out to be the equivalent of a Japanese team setting Godzilla loose. Pre-tween Pietari Kontio (played remarkably well by Onni Tommila) senses danger, and in his remote village where life is rough, he wants to get a better idea of what new thing might be coming.

The only problem is Pietari is a squirt, and a squeamish one at that. This doesn’t mean he’s your cliché ridden wimpy kid, he hasn’t earned his stripes to be considered one of the growing lads who should be paid much attention. In the meantime, he shuts his eyes when his dad (Rauno Kontio) slaughters a pig. It’s clear his father loves him, but there’s much to do, and with his wife since dead, that workload’s compounded by trying to raise a son who seemingly isn’t hellbent on becoming Paul Bunyan Jr. Although Pietari listens to everyone bigger or older from the village, he won’t cower or cry. After all, those miners are getting ready to unleash hell, so Pietari does what any kid with a brain does – he researches. Sure, the village is out in the desolate north, nipping along the edges of the Arctic Circle, but he’s got books, dammit, and he’s going to investigate. Because that beast bound up in the soil might just be hungry for children…

Helander amps the suspense at every turn, and the story moves along at a steady pace to keep you enthralled. Of course, since RARE EXPORTS has the distinction of being the most intriguing and unique of holiday horrors, it’s hard to look away. But it’s not just about the story or the great characters that inhabit the film.

Mika Orasmaa’s cinematography truly captures a frontier village in isolation, as well as the hardship of living life in perpetual cold. The colors, however, are not muted, but the tone definitely establishes one of daily drudgery due to monochromatic earth tones. Oddly enough, the director handled the production design, and the end result is a masterful one. Due to the environment, the village is as sparse as it is pragmatic, where everything feels half-done. After all, how can one complete anything, like a lovely home and yard, when there is serious work to do? Aesthetics be damned: the weather’s bad, and the basics of food, clothing, shelter – in their own basic elements – must come first. To add to the flavor, Juri and Miska Seppä provide the music that enhances the tale without getting in the way.

In this coming of age tale for Pietari, we’re left wondering what we’d do if we had to face adversity on a grand scale, especially one of the extraordinary kind. Could we pass the test? Whether he makes it or not, Pietari’s out to prove he has what it takes to do his father proud.

I’ve definitely seen one too many holiday horrors, and I still have a few more to go. But RARE EXPORTS is a rare treat indeed for the weary, and I have no doubt it will find a place in your collection. And it’s so good, when someone asks if you have a holiday movie to watch, this is the DVD you’ll pluck off the shelf.

Other great holiday horrors: Steven C. Miller’s SILENT NIGHT (Canada/USA, 2012), and Lewis Jackson’s CHRISTMAS EVIL (aka YOU BETTER WATCH OUT) from 1980.

4 out of 5 stars

(Photo from Imp Awards.)

Crash Analysis Support Team: CARRIE (2013) Guest Post from Jonny Numb

[100 minutes. R. Director: Kimberly Peirce]

In the horror canon, Brian De Palma’s CARRIE (1976) is considered a signature work – a 12812film that, without fail, gets frequent mention on those “What to Watch this Halloween” lists. Based on Stephen King’s first published novel, it tells the tale of the titular outcast (Sissy Spacek), who is dominated by her fundamentalist wack-job of a mother (Piper Laurie), and tormented by her peers. Along the way, she discovers telekinesis may be the best method of getting even with her enemies. Perhaps more so than King’s book, De Palma’s film became an ironic foreshadow to later acts of true-life horror in the hallways of American high schools.

That being said, is CARRIE really a signature work? Insofar as establishing the style-over-substance template De Palma would utilize for the rest of his career, sure. But as far as a resonant work of horror where fully realized story and characters is concerned, it leaves a lot to be desired.

The problems with the 1976 version stem largely from its central brain trust: King notably trashed a draft of his novel before his wife retrieved it (the rest, as they say, is history), and its clunky structure and stilted prose speaks to his limitations as a writer. Throughout his career, De Palma has been criticized for glorifying technical dexterity over emotion. At its core, his CARRIE is more concerned with look than feel (as evidenced in his use of split-screen, slow motion, and even rewind), and the best efforts of actors like Spacek, Amy Irving, and William Katt are buried beneath a bunch of aesthetic razzle-dazzle. The film was also prone to campy hysterics, courtesy of Piper Laurie’s overrated performance.

In the ensuing years, Carrie’s legacy continued as a short-lived musical (1988), a belated 1999 sequel, and a made-for-TV remake in 2002 (actually a pilot for a series that never happened). The character remains resonant in pop culture, even if the approach has never transcended King’s pages.

All of this begs the question: is a full-blown CARRIE remake relevant in this day and age, especially when the “high school outcast” archetype has chiseled out its own horror-centric gallery of familiar faces? Think Angela Bettis (of the 2002 CARRIE) in MAY; Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins in the GINGER SNAPS trilogy; and Mia Wasikowska in STOKER. They all successfully recycle Carrie White’s lifeblood into uniquely three-dimensional characters without diminishing her goddess-like stature among the genre’s strong females.

CARRIE 2013 sees the telekinetic terror through a distinctly (and necessarily) female perspective, and the result – while familiar – is almost revelatory. With Kimberly Peirce (BOYS DON’T CRY) at the helm, the film transforms De Palma’s parlor trick into something chilling and heartbreaking. As unlikely a Carrie as Chloë Grace Moretz (LET ME IN) makes, she sells the character with conviction and brilliance in a single scene. Ditto, Julianne Moore, who ignores Laurie’s histrionic cues to turn Margaret White into a more nuanced human monster. Even the young supporting cast sells the complexity of high school, its social strata, and the fluctuating emotions and loyalties that accompany it.

A fundamental understanding of women and their bodies is a key thematic element, and in Peirce’s hands, blood takes on a symbolism beyond mere shock value – there’s humiliation, fear, and sadness to be gleaned from Carrie’s first period. Young bodies are examined in close-up, and females are photographed with a tenderness or cruelty that transcends knee-jerk misogyny.

Opening with a sequence that would be gratuitous if handled differently, Margaret gives birth to Carrie, and is thwarted in her attempt to kill the child by her telekinetic gift; what could have been an exploitative slasher scene instead shows the power struggle between the two characters, even at that early stage. Once a sheltered teenager, Carrie is an almost androgynous outsider – as emphasized in her frumpy clothes and gym attire (a black swim cap and matching one-piece practically erase gender). Unlike Spacek, however, Moretz’s Carrie is more aware of her status and surroundings, and starts honing her craft early on – by the time the dread-ridden prom sequence occurs, we rightly expect the worst. It’s an interesting paradox, as our hearts sink in tandem with our anticipation of catharsis – for Carrie and us.

But this CARRIE isn’t all about the horror, and Peirce’s intrepid aesthetic decisions bring us closer to the character than ever before. After her first period, the “scene of the crime” is revisited during a heart-to-heart with Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer – TV’s “Archer”), emphasizing that some wounds never heal. The film uses blood to unite and implicate all involved, from Margaret’s childbirth to Carrie’s period, and to the prank that drives the last act. It’s blood in, blood out, and Peirce takes none of it lightly – the violence has a feminine character, as distinct as the natural, biological purging of blood.

While the film bears a strong resemblance to its predecessor, it is in the skillful manipulation of the well-known that it finds success. Whereas De Palma made a showy adaptation of a pulp novel, Peirce finds a kindred-spirit empathy with characters whose motives we completely understand. In the end, the emotional toll is compelling, heartbreaking, and horrifying. CARRIE is a horror remake of rare beauty, and one of 2013’s best films.

4 out of 5 stars

Jonny Numb works in the salt mines at the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and is not allowed to wield sharp objects on Thanksgiving. He also co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK podcast. Find his movie reviews athttp://numbviews.livejournal.com, and on Twitter @JonnyNumb.

(Photo from OMG Stars.)