SiREN is a very fun monster movie based on the short “Amateur Night” from V/H/S. In this feature length version, director Gregg Bishop takes the simple idea of the wolf in sheep’s clothing and adds a whole slew of hints at a much larger world full of mystical adventure and threats. Hannah Fierman returns as “Lily” the sweetheart of a monster who has big eyes and bigger teeth. Justin Welborn (The Signal) really shines as the villain of the story, the human/inhuman trafficker “Mr. Nyx.” Nyx runs an anything goes Eyes Wide Shut style club in a mansion in the middle of the woods of the southern town of Garden City. When groom to be “Jonah” rolls in with his groomsmen to celebrate his bachelor party, the excrement makes physical contact with a hydro-electric powered oscillating air current distribution device.
At first, the foursome of the groom and his men come off as templates of The Hangover gang, but the writers manage to give them a little more depth as the story progresses. All of our leading men turn in solidly charming performances. It doesn’t hurt that the creators of SiREN don’t settle for a simple douchebags in peril storyline. They give what could otherwise be a forgettable film an edge by including a veritable Star Wars Cantina of supporting creatures and weird patrons at Nyx’s club. Brittany S. Hall as “Ash” is a particular standout. The reveal of her character’s special talent suggests a magical world supporting the action of our immediate scenario.
SiREN has a magical quality that makes it a worthwhile offering. The visual effects are good and the action sequences are exciting and creatively composed. Bishop’s previous (and first) feature Dance of the Dead (2008) was a blast and SiREN has really whetted my appetite for what he’ll do next.
IN THEATERS: December 2, 2016
ON VOD, DIGITAL HD AND DVD: December 6, 2016
DIRECTOR: Gregg Bishop
WRITERS: Based on a short by David Bruckner. Written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski
CAST: Chase Williamson, Justin Welborn, Michael Aaron Milligan, Hayes Mercure, Randy McDowell, Hannah Fierman
SYNOPSIS: SiREN is a horror-thriller about Jonah, an apprehensive groom-to-be whose bachelor party turns into a nightmare when he frees a seemingly innocent victimized girl locked up in a supernatural sex club. Her ruthless handler and proprietor of the sex club will stop at nothing to re-capture his prize. Jonah struggles to rescue the girl only to discover it is he who needs to be rescued as he comes to the realization that she is a dangerous fabled predator who has chosen him as her mate.
In Los Parecidos (The Similars) writer/director Isaac Ezban has created a loving tribute to the horror and sci-fi masterpieces of 1960s TV and film. The setup will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen an episode of “The Twilight Zone”. Onscreen text establishes that it’s October 2, 1968 as a rainstorm wails outside a remote bus station. A male actor delivers a voiceover narration in a clipped baritone in the sale of Rod Serling introducing one of the story’s ancillary characters “Martin”. Martin works the ticket counter and reads nudie magazines and listens to the radio to pass the time. A young man with shaggy hair and one hell of a beard “Ulises” is frantically trying to get to Mexico City as his wife is in labor in a hospital there. A young woman fleeing her abusive husband arrives; she too is trying to get to Mexico City to escape her abuser. An indigenous woman (possibly Mayan or Aztec) is also in the station. She is agitated and seems to be praying or performing some sort of religious rite in the corner. Meanwhile, as other characters arrive at the station, something truly bizarre begins to unfold as Martin spontaneously grows a beard and starts to morph into Ulises’ twin. From this point, paranoia and fear take over the proceedings as our stranded cast of characters try to deduce what is going on and who is responsible for it.
Fans of “The Twilight Zone” will appreciate The Similars. The vignetted photography and use of filters create a vintage look and Edy Lan’s musical score is a perfect homage to the work of Bernard Herrmann. This film really feels like a lost episode of the TV series that inspired it. Like Serling, Ezban works some political and classist themes into his story that add complexity and depth to what could otherwise be a bizarre black comedy. This film is a must see for fans of vintage sci-fi and horror and hopefully the beginning of a resurgence of this style of storytelling.
THE SIMILARS (“LOS PARECIDOS”) – XLrator Media
VOD DATE: November 15, 2016
iTunes & Digital November 22, 2016
DIRECTED BY: Isaac Ezban
CAST:Gustavo Sánchez Parra, Cassandra Ciangherotti, Fernando Becerril, Humberto Busto
SYNOPSIS:On the rainy night of October 2, 1968, eight people waiting in a remote bus station for a bus heading to Mexico City start experiencing a strange phenomenon. Threatened by paranoia and fear, the strangers show the best and worst of themselves as they try to unravel the mysterious condition that is invading each of them like a virus.
The Windmill is a slasher film and a spooky supernatural tale in the tradition of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and countless campfire tales. The film is very good and certain to please a wide variety of horror fans. It’s gruesome and gory, yet restrained when it benefits the eerie atmosphere. The acting is top shelf too, featuring the always expert Noah Taylor (“Game of Thrones”, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as the troubled doctor Nicholas and Charlotte Beaumont (“Broadchurch”, Jupiter Ascending) in the lead role of Jennifer. Jennifer is an Australian fugitive on the run in Amsterdam. She ends up with Nicholas and a diverse cast of characters on a tour bus in the back country of Holland. When their bus breaks down near a dilapidated ancient windmill, all hell breaks loose and the passengers begin to disappear one by one as is the tradition of any good slasher film.
What sets The Windmill apart from most slashers is the care taken in creating atmosphere. Who knew Holland’s countryside could be so ghostly and weird? The surroundings are evocative of sets from classic monster movies, but with enough grimy realism to make them worthy of being inhabited by modern characters. The story is given some additional depth by implementing the classic Serling-esque trope of anti-heroes as acceptable targets for supernatural punishment/redemption. Our protagonists all have checkered pasts that ultimately led them to the windmill. This trope can be tired and cliche in the wrong hands, but director Nick Jongerius makes it work. The backstories are presented in a variety of ways, and I was curious to learn more about each character as their individual stories unfolded. None of it played as filler; all of it made each character more absorbing than the typical victim in a “dead teenager movie”. The diverse cast and care in craft make The Windmill a cut above most recent horror releases.
THE WINDMILL IN THEATERS: October 28, 2016 AVAILABLE ON VOD AND ITUNES: October 25, 2016 DIRECTED BY: Nick Jongerius WRITTEN BY: Nick Jongerius, Chris W. Mitchell, Suzy Quid CAST: Charlotte Beaumont, Bart Klever, Patrick Baladi, Ben Batt, Fiona Hampton, Tanroh Ishida, Adam Thomas Wright and Noah Taylor SYNOPSIS: A group of unsuspecting tourists awaken a mysterious evil while on a trip through the Dutch countryside.
Your home is meant to be a safe haven, protecting you from the dangers of the outside world. However, with today’s technology, home invaders can easily find ways to break in without actually breaking in. The 2015 film, 13 Cameras, shows us how the horrors of a home invasion can be made real through simple video surveillance.
In 13 Cameras, a creepy and sweaty landlord, Gerald, played by Neville Archambault, fixes up a starter home and installs tiny hidden cameras around the house, from the shower to the bedroom and even inside the toilet bowl. He rents this house out to a newlywed and young couple, Ryan and Claire (P.J. McCabe and Brianne Moncrief, respectively) and parents-to-be. Gerald constantly watches and gawks at the couple through his television screens as they go about their daily lives, and we experience the creeping horror of 24/7 video surveillance as it invades the spaces we consider to be most private.
There have actually been multiple real-life accounts of non-consenting video surveillance, of course. In August of 2015, a couple in Toronto found themselves victims to this very crime. While watching Netflix, their webcam was hacked and they were sent intimate pictures of themselves in the following days. Any wireless device can easily and unknowingly be hacked and used against you. However, 13 Cameras offers a new perspective on a different threat. Although not exactly common, landlords spying on tenants can be a real and plausible threat – something that can even happen to you.
Writer and director, Victor Zarcoff, does a great job of displaying the right amount of found footage, making sure not to overuse this format throughout the film. The film succeeds in this format, avoiding full Paranormal Activity style and opting for a sense of voyeurism through Gerald’s point of view. Archambault plays a terrific creepy and ominous landlord with his various mannerisms, such as his heavy breathing and sparse dialogue. It is also worth noting that McCabe and Moncrief play a believable couple going through the motions of becoming a family. Despite the actors’ noteworthy performances, the film itself seems to lose its plot towards the finale.
Nevertheless, 13 Cameras’ overarching message seems to be clear for any audience. In the modern world of today, technology plays an important part of our daily lives. However, there are always those who use technology for much more threatening reasons and it’s important to be aware of the lengths someone will go to in order to invade your privacy. If you have a security system it’s always smart to avoid reusing passwords, or using strong password generators like this site suggests, plus keeping your system software up to date and being aware of the cameras on your electronics, such as on your phone or laptop, in order to safeguard against malicious intruders.
Gerald is a huge example of a threat you can’t see and it is important to be aware of sure-fire ways to protect yourself against an invasion of privacy in your own home. When Gerald is shopping for cameras, the store clerk rambles on about how tiny cameras can be nowadays, illustrating how easy it can be for someone to spy on you. So, be careful the next time you’re watching Netflix or deciding to rent a place to live. You never know who may be watching.
Sarah (Chelsey Crisp, “Fresh Off the Boat”) and Matt (Michael Steger, “90210”) have moved into a big house in the country. Sarah is pregnant and the couple hopes to raise their new family away from the city. They’ve invited their friends Bree and Dave out to the new house to celebrate. Sarah’s estranged twin brother Eric and his girlfriend Skye crash the housewarming party, and they convince the group to spend the evening ghost hunting in the nearby ruins of a burned-out prison.
Bleed is the first feature film from writer/director Tripp Rhame (also a first for co-writer Ben Jacoby). The filmmakers were wise to surround themselves with veteran actors who do a good job of bringing to life an otherwise middling screenplay. Crisp and cast elevate a run of the mill straight-to-video offering to something better; a film that successfully creates a spooky remote atmosphere. In the first act, Sarah has a blow out on a lonely country road and a squirrelly small-town deputy comes along to help her change her tire. Actor Mark Ashworth plays the deputy and his performance is a stand out. I would have really enjoyed seeing much more of him and was disappointed that he didn’t have a larger role to play.
Much of the film features subtle makeup effects that work beautifully, without drawing too much attention to them. The digital visual effects, however, cheapened some scenes they were intended to enhance. These moments weren’t terrible or jarring, but some unneeded bigger visual moments were attempted that didn’t particularly benefit the end product. Bleed shines more during its more atmospheric and simpler moments. The film’s runtime is only 80 minutes, yet it drags a little in places. Bleed is an above average ghost story thanks to its cast and overall emphasis on creating a realistic environment populated by believable characters.
*** / *****
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Theatrical & VOD Release: March 25, 2016
Directed by: Tripp Rhame
Written by: Ben Jacoby
Starring: Riley Smith, Chelsey Crisp, Michael Steger, Lyndon Smith, Brittany Ishibashi, Elimu Nelson
Synopsis: It seemed perfect – a new house, a new marriage, a child soon to be born. But when Sarah and Matt invite their friends to celebrate, the situation turns deadly as they enter a burned-out prison on a ghost hunt. As the six friends encounter horrors of this world and beyond, no one is safe – not even the unborn.
Tribute or Triumph: A Review of the Film MARTYRS (2016)
What happens after we die? Is there such a thing as an unwilling martyr? Is the suffering of the flesh a skill set, something that transcends this world and could set one apart from humanity?
How far would you be willing to go to find answers to life’s great mysteries? Would you kill? Would you torture? These are some of the questions that MARTYRS (Blumhouse Productions, The Safran Company, and Temple Hill Entertainment) asks – and wants you to ask yourself. But before you can begin to answer, there are other questions that should be considered.
Did they need to remake the film in the first place? Were they able to add something to the conversation as opposed to just asking it again in English? The question of what purpose a remake serves is not an easy one to answer. Remakes are a lot like cover songs; they’re done out of love. But are you making it your own or is it simply a copy?
In making a remake, the choices shrink, thus making those small decisions magnified and more important. Do you “re-interpret” the melody, structure, etc; do you change the style completely and turn a punk song country? Or do you do your damnedest to be faithful to the original, an homage, a tribute of devotion?
If you change nothing, you risk having fans of the original decry that the decision to remake it was pointless. If you change everything, fans of the original will say it doesn’t remain “true” enough to the source material. It’s a no-win situation. The only solution is perhaps to ignore what anyone who has seen the original would want/think – an impossibility of course as one would have to assume that the principle decision makers would all have seen the original before signing off on a remake, and they would certainly have their own opinions on what should be done.
Does MARTYRS go the route of re-interpretation or cover song, of inspired adaptation or architectural blueprint, of victim or martyr?
Let me start by saying that in many ways I wish I had not seen the original French version first. I believe I would have enjoyed the American remake more and be less-inclined to judge it based on its decisions. Unfortunately, it is a remake, and as such, it has to be judged as a remake. How it compares and what choices it makes are ultimately what will determine much of its value and interest. It can never be a standalone experience in the grand scheme of things.
And ultimately, MARTYRS is a slick production. The visuals and sound are strong. The directing (Kevin Goetz and Michael Goetz) is not poor – I may quibble with some of the decisions, like lighting such a dark story so brightly and presenting such grim and stained characters so cleanly, but overall, the scene to scene machinations are solid. The acting is fine, and when not delivering exposition-heavy dialogue or reacting too strongly to convey emotions that should have been better balanced by other factors (lighting, makeup, etc), when allowed to lose themselves in the story and characters, the actors (especially Troian Bellisario, Kate Burton, and Bailey Noble) are believable and help carry the weight of a difficult film.
But back to my initial foray – what kind of remake is MARTYRS? A risky one. And a safe one. It accepts the challenge of walking the line between faithful homage, presenting the first half of the film in a not entirely shot-for-shot of the original but pretty close fashion (outside of some unnecessary additional exposition-driven dialogue, presumably to help less savvy American audience understand what is very literally and specifically going on). In the second half, there are many changes. And I would say many of them are successful – and even those that weren’t as successful are interesting.
I don’t want to give too much away, but the largest non-plot related decision was to make the character of Ann (Bailey Noble) more passive. Throughout the movie, I thought this was a mistake, but the work that was done in conjunction with some of the larger changes, ultimately led to a satisfying ending for her character. Truth be told, I found myself wishing they had done more to be different. Given themselves more freedom to stray. The strongest moments were in the differences. In the scenes that paralleled the original, the film was unable to live up to the darkness and despair that inspired it, evoking but providing mere echoes of the greatest strength of the French version – the haunting, nearly visceral feel of the suffering. It is clear that this has been done intentionally, reducing the violence for a more mainstream audience. Fans of the original will no doubt hate them for this more polished and neutered vision.
But, I feel that first time viewers will appreciate much of what has been done. It has a stronger thriller spine and provides a more American and Hollywood ‘happy’ ending. For the weekend, escapist moviegoer, this is a film that will in many ways be more satisfactory than the original. For purists, and for those that have seen the original, it will likely be difficult to accept. But if you can look beyond the scenes that are pale comparisons and ignore the moments that force explanation of theme and purpose, I think you’ll find enough to justify a remake. And that is no small achievement.
So – does it survive? Do the sacrifices transcend? Does MARTYRS do what it must to provide answers? It’s difficult to say. This viewer found the remake to be more victim than martyr. It offers a glimpse, but I do not believe it truly sees beyond what was offered up in the original. As a result, unfortunately, there are just too many shortcomings for me to rate this as 4 stars. But I would remiss if I did not note that it is a very strong 3.
*** / *****
**MARTYRS is a retelling of the French 2008 horror cult film written and directed by Pascal Laugier. This MARTYRS film’s screenplay was written by Mark L. Smith who is also the co-writer of THE REVENANT screenplay along with Alejandro González Iñárritu which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.**
IN THEATERS & DIGITAL HD: January 22, 2016
VOD RELEASE DATE: February 2, 2016
DIRECTORS: Kevin and Michael Goetz
WRITER: Mark L. Smith
CAST: Troian Bellisario, Bailey Noble, Kate Burton
SYNOPSIS: Ten-year-old Lucie flees from the isolated warehouse where she has been held prisoner. Deeply traumatized, she is plagued by awful night terrors at the orphanage that takes her in. Her only comfort comes from Anna, a girl her own age. Nearly a decade later and still haunted by demons, Lucie finally tracks down the family that tortured her. As she and Anna move closer to the agonizing truth, they find themselves trapped in a nightmare – if they cannot escape, a martyr’s fate awaits them…
The Funhouse Massacre is a fun watch. It’s got a lot to offer horror fans – gore, laughs, murderous maniacs, inventive kills, boobs, and clowns. It also has something for haunt fans and in particular Greater Cincinnati haunt fans as our area’s Land of Illusion is featured prominently. The film begins at the Statesville Asylum, where the warden (Robert Englund) is attempting to convince a journalist that she shouldn’t write about this place and it’s five very horrifying inmates. He reasons that society is better off without these freaks, and if you can’t kill ‘em, you might as well lock them up. These homicidal maniacs – a wicked wrestler, cannibal chef, deranged dentist, twisted taxidermist (Clint Howard), and a charismatic cult leader (Jere Burns) – manage to break free thanks to our cult leader’s equally monstrous daughter. They head to the Land of Illusion Haunted Scream Park, where the haunted mazes are inspired by the legends of their crimes and atrocities. It’s Halloween night, and the crowds come in droves for scares…that end up being all too real.
Our protagonists are friends and co-workers from a local diner that head to the haunt after work. There’s a side plot that intersects our main set of characters featuring the local sheriff and her stereotypically bumbling deputy. The actors do a solid job with the comedy and the horror, balancing some really ridiculous moments. And when I say ridiculous, I mean ridiculously funny or not very anatomically correct, but it’s all good. The cameos are great and exciting for genre fans, or fans of Reno 911.
My only problem with the movie was the Stitch Face Killer. How in the hell did her make-up stay put in that one scene I won’t describe because I don’t want to spoil anything, but you’ll see what I mean?
I highly recommend The Funhouse Massacre. It’s a great popcorn movie, perfect for a night with friends. I think I’ll be adding it to my Halloween rotation.
**** / *****
TITLE: The Funhouse Massacre
THEATRICAL RELEASE DATE: November 13, 2015
DIRECTOR: Andy Palmer
SCREENPLAY BY: Ben Begley
CAST: Robert Englund, Jere Burns, Scottie Thompson, Clint Howard, Courtney Gains
SYNOPSIS: On Halloween night, a gruesome group of the United States’ most notorious and colorful serial killers escape from Statesville Asylum and descend on a giant funhouse whose theme is based on their different reigns of terror. The only people left to stop them are a rag tag group of college kids, a clueless Deputy and the local Sheriff, who seems to have a strange attachment to the leader of this gaggle of maniacs, the silver tongued devil, Manny the Prophet.
As someone who once briefly contemplated moving into a condemned building to live in Manhattan the recent straight to DVD release Condemned was already ahead of the game based on the premise alone. That combined with a robust cast of “oh yeah! That guy!” I was primed to love this movie. Unfortunately I did not. Fortunately, I also did not hate it. Let’s take a deeper look.
The story begins when a beautiful slacker, played by the up and coming teen heart throb Ronen Rubinstein, invites his equally beautiful girlfriend, played by an amalgam of all the brothers from the 90s pop band Hansen, to flee her abusive parents and come stay with him and all of his junky friends in an abandoned building in the West Village in Manhattan. I know you’re thinking “but, Fozzie. That sounds like the start of every successful power couple I’ve ever heard of. What could possibly go wrong?” As it turns out, a lot. For starters everyone who lives in the building has their personal demons and they insist on flushing those problems down the drain. In one apartment an abusive Rabbi flushes his transsexual hooker/girlfriend’s pills down the drain while in another a drug dealer/restaurateur spills his leftover Junk in the bathtub. One resident on the ground floor is the first recipient of this vile concoction and does nothing but sit on the toilet and cry while listening to Christmas music. Think Martha Stewart on New Year’s Day. It seems the combination of all the various flotsam and jetsam flushed down the drain has coalesced into a powerful drug that not only causes violent delusions but also causes really gross boils to break out all over the recipient’s body.
Our main power couple, Dante and Maya (heretofore refered to as Mante), are blissfully unaware of the growing infection spreading through the building as they begin making a home in the squat. When the owner of the building locks the door and is quickly accidentally killed, all hell breaks loose. Residents begin lashing out at each other violently and gruesomely as Mante become caught in the middle. They must successfully avoid being killed and infected while trying to find a way out of the building.
The good: You can tell that all of the actors in the film are professionals. Some you will recognize, such as Johnny Messner who plays a sadomasochistic leather daddy to his muscle bear slave. Others are newcomers but are obviously destined for fame, like the aforementioned Rubinstein. Either way everyone in the film is giving it their all and not one disappoints. The acting complements the writing, which is on point and at times really funny. Additionally the film is both a scathing indictment of the gentrification of Manhattan and a sobering view of the rose colored past that people tend to sweeten.
The bad: The nihilism of junky life is not something I can connect with. I would honestly rather be in a zombie apocalypse than a crack house so this movie is essentially my worst nightmare. And not in a way that I enjoy seeing on screen. Also if you’ve ever seen a movie I bet you can guess how this one ends.
The ugly: All of it. From the strung out drug addicts to the pus filled boils to the junky lifestyle everything in the film is simply gross. That’s not to say that it’s not enjoyable. If you can get past the putrescence there’s a fair amount of good film here as well as a lot of likable actors. Even if this film did not hit the mark I see a lot of promise in the cast as well as the director.
SYNOPSIS: Fed up with her parents’ bickering, poor-little-rich-girl Maya (Dylan Penn) moves in with her boyfriend who is squatting in an old, condemned building on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. With neighbors that are meth heads, junkies and degenerates, this depraved hell hole is even more toxic than it appears: After a virus born from their combined noxious waste and garbage infects the building’s residents, one by one, they succumb to a terrifying pathogen that turns them into bloodthirsty, rampaging killers and transforms their building into a savage slaughterhouse.